GOD'S MORAL GOVERNMENT OF THE UNIVERSE
In our approach to the subject of God's moral government of the universe, it is necessary for us to take a general review of eternity, because all things throughout the ages are more or less closely connected one with the other.
A glance at the chart in Chapter VI, "Eternity, or the Plan of the Ages," shows that eternity is divided into three sections: in the beginning; time; and the ages of the ages. In the discussion we learned that there will be ages of the ages throughout all the eternity of the future after this present universe passes out existence. We also discovered that during time there has been the unfolding of the ages. From the Scriptures we see God's "purpose of the ages," which usually refers to the future. Since there have been ages during the period called time, since there are ages in the future, and since there is a plan which is unfolding now and will continue to do so throughout the ages of the ages, it is a legitimate inference that there have been plans of the Almighty which have been unfolding throughout the eternity of the past--prior to creation of the world. Especially are we led to this conclusion when we hear the Saviour say: "My Father worketh hitherto and I work."
As to what plans were unfolded in this past eternity, we must be silent. God has not seen fit to reveal any of His activities of those far-off past epochs. In Chapter VI we studied something about prehistoric times and the possible conditions which existed upon earth then. Moreover, we have seen that not only were these prehistoric time divided into ages but that historic times are likewise separated into seven dispensations, between the sixth and the seventh of which is the short period called the Tribulation. Moreover, we have learned something of the glorious future which lies ahead of us after the passing away of the present material system and of the creation of the eternal order, during the existence of which there will be the continual unfolding of His everlasting plan.
I. A LONG-RANGE VIEW OF GOD'S PLAN
In view of these vast, stupendous facts and possibilities, the question arises as to why God created the universe and why He is unfolding an infinite plan throughout the ages. What prompted Him to do these things? In searching for answers to such questions, we must be very careful because of our limited knowledge. We must have a "thus saith the Lord" for everything that we say. If possible we should be able to place our finger upon book, chapter, and verse for the things which we believe and teach. Such a rule and practice should govern us generally in regard to all our beliefs.
There are, however, certain general trends of thought which we naturally discover when we study the Scriptures as a whole. For these we cannot always put our finger upon a verse or verses and say, "Here is our authority for taking such a position." In other words, there are certain deductions which we make from clear statements in the Scriptures and which, when placed together and related properly, lead us to take certain positions. In this connection I wish to present the conclusions to which I have come in my general study of the plan of the ages. If these deductions are correct, one should be enabled to see the more clearly the scriptural teaching regarding God's moral or ethical government of the world.
As we shall see, the Almighty is free in every particular, being bound only by His own holy and divine nature. He is the very embodiment of righteousness, truth, justice, and love. He is the unchangeable one. Things temporal change and take on different complexions; but there is no shadow of turning with Him.
As we have already learned, God created the celestial beings with freedom of choice. They were allowed to exercise their liberty in being submissive to Him or in rising in rebellion against Him. One-third of these creatures chose to pit their wills against Him, and under the leadership of Satan they revolted and fell from their high estate. On the other hand, the rest of these celestial beings were satisfied to fit in with God's program and advance His plans and purposes.
As we shall see more fully, God also made man a free moral agent. Being endowed with the power of choice, he has the ability to accept by faith the will of God and to bask in the sunlight of His love. On the contrary, he can and often does set his will in opposition to that of his Maker--as the majority of the human family seems to be doing. Those who accept the will of God and his special plan for their lives are blessed in time and will be throughout all eternity. Those, however, who refuse to yield their wills and lives to Him and pass into eternity in the state of rebellion miss the real joys of this life and will suffer throughout all eternity--simply because of their rebellion against God. The proof for this proposition will be presented at the proper place.
The position stated above regarding the freedom of both angelic beings and man being true, we see that there will be a portion of the human family which will be saved, but vast hordes of people will be lost and will suffer throughout all eternity in banishment from the presence of God and the glory of His might. How can a holy, righteous, loving, just God, who knows the end from the beginning and who is the sovereign-potentate of the universe, launch such plans that reach throughout eternity, in the center of which man, with his freedom of choice, is placed, knowing all the time that many of His dependent creatures will exercise their God-given power of choice in rebelling against Him and be lost forever and ever? The one who looks at things only superficially cannot believe that a loving, righteous, heavenly Father could consign anyone to everlasting punishment simply because he did not choose to serve the Almighty God during the short span of life. In other words, it appears unreasonable to such a one to think that people will have to suffer throughout all eternity because of a few minor mistakes and sins (as man judges) committed during their brief early life. The institution of hell, therefore, to such thinkers, is an unbelievable doctrine.
A deeper study and a more thorough canvass of the facts will lead to an entirely different conclusion. Let us accept the scriptural statements regarding God and the perfections of His character. He gave a portrait of Himself in Exodus 34:6,7: "And Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness and truth; keeping lovingkindness for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, upon the third and upon the fourth generation." As we have seen in Chapter III, God is holy and cannot countenance sin in any form, but He is also a God of love. What His holiness demands His love provides. In Chapter XII we shall see how God maintains His holiness at the time He redeems man from his sins. By means, therefore, of the atonement He saves those believing in the Redeemer and maintains His perfect moral government.
From what we know of the Almighty, we can easily believe that it is His very nature to engage in activity which will constantly unfold into larger plans and will continue to develop in a vaster way as the ages of eternity roll. This is not an unreasonable belief to one who notes for instance that a human being starts from a single cell and grows into a man with all his capacities, talents, and abilities, who under normal conditions, delights in achievements and accomplishments. In other words, we may, in observing God's handiwork, see a reflection of His own character in the things which He has made, is doing, and purposes to accomplish.
In order to carry out these plans and purposes, the Almighty needs persons who have certain traits of character, talents capacities, and abilities. These are to cooperate with Him throughout eternity and to assist Him in the carrying out of His eternal plans.
Those who can thus fit in with the plans of the Almighty are they who have been created free moral agents, who have met certain conditions, have had the opportunity of making God their choice, and have yielded to Him rather than refusing submission to His will. In other words, those who can fit into the plans of the Almighty and assist Him in His purposes are the folk who have exercised their freedom of choice and who have chosen His holy and perfect will for their lives in both time and eternity. The Lord never forces anyone's will. He does use moral suasion and brings to bear upon the individual everything possible in order to influence him for good. For the Almighty to transgress, to cross over the sacred threshold of man's personality, and to force his will would be to thwart His own plans and purposes.
Those who thus accept His plan of redemption and who yield their lives to Him develop certain traits of character that will fit and prepare them for positions of honor, glory, trust, and power throughout all eternity. What we do and the extent to which we enjoy the bliss of eternity will depend upon the spiritual growth and development to which we attain in this life. Of course, it is to be understood that we shall continually grow and increase in capacity throughout eternity, but those who make the greatest progress here will be in advance there of those who make less growth here.
On the other hand, those who refuse to accept God and His salvation and exercise their wills against Him will be lost forever and ever. When however they come before the judgment of the great white throne before which all the lost will appear to hear their doom (Rev. 20:11-15)--every one of the lost, together with Satan and all the fallen angels, will see things as they are and every one of them will bow the knee and confess with their tongue that Jesus Christ, the lowly Nazarene, is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11). All will acknowledge that God in His wisdom and love could not have acted otherwise than He did in laying His plan of the ages. Each will admit that God created him the highest possible type of being, and that He was just and righteous in giving each the power of choice. They will also acknowledge that to force their submission would have been unrighteous and unjust. Moreover, every fallen angel and every lost person will concede that, in God's consigning them to perdition, He is righteous and just and that He could not act differently. Throughout all eternity, whenever the question arises, they will confess that the Almighty was right in consigning them to that place of misery and torment. Such are the conclusions to which one comes when one takes a long range view of things. All intelligent beings will bow the knee and confess with their mouth that the plan which God unfolds through the ages, and which is based upon the principles of a moral and spiritual order, is the highest type of government possible, that there has been no injustice to anyone whatsoever at any time, and that all will be to the praise and glory of God throughout all eternity.
9 Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name; 10 that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:9-11).
II. GOD AN OMNIPOTENT SOVEREIGN WHOSE WORKS ARE DONE
IN RIGHTEOUSNESS AND HOLINESS OF TRUTH
Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens;
And his kingdom ruleth over all.
Bless Jehovah, ye his angels,
That are mighty in strength, that fulfill his word,
Hearkening unto the voice of his word.
Bless Jehovah, all ye his hosts,
Ye ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
Bless Jehovah, all ye his works,
In all places of his dominion:
Bless Jehovah, O my soul. (Ps. 103:19-22)
According to the statement above, God's throne is established in the heavens, and His kingdom is ruling over all the universe. There is a special place which is called the "heavens of Jehovah" where God's throne is located (Ps. 115:16). This is a definite area in the vast fields of unlimited space. God's throne is undoubtedly in the north; that is, in a position north from this earth. Such seems to be the teaching of Psalm 75:5-7:
Lift not up your horn on high;
Speak not with a stiff neck.
For neither from the east, not from the west,
Nor yet from the south, cometh lifting up.
But God is the judge:
He putteth down one, and lifteth up another.
Let the reader note that deliverance comes neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south. On the contrary, God is the judge who puts down one individual and lifts up another. The trend of thought and the inference here is that it comes from God who is in the only other direction--namely, in the north. From this conclusion there can be no escape.
This position is confirmed by a quotation from Isaiah: "How art thou cut down to the ground, that didst lay low the nations! And thou saidst in thy heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; and I will sit upon the mount of congregation in the uttermost parts of the north: I will ascend above the height of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High: (14:12-14). Satan, who was, as we have seen in "Eternity or the Plan of the Ages," the ruler of the primitive earth and whose throne was in "Eden, the garden of God," decided to revolt against the Almighty and to ascend "in the uttermost parts of the north" in order to exalt himself above the Almighty whose throne is in the north.
This position is likewise confirmed by Ezekiel 1:1-4:
"Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the river Chebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month, which was the fifth year of king Jehoiachin's captivity, the word of Jehovah came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of Jehovah was there upon him. And I looked, and behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, a great cloud, with a fire infolding itself, and a brightness round about it, and out of the midst there of as it were glowing metal, out of the midst of the fire."
David gives another view of God's throne in Psalm 11:4-7:
Jehovah is in his holy temple; Jehovah, his throne is in heaven;
His eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.
Jehovah trieth the righteous; But the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.
Upon the wicked he will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For Jehovah is righteous; he loveth righteousness: The upright shall behold his face.
Although governments and principalities upon the earth may be overturned, God's throne stands forever. Providentially He is overruling all things. He observes the actions of men and fathoms their purposes. He makes the righteous to pass through those experiences which will refine them as silver and gold are refined in the furnace, but the wicked He will punish. Eventually, in the Tribulation, He will rain down fire and brimstone upon the wicked; but when the tribulation judgments shall have spent their force, the righteous shall behold His face. From this scripture it becomes abundantly evident that God is supreme.
Psalm 135:5-14 also contributes to our understanding of God's sovereignty:
For I know that Jehovah is great, And that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatsoever Jehovah pleased, that hath he done, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps:
Who causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
Who maketh lightnings for the rain;
Who bringeth forth the wind out of his treasuries;
Who smote the first-born of Egypt, both man and beast;
Who sent signs and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt,
Upon Pharaoh, and upon all his servants;
Who smote many nations, And slew mighty kings,
Sihon king of the Amorites,
And Og king of Bashan,
And all the kingdoms of Canaan,
And gave their land for a heritage,
A heritage unto Israel his people,
Thy name, O Jehovah, endureth for ever;
Thy memorial name, O Jehovah, throughout all generations.
For Jehovah will judge his people,
And repent himself concerning his servants.
In verses 3 and 4 of this psalm the writer calls upon the people of Israel to praise God for three things. In verse 5 he urges them to praise Him because He is great and is above all gods. Then he proceeds to speak of His sovereignty in these words:
"Whatsoever Jehovah pleased, that hath he done,
In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps."
In all conceivable spheres of the universe, declares the psalmist, God does that which He pleases. Of course it is to be understood that He is pleased to do nothing but that which is right, honorable, just, and merciful. Continuing the discussion of the divine sovereignty in verse 7, the writer shows that God is the one who causes the rain to water the earth. In verses 8-13 he demonstrated His providential workings in behalf of Israel in that He dispossessed the nations, inhabiting Palestine and planted her therein. God is indeed the absolute sovereign of the universe.
Another clear statement of His sovereignty and overruling providence is found in Psalm 146:5-10:
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,
Whose hope is in Jehovah his God;
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that in them is;
Who executeth justice for the oppressed;
Who giveth food to the hungry.
Jehovah looseth the prisoners;
Jehovah openeth the eyes of the blind;
Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down;
Jehovah loveth the righteous;
Jehovah preserveth the sojourners;
He upholdeth the fatherless and widow;
But the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.
Jehovah will reign for ever,
Thy God, O Zion, unto all generations.
Praise ye Jehovah.
God is the one who has made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them. It is He who has created, who has sustained and guided the world throughout all the past, and will continue to do so during the present and throughout all the ceaseless ages of eternity. Moreover, His compassionate and providential care of His people is emphasized in this scripture. There is no one who can withstand His will or change His plans and purposes. During these turbulent days when dictators have attempted to force their wills and plans upon the world, men should know the message that is set forth in Psalm 33:8-19:
Let all the earth fear Jehovah:
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For he spake, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
Jehovah bringeth the counsel of the nations to nought;
He maketh the thoughts of the peoples to be of no effect.
The counsel of Jehovah standeth fast for ever,
The thoughts of his heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah,
The people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.
Jehovah looketh from heaven;
He beholdeth all the sons of men;
From the place of his habitation he looketh forth upon
all the inhabitants of the earth,
He that fashioneth the hearts of them all,
that considereth all their works.
There is no king saved by the multitude of a host:
A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a vain thing for safety;
Neither doth he deliver any by his great power.
Behold, the eye of Jehovah is upon them that fear him,
Upon them that hope in his lovingkindness;
To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.
Here is God's call to the entire world to stand in awe of Him because He has created all things. Moreover, He brings the counsel of the nations to naught and makes their thoughts of none effect; on the contrary, His plans and purposes stand fast forever. The one great lesson which the world in its present condition should learn is that Israel is the chosen and blessed nation mentioned in verse 12. He who touches this people touches the apple of His eye. The Lord is looking down from heaven and is considering the hearts and works of all men. He turns the tide of battle and brings deliverance. During supreme crises those who look to Him for deliverance, trusting His mercy and loving kindness, are delivered at the proper time. In this marvelous passage we see therefore the sovereignty and the majesty of Almighty God set forth in a most graphic manner.
As a final passage from the Old Testament in this connection, to which I wish to call attention, I ask the reader to note carefully the following quotation:
12 Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance? 13 Who hath directed the Spirit of Jehovah, or being his counselor hath taught him? 14 With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed to him the way of understanding? 15 Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are accounted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. 16 And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt-offering. 17 All the nations are as nothing before him: they are accounted by him as less than nothing, and vanity (Isaiah 40:12-17).
Here we see that the Lord God whose coming to earth is to be announced to Israel (vss. 9-11) is the creator of the entire universe, the great architect, and the all-wise chemist. He therefore knew how to create and assemble His materials in order to make an ordered universe. He has no need for anyone to advise or instruct Him in regard to anything. Moreover, the nations of the world, with their proud boast of power, dignity, and majesty, are but a "drop of a bucket" and "are accounted as the small dust of the balance"--that might be blown away with the least breath. This great creator and controller of the universe is such an exalted being that it is impossible for men to offer any adequate sacrifice that would be in keeping with His divine splendor. In this passage therefore we see the unquestioned sovereignty of this God of the universe.
The same teaching relative to His supremacy and unquestioned right and prerogatives is likewise set forth in the New Testament. We are utterly dependent upon Him for our very existence. To the philosophers on the supreme court bench of the Athenian state the Apostle Paul made the following matchless speech:
22 Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are very religious. 23 For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, To AN UNKNOWN GOD. What therefore ye worship in ignorance, this I set forth unto you. 24 The God that made the world and all things therein, he being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; 25 neither is he served by men's hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; 26 and he made of one every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds of their habitation; 27 that they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: 28 for in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain even of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 29 Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and device of man. 30 The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commanded men that they should all everywhere repent: 31 in as much as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained: whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:22-31).
Passages that emphasize God's unquestioned authority could be multiplied, but these suffice to establish the proposition under consideration.
III. CREATED BEINGS FREE AGENTS
In this section we shall examine the data relative to created beings--angels of all ranks and men. A. The Angelic Hosts
Numerous are the references which speak of the angelic beings who do the bidding of God. As we have already seen in the discussion of Psalm 103:19f, there are great hosts of angels who assist the Almighty in His administration of the affairs of the universe. In I Kings 22:13-23 we get a glimpse of the throne of God before which are assembled angelic beings. A like vision appears in Psalm 89:5-8. We see ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of angelic hosts in the scene of judgment found in Daniel 7:9-12.
We have every reason to believe that all these created angelic beings were confirmed in holiness, but with minds capable of exercising their wills against God or in His favor. That certain of the angels sinned and that they fell from their high estate is set forth in II Peter 2:4: "For if God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment ..." From the context we see that Peter was speaking of a host of angels which fell during the days of Noah. Of this contingent we read in Genesis 6:1-8. They are called the Nephilim or fallen ones. These beings formed unholy alliances with the daughters of men, and from these unions there sprang a race of giants or "men of renown." We read of these in Jude 6 and 7: "And angels that kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, he hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, having in like manner with these given themselves over to fornication and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire." Note that these angels "kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation." Like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah they went after strange flesh, committing fornication. This language shows that they did it voluntarily, without any compulsion whatsoever. They were not forced to do this; they could have remained in their own place and continued in the favor of God. A third passage which has bearing on this question is Revelation 12:4: "And his tail draweth the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them about to be delivered, that when she is delivered he may devour her child." When this passage is read in the light of the entire context, also when it is illuminated by related passages, it becomes evident that John in this verse was speaking of the original contingent of angels that, under the leadership of Satan, rebelled against God. We have already seen that Satan, "the anointed cherub that covereth," became proud and vain; unrighteousness entered his heart; he therefore rose up in rebellion against the Almighty. It seems quite evident therefore that the angels were created free moral agents. They could choose to be faithful and true to God or, on the other hand, could rebel against Him. It seems that the majority of the heavenly hosts elected to be faithful and true to their Master, whereas the minority rose up in rebellion, pitting their wills against Him.
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