The Government of God
April 25th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-25-71 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Government of God. In our preaching through the Book of Daniel, we come to the end of an epoch, of an era. The fifth chapter of Daniel closes with these words: “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. And Darius the Median took the kingdom, being about threescore and two years old” [Daniel 5:30-31]. That is all that is said.
And the message this morning is framed in keeping with the closing of that first great world empire. The head of gold has fallen [Daniel 2:38, 5:30-31] and never again—not in days past, nor in ages future—never again is the seat of empire in the Mesopotamian Valley. It had been located there in Nineveh’s Assyria, in Babylonia’s Babylon, for centuries and for centuries. But in this little passage I just read, the aegis, the scepter, passed away forever. And in describing it, it’s done in one verse—just one sentence! [Daniel 5:31].
How rapidly and how catastrophically do the great empires pass across the horizon of history in the pages of the Bible. There is the empire of the Hittites that have just in recent years come to light, but in the Scriptures; the empire of the Egyptians, and the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, and the Persians, and the Medians, and the Greeks, and the Romans. Then in our modern day, we read of it in history and watch it it in modern story. The kingdoms of Spain, and of Germany, and of Austria, and of France, and of Great Britain, and of America, and of Russia, and China, and Japan, how swiftly, how rapidly do the great courses of history move across God’s horizon. But in it all, the Lord reigns supreme and King forever.
The sovereignty belongs to the Lord God. This is the lesson that the Lord sought to teach Nebuchadnezzar. His madness came to the intent that the living may “know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth over it the lowest of men” [Daniel 4:17]. It is God who alone reigns supreme and eternal. “Once did I hear God say, and twice have I heard it; that power belongeth to the Lord” [Psalm 62:11].
In the fortieth chapter of Isaiah: “In His sight all the nations of the earth are but as a drop in the bucket” [Isaiah 40:15]. What insignificance. Out of the depth of a well, a pail of water is drawn up. As it is lifted up, a drop falls back into the well. How inconsequential! As the pail is poured out, a drop falls by the wayside. How small, how inconsequential—all the nations of the world are as a drop in the bucket or as the dust in the balance [Isaiah 40:15]—the fine, fine dust that could not even be weighed—the whole course of human history, in God’s sight, as the dust in the balance [Isaiah 40:15].
Or as the same fortieth chapter of Isaiah describes, all of the people are as grass [Isaiah 40:6-7]. Where are the marching hosts of Shishak, and Nimrod, and Sennacherib, of Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus, of Xerxes, and Alexander, or the legions of Caesar? Their very sons were born to bury them, as our sons and daughters are born to bury us today. The great moving mass of humanity through its centuries are like the series of fallen leaves. It is a cipher, and a cipher, and a cipher, and a cipher, and a cipher, and a cipher, and a cipher. And the only unit that gives significance to it is God. He alone has the overview of all meaning and purpose in history.
Our vision is so limited, circumscribed; we see but so small a part. In the ages of the ages, we are but so insignificant and inconsequential a part. He doesn’t deal with just one generation, but with all the previous and succeeding generations. And He deals not only with this world, but with the world that is to come; and with all the created hosts of heaven and the whole infinitude of the genius of His hands! And it would be only in the wisdom of an eternal overview such as that, that we could ever really read the meaning of what happens—both in our lives and in the development of history.
I could easily imagine a fly lighting on a cornice of the great St. Paul’s cathedral in London. And as he looks around and crawls around on the cornice, I can easily see him and hear him say: “What a miserable paltry contemptible place this is.” For he’s not cognizant of the great overview—the dome, and the pillars, and the vast proportions of that glorious house of God!
Have you been to New York City? Have you seen the Chrysler Building? To me, that’s one of the most beautiful edifices in America—the Chrysler Building. And one of the architectural monstrosities—but it’s beautiful—of the Chrysler Building are those gargoyles on the corners. They are grotesque. But as you look at them, they remind you of the architects in days past who invented them and put them up there for spouts. And I can easily imagine a fly lighting on one of those gargoyles. Then as he crawls around and inspects it, he says: “What lack of symmetry and beauty is this? How manifestly monstrous!” Because he’s not able to see—in a fly’s perspective—the gorgeous rising proportion of that glorious building!
We’re that way, like flies, see so small a part, and sometimes it’s difficult for us to fit it into the great plan and purpose of God. But He does—the end from the beginning. And all of the sovereign choices and decisions of God are certainly worked out through human history. It is He, and He alone who sits as Judge over all of the nations of the world [Jeremiah 18:7-10].
Now there are those who say that there is no meaning and there is no purpose in history. It came from nowhere; it is going nowhere; it is blind and fortuitous. There are those who say that if there ever was a God, and if He made the universe, then He wound it up and He left it to its own purposes; He has retreated from the universe. And there is nothing left but what the philosophers would call “second causes” or what the infidel would call “blind accident.” Such is not so! The Lord reigns, and the Lord rules, and the Lord judges the nations of the earth! [Jeremiah 18:7-10]. And there is no such thing as a nation denying God, blaspheming God, and continuing to live. For God is active in human life and in the nations of the earth, and the nations that forget God have in them the seeds of internal decay and destruction.
The same thing that we find in the life of the denomination and of the church: wherever there is a church that forsakes the preaching of the gospel and the winning of souls, and gives itself to decorum, and rubric, and ritual, God comes and takes the lamp of that church and that denomination away [Revelation 2:4-5]. The whole history of Christendom is one story after another of the decay and the decadence of churches and denominations.
And that same Lord God sits in judgment upon the nations of the world [Jeremiah 18:7-10]. And there is no nation that lives and continues to exist that dethrones God, and blasphemes God, and gives itself to a carnal and sensual life. We have that here in the Book of Daniel. Babylon was built in carnality and sensuality. And it died in the feast of Bel-shazzar [Daniel 5:5, 25-31]. And it never rose again.
Let’s don’t talk about Babylon. Let’s talk about America! Let’s don’t talk about the great city of Mesopotamia, let’s talk about our great city. Did you see this on the front page of the Dallas News two or three days ago? Did you see it? The mayors gathered in New York City and breakfasted at a residence for former narcotics addicts and visited a Brooklyn Hospital where heroin addicts are treated with methadone, an addictive that is relatively harmless. Mayor Lindsay of New York said it would cost millions of dollars to rehabilitate New York’s narcotic addicts who, he said, number about one hundred thousand.
Quote: “Mayor Lindsay said the drug problem could be the number one problem.”
Quote: “These cities that don’t have it as bad as New York, will have. They’ll have it tomorrow.”
The mayors walked past empty shells of buildings and vacant lots littered with the rubble of buildings torn down to make room for federally financed housing projects for which funds never became available. The visitors were shocked by the sight of the devastated area. And it was Boston’s Mayor Kevin White who had the final word—quote: “This could be the first tangible sign of the collapse of our entire civilization.”
The judgment of Almighty God—not dead nor has He retreated, but He holds the nations in the balance [Isaiah 40:15]. As in my text last Sunday morning, He weighed Babylon and its king and found it wanting [Daniel 5:27]. The mayor says what is happening to New York will happen later in every city in America. New York is the richest city, in the richest state, in the richest country that ever lived. And it is bankrupt and faces insoluble problems! I wonder why—one hundred thousand narcotic addicts in that one town.
And you remember when I came back from New York one time, going up to my room, while I was undressing to get ready to go to bed, I listened to a TV panel in New York City. And one of the panelists said there are two hundred thousand alcoholics in New York City—helpless problem drinkers. And then as they discussed it, another panelist said there are one million family members in New York City that are grievously affected by the two hundred thousand alcoholics. Mayor Lindsey says what is happening in New York City will happen in every city in America, just a little later.
One of the strangest characteristics in God Almighty is that, to me, inexplicable way that God does through the ages; He never changes [Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6]—that inexplicable way of God in raising up sinner nations to punish those who defy His name. That’s what happened in the days of Assyria and the northern ten tribes. Nineveh, under its king, came down and destroyed the Northern Kingdom, destroyed Israel and shut up Judah like a vise [2 Kings 17:5-6, 23, 18:13]. And the great prophet Isaiah came before the Lord and asked Him why. And God replied: “Assyria is the rod of Mine anger, and the staff of My indignation” [Isaiah 10:5].
And the same thing happened again when the Babylonians came and destroyed Judah, and Jerusalem, and Solomon’s temple [2 Kings 25:1-21]. This time Habakkuk the prophet asked God why. And the Lord replied: “These bitter and hasty Chaldeans [Habakkuk 1:6], I have ordained them for judgment, and I have established them for correction!” [Habakkuk 1:12].
Don’t you think God’s dead or retreated. Up there in that sky, right now, right now, up there in that sky, the Bolshevik Muscovites, the Russian communists, have cosmonauts flying over America. And in a rendezvous, they’re building platforms up there. Do you think, do you suppose that America can give itself to desecration, and drunkenness, and debauchery, and blasphemy; He that sitteth ruler and judge of the nations will let us escape? Why, the Lord God would have to recreate the world and apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah, and Ninevah, and Babylon! The same God who holds the nations of the world in the balance [Isaiah 40:15], the Sovereign, rules over all!
There is a kingdom that shall abide forever [Daniel 2:44-45]. It is not America. It is not Russia. It is not China as it was not Greece, and it was not Rome; and as it was not the Assyrians or the Babylonians, or the Hittites, or the Egyptians. There is a kingdom that shall abide forever. It is the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God. Daniel said, as he interpreted the great image and the stone cut out without hands that smote it on the feet, and like chaff on the threshing floor, the nations were scattered away, great marching armies in the dust of the grave. And came this great stone that grew, and grew, and grew until it filled all the earth. And Daniel said that is the kingdom of God [Daniel 2:44-45], the dominion of heaven that abides forever and forever.
Singer, let me read you another passage. You sang this morning about: “For Thine is the kingdom.” And I like to hear a big bullfrog horn like you fill his lungs full of air and his diaphragm taut, and sing it like that. “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen!” [Matthew 6:13]. All right, let me read you another passage, long time ago, that sounds kind of like that; here in 1 Chronicles 29:
Thine, O Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and Thou art exalted as ruler above all.
Both riches and honor come of Thee, Thou reignest over all; and in Thine hand is power and might.
[1 Chronicles 29:11, 12]
The government of God—I love to hear the choir sing this passage:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name is called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
And of the increase of His government…to establish it upon the throne of His father David, there shall be no end, for the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall perform it.
[Isaiah 9:6, 7]
How do you like that? Isn’t that good? I wish we could sing it and sing it now—the kingdom of God.
Now we’re going into an altogether different area, speaking of the government of God, the sovereignty of the Lord Almighty. To anyone who lives, to any thinking, rational, somebody you, when we speak of the eternal, immutable, unimpeachable sovereignty of God, immediately questions press into our minds. Let’s answer them according to the Bible.
Here’s the first one: then why the entrance of sin—if God is sovereign, if God rules over all, then why the entrance of sin? The answer lies in us. I am not free if I am not free to choose. I am an automaton if somebody chooses for me. I am a gadget. I am a wheel. I’m a mechanical contrivance. But if I have personality of my own and responsibility of my own, then I must be free to choose.
Now let me illustrate that pointedly in the lives of you who are fathers and mothers. I speak for all of us when I say, as we watch those little fellows come up, and they grow up and up, oh, Lord, how I wish we could make the decisions for them. You see—I’ve been at it a long time. I’m experienced. There’s an old head on these shoulders and I know how things are. I’ve seen it in my own life. But that little fellow, he doesn’t know. He hasn’t experienced it. And I would to God that I could make the decisions for the little fellow as he comes up, and up, and up. But if I keep doing that, he will never stand on his own. He’ll never mature. He’ll be an emotional sick cripple all of his life, leaning on his mother or leaning on his father.
There has to come a time when he has the privilege of making his own mistakes. And we who are parents can see it. Sometimes we weep over it, and sometimes find our heart broken by it. But if the child is ever to become a man or a woman, the lad, the lass, must be free to make his or her own mistakes, to choose. That’s exactly what God has done with us. We are persons, just as God is. And we can choose. And that’s why sin came into the world. We choose to do wrong. It’s a part of our being free.
Second: if God is sovereign, then why does He visit on children the sins of the fathers, the successive generations? [Exodus 20:5, 34:7] They bear the hurt of these who have preceded them. Why that? Why does God do that? That is because of our personalities again. We are responsible people. And they measure, and the burden of that responsibility becomes increasingly apparent as I see what I am reflected of in the life of a child and what you are reflected in the homes and lives of your families. Oh, Lord, how it makes you pause. That’s why the baby is born so helpless. That’s why the period of infancy in the human species is longer than for any other kind—in order to cultivate us and to teach us responsibility. This child is in my image, a part of me, soul, mind, looks. The child is in my image, as I am in the image of God [Genesis 1:27]. And these years of feeding, and nursing, and caring, bring that responsibility to my soul. Here again, I am free; I can dash it and destroy it and deface it.
I often think—talking about Nebuchadnezzar—of one of those bricks. Nebuchadnezzar had a habit of putting his name in every brick that was made in Babylon. They’ve got them over there by the millions, bricks with Nebuchadnezzar’s name in them. Well, here is a brick—and it’s in the British Museum—here is a brick, and it has the image and name of Nebuchadnezzar impressed in it. And while it was soft and malleable, a dog stepped on it. And that brick in the British Museum has the image and the name of the great king and a dog’s track on it. That’s exactly what has happened to us. The image is broken and defaced. But that’s a part of our human responsibility and freedom.
If God is sovereign and He reigns over all, then why do children die? These little innocent ones—why do infants die? Why do children die if God is sovereign? That is a part of the blight of this fallen race. It touches not only the flower and the fruit, but the bud. All humanism is alike—all of it! It makes light of sin. Sin, to the humanist, is the drag of our evolutionary ancestors. Sin, to the humanist, is just a stumbling upward. It is a slight thing. But not in the Bible: in the Word of God, sin is an awesome curse! If sin is slight, a pimple, then He that could heal it is a slight physician and Savior, the Lord Jesus. But if sin is an awesome and damnable thing that curses the race, then He who could deliver us from it is nothing but God Himself. And however the humanist may present sin, slight, a peccadillo, a pimple, the Word of God presents it as an eternal death [Revelation 20:11-15]. And it’s here, and it’s here, and it’s here; and we see it most poignantly as it strikes in a broken family.
And the suffering of the righteous: if God is sovereign, why should the righteous suffer? [2 Corinthians 4:17, Psalm 73:13-14]. And we always have a habit of putting the other side to that question: “And why do the wicked prosper?” [Psalm 73:3, Jeremiah 12:1]. God’s people suffer and the wicked people prosper and live in felicity. First of all, may I take a moment to point out: you be careful in judging that. For God’s Word says the way of the transgressor is h-a-r-d—“hard” [Proverbs 13:15]. And I can spell that in many ways. The way of the transgressor is h-e-l-l. God says that! The way of the transgressor is hard!
I grant you, there was a time when I looked upon people, there they are, and there they are, affluent and rich, sometimes famous. And seemingly, so happy, but they are as vile in their lives. Then I think how happy they are and how blessed they are and how felicitous their days. Then, as I became pastor of this church, and came to know some of those people intimately, there is no exception to it. If there is an exception to it, then God doesn’t live. A man cannot live in sin, and in gross carnality, and in rejection of God, and in unbelief, and in atheism and be happy! He cannot! Inside of that man is a misery that is unspeakable. And that goes for the whole human race.
When carnality, and sensuality, and debauchery, and atheism, and rejection swept over France in the 1700s, it swept over England in the same century. But there were two different ways. Robespierre bathed France in a godless blood bath. And John Wesley to preach and Charles Wesley to sing—brought England in a great revival to the feet of God. Don’t you persuade yourself that the wicked prosper. Their way is hard [Proverbs 13:15].
“But, God’s people suffer!” One: we don’t see it all. Our vision is so limited. Let me illustrate that from the Book. Do you remember when the sons of Jacob came to their father, and they laid before him Joseph’s coat of many colors? [Genesis 37:32]. They sold the boy to the Ishmaelites, who took him down into Egypt and auctioned him off on a slave block [Genesis 37:26-28, 36]. But in order to hide their monstrous crime, they took Joseph’s coat of many colors and dipped it in the blood of a goat, of a kid. And they laid it before Israel and said: “Is not this the coat of your son Joseph? Is this not the coat of the many colors? Look at the stains of blood. Something terrible has happened to him” [Genesis 37:31-32].
And [Jacob] picked up the bloodstained coat and said: “This is my son’s coat. And my son is dead. I will go down to my grave in sorrow” [Genesis 37:33-35]. And then he added a sentence. Do you remember that sentence? “All of these things are against me.” “All of these things are against me,” said Israel in his grief [Genesis 42:36]. All right, let me turn the page of the Bible. Do you remember what Joseph said to his brethren when they came and they were saved and spared out of a devastating famine? Do you remember what Joseph said? “God meant it for good.” Isn’t that what the Book says? “God meant it for good” [Genesis 50:20].
All these tragedies that overwhelm us temporally, in a short view they seem so tragic and so awesome. But God in His great overview, God means it for good. “It is good for me,” said the psalmist, “that I have been afflicted” [Psalm 119:71]. Paul’s thorn in the flesh [2 Corinthians 12:7-8] that the Lord refused to remove, saying “My grace is sufficient for thee” [2 Corinthians 12:19], led Paul to say: “Therefore I take pleasure in reproaches and in infirmities and in necessities; for when I am weak, when I am bowed under the heavy hand of God, then am I strong” [2 Corinthians 12:9, 10].
Now I summarize this third part of the sermon. I have but a moment left. The sovereignty of God, the government of God; first: He takes the deeds of evil men and He turns it to His glory. Don’t you be upset, don’t you be filled with anxiety about evil men, God takes their deeds and He turns it to His glory. You have a verse here in Simon Peter’s sermon at Pentecost that is astonishing: “Him, Jesus—Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” [Acts 2:23], the most dastardly deed that any power or government or rulers of men ever did; take the gentle Jesus and crucify Him. But Simon Peter says that happened according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God [Acts 2:23]. The Lord knew all about it, and He turned that tragic hour to the saving of the world; the sovereignty of God [Acts 2:36-39].
Second: the immutability of God; the unchanging God does not preach, or speak, or prove, or present His retreat from the earth. But rather it confirms our confidence and our assurance in Him. What God says we can stand by and on forever [Psalm 119:89], for God is unvarying and unchangeable; He is immutable and unimpeachable [Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6]. Why, bless you, look. Think! The dignity of God’s laws speak of the marvelous confidence we can have in Him. What if the sea was sometime liquid and sometime solid? What if things sometimes fell up, and sometimes fell down, and sometimes fell to the side? What if winter and summer were irregular and you couldn’t tell when the seasons might come? The fixedness of God’s immutable laws [Psalm 119:89] speaks of the immutability of God. We have confidence in Him. That’s the Lord. He rides in the trickle of the little stream as well as on the bosom of the great sea. He is in the atom as He is in the fixed star. He is today as He was yesterday and forever [Hebrews 3:8]. We can have confidence and assurance in God.
And last: the purpose of God, in all time and tide of history, is that better thing for us [Hebrews 11:40]. God hath given us the kingdom [Luke 12:32]. And all that happens, all of it—every headline of every paper, every page of every history, every incident in your life and in the development of the world—all of it is for you, getting ready for that great glorious consummation of the age when we shall inherit the kingdom [Matthew 25:34]. Look at that a second.
Paul says in the eighth chapter of Romans: “For we have not inherited, received the spirit of fear…” [Romans 8:15] and cringing, and cowardness, as though what happens in history, and what happens in death, and what happens in life bring stark, paralyzing terror to us. We have not received the spirit of fear. Not we. “But we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba (Abba—Father)… And if we are sons, then we are joint-heirs with Christ” [Romans 8:15, 17].
What does that mean? When you get to glory, when you walk down those golden streets, and when you appear before the Judge of all the earth, shall it be that you appear before God like a forgiven criminal who barely is tolerated in the presence of the judge who sentenced him? Will that be the way it is, or shall it be when we stand before the Judge of all the earth it will be as a son received by the Father? Which one? A criminal the judge tolerates? Or a son, washed, cleansed, reconciled, forgiven, adopted, and welcomed into the household of the King? [Revelation 1:5-6]. That’s what God proposes for us! Oh, dear fellow traveler, lift up your heads; raise your eyes and look to heaven. It is glory, glory, glory every step of the way!
We must sing our hymn of appeal; and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you to give your heart to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to and put your life with us in the fellowship of our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25], in the balcony, you, on this lower floor, you, make the decision now. In a moment when you come, come believing that God will see you through. He will open the door. He will welcome you and receive you. In Christ He died for us [1 Corinthians 15:3]. He bids us, come [Matthew 11:28-30]. God invites us. Answer with your life, “Here I am, Lord. I’m coming.” Down one of these stairways, into the aisle, here to the front, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to the Lord [Ephesians 2:8]. I don’t have all the answers but He does. I don’t see the end of the way. He sees it and I’ll trust Him for the victory.” Come. Come. Come, while we stand and while we sing.