The Government of God
April 25th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Daniel 5: 30-31
4-25-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Government of God.
"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]. The message is framed as the conclusion of these chapters on Daniel that describe the rise and glory and fall of the Babylonian Empire. The golden head of the image is no more; it has passed away forever. Never again, nor in the future, never again will the seat of empire be in any city or in any nation in the Mesopotamian Valley, where for centuries and centuries the imperial cities of Nineveh and Babylon held sway over the entire civilized world. And it is astonishing to me that the Scriptures present the passing away of that scepter in one verse, one verse! In the Bible there is a succession of empires; so rapidly and kaleidoscopically do they pass before us: the empire of the Hittites, who have just within recent years come to light; the empire of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, all passing in review through these pages. Then in modern history, the same shifting and transference of power: Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Great Britain, America, Russia, China, Japan – how it moves! And yet above it all God reigns King forever; an absolute, unimpeachable Sovereign.
This is the lesson that God taught Nebuchadnezzar: "To the intent that the living, all of us, may know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will, and setteth up over it the humblest of men" [Daniel 4:17]. The whole gamut of history lies in His sovereign hands, in His hands. "Thy throne, O Lord, is forever and ever" [Psalm 45:6].
"Once did God speak, and twice have I heard it; that power belongeth unto God" [Psalm 62:11]. In the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, "And all of the nations of the world are but as a drop in the bucket." Lift that bucket filled with water out of the well and there is a drop, insignificant, that falls back; or as the pail is poured out, that falls to the side. All of the nations in God’s sight are as a drop in the bucket, or "as the dust in the balance" [Isaiah 40:15]; the fine, inconsequential dust that doesn’t even weigh. Or as the same chapter of Isaiah says, "And the people, all of the people are as grass" [Isaiah 40:6].
I think of the marching columns and the militant thousands of the armies of Nimrod and of Shishak and of Sennacherib, and of Nebuchadnezzar, and Cyrus, and Xerxes, and Alexander, and the legions of Caesar. Where are they? Their sons were born to bury them; as our sons and daughters are born to bury us, like a series of fallen leaves in the forest. The peoples and the nations of the world are like so many ciphers: zero, zero, zero, zeroes. And the only unit that gives it meaning is Almighty God! And in the great sovereignty of the Lord, sitting above the circle of the earth [Isaiah 40:22], King of all the nations and peoples of mankind, He has an overview that is eternal. He doesn’t deal with just one generation, but with successive generations. Nor does He deal with just this world, but in the world that is to come and all of the other worlds that may exist in God’s sight.
Our review, our purview, our horizon is so limited and so very small. I can easily imagine a fly lighting on a cornice of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and look around, and he says, "What a mean and paltry and contemptible place this is." He has no idea: he’s incapable in his small insignificance to view the proportion of the vast dome and the pillars and the great edifice. To me one of the most beautiful buildings in the world is the Chrysler Building in New York City. And one of the most fantastic pieces of architectural arrangement on that building are those giant gargoyles sticking out on the corners. I can easily imagine another fly lighting on one of those gargoyles, and looking around and saying, "What lack of beauty and proportion is this?" – absolutely unaware of the tremendous height and glory and architectural beauty of that building.
We are like that in the presence of God: we see just so small; our horizon is so limited. But the great sovereign King of the earth overviews the entire infinitude of His creation and all that develops therein. As such therefore He sits as Judge of all the nations of the world [Jeremiah 18:7-10].
There are some who think that there is no meaning or purpose in history; there isn’t any God in it, either at the beginning, at the end, or in its development. There are others who would say that if God did create the world, and if all we see is a result of His sovereign creative hands, then He has retreated from it: He wound it up and left it to run of itself by what the philosophers call second causes, and by what an infidel would call blind accident. That’s not true. The great sovereign God sits as Judge of all the nations of the earth; and they live or they die, they exist or they decay according to whether or not they are true to Him. No nation lives in blasphemy, and in sin, and in rejection. He judges the nations of the earth.
Just as God judges the denominations and judges the churches; where there is a church that gives itself to formality and ritual and rubric and ceremony, and turns aside from preaching the gospel and winning souls, God takes the lampstand away [Revelation 2:4-5]. And in that same way does God judge the nations of the earth, as He does here in Babylon [Daniel 5:30-31]. A kingdom built up and giving itself to sensuality and carnality, and when Belshazzar held that feast, God said, "It is enough!" And it disappeared from the face of the earth [Daniel 5:5, 25-31].
Reckon all of that is ancient history? Did you see this article in the Dallas News, about two or three days ago?
New York scares mayors. The mayors breakfasted at a residence for former narcotic addicts, and visited a Brooklyn hospital where heroin addicts are treated with methadone, an addictive that’s relatively harmless. Lindsay said, the mayor of New York, that it would cost millions of dollars to rehabilitate New York’s narcotic addicts, who, he said number about one hundred thousand. ‘The drug problem could be the number one problem,’ he said. ‘These cities that don’t have it as badly as New York, will have.’ The mayors then walked passed 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 sign of devastation; but 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.’
You don’t laugh at God! He sits Judge of the nations [Genesis 18:24]; and whether we live or whether we die lies in His sovereign hands.
One of the most amazing of all the things that I find in the character of God is this – and this is God throughout the centuries, and it never varies – I say one of the most astonishing to me things about the character of God is this: that He uses blaspheming and sinning nations to judge other nations who turn aside from Him.
Look at that just for a second. Pause and look at that. When Assyria came down out of Nineveh and destroyed the northern ten tribes and shut up Judah in a vise, Isaiah asked the Lord, "These bitter Assyrians who blaspheme God and they are idolaters, why, Lord?" And the Lord God said, "Assyria is the rod of Mine anger, and the staff of Mine indignation" [Isaiah 10:5].
All right, look again: when Babylon came under Nebuchadnezzar and destroyed Judah, and destroyed Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple, the prophet Habakkuk asked God, "Why?" And God said, "I have ordained them for judgment; and established them for correction" [Habakkuk 1:12]. Wherever there is a nation and a people that forgets God, the Lord raises up another nation to chasten them!
You reckon things are happening up there in that sky with these Russian cosmonauts flying over our head every few hours? Reckon God’s getting ready to do something? And that great giant of Red China beginning to move, reckon God’s getting ready to do something? And America scoffs, and laughs, and blasphemes, and desecrates, and gives itself to carnality and sensuality and drunkenness. Why, when I was in New York, listening, just before I went to bed, over a television panel, one of the panelists said there are two hundred thousand alcoholics in New York, hopeless, helpless alcoholics. And besides that, in this article, Mayor Lindsay says, "And there are one hundred thousand drug addicts." Then that panelist, another one, said, "And there are one million family members that are hurt and destroyed by that alcoholism." New York is the richest city in the richest state in the richest nation in the earth! And this is a judgment from Almighty God. And Mayor Lindsay says what’s happening here; later will happen in all the cities of America.
There is a kingdom that lives forever. It is not British, it is not American, it is not Russian, it is not Chinese, it is not Roman, nor is it Greek, it is not Assyrian, nor is it Babylonian, it is not Egyptian, nor is it Hittite. There is a kingdom that lives forever, and it alone shall abide and endure. In the great vision of Daniel there was a stone cut without hands, and it smote the image on the feet, and it fell in shattered atomic pieces, atomized. And the stone grew to fill the whole earth. And Daniel said that is the kingdom of God [Daniel 2:44-45]. The kingdom of God, it shall abide forever – the sovereign Ruler, the great Jehovah God, and His kingdom that shall never pass away.
All right, we’re going to turn now to an altogether different aspect of God’s sovereignty. So the Lord reigns supreme, so the Lord is King over all, so the Lord’s throne is forever and ever, so the Lord guides and rules; then there are some questions I’d like to ask, and I need an answer. The best that I can, studying the Book, I shall try to answer.
One: then why the entrance of sin into the world? If God is King and He reigns supreme and His throne is forever and ever, then why the entrance of sin? For lots of reasons; God is preparing some better thing for us; but, mostly, if I am to be free and not an automaton, I must be free to choose. And if I’m not free to choose, I’m not free. If I’m not responsible, I’m not free.
I want to illustrate that for you. Because I see it so poignantly in all of the hearts and lives of you fathers and mothers, and I feel it in my own life. Here is a youngster growing up. And on your shoulders is a head of wisdom through the years and the years. And these youngsters grow up, they don’t have the background and the experience that you have. So what I’d like to do is, as I see the youngster grow up, a daughter, a son, I’d like to make every decision for them. I know better than they do. I’ve had experiences that they have never had. I’m older and more mature. I’d like to make every decision for them; not only when they’re this high, but as they grow on up and up and up and up and up and finally they reach young manhood and young womanhood, and I want to make those decisions for them. But as long as I do that, they are not free. They must be given the privilege to make their own mistakes. That’s what it is to mature, and that’s what it is to be responsible. And that’s the same way with us: if I do not have the choice, if I cannot make mistakes, if I cannot by my decision do what is wrong, I am not free. And God made us persons like Himself, we are free; we can choose, we can decide. And we choose to do evil, we do.
All right, a second: if God is sovereign, why is it that sin is visited; judgment of sin is visited upon successive generations? [Exodus 34:7]. Here is a father that sins, and the judgment of his sin is visited upon his children, why? Because that brings to us again that accountability and responsibility, without which I would not be a responsible person unto God; that’s why the little baby is born helpless and little and tiny, can’t feed itself, can’t take care of itself; it’s a little bundle of absolute helplessness. And the period of infancy is longer than any other species that we know. For years that little thing looks to us; God teaching us to be responsible and accountable. That little child becomes our love and our hope and our responsibility. And if I do wrong, it has a repercussion in the life of that child. But if I do right, the little child is blessed. That’s the way God has made us.
All right, if God reigns supreme and He is King over all the earth, and everything is in His hands, then why do children die? These little innocent ones, why do children die? Why do infants die? Why do children die? That is a part of the awesome fall of our human race; for the blight strikes and smites the bud as it does the blooming flower or the fruit.
Oh, the depths of the depravity of sin! All humanism has a tendency to make light of sin. "Oh, it’s nothing but the drag of our evolutionary ancestors. It’s nothing but a stumbling upward." All humanism seeks to make light of sin. Everything that is true to the Bible presents to us the grievousness of sin. If sin is a slight thing, the Savior that could take it away did a slight thing for us, or nothing. But if sin is an awesome thing, then the Savior that could deliver us from it is the great God Himself. And a part of that total depravity – the fallen mind, and the fallen heart, and the fallen soul, and the fallen emotions, and the fallen will, and the fallen acts, the fallen life – a part of that is found in death, death, death. And it’s in that death that we are taught to lift up our eyes to heaven. Out of this little life God shall raise a sweet, precious remembrance in glory.
If God is sovereign and He reigns over all the earth, then why do good people suffer? Sometimes we place it both positively and negatively. If God is supreme, then why do good people suffer and bad people live in felicity and prosperity? All right, let’s pause just for a moment. Sometimes we misjudge the felicity of these who are evil. We look at them and say, "That evil man, that bad man, look how prosperous he is, and look how happy he is. And he has everything going his way." The Book says, "The way of the transgressor is hard" [Proverbs 13:15]. And I used to be more inclined to think, "Oh, that man is so prospering, and he’s a wicked man." But I have become intimately introduced to some of the lives of these so-called prosperous wicked men, and they are abysmally and abjectly miserable. I don’t want to go that way. I wouldn’t have any moment of their lives, not I. "The way of the transgressor is hard!"
Think of the dissolute nation of France in the 1700s, and think of the dissolute nation of England in the 1700s, and they went two different ways: France and its Robespierre and its blood bath and its terrible French Revolution; and England had its glorious Wesleyan revival. "The way of the transgressor is hard!"
But there’s more. Many, many, many times those hardships and those difficulties are the instruments of God for tremendous blessing. Do you remember – we don’t have time but just to mention one of them – do you remember when those sons of Israel came to their father, having taken Joseph’s many-colored coat and dipped it in the blood of a kid, brought it to their father and said, "Your son is dead. This is his coat, isn’t it? Isn’t that his coat? Look at it stained with blood." And Israel bowed his head, and said he was going down to the grave in sorrow [Genesis 37:31-35].
And then said, "All of these things are against me." Remember that verse in the Bible? And Israel said, Jacob said, "All of these things are against me" [Genesis 42:36]. All right, what did Joseph say at the passing of the years? "God meant it for good" [Genesis 50:20]. Isn’t that what the Book says? "God meant it for good." These things that overwhelm us, that to us seem so harsh and dark and awesome, we just can’t see the great sovereign wisdom. The psalmist said, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" [Psalm 119:71]. The apostle Paul said, "This thorn in the flesh. . .God said, My grace shall be sufficient for you. . .Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in necessities, in reproaches; for when I am weak, bowed, crushed beneath His hand, then am I strong" [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]. The apostle Paul said again, "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more and exceeding weight of glory; while we look not at the things that are seen; the flower that fades and the grass that perishes, but at the things that are not seen: for the things that are seen are perishing, temporal; and the things that are not seen are eternal" [2 Corinthians 4:17-18].
I have a third part to the message. Let me summarize it just for a minute. I study so hard on these sermons, and I just pray over them, and pore over them, many times weep over them, and when time comes to preach, it seems to me just about the time I get a good introduction, then the time’s over with. I wish this church would have a conference, and call me as a pastor, and say, "Now pastor, this time we’re going to call you and we’re just going to let you preach all day long. And we’ll bring our lunches, and we’ll come and go as we need to, and you just preach." Oh! I’d like that.
Now, a little summary: we’re talking about the government of God. We’re talking about the sovereignty of the Lord. We’re talking about the great King that rules, and judges, and blesses, and guides; talking about the great sovereign government of God. One: God uses wicked men, and God uses all of those tragic developments in history, God uses it for His glory. You’ll not find a verse that explains that or exhibits that more than this one in the second chapter of Acts in the sermon of Simon Peter: "God, Jesus, the Lord, the Savior" – think of it, how, oh! the sorrow of His cross and the tragedy of His crucifixion, Him – now look at it: "Jesus, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye," those Jewish rulers, "ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" [Acts 2:23]. There it is in one verse. They took the Lord and crucified Him, and slew Him, nailing Him to a tree. But Simon Peter says, "You did it by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." Turning evil, whatever it is, whatever evil is over there in the Kremlin, whatever evil there is in Moscow, whatever evil there is in Peking or Havana or Santiago, Chile, whatever evil there is in New York or in Dallas, God turns it ultimately to the great, infinite purpose toward which all history under His guiding hand is moving. I am not to be discouraged, or cast down, or defeated: these things are in the hands of the living God.
Second: the very immutability of God is our assurance and our confidence. It is just the opposite of what these infidels say. They say that God, if there is a God, has retreated from the earth; wound it up, if there is such a God that ever made it, and He has left, and it runs by those fixed laws. It’s just the opposite. It is the fixedness of God’s laws that give us assurance and confidence in Him [Psalm 119:89]. We can depend on God.
What if the sea were sometimes liquid and sometimes solid? What if things sometimes fell up as well as fell down or they fell to the side? What if winter and summer were irregular, and you had no idea when or what? It is the immutability of God, the unchanging, unvariableness of God that is our great confidence and assurance. He rides on the trickle of a little stream as well as on the bosom of the great rivers. He is in the atom as He is in the fixed star. He is here today as He was yesterday, and will be forever. We can depend on God, the immutability of the Lord [James 1:17].
And His design for us and His purpose for us is always good. I have to close. Listen, the apostle Paul says, "We have not received the abject spirit of fear and bondage." O Lord, no! That’s for the infidel! He doesn’t see any reason, he doesn’t see any purpose. The grave is the night to him:
We have not received that spirit of bondage to death and fear;
but we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. . .And if sons, then joint-heirs with Christ
Dear me! Think of that. Someday when we stand in the presence of the great King, shall we stand there like a forgiven criminal in the presence of a judge who barely tolerates him? Or shall we stand there like a son, welcomed by the Father? Tell me, what does the Bible say? What does the Bible say? Doesn’t the Book say that He has so reconciled us and so washed us and cleansed us and forgiven us that when we stand in His presence it will be as a son, welcomed of the Father? [Jude 1:24] That’s God’s sovereign purpose for us.
Well, we’ll put a comma here, and we’ll start next Sunday morning. Got you a song to sing lad? Let’s sing it. We ought to sing, and shout, and rejoice, and clap our hands, and be glad! We have reason to rejoice.
Now on the first note of this first stanza, to give your heart to Jesus, to come into the fellowship of the church, as the Lord should speak to a family, to a couple, or just to you, come now, on the first note of this first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.