Beloved Brethren: – A dear brother in Christ urges me to write for the SIGNS upon two statements of Paul, as follows:
“Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.” – Acts xxvii. 21.
“In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” – Eph. i. 11.
We believe that the apostle Paul was an inspired servant of God; that the ways of God are just and equal, and do not conflict; that there is, therefore, no contradiction between these two statements of Paul, nor between the other inspired oracles of God. But we may sadly fail to rightly understand the Scriptures, because we are very finite, and so not perceive their harmony; hence there may be difficulties in our minds, and confliction in our views; but all things are known unto God, who saw the end from the beginning. This fact should teach us our dependence upon the Lord for a true understanding of the word of truth, and humble us, as well as teach us to be charitable toward one another.
In the first text for our consideration, Paul spoke to the master and owner of the ship, and to the Roman officer, whose prisoner he was, whom he had before warned of this shipwreck and danger, but against his prophetic warning they had sailed away from Crete, which was defiant and perverse in them, after this kind and faithful prophet of God had told them that it would be with hurt and much damage. This is according to God’s purpose and way. Before sin entered into the world, the Lord said to man, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” But, like the master of the ship, Adam would not hearken. Yet God was not disappointed in either case, nor his purpose overthrown, for he foreknew the end, with all the consequences; therefore in his goodness and mercy, he made provision for the deliverance of the rebellious. His foreknown vessels of mercy were in Adam, so his servant Paul was in the endangered ship. In all the trangressions of rebellious man, he is left without excuse, for God has commanded and warned him, and the creature is under a supreme obligation to obey the supreme Creator. Therefore in every case, the sin and fault, violation and wrong are man’s, and the throne of the Most High is spotless and holy. Man is the author of his own sin. The supreme Ruler has the absolute right to command, warn and punish sinful man, or to have mercy upon him and send him deliverance. The Scriptures abundantly show all this, both by precept and example. The salvation of all in the ark of Noah, but the destruction of the wicked world by the flood, is a solemn instance. “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth,” and for this wickedness he sent the flood. The Most High has not left himself without witness in the righteous visitation of his judgments upon the earth, for holy men of God have been raised up and sent to foretell to men the fearful consequences of their persistent wickedness, which should come upon them. But both the Bible and the world’s history testify that “the heart of man is deceitful, and desperately wicked.”
Paul affirms, in the last text, that in Christ the saints have obtained an inheritance, “Being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” This is a very great and wonderful revelation of truth. Another like it is, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” – Romans viii. 28. All things work together for good to all those, for the reason that God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, as says the inspired Paul. This applies to all events in all times and places relative to the called of God according to his purpose, because his dominion and power are unlimited and supreme. And so no event can possibly arise without the knowledge and leave of God. With him there can be neither surprises nor accidents. If such a thing could be, it would destroy the sovereignty or supremacy of God, because it would deny either his wisdom to foresee, or his power to prevent the chance event, or both. But the Scriptures abundantly teach the self-evident truth, that our God is infinite in wisdom, and omnipotent in power, and that he therefore both foreknew all things, and controls all things. To deny this is simply to undeify the Almighty, and deny his eternal Godhead. And to deny this universal supremacy of Jehovah, would be to admit chance and chaos into God’s universe, and so overturn his government, defeat his eternal purpose, and subject all to anarchy and ruin. But we rejoice that blind and ruinous chance cannot obtain in God’s universal dominion, and that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Our dear Lord assures us that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the notice of our Father in heaven. The text connects all things with the infinite and eternal and immutable counsel of God’s will, therefore there cannot arise any device of men or devils, nor any wicked thing against his counsel, to defeat his purpose. If such a thing were possible, then some of the predestinated unto the adoption of children might fail to obtain the heavenly inheritance in Christ; then Paul and all in the storm-wrecked ship might have perished; then some mishap in the long chain of calamitous events in the afflictions of Joseph, or in the afflictions of Moses and the children of Israel in Egypt, might have changed all, and defeated the divine mercy, goodness and blessing there was in it all. Yet the envious brethren of Joseph wickedly sold him into slavery, but God sent him into Egypt. And most cruelly and wickedly did the Egyptians and Pharaoh oppress the enslaved chosen people of God, yet the Lord said to Pharaoh, “ Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” Truly then God’s counsel was in all those great and mighty things, and his wisdom and power brought great and lasting good to his people, and glory to his name through those trying things. Therefore “the sweet psalmist of Israel,” who understood all those things, would exultingly exclaim in praise to God, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” Surely then it was according to the eternal purpose of God that the wrath of man should praise him, and that he should restrain the remainder of wrath. So in the purpose and counsel of God, he has limited and bounded the wrath of mankind, just as truly as he has fixed a limit to the seas, saying, “Thus far shalt thou come, and here shalt thy proud waves be staid.” With David we may rejoice that it is so. The psalmist says, “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear assunder: he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth. He shall subdue the people under us, and the nations under our feet. He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved. Selah.” David says again, “For the kingdom is the Lord’s; and he is the Governor among the nations.” And so a great heathen king was humbled and made to say, “And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine ryes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me; and I blessed the Most High; and I praised and honored him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation; and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? * * * Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.” – Daniel iv. Well did this king know this, for God had abased him, and taught him to thus confess the supremacy of the Most High. In this is the safety of God’s people. His dominion is over all worlds and beings and things. Therefore, says Paul, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.”
As a most momentous and solemn instance of this truth, and the truth of the text, let me refer to the ancient prophecies of the life and persecutions, the cruel betrayal and mockings, scourging and crucifixion, of the meek and lamb-like Jesus of Nazareth, for every event of all this was determined and foretold hundreds of years before their awful fulfillment, and so were embraced in the counsel of God. The very persons engaged in this most wicked of all wicked murders, were also foretold, as Judas and the high priest, Pilate and Herod, the mocking and smiting soldiers, the one who offered the blessed sufferer the vinegar, and the other who thrust a spear in his side and heart, and also the two thieves on the right and left of Jesus, yea, the darkness and earthquake, the rending rocks and rent vail, the opening graves and rising dead, all were foreordained and foretold. Of all this crime of crimes, the apostle Peter by inspiration said, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel, and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” Not long after Peter thus spoke, being assembled with the other apostles, “They lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth, against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” Words could not be plainer, nor stronger; and these are divinely inspired words. “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” Thus did the Lord hear and bless them in this prayer. O Lord, this is enough for us to know, and here we may rest, trusting in thee.
The counsel and purpose of God so determined the fearful storm and shipwreck, in bringing all on board safely to the island of Melita, that by his servant Paul he greatly blessed the people of the island, who not only healed their sick, but also made known to them the gospel of our Savior. So the two texts that the dear, distant brother gave me, are in unison with the divine counsel and purpose, and yet the accountability of man and secondary causes are established. All worlds and creatures are under law to the Lord God omnipotent, and all are subjected to his sovereignty, and held within the determined limit of his eternal purpose. Both the Bible and the book of nature teach and prove this. Were it not so, then we could have no assurance of anything good, but uncertainty, peril and awful destruction should run riot everywhere throughout the universe. Why this would be nothing less than to wrest the crown of dominion from the great white throne of God, and leave us as a ship turned loose to drift upon a storm-tossed sea, or it would be virtually saying, with the fool, “There is no God.” When the spiritual poet, Cowper, driven by gloomy mental affliction, sought to go and drown himself, but God held him back by a singular providence, he returned home, and wrote the inspired song:
“God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.”
Jehovah himself afirms this truth, saying, “I am the Lord that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself; that frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; that coufirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof; that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; that saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.” – Isaiah xliv. This was more than a hundred years before Cyrus, the Persian king, was born. Please read on through the next chapter, in which the Lord says of Cyrus, “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none else. * * * Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” The things here foretold, which God said he would bring to pass, involved wars, the overthrow of peoples and nations, the return of the Jews to Judea, from their seventy years’ captivity, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple, through great suffering and perils. Yet God had purposed to bring to pass all those great and mighty events, “And it was so.”
In the histories of nations, their rise and fall, recorded in the Bible, the careful reader cannot but be impressed with the fact that the Almighty determined, directed and controlled their great battles, all of which were connected with his chosen people, either directly or indirectly. Elihu testified to Job of God and his ways and works, and of clouds and stormy winds he says, “He directeth it under the whole heaven, and his lightning unto the ends of the earth. * * * God thundereth marvelously with his voice; great things doeth he, which we cannot comprehend. * * * He scattereth his bright cloud. And it is turned round about by his counsels; that they may do whatsoever he commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth. He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy. * * * With God is terrible majesty. Touching the Almighty, we cannot find him out: he is excellent in power, and in judgment, and in plenty of justice: he will not afflict.” Then the Lord said to Job, “Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him! he that reproveth God, let him answer it. * * * Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? Hast – thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him? * * * Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee. * * * Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.”
It would be well for us all to meekly receive these divine rebukes and lessons of truth, and make the contrite and submissive confession that Job did in the end of his trial. Before we presume to either criticise the Almighty, or apologize for him, as he has revealed himself in the Bible, let us remember these two positive attributes: God is holy; God is love. Then let us remember also, God is infinite, omnipotent, supreme. Remembering these, and our unholiness, ignorance, weakness and dependence, we shall be impressed with a spirit of awe and reverence before his majesty, and should shudder at the blasphemous and horrid thought of charging sin or wickedness to God, or of saying that his ways are unequal, or he is unjust. God himself says, “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker!” And his servant Paul says, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God!” Poor, sinful, ignorant man. Yet he vaunteth himself as wiser and holier than the Holy One. How shocking for. any sinful creature, whose very breath is from the Almighty, to jeeringly talk about the holy Jehovah being the author of sin, if he would dare to comprehend all things in his eternal purpose and almighty control. Yet the very being, preservation and salvation of those who thus rant is bound up in this dominion and supremacy of the ever blessed and holy Lord God Almighty. His word is, “Be still, and know that I am God.” O, with his suffering Son, let us meekly say, “Father, thy will be done.” Man’s accountability is bound up in God’s sovereignty.
Trusting in God omnipotent, farewell.
Crawfordsville, Ind., Fell. 25, 1898.
Signs Of The Times
Volume 66., No. 17.
SEPTEMBER 1, 1898.