CHAPTER 2. —GOD.
Allusion has been made to the permitted independence of “the laws of nature” for all ordinary purposes, and to the importance of recognising this mechanical independence in order to obtain distinct views of the operations of providence. Next to this, if not before it, it is essential to recognise the individuality of the Creator, without which the idea of providence would be without its very root; for though the operations of providence are angelically carried out in their details, yet they have their origin in the initiative of the personal Father, of whom the angels are but the obedient instruments (Psalm 103:20).
Intense personality is the first revealed characteristic of the Creator of heaven and earth. Not only the incessant use of the pronouns “I,” “Me,” “He,” “Him,” but express declarations in many forms attest it.
“The Father hath life in Himself” (John 5:26).
“He is the living God” (Jeremiah 10:10).
“He is the Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:2, 4).
“There is none like Me in all the earth” (Exodus 9:14).
“To whom will ye liken me or shall I be equal (Isaiah 40:25).
“I am the Lord and there is none else; there is no God beside Me” (Isaiah 45:5).
“The Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:6).
“I have made the earth and created man upon it” (Isaiah 45:12).
“The living God made heaven and earth and the sea, and all things that are therein” (Acts 14:15).
“I lift up My hand to heaven and say, I live for ever” (Deuteronomy 32:40).
The force of these expressions is strengthened by the frequent and uniform declaration that the Father dwells in heaven, in contrast with the earth as a locality.
“God is in heaven and thou on earth; therefore, let thy words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
“Our Father who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).
“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh” (Psalm 2:4).
“O Thou that dwellest in the heavens” (Psalm 123:1).
“The Lord looked down from heaven” (Psalm 14:2).
“Hear Thou, in heaven Thy dwelling place” (1 Kings 8:30).
“I (Jesus) go to Him that sent me” (John 7:33).
“He (Jesus) was received up into heaven and sat on the right hand of God”
The physical glory of His person powerfully leads the mind towards the same conception, testified in various ways:
“The glory of the incorruptible God” (Romans 1:23).
“God is light” (1 John 1:5).
“He dwelleth in the light that no man can approach” (1 Timothy 6:16).
“Thou art clothed with honour and majesty, who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment” (Psalm 104:1).
“His glory is above the heavens” (Psalm 113:4).
“His brightness was as the light; He had horns (shafts of light) coming out of His hands; there was the hiding of His power” (Habakkuk 3:4).
Furthermore, the form of the glorious Creator, shadowed to us in various places, completes the chain of ascending clues by which we are enabled to lay hold of that conception of the Father which is exactly suited to our spiritual requirements—the idea of a glorious corporate intelligence located in the heart of the universe upholding all things by the word of His power. Man is stated by James to be “made after the similitude of God,” even the Father—see context (James 3:9). Paul also says he is “the image and glory of God” (1 Cor. 11:7). Christ, formed in fashion as a man, is said to be “the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15); and “the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3); which gives force to Jehovah’s description of him as “the man that is my fellow” (Zech. 13:7). From this results the conviction that the Father is not only glorious substance, even spirit substance, but that this substance has the human form in its perfection. The Father’s person is, in fact, the prototype of all intelligent being. Of Moses, it was said, as indicative of the privilege which he alone enjoyed in his day, “the similitude of the Lord shall he behold” (Num. 12:8); and, further, that “there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” (Deut. 34:10), “as a man speaketh to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). That this referred to the angelic manifestation of Jehovah is unquestionable; but still the fact remains that the similitude he beheld was the similitude of Jehovah. Thus the angels are in Jehovah’s image, and we in the image of the angels, and therefore Jehovah’s.
Dr. Thomas, in a scrap written just before his death, and found among his papers afterwards, thus defines the foregoing scripturally-revealed conception of the Father, of whom are all things: “Absolute power, from whose incorruptible substance or hypostasis free spirit radiates, is before all existing things. This self-existing incorruptible substance is essentially spirit—spirit substance—a concentration and condensation into ONE BODY of all the attributes, intellectual, moral and physical, of omnipotence—all things are out of Deity (1 Cor. 8:6). All things being out of Deity, they were not made out of nothing. The sun, moon and stars, together with all things pertaining to each, were made out of something, and that something was the radiant effluence of His substance, or free spirit, which pervades unbounded space. By free spirit, all created things are connected with the centre of the universe, which is light that no man can approach unto, so that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father, who is not far from every one of us. The formation of the first man of the earth was the expression by spirit of the peculiar divine idea or mental image. The spirit-developed form, styled man, was the result of power divinely exercised upon the dust of the ground. Electricity, divinely manipulated and incorporated with the dust (itself an electrical product) assumed the form of the divine image and likeness and stood erect, a living, natural body, or man.”
A recognition of the Father’s person, enthroned in the heavens in glory, yet en rapport with universal space, brings immense practical power with it. It makes worship a reality, and helps us to feel the purifying truth of Hagar’s speech: “Thou God seest me.” That conception of God which thinks of Him as mere abstract power, impalpable, universal, without person or locality, is apt to degenerate into the blind god of Pantheism, which is no god at all, but the mere impassive sum total of universal phenomena. The God revealed to us in the Bible is a Creator, a Father, and a person, universal in His presence and power, but still a located and glorious person whom we can contemplate, love, confide in, and adore. This suits our mental constitution. We cannot worship abstract universal power, but we can worship a glorious being who possesses universal power, and has made all things by His wisdom. This is the Father revealed to us in the Bible, and manifested especially to us by the Lord Jesus Christ.
We must not allow our own thoughts on the subject, as natural men, to act as a barrier to what is revealed. “An evil heart of unbelief” is every man’s possession by nature, because of native ignorance of everything, and evil bent at the start; and in no way are its propensities more inveterately manifested than in “departing from the living God.” Idolatry is the gross manifestation of this tendency: the philosophic rejection of personal Deity is its modern and more refined illustration, and the one against which we have to be most on our guard. It will help us to combat this tendency if we recollect that, as mere observers of nature, we know nothing about how nature has come or is upheld. The evolution theories of Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer, are with a small substratum of fact, mere guesses, and hideous at that, with quite as much of mystery at their roots as may ever be felt to attach to the idea of a Creator. A primary, eternal, intelligent, and, therefore, personal force, with a reality, more in harmony with the facts of the universe as we find them, than the notion of impassive force, which is only a name for something nobody can conceive. At all events, so far as any knowledge on our part goes, or any perceived necessity, the eternal starting point may just as well be one thing as another. It is a simple question of what—not how. This the Bible settles. The ideas suggested by our own sensations are to be rejected in any attempts to conceive of the illimitable Holy One of Israel. We are weak, limited and abortive forms of intelligence; we must not conceive of or measure the Eternal Being by the light of our feelings or notions. Our simple duty is to accept implicitly what is revealed, relying, at the same time, on the force of David’s argument:
“He that hath planted the ear, shall He not hear? He that formed the eye, shall He not see?”
To which we may add, He that hath bestowed upon us the mystery of personal individuality, shall He not possess it in the highest form? Yes, the God of Israel is a personal God. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is a personal Father, yet not a man, though we faintly borrow our image from Him. He is glorious and incorruptible in His substance; unchangeable in His nature, one with the universe, clothed with eternal light and power. He fills heaven and earth by His spirit, which is one with Him. By this He upholds all things, and knows and controls everything.
“Honour and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty in His sanctuary. Who in heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. His greatness is unsearchable. I will speak of the glorious honour of His majesty to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of His kingdom.”
With the two ideas before us—the fixed nature of the laws of heaven and earth, and the personal, sovereign, individuality of the Father, their Creator, it requires but a recognition of the angelic element to complete the purview of the subject, and to qualify us to conceive of and rightly interpret the operations of providence in the affairs of men. We read that—
“The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him”
That the angels are Jehovah’s ministers and servants who do His commandments (Psalm 103:20); that concerning Christ and His people, He gives His angels charge for their guidance and protection. That these are no figures of speech is evident from:
1. The actual appearance of angels in various visible transactions. —Three appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18:1); two visited Sodom the night before its destruction, and led Lot out of the place next morning (Gen. 19); one wrestled to be released from Jacob, who held him (Gen. 32:24; Hosea 12:4); one withstood Balaam on his unrighteous errand to curse Israel (Num. 22:22); one appeared to Gideon, in the depth of Israel’s distress, to instruct him as to the measures for deliverance (Judges 6:11); one appeared to Manoah, the father of Samson, who with his wife, at first supposed him to be a mortal man (Judges 13:3-16).
2. The reality of things done by them in their capacity of servants. —One went before the camp of Israel on their departure from Egypt, and when the Egyptians drew near, removed and went behind Israel, interposing himself between the two hosts, and harassing the movements of the Egyptians by taking off their chariot wheels (Exod. 14:19, 24). One ravaged the coasts of Israel with pestilence, and was divinely arrested in the act of destroying Jerusalem for David’s sin (2 Sam. 24:16). One decimated a whole Assyrian army in one night (2 Kings 19:35). One undid the locks of a Roman prison, and liberated the apostles (Acts 5:19); and, on another occasion, liberated Peter in the same practical way (Acts 12:7-11).
3. Their intimate relation to Christ’s first appearing. —One appeared to Mary, and announced his coming conception (Luke 1:26); another announced his birth to a company of shepherds on the open plain, and the announcement was followed by a song of a multitude of them (2:10). Angels ministered to him on the occasion of his temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:11); and again at the crisis of his trial in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:53; Luke 22:43). One angel descended and rolled away the stone from the sepulchre preparatory to Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:2); and two remained after the event to testify it to those who came to the grave (John 20:12). Two also appeared at the ascension, and comforted the disciples with the promise of his return (Acts 1:10).
4. Christ’s recognition of them in His teaching. —
“Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels of heaven”
“Him shall the Son of Man confess before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).
“There is joy in the presence of the angels” (Luke 15:10).
“They are equal unto the angels” (Luke 20:36).
“I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels”
5. Their foretold participation in the events of His second coming. —
“The Son of Man shall come in His glory and all the holy angels with Him” (Matt. 25:31).
“The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels”
“Of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).
“We are come . . . to an innumerable company of angels” (Heb. 12:22).
“I heard the voice of many angels . . . and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands” (Rev. 5:11).
6. Incidental scriptural allusions to their power, goodness and wisdom. —
“Like the countenance of an angel of God, very terrible” (Judges 13:6).
“Good in my sight as an angel of God” (1 Sam. 29:9).
“As an angel of God, so is my Lord to discern” (2 Sam. 14:17).
The doctrine of angelic supervision is therefore not a mere drapery of description, but the revelation of a literal fact in which the children of God are invited to place their faith, and of which God has vouchsafed numerous palpable illustrations in the ages that are past, and of which He is about to grant the most striking of all exemplifications in the return of the Lord Jesus, with a multitudinous retinue of the glorious host, before whose brightness the glory of the present world will pass away in more senses than one.
An element of enlightened discernment in the case is found in the fact that what the angels do and say are spoken of as the sayings and doings of their Creator. The angels and Jehovah, for whom they act, are indissolubly associated in many Scripture narratives. Let one or two illustrations suffice. The angel that appeared to Lot said:
“Haste thee, escape hither, for I cannot do anything till thou be come thither. The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar. Then the Lord (Jehovah) rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah” (Gen. 19:22-24).
Here the work done by the angel is said to be the Lord’s work. Again: God said to Abraham,
“Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering” (Gen. 22:2).
“The angel of the Lord called unto him out of heaven and said, . . . Seeing thou hast not withheld thine only son from ME” (verses 11-12).
“The angel of the Lord spake unto me (Jacob), saying, I have seen all that Laban doeth unto thee. I am the God of Bethel” (Gen. 31:11-13).
“The angel of Jehovah appeared unto Moses . . . Moreover, he said, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:2, 6).
The angel of the Lord camping round about them that fear Him is, therefore, Jehovah camping, etc. Yet the angels are not Jehovah, except in so far as they are embodiments of His own eternal power, and the instruments in the accomplishment of His will. The distinction is visible in many cases. Thus, the angel that came to Manoah (Judges 8:16) said,
“Though thou detain me, I will not eat of thy bread; and if thou wilt offer a burnt offering, thou must offer it unto Jehovah.”
So Gabriel, who came to Daniel, said,
“At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show thee” (Dan. 9:23).
So also the angel, who exhibited the apocalypse to John (Rev. 1:1), said to John when John fell down to worship him,
“See thou do it not . . . worship God” (19:10).
The conclusion resulting from this brief survey of the testimony is, that the leading element in the operations of providence, where those operations really take place, consists of angelic interposition, but that this interposition is the carrying out of instructions they have received from the Creator of all things, or from the Son of His love, to whom the angels have been subjected: and is not the result of their own devising (1 Peter 3:22). The eternal Father fills and discerns all space and its incidents by His Spirit. He is the possessor and the head of all things: to Him our prayers must be addressed in the name appointed—the name of Jesus; but the working out of His will toward us is committed to the hands of vigilant immortal beings, whom we are not permitted to see in this our probation in the days of Gentile ascendancy.
That there should be such a thing as providence is reasonable, in view of the fact that God has a purpose among the nations of the earth, as revealed in prophecy of political matters. This purpose would never be realised were the endless caprices of human action not subject to vigilant divine supervision, carefully guiding events at the turning points. Hence we read:
“The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will” (Dan. 4:25).
The form in which this divine rule is carried out is exemplified in the words of the angel to Daniel:
“No will I return to fight with the prince of Persia, and when I am gone forth, lo! the prince of Grecia shall come . . Also I, in the first year of Darius the Mede, even I (the angel) stood to confirm and strengthen him” (Dan. 10:20; 11:1).
The reasonableness of providence results also from the other truth, that God is preparing for Himself a people by the Gospel during, and by means of the present reign of evil. The development of these is largely the work of circumstances operating in connection with their enlightenment. They could not be developed without trouble; but the trouble, if not regulated, would be destructive. Hence, first, the intimation that—
“Whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth; and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Heb. 12:6);
And, secondly, that—
“He will not suffer them to be tempted above that they are able to bear, but will, with the temptation, also make a way of escape that they may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
It could not be imagined that the objects of the Father’s love should be left to the operations of chance, and that He, without whom a sparrow cannot fall to the ground, and to whose eyes all things are naked and open, should leave undirected, in the morass of human life, the steps of those whose eyes and affections and trust are directed to Him in daily prayer. The testimony declares the contrary:
“Your Father knoweth things ye have need of before ye ask Him. . . . Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:8, 33).
“Casting all your care upon Him, for He careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
“He hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee, so that we may boldly say, the Lord is my helper; I will not fear what man can do unto me” (Heb. 13:5-6).
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:6).
“The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and He delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:23-25).
With this citation of the testimony, or rather of a very few specimens of it, going to show that such as fear the Lord in sincerity and truth, are even now under divine protection, we close these two preparatory chapters, with the purpose, if the Lord will, of proceeding in our next to the exhibition of the practical illustration we have of these truths in the histories contained in the holy oracles.
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