3. Governmental Forgiveness

 •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Perhaps there is no subject less thought of, and less understood even by Christians generally, than the ways of God in government; yet how distinctly they stand out upon the pages of His holy Word, and in the history of His people in all ages.
Now it is certain that unless we grasp the thought of God's government, we shall fail to understand the meaning of governmental forgiveness. It will be necessary, therefore, first to speak a little of the former.
God's Ways in Government
You will find the broad principle of it expressed in Galatians 6:7-97Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. (Galatians 6:7‑9). Let us quote the passage in full: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”
There are certain consequences which follow certain lines of conduct in this world, and God permits them, both in the case of His own people and in that of the children of darkness. Whatever a man sows he reaps. For example, What is the origin of the common expression, “Murder will out”? There can be no doubt that it is to be found in Genesis 9:5-65And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. 6Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. (Genesis 9:5‑6): “At the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” A man shall reap what he sows. It is a well-defined principle in the record of God's ways with men, and entirely distinct from grace. We shall see presently that a man may be in the full enjoyment of God's grace and yet be the subject of some governmental dealing at the same time; and, moreover, that God can overrule the results of fleshly sowing to further the ends of grace.
It may help the reader to understand more clearly the difference between grace and government if we draw his attention to the fact that when it is a question of government, a sin is not necessarily done with even when it is confessed.
“But,” says one, “you have just shown us that it is done with—done with forever!”
Yes. As a question of God's judgment upon it as guilt—that is, as to the matter of our salvation—the sin just confessed was done with on the cross when Jesus said, “ It is finished”; that is, before even it was committed. Then, secondly, as to the enjoyment of our relationship, it is done with the moment, with a broken heart, we honestly confess it. But be it remembered all the same, that there is a sense in which it may not necessarily be done with; that is, in connection with God's government.
Take a suggestive illustration. We will suppose the case of a man who, before his conversion, was a confirmed drunkard. He makes a clean break with the world and his old habits, and for years goes on brightly. He grows in the truth, and is even used of God in preaching to others. He fills, under his employer, a post of peculiar trust; one for which only the very steadiest of men would be eligible. A few years roll by, and then, alas! his love begins to decline; his appetite for heavenly things decreases, while his relish for what is earthly and sensual increases; old tastes are afresh cultivated, old worldly associations, especially those of the more refined type, become gradually revived. They do not in these circles consider him nearly so “narrow” as he used to be, and welcome his gradual return to their convivial gatherings. One day he has been out of town for his master, and in the evening, on his way home, he calls to see a friend—one of those semi-religious, love-the-world type of people so common in the present day. He is asked to take a glass of stimulant, and though at first he refuses, with a little friendly pressing he takes it, and then a second also. The old thirst is so powerfully revived that after leaving his friend's house he steals down a back passage to some bar parlor, and takes another glass, then another and another until his brain reels, and he can only stagger his way home! On the road a worldly young gentleman, a relative of his master's and employed in the same office, meets him, and observing his condition, taunts him with it. In savage rage he lifts his hand, and, striking the young man down, leaves him bleeding on the curb-stone.
He reaches home and goes to bed. Having slept off the effects of the alcohol he awakes. But imagine his mortified feelings as he says to himself, “Was I the worse for drink last night? Is it possible? Did I strike that relative of my master's in the street? Is it not some horrid nightmare?”
His poor wife can but too surely corroborate the first part of his inquiry, and with bitter tears she does it.
“What! I, a Christian, under the effects of liquor, striking a man in the street! Can it be possible!” he exclaims. “Can it be possible!” He gets out of bed; and, like a wounded worm writhing from the cut of a plowshare, he lies prostrate on the bedroom floor in anguish unutterable. How he lashes himself! How he loathes himself! No words could express the intensity of his mental agony. God's plowshare has entered his soul, and he reviews the past in His presence. He traces the varied steps in his spiritual decline; judges himself unsparingly; weeps over the sad dishonor he has brought upon his blessed Lord; confesses his sins, and is forgiven1 (1 John 1:99If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)). But is the matter done with? Far from it. The next day he receives a summons for “brutal assault.” His master, a worldly man, is shocked beyond measure at such conduct from a professing Christian. He feels he can no longer trust him in such an important post, and with undisguised indignation dismisses him from his service. Nor is the reaping even now done with. For many a long day he is made to feel the effects of his worldly course. He is reaping what he sowed. Out of employment for months, his wife suffers, his family suffers, and oh, how keenly he suffers! Then there is his testimony as a Christian. Oh, what a blow it has sustained! And all this, though his soul had been truly restored to happy communion with God.
Now this principle, we say, runs through the whole of Scripture. It is stamped upon the whole page of history, sacred and profane; it is interwoven in the affairs of nations; it makes its mark on families and on individuals; and, let even skeptics say what they will, it will be found that their own histories furnish no exception.
Take the history of the Jews since the death of Christ. They chose, on that momentous occasion, “a robber” in preference to Christ. “No king but Caesar” was their cry. “Crucify him”—the true Messiah. And how have this world's “Caesars” treated them since? Read their history. Witness their treatment in modern days, even in cultivated, religious Europe, and say whether they have not reaped what they sowed in preferring a Gentile monarch or even a “robber” to Jesus. What nation has been robbed in such a wholesale way as they?
Again, they cried, “His blood be upon us and our children.” They gave thirty pieces of silver to a traitor to get rid of Him; and then, when poor Judas threw the money at their feet in bitter remorse, being too religious to put it into the temple treasury, they bought a piece of ground with it, and called it “the field of blood,” a place “to bury strangers in.” Now where, upon the face of the earth, could you find a country of the same size that has been such a scene of bloodshed as the land of Canaan? It has, for that guilty nation, been indeed “a field of blood.” Could any other place be found where so many strangers have been buried as in that land? Witness the Crusades. What thousands upon thousands of the very flower of Europe fell in those years of fierce and deadly conflict! Yes, truly it has been a place “to bury strangers in.”
Take a case from the Old Testament. Adoni-bezek was one of the heathen lords of Canaan. The combined forces of Judah and Simeon made battle against him and took him captive, cutting off his thumbs and great toes. It seemed very severe treatment, but there was God's government behind it. Adonibezek was only reaping what he had sown, and his own lips are made to confess it. Mark what he said: “Three score and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done so God hath requited me” (Judg. 1:6-76But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. 7And Adoni-bezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died. (Judges 1:6‑7)). Be not deceived, ye stout-hearted, ye unconverted doing your own will. “God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
Take again the history of one of the patriarchs. At his mother's instigation Jacob killed a kid, and while he was entertaining his father with its flesh, he deceived him with its skin.
Then a second bit of deception is practiced. To get a wife is the plea for his hasty departure, although the real reason was Esau's rage against him. Now mark first how the mother reaps. Her plan of a few days' flight to her brother. Laban turned out to be a twenty years' absence, and, as far as history records, she never set her eyes again upon her beloved Jacob! Then, when he gets to Laban, he is almost immediately called to reap what he had just sown. Laban deceives him in promising to give him Rachel. Jacob had taken advantage of Isaac's darkness to deceive him, and now Laban takes advantage of the darkness of the evening to deceive Jacob.
It does not always follow, however, that we reap as quickly as this. It was many years after Jacob had killed that kid, and deceived his father with it, that his sons killed a kid, and, sprinkling its blood upon Joseph's coat, deceived him with it!
Turn now to the history of another Old Testament saint. DAVID had stained his character, and disgraces his throne by two of the darkest crimes of which man could possibly be guilty (2 Sam. 11 and 12). He committed adultery with the wife of one of his most faithful subjects, and then, to cover his crime, planned the death of her unsuspecting husband. “Thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword” (2 Sam. 12:99Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. (2 Samuel 12:9)), is the charge subsequently brought against him. It was a kind of second-hand murder.
A year of apparent indifference on David's part followed. But was David's God indifferent? Far from it. Faithful Nathan waits upon the guilty king. The touching story of the ewe lamb is told, and David's anger is “greatly kindled” against the man. Could he possibly have a subject so base? (Wait and see, King David.) “As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: and he shall restore the lamb fourfold... because he had no pity!”
It is wonderful how indignant we can be with other people's failings, and how marvelously tender with our own! But if we only thought a little more of God's government, it would assuredly make us more tender with one another. For it is a principle of His government that “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matt. 7:22For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matthew 7:2)). “He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy” (James 2:1313For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath showed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. (James 2:13)).
How little David weighed what he was saying, or guessed for whom he was legislating, until those four simple monosyllables, “Thou art the man,” fell upon his ears (2 Sam. 12:77And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; (2 Samuel 12:7)). Let them have issued as gently and tenderly as possible from Nathan's lips, they must have come like one of heaven's thunderbolts to his royal hearer's conscience. David is now reminded of God's past kindness to him, of the many deliverances He had wrought for him, when another had unrighteously sought his life; of the many favors He had bestowed upon him. Had He not lifted him from the sheepfold to the throne? And if that had been “too little”? He would have given him still more. But what, after all, had been his returns for such unheard-of favors? He had proved himself a despiser of God's commandments, an adulterer, a murderer! Such had been his guilty sowing; now for the righteous reaping: “The sword shall never depart from thine house.”
This opens David's lips, and from the depths of his inmost soul, and without a shadow of excuse for himself, bursts forth the honest confession, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:1313And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. (2 Samuel 12:13)). What follows? With equal promptness from the mouth of the prophet came the gracious words, “The Lord hath put away thy sin” (or, more literally, The Lord hath made thy sin to pass over); “thou shalt not die” (2 Sam. 12:1313And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. (2 Samuel 12:13)).
Ah! God is more merciful to David than David would have been to one of his own subjects. Thou shalt NOT DIE! How rich is His mercy; how “abundant in mercy and truth” is our Savior-God. Still, there is the governmental side to be looked in the face. David had but re-echoed the claims of God's own government in Israel when he had said, “He shall restore fourfold.” (See Ex. 22:11If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. (Exodus 22:1).) It is true, the judgment of God for David's crime was to be borne by David's greater Son—by Jesus, the Lamb of God. It is equally true that he was restored to communion with God, restored to the joy of His salvation, and that he wrote many a precious inspired psalm after that. Yet the sword never departs from his house until he had restored “fourfold.” David had pronounced the sentence; God would see it faithfully carried out.
First, Bath-sheba's son dies. One lamb has gone! Then David sees his own sin reproduced in his two sons; incest in Amnon is followed by murder in Absalom. Thus another lamb has gone! Then Absalom is slain by Joab's dagger. A third lamb gone! Another still remains, and in him David appears to reap in a two-fold way. Adonijah was apparently a good-looking youth, and a favorite of his father's.
David seems to have neglected to exercise the necessary rule and discipline in his own family circle; for we read, “His [Adonijah's] father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?” (1 Kings 1:66And his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly man; and his mother bare him after Absalom. (1 Kings 1:6)). And we may be sure of this, that if the head of a house fails to exercise proper authority, somebody else will soon take the reins. This was sadly verified in the case before us. Adonijah says (before his father dies), “I will be king.” What is the solemn sequel? At the command of Solomon (the son of Bathsheba) David's fourth lamb falls by the sword!
How deeply must David's heart have felt all this, for he lived to see at least three out of the four cut off by the sword, and the fourth on the way to it. Perhaps the bitterest part of all the results of our fleshly sowing is what we reap in the bosom of our own families!
The Lord grant His rich blessing to both reader and writer of these pages, and so deepen in our souls the sense of His holiness and love, that we may walk the more softly before Him, cleave the more closely to Him, and work the more heartily for Him, until the goal be reached.
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