God's Grace and Governmental Dealings

Luke 13  •  27 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Luke 13
There are two great principles in God's dealings, in connection with man on the earth, which are developed in the Church of God, as such, and in the government of God. And these two things are very distinct the one from the other. In the Church the riches of God's grace are manifested; but in His governmental dealings, righteousness, and the display of His attributes, as justice, mercy, and goodness. We have an example of God's governmental power in Ex. 34:6, 7, "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and fourth generation." Here it is in connection with the Jews, and not only among the Jews, but it shows also that which is outside in the world in God's dealings. What we get in Ex. 34, is not sovereign grace bringing a soul to eternal life, but governmental power; the exercise of which we may now mark every day around us. For if a man wastes his fortune, or ruins his health by intemperance of any kind, his children suffer for it. This is an invariable principle. We see also the exercise of righteous government in God's not clearing the guilty.
See God's dealings with David, because of the matter of Uriah. " The sword shall never depart from thine house Thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.... Because by this deed thou halt given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child that is born unto thee shall surely die." Now, here was judgment for David's sin; and we know that in his after life "the sword did not depart from his house."
This also is true of the Jews, for the murder of the Lord; as it is expressed in Galatians;—"' What a man soweth that shall he also reap." This, however, is not grace but government; still it is true of a saint, as well as of a sinner. Both kinds of dealing God has with the saints now, that is in grace, and in righteous government. I shall never reap the reward of my sins in eternal blessedness-that is infinite grace; but in the way of righteous government, I shall reap the reward of my iniquity down here. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption." It is grace as to sins eternally: but righteous government as to iniquity down here. God never lets go the reins of government, even over the world, although for a season He did not interfere in governmental power. As it is said, " The times of this ignorance God winked at." He did not say there was no sin; therefore they were responsible. So that " Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression." There was sin and death, though no transgression, because God had not then come in with law. But Adam bad received a positive commandment, and had transgressed it. And sin must bear its consequence, which is death. But "in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel," then all will come out, and both will have their place.
The angels see and understand the government of God in the world; but in the Church it is quite another thing, as Peter says, " Which things the angels desire to look into." The angels had seen the various wisdom of God in creation, when the morning stars sang together; but here it was quite a new thing; for by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God is displayed. God is going to have a people not belonging to the earth at all.
In the prophets government on the earth is spoken of because it is of Messiah's Kingdom that they speak. But God's government towards Israel in its Messiah-character is now suspended, but it will come out again another day. When the kingdom is spoken of it is government on the earth; but when the Church is spoken of it is as connected with the Governor Himself. The position of Christians is such, that they have in it a motive for the very commonest affairs of life: so that their daily conduct should be suitable to their high calling of God in Christ Jesus. We are united to Him who will judge the world; and therefore when the apostle is going to counsel two foolish Christians that are going to law, he says, what, cannot you settle such a trifling thing as that about money without going to law?' " Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" Could not those who are destined to do such high things settle their own smaller matters, with-.out going to law, and that before the unbelievers? It is the sense of their high calling that Paul places before them;
which he desired might fill their minds as it did his. Therefore, if telling them as servants to be faithful in a house, and not to be guilty of purloining, he says, " For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." The grace having appeared, the glory is looked for; therefore the conclusion is, do you, as subjects of the grace and waiting for the glory, live righteously and suffer wrongfully, rather than avenge yourselves.
We have, then, God's government of this world, and of the Jew in justice, though in patient goodness; and His taking out of the world a people united to Christ in governing if you look into the prophets, you do not find anything about the Church whatever; but about government, whether of the Jew or of the world. But when we come to the Church we find a suspension of government, in its outward, visible, and settled order, because the world had rejected Christ, who was their Governor. In the Church I get entirely a new thing; for the Son of God having been rejected in the world, is gone back to the Father, and he now says to us, " Ye are not of this world, even as I am not of this world." "Now is the judgment of this world, now is the prince of this world cast out." Christ, who made all things, is also set over all things in government, as Heir of all things; though not yet openly exercising His power thus. But Christ who is " Head over all things, is also Head to the Church, which is His body: a thing hidden from ages and generations, but is now made manifest. In Ephesians this is fully brought out but there we have more of the fullness of the body; while in Colossians, there is more about the fullness of the Head. This is because the Colossians were in danger of slipping back from the Head into the observance of ordinances; therefore the apostle presses the fullness of the Head upon them to bring them back again. But in Ephesians he dwells on the Church, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. The Church, as his body, is the completeness of Christ.
In Eph. 3 we read of the promise in Christ by the gospel given in the eternal purpose of God to the Church before the foundation of the world; whereas the promises given to Israel were given to them on the earth and not before the world was. The Church was called in the eternal purpose of God, before time; while the Jew was called out in time. In Col. 1:23-2523If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; (Colossians 1:23‑25), we read, "Be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I, Paul, am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, in my flesh, for his body's sake, which is the Church; whereof I am made a minister according to the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfill (or more properly to complete) the word of God." That which still remained for God to give, and which we now have, is the revelation of the Church; for until the Church was revealed, the word of God was not complete. But now that which for ages and generations was hid in God, is fully told out. Here we see Paul's two ministries, first, that of the gospel, and then that of the Church. And the form which a believer's life now takes is, "Christ in you the hope of glory." A Christ in heaven, and at the same time dwelling in the saints now on the earth, is a thing which was hid in God before the foundation of the world. Unto the Jews had been committed the oracles of God; but they knew nothing of a body on the earth united to a Head in heaven, even to the man Christ Jesus, as members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Until the Church was revealed to Paul, this was still hid in God's eternal purpose. As soon as all God's dealings, in the sense of proving man, were closed with the earth, by the rejection of His Son, ("This is the heir, come let us kill him,") all was closed to men in the flesh, and the Church is brought out in connection with a man in heaven.
God sent His only Son, and Him they crucified. He had no other messenger. Christ was rejected as Prophet, as Messiah, as Son of Man, and as Son of God; and when man, as man, was thus fully shown out, God comes in and acts for Himself. Him, whom man had put to death, God raises from the dead, and sets Him down at His own right hand in heaven; in virtue of which the Holy Ghost comes down and unites a people on the earth to this risen Man in glory. This is quite a distinct thing, and therefore it is that in scripture we constantly find a gap, as it were, leaving space for the mystery of the Church, "which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God," to be brought out.
Therefore, as we have previously remarked, the Church is not found in the Old Testament; but Christ's coming in humiliation, and His coming in judgment, are spoken of close together, without saying a word about the Church corning in between the two events. So, in Luke 4 when the Lord was in the synagogue at Nazareth, after preaching from Isaiah what referred to His then mission of healing the broken-hearted and preaching the acceptable year of the Lord, He closed the book and sat down, saying not a word about " the day of vengeance"-that being deferred until the mystery which had been hid from ages and generations had been manifest to the saints; or, in other words, until after the Church had been brought out.
It is of immense importance, for the steadiness of the soul, to keep these two principles quite distinct; for what often confounds people in the study of prophecy is their not seeing the distinctive place which the Church of God holds apart from God's government of the world, or of Israel. But the very essence of the Church is, that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. They are all sinners alike; but when reached by God's grace are all brought into one body. The very principle on which the Church is based, would have destroyed the whole basis of the Jewish system. All along in the Jewish system their righteousness consisted in maintaining a distinct separation between themselves and the Gentiles; but now " there is no difference;" for both Jew and Gentile are made one in Christ. If the barrier which God Himself had originally set up had been broken down before Christ was crucified and risen, it would have been sin: therefore the Church could never have been even hinted at in the Jewish Scriptures. The principle of the Church could not be brought in, while the " handwriting of ordinances" remained. But this being " blotted out" in Christ, " the twain (Jew and Gentile) are made one new man."
In going back to our chapter, (Luke 13) we see the Jews had the thought of God's government in their minds. Nor was it wrong in itself. They thought that God could not let such a guilty wretch as this Pilate live, who had been mingling the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices. But Christ brings them to a new principle by which to judge of things, and tells them that Pilate is but a mere instrument in the governmental dealings of God with the nation. Judgment was going on in this present evil world. " Suppose ye," says the Lord, " that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans? I tell you nay; but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." It is not that they were finally condemned as sinners here, but it was governmental judgment in this world which would overtake them all unless they repented. God had sent forth His judgment and caught these Galileans, and would catch the Jews also unless they repented. For not only Pilate but God's Son was there, and they were practically rejecting Him. And how many of the Jews had their blood mingled with their sacrifices by Titus in the destruction of Jerusalem! Christ had said the Jews in the close of the 12th chapter, "When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite." This is not a question of eternal salvation, but it simply refers to the state of the Jews: that is, the Jews will not come out till they have paid the very last mite. Jerusalem will not get out till she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. But she will get out from the chastenings of the Lord when they are complete. It is very evident that this passage refers simply to God's government of His people.
In the 56th verse of the preceding chapter, the Lord asks in the way of reproach, "How is it that ye do not discern this time?" And ought not we always to discern the time? Surely the Lord might often reproach us by saying, "How is it that ye do not discern this time? All the world is rejecting me, and if they do not repent before they get to the judgment, there is no hope." Natural conscience out to tell you Jews not to reject your Messiah, for God is going all the way along with you to the magistrate, dealing with you in patient grace; and if you do not repent and be reconciled, judgment must come upon you; and then it will be the same with you, as with those whom ye think to be such sinners.
"I am come to send fire on the earth,"—(the fire of judgment) "and what will I if it be already kindled?" (ver. 6) The Lord is here dealing with the same state of things.
The fig-tree also is Israel; for God came seeking fruit in them, but He found none. In the gospel there is this difference, that grace sows in order to produce fruit; but in connection with Israel's responsibility, He came seeking fruit and found none.
The sentence upon the fig tree then is, "cut it down." He not only found it useless, but His vineyard was cumbered by it. "The name of God is blasphemed through you among the Gentiles." Then comes in Christ's mission. "Last of all he sent his Son." God had planted a vineyard and pruned it, but found no fruit. Then a new Gardener comes in to try what He can do, and He said, "Let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it," &c. This was all done, but still there was no fruit. All was useless, as far as Israel was concerned. Then God says, I will get rid of the whole thing; "cut it down."
The woman with an infirmity (ver. 11,) whom Jesus heals on the sabbath day, brings out another thing that was working in their hearts, that is, the abuse of the law, which brought in hypocrisy. They would lead an ox or an ass from the stall to water on the sabbath day, but they could not bear that a daughter of Abraham whom Satan had bound eighteen years, should be loosed on the sabbath day. One of the infirmities of man's mind is to use possessed truth to resist revealed truth. Paul was an example of this. As "touching the righteousness of the law, he was blameless;" still Paul thought he ought to do many things contrary to the Jesus of Nazareth. And so also Christ says of them in John 16:2-32They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. 3And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. (John 16:2‑3). "These things will they do unto you because they have no known the Father nor me." They were using the name of the Godhead which had been given them ("Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord") to reject the Son; for when Christ came in humiliation, they would not receive him. Orthodoxy is used to stop the reception of truth. When truth is the ground of a man's standing, it gains him credit; but when a new truth comes in, it puts faith to the test. So the unity of the Godhead was used by the Jews to resist the reception of Christ.
The ruler of the synagogue said, " There are six days in which men ought to work, in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day." But he ought to have known that the Lord of the Sabbath was there. That single word " daughter of Abraham" ought to have told him who He was that stood there.
And the Lord answered him and said, "Thou hypocrite," &c.
In the 18th verse, the Lord goes on to say what the kingdom will be like, while the King is rejected and away.
While the king is sitting on His Father's throne, until He comes to take His own throne, the kingdom is like a little seed thrown into the ground which springs up and becomes a great tree; just what we see in Christendom. This fills up the gap between Christ's rejection and His coming again. There is no royal power exercised while the king is away; as it is said in Mark's gospel, " It springs up men know not how." But when the harvest is ripe He will come again. He sowed the first time, and the second time He will put in His sickle. He does not, however, come looking for a great tree, but for heavenly fruit; though instead of the fruit He expected, He will find the seed has become a great tree, with the fowls of the air lodging in the branches. Pharaoh was a great tree; Nebuchadnezzar was a great tree; the high and great ones of the earth, the representatives of earthly power. Even Israel, who had been planted "a noble vine, wholly a right seed," was bearing no fruit. Therefore, as it is said in Ezek. 15, " What is the vine-tree more than any other tree," if it bears no fruit? It is only fit to be burned. We all know that the vine is the most fruitful thing that grows upon the face of the earth, and that the branches when cut off and withered make the best firewood; but they are useless for anything else. It was not a question of the kingdom here, but of fruit-bearing. The word sown in the heart does not come to a great tree, but produces fruit.
In ver. 21, the kingdom is likened unto leaven; and leaven is just that which spreads throughout the whole mass in which it is placed, and also gives a character to the thing in which it is. It is the nominal profession of Christianity which is spread into a great mass-a great system. Looked at as a doctrine it has leavened whole countries. Still it is not what the Lord could own, as leaven in Scripture is never used in a good sense. The idea is, it is the spreading of the thing while the king is away.
It should be observed that there is not a word here about the power of the Holy Ghost in connection with the spread of Christian -doctrine He is simply speaking about the effect produced in the world.
In the question of the disciples, ver. 23, "Are there few that be saved?" the word "saved" is the same as that which all through the Old Testament signifies the remnant spared. Therefore the question really was as to whether this remnant that would be spared would be few or many, when the judgment came. But this being a mere idle question, the Lord does not answer it, but says to them, (ver. 24,) " Strive to enter in at the strait gate." Those who will get in may. The strait gate was receiving Christ at that time.
Some would come and knock when the door is closed, to whom He will say, "I know you not whence ye are." Strive to enter in at the strait gate, through which Christ goes before you-that is rejection. "For many (all Israel) shall seek to enter in and shall not be able." For, inasmuch as they did not receive Christ in humiliation, He says, " Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity." It is all most simple when we see the rejection of Christ. For those who reject Christ in the day of His humiliation will themselves be rejected in the day of His glory; and instead of being His companions in the kingdom will be thrust out. The unbelieving Jews shall see the Gentiles come into the glory of the kingdom, while they remaining in unbelief will be cast out.
The Pharisees came and said to Him, " Get thee out and depart, for Herod will kill thee." (ver. 31.) Now Herod was an Idumean and became their king; but what had this Idumean king to do with God's promises to Israel? Nothing whatever. In Herod we have a kind of figure of the willful king, first in his trying to kill Christ, and then in his having no faith in God's purposes or Christ's glory. But Christ answers, "Go tell that fox" I shall do my Father's will till the moment come, for I am come to show divine power, and when rejected here shall be perfected in glory. What divine contempt for the apostate king was here combined with the most perfect human obedience! " Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and. to-morrow, and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet perish OUT of Jerusalem." "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee;; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen Both gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" After all, Jerusalem is the guilty place. Let the Idumean king say and do what he will, it is Jerusalem that is guilty; for Jerusalem was nearest to Himself. And the nearer I am to God, if I reject Him, the worse is the rejection, and the more dreadful the judgment, because it is the place of love. Look at Psa. 132 " The Lord hath chosen Zion, he hath desired it for his habitation," &c., and at the end of Psa. 78 it is the same election of Zion from the 65th to the 68th verses. "But chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved." And in Psa. 87, " What is Rahab and Babylon?" I am not ashamed of Zion to compete with them. But Christ does not put the sin upon them until they have rejected both Him and His Father. But before bringing out this purpose of grace, God dealt all through with man on the ground of responsibility, and the last effort He made was in sending His Son. The fig-tree yielded nothing—responsibility was fully put to the test, when the soil itself was found to be bad. I have tried the chosen portion, says God, and find the whole thing so worthless that nothing can be done with it. It is as though one had taken the sand of the sea and found it so impregnated with salt that nothing could be done with it; and the more digging and pruning that was given to it, the more bad fruit it produced. And we all are no better than the Jews were, for we were, by nature, children of wrath even as others. What! condemn everybody? Yes, to be sure, but then I condemn myself! Man's "heart is enmity against God." And the more pains God has taken, has only brought out the more hatred. The old man is condemned, and the gospel begins with seeking and saving that which was lost. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? " And do we not find the truth of all this in ourselves?
But notice how the divine person of the Lord comes out here, "O! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered ... and ye would not!" Now a prophet could not say this, though Christ was a prophet, it is true, still He was more than a prophet. He was Jehovah; for none but Jehovah could gather Israel. As it is said, " He that scattered Israel will gather him." Israel had rejected Jehovah when under responsibility; but Jehovah will own them when He comes in grace. The Church will go up to heaven and the kingdom will be set up on the earth. And mark how the divinity of our blessed Lord shines out again and again in the gospels, while at the same moment the humanity remained so perfect. And here I would say a word or two as to the way of bringing this blessed fact out. For surely the circumstances through which the Lord passed in His path down here did bring out in a far brighter way WHO HE WAS than any text that could be adduced to prove it. Not that I would set aside any text, but suppose you believed there was a God as a truth; if He were to come down by your very side and say, Here I AM, would not that be a very different thing? And though Christ was the humbled man all through His path here, (for He was ever the servant of all,) yet when the service was of no use, then it was that God shone out. " Before Abraham was, I AM." (See in the 33rd and 34th verses of this 13th of Luke.) The moment He said, I must die, since you reject me, immediately Jehovah shone out. "O! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee"-and who could. gather ISRAEL but Jehovah Himself?" but ye would not," therefore "your house is left unto you desolate UNTIL ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord."
The complaint in the Psalms is, that there is none to say, "How long?"—none to count upon the faithfulness of Jehovah to His people. (See Psa. 74) The expression, "How long?" is often used in the Psalms; and in Isa. 6 it refers to chastening, and not retribution. How long is Israel to stumble or fall? (Rom. 11) In Isa. 6 the prophet having uttered those words, " Make the heart of this people fat," &c., taken up by the Lord in John 12, the prophet then says, " How long?" He was in the faith of God and reckoning upon God, and having God's mind, he cannot believe that God will give them up, and therefore asks, "how long" the chastening is to continue. To which the Lord answers, "There shall be a great forsaking in the midst of the land, but in it there shall be a tenth, and so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof." The sap is still there, though there be no leaves.
So in Psa. 118, "The Lord hath chastened me sore, but he hath not given me over unto death." In the same way, the Lord does not say, Your house is left unto you desolate, and therefore you shall not see me again. No, but He says, "Ye shall not see me, UNTIL ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." He can give as Jehovah, in grace, the answer, and when He gives repentance to Israel, then He will send Jesus-whom, until then, the heavens have received-and then our connection with Him comes in. The prophets spoke only of earthly things, though divine; but to the Church it is "Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling!" You hath He quickened together with Him in the heavenly places, and that gives security. How did I get in there? By virtue of Christ; He is my title and is He not a good title? My desires are to be acquainted with this, that I am one with Christ in heaven. And these are my desires in fact, and that is what the Holy Ghost seals upon my soul, and we get it as our everlasting portion. When Israel is brought to repentance, then "the stone which the builders rejected will be the head of the corner," and owned of them. They will say, "O! give thanks unto the Lord, for his mercy endureth forever." Alas, they will receive another first! But when their hearts are turned and grace works, then they will use the language of Psalm 119, and find the expression of the law within their hearts, and when faith is thus exercised, and their hearts are broken and open to receive Him, then He Himself will come to them. If there is not a prophet to say, " How long?" then Jehovah Himself will give the answer.
And though applied to Israel here, yet we may learn what the Lord is, for He never changes, and though He executes judgment in righteousness, grace is found in His heart for faith to lay hold of. " When he comes shall he find faith on the earth?" Well, if there be not faith to be found, or a prophet to be found, there is One who will lay up in His treasures something for faith to lay hold of in the sovereignty of His grace. We see Jehovah in that humble one, that humble man, and see how He is able to rise above all iniquity; and thus to see Jehovah shining out through it all, how precious He becomes to us, and that we are one with Him should endear Him to our hearts, and in learning Him may He give us to follow Him.