Grace in Government

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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There are two distinct principles on which God deals with man as such and on which also He deals with His people—grace and government. The former is the blessed characteristic of God, for He is the “God of all grace.” The gospel is the great setting forth of this principle; God takes up a person and blesses him, without any reference to how he has behaved or what he deserves. That this might be done consistently with the claims of righteousness against the sinner, the cross was necessary. Government is the reverse of this. It is cognizant of the behavior of the person under it and regulates its conduct toward him by his merits. We get this principle in 1 Peter 2:14: “Governors. . . are. . . for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.” This word applies to human government, but the principle is the same, whatever the sphere in which government is exercised.
Despair and Carelessness
It is most important for us to remember that God acts toward us as His people on both these principles. If I forget His grace when I have failed, I might get into despair. If I forget His government, I might grow careless, not recalling that “if ye live according to flesh, ye are about to die” (Rom. 8:13 JND), and our reaping depends upon our sowing.
We see an example of God’s acting on these two principles in the history of Abram. In the first place, the call of Abram was sovereign grace, and the same is true of every saint of God. But when God had brought him to Himself, He brought him to where government as well as grace would be exercised toward him, and it is the same thing with ourselves when brought to God.
Abram had not been long in the place of favor before, under the severe pressure of circumstances, he gave up acting on the principle of faith and adopted the world’s principle of sight. He had gone to Canaan in faith, but there he met with a famine. Without consulting God, he did what prudence would suggest and left the land of famine for Egypt, the land of supply.
Now Egypt and Canaan, respectively, represent the two principles of sight and faith. Egypt is a country that draws its resources from itself; it has a river that supplies it, as it were, independently of heaven. Canaan, on the other hand, was watered from above. The physical characteristics of the countries are contrasted in Deuteronomy 11:10-12. Thus when Abram went down from Canaan to Egypt, his action was symbolic of what his heart was really doing. He was going from being a man of faith to become a man of the world.
We must notice that Abram got what he sought, for when he came back from Egypt, we find both him and his companion Lot in flourishing circumstances (Gen. 13:2,5). Another thing to be remarked is that the moment Abram was on the path of sight, he renewed an untruthful compact with his wife Sarai, suggested by the principle of human prudence. “Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister” (Gen. 12:13). This does not save him from trouble, but God delivers him. This is pure grace.
Grace Reinstates – Government Separates
But the grace of God is more conspicuously shown in chapter 13, for God did not bring him merely out of Egypt, but to Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning. And there, at the place of the altar that he had made at first, he called on the name of Jehovah. Grace reinstates the soul in its original brightness. But now we must notice God’s governmental ways with Abram in connection with this turning aside. Although his own soul was restored to God and the principle of sight was judged in his heart, yet the mark of Egypt appeared in his family when it no longer is seen in himself. Abram was a man of faith. He had come up out of Egypt without any love for Egypt, but not so his nephew Lot, whom he had taken into Egypt with him. This we see in the end of Genesis 13.
Lot Separated
There was one strip of the land of Canaan that was like Egypt. It was like the garden of the Lord, well-watered everywhere, not by the rain of heaven, but by a river “like the land of Egypt” (Gen. 13:10). Lot had a taste for a land like Egypt, a land that Abram had taken him to see. It was a place where a man might live without dependence upon heaven. What an attractive place for our hearts naturally! Abram could give it up, but not so Lot. Still one thinks that it must have been a bitter day for Abram when he saw Lot taking the path of sight which he, alas! had once shown him. The principle that on one occasion marked the uncle permanently marked the nephew.
They parted, Lot adopting worldly or Egyptian principles and Abram walking still before God; the one sowing trouble for himself because of God’s government, the other treading the path, though trying to the flesh, yet of which it is written, “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace” (Prov. 3:17). May the Lord help us to walk in them!
Hagar Cast Out
But was this the end of Egyptian principles in Abram’s family? Alas, no. The next person in whom they appear is Sarai, and here Abram himself falls under them. There was in Abram’s family a handmaid of Sarai, an Egyptian, and we see that the principle that governs Sarai’s mind now is the same that governed Abram’s mind then. She gave her maid to be her husband’s wife. It was an act that seemed the only way out of a difficulty. There was no thought of God in it. The result was long trouble again under God’s government. It was fifteen years before the result of this act was put out of Abraham’s house, in the casting out of the bondwoman and her son. And then it was with a broken heart to Abraham; it was not until this point that the last trace of Egypt disappears from his house.
All this is not the tale of God’s grace, but it is an illustration of His government. If Abram relieves himself by giving up divine principles, we find two results. In the first place, the blessed power of God restores the soul, and in the second, the government of God gives him to taste the bitterness of those principles on which he has acted, when they appear in other members of his family.
It is one thing to go into the world, and quite another to get the worldliness out of the household when once we have got it in. Still, the discipline of God is not in anger, but it is that of a father, in order that we might be partakers of His holiness. “Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:9). It needs much grace to sustain the spirit in passing through the governmental consequences of our actions. Yet it is here that grace is occasionally displayed in the brightest way, humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt us in due time (1 Peter 5:6).
C. D. Maynard (adapted)