God-Governed Life

 The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain. Deuteronomy 1:6

      The sojourn of the people of God at Mount Horeb had been a most vital one. There they had received the law, an expression of the Divine grace. There the national constitution had been perfected, so that they were in very deed a theocracy, a people subject to the throne of God. There the system of worship had been given, a perpetual symbol of their distance from God by reason of their sin and of the possibility of their approach to Him by the way of sacrifice.

      All this being accomplished, the word was spoken which called them to the practical realization of the fact that they were a people God-governed: “The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain.” They heard the Divine message, obeyed the Divine command, and marched through the great and terrible wilderness to the margin of the land of promise. The sequel, as we know, was one of failure, and of consequent discipline, the story of which is told in the book of Numbers. After forty years they were brought again to Kadesh-barnea, and there Moses, the great leader, ere leaving them, uttered these farewell discourses which have been preserved for us in the book of Deuteronomy. The words of our text were the opening words of the first of these discourses. As he stood and confronted these people whom he had been privileged to lead for forty years through varied experiences, the first words that fell from his lips were those reminding them of that hour when there came to them, in their corporate national capacity, the first command of God, “The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain.”

      Spoken thus after the experience of forty years, while yet referring to the first command uttered to the nation in its corporate capacity, they introduce us to the subject of the Divine government of human life, help us to understand its method, purpose, and issue, and suggest to us what our relationship to that government should ever be.

      My reference to the government of God is not now to that wider fact which embraces all creation. As we have often reminded ourselves, no man can escape from the government of God. No part of the universe is beyond the authority and power of God. That is a wider aspect of truth, with which at the moment we are not dealing. It is well, however, that we remind ourselves of this fact, for both our comfort and our warning. For our comfort let us remember that God has never vacated His throne, never handed over the affairs of the universe, or the smaller matters of this world of ours, to any other authority. It is perfectly true that men and nations may condition their experience of the Divine government by their attitude thereto, but escape it they cannot. A man can fling himself against the bosses of the shield of God and be broken in pieces, or he may nestle beneath the panoply of God and know the rest of the heart of God; but he cannot escape God. Lucifer, son of the morning, may say, “It is better to reign in hell than serve in heaven”; but he cannot reign in hell. God reigns in hell. Nations may throw off restraint and laugh at God; but He will have them in derision, and will laugh when their day of calamity comes. That is the wider aspect of this truth of Divine government.

      I want this evening to speak more particularly of the government of God in the case of those who recognize it, yield themselves to it. How does God govern in the case of such?

      The first matter to be emphasized is that God does govern. I think I need not stay to argue it. I do, however, desire to remind you of it. Sometimes I think that even we as Christian people do need to be reminded of the actuality of the government of God. We are a little in danger of treating God as though He were some infinite, marvelous abstraction; or as though He were seated afar off in some distant heaven, unacquainted with the actual experience of these little human lives of ours; or as though He had formed and fashioned us in some mysterious creation, and one day, at the end of a period of loneliness, he would meet us again and call us to account. All such conceptions of God are unwarranted by the Biblical revelation, and are untrue to the profoundest things of our Bible.

      Let us then remind ourselves that the Bible reveals the actual, immediate government by God, of the lives of His own people. Let us further remind ourselves that this government of God is autocratic. He never consults us as to what He will do with us. The government of God is absolute; He permits no compromise. The government of God is inclusive; He exempts no territory. All that produces no fear in the hearts of men and women who know the government of God; for if the government be autocratic, so that He never consults me; absolute, so that He permits no compromise; inclusive, so that He exempts no territory–it is the government of God, and God is love, and God is wisdom. It is the government of the One Who fashioned me in answer to the impulses of His own love. It is the government of One Who knows my thought afar off and understands the sobbing desire that underlies all the failure, and Who will be infinitely patient with me until He has perfected that which concerneth me. But it is government, direct, immediate, absolute, autocratic.

      Let us consider the nature of this government. Falling back on the text, and using all the background of the story for the purpose of illustration, there are three things I desire to say concerning the nature of that government. First, the government of God is a disturbing element in human life. Second, the government of God is a progressive element in human life. Finally, the government of God is a methodical element in human life.

      First, then, let us consider the fact that the government of God is a disturbing element in human life, for it always is so. Traveling back beyond the moment in which this word came, take the story to the beginning of the history of that wonderful people. How did the people who were that day disturbed come into being? The nation came into being as the result of one human life being disturbed by God. In Ur of the Chaldees a man saw a vision of God and a vision of the purpose of God, and in some mystic, wonderful communion was brought into the place of great familiarity with God. He was a man of substance and position in Ur of the Chaldees. To that man suddenly there came a voice, the voice of God: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.” “And he went out, not knowing whither he went.” He was disturbed by God. The history of the people, from that first movement until this very hour when the voice of God came to them, was a history of perpetual, persistent disturbance. Disturbed in Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham moved into the land. Presently there came an hour when his grandson Jacob and his sons were driven out of the land by the Divine command and sent down to Egypt. Centuries ran their course, and the seventy souls who went down to Egypt multiplied into a great host; and again the Divine disturbance came: they were moved from Goshen and Egypt and encamped at Pihahiroth, hemmed in by enemies and the sea; they were then led out of danger, and across the highway of the dried sea, into the wilderness; they encamped beneath Sinai, a ransomed people, freed from bondage, escaped from slavery, resting at last amid the quietness and peace of the magnificent solitudes of the mountain. For a year and a month, free from all oppression, they realized the peace and blessedness of the Divine government, and then came the voice, “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain,” and immediately all engagements had to be canceled, every tent had to be struck. The next picture we have is that of marching hosts moving forward, leaving the place of peace, tramping the dreary, desolate wilderness with faces set toward the goal of the Divine purpose. They were a disturbed people from beginning to end.

      It is ever thus. To be governed by God is to be constantly disturbed, to have human arrangements interfered with. Here is a man whom God has called to some definite piece of work, and in the place of his service, he is conscious of the Divine presence, the Divine blessing. It may be that after a period of toil and travail everything is coming into adjustment and the golden radiance of harvest is on all the field. Then suddenly to the soul of the man comes the voice of God: “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain”; the work must be left, the location changed, and all the experience of the past apparently contradicted. The man is disturbed, and that by the Divine government. Or in other ways God disturbs us; crosses the threshold of the home of peace and quietness, and breaks it up, and we are no longer in the place of peace as we were, because God has disturbed our lives; some close earthly friendship in which comrade ministered to comrade in all things high and noble, sweet and strong, is suddenly broken in upon, and the friends are separated as far as the poles geographically. God is disturbing two lives; hopes and aspirations that gleamed and inspired, are suddenly put out, and all the movement of the years towards the goal seem to end in defeat.

      These are the common experiences of the saints. They are the problems of the saints. They are the problems of the men who observe the saints. Again and again they have been made the reason of ridicule of the saints. Along the avenue of these experiences Satan has ridden with all his host to assault the faith of the believer: If God loved you would He allow you thus to be disturbed? If God really loved you, would He not have left you that sacred, holy companionship? If God were really governing your life would He move you while your work seems to be successful? God is always doing it. Divinely governed souls are always sojourners in tents, pilgrims. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their Lord,” was the word of the Master Himself, indicating to the men who would follow Him that their true attitude should ever be that of expecting disturbance and change and alteration. Beneath the height of God’s mount we are encamped, impressed by its majesty and its glory, comforted by the great words of law which proceed from the heart of grace for the conditioning of our lives, seeing the mosaic of the Divine arrangement manifest itself in constitution and ritual, in beauty and in order. Surely now at last, the long bondage over, we are finding a place of peace and quietness. When, lo, suddenly the word is spoken: Let the tents be struck, the baggage packed, “ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain.”

      If the Divine government of human lives be a disturbing element, it is a progressive element. Why were these people disturbed? I go back to the actual text, and I will now read a little more than the text:

      The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying, Ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain: turn you, and take your journey, and go to the hill country of the Amorites, and unto all the places nigh thereunto, in the Arabah, in the hill country and in the lowland, and in the south, and by the sea shore, the land of the Canaanites, and Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them.

      That reading of the context seems to make a defense of the disturbing almost unnecessary so far as this story is concerned, for thereby the light of the Divine purpose flashes on the fact of the Divine disturbance, and we see that the purpose of the disturbance was the possession of the land. The place of silent solitude is to be left, and the way of the wilderness is to be trodden; but why? That the land which lies beyond may be possessed. Progress is not necessarily pleasant. When Moses described the journey a little later in this same discourse, he speaks of it thus–the first journey, remember, not the subsequent journey of discipline–“We… went through all that great and terrible wilderness.”

      Here again the picture is a parable and the teaching is patent. God’s dealings with a man today are always in the interest of his perfecting tomorrow. God’s disturbance of human life is always in order that the life may climb to a higher height and come to fuller realization.

      Now let all my exposition end as I take you to another of these discourses, yet hardly a discourse, the great song Moses was commanded to write. Listen to this:

      The Lord’s portion is His people;
      Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.
      He found him in a desert land,
      And in the waste howling wilderness;
      He compassed him about, He cared for him,

      He kept him as the apple of His eye:
      As an eagle that stirreth up her nest,
      That fluttereth over her young,
      He spread abroad His wings, He took them,
      He bare them on His pinions.

      In that exquisite figure we have the merging of the elements of disturbance and progress. May I take it for granted that all the adults in my congregation understand that figure? Well, for the boys and girls here I want to explain it; the others can take a rest. It is a very Eastern picture. We in England can hardly understand this picture of the eagle. Even in Scotland it can hardly be appreciated. We must get right away to the East if we would interpret its suggestiveness. Let us go and see what is happening. Yonder is an eagle’s eyrie on the rocky ledge far up the heights. There the eagle has built her nest; there she has brought her young into being by her maternal brooding, and there she feeds them and guards them. The eaglets are in their nest on that rocky ledge, to which none can climb and to which none can descend in perfect safety; and the eagle watches over her young, and broods over them. Living somewhere in the neighborhood, let us imagine, we have watched this process from day to day, until there comes a day when something happens that is full of surprise. The mother bird that has seemed to be so tender and careful is doing the strangest of things. She is flinging those eaglets out of the nest, herself turning them out, beating them out. As I watch, I see the eaglets in the air, struggling, falling in the element which is strange to them. All the peace and safety and the restfulness of the nest is gone. “As an eagle stirreth up her nest.”

      Yes, but let us carefully watch. What next? The eagle spreads her broad pinions over the birds as they fall, and then suddenly, with the swiftness of the lightning, swoops beneath them and catches them on her broad wings. It seemed as though they must be destroyed. They are not destroyed. She bears them back on her wings to the ledge, and with a great sense of relief the eaglets struggle back into the nest. They are so glad to be back! To-morrow she will do it again, and the next day she will do it again; until one day as I watch I notice that one of the eaglets, perhaps a little stronger than the rest, when flung out of the nest and beginning to fall, puts out its wings and tries to use them. Then the purpose of the disturbance is seen. That will go on from day to day, until one day those eaglets will not struggle in the air, will not fall, but will spread their wings and fly with the mother bird sunward.

      As an eagle that stirreth up her nest,
      That fluttereth over her young,so the Lord disturbs with progressive disturbance in order to realize life in all its fulfilment. Leave the eaglet undisturbed in the nest on the rocky height and it will fail of the very powers that are resident within it. Fling it out into the unaccustomed air, show it how to use its wings, catch it in its falling, bear it back again, give it a rest, disturb it again, and it will fulfil the meaning of its own life.

      “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mountain.” Leave that sphere of work which you love so well; be severed from that comrade without whom you feel you cannot live; know the breakup of home. What is God doing with you? Developing the powers of your own life, enabling you to discover the things in you which are of Himself, bearing you on His pinions in the moment of your utterest weakness, until presently He teaches you to use the wings He has given you. A disturbing element, but a progressive element.

      Finally, this government of God is a methodical element in human life. The provision is made. “Behold, I have set the land before you.” The course is marked out. Notice how particular are the instructions. Take your map of Palestine and mark the country out, and you will discover that these people never reached their destination; nor have they yet. God’s limit was beyond anything they ever arrived at. Never did they stretch the bounds of their habitation as far as the great river Euphrates. I have read that to show that God had a plan for them which was possible for Him to express in terms of geography.

      But there is something else in this Chapter I want you to notice:

      Thy God bare thee, as a man doth bare his son, on all the way that ye went, until ye came unto this place. Yet in this thing ye did not believe the Lord your God, Who went before you in the way, to seek you out a place to pitch your tents in, in fire by night, to show you by what way ye should go, and in the cloud by day.

      There are things in this Bible I would to God I knew how to read as they ought to be read. Oh, the poetry there is in that! There is no poetry in the way I read it. Read it for yourselves and find the poetry. God went before you in the way to seek you out a place in which to pitch your tents. We sing today, and the sentiment is true and beautiful, “We nightly pitch our moving tent a day’s march nearer home.” Then let us remember that the pitching of the tent at night is not accidental, for God has been before us. Think of it. I arrive nowhere but that God has been ahead of me. It may be that for the moment most of this congregation will be only reverently patient; but there is some man here, some woman, some youth, or some maiden, buffeted, broken, perplexed, lonely, almost mad with the agony of life. Just where you are, God was ahead of you. Out of the terror of the hour He is creating forces of triumph in your life which would always have been missing had you not pitched your tent right there where He has appointed the place. God is not making any experiments with you. There are some texts that we of a weaker generation hardly dare preach about. I will tell you one; you will find it in Samuel, in the last psalm that David wrote ere he died: “An everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” Yes, you say, that is all very well for David. But read more, and you will find that David was describing what God’s king ought to be, and he said:

      Verily my house is not so with God;
      Yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant,
      Ordered in all things, and sure.
      For it is all my salvation, and all my desire
      Although He maketh it not to grow.

      When David sang of the “covenant ordered in all things, and sure,” he sang out of his disappointment, out of his sense that he had failed. He saw even his failure as within the Divine government. In his great letter to the Ephesians Paul reminds us in infinite music that “we are His workmanship,” and not merely that we are His workmanship, but that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” To the man who is truly God-governed the morning breaks and there is in his heart the consciousness that nothing can merely happen, in the infidel sense of the word. There can be no accident. Yes, I may suffer, I may suffer some physical evil, some mental trouble, some assault on the soul; I may pass through the great and terrible wilderness; but the covenant is ordered in all things, and sure. God cannot be surprised. Exigency, contingency, are very useful words for you and for me; but God has no need of them. No exigency surprises Him. No contingency baffles Him. He sees the end from the beginning, and all the affairs of the universe are under His control. The man God-governed is a man who lives at the very heart of method and order.

      What, then, is our true relationship to this government? The answer is the simplest of all answers. Our true relation to the government of God is that of obedience, immediate and unconditional. What are the conditions of such obedience? Confidence in the method because it is the method of God, even when I cannot see its value; keeping forever in view the ultimate purpose in me and through me, and being forever ready to be disturbed. I love the paradoxes of faith. Here is one: the only man who is never disturbed is the man who is always ready to be disturbed. “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning,” ready to be disturbed; then when the call comes you will not be disturbed. It is when I allow my life to be anchored to friend, home, church, that if God wants me to do without this friend, break up this home, leave this church, I am disturbed. When my life is anchored in God, then no disturbance can disturb. That is the philosophy of life of the men who really live in the Divine government.

      Oh, the unutterable folly of doing what these people did! They started well, they struck their tents, they came to the borderland; then they appointed a commission to find out about the land God told them to possess. That commission published two reports, the majority and minority reports; and then, as ever since, the minority was right. The people halted with fear, they went back; then they presumed and tried to go in without God, and fought the Amalekites and were defeated. Then followed forty years of discipline. “Forty years was I grieved with this generation.” Consider in the light of this history what God does with people with whom He is grieved. He bare them as a man bears his son, with infinite patience and tender compassion, waiting for them.

      Someone has heard the disturbing call of God, it may be within the last four and twenty hours. If so, I think this sermon is for you. What are you going to do? Go forward, counting no cost in your obedience? There are giants there. Yes, for you to slay. There are walled cities there. Yes, for you to take. There are rough ways ahead. Tramp them, they lead to peace. But there is awful loneliness. Welcome it, it admits you to the comradeship of God. The only thing we must not do, if God says we have tarried long enough, is to tarry. Some of you heard that voice long ago, and you disobeyed, and you have had a long weary wilderness; but tonight you are once again on the margin of the land. I pray you remember that all the wilderness has been in His government. This is the method of our God. He ever gives men a second time. The second time on the margin of the land. The word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time. If the vessel be marred in the hand of the Potter He will make it again a second time. All the years that the cankerworm hath eaten, He will restore them. He is plenteous in mercy and compassion,

      For the love of God is broader
      Than the measures of man’s mind,
      And the heart of the Eternal
      Is most wonderfully kind.

      Some man listening to me quite reverently says, I do not understand all this. I never hear a voice like that disturbing me. No, my brother, you are living in Egypt, in bondage: garlics, leeks, fleshpots! God-forsaken men are not disturbed. Yet listen. God is calling even you, and at this moment some of you have heard Him asking you to readjust your lives from this moment to make them kingdoms of God. You have tarried long enough in Egypt! At God’s call arise and follow, and He will perfect that which concerneth you.

George Campbell Morgan