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A Treatise on Providence, pt 4,
by William Plumer (1802–1880)
God’s Sovereignty Over the Enemies of God
“And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovah-jireh; as it is said to this day, ‘In the mount of the Lord it shall be seen’” (Genesis 22:14, AV)
God could not surely defend and protect His people, if their enemies were not within His grasp. It does not impair free agency for God to present an irresistible motive either to a good man or to a bad man. With the former the fear of God has power sufficient to restrain him from sin. With the wicked, regard to health, honor, or wealth, have restraining power. In neither case is there a suspension of free agency. If God does not sway the hearts of the wicked so as to secure their doing that which on the whole view of the case He has determined to effect or permit, are they not independent beings? But the Scripture leaves no room for doubt on this point (see Acts 2:23; 4:28; 2 Sam. 17:14). If any man were independent of God, then the promise of Satan to our first parents would be fulfilled, and men would become as gods. But the Scriptures are explicit: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Prov. 21:1); “A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9); “Man’s goings are of the Lord, how then can a man understand his way?” (Prov. 20:24). It was the Lord that “turned the heart of the Egyptians to deal subtly with his servants” (Ps. 105:25). It is also said of the Jews that the Lord “made them to be pitied of all those, that carried them captives” (Ps. 106:46). Because God controls the free acts of wicked men, it came to pass that the vacillating Pilate, who pronounced Jesus Christ innocent, was yet prevailed on to deliver Him to death, but was as firm as a rock in refusing to alter the inscription on his cross, saying, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19:22). When Shimei cursed David, that holy man said, “Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him” (2 Sam. 14:11). God took away restraint from the evil heart of that vile dog, and let him loose to bark at the royal fugitive. So the pious Jeremiah devoutly said: “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man, that walketh, to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). Therefore, if men hate and vex us, it is because the Lord removes restraints and lets them loose upon us.
When God planted the Jews in Canaan, He told them that all, who were able, must go up to the holy city three times every year to worship Him. They had wicked enemies all around them, who cordially hated them, and desired their extermination. But God said: “Neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year” (Ex. 34:24). This promise was well kept in all their generations. But this could only be by Jehovah putting His almighty hand on the hearts of the nations, and softening for the time their animosities against His people. God can make even the worst of men not to wish us any harm, and yet they may all the time be perfectly conscious of free agency. God led Absalom and his co-conspirators to choose foolish rather than wise counsel, whereby their wicked plot was utterly defeated (see 2 Sam. 17:14). Whenever the Lord will, “He turneth wise men backward” (Isa. 44:25). He causes bad men to punish themselves. Thus sang David: “The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. The Lord is known by the judgment which He executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands” (Ps. 9:15, 16).
The punishment of the wicked is thus terribly portrayed: “His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray” (Prov. 5:22, 23). “They that sow to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 4:8).
So also God uses the wicked to punish each other, and then for their own wickedness He punishes them. Thus when the Jews apostatized and became sadly degenerate, decreeing unrighteousness and writing grievousness, to turn aside the needy from judgment, and to take away the right from the poor, that widows might be their prey, and that they might rob the fatherless, God sent a mighty heathen prince to punish them. This is his prophetic address to that haughty and terrible monarch: “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against, the people of my wrath [who have incurred my wrath] will I give him a charge, [or commission] to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few. . . . Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. . . . Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood” (Isa. 10:5, 6, 7, 12, 15). Thus God “makes the wrath of man to praise him, and the remainder of wrath he will restrain” (Ps. 76:10). He permitted men and devils to combine for the death of Jesus Christ, yet out of that event He has brought eternal redemption to countless millions, and eternal glory to the Godhead. But when they combined to keep Him in the tomb, it was not possible that He should be held captive by death. Their malice and machinations were impotent. He burst the bars of the grave, arose by His own power and ascended up on high, leading captivity captive.
Nor should this doctrine offend any one. When Pilate said to Jesus, “Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” Jesus answered, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above” (John 19:10, 11). Nor does this doctrine destroy a just accountability, but rather establishes it. The very next words of Jesus are: “Therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin”; thus clearly declaring that though the sin might seem to him small, yet it was sin.
Indeed, if God does not hold the hearts of the wicked in His hands, and entirely control them, how can the pious pray for deliverance from wicked men with any hope that they will be heard and answered? But believing this doctrine, they may well ask God to save them, knowing that if He choose, He can make their enemies to be their friends, and their persecutors to be their deliverers. This He has often done. This He still does, sending His people’s foes bowing unto them. He who made the raven feed Elijah, can never be at a loss for instruments of good to His chosen, or of wrath to His enemies. If it was not beneath Him to make an insect or a world, it is not beneath Him to govern them to wise and holy ends.
If He should resign His control over anything even for an hour, no mortal can trace the consequences. And if He were utterly to forsake any work of His hands, no creature can calculate the mischief that would ensue; for in Him we live and move and have our being, so that He alone is “Lord of all”. Devils, as tempters, have mighty influence; but the feeblest child of God, clad in innocence, upheld by grace, and guided by Providence, need not fear a million of devils. Satan is bound with a chain. He is the proprietor of nothing. Though he is called the god of this world and the spirit that works in the children of disobedience; yet the meaning of such language is that the desires and motives and aims and hearts of the men of this world are pleasing to Satan, who is at the head of the kingdom of darkness, and who sways a sceptre of malignant power over the ungodly. Blessed be God. He has not abandoned the world, bad as it is, to the reign of devils.
Nor has God resigned any part of His government to fate or chance, both of which are blind, and have no intelligence, and of course no wisdom. He governs by a plan, which is never altered simply because it is His plan, and therefore can never be improved. Both fate and chance as agents are nothing, and know nothing, and can do nothing. Over all the earth presides one who has all and infinite perfections. Just such a supreme ruler as the pious mind would desire for all the world, just such a ruler it now has and ever shall have.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be evermore. Amen.
Plumer, William. Jehovah-Jireh: A Treatise on Providence. Originally published in 1866. Can be found at: http://classicchristianlibrary.com/library/plumer_william/Providence_by_William_Plumer.pdf