“God’s Sovereignty and the ‘Powers that Be’” American Sentinel 10, 44, pp. 345, 346.

November 7, 1895

A CORRESPONDENT writes that he is unable to harmonize the idea of God’s sovereignty in earthly affairs, with the statement made recently in the SENTINEL that the power and glory of the kingdoms of this earth are delivered into the hands of Satan.

As we have said before, the condition expressed by the latter statement arose from the fact that Satan overcame Adam, the father of the race, in the garden of Eden. We know that “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.” 2 Peter 2:19. Thus Adam was brought into bondage to Satan, and this bondage is the bondage of sin. Sin is the will of Satan, being the opposite of righteousness, which is the will of God. That which holds an individual in this bondage is called the “law of sin and death.” Romans 8:2.

From this law, which works in the natural heart of every man, there is no escape but by “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus;” in other words, by the provisions of God’s grace as revealed in the gospel. And as “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), all are in bondage to sin, subject to the law of sin and death, save such as have been “born again” by the Spirit and Word of God.

These latter, sad to say, are but a small minority among the multitudes that people the earth; and as it is to-day, so it has been in all ages of the world. Multitudes have ever thronged the broad, smooth road that leads to perdition, while only the few have traversed the narrow, rugged way that leads to life.

Hence, in all ages of the world, the multitudes have been on the side of Satan. They have been sinners, doing his will in every sin that they committed. And such have been by far the greater number of those who have sat upon the thrones and stood in the high places of earthly kingdoms.

We cannot trace the history of earthly kingdoms and arrive at any other conclusions. Their power and splendor have not been used for the glory of God, but for the glorification of man, and through man, for the glorification of him whom every sinful man serves, that is, Satan. This is why they have fallen, one after the other, and gone down in ruin.

Yet God has never vacated the throne of universal sovereignty. There can be no rightful rule that is contrary to his, but this does not alter the fact that such rule does exist. We see it on every side of us. We see the reign of sin, in the low places and in the high, producing all that is evil and contrary to the will of God. God could blot this out in a moment and assert his rightful rule; but he does not do so, since he will demonstrate to every being in the universe that his ways are just, and that his kingdom is not based upon the principle that “might makes right.” Thus sin, though without a shadow of right in God’s universe, must be permitted, until the work of God for men shall be finished, and his purpose in man’s creation carried out.

God has ordained “the powers that be,” since there must be government on the earth. He is the rightful ruler, but he will rule only where he has the willing consent of his subjects; he will rule only where obedience springs from love. This is the highest, the best obedience, and he will accept no other. He will not be the ruler of automatons nor of slaves. The obedience of every one of his subjects must be consistent with their perfect freedom.

Hence, another rule is instituted by him among men, in their sinful state, but instituted to supply the place of God’s direct rule only so far as concerns the securing of public order and peace. These are necessary conditions to human progress and to the realization of his own purposes in the earth. This is the rule of those who exercise “the powers that be.” And because their rule, as ordained by Him, is thus limited, it is not necessary that they should themselves be righteous.

The case of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, furnishes a good illustration. His rule was ordained of God. In the prophecy of Jeremiah we read that God said: “I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant; and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him; … and it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the LORD, with the sword, and with the famine, and with the pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand.” Jeremiah 27:5-8.

Here Nebuchadnezzar is called the servant of God; yet he was not a righteous man. He was a heathen king, and a worshiper of idols. He set up a great idol in the plains of Dura, as we read in the prophecy of Daniel, and commanded all his subjects to worship it, and cast the three Hebrew worthies into the fiery furnace because of their refusal to do so. In all this he was the servant of Satan. And the power and glory of his kingdom, wielded as these were by the king and the heathen men of his court, Daniel and his fellows excepted, were in the hands of Satan, for he controlled them as his servants. Yet God overruled in certain things, and made the king an instrument in his hands to serve him, though ignorant of God, in the accomplishment of his divine purpose.

The power of King Pharaoh, who refused to let the Israelites depart from Egypt, was also ordained of God, for we are plainly told that God raised him up to his high station that he might be an instrument through which would be manifested God’s greatness and power. And Pharaoh faithfully served the devil in his cruelty and wicked obstinacy, yet God overruled events so that the purpose he had in view was accomplished. Thus Pharaoh was in a sense the servant of God, and his power and station were ordained of God; but no one will question that the power and glory of his court, with its magicians, soothsayers, and idolators, were under Satan’s control.

The “powers that be” to-day are ordained of God, and we are commanded to be subject unto them in things pertaining to the exercise [346] of their legitimate authority. Yet the present kingdoms of this world are not kingdoms of righteousness, but are full of every kind of iniquity. When Christ takes the kingdoms he will “dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel,” and they will be utterly swept away, as described in Daniel 2:35. Yet under their rule we have order and peace and the security afforded by laws which are in the main intended for the restraint of evil-doers. But the full and perfect sovereignty of God which is his right cannot be established here so long as there remain those who will not render to him willing, loving obedience in all things. When the time shall come that his will is to be done here as it is in heaven, there will be no further need of the powers that be.

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