God and the Powers That Be

The 82nd Psalm may be of some help as to the relation in which “The powers that be” stand to God, it opens with the reassuring statement “God stands amongst the mighty: He judges amongst the gods”. The word “gods” stands for those in high positions—the mighty having authority and power. The reference in the first place is to the judges in Israel as the Lord’s citation of this Psalm clearly indicates (John 10:34-35). But the powers that be in all nations are also included, for “there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:3). They are His representatives in the way of government little as they may realize it; indeed they are spoken of as His ministers, and He will hold them responsible for the way they use the power deputed to them. Sometimes He allows this power to be in the hands of the “basest of them” (Dan. 4:17), for every sort of man must be tested that all may know that Christ is the only hope of the world.

In democratic lands it is usual to speak of “the people” as the great and final tribunal at which the verdict is passed upon the acts of the rulers and “the bar of humanity” and “the verdict of history” are common phrases, but God is He who will have the last word about everything; every act of every ruler will be judged by Him finally, even as He controls all things now. If “the powers that be” are “ordained of God,” surely He can and will control them. They may determine to do their own wills; their wild ambition may result in far-flung battlefields and torrents of blood and tears, yet if God permits this He still holds the reins and says “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” and will say to them in His own time, as to the ocean’s billows: Hitherto shalt thou come and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” He makes the wrath of man to praise Him and restrains the rest

“He judges among the gods” and He is supreme. This we must recognize and hold without fear, doubt or equivocation in spite of all appearances to the contrary, for it is only as we do this that we shalt have confidence and rest of soul in the midst of the welter of iniquity and the successes of the evil powers that abound. Consider the alternative: If any evil power in the universe could break the bounds of God’s permission, and act in defiance of His absolute will so that the final supremacy of that will would be made impossible there would exist a throne of darkness against which He would have no power, and He would cease to be God, faith would be vain, and the hope of the complete overthrow of evil would vanish for ever. That is unthinkable We must maintain with the utmost tenacity our faith in the absolute sovereignty of God in the affairs at this world He is not for the moment intervening publicly, nevertheless providentially He controls all things. GOD IS, and must ever be; this is the unmoveable anchor for our souls amid the threatening waves. “The Most High rules in the kingdom of men” (Dan. 4:17).

“The powers that be” have failed more or less in the maintenance of justice in the world. The failure would have been absolute but for the overruling hand of God, and if we see evil pursued and punished and justice in a measure upheld, we are entirely indebted to the mercy of God for it. The failure is there however, as the challenge of the second verse of our Psalm shows: “How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the person of the wicked.” And the exhortation is given in which the purpose of their ordination is set forth: “Defend the poor and the fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and the needy; and rid them out of the hand of the wicked.” If they had done this they would have rightly represented God, for He cares for the poor and the needy. I venture to say that if the governments of the nations had attended to this business for which God had appointed them there would have been no war. They would have had God’s approval instead at His chastisement. But often the spoilers of the widow and the orphan have been and are honoured by the rulers of this world if they have wealth and power enough to bong them into notice, and their victims cry in vain except to God. It is not always so, because of God’s restraining hand upon evil nevertheless that is the trend.

So it has to be said, “They know not, neither will they understand; they walk out in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course.” How true of the present state of things is this latter sentence the result of the fact that the rulers of this world walk on in darkness instead of in the knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

But the time is coming when God will remove them, and judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He has ordained. Then the prayer which closes this Psalm shall be answered. “Arise, O God, judge the earth, for Thou shalt inherit the nations.” God will yet show to the world what righteous judgment is: “With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked” (Isa. 11:4). This righteous rule shall obtain when the Lord Himself, who loves righteousness and hates iniquity, shall take the sceptre. Then all the nations shall be His inheritance.

The Christian has to recognize the powers that be as ordained of God. To embarrass those under whom in the providence of God he is placed in any way to join in an agitation against them, or to rebel against their authority are unchristian acts—resistance of the ordinance of God (Rom. 13:2). It is the Christian’s duty and privilege to pray for them, not for the rulers of one land only, but for all that are in authority (1 Tim. 2), that the people of God in all lands may be unmolested in their Christian walk and able to live quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. We may in this way prove a blessing to men generally little as they may recognize it. Finally, we know that these powers are but temporary, they are necessary to the existing state of mankind, and serve God’s purpose in the meantime, but they must be shaken and pass away to make room for a kingdom that cannot be moved, the metropolis of which will be the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God, and the administrator our Lord Jesus Christ for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings, and God will judge the world in righteousness by Him.

J. T. Mawson