The Trial of Human Government

Judgment was executed and over, and in Noah and his family the human race began anew the history of the world. There are many features of difference from the former beginnings, whether inside paradise or without. It was now first that on the fallen earth the trial of man formally began - a trial which, as we have seen, man had forced God (if we may so speak) to make. Already He had indeed pronounced, in answer to the challenge of Cain's altar, that "every imagination of the thought of man's heart was only evil, and that continually,'' and after such a sentence could never for His own sake - as if He were in any doubt - institute a fresh trial of such a creature. So, too, when He brings out Noah upon the restored earth, He is at pains to show that He is not possessed with any fresh hopes concerning man. "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake," He says, ''for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth." Thus He could not for His own sake institute trial. But man has need to know himself, and as he will not recognise himself in the subject of God's verdict, hc must be permitted to make practical proof. Hence, once more his responsibility is solemnly proclaimed, and with the solemn lessons of the past fresh in his memory, and once more with the fresh tokens of divine mercy on every hand, he is bidden gird up his loins and begin again his course, to triumph now, if it may be, in the scene of his former disastrous failure.

Before we examine this in its details, as they are given in the divine Word, let us try to realise the meaning of one solemn change which the renewed earth presents from that old one which the flood had swept away. Paradise is no more to be found there. Euphrates, Hiddekel, Gihon, Pison, may be there; but the garden from which they once issued is gone forever. Where it was, and whether it was, men may now dispute about as they list The flaming sword has no need to keep any more the way of the tree of life. The cherubim are also gone. The earth is discrowned and empty.

And must we not connect this displayed glory in Eden, however intimately connected with man's fall and punishment, yet also with the mercy that manifested itself toward him, as we have already seen with other tokens of his condition, in which judgment united itself with and ministered to mercy? Labour and sorrow, and death itself, thus ministered, and do minister; and this flaming sword with its cherubim, like Ezekiel's cloud and fire, speak of that presence of God which is not mere judgment only. So even for Cain there was a "face of the Lord" which he evidently identified with Eden, near to, if still outside of, paradise. "Behold, Thou hast driven me out from the face of the earth," he says, "and from Thy face shall I be hid" and again we read that "Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden." It is the easier to realise, because after this, as we know, it pleased God to localise His presence thus in Israel, and there also with fire and cherubic emblems. It seems not doubtful that this was but in some respects a reproduction of what had been before at gate of paradise, where sacrifice which had so essential a part in the Mosaic economy confessedly began.

Paradise passes away. however, with the flood, and the presence of God, as displayed there, is gone also. It is simple in principle that while the fall itself had not done so, man's maintenance of his righteousness compels Him to more reserve. For man's sin He had resources which in the presence of self-righteousnesss could not be brought out. This must be met in a way far different from the other; for "the proud He beholdeth afar off." Thus, as Cain before, so man now, (and by his road also), "goes out from the presence of the Lord." Yet He, as consenting to man's trial, does not withdraw simply, and leave him to himself. On the contrary, He solemnly inaugurates the trial Himself, making men afresh to know His power and goodness, as by their recent deliverance from the otherwise universal destruction, so also by the new condition of blessing into which the earth enters, in covenant with Him. Still His goodness was, if it might be, to lead them to repentance. And this goodness of His it is the apostle refers to as God's perpetual witness in all times and lands.

Nevertheless, if God thus declare His purpose of loving-kindness, He is careful to ground it all upon that sacrifice rejected by Cain, but fully accepted by delivered Noah. "And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings upon the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour, and the Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth: neither will I again smite any more everything living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease."

So clear is it that, if God take up man now to go on with him again, only upon such a ground as sets him altogether aside that He can do so. Just as afterward, in the giving of the law, it is only on the ground of redemption - to a redeemed people - He can give this. If He allow man thus the new trial that he claims, He keeps His own ground still, even while allowing it; and proclaims still, in man's reluctant ears, sacrifice-atonement - as the only way of acceptance, and the impossibility of his standing on his own self-chosen ground.

And now, blessing them as He does so, God delivers into the hand of Noah and of his sons, with something of the old sovereignty, the lower creatures. Significantly, also, death is to be for them the food of life; while the reservation of the blood, the vehicle of life, maintains the divine claim to what God alone can give. Above all, man's life is sacred; the deed of Cain is to go no more unpunished, and man is directly affirmed to be his "brother's keeper:" he is to exact blood for blood, and that as the instrument and vicegerent of God on earth. "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man: at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made He man."

Here, then, human government begins, not as an expedient suggested by man, as so many think it, but as a divine institution. From the commencement of it it could be said, "The powers that be are ordained of God." Not any particular powers, as yet indeed, such as we may find afterward, but "the powers that exist," whatever their form. There is no need to prove, what every one that has a right thought will at once admit, the blessing that there is for man in civil government. Few would doubt that, if it were removed, corruption and violence would overflow all bounds, as it did before the flood, or as in the French revolution of the eighteenth century. Better the worst form of government the world has seen than absolute anarchy. Darkening of sun and moon, the falling of the stars, and convulsions of the earth are its symbols in Scripture; and these are signs of the near end of the dispensation.

As a moral discipline, subjection to government is of the utmost value. It is seen in the family as what has its root in the divine ordinance by which the whole human race is compacted together. The immaturity of infant years has necessarily to submit itself to the superior power and wisdom by which alone it is able to attain maturity. And this immaturity, so long lasting in the case of man as compared with the lower animals, implies a long discipline of subjection. By the ordinance of civil government the period of this is lengthened to the whole term of man's life. And this subjection is one not merely to the will of others, but in which also self-mastery is learned and attained. It is true that man's self-will - the very essence of sin - breaks all bonds that are possible to be devised; and the inadequacy of such means is one of the very lessons - nay, a main one, which these dispensations teach us. Yet were not the means themselves such as should be efficacious, their failure would not have the same significance. And amid all the failure this is still apparent.

The failure is on two sides,- that of the governed and that of the governors alike, for both are men. On the part of those in authority is found weakness, the want of self government, as in Noah, which exposes it to the contempt of those who need most the display of power; or, as in Nimrod, the abuse of this, tyranny and oppression. Babel ends this scene in a general revolt against the source of all power-against God - the issue of which is to bring down judgment and stamp the whole scene, even outwardly, with the brand of "confusion." The failure begins with Noah, and this is the occasion of Ham's sin and the curse upon his posterity. The break-up of government is primarily the fault of those to whom God has committed the authority, with the responsibility, of government. God would be with His, own institution necessarily to maintain it, if only those to whom it was intrusted did not betray their trust. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" But then subjection to Him is the secret of subordination on the part of the governed. When man gave up his supremacy over the beast, then the beast rose up against him. He had sunk down to their level, practically, by giving up God - for the beast knows not God. "Being in honor and abiding not, he is like the beasts that perish." Thus, long after this, Nebuchadnezzar is driven to the beasts, until he should know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men. His own account is very striking:

"And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me; and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honoured Him that liveth forever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.''

Noah's departure from God was not what Nebuchadnezzar's has been; but it was as real, if not so manifest. We have in him the beginning,- the root, and not the full ripe fruit. A root is not manifest; but it is what the other springs from. Noah's failure is easily read as the unguarded enjoyment of blessings away from the restraining presence of Him whose gifts they are. But this is the very secret of a departure the limit of which is then only with God and not with man. The soul has lost its anchorage, and cannot choose but drift. Noah is drunk, loses his garment, and is naked. In many points it is the Eden - scene repeated. This nakedness is matter of contempt to those who are themselves wholly away from God, and who use it to their own worse shame and ruin. From this family of Ham comes, later, Nimrod, "the rebel;" and the beginning of his kingdom is Babel.

The order is instructive and important.' God's thought for man is weakness, dependence, subjection, but so, blessing. To realise this, they are to be scattered abroad upon the earth. But of all things, the pride of man refuses the acknowledgment of weakness, as his will resents subjection. Power and a name he covets. "Union is strength" is his watchword. "And they said, 'Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of.the whole earth.'"

Now God's thought for man is a city too. Faith looks for a "city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." Cain's city was not original with him, nor is God's thought caught from man's. It is itself the original; only that it must wait for another scene for its accomplishment. For He cannot build in a storm-vexed and shifting scene, such as the present; and the anticipation of God's time is unbelief, not faith. Man's union is thus confederacy, a compact of selfish wills, of which the cross is the outcome.-" Let us break their bands asunder,. and cast away their cords from us."

Meanwhile, God is digging deep, in the sense of emptiness and nothingness and guilt, to have Christ as the foundation of a city whose walls shall be salvation, and whose gates praise; where union shall be communion with the Father and the Son, and thus accord with all things that serve God. Jerusalem shall be therefore "the foundation of peace." The outcome of man's confederacy - judgment only stamping it with its true character - is Babel, "confusion." And this is the beginning of his empire who is the type of the great final "rebel," who, crushing all lesser wills into his own, shall be at the same time the "lawless one" and the iron despot. 'I'hus "man's day" will come to an end, and the kingdom of Christ be seen to be the only refuge; all other kingdoms but its shadow, this the substance. The perfect Man must come - Himself the perfectly obedient One, - in whom shall be no failure; no degradation of power, and no lack of it: whose of right the throne is. Till then the trial of government, however this may be needful (and therefore "the powers that be are ordained of God," and "he is the minister of God to thee for good "), becomes only one of the things that manifest more and more man's hopeless ruin. He who could not maintain himself in blessing cannot recover himself; nor is there redemption for him in his brother's hand.