Chapter 06 – Man’s Accountability to God – The Government of God
This is a subject which it may be necessary for us to inquire into, in order that we may find out how far man is responsible. For if man be not a moral agent, he cannot be responsible for the present position of the world; and it would be unjust in God to punish him for acts that were not his, and for circumstances over which he had no control.
By a careful examination of the Scriptures, we shall find that man has had certain powers vested in his hands, which he holds subject to the control and guidance of the Lord; and that if he has acted without the counsel, guidance, or instruction of God, he has gone beyond the limits assigned him by the Lord, and is as much culpable as a minister plenipotentiary of any nation would be who should exceed the limits of his instructions; or a man holding a farm, or vineyard, by a certain lease, if he should disregard the conditions of that lease, and destroy the farm, or vineyard; for the earth is the Lord’s, and man was put on it by the Lord. It is not man’s possession, only as he holds it from God. Man’s body was given him by God, and also his spirit, for the purpose heretofore mentioned. God had his object in view in the creation of the world and of man (which it is not necessary here to investigate); and if man is placed as an agent to act for the Lord, and also for himself, and then should neglect the Lord, he would certainly be held responsible to his Creator. That God had an object in view in regard to the creation of the world, is evident. Or, why was there a consultation in heaven about it? Why the beautiful regulation of sun, moon, and stars? Why the provision made for the redemption of man before he came here? For Christ was “the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.” Why the arrangement of the resurrection? the New Jerusalem, and the reign of Jesus on the earth? Will any one say that all these things were done, and all nature organized in its present beauty, and order, without a design? It would be preposterous. If God has a design in those things, and man by his wilfulness, wickedness, corruption, and rebellion, should thwart the design of God, and yield himself to another influence, even that of Satan, will he not be held responsible? And whether God has a particular design or not, does not affect the question particularly; for the earth is the Lord’s, and man also, and God has a perfect right to dictate what laws he pleases. That the Lord looks upon the world in this manner is evident from the words of our Saviour. “There was a certain householder which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it. And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first; and they did unto them likewise. But last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son. But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the Lord, therefore, of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? They say unto him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons. Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matt. xxi. 33-44.) Here, then, the thing is clearly developed: man’s agency; the abuse of that agency; the punishment inflicted for that abuse, together with the awful consequences of resistance to the proper authority. “On whomsoever it shall fall, it shall grind him to powder.” God never gave man unlimited control of the affairs of this world; but always speaks of man as being under his guidance, inhabiting his territory, and responsible to him for his acts. The world is His vineyard, and man is the agent. Hence, when God made man, “God blessed him, and God said unto him, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This, then, was man’s dominion, given him by the Lord. And the word continues: “And God gave them every herb bearing seed, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree.” These things were given by God; but to show his power, and his right to be obeyed, and in order to test man, he forbid his eating of a certain tree; and when he did eat of it, and thus broke the commandment of God, he thrust him out of the garden, and decreed that he “should eat his bread by the sweat of his brow.”
Again, God demanded worship and sacrifices, and when Cain and Abel offered them, he received one and rejected the other; and further, when Cain was wroth on account of his sacrifice not being accepted, the Lord said to him, “Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” (Gen. iv. 5-7.) After the destruction of the world, which was in consequence of the people sinning against God, he blessed Noah, and spake to him, and gave him the same dominion which had been given before to Adam; and Noah offered sacrifices to him. The same recognition of the Almighty’s power and authority was manifested by Abraham, Moses, the Children of Israel, and the Prophets; by Jesus also, and the primitive Christians. Man was left as a free agent with power to act, and vested with certain powers by his Father, and responsible to him for his acts, as a son, servant, or agent would be to his father, master, or employer. Perhaps it would be more correctly conveyed thus:—a man lets or rents a vineyard or farm, the man occupying it has a certain agency and discretionary power vested in his hands, but always subject to certain conditions imposed by the owner of the property. Hence God made a covenant with Noah, Abraham, the Children of Israel, and the primitive saints. The making of a covenant naturally implies two parties: in such cases, God is one, the people the other. If the people fulfil their covenant, the Lord is bound to fulfil his; but if man transgresses then the Lord is not bound to fulfil his engagement. For instance, in speaking to ancient Israel, he said, “And it shall come to pass if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all the commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth.” (Deut. xxviii. 1.) He then describes what those blessings are; and further states, that if they do not observe his statutes they shall be cursed. The Lord set before them blessings and cursings; blessings if they obeyed, but cursings if they disobeyed. Man, then, acts as a moral agent, to improve upon the blessings which God puts within his power, or not, as he pleases; and it is the abuse of this moral agency, which has filled the world with misery and distress.[A]
[Footnote A: This part of the subject is fully explained in the remarks on the Government of Man, chap. ii.]
Man has lost sight of the object of his creation, and his future destiny; and losing sight of his origin, his relationship to God, and his future destiny, he has fallen into the mazes of ignorance, superstition, and iniquity, and is groping in the dark, and knows not how to conduct himself in this world, or how to prepare for the world to come. For, instead of being governed by the Spirit, Wisdom, and Revelations of God, he is governed by the spirit of the Evil One, “the god of this world, who rules in the hearts of the children of disobedience.” They have left God, and submitted themselves to his evil sway, and used that agency which God has given to them, not only in rejecting God, but in obeying Satan; and furthering his designs, which are in opposition to those of God, the happiness of mankind, and the salvation of the world. I know there are many who will ridicule this idea but it is a thing which is plain in the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul says, “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Cor. iv. 4.) And if any man thinks he is wise, he has his moral agency and the world before him; and if he can improve the situation of the world without God, he has ample opportunity to display his intelligence.
I would remark, further, that so far from Satan not exercising this power over man, he exercises it to such an extent, and he possesses such an unbounded influence over the human family, that God’s purposes relative to man, and the earth, never can be carried out until Satan is bound, and cast into the bottomless pit. John says, “And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit, and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the Dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, and cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled.” (Rev. xx. 1-3.) Here, then, he is described as deceiving the nations, and his power is curtailed for a season, that he shall not possess it. It is a difficult thing to persuade men that they are deceived; because that very power that deceives them, inflates the mind with self-sufficiency and assurance: but who, that looks abroad in the world, and sees the confusion, distress, and misery that abound, will say that man has acted wisely?
Man, then, is a moral agent, possessing the power to do good or to do evil; if he does well, he fulfils the measure of his creation, and secures his happiness in time and in eternity. If he does not well, and is involved in difficulties and misery, it is his own fault, and he may blame himself. There are many circumstances over which man individually has no control; but I am speaking more particularly of nations and the world, and man’s moral agency associated with them: concerning individuals, the Lord will make his own arrangements. The Jews are cursed nationally, on account of their fathers’ transgression, and cannot remove that curse, as a nation, until the time come. As individuals they can receive the Gospel as well as others. Their fathers committed grievous national offences against God for some length of time, and finally filled up the measure of their iniquity, in rejecting, and crucifying the Son of God. If they killed the prophets, and stoned those whom God sent, how could he treat with them? He could act no other way consistently than to “destroy those husbandmen, and give the vineyard to others.” For if God be the proprietor of the vineyard, and has a right to confer national blessings for obedience, he has also a right to visit them with national curses for disobedience. A nation rejecting God and his ordinances, and killing his prophets, and still professing to be his people, act hypocritically, and impose a great curse upon posterity. And if men will not acknowledge God, how can they expect him to acknowledge and bless them? Again. There are heathen nations enveloped in idolatry; and if millions of people came into the world in those places surrounded with idolatry and superstition, it would be unjust for them to be punished for what they did not know. Hence, if they have no law, they will be judged without law; and God in his own wisdom will regulate their affairs, for it is their misfortune, not their individual offence, that has placed them in their present position. If, however, we could trace their history, we should find, as with the Israelites, so with them. Their present darkness and misery originated in a departure from God; and as their fathers did not desire to retain God in their knowledge, he gave them up to their present darkness, confusion, and wretchedness. See Paul’s remarks on this subject, (Rom. i. 21-25, 28.) For nationally, the conduct of fathers has a great influence over their children, as well as in a family capacity. Hence the Jews will be blessed as a nation, in consequence of the promises made to Abraham, for as I have said before, these are eternal principles; man is an eternal being, and all his actions have a relevancy to eternity. The actions of fathers have a bearing and influence on their children, both as families and nations, in time and in eternity. And those great principles that God has his eye upon in relation to the nations, and to the world, will certainly be accomplished. Hence the stimulus to excite men to tread in the steps of Abraham, that like him they may obtain blessings for themselves and their posterity. And hence the choice of Abraham by the Lord. The Lord said, “I know him that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” (Gen. xviii. 19.) And why did the Lord feel anxious about this? Because of his own purposes in relation to the earth, and because of his parental care of the bodies and spirits of man. For there are matters of great importance associated with these things, as before referred to; and the Lord has felt very anxious, for the perpetuation of correct principles. So strong were his feelings in relation to this matter, that he gave the following law to the children of Israel: “If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee; from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shalt thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him; but thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him, to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die, because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” (Deut. xiii. 6-10.) Here, then, it is stated, that if brother, son, wife, or any one, wish to lead thee from God, thou shalt destroy them; and why? Because in forsaking God, they lose sight of their eternal existence, corrupt themselves, and entail misery on their posterity. Hence it was better to destroy a few individuals, than to entail misery on many. And hence the inhabitants of the old world and of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, because it was better for them to die, and thus be deprived of their agency, which they abused, than entail so much misery on their posterity, and bring ruin upon millions of unborn persons. And having thus deprived them of their agency to act upon the earth, and punished them for their transgressions, Jesus went “and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” (1 Peter iii. 19, 20.)
It is upon this principle that the world will be punished in the last days for their transgressions, because they have abused their agency, and broken the covenant that God made with them. They have yielded to the influence of Satan, perverted the designs of Jehovah, and brought upon themselves and posterity a curse, misery, and ruin. If any thing further is desired upon this subject, Isaiah has described it plainly, and has shewn the awful effects of an abuse of this moral agency and departure from God, and the breaking of this covenant. To him I refer the reader as a conclusion on this subject. “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the taker of usury, so with the giver of usury to him. The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word. The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left.” (xxiv. 1-6.)
# # #
Source: Chapter 6 of the The Government of God, by John Taylor (1852)