"I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him." (Ecclesiastes 3:14)
OUR text is taken from a very remarkable book, which I fear is very little considered or studied by most of us. Two subjects seem to be specially treated of in the book of Ecclesiastes; the first is, the vanity of everything human; the second it, the stability of everything which is of God--man nothing, God everything.
In the 1st chapter and 2nd verse, the wise man gives, as it were, a text on which he enlarges throughout the book. In the 2nd chapter we have, perhaps, one of the most glowing pictures of human prosperity, and one of the most brilliant descriptions of carnal enjoyment which was ever penned. The wise man tells us of everything he possessed. The Lord seems to have given him an ability to roam through whatever department of carnal enjoyment he pleased; he gives us a sketch of everything he had loved and enjoyed, and he then tells us of the vanity of all. He had been drinking largely of the streams which one would think could satisfy the carnal desire, and they had left him thirsty. There is a capacity in the soul for more than this world can give. There is one thing, and only one, which can satisfy the enlightened soul--and that is, God Himself. And then, in contrast with this picture of earthly vanity, we have thrown in, here and there, some precious views of the perfection of God. In the 2nd chapter, 26the verse, the wise man says, "God giveth to a man that is good in his sight, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy." As if he put it in this way--I have gone into all the chambers of worldly gratification to seek for something which could satisfy the soul; I speak from experience, not from hearsay--"God giveth wisdom, knowledge, and joy;" I have tried what is intellectual; I have learned much of carnal wisdom, but there it left me. O, brethren, when God pleases, He can send such a spring, such a stream, such a gushing tide of precious things into the soul, as shall make us say, none can teach like God.
In the 3rd chapter, 11th verse, we are told, "He hath made everything beautiful in his time, also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end." There is here an implied contrast; the world looks very beautiful, but there is a brittleness about it--it seemed as though it would support us--but as soon as we tried to rest our foot upon it, it gave. The world seemed very beautiful; we took of its fruit, but ere long, it showed that it was not what we thought it to be; within, it was ashes, and soon it went up in dust. Some of us may have read a great many books on the vanity of human things; but, brethren, we ask you to take this book and to read it, and we say you never read such a description as that which is here presented to us, of the brittleness of earthly things, and of the unsatisfying nature of all worldly good. And then, in the midst of all this, there seems to be such a covering over of what is human, there are such soul-refreshing and supporting views, that the soul is led away from the things of man to the things of God, in the contemplation of the wisdom, fixedness, stability, and constancy of His works.
Observe the points prominently brought before us in this verse.
You have, first, the constancy, unchangeableness, and stability of the work of God set before you in the words--"I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever."
Secondly, you have the perfection of God's doings--"Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it." It does not want it; it is perfect in itself.
Thirdly, you are told the principle of God's actings--"God doeth it, that men should fear before Him." His object seems to be to bring out something that shall reflect His own image.
Brethren, this is a vast subject. We pray that God the Holy Ghost may be present in the midst of us at this time, that our coming together may be for profit; that each one of us may take this portion, and find in it a word for his or her own soul; may we derive comfort from it, and see in it something of the soul's great salvation, to the glory of our covenant God.
We said that this is a vast subject to preach upon, and why is it so vast? For this reason, because the right apprehension of this truth involves the very perfection of God. Take away one particle of this truth, and you shake the very Being of God. I cannot understand God if I extract this truth.
There is not one who can speak at all intelligently upon this point, not even one little one amongst us at all trained in the knowledge of the things of God, who, if we were to speak to him upon this subject, would not say that the truth which is contained in our text is involved in the very nature of God. Well, we all admit it; our theory is right; we can bring Scripture to bear on it; we can reason upon it; but then, as to the practical part, we have received such a shock upon our moral system by the fall, that we practically give the lie to the theory which we lay down. When we shut ourselves up in our own little experience; when we go into our own little world, we sometimes think that we see God acting upon some little contingency; we are perplexed by the wrong-going of things; we begin to be impatient; we say there is a wrongness. We lay down a right theory, but we deny it every day of our lives in practice.
Now, here is a great subject for our thoughts to go out upon--for the finite to contemplate the infinite--for the little mind of man to reach after the contemplation of the vast mind of God! It is a very difficult subject, and I feel I am running the risk of being a little obscure when I speak upon it; but I think it a subject of importance. I know that my comfort, and I know that your comfort, children of God, depends on laying hold for ourselves individually of this great truth; for, when once established in it, we will not be easily blown about by every wind of doctrine.
When I speak of the mind of God being immutable, I would say this word--What we want to take into our conception of Deity, is, that God is one pure, simple, uncompounded mind; or, perhaps, to explain my meaning better, I should say that God is one simple, uncompounded unit. You and I have to take in ideas by succession; we often think a great deal of a thing in which there is really very little. There is no succession in the mind of God; God does not take in ideas in a train as we do. The greatness of God consists in this very thing--God wills; and His actions are just the expression of that will. The actions of God are according to His will; they re-echo His will. Thus we read in the 1st of Genesis--"God said, let there be light, and there was light." Again, there is no time with God. If things do not follow in succession in the mind of God, then, consequently, there can be no change in His mind. God is not dependent upon circumstances. Circumstance is God's machinery-- God's creature. Now, you and I admit all this, but we do not live upon it as we ought. And then take another point. There is no future with God; there is no evolving, no unrolling, no unfolding of the future with God. This is a very difficult subject to speak upon; our desire is just to bring before you what Scripture teaches us. We shall know more about it by-and-bye. In the mind of God, there is but one idea. All the complex actings of man, all the intertwinings of all his compound actions, all are before the mind of God; there is no succession with God; no past, no future.
Then you may, perhaps, say, there are seeming contradictions to all this in Scripture. God has condescended to speak after the manner of men in compassion to our ignorance; but all those seeming changes are just the result of arrangement in the mind of God. None of those changes could ever have taken place without Him. All the beautiful train of circumstances is brought out according to the purposes of God. Divine appointment governs all.
And now we come to the effect of all this on the Church. It is not a dry matter of speculation, to show you how all we have been saying bears upon the present and eternal interests of the Church, collectively and individually. Why, when I read this truth, my mind goes out upon the kingdom of grace; and when I see the Lord's people buffeted as they are by temptation without and within, I find something for my own soul to rest upon; and I make this proposition and assertion, that it pleased God in the infinity of His own mind to make His Church, His elect people, the platform on which He would exhibit the perfections of His own glory. Just turn to the 3rd of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul says--"Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ; to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God." And if you read at your leisure the 1st of Ephesians, you will find the same truth declared.
And now, by the way, we take up an objection to all this. Infidels have thought themselves mighty wise when they have said, O what a notion you must have of God, to think that He who can take in at one glance past, present, and future, could concentrate His great mind, and fix it with microscopic view on that insect, that worm, man! This objection has been brought forward by infidels, wild persons inflated with their own pride, who do not understand the Bible; but to all this I have but one simple answer, I would not condescend to give another. I cannot prove it but with my Bible; I take my Bible, and they trample on my Bible; as to the proof of it being the Word of God, that is another thing; I have full proof that it is. Therefore, believing it to be God's Word, I go to it, and I say, Poor, and contemptible, and insignificant, and worm, as man is, never tell me that man is contemptible and insignificant in the sight of God when I see manhood exalted to the right hand of God--and when God, the vast, the mighty God, was pleased to take upon himself our nature, and now wears it at the right hand of the Majesty on high.--After all this, never tell me that man is insignificant.
Now, I go back to our former position. God was pleased to take His Church, and to make it the platform of which He would exhibit His own glory. And here I see something of the wisdom of God. It pleased God to allow his designs to receive the hardest blow which they ever received, at the fall of man, in order to show the immutability of His counsel. I see that sin gave a dreadful shock, which seemed to shatter one of the mightiest works of God. But did it shake the designs of the Lord? Did it alter, speaking after the manner of men, the purposes of God? No; it was the very means which God was pleased to use, to manifest His great prerogative of bringing good out of evil. I look again at the works of God, and I see sin introducing death; it seemed to stifle and to destroy man when it had laid his body in the dust. There was that creature, man, a beautiful image of God Himself; the devil takes it, breaks it up into pieces, into bits, and man becomes atoms, dust. Does this destroy the purposes of God? No. God has been pleased to teach us that the time will come when He shall gather together those scattered atoms. Again, I read of a still future period, when this vast creation shall be burned up on one universal fire. Shall God's purposes then be destroyed? No. Out of the ruin, the wreck, God shall create a new heaven and a new earth; God's purposes shall never be destroyed.
And when I look at the work which God has done in the salvation of His Church--and when I look at the way in which God carries out His purposes with regard to that Church, I see that He has done everything to secure the stability of His purposes. God's own Son came into this world and gave Himself a ransom, a propitiation for the sins of His people. You remember what the Apostle tells us in the 4th of Galatians--"When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son" (His own Son) "made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons." None other but God's own Son accomplished the work; nothing can be put to it, nothing taken from it. Read at your leisure the 9th and 10th of Hebrews, where we are told that, "By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified."
I look again at the Church, and I see what God is doing in the Church. He has purposed that His Church shall be saved, and it shall. I look at everything which God has done in the Church, and in every individual of that Church, and I see that the poorest, and weakest, the most tried member of it shall be saved. And what has God done in order to secure this? He has implanted in the souls of all His people, by His Spirit, life. Each one of them is a temple of the Holy Ghost--"an habitation of God through the Spirit;" though perhaps the passage to which I allude may specially refer to the Church collectively, still it is true of the individual believer. I may be speaking in the hearing of some who are ready to say, O if you knew how much there is in my heart to stifle the work of the Spirit of God! Some there may be who can echo my experience, when I say the devil has done everything in his power to destroy spiritual life in my soul, and to take me out of the hand of Jesus; but, blessed be God, He has put His Spirit into our hearts, and we shall be kept alive--nothing shall destroy us.
We would here throw out a remark--though not, perhaps, specially connected with our present subject--with respect to the children of Israel. If ever there seemed to be a shaking, a crumbling, a shattering of the purposes and designs of God, it was in the case of the purposes and designs of God, it was in the case of that chosen people. And what are they now? A scattered and a peeled people--prophecies and promises all seem to have failed; God's Word still holds out to them promises upon promises, prophecies upon prophecies, and all interwoven with the unchangeable character of God--all showing us that "God hath not cast away His people." This is what God has done, and what He will do with His own people on a large scale nationally. And there is something analogous to it in the experience of every individual believer, through the redemption of Christ; and in the fanning, cherishing, and keeping alive the divine fire in the soul.
But it is added in the words of our text--"Nothing can be put to it." This truth seems to be presented as a matter of course. Here is the perfection of the work. O, brethren, what are we to think of those wretched systems which have been planned by men? I know not what name to apply to them. There is in them something so derogatory to God, and so insulting to the work of the Lord Jesus. They lead man away from God, and from the work of Christ, to his own miserable doings, in some way or other to make himself a fit recipient of the grace of God. Why, were we to offer such comfort to the soul, feeling its sinfulness, we should be only administering a cup of poison. Brethren, Scripture teaches us that the Lord's people are "complete in Christ." Nothing can be added to His perfect work. O, that the Lord would fasten conviction on your minds, that the work is done--that the Lord Jesus spake truth when He said, in that sweet prayer in the 17th of John--"I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do." May the Lord shake to the very center those souls who have not yet believed that the work depends not upon any contingency, that there can be no failure--that it depends not upon man, but upon the person and work of God's own co-equal Son.
"Nor can anything be taken from it." Here we have the same idea in another form; it is a steady, solid, perfect work; nothing can damage it, nothing shake it, nothing disturb it, nothing can be put to it, nothing taken from it. O, what a precious thought from God's poor people, when they feel all that the enemy is doing! God has designed to save His people, and they must be saved. His purposes must be carried out; their names never shall be taken out of the Lamb's book of life; not a single member of God's family shall be missing at the last day; not one blot shall there be in the book of life; not one name shall ever be effaced from it.
You remember when Moses made that sweet song from the comfort of the children of Israel, when he made them lisp out something of the praises of God in their song; in the 4th verse of the 32nd of Deuteronomy, after speaking of God being their Rock, he says--"His work is perfect, for all His way are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity; just and right is He."
Now, see how this bears upon our passage through this wilderness world. If we could only believe that there can be nothing added to the work of God, nothing taken from it, how it would silence all unbelieving doubts and fears! O, that in the midst of our perplexities, sorrows, and trials, we could just lay hold of this truth, that there is perfection in the works of God; that not a link, not a pin, not the smallest part of the great machinery of God's providence could be spared. When you and I see something in God's dispensations which we think should not be there, and we ask, Could not God spare that trial? though the eye may be dimmed with tears, yet faith says, No! not one link could be spared; not one pin could be taken out. There is such perfection in the work of God, that if I were to lay hold on it, I should only disturb it; if I were to touch it, I should only mar it. O, what tides of rich comfort would flow into the soul, if we did but believe and live upon this precious truth.
Now, observe the principle of all this dealing--"God doeth it that men should fear before Him." There seems to be one great principle which runs through all the dealings of God, which is the bringing out some great revenue of glory to His own name. "God doeth it that men should fear before Him." What are we to understand by this? I would say that there are three elements in the fear of God. You can take them and think over them at your leisure.
The first is, an acknowledgment of God. The world does not acknowledge God; it can live without Him. The child of God sees the Lord's hand in everything; and when your contingent events, as the world terms them, happen, the child of God says, There is the Lord's hand.
The second element in the fear of God is submission. There is a silencing of those fears--those rebellious thoughts that rise in the soul--a desire to receive from God's hand, with submission, whatever He gives.
The third element is acquiescence in God's will. It is not saying or thinking, the hand of God is upon me; now I must humble myself, that I may be exalted; but is something of the spirit of the Psalmist, when he said--"I was dumb; I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it." There is acquiescence--a belief that all is wisely ordered in love. All the perfections of God are enlisted on behalf of His people; all are joined together in one great current for their good.
Now, then, we have these three elements in the fear of the Lord. And my mind goes one. I am looking forward to the time when God shall make a great display of His perfections--when all His intelligent creatures shall see what He is, when He shall be pleased to lift the curtain which now hides His glory, and when all the things of which we have been speaking shall be brought out in their fullness before an ungodly world. O, what a book will this be for them to read! They will then see the page of God's design enforced in fact. It is a tremendous thought to look forward to the time when an ungodly world shall have to acknowledge God, when "every knee shall bow to Him."
And now, a word as to the use that you and I are to make of all this. Those amongst us who have known anything of God should use it for the comfort of their own souls. Under all perplexities, in seasons of darkness, when all is confusion, we ought to wrap ourselves in this truth, the unchangeableness of God; silencing thus every doubt, thus humbling ourselves, thus bringing ourselves down. And then think of the support, the great support, which this truth affords to God's dear children, in the midst of all their trials and difficulties. O, we would ask, how many there are? What seasons of darkness and deadness--what struggling, what sinfulness; how many changes! In the midst of all, He never changes. What He wills He performs; for His purposes never shall be shaken.
But then, are all in this congregation the people of the Lord? Answer it to yourselves dear brethren. Whether you are or not, you have known something of the changes and difficulties of this world. There may be some of you who have been made familiar with affliction, and who have felt the cloud of adverse circumstances crossing the path of prosperity. Some of you may have passed from health to sickness and weakness. Some there may be who have traveled longer through the wilderness of this world, who are brought to feel the infirmities of age. We ask you, Has the man of the world any resting-place for his wearied soul? Is there one present who will tell me, I have tried the world, and it has answered my expectations fully--(you dare not say it)--and it will support me in the end, when sickness and death come? O, will it? You dare not say it. Give me the man of the world who would have courage to say this; he dare not do it. Now he is opposed to God's way of saving sinners; he will wrap himself in his own righteousness; but when all this is past, and when the Lord shall be acknowledged by all--by rebellious sinners, as well as by His own people, what will you do then? All you can do now is to shut your eyes to fact. What a poor, cowardly thing it is, when all that you can do is, to blind your eyes to realities! What would I do if I had to tell you, to look to yourselves for salvation? O, I could not do that, I have been endeavoring to open out to you the security of the Church. I have told you of the perfect work of Christ; nothing can be added to it, nothing taken from it. Why, it is a great salvation. We could take the sinner to no other region for comfort.
I pray that some poor sinners amongst us, at this time, may find a resting-place for their souls, and may be taught from experience to say, that they never knew peace till they found it in Christ. And now, poor sinner, who may be drawn to see the iniquity of your sin, you have been told of salvation, full, free, everlasting. We pray that the Spirit of God may apply the truth in power to your souls, for Christ's sake.