LESSON V.
ALL THINGS ARE THY SERVANTS.

FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants." -- Ps. 119:89-91.

"ALL things are thy servants." Not a few things only, but all things. Not things on Sundays only, but things on week-days as well. We generally think that only the good people or the good things of life can serve God; but here the Psalmist tells us that all things, whether good or bad, are His servants. That is, all things, no matter what their origin may be, are used by the Lord to accomplish His purposes, and all are made to work together for His ends.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28).

Both the Psalmist and the Apostle spoke out of the midst of some of the darkest problems and mysteries of life, when they made these declarations. The Psalmist had just been telling how he had been "almost consumed" by the proud, who had "digged pits" for him, and had "persecuted him wrongfully;" and yet in the very face of things, which must have seemed to him so mysterious, he could still declare that God's "faithfulness was unto all generations," and that "all things were His servants."

The Apostle also, out of a deep sense of the "groaning and travailing" of himself and of all creation, under the "bondage of corruption," could declare unhesitatingly his faith, that, notwithstanding these grave mysteries, he still was sure that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."

In both instances it was their profound faith in the God who created and controls the world, that enabled them to see through the blinding mystery, this magnificent fact, that all things are His servants, and that all things must therefore minister to the welfare of His children.

"Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: fire and hail; snow and vapour; stormy wind fulfilling His word" (Ps. 148:7, 8).

Even fire and hail, snow and vapour, dragons and all deeps "fulfil His word," and serve Him. And not only is this true of the fierce and cruel things in nature, but of the wicked things in man as well.

"Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain" (Ps. 76:10).

The "wrath of man" is altogether a wrong thing, and yet even this becomes God's servant, and is forced to accomplish His purposes, and bring Him praise.

"Thou art my battle-axe and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms; And with thee will I break in pieces the horse and his rider; and with thee will I break in pieces the chariot and his rider; with thee also will I break in pieces man and woman; and with thee will I break in pieces old and young; and with thee will I break in pieces the young man and the maid; I will also break in pieces with thee the shepherd and his flock; and with thee will I break in pieces the husbandman and his yoke of oxen; and with thee will I break in pieces captains and rulers" (Jer. 51:20-23).

The common-sense of this is simply, that while the Lord does not inaugurate evil in order to accomplish His will, He adopts it to "fulfil His word;" using a heathen king as His "battle-axe" and His "weapons of war" to accomplish His purposes of discipline and chastening towards His people.

There are many striking instances of this in the Bible. The story of Joseph is one of these. His brethren, in their wrath and envy, sold him into Egypt. Nothing could have seemed on the face of it to be more plainly the result of sin, nor more utterly contrary to the will of God than this; and yet at the end, how clearly we are shown that these wicked brethren, while acting out their own wickedness, were really used by God as His servants to bring about a "great deliverance" and to "save much people alive." (See Gen. 45:4-8; 50:19, 20.)

"Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good." This is the secret of all those trials which come to us from the wrath or malice of men. They think evil against us, perhaps, but God means it for good; and we can therefore say with Joseph, of each one, "It was not you" who did it, "but God." Knowing this, it is not strange that the Apostle should assert so triumphantly his deliverance from all fear of what man can do unto him.

"Be content with such things as ye have; for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb. 13:5, 6).

The death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross was another illustration of this truth. It certainly was "by wicked hands" that He was crucified and slain; and yet these "wicked hands" only accomplished, all unconsciously to themselves, God's "determinate counsel" for the salvation of the world.

"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23).
"Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father" (John 10:17, 18).

The multitude who cried, "Crucify Him, crucify Him," thought it was they themselves who were taking His life; but He knew that He laid it down of Himself; and that God was merely using their "wicked hands" as His servants, to accomplish His purposes of love and mercy to mankind. The Jews "thought evil" against Him, but "God meant it unto good."

And so I believe it always is. All things are used by God as His servants, let the agencies that started them be what they may. He does not inaugurate the evil, but when that evil is directed against His children, He makes it His "servant" to carry them a blessing.

That this must necessarily be the case, we can easily see from considering a moment, in the light of common-sense, the nature of God's relationship to us. He is our Father. His care of us is more watchful and more tender than the care of any human father could possibly be. All things are in His hands, and He controls each one.

"Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him: all nations shall serve Him" (Ps. 72:11).
"The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prov. 21:1).
"I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things" (Isa. 45:5-7; see also Isa. 44:24-28; 45:12, 13).

From these Scriptures, and many more, had we time to quote them, it is perfectly plain that all things, whether kings, or nations, or light, or darkness, or peace, or evil, or the earth, or the hosts of heaven, or liars, or diviners, or cities, or rivers, or heathen generals, all are under His control, and all must accomplish His will. And this God is our Father. Repeat the words over and over again; this God, whom all things must serve, whether they know Him or not, is our Father. Can we conceive of a good father or mother allowing their servants to injure their children? Do we know of any good parents who do not make their servants serve their children? We answer emphatically, No. Then, can we conceive that God, the ideal Father and mother in one, could do what human fathers and mothers would find impossible? No, a thousand times, No! Then our Heavenly Father's servants must as surely serve us, as the servants of our earthly fathers do. And, since all things are God's servants, all things are therefore our servants as well.

"Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:21-23).

"All things are yours," not to trouble you and do you harm, but to bless you and do you good. We feel on the earthly plane of things, that it is enough to say of any one that they belong to the family of a rich and generous man, in order to be sure that all things under this man's control are made to minister to their welfare; and how much more must this be the case with us who belong to God. Everything that is His servant must necessarily be our servant as well.

"And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him" (Dan. 7:27).

How few, alas! of the children of God have waked up to know their true position as sharing in this universal "kingdom and dominion" of the Son of man! It is our birthright to find all things made our servants, but instead we allow most things to become our masters. A trial comes, or a disappointment, and instead of recognising it as God's servant, sent to bring us some blessing from His hand, we bow down to it as our tyrannical master, and let it crush us into darkness and despair.

How then should God's servants be received?

"And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by His messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because He had compassion on His people, and on His dwelling-place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised His words, and misused His prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against His people, till there was no remedy" (2 Chron. 36:15, 16).

Since all things are God's servants, all things must necessarily be His messengers, and therefore every event and dispensation of life has its message for us, let the aspect of the "messenger" be what it may. Many of our choicest gifts from our dearest friends come to us by the hands of very rough-looking messengers, and are wrapped up in coarse brown packages. Do we, because of this, "despise and misuse" the messengers, and refuse to receive and open the packages? My neighbor who treats me unkindly, or my friend who wrongs me, or my enemy who maligns me, have each one as really a message from God for me, as the clergyman who preaches to me, or the Christian friend who gives me a tract. And as I would not "despise or misuse" the one, neither must I the other. We little know, dear friends, of the rich blessings we lose, because we thus despise and misuse the "servants" who bring them. Perhaps the gift of patience, for which you have prayed long and apparently in vain, is held in the hand of that very disagreeable inmate of your household, whose presence has seemed to you such an unkind infliction. Or it may be that the victory over the world, for which your soul has fervently hungered, was shut up in that very disappointment or loss, against which you have rebelled with such bitterness, that it has brought your soul into grievous darkness instead.

"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" (Matt. 21:34-36).

Often, after times of special blessing, or after a long course of spiritual culture, the Master of our vineyards sends His "servants" to receive for Him the "fruits of it." He has been trying to teach us gentleness and meekness, and when the "time of the fruit" draws near, He sends a "servant" in the shape of a grievous provocation or a cruel misunderstanding, in order that through our reception of these, He may receive the fruits He has sought to cultivate. But how often, alas! we beat one, and stone another, and fail to recognise or receive them as the "servants" who have come to gather the fruits for our Master, whom yet all the time we are professing to be so eager to serve.

In the story of Job we have a very striking illustration of the truth we are considering. All sorts of misfortunes came upon him, originated by all sorts of agencies. His oxen and his asses were stolen by the Sabeans, his sheep and his servants were burned up by lightning, his camels were carried away by the Chaldeans, his sons and his daughters were crushed by the falling in of the house where they were feasting, and finally Job himself was smitten with sore boils from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. There were very different instrumentalities employed in bringing these misfortunes to pass, and yet all of them -- Satan, the Sabeans, the lightning, the Chaldeans, the great wind from the wilderness, and the sore boils that covered Job's body -- all were God's "servants" to accomplish His blessed purpose of maturing the "fruits" of meekness, and patience, and submission, and trust, in the heart of Job, and of bringing him into greater nearness and communion with Himself at last. And Job evidently received them as God's "servants," for he took no notice in any case of the "second causes," but referred his trials right back to God. "The Lord gave," he said, "and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." And when his wife tempted him to rebel, he called her, as she was in truth, "a foolish woman," and gave her this triumphant answer, "What! shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?"

There are no "second causes" to the children of God. There cannot be, because all the so-called "second causes" are God's "servants," and He could never allow any of them to interfere with His purposes, or frustrate His will. Nothing can touch us without His permission; and, when that permission is granted, it can only be because He, in His love and wisdom, sees that the event He permits contains for us some blessing or some medicine that our souls need; while, if He withholds that permission, then men and devils may rage in vain.

"Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did He in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places" (Ps. 135:6).

If God "pleases" to let my trial come, He has in that act adopted my trial as His servant.

One of the greatest difficulties in the Christian life arises from the failure to see this fact. The child of God says, "It would be easy to say 'Thy will be done' to my trials, if I could only see that they come from God. But my trials and crosses come almost always from some human hand, and I cannot say 'Thy will be done' to human beings." This is all true; but what if we should see, in every human instrumentality, only one of God's "servants," coming to us with hands full of messages and blessings from Him? Could we not then receive them with submission, and even with thankfulness? The trial itself may be very hard for flesh and blood to bear, and I do not mean that we can be thankful for that, but the blessing it brings is surely always cause for the deepest thankfulness. I may not be able to give thanks for an unkind friend, but I can give thanks for the patience and meekness brought to me through the instrumentality of this friend's unkindness.

"Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20).
"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you" (1 Thess. 5:18).

No one can possibly obey this command to give thanks in everything, who fails to see that "all things are God's servants." But to those who do see this, every event of life, even the most disagreeable, is only a bearer of blessing; and as a consequence, all the days of such are filled with continual thanksgiving.

Perhaps some may ask why it is, if all things are indeed God's servants, sent to bring us some message or some gift, that they themselves never seem to get these gifts or messages. The answer is simply this, that because these gifts and messages have come to them wrapped in coarse and ugly packages, and by the hands of rough-looking messengers, they have refused to receive and open them. Their ears have been so filled with their own complainings, that they could not hear God's message, and their eyes have been so absorbed in looking at the seen suffering and hardness, as to fail to look for the unseen blessing.

It is the truest common-sense, therefore, to welcome every event of life as God's servant, bringing us something from Him; and to overlook the disagreeableness of the messenger in the joy of the message, and forget the hurt of the trial in the sweetness of the blessing it brings.

"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

Paul had learned this lesson, and came at last even to "take pleasure" in the "messenger of Satan" that was sent "to buffet him." Nothing could possibly have a worse origin than a "messenger of Satan," and nothing certainly would seem at first sight to be more unlikely to be one of God's servants; and yet Paul evidently recognised it as such, and was thankful for it, because he found that, shut up in this very "thorn in the flesh" was the blessed revelation to his soul of the power of Christ resting upon him. For the sake of a similar revelation, who would not welcome a similar thorn!

Receive the next thing that hurts thee then, dear reader, as a "servant" sent from God to bear thee a blessing; and busy thyself, not so much with trying to escape thy sorrow, as with trying to find out the message it brings thee. It may be the sin of man that has originated the sorrow, and of course this sinful action itself cannot be said to be the will of God; but by the time it reaches thee it has become "God's servant" for thee, and holds some gift of love and of blessing. No man or company of men, no angels or devils, no principalities or powers in heaven or on earth, can touch the soul that belongs to God, without first passing through His inspection and receiving the seal of His permission.

For all things are His servants, and His kingdom ruleth over all!

" 'Things do go wrong; I know grief, pain and fear;
I see them lord it sore and wide around.'
From her fair twilight answers Truth, star-crowned,
'Things wrong are needful where wrong things abound;
Things go not wrong; but Pain, with dog and spear,
False faith from human hearts will hunt and hound.' "

--GEORGE MACDONALD.


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