Pristine Grace

God’s Work is Strange, Wonderful, and Excellent
by Jonas C. Sikes
God’s Work is Strange, Wonderful, and Excellent

      "For the Lord shall rise up as in Mount Perazim, He shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that He may do HIS WORK, His strange work; and bring to pass His act, His strange act. Now therefore be ye not mockers, lest your hands be made strong: for I have heard from the Lord GOD of hosts, a consumption, even determined upon the whole earth" (Isaiah 28:21-22). "This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working" (verse 29).

     The prophet Isaiah was a strong believer in God's determinate counsel extending to all events; this is clearly seen in all of his writings. In this text, the Lord rising up and being wroth was in order "that" He might do His work, and bring to pass His act, His strange act. It was that He might do this Himself. "That" as it is used here, is in place of the preposition "for" and is used to signify purpose, or in other words, it introduces a clause expressing purpose; it means that God rose up and was wroth for the purpose expressed in the text.

     This purpose, as more fully explained in the next verse, is a consumption even determined upon the whole earth. This text necessarily leads us to consider the nature and character of God and His eternal purpose as embraced in His determinate counsel. A wrong conception of the nature and character of God will necessarily lead us into a wrong conception of the nature and character of His purposes. The doctrine that a man preaches is a correct measuring rod with which one can correctly determine the length and breadth, height and depths of the perfection or imperfection of the God of his conception.  If he conceives of God as being eternal, immutable and absolutely and eternally perfect in wisdom and in power, his doctrine will always conform to that thought, and thus will his conception of God be reflected in his every doctrinal utterance.  To conceive of God as being eternally perfect in wisdom and power, then we must conceive of His purposes, decrees or determination, as originating in Himself, and as being based wholly upon the counsel of His will, which will was in no sense hampered, biased, by or influenced in its determination by any external cause, force, power, circumstances or events foreseen but undesired. To argue otherwise, is to impeach the eternal perfection of God. To say that He was "before all things," and that He is the "Creator of all things," "that are in heaven and that are in earth, that are visible and that are invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers" (Colossians 1:16), then to say that all or any part of these things that He created are not working exactly what He desired or intended when He made them, no more nor no less, is to say that He was either deficient in wisdom to devise a plan for their creation so that they would do exactly what He willed for them to do, no more no less, or He is deficient in power to so perform in the making of them as to so make them that they would do this and no more.

     If we admit that God knew what the result would be if He made the world as He did, then we admit that He willed these results, or was powerless to prevent them. The first admits His predestination of all things, and the last admits that He is imperfect.

     What intelligent man, going to make a machine or implement, does not first consult his will as to what he wants it to do? And having determined just what he wants it to do, does he not then engage his wisdom to devise a plan for the making of it so that it will meet and perform the exact demands of his will? And having thus by his intelligent devised a plan to meet the demands of his will, does he not then, to the full extent of his power or ability so perform the task of making it as to make it so that it will do exactly what he willed for it to do? If he should see that if he makes it as he planned, it will not do what he willed or purposed for it to do, but will do that which he does not want it to do, will he not, if he is wise enough, so change his plan as that when it is made it will meet and perform the exact demands of his will? When it is done, and in operation, will it not, by its workings and movements reflect the exact character of the wisdom that planned it and the power or ability that made it? If it does what its maker did not will for it to do, do we not know at once that he made a mistake somewhere, either in his plan for it or in the making of it? And does not this mistake declare plainly that he is imperfect? Is God less intelligent than man? If what God has made is doing that which He did not will or purpose for it to do, and is leaving undone that which He did will or purpose for it to do, does not His perfection stand impeached by the workmanship of His hand just as truly as man's perfection does when judged by the same rule?

     Paul gives us this rule to judge the perfection of God by when he says, "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). The word power here means to present the perfection of His creative power which includes His will, wisdom and strength as they are brought to view in the things "that are made," they being the workmanship of His hand. We are justified then in judging of the perfection of God by the things that He made. The many, many places in the Scriptures that call our attention to God as the Creator of all things are to heighten our conception of His infinite perfection and greatness.

     The man then who, with the book of nature open before him, will conclude that the things that God has made are doing more or less than He willed and arranged for in His divine plan, must and does deny the infinite perfection of God, and Paul says he is "without excuse" for so doing. These people, whom the prophet was speaking of in the text at the beginning of this article, belong to this class. It is said of them in the same chapter, "But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way: the priest and prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment" (Isaiah 28:7).

     This is the exact condition of things today, and it is the cause of the great wrangle on the question of God’s sovereignty and Conditionalism..  This "wine and strong drink" does not mean literal wine and whiskey, but alludes to the doctrinal tenets that they have imbibed. They are drunk on the wine of the doctrine of Babylon. This causes them to err in vision when they look at the things that are made which are the works of God's hands, and to stumble in judgment, when they judge His perfection by the things that are made and conclude that they are doing much more on the one hand than their Maker designed, and much less on the other, and thus they impeach His perfection and sovereignty. In the 9th verse, the prophet asked, "Whom shall He teach knowledge? And whom shall He make to understand doctrine?" Then He answers, "Them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts." Thus we see at a glance, that doctrine is the thing under consideration. Not only do they err in vision and stumble in judgment when they look at the works of God and thus misjudge Him by His works, but when they read His word, they do the same thing, for we read in the 13th verse, "But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken." Here, it is clear to be seen who it is that have erred in vision and stumbled in judgment. It is those who hold that the precepts of God as laid down in His word were intended for men to obey them and thus obtain the favor of God and escape the trouble and awful scourging which is here announced against this people. But it is most emphatically asserted in this verse that they were given unto this people for exactly the opposite purpose; for it is said that it was "that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and be snared, and taken." Those who deny the purpose of God in all things, even in the disobedience of men to the precepts of God, are the ones who are drunk on false doctrine, and therefore they err in vision and stumble in judgment.. They are the class of whom Peter speaks when he says, "But unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed" (1 Peter 2:7-8). Peter believed in the appointment of all things, even in relation to the disobedience of wicked men and here asserted that these people were appointed to disobedience.

     Who can gainsay it but an infidel? Isaiah believed and asserted the same truth in the last verse that I have just cited from the 28th chapter; not only so, but also asserts that the consumption that shall come upon the whole earth is determined of God. He does not stop at this, but when he makes this statement, he then goes out to men in their every day avocation and says, "Give ye ear and hear my voice, hearken and hear my speech, doth the plowman plow all day to sow? Doth he open and break the clods of his ground? When he had made plain the face thereof doth he not cast abroad the fitches and scatter the cumin, and cast in the principle wheat and the appointed barley and the rye in their place? For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him.  For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cartwheel turned about upon the cumin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff and the cumin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the Lord   of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working" (Isaiah 28:24-29).  This is God’s work even in the skills and activities of men in nature! How wonderful indeed is the determinate counsel of our God! There is nothing left out of it. It reaches to obedience (1 Peter 1:1), and to disobedience (1 Peter 2:8).  It reaches to salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13), and to condemnation (2 Thessalonians 2:12 and Jude 4); to our every day avocations (Isaiah 28:23, 29). Yet in all of it God is just and right (Deuteronomy 32:1-4). But while this is true the carnal mind cannot see it; it is only seen by faith. Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God through faith unto salvation to every one that believeth, to the Jew first and also the Greek; for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith" (Romans 1:16-17). The system then that God has devised is one, which none can see His righteousness in, only as it is revealed to them. It is no wonder then that the entire religious world unite in saying that if God has predestinated certain things, then He is unrighteous for His counsel, and as it is proclaimed in the true Gospel, is only known to those to whom God reveals it. The preacher who proclaims it must be in possession of the true faith of God's elect and the hearer who receives it must be in possession of the same; otherwise the preacher cannot preach it, and the hearer cannot receive it. Jesus says that, "wisdom is justified of her children" (Matthew 11:19). To justify the wisdom that devised such a scheme one must be born of the same wisdom.

     If we proclaim that God has not purposed anything but righteousness, every one from the vilest wretch in a felon's cell to the most popular Doctor of Divinity in the throng of antichrist will join in one chorus of "Amens" to it; but if we declare that the eternal God in His determinate counsel has determined just what shall be in the world, there is a howl goes up from the same class, that is heard throughout the land, declaring that God is unrighteous and there is no such thing as justice if this be true. But there are a few who can see the righteousness of God in such a gospel and they join in that sweet song, "Great and marvelous are Thy works, Lord God Almighty, just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints." But let us drop back and considered more fully the language of the text. The prophet says, "I have heard from the Lord God of hosts, a consumption even determined upon the whole earth." If the consumption was determined, a legitimate question arises here, "Who determined it?"

     If God had determined this consumption upon the whole earth, when did He determine it, and by what was He moved to so do? Was it by the free and immutable counsel of His own will that He did it, or was He moved to do it by some extraneous or external cause or influence? If He is "without variableness or shadow of turning" (James 1:17), or if “He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? And what His soul desireth, even that He doeth "(Job 23:13); or in other words if “same yesterday, and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8); free, immutable and absolutely independent, then He was Master of the surroundings, and was not moved in any degree by anything outside of Himself. If God was infinite in wisdom, then He was certainly wise enough to arrange a plan for creation so that all things embraced therein would work exactly and at all times just as He willed for them to work; and if He was unlimited in power, then He was fully able to make them so they would do this; Then if He did not thus make them, why did He not do it? Did He foreknow just what each of His creatures would do? If not, then He was not perfect in wisdom. Was He not able to make them so that they would do exactly to suit Him?  If not, He was not perfect in power.  Would any intelligent being, who had the wisdom and the power to make a thing so that it would suit him in all its movements knowingly make it so that it would not do what he desired it should? That God did determine this consumption upon the whole earth we cannot deny. To say that He had rather the thing which it was to be a punishment for, had never existed, and that He was moved by them to determine this consummation is to impeach His perfection and say that He has anterior and posterior purposes, the former being based on the free and immutable counsel of  His  own will,  and the  latter  upon some unpleasant foreseen events which He had much rather would never occur, but seeing that they would occur, He was moved thereby to make arrangements to accommodate them. And as at that time He alone existed, the indication would be, that He was unable to arrange in the making of the world so as to prevent their occurrence, but was forced out of necessity to meet these things by new arrangements and do the best He could under the circumstances. Such an idea of God is preposterous. God says to those who hold such an idea, "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself" (Psalm 50:21b).  To avoid this conclusion, we are forced by the Scriptures to conclude that God's purpose or determinations are all of one age, and are all free and immutable, and are all based on one internal cause, the counsel of His own will. To argue that God had rather that sin, (the thing which this consumption is to destroy), had never entered the world, and that He was moved by foreseeing that it would come to determine all of His dealings with it and the subjects thereof, is to argue that God in all of His dealings with man as a sinner, has in every act of His done that which He would rather not have done, but was moved thereto by conditions thrust upon Him, which He would rather had never existed, I must conclude then, that such is not and cannot be true. But we cannot escape this position if we deny that His free and eternal purpose embraces all events.

     I will say with Paul, "0 the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God: how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor or who hath first given to Him and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of Him, through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory for ever, Amen" (Romans 11:34).

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