GOVERNMENTAL FORGIVENESS

Love One Another (CFP white cover), by Watchman Nee

There are four kinds of forgiveness in Bible. For convenience’ sake, we shall give each a name: first, eternal forgiveness; second, borrowed forgiveness; third, communional forgiveness; and fourth, governmental forgiveness. In order to walk uprightly, we need to learn what God’s governmental forgiveness is. Before we touch on this, however, let us first differentiate the four kinds of forgiveness.

Eternal Forgiveness

We call the forgiveness we receive at the time we are saved eternal forgiveness. This is the forgiveness of which the Lord Jesus spoke when He said, "Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name unto all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Lk. 24:47). This is also what Romans 4:7 refers to: "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered."

We call this kind of forgiveness eternal forgiveness because once God forgives our sins, He forgives them forever. He casts our sins into the sea, into the depths of the sea, so that He no longer sees nor remembers them. Such is the forgiveness we receive at the time of salvation. For us who believe in the Lord Jesus, He forgives all our sins and takes away all our iniquities so that before God none are left. This is eternal forgiveness.

Borrowed Forgiveness

Many times God Himself says, "I forgive you!" Sometimes, though, He declares His forgiveness through the church: "God has forgiven your sins!" This kind of forgiveness we term borrowed forgiveness. "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained" (John 20:22-23). Here the Lord gives His Holy Spirit to the church so that she may represent Him on earth and be His vessel to forgive people’s sins. Though we call this borrowed forgiveness, we need to exercise extreme care lest we fall into the error of the Roman Catholic church. Notice what the Lord said. The forgiveness here is based on the Lord’s breathing upon the church, saying, "Receive ye the Holy Spirit." The consequence of receiving the Holy Spirit is that the church knows whose sins are retained and whose are forgiven. Thus the church may declare whose sins are retained and whose sins are forgiven. Remember this: the church has such authority only because she herself is under the authority of the Holy Spirit. "Whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained"—these words come after "Receive ye the Holy Spirit." Borrowed forgiveness is God forgiving people’s sins through the channel of the church.

Sometimes we meet a sinner who feels guilty after hearing the gospel. We bring him to God and he confesses that he is a sinner. He asks God to forgive his sins. He cries, he sheds tears, he repents and honestly receives the Lord Jesus. But, being a heathen, he knows nothing of the truth of salvation. If, at this moment, there is someone who can represent the church and declare to him, "God has forgiven your sins!", this would be an excellent thing to do, for it would spare him much sorrow and many doubts. Whenever you see a person who has truly believed, you can tell him, "Today you have received the Lord; now you may thank God, for He has already forgiven your sins." If the church cannot forgive or retain sins, how can she decide who may be baptized and who may not? Why do you baptize some people and refuse to baptize others? Why do you receive some to the breaking of bread and refuse others? These are instances in which the church exercises the authority the Lord has given her to declare who is saved and who is not saved, whose sins are forgiven and whose sins are retained. Such words may not be idly spoken but only under the authority of the Holy Spirit. The church, having received the Holy Spirit, is under His authority, and is thus like a borrowed hand to God. The Lord borrows the hand of the church to declare whose sins are forgiven and whose sins are retained. This, then, is the second kind of forgiveness in the Bible: instead of forgiving sins directly, God uses the hand of the church to forgive people’s sins. In eternal forgiveness, God directly forgives sins, but in borrowed forgiveness, God announces His forgiveness by man’s hand.

Communional Forgiveness

What is communional forgiveness? "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7-9). "My little children, these things write I unto you that ye may not sin. And if any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (2:1-2). The forgiveness mentioned here is neither that which we received at the time of salvation nor that which the church extends to us. After we believe in the Lord and become God’s children, we still may have need of God’s forgiveness. We have mentioned this before as the forgiveness of the red heifer.* Though we have received eternal forgiveness, we may weaken and once again sin before the Lord, thus interrupting our fellowship with God. So, once again we need forgiveness.

*Volume 4, Not I But Christ, Lesson 22 7 8 Love One Another

Life has a special characteristic—it delights in fellowship. Or, as biology students know, we may say that life has two basic features: self-preservation—to keep oneself alive and away from death, for life fears to die; and fellowship—the fear of being isolated. If you put a chicken alone in one place, it will show boredom; but if you put many chickens together, they will manifest great liveliness. A man imprisoned in solitary confinement suffers greatly because of being unable to communicate with other people. Man, like other living creatures, desires to preserve his own life as well as to have fellowship with others.

For you who have trusted in the blood of the Lord Jesus, the life preservation problem is already solved. You have no more trouble because you are eternally saved and your sins are eternally forgiven.

But there may be trouble in another respect. If you sin against God after you are saved, your fellowship with God as well as with God’s children may be disturbed. What does this mean? Let us use an example: after her mother has gone out, a girl steals into the kitchen and, without permission, eats some goodies. When she is finished eating, she wipes her mouth clean, cleans off the table, and closes the kitchen door. But she has already committed a sin! Usually she and her mother have very intimate fellowship in the evenings, but tonight it cannot be the same. When her mother calls her from upstairs, her heart jumps downstairs! She thinks that her mother is going to beat her. Even when her mother gives supper to her, she cannot enjoy the food. She is afraid that her mother has discovered what she did. All evening she tries to evade her mother. As you can see, her fellowship with her mother is disturbed. Of course, just because she has stolen some food does not mean that she is no longer a daughter. No, she is still a daughter, but the fellowship with her mother has been disturbed. Likewise, not because you have sinned have you ceased to be God’s child; you are still His child, though your sin has caused your fellowship with Him to be immediately interrupted. No longer is your conscience without offense, and, to enjoy uninterrupted fellowship with God, you must have a clear conscience. When one’s conscience is offended, fellowship with God becomes impossible.

God’s children will not lose their position as His children because of sin, but they will certainly lose their fellowship with Him. Therefore, God has provided a kind of forgiveness which we call communional forgiveness. Why do we call it communional forgiveness? Because by coming to God and confessing your sin, you may have your communion and fellowship with God restored. Otherwise you have no way of having your fellowship restored. You cannot pray, you cannot even say "Amen" to another’s prayer. What then can you do? What should the girl in our parable do? She must come to her mother and confess that she has stolen food which she should not have. She needs to learn to stand on her mother’s side of the matter and say that she has sinned. She must call sin by its proper name and say, "Please forgive my sin!" In like manner, we must come to God and confess that we have sinned against Him in a certain matter and ask His forgiveness. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Such forgiveness is not connected to eternal salvation but is related to fellowship with God. Therefore, we call it communional forgiveness.

Governmental Forgiveness

There is still another kind of forgiveness which we call governmental forgiveness. This kind of forgiveness is seen in the following Bible passages: Matt. 9:2, 5-6; James 5:15 and Matt. 6:14-15, 18, 21-35.

What is God’s governmental forgiveness? I am convinced that if I had known the government of God immediately following my salvation, I would have been spared many troubles and problems.

The parable of the girl may be continued here: formerly the mother always left the doors in the house open, including the cupboard door and the kitchen door. She never locked the cupboard in which she put food. But this time, when she came home, she discovered that some of the food in the cupboard had been eaten. Now that the mother knows what has happened, the girl is forced to confess her sin and ask for forgiveness. The mother forgives her and even kisses her. The incident is considered past and the fellowship is restored. However, next time the mother leaves the house, she locks all the doors. Her way of doing things has changed. Fellowship is one thing, but government is quite another.

What is government? Government is a way. God’s government is God’s way, God’s administration. The mother may forgive the girl’s sin and restore their fellowship, but next time she will lock both the cupboard and the kitchen doors when she goes out. In other words, she has changed her way. To restore fellowship is easy, but to restore the way is not so easy. The mother is afraid that her daughter may do it again. She cannot give the daughter full liberty but has to put on some restraints. Her way has changed. Remember, God treats us in a similar manner. Communional forgiveness is relatively easy to get. He who sincerely confesses his sin will have his fellowship restored. At the moment he confesses his sin, God restores fellowship with him. Nevertheless, God may change His way toward him. It may be that God’s discipline will immediately come upon him; God may not give him as much liberty as he enjoyed before.

Again, another day may come when God removes His disciplinary hand—and this we call governmental forgiveness. In the case of the mother, this would mean that the day comes when she feels her daughter is now dependable, so she leaves the doors unlocked. This is governmental forgiveness.

Communional forgiveness is one thing, governmental forgiveness is quite another. Another example of this would be a father who has several sons. He lets his sons go out to play in the afternoons from four o’clock till six o’clock, the time for supper. One day they go out and fight with other children. The father forgives them and still allows them to go out. But what would happen if these children fight every day when they go out? What would the father do then? Though the children might confess their sin daily and daily get forgiveness, yet the father would feel that his way must be wrong, that his government of his children must not be right. So he tells his sons, "Because you fight every day you go out, starting tomorrow, you will be shut in the house." This is the father’s hand.

You, too, may sin against God, and at each confession of your sin God forgives you. This does not, however, hinder God from giving you new chastening. Since God has forgiven you, your fellowship with God may be restored. But God will change His way with you. It is important for us to know that God’s disciplinary hand upon us is not easily moved, nor, once extended, is it easily removed. Unless God has full assurance that His children are all right, His governmental hand will not be removed. To go back to our second parable: Seeing his sons getting into fights every day, the father shuts them inside for a week, two weeks, a month, or even two months until he is satisfied that his sons will not be mischievous and fight with others. Then perhaps he will tell his sons that since they have been fairly good during these two months, they will be allowed to go out the next day for ten minutes. The father begins to remove his governmental hand. Those ten minutes outside we may call governmental forgiveness. The government starts to change, though the father still watches how his sons conduct themselves with other children. If they do not fight during those ten minutes, he may give them half an hour outside the second day. Later on, he may allow them to play for an hour. After one or two months, he may permit them to play outside from four o’clock to six o’clock as they used to do. When that day arrives, his governmental forgiveness is fully granted his sons.

Therefore, brethren, what is governmental forgiveness? It is something quite different from eternal forgiveness, borrowed forgiveness, or communional forgiveness. It is something which speaks of God’s taking care of us, dealing with us, and disciplining us.

1. THE MEANING OF GOD’S GOVERNMENTAL HAND

There are many passages in the Bible which are related to this. For instance, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). This is God’s governmental hand. Suppose a father is always lenient with his children. Naturally his children will be wild and undisciplined. How can the house be in order if the father never rules the house? If a man often quarrels with people, the natural consequence will be that he is without any friends. You see, whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap. This is God’s government, His appointed hand, and it cannot be changed. Be very careful, children of God, lest you stir up God’s governmental hand; for, once stirred, it is hard to be removed.

The Story of the Palsied

Some people brought a man sick of the palsy to the Lord. The scribes were present at the time. "Son, . . . thy sins are forgiven!" said the Lord Jesus to the palsied. These words of the Lord’s constitute a real problem to those who do not know what governmental forgiveness is. This palsied man was brought to the Lord by his friends; he himself never expressed faith in the Lord. Yet, the Lord said to him, "Son, thy sins are forgiven!" Does this mean that as soon as the palsied man was brought to the Lord his soul was saved? If this were the case, salvation would be very easy to get, for, just by being brought to the Lord, one’s sins would be immediately forgiven. No, the forgiveness here is definitely not eternal forgiveness; neither does it have any relationship to borrowed forgiveness nor to communional forgiveness. It is another kind of forgiveness, since the Lord shows us two things here: on the one side, "Thy sins are forgiven"; on the other side, "Arise and walk." Let us remember that many sicknesses are due to God’s governmental hand. In order to heal the palsied man and get him to walk, the Lord has to first grant him governmental forgiveness. The forgiveness seen here was related to God’s government. It had a special connection with sickness. Hence, when the palsied man was brought to the Lord Jesus for healing, the Lord said nothing but "Thy sins are forgiven." In other words, with the forgiveness of sins, the sickness would be healed. His sickness was connected to his sins. The Lord Jesus so spoke because He knew the cause of the palsy was the man’s sins before God. When his sins were forgiven, his sickness was over. This we call governmental forgiveness. When governmental forgiveness comes, sickness is healed. It is evident that this man had sinned against God’s government and therefore had gotten the palsy. Having been forgiven of his sins by the Lord, he could arise, take up his bedding, and return home. So the forgiveness here is different from the other kinds of forgiveness. This kind is governmental forgiveness.

The Elders Pray and Anoint

"Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: and the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him" (Jas. 5:14-15). The forgiveness here seems to be very special. We have seen before that there are many causes for sickness.* Not all sickness is caused by sin, but some sickness is. The sins here are forgiven, not through the confession of the sick, but by the prayer of

* Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man. 3 vols. New York, Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1968. Translated from the Chinese. See the chapter entitled "Sickness" in vol. 3, especially pp. 179-195.—Translator

the elders of the church. What is this? Surely this forgiveness is not eternal forgiveness, nor borrowed forgiveness, nor communional forgiveness. Probably this forgiveness is also related to governmental forgiveness. Let us, by way of an example, assume that a brother is sick because of having fallen into the governmental hand of God. He is chastened by God because he has sinned and fallen. When he confesses his sin before God, he receives forgiveness and his fellowship with God is restored. But the disciplinary hand of God still has not left him. It awaits the day when the elders of the church come and pray for him, telling him that the brethren have also forgiven him and are eager for him to be revived, that the church is anxious to see him restored to the flow of life. When that day comes, the elders anoint him with oil that the anointing oil of the Head may flow to him. As the church prays for him, the brother is restored. When the governmental hand of God is thus removed from him, his sickness may be healed. This is what is meant by, "If he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him." The sins referred to here are not ordinary sins, but those which bring God’s governmental hand. In reading the Bible, we need to understand that James 5 speaks of God’s governmental hand. If you fall into God’s governmental hand, He will not let you go until you get forgiveness.

The Story of David

In order to understand the meaning of governmental forgiveness, we will use David as an illustration. Nowhere in the whole Bible is God’s governmental forgiveness so clearly presented as in the case of David and the wife of Uriah. David committed two sins: he committed adultery and he committed murder. In adultery, he sinned against the wife of Uriah; in murder, he sinned against Uriah. After he had committed these two sins, he confessed them to God. This is shown in Psalm 51 and other psalms. Deeply contrite in heart, he honestly confessed his sins before God. He acknowledged that what he had done was ugly, unclean, and offensive. It is clear that after David confessed his sins in Psalm 51, his fellowship with God was restored. This is like the first chapter of 1 John.

Yet what did God say to David when He sent Nathan to him? Notice Nathan’s words: "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against Jehovah. And Nathan said unto David, Jehovah also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" (2 Sam. 12:13). David said, "I have sinned against Jehovah." He confessed his sins and acknowledged his uncleanness. So God sent Nathan to tell him that the Lord had put away his sin, that therefore he would not die. This clearly indicates that David’s sin has been forgiven. But God had more to say to David. First, "Howbeit, because by this deed thou has given great occasion to the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die" (v. 14). Second, "Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife" (v. 10). Third, "Thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house; and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbor, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun" (vv. 11-12). Though God had put away David’s sin, yet He caused his son born of the wife of Uriah to die. And again, though God had put away David’s sin, He nevertheless bade the sword never depart from David’s house. And once more, though God had certainly put away David’s sin, He still permitted Absalom to rebel against David and defile David’s wives. In other words, though David’s sin was forgiven, the chastening did not immediately depart from him.

Let me speak very frankly. Whatever sin you may have committed, if you go to God and ask for forgiveness, you will be forgiven. The restoration of fellowship can be very fast. David could quickly restore his fellowship with God. Nevertheless, the discipline of God upon David stayed until even after his death. With God’s discipline upon him, God’s government did not depart. Therefore, it followed that his son got sick. Though David fasted and lay on the ground, it was all to no avail. The disciplinary hand of God had fallen upon David. The son finally died. Later on, other things happened: David’s firstborn son, Amnon, was murdered and, after that, another son, Absalom, rebelled. The sword never departed from David’s house. Nonetheless, God told David that He had forgiven his sins. Brethren, God is willing to forgive all the sins that you commit, but that does not mean that you can prevent Him from disciplining you or letting His governmental hand fall upon you.

2. HUMBLE YOURSELF UNDER GOD’S MIGHTY HAND

Our God is the God of government. Sometimes when He is offended, He does not immediately move His governmental hand. He just lets you get by. But once He moves His governmental hand, there is nothing you can do except to humble yourself. There is no way for you to escape; He is not like man who will easily allow you to get away. To have your sin forgiven and your fellowship with God restored is quite easy. But you cannot remove the discipline God gives you in your environment—your home, your business, or your physical body. The only thing you can do is learn to subject yourself to the mighty hand of God. The humbler we are under His mighty hand and the less we resist, the easier it will be to have the governmental hand of God removed from us. If we are not submissive and patient, if we murmur and fret within, let me tell you, it will be harder for God’s governmental hand to be removed. This is a most serious matter. Twenty years ago you did something according to your own idea. Today you meet the same thing again and you have yet to eat that fruit of your earlier action. That thing has come back and found you out. What should you do when this happens? You should bow your head, saying: "Lord, it is my fault!" You should humble yourself under God’s hand and not resist. The more you resist, the heavier the hand of God. So I always say that you must subject yourself to the mighty hand of God. The more you resist God’s governmental hand, the more things will happen to you.

As soon as the governmental hand of God is upon you, you must humble yourself and gladly acknowledge that you deserve it, for the Lord cannot be wrong. You should be in subjection. You must not think of rebelling; you must not even murmur or fret.

If you are insubordinate and think of escaping from God’s hand, remember, it is not an easy thing to do. Who can escape God’s hand? Do you not realize that it is what you did before that has caused you to fall into today’s situation? For example: In his childhood a brother liked to eat candy. He ate so much candy that his teeth suffered much decay. One day he became conscious of his indulgence and its effect. He asked God to forgive him the sin of indulging himself too much in candy. He easily got forgiveness from God for this sin, but this did not stop his teeth from decaying. God’s government was upon him. Too much candy causes tooth decay. If you confess your sin, your fellowship may be restored but that will not cause you to grow good teeth. It is God’s government and you should learn to submit yourself to it. (Naturally, decayed teeth will not be restored. However, there are certain things which, after God’s governmental hand has been removed, may be restored.)

Let me use another illustration from the Bible: After the incident of striking the rock at Meribah (Num. 20:10-12), Moses and Aaron fell into the governmental hand of God. Though Aaron failed, God still permitted him to be priest and to have his fellowship restored. Later on, however, God told him that he must depart from this world and not enter the land of Canaan. Moses, too, did not sanctify Jehovah at the rock. Instead of speaking to the rock as God commanded, Moses smote it with the rod. Because of this, God’s hand came upon him and he too was unable to enter Canaan. Do you see the basic principle? It is God’s government. You can no longer hold God to the way in which He formerly treated you. You may have to change your way hereafter. You may even have to change from the way which you think best.

The Bible is full of such instances. When the people of Israel came to Kadesh in the wilderness of Paran, they sent spies to spy out the land (see Num. 13 and 14). The spies cut down a branch with a cluster of grapes so big it needed two men to carry it. They knew the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey. But they were afraid and refused to enter into the land because they saw that the people there were of such great stature that the Israelites were in their own sight as grasshoppers. As a result, except for Joshua and Caleb who later entered into the land, all the rest of the people were to die in the wilderness. When they heard God pronounce this judgment, they confessed their sin and expressed their readiness to enter in. Though God did indeed continue to treat them with grace and acknowledge them as His people, He did not allow them to have any part in Canaan. They were not allowed to enter in, for the government of God had changed. Therefore, brethren, from the beginning of your Christian life you should desire to walk from that day to the last day on the road which God has arranged for you. Do not live loosely; do not sin! Please remember: though you may still receive mercy, yet you may find that God has had to change His way for you. His governmental hand never relaxes.

God’s governmental hand is truly most serious. Let us be fearful, for we do not know when the disciplinary hand of God will come upon us. God may allow some to get by all the time. Or He may overlook rebellion ten times but on the eleventh time bring His hand down. Or His hand may come down the very first time. We have no way of knowing when His disciplinary hand will descend. God’s government is not something we can control. Whatever He wishes, He does.

Because of this, brethren, we must first of all try our very best to learn to be obedient to the Lord. May God be merciful and gracious to you that you may not fall into the governmental hand of God. Howbeit, if you do fall into His governmental hand, do not resist or be rash. Do not attempt to run away, but hold on to the basic principle of subjection at any cost. You cannot naturally by yourself be submissive, but you can ask the Lord to make you so. Only by the mercy of the Lord can you get through. "O Lord, be merciful to me that I may get through!" If God’s governmental hand has not fallen upon you, look persistently for His mercy. If it has already fallen, if He has allowed you to be sick or to have difficulties come upon you, remember well that you should never by your fleshly hand try to resist God’s government. As soon as God’s government falls on you, humble yourself at once under His mighty hand. You should say, "Lord, this is Your doing, this is Your arrangement; I gladly submit, I am willing to accept it." When God’s governmental hand fell on Job (it could have been avoided), the more submissive Job was, the better his condition was; the more he boasted of his own righteousness, the worse his situation became. Thank God, frequently God’s governmental hand does not stay forever on a person. I personally believe that when God’s governmental hand does fall on a person, sometimes the prayer of the church may easily remove that hand. This is what is so precious in James 5. There James tells us that the elders of the church may remove the governmental hand of God. He says: "And the prayer of faith shall save him that is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, it shall be forgiven him." So, when a brother finds that this is the way for him, the church may pray for him and help to remove God’s governmental hand from him.

I remember once hearing Miss Margaret E. Barber say a most wonderful thing. A brother who had done something wrong and later repented came to see her. This was what she said to him: "Is it not that you have now repented and come back? You should go to God and say to Him, ‘I was originally a vessel in the potter’s hand, but now this vessel has been broken.’ You should not force the Lord by saying, ‘Lord, you must make me the same vessel.’ No, you should humbly pray, ‘Lord, be merciful to me and again make me a vessel. I dare not force your hand. It is fine with me, Lord, whether you make me a noble vessel or an ignoble vessel!’"

People think that since they will always be the same vessel, they would like the Lord to make them more glorious, more noble. Sometimes people even ask the Lord to make them into a better vessel. There are times when we even manage to get blessing out of curse. But there is one thing I wish to tell you: those of us who have had many dealings with the Lord know that we often fall into God’s hand, into His governmental hand. We acknowledge that through that governmental hand God teaches us what His will is. All we can do is submit. There is no way to escape; just submit.

We should not take these things lightly. A certain sister consulted with me when she was thinking of marrying. I told her that so far as I could see she should not marry that man because he did not seem to be a dependable Christian. She insisted, though, that she had confidence in him. So she married him. After eight months, she wrote me a long letter in which she said, "I know I was wrong. I did not listen to you, and now I know I have committed a great error. What should I do now?" My reply to her was: "Hereafter you have only one way, and that is, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God. If you should write me the second time, I still cannot help you. Nobody can help you, for you have fallen into the governmental hand of God. When you are in God’s governmental hand, do not try to struggle against it. If you do, you will be a broken vessel and there will be no future for you." In that letter, I also emphatically told her that it would be wrong for her to write me again. So, let us remember: nothing can be more serious than the government of God.

I often think about the condition of the church today. It is like going to a potter’s house and finding in the field there many broken bowls, broken basins, and broken flasks—all broken vessels. Such is the condition of Christians today. It is indeed a most serious thing. I repeat, we must learn to submit ourselves to God’s mighty hand.

3. BE A GOD-FEARING PERSON

There are two passages in the Bible which also speak of God’s governmental hand. These are Matthew 6:15 and 18:23-25. One thing of special importance is that we should not carelessly judge others. This is most serious, for in whatever matter you carelessly judge others, that same thing may easily fall upon you. In whatever thing you do not forgive others, that is what may come upon you. This again shows the governmental hand of God. If you do not forgive another’s debt, God will not forgive your sin. This is governmental forgiveness, something altogether different from eternal forgiveness. Yes, God is your heavenly Father; the question of eternity is already settled. But if a brother should sin against you and you will not forgive him, God also will not forgive you. His governmental hand will fall on you. Therefore, let me tell you: learn to be generous and forgiving; be charitable, be ready to forgive others. If you are always complaining and criticizing others and finding fault with their conduct, you may fall into God’s government. It will not be easy for you to extricate yourself, for God will certainly dig deep in you. If you are tight with others, God will be tight with you. Remember the servant in Matthew 18 who emerged from his master’s house and found his fellow-servant who owed him a hundred shillings. He took him by the throat and demanded payment. When the master heard the news, he was greatly displeased. He ordered that servant to be delivered to the tormentors till he should pay all that was due. God began to chasten him and with the governmental hand of God upon him, he could not easily get away.

Consequently, we must not only learn to be charitable in the matter of forgiving but also we must be careful not to freely speak and criticize others. Oftentimes that which we speak against and criticize in others will soon be seen in us. Frequently we have observed how quickly discipline has come upon one who is too severe toward others. If you judge the head of a family who has problems with his children by saying, "Behold, the hand of God is always upon him," it may not take long for the same trouble to descend on you. Brethren, let us learn to be afraid of God’s government. Let us learn to fear God.

May I say this to you: it takes a lifetime to learn the government of God. All our years on earth as Christians are spent learning to know how God rules over us. Remember, in nothing can we freely judge or criticize. Let us develop the habit of not being busybodies or babblers. Learn to be God-fearing. It is not only unprofitable, but also most serious to provoke the governmental hand of God. Be very careful not to let the predicament of others fall upon you; do not draw it down upon yourself by freely condemning others. Whatever we sow, that we shall also reap. This maxim is very true for God’s children. Let us learn to be charitable. The more charitable we are the better, for by being charitable toward other people, we will receive charity from God. If we are mean and severe with our brothers, God will be strict and exacting with us. Learn to be gentle, merciful, and kind toward the brethren. Try to overlook the faults of your brethren; speak fewer idle words, be restrained in judgment. When people are in trouble, help them but do not judge them.

In the last days the Jews are going to suffer much. They will be imprisoned, stripped naked, and left hungry. Those who are sheep (see Matt. 25:31-46) will visit them in prison, clothe them in their nakedness, and feed them in their hunger. We cannot say that because God has decided to let the Jews pass through persecution and distress, we then will add to their sufferings. Yes, God does allow them to pass through deep waters, but we must learn to be charitable. Governmental discipline is God’s province; the concern of the children of God in this age is to learn to be charitable and merciful to others no matter what the circumstances. Thus shall God spare us many distresses.

There are many Christians who have fallen terribly because of judging people too severely in the past. Their difficulty issues out of their past criticism. God has not lessened His rein. Let us therefore be charitable toward people lest we fall into the governmental hand of God. Learn to love people and treat them generously. May God be merciful to us for our follies in conduct and in deed that we may not come under His governmental hand. In this respect, we are cast on God’s mercy. How much we need to live by God’s wisdom. Let us tell God that we are but fools and often act so foolishly, that if we fall into His governmental hand we will easily be cracked. Let us ask Him for mercy. Let me tell you: the more humble and tender you are, the more easily you will come out from under God’s government. The more proud and self-justifying you are, the harder it will be for you to get out from under it. So, learn to be humble.

In case we do fall into God’s governmental hand, whether for something large or something small, we must never rebel. Rebelliousness is downright foolishness. The one and only principle we can follow is to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. If we really humble ourselves, we will see that "in due time" God will let us go free. Then He will consider the matter closed. I hope you will notice especially these words, "in due time": "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time" (1 Pet. 5:6). The emphasis here is "in due time." In due time, God will open the way out for you; in due time, He will give you a straight path; in due time, He will set you free; and in due time, He will exalt you.

"Under the mighty hand of God" here points exclusively to His discipline; hence we must humble ourselves under that hand. There is no meaning of protection in the phrase, for if protection were meant, it would speak of His everlasting arm. To humble ourselves under His mighty hand simply means to submit. This is the mighty hand which you can neither move nor resist. Say to the Lord, "Lord, I am willing to listen. Whatever place You may put me in, I gladly accept. I will not resist. I have no opinion about the way You have treated me. I gladly hear Your word. I am ready to stay in the situation as long as You wish." Then you will see that "in due time" He will release you. No one knows how long this will take. When the time comes that the Lord thinks you have learned your lesson, He may move the church to pray for your release.

It is my desire that brothers and sisters would know the government of God from the very beginning of their Christian life. Many of our difficulties are caused by the lack of this knowledge. I hope that from the very first day of the first year God’s children will know God’s government. This will help them to walk ahead in a straight path.