GOD'S MOTIVE IN
"I do this for mine holy name's sake" - EZEKIEL xxxvi. 22.
THERE is a land lying beneath a burning sky, where the
fields are seldom screened by a cloud, and almost never refreshed by a shower;
and yet Egypt - for it is of it I speak - is as remarkable for the fertile
character of its soil as for the hoar antiquity of its history. At least it was
so in days of old, when hungry nations were fed by its harvests, and its fields
were the granaries of ancient Rome. Powers so prolific Egypt owed to the Nile;
a river whose associations carry us upward to the beginning of all human
history; on whose banks, in the tombs of forgotten kings, stand the proudest
monuments of human vanity; the very name of which recalls some of the grandest
scenes that have been acted on the stage of time. The Nile is Egypt: in the
course of long ages its waters have deposited her soil, and by their annual
overflow they maintain her fertility. The limits of that flood are the limits
of verdure; and without her Nile, that great artery of vegetable life, she
would be another Sahara; a vast expanse of burning and barren sands. Humbled as
she now is, let this gift of heaven be improved, as of old, by the skill and
industry of her inhabitants, and, vivified by free institutions and a Christian
government, Egypt would rise from the sepulchres of her kings, and once more
take her place in the van of nations. The truth shall prove her resurrection.
The Gospel shall restore her to life, and to more than ancient prosperity; and
the day is coming when that land, now rich only in memories of the past, now
famous only for her temples and her gods, her pyramids and dusty tombs, for her
throne of the Pharaohs, for her sacred stream, for the wonders God wrought of
old in the field of Zoan, and, dear above all to Christian hearts, for the
asylum she opened to an infant Saviour, shall fulfil a noble destiny. Her day
approaches. These prophecies wait the hour of accomplishment - The Lord shall
be known to Egypt; Blessed be Egypt my people.
From the earliest ages the source of the Nile was regarded with intensest interest. Whence it sprung and how its annual flood was swelled, were the subjects of eager but ungratified curiosity. One traveller after another had attempted to reach its cradle, and had failed or fallen in the enterprise; and when - travelling along its banks, from the shore where, by many mouths, it disgorged its waters into the sea, till its ample volume had shrunk into the narrowness of a mountain stream - our hardy countryman, boldly facing many dangers and difficulties, at length stood beside the long sought fountain, this achievement won him an immortal reputation. I can fancy the pride with which, first of travellers, he looked on that mysterious spring. How sweet its waters tasted! How he enjoyed his triumph, as he sat down by the cradle of a river which had fed the millions of successive generations, and in days of famine long gone by had saved the race which gave a Redeemer to the world!
Now, what this river, which turns barren sand into the richest soil, is to Egypt, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to the world. It flows through the earth, a pure river of water of life. Whether transplanted into the garden of the Lord, it now blooms in Paradise, or is still in the nurseries of earth, every plant of grace owes to the Gospel its existence and renown. Observe, however, that, though the parent of those harvests which angels shall reap and the heavens receive, no more in the case of the Gospel than of the Nile does the bounty of heaven supersede human exertions. No; but on earth's improvement of heaven's bounty, both temporal and spiritual blessings are commonly suspended. The hand of the diligent maketh rich; and as it is according to. the industry or indolence of the inhabitants that Egypt's river flows either through barren sands or smiling fields, so is it with the Gospel. It is a blessing only where it is sedulously, and prayerfully improved; a blessing only when, like the overfiowings of the Nile, which are conducted along their channels to irrigate its banks, the living waters, through the use of appointed means, are turned on our hearts and habits. Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
Now, if it be interesting to trace the Nile, or Ganges, orAmazon to its mountain source, how much more interesting to explore the stream of eternal life, and trace it upward till we have reached its fountain. Bruce discovered, or thought he had discovered, the springs of Egypt's river, among cloud-capped mountains, at an elevation of many thousand feet above the plains they watered. All great rivers, unlike some great men who have been born in lowly circumstances, boast a lofty descent. It is after the traveller has left smiling valleys far beneath him, and toiling along rugged glens, and pressing through deep mountain gorges, at length reaches the chill shores of an icy sea, that he stands at the source of the Alpine river, which, cold as the snows that feed it, and a full-grown stream at its birth, rushes out from the caverns of the hollowed glacier. Yet such a river in the loftiness of its birth-place is but an humble image of salvation, how high its source! He showed me a pure river of water of life clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. The stream of mercy flows from the throne of the Eternal; and here we seem to stand by its majestic and mysterious fountain; in contemplating the words of the text, we look upon its spring - I do this for mine holy name's sake.
In now entering on the question, What moved God to save man? let us -
I. Attend to the expression, my name's sake.
This is a very comprehensive term. It indicates much more than is commonly involved in a name. That, indeed, may convey much meaning. Adam, for instance, means clay; and formed of the soil, our first parent receives a name that reminds him of his humble origin. Isaac, again, means laughter; and by her son's name God rebuked Sarah for her unbelieving merriment; for listening with a woman's curiosity behind the door, she had laughed when she heard of her coming child, and how fruit in her should grow on such an old and withered stock. Moses, again, signifies drawn from the water ; and that name reminded him, who was to be the deliverer of others, how he himself had been plucked from the jaws of death. And - to come to the name that is above every name - in Jesus, our Lord received a name that revealed his office and anticipated his work; the angel said, Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. Commonly, however, a man's name throws no light whatever on his future, on his properties, character, works, life, or destiny. It is nothing more than an appellation which he receives in infancy, and receives, since the flower is still in the bud, before his fortune can be told, or his character so much as guessed at. What's in a name? Its chief end is just to prevent confusion by distinguishing one person from another.
The name of God, however, as employed by the sacred writers, has many and most important meanings. In the 20th Psalm, for instance, it embraces all the attributes of the Godhead. The name of the God of Jacob defend thee; that is, when paraphrased, may his arms be around; may his wisdom guide thee; may his power support thee; the bounty of God supply thy wants; the mercy of God forgive thy sins; may the shield of heaven cover, and its precious blessings crown thy head. In the days of miracles, again, the name of Jesus carried with it the idea of his authority, and the efficacy of his power. Uttered by the lips of faith, it was a word of resistless might. It healed disease, shed light on the darkness of the blind, and breathed warm life into the cold form of death. It mastered devils, controlled the powers of hell, and commanded the wildest elements of nature into instant obedience. Like Pharaoh's signet on Joseph's hand, he who used that name in faith, was endowed for the time with sovereign power; whatever he loosed on earth was loosed in heaven, and whatever he bound on earth was bound in heaven. Standing over a cripple, one impotent from his mother's womb, Peter said, In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk. And lo! weakness instantly changes into strength, deformity into gracefulness; he who had never stood erect till now, bounds from the earth, and, in the joyful play of new-born faculties, walking, leaping, dancing, singing, ushers the Apostles into the astonished temple. Powerfull as was this sign when used by faith, yet on unbelieving lips no name was more useless. Like a residuum from which the ethereal spirit has been evaporated, or a body bereft of life, it possessed no virtue or power whatever. In the mere name there was no charm either to pour light on a blind man's eyeball, or restore vigour to a withered limb. See how Sceva's seven sons learn that, and learn it to their cost! Profaning this holy name, and employing it in the forbidden arts of witchcraft, they attempt to cast out a devil; but Satan's servants find that Beelzebub casts not out devils. Jesus I know, and Paul I know, says the Evil One, but who are ye? Hell disowns their authority: the demon defies them. He leaps upon them with the fury of a savage beast; and, theirs the fate of the engineer who is hoised on his own petard, they are driven off the field, covered with disgrace and bleeding with wounds.
Again in Micali iv. 5, where it is said, We will walk in the name of the Lord, the expression assumes a new meaning, and indicates the laws, statutes, and commandments of God. Again, in the blessed promise, In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee and I will bless thee, the expression bears yet another meaning: it stands for religious ordinances and worship, and rears, by the hands of faith, a holy temple out of the rudest edifice, changing into heaven- consecrated churches those rocky fastnesses and lonely moors where our fathers found their God in the dark days of old. Contenting ourselves with these illustrations of the various meanings of this expression in Scripture, I now remark, that here the name of God comprehends everything that either directly or remotely affects the divine honour and glory; whatever touches, to use the words of our Catechism, His titles, attributes, ordinances, word or works; or anything whereby God maketh himself known.
II. We are to understand that the motive which moved God to save man was regard to his own glory.
Where is boasting then? we may ask with the Apostle. It is excluded. If salvation is not of merit, but of mercy; not of earth, but of heaven; not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, boasting is, and must be excluded. Grace glorifies man. But for what purpose? that he may glorify God. It saves man, but saves him that he may sing, not his own, but the Saviour's praise. It exalts man, but exalts him, that, like an exhalation, sun-drawn from the ground, and borne up to heaven, each of us may form a sparkling drop in the bow, which encircles the head that God now crowns with glory, and man once crowned, with thorns. Although in a sense the fellow of his Father, and reckoning it no robbery to make himself equal with God, our Lord himself kept his eye fixed on the glory of God. His Father's, not his own glory, was the burden of his prayers and the end of his sufferings. Born for it in a stable, he bled to death for it on a cross, and was buried for it in a sepulchre. When, on the eve of his last and most awful sufferings, our champion buckled on his armour for the closing struggle, ere he joined battle with men, death, and him that had the power- of death, that is, the devil, was not this his prayer - Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee? Dutiful Son! Pattern of filial piety! thou didst forget thine own in a mother"s sufferings; and wast more deeply concerned for thy Father's honour than thine own.
This doctrine, that God saves men for his own glory, is a grand, a very precious truth; yet it may be stated in a way which seems as offensive as it is really unscriptural. Have you never observed how concave mirrors magnify the features nearest to them into undue and monstrous proportions, and how common mirrors, that are ill cast and of uneven surface, turn the most beautiful face into deformity? Well, there are some good men whose minds appear to be of such a cast and character. Neither seeing, nor exhibiting the truths of the Bible in their proper harmony and proportions, they represent our Lord in this matter of salvation as affected by no motive whatever but a regard to his Father's glory, and even God himself as moved only by a regard to this end. Excluding from their view the pity and love of God, or reducing these into shrunken and small dimensions, they magnify one doctrine at the expense of another; and thereby weaken, if not annihilate, some of the most sacred and tender ties which bind the believer to his God.
It appears to me that this ill-proportioned theology, this doctrine that the only motive which God had in redemption was a regard to his own glory, receives no countenance from the Bible. Does not God pity us, as a father pitieth his children? Taught to address him by the endearing appellation of Father, oh, what affection, mercy, love, and loving-kindness are expressed in a term so tender! And if, on seeing some earthly father, whom his child's wild scream has alarmed, rush up the blazing stair, or leap into the angry flood, it were wrong, it were cruel, it were a shame, to suspect him of being dead to natural affection, of being moved to this heroic act by no other motive than a regard to his own honour, by no other voice than the calm command of duty, how much more wrong were it to harbour such cold suspicions of our Father who is in heaven.
1 know that we should approach so high a theme with the deepest reverence. It becomes us to speak on this subject, and on anything else that touches the secret movements of the Divine mind, with profound humility. Yet, reasoning from the form of the shadow & the nature of the object which projects it, from the image to that of which it is the reflection, from man to God, I venture to say, that it is with Him as with us, when we are moved to a single action by the influence of various motives. To borrow an example from the place I fill : - The minister ascends the pulpit to preach; and, in preaching, if worthy of his office, he is affected by a variety of motives. Love to God, love to Jesus, love to sinners, love to saints, regard to God's glory, and also to man's good - these, like the air, the water, the light, the heat, the electricity, the gravity, which act together in the process of vegetation, may all cornbine to form and inspire one sermon. They are present, not as conflicting but as concurring motives in the preacher's breast. This difference, however, there is between us and a perfect God, that though - like the Rhone, which is formed of two rivers, the one turbid, the other pure as the blue sky above it - our motives are mixtures of good and evil, all the emotions of the Divine mind, and the influences that move God to action, are of the purest nature.
God cherishes, indeed, such respect to his own glory, that, had the salvation of the world been incompatible with that end, the world had been left to perish. Dreadful thought! How should that teach us to extol and adore the wisdom which discovered a way to harmonise the glory of a holy God and the good of guilty men! In the salvation of the human family, God was undoubtedly moved by a regard to both these ends. It is an imperfect vision that sees but one motive here. This subject may be compared to those binary stars which seem to the naked eye but one, yet when brought into the field of the telescope, resolve themselves into two shining orbs, that roll in brightness and beauty around a common but invisible centre. Blessed be his holy name! He loved his own glory, yet, He so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but should have everlasting life; and commended his love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Never, therefore, let us exalt this doctrine of the divine glory at the expense of divine love to sinners. His love to sinners is his mightiest, his heart-softening, as an old writer called it, his heart-breaking argument; and it were doing him, his blessed Gospel, and our own souls the greatest injustice, if we should overlook the love that gives Divinity its name, which sent, in his Son, a Saviour from the Father's bosom, and was eulogised by an apostle as possessed of a height, and depth, and breadth, and length, which passeth knowledge.
III. Observe, that in saving man for his holy name's sake, or for his own honour and glory, God exhibits the mercy, holiness, love, and other attributes of the Godhead.
The truth is, that God, saves man for much the same reasons as at first he created him. What moved God to make him? The ball rolls forward over the ground, and the ship moves onward through the deep, by virtue of an external force; the hand projects the one, and the wind, caught in her swelling sail, impels the other. But no foreign agent imparted an impulse to creating power. No one commanded or compelled God to make man. It is his prerogative to command; the creature"s duty to obey. Why, then, did he make man? Was it with him as with some lordly master, who depends for his comfort on his servants ? - or as with a king, whose glory lies in the number of his attendants, or the brilliancy of his court ? - or as with the general, who owes his triumphs to the bravery of his soldiers, and who, however great his military genius, would fight no battles and win no laurels without an army at his back? Assuredly not. Our goodness extendeth not to thee, says David. Our wealth makes God no richer, our praise makes him no happier. Hear, 0 my people. and I will speak. I will take no bullock out of thy house, or he-goat out of thy fold; for every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee, for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
What moved God, then, to make man, or, when through the regions of empty space there was neither world rolling, nor sun shining, nor angel singing - when there was neither life nor death, nor birth nor burial, nor sight nor sound, no wave of ocean breaking, no wing of seraph moving - when God dwelt alone in silent, solemn, awful, but complacent solitude, what moved him to make creatures at all, and with these bright worlds, suns, and systems, to garnish the vacant heavens, and people with its varied inhabitants a lonely universe? These are the deep things of God, and it becomes us with our finite and fallible minds to approach them modestly. If the great fabric of nature, if the machine of providence, with its wheels rolling within wheels in many and complicated parts, if these, and the scheme of redemption, are full of mysteries inscrutable, how much more the infinite mind that designed and executed them! His meanest works are full of mysteries which, when apprehended, are not comprehended. I can discover and adore Divinity in a humble daisy. And if in the creature, that lives for a day and dances in the sunbeam, I see the wisdom that formed and kindled the sun itself, how can I lay aside the telescope by which I hold communion with the distant heavens, or the microscope that reveals a world of wonders in one drop of water, without concluding that, if the works of God are so wonderful, how much more wonderful his own infinite, and creating, and eternal mind?
"These are thy glorious works, Parent of good,
Almighty! thine this universal frame,
Thus wondrous fair; thyself how wondrous then
Unspeakable! who sitt'st above these heavens,
To us invisible, or dimly seen
In these thy lowest works; yet these declare
Thy goodness beyond thought, and power divine."
Still, by turning the eye inward on ourselves, we may form some
conception of the mind of God; even as a captive child, born and retained in a
dark dungeon, may learn something of the sun from the beam that, streaming
through a chink of the riven wall, travels the grey lonely floor; or even as,
though I had never walked its pebbly shore, nor heard the voice of its
thundering breakers, nor played in summer day with its swelling waves, I could
form some feeble conception of the ocean from a lake, from a pool, or from this
sparkling dew-drop, which, born of the womb of night, and cradled in the bosom
of a flower, lies waiting, like a soul under the Sun of Righteousness, to be
exhaled to heaven.
Look at man, then. Is he a poet or a philosopher, a man of mechanical genius or artistic skill, a statesman or a philanthropist, or, better than all, one in whose bosom glow the fires of piety? It matters not. We perceive that his happiness does not lie in indolence, but in the gratification of his tastes, the indulgence of his feelings, and the exercise of his faculties, whatever they be. Assume the same to be true of God, and the conception, while it exalts, endears our heavenly Father to us. Does it not present Him in this most winning and attractive aspect, that the very happiness of Godhead lies in the forthputting, along with other attributes, of his goodness, love, and mercy? We may be mistaken, and I would not venture to speak dogmatically; yet this does appear to shed a ray, if not a flood of light, on some mysterious passages in the providence of God. Shores on which man has never landed lie paved with shells; fields which his foot has never trod are carpeted with flowers; seas where he has never dived are inlaid with pearls; and caverns which he has never explored, are radiant with gems of the finest form and the fairest colours. Well, it may be, and has been asked, for what purpose this lavish expenditure of skill and beauty upon scenes, when there is neither an eye of intelligence to admire the work, nor piety to adore its Maker? The poet, lamenting genius unknown and sinking into an ignoble grave, has touched his harp and sung of flowers that waste their sweetness on the desert air. And up upon the unfrequented shelf of a mountain rock, or rooted in the crevice of an old castle wall, I have found a flower, opening such blushing charms to the ardent sun, as put to shame the proudest efforts of human skill. Did you never sit down beside such a flower, and courting its innocent society, ask the question, Fair creature! for what end were you made, and adorned with so much beauty? So lonely, and doomed to bloom, and fade, and die unseen, it certainly does seem a waste of divine power and skill. Yet may it not be, that angels, as they flew by on their missions of judgment or of mercy, have stayed their wing over that lowly, lonely flower, and hovered there awhile, to admire its beauty and adore its Maker? But whether or no, God himself is there. Invisible, he walks these unfrequented solitudes, and with ineffable complacency looks on this little flower as his own mighty work, a tiny mirror of his infinite perfections. God, it is said, shall rejoice in his work; He made all things for himself, even the wicked for the .day of wrath.
The minnow plays in the shallow pool, and leviathan cleaves the depths of ocean; winged insects sport in the sunbeam, and winged angels sing before the throne; but whether we fix our attention on his least or greatest works, the whole fabric of creation seems to prove that Jehovah delights in the evolution of his powers, in the display of. wisdom, and love, and goodness; and, just as it is to the delight which God enjoys in the exercise of these that we owe creation, with all its bounties, so is it to his delight in the exercise of pity, love, and mercy, that we owe salvation, with all its blessings. Let us be both humble and thankful. Man had as little to do with saving as with making himself. Eden and the cross are equally the work of God; nor is he by one tittle less the Saviour than the Creator of the world. To display his glory in radiant effulgence, to blaze it out on the eyes of delighted and adoring angels, to evoke the hidden attribute of mercy to give expression to his grace and pity, Jehovah resolved to save, and, in saving man, to turn this earth into a theatre for the most affecting tragedy and amazing love.
Salvation is finished. Salvation is offered, freely offered. Shall it be rejected? Oh, take the good, and give God the glory. Say, He is the God of Salvation; and in his name we will set up our banners. In that ladder whereby faith climbs her way aloft to heaven, there is not a round that we can call our own. In this ark which, with open door, offers an asylum in the coming storm, a refuge in the rising flood, from stem to stern and keel to deck there is neither nail, nor plank, nor beam that we can claim as ours. The plan of redemption was the design of infinite wisdom; its execution was left to redeeming love; and it is Mercy, free, generous Mercy, whose fair form stands in the door, inviting, entreating, beseeching all to come in. Listen to the voice of Jesus, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Let his mother teach you how to speak, and learn from angels how to sing. With her, the casket of a divine jewel, holding the yet unborn babe in a virgin womb, with Mary say, My soul doth magnify the Lord; my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour; for He that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is his name. Or, hark to the angels' song as it comes ringing down from the skies of Bethlehem! Glowing with seraphic fire, borrow seraphic words; and with the heavenly host, ere they wheel their bright ranks for upward flight, sing, Glory to God in the highest; on earth, peace and good will to men.
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