GOD GLORIFIED IN
And I will sanctify my great name which was profaned among the heathen, etc. - Ezekiel xxxvi. 23, 24.
THE character of a government may be read in the condition
of its subjects. Are they turbulent, in their habits lawless, in their religion
superstitious? With coasts full of harbours, and mountains rich in minerals,
with a genial climate and a productive soil, are they clothed in rags, housed
in cabins, steeped to the lips in poverty? These are the certain signs of bad
government. Fields overrun with weeds, fences falling into ruins, the plough
rotting in the flooded furrow, and hungry cattle bellowing on scanty pastures,
these are the sure signs of bad husbandry. And yonder ragged family, who at
school hours idly roam our streets, the unwashed face and tangled hair
bespeaking no mothers kindness, beggary hung upon their back, hunger in
the sunken eye and pale emaciated features, these are the sure and too common
signs of an unhappy parentage. They suggest the picture of a lodging at the top
of some filthy stair, or in some dingy den of a cellar, where a miserable
father, the neglected victim of disease and poverty, lies stretched upon the
floor, or, still more likely, where a brutal drunkard is the cruel tyrant of
his children, and the daily terror of his wife. Thus we - judge of a sovereign
by his subjects, of a husbandman by his farm, and of a father by the state of
It may be, it were indeed unfair, to apply this rule to our faith and its Founder. Yet men have done and will do so; and thus the cause of God and of religion has had to suffer grievous injury at the hand of its nominal friends. By their coldness, their worldliness, their mean selfishness, their open sinfulness, the little apparent difference between them and those who make no profession at all, nay, sometinies, by their glaring inferiority to the latter in the blow and fruit of the natural virtues, professing Christians, like venders of a bad coinage, have exposed genuine piety to. suspicion. Their hands have inflicted its deepest wounds on the cause of Christ. In true kindness of heart, sweetness of temper, open-handed generosity, the common charities of life, many mere men of the world lose nothing by comparison with such professors; and how are you to keep the world from saying, Ah! your man of religion is no better than others; nay, he is sometimes worse? With what frightful prominence does this stand out in the answer, never to be forgotten answer, of an Indian chief to the missionary who urged him to become a Christian. The plumed and painted savage drew himself up in the consciousness of superior rectitude ; and with indignation quivering on his lip and flashing in his eagle eye, he replied, Christian lie! Christian cheat! Christian steal ! - drink ! - murder! Christian has robbed me of my lands and slain my tribe! adding, as he turned haughtily away, The Devil, Christian! I will be no Christian. May such reflections teach us to be careful how we make a religious profession! And having made the profession, cost what it may cost, by the grace of God let us live up to it; and act it out. It is better not to vow, than, having vowed, not to pay.
These remarks are suggested by the fact already adverted to in the previous discourses - that the interests of divine truth and the name of God suffered in Babylon, in consequence both of the miserable outward condition and more miserable moral condition of the people of Israel. Reduced to bondage, sunk lower still, for, compared to a sinner, how free is a slave! they exceeded their masters in crime, plunging into greater excess of riot. The heathen, who overlooked the sins of which the misery of the people was the righteous punishment, naturally enough concluded, that the God of a race so wretched and so worthless must be a weak, perchance a wicked one. Thus his name was profaned, and Jehovah himself dishonoured; until the time arrived, when, arising to plead the cause that was his own, he sanctified his great name in the fortunes of his people, and in the sight of the heathen.
Passing over the special application of these words to the Jews, and looking at them in their prophetical connection with the scheme of redemption. I now remark
1. That God might have vindicated his honour and sanctified his name in our destruction.
He sanctified his name in the emancipation of his ancient people. By one blow, he struck the fetters from a nations limbs. And when baptizing them with his Spirit, and giving them favour in the sight of kings, he brought back these weary exiles with songs and gladness, then God was sanctified in the midst of all the heathen. How beautifully were his power, wisdom, holiness, and goodness, illustrated in the renewed character, and joyous homes, and happy fortunes of his people! Now, God might undoubtedly have sanctified himself in them otherwise, vindicating his character in such destruction upon Zion, as he here threatens upon Sidon, Behold I am against thee, 0 Sidon, and I will be glorified in the midst of thee, and they shall know that I am the Lord when I shall have executed judgment in her, and shall be sanctified in her; I will send with her pestilence and blood into her streets; and they shall know that I am the Lord.
Two methods of glorifying his name are open to God. He is free to choose either; but by the one or the other way he will exact his full tale of glory from every man. In Egypt, for instance, he was glorified in the high-handed destruction of his enemies; and glorified also in the same land by the high-handed salvation of his people. In the one case he proved how strong his arm was to smite, and in the other how strong it was to save. Ere he was done with Egypts king, see what a terrible answer he gave to the insolent question, Who is the Lord that I should serve him? He was sanctified before Pharaoh, when, hurrying to the banks of the Nile, and turning pale at the sight, the tyrant saw them filled with blood: blood brimming in every goblet, and blood flowing in every channel. God was again sanctified before Pharaoh, when he saw the same skies raining down ice and fire. God was again sanctified before Pharaoh, when, startled at midnight by a nations wail, and summoned to the bed of his eldest son, he saw him stiff and dead, smitten by the angel of death.
And God was again sanctified before Pharaoh, when, as he looked along the watery vista, he saw Moses come down In the grey of morning, and watching the last Hebrew safe on shore, stretch his rod out upon the deep, whose waves, roaring on their prey, now rush from either flank on the power of Egypt, and bury pale rider and snorting horse, all that bannered army, in their whirling waters. The sea, refusing Gods enemies a grave, flings them out in contempt upon her shore. Moses stands over the body of the king; and as he gazes on that glassy eye which had lost its haughtiness, and on those lips whose insolence the waters had washed away, how might he stoop down, and say, Now you know who is the Lord! Oh! had the seal of death been broken, removed from these blue speechless lips, what but this had been their solemn utlerance, Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth; woe to the man that striveth with his Maker.
In like manner, God sanctified his name on the plains of Sodom, sanctifying it, on the one hand in the destruction of his enemies, and on the other in the preservation of Lot. Ah! then the world ceased to doubt his character; and perhaps angels ceased to wonder that such wickedness was allowed on earth. The light of the citys conflagration illuminated his holiness; and the throne of a righteous God seemed to rise up in dread and awful majesty amid the smoking ruins. And how was he sanctified, also, in that wretched fugitive who has crossed but half the plain! a wife, she comes not to a husbands call; a mother, she stirs not to her childrens piercing cry. Look at that white and spectral form that stands there with its head turned on the burning ruins, and the cold grey eyes staring large on Sodom, and the surprise, horror, that seized her soul, as she felt her warm flesh hardening into stone, carved on these rigid features. Remember Lots wife. She stands there an example of Gods power to sanctify his name; an awful, warning lesson to the end of time. Deep on the statues stony brow these words are engraven - No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Since there are two ways open to God, by either of which he may sanctify his great name, he might therefore, at the fall, have vindicated his justice by swift and unsparing vengeance, by destroying the whole human family. What unsparing vengeance did he execute on the fallen angels! Of these there was no wreck or remnant saved. Not one escaped. No ark floated on the waters, to which, like Noahs dove, a flying angel, pursued by wrath, might turn his weary wing. Can it be doubted, that the measure meted out to fallen angels, God might have meted out to fallen men ? - sanctifying his great name in our ruin rather than in our redemption.
Now, before I show how he sanctifies himself in the redemption of his people, let me warn you, that what God might have done with all, he shall do with some; certainly do with all those who despise and reject, or even neglect salvation. How shall ye escape if ye neglect this great salvation? The trees shall burn that will not bear. Be assured that God loses nothing in the end. He will make a profitable use of every man; extracting glory out of all, even from the curnberers of the ground. If you are not good for fruit, you shall serve for fuel. God indeed is not willing that any of you should perish; willing, most willing, rather that the sinner should live, he follows him to the precincts of perdition, to the gate of hell, crying, Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die? Yet be warned in time. You cannot evade the alternative; this or that you must choose, to honour God by your active or your passive obedience. This day I set before you life and death. Will you do His will in heaven, or suffer it in hell? God help you, like Mary, to choose the better part! How terrible these words! God hath made all things for himself, yea, even the wicked for the day of wrath.
II. God sanctifies his name, and glorifies himself in our redemption.
It is easy to destroy, to inflict irreparable injury on character, virtue, life. Falling with murderous strokes on yonder noble tree, the woodmans axe demolishes in a few hours what it has required the springs and summers, the dews, and showers, and sunbeams of centuries to raise. Look at that bowering gourd, under whose green and grateful shade the prophet sits! Emblem of all happiness that has its root in earth, it falls by the feeblest of means, a worms teeth. The poisonous east wind breathes on its leaves, the hot sun glares on them, and they wither away. Au ounce of lead, one inch of steel, a drop distilled from a serpents fang, even a grain of sand lodged in the passages of life - any one of these is fatal. How quickly they turn this living, delicate, wondrous frame-work, into a heap of undistinguishable dust, a handful of cold black mould! It is both more difficult and more noble to repair than to destroy. In this material body man destroys what God only can make; but in this more precious and immortal soul, Satan destroys what God only can save. It needs but a devil to ruin a human spirit; it needs Divinity to redeem it. It needs but a villain to steal peace and virtue; it needs a divine power to restore the stolen jewels. How much easier is it to kill a man than cure him? to be an executioner than a physician? To sit robed on the bench of justice, and, assuming her fatal cap, to condemn a poor pale wretch to die; to draw the bolt, and launch a soul into another world; to stand on the field of battle, and with levelled musket, by a slight motion of the finger, to dash a fellow-creature into eternity - these are easier than to bless a bed of pain with one hour of sweet, gentle sleep. It is less difficult to stop this pulse for ever, than bring down its death gallop to the calm and measured march of health. And as, in such cases, mans glory is more illustrated by curing than killing, even so Gods glory is more pre-eminent in redemption than it had been in our everlasting ruin.
Excepting of course the preachers, for with Paul we magnify our office, of all earthly employments it appears to me that the physicians is the noblest; and that of all arts the healing art is the highest, offering to genius and benevolence their noblest field. We would cast no disparagement on the brave and gallant spirits, who have guarded a countrys shores. Some of them have offered most illustrious examples of soldiers, true both to an earthly crown and a Saviours cross; yet we know that the aim of a warrior is ingeniously to invent, and his business effectively to use, instruments of destruction. His greatest achievements are wrought where deadly wounds are suffered; his proudest triumphs are won where flames, kindled by the torch of war, blaze over blood-stained hearths, and, horrible to think of! where fields are fattened with human gore. His laurels are watered with tears ; his hurricane course is marked by destruction; and it is his unhappy lot, perhaps the unhappiest view of arms as a profession, that he cannot conquer foes but at the sacrifice of friends. In the eye of reason, and of a humanity that weeps over a suffering world, his is surely the nobler vocation, and if not more honoured, the more honourable calling, who sheds blood not to kill, but cure; who wounds, not that the bleeding may die, but live; and whose genius ransacks earth and ocean in search of means to preserve life, to remove deformity, to repair decay, to invigorate failing powers, and restore the rose of health to pallid cheeks. His aim is not to inflict pain, but relieve it; not to destroy a father, but, boldly standing between him and death, to save an anxious wife from widowhood, and these little children from an orphans lot. And if, although they be woven around no coronet, those are fairer and fresher laurels which are won by saving than by slaying, if it is a nobler thing to rescue life than destroy it, even when its destruction is an act of justice, then, on the same principle, God most glorified himself when revealed in the flesh, and speaking by his Son, he descended on a guilty world; his purpose this, I came not to judge the world, but to save it; and this his character, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.
Apart, however, from this general consideration, I remark that the scheme of redemption is eminently illustrative of the attributes of Jehovah. For example -
I. His power is glorified in the work of salvation.
The path of redemption is marked, and its pages are crowded with stupendous miracles. At one time God stays the waves of the sea; at another he stops the wheels of the sun; and now, reversing the machinery of heaven to confirm his word, he makes the shadow travel backwards on the dial of Ahaz. Heaven descends to earth, and its exalted inhabitants, mingling with men, walk the stage of redemption. Here one angel speaks out of a burning bush; and there another leaps on a burning altar, and, with wing unscorched, ascends to heaven in its flame. Here a prophet, exempted from the law of death, goes up to glory in a fiery chariot; and there another, entombed alive in the belly of a whale, goes down into the depths of ocean. In opposition to the laws of nature, a body that should have gravitated to the earth, floats, from the top of Olivet, upward into the ambient air. Across the surface of a lake which frost never bound, and winter never paved with ice, walks a human form, stepping on from billow to billow.
The captive of the grave becomes its conqueror ; and, laying aside its cerements as night-clothes left in bed, he walks forth on the dewy grass at the break of day - the prisoner has bound his jailor and carried off the keys. Over Bethlehems fields, angels with the light of their wings turn midnight into day; and shepherds, who watch their flocks, are regaled by voices of the skies, the song of heaven over a babe, who has a virgin for his mother, and a stable for his princely birth-place. Nor less remarkable, the deaf are listening to the songs of the dumb, and the blind are gazing on the dead alive; a dumb beast takes speech and rebukes the hoary seer; ravens desert their young to cater in the fields for man; and angels abandon heaven to hold watch by the grave of one whom his God forsook, his country rejected, his friends repudiated, and none but a thief confessed. And amid these wonders and thousands more, acted before mens eyes on the stage of redemption, and all so illustrative of the presence and power of God, the crowning wonder, the wonder of wonders, is He that works them; the son of a virgin! dust and Divinity! Creator - and creature! the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh. Truly this is the Lords doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.
But to glance at the change wrought by redemption on man himself, what amazing power does it display! What a glorious combination of benevolence and omnipotence! Punishment is confessedly easier than reformation. Nothing is more easy than, by the hand of an executioner, to rid society of a criminal; but to soften his stony heart, to turn his steps from the paths of crime, to wean him from vice, to get him to fall in love with virtue, to make the cunning rogue, the brutal ruffian, an honest, high-minded, kind, and tender man - au.! that is another thing. Hence, among politicians callous of heart, and deaf to the groans of suffering humanity, the preference given to prisons over schools, to punishment over prevention. Well, then, since it is confessedly easier - easier, but not better, nor cheaper - to punish than reform, I say that Gods power is more illustriously displayed in pardoning one guilty, in purifying one polluted man, than if the law had been left to take her sternest course, and bury our entire family in the ruins of the fall. We honour justice when she holds the balance even, and, before a land that cries for blood, brings out the murderer to hang him up in the face of the sun: Whoso sheddeth mans blood, by man shall his blood be shed. Yet, like the noble-minded Romans, who decreed a crown to the man that saved a citizen, we would hold him worthy of highest honours who brings a criminal from his cell, so changed as to be worthy, not only of being restored to the bosom of society, but of rising to a place in the senate, or filling some post of dignity beside the throne. That were an achievement of brilliant renown, a victory over which humanity and piety would shed tears of joy.
To compare small things with great, something like this, but unspeakably nobler and greater, God works in salvation. For example - In John Bunyan, he calls the bold leader of village reprobates to preach the Gospel; a blaspheming tinker to become one of Englands famous confessors, and from the gloomy portals of Bedford jail, to shed forth the lustre of his sanctified genius to the furthest limits of the world, and adown the whole course of time. From the deck of a slave ship he summons John Newton to the pulpit; and by hands defiled with Mammorts foulest and most nefarious traffic, he brings them that are bound out of darkness, and smites adamantine fetters from the slaves of sin. In Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, he converts his Sons bitterest enemy into his warmest friend. To the man whom a trembling church held most in dread, she comes to owe, under God, the weightiest obligations, In that man she has her boldest champion, her greatest logician, the most gallant of her defenders, her grandest preacher, the prince of apostles, the largest contributor to this imperishable volume.
How much better for these three stars to be shining in heaven, than quenched in the blackness of darkness. Better for the good of mankind; better for the glory of God. In them, and in all yonder sainted throng, has not God more illustriously displayed his power, than if he had crushed them by the thunders of his vengeance, and buried them in the depths of hell? The power of divinity culminates in grace. Oh, that we also may be made its monuments, built up by the hands of an eternal Spirit to the memory and glory of the cross! And why not? Look at these men! Think what they were; behold what they are! The thief of the cross bends from his throne in glory, and bids you hope. Addressing your prayers to him whose ear is never heavy that it cannot hear, nor his hand shortened that it cannot save, be this your earnest, your urgent cry, Awake, awake, put on strength, 0 arm of the Lord. Awake, as in the ancient days in the generations of old.
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