Honour for Honour
“Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.” — 1 Samuel ii. 30.
September 7th, 1876
GOD is certain, sooner or later, to recompense men according to the rule of infallible justice; and if it be so among saints, it is equally so among sinners. If we could really know the secret history of any man’s life, we should be able to understand his career better than we now do. There is many a life, of which we have had to say to the Lord, “Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known;” yet, if we had known more about the man, it would have been all plain enough. If we had seen the sin that was hidden from human eyes, we should have understood the sorrow that was evident to all.
That will suffice with regard to the general principle that is enunciated in our text. If we honour God, he will honour us; and if we despise him, we shall be lightly esteemed ourselves. Now, taking only the first clause of the text, there are two things upon which I wish to speak with great earnestness. The first is, here is a plain duty, namely, to honour God; and, secondly, here is a very gracious reward: “them that honour me I will honour.”
I. First, then, HERE IS A PLAIN DUTY; to honour God. It is the natural duty of ever creature to honour its Creator; and with such a glorious and blessed God as Jehovah is, it certainly must be incumbent upon all, who have any understanding of his existence, to lender honour and homage unto him. Such is his personal grandeur, such is the perfection of his character, such is his almighty power, and such are the obligations under which we are placed to him as our Creator, that, altogether apart from spiritual things, it is, undoubtedly, the duty of every creature to honour God.
But what shall I say, beloved, of those of us who are the Lord’s chosen people? Do I need to prove that we should honour our God? He is our Father; and he said, long ago, “If then I be a Father, where is mine honour?” Ordinary children are bidden to honour their father and mother; then, how much more should the children of God honour their Father who is in heaven! He has done so much for us above and beyond our creation, — in our election, in our effectual calling, in our regeneration, in the blood-washing, in the daily supply of our needs, in the continual preservation of our souls from going down into the pit, — that we are overwhelmed with indebtedness to him; and the very least return that we can make to him is to render him all the honour that we can. He has made himself known to us in a way that he has not revealed himself to the rest of his creatures. His handiwork is seen in the whole visible creation; in every star his glory shines. But he is not seen there as he is revealed to us in Christ Jesus; and, alas! unrenewed men have not eyes with which they can see the resplendent glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; but he has given to us this spiritual eyesight, he has taught us much about himself by his Spirit, and the Spirit has revealed to us even the deep things of God. If it were possible for us not to honour him, after all that we know of him, what criminality would be ours! But the knowledge and the grace he has given us constrain us to honour him; and the more we know of what he is, and of what he has done for us, the more do we feel that we must and will honour him. Glory be unto thy holy name, O gracious Father, that, in our inmost spirits, we do adore, and honour, and worship thee at this moment; and, by thy grace, we will do so till time shall be no more!
I hope you see clearly that it is your duty to honour God, so let us enquire in what way that duty comes home to each one of us. First, I think that we are to honour God by confessing his Deity in all our prayers, and praises, and, indeed, at all times. May none of us ever fall into the various heresies which some have held concerning the persons of the blessed Trinity in Unity! Of all errors, these most closely touch the very vitals of true religion. I suppose, if any man looks long into the doctrine of the Trinity, he will be like one who gazeth upon the sun, and will be apt, first, to be dazzled, and, then, to be blinded by the excessive light. If a man asketh that he may understand this great mystery, and refuseth to believe until he doth comprehend it, then he will be blinded, most assuredly. How canst thou, O man, hold the sea in the hollow of thy hand; and how canst thou see God’s face and yet live? Dost thou marvel that thy mind staggers under the load that thou dost try to put upon it, and that thy reason begins to reel? We cannot comprehend God; but we can honour the Father by worshipping him, and honour the Son by adoring him, and honour the Holy Spirit by paying homage, and reverence, and glory unto him, and never countenancing, in our spirit, any error which would detract from the glory of Father, Son, or Holy Spirit; for, if we do, we shall not obtain the blessing promised in our text: “Them that honour me I will honour.” God save us from believing any doctrines which cast reflections upon our Lord Jesus Christ, or upon the Divine Spirit! I am afraid that the Church of Christ has never yet sufficiently honoured the Spirit of Cod, and that, in the ministry of the present day, there is such a general ignoring of the Holy Spirit and his work that many hearers might say, as those disciples at Ephesus did, “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” If that is the case, it ought to be repented of, and avoided in the future; for you may depend upon it that honouring the Triune God is absolutely essential to obtaining the blessing promised in our text, “Them that honour me I will honour.”
Secondly, we can do this by confessing the dominion of God, and proving the reality of our confession by yielding obedience to him. It is no use for you to say, “I honour God,” and yet to continue to live contrary to his law. If we do honour him, we shall seek to obey his commandments; and though, by reason of infirmity, we shall fall short of the perfection of obedience, we shall honour the Lord by weeping over our imperfections. We shall not quarrel with the requirements! of God’s commands, but we shall ask the Holy Spirit to help us to be conformed to them. That man does not honour God who goes picking and choosing among the divine precepts, attending to one, but not to another. He is not honouring God who does not render obedience to his will in all things, — the social duties that appertain to the hearth and home, the duties that are associated with the Church of God, and the duties which concern the common life of ourselves and others. It is never right to offer to God a sacrifice stained with the blood of a duty; and it is by endeavouring to be obedient to the Lord in all respects that our desire to honour him is to be proved. If there is anything about the Lord’s will that you do not like, my dear brother, that is a point in which you are wrong. It is an indication of the true state of your soul when there is any divine precept against which you kick, and you should pray very fervently that you may overcome that sin, and be conformed to the Lord’s will in all things; for, unless you honour him by seeking to render universal obedience to him, — unless, being saved by his grace, you abhor all sin, and seek, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to walk in all the commandments of the Lord blameless, you have not given to him the honour which he rightly claims, and you cannot expect that he should honour you.
In the next place, seeing that we have all sinned, we must honour God by confessing sin, and so glorifying his justice. I believe that God is greatly glorified by a man, who is overwhelmed with a sense of his guilt, when he comes, and bares his bosom to the divine inspection, acknowledging all his offences, grieving over them, and, as it were, laying his Lead upon the block, and saying, “Lord, if thou dost execute me, if thou dost let the axe of thy justice fall upon me to my utter destruction, I dare not complain, for I deserve it all.’ Therefore, dear friends, submit yourselves to the sentence of God, acknowledge how just it would be if he were to execute it upon you, for so you shall find favour at his hands. I do not know what else a poor convinced sinner can do, that can be more acceptable to God, with the one exception of his coming to believe fully in Christ. So, guilty one, glorify God by making confession of thy guilt. Thou hast broken his holy law; own thine offence in having broken it. Pay respect to the commands of God by confessing that thou oughtest to have kept them. Admit the heinousness of the sin by which thou hast violated the will of God; for, in so doing, thou wilt be honouring the Lord.
And you, dear child of God, conscious of so many imperfections, recollect that you honour God when you lie very low before him, — when you loathe yourself, — when, as in the very dust, you cry, “The Lord remember his poor unworthy child, and have pity upon me!” You are thus magnifying and glorifying the holiness of God to which you feel that you have not yet attained. If you own that you are but dust and ashes in his sight, and not worthy to be regarded with favour by him, that humility of yours is honouring and glorifying to him.
Further, we can honour the Lord by submitting to his teaching. A great many people go to the Bible to find texts in it to endorse a system of divinity which they have already embraced. That is not honouring God. The right course is to get your system of divinity out of the Bible under the unerring teaching of the Holy Spirit. This is the Book that is to teach us; we are not to try to square it to our scheme, but we are to make our scheme — if we have one, — embrace all that is here revealed so far as we can ascertain it. Young man, I can speak from experience when I say that nothing will give you greater peace of mind than taking the Word of God as your only guide from the very beginning of your Christian life. It is commonly said that “the Bible, and the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants;” but I scarcely know of any sect of Protestants, with one exception, of which that is true. There is something that all the others believe which cannot be found in the Bible, and they have some other book or tradition tacked on at the end of the Bible, Sit down, my friend, and study the Book without note or comment, asking the Holy Spirit to teach thee what it means; and whatever it means, do thou believe it. Thou wilt not discover all that it means; there will be mistakes in thee, as in thy fellow-Christians; but do thou follow the truth, as far as thou canst see it, wherever it may lead thee, even if following it shall cause thee to stand quite alone; for, in so doing, thou wilt be honouring it, and it will honour thee. It is such a sweet thing to be able to say, “I may have been mistaken, but I have honestly sought to know the mind of God, and with earnest dependence upon the Holy Spirit I have desired to accept his teaching; and, as far as I have learnt it, I have followed it, regardless of the consequences of doing so, knowing that it must always be safe to follow where the Spirit leads the way.” Act thus, young men and young women, whatever others may do. Some of them are content to follow the erroneous customs of former generations, although they are clearly contrary to the Word of God. Do not you follow their evil example; but while the wax is soft, let it take the divine impress of truth, and so may you grow up to honour God beyond all who have gone before you!
There is another way of honouring God, and that is, by simply trusting him at all times. Be it ever remembered that, the greater our troubles, the greater our weakness, the greater our infirmities, the greater is our opportunity of glorifying God by the aid of his Holy Spirit. “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.” They see much that landsmen never see; and those who have deep experience of trial and trouble are the people who see most of the wonders of the Lord in the spiritual realm. Dear brother, all seemed to go well with you until you trusted God; but since you did so, everything has seemed to go wrong with you. Can you trust him now? Faith, when we are in smooth water, honours God; but faith, when we are in rough waters, will glorify him far more. It is easy to bless his name when the barn is full, and the table loaded; but can you glorify him now that the homestead is burnt down, and the cupboard is bare? Ah, good woman, you could glorify God when your husband was in vigorous health, and your children were all round about you; but now that he has been taken from you, and your children are following him, consumption seizing upon them one after the other, can you trust the Lord now? And you, my brother, now that your leg is broken, or your lungs begin to fail, or the asthma comes upon you, or old age is coming to cripple you; — now that your circumstances are changing, and that your friends, like the swallows in autumn, begin to forsake you, can you rejoice in the Lord, and glory in the God of your salvation now? If you can do so, it is now in your power to honour God in a very wondrous way. It is glorious to be able to say, with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Whatever happens to you, never doubt the wisdom of God's working, or the love of his heart, but still “rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” If you do this, you will honour him, and he will in due time honour you.
I might remind you of many other ways in which we may honour and glorify God, but I will only mention one more; and that is this, when we have not any particular trouble, we ought to honour God by great joy. I do not mean by such joy as the worldling has in his corn and wine, but by holy joy. How few Christians speak of God as their exceeding joy! I think we do meet with cheerful Christians, nowadays, more frequently than we used to do, for we wore, at one time, taught that, the longer a man’s face, the greater was his grace. We do not believe in any such notion as that; yet, to my mind, we seldom, if ever, attain to the standard of joy which ought to be the abiding portion of a child of God. The elect ought to be the happiest people beneath the sky. Look at a great furnace when there is a strong blast blowing upon it; what intense heat there is there! A Christian ought to be like that furnace, glowing with intense delight, fervent love, and overflowing joy. Why should you not rejoice, beloved? Your sins are forgiven you; you are an heir of heaven; you are, it may be, within a month or two, or within a year or two, of being at God’s right hand, to go no more out for ever; why should you not rejoice? Even now, his Spirit dwelleth within you, his heart burneth with love towards you, and he rejoiceth over you; why should you nob rejoice? If you did rejoice more, you would honour the Lord more, and he would honour you even as he has promised. The poorest saint here can share in this great blessing simply by honouring God. The man with the least talent can honour God. The most ignorant Christian, the one who is least instructed in worldly learning, can honour God. The weakest in bodily health, the sick, the dying can all honour God, if they are his people; this plain duty is one which is possible to all the saints, by the Holy Spirit’s gracious aid. May he help each one of us to carry it out, and truly to honour God!
II. Now I turn to the second point, HERE IS A VERY GRACIOUS REWARD: “Them that honour me I will honour.”
First, this is true in the Church of God. The sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests; but they did not honour God, and therefore God did not honour them. The people despised them, and loathed the very services of the sanctuary, because of their sin, and God thrust them out of the priest’s office. I believe, my brethren, — and there are many of us who either are already ministers of the gospel, or are in course of training for that high office, — I believe that, unless we, with all our hearts, honour God in our ministry, he will never honour us. My dear brother, if you ever go in for anything else but glorifying God, you will make a failure of it. If you start with the idea of being a fine preacher, one who is able to orate in rounded periods and flowery sentences, or if it is your great ambition to gain a good position among respectable people, you will certainly come down with a crash, and great will be your fall. But if any young man, truly called of God, says to himself, “I will glorify God, whether I live or die, — whether I am poor or whether I am prosperous; — whether I am the means of bringing many souls to Christ, or am, apparently, a failure in my ministry, I will, at least, preach the truth; and I will pray over it, and I will agonize in prayer for the souls of men. My teaching shall not aim at glorifying philosophical opinions, or displaying my own culture and my own powers of thought; but I will, above everything else, honour God; I will honour the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; I will preach nothing up but Christ, and nothing down but sin. I shall not seek to honour the denomination to which I belong, but I will live and labour simply to honour God;” — well, my brother, if that is your resolve, then the Lord will honour you.
Then, next, this promise is true with regard to our own households. Poor Eli, I have no doubt, wished to have honour in his own house, so he paid great deference to his wicked sons. He knew that they were doing very, very wrong; but he spoke very gently to them, just as some Christian people, whom I know, are doing in their own families. Their boys are living as badly as ever they can, but they only say, “Our sons are so high-spirited and so easily offended that we must only indirectly hint that they are doing wrong. It would never do for us to pull them up. sharply, and say to them right straight out, ‘You are going headlong to hell, and we implore you to stop; for, if you continue to act as you are now doing, you will be ruined for ever.’” Ay, and in many a house God is not honoured by family prayer, and the boys and girls are taught to look after money as if that were the chief end of life. “You go in for business, John, and make money somehow, and do not be too particular about the means you employ in getting it. And, Mary, that is a very nice young man, an excellent Christian man, too, who is coming to see you; but he will not do for a husband, he has not enough money, and that is the main thing to be considered nowadays.” The worship of Mammon, the golden calf, prevails almost everywhere. God commanded his ancient people not to offer their children to Moloch, but it is done very often now; many parents are offering their sons and daughters to Moloch, — the Moloch of fashion, the Moloch of wealth; daughters are given to men without characters so long as they have a sufficient quantity of gold.
Well now, if the father or mother, instead of falling into that sin, says, “My chief concern for my dear boys and girls is that they should know the Lord. I should be glad to see them succeeding in business, or happily married to those who are in a good position; but my great longing is that they may know Christ, and be found in him, for that is the main thing after all; and I will not tolerate in my house anything that Christ would not look upon with approbation, neither will I permit, so far as my power can go, anything that would grieve the Spirit of God,” I believe that wherever parents thus seek the honour of God, God will honour their families very wonderfully. You will find, almost everywhere, that when a man gives everything up for God, and does not look so much for the advancement of his own family as for the good of God’s family as a whole, the Lord says to him very much what Queen Elizabeth said to one of the London merchants of her day. “I want you to go to Hamburg, to attend to some business of mine,” said the queen. “But, your majesty,” said the merchant, “my own business will suffer in my absence.” “No,” said the queen, “it will not; for, if you attend to my business, I will attend to yours.” And the Lord says to us that, if we honour him, he will honour us; and even in this present life he will give us a hundredfold for anything we give up for him, and in the world to come life everlasting.
May none of you, dear friends, ever be like Eli, who had to mourn over the destruction of his sinful sons; but may you honour God in your families, for then he will also honour you there. Who is so honoured as the venerable Christian man who has his sons and his grandsons around him? He is a king, every inch of him, though, perhaps, he never earned more than a day-labourer’s wages. As he lays his hands upon the heads of his children’s children, and implores his God to be their God also, I seem to see a patriarch stand before me in a grandeur which an emperor might envy. God will honour you in your family if you honour him there.
Then, again, God has a way of honouring his people in the society around them. You, young man, going into that warehouse, and taking a clerkship with many others, if you are consistent, true to your colours, and serve God faithfully, they will ridicule you, very likely, for a while; but if you continue to be consistent, they will soon respect you. If you honour God, God will honour you; and you will find that, in society, it is the wise and safe method to keep the Lord always before you. Some of you, young men, who have come up to London from the country, are apt to think that, as others do not go to a place of worship on the Sabbath, you will not do as you did at your home; but I pray you to keep up your good country custom, for your employers, and those who are about you, will think far better of you if you do so; and, although this is, by itself, a low and ignoble motive, yet it has its place among the higher reasons for attending the means of grace. If you honour God, you will get honour in the eyes of those whose opinion is worthy of your regard.
Again, if we honour God, he will honour us in the wide, wide world, so far as our influence may reach. Look at that great crowd gathered in Smithfield. Who is that poor wretch standing in the middle? Many of those around him look upon him with the utmost scorn and derision. They have chained him up to a stake, and they are bringing dry faggots, for they are going to burn him to death. Who is that man? People in the crowd cry out that he is a dreadful heretic, who deserves to die; but if you turn to Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, you will find his name recorded there amongst the noble army who died as heroes of the cross. Because he suffered for Christ, God has honoured him; and, at this present day, who among us would not rather be the martyr who was burned than the cardinal who was the means of getting him burned? Who would not rather have been numbered amongst the faithful multitudes, in the valleys of Piedmont, whose names are all unknown, than have been the Duke of Savoy, or the King of France, or the Pope of Rome, who conspired together to put them to death?
And, dear friends, if God did not honour us before men at all, it would not matter much; for those who honour him he honours in their own consciences. God can honour you, even though nobody else sees that he does it, in such a way that you will be more contented with that honour than if your name and fame were blazoned forth before the whole world. The orator, who addressed an audience, and found that all his hearers went away with the exception of one man, was quite content with his one auditor, for that man was Plato; and if, in this world, you should so act that you should have no approbation left except the approval of God manifested to your own conscience, you might well be content. “I, Athanasius, against the world,” was a grand thing for that staunch hero of the faith to be able to say; but if God was with Athanasius, he might just as well have said, “I, Athanasius, against fifty thousand worlds,” for what is the whole universe in comparison with God? “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Honour God, my dear young friend; leaving the parental roof, and coming to London, I pray you to honour God; and even if you should not meet with the esteem which a good character ought to win for you from those by whom you are surrounded, — if you should come under a cloud, — if you should, after all, have to live a life of poverty and obscurity, — yet the fact that you have done what is right, and that God smiles upon you with approval, and gives you peace of conscience, and quiet confidence in your soul, will be a sufficient reward for you.
I close by reminding you that we never know, any of us, how much God is honouring us. You did a noble deed, the other day, my brother, yet no one said, “Thank you” for it. You gave all you had, poor widow, — the two mites that were all your living, and nobody knew anything about it; but do you suppose that there is no fame except that which is spoken of by the breath of man? There are blessed spirits hovering all around us; multitudes of holy angels are watching the saints, and they see and approve all that is right; and I doubt not that, often, there is a worthy eulogium uttered by angelic lips when they see the devotion of the saints of God, — the devotion which is unseen by mortal eyes.
And, last of all, there shall come a day when this earth shall be all ablaze; and, amidst the terrors of that great consummation of the age, the dead shall rise, and you shall be amongst them, brother. Then shall the trumpet sound exceeding loud and long, and all human beings, and the fallen spirits, too, shall come to judgment; and there, amidst such a throng as never was beheld before, the despised, misrepresented, persecuted follower of the right, who honoured God at all costs, shall receive, before the assembled universe, honour from the Lord of all. Lift up your heads, O ye children of God, for your redemption draweth nigh! It is a grand day, with some men, when they receive the Victoria Cross from their sovereign’s hand, or when they are elevated to the House of Lords; but it will be a far higher honour when Christ shall say to the righteous, “Come, ye blessed of my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” and when he shall say to each one who has faithfully served him, “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful in a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Brothers and sisters, if God has saved us, let us live as in the light of the coming day of judgment; and may the Lord have mercy upon us in that day, and honour us because first, by his grace, he enabled us to honour him!
As for you who never think of honouring God, and never care about him, your destruction is certain if you continue in the way in which you are now walking. If you want to know how you may be damned, it is only a little matter of neglect that will ensure it. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” I fear that many of you are living in that, neglect. May the Holy Spirit graciously turn you from it, and cause you to seek the Lord, and believe in Jesus, this very moment, that you, too, honouring God by your confession of sin, and by believing in his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he hath set forth as the one propitiation for sin, may find the promise of our text true to you also, for he will honour you even as you have honoured him.