The Claims of God
“Know ye that the Lord, he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; wo are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting: and his truth endureth to all generations.” — Psalm c. 3, 4, 5.
BRETHREN, it is a trick of Satan to call off our minds from the most important and vital matters by the suggestion of trivial considerations. When the best blessings are asking for our acceptance he will bring the most trifling things into our minds; he will fill our eyes with dust to prevent our looking to the brazen serpent for healing. From the preaching of Jesus he endeavoured to distract human attention by debates upon the tithing of mint and anise and cummin, the making broad of the borders of one’s garments, the wearing of phylacteries, the straining out of gnats, and I know not what beside. He followed this method at Jacob’s Well. When our Lord spoke to the woman about living water, and the salvation of her soul, the evil spirit prompted her to ask concerning Gerizim and Zion: “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and ye say that in Jerusalem men ought to worship.” With this same art Satan worketh still. It should be our business, not being ignorant of the devices of the enemy, to be more than a match for him, by breaking away from all vain janglings and trivial questions to the foundation truths, the corner-stones of faith, the realities of life everlasting, the vitalities of godliness; and these lie all Godward and Christward, away from the shadow land of ceremonials, and the cloud wrack of vain speculations, over there to the eternal rock and everlasting hills whose golden tops are, to the eye of faith, bright with-the blessed daybreak. Let us get away there this morning from the vanities of earth, and may the breath of the Spirit speed us towards the realities of heaven, that to things essential we may give the attention which is essential to them.
For what were we created, my brethren? I know no better answer than that of the Assembly’s catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.” There is a vast amount both of theology and philosophy in that simple answer, which our old divines have put into the mouth of a child. Had man remained what God made him, it would have been his very element to glorify his God; to do the will of God would have been as natural to us as to breathe, if we had not fallen from original perfection. Creatures which abide as God created them obey his will, I was about to say unconsciously; but where there is consciousness there is added a supreme delight which makes their consciousness and willinghood the highest boons. Look at yonder ponderous orbs; they are not stubborn with the so-called vis inertia, but joyfully roll along in their predestined courses because God commands them to keep their settled track. See yonder watching stars: they close not their bright eyes, but smile upon us from age to age; those sentinels of heaven quench not their lamps, but shine right on day without night because God has said “Let there be light,” and from them light must come.
We hear of no rebellion in the spheres, no revolt against the law which holds them to their celestial courses. Orion breaks not his bands, the Pleiades cease not their sweet influences. These orbs, mighty as they are, are as subservient to God as the plastic clay to the hand of the potter. And where there is intelligence, as long as the intelligence remains as God made it, there is no revolt against his will. You mighty angel “whose staff might make a mast for some tall admiral,” counts it his honour to fly like a flash of light at the bidding of the Eternal. It is no demeaning of his dignity, it is no diminution of his pleasure, to do the commandment of the Most High, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Were we to-day what we should be, it would be our element to love, to serve, to adore our God, and we should not need ministers to stir us to our pleasurable duty or remind us of Jehovah’s claims. Even the august language of our text would not be needed to bid us worship and bow down, and know that Jehovah is God, who has made us, and not we ourselves, for we should bear this truth in every particle of our being. As things are, however, we need recalling to duty and urging to obedience, and this morning, with the help of God’s good Spirit, we will submit our hearts to such a call.
I. First we will consider THE CLAIMS OF GOD, ON WHAT ARE THEY GROUNDED? “Know ye that the Lord, he is God; it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving.” The claims of God are grounded, first of all, upon his Godhead. “Know ye that Jehovah, he is God.” As Matthew Henry has very properly said, ignorance is not the mother of devotion, though it be the mother of superstition. True knowledge is the mother and the nurse of piety. Really to know the deity of God, to get some idea of what is meant by saying that he is God, is to have the very strongest argument forced upon one’s soul for obedience and worship. The Godhead gave authority to the first law that was ever promulgated when God forbade man to touch the fruit of a certain tree. Why might not Adam pluck the fruit? Simply and only because God forbade it. Had God permitted, it had been lawful, God’s prohibition made it sin to eat thereof. God gave no reason for saying to Adam, “In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” His commandment, seeing he was God, was the supremest reason, and to have questioned his right, to make the law would have been in itself flat rebellion. God was to be obeyed simply because he was God. It was a case in which to have introduced an argument would have supposed unwillingness on man’s part to obey. Adam could not want more than to know that such and such was the will of his God. This same truth of Godhead is the authoritative basis of the moral law of ten commands. From Sinai no claim for obedience was set up but this, “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” In that word, “GOD”, is comprehended the highest, the most weighty, the most righteous reasons for man’s yielding up his entire nature to the divine service. Because the Lord is God therefore should we serve him with gladness, and come before his presence with singing.
It was upon this point that God tested Pharaoh, and Pharaoh may be regarded as a sort of representative of all the enemies of the Lord. “Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go.” There was no reason given, no argument, but simply this, “Thus saith the Lord;” to which Pharaoh, fully appreciating the ground upon which God was acting, answered, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” So they stood foot to foot in fair battle, Jehovah saying, “Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, Let my people go,” and Pharaoh replying, “I know not the Lord neither will I let Israel go.” You know how that battle ended. That song of Israel at the Red Sea when the Lord of hosts triumphed gloriously, was a prophecy of the victory which will surely come unto God in all conflicts with his creatures, in which his eternal power and Godhead are assailed.
The argument derived from the Godhead has not only been used with haughty rebels, but also with questioners and debaters. Observe how Paul speaks. He has entered upon the thorny subject of predestination, a matter which none of us will ever comprehend, a matter wherein it is better for us to believe than to reason, and he is met with this, “If all things happen as God decrees why doth he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will?” to which the apostle gives no reply but this, “Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Against God there can be no answer. If he wills it, so let it be. It is right, it is good because he so decrees. Is he God? Submit. If there were no other argument, or reason, let Godhead convince you.
Good men have been argued with in the same way for their profit. That is the core and pith of the Book of Job. There is Job in conflict with his three friends, who are arguing that he must be a wicked man or else God would not so sorely smite him; to which reasoning he replies that he will hold fast his integrity, and will not let it go. Then comes Elihu, and he has much to say that is wise, but he cannot settle the matter. At last comes God into the controversy, and what is the Lord’s argument? Does he proceed to justify himself in what he has done with Job, to give Job reasons for covering him with boils and blains, and excuse himself for having taken a perfect and upright man and laid him prostrate on a dunghill? No, but instead thereof he unveils a portion of his Godhead, and reveals his power in some such language as this: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof? Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high? Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?” Thus the Lord displayed the greatness of his power, while Job sat cowering down, and cried out, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Ah, men and women, if ye did but know what God is, and who he is, if but some flashes of his divine omnipotence, or any other of his glorious attributes, were let loose upon you, you would perceive that he has the fullest claims upon your allegiance, and that you ought to live for his glory. Imagine that at this instant midnight darkness should settle over us, out of which should burst forth a thunderclap making each stone in this building to tremble, while down every one of yonder columns lurid lightning should begin to stream; imagine that the earth beneath us rocked and reeled after the manner of the city of Lisbon, or Aleppo in years gone by; conceive that peal on peal again of that terrible thunder should be heard; why there is not one of us but would long to be the servant of that terrible God, and instinctively inquire what he would have us to do? Atheists, in times of tempest and storm, have found but little help in their philosophy; like Pharoah, they have been ready to cry, “Entreat the Lord for me.” But the reeling earth, or heaven on a blaze, what were these? The touch of his finger and glance of his eye would do far more. He touches the hills, and they smoke, but as for himself, who shall conceive of him? Let us adore his overwhelming majesty, and bow down before him, for the Lord he is God.
The second ground of the Lord’s claim is his creation of us. “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” We are every one of us the offspring of the divine power. This is a fact of which we are informed by revelation, but it is also one which every instinct of our nature agrees with. You never saw a child startled when it was told for the first time that God made it, for within that little mind there dwells an instinct which accepts the statement. The theory that we are not made, but are mere developments of materialism, wears upon its face all the marks of unsupported fiction. Certain statements are called axioms, because they are self-evident truths, but this is an axiom reversed, for it is a self-evident lie. To an unsophisticated mind its repetition is its refutation; indeed, whenever I hear people mention it they seem unable to suppress a laugh, and I do not wonder, for even nature itself forces them to despise what they pretend to believe. The atomic theory was originated, I have no doubt, either in Pandemonium or in Bedlam: it is worthy of either, but it is unworthy of any man who possesses either sanity or morality. No, we did not become what we are by chance or growth. God made us. This belief is the easiest escape from all difficulties, and besides, it is true, and everything in us tells us so. Now, since the Lord made us, he has a right to us. The property which God has in man is proved beyond dispute by our being his creatures. The potter has a right to make the vessel for what use he pleases, still he has not such absolute right over his clay as God has over us, for the potter does not make the clay; he makes the vessel from the clay, but the clay is there from the first. The Lord has in our case made the clay from which he has fashioned us, and therefore we are entirely at his disposal, and should serve him with all our hearts. Why, man, if you make anything, you expect to use it. If you make a tool for your trade you reckon upon employing it according to your pleasure; and if it would never bend to your will, or be useful to your purpose, you would speedily put it away. So is it with you, the Lord who made you, has a right to your service and obedience. Will you not acknowledge his claim? Consider what he has made us. No mean things are we! Who but God could make a man? Raphael takes the pencil in his hand, and with master touch creates upon yonder canvas the most wondrous forms; and the sculptor with his chisel and his hammer developes amazing beauty; but there is no life, thought, intellect, and if you speak there is neither voice nor answering. How different are you from the canvas and the marble, for in your bosom there is a mysterious principle, which makes you akin to the Deity, for your soul can know reason, believe, understand, and love. I had almost called the soul infinite, for God has made it capable of such wondrous things. Thus has he trusted us with high powers and faculties, and lifted us up to a high position; surely, then, it is ours to serve him with a loving loyalty.
I like to think that the Lord hath made us, and to yield myself to him on that ground, because while the grandeur of what he has made us calls us to homage, even the lowly side has its claim too, and a sweet one. Our powers are finite, and sometimes we are troubled about that fact, wishing we could do more for our Lord: but we need not fear when we remember that he hath made us, and therefore fixed the measure of our capacity. In Roger de Wendover’s “Flowers of History,” an ancient Saxon chronicle, we read of a Saxon king, who, riding through a forest, came upon a little church in which a priest was saying prayers, and this priest was lame and hump-backed; and therefore the rough Saxon king was ready to despise him, till he heard him chaunt these words, “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” The king blushed, and owned his fault. If, then, we are of small beauty or slender talent, let us not complain, but serve him who has made us what we are. If we are amazed at a truth which we cannot comprehend; if we find portions of God’s word to be beyond our depth, let us not complain, but remember that the Lord could have made us understand all things if he had chosen, and as he has not done so, “It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves.” When any say to us, “Your religion is beyond you, the truths you believe you cannot comprehend,” we answer, “We are quite satisfied it should be so, for the Lord hath made us, and not we ourselves.” If lie has made us capacious to a larger degree than our fellows, we will give him all the more honour; but if we be vessels of small capacity we will not wish to be other than our Maker would have us to be.
Dear brethren, I cannot conceive any higher claim upon our service than this, that God has created us, except that the same truth may be sung an octave higher. Common men may sing, “It is he that made us, and not we ourselves”; even the brute creation might join in that confession: but, O ye saints, yours is a loftier note, for you have been twice made, born again, created anew in Christ Jesus, and after a nobler fashion ye can sing, “It is he that made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Creation has its claims, but election and redemption rise still higher; from those peculiarly favoured the Lord must have peculiar praise.
A third reason for living unto the Lord lies in his shepherding of us. “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” God has not left us and gone away. He has not left us as the ostrich leaves her eggs, to be broken by the passer’s foot. He is watching over us at every hour; even as a shepherd guards his flock. Over us all he exercises an unceasing care, a watchful providence, and therefore we should return to him daily praise. It has been well said that some men represent God as having taken the universe like a watch, wound it up, and then put it under his pillow and gone to sleep: but it is not so. God’s finger is on every wheel of the world’s machinery; God’s power is that which puts force into the laws of the universe, they were a mere dead letter if he were not powerfully active evermore. Child of Adam, in thy cradle thou art not rocked by wild winds, but by the hand of love. Daughter of affliction, thou art not laid prostrate on yon bed to be the victim of heartless laws, but there is One who makes all thy bed in thy sickness with his own kind and tender hand. God giveth us day by day our daily bread. God clotheth us; he gives breath for these heaving lungs, and blood for this beating heart; he keeps us in life, and if his power were withdrawn we should sink immediately into death. Now, therefore, because it is so, we are bound to give to our great Shepherd our daily service. Ye are the sheep of his hand; for you the hourly provision, for you the constant protection, for you the wise and judicious governance, for you the royal leadership through the desert to the pastures on the other side of Jordan, for you the power that chases away the wolf, for you the skill that finds out the pastures of the wilderness, for you those superior comforts which come from the redeeming angel’s presence, and flow from the very fact that he is yours. Therefore, render to the Lord your homage and your praise. Men, because ye are men, adore the God who keeps you living men; but saintly men, men renewed and fed out of the storehouse of divine grace, serve your God, I pray you, with all your heart, and soul, and strength, because you especially are the sheep of his pasture and the people of his hand.
A fourth reason for adoration and service is given in the last verse of our text, it is the divine character: “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Here are three master motives for serving the Lord our God. Oh that all would feel their weight. First, he is good. Now, if I were to lift up a standard in this assembly this morning and say, “This banner represents the cause of everything that is just, right, true, kind, and benevolent, I should expect many a young heart to enlist beneath it; for when pretenders in all lands have talked of liberty and virtue choice spirits have been enchanted and rushed to death for the grand old cause. Now, God is good, just, right, true, kind, benevolent; in a word, God is love, and therefore who would not serve him? Who will refuse to be the servant of infinite perfection? Oh, were he not my God, but another man’s God, methinks I would steal away to him to be enlisted beneath the banner of such a God as he is. To keep the laws of God must always be incumbent upon us, because those laws are the very essence of right; none of them are arbitrary, all of them the requirements of unsullied holiness and unswerving justice. Indeed, commands of God are something more than merely right; they are good in the sense of kind. When God says, “Thou shalt not,” it is only like a mother forbidding her child to cut its fingers with an edged tool, or to eat poisonous berries. When God says, “Thou shalt,” it is practically a direction to us to be happy, or at least to do that thing which in due course leads to happiness. The laws of the Lord our God are right in all respects, and therefore I claim from every one of you the obedience of your heart to God.
Then it is added, “His mercy is everlasting.” Who would not serve one whose mercy endureth for ever? Observe, that he is always merciful. Never does a sinner come to him and find him devoid of pity. The Lord is merciful and gracious when we are children, he is equally so to us in middle life, and when we grow grey in years he is merciful still. We cannot wear out his patience nor exhaust his forgiving love. He has given us a Saviour who ever liveth to make intercession for transgressors. What a blessing is this. So long as we sin we have an advocate to plead for us! He has set up a mercy-seat for us for all times, and to it we may go as often as we will. He did not erect a mercy-seat on earth for a hundred years and then withdraw it, but, blessed be his name, we always have the right of access, and we have still a plea to urge, for Jesu’s blood has not lost its savour. There, too, is the Spirit of God always waiting to help us to pray, and whenever we wish to draw near to the mercy-seat he is ready to teach us what we should pray for as we ought, and even to utter for us groanings which we ourselves could not utter. Oh, who would not serve a God whose mercy is everlasting? Cruel is that heart which infinite gentleness does not persuade. If God be merciful, man should no more be rebellious.
It is added, “His truth endureth to all generations,” that is to say you will not find in God one thing to-day and another thing to-morrow. What lie promises he will perform. Every word of his stands fast for ever, like himself, immutable. Trust him to-day, and you will not find him fail you, neither to-morrow, nor all the days of your life. The God of Abraham is our God to-day, and has not changed through the revolutions of years. The Saviour whom we trusted in our boy hood, is still the same, yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Blessed be his name. I think it was this attribute of God that had the greatest charm to my young heart, it seemed so sweet to rest my soul with an unchangeable God, so delightful to know, that if I did once enjoy his love he would never take it away from me, that if he was once reconciled to me by the death of his Son, I should for ever be his child and be dear to his heart. This gave my heart gladness and I hold forth this truth now as a sweet inducement to those present who have not trusted to the Lord that they should do so, for the Lord is good and his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations. Thus I have set before you the grounds of God’s claims; are they solid? Do you consent to them? Oh, that sovereign grace would constrain each of us to live alone for the glory of God. It is his most righteous due.
II. Now very briefly indeed, THE CLAIMS OF GOD HOW HAVE WE REGARDED THEM? Answer for yourselves. Alas, some have paid no respect to these claims— in fact they have denied them, and have said in effect, “Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?” Have I one such person here? I pray God to change his heart, for the gnat may much more wisely contend with the flame which has already burned its wings than you contend with your Maker? As surely as you live, God will vanquish you, and make you own his supremacy. If you will not obey him he will dash you in pieces like a potter’s vessel.
A far larger number of persons, however, ignore rather than oppose God’s claim. They have lived in this world now perhaps to middle age and never thought about God at all, though he has made them and kept them in being. That is the way that many a debtor has done with his debts. He has felt easy because he has not been dunned about them; but surely that is a doubtful honesty which rests in peace because the creditor does not happen to clamour. A truly honest man is dissatisfied till he has discharged his obligations, and every noble spirit will be discontented with itself because it has not paid its due to God. What if the Lord has used no severities, has sent no sheriff’s officers, of sickness or bereavement, shall we not all the more heartily enquire, “What shall I render unto the Lord?” Shall we rob God because he is merciful? Shall we make his goodness a reason for neglecting him? Can it be right that we should never render to the Most High according to the benefits received?
There are multitudes who in theory acknowledge all the claims of God, but as a matter of fact they deny them, or they evade them by a merely outward religiousness. They will not be honest, but they will go to church; they will not cleanse themselves from iniquity, but they will be baptised; to live a holy life is a matter they care not for, but they will take the sacrament; believe in Jesus, and yield themselves to the love of God, they will not, but they have not the slightest objection to joining in a procession or going upon pilgrimage— thus giving God brass counters instead of gold, outward appearances instead of real obedience. The love of the heart and trust of the Spirit man refuses to his Maker, and so long as he does so all his offerings are vain.
Sorrowfully must we all confess also that where we have tried to honour the Lord, and have done so in a measure by his grace, yet we have failed of perfection; we have to confess that oftentimes the pressure of the body which is near, and of the things that are seen and tangible, has been greater upon us than the force of the things which cannot be seen, but are eternal. We have yielded to self too often, and have robbed the Lord. What shall we do in this case? Why, we have to bless our everlasting God and Father, that he has provided an atoning sacrifice for all our shortcomings, and that there is one, partaker of our nature who stands in the gap on our behalf, in whom we can be accepted, notwithstanding all our shortcomings and offences. Let us go to God in Christ Jesus. He bids us believe in Jesus, and assures us of pardon and salvation on the spot if we do so. The demands of God are met in the life and death of his only-begotten Son: faith lets us see that they were met for us, and that we are clear. Brethren, we have believed, yea, and we will believe, that Jesus died for us, and here comes our joy, that we are delivered from the wrath of God, notwithstanding that we have fallen short of his deserts. And now what follows? I feel concerning it just this, that now there are more bonds to bind me to the service of God than ever; he has forgiven me for his name’s sake, and washed me in the blood of his own Son, and I am his by firmer bonds than ever. No obligations are so forcible as those which arise out of free grace and dying love. Pardoned sin is no argument for the indulgence of future sin, but an abundant argument for future holiness in every heart that feels its power. O ye saints of God, transgression being blotted out ye will no more transgress; made his elect, you elect to serve him; being his adopted children you rejoice to do your Father’s will; and now henceforth and for ever you are the Lord’s.
III. This brings me to the concluding note of our discourse, which is this— THE CLAIMS OF GOD, WHEN THEY ARE REGARDED, HOW DO THEY INFLUENCE MEN? Give me your hearts a few minutes. I am persuaded, brethren, that the noblest form of man that is to be found on the face of the earth is the man who serves God; that all other forms of manhood are faulty and imperfect in themselves, to a very high degree, and are also far inferior in force and beauty to that which is produced in men by consecration to the service of God. A man who is guided by the Holy Ghost to live for the Lord is a nobler being altogether than one moved by a less lofty aim.
Let me show you how healthy it is to serve God. The man who serves God, led by the Spirit of God so to do, is humble. Were he proud it were proof at once that he was not serving God; but the remembrance that God is his sovereign, and has made him, that in his hand is his breath, makes the good man feel that he is nothing but dust and ashes at his very best.
He cannot cry out with Nebuchadnezzar, “Behold this great Babylon which I have builded he is far more likely to crouch down where Nobuchadnezzar did after God had taught him better, and to say, “Now I extol and honour the King of heaven.” Serving God keeps man in his right place. It is a poise to him, without which he might be drifted to destruction, like the myriads of butterflies which I have seen far out at sea, condemned ere long to sink into the wave. At the same time, while it sobers a man it fills him with joy, and praise, and gratitude, thus giving him sail as well as ballast. A man who loves to serve God receives mercies at his hand with great thankfulness and joy, and is content with the will of God, and therefore is full of gratitude to him; and let me tell you there are no sweeter moments in a man’s life than those which are occupied with adoring gratitude.
Nothing is more purging, or cleanses a man more from earthly grossness, and from all the defilement of selfishness, than to serve the ever-living and ever-blessed God, and to feel that there is one so much greater, so much better than one’s self, towards whom we aspire, for whom we live. Thus is a man at once humbled, cheered, and elevated.
The service of God is honourable as no other service is. There is a man who lives for himself; his great object is to get money. Look at him and consider him well! Is not the greed of wealth one of the most beggarly passions that can possess a human bosom? You ant, which labours for its commonwealth is to my mind up among the angels, compared with a man who sweats and toils and starves himself, merely for the sake of heaping up for himself a mass of yellow metal. Can I more highly commend the lover of pleasure? What is pleasure? As the world understands it, it is a hollow sham, a veneer of mirth, covering deep dissatisfaction. I often think when I hear worldlings laughing at such poor nonsense, that they pull each other’s sleeves and say, “Laugh. You ought to laugh.” I cannot see the mirth of their amusements, but they do. They struggle to seem happy, but what after all is it to have lived to be amused? To have spent all one’s powers in killing time! Is anything more contemptible?
How horrible it is when man lives for lust, and puts forth all his strength to indulge his passions! Brutes! beasts! Alas! I slander the beasts when I compare them to such men. The man who lives for God is a far nobler being. Why, in the very act of self-renunciation and of dedication to God the man has been lifted up from earth, and from all that holds him down to its dust and mire, and he has risen so much nearer to the cherubim, so much nearer, in fact, to the divine. This makes a man a man, for a man who serves is courageous, and too manly to be a slave. “Nay,” he says, “God bids me do such an act, and I will do it straight ahead; and though such and such a thing you bid me do, since God has not commanded me, your bidding is no law to me. My knee was made to bow before my God and not to you, and my mind to believe what God reveals and not what you choose to tell.” He is the free man whom the love of God makes free. What wonderful proofs we have had of this throughout history, for the men who have served God have been the most intrepid of mortals. Behold the burning fiery furnace, and the tyrant’s face almost as red as the furnace itself; he can hardly speak, he is choked with passion, because the three young men will not worship the brazen image: but look how cool they are as they say “The God whom we serve is able to deliver us, but if not, be it known unto thee that we will not bow down to the image which thou hast set up.” Here the true style of manhood. The love of God makes heroes.
Give a man a resolve to serve God and he is endowed with wondrous perseverance. Look at the apostles, and martyrs, and missionaries of the faith, how they have pressed on, despite a world in arms; when a nation has been apparently inaccessible they have found an entrance; when the first missionary has died another has been ready to follow in his footsteps. The first church, in her weakness, and poverty, and ignorance, struggled with philosophy and wealth, and all the power of heathen Rome, till at last the weak overcame the strong, and the foolish overthrew the wise. They that serve God cannot be conquered, from defeats they learn victory; if they have to wait they can wait, for they have linked themselves with the lifetime of the Eternal, and God is in no hurry, nor are they. If to secure a hearing for truth takes a generation, let it take a generation; if it takes fifty generations, let it take them, but the deed shall be done, and the truth shall be preached, and the idols shall be abolished, and God shall be adored. O Lord, thy service makes us akin to thee. Blessed are they that wear thy yoke! How strong they grow, how patient to endure, how firm to stand fast, how swift to run. They mount with wings as eagles when they learn to serve thee.
The man who is led by the Holy Ghost to serve God is incited thereby to a zeal, a fervour, and a self-sacrifice to which nothing else could bring him. If you are familiar with the lives of the pioneers of the cross, and especially with the deaths of the martyrs, you will have seen what grace can make of men. Are not their deeds sublime? Why, these men laughed at impossibilities, and scorned difficulties. They counted the rack and the torture mere every day things, and learned to smile in the face of death itself, because they served God. They never thought of running away, nor dreamed of retracting their testimony. Men said, “You are fools:” they were prepared to hear them say that, and reckoned it a fulfilment of prophecy. The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers took counsel together and said, “We will stamp you out.” They were prepared for that also, but they were not stamped out. They saw insuperable difficulties in their way to the eye of sense, but they did not care what the eye of sense saw, they used the eye of faith, and believing that they were engaged in the service of God they knew that God would be with them; they felt that all the forces of nature on earth, and all the angels in heaven, and all the attributes of deity, were on the side of the man who is doing God’s service, and therefore they went straight on. I have heard say that a mad man will often display the strength of ten men; and I know there is another side to that fact, for when a man becomes possessed with the divine Spirit, and is carried right away with it, there is no telling what force is in him, he will be ten men in one. Why, there are cases in which a nation of men seem to have been bound up into one single humanity, when the man has surrendered himself to the service of God. Look at Martin Luther! You cannot regard him as an ordinary man, you cannot help viewing him as a conglomeration of a whole tribe of men. He believes he has truth to proclaim, and in God’s name he preaches it, and if there are as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the tops of the houses it is nothing to Luther; and if the Elector of Saxony tells him that he will no longer shelter him, what will he do? Why he declares that he will shelter himself beneath the broad shield of the eternal God. When the Pope issues a Bull against him he burns the document. What cared he? He would have burned Rome itself for that matter. The man had courage enough for anything. Or take John Knox, all emaciated, weak, and ready to die, and yet so God-possessed, so inspired, that he is not preaching for a quarter of-an-hour before you think he will dash the pulpit to shivers; he shakes the whole of Scotland, and is more dreaded by the Popish Queen than an army of ten thousand men, for God is in the man. Oh, get to feel “It is God’s will, and at all hazards I am going to do it, for God bids me.” Why, sir, you may as well try to stop the sun in its course as to stop a man who is mastered by that conviction. If ever this drivelling age of little men is to be lifted up into something like respectability, and, redeemed from the morass of falsehood in which it lies festering, we must breed a race of men who mean to serve God, come what may, and to make no reckoning but this: “Is this right? It shall be done. Is this wrong? Then it shall cease.” There must be no compromise, no talk about marring our usefulness and spoiling our position by being too exact. Usefulness and position! let them be marred and spoiled if truth comes in the way, for God is to be followed into the jungle, ay, and down the wild beasts’ throats, and into the jaws of hell, if he leads the way. God must be the guide, and if we follow God it shall be well with us. But if we do not, that which man thinks easiest is after all the hardest. He thinks it easiest to be as near right as you can, but to run no risks; he thinks it best to keep peace at home, to yield many points, and not be too puritanic and too precise, and so on. That is the easy way, and the way which God abhors, and the way which will end in a festering conscience at last, and in being shut out of heaven. But the way to serve God is to be washed in the blood of Jesus, and then to obey the Lord without reserve, and seek his honour only. This is the way to heaven, and when we reach those blissful seats we shall be all in tune with the perfected, for they serve the Lord day and night, and find it bliss to do so. This preparation and service on earth is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of heaven above. May God grant you then, by his Holy Spirit, to yield yourselves up to God, henceforth to serve him, and may we meet above. Amen.