The Sequel To Divine Sovereignty
“ The LORD reigns; let the people tremble.”
No Doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind than the truth of the absolute Sovereignty of God. The fact that “the Lord reigns” is indisputable–and it is this fact that arises the utmost opposition in the unrenewed human heart. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.” We know what the Lord thinks of their rebellion against Him–“He that sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath and vex them in His sore displeasure.” Let us, Beloved, not be among those who refuse to believe this great Truth of God, but may we humbly bow before that dread Sovereign who does as He wills among the armies of Heaven and among the inhabitants of this lower world–
God is a King of power unknown;
Firm are the orders of His Throne!
If He resolves, who dare oppose,
Or ask Him why, or what He does?"
God has the right to act thus, first, because He is the source of all created existence. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and everything else that exists is the product of His creative power! As the writer of the 100 thPsalm says, “It is He that has made us, and not we ourselves.” So He has the absolute right to do with us whatever He pleases. It rested with Him to make us or not to make us. And when He determined to create, it was according to His own will that He made one creature a worm and another an eagle, one an ant crawling upon its little hill and another a leviathan making the deep to boil. It was by His decree that there were almost boundless variations among the great family of mankind. In constitution, disposition and temperament–in the very appearance of our bodies, in the strange diversities of our mental capacities, in our position upon the globe or our place and circumstances in any particular country and nation–we see traces of the Sovereign purpose and will of God. It is true that our ancestors, parents and surroundings have exerted certain influences upon us, but there are peculiarities about each one of us which can only be ascribed to the Sovereign good pleasure of God. That one should be a silent and unobtrusive traveler through life’s pilgrimage, and that another should be so eloquent as to speak in words that find an echo the wide world over–that one should sweat and toil all his days, and that another should be dandled upon the knee of luxury–we may say what we will about all this, but whether we agree with it or not, we cannot deny that it is according to Divine appointment and order and, therefore, we must submit to it–
The Lord is King; who them shall dare
Resist His will, distrust His care,
Or murmur at His wise decrees,
Or doubt His royal promises?
The Lord is King, child of the dust,
Holy and true are all His ways,
Let every creature speak His praise."
Not only do we believe that God being the Creator, has the right to make His creatures according to His own will, but we also believe that He has another right over us acquired from our sinful nature. We may say, though we speak it with bated breath in the Presence of His awful Majesty, that even creatures have their rights at their Creator’s hand. For instance, every creature may claim from its Creator that it should not be punished if it does not offend–and that it should be made happy if it is obedient to His commands. Such rights Jehovah has always acknowledged and has never violated. But you and I, dear Friends, have lost all the rights of creatureship, for we have all sinned! A subject of this realm has the right of freedom to go where he pleases and do what he pleases as long as he does not offend against the law of the land. But if he commits high treason, or robbery, or some other crime and so is brought under the condemnation of the law, he immediately loses all right to his freedom and is put in prison with other criminals.
Now the Law of God’s universe, a most equitable and just Law, runs thus, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” And we have all sinned–the sentence of death is recorded against every soul born of woman–and that any of us are still permitted to live is due to the clemency of the great King! Some of us, blessed be His holy name, have been pardoned by Him. And having been pardoned, we shall never again be condemned–but others are put off during their Majesty’s pleasure and that respite is an act of Divine Sovereignty. Had He executed the sentence pronounced upon us as soon as we had sinned, we might have bewailed His severity, yet we could never have impeached His Justice, for we should have deserved the utmost penalty that could have been demanded by His righteous Law! So that, by virtue of our sinnership, God has the right to punish us if He pleases to do so. But if He can consistently, with the principles of Eternal Justice, pardon us, He has the right do so! You noticed that I said, “consistently with the principles of Eternal Justice,” for God will never violate those principles. He can always do as He wills, but He always wills to do what is right and, by the Atonement of His dear Son, He has made a way by which He can satisfy all the claims of His inflexible Justice and yet can take infinite delight in bestowing His mercy upon the guilty! Then surely, as mercy is not only God’s prerogative as King, but also had to be so dearly bought by the precious blood of His well-beloved Son, we ought not to be backward in confessing that He has the right to bestow that mercy whenever He pleases. At all events, whether we believe it or not, this declaration is still thundered forth from the Throne of the Eternal, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
Observe then, three rights which belong to God–as Creator, as Judge, having the right to punish the guilty. And as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, having the right to pardon sinners and to do it without, in the slightest degree, violating His Justice. These are high Doctrines from which some turn away in despair. It is true that they are high, as high as the Throne of God Himself! When I think of them, I feel like the Prophet Ezekiel when he looked upon those wheels that were so high that they were dreadful. Yet, Beloved, as they are true, let us bow before them with awestricken spirits, yet with believing hearts knowing that the Judge of all the earth is certain to do that which is right!
Moreover, the Sovereignty of God is also displayed in His distribution of gifts among His own people–and surely He has the right to do this because the gifts are His own. If we could claim them as ours, they would not be gifts–they would be rightly due to us like anything else that belonged to us. If any man has a valid claim upon God for mercy, then it is not mercy that he should claim, but justice! If any man, by virtue of his own works, deserves to be saved, then salvation is of works and not of Grace–but this the Scriptures distinctly deny! If you come to God expecting to receive from Him spiritual gifts because of certain rights vested in yourselves, you come to Him on a footing that He cannot tolerate for a moment! He will say to you, “May I not do as I will with My own?” And He will give nothing to you who claim it as a right. But He will give all they need to those who come to Him confessing that they have no right to His mercy and entreating that it may be bestowed upon them through the riches of His Grace in Christ Jesus–
Justice upon a dreadful Throne
Maintains the rights of God
While mercy sends her pardons down,
Bought with a Savior’s blood."
I have thus reminded you of the Truth of God which is not only stated in our two texts, but is revealed in many other Scriptures–the Truth that “the Lord reigns.” As He reigns in Creation and Providence, so does He reign in the realm of His Grace. Taking the two texts together, I want, earnestly and affectionately, first to address the unsaved sinner. Andthen to speak to the saved Believer, endeavoring to invoke in each soul the twin emotions of rejoicing and trembling–“The Lord reigns, let the people tremble.” “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice.”
- So, first, LET ME SPEAK TO THE UNSAVED SINNER.
Sinner, it is an unspeakable mercy for you that the Lord reigns, for it is because He reigns that you are yet alive. IfGod were not King, the sentence of Justice must be executed swiftly, surely, mercilessly! And every sinner, the moment that he sinned, must die. But, Sinner, He who is King is very gracious and He says to the officer of Justice, “Spare that man. Let him live.” He has spared some of you thirty, forty, fifty, sixty–it may be even 70 years! You would not have spared any of your fellow creatures who had offended you as long as that. If a man provoked you to your face, your anger would wax hot against him long before 20 years! Some of you would not bear with him even for 20 minutes–yet youhave provoked the Lord year after year–but the long-suffering patience in the heart of God has borne with you even until now! He has said concerning you, again and again, “Spare him! Spare her!” When fever shot its hot darts at you, God turned them aside! And when the poison of disease was actually in your blood, He removed it with His healing hand. The Lord who reigns has spared you–therefore rejoice!
Yet tremble at the same time, Sinner, for this great King can as readily slay as He can spare. One turn of His hand, no, not as much as that–He need not even lift His little finger–He has but to will your death and then where would you be? He who has been so strong to spare can be just as strong to smite! He has not yet taken up the axe, but when once He lifts it and its sharp edge falls upon the tree that is still barren, what will become of it? “The Lord reigns; let the people tremble.” If He were to come to you tonight and lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, it would be all in vain for you to attempt to resist Him! The breath of your nostrils is so absolutely under God’s control that all the physicians in the world could not extend the lease of your life if He were to say to you, “This night shall your soul be required of you.” So tremble at the recollection that “the Lord reigns,” for you are as completely in His power as a moth would be in yours if you held it in your hand knowing that you could crush it any moment that you pleased!
Another instance of Divine Sovereignty which may cause you both to rejoice and to tremble, is this–God has sentthe Gospel to you. Think of this fact, my Hearer! There are millions upon millions of your fellow creatures who have never heard the Gospel and who are going down to their doom in utter ignorance of the great salvation! Their idol gods cannot save them. Their blocks of wood and stone cannot hear their cry of hopeless sorrow. But unto you is the word of this salvation sent! Many in this great London of ours are born and nurtured amid scenes of vice and iniquity–they never enter the House of Prayer and possibly even the voice of the street preacher never reaches their ears. But some of you heard the name of Jesus mingled with the hush of your first lullaby! You were dandled on the knee of piety, and carried even as a baby in the arms of earnest prayer. It is a most gracious Sovereignty that has accorded you such great privileges as these! It is the Lord, the Lord who reigns, to whom you owe all this! Therefore rejoice, yet tremble as well, for these high privileges involve corresponding responsibilities–and He will require of you a strict account of the way in which you have used these advantages which others have not possessed. One of these days He will make inquisition and will say to you, “I gave you light–did you rejoice in it? I sent the Gospel to you–did you listen to the joyful sound, or did you shut your ears to it and turn away from it with contempt and provoke Me to anger against you?” Besides, Sinner, although you are able to hear the Gospel, today, you may not be allowed to hear it tomorrow! Instead of the message to you being as it is today–“Believe and live,” tomorrow it may be–“Depart you cursed.” Instead of the entreaty being addressed to you as it is today, “Turn you, turn you, for why will you die?” Tomorrow the dread sentence may be pronounced by Jehovah the King, “Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me: for that they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would have none of My counsel: they despised all My reproof.” Mercy’s day lasts not forever! God’s Gospel shall not always be trifled with! You may for a time remember to listen to the loving, tender, wooing voice of the Savior, but I would have you remember that He will not always quietly submit to your rejection of His gracious invitations! Tremble, I beseech you, lest the music of the silver trumpet of the Gospel should give place to the harsh clangor of the knell announcing that you have been driven from the Presence of the King to that dread prison where the voice of love and mercy shall never be heard! Thus I bid you rejoice in your present privileges, but also tremble, lest if you do not prize them and use them aright, they may rise up in judgment to condemn you!
There are many in this place who may well thank the King for His Sovereign Mercy to them for they are the subjectsof the strivings of His Holy Spirit. There are many here who cannot listen to the Gospel without being, to some extent, impressed by it. They have been seen to shed tears because of their consciousness of sin– and there have been times when it has been exceedingly difficult for them to continue in the service of Satan. Some of you cannot sin with impunity as others can, and it has sometimes been a question with you whether you dare occupy these seats unless you resolve to give up your darling sins! Well, if the Holy Spirit has thus strived with you, thank God, for this is another instance of His Sovereignty! Yet remember how early in the history of mankind God had to say, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” In a moment the Sovereignty of God may take away all those melting and gracious influences! And do you know what would happen to you then? Your conscience would be seared as with a hot iron and your natural hardness of heart would be followed by a judicial hardness which would be still more terrible! You might then continue to hear the Gospel, but it would be as though it were being preached to the dead–you would sit in your pews and experience no more feeling than a row of statues could–and you would live only to walk away and forget that you had been listening to the Truth of God. I tremble as I look around upon some of you! I cannot help fearing that you have already reached this dreadful state and that God has said concerning you, “They are joined to their idols, let them alone.” I see some here who once made a profession of religion and who would even speak in God’s name, but they turned aside! Then they professed to repent, but afterwards turned aside again. And now no message ever seems to startle them. They have listened to the Gospel until they have become Gospel-hardened–that which should have been the means of their salvation has become the means of their damnation! That same Gospel which has been a savor of life unto life to many others, has become a savor of death unto death to them! Take heed, Sinner, for He who melts can harden–and if you have long resisted the strivings of the Spirit, it may be that the Lord will allow you to go on sinning unrebuked–until you have filled up the measure of your iniquity and received the due reward of your evil deeds!
Let me also remind those of you who are unconverted that you have a further proof of Divine Sovereignty in the fact that God has promised to hear prayer. There are many promises like these, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and youshall find: knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asks, receives; and he that seeks, finds, and to him that knocks, it shall be opened.” God in mercy invites you to come to Him–and this is a subject for heartfelt rejoicing–but it is also a cause of trembling, for the door of His mercy will not always remain open and, “when once the Master of the house is risen up and has shut the door and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us! He shall answer and say unto you, I know not who you are.” Tonight Jesus is lifted up in the preaching of the Gospel as once He was lifted up upon the Cross, and He bids us cry to you, “Look and live! Look and live,” for it is still true that–
There is life for a look at the Crucified One!
There is life at this moment for thee.
Then look, Sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree."
But if you refuse to obey the Gospel invitation, what must become of you? Surely Captain Execution, with the sharp axe in his hand, will come forth and take you to your well-deserved doom! If God were to deal with you according to your deserts, what hope would there be for you? Yet He bids you repent and He speaks to us as He said to Ezekiel, “Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn you, turn you from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” Isaiah’s message is still true–“Seek you the Lord while He may be found, call you upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him turn unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” Sinner, I am happy in standing here as the ambassador of my King–and yet while I rejoice, I tremble lest you should reject the message that He has sent to you in the greatness of His Grace, for my King is not to be trifled with–He deals severely with those who spurn His mercy! Nothing provokes Him more than slights cast upon His dear Son! To turn away from the blood of His atoning Sacrifice will bring down upon you the indignation of the Most High! Oh, venture not upon such a perilous course, but with those trembling lips of yours kiss the Son, trust in Him, depend upon Him and you shall find salvation now to the praise and Glory of God’s good Grace!–
Long the Gospel you have spurned,
Long delayed to love your God,
Stifled conscience, nor have turned
Wooed though by a Savior’s blood!
To a Savior’s blood apply–
He alone can make you whole,
Fly to Jesus, Sinner, fly!"
II. Thus have I spoken to sinners. Now I am briefly TO SPEAK TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD.
You “precious sons on Zion, comparable to fine gold,” look by faith to your King as He sits upon the Throne! And first, rejoice that you are His. It is the King who has saved you! Your pardon is signed by the royal hand–it would beworthless to you if it were not so signed! It is Sovereignty that puts the crown upon every other attribute of God! It is the King who has chosen you, the King who has saved you!
Yet, Beloved, while I bid you rejoice, I would have you rejoice with trembling while I suggest to you the question–are you sure that the Lord has saved you? I put the question to myself–My Soul, are you sure that the Lord has saved you? Have you made your own calling and election sure before exhorting others to seek the Lord? It is well for all of us to examine themselves and see whether we are in the faith or not. My Brothers on the platform, you who are officers in the Church, I evoke you to make sure work for eternity! You fathers in Israel, presume not upon your gray hairs, but search yourselves, or, better still, let each of us pray David’s prayer, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” You parents who have been for years members of the Church–and you young men and maidens who have not long joined our ranks–rejoice with trembling and each one of you pray, “O Lord, by Your Holy Spirit witnessing with my spirit, assure me that I am born to God!”
I have been thinking of these two texts in connection with ourselves who are members of this Church. What a notable instance of Sovereignty is exhibited in the usefulness of the members of this Church! Some of us have, in a very distinguished manner, been made the parents of spiritual children and our seed has become very numerous. Here is Sovereignty in which I, for one, do exceedingly rejoice! And there are Brothers and Sisters here who also rejoice in it. But I, for one, must tremble as well as rejoice. What if the Master should take back the power which He has up to now lent us? What if our preaching should become sapless and savorless to God’s people and lifeless and powerless to sinners? O my God, let me die before that should become my unhappy lot! I could never endure to live as some ministers seem content to do. To be a cumberer of the ground, to see no sign of God’s hand being made bare–oh, this would indeed be misery! May the Lord preserve us from ever having that sad experience! I trust, dear Brothers and Sisters, that you all feel that it would be far better for you to die as far as your bodies are concerned than to die in the sense of being no longer spiritually fruitful. Therefore, while we rejoice over the great blessing with which the Lord has so long enriched us, let us tremble lest we give Him cause to withhold it for the future! Unless we put every wreath of laurel upon the King’s own head, He will speedily withdraw any power with which He entrusted us–and we shall be as weak as Samson was when the Spirit of God had departed from him.
What a remarkable instance of Divine Sovereignty we have in this Church, itself, as well as in individual members of it! We were among the least in Zion, but the Lord has multiplied us greatly. Why is this? Why has He blessed us so wondrously and passed by others who scarcely ever hear the cry of a newborn convert? What other reason can we give than this–because it seemed good in His sight? Therefore let us rejoice, but let us also rejoice with trembling lest the Lord should take away from us such blessed experiences! Well do I recollect the words of that man of God who is now in Heaven–dear Mr. Jonathan George–at the opening of this building. Quoting Jeremiah 33:9, “They shall fear and tremble for all the goodness and for all the prosperity that I procure unto it.” He said that the more blessing and prosperity the Lord gave us, the more humble must we be–and the more anxious not to provoke Him to jealousy–or else He would take away His Presence from us. I trust that many of you, Beloved, cherish this holy anxiety lest we should grieve the Spirit and drive Him away from us. At all events, I know one who, without being unbelieving, is always very anxious that “Ichabod” (“the Glory is departed”) should never be written on these walls. What if the Lord should allow your zeal to grow cold, your doctrines to become unsound and your lives unholy? What if, instead of ardor there should be lethargy? Instead of love there should be bickering? Instead of harmony there should be division and instead of mighty wrestling with the Most High there should be sad contentions with one another? May these eyes be sealed in death before such a wretched state of things as that should come! And I know that many of you are saying, “Amen,” as far as you, also, are concerned! Yet all this is possible, for the King who gives can take away, and He who now blesses can withhold the blessing! And He will do it unless as a Church, we are faithful and true to Him. Go you now to the cities of Asia Minor where once the seven golden candlesticks brought such Glory to God, and how much light will you find there? Where is Pergamos? Where is Laodicea? Where are the Churches of Philadelphia and the rest? Have not the most of them ceased to be because they left their first love and turned back unto the world? If we have any Achans in the camp, we would not stone them, but we would pray for them–and we would plead with them to repent and turn again unto the Lord–lest the whole Church should suffer through them as Israel did through the sin of Achan.
This solemn Truth of the Sovereignty of God rests very heavily on my heart. Let it rest very heavily on yours, also, so that together we may rejoice because of all the goodness that the Lord has bestowed upon us and, at the same time, let us tremble lest we should in any way provoke Him to anger and cause Him to withdraw His Presence from us, and say to us, “I will work no more through you, but I will leave you to your own devices that you may find out what you can do when I have gone away from you.” God forbid that this should ever happen to us!
Now as we come to the Table of our Lord, let us come with deep solemnity remembering that there is Sovereignty here, also. The observance of this ordinance may be very dull and dreary to you–or God make it a time of most blessed fellowship with Him and with one another. The means of Grace are not always equally profitable to us. The pipes are always golden, but the holy oil does not always flow in our direction. There is blessing to be had at all times, but you cannot always get it. Ask the King to give you Divine Grace to recognize His right to give or to withhold the blessing–and then plead with Him, for Jesus' sake, to remember you for good! God grant that it may be so, for His dear name’s sake! Amen!