Sermon 367. The Great Supreme
A SERMON DELIVERED ON SABBATH MORNING, SEPTEMBER 28, 1856, BY THE REV. C. H. SPURGEON, AT EXETER HALL, STRAND.
"Ascribe you greatness to our God." Deuteronomy 32:3. OUR God is one God. He is none other than the Infinite Jehovah who of old spoke unto His people, and revealed Himself bythat marvelous incommunicable name-the name Jehovah! And yet though He is one God, we are taught in Scripture that He is oneGod in three most glorious Persons. While we rightly believe in the unity of the Godhead, and are so far Unitarians, we believethere are three Persons in one God, and thus we are Trinitarian Unitarians. We believe that the Father is God, and we ascribeunto Him greatness, for we believe that He made the world, and settled the pillars thereof. We believe that He fashioned theuniverse, and that He moves the starry orbs through space. We look up to the wondrous depths of a shoreless night, and wesee the starry fleet sailing alone, and we believe that God is their Captain. We look still further and as by the aid of sciencewe discover the void illimitable, we believe that God dwells there, and is the Infinite Creator and Preserver of all thingsthat exist and subsist. We ascribe greatness unto Him, the Creator and the Protector of the world. We equally believe thatJesus Christ, who is God Incarnate in the flesh, is very God of very God. We conceive the work of our Redemption to be asDivine a work as that of Creation. We consider that the miracles He did partly furnish us with, the abundant proofs that Hemust have been none other than God. We behold Him rising by His own might from the tomb. We see Him standing at the righthand of God, making intercession for us. We expect with joy His Second Coming. We look forward to the Day of Judgment, whereinHe shall hold the great Assize of nations. And for these reasons, believing Him to be God, we ascribe greatness unto JesusChrist, the Surety of the better Covenant. And as for the Holy Spirit, believing that the work of Conversion is as great aseven that of Redemption, or creation, we believe Him to be the Everlasting God. We see Him so described in Scripture, thatwe dare not speak of Him as an influence, as a new emanationfrom the Deity; but we conceive Him to be a Person as very Godof very God, as is the Father, so is the Son. We solemnly subscribe to the creed of St. Athanasius, that though there arenot three Gods, but one God, yet there are three Persons in the glorious Trinity in unity of the everlasting Jehovah, untowhom belong the shouts of the universe, the songs of angels, and the ascription of our united praise. Our God, then, is tobe understood as Father, Son, Holy Spirit! One God whom we adore-and the words of Moses apply to the God of Christians aswell as to the God of Jews-"Ascribe you greatness to our God."
I shall use the text, first, as a caution; secondly, as a command. I shall be but brief upon each particular, for my strengthI feel may speedily fail me, but I trust in God to make some impressions on our hearts.
I. First, then, I shall use it as A CAUTION.
Inasmuch as Moses has said, "Ascribe you greatness to our God," we believe that he intended thereby to hint to us that weought to ascribe greatness to none else. If greatness is to be ascribed to God, then none of God's creatures may in the leastshare the honor of that mighty attribute ofgreatness! Now as there are many who violate this Truth of God, and need this caution, they must allow me, if any of themare here, to caution them.
First, then, the man who trusts his salvation in the least degree to priests or pope, or any dignitary of any church, violatesthis great command-"Ascribe you greatness to our God." If I bow my knee before a saint; if I worship a created being; if Iseek the intercession of any save the onePerson who is ordained to be the Mediator between God and man, the Man, Christ Jesus, I do in that degree derogate fromthe greatness of God! Some think not. They suppose that by using some influence with the Virgin Mary, or with the saints,these may also be induced to plead withGod. No, they consider it to be honorable to employ some ambassador, seeing they conceive themselves to be unworthy to goto God with their own suit, and do not think Christ to be an all-sufficient Mediator to go for them! We reply that howeverhumble they may think it on theirpart; however they may really and honestly suppose that they are magnifying God Himself; it be- comes them to know this-thatthey are not doing homage to His greatness in supposing that a saint is more merciful than God/In imagining that a saint shallhave more influence with Godthan His own Son, I suppose that His heart is not tender enough to be open to my cry without the use of influence-whichis to say the very least of it-throwing some slur on the Infinity of His mercy, and detracting in no small degree from thebenignity of His Grace. God has oneMediator because man needed it! He has no more mediators because neither God nor man requires any! Christ is All-Sufficient.You do need a Mediator between yourselves and God, but you need none between yourselves and Christ. You may go to Christ justas you are, with all yourfilthiness, with all your sins, for He came to save you from what you now are, and to make you a people for Himself whoshould show forth His praise. Detract not, then, from the Glory of His Grace by bowing down before others, and asking themto intercede for you!
I remember a singular anecdote which sets out very clearly the absurdity of the intercession of the saints. Some of you mayhave heard it before, but as many of you may not, I will tell it again. A good English farmer had a landlord who resided inIreland. On a sudden the bailiff raised his rent sotremendously that the poor farmer could by no means pay his way, and was getting entirely ruined. He therefore applied tothe bailiff to have the rent taken down to a fair average. After applying scores of times, he got no answer, and he was verynear destruction. He applied toother persons whom he supposed to have influence with his landlord; but he made no way at all, and was as ill-treated asbefore. So doing what he had quite a right to do, he just went over to Ireland and called to see his lordship of whom he hadtaken the farm. He was shown in tohim, and explained that he had taken the farm at a rent which he held to be fair to himself and to his landlord, and thatthen he had made a living, but that on a sudden the bailiff unaccountably raised the rent, so that he was nearly ruined. "Mygood friend," said the landlord,"why did you not come before? I don't wish that any man should be ruined through me. Let the rent be taken down to anythingyou think fair." "But," said the man, "I spoke to your bailiff; I did not dare to come to speak to a gentleman like you.""Oh," he said, "farmer, you are verywelcome." But before the farmer left, he took him to see a chapel where there were all sorts of pictures. The farmer wasrather startled, and asked to know what they meant. "Why," said the landlord, "these are the priests, and these are the saints.I put up my prayers to them, andthen they intercede with Jesus Christ on my behalf." The farmer laughed. The landlord asked him why, and he said, "I wasthinking it could be a pretty bit of business; it would be doing very much the same as I did. I went round to your bailiff,and to your friends, and I never gotany redress till I came to yourself, Sir. So you may go round to all these very fine ladies and gentlemen you call saints,and I believe you will never get much from them, till you go to the Lord, Himself, and present your petition direct to Him.And if you do, I believe you willhave a very good chance of success." This is a singular British-like mode of illustration, but it is sufficient, I think,to put aside the idea of going to saints in order to intercede with God! The fact of worshipping saints, of trusting my salvationin the hands of men, andthinking that any persons can forgive my sins, is to my soul, abhorrent beyond abhorrence, and hideous beyond horror! Weshould "ascribe greatness to our God"-to Him and Him alone!
Very possibly, however, what I have said of that matter will be agreed to by all of you, and the arrow will fly into otherbreasts than yours. Allow me, therefore, to make the remark that in Protestant countries there is still a very strong tendencyto priest-craft. Though we do not bow down andworship images, and do not professedly put our souls into the hands of priests, yet, I am sorry to say it, there is scarcelya congregation that is free from that error of ascribing greatness to their minister! If souls are converted, how very pronewe are to think there issomething marvelous in the man! And if saints are fed and satisfied with marrow and fatness, how prone we are to supposethat the preacherhas something about him by which these wondrous things are done! And if a revival takes place in any partof the vineyard, it matters not in whatdenomination, there is an aptness in the human mind to ascribe some part of the glory and the praise to the mere human agency!Oh, Beloved, I am sure every right-minded minister will scorn the thought! We are but your servants for Christ's sake; wespeak to you, by God's Grace, whatwe believe to be God's Truth-but ascribe not to us any honor or any glory! If by anything a soul is saved, God from firstto last has done it! If your souls are fed, thank the Master! Be respectful and grateful to the servant as you can be, butmost of all thank Him who puts theWord into the mouths of His servants, and who applies it to your heart. "Oh, down with priest-craft!" Even I, myself, mustdown with it! Down with it!" If I, like Samson, fall beneath its roof, let me fall myself and be crushed, well content inhaving pulled down or contributed toremove one solitary brick in that colossal house of Satan! Take care, Friends, that you put no honor upon any man that youought to have ascribed unto your God. "Ascribe you greatness to our God."
There is, too, in our land of freedom, somewhat of a tendency to ascribe greatness to kings and mighty men. We are, most ofus, professedly democrats. We generally talk democratically when we get together. But there is not an Englishman who is muchof a democrat after all. When we get by a noblelord, how we do look up to him, as if he were some angel come down from on high! How we defer to the man who bears a title,and whatever he might state, we should have scarcely the honesty to tell him the truth, because he added, "Duke," or, "Lord,"to his name! Why, my Friends, inthis world we seldom judge men as to character; we judge them as to rank The poor and honest man goes through the streets-willyou crowd to see him? A man wears a crown who is a perjurer-and will you not rush out and clap your hands at him? You judgeaccording to rank, and notaccording to character! Would God we all knew how to judge men not according to the sight of our eyes, or the hearing ofour ears, but according to the rightness of their characters! Oh, honor the Queen; God has said so in his Word. Pay deferenceunto authorities as you should do;but if in anything they swerve, remember your knee must bow to God, and to God alone. If in anything there is anything wrong,though it should have a sovereign's name attached to it, remember, only one is your Master, one is your King, "King of kingsand Lord of lords." Ascribe notgreatness unto emperors and monarchs-"Ascribe you greatness unto our God," and unto our God alone!
In the case of those who are in the employ of masters, it is but just and right that they should render unto their mastersthat which is their due. But when the master commands that which is wrong, allow me solemnly to caution you against givingto him anything which you are not bound to do. Yourmaster tells you, you must break the Sabbath. You do it because he is your master. You have violated this command, for itis said, "Ascribe you greatness unto God" You are tempted in your employment to commit a fault; you are commanded to do it.You are irresolute; you waver for amoment-you say, shall I obey God or man? At last, you say, "My master said so, I must obey him, or I shall lose my job."Remember you have not ascribed greatness unto God when you say that! Rather say this-"In all things that are right, I am theservant of all men; but in thingsthat are wrong, I will not yield. I will stand up steadfast for God's right and for God's commands. Men may be my masterswhen they tell me to do the thing that is honest, and the thing that is just, but if in anything they swerve from that, Iwill not break my heavenly Master'scommand! He is more my Master than they-I will stand firm and fast by Him." How many young men are tempted from the paththey ought to pursue by those who exercise influence upon them? How many a young woman has been turned aside from rectitudeby some command which has been givenher by a person who had influence over her? Take care that you allow no man to get dominion over your conscience! Remember,you will have no excuse at the Day of Judgment; it will be no palliation of your guilt to say that you were commanded by manto do wrong, for God will reply toyou-"I told you to ascribe greatness to Me, and to Me only, and inasmuch as you obeyed man rather than God, you have violatedMy command." "Ascribe you greatness to our God." Take that caution-believe it-and receive it in your daily life, and in yourdealing with great andsmall.
This text has a bearing upon certain philosophic creeds which I will just hint at here. Some men, instead of ascribing greatnessto God, ascribe greatness to the laws of Nature, and to certain powers and forces which they believe govern the universe.They look up on high; their eyes sees themarvelous orbs walking in their mystery along the sky; they take the telescope and peer into the distance, and they seeyet more marvelous orbs, some of them of fire, and others of a structure they cannot understand. And they say, "What stupendouslaws are those which govern theuniverse!" And you will see in their writings, that they ascribe everything to law, and nothing to God. Now, all this iswrong! Law without God is nothing! God puts force into law, and if God acts by laws in the government of the material universe,it is still the force of God whichmoves the worlds along, and keeps them in their places! Law without God is nullity. Reject every philosophy that does notascribe greatness to God, for there is a worm at the root of it; there is some cancer at its heart, and it yet shall be destroyed!That and that alone shallstand which ascribes "greatness unto our God."
II. So far by way of caution. Now by way of COMMAND. "Ascribe you greatness to our God."
This command comes to the sinner when he first begins seriously to consider his position before God. My Friend, you have neverthought of Heaven or of Hell until this moment, except it is a casual thought which is offensive to you. You are now in God'sHouse, and perhaps you are inclined to thinkof your own position. You remember that you are standing upon a narrow neck of land between two unbounded seas-
"A point of time, a moment's space May land you in yon heavenly place. Or shut you up in Hell."
I hope you are asking yourself, "How can I be saved?" I beseech you in the very outset of that question take this for yourguide-"Ascribe greatness to our God." By this I mean when you look at your sins, ascribe greatness to God's Justice. Do notdo as some who say, "It is true, I have rebelledagainst God, but then very likely He will not punish me." Be not as some who suppose that God's Justice is such a thingof willow, that it can easily bend to justify without satisfaction, and pardon without Atonement. Remember this as undoubtedTruth of God, that our God is verygreat in justice. Solemnly I assure you from God's holy Word that He is Just, that He will by no means clear the guiltyunless they are cleared by Jesus Christ. If you have sinned but one sin, God will punish you for it! If you have sinned butone hour, that one hour will damn yoursoul despite all your repentance and all your good works-unless the blood of Jesus Christ shall take the sins away! Remember,God cannot pass by sin without expressing His displeasure, and either on your shoulders, or else on those of Christ, the lashmust fall-for fallsomewhere it must! God must punish every sin; He must punish every crime; and unless you have confidence that Christ sufferedfor you-remember He is very great-the whole of His wrath, every drop of the shower of His anger must fall on your poor helplesshead, and every word ofHis awful curse must sink deep into your inmost heart! He is a very great God! He is not like the little kings of earthwho sometimes pass by sin without punishment; but He is severely Just, and strict towards all offenders. He says, "I wilpunishyou for your sin." "The soul thatsins, it shall die." Start with that, then, when you begin to think of being saved.
Next to this, addressing the sinner who is already convicted of this sad and solemn thought, let me say, "Ascribe greatnessunto our God"-that is, to His Mercy. My Friend, you are sensible that you are guilty; conscience has had its work with yoursoul; you are certain that if God is Just, Hemust punish you. You are well aware He cannot pass by your iniquities without exhibiting His wrath concerning them. Maybeunder a sense of guilt you will cry, "My sins are too great to be pardoned." Stop! Stop! Put Jesus Christ's blood upon them,and my life for yours, my soul foryours, they are not too great! Instead of ascribing greatness to your sin, ascribe greatness to our God! Remember, if incoming to God as a penitent, you think that His Mercy is little, you dishonor Him; if you suppose that the blood of Christis not capable of washing out yourblackest crime, you dishonor the glorious Atonement of Christ! Whenever you doubt, you defraud God of His honor, for rememberHe has said it, "Him that comes unto Me, I will in no wise cast out." Come, poor Sinner, and ascribe greatness to God's Mercy!Believe that His arms arewide-believe that His love is deep; believe that His grace is broad-believe that He is All-Powerful to take away your vilestsin, and wash you of your crimson guilt. "Ascribe greatness to our God." Be convinced of His great Mercy, you seeking soulswho want Christ, and know notwhere to find
Further let me appeal to the Christian. "Ascribe greatness to our God." You are in trouble, dear fellow-laborers; you arewearied with the hardness of your journey; your poverty has got hold of you; your troubles are multiplied and increased. Itis a dark night with you just now; you see not yoursins; you have no sweet promise to light upon-no cheering Word to reassure your poor desponding heart. Come, here is a textfor you-"Ascribe you greatness to our God." Great as your troubles are, remember He is greater! If the darkness is very thick,remember the mountain standsas firm at night as in the day! And when clouds girdle His Throne, yet they never shake its basement-
"Firm as the earth His promise stands, And He can well secure What you commit into His hands, Till the decisive hour."
Never think your trials are too huge for Him. Take them to Him; cast them on the Lord; trust Him with them all; His everlastingshoulders, that, like Atlas, bear the world, did never totter yet, nor shall they! Cast the whole roll of your troubles atHis door-He will relieve you! Take the wholebundle of your sorrows, cast them at His feet-He can take them all away! And when the devil tempts you to believe that Godcannot help you, tell him that you think better of Him than that; you ascribe greatness to the Almighty, and you believe Heis great enough to deliver youfrom all your sorrows. Perhaps just now you are engaged in prayer; you have been for weeks and months agonizing at the Throne;you have had but little success there. Well, as you go to the Mercy Seat, take this with you "Ascribe you greatness to ourGod." We often get but littlefrom God because we think Him a little God; we ask very little of God at times, and there- fore we get little. He who inprayer believes God to be great, and asks of God as if He were great, shall be certain to get many mercies from Him! Little-Faithgets little answers, butGreat-Faith believes God's greatness and says-
"I am coming to a King, Large petitions I will bring! For His Grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much!' Thus in prayerascribe greatness unto God! Do you ask a hundred? Ask a thousand! Have you askeda thousand? Ask ten thousand! Oh, I beseech you never stint for faith, nor stint for desire. God has said, "Open your mouthwide, and I will fill it." Remember the king of Israel. The Prophet came to him and gave him the bow and arrows. He said,"Shoot with the bow and arrows." And he shot once or twice, and then he stayed his hand. And the Prophet said, "You shouldhave shot again and again, and then you would have smitten all the Assyrians until you had destroyed them." Even so does God!When He gives us faith, He puts the bow and arrows into our hands. Oh, do not smite once or twice! Smite many times, and youshall smite your sins until you have destroyed them! Draw the long bow of prayer-shoot your arrow as far as ever you can;ask for nothing small-in small petitions, you suppose Him to be a small Giver. Ask greatly, and He will give greatly! "Ascribeyou greatness to our God." But I hope you are today engaged in duty. You have the duty thrust upon you by Providence whichyou do not flee from. Like Jonah you are half a mind to go to Tarshish instead of going to Nineveh, for you are afraid yourstrength will never bear you up in so huge a labor as that which has fallen to your share. Stop! Pay not your fare to Tarshish,else winds shall pursue you. Believe this- "Weak as you are, Yet through His might, All things you can perform!"
And believing, go forward; go forward and stop at nothing! If God should call me to break the Alps in sunder, let it pleaseHim to give me faith. I believe He would give me strength to do it. If God were to call you, as He did Joshua, to stop thesun in its course, and seize his golden bridle, andbid his coursers stay their hasty race, you would have strength enough to do it! "Ascribe you greatness to our God." Iflike Luther, you had to brave the Vatican, and breast the storm, if God intended you for the work, He would give you Graceto stand in it! And if your trial shouldbe one of persecution, if you are called to the stake, you need not fear to march boldly to it, and embrace it-for He whocalled you to die, will give you dyingGrace, will give you burningGrace-so that you shall endure in the midst of hideous torments,and terrific pains!"Ascribe you greatness to our God." Yes, greatness made more great in the midst of creature weakness
And now, to close, there is one point I wish to urge upon your attention tonight. Wherever I go, it is the almost universalcomplaint that the former times were better than now. Everywhere it is the solemn conviction of Christians that the Churchis in a very wrong position; go where you please,you will hear one confession, one doleful, lamentable groan, that the Church is cold and lifeless! Not dead, but Laodicean-andI believe that Laodicea is the most correct picture of the Church at the present moment. We are neither hot nor cold, andChrist is angry with us. Whereis the zeal-the zeal of Whitefield? Ah, where are the men who weep for perishing sinners? Where are the ministers who weepfor souls as if they were full of life or death? Where are the Baxters, now, whose knees shake when they climb their pulpitstairs because they feel howsolemn is their position, and whose cheeks are glittered with tears because they know the doom of perishing sinners, andlong to snatch them from the fire? Where are your Rowland Hills, now, who descend to common language to reach the common people?Yes, and where are your prayingmen, and praying women? There are many of them-but where are those who pray with all their hearts as if they meant it? Ah,Heaven knows, the Church is just now where it ought not to be! But, oh, Christians, sit not down in despair! Think not thatGod has given us over. "Ascribeyou greatness to our God." In the very worst of times, God can bring us out again! In the times of Arius, when the worldwas gone aside to disbelieve the Divinity of Christ, God provided an Athanasius who in bold, stern language put to flightthe Ari-ans and stood up for God! Whenthe world had gone aside to Pelagianism, He found an Augustine who uttered the words of Grace, and delivered the world fromthat mesh of errors. When the Church had gone into foul delusions, there was the monk found who shook the world-the Lutherto proclaim the Truth of God! Andwhen the Doctrines needed purity, there was the Calvin to cast salt into the troubled craters, and make them calm and limpid,so that man could see to the very bottom!
And when in later times, the Church ofEngland, and the Church in England had sunken very low, all men said God had given upHis Church; there were found six young men in the college of Oxford. God only knows how they got there, and how they wereconverted. Those six-Wesley and Whitefield being ofthe number-awakened the world again from its dark and long slumber! And when we had relapsed again, God found the successorsof Whitefield-the Romains, the Topladys, the John Newtons, the Rowland Hills-men like Christmas Evans, like John Berridge!These came to bear thestandard of the Lord, and to support His Truth. And mark you, now, God has got the man somewhere! Yes, the MEN somewhere,and they will yet come out. There will be a shaking one of these days; the men shall yet come to move the Church once more;we shall not forever sleep; we shallnot forever lie still; there will be a revival throughout this land, I do believe, such as our fathers never saw! The timesshall come when the heavens shall give ear and shall hear the call, and shall send down rain, when the earth shall blossomwith righteousness, and the heavensshall drop with dew. For that time we all heartily pray, for the time we earnestly wait. "Ascribe you greatness to our God."
To my own Church and people, only one word and then farewell. My Friends, we also are about to engage in an enterprise forwhich I fear we are not quite competent. But remember God will provide for us. Often on my bed do I toss restlessly by nightto know what is to become of all these people.Where is my Church to be housed, and where my congregation to be gathered? And but last night in unbelief I thought it nevercould be that such a place could be built. But ah, always "ascribe you greatness to God." Let us attempt great things, andwe shall do great things. Let ustry at them and, God being with us, we shall do them yet! If I had cared to preach in fine and gaudy language, I might,perhaps, have done it; but I have cared only to speak just as common people do. I often tell tales that shock propriety-Ishall do it again! I often do thingsthat others condemn me for-I shall do still worse, God helping me! If I can but win souls by them, I am not to be dauntedby any opinion whatever; if heirs of Heaven are snatched from Hell, I shall rejoice to have done it by any means in the world!Well, then, if I am ever to havethe poor around me, then will I trust in God, in His poor, and in His Church, that they will yet raise a tabernacle whereHis name is to be honored! Lay it to your hearts and if you think it is God's work, go about it with faith and with vigor."Ascribe you greatness to our God."
Oh, you who hate my God; you who despise Him, the day is coming-perhaps tomorrow shall be the day when you shall "ascribegreatness to my God;" for you shall feel His great foot upon your loins, and His great sword shall cut you in two; His greatwrath shall utterly devour you, and His great Hellshall be your doleful home forever!
May God grant it may not be so, and may He save us all, for Jesus' sake. Amen.