A Sermon Delivered On Sunday Morning, February 15, 1880, By C. H. Spurgeon, At The Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington. *1/10/2013
He who is our God is the God of salvation; and to God the Lord
belong the escapes from death. But God shall wound the head of his
enemies, and the hairy scalp of such a one as still goes on in his
trespasses. [Ps 68:20,21]
For other sermons on this text:
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 1523, “Royal Prerogative, The” 1523]
[See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 3493, “Daily Blessings for God’s People” 3495]
Exposition on Ps 68 [See Spurgeon_Sermons No. 2662, “Some Marks of God’s People” 2663 @@ "Exposition"]
1. Whatever may be said of the Old Testament times, however dimly it may have revealed certain truths, there was one matter about which it was clear as the sun. Under the Old Testament economy the Lord God of Israel is always most conspicuous. God is in all, and over all; and from the pages of the prophets, as well as from the lips of the temple choirs, we hear the note loudly sounding out, “The Lord shall reign for ever, even your God, oh Zion, to all generations. Hallelujah!” By priest and prophet, saint and seer, the one testimony is borne, “The Lord reigns.” You cannot read the Book of Job without trembling in the majestic presence of the Almighty; nor can you turn to the Psalms without being filled with solemn awe as you see David, and Asaph, and Heman adoring the Lord, who made heaven and earth and the sea. Everywhere, from Abraham to Malachi, man is of little account, and God is all in all. Very little consideration is given to any imagined rights and claims of man, but wonder is expressed that the Creator should be mindful of him. We read no discourse upon the dignity of human nature, or upon the beauty of human character; but only God is holy, and when he looks from heaven he sees no one who does good, no, not one. Man is rolled in the dust from which he sprang, and to which he must return; all his pride is cut down, and his beauty is withered, and over all is seen one God, and no one else besides him.
2. It will be a great offence if, coming into the brighter light of the New Testament, we are less vivid in our conceptions of the glory of God. If God should be less clearly seen in the person of our Lord Jesus, than he was under the symbols of the law, it will be the fault of our blinded hearts. It will be bad for us to turn day into night, and like owls to see less because the light is increased. Let it not be so among us, but let it be in our churches as in Israel of old, of which it was said, “in Judah is God known; his name is great in Israel.” “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in times past to the forefathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son,” and by him as the incarnate Word he has revealed himself with a sevenfold splendour, and therefore it should be our soul’s great delight to perceive God in all things, to rejoice in his presence, and to magnify him in all things as King of kings and Lord of lords.
3. The Psalmist in this particular case ascribes to the Lord universal action and power over us, for he ascribes to him the mercies of life and the escapes of death. He says, “Blessed be the Lord who daily loads us with benefits.” The Lord heaps up his favours until their number loads the memory, and their value burdens the shoulders of gratitude. He gives us so many mercies that the mind is burdened in endeavouring to calculate their worth we are overwhelmed with a sense of his goodness, and the consciousness that we cannot return any adequate thanks for such abundance of daily grace. Such is our God in life, and what will he be in death? Shall we be without him there? No, blessed be his name, “To God the Lord belong the escapes from death.” His kingdom includes the land of death, and all its borders. We shall not die without his permission, nor without his presence. Though temporal mercies will find their end when life ends, yet there are eternal mercies which throughout eternal life shall reveal the goodness of the Most High; and meanwhile by rescues, recoveries, and escapes we shall be preserved from prematurely descending to the tomb. If any of you, dear friends, have been brought near to the gates of death, if you have been laid low by wearisome sickness, if your heart has sunk within you in a kind of mental death, you will in coming back to health and strength most heartily bless the Lord who finds for us a way of return from the suburbs of the sepulchre. He is not only the God of life but the God of death; he keeps us in life, and makes life happy; he keeps us from death and from the fierce agencies which wait to drag us to the grave. There are escapes from the dark borderland of sickness, and peril, and despair, and the Lord leads us by his own right hand to cause us to escape. Does he not say “I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring my people again from the depths of the sea?” We must, and we will praise him for this with a new song.
4. I gather from our text that death is in the hand of God, that escapes from death are displays of his divine power, and that he is to be praised for them.
5. The outline of this morning’s discourse, as indicated by the text, is just this: first, the sovereign prerogative of God, “To God the Lord belong the escapes from death”: secondly, the character of the sovereign with whom this prerogative is lodged, “He who is our God is the God of salvation”: and then, thirdly, the solemn warning which this great sovereign gives in reference to the exercise of his prerogative; the words are weighty, may the Holy Spirit cause us to feel their power — “God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such a one as still goes on in his trespasses.”
6. I. First, then, with deep reverence let us speak upon THE SOVEREIGN PREROGATIVE OF GOD — “To God the Lord belong the escapes from death.”
7. Kings have been accustomed to keep the power of life and death in their own hands. The great King of kings, the sovereign Ruler and absolute Lord of all worlds reserves this for himself, — that he shall permit men to die, or shall give them an issue from death at his own good will and pleasure. He can equally create and destroy. He sends his Spirit and they are created, and at his own pleasure he says, “Return, you children of men,” and lo! they fall before him like autumn’s faded leaves.
8. The prerogative of life or death belongs to God in a wide range of senses. First of all as for natural life, we are all dependent upon his good pleasure. We shall not die until the time which he appoints; for our time of death, like all our time, is in his hands. Our skirts may brush against the portals of the sepulchre, and yet we shall pass the iron gate unharmed if the Lord is our guard. The wolves of disease will hunt us in vain until God shall permit them to overtake us. The most desperate enemies may waylay us, but no bullet shall find its billet in any heart unless the Lord allows it. Our life does not even depend upon the care of angels, nor can our death be accomplished by the malice of demons. We are immortal until our work is done, immortal until the immortal King shall call us home to the land where we shall be immortal in a still higher sense. When we are most sick, and most ready to faint into the grave, we need not despair of recovery, since the escapes from death are in Almighty hands. “The Lord kills and makes alive: he brings down to the grave and raises up.” When we have passed beyond the skill of the physician we have not passed beyond the help of our God, to whom belong the escapes from death.
9. Spiritually, too, this prerogative is with God. We are by nature under the condemnation of the law on account of our sins, and we are like criminals tried, convicted, sentenced, and awaiting execution. It is for God, as the great Judge, to see the sentence executed, or to issue a free pardon, according as he pleases; and he will have us know that it is upon his supreme pleasure that this matter depends. Over the head of a universe of sinners I hear this sentence thundering, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Sentenced to death, as men are by reason of their sins, it rests with God to pardon whom he may reserve; no one has any claim to his favour, and it must be exercised upon mere prerogative, because he is the Lord God, merciful and gracious, and delights to pass by transgression and sin.
10. So, too, does the Lord deliver his own believing people from those “deaths oft” which make up their experience. Though we are in Christ Jesus delivered from death as a penalty, yet we often feel an inward death, caused by the old nature, which exercises a deadening influence within us. We feel the sentence of death in ourselves that we may not trust in ourselves, but in Jesus, in whom our life is hidden. It may be that for a time our joys are dampened, our spiritual vigour is drained away, and we hardly know whether we have any spiritual life left within us. We become like the trees in winter, whose substance is in them but the sap ceases to flow, and there is neither fruit nor leaf to betray the secret life within. We scarcely feel a spiritual emotion in these sad times, and dare not write ourselves among the living in Zion. At such times the Lord can give us back the fulness of life, he can restore our soul from the pit of corruption and cause us not only to have life but to have it more abundantly. The escapes from death are with the quickening Spirit, and when our soul cleaves to the dust he can revive us again until we rejoice with unspeakable joy.
As the climax of all, when we shall come actually to die, and these
bodies of ours shall descend into the remorseless grave, as probably
they will, in the hands of our Redeeming Lord are the escapes from
death. The archangel is even now waiting for the signal: one blast of
his trumpet shall suffice to gather the chosen from all lands, from
the east and from the west, from the south and from the north. Then
death itself shall die away, and the righteous shall arise
From beds of dust and silent clay
To realms of everlasting day.
“I am the resurrection and the life,” says Christ, and he is both of these to all his people. Is he not life, for he says, “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die?” Is he not resurrection, for he says, “He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live?” That bright illustrious day in which the saints shall rise with their Lord will show that how to God the Lord belong the escapes from death.
12. Our translation is a very happy one, because it bears so many renderings, and includes not only escape from death, deliverance from condemnation, revival from spiritual death, and the lifting up from deadly mental depression, but recovery from death’s direct havoc, by our being raised again from the tomb. In all these respects the Lord Jesus has the key of death; he opens and no man shuts, he shuts and no man opens.
13. Concerning this prerogative we may say, first, that to God belongs the right to exercise it. This right springs, first, from his being our Creator. He says “all souls are mine.” He has an absolute right to do with us as he pleases, since he has made us, and not we ourselves. Men forget what they are, and boast great things; but truly they are only as clay on the potter’s wheel, and he can fashion them or can break them as he pleases. They do not think so, but he knows their thoughts, that they are vain. Oh the dignity of man! What a theme for a sarcastic discourse! Just as the frog in the fable swelled itself until it burst asunder, so does man in his pride and envy against his Maker, who nevertheless sits upon the circle of the heavens, and considers men as though they were grasshoppers, and regards whole nations of them as the small dust of the balance. The Lord’s prerogative of creation is obviously widened morally by our forfeiture of any consideration which might have arisen out of obedience and rectitude if we had possessed them. Our fault has involved forfeiture of the creature’s claims, whatever they may have been. We are all tainted with high treason, and each one of us has been guilty of personal rebellion, and therefore we do not have the rights of citizens, but lie under the sentence of condemnation. What does the infallible voice of God say? “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them” we have come under this curse; justice has pronounced us guilty, and by nature we remain under condemnation. If then the Lord shall be pleased to deliver us from death it rests with him to do so, but we have no right to any such deliverance, nor can we urge any argument which would avail in the courts of justice for a reversal of sentence or a stay of execution. Before the bar of justice our case must go hard if we set up any plea of right. We shall be driven away with the disdain of the impartial Judge if we urge our suit upon that line. Our wisest course is to appeal to his mercy and to his sovereign grace, for there alone is our hope. Understand me clearly: if the Lord shall permit us all to perish we shall only receive our just deserts, and none of us has the slightest claim upon his mercy: we are therefore absolutely in his hands, and to him belong the escapes from death.
14. This right of God to save is further revealed by the redemption of his people. It might have been said that God had no right to save if by saving he would abridge his justice; but now that he has laid help upon one who is mighty, and his only-begotten Son has become a victim in our place, to magnify the law and make it honourable, the Lord God has an unquestionable right to deliver his own redeemed from death for whom the Substitute has died. Our God saves his people in consistency with justice: no one can question his doing right even when he justifies the ungodly. His right and power over the escapes from death are in the case of his own blood-bought ones clear as the sun at noonday, and who shall dispute with him?
15. Our text, however, puts the prerogative upon the one sole ground of lordship, and we prefer to come back to that. “To God the Lord belong the escapes from death.” It is a doctrine which is very unpalatable in these days, but one nevertheless which is to be held and taught, that God is an absolute sovereign, and does as he wills. The words of Paul may not be allowed to sleep, — “Indeed, but oh man, who are you to reply against God? Shall the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ” The Lord cannot do amiss, his perfect nature is a law to itself. In his case Rex is Lex, the King is the law. He is the source and fountain of all right, truth, rule, and order. Being absolutely perfect within himself, and knowing all things, it is not possible for him to do otherwise than right. He is goodness, truth, and righteousness itself, and therefore the prerogatives of his throne are not bounded, and to the Lord of heaven and earth belong the escapes from death.
16. Enough with regard to that matter of right. I go on to notice that the Lord has the power of this prerogative. With him is the ability to deliver men from natural death. Jehovah Rophi is a physician who is never baffled. Medicines may fail, but not the great Maker of all plants and herbs and useful drugs. Study and experience may be at a nonplus, but he who fashioned the human body knows its most intricate parts, and can soon correct its disorders. God can restore when a hundred diseases are upon us all at once. Take courage, you fainting one, and look up. Certainly, as for the soul, there is no case of man so far gone that God cannot find an escape out of its death. He can cast out seven demons, and a legion of diabolical sins. To God the Lord belong the escapes from death, however foul the sin, and however forlorn the condition caused by transgression. He who raised Lazarus from the grave after four days can raise the most corrupt from the grave of their iniquities. Oh that awakened sinners would believe this!
17. I remember reading of an aged minister who had for many years fallen into deep despondency. He gave up his pulpit, and kept himself very much alone, always writing bitter things against himself. At last, when he was on a sickbed, a servant of God was sent to him, who dealt wisely with him. This good man said to the despairing one, “Brother, do you believe that passage, ‘He is able also to save those to the uttermost who come to God by him?’ ” “I believe it,” he said, “with all my heart, but I am convinced” — Here the other stopped him, “I do not ask what your convictions may be, nor what your feelings may be, but I come to say to you, the man who trusts that promise lives.” This plain declaration of the gospel was made by the divine Comforter the means of supreme consolation to the despairing one; may it be equally useful to all those who hear it. He who can hang his soul’s hope upon the infinite ability of Christ to save is a saved man. He who believes on him has everlasting life. What a blessing this is! The devil may tell me that I never can escape from deserved death, and that I am shut up for ever under the just results of my trespasses; my own conscience knowing my undeservingness may also condemn me a thousand times over; but to God the Lord belong the escapes from death, and he can and will snatch me from between the jaws of death since I believe in him. He is able to bring up those whom he ordains to save even from the utmost depths of despair. The absolute right of God is supported by almighty power, and so his prerogative is made a matter of fact.
18. Nor is this all, the Lord has actually exercised this prerogative in numerous cases. As for those escapes from death which are seen in restoration from sickness, I need not remind you that these are plentiful enough. At times these have come in a miraculous form, as when Hezekiah had his life lengthened in answer to prayer, and when many others were healed by the Saviour and his apostles. Life has been preserved in a lion’s den, and in the belly of a fish, in a fiery furnace, and in the heart of the sea. Death has no arrow in his quiver which can harm the man whom God ordains to live. Out of imminent peril the Lord still delivers in the ordinary course of providence, and there are people present this morning who are proofs of his interposing power. He has raised some of us from prostration of body and depression of spirit, he has rescued others from shipwreck and fire in very exceptional ways, and here we are, living to praise God, as we do today.
19. God has exercised this prerogative spiritually. In what a myriad of cases has he delivered souls from death! Ask those white-robed hosts in heaven, “Has God not displayed in you his sovereign power to save?” Ask many here below, who have tasted that he is gracious, and they will tell, “He saved me.” According to his mercy he has issued a free pardon, signed by his royal hand, saying, “Deliver him from going down into the pit, for I have found a ransom.” Why his sovereignty has interposed to rescue us from death we cannot tell. We often ask, “Why was I made to hear his voice? How was it that I was to live?” But we are silent with grateful wonder, and invent no answer. Divine will, backed by divine power, worked out the sovereign purpose of love, and here we are, saved from so great a death by invincible love.
20. Yes, indeed, to God the Lord belong the escapes from death. Come, then, brothers and sisters, let him have all the glory for it. If you are alive after a long sickness, bless the Lord, who forgives all our iniquities, who heals all our diseases. If you are saved from condemnation this morning, and know it, bless the Lord, who accepts us in the beloved. If you feel at this moment that the death of sin has no dominion over you, for the life of grace reigns within, then bless the Lord who has quickened you into newness of life. Glorify his name today, who in love for your soul has delivered you from the pit of corruption, and cast all your sins behind his back. Once more, if you have a glorious hope of a blessed resurrection, and feel that you can smile on death because God smiles on you, then bless the Lord who will raise you up at the last day. Your Redeemer lives, and you shall live because he lives, therefore clap your hands with holy glee. Bless the all glorious name of him to whom belong the escapes from death.
21. II. So I have explained the prerogative; and now, secondly, follow me with your thoughts while I show THE CHARACTER OF THE SOVEREIGN in whom that prerogative is vested.
22. We cannot upon this earth exhibit much love for human princes who claim absolute dominion. Imperialism is not agreeable to our mind. Among the worst curses that have ever fallen upon mankind have been absolute monarchs: nowadays men shake them off as Paul shook off the viper into the fire. May the Lord grant we may see the last of all despotic dynasties, so that the nations may be free. We cannot endure a tyrant, and yet if we could have absolutely perfect despots it might be the best possible form of government. Assuredly, the great and eternal God, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, is absolutely perfect; and we may be well content to leave all prerogatives and vest all powers in his hands. He has never trampled on the rights of the lowliest, nor forgotten the weakest. His foot does not needlessly crush a worm, nor does he beat down a fly in caprice. He has never done a wrong, nor performed an injustice. We oppress each other, but the Judge of all oppresses no one. The Lord is holy in all his ways, and his mercy endures for ever; and the amplest prerogatives are safely placed in such hands.
23. Our text yet further tells us who it is in whose hands the issues of life and death are left: “He who is our God is the God of salvation.” Sinner, your salvation rests with God, but do not therefore be discouraged, for that God with whom the matter rests is the God of salvation, or of “salvations,” for so the Hebrew has it. What do we mean by this?
24. The Scripture means, first, that salvation is the most glorious of all God’s acts. Since this world was made, the working out of salvation has run through history like a silver thread. The Lord made the world, and lit up moon and stars, and set heaven, earth, and sea in order, with his eye upon salvation in the whole arrangement. He has ruled all things by his supreme government with the same purpose. The great wheels of his providence have been revolving these six thousand years before the eyes of men, and among them, and at their back, a hand has been ever passing to conduct every movement to the ultimate issue, which is the salvation of the covenanted ones. This is the object which is dearest to Jehovah’s heart. He loves best to save. God was pleased with creation, but not as he is with redemption. When he made the heavens and the earth it was every day work to him, and he merely spoke and said, “It is good”; but when he gave his Son to die to redeem his people, and his elect were being saved, he did not speak with the prosaic brevity of creation, but he sang. Is it not written, “He shall rest in his love, he shall rejoice over you with singing?” Redemption is a matter which Jehovah sings about. Are you able to imagine what it must be for God to sing? For Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to burst out into a joyous hymn over the work of salvation! This is because salvation is dearest to God’s heart, and in it his whole nature is most intensely engaged. Judgment is his strange work, but he delights in mercy. He has displayed many attributes in the accomplishment of other works, but in this he has laid out all his being. He is seen in this as mighty to save. Herein he has bared his arm. For this he has taken his Son out of his bosom. For this he has caused his Only Begotten to be bruised and put to grief. Salvation is the eternal purpose of the innermost heart of God, and by it his highest glory is revealed. This, then, is the God to whom belong the escapes from death: the God whose grandest design is salvation. Sing to his name and exalt that the Lord reigns, even the Lord who is my strength and my song, who also has become my salvation.
25. Ask again what this means — “He who is our God is the God of salvation,” and we remind you that the most delightful works which the Lord has performed have been works of salvation. To save our first parents at Eden’s gate, and give them a promise of victory over the serpent, was joy to God. To house Noah in the ark was also his pleasure. The drowning of a guilty world was necessary, but the saving of Noah was pleasant to the Lord our God. He destroyed the earth with his left hand, but with his right hand he shut in the only righteous ones he found. To save his people is always his joy: he goes about it eagerly. He rode upon a cherub and flew, yes, he flew upon the wings of the wind when he came to deliver his chosen. What noise he makes about his saving work at the Red Sea! The whole Scripture is full of allusions to the great salvation out of Egyptian bondage, and even in heaven they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb. The Old Testament seems to ring with the note, “Sing to the Lord for he has triumphed gloriously, he has thrown the horse and his rider into the sea.” The Lord greatly rejoiced to make a way through the wilderness, and a path through the depths for his own people, so that he might work salvation for them in the midst of the earth. Afterwards in the Old Testament how well they keep the records of salvations! They tell us about the kings who oppressed the people, but how lovingly they linger over the way in which God redeemed Israel from her adversaries. What a note of joy there is about Goliath slain, and the son of Jesse bearing his gory head, and Israel delivered from Philistia’s vaunts! Well did they say, “He who is our God is the God of salvation.” He takes delight in deeds of grace: these are his enjoyments. These are his recreations. He comes out in his royal robes and puts on his crown-jewels when he rises to save his people, and therefore his servants cry aloud, “Oh bless our God, you people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard; which holds our soul in life, and does not permit our feet to be moved.” This then is the God in whom is vested all sovereignty over the escapes from death. He takes pleasure, not in the destruction, but in the salvation of the sons of men. Where could the prerogative be better placed?
26. “He who is our God is the God of salvation,” also means that at this present time the God who is preached to us is the God of salvation. We live at this moment under the age of mercy. The sword is sheathed, the scales of justice are laid aside. Those scales are not destroyed, and that sword is not broken, nor even blunted, but for a while it slumbers in its scabbard. Today over all our heads is held out the silver sceptre of eternal love. The angelic carol, first heard by shepherds at Bethlehem, still lingers in the upper air, if you have ears to hear it, — “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” The mediatorial reign of Christ is that of multiplied salvations. “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” is the saving proclamation of the reigning God. The God of the Christian age is the God of salvation. He is presented before us as coming to seek and to save the lost. He dwells among us by his abiding Spirit, not as a Judge punishing criminals, but as a Father receiving his wandering children to his bosom, and rejoicing over them as once dead but now alive again. God in Christ Jesus, our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, is he, who quickens whom he wishes, and is ordained to give eternal life to as many as the Father has given to him. Where else could all power be more safely vested?
27. Once more: “He who is our God is the God of salvation” means this, that to his covenanted ones, to those who can call him “our God” he is especially and emphatically the God of salvation. There is no destruction for those who call him “our God,” for “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. “This God is our God for ever and ever, he will be” — our destroyer? — no, “he will be our guide even to death.” This God is our sun and shield, and he will give grace and glory. Now, notice well this fact: we who believingly call the Lord our God this morning will tell you that we are saved entirely through the sovereign grace of God, and not through any natural betterment of our own, nor through anything that we have done to deserve his favour. It was because he looked upon us with pity and kindly regard when we were dead in sin that therefore we live. When we were lying in our blood, and in our filthiness, he passed by in the time of love, and he said to us, “Live.” If he had passed by, and left us to die, he would have been infinitely just in doing so, but his heart was otherwise inclined. He looked on us and said “Live,” and we lived, and we bless his name that we are still living, and praising his eternal and infinite mercy. He who says “I kill and I make alive, I wound and I heal,” is he who has quickened us, though we were dead in trespasses and sins. Surely, he who has exercised his prerogative so kindly towards us may be trusted to exercise it towards all who come to him according to his gracious invitation. If there is any man who says, “I rejoice in the election of God, because, although he has saved me, he has left others to perish,” I desire to have no sympathy with his spirit. My joy is of a far different kind, for I argue that he who saved such an unworthy one as I am will cast out no one who comes to him by faith. His election is not narrow, for it comprehends a number that no man can number, yes, all who will believe in Jesus. He waits to be gracious, and he who comes to him he will in no wise cast out. The wedding feast needs countless guests, and every seat must be filled. We wish that all the human race would come and accept the provisions of infinite love, and we are anxious to go into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in. We rejoice to know that if any man is shut out from Christ and hope he shuts himself out, though at the same time we feel that if any man is shut in he did not shut himself in, but undeserved grace accomplished his salvation. Justice rules in condemnation, but grace reigns in salvation. In salvation we must ascribe all to grace, absolutely and unreservedly. There must be no stammering over this truth. Some begin to say grace, but they cannot pronounce the word: they stutter it into “free will.” This will never do. This is not according to the teaching of Holy Scripture, nor is it in accordance with fact. If there is any man here who thinks that he has been saved as the result of his own will, apart from the powerful grace of God, let him throw his cap up in the air, and magnify himself for ever. “Glory be to my own good disposition!” But as for me, I will fall at the foot of the throne of God, and say, “Grace reigns through righteousness to eternal life by Jesus Christ. Had you, oh God, left me to my own free will, I would have still continued to despise your love, and to reject your mercy.” Surely, all the people of God agree that this is the fact in their own case, however they may differ theoretically from the general statement.
28. Yes, the prerogative of life and death is in good hands, it is in the hands of him who is the God of our salvation, and I beseech everyone here present who is not saved to be encouraged to bow before the throne of the great King, and sue for mercy from him who is so ready to save. Go home and try to merit salvation, and you will waste your efforts. Go about to prepare yourself for mercy, and to fashion some good that may attract the attention of God, and you will fool yourselves, and insult the majesty of heaven: but come just as you are, all guilty, empty, meritless, and fall before the great King, whom you have so often provoked, and beseech him by his infinite mercy to blot out your transgressions, to change your natures, and to make you his own, and see if he will cast you away. Is it not written, “There is forgiveness with you, so that you may be feared?” And again, “He who comes to me I will in no wise cast out.” His throne is a throne of grace. Mercy is built up for ever before him. He is the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plentiful in mercy. Did ever a penitent sue for pardon at his sovereign feet to be rejected? Never; nor shall such a case happen while the earth remains. If you try to purchase his favour you shall be refused; if you claim it as a right you shall be rejected; but if you will come and accept salvation from the divine charity, and receive it through the atonement of Christ Jesus, the Lord will find for you an escape from death. Hear the witness of Jeremiah, and be encouraged to cast yourself before the Lord: — “I called upon your name, oh Lord, out of the low dungeon. You have heard my voice: do not hide your ear at my breathing, at my cry. You drew near in the day that I called upon you: you said, ‘Do not fear.’ Oh Lord, you have pleaded the causes of my soul; you have redeemed my life.”
29. III. Our last duty is to hear THE SOLEMN WARNING OF OUR SOVEREIGN LORD.
30. A new god has been recently set up among men, the god of modern Christianity, the god of modern thought, a god made of honey or sugar of lead. [a] He is all leniency, gentleness, mildness, and indifference in the matter of sin. Justice is not in him, and as for the punishment of sin, he does not know it. The Old Testament, as you are, no doubt, made aware by the wise men of this world, takes a very harsh view of God, and therefore modern wisdom sets it aside. Truly, one half the word of God is out-of-date, and turned to waste paper. Although our Lord Jesus did not come “to destroy the law or the prophets,” but to fulfil them, yet the advanced thinkers of these enlightened times tell us that the idea of God in the Old Testament is a false one. We are to believe in a new god, who does not care whether we do right or wrong, for by his arrangement all will come to the same end in the long run. There may be a little twisting about for a while for some who are rather incorrigible, but it will all come right at last. Live as you like, go and swear and drink, go and oppress the nations, and make bloody wars, and act as you wish; by jingo you will be all right at last. This is roughly the modern creed which poisons all our literature. But let me say, by Jehovah this shall not be as men dream. Jehovah, the Judge of all the earth, must do right. The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob is the God of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: he shall be called the God of the whole earth. He has not changed one bit in the stern integrity of his nature, and he will by no means spare the guilty. Read, then, the last verse of our text, and believe that it is as true today as when it was first written, and that if Jesus himself were here, the meek and lowly one would say it in tones of tearful solemnity, but he would utter it none the less. “God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such a one as goes on still in his trespasses.”
31. It is clear from these words that God is not indifferent to human character. Our God knows his enemies, he does not mistaken them for friends, nor treat them as such. He regards iniquity as a trespass, and therefore he has not broken down the bounds of law, nor the hedges of right: there still are trespasses, and God perceives them, and records them, and such as go on in their trespasses are trying his longsuffering and provoking his justice. God does not sleep, neither does he wink at human sin, but calls upon all men everywhere to repent.
32. And it is clear too that God has the power to strike those who rebel against him. Do not dream of natural laws which will screen the wicked — “He shall wound the head of his enemies.” They may lift up those heads as high as they please, but they cannot be beyond the reach of his hand. He will not merely bruise their heels, or wound them on the back with blows which may be healed, but he will aim fatal blows at their heads, and lay them in the dust. He can do it, and he will. They may be very strong, and their scalp covered with hair may indicate unabated strength, but they cannot resist omnipotence. There may be no sign as yet of the baldness which comes from weakness, or of the scantiness of hair which is a sign of old age, but vain are those who boast in their vigour, for in their prime he can cause them to wither as the grass of the field. The proud may vaunt themselves regarding their beauty: their hairy scalp, like that of Absalom, may be their boast, but just as the Lord made the hair of Absalom to be the instrument of his doom, so he can make the glory of man to be his ruin. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. No man is out of the reach of God, and no nation either. The great ones stand on high upon their lofty places, and they talk about the “common crowd,” and despise the godly of the land. As for foreign nations, how lightly are they esteemed, though one God has made them all. Populations and nations, what are they? Mere food for powder when a proud nation is set upon its own aggrandizement. Overturn their kingdoms, slaughter their patriotic defenders, redden the earth with blood, burn their houses, starve their women and children. Does God know, and is there judgment in the Most High? We are a great people, and have the men, the ships, and the money. Who shall call us to account? Yet let the still small voice be heard. Thus said the Lord to a great nation of old, “You have trusted in your wickedness: you have said, ‘No one sees me.’ You have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else besides me.’ Therefore evil shall come upon you; you shall not know from where it rises: and mischief shall fall upon you; you shall not be able to avoid it: and desolation shall come upon you suddenly, which you shall not know.” From such chastisements good Lord deliver us.
33. When the Lord does put his hand to the work of vengeance his striking will be terrible, even an utter overthrow, for it will he a striking upon the head. If he does not strike his enemies until the hour of death, what a blow will they then receive! They boasted about their self-righteousness, or about their greatness; but, oh, what terror will seize them when at the last moment, while they dream of heaven they are struck down into the unfathomable deep, where woe shall be the everlasting reward of their daring rebellion against their King! Warriors of olden times would when they went to battle often shaved off all their hair, except those locks which are on the hinder part of the scalp; yet when they turned to flee it frequently happened they were grasped by their pursuers by their flowing hair. God does not often take the wicked by the forelock, for he has great patience, and bears with them. In special cases, as when young men through dissipated habits hasten on their doom, he takes them in front; but as a rule he waits in mercy, and yet he does not permit them to go unpunished, for at the last he seizes their hairy scalp. If for fourscore years infinite patience should permit a man to continue in his rebellion, yet if he goes on in his trespasses at the very last God shall thrust his hand into his hairy scalp and grasp him to his destruction.
34. Turn, then, you who do not know God, turn at his rebuke this morning, for the rebuke is meant in love; and if I have used harsh words it is because my heart is honestly anxious that you would repent and escape to him who has in his power the escapes from death. I am not like those flatterers who tell you that there is a little hell and a little God, from which you naturally infer that you may live as you like. Both you and they will perish everlastingly if you believe them. There is a dreadful hell, for there is a righteous God. Turn to him, I entreat you, while he still sets mercy before you in Christ Jesus. He is the God of salvation, and entreats you to come and accept his great grace in Christ Jesus.
35. May the Lord bless this word according to his own mind, and to him be praise for ever and ever. Amen.
[a] Sugar of lead: In old terminology, applied (with qualification) to certain compounds resembling sugar in form or taste. OED.