Online Text Sermon - The Glory of God, Exodus ch.15 v.11
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The Glory of God|
|Text||Exodus ch.15 v.11|
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"Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Exodus 15, 11).
In these words spoken by Moses, and possibly also by the children of Israel after the Exodus experience, we have a description of God: "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?" (text). It is concerning God that this description is given. The doctrine of God is the most important doctrine of all. That is obvious because without God there is nothing else. The being of God and the way we think of God determines everything about our lives in this world; it is an all-determining view. More than everything else that the Bible teaches, it is important that you and I should have a right view of God. All the beauty, and all the glory, and all the excellence of this world - even at its best - is but a pale reflection of the glory and the beauty and the excellence which is in God Himself. If one Christian differs from another, it is at this point, that some understand the character of God more perfectly than others do. If there is one ambition we should have more than any other as Christians it is this, that we may come more and more perfectly in this life to understand who and what God is. These words of Moses and of the children of Israel in my text are, therefore, to us, a pointer to this great truth, where they say, "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (text).
1. THE UNIQUENESS OF GOD
The first thing I want to bring to your attention as we consider these words is that God is absolutely unique. There is nothing to which you can adequately compare God. When Moses says here, "Who is like unto thee, O God," (text) he means to tell us that God is infinitely above all beings, infinitely better than all the creatures put together - better than a million worlds would be. This brings us therefore to consider who and what God is. "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods?" (text).
The first thing Moses tells us here is that God is glorious. You see that? - "glorious," he says, "in holiness" (text). God is glorious first of all in His essence or in His substance. Both those words are used to describe something about God. The essence of God, or substance of God, refers to that respect in which God is One. The Bible tells us in many places, "The Lord our God is one Lord" (as in Deut. 6, 4) - there is but one God. He is one in this respect, that His essence is one, His substance is one and the Divine Being is one. He is not divided as we are into body and parts and passions. We are made up of many parts - hands, fingers, legs, head, body - but God is not like that. He has no body, no parts, no passions; He is not divided up in any way like that. He consists of one spirit. "God," says Christ, "is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4, 24). That refers, when he speaks of the Spirit, to the essence or substance of God.
That essence or substance of God is, first of all, immense; it is infinite in its extent. It fills heaven and earth, and God is everywhere present. There is nowhere in all existence of which you could say God is not there. He fills all existence repletively - He is infinitely present everywhere. The whole divine essence of God may be said to be filling all heaven and all earth. But not simply that: He is infinitely greater than all heaven and all earth; He transcends all heaven and all earth. So that the God who is said here to be glorious is glorious not only in that He is in control of all things that happen, but He is infinitely greater than all. The Scriptures, when they compare the universe to God, say it is like the small dust of the balance; it is like when a woman is measuring the ingredients to make a loaf of bread or a cake and a crumb or two of flour falls on the table accidentally - well, says the Bible, the universe of sun and moon and stars and all the galaxies may be compared to this crumb or this grain that has fallen off the scales. The whole universe compared with God is as nothing, so immense is God; we use the term 'ubiquity' meaning He is everywhere present. He is in His being present throughout the entire universe: He is as much here as He is in heaven; He is as much in hell as He is in heaven but in different ways. In heaven He is visible, here not visible; in hell known as the God of terrible justice, in heaven known as the God of infinite goodness, grace and love.
That is the essence of God; we say that He is glorious - "glorious in holiness" - and eternally blessed. Nothing changes concerning the essence of God. He does not have moods or periods in His experience in which He is different from what He is at other times. You and I are so different. One day we are well, the next day not so well - we can never predict. God does not fluctuate, He does not vary and there is no shadow of turning. God cannot suffer in any way. You cannot diminish His blessedness, His happiness or His perfect satisfaction with His own glory because God is unchangeably glorious in His essence or in His substance; that is the respect in which God is One.
One of the greatest wonders imaginable is that the God who is One is also Three - we refer to the Three as his 'Persons'. We sometimes use another word, the word 'hypostasis', which is an important word to know: the hypostases of God or the Persons of God - Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. The God who is one in essence is three in Persons. It is impossible to try to understand that. You cannot with all the effort and meditation that you may muster, understand that; it is a transcendental mystery which will only be understood by us, if at all, in eternity to come, in a better world. Our minds cannot take it in. When you meet a person it is one person but when you meet God He is One and yet Three; He is Three and yet He is One. We refer to God in terms of the relationship of these three Persons, the one to the other, and we must understand it like this: there is within the Being of God what we call his 'internal works' as well as his external works.
The external works of God are things that we very well understand - His creation, His making all things of nothing in six days - but before God created the world there was something happening within God which is not the result of His will but which is essential to His very Being and which is constitutional; something which does not happen because He desires it to happen but because He is the God that He is. We refer to these wonderful things as the 'inter-Trinitarian' relationship of the Persons. The Bible tells us that the Father eternally begets the Son, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and from the Son. So the Father's distinct work is what we call His work of giving being to the Son, the Son's distinct work is receiving His being from the Father and the Spirit's work is receiving His being from the Father and from the Son. This is something which has no beginning and will have no end and I believe it will be the sublime glory of heaven, that there we shall see something of this unspeakable mystery - the God who is One, also three in Persons, equal in glory. We must not put the one above the other. We must not put the Father above the Son or above the Spirit. Each is equally God - the Father possesses the whole divine essence, the Son possesses the entire divine essence and the Spirit also; each Person of the Godhead has the entire essence of God belonging to Himself, and yet each is a distinct Person. You see at once our minds are stuck; we cannot go farther; we can only define it and state things. But these indeed the Scriptures show to be the internal works of God.
I want to make a practical point about this God of whom Moses says He is "glorious". I want to say to you, my beloved friends, that God is a perfect example of how we should think of one another as Christians and how we should speak of one another as Christians, with consummate love. Whenever the Persons of the Godhead in Scripture refer to one another they do so with the highest respect. When the Father speaks to, or of, His Son, He speaks like this: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3, 17). You see the respect? When the Lord Jesus Christ refers to His Father, He can say something like this: "My Father is greater than I" (John 14, 28). When Christ refers to the Holy Spirit He can say this: "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men" (Matthew 12, 31). On the other hand, of the Holy Ghost it is said, "he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself" (John 16, 13). You see the mutual love between the Persons of this great and glorious God? Each Person loves the other with perfect love and speaks of the other with utmost respect. That is how we, as Christians, should speak of others; they of course are not absolutely perfect in holiness as these Persons are, but, nonetheless, this is the way we should speak. We should speak with love and with kindness, with generosity and with respect, in reference to all those who are the Lord's people. It is a perfect example of the way in which we are to speak of one another.
2. THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
Moses says God is glorious in holiness, in his essence and in his Persons. But this is also true of what we call the 'attributes of God'. The attributes of God are the qualities of his character - what sort of God is He? What sort of character has God? In answering that, we have to speak of the qualities of God and the qualities of God themselves are glorious. There are, first of all, what we may refer to as His 'intellectual qualities'. God of course has a mind, a perfect mind; He is the only Being who knows everything. His mind is capacious. He knows everything and He knows it to perfection. He knows all that is and all that will be; He knows all that was; He forgets nothing except by a voluntary activity of His own will whereby He chooses to forget the sins of those who repent of them and turn to Christ - but that is a different thought. However, He forgets nothing essentially and He knows everything all the time. His eye sees the end of history as well as the beginning. Every moment He is guiding all the universe to its predestined end. He knows the end from the beginning because His mind is absolutely perfect. Therefore his wisdom is absolutely perfect - He knows the adaptation of means to ends in such a way as to bring about the highest good to all that He is doing, and that is what He will do.
He will bring all his people to glory, to the highest glory. He will make us to be "more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Romans 8, 37). He will ensure that not a single one of those who are His could possibly be lost. He will make certain that all the enemies of the people of God, like Pharaoh and his horsemen, are drowned as it were in the Red Sea of God's wrath and judgement. He will ensure that every one of those for whom Jesus died will get through the problems of life. That is because of the knowledge of God and the wisdom of God, whereby he confounds all His enemies and brings His purposes to pass inscrutably so that no one can challenge what He does. He himself goes forward conquering and to conquer, always above circumstances and working through the worst of circumstances to bring the best of things about.
The perfect example of this is the cross of Christ. Of all the things which you and I would regard a calamity, none is as great as the death of the Son of God. Yet God brought about the highest possible good through that calamitous event of the death of Christ, as we might otherwise think it would be. Not only so, but He brought it about by means of His enemies. Those who executed the will of God in bringing about Christ's death were those who hated God. They were his enemies -Satan, first of all, and the powers of darkness, and those who were gross unbelievers in the days in which our Lord lived - His enemies: Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and all the rest of them - these are the very ones. The Scriptures tell us that "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2, 23), Christ was crucified and slain, who is salvation to the entire world. It is this God whose mind and wisdom is so overarching of all the circumstances that occur in this life that he overrules all evil for good for those who are His own people. This is His great wisdom.
In addition to the intellectual qualities of God - His intelligence and also His wisdom - we speak of the moral attributes of God; these are the most exquisite of all. These are the highest of all: justice and love - these two. If we have to have a balanced view of God we must always hold the two together. God is infinite in His justice and infinite in His love and this is why God cannot forgive sin without a basis upon which to do so. Many unbelievers challenge God at this point and say, "Why does not God simply forgive everyone's sin and wipe the slate clean?" They might use analogies like this: African countries are very poor and they are up to their eyes in debt and European and American countries sometimes are able to say, "Here's the writing on the slate; we'll just wipe the debt clean and forget about it." Why doesn't God do that with sin? The answer is because God is absolutely just and His justice forbids that He should forgive sin except on a just basis. It would dishonour God if He were to forgive sin without there being grounds upon which He can justly forgive sin. That is the answer, therefore, why God, although a God of love, does not simply forgive the sins of all mankind at a stroke. He does not and He cannot, my dear friends - we must understand that; constitutionally He cannot forgive sins like that. The way we are to think of the justice and mercy of God is that God must punish sin but He may - He may - forgive it. He may pardon it. He is obliged to punish evil but He may, on the other hand, forgive it on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. He must punish the sins of those who do not trust in Christ because that is His own holy nature. If you want a proof of this, I shall give it to you.
If you ask, "How can I prove God is so just that He cannot forgive sin without a just basis for doing so"; I will prove it at once without any hesitation. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane was perfectly innocent of any sin of His own but the sins of the world were imputed to Him, as you well understand. In the Garden our Lord said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee: take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt" (Mark 14, 36). The cup represented His suffering for our sin. It represented the damnation which you and I ought to have drunk, and which He as our substitute drank for us. If anyone was worthy to have sin forgiven Him - that is to say imputed sin forgiven Him - it was Christ. If anyone deserved to have it said of Him, "He is sinless and He should not suffer for the sins of others," it was Christ. Yet - here is the proof - not even the sins of men when imputed to Christ could be so forgiven that He would not be made to suffer. God, says Scripture, "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8, 32). There is the proof that God is so determined by His own character that He cannot forgive sin except on a just basis, and it is the wonder of His love that He has provided a just basis.
This is very offensive to unbelievers. It is very offensive to many Bible scholars who I presume in many cases are unbelievers. They argue like this: "If God is a God of love then He can forgive." But He cannot; not only that He will not - He cannot! He cannot forgive without denying His own holiness and His own justice. So what God has done in the wonder of His grace is, in love He has provided a basis whereby "he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus" (Romans 3, 26). That is the glory of the cross. That is why the cross is altogether the most wonderful exhibition of the goodness of God, the love of God and the grace of God. There a propitiation is set forth which you and I can receive and believe in. The moment we do, all our sin is blotted out - instantaneously. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4, 10). You see, that's the answer to those who say that if God is a God of love He can wipe the slate clean. He cannot and He will not, because his nature determines that all sin must be punished.
This is the folly and the blindness of the unconverted sinner. He flatters himself that all will be well in the end. He hopes, without any ground of hope, that when he leaves this world and meets his Maker, God somehow is going to be forbearing towards him. Let me make it clear, my friends, God is forbearing. God is full of patience, full of longsuffering and grace - but only in this world. All the longsuffering and patience of God terminates the instant the soul passes from time to eternity. That brings me to say something about the glorious patience of God.
The patience of God is an attribute which is peculiar; it is distinct and different from all the others in one important respect: all the other attributes of God will have their exhibition in eternity as well as in time. In eternity to come angels and, much more, redeemed sinners will bless God for His goodness and for His mercy. They will sing His praise. In eternity to come the church will eternally bless God for His love, grace and goodness - of course they will. But it is only in this life that there is such a thing as the patience of God. It is only in this life that longsuffering exists in God. It is something which is able to be exhibited before men only during the course of history. As soon as the curtain comes down on history at the end, all longsuffering is over and all the patience of God is finished. That is why God exhibits His patience so much; that is why he glorifies His patience so much in this life. It is because once eternity comes there will be no opportunity to display his patience. It will then be all wound up. In eternity there will be only eternal love for the church and eternal justice for the wicked in their terrible state.
My dear friends, think of God always like this: He is a God of holiness. "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (text). That brings me to speak about holiness.
The holiness of God is not just another attribute. The attributes of God are wisdom, power, sovereignty, justice, goodness, truthfulness and many others. But holiness is something that belongs to all the attributes of God: His love is holy love; His justice is holy justice. Everything about God is holy. That is why, when we see the seraphim before the throne of God in heaven, they veil their faces before his holiness and they cry out, saying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts" (Isaiah 6, 3). Everything about God is holy: His essence is holy; His Persons are holy; His attributes - every one of them - are holy; His works are holy. This is the way the Bible puts it.
If there is one word that has gone out of fashion in our time, it is this word 'holy'. Who on earth ever refers to it any more, and yet this is the essence of God Himself. You see the godlessness of the days in which we live - the very thing of which it is full - this holiness is the thing that no one seems to talk about any more. Yet this is the excellence of God, and this is the excellence of true religion - that it makes a holy people. The importance of the Gospel is not to make us filled with knowledge - although knowledge is good. It is not to fill us up like schoolchildren cramming for an examination - although it is good to have as much knowledge as you can acquire. But the height of all religion is to make holy men and women, who are different from this world and like God - visibly like God. This is the whole function of preaching and of worship and of prayer meetings, to make men and women like God. This is the amazing thing about the best of our forefathers. People would see a man like M'Cheyne and say, "Sir, you're no ordinary man." Do they say that to me? Do they say that to you? Do they say, "Sir, you're different from others. Why?" If we were more like God, more people would say, "Why are they like God? We are going to have a look and see what makes these people so different. Why are they different from the rest of the world? They don't use unclean language; they don't go to unclean places. You can see it in their characters, their being, and their demeanour. A holiness is upon them; the beauty of God is upon them."
This is the thing about God which the sinner and the devil hate. The sinner does not simply hate God for his power - although that is bad news for sinners. He doesn't simply hate God because God has authority and sovereignty - although all of that the sinner does hate. But the thing which is the quintessence of the sinner's hatred, the thing which he most hates about God, is that He is holy. That is what cuts into the consciences of men and they like to attack that. Remember how the demons spoke to Christ? A man passed before Christ who was demon-possessed and Christ commanded the demon to come out, and the demon said this: "What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8, 29). You see what terrorised them? - "thou Son of God": His uniqueness as one of the Persons of the great and glorious Godhead.
To revise: in thinking of God we must always balance His love with His justice. This is where the modern world has gone astray. It has failed to see the justice of God for what it is. This is where most churches - and even some evangelicals - are going astray today. They are not making enough of the justice and holiness and righteousness of God. This is reflected in the style of worship; it is reflected in many aspects of their lives and ours. We are all affected and infected by it.
There is another possibility. We so emphasise the holiness and justice of God that we lose sight of His love. Another form of imbalance, if you like, is what went wrong in the Middle Ages before Martin Luther came along. When Martin Luther was a young man the teaching about God and about Christ in the church of that day was this: that God is terrible, that God is severe, and Jesus Christ is ready to kill people - a sword comes out of his mouth to slay the wicked. They were terrified of Christ because that was their impression of Him - terror and judgement and wrath and curse! To find some refuge from this situation they flew into the arms of the Virgin Mary. Mary was the one who could intercede with Jesus on our behalf. See what lay behind it? It was a failure to balance the characteristics of God or the attributes of God - justice, and also love.
The wonder of the Gospel is that the moment we rest our hopes on Jesus the wrath of God will never come upon us - never. The moment we put our trust in the Gospel, God ceases to be angry with us. There are no more judicial dealings with any man. As soon as we put our trust in Christ, as soon as we weep for our sin, the anger is over. We see this in the case of those that came to Jesus weeping, and there were certain of them in the gospels we are told about. Perhaps, before, they have been people of great uncleanness and great sinfulness, but as soon as they came to Christ and wept for their sin, all was forgiven. That's the love of God - the intense, wonderful, infinite, glorious love of God!
Let me give you one or two quotations from older writers which I like concerning God. Have you heard of a man called Elisha Coles? -a good writer. He said: "There can be but one infinite." Deeply breathe those thoughts in. There is not the god of this religion and then the god of that religion and then the god of another religion. "There can be but one infinite" - that is, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - the Holy Trinity. Or, take this from Christopher Ness - another great writer: "God is the cause of causes." That is to say that nothing happens but God ultimately is behind it - even the very worst of things - God is behind it, secretly if not overtly. He is the cause of all causes. There is deep comfort in that thought. Or, take this word of William Gurnall who wrote The Christian in Complete Armour. Gurnall says: "One Almighty is more than all mighties. One Almighty is greater than all mighties."
What a wonderful God you and I have. How we should continually remind ourselves of what God has done for us and cast all our cares upon Him: all our worries, burdens, anxieties. Lay them upon Him, my beloved friends; He was looking after the world before you and I were born, and He will go on looking after the world when you and I are buried in our graves. There is no need for us to bear the world's burden upon our shoulders. We are to live for his glory, consciously desiring to do everything to please Him. Try to live right, try to speak right, try to do the things which are right in His sight.
Moses here is celebrating the victory of Israel over the Egyptians at the Red Sea. What a miracle it was! But, you know, Moses tells us that God had foretold this event about 500 years beforehand. In Genesis 15 He gives this revelation to Abraham. In summary: God says to Abraham that his seed - his children, meaning Israel - in years to come, would be in a land where their enemies would rule over them. After 400 years God says He will judge that nation and bring them out again. And here it is, exactly as He said it. The 400 is a round number, as we discovered from the Book of Exodus - it was 430 years to be exact. We are told in Exodus 12 that on the self-same night, on the very anniversary that they went into Egypt, they came out of it - the self-same day. No wonder they sang with their cymbals and their timbrels and their harps, "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (text).
O friends! Let us so live in this world as to believe that all the things I have said concerning this God are true. Let us trust in Him as long as we live and strive to do His will.
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