A Kingdom which cannot be shaken
A Kingdom Which Cannot be Shaken
Are you surprised that we have had two world wars already in this century? Are you surprised at the piling of these horrible armaments? Are you surprised at the confusion, the collapse, of so many institutions at this present time?[This sermon was preached by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on 24th May 1978 in Rhymney, Wales, at the induction services of David Norman Jones who now is a minister in Tasmania]
In order that we may remind one another of the ultimate object and purpose of these two gatherings today and the coming together of these two churches under the ministry of our dear friend and brother, I would call your attention to the last three verses in the portion of Scripture that has been read to us.
“And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:27-29].
A time of grave and terrible crisis
I need not tell you that we are meeting together tonight in a time of great confusion, a time of grave and terrible crisis. Everybody is aware of this; you cannot read a paper, you cannot listen to a news bulletin without hearing of some added crisis, some new problem, some fresh tragedy. The world is in an alarming state and condition. We are truly in an age of exceptional crisis. But I want to put to you that we are not only in a time and age of crisis, we are living in a time when all of us are being tested, all of us have been sifted and examined and proved. What I mean by that is this, that the state of the world tonight is testing the outlook, the point of view, of every one of us who is in this congregation. indeed of everybody that is in the world. Everybody has got some view of life, even the most thoughtless people, people who scarcely ever think at all, they have got a kind of philosophy and their philosophy is not to think. What is the use of thinking?’ they say. So they have got their point of view, their point of view is ‘Let us eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die’. So I am saying that everybody’s point of view, everybody’s attitude towards life, is on trial at the moment
Questions requiring an answer
Let me show you what I mean. Take this first question: Are you surprised that the world is as it is at this moment?
Are you surprised that we have had two world wars already in this century? Are you surprised at the piling of these horrible armaments? Are you surprised at the confusion, the collapse, of so many institutions at this present time? Does it surprise you? Does it surprise you that in this sophisticated age of ours, in 1978, that the world is in such terrible trouble? I ask my question because there are many people who are very surprised at this; they are amazed at it-and for this reason, that their view of life was that the world is getting better and better. And therefore finding things getting worse and worse, they are confounded, they are surprised, they are amazed and they do not understand it.
So I put that as my first question: Are you surprised at the fact that the world is as it is at this very moment? Or, let me phrase that in a slightly different way: Are you disappointed that the world is as it is? Not only surprised but disappointed, because again there are many people in the world who are grievously disappointed at the present state of affairs. And they are disappointed for this reason, that having adopted the kind of idealistic philosophy, or view of life, which was very popular in the last century – you know that idea that believed in evolution, or progress and development, the view which said that as the result of popular education which came in 1870 and all the marvellous scientific advances and discoveries, more travel, ability to mix with other nations – they were very confident that the twentieth century was going to be the golden century, the crowning century of all the centuries! Did not Tennyson write about the coming of the parliament of men and the federation of the world, of the days when men would beat their swords into ploughshares and war would be no more? War, we were told – and they taught this, not only the poets but the philosophers and the politicians – war, they said, was due to the fact that people did not know one another. But the moment when they got to know one another as the result of the invention of the steam engine and travel and still more by the coming of the aeroplane, the moment when people got to know one another, they would never fight again, they would realise that we were all brothers. They had forgotten, you see, that Cain and Abel were brothers. They had forgotten all about that, but they were quite sure that as the result of travel and the increase of knowledge and so on and so forth, that the world was going to be paradise-and with William Blake they talked about building the new Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land. It was all going to be done by the advance of knowledge and culture, by passing Acts of Parliament and by all the ameliorations that were taking place and were going to take place in social conditions.
Christians who were shaken
Well these men were confident about this. So you see when the First World War came, they were shaken, they were surprised. It was not according to the theory-but they still held on to it. Then when the Second World War came, well they were not only surprised and disappointed, they were aghast. They could not understand it and they were utterly confounded. I can illustrate what I am saying by one man. No man believed so firmly in this idea of development and of progress than the late Mr H G Wells, the popular novelist. He was a great scientific humanist and he really believed that as the result of the advance of knowledge and of culture and of science in particular, that the world really was going to be paradise. So when the Second World War came, he wrote his last book and he gave it a very significant title, Mind At the End of Its Tether. He could not understand it. How was it possible with all our advances and developments that there should be a Second World War in this one century, before the half of the century had passed? So I ask my question to you my friend tonight, Are you disappointed that the world is as it is? Are you astonished and are you amazed at it? Or does it fit in with your philosophy and your outlook and your point of view?
Why Is The World As It is Today?
But let me ask a third question, Do you understand why the world is as it is tonight? Can you explain it? The Christian, the true Christian, is not surprised that the world is as it is and he can understand why it is as it is. Can you? This is a very vital question. You see the trouble is that people refuse to think. They just wring their hands, they say, ‘Is it not terrible!’ But they must explain it, why is it that things are as they are in spite of all our amazing advances and developments in so many realms and spheres. Can you understand it? Can you explain it? If not, there is something wrong with your point of view.
And let me put my last question, Have you any hope at all with regard to the future? Do you see any light anywhere? Is there any message of deliverance? Now I put it to you that if we claim to be thinkers at all, we are bound to face these crucial questions. Here we are in this world with these things happening. Does it tally with what we have always believed, that on which we have pinned our faith?
Now those are the questions I want to consider with you and I want to do so in the light of these verses that I have just read to you. This man was writing to a number of people who were known as Hebrew Christians; that means that they had been brought up as Jews but having heard the Christian Gospel they had left their old religion and the Temple and the ceremonial and the priesthood and they had espoused this new teaching, this new doctrine; they had become Christians. And for a while they were very happy. But then difficulties arose; they were persecuted; they were molested; they were tried grievously in many ways; and the result was that the faith of some of them was being shaken and they were beginning to look back with longing eyes to the old religion of their fathers. And this man writes to them because of that. He says, you are not going back to that! That was only the type, that was only the preliminary, that has been shaken, that has been removed, that was only temporary. Do not go back to the temporary which can be shaken-hold on to the final, the ultimate, that which can never be moved and never be shaken.
A world which will be shaken
But he goes beyond that and he reminds them, and through them he reminds us, that a day is coming when everything in this world that can be shaken is going to be shaken and that we all of us belong either to some kind of kingdom that can be shaken and removed, or we are citizens of a kingdom which cannot be shaken and which can never be moved. And in putting it like that, of course, this man is really giving us a summary of the message of the whole of the Bible from beginning to end. The Bible is a book which calls upon us all to make a decision. It tells us that there are two ways before us in this life and in this world. We can either build upon foundations which can be shaken and removed or else we can build on a foundation which can never be moved. Or its alternative is we can belong to kingdoms that can be shaken and moved or else we can be citizens of this kingdom which can never be moved. Now this is the great message of the Bible and it puts it like this, that all the trouble in the long story of the human race is due to the fact that mankind in its blindness and its folly is misled by the powers of evil, is always making the wrong choice, is holding on to things that can be shaken and rejecting the one thing that can never be shaken and never be moved. And it goes on putting this before us. It says it either has to be God or mammon. You either enter by a strait gate onto a narrow way or you go with the crowd through the wide gate and the broad way that leadeth to destruction. And right the way through it puts the two possibilities before us, shows us the folly of the wrong choice and pleads with us to accept the true, the only way that leads to peace here in this world and a hope of glory for all eternity.
Well now let me put this to you. This is the business of my friend who is going to minister here in Rhymney as well as in Crickhowell. This is the business of all of us worthy of the name of Christian ministers at all – we are here to address people in this age of collapse, this age of confusion, this age in which so many things have been shaken before our eyes, this climactic period through which we are passing. And I want to put it in terms of this biblical message. Man’s ultimate fallacy, as I have said, is that he always chooses to belong to kingdoms that can be shaken and removed. Man is very fond of building kingdoms. The history of mankind, if you like, is a history of men building kingdoms for themselves-refusing the kingdom of God and setting up their own kingdoms, which they think are going to be durable and everlasting and they have done this in many different ways.
The kingdoms of men – in all their variety – come and go
The old way, and it is still true, you find it in the Bible, you find it in secular history, the commonest of all the ways has been that man has tried is to set up military kingdoms, great military kingdoms. You have a number of them described here in the Bible. Think of a great kingdom like the kingdom of Babylon. That was an amazing kingdom, great wealth, great power, great armies and they conquered practically every country and at the head of this great kingdom of Babylon there was a man called Nebuchadnezzar. And he was such a conqueror, such a military genius, that he began to think that he was almost a god. And the people agreed with him. And he set up a great image to himself and commanded his people to bow down and worship. He really believed he was a semi-god if not a god. He had built this great kingdom, you see. But according to the Bible – and this is sheer history – it was not a kingdom that was going to last for ever, as he thought. It began to shake and we are given an account of this mighty dictator in a field one day and his nails had grown into talons and his hair was as long as the hairs of an animal and he was eating grass in a field-humbled by God. This man who had inflated himself to heaven-humbled, his kingdom shaken.
And quite soon it was conquered by another mighty kingdom that came along, called the Medo-Persian kingdom. Now this is biblical and secular history. The Medo-Persian kingdom came along and this again was a mighty kingdom, conquered Babylon, conquered others and it seemed to be invincible and everlasting and people were beginning to worship it.
It did not last very long. Another kingdom came along, the kingdom of Greece and this was an amazing kingdom. The head of this kingdom was a man whom we still know as Alexander the Great and he was of course one of the greatest military geniuses that the world has ever known. He conquered everywhere, conquered Egypt, built Alexandria, named after him; he conquered all the then known and civilised world and he set up this kingdom that really did seem to be indestructible and invincible, great in every respect. But do you know what happened? While he was yet in the thirties, he died and his kingdom was destroyed and divided up. I will never forget reading a book during the last war by a Swiss theologian, on the book of the prophet Daniel. All I remember of the book was this phrase, I have never forgotten it; it was so true, so striking. He said the man whom the world knows as Alexander the Great is known in the Bible as a he-goat. That is the biblical view of him. ‘Great’, says the world: ‘he-goat’ says God, says the Bible. And you and I now read books on the Glory that was Greece and we go and visit the ruins, the kingdom has vanished and has disappeared.
Why? Well another kingdom came up, the kingdom of Rome, the Roman Empire. And again this was one of the most astonishing phenomena that the world has ever seen. You remember how Rome again conquered all the then civilised world; but it was not only great in a military sense but in a legal sense and in every other sense. They came and conquered this country, as they conquered most other countries. Here at last there did seem to be a kingdom that could never be shaken and never removed. And the capital of course was the city of Rome. What did they call Rome? Is it not interesting, they called Rome ‘the Eternal City’? The Eternal City – not for a time – Eternal City. But you remember the story; in a few centuries barbarians, Goths and Vandals from northern Europe came down in hordes; they sacked the Eternal City and they conquered and brought to an end the great Roman Empire.
And so you see it has continued throughout ancient history. Kingdom after kingdom has come up and men have claimed for it that it is everlasting and eternal – suddenly it vanishes and disappears. But, you say, that is ancient history. All right, let us come up to modern times. I am not going to keep you in describing to you great kingdoms in Egypt, the mighty empire that was once governed by Spain and many other mighty kingdoms, mighty empires. Come nearer to our own time. Most of you can still remember a man whose name was Adolf Hitler. He came into power in 1933; what was he going to do? Well, he told us so often – heard him saying it many a time on the wireless – he said he was going to set up the Third Reich which was going to last a thousand years. The Third Reich – and Hitler dominated the world like some Colossus, striding the world like a Colossus. And when we heard he was going to speak on the wireless, we began to tremble – the word of a Hitler, this mighty man with a mighty empire to last a thousand years. How long did it last? Twelve years and Hitler and his empire vanished and disappeared.
But let us be honest, my friends, I suppose most people would say that the greatest empire the world has ever known was the British Empire and this was the empire of which our fathers boasted-that it was the empire on which the sun never set, owning a quarter of the globe. What an empire, the British Empire, on which the sun never sets! Durable, lasting, eternal! Where is it tonight, my friends? There is no such thing as the British Empire. We try to talk feebly about some British Commonwealth of nations but the empire is gone and the man who believed in it most of all, who said that he had not been appointed by destiny to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire, had to do so. The great British Empire has collapsed and vanished before our very eyes. You see the biblical message is being verified. All these kingdoms that men have erected and built up, they have all been shaken and they will all be removed. But that is only one example. This is so important I am going to give you many examples, my friend that we may see the truth of this message.
Take another empire that man has been very fond of building. What is that? Well the empire of the mind, what is called philosophy. What is philosophy? Well it is the love of wisdom – yes, but its idea is this – that what matters most of all is reason. Now you know a hundred years ago the chapels in this town and other towns were full. But then people began to say, Oh, well religion it is sob stuff. It is emotionalism! They meet together, they pull down the blinds, they do not read, they do not think, they are not aware of what is happening in the world. This is all emotionalism, folklore, fairy tale, fantasy. What we need, they said, was reason. They reject revelation, they do not believe in God-reason! We are going to govern the world by reason. And that became very popular towards the middle of the last century. It came over from Germany and it came into this country. Reason, the kingdom of reason.
What has happened to this?
Now let us face the facts – one of the greatest dangers in this world at this moment is irrationality, which means men and women refusing to think. Do you know where this irrationality has come from? It is most interesting. It started in one of the greatest universities in the United States of America – Harvard University. There was a professor there of the name of Timothy Leary. And Timothy Leary and others began to say the mistake that we have been making is that we have lived too much in the realm of reason and understanding and of mind. We have neglected sensation, we have neglected feel mg and that is where we have been fools and we have brought our world into trouble. He said, we must reason less and less, what we need is experience. How are we to get experience? Well, he said, the quickest way to get experience is take certain drugs and this present wave of drug addiction was started by Professor Timothy Leary in Harvard University in America. There is a revolt against reason. There are students in large numbers saying we must go back to the land, back to a primitive kind of life. Novelists like D H Lawrence thought exactly the same thing. There is a revolt against reason and people are out for sensation. That is why they drink and drug themselves with alcohol and other drugs. That is why they shout and dance in a rhythmical manner with their music. They stop thinking and they have a pleasant feeling. It is one of the major problems in the world at this moment. The kingdom of reason has been shaken.
Let me give you another, it comes under the same category as reason-the kingdom of science. Now I suppose that most people today who are not Christians would give as their reasons for not being Christians that they adopt the scientific attitude and the scientific point of view. They say science says so-and-so, science proves so-and-so-science, the kingdom of science. Men have been very busy erecting this now for two centuries and they were absolutely confident concerning it. You are not going to believe these stories – you must have scientific facts, something that you can really depend upon and live upon. And they were so sure about this that they used the term laws. Now when I was a student, some sixty years ago, we were taught about Newton’s laws, not Newton’s theories but Newton’s laws. Cause and effect, laws of motion, they were absolutes, they were certainties. You cannot name a single great scientist in the world tonight who believes in Newton’s laws. A man called Einstein came along and what did he introduce? Not laws, but a theory of relativity – possibility, probability. Everything is in a state of uncertainty. You see, Newton believed that matter was solid; we know by today that is not; it is energy. It is all energy, it is in constant movement. So you believe now not in certainty and in laws but in possibility and probability. And so these great kingdoms have crashed one after another.
Let me tell you another law that I used to be taught when I was a boy and a young student. We were taught what was called Dalton’s law. What was Dalton’s law? Well, Dalton’s law taught this, that the smallest particle of matter is an atom and that an atom is indivisible. Dalton’s law not his theory – it was a fact, not like this stuff that is in the Bible! No, no, Dalton’s law – smallest particle of matter, the atom and an atom is indivisible. Would to God that Dalton had been right and that the atom was indivisible! You and I have been in the world when they divided the atom, hence the atomic and the hydrogen bombs, hence the possibility of a third World War that will put an end to civilisation and perhaps to the world itself. But they were taught as laws, absolutes, certainties, kingdoms which cannot be moved. They have all been shaken in our own age and generation.
And there are many other kingdoms that I could mention. Another was of course democracy. We were told that the ultimate form of government was democracy. We had got rid of oligarchies, we must get rid of monarchies and so on-and one is in great sympathy with most of these teachings and most of these ideas. Those terrible days of tyranny, of monarchs, of Lords in this country, people with power, money – power, landowners and others. Now, they said, we must get rid of all that. What we need is democracy, government of the people and by the people. This is the ultimate in government, democracy. But somebody said, well what if people do not agree? If you give power to the people what if people do not agree, what happens then? Ah, they said, everybody will respect the rule of law; that is an absolute. Of course if they do not respect the rule of law well then there is going to be a collapse. But everybody, they said, will respect the rule of law – so democracy is going to be the ultimate in society and it is coming in the twentieth century. What of this kingdom? Do you not read constantly of these dictatorships in various parts of the world, some of them on the right, some of them on the left? Democracy is in jeopardy at this very moment, we are in danger of dictatorships in most countries of the world. Democracy as such seems to be breaking down before our eyes.
I must mention one other because it was so popular in this country, the kingdom of industry. The proud boast was not only that the British Empire was a great military empire and kingdom, its greatness really depended upon its industry and its industrial power. The first industrial nation, the great trading nation of the world, the empire of the industry and this was something on which you could bank and on which you could build. This was not the precarious life of the farmer, the agricultural man – industry, it is solid, and we built up our great industry. And we were so sure of it that if we wanted in ordinary conversation to say that something was absolutely safe and sure and certain, what we said was ‘It is as safe as the Bank of England!’ Nothing can be safer. Safe as the Bank of England, safe as the pound sterling. An empire built on the pound sterling and the Bank of England. The pound sterling, what is happening to it? Well, I gather that it is floating at the present time and that the Bank of England has had to borrow money from some sheikhs in the Middle East. Your kingdom which could never be moved, pound sterling, Bank of England, they are shaking they are collapsing-and so it is with every other kingdom.
Even the earth
Wait a minute, says some one, what about the earth round and about us? What about the Beacons, the great mountains and the valleys and the rivers, surely these are durable and certain? Are they? Let off your hydrogen bombs and they will soon have vanished. As the Bible has prophesied centuries ago, ‘the elements shall melt with a fervent heat’ (2 Peter 3:10). Even creation is not durable; everything is being shaken. Man himself who has been worshipping himself, what is he? According to scientists he is nothing but chemistry and physics, he is nothing but a bundle of sensations. All our kingdoms are collapsing before our eyes. They can all be hurt, they can all be moved and yet men bank on them. They laugh at religion, they ignore the Bible, they do not believe in God. These are the kingdoms they believe in and yet they are collapsing before our very eyes. That is the message of the Bible.
But why do they collapse? Sinfulness, finitude and judgment
But why do they collapse? Why is all that I have been saying been so true? And this man tells us. The certainty you see with all these kingdoms is that they are made. ‘And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made,’ These are man-made kingdoms and the tragedy of man is that he is too small to be a kingdom builder. Man is finite, he is limited, he is small. This is the final folly of man, that he thinks he knows everything. He thinks he can encompass the whole cosmos with his little mind. How small he is, he is finite, he is limited, he lacks the capacity to see things as a whole. He only sees little sectors of reality. Things that are made-man!
Yes, but even worse than that, according to the Bible, man is not only finite, man is also sinful-and this is what bedevils all his great efforts. Every one of us is sinful. What does that mean? It means that we are selfish. it means that we are self-centred. It means that we are subjects of jealousy and envy and malice and spite and hatred. We want things for ourselves – let the other man get on with it. This is in the heart of man, everything he touches, everything he makes therefore has got the seed of decay in it. That is why our Lord said: ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal’ [Matthew 6:19-20]. But man keeps on doing this and everything collapses. Why? Moth and rust, this element of evil. You cannot trust anybody. You may think that you have got a man who will fight with you to the end-he will desert you at the very moment that you need him most of all. He is a false friend, he lets you down. You see it in the political parties and everywhere else, they all seem to be carrying a dagger in their hip pockets and they are attacking one another. No man trusts anybody, why? We are all sinners, we are all selfish, we are in no condition to build empires.
But the Bible gives a third and a crowning reason for all this failure and it is this: that God blows upon it. We are living in a universe that we have not made; it is made by God. And God will not give His glory to another. He said so throughout the centuries. And when men rise up and establish their great kingdoms God allows them to go so far and then He suddenly strikes them as He did Nebuchadnezzar and down they go. ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness’ [Romans 1:18]. It is the law and history proves it. Whatever man may do, whatever he may strive to do – it all is shaken and it collapses and disappears. And of course not only is it the Bible that says this, the really great thinkers of every century have seen this and seen it quite clearly.
Take a man like Shakespeare; I do not think Shakespeare was a Christian but he was a great man and he was a deep thinker and he saw this truth that I am putting to you about the fact that all these kingdoms can be shaken. And he put it in those immortal words that he put into the mouth of Prospero, in The Tempest. Here they are-they had been having some kind of revels, some kind of pageantry:
‘Our revels now are ended.
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself
Yea, all which it shall inherit, shall dissolve;
And like this insubstantial pageant faded
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made of and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.’
That is Shakespeare; he had seen it, ‘the cloud capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea, all which it shall inherit, shall dissolve’ – and we are witnessing it. And he is absolutely right there. He is right until the last statement: ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ He thought that death was the end and that is where he is wrong. It is not the end, it is appointed as this man says in chapter nine: ‘it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment’ [Hebrews 9:27] – God!
Another kingdom based on another word
Very well, there is the great negative message of the Bible, that man will never succeed in building a durable and a lasting and a solid kingdom. These things can all be shaken as we are witnessing it and worse is going to happen. There is one kingdom that cannot be moved, that cannot be shaken. ‘Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace’. What is this? Here we are now in our proper world. We know not what tomorrow may bring forth. What are we to do? Is there any message? Is there anything that comes anywhere to give me some understanding and a word of hope? There is. What is it, what can I bank on tonight? What should I listen to and hold on to when everything is collapsing round and about me?
This man says, it is a word, ‘this word. Yet once more, He has already
said: ‘See that ye refuse not him that speaketh’ [Hebrews 12:25]. This man’s message is this, that amidst the babel of voices in our world, there is another word-and the essence of wisdom is to listen to this word. It is the word that was spoken by Jesus Christ and which made him say: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away’ [Matthew 24:35]. Or which the Apostle Peter quoted in these words, it is the same thing but in the graphic manner of the Apostle Peter. He tells these Christians that they have become Christians ‘by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever’ [I Peter 1:23]. Then listen: ‘For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man’ – British Empire and every other glory
– ‘all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you’ [I Peter 1:24,25]. It is the word I am preaching to you now, it is the word my friend is going to preach, the word, this word.
What is it? Why is this word durable? Why is this word better than the word of the philosophers, the scientists, the politicians, the sociologists, the educationalist? Why is this the only word I should listen to? The answer is, it is the word of the Lord; it is the word of God. My dear friends, are you not tired of the words of men? We have been bombarded with them throughout this century. The promises they have dangled before us, what has happened to them? Are we happy? Are we all at ease? Are we looking forward to a glorious future? The words of men – are you not tired of them? Our business is to invite men and women to listen to the word of God. Why? Well, because God is not a man. We are finite, we are limited, we can put up theories and suppositions and hypotheses and they are falsified and we have nothing-but God, God is from everlasting to everlasting, the great I AM. I am that I am; I am that I shall be; without beginning, without end. The God who at the beginning said, ‘Let there be light and there was light.’ The God who brought these great old mountains and everything into existence and who sustains it by the word of His power. GOD.
Frail as summer ‘s flowers we flourish,
Blows the wind and it is gone,
But while mortals rise and perish,
God endures unchanging on.
We blossom and flourish
Like leaves on the tree;
And wither and perish
But nought changeth Thee.
I have heard some great orators in this present century and we half worshipped them in our folly. And one of them promised us that the First World War was the war to end wars and he was going to give us a land fit for heroes to live in. And the second one said very much the same thing, about some broad uplands on which humanity was going to look for some promised land. The words of men-we have forgotten them, have we not; we have forgotten their words and we are forgetting the men. Like leaves on the tree, they come, they cut a great feather, but they vanish and they go
– but God endures. Unchanging God, the God who spoke to your grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers here in Rhymney, the last century and the one before it. The God of the ages, the God whose history runs through this book and who has been guiding it ever since and who erupts into it, at every moment of crisis saving the possibilities for mankind. It is the Word of God. I am not preaching my own theories, I am submitting myself to this Word. I am expounding this Word, I have not put a single theory of my own before you; it is my business and that of every preacher, not to give you some of my ideas – but to preach this Word until men want what God says about our life – and what does He say?
God the Creator
Well, this Book tells you, this is the word of God. He tells us about God, Himself. As I told you He is the creator, He is the sustainer of everything. Yes, and He made man. Man is not an accident, you know, it is an insult to say that man is a creature that has evolved from the animal. It is not true. The Bible tells me that man has a dignity that makes him the lord of creation. Why? He has been created in the image and the likeness of God. We have an animal part but God has put something of Himself into us. When He came to make man He said, ‘Let us make man in our own image and likeness.’ He gave us reason, understanding, certain faculties and propensities that none of the animals have. And man is able to look on at himself and evaluate himself. Man! Yes and he is a responsible being to God. The popular theory is, as I say, that when a man dies that is the end. He is finished with. No! No! says the Bible. Man is bigger than the universe, he has these qualities and potentialities in him. God has put them there and God holds man responsible and He is going to ask man at the end, ‘What have you done with the soul that I gave you? You may have made a lot of money, you may have garnered a lot of knowledge-what have you done with the soul that part of you that was meant to commune with Me and to be my companion? What have you done with it?’ God is going to ask us-that is the judgment.
God the rule giver
But not only that and we can be certain of this-God not only tells us that He has made us in His own image and likeness and that we are responsible beings, He has told us how to live. Here is the great problem, ‘Why is the world as it is? Why the drunkenness and the immorality and the vice and the dishonesty and the chicanery and the battling? What is the matter, what is the cause of it all? There is a simple answer according to the Bible – that man instead of living according to God’s laws, is living according to His own ideas. But God has told us how to live. Where does He tell us? In what are called the Ten Commandments – if only everybody in the world lived according to the Ten Commandments tonight, our world would be paradise! What are they? Well, we are told that we must start by all submitting to God. We are not gods, that is the trouble in the world, there are too many gods in it. Everyman is a god, everyman sets himself up; he is the authority, he is the god. ‘This is what I say’, he says and he is insubordinate. That is the folly, there is only one God and He has told us that we must live to His glory. ‘And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength …. And Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ [Mark 12:30-31]. And you will never love your neighbour as yourself until you have submitted yourself to God. Then you will see yourself as you are and you will see your neighbour as he is and you will see that you are both failures and you are both helpless and you are both hopeless – and you will love him for the first time, as you love yourself.
But then God goes on and these are the particulars-thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ox, or his ass, or his manservant or his maidservant or his wife (Exodus 20:13-17); Those are the ten commandments – if only everybody lived according to God’s commandments! There would be no infidelity, there would be no promiscuity, there would be no separations, no divorces, no little children breaking their hearts because father and mother have gone their own selfish ways, leaving their little hearts to suffer. There would be an end to that. There would be no theft and dishonesty, there would be no drunkenness, there would be no drug addiction, there would be no atomic bombs, there would be no need of all these conferences to try and produce some precarious peace. There would be peace if only everybody in the world lived as God has told us to live. This Word is still true tonight, that is the way to live.
The Penalties which come with a Broken Law
Then He goes on to say this, that if we do not live according to His commandments – and this is an absolute certainty-if we do not live according to His commandments we shall suffer. ‘The way of transgressors is hard’ [Proverbs 13:15]. ‘There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked’ [Isaiah 57:21]. And it does not matter how wealthy this wicked man is, how learned he may be – as long as he is wicked he will never know peace. Some of the most miserable restless people in the world tonight are multi-millionaires; these wretched people you read about them in the popular newspapers who get married five, six, seven times – do they know peace, is that the life of the film-star, the pop-star, or your multimillionaire? Oh, the tragedy of these miserable people who think you can buy peace and tranquillity and happiness with money. No, No, God has said that it cannot be done. There is not peace, saith my God, to the wicked. And while the people of this world are wicked there will be wars and rumours of wars. Nations are but individuals writ large and if a man cannot live with his neighbour why do you expect a country to live with its neighbour? God has told us this. These are absolutes, my friends, you cannot get away from them. The world is proving the truth of them tonight. This is God’s Word and there is not peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
God the Judge
Then he goes on, as I have told you already, to say that everyone of us will have to stand before Him in judgment and give an account of the deeds done in the body. ‘That is terrible!’ you say. I say it is a great compliment that God thinks I am such a being that He holds me responsible and accountable and I have to stand before Him – and every one of you will have to stand before Him. And believe me your television will not help you on your deathbed, and your drugs will not help you then, and your drink will not help you then, and your money will not help you then. Your soul will be naked. ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb and naked shall I return thither’ [Job 1:21]. We stand stripped before God and He will ask us, ‘What have you done with that precious thing I gave you – the soul?’ There is to be a final judgment upon the whole world of men.
God’s Unshakeable Kingdom
What else does this word tell us? Well thank God it does not leave us at that. If it had left us at that every one of us would be doomed and damned to all eternity. There would be no hope for any one of us – ‘For we have all sinned, and come short of the glory of God’. ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ [Romans 3:23,10]. Thank God I have a light here, I have a hope here. What is it? Well, it is this that while men in their folly have been vainly trying to build their durable kingdoms and empires, God has been bringing in His kingdom: ‘Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved’, God’s kingdom. This is the way to understand history-forget all about kings and princes and queens and births and marriages and deaths and pomp and ceremony and all the ritual – forget it all! Concentrate on this
what God has been doing – God has been bringing in His kingdom. Even when man failed at the beginning in the Garden of Eden, Cod came down and He gave him a promise of a kingdom. He said that there is going to be strife between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent – but the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. God is going to bring order into the disorder, He is going to undo the misery and the folly of man. He is setting up a kingdom.
The Old Testament account is just of God, as this man says in his first chapter, in diverse parts and portions. bits and pieces, bringing in His kingdom to pass. He took hold of a man whose name was Abraham, he was a pagan living in Ur of the Chaldees, and he said, Come out, lam going to turn you into a nation. And from you and your seed all the nations of the world are going to be blessed. That was the origin of the Jews; they are God’s people; while the rest of the world were living in darkness and paganism, these people were given this revelation of the only true and living God. And God said, I am going to make a people of you and I am going to add to it. And He said I am going to send the King of the kingdom into the world amongst men. ‘But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law’ [Galatians 4:4-5]. A babe was born in a stable, not in a king’s palace, in a stable in a place called Bethlehem.
Why was He born in a stable? Because there was no room for them in the inn. Everybody booked their rooms in the hostelries, in the inns and though a poor pregnant woman comes along on the verge of giving birth to a baby, nobody would vacate the room. They would not do it then, they would not do it now! They said, ‘She should have booked her room earlier! Why should I go out!’ The selfishness of mankind. So the babe was born amidst the straw in a stable and the little child was put into a manger because there was no crib. Who is this? This is God’s eternal Son. They called Him Jesus, but He is very God of very God. God has visited and redeemed His people! ‘God so loved the world’ that had rebelled against Him and spat in His face as it were. ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ [John 3:16]. He is the King of the kingdom and He says so. He heals in the name of the kingdom, He invites people to come into His kingdom. ‘Come unto me’, He says, ‘all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ [Matthew 11:28]. And He has and He does and He alone can do so and the whole story of true Christianity is of this kingdom being extended. Men and women in every age and generation being added unto it. The kingdom of God is going on.
There are times like the present when it almost seems to be invisible-but it is still there and when men begin to deliver their obituary orations over the death of the Christian church, God revives her again and on she goes and thousands are added and the kingdom is going on and on and on-and it will go on until it is finally completed and the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. (Revelation 11:15). Thank God in spite of all that is happening in this world tonight, and it is black and it is dark, but as certainly as we are here God’s purposes are ever sure and Christ is going to reign over the whole world from shore to shore and pole to pole-and nothing will be able to resist Him. It is an absolute.
I must give you another absolute – there is only one way into this kingdom of God. It is the whole message of this epistle. Only one way. What is it? It is through believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. It is by believing that He has taken our sins upon Himself and borne our punishment and thereby reconciled us to God and opened to us the gate of the kingdom, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven. There is no other way. This man says, you foolish people, are you going back to your burnt offerings and sacrifices? Are you still going to believe that the blood of bulls and of goats and the ashes of an heifer can cleanse the conscience from dead works? It is impossible! There is only one, the blood of Jesus Christ His Son. There is only one way, he says in chapter 10, into the holiest of all, it is by the blood of Jesus (v.19). No church can save you. No priest can save you, the virgin Mary cannot save you, no ceremonial can save you. No, No! There is only one way of salvation, only one way to know God and to spend your eternity with Him – it is this – to believe the message concerning His Son, that the babe of Bethlehem is the eternal Son of God and that He died on the cross, not the death of a pacifist, He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. God hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He has punished Him instead of us and gives us His righteousness and we are clothed in it and we are children of God and heirs of eternal bliss.
The Only Way
My friends, there is no other way; this is an incomparable gospel. Hinduism will not get you into the kingdom, Confucianism will not, Buddhism will not. These things are coming into this country; none of them will bring you into the kingdom of God. There is only one way. Christ said, I am the light of the world. I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me. There is none other name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved. It is exclusive, it is God’s own Son. So the world religions are of no value. This and this alone does what it promises to do.
But I must not keep you. This man tells us that if we believe this message and become citizens of the kingdom of God, we will be surrounded by the promises of God. He tells us that God, in order to comfort Abraham, swore an oath. He swore twice over, so that by two immutable things, he might have this certain hope. And we have it, God promises to bless us because we are His children. He won’t until we are; while we rebel against Him He will not bless us. And I describe the state of the world today as being entirely due to the fact that God’s wrath is upon us. In its folly mankind began to say one hundred years ago that we could make a perfect world without God. I believe that what God is saying in this century is this, ‘You say that you can make a perfect world without me! Get on with it! Get on with it!’ and He is withdrawing His restraining influences and He has allowed us to get on with it. And what have we done? Two world wars, atomic bombs, collapse of society at the present time. Oh, my dear friends, until we believe in simplicity this message, we have no right to expect God to bless us. But you become a citizen of His kingdom and you will be surrounded with exceeding great and precious promises. He says in the next chapter, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee-and in the light of that I can say, the Lord is my helper and I will not fear what men shall do unto me. He will be with me in life, He will be with me in death, He will be with me to all eternity.
Very well, what do I do about it all? This man tells us: ‘Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace’, which means this, let us thank Him. Let us thank God that He has not abandoned the world. Why He has not I do not know – I do, it is because His Name is love! I would have abandoned this world long ago, so would you but God is love and it is His world and He has not abandoned it. He sent His only Son into it to teach us, to die for us, to rise for our justification and to lead us on by His Spirit within us. Let us thank Him; let us have grace, which means let us thank Him-and let us serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, remembering that our God is a consuming fire.
One or the other – which?
My dear friend you are in some kingdom or other at this moment. Are you in the kingdom of God? If not, you are in one or other of the kingdoms of men. They are already collapsing before your eyes and when you come to die-and we have all got to, every one of us – the National Health Service cannot cure death, we have all got to die. My dear friends, I have got to die. I am older than most of you and I will have to die probably before you but I have got to die and give an account. Those kingdoms of men will have nothing to give you then. H G Wells, as I have quoted, admitted it. Many others have admitted it still more recently. They are getting old and they are failing and their faculties are failing. They no longer have got their good looks, their friends are dying and they are bereft and solitary and hopeless – and they have nothing.
What must I do?
Do you belong to one of those kingdoms? See the unutterable folly of doing so. The whole of history condemns it. Look at this other kingdom, all you have to do is to acknowledge your failure, to acknowledge your desperate need and just as you are without understanding it at first, just to say, ‘I believe, help Thou my unbelief’. Ask God to have mercy upon you and to give you enlightenment and understanding. Ask Him to have pity upon you and He will do so. It is a gospel for anybody-whosoever believeth, it does not postulate any great brain or great wealth or great learning or anything else. The common people heard Him gladly, I read about Jesus Christ. Why? Because He understood them, He sympathised with them, He loved them. He had come into the world, laying aside the insignia of His eternal glory, in order that He might redeem them. This is all He asks of us-and the moment you enter into this kingdom, you will be amazed at the change. Are you ready to say with me tonight:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His cov’nant, and His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He only is my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Do you know how I look out at life tonight, it is this: ‘Change and decay in all around I see’. I have preached in chapels in Rhymney that are no longer here, the people I knew here when I first came nearly fifty years ago, they have gone. ‘Change and decay in all around I see: Oh Thou who changest not, abide with me.’ And He will, He will be with me in life, in death and He will present me before the presence of God’s glory, with exceeding joy and I look forward to a day that is coming when out of this world and beyond it I shall see Him as He is and be made like unto Him. And I shall dwell with Him in that new heavens and new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness. Make certain my dear friend that you belong to the kingdom of God, which cannot be shaken, which cannot be moved.
The Art of Preaching February 12, 2019
The following is abridged from a pamphlet by James Begg (1803-1883), The Art of Preaching, printed in 1863, twenty years after more than 400 ministers had left the Church of Scotland to form the Free Church of Scotland. While in the context in which Begg wrote there were no doubt peculiar historical circumstances affecting the […]
Coming Events and Present Duties February 7, 2019
‘Then shall the Kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. . . at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh….. Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour […]