ISAIAH 42:8.—“I am the LORD; that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.”
THE name of a thing, provided it is a true and adequate one, denotes the essential nature of that thing.
When a chemist has discovered a new substance, he is, of course, compelled to invent a new name for it; and he seeks a term that will indicate its distinctive properties. When, for instance, that gas which illuminates our streets and dwellings was first discovered, it was supposed to be the constituent matter of heat, and the name phlogiston was given to it—a name that signifies inflammability. But when Cavendish afterwards more carefully analyzed its nature and properties, and discovered that it enters very largely into the production of water, it received the name of hydrogen. In each of these instances the term was intended to denote the intrinsic nature and properties of the thing.
We are informed, in the second chapter of Genesis, that when the Lord God had formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air, “He brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” This was before the apostasy of man, when the human mind possessed an intuition of both human and divine things that was superior to its subsequent knowledge; and hence those original denominations which Adam gave to the objects of nature were expressive of their interior and essential characteristics.
Aristotle began the investigation of natural history, and his successors, for two thousand years, have diligently followed up the line of investigation; but that ethereal vision of the unfallen and sinless creature who had just come from the plastic hand of the Creator, and who possessed the unmutilated and perfect image of the Deity, penetrated further into the arcana of nature than have the toilsome investigations of his dim-eyed posterity. That nomenclature which Adam originated at the express command of God, and which the pen of inspiration has recorded as a fact, though it has not specified it in detail, must have been pertinent and exhaustive. The names were the things, the natures, themselves.
God also has a name—not given to him by Adam, or any finite creature, but self-uttered, and self-imposed.
When Moses, in Mount Horeb, after the vision of the flaming bush, said unto God: “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, the God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say unto me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” the reply of God was: “I AM THAT I AM: and thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” The denomination which God prefers for himself, the name which he chooses before all others as indicative of his nature, is I AM, or its equivalent, Jehovah. Whenever the word Jehovah is employed in the Old Testament as the proper name of God, it announces the same doctrine of his necessary existence that was taught to Moses when he was commanded to say to his people that I AM had sent him unto them.
The English name for the Deity, our word God, indicates that he is good—making prominent a moral quality.
The Greek and Latin world employed a term (θεὸς, deus) that lays emphasis upon that characteristic of the Deity whereby he orders and governs the universe. According to the Greek and Roman conception, God is the imperial Being who arranges and rules. But the Hebrew, divinely instructed upon this subject, chose a term which refers not to any particular attribute or quality, but to the very being and essence of God, and teaches the world that God must be—that he not only exists, but cannot logically be conceived of as non-existent.
This idea comes up in the text. “I am Jehovah”—for so it stands in the original Hebrew—“that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images.” Here the Divine Being challenges glory to himself upon the ground of his very nature and being. He presents an exclusive claim to be supremely honored, because of his independent, and underived, and necessary existence. If, like creatures, he had once begun to exist, or if, like creatures, he could be conceived of as going out of existence, the foundation of such a claim would fall away, and he would have no more reason to arrogate supreme honor to himself than the angel Gabriel, or than the weakest man upon earth. But before the mountains were brought forth, or ever he had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, he is Jehovah—the I AM—and therefore he of right summons the whole universe into his temple, and demands from them the ascription of blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, forever and ever.
The text, then, leads us to raise the question: What is it to glorify God?
And the answer to it should certainly have interest for us, not only upon those general grounds which concern all men, but because we hold a creed which opens with the affirmation, that it “is man’s chief end to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.”
I. In the first place, it is implied in glorifying God, that we think of him, and recognize his existence.
“The duty required in the first commandment,” says the Larger Catechism (104), “is to worship and glorify God, by thinking, meditating upon, and remembering him.”
No higher dishonor can be done to any being, than to forget and ignore him. In common life, if a man wishes to express the highest degree of contempt for a fellow-creature, he says: “I never think of him; I do not recognize his existence.” But this is the habitual and common attitude of man’s mind toward the Everlasting God. This Great Being who exists of necessity, and who is the Creator and Preserver of all other beings, is ignored by the world at large. God is not in their thoughts, and practically he is reduced to nonentity. For so long as we do not think of an object or a being, so long as we do not recognize its existence, it possesses none for our minds. Before Columbus discovered America, it could not be an object of reflection for the people of Europe and Asia, and therefore, in relation to the Old World, America had no existence. It had existence for God, and for higher intelligences. The sons of God knew of it, and shouted for joy over it as a part of that glorious world which rounded to their view upon the morning of creation. But until the bold Genoese navigator revealed it to the ken, to the thought, of Europe, it was a nonentity for Europe. The whole continent, with its vast mountain-ranges, and great rivers, and boundless plains, had scarcely the substance of a dream for the people of the Eastern world.
And just so is it in respect to the existence of God. He verily is, and fills immensity with his presence; but how few of the children of men are constantly and habitually aware of it. How few of them are busied with thinking about him. How few of them make him real to their minds by meditating upon his being and attributes. Can you not recall some day in which you did not once think of your Creator and Judge; in which, therefore, you wholly ignored his existence; in which, to all intents and purposes, he was a nonentity? So far as you could do it, you, on that day, annihilated the Deity. The same spirit, if united with the adequate power, would not only have dethroned God, but would have exterminated him.
And it does not relieve the matter to say that this is mere passive forgetfulness, and that there is no deliberate effort to do dishonor to God. This passive forgetfulness itself is the highest kind of indignity; and is so represented in the Scriptures. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” This is fearful language, and therefore the sin against which it is levelled must be great. And when we come to examine it we perceive that it is. For this unthinking forgetfulness of the greatest and most glorious Being in the universe betokens an utter unconcern towards him. It implies an apathy so deep, and so uniform, that the being and attributes of God make no kind of impression. When a proud nobleman passes by a peasant without bestowing a thought upon him, without noticing his presence in the least, we do not attribute this to any deliberate intention, any direct effort, to put an indignity upon an inferior. It is the unconscious dishonor, the passive forgetfulness, the silent contempt, which arises from an utter indifference and apathy towards the person. And such is the kind of indignity of which man is guilty in not thinking of God; in forgetting that there is any such being.
Now, whoever would glorify God must begin by reversing all this. God must be in all his thoughts. He must recognize, habitually and spontaneously, the existence of his Creator and Judge. God must become as real to him as the sun in the heavens. The idea of the Deity must swallow up all other ideas, and dominate over them. Wherever he goes, the thought must be ever present to his mind: “Thou God seest me.” Instead of this spontaneous forgetfulness, there must be a spontaneous remembrance of him. God must constantly impress himself upon the mind. Some of the early Christian fathers were fond of speaking of the Deity as “impinging” himself upon the human soul—as if he were some great body or mass that loomed up, and forced himself down upon the attention and notice of men. And such must be the relation between man and God, before God can be glorified. The first step towards the greatest of human duties, the first step towards the chief end of man, cannot be taken, until the creature begins to think habitually of God, and to recognize his eternal power and godhead. No man has made even a beginning in religion, until he has said, reverently, and feeling the truth of what he says: “Thou art Jehovah, the Great I AM; that is thy name and thy nature; and thy glory thou wilt not give to another, neither thy praise to graven images.”
II. In the second place, it is implied in glorifying God, that we think of him as the first cause and last end of all things.
Here again, as in the preceding instance, we can arrive at the truth by the way of contrast; by considering what is the common course of man’s thought and feeling. Man naturally thinks of himself as the chief cause, and the final end. The charge which the apostle Paul makes against the apostate world is, that they worship and serve the creature more than the Creator. And the particular creature which every sinful man worships and serves more than the Creator, is himself. It is true that men pay regard to their fellow-men, and in a certain degree worship and serve them. But in every such instance it will be found, upon examination, that the worship and the service is only a means to an end. It is never an end. A man, for example, flatters, and perhaps even fawns upon a fellow-creature who is high in station, or in power, or in wealth. But it is only in order to derive some personal advantage thereby. The worship and service do not ultimately terminate upon the king or the millionaire, but upon the worshipper; upon the devotee himself. It is not for anything that intrinsically belongs to the man of power, or the man of wealth, that the honor is accorded to him. Could the same personal advantage be secured by showing dishonor, as by showing honor, the selfish sinful heart of man would “whistle” both nobles and kings “down the wind.” The ultimate idol is in every instance the important ego, the dear self.
It is surprising to see, and no man sees it until he endeavors to get rid of the evil, how intensely the soul of man revolves upon itself, and how difficult it is to desert itself and revolve around another. You, for example, give a sum of money to a poor and suffering family. The external act—what the schoolman would denominate the “matter” of the act—is good. And your fellow-men, who can see only the outward appearance, praise you as an excellent person. But let us look into the heart, and see if there really be the moral excellence, the true holiness before God, that is supposed. When the gift had been bestowed, did you not begin to congratulate yourself upon what you had done? Did not the left hand begin to know what the right hand had been doing? In other words, did not pride and self-worship begin to fill the heart, and was not the act, so far as the inward nature of it—what the same schoolman would call the “form” of it—is concerned, an egotistical one? Did you not worship and serve the creature more than the Creator, in this act—which yet was one of the best that you ever performed? Was there not a “sin” in this “holy thing?” Did not the “dead fly” spoil the “apothecaries’ ointment?” For if the inward disposition had corresponded entirely to the outward act, in this transaction; if the act were a really holy one; it would have been done to the glory of God, and there would not have been a particle of self-worship in your experience. You would not have had the least proud thought of self in the affair, but would have humbly thought only of God. After giving the gift, you would have said as David did in reference to the gift which he and the people of Israel had made to God in the building of the temple: “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly, after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.” You would have acknowledged that it is God who gives both the willingness to give, and the means of giving; that He is both the first cause and the last end of all things. But, by the supposition, you did neither. You gave the sum of money as something which your intellect and hands had originated, and you took the merit of the gift to yourself. You worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.
This, we affirm, is the natural, spontaneous bent of the human heart. The Christian confesses it, and mourns over the relics of it in himself, and longs for the time when his mixed experience shall end, and all these lingering remnants of idolatry shall be cleansed away, and he shall lose himself in the glory of God. And we are not afraid to submit the matter to the testimony and judgment of the natural man himself. No candid person will say that he naturally and spontaneously worships and serves his Creator more than he does the creature—more than he does himself. No truthful man will deny that his first thought is for himself, and his after-thought is for his neighbor and his Maker. And it is the very spontaneousness and unconsciousness of the selfishness that proves its depth and inveteracy.
If a man were obliged to summon up his reflections and resolutions, every time that he worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator; if it were such a difficult matter for him to be selfish and proud, that he must be continually thinking about it, and contriving how he could compass it; if it cost him as much thought and effort to glorify himself as it does to glorify God, this would prove that the egotism is not so deep-rooted and total. But what a man is spontaneously and unconsciously, that he is in the very roots of his being; that he is intensely and entirely. This very naturalness and uniformity with which every unregenerate man makes himself his own center, and terminates everything there, proves that this disposition is not on the surface, but is “the hidden man of the heart.”
Now, whoever would glorify God must reverse all this. In the first place, he must think of and recognize God as the first cause of all things. If he possess a strong intellect, or a cultivated taste, instead of attributing them to his own diligence in self-discipline and self-cultivation, he must trace them back to the Author of his intellectual constitution, who not only gave him all his original endowments, but has enabled him to be diligent in the use and discipline of them. If he possess great wealth, instead of saying in his heart: “My hand and brain have gotten me this,” he should acknowledge the Providence that has favored his plans and enterprises, and without which his enterprises, like those of many men around him, would have gone awry, and utterly failed. In brief, whatever be the earthly good which any one holds in his possession, its ultimate origin and authorship must be carried back to the First Cause of all things. Every man upon earth should continually say to himself, in the language of St. Paul, “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?”
And this, too, must become the natural and easy action of the mind and heart, in order perfectly to glorify God. It is a poor and lame service that we render to the Most High, when we do it by an after-thought. If, for instance, when I have performed some action, or made some acquisition that is creditable, my first thought is a proud one, and my first feeling is that of self-gratulation; no second thought, no after-feeling, that has reference to God can be a high and perfect homage. The very first thought, the very first emotion, should have terminated upon Him; and only the second thought, the secondary feeling, should have referred to myself—if, indeed, there should have been any such reference at all. If man were as holy as he was by creation; if he stood in his original unfallen relation; the very firstlings of his mind and heart would be offered to his Maker. But as matters now stand, his first instinctive reference is always to his own power, and his own agency. And even when, as in the instance of the Christian, there is an endeavor to remedy the evil, to correct the error; when after the proud feeling of self has arisen, the believer treads it down, and mourns over it, and endeavors to acknowledge God as the first cause and author; how imperfect and unworthy is the homage that is rendered.
It is true that our merciful and condescending God does not spurn such a service away, but sprinkles it with the blood of Christ, and accepts it as a sweet-smelling savor in Him; but this does not alter the fact that this is not the absolute and perfect homage and honor which is due from a creature. Suppose that the seraphim and cherubim should be compelled to rectify their service; suppose that for an instant they should lose sight of the transcending glory and excellence of the Creator, and their regards should drop down and terminate upon themselves as the authors and causes of their own excellences and endowments; what a “coming short” of the glory of God this would be! No, it is the directness and immediateness of the heavenly service that makes it a perfect one. Not even the thought of worshipping and serving themselves enters into the mind of those pure and holy spirits who live in the blaze, the unutterable light of God.
Again, it is implied in glorifying God, that we recognize him as the last end of all things. Every being and thing must have a final end—a terminus. The mineral kingdom is made for the vegetable kingdom; the vegetable kingdom is made for the animal kingdom; the animal kingdom is made for man; and all of them together are made for God. Go through all the ranges of creation, from the molecule of matter to the seraphim, and if you ask for the final purpose of its creation, the reply is, the glory of the Maker. And this is reasonable. For God is the greatest and most important, if we may use the word in such a connection, of all beings. That which justifies man in putting the dumb animals to his own uses, is the fact that he is a grander creature than they are. That which makes the inanimate world subservient to the animate—that which subsidizes the elements of earth, air, and water, and makes them tributary to the nourishment and growth of the beast and the bird—is the fact that the beast and the bird are of a higher order of existence than earth, air, and water. It was because man was the noblest, the most important, of all the creatures that God placed upon this planet, that he subordinated them all to him, and said to him in the original patent by which he deeded the globe to him: “Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed; have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Now, this principle holds good of the relation between the whole creation and its Creator. He is a higher and greater being than the whole created universe. The mass of his being, so to speak, outweighs all other masses. He never has created, he never can create, anything equal to himself in infinity and in glory. And therefore it is that he is the final end, the cause of causes, the absolute terminus where all the sweep and movement of creation must come to a rest.
It is an objection of the skeptic, that this perpetual assertion in the Scriptures that God is the chief end of creation, and this perpetual demand that the creature glorify him, is only a species of infinite egotism; that in making the whole unlimited universe subservient to him and his purposes, the Deity is only exhibiting selfishness upon an immense scale. But this objection overlooks the fact that God is an infinitely greater and higher Being than any or all of his creatures; and that from the very nature of the case the less must be subordinated to the greater. Is it egotism, when man employs in his service his ox or his ass? Is it selfishness, when the rose or the lily takes up into its own fabric and tissue the inanimate qualities of matter, and converts the dull and colorless elements of the clod into hues and odors, into beauty and bloom?
There would be egotism in the procedure, if man were of no higher grade of existence than the ox or the ass. There would be selfishness, if the rose and the lily were upon the same level with the inanimate elements of matter. But the greater dignity in each instance justifies the use and the subordination. And so it is, only in an infinitely greater degree, in the case when the whole creation is subordinated and made to serve and glorify the Creator. The distance between man and his ox, between the lily and the particle of moisture which it imbibes, is appreciable. It is not infinite. But the distance between God and the highest of his archangels is beyond computation. He chargeth his angels with folly. And therefore upon the principle that the less must serve the greater, the lower must be subordinate to the higher, it is right and rational that “every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, should say, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.”
All this a man is to think of and to acknowledge, if he would glorify God. This must be his spontaneous habit of mind, as natural and easy to him as his present selfishness and pride, before he can mingle in that celestial company who stand on the sea of glass, and have the harps of God, and sing the song saying, “Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty: just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints.”
1. In the light of this doctrine, as thus far expounded, we see, in the first place, the need of the regeneration of the human soul.
It is difficult to convince the natural man of the necessity of such a radical change as the Biblical theory of the new birth, and the constant reiterations of the pulpit imply. Testing himself by the statutes of common morality, he does not see the need of such an entire revolution within him. But how stands the case, in the light of the truth which we have been discussing? Is it true that every human creature ought to sustain such an adoring attitude towards God as has been described? that he ought habitually to think of him, and acknowledge him as the first cause and last end of all things, and honor him as such? Is it true that it is man’s chief end to glorify God, and that no man can be released from the obligation to attain the chief end of his existence? If so, then is there not absolute need of being “born of water and the Spirit?”
Look into the existing character and disposition and see how strongly and totally everything terminates upon self; how even religion is tinged with subtle and selfish references, and how destitute the human heart is of all spontaneous and outgushing desires to exalt and honor the Creator; and say if there is not perishing need of a new heart and a right spirit. All spiritual excellence resolves itself, ultimately, into a desire to render unto God the glory due unto his name—into a desire to worship. Religion is worship; and no creature, be he man or angel, who is destitute of a worshipping disposition, is religious. Morality, or the practice of virtue, is only the shell of religion. Religion itself, in its pure, simple nature, is adoration—the revering praise of God. The shell is good and needful in its own place; but it can never be a substitute for the living kernel and germ. It may protect it, and shield it, and adorn it; but it can never take its place. Try yourself, then, by this test; search and see what is the inclination and tendency of your heart in this particular, and we will leave it for you to say whether the human heart does or does not need the great change of the new birth; whether any man can see the kingdom of God without it; whether any man is fit to enter the upper temple with no outgushing homage, adoration, and worship in his soul.
2. In the second place, we see in the light of this subject why the individual Christian is imperfectly blest of God.
His service is imperfect. There is much worship of self in connection with his worship of God. How many of our prayers are vitiated by unbelief; but unbelief is a species of dishonor to God. It is a distrust of his power and his promise. How many of our feelings, even our religious feelings, are tinctured with selfishness; but just so far as self enters, God is expelled. The Christian experience is a mixed one. It lacks the purity, and simplicity, and godly sincerity which admit but one object, and that is the Blessed God; but one absorbing desire and purpose, and that is to glorify him. It is impossible, therefore, in this condition of the soul, that we should experience the perfection of religious joy.
“I am Jehovah,” saith God; “that is my name, and my glory will I not give to another.” God will not share homage and honor with any creature; and therefore it is, that when he sees one of his children still lingering about self, like Lot’s wife about Sodom—still anxious about his own worldly interests and his own worldly honor—he does not communicate the entire fulness of his blessing upon him. He hides his countenance from him; he keeps back many of the joys of his salvation; nay, he afflicts him and disciplines him, until he learns more thoroughly to make God the sole strength and portion of his heart, and to give unto him the glory due unto his name.
3. And thirdly, this subject discloses the reason of languid vitality in the Church, and its slow growth in numbers and influence.
The Christian life is in low tone, because the Church gives glory to another than God. We do not say, and we do not believe, that the Church is destitute of a desire to acknowledge God as the first cause and last end of all things, and to render him homage and honor. The Church of the living God, with all its faults, is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” and is dear to him as the apple of the eye. Nevertheless, every child of God will confess that there is much ambition, and vainglory, and creature-worship, mingled with the spirituality. Grace is hindered and hampered by indwelling sin. The plans and purposes of God’s people are corrupted and damaged by a mixture of the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. In connection with their dependence upon God, they depend somewhat upon the arm of flesh. They rely in part upon their zeal, upon their excellences real or reputed, upon their position in the eyes of men.
But God says unto his Church in every age and place: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” are believers to live and grow, and sinners to be converted. “Neither he that planteth, nor he that watereth, is anything, but God that giveth the increase. The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God; therefore let no flesh glory in his sight.” The particular point to be noticed is, that this mixture of self-love and self-worship with the love of God, and the worship of God, must be reduced down to a minimum, before the Church will see great manifestations of the Divine presence. In the ordinary state of the Church, there is too much of it to admit of such a blessing.
When the people of God become uncommonly humble and self-abased; when they feel very profoundly that their covenant God is the Great I AM, and that he will neither give his glory to another nor share it with another, and that he alone will be exalted in the earth; then they lie low in the dust before Him, and cry with Daniel: “O our God, hear the prayer of thy servants, and their supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O our God, incline thine ear and hear; open thine eyes and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies.”
This is a prayer in which the creature retreats entirely, and the Creator comes solely into view. Here is no self-worship and vainglory; but a pure outgushing recognition of God as Jehovah, the Being of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things. And hence the immediateness of the answer which that prayer received. “For,” says the prophet himself, “whiles I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the Lord my God for the holy mountain of my God; yea, whiles I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the beginning, being caused to fly swiftly, touched me about the time of the evening oblation.”
William G. T. Shedd, Sermons to the Spiritual Man, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1884), 99–115.