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Divine Destruction and Protection

A Sermon
(No. 3494)
Published on Thursday, January 13th, 1916.
Delivered by
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

"And all the trees of the field shall know that I, Jehovah, have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish. I, Jehovah, have spoken and have done it."—Ezekiel 17:29.

AN your minds fly back to the time when there was no time, to the day when there was no day but the Ancient of Days? Can you speed back to that period when God dwelt alone, when this round world and all the things that be upon it, had not come from his hand; when the sun flamed not in his strength, and the stars flashed not in their brightness? Can you go back to the period when there were no angels, when cherubim and seraphim had not been born; and, if there be creatures elder than they, when none of them had as yet been formed? Is it possible, I say, for you to fly so far back as to contemplate God alone—no creature no breath of song, no motion of wing—God himself alone, without another? Then, indeed, he had no rival; none then could contest with him, for none existed. All power, and glory, and honour and majesty were gathered up into Himself. And we have no reason to believe that he was less glorious than He is now, when his ministers delight to do his pleasure; nor less great than now, when he has crested worlds on worlds, and thrown them into space, scattering over the sky stars with both his hands. He sat on no precarious throne; he needed none to add to his power; he needed none to bring him a revenue of praise; his all-sufficiency could spirit of no lack. Consider next, if ye can, the eternal purpose of God that he would create. He determines it in his mind. Could any but a divine motive actuate the Divine Architect? What must that motive have been? He creates that he may display his own perfections. He does beget, as it were, creatures after his own image that he may live in them; that he may manifest to others the joy, the pleasure, the satisfaction, which he so intensely feels in himself. Certain 1 am his own glory must have been the end he had in view; he would reveal his glory to the sons of men, to angels, and to such creatures as he had formed, in order that they might reflect his honour and sing his praise. You are not ignorant, my brethren, of the fact that sin entered into the world. You know that the creation, which had been harmonious as a psalm in God's praise, voluminous and exhaustive as a book in which he revealed his own character—this creation, once exceedingly fair, became foully marred. Rival instincts were produced, and rival Interests were set up. Man's will stood up against God's will; mar's profit against God's honour; man's device against God's counsel. Eve took of the accursed fruit, and Adam partook of the same, and henceforth man became a rival to God, just as Satan, aforetime, had rebelled against the blessed and only Potentate, and usurped authority. From the time when Satan fell, God's purpose was to break down everything which set itself up in opposition to him. From that day till now, no matter how great, how lofty, how apparently excellent a thing might be, it has been the rule with God to pull it down if it did not stand in him, and for him; yea, and wherever he has looked, no matter how mean a thing may have been, how low, how degraded to outward appearance, it has been God's constant rule to lift it up, if it stood in him, and for him. Or if, by the lifting up of the humble, he might throw scorn upon the haughty, he would thereby magnify his own absolute right to exercise sovereign control, and to do with men as he willed.
    Oh! that I could command the words of some of the mighty masters of song, or that I had an angel's voice, so much rather would I hymn this high majestic theme than speak of it in listless prose. But I cannot rise to the awful heights of this incomparable design. I contemplate it with awe not unmingled with admiration—the Eternal God withstanding everything that opposes itself against him—thrusting down the mighty from their seats, plucking off crowns from the heads of princes, degrading the escutcheons of nobles, trampling in the mire the fine linen and the scarlet of the rich, setting at nought the wisdom of the wise, divesting the philosopher of his toga, rending in pieces the robes of the priest, end pouring contempt upon everything that vaunts pretension or arrogates prestige in defiance of his sacred prescriptive, irrevocable lordship. There is no power or permanence, no warrant or worth, in any claim to greatness or goodness independent of God, or antagonistic to him. My conceptions are too dwarfish, my language is too feeble, to compass the grandeur of this theme. It's truth commends it, and its usefulness enhances it: since it bows the heart before God. and convinces us that then only are we in a fit state to be filled with his fulness, to live in his life, to be wise with his wisdom, and to be glorious in his glory, when we are emptied of our own conceits. Mine, however, will be a more practical lesson at this time; and I shall use more homely words than that nobler subject might have demanded.
    METHINKs I see a great forest which reaches for many a league. The trees are of divers growths, and of various ages. Some of them are very lofty. Here a towering cedar and yonder the storks have made their nests among the tall fir trees. Stout oaks there are that laugh at storms, and elms that will not be twisted with the tempest. See how they rival each other! And there are lowlier trees; some bearing fruit, though scarcely seen; others, like the vine, creeping upon the ground—so obscure they can hardly be observed. It is a strange forest in which trees of every clime are to be found; some green, verdant, lader with blossoms and with fruit; others dead, dry, withered, with scarce here and there a leaf. It is the evening, the cool of the day. The Lord God that visited the fair garden of Eden is come to walk in this forest. Along those deep glades, amidst that thick shade, the Almighty appears. He comes. How see I him? Bears he in his hand an awful axe, and cloth he pass his finger along its edge to see that it be keen? Strong is the arm that wields it. Howl, cedars, if once he life that axe against you. What means that Woodman to do? Wait, and let us hear him speak. Oh! ye trees of the field be silent before the Lord. Clap not your hands until we have heard him speak. "The trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree—beware, ye towering cedars!—"that I have exalted the low tree"—take courage, ye lowly vines!—"have dried up the green tree"—wail, ye verdant elms—"and have made the dry tree to flourish";—hope, ye withered boughs!—"I the Lord have spoken, and have done it." Let the trees be silent before the Lord, for he cometh to judge them, and he judgeth them with much jealousy. That forest I have before my eyes; men like trees appear to me in the vision. While I gaze on this dense mass of people listening to my voice, let me interpret the Mighty Woodman's words to you. There are four notes of which we shall speak one after the other. May God sanctify the emblems to our profit, touching our ears, and teaching our hearts, that we may rightly understand what the Lord saith to the trees of the forest.
    Look over history, and you will see that everything gigantic in stature and colossal in dimensions, whatsoever has been great to human apprehension, grasping at earthly fame, has become an object for God's penetrating arrows, and a subject for his withering blight. A grand idea of universal monarchy flashed upon the mind of man. He would build a tower, the top whereof should reach to heaven. What did the Lord do with this fine scheme? "I will come down," said "to Babel, and see if it be altogether as they have said." Then he touched their tongues, and confounded their language, and scattered the imaginations of their hearts: so he laughed them to scorn, and left them to be a laughingstock to all generations. Then came the great power of Egypt. Pharaoh said, "Am I not lord of Thebes, with its hundred gates, and with its myriads of brazen chariots? Have I not a mighty host of cavalry? Who is equal to me? I speak, and the nations tremble." When the king hardened his heart, how did Jehovah—the King of kings—get himself honour from Pharaoh and his hosts? "Thou didst blow with thy wind; the sea covered them; they sank as lead in the mighty waters. Sing unto the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider bath he cast into the sea!" In after years Babylon set herself up as a queen. "I shall be a lady for ever," said the gay metropolis of; the earth, the mighty city of Euphrates. "I sit alone; I shall see no sorrow." Behold, she decketh herself out with scarlet, she arrayeth herself with silk; all the nations of the earth are quiet when she ariseth nor is the sound of a whisper heard when the voice of her command goes forth. But where art thou, daughter of Assyria, where art thou now, O daughter of Chaldea, where is the crown which once circled thy brow and adorned thy heady Go, mark a leap of rubbish, and of desolate stones; hear the hooting of the owls and the howling of the dragons, as each one calleth to his fellow in the midst of a desolation which cannot be repaired! How art thou fallen from heaven, Lucifer, son of the morning! Thus God breaketh in pieces with his right hand everything arrogant and supercilious, that dares to assert greatness apart from his endowment, or to presume on authority other than he delegates. I might prolong the strain. I might tell you of Rome, and all the boastings of that Imperial mistress, point to her faded charms, and tell of her decay and her decadence. I might lead you back to Sennacherib and all his hosts overthrown, or recite the story of Nebuchadnezzar, driven out from the abodes of men, and feeding the beasts. I might show you lesser kings, kings of Israel, brought exceeding low, until they who had sat on the throne as princes pined in the dungeon among slaves. To multiply instances would be only to confirm the general current of history, and illustrate the fact that the Lord, even the Lord of hosts, always cuts down the high tree, humiliates the creature that exalts itself, and suffers no flesh to glory in his presence. That is the law of his government.
    The question arises, how does it concerns us? Doubtless it opens a sad prospect to those who are lifted up with pride, or inflated with self-opinion. Are there any among you who boast in heraldry a long succession of illustrious names which has ennobled your pedigree? Some people seem to think that the world is hardly good enough for them to tread upon, as if they were made of china, while other men are moulded but of common clay; they look down upon the public as an ignoble herd, and speak of the masses as the "many-headed" and the "great unwashed." Such a man will play the parasite to his own dear self, passionately cherish his own conceits and petulantly hold that whatever belongs to him is better than anyone else can procure for love or money, be it his house, or his horse, the water from his well, or the wine from his cellar. At his wit let all inferiors laugh; to his greed let all who, would receive his patronizing nod do obeisance. In stately isolation he will acknowledge no rival. Knowest thou, man, that in one respect thou hast a veritable pre-eminence?—thou mayest fairly challenge all thy fellows for one whose disposition the Lord hates more than he abhors shine. Among the seven abominations, your order ranks highest. No liar or murderer can claim a preeminence over you in vice so long as the Proverbs stand. Ere long, the heel of the Almighty shall be lifted higher than thy haughty head. He will cast thee down, be thy look never so proud; for the Lord hath purposed it to stain the pride of all glory, to bring into contempt all the excellency of the earth.
    There is, again, an arrogance of mind, of judgement, of opinion, just as ignorant—if not quite so grotesque—as his who dreams that his birth is of higher caste, and his blood of richer hue than other men. Humanity in the bulk is the idol of some people; and yonder I see the man who quotes himself as an illustrious specimen. He does not believe in the total depravity of human nature. Judging by himself, the statement that the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint, is a myth; or if it were ever true of a recreant Jew, it never was a fair indictment against such an orthodox Christian as he is. No, no; he has kept the law; he feels that in all things he is blameless; he has not erred, neither will he humble himself before the word that God speaks to us. In the opinion of such, the gospel that we preach is very good for harlots, thieves, and drunkards, but it is of no use to the righteous, for they have put down their own names among those who need no repentance. Admirable in their conduct, their temper amiable, and their disposition generous, a salvation by free grace would be wasted on them. The Lord will abase thee, be thou man or woman, whosoever thou mayest be; he will shame thee; the axe is ready to be laid at thy root even now. Thy goodness is not God's goodness, and thy righteousness is not Christ's righteousness; therefore, shall the moth consume it, and it shall be eaten away. Or it is my friend yonder, a working man, who says, " Well, I work as hard as anybody; I bring up my children as well as I can; I have nothing from the parish; and if I see a poor mate out of work, I always subscribe my mite, though I have not much to give away; can it be right to tell me that I am not in a fair way of going to heaven?" Ah! the Lord will deprive you of such boasting, for he will bring down all these high trees. You that have any righteousness of your own, whether you be rich or poor, the same word will apply to you all. What mattereth it whether you are born of princes, or the offspring of beggars, pride will nestle in any heart, and presumption will take advantage of any circumstances? Perhaps I may address some person who says, "Well, I am a member of the orthodox and true church; I have been baptized, and I have been confirmed after the most proper manner; I receive the Lord's supper on all fit and proper occasions. The clergyman from whom I take the sacrament has received apostolical ordination. How tasteful the architecture of our church! How decorous; the congregation! How enchanting the music! There are none of your rough wild notes that give vent to the feelings. Our organ is the perfection of mecha