This God Our God!
East London Tabernacle
July 12, 1896
"For this God is our God forever and ever. He will be our guide even unto death!" Psalm 48:14
"You shall guide me with your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory!" Psalm 73:24
"This God is our God." This God who has such boundless power, who works such a glorious deliverance, who is known in the palaces of Jerusalem for a refuge — this God is our God, and will be our guide even unto death. And then, speaking in the 73rd Psalm, Asaph puts the finishing touch to this blessed statement. Not only will this God be our guide unto death, but afterward he will receive us to glory!
There are three things which I want you to look at:
We have, first, the glorious fact that this God is our God.
Then we have the very safe prophecy that this God will be ours forever, and will be our guide unto death.
Then, as the third point, we have the crowning mercy, and this we get from our second text. It is that God will not stop short with guiding us unto death, but that afterward he will receive us into his glory.
I. Let us look at the Glorious Fact That this God is Our God.The text does not say that "a God" is our God, nor does it say that "the God of the heavens" is our God. The declaration is very emphatic. It is "this God;" that is, as Delitzsch renders it in his admirable version of the Psalms, "such an one"; such a God as has been portrayed in the previous verses of the psalm; the God that has been set forth all the way through the 48th Psalm. "This God is our God."
If the Holy Spirit will but help me this morning, I shall be able to show you that the word "this" is not the least word in the text. It is not an unmeaning little appendage. Everything lies in it. If I am to know how wealthy I am, it is necessary for me to know, not only that God is mine, but what kind of God my God is. I will, therefore, ask you to concentrate your thoughts upon the word "this." "This God is our God."
It is evidently necessary that we should look into the psalm in order to see what is intended by the word "this." The very first verse gives you the clue: "Great is the Lord;" and then our text says, "this God", that is, this great God. The idea is that we have in our God, no mere local deity. He is not a second-rate God. He is no manufactured idol which, like the gods of the heathen, has to be carried by his worshipers. He is the great God. The men and the women of Ephesus went mad for many hours, and in their madness they ceased not to cry, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians"; but their foolish cry at last died out to their own confusion. But God's people are able, not in frenzy, but in much soberness and truth, to declare, "Great is the God of his people!"
He is great in himself. I confess that I never feel so utterly swamped, and so powerless to set forth in language even the thoughts that are in my own mind, as when the theme of my discourse is God himself. You may speak — I was going to say, with comparative ease — about the attributes of God, and about what God has done — but who of us knows who God is or what God is? Are there any frontiers to the greatness of our God? "Great is the Lord." How far goes the boundary? How great is he? That he is great in his power and his wisdom, all nature declares. I do not need a Bible to tell me that there is a God of infinite majesty. "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork"; and I am persuaded that a little knowledge of astronomy would do untold good to all God's children.
I believe that, through our very ignorance of the heavens above us, we have a cramped idea of God. He becomes a sort of parochial deity; for, after all, what is this solar system? We may talk of the sun which walks forth in his brightness, and we may speak of this system of which our earth forms part — but, after all, what is it? Have you ever marked that sentence in Genesis, "And he made the stars also?" What an "also"! We know that each star is itself a sun, and that our sun which blazes every day is only one of millions, and though, up to the present time, no telescope has been able to discover the fact, yet in all probability every star that we see is a sun which is the center of a system of its own. And, when we have swept the entire Heaven with our telescopes, let us remember that we have, in all probability, only just seen the fringe of creation. How far space goes, and how far space is filled up with countless suns more glorious than that which shines overhead, and how many myriads of systems there are revolving in space, God only knows, though I hope to have an idea by and by when I get into the glory.
Let our thoughts fly a little way beyond this limited solar system, and be lost for a moment among the myriad suns, those points of light which are known to us as stars, and let us remember that, in consequence of the greatness of God's power, not one of them fails, and then we shall see that great is the Lord our God. He is great in his power, for he upholds all things; and he is great in his wisdom, for he hangs the heavens upon nothing. Oh, the depth of wisdom by which God has balanced one world against another, so that, by his own law of gravitation, worlds help to uphold each other, and, being hung in space, they revolve round about him. In presence of that starry host our spirits cry, "Great is the Lord in power and in wisdom, and this God is our God forever and ever!"
And yet, when I talk about God being great in power and in wisdom, I only say the least that can be said of him, for revelation declares that he is great in CHARACTER. Nature proves that he is great in power; but come to this Word where God has been pleased to reveal himself, and what do we find in that? We discover God to be as infinitely sublime in character as he is great in power and wisdom. "Holy, holy, holy" is the cry of revelation. The infinitely glorious God is as full of love to his people, as he is full of power to uphold the stars. And this God is our God.
And not only is he great in character, but he is great also in all his OFFICES. As manifested in Christ Jesus, oh how he fills out and expands every office.
Is he a Savior? I read that he is "a great one."
Is he a Shepherd? He is "the great Shepherd of the sheep."
Is he a Priest? He is "our great High Priest."
Oh, our God is no little deity! All majesty dwells in him. "Great is the Lord", thunders out the first verse, "And this God is our God", says verse 14. What a wonderful psalm this is, if we merely take the beginning and the end of it and link them together. "Great is the Lord", is the shout of the first verse. "This God is our God", is the declaration of the last verse.
And then God is not only great. The word discovers more than that, for you will see in the 3rd verse that he is a God who is known and proved to be a REFUGE. "God is known in her palaces for a refuge"; and this God who is known as a refuge is our God. If time sufficed, I would like to call up an array of witnesses, and turn this platform into a witness-box so that you might listen to their testimony. Is God known as a refuge? That is the question which has to be decided, and you have to give the verdict this morning. Is God known as a refuge? Let the witnesses come.
I can see hoary-headed old Noah coming forth to bear his testimony: "I trusted God, and, though a world was drowned, he rescued me."
Is God known as a refuge? And the old patriarch Abraham says, "I proved him to be so. I had my hand upon the knife while my boy was on the altar, and in that dread moment God delivered me, and a new name was coined, and I called him Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide."
Do you not think that David would come tripping to the witness-box and say, "I know God for a refuge. He delivered me from the paw of the lion, and from the hug of the bear; and he delivered me from the might of Goliath!"
And I am sure that Daniel would not be left out. He would say, "I know that I can bear a good witness. I went into a den of lions, and not one of them even breathed his hot breath upon me to discomfort me. I rested as sweetly that night as ever, because God was my refuge."
"Oh", you say, "that is very old history." Come along, then, my friend. Come out of that pew, and stand on the platform here yourself. Come and bear your testimony. Have you known God as a refuge? You have heard others say that he is. Have you ever proved him so? If I were to put it to the vote, I believe that every child of God who is here would be ready to spring to his feet and say, "I bear testimony that God is known by his people as a refuge." And this God who is so known is "our God forever and ever."
You will see in the 9th verse that, this God is a God of LOVING-KINDNESS. "We have thought of your loving-kindness, O God." "Loving-kindness" is about the most lovely word in the Bible. It is a mixture of two things, both of which are sweet — love and kindness; and when you blend them together you get loving-kindness. I have sometimes received kindness which was not particularly loving, and which on that account lost half its beauty; and I have met some people who were very loving, but they had not an opportunity to show their love in any practical kindness. But when we get love and kindness mingled, when the kindness has been shown in love, and when the love has manifested itself in kindness — then we have the acme of all that is blessed. Our God, great in nature, power, and wisdom, and great as a refuge, is a God who is known by his loving-kindness.
And, once more, he is One who is PRAISED as universally as he is known. That is a big thing which is said in the 10th verse: "According to your name, O God, so is your praise." And here let me acknowledge again that I have been utterly lost in my theme. Do you catch the thought? "According to your name, O God, so is your praise." I had been looking upon this fallen world, and I felt so disappointed. It seemed to me that it was such a barren bit of ground, and that my Lord reaped such a poor harvest of praise from it, that I almost felt sorry for him. I thought, "Lord, for one that loves you on this earth, it seems that there are a hundred that are indifferent to you." But I looked at this text, "According to your name, O God, so is your praise", and my thoughts went up among those worlds on high.
Is not God praised everywhere? Why, after all, what a drop in the bucket are all the inhabitants of this earth put together. How many myriads of angels are there, think you? And they all praise him. And who am I that I should think that the poor little world in which I happen to dwell is the only world that is inhabited? I have not a doubt that in every point of light in the heavens there are unfallen beings who bless and praise their Maker. I rejoice to think that, perhaps, the atoning sacrifice which redeemed one little world keeps myriads of systems from falling, and that through boundless ages their praises will ascend unto God. "According to your name, O God, so is your praise."
And — can we believe it — "this God", who is hymned by pure, bright spirits, of whom we know nothing, and who is worshiped and adored by the inhabitants of a million worlds, "is our God forever and ever!" There is not a landowner in England who can say concerning the fields which he calls his own, that they are his for ever. No, Mr Landowner. You cannot say concerning your farms or your fields, "These are mine forever and ever." Why, my dear sir, perhaps you will be buried in one of those fields before long. The king cannot say concerning his crown, "This crown is my crown for ever and ever." After it has made his head ache enough, it will give a headache to his son, and then it will be passed on again. Business man, you cannot say concerning your business, "This is mine forever." You think that it is yours, and you look at that shop, and you say, "That is mine." But for how long will it be yours? There is not a Christian business man here who can say concerning his business what he can say concerning his God.
Is not this astonishing? I felt amazed when I thought that I was able to say more concerning my God, than I am able to say concerning my own child. I am able to say concerning my God more than I able to say concerning my own home or anything that I possess. "This God is our God forever and ever." He is our God "forever", and, as if that were not emphatic enough, the Holy Spirit adds, "and ever."
It is not fiction; it is not rhapsody; it is a splendid fact. God is the portion of his people forever. There are two passages in the Scripture which ought never to be separated:
One is, "The Lord's portion is His people." Deuteronomy 32:9.
And the other passage is this, "The Lord is my portion, says my soul." Lamentations 3:24
God and my soul possess each other.
God finds his portion in His people — and His people find their portion in God.
This God is mine, in all His glorious perfection.
His heart is mine, for He loves me.
His ear is mine, for I may pour into it all my tales of sorrow and all my songs of joy.
His eyes are mine, for they watch me from morning until night.
His hand is mine, for it is stretched out to uphold me.
Oh, He is a God of infinite glory. Abased in the very dust, and half bewildered by the thought, I yet dare to look up, and say, "This God is my God forever and ever. He will be my guide even unto death!" Psalm 48:14
The Lord help us to receive this blessed fact. It is not
a dream; it is not a metaphor; it is not a poem. It is true of us all as we
are gathered here, if only we are believers. This God is our God.
II. We have also here A VERY SAFE PROPHECY.It is that this God who is ours, "will be our guide even unto death."
"Our guide." Then we are a pilgrim company. The wealth of the believer is not discernible. As I look at you from this platform, if I did not know your life and your history, I could never guess which was the lost sinner and which was the saved saint. One looks quite as respectable as another. I will defy anybody to pick out God's saints by their external surroundings. Indeed, often God's choicest saints are earth's poorest sons. Very often God's most choice children are earth's sickliest, weakest, humblest, and most despised ones. The men who can lay their hands upon this psalm, and say, "This God is my God" are but a poor pilgrim host, and they need guidance.
Do you grasp the wonderful thought that is contained here? This God, this great all-glorious Lord, this God that is being sung of by a myriad worlds today, takes his place as our guide, and he says, "I will go before you as I went before Israel. I will mark out your path, and I will lead you along it."
How does he guide us? You will now see why we have added to the first part of our text the words taken from the 73rd Psalm. Those words are very humbling, but they are very instructive. "You shall guide me with your counsel." But who is the one whom God is willing to guide? Now read from the 22nd verse: "So foolish was I." Well, I think that a great many of us can say that. That just suits me. I feel that I am among God's foolish ones. And what are the next words? "And ignorant." Yes, and that word also describes me with remarkable correctness. I am conscious that I am both foolish and ignorant. The man who says this of himself is the man who says that he is going to be guided.
But he is not done yet. He says, "I was as a beast before you." You must not call anybody else a beast, but if you like to call yourself one, you are at full liberty to do so, and you have given yourself rather a complimentary title, for, in many respects, we are all even lower than the beasts. No man of God who knows anything at all about himself will hesitate to say, "I was as a beast before you."
And what does he mean by that? I was as short-sighted as a beast. Just as an ox never looks back through the centuries that have passed, or troubles his bovine brain about the years that are to come, but is occupied with the grass that is at his mouth — so have I often been earth-occupied and short-sighted.
I have been like a beast, stubborn and stupid,
as if there were no starlit worlds overhead. I have been as a beast before
you; and yet, though I was so foolish and so ignorant, and though I have
often been so beast-like, "nevertheless I am continually with you. You have
held me by your right hand. You shall guide me with your counsel, and
afterward receive me to glory."
III.Let us pause for a moment here. This leads us up to THE CROWNING MERCY. Our first text only says that God will be our guide unto death, and does not go beyond that goal. A dear brother who is worshiping with us this morning gave me this text. He said to me, "Has it ever struck you that it is very singular that God should guide anybody unto death?" It does seem strange, does it not? I know very well that the primary meaning there is a reference to time, and that it indicates that God will guide me all my life until I die; but that does not alter the fact that God guides us unto death. We would have thought that it would have been that God so guides us that we should escape death. But no, it is God guiding us unto death.
Even the divine leading affords no escape from death. That is a penalty which I have to pay. Wherever there is sin, there must be death. Ah, but, if God guides me unto death, I do not think that I need be afraid to die. If God takes me by the hand and leads me, though it be up to that last monster, I will not be afraid. If God guides me even into the sepulcher, I need not shrink back. Death loses its gloom, and the terrors of death depart, the moment that we realize that God guides us unto death.
But dear Andrew Bonar, no mean scholar, points out that instead of the word "unto" it should be "over" or "beyond." "This God is our God forever and ever. He will be our guide even over death." He does not bid me good-bye at the dying moment. He does not guide me into the river, and say, "Now you must swim that bit for yourself." He does not guide me into the dying crisis, and say, "Now that I have brought you up thus far, you must scramble through the remaining hours alone." He will guide me over or beyond death. And what then? Then Asaph in the 73rd Psalm finishes it: "And afterward, after he has guided me up to death, and after he has guided me over death, he then will receive me to glory!"
"This God!" Imagine this God receiving me to glory. Can you take in the idea? This God that we have seen to be so majestic all the way through the psalm — this God is going to receive me.
But my text says that he is guiding me. How can a guide receive me? Have you never read in the New Testament that he shall present us unto himself? That is just what he is doing. God in the Trinity of his persons is guiding me by the Holy Spirit along that blessed way consecrated by the Lord Jesus; and Jesus is going to pass me over unto the Father, a redeemed soul, and this glorious God will receive me! He will receive me into glory at the hands of his own dear Son.
All God's receptions are welcomes. This is more than can be said of earth's receptions. I sometimes have a card sent me — I suppose by way of compliment — for admission to some reception that is given in connection with religious or social work. I confess that I am afraid of these receptions. I have been to one or two, but I have got so thoroughly frozen that I have steered clear of such refrigerators ever since. If there is anything which is a deception, it is what is called a reception; and, if there is anything that does not receive you, it is that which by form and title professes to do so. The Lord Mayor, perhaps, and a few aldermen in big cloaks and golden chains are there to meet you, and your name is shouted out at the door, and somebody bows, and so you are "received." A beautiful reception that is!
That is not how God is going to receive us. The eternal Jehovah — I say it with reverence — the eternal Jehovah, with a face beaming with delight, will say to me in that day, "Welcome, welcome, purchase of the blood of my Son! Welcome, trophy of the blessed Spirit's power! Welcome in!" And I, astonished, shall say, "Where, Lord?" and he will say, "Into glory. Welcome into the glory!"
That is what lies in the "afterward." Are you going home depressed? Then ask the Lord to take this morning's text, and to lodge it in the very center of your being, and you shall sing, "This glorious God, this great Lord, is mine. He is my own forever and ever. He will be my God unto and beyond death, and after that he will receive me into glory!"