PSALM 96:10, “Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth …”

What is the most important proclamation the world needs to hear? In light of renewed interest in religion, what is the message to modern man in this critical hour of tension and turmoil? In other words, what should be the content of preaching?

There are many answers to that question, popular and unpopular. For example, some people believe the only message for today is racial integration and its related social problems. Others believe it is ecumenicity, the unity of the Church and the need for Church union. Others would constantly preach about the return of Christ at the end of time or some interpretation of the millennium. Others would involve preaching only in theological controversy, such as modernism vs. fundamentalism, and orthodoxy vs. neo-orthodoxy. And still others believe that the threat of communism to the Church ought to be the principal concern of preaching.

All of the above subjects are very important and should be brought into the pulpit. They belong to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But one wearies of hearing the same subjects from preachers with pet prejudices, which they parade endlessly to the exclusion of all else. Surely there is something greater and more vital to proclaim to our world, which will apply to its deepest need, as well as to secondary problems that we are so prone to make primary.

And there is! The true Gospel transcends all the little themes in which little men often lose themselves. We find it in Psalm 96:10, our text, “Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth.…” That has always been the greatest message to proclaim, the word for this world, the fundamental of all fundamentals. The absolute sovereignty of almighty God is the most important lesson for modern man to learn. He must rediscover the basic fact in the universe, namely, that God is really God!

Such little ideas are prevalent about God these days. This may be because we have such big ideas about ourselves. The Bible teaching about the sovereignty of God is not taken seriously. The renewed interest in religion has not produced humbleness. Men are still trying to make God after man’s image. How small that makes God!

We smile indulgently about the strange idols of pagan people, who live in what we like to call the benighted areas of this earth. Poor souls! we say. We make it our business to bring them the benefits of our genius. We can be so patronizingly magnanimous about it all! But, of course, we want them to adopt our “way of life” too. We want them to live in the light of our modern culture, to share the ideas that have made us so great.

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However, many reject our way of life. They take our material goods, but not our way of thinking and living. This baffles us and insults us. We wonder how they can be so ungrateful. Perhaps it isn’t a matter of ingratitude. They believe that their gods are superior and we are pagans. Some state bluntly that they even prefer the idols and the ideas of communism!

And no wonder, for the popular conceptions of God that prevail in our supposedly Christian culture can hardly compete with the gods of pagan theologies. For people to take God seriously, He must be greater than the popular idea of Him.

Popular Misconceptions

For many of our scientists, God must be small enough to be seen through a telescope, or to be measured by a mathematical formula or to be put into a test tube. It is considered to be quite a compliment to God when a noted scientist declares that he believes in Him.

For many of our philosophers, God must be small enough to fit the limitations of their little minds. If they cannot comprehend him, they cannot believe in him. The Word of God is for many a modern thinker quite beside the point, a weird jumble of fact and fiction, almost without validity and certainly without authority.

For many of our politicians, God must be small enough to be used for the purpose of getting votes. His name in campaign speeches is like the name of an athlete on a box of breakfast cereal or like the name of an actress on a cake of soap. God is used to recommend the politician to the gullible public, but otherwise he is something of a misfit in politics.

For many of our economists, God must be small enough to bow humbly before the dictates of big labor leaders, big captains of industry and big officials of government, who solve all our problems for us in this area of life. He must wink at injustice, turn his head discreetly lest he look upon violence, put his blessing blindly upon tyranny and then comfort the poor victims of domestic strife. But he may not occupy a decisive role. After all, what does the God of that ancient Bible know about the complicated problems of our modern machine age?

For many of our diplomats, God must be small enough to live within the cozy little chapel reserved for him—and for all other gods—in the United Nations building. He cannot have an active part in the great assemblies of world powers, lest we antagonize those who do not believe in him and thus jeopardize our hopes for world peace. Apparently our international problems are outside the sphere of his sovereignty.

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And for many of our theologians, God must be small enough to dwell in temples made with human hands. Some are churches where creeds are dead, where the word of man has replaced the Word of God, where ecclesiastical power is more important than redeeming grace, where the Cross of Christ is little more than a symbol. The towering biblical truths that speak about an absolutely sovereign God are too great to be found in these churches. Modern man does not want the sovereign God. The modern church must give him another one, a smaller god, a more liberal god, like man himself, made in his image, a god he can handle. This is the supreme tragedy of our times, that even churches have become too small for God—the God of the Bible, and of the great creeds that are based upon it! Meanwhile, these churches are big enough to hold all those who want to be religious these days, whatever their religion may be. They have room for the largest membership in history, but they are too small for God—the true God, the absolutely sovereign God.

Whittled To Our Size

Not long ago I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion before a group of college and university students who wanted to examine the various religious ideas of our day. One member of our panel was a distinguished liberal preacher who became somewhat embarrassed and irritated by the questions asked. They found certain inconsistencies in his theology, and they were particularly critical of his conception of God. Finally, one of them asked him bluntly: “Do you think God is infinite or finite?” The answer was equally blunt, and little caustic: “Of course, I believe that God is finite. He is limited by the actions of men. In this enlightened age, how can any intelligent person still believe in an infinite God?”

What midget ideas we have of God! We have whittled him down to our size, and even smaller, so that he would be more manageable. Indeed, when our text states, “say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth …”—that God is really God—it is speaking to our modern culture, too. That word “heathen” applies not only to those who have never heard the Christian Gospel but also to those who have heard it and have rejected it. It not only fits a civilization where the Word of God has never come but also one where it has come and gone. And in either case, the most important thing to proclaim is that God is the absolute sovereign in this world!

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Greatness And Glory

It seems almost incredible that men should miss what is the most obvious fact in this universe. How can they be so blind? Just look heavenward some clear night and you will see a cluster of stars that is the finest in the northern sky. You can count 6,000 stars in that group, if you try, and each one of them is larger than the sun. And the sun is so big that you could put a million of our little earths into it and still have room to spare. Who is behind all of that? Who brought it into being? Who has been upholding it twenty-four hours a day, year in and year out, for centuries, so that every part of it stays where it belongs in its patterned orbit? Why, God, of course! And yet these tiny creatures on this tiny planet dare to deny him or to refashion him to fit the limitations of their own little thoughts.

The Bible says in Daniel 4:35: “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say to him: What doest Thou?” These words came from the lips of a pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, but he had to suffer most awful punishment before he became humble enough to say it. Amid all the rubble of twenty-three civilizations that historians declare have already perished, we find the evidence that indicates what happens to men if they refuse to acknowledge this fact. We must either take the sovereignty of God seriously, and live; or deny it, and die!

But if we are going to take it seriously, we must see God at his greatest, his highest, and his best. That cannot be done by merely looking at his heaven through a telescope, or by observing the laws that govern his world, or by marking his footprints in the path of history. God is God, supreme and sovereign, not only because he is the creator of the world, and the One who upholds it, but because he is the Redeemer of the world, the One who saves it.

It was good when he said amid the darkness of an unborn universe, “Let there be light!” But it was much better when he said amid the darkness of a sinful universe, “I am the Light of the world.” He was infinitely great when he formed man’s body out of the dust of the earth and then gave him divine breath to make him a living soul. But he was infinitely greater when he himself became a Man—a babe in a manger, a boy in a carpenter shop, a teacher with disciples, a physician for the sick, a preacher to the poor and, above all, a saviour on the Cross! That was indeed the highest point of his absolute sovereignty! Only one who is really God could have done that!

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Preacher In The Red


While a student at Bucknell University, I was invited to speak at a church in New Columbia, Pennsylvania. The night before, I set my alarm in ample time to reach the church ahead of schedule. Unknown to me, my roommate came in late that night and turned off the alarm. Much to my chagrin I awoke an hour later than I had planned. By the time I reached the church I was thirty-five minutes late for the service. When I finally got up to begin my talk, I had to announce my text from Roman 13:11, “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep.”—The Rev. JAMES H. MIDDLETON, pastor, Calvary Baptist Church, Princeton, New Jersey.

For each report by a minister of the Gospel of an embarrassing moment in his life, CHRISTIANITY TODAY will pay $5 (upon publication). To be acceptable, anecdotes must narrate factually a personal experience, and must be previously unpublished. Contributions should not exceed 250 words, should be typed double-spaced, and bear the writer’s name and address. Upon acceptance, such contributions become the property of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Address letters to: Preacher in the Red, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Suite 1014 Washington Building, Washington, D.C.

Sovereign From A Cross

Justin Martyr used to say that the scribes had omitted three very important words from this text, that it actually reads this way, “Say among the heathen that the Lord reigneth from a tree.…” There is an old hymn based upon that version and confirmed by Philip Schaff, which has in it this very striking verse:

The truth that David learned to sing

Its deep fulfillment here attains:

Tell all the earth the Lord is King!

Lo, from a Cross, a King He reigns!

God is sovereign from a Cross! He alone has the power to save from sin, which is the greatest power in all the world. And only he could have made the sacrifice that was necessary to atone for sin. The hands that hold the reins of world government are the holy hands that were nailed to a Cross. And the feet that have this earth as a footstool are the feet that were pierced. And the crown of absolute dominion in this universe is a crown of thorns. And the blood that brings peace to the hearts of men in their battle with sin is the blood of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.

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Many years ago, Archimedes, the Greek philosopher, said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a place to put it on, and I will move the world.” There is such a lever: the Cross of Christ; there is a place to put it on: Calvary; and God is using it to move the world. And not only to move it, but to save it!

So this is the question with which we must confront every man today, How big is your God? The gods of modern man are not big enough to save your soul and to govern your world. You need the God of the Holy Bible, the God of our historic Christian faith, who alone is big enough to overcome death with life, time with eternity, sin with salvation, and hell with heaven. Without that God your soul is lost and your world is doomed. Go to his throne on Calvary today, confess your sin, ask him to wash you in his precious blood, and surrender yourself in faith to his sovereign grace. There is no other god big enough for you, for there is no other God!

Let us rededicate ourselves and our churches to the high purpose of saying among the heathen that God is really God—from a Cross! That is indeed the word for this world!

The Rev. Peter H. Eldersveld has been the radio and television voice of the Christian Reformed Church since 1946 as minister of The Back to God Hour. He holds the A.B. degree from Calvin College, Th.B. from Calvin Seminary and A.M. from University of Michigan, for post-graduate study in Speech and English.

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