Â“THUS SAITH THE LORDÂ”
A sermon preached by the late Kenneth W. H. Howard at Union Chapel, Bethersden.
Â“And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; Thus saith the Lord.Â” Ezekiel 11.5.
There is no question whatever that Â“Thus saith the LordÂ” is as inconspicuous in Non-conformity in our country as in the National Church. These are crisis times, they are times to take notice of. History will judge them as crisis times and only ostriches can afford to bury the issues under the sand. Unless a halt is called, the decline in Christianity in this century will issue in the demise of Christianity in the next century. God is under no obligation to keep Christianity going in Britain, any more than he is in any other country of the world. We have been a privileged nation for several centuries and God is under no obligation to maintain those privileges. The reason for the crisis is because of the absence of Â“Thus saith the LordÂ” in professing Christendom not only today, but in generations past.
Today, in the Anglican calendar is one of what is called Â“the Advent SundaysÂ” and among the old free-grace clergy in the Church of England, the second Sunday in the advent was always regarded as Â“Bible SundayÂ”. Due attention was given to GodÂ’s Word, its place and its authority. One thing that brought that about was the Collect or Prayer for this particular day appointed and written by Cranmer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which I shall read for our benefit and to show just how far the denomination has drifted from it:
Â“Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of the holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. AmenÂ”.
Â“Thus saith the Lord.Â” Â“Where a word of the king is there is powerÂ”, says the wise man in Ecclesiastes 8.4; then what power there is when it is the word of the King of kings who reigneth and ruleth over all! By the word of the Lord, we are told, were the heavens made, creation came to being at His word; His wor built the universe; His word directs the universe and His word, who created it, shall destroy it in His time and in His way.
Now, then, consider what great power is concentrated in Him whom
John tells us in the Book of the Revelation is “clothed with a vesture dipped in blood and whose name is The Word of God”. He is the One who has the government on His shoulders; He is the One who feeds His people upon Himself. “In the beginning was the Word”, and at the end of time He will have the last word. “Thus saith the Lord.” Nothing was ever more important that was ever said than that which fell from the lips of the Lord God. Every man, every church, every individual should bow with reverence to what God says in His Word and by His Son. The Foolishness of God, if there is such a thing, is stronger than men, so the least syllable of Jehovah’s voice ought to fill our minds with awe and send our hands and feet in swift obedience to whatever He says.
How then, in the light of all that I have said by way of introduction, so we need to be sure that we do not set up idol gods in God’s House, for this is the problem. “Thus saith tradition” is the watchword of many and that is an idol. “Thus saith antiquity” is the watchword of others and that is another idol. There are perhaps more today who say, “Thus saith modernity”. In other words, “This is the latest thing, let us follow it,” which is another idol. “Thus saith scholarship” is the idol in some circles. “Thus saith experience” is the idol elsewhere. “Thus saith Mr. So-and-So” is the idol in other quarters. So one might go on. All these are idol gods that defy the name of the true and the living God because they are placed before this one tremendous thing, “Thus saith the Lord”. Hell trembles at a “Thus saith the Lord”. Hell never trembles at the voice of idol gods. The national church, our church, every church and each of us personally and individually needs a sharp reminder, especially in these days, of the place, the position, the force, and the value of a “Thus saith the Lord”.
1. The Christian minister’s message
Let me try and draw out this principle in relation to a number of things. Again I can only be selective and stay a little while with each. ‘Thus saith the Lord” in the Christian church is the Christian minister’s message. If he is God’s minister he does not come on his own authority. His claim for your attention is that he utters a “Thus saith the Lord”. Ministers are not infallible. To put any minister on a pedestal is to make him an idol. His age, his experience, his category, give him nothing by way of authority in the things of God. His only authority in heaven or earth is that he can give a “Thus saith the Lord” for what he says. You see, a God-sent minister is an ambassador of God and that is a most responsible position. One has felt for many years that it is not always a comfortable position or an easy position. The greatest compliment you
can ever pay a Christian minister is to test his every syllable by the word of God. Office does not bestow infallibility. The highest officer in God’s church is only God’s servant, neither less nor more. We read a significant chapter that reminds us that God’s prophets of old never
began with a “Thus saith I” as prophet, as preacher, as pastor, as teacher or as whatever else you want to put in their place, but always, “Thus saith the Lord”. Ezekiel says here, “The Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and said unto me, Speak; Thus saith the Lord.” Woe to the minister who comes in any other name. Woe to the man who says what he thinks. As Paul would say, If we or an angel from heaven shall preach unto you anything but a “Thus saith the Lord”, no matter what our name, or office, or character, or standing is, give no heed but cleave to the truth as it is in Jesus, “to the law and to the testimony.” If we, who are commissioned to preach that Word and Testimony, do not speak according to that Word, it is because there is no light in us and we are not fit to be heard. Now, sadly, the visible churches in our land today have lost their authority among men largely because, for a century and more, ministers have not submitted to the authority of “Thus saith the Lord”. If you cannot find the warrant of the Word in what a minister says, ignore it, but if there is a “Thus saith the Lord” in what a minister says, then woe betide you if you do ignore it. “Thus saith the Lord” is the Christian minister’s message.
2. Authority in God’s Church
Again let me apply this in a second way. “Thus saith the Lord” is the only authority in God’s church. In the Old Testament God gave the pattern of things as to how He should be worshipped, and the New Testament carries on that principle, and that principle applies to the churches of every day and every generation. It applies to doctrine, to practice, to theology, to morals, to ordinances, and to officers. All come under a “Thus saith the Lord” in one way or another. Our Lord taught His apostles to teach believers what to believe and what to do. He gave them no authority whatever to alter His commands. The trouble today is this, that the general view in the churches is that if scripture does not expressly forbid, in so many words, this, that or the other, it is alright to do it. So you can have your guitars and your dancing and your worldly entertainment and your sensual music. Indeed, if it is meaningful to you, then that is the way in which you can worship God. That is Freudian psychology, my friends, that is not Christian thinking. Alas, this is the thinking in the modern church. Do as you like, worship as you like, believe as you like, behave as you like. That is the modern philosophy of religion. I ask of it one simple question: Is the practice severed by “Thus saith the Lord”? God has said how He will be worshipped and God rejects everything that is not according to His ‘Thus saith the Lord”. Let us remember that our worship according to God’s word is acceptable to Him, our worship in any other way may please us, may satisfy us, may give us what we want, may give us an amount of psychological satisfaction, but it is not acceptable to God. The only authority in God’s sight is “Thus saith the Lord”. Cast your
mind around the times in which we live and you will come to this conclusion, that the modern thinking is, “Let’s have a happy time in church, let’s entertain one another, you do your bit, I’ll do my bit. Let’s work up a nice warm feeling among ourselves. “Let us – let us ….”. It is just the opposite of “Thus saith the Lord”. The church is not intended to make people happy in the ordinary sense of happiness. That is not the intention or the purpose of the church. The intention and the purpose of the church is to make people holy, and when people are holy they will know a happiness that is nothing like earth has ever known, but it is not the business of the church to set out to make people happy. The church is not intended to make itself look as nearly like the world as it possibly can, which, alas, is the policy in so many places today. The church is not intended to be the place to stage religious concerts. It is intended to worship Almighty God. If you want to go to a concert, go to a concert hall, if that is alright with your conscience, and it is decent and respectable and consistent with your religion, but when you go to the house of God, you don’t go for a concert, you don’t go to be entertained, you go for what God ordained His Church for. You see, those who forsake a “Thus saith the Lord” religion for an “I want” religion are all contributing to the near total confusion in the church scene in our country today. Are you aware, my friends, that there are two branches of the Charismatic Movement, the ‘Restorationist’ movement and the ‘Renewal’ movement. Those two movements have as their object, to get rid of the Church as an institution and to get rid of the Christian ministry in any formal, official, or authoritative sense. That is their avowed intention and purpose. In other words they want to be rid of the “Thus saith the Lord” element in religion* and to replace it with an “I want” religion that magnifies men and minimises God. We are living in crisis days. When we lift our eyes above our own borders and look at what is going on around us, which we need to do from time to time, we need to read the signs of the times and then we need to come to that great regulative principle of Holy Scripture that the only sermissible authority in the Christian Church is a “Thus saith the L.ord”.
Now, whether people like certain things that the Lord has ordained “for His church and His worship or not, is beside the point. That is not the question. Whether certain things which God has ordained for His worship and His gospel in the church and through the church are popular and will draw the crowds, that is beside the point also. To follow those lines of thinking, as many do and will do, that is purely worldly psychology and natural reasoning. What matters is this. In what I allow, in what I do, in what I participate in in the worship of God, in anything to do with God’s house, have I a “Thus saith the Lord” for it. If I have, then expect God’s blessing. If I haven’t, I shall not have
God’s blessing even though the congregation has doubled or multiplied a thousand times. God’s work has to be done in God’s way, and God’s way is “Thus saith the Lord”.
3. A rebuke for erring Christians
Let me apply this principle in yet another thing, in a more individual than in a general line of application. “Thus saith the Lord” is the proper rebuke for erring Christians. Sadly Christians do err. If Christians did not err, churches could not err. Christians err sometimes in their thinking and in their speaking and in their actions. Sadly Christians very often resent being corrected. I am not sure that Christians don’t resent correction more than non-Christians, and very often a correction, rebuke, or rebuff to a Christian causes division, but when a rebuke or a rebuff is founded on a “Thus saith the Lord”, it really comes from the Lord – it does not come from the person who happens to pass on the word of the Lord, be he a minister or whoever he may be. It is no longer then a dispute between two or more people. It is a quarrel between a Christian and what God says. My dear friends, if you are a real Christian, you will never be able to sleep happily at night if you know that you are living in a constant quarrel with something that God has said in His Word to you. You remember when the man of God came to Eli and described the doom of his house because he had not restrained his own godless sons, how Eli trembled when the man of God said “Thus saith the Lord”. Possibly he found all sorts of excuses or reasons or explanations to his own mind up to that point, but when it came to that, he trembled! When David was rebuked by Nathan in that very personal and very relevant parable about the ewe lamb, David’s anger was stayed and his heart was broken when the prophet said, “Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord”. A living soul, a living conscience touched by the grace of God must be responsive to what God says to it. When the heart is right a “Thus saith the Lord” to an erring Christian both melts and moves the heart. We are all capable of erring and he who never made a mistake never made anything, but when our attention is drawn to a fault and when a reproof clearly comes with a “Thus saith the Lord”, then surely we respond, we submit, we give in, we confess and we seek the Lord’s grace and strength. When a man can go on wrongly in the face of a “Thus saith the Lord”, I submit to you, that we may begin to wonder whether he is a Christian. If people did not go wrong, churches would not go wrong. If churches did not go wrong, denominations would not go wrong. We must not think of the problems denominationally or in such broad terms that we think the faults have nothing whatever to do with us.
4 The comfort of the Lord’s words
“Thus saith the Lord” is the only solid ground of comfort for God’s
people. The Lord said, “Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” “Thy words were found and I did eat them”, said one of old and when Hezekiah lay sick and turned his face to the wall, despaired and prayed, there was no comfort until the prophet came to him and said “Thus saith the Lord”. Are you in trouble, trouble that only you and God know anything about perhaps? Where do you go for your comfort? Where do you look for it? Have you an undertaking out of the word of God? Have you a promise out of God’s word? Have you laid hold of any of the manifold assurances and comforts which have flowed from the lips of God Himself? The best stay for your soul in the worst struggle is on God’s Word, given with authority and applied by His Spirit. You will find that a ‘froth and bubble’ religion will fail you when you get into trouble. You will find that man-made devices in religion will not satisfy you when you get under a burden, but if God gives you to believe His Word, then you have solid comfort in trial and that will be enough. I came across this grand passage in Martin Luther which I must share with you:
Luther said on one occasion, “I have covenanted with my Lord that He should not send me visions, nor dreams, nor even angels,” – you see, the sensational, the emotional things, – “but I am content with this one gift, the Scriptures, which abundantly teach and supply all that is necessary both for this life and that which is to come”. Well, is Scripture sufficient for you? Can you say as Luther would have said, “Scripture alone”. If only we feed on “Thus saith the Lord” that will do well in the fiery trial and we shall not envy the man of the world his effervescent dainties and delicacies. “Thus saith the Lord” is the only solid ground of comfort for a Christian in trial.
5. Confronting enemies
Again I would put it like this: “Thus saith the Lord” is that with which we must confront the Lord’s enemies. When Moses went before Pharaoh to get the release of Israel he did not say to Pharaoh, “Thus saith Abraham our father”. He did not appeal to Hebrew tradition. He confronted that haughty monarch with this, “Thus saith the Lord, Let my people go,” and it was the power of that word which rained plagues in Egypt and opened the Red Sea and brought God’s people forth even though Pharaoh should say, “Who is the Lord that I should believe him?” The plagues told him who the Lord was. The Red Sea taught him who Jehovah was and in just the same manner our Lord used the word of God to defeat the devil when he came and tempted Him. Now, surely, .that is the principle on which Christians and Christian churches should do the Lord’s work and fight the Lord’s battles. It is from God’s Word that we should establish the truth concerning the modern problems on which, alas, the national Church and other churches have gone so sadly astray. It is on the basis of God’s Word that we should establish the truth
about homosexuality, adultery, abortion and all the rest of the moral ills of society, about evil and erroneous doctrines and religions, about very learned and persuasive but equally lying deceivers in the church who come saying, “Here is Christ” and Christ is not there, so fulfilling Christ’s own prophetic words. This is the crisis situation into which we in this country have now come. “Thus saith the Lord” is the instrument with which the Lord’s people should fight the Lord’s battles.
6. The Word of God must not be despised
Again, “Thus saith the Lord” is not something to be despised without entailing a great and serious penalty. Samuel told Saul to destroy the Amalekites and he told him with a “Thus saith the Lord”. What did Saul do? He disobeyed. He found the opportunity to get rich quick and what was the result? Saul lost his kingdom! Let us note this as a very solemn lesson. If any church in Christendom, of any kind, anywhere, can continue, after warning and rebuke, to walk contrary to God’s word, that church will be put away from the Lord and so, in one way or another, the candlestick will be removed. Is it not becoming apparent that that penalty is being meted out today? I shun the thought of making infallible judgments but does it not seem today, in the light of all that has happened and is happening, that in some cases those who call themselves churches of Christ are what John called them in the Book of Revelation, “synagogues of Satan”. This is the penalty which follows despising what God the Lord says, for “he who knows his master’s will and does it not shall be beaten with many stripes”. He who hears a “Thus saith the Lord” and goes on in his own way will pay the penalty and will not be able to say that he has not been warned.
7. A good hope of heaven
Finally, I put it like this. “Thus saith the Lord” is necessary for a good hope of heaven. What are you resting on for heaven? You know you are not going to be here for ever. You know you are just passing through the wilderness. What are you resting on to take you to heaven? Are you resting on someone else’s good opinion of you? Are you resting on some exciting feeling that came to you on a certain occasion and stayed with you a little while? A religion of excitement, a religion of expediency, a religion of man-manipulated ideas will desert you in the final Judgment! Do you rely on your works, your tradition, whatever? The day will come when God will shake the heavens and the earth and every false idea will be well and truly tumbled. You must have a “Thus saith the Lord” for a good hope of heaven. Have you heard him say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”? Have you heard him say “Look unto me and be ye saved”? Have you looked and have you believed? Is your religion undergirded by what God has said in His Word and in His Son and by His Spirit?
What is your warrant, your hope of heaven? I beg of you to answer that question honestly before God. Is it what Mr. So-and-So says or is it what God says? “Thus saith the Lord”. Yes these are days of crisis in
relation to visible churches and I am sure that history will judge them as such, but the day of death will be a much bigger crisis for each and every man unless all our hope on God is founded, all our hope is in what He has said, what He has done, in the person of His Son, and unless all our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ, His redeeming blood and His redeeming love. That gospel you and I have heard so many times -shame on us if we are gospel hardened – that will add to our condemnation. The gospel is what God has said it is, and let no man dare lay a finger upon it to alter it, for he will suffer if he does; but let a man bow his knee before it and before Him who is the author of that gospel and he will find joy unspeakable and full of glory even in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord bless his word. Amen.
*Unless they are wickedly pretending to speak as modern inspired prophets! Ed.