A SOVEREIGN GOD
Mr. F. L. Rowell
January 14th, 1973
“And now, O Lord GOD, thou art that God, and thy words be true, and thou hast promised this goodness unto thy servant:
Therefore now let it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee: for thou O Lord GOD, hast spoken it: and with thy blessing let the house of thy servant be blessed for ever.” 2 Samuel 7, 28-29.
David here speaks about “that God”. It is right at the beginning of our text. “And now, O Lord GOD, thou art that God”. Of course, he has been describing the God who he is speaking about; he has been asking a question as to whether any other God could ever say or do the things that this God has said and done. And he has also asked the question as to however a man could speak in the way that this God has spoken. Therefore it is necessary for us this morningÂ—right at the beginningÂ—to consider the nature of that God who David speaks of here.
There is a very precious doctrine concerning our God that has been held, in love, by the Lord’s people all the way through the ages. In one aspect it is a very solemn doctrine because it distinguishes between man and man; it does not include everybody; and that is the doctrine of sovereign grace. Of course, we can go even further and say there is a doctrine of universal divine sovereignty, and that is that the Lord does just simply according to His own will. You remember how that heathen king Nebuchadnezzar made a statement that seems to me almost impossible to improve upon with regard to this doctrine: “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 unto him. What doest thou?”. This sovereign God is a God who has given laws of His own mind in accordance with His own nature, which glorify Him even in the perfection of righteousness which is contained in those laws. And also He is sovereign in this, that He will administer justice according to that law, and judgement will be passed upon men in accordance with the law of which He is the author. And yet also we realize this, that there is a way in which even to those who have transgressed the law of God, and have sinned against Him, the Lord can show mercy in a way which is perfectly just, in complete accord with eternal justice, in which there is no defaming in any way of His own honour and His own glory. Mercy can be shown on the ground of perfect law and perfect justice, without any distortion, in. any way, of the holiness of God. And remember, it is this doctrine of divine sovereignty, and sovereignty exercised in the way of grace, that I just want to direct your attention to this morning.
David proved the sovereignty of God. Perhaps I might just briefly and simply refer to the events which preceded the record of the words of the text. You remember, do you not, how the Lord had given David rest from all things round about; wars were
ended, at least for a time, and he was able to sit at peace in his own house. His mind runs not upon his own glory, not upon the exploits that he has accomplished, and he does not praise his own name. But there is a sense of deep thankfulness, a great sense of debt to God for the wonders that God has shown to him in his lifetime, and especially for the way in which He has brought him out from almost complete obscurity to the throne of Israel. He was the youngest of a family, one that was not even considered to be a very great one in his own family by his own father, and now the Lord had brought him to be a king of a nation and had prospered him in such a way that all his opponents up to that time had been completely overthrown. Now he was sitting upon his throne in peace. Instead of thinking about himself, instead of being proud and arrogant of spirit and conceited, we notice how the heart of this man goes out towards the God of divine sovereignty, the God who has exercised such sovereign rule in such ways of choice and of grace as the Lord did concerning David. As he thinks upon this he feels “Now I am living in a house that is my own, the Lord has brought me to this city, given it to me, surrounded me with my loyal subjects. I have been able to build my house, I have built it of cedar”. I expect, as in these days, cedar was considered a better sort of timber than deal for the building of houses. In fact, we know that when at last the temple was built by Solomon, a tremendous amount of cedar was shipped down from Zidon, to the land of Israel in order that the house of God might be built in this far superior and more permanent timber. So David said: “I have built my house with cedar, I have chosen out the very best kind of building material, and now the Ark of God dwelleth in curtains”. And David’s thoughts are expressed in words even to Nathan, the prophet of God.
Now I want you to notice that doubtless David felt that the thoughts that were going through his mind were consistent with the honour of God. They were not defamatory to the honour of the Lord’s name; rather there was a desire in his heart that God might be glorified in the building and provision of a more permanent place of worship where the Ark of God could be contained. Also Nathan agrees with him with regard to this. Nathan thinks: “Surely there can be no greater objective for any king upon earth than that he should serve God, and according to the revelation of God there can be no better way in which God can be worshipped than in the way which He has commanded. How suitable to have a more permanent kind of building in which the service of the sanctuary can be enacted”.
All this seems to be quite good; they are quite happy about this and Nathan commends the spirit of David and tells him to do what is in his heart. Then that very night the Lord comes to Nathan and, in a vision, gives him certain instructions. I want you to notice that God completely countermands the best purposes of the human mind and the best purposes of the human heart. I
have not any doubt that there was a real love in the heart of David to God when he desired to build the temple. I have no doubt that there was a real love in the heart of Nathan when he gave some commendation to David with regard to this good purpose, as he thought it was, for the building of the temple. And now the Lord comes and He countermands the whole thing altogether. He says “Nay, this is not My will”. He goes back and reminds Nathan and then, of course, through Nathan He reminds David of how, all the way through the Lord’s leading of the children of Israel from Egypt right along now into the Promised Land, and in the establishment of a kingdom, the Lord has never commanded any leader or any king to build Him a house. He had been content to dwell in curtains.
Now I want you to notice the condescension of the Lord in this, that when the children of Israel were travelling through the desert the Lord made His presence known in a most humble way, dwelling in the tabernacle. It was easy for them to carry. The Lord could have made a much heavier load for his people. He could have made them carry a much heavier sort of building, that He might be worshipped in, but instead of that they just simply carried these curtains, this tabernacle, these poles, these ropes, these pins; they carried them along with them as a bedouin people. And the Lord condescends to make Himself known there, even in thick curtains, as the Word of God says; upon occasions the Lord makes His presence known. When at last they get into the land of Israel, this is not the first thing that the Lord commands His people to do; to build a house for his name. This can wait. The establishment of the people, the establishment of the kingdom, the enlargement of their coastsÂ—the Lord sees to all those things, and He is still content to be in their midst in this house of curtains.
I want you to remember how the Lord does condescend to men of low estate. How He is willing to be with them in very humble circumstances. I am afraid that the thoughts of David and the thoughts of Nathan have very often been the thoughts of men; something greater, something more noble, something more ornamental, something of great architectural value must be set in its place where the people of God shall worship their Lord, and where the Lord will make Himself known. I was very impressed in reading a book that particularly interested me some time ago with regard to the formation of some of the first nonconformist gatheringsÂ—shall I say local churchesÂ— in the counties of Dorset and Devon. And there I realised how these persons left the ornate buildings in which so-called worship was being enacted because of the manner in which the Lord had opened their eyes, their understanding, to know their need as sinners. The provision of the grace of God was unheard of in those “fancy houses” as an old man of God years ago described them. And there, because they were persecuted for leaving the organised form of worship among men, they had to
take to the woods and the caves and the open fields and hide themselves from their persecutors, and oft-times be disturbed in their worship. Yet I am persuaded by the record of that book and the record of many others of a similar nature, that the Lord’s spirit was with that people, even in their very insignificant and dangerous gatherings together in His name.
Well, now, I want us to remember that the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways. He was content to be in the midst of His people in a tabernacle, and O, friends, the blessedness of that word. I am thankful for this place of worship, that it is what it is, that you have desired to labour for its maintenance; I am thankful for all those things. But above and beyond it all there is this word that is upon my spirit this morning, that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them”. Suppose the day should come, we know not how soon it might be, but supposing a day should come when we were forbidden to meet in this building, if it should be taken over by some sort of national organisation and put to some national purpose under some ecumenical movement in which complete dishonour of God and of Jesus Christ should be shown. Well, what should we do then? Should we be ready, my friends, to meet in our own homes? Would we open our doors, our front rooms, or our kitchens, and go along with stools under our arms because the people of that house had not got enough seats to sit on? Would we be willing to meet under those conditions? Would we be willing to meet there as with bang and crash, the bricks came through the windows, and all that sort of thing is manifested in hatred against those who have the tender fear of God within their heart? Would we be willing to do so? “Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them”. That is the promise of the Lord and some of us in this building, including myself, of recent days, have been persuaded of this that it is not the greatness of the building, it is not the ornamentation of the place, it is not the great liberty and ability that a man may be able to use in speaking to others, in persuading their mind, in laying siege, as it were, to their intelligence, that is important. It is not that, friends. It is the power of God attending the word to the souls of sinners that is the all important thing as we gather together in the worship of the Lord.
But now, although the Lord countermands the design and the purpose and the willingness of David and Nathan to labour in this way, I want you to notice how gently and how tenderly the Lord does it. O, you know, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust”. Says the Lord, virtually, in the words that he addresses to His servant David, “David, you are My servant; don’t think that although I correct you, you are not My servant. If you were not My servant there would not be the need of correcting you; you could go along, do what you liked
and erect a great big building, and think that because you had done this that, of course, the Lord must come and He must be there. But thou art My servant”.
I was particularly impressed yesterday in reading this passage, that this expression occurs again and again, through the words of the Lord to Nathan and then to DavidÂ—”My servant. My servant”. Remember the time when the same dear man David said, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness”. O what estimation David had of being a servant of God. Do we feel the sameÂ—a high estimation of being a servant of God? If only the Lord would place His approbation on me, if only He would manifest that great purpose in His calling of my soul, if only He would bring me to attend upon His table and labour for the good of His people, to give up my time and my effort and my strength, yea, my all for the cause of my God, to lay all I possess upon the very altar of Jehovah and say, “Lord, it belongs not to me, it is Thine; use it according to Thy will”. Well, friends, I am sure there is only one thing that will bring us to that place and keep us there, and that is the love of God shed abroad in our heart. O don’t forget thatÂ—the love of God shed abroad in our heart. How thankful I am this morning, and whenever it is mentioned, for this reminder of the secret of really good things within our soul and within our life. The gift of the love of God in our hearts, and the blessed outcome of it in willing, devoted service to the Lord our God.
And so, the Lord recognizes this man again as a servant. I think of the case of dear Peter after he had denied his Lord and brought shame upon himself and dishonour upon the cause of God. Doubtless this must have been an occasion of much dismay to those who were around him at that time, who feared the Lord and loved Christ as they heard him speak about Jesus in the way in which he did. Yet afterward, when the Lord comes and visits him. He says, “Feed my sheep”. “Peter, you are My servant still. I would have you to serve Me. Feed My sheep. Feed My Iambs”. And here the Lord is virtually saying to David, “David, you are mistaken in your mind. My ways and My thoughts are like the heavens above the earth, they are so high that except there be a revelation of them to you, you cannot comprehend them. You thought it was a high and lofty thing that you should build a temple and God should be worshipped there, but, O there is something higher, more lofty than this, and that is that the will of the Lord in every particular might be done”.O, but you say, the temple was built later on. Yes, of course it was, but by another hand and for another purpose according to the will of God. Don’t think that you can anticipate the will of God and consequently put into action now the things that He has determined to do in ten years’ time. This would not be for His glory. It would not. It is a denial of His glory. He sits upon the throne. He administers His own purposes, and He does it in His own time. Let us not forget
that. “His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour”Â—but it is according to His purposeÂ—”The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower”.
And now I have told you an aspect of the sovereignty of God, in the Lord overruling what would have seemed to be the best designs of David and of Nathan to build a house of God. Next, I want to show to you another aspect of the sovereign grace of God, and that is the way in which the Lord by His gracious teaching is revealing Himself to David through His word. He brings David to complete and absolute acquiescence in the Lord’s will. Now that is a wonderful demonstration of the sovereignty of God; not only to overrule us, and to overrule our lives, our purposes, and our circumstances and our times, but to overrule all. O the wonder of divine sovereignty when David who has purposed this thing, thought it was good and has been encouraged even by a prophet of God to do it, finds that the Lord comes and says “David, no, it is not My will”. O to be able to follow the words of David as he pours out his heart in prayer and praise to the Lord, to be able to say “Lord, Thy will be done; Thy will be done”. Do you know friends, I feel how great my need at the present time is of this, just to be able to pray “Thy will be done”.
May I just, very simply, tell you of how there seems to be something like this sort of overruling during the past few days with me. It is not very often that I bring these very personal matters into the ministry here, but I feel that this is laid upon my mind in some measure this morning. In the early part of the week I felt so well, so much restored, that I really felt that I could start travelling again in the Lord’s name. And do you know, some thoughts of where and when and how all came into my mind, and I was ready and willing to go. Then on Friday and Saturday I felt so poorly that I thought, “This is the Lord; this is the way in which He is warning me now. It is not to be yet, it is not now. It must be some other time in the future”. And so the whole thing has to be put back under the hand of the Lord. As I thought of today, I felt “Lord, is it Thy will that I should be cut off from ministering among my own people?”, because I had theseÂ—and I don’t mind confessing itÂ—proud thoughts I’m afraid with regard to the future. There is such a danger, friends, of falling into proud thoughts, although we may think that they are good thoughts. Well, surely, the extension of the Kingdom of God, the building of the temple, the gathering of the people, the exercise of the ministry, all this is a good thing. Ah, but it isn’t the Lord’s way. “My wayÂ—not thine:
My timeÂ—not thine”. God grant that your minister and many others sitting here in this place today; our dear afflicted friendsÂ— so many of them who are not here this morningÂ—may they be granted similar grace to that which was given to David and really be able to say “Thy will be done, not mine. Lord.” And really, friends, the whole of the latter part of this chapter seems to be taken up with this very thing. Here is a man who is saying to the
Lord “Not my will, but Thine be done”, and he is praising God for what He has done for him.
Now I realise I have not dealt with the subject of the text really. I have only introduced the circumstances that lie round this great and glorious doctrine of the sovereignty of God. O friends, has there been just a little shadowy light that has dawned upon your spirit with regard to the rightness, and the goodness, and the wisdom and the love of the exercise of sovereign grace this morning? Well, if it has been so, my venturing into the pulpit will certainly not have been in vain. But I just want to say one other thing before I close, and it is this, that when the Lord speaks to David in this way. He gives him certain promises. He says “David, I am not allowing you to build the house; your hands will not erect the temple, it will not be your plans that will be carried out in the building of it. You can make preparation, but your son is going to build the building. I promise you that”. And the Lord goes on to elaborate these promises. He speaks about his son Solomon, He speaks about the building. He speaks about the house, the family, the descent. And undoubtedly, friends. He speaks about a Glorious One who is a member of this house, a descendant of David of the royal line, in whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed. And, O, as these things are brought home to David’s heart, they enter there and the dear man says “Lord, who is like unto thee?”. That God; that God; the God who can speak so certainly and so surely, who can do so much good, who promises not only that I shall live and be to the glory of God in my lifetime in some little measure, but that my posterity also shall have a place before God and in the purposes of God. And also it may be that dimly David saw this, he saw the day of Jesus Christ, and his heart was made glad.
O friends, are you thankful that in God’s sovereign dealings with you, though in some cases they may bring you very low and make you feel very, very helpless, nevertheless there is something that the Lord shows you and that is that He ever abides, that He is a covenant making and a covenant keeping God, and that He has sent His own dear Son into this world that we might live through Him, and the promises of God are yea and amen in Jesus Christ?
I often think of dear David, the same man who on one occasion said “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. David knew what it was in weariness as a shepherd to lean upon his staff, even as perhaps he was engaged in his shepherd’s occupation, and he leaned upon his staff. What strength there seemed to be as he leaned upon his staff; it supported his weight. And I believe that some of us have known what it is for the Word of God, the promises of God, the sweet promises of God applied with spiritual power to our soul in a time of need and distress and pain, and fear with regard to the future, for the promises of God to be a staff in our hands. They have been so strong and sure to our spirit, we have really been able to trust the One that has spoken
the word and commit our way unto Him, trusting also in Him, believing that He would bring it to pass.
And so this morning, friends, in this poor way, I feel, I have just tried to speak to you about “that God”. The One of whom dear David said “And now, O Lord God, thou art that God, and thy words be true”.
You remember how I told you some time ago of going into my sister’s house and picking up a little leaflet and there, on that leaflet these words were written: “He means, He absolutely means what He says. He means what He says”. That is our God; He means what He saysÂ—every word is true. You can trust Him completely and absolutely. I am not suggesting that your trust is as sure, I am not suggesting that it is so strong as you would like it to be, but be sure of this, the weakness of our trust is not because there is anything failing in the Word of God, it is sure and it is true. He really means what He says; He is that God.