Religion Defended I

June 16, 2019 / No. 3989

People celebrate momentous occasions in their history or the history of their families—birthdays, anniversaries, things like that.

The church of Jesus Christ does the same. This year is the four hundredth anniversary of a momentous occasion in the history of Christianity. From November 1618 to May 1619 there was a great gathering of over one hundred theologians, ministers, and a few elders from all over Europe to the city of Dordrecht in the Netherlands to decide matters concerning the Bible’s teaching on how God saves His people. It was called the Synod of Dordt.

After months of careful examination of different teachings, in light of the Word of God, that Synod left behind, for all the world, a document called the Canons of Dordt. If you have ever heard of the five points of Calvinism, or TULIP, they come out of this document. After the Synod was finished producing that document, the Canons of Dordt, the members of the Synod were each given a gold or silver coin to commemorate the momentous occasion. On that coin was inscribed these words: “Religion Defended.” They believed, and we do too, that that Synod was a key moment in history when religion was defended.

What exactly did the Synod of Dordt defend? By setting forth the Bible’s teaching about how God saves His people, it defended the heart of true religion: Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory! The members of that Synod were required to sign an oath in order to participate. A part of that oath said this: “I will aim only at the glory of God, so help me, my Savior Jesus Christ! I beseech Him to assist me always in this by His Spirit!”

The Synod was no mere academic debate. The heart of that Synod was that the glory of God be defended. It was a gathering of the church that was bathed in spirituality, in prayer, and in the Scriptures. It was an act of worship that sought the glory of God. Really it was a continuation of the act of worship in the church that began one hundred years earlier in the great Reformation of the sixteenth century. In fact, many people have called the Synod of Dordt the pinnacle of the great Reformation. The heartbeat of that Reformation of the church in the sixteenth century was to set the glory of God in the center of all the life of the church—her theology, her worship, her practice. Indeed, the solas of the Reformation show that—Scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, all having their culmination in the final sola of the Reformation: Soli Deo Gloria. All to the glory of God alone.

John Calvin, the great master of Reformation theology, was driven by this biblical passion, the glory of God. It stood behind his preaching, his theological work, his pastoral work, and his love for the church. Shortly before Calvin died, he prayed this: “The thing, O God, at which I chiefly aimed, and for which I most diligently labored, was that the glory of Thy goodness and justice might shine forth, that the virtue and blessings of Thy Christ might be fully displayed.” That prayer echoed down the corridors of history into the Synod of Dordt as they swore the oath: “I will aim only at the glory of God.”

Of more importance, the heartbeat of the Synod was in rhythm with the heartbeat of Scripture. In God’s own heart concerning how He saves His people. In Isaiah 48, for example, God says in verse 11, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.” That was the heart of the religion defended at the Synod of Dordt, that in salvation, God gets all the glory.

In Isaiah 48:11, God says, “I will not give My glory to another.” What is that glory that God guards so jealously? God’s glory is His intrinsic work, His majesty. It is the sum total of all the perfections of His being. If you would take all of the characteristics of God, all of His attributes (His holiness, His justice, His mercy, His love) and pile them up, put a line under them, put a plus sign, and add them all up, the total would be glory. The word “glory” in the Bible literally means heavy, weighty—not in the sense of physical pounds on a scale, but weighty and heavy in the sense of being infinitely important and impressive. There are some people who, when they step into a room, everybody immediately knows it. We say about those kinds of people that they have a weight about them, a heaviness about them. God is that infinitely. And He does not have to try to be that way. Some people try to be that kind of person who, when he comes into a room, everybody feels his weight. But it does not really work because it is something one either has or does not have. God does not have to try. He does not have to by effort be weighty. Everything that He is innately, naturally, makes Him infinitely weighty and glorious. And when He steps into the room of our lives, by grace, we see it, we sense it.

God has decided to reveal Himself to us, to take off the blanket, to unveil Himself in all of His glory. He reveals that glory in His works, in what He does in the creation around us. On the microscopic scale, we see His glory in the whole functioning world that is one cell, which we cannot even see with our own eyes. All the world’s data, scientists tell us, can fit on a DNA hard drive the size of a teaspoon. We see His glory in the vast universe that He created, so big, so glorious. He created it, it seems, just so that we can see how great and majestic He is. We see God’s glory in His works through history, in His providence, carrying out everything for the gathering of His church—like in the meeting of the Synod of Dordt. There was an eighty-years war going on between Spain and the Netherlands at the time. In God’s providence, the only way that that Synod could meet was that there was a small window of peace in there at the right time. And that small window of peace came, a truce between the two, right when there needed to be one so that these all-important matters could be settled for the church. We see God’s glory in the salvation He has accomplished in the face of Jesus Christ. No man had seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath revealed Him. Jesus Christ is glorious God revealed to us in the flesh. When the angels announced the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, what did they say? “Glory to God in the highest.” They saw glory there in Him, a display of God’s majesty in a babe in the manger. All His power, grace, purity, holiness, His love. Everything about God was on display in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We see God and, therefore, His glory in all these things through the Word and by the Spirit. The Word of God in the hands of His Spirit allows us to see as it were through a pair of glasses through which we view all of these things: creation, His works, the Lord Jesus. He steps into the room of our world, as it were, by means of our seeing all of this through the Word. We see Him and we sense Him in the way His glorious being is.

The calling of His church (and, really, can she do otherwise?) is to do what those angels did when they saw the glory of God in Jesus, that is, to enter into that glory and to praise Him for it, to glorify Him for His glory. And the goal of everything that God does, finally, is that this glory that is His will be fully revealed and then fully acknowledged. Even our salvation is ultimately for this end, that we might recognize His glory and praise it now and into eternity.

That God does everything ultimately for the end of the manifestation and recognition of His glory does not mean that He is an ego-maniac. He does not do it because He is so full of pride. He does it because He is God and He may do no other. He must do everything He does to seek His own glory. If He is truly God, He is truly pure and holy as He is, He must seek the highest good. And there is no higher good than His glory. Everything other than He is less than He and less glorious in comparison to Him. If He would not seek His own glory, it would mean that He sought something that was not the highest good. And that would make Him inglorious, in fact immoral, which is impossible.

But, even as He seeks His own glory (and this is glorious about Him too), He ties the joy of His people to that ultimate purpose. He ties our joy to His glory by making us the kind of creatures who, when we are given to see that glory by grace and are taken in by it and overwhelmed by it and ascribe that glory to Him, we receive joy unspeakable and we see fullness, satisfaction, peace, and happiness. If you doubt that, look at the saints in glory in the book of Revelation. What are they doing? They are over and over again, and in the place where they are fully satisfied and have peace, they are singing and they are ascribing all glory and power and dominion to God. Is that not our chief joy (already now in part) to enter into His glory and to be overcome by it, to exalt Him for it? So you see, if He would give His glory to another, He would de-god Himself, and He would ruin the eternal joy of His people. Thus He declares, “I will not give my glory to another.”

Of all the glorious things God reveals about Himself, even in the face of Jesus Christ, there is little more glorious about God than that He is sovereign over all things. He is sovereign in creation, sovereign in history, sovereign in His church, sovereign in coming down in our flesh, defeating sin and death and rising again, sovereign in applying His grace to our hearts—all that, known through His Word and Spirit. He is sovereign in all that He does as the height of the revelation of His glory. That is why throughout Scripture God is continually calling His people to recognize His sovereignty over all things. That is why in Isaiah 48, right after God says “I will give my glory to no other,” He immediately declares His sovereignty over all things. In verse 11 He says, “I will not give my glory to another.” And then He continues in verses 12 and 13: “Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.” God will give His glory to no other, He says.

And here is why He says I am sovereign, I am first and last. I created everything by the word of my power. I laid the foundation of the earth; I tossed the stars into the sky. When I speak, everything stands up together, stands at attention. And He keeps going, talking about His sovereignty in verses 14-15: “All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear [that is, gather around]; which among them hath declared these things? The Lord hath loved him [that is, Israel]: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him [there is a reference to Cyrus, who will allow Israel to go back to Canaan]: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous.” Assemble together, hear, gather together. As I am in control of all the nations and kings of the earth, I will, in my sovereignty, raise up the mightiest of the land to let you go back. I am sovereign.

Also sovereign in your salvation. Remember that Isaiah 48 comes to the captives in Babylon, so that God is writing all this about His glory (He will not share it with another—all this about His sovereignty) because He is showing the Israelites that He is the only one who can and who will save them. And that He will do it. He will do it powerfully and sovereignly. He will do it for the glory of His own name. He is telling them that their return to Canaan and their deliverance from their sins does not depend in any degree upon themselves but only upon His sovereign good pleasure.

In order to see that in Isaiah 48, we have to start by recognizing that Isaiah 48 draws to a climax a theme that has been rolling along like a lathe in chapters 40-47, a theme that has been building steam until it finally crashes down in chapter 48. And that theme is the utter sinfulness and inability of Israel. Part of the purpose of the captivity was to force Israel to see the depths of her sin. In chapters 40-47, God is driving that point home. And in chapter 48, God brings it home to Israel. He says about her in verse 4 that she is obstinate, she has been stubborn in her sin, unsubmissive. Her neck is like iron and she refuses to bow under the yoke of God’s law. In verse 6, she is deaf to the Lord’s word. God speaks but she does not know the things that He speaks because she does not pay attention. In verse 8, she is treacherous, she is back-stabbing, she is committed only to herself. Then, in verse 8, God says about Israel, “and all this is from the womb.” This is not simply some learned behavior. You were this from the womb. This is your nature. You are depraved. You deserve My wrath and you have no right to be saved. No one would really think to rescue you, and you cannot rescue yourselves.

Then, in verse 9, God preaches the gospel to them: “I will defer mine anger,…I will refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. I will defer in my just anger against your sins. I will deflect my wrath.” And with Isaiah 53 coming up shortly, we know that that angering wrath is deferred to fall instead upon His own Son, who can bear it and pay for the sins of His people. The point that God is making here is that when His people are nothing and can do nothing and deserve nothing, He is God, who is sovereign over all things in creation and the nations, the God who also sovereignly saves. So the result is that in verse 20 God says that “when I do this thing, My people will know that they have no part to play in their salvation. They are going to be overwhelmed by this. They are not going to be able to believe that I saved them. They will, therefore, come back from Babylon declaring, singing this song to the ends of the earth: The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob,” ascribing all glory to Him in their salvation. They will not come back, God says, saying that the Lord has made redemption possible for His servant Jacob. He does not say that they will come back saying that the Lord hath helped Jacob to save himself, or that the Lord hath made redemption possible for Babylon, and Jacob was the only one smart enough to accept it. But instead, “the Lord hath redeemed, He saved, He brought us from Babylon sovereignly by a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm.”

And, in verse 21, just as in the days when we were delivered from Egypt, did we deliver ourselves from bondage, did we get water from the rock for ourselves? No, the Lord hath done this, and we had nothing to do with it. We were dead, we were bound, we were blind, we were deserving of His judgment, and He did it by His sovereign power on those He desired to save out of His own good pleasure.

Now, circle back to verse 11. Why does He do it this way? Why does He sovereignly save His people so that it is His work from beginning to end? “For my sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it, because I will not give my glory to another. If I did it in a way such that it was ultimately up to you as well, I would be giving my glory to another.” Salvation is of the Lord, that all glory might be to the Lord.

That is God’s theology of salvation in Isaiah 48. And because it is God’s, it must be ours, too. Is it? Is it yours? Does your understanding of how God saved you bring ultimate glory to Him, or does it logically lead to God giving His glory to another? Does it lead to God giving His glory to you? And, as His child, do you not want your Father to receive all glory in your salvation? Is it your joy when He does, when all things point to Him?

In Isaiah 48, religion is defended by God Himself. Salvation is for His glory.

Next time I will submit to you, by way of an introduction of the five points of Calvinism, that God in His providence defended that same religion at the Synod of Dordt.

Let us pray together.

Father in heaven, Thou art great and worthy of all praise and glory and dominion and power. And our joy, Father, is seeing Thy glory, being overwhelmed by it, and ascribing all praise to Thee. Help us that in these next weeks as we study Thy Word and Thy teaching on salvation, all glory may go to Thee. In Jesus’ name, Amen.