“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.”
Dear graduates, parents, grandparents, and friends of our school, Psalm 48:1 is a personal confession of the greatness of the Lord. It is not merely the statement of an objective truth. It is not merely the statement of the doctrine that we call the sovereignty of God. But it is rather the personal, vital confession of God’s greatness by the psalmist, not only as he knows God’s greatness out of the Bible, but as he has experienced God’s greatness in his own life.
This is a fitting text for your graduation. It is fitting tonight that we praise the greatness of God. It is fitting that we praise God’s greatness for what He has done for you in the past, all the years of your instruction up to the present. And it is fitting that as we look to the future, our confidence and trust be not in ourselves, but in the greatness of our God.
Great is the Lord! This has been the theme of your entire education. This has been the theme of your education in your homes, by your parents. The one great truth that your parents have sought to set before you is the greatness, the power, the majesty of God. This has been the theme of your education in the church, both in the preaching services and in the catechism classes. As your pastor I have labored to set before you the greatness of the Lord, and in the light of His greatness your calling to worship and fear the Lord. This has also been the theme of your education in the school. This is why we have our own school and why your parents sacrifice so that you may attend our own school. We are concerned that you be taught the greatness of the Lord. Here the public schools fail miserably. Here so many Christian schools are also failing today.
This, now, is what your teachers have taught you. They have not simply taught you science, history, geography, mathematics, and English. But they have taught you the greatness of the Lord in science and geography. They have taught you the greatness of the Lord, as that greatness is clearly manifest in history. They have taught you the greatness of the Lord in mathematics and in language.
This concern that your teachers had for the greatness of the Lord was reflected in their striving after excellence in your education, and their diligent efforts to give you the very best education possible. Their recognition of the greatness of the Lord was seen in their repeatedly laying before you your calling to labor to the best of your abilities in your studies. The greatness of God simply demanded, both of them and of you, your very best.
Great is the Lord. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,” the psalmist exclaims. Clearly the implication of these words is: “Great is the Lord ALONE.” Only the Lord, and no one or nothing else is great. Man is not great. It is precisely at this point that so much education goes awry today. The vast majority of education today is built upon the premise of the greatness of man. This is true of the education received by the young people in our own country. Humanism, evolutionism, materialism, and hedonism (the teaching that pleasure is the chief good in life) permeate modern American education. All of these have in common that they proclaim the greatness of man. The greatness of man is also the fundamental principle of all education in the communist countries. God is denied, and the young people in the communist countries are taught the greatness of the state and the greatness of the leaders of the state. This is only another way of teaching the greatness of man.
And always the danger exists that we make ourselves great: our works, our accomplishments, our goals, our name, our honor. We put ourselves forward, and God and the neighbor must serve us.
Over against every denial the child of God confesses the greatness of God. God alone is great. Man is not great. Man is nothing. We are nothing.
Especially is God great and do we know Him to be great as our Savior. It is especially in His work on behalf of our salvation that we see displayed the greatness of God. That’s the idea of this passage. “Great is the Lord,” the psalmist says. “Lord” here is really “Jehovah”: “Great is Jehovah!” Jehovah is the covenant name of God. The psalmist speaks of God, therefore, as the covenant God, the God Who has brought the psalmist himself into His covenant. To be in the covenant is to be saved. Besides, he goes on to refer to the Lord as “our God’: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God.” The psalmist is an Israelite. He knows God to be “our God,” the God Who is the God of Israel in a way in which He is not the God of any other people. He is the God of Israel as He is not the God of Egypt or Moab or the Philistines. He is the God Who is Israel’s Savior. The psalmist knows God, as Israel’s Savior, to be a great God.
Oh, it is the same with the child of God today. There is nothing that so impresses us with God’s greatness as His great work in our salvation. In His great work of electing us, in His great work of Himself dying for us, in His great work of causing us to be born in the covenant, in His great work of regenerating us, breaking our hard hearts and bowing our stiff necks in willing obedience to Him—here as nowhere else is the greatness of our God revealed.
It is not enough, however, that we be impressed with the greatness of the Lord. Even the unbeliever, in a way, is impressed with God’s greatness. But what is necessary is that we confess the greatness of God. That’s the example of the psalmist. He doesn’t only know the greatness of God, but he gives expression to that greatness of God: “Great is the Lord!” You and I, similarly, are to make this confession. Besides, the importance of our confession of the greatness of God is brought out in the text itself. Not only does the psalmist declare, “Great is the Lord,” but he adds, “and greatly to be praised.” Not only is God great, but He is greatly to be praised. The idea is that God is to be praised for His greatness. God is to be praised, and especially His greatness is to be praised and confessed by us.
We are to do this, always and at all times. By all our words and works we are to be confessing and praising the greatness of God. Our whole life and every area of our life is to be wrapped up in praise of the greatness of God. This is to be true whether you pursue further education or whether you work at a job. This is simply your calling in all of your life to glorify God, which, as you know, is the chief end of man.
In particular must you praise the greatness of God in the church. That’s the teaching of the text. God is great and greatly to be praised “in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.” The city of God was Jerusalem. The mountain of His holiness is a reference to one of the two mountains upon which the city of Jerusalem was built, the mountain upon which the temple stood, Mt. Moriah. Here in Jerusalem, and particularly in the temple, was God to be praised by His people. In New Testament language, Jerusalem and the temple are the church. In the church especially is the New Testament believer greatly to praise the Lord his God.
This is true because it is really only in the church that God’s greatness can be known. God’s greatness is revealed in Scripture. And it is especially in the church, in the preaching and teaching of the church, that the great God of Scripture is set forth. In the church, therefore, God is greatly to be praised by us. Faithful, living membership in the church that consistently maintains the greatness of God is how we confess and praise the greatness of God. To despise the church, to turn your back on the church, to reject the church is to refuse to praise the greatness of God. I cannot be praising the greatness of God off on my own, in my own little corner, doing my own thing. But to praise the greatness of God it is necessary that I do this in the church, in company with all those others who are to be found praising God’s greatness. I urge you tonight, therefore, to be faithful members of the church. I urge you to be young people who confess and praise God’s greatness “in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.”
Great is the Lord! Great is the Lord also in His righteousness and in His wrath. The knowledge of God’s greatness is sweet. the confession of God’s greatness is wonderful. The denial of God’s greatness is terrible. The one who knowing the greatness of God nevertheless denies God’s greatness finds that greatness of God turned against him. That is an awful thing! The psalmist speaks of that in the following verses of Psalm 48. Not everyone confesses the greatness of God. The psalmist speaks of the kings of the earth who assemble themselves against God. With regard to them he says, “Fear took hold upon them there, and pain, as of a woman in travail” (Ps. 48:6). And he goes on to say that God breaks them as He breaks the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. All they who deny the greatness of God shall be crushed and destroyed by God’s greatness.
May you be motivated tonight to make the confession of the psalmist your own: “Great is the Lord!” May this continue to be your confession in the future. May all of your further education be your quest to know more and more the greatness of the Lord. Knowing the greatness of the Lord, may you confess and praise and great Lord Himself.
This speech was given at the 1984 graduation exercises of the Hull Protestant Reformed Christian School.