Soli Deo Gloria

The heart of the tradition which we have received from the Calvin Reformation is the principle of the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria was the starting point of all Calvin’s theology; and it is this basic truth, so completely Scriptural, that has characterized the Reformed faith up to the present. For example, the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism reads: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We insist, and rightly so, that this principle is the heartbeat of all our theology, the essence of all our preaching, the guiding principle of all our life. It is to this subject that I address your attention this evening, in large measure because the truth of this is in eclipse in our degenerate and profane age. 

Scripture’s use of the concept

I need not spend any large amount of time tonight pointing out to you that the Scriptures are filled, from one end to the other, with this important truth. Every page of God’s Word shouts aloud of God and His glory. In innumerable places and in countless ways the Scriptures force upon us the truth that God is, in Himself, infinitely glorious and that all glory must be His and His alone. Scripture is a long and soaring doxology of praise to the God of heaven and earth. 

But it is instructive and worthwhile for us to turn to Scripture and discover in what ways this whole idea of God’s glory is used. And, if we turn first of all, to the Old Testament, we are told that the most basic meaning of the word “glory” in the Hebrew is “heaviness.” That, according to the Hebrew Scriptures, is glorious which is heavy. But the reference is not, as you can readily conclude, to mere physical heaviness. It refers rather to the heaviness of importance. That is glorious which is important and impressive. And this is supremely applicable to God. He is infinitely important and impressive. 

There are many different ways in which this idea is developed in the Old Testament. We can mention only a few. 

It is, in the first place, very striking that Scripture speaks of God’s glory, God’s impressiveness, in connection with His descent upon Mount Sinai. In that passage, God’s glory is spoken of in connection with judgment, thunder, hail, etc. We read:

And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day he called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud. And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.

Exodus 24:16, 17

The idea is certainly that the glory of God cannot be considered apart from judgment—especially in connection with the giving of God’s holy law. 

Another very important idea of the glory of God is developed in connection with Moses’ request to see that glory. It was specifically God’s glory which Moses desired to see; not now the glory revealed in fire and smoke and thunder; but the glory of God revealed in forgiveness and grace towards Israel which had so soon turned to strange gods. In answer to this request of Moses, God told him:

I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee.

Exodus 33:19

This same idea is expressed in the vision which Isaiah saw which is recorded for us in Isaiah 6. Isaiah saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.” The seraphim which flew before the throne cried to each other:

Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 6:3

And it is instructive to note in this connection that the result of this revelation is that Isaiah himself cries out: “Woe is me!” 

Especially the Psalms speak of that glory of God. InPsalm 135:5 the glory of God is called great. In Psalm 24:8, a Psalm which is so completely Messianic, God is called the King of glory—a text where the genitive is most probably descriptive. Many times in the Psalms the glory of God’s name is spoken of. Psalm 66:2 reads:

Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.

And in Psalm 79:9:

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name.

It is not surprising that, in the New Testament, the glory of God is spoken of in connection with Christ. Already on the hills of Bethlehem the angels spoke of Christ’s birth in connection with the glory of God. Christ has some very striking and surprising things to say about God’s glory in connection with His passion on the cross.

Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.

John 13:27, 28

And again:

Therefore, when he was gone out, Jesus said, Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God be glorified in him, God shall glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.

The apostle Paul speaks of the fact, in Romans 6:4 that ‘the resurrection of Christ took place through (and the preposition is dia) the glory of God. All of this prompts John to exclaim, in the very beginning of his gospel: “And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

It does not come as strange therefore, that, when the Scriptures. turn to the specific subject of salvation, this is invariably put into the context of God’s glory. Paul emphasizes this more than once in that great doxology of Ephesians 1. We are predestinated to the praise of the glory of God’s grace. (vs. 6.) We are predestinated according to the purpose of God that we should be to the praise of God’s glory. (vs. 12.) And all of it is so aptly summed up in that last vs. of Rom. 11:

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

In moving through Scripture, and studying various passages which deal with the glory’ of God, it is very striking that God’s glory is spoken of as being manifested in both the work of creation and salvation. But whenever this is done, as it is done especially in the Psalms, the two are always related to each other. Without apparently concerning themselves with the problem of the relation between so-called general revelation and special revelation, the Psalmists speak of the two in one breath. Psalm 104, for example, is a long and beautiful meditation on the power of God revealed in providence. But the concluding words of the Psalm are:

I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being. My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the Lord, O my soul. Praise ye the Lord. vss. 33-35

The same is true of Psalm 135 and Psalm 136. In the former, the mighty works of God in creation are spoken of in the same breath with his judgments upon the wicked and His salvation of His Church.

Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places. He causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain; he bringeth the wind out of his treasuries. Who smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast. . . . And gave their land for an heritage unto Israel his people. vss. 6-8, 12

Psalm 136 does this in a most masterful way as it sings of the mercy of God. Sometimes one can hardly follow the thought of the Psalmist who sees mercy displayed in the most common works of creation. Sure this is more than a literary device and speaks rather of a profound truth.

To him that by wisdom made the heavens; for his mercy endureth forever. . . . To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth forever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for his mercy endureth forever: And brought out for his mercy endureth for ever: And brought out Israel from among them: for his mercy endureth forever.

And in Psalm 148 the Psalmist calls upon the whole creation to join with him in praising the Lord; and then the Church is called to unite her voice in this doxology: for

He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord.

Surely the idea is that there are not two special ways in which God is glorified: one through creation and one through salvation; and both independent of each other. They are principally the same, for it all points ahead to the new creation with the principle of unity in Christ. 

The Nature of God’s Glory 

From all this we may draw some specific conclusions. 

The underlying truth of all this is that God is glorious in Himself. He is glorious in His own divine being. He is glorious in the covenant life which He enjoys in Himself as the triune God. He is glorious in all His perfections, for His perfections make Him what He is. These perfections are unique in Him and create a chasm between God and all the creation which can never be bridged. Scripture speaks of this in no uncertain terms.Psalm 115, for example, speaks of this unique glory of God in contrast with heathen idols:

Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake. Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.” vss. 1-4

And that beautiful chapter in Isaiah (chapter 40) emphasizes this truth throughout. It is all concluded in the stirring words:

To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? vs. 18

But this glory of God, God reveals. We must be sure to understand this point. The determination to reveal Himself comes from God alone. The revelation of His glory is not imposed upon God by any necessity. It is not even done by God to make, it possible for God to gain additional glory to Himself. This revelation is a free choice of His will. The revelation of God’s glory is therefore, to glorify God. Revelation is for it’s own sake. It is to make His glory known. It is done by God that God may speak of His glory outside His own being. And yet, at the same time, God is pleased that this glory be acknowledged by others. 

Thus the revelation of God’s glory is through Christ. 

We must assert, at this point, that the revelation of God through Christ is the highest possible revelation of God’s glory. This is in keeping with God’s own attributes. God reveals Himself in the best possible way. Especially in keeping with His attribute of wisdom, we must insist that there is no better way for this revelation than through Christ. The meaning of this is that all God’s glory is revealed through Christ. This must not be taken in the sense that revelation through Christ is exhaustive. Revelation is always finite. And the finite cannot empty the infinite. But all God’s glory is revealed in the sense that all there is in God is made known through Christ. Perhaps a figure will make this clear. There is in a tender sapling all that is contained in a mighty elm tree. Not one element that can be found in the mature elm is absent from the seedling. Yet there is, nonetheless, a vast difference between this tender shoot barely three feet above the ground and a graceful and sweeping elm which reaches its arms towards the heavens. So it is with revelation. 

When we assert that all the revelation of God is through Christ, one fundamental principle is implicit in this: tlhat is the principle of the sovereignty of God. The one without the other is an absurdity. All that takes place in all that God created is done by His hand. It is this truth which is so strongly emphasized by that beautiful conclusion to Romans 11. Only because all things are of God, or, more literally, out of God, can all things be also through Him and to Him. And only then can all glory be His forever.

What is implied here is obvious. Creation is God’s work. Else the Psalmist could never sing: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” Psalm 19:1. Providence is God’s work. We need only return to Psalm 104 to understand how true this is. But this is all so because all creation points to Christ and is redeemed in Christ. For all things are reconciled to God by the blood of the cross. (Col. 1:20.) 

The whole work of salvation is rooted in sovereign predestination. Paul speaks of the praise of God’s glory in Ephesians 1 especially in connection with predestination. Isaiah 43:21 sets it all forth in one terse sentence: “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise.” But not only election is for God’s glory. So is reprobation. While Paul does not specifically refer to the glory of God in Romans 9, he does state emphatically:

For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. . . . What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared to glory? Vss. 17, 22, 23

Yet the relation must be clear. Election serves God’s glory in such a way that through the sovereign realization of salvation a people is formed which consciously acknowledges and confesses—and sings of—God’s glory. But reprobation is the dark side, the negative side. According to Ps. 115, God is at war with all human idols and he will not share his glory with another. Reprobation must demonstrate this profound truth. 

Our Calling 

We live in an age when the plot which the devil hatched at the world’s beginning is reaching frightening proportions. There was always this total commitment of Satan to rob God of His glory. But usually the subtle mind of Satan sought to gain this end by means of stealth, subterfuge, subtlety and careful attention to minor details. Satan has evidently conceived of the notion that the times are ripe for a frontal attack on God’s glory. All caution, all subtlety is thrown to the winds. The hordes of hell rush madly at the bastions of the truth. It is the last assault. 

The fundamental principle of sin is exactly to rob God of the glory due to Him. Men are persuaded to deny God’s glory in order that they may gain glory to themselves. And this is rooted in hatred of God and, love of themselves. Sin is a monstrous crime for this reason alone. 

In innumerable ways this is done. Principally, of course, this attack against the glory of God is made by denials of various kinds of the truth of God. Man will not and cannot let the truth of Scripture stand. The errors have, over the rolling centuries, been subtle and cloaked in much, camouflage. No longer. The attacks against the truth are open. The disguises are torn away. The Church solemnly proclaims: “God is dead.” And yet, and yet. . . Is there not something still very subtle about it all? Is it not just possible that even we have been influenced in some marked respects to depart from the truth of God’s glory? I think of the fact that basic to man’s error is humanism—using the term now in its broadest connotation. Is there not a kind of humanism transferred into the very citadels of the Church when even the work of salvation is preached and discussed as an end in itself? or, at least, if we, in thoughtlessness, leave the impression that such is the case? 

But to return a moment to the savage attacks which are being made in our day against God’s glory. Never, I think, has the world seen such a time when the age is so blasphemous and profane. Perhaps it is not so much that there is more blasphemy or worse profanity—although this too is true. But it just may be that the horror of it all is that the Church joins in the blasphemy and profanity of our time. All that is sacred and holy is mocked. All that pertains to the glory of God is viciously trampled under foot in so many different ways that time fails me to speak of them. No one gives any thought any more to the all-important question: What are you doing to God’s glory? 

We believe and confess together that God has maintained the truth in our midst. This truth is our dearest treasure, our first love. And then it is certain that at the heart of that truth lies the truth of the sovereignty of God. But this truth, so precious, so glorious, is a truth which points unerringly to the infinitely higher truth: the glory of God. Everything must be subservient to that. Nothing at all is important in its own right. Not even the salvation of the Church of Christ can stand by itself. The glory of God towers above even this. Divorced from God’s glory even the salvation of the Church becomes a hollow untruth. 

This must be a fact among us both objectively and subjectively. Objectively, the glory of God is maintained by a fearless and courageous defense of the truth of God. It is a defense of the truth, not for its own sake; but because any detraction from that truth is a slur on the supreme glory of God Who revealed it. Any departure is doing dishonor to God. Above all, this must be the constant theme of all our preaching. How hard this is can best be known by those of you who struggle day by day with the Scriptures bringing that Word in season and out of season. How many are the temptations to do less than this are known to you upon whom rests this work. And I can leave no better advice to you who with this evening complete your Seminary work than to remember that this must be the theme of all your ministry. In the final analysis, when everything else is said and done, the battle lines in the battle of faith are drawn here. All untruth denies that glory. The truth fights for it with unwearying courage. 

But subjectively this must also be true. This is, of course, difficult to speak about and difficult to define. We are speaking of the deepest motives of our hearts. And it is the easiest thing in the world to identify in our own consciousness the glory of God with motives of personal self-seeking and prideful ambition. It is so terribly easy to cover up personal motives with pious prating of our desire to see God glorified. I think often in these evil days of Moses who, when confronted with the fierce anger of God against Israel’s idolatry prayed: “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” Exodus 32:31, 32. I commend for your prayerful reading Exodus 32, 33. Or, again, of Paul who wrote in Romans 9:3: “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” I do not think I have the grace to consider the glory of (God of greater importance than my salvation. Yet this is the thrust of Paul’s and Moses’ astonishing statements. Elijah put it all in the language which God Himself uses in the Decalogue when, defeated and downcast, he murmured: “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts.” I Kings 19:10. This is the deepest motive for all labor in the house of God. 

Be assured that God will gain His glory. It cannot be any different. Whether we want this or not, God will gain all glory to Himself. He cannot share it with another. To be of those who acknowledge this glory and labor on its behalf there can be no greater blessing.