“And he said, ‘I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory.’” Exodus 33:18
Known as “The Prince of Preachers”, and deservedly so, yet even Charles Spurgeon exhausts his vocabulary attempting to convey an adequate picture of the glory of God. At one point he admits: “I can not break these bonds that hold my stammering tongue – could I loose these lips and speak as angels speak, then I could tell you something, but not much, of the goodness of God, for it is ‘past finding out.’” Yet Spurgeon’s sermon is one of mankind’s better efforts to give those who seek it, a better glimpse of the majesty and glory of God.
The message begins with a lengthy introduction in which he declares that Moses’ request of God is “the greatest petition that man ever asked of God”. He postulates that it was a greater request than Abraham’s plea to save Sodom, or Elijah’s cry for fire to fall from the sky. These requests were great indeed, but Spurgeon says “this is the highest elevation that faith ever gained” – to request to see the very glory of God! Following the introduction, Spurgeon expounded on the text with the following three points:
I. The Gracious Manifestation: “I will make all My goodness pass before thee.” Spurgeon says that it is not insignificant that when asked to show His glory, God made His “goodness” pass before Moses – NOT His justice, His wrath, or His power, but His goodness. “God’s greatest glory is that He is good.” Admitting his own inability to adequately express the glory of God, Spurgeon poetically calls upon creation to testify: “And you, ye storms, howl out His greatness; let your thunders roll like drums in the march of the God of armies; let your lightnings write His name in fire in the midnight darkness.” Reading Spurgeon’s sermons is often akin to reading poetry; and his words serve us well by heightening our vision of the glory of God.
II. The Gracious Concealment: “Thou canst not see My face, for there shall no man see Me and live.” Spurgeon shares a historic illustration which is as effective as it is gruesome: “Do you know how Robert of Normandy lost his sight? His brother passed a red-hot copper bowl before his face, and burned the eyes out of their sockets …”. He compares this to the inability of man to handle the presence – and indeed some of the mysteries of the doctrines – of God. After re-affirming that “We can not see God and live”, he makes an interesting observation: “All that we can ever see of God is what Moses called his ‘back parts.’ The words, I think signify ‘regal train.’ [Think Isaiah 6, where the expression “the train of His filling the temple” is used of the glory of God there] You have seen kings with trains hanging behind them; and all that we can ever see of God is His train that floats behind. You sun that burns in the heavens with all his effulgence, you think he is bright; you look upon him, and he dazzles you; but all his splendor is but a single thread in the regal skirts of the robe of Deity.”
III. The Gracious Shielding: “Moses had to be put in the cleft of a rock before he could see God.” Always quick to point to Christ from any scripture, Spurgeon quotes Paul: “That rock was Christ.” Yes, he admits, Moses was “hidden in the cleft of a real rock. But O, my soul, what is the cleft of the rock where thou must stand, if thou wouldst ever see God’s face and live? O it is the ‘Rock of Ages Cleft For Me’.” He closes the message with what can only envision must have been a passionate plea to all who heard, to take refuge in Christ that they might see the glory of God. Emphasizing the urgent nature of the decision, Spurgeon quoted Revelation: “I saw death on a pale horse …” and admonished his hearers, “Ah run! Run! Run! But run as thou wilt, the rider on the white horse will overtake thee. If thou canst escape him seventy years, he will overtake thee at last.” Referencing two lines of the old hymn which so often graced his messages, he urged his hearers to take refuge in the “Rock of Ages” by putting their trust in Jesus’ death on the cross: “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” It is in Christ, and Christ alone, that one may be saved, and ever gaze on the glory of God.
Spurgeon’s message accomplished its purpose on at least two levels: it enhances and elevates respect for the glory of God among those who know Christ as their Savior; and it effectively calls for those who do not yet know Him to take refuge in Him as their only hope of seeing the glory of God.
Not one of Spurgeon’s longer messages (only 12 pages in this 10-volume set) “A View of God’s Glory” is indeed an inspiring and uplifting message. But like any human work, it is not without its imperfections. The structure is imbalanced: the introduction is as long as both the second and third points. The first point, on the Gracious Manifestation, comprises half the length of the sermon in itself. Granted that the topic could have exhausted volumes, the extreme length of that point led to a somewhat imbalanced feel to the message. As compelling as the last point was, it still had the feel of being cut short. One of the primary reasons for the uneven balance in the sermon is that Spurgeon spent a great deal of time in the first point expounding on Sovereign Grace: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” He took what felt like a bypath on the doctrine of Sovereign Grace at that point, saying that God has a right to do with man as He pleases. It is interesting, however, that in the course of the point Spurgeon told the story of a man he visited who was dying, and who said that he would go to heaven because “God is good”. He used this as a springboard to say that God was not only “good”, He was Sovereign, and that He had the right to do with us whatever He wants – more than implying in the following paragraphs that He has the right to choose or not to choose who will be saved. He interjected that this teaching ‘stirs up the carnal pride’ of those who object to it, who will not humble themselves before God. I disagree. There are, undoubtedly, many who indeed refuse to humble themselves before God. But there are also many others who do not object to the teaching of “Sovereign Grace” because it offends their pride, but because it offends their view of the goodness and love of God. How ironic that Spurgeon said of the man who was dying that “If you only see one attribute you only have half a God.” Could he not see that the same thing is true of his own teaching? That having a Sovereign God to the exclusion of a God who has a real goodness and love for men is only “half a God” as well? Certainly, a Sovereign God has the absolute right to do with His creatures whatever He will; He is the King of the Universe. But Sovereign is not all that He is; He is also love, and good, and “not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”
But surely it is no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Charles Spurgeon to find Calvinism in his messages; he is well known for it. The aforementioned structural and theological imbalance notwithstanding, Spurgeon’s message is glorious all in all. In places it can literally give one chills, and the mind’s eye is raised to ponder the glory of God. It is well worth the reading. May God’s Spirit continue to use it to give all who hunger for it, “A View of God’s Glory.”