Sermon VII. Duties Inculcated by the Sovereignty of God. But now, O Lord, thou art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art the potter; and we are all the work of thy hand. Isaiah lxiv. 8.
The people of Israel had been visited by the sore judgments of God. The prophet introduces them confessing their sins, acknowledging the justice of those judgments which their sins provoked, and adoring the sovereign power and authority of Jehovah in all his dispensations towards them. "But now, O Lord, thou art our Father"--thou hast made us, and dost guide, and preserve, and govern us; we are under thy almighty discipline and control. "We are the clay, and thou art the potter"--thy power over us is as absolute and sovereign as that of the potter over the clay which he fashioneth according to his will. "We are all the work of thy hand"--and therefore bound to submit to, and adore thy righteous judgments.
All who believe in the being and providence of God, the Maker and Governor of all things will in words at least, be ready to acknowledge that they are the creatures of God's power; that they are subject to his government and control that his sovereign authority none can resist; and that all the endowments of body and mind, and all the enjoyments and blessings of life, are the gifts of [67/68] his bounty. "That they are the clay, and he is the potter; and they are all the work of his hand." But though these truths, revealed in Scripture, are sanctioned by the dictates of reason, and when proposed to the serious and unprejudiced judgment of mankind, will be generally received; yet, even among those who acknowledge them, there are few who properly consider the nature and obligation of the duties which result from them. Instead, therefore, of my attempting to prove or illustrate the sovereign authority of God over us, I shall take this as a truth admitted, and consider the duties that are founded upon it, as the practical part of the subject with which we are immediately concerned.
God is "our Father"--in that sense which makes him the source of our being, our endowments, and all our mercies, we are as absolutely and entirely subject to his control, as the passive "clay" is to the forming hand of the "potter." "We are the work of his hand," and therefore subject to him as dependent creatures to an almighty Creator.
The consideration of the sovereign authority of God over us should
Teach us humility;
It should excite in us the sentiment of dependence;
It should produce profound submission;
It should lead us to render to him homage and obedience.
1. It should teach us humility--the humility of temper, and the humility of intellect.
Pride and self-confidence ill become those who possess nothing which they have not received, and [68/69] which they do not hold at the will of a superior Being. The creatures who were produced by the fashioning hand of that almighty Creator, whose fiat in an instant would reduce them to the dust from whence they were taken, how idle in them to boast of the endowments which they possess, as if they were original and underived, and held by the certain tenure of their own will! The talents, the wealth, the honour, that for a moment elevate one man above another, what cause are they for the swelling emotions of self-confident pride? Proud man, what has he which he has not received? The distinctions which now excite his vanity and elate his pride, he has derived from the sovereign bounty of that almighty Being, who, if he had seen fit, could have conferred them on another humble individual, whom this vain boaster considers so far beneath him. We are in the hands of that Being, as clay in the hands of the potter, and he may crumble to pieces the pillars that support our pride, and reduce us to a level with those who are now the objects of our scorn. What are the lessons then which our dependence on the sovereign power of our almighty Maker should teach us?--to refer to him all the advantages and distinctions which we possess--to acknowledge them to be the gifts of his bounty, calling for humble gratitude instead of presumptuous pride--to rejoice in the possession of them with trembling, knowing the dependent tenure on which we hold them, the pleasure of God, who giveth not to man an account of his doings--and to adore the sovereign providence of him who is the Author of all our talents, distinctions, and advantages--and thus to acknowledge in deep humility his supreme and resistless authority.
 From the unlimited power which God possesses over us, he derives the right to impose on us whatever commands he pleases, and to require our assent to whatever truths he may reveal. The source of intelligence and goodness, as well as of power, he justly claims the homage and obedience of the understandings, and wills and affections of his intelligent creatures. Let not then the human mind, but a ray of intelligence from the infinite and eternal source of reason, disclaim its dependent origin, and oppose its feeble light to the brightness of eternal wisdom. Let not man, the work of God's hands, disclaim the authority of him that made him, and set up his own derivative powers and dependent will, as the standard and source of truth and authority. "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over his clay?" [Rom. ix. 20, 21.] Hath not the sovereign Being in whose hands thou art, and who is infinite in truth and perfection, a right to require thy assent and obedience to whatever truths and commands he may choose to impose? Is there any source of truth but the eternal mind, any supreme Lawgiver but the almighty Maker who formed thee, any tribunal but that which he has constituted, to which, as a rational agent, thou wilt be called finally to account 1 Wilt thou presume to set up, independent of him, a standard of truth and virtue in the reason and nature of things! But who constituted the reason and nature of things? Who determined the immutable difference between truth and error, good [70/71] and evil, but the infinite, eternal, self-existent Jehovah, the only source of all intellectual, and physical, and moral existence, of all the relations that subsist between them, and all the truths and duties which result from them? We cannot ascertain these truths but as he has revealed them--we must receive these relations as he has determined them. His truths and his will must indeed harmonize with the reason and nature of things, for he has constituted them all. In his truths then we must seek for wisdom--in his will for happiness and good.
The great source of opposition to the will of God arises from an impatience of restraint on the bold flights of reason, from an aversion to acknowledge the revelations of the Eternal as supreme over the deductions and operations of the human mind. An habitual sense of the supreme and righteous authority of God over us," will produce that spirit of deep and unfeigned humility which becomes us as creatures, and will preserve us from that unlicensed impatience of restraint which would lead us to oppose the divine authority and government, which are infinitely perfect, wise and good, and therefore the only guide of our faith, and rule of our conduct. Our sense of the supreme power of the Being who made and sustains us cannot be too strong--our humility cannot be too profound; for we are in his hands as clay in the hands of the potter, fashioned, controlled, and devoted as he pleases.
2. The consideration of the sovereign power and authority of God should also excite the sentiments of dependence.
 This dependence should be as universal and profound as the power of God is unlimited and entire; extending to all our counsels, to all our thoughts, to all our ways, to all our actions. It is his invisible but ever-present power which preserves our physical and moral faculties, enabling the intellect to search for and discover truth. It is the illuminating and all-powerful grace of his Holy Spirit which leads us to the discernment of spiritual things, and "directs us in the ways of his laws, and in the works of his commandments," [See Collect in Communion Service] not only "inspires us with good desires, but enables us to bring the same to good effect." [See Collect for Easter Sunday.] And it is his providence which overrules all our ways and actions to his sovereign purposes. "In God we live, and move, and have our being." [Acts xvii. 28.] "He ruleth over all," "He is the Author of every good and perfect gift." [Psalm ciii. 19. James i. 17.] "Without him we can do nothing." [See Collect for the first Sunday after Trinity.] This supreme and unbounded agency of God we know does not destroy our free agency, nor irresistibly control our minds. We may not indeed be able to reconcile the free agency of the creature with the supreme power of the Creator; and for what one of the many facts of nature, or of the truths of reason, are we able to account? The most common fact, which is the basis of all our reasonings and all our conduct, that external objects act upon the mind so as to raise accurate ideas of them, and excite our desires and affections, is utterly beyond our comprehension. He, therefore, who rejects, because he cannot account for them, the truths of Scripture, must con[72/73]sistently reject the truths of nature; and then, tossed on the troubled ocean of scepticism, where will he find a rest for his wandering mind?
My brethren, it is sufficient for us to know that this supreme and universal providence of God is declared in that sacred word which we receive on the most luminous and satisfactory evidence; and that, transcending .as it may, in some respects, our comprehension, reason acknowledges it as a necessary attribute of a supreme and almighty Creator. It is our duty, therefore, in all our ways to acknowledge the sovereign authority and providence of Almighty God, to implore him by his power to preserve and invigorate the faculties of our minds in all their researches and operations, by his grace to enlighten our understandings, to sanctify our hearts, to strengthen us in the discharge of duty, and by his providence to guide and govern us in all our ways. It is our duty to ascribe to his grace and power, strengthening and aiding us in all the good that we perform, all the virtues that adorn and elevate us. It is our duty especially to adore him as the Author of our salvation, as that omnipotent Governor of all things, who, by the influences of his grace and the operations of his providence, is accomplishing in us, and in the world, his own good pleasure.
3. The consideration of the sovereign authority of God over us should produce in us submission.
For "the thunder of his power who can withstand?" [Job xxvi. 14.] Sovereign power merely, though it cannot excite trust and confidence, yet demands im[73/74]plicit submission; and united as it is, in the Maker and Ruler of the universe, with righteousness and mercy, resistance to it would not only be ineffectual, but would display a presumptuous and arrogant assertion of our own will in opposition to infinite wisdom, perfect goodness, and supreme power. "God is greater than man," is the language of inspiration, "why dost thou strive with him?" "When he gives quietness, who can trouble? and when he hideth, who can behold him "Who is able to stand before him?" "The earth shakes and trembles, the foundations of heaven are moved when he is wroth." In his character, as that gracious and merciful Father who knoweth whereof we are made, and remembereth that we are but dust, God calls forth our filial confidence and affection. As that almighty Father, in whose hands we are as clay in the hands of the potter; as "a great God, a mighty and terrible, who regardeth not persons nor taketh reward," he claims our submissive fear and reverence. The consideration of the awful sovereignty of God is often necessary to chasten the too familiar fervours of that love which the view of his compassion and goodness is calculated to excite. It is especially necessary to compose and settle in us a spirit of profound and unreserved submission to his will. That resignation which is founded only on a view of his mercy and love, is apt to become restless and importunate; it is apt to reason, that the heavenly Father, who is infinite in compassion, will surely pity the distresses of his children, and remove their afflictions. But unvail the awful majesty of God, and the view [74/75] of his sovereign authority represses the spirit of murmuring. "Wo unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou?" [Isa. xlv. 9.] Let us accustom ourselves then, my brethren, with all our views of the mercy and love of God as our heavenly Father, to connect a regard to his supreme and sovereign authority over us. All his attributes claim our homage. Fear and submission are duties which we owe to his sovereignty and power, as well as gratitude and trust to his mercy and compassion. The fervours of love should be chastened by the more sober emotions of holy fear. Submission to his Will, as wise and good, should be strengthened by the consideration that it is resistless. It would be as vain as impious to resist him; for "we are the clay, and he is the potter; and we are all the work of his hands."
4. The consideration of the sovereign power and authority of God over us, should teach us, lastly, the necessity of securing his favour, by rendering to him homage and obedience.
Superior power compels obedience by operating on our interests and our fears. He who "stretcheth forth the heavens; who setteth fast the mountains, being girded about with power; who frustrated the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; who turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish; who saith to the deep, Be dry;" [Isa. xliv. 24, 25, 27.] "who stilleth the noise of its waves, and the tumult of the people"--[Psalm lxv. 7.] he "who kills and makes [75/76] alive, who wounds and who heals, out of whose hand none can deliver"--he "who is Lord alone of all the kingdoms of the earth," is certainly entitled to the homage of the creatures he has made, the subjects of his fearful and resistless power. In his hand, as the clay in the hands of the potter, vainly would they attempt to resist his will.
The folly and presumption of sin are displayed by considering it as a contempt of the authority, and violation of the will of a sovereign and all-powerful God.
The profane swearer, who casts forth his curses and execrations, insults the sacred name, and imprecates the vengeance of that almighty Jehovah, who is able in an instant to seal his blasphemous tongue in silence, or to torment it in inextinguishable flame. The libertine, who riots in licentious pleasure; the drunkard, who wallows in intemperance; the debauchee, who brutalizes himself in sensuality--all are waging war against their Maker, against that almighty Sovereign who is able in an instant to destroy both soul and body in hell. The awful presumption, guilt and danger of the sinner consist in his being the avowed enemy of his almighty Creator, and exposed every instant to be cut off by the stroke of almighty vengeance. Every act of injustice, every trick of fraud, every deed of oppression, in short, every wilful transgression of the law of God, is a contempt of his sovereign authority, because it supposes that he is either too indifferent or too weak to vindicate his violated laws. Ah! though, in merciful forbearance, (well for us, brethren, that it is so,) his anger delay for [76/77] awhile, the crimes of the wicked and ungodly are augmenting its flames, which will at last burst upon them with overwhelming fury. "For the day com-eth, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, and all that do wickedly, shall be as stubble: and the day cometh that shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts." [Malachi iv. 1.] That great and terrible day--the elements melting with fervent heat, the heavens passing away, the earth consumed by the flames which are rending it asunder, and united with the crash of departing worlds, the despairing cries of condemned sinners, driven to that place where dwells the devouring fire--that day will awfully vindicate the sovereign power and authority of the Maker and Ruler of the universe. Imagination is not drawing unreal scenes--they are the sober and awful delineations of the word of God. Who indeed can, by searching, find out the immensity of his power? What imagination, by her boldest efforts, can display the treasures of that wrath which Jehovah hath in store for his impenitent adversaries?
He who came in great humility to effect the designs of infinite mercy, will come again in the almighty power of the Godhead, to execute the purposes of wrath--of that terrible but just wrath which is denounced against those whom the overtures of mercy cannot soften, nor the influences of divine grace subdue; but who continue in their sins, resisting and contemning the righteous authority and power of their almighty Maker and Sovereign In that day of eternal justice, in that day of almighty vengeance, those only will be able, through the [77/78] merits of the divine Mediator, to stand and to abide in peace and safety--who have yielded, through the grace of the divine Sanctifier, entire, unreserved obedience to their almighty Creator--who have humbly received the truths of his revelation--who have devoutly adored the dispensations of his providence--who have implicitly obeyed the requisitions of his righteous laws--and who have thankfully accepted salvation in that way, in which only, according to his sovereign pleasure, he conveys it, through the merits and grace of his Son Jesus Christ.
Is this our character, brethren? do we humbly receive the truths, obey the laws, adore the dispensations, accept the salvation of our almighty Maker? Let the inquiry be immediate--let it be serious--for if this be not our character, alas! there is no safety for us; almighty power is engaged against us--engaged to vindicate, in our punishment, the insulted authority of our Sovereign and our Judge. But if in our understandings, our hearts, our lives, we submit to the dominion of him who has a supreme right to rule us, then his sovereign power will not be an object of dismay to us, but of holy confidence and joy; for it will be exerted for our present peace, for our eternal felicity. Then, not in the alarm and terrors of a guilty spirit, but in the peace and joy of a conscience reconciled to God and assured of his favour, we may reverently but triumphantly adore him. "Thou, O Lord, art our Father; we are the clay, and thou art the potter; and we are all the work of thy hand."