In the Highest God’s Glory is the Supreme Value. Understand this, and You will Understand the Bible
English theologian P.T. Forsyth wrote earlier this century:
There are few dangers threatening the religious future more serious than the slow shallowing of the religious mind...
He was right, of course. While the Bible is still a bestseller and vast numbers of books are rolling off the printing- presses of Christian publishers, “the slow shallowing of the religious mind” continues apace.
It’s easy to spot. People are still confused about the message of the Bible. Christian leaders often ask themselves: “Why does the Bible seem so foreign to believers? Why does it sit so lightly on them?”
How do we explain the fog and uncertainty that afflicts so much Christian inquiry about the meaning of the Scriptures? Could it be that we are trying to understand the Bible from the wrong angle?
Indeed we are. And unless we recover a true perspective, our spiritual welfare and missionary advance will suffer. Our problem is that we are too inclined to read the Bible with our own concerns in mind. We have drunk so deeply of the spirit of the age that God’s interests have become less important to us than our own. You don’t believe me? Then ask yourself: What is God’s great design in creating the world?
There are several possible answers to this question. You could say that God’s design is to redeem the world. Or to restore us to fellowship with himself. Or to renew the creation. Or for the praise of the glory of his grace. Which one did you choose? All are true, of course, but only one describes God’s ultimate purpose. And it’s only when you identify that purpose that you can gain a far deeper understanding of what’s going on in the Bible. So which did you choose?
If it wasn’t the last answer you have missed the major theme running through the Bible — God’s passion for the glory of his grace. Calvin says that this is
the final reason that moved God to elect us, namely, that his grace might be praised by it, yes, not after a common and ordinary manner, but with a certain glory ... so that we should be ravished when we see how God has drawn us out of the bottom of hell to open to us the gate of the kingdom.
It’s not easy to arrive at this level of understanding. One of our chief obstacles is that our view of God is too small. We imagine, for example, that God has needs just like us. We think that he depends upon the world to keep him happy and amused, as though he had a shortage of toys, fellow-workers and friends. In fact, from all eternity God has been perfectly self-contained and self-sufficient, in need of nothing. In other words, God was not acting out of compulsion or necessity when he created us. He had no needs at all.
So why did he do it? The simple answer is that he delights in his glory (Rom 11: 36). Glory is not an easy idea to understand. Like beauty, it almost defies description — but you know it when you see it. Perhaps the best way to describe glory is to remember that it comes from the Hebrew word kabod, which means “heavy”. It refers to the immensity, majesty and splendour of God’s various attributes as they are piled upon each other to form an overpowering weight. That’s glory. It points to God’s infinite greatness and worth. And the Bible tells us that God’s great design in creating the world and in saving sinners is that all the universe — both living and inanimate things — might praise God for his glory (Ps. 145, 148).
Of course, some of us may be tempted to think that such a motive is egocentric and unworthy of God. We hate people who are full of themselves and strut around trying to attract attention. But again, God is not a human being. When he complains, “you thought that I was altogether like you” (Ps 50:21), he makes a telling point. God is unique. He is not human. The rules of humility which apply to a creature do not apply to the One who is the source of all life and existence.
Indeed, if God’s glory is the supreme value in the universe, he would be unrighteous and untrue to esteem it less highly. If he failed to take infinite delight in his triune being he would be fundamentally inconsistent. So when God seeks his glory, he’s pursuing a worthy and honourable goal. But it’s more than that. In fact, it’s our only assurance that we will make sense of the Bible, and that God will show us mercy and forgiveness, and bring the gospel to all the unreached peoples of the earth.
Many Christians are troubled by the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament. While there is much in it that is noble and worthy, there is also a lot that is strange, tedious and sometimes offensive to our moral sensibilities. It’s not surprising that many modern readers give up in disgust when they cannot figure out the plot. They come across instances of immorality and violence that leave them bewildered. But this is where an understanding of God’s ultimate purpose is so helpful.
Take the case of Rahab (Joshua 2). Rahab was a prostitute who lived in Jericho when Israel besieged it. She seems a most unlikely candidate for salvation. Why did Joshua focus his attention on so unworthy a person, especially when the aim of the holy war was to rid the promised land of idolaters and sinners like her?
Could it be that Joshua wanted to draw our attention to an astounding act of God’s grace? Did he want us to see that God saves those who acknowledge his glory and trust him (2:10-11)? I think so. It seems that the manner in which Joshua recounts Rahab’s rescue is designed to exhibit the grace of God so powerfully and obviously that the reader is left with a sense of wonder and praise. Paul gives us a powerful interpretative key when he tells us that the basic motive inspiring the Bible stories is God’s desire to be praised for the glory of His grace (Eph. 1:5). The story of Rahab is a prime example of how God’s grace saves even the most degraded sinners.
Do you realise that God’s desire to save and purify you comes not from some special value that you have, but from the infinite depth of his own? We have become so accustomed to thinking that we are supremely valuable, that we cannot imagine any other reason why God would save us other than our own worth. This may be natural in an age which regards self-esteem as the supreme virtue, but it’s not the way the biblical writers think.
Take Psalm 79. This is a desperate plea for God to rescue Israel. Foreign powers have invaded the country and murdered thousands. What is the basis for the Psalmists’ plea? That God owes them a favour? Their meritorious lives? Their cultural heritage? No. Their only hope lies in God’s commitment to his glory. If Israel is destroyed, God’s reputation will go down too.
Help us, O God our Saviour, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake. Ps 79:9
God’s passion for his glory is a tremendous encouragement to all who look to him for mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance. God is committed to help us, not because we are particularly valuable or deserving, but because he is committed to bringing himself glory by showing us grace upon grace (Jn 1:16) If you are worried that God could never forgive your sins, have you realised that his desire to glorify himself by pardoning you is your great hope? (Ps 25:11)
Sometimes we wonder whether the cause of Christian missions will ever succeed. The obstacles seem so immense, and our resources so small. Is it possible that all the unreached people groups in the world can be successfully evangelised and people won for Christ? Is it a cause that has any real prospects? Should we be investing heavily in mission?
The prophets tell us that God’s passion for his glory is so strong that nothing will stop him from gathering his church out of all the unreached peoples in the world. Isaiah declares:
I will send some ... to the distant islands that have not heard of my name or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your brothers from all the nations. 66:11
Mission to unreached peoples is a tremendous investment. In fact, it’s blue chip and the dividends keep rolling on into eternity. It cannot fail: God is absolutely committed to glorifying his name among all the nations (Is. 60:3; Ps. 86:9; 102:15). Could there be any more glorious or significant privilege than being involved in the greatest rescue-mission that the world has ever seen?
I think I have shown in the barest of fashions why it’s so important to understand what led God to create and to redeem the world. It’s only when we realise that God’s ultimate purpose is to glorify himself that we can make sense of the Bible, find assurance and spiritual comfort, and rejoice in the coming victory of God’s mission