I remember buying a book of Poems compiled by a famous preacher. The poems were supposed to be "great aids in getting decisions." One of the preacher's favorite poems that he urged his readers to use when the altar call was being given was entitled The Invictus. Because of his theology, this man used the poem as if it were solid truth. He saw it as embodying the "right way to appeal to the free will of man." Apparently the man never checked up on either the origin of the poem or the author's intention in writing it.
The author of The Invictus, W.E. Henley, was a militant humanist who hated the Christian faith. The word invictus means "unconquered" in Latin, and the author's intention in the poem was to shake his fist in defiance at the very thought of a sovereign God ruling over him. We could well entitle the poem "The Rebel Sinner's Banner." The use of this particular poem during an altar call was actually reinforcing in a sinner's mind the very thought that must be destroyed before he can ever truly be saved. Henley's poem is pure blasphemy. The evangelist who advocated using it in altar calls may be excused for not knowing who Mr. Henley was, but he cannot be excused for not recognizing blasphemy when he hears it stated so clearly.
The Invictus by W.E. Henley
Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstances, I have not winced nor cried aloud, Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears, Looms but the horror of the shade. And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how straight the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the master of soul.
Around 1900 a young lady that had been greatly enamored with Henley and his humanism got soundly converted to Christ. She wrote a response to Henley's blasphemy, and set forth the correct attitude of a child of God toward the sovereignty of God. Here is her poem:
Conquered By Dorothea Day Out of the light that dazzles me, Bright as the sun from pole to pole, I thank the God I know to be, For Christ - the Conqueror of my soul. Since His the sway of circumstance, I would not wince nor cry aloud. Under the rule which men call chance, My head, with joy, is humbly bowed. Beyond this place of sin and tears, That Life with Him and His the Aid, That, spite the menace of the years, Keeps, and will keep me unafraid. I have no fear though straight the gate: He cleared from punishment the scroll. Christ is the Master of my fate! Christ is the Captain of my soul!
I trust we are beginning to see that the essence of true Christian faith involves a submission to God as sovereign, and the essence of unbelief is deliberate rebellion to God as sovereign. It is essential we learn at conversion that a life of faith is nothing less than joyfully "giving up, and admitting that God is God." The word joyfully is very important in that sentence. A believer does not grudgingly acknowledge that God is sovereign, he does so with joy and confidence. The two parts of Romans 11:36 show this fact:
"For from him and through him and to him are all things: to whom be glory forever! Amen." Romans 11:36
There are three different Greek prepositions in that verse. They show the truth of God's absolute and total sovereignty. The verse states that all things, without any exception are:
(1) from (The Greek is ek and means "out of, or out from") God;
(2) all things are through (The Greek is dia and means "by means of, or because of") God and
(3) all things are to (The Greek is eis and means "into") God.
In other words, all things have their source in God's decrees or purposes, and all things that happen do so only because God's power has brought them to pass, and finally, everything that God plans and then brings to pass will ultimately bring glory to him since they all move into him or unto him as their final end. Now that is the Biblical truth about our sovereign God. That is acknowledging that "God can do any thing He wants to do, any time He wants to do it, any way He wants to do it, for any purpose He wants to accomplish." However, the response of faith is not to grit our teeth and submit to that truth because God is stronger than us and we can do nothing about it (implying that we would if we could). No, no, the child of God bows his head in worship and says "To whom be glory forever." We can do this because we know that Romans 8:28 is just as true as God Himself is true.
The unbeliever gnashes his teeth and cries, "I am the master of my fate, and I am the captain of my soul." The cry of the rebels in Luke 19:14 is the real heart attitude of every lost person, "But his subjects hated him..... (and said) 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'"
Brethren, it is the preaching of God as sovereign that brings man's hatred of God to the surface. C.H. Spurgeon was dead right in the following quotation:
The householder says, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?" and even so does the God of Heaven and earth ask this question of you this morning, "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?"
There is no attribute of God more comforting to His children than the doctrine of Divine Sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe troubles, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them all. There is nothing for which the children of God ought more earnestly to contend than the dominion of their Master over all creation, the throne of God, and His right to sit upon that throne.
On the other hand, there is no doctrine more hated by worldlings, no truth of which they have made such a football, as the great, stupendous, but yet most certain doctrine of the Sovereignty of the infinite Jehovah. Men will allow God to be everywhere except upon His throne. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of Heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and reviled, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. They love Him anywhere better than they do when He sits with His scepter in His hand and His crown upon His head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust. It is God upon His throne of whom we have been singing this morning; and it is God upon His throne of whom we shall speak in this discourse.
From: "Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?," a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon on Matthew 20:15.
The last vestige of old Adam that we are willing to give up is our fancied "free will." The last truth that we will submit to in heart felt worship is God's absolute sovereignty over us. The greatest obstacle in man's conversion is his conviction that his free will alone is "Master of his fate." Is it not tragic that so many sincere but misguided preachers confirm and harden that folly in the sinner's heart. To tell a lost man that God "has done all He can do and it is now totally up to you," is to point the poor sinner to his own dead heart as the only ground of hope. It is telling the sinner that his power of will is stronger and more powerful than God.
There has probably never been a more classic illustration of the foregoing truth than the conviction and conversion of David Brainerd. The one exception would be the great Apostle Paul, especially if we understand the words concerning "kicking against the pricks" (Acts 26:14) to mean that he really knew in his heart that Jesus was the true Messiah. David Brainerd's biography is one of those books that it would be good to read once a year. Here is his own words describing the rebellion that went on in his mind and heart when he was under real conviction of his lost estate:
The many disappointments, great distress, and perplexity I met with, put me into a most horrible frame of contesting with the Almighty; with an inward vehemence and virulence finding fault with his ways of dealing with mankind. I found great fault with the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity; and my wicked heart often wished for some other way of salvation, than by Jesus Christ. Being like the troubled sea, my thoughts confused, I used to contrive to escape the wrath of God by some other means. I had strange projects, full of atheism, contriving to disappoint God's designs and decrees concerning me, or to escape his notice, and hide myself from him. But when, upon reflection, I saw these projects were vain, and would not serve me, and that I could contrive nothing for my own relief; this would throw my mind into the most horrid frame, to wish there was no God, or to wish there were some other god that could control Him, etc. These thoughts and desires were the secret inclinations of my heart, frequently acting before I was aware; but, alas! they were mine, although I was affrighted when I came to reflect on them. When I considered, it distressed me to think, that my heart was so full of enmity against God; and it made me tremble, lest his vengeance should suddenly fall upon me. I used before to imagine, that my heart was not so bad as the Scriptures and some other books represented it. Sometimes I used to take much pains to work it up into a good frame, an humble submissive disposition; and hoped there was then some goodness in me. But, on a sudden, the thoughts of the strictness of the law, or the sovereignty of God, would so irritate the corruption of my heart, that I had so watched over, and hoped I had brought to a good frame, that it would break over all bounds, and burst forth on all sides, like floods of water when they break down their dam.
Works of Jonathan Edwards, Banner of Truth Trust, Vol II, pp. 317-18.
Brainerd graphically describes four specific truths that made him exceedingly angry while he was under conviction of sin. Men today hate the same truths, but these very truths are the only hope that poor sinners have. This is why a necessity is laid on us to preach these specific truths. Unless we preach God on a throne of holiness and sovereignty, we will only be stirring up the dust and not really helping poor sinners at all. We will never see men on their knees seeking mercy until they see God on His throne of sovereignty and holiness.
And while I was in this distressed, bewildered, and tumultuous state of mind, the corruption of my heart was especially irritated with the following things:
1. The Strictness of the divine Law. For I found it was impossible for me, after my utmost pains, to answer its demands. I often made new resolutions, and as often broke them.....I was extremely loth to own my utter helplessness in this matter: but after repeated disappointments, thought that, rather than perish, I could do a little more still; especially if such and such circumstances might but attend my endeavors and strivings.....This hope of future more favorable circumstances, and of doing something great hereafter, kept me from utter despair in myself, and from seeing myself fallen into the hands of a sovereign God, and dependent on nothing but free and boundless grace.
As you can see, at the bottom of every objection and problem in Brainerd's mind, the sovereignty of God was always the center. He could not bear the thought of putting himself solely into the hands of a sovereign God and trust in nothing but "free and boundless grace." Herein lies the heart of every sinner's problem and most modern-day preachers compound that problem instead of helping it.
2. Another thing was, that faith alone was the condition of salvation; that God would not come down to lower terms, and that he would not promise life and salvation upon my sincere and hearty prayers and endeavors. That word, Mark 16:16, "He that believeth not, shall be damned," cut off all hope there: and I found, faith was the sovereign gift of God; that I could not get it as of myself, and could not oblige God to bestow it upon me, by any of my performances, (Eph. 2:1,8.) This, I was ready to say, is a hard saying, who can bear it? I could not bear, that all I had done should stand for mere nothing, who had been very conscientious in duty, had been exceeding religious a great while, and had, as I thought, done much more than many others who had obtained mercy.
3. Another thing was, that I could not find out what faith was; or what it was to believe, and come to Christ.....
4. Another thing to which I found a great inward opposition, was the sovereignty of God. I could not bear that it should be wholly at God's pleasure to save or damn me, just as He would.
That passage, Romans 9:11-23 was a constant vexation to me, especially verse 21. Reading or meditating on this, always destroyed my seeming good frames: for when I thought I was almost humbled, and almost resigned, this passage would make my enmity against the sovereignty of God appear. When I came to reflect on my inward enmity and blasphemy, which arose on this occasion, I was the more afraid of God, and driven further from any hopes of reconciliation with Him. It gave me such a dreadful view of myself, that I dreaded more than ever to see myself in God's hands, at His sovereign disposal, and it made me more opposed than ever to submit to his sovereignty; for I thought God designed my damnation.....
It was the sight of the truth concerning myself, truth respecting my state, as a creature fallen and alienated from God, and that consequently could make no demands on God for mercy, but must subscribe to the absolute sovereignty of the Divine Being; the sight of the truth, I say, my soul shrank away from, and trembled to think of beholding. Ibid, page 318.
How can sinners be humbled under the mighty hand of God when preachers are telling them that their "free will" is more powerful than God? Why should men bow and seek grace from a God who "has done all he can do" and whose "hands are tied" until sinful man decides to "give him a chance?" It is little wonder that we see so few believers today like David Brainerd. The God before Whom Brainerd bowed in saving repentance and faith is almost unknown in our land. We must declare Romans nine to proud, self sufficient sinners, but we must be certain that we do it in the spirit of Romans 10:1,2. The God Who is sovereign is also most gracious. We must seek to drive men to despair in their own efforts only as a means of bringing them to hope in the gospel of God's sovereign mercy.
Strange as it may seem, some of the people that appear to be the most humble and earnest about their soul are really the most self sufficient. David Brainerd is a classic example of this fact. He would have been looked upon as an "earnest and most sincere man seeking after God." However, his own testimony reveals his deep-seated hatred of God.
What should we say to the poor soul who weeps and says, "I am too wicked to be saved"? We must tell them that they are lying through their teeth! If they really believed they were helpless they would fall at the feet of sovereign mercy. They are still trying to change and save themselves on their own terms. Their tears of "hopelessness" are really an expression of their unwillingness to put themselves entirely into God's hands. Their vaunted humility is like Brainerd's before he was ready to admit to the awful truth that he was both hopeless and helpless in himself and his own strength. False humility is back-handed self-righteousness.
If we really want to see sinners converted and saints edified, we must confront them with the truth of God's awesome sovereignty. We must tell them, as Rolfe Barnard did, "Son, all you need to do to be saved is bow to Jesus the Lord." We must assure people that no sinner who ever bowed to Christ in repentance and faith was ever turned away. He was welcomed into the arms of grace. However, we must also tell them that the only way they can come to Christ is with a heart that is ready to submit to Him as the only Lord. The Sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ is not only the one safe and sure place for a saint to rest, it is also the one and only safe and sure place for a poor lost sinner to rest.
Let me close with a quotation from a great preacher blessed by God in bringing many souls to a living faith in Christ:
The fact that conversion and salvation are all of God, is an humbling truth. It is because of its humbling character that men do not like it. To be told that God alone must save me if I am to be saved, and that I am in his hand, as clay is in the hands of the potter, "I do not like it," saith one. Well, I thought you would not; whoever dreamed you would? If you had liked it, perhaps it had not been true; your not liking it is an indirect evidence of its truthfulness. To be told that "he must work all my works in me," who can bring me so low as that? Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? The law of works? No, but the law of grace. Grace puts its hand on their boasting mouth, and shuts it once and for all; and then it takes its hand off from the mouth, and that mouth now does not fear to speak to man, though it trembles at the very thought of taking any honour and glory from God. I must say, I am compelled to say, that the doctrine which leaves salvation to the creature, and tells him that it depends upon himself, is the exaltation of the flesh, and a dishonouring of God. But that which puts in God's hand man, fallen man, and tells man that though he has destroyed himself, yet his salvation must be of God, that doctrine humbles man in the very dust, and then he is just in the right place to receive the grace and mercy of God. It is a humbling doctrine.
Again, this doctrine gives the death blow to all self-sufficiency. What the Arminian wants to do is to arouse man's activity; what we want to do is kill it once and for all, to show him that he is lost and ruined, and his activities are not now at all equal to the work of conversion; that he must look upward. They seek to make the man stand up; we seek to bring him down, and make him feel that there he lies in the hand of God, and that his business is to submit himself to God, and cry aloud, "Lord, save, or I perish." We hold that the man is never so near grace as when he begins to feel that he can do nothing at all. When he says, "I can pray, I can believe, I can do this, and I can do the other," marks of self-sufficiency and arrogance are on his brow. But when he comes to his knees and cries;
"Oh, for this no strength I find, my strength is at thy feet to lie,"
then we think that God has blessed him, and that the work of grace is in his soul. O sinner! Think not that thy own unaided arm can get the victory. Cry unto God, and beg him to take your soul in hand, for you cannot be saved unless he doeth it for you. Bless him for the promise that says, "Him that cometh unto me, I will not cast out." Oh! Cry to him, "Lord, draw me by thy grace, that I may run after thee; work all my works in me, and bring me to thyself and save me!" Not to your self do we bid thee look, nor to your prayers, nor to your faith, but to Christ and to his cross, and to that God who is "able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him."
C.H. Spurgeon, New Park Street Pulpit, Vol 6, p.257.
Maybe, just maybe, if we understood and preached the gospel as Spurgeon did, God would be blessed to convict and convert sinners under our ministry as He did under Spurgeon's ministry. Maybe, just maybe, if believers today really understood just how sovereign and gracious God is, the counseling couches would be empty and the prayer and worship meetings would be full.
Has this message been a blessing to you? You can secure it in print in tract form by writing: Sound of Grace, P.O. Box 185, Webster, NY 14580.