The God who sits upon the throne is the sovereign of the world. His sway absolute, his dominion with no end, He is the sovereign judge. He holds man accountable for his deeds. To him every soul must give account. He will judge every one of you after his ways. The soul that sins it shall die. "We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and render an account of the deeds done in the body." "And I saw the dead, great and small, stand before God." That was the vision by which Hebrew thought was always haunted. And that was the vision which haunted the many through all their days. On their death-bed, on the last day of their earthly life, many will draw the curtains and ask to be left alone to speak with God in the last minutes.
The outcome of this vision, it is not necessary for us tonight to consider. You know what it was in apostolic history, and you know what it has been in the history of the Puritan world. From this vision there came a courage which has never been surpassed. The Puritans had in them the intrepid temper of Drake and Frobisher and the other sea kings of the sixteenth century, and did not hesitate to cut the cables and push their ships out upon seas whose bounds had not yet been determined. They were not afraid to trample down precedents when precedents were wrong, and burn up customs however ancient if those customs had proved destructive to the soul. There was no enemy however terrible whom they hesitated to fight, there was no suffering however fearful from which they shrank. As the historian would say; They were the only men who in that great age stood up and fought, the only men who dared to strike at the Duke of Alva and resist the tyranny of Philip. When men told William the Silent that his cause was hopeless and tried to induce him to give up, his reply was, "When I took in hand to defend these oppressed Christians I made an alliance with the mightiest of all potentates, the God of Hosts, who is able to save us if he choose."
"It is not with us," said one of the founders of New England, "as it is with those whom small things can discourage." And along with this splendid courage there was a magnificent hatred of shams and lies. The Puritans hated mendacity, despised all contradictions to duty and to truth. They saw that the throne was white. Because the throne of the Pope was black they hurled their thunderbolts against it. Religion in their day had become an elaborate and embroidered lie, and so they trampled it beneath their indignant feet. They took off the head of king’s because they were said to be liars. And along with this hatred of hypocrisy and falsehood there was a fidelity to duty which never wavered and never failed.
The Puritan conscience became a new factor in the progress of the world. The initial note of the new age was struck in Martin Luther's answer to the officials of the Roman church who demanded that he recant. "I can do naught else. Here stand I. God help me. Amen." A new age dawned when those words were spoken. Like the old Hebrew prophets the Puritans could never be beaten down. In the darkest night, amid the wildest discords, when the storm was at its highest they still kept saying to themselves, "Sometime, somewhere, somehow, His kingdom shall come, and His name shall be glorious throughout the world!"
Is not this the vision which we need? We are living in confused and troubled times, when the winds are blowing a hurricane across the lands and the currents are sweeping us onward toward what we do not know. Sin still wears] her scarlet and lifts her sceptre, and evil in a thousand forms devastates the peoples of the earth. Many a fixed star has been dissipated to mist, and many a hope in these recent days has gone out. In current literature and in the conversation of the aged I detect now and then a tone of weariness and despondency, sometimes sinking into a sigh of hopelessness and despair. Many men have lost hope in their city and in our republic and in the world. Would that we might have a fresh vision of the throne!
It may be doubted whether there have ever been any genuine atheists on the earth, men who have denied the existence of Deity altogether. Even Lucretius, the Roman poet, believed in a Deity who was far removed from all that goes on in the world, hidden somewhere in the inexhaustible depths of space. The human mind in every age has felt that there must be something, be it law or force or principle or energy or fate or destiny or mind, by which the universe came into being, and according to which it moves. But all men are practically atheists who deny that God can speak, and that he does speak to the human heart. To say that one does not know whether God speaks or not is to cut away the ground upon which the world's strongest characters have been built. "Out of the throne," says John, "there comes a voice. Listen to it." And if you listen you will hear it telling you to pray.
Work, for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Work, in order that at the end of the day you may hear the King saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of thy Lord." What is the best gift which one can give to this world? What was the gift which the ancient Hebrew people gave to humanity? It is surprising how many things there are which it did not give. It never carved a statue which the world cared to preserve, nor painted a picture which the world cared to look at, nor wrote a piece of music which the world cared to hear, nor constructed a philosophy which the world cared to investigate, nor worked out a scheme of metaphysics which the world cared to follow. Palestine never had a Phidias, Plato, a Raphael or a Caesar; all that Palestine gave to the world was an impulse God ward, and because she gave the world this, therefore God has given Palestine a name which is above every name, so that at the mention of this name human lips everywhere repeat with reverence and love "the Holy Land of Israel.
In many ways they are behind us those puritans, in delicacies, luxuries, skill, and scientific knowledge; and yet with all our ocean liners and our palace cars our faster than fast flying planes us feel in our highest hours that these men are still ahead of us. They are ahead of us because they are nearer to the throne. In many points they are below us. We have climbed high since the days in which they lived. We can look down upon them in knowledge, in experience, in achievement. Even our High School girls could tell John Milton a thousand things which Milton never knew. And yet somehow in our better hours we feel that these men are above us and their voices come down to us from some Alpine height, musical and sweet, freighted with a message which makes us. Think of the song of the angels that fell long ago upon the December air in old Judea. With all our knowledge and acumen and attainments and accumulations we stand abashed before these men, acknowledging that they are indeed above us and all because the radiance of the throne is on their foreheads.
This then is the greatest work which any man can do, which any set or society of men can do, which any state or any church can do; it is to blow the dust off the ideal, to pick up the lowered standards and lift them higher, to unveil the face of virtue that men may see her in her loveliness, to adorn the doctrine of the blessed God, to sound a note of warning that men shall not take the downward path, but turn their faces toward the throne. If we should ask ourselves what our forefathers would say to us if they could speak to us tonight, no doubt they would say very simple and elementary things like this: "Better die than live ignobly, better be poor through life than be dishonest, better fail with honour than succeed by means that are unworthy of a man, better leave your boys nothing but an unspotted name than leave them a colossal fortune with a name that has been tarnished."
There is no tragedy on earth as terrible as the fading of the lustre of an honoured name. There is no spectacle as heart-breaking as the spectacle of laurel withered brows that have worn it nobly until their hair is gray. There lies upon this island one of the highest heaps of gold ever amassed by the genius and ingenuity and industry of man. That mass of gold can be an Aaron's rod by means of which miracles shall be wrought for humanity, it may if wrongly used be a millstone and drown us in the depths of the sea. Let us keep repeating to ourselves the words of Jesus, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Let us ponder the meaning of the sentence, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his soul?" And how in a world like this shall a man keep from losing his soul? Simply by living always within sight of the great white throne!