“Why do the heathen rage? And the people imagine a vain thing.” (Psalm 2:1, Acts 4:25)
By Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
This [verse from the second] Psalm not only describes what conditions were like in the time of David – it is an equally valid and good description of what times have been like on many a previous occasion – and what they were like on many a subsequent occasion.
The verse is quoted again in the fourth chapter of the Book of the Acts. Two of the leaders – the Apostles Peter and John, had been arrested – they had been arraigned before a court – they had been condemned – and they had been threatened that ‘if they persisted in preaching about this Jesus of Nazareth and His message that they would be put to death.’ Then they were let loose and they went back to their own company – the members of the church – and reported what had happened to them. We are told that the moment that the church heard that they lifted up their voice to God with one accord and they began to pray. They hadn’t been praying for long before they began quoting this second Psalm – and what they said was this… “What David said – What was said through the voice of Thy servant David – is equally true today – “The heathen are raging, the people are imagining a vain thing – The kings of the earth are setting themselves and the rulers take counsel together.” They said…”It is against you and against your Christ that they are doing the same thing now.” The early church had just come into being but she was already being persecuted.
David, in the Psalm, was not only describing what was happening in his day, he was giving a valid and an accurate description of what was happening when the Lord Jesus Christ was in this world. The conditions in the first century and indeed this is a description, I say, of the state of mankind in many another ages – and I want to show you that it is a particularly accurate description of the state of affairs obtaining in this country – and in the world at large at this present time. Now that is the remarkable thing about this book which is called The Bible. It is not only God’s book, it’s a book of history – it’s a book which gives us the story of the human race – explains why it is as it is – and as I say, holds out the only hope of an adequate and a real solution.
Now this is a very interesting thing in the history of the human race. Mankind is always restless. That is why the Bible in one of its favorite analogies compares the human race to the sea. And as you know, the great characteristic of the sea is that it is always “restless” – it is always “moving”. Now I know that on some very fine summers day you look at the sea and you are almost persuaded that it is not moving at all – we say, “It is as calm as a Mill Pond.” You cannot see any movement, but there IS movement there – the sea is never quiet – it is always on the move – ebb and flow – backwards and forwards – almost imperceptible at times, but nevertheless, there is always this characteristic of “movement” and of “restlessness.”
Well now, according to the bible that is always true of the human race – at all times! And there are times – there have been epochs in the history of mankind when there has been such peace and quiet that some people thought that we really had arrived at Utopia. You will read in your secular history books about the Pax Romana. There was a long period of quiet and of rest and everything seemed to be perfect. The last century was referred to, and is still referred to, as the Pax Britannica. I know that there was an incident like the Crimean War, but roughly speaking there had been no major war after the Napoleonic Wars – and this country and our might and our power was able to preserve a kind of peace – and the result was that some people really believed that we had arrived in Nirvannah, and Tennyson and others sang about “The Parliament of Men” and “The Federation of the World” – the human race seemed to have grown up and we were going to solve all of our problems – there would be no more wars – no more troubles – no more crisis – it was to be “perfect peace and rest and calm”.
Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Probably he was differentiating between pagans and Jews – it doesn’t matter – taken as a whole it is a description of the world as it then was. The “raging” and the “people imagining a vain thing.” Now what does that mean? Well somebody has translated it like this and I think that it is a better translation – instead of saying the people imagine a vain thing? The translator says, why are the people devising futile and empty schemes? That’s what it means – imagining a vain thing. Or…devising futile and empty schemes. Isn’t this bible a wonderful book? Do you know of a more perfect description of this world today than this? On the one hand you see, you have this raging violence of sin – at the same time exactly the leaders of society – the politicians; the educationalists; the philosophers and all the others – what are they doing? They are devising futile and empty schemes! They have been doing it for the last three weeks in the Annual Congresses and Conferences of the Political Parties. What have they been doing? They have been putting forward schemes to cure the problems of society. They are aware of the problems! And there they have spent their days in putting forward schemes. Each Party has got its scheme and it differs from the other Parties. But the Bible says that they are altogether futile and empty and they lead to nothing. But this is the perfect description of our world today. One the one hand the violent sinning and the noise and the clatter and the confusion and the breakdown of everything that is sacred – and in the meantime, “mankind” in its confidence putting forward its schemes and its proposals and its ideas – and is confident that it can deal with it. But the verdict of the Bible upon it all is that it is “empty” and “futile” and “will lead to nothing”!
Let me ask a still wider question. What has civilization led to? What has the world and its wisdom produced today? I suggest to you THIS is the only answer! All the schemes have proved to be empty and futile – complete failures. Now you needn’t take MY word for this, I can demonstrate it to you. You will remember – some of you – the First World War. I remember it well. You see, before that war our leaders were very confident that we would never have another war. They said, “War is due to ignorance, but now we are educated.” “War” – they said – “is due to the fact that people don’t travel and they don’t know one another, so they fight. But now we are able to travel, we’ve got the steam engine and we can travel and we can mix – and we are going to banish war.” And they really believed that – as I have already quoted Tennyson to you. He talked about the parliament of man, the federation of the world – that we were entering the century when men were going to turn their swords into ploughshares. BUT…suddenly a world war broke out and they were shaken. “But it is alright” they said “this is the war to end war,” and then they concocted the scheme of the League of Nations. This was going to banish war! It was going to “outlaw war” – make war impossible. And do you know – I remember the time very well – they really believed it! Unfortunately many preachers believed it – and there were many preachers who preached the League of Nations instead of the Gospel for a number of years. Poor blinded men! What did the League of Nations lead to? Well we had another war in 1939. But still you know they bring forward their schemes. The United Nations they call it now! It’s the same thing and they still put their trust and their faith in it.
So they have trusted to “politics” they have trusted to “education”. You see I remember the arguments very well – there are some advantages in being old you know – and one of them is this – that one can remember the confidence in liberalism (with a small L) before and after the First World War. I used to get this argument – and I often used to argue with people. There was a problem with juvenile delinquency and robbery and things of that kind. And this was the argument. They said, “This is due entirely to the conditions in which these people are brought up.” They said, “What can you expect from a poor boy who is brought up in a slum – never had enough food – never had adequate clothing – and whose housing was deplorable?” They said, “While you have got poverty and these conditions, you are bound to get delinquency and crime.” Well now there is a terrible crime problem today – what are they saying now? Well…what I read now is this. “All this crime is due to the fact that the young people have got too much money in their pockets and they don’t know what to do with it – it is burning in their pockets so they must be doing something.” You see! The exact opposite of what they said before. But still, they are producing their schemes and their ideas. Education was going to solve the problem. Science likewise. Philosophy – these were the things that were going to introduce paradise. Men and women turned their backs on the churches and the chapels and they followed the political and the philosophical and the sociological and the educational leaders – and they really believed that were going to solve the problems. They put forward their “schemes”
But what of their “schemes”? According to this man, the schemes in his age – were empty and futile and vain. And I am here to say the same today and you cannot dispute it. All the schemes and the plans are breaking down before our very eyes. We are in terrible trouble! Morally; Politically; Industrially; Economically; Socially and in every other respect. The schemes of men are vain and futile and empty – and of course every really deep thinking man, throughout the centuries, has always come to this conclusion – and has always recognized this, whether Christian or not. You see Shakespeare – Shakespeare was not a Christian in my opinion, but he was a very able and profound thinker and observer of humanity – and he came to this conclusion. He saw what was happening and he came to this conclusion about life. He said, “Life is a tale told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury – signifying NOTHING!” That was Shakespeare’s conclusion. But take another man – take the great historian Edward Gibbon who wrote about two hundred years ago. He wrote a famous book called, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” Gibbon wasn’t a Christian, but he was a very able historian and he took a wide view and sweep of the history of the human race. He was an expert, particularly, on the Roman Empire. Do you know what he said history was? This is Gibbon’s – not mine – not a Christian’s – this is Gibbon’s verdict on the history of mankind, the history of civilization! He said, “History is little more than the register of the crimes; follies; and misfortunes of mankind.” That’s it! It is a register of the crimes – follies – and misfortunes of mankind! Isn’t it true? Come along, let’s face the facts! One of the greatest thinkers in Russia in the last century – and they produced some mighty thinkers – was a man called Alexander Ivanovich Herzen. Do you know what he said about history? This is his description of history. He said, “History is the autobiography of a madman.” That’s history! It’s the autobiography of a madman! He said, “The world is mad!”
But let me give you a final quotation – and I turn to this very deliberately. I am going to quote from a man called Marquesa. Herbert Marquesa – he was the man to whom the students turned – they had long since turned their backs, of course, upon Christianity, that was foolish – that was folklore – that was something out of date to be laughed at – they turned to this man Marquesa. They read his books and they followed his readings – and that attempted revolution by the students was based on the writings of Marquesa. But you know, this is what he wrote. He said, “What precisely has gone wrong with Western Civilization? That at the very height of it’s ‘technological progress’, we see the negation of ‘human progress’ – de-humanization… And he ends with the question, “HOW HAS IT HAPPENED?” What is the matter? Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? Marquesa was anti Christian and yet he looks at modern civilization and he says, “What’s gone wrong?” Here is Western civilization at the height its technological progress – but it’s the reverse – the negation of human progress.
We come now to the next and very important question. “Why is this?” I’ve only been describing it – and I have read to you these quotations from these great men who describe it and simply ask…”Why is it?…and they can’t answer the question. They have no answer. I defy you to produce an answer from any one of them! Make notes the next time you listen to the ‘clever men’ on the television in their discussions – and you will never find an answer. They are good at raising problems and analyzing the condition, but they can’t tell us why it’s happened. Here is the problem. Why is it in 1979 (As true today as it was in 1979) with all the advantages we have had of education and everything else – why is the world in this critical condition at this hour? AND THERE IS ONLY ONE ANSWER! It is the answer given in this book. These poor men and women who put forward their futile and empty schemes have never really faced the question as to what is the cause of the problem – and there is only ONE answer! The answer that is given in this Psalm…it is man’s rebellion against GOD! There’s no other answer! Nothing else explains it…“Man’s rebellion against GOD!” And you will notice that the Psalmist tells us that this is true of all kinds… The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together – it’s not only Tom, Dick and Harry in the docks in Cardiff (United Kingdom, but applies to all places and countries.) who are living this terrible life – the kings and the princes and the philosophers, the scientists, the ‘great’ men – they are in it – the kings and the rulers – they are all in the same predicament. The problem of alcoholism is not confined to the ‘working’ man, it started amongst the aristocracy. Divorce didn’t start with the ‘common’ people – it’s the aristocrats who started it – the kings, the princes, the rulers – all are involved in the same trouble and in the same predicament. But why is it? And the answer is as I have said…”It is man’s rebellion against God!” The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed – and you see it is something deliberate. We are not merely facing a ‘slackness’ in mankind. There was a time – two hundred years ago, and more, and even in the last century up to a measure, when men committed sins and didn’t live a good life, but it was mainly negative and a matter of slackness. It is no longer that! Listen…they set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together – it is deliberate! We are living in an ‘Anti God’ age. In an age when men and women have a set purpose – and with pride are turning against God and defying Him and setting themselves deliberately to disobey Him!
Now then the question is…“Why do they do this?” The Psalmist tells us, they…set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, [saying], 3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. What does this mean? Well it means this – that mankind in its folly turns against God and rebels against Him. Because they believe that God is against them! Their view of God is of some tyrant sitting in the heavens keeping us all down – binding us up with bands and bonds and cords. “Ah!” They say. “Your Ten Commandments and your Sermon on the Mount – that’s your Christianity – it is always telling you not to do things – it’s always tying you down – standing between you and liberty and freedom – standing between you and what you enjoy and what you like to do – and what you have a right to do – it’s tying you up with bands and bonds and cords – that’s your religion.” Says the modern man. “And I don’t want it!” That’s the attitude towards God. They believe that God is against them – and that His holy laws are inimical to our best interests – and to our great advantage.
But this is the whole trouble with the situation and I can prove it to you quite simply. Look at this attitude towards morality – towards law – towards the Ten Commandments in particular. People feel that they are against us, and yet when you come to examine the position you find that God gave these laws – not to hold us down – not to bind us and to bend us, but for our good and for our benefit. Have you ever thought of this? Take the much maligned and criticized Ten Commandments. God tells us to worship Him – not to bow down to images. What’s wrong with that? God tells us not to worship idols – not to worship graven images. Is that a scandal? Is that a legalism binding us? Is it wrong to tell a man not to worship a motor car? Is it wrong to tell a man not to worship a footballer or a pop star? Is it wrong to tell a man not to worship his money? That’s what the Ten Commandments tells you! But wait a minute…come on to the practical details.
Exod 20:13 Thou shalt not kill. Is that a restraint? Is that a grievous band and bond? Tying you down and standing between you and a glorious life? Is it wrong to ask you not to kill?
Exod 20:15 Thou shalt not steal. Is that some reprehensible prohibition? Telling you just not to steal? Do you want to have liberty to steal?
Exod 20:14 Thou shalt not commit adultery. What’s wrong with that? Why do people hate God for saying: Thou shalt not commit adultery?
Exod 20:16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. You mustn’t malign your neighbors character or say untruths about him.
Exod 20:17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbor’s.
Tell me in the name of God – what’s wrong with these ten Commandments? Is it a band and a bond to be told not to do these things? My dear friends had you ever realized this – if only everybody in the world today kept the Ten Commandments there would be – no more drunkenness – no more alcoholism – no more drug addiction – no more war – no more theft – no more robbery – the world would be paradise! And yet people say that these are bands – “Lets break their bands, lets tear their bonds asunder, God’s against us”, They say! But God gave you the Ten Commandments in order to make life possible – and to make it decent – and to make it good – and the whole tragedy of the world tonight is that it doesn’t keep the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. Here is mankind in its enmity against God! That’s what it is – regarding God as an enemy! The Apostle Paul says: Roma 8:7 (KJV) Because the carnal (The Natural) mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. The world has been trying to get rid of God for a century and laughing at Him and ridiculing Him. And they do it with confidence! “Let us”…”Let us set ourselves.” They say! Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. The fatal confidence of mankind! That it can get rid of God and all His holy laws and commandments. It is madness! As one of the men I have already quoted put it, “It is organized insanity.”…”The history of mankind in its rebellion against God is the autobiography of a madman.”
Here is the final word of the Psalmist. He has described the condition. He has explained to us why it obtains. He has shown us its utter folly. It’s madness. And then he goes on to show what a terrible tragedy it is – and this is the real trouble with mankind. For God is not only a God of judgement and a God of wrath – He is a Holy God. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. He hates sin! And His wrath is upon sin! But it isn’t only that – they are rising up against, not only the Lord, but against His anointed. Against His SON! The one to whom He said, Thou [art] my Son; this day have I begotten thee. And this is the amazing thing! And that is why I am here … my friends – I am becoming an old man – it is fifty two years since I first preached in Cardiff, (Wales in the United Kingdom) Why haven’t I retired? I have been ill – why am I not sitting in the corner at home? Why have I come here again? I have come here for this one reason – that the tragedy of mankind worries me – that men and women don’t know what they are doing. They are not only defying the Everlasting God – they are rejecting the love of God! The Lord’s anointed. For this is our message – John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This is the tragedy. That’s the tragedy that the men in their prayer in the early church were referring to. That the world rejected Jesus of Nazareth – Son of God! Why did He ever come into the world? He tells us Himself – Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. He said: Mark 10:45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. And this is the essence of the madness and the tragedy of the world – that God is offering mankind, ‘free pardon’ ‘free forgiveness’. He has laid your sins upon His Son. The death of Christ upon the cross of Calvary, was not the death of a pacifist! It’s the death of…the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29. God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all and whatever your sins may have been – however black your life may have been, though you have entered the very jaws of hell – if you but acknowledge it and realize it and ask God for mercy and pardon and forgiveness – He will tell you that He has already given it to you – that He sent His Son into the world to bear your sins in His own body on the tree – that He smote Him instead of you – that He will pardon you – He will forgive you – He will receive you to Himself – He will make you a son – He will adopt you into His family – and He will begin to shower His blessings upon you. THAT’S what this man is saying!
And so he makes his final appeal. Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. This is our business, I am here to ask you to be wise my friends. To be instructed. I am not here to entertain you. I am not here to dance before you or to sing to you – there is too much singing today! We need thinking! We need reasoning! We need to be instructed! We need to be wise!
And then he tells us the most interesting thing in the last verse. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish [from] the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Now this to me is a most tremendous thing. Kiss the Son, he says, when his wrath is kindled but a little. That’s my view of the world today. The world today is as it is because the wrath of God is kindled but a little. In our cleverness we have been saying as mankind for a hundred years, “We don’t need God. We can make a perfect world without Him. With our education and culture and science and politics we can make a perfect world! We’ve been telling God this – we don’t want Him! We have turned out backs upon Him – we are breaking asunder His bands and His bonds. And do you know what’s happening? I can tell you! Why have you had the two world wars? Why is there turmoil and raging today? Why the breakdown of all our institutions? Here is the answer! God in His wrath is turning to us and saying, “You have said that you can get on without Me – GET ON WITHOUT ME!” He is allowing us to get on without Him. He is withdrawing the restraining influence of His blessed Spirit. He is allowing us to reap the consequences of our own actions, but THIS is only a little – this is the wrath of God kindled but a little.
Be wise! Consider these things! These are but manifestations of the WRATH OF GOD BUT A LITTLE. But a day is coming when this blessed Son of God – this Christ – this Messiah – the Anointed of God – is going to come again into the world – riding the clouds of heaven – surrounded by the holy angels. He is coming to Judge the world in Righteousness! And every eye shall see Him! And according to John in his vision on Patmos – the kings and the rulers will run and hide themselves under the rocks and under the hills, saying: Reve 6:16 …Fall on us and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: Then the wrath will be poured out upon a rebellious humanity – upon kings, princes and people – who have rebelled against God and cast asunder His holy laws in their arrogance and in their folly. But above all upon those who have refused the gracious offer of God’s free pardon and forgiveness by simply acknowledging the sin and believing on The Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed are all they that put their trust in HIM!
In words written nearly three thousand years ago. Are you wise? Have you received the instructions? I leave it with you – as you value your eternal destiny and your immortal soul – listen to the appeal of David! BE WISE! Kiss the Son – yield yourself and your life – your future, your everything to the Lord Jesus Christ – Hebr 13:5 for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. That’s His word and He has never broken it. Be Wise! Trust Him – follow Him – give yourself unreservedly to Him and you will be more than conquerors over everything that can ever come to meet you.
Article from peacemakers.net
This is an edited version of a larger article by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1979. Edited by Pete Coker. To view article in its entirety go to: http://www.peacemakers.net/unity/mljwhyheathenrage.htm