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In that day shall this song be sung
Periods of restoration
If it be demanded, what period of time is this which the prophet speaks of?
we must answer, that it is the time when the people, who for their provocations were thrown into the furnace of affliction, and had continued in it till they were purged from their sins, were delivered from it, and restored to the favour of God, and the enjoyment of His former mercies. Of which restoration there are three kinds or degrees plainly spoken of by the prophet Isaiah.
1. The Jews’ return from the land of their captivity, especially that of Babylon.
2. The restoration of the family and kingdom of David in the person of the Messiah.
3. The perfect felicity of that kingdom in astute of future glory. (W. Reading, M. A.)
Three elements in prophecy
All true prophecy, seems to have in it three elements: conviction, imagination, inspiration. The seer speaks first of all from his knowledge of, and experience with, the inherent vitality of right and righteousness. He is sure that the good in the world is destined to conquer the evil. Then when he attempts to tell how this victory is to be brought about he uses his imagination. He employs metaphors and figures which from the necessities of the case may not be literally fulfilled. And then, in addition to this, his prophecies have in them a certain comprehensiveness of plan and structure, and a certain organic relation to history, such as can be revealed only by the Divine Maker of history Himself. It took a man of large parts to see above the wreck and ruin, and through the darkness of his age, such visions of hope and promise as Isaiah saw. Everywhere around him were sensuality and oppression. The Church of the true God had been almost swallowed up by the foul dragon of paganism. And yet the prophet, with his eye upon the future, beheld a day when this song was to be sung in the land of Judah: the song of salvation.
Sure he was that God must triumph, and with the poet’s instinct he clothed his assurance in the language of metaphor, and set it to the rhythm of song. (C. A. Dickinson.)
The triumph of goodness
1. Those who study this song in the light of succeeding history find in it the picture of the ultimate triumph of the Church. The central figure is the strong city, the walls and bulwarks of which are salvation, and through whose open gates the righteous nation which keepeth the truth is allowed to enter. This picture reminds us at once of that vision of the new Jerusalem which fell upon the eyes of the seer of Patmos many years after, and which was evidently the type and symbol of the perfected kingdom of Christ. To attempt to give to this strong city and this new Jerusalem a literal and material significance is to involve ourselves in inextricable difficulties.
2. There are two views concerning the progress and ultimate triumph of Christianity in the world. In some respects these views are the same; in others they differ radically.
(1) The first theory is that there is to be in the near or remote future a sudden, visible appearance of Christ in the clouds of heaven to take His place upon the throne of David at the earthly Jerusalem, where He will reign with His saints for a thousand years. Meanwhile the world is to come more and more under the Satanic influence.
(2) The other theory is that of a gradual development under the spiritual forces which began to be dominant in the world on the day of Pentecost, when Christ, according to His own promise, began His reign in His new kingdom. This I believe to be the true view: the one which Christ Himself propounded when He said His kingdom should be like the seed that should “grow” up.
3. I am well aware that those who claim that the world is fast ripening in evil for its final catastrophe can point to many facts which seem to substantiate their theory. But just here, it seems to me, comes in one of their greatest mistakes. There is, of course, danger of generalising too much, but there is certainly great danger of allowing some near fact to blind the eyes to the great general truth which lies beyond it; to hold the sixpence so near the eye that we cannot see the sun. There is danger of confining our thoughts so exclusively to certain specific texts as to get a wrong conception of the real truth of which these special texts may be only a small part. Now, what are some of the signs that we are living today in an age of conquest?
(1) Take that law of decay which you find written upon evil everywhere, whether in the individual or the nation. “He bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, He layeth it low.” Rome in her arrogance was the first great organised power to make war against the new kingdom. But Rome fell, and over the ruins of her pagan temples the Christian walks today. France posed as the haughty oppressor of the weak and unfortunate, as the instigator of the horrors of St. Bartholomew’s day, and following close upon her dreadful sin came the death and desolation of the Revolution. Our own great nation allowed to ripen in her very heart the malignant curse of slavery, and for her sin was obliged to suffer the pangs of a civil war. These are only a few of the conspicuous illustrations of the great truth that righteousness is surely, though perhaps slowly, vindicating her everlasting strength.
(2) I might call your attention to the other side of this conquest: to the rapid increase in the present days of that strong City whose wails are salvation. I might show you a whole library filled with missionary literature which tells that the kingdom of the new King has extended its bounds into almost every habitable part of the earth. I might point you to the Year Books of our Churches, and show you what armies of men and women are yearly marching through the gates of the strong City. I might show you how the spirit of the Cross, having taken possession of the civilised nations of the world, has materialised into churches and hospitals and asylums and charitable institutions and temperance guilds and myriads of Christian homes.
(3) But further, I might speak of another phase of this conquest. “When Thy judgments are in the earth,” says the prophet, “the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness.” These Divine judgments appear as a subtle tonic atmosphere pervading the whole world, and, like the ozone of the mountains, invigorating almost unconsciously every age and generation.
(4) The influence of the Gospel is pervasive. In a certain sense we have a right to say that a community is a Christian community even though but a small minority of its inhabitants profess to accept Christ as their personal Saviour. The spirit of Christ is in that community; the leaven of the Gospel is leavening it. The new kingdom is established there, and even they who deny allegiance to it are in many ways better than they who are without it. The principles of Jesus Christ are the standard principles of morality throughout Christendom today, and men are inevitably judging them selves and being judged by others according to these standards.
4. I believe that we are in the midst of mighty spiritual forces which are working successfully for the redemption of this world from sin; and I have two great incentives to spur me on to earnest effort.
(1) The one is faith in humanity and Christ. I say humanity and Christ, because I believe they are one. That, to me, is the meaning of His incarnation. The mighty forces of righteousness are moving with their slow, crushing power as the steam roller moves over the newly macadamised road, breaking and levelling everything before it, that the chariot of the King may ride smoothly on to its destination. But this is only a part of the truth. The other part is that the new kingdom is open to all.
(2) The other thing which spurs me on is hope--that blessed hope which the apostle had of the glorious consummation of this age of conquest. (C. A. Dickinson.)
We have a strong city
A city the emblem of security
To understand this figure of a city we must remember what a city was in the earlier ages; i.e., a portion of land separate from the general surface, in which the people of a locality gathered, and put their homes into a condition of safety by building walls of immense strength, which should both resist the attacks of enemies and, to a great extent, defy the ravages of time. Such a city, then, was the emblem of security. (R. H. Davies.)
The song of salvation
I. THE GROUND OF REJOICING. Salvation; and consequently eternal security. “We have a strong city.” All God’s people are represented as citizens; the whole sainthood is represented as a corporate assemblage of people possessed of peculiar privileges, connected with an eternal condition, and as such are to dwell in some region of safety and bliss. Here they find not such an abode. Here they have “no continuing city, but seek one to come.” And, when they shall be gathered together in the presence of their Lord, they will constitute the body to form a city.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THOSE WHO ARE TO PARTAKE OF THESE BLESSINGS. “The righteous nation which keepeth the truth.” (R. H. Davies.)
Salvation, i.e., freedom and safety. The original sense of the word rendered “salvation” (as Arabic shows) is breadth, largeness, absence of constraint. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
(1) Political theorists have been fond of picturing an ideal State, the government of which would be perfect.
(2) The ideal State in the mind of the average Hebrew was limited to his own race, but in the writings of the inspired psalmists and prophets it could not be so restricted, but widened itself out so as to embrace the whole world. Thus was the way prepared for the grand conception of the kingdom of heaven as first proclaimed and then established by the Son of God.
(3) But it is a difficult thing, except in moments of great exaltation, to put much intensity of feeling. Into a conception so vast. It was a great deal easier to conceive an ideal State than an ideal world, and an ideal city was still more manageable for the imagination. We need not wonder, then, that even after the great proclamation about all the kingdoms of the world becoming the kingdom of God, the seer of Patmos should fondly return to the thought of the city, and revel in anticipating the advent of the New Jerusalem. Nor shall we be astonished that the prophets, though they had the wider outlook, should even in their moods of highest exaltation cling fondly to the thought of a holy city as the best picture, the more serviceable that it was a miniature of the coming kingdom of God.
(4) In these early days of insecurity, the first requisite of a city was strength. So it is natural that this should be the feature on which the prophet here lays special stress. But wherein does its strength lie? He speaks not of ramparts or forts, of fleets or armies, but of salvation as the bulwarks of the city. We find this word salvation in other places translated by the more suggestive rendering “health,” or “saving health.”
1. The first thought suggested in this connection is that the city should be a clean place to live in, healthy from end to end and in every corner, each house in it a fitting abode for sons of God and daughters of the King. When we pass from the sanitation of the city to the saving health of the citizen, we think first of his body, and recognise the necessity of having all the conditions as conducive as possible to its health.
2. But clearly we cannot stop there. We must have the “mens sana in corpore sane”; hence the need of universal education, to secure intellectual sanity.
3. Nor may we end here, for moral sanity, a sound conscience, is even still more important. The nation must be a righteous nation.
4. Clearly, there must be sanitation for the will before we have reached saving health; and inasmuch as the will is swayed by desire, the sanitation must reach the heart. What sanitary measures could we here summon to our aid? The purest water will not cleanse the heart; the most bracing air will have no effect upon the soul. There must be a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, and some breath of God for inspiration to the soul.
5. And here we reach the prophet’s highest, dominating thought. “In that day,” the passage begins. What day? Look back (Isaiah 25:9). “It shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God, we have waited for Him, and He will save us.” And look forward (Isaiah 26:4), “Trust ye in the Lord forever, for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” “Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us; for Thou also hast wrought all our works in us” (Isaiah 26:12). This introduces us to one of the most important questions of the day. There are many, sound and strong on the subject of righteousness, who yet fail to realise that righteousness is so bound up with saving truth--that truth of God and His salvation through Jesus Christ His Son, and by His Holy Spirit breathed in human hearts, which they sometimes offensively set aside as mere dogma--that the one cannot be had where it does not exist already, and cannot be retained long where it does without the other. “Open ye the gates that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.”
6. How can we open or help to open these gates of national strength and saving health? For individual action the answer would be such as this: First, by loving truth and keeping righteousness ourselves; next, by doing all we can to help others to a life of godliness and righteousness; further, by earnest and frequent prayer to Him who gave of old the promise, “I will open to you the two-leaved gates”; and lastly, by the faithful exercise of the privileges of citizens, seeing to it that in the forming of our opinions, in the giving of our votes, in the use of all our influence, not selfish interest, or class interest, or even party interest, but the interests of righteousness and truth be the determining factor. But individual action is not enough. We must combine; we must bring our united force to bear. And here the main reliance must be on the Church of Christ, on which is laid the responsibility of carrying on His great work of salvation. (J. M.Gibson, D. D.)
Our strong city
There are three things here--
I. THE CITY. No doubt the prophet was thinking of the literal Jerusalem, but the city is ideal, as is shown by the bulwarks which defend, and by the qualifications which permit entrance. And so we must pass beyond the literalities of Palestine, and must not apply the symbol to any visible institution or organisation if we are to come to the depth and greatness of the meaning of these words. No Church which is organised amongst men can be the New Testament representation of this strong city. And if the explanation is to be looked for in that direction at all, it can only be the invisible aggregate of ransomed souls which is regarded as being the Zion of the prophecy. But, perhaps, even that is too definite and hard. And we are rather to think of the unseen but existent order of things or polity to which men here on earth may belong, and which will one day, after shocks and convulsions that shatter all which is merely institutional and human, be manifested still more gloriously. The central thought that was moving in the prophet’s mind is of the indestructible vitality of the true Israel, and the order which it represented, of which Jerusalem on its rock was but to him a symbol. And thus for us the lesson is that, apart altogether from the existing and visible order of things in which we dwell, there is a polity to which we may belong, for “ye are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the living God,” and that order is indestructible. There is a lesson for us, in times of fluctuation, of change of opinion, of shaking of institutions, and of new social, economical, and political questions, threatening day by day to reorganise society. “We have a strong city”; and whatever may come--and much destructive will come, and much that is venerable and antique, rooted in men’s prejudices, and having survived through and oppressed the centuries, will have to go, but God’s polity, His form of human society, of which the perfect ideal and antitype, so to speak, lies concealed in the heavens, is everlasting. And for Christian men in revolutionary epochs the only worthy temper is the calm, triumphant expectation that through all the dust, contradiction, and distraction the fair city of God will be brought nearer and made more manifest to man. To this city--existent, immortal, and waiting to be revealed--you and I may belong today.
II. THE DEFENCES. “Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” This “evangelical prophet” is distinguished by the fulness and depth which he attaches to that word “salvation.” He all but anticipates the New Testament completeness and fulness of meaning, and lifts it from all merely material associations of earthly or transitory deliverance into the sphere in which we are accustomed to regard it as especially moving. By “salvation” he means, and we mean, not only negative but positive blessings. Negatively, it includes the removal of every conceivable or endurable evil, whether they be evils of sin or evils of sorrow; and positively, the investiture with every possible good that humanity is capable of, whether it be good of goodness or good of happiness. This is what the prophet tells us is the wall and bulwark of his ideal real city. Mark the eloquent omission of the name of the builder of the wall. “God” is a supplement. Salvation “will He appoint for walls and bulwarks.” No need to say who it is that flings such a fortification around the city. There is only one hand that can trace the lines of such walls; only one hand that can pile their stones; only one that can lay them, as the walls of Jericho were laid, in the blood of His first-born Son. “Salvation will He appoint for walls and bulwarks,” i.e., in a highly imaginative and picturesque form, that the defence of the city is God Himself. The fact of salvation is the wall and the bulwark. And the consciousness of the fact is for our poor hearts one of our best defences against both the evil of sin and the evil of sorrow. So, let us walk by the faith that is always confident, though it depends on an unseen hand. “Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks,” and if we realise, as we ought to do, His purpose and His power to keep us safe, and the actual operation of His hand keeping us safe at every moment, we shall not ask that these defences shall be supplemented by the poor feeble earthworks that sense can throw up.
III. THE CITIZENS. Our text is part of a “song,” and is not to be interpreted in the cold-blooded fashion that might suit prose. A voice, coming from whom we know not, breaks in upon the first strain with a command, addressed to whom we know not. “Open ye the gates”--the city thus far being supposed to be empty,--“that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in.” The central idea there is just this, “Thy people shall be all righteous.” The one qualification for entrance into the city is absolute purity. Now, that is true in regard of our present imperfect denizenship within the city; and it is true in regard to men’s passing into it, in its perfect and final form. They used to say that Venice glass was so made that any poison poured into it shivered the vessel. Any drop of sin poured into your cup of communion with God shatters the cup and spills the wine. Whosoever thinks himself a citizen of that great city, if he falls into transgression, and soils the cleanness of his hands, and ruffles the calm of his pure heart by self-willed sinfulness, will wake to find himself not within the battlements, but lying wounded, robbed, solitary, in the pitiless desert. “The nation which keepeth the truth,”--that does not mean adherence to any revelation, or true creed, or the like. The word which is employed means, not truth of thought, but truth of character; and might, perhaps, be better represented by the more familiar word in such a connection, “faithfulness” A man who is true to God, that keeps up a faithful relation to Him who is faithful to us, he, and only he, will tread and abide in the city. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The walls and bulwarks of a city
Accepting the vague but universal idea that there is an abundance of sin of every sort massed together in any great city, our inquiry concerns the main lines of work by which the welfare of the city may be promoted. To the eye of the prophet there comes a vision of a strong city; and the walls and bulwarks of that strength is said to be salvation--that is, the strength and safety of a city is in the men and women in it who are saved through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. I know there are many to turn a deaf ear to any such claim as this. They reject it as being too sweeping. They say that there are many sources from which the life-giving waters come. Let us take a look at some of these things which are supposed to give safety.
I. And perhaps the first thing to be mentioned is Law. It need not be any highly moral or religious enactment, but simply plain, everyday, matter-of-fact law. The city needs it. People in the simplicity of country life, where there is an abundance of room, can get on without much law. But the city needs law. And no one will decry the beneficent effect of righteous laws. It must be said, however, that the good effect of law is very much diminished by the many bad laws which are enacted. Are we claiming too much when we say that largely the efficiency of law is due to the Christian men and women who are in the city? Righteous laws follow in the train of progress made by Christianity. The bulwark which at first seemed to stand out alone and distinct becomes identified with that bulwark in the vision of the prophet whose foundation stone, as well as its lofty capstone, is salvation.
II. We are led on to speak of another bulwark for the city. It is A BENEFICENT AND POWERFUL PUBLIC OPINION. But again, I assert that very largely all this safety is due to the presence in the city of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is the public conscience itself, and where did it come from but through Christianity?
III. But again, look at another so-called secular bulwark. Call it THRIFT, the genius of success, the ability to get on in the world. Thrift is consistent with pure selfishness. Find a society in which everybody is only thrifty, where no man cares for his neighbour, where the human heart feels nothing of the flow of generosity and love, and, while you may be able to point to fine and well-kept houses, neat little cottages, well-dressed, clean children, you are really looking upon a hollow, lifeless sham. I do not want to live there, A sea of poverty with a little stream from Calvary flowing into it would be far better. Just a touch of human sympathy and love would transform the whole. (J. C. Cronin.)
A song of salvation
I. What is the PERIOD referred to? A day which was to he remarkable for the destruction of the Church’s enemies, for the salvation of her friends, and for the glorious extension of the Gospel through all the nations of the earth.
II. What is the SUBJECT of this song? “We have a strong city: salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.” The inviolable security of the Church was to be the subject.
III. WHERE is this song to be sung? “In the land of Judah.” It was sung when the great salvation was accomplished by the one offering of Christ upon the Cross; and the risen Saviour said to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature”; and the tidings were sent abroad; and the Gospel, which was first preached at Jerusalem, was sounded forth into all lands. And we cannot but indulge the confident persuasion, that among the Jews, though they are for the present cast out, this song shall be sung in due time, which shall be “as life from the dead.” But as that people have long since been cut off because of their unbelief, we remark, that the words will apply to others also; “for he is not a Jew which is one outwardly,” etc. So that this song comes down to us. (G. Clayton.)
The Church not in danger
I. THE FIGURATIVE DESCRIPTION WHICH IS HERE GIVEN OF THE CHURCH.
1. It is a city; from which metaphor we obtain three ideas respecting it--
(1) Its amplitude. It is not a family, or a village, or a hamlet, or a provincial town; but a city. It includes as its inhabitants, all the good both in heaven and in earth, who form “an exceeding great multitude.” The dimensions of this city are such as comport with the largeness of the Father’s designs, the transcendent value of the Saviour’s merits, the variety and immensity of the Holy Spirit’s influences.
(2) Its order No city ever flourished long without rule. Christ is the King of this city, and He establishes His laws in the midst of it.
(3) Its magnificence. We are not to look for the magnificence of the Church in outward splendour and glory, but in its sanctity--its holy principles and practices.
2. But this city has an important appellative;--it is “a strong city.” And this will appear, if you consider--
(1) The foundation on which it rests. “Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
(2) The protection it enjoys. God Himself dwells in this city; and His presence is our stay and our defence. All His attributes and promises are connected with this safety.
(3) The principles by which its unity is cemented. Unity is strength. And the unity subsisting between the members of this city is so strong as not to be dissolved by any earthly power. The principles by which the members of the Church of Christ are united are these two--truth and love. “We have a strong city.”
(4) The rude assaults it has sustained, uninjured. We hardly know the strength of anything till it is put to the test. The Church has been exposed to the opposition of earth and the fury of hell.
II. ITS IMPREGNABLE SAFETY. How do I know that this city shall continue, and its interests be advanced, until its glory is consummated? Why, for this reason: “Salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks.”
1. Hostility is implied.
2. The means of preservation and defence are amply provided.
3. It implies a glorious issue. All these means shall prove effectual
III. HOW MAY WE HAVE A SATISFACTORY ASSURANCE THAT WE HAVE PERSONALLY AN INTEREST IN THIS CITY OF THE GREAT KING? You may have this--
1. If you have chosen Jesus Christ as the ground of your dependence for salvation.
2. If you are visibly incorporated with the inhabitants of this city.
3. If you are enabled to exemplify the distinguishing character of those who are citizens of Zion.
4. If you find that you have truly merged all your interests in the interests of the Church, and have identified your happiness with her successes.
5. If you find your thoughts and affections much engaged on that future State of which the Church on earth is but a type.
1. Let me call upon you to be thankful to God, who has afforded you such an asylum.
2. Let me invite you to enter this city.
3. Let us dismiss our fears, when we have once got within the walls of this city.
4. Endeavour to bring as many as you can to be inhabitants of that Zion, the privileges of which you enjoy. (J. C. Cronin.)
The saving arm of God a sure defences to the Church of Christ against all her enemies
I. Mention some of those ENEMIES against whom the Church is fortified.
1. She is fortified against all the attempts of Satan.
2. A wicked world is always disposed to take part with Sam against her.
3. The Church has enemies within her own walls; and is often in the greatest perils by false brethren.
4. The Church has enemies even in the hearts of her best friends and sincerest members. That principle of corruption that is not totally subdued in the best Christians, as it is inimical to God, must also be inimical to the Church; and, as far as it prevails, its effects must be always hurtful to her.
II. Speak of that SALVATION which God has promised to appoint for walls and bulwarks to the Church.
1. Salvation bears an evident relation to misery and danger.
2. It is but a partial salvation that she can hope to enjoy in this world:--
3. But her salvation shall one day be complete. From every salvation that God has already wrought, faith draws encouragement: considering it as a pledge of what He will work in time to come.
III. CONSIDER WHAT ABOUT THE CHURCH IS SECURED AGAINST THE ATTEMPTS OF ENEMIES BY THE SALVATION OF GOD. She may lose much of what may appear to a carnal eye as most valuable to her. But in the eye of the Church herself, and of all her genuine children, all this perfectly consistent with the all-sufficiency of that salvation by which she is defended. An is still safe that is necessary either to her being or her well-being, and all that is essential to the happiness of any of her citizens.
1. Her foundation is always safe. She is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.”
2. Her existence is always safe. The Church may be driven into the wilderness; but she shall never be driven out of the world.
3. Her particular citizens are all safe, under the protection of God’s saving arm.
4. Her privileges and immunities are all safe. These having been purchased for her by the blood of Christ, and bestowed upon nor by His God and Father, are also preserved by Divine power and grace; and none shall ever be suffered to deprive her of them.
5. Her treasures are all safe. She has a two-fold treasure: a treasure of grace, and a treasure of truth. Both these are lodged in the hand of Christ.
6. Her real interests are all safe and secure: and that to such a degree, that neither shall she suffer any harm, in the issue,--nor shall her enemies gain any advantage, by all their apparent success.
7. In a word, her eternal inheritance is perfectly safe and secure.
IV. Conclude with some IMPROVEMENT of what has been said.
1. The Church of Christ has but little occasion for the favour and protection of earthly princes, and little cause to regret the want of it.
2. It is neither upon ordinances nor instruments, upon her own endeavours nor those of her members, nor upon any created assistance that the Church of Christ ought to depend for safety or prosperity.
3. Neither the Church of God, nor any particular Christian, has anything to fear from the number, the power, the policy, or even the success of their enemies,
4. This subject informs us what it is that really brings the Church of Christ into danger. Nothing but her own sin can bring her into real danger; because this, and nothing else, tends to deprive her of her protection, or to cause her defence to depart from her.
5. We may here see plentiful encouragement to every member of the Church, as well as to those who bear office in her, to continue strenuous and undaunted, in opposing every enemy, in defending every privilege, that God has bestowed upon the Church, every ordinance that He has instituted in her, and every truth that He has revealed to her.
6. We have here an ample fund of consolation to all those who are affected with the low condition of the Church of God in our day. (J. Young.)
The city of salvation
In the Scriptures we read of some very strong cities, that are now levelled with the dust. But the “city” mentioned in the text is stronger than all the rest. The state of nature may be called the city-of-destruction; and the state of grace, the strong city, or the city of salvation.
I. The NAME of this city. “Salvation.” It is a very old name, it has had this name a great many thousands of years; it has never changed its name; it is a durable name; it is an unchangeable name.
II. What KIND of a city it is.
1. It is a large city. It would hold all the inhabitants of the earth for thousands of generations.
2. It is a free city. The Lord Jesus Christ welcomes you to come and live in it.
3. It is a wealthy city. The treasures of free grace are in the city of salvation.
4. It is a healthy city. They breathe good air who live in it. The Physician is the Lord Jesus Christ, who heals every disease.
5. It is a happy city.
6. This city will last foe ever. Where is Babylon? Where is Tyre? Where is Nineveh? Where are the cities of Egypt? Those mighty cities are levelled with the dust, but this city will last through all eternity.
III. The BUILDER of this city. The Lord Jesus Christ. In London there is a constant succession of streets for many miles in length, and the whole was built by man.
IV. Who are the INHABITANTS of this city? They are good men, women, and children.
1. They are called “saints.” The word “saint” means a holy person.
2. Another name given to the inhabitants of this city is righteous.
3. Another name is believers.
4. Another name is sons and daughters.
V. The WATCHMEN of the city. There are watchmen placed upon the walls of Zion--parental watchmen, teaching watchmen, and ministerial watchmen.
VI. The GUARDS of the city. Angels guard you while you sleep and while you are awake. They are wise guards; powerful guards; affectionate guards.
VII. The WAY which leads to this city. The road of repentance.
VIII. The WALL of this city. It is so high that no enemy can scale it; it is so strong that no enemy can break or injure it.
IX. The FOUNDATION of this city. The righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
X. The STREETS of this city. There are some very remarkable streets.
1. The high street of Faith. This street runs from one end of the city to the other. In almost every town and city, we find a street of this name--“High Street.” But there is no such street, as this high street of faith; it is a very long and beautiful street. It connects the gate of conversion and the gate of Heaven. This high street is frequented by all who live by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. The street of Humility. It lies alongside the high street of faith.
3. The street of Obedience. The inhabitants are very partial to this street. This street is divided into ten parts. The ten parts are the ten commandments. This is a very broad street. “Thy commandments are exceeding broad.” It is a remarkably clean street.
4. A fourth street is Worship street.
XI. We may now take a view of the SCHOOLS of the city.
XII. Come and see the PALACES of the city. When anyone gets to London, they want to see the palace of the king. I will show nobler palaces than palaces or earthly Kings. These palaces are ordinances; such as prayer, praise, reading and hearing the Holy Gospel, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, meditation and self-examination. Consider the reason why they are called palaces. A palace is a place where the king is to be seen. It is a place where petitions are presented; where the king bestows wealth and great gifts. Here petitions are presented and received; here King Jesus bestows wealth and honour. It is a place for conversing with the king; and here we may converse with Jesus. In a palace grand feasts are held; so in the ordinances noble feasts are provided for souls immortal, where they may eat abundantly of heavenly provisions.
XIII. The ARMOURY of the city. A beautiful piece is hanging up called the helmet--the helmet of salvation. Not far from the helmet is a breastplate--the breastplate of righteousness. Near the breastplate is a girdle or sash,with this inscription--truth. The next piece of armour is a pair of shoes with this name--“preparation of the Gospel of peace.” Next is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The shield of faith.
XIV. The GARDEN of the city.
1. The walks in the garden. The walks of meditation and holy fellowship.
2. The fountains. The Lord Jesus Christ is the principal fountain. There is another fountain, called the consolation of the Holy Ghost; the water is delicious. All the inhabitants drink of it.
3. The flowers. There are the flowers of the promises and doctrines; they are odoriferous flowers, and never failing.
4. The trees. The tree of knowledge; not the tree of knowledge which was in Eden, but of knowledge and wisdom. There is not a poisonous tree in the garden. The tree of life, the Lord Jesus Christ, is there--“whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.”
XV. The BANK of this city. The name of this bank is written on the door; it is--the covenant of grace. It is so free, all may come and apply; and all who apply, receive. The bank, too, is very rich; and it is free for the poorest sinner. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Proprietor, and He is willing to give to poor sinners as much as they need. This bank cannot fail; it cannot break. Whatever is drawn out during the day, it is as full again at night. It is full of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
XVI. There is a GATE through which the inhabitants of the city pass, when they enter Heaven. It is the gate of death. There is a valley leading to the gate called the valley of the shadow of death. It is illuminated with the light of the Sun of Righteousness. Pious children pass through that valley, leaning on the arm of Jesus. (A. Fletcher, D. D.)
Open ye the gates
A bunch of keys
The gate of healing. What would you say is the key of that gate? Is it not our need? What, e.g., would give you admission into any hospital? Would it not be your need of the help that could be obtained there? Just so is it with Jesus, the good Physician. We have no claim except His own exceeding love and our exceeding need. There are no incurables so far as the Lord Jesus is concerned.
2. The door of hope. The key for that is promise. You may read about it in the “Pilgrim’s Progress” (Christian and Hopeful in Doubting Castle).
3. The door of help. The key is sympathy. Sympathy, as the meaning of the word implies, understands the situation. “Thou shalt not oppress a stranger,” was one of God’s commands to the Israelites, “for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” That was sympathy as the key to the door of help. They knew what it was to be strangers in a strange land, and therefore they could understand how a stranger among themselves would feel, how he would appreciate a friendly spirit, and how sensitive he would be to any coldness of treatment. Is it not His sympathy that makes Jesus the perfect Saviour?
4. The door of communion. For that we need two keys, just as in your house doors two keys are required to open them--the key that turns the lock and the key that lifts the latch. Prayer and obedience are the two keys.
5. The door of change, that door that stands at the end of “the well-trodden path to the grave.” What is the key for this door? We have none. God keeps it in His own hands. (J. B. Mayer, M. A.)
The righteous nation which keepeth the truth
Truth, and its influence upon society
Truth was not intended to be brought before the world by the God of truth for the mere purpose of influencing individual character. Hence we find the passage before us inviting not separate men in their respective capacities, but the righteous nation to enter in that keepeth the truth.
I. WHEN THE TRUTH SPREADS THROUGH SOCIETY IT WILL GIVE NEW VIEWS OF MORAL OBLIGATION. Looking at society as it stands at present where the truth has made but little way, we find those views of moral obligation that are adopted and acted upon, accommodated to the selfishness of individuals, and society has but little place in their consideration. But let the truth as it is in Christ influence society, and they will then begin to feel that the great source of moral obligation is not what they owe to themselves but what they owe to God.
II. If we find, therefore, that our sense of moral obligation is influenced by these higher considerations when we come to the truth, we have, in the next place, to look at THE WORKING OF TRUTH UNDER THIS HIGH SENSE OF MORAL RESPONSIBILITY TO GOD. There is an enlargement of feeling from the man to his own family--from his own family to his own relatives--from his own relatives to his own social circle--from his own social circle to his nation--from his nation to the body of nations round him--there is an enlargement of feeling in the still widening circle to regions beyond these--an enlargement of feeling that carries the mind onward in a morally spiritual expansion to the whole human race, and after the feelings of the man under the power of truth have been thus far extended, his feelings experience still a desire for further enlargement. He looks unto another and an eternal world and feels that there is a fellowship due to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to angels that seek to learn from his condition the manifold wisdom of God. And while his mind is thus enlarged under the working of truth, there is the reflection back again of truth in all the peace that it propagates, in all the glories that it conveys, in all the safety that it confers, in all the spirituality that it kindles, in all the communion which it permits between the creature and God, which will be found to tell upon the man, so that instead of living in a sphere of selfishness where his light burns but dimly, and where the discoveries of the power of truth are very limited, he feels that he lives in a blaze of spiritual illumination, and when he finds so many kindred souls sympathise with him, and striking up an anthem to God, whence all has come, he feels that he is a greater man, a happier man, a holier man, than if he were to stand aloof even in solitary perfection in his insulated condition, to worship God alone. Instead of a community of nations, we find a community of parties, and each frowning upon the other, and each watching the other with an unworthy yet a constant and an anxious jealousy. But when the truth does begin to operate upon the condition of the nations generally, how will their temporal circumstances be changed! What a rising of a new spirit in the human community! If we find truth thus raising our sense of moral obligation, if we find truth thus calculated to open so many sources of happiness, let us look to the source whence this mighty element derives all its power. It is not the truth itself regarded merely as conveyed by so many propositions that can accomplish this mighty wonder. But it is the truth applying these propositions by the Spirit of glory and of God. Looking, therefore, to all these mews of truth upon society, we have another great reason to induce us to endeavour to “buy the truth, and sell it not.” (J. Burnet.)
(with Proverbs 14:34):--From these and suchlike passages it is evident that nations may be and ought to be righteous and truth keeping, and that nations which are of this character occupy the highest position in relation to other nations, and in the estimation of Him by whom kings reign, and to whom national as well as individual homage is due. That nations can possess such a moral character, and render such homage is denied by those who do not admit that nations, in their corporate capacity, are subjects of God’s moral government. They hold that nations or states are impersonal, that they have no will and no conscience, and that therefore no responsibility attaches to national action, if indeed there can be such action at all. This is a serious mistake, and one which cannot but prove most pernicious in its influence and consequences. For nothing can be clearer, alike from the teaching of God’s Word and the facts of universal history, than that nations are responsible subjects of Divine government; that they are dealt with by God according to their character and conduct, punished when they do evil, and blessed and prospered when they do well (Jeremiah 18:7-10). (Original Secession Magazine.)
I. Let us inquire WHAT THAT RIGHTEOUSNESS IS which should characterise a nation, and by which a nation is exalted. How does it manifest itself?
1. This righteousness has as its root--its essence--the foundation principle of all true religion--“the fear of God,” in the hearts of the people, of rulers and ruled. This must be the prevailing character of the persons of whom it is composed.
2. It includes, as one of its leading elements, the due observance of the worship of God, according to the rules lain clown in the Divine Word.
3. It includes a national keeping of the truth.
4. It includes the regulation of all national affairs, in the departments of legislation and administration, by the principles of God’s Word, which should be the rule of faith and practice to the nation as well as to the Church, the family, and the individual.
5. It includes the prevalence of Christian morality, or righteous dealings between man and man in the business of life, and the practice of all those moral virtues by which society is sweetened and adorned.
II. HOW RIGHTEOUSNESS EXALTS A NATION. A two-fold exaltation results from national righteousness--exaltation in the estimation of men, of other nations, and exaltation in the estimation of God.
III. HOW THIS NATION-EXALTING RIGHTEOUSNESS MAY BE AND OUGHT TO BE PROMOTED.
1. By attending to the cultivation of personal godliness.
2. By attending to the duties of family religion.
3. By diffusing the Word of God and stirring up the people to read and study it for themselves in secret and private, and by securing that it be taught in all our schools.
4. By the faithful preaching of the Gospel by ministers of religion.
5. By the forth-putting of all legitimate moral efforts to counteract and suppress whatever is contrary thereto.
6. With all such means must he mingled fervent prayer for the blessing of God, which can alone make them efficacious for the advancement of the cause of righteousness. (Original Secession Magazine.)
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee
The Scriptures are full of priceless secrets, and here is one of them--the secret of trust in God as revealed to us in Jesus Christ, as the sole method and means of that peace which we all desire.
“Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace”; or, as the original expresses it still more forcibly in its Semitic simplicity, “Thou shalt keep him in peace, peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” It is not the promise of freedom from sorrow; it is not, by any means, a promise of success or prosperity on earth: but it is a promise of that inward peace--of that heart’s ease in the breast--with which sorrow itself is a tolerable burden, and without which prosperity itself is a questionable boon. The existence or the absence of peace in our hearts is no slight indication of our true condition, for, as peace must exist with the righteous even in the midst of adversity, it cannot exist in the hearts of the wicked, however smiling, however prosperous their lot. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” There is, I know, a false, as well as a true peace. There is the simulated contentment of a hard indifference. There is the cynical self-complacency of a moral blindness. There is the deep infatuation of a false security. There is the dull stupefaction of an obstinate despair. But who will call this peace? The carelessness of a traveller by night, who knows not that he is walking all the time along the edge of a frightful precipice--is that peace? For, just as we must not be deceived by the false semblance, or by voices which cry Peace, peace, when there is no peace, so let us neither be robbed of the deep reality by external appearances, or by passing troubles.
1. Take, for instance, the case of personal anxieties. Most--perhaps everyone--of us suffer from these anxieties for ourselves; anxieties about our families; anxieties for the present; anxieties of a still deeper kind about the future. Though we are children of God, yet the cares of life come to us which come to all. They are the necessary incentive to our efforts. They are the necessary impulse to make us treasure otherwhere than on earth our hopes. But, oh, how differently do they happen to the Christian and to the sinner! But to be absorbed in merely private agitations is the characteristic of a mean soul, and the lives of many men who rise far above these personal and domestic egotisms are yet deeply troubled by the world’s agitation and unfit, by the perils of institutions to which they are devoted, by the perplexities of nations which they love. We have heard how Augustus, the ruler of the world, constantly moaned in his sleep for the loss of his three legions. We remember how the sad English queen, who lies with her great sister in this Abbey, said that when she died the word “Calais” would be found written on her heart. We have known how, in his later days, the good and great Lord Falkland fell into deep melancholy, ever murmuring the words “Peace, peace,” because his heart bled with the bleeding wounds of his country. We recall how the wasted form and shattered hopes of William Pitt were laid, in a season dark and perilous, at the feet of his great father, Chatham, with the same pomp, in the same consecrated mould, and how, grieved to the soul with the news of Austerlitz, he died, with broken exclamations about the perils of his country. Well, we should not be human if we did not suffer thus with those whom we see suffer. We may say to the fools, “Deal not so madly,--and to the ungodly. “Lift not up your horn on high; but the issues of all these things we must leave humbly,” calmly, trustfully, with God. The earth is not ours, nor the inhabiters of it; neither do we hold up the pillars of it. Let us not think much of our own importance. Ah, yes, for the anxieties of the statesmen, and the churchmen, and the patriot, here again is the remedy. We know that the angels of the Churches and the angels of the nations gaze on the face of God. Troubled was the life of David, yet he could say, calmly and humbly, “God sitteth above the water floods, and God remaineth a King forever.”
2. Again, the lives of how many of us are troubled by the strife of tongues! And yet even amid these flights of barbed arrows; amid these clouds of poisonous insects; amid these insolences of anonymous slander, what peace--what perfect peace--may we find if our minds be stayed on God. Letthem say what they will,” said a good man, now gone into his rest, “they cannot hurt me; I am too near the great white throne for that.” Yes, “Thou shalt hide them privily by Thine own presence from the provoking of all men. Thou shalt keep them secretly in Thy tabernacle from the strife of tongues.” “Thou shalt keep him in peace, peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.”
3. There is yet another, the heaviest of all life’s troubles in which this promise of peace comes to us like music heard over the stormy waters. It is when we are most overwhelmed with shame and sorrow for the past,--when our sins have taken such hold upon us that we are not able to look up. Who shall count the number of the men whose lives are ruined by the consequences of the past, but who, even in the midst of that ruin, are far more embittered by shame than by calamity, and who feel the sickness or the downfall far less than they feel the remorseful accusing of the evil conscience. It is the lost Heaven which torments no less surely than the present hell. In Michael Angelo’s great picture of the last judgment, one of the evil spirits has seized upon a doomed transgressor, and is dragging him downwards; and as he drags him in down rushing flight the demon is driving his furious teeth into the sinner’s flesh; but, with a touch of marvellous spiritual insight, the great painter has represented the poor wretch as wholly unconscious of that agony--as so unaware of it that his clasped hands and his eyes gazing upwards in agony on his offended Lord, show that, in the absorbing sense of having forfeited the blessing of the forgiven, he has no anguish left to thrill at the torture of the condemned. Yes, it is the worst sting of misery to have once been happy,--the worst pang of shame to have once been innocent,--the most fearful aggravation of punishment that men do not forget the Heavens from which they fall. Lock at the white water lily, in its delicate fragrance, as it lifts from its circle of green floating leaves the immaculate purity of its soft sweet flower. Its roots are in the black mud; its resting place is on the stagnant wave. Not from its mean or even foul surroundings--not assuredly from the blackness of the mud, or the stagnation of the wave--did it draw that pure beauty and that breathing beneficence, but from some principle of life within. And cannot He who gave to the fair blossom its idea of sweetness draw forth from us, the souls whom He made when He breathed into our nostrils the breath of life--oh, though we have debased those souls with the stagnancy of idleness, and blackened them with the mud of sin--cannot our God still bring forth frown those souls that He has made His own sweetness and purity again? He can, if we trust in Him. The alchemy of His love can transmute dross to gold, and, though our sins be as scarlet, the blood of His dear Son can wash them white as snow. Let the very depth of your remorse, if God grants you to feel remorse and a shameful and sinful past--let the very depth of this remorse be your protection from despair. Seek God, and that remorse may be but the darkness which is deepest before the dawn. (Dean Farrar, D. D.)
Peace is the balance of a thousand forces in that centre of all things--the human heart; and, if we regard the question apart from revelation, such a balance seems quite unattainable. History discovers the successive generations plagued by inquietudes--mental, moral, and political. And the most popular philosophy in the world, taking for its basis the common experience of mankind, teaches that peace is logically impossible; that all nature is full of blind and endless striving; that existence means desire, and desire means misery; that thus the world and life are fundamentally and essentially evil, and there is no escape from discontent, except in insensibility and extinction. In opposition to all this, revelation teaches that the world is a cosmos, not a chaos; that human nature is intrinsically noble and only accidentally base; and that the Lord Jesus Christ waits to restore the lost balance in the hearts of all who trust in Him, bringing their life into accord with the infinite music of God’s perfect universe. (W. L.Watkinson.)
Let us trace the method of God’s operation in securing to us the peace which passeth all understanding.
I. THERE IS THE ANTAGONISM BETWEEN OUR CONSCIENCE AND HISTORY. We recall all we have been and done, and of how little in past years can an instructed conscience approve! From a certain historical character came the sad outburst: “My whole life has been one great mistake”; and this confession is wrung from all when the law comes home and we know ourselves as we are known of God. Not simply an intellectual mistake to be condoned on grounds of infirmity, but a profound moral mistake also, for which we are and ought to be accountable. Now there can be no rational peace until we are freed from this dead, accusing past. Here Christ becomes most precious to all who believe. This peace in Christ is of the noblest. The law of Heaven is not relaxed one jot or tittle. Neither is the tone of conscience lowered to ensure us peace, but, on the contrary, He who gives us a new heart gives us a new conscience; conscience in evangelical penitence becomes more acute and authoritative than ever, and yet in its utmost majesty and tenderness is satisfied with God’s reconciling work and word in Jesus Christ. And yet how few pardoned ones have entered rote the enjoyment of “perfect” peace! “Being justified by faith, let us have peace with God.”
II. THE SECOND SERIOUS ANTAGONISM OF LIFE IS THAT BETWEEN OUR FLESH AND SPIRIT. The apostle describes this feud in language which brings the sad fact home irresistibly. “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” This is the fundamental, fatal discord. There can be no true peace until this internecine war ends in the utter breaking down and final extinction of the law in our members. The supremacy of the flesh would not ensure rest; such triumphant usurpation would bring all hell with it. Any alliance between the rival powers is also impossible. They greatly err who argue that the law in the members and the law of the mind are simply disturbed polarities of our nature between which harmony may be established; that they correspond to the antithetical laws we find in creation, and whose just mutual action is altogether beneficent. That conflict of the soul in which all other fightings--elemental, national, or social--have their origin, and out of which spring the manifold miseries of human life, is not the result of powers, properties, and laws altogether good and pure having fallen through ignorance and accident into displacement and misrelation, and needing only the correction of culture; but our nature has lost its purity, that is, its homogeneity; an exotic element, an alien power, an abnormal law has found place within us, working our destruction, and this the grace of God only can master and extirpate. Christ pours into us the light, energy, joy of His own glorious nature, breaking the tyranny of the law in the members, giving ascendency to the law of the mind, and thus brings back the paradisiacal calm. Perfect peace goes with perfect purity.
III. A FURTHER ANTAGONISM OF LIFE IS THAT BETWEEN FEELING AND REASON. One of the most painful and perplexing phases of life is the conflict between instinct and logic; our reflective reason contradicting our spontaneous reason on many of the greatest questions of existence. A primitive intuition apprehends the goodness of the Supreme, but the intellect pondering this sad world cannot confirm the intuition. A constitutional principle prompts us to prayer, implies the intervention of God in all our affairs and the validity of supplication, yet our dialectics often disown our devotions, and it seems as unphilosophical to pray as it is natural. Our consciousness assures us of our freedom and responsibility, giving grandeur to thought and life; but science contradicts consciousness, degrading us into mere mechanism. The fact of immortality is a truth found in the depth of our mind, a glorious instinctive hope lending the colour of gold to all the sphere; but science is at variance with sentiment; and we look into the black grave with dismay. If we dare trust that feeling in us which is at once deep, noble, and positive, we could welcome all the glorious articles of the creed and rest in them with unmixed delight, but reason enters another verdict, and we are overwhelmed in the dilemma. Here, once more, Christ is our peace, giving us rest by giving us light. We are far from asserting that the New Testament formally harmonises syllogism and sentiment, that it demonstrates agreement between intuitionalism and rationalism; but it suspends the bitter polemic by mightily reinforcing the brightest convictions and aspirations of our nature. It shows us the greatest, wisest, holiest Teacher the world has ever seen--He who spake as never man spake--giving direct and ample authentication to the grand creed of the heart; and this is surely an adequate reason for waiting in hope the final solution of the apparent antagonism between feeling and philosophy. Here also many who believe in Christ have not the “perfect” peace. We argue these questions away from Christ, and our soul is troubled. “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.” It is perfectly quiet at the centre of the whirlwind. Jesus Christ is the centre of the whirlwind of modern controversy, and whilst our lame interpretations of the universe, our little systems of philosophy put forth with so much pride and hope, are being driven about and driven away like the chaff of the summer threshing floor, with Christ at the centre reason finds lasting quiet.
IV. THE FINAL ANTAGONISM OF LIFE IS THAT OF CHARACTER AND CIRCUMSTANCE. No sooner are we what we ought to be than we painfully feel the world is not what it ought to be, and the more nearly we are right the more we realise how deeply the world is wrong, and how hard a thing it is to carry into effect high principles and convictions. Life is one long severe trial. We are tried in every possible way--in principle, temper, affection, and faith. Here again, however, Christ becomes our peace by giving us power. He makes us to share in His own triumphant spirit and might, thus enabling us to over come the trial and temptation, the allurement and sorrow of life. We are filled with wisdom, love, power and joy as He was. How few in the friction and strain of this worldly life attain this “perfect peace”! We have solicitude, fretfulness, misgiving, and sorrow. And we explain this to ourselves by regarding our circumstances as specially harsh and afflictive, which is an explanation very wide of the truth. The blame of our lack of peace is not to be laid on our severe environment, but on the inner defect of power which, in its turn, is caused by our qualified faith. If we fully identified ourselves with the world-conquering Christ we should know no more irascibility or fear, but in fiery trials prove abiding equanimity and imperturbation. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The blessing attendant upon having the mind stayed on God
I. THE STATE OF MIND HERE SPOKEN OF. The soul may be said to trust, or stay, upon anything, when it relies upon it for its present comfort and future salvation. The soul that possesses the blessing here spoken of, has for the object of its trust and stay the Lord Jehovah. It confides in His name and character as revealed in the Scriptures of truth: it relies upon His promises of mercy and grace declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord and derives its support and consolation from viewing God as “in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” This confidence in the Almighty stands opposed to various false refuges and deceitful grounds of confidence.
1. It is opposed to that confidence which men are often apt to place in an arm of flesh, in human wisdom, experience, power, interest, etc.
2. This affiance in the Lord Jehovah is likewise directly opposite to all reliance on our own services and performances.
3. This trust in Jehovah is very different from confidence placed in any feelings, or what are usually termed frames of mind. These are, at best, very uncertain, often very deceitful.
II. THE PROMISE OR BLESSING HERE SPOKEN OF. “Perfect peace.”
1. There is an energetic simplicity in the original expression: it is “peace, peace”; intimating that the soul which steadfastly reposes itself on God, may expect every kind of peace as its portion. Whether you understand by the word, reconciliation with God, amity with men, composure in the conscience, resignation to the appointments of providence, rest from the turbulency of sinful passions and appetites, or finally, that everlasting state of rest and felicity which remains for the people of God; rain all these senses peace is the happy lot of those whose minds are stayed on God.
2. But the thing especially intended here seems to be composure of mind, as opposed to distraction or disquietude.
3. This may be properly termed, “perfect peace,” not because it actually excludes every degree of disquietude from the soul; nor, as if in the measure in which it is enjoyed, it never met with any interruption; but it is perfect peace, when compared with any satisfaction or composure of mind which this world, or anything in it, can administer, and as proceeding from Him from whom cometh every good and every perfect gift; as being the best preparative for, and support under, the troubles of life, and, probably, the choicest foretaste that can be communicated to us of the peace of God’s eternal kingdom.
4. This blessing will be enjoyed, this peace will be experienced in the soul, in proportion to the degree of its confidence in God.
III. ENFORCE THE EXHORTATION here given. “Trust ye in the Lord forever”: to which is subjoined the encouraging declaration, “for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” Such an exhortation as this supposes their state to be distressing and dangerous, and that either through ignorance they are likely to betake themselves to false refuges, or through fear may be deterred from venturing upon what they believe to be the true one.
1. God calls upon you to do this.
2. Whatever your wants and necessities may be, you will thus obtain a rich and full supply of them.
3. Take the precious promises which He has caused to be recorded for this purpose.
4. Examples might also be produced from Scripture, in abundance, of those who looked unto Him and were lightened. (S. Knight, M. A.)
Peace out of trust
I. AN EXPRESSION OF CONFIDENCE IN GOD. It is characteristic of Jehovah--
1. That He seeks the trust of His people. Heathen gods, all gods that are the men creations of men’s minds or hands, seek the service of things; they want our gifts; they claim, not the man, but that which the man only has. Jehovah seeks the service of love and trust.
2. That He rewards the trust of His people. And this He does--
(1) By giving them the perfect peace, which is inward peace.
(2) By giving them the outward peace of circumstances, so far as may be consistent with higher than individual ends. If we can see that the true issue of the discipline of life is character; then we shall see that the very highest reward God can give us is that soul-triumph over surrounding circumstances, that soul mastery over the very self, which goes into the expressive word “peace.” Outward things are to us according as we are within us.
II. AN APPEAL TO THE PEOPLE FOR CONTINUITY IN THEIR TRUST IN GOD. “Trust ye in the Lord forever,” etc. We cannot keep on trusting if our trust is in things; for the “fashion of this world passeth away.” We cannot keep on trusting if our trust is in man; “for the pain of living is our disappointment in our best loved friends.” We can keep on trusting in God. His very name implies a basis of confidence. (Weekly Pulpit.)
The inhabitant of the Rock
If we may suppose the invocation of the preceding verses to be addressed to the watchers at the gate of the strong city, it is perhaps not too fanciful to suppose that the invitation in my text is the watchers’ answer, pointing the way by which men may pass into the city. At all events, I take it as by no means accidental that immediately upon the statement of the Old Testament law that righteousness alone admits to the presence of God, there follows so clear and emphatic an anticipation of the great New Testament Gospel that faith is the condition of righteousness, and that immediately after hearing that only “the righteous nation which keepeth the truth” can enter there, we hear the merciful call, “Trust ye in the Lord forever.”
I. THE INSIGHT INTO THE TRUE NATURE OF TRUST OR FAITH GIVEN BY THE WORD EMPLOYED HERE. The literal meaning of the expression here rendered “to trust” is to lean upon anything. And that is the trust of the Old Testament; the faith of the New.
II. THE STEADFAST PEACEFULNESS OF TRUST. (See R.V. margin.) It is the steadfast mind, steadfast because it trusts, which God keeps in the deepest peace that is expressed by the reduplication of the word. And if we break up that complex thought into its elements it just comes to this--
1. Trust makes steadfastness. No man can steady his life except by clinging to a holdfast without himself.
2. The steadfast mind is rewarded in that it is kept of God. The real fixity and solidity of a human character comes more surely and fully through trust in God than by any other means; on the other hand, it is true that, in order to receive the full blessed effects of trust into our characters and lives, we must persistently and doggedly keep on in the attitude of confidence.
3. Then, still further, this faithful, steadfast heart and mind, kept by God, is a mind filled with deepest peace. There is something very beautiful in the prophet’s abandoning the attempt to find any adjective or quality which adequately characterises the peace of which he has been speaking. He falls back upon the expedient which is the confession of the impotence of human speech worthily to portray its subject when he simply says, “Thou shalt keep in peace because he trusteth in Thee.” The reduplication expresses the depth, the completeness of the tranquillity which flows into the heart. Such continuity, wave after wave, or rather ripple after ripple, is possible even for us. For the possession of this deep, unbroken peace does not depend on the absence of conflict, of distraction, trouble, or sorrow, but on the presence of God.
III. THE WORTHINESS OF THE DIVINE NAME TO EVOKE AND THE POWER OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER TO REWARD THE TRUST. “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”
I. The words feebly rendered in the A.V., “everlasting strength,” are literally “the Rock of Ages”; and this verse is the source of that hallowed figure which, by one of the greatest of our English hymns, is made familiar and immortal to all English-speaking people.
2. But there is another peculiarity about the words, and that is that here we have, for one of the only two times in which the expression occurs in Scripture, the great name of Jehovah reduplicated. “In Jah Jehovah is the Rock of Ages.” In the former verse the prophet had given up in despair the attempt to characterise the peace which God gave, and fallen back upon the expedient of naming it twice over. In this verse, with similar eloquence of reticence, he abandons the attempt to describe or characterise that great name, and once more, in adoration, contents himself with twice taking it upon his lips, in order to impress what he cannot express, the majesty and the sufficiency of that name. What, then, is the force of that name?
(1) Jehovah, in its literal grammatical signification, puts emphasis upon the absolute, underived, and therefore unlimited, unconditioned, unchangeable, eternal being of God. “I am that I am.” In that name is the Rock of Ages.
(2) That mighty name, by its place in the history of revelation, conveys to us still further thoughts, for it is the name of the God who entered into covenant with His ancient people, and remains bound by His covenant to bless us.
3. The metaphor needs no expansion. We understand that it conveys the idea of unchangeable defence.
IV. THE SUMMONS TO TRUST. We know not whose voice it is that is heard in the last words of my text, but we know to whose ears it is addressed. It is to all. “Trust ye in the Lord forever.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Peace has ever been praised and desired by the majority of mankind. It is generally supposed to be near, to be possible; but it moves before or follows men like the shadow of themselves, which cannot overtake them, which they cannot overtake. The schoolboy sees it in release from his lessons and his school. The man of mid-life sees it in his childhood, and by the fireside of an honoured successful age. But when old he looks back with regret to the appetite for repose which accompanied an active life. There is no more peace in twilight than at noon. In the morning we say, “Would God it were evening”; and in the evening, “Would God it were morning.”
I. THERE IS MUCH PEACE WHICH IS IMPERFECT.
1. There is the peace of ignorance. The child plays by the coffin of its mother. The peasant fool stands quietly beneath the tree which draws the lightning stroke. But this peace, we need not stop long to see, passes away. We learn, our eyes are opened, and we regret or shudder at our insensibility.
2. There is the peace of corruption. Dead bodies make no stir, ask no questions, have no doubts. Dead minds are quiet and peaceable enough. Their peace is that of quiet, painless stagnation; but we cannot call it perfect.
3. There is the dependent peace: when we leave other people to think and act for us. This is pleasing enough till they make some fatal irremediable mistake. It is bad enough to lose a few bank notes; but it is a far more serious thing to find that your conscience keeper has embezzled your soul.
4. There is the peace of success. When the action is over then comes reaction. The peace it gives is not perfect. It needs patching and polishing as soon as it is obtained. It entails labour and involves additional anxiety.
5. All these kinds of mock peace die out, or break down, or run dry. If not that, they hinder our being what we might be; they keep us down.
II. WHAT WE ASSOCIATE MOST WITH THE WORD PEACE. It is the opposite to war. It is freedom from disorder, disturbance. But it is by no means idleness. The time of peace is the time of work. The surest advance and most abundant plenty may be made in the time of the profoundest peace. There is most life where there is least disorder. It is thus in nature. What can be more quiet than a field of wheat on a still summer day? and yet an important work is going on then; there God is making bread for man. Again, what suggests more repose than a silent, cloudless night? And yet the globe on which we stand, and the brightest of the stars we see, and which seem so still, are really whirling through space at a prodigious speed. Their perfect peace is perfect fulfilment of the win of God.
III. IS THERE SUCH A THING FOR US--PEACE WHICH CAN NEVER BE DESTROYED, NEVER DIE OUT? “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee.” On Thee--there is the point. On God Himself. We are not the masters of this world, or time. We can neither make nor destroy it. By quietly doing our own work we do our share, and the Great Master will look after us and the rest. Peace is found only along with Him, by straying upon Him. Those who do the work He plainly sets them need not be distressed about the main chance and the great end and course of life. The sailor who has confidence in his captain and pilot is at peace; he knows the ship is in good hands. So if we would believe that we were in good hands ourselves, how full of comfort we should be. An explorer is searching for a new country. He sails over the seas, here and there, in vain; he is deceived by low lying clouds which look like land, but are dispersed as he approaches them. At last, after many disappointments, he spies the shore, sails to it, finds he is not mistaken this time; he sets his foot upon the beach, he sees new trees, animals, plants. He returns to his ship, night comes and he can perceive nothing. Nevertheless the discovery is made; the sought for land is found. There is an end to his surmises, expectations, guesses, watchings. The land is found, though he leave or lose sight of it. He has fulfilled his object; it is a fact; it is there. So the man who has been beating about in vain in the waves of this troublesome world, looking for peace, steering this way and that, but has at last laid hold of the great immovable fact that peace is in God, and not to be got from himself or his fellow creatures, may often seem solitary and disturbed; but he has made the discovery, and all is well. (H. Jones, M. A.)
The sustaining power of faith
I. THE SOURCE OF FAITH IS DIVINE. “Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength”
1. Faith is Divine in its inception. God is author and object thereof.
2. Faith is Divine in its inspiration. Trust in God is not a single act, but a condition of restfulness. There are occasions when special acts are called forth, but these are the trials of faith. When Abraham was called to offer up Isaac on Moriah, God proved him there.
II. THE SEAT OF FAITH IS MENTAL. “Whose mind (or thought) is stayed on Thee.” Mr. Ruskin says, “The power, whether of painter or poet, to describe rightly what he calls an ideal thing depends upon its being to him not an ideal but a real thing. No man ever did, or ever will, work well but either from actual sight or sight of faith.” The sight of faith is no less keen, or complete, or perfect, than actual sight. There are many thoughts which agitate the human heart--faith is the solution of these.
1. One thought is our acceptance before God. We are perplexed by many aspects of this all-important subject. Take one of them--how can the death of Jesus Christ atone for our sins? Faith alone can make the matter plain. How is it done? By taking the mind to God to be saved by the acceptance of this great truth. Faith never says, How is it? but, Let it be. God Himself is the solution of the difficulty.
2. Thoughts concerning our guidance in life. We are the creatures of circumstances, and often fail to see their bearing. Faith brings forth tranquillising influences, and speaks with firmness. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” All wrongs will be avenged. All stolen possessions will be restored. Therefore, take no thought for the morrow: He who measures the minutes fills them with mercies.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF FAITH IS SUSTAINING. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose thought is stayed on Thee.”
1. Faith is our strength in duty. To do the right is not always easy. We are often tempted to do as other people do, and sometimes we are chided because we do not follow the way of the world. Whatever may be the temptation to do wrong, or whatever may be the adverse criticism for doing right, trust in God will sustain us in the effort.
2. Faith is our stay in trouble.
3. Faith is our prospect in death. Charles Wesley said, “Satisfied! Satisfied!” Benjamin Abbot said, “I see Heaven opening out before me.” Baron Humboldt was full of peace, and said, “How sweet these rays; they beckon me up to Heaven.” Robert Wilkinson exclaimed, “The lovely beauty! the happiness of paradise.” Mrs. Hemans bade this world adieu by saying, “The visions cannot be told; the mountaintops are gleaming from peak to peak.” We believe in the same Saviour. God will be with us in the person of the Good Shepherd to lead us safely home. Why do the gracious impressions received by many, while listening to the Gospel, die out? Because they are not sustained by faith. (T. Davies, M. A.)
The source of true peace
I. A STATE OF MIND to be described. “Whose mind is stayed on Thee.” This is an act that includes in it--
1. A renunciation of dependence on the creature.
2. The exercise of filial dependence on God.
3. This is a frame of mind exercised on evangelical principles. It is the shadow of that throne where the Saviour appears as the Lamb in the midst of it beneath which true faith causes us to repose.
II. A GRACIOUS ASSURANCE to be considered. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace.” This does not refer to external peace, but to mental peace and serenity in trying circumstances; and this is very great.
1. Reflect on the Author of it. “Thou wilt,”--the very Being on whom the soul reposes, who is the Lord God all-sufficient.
2. Consider the extent of this peace. As the Redeemer once said to all the elements of nature that were convulsed, “Peace, be still; and there was a great calm”; thus He speaks to all the agitated and perturbed powers of the human mind.
III. AN INTIMATE CONNECTION to be established. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee; because he trusteth in Thee.” This connection is established--
1. By the dictates of reason. It is reasonable to expect that he who reposes on a rock should feel himself immovable.
2. In the promise of Scripture.
3. In the experience that trust in man has often been deceived; but the benefits of having the mind reposed on the infinite and eternal God can be attested by thousands. (C. Gilbert.)
Confidence in God composing the mind
I. WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY STAYING THE MIND ON GOD. It simply means relying upon Him or trusting in Him.
II. THIS STAYING OF THE MIND ON GOD KEEPS IT IN PEACE.
1. This alone can calm the mind when convinced of sin, and searching in dreadful distress for pardon.
2. This confidence also calms the mind under delays.
3. This confidence composes the mind in the events of life, and this is the thing principally intended.
III. THE PEACE THAT FLOWS FROM THIS TRUST IN GOD IS SAID TO BE PERFECT. It is not indeed absolutely so, as if it were incapable of addition; but it is so--
1. Comparatively. What is every other peace to this? What is the delusion of the Pharisee, the stupidity and carelessness of the sinner, the corn and wine of the worldling--what is everything else, compared with this peace?
2. In relation to this confidence. It is true this peace rises and falls; but it is only because this confidence varies. (W. Jay.)
Peace the result of confidence in God
I. THE BLESSING HERE DESCRIBED. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace.” We take it for granted that the prophet is referring to the blessings of the Gospel. Christ is called, by this same prophet, the Prince of Peace; and apart from Him, true peace of mind can never be attained.
1. The word peace at once suggests the cessation of hostilities. It is true there never was any hostility in the mind of God towards man. But when we look at the aspect of man towards God, we see him in an attitude of rebellion. It became necessary that some means should be adopted by which his enmity might be destroyed, and reconciliation affected. The wondrous plan, devised in the mind of God for the accomplishment of this purpose, was the sacrifice of His own dear Son, who thus became our Mediator between God and man.
2. The peace which God bestows arises not merely from a consciousness of pardon and restoration to the Divine favour, it springs further from the calming influence which He exerts on the mind by the transforming of the affections from things earthly to things heavenly.
3. But the peace which God bestows is a “perfect peace”; by which we understand peace, ever-flowing like a river, broad, deep, and calm,--peace, including all spiritual blessings, and available under every circumstance of Christian trial
4. Mark the expression, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace.” It is not a mere transitory feeling, a sun flash on the storm presently to be lost behind the cloud, but an abiding principle, which God keeps for His people and in His people, that they may be preserved from dismay whatever may befall them.
II. THE MEANS OF ATTAINING IT. Who is the happy possessor of this inestimable blessing of peace? He whose mind is stayed upon God, because he trusteth in Him. We cannot take a single step in religion without trust, or faith. As this trust is essential to the first acquirement of peace, so is it equally necessary to its continued possession. It is enjoyed only so long as the mind is “stayed” upon God. But all men have not peace; and some never will have peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” There is no peace to them who stay their minds on the world, on worldly objects and worldly pleasures. There is no peace to them who keep away from Christ. (W. J. Brock, B. A.)
Trust in God brings peace
That almost every man is disappointed in his search after happiness is apparent from the clamorous complaints which are always to be heard; from the restless discontent which is hourly to be observed, and from the incessant pursuit of new objects, which employ almost every moment of every man’s life. As men differ in age or disposition, they are exposed to different delusions in this important inquiry.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THIS TRUST IN GOD, TO WHICH PERFECT PEACE IS PRESSED? Trust, when it is used on common occasions, implies a kind of resignation to the honesty or abilities of another. Our trust in God ought to differ from every other trust, as infinity differs from an atom. It ought to transcend every other degree of confidence, as its object is exalted above every degree of created excellence. We know that He is infinite in wisdom, in power, and in goodness; that therefore He designs the happiness of all His creatures; that He cannot but know the proper means by which this end may be obtained; and that, in the use of these means, as He cannot be mistaken, because He is omniscient, so He cannot be defeated, because He is almighty. He therefore that trusts in God will no longer be distracted in his search after happiness; for he will find it in a firm belief, that whatever evils are suffered to befall him, will finally contribute to his felicity.
II. HOW THIS TRUST IS TO BE ATTAINED. There is a fallacious and precipitate trust in God--a trust which, as it is not founded upon God’s promises, will, in the end, be disappointed. Trust in God, that trust to which perfect peace is promised, is to be obtained only by repentance, obedience, and supplication. (John Taylor, LL. D.)
The source of peace
In considering the great event of the Saviour’s first advent, there is one circumstance of which we should never lose sight--the peculiar character in which He then came to earth. He was pleasedto veil His more awful attributes behind His humanity; and, instead of showing Himself as our future Judge, to reveal Himself as our “Prince of Peace.” Hence this is the peculiar characteristic of the Gospel, that in looking to it the sinner finds it to be a message of peace. And not only this, but he finds, as he proceeds in the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, that whilst glory is the prospect which it holds out for eternity, in time it corresponds with what might well be called the Redeemer’s dying legacy to His Church: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: no as the world giveth, give I unto you.”
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY HAVING OUR MIND STAYED ON GOD? Nothing is more evident than the fact that man always needs someone on whom to lean. But there are cases in which it must appear peculiarly necessary to stay our minds on the Lord, because there are cases in which man can absolutely do nothing to help us. Look at the various sorrows, the various doubts, the various fears by which we are liable to be assailed, and say whether any but a Divine power can assist us there. Our natural state being enmity with God, we are, whilst still unconverted, more inclined to forget Him or flee from Him, than to draw near to Him and depend on Him for assistance or protection. But the believer has been led by the Holy Spirit to see how ruinous is his alienation from God. He has therefore turned to the God against whom he had sinned; he has entrusted himself to the mercy and faithfulness of God; and, having done so, he feels that it is a little matter to trust to Him for support and comfort in that conflict here, which a few years or hours may change into the triumphs of eternity. The more advanced he is, the more humble will he be; and in the hour of trial, instead of depending on his former attainments, or looking to be upheld by his past experience, he will continue, at each fresh assault of his enemy, to look for strength according to his day.
II. THE BLESSING PROMISED TO HIM WHOSE MIND IS THUS STAYED ON THE LORD. “Perfect peace.”
1. Peace with God (Romans 5:1).
2. Peace of conscience.
3. Peace with the world.
I do not say that the world has peace with him. But the Christian has received the spirit of gentleness and love. (R. M. Kyle, B. A.)
Peace the perfect and assured portion of the believer
There is a sweetness in the very word “peace”; it fills the mind with a number of pleasing thoughts, and oven by its very sound seems to convey something which attracts and charms us. But if the mere sound of peace be thus pleasing, how much more so must be the substance. Peace is what everyone may be said to prize, and to be in search of. Why is it so seldom found? Because we are always seeking peace, and saying peace, where them is no peace; we seek it anywhere, and in anything, rather than in Him, and from Him, who alone can give it.
I. THE CHARACTER brought before us in the text is that of the man whose mind is stayed on God. The word “stayed” denotes--
1. Firmness. It is that kind of leaning or resting which shows full confidence in the strength of the foundation which has been chosen.
2. Calmness and quietness.
3. An unchanging trust; a resolution of the soul to abide by its choice under all circumstances; a fixed adherence to its God.
II. THE BLESSING PROMISED AND SECURED TO THOSE TO WHOM THE CHARACTER REALLY BELONGS. “Thou shalt keep him in perfect peace.”
1. The blessing itself: “perfect peace.” Perfect, because--
(1) Present. He who gives it is about our path and about our bed.
2. The way in which this blessing is said to be secured to every believer. The Lord, on whom his mind is stayed, will keep him in it.
III. THE GRACIOUS FULFILMENT OF HIS WORD in the case of him whose remains have so lately gone down into silence. (F. Lear, B. D.)
Peace for the careworn
In the description given of the state of the ungodly in Romans 3:1-31, the apostle Paul says: “The way of peace have they not known.” There are many ways in this world--ways of sin, of disappointment, of pleasure, of death, of misery, but beside all these there is “the way of peace.”
I. THE PERSON WHO IS KEPT IN PEACE. He is a person whose mind is stayed on God, and who trusts in God. A man’s self, and sin, and pleasure, and false religion, and vain hopes are every one of them troubled waves in one common ocean of disquietude, and no soul can stay itself upon these, though many souls have sought to be stayed upon them. Mark the mighty Rock on which such an one lieth down and findeth repose. That rock is God. Yet it is a most certain fact that our God is a consuming fire, out of Christ. Ah, you say, some of you, “I trust in God,” but you know not the God you trust in. What is the sole object of faith? It is the God-man.
II. THE POWER WHICH KEEPS THE BELIEVER IN PEACE. Not the power of his own faith, as some would think at first sight; not the power of his own effort, struggling to obtain confidence, as some would suppose; but the power of God.
III. THE PEACE IN WHICH SUCH A PERSON IS KEPT.
It is called here “perfect peace.” It is like the Redeemer with his head on the pillow, with His eyes closed, with His mind in conscious repose and sleep, in the midst of the wild storm at night upon the lake of Galilee, when the waves beat upon the trembling vessel, and the clouds rolled over head, threatening to beat the waves still higher, and engulf them all. He slept secure and Peaceful amidst the storm. So does the soul of the believer, afterwards, that stayeth itself upon God. Upon what lay that peaceful head of Jesus but on the unseen arm and bosom of God? Men said of Christ mockingly, “He trusted in God.” He did trust in God, as the most exalted believer, and far more than the most exalted believer; and in that simplicity of faith, amidst contending elements He was kept in peace, sleeping amidst the storm. So with the believer. And he that thus trusteth in God findeth not only that peace in life; for death to him, what is it? It is as a peaceful sunset. (H. G. Guinness.)
Hindrances to a mind stayed on God
There are two hindrances to a steady mind.
1. The loving of unlawful things.
2. The loving of lawful things with inordinate affection. (J. Summerfield, M. A.)
I. THE PROMISED GIFT. “Peace.” Not freedom from sorrow, not assured prosperity, not a certainty of success, but inward tranquillity, ease of heart, without which even prosperity would be a burden. Not the simulated contentment of indifference. Not the cynical self-complacency of moral blindness. Not the dull stupefaction of despair. There is peace--
1. Amid personal anxieties. These come to God’s people as well as to the world. But the effects they produce in each are very different.
2. Amid the contests of the world. The nations are at strife. Good is at war with evil. The noblest institutions are threatened. Lawlessness stalks forth threatening all that is true. But the Christian has peace in his dwellings.
3. Amid the struggles of sin and the assaults of the evil one. The remorse of sin, the anxieties of sin, all disturb the soul, but here is peace.
4. In the conflicting emotions of sickness, the pain of death, and the realities of a future world.
II. THE CONDITION EXACTED. Faith. “Whose mind is stayed on Thee.” This act assures us of the promise--
1. Because it is the carrying out of the Divine requirement. It is God’s own condition, God’s own plan, and unless that is complied with no man can hope to obtain the fulfilment of the promise.
2. Because it is in itself a calming, sanctifying act. The man who casts all his cares upon God, feels no responsibility resting on himself. He who leaves his sins on Christ ceases to trouble about the consequences of those sins, so far as he himself is concerned. The man who leaves all events in the hands of One who knows all, feels that whatever happens all is for the best. How can such feel anything but peace? The great thing wanting is the power to place such unreserved confidence on an unseen Being.
III. THE SAFE ASSURANCE. Thou wilt keep. Here is a sure ground of confidence--the promise and power of the Author and Ruler of the universe. “Thou.”
1. Here is the source of all strength; He is therefore able.
2. Here is the source of all love; He is therefore willing.
3. He is the supplier of all comfort, the refuge of all the oppressed. If peace exists at all, surely It can be obtained from Him. (Homilist.)
The song of a city and the pearl of peace
I. WHAT IS THIS PERFECT PEACE?
1. This “peace, peace” means, an absence of all war, and of all alarm of war.
2. This perfect peace reigns over all things within its circle.
3. No perfect peace can be enjoyed unless every secret cause of fear is met and removed.
4. Peace in a city would not be consistent with the stoppage of commerce. Where there is perfect peace with God, commerce prospers between the soul and Heaven. Good men commune with the good, and thereby their sense of peace increases. If you have perfect peace, you have fellowship with all the saints; personal jealousies, sectarian bitternesses, and unholy emulations are all laid aside.
5. It consists in rest of the soul ; a perfect resignation to the Divine will; sweet confidence in God; a blessed contentment.
6. It means freedom from everything like despondency.
7. There we are kept from everything like rashness.
II. WHO ALONE CAN GIVE US THIS PEACE AND PRESERVE IT IN US? How does the Lord keep His people in peace?
1. By a special operation upon the mind in the time of trial (Isaiah 26:12).
2. By the operation of certain considerations intended by His infinite wisdom to work in that manner.
3. By the distinct operations of His providence.
III. WHO SHALL OBTAIN THIS PEACE? The whole of our being is stayed upon God in order to this peace.
IV. WHY IS IT THAT THE LORD WILL KEEP THAT MAN IN PERFECT PEACE WHO STAYS HIMSELF ON HIM? “Because he trusteth in Thee.” That means surely--
1. That in faith there is a tendency to create and nourish peace.
2. His faith is rewarded by peace.
3. This peace comes out of faith because it is faith’s way of proclaiming itself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Peace not from nature, but from God
Man alone of all created beings of whom we know anything seems strangely out of harmony with the circumstances with which he is surrounded, and the conditions of his existence. Everything around us, and much within us, seems specially designed to militate against the possibility of peace.
1. If man is to be at peace, why does he hold his very life, and everything else that he values best, on the most precarious tenure? The lower animals are exposed to nothing like the same number of uncertainties; they, for the most part, live out their own appointed span of existence, while, on the other hand, their incapacity for reflection saves them those gloomy apprehensions of possible disaster, and that still sadder certain anticipation of ultimate dissolution, which cast so dark a shadow over the experience of man just because he can and must think, Man’s affections are immeasurably more intense than theirs, and yet he knows what they do not, that at any moment he may be robbed of all he loves most; thus the very strength of his affections militates against his peace. They seem incapable of care, and what they need usually comes to them without any laborious provision. He has to exercise forethought and skill, and to expend much patient labour before he can hope to obtain so much as the bare necessaries of life; and even then he cannot make sure of these, owing to the apparent caprices of nature.
2. And the worst of it is that these are not the only causes of our disquiet and unrest. There are disturbing influences within as well as without. Peace is broken by inward war, the conflict of one element of our nature with another.
3. All this shows us that either we are to be denied even such a peace as the animals apparently enjoy, and that their condition in this respect is to be vastly preferable to ours, or else that some higher provision must have been made for inducing this feature in our experience--some provision that they know nothing about, and that does not lie upon the surface of outward nature; some provision that has to be otherwise made known than by the ordinary phenomena of the outer world. And this is one of the most cogent amongst many proofs, that a supernatural revelation is absolutely necessary to supplement the phenomena of the world known to sense, unless nature is to be found guilty of strange and anomalous inconsistencies. The “God of peace” knows that we need peace, and He has provided it for us. He who has blessed His lower creatures with a restful uncarefulness, that renders existence not only tolerable, but pleasant to them, has not left His highest creature to be the victim of his own greatness, and to be tossed about aimlessly upon a sea of troubles, until at last the inevitable shipwreck comes upon the pitiless shoals of death. Our great Father, God, dwells Himself in an atmosphere of eternal calm, and His love makes Him desire to share His peace with us “the peace of God which passeth all understanding.” (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
Let us ask, What is it that hinders peace? in order that we may better understand the things that belong to our peace. Here, I think, we shall discover three distinct sources of mental disturbance by which man is affected--three distinct and terrible discords that mar the harmony of human life until they are resolved by redemption. Man is, to begin with, out of peace with God; he is, in consequence, out of peace with nature, or the order of things with which he is surrounded; and, in the third place, he is out of peace with himself. These other discords which break in upon and destroy his peace are dependent upon and spring from the first. It is because man is not at peace with God that he finds himself at war with nature, and the victim of internal feuds. The conditions of his existence in this material world seem of a kind to militate against his peace; but this is only so when they are viewed apart from any higher and ultimate object to which they may be designed by infinite benevolence to contribute. Once let me see that the trials and uncertainties of life are intended to enforce upon my attention the true character of my present position and its relations to the future, and I no longer quarrel with them. I confess that I am a stranger and a sojourner, and I see wisdom and love in the very circumstances which impress this upon my mind. And even so is it with those moral discords that disturb my peace within. They spring from the controversy that exists between man and God. Here we see how the Gospel is adapted to the deepest needs of the human heart, and how skilfully it is designed to deal with cause and effect in their own proper order in the moral sphere. The Gospel is primarily a proclamation of peace between God and man, a revelation of a wondrous method of reconciliation. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The way of peace
The text contains the open secret of a spiritual life, which is peace, and discloses the sure way of attaining it. The person spoken of is one whose mind is stayed on God. The man has become fixed upon this centre, and he cannot be moved therefrom. To this man God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving. God commands his entire nature. There is a prevalent disposition amongst men to be stayed upon themselves, but the Scriptures declare that “he that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” A self-centered man is always a weak man. There is another class of men who desire to be stayed upon riches But God says, “Labour not to be rich, for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards Heaven” (1 Timothy 6:9-10). The man referred to in the text, if he have money, does not stay himself upon it. This man does not stay himself on his fellow men. There is a prevalent disposition amongst men to pin their confidence to some human sleeve, and when that proves unfaithful, as it often does, such people are thrown into confusion. Peace flows alone from trust in God. But faith never stands alone. Peace never stands alone in the heart of man. Trust brings peace, but it brings other graces besides. Trust does not put a man to sleep. It does not alienate a man from the source of power. It does not scatter a man. It unites him and unites him to God. It animates him. It sets him in motion. The ear of the trusting disciple lies close to the mouth of his beloved Master, whose words are the sweetest messages that can possibly break upon his consciousness. The feet of faith tremble with desire to run upon the errands of its Lord. Obedience is the corollary of faith. Without obedience, peace would become discord in the soul. Trust stirs us to industry and success in prayer; it makes us cheerful and faithful in obedience; it makes us patient in affliction; it makes us resolute in trials; it consoles us in desertions; it makes us fruitful in life, and triumphantly victorious in death. (L. R. Foote, D. D.)
Trust gives steadfastness
How can a willow be stiffened into an iron pillar? Only--if I might use such a violent metaphor--when it receives into its substance the iron particles that it draws from the soil in which it is rooted. How can a bit of thistledown be kept motionless amidst the tempest. Only by being glued to something that is fixed. What do men do with light things on deck when the ship is pitching? Lash them to a fixed point. Lash yourselves to God by simple trust, and then you will partake of His serene immutability in such fashion as it is possible for the creature to participate in the attributes of the Creator. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Perfect peace a medium of revelation
When you have a really calm sea, what rare things the placid waters reveal! Sculptured coral, whorled shells, iridescent fish, pearls--snowflakes of the deep not one moment white but white forever, gems whose strange e the floods cannot quench, with glorious plants and blossoms, as if the silver water mirrored the flowers of Heaven as well as its stars. And what rare things the unstirred sea reflects! The ambient blue, with all its treasures of light and colour; the devious coast, with all its fantasy of rock forestry and mountain. But let one ripple pass over the glassy tide, and the matchless spectacle is sadly marred. So in “perfect” peace we realise the glory of our own being, the glory of higher worlds, as no language can tell; but the first ripple of passion, or care, or doubt, spoils the magic of the picture and the joy. (W. L.Watkinson.)
The human soul needs support
When the mind leans for strength upon itself it cannot be at peace. Conflicting thoughts are ever passing through the brain, and we need something solid on which to stay ourselves. The mind may be compared to ivy, which, if it is to grow vigorous, needs to cling to an upright support. The mind may be also likened to a lever, which without a fulcrum is almost useless; and to a ladder, which when placed upright will fall, but when stayed against a building is steady and strong enough to bear your weight. (W. Birch.)
Perfect peace in peril
A respected brother in the ministry once told me that he was at Villa Franca in Italy, when a shock of an earthquake was felt. The various members of a family with which he then was all showed alarm or uneasiness in different ways, with the exception of one, who merely smiled at perceiving the effect produced on them. That one was a dying man--in about a week after he died in the Lord--and he knew that the time of his departure was at hand. It mattered little to him whether he were summoned by the slow wasting hectic, or by the crush of an earthquake. His mind was stayed on the Lord, and was therefore kept in perfect peace under circumstances which would have made most of us tremble. (R. M. Kyle, B. A.)
Membership in the ideal city
Verse 3 (see R.V. margin) states the conditions of membership in the ideal Zion; a “steadfast mind” may share the “peace” which the ideal city is to enjoy. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Freedom from care
A ship is made to go in the water, and no matter how deep the sea nor how wild the tempest, all goes well so long as the water does not get into the ship. The problem of managing a ship is, not to keep the ship out of the water, but to keep the water out of the ship. The problem of true Christian living is, not to keep ourselves out of cares and trials and temptations, but to keep the cares and temptations from getting into our souls. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
God between the soul and circumstances
A great difference comes into the life when, instead of putting circumstances between ourselves and God, we put God between ourselves and circumstances. Then when annoyance and fret, unkind speeches and unjust treatment, worries about money and helpers and procedure accumulate, they seem like the passage of crowds up and down a London thoroughfare, whilst we sit quietly within and pursue our work behind the double windows, that render the room almost impervious to sound. Happy the soul which has learned to live inside the film of God’s invisible protection, poured around it by the Spirit of peace! (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
Mr. Gladstone’s text
It is said that Mr. Gladstone, for forty years, had on the wall of his bedroom this text: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” These were the first words on which the great statesman’s eyes opened every morning, and they were one of the sources of his calm strength. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
Trust in God reasonable
George M’Donald says somewhere that it is more absurd to trust God by halves than it is not to believe in Him at all.
Stonewall Jackson’s faith
At a battle in the American Civil War, a general asked Stonewall Jackson how it was he kept so cool while the bullets literally rained about him. Jackson instantly became grave, and earnestly answered, “My religions belief teaches me to feel as safe in battle as in bed. God has fixed the time of my death. I do not concern myself about that, but to be always ready.” After a pause, he added, looking his questioner in the face, “That is the way all men should live, and then all would be equally brave.”
Every time a man worries, physiologists say, he changes a portion of his nervous system. Sometimes the change is serious; sometimes it is permanent; sometimes it is fatal. What worry does for the body, it does also for the spirit. It is the destruction of energy, the ruin of that serenity which is half of power, and the fruitful cause of a large of life’s failures.
The bicycle is useful because, on a level or a down grade, it relieves a man not only of the weight of his burdens, but even of his own weight, and he can put all his strength into the matter of getting along. Now that is precisely what the Christian’s trust will do for him. God never intended that we should carry the burdens He lays upon us. He never intended even that we should carry the burden of our own evil nature and sinful tendencies, no is willing, nay, eager, to carry them all for us, emancipating all our strength for pure progress (A. R. Wells.)
Trust ye in the Lord forever
Trusting in the Lord
THE DUTY ITSELF.
1. It implies an acquiescence or submission to the will of God, whatever it may be--trusting in Him, assured that He is doing, and will do, what is right. This was the spirit of Eli of old, who, though under great family trial, still said, “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good.” This was the spirit of the patriarch Job, who under all his trials could say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
2. It implies also an application to the Lord, with confidence that the application will not be in vain. Perhaps the best passage I can give you upon this subject will be that which contains the character given of Hezekiah. In 2 Kings 18:5, we are told, “He trusted in the Lord God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the Lord, and departed not from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the Lord commanded Moses.” There was habitual confidence in the Lord, which led Hezekiah to apply to the Lord in his hours of trial; and therefore, when he was in danger of being besieged, he instantly felt that his whole confidence must be in the Lord! So he took the letter, and in close communion with God read aloud that letter, trusting that the Lord would deliver him from all the threatenings which the letter contained.
3. Closely connected with these two explanations is that which I may call dependence and expectation; so that we may say, in our hours of anxiety, “Jehovah-jireh, the Lord will provide.” All this is perfectly compatible with the energetic use of means for deliverance out of our trials. Indeed, wherever there is the neglect of means, there is simple presumption.
4. Notice, again, in the description of the duty set before us in the text, that it is to endure forever. We read here, “Trust in the Lord forever.” This revolves both time and circumstances.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT. The text tells us, “For in the Lord Jehovah there is everlasting strength”; or, “The Lord Jehovah is the Rock of Ages.” The encouragement, therefore, is based on the everlasting strength of God. (H. M.Villiers, M. A.)
Trust in God
I. AS A RELIGIOUS DUTY. God, in our view, either in His wisdom, power, grace, love, or fidelity, must always be the object of religions trust and confidence; and I think it will be found that all these great qualities and perfections in God are peculiarly exercised for the benefit and happiness of believers. It is not merely in these abstract qualities that the Christian is to trust, but in their exercise and development, for his own benefit and advantage.
II. WHAT IS ESSENTIAL TO THE EXERCISE OF TRUST IN GOD.
1. It will be essential for you to cultivate scriptural knowledge. The more the mind is brought under the illumination of the Spirit and the Word of God--the more we are in the habit of connecting time with eternity, taking a large and extended view of both--the more we consult the nature of Divine providence, as developed in the history of His ancient people, in every age of the world, and the manner of His dealings with them--the better we become acquainted with the nature and spirit of His own work, the work of religion in the human heart, and, certainly, the more confidence we shall be enabled to exercise in God. We are very often brought into a state of darkness, doubt, perplexity, bondage, and suffering, for the want merely of enlightened and scriptural views of God, and the method of His dealings with His church.
2. Another state is also necessary-that is, living in a reconciled state with God.
III. THE EXTENT TO WHICH WE OUGHT TO CARRY THIS CONFIDENCE IN GOD. And first of all we may say, we ought to trust Him with everything. But then, there is this remark to be made--that we ought to engage in nothing that is unlawful and sinful; for we cannot trust God with that which is evil. Let us not classify events, and consider some little and some great, some to be reposed on God and others not. The fact is, we ought to take everything to Him in the spirit of humble prayer and confidence, imploring His blessing upon it. Let me remark, too, that we ought to trust God for everything, as well as with everything. (J. Dixon, D. D.)
Unchanging trust in an unchanging God
The grandest and profoundest truths of the Old and New Testament with regard to the Divine nature are always presented as the bases of exhortations to conduct and to emotion. There is no such thing in Scripture as an aimless revelation of the Divine character. That great “for” of my text links together the two clauses.
I. Observe THE NAME OF JEHOVAH here given as the ground of invitation to our trust. “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength,” or “the Rock of Ages.” The expression that is here employed, the singular reduplication of the name, which only occurs in one other place in Scripture, is no doubt intended to emphasise the idea that underlies the name. We find here the same singular appellation which occurs in one of the Psalms, where we read of God as “riding in the Heavens by His name Jah.” So here the name appears as “Jah, Jehovah”--the former name being, as I suppose, the abbreviated form of the latter, and the purpose of employing both being to call attention emphatically to the name and what it means. What does it mean It speaks--
(1) Of unchangeableness.
(2) Of a sure asylum and safe dwelling place and inexpugnable fortress into which we may all retreat. “His place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks,” and high above all possibility of escalade and safe from all fear of assault or of change they may dwell who dwell in the secret place of the Most High.
(3) And besides the thought of a safe asylum is the other thought of a rock for a foundation; who builds on it builds secure.
II. THE TRUST which corresponds to, and lays hold of the Rock. “Trust ye in the Lord forever: for in the Lord Jehovah is the Rock of Ages.” The word which is here rendered “trust” is an extremely graphic and significant one, and teaches us a great deal more of the meaning and essence of the act of faith than many more elaborate treatises would do. It simply means “to depend.” Charles Wesley, in his great hymn, has, with the Christian poet’s unerring instinct, laid his finger on the precise meaning of the word when he says--
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee.
Incongruous as the metaphor hanging on the rock may seem, It conveys to us the true idea of the trust which is peace and life. But did you ever notice that in our use of the word “depend” we have two different expressions, which convey two different though kindred meanings? To be dependent on gives a different shade of signification from to depend on. The former acknowledges inferiority, takes a position of receptivity, and recognises that from another, who is conceived as being above us, there flow down upon us all good things, strengths, and graces that we may require. So, in this hanging upon God, there is the consciousness of utter emptiness in myself and of my need of receiving all that I can have or want from His full hand. But in faith or trust we hang on God in that other sense too. We are not only consciously dependent upon Him, as conscious of our emptiness and of His fulness, but we depend upon Him, as being calmly and completely certain of Him and of His being and doing all that we need. In other words, trust is reliance. Dependence and reliance are both metaphors. Both picture resting one’s whole weight on some person or thing beyond one’s self, but dependence pictures the weight as hanging from and upheld by a fixed point above, and reliance pictures it as reposing on and upheld by a fixed point beneath; and each sets forth in graphic fashion the act of the soul which Old and New Testament alike regard as the condition of vital union with God. That trust is reasonable. People pit faith against reason, as if the two things were antagonists. Faith is the outcome of reason. The only difference between it and reason, in the narrow sense of the word, is that faith has got longer sight than reason, and can see into what is dark to it. There is nothing so reasonable as to trust utterly in Him whose name is Jehovah, and in whom is the Rock of Ages.
III. THE PERPETUITY OF THE CONFIDENCE which corresponds with the eternity of the Rock. “Trust ye in the Lord forever.” It is a commandment and a promise. An unchanging God ought to secure an unchanging trust. “Forever!” Amid all the fluctuations of our minds and dispositions, there ought to be this one steadfast attitude of our spirits kept up continuously through a whole life. “Forever!” Whatever may happen in the way of changing conditions and altered circumstances, for the same unchanging purpose brings all changes. The same diurnal motion brings day and night. The same annual revolution brings summer and winter. It is the same unchanging purpose of the steadfast God that creates the wintry darkness through which the orb of our lives has to pass, and the long summer hours of sunshine. But my text, like an God’s commandments, carries a promise hidden in its bosom. All that build on the Rock of Ages build imperishable homes, which last as long as the Rock on which they are founded. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Strong by trusting the strong
Readers of Darwin will recall the description he gives of a marine plant which rises from a depth of one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet, and floats on the surface of the water in the midst of the great breakers of the Western Ocean. The stem of this plant is less than an inch through; yet it grows and thrives and holds its own against the fierce smitings and pressures of breakers which no masses of rock, however hard, could long withstand. What is the secret of this marvellous resistance and endurance? How can this little, slender plant face the fury of the elements so successfully, and, in spite of storms and tempests, keep its hold, and perpetuate itself from century to century? It reaches down into the still depths, where it fixes its grasp, after the fashion of the instinct that has been put into it, to the naked rocks; and no commotion of the upper waters can shake it loose. (Weekly Pulpit.)
Yea, in the way of Thy Judgments, O Lord, have we waited for Thee
God’s people waiting for Him in the way of His judgments
THE WORDS CONTAIN A SOLEMN PROTESTATION--a protestation, on the part of these faithful people of the Lord, to Himself, in reference to His “judgments.” “Yea,” say they, “Verily Thou, O Divine Searcher of hearts, knowest that we lie not, when we declare that in the way of Thy judgments we have waited for Thee.” What a happy state of mind and heart is this! There may be a multiplication of observances, lastings, solemn assemblies, where, on the part of multitudes, there is nothing but form.
II. THESE GODLY JEWS SPEAK TO THE LORD OF HIS “JUDGMENTS.” If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without. Thy knowledge and permission, how much more is Thy agency to be traced in those mighty desolations that have moved the earth, and come down with such appalling fury on the land of Thine own people!
III. THESE GODLY PEOPLE, IN THEIR SINNING AND CHASTENED LAND, SPEAK TO GOD OF “THE WAY” OF HIS JUDGMENTS. We read of Jehovah’s
“way” in a gracious sense--His way of mercy to lost sinners--the wondrous and glorious path along which He has passed, and is still passing, in saving sinners of our fallen race through the atonement of His own beloved incarnate Son (Psalms 67:1-2). Blessed, most blessed, are they who are Divinely taught this “way” of the Lord! A far other “way” of Judah’s God is that to which her mourning children refer in the verse before us. It is His judicial way--the wrathful way in which He is provoked to “come out of His place,” and move towards highly favoured but deeply sinning and guilty lands.
IV. Let us contemplate and imitate the exercise of this “small remnant” of the fearers of the Lord in the land of Judah. THEY WAITED FOR HIM IN THE WAY OF HIS JUDGMENTS. What are the elements which should enter into the exercise to which we are this day called?
1. Solemn recognition of God.
2. Solemn adoration of this high and holy Lord God.
3. Justification of God.
4. Humiliation of soul before God.
5. Pouring out the heart in earnest supplication before the Lord. (W. Mackray, M. A.)
The right improvement of public or private calamities
I. IN EVERY AFFLICTIVE DISPENSATION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE IT BECOMES US TO RECOGNISE THE HAND OF THE LORD. They are “Thy” judgments. In doing this we imitate the example of the wise and good in every age.
II. EVERY CALAMITY, WHETHER PRIVATE OR PUBLIC, SHOULD BE CONSIDERED AS A MANIFESTATION OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE AGAINST SIN. They are Thy “judgments.”
III. IN EVERY CALAMITY THE MIND OF THE BELIEVER SHOULD BE DIRECTED TO GOD. “The desire of our soul is to Thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee.”
1. This part of the passage expresses the most anxious solicitude that the Divine glory might be promoted by all the dispensations of His providence towards the children of men.
2. This part of our text seems to intimate also to whom the afflicted believer should apply for support. “The desire of our soul is to Thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee.”
3. This part of our text exhibits the believer finding a source of encouragement under present trouble, or in the anticipation of future difficulties, in a reference to his former experience of the power, the faithfulness and grace of his covenant God. “The desire of our soul is to the remembrance of Thee.”
IV. IN CIRCUMSTANCES OF AFFLICTION, WHETHER PRIVATE OR PUBLIC, IT IS THE DUTY AND PRIVILEGE OF THE BELIEVER TO BE FOUND WAITING UPON GOD. “In the way of Thy judgments have we waited for Thee, O God.” The verb “to wait,” as used in the text, denotes desire, expectation, patience, and perseverance. Learn--
1. That it is an evil thing and bitter to sin against God.
2. The infinite value of that system, which opens the way for the sinful creature to return to God, with the certain hope of being pardoned, adopted, and eternally blessed.
3. Let the sinner he exhorted to seek that Divine blessing which turns the curse into a blessing.
4. Let the believer labour to live in the exercise of the high and glorious privilege--waiting on God. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Christians, and their communion with God
(with Isaiah 26:9):--
I. THERE IS, IN THE PEOPLE OF GOD, A PRINCIPLE OF COMMUNION WITH GOD.
1. This is where their spiritual life begins.
2. This is where the life of the real Christian grows.
3. It becomes to the believer the tenor of his life to please God.
4. This principle of communion with God becomes the very flower of our lives.
5. This is the hunger and thirst of the Christian.
6. This proves that there has been a Divine renewal wrought in us.
7. This proves your sonship.
8. This proves your holiness, too, in a measure, for like will to like.
9. This proves your heavenliness, too, for that same desire which draws you to God is drawing you to Heaven.
II. THIS PRINCIPLE DISPLAYS ITSELF AND WORKS IN VARIOUS WAYS. “Yea, in the way of Thy judgments,” etc. We are longing for God, and it is dark and cloudy. What shall we do then?
1. Why, wait for Him. Sometimes, the way of God’s judgments may mean the appointed way, the regular way. Whenever thou hast a great trouble, expect a great mercy.
2. This communion leads to desiring. The desire of our soul, etc.
3. Your desire is to remember the Lord. “And to the remembrance of Thee.” I wish that I had a memory that was so narrow that it could only hold the things of God.
4. This principle of communion shows itself in a personal yearning. The eighth verse is in the plural, the ninth in the singular.
5. This principle of communion takes one other form, that of personal seeking. “Yea, with my spirit within me,” etc.
III. THE LORD TAKES PLEASURE IN THIS COMMUNION WITH HIS PEOPLE (Isaiah 26:20). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The desire of our soul is to Thy name
The desire of the renewed soul
What is personal religion, and what is personal evidence of it? One single word, in my text is a key to all--“desire.” The sum and substance of a believer’s longings towards God is to know more of God, to enjoy more of God, to live more upon the fulness of the Son of God, and to become abstracted from all but God Himself. A sound creed is contained in these three things: I am a guilty wretch, deserving hell; Jesus is everything I want, for time and for eternity; I am His, and He is mine. Now, keeping this in view, let us descant upon--
I. THE OBJECT OF THE REGENERATED SOUL’S DESIRE. Look at this as it relates to the Holy Three in One. The soul may be longing for another sight of his Bible. But why? Because he longs to meet with God there. He may be longing to hear another Gospel sermon. Why? Because it sets forth the perfections of the God he loves, and therefore he expects to meet Him there. He may be longing for another ordinance day. Why? Because Jesus is often made known to him in “breaking of bread.” And so whatever means and ordinances are used, whatever externals are laid before the child of God and employed by him, it is not these that will satisfy him. It is God in them. I pass on to show--
II. WHAT WEANING WORK IS ESSENTIAL TO THIS. Until there is a great deal of weaning in the Christian’s experience there will not be a very great deal of spirituality.
III. THE NEGOTIATIONS THAT ARISE OUT OF THIS. If the earnest desire of my soul is after the enjoyment of God, I cannot grow careless about using means (J. Irons.)
With my soul have I desired Thee in the night
The religious craving and seeking of the soul at night
There is no work so momentous, me influential, as the work of the soul in the sleepless hours of night.
Busy in calling up departed friends and interchanging thoughts again, busy in recalling the past and foreboding the future, busy in reflections concerning itself and its God. In these words we have--
I. The soul’s religious LONGING in the night. The soul has many instinctive cravings, cravings for knowledge, for beauty, for order, for society.; but its deepest hunger is for God. “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” For what in God does it hunger?
1. For the assurance of His love. We are so formed that we crave the possession of the object of our love. Were all the works of God ours, we should be hungry without Him. He who gives His strongest love to us gives Himself.
2. For revelations of His mind. It yearns for ideas from the great Fountain of intelligence and love.
II. The soul’s religious SEARCHING in the night. “With my spirit within me will I seek Thee early.” The soul seeking for God implies--
1. A consciousness that it has not got Him. All have God’s works everywhere, God’s influence everywhere, God’s presence everywhere; but only a few have Himself, the assurance of His love. Hence the searching.
2. A belief that He may be obtained. We may all have God as our portion by seeking Him in Christ. Men hunger for some things they can never get--wealth, power, social influence, the distinctions of genius, etc. But allwho hunger for God obtain Him. Conclusion--God is the great want of the soul. Without Him what are we? Planets detached from the sun, wandering stars for whom are reserved blackness and anarchy. “Whom have I in Heaven but Thee?” etc. (Homilist.)
Death and judgment
The judgments recorded in the Old Testament by the special inspiration of God, showing them to be, as common centres, retribution on the sons of men, are intended to lead us to the belief in that final judgment after death of which we read in the New Testament. These early judgments of nations and states were the shadows, “the going before,” of that awful time when all mankind shall appear to receive the sentence with its eternal consequences for good or evil. Now, here we see the power of religion in sustaining the soul of man under the awfulness of Divine retribution and the expectations of God’s anger on the sons of the world; we see the expression, by those who have passed through such time, set before us as indications of the mind we are to cherish and the hopes we may entertain in view of that final judgment, and it shows the power of religious faith to maintain the soul in peace against the two greatest fears which darken the soul of man.
1. The fear of death. How nature shrinks from what teems to be an annihilation of this life!
2. Yet there is a greater fear than this--the thought of meeting God in the solitary going forth into what seems the dark night. It was not always so with man’s soul He did not fear God in his original creation. But as soon as sin was committed observe the change; he shrank from the thought and the presence--from the approaching sound of the Divine appearance. That was the effect of one sin, and since that sin has spread through the whole of nature and has caused sinfulness to taint the whole being of men. Men shrink from their follow creatures when they are better than themselves. Those children who have committed faults shrink from their parents’ eyes, however fond they may be of them. Men shrink from themselves when conscious of their own sin, and often it leads them to commit self-murder. Now, religious faith raises a man above these two dark fears haunting the soul, produces peace, and kindles brightest hopes. (T. T. Carter, M. A.)
The desire of the soul in spiritual darkness
Night appears to be a time peculiarly favourable to devotion. Its solemn stillness helps to free the mind from that perpetual din which the cares of the world will bring around it; and the stars looking own from Heaven upon us shine as if they would attract us up to God. I shall not speak of night natural at all, although there may be a great deal of room for poetic thought and expression.
I. I shall speak to CONFIRMED CHRISTIANS; and I shall bring one or two remarks to bear upon their case, if they are in darkness
1. The Christian man has not always a bright, shining sun; he has seasons of darkness and night. It is a great truth, that the true religion of the living God is calculated to give a man happiness below as well as bliss above. But, notwithstanding, experience tells us that if the course of the just be “as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day,” yet sometimes that light is eclipsed.
(1) Sometimes it is night over the whole Church at once. Of course each Christian participates in it.
(2) At other times this darkness over the soul of the Christian rises from temporal distresses.
(3) “But oh!” says another, “you have not described my night. I have not much amiss in business; and I would not care if I had--but I have a night in my spirit.” “Oh,” says one, “I have not a single evidence of my Christianity now. I was a child of God, I know; but something tells me that I am none of His now.”
2. A Christian man’s religion will keep its colour in the night. “With my soul have I desired Thee in the night.” What a mighty deal of silver slipper religion we have in this world. Men will follow Christ when everyone cries “Hosanna!” But they will not go with Him in the night. There is many a Christian whose piety did not burn much when he was in prosperity, but it will be known in adversity.
3. All that the Christian wants in the night is his God. “With desire have I desired Thee in the night.” By day there are many things that a Christian will desire besides his Lord; but in the night he wants nothing but his God.
4. There are times when all the saint can are is to desire. We have a vast number of evidences of piety: some are practical, some experimental, some doctrinal; and the more evidences a man has of his piety the better. We like a number of signatures, to make a deed more valid, if possible. We like to invest property in a great number of trustees, in order that it may be all the safer; and so we love to have many evidences. But there are seasons when a Christian cannot get any. He can scarcely get one witness to come and attest his godliness. But there is one witness that very seldom is gagged, and that is, “I have desired Thee--I have desired Thee in the night.”
II. Speak to NEWLY AWAKENED SOULS.
1. The first question they would ask is this--How am I to know that my desires are proofs of a work of grace in my soul?
(1) You may tell whether your desires are of God by their constancy.
(2) By their efficacy. If your desires lead you into real “works meet for repentance,” then they come from God.
(3) By their urgency.
2. But you say, “If I have desired God, why have not I obtained my desire before now?”
(1) You have hardly a right to ask the question; for God has a right to grant your petition or not as He pleases. But since thine anxiety has dictated the question, let my anxiety attempt to answer it.
(2) Perhaps God has not granted thy desire because He wishes thine own profit thereby. He designs to show thee more of the desperate wickedness of thine heart, that in future thou mayest fear to trust it; He wants thee to see more of the blackness of darkness under the horrible pit of sin, that like a burnt child thou mayest shun the fire forever. He lets thee go down into the dungeon, that thou mayest prize liberty the better when it comes. And He is keeping thee waiting, moreover, that thy longings may be quickened.
(3) Besides, God keeps thee waiting, perhaps, in order that He may display the riches of His grace more fully to thee at the last. I believe that some of us who were kept by God a long while before we found Him, loved Him better perhaps than we should have cone if we had received Him directly; and we can preach better to others, we can speak more of His loving kindness and tender mere
(4) One thought more. Perhaps it has come already. I fancy some of you think you will have a kind of electric shock--that a sort of galvanism, or something or other, will pass through you, such as you never had before. Do not be expecting any miracles now. If you will not think you are pardoned till you get a vision you will have to wait many a year.
3. But there is one more serious inquiry: and it is, Will God grant my desire at last? Yes, poor soul, verily He will. It is quite impossible that you should have desired God and should be lost. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
With my spirit within me will I seek Thee early
Seeking God early
1. Early, in the morning of life, which is the most proper season for this employment, your faculties being then most active and vigorous.
2. Early, in preference to all other objects which solicit your attention, seeking first, and above all things, the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
3. Early, in every day of life, after you are refreshed with rest; before you engage in company, in business, or amusement; determined, with the man according to God’s own heart, that your voice the Lord shall hear in the morning. (R. Macculloch.)
When Thy Judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness
The judgments of God
I. THE AUTHOR OF THOSE JUDGMENTS WITH WHICH WE ARE VISITED; THE ENDS FOR WHICH THEY ARE SENT; AND THEIR FITNESS TO INSTRUCT US IN RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. Judgments come from God. Judgments that would crush us when proceeding from any other source, can be borne when viewed as coming from the hand of God.
2. But why does God visit us with judgments? Not that He delights in the miseries of His creatures. “He afflicteth not willingly, nor grieveth the children of men.” He would rather “draw them by the cords of love”; and “by His goodness lead them to repentance.”
3. A few plain considerations are sufficient to show that the judgments of God have a natural tendency to awaken men from their security and to teach them righteousness. Man is a depraved and corrupted creature. The very multitude of Divine favours hides the hand which confers them, and makes us forget our Benefactor; intoxicated and blinded by enjoyment, in the bosom of peace and abundance, piety languishes, our passions are inflamed, and we cease to “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” In this situation, what does the mercy, the compassion of our Father, require from Him? To visit us with His judgments. Then we see the impotence of the idols which have seduced us; conscience wakes from its lethargy, and retraces to us in accents awfully impressive all our wanderings from God and righteousness.
(1) The judgments of God deeply affect us and lead us to repentance, because they are rarer than mercies.
(2) The judgments of God address powerfully that passion which has most influence on the greater part of mankind--the passion of fear.
(3) These judgments of God lead to righteousness because they teach in that most compendious and efficacious mode, by example. On beholding them we feel that the threatenings of God are not a mere dead letter, which need fill us with no dismay.
(4) Judgments lead to righteousness because they present God in such a character that even the most stout-hearted sinners tremble to oppose Him. When He comes to plead with them, clothed with grace and compassion, they may abuse these attributes to their destruction; but to sport with Him when “He maketh His way in the whirlwind and the storm”; when He comes armed with the thunders of omnipotence, and dressed in the robes of vengeance, requires a depravity worse than diabolical; since, on such occasions, even “devils tremble.” But although judgments have thus a natural tendency to lead men to God, although they have often in an eminent degree taught righteousness, yet have they invariably this effect? Alas, no! there are some who can resist judgment as well as mercies.
II. INQUIRE WHY THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD DO NOT ALWAYS HAVE THIS HAPPY EFFECT, which they are designed and calculated to produce. Judgments are frequently rendered useless because of our insensibility. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
The judgments of God
I. THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD ARE DESIGNED BY HIM, AND IN THEIR OWN NATURE DO TEND TO TEACH THE INHABITANTS OF THE WORLD TRUE REPENTANCE AND RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. They are apt to work on our minds a stronger conviction of the providence of God.
2. They most powerfully awaken in us the thoughts of the great day of judgment.
II. INQUIRE WHETHER THEY DO ALWAYS PRODUCE THIS EFFECT. And here experience acquaints us that there is something in the corruption and acquired wickedness of some men’s hearts that baffles this as well as other methods of God’s dealing with them; they are so far from repenting and learning righteousness by the corrections of God that they many times add impiety to their immoralities, and deny that He concerns Himself in the government of the world.
III. EXHORT YOU TO LEARN RIGHTEOUSNESS FROM THE PRESENT JUDGMENTS OF GOD. (T. Manningham, D. D.)
The judgments of God
By the term, “judgments of God,” the Scriptures sometimes denote the decisions, whether favourable or adverse, which God passes upon the conduct of men. But more frequently this phrase is employed to denote the effect of such decisions when they are unfavourable--to denote those remarkable punishments by which the Almighty chastises the wickedness of guilty individuals and the crimes of guilty nations. In the course of God’s providential procedure, we often see His judgments; we see misfortune and distress following so closely and visibly the conduct of men, that we can have no doubt whatever concerning the connection that, by His appointment, subsists between them. But there are many eases where the precise object of the Divine visitation is unknown. In such eases it would therefore be rash and uncharitable to interpret particularly, and with reference to individuals, the views of Divine judgment when affecting a multitude. It is enough for us to know that these judgments, whatever be their kind, their nature, or their degree, are instruments of God’s government of His moral and rational offspring, and that the inhabitants of the earth may learn from them lessons of righteousness.
I. The judgments of God, whatever their form and degree, are found powerfully to excite SENTIMENTS OF WARM PIETY AND DEEP DEVOTION toward that God from whom these judgments proceed. There are various principles of our constitution, by which the judgments of Heaven contribute to a salutary effect upon the minds of a thoughtless world. Unexpected revolutions, either in the natural or moral world, naturally arrest our attention. They demonstrate, in the most sensible manner, to our consciences, our own weakness, and the incompetency of our powers, either to produce or control the changing events around us; and to every mind that is not totally enfeebled and darkened, through corruption, such revolutions suggest with irresistible force the notion of a powerful Supreme Ruler; they alarm our fears at His displays, and awaken all those sentiments (this is at least their natural tendency, or ought to be their constant effect) of humility and penitence, which form the beginning of a pious and devout temper. And we learn from Scripture that this is not only the tendency of the Divine judgments when rightly improved, but often the very purpose for which they were sent by the providence of God.
II. If, then, the judgments of God be both fitted and designed to awaken us to the ways of His providence, HOW SHOULD WE LABOUR TO REGARD AND IMPROVE THEM! (G. H. Baird, D. D.)
I. THAT THIS COUNTRY HAS BEEN VISITED BY THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD.
1. Our nation has, indeed, been a scene of many and extraordinary mercies. The rise and establishment of free institutions, and that wonderful balance of constitution which has prevented both the extremes of government,--royal despotism on the one hand, and popular anarchy on the other,--deserve our grateful recognition. Our own soil has long been e, stranger to the desolating ravages of war, and the shouts and confused noise of battle have been heard only at a distance. The discoveries of science and the attainments of art have been unparalleled; and useful knowledge has been diffused to an unexampled extent over the various classes of society. We have had the benefits of a Divine religion, reformed from the corruptions which had accumulated with the course of ages; we have had an almost universal diffusion of the pure Word of God, the inspired oracles of truth. “The lines are fallen to us in pleasant places; yea, we have a goodly heritage!”
2. Yet it is also true that the judgments of God have been abroad in the land. That mighty hand is the hand of God; that mysterious and invisible power is the power of God. There is indeed a sinful and fatal disposition abroad, to account for things only by speaking of fortune and chance, or by referring, at most, to the passions and principles of those human agents by whom the management of national interests is conducted. This forgetfulness of the Most High, amounting to a practical atheism, and spread widely over the habits of men, is one of the worst signs of the times in which we live.
II. WHETHER, BY THE INHABITANTS OF THIS COUNTRY, A RIGHT IMPROVEMENT OF ITS VISITATIONS HAS BEEN MADE. “When Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” We do not imagine this to be a positive assertion, that the learning of righteousness is the invariable consequence of the Divine judgments, but a statement that such ought to be their result. If it be true that the Divine judgments are poured forth in consequence of transgression, it must be clear that the right conduct to be pursued by those who feel them is to repent and to reform.
III. THE REFLECTIONS BY WHICH AN IMMEDIATE IMPROVEMENT OF PAST VISITATIONS IS FORCIBLY URGED.
1. Consider what must be expected as the public consequences of continued impenitence and transgression.
(1) The removal of religious privileges is an event scarcely to be doubted; and it seems but just and right that when the means of spiritual guidance and blessing have been for a protracted period undervalued and abused, they should be withdrawn (Revelation 2:5).
(2) The removal of religious privileges will be the harbinger of national desolation.
2. Consider what will doubtless be the results of the desired amendment and repentance. “Iniquity shall not be our ruin.” New glories will then arise upon our land. (James Parsons.)
Instruction from the judgment of God
It is an act of righteousness to give everyone their own; to God, the things that are God’s; to do right to all men, and a man’s self also.
I. PIETY TOWARDS GOD consists in these six particulars--
1. Reverence and awful regard of the Divine majesty.
2. The admiring and adoring Him, in His height, excellency, and perfection.
3. Love and delight in Him, because of His grace and goodness and free communication; with thankfulness for His benefits.
4. Trust in God, because of His faithfulness and to give Him credit, because of His approved truth and goodness.
5. Submission to Him, because of His superiority and sovereignty.
6. Duty and service, because of His dominion and property.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS TOWARDS MEN. That doth comprehend in it good behaviour and equal dealings.
1. In general, it doth take in the obedience and subjection that all inferiors owe to their superiors and governors.
2. That fairness and complacency which ought to be between all those that converse upon terms of equality.
3. That tenderness that ought to be used towards inferiors, or in a worse condition than ourselves.
4. Thank, fulness, where we are beholden.
5. Uprightness with all with whom we have to do.
(1) In our speeches, truth and honesty.
(2) Fidelity, where we are credited and trusted.
(3) Performance of our engagements and undertakings.
(4) Candour in all our judgments and censures.
(5) Fair and benign representations of men, and handsome constructions and interpretations: always being ready to take things in the best sense; and to interpret other men’s words, as we would they should interpret ours.
(6) Lowliness and courtesy in our transactions with others.
(7) Clearness and integrity in all our converse.
(8) Moderation in our demand of reparation, in case of wrong received.
(9) Gentleness and calmness, in case of provocation.
(10) Clemency and compassion towards those that have done us evil.
(11) Bounty and charity towards those that are in necessity.
(12) Love and goodwill towards all men.
III. RIGHTEOUSNESS TO OURSELVES.
1. It doth comprehend in it modesty and humility: that is the soul’s temper.
2. Sobriety: that is the mind’s balance.
3. Temperance and chastity: that is the body’s security. More particularly--
(1) The mind equally poised, free from vanity, conceit, intoxication; and the body ordered according to the rules of reason and virtue.
(2) The soul discharged of corroding envy and biting malice; and the body gently used. For as we should not live to feed the beast, which is done by epicurism, and giving way to sensual pleasure: so are we to be merciful to our bodies.
4. The whole man at heart’s ease, through Christian courage and resolution; reposing in God’s protection and providence; charging ourselves only with the use of lawful means; and when we have done our-duty, leaving the success to God, acknowledging our dependence upon Him, and the need of His blessing. These are instances of righteousness, wherein the inhabitants of the world are to be instructed, when God’s judgments are upon the earth. (B. Whichcote, D. D.)
The judgments of God
1. The judgments of God ought to drive the open transgressor of God’s law from his sins and criminal indulgences.
2. The judgments of God ought to stimulate every individual, who is destitute of personal religion, to attend to his spiritual interests without a moment’s delay. Religion is a personal concern, and essential to extensive usefulness and real happiness.
3. The judgments of God ought to excite in every Christian more of the spirit and exercise of prayer both for himself and others. (Alex. Harvey.)
The faculties of man are too limited to comprehend the nature of the Divine judgments. The direction of events in the moral government of the world baffles his investigation. With respect to individuals, those afflictions are improperly called “judgments” which may be merely instances of trial or discipline, or even of highly beneficial example. Yet we can seldom err in calling those evils which visit a nation by the name of “judgments.” We may justly consider them as the penalty and correctives of a people’s sin. For, as such collective bodies may have national iniquities of a flagrant kind, and as they can exist in that collective capacity of sinning as nations only in this world, we may conclude that such wide visitations of evil are nothing less than national chastisements, or a general penal discipline of the people so afflicted: Still their object is always some ultimate good.
1. The perversion of great wealth in a life of dissipation and voluptuousness, idleness and uselessness, as it is a spectacle by no means uncommon, so is it a most offensive and insulting sight in the eyes of Him “who maketh poor and who maketh rich.”
2. This leads me to another crying sin, that seems to pervade all the ranks of modern society--“the love of money”: that which the apostle calls “the root of all evil,” and, by another name, the most offensive to a jealous God, who claims for Himself and His service the powers of the mind, the strength of the body, and the yearnings of the heart, namely, “idolatry.” It is habitual covetousness, which early blights and mildews the tender shoots of religion in the breast, hardens every finer feeling, and concentrates every thought and care and wish upon self.
3. Another alarming sin of our country is pride.
4. This leads me next to our ingratitude.
5. The virtual unbelief, the practical infidelity of the present day. National sins are, after all, the collective vices of individuals; and every man has his own peculiar sins, which must weigh also upon his country’s welfare. For the removal, therefore, of present, and the prevention of future judgments, we must look to the correction of individual character. (A. B.Evans, D. D.)
Affliction a school of instruction
I. Let us consider WHAT THAT IS WHICH MUST INSTRUCT US. Our sufferings and afflictions. And they are here described in a threefold notion.
1. In their nature and propriety; what, and whose they are. They are no other than God’s “judgments.”
2. By their time and season; that is implied in this particle of time, “when.”
3. By the circumstance of place, where they are inflicted. That which God makes the school of correction; “the earth.” Are our afflictions God’s “judgments”?
1. They are deserved by us; God doth justly inflict them upon us.
2. They are wisely ordained.
3. They are proportioned in a just and holy manner, with a due measure and moderation.
II. THE LESSON WE MUST LEARN BY THEM. “Righteousness.”
1. Who are the scholars? They are the inhabitants of the world.
2. What is their duty? They must be learners.
3. What is their lesson? They must learn righteousness. (Bishop Brownrig.)
The teaching of ordinary life
Persons are apt too much to separate spirituality of mind from the teaching of ordinary life, and the lessons which the facts of this world convey. Undoubtedly the mind may be spiritualised without this teaching, and even before it can be had; at the same time, in the case of the great majority of men, the spiritual temper is not attained without this teaching. (J. B. Mozley, D. D.)
The world a great monitor
The world is the great tempter, but at the same time it is the great monitor. It is the great saddener, the great warner, the great prophet. (J. B. Mozley, D. D.)
God’s judgments best awaken sinners
I. I shall endeavour to confirm the truth of THE GENERAL OBSERVATION IN THE TEXT, of the good effects of God’s judgments upon mankind.
1. The end and design of God, in His judgments, is to do good to men; to make the bad good, and the good better. God has told us, in His Holy Word, that He is love, and that fury is not in Him. Now, it is demonstration that from love nothing but love can flow.
2. The judgments of God have a natural tendency and efficacy to convert and reform sinners, and to perfect the righteous. The two predominant and ruling passions in human nature are the fear of evil and the desire of happiness; and nothing is more proper to work upon these, and direct them to and fix them upon their right object, than the judgments of God.
3. And that thus it has been in fact I come now to prove by examples. The Ninevites were so terrified with the threatening of the prophet Jonah that they repented, and escaped the judgment. The same did Ahab upon the threatening of Elijah, and had the same success, etc.
II. THE PARTICULAR EXAMPLE of the good effect the judgments of God had upon those whom the prophet personates, and in whose name he speaks in the text. In which expressions we have the description and characters of the most sincere, excellent, and acceptable conversion of the soul to God which are--
1. To turn the whole bent and force of our desire wholly to God alone.
2. To turn the attention and application of our soul inward, to God dwelling within us, by endeavouring to live in a constant sense of His presence, and in a continual seeking Him and lifting up our hearts to Him in prayer. (Val. Nalson.)
God’s relation to evil
There is a very dark side to human history: calamity, disappointment, disease, death are facts and factors in human history that no one of us can deny. And the minds of men have always been attempting a solution of this dark aspect of human experience. There have been three solutions which have been suggested:
(1) We have been told that this is the work of chance, that man is forced up and down on the capricious waves of fate.
(2) A second attempt at solution has been made by those who tell us that there are two powers in the universe, one good and one evil: that to the good power all benevolent developments of human history are to be traced; that to the evil power all male relent activities are to be traced, and that there is no telling which is the stronger, the benevolent or the malignant--that now it seems as though the good triumphed, and now it seems as though the evil triumphed; and so the old Persians embraced what has been called the dual theory, Ormuzd and Ahriman, the good and the evil.
(3) The Holy Scriptures teach us quite another solution, and it is the only one that brings comfort to a human soul. That solution is, that human history is the unfolding of the plan of God; that in the darker and in the brighter aspects of human experience God is still ruling; that He governs absolutely; that there is a moral purpose in things evil: that success comes out of failure, and prosperity out of adversity, and that therefore we are to rejoice evermore, because He occupies the throne; and when clouds and darkness are round about Him, be assured that, within the clouds and behind the darkness, righteousness and judgment inhabit that throne. (A. T.Pierson, D. D.)
The Divine sovereignty
If you take the Bible, and study this subject from Genesis to Revelation, it will grow upon you how magnificently awful is this sovereignty of God. Take the ten plagues of Egypt; they were an early lesson in human history about this sovereignty of God, that reaches through all things as well as to all creatures. In these ten plagues, for instance, we have examples of God’s control over the forces of nature. In those same plagues we have illustrations of God’s control over animated nature. And we have illustrated God’s control over those subtle and mysterious influences that we cannot define, and the nature of which we do not understand, but which lie at the bottom of disease--the murrain among cattle, the boils and the blains, the death of the firstborn. Now, if we pass along in this remarkable history we shall next meet, in Exodus 23:1-33, the declaration, “I will send the hornet before you, and drive out the people of the land of Canaan, that ye may take possession.” We go still further, and we read, in the Book of the Psalms, that He “called for the famine”; as though the famine were an obedient servant, summoned to the Master’s presence, to go forth and do the Master’s bidding. In these Psalms we are likewise told that He makes the winds His messengers, and the flames of fire His ministers. In Isaiah 54:1-17 we are told distinctly, “I have created the waster to destroy.” We pass to the Book of Jonah, and Jonah is a revelation of the sovereignty of God in human affairs. For instance, we are told here, in four separate places, how the Lord had “prepared a great fish” to swallow Jonah, and He “spake unto the fish.” “The Lord prepared a gourd,” and made it to come up over Jonah. “The Lord prepared a worm,” that it might smite the gourd. The Lord “prepared a vehement east wind,” that it might smite upon the head of Jonah. Notice the comprehensiveness of these declarations. God controls the wind, which is not an intelligent form of life; God controls the gourd, which belongs to the vegetable kingdom; God controls the worm that is among the insects; God controls the great fish that is among those that swim the waters. Turn now to the Book of Joel 1:4. And what does he say in 2:25? “And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, My great army which I sent among you.” There is no more sublimely awful verse in the whole Old Testament than that--“My great army which I sent among you.” And just think what an army is this going forth in four detachments one after the other! The student of history will observe that about three times in a century there comes among men some form of disease with regard to which science is utterly ignorant and impotent. No one knows how to prevent it, no one knows how to cure the disasters which it engenders. And it is another remarkable fact, that just as soon as science begins to have a limited control over these forms of scourge a new plague develops about which they know nothing; simply shewing that Almighty God has not surrendered the throne of the universe, nor given up His control even over the malignant and destructive forces of nature. If God did not keep the scourges of nature doing their work, the human race would rot in its own iniquity. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
God’s judgments and their lessons
What are we to understand by “judgments of God”? Judgments are the activities of a judge, and a judge is one that scans the conduct of men, and visits it accordingly. We do not say, of course, that every individual instance of suffering from this chastisement is an individual instance of judgment for personal sin. We are bound up in society, and it is impossible that a scourge shall come down upon the human family that does not involve the good as well as the wicked; for we are dependent upon one another, and intimately associated in social life. Why are these judgements of God visited?
1. There is judgment on the sin of dirt, on the sin of physical uncleanness, unwholesome habits, unwholesome diet, clothing, habitation; and for that reason the most of these scourges originate in those districts where humanity is most thickly congregated, and where all sanitary laws are set at defiance.
2. There are God’s judgments on moral iniquity.
3. These scourges are God’s judgments on the sin of greed and selfishness. Think how many forms of social evil there are in the various communities that are upheld by the greed and selfishness of man.
4. There are two sorts of judgments: one the temporal, which is corrective and preventive; the other the eternal, which is punitive and retributive only. It is to the former that the reference is made these judgments that are “in the earth,” not in the next world or in the next life. And these judgments are designed not to be retributive, but to be corrective of iniquity and preventive of further sin. Therefore, just as soon as these judgments come upon the people, they should begin to inquire what laws of God have been violated that ought to be obeyed. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The God of judgment
In the Catskill Mountains, about a quarter of a century ago, an infidel got up on one of those heights, and, in the presence of some atheistic companions, defied the God of heaven to show Himself in battle. He swung his sword to and fro, and challenged the Almighty to meet him in single combat. The Almighty paid no attention to him, of course; but He just commissioned a little gnat, so small that it could scarcely be seen by a microscope, to lodge in his windpipe and choke him to death. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
God’s judgment on American slavery
It reigned in the United States of America for a hundred years. It was defended by almost the entire body of preachers in the southern States--defended and upheld, and its extension vindicated and advocated. And then God brought an awful war of four years’ duration upon the United States, and Mr. Lincoln, that heroic man in the midst of that country, made this significant announcement: “It would not surprise me if, in view of the long-continued oppression of the slave in this country, it should please Almighty God that this war shall not cease until the life of one freeman has been exacted for the life of every slave that has been sacrificed during these hundred years.” And the cost of that American war was 500,000 people killed, 300,000 people maimed, 300,000 women made widows, 700,000 children made orphans, and 3000 millions of dollars, or 600 million sterling expended. God’s judgment on the sin of greed and selfishness! (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
Pestilence and prayer
Minnesota is the centre of the great western granary of the world. There came down upon those splendid fields that extend over thousands of acres, without even the division of a fence, an awful scourge, known as the grasshopper scourge. Nothing could be done by man to remove the scourge. The grasshoppers laid their eggs, and the next year, as soon as the wheat appeared, the destructive insect appeared alongside of it, and the utmost zeal and effort of the farmers failed even to abate this dreadful pestilence. The governor of Minnesota, who was a very high-toned Christian gentleman, called upon the people of the State to observe a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer for the removal of the plague. Secular papers, and especially the infidel papers, scouted the idea of reaching this natural visitation of insects by an appeal to God. They made the thing as ridiculous as they could make it, but still the Christian people assembled in their places of prayer, and many came together on the appointed day. Spring came, the wheat began to appear in the furrow, and the grasshopper appeared alongside of the wheat; and then the secular papers, that had scorned the idea of prayer to Almighty God, said, “Where is the result of your day of prayer, and fasting, and humiliation?” The grasshoppers developed, but at the same time there developed a parasite that attached itself to the grasshopper and accomplished two results. In the first place, it made the grasshopper impotent to harm the wheat; and in the second place--which was more important--it made the grasshopper impotent to reproduce itself. And from that year there has been no scourge of grasshoppers in the State of Minnesota. And so the righteous have seen it and rejoined, and all iniquity has stopped her mouth in the presence of the manifest interposition of God. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness
Insensibility of the wicked
God has written, and spread before mankind, three large books, all of which are legible and intelligible to such as have eyes to see and a disposition of mind to read them with attention.
These are, the books of Nature, of Scripture, and of Providence. None of these books should be despised, overlooked, or neglected. To this last our attention is called by the words of the text.
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN LEARNING RIGHTEOUSNESS. It is true righteousness which is here meant.
1. Not hypocritical righteousness, like that of many of the Pharisees.
2. Not ceremonial righteousness, like that of most of the Jews, who confided in circumcision and other ceremonies of their law.
3. Not partial and inconstant righteousness, such as the tithing of “mint, and anise, and cummin,” and the neglecting of “the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23).
4. Not merely external righteousness, such as that of St. Paul before his illumination, and that of all unawakened sinners.
5. Not our own righteousness (Philippians 3:9); a righteousness proceeding from and terminating in ourselves, performed by the mere strength of nature, and in obedience to an outward law; which implies neither forgiveness of the past, nor renovation for the present, nor holiness for the future, but leaves the soul under guilt, and in its natural state of depravity and weakness.
6. True righteousness is intended: that which was possessed by “righteous Abel” and others. It is that righteousness through which “grace reigns unto eternal life” (Romans 5:21). This righteousness must be learned by experience and practice. We must be heartily convinced of our unrighteousness, humbled on that account, and brought to repentance. We must cordially embrace Christ by faith. Consider the vast importance of learning righteousness in this sense. All other learning, as of sciences, arts, gaining wealth, or power, or honour, is, compared to this, insignificant.
This is the end of all providential dispensations, and especially of God’s judgments in the earth: to teach us righteousness.
II. WHEN IT IS REASONABLE TO EXPECT MANKIND WILL LEARN RIGHTEOUSNESS. “When Thy judgments are in the earth.” The judgments of God in Scripture often mean His ordinances, or His laws (Psalms 119:7; Ezekiel 5:6-8; Ezekiel 5:10). These, if attended to, would teach us righteousness. But, alas! they are neglected or abused. It becomes, therefore, necessary God should give us judgments of another kind, and such as are here chiefly meant, as the sword, the famine, and the pestilence (Ezekiel 7:15; Ezekiel 14:12-21). These visitations cause thoughtfulness. They cause a spirit of prayer for Divine light and grace; the rectifying of our mistaken views of God’s government of the world, and of the nature and obligation of holiness; the acknowledgment of His righteousness in thus correcting us; humiliation and contrition; hatred to sin, the evil of which we are now so severely taught; reformation of life; deadness to the world, the vanity and misery of which we now see and feel. They cause us to seek all our happiness in God, as the only certain source of felicity, and they cause subjection to His will; these judgments naturally tending to subdue us. They actually do produce this effect on the people of God, and on persons disposed to be His people (Isaiah 26:8-9). It is, moreover, highly reasonable they should have this effect. Those thus chastised may hereby see that God governs the world, and that He does not connive at sin, but severely punishes it; and that “it is an evil thing and bitter to forsake the Lord God,” whether as individuals, families, or as a nation. But it may be asked, Will not gentler methods answer the same end? To answer this inquiry brings me to show--
III. IF THEY DO NOT LEARN RIGHTEOUSNESS THEN, THERE IS REASON TO FEAR THEY NEVER WILL (Isaiah 26:10). (J. Benson, D. D.)
Man’s wickedness provokes God’s wrath
I. SINNERS WALK CONTRARY TO GOD, and refuse to comply with the means used for their reformation, and to answer the intentions of them.
1. Favour is showed to them. Yet it is all in vain. They will not learn righteousness; will not be led to repentance by the goodness of God.
2. They live in a “land of uprightness,” where religion is professed and is in reputation, and the Word of God preached, and where they have many good examples set them; yet there they will deal unjustly, and go on frowardly in their evil ways. They that do wickedly deal unjustly both with God and man, and with their own souls. God’s majesty appears in all the dispensations of His providence, but they regard it not, and therefore study not to answer the ends of those dispensations.
3. God lifts up His hand to give them warning, that they may, by repentance and prayer, make their peace with Him; but they take no notice of it, are not aware that God is angry with them, or coming forth against them; “they will not see”--and none so blind as those that will not sea--who ascribe that to chance or common fate which is manifestly a Divine rebuke.
II. GOD WILL AT LENGTH BE TOO HARD FOR THEM. When He judgeth He will overcome. “They will not see, but they shall see.” They will not see the evil of sin, and particularly the sin of hating and persecuting the people of God; but they shall see, by the tokens of God’s displeasure against them for it, and the deliverances in which God will plead His people’s cause, that what is done against them He takes as done against Himself, and will reckon for it accordingly. “They shall see” that they have done God’s people a great deal of wrong, and therefore shall “be ashamed” of their enmity, and envy towards them, and then in usage of such it deserved better treatment. (Matthew Henry.)
Lord, when Thy hand is lifted up they will not see
Man’s blindness to the Divine working
Modern scepticism seeks to undeify the Deity; and yet, feeling that man must have a god of some sort, it deifies nature, and invests matter and the laws of the universe with the attributes of Divinity.
This is no new form of scepticism. The same evil existed among the Jews in the days of Isaiah. To this the prophet emphatically refers in our text. The lifting up of the hand refers to the gracious and loving tokens He had given of Himself; but a wilful blindness hid the Divine glory from the people.
I. MAN’S BLINDNESS TO THE DIVINE WORKING--
1. In the realm of matter. There are men who, while they behold and admire the work, care not to see or own the Worker.
2. In the realm of history. Men who look at events, whether small or great, in the lives of individuals or of nations, and are content to account for them by alluding simply to second causes, without learning to trace the hand of God, are guilty of the sin to which the text refers. National sins bring national judgments. One wicked king is often employed to scourge another, and when the scourger has done his work, then he himself in turn is also scourged. One wicked nation is employed to punish another for its sins, to humble its pride, and to check its guilty ambition.
3. In the realm of spirit. A vile and wicked person enters the sanctuary. His character is notoriously bad. He takes his seat in the pew beside you. During the service, God by His Spirit comes down upon him with mighty power. In answer to his prayer he experiences a renewal of heart. He announces the fact to you. And yet you think little or nothing about it. This does not affect you half as much as if you were told that you had made a hundred pounds by some fortunate speculation. Look at the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane. The ease is unique. Innocence is in agony. A merciful God pours the sorrows of abandonment and death into the soul of our holy Substitute. Yet His friends, His disciples, for whom He suffers, are fast asleep. But the disciples are only types of other men.
II. THE CAUSES OF THIS BLINDNESS.
1. Ignorance. The heathen, having no direct written revelation, are in darkness, and know not the truth. But their blindness to the supernatural can scarcely be pronounced wilful or criminal; it must be regarded as the fruit of ignorance. But as ignorance cannot be pleaded in our case, with our fulness of light, our blindness is wilful.
3. Absorption of thought in other things.
4. Pride of intellect. This reason reveals itself in the undue homage rendered to human reason. “Thus saith the Lord” must give way to “Thus saith human reason.”
5. Pride of heart. It develops itself in an obstinate refusal to submit to the authority of God.
III. THE REMOVAL OF THIS BLINDNESS. “They shall see, and be ashamed,” etc.
1. Sometimes men are brought to see by sad calamities and sore judgments.
2. Men are also brought to see by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
3. Many will see God in the hour of death. At the moment of dissolution, who will venture to say what strange visions of the supernatural will people the whole scene around them? Every object then will seem full of God.
4. In the day of judgment all men shall see. God will vindicate Himself, and overthrow the unbelief of His deniers by a personal revelation of Himself.
5. The result of all this unveiling will be shame and envy.
(1) Whether the discovery of God is made here or hereafter, shame must inevitably be the result. In the one ease it will be the shame of the penitent returning to God, full of conscious guilt; in the other it will be the shame of utter despair. It is to the latter our text refers. It is the shame of those who shall discover that they have wronged God, when there is no possibility of repairing the wrong. When the man discovers in the light of the future how full everything is of God, how God pervades all, he will be covered with shame--shame at his folly in resisting evidences so clear and conclusive; shame for having denied and rejected so reasonable and so elevating a system as Christianity; shame for having espoused so unreasonable and so degrading a theory as infidelity.
(2) Another result will be envy. They shall “be ashamed for their envy at the people.” In the margin it is rendered, “Ashamed of their envy toward Thy people.” It seems a startling truth, that the wicked, at some future period of their history, shall have such an insight into the glorious inheritance of the good as to have a clear conception of what they themselves might have obtained by grace, and of what they have lost by sin. This solemn truth is alluded to several times in the sacred Scriptures. Our Saviour saith, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth when ye shall see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” The rich man saw Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. When the unbelieving shall see the glorious portion of those who have believed, and contrast it with their own degrading wretchedness, they will envy the glorified, and be ashamed of that very envy. (R. Roberts.)
Lord, Thou wilt ordain peace for us
God ordaining peace
The expression seems to allude to the action of a commander-in-chief in the army, who marshals his soldiers according to the plan he had formed, and assigns to each the proper station which he is to occupy in carrying into execution his projected enterprises.
It plainly intimates the lively hope which they felt that the supreme Disposer of all persons and events would be graciously pleased to assign for them both outward and inward tranquillity. (R. Macculloch.)
National peace the gift of God
I. WHAT THERE IS IN THE RESTORATION OF PEACE, GENERALLY CONSIDERED, TO EXCITE OUR GRATITUDE.
1. The first consequence of peace which naturally presents itself to our attention is, that the effusion of human blood is stayed.
2. The injurious effects produced by war upon the human character afford another reason for thanksgiving on the return of peace. It is impossible that a state of warfare should be long continued without greatly deteriorating, in some important respects, both individual and national character. War is unfriendly to humanity. Tender as the heart may naturally be, the frequent recurrence of scenes of suffering tends to harden it. During the state of warfare, too, communities are usually distracted by intestine dissensions; and political strife gives birth to no virtues. Another effect of war is, that, when long-continued, it embitters the animosities of nations, and tends to confirm those national antipathies which, if unchecked by peace, would settle into a confirmed and malignant hatred.
3. A third reason for gratitude with reference to the peace is, that it has been produced by the signal triumph of a righteous cause. Peace is not always a blessing. In some cases it is only a term for the stillness, the quiet of desolation and death. Peace is often the result of the superiority acquired by the aggressor. The cause of right does not always at once prevail.
4. We rejoice in peace as the completion of a course of providential dispensations highly conducive to the instruction of the world.
II. WHAT THERE IS IN THE PARTICULAR CIRCUMSTANCES OF THIS COUNTRY TO WARRANT US IN CONSIDERING THE BLESSING AS OF SPECIAL AND PARTICULAR VALUE.
1. We have preserved our national honour.
2. The peace was seasonable.
3. The peace may be considered indicative of the Divine favour and approbation.
4. We see a particular reason to be thankful for peace, as it will increase our means of promoting the kingdom of Christ in the world, and thus establish our national prosperity by continuing to us the blessing of God.
III. THE REASON OF OUR THANKFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF GOD. He is the giver of the blessing of peace. “Thou hast ordained peace for us.” This is a most important principle; and if our hearts be not firmly grounded in it, our thanksgivings are mockery; for why do we thank Him, if we ascribe the work to second causes? (R. Watson.)
Peace from God
A tourist writes of a spring as sweet as any that ever gushed from sunny hillside, which one day he found by the sea when the tides had ebbed away. Taking his cup he tasted the water and it was sweet. Soon the sea came again and poured its bitter surf over the little spring, hiding it out of sight. When the tide ebbed away again, the tourist stood once more by the spring to see if the brackish waves had left their bitterness in its waters; but they were sweet as ever. This is a picture of the peace in the heart of the Christian when floods of bitter sorrow and trial sweep over his life. From secret wells the sweet waters flow, crystal and fresh as ever. They have their source in the heart of God. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
Other lords beside Thee have had dominion over us
The captivity and the return
About five hundred years before the birth of Christ an event occulted which stands almost alone in the world’s history.
After a long period of exile a whole nation, at least so much of it as was disposed, was freely permitted to return to its own land. The despotic king under whose sceptre they were then living not only issued an edict to that effect, but gave up the sacred vessels of the Holy House which had been brought away as trophies by previous monarchs, empowered the leader of the host to draw on the royal treasury for whatever might be necessary to refurnish the Holy House, and supplied him liberally with money, corn, wine, and oil for the homeward journey. For three days that mighty host of returning exiles rested in their tents on the banks of the Ahava. A solemn and sacred fast succeeded. Then came the marshalling of the enormous caravan. At last, on the dawning of the fifteenth morning from their first setting out, they began in real earnest their homeward march. Four long and wearisome months did that great caravan of exiles creep on towards their beloved land. At the beginning of the fifth month, with their ranks greatly swelled by others who had joined them during their progress, they stood in sight of Jerusalem. The song now broke forth, “We have a strong city: salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks”; to which a chorus of many thousand voices responded, “Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth truth may enter in.” Then followed the declaration of the first voices, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee. Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” So the mighty song of praise rolled on, until, with all voices blending as the voice of many waters, the words were heard, “O Jehovah our God! other lords beside Thee have ruled over us; but henceforth Thee, Thy name only, will we celebrate. They are dead, they shall not live; they are shades, they shall not rise; because Thou hast visited and destroyed them, and hast made all their memory to perish.” In effect these words describe the whole history of that nation in its exile, and its purpose now it had come back to Judah. (J. J. Goadby.)
Bondage and freedom
A nation is, after all, only an aggregate of single units; and that which is thus declared of a whole nation was equally true of each separate man of whom that nation was composed. It is the history and purpose of a single soul.
I. Here is an illustration of THE MANIFOLD BONDAGE OF THE SOUL. The Jews had bowed before many idols. They had served under many kings. Each idol and king had ruled them according to the caprice of the hierophants or viziers. There are also many lords who rule over the souls of men; whose dominion is capricious, despotic, and even destructive.
1. There is worldliness, one of the hardest of tyrants.
2. Closely akin to worldliness is frivolity; the disposition which shows itself in a strong dislike to anything grave in thought, or speech, or life; a vague belief, so far as frivolity can entertain belief, that the chief end in life is to be amused.
3. Others are in the thralls of doubt. One man doubts concerning all goodness whatsoever. He has been bitterly deceived by some unworthy man who had won his confidence, and he refuses to believe now that disinterestedness is possible in any quarter. Another man doubts whether it be possible to discover truth amidst such a wrangle of apparently conflicting opinions, upon it. Perhaps he has allowed his mind to be biassed in one direction, and has never seriously set himself to get free from his bias. Or, he may never have struggled after the truth with any deep and true wrestling of soul. A third has doubts concerning evangelic Christianity. A fourth doubts of the possibility of his own salvation.
4. There are other forms of tyranny over the soul; e.g., the slavery of that which is known to be sin. The particular kind of sin differs with different mere.
5. Does it not become of unspeakable interest to know if deliverance can actually be secured; by whom it is to be effected, and by what means; and what are the signs that freedom has been actually obtained? To all these questions the song of the liberated exiles points to the sufficient answer. “O Jehovah our God! other lords beside Thee have ruled over us,” etc.
II. Jehovah was the Author of the Jews’ liberation: GOD ALONE EFFECTS THE DELIVERANCE OF THE SOUL.
1. He conceived the plan of that redemption, not as a temporary expedient, a Divine after thought, but as an “eternal purpose which He purposed in His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
2. The method of this deliverance is also depicted in the words of the exiles. “Thou hast visited and destroyed them.” “Visited,” that is, searched out with the keenest scrutiny, examined, exposed. How, then, deem God “visit” these tyrants of man’s soul? He reveals their true character to those who are under their dominion. God lays bare the worthlessness and the wickedness of worldliness, frivolity, and sin. Sometimes He does this, by the force of contrast, bringing in close proximity the brightness of an opposite life to the life which w ourselves are living. Sometimes He awakens a seed of Divine truth that has long been buried in our hearts. Sometimes the revelation is made by creating a sense of satiety, or of nausea. Sometimes the change is produced by incidents of God’s good providence. But the one great means which Divine wisdom has set apart for the spiritual liberation of man is--the Gospel of His love.
3. There are, therefore, certain criteria by which men may surely know that they have actually entered this condition of freedom. One is, their relation to the past. The Jews did not forget the hard usage they tad received from those idol priests and capricious tyrants who had “ruled them with a rod of iron.” But the grave closed over their oppressors, one after another. They were extinct tyrants; “shades,” not men; powerless phantoms, fallen to rise no more. They were remembered, but as dead men. Nor can anyone who has obtained spiritual deliverance utterly forget the past. The recollection of what that past was flits across the mind, like a cloud over the face of the sun at noonday. But there is no desire to return to that condition. The past has lost its power of attraction, and has become hateful. The old tyrants are dead; and so long as we keep ourselves in the love of God they shall live no more. There is, further, the soul’s relation to the future. But henceforth Thee, Thy name only, will we celebrate. Whatever allegiance may have been rendered to others in the past, the allegiance is now to be given alone to God. We have also the idea of service. The “celebration” is incomplete without this, the worship a solemn and offensive pretence. But he who worships most sincerely is certain to live most uprightly. He is bound to faithful service by the strongest of all ties--the tie of a grateful love.
4. “But,” says someone, “is not this mere poetic exaggeration? Where are the proofs that this freedom has actually been won?” Where? In every age of the Church’s history, from the day when publicans and sinners crowded about the pathway of the Divine Redeemer, until this hour. The Gospel is not an exhausted force. It is “the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth.” (J. J. Goadby.)
The moral history of the soul
Here we have the soul under the sway--
I. OF MANY DEITIES. “Other lords beside Thee.” The Jews in Babylon had knelt at the shrine of many false deities, and rendered allegiance to a succession of kings. Many “lords” had ruled them. This is true of all souls in an unregenerate state. Who is the real Lord or God of the soul? Unhesitatingly and emphatically, the chief love. Whatever man loves most, is his spiritual monarch, the deity of his life. The chief love of some is money. The chief love of others is pleasure--sensual indulgence. “Their god is their belly.” The chief love of others is power. Ambition is their god.
II. OF ONE GOD. “By Thee only will we make mention of Thy name,” or, as some render it, “Henceforth Thee, Thy name, will we celebrate. They had left heathen altars, and come back to the altar of Jehovah. What a blessed change from many masters to one, and therefore free from spiritual distraction. From worthless masters to the supremely good, and therefore realising all that the soul craves for or requires.
1. The rule of this one God is the rule of right.
2. The rule of peace. From the moral constitution of man no peace of soul can be experienced under the sway of any other. Under no other will the various sympathies flow into one channel, the faculties blend in harmonious action, the heart fix itself in a centre.
3. The rule of growth. Can vegetation grow and flourish under the reign of stars, however numerous or brilliant? No; it must have the empire of the sun. And can the soul advance under the sway of any infinite powers, however illustrious? No; it must have the rule of God, the “Sun of Righteousness.” Here we have the soul--
III. PASSING FROM THE SWAY OF THE MANY TO THE ONE. It is that great moral experience which is represented in the New Testament as a new birth, a resurrection, a conversion, a repentance, etc. (Homilist.)
Confession, resolution, and dependence
I. CONFESSION. “O Lord our God, other lords beside Thee have had dominion over us.” There are two things connected with this confession; one is recollection, and the other adoration.
II. RESOLUTION. “Henceforth we will make mention of Thy name.” God’s name is His character,--what He is in Himself, and what He is to His people. And it is a name not to be ashamed of: it is connected with every thing that is excellent, glorious, and sacred. It is a “name that is above every name.” Not only so, it is a name you need not be afraid of with a slavish fear; but you may well be afraid of it with a holy fear. It is a name that you ought to love with all your hearts!
III. DEPENDENCE. “By Thee only will we make mention of Thy name”; as much as if it was said, We are full of sin, but Thou art full of grace and mercy; we are not worthy to take Thy name upon our lips--to stand before Thee, or to enter into covenant with Thee, but we do it depending upon Thee, and upon Thee alone. (T. Mortimer, B. D.)
Thou hast increased the nation, O Lord
The increase of the true Israel
On the first preaching of the Gospel, the Lord greatly increased the nation of them that are Israelites indeed.
In following ages the Lord still continued to increase them; hence the remarkable words of an ancient apologist for Christianity (Tertullian), who openly told the heathen “that this despised sect had filled their cities and provinces, their councils and camps, the palace and the senate house, and what not,--that such was their multitude that should they have withdrawn themselves into some remote part of the world, the empire would have been depopulated and left in dismal solitude and silence.” (R. Macculloch.)
Lord, in trouble have they visited Thee
God a harbour of refuge
It is a blessed loss that makes us find our God! What we gain is in finitely more than what we have lost.
What a mercy that God is willing to hear us in the time of trouble, that all our putting off and rejection of Him do not make Him put us off! I remember one who wished to hire a conveyance to go to a certain town, and he went to the place where he could hire it, and asked the price; he thought that it was too much, so he went round the town to other people, and found that he could not get it any cheaper; but when he came back to the place visited first, the man said to him, “Oh, no, no! I will not let my horses to you. You have been round to everybody else, and now you come back to me because you cannot get what you want elsewhere; I will have nothing to do with you.” That is man’s way of dealing with his fellow man; but it is not the Lord’s method of dealing with us. When you and I have gone round to everybody else, the Lord still welcomes us when we come back to Him. Yes, just as harbours of refuge are meant for ships in distress that would not have put in there except for the storm and danger, such is the mercy of the Lord God in Jesus Christ. If you are forced to accept it, you are still welcome to it. If you are driven to it by stress of weather, you may come in, for the harbour was made for just such as you are. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thy dead men shall live
The Jewish hope of resurrection
Granted the pardon, the justice, the temple, and the God which the returning exiles now enjoyed, the possession of these only makes more painful the shortness of life itself.
This life is too shallow and too frail a vessel to hold, peace and righteousness and worship and the love of God. St. Paul has said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” What avails it to have been pardoned, to have regained the Holy Land and the face of God, if the dear dead are left behind in graves of exile, and all the living must soon pass into that captivity (Hezekiah’s expression for death, Isaiah 38:12) from which there is no return? It must have been thoughtslike these which led to the expression of one of the most abrupt and powerful of the few hopes of the resurrection which the Old Testament contains. This hope, which lightens Isaiah 25:7-8, bursts through again--without logical connection with the context--in verses 14-19 of chap.
26. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The resurrection of the life to come
I. THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODIES OF BELIEVERS. “Thy dead men shall live,” etc.
II. THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THE RESURRECTION. “Thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.” In Eastern countries the dew is extremely heavy and almost entirely supplies the place of rain. It is frequently referred to in Scripture (Psalms 133:3; Hosea 14:5). The “dew” means the influence of the Holy Spirit, which is the great efficient cause of the raising of the bodies of believers; not the primary cause--that is the atonement made by our Lord Jesus. But the text adds, “The earth shall cast out the dead.” The word “cast out” means to travail. The earth shall put forth them that are now buried. The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together; but when the Spirit shall come forth with His mighty influence, the earth shall be no longer able to retain its dead.
III. THE JOY OF THIS RESURRECTION. Without doubt the joy of departed saints is exceeding great; but the joy will be so much greater at the resurrection that the Church may with propriety sing in concert, “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust.” They will then see the full glory of Christ established; they will see sin and Satan in chains; they will see hell subdued, death quite swallowed up. (R. W. Sibthorp.)
The dust of death
If one has seen a place of graves in the East, he will appreciate the elements of this figure, which takes “dust” for death and “dew” for life. With our damp graveyards mould has become the traditional trappings of death; but where under the hot Eastern sun things do not rot into lower forms of life, but crumble into sapless powder, that will not keep a worm in life, dust is the natural symbol of death. When they die, men go not to feed fat the mould, but “down into the dust”; and there the foot of the living falls silent, and his voice is choked, and the light is thickened and in retreat, as if it were creeping away to die. The only creatures the visitor starts are timid, unclean bats, that flutter and whisper about him like the ghosts of the dead. There are no flowers in an Eastern cemetery; and the withered branches and other ornaments are thickly powdered with the same dust that chokes and silences and darkens all. Hence the Semitic conception of the underworld was dominated by dust. It was not water nor fire nor frost nor altogether darkness which made the infernal prison horrible, but that upon its floors and rafters, hewn from the roots and ribs of the primeval mountains, dust lay deep and choking. Amid all the horrors he imagined for the dead, Dante did not include one more awful than the horror of dust. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Dew for dust
For dust there is dew, and even to graveyards the morning comes that brings dew and light together. As, when the dawn comes, the drooping flowers of yesterday are seen erect and lustrous with the dew, every spike a crown of glory, so also shall be the resurrection of the dead. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust
The Divine call to moral grovellers
This call may he addressed--
I. To the SENSUALIST. All his thoughts and activities are directed to the pampering of his animal appetites and the gratification of his animal lusts. To such the word may be fairly addressed, “Arise from the dust.” Why live in mud, when you ought and might live in “heavenly places”?
II. To the WORLDLING.
By a worldling, I mean a man who gives his heart and energies and time to the accumulation of wealth; a man who had no idea of worth but money; no idea of dignity apart from material parade and possessions; a man whose inspiration in everything is love of gold. Such a man is literally in the dust. He is a grub. Now, to such a man the call come with power: “Arise from the dust; break away from that wretched materialism that imprisons thy spirit.” A man’s life “consisteth not in the abundance of the things of this world.” CONCLUSION. All unregenerate men are in the dust. “He that is born of the flesh, is flesh”--is flesh in experience, in character, known by his compeers only by fleshly or material characteristics. “He that is born of the Spirit, is spirit”--the spirit has been liberated from the bondage of the flesh, called up to his true regal position, and is known hence on, not by material features, but by high mental and moral characteristics. (Homilist.)
Souls sleeping in the dust
There are two senses in which men may be considered dead while yet living inhabitants of the earth.
(1) They may be civilly dead: utterly deprived of all political rights and privileges. To this the prophet refers undoubtedly. Ezekiel in a vision saw them as a “valley of dry bones.” Here is a call for the restoration. “Thy dead men shall live”--live politically, restored to their own country, reinstated in all their rights, placed again amongst the nations of the earth.
(2) Another sense in which men may be considered dead whilst living inhabitants of the earth is spiritually; Observe then--
I. THE SPIRITUAL CONDITION of unregenerated men. They “dwell in the dust.”
1. Scientific materialists are in the dust. All their attention is taken up with material substances, combinations, forces, operations, laws. They have no world outside beyond the tangible and the visible.
2. Mercenary worldlings are in the dust.
3. Voluptuous sensualists are in the dust.
4. Ceremonial religionists are in the dust.
II. THE URGENT CALL MADE on unregenerate men. “Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust.” But why awake?
1. Because the sleep is injurious. Physical sleep is refreshing, but spiritual sleep is pernicious; it enervates the powers; it is a disease that wastes and destroys.
2. Because the sleep is sinful. It is a sin against our constitution, against the ordination of Heaven, against the well being of the universe.
3. Because it is perilous. In their dreams they feel that they are “increasing in goods and have need of nothing, whereas they are poor and wretched, blind and naked.” (Homilist.)
Dwelling in the dust
I. AN INVOCATION OR ADDRESS. “Ye that dwell in dust.” To whom is this designation applicable, and to whom does it in point of fact apply?
1. All men, without exception, may be described as dwelling in dust. They live in houses of clay; their foundation is in the dust; they are crushed before the moth. They are made of the earth, earthy.
2. This address is still more descriptive of mankind, as it refers to their sin and guilt in the sight of God. They are sunk in the depths of abject servitude.
3. But it is not to sinners in their natural state that the words of our text are addressed. God directs them to His chosen people, and says even unto them, “Ye that dwell in dust.” Nor is the expression inappropriate. For humble and lowly is the spiritual estate even of the believer. His home is in Heaven, his treasure is there, his heart is there, his Redeemer is there; and though he wishes to be in thought and feeling continually there, the opposing influences of sin, Satan, the world, and the flesh, retard his efforts, and cloud the sunshine of his joys with ever-recurring darkness. Is it not strange that an heir of immortality, a participant in Christ’s everlasting redemption, a member of the Saviour’s ever-living body, a being who is destined for eternal glory should drink the cup of humiliation and suffering in the dust? There is another sense in which God’s people may be described by this epithet. They dwell in dust, inasmuch as their life in this world is a life of affliction.
4. But, lastly, the address contained in our text refers literally to those who dwell in the dust--who reside in the cold and cheerless tomb.
II. A SUMMONS OR COMMAND. “Awake and ring.” The passage is not addressed to all who dwell in dust, as the context clearly shows, but only to those who are God’s chosen and willing people. There is a night of death that has no morning, but it is yet future, distant, and unseen. All who are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of Man, and shall come forth, they that have done evil as well as they that have done good. But it is only to the righteous that the voice of Omnipotence shall say, Awake and sing! Brightly and beautifully on them will dawn the resurrection morning.
III. THE REASON WHY GOD COMMANDS THEM THAT DWELL IN DUST TO AWAKE AND SING. It is because their dew is as the dew of herbs. Dew in countries such as Judea, where rain seldom falls, is the grand agent that fertilises, fructifies, and waters the earth. They that dwell in dust have their dew. Their dew is the beneficent law of Heaven, which seals them up in the grave, until such time as the fructifying influence of the Spirit shall quicken them into a resurrection life.
IV. THE RESULT OF THE COMMAND, Awake and sing. The earth shall cast out the dead. The subject presents to us--
1. A ground of comfort amidst all the distresses of life.
2. A most powerful motive to holiness and duty. (A. Nisbet.)
Thy dew is as the dew of herbs
I. AGAINST DECOMPOSITION. One of the great difficulties connected with the resurrection is the fact that the bodies of the dead decompose, and that oftentimes some of their parts go to make up the growth of plants and animals. But is not this difficulty removed by the law of the text; the law that governs the reproduction of plants, and which is so forcibly presented by the apostle in his argument to the Corinthians for the resurrection of the dead?
II. AGAINST DEPORTATION. Other dangers threaten the bodies of the dead. Being on the surface of the earth and mingled with its particles, they must necessarily be moved about. The winds may waft them to other regions; birds or animals or men may carry them abroad; the rivers may float them in their rapid currents; the ocean may heave them on its mighty billows. How then shall they be preserved? God has purposely made many of the seeds so that they are wafted on the winds, not that they may be destroyed, but may be brought into better positions for their preservation and subsequent prosperity. And shall we disbelieve the fact that the great God who performs these wonders in the ordinary operations of nature, is able and willing so to control winds, and birds, and beasts, and living men, and flowing rivers, and heaving oceans, as to preserve and carry to safer or better places the germs of those bodies which He has taught us shall rise at the resurrection of the last day?
III. AGAINST INTERMINGLING OR LOSS OF IDENTITY. Take the many hundreds of plants that exist about us--there are computed to be more than 80,000 kinds on the globe--with their millions of seeds. The God of nature never mixes them up. Whatever may be true about the amalgamation of growing plants, when their seeds or germs are perfected it is impossible so to mix them as to confound them. And think you that the God who works such wonders of infallible certainty in the identification of the untold millions of these varieties of plant seeds, every year and through so many centuries, however they may be mixed up, cannot or will not, even when He has promised it, preserve the identity of each different human body, so that it shall be enstamped with all the characteristics of its own individuality, though it be mingled with so many other human bodies through so many centuries?
IV. AGAINST DESTRUCTION BY EXTERNAL FORCES. The seeds of many species resist the destructive power, not only of cold but of great heat, and of drought and moisture, in a wonderful manner, not only through the lapse of one season, but of centuries. And as God does thus preserve these inferior and feebler creations of His, amid such great and long continued action of the elements of destruction, will He not much rather preserve against all accidents and all assaults of the forces of destruction, those nobler creations of His for whose use and control the inferior things of earth were made and preserved?
V. AGAINST THE “GNAWING TOOTH” OF TIME. So far as the law of life has been developed, it is evident that mere lapse of time has no effect to destroy life, so long as circumstances are favourable to its continuation. Some Celtic tombs were discovered not very long since in France, which had been filled nearly two thousand years ago. Under the Lead of each corpse was found a tile, and under each tile a circular hole covered with cement, and containing a few seeds. These seeds were planted, “they soon vegetated; and the heliotrope, the trefoil, and the cornflower were seen rising to life again, and expanding their flowers in the light of spring with admirable display, after their seeds had slept two thousand years beneath the pillows of the dead in the dust of the tomb.” Can we believe less of the power and willingness of God, with reference to the preservation through the onstretching centuries, of the bodies of men whom He made in His own image, and whom He rescued from destruction by the death of His well-beloved Son, who “is risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept”?
VI. AGAINST PREMATURE DEVELOPMENT. But, says a persistent objector, if all these things are true, why do we not have some evidence of it; why do we not find such occasionally appearing in the body? We know that there are plants in tropical countries called “air plants,” which grow from the sustenance they receive out of the atmosphere. One species of these--the “live-forever” plant,--grows in the temperate zone; and some of us may remember seeing these plants suspended from the beams of houses and flourishing there. Suppose a man who had never seen an oak grow, but who was told that an acorn contained the germ of an oak, should fasten that acorn by the side of his air plants to a beam of his house, or fasten ten, or twenty, or a hundred acorns there; and then, when he saw his air plants growing, and his acorns remaining dry and unsprouted, should declare to you that there was “no such fact as that oaks would grow from acorns, or that, anyhow, those acorns would never produce oaks”; what would be your reply? You would say to him, “There is a law of germination and growth belonging to those acorns; and whenever you bring them into the position where that law is met, they will grow.” We are ignorant equally of the facts in what the identity or germ of a human dead body consists, and what conditions are necessary to bring it into active resurrection life; these are the affairs of the Author of existence. But we do know, that whatever it is that constitutes the identity of the dead body’s existence, cannot and will not develop itself in a resurrection life power, until the great Keeper of man brings it into a position and condition where the laws of its development are fulfilled. (N. D. Williamson.)
Come, My people, enter thou into thy chambers
A gracious invitation
THE FORM OF THE INVITATION, including in it the qualified subject. “Come, My people.” God’s own peculiar people, who have chosen God for their protection, and resigned up themselves sincerely to Him in the covenant, are the persons here invited, the same which He before called “the righteous nation that kept the truth” (Isaiah 26:2). He means those that remained faithful to God in Babylon. The form of invitation is full of tender compassion. “Come, My people.” Like a tender father who sees a storm coming upon his children in the fields, and takes them by the hand.
II. THE PRIVILEGE INVITED TO. “Enter thou into thy chambers.” The Divine attributes engaged in the promises and exercised or actuated in the providences of God--these are the sanctuaries of God’s people in days of trouble.
III. A NEEDFUL CAUTION far the securing of this privilege to ourselves in evil times. “Shut thy doors about thee.” Care must be taken that no passage be left open for the devil to creep in after us, and drive us out of our refuge; for so it falls out too often with God’s people when they are at rest in God’s name or promises. Satan creeps in by unbelieving doubts and puzzling objections, and heats them out of their refuge back again into trouble.
IV. Note with what ARGUMENTS OR MOTIVES they are pressed to betake themselves to this refuge.
1. A supposition of a storm coming. The indignation of God will fall like a tempest; this is supposed in the text, and plainly expressed in the words following.
2. Though His indignation fall like a storm, yet it will not continue long; better days and more comfortable dispensations will follow. (J. Flavel.)
The righteous man’s refuge
Doctrine--That the attributes, promises, and providences of God are the chambers of rest and security in which His people are to hide themselves when they foresee the storms of His indignation coming upon the world. Propositions--
1. That there times and seasons appointed by God for the pouring out of His indignation upon the world.
2. That God’s own people are concerned in, and ought to be affected with, those judgments.
3. That God hath a special and particular care of His people in the days of His indignation.
4. That God usually premonishes the world, especially His own people, of His judgments before they befall them.
5. That God’s attributes, promises, and providences are prepared for the security of His people, in the greatest distresses that befall them in the world.
6. That one but God’s people are taken into those chambers of security, or can expect His special protection in evil times. For the right stating of this proposition, three things must be heedfully regarded--
(1) That all good men are not always exempted from the stroke of outward calamities.
(2) That all wicked men are not always exposed to external miseries Ecclesiastes 7:15).
(3) But none but the people of God have right, by promise, to His special protection in evil days; that all such shall either be preserved from the stroke of calamities, or from the deadly sting, namely, eternal ruin by them. (J. Flavel.)
Chambers for God’s people
Let us view our chambers, and see how well God hath provided for His children in all the distresses that befall them in this world.
I. The first chamber which comes to be opened as a refuge to distressed believers in a stormy day is the attribute of DIVINE POWER.
1. Consider the power of God in itself. Omnipotent, supreme, everlasting.
2. In the vast extent of its operations. You will find it working beyond the line
(1) of creature power;
(2) of creature expectation;
(3) of human probability.
3. In its relation to the promises. If the power of God be the chamber, it is the promise of God which is that golden key that opens it. If we win consult the Scriptures, we shall find the almighty power of God made over to His people by promise, for many excellent ends and uses in the day of their trouble.
4. As it is continually opened by the hand of Providence, to receive and secure the people of God in all their dangers (2 Chronicles 16:9).
II. The next chamber of Divine protection into which I shall lead you is, THE INFINITE WISDOM OF GOD--the original, essential, perfect, only wisdom. The wisdom of God makes advantage out of your troubles.
1. In fortifying your souls and bodies with suitable strength when any eminent trial is intended for you (2 Corinthians 1:5).
2. The wisdom of God can, and often doth, make your very troubles and sufferings so many ordinances to strengthen your faith and fortify your patience.
III. A third chamber of safety for the saints’ refuge is, THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD--His sincerity, firmness, and constancy in performing His word to His people in all times and cases. Let us behold with delight the faithfulness of God making good six sorts of promises to His people in the days of their affliction and trouble, namely, the promises of--
6. Ordering and directing the event to their advantage.
IV. The faithfulness of God leads into a fourth much like unto it, namely, THE UNCHANGEABLENESS OF GOD.
V. THE CARE OF GOD FOR HIS PEOPLE in times of trouble is the fifth chamber of rest. It is--
1. A fatherly care.
2. An universal care, watching over all His people, in all ages, places, and dangers.
3. Assiduous and continual (Lamentations 3:22-23).
4. Exceeding tender (Isaiah 49:15).
VI. THE LOVE OF GOD is a resting place to believing souls. (J. Flavel.)
Trust in God’s protection induces calmness
The heart of a good man should at all times be like the higher heavens, serene, tranquil, and clear, whatever thunders and lightnings, storms and tempests trouble and terrify the lower world. If a man have a good roof over his head, where he can sit dry and warm, what need he trouble himself to hear the winds roar, see the lightnings flash, and the rains pour down without doors? Why, this is thy privilege, Christian (Isaiah 32:2). (Chrysostom.)
The retreat from the world which the Scripture recommends, is temporary and not total; it is advised, not indeed that we become disjoined from the world, but that we may be the fitter for intercourse with it.
I. RETIREMENT IS EMINENTLY FAVOURABLE TO SELF-EXAMINATION. It is only by a searching inquiry into the purity of his motives, and the tendencies of his actions, that the Christian can be enabled to discern and correct what in them has been amiss, and to “walk worthily of the high vocation, whereunto he hath been called.”
II. RETIREMENT IS FAVOURABLE TO THE CHRISTIAN, INASMUCH AS IT ENABLES HIM TO RECOVER THAT SPIRITUAL TONS OF MIND SO ESSENTIAL TO HIS HAPPINESS, which, in his unavoidable collision with the world, must necessarily have been disturbed, as well as to take off that tendency to evil which its presence always generates. As the health of the plant is affected by its soil, and the nature of the animal by the pasture on which he feeds and couches, so must the character of man catch a line from what is immediately about him, and his mind be tinged by the circumstances in which it lives and has its being. But in solitude we are in a world of our own, where we can to a great extent command our ideas and feelings.
III. RETIREMENT IS FAVOURABLE TO THE CHRISTIAN, AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PRAYER.
IV. RETIREMENT IS EMINENTLY FAVOURABLE FOR THE CONTEMPLATION OF GOD.
V. RETIREMENT IS FAVOURABLE FOR THE CONTEMPLATION OF THE SUFFERINGS AND LOVE OF HIM WHO HATH BROUGHT “LIFE AND IMMORTALITY TO LIGHT, THROUGH THE GOSPEL.”
VI. RETIREMENT IS FAVOURABLE FOR THE CONTEMPLATION OF YOUR ETERNAL DESTINY. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
The advantages of religious retirement
Although man was made for action, he was also intended for contemplation. There is a time when solitude has a charm for the soul; when weary of the world, its follies and its cares, we love to be alone, and in silence to commune with our heart. Such a retirement, when devoted to pious purposes, is highly useful to man, and most acceptable to God.
I. RELIGIOUS RETIREMENT TAKES OFF THE IMPRESSION WHICH THE NEIGHBOURHOOD OF EVIL EXAMPLE HAS A TENDENCY TO MAKE UPON THE MIND.
II. THIS DEVOUT RETIREMENT IS FAVOURABLE FOR FIXING PIOUS PURPOSES IN THE MIND AND STRENGTHENING OUR HABITS OF VIRTUE.
III. BY MEANS OF RELIGIOUS RETIREMENT THOU WILT BE BROUGHT TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THYSELF. Here wisdom begins.
IV. RETIREMENT AND MEDITATION WILL OPEN A SOURCE OF NEW AND BETTER ENTERTAINMENT THAN YOU MEET WITH IN THE WORLD. You will soon find that the world does not perform what it promises. The circle of earthly enjoyments is narrow, the career of sensual pleasure is soon run, and when the novelty is over, the charm is gone. But the wise man has treasures within himself. (J. Logan, F. R. S.)
The hour of solitude
The hour of solitude is the hour of meditation. He communes with his heart alone. He reviews the actions of his past life. He corrects what is amiss. He rejoices in what is right, and, wiser by experience, lays the plan of his future life. The great and the noble, the wise and the learned, the pious and the good, have been lovers of serious retirement. On this field the patriot forms his schemes, the philosopher pursues his discoveries, the saint improves himself in wisdom and goodness. Solitude is the hallowed ground which religion in every age has adopted as its own. There her sacred inspiration is felt, and her holy mysteries elevate the soul; there devotion lifts up the voice; there falls the tear of contrition; there the heart pours itself forth before Him who made, and Him who redeemed it. Apart from men, you live with nature, and converse with God. (J. Logan, F. R. S.)
“Enter thou into thy chambers”
The entering rote the chambers may, not improbably, allude to the command that the children of Israel should not go out during the night of the destruction of the first born of Egypt. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
Duty of reflection on God’s judgments
I. THE PEOPLE ADDRESSED. “My people.”
1. The Lord addresses, in these words, all, in general, who profess His name, and are named from Him; who receive His Word as the rule of their faith and practice; who attend His ordinances, and use the means of grace.
2. Therefore His true people are more especially meant in this passage. But who are these! They are described by St. Peter, who, having termed them “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people,” says, they “are translated out of darkness into His marvellous light.”
II. THE ADVANCE HE GIVES THEM. “Come, My people.” Come to Me, and--
1. Make confession.
2. Utter your complaint.
3. Exercise trust and dependence upon Me.
4. Praise Me for My long suffering and mercies, and devote thyself to Me afresh. “Come with Me into thy chambers.” The word means retired, secret, and safe places. “Let the storm which disperses others bring you nearer together, to Me and to each other” (Henry). Withdraw into the changers of defence. The attributes of God are the “secret of His tabernacle” (Psalms 27:5). His name is “a strong tower” (Proverbs 18:10).
III. THE REASON OF THIS ADVICE (Isaiah 26:21). God “comes out of His place” when He shows Himself in an extraordinary manner from heaven. The expression is borrowed from the usage of princes who come out of their palaces, either to sit in judgment, or to fight against their enemies. (J. Benson, D. D.)
God’s care for His people
Suppose your child is out of doors, and you see danger--a storm gathering, or something about to cross his path that may be fatal to him, what do you do? You hasten forth. You call out with anxious voice, “Come in! Come in, my child! There is danger where you are! Make haste into the house, and stay here safe until the storm is over past!” The great Father of the Church is not less watchful of His children. Look at Noah’s case just before the flood broke forth. Look again at Israel’s case on the night of the Passover. Behold, in my text, a third instance of the Lord’s fatherly care over His people. It is an instance which extends even to ourselves.
I. THE DANGER POINTED OUT. The words are applicable, in some measure, to every instance of almighty vengeance. But they seem to refer to some more sweeping act of vengeance than ever yet has taken place. It is the day of judgment that we must cast our eyes upon. It is then that, in the fullest sense, “the Lord will come out of His place, to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity.” An awful phrase that! “The Lord will come out of His place.” For what is His place--the place He occupies at present? It is a mercy seat. He sits there as a Saviour--to receive and bless applying sinners. But on that day He “will come out of His place.” He will leave the mercy seat for a throne of judgment.
II. THE COUNSEL GIVEN. How tender this invitation! For such it is. Look at the first word of it. “Come”--not” go. Not “go and seek a shelter where you can”; but “Come.” “Come” is an inviting word. “Come, My people”; that is a general invitation. “Enter thou into thy chambers”; that is an invitation addressed to each particularly, calling them in one by one.
III. THE PROMISES IMPLIED. “Hide thyself,” etc. These words are a command so worded as to convey, at the same time, three comfortable promises
1. “Hide thyself.” What is this but to assure them that by doing what He had just been telling them to do they shall be hid? We may safely view this as a promise of security to all who separate from the world and flee for refuge to a Saviour.
2. “For a little moment.” Here is another comfortable hint thrown out for the believer. As soon as this short life is over with him, all danger shall be past. There will be nothing more to hide from. He will have a broad Heaven to move about in, where there are no enemies to fear, no wrath to apprehend.
3. “The indignation shall be over past”--there is the third encouraging assurance. The clouds will be dispersed forever; and, having put all enemies under His feet, He will bless all those that are about Him with His constant smile. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Good advice for troublous times
I. BEFORE OR IN TIMES OF TROUBLE IT IS WELL TO DRAW NEAR TO GOD. As the hen gives her peculiar “cluck” when the hawk is in the air, to bid her chicks come and hide under her wings, so does God here give a gentle, loving note of alarm, and a gracious call of invitation. We should come--
1. To spread our case before God.
2. To consider His mind about such a case.
3. To make sure of the greatest matters. The world may come and take away many of our external and temporary comforts, but we have a treasure that it never gave us, and cannot take away from us.
4. Having made sure of the great things, you may leave all the little things with God.
II. IT IS WISE TO ENTER INTO THE CHAMBERS OF SECURITY WHICH GOD HAS PROVIDED FOR US.
1. The store chamber of Divine power.
2. The council chamber of Divine wisdom.
3. The drawing room of Divine love.
4. The muniment room of Divine faithfulness.
5. The strong room of Divine immutability.
6. The best chamber of Divine salvation.
III. WHEN WE ENTER THOSE CHAMBERS IT IS NECESSARY TO SHUT THE DOOR.
1. To shut out all doubt.
2. To shut ourselves in with God.
IV. IT IS DELIGHTFUL TO THINK THAT TROUBLE WILL NOT LAST LONG. “A little moment.” (C. H. Spurgeon)
For, behold, the Lord cometh out of His place
Associations in judgment
Few circumstances of our life are more mysterious and few more important than the influence of associations.
2. The language suggests a subtle sympathy between the earth and the earth born; the earth, it is suggested, has been the reluctant witness of human guilt: within her bosom she holds the memorials of human crime, and in due course, when her Creator summons her to His bar, she will confess her fatal secrets.
3. This notion of the repugnance of nature to human crime underlies the constant association of physical portents and disturbances with exceptional crimes. They strain the tolerance of nature to breaking point; she proclaims her horror. This involuntary association emerges in the record of the Redeemer’s Passion. “The darkest hour that ever dawned on sinful earth” was dark naturally, as well as morally.
4. There is something higher than rhetoric, something deeper than poetry, in the prophetic habit of bringing into their moral witness appeals, earnest to the point of passion, to the familiar features of the country. The patriot’s affection is blended with the mystic’s sympathy and the seer’s insight Micah 6:1-2; Jeremiah 22:29; Joshua 24:26-27).
5. I have said that there is more in all this than rhetoric and poetry, and my justification lies in the power over men of associations, their origin in human volition, and the witness they are able to bear to men’s character and experience. The dramatic language of the prophet conveys, and perhaps, to modern ears, conceals, a truth which we can ill afford to forget. We may express it in this way. Every man is at once the author and the victim of the associations with which he invests material things; so that, if we could know what associations these possess for him, what thoughts they set in motion in his mind, what coercion they exercise upon his will, what appeals they address to his affections, we should be well informed as to his past life, and his present character. In truth, we may judge ourselves, we ought to judge ourselves, by habitual associations. What is the moral furniture of our earthly environment! Be sure it is the faithful reflection of ourselves. “To the pure,” says St. Paul, “all things are pure: but to them that are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” The prophet suggests that associations will appear as accusing witnesses in the day of the Lord. Here they are written in cipher, and each man keeps his own key; but then the cipher shall be open and manifest. The origin of associations will be confessed. “The earth shall disclose her blood, and shall no more cover her slain.” Before us an lies exposure, inexorable and complete.
6. Associations so potent, so relentless, so minatory in their suggestiveness, may be redeemed, cleansed, transformed. The scenes we desecrated with our sins may be purged by our penitence, and reconsecrated by our sacrifice. History records the reclaiming of associations, the transmutation of the symbols and scenes of evil into the very beacons and homes of goodness. But do not underrate the cost of this great conversion. It is no light task to strip off one set of associations and to invest with another. Yet one final stage. Memories of evil may themselves become transmuted into allies of goodness. Christian history is full of this paradox. The protagonists of virtue are, not the flawless saints, but the great penitents. There are who find in their abandoned sins perpetual incitements to service, as she of whom He said, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (H. H. Henson, B. D.)
The earth disclosing her blood
In a characteristic passage Lord Macaulay has described the impression made on observers by the rank growth of scarlet poppies on the battlefield of Landen. “During many months the ground was strewn with skulls and bones of men and horses, and with fragments of hats and shoes, saddles and holsters. The next summer the soil, fertilised by twenty thousand corpses, broke forth into millions of poppies. The traveller who, on the road from St. Tron to Tirlemont, saw that vast sheet of rich scarlet spreading from Landen to Neerwinden, could hardly help fancying that the figurative prediction of the Hebrew prophet was literally accomplished, that the earth was disclosing her blood, and refusing to cover the slain.” (C. H. Spurgeon)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 26". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter