"The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms; and He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy." (Deuteronomy 33:27)
What vast words! and what great realities are set forth before a broken-hearted sinner in this text. How full it is of all that which every distressed sinner needs. And,
1. Mark the way in which the Holy Ghost describes God--"The eternal God" (there would be text enough in those words--"The Eternal God.")
2. What He is to His poor ones--"thy Refuge."
3. "And underneath the everlasting arms;" and so the poor, weak, helpless sinner cannot sink so low, but what those everlasting arms are still "underneath."
4. God "shall thrust out the enemy from before thee,"--all enemies, "and shall say, Destroy!"
And now the first point:--"The Eternal God." David says, "Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God!" And again, in Exodus 3:13,14--"And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you." "I AM," the ETERNAL FATHER, SON, and HOLY GHOST! O! when we contemplate who God is, how it shows us what atoms of dust we are!
"Now on this subject--the Eternal God--the first Article of the Church of England distinctly and faithfully declares the truth:--"There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker and Preserver of all things, both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." And O! what a statement it is! And, thus, I have sketched before you something of the way in which the Holy Spirit speaks of "The Eternal God."
But what else do we gather from that word, "ETERNAL," besides Jehovah's own eternity, as the great "I AM?" Why we here see, also, that all His purposes, all His mercies, all His covenant decrees concerning the people of His choice and love, are everlasting, too. "According as He hath chosen us in Him." (Eph. 1:4) A people set apart for Himself before all worlds. In Genesis 7--the first lesson in the service this morning--we heard of Noah, and a few going with him into the ark, and all the rest drowned; and so it is as to the Church of God: those only are safe who are saved in Christ, and all others lost. But I need not dwell further on the doctrines, or the ETERNAL purposes of God, but would come now, to the experience of the people chosen in Christ, before all worlds.
The people of God are a tried people--a cross-bearing people--a troubled people. They know what storms and tempests are: they know what the blast of the terrible ones is. "For Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall." (Isa. 25:4) These want a refuge. "And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." (Isa. 32:2)
And now I come to the second point in the text--"thy REFUGE." And here is the Church's need: she wants a Refuge, and this, because the Church is surrounded by enemies, cutting and trying winds, and worse than all, a wretched, sinful heart within.
"Mighty enemies without,
Much mightier within,
Thoughts we cannot quell nor rout,
Coldness, unbelief, and pride,
Hell and all its murderous train,
Threaten death on every side,
And have their thousands slain.
"Thus pursued, and thus distressed,
Ah! whither shall we fly?
To obtain the promised rest,
On what sure hand rely?
Shall the Christian trust his heart?
That, alas! of foes the worst,
Always takes the tempter's part;
Nay, often tempts him first.
"If today we be sincere,
And can both watch and pray,
Watchfulness, perhaps, and prayer,
Tomorrow may decay.
If we now believe aright
Faithfulness is God's alone,
We are feeble, fickle, light,
To changes ever prone.
"But we build upon a base
That nothing can remove,
When we trust electing grace
And everlasting love.
Victory over all our foes
Christ has given with His blood,
Perseverance He bestows
On every child of God."
You and I--some of us--know that, and a refuge is what we need, and experience realizes to us, more and more, the meaning of Solomon's words:--"The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe." (Prov. 18:10) In Mark 4:37-41--"And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow; and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest Thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, what manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" What do we know of that? Have we felt and feared the rising of these great storms, and have we also been comforted and soothed by the stilling and ceasing of the same? Has Christ hushed the waves, and the billows, and the winds, and the tempests for us? and, so have we found CHRIST A SHELTER, and "the ETERNAL GOD a REFUGE" for ourselves? Have we been raised to a HOPE in HIM as our REFUGE? a shelter from troubles and from sins.
O! how blessed are they who, in trouble and in trial, are made to wait for, and on Him; "Blessed are all they that wait for Him;" and also, "Blessed they that mourn, for they shall be comforted." It was said to me, the other day, by a man in the City of London,--"You are not blessed because you wait, but you wait on Him because you are blessed; and again, you are not blessed because you mourn, but you mourn because you are blessed!" Think on that, my hearers, there is much in it.
And now, third--"and underneath the everlasting arms" and in this we see the entire helplessness and weakness of God's elect people set forth, and also their sure and certain, and continual preservation in "the Eternal God." In ourselves, we are like a babe in arms--like an infant: weak, helpless, and powerless; but our strength, our help, our protection is in God. O! to be laid upon the everlasting arms, and to feel that those arms are underneath us! As Toplady says in his hymn--
"Sweet to lie passive in His hands,
And know no will but His."
The point, then is this--are "the everlasting arms underneath" us?--underneath you and me? Some of us may be more tried and more exercised than others: our trials may be different, and our paths not the same; but the elect are all and each brought to see and feel their utter helplessness. The apostle felt and knew this, and every sensible sinner, made so by grace, knows the same; and under a deep and practical sense of this, how blessed it is to know that "underneath are the everlasting arms." This supports us. We may sink at times, very low, but those arms being underneath, we can never sink so low as to get on the other side of them. Here is the safety of the Church! Held up, held on, and so David prayed,--"Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto Thy statutes continually." (Ps. 119:117) And so Paul--mark his bold statement when he stood before Agrippa and Festus: "Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come." (Acts 26:22) And O! my hearers, were it not for that upholding power, and that superhuman help, where should we not often get to?
O! for that continual leading, day by day! "Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies." (Ps. 27:11) See how David prayed to God! "Shew me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me: for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day. (Ps. 25:4,5) O! that waiting on God, and that waiting for God! How real it is! and this "all the day!" It was trial, it was trouble, it was distress, that brought David to this. How wonderful are the Psalms! how striking is the experience of the Psalmist! And in all our troubles and exercises do we feel that we are upon the everlasting arms, and that those arms are underneath us? Put a baby of a day old on its feet, and down it must fall; and so you and I can only feel safe as we are held up and supported by the Lord!
The mere professor and your "good people" (falsely so called) cannot understand this. I tried to search such, the other evening, in the City--if there were any hearing me. The self-righteous--the Pharisees--know nothing of this. It is only the sinner made sensible of his sin and corruption that knows anything of this! "When Jesus heard it, He saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." That is God's own word! and Hart says:--
"'Tis the sick man, not the healthy,
Needs the good Physician's care."
And Christ makes His people sick, to bring them to Himself. His is the effectual call. "And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed Him." (Matt. 4:18-20) See the power of His call! These men were engaged in their daily calling; but the time was come, the command was issued: they left all, and followed Him. There was the power with the word. O! that "Follow Me!" Have you and I had the same call, by the same voice?
Some persons are so frightened, lest so-and-so should not be called; but every saved sinner--saved in Christ, eternally, before all worlds--will be, and shall be called in time--shall be made willing in the day of God's power; (Ps. 110:3) and all others must go to hell for ever! "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." (Isa. 46:10)
Our safety is all in Christ, and our protection is as His everlasting arms are underneath us. And in proportion as we growingly realize our own utter weakness, so do we realize our strength in Him. O! we cannot preach out fully such a subject! It must be felt, experienced, and known!
Your "good people" know nothing of it: professors are in entire ignorance about it; but "the poor in spirit"--the broken in heart--those who are persecuted by a Christ-hating world, and by all the carnal professors of the day--I say, the poor and the persecuted are they, and they only, who feelingly know the need they have of a refuge, and that their safety alone and only consists in this, that "underneath are the everlasting arms!" No other support, no other arms will do. God alone can strengthen and uphold His poor ones. David felt this, when in Psalm 63:8 he said "My soul followeth hard after Thee: Thy right hand upholdeth me." O! what it means to follow hard after God: but then, there was the right hand upholding!
In Psalm 18, and verse 35, we have these words:--"Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation: and Thy right hand hath holden me up, and Thy gentleness hath made me great;" or as it is in Prayer-book version, "Thy loving correction;" or as it may be rendered, "Thy Humility has made me great!" O! what words: by the Humiliation of the Son of God, an elect sinner is "made GREAT!" Yes, it is loving correction; for see Hebrews 12:6, "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." "Blessed is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teacheth him out of Thy law; that Thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked. For the Lord will not cast off His people, neither will He forsake His inheritance." (Ps. 94:12-14) But in all these corrections, and in all our trials, sorrows, troubles, and afflictions, here is the Christian's prop and comfort; that, "underneath are the everlasting arms."
And now, fourthly, I would just glance at those great words,--"He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee, and shall say, Destroy!" The Christian has, and must have, enemies. There is the world, the flesh, the devil, carnal professors, and above all, self! And these enemies are among the "All things which work together for good to them that love God." (Rom. 8:28) "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain." (Ps. 76:10)
Christ was tried: Christ was tempted; and so must His people be. See Him tempted in the wilderness, forty days and forty nights! Dr. Watts says:--
"Cold mountains and the midnight air
Witnessed the fervour of His prayer;
The desert Thy temptations knew,
Thy victories and Thy conflicts too."
And I glean from that, that our blessed Lord knows how to soothe and comfort His tempted and afflicted people. "For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour them that are tempted." (Heb. 2:18) Oh yes, Christ knows all about us; and in our sorrows, temptations, and buffetings, (for these we must endure) He feels for, and succours His poor ones.
Foes without and worse within, we must have; but our God--our Refuge--will and does, thrust them all out from before us. O! the secret of knowing this! How few are they that are in this secret! One grows narrower and narrower, continually. Professors abound--professors swarm; but it is not the crowded church--it is not the crammed chapel, that tests the thing! This is no evidence that sound truth is heard from the pulpit. The promise in God's word goes sweetly and encouragingly low--"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20) Oh yes, those "two or three" who do gather together in God's name, and in His tender fear and faith! That is the test! I wonder how many of you, now before me, came in at that door in the fear of the Lord! Some may have come because it is the custom; some, it may be, for show; some from curiosity: but that will not do. The promise is, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them."
Is not that a real service? O! to be "in the Spirit" on the Lord's day! that is, on any day, and every day, when Jehovah sends forth His Spirit with unction, dew, and power, into the hearts of preacher and hearers, and this, whether it be a Thursday or a Sunday, or any other day.
Mark these words in Ezra 9:5,6:--"And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." O! when sin is really felt and grieved for! when "our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens!" when we feel the enemy and his power! Then--then!--to realize the fact that I am preaching on, that God shall thrust out the enemy, whatever that enemy may be, from before thee, and so save and rescue His poor ones; and not only so,--not only shall He thrust them all out from before thee--but He shall say, "Destroy!"
There is a very important word in Psalm 59:10,11:--"The God of my mercy shall prevent me: God shall let me see my desire upon mine enemies. Slay them not, lest my people forget: scatter them by Thy power, and bring them down, O Lord our shield." Observe, "Slay them not!" God uses these enemies for the good of His Church. We need ballast! It is ballast that keeps the ship steady at sea! So trials, enemies, crosses, temptations are, when sanctified, the ballast of the Church. O! that command "Destroy!" and this as to every enemy of the Elect of God! And God is Himself the refuge of the poor, needy, helpless sinner, and His everlasting arms are ever underneath His child. How safe, then, is the Church of God!
And now in finishing, let me ask, are we sound in the doctrine of the ETERNITY of GOD--"The ETERNAL GOD?" O! sin, sin! how it harasses us, day by day--this body of sin and death! We preach, and you sit and hear; and we read the Word alone: but do we really feel our need of a refuge, from a felt sense of our wretchedness and helplessness? Do we know our want, and feel our destitute state? And, in our trials and exercises, and oft-times sinking of soul, do we, and can we, realize for ourselves the vast word in Rom. 8:1? "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
And now, my hearers, I will read this text and finish the service. Remember God! "The ETERNAL GOD is thy refuge," and He fights our battles for us. O! lean on, lay on His "everlasting arms." He will thrust out the enemy from before thee: He will command the destruction of them all! The enemy can go no further than He allows, and He shall thrust them out, and this from before thee; and you will see them, one and all, slink off, like one that has done something he is ashamed of. "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and He shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy."
May God bless His own word, for Christ's sake. Amen.