Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner, but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished." (Isaiah 51:6)
THERE are few portions of the Old Testament Scriptures which contain more gracious encouagements to the people of God, than this chapter from which our text has been selected. From whatever quarter anything dismal seems to arise, or anything painful to press upon the Church of God--be it that the prophet speaks of the desolation of material things, or be it that he speaks of the persecution of the enemies of God--there is a ready adaptation of some precious word of comfort to suit the emergency of the case.
In the passsage which I have selected for our present consideration, there is a very magnificient view taken of the solemn event that is sooner or later to take place on the theater of this world; and whilst the prophet calls upon intelligent and discerning men to cast their eyes around them, and to behold, as it were, the pillars of this universe tottering and shaking to their very center, he turns in most refreshing contrast to something that can never be shaken--never be altered; and he tells us of the permanency, the establishment of God's salvation, and God's righteousness.
We believe, brethren, that we are not uncharitable when we assert that truth which Scripture teaches us, and which is confirmed by our own painful observation, that whilst the road is narrow, and the gate is strait, that leads to eternal life, few finding it, "Broad is the road, and wide is the gate that leadeth to destruction;" and He who is truth has said, "Many there be that go in thereat." Now, if these be the words of truth, and your own observation confirms them to the very letter, then we say, the great majority of men are wrong in their estimation of things; their minds are set upon the things that are to go, whilst there is no regard to those that are to abide. It is the part of a wise man, then, to be able to distinguish between that which is to pass away, and that which is not to pass away; and this is the subject of our consideration at this time.
The prophet calls to the people of God, for to such this word is spoken, and he tells them to look up and to look down, and to look at men around them, and to bear in mind that the whole fabric of this material creation is sooner or later to be dissolved, and that man himself is to go into the way of death.
I suppose if I were to say to this congregation, I am going to speak to you, brethren, of the frailty of things around us; I am going to tell you of the mortality of man, and of the poor, brittle tenure that he has of the things of time; why, it would instantly arise in the minds of most of those whom I address, There never was such a commonplace subject as this--why, there is not a moralist, whose book we have ever opened, who has not wrung the subject threadbare. Perhaps, brethren, the frequent handling of the subject has made us too familiar with it; but though it has been wrung threadbare in the writings of these moralists, and they can speak beautifully, and they can write poetically upon it, and it is true they sometimes succeed in stirring up the feelings of men, when they paint in deep colors these solemn realities--yet I believe that they are not able to go to the core, to the root of the thing; and, after all, they say nothing more than the man who, as he stands at the corners of our streets and sees the funeral procession passing by, tells his fellow, "One of these days we must go too." But it becomes an exceedingly interesting matter to us, when, standing upon the ground upon which it is our privilege to stand, we see farther and deeper than these men. We are not afraid of being charged with arrogance and presumption when we say this. Be it known to you, men and brethren, we do see farther and we do see deeper, if the Holy Ghost has brought us into the deep things of Christ, than the men who are ignorant of the Gospel. We, who are permitted to stand upon this eminence, tell you that these facts must be startling to your mere philosopher. I want such to tell us how it is that decay seems to be an essential element in all material things. How is it that, from the moment that the little infant rocks in his cradle, his whole passage lies through darker and darker scenes, until he is lodged in the grave? What does your philosopher make of this? I believe that mere philosophy is sheer infidelity; and I see no way in which a man, who does not know the Bible, can account for such a fact as this. He is obliged to take refuge in this old heathen religion which has come upon us afresh--a kind of pantheism, which pantheism is nothing but the religion of materialism.
We now come to the point of which I want to speak. It is not my desire to moralize upon the matter. I do not want to describe to you, in the beautiful language of poetry, the fact that all around us has within it the seeds of ruin and of dissolution; but I want to probe the subject to the bottom, and to show you that, when the prophet says, Look up to the heavens, they shall vanish away; look at the earth, it shall wax old like a garment; look at man, he shall go to the grave, the Bible alone accounts for such a fact as this: and in the Bible it is written as with a sunbeam, that sin has been the disturbing cause; that when God, in determinate purpose, allowed sin to come into this world, and seemingly to mar what He had at the first made so beautiful and fair, and "very good," He caused it to be written, in capital letters, that he may run that reads, that sin has so tainted the nature of things around us--that it has spread so far and wide its canker and its gangrene--that it has not only eaten into the core and center of this earth on which we stand, and into the heart of every one of us, but--most mysterious declaration!--that its noxious pollution seems even to have sullied the fair face of the heavens above us. You know that, when the Apostle Peter describes the solemn day of the breaking up of earthy things, he says that "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat; the earth, also, and the works that are therein shall be burned up." What is the cause? Has the sky sinned against God? Has this earth--unconscious earth, on which we tread--has it offended against God? You say, No--it is man, that has ruined all. And this, I say, is the mystery, that man's sin seems not only to have swept, with its blasting influence, over the whole face of the earth, but it has also sullied the very heavens.
You remember that remarkable passage in the 9th of Hebrews, where the Apostle says, that "It was necessary that the patterns of things in the heavens should be purified with the blood of bulls and of goats, but the heavenly things," the heaven itself, "with better sacrifices than these." Perhaps there would be some difficulty in explaining this passage, except in this way, that whatever interchange there may have been between the heaven and the earth (taking the word heaven to mean something that is above us), there seems to have been a harmony in sin; therefore, the heaven itself must be made to pass away, in order that God may have "a new heaven."
And again, this earth--this beautiful earth--into which men strike such root, as they creep along it; this earth is to be burned up, and it is to give place to another, a better earth, "wherein dwelleth righteousness." And we cannot wonder at this; for this earth is stained with the blood of the Son of God. When He came into this world, to redeem His little body of faithful ones, given to Him from all eternity; when he put His foot on this territory, which Satan had claimed as his own, so that he is called "the god of this world:" when He took out of Satan's grasp His jewels, His own people, whom He recovered and saved out of this mass of evil and destruction, they trampled upon Him, and they murdered Him, and His blood has gone into the very heart and core of this earth. Now, this stain can only be effaced by its being burned up. There can be no annihilation, mark ye. We believe such a doctrine to be a great falsehood, as to God's blessed Word, though perhaps many may find it very comfortable. Annihilation implies a mistake. There can be no annihilation; but this earth shall give place to another, a better, "a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
We believe that it is because these solemn realities are so little undersood, as to their causes and as to their painful effects, that men are so ignorant of the work of redemption, of the nature of righteousness, of the pardon of sin, of life, and of everlasting salvation in Jesus.
Now, brethren, the Prophet, in our text, tells the men of God to look and to see all earthly things, as it were, dissolving from their view; but he also tells them that there is a something that towers above such ruin and desolation; something that will stand in that day. "My salvation shall be for ever." O, what an expression is this--"My salvation!" It contains in it the very essence of the Gospel; it is the very fountain and spring of all the comfort of God's dear people. Take the expression in its simplicity; do not run away from it. Why does God call it "My salvation?" Surely it is in order to impress upon our minds the source from whence it emanates, the power by which it is accomplished, the eternal security of all those who are the subjects of it, because that security is divine. You cannot probe into a more important expression in the Scriptures than this, "My salvation." If you understand it, if God enables you to receive it, let me tell you, brethren, what it will do. It will set you in direct opposition--I was going to say to half--but no, it will set you in direct opposition to the great mass of religionists that are abroad in the world. Why, they will buzz about your ears as thick as hornets. If you will merely go before the world, and say you have learned this great truth, that salvation is of God, such an assertion will set you in direct opposition to all the Pharisees, and all the self-righteous men, and all those who do not know the Gospel of Christ experimentally. This salvation emanates from God: all the false systems of religion which are abroad in the world would teach you that it emanates from man.
If you go to the Scriptures, you will find that God's salvation rests upon covenant engagements, covenant settlements; and when I say this, let no man mistake me, as if I were telling you that God has entered into a covenant of grace with man, and that in this covenant He makes some milder kind of agreement than He made with the Jews of old.
There is no co-operation between God and man, brethren, in this matter of salvation. When you understand what that covenant is, upon which the sinner's hope can safely rest, you will find that God does not make a covenant with the rebel sinner who stands before Him in his chains. The covenant was made between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the Lord Jesus being the responsible One for the carrying out of the engagements of that covenant, and therefore He is called "The Mediator of the covenant," "The Messenger of the covenant," "The Servant of Jehovah." You have the wording of that covenant in the document which has been brought before you this day--"My salvation shall be for ever;" or, if you would have it expressed more fully, and at greater length, you will find it in the 8th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the Apostle contrasts it with that natural covenant which God made with the Jews of old, in which He promised that if they would honor Him, and obey His voice, He would give them rain and plentiful harvests, and all the things which pertain to this life. But, brethren, when the subject of eternal life comes before us, we cannot speak of any co-operation between God and man.
We shall endeavor to explain this matter a little farther. God's salvation is no partnership concern between the blood of Christ and my obedience. You must go to some lower school for that. You will find plenty of such doctrine, from Romanism upwards. Neither is it a partnership between the blood of Christ and my faith; neither is it a partnership between the blood of Christ and my love; neither is it a partnership between the blood of Christ, and I care not whether it be one, or five hundred evidences of mine. Now, if you understand this, you will be able to enter into the force of a passage which perhaps you never understood before. In the 1st of Ephesians, the Apostle says, "In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation." (Eph. 1:13) There is the salvation of the Gospel. Paul says, that these Ephesians heard the word of truth. What a volume there is here! He uses the term as synonymous with the Gospel, or good news of their salvation. He says, "After that ye heard it." He means heard it with the hearing ear, and with the understanding heart; and then he adds, "After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." Here is the covenant for you, and here is Gospel salvation; here is good news for the sinner. And mark you, this has been carried out by God Himself! God forbid that I should ever see one particle of a foreign element entering into this great work; it was Jehovah Himself who planned it, who purposed it, who determined it, who did it; and it is He Himself who maintains it: therefore, blessed be God for this, one out of many thousand similar passages with which the Word of God is so thickly studded--"My salvation shall be for ever." Here is no chance, no contingency, mark ye!
O the wickedness of those systems that would teach us that God makes covenants, that God makes promises, that God swears by Himself; and that all this is to be damaged, and marred, and done away with, and altered by the sin, or by the inconsistency of man. If you will look around you in the present day, you will find teaching such as this coming like a swelling flood upon the Church of England. Men idolize baptism as the Saviour. Go into any place where the books which emanate from that school are sold; take up an of them at random, and you are informed that you have your baptismal purification and justification, and then you are safe; but you may afterwards lose this baptismal purification and justification, and then (poor people!) you must go on your way, hanging your heads as a bulrush, for it is a great doubt whether you can ever be saved again. This is the doctrine which men are trying to palm upon the members of the Church of England in the present day, and it is gaining ground on every side; how, I know not, except that the devil is the father of lies, and that he it is who is deceiving the multitudes that are following in his track. It is just what the Prophet Jeremiah complained of in his day, "The prophets prophesy falsely, and their priests bear rule by their means, and my people love to have it so."
Observe, in the next place, the remaining part of the promise, where the Lord says, "My righteousness shall not be abolished." In whatever point of view we look at such a declaration as this, we see the one element which runs through all the dealings of God; you still must look at it as implying that God's righteous transactions, God's covenant engagements with the Son of His love, shall never be done away with. It is a righteous thing with God that His people should be saved. What a precious word we have in the 1st Epistle of John, where the Apostle says, that "God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins!" No man who has not received the view of the Gospel which we have been endeavoring to bring before you, can understand such a word as this, which tells us that it is in virtue of the oath of the Father to His Son, and His acceptance of His Son's work, that His people are saved. Take it in this point of view, and see what a guarantee you have for the complete salvation of the Church of God, that God has said, "My righteousness shall not be abolished."
But, then, when one is speaking to a mixed congregation upon such a word as this, "My righteousness shall not be abolished," one must remember that that which is a bright, and clear, and shining pillar upon the path of God's Israel, is a dark cloud, which throws its shadow across the path of the ignorant Egyptians; and if it be a righteous thing with God, that not a single thing should be laid to the charge of His people, who are under the wing of Jesus, washed in His blood, and sealed with His own Spirit, so will it be a righteous thing with God to bring to the line and plummet of His own holy law the men who have trampled upon His commandments, who have done away with the work of Christ, and who have sought to substitute for it some work of their own. Such men must be judged by their works. I believe, brethren, as I have told you from this place more than once, that there shall be no judgment of the righteous; I believe that not a single thing can be laid to the charge of the man who stands before God righteous in Christ. That the Lord's people shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, is a truth of God; that they shall be bold at that judgment-seat is a truth of God; but I cannot believe that there is to be a raking up of sins that have been blotted out, or that there is to be a reading over of charges against the man whose sins God has cast into the depths of the sea. I believe that the judgment shall be upon the men who trample upon the blood of Christ, as the salvation of the sinner.
If I stand out against the truth of God, and if I say, I will not receive that free salvation which is of God, and that righteousness which is of Jesus; no, but I will stand upon the ground, it matters very little whether it be of my almsgivings, or my penances, or my faith; then, must no the Lord vindicate His own holy character, and the requirements of His own holy law, and put me upon my trial? You remember that man, who came to our blessed Lord when He was upon earth, and asked Him, "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Our Lord told him to keep the law; and so, if you choose to be justified by the law, you must keep the law. But when the books are opened, and when the dead are judged out of those things which were written in those books, according to their works, there can be no judgment to a people who before this period have risen with Christ, and have been caught up into the air to be with Him for ever.
Brethren, these are two stern realities which have been brought before us this day. Handle them; they are substantial realities; the one is, that all around us is to go; the world that so many love, to which they cleave, and in which they have their treasure, is to go. And then, it is also as great a reality that the salvation of God and the righteousness of God shall stand for ever. The question is, Have you ever thought of these things?
O that God may be His own Spirit carry these truths home to your hearts! You will never learn them experimentally and practically in any other way. Nay, in our own congregation, almost week after week, some one or another has been of late taken away from amongst us, not only the aged but the young, as has been the case within the last eight-and-forty hours, when one has been removed who was accoustomed to assemble with us on Friday to receive catechetical instruction, and I would fain rejoice in the hope that she did not learn in vain. Now, God might take one, and he might take another, until there should be a blank seat in every pew in this church, but no impression would be made upon the heart. The tear might run down the cheek, there might be sensibility enough, the sympathies might be drawn out for a little season, but there would be no truth brought home to the heart; but it is God's blessed Spirit that not only teaches the man that he must die, that the world is to crack under his feet, that the pillars of the heavens have something wrong in them, and that by-and-bye they must shake and fall; but the same Spirit also teaches him, and just in proportion to the ravages which sin has made, or rather in a much larger proportion, has the depth of God's mercy been manifested.
Beautiful expression that is in the 5th of Romans, where the Apostle says, "That as sin hath reigned unto death"--it is as if he viewed the monster with his scepter in his hand, seated upon his dark throne, and casting his awful influence around on every side--"as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign--lord it--have dominion--"through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord."
If you have heard this Gospel, brethren, and if you have understood it, you will be able to enter into the triumphant language of the Apostle Paul, when, as he looked at death deprived of its sting, and its arrows blunted, he said, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." (2 Tim. 4:8) He viewed Himself as a righteous man in Christ, one upon whom The Lord Himself would put a crown, according to the Lord's own righteous character; and I will tell you why: he says, "Which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day." Now, if a man thought that the Lord was going to give him a crown, as a reward for his own righteousness, he would never put in these words, "Which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day." It is the language of a man who knows the Gospel. The man who does not know the Gospel would say, which God, the merciful, the pardoning God, will give me. The Apostle looks at the Lord as seated upon His great white throne, and he says, "Which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day." And then, lest we should think that this privilege belonged to Apostles only, he adds, "And not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing."
This is the Gospel, brethren; may God bless it to your souls! may Christ have all the glory! and may you feel yourselves strong in our covenant Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.