'Thou wilt keep him In perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.' -- ISAIAH xxvi.3-4.
There is an obvious parallel between these verses and the two preceding ones. The safety which was there set forth as the result of dwelling in the strong city is here presented as the consequence of trust. The emblem of the fortified place passes into that of the Rock of Ages. There is the further resemblance in form, that, just as in the two preceding verses we had the triumphant declaration of security followed by a summons to some unknown persons to 'open the gates,' so here we have the triumphant declaration of perfect peace, followed by a summons to all to 'trust in the Lord for ever.' 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 watcher's answer, pointing the way by which men may pass into the city.
Whether that be so or no, 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 for ever.' So, then, I think we have in the words before us, though not formally yet really, very large teaching as to the nature, the object, the blessed effects, and the universal duty of that trust in the Lord which makes the very nexus between man and God, according to the teaching of the New Testament.
I. First, then, I desire to notice in a sentence the insight into the true nature of trust or faith given by the word employed here.
Now the literal meaning of the expression here rendered 'to trust' is to lean upon anything. As we say, trust is reliance. As a weak man might stay his faltering, tottering steps upon some strong staff, or might lean upon the outstretched arm of a friend, so we, conscious of our weakness, aware of our faltering feet, and realising the roughness of the road, and the smallness of our strength, may lay the whole weight of ourselves upon the loving strength of Jehovah.
And that is the trust of the Old Testament, the faith of the New -- the simple act of reliance, going out of myself to find the basis of my being, forsaking myself to touch and rest upon the ground of my security, passing from my own weakness and laying my trembling hand into the strong hand of God, like some weak-handed youth on a coach-box who turns to a stronger beside him and says: 'Take thou the reins, for I am feeble to direct or to restrain.' Trust is reliance, and reliance is always blessedness.
II. Notice, secondly, the steadfast peacefulness of trust.
Now there are difficulties about the rendering and precise significance of the first verse of my text with which I do not need to trouble you. The Authorised Version, and still more perhaps the Revised Version, give substantially, as I take it, the prophet's meaning; and the margin of the Revised Version is still more literal and accurate than the text, 'A steadfast mind Thou keepest in perfect peace, because it trusteth in Thee.' If this, then, be the true meaning of the words, you observe that it is the steadfast mind, steadfast because it trusts, which God keeps In the deep 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, first, that trust makes steadfastness. Most men's lives are blown about by winds of circumstance, directed by gusts of passion, shaped by accidents, and are fragmentary and jerky, like some ship at sea with nobody at the helm, heading here and there, as the force of the wind or the flow of the current may carry them. If my life is to be steadied, there must not only be a strong hand at the tiller, but some outward object which shall be for me the point of aim and the point of rest. No man can steady his life except by clinging to a holdfast without himself. Some of us look for that stay in the fluctuations and fleetingnesses of creatures; and some of us are wiser and saner, and look for it in the steadfastness of the unchanging God. The men who do the former are the sport of circumstances, and the slaves of their own natures, and there is no consistency in noble aim and effort throughout their lives, corresponding to their circumstances, relations, and nature. Only they who stay themselves upon God, and get down through all the superficial shifting strata of drift and gravel, to the base-rock, are steadfast and solid.
My brother, if you desire to govern yourself, you must let God govern you. If you desire to be firm, you must draw your firmness from the unchangingness of that divine nature which you grasp. 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.
And then, still further, the steadfast mind -- steadfast because it trusts -- is rewarded in that it is kept by God. It is no mere mistake in the order of his thought which leads this prophet to allege that it is the steadfast mind which God keeps. For, though it is true, on the one hand, that the real fixity and solidity of a human character come 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. If a man holds out to God a tremulous hand with a shaking cup in it, which Le sometimes presents and sometimes twitches back, it is not to be expected that God will pour the treasure of His grace into such a vessel, with the risk of most of it being spilt upon the ground. There must be a steadfast waiting if there is to be a continual flow.
It is the mind that cleaves to God which God keeps. I suppose that there was floating before Paul's thoughts some remembrance of this great passage of the evangelical prophet when he uttered his words, which ring so strikingly with so many echoes of them, when he said, 'The peace of God which passeth understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' It is the steadfast mind that is kept in perfect peace. If we 'keep ourselves,' by that divine help which is always waiting to be given,' in the' faith and 'love of God,' He will keep us in the hour of temptation, will keep us from falling, and will garrison our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
And 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 of 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, 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, dear brethren, the possession of this deep, unbroken peace does not depend on the absence of conflict, on distraction, trouble, or sorrow, but on the presence of God. If we are in touch with Him, then our troubled days may be calm, and beneath all the surface tumult there may be a centre of rest. The garrison in some high hill-fortress looks down upon the open where the enemy's ranks are crawling like insects across the grass, and scarcely hears the noise of the tumult, and no arrow can reach the lofty hold. So, up in God we may dwell at rest whate'er betide. Strange that we should prefer to live down amongst the unwalled villages, which every spoiler can harry and burn, when we might climb, and by the might and the magic of trust in the Lord bring round about ourselves a wall of fire which shall consume the poison out of the evil, even whilst it permits the sorrow to do its beneficent work upon us!
III. Note again the worthiness of the divine Name to evoke, and the power of the divine character to reward, the trust.
We pass to the last words of my text: -- 'In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.'
Now I suppose we all know that the words feebly rendered in the Authorised Version 'everlasting strength' are literally 'the Rock of Ages'; and that 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.
But there is another peculiarity about the words on which I dwell for a moment, 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 Jab 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 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? We do not need, I suppose, to do more than simply remind you that there are two great thoughts communicated by that self-revelation of God which lies in it. 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.' Men and creatures are what they are made, are what they become, and some time or other cease to be what they were. But God is what He is, and is because He is. He is the Source, the Motive, the Law, the Sustenance of His own Being; and changeless and eternal He is for ever. In that name is the Rock of Ages.
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. That Is to say, He hath not left us in darkness as to the methods and purpose of His dealings with us, or as to the attitude of His heart towards us. He has bound Himself by solemn words, and by deeds as revealing as words. So we can reckon on God. To use a vulgarism which is stripped of its vulgarity if employed reverently, as I would do it -- we know where to have Him. He has given us the elements to calculate His orbit; and we are sure that the calculation will come right. So, because the name flashes upon men the thought of an absolute Being, eternal, and all-sufficient, and self-modified, and changeless, and because it reveals to us the very inmost heart of the mystery, and makes it possible for us to forecast the movements of this great Sun of our heavens, therefore in the name 'Jab Jehovah is the Bock of Ages.'
The metaphor needs no expansion. We understand that it conveys the idea of unchangeable defence. As the cliffs tower above the river that swirls at their base, and takes centuries to eat the faintest line upon their shining surface, so the changeless God rises above the stream of time, of which the brief breakers are human lives, 'sparkling, bursting, borne away.' They who fasten themselves to that Rock are safe in its unchangeable strength, God the Unchangeable is the amulet against any change, that is not growth, in the lives of those who trust Him. Some of us may recall some great precipice rising above the foliage, which stands to-day as it did when we were boys, unwasted in its silent strength, while generations of leaves have opened and withered at its base, and we have passed from childhood to age. Thus, unaffected by the transiency that changes all beneath, God rises, the Bock of Ages in whom we may trust. 'The conies are a feeble folk, but they make their houses in the rocks.' So our weakness may house itself there and be at rest.
IV. Lastly, note 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 for ever.'
Surely, surely the blessed effects of trust, of which we have been speaking, have a voice of merciful invitation summoning us to exercise it. The promise of peace appeals to the deepest, though often neglected and misunderstood, longings of the human heart. Inly we sigh for that repose.' O dear brethren, if it is true that into our agitated and struggling lives there may steal, and in them there may abide, this priceless blessing of a great tranquillity, surely nothing else should be needed to woo us to accept the conditions and put forth the trust. It is strange that we should turn away, as we are all tempted to do, from that rest in God, and try to find repose in what was only meant for stimulus, and is altogether incapable of imparting rest. Storms live in the lower regions of the atmosphere; get up higher and there is peace. Waves dash and break on the surface region of the ocean; get down deeper, nearer the heart of things, and again there is peace.
Surely the name of the Bock of Ages is an invitation to us to put our trust in Him. If a man knew God as He is, he could not choose but trust Him. It is because we have blackened His face with our own doubts, and darkened His character with the mists that rise from our own sinful hearts, that we have made that bright Sun in the heavens, which ought to fall upon our hearts with healing in its beams, into a lurid ball of fire that shines threatening through the dim obscurity of our misty hearts. But if we knew Him we should love Him, and if we would only listen to His own self-revelation, we should find that He draws us to Himself by the manifestation of Himself, as the sun binds all the planets to his mass and his flame by the eradiation of his own mystic energies.
The summons is a summons to a faith corresponding to that upon which it is built. 'Trust ye in the Lora for ever, for in the Lord is the strength that endures for ever.' Our continual faith is the only fit response to His unchanging faithfulness. Build rock upon rock.
The summons is a summons addressed to us all. 'Trust ye' -- whoever ye are -- 'in the Lord for ever.' You and I, dear friends, hear the summons in a yet more beseeching and tender voice than was audible to the prophet, for our faith has a nobler object, and may have a mightier operation, seeing that its object is 'the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world'; and its operation, to bring to us peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. When from the Cross there comes to all our hearts the merciful invitation, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,' why should not we each answer,
'Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee'?