'Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.' -- ISAIAH xxviii.16.
'Therefore thus saith the Lord.' Then these great words are God's answer to something. And that something is the scornful defiance by the rulers of Israel of the prophet's threatenings. By their deeds, whether by their words or no, they said that they had made friends of their enemies, and that so they were sure that, whatsoever came, they were safe. To this contemptuous and false reliance God answers, not as we might expect, first of all, by a repetition of the threatenings, but by a majestic disclosure of the sure refuge which He has provided, set in contrast to the flimsy and false ones, on which these men built their truculent confidence; 'I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone.' And then, after the exhibition of the great mercy which has been evoked by the very blasphemy of the rulers, and not till then, does He reiterate the threatenings of judgment, against which this foundation is laid, that men may escape; God first declares the refuge, and then warns of the tempest.
Without entering at all upon the question, which for all believing and simple souls is settled by the New Testament, of the Messianic application of the words before us, I take it for granted. There may no doubt be an allusion here to the great solid blocks which travellers tell us may still be seen at the base of the encircling walls of the Temple hill. A stone so gigantic and so firm God has laid for man to build upon.
I. Note, then, first, the foundation, which is Christ.
There are many aspects of the great thought on which I cannot touch even for a moment. For instance, let me remind you how, in a very deep sense, Jesus Christ is the foundation of the whole of the divine dealings with us; and how, in another aspect, historically, since the day on which He appeared on earth, He has more and more manifestly and completely been the foundation of the whole history of the world. But passing these aspects, let us rather fix upon those which are more immediately in the prophet's mind.
Jesus Christ is the foundation laid for all men's security against every tempest or assault. The context has portrayed the coming of a tremendous storm and inundation, in view of which this foundation is laid. The building reared on it then is, therefore, to be a refuge and an asylum. Have not we all of us, like these scornful men in Jerusalem, built our refuges on vain hopes, on creatural affections, on earthly possessions, on this, that, and the other false thing, all of which are to be swept away when the storm comes? And does there not come upon us all the blast of the ordinary calamities to which flesh is heir, and have we not all more or less consciousness of our own evil and sinfulness; and does there not lie before every one of us at the end of life that solemn last struggle, and beyond that, as we most of us believe, a judgment for all that we have done in the body? 'I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone.' Build upon that, and neither the tempest of earthly calamities, changes, disappointments, sorrows, losses, nor the scourge that is wielded because of our sins, nor the last wild tempest that sweeps a man on the wings of its strong blast from out of life into the dark region, nor the solemn final retribution and judgment, shall ever touch us. And when the hail sweeps away the refuge of lies, and the waters overflow the hiding-place, this foundation stands sure --
And lo! from sin and grief and shame
I hide me, Jesus, in Thy name.
Brethren, the one foundation on which building, we can build secure, and safe as well as secure, is that foundation which is laid in the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God. The foundation of all our security is Jesus Christ.
We may look at the same thought under somewhat different aspects. He is the foundation for all our thinking and opinions, for all our belief and our knowledge. 'In Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,' and whatsoever of solid fact men can grasp in their thinkings in regard to all the most important facts and truths with which they come into relation, is to be found in the life and death of Jesus Christ, and in the truths which these reveal. He is the foundation of all our knowledge of God, and of all our true knowledge of ourselves, of all our true knowledge of duty, and all our true knowledge of the relations between the present and the future, between man and God.
And in His life, in the history of His death and resurrection, is the only foundation for any real knowledge of the awful mysteries that lie beyond the grave. He is the Alpha from whom all truth must be deduced, the Omega to which it all leads up. Certitude is in Him. Apart from Him we are but groping amid peradventures. If we know anything about God it is due to Jesus Christ. If we know anything about ourselves it is due to Him. If we know anything about what men ought to do, it is because He has done all human duty. And if, into the mist and darkness that wraps the future, there has ever travelled one clear beam of insight, it is because He has died and risen again. If we have Him, and ponder upon the principles that are involved in, and flow from, the facts of His life and death, then we know; and 'the truth as it is in Jesus' is the truth indeed. To possess Him is to hold the key to all mysteries, and knowledge without Him is but knowledge of the husk, the kernel being all unreached. That Stone is the foundation on which the whole stately fabric of man's knowledge of the highest things must ever be reared.
He is the foundation of all restful love. A Czar of Russia, in the old days, was mad enough to build a great palace upon the ice-blocks of the Neva. And when the spring came, and the foundations melted, the house, full of delights and luxury, sank beneath the river. We build upon frozen water, and when the thaw comes, what we build sinks and is lost to sight. Instead of love that twines round the creature and trails, bleeding and bruised, along the ground when the prop is taken away, let us turn our hearts to the warm, close, pure, perfect changeless love of the undying Christ, and we shall build above the fear of change. The dove's nest in the pine-tree falls in ruin when the axe is laid to the root. Let us build our nests in the clefts of the rock and no hand will ever reach them. Christ is the foundation on which we may build an immortal love.
He is the foundation for all noble and pure living. He is the fixed pattern to which it may be conformed. Otherwise man's notions of what is virtuous and good are much at the mercy of conventional variations of opinion. This class, that community, this generation, that school, all differ in their notions of what is true nobleness and goodness of life. And we are left at the mercy of fluctuating standards unless we take Christ in His recorded life as the one realised ideal of manhood, the pattern of what we ought to be. We cannot find a fixed and available model for conduct anywhere so useful, so complete, so capable of application to all varieties of human life and disposition as we find in Him, who was not this man or that man, in whom the manly and the feminine, the gentle and the strong, the public and the private graces were equally developed. In Christ there is no limitation or taint. In Christ there is nothing narrow or belonging to a school. This water has no taste of any of the rocks through which it flowed. You cannot say of Jesus Christ that He is a Jew or a Gentile, that He is man or woman, that He is of the ancient age or the modern type, that He is cut after this pattern or that. All beauty and all grace are in Him, and every man finds there the example that he needs. So, as the perfect pattern, He is the foundation for all noble character.
As the one sufficient motive for holy and beauteous living, He is the foundation. 'If ye love Me, keep My commandments.' That is a new thing in the world's morality, and that one motive, and that motive alone, has power, as the spring sunshine has, to draw beauty from out the little sheaths of green, and to tempt the radiance of the flowers to unfold their lustre. They that find the reason and the motive for goodness and purity in Christ's love to them, and their answering love to Christ, will build a far fairer fabric of a life than any others, let them toil at the building as they may. So, dear brethren, on this foundation God has built His mercy to all generations, and on this foundation you and I may build our safety, our love, our thinkings, our obedience, and rest secure.
II. Note next the tried preciousness of the foundation.
The language of the text, 'a stone of proof,' as it reads in the original, probably means a stone which has been tested and stood the trial. And because it is thus a tested stone, it therefore is a precious stone. There are two kinds of testing -- the testing from the assaults of enemies, and the testing by the building upon it of friends. And both these methods of proof have been applied, and it has stood the test.
Think of all the assaults that have been made from this side and the other against Christ and His gospel, and what has become of them all? Travellers tell us how they often see some wandering tribes of savage Arabs trying to move the great stones, for instance, of Baalbec -- those wonders of unfinished architecture. But what can a crowd of such people, with all their crowbars and levers, do to the great stone bedded there, where it has been for centuries? They cannot stir it one hair's-breadth. And so, against Jesus Christ and His gospel there has stormed for eighteen hundred years an assaulting crowd, varying in its individuals and in its methods of attack, but the same in its purpose, and the same in the fruitlessness of its effort. Century after century they have said, as they are saying to-day, 'Now the final assault is going to be delivered; it can never stand this.' And when the smoke has cleared away there may be a little blackening upon the edge, but there is not a chip off its bulk, and it stands in its bed where it did; and of all the grand preparations for a shattering explosion, nothing is left but a sulphurous smell, and a wreath of smoke, and both are floating away down into the distance. Generation after generation has attacked the gospel; generation after generation has been foiled; and I do not need to be a prophet, or the son of a prophet, to be quite sure of this, that all who to-day are trying to destroy men's faith in the Incarnate Son of God, who died for them and rose again, will meet the same fate. I can see the ancient and discredited systems of unbelief, that have gone down into oblivion, rising from their seats, as the prophet in his great vision saw the kings of the earth, to greet the last comer who had fought against God and failed, with 'Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us?' The stone will stand, whosoever tries to blow it up with his dynamite, or to pound it with his hammers.
But there is the other kind of testing. One proves the foundation by building upon it. If the stone be soft, if it be slender, if it be imperfectly bedded, it will crumble, it will shift, it will sink. But this stone has borne all the weight that the world has laid upon it, and borne it up. Did any man ever come to Jesus Christ with a sorrow that He could not comfort, with a sin that He could not forgive, with a soul that He could not save? And we may trust Him to the end. He is a 'tried stone.' 'This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles,' has been the experience of nineteen centuries.
So, being tried, it is precious, -- precious to God who laid it there at a great and real cost to Himself -- having given up 'His only begotten Son'; precious, inasmuch as building upon it is the one safety from the raging tempest and flood that would else engulf and destroy us.
III. Note, next, the process of building.
The metaphor seems to be abandoned in the last words of our text, but it is only apparently so. 'He that believeth shall not make haste.' So, then, we build by believing. The act of building is simple faith in Jesus Christ. We come to Him, as the Apostle Peter has it in his quotation of this text -- come to Him as unto a living stone, and the coming and the building are both of them metaphors for the one simple thing, trust in the Lord. The bond that unites men on earth with Christ in Heaven, is the exercise of simple faith in Him. By it they come into contact with Him, and receive from Him the security and the blessing that He can bestow. Nothing else brings a man into living fellowship with Him. When we trust in the Lord we, as it were, are bedded into Him; and resting upon Him with all our weight, then we are safe. That confidence involves the abandonment of all the 'refuges of lies.' There must be utter self-distrust and forsaking and turning away from every dependence upon anything else, if we are to trust ourselves to Jesus Christ. But the figure of a foundation which gives security and stability to the stones laid upon it, does not exhaust all the blessedness of this building upon Christ. For when we really rest upon Him, there comes from the foundation up through all the courses a vital power. Thus Peter puts it: 'To whom, coming as unto a living stone, ye also as living stones are built up.' We might illustrate this by the supposition of some fortress perched upon a rock, and in the heart of the rock a clear fountain, which is guided by some pipe or other into the innermost rooms of the citadel. Thus, builded upon Christ, 'our defence shall be the munitions of rocks, and our waters shall be sure.' From Him, the foundation, there will rise into all the stones, built upon Him, the power of His own endless life, and they, too, become living stones.
IV. So note, lastly, the quiet confidence of the builders.
'He that believeth shall not make haste.' The word is somewhat obscure, and the LXX., which is followed by the New Testament, readers it, 'Shall not be confounded or put to shame.' But the rendering of our text seems to be accurate enough. 'He shall not make haste.' Remember the picture of the context -- a suddenly descending storm, a swiftly rising and turbid flood, the lashing of the rain, the howling of the wind. The men in the clay-built hovels on the flat have to take to flight to some higher ground above the reach of the innundation, on some sheltered rock out of the flashing of the rain and the force of the tempest. He who is built upon the true foundation knows that his house is above the water-level, and he does not need to be in a hurry. He can remain quietly there till the flood subsides, knowing that it will not rise high enough to drown or even disturb him. When all the other buildings are gone, his stands. And he that thus dwells on high may look out over the wild flood, washing and weltering to the horizon, and feel that he is safe. So shall he not have to make haste, but may wait calm and quiet, knowing that all is well.
Dear friends, there is only one refuge for any of us -- only one from the little annoyances and from the great ones; from to-day's petty troubles, and from the day of judgment; from the slight stings, if I may so say, of little sorrows, cares, burdens, and from the poisoned dart of the great serpent. There is only one refuge for any of us, to build upon Jesus Christ, as we can do by simple faith.
And oh! remember, He must either be the foundation on which we build, or the stone of stumbling against which we stumble, and which one day will fall upon us and grind us to powder. Do you make your choice; and when God says, as He says to each of us: 'Behold! I lay in Zion a foundation,' do you say, 'And, Lord, I build upon the foundation which Thou hast laid.'