<< Psalm 102: The Time to Favour Zion >>
1Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.
2Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble; incline thine ear unto me: in the day when I call answer me speedily.
3For my days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned as an hearth.
4My heart is smitten, and withered like grass; so that I forget to eat my bread.
5By reason of the voice of my groaning my bones cleave to my skin.
6I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.
7I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.
8Mine enemies reproach me all the day; and they that are mad against me are sworn against me.
9For I have eaten ashes like bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.
10Because of thine indignation and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.
11My days are like a shadow that declineth; and I am withered like grass.
12But thou, O LORD, shall endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations.
13Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.
14For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.
15So the heathen shall fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth thy glory.
16When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory.
17He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.
18This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD.
19For he hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary; from heaven did the LORD behold the earth;
20To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those that are appointed to death;
21To declare the name of the LORD in Zion, and his praise in Jerusalem;
22When the people are gathered together, and the kingdoms, to serve the LORD.
23He weakened my strength in the way; he shortened my days.
24I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations.
25Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
26They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed:
27But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.
28The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee.
Two things are remarkable in the Psalm before us, — its extreme pathos, and its astonishing sublimity. It seems clear from its contents that it was written during the time of the captivity ; and the prophet pours out a wail so tender, and so pitiful, that it is perhaps unequalled in the whole circle of literature, for the utter desolateness it expresses. One can imagine the mournful soul of the servant of God, who had longed, and hoped, and sighed, and prayed, and agonized, for deliverance, but no help came, until hope deferred, and accumulated disappointment, brought him to the very verge of despair, and his heart melted itself into tears and moans, breathing the very agony of sorrow. His days are consumed like smoke. His bones are burnt up With feverish anxiety. His heart is smitten and withered like dried grass. He is like a pelican in the wilderness, the sad owl in the desert, the lonely bird on the housetop overlooking the wide-spread ruin. One single ground of consolation remains, — Jehovah loves His people as ever. The remembrance of His Wonderful mercy in days gone by will never perish, and He will doubtless arise and have mercy on Zion. The prophet singer believes the time, the appointed time, has come ; for he pleads, " Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, they favour the dust thereof!" By building up Zion again, the nations will fear the name of Jehovah, and all kings his glory.
But the grandeur of the latter portion of this Psalm is quite equal to the plaintive wail of the former. How sublime is the likeness of the universe to the vesture of the eternal. " Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth : and the heavens are the work of thine bands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure: yea, they shall all wax old like a garment: like a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not end." — Ps. cii. 25 — 27. There is a vesture which perishes, and one which does not perish. Let us consider them both.
It is an idea no less sublime than stupendous and true, to regard the universe as the dress of the Almighty, the gorgeous the gorgeous array of systems and stars, as the jewels of His robe. The glories of heaven, and all the countless societies there, are but the inner vesture of the Love and Wisdom of the Divine Man; and the countless worlds of the universe, with all their inhabitants are His outer garments.
" All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is and God the soul ;
That, changed through all, and yet in all the same.
Great in the earth, as in the ethereal frame,
Warms in the sun, refreshes in the breeze,
Glows in the stars, and blossoms in the trees;
Lives through all life, extends through all extent.
Spreads undivided, operates unspent ;
Breathes in our soul, informs our mortal part.
As full, as perfect, in a hair as heart,
As full, as perfect, in poor man that mourns,
As the rapt seraph that adores and burns:
To Him no high, no low, no great, no small,
He fills, He bounds, connects, and equals all."
This expression of the wondrous truth, " In him we live, and move, and have our being,'' takes our attention to a vesture of the Almighty, which is permanent after its creation. Thus the Psalmist declares : " Praise ye him, sun and moon : praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord : for He commanded, and they were created. He hath also established them for EVER AND EVER: He hath made a decree which shall not pass.'' — Ps. cxlviii. 3 — 6. The declarations of the Psalms, which speak of the stability of the created universe are numerous and striking. "They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout ALL GENERATIONS." — Ps. lxxiL 5. ''In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth." — Ver. 7. "His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him : all nations shall call him blessed."— Ver. 17. Here, the sun, moon, and stars, are all declared, to be established to exist for ever ; to continue as long as the Lord's peace and name shall continue. And when we remember that they are creations of of Divine Love, for the purpose of calling into existence and training ever-increasing myriads of finite beings that they might be blessed for ever, — creations whose order human error cannot interrupt nor spoil, — we may perceive that no change can take place with them which would impair their stability. He hath established them for ever and ever. The earth too, as to its material laws and conditions, is declared to be formed equally for perpetuity. See the following intimations. " And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever." — Ps. lxxviii. 69. "The Lord reigneth. He is clothed with majesty ; the Lord is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself; the world also is established, that it IT CANNOT BE MOVED.'' — Ps. xciii. 1. ''Say among the heathen, the Lord reigneth: the world also shall be established that it SHALL NOT BE MOVED: he shall judge the people righteously." — Ps. xcvi. 10. " Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for EVER." — Ps. civ. 5.
There is then a vesture, a clothing of the Divine Majesty, which will not be changed, a robe which endureth for ever. The outward universe, as an outbirth from Divine Love and Wisdom for everlasting ends, will everlastingly endure. The Divine purpose which brought it into being is unchanged, cannot change. The love of God cannot cease to be, nor can it be filled with objects to eternity, for it is infinite. It will still demand more, not fewer, immortal beings whom it can bless ; therefore creation will increase, but never come to an end. The Giver of life will never become the author of death ; the Creator will never become the destroyer; the same fountain, as the apostle says, cannot send forth sweet and bitter.
There is, nevertheless, in the Psalm before us, mention of a vesture which will be changed, of a garment which waxes old, in allusion to the heavens and the earth. And this brings us to another, and very important subject of reflection. The Spirit of the Lord, we have seen, covers itself with the universe of mind and matter, as a clothing of its divine thoughts and purposes, and as the means of carrying them out to an everlasting completion. And, this universe, as under the laws of the Divine Majesty alone, undisturbed by human perversity, answers its ends and obeys its laws with perfect order, and perfect truth, it will therefore be stable. There is, however, another clothing of the Spirit of God, another heaven and earth, which is not so fixed ; I mean the moral and intellectual world, which we call society. For all the feelings, thoughts, sentiments, ideas, and institutions, which at any particular time are prevalent in the world, are nothing but the human vesture of the Divine Spirit, sometimes pure, sometimes a mass of awful perversions, but at all times man's covering of divine principles. The love of God broods over man, and moves him to be happy ; the wisdom of God informs him of the means of happiness ; the power of God places at his disposal the ability to effect the purposes of his life. If man, wisely and purely, receives the impulses of the Divine Love, and desires to feel and live in its hallowed delights, he forms a heaven within of purity and peace. He receives and clothes the Divine Love and Wisdom with emotions and desires, affections and delights, which are all in harmony with it. He abides in the Lord, and the Lord makes His abode with him. His thoughts are derived from the teachings of the wisdom of heaven ; he learns and he teaches the laws and the lessons of true intelligence, and he originates around him, in the Church and in the State, a condition of society which embodies his reading of the truth. He clothes the truth, with what he conceives it means, directs and intends, and thus produces a good transcript on earth of the heaven he feels within. This is a moral HEAVEN and EARTH ; a new creation.
This, however, as it is man's rendering of God's Holy Spirit in the world, is a heaven and earth not stable and abiding like the universe in which God reigns alone. It has the weakness of humanity about it. It is like a garment which waxes old. It is a vesture which is changed. It is a heaven and earth which pass away, giving place to new heavens and a new earth ; or in other words, a new dispensation, a new church, and society among mankind. This has been often done. The earliest dispensation of religion among mankind, or the Most Ancient Church described by the creation in Genesis, and the placing of Adam in Eden, in the garden of delight, was a realization of the Divine idea that man should be happy, by enjoying the blessings of love to God and man, and the perception of the Divine wisdom in nature by correspondence. All nature was a book, in which they delighted to read. Creation was to them a garden of innocence and wisdom. They had child-like simplicity of heart, and heaven was reflected to them in all they saw around. Their heaven was realized in the interior light and joy they experienced, and their peaceful, simple, happy, outward life was their earth. All went well for a time, perhaps a very long time, — it was the golden age. The Divine idea, that man should be innocently, simply, and wisely happy, was, we conceive, clothed with every form of vegetable beauty; they lived in gardens, the outer paradise being the reflection of the inner one. We have very faint means of knowing how long it continued in its purity; but at length there came a desire not to be so entirely led by the Lord as before. The love of external sensual life, the serpent, insinuated self-derived intelligence grounded in appearances ; self-will arose, and that train of errors and evils was generated, which brought this first great dispensation to an end in the soul-destroying falsities represented by the flood. Another dispensation was begun, signified by Noah and the ark. To those who, in their time, like the Psalmist in his time, prayed that the water-floods might not come in upon their souls, the Divine Mercy gave help and consolation. Divine truth in its beauty was imparted to them. They cultivated the spiritual vine. It was the age of silver. They did not satisfy themselves, like their forefathers of the golden age, with the peaceful perception of the correspondences in nature, but they delighted in imitating correspondences, in making representatives. They originated the beautiful mythologies of India and the Greeks. From them came the hieroglyphics of Egypt, the strange winged forms, and mythic trees of buried Nineveh.
All these wondrous stories and figures were full of intelligence and wisdom to them, and they gloried in them, spreading them over all the East. They, however, degenerated into idolatry and corruption. The degenerate sons made idols of what was full of meaning to the fathers. Instead of dedicating their affections in worship and in life to the will of their heavenly Father, they offered up the animals which corresponded to them. Their evils sunk them into stupidity. Hence came the idolatries, the strange myths, the bloody sacrifices of the ancient heathen world, all originating in the perversions of correspondences, the garment had again become old, the vesture must again be changed. The darkened heavens and earth must again pass away, and a new heaven and earth, or a new state of society be formed. Then came the Jewish Church. The world was sunk so low that no intellectual or spiritual Church could then be formed, and yet the fulness of time had not arrived for Jehovah Himself to become incarnate. A typical dispensation must now be formed ; and the Jewish religion was begun. The Divine idea amongst them clothed itself with all the arrangements of the tabernacle and the temple, the priestly robes, the minute regulations of the sacrifices, and the patterns of things in the heavens, which would prevail until the time of the great and wonderful work of God — His own manifestation in the flesh. At first the Jews were happy in performing this use. They were in a heaven of enjoyment in being distinguished by so many miracles and so many divine favours. They made a new state of society, a new crowd of institutions, a new earth, in their their Canaan, and for a time all went well. But the theocracy established did not last long. The people thirsted for distinction among the nations. The selfish and worldly spirit set in. They would have kings, armies, and selfish dominations. They must have grand alliances with powerful heathen nations. Their religion itself became corrupted by vain traditions, and at length was what the Great Saviour found it, a system of hypocrisy and deceit, preying upon blind dupes. The garment had become once more old ; the vesture must be once more changed. Again, heaven and earth, the Jewish heaven and earth, must pass away, and a new heaven and earth be formed. And now that we are treating of times to which the revelation of the Jews refer, we have ample opportunity of noticing what the breaking down and removal of heaven and earth really imply. When treating of the foundation of the Jewish Church, the Lord, speaking by the prophet, says, " And I have put my words into thy mouth, and I have covered thee, in the shadow of mine hand, that I may plant the heavens, and lay the foundations of the earth, and say unto Zion, Thou art my people." — Isa. li. 16. Surely, no one will fail to admit that the heaven and earth here spoken of mean the Jewish Church as to its interior principles, and thee results which grow out of them.
When that church was sinking into decay, it is represented as an earth in a state of dissolution. Thus David said " The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved : I bear up the pillars of it." — Ps. lxxv. 3. Certainly, the earth whose pillars David bore up, could be nothing else than the Jewish Church. Again, it is said, " They know not, neither will they understand ; they walk on in darkness : all the foundations of the earth are out of course." — Ps. lxxxii. 5. But what foundations go out of course when the people will not know nor understand their true duty, but will walk on in darkness? Surely no other foundations but the foundations of truth and virtue!
The prophet Isaiah has a whole chapter strikingly illustrative of this use of earth to signify the Church. " The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate: therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men left” chap, xxiv. 4-6. Here, not only is the earth represented as falling away between two and three thousand years ago ; but the inhabitants, as being burned and few men being left. Such language is quite without meaning respecting any earth but the moral earth, that is, the Church. But when its members fall away from goodness, and sink into the embraces of vice, they become inflamed with lust and passion, which is the burning the prophet means, and there are few men left. Again he says, " The earth is utterly broken down, the earth is clean dissolved, the earth is moved exceedingly." — ver. 19. But what earth? Surely not God's earth! The material world has been as little dissolved up to the present time as it ever was. It is man's earth, the society which man forms, which dissolves when it looses its hold on God and immortal principles, and gives itself a prey to self, to falsehood, and to sin. The prophet Jeremiah speaks in the same manner, and, I may say, all the prophets, for it is the Divine style; “For my people are foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children and they have none understanding : they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form and void ; and the heavens, and they had no light." — Chap. iv. 22, 23. No one surely can fail to see that the heavens which had no light are the minds of those who were wise to do evil, but to do good had no knowledge; while the disordered and void earth is the wretched state of society which they produce. When the Jewish Church is described as about to pass away and to give place to the Christian, this is the language in which it is described: "For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth : and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create : for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.'' — Isa. lxv. 17, 18.
The Jewish heavens had become darkened by falsehood, — they loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil ; the Jewish earth had become a mass of mingled heathenish tradition and sordid schemes for making everything subservient to a greedy desire for gain : this should give place to the new heavens of Christian faith and love, and the new earth of Christian obedience and benevolence. Men were to be removed from the old man of selfishness to the new man of Christ ; and, "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature," said the apostle, "old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new."— 2 Cor. v. 18.
And now we may be prepared to regard the sublime language of this Psalm with a solemn and deep significance in relation to the rise, the progress, and the decline, of churches or great dispensations of divine things among mankind. They are as successive vestures clothing the Spirit of God among men. At first they are as a new and beautiful robe of the Almighty, but in time they become corrupt, they wax old as a garment. The Spirit of the living God, which they clothed remains the same, and it puts no new piece on the old garment. As a vesture it changes them, and they shall be changed ; but He is the same, and His years have no end. So was it with the golden or Adamic age ; so was it with the Noetic or silver age; so was it with the Jewish ; and so was it to be, and so has it been, with the Christian.
Some, however, may demur, when they hear that the first Christian Church was in time to give way to a second, represented by the New Jerusalem. Yet it is plainly so taught in Holy Writ ; and if we have succeeded in showing that the passing away of heaven and earth, and the formation of new heavens and a new earth, is a Scriptural mode of stating the end of an old Church, and the beginning of a new one, then these will be no difficulty in admitting that the first Christian Church would come to an end, and give place to a better ; for there can be no question, but that in the New Testament it is prophesied that heaven and earth would once more pass away, and a new heaven and earth be formed. " Heaven and earth shall pass away," said our Lord, " but my words shall not pass away " (Matt xxiv. 36) ; meaning that the dispensation He then established would come to an end, but from His divine words another would arise. The apostle Peter, in language very like that in which the prophet Isaiah described the fallen Jewish Church, and which we have already quoted, — " The earth is clean dissolved," etc., — announces the end of the first Christian Church, when he says, " Looking for and hasting unto the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat." — 2 Peter iii. 12. The heavens are on fire when the inward hearts of men are possessed by selfish excitement, by lust and passion, when hate takes the place of love, and revenge the place of mercy. In such case the elements of virtue and right melt with fervent heat, and become destroyed. Nevertheless, as the apostle continues, we according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, or justice. The new heavens and earth are not to contain new sun, new moon, or new stars; but they are to contain justice.
To the same effect is the vision of John in the Book of Revelation: " And I saw a new heaven and a new earth : and the former heaven and the former earth were passed away ; and there was no more sea. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband.'' — Rev. xxi. 1, 2. This language, in the divine manner of speaking, assures us that the heaven and earth of the first Christian dispensation would be succeeded by another. Jerusalem, in spiritual language, undoubtedly means the Church, and a New Jerusalem can only mean a New Church. This would descend upon earth, and transform by its glorious principles the kingdoms of this world, to be the kingdoms of the Lord Jesus Christ, doing His will, and receiving His happiness.
That which is thus symbolically taught by these majestic emblems was also plainly taught by the Lord Himself: ''And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold." — Matt. xxiv. 11, 12. The very expression "end of the age," frequently used by our Lord, and erroneously in our version translated ''end of the world," teaches that the "age" He instituted, like other " ages " would have its end. The word aion, translated world, occurs in the Greek of the New Testament one hundred and twenty-eight times, and is rendered many ways, but never once means the material globe. It is rendered by age several times, as in Col. i. 26 ; Eph. ii. 7 ; iii. 21 : and such is its proper meaning. And therefore the end of the age is an announcement that an end would come to that " age," as it had come to others, and something still more perfect would be revealed by Him who is the God of all ages. The apostle expresses it thus ; " For we know in part, and we prophecy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." — 1 Cor. xiii. 9, 10.
That which was given in part at the beginning, because the world was not in a state to bear a fuller revelation, would then gradually become darker and darker unto its end, and then that which is perfect, a full developement of heavenly wisdom would take place. The great leading feature of that more perfect system would be a clear and full knowledge of the Lord. " The time cometh," said the Saviour, " when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I will show you plainly of the Father."
And now, looking backwards up the history of the Christian Church, what is it but a long declension ? The time would fail me to trace, however faintly, the gloomy story, abounding in follies and cruelty, which announce not religion, but baptized heathenism. In the days even of the apostles, they saw the spirit of religion already becoming tainted with pride and folly (2 Thess. ii. 3-7 ; John iv. 1-3). Onwards the mystery of iniquity worked, weaving self and sanctimoniousness into an awful system of priestcraft and sensuality. In the third and fourth centuries a scheme of religion acquired increasing influence, and became full blown at the Council of Nice in 324, ---by which the deity was divided into three persons of different characters, and men were led to hope to be saved, not by following the Great Saviour, and becoming like-minded with Him, but by praying at any time to one of the divine persons to pacify the other. Instead of altering themselves, they were bent upon altering God. This unhappy folly spread and deepened.
First it began by setting up the Saviour as a different Being from the Father, to pacify Him. Then the Virgin Mary was exalted, from the idea that she was a gentle being, who would still more easily wink at the frailties of her worshipers, and she would incline her Son to mercy. Then successive saints were exalted, who were thought likely to influence the Virgin, and so on. And as this direful state of things spread, iniquity abounded amongst priests and people, so that an ever-darkening gloom thickened over the human mind, diversified chiefly by flashes of tremendous crime, — nations and creeds burning against others with dread volcanoes of malice, hate, and vengeance, terrible to contemplate. The cruelties against the Albigenses, the monstrosities of the Inquisition, the thirty years' war between Catholics and Protestants in Germany, the terrible Huguenot dragonnades, are fearful illustrations of what we mean, when it was evident that the so-called religious were but fiends in human shape ; and the doctrines which could produce such characters must be fearful perversions of pure and undefiled religion. By THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM. At last the midnight of such a fearful time arrived, when just a century ago, even the pretense of believing in religion at all was almost entirely cast off. Infidel and sensual kings, infidel and sensual priests, infidel and sensual philosophers, were the rule throughout Christendom, with the faintest possible exceptions ; and Europe and the world were drifting into the dreadful convulsion of the French Revolution. This was the end of that age. It was once more a terrible flood: atheism, deism, materialism, and every form of falsehood, rolled on like the roaring waves of the sea. The world was voted a mere crust of matter, on which men crept for their little day, animated by their petty passions,and then sunk into everlasting silence. The time was terrible. The floods were awful. No hope appeared. “The floods lifted up, Lord, the floods lifted up their voice ; the floods lift up their waves : but the Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea." — Ps. xciii. 3, 4. He who ever loves and cares for mankind, cared for them, and launched a little ark over this troubled ocean. A new and spiritual religion was disclosed to the human race, as small at first as one man's hand, but containing in it the germs of a new age. This religion, instead of a divided God, offered the Great Saviour, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Col. ii. 9), for a God of infinite anger, directed men's minds to Jesus, the God of Infinite Love. Instead of looking at the universe as a great cold machine of dead matter, it regarded nature as the clothing of spirit, and warmed everywhere by its living soul. Man's life in the world no longer a chance medley of only passing moment ; but is the wondrous apprenticeship, in which souls learn eternal principles, and to do immortal work, and death is the entrance to higher life.
The Divine Word is no longer a mere historical record, a thing of shreds and patches, for each quibbler to run away with and quarrel over, but a wondrous casket, whose glorious gems may be seen to be worthy of its Author, no longer the letter that killeth, but the spirit that giveth life (2 Cor. iii. 6). The divine commandments are the only laws of happiness, and the Spirit of the Lord Jesus is the spirit of love and light which imparts power to keep them. Heaven is no longer like a mere word or dream, but is a land whose laws are order flowing from love and wisdom, and whose perfections are purities in form. Such are the outlines of this wonderful ark, which saved a few. It floated above and on the waters at first, but at length obtained a solid settlement on the earth, and became a beautiful golden pearly city, in which ever-increasing numbers take up their happy home. Of this city it is written, " I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem : and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth ; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain." — Zech. viii. 3.
And now we may appreciate the bearing of our text, and its connected truths in this psalm. As mankind declined, the truly good most have felt more and more lonely and desolate. Their great sad souls must have sickened, and mourned, and been like the sparrow on the house-top. One cheering light after another went out, and there was only one ground of hope, " The Lord endured for ever." — Ver. 12. On this, though mournfully leaning, they could hold fast. But now we live a century after the dark time of the end, and signs of morning everywhere appear. Now, it may be said, '' Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion : for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come." — Ver. 13.
By Zion is meant the Church as to goodness. The term Zion is expressive of elevation, and the soul is only elevated the sight of the Lord in proportion as it is receptive of goodness from Him." And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three ; but the greatest of these is charity (or love)." — 1 Cor xiii. 13. As then a person becomes animated by love to the Lord and his neighbour, he enters the heavenly Zion. Therefore the apostle said to the truly converted, " Ye are come to Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem ; and to an innumerable company of angels." The temple was on Mount Zion, literally, to teach us that the Lord should be worshipped from goodness. For the same reason Zion is spoken of in its representative character in the most glorious terms. '' Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion." — Ps. xlviii. 1, 2. " The Lord loveth the gates of Zion, more than all dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God." — Ps. lxxxvii. 2, 3. The truths which, like gates, introduce men to holy love and hallowed goodness, are of more value in the sight of the Lord than all the states of mere faith and knowledge. All the principles of the New Church tend and strengthen goodness. When, therefore, these truths being unfolded and received among mankind, it may be truly said, ''Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come." — Ps. cii. 13.
It is said “the time to favour her,” but it is clear the word time implies its spiritual sense, which is state. State constitutes time of the soul. When the soul is in a state of sorrow, a short time appears long ; when in a state of joy, a long time appears short. The time to favour Zion, then, means the state to favour Zion. And it is repeated, because before Zion can be really blessed, there must be a state of love in the heart and faith in the mind. Hence it is expressed in the double form, “the time," and '' the set time." It is, however, more particularly explained as we proceed. '' For Thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof." — Ver. 14.
It is manifest that the time for favouring Zion depends upon the state here expressed. When the servants take pleasure her stones, and favour the dust, then the time to favour Zion has arrived.
The stones of Zion are the truths which flow from, and lead to goodness, and to favour them is to love them. Let us examine these stones a little. The first is a most wonderful one, it is this: That Jehovah himself from infinite love visited the world as its Saviour. " In his love and in his pity, he redeemed them. ”-Isa. lxiii. 9. “This is the stone which the builders rejected and which has become the headstone of the corner.” (Luke xx. 17). “It is the pearl of great price (Matt. xiii. 46).
It is the stone of which it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion for foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation ; he that believeth shall not make haste.'' — Isa. xxviii. 16. When this stone sinks deeply into the heart, it becomes a foundation of hope, of trust, of love, and consolations innumerable. If my Heavenly Father really became my Saviour, then will I fear nothing : I know the Almighty One loves me. If the Father were seen in Jesus, and He is the First and the Last, then am I safe. I know there is no angry frowning Deity; He is, He must be love. What but love could bring down to us, to make His mercy really known, and to save man to the uttermost! He who restored sight to the blind, and to the lame, raised the dead, and calmed the sea, and has all power in heaven and on earth, will restore, strengthen, enlighten, raise, and calm me. This stone has seven eyes upon it: all divine wisdom flows from it (Zech. iii. 9). If it be true that God was manifested in the flesh, then Jehovah is our judge, Jehovah is our lawgiver, Jehovah is our king ; he will save us (Isa. xxxiii. 22). It must be true, the heart demands this close union with its God, and when He says, '' He that seeth ME has seen the Father :" thy servants, adorable Redeemer, take great pleasure in this stone. But there are many other delightful stones. It is written, " I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones— Isa. liv. 12. The windows are of agates, when a rational faith freely admits the light of heaven into the soul ; the gates are of carbuncles, when the introductory truths of religion are all assurance of the mercy and wisdom by which all things are arranged for our salvation and happiness, and when we see the spirit shining through the letter of the whole Sacred Scripture, all our borders are precious stones. The servants of the Lord take pleasure in these stones of Zion. They love them for their own sake, and they love them for their Giver's.
And, may I not address all of you my hearers, and ask, is there not an unspeakable pleasure in contemplating those holy truths which yield us a religion which satisfies at once the heart, the reason and the life, which throws light over the eternal world, and brings its laws down to make of earth a preparatory heaven! Thy servants take pleasure in her stones. They favour the dust thereof.
Dust corresponds to what is external, and of comparatively slight importance. The outward possessions which so entirely please the selfish, are called dust in the Word : " Dust shall be the serpent's meat.'' — Isa. lxv. 25. Celestial and spiritual blessings, are expressed by gold and silver in the divine estimation ; but the fleeting possessions of time, are regarded as dust. The soul that seeks its satisfaction in power, pomp, or wealth, will find itself as empty and unblessed as an animal would which sought to supply its nourishment by feeding on dust. How often has this been realized. Title, fame, talents, rank, and wealth, could not save the lordly poet from the sad lament on his thirty-sixth birthday, —
"My years are in tho sallow leaf.
And all the life of life is gone,
The worm, the canker, and the grief,
Are mine alone."
Earthly possessions are, however, valuable if used as means, and not regarded as ends, if made subservient to real usefulness and not set up as idols. They only become dangerous and destructive when we seek to feed upon them, or in other words, make them the very delight of our souls. The dust of Zion means the externals of the church. These are of little importance compared with its internal principles. Attendance upon outward worship, singing, outward prayer, the externals of the sacraments when compared to the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy, faith, are but as mere dust. Yet we should not forget that mountains are made of atoms. Each grain of dust, though of small value in itself, is of great importance as tending to a great result. Attendance upon public worship is an external thing, not to be compared with the value of the possession of interior heavenly virtues ; but when regarded as a means of attaining and strengthening heavenly virtues, its worth is great indeed.
We cannot too strongly impress upon ourselves the greatness of little things. The dust of Zion is sacred dust, and the wise servants of the Lord favour the dust thereof. They love the very spot, where they hear the Word, pour out their souls in prayer, and join in sacred song. They delight in worshipping the Lord in the beauty of holiness. They will never willingly be absent. They go cheerfully, and testify their cheerfulness by being ready in good time to join in the invocation for the presence of the Lord. They know that the ministry of the Word is the divine means of imparting to them light, and strength, and blessing, and they enter into the feeling expressed by the psalmist : " One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after ; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire on his temple." — Ps. xxvii. 4. Well is it for us, and well is it for the Church, when we thus take pleasure in the stones of Zion, and favour the dust thereof.
Let us never suppose that attendance on divine worship in our solemn assemblies is a matter of indifference. Little as the good of outward worship at one particular time may be, “he who is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much ; and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much (Luke xvi. 10. When we love the dust of Zion, and testify our love by a prompt, cheerful, punctual presence at the hearing of the Word and worship; the time to favour Zion, yea, the set time to favour her, is come. What stones are like her stones ? What dust is like her dust ? Can any earthly knowledge or science be compared with the treasures of heavenly wisdom? The grand themes of the nature and ways of the Lord ; the wonders and glories of His Word ; the regeneration of the human soul ; the laws of heaven and of the universe; the happiness of the angels; the principles of the Church ; these comprise stones of splendour, and of inestimable worth. Thy servants take pleasure in her stones. And what assemblies can compare with the public worship of the Lord, when our hearts enter into its sacred delights ? There the ever-blessed One speaks to us in His word. He sits at the mouth of the well from which springs the water of everlasting life. There we commune with Him in prayer, and, elevated for a time above all earthly cares, we dwell in the atmosphere of angelic thought, and are sunned with divine light and heat. Our hearts bum within us, while He talks with us by the way. No other meeting is for a moment to be compared with the public worship of the Lord. And when we ponder upon its worth, none will be so highly prized. We shall take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof.
And now, my beloved hearers, I feel fully impressed with be persuasion that you yearn to have Zion favoured in the Word. You know that mankind will never be orderly and happy, until all things earthly are filled and and guided by things spiritual and divine. We long to see the Church increase, because her increase is the increase of the means of order, of goodwill, of parity, of peace, and of blessing among mankind. We have often walked round Zion ; and told her towers. We have marked well her bulwarks, and considered her palaces, that we may tell it to the generation following. Often have we said, " This God is our God, for ever and ever : he will be our guide unto death." — Ps. xlviii. 12-14.
How shall we do our part to help on the progress of mankind towards this universal justice, enlightenment, peace, and happiness ? Only by this : — Let us in all our learning, doing, and worshipping, show that we take pleasure in the stones of Zion. Let us talk of them in our families, and show our value of them in our lives. Let us be earnest, attentive, and warm in our worship. Let it be seen that we delight to be there. Let us be glad when they say unto us, " We will go up to the house of the Lord." So shall we prove that we love the very dust of Zion ; and we shall find, by a delightful experience in our own states, and by the success of the Lord's Church, even in our day, that " The time to favour Zion, yea, the set time to favour her, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, they favour the dust thereof."
The manifest tendency of all this is to realize what prophets have long proclaimed as the ultimate destiny of mankind, that reign of a God who can be known as a God of love and light, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, and the Saviour of all the families of mankind, regenerated in bonds of brotherhood, governed by justice, and enjoying peace. Where is this God of love and light to be found but in the Lord Jesus Christ : — Jehovah now made known in His Divine Humanity? Isaiah calls this, "All nations coming to the house of Jehovah at the top of the mountains."— chap. ii. 2. Zechariah says, ''In that day there shall be one King over all the earth. In that day there shall be one Jehovah, and his name one." — chap. xiv. 9. The opening of the Word shall be the grand means of leading mankind to happiness ; He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths, for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. There shall be a victory over evils, and from the mountain of love to the Lord, all unkindness shall be subdued. '' They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain : for the earth shall be full of the Knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea." — Isa. xi. 9.
'' Peace o'er the world, her olive wand extends,
And white-robed innocence from heaven descends.”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY --From The Divine Word Opened (1887)