A Study of Isaiah 33:20
“Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities.”
Without making any remarks upon the context, I shall immediately begin with the passage read as a text; and in doing so I do not intend to say anything upon Zion literally, but shall speak to you of Zion in a spiritual sense; and I mean, so far as the Lord shall be graciously pleased to direct and enable me, to show,
What is intended by Zion?
Why called a city?
Point out the way into this city.
Endeavour to describe a true citizen.
Dwell a little upon the solemnities of this city.
Show the blessedness of looking, by a vital faith, upon it.
I. By Zion I understand the real church of Christ, and, in the strictest sense, the whole body elect, chosen, and secured in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world: “For the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell; for I have desired it.” (Ps. 132:13,14) So that Zion is the spiritual property, the glorious church, and the eternal residence of Jehovah. Here the Lord not only declares but subscribes his name, and maintains all the honours of his glorious nature; and to this blessed Zion every real believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is brought by the power of the Holy Ghost; as it is written, “But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb. 12:22-24) From this statement we learn that Zion is the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the glorious vision of peace, where God lives and dwells as the God of peace, and that it consists of an innumerable company of angels; and if by angels the glorious angelic host above is intended, they are an innumerable company indeed; for “the chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels;” (Ps. 68:17) and the mountain was full of them for the protection of Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17) Yet there is a sense in which they cannot fully enter into the glories of the redeemed family of God, for the Lord Jesus Christ did not take their nature into union with his personal Godhead: “For verily he took not on him the nature of angels, but he took on him the seed of Abraham.” (Heb. 2:16) The glory of redemption by the blood of the God-Man they cannot experience. This divine mystery contains in it things that the angels desire to look into; so that, as the poet says,
“If sinless innocence be theirs,
Redemption all is ours.”
There is a glorious measure of the glory of God in the person, blood, and obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ which no creatures but redeemed sinners can enter, and they can only enter into it as the Holy Ghost reveals it unto them. (1 Cor. 2:9-11) If by angels, angels in office are intended, God’s messengers, or ministers of the Spirit and of the glorious gospel of the blessed God, raised up, qualified, and sent forth by the Lord to “preach the unsearchable riches of Christ,” then it takes in all that ever have been, that are now, or ever will be thus employed by the Lord; and though the true ministers of the Spirit appear but few in number at any one time compared with the rest, the whole collected together, as treasured up in the mind, purpose, and covenant of God’s grace, are a great company, and they are a branch of the city of the living God. This blessed Zion contains the general assembly and church of the first-born; (Heb. 12:23) and if by the first-born we are here to understand the Lord Jesus Christ, for he is so called in Colossians 1:15-18, then the whole family of God, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, are intended; a people given unto Christ and made his care and charge; for the blessed elect of God, chosen in Christ, redeemed by Christ, and, in God’s own time, quickened by the power of the Spirit and made alive to Christ, (Eph. 2:5) having vital life in him, are the true church of Christ; and if Christ be meant by the first-born, then that blessed church is the church of the first-born; and shall for ever live in and with him as his own spiritual property and delight. Of this blessed church of the first-born it is said, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27) Bless the precious name of our adorable Redeemer, he will take care of his church, and present to himself a glorious church, come what will; for thus saith the Lord, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) So that the whole elect of God appear to be intended, both those that are already gone to glory, and those that are now on their way there, and likewise those that are yet unborn–all sealed up and secured in the covenant, love, and heart of the Lord the Lamb, as figured forth in Peter’s vision. (Acts 10:10-16) If by the general assembly and church of the first-born we are to understand all those who are, by the invincible power of God the Holy Ghost, quickened and made alive to God, and “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God,” (John 1:13) still the same characters are intended, for all that are chosen in Christ shall, in the Lord’s own time, experience this divine change, and none but such ever will; nor can it be accomplished but by the exceeding greatness of God’s mighty power. (Eph. 1:19; 2:10) These are all written in heaven, “in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” (Rev. 13:8) and the rest will, some way or other, live and die in the worship of antichrist, for “there are many antichrists.” (1 John 2:18)
The pope is not the only antichrist in the world, for every doctrine and every branch of worship which is contrary to the Lord Jesus Christ is antichristian. The real spiritual worshippers of God are those who are born of God, and who worship him in spirit and in truth; and all such are of the blessed number whose names are written in heaven. Sometimes, when the joys of the child of God appear to run high, he, like the seventy disciples, is ready to triumph because the devils are subject to him; but, poor soul, a thousand to one but by and by he will fear, in his feelings that he is subject to the devil, and all his joy on this ground will leave him to sink in dismay; yet still his name stands securely written in heaven; there has no change taken place there. Though the enemy of souls may greatly annoy and distress the people of God, he cannot destroy them; for their “life is hid with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3)
Therefore, saith the Lord, “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) So that their names being written in heaven is a much surer foundation for joy than the devils being subject to them; for most assuredly they shall all at last overcome by the blood of the Lamb. Satan may and does bring a thousand accusations against them, and there are sad times when conscience cannot deny the charge; but by a vital faith in the blood of the Lamb, they shall overcome; for thus it is written: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death.” (Rev. 12:11) Well, these characters in union to Jesus the Mediator, and to God the Judge of all in him, whether they are now the spirits of just men made perfect in glory, or whether they are still in this vale of tears, or yet unborn,–all being chosen in Christ, and being written in heaven, are God’s blessed Mount Zion. And if, as some say, the term Mount Zion signifies a sepulcher, it may in this respect set forth what God’s people are in and of themselves, a vile, detestable mass of filth, sin, and corruption, brought in very deed, at one time or another, feelingly to cry, “My wounds stink and are corrupt, because of my foolishness.” (Ps. 38:5) Ungodly men may and do awfully sin against a holy, just, and good God, but none except a real, spiritual Zionite feelingly sickens it, loathes, and detests his stinking foolishness, abhorring himself because of it, and truly uniting with Job: “Wherefore, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:6) It is one thing for a man to own that he is a vile sinner, but it is another thing for him to feel real shame before God on account of his vileness, and feelingly to loathe himself and detest the very root from which all sinful actions spring. There are professors even of doctrinal truth who will talk much about their corruptions, and, in fact, they have little else to talk about, and they often speak about them as though it was a sweet morsel, or a matter of little or no importance; but this is not the case with real believers in the Lord Jesus Christ: for though they frequently feel the dreadful springings up and workings of corrupt nature, it is their burden and their grief, and they groan under it and heartily detest it, and in real spiritual feeling cry, “My loins are filled with a loathsome disease; and there is no soundness in my flesh. I am feeble and sore broken; I have roared by reason of the disquietness of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before thee, and my groaning is not hid from thee.” (Ps. 38:7-9) Yet, they cannot ground their hope of eternal happiness upon their loathing of, or groaning under their vileness. No, there is no solid ground for hope or rest to the weary soul short of Christ crucified.
Does Zion signify a monument? What a monument of rich discriminating grace the church of God is! Here all the honours of Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, meet and shine, and matchless grace engraves upon it the name of God. (Rev. 3:12) The church is raised up by the eternal, electing love of God the Father, the eternal and redeeming love of God the Son, and the eternal, quickening, enlightening, convincing, teaching, anointing, sealing, and witness-bearing love of God the Holy Ghost, to show forth the praises of God, as a living monument of the wonders God has done, is now doing, and will still do. This is God’s glorious Zion, and he will glorify it. (Isa. 60:7) As she stands in union to Christ, her living Head, life, and glory, immortally complete in him, she is the masterpiece of God’s workmanship and declarative glory; and “out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.” (Ps. 50:2) Notwithstanding all the wretchedness that the church, while here below, feels and fears, and in deep humility confesses, yet such are the glorious mysteries of God’s grace, that, as she stands in Christ, chosen in him, redeemed by him, and washed from all her sins in his precious blood, clothed in his righteousness, quickened and created anew in Jesus Christ by the Holy Ghost, and saved by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, made comely and beautiful in the comeliness which the Lord puts upon her, she stands free from charge, (Rom. 8:33-35) and shall at last be presented before the throne of God a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. (Eph. 5:27) The glorious church is built by the Three-One God out of some of the worst materials under the sun, to be the glorious dwelling-place of the Lord, raised up by infinite wisdom, love, power, and grace, a glorious monument of discriminating mercy, to show forth the praises of God for ever and ever. This is God’s holy hill, or, as it reads in the margin, the hill of his holiness, and here Christ lives and reigns. (Ps. 2:6) Here “the Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord.” We now pass on to the consideration of our next head.
II. Why God’s blessed church is called a city, the city of God and of the great King; (Ps. 48:1,2) “the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel;” (Isa. 60:14) “the Holy City;” (Isa. 52:1) “the city of righteousness, the faithful city;” (Isa. 1:26) “the Lord is there;” (Ezek. 48:35) “the beloved city;” (Rev. 20:9) “sought out, a city not forsaken.” (Isa. 62:12) Now all these blessed names and titles are given to the church of God as she stands in union to, and has her life and glory in and from, the Lord Jesus Christ. In him she is completely righteous and holy, and faithful too; and as she derives life, power, and virtue from him, by the divine energy of God the Holy Ghost, she proves faithful unto death. She is the spiritual property and residence of God the great King, beloved of the Father, Son, and Spirit with an everlasting love; sought out by the sovereign act of God in eternal election, and chosen and secured in Christ; sought out by God the Son in the solemn work of redemption, when, as the beloved Immanuel, he bore her sins, and put them away by the sacrifice of himself, and when he wrought out a complete righteousness for her; (Dan. 9:24) sought out of the lumber and rubbish of the fall by God the Holy Ghost, in the solemn act of regeneration, and the glorious acts connected therewith; sought out by a Three-One God by the various acts of special mercy, from time to time, in reproofs, rebukes, corrections, chastisements, humblings, sweet-drawings, love-kisses, and droppings of love into the heart, yea, sometimes shedding it abroad there; in solemn checks, in kind intimations of mercy; now a blessed smile, which cheers, warms, and sometimes melts the heart, and draws forth prayer, praise, and thanksgivings; then a fatherly frown, accompanied by a little light, which discovers some of the hidden evils of the heart, and leads to deep searchings of heart, humble confessions, and heart-broken sighs, groans, and supplications for mercy and pardon. They are sought out at different times, under different circumstances, and by a great variety of means, but all for one glorious purpose, namely, to wean and draw them from all false hopes, and from self, in all its bearings, to the Lord Jesus Christ, that God may be glorified in them and by them, and to give full proof that it is his city, not forsaken.
The Lord Jesus Christ, in his love, blood, and perfect obedience, is the Foundation laid in Zion, and the blessed Rock upon which that city is built; nor shall all the gates or counsels of hell prevail against it. Storms, tempests, and hurricanes may beat against this city, but its standing is upon the Rock of Ages, and Jehovah is a wall of fire around about it, and the glory in the midst of it; therefore it is invulnerable. (Matt. 7:24,25; Zech. 2:5) To reason, and to flesh and blood, this glorious city may appear at times to be in imminent danger, but the issue will prove that all such fears are groundless, and that it is blessedly and eternally safe; for it is Jehovah’s strong city, and he has appointed salvation for walls and bulwarks. (Isa. 26:1) Being securely founded upon Christ and gloriously exalted in his righteousness, (Ps. 89:16) this city is beautifully situated, and when the sun shines bright, and the sweet breezes of the Holy Ghost chase away all mists and fogs, the true citizen, by living faith, looks over all the swamps of fallen nature, sin, Satan, and the world, yea, and the fear of death, of Moses, and of the law too, and in some sweet measure sees the King in his beauty, and beholds the land that is afar off, as is stated in connection with our text. Christ and the mysteries of the cross being revealed by the Spirit to faith will lead the soul sweetly to sing, “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, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is known in her palaces for a refuge.” (Ps. 48:2,3)
Here vital faith is blessedly employed in tracing some of the wonders of a Three-One God, as made known in the openings of his everlasting love to Zion, his glorious city. This city is blessed with the glorious Lord himself as her King and Governor, Lord and Lawgiver, and the ministers of God’s grace as her nobles; (Isa. 32:1; Jer. 30:21) ministers of the Spirit, not of the letter merely. The gospel they preach does not come “in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” (1 Thess. 1:5) They are men quickened and made alive to God by the invincible power of God the Holy Ghost, and taught and led into a blessed measure of the deep things of God by the blessed teachings of the same glorious Teacher, and are qualified and sent forth by his spiritual power to preach. It is one thing for a man to rush into the ministry, and if no door opens for him, to be determined to lift one off its hinges, or to be sent by man, but it is a very different thing for the Holy Ghost to send him. It appears to me that some of the people of God have acted presumptuously rash at times in this solemn business. Moses appeared very ready to go before the Lord’s time of sending him, and he met with a just rebuke, which stopped his mouth for forty years, nor was he willing to open it again at the end of that time; (Exod. 2:11-15) for when the Lord did call upon him to go, he felt his own weakness and inability for the work and made many excuses; and even when the Lord said, “Now, therefore, go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say,” still he wished to be excused.
How different this to the conduct of numbers of men professing the truth of God in our day! Brethren, when you see a man determined to rush into the ministry, and, in the pride of his heart, vamping himself up in his imaginary talent and attainments, and in the wonderful depths of his experience and knowledge, who thinks every one either his enemy or a fool who does not encourage him; who sets all down as enemies to the truth of God who have honesty enough to tell him, whether God’s people can profit under him or not; however sound such a man may be in the letter of the word, and whatever depths of experience he may attempt to describe, you may rest assured that God has not called him to the work of the ministry; he is a servant of his own, or of some other man’s sending. You will always find that those whom the Lord sends go forth with tenderness of conscience, great dependence, and with fear and trembling; not in pride, arrogance, and presumption. Even Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, whose call of God was so gloriously conspicuous, told the church at Corinth that he was with them “in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.” (1 Cor. 2:3) But some men who think they are called to preach know very little about this trembling, and if they do tremble, it is with vexation because others do not encourage them, or with mortification because they cannot succeed to their own satisfaction. Even some good men, who appeared useful members of the church in a private capacity, have rendered their own lives in a measure wretched, and brought a great deal of distress into the church, because they would preach, notwithstanding that very few, if any, besides themselves, believed they were called to the work; and they have been left to be so obstinate in their own view and proceedings, that many who once esteemed them as Christians began to stand in doubt of them, and feared that they have been deceived. It is not enough that a man be an experimental man, and that he can state his own experience; but, under the divine teachings of the Holy Ghost, he should be able, in some good measure, to unfold some of the glorious mysteries of the gospel of the blessed God, apt to teach others, to do the work of an evangelist, and make full proof of his ministry. I have known men professing the truths of God who have insisted upon it, for years together, that they were sure that the Lord had called them to preach, and that the church was opposing God because they would not encourage them. Some such I have known to live and die, and the only proof they ever gave that the Lord had called them to the important work of the ministry was their own word; whilst there are others, both in the letter of the truth, and opposed to the letter of truth, who attain to what the world calls respectability, and it may be said of each of them, in their way, that “they take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag; therefore, they rejoice, and are glad. Therefore, they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag, because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous.” (Hab. 1:15,16) But neither the one nor the other give any real proof that they are sent of the Lord, or that they are of the number of Zion’s nobles.
But we further observe, that the laws, rules, institutes, and order of this city are all appointed by infinite wisdom, and it is richly supplied with blessings immortal and eternal. God will supply all her needs, “according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19) There are numbers of the kingdoms and cities of this world who boast of the beauty and utility of their rivers, as Egypt its Nile, Babylon its Euphrates, and London its Thames, whilst literal Jerusalem had no such river to boast of, neither for commerce nor defence; but spiritual Jerusalem has the glorious Three-One God himself as her “broad rivers and streams,” (Isa. 33:21) wherein shall go no rowing self-righteous free-willers, nor high-towering, presumptuous Antinomians; no, this glorious place of broad rivers is only accessible to, and for the benefit of, real citizens, and the commerce carried on there is all of a heavenly nature. The blessings it contains are indescribable. (Ps. 46:4; Ezek. 47:1-9) The most that presumptuous professors can know of this city is her outward bulwarks, and that only in theory; her internal beauty and glory, blessings and blessedness, they are strangers to; for the Lord himself is her glory and beauty. (Isa. 60:19; Ezek. 16:14) A spiritual acquaintance with God and his blessed truth can only be obtained by the deep teachings of that blessed Spirit which “searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Cor. 2:10)
O blessed Spirit! grant unto us more of thy divine teachings, and enable us to carry on more spiritual traffic in spiritual intercourse with the Lord, in faith, and prayer, and praise, and love, that we may live more to his glorious honour. All the glory, stability, security, privileges, riches, order, beauty, bliss, and blessedness of this city stand in, are derived from, and supported by the Three-One God, as the covenant God of Zion; and all that we can really and truly know spiritually of it is revealed unto us by the Holy Ghost.
O that you and I, my beloved brethren, may, under the teaching of the Lord, be enabled to say, “This God is my God for ever and ever; he will be my guide even unto death.” May we be of that blessed number of whom it shall be said, “This and that man was born in her;” (Ps. 87:5) then we shall be safe, for “the Highest himself shall establish her.” “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for they shall prosper that love her.” But I proceed,
III. To point out the way into this city, and here I intend to be very brief. There is no real, vital entering into this city but by Christ, the “new and living way.” (Heb. 10:20) All that ever enter spiritually into it are blessed with vital faith and life in Christ, and enter in by him. His glorious person as the God-Man Mediator, and his finished work, the atonement he has made for sin, the righteousness he has wrought out and brought in, is the strait gate, “and few there be that find it.” This blessed Jesus is the door, “and by him if any man enter, he shall be saved.” (John 10:9) The life, obedience, sufferings, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ have put away sin, and been the destruction of death, and “brought life and immortality to light.” (2 Tim. 1:10) Jesus is “the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in him, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25) The Lord Jesus Christ is “the way,” not a way merely, but the way, and there is no other, and “the truth,” so that, as the poet says,
“All that lacks this test,
Proceed it from an angel’s mouth,
Is but a lie at best,”
“And the life,” and all other ways lead to death, however painful or pleasing to flesh and blood they may be; for, “no man cometh to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) There is no real spiritual access to God, nor to the blessings of this city, but by Christ. Let men go where they will, and what way they will, not one sinner ever came to the Father, nor entered vitally into this city, but by Christ, the “new and living way.” He is the glorious highway in which the redeemed shall walk, and by which they shall enter into this city, and live upon the bounties, admire the beauties, and sing the wonders of everlasting love. But we shall now pass on, and
IV. endeavour to describe a true citizen of this city. Every spiritual citizen of this city is one who has been quickened and made alive to God by the invincible power of God the Holy Ghost, and has followed Christ in the regeneration. (Matt. 19:28; Eph. 2:1) The blessed Spirit must give them eyes to see, and hearts to feel their need of a free salvation, and to see and feel Christ as the living way, or else they will grope for it in vain; and this way is so strait that no self-righteous recommendations, nor proud, presumptuous, dry profession of the doctrines of the gospel, however high such a profession may be, can ever enter here. No sinner can be admitted at this gate but a poor, rooted-up, stripped, sin-sick soul, who is altogether lost and ruined in self and of self; and such a soul enters in by a vital, living faith in the Lord the Lamb, being drawn by the Father. All who profess to be in this city, and who did not come in by Christ the living way, having life in and from him, not having been drawn there by the Father, are thieves and robbers, and shall be treated as such; as it is written, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1)
But every spiritual citizen has a vital union to Christ, and lives in him, and he is brought to feel that he has not one spark of spiritual life or light but what is derived from him; and what comes from him is sure to lead to him. Every soul who has been taught of God the purity, extent, and authority of his holy law, and has had his mouth stopped thereby, his hopes cut up and blasted, and has been brought feelingly to acknowledge and confess that his condemnation is just; who has felt that he has no power to help his own soul, nor escape the wrath to come, feeling that he cannot take one right step, either in duty-works or duty-faith, but that all his movements, works, and ways tend to increase his burden, bondage, and misery; who, from feeling necessity, by the life-giving power of the Spirit of God, is drawn to Christ as his only refuge and foundation of hope, feeling a solemn falling upon him, and a believingly entering into him, and being enabled there to cast his burden and cares; such a one is really come to Christ, and is a citizen of this city, and shall live and reign with Christ.
Such a sinner shall be brought to know that all he feels or possesses that would feed the pride of the heart, or vamp him up in self-esteem, is not of God, whether it appear in a profane or in a religious shape; it is only fuel for the fire; for the Lord’s “fire is in Zion, and his furnace in Jerusalem.” (Isa. 31:9) God is determined that the righteous shall be tried; (Ps. 11:5; Zech. 13:9) yea, the Lord Jesus Christ himself “is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Mal. 3:3) A poor citizen may sometimes be in a great bustle, and in much confusion, while furnace work is going on, but the Lord makes no more haste than good speed. He solemnly and patiently sits by the furnace, and when his blessed Majesty has accomplished a manifestative sight of his own image in the soul, he will speak peace. But every true citizen must be tried by fire, and sometimes it is very hot and sharp work. Whenever he is suffered to gather together a fine stock of hay, wood, or stubble, however well it may be put together, or however neatly it may be tinseled or dressed up, he may rest assured that a day is at hand when a fire shall be kindled, and all this fine fabric shall only be fuel for it: “For every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.” (1 Cor. 3:13) Therefore, a true citizen must expect his trials, and not suppose that he is going to live at ease; but whether he expects them or not, trials, painful trials, will come. If for a while he is suffered to try to vamp up his mind with his great knowledge, yea, or his great experience either, or any of his attainments, he must be put in the furnace. In very deed he must be burned out of self and self boasting, be driven and drawn into the Lord Jesus Christ, and be made to feel in his very soul that he has no vital life of feeling, nor sure standing, but in and from Christ; for everything that does not center in, come from, and lead to Christ, must and shall be burned up, though he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” (1 Cor. 3:15)
Every true citizen, under the quickening, enlightening, consuming, rebuking, teaching power of God the Holy Ghost, is made truly sick of self, and yet finds self, in some shape or other, to cleave to him, and to be mixed with all he does, often making him groan to be delivered from it, though now and then he may be favoured with a sweet lift above it, by faith in the love, blood, righteousness, fullness, oath, and promise of the Lord Jesus Christ, and enjoy a few drops of the dew of heaven, softening his mind and cheering his soul, and leading him in true thankfullness to praise the Lord, and unbosom his whole heart unto him. At these sweet seasons he is enabled to feel that Christ is his blessed All and in All, and he can truly say, “I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.” (Ps. 116:1,2) Yes, there are sweet and solemn moments when the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him; and by the powerful manifestation of God’s love to him, he feels that he loves the Lord, his word, his worship, his people, and his ways. At these times he can truly say, “The will of the Lord be done,” and with his whole heart feelingly sing,
“Nothing but Jesus I esteem;
My soul is then sincere;
And every thing that’s dear to him,
To me is also dear.”
But when these sweet moments end, he finds fleshly self, in some way or other, still cling to and hang about him, and at times its detestable workings are such, that he is compelled, with heart-rending groans, to cry, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24) Whatever men may say about their capability of delivering their own souls, a real Zionite, in his right mind, will neither see nor expect any deliverer but the Lord himself; nor can he feel nor enjoy deliverance, no, nor experience a lift by the way, but as God the Spirit helps him with a little help, (Dan. 11:34) and strengthens his hope in Christ. A real feeling necessity is laid upon every spiritual citizen to hate sin and Satan in all their workings; and I had like to have said, to feel that Satan hates him. Sin and Satan will sometimes make his soul groan under their infernal workings; so that he will be brought in truth to stand upon the same ground, and have the same feelings as Paul when he said, “For that which I do I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do.” (Rom. 7:15) But he is not always blessed with the same measure of faith in exercise as was Paul when he could feelingly say, “Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.” (Rom. 7:17) When he is favoured with faith thus to see and feel, and can sing victory through the blood of the Lamb, he stands amazed both at himself and at the wonderful love and grace of a Three-One God. Self is truly debased, and Christ is blessedly exalted, and he both can and does in substance say, “Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage?” (Micah 7:18)
And while he falls at the feet and leans upon the bosom of the Lord with adoring wonder, sinking into nothing in himself, and yet feeling that the glorious power of the blessed Spirit has raised him above self, and lifted him up into a blessed enjoyment of Christ, that in the Lord he has righteousness and strength, and that in this righteousness he is exalted, (Ps. 89:16) the Lord, in great love and mercy, is pleased to increase his holy wonder, by revealing some such blessed portions of his word to the heart as the following: “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found; for I will pardon them that I reserve.” (Jer. 50:20) Yes, bless his precious name, he has cast all their sins into the depths of the sea of the love and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when they are sought for they shall not be found. Being chosen in Christ and united unto him, they stand in covenant relation with him as the sons of God without rebuke. (Phil. 2:15) To such a soul all things appear as dung compared with Christ, and he can feelingly enter into what Paul said to the Philippians. (See Phil. 3:7-11) But there will be some solemn overturnings before this is really experienced; yet, when it is truly felt in the soul, he will sing, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1) and his gracious Majesty claims the poor overturned sinner as his own special property, and enables him in vital faith to lay claim to him; as it is written, “They shall call on my name, and I will hear them; I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” (Zech. 13:9)
Then, indeed, the soul is made willing to submit to Christ and his laws, feels his heart inflamed with a holy zeal to fight the good fight of faith, and, under the blood-stained banner of Immanuel, to stand up for the rightful honour of his glorious Lord and Saviour, Lawgiver and Sovereign, and gracious King and Governor, viewing every one guilty of high treason who attempts to set up another king. In his whole heart he can unite in the kingdom in all its bearings being given to him whose right it is, (Ezek. 21:27) and in holy triumph he says, “The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord.” (Ps. 146:10) He at times, in his zeal, feels almost impatient for war, that he may use his two-edged sword, and cut down the foes of his Lord and Master; for he now both believes and feels that the Lord’s foes are his foes, and that the dear Lord and his own soul must stand or fall together. Yet, ten to one but the Lord will by and by withdraw his smiling face. The devil will then rise up with double power both without and within, roaring aloud, Where are now your zeal and courage? and the poor soul will begin to shrink back, and, with quivering lips and trembling heart, cry, “Lord, look upon mine affliction and my pain, and forgive all my sins; consider mine enemies, for they are many, and they hate me with cruel hatred.” (Ps. 25:18,19) But though this may be the case, and very likely it will be, yet whilst the sweet presence and power of the Lord are enjoyed, he can with his whole soul unite with David and say, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do unto me?” (Ps. 118:6-17) And to encourage the hope, faith, and zeal of the Lord’s regenerated and divinely-taught family, the dear Lord says, “Verily I say unto you, that ye that have followed me in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel;” (Matt. 19:28,29) “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper.” (Isa. 54:17)
But remember, my dear friends, the child of God does not always feel his firm standing in the Lord, nor find himself manifestively equipped with the divine armor that is recorded; (Eph. 6:11-18) and therefore he does not always appear in a courageous, fighting frame of mind. Sometimes he sits mourning in sackcloth, the Lord having withdrawn his sweet presence, and for a little while ceased to fill his soul with love. Then Satan swells and rolls heavy floods against him, and swears by the infernal den that they shall burst in upon him, the poor soul feeling little else but dreadful fear; hardness of heart, darkness of mind, coldness of affection, and the risings of faith, darkness of mind, coldness of affection, and the risings of filth too horrible to be named. The Lord appears to frown, and the devil sends forth a frightful roar of triumph. No daysman appears in view, nor any refuge near, and the soul seems as though it had no strength either to flee, or run, or walk, or creep, or even to stand or sit still; and thus it groans in sackcloth and ashes; and in this frame of mind, with now and then a change of some other sort of inward or outward misery, or both, it remains for a long time together, till the soul is ready to say, “I am cut off; I remain without hope.” But in God’s own blessed time the blessed Spirit lifts up Christ, the God-glorifying, Satan-defeating, and flood-resisting and overcoming standard in the soul, (for, as one observes, “All indoor work is the work of the Spirit,”) by which the soul is sweetly revived, Satan driven back, and the flood dispersed, (Isa. 59:19) a heavenly dew drops into the conscience, which softens the hard heart and cheers the gloomy mind, and the dear Lord the Redeemer sweetly and powerfully springs up in the soul as life, light, love, and liberty, and gloriously says, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” (Isa. 60:1) Then, in holy triumph, the soul shakes itself from its sackcloth and dust, and blessedly sings, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; thou hast put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to thee and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.” (Ps. 30:11,12) And now the soul feels as strong and ready for war as ever, but for a time is enabled to act with a measure of caution and an entire dependence upon the Lord, remembering that its strength is not in itself, but in the Lord, and in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And while the blessed Spirit bears witness in his soul that he is a child of God, and he feels the unction and sealing of the Holy Ghost upon his heart, he will feelingly say, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him.” (Ps. 62:5-7)
But some poor trembling soul will be ready to say, is there no proof of being a true citizen till we are brought to this point? Truly there is; and, as the Lord shall assist, I will endeavour to give you some of the lowest scriptural proofs of one that is indeed a true citizen. Every soul that has been quickened by the invincible energy of God the Holy Ghost, and so passed from death unto life, and from the power of sin and Satan to the living God, is a real citizen of Zion. Where this life is there will be a mourning over sin and self, and after the mercy of the Lord, a real hungering and thirsting after righteousness, under a feeling sense of our own unrighteousness, and the real need of such a one as is pleasing to God. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6) But if any persons can sit themselves down at ease, with what they call a mourning over themselves and after the Lord, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness; I say, if they can be at ease with these mournings and hungerings, before the Lord has blessed them with faith and hope in Christ, they are resting on a false foundation, and are giving no proof that their mourning, thirsting, and hungering are the fruit of the Spirit and spring from real spiritual life in the soul, for that can never rest short of Christ. But where there is a real feeling of dissatisfaction with self and everything else short of Christ, and a thirsting and panting for him, there is life, and in the end it shall be supplied. But till the Lord is graciously pleased to reveal Christ there will be heart-sickness and heart-groanings and pantings, sighings, strugglings, and cryings. The soul will be truly sick of self and self-attainments, and will truly long for power to disgorge the whole, vehemently thirsting and panting for a manifestation of the pardon of sin and of reconciliation to God, and with heart-rending groans will confess its sins and seek for mercy. Thus will it be thirsting for God, the living God, nor will anything short of an application of divine mercy to the conscience give it real rest; and the more closely and deeply the heart is searched, the viler it will appear and the more the living soul will feel the solemn disparity there is between a holy God and the sinner, and be ready to think it presumption to expect anything less than the just vengeance of God.
But in spite of all the fears, faintings, sickenings, misgivings, unbelief, guilt, and the curses of a broken law, the devil’s temptations, and the oozings-up of sin and filth, there will be infelt strugglings and cryings for pardoning mercy, and everything short of that will leave an aching void. Is this thy case, poor distressed soul? Is sin thy burden and grief? Dost thou tremble at the word of God, for fear thou hast no part nor lot in it except the portions that threaten the sinner with destruction? And yet, is there a heaving-up in thy heart for mercy? and canst thou feelingly say, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God; my soul thirsteth for God, for the living God?” (Ps. 42:1,2) Will nothing short of a feeling sense of an interest in Christ satisfy thee? and canst thou in any real measure unite with the psalmist when he says, “Mine iniquities are gone over mine head; as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me? (Ps. 38:2-9) Perhaps some one will say, “In some measure I can trace myself there; but I fear my sins are not sufficiently burdensome, and that I do not abhor them and myself for committing them as I ought to do. But this one thing I do know; I stand guilty before God, and feel that my sins have all been against a holy, just, and good Lord, that ‘there is no rest in my bones because of my sin,’ that I am ‘troubled and bowed down greatly, and go mourning all the day long,’ and that if at any time I attempt to take pleasure in or from the world, I only sink the lower in distress afterwards; and every supposed pleasure I have only tends to increase my distress in the end. If sometimes I appear to have a little hope in the Lord’s mercy, I am led to think it was a delusion, so that my cup is painfully bitter, and I feel much bowed down; yet now and then I think that I have felt a little warmth of soul in trying to open my whole heart to the Lord; and I have found a little melting down, and softness of heart, and tenderness of conscience, and a little freedom in prayer, when hope has sprung up in my soul, and I have been ready to say, ‘Surely the dear Lord is about to come in mercy, and set my poor troubled mind at rest, with a manifestation of pardoning love!’
But, alas! alas! these feelings have soon ceased. My fears have all come upon me again, and I have felt as destitute as ever, and have thought that the Lord would never hear the cry of such a poor sinful wretch as I am. I have tried to give up all thoughts of eternal things, but I cannot, nor can I forbear sighing, groaning, panting, and crying for mercy.” Come, poor soul, though, in self and of self, thou hast every cause to despair, still, “hope thou in God, for thou shalt yet praise him.” Thine is a Bible case, and the God of the Bible, in his own time, will appear. Go on sighing, groaning, and crying for pardon, and never rest till God gives thee rest by faith in the person, blood, and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though the Lord tarry, still wait for him, for in the end he will in mercy appear and deliver thee. (Ps. 102:19-21) His blessed Majesty never gives spiritual life, and raises a spiritual cry in the soul, but he both hears and answers: “Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.” (Ps. 107:5,6) “Still,” says the poor soul, “I am so loathsome and wretched, that I can hardly believe there is any one altogether like me; and though there are many blessed things in those portions of God’s word, I fear they do not belong to me. I am like the man at the pool; I hear of and see others being healed, but I still remain, for I have no helper to help me into the blessings they contain, or to bring the sweetness of them with power to my conscience; and my enemies and miseries appear to come upon me with double violence.” Still, poor soul, wait at mercy’s door, and cry unto the Lord, for none but the Lord can really help thee; and he has said, he “will deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy. He will redeem their souls from deceit and violence; and precious shall their blood be in his sight.” (Ps. 72:12-14) None but a real quickened child of God ever truly felt his poverty and need, nor in real heart-felt experience found himself without help or helper, violently oppressed with the burden of sin, the curse of a broken law, and the dreadful temptations of Satan, crying day and night for pardoning mercy, and being unable to rest or be satisfied with anything short of a believing, feeling interest in Christ; and though he may not at present be able to say that he has entered through the gate into the city, he is nevertheless one of God’s blessed family, and in the Lord’s own time shall feelingly say, “The Lord preserveth the simple. I was brought low, and he helped me.” (Ps. 116:6) And again, “Blessed be the Lord; for he hath showed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city. For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes; nevertheless, thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.” (Ps. 31:22) Then the blessed Spirit will bear witness with his spirit that he is a child of God, and he will cry, “Abba, Father.”
But let the true citizen remember, that whatever stage of experience in the divine life he may be brought into, a warfare he must expect; flesh and spirit, or the new man and the old man, never can be reconciled. They must and will hate each other, for the Lord himself has put enmity between the two; as it is written, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15) This enmity is seen and felt in all the bearings of the two seeds, in the person of Christ and the person of Satan, in God’s spiritual children and his implacable enemies, and in the two principles in every real believer in Christ, so that the real Christian, while in this vale of tears, will more or less feel these two seeds working in him. The old man is the seed of Satan, and stands in his image, and loves his father, and fights for his infernal honour. It can either act in open profaneness, or in external piety, or can even stand up for the doctrines of the gospel without the power, or for presumptuous purposes; it can talk of perfect holiness in the flesh, and assume a great deal of mortification or humility. In fact, the old man, under the deceitful workings of its father the devil, can either be profane or religious, or can turn round in religion as circumstances may appear to be advantageous. Any kind of religion will go down, and suit the purpose, provided the life and power of vital godliness in and from the Lord Jesus Christ, as communicated to the soul and maintained there by the invincible energy of God the Holy Ghost, is discarded and opposed; but in all the movements of the old man, the real honour of Christ and the power of vital godliness are abhorred. But the new man is the real seed of Christ, and is after God created in righteousness, and true holiness, and (spiritual) knowledge, “after the image of him that created him;” (Eph. 4:24) and this divine principle, which is the seed of Christ, stands in the image of Christ, has its life and being in Christ, and will fight for the glory and honour of the Lord Jesus Christ. The great object of contention between the two seeds, in all their bearings, is, whether Christ or the creature shall wear the crown. Every real citizen will find this warfare maintained in him, but “the elder shall serve the younger;” and though the struggle may be long and violent, and the child of God, in the conflict, may often fear that he will one day fall to rise no more, (for sin and Satan will maintain an awful riot, and sink the soul in dismay,) yet, nevertheless, grace shall “reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life by Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:21)
Poor tempted, buffeted, tried, and horror-struck child of God, call upon thy Captain, pour out thy soul unto him, make thy stand upon Christ and his finished work, lean wholly upon him, and daily seek the aid and influence of the blessed Spirit, remembering that thy strength is in the Lord, and in the power of his might. (Eph. 6:10-18) The Lord bless you with a living faith in Christ, and enable you spiritually to put on and use this armor, and then victory will be sure. Every soul who is brought to experience these blessed realities is a citizen of Zion. But we now proceed,
V. To point out some of the solemnities of Zion.
1. There is the solemn act of the eternal Trinity in the covenant of grace before time commenced. In this covenant the church was chosen in and given to Christ as his spouse, and made his care and charge. In this solemn transaction, each Person in the glorious and solemn engagement it was. Here the Father chose the church in Christ, predestinated them to the adoption of children, and blessed them with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, all being made sure. (See Eph. 1:3-9) In this blessed scripture we have the Father’s choice, the Son’s redemption, and the Spirit’s manifestation; for it is the blessed Spirit that makes manifest the things of God in the conscience; (1 Cor. 2:10) so that each glorious Person in the covenant of grace has his special work; and, according to this glorious covenant, the elect are “saved and called with a holy calling, not according to their works, but according to God’s purpose and grace, which was given them in Christ before the world began.” (2 Tim. 1:9) The Father chose in Christ, and blessed with all spiritual blessings in him; and the person of the Son, in our nature, as the blessed Immanuel, redeemed; and the blessed Spirit quickens, enlightens, convinces, teaches, anoints, comforts, and seals, and all according to the eternal counsel of his own will; (Eph. 1:11) for God’s counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure. (Isa. 46:10)
2. Again. It was another solemn branch of the solemnities of Zion when God the Son became incarnate, being born of Mary in a stable, and laid in a manger at little Bethlehem. (Luke 2:4-6) Here was a solemn mystery which angels could not fully comprehend,–the God who made the world (in union with the Father and the Spirit) now wrapped up in swaddling clothes as the Babe of Bethlehem, an infant just born of Mary and yet the God that built and supported all worlds and all things visible and invisible in one person, the blest Immanuel: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” (John 1:3; Col. 1:16) Solemnly amazing! God contracted to a span, to suit the case and circumstances of his people, to bear their guilt and curse, and redeem them unto God, that he might present them unto himself a holy people! And he no sooner makes his personal appearance in this polluted world than he is persecuted and hunted by men and devils, as though he were born to be a prey for their teeth, upon whom they must vent their utmost spite and malice. His life, as the Head of the church, whilst traveling in this desert, appears to have been one continual scene of trial and affliction; so that it is truly said, “he is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;” (Isa. 53:3) and every step which his gracious Majesty took, from the manger to the cross, and from the cross to the right hand of the Father to his glorious crown, were so many solemn branches of the solemnities of Zion; for he lived, and acted, and suffered, and died, and rose again, and ascended on high, as the glorious Head of the church, with Zion in his heart; nor did he ever take a single step separate from her. Zion was “his reward, and was with him, and his work was before him.” (Isa. 40:10) “Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him;” (Isa. 62:11) “and he shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied.” (Isa. 53:11) With what solemnity was the dear Lord baptized in the river of Jordan! Here the Holy Trinity appears to crown the solemn act with his divine approbation. The Son is solemnly immersed by John, as an emblem of the sufferings he had to undergo; (Luke 12:50) the heavens were opened, and the Spirit of God descended like a dove and lighted upon him, and the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Thus, we have a demonstrative proof that this ordinance was well pleasing to the Three-One God. (See Matt. 3:13-17)
“And shall my pride disdain the deed
That’s worthy of my God?”
There is not one recorded in the volume of inspiration that was more openly crowned with the divine approbation of our adorable Three-One God than this. From thence the Lord of life and glory was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil: “And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness;” (Mark 1:12) as if the humanity of Christ shuddered at the prospect of what lay before him; and, indeed, well it might, for the prospect was awful. This was Satan’s day, and, depend upon it, he was not idle, but used all his infernal powers to torture Immanuel; for “he was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) “For in that he hath himself suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Heb. 2:18) And so solemnly was he engaged in this field of temptation, that he was forty days and forty nights without food; nor was the conflict ended even then. O my friends, there he stood in the scorching heat of hellish temptation, with all the malice and rage of devils roaring around him, and hurling their fiery darts at him. At this awful crisis, holy angels left their high courts above, as if solemnly amazed, and came to see what it could all mean; and they ministered unto him. But his blessed Majesty had to bear the rage of hell; and this he bore for us, that he might sympathizingly feel for us in our temptations, and enable us to see and feel, by vital faith, that he had foiled the enemy, and gained an immortal victory for us. Had the devil defeated Christ in one single point, it would have been all over with us. He had to fight the battle single-handed, and he must either gain a glorious victory, or the whole elect must perish. In this dreadful fight the lovely Jesus had too much solemn work to do to find time to eat or drink; and even after he had fasted forty days and nights the devil still kept up his infernal attacks; for when Jesus was a hungered, the devil came with an, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” If thou be the Son of God!” “O what an if was there!” And must the Lord of life and glory endure those infernal ifs, and all the rage of hell, for such poor ungrateful reptiles as we, that he might be “a merciful high priest,” knowing how to succour such poor fearful, trembling worms? Could we, by vital faith, view the dear Lord in that awful conflict, it would appear solemn indeed. Well, poor tried, tempted, conflicting, shattered mourner in Zion,
“Thy Captain stood the fiery test,
And thou shalt stand through him.”
But some poor trembling, quaking soul will be ready to say, “I cannot believe that Christ was tempted like me, for if he were he must have been a sinner.” Remember, poor soul, thou hast a carnal inclination still lodging in thee, but Christ was pure and holy. “Then if he were free from sin,” say you, “temptation could not pain him as it does me.” Poor soul, how you bespeak your ignorance! Just allow me to ask you if there were not a time when you could cheerfully practice many things, the forcible temptation to commit which now fills your soul with pain and grief, and at times almost horrifies you? How comes this to pass? From whence comes this change in your feelings? The fact is, that once you were dead in trespasses and sins, and sin was your delight, but now the Lord has in mercy made you a partaker of a divine nature, and stamped his image upon your mind. You are become the temple of the Holy Ghost, and in the life and light of the Lord you both feel and see sin, in some measure, as it really is, exceedingly sinful, and the temptation to some of its dreadful workings fills your soul with horror and dismay. It is your spiritual life and light that make you to see, and feel, and groan under the detestable nature of sin, and make the temptation to commit it so painful. Then think for a moment what must the feelings of Immanuel’s pure nature have been, when the devil was allowed to hurl his infernal darts. Must not his holy soul have felt pain indescribable? For, remember, Satan did not trifle with the Lord of glory; no, it was his day, and he made an infernal use of it. One temptation is recorded of such a devilish nature, that few, if any, can be worse, namely, to fall down and worship the devil, and this, too, for worldly gain and honour. Now, if his Satanic majesty could dare to tempt the Lord of glory to fall down and worship him, what would he not dare to do? But it was solemn work when the Lord of life had to bear all the infernally-scandalous insults of the prince of darkness. This, indeed, was one branch of the solemnities of Zion, for he stood as Zion’s Head and Surety, and had her eternal welfare at heart; but to accomplish her salvation he had to wade through an infinite variety of sufferings, any attempt to describe which would be a complete failure. But such was his love and covenant undertakings, that his heart was determined to accomplish the work; therefore, after his resurrection he said to two of his disciples, when walking to Emmaus, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25,26) O brethren, what a solemn ought was there!
But I shall pass by a great variety of things, and make a few remarks upon his garden scene. Here we find the Lord of life struggling under the most horrible pangs of death, praying, sighing, and groaning, and, in deep agony both of body and soul, exclaiming, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;” (Matt. 26:38) “and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) Here justice unsheathed its sword and pierced him to the heart; as it is written, “Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the Man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts. Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. (Zech. 13:7) As if every stroke of the sword of justice executed upon devils or ungodly men were but as so many sleepy strokes, compared with what were now about to be inflicted upon Immanuel. Here the law began to pour out its curses with all its righteous authority, death came forth with all the horrors of its sting, devils vented their utmost rage, and the wrath of God, the just due of all his people’s sins, lay heavy on his soul. And where were his disciples at this time? Were they not engaged in endeavouring to soothe his sorrowful mind? O no; not one soul of the human race was there to drop a tear of sympathy over his burdened, agonizing soul and body. Some of them were in the garden, at a distance from him, and three of them, Peter, James, and John, he took with him very near to the spot, as if to witness the awful conflict and watch the war, and he said unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” But did his three favoured disciples watch and pray, or take any other step to sympathize with or console his sorrowful soul? Alas! no; but they went to sleep. What! a loving John go to sleep! and a zealous Peter, too, who had just before declared that he would die for him rather than deny him! did not he keep awake, and watch and pray? No; Peter went to sleep, and so did John and James. Thrice the dear Lord went backwards and forwards, as if to arouse them, or, as the poet expresses it,
“Wished, at least, they would condole
(Twas all they could) his tortured soul.”
But no watching, no praying, no condoling. The Lord himself must fight the fight alone, and his own arm must bring salvation. Come poor, tried, burdened, dejected, cast-down, broken-hearted sinner, the dear Lord has accomplished a single-armed salvation, and it is done for thee. May the Spirit of the Lord give thee faith to believe it, and receive it, and set thy soul at rest in it. But when the dear Lord had left his three disciples, and prayed the third time, “then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.” And immediately Judas, who was betraying him, came with a great multitude with swords and staves from the chief priests and elders, who were ready to take him; and zealous Peter, aroused from his sleep, drew his sword and cut off the right ear of one of the servants of the high priest. Vamped up free will always makes its boast of what it will and will not do, and of being a co-worker with God; but when the solemn work began in the garden of Gethsemane, free will went to sleep, or stood at a distance; and all that boasting Peter did, after he was aroused from his sleep, was to make his dear Lord another job, and increase the agony of his soul, for the Lord had to put on the ear which Peter had cut off, and to bear the curse due to Peter’s cursing and swearing, and denying him in the house of the high priest. But no compassion must be shown to the dear Lamb of God. He must therefore be dragged from the garden to Caiaphas the high priest, where their reverences the priests, scribes, and elders were assembled, and where they searched for witnesses against Christ to put him to death, but found none. At length two false witnesses were found, and the council being determined to put him to death, any evidence would pass in their reverences’ court–what is called a Spiritual Court, which was and now is among men, a contrivance of Satan to insult God. In this court they suffered men to spit in his face and buffet him, and smite him with the palms of their hands, and treat him with the utmost contempt; but his blessed Majesty bore it all patiently. This, beloved, was solemn work, when the Lord of glory had to stand in the midst of poor, crawling reptiles, and be thus insulted and spitefully treated by them. O ye children of Zion, it was your sins that furnished them with powers thus to treat with ignominy and contempt your Lord and King, for this was done as he stood the Head and Surety of Zion.
When the morning was come, they bound him, and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor; and though Pilate found no fault in him, and would have released him, the chief priests and the elders were bent upon his death, and persuaded the multitude that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The more Pilate tried to deliver Jesus the more they cried, “Crucify him! crucify him!” What is it that a mob is not capable of doing, aided by the priests? and even governors are often left to bow to their reverences’ judgment! Thus, to oblige them, Pilate condemned the Lord of life to be crucified; and when he had scourged him, he suffered his soldiers to take him to the common hall, where they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe, and a crown of thorns upon his head, and a reed in his right hand; and then they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and they spat upon him and smote him on the head with the reed. Well might the Spirit of the blessed Lord in the prophets say, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isa. 50:6) Had it been his sovereign pleasure, he could have crushed them all to dust; but he was the patient Lamb in the midst of wolves. When they had crucified him, and exposed him to shame on the cross, “they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests, mocking, said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.” (Mark 15:29-31) O the ten of thousands of Jews and Gentiles too who have been horror-struck at the blazing majesty of his glory on his throne since they thus mocked him! But his holy soul must be made an offering for the sins of his people, law must be magnified, justice satisfied, and sin atoned for; and mercy and justice must meet together and kiss each other. honours crown his blessed brow!
“He bore all incarnate God could bear,
With strength enough, but none to spare.”
Such were his excruciating tortures that men nor angels can ever describe them. Holy angels were solemnly amazed, and devils invisibly surrounded the cross, wondering at the infernal dexterity of men, that they should be able to put the Lord of life to such an ignominious death. But who can for one moment guess at the horrors of his holy soul when the wrath of infinite justice and the curses of the broken law, the just due of the sins of all his elect, were poured out upon him, so that he was both made sin, and the curse due to all the sins of his people! He was not made sin in nature, nor in practice, for he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners;” (Heb. 7:26) but he was made sin by imputation, or solemn transfer. Christ by covenant engagement was made accountable for all the sins of his elect spouse, for “he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him; (2 Cor. 5:21) and he hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.” (Gal. 3:13) Here was wrath poured out to the uttermost. The reproaches of all his people fell upon him, and broke his heart; and, speaking as a man in his heart-broken sorrows, “he looked for some to take pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but he found none;” (Ps. 69:20) and at length he cried with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46) Such was the tremendous weight of wrath he had to bear, that nature, both animate and inanimate, appeared to feel the shock. The sun put on, as it were, sackcloth, hid his face, and ceased to shine for three hours, and thus went in deep mourning, as though the sight of the God-Man in such awful horrors was too solemn to be looked upon; and when Jesus said, “I thirst,” they gave him vinegar to drink, and he cried, “It is finished,” (John 19:30) and bowed his head and gave up the ghost. honours crown his blessed brow! he gave death a deathly wound, and meritoriously set his people free from its sting and power; death and hell were defeated, law-curses borne, and the law magnified and made honourable in all its bearings; (Isa. 42:21) Zion redeemed and God glorified; and so solemn was the scene, that the vail of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom, (Matt. 27:51) as though with a solemn voice it had said, The way into the holiest of all is now made manifest; the earth quaked, as though her limbs were too feeble to bear the stroke; the rocks rent, as if they had opened a mouth to say, What can all this mean? the graves were torn asunder, as much as to say, O death, disgorge thy prey; and, after his resurrection, many of the bodies of the saints who slept arose, and came out of their graves, (Matt. 27:52,53) to crown with their personal appearance the victory which the Lord had gained over sin, death, and hell. This was a solemn branch of the solemnities of Zion.
When his body was taken from the cross and laid in the sepulchre, it appears that the high priest and pharisees had a greater common-sense remembrance of what Jesus had said about rising again than his disciples had: “Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and pharisees came together unto Pilate, saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead; so the last error shall be worse than the first. Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch; go your way, make it as sure as ye can. So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting watch.” (Matt. 27:62-66) Thus they did their best to make all secure, to prove him untrue, and to prevent further mischief to their cause. But it appears that his poor tried, distressed, bewildered disciples did not remember a word of what he had said about rising again the third day, till after his resurrection. But in spite of all the care that the priests and their abettors took, his glorious Majesty rose from the dead, and a solemn resurrection it was; as it is written, “And, behold, there was a great earthquake; for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow; and for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.” (Matt. 28:2-4) And when the watch went into the city, and told the priests all that was done, they assembled with the elders, took counsel, and gave large sums of money to the soldiers to say that his disciples came and stole him away while they slept; so that they were to be eye-witnesses, fast asleep, and, if needful, no doubt they were to swear that while they were fast asleep they saw the disciples steal him away; and the priests engaged to persuade the governor, he was easily persuaded; but what is it that priests cannot do? The dear Lord after this appeared again and again to his disciples, opened their understandings, (Luke 24:45) and confirmed their souls in the truth; and at length he is solemn triumph ascended up into heaven; as it is written, “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9) Then the King of glory entered into heaven as the God-Man Mediator, and that blessed scripture was fulfilled, “God is gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.” (Ps. 47:5) The church above and the church below solemnly triumph in the once crucified but now risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ, and the resurrection of Christ has secured the justification, resurrection, and eternal glory of all God’s elect. (Rom. 4:25; Rom. 8:31-39; 2 Cor. 4:14) The blessed Redeemer, who, by his life, sufferings, death, and resurrection has obtained an eternal redemption for his people, is now exalted far above all principalities and powers, and might, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The whole of the work of Christ, as the Head and Surety of Zion, was so many branches of the solemnities of Zion.
But we shall now pass on to make a few remarks upon the solemn acts of the people of God, under the quickening, enlightening, communicating, convincing, teaching, searching, witness-bearing, anointing, and sealing power of God the Holy Ghost. When the blessed Spirit communicates to the sinner divine life from Christ the living Head, and quickens the soul to feel, and enlightens it to see its own ruined and lost condition, a divine arrest has taken place in the conscience, being determined to reckon with him. The poor soul shrinks at the thought, but the books are opened, the debts proved, and payment demanded; (Matt. 18:23-25) and the Holy Ghost goes on leading the sinner to feel the awful nature of his debt, and discovers unto him something of the holiness of God and his own unholiness. A spiritual court is set up in the conscience; the law enters and demands full satisfaction; God and his law will no longer be trifled with, and sin can no longer be scoffed at. Thus, a solemn trial begins, the law condemns, and conscience is obliged to acknowledge its guilt. God appears as a holy, just, and good God, but awfully insulted, and a solemn frown appears on his holy brow. The sinner begins to feel that he has awfully sinned against both the justice and goodness of God, and that his dreadfully-insulting ways can no longer be put up with. He expects death and destruction, and fear and dismay fill his soul; and if the sinner were never solemn before, he is made solemn now. When the court of justice is set up in the conscience, and the Lord himself appears in the court to vindicate his own honour, the poor criminal, with trembling awe, sighs for mercy, but fears that pardoning mercy cannot justly be granted to such a wretch. Whatever step the sinner takes, all things appear to go against him; his guilt abounds, and his soul tremblingly sinks under it; and he feels obliged, in the presence of a heart searching God, to sign his own death warrant, or, in other words, fully to acknowledge that his condemnation is just. This is solemn work, and one of the solemnities of Zion. How long the sinner remains under the spirit of bondage, and to what depth he feels his ruin and guilt, or how deeply he sinks in felt misery, I do not pretend to describe. God is a sovereign, and acts as he, in justice, sees good.
But to this one point the sinner must be brought; the spirituality of the commandment must come, whether he knows anything of the letter of it or not; for it does not require a man to be well informed in the letter of the law, in order to feel its spirituality in condemning him in his conscience. Therefore, the commandment must come in the spirit of it, sin revive, and the sinner die. (Rom. 7:9) “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom. 3:19) Thus Paul found it for himself, and thus must every child of God find it for himself; and solemn work it is, when they stand at the bar of a just and holy God in the court of conscience, being righteously condemned, and their own conscience witnessing against them; when they can neither see nor feel it possible for them to escape the wrath to come by anything which they can do. But the Lord the Spirit puts it into their hearts to pant for mercy; and though they stand before the Lord in filthy garments, and Satan stands at their right hand to resist them, shaking their filthy garments in their face, and saying, “Such a vile, filthy wretch as you can never expect mercy;” (and, in fact, the poor sinner feels it unreasonable to expect mercy;) yet still he cannot forbear sighing, groaning, and crying for mercy, and the blessed Lord the Spirit helps his infirmities with groanings which cannot be uttered; and, in the midst of thousands of fears, a little hope springs up in the mind, and the soul vehemently says, “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee; according to the greatness of thy power, preserve thou them that are appointed to die.” (Ps. 79:11) A precious Jesus then enters manifestively into the conscience, and says, “Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom.” (Job 33:24) The moment Jesus speaks this precious truth by the power of his Spirit, shows his bleeding hands, head, and heart, and reveals the glorious power of his atonement and a measure of the beauty of his person, a solemn but pleasing smile runs through the whole court. The Father smiles, justice smiles, and the sinner’s conscience begins to smile too. The poor sinner is blest with ears to hear, eyes to see, and faith to believe this testimony, and a heart to receive it. His guilt and chains fall from his conscience, his soul is filled with joy and peace in believing, and the dear Lord says, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” (Matt. 9:2) The blessed Spirit then enables the soul to believe in and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his complete salvation, and bears witness with the sinner’s spirit that he is a child of God. Jesus gets and fills his heart, and there is a solemn joy and thanksgiving in the mind.
Then, indeed, Christ is revealed in the soul, and there his gracious Majesty dwells the hope of glory and the glory of hope. Darkness is dispelled, and the true light shines: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6) There is a “joy unspeakable, and full of glory,” and in some sweet and solemn measure the Lord is worshipped in the beauty of holiness. (Ps. 96:9) There is also a blessed outpouring of the Spirit into the soul. Redeeming love is shed abroad in the heart, the believer is solemnly engaged in loving, praising, and adoring the Lord, and thanksgivings and adoration go up to the Lord as holy incense. (Mal. 1:11) Sin, guilt, fear, and bondage now sink out of sight, and Christ and salvation are embraced by faith as all and in all. Whatever appears dear to Christ is dear to the soul, and in real spiritual faith it exclaims, “Thou art my God, and I will praise thee; thou art my God, I will exalt thee.” (Ps. 118:28) The soul in very deed is brought to God’s banquet, and never expects to see or feel famine again. (Jer. 31:12) And this is one branch of the solemnities of Zion.
But ere long the sinner will be brought into deep waters or hot fires. Satan will be suffered to buffet him with a thousand ifs, buts, and hows; the Lord will withdraw the light of his countenance; sin and filth will rise up high within, and Satan will spare neither pains nor means to stir up the dreadful mire. Instead of the conscience appearing a consecrated palace for God, made pure by the blood of Christ, (Heb. 9:14) it will be awfully defiled with thoughts obscene and filthy, too horrible to be named, and will appear as a den of the most detestable beasts; and this is no trifling matter in the mind, but just the reverse, for the worst kind of destruction appears at hand. If he can find his feelings in any measure described, it is in such places as (Ps. 38:1-12; Lam. 3:1-18; Ps. 71:10,11; Ps. 3:2.) And there will be great searchings of heart, to see if he can find any traces of divine life, light, or love, or any thing like God, in or about him. The enemy of souls will horrify him with his dreadful temptations and fiery darts, and tell him that he has been deceived, that his religion is all a delusion, and that both his sorrows and joys are the work of the devil. As for your joy, he will say, it is evident it was nothing but that of the stonyground hearers; and he will tell him that Satan had transformed himself into an angel of light, and produced all the light and joy which he had experienced, in order to deceive him. At these trying seasons the poor sinner appears at his wit’s end, and sometimes really thinks that he shall lose his senses.
But by and by the dear Lord will appear, and give the soul a little hope and strength, and enable him to muster up sufficient courage to say to the enemy, “Can Satan make me abhor sin and myself for sinning against God? Can he bring me to the footstool of mercy, with a broken and contrite spirit? Can he reveal pardon to my conscience, make me love, praise, and adore the Lord, enable me to give him my whole heart, and feelingly sing the wonders of his grace? Can he enable me to hold solemn converse with a Three-One God? If he can accomplish these things, let him do it again; let him come now and try his wisdom and strength in this matter; and give me that rest, and peace, and joy, and adoration which I once enjoyed; or let him produce that deep humility, contrition of spirit, self-abasement, and godly sorrow that I once felt.” But here Satan is foiled. This he cannot do. A broken heart and a contrite spirit are what he can neither produce nor heal; nor can he give the oil of joy for mourning, nor the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; so that, with an awful roar, he tells the soul that there is no God, or else hurls into the mind all the horrid blasphemies against God and truth that his infernal majesty is permitted to make us of, which, instead of producing a holy joy, almost drives the soul to distraction. This is indeed solemn work, and the poor distressed soul appears as though it was held up in life in the midst of a thousand deaths; yet, why it should be so, he really cannot tell. But the dear Lord suffers it to be so, in order that we may discover our own filth and wickedness, the power of Satan, and how Jesus both can and will save; and thus we prove the power of divine grace. And this is one branch of the solemnities of Zion.
But we further observe, that there is a state of feeling into which the child of God will be brought if he live long after the Lord is graciously pleased to reveal Christ in him the hope of glory and give him a sweet faith’s view of the beauty of Christ, especially if the Lord mean him to be useful to his tried family, there is a state of mind into which he will be brought that staggers faith, confounds reason, and upsets the whole fabric of his supposed power either to do or leave undone what he, in the joy of his soul, flattered himself capable of, especially as he was led to see and feel that his strength was in the Lord and in the power of his might. There are moments when we are prone to put some confidence in our humility, meekness, and joyous feelings, instead of wholly trusting in the Lord himself, who is graciously pleased to produce these feelings; at least, so it was with me, and I have smarted for it more than once. I have felt the sentence of death in myself in a variety of ways, that I might not trust in myself but in the Lord. If we are suffered to put any trust in our sweet feelings, the sentence of death will come upon them. No meltings down of mind; no real contrition of soul or tenderness of conscience sensibly felt; no free flowings of love to God, his truth, and his people; no heavenly light to see the King in his beauty; no freedom in prayer; no crumbling into the dust of self-abasement; no oil of joy, nor unctuous hearing, praying, or praising; no unctuous believing that the Lord is our God, that we are married unto him, and that he has given us his heart, and sweetly taken ours; no feeling fellowship with his sufferings, nor with the power of his resurrection; no challenging of Satan to do his best and his worst; no glorying nor meek patience in tribulation; no sweetly sinking out of self into the bosom, blood, and love of the Lord Jesus Christ; no feelingly fighting the good fight of faith; no solemn adoration, and singing the matchless wonders of electing and redeeming love; but, according to our feelings, sentence of death is passed upon all, and we sink in dismal dismay. We put on sackcloth, and Satan appears in high court dress. Our fastings are the devil’s feastings, and he gluts his infernal mind with the dust and filth of our dark, gloomy, and wretched feelings. We get into a kind of Babylonish captivity, and we weep when we remember Zion, for we cannot quite forget what we once enjoyed, when Christ was manifestively precious.
But those joyous moments are gone, and our poor souls are ready to fear they are gone for ever, and the enemy insultingly says, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” But there is no song now; the harp is out of tune and hung upon the willows, and all the efforts of nature to make the soul joyful only tend to increase its wretchedness, while the enemy, with horrible roar, exclaims, “Where are your humility, meekness, patience, joy, and peace now? Where are your exalted views of the glory of Christ and the mysteries of grace now? Where are your power in prayer, and your heartfelt thanksgiving and praise now? Where are you, and what is become of all your religion?” And here the poor soul sits in deep dismay, not knowing what answer to give, for it neither knows where it is nor what it is, nor where its religion is gone; for in this sharp, and sometimes long conflict, it appears as if every prop was gone. Bad feelings the man dare not trust, and good feelings he seems to have none to trust; and, indeed, he finds now that if he had any good feelings, they are no sure props or certain supports, for he once thought he had them, and almost adored them, but he now finds that they have failed him in a storm. In short, he is ready to give up all for lost, and fear that he shall sink to rise no more. At length the Lord draws forth his own life in the soul, and he begins to cry vehemently, “O Lord, I am oppressed, undertake for me,” (Isa. 38:14) and he is enabled to cry and cry again, till the dear Lord is graciously pleased to appear and reveal in the conscience the substance of that blessed text: “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.” (Ps. 12:5) A sweet measure of light, life, and love now springs up in the soul, and by a vital faith in Christ and his promise the soul begins to feel a little freedom with the Lord; the enemy begins to skulk out of the way, and the soul says, “Lord, how is it that I should have such dismal feelings? Thou knowest I wish to love, praise, and adore thee, and live more unto thee, and honour thee in all things. Do not condemn me; show me wherefore thou contendest with me.” (Job 10:2) Then the Lord replies, “Blessed is the man that maketh the Lord his trust. They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abideth for ever.” (Ps. 40:4; Ps. 125:1) “Dear Lord, says the soul, “tell me what it is to trust in thee, and enable me to do it, for I wish to trust thee wholly, to give thee my whole soul, and all I have, and to cast all my care upon thee.
An unfeeling religion is not the religion of Christ; and those who can boastingly say, “O, I pay no attention to my feelings; I trust in Christ,” appear to me to be out of the secret of the Lord, which is with them that fear him. But to put our trust in our feelings, instead of trusting in the Lord, from whom all real spiritual feelings proceed, is trusting in the brook rather than in the fountain or spring-head; and however pleasant the brook may be, it may dry up, (1 Kings 17:7) but the fountain never dries up,–a precious Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. When we trust in our frames and feelings, rather than in Christ, we in some measure slight Christ, though we neither wish to do so nor are aware that we are doing so, till the Lord brings us in painful feeling to find it out. When the brook of all our sweet feelings appears to be dried up, and our prop and confidence in them give way, and we appear to famish and sink, then the dear Lord brings us in vital faith and feeling to experience that Christ, the spring-head, is still the same, and the blessed Spirit enables us to trust in him with all our heart, and to rely wholly upon him for life, pardon, peace, righteousness, strength, holiness, prayer, praise, wisdom, perseverance, and everything we need for bliss and blessedness. Under the divine teachings of God the Spirit, this faith in and reliance upon Christ, and an entire renouncing of all trust or confidence in either good self or bad self, is sure to produce solemn and spiritual feelings, and we sing the wonders of a Three-One God and his unchanging love and faithfullness. And this is one branch of the solemnities of Zion.
But we pass on to the public ordinances of Christ, and the church and people of God assembling together in the name, and power, and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The solemn ordinance of baptism is one branch of the solemnities of Zion. When the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is solemnly immersed in water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as an emblem of his trust in the overwhelming sufferings, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, (Luke 12:50; Rom. 6:4) and of his own death unto sin and to all other lords; of the washing away of sin in the blood of the Lamb, and his death to the killing letter and to the world; of his being buried from their claims and of his resurrection to newness of life by virtue of union to Christ, made known by the power of God the Holy Ghost; (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Col. 2:12; Col. 3:3) this ordinance is a figure of the Christian’s salvation, and herein he shows a good conscience towards God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 3:21) The Lord has instituted this ordinance, not to save from sin, nor to save the sinner, but as a figure of his sin being washed away in the fountain of atoning blood and love, and of his being completely saved in and by the Lord Jesus Christ; and when it is attended to according to God’s command, and the presence of the Lord is enjoyed therein, it is one of the solemnities of Zion.
2. When the church of Christ meet together to break bread and partake of it, and pour forth wine and partake of it, it is one of Zion’s solemnities. Herein they figure forth the broken body and blood-shedding of the Lord Jesus Christ as their meat indeed, and drink indeed. It is not the bread and wine that are the body and blood of Christ; they are only signs of them; and whoever, by a vital faith, can look through and beyond the ordinance to Christ, receive him and lean upon him as the bread of heaven and the wine of the kingdom, he enters into the true spirit of what the dear Lord says: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:53,54) When the church meet together, and the Lord is manifestively with them, and they eat and drink in his presence, discerning the Lord’s body, they find it a solemn time; but such as partake of the ordinance merely to do a duty, or because it is a custom, or to be put into some office, or in their own worthiness, or to merit God’s favour, or as a passport to heaven, or with some fleshly view or other, they “eat and drink damnation to themselves, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Cor. 11:29) But the poor sinner who has no felt or imaginary worthiness of his own, but comes as a poor dependent worm, relying upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and who is led by the blessed Spirit to discern the finished work of Christ as the ground of his hope, by faith leaning upon Christ for peace and salvation, feeling that he has no hope nor rest short of Christ, who must have all his worthiness in and from Christ, and who has been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is both worthy and welcome. Let such a poor soul pray that the dear Lord will give him faith to look above himself, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and appear at court in court dress, the glorious righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ; for when this is done under the teachings of the Spirit, the Lord giving him a glimpse of his glory, and enabling him truly to say, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God;” (Isa. 61:10) then, indeed, he both sees and feels that it is one branch of the solemnities of Zion. And it is solemn work also, when the poor soul sits at the table of the Lord, trembling alive, the enemy of souls stirring up the evils of his corrupt nature, and tempting him to believe that he has no part nor lot in the matter, that he has no business there, and that he is too vile to be a guest for the Lord. His very heart is overwhelmed with distress lest he should eat and drink his own condemnation. “Worthy!” says the poor soul, “I am altogether unworthy; a poor, foolish, weak, wretched sinner; I can have no business here. O that I had not come!” Yet the poor soul appears to have no power to get up and go away; but he is greatly bowed down, and cries to the Lord to have mercy upon him, and to pardon his presumption for attempting to approach. He is tempted to conceal the bread, and not eat it, and not to sup of the wine, but only to put the cup to his mouth. Come, poor sin-sick, sin-loathing, sealed-up sinner, cheer up thy poor desponding mind. Canst thou not unite with Hart, and say,
“I eat the bread and drink the wine;
But O! my soul wants more than sign;
I faint unless I feed on thee,
And drink thy blood as shed for me.
“For sinners, Lord, thou camest to bleed,
And I’m a sinner vile indeed,
Lord, I believe thy grace is free;
O magnify that grace in me!”Is not this the real desire of thy heart? Remember, poor soul, thy worthiness is in Christ. The Lord enable thee to look unto Jesus and discern the body of his death. A solemn view of Christ by faith will set thy heart at rest, and then thou wilt find this ordinance one of the solemnities of Zion.
But we proceed to observe, 3rdly, that the meeting of the church of Christ for prayer and praise, when the Lord blesses them with a spirit of prayer and praise, and when the God of prayer and praise appears in their midst, with them and in them, is another of the solemnities of Zion. They then worship him in spirit and in truth. There is a glorious solemnity when God and the church meet together, and when there is a blessed out-pouring of the Spirit, and the worshippers find that they have power with God, and can plead with him in vital faith, and like Jacob, can say, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” (Gen. 32:26) Witness the meeting recorded in Acts: “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they had assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31) Such meetings are awfully grand and solemn. God grant more of them; and in our meetings together, may we be more concerned for the out-pourings of the Holy Spirit and for the life and power of vital godliness, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord grant us a holy violence, that we may wrestle with God in the out-pourings of our souls, both in public and in private; and may the solemnities of Zion more abundantly be felt. O my brethren, when God and conscience meet, and there is a divine witness in the heart that Christ is with us and in us, and that we are with him and in him; when he pours out his Spirit and love in us, and enables us to pour out our whole soul unto him; when we feel a solemn immersing, or being baptized by one spirit in the love and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in some sweet measure are plunged by faith into that Fountain, and lose ourselves in Christ, we then can say, “It is good to be here,” and in very deed prove that this is one branch of the solemnities of Zion.
But, 4, we observe that the real ministry of God’s word is a branch of the solemnities of Zion. When God raises up, qualifies, and sends forth a man as an able minister of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit, he sends him forth as a witness for God, and to be God’s mouth to the people. When the Lord sends forth a minister in his own name, blesses him with grace and gifts for the work, and leads him spiritually into the deep things of God, “the words of his mouth are as deep waters, and the wellspring of wisdom as a flowing brook;” (Prov. 18:4) but often, while he is solemnly engaged in separating the precious from the vile, he will find men both in and out of a profession of religion up in arms against him, and his own fleshly, carnal reason will sometimes wish him to desist. But God has sent him to the work, and he must go on; and the Lord has promised to be his defence. (Jer. 15:19-21) Let his foes or carnal fears say what they will, he must be God’s mouth to the people. Sometimes a heart-searching ministry will make the people of God themselves tremble and quake for fear; but in the end it will prove a savour of life unto life unto them; and while the minister is a savour of life unto life to the family of God, he often proves a savour of death unto death unto others, and they go away angry and raging; but in each case he is a sweet savour unto God. (2 Cor. 2:14-17) When free-willers on the one hand, and vamped-up high-doctrinal men, without the vital power of God in their conscience, on the other hand, go from a searching ministry with disgust, it is no small proof that God is with the minister; but among the family of God there will at times be solemn heart-searchings under the ministry of the Spirit, and some solemn and glorious manifestations of God’s truth to the conscience; so that the believer can set to his seal that God is true; and as the minister is led to describe the hopes and fears, darkness and light, hardness and meltings down, ins and outs, coldness and warmth, joys and sorrows, fights and victories, mournings and triumphs of the children of God, and is enabled to bring forth God’s truths as suited to and designed for them in their various situations, the Lord making it manifest in their conscience, they will have proof upon proof that the ministry is of God.
There will be both solemn sorrows and solemn joys, and the minister will at times be able to say, “Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts.” (2 Cor. 3:2-5) And when, under the unctuous teachings of God the Spirit, they are enabled to describe a little of the openings of the love of the Trinity, as made known in the covenant of grace and in the gift and work of Christ, the glorious fullness that in him dwells, and the inseparable union that subsists between him and his people, and the matchless methods a Three-One God has taken and still takes to unfold the mysteries of the cross to the souls of his people and to lead them into the deep things of God; when the various branches of the doctrines and promises of the gospel of God’s grace and the declarations of God’s mercy are therein revealed; his dealings with his people of old, as revealed in his word; together with pointing out a measure of the glory of the person of Christ, the offices he fills, the characters he bears, the names he sustains, the relation in which he stands, the fullness that in him dwells, and the glory of all the promises of God in him, which are in him yea, and in him amen; (2 Cor. 1:20) I say, when, under the unction of God the Spirit, the minister is enabled to enter a little into these glorious truths, and the Lord opens his people’s hearts to receive them, and seals them there, it is one branch of the solemnities of Zion. A dry, doctrinal, unsearching unseparating ministry may vamp up the presumptuous, but will not profit poor broken-hearted sinners. Under such a ministry Zion will go in mourning, while the dead professor will triumph; but while the Lord is making his own ministers the mouth of God to separate the precious from the vile, faithfully to dispense his word in all its various branches, and to insist upon and describe the necessity of the power, there will be some solemn work going on in the conscience; and however they may be repulsed, they must go on with their work. “He that hath my word let him speak my word faithfully;” (Jer. 23:28) not keep it back because men do not like it, nor speak it squeamishly, but faithfully. A solemn charge is given to Timothy, and with him to all God’s ministers, as recorded 2 Tim. 4:1-5. What a solemn charge is there, and what a solemn office the office of a faithful gospel minister is! And if the apostle was led to ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?” well may such a poor worm as I. What an awful thing it is for men to rush into the ministry without the Holy Ghost sending them! If such men do not find it solemn work now, they will in the end find themselves solemnly and awfully mistaken. But the faithful ministry of God’s blessed truth, and an honest and faithful reception of it in the conscience, under the power of God the Holy Ghost, is one branch of the solemnities of Zion.
I might name the solemnities of Zion when the children of God shall leave their mortal clay at death, and enter into the glorious presence of their Lord; when their “bodies shall be raised from the dead, like unto the glorious body of the Lord Jesus Christ, and death be completely swallowed up in victory; when the Lord Jesus Christ shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe.” (2 Thess. 1:7-10) This will be a gloriously solemn time for the Zion of God. But, ungodly, unclean, self-righteous, presumptuous sinners, what will then become of you? How will you bear to hear parents, children, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, or friends say, “Amen, Alleluia,” to your eternal damnation? (Rev. 19:1-6) This will be an awful day for all those that live and die without repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but a most gloriously solemn day for the people of God; for the whole kingdom shall be gathered together in one, and live and reign with Christ, and be like him, in the glorious presence of their Three-One God, for ever and ever, and never sin or sigh again, but eternally drink full draughts of immortal bliss from the fountain head, and never cease singing the high praises of God and the Lamb. All will be light, life, love, God, and glory. But, brethren, we must die to know much of this. Now and then we enjoy a drop, as a foretaste of what is to come; but all we can at present say upon that subject is but little compared with the bliss itself. But when we arrive there we shall see as we are seen, and know as we are known, and soul and body be like the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 John 3:2) But we pass on.
VI. To show that it is the blessed privilege of the citizens of Zion to be spiritually employed, by a vital faith, in looking upon Zion, the city of our solemnities. Their precious faith is God’s gift to his people, and is the fruit of the Spirit, and the work of the Lord. Yes, faith, in all its divine acts, is God’s own work. God gives this blessed vital faith in that measure and proportion which his blessed Majesty sees good for the work unto which his people are called. Hence we read of little faith, (Matt. 6:30,) and of great faith, (Matt. 8:10) and of some being full of the Holy Ghost and of faith; (Acts 6:8; 11:24) and the apostles prayed for an increase of faith. (Luke 17:5) A blessed, vital faith is the Lord’s evidence in the conscience of the reality of that truth upon which it is fixed; (Heb. 11:12) so that when, under the divine teachings and operations of God the Spirit, faith is digging into some branches of divine truth, it does not bring direct peace and joy into the conscience, but just reproof and rebuke, and a real acknowledgment of our vileness. (Rev. 3:19; Heb. 12:5-17) But when faith is drawn forth, by the blessed power of its divine Author, into Christ and the glorious mysteries of his cross, it brings into the conscience a solid joy and peace; and then we have joy and peace in believing; but this is the Lord’s work, and not the creature’s. It is a blessed privilege for faith to be led into the solemn glories of Christ, and, under the workings of the mighty power of God, to dig deep into the eternal love mines of God’s discriminating grace and his wonderful works as a covenant-making, covenant-keeping, and covenant-performing God. When this is done, and faith can in some measure trace the solemn acts of Zion, under the Spirit’s divine teachings, leadings, and workings, it is blessedly employed. Under the searching power of God the Spirit, it in measure searches the deep things of God, (1 Cor. 2:9-14) and, like an active bee among flowers, it gathers sweet food from them, and brings into the hive of the conscience the honey gathered from such treasures. (Ps. 119:103) Then the believer’s lips, as the spouse of Christ, drop as the honeycomb. There is a spiritual sweetness in his worship, and in his conversation both with Christ and for Christ, in observing the wonders of his person, love, and loveliness; and his gracious Majesty condescends to come down and eat his honeycomb with his honey, in holding solemn converse and sweet communion with the soul. (Song 4:11; 5:1) It is solemnly blessed to experience that Christ dwells in the heart by faith, (Eph. 3:17) that the Lord has set us apart for himself, (Ps. 4:3) and made us the temple of the Holy Ghost, (1 Cor. 6:19) and that the eternal Three make their abode with us. (John 14:23; 2 Cor. 13:14) All the searchings and researchings of nature can never enter into these things; but when vital faith is blessedly employed in searching them, it is God’s evidence in the conscience of the glorious reality of them; and thus the believer, by the divine power of God the Spirit, lives, stands, walks, fights, and overcomes by faith. A cold, dead, formal faith in the various truths of the gospel may lead to presumption, but it never enters vitally into Christ, nor brings one spiritual blessing into the conscience.
In fact, it is no more than what Satan has, or the stony-ground hearers, at best. It never enters into the glory and blessedness of the truths believed. But a vital faith in the eternal realities of the glorious gospel of the blessed God sucks virtue from them, and seats it in the conscience. It is a very easy matter to talk about a Three-One covenant God, and of Christ, salvation, and the various branches of divine truth; yea, even to preach and vindicate them, and have a dead faith in them, boasting of the stability of their faith and mountain-high confidence, steadily maintained, and discarding all real feelings of the malady and plague of sin and the healing power of divine grace received in the conscience by a vital faith, under the unctuous power of God the Holy Ghost, and a real feeling of a painful dissatisfaction of mind when this unctuous power is not felt; I say, it is an easy matter, on the one hand, to vamp up a presumptuous confidence in the letter of truth; and, on the other hand, to despise the poor desponding, sin-sick, sin-plagued sinner, who cannot be satisfied short of a spiritual feeling of the power of divine truth. But when men have spent all their artillery of presumption and insult on the poor, tried, broken-hearted children of God, still the Lord will have a people who shall know their own sore and grief, and the plague of their own heart, and make prayer and supplication to the Lord; (2 Chron. 6:29; 1 Kings 8:38) and the Lord will in his own blessed time draw forth real vital faith in the blessed person, love, blood, righteousness, fullness, oaths and promises, offices, characters, names, and relationship of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the various branches of his blessed truths, as suited to the poor sinner’s case, and graciously designed for him, and of the wonderful work and workings of the Lord in Mount Zion; and while vital faith, under the drawings and teachings of God the Holy Spirit, is traveling through and solemnly tracing the immortal wonders of a triune God, for, in, and by Zion, it proves God’s evidence in the conscience of the glorious reality of these precious and solemn things. Thus it is one branch of the high privilege of vital faith to enter into and survey the glorious solemnities of Zion.
The God of all grace grant unto you and me this precious faith, and from day to day draw it into sweet and solemn exercise into the Lord Jesus Christ, and the matchless openings of the love of a Three-One covenant God in Zion. Amen and amen.
By William Gadsby