Written by Deacon R.M. Strong
The Warwick Old School Baptist Association, in session with the New Vernon Church, New Vernon, N.Y., June 7th, 8th, and 9th, 1916, to the churches composing the same sends love in the Lord.
DEAR BRETHREN: - Another year of our pilgrimage is ended, and the time has arrived when, according to a long established custom, you will expect a token of love and fellowship, in what we are in the habit of calling a Circular Letter. If while penning this epistle we are led in right paths, and in the way of wisdom, (Prov. iv. 11) then what is written (though void of human wisdom and learning) will be of interest to those who are led in the same paths and taught in the same wisdom. We feel impressed, brethren, to give expression to a few thoughts in connection with the language of the prophet Zephaniah, as recorded in the third chapter, sixteenth and seventeenth verses: “In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not; and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love; he will joy over thee with singing.” In dealing with this portion of holy writ we do not propose to call your attention especially to God's dealings with Israel of old, nor to attempt to point out just when, how or where, this particular prophecy was literally fulfilled, for at the best we are but imperfectly acquainted with the events of the period in which the prophet lived, so that many things which were then written (though perhaps quite intelligible when so written) are very obscure to us now. Israel of old, as we know, was (and as we read the Scriptures is) a type of spiritual Israel. God's dealings with that people were therefore typical of his dealings with his spiritual Israel. We would therefore call your attention to this Scripture as applying to spiritual Israel, the church of the living God, composed of all peoples and tongues, in other words, God's elect. Looking at the subject in this light we would first express a thought or so in connection with the expression, “In that day.” All of us (when reading the Scriptures) have observed the frequent recurrence of the expression, “In that day.” Sometimes it is spoken of as a day of trouble, then again as a day of deliverance and joy. God's people are from time to time made to know the meaning of “that day,” as the Lord leads them about like his servant Jacob, and instructs them. They are made to know something of the day of judgment, when God lays judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet, when he searches Jerusalem with candles. They know something of the day of trial, the day of temptation; on the other hand, it is their portion to also know something of the day of deliverance, the day of salvation, the day of peace, the day of hope and the day of rest. So we see there is a day when Jerusalem fears, and one in which God speaks with power to her heart, saying, “Fear thou not.” What is intended here by “Jerusalem?” It would seem that spiritually viewed we may take “Jerusalem” as a symbolic representation of the church of God, for do we not find the word so applied in the New Testament? Paul the apostle writes, “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.” - Gal. iv. 26. Again, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” - Heb. xii. 22. So it would seem that we have ample warrant for a spiritual interpretation of Jerusalem as mystically representing that glorious church of which the apostle John writes, and which he saw in vision as coming down from God: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” - Rev. xxi. 2. Then may we not apply the exhortation, “Fear thou not,” to the church of God, and the day spoken of as a day when she is in trouble and sorrow and beset with many fears on account of the number and strength of her adversaries? As the members of the body of Christ are all partakers of the same afflictions, may we not consider the words here expressed as applicable to each believer in Christ Jesus who is beset with trouble, doubt or fear? By so doing the language seems personal, speaking directly to the heart of each sufferer in and with Christ. The language we are considering while addressed to Jerusalem is also addressed to Zion: “Let not thy hands be slack.” We feel we are fully warranted in viewing Zion and Jerusalem as one, for, as we know, literal Zion was a part of Jerusalem. It was a lofty eminence on which David built his palace and is therefore combined with Jerusalem by the apostle: “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,” and what is this but “the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven”? How suitable, how appropriate the language employed, as the people of God in the day of their fears are addressed, “Let not thy hands be slack.” Is there anything that makes our hands so slack as the day of temptation, the day of affliction, the day of searching, the day of trial or the day of judgment? It is often a comfort to the Lord's people to know and realize that while they feel their utter inability in and of themselves to heed the many admonitions in which the scriptures abound, they have a God who undertakes for them. It is by his mighty power (and that alone) that any of the admonitions are heeded and obeyed. How often, as in the case now under consideration, we find with an exhortation linked a sweet and suitable promise. The prophet here goes on as follows: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save,” &c. See how the Lord comes and gives his Zion reasons why she should not fear and her hands should not be slack. The language implies that Zion's God being in her midst, her battles are fought by him, and through him she is brought forth a conqueror. The psalmist of old was enabled to sing in the triumph of faith, “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.” - Psalms xivi. 5.
“He will rejoice over thee with joy.” When God's dear Son offered himself as a sacrifice for sin, and put away the transgressions of the church, when he died for her sins and rose again for her justification, it was a fulfillment of God's eternal purpose of wisdom and grace. Having in the fullness of time accomplished this eternal purpose, God, viewing his church saved, redeemed and justified, he can in that sense at least be said (in the language of the prophet) to rejoice over her with joy.
“He will rest in his love.” God is love. When, then, he rests in his love, he may be said to rest in himself. As in the creation it is recorded, “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made,” - Gen. ii. 2, so after the completion of this work of works (the salvation of his church) it may be said that God rested, in the sense that the work was perfect and complete, as all the works of God are. God's love for his people being an eternal and everlasting love, as unchangeable as himself, and the mission of that love having been accomplished, he rests in that changeless love. As God rests in his love, so at times does he cause his people to est in that same love, realizing that they love God because he first loved them.
“He will joy over thee with singing.” Singing in the word of God is set forth as an emblem and expression of joy. How often in the Psalms we read, “Sing ye to the Lord,” &c. It would seem that the language of the prophet here sets forth the joy of God in the salvation of his people, expressed in the voice of son. A rejoicing over his Zion whom he hath reconciled unto himself in and through his Son, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Such grace, love and mercy is sufficient to overwhelm us with wonder and astonishment. May God grant that from time to time during our pilgrimage here we may know more and more of his wondrous love to usward, and patiently await his appointed time when we shall experience its fullness and be eternally satisfied.
H.C. Ker, Moderator
R. Lester Dodson, Clerk
Signs of the Times
Volume 84, No. 13
July 1, 1916