ZEPHANIAH III. 18.

“I will gather them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee, to whom the reproach of it was a burden.”

In the last number of the SIGNS for the last year, the request of C. M. McDowel for the views of the writer on this passage, was published, and an apology is due for the seeming neglect by which compliance has been so long delayed. While the desire to serve our brethren and all inquirers for truth is ever present, surrounding circumstances frequently prevent the fulfillment of that desire. So in this case, while the readers of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES know of much that has been openly manifest to embarrass the work of complying with such requests on our part, the darkness and confusion of mind resulting, at least in some measure, from those manifest embarrassments, has to a greater degree prevented the earlier presentation of the views requested. This, it is hoped, will be accepted as sufficient explanation of the delay.

In the book of this prophecy, as in all the inspired record, the testimony of Jesus is the spirit, or essential substance, of the declaration of truth, which holy men of old recorded as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. But this testimony includes the experience of the individual members of the church, who “are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.” – Eph. v. 30. While it is true of him personally, that all the law and the prophetic declaration were fulfilled in him and by him, so that he perfectly reflects all the particulars specified of him; yet, in a more full development of this same testimony of Jesus, the fulfillment of the scriptures is found in the individual experience of the subjects of his grace, who are led by his gracious spirit to endure affliction, tribulation and sorrows in the sojourn here on earth, thus filling up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ. It is from this fact that the saints so frequently find to their great comfort that the very trials which they had thought peculiar to their own individual cases, have been described and were recorded with a striking minuteness by the pen of inspiration thousands of our years before they were experienced by the saint, who had thought no one ever before had known such peculiar exercises or endured such afflictions.

Under the shadowy dispensation of the prophetic and ceremonial declaration of the revelation of the goodness of God, when by the prophets he spoke to the fathers, the light revealed was all reflected, as that of the moon in nature; but as luminous objects, in the pale shadowy moonlight, are sometimes more strikingly distinct from the very dimness of the light in which they are revealed, so the bright revelation of gospel truth strikes us more forcibly as we find it shining in heavenly lustre in that night of the old dispensation, before the rising Sun of Righteousness illumined the world with the revelation of the perfect day. In this the cavils of the worldly wise are forever silenced; not by abstruse argument, available only to the wise and prudent of this world, but by the simple presentation of indisputable fact patent to the view of the babe in Christ, that without the fundamental truth of the absolute and irresistible purpose of God directing and controlling all things, it is impossible that future events could have been foretold in prophecy. This is the test authorized by God himself, whereby every false and idol god is detected. “Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods; yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of naught; and abomination is he that chooseth you.” – Isaiah xli. 23, 24. Those who trust in their own righteousness and strength may afford to commit their hope to such powerless idols; but the poor and needy, the destitute, the afflicted, and such as have no helper, such as these need a God, who can and will do all his own pleasure; and such they have learned in their own experience is the God of Israel, the Lord Jehovah, in whom is everlasting strength. Therefore to them there is strong consolation in the assurance God has given in the word of revealed truth, wherein he has declared the unalterable purpose of his sovereign will, that he will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities he will remember no more.

When the conscious sinner is overwhelmed in condemnation, and the justice of God is clearly manifest in forbidding all hope of acceptance by works of obedience to the holy law, when bondage more galling than the hard slavery of Egypt requires service impossible to be rendered, and no gleam of hope breaks through the thick cloud of gloomy despair, how accurately this word applies as the descriptive name of such a lost and perishing one! He may well ask, with Jeremiah, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.” – Lam. i. 12. Such as have learned experimentally their just condemnation are indeed “the sorrowful.” Nor is this a mere transitory emotion, like the sorrows of earth, to which time may minister relief, either in comforts applied, or in the lethargic balm of forgetfulness. Each passing moment but adds to the depth of the sorrow, as one wrecked in the midst of a fathomless ocean, with every instant losing hope, so time but intensifies the terrible sorrow of these mourning ones. At the first realization of their desperate condition hope suggested relief from devoted attention and strict obedience to the just injunctions of the law of holiness. With sincere energy the convicted sinner strove to build a righteousness which should answer the requirement of infinite Justice. In thought, in word and in deed, with ceaseless toil, he sought to render that righteous service which was demanded; but at every point the effort failed. Instead of the accumulation of justifying works of righteousness, in all his best obedience he found only the leprosy of sin contaminating all, and marking with its blasting corruption the very works in which he trusted for conciliating the violated law. Despair seizing upon the famishing one, marks him as truly “sorrowful.” Can hope extend to one so utterly lost? Can comfort be ministered to a case so desperate? Under that covenant which God gave from flaming Sinai, which required perfect, perpetual and devoted obedience as the price of life, there is nothing but darkness, despair and death. O how unspeakably sorrowful! Death already claims his victim, and in painfully legible language the sentence is recorded, “The soul that sinneth it shall die;” and, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Buried in this dark, gloomy sepulchre, with this heavy stone of the law of a carnal commandment sealing the only door, can there be any room for aught but sorrow? Alone, in this dreadful condition, without help, and with none to pity, well, may the poor prisoner be “sorrowful.”

But in this despairing hour the glorious Word of gospel grace proclaims release; not barely the remission of the penalty, liberty to the captive, and pardon for sin, but O, amazing grace! the guilty sinner is justified freely by the righteousness of the glorious Redeemer. Sin is not merely pardoned by the sovereign elemency of the Lawgiver and King, but sin is blotted out, the hand-writing of ordinances is nailed to the tree of Calvary, and the same voice of inexorable justice which forbade all hope, now says, “Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom.” Then, O how sweetly does the attraction of infinite love gather this sorrowful one! There is no need of the terrors of perdition to drive, nor of the gorgeous descriptions of fancy to present the bliss of a carnal paradise to allure the covetous aspirations of the selfish nature of such an individual. The love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him causes that hunger and thirst after righteousness which is the peculiar characteristic of such as are blessed of the Lord; and it is in this wonderful way that he gathers them that are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, who are of thee.

The gathering of these sorrowful ones in an individual work; there is no wholesale or indiscriminate heaping together of heterogeneous materials in this work. As was typified in the building of the temple of Solomon, when the material was all prepared and accurately fitted before it was brought together, so every material of this holy temple is fitly prepared by divine grace for its appropriate place in the building, the church, or the organized body of Christ, before it is manifestly brought in, and thus is fulfilled the inspired prophecy in the one hundred and tenth Psalm, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” As they are cut off from all self-dependence and every other false refuge, they joyfully embrace the revelation of the sovereign grace of God in giving them in Christ Jesus righteousness without works, justification freely by grace, and salvation, not alone from condemnation and wrath, but from their awful pollution in sin, which is the sting of death, and from that law which is the strength of sin. This gathering, by which the willing subjects of redeeming grace are separated from the world, is very far from being, as falsely represented by opposers of the truth, that they are taken by external force and carried thus to heaven; on the contrary, so strong is the will which is wrought in them by the Holy Spirit, that through all the opposing power of the world, the flesh and the devil, their irrepressible desire unceasingly goes forth for the privilege of resting in the temple of God. As said the psalmist, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.”

Being thus gathered by the power of their strong Redeemer, by which they are also kept through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter i. 5), these sorrowful ones are not left to wander, or be carried about with every wind of doctrine, or to select their destination by their own wisdom, but they are gathered for a definite design and purposed end. It is “for the solemn assembly.” There must be in this special description a peculiar assembly contemplated. Certainly those voluntary convocations appointed and directed by human wisdom and for worldly objects, may not claim to answer the descriptions specified. The solemn assembly implies something different from the light and vain crowds attracted by the allurements of time, or the gratification of carnal passions or temporal desires. It cannot refer to the “counsel of the ungodly,” “the way of sinners,” nor “the seat of the scornful.” The solemnity of this assembly consists in the fact that it is the house of God and gate of heaven, and the name of the city shall be called THE LORD IS THERE. – Ezek. xlviii. 35. This is the general assembly and church of the First-born, which are written in heaven. And all the desire of these sorrowful ones is fulfilled in that longed-for consummation, when they shall awake with the likeness of their glorified Redeemer, to be ever with the Lord.

The more specific description of these sorrowful characters asserts their identity only more fully. “Who are of thee.” What heart-searching and painful questionings rend the hearts of the afflicted and poor wandering strangers on this very point! If they could but feel assured that they were of Zion, the monument raised up by the grace of God for his own dwelling place and the manifestation of his glory, then indeed all their afflictions would be light. But this declaration settles that question by the explicit assertion of the unalterable fact. “Them that are sorrowful” are identified as “of thee,” that is, of the Zion addressed in verse sixteen. This is confirmed and corroborated by the whole volume of inspired truth, throughout which this characteristic mark is prominently presented as peculiarly descriptive of the chosen people of God. Hence, to them are applied all the encouraging and consoling assurances of the gospel. Indeed, this is the avowed object for which the Redeemer was anointed as the Christ of God, “To comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” – Isa. lxi. 2,3. So the first gracious words spoken on the mount perfectly reveal the same precious truth. Blessing is announced as already resting upon “the poor in spirit,” “them that mourn,” &c., clearly specifying the “sorrowful.” Indeed, no others can receive comfort.

To whom the reproach of it was a burden.” This specification also finds its fulfillment in none but the native born children of Zion. When the captives by the rivers of Babylon wept at the remembrance of Zion, none shared their sorrow but those who were of Zion, and their distress and sorrow attested their love to their native land. So those who mourn their bondage under the vanity of sin therein present unquestionable evidence of their love of holiness. It is immaterial whether the “reproach” alluded to is understood of the desolation of the visible organization of the church, or sin, which is a reproach to any people. – Prov. xiv. 34. In either case it is peculiarly and exclusively characteristic of those who are sealed by the indwelling spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. None mourn for sin but those who are born of God, and none lament the desolations of Zion but those whose birthright is in her as their dwelling place. Hence it is written, “They shall prosper that love thee.”

The very fact that God gives this precious assurance of gathering these sorrowful who are of Zion, reveals them as being scattered. So they are declared to be in the word of truth. But let these scattered sorrowful ones take comfort in the fact that even when dispersed and sown among the nations, their nativity is not lost. It shall still be said of them, “The Lord hath done great things for them.” And still are they saved by the angel of his presence; and they that mourn shall assuredly rejoice in the solemn assembly of them who “follow the Lamb whither-soever he goeth,” redeemed unto God out of every nation, kindred and people. The heritage of the redeemed of the Lord is not dependent upon their own works, but upon their vital relationship by the new birth. And of these sorrowful it is certain that “the Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people that this man was born there.” – Psalm lxxxvii. 6.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Middletown, N. Y.

Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 16
August 15, 1881