Georgetown, Ky., July 4,1861.
BROTHER BEEBE: - In twelfth number of the present Volume of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, brother F. M. Casey, of Mississippi, has asked for my views on the 20th, 21st and 22nd verses of the xxxiii. chapter of Isaiah. He trusts that he "loves the truth as it is in Jesus," and has "a fervent desire to follow my Master." These considerations alone are sufficient to induce me, incompetent as I feel, to try at least to comply with his request. Brother Casey is an entire stranger to me in the flesh, I hope not in the Spirit. The verses read as follows:
"Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities; thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken. But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams; wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby. For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King; he will save us."
This was no doubt a prospective or prophetic view which the prophet had of Zion in her organization and superstructure by, and her superintendence and government under her King and Lawgiver.
"Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities” As a city, Zion stands unrivaled by any. Her superstructure, defense, provision, her glory and perpetuity, all exhibit the wisdom, the power and fullness of the great Architect. She is "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." The inhabitant of Zion "shall dwell on high, his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given him, his waters shall be sure." "His foundation is in the holy mountain;" and he says, "upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." She is invincible without doubt, and "we have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks." As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about her forever, and he is the glory in the midst of her. She shall then, and she will survive the wreck of kingdoms and the crash of worlds; for surely there is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heavens in her help. The eternal God is her refuge, and beneath her are the everlasting arms. She shall dwell in safety alone. Happy art thou, O Israel! Who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord? She is "the city of our solemnities." Solemn, because God dwells there! The consideration of his august and gloriously holy presence should fill us with a solemn and yet a pleasing awe. Does he, in his amazing condescension, deign to dwell with us, poor, unworthy, fallen and self-degraded sinners? Surely, then, when we enter his courts to serve him in his tabernacle, solemnity should characterize all our devotions, and we should "sing praises unto thy name, O Most High, upon the harp with a solemn sound."
"Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation." We look around us, and see everywhere exhibited the ferocity of the wolf, the leopard, the lion and the bear. Their ferocious dispositions and thirst for blood are comparable to our carnal and uncultivated natures, which can only be checked by the reigning power of grace. Instance the case of Saul of Tarsus of the tribe of Benjamin. It is said, Gen. xlix. 27, "Benjamin shall raven as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoil." But grace must reign in regal triumph; for "the wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed, their young ones shall lie down together." It is further said, "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all thy holy mountain." Thus is presented a beautiful symbol of the quietude of this habitation and the unpromising materials of which it is composed. Were it not a fact that our ferocious dispositions are only curbed and not destroyed in this mode of existence, we should see Zion, even here, at all times, a quiet habitation. But, although she must be subject to "wars, and fightings" for a little while, she will enjoy perfect quietude by-and-by.
"A tabernacle that shall not be taken down." The prophet probably had allusion here to that beautiful tent erected by Moses for the service of God while the children of Israel were journeying in the wilderness, and alluded to by the apostle in the ninth chapter of the epistle to the Hebrews. It was a portable dwelling, in which the priests conducted the service of God, who there manifested himself to Israel; and it was separated into two divisions by a curtain or veil. The first was called "the holy place;" the second "the most holy," or "holiest of all." The priests went always into the first tabernacle (or division), accomplishing the service of God. But into the second went the high priest alone, once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people - a beautiful typical illustration of the church of Christ, as she is situated partly here and partly in her most holy place, where her all-glorious High Priest entered for her, having obtained her eternal redemption from the curse of the law by his own blood. She constitutes but one building, separated by a veil only into two divisions; hence, in this tabernacle or kingdom, we sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. She shall not be taken down.
Though rumbling thunders round this tent may roar,
Though tempests rage and billows lash the shore,
God hovers round; he keeps the hallowed place;
She stands a monument of reigning grace!
Environed with impregnable walls, fortified by almighty bulwarks (see Isaiah xxvi. 1), massive towers and well-guarded palaces, reared by an omnipotent hand, with the power of the Eternal hovering round her, she may fearlessly bid defiance to her most potent enemies. Though "every battle of the warrior is with confused noise and garments rolled in blood," this tabernacle shall stand; and though the din of battle and the clash of weapons may be heard, and fury rage all round her, each inmate shall achieve the victory and wear the victor's crown at last, and although hosts of enemies may encamp around her, they may join the chorus:
"In hope of that immortal crown,
We now the cross sustain;
And gladly wander up and down,
And smile at toil and pain."
"Not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords be broken." In pitching a tent or tabernacle in a tempestuous region, it is essential that it should have sufficient fastening. For this purpose stakes are often used, which are firmly settled in the ground; then cords are attached to the tabernacle and fastened to the stakes. If the stakes are sufficiently strong and well fastened, and the cords such as cannot be broken, the superstructure will stand. Now we have the figure before us; what does it teach? I suppose that the stakes here exhibit the promises of God. The inviolability of a promise depends upon the veracity and power of the promiser. If his integrity is doubtless and his power sufficient in all cases of emergency, we need not question the stability of the promise. God is the promiser here, and when he promised our father Abraham an heir, "he considered not his own body dead when he was about an hundred years old, nor yet the deadness of Sarah's womb." He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able to perform. An excellent pattern for us. The promise was made before the world began, by God that CANNOT LIE. Jesus, our Surety and Redeemer, is the keeper of the covenant and promises; "for all the promises of God are in him yea, and in him amen, to the glory of God by us." The new covenant is established upon these promises, and they are exceeding great and precious promises. That the stakes, or promises of God, are immovable we cannot doubt for a moment. Shall we now examine the cords that bind the tabernacle to the stakes? I think that the love of God is portrayed here. Said the Lord to Israel and Ephraim, "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." Ephraim at one time was "joined to his idols," but that did not break the cords; at another he is "a cake not turned;" still they are secure; God can turn him and cause him to repent. Israel revolts more and more; still the cords are inseverable. Said the Lord, "Ephraim compasseth me about with lies and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah yet ruleth with God and is faithful with the saints." Notwithstanding all this, still he says, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love; therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee." "Is Ephraim my dear son? is he a pleasant child? for since I spake against him I do earnestly remember him still; I will surely have mercy upon him." Israel's revolts and rebellions were many, but yet we hear him say, "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help." "I will be a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born." "Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord." Not one that he loves will he ever cease to love, not one of the cords shall be broken.
"Drawn by such cords we onward move,
Till round the throne we meet;
And captives in the chains of love,
Embrace our Conqueror's feet."
"But there the glorious Lord will be unto us a place of broad rivers and streams." John, when on the Isle of Patmos, was shown a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. The tree of life (Christ) stood in the midst and on either side of it. In the day that the Lord should stand on the Mount of Olives, Zechariah saw that "living waters should go out from Jerusalem, half of them toward the former sea and half of them toward the hinder sea, in summer and in winter." The perpetual fountain and fullness of our Lord Jesus Christ is here brought to view. This exhaustless fountain was not to be confined exclusively to the former, nor latter dispensation, to Jews, nor Gentiles; but spread its vitalizing, thirst assuasive, heart-cheering and soul-soothing virtue over the whole garden of God; to cause the pomegranates to bud, the lilies to bloom, the spices to flow out, the parched ground to become a pool and the thirsty land springs of water. Its fertilizing excellence makes the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. The thirsty plants shall drink the reviving streams and bud, and flourish, and bloom, and bring forth fruit. From the top of the throne from whence the waters proceed an encouraging voice is heard, saying, "Fear not, O Jacob, my servant, and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen, for I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed and my blessing upon thine offspring, and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses."
"Ho, ye that pant for living streams,
And pine away and die;
Here you may quench your raging thirst,
With springs that never dry."
"Wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby." Some knowledge of this kind of water vessel is necessary to understand the import of this metaphorical expression. These boats were much used by some of the ancient nations, and sometimes built of enormous size, with rows of benches on each side, and often with several tiers, one above another, on which those plying the oars sat. It was customary with some of the early nations, when prisoners were taken in their wars, to confine them in their galley boats to work their oars; and these were called galley-slaves. In process of time sails were added to those boats, which gave them a far more gallant appearance. Perhaps none excelled in gallantry more than those owned by the celebrated Egyptian queen, Cleopatra, in which she first visited Antony, one of the Roman Triumvirs, and in which she afterwards accompanied him, with his and her fleet when on their voyage to encounter Octavius Caesar, which circumstance resulted in their total defeat. Her sails were of fine purple, her vessel flamed with gold, the oars were inlaid with silver, and kept time to the richest music. Rome and Egypt seemed there to unite their gallantry. Probably the prophet could not have selected more appropriate figures to exhibit the Arminian working and windy system than those galley boats and gallant ships. Take a galley with oars and place it on a calm sea where there is neither wind nor current, and it will come to a dead stand-still. So with the work-mongrel system. Let its advocates cease their "efforts" in proselyting and money making, and the whole machinery will come to a halt. Again, when the galley-slaves take their places to ply their oars, their backs are turned upon the point they design to reach; in like manner, when the work-monger settles himself down upon the effort system his back is turned upon all that is heavenly or heavenward. Rouse then to action, and,
“To work they go to speed the race;
Heave on they must, or fall from grace;
Or, if not that, still work they must,
For in their works they put their trust.”
Let us pursue the similitude a little further. As before observed, the ship with sails makes a more gallant appearance. In the absence of oars or some other locomotive it is dependent on the wind for its speed. The sails are so arranged that they are easily shifted to catch the breeze from different points. False doctrines are comparable to the wind; therefore Paul desired that him and his brethren should not be carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. Now, when a current breeze of false doctrine arises, it matters not from what point it comes, provided it is popular, it is an easy matter for the Babylonian crew to shift their sails to suit the gale, that they may drive ahead rapidly. It may be a tract society breeze, a bible society breeze, or a religious lottery or rag baby breeze, or an anti-whisky breeze, or an anti-slavery breeze, or any other breeze that adds to the breeze, the popularity, gallantry and splendor of the vessel and crew. But, notwithstanding all the tugging at the oars and shifting the sails, and all the speed they make, they cannot go in nor even pass by that place of broad rivers and streams, for the battle is not to the strong nor the race to the swift.
"For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us." Our judge. By a cursory view this expression might fill us with dismay. When we see him seated upon his throne of judgment and justice, in whose august presence we are immediately and sensibly brought, conscious of all our guilt, thoroughly convinced that the all-seeing and omniscient Judge scrutinizes all our guilt, whether in thought, word or act, are assured that he "will by no means clear the guilty," what can we expect but condemnation and banishment from his presence forever? We can take no appeal from that dread tribunal. We are cut off from all hope of an appeal from two considerations. First, the acknowledgement of our guilt precludes all possibility of an appeal; and, secondly, there is no higher tribunal before which to make one. How can we hope for justification then, when, in order to be justified, we must be pronounced guiltless? All human courts would utterly fail to justify us in this case, and therefore "TEKEL" would necessarily be written against us before them. But glory, honor and praise be given to our adorable Judge; our sins are charged to him - he bears them in his own body upon the tree as our surety, and imputes his righteousness to us. "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," in consequence of which he can say, "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee," and thus "justify the ungodly." Our lawgiver has blessed us with a wholesome code for the government of Zion. Time and space forbid that we should attend to all the points in this code. The great and momentous one is love. "He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law," and "therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Said our Savior, "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you."
"Happy the heart where graces reign,
Where love inspires the breast;
Love is the brightest of the train,
And strengthens all the rest."
Reciprocal love adjusts the differences of saints, draws them to the house of God in company, sweetens their reports there, keeps them in peace, causes them "not to forsake the assembling of themselves together."
"The Lord is our king; he will save us." Although he is Lord of lords and King of kings, the almighty ruler of all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, controlling the smallest atom as well as the most stupendous sphere - the little animalcule and the mightiest monarch; yet is he in a special manner "King of saints." For them he builds up kingdoms and pulls down empires - he works all things for their good. In one sense he "hath saved us," having redeemed us from all iniquity, and therefore "from the curse of the law;" and in another, "he will save us" from all the trials, tribulations and thralldom of every description.
When that great salvation shall have been fully consummated we shall realize more fully the magnitude of that momentous mission that brought the Savior to this abode of wretchedness to save us from our sins.
“Salvation, joy inspiring theme!
Salvation to the Lamb;
Salvation we'll ascribe to him,
To him, the great I AM.”
Thrice hallowed be his name for the stupendous work of his free and eternal salvation. Let all his saints praise him while here, for they shall certainly crown him with ceaseless praises when victory over the last enemy perches on their banner.
Your brother and servant, most truly,
J. F. JOHNSON.