“O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted! Behold, I will lay your stones with fair colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires. And I will make your windows of agates, and your gates of carbuncles, and all your borders of pleasant stones.”
Isaiah 54:11, 12
Who can doubt that this promise belongs to the Gentile Church, since it has been so richly fulfilled in her history? For many an age the light did not shine upon heathen lands. One spot, alone, upon all the earth received the genial beams of the Sun of Righteousness. Vast continents, thickly populated, full of life, bustle and enterprise, lay spread out as a moral waste, barren and neglected. But little Revelation of God had found its way among the teeming multitudes of the population. To them the dispensation of the Grace of God had not been proclaimed. The mystery of Christ was not as yet made known unto the sons of men. The Israelites had a monopoly of Covenant privileges. But now in these latter days, how wondrously are the tables turned! The branches of the wild olive have been grafted in “that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel.” Thus the Lord has taken unto Himself a numerous seed once ignored by Israel, “which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” Not after the lineage of the flesh, but according to the nobler lineage of faith, the same are the children of Abraham–and with faithful Abraham do they inherit the Covenant mercy of God. This day the barren woman keeps house and is the joyful mother of many children. The Gentile Church has her stones of sapphire–God is in the midst of her to make her glad!
Not less fully persuaded am I that this promise belongs to the Jewish Church. Among the natural descendants of the old Hebrew Patriarch, the Lord has preserved to Himself a spiritual people. Glory be to His name, He has not cast off His people whom He did foreknow! Even at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of Grace. Of the Jewish race there is a certain number of disciples who are witnesses of the Truth of God, rejoicing in Christ Jesus and worshipping Him as their Messiah! But the day as yet is dark for Israel. Thick clouds encompass her. The veil is still upon the hearts of her children. The converts gathered from her tribes are few in number compared with those from different branches of the Gentiles. Seems it not as though her cup of sorrow were not yet drained? God has put the sons of Jacob for a while out of their place as a punishment for their great sin in rejecting Him, whom their own Inspired Prophets had foretold. But doubt not, Beloved, that their future is radiant with hope!
The day will come, and that day may come speedily, when the glory shall return to Zion and the excellence unto Judah. The fullness of the Gentiles, then, shall acknowledge the Lord when Jewish eyes shall behold and recognize Him, Messiah, Prince of Peace. Well may we look and long with eagerness for that happy era! If I rightly read the Scriptures, the lost tribes are to be converted, first, and gathered afterwards, while the people distinguished among us as Jews are to be restored to their own land, and then convinced by seeing the Man whom they pierced, enthroned with honor and majesty. Here the world’s history reaches a majestic climax! Once with their day of fearful recompense came our day of grateful visitation. Yes, the Day-Spring from on high has visited us! What next is unrolled in the scroll of dispensations? If the casting away of them became the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them again be but life from the dead? So let the people to whom this great promise was originally spoken have all the good that was stored up for them in it!
May not, however, this rich consolation be applied to any Church that is passing through a time of depression? All the promises of God are like minted gold, of sterling value and intended for circulation. The general principles of the promises of God may be appropriated by those to whom they are appropriate. Let any faithful Church of Jesus Christ be passing through severe trial of persecution and declension, if there is a true likeness to Christ in it, the tempest and storm will eventually exhaust their fury and accomplish their end and afterwards a time of establishing and building up shall follow. It is said of some persons that they cannot fight losing battles. No such fatality need haunt us. We ought always to stand our ground, for when we have been worsted in the conflict, we have always before us the prospect that we shall at length be conquerors because our defeats are permitted for our discipline without peril to our destiny! “A troop shall overcome Gad, but he shall overcome at the last.” Where would be the honor of a victory which was gained without a struggle? Is not the prize more welcome when it has been competed for with toil and strain? Do we not account any kind of success the sweeter for the toil expended and the difficulties mastered in reaching it? Are we to expect honor without labor? Take heart, then, you afflicted Church, and faint not in the day of adversity, for God has set over against it the day of prosperity when you shall be built up with all the riches and treasures of His Grace and when your mouth shall be filled with laughter, and your tongue with singing! And then shall you say, “The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad.”
If, now, my text thus stands good to the Gentile Church, and to the remnant of Israel, and if it may serve to cheer and encourage the little Christian Churches, not only in our own land, but in all the regions of the earth where Christ is preached, may it not in like manner be applied to the experience of individual Believers? And may we not find in it a rich draught of consolation for ourselves? Depend upon it, Brothers and Sisters, our period of trial and suffering will come to a close and it will be overruled in the gracious Providence of God to the promotion of our best prosperity and our highest interests! We may be afflicted and tossed with tempest, but for this very cause we shall ultimately have our foundations laid in sapphire and our stones with fair colors! I will endeavor to work out this one thought in respect to three kinds of distress which are known to raise a tempest in the Believer’s soul.
The first is the great life storm in which we are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.The second, the common life storms in which divers afflictions befall us, and manifold temptations try our faith. And thethird is the last storm, which brings with it the wreck of our frail boat thedeath of the body–then no more fatigue, no more distress–for we shall enter the haven of rest and enjoy an endless peace! Now, with regard to–
- THE DAWN OF OUR SPIRITUAL LIFE. Is it not true that well near every Christian is born of a storm? We are driven to Christ through stress of weather. We look to Him because we have nowhere else to look for shelter. We drift to Christ, all of us, as mariners that are hard on rocks with all our righteousness wrecked, and all our other hopes gone to the fore. That first storm with some of you may have lasted long. For months or years it may have threatened your destruction. You remember it, and you think of it, now that the tempest has spent itself, that the sky is clear and you have come to rest calmly in Jesus Christ. Do you think that you lost anything by that storm? Do you not know that you gained much? You lost what it was good for you to lose! You gained the very blessings which you were most in need of. Do I speak to one who is at this hour in the very midst of such a trial? He that sits in the heavens looks down upon you through this storm and says to you, “O you afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted! Behold, I will lay your stones with fair colors.” You are afflicted with a sense of sin, the direst and sharpest of all afflictions. The arrows of adversity are blunt in comparison with those of guilt! Afflictions, without sin to aggravate them, are as a knife without an edge–they do not cut deep. But when there is sin to whet the blade, then the knife cuts to the very bone. What are those sins which now wring your hearts with anguish, but the very same sins that once fascinated your hearts with delight? Feeling that God is angry with you, every incident or act of Providence seems to you a token of judgment. Terrors haunt you in every gust of wind that blows and you seek in vain to extricate yourself from your present forlorn condition! Hold on, Man, Woman, do not despair! Better to be stricken with pain and suffer the smart pangs of a wounded conscience, than go on with giddy step, frothy song and frivolous talk to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, and then find out your mistake when it is too late because you are swept away like the chaff from the threshing floor! Your afflictions, if they lead you to God, will prove the healthiest discipline and the happiest circumstances that ever happened to you! “O you afflicted one,” says God, “I will lay your stones with fair colors,” as if, in the bitterness of repentance, you did meet with the blessedness of remission and the brightest sunbeams shone upon you just when the darkest shadows crossed your path and the heaviest clouds loomed over your head! Fly to your God, O Sinner! Hasten to Jesus! Look to His atoning Sacrifice! For such an afflicted conscience as yours, Jesus bled, He came to bind up the broken in heart, and to proclaim liberty to captives such as you are!
Note the next word–“O you afflicted, tossed with tempest.” Does this describe the heaving and flurry of your agitated breast? Are you tossed to and fro? Once you were at ease, becalmed aground, and you thought yourself as safe as you were quiet. You had a hope of your own and you said in your heart, “I shall never be moved.” But that hope of yours was no sure anchorage. It served you not in any place when the clouds began to gather and the fierce winds began to blow. Then were you tossed here and there. You have tried to find some stay, some anchor, but alas, you have sought it in vain! You are like a ship which has become the sport of the winds and waves and now your spirit sinks within you. You reel to and fro and stagger like a drunken man, and you are at your wits' end. All your wisdom is swallowed up. You cannot lay hold of a promise! You cannot take comfort from any Providence! You see not your signs, and yet all this tossing and all this tumult, with the peril in which it places you, are meant for your good! So, indeed, it shall prove when you cry unto the Lord in your trouble and He brings you out of your distresses, for notice the prophecy which is spoken by the mouth of the Lord, and say if it should not inspire you with confidence, “I will lay your foundations in sapphires.” When you shall have a foundation of God’s laying, it will be, verily, a safe foundation and, being of sapphire, this foundation is very precious! There will be no more sorrow and sadness for you, then, but a sacred satisfaction which it were beyond the power of any circumstance to mar! No more shall the buffeting of rough billows and rude breakers toss you to and fro, but throbs of deep joy, like waves of the mighty sea, shall swell their ceaseless anthem in your ears! Oh, how you will bless the Lord, then, that He ever drove you from your refuge of lies and drew you to a sure foundation upon which you might build, and be built up for eternity! You may be just now the sport of the tempest–high winds may rage within your breast–stormy passions may convulse your soul! Well do I remember when that same tempest howled through my spirit, sweeping away every fond hope and every fine conceit I had cherished. Before that I would gladly have contented myself with the world and the little ambitions it held out to my view. Ah, I would, but I could not! God’s tempest howled through my soul and as for me, I was as a tiny leaf in a strong breeze, or as a ball before the whirlwind! Are you passing through such an ordeal? Yield not to the misery and madness of despair–
“Though plunged in ills, and harassed, too, with care,
‘ Twere treason to your soul did you despair!
When pressed by dangers and beset by foes,
God will His timely succor interpose!”
When your present emergencies shall be gathered up into past experience, you will look back upon them as a meet preparation for your better destiny. Every vestige of your own righteousness must be taken away in order that He may “lay your stones with fair colors, and build up your windows with agate, and your gates with carbuncles.” Are not both in the promise–both the agitation and the salvation? The Lord has promised both. Mark that word promised, how it isused by Paul. “Now He has promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also Heaven.” Then observe the consequence. The removing of those things that are shaken makes way for another thing, namely, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain! Therefore it is that we who feel that everything earthly is drifting from under ourfeet are favored to receive a Kingdom which cannot be moved! Ought not this to reconcile our hearts to trial? Will it not make us rejoice in it, if we have only faith to believe that it will certainly turn out for our good?
The other part of the description–after being tossed with tempest–is this, “ not comforted.” Is there nothing youcan do to get out of this strait? Is there no solace to relieve the stress of your trial? Ah, poor Soul! No doubt you have been looking for light and, behold, there was darkness! While you have been seeking after relief, your sorrows have been aggravated. Did you go to the world and ask sympathy of your neighbors or kinsfolk, the best comfort they could offer you would but wound your feelings! Have you tried the merriments and gaieties of sin, as though you would forget the arrows of the Almighty? Lo, then, how visions of judgment to come should scare you!
Perhaps you feel you cannot be comforted on earth. Then you are in a fair way to get deliverance, for you shall be comforted by the God of Heaven! If your sore is such that no plaster of man could ever cure it, glory be to God, for, blessed be His name, He delights to find those cases which baffle all human skill! There shall be seen the power of His Grace, and then will He send His Word and heal you! Your extremity of anguish is a token for good–a token that God means to bless you! If your soul refuses to be comforted by man–if you are brought to a stand, in which you wait only for God–then of you is it spoken, “I will lay your stones with fair colors and your foundations with sapphires.” He will perform all things for you, and do on your behalf what you cannot do for yourself!
Every Christian will, I think, join with me in confessing that the dealings of the Lord with us have always baffled our own understanding, until we have been brought to see the end of the Lord, as Job saw it–that the Lord is full of pity and of tender mercy. Our heaviest losses have thus enriched us with our choicest gains. The things which, as they happened, caused us the most terror, have fallen out to the furtherance of our best interests! And, in the same manner, I believe the more you feel the burden of sin, the majesty of the Law of God and the inflexible claims of Divine Justice, the sweeter, afterwards, will be your apprehension of guilt removed by the blood of Christ, of the Law fulfilled by His obedience and of Justice satisfied by His Suretyship. Did you sink as low as Jonah sank, when he was in the fish’s belly, and cried by reason of his affliction unto the Lord, when, as he testifies, “Out of the belly of Hell cried I, and You heard my voice”? Then you might purge yourselves of all false confidence, as Jonah did, saying, “They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” Then, too, with the voice of thanksgiving, you would pay your vow as Jonah did, when he said, “Salvation is of the Lord.” Take heart now, O you afflicted ones, tossed with tempest and not comforted! Pour no fresh bitters into your cup by murmuring against God and repining at His dispensations! Rather cry mightily and pray earnestly that the God who has made your experience tally with the first verse of the text may give you to realize the fullness of that recompense which is promised in the next verse! And so shall your sighs be turned into songs. So shall you sing with David, “You who has showed me great and sore troubles shall quicken me again, and bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness and comfort me on every side.” Happy day, dear Soul, when you are delivered from this first storm! Yet there are–
II. OTHER STORMS OF LIFE WHICH THE CHILDREN OF GOD HAVE TO ENCOUNTER.
After we find Christ, we meet with many afflictions. We are “tossed with tempest, and not comforted.” It seems to me that the Prophet has used a very remarkable metaphor. Suppose you have a home–a house rendered dear to you by a great many pleasant associations. Into this cheerful abode, one night, there comes a fire. You stand with tears in your eyes and see it all ablaze, and you watch it as it goes, story by story, room by room, till all your precious treasures are consumed. You go away and sit down, and wring your hands in agony, for all is burnt up–nothing remains. But with the first dawn of the morning an angel appears to you and says, “Come with me to the place where your home once was.” You go and find that all the stones that made up your house have been turned into jewels–and all the lime and cement have been transmuted into bright lustrous colors, and the pavement and flagstones have become sapphire! You go to the door, there are jewels–carbuncles! You look out of the windows and instead of their being, as before, common sashes and sills, you find agates all sparkling! You are looking almost as if you had Aladdin’s wonderful lamp, which transformed everything. Well, now, I think that is just the thought of this verse. Let us read it over again. “I will lay your stones with fair colors, and lay your foundations with sapphires. And I will make your windows of agate, and your gates of carbuncle, and all your borders of pleasant stones.” “Well,” you say, “that is the fact, and no fancy or dream to me, I have realized it. A fire kindled on me which raged in my soul till it reduced to ashes all the goods I prided myself in. My hopes were laid waste, and I was left desolate. My nights were sleepless and every bone in my body was full of pain–this have I proved. Then, all of a sudden, there has been worked in me a marvelous change! My soul has had such joy–such blessing–such nearness to Christ–such delight in His Word–such uplifting of a spiritual temple, far richer than all the palaces of Oriental imagination, springing up from a furnace of affliction as no common language would describe.” Let us just turn over these things, one by one, as they are painted to us by the tongue of Inspiration.
You are tossed and not comforted. Bear it patiently, knowing that good will come to you in a far better and richer shape. Observe how it begins with
edification. “I will lay your stones in fair colors.” In the time of trial we not only get
the proof, but we get the profit of experience–and these results are laid in fair colors. Do you think it possible for me to relate to you all the salutary lessons that I have acquired in affliction? The truth is learnt, thus, after quite a different manner from anything taught in the Sunday school! You may afterwards renounce all the credit you ever professed in the teaching, which stands merely on the authority of the teacher, but when God’s affliction brands the Truth of God into your inmost soul, then you are bulletproof against all heterodoxy and it is not possible that the Doctrine in which you have been rooted and grounded can ever forsake its hold upon you! It has found an entrance into your very soul–is not that a grand means of steadfastness? Such strong-holding cement binds the stones of which your spiritual temple is built, and by such personal experience your character becomes shaped and fashioned according to the Truths of the Gospel. Thus, as affliction is not sent without design, one benefit you are to expect from it is that a fundamental, solid groundwork shall be worked in you.
But, Brothers and Sisters, you will not fail to notice that while the Word of the Lord is addressed to the afflicted, thehand of the Lord is engaged very particularly on their behalf. “I will lay your foundations with sapphire.” Times of public calamity try our foundation and so do all times of private affliction. When the natural emotions are violently excited, all the beliefs and sentiments, all the hopes and aspirations to which men have clung in calmer days are put to the test. And if they are not well and truly based, they can easily be shifted. This, therefore, is one of the salutary effects of sanctified affliction–in the process of such discipline we get to have the foundation of our faith laid by a Divine hand. “I will lay your foundations.” The Lord draws near to us and works in us after His own Sovereign good will, imparting to us the true faith and the ardent love which are consonant with the Truth of God. Then we have foundations hard as sapphire and as precious, as unbreakable, as Divine! We feel that now we have received the Truth, not in the mere abstract, but in its vital power, its moral influence and its spiritual beauty, as the foundation of our souls and as a foundation of our hope which can never be removed.
What a lovely change, too, is made in our outlook! “Your windows of agate!” Before I was afflicted I looked through the lattices of carnal sense. I was well contented, though the things of this life and the objects near at hand bounded my view. But now I have been taught to look upwards and to long for the life to come and the land that is far off. Now my soul says, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove, that I might fly away and be at rest.” And as I open the window towards the new Jerusalem, I sing–
“Brief life is here our portion,
Sorrow and short-lived care.
The life that knows no ending,
The tearless life is there.”
It is wonderful how affliction cleans the windows of the soul! I find the word, “windows,” here might be much better translated “bulwarks,” or, “defenses,” as if to show the manner in which we are fortified against temptation and enabled to resist the destructive force of those strange changes and perilous waves that are common to this stormy life. Have you learned, Beloved, to fly to the Rock for shelter? Have you come to hide behind the dying Savior? Do you know the tune of David’s Psalm, “Blessed be the Lord, my strength, which teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight, my goodness and my fortress; my high tower and my deliverer, my shield, and He in whom I trust” Then your godly sorrow has produced some happy results! Not in vain has your spirit been overwhelmed within you! This is a lesson to be acquired in the school of adversity whereby we are brought to rest in the Lord more abidingly than we ever did before–and thus we prove that He has made our fortifications of agate.
Still further it is said, “I will make your gates of carbuncle,” as if to intimate more close and intimate communionwith God. We come nearer to Christ, think more of Him, spend more time in meditation, get to understand more of His work and His Person, set our hearts more fully towards Him and the good things of His Grace after the tempest has spent its fury and the clear shining has followed. Surely, if affliction did nothing more for us, it would be a great gift! It takes away the doors of iron and wood, and it gives us gates of carbuncle! And we say–
“Come, then, oh, you sweet affliction,
Thus to bring our Savior near.”
Right sure I am that many of our tossing and buffeting have produced a permanent benefit which has given tone to our character and shed a hallowed light over our whole career! Find me a Christian whose conversation is full of rich savor, whose judgment is tempered with charity, one whose fervent zeal is blended with the meekness of wisdom, and I will guarantee you, as a rule, he has seen much affliction! “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep.” Physicians often recommend a sea voyage to their patients. Do you think it is merely for the fresh air they breathe? No, I can tell you there is more than that in the prescription. It breaks the links that bind one to everyday life. There is a solitude on that broad expanse of waters which does not admit of the newspaper or the post office breaking in upon the stillness of your reflections! Your country, your office, your friends, your home are all at a distance. The communications you are known to hold with them are broken. And is it not so with Christ’s disciples, when He compels them to get into a ship and leaves them a while to be tossed with waves in the midst of the sea? Do not they then feel a profound solitude which changes the hue of all their thoughts? Mind you not what he said who was the saddest of all the old Hebrew Prophets–Jeremiah in his lamentations bears this witness–“It is good for a man that he bears the yoke in his youth. He sits alone and keeps silence because He has borne it upon him.” There is no room to doubt it, Friends–sorrow is favorable! God’s brightest gems have had the most polishing on the lapidary’s wheels. The purest, cleanest wheat is that which has had the most winnowing. We grow in Grace, doubtless, in our times of joy, but I think it is slow work. There are precious fruits put forth by the moon as well as precious fruits brought forth by the sun. Bright days would wither us if there were no shady nights to temper our gaiety. We are like the sycamore tree–unless we had trials, we would never come to spiritual perfection. Well, we have cause to be thankful if, speaking experimentally, we can say, “All the storms we have encountered up to now have been blessed to us–all our tossing and tempests have furthered our good speed, and all the convulsions that have shaken our house have thus far contributed to its being built up with stones laid in fair colors upon a foundation of sapphire. And now, lastly–
III. THE SAME HAPPY ISSUE OUT OF ALL OUR AFFLICTIONS WILL HAPPEN, IN A GRANDER SENSE, WHEN THE LAST HURRICANE SHALL BLOW.
Then shall this frail tabernacle totter and fall! Then eyes, and ears, and hands and feet shall fail us. Then back to mother Earth shall this feeble flesh return. I know the earthly house of my tabernacle shall be dissolved. I expect it. I look for it. The affliction may take the form of grievous disease–the tossing to and fro on my couch may be distracting–it may be that no medicine can relieve my pain or comfort me. But oh, the glory that is to follow! This very body of ours–who shall tell what it shall be like? We know that it shall be transformed and made like unto the glorious body of Christ Jesus, our Lord! We may patiently endure the cross, since we shall so soon receive the crown! We may placidly go down to the grave, since we shall so triumphantly come up from it! We may cheerfully take leave of our lodgings, here, since we have a home in prospect where our kindred shall all be gathered, and our Lord never absent! Brothers and Sisters, we are, as it were, in a ship at sea today, tossed with tempest, but we are to be in a palace before long! You observe how the figure changes, never tossed again, never again put forth on a tempestuous sea. Like buildings and mansions, we shall be fixed and permanent. In that land of our inheritance is a mansion with its foundation of sapphire, with its windows of agate, with its gates of carbuncle! What a sweet surprise for the sons of poverty on earth! Those jewels, since jewels are always connected with rank or royalty, are meant to betoken the honors in the next world to those who are humble and faithful in their sacred calling here. You shall have such palaces as Oriental extravagance could never emulate! Does it belong to kings to dwell in palaces? You shall be kings and priests unto God! A few more days of languishing with your faint hopes and fretting fears, your throbbing temples and feverish pulse before Christ bids you come! The Master calls for you! You must obey the summons! And what next? Forever with the Lord!
I think I hear you say, “Amen, so let it be.” Do notice how three times, here, it is repeated, “I will,” “I will,” “I will.” God has said it and He will do it! Believe and rejoice therein, therefore, for it is no fiction, but a fact! Yet a little while and you shall leave your cottage for a mansion, your toil shall be exchanged for rest, your dishonor for glory, your pain for infinite pleasure! You shall find new company and better in yonder world of the Light of God! Though you close your eyes on fair prospects, below, fairer scenes await you above. Be comforted! Notwithstanding any distress, the last tempest may occasion you, depend upon it–“to die is gain.” You shall lose nothing that it were worth your while to keep. You shall gain all your “capacious powers can wish, more than your imagination can paint.” Press forward, Beloved, and may the confidence of a joyous future make you bold to brave the tempest and the storm! Peace be with you!
Alas, then, if you are not in Christ, if you are not a child of God, this promise melts away before your eyes! You have no part or lot in it. May God change your heart, renew your nature, lead you to receive Christ and believe in Him–then will He give you to be His sons and daughters and so shall your heritage be secure forever and ever! Amen.