"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever."
"Build not your nest on any tree of earth, seeing God has sold the forest to Death. But rather soar upwards to the sure and immutable refuge in the Clefts of the Rock." –Samuel Rutherford.
"What a blessing that the Anchor of our love is firmly fixed beneath the cross of Christ; for such a friendship is sure and lasting, not merely held fast by the 'silver cord of life,' which may be snapped in a moment, but embedded in the cleft of the Rock forever." –Hedley
It is the tritest of sayings that everything here is given to change. If the calm blue sky above us were a mirror, what a scene of vicissitude would it reflect! The natural fabric of the world is a monument of mutability. Its aqueous and igneous rocks--strata piled on strata--are so many chapters written on stone tablets, registering successive revolutions. Hill and valley contain in many cases the repositories of extinct races and forms, animal and vegetable--a shelved museum of sepulchered generations. Where the hum of cities now ascends, yes, where mountains raise their heads, the murmur of old ocean once was heard. In marine deposits she has left the unmistakable trace of her footsteps. While on the other hand forests once grew, and living creatures roamed, where now we see a waste of waters, and listen only to the boom of the sounding billows.
Passing from the world's material to its historical annals. These are one long record of change. Nation has succeeded nation, dynasty has succeeded dynasty, as wave follows wave! Excavators in the old kingdoms, alike of East and West, have dragged buried capitals from the tomb of ages. The axe and shovel have disclosed streets grooved with the wheels of chariots, and adorned on either side with the winged symbols of now vanished power. The owl screeches and the jackal howls amid the tenantless wastes of Babylon. The fisherman spreads his net where the green waves laved the Palaces of Tyre. Earth's history and that of its peoples is a humiliating alternation of rise and fall. There has been a constant weaving and unweaving of the web of nations. The magnificent kingdom of Alexander is no sooner made, than it is dismembered and partitioned. The Roman eagle for centuries wings its magnificent flight over a prostrate world; but at last it falls with wings collapsed, and other birds of evil omen from the forests and swamps of northern Europe build their nests in the eaves of the capital. In our own time, who can predict for one brief year what the destinies of contemporary nations may be? what thrones may rock, what scepters may tremble or fall from the feeble hands that grasp them!
If we turn from nations past and present to the record of individual history, how sadly do we see the same vicissitude written, from the smiles at the birth to the tears at the death. Who that has lived for half the threescore and ten but can bear witness? Who that has measured out the fourscore, but can bear more emphatic testimony still? We go back to revisit the haunts consecrated by the remembrances of youth--How changed and metamorphosed often are its most treasured memorials! In vain we search for the ancestral trees under whose shadow we sat, or the pendent willows that used to kiss the passing rivulet. Strange faces appear at the windows; other hands till the soil; other worshipers crowd the pews of the village church, and another voice speaks from its pulpit. The group that was used to gather under the paternal roof--how the inevitable wave of change has swept over and dispersed it! Many may vividly recall the day--the hour, when that full circle that was used to gather round the hearth was first broken; that day when you stood by the shore and waved the last farewell to a departing brother, who in sailing to a distant land left the first empty chair behind him. Alas! the first instalment of other inroads, other changes yet to follow. Some can speak of more sacred breaches--these hearths pillaged of beloved tenants called to set sail to further shores.
And if not of their own circles, cannot all tell, how the friends of their youth, the companions of their boyhood, the associates of their manhood, shipload after shipload have sailed from the shores of time, bound for "the silent land"--that land from whose destination no voyager, no traveler returns. Death is ever busy at work reaping the green corn, as well as gathering in the yellow sheaves. Sepulchers seem to lie along our path. Year by year well-known faces are missed, in the market, the street, the sanctuary. And even if these friends of bygone times are spared, how changed from what many remember them! The once buoyant youth now with silvered hair and furrowed brow; the once athletic frame now stooping with the load of years; the once clear and vigorous intellect now clouded and impaired--memory sharing in the wreck of the crumbling outer tabernacle--nature lapsing into her second childhood!
Some may have to recount changes sadder and more sorrowful still than bereavement--breaches in affection; the friendships of early life cooled and alienated; an unmeant word or unmeant deed undoing and obliterating years of communion; the door rudely closed where the heart has lavished its best stores of kindness. What shall we say of human hopes that have been blighted, human joys that have evaporated like a snow-wreath! golden harvests which the flood has swept away just at the reaping--rock-pillars that have turned out to be sand-pillars; flowers that have drooped, and paled, and died, before summer began--what promised to be a brilliant sunset, only a few fitful pulsations of quivering light, and then, a dull watery setting!
And not to pursue these reflections, we need go no farther than examine our own individual minds, our tastes, feelings, opinions, course of life, daily associations and occupations. How constantly changing! The man of fifty is no more like the child or youth, than the oak of half a century is like the sapling or acorn from which it sprang. Molded by ten thousand influences either for good or for evil, through a succession of years, we may almost fail to recognize our former selves!
Our spiritual history too, how vacillating!--strong one hour, weaklings the next. On our Carmel heights today; under our juniper trees tomorrow--today we fancy ourselves Asahels, swift of foot; tomorrow "unstable as water!"
Yes! Human life, outwardly, inwardly, is a "shifting spectacle;" so says the apostle of it. He compares it to the moving scenes or characters in the old Grecian theaters--"the fashion" (or the drama) "of this world, passes away." Over the "yesterday" of the past, and the "today" of the present, the clouds of heaven are chasing one another. The waves of its seething, restless sea, are tossing and tumbling in fretful disquietude. And whether these changes have been from prosperity to adversity--or adversity to prosperity; converting life, with some, into a golden viaduct, with others, into "a bridge of sighs," they conduct alike to the one final goal. The path of sorrow as well as the path of glory "leads but to the grave."
Oh! amid this heaving ocean of vicissitude--amid severed friendships and buried loves--amid these crude heart-tearings of human caprice and surging passion, is there no spot whereon we can plant our foot--no rock-cleft where the wandering, tempest-tossed dove can fold its weary wing and sink in repose?
This brings us from the mutable to consider the Immutable.
The words which head this chapter, proclaim the unchanging love of Christ--an Immutability--arising (as has already been fully considered in previous chapters), out of the Infinite perfection of His own Infinite Being, as "God over all, blessed forever," and yet as "Immanuel, God with us." What He was in the Yesterday of the eternal past when dwelling in the bosom of the Father, He continued at the time of His incarnation, when still, as God, in very deed He dwelt with men on the earth and He shall continue to be forever! We are reminded of some gigantic Alpine peak unsealed and unscalable by human footstep--covered summer and winter with virgin snow. It seems to look down with kingly demeanor on the angry elements beneath. While these are holding wild riot, it has not a jewel in its icy crown displaced--not a ruffle made in its glistening mantle--not a wrinkle on its everlasting brow. Emblem of the Rock of Ages. Though in His human nature--as the Man of Sorrows--the Surety and Representative of the fallen, furrowed with flood and tempest--"His Visage more marred than any man's, and His form more than the sons of men,"--in the calm glory of His adorable Godhead He is "without variableness or shadow of turning." Amid the alterations in earth's material framework, the convulsions of nations, the fluctuations of human thought and feeling, He remains immutably the same. The march of events works no change in Him--"The Lord sits upon (yes above) the water-floods--yes, the Lord sits King forever!" Blessed truth! the unchangeableness of Jehovah-Jesus--"O come, let us sing unto the Lord--let us make a joyful noise unto the Rock of our salvation."
Specially comforting is it for us to connect the Savior of the present, with the Savior who lived and loved of old, in the days of His humiliation--to go the round of His deeds of mercy; to cull from gospel story all His words of encouragement, His sayings as well as His doings, and transfer their perpetual unchanging solace to ourselves! Did He invite the weary? Did He give the assurance that as the Good Shepherd He came to seek the lost--that as the Son of Man He had power on earth to forgive sins? Did He dry the tears of disconsolate mourners by proclaiming Himself as the Resurrection and the Life? In sealing up the vision and prophecy, did He give, as His last utterance to the Church, the precious invitation, "Whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely?" Each of these sayings, and many more, come to us this day with the same reality and freshness as when they first welled forth from these lips of love and tenderness.
Other declarations of earth's wisest and greatest may have lost their power and meaning--but Christ's sayings are forever true and relevant. Other highways may be broken up by the lapse of ages--but this highway of golden words and promises and deeds remains unaltered. Other fitful gleams of light have been cast on the Christian's dungeon-wall for a few moments and then vanished--but these, like Vestal fires, are to burn on forever.
Believer, amid the fitfulness and uncertainty of earth and earthly things, come and enter into this Rock-cleft of a Savior's unchanging faithfulness. "Trust not in man, nor in the son of man, in whom is no help."
It may be that some who read these pages may have had, or may be even now having, painful personal proof of that mutability, uncertainty, evanescence and transitoriness, of which we have spoken. You may have felt by experience, how often those joys, which like the bright berries in the summer woods are beautiful to the eye, prove bitter to the taste; how often the loveliest cloud in the life-sky condenses at last into a shower and then falls; how the loveliest rainbow-hue dissolves; how riches take to themselves wings and flee away; capricious fortune forsaking, often just when the golden dream seems most surely realized! But "HE has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you."
Have you never observed, that while in the course of a long succession of years the scenery on a river's bank may be changed, the river itself remains the same? Formerly it was used, it may be, to flow through secluded woods--its waters, murmuring by forest glades, where the wild deer stole down on the silent eve undisturbed by human step. Now hives of industry are lining its course; ponderous wheels are revolving, and the clang of hammers are resounding, where the woodman's axe alone was formerly heard. But the river itself, unchanged and unchangeable, carries its unfailing tributary-torrent to the main.
So it is with Him who is as "the River of God." The earthly valley through which that river flows is a scene of change. But onward it rolls its own glorious volume of everlasting love. "There is a river the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved!" "Behold," says the same Immutable One, in another metaphor, "I have engraved you on the palms of My hands." Not on the mountains, colossal as they are, for they shall depart; on no leaf of nature's vast volume, for the last fires shall scorch them; not on blazing sun, for he shall grow dim with age; or on glorious heavens, for they shall be folded together as a scroll. But on the hand which made the worlds, the hand which was transfixed on Calvary, the hand of might and love--I have engraved you there. No corroding power can efface the writing, obliterate the name--you are Mine now, and Mine forever!
AGED Christian, old inhabitant of the forest, the frosts of winter silvering your branches--you who feel yourself left alone; too advanced in life to make new friendships, and none, even if you formed them, that could fill the blank of old ones--blessed, we say for you, with your own years failing, your own strength impaired, your loved ones taken from your side, to lift your tearful eye on the Great Unchanging, and to say, amid these slanting shadows, and stripped boughs, and wintry skies--"But YOU--oh, YOU, are the same, and Your years shall not fail!"
DESPONDING Christian (it may be erring and backsliding one), you who feel clouds and darkness dimming the brightness of former days, cast down because of your coldness and deadness. Past or recent sin may have covered you with shame and sorrow. You may, like the disciples, have slept glorious opportunities away. You may be wondering if Christ can still cast on you, as once He did, a pitying eye. Your mournful soliloquy and pensive musing is this--"Surely my way is hidden from the Lord!" Be comforted. "If we believe not, He abides faithful. He cannot deny Himself." You may have changed towards Him--but He is unchanged towards you. The clouds may intervene, but the unchanging Sun shines the same as ever in the skies. Looking away from your own fluctuating self, you may revert with chastened confidence to the day of your spiritual espousals, when you knew and felt that He loved you; and then take courage in the conviction that His love is unchanged, that it can admit of no diminishing nor decay.
BEREAVED Christian, you who have been called more specially to experience the sorrows of life, how consolatory to know that there is one prop that cannot give way, one Friend beyond the reach of vicissitude, who is working out your soul's everlasting well-being in His own calm world, far above and beyond the heavings and convulsions of ours. One who is the same amid storm and sunshine, births and deaths, marriage peals and funeral knells--of whom you can say, amid the wreck of all human confidences, "The Lord lives, and blessed be MY ROCK!"
No more. When, we ask, is the thought of the immutability of Christ most precious to you? Is it not just when your own heart and your own flesh are fainting and failing--when lover and friend are put far from you, and your acquaintance into darkness? Like trees which the winds of autumn have stripped of their leaves, you are led, in the very wrestling with these storms, to moor your roots firmer and faster and deeper in the Rock of Ages! You can tell alike as your experience and your confidence–
"Our lives are like the shadows
On sunny hills that lie,
Or flowers which deck the meadows
That blossom but to die.
A sleep, a dream, a story,
By strangers quickly told;
An evanescent glory
Of things that soon grow old.
But You--THE ROCK OF AGES
For evermore have been;
What time the tempest rages
Our dwelling-place serene."
Yes, sheltered in these clefts, you can feel the glad assurance, that no desolating wave which has swept away your earthly moorings, can ever separate you from the love of Christ. You can see the rainbow of the covenant resting majestically on the stormy billows, and read on its luminous scroll of ruby and emerald and gold the glorious superscription--"I am the Lord, I do not change."