They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.—Isa_40:31.
In speaking to the heart of Jerusalem the great prophet of the Exile spoke a word which will always be in season to them that are weary, and to such as are engaged in great undertakings. An earlier prophet had seen a vision of dry bones, the emblems of a dead people, to whom he was commissioned to promise a renewal of national life. He had spoken to these dry bones; the Spirit of God had breathed upon them; and as the heavenly wind swept through the stifling valley of death the scattered bones came together, joint to joint, and flesh came upon them, and breath came into them, and they stood up a great army. Now the new prophet has to speak to the awakening people in the early hours of their reviving national life and aspirations, and he has to comfort them amongst the fears which imperil the great enterprise for which they have been revived. And all through this chapter he deals with them. There is the profound sense of guilt, and he deals with that, assuring them of forgiveness.
There is the dread of the great heathen empires which have broken and seem unbreakable, and he deals with that, and shows how these great kings and judges and empires are but as dust in the balance and their gods are silent. Yes, he has to speak to them in the beginnings of their rethinking out the situation. They are alive many of them, but most of them are only just alive; and as the sensations experienced by those who are coming out of a swoon are practically the same as the feelings of those who are sinking into one, the prophet pictures some of these men as lying prone upon the ground, prostrate and motionless, and the clammy dews of faintness upon their brows. They are unable to rise, and as they lie there he bids them at least lift up their eyes and look up into the heavens and consider these things. Who hath created all these things? Hast thou, Jacob, not known? Hast thou not heard? The Everlasting Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary.… He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.
The prophet was not only consoling prostrate and decrepit souls; there were some among them who not only had awakened, but had received a new-born strength, and were eager to attempt the heroic task of national restoration. His one desire was to save them from the disastrous, but not uncommon, mistake of supposing that this feeling of strength and power and fitness is a sufficient indication that they carry in themselves an adequate and permanent reserved strength, without replenishment from outside. He proclaims to them the universal law of creature life. Man at his best estate rapidly expends his energy of body and mind and soul, and must utterly fail unless replenished; and so, he says, even the youths—using a term which, to Hebrew ears, would designate the period, say, from about fourteen to twenty—even the youths, still growing lads, the almost men, those who are in the freshest time of life, when the step is full of spring and all activity is joy, even these, he says, will faint and grow weary before this great enterprise has been accomplished. The chosen men, picked men, young men—because young men are the picked men for such enterprises—the chosen, picked men of their generation, the elect of all those who have reached that period when activity and staying power are best combined with acquired skill and discipline, even these shall utterly fall. But are they, therefore, to sit down supinely? Having fallen shall they lie still, and groan that all is over? No! cries the clarion voice of the prophet, for God is not weary, God is not faint, and they that wait on Him, though not exempted from the law of decline, shall experience the law of revival; “they that wait on Him shall renew their strength.” Let them lift up their voices to God, let them make their prayer unto Him, and then wealth and want, strength and weakness, God and man, shall meet together and find a common blessedness in giving and receiving might.
A ship is stuck on a mud-bank; and, the tide going out, it careens over, and there it lies, like many discouraged Christians. They do not need to anchor. The anchor is out, though. By and by the tide begins to come in, little by little. The captain calls up the crew, and orders them to hoist in the anchor. It is hoisted in and stowed away. “Trim the sails,” is the next command; and that is obeyed. The tide is still coming in, coming in, coming in; and by and by the vessel floats off, and the crew look up with admiration and say, “What a captain we have! It was the hauling in of the anchor and the trimming of the sails that saved us. The captain gave his orders, they were obeyed, and then she floated.” No, it was not the captain’s doings. The Lord God who swings the stars through the heavens, and exerts His power upon the ocean, did it. The captain merely foresaw the coming of the tide, and adapted the circumstances of the vessel to influences which existed before.1 [Note: H. W. Beecher.]
They that wait upon the Lord
To wait for Jehovah, or to wait on Jehovah, has in the mouth of the pious Israelite a very definite, specific meaning, very different from the general sense of our expressions “to have faith in God,” “to trust in the Lord,” at least as generally used. The typical passage is Gen_49:18, “I have waited, or I wait for thy salvation, O Jehovah.” On this the Jerusalem Targum says: “But not upon the salvation of Gideon, the son of Joas, does my soul gaze, because that is temporal; not to the salvation wrought by Samson, the son of Manoah, is my longing directed, because that is transitory; but upon the salvation which Thou in Thy Word hast promised to bring to Thy people, the seed of Israel. Unto Thy salvation, Jehovah, unto the salvation of Messiah, the son of David, who at some future time will deliver Israel, and restore them from their exile, unto that salvation my looking and my longing are directed, because Thy salvation is an eternal salvation.” In other words, the thought is connected with the promise of redemption, that redemption, that salvation, which was to be brought about by the coming and presence and manifestation of Jehovah as the Deliverer, the Redeemer, the Saviour of His people.1 [Note: A. H. Huizinga, in The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, v. p. 89.]
But waiting upon the Lord may now be taken in a more comprehensive way, and as covering three great acts of life.
1. It means Prayer. It means much more than an occasional supplication, however real; it means persistent, persevering, continual prayer; it means an abiding attitude of trustful dependence upon God; it means all that is wrapped up in those beautiful words we love to hear sung, “O rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him”; it means trust in the Lord and do good; it means trust in the Lord at all times, for with Him is everlasting strength, and have no confidence in self. But the prophet has a deeper thought than this. There are many things for which we can only ask and then wait in quiet stillness, things which we cannot help God to give us, things which God Himself bestows without our aid, if we are ever to possess them. There are times when the soul is so utterly spent that God bends over our voiceless misery as the Good Samaritan bent over the speechless Jew, and not waiting for those trembling pallid lips to ask, poured oil and wine into his wounds, and lifted up his almost passive frame, and set him on his own beast.
The praying spirit can be granted to a man as his soul is in the attitude of prayer. Then we are like a bird with outstretched pinions, poised betwixt earth and heaven, waiting in the atmosphere of God for the knowledge of the work we have to do. And as the bird descends to the nest on the earth which it can see from afar, so we should descend to our duties unperceived except we were on high with God. There, the heart open to God, the soul responsive to His influences, lifted above the meanness of earth, we get a true perspective of our duty; we have a high courage, we see what is required of us, and seeing, we descend to do it. It is easy for us in our hours of silent communion with God to feel the meaning of things—the meaning never put into words, for heaven comes near and illuminates earth. Nay, rather we discover that earth and heaven are one.
And when in silent awe we wait
And word and sign forbear,
The hinges of the golden gate
Move soundless to our prayer.
During the great Welsh revival, it is said a minister was marvellously successful in his preaching. He had but one sermon, but under it hundreds of men were saved. Far away from where he lived, in a lonely valley, news of this wonderful success reached a brother preacher. Forthwith he became anxious to find out the secret of this success. He started out, and walked the long and weary road, and, at length, reaching the humble cottage where the good minister lived, he said, “Brother, where did you get that sermon?” He was taken into a poorly furnished room, and pointed to a spot where the carpet was worn shabby and bare, near a window that looked out towards the solemn mountains, and the minister said, “Brother, that is where I got that sermon. My heart was heavy for men. One evening I knelt there, and cried for power to preach as I had never preached before. The hours passed until midnight struck, and the stars looked down on a sleeping valley and the silent hills; but the answer came not, so I prayed on until at length I saw a faint grey shoot up in the east; presently it became silver, and I watched and prayed until the silver became purple and gold, and on all the mountain crests blazed the altar fires of the new day; and then the sermon came, and the power came, and I lay down and slept, and arose and preached, and scores fell down before the fire of God; that is where I got that sermon.”1 [Note: G. H. Morgan, Modern Knights-Errant, p. 100.]
In the year 1861 the Southern States of America were filled with slaves and slaveholders. It was proposed to make Abraham Lincoln president. But he had resolved that if he came to that position of power he would do all he could to wipe away the awful scourge from the page of his nation’s history. A rebellion soon became imminent, and it was expected that in his inaugural address much would be said respecting it. The time came. The Senate House was packed with people; before him was gathered the business skill and the intellectual power of the States. With one son lying dead in the White House, whom he loved with a fond father’s affection; another little boy on the borders of eternity; with his nation’s eternal disgrace or everlasting honour resting upon his speech, he speaks distinctly, forcefully, and without fear. Friend and foe marvel at his collected movements. They know of the momentous issues which hang on his address. They know the domestic trials that oppress his heart. But they do not know that, before leaving home that morning, the President had taken down the family Bible and conducted their home worship as usual, and then had asked to be left alone. The family withdrawing, they heard his tremulous voice raised in pleadings with God, that He whose shoulder sustains the government of worlds would guide him and overrule his speech for His own glory. Here was the secret of this man’s strength.1 [Note: G. H. Morgan, Modern Knights-Errant, p. 104.]
2. It means Faith. The original word means to “fully trust” or “strongly hope,” to believe that the thing hoped for will be effected, and so to wait patiently and steadily till it is done. It has nothing to do, therefore, with the off-putting of the impenitent; nor with the apathy, indolence, and indifference that too often creep over believers themselves. To wait upon the Lord, instead of being a weak or languid form of faith, is the form that shows most of its endurance and power. No doubt it is an expression which brings out the quiet side of the spiritual life. But our text states this important and too much forgotten secret of that life—that it is just such quiet confidence in God that maintains and revives grace in the soul.
“They that wait upon the Lord” is Old Testament dialect for what in New Testament phraseology is meant by “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” For the notion expressed here by “waiting” is that of expectant dependence, and the New Testament “faith” is the very same in its attitude of expectant dependence, while the object of the Old Testament “waiting,” Jehovah, is identical with the object of the New Testament “faith,” which fastens on God manifest in the flesh, the Man Jesus Christ. Therefore, I am not diverting the language of my text from its true meaning, but simply opening its depth, when I say that the condition of the inflow of this unwearied and immortal life into our poor, fainting, dying humanity is simply the trust in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of our souls. True, the revelation has advanced, the contents of that which we grasp are more developed and articulate, blessed be God! True, we know more about Jehovah, when we see Him in Jesus Christ, than Isaiah did. True, we have to trust in Him as dying on the Cross for our salvation and as the pattern and example in His humanity of all nobleness and beauty for young or old, but the Christ is the “same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” And the faith that knit the furthest back of the saints of old to the Jehovah whom they dimly knew, is in essence identical with the faith that binds my poor, sinful heart to the Christ that died and that lives for my redemption and salvation.1 [Note: A. Maclaren. The Unchanging Christ, p. 17.]
Waiting upon the Lord is not merely a passing call, but an abiding in Him. Waiting is not so much a transient action as a permanent attitude. It is not the restless vagrant calling at the door for relief, it is rather the intimacy of the babe at the breast.2 [Note: J. H. Jowett, The Silver Lining, p. 131.]
3. It means Service. Waiting upon the Lord means not only praying and trusting, it means doing His commandments, like the angels, who because they do them excel in strength, hearkening to the voice of His Word. These winged messengers of His are waiting upon God as truly when they fly to the uttermost parts of His dominions as when they veil their faces with their wings before the central throne; and so the man who is filled with the Lord, and relies upon Divine help, is as truly waiting on the Lord when he goes out from his chamber strengthened in purpose to do the right and to obey the golden rule to keep God’s name hallowed in business, and wherever he may be to do nothing which shall add to the burdens of his neighbours, nothing to make faith harder for the unbeliever, nothing to make life harder for the saint. The man who goes out to do the common work of the world, trusting in God to help him to endure the hardness and the temptation, and to come off more than conqueror, is waiting on the Lord when he engages with all his heart and mind and strength, in the discharge of these common duties, as when in a locked chamber he kneels with clasped hands before the unseen Throne of Grace.
Waiting is not an idle and impassive thing. When the Bible speaks of waiting upon God, it means something different from doing nothing. We commonly contrast waiting with working, and there is a sense in which the contrast is a just one; but if it leads us to think that waiting is not working, it has done wrong to a great Bible word. Think, for example, of the Cabinet minister whose duty it is to wait upon the king. Is that an idle or a sauntering business? Can it be entered on without a thought? Will it not rather claim the whole attention, and make the statesman eager and alert? For him, at any rate, waiting is not idleness; rather it is the crown of all his toil. I have heard soldiers say that in a battle the hardest thing is not the final rush. In that wild moment a man forgets himself and is caught into a mad tumult of enthusiasm. The hardest thing is to stand quiet and wait, while the hail of the enemy’s fire is whistling round—to wait in the darkness and in the face of death, and be forbidden to return the fire. It is that which tries the nerves and tests the heart. It is that which shows the stuff that men are made of. In such an hour a man is not asleep—he is intensely and tremendously alive.
Sometimes we do not know what to do—it is not clear; you possibly have come to a cross, to a division in the road, and you are at a loss clearly to see the way and to decide upon what you ought to do; it wants strength of mind to be content to wait, to be content to be still.
There is a great deal in that expression of St. Paul’s, “Study to be quiet.” Why, one might think, we may certainly be quiet without any very great study. It is a great thing to learn to be quiet: “He that believeth shall not make haste.” Do not take God’s work into your own hands; when a thing is not clear, and you are really in doubt, and when you do not know what it is right to do, do not be in a hurry, do not make things worse by precipitancy; “it is good for a man patiently to wait.” You may like to be at work, you feel as if you had gifts that should not be idle; it may be necessary, you know, that you should just be quiet for a time, and God will show you by and by what you ought to do.
God doth not need
Either man’s work, or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.
You get up in the morning, and before you do anything else, you go and place yourself on your knees, and you “wait” a few minutes for the Father’s blessing. You seek an audience of the King of kings. You pay duty to God. You recognise your relationship to God—your dependence upon God—your trust in God. That is “waiting upon the Lord.” Then, all the day, feeling your weakness, and ignorance, and danger, you are constantly in little secret acts of communion—by silent prayer and silent praise. That is carrying on the “waiting upon the Lord.” Then, you carry about with you—whatever you are doing—whomever else you are serving—the thought, “I am doing this for Christ, I am serving the Lord Christ. I am waiting upon my own dear Master.” And you like always to have some special work in hand which is immediately done for Christ. It is your privilege, your joy, to do something for anybody’s comfort—something for anybody’s soul—all for Jesus. That is “waiting upon the Lord.” You come up to this place not only and not so much for anything you are to get here; but to do homage; to attend court; to show your affectionate reverence; to unite with all God’s hosts in every world in an act of solemn worship. That is “waiting upon the Lord.” Or, you draw nearer still, into the sanctuary of the Holy Communion. You wait on Christ for some brighter manifestations of His presence. You take, at His hands, the soul’s bread and the soul’s wine; and you unite yourself to Him in His own appointed way. That is service—free, holy, happy service. As true service, as acceptable to God, as the service of an angel—as the service of that blessed company in heaven, where His servants are serving Him indeed.
Shall renew their Strength
The word “renew” means here to put a new thing in place of an old thing. So in Isa_9:10 : “Sycomores have been cut down, but cedars will we put in their place.” Hence it is, literally, to put a new fresh strength in place of the old. But how is this to be brought about? In what way are those that wait for Jehovah to renew their strength? To my mind there is only one possible answer to this question. Do we not read in the words almost immediately preceding: “He (Jehovah) giveth to the weary force, and unto the powerless maketh strength to abound” (Cheyne)? In themselves those that wait for Jehovah are not any better or stronger, they have no greater power of exertion or of endurance, than the youths who faint and are weary, and the young men who stumble. But this is the supreme advantage which they have. They renounce, abandon, their own strength, or rather their supposed strength, that strength which has been used up, that strength which has been found utterly inadequate, that strength they renounce and abandon, and they take in its place the strength of Jehovah Himself. What they cannot do for themselves, Jehovah does for them. The strength of Jehovah, fresh, inexhaustible, almighty, Divine, takes the place of, is the substitute for, their own strength, so weak, so limited, so utterly inadequate. In other words, we have here one phase of the Christian doctrine of substitution, not substitution as applied to the matter of atonement, the sacrifice offered for sin, but as applied to the spiritual experience of the believer in meeting the various temptations, sorrows, losses, afflictions, trials, and adversities of life, in performing the various duties of life and in accomplishing its work for the glory of his Lord, and the advancement of His Kingdom.
The Word of God is filled with promises, which glitter and shine on every page of this sacred Book—and yet, as every effect has a cause, so every promise has its condition; and as in Nature the effect cannot be disjoined from the cause, no more can the blessing be disjoined from the condition. They are inseparably united. “And the word of the Lord came to Joshua, saying, Go over Jordan and take the land. There shall no man be able to stand against thee all the days of thy life, for as I was with Moses, so will I be with thee. I will never fail thee nor forsake thee. Only be thou very courageous.” This law comes into our text—“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” The condition of waiting upon the Lord must be fulfilled before we can expect the renewal of our strength. And be it remembered that here, as in all other cases, material and spiritual, the condition is not some arbitrary demand on the part of God. It is not His exorbitant price for the blessing in question. The condition is the means whereby the blessing is to be obtained. Thus the essential condition for getting a strong, muscular arm is that it shall be used to do hard and constant service. But if this condition be fulfilled, it will also prove to be the means whereby the strength is produced.
1. The man who waits upon the Lord gets an ever wider experience of God’s grace and faithfulness as life advances. All experienced Christians grow brighter, stronger, and calmer in their assurance of God’s love. Every one who has known anything of grace in himself can confirm this.
Let me call one witness—a ripe Bible scholar—but one who began life as a poor boy in a workhouse. He had lost his hearing absolutely, by an accident, while little more than a child. By well-meaning friends he was consigned to a poorhouse. But he ended, after many labours, a loved and honoured interpreter of Holy Scripture. This is what Dr. John Kitto writes on a like text in this same prophet Isaiah: “Thirty years ago, before the Lord caused me to wander from my father’s house and from my native place, I put my mark upon this text: ‘I am the Lord; they shall not be ashamed that wait for Me.’ Of the many books I now possess,” he goes on, “the Bible that bears this mark was the only one that belonged to me at that time. It now lies before me, and I find that although the hair which was then as dark as night has meanwhile become ‘a sable silvered,’ the ink which marked this text has grown into intensity of blackness, corresponding with the growing intensity of conviction. ‘They shall not be ashamed that wait for Him.’ I believed it then, I know it now; and I can write with all my heart over against that symbol, Probatum est—‘It is proved.’ Looking back through the long period which has passed since I set my mark to these words—a portion of human life which forms the best and brightest, as well as the most trying and conflicting, in all man’s experience—it is a joy to be able to say it. Under many perilous circumstances, in many trying scenes, amid faintings within and fears without, under sorrows that rend the heart and troubles that crush it down, ‘I have waited for Thee, O Lord, and I stand this day as one not ashamed.’ ”1 [Note: J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 262.]
2. It is only by waiting on the Lord that His ways can be discovered and understood. Our hasty glances and hurried inferences are sure to err. You notice Israel in this chapter—captive, broken-hearted, and complaining—says, “My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God.” How often have we fallen into such pettish and childish thoughts of our heavenly Father! We forget how great, how calm, how unwearied and unwearying, He is! “The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not. There is no searching of his understanding”; but waiting upon Him brings us to know Him, and so renews our strength.
Several years ago a connection was discovered by a man of science between two sets of natural facts which seem far enough apart, viz. the magnetic currents of the earth and the spots on the sun. It was made in this way: A German astronomer, Schwabe, of Dessau, capital of the Duchy of Anhalt, for a very long succession of years observed and kept account of the number of sun-spots seen every day, so that a periodic rise and fall in the numbers was made out, during regular cycles of eleven years, corresponding with a like cycle of magnetic storms on the earth. Now this law or fact was learned by waiting for it. So many years the observer spent to satisfy himself, and so many more years to convince the world. For forty-two years the sun never rose a single morning, clear of clouds, above the flat horizon of that German plain at Dessau, but the patient telescope of Schwabe confronted him. On an average, about 300 days out of every year the observations were taken, so that over 12,000 times was the sun seen, and above 5000 groups of sun-spots were discovered. “An instance,” were the words used in awarding a prize to Schwabe, “of devoted persistence unsurpassed in the annals of astronomy.” The energy of one man has discovered what had eluded even the suspicion of astronomers for two hundred years. The scientific observer has faith in the uniformity and consistency of nature. He waits for it. He “believes” that it is, and that it becomes a rewarder of those who diligently seek it.1 [Note: G. H. Morgan.]
3. There is even a simpler and more direct explanation of the fact that “waiting upon the Lord renews our strength.” The ancient Greeks had a fable of an earth-born giant who could not be overcome by the ordinary process of knocking him down, for the reason that every time he touched his mother-earth he revived. Now invert that process. It describes the secret of the strength of faith. It is heaven-born. All grace is of the Lord. Each act of fresh dependence upon God “renews its strength.” Everything that breaks us off from self and means, and drives us up in our helplessness to the Lord, is our gain. For “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength” (v. 29). “Most gladly therefore,” as St. Paul says, “will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me; for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2Co_12:9-10).
You touch your electric button, and immediately the bell in your kitchen rings. You know that an influence of some kind, which is generated in the cells lying down in your cellar, is carried in a trice round the wires and makes that bell ring; but what that influence is, or how it passes along the wires, neither you nor the wisest electrician in the world can tell. Yet you believe that such influence or power exists, and you act upon your belief. So I am told that waiting upon God produces renewed strength. Although I do not know how that strength travels from God to me, though I am unable to define that strength, yet when, after testing the statement, I find it to be correct in practice, I will believe it, and act upon that belief.1 [Note: G. H. Morgan.]
“With five shillings,” said Teresa the mystic, when her friends laughed at her proposal to build an orphanage—“with five shillings Teresa can do nothing; but with five shillings and God there is nothing Teresa cannot do.”2 [Note: J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 140.]
Lord, at Thy feet my prostrate heart is lying,
Worn with the burden, weary of the way;
The world’s proud sunshine on the hills is dying,
And morning’s promise fades with parting day;
Yet in Thy light another morn is breaking,
Of fairer promise, and with pledge more true,
And in Thy life a dawn of youth is waking
Whose bounding pulses shall this heart renew.
Oh, to go back across the years long vanished,
To have the words unsaid, the deeds undone,
The errors cancelled, the deep shadows banished,
In the glad sense of a new world begun;
To be a little child, whose page of story
Is yet undimmed, unblotted by a stain,
And in the sunrise of primeval glory
To know that life has had its start again!
I may go back across the years long vanished,
I may resume my childhood, Lord, in Thee,
When in the shadow of Thy cross are banished
All other shadows that encompass me:
And o’er the road that now is dark and dreary,
This soul, made buoyant by the strength of rest,
Shall walk untired, shall run and not be weary,
To bear the blessing that has made it blest.3 [Note: George Matheson.]
They shall mount … they shall run … they shall walk
1. That is a most noticeable sequence. Look at it. “They shall mount up with wings …; they shall run …; they shall walk.” Flying, running, walking. At first sight this looks like an anticlimax, and the promise reads like a descending promise. If we had wished to use these phrases to illustrate the effects of the strength which God supplies, and if we had wished to use them in an ascending scale, so that each should intensify and carry to a higher point the assertion made in the other, we should have inverted the order, and should have read the clauses thus: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall walk, and not faint; they shall run, and not be weary: they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” But the prophet begins with the flying and ends with the walking. It looks at first sight, I repeat, as if it were a descending and diminishing promise; as if the progress were from greater to less, and from less to least. As Dr. George Adam Smith puts it, “Soaring, running, walking; and is not the next stage, a cynic might ask, standing still?”1 [Note: J. D. Jones, Elims of Life, p. 141.]
Those who turned the passage into metre for our use in praise in the Paraphrases, have changed the order into what might be supposed more natural; walking first, then running, and last the eagle’s flight. Yet no doubt the order as it stands has its reason and its force. It may be simply this, that the eagle-flight is the Christian’s burst of early joy and praise; the unwearied running the main onward ardour of an active Christian course; the walk without fainting, the last calm steps and firm, that land the saint in glory. But I prefer to find a principle in it, viz., that in accordance with the whole strain of reflection to which the text has led us, the perseverance of grace is more remarkable than even its occasional triumphs; that the daily course it runs, and the persistence with which it goes further and further, the more the Lord has for it to do, is that which most effectually proves its Divine origin and character. Let us only wait upon the Lord, be wholly, constantly, and vitally dependent upon Him, then we shall renew our strength, change and interchange it too. When soaring is needful “we shall mount up on wings as eagles”; when rapid, steady, onward progress is to be made, “we shall run and not be weary”; but always and all through we shall persevere, “we shall walk and not faint.”2 [Note: J. Laidlaw.]
Strength will come for every day’s endurance,
Grace all the way, and glory at the end.
Many cyclists find the three-speed interchangeable gear of great service in varieties of road and weather. Along a good surface, and with a favourable wind, by using the high gear one can easily have a short burst at the rate of from fifteen to twenty miles an hour. When things are not so favourable it is easy to change to the middle gear. With the low gear it is possible to climb stiff hills or continue to ride in the teeth of a gale. May we not see in this an illustration of the true Christian who by waiting on the Lord renews or changes his strength?
A sudden emergency arises and with Christian audacity he courageously attempts the task, he mounts up and is victorious. The demand calls for strenuous effort possibly somewhat prolonged; again, through waiting, his strength is changed, and once more he is victorious. Or, greatest triumph of all, his task is the monotonous plodding of daily duty in the face of adverse influence, and with nothing apparently heroic in the work; but he waits on the Lord, his strength is changed, and he walks without fainting.
2. There is no doubt that we have here a kind of historic treatment of the condition of Israel, of the way in which God’s people rise triumphantly above their difficulties, and then march onward in the greatness of their strength. What was the first thing they needed? They were in the grasp of the heathen, surrounded by a great wall of captivity. The iron bonds of the strong were around them, the high walls of imprisonment were there. They were like birds in a cage. What do they require first? Why, eagles’ wings, of course, to escape from their prison. They must get up out of this imprisoning barrier some way or other, and God must lend them the strong wings of the eagle that they may soar until they surmount the barriers, and find themselves in the free heaven of liberty again. What do they need next? They must begin their national life anew with enthusiasm. They must haste to build up Zion again. Their hands must not tire by night or day until they have completed the building of the temple of the Lord. Every nerve that belongs to them, every muscle, every power must be devoted to the task! They must run for a time, for there is haste and urgency, and much to be done in a short time. Ah, but what then when all this enthusiasm, this first novelty, has passed away, what must they do then? Then they must begin the march of a long history, on, on, on, as the days go by, with each rising sun setting forward on the great national march again, bearing the heat and the burden of the day without fainting, from year to year, generation to generation, age to age, on and on they must walk in the power of the Lord.
’Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead
Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green,
And the pale weaver, through his windows seen
In Spitalfields, look’d thrice dispirited.
I met a preacher there I knew, and said:
“Ill and o’erwork’d, how fare you in this scene?”—
“Bravely!” said he; “for I of late have been
Much cheer’d with thoughts of Christ, the living bread.”
O human soul! as long as thou canst so
Set up a mark of everlasting light,
Above the howling senses’ ebb and flow,
To cheer thee, and to right thee if thou roam—
Not with lost toil thou labourest through the night!
Thou mak’st the heaven thou hop’st indeed thy home.1 [Note: Matthew Arnold.]
3. This might be illustrated, if one had imagination, by taking the three forms of genius, temperament, and character. There are some men who naturally have, as it were, the imaginative faculty, the poetic faculty, and their tendency is to soar; they cannot help it, it is the impulse of the genius within them—that is the particular form that the gift of God in them takes—aspiration, a rising and soaring. Well, if that man with his genius waits upon God, and that genius becomes sanctified, he will mount up on wings as eagles towards heaven; there will be sanctified genius, imaginative, embodying itself in sacred song; that which will lift other souls to heaven and give them wings. Then there are other people that are distinguished by perpetual activity; they must be doing something, warring, running, fighting, taking hold of something by perpetual activity; and if sanctified, they will run in the way of God’s commandments; if God energises their heart with Divine strength they will be able to achieve anything. And there are others of a soberer sort who can neither run nor fly, but they can walk; and, like Enoch, they can walk with God. They quietly walk, drawing no observation to themselves; without great genius, and without the faculty for great achievement, but just walking humbly in that quiet vale of life, they walk, and while the man of the wing does not weary, and the man running does not faint, neither do they—they keep on and on in the way of God and in the way everlasting.
Amiel was a professor in a Swiss university. In his younger dayshis friends prophesied great things concerning him; he was a brilliant and talented youth, and naturally looked forward himself to a life of large activity and great usefulness. In the end he proved what the world calls a failure. It was not only his friends who thought so, for he thought so too. He falsified all the predictions of those who loved him. In life he never did anything very bad, and he never seemed to do anything very good. Few students attended his lectures in the Swiss university where he did his life’s work, and Amiel could not help feeling that he was indeed a failure, and he was in great bitterness of spirit many a time. He wrote down his thoughts about himself and the experiences of his everyday life—the humdrum, the drudgery, the untoward, and the unwelcome. He kept his journal for his own eye alone, and every night he entered therein his thoughts and feelings, and the totality of the experiences he had gained during the day. It is sad reading; we have it now Amiel is gone. He had not discovered what the whole world has now discovered—that he was really doing his life’s work in the very midst and by means of that which seemed to be a sorry failure. By his experience, gained in mediocre service, gained even through his disappointment, gained by the labours of the every day, in the midst of the comments of those who were sorry that he had not developed something better, he was learning, and for generations to come everybody will see that his life-work was done by means of that which he would have regarded as a failure of that life-work.1 [Note: R. J. Campbell.]
4. The marginal reading of the text throws yet another light on its meaning. “They that wait upon the Lord shall change their strength.” The truth suggested is the important one that they who are calmly and constantly depending upon God will get renewal of strength according to their time and their need. They may seem even to exchange one form of strength for another. The strength of a young tree is of one kind—in putting forth shoots, leaves, and blossoms. The strength of the same tree, mature, is of another kind in firmness and fruitfulness. The graces which were active and vigorous in a believer at his first conversion to God, such as were carried upon a stream of warm, natural affections, ought to be renewed or exchanged for more wise, practical, patient fruit-bearing in riper years; and may be exchanged again for deeper spirituality, heavenliness of mind, readiness for the cross, and death as life advances. Now, in these renewals or exchanges of strength he shall be not less useful or pleasing to his Lord. Christ foretold to His Apostle Peter that in his last days he would serve his Master in a very different fashion from that of his youth. “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedest whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.” When Peter fell at last a martyr, was bound by his foes, and borne away to be crucified—they say with his head downwards, at his own request, that in one thing at least he might be lower than his Lord—was Peter less strong in faith, was he less loving, than when he girded his fisher’s coat about him to swim; or flashed out his sword in the garden, or preached the word of his risen Lord amid howling mobs in the streets of Jerusalem? No! He was stronger, more loving, more lovable, for all those years of waiting had “renewed his strength.” And so perhaps we have a key to the anticlimax which closes this verse. “They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.”
The heart which boldly faces death
Upon the battlefield, and dares
Cannon and bayonet, faints beneath
The needle-point of frets and cares.
The stoutest hearts they do dismay—
The tiny stings of every day.
And even saints of holy fame,
Whose souls by faith have overcome.
Who wore amid the cruel flame
The molten crown of martyrdom,
Bore not without complaint alway
The petty pains of every day.
Ah! more than martyr’s aureole,
And more than hero’s heart of fire,
We need the humble strength of soul
Which daily toils and ills require.
Sweet Patience, grant us, if you may,
An added grace for every day.
They shall mount up with wings as eagles
They who wait upon the Lord shall obtain a marvellous addition to their resources. Their life shall be endowed with mysterious but most real equipment. They shall obtain wings. We do well when picturing the angel presences to endow them with wings. At the best it is a clumsy symbolism, but all symbolisms of eternal things are clumsy and ineffective. And what do we mean by wings? We mean that life has gained new powers, extraordinary capacity; the old self has received heavenly addition, endowing it with nimbleness, buoyancy, strength. We used to sing in our childhood, “I want to be an angel.” I am afraid the sentiment was often poor and unworthy, and removed our thoughts rather to a world that is to be than to the reality by which we are surrounded to-day. But it is right to wish to be an angel if by that wish we aspire after angelic powers and seek for angels’ wings. It is right to long for their powers of flight, their capacity to soar to the heights. We may have the angels’ wings. Wing-power is not only the reward of those who are redeemed out of time and emancipated from death, and who have entered into the larger life of the unseen glory, but it is the prerogative of you and me. “They that wait upon the Lord … shall mount up with wings.” Waiting upon the Lord will enable us to share the angels’ fellowship, to feed on angels’ food, and to acquire the angels’ power of wing. “They shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
The saints of God are mountaineers, mounting up to higher and purer air than can be found on earth. Their “citizenship is in heaven.” Their great delight is to be with the Lord on the mount; they are glad to be able in heart and mind to sit with Jesus Christ in the heavenlies, holding communion with their Father and His Son Jesus Christ, through the ever-present and powerful influence of the Holy Spirit. The eagle mounts up with remarkable rapidity, and is noted for its swiftness of flight. God asks Job, “Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?” (Job_39:27). Solomon speaks, too, of this swiftness of flight. “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings, like an eagle that flieth toward heaven” (Pro_23:5). Saul and Jonathan were “swifter than eagles” (2Sa_1:23). So when we have the Spirit of God with us, we are able in an instant to wing our flight away from things of time and sense, and enter through the veil into the very presence of the Most High. We must take no credit or glory to ourselves for this, for as of old with His literal Israel, so now with His spiritual Israel, the Lord “bears us on eagles’ wings, and brings us unto Himself” (Exo_19:4).
I will tell you about the eagle’s nest. The eagle makes a nest of thorns, and over the thorns the eagle puts some very soft things—some wool or some down over the thorns. And there the eagle lays its eggs, and when the eggs are hatched, the little eagles come out into the nest, and there they stay. And when it is time for the little eagles to fly, what do you think the old eagle does? With his great talons he scratches off the soft wool and the down, and then the thorns prick the little birds, and they must fly because the thorns prick them. And so they fly away, and fly away because the thorns prick them. And what do you think the old eagle does then? He is such a kind old bird. He comes and puts his great wings under the wings of the little birds, and helps them to fly; and so the young eaglets can fly very high, because their father, the old eagle, helps them with his great wings to fly away. And then they go up, and up very high; and if you have ever seen a great bird—a great hawk, or a kite, or an eagle, as I have seen an eagle, it is very beautiful to see how it flies. It goes up very high, and it makes great circles round and round, and goes very fast, and yet you hardly see it move its wings. It seems almost to go without flapping its wings. It is so grand, so large a circle, and it does it so quietly, so quietly, up very high and round and round.1 [Note: J. Vaughan, in Contemporary Pulpit, 2 Ser., iii. p. 166.]
What are the characteristics of life with wings?
1. Buoyancy.—We become endowed with power to rise above things! How often we give the counsel one to another, “You should rise above it!” But too often it is idle counsel, because it implies that the friend to whom we give it has the gift of wings; too frequently he is only endowed with feet. If, when we give the counsel, we could give the wings, the things that bind him to the low plains of life might be left behind.
2. Loftiness.—We speak of a “lofty character” as opposed to one who is low or mean. There are men with low motives, and they move along the low way. There are men with mean affections which do not comprehend a brother. Now, it is the glorious characteristic of the Christian religion that it claims to give loftiness to the life. There is no feature that the Bible loves more to proclaim than just this feature of “aboveness.” It distinguishes the disciples of Christ. See how the ambitions of the Book run: “Seek the things that are above”; “Set your mind on things above.” It speaks also of dwelling “with Christ in the heavenly places.”
We cry, O for the wings of a dove! God says, “You have the wings, use them; but do not seek to fly away; fly up, and though ye have lain among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver and her feathers with yellow gold.” There is a sense in which we ought to have the wings of a dove; and there is a sense in which we may be said actually to have them, only we do not use them enough. God’s message to us is not merely that we may soar, but that we ought to soar easily above the things that depress us and keep us down; and if we are in fellowship with Christ, and in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost we will.2 [Note: G. H. Knight.]
3. Comprehensiveness.—High soaring gives wide seeing. Loftiness gives comprehension. When we live on the low grounds we possess only a narrow outlook. One man offers his opinion on some weighty matter, and he is answered by the charge, “That is a very low ground to take.” The low ground always means petty vision. Men who do not soar always have small views of things. We require wings for breadth of view. Now see! The higher you get the greater will be the area that comes within your view. We may judge our height by the measure of our outlook. How much do we see? We have not got very high if we only see ourselves; nay, we are in the mire! “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” It is well when we get so high that our vision comprehends our town, better still when it includes the country, better still when it encircles other countries, best of all when it engirdles the world. It is well when we are interested in home missions; better still when home and foreign work are comprehended in our view.
If we only lived more habitually above the world, we would have larger freedom, larger joy, and larger safety. Have we not noticed how very helpless any bird is on the ground, though on the wing it is both strong and safe? To fight temptations on their own level is not always the most successful way. It is better to rise so far above, them that we shall feel as little enticed by them as God’s pure angels were enticed by the iniquities of Sodom.1 [Note: G. H. Knight.]
4. Proportion.—To see things aright we must get away from them. We never see a thing truly until we see it in its relationships. We must see a moment in relation to a week, a week in relation to a year, a year in relation to eternity. Wing-power gives us the gift of soaring, and we see how things are related one to another. An affliction looked at from the lowlands may be stupendous; looked at from the heights it may appear little or nothing. “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” What a breadth of view! And here is another. “The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to usward.” This is a bird’s-eye view. It sees life “whole.”2 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
They shall run and not be weary
There are many meanings which this may bear. But the pith of them all seems to be Capacity for the most strenuous exertion. They shall run. Wherefore? Because the King’s business requireth haste. Would that the King’s servants always felt this. We are too ready to imagine that our work is to be literally easy, and our Christian witness-bearing literally light. But if ever the world is to be won to Christ, we shall have to endure hardness for Him. We shall have to ponder deeply the great questions of the social and moral well-being of what are called “the masses,” the ignorance and depravity of our large towns, the semi-serfdom of the agricultural population, the great problem of the drunkenness that disgraces our national life and what can be done to remove it, and many kindred subjects that, as yet, we have hardly looked at.
There is power waiting for you for all the great crises of your lives which call for special, though it may be brief, exertion. Such crises will come to each of you, in sorrow, work, difficulty, hard conflicts. Moments will be sprung upon you without warning, in which you will feel that years hang on the issue of an instant. Great tasks will be clashed down before you unexpectedly which will demand the gathering together of all your power. And there is only one way to be ready for such times as these, and that is to live waiting on the Lord, near Christ, with Him in your hearts, and then nothing will come that will be too big for you. However rough the road, and however severe the struggle, and however swift the pace, you will be able to keep it up. Though it may be with panting lungs and a throbbing heart, and dim eyes and quivering muscles, yet if you wait on the Lord you will run and not be weary. You will be masters of the crises.
Holiness does not consist exclusively in heavenly contemplation and prayer. The breathing of the pure air of heaven is essential for the saints, that they may be able to “run” in the way of God’s commandments, and not grow weary in the race. There must be something very deficient in that holiness which is characterised by slothfulness and lack of effort. We are told to “follow holiness” (Heb_12:14). The word “to follow” signifies pursuing an enemy, or pursuing in the chase. Let us learn to be as intent upon holiness as the soldier is intent upon pursuing the enemy. Let us be as eager to pursue holiness as the hound is to follow the fox, or the hare, or the stag.
Have you ever noticed how the servants of God in the Bible—from Abraham and David to Philip in the Acts—whenever they were told to do anything, always ran. It is the only way to do anything well. Run. A thousand irksome duties become easy and pleasant if we do them runningly—that is, with a ready mind, an affectionate zeal, and a happy alacrity.
In Indian Wigwams and Northern Camp-fires, by the Rev. E. R. Young, we are told that amongst the brigades of Indians who annually left Norway House for the Mackenzie River and Athabasca districts with supplies, and to bring back furs, the Christian brigade was always the first to return. The men themselves attributed it to their observance of the Sabbath as a day of waiting upon God. According to their account of one trip the brigades kept together until the first Saturday. Then those from the Christian mission chose a place for their Sunday camp, and spent that day in rest and worship. Next day they started early, refreshed by their rest, and on Thursday had passed the others and camped as the head brigade. Next Sunday they rested again, and the others passed them and camped a few miles farther on. “We were up very early on Monday morning, and came up to the others while they were at breakfast. With a cheer we rowed by, and they did not catch up to us again.… We were three days down on our way home when we met the other brigades going up.” They rested every Sunday during the trip of two months, yet were home a week before those who pushed on every day. These Indians were no larger or stronger than others, but in waiting upon God they renewed their physical as well as their spiritual strength.
They shall walk and not faint
Is this the same as saying that we shall have the power of steady perseverance, of patient endurance under protracted trial? Did the prophet put this last in his brief summary because patience is one of those Christian graces that has its perfect work the latest—because the bearing of the Lord’s burden is often a much more difficult thing than the doing of the Lord’s work? And was it because He would encourage us by the assurance that even that power, difficult of attainment as it is, shall yet be ours through prayer? Thank God for the assurance, for we greatly need it! “They shall break down under the trial,” suggests the devil. “No,” says the prophet, “they shall bear up bravely.” That is, if in the great warfare it is not theirs to be conspicuous in the battlefield, they shall receive power to be loyal in the barracks. If on the seas of Christly inactivity it is not theirs to lead the squadrons of exploration, they shall at least be vigilant in the roadstead, and alert about the shore.
The flight into the heavenlies, and the vigorous putting forth of effort, will fit us for the ordinary walks of life. If all our religious exercises do not make us better husbands to our wives, better wives to our husbands, better parents to our children, better children to our parents, better masters and mistresses to our servants, and better servants to our masters, what are they all worth? We are then but “clouds without water,” and trees “whose fruit withereth.”. Without doubt the highest attainment is put last—it is the climax of holiness: “They shall walk, and not faint.” If there is not holiness in little things, what can we expect in great things but mere paint and veneer, and what is artificial? But there is nothing so likely to produce true saintship in the home and the quiet walks of daily life as prayer and much waiting on God, as well as much valiant fighting and vigorous running, and deliberate setting aside every weight.
Let me give you four rules for this “walk.” (1) Start from Christ. Believe, and do not doubt your forgiveness,—that you have an interest in Christ. The only setting-out point must be the foot of the cross. (2) Walk with Christ. Feel Him at your side. Realise your union then. “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” (3) Walk leaning on Christ. That is the most true and beautiful picture of the Christian in the whole Bible,—“Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her Beloved?” Up, up, out of a world which has become a barren wilderness,—for the superior joys you now taste; “leaning,” leaning on one she dearly loves. And then (4) walk to Christ. I know it is a long, rugged, steep road to go; but you are going home; and you are going to Jesus! Therefore go; “looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame; and is now set down” at the very place where you are going.1 [Note: J. Vaughan.]
The United States in 1861 took up the sword in the cause of the negro. A wave of passionate enthusiasm for the cause of the downtrodden and the oppressed swept over the land, and from every town and village in the Northern States there went young men to fight the negro’s battle, singing as they went—
“John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
But his soul goes marching on.”
I admire the United States in those days of splendid enthusiasm and hope at the beginning of the war, when she mounted up with wings as eagles, and ran, and was not weary. But I frankly confess I admire that great nation still more in the later stages of the conflict; when the terrible realities of war came home to her; when it became apparent that the deliverance of the negro was likely to be a long, costly, and bloody business; when, in spite of defeat after defeat, she stuck doggedly to her task, sending regiment after regiment and army after army into the field, bating not a jot or tittle of her resolve; not soaring or running now, perhaps, but still “walking, and not faint.”2 [Note: J. D. Jones.]
Did you ever hear of a great mathematician who lived a long while ago? He was one of the greatest mathematicians, and knew about the stars. He was an astronomer, and was a very learned man. And he has written his life, and he tells what happened to him when he was a boy. He says when a boy he got tired of mathematics, and was going to give it all up. He said, “I shall give it up, I shall never be a clever man.” Well, very strangely, as he was thinking that, he saw a piece of paper on the cover of his book, and somehow or other, he could never tell why, he thought he should like to have it, and he got some water and damped it, and then got this piece of paper off, and on it was written, “Go on, sir; go on, sir.” And he said afterwards, “That was my master; I had no other master; that bit of paper was my master. I went on—I went on; I would not give it up, and all through my life that has been my master, and to it I owe everything.”3 [Note: J. Vaughan.]