Throughout the whole of this year we have been occupied with the Name which is above every name, as expressive of the varied glories and excellencies of our blessed Lord and Saviour. It has been our delight to pass from one phase to another of His infinite perfections, and to call attention to Himself as the One in whom all God's thoughts and ways are centred, and as the One, also, who is the abiding and eternal portion of the believer's heart. To be overwhelmed in the contemplation of Christ, like the Queen of Sheba in the presence of the glory of Solomon, is to anticipate the enjoyment of heaven. But to enter in any measure upon this, we must follow our blessed Lord - and this can only be through death and resurrection morally known - into the holiest; into the place where He dwells. There alone can we, with unveiled face behold the glory of the Lord, and be changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. As it is His own desire to have His beloved people thus in the intimacy of His own presence, may He beget in all of us that purpose of heart which will lead us to say with the Psalmist, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple."
In the subject of this last paper of the year we are invited to consider His immutability, in contrast with the transitory character of this world. Inasmuch as our bodies are links with this creation, which still "groaneth and travaileth in pain together," there are seasons when we are oppressed with the sense of the corruption and death which are written upon the whole scene. Already under judgment, it will soon vanish; for "the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." (2 Peter 3:7.) The works of the Lord's own hands, they shall yet perish; as a vesture He will Himself fold them up, and they shall be changed. Is it asked, Wherefore? The reply is, The first creation will share the doom of the first man. For a little season, in testimony to the rights and glory of the Son of Man, it will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God; but the judgment pronounced upon it, if postponed, is final and irrevocable.
It is, therefore, an immense consolation to be reminded that the Lord Himself, the Creator, abideth for ever. The rapid flight of time, which is ever pressed upon our attention at the close of a year, the constant departure of those we have known and loved, the signs of mortality meeting our gaze at every turn - all these things might well fill our hearts with apprehension and gloom, if our vision were bounded by time's horizon. But thanks be unto God, we have to do with a Person who is above and beyond all change, with One who is ever the same, and whose years never fail; and He is known to our souls as Saviour, Redeemer, and Lord. It is, indeed, a characteristic of Christianity that we are shut up - blessedly shut up - to a Divine Person, and to a Divine Person who, having Himself been here as Man in the midst of men, knows all our needs and sorrows. In the very Psalm, indeed, from which the apostle cites, we find the feelings to which allusion has been made. It will encourage our hearts to ponder a little upon what is there recorded.
It may be first pointed out that the Divine title of the Psalm (102) is "A prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed, and poureth out his complaint before the Lord"; and let it be remembered that "the afflicted" here is no less a Person than the Messiah in the midst of His sorrow and rejection. But passing by the special circumstances in which He is here seen, and coming to our immediate subject, He says in verse 23, "He weakened my strength in the way; He shortened my days." And then, turning to God, He says, "O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: Thy years are throughout all generations." How it endears our precious Saviour to our hearts, as we are permitted to contemplate Him in circumstances so closely resembling those in which we ourselves are; to perceive that He, through His becoming man, was weighted with the feeling and experience of weakness, and the brevity of human life. Yea, as we elsewhere read, He was tempted in all points like as we are, sin apart; and it is on this very account that He is qualified to sympathize with us in our infirmities, and to minister to us the needed succour. Blessed for ever be His holy Name!
Let us, however, regard the answer to His cry. It commences with verse 25, "Of old hast Thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shalt wax old like a garment: as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same,* and Thy years shall have no end." We may reverently say that God, in answer to the cry of distress of His Anointed, reminds Him of His Creatorship; and then, that if all the works of His hands perish He would endure, that in contrast with their change, decay, and dissolution, He, although now in circumstances of weakness and sorrow, was in His own being the changeless One. Such language can be only understood in the light of the mystery of His Person; but the point we desire now to emphasize is that the comfort and sustainment ministered to His holy soul was in connection with the eternity and immutability of His own being. More may not be said; but oh! how close it brings Him to us in our weakness when we read this "prayer of the afflicted," and learn the character of the answer He received.
*As pointed out at the beginning of the year, the words Atta Hu, rendered "Thou art the same," have ever been regarded as having the force of a Divine title.
There is another thing to be observed. As the Captain of our salvation, He was made perfect through sufferings; and He has thus become the perfect Exemplar of all His sorrowing and tried saints. But the marvel is, that the consolation ministered to Him, while treading the path of rejection, when, to all outward appearance, He laboured in vain and spent His strength for nought, is of the same nature as that ministered to us in our pilgrim path. Is He told, as in the Psalm, of His changeless being? So are we reminded, while passing through this world of change, that He remaineth, that He is ever the same - the same through all the centuries of time, as through the immeasurable ages of eternity. We are in this way put upon a Rock - a Rock that nothing can ever shake, and on which, reposing in perfect peace, we can contemplate, without a single apprehension, the dissolution of all things. Christ remains, if we lose all besides; nay, we should rather say, Let all else vanish from our gaze, for we want nothing since we possess Christ.
All this does but teach us that we already belong to another scene which is as unchanging as the unchanging Christ. It was this lesson in which the Lord so carefully instructed His disciples. In John 13, for example, the whole significance of His washing their feet might be thus expressed - "If I cannot longer remain with you in your circumstances, I will show you how you may follow, and have part with Me in that new place to which I am going." So also, when Mary Magdalene would have detained Him here, He said, "Touch Me not; for I am not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God." It is the same lesson in another way. He puts His disciples, by this message, into His own place and relationship in association with Himself, and this is necessarily in heaven. Not only, therefore, do we belong to another scene - and one outside this world - but the Lord would have us follow Him to it, and be in His company there, even while treading the sands of the wilderness.
"Thou remainest" is thus full of blessed sustainment and encouragement. Not only does it afford us a secure and immovable foundation in the midst of change and unrest, but it also attracts our hearts to that new place, and that new order of things, which He has formed and inaugurated in virtue of His death and resurrection, and where He Himself is the centre of all the glory which floods the whole scene. For, as we elsewhere read, He has ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things. Well then may we accept death upon everything here, for already the light of another world has dawned upon our souls - a new world where neither change, nor sorrow, nor death can ever enter, and where we shall be for ever with Christ and conformed to His own image. Of this new creation, He is the beginning, as the First-born from the dead, and He remaineth. Yea, as we are permitted to address Him, "Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end."
In conclusion, the writer would affectionately enquire whether the reader is consciously reposing upon Him who is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever? There is no other foundation for our souls before God. Building upon it, we are secured both for time and for eternity; for God is then for us; and if He be for us, who can be against us?
"The very finest evidence which can be afforded of true spiritual work is that it tends directly to exalt Christ. If attention be sought for the work or the workman, the light has become dim, and the Minister of the sanctuary must use the snuffers. It was Aaron's province to light the lamps, and he it was who trimmed them likewise. In other words, the light which, as Christians, we are responsible to yield, is not only founded upon Christ, but maintained by Him, from moment to moment, throughout the entire night. Apart from Him we can do nothing. The golden shaft sustained the lamps; the priestly hand supplied the oil and applied the snuffers. It is all in Christ, from Christ, and by Christ."