Watchman, What of the Night? Part 3

Isaiah 21:11  •  22 min. read  •  grade level: 11
(Concluded from page 110.)
It is time to ask now, what is the solemn result of these trials and tests of such a distinguished man, and what our lessons by God in this history, and of His ways with a nation, in the brief record of his reign? Or rather, what should be the effect of this great proof in such a king, and of an elect people, when gathered round God Himself, with His glory in the temple, and this endowed man upon His throne, as the guarantee (if there could be one outside Christ) of permanent and universal blessing? Ought not the leaders and great men of modern times to allow such an one to challenge them all by the question, even if they do not like to answer him, “What can the man do that cometh after the king?” Nay, is it not presumption, if not a presumptuous sin, for the men of this period to suppose the problem of what man is, and is worth, in his relation to God, and to his neighbor, and to the world, to be an open question still, and left for them to solve? This, too, in the face of the prophecy which challenges all, “What more could have been done for my vineyard that I have not done?” Do any of them come up to Solomon, or can they excel God? Will the scientists, and the men of mark and renown, say they are at an advantage, because experimenting amongst a non-elect people, instead of an elect one, which was so beloved, and placed under law to God? Will they tell us it is better to begin the problem in the midst of Gentile nations, with whom God does not stand in any relationships of this kind, than with the nation which He chose, and brought to Himself?
Do they think it in their favor to make laws of their own, and establish various forms of government, and set up thrones of their devising in their modern cities, rather than to bow their heads, and learn their lesson from the ruins of Jerusalem, and the cast-off people they are treading under their feet? Do they judge it to be in their favor never to have had a Solomon, qualified and endowed as he was, and under the direct guidance of God, that so they may be free of Him, and be left to their own intentions and expediencies, under Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon? If the reigning emperors and kings, with their empires and dynasties, are agitated and perplexed, or sometimes overthrown in the struggle between absolutism and democracy, or betwixt imperialism and a republic, do they think this uncertainty an advance upon the theocracy of the God of Israel? They will do well to remember that the divine form and principles of political economy, and of jurisprudence, were long ago determined by God, and are indelibly written by His finger in the Pentateuch; as well as the patterns and form of the temple, and its priesthood and worship, in the two books of Chronicles. Neither the throne nor the altar has been overlooked. Be it so, that all this greatness and magnificence have come to naught, with an elect people, who had God in their midst, and as a wall of fire around them; what can those do who come after? Is it better to be without Him, and safer and wiser to take counsel with their own hearts, that their dignity and honor may be publicly, and far more fatally, seen to proceed from themselves?
If it be further said, Yes, but this Second Book of Chronicles ends with the captivity of the people, the carrying away of all the golden vessels into Babylon, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the transfer of governmental power from Israel to the Gentiles, and “the morning cometh and also the night,” is fulfilled in their history; be it so. But what, I repeat, is such a lesson for them “who are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, and without God in the world” —who are non-elect, unendowed, and uncovenanted? Will such come out into history at a premium on their predecessors? We shall gee. In the meanwhile the elect nation and her kings are set aside by Jehovah.
If we here close up their two books of Chronicles for another and a brighter day in the millennium of their history, and go with the children of the captivity, it will be only to see that God abides faithful to His own, and advances Daniel into a new place in this strange country. He becomes the prophet of woe to Babylon. The captive Israelite is the one who is anointed by Jehovah to reveal to the great king Nebuchadnezzar, as the head of the Gentiles, all the secret of his dynasty, and its destiny and doom. The four grand divisions of the golden image, which troubled the monarch in his night visions; and which include what is now called “the civilized world,” but which none of the wise men could divine to their master, are brought to light by this child of the captivity. It is Daniel's hand which thus early writes “Ichabod” upon all the grandeur of the king and his kingdoms. So distinguished is this elect vessel in a strange place.
The man who shines brightest among the nobles, and imports a grandeur and a glory into Babylon to which it was a total stranger, is this Israelite; for Daniel stands in a holy luster, be it in the palace, or at the gate of the king, or when in the lions' den. This is the great charm in their opening history, that Daniel eclipses all. The transfer of power from Jerusalem, or rather the use of it when thus committed to Nebuchadnezzar, put the sentence of death upon his palace and his kingdom, and indeed upon himself. It was but taking Jonah into the ship. God was angry with him for his pride, and sent him into the fields to eat straw like an ox, till his nails became as birds' claws. In like manner the transport of the golden vessels from the temple of Solomon to Babylon, and their profanation at the feast of Belshazzar, brought out the hand-writing upon the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin,” which put the sentence of death into him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed. So, again, when the king of Babylon had set up the idol-image, and the fiery furnace was prepared for any who refused to fall down and worship it, the three elect children of the captivity were thrown therein, but only to be joined by another, and that one like unto the Son of God. The sentence of death was transferred from the three elect ones, who were in the flames, but not burnt, and gave birth to the decree, that whosoever spake anything amiss of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, should be cut in pieces. Alas for Babylon and its great idolatrous king at the commencement of this history, and for his non-elect and unchronicled descendants! Thou art this head of gold, and that crowned head driven out of the palace of the kingdom of Babylon, and debased to the level of a beast!
But perhaps, as an empire, their future is brighter, though he must be a bold man, and something more, who would stop us to raise such a question upon the four beasts, or the ten toes of Daniel's prophetic image, in this nineteenth century. Such an one must be forgetful of their great iron teeth, devouring much flesh, to which all the newspapers bear witness, and which all the world knows. Only let them look at the future in the records of Daniel, or in the Apocalyptic visions of Johns and demand in their turn, “Watchman, what of the night?” as being their two books of Chronicles—and what are they? The hand-writing in detail of that selfsame finger which wrote their history in brief upon the palace-wall of Belshazzar says, their “morning cometh, and also their night.” They rise up as a great host of people, “without God,” at their beginning in Babylon, and “without hope in the world,” at their close. Idolatry, maintained by absolutism, was the rise of the power, in the hand of the great monarch, at the first, and proved by the golden image which Nebuchadnezzar set up, and commanded all people to worship.
But perhaps, religiously, their future is different, and they may call on the living and true God, and be better at the latter end—nay, vain is any such expectation, for Rev. 13 says, “He had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” Blasphemy and profanity were in the palaces of Babylon at the first, when the finger wrote upon the wall, and at the close, the hand-writing in Rev. 13 declares, “He opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven.” Their last end is even worse than the first.
But perhaps, politically, the history of imperial power in the hands of the four great empires, of gold, silver, brass, and iron, may bring up some correctives; not so either, for these metals, in their fourfold character, prove the deterioration of delegated power, and at the close, a “stone, cut out without bands, falls upon the ten toes of this image, and it is destroyed—yea, becomes like chaff upon the summer threshing-floor.” But yet again, Babylon and its descendants may have “hope in their end?” Not so either, “for the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of burning” ascending up. “Without God” at the beginning, and “without hope in the world” at the close, embraces these nineteen centuries of Nebuchadnezzar power, or Gentile greatness. Their doom and utter destruction stand out in contrast with the chronicles and prophecies of the elect nation of Israel, “to whom still pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises, whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all God blessed forever.”
If we now turn from these prophecies to their present history, it yet remains to see how Israel and the Gentiles answered God, when He woke the world up once more by the light of “the day-spring from on high,” and by the songs of the angelic hosts at the coming in of Christ, the Son of the Father, by the mystery of the incarnation. “Last of all he sent to them his son.” The question is no longer the competency of Adam to retain a paradise upon the sole condition of allegiance to the Creator; nor of the sufficiency of Solomon to govern the elect nation in Jerusalem, with Jehovah in covenant relation to the throne and the temple; nor of the Gentiles, in their use of power for the glory of God, when transferred to Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar; but will they reverence the Son, and welcome Him as the Savior, the King of kings, and Lord of lords? “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and good will to men,” was the new song given out from the heavens to the earth when Jesus was born. Another morning is come; must another night succeed this? Deliverance and blessing were to issue forth from heaven, seeing that all hands were incompetent below to keep what God had bestowed, or to retain the place of honor and power in which He had set them for His glory. The groan of creation—the captivity of Israel—the idolatry of Babylon—left no hope in the world. The cry of the oppressed once more went up to God, and so the multitude of the heavenly hosts brought in their melodious anthem, and piped unto them of the Child born—would they dance? God had yet one Son, and He so loved the world He had made, and the men in it, that He sent Him forth as the Redeemer of Israel, and the Savior of the world.
The innocent first man—the endowed king—the elect nation, on the one hand; or the head of gold, and the image, in its continuation of silver, brass, iron, and clay, on the other; had forfeited their thrones and dominions, their kingdoms, and their scepters and crowns—can they appreciate deliverance, or will they yet do worse? Yes, far worse than all, for when they saw the Son, they said, This is the heir, come, let us kill Him, and seize upon His inheritance. And so they cast Him out of the vineyard and the world too, vociferating up to God, We will not have this man to reign over us, and that man the Son of the Highest—yea, God manifest in the flesh. The whole world had grown so old in wickedness, that it could not estimate such an intervention in supreme goodness as God sending forth His Son to save the lost and the undone. Herod, the king, was troubled by tidings of the birth of Jesus the Savior, and all Jerusalem with him. The high priest, Caiaphas, rent his clothes, and Pilate washed his hands of innocent blood, when his lips had given sentence against Him. The Son of God, the incarnate One, come down to walk with men upon the earth, and to go about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, has been refused, cast out, and crucified. The trial and the test at this time were not, “Thou shalt love the Lord with all thine heart, and thy neighbor as thyself,” but will men consent to be loved by Him who has come after them in love? Alas! they refused to be loved by God, and compel even Jesus to say of them, “For my love they are my adversaries.”
They take Him out of the manger, and lead Him to the brow of the hill, and then to the cross, where they crucify Him between two thieves; and God has looked down upon all this. Yet the earth moves upon its axis still, and a God in providence makes the sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust. What a God He is! If mankind ever had the sense of what was righteous and true in His sight, they would have accepted the sentence of death in Adam's transgression, when confirmed by the flaming sword at the garden-gate; and if they carried the sense of grace, they would cling to the promise of deliverance through the Seed of the woman, and shadowed forth by the coats of skin which God made, and wherewith He clothed them. But it was not till four thousand years had told their sad tale to the heavens, and all who dwell therein, of the growing distance and enmity below, that the cross bore witness against the world itself by the rejection of Christ as its king, and of Jesus as the Savior come to seek and save those that are lost. The earth and its inhabitants had long ago broken down, when tried representatively, before the law, and the kingdom of Israel. Then God called it out into His presence, to learn its insufficiency for restoration and re-establishment under such a government as He had set up in Jerusalem. The world itself, and all its pretensions (and at their highest and best too), had suffered collapse, when its representative man and representative nation failed towards God, and wrought no deliverance in the earth.
Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome, with the ten toes, may deny this great and summary collapse as conclusive, and expand and inflate themselves and their kingdoms, as they have done, and are still doing, but only to suffer a heavier judgment and doom by their experiment, and break down finally under the responsibility of power in their own hands. Worse than this, far worse; for it was under the power and rule of the fourth beast of the image that Caesar's representative acted, and that the Roman soldier pierced the side of Jesus with his spear. Human enmity came forth, instead of love to God, and wickedness had found its victim at last in the Son of God's grace, and their common outlet at His cross and in His blood. This was the crisis, and a night of darkness. What must the Judge of the earth do now? Can there ever be a morning again? Will He submerge the world by water a second time, in righteous anger? or will He destroy it by fire? God had a remedy after the deluge, and brought in the law, and an economy by Moses, whom He installed as the mediator between God and men. Has He yet a resource? Besides this, it was the school-time, when the Levites taught the people, and instructed them in the right ways of the Lord. Israel was at school, and under its schoolmaster. After (or rather with) an elaborate and wondrous system of education in this sample and elect nation, He established government by a theocracy in the midst of this experimental people. The best that God could do with men as they were, and the choicest sample of mankind too, came to naught, and they were driven out of Canaan. Neither education nor government availed. After Jerusalem came Babylon and the Gentiles, and their one only point of agreement, as determined by Caiaphas and Pilate, was to condemn Christ, and crucify Him. This was the cross, where the whole world, which had broken down morally, rose up in defiance and rebellion against God, and against His Anointed. Wickedness and hate have overstepped themselves, by reason of Him who was their object and victim.
A climax has come, and the whole world is in blood-guiltiness before God; but He will not, yea, cannot, determine this new enormity by water, as He once did, nor by melting fire, as He will do at the last day. And why? Because He had His purposes of grace and redemption to bring to light at the cross, and by means of the precious blood they had shed. That act, which was the outlet of man's hatred of God and of Christ, becomes the door for the inlet of His infinite love to sinners. He will not take up the crucifixion of His Son as a murder at His cross, though it be so horrible, nor be ruled by it in vengeance to-day, but use it as a door into the acceptable year of the Lord. By means of the cross God call proclaim forgiveness to the betrayers and murderers, in proof that, high as the world's hate rose, His love was yet higher, and overreached it, even to pardon it, through faith in the atoning blood, which was the very proof of their guilt. In this forbearance and grace the Father and the Son are one; for, as when the woman whom the Pharisees brought to Jesus in her sin—in the very act, as they said—to be stoned, and He would not condemn her, but stooped down, and wrote on the ground, as though He beard them not; so has God, in grace, been acting during this long day of patience and long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance. After the blood-guiltiness at the cross God comes out in grace, beginning at Jerusalem; and this is indeed as the light of another morning— “a first day” —and becomes the time of salvation, through the blood and death of Christ, during which God refuses to hear the accusation, or enter into judgment upon this sin with mankind. There is an alternative still between God and man at the cross—salvation or judgment, and herein is wisdom, to be of one mind with Him, and thankfully accept justification by faith in the blood of Christ; and eternal life, through His death and resurrection to the right hand of God as the head of the new creation. Union, by the Holy Ghost, with the Son of man there, and in the glory, is the new position which the gospel of God proclaims and offers to the chief of sinners. Christ is gone!
In conclusion, we may and must ask, Is this alternative accepted for “the obedience of faith among all nations?” Are they rejoicing in the glad tidings of God's salvation, and looking for the second coming of Christ, to take all those who believe up to the Father, as redeemed by the blood of His Son, and to be manifested as the heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ? The Lord and the glorified saints are the appointed kings and priests unto God, and they will order and put the world all right, when He takes to Himself His great power, and reigns on the throne of His glory, as the greater than Solomon, to establish His interests in righteousness and peace on the earth.
“The morning cometh, and also the night,” and it is at the dawn of another and a new dispensation from above, by the coming of the Lord; and in the face of such an administration as this will be, it is that the antagonistic path completes itself, into which the god of this world has led the counselors and the great men of these nineteen centuries. Do any inquire, as the watchman bide them, what the night-time is of this nineteenth century? and what is the fatal and final night? The answer is this: “So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness; and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet-colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” Moreover, “she had a golden cup in her hand, full of abominations, and filthiness of her fornication.” Isaiah's watchman cried out in his day, “If ye will inquire, inquire ye, return, come;” and Daniel the prophet, as well as the Apocalyptic apostle, the two watchmen who chronicle the approaching end of this age to us, cry, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear,” for the time is at hand l John, who describes the depth of the darkness of this horrible night-time, as well as its coming and closing judgments, cries out, “The ten horns which thou sawest upon [and] the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.” Once more, the watchman cries, “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
In the by-gone chronicles of God's actings with men, probation and their education were His own care, till they “changed the truth of God into a lie,” and then, judicially, “God gave them over to a reprobate mind, because they did not like to retain him in their knowledge.” These, as well as the theory and establishment of government and rule over the nations, are things of the past, and on the page of history; and yet these are the very subjects which the senates and parliaments have re-commenced, and which occupy them in their midnight sessions, as if they were out upon a voyage of discovery. How tedious and disappointing they find it, none knows so well as themselves, as one premier supplants his fellow and forms another cabinet, or dissolves the existing house of assembly and introduces a different policy; nor will we stop to inquire, for pity's sake. Enough for us to know they are in the darkness of the night, and laboring for very vanity. They have the wrong man in hand to make better, and the wrong world to garnish—the Cain, who went out from the presence of God at first, and, lastly, Barabbas instead of Jesus, when they cast Him out and killed Him—the God who came back into it in the person of His only-begotten and well-beloved Son. Woe be to the world that refused the mystery of the Child born and put Him into a manger, and, when wearied of Him, took Him down from the cross, and offered Him a sepulcher! Life and peace to a world, in which redemption out of its ruins is preached through the death and resurrection of Christ, is God's only remedy, by the Holy Ghost sent down from the Father and the Son in heaven, in the gospel of His grace, and in which world a free pardon is proclaimed through faith in the precious blood of Christ which they shed.
This refusal of God's only resource, as the Judge of the whole earth, is like demanding a new trial (if one may thus speak) at the throne of His Majesty, where the rejected Son is sitting, “till his enemies are made his footstool.” This demand is boldly maintained, moreover, by a refusal to accept the humbling fact of the worthlessness of man, as proved by his breakdown educationally in the school of Moses, or under the economy in Immanuel's land, when King Solomon reigned over the nations; or, finally, by the enmity and outbreak of the civilized world against God and His Anointed at the cross. In their eyes He is still without form or comeliness, for man and the world and the devil are the same; neither is there any beauty in the Son, or value in His work of redemption, that they should desire Him or it. If any think it may be otherwise now, and that national Christianity, together with the pretentious Congress in eastern and western Europe, may yet float these nations; or give them favor in the sight of God by the mockery of their established but contradictory religions; one only need point any such to the boasted “union” of the Church and State throughout the Roman earth, to falsify every expectation of “a morning without a cloud” from the mother of harlots and her daughters in these alliances with the beast. “Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings, be instructed, ye judges of the earth; serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him!” J. E. B.