You know that these words are taken from the hundred and second Psalm. There, they are addressed to God the Creator; here, to Christ the Redeemer. In both cases they express the same truths. Man finds himself here, looks out to what he can see around him, and then in thought passes on to what he cannot see. He knows that a very little while ago he was not here, he was not anywhere. He has an instinct within which tells him that though it is so short a time since he was not the time will never come when he will not be -- an instinct that cries for a permanent foundation. He is not such foundation himself -- he feels that. He stands upon the foundation of the earth: he did not lay it; it did not lay itself. Those layers of rock were not their own framers. But the foundation was laid. "Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth."
He is under a covering as well as on a foundation. He did not pitch that canopy, nor fix those lights, nor hang those curtains by whose silent closing and withdrawing the light is heightened or dimmed. "The heavens are the work of thy hand." But will these last? Will this earth that I stand upon last? No; I see on it the marks of age and decay as on myself. Like me it will perish. And those heavens that are over me, they shall perish -- will all things perish? Will everything that is go out of being? "Thou remainest." They shall wax old, it is true, but that is only as if a garment waxed old; "As a vesture shalt thou fold them up and they shall be changed." All this that the eye can see above, below, around, is to the great King but as the robe upon the Sovereign to his person, and dominion, and when he folds up that vesture and lays it aside he will command another wherewith to show his glory to his subjects. "They shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail!"
We have here a preacher, a listener, a subject: changeful nature, mortal man, immutable Godhead.
Changeful nature is a perpetual preacher, evermore proclaiming to us the twofold lesson, our own mortality and God's immutable glory and power. "Thy years shall not fail." What strange language applied to the Divine Being -- perfectly natural as applied to us -- "years!" Our life is finite, our life is measured, our life is dealt out to us in parcels. For us to speak of our "years" is natural, but when we look up to Him that is unmeasured, infinite, eternal, then this word "years" becomes but the representative of our small transient life when trying to contrast itself with his broad and Infinite Being. We are constantly speaking of two things wherewith we find ourselves related -- space and time: and what are they? We hardly know. We know but something like this: space is a measured distance in infinity; time a measured duration in eternity.
We are launched in the midst of a sea of eternity, and all the time that comes to us comes by solemn public measurement, measurement conducted in the most formal and stately manner by the hand of the Creator. He made that heaven from which we can never shut our regard -- we must see it; and in it He set those lights "for signs and for seasons and for days and for years." He might easily have given us a being that would have flowed on evenly from its beginning to its close without anything to mark it off into stages. We may almost watch a sunbeam starting from the sun and racing all the way to our world, passing over it, far on beyond it, till our eye and even our thought cannot follow it, and never anything to check or register its progress.
But not so the career that God has appointed to us. Everything is dealt to us under an economy of measure, of trust and of account. "For signs" -- He set those things above us for signs. Cannot earth be a sign to herself? Cannot man be his own directory? Cannot the seas and the mountains and the rivers and trees and houses be their own tokens? Try this. Let that ship at sea, on which the fog has settled, ask the waves to say where is north, south, east or west; and when the gale springs up and the clouds cover the heavens let her ask the winds to tell how far from port. No, if the heavens give no signs she has none, she cannot tell where she is or whither she is going.
Suppose you find yourself within a mile of the house in which you were born: you know, as you think, every step of the way as well as you know your own bedroom; but there is neither sun nor moon nor star, the heavens are completely shut off and you are left to earth alone. Will the trees tell you the way? Will the houses show themselves? Will the road be its own exhibitor? No, if heaven fails you you cannot even see your own hand. You are under the perpetual preaching of the sky, that all your hours and all your movements are dependent upon heaven!
"For seasons" as well as for signs. The Lord might easily have established our lifetime under a different economy; might have given us one perpetual summer, or a perpetual spring, or a uniform co-existence of all the seasons, the fruits being sown, ripening and reaped simultaneously. But not so. He has settled two things so clearly that none, even the most sordid worm that ever wriggled under the clay, showing himself above it as little as possible, can help seeing them. First a fixed order that nothing can change and that proclaims one Lord, one will, one dominion, one plan. The seasons come in regular succession. Every man living knows when the summer is gone that winter is coming. That will not and cannot be changed. Were the whole world to conspire in one effort that spring should come next it would be unavailing. The winter is coming. But with this fixed order is established perpetual change, variety, mutability, so that although we know the season that is coming we know not what kind of a season it shall be, and all our temporal interests hang upon that question. When the merchant has got his stock, when the man of pleasure has fixed for his party, when the General has planned his campaign, when the Admiral has laid down the arrangements for the battle, when the grand politician has perfected the plot for a new crisis of the world, what must they do? Not look to what the earth but what the heaven will do. Everything depends upon that. They cannot decide the market price even of hard sovereigns, they cannot foretell the value of their wheat, they cannot determine the life and health of their soldiers or the hours and effect of movements independent of that one consideration, what will the heavens do? Three days rain will change a whole campaign or a harvest. By the arrangement of the seasons we are constantly kept at the door of Divine mercy, begging "Give us this day our daily bread." That eternal voice preaching through all our temporal interests is to us the solemn, never-ceasing protest against worldliness, earthliness, vanity, living for time, living for the body; and, above all, against every impure or ungodly method of attempting to secure our temporal aims.
"For days" as well as for seasons. The season passes slowly, but the day -- oh what a solemn appointment is that! When the Lord made the sun to rule the day and the moon to rule the night it would have been very easy for Him to make two suns so that we should bask in perpetual daylight. But no, it was his will that our life should be cut into very short lengths and that by a mark so deep, broad, black, that the dullest man could not escape its impression. The dark gulf that lies between the dead day and the day unborn is the ever recurring remembrancer -- Thy days are numbered; thy life is held under law; thy time is a measured current of golden sands. Every particle as it comes may easily slip away, if unwatched will slip, and once past thy hand it will be borne off by the rushing river and thou shalt never see it again, but if caught, held and brought to the mint of the great King it will there be turned into precious coin to serve in perpetuity the double purpose of enriching man and recording the majesty of God. Seize upon thy days as they pass! The heavens tell thee to do it; the dark and mantled earth tells thee; thy drowsy faculties tell thee; thy weary limbs tell thee; all are saying "numbered, numbered, numbered." Life is running away fast.
Not only for days but "for years." The days, as I have said, are short; they pass rapidly, and we calculate that the days of our years are threescore years and ten. And when you come to multiply 70 by 365 it makes a very large number, and if we have lost a few handfuls of days, well, cannot we make them up? Have we not been young, and are we not in this pleasant watering place, where one must see life and have a little pleasure, and if we do throw away a few days, why, cannot we recover them? Can we say that of the years? Are the years so very plentiful -- such a large number assured to you that you can afford to squander a few, to turn them not only to useless purposes but to bad ones. Can you? -- the years! -- oh is not it wonderful, the way in which thy Lord and my Lord, thy Creator and my Creator, marks out before our eye the progress of the years?
Perhaps you may remember in childhood watching the day as it grew and spread itself out, making conquests from the night and winning moments, minutes, hours, till you began to think the day was going to do away the night. You saw it stretching over the hours that once were dark till it seemed as if the tips of the sunset touched the tips of the sunrise, and still the light was gaining so that in a little time the darkness would be all driven away and it would be day the twenty-four hours round. But just then the night began to come back and the day grew shorter, dimmer, colder, and the darkness spread itself over the light till it seemed as if in its turn the day was going to be quenched and darkness to wrap up the whole twenty-four hours. But then the day returned.
Was it an accident this first time? Would it ever occur again? You watched it: just the same process and at the same time, and you began to feel -- it is a wheel! with its regulated, measured appointed movement; steady, by rule it rises to a certain point, and then comes down to a certain point, then turns again and comes up. It is a perfectly balanced wheel, making its revolution steadily, steadily. I did not fix those revolutions: the great Architect did! He knows how many the wheel itself can perform; He knows what each revolution marks off and what it accomplishes, and He knows too how many shall measure off my thread of life. I do not know the number, you do not know; but this we do know, it is marked upon the dial, and we are tolerably sure it is not more than threescore and ten. Suppose you saw the dial of life before your eye as plain as that dial is and the hand pointing twenty, thirty, forty, fifty of the divisions gone -- gone never to return! Suppose you felt that that hand was pressing forward and would point and point to successive lines till at last, without a moment's warning, the hour will strike and it is over, no recall! Man of twenty, proud of thy youth! man of fifty, proud of thy maturity! man of seventy, proud of thy years! are you prepared to meet your God? Has your time been spent with a view to eternity? Has the measure of your days been taken? Has the course of your years been run in holiness? If not, by the deep voice of the heavens above thee; that voice which evermore is speaking; by the night and the day, and the season and the year, I charge thee prepare to meet thy God. For thy time is passing and eternity at hand.
"Thy years shall not fail." The thought of man never feels that it can say this to nature. He sees the stones themselves have marks of age and decay -- the very mountains, the very seas tell of change and limit. And in the skies too far off for us to trace decay we trace something else -- measure. Everything is measured. The moon goes by measure and the sun by measure, and the way of the stars is all measured. There are clear tokens that not one of them is its own master or gives its own law. One government moulds them all. They say "We serve." I take up the blade of grass and at once feel He that made that grass made the light of day, the dew of the morning, the beast that feeds upon it. One law pervades them all. I take up the corn. He that made that made the sun that ripens it and the soil that fattens it, and my blood that is my life. Everywhere is one mind, one plan, one hand, one sceptre, and all nature says "I serve, I serve. There is a force external to myself. I am measured. I move by rule." "I revolve," says every wheel in the heaven, "I roll round by regular law." "Measure" always means "beginning." That which is measured must have begun. Beginning always suggests the possibility of end. That which once was not hereafter may not be. Nature fails to fill the mind of man in any one of the three directions -- the past, the future, the outward and the infinite. It cannot fill up this thought of ours that claims an eternity before, an eternity coming, an infinity on every side; and we feel nature is like ourselves -- a servant, a creature, a machine, an organ, and every part of it proclaims a mind that lived before it.
Then will all things fail? all decay? No -- "Thy years shall not fail." We turn to Him that made the law whereby the blade of grass grows, that whereby the sun statedly comes to it, that whereby the animal feeds upon it, that whereby the man lives upon the animal, and that whereby the human mind reigns over the animal, cultivates the grass and makes use of the light. We come to that great Being whom all these things indicate and proclaim. In Him we find no external law or force compelling Him. At his footstool all say "We serve," and to all He says either "Be" or "Do" or "Do not." We find in Him no internal decay. Years come, ages come, worlds arise and worlds pass away, but "Thou art the same" -- the same in strength, the same in youth, the same in beauty, the same in glory, the same in wisdom. Never old, only "ancient of days." "Over all, God blessed for ever. Amen."
The years of his divine existence shall never fail, the years of his redeeming reign shall never fail. As I said, this Scripture is quoted from the hundred and second Psalm. If you turn to it you will find in it a contrast between man's perishing life and the eternal lifetime of the Lord; and especially the glorious lifetime of his Messiah and Messiah's kingdom. "My days are like a shadow that declineth, I am withered like grass." The Bible makes everything preach -- it makes the sparrow preach and the bush preach, and the grass and the lily. It makes even the very shadows preach -- "My days are like a shadow that declineth." Perhaps sometime in the morning you have stood and seen the great tree lying on the east of the hill, throwing its shadow broad and thick over the hill-side as if it really was a substance. But as the sun went up in the sky that shadow gradually shrank down until it totally disappeared under the leaves of the tree. My days are like that shadow -- perhaps not like that only. You may have seen in the very bright moonlight shadows lying across the street till they looked solid as if they were something, so much so that the young colt started from them. But a cloud passed over the moon and where was the shadow? My days are like that. "But thou, O Lord, shalt endure for ever; and thy remembrance unto all generations." The remembrance of man is calling to mind those who are no more; the remembrance of God is calling to mind Him that is unseen. "Thy remembrance shall endure unto all generations. Thou shalt arise and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favour the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory." Not only will his days endure but his kingdom will endure; not only will it endure but it will go forward with a perpetual progress. "Thou shall arise and have mercy upon Zion." The Lord is building a city in the world, a city that hath foundations, a city that is compacted together, a city that has its families and houses and companies, its solemnities and social joys; a city that is all one brotherhood though composed of every nation and kindred and people. The Lord will arise in his strength to build this city and one of the signs for his time to favour her is when her children take pleasure in her stones and favour the dust thereof. We have that sign in our day. God's children are taking pleasure in the stones of Zion and favouring the dust thereof. Let us then, looking at the sign, lift up our eye for the fulfilment of the promise, "When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in his glory." We are trying to build Zion and the Lord is pleased to see it; but let us call upon Him -- "Appear in thy glory! Do thou come and build! Give us the living stones, bring them to us by thy power out of the rocks, out of the heights and depths we cannot reach unto wilt thou not bring living stones to thy temple?" Call and He will come and He will build, and "the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord."
You will say, "They have not heard it yet" -- but they shall. You say many that have heard it do not fear it, but they shall, they shall fear the name of the Lord -- "and all the kings of the earth thy glory." The kings fear his glory! They think of ancestral glory, courtly glory, military glory, political glory; they do not think about Christ and his glory. But they shall, they shall fear his glory. The proudest kings in the earth shall feel that the glory of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is to them much as the sun is to that shadow I have spoken of upon the hill. Their glory must pale and pass away. It is but a little time ago, only nineteen centuries ago, since Christ had no kingdom in the earth, no follower, no temple, no power. Now is there a monarch in the world will come out and say, "I shall sweep the name, the law, the love, the power of Christ out of the earth?" No, of all powers now acknowledged there is none so deep, wide and mighty.
Every day adds to that power; every year opens to it new spheres, new languages, new adherents, and on will it go and on till the whole earth is subdued under the power of the Lord and his Christ. What is the instrument of its progress? "He will regard the prayer of the destitute and not despise their prayer." Not despise prayer! Why, do not the wise men of the world despise prayer? Do not many talkers tell us that prayer is a thing not to be looked upon as a force in the light of elevated reason? You may despise it if you please and try to rear a kingdom over human souls on a system that does. God will not despise it, Christ will not despise it. There is a kingdom to be invoked by prayer, with its throne and its crown and its sceptre. All the powers of that kingdom are moved with the cry of a destitute heart. It is so, and you cannot alter it. "This shall be written for the generation to come," how you go and write down that prayer is of no effect, and we will write "He will not despise their prayer," and let the "generation to come" judge. Your predecessors, eighteen hundred years ago, wrote what you say -- ours wrote these words, and see the kingdom of Christ to-day! "This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people." What people "shall praise the Lord?" The people that are in Jerusalem? No. In Rome? in Athens? No. What people? The people that are not anywhere; the people that are neither in heaven nor in earth; "the people that shall be created." "That shall be created" -- existences now not existing, beings now not being, offspring of God and members of the family of immortals not yet born -- they shall praise the Lord. Coming up out of the dark of that great future they shall rise to obey the King we worship and to praise the Saviour we love. "For He hath looked down from the height of his sanctuary: from heaven did the Lord behold the earth." Ay, from that holy place, that sanctuary -- from that high place, that heaven -- He looked to behold this earth, this vile place, this base place. Yet it was not to curse it -- He looked "to hear the groaning of the prisoner; and to loose those that are appointed to death." Here in every corner of the world you will see a man who is appointed to death, accused, guilty, a lawbreaker, with witness heard and evidence taken and judgment recorded -- the sentence is against him. Oh, if we had an eye such as looks from above how many might we see in this fair congregation who are condemned to death. You know it; you are breakers of eternal law; just judgment is against you; you are appointed to death, and unless you are delivered from that condemnation die you shall, die by a public execution before all worlds in the great day. But He comes to deliver them "that are appointed to death" -- to bring you pardon, to bring yon salvation, to bring you mercy, to make you a child of God, to blot out all the sin that you have committed. Christ died that you might be delivered; reigns that you may be delivered, and this day He is speaking to thy heart that thou mayest turn from thy sin, seek mercy and follow Him in the way of life.
So the Psalmist goes on ever anticipating the growth and stability of this kingdom. "He weakened my strength in the way; He shortened my days." God does not make his Church and work to depend upon the length of any man's days. "I said, O my God take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are throughout all generations. 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 shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shall thou change them, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end." Ay, and there is something else that has no end. The heavens shall perish, the earth shall perish. God will endure. And will nothing else endure. Yes, "The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee." The servants, the children of God, those that are born again by the Spirit's grace, those that come to Christ, the Messiah, and through Him recover, by adoption, the place in the family of God that was lost by sin, they shall continue, they shall be established. What! when the earth flees away? Yes, when the earth flees away. What! when the heaven falls? Yes, when the heaven falls; they shall be established with the same immortality as their Father in heaven. "Thy years shall not fail." God will not fail; Christ will not fail; the Rock of Ages will not fail; and all and every one that through Christ is in God will never fail. The world will pass away, the word of God will not pass away, and the child of God will not pass away.
Take then this word to thy heart and say "Thy years shall not fail." It will give you a worthy fear. Man is always rightly or wrongly fearing something. One is afraid of a man that has him in his power. He says, "If I offended him I should lose my bread; it would be as much as my living is worth; I must take care not to offend him;" and rather than offend that man he will stain his conscience and offend his God. Come back in twenty years and ask where that man is, and they will take you to his grave, and that was what you were afraid of! Another fears this bright, witty, active young man, whose word either cuts or flatters with amazing power. He feels as if he could not face him; as if he could not bear that he should look him in the face and call him a saint or tell him he had been praying to God or been commending his soul for mercy to Christ. If he said these things to him it would actually appear as if it was something against him, something he ought to be ashamed of! Come back in twenty years and enquire for him -- perhaps you will find him in a mad-house, perhaps in a gambling-house, perhaps in chains among convicts. Perhaps you will find a broken-hearted mother in black, wishing that he had never been born, and that is what you are afraid of! Another is afraid of the fashion. Every one does it, and if he did not do it he would be remarked. Every one says there is no harm in it, and if he scrupled they would make fun of him, and on this account he will do a thing that he knows ought not to be done. Come back in two generations and enquire from the grandchildren of these people about this fashion and you will find they are all laughing at the folly of their grandfathers and grandmothers. And that is what you are afraid of! Set the Lord alway before you. Say, "Thy years shall not fail. Thou art worthy to be feared. I will fear thee. Thou hast power -- power over my breath, over my body, over my day, over my night -- power to destroy both body and soul in hell; power to kill, power to make alive; power to condemn, power to save; power to cast me down, power to lift me up to heaven -- I will fear thee, O God in Christ, and be thou my only fear."
Set the Lord alway before you and there you will find a sure refuge. Nature is changing and decaying, and we are changed faster than nature. We are all passengers in a ship that is floating in an ocean and has fire in her hold. This air around us has an ocean in it, an ocean of real water, and did God will it a little change in the weight of the air would bring a universal deluge. This earth has fire in it, stores of fire, and did God will a very little change in the chemistry of the air it would be a universal blaze. We are passengers, I say, in a ship sailing in an ocean with fire in the hold, and we know that the fire is to break out and that the moment will come when the ship will be burnt up. You and I are pacing this deck with the fire beneath, and the day, the hour, the moment, that the signal will be given no man living can tell. Are we prepared to meet our God? Can we look forth from this frail world unto that infinite bosom of eternal rest and say, "Thou art mine and I am thine to all eternity?" You may look to other refuges but they are not secure, to other coverts but they are not safe. Here is the Rock of Ages and that rock is cleft for you. God manifest in the flesh. Behold Christ crucified and flee to Him, flee for refuge, flee to-day; once in Christ you will know that you are safe. Let the storm come, let the winds blow, let the floods beat, let the fires break out, safe! safe! safe! Nothing can move Him and nothing can touch thee. Thou shalt "dwell under the shadow of the Most High."
Set the Lord alway before thee and you will have an unfailing stay, an unfailing resource. Many things you may think will not fail. Here is the old man, and his friends tell him he does not fail, and how he likes to hear it! "Thy years do not weigh thee down." He goes on and it seems as if to him the years come as the snow falls on the mountains, not to enfeeble but to embellish. He does not fail. Ay, but he will fail and be bowed down to the dust. And the wiry woman that has gone through enough to kill many and yet hath more spirit and energy than the young. Ay, she shall fail too; you will see her smitten and trodden under the grass. "Well I know I must fail," one says, "I am failing, but then there is my boy, I shall never want some one to lean upon, I can trust him." Ah! he may fail; you may stand by the grave where they are saying, "Dust to dust," or you may with your hands over your eyes look upon a sadder grave where his character lies corrupting. Another says, "Well, I know I am failing, but there is my daughter so good and sweet and true -- I shall never want a comforter for my old age." Ah, you do not know, she may fail, you may have to weep over her coffin or to blush over her faults. And another says, "Well, I have never depended upon anything but my own honest industry. I have something to rely upon. Mine is not speculation, it is good steady business -- I can trust it." Can you? can you? God may permit you by one mistake to undo the doing of a life. "But I am not depending upon the chances of business -- my position is secure -- settled property. I shall not fail." Are you sure? You know not the ways by which earthly things can make themselves wings and flee away; or if they do not flee you may depart from them. Another says, "Well, I have never trusted to anything but my right hand and I shall not want -- wherever I go I can take care of myself." Ay, but suppose the right hand should fail? As long as the strong arm and the strong will work together it is well, but suppose a day should come when an invisible knife should pass between the arm and the will: and the will said, "Stretch forth!" but the arm hung idle by the side. It may fail. "Well, but my heart never fails me; whatever goes wrong I can make the best of it." But suppose your heart should fail and that you became one of those to whom the grasshopper was a burden, one that made the worst of everything, that could look no difficulty in the face. Your heart may fail, your flesh may fail, your money may fail, your employ may fail, your friends may fail, everything upon earth may fail. If you have Christ for your friend you will never fail, if you have God for your Father you have a shelter, a home, a comfort that will never fail. If you have not you have nothing that you can count upon. Then come this day, come and say to all the shadows, "I trample over you, I clasp the substance. Holy God, my Eternal Father, let me be reconciled to thee! Be thou my God! Make me thy child! Give me a part and a lot in the family of the holy! For the sake of Jesus, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, write my name in thy book of life and cover me from the storm that is coming, so that amid the change of life and the ruin of death, the awe of the judgment-day, my spirit may abide under an everlasting shelter! may look forward to the eternity that is to be and say to it, 'Welcome -- open all thy scenes -- uncover thy deepest secrets -- world of the unknown, bring out all that thou hast hidden, for all things are mine, for I am Christ's, and Christ is God's.'" Amen and Amen.