There are seasons in life when everything seems to be shaking. Old landmarks are crumbling. Venerable foundations are upheaved in a night and are scattered abroad as dust. Guiding buoys snap their moorings, and go drifting down the channel. Institutions which promised to outlast the hills collapse like a stricken tent. Assumptions in which everybody trusted burst like balloons. Everything seems to lose its base, and trembles in uncertainty and confusion.
Such seasons are known in our personal life. One day our circumstances appear to share the unshaken solidity of the planet, and our security is complete. And then some undreamed of antagonism assaults our life. We speak of it as a bolt from the blue! Perhaps it is some stunning disaster in business. Or perhaps death has leaped into our quiet meadows. Or perhaps some presumptuous sin has suddenly revealed its foul face in the life of one of our children. And we are “all at sea!” Our little, neat hypotheses crumple like withered leaves. Our accustomed roads are all broken up, our conventional ways of thinking and feeling; and the sure sequences on which we have depended vanish in a night. It is experiences like these which make the soul cry out with the Psalmist in bewilderment and fear: “My foot slippeth” (Ps. 94:18). His customary foothold had given way. The ground was shaking beneath him. The foundations trembled.
Where can we find a footing? Where can we stay our souls? Where can we set our feet as upon solid rock amid the many things which are shaking? What things are there which cannot be shaken? (Heb. 12:27).
I wish to explore the Word of God, to recall one or two of these assurances in order that we may stay our souls upon them in the terrible strain and uncertainty through which we are passing, and in which we may have to live for many succeeding days.
The Supremacy of Spiritual Forces Cannot Be Shaken
The obtrusive circumstances of the hour shriek against that creed. Spiritual forces seem to be overwhelmed. We are witnessing a perfect carnival of insensate materialism. The narratives which fill the columns of the daily press reek with the fierce spectacle of barbaric labor and achievement. And yet, in spite of all this appalling outrage upon the senses, we must steadily beware of becoming the victims of the apparent and the transient. Behind the uncharted riot, there hides a power whose invisible energy is the real master of the field.
The ocean can be lashed by the winds into indescribable fury, and the breakers may rise and fall in crashing weight and disaster; and yet behind all the wild phenomena there is a subtle, mystical force which is exerting its silent mastery even at the very height of the storm. We must discriminate between the phenomenal and the spiritual, between the event of the hour and the drift of the year, between the issue of a battle and the tendency of a campaign. All of which means that, “While we look at the things which are seen, we are also to look at the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18). For remember, spiritual forces cannot be shaken.
The Power of Truth Can Never Be Shaken
Disloyalty may have its hour of triumph, and treachery may march for a season to victory after victory; but all the while truth is secretly exercising her mastery. In the long run, the labor of falsehood will crumble into ruin. There is no permanent conquest for a lie. You can no more keep the truth interred than you could keep the Lord in Joseph’s tomb. You cannot bury the truth, you cannot strangle her, you cannot even shake her! You may burn up the records of truth, but you cannot impair the truth itself! When the records are reduced to ashes, truth shall walk abroad as an indestructible angel and minister of the Lord!
There was a people in the old days who sought to find security in falsehood, and to construct a sovereignty by the aid of broken covenants. Let me read to you their boast as it is recorded by the prophet Isaiah: “We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement: when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us, for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves” (Isa. 28:15). And so they banished truth. But banished truth is not vanquished truth. Truth is never idle; she is ever active and ubiquitous, she is forever and forever our antagonist or our friend. “Therefore thus saith the Lord God . . . the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place . . . your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand. ” (Isa. 28:16-18). Thus saith the Lord! We may silence a fort, but we cannot paralyze the truth. Amid all the material convulsions of the day, the supremacy of truth remains unshaken.
The Law of Moral Retribution Cannot Be Shaken
Nothing that happens can bribe the nature of things and interfere with the dire and deadly sequence of cause and effect. And what is the law of moral retribution? It is this: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Nothing can shatter that! By no possible human device or expedient, and by no brilliancy of momentary triumph can we cheat the law, and escape the long reach of its inevitable process. “The wages of sin is death.” Not a death faraway removed, which allows a long interval of undisturbed vitality. The invasion of death is immediate. The entrance of death is coincident with the sin. This kind of death is not a final crisis, it is a present process; it is not a swift annihilation, it is a sure decay. When we sin, our nobler powers at once begin to die, our nobler strength begins to waste. There is no escape from the sequence. “The wages of sin” is benumbment, coma, death. Every sinful deed houses its own nemesis, and the nemesis becomes active at once. Nay, we may give the statement a more piercing inwardness still. Every iniquitous thought and purpose harbors its own nemesis, its own hostile and destructive germ, a germ which proceeds to immediate consumption. When we sin something dies, the nobler man or woman shrinks and shrivels, and is despoiled of some of the forces of vitality. That is the law of moral retribution. Study that law of retribution in the recorded history of King Saul. You can watch the gradual process, like a creeping paralysis, stealing over the soul. Nay, now and again there are spasms, or even seasons, of seeming triumph, while all the time you can almost see the law at work, dismantling the soul, drying up its vital energies, and holding it in the clammy grip of inevitable and unbribable death. “The wages of sin is death.” Amid all the tremblings and the uncertainties of life that law remains unshaken.
The Sovereignty of the Lord God Remains Unshaken
Earth-born clouds may veil His throne; they cannot destroy His decrees. The heavy cloud of circumstance gathered about the life of the prophet Isaiah, and he walked in uncertainty and confusion, as though his Lord had been taken away. But “in the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord, high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1). Yes, but in the day of obscurity, before the robe of darkness was rent, the holy Lord was still there, and so were the cherubim, and the seraphim, and all the ministering angels of righteousness and grace. The Lord cometh in the thick cloud (Ex. 19:9).
When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, and the American people were stunned by the blow, a vast crowd gathered in their bewilderment around the White House, and James Garfield came out upon the balcony of the house and cried aloud, in the words of an ancient Psalmist: “Clouds and darkness are round about Him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne” (Ps. 97:2).
Yes, we must distinguish between the battle smoke and the Great White Throne. God’s sovereignty may be hidden; it can never be broken. This book of the Scriptures is a stormy book, stormy from end to end. And yet it reveals the sovereignty of God.
The revelation of the sovereignty of God is not given only in green pastures, and in a balmy air, and under a blue and radiant sky. It is given amid social convulsions and upheavals, in the presence of menace and terror, amid the massed assemblies of material hosts. The revelation of His sovereignty is given when the hurricane is sweeping the land, and when all the watercourses have overflowed their banks. The Lord is revealed as King in the flood!
I turn to the Book of Revelation. It is full of dread and appalling movement. Dragons and beasts are rising mysteriously out of the sea, and upon their heads is the name of blasphemy. Multitudes are worshiping the beast, and the earth is choked with abominations. But in the thick of all the fierce, rebellious movement, and in the very heyday of unclean and hateful things, there is “the voice of a great multitude, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6).
Brethren, the sovereignty of the Lord God cannot be shaken. But the assurance of that sovereignty is not to lull us into laxity and ease. The revelation can be abused. It can be used as a sedative by the indolent, when it is purposed to be a tonic for the faithful.
“The Lord reigneth!” Every man, then, to his duty, that with both hands and a consecrated soul he may wholeheartedly do the King’s will.