"There shall be a song as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goes with a flute to come to the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel."—Isaiah 30:29
"But the people of God will sing a song of joy, like the songs at the holy festivals. You will be filled with joy, as when a flutist leads a group of pilgrims to Jerusalem—the mountain of the Lord—to the Rock of Israel." Isaiah 30:29
In the previous solemn services of today, our minds were directed to the typical significance of the first Passover in Egypt; which we endeavored to connect, by many remarkable particulars, with our own New Testament celebration.
I have thought I could not more appropriately wind up and close our sacramental meditations, than in the words just read from the great evangelical Prophet. They have reference to an interesting custom in the keeping of the Paschal Feast during subsequent ages of Hebrew history; when, year after year, every Israelite went up to Jerusalem. The multitudes which thronged there from all parts of Palestine were in the habit of traveling by night as well as by day—proceeding in bands or companies; cheering one another with the voice of psalms and sacred songs, or with the simple music of flute or tabret.
What a rush of thought must have filled the bosoms of these Pilgrims, as, under a clear passover moon, and making the valleys resound with their melodies, they drew near the City of Solemnities, to commemorate the mightiest epoch in their national history! Many and varied, we may suppose, would be the voices composing these night-strains, from the tremulous accents of the aged patriarch, who had traversed often before with hardier step the same journey, to those of the youth, who was now, at last, to have the ardent longings of boyhood realized, personally to be spectator of the glorious things spoken of the City of God.
We may imagine, as the secluded villages and hamlets, from the slopes of Lebanon to the borders of Idumea, poured out their groups, how many and pleasing themes of converse there would be by the way. Some, who, it may be, from varied causes had left their homes in sadness, disconsolate and desponding, would be cheered and invigorated by the sympathy of congenial minds. It would be a season of holy fellowship meetings between Israelite and Israelite. The voice of united prayer would mingle with that of praise—while the one object of their journey, the one keynote of their song, would cause every heart to thrill with gladness, "Our feet shall stand within your gates, O Jerusalem!"
But in due time, the solemnities are ended. The highways of Palestine are again thronged with the returning worshipers; these highways, lighted up with the waning passover moon, and its troop of attendant stars. The dead of night, once more, resounded with the Songs of Zion.
How many fresh thoughts must have crowded the minds of these wayfarers! How varied the feelings with which they would muse on the now ended festival! How brief (would not one of their reflections be)—how brief has been the joyous season. It seems but yesterday we were entering with bounding hearts within the Temple of our Fathers, and here we are again bidding it farewell. We looked forward for a long year to this festive meeting. It has come and gone. The vow has been made—the votive offering rendered. The sacred Gates are closed; and we are retraversing the road to our distant mountain and village homes!
Brief, is our experience also, are earth's best and most hallowed seasons of festal joy. We eat our paschal supper, as if, like the old Hebrews, with girded loins and sandaled feet and pilgrim staff—all indicative of pilgrim haste. The everlasting, uninterrupted, unending Festival is above; where the guests are assembled and associated, not for a fleeting hour, but for eternity!
The thought most appropriate to us, at this part of our service, is, that these Jewish wayfarers returned to their several homes to resume their usual occupations—the customary routine of everyday common life. They had been for days—perhaps weeks, unfamiliar with scenes of worldly toil. The laborer's busy task had been suspended. The vinedresser had laid aside his pruning-hook, the husbandman his plough—the fisherman's nets were spread on the shores of Galilee, and his boat slept on its shadow as it was moored to the rocks of Capernaum. A deep, unworldly solemnity had reigned within Jerusalem, as the nation, at the bidding of its God, kept its high holiday. But the hallowed Portals are shut—The Feast is over—the old heritage of work must be undertaken—the festive and holiday garments must be exchanged for the ordinary attire and as the groups hasten back to their homes along the highways, and by the plains and valleys, they see the tiller of land again in his field—the shepherd again with his crook in the midst of his flock—the Hebrew sailor has started afresh with his Tyrian cargo, and the fishermen on Gennesaret are again preparing for a night of toil.
So it is, brethren, with us. After the most sacred festal and sacramental seasons, the world's business and cares necessarily reassert their claims. Its din and bustle must again be heard and entered—and labor, God's own appointment—yes, gracious appointment—resumed.
BUT—think we, would these old Jewish worshipers (those who were worshipers indeed) in casting off their holiday attire, cast off also their holiday and festive spirit? In the midst of the coarse contacts of daily existence, would the recollections of the Jerusalem Festival no longer linger in their memories? No, rather, would not these Songs of Zion still haunt their ears and hang upon their lips?—would not the shepherd be heard chanting them in the midst of his fleecy charge by green pastures and still waters? would not the fisherman warble them in his nightwatch on the Lake? and the sailor as he bounded over the Great Sea, and the dim mountains of his Fatherland were receding from view? would not the cottager, as he reached his home among the hills of Kedesh or on the spurs of Hermon, evening after evening, in returning from his toil, gather his little ones by his knee, and rehearse to them the joyful remembrances of the holy season?
Be it ours, dear friends, while we leave the New Testament Feast, and engage—as engage we must—in our daily avocations, to carry the hallowed memories of it along with us. These Communion seasons, though only brief pausing places in life's pilgrimage, are intended too as Arbors for spiritual refreshment and revival in the ascent of the "Hill Difficulty"—to brace and strengthen for the everyday road which is again to be traversed, the steep and rugged mountain again to be climbed. While anew wearing the world's dress, and grappling once more with cares and duties, forbid that we should know, with regard to spiritual things and holy resolutions, the world's oblivion power—that we should suffer its engrossments to sweep our solemn impressions away—as the ripple marks on the sand are effaced and obliterated by the first rising tide!
Rather, in resuming our varied tasks and employments, let it be, with our hearts overflowing in gratitude to Him who summoned us to the place of solemnities, to ratify His covenant and give us festive pledges of His love. As we leave the banqueting-house, be it ours to take up in spirit the very strains which hung on the lips of returning Hebrews—and with heartfelt devotion, mingled with resolutions of new obedience, to say, "What shall I render unto God for all His benefits?" "The Lord has been mindful of us—He will bless us—He will bless the house of Israel—He will bless the house of Aaron—He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great."
"Those who fear the Lord, both small and great."—Among the multitudes of Jewish wayfarers resuming the familiar road to their native homes, none does imagination follow with deeper and kindlier interest than the young worshipers—those who had gone up to Jerusalem to gaze for the first time on the City of the Great King—to render their first offering, and pay their first vow. Many mothers in distant localities of the land would doubtless, during his absence, follow with prayerful emotion her son's earliest journey, and wait with trembling solicitude to hear the impressions of a never-to-be-forgotten pilgrimage. Are we wrong in thinking, that the character of not a few youthful Israelites would be permanently molded and influenced by that momentous era in opening life—that, with regard to not a few of them, the words of their great Psalmist were happily fulfilled—"Of Zion it shall be said, the Lord shall count, when He writes up the people, that this one was born here"?
And surely, if there be, among those who have come up today to our Gospel Passover, any whose circumstances are more interesting than others, it is those of young communicants.
How solemn and important this step in your spiritual history! One cannot but feel, with regard to most of you who have encompassed for the first time your Lord's table, that your characters too are just forming; that it depends much on the resolutions which you have now taken, and the manner you carry them out, what your future is to be. You have put your hand to the plough—see that you turn not back. Oh, endeavor to act out, and pray out, and live out, the firm resolve, that "whatever others do, as for you, you will serve the Lord." Be life's vista long or short, may you never cease to cherish a lively remembrance of your earliest Passover vow—that it may be with you as with the young Hebrews who, in leaving Jerusalem after their first festival, cast a lingering tearful glance on the Gates that were closing behind them—"If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill upon the harp. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I don't make Jerusalem my highest joy." Psalm 137:5-6
To all here present, young and old, would I repeat the benediction which has more than once been breathed upon you—that in "peace you may go from the Table of the Lord, and that the God of love and of peace may go with you!"
Among many other reflections which occurred to the Hebrew Pilgrim when the feast was over, and he found himself returning again to his home, would not this assuredly be one—'Shall I be spared to be there again?'—shall I ever again tread these hallowed courts? It may be, this is my last Passover. Before another such season comes round, I may be laid in the sepulcher of my fathers. My next Passover!—It may be in the New Jerusalem. I may be called to sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven!
My brethren, many of our former Communion feasts, as well as today's, have reminded us of the precarious tenure which binds us to earth's best blessings; and can we suppose it will be different in those that are to come? Or rather, will not new, solemn, warning bells be tolling in our ears? Oh, let this be the home question with each and all of us, as the Sanctuary doors are about to be closed—If today I have registered my last communion vow, prayed my last communion prayer, sung my last communion song—if the summons, before another Sacramental Sabbath comes round, were heard by me, which once fell on a patriarch's ear, "Get up and die,"—would I be able to respond "I am ready!" and looking, by faith, within the portals, on the great Communion Feast and Sabbath of Eternity, to say, "Open to me the Gates of Righteousness, I will go in to them, and I will praise the Lord"?
Meanwhile, let us return to our several homes, with new and more devoted purposes of obedience, with a higher ideal of what Life—may I even add, what Religion—should be? that it dare not, cannot be restricted to Sunday hours or Communion Seasons—that it is not a thing of the lip—of talk, or theory, or dogma, or barren speculation—neither is it expressed by moping countenance, or sullen and moodish divorce from the world's duties and business, its smiles and joys—but a great abiding, permanent principle of action. It is full of deeds. It shows on the character. It proclaims its presence and power by gentleness, and meekness, and patience, and unselfishness; by benignity and kindness; willing if need be to make sacrifices for Jesus, with the ever-present remembrance of the sacrifice and the cross which He so meekly accepted and endured for us.
As on this winding up of a Communion Service many years of solemn responsibility lie behind us, uttering their thousand conflicting echoes of hope and joy, of fear and sorrow—let the recording Angel stay his flight, until, once more, the one supreme message finds its fit parting utterance, and we are permitted yet again to urge upon one and all of you, old and young, rich and poor, to close with the free, full, glorious offers of a Great salvation. In that divine Master's name, around whose Table we have gathered this day—I adjure you, by all the bliss of heaven; by all the solemnities of judgment; by all the realities of eternity; by all the love that we have been commemorating; by Calvary's Cross and Calvary's Savior; by His agony and bloody sweat—by His Cross and Passion—by the spear that pierced His wounded side and the thorns that wreathed His bleeding brows—flee, oh flee to that most gracious Redeemer—flee, oh flee "from the wrath to come!"
Though it should be the last sentence I ever utter, the last proclamation I ever make—let that blessed Name be in it. Let it be enshrined in all its unspeakable and unutterable preciousness—Jesus only—Jesus wholly—Jesus first, last, all in all! Hark! does not the ear of faith even now listen to a song stealing down from the Church triumphant? It is from the guests within the veil!—the white-robed multitude at the great Communion Feast and Sabbath of glory. We have been identified and associated with them this day throughout every portion of our holy service. The same song has been thrilling on our lips, the same Name has been weaved like a golden tissue in our mutual anthem, "Unto Him who has loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood—and has made us kings and priests unto God and His Father—to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen!"
"From these blessed hours we borrow