Archibald G. Brown, December 5th, 1869, Stepney Green
"And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah Nissi. [The LORD is My Banner]" Exodus 17:15
Murmuring is sure to lead to trouble, and rightly so. Those who murmur about everything must not be surprised if God gives them some trial worthy of being talked about. The children of Israel had found fault with Moses without cause, and so, consequently, the Lord visits their sin with the rod. They had murmured against the Lord, and against His servant, concerning the scarcity of water. "Why is this" they demanded of Moses, "that you have brought us up out of Egypt to kill us, and our children, and our cattle, with thirst!" So hot did their anger wax, and so unbridled was their wrath, that Moses feared even for his life, and in his cry to his God declares "they are almost ready to stone me!" Exo 17.3-4.
The Lord gave the ungrateful rebels drink, for at the touch of the wonder-working rod, the Rock of Horeb poured forth its streams in the desert; but Israel's sin has its condemning monument in the very name of the place, for it was called Meribah, or 'chiding.'
But no sooner were their wants supplied than at once Amalek came upon them at Rephidim. Wherever there is a Meribah, there is sure to be a Rephidim close by. Long did the battle last, sore was the fight; from morning until the going down of the sun might be heard the clash of steel and the shouts of those engaged in the combat. The battle surged continuously from one side of the valley to the other. Now there is a shout from the ranks of Amalek, "They flee, they flee!" and shortly we see Israel make a fresh attack, and with an impetuous rush that carries everything before it, they turn the tide of battle, and hew their way to victory. The enemy staggers; their courage fails; and for a moment panic seizes all the ranks. They make one more desperate attempt, and with the energy of despair, they again close their columns and show a bristling front. But all in vain; Israel like an overwhelming flood bursts full upon them, and with the shout, "The Lord Almighty is with us!" sweeps on to final conquest. It was no mere defeat — it was an entire rout.
Why was glorious victory thus secured for Israel's side? The answer is easily given. The fight was the Lord's, and not man's. The triumph came from the arm of Jehovah, not from the weapons or His people; and consequently, Moses did right when he erected an altar, and called the name of it 'Jehovah Nissi;' which is, being interpreted, 'the Lord is my Banner.'
The Lord looked down upon the conflicting armies — but not as an unmoved and uninterested spectator. The battle was the Lord's, and though unseen, He occupied the field. On Amalek He frowned, and that frown withered their strength and froze their prowess. On Israel, His smile rested like a golden sunbeam; and that smile nerved their arms with tenfold might and rendered them invincible. "Ah, Amalek, you have entered upon a hopeless encounter; no feeble man of dust has taken the field against you; but arrayed before you is the God of battles." The Lord who is a "man of war," Exo 15.3 has come clothed with thunder to meet you, and not merely do the stars fight against you (as with Sisera) — but He who upholds them in their courses. Where God wars, there can be no question about the victory; and where his banner leads, there can be no defeat.
But let us now forget the ensanguined armies and concentrate our thoughts on the up-reared altar and the title given to it, "Jehovah Nissi." Surely, beloved, we have here in richest metaphor our Lord Jehovah Jesus. Who is a Banner but He? And of whom but He can the exulting saint exclaim "Jehovah Nissi!" We will look upon this subject in several aspects, and try and discover in what respects our Master is the banner.
Our divisions will be as follows:
First, the banner was always the center of attraction.
Next, Christ as a banner is the banner of all Christendom.
Christ as a banner, is a banner unfurled.
As a banner, He is the subject of continual attack.
As a banner, He gives the signal for 'March;' and
He is a banner that always leads to certain victory.
I. The Banner was the Center of Attraction.It was usually planted on some hilltop or eminence where, from far and wide, it might be seen. From all quarters the hosts marched forward, converging to that spot, and around the unfurled banner, they pitched their great encampment. Can we not see in this a lively picture of our Lord, and the attractive power of Him who said, "And I if I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me"? John 12.32
Does this not depict the one concerning whom the dying patriarch said (while the film of death was fast glazing his eye), "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the gathering of the people." Gen 49.10. Yes, it is a blessed truth that whenever and wherever Christ is lifted up, then and there his power to attract is made plain.
"But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself!" John 12:32. Whenever and wherever Christ is lifted up, then and there His power to attract is made plain. The elect of God, drawn by a power they have no ability or will to resist, take their places beneath the cross. The uplifting of Christ crucified, is God's chosen means to draw to Himself His elect, yet hidden people. The cross is the divine magnet that draws with irresistible force, hearts of steel. So mighty is its magnetic power, that it attracts those on whom all other means have failed.
Let us for a moment turn to the book of our remembrance and peruse its pages, and we will find this fact written in them. Long had we heard the loving tale of Christ's humiliation — we had seen Him as the weary traveler, and as the weeping mourner — and yet our stony hearts remained untouched.
We had often been compelled to take our stand before Mount Sinai; but though its lightnings flashed into our very eyes, and its thunders crashed right over head, our heart remained hard as rock — yes, pride seemed more rampant in that dread storm than ever — we felt we might be broken — but we resolved we would never bend.
There have been moments when Hell argued with us, and all its sentences were written in glowing flame; moments when eternal perdition forced itself upon our thoughts, and made us dread the death that never dies. But though our knees shook with fright, our flinty hearts remained unmelted.
Sinai and Hell both failed. So also did Heaven, for though we read of its glories, and heard tell of its joys, and sometimes had a languid desire at last to find our way there — but we still remained unattracted, and reveled in the vain world.
But when a bleeding Savior hanging on a tree met our sight, then not only were our eyes riveted — but an unseen hand touched every heart-string. We looked — and looked — and looked again — and felt that as we looked, we were being drawn with silken cords nearer, yet nearer still, until we found ourselves as penitents at His blessed feet!
Beautifully has old John Newton described this sweet experience as his own:
"In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear;
Until a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career!
I saw One hanging on a tree.
In agonies and blood.
He fixed His languid eyes on me.
As near His cross I stood.
Sure never til my dying breath.
Can I forget that look!
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
A second look He gave, which said
I freely all forgive;
This blood is for your ransom paid,
I die, that you may live!"
Surely there are hundreds here this evening who are living witnesses to the truthfulness of what we are saying. And is it any marvel or wonder that an uplifted Christ has this power? I answer 'No,' for on this unfurled banner can be read an answer to every fear, and a supply for every need.
The trembling conscience-stricken sinner, whose one desire is to obtain "peace with God," looks up with anxious eye, and reads upon the waving banner, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God!" Romans 5.1.
The poor, weary, worn-out sinner, whose one thought is "rest," lifts up his eyes and reads, "Come to me all you that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."
The friendless and forlorn wanderer, near broken-hearted, looks up to this banner, and sees amid its ample folds, emblazoned as in golden letters, "There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother." Prov 18.24
The soul, quivering like aspen leaf through fear and dread of coming days reads, "Surely I will be with you."
The sinner nearly in despair, through an overwhelming sense of his own defilement, reads written in the very center of the banner as its chief scroll, "Come now and let us reason together," says the Lord; "though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow!" Isaiah 1.18. "Ah," he says, "that just suits me," and he takes his stand with the ever-increasing multitude at the cross foot.
Thus is the cross of Jesus our glorious banner; the center of attraction to weary, sin-sick souls. God grant that it may be so this evening, and out of this thronging multitude may an uplifted Savior draw many.
II. Christ as our Banner, is the Banner of all Christendom.On this part of our subject I desire to speak with the greatest plainness, as I am confident that here many mistakes are made. "Jehovah Nissi" is no mere sectarian or denominational flag — but the royal ensign of a royal host. No one sect can claim it as its own, to the exclusion of others. It belongs equally to all who have been called to the "good fight," no matter to what portion of the militant host they may belong. Do not think for a moment that I would advocate the surrender of our party colors, or plead for the extinction of denominations. Such a thing is an impossibility, and even if it could he accomplished, I would be sorry to see it done.
An army is none the worse — but all the better for being made up of separate companies; and it is no dishonor to a soldier if he loves his own regiment the most, and thinks it the best. A union at the sacrifice of truth is not to be desired or prayed for. But let us beware lest in flaunting our distinctive banner, we hide from the eyes of any, the royal ensign — lest we become so absorbed in the success of our own party, that we grow indifferent as to the progress of the entire host. "Victory all along the line!" must be our prayer and shout, and nothing else must be allowed to satisfy us.
We all look to the upraised standard and together say "my Banner." The Lord grant that there may speedily be a more general recognition of this oneness among His people: a nearness to each other through a universal nearness to Christ. Let our party flags be seen by all means; but grouped around Jehovah Nissi, not planted in its separate place.
It is narrated that during the times of the Crusade, when the lion-hearted Richard I of England, the Emperor of Austria, and the King of France were jointly waging war against the heroic heathen Saladin, a jealousy sprang up in the camp between England and Austria. And one morning the British banner was found lying in the dust on St. George's Mount, with the standard of Austria occupying its place. No sooner did impetuous Richard hear of the insult offered to the royal ensign, than he strode forth alone, and before the assembled hosts hurled Austria's ensign to the ground, and caused the British Lion once more to take pre-eminence, remarking, "Your banners may be planted around mine — but never take its place." So let it be with us, beloved. Upon the St. George's Mount of our heart and life, let the Lion of Judah, Jehovah Nissi, alone have the place of honor.
III. Our Banner is a Banner Unfurled.Jehovah Nissi is no flag whose folds hang idly drooping in the quiet security of some castle, a mere relic of the past, to be gazed on as a curiosity — but never again planted on the battlements. It is this evening, as it has ever been, a banner exalted and unfurled.
When first man fell, and innocence departed, then was Jehovah Nissi raised in Eden's garden. True, it was but very partially unfurled, and its rich folds hung in drooping wreaths — but still our fallen parents read the promise it was reared to tell, "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Gen 3.15.
Time rolled on, and the days of continual sacrifice approached; but through the incensed smoke that rose from off the brazen altar could be dimly seen yet more unfurled, "Jehovah Nissi". And now the prophets grasp it, and shake out yet more its folds, and in the hands of silver-tongued Isaiah it spread so wide that an astonished world read, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities! The chastisement of our peace was upon Him — and with His stripes we are healed."
After the prophets, our Lord Jesus Himself planted the banner high on Calvary's cross; and from that eminence, it streamed in all its beauties while men and angels wondered. From that time right down to the present moment, there have never been hands lacking to lift it high. By earnest ministers — by martyr missionaries — by devoted teachers in our Sabbath Schools — by laborious tract distributors — the banner has been uplifted.
How joyous is the thought that before the eyes of assembled millions, this banner is being raised this evening. Who can tell in how many sanctuaries — in how many mission rooms in the dark places of the city — by how many dying beds — are faithful standard-bearers to be found, who,
"Point to His redeeming blood,
And cry, Behold the way to God!"
IV. Christ as a Banner is the subject of continual attack.An eminent German writer has said, "It is no wonder that it is so, for the enemy knows that for a host to lose its banner is not only a great loss — but a great disgrace, and almost worse than a defeat."
If this banner can be wrung from the hands that hold it, rest assured no artifice will be untried, no power left unemployed. "Christ crucified," stirs up all the animosity of the infernal foe, and awakens his fear — for well he knows that while this alone is the preacher's theme, there is but little hope for him. He has no objection to Christ as mere man, or Christ as a model teacher. But Christ as a divine substitute — Christ the Son of God, on Calvary's tree — Christ, the sinner's only hope — is an uplifted banner that must be trampled in the dust, if it can by any means be accomplished. To this end, he tries to dazzle the eyes of God's host by the flashy, flimsy, tawdry rags of Ritualism and bastard Popery, and seeks to induce the host to accept them in exchange for Jehovah Nissi. Rally round the banner, friends, and treat with indignant scorn, so base and insulting an exchange. Exclaim with old Dr. Watts —
"Should all the forms that men devise
Assault my faith with treacherous art,
I'd call them vanity and lies,
And bind the Gospel to my heart!"
The next point (and it is one I am desirous to force home with all my power) is this,
5. "Jehovah Nissi" is a banner that gives the signal for "march." There is, I believe, a semi-infidel society now in existence which has had the astounding impudence to call itself "The Church of Progress." The name which it has pilfered rightly belongs to the church purchased with a Savior's blood. Inscribed on its banner is "Onward," and its war-cry for ages has been "Forward."
Jehovah Nissi leads to battle. It summons to the glorious war of conquering the world for Christ. It proclaims a grand crusade against Satanic strongholds, sin, and darkness. The very mention of its name recalls to memory deeds of heroic daring and life-long struggle. What noble hands have grasped it, and planted it through seas of blood upon the frowning battlements of the foe! What heroes have died beneath its folds! Let the history of the past inspire us. God has never been without His standard-bearers, and never will be. The dying hands of one have never relaxed their hold, before others have grasped the tottering banner, and carried it to further victory.
Stephen, the first martyr, falls amid the frenzied cries of execration of an enraged mob; but the banner he bore so well only falls into the hands of a Philip, who unfurls it with marvelous effect amid the superstitious region of Samaria. It came into the hands of Paul, who in a few short years, planted it triumphantly in Diana-worshiping Ephesus — refined but idolatrous Athens — and grossly licentious Corinth, with its infamous temple of Venus. I would to God, there was more in our day of his fiery ambition to see cities and countries won to Christ — "Men a-dying to see men converted."
There has been lately a growing conviction in the minds of many, that God's church has in some measure been making a retrograde movement, and losing its passion for souls. Jehovah Nissi was never placed in our hands for us to be calmly indifferent; but to inspire us with an absorbing ambition for its increase of glory. There are dark places in the great East-end of London that need the bright shining of the gospel — habitations of ignorance and vice which by their very wretchedness, cry aloud for the "help of the Lord against the mighty." Judges 5.23
One has but to take a walk along the squalid streets and endless courts that surround this sanctuary, to be convinced of the truth of what I state. He must have a heart that is something less than human, who can make such a tour of inspection, and yet return to his home with a soul anything but saddened and sickened with the sights he has been obliged to witness. Often we are forced with desponding spirit to exclaim, "Great God, how small a portion of the city, after all the efforts that have been put forth, dwells beneath the shadow of your glorious banner."
"Arise," Christians, "Arise!" You members of this Church, "Arise," and see if you cannot by some means help to stem the flowing, filthy stream of sin that pours past your very doors, and enlighten the murky gloom that surrounds with deathly blackness the small Goshen where you dwell. God forbid that any of us should be slumbering, while souls are being damned.
By that solemn hour of death, when the past — with its opportunities, used and abused — will rise into view, and by the awful Day of Judgment, when stewardships will have to be accounted for — I beseech you, by earnest pleadings with your God, and ceaseless efforts for the souls of men, to plant the Banner in some fresh hearts and neighborhoods. My greatest ambition and most earnest prayer is to see a noble crusade made by this Church against the principalities and powers, and strongholds of sin that surround us! Oh that God would inflame your hearts and mine to hurl themselves into the battle!
Beloved, this evening we would proclaim a fresh crusade to deliver immortal souls from Hell! Inspired with the desire, do you cry, "Banners! Banners! Banners!" We give them to you tonight. In every hand we place one bearing this device, "Jehovah Nissi!" Wave it, child of God — wave it while you can raise an arm — and if you fall upon the field, let its folds be your martial cloak around you, while your hand still clutches it in the death-grasp.
And now, lastly, let us for a minute or two dwell upon this blessed truth that
6. Jehovah Nissi always leads to certain victory.This is more than can be said of earth's banners. 'Tis not many years since one of the mightiest armies imperial power could command, marched eastward with the eagle banner of France, led by one whose very name had always seemed a guarantee of victory. With confidence and thoughts of spoil, they marched from town to town. Did they not follow the banner that had waved triumphantly over a thousand bloody fields? Was not "the General" at their head? Success was certain. View that same army in its return from Moscow. See it after it has met upon the field, a Russian winter. Who can recognize in those straggling groups, leaving the dying and the dead behind them at every stop — the once gallant army, that swept on with martial steps in all the pomp and pageantry of war. So much for confidence in the banner of an empire.
But, child of God, Jehovah Nissi shall lead to no such bitter disappointment and disaster. Its presence in the camp is victory itself. Does it lead you into the thick of storm and tempest? It will be your protection. Does it guide you into darkness? It will throw a light upon the field. Does it pioneer you into fierce temptation? It will be your power to resist. Does it lead you, as it eventually must, to the cold waters of death? The moment your feet touch the waters, they shall roll back as before the ark of old, and your passage shall be made dry-shod. In the middle of the channel you will sing, "O death, where is now your sting! O grave, where is now your victory!" Glorious! Glorious Banner!! And thrice happy people who can call it theirs.
Before we close, lost sinner, I want to have a word with you. You cannot say this text with truth — far otherwise. Floating over you is another banner altogether; its folds, black as perdition, droop heavily overhead, like some black awful pall. Written in its very center is one word. Its lurid light reveals it. It is HELL! O sinner, sinner, you must be either under one banner or the other. God help you now to escape from your direful doom, and flee with hasty steps to Jesus. Then you will be able to look up into his face, beaming with forgiving love, and say, "Jehovah Nissi," the Lord, my Banner. God grant it may be so with all, for Jesus' sake. Amen.