THE RETURN TO ZION
"This is the resting place, let the weary rest; and this
is the place of repose"—
"The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter
Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy
will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." Isaiah 51:11
These words had doubtless a primary reference to Israel,
seated, not under the old palms of the Sinai wilderness, but rather, at a
later age, under the willow-trees of the streams of Babylon; on whose
branches a poet of the Captivity so touchingly describes the captives as
hanging their muffled harps, and weeping as they remembered Zion.
But they have a grander than local or temporary meaning.
Every member of the true Israel of God, as he is seated under the figurative
shadow, whether of palm or of willow, whether his experience be joyful or
sorrowful, may take heart and courage from the description here given of
travelers to a better than earthly Zion; Jehovah's own ransomed ones; whose
captivity is turned "as streams in the south," and who are "more than
conquerors through Him that loved them."
Taking the passage thus, in its highest spiritual
interpretation, these Zionward travelers are beautifully represented, even
in the course of their journey, as filled with peace and joy in believing,
abounding in hope. Many, while they picture a coming heaven as a place of
unmingled happiness and bliss, are apt to picture the way there as one of
gloom—every pilgrim reaching it with the furrow on his brow and the tear in
his eye; that if any chimes of gladness reach his ears, they come from bells
inside the gates of the city, not outside. But these words
tell differently and more truly. There are palm trees 'at Elim' as well as
"beyond Jordan." The desert is resonant with song.
Gladness and joy are here represented as two
attendants—sister spirits, accompanying all the way, hand in hand. Yes! the
Christian is, or ought to be, a joyful man. Though it be a wilderness
he treads, and though "sorrow and mourning" are also depicted as tracking
his footsteps; yet he has elements of tranquil happiness within him, which
make the smile, not the tear, the appropriate symbol of his thoughts and
emotions. It would be strange, indeed, were it otherwise. At peace with God;
sin forgiven; the heart changed; the affections elevated; grace molding,
sustaining, quickening, sanctifying; and, rising above all, the assured hope
of glory hereafter. He can say, "You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound" (Ps. 4:7).
The words, too, seem to tell of an ever-increasing
joy. As the portals of glory draw nearer, the song deepens in melody and
strength. They come to Zion "with singing;" then "everlasting joy is on
their head." Then they obtain a new anointing of "gladness;" and finally
"sorrow and mourning"—these two companions of the wilderness, rise on their
somber, gloomy wings, and speed away forever!
Is that happiness in any feeble measure ours? Can we
appropriate to ourselves, in lowly, humble confidence, that grandest of
titles here given to the desert sojourners, "The Redeemed of the Lord"? Do
we have on the pilgrim garb—the Righteousness alike imputed and
implanted—the attire of the King's daughter, all-glorious without,
"all-glorious within"? and is our chief element of joy in the prospect of
the Heavenly Zion—not the negative one, the absence of sorrow and
mourning—but that which consists in the vision and fruition of Zion's God,
assimilation to His character, conformity to His will, active energy in His
service, serving Him day and night in His Temple? With such a hope, we may
well be patient under present trial; though 'sorrowful,' we may be 'always
rejoicing.' "God our Maker gives songs in the night." Better the night, with
songs in it, than no night and no song. Better the wilderness and its
Elim-groves, than Egypt with its flesh-pots and its bondage. Better the
thorn in the nest to tempt to magnificent flight, than to settle in the
downy nest of false security and ease, selfishness and
The world has its joys too; but, apart from God, they are
a poor counterfeit of the true. They are often insecure, uncertain, fitful
while they last; the grave will sooner or later close over them, when they
will vanish like the transient flash of summer lightning, never to be
recalled, or "as a dream when one wakes." But, Christians! "everlasting
joy," like a festive wreath or crown, shall be upon your head! Yours are to
be robes ever bright, palms ever green, crowns never
fading. Elim with all its refreshment and rest, but none of its transience.
"The Lord shall be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning
shall be ended."
"Here, the great unrest of ages;
Here, the trouble, toil, and strife:
There, the peaceful, quiet waters
Of the crystal stream of life.
"Here, the sighing of the branches;
Here, the wave-beat on the shore:
There, the ceaseless strain of angels
Chanting praises evermore.
"Here, the rocks and shoals and quicksands;
Here, the home beneath the sod:
There, the haven where we would be;
There, the presence of our God."
"Never again will they hunger; never again will they
thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the
Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them
to springs of living water."