Forbidden Battlements

Jer. 5:10.---' Take away her battlements; for they are not the Lord's.'

It must have been a heart-break to the prophet that such a message as this was given him to declare. Jerusalem was the city of God. Over its fortunes in peace and war God had watched with peculiar care. Its enemies had been His enemies, its friends His friends. And now the enemy was thundering at the gates, and the city was drawing comfort out of the single thought that it was well protected. Those battlements---broad-based, firm-set, with tower and bastion---could defy assault and laugh at the invader. And then, uplifted through the city streets, came the harsh reinterated cry, 'Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' It sounded like a very cruel cry. As a simple matter of fact it was the opposite. Judah was staying herself upon securities that had no sanction in the will of heaven. And God commanded that they be swept away, not in hatred but in tender mercy, that Judah might be brought to lean again upon the strength of the everlasting arm. That was the cry which went ringing through Jerusalem. That cry has gone ringing down the ages. We hear it in individual life, and not less audibly in national and social life.

THE BIBLE.---To begin with, let us think of the Bible, that Book to which our debt is infinite; that revelation of the love of God, crowned in the priceless gift of a Redeemer. It is the Book that comforts us in suffering, cheers us in spiritual battle, heartens us in toil. It is the only Book that never fails us amid all the change of the years, for it is higher than our highest thought, and it is deeper than our deepest need. In it we read the story of that sacrifice which is far too good to have been false, without which we cannot live and cannot die. Is, then, the Bible an inspired book? Ask the man who has proved its promises, and clung to them in sunshine and in storm. Ask the sinner who has found a Savior there, in the hour when vain was the help of man. It is such things, and it is such things only, that are the valid proof of God in Scripture. It is not inerrancy, or verbal accuracy, or literal rendering of historic detail. And whenever men have buttressed up the Bible by proofs which were never intended by its Giver, there has come the voice that once was heard in Judah, 'Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' That is what true research has always done---all loving, patient, critical inquiry. It has removed the battlements God never built. And so it has drawn us nearer to that heart which is for ever throbbing in the Word, in whose mercy is our only hope, and in whose will our peace.

THE CHURCH.---Or passing from our conception of the Bible we might turn our thoughts to the story of the Church. For this is the cry of every Reformation, 'Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' Our thoughts go back to the mediaeval Church. What mighty defenses she had raised around her; what buttresses and bulwarks she had built. Outside her boundaries there was no salvation: it was she and she alone who could give pardon. Her wealth was boundless, her civil power supreme; she could make monarchs and cast them down again; to be her favorite was to be blessed, and to be excommunicate was death. Battlements of pride and place and power---battlements forged and fitted with such intricacy as to defy the batterings of time. And then, across the streets of Europe passed a heroic and prophetic figure, crying, as Jeremiah cried, 'Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' The strange thing is that they were taken away, such tremendous power is in prophetic voices! her walls were ruined---her defenses shattered---her pride and glory humbled to the dust. And once again, as long ago in Judah, that voice which seemed so treacherous and ruthless was the voice of the loving-kindness of the Lord. Out of the ruins of an earthly Church arose the form of a Church that was Divine. Faith revived, and the word of God was read, and the love of Christ became a great reality, and spiritual peace and joy came back again.

No longer do we grasp at temporal power to fortify the position of the Church. But is there not a danger lest our Church should seek to guard and fortify herself by battlements which the Lord will not acknowledge? When we think to prosper by organization instead of by the power of living faith; when the meeting for prayer is miserably empty and the entertainment is crowded to the door; when there is vulgar of flashy sermons, does not the cry go ringing through the Church, 'Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' Take them away, and give us back again a Church whose battlement is faith in God; a Church whose prayer is uttered from the heart, whose music is the simple voice of praise, whose preaching to the souls of sinful men is the message of the everlasting gospel.

INDIVIDUALS.---But not only is that true of churches; it is also true of individuals. It is true, for instance, of those strange reversals which come so often to the prosperous man. Sweet are the uses of adversity; sweet also the uses of prosperity. It is God's reward for faithful honest labor, and, being such, it is a blessed thing. Yet who has not seen and, seeing, sorrowed for, that fatal power inherent in prosperity to deaden character, and weaken faith. Wealth and comfort---how often these rise like battlements between the individual soul and God; and how often in these very things has a man thought to find his strength and saftey. Then comes, in some unlooked-for hour, the sudden reversal, and the supports and pillars of his prosperity fall into ruin. And what is that but the prophetic voice crying across the life as through Jerusalem, 'Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' It is in hours like that they feel their need of heaven. The battlements are gone, but God remains. Their only help and refuge is in Him. And so have many found, what Judah found, that the prophetic cry, which seemed so ruthless, has been the beginning of a blessed peace.

To many, the loss of their money would be life's supreme catastrophe. Yet how many men have had to lose their money to find God: to cease living on money before they could begin to live on God. There are lines of mellow, ineffable beauty in Shakespeare which describe this transition. One has seen the thing happening again and again in the life of men one knew. His overthrow heap'd happiness upon him; For then, and not till then, he felt himself, And found the blessedness of being little: And, to add greater honors to his age Than man could give him, he died fearing God.

THE EXPERIENCES OF THE MORAL LIFE.---Something, too, of the same kind is seen in the experiences of the moral life. We might think, for instance, of St Paul. Filled with the burning passion to be righteous, Paul had striven magnificently for holiness. Longing eagerly for peace with God, he had toiled heroically to be justified. And when his hope was dim, and when the fight was fierce, what unassailable battlements he had, behind which there was shelter for his soul! Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin; concerning zeal, persecuting the Church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. What fortresses of privilege and birth, to guard and shelter the besieged soul! Then came the hour when he met with Christ, as he was taking his journey to Damascus. In that great hour he saw his Savior, and in that great hour he saw himself. And once again, right through that life of his, as through the streets of Judah long ago, rang out that old prophetic cry, 'Take away his battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' 'What things were gain to me,' he writes, 'these I counted loss for Christ.' In that hour he found all that he had been seeking---the inward peace, and the reconciliation, and the righteousness which he had sought in vain. All that his battlements could never give him, of safety and security and song, was given him in the hour he found a Savior.

Now that experience of the great Apostle is still repeated in a thousand lives. Not by the privileges of their Jewish ancestry do men now build a refuge for their souls; not by the fact that they were born and bred of the stock of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. But none the less in the day of spiritual conflict, and in the craving for blessedness and peace, men still have battlements in which they trust. Sometimes it is rite or sacrament---sometimes that they are members of a church; sometimes that they have lived a virtuous life, or are men of honorable reputation. And how often, at this very hour, to those who trust in themselves that they are righteous, there comes the cry which came from the Apostle, 'Take away her battlements, for they are not the Lord's.' It may come in the solemn hour of dying; that sense that all that we trusted in is vain, and that the walls we build to save us are in ruin. And it is then that we are cast on Christ, our only fortress and defense, who lived to inspire us, and who died to save us, and who is all in all to every one who trusts Him.

Brethren; pray for the world. In Christ, timothy. maranatha