Now we're turning, as I've already said, to Isaiah chapter 26 for our text, Isaiah 26 beginning to read from verse 1: "In that day shall this song be sung in the land of Judah; We have a strong city; salvation will God appoint for walls and bulwarks. Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in. Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength".
The first couple of verses of this chapter read like a line from a song, that is because they are lines from a song. The song could be called 'The Song of a City', it is the song of the city of Jerusalem, a city and the city of a nation that has been ravaged throughout its entire history, plagued by constant enemies. Now, in Isaiah 26, we find that prophetically the prophet Isaiah speaks of a day when Jerusalem will sing. They will sing a song of perfect peace, as your margin puts it: 'Peace, peace', when God will have protected them from all enemies and every danger.
Now even if you have a meagre understanding of the Scriptures, you'll probably have heard of some of Israel's enemies in times past. You'll have heard of the old Philistines, proverbially used today of people who are our enemies and thorns in the flesh. There were the Assyrians and the Persians, and particularly those that Isaiah speaks of, the Babylonians or the Chaldeans as they are sometimes called. Right throughout their history Israel and Judah were conquered by enemies from without and even, it would have to be said, at a closer reading of the Old Testament, from enemies from within - those who were traitors to God's law and to God's people. Even God's people themselves, as they dishonoured the covenant that God made with them, we can think of many times when through their own actions they harmed themselves, even to the extent of on one occasion losing the very Ark of the Covenant through their disobedience and unfaithfulness. We read in the book of Ezekiel how the very Shekinah glory of God, the outward visible manifestation of the cloud of God's presence, had actually disappeared to signify God's displeasure towards His own people.
As Isaiah is prophesying in this book, he is prophesying to a divided kingdom. Israel were the North, and Judah were the Southern kingdom, and he's preaching to a nation who had once been united under the reign of David and Solomon, but now had been divided in their sin. He mainly speaks to Judah, and he condemns them for their ritual formalistic religion, an outward form of godliness but denying the power. He also condemns them with great force because of their idolatry, following other gods and following other nations. In these chapters Isaiah foresees the day when God will bring judgment upon them because of their idolatrous unfaithfulness. He actually will bring the Babylonians, He will use the Babylonians as His servants, His instruments to discipline and to judge the people of God.
Several of Isaiah's prophecies were fulfilled in his own day, there's no doubt about that. Of course, you will be familiar with the fact that several other of Isaiah's prophecies were fulfilled in the first advent of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, when He came to Bethlehem. He was born of a virgin, Isaiah 7; He was called Immanuel, Isaiah 9; and of course His death in Isaiah 53 is one of the greatest portraits of crucifixion before it even existed. But more than that: the fact that the wrath of God was laid upon His own Son as a substitutionary propitiatory sacrifice for us. Yet there is a portion of this book, quite a large portion, that is yet to be fulfilled, that awaits fulfilment in a future day. Particularly this portion and the next chapter speaks of the Day of the Lord, the day when God will finally judge His people Israel. It's called in other places 'The Great Tribulation' period, 'the time of Jacob's trouble'. It is described in the book of Revelation as seven years when God will pour out His wrath upon the earth, but it has a chief purpose among the Jews of purging them and bringing from them a remnant that will be faithful unto the Lord. Then, following that day of the Lord, Isaiah tells us of the day when Christ, the Servant of Jehovah, will reign upon the earth in a rule of righteousness - theologians call it the 'millennium'.
He details numerous aspects of Israel's future kingdom on the earth that aren't found anywhere else in the Old Testament or even the New Testament at that. How there will be changes in nature and the animal kingdom, how Jerusalem will have a status among the nations that it has never ever had before, and how Christ will rule with a rod of iron, and righteousness will reign right across the globe. So prophetically this book and this portion speaks of the future day, when a repentant nation will be a strong city, Jerusalem will have salvation around it in walls and bulwarks - a nation that will enjoy glory once again in the will of God.
But I believe all believers of all ages can see in these verses that we've looked at this morning, in a spiritual sense, the blessing that the Lord has for all His children even in this particular age. For we would have to say, as Christians, as believers, that the Lord has set a bulwark of defence around us. God still cares for His people, and God still keeps His people. What I want you to see from verse 3 in particular is that this is a double wall of protection. If you have a good marginal reference version of the Bible, you will see that 'perfect peace' is rendered 'peace, peace'. This Hebrew word 'Shalom', that you're familiar with I'm sure, is repeated to show in the Hebrew superlative the meaning that this is the greatest peace of all, this is indeed 'perfect peace'. It is a double wall of protection around God's people.
Now we could take a whole series, let alone a meditation on a Sunday morning like this, on the peace of God - and so this is far from an exhaustive consideration today. But just think for a moment of the inward peace that the children of God have. Think of the outward peace that scripture says we ought to experience, even when the very mountains fall into the midst of the sea. Think of the fact that we have, according to the New Testament, peace with God. We have peace of conscience, we are to have peace at all times, we are to have peace under all events. It's not only some kind of peace whereby, in a humanistic way, we've come to, by the power of positive thinking, overcome the trials in our mind and heart and environment - this is God's own peace. In fact, it's a peace that God's only begotten Son had and knew as His own. Ultimately in a New Testament sense it is the peace that He left with His disciples, when He said in John 14 verse 27: 'My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid'.
Spurgeon, the great preacher, said: 'God does nothing by halves, but everything by doubles'. When it comes to His peace, He has done it doubly for us all. Now this is a privilege that every child of God has, and this is a privilege that grace gave to Israel way back even in these old dispensations. If you look at verse 2, the cry is: 'Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation which keepeth the truth may enter in'. Grace has opened the gate of peace to all men who will receive it. Can I ask you today: have you entered into this peace? Christian or a non-Christian, it matters little, the question applies to all: do you know this peace? Have you entered through the gate into the city of a place that is proportioned with double walls of peace and protection for your mind and your spirit?
A United States doctor over on the West Coast of the States took a poll on one occasion in his surgery among his patients to find out which wish they would long for, if any wish of theirs could be granted - and 87% said that they long for peace of mind. That was their paramount goal. There they are, in a doctor's surgery probably because of physical ailments, but their chief desire is that they should have peace of mind and peace of heart. Imagine that there is available to all men today through the gospel this great peace, the gate of this perfect peace has been opened - yet how many still have not entered into the fullness of the joy of the Lord's peace?
Let it not be said of any today in this place: they could not enter in because of unbelief. Let us enter in today, not just to this song of peace, peace; but as we study it very briefly, would to God that everyone would enter into this peace - children of God and unbelievers alike - and realise that our citizenship is in heaven, now in heaven, and therefore we ought to have the song of heaven in our hearts. Are you sitting here today, and you're saying: 'Oh, that this peace was mine! Oh, that it was my experience!'. If you're a child of God it's yours already! You own it, you may not have entered into the fullness of it, but it is yours. Oh to God that while I preach on this subject today, some of you may enter in afresh to the fullness of it.
The first thing I want to share with you from this text is a question and an answer to it: what are the practical causes of such peace? What are the practical causes of such peace? 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee'. Well, at an elementary level, peace is the absence of all war. I don't want to offend anyone here today, but some of you probably can remember the sights and sounds of World War II, the shriek of the air-raid siren, the drone of the bombers above, the rat-tat-tat of anti-aircraft guns, the roar of blitz fires, the crumbling of buildings all around you. If you can't remember that, like me you'd be able to remember the troubles, and the bombs going off in the centre of town, and the alarms and the shattering of glass, and the blaring of fire engine sirens and ambulances and police cars. Then all of a sudden, when victory was declared in Europe, there came a day when you were able to look into the night sky at the constellations of the stars with peace - to know that there would be no more war, that the war had ended, the threat was over. What a feeling that must have been - I don't know what it's like. I can only imagine what it must have been like: the freedom of knowing that there would be no longer any threat, that you could put your head on the pillow and know that your house would not be bombed, that you would not be wakened and have to run to the air-raid shelters.
What Isaiah is doing for the people of God here is, he is first of all in this book pronouncing judgment upon Judah, that the savage armies of Babylon would come and judge them. But now, in chapter 26, he's speaking of a future day of peace, a day of perfect peace when there would be the absence of a foreign war cry in their midst, when they would no longer hear the tramp-tramp of alien boots upon their promised land, when the enemies of God would be defeated and God's people would be reconciled unto Him. My friends, I know that it's only in a spiritual sense that we can say this today, but do not please ever forget that once in your lifetime, if you are a Christian, you were an enemy of God. Have you forgotten that? You were an enemy of God, yet Colossians 1 tells us: 'You, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight'.
When God's law, the ten commandments in the first five books of the Bible, were all against us; Colossians says that He blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, it worked against us. He took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. Child of God today, the Mount Sinai no longer thunders and roars and shoots fire at you in judgment, there is now no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus. But rather than being an enemy of God, you have been adopted into the family of God, and rising from your heart comes the spirit of adoption in the cry: 'Abba, Father'.
Have you lost the thrill of that? I think you have! I think you have, you're all sitting like zombies! The fact that you're children of God - Spurgeon put it like this: 'Everything is quiet, for we dwell in our Father's house. Look upward and you will perceive no seat of fiery wrath to shoot devouring flame. Look downward and you discover no hell, for there's no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus. Look backward, and sin is blotted out. Look around, and all things work together for good to them that love God. Look beyond, and glory shineth through the veil of the future like the sun through a morning mist. Look outward, and the stones of the field, and the beasts of the field are at peace with us. Look inward, and the peace of God which passeth all understanding keeps your hearts and minds by Christ Jesus'. Hallelujah, what a perfect peace is ours!
Paul says in Romans 8 that we read together: 'If God be for us, who can be against us? If God delivered up his Son for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?'. He has given us His peace, and nothing in life or death, in heaven or earth or under the earth can take it away. Now, I know you may not be experiencing it, but nevertheless that is your portion if you're a child of God. H.G. Wells said: 'I cannot adjust my life to secure any fruitful peace. Here I am at 65 still seeking peace, it is a hopeless dream'. I tell you: it is not a hopeless dream for the man or the woman, or the boy or the girl, who has put their faith in Jesus Christ. H. G. Wells was not seeking in the right place, for peace, perfect peace is found in this dark world of sin in the blood of Jesus that whispers peace within. He has made peace through the blood of His cross.
Well, peace comes from the absence of all war: we are no longer enemies to God. But it also comes from the absence of all fear, because every cause for disquiet - whatever it may be - cannot add or embellish perfect peace. Even the smallest cause for unrest will rob us of that peace. This ability to shut out fear is not something that comes from our ability, humanly speaking, to suppress our fears; but it comes from trusting a God in heaven who is greater than all our fears, and greater than us. Oh, that you would latch hold of this this morning: what is your fear? What is condemning your heart at this moment? John says: 'If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts'. Let us not lose sight of this fact: always in life, whatever we go through, God is greater than it all - and when we are even faithless and unbelieving, He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.
He has said in Isaiah 54: 'No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper'. Oh, do we believe these things? This is God's word: that we can have an absence of all fear with this perfect peace, otherwise it wouldn't be perfect! Now those two things that I've shared with you - the absence of war and the absence of all fear - are negative things, but peace is not just a negative thing for what it shuts out, it's also a positive thing for what it brings. It is the presence of complete and absolute rest. Hebrews 4 put it like this: 'There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his'.
I don't know whether any of you have ever been engaged in a day's work that was both mental and physical. You have been so exerted that, as evening falls, you climb the stairs - if you have them - and clothes and all you just throw yourself upon the bed, and you just stretch out so exhausted. You can actually feel, as your body hits the mattress, literally feel the instant relief in your aching limbs and joints. You'd think I knew what I was talking about, wouldn't you? The fact of the matter is: that is rest, isn't it? To cast your aching form upon the Lord, and that is what every child of God has done in salvation - but let me tell you, that is something that only starts at salvation.
'I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad'.
What perfect peace is to be found in the presence of complete rest in Christ. Secondly I want to share with you: who is the primary source and sustainer of such peace? We've seen what the practical causes of this peace are: there's an absence of war, there's an absence of all fear, there is a presence of complete and perfect rest. But who is the primary source and sustainer of this perfect peace in verse 3? 'Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace'. Probably the most anxious people in the meeting today think: 'This is too high, I cannot attain unto it. You're talking about being free from all fear, that's something that I just cannot conceive of as even being mine'. Yet when someone comes to you and says to you: 'Well, I don't know whether I should get converted or not, because I feel that I won't be able to keep it' - what do you say to them? Oh, you've said it so many times, you could say it in your sleep: 'Ah, but it's not you keeping it, it's the Lord keeping you!'. We tell them confidently: 'You don't have to keep anything, God will keep you'. Well listen, the same grace that saves you is the same grace that keeps you, and the same peace of God through sins forgiven is the same peace that we ought to know as we travel towards heaven.
Now don't ask me the mechanics of it, I don't understand it all, but I know this: God mysteriously works in us this peace. In verse 12 of this portion we read these words: 'LORD, thou wilt ordain peace for us: for thou also hast wrought all our works in us'. God who has begun a work in salvation will work this peace in us. Just as the Lord God, at the very beginning of this world, hovered in His Spirit over the waters and brought creative order to it, He can bring supernatural order to our chaotic world - whatever our circumstances may be in mind and heart. Like a stringed instrument, He can retune us, our mind and heart according to His peace. I tell you: this peace is a gift of God's grace, it cannot be worked up, it cannot be worked to. There's no secret formula to it, it's not something even that comes through years of Christian experience and discipline and learning - it is a gift of God's grace. I tell you, I had the privilege of seeing this in the life of George McMillan. Bill's father was buried yesterday. Over a week ago he was told that he had this awful disease of leukaemia. In sorting out his affairs, Bill had the joy of pointing him to Christ, the greatest affair of all that has to be sorted. He was heard to say to Bill: 'I cried to God for mercy, I begged God for mercy', and the peace that was in that man's life the week from his conversion till the Lord called him home was simply incredible!
Now reason cannot explain that, it is granted as a free gift of grace to those who will have faith in the Lord Jesus. Now though it's a free gift, there are ways that you can fan the flames of this peace in your heart. The first is obvious: by meditating upon God's promises. Paul used the words of Isaiah 26:3 when he wrote Philippians 4 and verses 6-8, when he said: 'Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus'. Think on these things: whatsoever things are good, whatsoever things are pure, and so on. He was exhorting us that if we meditate on good things, God's Word, the things of God, God will keep - the word is 'garrison', like a besieged city - He will garrison our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord.
But more specifically: the fans of the flame of peace in our heart can be kept by meditating on God's promises of who He is, the God of the promises. Do you know that if your mind is stayed on Jehovah, your heart fully will be at rest? 'Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest, whose mind is stayed on Thee because He trusteth in Thee', because in God there is perfect harmony, there's nothing that conflicts within the nature or the attributes or the personality of God. He is in perfect harmony, His judgment never conflicts with His feelings. He will never struggle against desire according to His will, every line in Him tends to focus on His own purpose and His own will, and His power and His thoughts, and His feelings if I can say that - all combined to execute His will in perfect harmony. If we meditate upon Him and trust in Him, we will experience that transcendent peace!
Sometimes when you're in the wars of life you feel that you would just love to get above it all. Well, friend, to get above it all: God is above it all. If we trust in this God we will know calm, His very vision, who sees from beginning to end. He is called in verse 4 as well: 'the LORD for ever: for in the LORD JEHOVAH is everlasting strength'. If you look at your margin you will see perhaps that that phrase 'everlasting strength' can be translated 'Rock of ages'. If you trust in this God, 'He is the Rock that is higher than I'. It was the Psalmist who said: 'From the ends of the earth will I cry unto Thee' - and when my heart is overwhelmed, overwhelmed by sin, overwhelmed by sorrow, overwhelmed by sickness, whatever your trial or tribulation may be, 'Lead me', he says, 'to the Rock that is higher than I'.
My friend, if you have faith like this, stayed and fixed upon Jehovah, upon the Rock of ages, that peace will flourish God's peace in your heart and continue to nourish you day by day. You'll be able to say like the Psalmist in 112: 'He shall not be afraid of the evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord'. On one occasion a ship was wrecked in a furious storm, and the only survivor was a little boy who was swept by the waves onto a rock. As he sat there all night long until the morning, he was eventually spotted and rescued, and someone asked him: 'Did you tremble when you were on the rock during the night?'. The little boy said: 'Yes, I did, I trembled all night, but the rock didn't' - I trembled all night, but the rock didn't. Augustus Toplady, on this very verse, wrote his great hymn: 'Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee'. On verse 3 the celebrated American Baptist hymn writer, Philip P. Bliss, wrote his great hymn that we're going to share with one another in just a moment. But he actually said: 'I love this verse more than any other verse in the Bible, because of the perfect peace that it describes'.
C. H. Spurgeon, the great preacher that I quoted this morning, when he was in Mentone, France once visited Miss Francis Ridley Havergal's brother-in-law, who was an invalid by the name of Giles Shaw. Lying in his sick bed, he turned up the hymn that we're going to sing for our final hymn, and C.H. Spurgeon - from our text, Isaiah 26 and verse 3 - expounded this particular hymn, which is an exposition in itself of Isaiah 26 verse 3:
'Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within'.
Can I ask you: do you have the peace of God through salvation today? Some of you haven't. You've never experienced what it is to enter through the gate of God's heaven on earth, having the peace of God in your heart. Verse 2:
'Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?'
Do you feel like that? Everything is pressing in around you, but yet:
'To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round?' - bereavement
'On Jesus' bosom naught but calm is found'.
It's the only answer to loss in life and in family.
'Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away?'
Are you cut off from them through divorce, through separation, through a sea or foreign land?
'In Jesus' keeping we are safe, and they.
Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown?'
You're looking into the dark days ahead you cannot trace:
'Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.
Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours?'
Have you heard that bad news of a disease, or an ailment, or a problem that cannot be cured?
'Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.
It is enough: earth's struggles soon shall cease,
and Jesus call us to heaven's perfect peace'.
Are you glad you have that peace today? Are you? Am I the only person glad here? Are you glad that you have God's perfect peace?
Our Father, we thank Thee today that He is our peace, who has broken down the wall of separation. We thank Thee that He is the the Rock of Ages. Lord, from the depths of all our problems, whatever they may be, we pray that we will look unto Him, that we will run into Him and hide - for His name is a strong tower. We pray that we will know what it is to trust in Him, to be at peace as our minds are stayed on Thee. Give that peace to all here today, it is Thy free gift, and may by faith they receive it in all its fullness. To the glory of Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Peace, Perfect Peace" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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