The Everlasting Arms
“Underneath are the everlasting arms.” — Deuteronomy xxxiii. 27.
THIS short passage is found in the midst of a mass of gold, sentences containing the richest treasures of truth. All this spiritual wealth is the heritage of the people of God, — not only of his typical people to whom those words were spoken, but to his real people, the true seed of Abraham, those who are the believing children of the father of all believers. If you are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, you may take these precious words home to yourself, and you may live upon them; you may eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and rejoice in all the refreshment that they bring to your spirit.
In the four verses, from the 26th to the 29th, notice how near God is said to be to his people. He is described as being above us, arching us over with his divine power: “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky.” Faith can hear the tramp of the celestial cavalry above our heads. We who trust in the Lord are always safe, for the angels of God are looking down upon us from the battlements of heaven, ready to show themselves strong on our behalf as soon as their presence is needed by us. Then, our text tells us of God beneath us. As he is above us in the heavens, so underneath us are the everlasting arms. The next sentence shows us God before us: “and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy thorn;” and the remaining verses of the chapter represent him as being all around us, so that we are encompassed with God; not only with his presence, with which he fills heaven, and earth, and all deep places, but with the glorious presence of his mighty love. He is above, beneath, before, and all around us; he never forsakes us, for in him we live, and move, and have our being. Let us rejoice, therefore, in our Lord’s nearness.
I. Now coming to our text, I want, as God’s Spirit shall help me, to bring to your notice, first, THE QUARTER THAT IS THUS HONOURABLY SECURED: Underneath.”
“Underneath.” Well, in the first place, that is the point of mysterious assault. We look for the attacks of the powers of darkness from underneath. They are very remarkable attacks; there are many who are the objects of them, but there are few who fully understand them. There are many of God’s children who are often sorely vexed by Satan, yet they do not know that it is the devil who is troubling them. They blame themselves for thoughts that are none of their own, but which come up from the infernal pit, like smoke and sparks from that dread lower world. O friends, if Satan has ever grievously tempted and assailed you, you will dread beyond expression any repetition of that temptation or assault. Mr. Bunyan well says that a man had better go over hedge and ditch, and many miles round about, rather than meet this terrible adversary. He not only works through the world, and through the flesh, but he has modes of personal attack, fiery darts from his own hand, false accusations and foul insinuations, which come only from him. By all these he assails Christians, and brings us to a stand, so that sometimes we know not what to do. Just underneath us there seems to yawn the awful pit, out of which Satan rises, with his abandoned fallen angels, to do us mischief. Then comes in this gracious assurance: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” Against this mysterious because incomprehensible foe, whose darts are so painful and deadly, God has been pleased to set a shield; and he puts underneath thee, O child of God, his everlasting arms! You may be tempted by Satan, but it shall only be in a measure; God will not let him put forth all his diabolical strength. When the Lord suffered Satan to tempt Job, there was always a proviso, which said to the devil as to the raging sea, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” The Lord pulled him up short just at the point where he hoped to destroy the good man; and it shall be so with thee also, tried believer. Underneath thee, in thy worst attacks from Satan, shall be the everlasting arms of the Lord himself.
Note a second meaning of this word “underneath.” That is the place of our daily pilgrimage. To the Israelites, “underneath” was the burning sand of the terrible wilderness; sometimes, “underneath” were the fiery serpents, and all manner of evil things, so that their march towards Canaan was a continual trial to them. “But,” saith God to his people, “though sense sees nothing underneath but ever-burning sands, let faith see underneath the everlasting arms.” Some of you go forth to your daily labours, and you find the place of your service to be a real wilderness, full of trial and everything that is unpleasant to you. Yet look again, with eyes touched with heaven’s eye-salve, and instead of seeing the bitter poverty, and the grinding toil, and the daily trial, you will begin to see that God is in it all, and “underneath are the everlasting arms.” Thou shalt go cheerfully home to heaven, upborne by God. He who made thee will carry thee; he who loves thee will bear thee all the days of old till thou shalt come unto the Mount of God, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days. I think, therefore, that our text applies not only to the point. of mysterious assault, but to the place of daily pilgrimage and toil.
Do you not think that this word “underneath” also relates to the place of perilous descent? There are times in a man’s life when he has to come down. It is not a very easy matter to go down the hill safely. Some persons have proved that it is difficult to grow old gracefully; but to the Christian it ought not to be impossible or unusual to grow old graciously. Still, there are difficulties about that coming down the hill of life, — coming down in a very material sense, perhaps, from competence to real poverty; coming down as to your mental powers, being conscious of losing your former influence over your fellows; coming down in general repute, through no fault of your own, but through circumstances of which you are not the master. All this is very trying to human nature. You know that, on the way to heaven, there are many Hill Difficulties; and brave spirits rather enjoy climbing to the top of them. We like a craggy path, hard and rough, where we can keep on looking upward all the way even if we have to scramble on our hands and knees. There is something pleasant in going up in that fashion; but it is when going down into the Valley of Humiliation that we are apt to slip. We do not like going down; and, as many horses fall at the bottom of the hill, so I believe that many people trip at the end of a trial when they think it is nearly over, and they have no need to look so carefully to their feet. Well now, dear friends, if any of you are going down the hill, I think the text comes in very sweetly: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” You cannot go so low but that God’s arms of love are lower still. You get poorer and poorer; but “underneath are the everlasting arms.” You get older and feebler; your ears are failing, your eyes are growing dim; but “underneath are the everlasting arms.” By-and-by, unless the Lord speedily returns, you will have to die, and you will come down very low then; but still it will be true “underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Further, I think that we may use the text as referring to a matter of intense concern. Sometimes, we say to one another, “Is our religion real? We trust we love the Lord; but do we love him? We think we are reposing in Christ; but are we really doing so? We have a measure of joy and peace; does it come really through believing in Jesus, or is it a delusion of the flesh or of the devil? We have come forward so far in the heavenly way; but are we really going towards heaven, or is it all a mistake?” It is a good thing, occasionally, brothers and sisters, to look underneath; he who never sees what is under him may have great cause to do so. Examine your foundations, see what your corner-stones are, for if you should be building on the sand, then, in the time of storm, your fine building will be all swept away. It is a grand thing if we can find this text to be true: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” I dig through my experience, and “underneath are the everlasting arms.” I question my joys, I examine myself about my sorrows; but do I come down on the purposes of God, the immutable faithfulness of the Most High, the eternal verities revealed in Scripture; do I come down upon the everlasting arms? If so, I am resting where the whole universe may rest; I am resting on a faithful God, and I need not be afraid. Do not fear to examine yourself; if you do, there is perhaps all the graver need for the testing and trying. Search and look, and go to the bottom of these matters. Happy shall you be if, diving to the very depths, you can say, “Yes, underneath are the everlasting arms.”
I shall use this first word of my text in one more way: I think we have here the secret of singular discoveries that will yet be made. We do not at present know the reality of things; we judge according to our feelings, and by the sight of our eyes; how else can we judge? But the day will come when things will appear very different from what they do now. There is a huge trouble which has mastered us for years; it has seemed, with its dense shadow, to darken our heavenly way for a great length of time; but the day will come when we shall look through that trouble, and we shall find that “underneath are the everlasting arms.” Perhaps some of us are in sore perplexity; we cannot understand the Lord’s providential dealings with us. He does not always tell us the reason for his actions; we might not understand it if he did, but we may rest assured that he is working out purposes of infinite love. He ceases not to care for us even when things appear to be at their very worst. I bear my willing witness to the faithfulness of God; I am not so old as some, but I am old enough to have gone through fire, and through water, and I am here to testify that I have not been burned by the one, nor drowned by the other. Cannot many of you say the same? In your sorest trials, and in your hottest furnaces, has he not been specially present with you, and bestowed great blessings upon you? ’Tis even so; then trust him, ye saints, for what his Word assures you is gloriously true: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” Go deeper down, look further into the real reason of things than you have been accustomed to do, and you shall come on this solid foundation, that God is working out for you infinite and eternal blessedness by these light afflictions which are but for a moment.
II. Now, secondly, let us note THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS QUARTER IS SECURED: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
The everlasting arms are there; and that means, first of all, that God himself is close to us, guaranteeing the eternal safety of all those who trust in him. Of course, where anyone’s arms are, there he is, and God is not divided from his own arms. This is our joy and comfort, that God is with us. What strength it gives to faith to believe that God is present! Even the false prophet, Mahomet, had a strong faith in God, — in Allah, — and when he fled for the first time, and hid in a cave with only one friend, his companion said to him, “Our pursuers are after us, and there are only two of us.” “Stop,” exclaimed Mahomet, “there are three, for Allah is here!” It was the utterance of a brave and grand faith; would that his whole career had been in harmony with it! Wherever there are two of God’s people, there is Another with them, for God is there. We do not count him in as we ought to do; yet, if we were wise, we should put ourselves down as only ciphers, and say, “Nobody is there till HE is there; he is the one true, personal numeral that multiplies all these ciphers indefinitely.” Mr. Wesley said, as he died, “The best of all is, God is with us;” and that is the best of all, is it not? Underneath is God himself. He who made the heavens and the earth cannot forsake those who do not forsake him. If thou lovest him, if thou trustest in him, he might as soon cease to be as fail anyone who is relying upon him. This is the glory of Jehovah that, while the gods of the heathen are worthless idols, our God hears prayer, and answers the cry of his people. Try him, and see if it be not so. Blessed are they who trust in Jehovah, for they shall find in the living God help in every time of need, and strength sufficient for every day of trial. So, then, we see that what might appear to us as the dark abyss, the dreary, mysterious underland, is all guarded by Jehovah himself: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Our text also means that the Lord’s immutable purpose is being fulfilled. Where God’s arms are, he is at work, and he is at work accomplishing his purposes of grace. The text speaks of everlasting arms: that is a strength that never fails, and never turns aside from the purpose to which it has bound itself. O child of God, down deep where thou canst not see it, the divine power of the Eternal Godhead is always at work for thee! The arms of God are busy on thy behalf; he hath made them bare to show himself strong in thy defence. Be thou sure of this, God hath a purpose of love to all who believe in him, and that purpose of love shall stand fast to all eternity. Whatever changes there may be in the appearance of this world, and in the great universe of which it forms a part, there shall be no change in the infinite resolve of God to bless his people, and preserve them even to the end. Wherefore, believer, be of good comfort, and say to yourself, “At the bottom of everything that happens to me, there is the immutable purpose of God, and God himself working it out.”
Beside the Lord’s immutable purpose, and his infinite power by which God is at work for you at all times, our text means that his inexhaustible patience is waiting its time. “Underneath are the everlasting arms,” bearing up thy load, sustaining it with long endurance, while he keeps on working for thee, — invisible, yet ever active on thy behalf. Dost thou expect to see thy God on this side heaven? If so, thou wilt be disappointed. Art thou willing to walk by faith, and not by sight? If so, thou shalt have a double blessing; for, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” Oh, that the Holy Spirit of God would bring you to this point! Having trusted God in the person of his dear Son, having laid the whole weight of your eternal interests upon him whom God hath revealed to be your Saviour, you may leave them there in perfect safety, without a moment’s care or anxiety. God’s everlasting arms must carry out God’s eternal purposes. Not one of his promises can fall to the ground, for “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” It is God himself who undertakes to bear thee up, and bear thee through; therefore, rest thou assured that ho will do it.
III. I must not speak longer upon that matter, for I must say just a little upon the third point. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN THIS TEXT IS VERY PRECIOUS TO BELIEVERS: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
One of these times is, I think, when we are very sick and very feeble. The pillows have been beaten up for you, and made as soft as they can be; and the bed, which is so apt to grow hard, has been tenderly smoothed by kind fingers; yet you sink back as if you were about to die of very exhaustion. Sink back, then; be not afraid, for “underneath are the everlasting arms.” Perhaps there comes a faintness over you, and you seem to be sinking, sinking, — you know not where; still, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” You try to rise, but you cannot; you would clutch at something by which you think you might get back to activity, but you fall back into the same state of weary languor and pain. Well, but still, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” It is delightful to feel that our feebleness impinges upon Omnipotence; that, just when there is nothing left to us, then God comes in with all his fulness, and bears us up. He is ever faithful, and full of compassion; he doth not afflict willingly, or grieve the children of men; so, when he must grieve them, it is then that he displays his special power to strengthen and sustain them. Go home to thy bed, if so it must be with thee; if there be wearisome months of sickness and disease awaiting thee, go home, and carry this text with thee: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Is not this word very sweet, too, when burdened with sore troubles, or oppressed with heavy labours? You feel that you need double strength, and you say, “I cannot keep on any longer; there is too much for mortal powers to endure, I cannot bear up under these repeated trials. The last time I felt thus, I thought that I had no strength left, and now this feeling comes over me again; what shall I do? I am thrown down, I am crushed, as though men were riding over my head; I seem to be cast out like the mire in the streets.” Yes; but still, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” We sang, just now, —
“As thy day, thy strength shall be.”
Is that truth or fiction? Ask God’s people as to their past experience, and they will set to their seal that God is true; and you, too, shall find it true. Oh, how wondrously God’s saints have been borne up under persecution, and cheerful and glad under oppression! The sweetest songs that ever were heard on earth, were sung behind prison bars. Peradventure I shall not be wrong when I say that the most wonderful joys that ever were felt by mortal hearts, have been felt by men who, on the morrow, were to be burned at the stake; but whose very souls have danced within them, because of the unspeakable delight which the presence of God has given to them. I think it was Socrates who said that “Philosophers could be merry without music.” I take the statement from his mouth, and alter it, and say, Christians can be happy without happy circumstances; they can sometimes, like nightingales, sing best in dark nights. Their joy is not mere outward mirth. Sorrows fall upon them; yet, from the deep that lieth underneath, wells up yet more exceeding joy. Yes, “underneath are the everlasting arms;” and when we can no longer stand, it is a blessed thing to lean or fall back on them.
I have already told you that another time when tills text is very sweet is when you am going down hill; and some of you may be going down lull pretty fast just now. Never mind; “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” When you come down the hill of old age, you know what lies at the bottom; why, then, you go up again, higher than ever you went before, renewing your youth, and being for ever with the Well-beloved.
So, dear friends, I may change the application of my text, “Underneath are the everlasting arms,” and pass it on to those who are all trembling and shaking. Some of you, perhaps, know what I mean. That young man has begun to preach a little, but he says, “I fear that i shall break down.” Dear brother, if you got a message from God to tell, then tell it, and do not be afraid, for “underneath are the everlasting arms.” You are seeking to gather a few young people together, and you are trying to bless them; but you feel your own weakness so much that you say, “I know I shall make a failure of it.” Do not say so, for “underneath are the everlasting arms.” He who helps us when we go down, down, down, is equally ready to do so when we are going up in his service. When our ardent zeal is bearing us forward to do something more for the Lord than we are quite equal to, then, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” And if you are seeking greater holiness, daring to indulge a loftier joy, if you are trying to sing some of those hymns which, a few months ago, you thought were pitched in too high a key for you, be bold and daring. Your wing-feathers will grow by your very attempt to fly; the possibilities of grace are boundless; leave yourself to them. Be not always weak and trembling; God help you to become as a David, and you who are as David to become as an angel of the Lord!
Once more, the hour will come when everything will begin to melt away beneath your feet. Earthly comforts will fail you, friends will be unable to help you; they can wipe the clammy sweat from your brow, and moisten your lips with a drop of water, but they cannot go with you on the great voyage upon which you are about to be launched. When heart and flesh fail, then may the Lord speak to you the sweet words before us, “Underneath are the everlasting arms”! It will be a sinking to the flesh, but a rising to the spirit. Underneath dying saints there is the living God. Be not afraid, therefore, even to die; for, to the Christian, “to die is gain.” I recollect, at a funeral, when we laid the body of one of God’s saints in the grave, a dear minister prayed, “Lord, we thank thee that, though our dear friend has come so low as to be in his grave, he cannot go any lower, for ‘underneath are the everlasting arms,’ and in due time thou wilt bring him up again in those everlasting arms, raised in the likeness of his Lord.” That is true of all believers; therefore, let this text come sweetly home to your heart: “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
I must conclude with just this remark. There are some here who are not yet saved. I would illustrate the way of salvation to you by this text. You are hoping to save yourself, you are depending upon something that you have done, or that you have felt; I want you to lot all that go, to give up every hope you have that comes out of yourself. “Oh!” say you, “but I shall fall.” Yes, you will; and that falling shall be your salvation, for, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” There you are, up at that window, and the flames are raging behind you, so that you cannot escape; but one stands below, he is strong enough to catch you in his arms, and he says, “Drop into my arms. Do not hesitate.” Jesus Christ never yet allowed any soul to be injured that dropped into his arms. Let go, man, let go! Let go everything, and drop into the arms of Jesus. That is the saving thing, — to let everything else go, and trust alone to Jesus, depending wholly upon him who lived, and died, and rose again, and is the ever-living Saviour of sinners. Drop into his arms; they are everlasting arms, as strong to save now as they were 1,800 years ago. Drop into his arms. God help you to do so, for his name’s sake! Amen.