“The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him.” — Nahum i. 7.
HAVE you read this chapter through? It is a very terrible one; it is like the rushing of a mighty river when it is nearing a cataract. It boils, and seethes, and flows with overwhelming force, bearing everything before it; yet, right in the middle of the surging flood stands out, like a green island, this most cheering, comforting, and delightful text. Listen a minute to the prophet’s words of terror. “The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him.” Then, just as there has sometimes been a break, and a delightful silence, in the very midst of some tremendous chorus of sacred song, so here the thunder pauses, the hurricane is stayed, and we hear the sweet music of this still small voice: “Jehovah is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him,” — from which we may gather that there is always a hiding-place for his people, his eyes of love are fixed on them even when they flash fire upon his adversaries. Nothing shall harm them; though the earth be removed, and the mountains be cast into the midst of the sea, they may rejoice in the goodness of the Lord in the day of his fierce anger.
I invite you, dear friends, to consider this text, and may the Holy Spirit make the meditation which will follow to be useful! There are three things here to be thought about. First, let us think of God himself: “The Lord is good.” Then let our minds ponder a little upon what God is to us: “a strong hold in the day of trouble.” And then we will change the theme a little, and speak of God with us: “He knoweth them that trust in him.”
I. First, then, let us think of GOD HIMSELF: “Jehovah is good.”
It is well for us to be able to say so when the day of trouble is really upon us. It is one thing to sit under your vine and fig tree, and to sing, “The Lord is good.” It is quite another thing when the vine and fig tree have both been cut down, and all your comfort is gone, still to say, “The Lord is good.” Do you not think that, if we fail to say it the second time, it will look as if, after all, it was the vine and fig tree that were good, and not God; or, at least, that our view of God’s goodness was very much derived from the fact of our being in so much comfort? It was an accusation which Satan brought against Job that he loved God for what he got out of him: “Hast not thou made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side?” The devil is very apt to charge God’s people with having a cupboard love; but it is well for us to refute that accusation by loving, praising, and adoring God when comforts fail, when the hedge is broken, and when the things that we received with gratitude are at length in wisdom taken away. Oh, what a rebuff the archfiend had when Job, on his dunghill scraping his sores, and with his children dead and his property gone, yet said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” That is the spirit of our text. Here is a man of God, in the midst of the overwhelming flood, standing up, and saying, I The Lord is good. The Lord is good.” There are some persons who, even in their theology, do not believe God to be good. “It cannot be,” they say, “that the wicked will be cast into hell, for God is good;” and they argue that therefore the ungodly will not be punished. But the child of God says that, though they will certainly be cast into hell, God is good for all that. It is true that he will punish sin, and punish it everlastingly; but God is good for all that. “No,” say others, “but if he be good, he cannot do so.” You may make unto yourselves another god, and call him God; but the Christian says, “The Lord is good, Jehovah is good; good as I find him, good as an angry God; good when I read such words as these, ‘With an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies.’” God is good even then, he is good anyhow; let him reveal himself as he pleases, let him do what he pleases. Whatever I find him reveal about himself, or whatever I see in providence about him, my heart is bowed down even when my understanding cannot see, and is still true to this firm piece of good sound doctrine, “The Lord is and must be good.”
The goodness of God is seen in his very name, for what is his name “God,” but short for good? We call him God because we count him good; and so good is he that “there is none good save One; that is, God.” All other goodness that exists is but a spark from this great sun, or else it is a lie. There never would have been any goodness in the world apart from God, nor can goodness continue to exist, much less increase, except as God, whose very name is good, shall continue to make that goodness flow forth from himself unto the sons of men. God is essentially good. It is his very nature to be good; he could not be otherwise than good. If you and I are good, it is not because of our nature that we are good. Alas! since the Fall, it is true that in us, that is, in our flesh, there dwells no good thing, and any goodness has to be imparted to us. But to God no goodness can be brought, from God all goodness must be fetched, for he is good essentially.
And God is good independently. There are none that make him good, or help him to be so. If you and I are good in any way, it is by his grace, by his teaching, by the example of friends, by divine restraints, by gracious constraints. By a thousand helps and props our poor goodness stands, but his goodness stands of itself. None can make him better; none keep him back from being evil. He is good, he must be good, and that entirely in and of himself, — essentially and independently good. I want you to think of this, because I want you never to get the notion into your head that God is good through certain means, and under certain circumstances and conditions, and that the goodness of God depends upon the life of such an one, or upon your possession of such and such earthly goods. Oh, no! God is good independently of all these; and if all these were swept away, God would be just as good, and just as good to you. You may question it, but it should never be a matter of question. If every conduit pipe, which now conveys to us streams of comfort from the fountain-head, were broken and taken away, God could make the waters leap out of the rock itself, and streams to flow in the desert immediately at our feet. As long as you have God, you have the essence of all good; and as long as God lives, whoever else dies, the goodness on which your soul is to feed has an independent existence.
Note, next, that God is eternally and unchangeably good. He cannot be better; he cannot be worse; he is absolutely perfect. There can be no improvement and there can be no depreciation in him. He was good on your wedding-day, when he gave you the loved one to be the joy of your life; but he was just as good on that sorrowful day when the partner of your being was smitten down. You thought God was good when your little child laughed in your lap, and the house was glad with his merry ways; but he was just as good when the little coffin went silently out of the door, wet with parents’ tears. God was good to you when you walked abroad in the sunlight, and every breath of air meant health to you; but he is just as good when every step is a weariness, and your body is consuming away with sickness; he has not changed. Why, dear heart, you have not changed toward your child, have you? Yet you are evil; and shall not he who is all good be just as full of love to his children in dark dispensations as in bright times? Assuredly it is so. If you should live till infirmities are multiplied, if it were possible for you to exist here till you had numbered the years of Methusaleh, yet still you should find God to be just as good as in your young days when first your heart leaped at the sound of his name. Do not be afraid, therefore, of what is yet to be, for whatsoever comes, “truly, God is good to Israel;” truly, “his mercy endureth for ever.”
Turn this little sentence over many times, and try to get the full meaning out of it. “The Lord is good;” good in each one of his Divine Persons. You do not doubt that the Father is good. He chose you before the world was. He gave his Son for you. He “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” He is our Father; surely he is good, is he not? There is Jesus, the second Person of the blessed Trinity in Unity; is he not good? He “loved me, and gave himself for me.” He loved, and lived, and died, and rose again, and still lives pleading, preparing, waiting to come and take us to himself. Is not Jesus good? That blessed truth is beyond all question. Well, then, the Father is good, and the Son is good. And the Holy Ghost, — is he not good? Did he not first turn your eyes to Jesus? Did he not breathe into you the breath of spiritual life? And, since then, has he not been your Teacher, your Guide, your Helper, your Comforter, dwelling with you, suggesting your prayers, helping your infirmities? Oh! he is good. What ill did you ever have at his dear hands? Well, then, the Father is good, and the Son is good, and the Holy Ghost is good; so, in a threefold sense we may say, “The Lord is good.”
Now, to cheer your faith yet again, let me remind you that the Lord is good in all his acts of grace. Was he not good when first he chose you, when there was nothing in you “to merit esteem, or give the Creator delight”? When you had fallen, and lay all in ruins, yet “he loved you notwithstanding all,” — was he not good then? And when he planned the covenant, “ordered in all things and sure,” the covenant of grace by which he could be just, and yet be the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus, was he not good then? And when he gave his Son, — his only Son, — that he might die to make atonement for our sin, was he not good then? And when he washed us in the precious blood of Christ, and clothed us with his perfect righteousness, and adopted us into his family, and by our regeneration gave us the nature as well as the privileges of children, when he promised to preserve us even to the end, was it not all goodness? And must we not say of all his acts of grace, “The Lord is good”? Further, brothers and sisters, you may depend upon it that the Lord’s actions are all of a piece. Good men, you know, are much the same all through; cut them where you please, there is something sound about them in every part. I am sure that it is so with God; it is not merely one portion of his character that is good, but it is all good. Nor is it one set of his actions that are good, but all his acts are good.
That brings us to this point, that all his providences are, have been, and always shall be good. What is the providence that grieves you just now? Perhaps you have been a great loser this week. Ah! but it is a good God that permitted you to be loser. You have been bereaved. Ah! but it was not a demon that stole away your darling, but the good God permitted it, — did it himself, may be; so he is good in that. “I should think him good,” said one to me, “if anything else had happened to me except this.” Nay, sister; he is good in that, for if thou wilt have it that he is good in all except only the one thing in which he has dealt with thee of late, then, truly, if he had done something else, thou wouldst have been of the same mind. Thou dost not believe him good, I tell thee, unless he be all over and altogether good. The Lord has done for his people the best that could be done. He has not suffered any evil to harm them, neither has he denied them anything that would be for their good. It is still true, “No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” A day shall come when these lips shall tell of God’s goodness in a much better style than they can at present,— up there, in yonder golden streets; — but, meanwhile, I have an opportunity I may not have again, for now I am permitted to say, though I have not been second in mourning to any one of the bereaved this week, and though thrice the arrows have wounded me, yet the Lord is good, and blessed be his name. Though physical pain and mental depression come together, yet the Lord is good. When I was away in the South of France enjoying health and every comfort, I kept saying to myself and to my friend, “Let us praise God doubly now, for, may be, we shall be in the dark when we get home; and, lest we should run short of praise then, let us give the Lord an extra quantity now.” I felt so glad to be, as it were, laying up a little store of honey against the time when flowers would not be quite so plentiful; but I want to use up that store now, and bless and magnify and adore the name of the Lord.
Let me say to you mourners and sufferers that your praises of God when you have no trouble are not worth half as much as they may be now. If you can sing his praises on the bed of sickness, and extol him in the fire of a sore bereavement, that will be grand. The praises of the angels, as they bow in perfect happiness, and say, “God is good,” must be very blessed. And the praises of men of God on earth, who are prospering in business, and who have health and strength, and who say, “God is good,” are very precious. But you take me to one who is poor and needy, one who scarcely knows where his daily bread will come from, and he says, “But God is good;” I think the Lord finds a sweeter note in that praise than he does even in the music of the angelic choirs. Then go to one who is racked with pain and suffering, and deprived of every comfort; yet I see her stretch out her bony hand, and say, “The Lord is good, blessed be his name.” That is sweeter music still. But what praise to God there must have been from those martyrs who lay in prison rotting to death, or who were brought out to the stake, and who, as they burnt, when every finger was a candle, yet still loved him, praised him, and extolled him! Oh! that is such music as God himself could not create directly and distinctly. God must go round about by redeeming love to get such melody as that. He has not made a seraph that could so sing; it must be a fallen and renewed being that should be capable of such love as that, and say, “The Lord is good.” I am trying to put this praise into your mouth, but may God put it into your heart! Dear brother, dear sister, let this be your continual song, “The Lord is good.”
II. Secondly, GOD IS GOOD TO US. What is he to us? “A strong hold in the day of trouble.”
It is well to know what God is under special circumstances. The special circumstances here mentioned are, “in the day of trouble.” Remember that it is only a day; it is not a week, nor a month, and God will not permit the devil to add an extra hour to that day; it is a “day of trouble.” There is an end to all our griefs. Well did one say—
“When God appoints the number ten,
There ne’er can be eleven.”
And when God measures out the bitter medicine to his people, there cannot be another drop of gall put into the cup.
But it really is “the day of trouble.” See how the emphasis is laid there; “a strong hold in the day of trouble.” It is the most troublous day that a man has, that day in which the clouds return after the rain, that day in which he seems to have lost every comfort, and sorrows come one after another, like Job’s messengers, all bringing gloomy stories, and each one more gloomy than those that went before: “the day of trouble.” There is such a day which occurs to most godly people, sooner or later, before they get to heaven: “the day of trouble.” It seems to be trouble’s own day; trouble has the day all to itself. From early in the morning to the last thing at night, it is trouble, trouble, trouble: “the day of trouble.” What is God then? He is a “a strong hold.” That is a grand word, “a, strong hold” — that is, a fortress, a castle, a tower of defence, — “in the day of trouble.”
So that, in the time of trouble, God guarantees safety to his people. They dwell surrounded as with impregnable bulwarks. “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people from henceforth even for ever.” Troubles are like enemies besieging them, but God is to them like a strong tower of defence, in which they are perfectly safe.
What is more, they are often perfectly at peace. The enemy comes, and spies upon them, throws up his earthworks, and prepares his engines of war; but thus saith the Lord, as he did to Sennacherib, “The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, and laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee.” Often, in the times of their greatest trouble, God’s people are so resigned, so acquiescent to their Lord’s will, and consequently so calm, so brave, that their peace is not in the least degree affected. I had a curious experience in conversing with two ladies who were very deaf; we went for a drive in a carriage, and as soon as the rumbling of the wheels began, they could hear everything that I said, so we could easily carry on a conversation while there was a great noise, but inside their own drawing-room it was not so easy for them to hear. And I do believe that, sometimes, when God puts his people into a rumbling tumbril of affliction, they can hear his voice much better than at other times. It seems odd and strange, but it is strangely true; they are most at peace when in the thick of the fight, never so safe as when in danger, and never so much in danger as when apparently safe. God’s people are a mass of contradictions, a paradox, and a riddle; let the believer read that riddle as he can, for no one else will. He has a stronghold in the day of trouble, giving safety and perfect peace.
Beside that, it is a stronghold defying the enemy. The foe comes tearing up the hill, ready to devour the people of God; what makes them safe against the adversary? Why, there is a bastion, a fortification, so that he cannot come near. He grins at the saints, and bites his nails, like Bunyan’s Giant Pope; he threatens what he will do to them; like Rabshakeh, he writes ugly letters, but he cannot really do anything. 'When a man hides behind the Most High, God himself bids defiance to that man’s adversaries, and their rage is all in vain. There came a watery torrent down upon a little mill, and threatened to sweep it away; but wisdom fitted up a wheel, and allowed as much of the water as might be needed to turn the wheel, and grind the miller’s grist. As for the rest, it was turned aside. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” So will it be when that great torrent of trouble comes; a part of it shall be used to grind our corn, and make us rich and fat in the things of God; the rest of it shall run harmlessly by. We shall hear its noise, but that shall be all. Wherefore, in patience let us possess our souls.
Once more, this stronghold means that God abides for ever the same, always a sure refuge for the needy. Strongholds are not like temporary camps; fortifications are intended to stand from generation to generation, and in that sense, “The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble.” Remember what brave Luther did; I think I hear him saying, when the enemy raved and raged around him, “Come, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm, and spite the devil.” So they sang, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble;” and he verily laughed for joy in his holy confidence in his God. But Luther’s God is our God, — just the same God as he was then, — and he deserves the same confidence from us as he had from Luther. Wherefore, let us give it to him now; let us praise him now; instead of hanging our harps on the willows, let us say, “No, the willows have quite enough weight to bear without having our harps hung on them, and our harps were never made to be hung on willows.” Let us strike every string to the praise of that unchanging love which puts the burden on the back, and even smites us in love, and with wise intent. My soul, bless thou thy Lord this very moment, and rob him not of his revenue of praise, because thou art sad!
III. Now, lastly, we are to think of GOD WITH us: “He knoweth them that trust in him.”
Of course, the Lord knows everything; but there is an emphatic sense in that word “know” whenever it is applied to God’s people. Here it refers to his intimate acquaintance with them, their persons, their condition, their wants, their sufferings, their past, their present, their future. He knows all about them. We say, sometimes, to a person whom we do not care to meet, “I do not know you;” but we never say that to our own dear child, or to a friend whose concerns interest us. No, we try to know all about him, we wish to know in order that we may relieve and succour. In a far higher sense, omniscience concentrates its all-perceiving glance upon each child of God. Your Father is looking at you, beloved, with as intent a gaze as if there were nobody else in the world but you, — ay, and no world either, but only you. Think how he would know you if, in the whole universe, there were nothing but God and you; just in that way he knows you. He delights to know all about you, for he made you, and he new-made you. You are a plant of his planting, he has watched over you, and he has said, “I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.” It is with the most intimate and intense knowledge that the Lord knows them that trust in him.
This knowledge also implies tender care. Just as a doctor, who really cares for a patient, knows all about that patient by making a diagnosis of his condition, and studying his symptoms from day to day, till he gets to be thoroughly acquainted with him, and does not prescribe for him at a venture, so does God care for you with an intense, loving, affectionate, earnest care, wishing to do you good, to make you better, and to turn everything to your benefit. If you one of those that trust in him, it is sweet for you to be able to say, “God knows all about me, and he cares for me.” Do notice one word in the text, “He knoweth them that trust in him;” — not those that are perfect, not those that are doing certain works, but “He knoweth them that trust in him.”
Those who trust in the Lord are not only the objects of his knowledge and care, they are also the objects of his approval. There is nothing in the world that God approves of more than faith; to trust God, is the greatest of all works. “What shall we do,” said the Jews to our Lord, “that we might work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said unto them, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” To erect a row of almshouses, or to build a cathedral, — is not that a big work? No, not compared with believing on Jesus Christ whom God hath sent. This is the God-like work, the greatest work that we can do. Our action may not please God, however pleasing it may appear to us; but wherever there is faith, God is pleased, and “without faith it is impossible to please him.” So, dear friends, if you want to please God, trust him, trust him implicitly. Trust him now with your sin, with your sorrow, with everything. The more you trust him, the more pleasing you are to God. See what an opportunity you have of pleasing him in times of great trial and trouble. If a person has a burden to carry which he is able to bear, self-reliance will serve his turn; but when he has a load upon him that he cannot carry, and he says, “O God, if thou wilt strengthen me, I will carry it,”— then it is that he is pleasing to God. If you are only reaching what you can reach, there is nothing notable in that; the thing is to be doing what you cannot do, by believing in God to give you more strength than by nature you possess. To trust God while you are alive, is good; but to say, with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” that is the very cream of faith. “He knoweth”— with approving knowledge— “all them that trust in him.”
Once more, dear friends, this word “know” here means loving communion. We know one another by being with one another, sympathizing with one another, entering into one another’s thoughts and feelings. I have known in this sense some of the choicest of God’s people; and what a loss it is to lose those whom we have known so well! But God knows us; he knows our prayers and tears, he knows our wishes, he knows that we are not what we want to be, but he knows what we do desire to be. He knows our aspirations, our sighs, our groans, our secret longings, our own chastenings of spirit when we fail; he has entered into it all. He says, “Yes, dear child, I know all about you; I have been with you when you thought you were alone. I have read what you could not read, the secrets of your own heart that you could not decipher I have known them all, and I still know them.”
And they who trust in the Lord shall have one more thing; that is, God will own them as his. At the last day, Christ shall say to some, “I never know you.” Those that do not trust Christ, he will not own. In that dread hour when they will most of all need a Saviour, he will say, “I never knew you” But if you trust him, he knows you now, and he will own you then. Jesus Christ himself cannot say to me at the last day, “I never knew you.” He must know me, for he knows how I have bothered and worried him; he knows how I had the blood from his heart to wash my sins away, and the robe of his righteousness to clothe me. I have needed all that he is to make anything of me; and still, day by day I am a poor beggar who will not let him go down the street without crying, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!” Therefore he knows my name, and Christ will never say that he does not know us if he does. Make him acquainted with your name even now. Dear sinner, go and tell the Lord your story and your history, your sin and your transgression; if you confess your sin to him, he cannot say, “I never knew you.” Then go and cast yourself on him with all your sin, then he will own you as his, and will never disown you. “He knoweth them that trust in him.” Trusting in him gives us a wonderful hold on God. If you trust a man, he feels bound, if he is an honourable man, to be true to the trust reposed in him. If it were a poor person in the street, who had only a few shillings, and was afraid of being robbed, and he were to put his little store of money into your hand, and say, “Good woman, will you take care of this money of mine?”— you would take care of it, would you not? You would do anything rather than lose it. And Christ will keep that which we have committed unto him. Last Monday night, one of our brethren, a neighbouring minister, told us that, forty-five years ago, he gave his soul to Christ, and he said, “It has been like a sealed envelope ever since.” I like that thought of the seal that has never been broken. The devil has never been able to get at the good man’s soul. It has been a sealed envelope ever since his conversion, and so it shall be until the day of his Lord’s appearing, when Christ shall break the seal, and reveal to the assembled worlds what he has kept. Oh, give yourselves to Jesus, dear hearts; give yourselves to Jesus! Now that so many are being taken away from us to heaven, I want to have a great number coming into the church to fill up the vacuum. During the last few weeks that I have been ill, and have been away, I have not been able to see any of you, and I intend as soon as I can to see such as wish to make a confession of their faith in Christ. I hope that there are many of you ready to come, and that among the rest will be one or another able to say, “Yes, sir; ‘The Lord is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble;’ and I know now that he knoweth them that trust in him, and I have the witness of the Spirit that I am one of that happy company.”
God bless you, for Christ’s sake! Amen.