Wakeful and Watchful Eyes
“Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” — Psalm cxxi. 4.
“Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.” — Psalm cxxiii. 2.
NOTICE, dear friends, that both these texts begin with the word “Behold.” That word is meant to attract the readers attention. In some books, which are intended to be sensational, you are asked to behold, and when you look, there is nothing to see; but when God’s Word bids you behold what it has to say, you may be sure that the exclamation is not superfluous or misleading. It would be a marring of the Word of God to leave out even one of its smallest expressions; and, therefore, when we see this word “Behold” placed at the beginning of each of these texts, we may rest assured that there is in both of them something worth noting, worth examining and considering, and worth remembering and carrying away.
A very useful series of discourses might be preached upon the “Beholds” of the Old and New Testaments, which culminate in John the Baptist’s “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world and Pilate’s “Behold the man and still more in our Lord’s own message to John, “Behold, I come quickly.” But two Old Testament “Beholds” are to furnish us with a theme of meditation at this time. It is somewhat singular that they both relate to eyes. The first tells us about God’s eyes: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” His eyes are never closed; no feeling of weariness or need of slumber ever causes them to be heavy and to shut. And the second text, tells us about our eyes: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God. until that he have mercy upon us.”
See, brethren, both our texts speak about eyes, and they ask for the use of our eyes by saying “Behold,” which is as though God said to us. “I am going to tell you about my eyes, which never slumber, therefore, look and see, for you shall find them ever open, and ever watchful over you.” Then the next text tells us about our eyes, and reminds us how God gives to his people clear and quick eyesight, so that they observe all the motions of their Master’s hand, and are glad to note them, and prompt to do as he directs. I have put these two texts together because I hoped that, when you saw with joy how the eye of the Lord is upon the righteous, and his ear is open to their cry, you would then feel that it was a fit return that your eyes should be unto the Lord your God, and that your ears should be open to receive his teaching and to learn his commands. God grant that this may be the result of the sermon upon these two texts!
I. First, then, I am to speak to you concerning THE WAKEFUL EYES OF THE LORD OUR GOD. We are told, in our first text, that the Lord, who keepeth Israel, shall neither slumber nor sleep.
We learn from these words, first, that the Lord keeps Israel. Read the 121st Psalm through, and you will find the word “preserve” or “keep” or “keeper” repeated many times. God has himself undertaken the work of keeping his people; it is his high office to preserve those who are his own chosen ones.
“He that keepeth Israel.” By this expression we understand that the Lord keeps his people as a shepherd keeps his flock. There is a great depth of meaning in that word “keep” as it is thus used; for a shepherd keeps the sheep by feeding them, by supplying all their needs, and also by guarding them from all their adversaries. He keeps the flock with vigilance so that it is not diminished either by the ravaging of the wolf or by the straying of the sheep. Both by night and by day, even an ordinary shepherd takes great pains and the utmost care to preserve his sheep; while “our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep,” who was brought again from the dead, uses his omnipotence, his omniscience, and all his divine attributes in the keeping of his sheep. O beloved, if you are indeed his people, and the sheep of his pasture, rest assured that he will preserve you! You are in good keeping, for he is the good Shepherd, and the great Shepherd, and the chief Shepherd; and he will perform all the duties of his office well and faithfully, that he may keep securely all whom his Father has committed unto him.
Another figure may equally well illustrate the meaning of this expression. The Lord keeps his people, not only as a shepherd keeps his sheep, but as a king keeps his jewels. These are rare and precious things which are his peculiar treasure, and he will not lose them if he can help it. He will go to war sooner than be deprived of them. He will put them in the securest casket that he has in his strong room, and set his most faithful servants to guard the place wherein they are stored. He will charge those who have the custody of his crown jewels to take a full and accurate account of them, and to be careful to examine them from time to time to see that they are all there, for he greatly prizes them, and is not willing for one of them to be lost. They probably cost him a great price; or, if not, they are part of his royal heritage, and of the glory and honour of his kingdom, so he desires to keep them all. Even so does the Lord Jesus keep his people, for they are his jewels. He delights in them, they are his honour and his glory. They cost him a greater price than they can ever realize. He hides them away in the casket of his power, and protects them with all his wisdom and strength. Concerning those who feared the Lord, and thought upon his name, it is written, “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels.” It is God’s work to keep his own jewels; he does not commit them even to the custody of the tall archangel who stands nearest to his throne, but the Lord himself keepeth them, and none shall be able to pluck them out of his hands.
This is not all, for we might multiply figures to almost any extent, and still not exhaust the meaning of the text. The Lord keeps his people as a governor keeps the city committed to his charge. He places his guards around the walls, he has his cannon on the battlements, to defend the place against those who besiege it, and he is himself constantly on the watch. Early in the morning, and late at night, he is on the walls; and through the night the watchmen keep their continual round, for the city must be preserved from scaling ladders and from assaults of every sort. The Lord will not let even the suburbs of the New Jerusalem be conquered by the foe. He will preserve the holy city, his own Church, until the day when his Son shall come to reign in her for ever.
I find that, in all probability, the figure here used is an allusion to the common custom of having guards to watch the tents of travellers passing through the desert. At this very time, if you were journeying through the Holy Land, you would find that, when you came to your camping ground, and nightfall drew on, there would be certain persons employed to watch over the different tents; for, otherwise, the wandering robbers of the desert would soon enter, and take away your valuables, or even your life. I have noticed, in the books of two or three travellers, this observation, “We found it exceedingly difficult to obtain a tent-keeper who could keep awake all night.” One gentleman speaks of discovering a thief in his tent, and when he went outside to call the watchman, he found that the man had gone so soundly to sleep that he could only be aroused by one or two gentle kicks. When a man has been travelling with you all day, it is unreasonable to expect him to keep awake through the night to take care of you. Hence, see the beauty of the expression used by the psalmist: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” There shall be no deep sleep falling upon him; nay, there shall not even be a brief period of slumber, not even a wink of sleep shall ever overcome him. A man may say, “I am so tired that I cannot keep my eyes open;” but God says not so.
Now turn to the second part of our first text: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” and think, first, of God’s eyes as never wearying of his people. I suppose that the fondest mother is sometimes glad when she can put her children to bed, and have a little quiet time by herself. She at last grows weary even of their pretty ways, and she is willing to let them go out of her sight for a while. But the Lord never grows weary of his people. If some of you had such children as God has, you would never be able to endure their trying ways. None but the God of infinite patience could bear with such a family as he has; any one of us might exhaust the patience of a hundred Jobs rolled into one; yet, tell it out, and let even the angels hear it, we have not exhausted the patience of God. He has never been so wearied and worried by us as to say, “I must go to sleep, my children; and leave you to take care of yourselves.” Our Saviour’s eyes are never weary of looking on us, — those eyes that closed upon the cross, and then that opened again, on the resurrection morning, like bright stars, those eyes that, from the heights of heaven, have looked down upon the redeemed with ineffable delight of love, those eyes never grow weary of the chosen ones. Our Lord Jesus has such joy in his people as keeps him from ever being weary of them. That is one meaning of his never slumbering or sleeping.
The next is, that God is never forgetful of his people for a single moment. You and I forget things which we most want to remember. Have you not, my sister, often shifted your ring from one finger to another that you may say to yourself, “How came it here?” and then recollect the reason why you removed it? Yes, I know you have done so; and we have had a hundred ingenious inventions to keep us in mind of something that we wished not to forget; yet we have forgotten it, after all. The fondest human heart at times forgets; but that divine heart alone, never does; and those eyes which look down on us, with infinite love flashing forth from them, are never sealed in the slumber of forgetfulness. We forget all things in our sleep, and lie completely indifferent to all that is happening round about us; but God never does so; he never forgets us, and he is never indifferent to us. Oh, what a blessed truth is this!
Sleep also throws us into a condition in which we are incapable of helping ourselves. But God is never in such a state as that. He is always awake to show himself strong on the behalf of those who trust him. You will never have to call to him in vain, or get from him the answer, “I cannot help you now.” Elijah, in his irony, said that perhaps Baal was sleeping, or on a journey; and the idol god was quite unable to deliver those that called upon him; but our God, who made the heavens, is quick to hear the faintest cry of any one of his people. He is perpetually girt with all might and energy; and if you do but appeal to him, he will speedily fly to your relief, yea, he will fly upon the wings of the wind; for he is prompt to deliver all those who put their case into his hands. God is never asleep in the sense that he is unable to help us.
And, moreover, God is never asleep in the sense that he ceases to consider us. I do not know whether you can catch the thought, so as to lay hold of it by faith; but we have an instance of it in the 40th Psalm, where David says, “I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me.” When? Now? Yes. To-morrow? Yes. And yesterday? Yes. He was always thinking upon us; and he is always thinking upon us. The infinite mind of God can think of all things at once. You and I, in thinking of one thing, often forget another; but it is not so with God. He is so great that his centre is everywhere, and his circumference is nowhere; and you, dear brother or sister, may be the very centre of God’s thoughts, and so may I; and all his redeemed may at the same moment have his thoughts fixed upon each one of them. Can you realize the wondrous truth that there never is a moment, night or day, in which the great mind of the Eternal ceases to think of you? Then, how safe you are with God always looking upon you! How happy you ought to be with God always thinking of you! Yea, how joyful you ought to be because, even if others forget you, he never does! You remember how Cowper represents Alexander Selkirk, when far away on that island of Juan Fernandez, saying, —
“My friends, do they now and then send
A wish or a thought after me?”
He could not bear, in his loneliness, to be altogether forgotten by everybody; and none of us would like to be in that condition; but even if we were in such a plight, we could still find comfort in that ancient promise, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget.” It is rarely enough that mothers are so unnatural; still, “they may forget; yet,” says the Lord, “will I not forget thee.” Oh, drink that down! Is it not a sweet draught? Of all the luscious drinks that men ever delighted in, there can be none with such flavour as this choice wine of covenant faithfulness.
So much, then, for our first text: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” I have only given you a few brief hints. Lay them up in your memories, and come with me to consider our second text: “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their master’s, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that he have mercy upon us.”
II. The lesson of these words is, that THE WATCHFUL EYES OF THE SAINTS ARE FIXED UPON THEIR GOD.
Which is the more wonderful text of the two? Certainly, it is a great marvel that God should always fix his eyes upon us; but I think it is a greater marvel that you and I should ever be brought to fix our eyes on God. For God to look at his people, is according to his own nature; but for us to look upon God, is something superior to human nature; it is the gift of God, and the work of sovereign grace. I think that both looks are to be regarded as miracles of mercy. For a child of God to be so sanctified that he always fixes his eyes upon God, as a servant does upon his master’s hand, — this is a very eminent degree of sanctification, and is a thing worthy to be looked at, and worthy to have the word “Behold” put before it. I wonder whether you and I ever yet reached such a height of consecration to God as to be able truly to use the language of this text.
Alas! in many cases we cannot get men’s eyes fixed upon God at all. There is this natural world, with all its wondrous beauty; God has painted every flower-bell, and tinged the clouds with the glory of the setting sun. He is everywhere; and yet men walk through his great house of nature, and — fools that they are! — they say, “There is no God.” It is hard to get men to see God. We put the Bible into their hands; they read it, and are interested in its stories, but they see not God in it. Providence comes to their very doors with marvels, yet they say that they do not see God’s hand in anything that happens to them; and even when we preach, — and this is the woe of woes! — we cannot get men to look to the Lord. God knows that I have never tried so to speak that you should think of me for a single moment. I have sought to tell my tale as plainly as I could, and to force it home on men’s hearts and consciences as God might help me; and yet, at the end of the sermon, often the hearer’s only remark is, “How did you like him?” It does not matter at all how you like him. Is that what we came here for, — to fiddle to you, as men do in your orchestras, or speak before you as if we were mere actors playing for your amusement? It is of no concern to us what you think of our style or manner; it is the truth itself which we would fain drive home to you; it is that truth which, if we could, we would make you feel as the OK feels the sharp goad. It is the blessed doctrine of Christ crucified which we would have you feed upon, as the hungry man devours the bread that is given to him, and does not care whether he ever knows the baker’s name, or not. Still, I must say again that it is a hard thing to get men to see God anyhow and anywhere. They look around, above, beneath, everywhere; but to get them to fix their eyes upon God, “This is the work; this is the difficulty.”
The man of God, who wrote this 123rd Psalm, had been taught to look to God in a very remarkable manner, and I call your attention to it, in the hope that many of you will do likewise. First, his eyes were reverentially fixed upon the Lord. He looked to God’s hand, wherever it was, with deep reverence: “as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters.” He was, of course, talking about Oriental servants; — the Hebrew word bears the meaning of slaves; and travellers tell us that, when they go into the house of a wealthy person in the East, the master will give certain signs to his slaves, and refreshments are brought in; but, except when they are called, the servants stand at a distance, watching for the slightest motion of their master’s hands; they do not have the liberties that we happily accord to our servants; but they are just nothing and nobody, mere tools for their master to use as he pleases. And, as to the maidens, I have heard that the women in the East have a harder time of it with their mistresses than the men do with their masters, and that the lady of the house is a more severe taskmaster than her husband is. So the maidens watch their mistresses very carefully, for they are sorely afraid of them, and they look with great care and fear to see what “Madam” would have them do. Now, casting aside everything of human fear out of the figure, this is the way in which we ought to look to God. He is in heaven; we are upon earth. He is great; we are nothing. He is good; we are lumps of sin. It is for us, therefore, with the utmost reverence to seek to learn God’s will in every point, in his Word, and in his works, and at once, without question, reverently to do what he commands us.
The next point is, that the truly sanctified man looks to God’s hands with obedience as well as with reverence. Orientals, as a general rule, speak far less than we do, except when they sit around the fire, at eventide, and tell their tales. But an Eastern master seldom speaks. A gentleman went, some time ago, into an Eastern house, and as soon as ever he entered, the master waved his hand, and the servants brought in sherbet. He waved his hand again, and they brought dried fruits; then he moved his hands in a different way, and they began to spread the table; and, all the time, not a word was spoken, but they perfectly understood the motion of his hand. They had to look sharply to see how the master moved his hand, so that they might do what that motion meant. We have not very much of that dumb action amongst us; but, on board a steamboat, you may see the captain moving his hands this way or that, and the call-boy is ready at once to pass the word down to those who are in charge of the engine. That is just how the child of God should watch the hand of God, in the Bible, and in providence, so as to do at once whatever lie plainly perceives to be his Lord’s will. Ah, me! I know some professing Christians who will not do God’s will till they have had a good whipping, or not until they have been chastened again and again. Remember that ancient injunction, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” You know how the drivers have to pull at their reins; they say, “This creature is so hard in the mouth that we do not know how to manage him at all.” And some of God’s people are terribly hard in the mouth, they need very rough handling to make them move. Yet we ought to be different from horses and mules; we ought to be ready at once, at a beck, or a wink, or a nod, to know what God would have us do, and do it reverently and obediently.
Then, also, our eyes should be absolutely fixed upon our Lord. The eyes of servants ought to be so directed to their masters that they not only see the sign, but obey it, whatever it means. It may be a very little thing, but yet the little thing should not be neglected. I would again say what I sometimes feel ashamed of having to say. I sometimes meet with a person who says, with regard to the matter of believers’ baptism, “Now, you know that baptism will not save me.” You mean, miserable soul! Will you do nothing but what is necessary for your salvation? Is that the spirit that actuates you? Will you do only what is necessary to save your poor soul, which is hardly worth saving if you talk like that? It is too small a thing to be worth anything; but unless baptism will save your soul, you will not attend to it. “Well,” says another, “I have reversed the Scriptural order; I have put my baptism before my believing.” Who gave you leave to alter the Lord’s order? If servants were to act like that, what mischief we should have! Suppose they were to bring us in our dessert before they brought in our dinner; — that would be a very small affair, yet it is important to observe the right order even in such matters. Or suppose we were to tell them to sweep the room, and dust it; and they should dust the room, and then sweep it. It is only altering the order, but you know what would happen. So is it with those who put baptism first and believing afterwards; it just- spoils the whole transaction, and it violates the intention of God in the ordinance. You have no right to act like that.
I may remind you of a story which I think I told you some time ago. A poor youth earnestly wished to join the church, but his friends thought he was somewhat deficient in brain power, and that he had better not be baptized. He lay sick, and was evidently dying; and he said to his mother, “Mother, I wish I had been baptized, and joined the church.” She replied, “My dear boy, you know that being baptized would not have saved you; you will go to heaven because you have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Oh, yes!” he said, “I know that; you do not think I am so stupid as to fancy that baptism would save me. I know that has nothing to do with going to heaven; but when I get there, I shall see my Saviour, and, perhaps he will say to me, ‘Isaac, why did you not join the church?’ If I should say, ‘Lord, that was a very little thing,’ he would say, ‘Yes, then you might have done it to please me.’” That story is just to the point; the smaller the matter is, the more careful we should be to attend to it, if it would please the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not be so clever, you servants who fancy that you know better than your Master, for perhaps he may find somebody else to be his servant if you behave like that. Suppose that I was starting on a journey, early in the morning, and I said to my servant, “I should like a cup of coffee before I start,” and suppose that, when I came down, she brought me a glass of cold water, I should ask her, “Why did you do that?” If she should reply, “Oh, sir, I thought that the water would be better for you than coffee!” I should say, “Well, I am very much obliged to you for thinking of me in that considerate way; but I shall have to engage another servant who does what she is told.” So I advise you not to alter or judge God’s Word, but to obey it. Do not begin to calculate as to whether what you read there is right in your sight, or in the eyes of other people; the one question for you is, — Has my Lord bidden me do this? If so, then, as the eyes of the maiden are to her mistress, so let your eyes be unto the Lord your God.
Once more, our eyes are to be turned to the Lord solely. The Eastern servant is not allowed to think; it is no business of his to have his eyes upon his master’s guests; they are to be fixed upon his master. And the maiden does not think it to be her business to watch the movements of the hand of the lady who calls to see her mistress; her eyes are to be on the hands of her mistress. She does not dare to take them off, for, perhaps, just when she is looking out of the window, or gazing in curiosity at some object, her mistress may be waving her hand, and she may not see it; and then there will be a serious scolding and possibly something worse when the mistress gets her alone. So you and I must not take our eyes off our God at any time; but his way, and his will must be our sole law; and for this we must live, that we may please him whose servants we are, for has he nob bought us with his precious blood? So we are not our own, we are “bought with a price.”
“Ah!” says one, “we have not come to that yet.” No, I fear you have not; but you ought to. There is no peace for us till we do. He who, either by omission or commission, neglects to do or goes beyond his Lord’s command, will find sorrow in his soul. Depend upon it, the roots of our bitterest griefs strike into our sins; and, if our sins were overcome, the major part of our sorrows would be removed. Oh, that God would give us grace to be very tender in conscience, to tremble before him, as well as to rejoice before him, for in very deed the man who does not tremble at his Word has not yet learned truly to love him!
Now I must speak to some here who, perhaps, know nothing about all I have been saying, for they have lived without God. I will finish my sermon by just reminding you that this may do very well for this world, — though it is a poor business at the best, — but when you come to die, you will need God then. Now, when I die, and go to be with God, I know that Christ will not say to me, “I never knew you.” I am sure he cannot, because he has long known me. I was about to say that he has known me to his cost, for I have long been a beggar at his door every day, and I cannot live without him. I am naked, and poor, and miserable, apart from him. I have always some errand or other to make me go to him, — some sin to confess, or some want to be supplied. So he knows me well enough. You are sure to know a beggar who is always at your door. Perhaps he says that he has not been there before, but you reply, “Why! you have been here every morning for the last six weeks. I have always seen you begging here the first thing in the morning.” You cannot say that you do not know him; yet that is what will happen to those of you who have never sought the Lord Jesus Christ, and never prayed to him. Christ will say to you, “I never knew you.”
I feel that the spot I occupy just now is a very solemn one; for, like the captain of a ship, I can see all over this place. Often, when I come here on a Sunday, somebody says, “So-and-so has gone.” There is one gone out of that seat which you occupy, my friend. He was there last Sabbath-day, but he has gone. And I can point to many of you, and say, “You are sitting in the seat where one used to sit whose face was very familiar to me, but he has gone home.” And some go to my great surprise; I have thought to see them again many times; and when I have missed them, I have said, “Oh, she has gone to the seaside for a little holiday;” but someone has said to me, “No, she is dead; she was suddenly taken away;” or, “he was called away only this last week.” Ah, me! Ah, me! And what faces I may be looking into now that. I shall never see again! Give me your hand, my friend; for this is the last time I may ever speak to you. I do beg you to get ready to go on that last long journey. Oh, do not die unsaved! I do beseech you, do not attempt to enter the eternal world, with all its dread, without a Saviour. This is the way of salvation. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, trust yourself with him; put your soul, as a sacred deposit, into the hand of that dear Banker whose bank has never failed, — nay, more, who has never lost a penny that was entrusted to him; and ere you sleep, just rest in Jesus. God help you to do so, for Christ’s sake! Amen.