Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Who have fled for refuge” (Hebrews 6:18).
Paul is here speaking of the consolations of Christians. He styles them these “who have fled for refuge.”
Moses established six cities of refuge—three on the east side of the river Jordan, and three on the west (Numbers 35:6, 9-15). When a man had killed anyone accidentally, he could flee to one of these cities. The roads leading to them were kept in good condition, so that when a man started for the refuge, nothing might impede him. Along the crossroads, and wherever there might be any mistake about the way, there were signs pointing in the right direction, marked Refuge. Having gained the limits of one of these cities the man was safe, and the mothers of the priests provided for him.
Some of us have seen our peril, and have fled to Christ, and feel that we shall never be captured. We are among those “who have fled for refuge.” Christ is represented in the Bible as a Tower, a High Rock, a Fortress, and a Shelter. If you have seen any of the ancient castles of Europe, you know that they are surrounded by trenches, across which there is a drawbridge. If an enemy approaches, the people, for defense, go into the castle, have the trenches filled with water, and lift up the drawbridge. Whether Paul is referring to a city of refuge or a tower of strength, I know not and care not, for in any case he means Christ, the safety of the soul.
But why talk of refuge? Who needs it, if the refuge spoken of be a city or a castle, into which men fly for safety? It is all sunlight here. No sound of war in our streets. We do not hear the rush of armed men against the doors of our dwellings. We do not come with weapons to church. Our lives are not at the mercy of an assassin. Why, then, talk of refuge?
Do you not know that I stand before a company of imperiled men? No flock of sheep was ever so threatened or endangered of a pack of wolves; no ship was ever so beaten of a storm; no company of men was ever so environed of a band of savages. A refuge you must have, or you will fall before an all-devouring destruction.
There are not so many serpents in Africa, not so many hyenas in Asia, not so many panthers in the forest, as there are transgressions attacking the soul. I will take the best unregenerated man anywhere, and say to him, “You are utterly corrupt. If all the sins of your past life were marshaled in single file, they would reach from here to hell! If you have escaped all other sins, the fact that you have rejected the Son of God is enough to condemn you forever, pushing you off into bottomless darkness, struck by 10,000 hissing thunderbolts of Omnipotent wrath.”
You are a sinner. The Bible says it (Romans 3:23), and your conscience affirms it. Not a small sinner, a moderate sinner, a tolerable sinner, but a great sinner, a protracted sinner, a vile sinner, an outrageous sinner, a condemned sinner. As God, with His all-scrutinizing gaze, looks on you today, He cannot find one sound spot in your soul. Sin has put scales on your eyes, deadened your ear with an awful deafness, palsied your right arm, stunned your sensibilities, and blasted you with an infinite blasting.
The Bible, which you admit to be true, affirms that you are diseased from the crown of your head to the sole of your foot. You are unclean; you are a leper. Believe not me, but believe God’s Word, that over and over again announces, in language that a fool might understand, the total and complete depravity of the unchanged heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9).
In addition to the sins of your life there are uncounted troubles in pursuit of you. Bereavements, losses, and disappointments are a flock of vultures ever on the wing. Did you get your house built, furnished, and made comfortable any sooner than misfortune came in without knocking and sat beside you—a skeleton apparition? Have not pains shot their poisoned arrows, and fevers kindled their fire in your brain?
Many of you, for years, have walked on burning marl [rock]. You stepped out of one disaster into another. You may, like Job, have cursed the day in which you were born (Job 3:1-3). This world boils over with trouble for you, and you are wondering where the next grave will gape, and where the next storm will burst. O you pursued, sinning, dying, troubled, exhausted soul! Are you not ready now to hear me while I tell you of Christ, the Refuge?
A soldier, during the war, heard of the sickness of his wife and asked for a furlough. It was denied him, and he ran away. He was caught, brought back, and sentenced to be shot as a deserter. The officer took from his pocket a document that announced his death on the following morning. As the document was read, the man flinched not and showed no sorrow or anxiety. But the officer then took from his pocket another document that contained the prisoner’s pardon. Then he broke down with deep emotion at the thought of the leniency that had been extended. Though you may not appear moved while I tell you of the law that thundered its condemnation, while I tell you of the pardon and the peace of the gospel I wonder if the leniency will not overcome you.
Jesus is a safe refuge. Fort Hudson, Fort Pulaski, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, Gibraltar, Sebastopol were taken. But Jesus is a castle “into which the righteous runs and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). No battering-ram can demolish its wall. No sapper [engineer] or miner can explode its ramparts, no stormbolt of perdition leap on its towers. The weapons that guard this fort are omnipotent. Hell shall unlimber [make ready] its great guns as death only to have them dismantled. In Christ our sins are pardoned, discomforted, blotted out, forgiven. An ocean cannot so easily drown a fly as the ocean of God’s forgiveness swallow up, utterly and forever, our transgressions. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who come to God by [Jesus Christ]” (Hebrews 7:25).
You who have been so often overcome in a hand-to-hand fight with the world, the flesh, and devil, try this fortress. Once here, you are safe forever. Satan may charge up the steep and, during the uproar of the fight, shout, “Forward,” to his battalions of darkness; but you will stand in the might of the great God, your Redeemer, safe in the refuge. The troubles of life, that once overwhelmed you, may come on with their long wagon-trains laden with care and worryment [anxiety]; and you may hear in their tramp the bereavements that once broke your heart; but Christ is your friend, Christ your sympathizer, Christ your reward. Safe in the refuge!
Death at last may lay the siege to your spirit, the shadows of the sepulcher may shake their horrors in the breeze, and the hoarse howl of the night wind may be mingled with the cry of despair; yet you will shout in triumph from the ramparts, and the pale horse will be hurled back on his haunches. Safe in the refuge! To this castle I fly. This last fire will but illumine its towers; and the rolling thunders of the Judgement will be the salvo of its victory.
Just after Queen Victoria had been crowned—she being only nineteen or twenty years of age—Wellington handed her a death-warrant for her signature. It was to take the life of a soldier in the army. She said to Wellington: “Can there nothing good be said of this man?”
He said, “No. He is a bad soldier and deserves to die.”
She took up the death-warrant, and it trembled in her hand as she again asked, “Does no one know anything good of this man?”
Wellington said, “I have heard that at his trial a man said that he had been a good son to his old mother.”
“Then let his life be spared,” said the queen, and she ordered his sentence commuted.
Christ is on a throne of grace. Our case is brought before him. The question is asked, “Is there any good about this man?”
The law says, “None.”
Justice says, “None.”
Our own conscience says, “None.”
Nevertheless, Christ hands over our pardon, and asks us to take it. Oh, the height and depth, the length and breadth of His mercy!
Again, Christ is a near refuge (cf 2 Samuel 22:3; Hebrews 4:16). When we are attacked, what advantage is there in having a fortress on the other side of the mountain? Many an army has had an entrenchment, but could not get to it before the battle opened. Blessed be God, it is no long march to our castle! We may get off, with all our troops, from the worst earthly defeat in this stronghold. In a moment we may step from the battle into the tower. I sing of a Savior near.
During the late war the forts of the North were named after the Northern generals, and the forts of the South were named after the Southern generals. This fortress of our soul I shall call Castle Jesus. I have seen men pursued of sins that chased them with feet of lightning, and yet with one glad leap they bounded into the tower. I have seen troubles, with more than the speed and terror of a cavalry troop, dash after a retreating soul, yet were hurled back in defeat from the bulwarks. Jesus near! A child’s cry, a prisoner’s prayer, a sailor’s death-shriek, a pauper’s moan reaches him. No pilgrimage on spikes. No journeying with a huge pack on your back. No kneeling in penance in cold vestibule of mercy. But an open door! A compassionate Savior! A present salvation! A near refuge! Castle Jesus!
Oh, why do you not put out your arm and reach it? Why do you not fly to it? Why be riddled, shelled, and consumed under the rattling bombardment of perdition, when one moment’s faith would plant you in the glorious refuge? I preach a Jesus here, a Jesus now, a fountain close to your feet, a fiery pillar over your head, bread already broken for your hunger, a crown already gleaming for your brow. Hark to the castle gates rattling back for your entrance! Hear you not the welcome of “those who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18)?
Again, it is a universal refuge. A fortress is seldom large enough to hold a whole army. I look out on 1.4 billion of the race. Then I look at this fortress, and I say that there is room enough for all. If it had been possible, this salvation would have been monopolized. Men would have said, “Let us have all this to ourselves—no publican, no plebeian [commoner], no lazzaroni [homeless beggar], no converted pickpocket. We will ride toward heaven on fierce chargers, our feet in golden stirrups. Grace for lords, dukes, duchesses, and counts. Let Napoleon and his marshals come in, but not the common soldier that fought under him. Let the Girards and the Barings come in, but not the stevedores that unloaded their cargoes, or the men who kept their books.” Heaven would have been a glorified Windsor Castle, Tuileries, or Vatican; and exclusive aristocrats would have strutted through the golden streets to all eternity.
Thank God, there is mercy for the poor! The great Dr John Mason preached over a hundred times the same sermon, his text: “To the poor the gospel is preached” (Matthew 11:5). Lazarus went up, while Dives went down (Luke 16:19-31); and there are candidates for imperial splendors in the back alley, and by the peat-fire of the Irish shanty. King Jesus set up His throne in a manger, and made a resurrection day for the poor widow of Nain, and sprung the gate of heaven wide open, so that all the beggars, thieves, and scoundrels of the universe may come in if they will only repent. I can snatch the knife from the murderer’s hand while it is yet dripping with the blood of his victim, and tell him of the grace that is sufficient to pardon his soul. Do you say that I swing open the gate of heaven too far? I swing it open no wider than Christ, when He says, “Whoever will, let him come” (Revelation 22:17). Don’t you want to go in with such a rabble [lowlifes]? Then you can stay out.
The whole world will yet come into this refuge. The windows of heaven will be opened; God’s trumpet of salvation will sound, and China will come from its tea-fields and rice-harvests, and lift itself up into the light. India will come forth, the chariots of salvation jostling to pieces her Juggernauts. Freezing Greenland and sweltering Abyssinia will, side by side, press into the Kingdom; and transformed Bornesian cannibal preach of the resurrection of the missionary he has slain. The glory of Calvary will tinge the tip of the Pyrenees; Lebanon cedars “shall clap their hands” (cf Psalm 47:1); and by one swing of the sickle Christ shall harvest nations for the skies (cf Revelation 14:15; Luke 3:17).
I sing a world redeemed. In the rush of the winds that set the forest in motion, like giants wrestling on the hills, I see the tossing up of the triumphal branches that will wave all along the line of our King as He comes to take possession of His empire. In the stormy diapason [stop] of the ocean’s organ, and the more gentle strains that in the calm come sounding up from the crystal and jasper keys at the beach, I hear the prophecy: “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters fill the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
The gospel morning will come like the natural morning. At first it seems only like another hue of the night. Then a pallor strikes through the sky, as though a company of ministering spirits, pale with tedious watching through the night, had turned in their flight upward to look back on the earth. Then a faint glow of fire, as though on a barren beach a wrecked mariner was kindling a flickering flame. Then chariots and horses of fire racing up and down the heavens. Then perfect day: “Who is she that comes forth as the morning?” (Song 6:10).
Come in, black Hottentot and white Caucasian. Come in, mitered official and diseased beggar. Let all the world come in. Room in Castle Jesus! Sound it through all lands. Sound it by all tongues. Let sermons preach it, bells chime it, pencils sketch it, processions celebrate it, and bells ring it: Room in Castle Jesus!
Again, Christ is the only refuge. If you were very sick, and there was only one medicine that would cure you, how anxious you would be to get that medicine! If you were in a storm at sea, and you found that the ship could not weather it, and there was only one harbor, how anxious you would be to get into that harbor!
O sin-sick soul, Christ is the only medicine! O storm-tossed soul, Christ is the only harbor!
Need I tell a cultured audience like this that there is “no other name given among men by which we can be saved” (Acts 4:12)? That if you want the handcuffs knocked from your wrists, the hopples [ropes] from your feet, and the icy bands from your heart, there is only one Almighty arm in all the universe to do everything? There are other fortresses to which you might fly, and other ramparts behind which you might hide, but God will cut to pieces, with the hail of His vengeance, all these refuges of lies.
Some of you are foundering in terrible Euroclydon [Mediterranean storm]. Hark to the howling of the gale, the splintering of the spars, the starting of the timbers, and the breaking of the billow, clear across the hurricane deck. Down she goes! Into the lifeboat! Quick! One boat! One shore! One oarsman! One salvation!
You are polluted; there is but one well at which you can wash clean. You are enslaved; there is but one proclamation that can emancipate. You are blind; there is but one salve that can kindle your vision. You are dead; there is but one trumpet that can burst the grave.
I have seen men come near the refuge but not make entrance. They came up, fronted the gate, and looked in, but passed on and down; and they will curse their folly through all eternity, that they despised the only refuge.
Oh, forget everything else I have said, if you will only remember that there is one atonement, one sacrifice, one justification, one faith, one hope, one Jesus, one refuge!
There is that old Christian. Many a scar on his face tells where trouble lacerated him. He has “fought with wild beasts at Ephesus” (1 Corinthians 15:32). He has had enough misfortune to shadow his countenance with perpetual despair. Yet he is full of hope. Has he found any new elixir? “No,” he says. “I have found Jesus the refuge.”
Christ is our only defense at the last. John Holland, in his concluding moment, swept his hand over the Bible, and said: “Come, let us gather a few flowers from this garden.” As it was evening, he said to his wife, “Have you lighted the candles?”
“No,” she said; “we have not lighted the candles.”
“Then,” said he, “it must be the brightness of the face of Jesus that I see.”
Ask that dying Christian woman the source of her comfort. Why that supernatural glow on the curtains of the death-chamber? and the tossing out of one hand, as if to wave the triumph, and the reaching up of the other, as if to take a crown? Hosanna on the tongue. Glory beaming from the forehead. Heaven in the eyes. Spirit departing. Wings to bear it. Anthems to charm it. Open the gates to receive it. Hallelujah! Speak, dying Christian—what light do you see? What sounds do you hear? The thin lips part. The pale hand is lifted. She says, “Jesus the refuge!” Let all in the death-chamber stop weeping now. Celebrate the triumph. Take up a song. Clap your hands. Shout it. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
But this refuge will be of no worth to you unless you lay hold of it. The time will come when you will wish that you had done so. It will come soon. At an unexpected moment it will come. The castle bridge will be drawn up and the fortress closed. When you see this discomfiture [embarrassment], and look back, and look up at the storm gathering, and see the billowy darkness of death has rolled on the sheeted flash of the storm, you will discover the utter desolation of those who are outside of the refuge.
What you propose to do in this matter you had better do right away. A mistake this morning may never be corrected. Jesus, the Great Captain of salvation, puts forth his wounded hand today to cheer you on the race to heaven. If you despise it, the ghastliest vision that will haunt the eternal darkness of your soul will be the gaping, bleeding wounds of the dying Redeemer.
Jesus is to be crucified today. Think not of it as a day that is past. He comes before you today weary and worn. Here is the cross, and here is the victim. But there is no nail, no thorn, no hammer. Who will furnish these? A man out yonder says, “I will furnish the nails with my sins!”
Now we have the cross, the victim, and the nails. But we have no thorn. Who will furnish the thorns? A man in the audience says, “With my sins I will furnish the thorns!”
Now we have the cross, the victim, the nails, and the thorns. But we have no hammer. Who will furnish the hammer? A voice in the audience says, “My hard heart shall be the hammer!”
Everything is ready now. The crucifixion goes out! See Jesus dying! “Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea …. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge” (Psalm 46:1, 2, 7).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: New York Public Library (1908)
Featured for this series are photographs of old New York.
*Adapted from “Castle Jesus,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], New Tabernacle Sermons Vol I (New York: George Munro, 1886). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.