The Year Of Jubilee
Address given by Dr. H.A. Ironside on his fiftieth anniversary as a preacher of the Gospel.
I want you to turn with me this morning, please, to the 25th chapter of the book of Leviticus. I have selected that you are graciously celebrating with me these days what you have been pleased to call my Golden Jubilee—whether golden or not, it is my jubilee. The jubilee is 50 years and 50 years have gone by since God in His marvelous grace gave me to trust Christ as my Saviour and then Jesus Christ put it in my heart to go forth and tell to others the wonderful story of the cross. It has been my privilege for one-half century to preach this and I can honestly say if I had my life to live over again, while I would hope to avoid many snares, blunders, and mistakes of which I know I have been guilty, yet I would seek to serve the same Master, to preach the same Gospel and to give my life to the grand objective of winning souls to Christ; and with that in mind, this passage came vividly before me when I thought of this service. We will read verses 8 to 13 of this 25th chapter. “And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubile to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field. In the year of this jubile ye shall return every man unto his possession.”
This was one of the remarkable laws which God gave to His earthly people, Israel. The book of Leviticus has sometimes been called the priests’ guide book. It contains directions given by the Lord, through Moses, whereby the priests were to order the services of the Tabernacle and were to guide the people in obedience to His Word. Every seventh day was set apart as a sabbath of rest. It was not God’s objective in giving that the sabbath of rest to put people under legal restriction. Our Lord said that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. It was an expression of His loving heart. “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” They were all to rest, and that seventh-day sabbath pictures the rest we now find in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told in the New Testament “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). The word “rest” translated literally means “sabbath keeping”—to the people of God. We have found that sabbath in Christ Himself. He who shed His blood said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
God found His rest in Him and we enter into that rest where God Himself rested, in the finished work of Christ, the blessed One who completed our salvation.
The people of Israel not only had a sabbath of days but God also gave them a sabbath year. He gave them six years to work the land and the seventh year the land was to rest; the seventh year was a sabbatic year. However, they violated the law, hoping thereby to increase production. The people of Israel were forgetful of God’s Word. Over a long period of 490 years they failed to observe the sabbath of the land and doubtless they thought God had overlooked it and was not paying any attention, as every seventh year they worked as in years past. Finally God said, you have dishonored my Word, you haven’t been obedient; therefore you will go down into a land of strangers, and you will be captives to the Babylonians until the land has enjoyed her sabbaths. You will be there 70 years and while you are there the land will be keeping its sabbaths. For 490 years they had neglected the sabbatic year—7 into 490 gives seventy. They thought God had lost track but He had been keeping books all the time. So they went down to Babylon and remined there until the sabbaths were all made up. You would have thought they would have been thankful for the Sabbatic year and recognized it as an evidence of goodness of the Lord. Just as today you would think men would not turn away from the gracious invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Come unto me, and I will give you rest.” You would think they would be anxious to come and obtain rest, yet the vast majority do turn away and Jesus has to say to them as to so many in His own day, “Ye will not come to me that ye might have life.”
Of old they were to observe not only the sabbath day and the sabbath of the land, but we are told that at the end of seven sabbatic years they were to observe a year of jubilee. Look again at verse 8. “And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years.” Then the next year, the fiftieth year, was called the year of jubilee. God said, “On the tenth day of the seventh month in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land.” That was a wonderful day as it recurred from time to time. Every slave in Israel rejoiced because on that day all those sold into bondage were set free. On that day all those in debt had their debts cancelled. On that day all those who had sold their property or leased it out were able to receive it back again and enjoy once more the heritage of their fathers. I fancy there must have been thousands of Israelites who, as the Jubilee Year drew on, were waiting eagerly for the time when the trumpet of the jubilee should sound, and people groaning in captivity, people groaning in trouble and trial, would say, “Just a little while now, just a few years…months…” and then “Just a few more weeks” then “Just a few more days and the trumpet of the jubilee shall sound.”
But, you know, the trumpet couldn’t sound until they celebrated the great day of atonement. This was the type of the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ. On the morning of the great day of atonement the high priest slew the appointed victim and carried its blood into the holiest of all, there to be sprinkled before and on the mercy seat as a token that propitiation had been made for the iniquities of the people and in order that God might continue to dwell among them. The throng waited expectant until the hour when he should appear again. They would watch him so eagerly as he carried the blood inside and was lost to view behind the curtain and they knew he was crossing through the holy place, pausing outside the veil a moment and then entering the holiest. If God was not pleased He would refuse to pardon their sins and to continue to dwell among them. The high priest would drop dead and wouldn’t come out to proclaim propitiation made. So they waited,—and one can imagine the thrill that went through the thousands of people as suddenly they saw the high priest step out, walk through the court and raise his hands and say, “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” They knew atonement had been made, that God was satisfied, on the basis of the sacrifice offered, to acknowledge them as His people and continue to dwell among them.
That went on every year—they had this great day of atonement. But in the jubilee year when they knew the sacrifice had been accepted, the signal was given, the priests put to their lips the silver trumpets and one great loud blast went forth to announce that the year of jubilee had actually come. Charles Wesley entered into the New Testament meaning of that when he wrote:
“Blow ye the trumpet, blow
The gladly, solemn sound
Let all the nations know
To earth’s remotest bound
The year of Jubilee has come
Return ye ransomed sinners home.”
The moment that trumpet sounded every serf, slave, bondman in Israel was suddenly free. It was as though the shackles fell from their limbs. Husbands who had been separated from their wives, children who had been separated from father and mother, rushed together as they cried, “We are free, the year of jubilee has come!”
We have known something like that even in our own lands. In the year 1834 when slavery was banished from all the British dominions and colonies, in Jamaica the colored folks who had been in bondage for years were all waiting for the signal to tell them that the edict had gone into effect which would mean they were free. They gathered together in one of the villages of Jamaica, around a great pit and hour after hour they were waiting, afraid and calling upon God, and when the time drew near when the edict would go into effect, one of their leaders called them to bring their chains and throw them into that pit. As he stood there he cried, “Slavery, the Monster, is dying” and they threw their fetters into the pit; and then he cried, “The Monster is dead!” Then all those slaves shouted for joy as they realized that for them the year of jubilee had actually come.
We know something of this in our own land, when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that no longer in America should any man or woman be the property of another, all were actually free and equal before the law as they are before God.
So, this year of jubilee—how much it meant for Israel and to those in bondage. Think of the man who had been in debt, sickness had come upon him, all his assets gone and he had to borrow and mortgage everything and meet the interest payments and satisfy his creditors, and his wife says “My dear, don’t be too downcast; in only a few more days the trumpet of the jubilee shall sound and then no more debts, no more burden.” And so they would wait until the jubilee sounded from the tabernacle.
Thank God, our debts are all cancelled—the Lord put them away forever. It was God’s type, or picture, of what our Lord Jesus Christ is doing through the Cross, for poor slaves of sin, those who are debtors because of their sin and have nothing to pay. I suppose doubtless most of us here this morning remember when God in grace gave us this knowledge. We were pictured by these poor debtors—slaves to sin, we had no liberty, and owed a debt we could never pay; but when the glorious Gospel proclamation reached our hearts and we learned that on Calvary’s cross, the Lord Jesus had settled everything, how our hearts rejoiced. We could sing:
“He bore on the tree
The sentence for me
And now both the surety and sinner are free.”
How did the slave in Israel or the debtor in Israel know that he was free and his debt cancelled? He knew it by the Word of God. God had said in His Word after the sacrifice is offered and accepted on the great day of atonement the trumpet of the jubilee shall sound to proclaim liberty throughout all the land and ye shall return every man to his possession, every slave set free, every debt cancelled. You can imagine a poor debtor sitting with his accounts before him, telling his wife, “I don’t’ know what to do; my estate is in such a condition I will never be able to straighten things out.” Then the great blast of a trumpet and the wife exclaims, “It is the trumpet of the jubilee.” He says, “It doesn’t mean anything to me,” and the wife says, “Husband, it means your debts are cancelled, everything is settled.” He looks up and says, “That sounds good but I don’t feel any different.” What had his feelings to do with it. God had given His word and he simply had to believe He meant it.
After the war between the States, quite a number of school teachers went down from the North to the South in order to gather the colored people together and give them an education, which had been so long neglected. A New England teacher tells how she got off at a railroad station and took a light river boat to a distant plantation where there were a great many colored people—men, women and children. She wanted to pen a school and obtained a room in the plantation house. A woman was appointed to look after the room and this woman was not pleasant, grumbling all the time, and unless the woman from the North told her what to do, the colored woman wouldn’t do it. She was very dissatisfied with her lot. Finally the New England woman lost her temper. She said, Look here, Dinah, I don’t think you are treating me well. We Northern people helped to set you free. Now I have come down here and you are so cross and sulky.” The colored woman looked at her with a strange expression on her face, but after a moment returned to her work. Now she seemed so cheerful and so careful as she looked after everything. Half an hour or so went by and suddenly when she had gotten control of herself, she came over to the school teacher and said, “Missus, may I ask you’re a question? Missus, did I understand you right? Are we free?” The teacher said, “Of course you are free. Didn’t you know you were free?”
“Missus, are you sure we are free? You know, there was one of our colored men whocame up and told some of the hands we were free and we went to old Master and asked him and he said we weren’t and every little while someone else would tell us; but we ain’t got any proof. When we asked old master he says ‘Get back to work. Forget that business.’ So you know, Missus, we have just been on and off, sometimes we think we are free and sometimes we don’t; we are uncertain all the time. But you say you are shore we are free. How do you know?”
“I know you are free because the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln.”
“Missus, have you got that paper?”
“Yes, in my trunk.”
She showed the paper to Dinah, and the men, women, and children gathered on the lawn as it was read to them for the first time. They listened breathlessly and then about 150 hats went flying into the air and they shouted “We are free, we are free, and we’re never going to serve old Master any more!” For them the year of jubilee had come.
It is a wonderful thing to enjoy physical liberty in this life, but greater to have the liberty purchased for us by the Lord Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.
When He was here on Earth one day He went to the city where He had been brought up and His townspeople were eager to hear and see Him and He entered into the synagogue, as was His custom as a boy. He had taken part in the services and they knew Him well. (Luke 4:17) “There was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And said “This day is the scripture fulfilled in your ears.” He had come to proclaim the Year of Jubilee for all who would receive the testimony of God. In order to work out that salvation for sinners He had to offer Himself a sacrifice as in the type of the day of atonement. So He went to the cross and suffered and died for our salvation. Now having given Himself a ransom for our souls He has commanded His servants to go to the ends of the Earth and proclaim liberty throughout all the lands to all the inhabitants thereof. For us it is just a question of whether we are willing to take God at His Word. If you believe His record, we are told “ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” It is a question of believing God. He has told us in His Word we are all slaves sold under sin, all debtors—we owe a debt we can never hope to pay; but Christ has met every responsibility. And so the Gospel trumpet sounds throughout all the world, that “through His name whosoever believeth on Him should receive remission of sins.” Can’t you take Him at His word? Have you believed Him? Do you enjoy the liberty He has purchased with His own precious blood? I have selected this hymn and I want to use it now because it meant so much to me 50 years ago when I believed the message, when I put my trust in Him, when I received Him as my Saviour. I shall never forget when I could walk to school as a boy and say “My sins are forgiven; I know Christ is my Saviour.” And all through the years since my joy is greater and greater. So I want you to sing this as the Jubilee hymn.
“Oh happy day that fixed my choice
On Thee my Saviour and my God
Well may this glowing heart rejoice
And tell its raptures all abroad.”
While we stand and sing I wonder how many who are still in sin and bondage, still burdened with that load of debt you have no way of discharging, would like to know the liberty, joy and freedom found in Christ Jesus. Trust Him now and the joy of the jubilee will be yours.
Editor’s note: The term “colored” was once commonplace in the American society of Dr. Ironside’s day. The term was complex in meaning; however as used here, it was not meant in a derogatory manner.