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Bible Commentaries

Parker's The People's Bible

Isaiah 64

Verses 1-12

The Heart's Cry

Isa 64:1

The heart must have its time for speech as well as the cold and foolish intellect. The intellect is always a fool when it is not held in check by the heart, in the consideration of all pious, moral, and beneficent questions. There are many persons who are much afraid of changing the solar system. They tell us that when we pray to God to give us a fine day we ask God to change for the time being the whole construction of the solar system; and some persons can never endure that. They are fond of the solar system; it is to them more than God; they worship the solar system, and all the more so that they know nothing about it, having only seen one little speck of it, and only the outside of that little speck. Here is a man, come whither he may, who rises above the whole solar system, and would have it torn to pieces rather than be without God. That man is right. We say "man," although literally it may be the petition of the Church; yet we take Isaiah as the typical prophet in this instance, and the cry is Never mind what becomes of the solar system, we want thyself, thou God and King and Father of men. Melt the mountains, break up the mechanism of the universe, only come to thy children, and take up thy habitation in our hearts, and let us see thee, and feel thee, that we may love thee more deeply and completely. That is musical. The other person is very anxious not to touch the umbrella which he calls the solar system; that must always be hung out and held up properly; but, passion, heart, frenzied love, says, I must have God, come what may of the solar system, and all the stellar constitution of that blue dome. That man speaks the deeper language, his is the grander eloquence; the other man is a little mechanician and expert in one thing out of millions of things, and because he does not know the remaining millions he does not really know the one thing which he has undertaken to handle; only he knows what a pebble is who knows what God is. You will be ruined by your specimens and museums and collections, because they amount to nothing, until they are related to the currents of the universe.

There are persons who are very anxious not to suspend the laws of nature. They therefore cannot believe in miracles; they are the victims of the expression "the laws of nature." What is nature? What is law? What are the laws of nature? How do they begin, how do they run, how do they eventuate, for what purpose were they established? What are these tyrants that even God cannot modify, alter, or discharge as if with sovereign contempt? It is very interesting to hear persons who have never been farther than their own back garden discourse upon the sublimities of all the zones of the globe: how fluent they are! When did ignorance stand still for want of a word? Wisdom often stands still, the highest eloquence often hesitates; it is dainty in its elections, it is discriminating, penetrating; it cannot be taken in by shades that graduate into one another, it must be precise, definite, emphatic. So it is always interesting to hear persons who have made a collection of a basket of flowers or butterflies talk about the laws of nature. Here is a voice, resonant, magnificent, full of heart-chords, that says, Break up the scheme of nature and rebuild it, only thou Heart of things come to us! We catch our best selves in our best reality when we are thus impassioned. The zoologist or physiologist tells us that animals can only move when they are warm; they can only move in proportion as the sun is in them. It is the sun that makes the bird fly, it is the sun that made the little serpent leap up into your way and flash into the woods like a glare of light in darkness. We move by the sun. So, in a higher sense, in the larger, richer realms of education and culture and growth, we are moved by inspiration, not by information. Information is a liar, either intentional or unconscious. It never tells a whole story. Inspiration stands clear out above all the details, and, seizing the universe in the gross, speaks the purpose of its divine Creator. You do not know yourselves until you are drowned in tears, or roused into enthusiasm; you do not know your own patriotism until in the presence of some crying wrong you rise into a new and nobler consciousness. So we must come to inspiration, to highest poetry, to divinest touch, such as we find in this Christianity, that we may know what can be done in the imagination of faith, even to the solar system and to the laws of nature. The man who talks coldly to you cares nothing about you. While he is looking at you he is looking into you, and while he is apparently interested in you he is adding you all up to see what he can make of you in the end, or he is wishing you were a mile off. The man whose heart is ablaze with divine fire, and who looks at everything through his tears, and throws upon all commonest things the glamour of a chastened and purified imagination, is the man who would do more for you than the man who is a self-constituted constable or a self-appointed sentinel, whose business it is to take care of the solar system. When you have caught yourselves in religious rapture you have seen an image of yourselves that would remind you that man was made in the image and likeness of God.

There are two ways of looking at a flower: the one is a botanical way, or, to use the general expression, the scientific way; the other is the poetical or spiritual way. The botanist takes the flower to pieces because, he says, he loves it. To the lay mind that seems to be a curious way of showing love, but scientifically we are bound to believe it is quite correct. He takes the flower all to pieces and calls it a stem, and petal, and cell, and leaf, and so on. The poet says, Do not touch it; if you touch it you will take the bloom off the fair thing, an almost angel. Walk around it, fix your eyes upon it, love it, let it talk to you. They are both right. We could not do without either the one interpretation or the other. We ask the poet why these flowers are red, and those are blue, and others are tinged with other hues, and he says, To please the eye of man. We turn to the botanist and say, Is that true? and he says, Not a word cf it. The flowers are red and blue and other colours of a vivid kind in order to attract the insect; however these flowers came into being, there was not the faintest intention of pleasing the eye of man with their colours; they are not fashion-plates, they are not printed in order to entertain foolish sightseers; the flowers are made vivid that the insects may see them, come to them, and fertilise them, and take away something out of them and carry it to some other flowers. Wherever the wind fertilises a plant it leaves it of a dull colour. The wind does not fertilise your fine reds and your tender blues; these are the mission field of insects. Whatever the wind does, it never leaves a patch of colour upon anything; it simply blows upon it and goes away, leaving it dull, unpainted, unflushed with poetic blood. The botanist may be right from a botanical point of view; but what is a botanical point of view? Who would pay for it, or go a long way on a wet day to seek it? Who would die for it? There may be some botanists who would die for their plants. I do not know them, and therefore I will neither affirm nor deny their existence; but the poet must have his flower, his garden, his paradise; yea, it he be a great man in a little house and have all his garden on the window-sill, yet through that little garden he will see all the flowers that ever bloomed in the parterres of the unmeasured universe.

So with the solar system, and the laws of nature. There is a scientific view, cold, exact, precise, ignorant, fluent, and characterised by every other element that can be contributed either by partial wisdom or absolute ignorance; and there is a poetical view of things, the view that is disclosing itself to imagination's tender expectant eye; the view that looms on dreams. There is the hard stern doctrine that says God is shut up in his own universe, and he cannot get either under it or above it or round about it; he has enclosed himself in that magnificent cage, and there he must stop. There is another view that says, "Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, oh that the mountains might flow down at thy presence!" The world would die but for this second and nobler view. There are occasions when the heart expects great things from God, and insists upon having them. These are moments of inspiration; the heart says, I know that God can do this, and I will give him no peace until it be done; I will importune him, I will besiege his throne, I will smite the gate of heaven violently, I will give no rest to my eyes or my eyelids until this consummation of righteousness and truth and love take place. Let the wild heart pray; let such holy excitement work out its impassioned enthusiasm. To the cold, unexpanded mind it may seem to be ecstatic, romantic, and fantastic, but God alone, who made the soul, can interpret and appreciate all its varying moods and passions. To him remit the great arbitrament.

The heart knows what God can do, and the intellect does not. Be very jealous of your intellect, especially if you have been tempted to believe that you have one. The intellect is vain, conceited, self-idolatrous, fond of invention, pleased with its own discoveries, overjoyed with little toys of its own making and preservation. It was through the intellect that the devil wrought all his mischief; he made no appeal to the heart, he said, God said you may not eat of every tree of the garden; if you were to eat of the tree that is forbidden you would be what? wise, intellectual. Not a word was addressed to the region of the soul in which lie all the holy elements of obedience, love, loyalty, trust, expectancy of fellowship and communion with the divine heart. You know what it is to be importuned by the head on the one side and the heart on the other. The heart will go farther than the head; the head will sometimes say, Now I am nearly exhausted, and I must lie down. The heart never gives in. The heart says, We will find him over the next sea. The intellect says, I cannot go upon any more seas. The heart says, Then I will go alone. The heart never tires; the heart says, There is yet more to be seen than we have beheld, I will sit up all night; go, thou laggard intellect, and lie down and rest thee, and talk thy nightmare; I will spend all the darkness in seeking some new star. The heart is the last to give up; it cannot relinquish its quest, when it is once self-assured that God may at any moment appear with deliverance and redemption and sanctification. Believe the heart; follow your best impulses; do not be chaffed out of your piety by being called fantastic, romantic, enthusiastic. They are bad men who know the measure of God and the measure of piety, and who carry about their religion as they would carry about an outer garment. Your religion is not to be outside of you, an imposition to be carried either by head or heart; it is to be part of yourself wrought into the very tissue of the soul, so that you shall live and move and have your being in God: a marvellous, but under the mighty energy of the Holy Ghost a quite possible, absorption.

We have often had occasion to remark, in going through this People's Bible, that close communion with God, real fellowship with the heart of things, reduces nature to very small dimensions. In proportion as we are out of God nature appears to us to be simply infinite. We have to get rid of that fallacy before we can begin to pray. You must see, as science teaches us, that the greatest comet that ever alarmed the nations could be put into a thimble. You must overget the imposing hypocrisy of nature. In proportion as men grow in grace they rise above nature, they dominate nature, they look down upon it. Travelling up to God, inquiring for God, they wonder and say, "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?" but when they get really into sympathy with God as revealed in Christ, even a fisherman can say, "The heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat." In proportion as we rise into the higher poetry, we dismiss "the cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself," and say that they shall be dissolved, and like the baseless fabric of a vision, "leave not a rack behind." When you find a man who is frightened by nature, and feels that he has a whole solar system to carry somewhere, you find a man who has not begun really to say, "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." The man who says that looks upon nature, so far as magnitude, pomp, majesty are concerned, with contempt. He who has seen the king and who loves the king cares next to nothing for the chariot in which he rides. When we have seen God with our hearts and felt his power and answered the appeals of his love, we say, Come down to us, though thou dissolve the solar system and melt the mountains that affright us by their shadows; come through the nature thou hast made, and claim our poor hearts as thy dwelling-place.

Do not think that God has built himself out of his own universe. Curious notions prevail respecting God in this matter. The general conception of theological ignorance seems to be that God has pinioned himself hand and foot, and that he calls the pinions he has created and applied "the laws of nature." The Christian conception is that God is greater than all. The Lord reigneth; he is King; the Most High hath his way in the heavens and in the great deep and to the ends of the earth; the morning is his gospel, the night is his benediction, and all the rolling seasons are revelations of his characteristics, and he can do what he will among the armies of heaven and among the children of men. He taketh up the isles as a very little thing; he weigheth the mountains in scales, and smiles at their so-called magnitude; and as for the great blue highway of the stars which we call the sky, it is a multiplied film, a bubble that he can blow into nothingness. Always avoid those people who are anxious to take care of the solar system. They are wondrously concerned about its system, and they would not for the world pray for a fine day because the solar system, as we have said, would have to be reconstructed if they got a fine day to visit their friends in. And they think that God is as much bound by the solar system as they are. What a God is theirs! a godless God, an uncrowned divinity, a divinity, indeed! a liar! Oh, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thine heart's desire. To our present limitation the universe is indeed great, all the stars are points of glory; but when God has fully revealed his Son in us, and has taken us to view things from the right point, we shall see them as he does, and we shall find that God never can have anything above him. How great soever the universe, it is but a footstool.

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Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Isaiah 64". Parker's The People's Bible. 1885-95.