ISAIAH'S VISION OF THE KING AND OF HIS KINGDOM
CHAPTERS 11 AND 12
This is one of the visions that Isaiah saw (chap. Isa, Isa 2:1, &c.). He was a dreamer of dreams. With a keen perception, not surpassed, of the men and things actually surrounding him, much of his life was passed in an ideal and future world. There he found comfort and strength to endure the sorrows that otherwise would have crushed him. At the outset of his ministry, when the great king who had done so much to restore the prosperity of the nation was about to be removed, there was vouchsafed to him a vision of the King immortal, eternal, invisible, throned in the temple, and surrounded by the exalted intelligences who do His will (chap. Isa 6:1-4); and now, at the close of the wicked and disastrous reign of Ahaz, when his hopes concerning his race would naturally have failed, there was granted him a vision of a King of righteousness and peace, who on earth would rule over a kingdom such as the world had never seen. His soul had been stirred and appalled by a vision of disaster and woe. He saw the king of Assyria, then the terror of the earth, utterly broken, his vast armies hewn down as forests fall before the axes of the woodmen (chap. Isa 10:33-34); a vision of blood and terror which may well have filled him with trembling. But just as sometimes the sweetest day break follows a night of storm, this vision of terror fades away, and he sees—
I. A KING (chap. Isa ).
2. Royally endowed; a King by truest "right divine," because possessed of royal qualities of heart and mind (chap. Isa ). Of the thousands who have sat on thrones, how few have possessed them! How many have ruled over the miserable wretches subject to their sway merely by the craft of the serpent or the cruelty of the tiger! Of those who have been popular, how many have owed their popularity to mere physical prowess and politic good-nature (Richard I., Charles II.)! How few have endeavoured to approach the Biblical conception of what a ruler ought to be (Deu 17:14-20; 2Sa 23:3; Psa 72:4; Pro 20:28)! In the marvellous superiority of that conception to anything that has prevailed among men, have we not another proof that the sacred writers were indeed inspired by the Spirit of God?
3. Ruling in righteousness; using His marvellous endowments for the welfare of those subjected to His authority (chap. Isa ); not judging of things or men by their mere appearance, nor by common report; caring for the poor, befriending the shrinking and helpless, fearless in His dispensation of justice; His very words being swords that smote and overthrew the arrogant oppressor; made strong by the very righteousness which merely politic men would have feared to display in view of the might of iniquity in this disordered world; a Hero of the truest and divinest kind, in actual life setting forth the ideal to which the noblest knights in the purest days of chivalry strove to conform. Such was the King whom the prophet "saw" in an age when "ruler" was merely another word for tyrant and oppressor. Surely the vision so fair and wondrous was given him from above!
When the axe is laid to the imperial power of the world, it falls without hope (chap. Isa ). But in Israel spring is returning (chap. Isa 11:1). The world-power resembles the cedar-forest of Lebanon; the house of David, on the other hand, because of its apostasy, is like the stump of a felled tree, like a root without stem, branches, or crown. The world-kingdom, at the height of its power, presents the most striking contrast to Israel and the house of David in the uttermost depth announced in chapter 6, fin., mutilated and reduced to the lowliness of its Bethlehemitish origin. But whereas the Lebanon of the imperial power is thrown down, to remain prostrate, the house of David renews its youth.… Out of the stump of Jesse—i.e., out of the remnant of the chosen royal family, which has sunk down to the insignificance of the house from which it sprang—there comes forth a twig (choter), which promises to supply the place of the trunk and crown; and down below, in the roots covered with earth, and only rising a little above it, there shows itself a nçtzer, i.e., a fresh, green shoot. In the historical account of the fulfilment, even the ring of the words of the prophecy is noticed: the nçtzer, at first so humble and insignificant, was a poor despised Nazarene (Mat 2:23).—Delitzsch.
II. He saw also THE KINGDOM.
1. A kingdom of righteousness (chap. Isa ). The kingdom necessarily resembles the king. Appalling is the influence of a court upon a nation. Correspondingly great is the responsibility of those who sit in high places.
2. A kingdom of peace. Set forth by the most beautiful symbolism (chap. Isa ; Isa 11:13).
3. A kingdom of prosperity. Those included in it are no longer miserable exiles and bond slaves; rather they rule over those by whom they were spoiled and oppressed (chap. Isa ). This is the true interpretation of a symbol that is in itself harsh and repulsive. The coarseness of the symbol is due to the coarseness of the minds it was first intended to touch. 4. A kingdom of gladness and joy. There pervades it the gladness of exiles who have been restored to their own land (chap. Isa 11:15-16); the true and religious joy of men who recognise that the deliverances which inspire their songs have been wrought for them by God (chap. Isa 12:1-5); the joy of men who are absolutely assured of continual safety (chap. Isa 12:2; Isa 12:6).
Was all this merely a bright vision?
1. It has been already fulfilled in part.
2. In our own day it is being fulfilled more completely than ever before.
1. Recognise and rejoice in the fact that we are living under the rule of this righteous King. This is at least the dawning of the "day" which Isaiah saw (Mat ).
2. Exult in view of the certain future of our race. The kingdom of God shall come generation after generation with mightier power (H. E. I., 3421-3423).
3. Labour as well as pray that future may be hastened.
THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD
Isa . The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him.
This is declared concerning the Messiah. Short as this declaration is, some of the profoundest of all truths are involved in it. It is implied that God is a person, that from Him there goes forth an influence by which the character of other persons is affected, and that all that qualified Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah came from God. Let us think of these things. Do not be deterred from doing so by the idea that they are transcendental, far away from our daily life. They need not be so; we shall be very blameworthy if we make them so.
I. God is a person. There are those who would have us put away this faith. In their view, God is merely the great controlling Force behind all other forces, the life of the universe, diffused through it, manifesting itself in innumerable forms. As it is the same life in the tree that manifests itself in root, trunk, branch, spray, twig, leaf, blossom, fruit, so all things that exist are not the creations of a personal will, but the manifestations of an impersonal and all-pervading life; all forces, convertible the one into the other, are but varying forms of the one underlying force. Every individual life is but a wave that seems for a moment to be separated from the one universal ocean of life; it leaps up from it, falls back into it, is absorbed by it. True, these waves are often strangely diverse—Nero and St. Paul, John Howard and Napoleon, the Virgin Mary and Lucrezia Borgia; but in that great Unity of which they are all manifestations, there is an all-comprehensive reconciliation, though it may elude our grasp. For Pantheism, many would have us put away the doctrine of a personal God. But this exchange, if it could be forced upon us by some logical necessity (which it is not), would not be a gain, but a tremendous loss. For,
1. There would be a tremendous loss to the heart. A force may be feared, but not loved. To gravitation we owe much, but no one ever professed to love it. A force cannot be loved, because it does not love. Strike out of our life all that comes to us from the confidence that God loves us, and from the responsive love that springs up in our hearts towards Him, and how much is lost! Then there is no longer any assurance amid the mysteries of life, nor consolation in its sorrows. In a word, we are orphaned: we can no longer say, "Our Father, who art in heaven." There is no longer a Father, knowing us, loving us, causing all things to work together for our good; there is only a Force, to which it is useless to appeal, against which it is impossible to contend.
2. We should also lose one of the greatest of all helps to a noble life. Not to dwell on the fact that to speak of virtue or vice would then be absurd,—then we should no longer sin, we should merely make mistakes,—consider how much the world owes to the aspiration to be like God which has stirred so many noble souls. Through them the average morality of the world has been marvellously raised; but this would have been impossible but for the stimulus these inspiring souls found in the character of God. That is the first fact of which this text reminds us, that God is a person from whom a spirit—an influence—can go forth affecting the character of other persons.
II. From God such an influence does go forth. The possibility is a glorious fact. That from God a "spirit" should go forth, and that it should do so invisibly, is in accordance with all that we know of the universe which God has made, and which is in some sort a revelation of Him.
1. Nothing in the universe is unrelated. From orb to orb influences go forth by which they are mutually affected.
2. The mightiest influences are invisible. In all this, the material is a counterfact and revelation of the spiritual. It would be altogether abnormal, if from God there did not go forth an influence operating upon and affecting other persons. It is invisible, but its effects are recognisable. One of them is the activity of conscience, rightly understood. Another is the moral growth and refinement which those in whom it is most conspicuous, most invariably and distinctly attribute to influences exerted upon them by God. Even Socrates did so. This also is a doctrine full of hope and comfort. If we need moral transformation, there streams from God an influence capable of effecting it: to that influence let us submit ourselves, and the transformation shall come to pass; the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon us, and we shall become like Him.
III. To the influence exerted upon Him by the Spirit of the Lord, Jesus of Nazareth owed all that qualified Him to be the Messiah (Isa ). That which was born of the Virgin Mary was a true human child. A sinless child, yet sinless not as the result of the sinlessness of the mother (as Rome teaches), but of the influence of the Spirit of the Lord resting upon Him from the beginning of His earthly life. His was a real humanity—our humanity sanctified. All that was pure, noble, Godlike in Him was "born not of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." How full of comfort and hope is this truth also! To us also is offered the same Spirit. Nothing can be more express than the declarations that we may have it if we will, and that, if we have it, the ultimate result will be that we shall be found partakers of the holiness of God. Let us not be unwisely cast down by the frailty and pollution of our nature; if the Spirit of the Lord rest upon us, the purity and the strength of God will become ours, and at length the Father will say of each of us, as He did of Jesus of Nazareth, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE
Isa . And He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears.
A glorious difference between our Lord and ourselves. "He knew what was in man," and needed not the evidence of external signs, which often mislead us. He could deal with the motives of the heart (H. E. I., 3332, 4147). Not by human sight, but by Divine insight, He judged the conduct and character of men.
1. Our judgment is enfeebled by ignorance. We do not see and hear all, and from our imperfect knowledge of facts we draw wrong and often disastrous conclusions (H. E. I., 2997-3005). But our Lord could go behind the visible works, and detect what often deceived men—e.g., His treatment of pharisaism.
2. Our judgment is enfeebled by prejudice. This is often the result of ignorance. Seeing only certain sides of men, we dislike them, and frame our judgments accordingly—e.g., Nathanael (Joh ). With no better reason than Nathanael had, we regard many a man as an enemy, or otherwise place him in a false light. But our Lord dealt with none in this way. Seeing men as they really were, no preconceived opinions led Him to unworthy conclusions.
3. Partiality enfeebles and perverts our judgment. Judging by sight and hearing, we approve of one man more than another, because he has certain artful or pleasing methods for winning our favour; flattery, offers of gain, &c. (P. D., 1275, 1281, 1283). But our Lord could not be won in this way (Mar ; Joh 6:15). He was infinitely compassionate, tender, forgiving, but no feeble partiality interfered to prevent most righteous judgment.
4. Our judgment is often perverted by passion. In the pursuit of some unlawful and all-absorbing aim, we become too disturbed to weigh calmly even the evidences we can see and hear. We look at everything in the light of our false affection, and are thereby rendered absolutely incapable of beholding others in their true light, especially if they stand in our way and oppose our progress (P. D., 2060). But the one absorbing and unremittent purpose of Jesus of Nazareth was to do the will of His Heavenly Father, and to finish the work He had given Him to do. Hence He dwelt always on a pure altitude, in whose clear atmosphere He saw men and things as they are.
5. Our natural depravity is also a serious hindrance to our right judging. Our very organs of knowledge, our affections, our conscience, have been perverted. Let a man be ever so disposed to take correct views of men and things, there will be some flaw in his vision, some defect in his hearing. Hence there are times when we cannot accept as final the judgment of the best and holiest of men. But Christ had no secret evil to lead Him wrong.
In view of all this, how fitting it is that Christ should be our judge! How well, too, He is qualified to be the merciful High Priest whom we need (Heb ). He who tenderly sympathises with us is He who perfectly knows us (H. E. I., 956; P. D., 462).—William Manning.
THE UNIVERSAL DIFFUSION AND REDEMPTIVE POWER OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
Isa . They shall not hurt nor destroy, &c.
We have here a picture of the golden age. I. The whole earth shall be as Mount Zion. II. Shall be freed from injustice and violence. III. Shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.
1. Wherein this knowledge consists.
2. To what extent it shall prevail—universal, deep.
3. By what means it is to be diffused.—J. Lyth. D.D.: Homiletical Treasury (p. 18).
"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord." It seems clear that in these words the prophet intended to be understood as speaking of the whole earth. He would scarcely, in the same sentence, have used the expressions in question—the holy mountain in the first clause, and the earth in the other—if by these expressions he had not meant the same thing, namely, the whole globe of the earth, when the dwellers thereon should come to be true worshippers, like those who first worshipped at Mount Zion, and who were a type of the greater assembly of worshippers, the holy and universal Church, which in the fulness of time would be established.
I. The prophet grounds the hope of that reformed and purified state of the moral world, described in the beautiful words of the text, upon the increase of religious knowledge which he saw to be coming. "They shall not hurt … for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord." II. These words may be taken as descriptive of the legitimate effect of Christian knowledge. The general scope, aim, and tendency of gospel principles is such as would produce the change described, were it not counteracted by the tendency within us to what is wrong. III. They are more than this: they are prophetic of the actual results of Christian knowledge. The gospel will render war impossible. True, so-called "Christian" nations have not yet ceased to wage war with one another, nor so-called "Christian" men to rob and circumvent and ruin each other. Nevertheless, this prophecy shall yet be fulfilled. We see it in the process of fulfilment. The condition of the moral world has been meliorated by Christianity. Wars have not ceased, but their conduct has been mitigated. In their private dealings with each other, men have become more just and trustworthy. Already there are millions of men who would shrink from doing harm of any kind to their fellow-men. Compare Christendom with heathendom, and you will see what mighty changes the gospel has already wrought. The practice even of Christian men falls short of their knowledge. Nevertheless, the practice and the morals of men are, generally speaking, the best where their knowledge is the most. The prophet's words are justified by fact, and men forbear one another most, and hurt and destroy least, where knowledge is the greatest. It is a fact that life and property are more safe and secure in the Christian portion of the earth, than in any other portions. And the knowledge of the Lord grows year by year; partly through the labours of missionaries in many places; still more by the rapid growth of the nations that are Christian. The violent and lawless races of the earth are dwindling away. The only races that are increasing are those that fear God, and are willing to respect the rights, the properties, and the lives of their neighbours. Through the medium of this natural increase of peace-loving races, and through the conversion of many among the benighted nations, this prophecy is receiving a gradual, but very appreciable, fulfilment. The world is advancing, with ever-accelerating speed, towards knowledge and peace, and this declaration shall yet be literally fulfilled (H. E. I., 979, 1161-1168; P. D., 2465, 2466).
1. We are permitted to rejoice in the hope of a period when justice and benevolence shall prevail in the world.
2. We are required to contribute towards the realisation of this hope. This we are to do
(1) by the purification of our own hearts; by the conquest of every passion and desire that would make us hurtful to our neighbours.
(2) By prayer (Mat ).
(3) By helping to diffuse that "knowledge of the Lord" which is the great peace-maker in the earth.—A. Gibson, M.A.: Sermons on Various Subjects; Second Series (pp. 246-265).
In this and the preceding verses we have a beautiful picture of a state of human society entirely different from anything that has been witnessed since the Fall. The prophet beholds changes in human character so great that he feels he can only symbolise them by transformations in the members of the animal kingdom of the most astonishing kind. Isa are symbolical, and are intended to excite within us the liveliest anticipations of the glorious effects that would follow the universal proclamation and acceptation of the gospel. Thus we are led to speak of the nature, the diffusion, and the effect of the knowledge of the Lord.
I. ITS EXALTED NATURE. By "the knowledge of the Lord" may be meant that of which He is the revealer (2Ch ), or that of which He is the theme (2Pe 2:20). God can only be revealed by Himself; and He has given us a threefold revelation of Himself—in nature, in providence, and in Holy Scripture. In the latter we have the record of the fullest revelation which He has vouchsafed, that given us in His Son. God is never truly known by man until He is known in Christ. "The knowledge of the Lord" and "the gospel" are terms of the same meaning.
1. Of prophetic certainty. Nothing could be more plain than the prophetic declarations concerning this matter. But if any man asks when the promise will be fulfilled, only one answer can be given him (Act ).
2. Involving Divine agency. Utterly false is the notion that, after creating the universe, God withdrew from it, and left it to go on by its own momentum (Joh ); and utterly false is the notion that, after giving the gospel to the world, God has left it to make its own way therein. By Divine agency men are raised up to proclaim it (Eph 4:11). While they are so engaged Christ Himself is with them (Mat 28:20); and while they preach, the Holy Spirit strives in the hearts of men to prepare and dispose them to receive the glad tidings (1Th 1:5). When, therefore, we look at the glorious promise of our text, we must not forget that God Himself is working for its accomplishment. This will save us from unbelief and despair concerning it.
3. Involving human instrumentality. Not that this is absolutely necessary. Without human husbandry God could have caused the earth to bring forth food for man and beast, and without human instrumentality He could have saved the world. But it has pleased Him to commit to us the Word of reconciliation. The consequent duty of preaching it must be taken in connection with, and regarded as the condition of, the promise; just as the promise that there shall be a harvest till the end of the world is conditioned by man's sowing the seed in the appointed season. The promise must not be used as an excuse for indolence, but as a stimulus to industry.
"As the waters cover the sea." The idea of universality could scarcely have been better expressed than by this magnificent simile. You have looked forth on the illimitable expanse of waters with wonder and awe. Your imagination has followed the depths far beyond the lowest tide-line to the unfathomed valleys and caverns that form the ocean bed; and you have endeavoured to take fully into your mind the thought that the lowest depths and the most distant shores were filled and covered by the all-diffusive and all-searching element.—Rawlinson.
III. ITS BLESSED EFFECT. The gospel is a harmonising power. It has a transforming efficacy equal to any that would be needed to bring about a literal fulfilment of Isa . Where-ever it comes in its saving power, it new creates human hearts, and thus dries up the causes of hatred and discord at their fountain. For it is a principle, 1, of righteousness, and, 2, of love. Hence it brings peace. For all discord is due to injustice that is prompted by selfishness (Jas 4:1). Where righteousness and love combine and rule, there must be peace and security; for the very desire to injure is taken away. The universal prevalence of the gospel necessarily means universal peace (H. E. I., 1126, 1127, 1129).
1. This suggests the answer to the questions, Why Christian nations make war against each other, and why even in Christian churches there are fierce contentions? The answer is, either that those nations or churches are Christian only in name, or that they have only very partially attained to "the knowledge of the Lord." They are only in the infant-class in Christ's great school; as they learn of Him, their rivalries and hatreds will pass away.
2. The gospel being so blessed in its effects, it is plain that it is the duty of all good men to extend the knowledge of it.—John Rawlinson.
A remarkable declaration this, especially if the Hebrew prophets were, as some learned sceptics tell us, men of narrow mind, worshipping a merely local god, and hating all men not descended from Jacob. By the noble simile employed by Isaiah two ideas are suggested—
1. Universality. Mankind is the area to be covered.
2. Ease. All the creeks, bays, channels, and broad highways of the vast ocean are filled in their appointed time. The mighty tide rises, sweeps onward, and the work is done. There was one great flood-tide of gospel-truth in the days of the apostles, and there is a greater still to come. Meanwhile, many difficulties attend the efforts of God's people to extend the knowledge of His truth; but, in the world's fulness, great ease will characterise the progress and triumphs of the gospel (Psa ; Heb 8:11). This declaration suggests two great subjects:—
I. THE HOPE OF THE WORLD. Shut the Bible, and our outlook on the world and its future is dark and sad. Open it, and let its light shine into our minds, and with the light will come encouragement and hope.
1. If it is true that "the earth … the sea," then God takes an interest in the affairs of the world, and takes an interest in them now. This mighty world is not left to drift into an unknown and perilous future without a steersman to guide it.
2. If God makes such abundant provision for the instruction of men in the knowledge of Himself, then He will be accessible to them when, by that knowledge, they are led to approach Him; and He is accessible to us.
3. Himself opening for men a way of access to Him, we may be sure that when they avail themselves of it He will deal with them in the way of mercy and love; and so He will deal with us. Who can doubt this who looks on the face of Christ, through whom God has given us the truest knowledge of Himself (2Co )?
4. He means to be known to the world, and therefore His gracious offers extend to all, to us.
II. THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH. In view of this declaration,
1. Take enlarged views of your work. Think how much remains to be done. Even if you could suppose that your family, your street, your town, your country were filled with the blessed tide of the knowledge of the Lord, yet think of the earth, and all its myriad claims resting upon the servants of God.
2. Spare no efforts in promoting the cause of Christian missions. In advancing these, you are working in harmony with the great purposes of God, and for an object which is dear to Him—that object for which He has already given His Son! Will you withhold from it the money with which He has entrusted you, and for which you will have to give account at the last day?
3. There are many present difficulties in the prosecution of mission-work, but meanwhile take comfort from the large purposes of God. "Have faith in God." His plans are vast, but His glorious promises are great as His counsels, and His resources as glorious as His promises. The process of filling the earth with "the knowledge of the Lord" may seem to us to be tedious, the obstacles may be many, the time may be long; if the work were left to us, it would be hopeless; but GOD will hasten it all in His time.—William Manning.
It is here declared that there is yet to dawn upon the world an era of perfect light, and that that shall be also and therefore an era of perfect love. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, FOR the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord."
It is a mystery, but it is a fact, that knowledge is not necessarily a blessing. The devils believe—and therefore know—yet remain devils still (Jas ). Many men of unholy life have been men of eminent knowledge (Rom 1:21). But this is a moral monstrosity, a result of the unnatural condition into which we have been brought by sin; just as in certain forms of disease food becomes poison. Knowledge is one of those forces which naturally tend to elevate and sanctify (H. E. I., 3106); to know God truly is eternal life (Joh 17:3); and the declaration is, that knowledge shall be world-wide, and that by it the world shall be morally revolutionised. Remembrance of two facts will give intelligence and strength to our faith in these glorious predictions.
1. As man's knowledge of God has grown, the human race has risen. Except in those abnormal cases already referred to, it may be declared that men cannot learn to know God and remain as they were—e.g., wherever the knowledge of the unity of God is restored to man, idolatry becomes impossible; as soon as the knowledge of the spirituality of God really enters the mind, formalism in worship becomes an impossibility. So every truth concerning God, as soon as it is really known, becomes a correcting and converting force. The tendency of this knowledge, as of light, is to quicken and beautify. The way to grow in grace is to grow in the knowledge of Christ (2Pe ).
In this subject there is,
1. A complete justification of all missionary enterprises. They are not visionary schemes foredoomed to failure; they are intensely practical, and shall be triumphantly successful. The time may be far off, but it is advancing, when every man shall know God ( δ). The effect of that knowledge will be the destruction of the desire to destroy or injure.
2. An argument for patience. In view of the wrongs that prevail upon the earth, many noble souls find it difficult to exercise it. Of finer taste, of clearer vision, of truer sympathy with God than is common amongst men, the wickedness that triumphs in the world fills them with continual agony. It drives them almost into atheism. They ask, "Can God see these things, and not use His power to bring them to an end? If there were a God, would He not instantly smite the oppressors with destruction?" Let them be patient. God does see; God does feel; God is hastening on the better day by the only means by which it can really be brought in. Another deluge would not cleanse the world from crime; if but eight souls were spared, sin would once more begin to prevail. The era of purity and peace can be ushered in only by the revelation of God to man, and thus it is advancing towards us; thus it is already begun; between Christian and heathen lands there is a real contrast; and ere long there shall be as great a contrast between Christian lands uplifted by a fuller knowledge of God and these lands as they now are. The millennium is not merely a prophetic dream, it shall be a glorious fact. Patience! (H. E. I., 1134, 1135, 1166-1168, 3421-3423; P. D., 2465, 2466).
3. An argument for hopeful Christian effort. We must not merely dream of the millennium, we must labour to hasten its dawn. Work is needful: Sunday-school work, &c. Every one who prays, "Thy kingdom come," thereby, unless he means to mock God, pledges Himself to work to hasten its coming, and thus to be a "fellow-labourer with God." There is need for individual effort, and for united effort. Such effort should always be hopeful. We are not attempting what is impossible; we are working in the line of God's promises, and with God! Remembering that the sense of our own weakness will not unduly depress us. It does not require a giant's strength to row with the tide; and a mightier force than that of ocean is bearing us on to a victory that shall fill earth with blessing and heaven with gladness.
THE ENSIGN OF THE NATIONS
Isa . And in that day there shall be, &c.
I. In the two parts of this verse we have a twofold metaphorical representation of the Redeemer: one expressed, one implied.
1. An ensign of the people
= banner or standard, such as is set up as a rallying-point around which,
(1) the subjects of a king assemble to do him homage; and
(2) the soldiers of an army gather to receive the commands and exhortations of their general.
2. This second use of a standard leads to the second metaphorical representation of the Redeemer, that of a victorious general: "His rest shall be glorious." We are thus directed to the final result of the uplifting of Christ as an ensign: the great campaign brought to a successful conclusion, the Victor in it rests gloriously, surrounded by the soldiers whom He has led on to triumph, and the people to whom He has given liberty and peace.
II. Consider how these predictions have been fulfilled.
1. By the preaching of the gospel Christ has been lifted up, and as the result men of all nations have sought unto Him, and will seek Him more and more.
2. Having done and suffered all that was necessary ultimately to secure the final victory, He has taken His place at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and rests there gloriously; the glory of His rest arising from the number of the subjects who do Him homage, and of the soldiers who delight to fight His battles, from the triumphs which He has already enabled them to achieve, and from the prosperity and peace of all His people.
We shall make a great mistake if we end by thus admiringly noting how this ancient prophecy has been, and is being, fulfilled in the history of the world. We are among the Gentiles of whom our text speaks: have we sought unto the glorious Person of whom it speaks? You desire to do so. Do so, then,
1. For right purposes; not merely that you may be delivered from suffering, but that you may be delivered from sin; not merely that you may ultimately gain admission to heaven, but that you may here and now render to Him the homage and the service to which He is entitled.
2. In a right spirit; not vainly dreaming that you have, or can win, any claim upon His regard, but recognising that you can appeal only to His mercy, and that without it you are lost; and making this appeal penitently and believingly. So coming to Him, He will be found of you. He will cause you to share in His rest, by causing you to share in His triumphs; inspired and upheld by Him, you shall trample under foot the world, the flesh, the devil, and the fear of death. Your whole being will be at rest; your understanding no longer harassed by perplexing doubts; your conscience stilled and gladdened by a righteous peace; your affections centred at last around Him who alone is worthy of their supreme love; and this threefold rest, so sweet and blessed now, shall be perfected and perpetuated in heaven.—George Smith, D.D.
The prophet here foresees that the Saviour's mission and work will so exalt Him in the eyes of the nations, that they will turn to Him as the one object and desire of their souls. (Compare Joh .) The prediction declares that Christ would be a banner to attract men, that He would be the object of universal search, and that men in finding Him would attain to true rest and glory.
I. THE BANNER.
1. A banner is naturally "lifted up;" only thus can its purpose be accomplished (chap. Isa ; Isa 18:3). Apt image this of Christ. Not merely in His death on Calvary. That exaltation was followed by His being lifted higher still by the preaching of the gospel, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (Joh 16:14), by the devout lives of all His true followers.
2. A banner has usually some emblem or device representative of some great cause, or expressive of some great truth. (Give instances.) So when "Christ and Him crucified" are uplifted clearly in the view of men, they see God's hatred of sin, His love of man, and His provision for man's future happiness and glory.
II. THE OBJECT OF UNIVERSAL SEARCH. "To it shall the Gentiles seek." Search for Christ characterises all races of men (Hag ) and all periods of time (Luk 10:24). The search is often prosecuted in ignorance. Men know not for what and for whom their souls yearn; but it is Christ of whom unconsciously they are in quest; and it is towards Him, that by the else insatiable desires of their spiritual nature, they are being led.
III. THE FINDING OF TRUE REST. "His rest shall be glorious."
1. The rest we find in Christ is connected with a vital change effected in the heart and life. He does not simply do something for us; He also does a work within us. Every intelligent seeker knows that there can be no rest until the evil that is lodged within us is resisted and cast out (H. E. I., 1324). It is as we enter into the spirit of Christ and share His life, that we enter into rest (Mat ).
2. Our new relations to God, entered into by faith in Christ Jesus, makes our rest very glorious. God is then known to us by the most precious and endearing names; He is our rock, our shield, &c. Each of these names represents to us some tender aspects of His love, some sweet ministry of His grace.
Are you in search of the highest peace, joy, holiness, rest? Here you may end your quest (1Co ; P. D., 481).—William Manning.
THE RECONCILER OF MEN
Isa . And in that day there shall be, &c.
Several eminent commentators are of opinion that this prophecy will not be fulfilled until the Jews are restored as a nation to their own land. Others believe that the prophet used (it may be unconsciously) transient geographical phrases as symbols of eternal truths. Without entering upon this controversy, which can be settled only by the actual unfolding and accomplishment of God's plans as to the history of this world, let us think of the fundamental fact of the vision, that in it "the Root of David" was revealed to the prophet as the reconciler of men. His appearing in the world would be the setting up of a standard unto which all men, Gentiles (Isa ) and Jews (Isa 11:11-12), would seek; and before the influence then exerted upon them by Him rivalries and enmities, even though they were as inveterate and malignant as those of Judah and Ephraim (Isa 11:13), would disappear. No obstacles, even though they should be as immense as the geographical ones which are specified, would hinder their coming together and forming one united and triumphant people under His benignant sway. This is only saying what the prophet has said already (chap. Isa 2:4; Isa 9:7), that the kingdom of Christ would be a kingdom of peace. Consider—
II. How sadly imperfect the fulfilment of this prediction still is! The era of universal peace has not yet dawned. The world is still cursed by wars and rumours of wars. Millions of men are maintained in constant readiness for war. There are bitter contentions among the sections of the Christian Church, these tribes of the modern Israel. Class is divided from class. So-called Christian families are saddened by bitter feuds.
III. The blessedness of the era that shall yet dawn upon this world. The Christian often dreams of it; his dreams are sweet as those which hungry men have of banquets, and shipwrecked sailors drifting helplessly on rafts in the wide ocean have of their native village and of meeting with their loved ones there; and in their waking hours they, too, are apt to be saddened by the fear that their dreams too are as utterly incapable of realisation. But it is not so. They shall all be realised, for the authority of Christ shall yet be universal, real, absolute; and all the listening angels shall not be able to detect one sound of discord rising from the round world, for the whole world shall be full of the peace of Christ (P. D., 2465, 2466, 2676).
IV. Our duty in regard to this prediction. We are not merely to dream dreams of the blessedness of the era that shall yet be ushered in. We are to do something to hasten its dawning.
1. We are to pray for it with yearning hearts.
2. We are to do our utmost, in every possible way, to extend the knowledge of the gospel throughout the world. The gospel, not commerce, is the true civiliser and uniter of nations: commerce will prosper on the gospel triumphs. True, many converts are only nominally Christians, but in many cases that is the first step towards their becoming real Christians, i.e., men who will pray and labour for universal peace.
3. Minor and contributory duties.
(1.) The diffusion of knowledge that will tend to bring home to the understandings and hearts of men the hurtfulness of war, and of preparation for war.
(2.) The discouragement and overthrow of those statesmen, to whichever party they may belong, whose policy tends to foster national animosities.
(3.) The discouragement of all pursuits and things that tend to familiarise men with war and keep alive in them a passion for it, e.g., the volunteer movement; pictures, poems, and newspapers that glorify successful soldiers, as if in them the noblest ideal of manhood were realised.
(4.) Careful education of our children in Christ-like sentiments concerning foreign nations and war. By constant heedfulness of these duties, we shall do something to hasten the dawning of the era of universal peace and blessedness, and we shall not have lived in vain.
THE DIFFUSION OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD
Isa . The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
It was promised that "the waters should no more become a flood to destroy all flesh;" and yet a flood there was to be, all-compassing, all-absorbing, in God's good time and in His merciful foreknowledge when He spake the former word; but not to destroy all flesh, but to save it; and in its season the rain of grace descended (Isa ; Mat 7:25; Psa 98:8).
How different a fulfilment was this from that for which the apostles had been waiting! No doubt they imagined that such as Christ had been would be the Paraclete who was to come—One whose individuality and intelligence they could not doubt, and need not take on faith. When they were waiting for this Angelic Messenger, Prophet, and Lawgiver, One higher than all created strength and wisdom suddenly came down upon them; yet not as a Lord and Governor, but as an agency or power (Act ).
Such was the coming of the Comforter, He who is infinitely personal, who is the One God, absolutely, fully, perfectly, simply; He it was who vouchsafed to descend upon the apostles, and that as if not a Person, but as an influence or quality, by His attribute of ubiquity diffusing Himself over their hearts, filling all the house, poured over the world, as wholly here as if He were not there, and hence vouchsafing to be compared to the inanimate and natural creation, to water and wind, which are of so subtle a nature, of so penetrating a virtue, and of so extended a range. And most exactly have these figures, which He condescended to apply to Himself, been fulfilled—
I. IN THE COURSE OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT. His operation has been calm, equable, gradual, far-spreading, overtaking, intimate, irresistible. What is so awfully silent, so mighty, so inevitable, so encompassing as a flood of water? Fire alarms from the first: we see it and we scent it; there is crashing and downfall, smoke and flame; it makes an inroad here and there; it is uncertain and wayward;—but a flood is the reverse of all this. It gives no tokens of its coming; it lets men sleep through the night, and they wake and find themselves hopelessly besieged; prompt, secret, successful, and equable, it preserves one level; it is everywhere; there is no refuge. And it makes its way to the foundations; towers and palaces rear themselves as usual; they have lost nothing of their perfection, and give no sign of danger, till at length suddenly they totter and fall. And here and there it is the same, as if by some secret understanding; for by one and the same agency the mighty movement goes on here and there and everywhere, and all things seem to act in concert with it, and to conspire together for their own ruin. And in the end they are utterly removed, and perish from off the face of the earth. Fire, which threatens more fiercely, leaves behind it relics and monuments of its agency; but water buries as well as destroys; it wipes off the memorial of its victims from the earth.
Such was the power of the Spirit in the beginning, when He vouchsafed to descend as an invisible wind, as an outpoured flood. Thus He changed the whole face of the world. For a while men went on as usual, and dreamed not what was coming: and when they were roused from their fast sleep, the work was done; it was too late for aught else but impotent anger and a hopeless struggle. The kingdom was taken away from them and given to another people. The ark of God moved upon the face of the waters. It was borne aloft by the power, greater than human, which had overspread the earth, and it triumphed, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts."
II. IN EVERY HUMAN HEART TO WHICH HE COMES. By attending to the figure we shall understand (what concerns us most intimately) whether we are personally under His influence, or are deceiving ourselves.
(1.) Any spirit which professes to come to us alone and not to others, which makes no claim of having moved the body of the Church at all times and places, is not of God, but a private spirit of error (Psa ).
(2.) Vehemence, tumult, confusion, are no attributes of that benignant flood with which God has replenished the earth. That flood of grace is sedate, majestic, gentle in its operations. If at any time it seems to be violent, that violence is occasioned by some accident or imperfection of the earthen vessels into which it vouchsafed to pour itself, and is no token of the coming of Divine Power. Ecstasies and transports often proceed from false spirits, who are but imitating heavenly influences as best they may, and seducing souls to their ruin.
(3.) The Divine baptism wherewith God visits us penetrates through the whole soul and body. It leaves no part of us uncleansed, unsanctified. It claims the whole man for God. It is everywhere, in every faculty, every affection, every design, every work (2Co ). Thus—
III. THE HEART OF EVERY CHRISTIAN OUGHT TO REPRESENT IN MINIATURE THE WHOLE CHURCH. One Spirit makes the whole Church and every member of it to be His temple. As He gives peace to the multitude of nations, who are naturally in discord one with another, so does He give an orderly government to the soul, and set reason and conscience as sovereigns over the inferior parts of our nature. As He leavens each rank and pursuit of the community with the principles of the doctrine of Christ, so does that same Divine leaven spread through every thought of the mind, every member of the body, till the whole is sanctified. And let us be quite sure that these two operations of the Spirit depend upon each other. We cannot hope for peace at home while we are at war abroad. We cannot hope for unity of the faith if we at our own private will make a faith for ourselves. Break unity in one point, and the fault runs through the whole body. The flood of God's grace keeps its level, and if it is low in one place it is low in another.
CONCLUSION.—As we would forward that blessed time when the knowledge of the Lord will in its fulness cover the earth, as the waters cover their bed, let us look at home, and wait on God for the cleansing and purifying of ourselves. Till we look at home, no good shall we be able to perform for the Church at large; we shall but do mischief when we intend to do good, and to us will apply that proverb, "Physician, heal thyself." And let us not doubt that if we do thus proceed we shall advance the cause of Christ in the world. Let us but raise the level of religion in our hearts, and it will rise in the world. And, meantime, we shall have our true reward, which is personal, consisting in no mere external privileges, however great, but in the "water of life," of which we are allowed to take freely (Psa ; Psa 1:3; Isa 32:18; Psa 23:6).—John Henry Newman: Subjects of the Day, pp. 126-136.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany