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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

Isaiah 2

Verses 1-5

ISAIAH’S VISION OF THE LAST DAYS

Isaiah 2:1-5. The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw, &c.

1. The marvellous power of the ancient prophets in giving embodiment and figure to the Word of God. It was a “word” that Isaiah saw; not that he heard, but that shaped itself before his vision, and made him glad, as if a new star had arisen to guide him.
2. Isaiah speaks with magnificent confidence as to the summing up of earthly dispensations. Casting his eye overall the uproar and tumults of intervening time, he sees a heavenly repose settling on the engagements and destinies of mankind. Herein is the peculiar power of the old prophets, viz., that they did not confine their attention within a brief and inadequate period, but projected their minds over historic spaces within which, so to speak, God had room to disclose somewhat of the proportions and significance of His plans. The whole year can never be judged from any one season. The prophets seemed to see things in their wholeness, and this made them calm in the midst of transitory confusion and distress.

3. The house of the Lord is to be exalted above all rivalry. The strength of the hills is to be a pedestal for the sanctuary. At the last right shall be uppermost, and holiness supreme. In the “last days” the house of the Lord shall exert a universal fascination; nation shall challenge nation to go up in holy and triumphant procession to the heights of Zion; and the voice of other allurements shall be lost in the infinite charm of the invitation.
4. Nor is this to be the indulgence of a mere sentiment; it will be the expression of a desire to be spiritually right, and thus to be spiritually secure: “He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” Lawless sentiment is to have no place in spiritual discipline. We are not called to a high revel, but to a pure and tender obedience to an unchangeable law.
5. The house of the Lord is to be a centre of judgment and rebuke towards people who are living in impiety and political corruption. The consequence of this judgment, if properly received, will be the establishment and perpetuation of righteous peace. When the nations are right with God, they will be right with each other. Merely negative peace may be disturbed, but the peace which comes by righteousness will be its own guarantee of completeness and continuity.
6. All these blissful anticipations should constrain towards present obedience, and be fruitful of present joy. So the prophet thought when he exclaimed, O house of Jacob, come ye, &c. Those who have great prospects should even now show themselves to be the heirs of glory. Christian joy is not all future. Even now, though we have to complain of so much of cloud and storm, there is a light that is distinctively divine, and under its benign rays we ought to walk until the fuller glory is revealed.—Joseph Parker, D.D.

THE LATTER-DAY GLORY

Isaiah 2:2-5. And it shall come to pass in the last days, &c.

Theme: The Glory of the Latter Days. “The last days,” when men shall no longer need to offer the prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” The glory of the latter days will consist—

I. In the exaltation of the Lord’s house above all other institutions (Isaiah 2:2). Now the Exchange, the Senate, the University, &c., are the great “mountains” of society; then the sanctuary will be supreme. In other words, religion will be the ruling force in society, dominating and directing all the others. This is the truth set forth by the figure of the upraising of Mount Zion above all the other mountains, “so as to be visible in all directions.”

II. In universal submission to the authority of God (Isaiah 2:3). Not by the Jews only (as in Isaiah’s time), but by “all nations” [499] and not (as now) by some individuals merely, but by “all nations,” will this authority be recognised and obeyed. Sin will be the exception, righteousness the rule. And so, as a consequence of this—

[499] What words are these! What ideas! What radiances of glory and hope for the long-afflicted Church! Nations abolishing war and crimes, to cultivate righteousness and peace! nations emerging from ignorance and idolatry, to join themselves to the Church, and to walk in the light of the Lord! How marvellous that words like these should proceed from the Hebrew prophets! that men of the most confined education with regard to the Gentiles should thus lose the glory of Israel in the overflowing glory of the converted world! Can we ask for clearer proof that those holy men were purely the organs of the Holy Ghost, and transported in the spirit to publish the righteousness of God to every nation and language of the earth?—Sutcliffe.

I would urge the thoughtful consideration of these verses (2–9) on any one who is perplexed by the confident assertion of writers who prefer vague declamation to close investigation and reasoning, that the Hebrew prophets were actuated by a bitter hatred of foreigners. He will, I think, discover (from this and such like study) that they were possessed by views and hopes of a philanthropy which even our own times have not been able to extend: they longed for fellowship with all men, under the only conditions in which fellowship is possible; they desired an universal communion of virtue, humanity, and goodness, and could not be content to have a general licenses of vice, brutality, and wickedness instead; and they advocated what they saw, and what all history has proved, to be the only way of avoiding the one and securing the other.—Strachey.

III. In universal peace among men (Isaiah 2:4) [502] All contentions necessarily cease when men know and do the will of God. James 3:14 to James 4:1. Love towards man always results from genuine love towards God.

[502] This verse shows that there will come a time when men shall have found out that they are men and not brutes, and when they shall settle matters, not by the force of their animal powers, but by the force of superior intelligence.—James Wells.

A contemplation of their glorious future is calculated—

1. To sustain us amid the sins and sorrows of our time. When we look at the condition of the world as it is, we are tempted to despair. But there is a better day to come. In the widening diffusion of Christian truth, and in the growing power of Christian principle, even now we may see at least streaks of light which tell that the dawn is near.

2. To animate us in our efforts to regenerate society. These efforts are not in vain, though they sometimes seem so. We are working in the line of victory (1 Corinthians 15:58).

3. The blessings of the future we can make our own now. “O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord,” that is, “in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3). We can make religion the supreme force of our life, and can act with a constant recognition of God’s authority; and doing this, we shall have peace—with God, with ourselves, and in our homes. (Isaiah 32:17-18).

Verse 2

THE FUTURE TRIUMPHS OF THE GOSPEL

Isaiah 2:2. And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and all nations shall flow unto it.

This poetic imagery delineates the final and universal prevalence of religion. Christianity is a temple majestic and conspicuous, and all nations crowd its courts in united adoration. There are many interesting indications that this prophecy is soon to be fulfilled, such as—

I. The political aspect of the globe. The vast political changes that have taken place during the last four centuries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America have all been favourable to the extension of Christianity. The area of Christian knowledge and influence has been steadily extending [505]

[505] All the might of the world is now on the side of Christianity. Those barbarous, inchoate powers which still cling to heathenism are already trembling before the advancing strides of the Christian nations; Christian just enough to rouse all their energies and to make them intensely ambitious, and on the alert to increase their own dominion, without having learned Christianity’s highest lesson, the lesson of love.
Even that heathenism which seems to have some power is only waiting for its time of decay. In vast, undisturbed forests, whose interlacing branches exclude the light, moisture is generated, and rills, fed by marshes and quiet pools, unite to form running rivers. But let the trees be cut down, and the ground be laid open to the sun, and the swamps will dry up, and the rivers run no more. So is it with the Brahmins, and all the effete teachers of heathenism. As long as the dense shadows of ignorance brood over the people, they will possess some little trickling power; but let the light of knowledge shine in upon the masses, and the channels of their influence will dry up and be forgotten.—Beecher.

II. The progress of civilisation and of the arts. A few years ago is required the painful labour of years to copy a Bible, and the wealth of a prince to purchase one: now the art of printing scatters the Word of God like autumn leaves, and it is found in the humblest dwelling. Then none could read but the learned few; now knowledge is becoming like the sunlight, everywhere diffused. War has long been one of the greatest obstacles in the way of human improvement; now various causes are operating to render it less frequent, such as

(1) the rapid extension of piety, carrying with it the principles of peace;
(2) the extension of enlightened views of national policy;
(3) the transference of power from kings and nobles to the people, the victims of war, who will become its powerful opponents;
(4) the invention of terrible engines of destruction, which will tend to deter nations from plunging into war. Slavery, too, is rapidly disappearing from the earth. The wonderful facilities of intercommunication which now exist are weakening and effacing national prejudices. All these causes are hastening on the promised millennium.

III. The present state of the sciences. This statement seems to be contradicted by the attitude of many students of science towards Christianity. But we must remember that all the sciences in their infancy have been arrayed as hostile to scriptural truth—astronomy, geology, physiology, chronology; but one by one each of these sciences, as it developed and attained maturity, has passed over to the side of Christianity, and has powerfully helped to build up what it feebly and impotently laboured to destroy. That which hath been is that which shall be. In science the cause of revealed truth will continue to find one of her most ready and efficient helpers.

IV. The past achievements of Christianity foreshadow its eventful and perfect triumph. The hostility of earth has marshalled every possible power, in every possible combination, against Christianity—the persecution of political power, the arguments of philosophy, satire, learning, poetry, wealth—and all in vain. The past triumphs of the religion of Christ show that it possesses an inherent energy which must inevitably make it triumphant over the world. The mighty influence which swept away the gods of Greece and Rome will not be baffled by the mud-idols of India.

V. The triumphant advances Christianity is now making indicate its universal extension. Application.—What are you doing to hasten this certain and glorious triumph?—J. S. C. Abbott, American National Preacher, xvii. 169–176.


Verse 4

THE CESSATION OF WAR

Isaiah 2:4. They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more

A prediction of times yet to come. It has never yet been fulfilled. It is true that when the religion of Christ came to the world it came with the spirit and principles of an all-pacific dispensation (“On earth peace, good-will towards men”); and true that, in the degree of its actual prevalence, this has been the effect. But how far is this from anything adequate to the terms of the prediction, which exhibit a bright and ample idea of this spirit and tendency of Christianity realised, reduced to fact, on the great scale!

I. War has been a prominent character of all ages.

1. Man, when he came fresh from his Creator’s hands, must have had in his soul the principle of all kind affections (Genesis 1:27), a state of feeling that would have been struck with horror at the thought of inflicting suffering. Yet in the first family of man war and slaughter began. Men may argue and quibble against our notion of “the fall,” but here was fall enough! and demonstration enough!

2. War prevailed among the antediluvians (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 6:12). We are told of some that “became mighty men, men of renown.” How? Partly perhaps in a war against savage beasts, but far more in the exploits of that “violence” which filled the earth, and doomed it to be overwhelmed.

3. War prevailed among the race descended from Noah. It was by the descendants of the only faithful friend and servant of the Almighty found on earth that the desolated world was to be repeopled, and we might have hoped for a better race, if human nature were intrinsically good, or corrigible by the most awful dispensations. But the Flood could not cleanse the nature of man, nor the awful memory of it repress the coming forth of selfishness, pride, ambition, anger, and revenge.
(1.) The history of the Jews is to a large extent a history of wars.
(2.) The history of the other races is a history of their conflicts with each other, of a terrible process by which the smaller states were absorbed in others, until they were all included in the Roman empire. How many millions of human beings were destroyed in the process!
(3.) Since that period the history of the world has been to a large extent written in blood, [1279]

[1279] What a vision of destruction! Think of all that tormented and desolated the earth during the long period of the fall of the Roman Empire,—of that inundation of ravage and death, the progress and utmost extension of the Mahomedan power; of the mighty account of slaughter in the Spanish conquest of America; of the almost incessant wars among the states of civilised Europe down nearly to the present hour. Think even of the bloody wars within our own island, especially on the border between its northern and southern divisions; the hundreds of remaining fortresses, monumental of war. And to complete the account—as if the whole solid earth were not wide enough—the sea has been coloured with blood, and received into its dark gulf myriads of the slain, as if it could not destroy enough by its tempests and wrecks!—Foster.

Reflections:

1. What a state of the spirit of mankind is here disclosed to us!
2. What a state of Christianity, or to any real prevalence of it, among the nations denominated Christian!
3. How necessary that all religioirs persons, especially tutors and parents, should set themselves systematically, as opportunities offer, to counterwork that maddening enchantment of the “glory” of war; of war considered merely as the field of great exploits. Let them strive to break up, in the view of young and ardent minds, this splendid, pestilent delusion about heroes, conquests, fame, and glory.

II. War is not necessarily sinful, nor are those engaged in it to be always condemned. Defensive war does not violate Christian principles. Nay, it is sometimes a duty. [1282] An opposite opinion is held by some who rest on the literal and extreme construction of a few expressions, such as “Resist not evil,” “Give place to wrath,” “Love your enemies,” “To him that smiteth thee on one cheek, turn also the other.” These interdict revenge. But their unqualified literal interpretation requires that Christianity should subject mankind universally to the unrestrained will of whoever is the most unjust and wicked; should teach that so long as there are men who have more of Satan and Moloch in them than the rest, and are intent on practising oppression and cruelty, it is the absolute duty of Christians, as such, individually and nationally, to let them do it,—at least rather than resist them in such a way as to endanger their persons. This would be a delightful doctrine to all the tyrants, bigots, slave—drivers, robbers, and murderers! But the magistrate is not so to leave the matter to God’s disposal, or to refrain from using the “sword” against the doers of evil. And the government of a nation is but a magistracy on a large scale.

[1282] About four or five years since, our Government had a war with the Pindarees—a terrible assemblage of outlaws, robbers, and murderers, to the number of fifty thousand, occupying a strong and almost inaccessible tract on the northern frontier. Thence with impetuous rapidity, they rushed down, all horsemen, on the country, inhabited by a population of cultivators; seized whatever could easily be carried off, and with furious eagerness demolished, burnt, destroyed the rest. But far more than this, they were universally possessed with the spirit of murder; they killed the people without regard to sex or age. Not only so, but when sufficiently at leisure for such amusement, they inflicted excruciating tortures previous to death.

Now, when the Governor-General had intelligence of this—what was he to do? what, acting as a Christian? Nothing? What, as a great magistrate, did he “bear the sword” for? What was he Governor at all for? To live in splendid state, and number and tax the people? Or was he to direct that prayer should be made in the churches for something very like a miracle? And on failure of that, prayers that the wretched people he governed might be all meekly resigned to their fate! and that even should the fell and fiendish legion, being unresisted, choose to pursue their way all down to Calcutta, all the people in their tract that could not escape, and at last himself and the people of the city, might be enabled calmly to submit to a sovereign dispensation of Providence?

He did not do this. He chose rather to act on the rule of his appointment, to be “a terror to evil-doers,” “a minister of God, a revenger, to execute wrath upon them that do evil” (Romans 13:4). But if war is in all possible cases wrong, he perpetrated an enormous crime against Christianity in marching his armies with a celerity unparalleled in that climate, and encountering, intercepting, and exterminating the murderers, so that the surviving people could feel themselves in peace.

Put the stronger case of an immense host of northern barbarians being landed on our coasts (Tartars, Cossacks, Calmucks), and joined there by the legions of the Popish states, what would happen if we all, as Christians, judged it wrong and wicked to fight? Unless, indeed, we should suppose a divided opinion in the nation with respect to the Christian principle of the case, and that so a very large and powerful proportion was resolute to resist in all the array and action of war. Now, while with the utmost sacrifice and peril they were doing so, and suppose successfully, what a remarkable phenomenon would be presented! namely, the other division of the people deploring these very proceedings and successes by which their houses are saved from ravage and desolation,—deploring them as an awful outrage against Christian rectitude,—praying for the instant conversion of these deluded men to a right apprehension of Christian duty,—that they might immediately throw away their arms and allow the barbarian inundation to burst forward! Or, having failed in this prayer (and a mighty victory having finally cleared the land of the infernal irruption), then lamenting that a dreadful national violation of Christian principles had been irretrievably consummated! And as success purchased by crime can in the result be little else than a calamity and a judgment, they might be alarmed and dismayed to find themselves still in possession of their former freedom of worship, of speech, and of action, and of all their rights as citizens.—Foster. (Written in 1823.)

But those principles upon which a Christian casuist would justify war, under certain possible circumstances, would not justify perhaps one in twenty of the wars that have been waged. Very rare has been the instance of a war, on either side, strictly and purely defensive, of either the nation itself or any other endangered or oppressed people depending on its protection. Hence—

III. We rejoice over this prediction that war is to cease on the earth.

1. This prediction spreads a visionary scene before us so new, strange, and delightful, that nothing but prophecy, and faith in the divine power and goodness, could enable us to expect its realisation. [1285]

[1285] It is difficult to realise the fact to our imagination. No fighting on the face of the whole earth! no armies, nor military profession, nor garrisons, nor arms, nor banners, nor proclamations! No leagues, offensive or defensive; no guarding of frontiers; no fortresses; no military prisons! No celebrating of victories in gaudy pomps and revelries for the vulgar, or in prostituted poetry for the more refined! A wondering what kind of times those could be in which mankind accounted it the highest glory to kill one another! Truly this is a state of things we are ill prepared even to conceive!—Foster.

2. It is difficult to conceive the practicability of its attainment. For it is something intrinsic in the soul and nature of man, throughout the whole race, that war has sprung from. There is the hot and terrible element that has burst abroad in so many thunders. And yet it is man that is to be universally at peace! How can it be? (2 Kings 7:2.) Vicious selfishness, ambition, envy, rivalry, rapacity, revenge, these are the things in men that cause wars between them, on the small scale and the great. How can these ever be so repressed, subdued, extirpated, that all war shall cease?

3. Certainly not by experience, philosophy, or civilisation, [1288]

[1288] Such things will be included, certainly, in whatever process can and shall reduce the world at length to peace; they will be taken as accessories and subsidiaries to the Master Power in operation. But whoever would reckon on such things alone should be strangely mortified, one thinks, in adverting to many facts of old and recent history. What, for example, is he to do with the history of Greece? or of the Italian Republics? Or nearer home, Britain and France account themselves the most enlightened and civilised states in the world: have they not been, with all their might, fighting and slaying each other and neighbouring nations for centuries, almost without intermission, down to this time? In the French revolutionary government, which, after a time, became essentially warlike, there were more philosophers, speculative, literary men, than ever in any other. In our own country, through the last half-century, the enlightened and civilised people (often so described and lauded at least) have needed but a little excitement, at any time, to rush out into war. Our institutions of learning, and even theology, have constantly abetted the spirit. An ever-flowing, impetuous stream there has been of oratory, poetry, and even pulpit declamation, mingling with and inspiriting the coarse torrent of the popular zeal for battles and victories. We have had both poets and divines actually sending the most immoral heroes to heaven, on the mere strength of their falling in patriotic combat. All this tells but ill for the efficacy of civilisation, literature, refinement, and the instruction of experience to promote the spirit of peace, without the predominance of some mightier cause.—Foster.

4. Nothing will operate efficaciously to this grand effect that does not go deep into the constitution of men’s souls, and quell internally those fatal passions which have perpetuated external war. And that is what cannot be done by any civilisation, national refinement, science, or even an enlightened theoretical policy. All these may be but like fair structures and gardens extended over a ground where volcanic fires are in a temporary slumber below. All these may be shattered and exploded by some mighty impulse of ambition or some blast of revengeful anger. No; there must be a greater, nobler power brought into prevalence among mankind. Nothing springing merely from the action of the human mind can suffice. It must be something coming from heaven. CHRISTIANITY is the appointed and qualified agent.

IV. It is credible that Christianity will cause wars to cease upon the earth.

1. It has accomplished something in this direction already. To it is mainly attributable the mitigation of ferocity and exterminatory rage, so evident in modern wars. We dare not assert even that it may not have prevented some wars.

2. It is essentially a peacemaker. Look at its genuine tendency, as displayed on the smaller scale, in a family, a neighbourhood, a district: a family in a constant state of hostility within itself, but at length the members of it are converted by the religion of Jesus Christ. The consequence how happy! (H. E. I. 1126.)
3. Precisely as it progresses among any people it will produce a distaste for war. [1291]

[1291] What will the natural consequence be in respect to war? Will it not be coldness towards that pernicious phantasm, martial “glory”;—a loathing of that sort of eloquence and poetry that are making a god of it;—a hatred of the very name of ambitious conquerors;—horror at the image of vast masses of men waiting to destroy one another;—a sense of the flagrant absurdity, as well as iniquity, of avenging some little wrong at the cost of so mighty a portion and variety of misery;—and a faith that Providence has not so abandoned the world that we are not to wait one moment for any interposition from it in favour of justice, but, the instant the scales of justice are poised, we must throw in the sword? Such would be the spirit and temper of a nation predominantly Christian.—Foster.

4. Consequently its progress among the nations is a progressive abolition of war. Every extension of this blessed religion is so much gained against war; quenching still another and another spark of infernal fire; repressing in some more minds those evil passions which are the prompters and the essential power of war.
5. Christianity is progressing among the nations.

6. Consequently it is reasonable to cherish the hope of a scene of universal peace (P. D. 2675).

CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS.—

1. The universal cessation of war means much more than merely the cessation of much mischief. Think what will be effected when the wealth, time, labour, art, ingenuity, of truly Christian nations are directed to the noblest purposes of peace!
2. Extirpate the war-spirit from your own breast. The selfish, proud, arrogant, envious, revengeful, are essentially of the war tribe, however little they have to do with actual war, however much they may condemn and profess to deplore it. Such individuals are not fit for that future terrestrial “kingdom of heaven.”—John Foster: Lectures, Second Series, pp. 142–173.

Verse 5

THE LIGHT OF THE LORD

Isaiah 2:5. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

“The light of the Lord” streams upon us from His Word (Psalms 119:105). The knowledge of God and of His holy will which the Bible imparts to us is the meridian sun which casts his rays on the cold scenes of our earthly career.

I. The religion of the Bible illumines. Into how many errors did unaided human reason fall, when the nature of God and of His operations was the subject of its inquiries! [508] Did not the wisest grope in darkness? Did they not conceive absurdities, even when man and his fate were the subject of their inquiries? [511] How full, clear, and steady is the light which the Scriptures cast upon these and other great subjects of human thought!

[508] Men who seek God by reason and natural strength (though we do not deny common notions and general impressions of a sovereign power) are like mariners who voyaged before the invention of the compass, who were but coasters, and unwillingly left the sight of the land. Such are they who would arrive at God by this world, and contemplate Him only in His creatures and seeming demonstration. Certainly every creature shows God, as a glass; but glimmeringly and transitorily, by the frailty both of the receiver and beholder; ourselves have His image, as medals, permanently and preciously delivered. But by these meditations we get no further than to know what He doth, not what He is.—Donne, 1573–1631.

[511] Reason sees that man is ignorant, guilty, mortal, miserable, transported with vain passions, tormented with accusations of conscience, but it could not redress those evils. Corrupt nature is like an imperfect building that lies in rubbish: the imperfection is visible but not the way to finish it; for through ignorance of the first design every one follows his own fancy, whereas, when the Architect comes to finish His own project, it appears regular and beautiful. Thus the various directions of philosophers to recover fallen man out of his ruins, and to raise him to his first state, were vain. Some glimmerings they had that the happiness of a reasonable nature consisted in its union with God, but in order to this they propounded such means as were not only ineffectual, but opposite. Such is the pride and folly of carnal wisdom, that to bring God and man together, it advances man, but depresses God.—Bates, 1625–1699.

All the days of sinful nature are dark night, in which there is no right discerning of spiritual things: some light there is, of reason, to direct natural and civil actions, but no daylight. Till the sun rise it is night still, for all the stars, and the moon to help them.—Leighton, 1611–1684.

None but the true God can discover[make known] what the true worship of God is. As that glorious eye of heaven is not to be seen but by its own proper light,—a million of torches cannot show us the sun: so it is not all the natural reason in the world that can either discover what God is, or what worship He expects, without Divine and supernatural revelation from Himself.—Arrowsmith, 1602–1659.

II. The religion of the Bible warms. That God is great and all-powerful some philosophers imagined before the divine light of inspired truth shone forth; but the human heart remained cold, and felt in itself no point of contact and union with so exalted a Being. Until God said, “I am your Father,” we were as orphans in a strange land; but then at once the world became to us as a parent’s dwelling, and our heart began to warm with love towards God and man.

III. The religion of the Bible vivifies. It animates and restores the weary, the dying!

IV. The religion of the Bible blesses—now [514] and for ever (1 Timothy 4:8).—G. Salomon, Twelve Sermons, pp. 1–24.

[514] It is a peculiar advantage of piety, that it furnisheth employment fit for us, worthy of us, hugely grateful, and highly beneficial to us. Man is a very busy and active creature, which cannot live and do nothing, whose thoughts are in restless motion, whose desires are ever stretching at somewhat, who perpetually will be working either good or evil to himself: wherefore greatly profitable must that thing be which determineth him to act well, to spend his care and pain on that which is truly advantageous to him; and that is religion only. It alone fasteneth our thoughts, affections, and endeavours upon occupations worthy the dignity of our nature, suiting the excellence of our natural capacities and endowments, tending to the perfection and advancement of our reason, to the enriching and ennobling of our souls. Secluding that, we have nothing in the world to study, to affect, to pursue, not very mean and below us, not very base and unbecoming us, as men of reason and judgment. What have we to do but to eat and drink, like horses or like swine; but to sport and play, like children or apes; but to bicker and scuffle about trifles and impertinences, like idiots? What but to scrape or scramble for useless pelf, to hunt after empty shows and shadows of honour, or the vain fancies or dreams of men? What but to wallow or bask in sordid pleasures, the which soon degenerate into remorse and bitterness? To which sort of employments were a man confined, what a pitiful thing he would be, and how inconsiderable would be his life! Were a man designed only, like a fly, to buzz about here for a time, sucking in the air and licking the dew, then soon to vanish back into nothing, or to be transformed into worms, how sorry and despicable a thing were he! And such without religion we should be. But it supplieth us with business of a most worthy nature and lofty importance; it setteth us upon doing things great and noble as can be; it engageth us to free our minds from all fond conceits, and cleanse our hearts from all corrupt affections,—to conform the dispositions of our soul and the actions of our life to the eternal laws of righteousness and goodness: it putteth us upon the imitation of God, upon obtaining a friendship and maintaining a correspondence with the High and Holy One, upon filling our minds for conversation and society with the wisest and purest spirits above, upon providing for our immortal state, upon the acquist of joy and glory everlasting. It employeth us in the divinest actions—promoting virtue, performing beneficence, serving the public, and doing good to all: the being exercised in which things doth indeed render a man highly considerable, and his life excellently valuable.—Barrow, 1630–1677.

ATHE WALK OF THE SOUL IN THE LIGHT OF THE LORD

Isaiah 2:5. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

There are many lights shining upon the paths of men in this world. There are the lights of science and philosophy; they beam out from the human mind, and are kindled by eager research and investigation. These have been advancing in splendour and in value, age by age, and will, no doubt, continue to do so to the end of time. Men walk in these lights, and vainly imagine that they have found the sun of the soul. They seek no higher illumination. They are mistaken. The lights of science are of but little service to the moral nature; they cannot chase away its darkness, or open up to it a vision of destiny. The True Light cometh down from above, and is Divine in its origin. It is bright. It is beauteous. It is sufficient for the guidance of the soul. Wise men will walk in it. “O house of Jacob,” &c.

I. The walk of the soul. “Let us walk.”

1. The moral walk of the soul is a necessity. The soul of man is endowed with certain convictions and activities which render inaction an impossibility. It must walk either in one direction or another; either toward moral purity or moral evil; either to Christ or to Satan. The moral sensibilities with which it is gifted, the laws under which it is placed, the influences to which it is subject, and the prospects that are stretched out before the soul, render moral progress a necessity of being.

2. The moral walk of the soul is educational. Men gain knowledge in this world by travel. In this way they augment their mental stores. And the soul gains knowledge, strengthens its capabilities, and deepens its experience, by walking forth into the great moral universe in which it lives. Only the souls that have walked in the paths of truth and life know what things are, and they only are able to guide others.

3. The moral walk of the soul is healthful. Those who are inactive are always physically weak. The soul that never takes moral exercise, that never gets out into the broad acres of truth, and that never climbs the great mountains of God, will ever be sickly. If the soul is to be strong, equal to the duties of life, and to the demands of being, it must not indolently repose in its own quiet hiding-place. It must go forth to meet the Eternal.

4. The moral walk of the soul is often perilous. The traveller has often to walk through dark places, along difficult paths, and near the deep precipice. He is in a strange country. And so in the walk of the soul. It is in a land of which it knows but little. It has to pass through the dark mystery of truth, to traverse the windings of intricate problems, and to find its way, through perplexing circumstances, to the throne of God.

II. The light of the Lord. “In the light of the Lord.” The soul of man was not constituted to walk in darkness. It was created with keen moral vision; but, alas! its eye is dimmed by sin, and is but seldom open to the light of heaven.

1. This light is Divine in its origin. It does not come from the orb in the heavens. It comes from beyond the clouds—from the Sun of Righteousness, whose rays are never lost in night. It is not the light of the finite, but of the Infinite. It is perennial and pure. It is unparalleled in beauty. It is unique in lustre. It is life-giving in its influence. The soul can walk in no better radiance.

2. This light is clear in its revelation. But for the sun we should know nothing of this world. And but for the light of the Lord we should be entirely ignorant of the moral world, in which the soul lives and has its being. This light which shines from the Spirit of God, from the Bible, and from the enlightened conscience, reveals the existence of God, the spirituality of His nature, the purity of His character, and the devotion of which He is worthy. It reveals the soul to itself, and bends it in humility, but in joy, as it unfolds the forgiving mercy of the Cross. But for this light of the Lord we should be ignorant of the things of the moral universe. It illumines the soul in its walk to the great and unknown future.

3. This light is cheering in its influence. The light of the sun is cheering to man, and is ever welcome to him. So the light of the Lord is cheering to the pure soul; it enlivens its energies, and lends new beauty to its visions.

4. This light is abiding in its duration. The light of the Lord will never go down from the pure soul, but will only brighten through death into the perfect day.—By what light do we walk? “Come ye,” now, gladly, devoutly, “and let us walk in the light of the Lord.”—J. S. Exell.

Verse 6

GOD’S PEOPLE FORSAKEN

Hebrews 13:5. I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. Isaiah 2:6. Thou hast forsaken Thy people the house of Jacob.

How comforting is the Apostle’s assurance! But do not the hope and courage which it inspires die out of us, when we hear this ancient prophet rise and testify, “Thou hast forsaken Thy people”? No! because before there is any light concerning this question in our understanding, our faith tells us there must be a way of harmonising these seemingly conflicting declarations. God must necessarily be faithful to His promise. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Were God to forsake any of His believing, expecting people, He would do more than forsake them—He would forsake Himself! He would put off His crown and lay aside His sceptre, and become one of ourselves. Then the whole universe would have cause to mourn in sackcloth and ashes; there would no longer be any GOD to whom we could make supplication in our sorrows.

I. The first of these inspired declarations make it plain that God has a people whom He will never forsake. In every distress and tribulation He will be with them. Though all other friends may fail them, God will continue faithful to them. When the most devoted of human friends could not be of any avail, God will be their succour—when bereavement has broken their heart; when persecution or temptations are threatening to sweep them away; in the hour of death.

II. The second of these inspired declarations makes it plain that those who have been accounted the people of God may be forsaken by Him. This is a declaration that would smite us with dismay, and plunge us into saddest confusion, were we to put a full stop where the prophet has put a comma. Why had God forsaken His people, the house of Jacob? Because they had first forsaken Him: they had first voluntarily ceased to be His people. The truth in this matter may perhaps be best apprehended by means of a Scriptural symbol. God compares the union that exists between Him and His people to that which exists between a man and his wife. Will a good husband ever forsake his faithful wife? The bloom and beauty of her youth may have gone; a wasting sickness may have rendered her positively unlovely, but will he forsake her? Never! Her misfortunes will only cause him to cherish her with a tenderer love. But if she be unfaithful to him, what then? Why, then, the whole case may be altered. If he be a merciful as well as a just man, he may seek to reclaim her; but if she be “joined to her lovers,” and persistently heedless of all his claims and her duties, the time will come when he will leave her to her fate. To him she will be as if she were dead. So God is wondrous in His forbearance towards His backsliding people; but if they persist in their apostacy, He will leave them to the gods whom they have chosen (Judges 10:13-14; Jeremiah 2:28). We see now that between these apostolic and prophetic utterances there is the most perfect harmony. Our discussion of this subject should teach us—

1. Not to found conclusions upon fragments of God’s sayings or doings. His words and His works are mutually explanatory; but we must not cut the explanations short! If we put periods where God has only put commas, we shall be plunged into frightful perplexities; with the words of Scripture on our lips, we shall have most damnable heresies in our hearts. Our study of God’s word must be comprehensive. So also must our study of God’s providence. Let us not be in a hurry to come to conclusions. Wait, and we shall have more light, because we shall not be looking at parts, but at wholes. Our life is being written in clauses, and not till the last is completed shall we be able to interpret the first aright [520]

2. Not to build too much upon past submissions to the Divine will and past enjoyments of the Divine favour “Once in grace always in grace” is an ignis fatuus which has lighted many a soul down to hell. If after being fenced around as a garden of the Lord, and tilled by the great Husbandman, and watered by dews and rains from heaven, we relapse into mere desert ground, we may be sure we are nigh unto cursing (Hebrews 6:4-8).

3. That those who are humbly and loyally faithful to their Heavenly Friend cannot be too confident of His faithfulness to them. Assuredly He will never forsake them (Isaiah 43:2). And His presence is all they need. Having Him they have all things (Psalms 84:11-12).

[520] The Lord has reasons far beyond our ken for opening a wide door, while he stops the mouth of a useful preacher. John Bunyan would not have done half the good he did, if he had remained preaching in Bedford, instead of being shut up in Bedford prison.—Newton, 1725–1807.

However contradictory the designs of Providence at first appear to be, if we set ourselves to watch God in His works and ways, with care, we shall soon discover that He acts according to some certain scheme or plan.
Were a person altogether unacquainted with architecture to visit some splendid temple in the process of erection, and observe the huge rough stones, and boards and timbers, iron castings, bricks, lime, mortar, lying scattered in confusion all around; were he to see one group of workmen cutting up material here, another digging trenches there; one party raising a staging on this side, another nailing on some boards on that: were he to observe the blocks, the fragments, dust, and rubbish, tools and instruments, all lying in disorder round about him, he might truly say that he could see no plan or system in the business; nor would he be likely to conceive or dream that out of such a chaotic mass of raw material, out of such contradictory labour, there could ever rise a magnificent temple, to reflect undying honour on the architect, and beautify the world!
But let the observer stop, and set himself to watch from day to day the busy work as it goes on; let him patiently examine, not only the minutest details, but also try to obtain a view of the general scope and bearing of the whole, and he will not be long in finding out that some superior mind controls and regulates the movements in accordance with some preconceived plan or system, which is constantly developing itself; and that every stroke of every workman is conducive to the same ultimate effect.
And when he comes to see the “beau ideal” of the builder realised in the fair proportions, in the classic beauty of the noble structure, he then perceives how inconsiderate, how unfair it was in him to decide upon a work in its incipient state, without some knowledge of the plan and the design of it.
God is building up the Christian in accordance with a perfect plan into a majestic temple for the decoration of the eternal city. And though His dealings sometimes seem to be mysterious; though He seems to cut down here and to raise up there, to let the light into this part and to leave it dark in that; though it is hard to tell at times what such material is designed for, what this or that work means, or to conceive how the structure when completed will appear; it is nevertheless quite certain that God acts according to a fixed and unalterable plan; that every stroke we bear, or loss we mourn, is made subservient to the end; and although it is given us here to see only in part, whoever will take the pains to watch with care the course of Providence, will be convinced that it does not move along by chance, but that everything is done by a prospective plan.—E. Nason.

FORSAKEN OF GOD

Isaiah 2:6. Therefore Thou host forsaken Thy people, &c.

The doctrine of this verse is, that when men forsake God, God forsakes them. There is nothing arbitrary in such divine withdrawals [523] they have always a moral cause; and no man has any right to complain of them (Hosea 13:7). Consider

[523] In common conversation, we frequently speak of solar eclipses. But what is called an eclipse of the sun is, in fact, an eclipse of the earth, occasioned by the moon’s transit between the sun and us. This circumstance makes no alteration in the sun itself, but only intercepts our view of it for a time. From whence does darkness of soul, even darkness that may be felt, usually originate? Never from any changeableness in our covenant God, the glory of whose unvarying faithfulness and love shines the same, and can suffer no eclipse. It is when the world gets between our Lord and us, that the light of His countenance is obstructed, and our rejoicing in Him suffers a temporary eclipse.—Salter.

I. When men forsake God. Men forsake God—

(1) when they set their affection on forbidden things;
(2) when they cease to seek Him in prayer and the other means of grace;
(3) when they give themselves up to the practice of sin.

II. When men are forsaken of God. This doom befalls them—

(1) when they are left without that aid of the Holy Spirit, without which they cannot vividly apprehend the truth;
(2) when they are left without the comfort of God’s mercy;
(3) when they are left without earnest desires after God, and consequently a prey to all the evil within and around them.

III. Men may be forsaken of God in the midst of temporal prosperity. There may be a terrible contrast between their spiritual and material condition (Isaiah 2:6-7). Temporal prosperity is from God; it is designed to lead men to repentance (Romans 2:4); failing to accomplish this, it drives them further from God (Deuteronomy 8:11-14); Proverbs 30:9; Nehemiah 9:25); and when it has this effect upon them, the doom of which our text speaks to us is not far off (Deuteronomy 28:48) [526]

[526] When the king removes, the court and all the carriages follow after, and when they are gone, the hangings are taken down; nothing is left behind but bare walls, dust, and rubbish. So, if God removes from a man or a nation, where He kept His court, His graces will not stay behind; and if they be gone, farewell peace, farewell comfort: down goes the hangings of all prosperity; nothing is left behind but confusion and disorder.—Staughton, 1628.

IV. No man need remain thus forsaken of God.

1. God desires to bring all men into fellowship with Himself (Isaiah 2:3-4).

2. All are invited to come to Him (Isaiah 2:5).

3. The light of God’s countenance is offered them, especially in Christ, who is “the light of the world.”—John Johnston.

Verses 6-9

THE MATERIAL AND THE MORAL

Isaiah 2:6-9. They be replenished from the east, &c.

We have here the indictment which the prophet brings against Israel. It consists of three counts:

1. That the people had adopted the superstitions of the surrounding nations.

2. That the government had accumulated treasure and organised a cavalry force, in direct disobedience to well-known Divine injunctions (Deuteronomy 17:16-17).

3. That rich and poor alike had abandoned themselves to idolatry. But these verses may be taken also as Isaiah’s description of Judæa in his day; and so regarding them, we find in them an instructive combination of the material and the moral. According to modern ideas, so far as the description concerns the material, it is exceedingly bright. An observer who regarded only the material—such a man as we can conceive of as being sent out as a “Special Commissioner” by the Daily Telegraph or the New York Herald—would have given a glowing account of Judæa at that period: an overflowing exchequer, a powerful army, evidences of wealth and prosperity on every hand, &c. But the prophet, looking only at what is moral, gives an account that is lurid and dark in the extreme: he sees only cause for lamentation and foreboding, So we reach the first of the lessons on which I intend to insist to-day, viz.,

I. That the most diverse reports may be made truly concerning the same community. St. Paul visited Athens, and we have a touching account of the effect of that city upon him (Acts 17:16); to him it presented a pitiable spectacle; but what a different effect would have been produced upon a mere man of culture, and what a different account he would have given of that metropolis of art! What very different accounts might be given of our own country from these two standpoints, the material and the moral!

II. When two reports of a community are given—one materially bright and the other morally dark—it is the latter only that a wise man will regard as important. For

1. It is on the moral condition of a nation, and not on its material prosperity, that its happiness depends. Increase of wealth does not necessarily mean increase of happiness. Frequently it means destruction of happiness; it always does so, when wealth increases faster than intellectual culture and moral restraint. In the absence of this moral restraint wealth is not a blessing, but a curse.

2. The material disassociated from the moral is transient. Vicious prosperity is short-lived. By the luxury born of prosperity the virtues of industry, foresight, and self-denial, on which prosperity depends, are sapped. The health of the nation is lowered. Commerce becomes a gigantic system of gambling. Ruin is soon reached. Hence,

III. Our chief concern as patriots should be to promote the moral well-being of our nation. Those who uplift it in virtue are its true benefactors. All who minister to its material, intellectual, and artistic progress are worthy of gratitude; but most deserving of gratitude are those who inspire it with the fear of God, and with love for His laws. Hence,

IV. Our chief concern as individuals should be for the moral and not for the material. It is a very small matter to add house to house, and field to field: it is a very great thing to add virtue to virtue until we have succeeded in building up a symmetrical and noble moral character. A man’s life—his true well-being depends not upon what he has, but upon what he is [529] And upon this, too, depends his eternal destiny. How childish, therefore, is the almost universal concern for mere material improvement! And how little have those to complain of who find themselves unable to accumulate wealth! The millionaire has soon to leave all his stores, and he speedily reaches a point at which all his bonds and notes become wastepaper. What a contrast between his experience, and that of the man who, having employed his life in a humble and diligent cultivation of virtue, finds that all unconsciously he has been laying all up for himself treasures in heaven! These two courses are open to us—to live for the material, or to live for the moral: which will you choose?

[529] A wise man looks upon men as he does upon horses; and considers their comparisons of title, wealth, and place, but as harness.—Newton, 1725–1807.

In the library of the world, men have hitherto been ranged according to the form, the size, and the binding. The time is coming when they will take rank and order according to their contents and intrinsic merits.—E. Cook.

A man may be outwardly successful all his life long, and die hollow and worthless as a puff-ball; and a man may be externally defeated all his life long, and die in the royalty of a kingdom established within him. That man is a pauper who has only outward success; and that man may be a prince who dies in rags, untended, and unknown in his physical relations to this world. And we ought to take the ideal in the beginning that a man’s true estate of power and riches is to be in himself: not in his dwelling; not in his position; not in his external relations, but in his own essential character. That is the realm in which a man must live, if he is to live as a Christian man.—Beecher.

Verses 6-22

A TERRIBLE PICTURE

Isaiah 2:6-22

Here is the “word” (vision) which Isaiah “saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:1). The prophet has been enraptured by the wondrous prospect of the distant future, when religion shall be the supreme force of life (Isaiah 2:2), and all men (Isaiah 2:2-3), walking in “the light of the Lord,” shall be at peace with each other (Isaiah 2:4): now he looks down to the present, and how dark and terrible is the picture which he sees before him! He sees—

I. A nation forsaken of God (Isaiah 2:6). One of the most awful of all spectacles: an engine of tremendous power, without a driver, rushing down a steep incline!

II. A nation pursuing childish superstitions (Isaiah 2:6): “They be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines.” When a nation forsakes God, this is a common result (Romans 1:21-22). Witness the rapid spread in our own day of “spiritualism” among the sceptical and irreligious classes of England and America.

III. A nation seeking strength and safety in alliances with the enemies of God, allying itself with the very powers which Omnipotent Righteousness was pledged to crush! Instead of dwelling apart, as God intended (Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 33:28, &c.), and in dependence upon His protection, the Israelites sought to strengthen themselves by alliances with surrounding nations. “They please themselves with the children of strangers.” The same sin is repeated in these days, when God’s people mix with worldly society for the sake of its “advantages.”

IV. A nation blinded by external prosperity to its real condition and peril (Isaiah 2:7). Abounding with every evidence of prosperity, how could they suspect that they were forsaken of God, and that a terrible doom was hanging over them? What is our condition, and what are our prospects as a nation? Let us not lay too much stress upon our great national wealth?

V. A nation given over to a debasing idolatry (Isaiah 2:8; Romans 1:23). A moral degradation extending to all classes (Isaiah 2:9). Just what we behold in Roman Catholic and Ritualistic churches, where rich and poor alike prostrate themselves before the wheaten wafer which their priest has transformed into a god! The prophet himself now becomes part of the picture, and we have—

VI. The awful spectacle of a good man invoking the vengeance of Heaven upon the nation to which he belongs (Isaiah 2:10): “Therefore forgive them not.” This was the natural cry of the prophet’s soul, filled with horror and indignation at what he saw. The imprecations of Scripture are the natural (and fitting) utterance of righteousness in view of wickedness. It is only because the tone of our own spiritual life is so low that we are offended at them. From whom, among ourselves, does the cry for the uplifting of the strong arm of human law against the perpetrators of crimes of violence come? Not from the classes most likely to suffer from them, but from the refined and gentle, who, just because of their refinement and gentleness, are inspired by them with disgust and anger. So it is those who are most in sympathy with God who are most likely to burn with holy indignation against such things as the prophet saw. The men who offer such prayers as this, “Forgive them not,” would be the first to reverse it did the offenders give any sign of repentance.

VII. A crushing doom impending over an unsuspecting nation. No sooner has the prophet uttered his prayer, than he sees it was needless, and that the thunderclouds of the Divine anger were already thickly massed over the guilty nation; without any visible sign there was gathering over them a storm that would suddenly break forth with destructive force. Therefore he breaks out into a strain of impassioned warning and appeal to the very men for whose punishment he had prayed (Isaiah 2:10, &c.)

What lessons shall we learn from our survey of this dark picture?

1. Not to judge of the relations of nations, individuals, or ourselves to God by the test of temporal circumstances. It is an old but gross fallacy that temporal prosperity is a sure sign of the Divine favour (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3; Job 21:7-15, &c.) [517] Let us not ask what our circumstances are, but what our character is, and what our conduct has been. If we are unrighteous, temporal prosperity should alarm us, as a sign that God has forsaken us (Hebrews 12:8).

2. Not to be hasty to impute the temporal prosperity of the wicked to a slumbering of the Divine justice. We need scarcely trouble ourselves to pray for a doom upon the ungodly (Exodus 34:7; 2 Peter 2:3; Job 21:17-18; Psalms 73:18-19; Isaiah 3:11).

3. Let us remember that we ourselves, as sinners, are exposed to the Divine judgments, and let usenter into the Rock”—“the Rock of Ages,” that, sheltered in Him, we may be safe when the storms of the final judgment shall burst upon our guilty world.

[517] When the Lord hath set thee up as high as Haman in the court of Ahasuerus, or promoted thee to ride with Joseph in the second chariot of Egypt; were thy stock of cattle exceeding Job’s, “seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen;” did thy wardrobe put down Solomon’s, and thy cupboard of plate Belshazzar’s when the vessels of God’s temple were the ornature,—yet all these are but the gifts of Wisdom’s left hand, and the possessors may be under the malediction of God, and go down to damnation.—Adams, 1654.

The eagles and lions seek their meat of God. But though all the sons of Jacob have good cheer from Joseph, yet Benjamin’s mess exceeds. Esau shall have the prosperity of the earth, but Jacob goes away with the blessing. Ishmael may have outward favours, but the inheritance belongs to Isaac.—Adams, 1654.

Verse 10

THE SINNER’S DANGER AND REFUGE

Isaiah 2:10. Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty.

This is the counsel which the prophet gives his fellow-countrymen, in view of the desolations which God was about to send upon their land on account of their sins. He sees God’s judgments sweeping down upon them like an invading army, and therefore he cries to them, “Flee into the caverns in the mountains:” like the Simoom, and therefore he cries to them, “Hide yourselves in the dust: bow down before the destroying blast from which it is impossible to escape. God has been silent, as if He were indifferent to your transgressions, but now He is coming forth, in all the terrors of His majesty to requite the evil doers according to their works” [532] The counsel is, of course, metaphorical; the rocks and the dust could afford no refuge from an angry God. The summons is to profound and penitential humility, the proper attitude of man to God. It is a summons, therefore, which may be fitly addressed to all men.

[532] “The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up, their sin is hid” (Hosea 13:12). Not that his sin was hid from God, but his sin is hid; that is, it is recorded, it is laid up against a day of reckoning. That this is the meaning, is clear by the foregoing words, his iniquity is bound up: as the clerk of the assizes binds up the indictments of malefactors in a bundle, and, at the assizes, brings out the indictments, and reads them in court, so God binds up men’s sins in a bundle; and, at the day of judgment, this bundle shall be opened, and all their sins brought to light before men and angels.—Watson, 1696.

I. Profound humility in regard to God would be befitting in us as creatures, even were we absolutely without sin. Such humility is reasonable—

1. In view of our relation to and dependence upon God. He is our Maker; we are daily pensioners on His bounty; we are the instruments with which He carries out His purposes (Isaiah 10:15).

2. In view of His position as the Ruler of the universe.

3. In view of the transcendent excellencies of His character. The pupils of a great artist, such as Raphael, the associates of a great patriot, such as Washington, are filled with involuntary admiration and veneration for him. They feel themselves to be as nothing in comparison with him. How much more should we feel so in comparison with God! Those sinless beings who see Him as He is show us by their conduct what would be befitting in us even were we also without spot or stain (Isaiah 6:2-3).

II. But as sinners that which is befitting in us is, not only profound, but penitential humility. To live without any sense of guilt in our hearts—with indifference to the fact that we have broken God’s laws and are exposed to His judgments—is itself a gross iniquity; it is an outrageous defiance of the Majesty in whose presence we are. What would be said of a rebel who in the presence of his outraged sovereign should absolutely ignore him? Would not this be regarded as a repetition of his offence in the most aggravated form? But is not this precisely the offence which every stout-hearted sinner daily commits? As sinners there are two things especially incumbent upon us.

1. To humbly acknowledge that we are exposed to the Divine judgments, and need a refuge therefrom. There are two ways of contemplating the Day of Judgment:

(1) As a certain and solemn fact in the history of our race. Contemplating it thus, we may show argumentatively that such an event ought to occur; and we may anticipate to some extent the principles upon which the Judge, when He shall have summoned mankind before His bar, will proceed. We may do this, and be merely theological or rhetorical. Or
(2) we may regard it as a certain and terrible fact in our own history. And it is thus that we should regard it. It is we who are to stand before the great White Throne. A realisation of this fact will powerfully affect our feelings and our conduct; we shall

(1) acknowledge, at the least, that we need a refuge. And we shall be prepared

(2) thankfully to avail ourselves of the refuge which God in His mercy has provided for us. With yet greater fulness and definiteness of meaning God’s messengers can repeat the prophet’s counsel, “Enter into the rock, &c.” The sinner’s refuge is the Son of God, “the Rock of our salvation.” Our refuge from God as our Judge is God Himself as our Saviour. It is as such that He now reveals Himself to us. “Behold now is the day of salvation;” but the day of judgment is at hand! Ere it burst upon us, let us flee unto “the Rock of Israel” (Isaiah 30:29) crying to Him, with penitent confession of our sins,

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.”

Verse 17

GOD EXALTED IN THE GREAT DAY
(Advent Sermon.)

Isaiah 2:17. The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.

Two questions: What is “that day?” How shall the Lord then be exalted?
I. “That day.” “The first five verses of this chapter foretell the kingdom of the Messiah, the conversion of the Gentiles, and their admission into the Church. From the sixth verse to the end is foretold the punishment of the unbelieving Jews for their idolatrous practices, their confidence in their own strength, and distrust of God’s protection; and, moreover, the destruction of idolatry in consequence of the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom.”—Lowth. But here, as in many other portions of Scripture, a larger and remoter meaning looms beyond and behind the first sense of the expressions, which would otherwise be too big and swelling for the actual interpretation of them. Compare the description in which the text twice occurs with the almost parallel passages in chap. Isaiah 5:14-16. How magnificent! What startling terms! What emphatic iterations! Surely a want of fitness and congruity would almost be felt if expressions such as these referred only to some temporal calamity of the Jewish nation; surely we cannot mistake in looking onward to some mightier catastrophe, to some final exaltation of God and abasement of all creatures. By “that day,” therefore, we mean what is elsewhere called “the day,” “the great day,” “the day of judgment,” “the great and terrible day of the Lord”—the consummation of all things.

When that day shall come I do not know, and I am content to remain in ignorance. It may come suddenly, without warning, unannounced. Then it is for men always to have their lamps burning and their hearts in readiness, lest they be taken by surprise. It may come with great signs preceding and accompanying it. Then it is for men, according to their capacity, to note and discern those signs. It is the very uncertainty connected with it that is to make us watchful (Matthew 24:36; Matthew 24:42). We are to be vigilant and observant, without pretending to determine what God has left unrevealed. Such attempts have in all ages been made, and in all ages have been falsified. The failure of those attempts has not only covered those who made them or believed in them with ridicule, it has brought into discredit the sacred Book which the aim was to expound. It is our first duty and highest interest to be at every moment prepared; but a far other and better preparation may, and must be made for it, than in the futile endeavour to discover its precise date. [1294]

[1294] During the fifth century Chrysostom expressed himself in language which sounds almost like an anticipation of much that we hear at the present day. “No long time now remains until the consummation; but the world is hastening to its end. This the wars declare, this the afflictions, this the love which hath waxed cold. For as the body, when in its last gasp and near to death, draws to itself ten thousand sufferings; and as when a house is about to fall, many portions are wont to fall beforehand from the roofs and walls; so is the end of the world nigh and at the very doors, and, therefore, ten thousand woes are everywhere scattered abroad” (Homily xxxiv.) Towards the close of the tenth century, Bernhard, a hermit of Thuringia, and other persons, spread or encouraged the belief, that after the end of the thousandth year, the fetters of Satan were to be broken; and that, after the reign of Antichrist should be terminated, the world would be consumed by sudden conflagration. This wild and extraordinary delusion pervaded and possessed every rank of society. It seized on nobles, princes, and even bishops, as well as on the common people. Many renounced their pursuits and professions; abandoned their friends and families; gave themselves up to superstitious prayer and terrifying expectations, and made over all their substance to some adjacent church or monastery. Almost all the donations which were made to the Church in this century proceeded from this avowed motive, that the end of the world was drawing near. The form ran, “Appropinquante jam mundi termino,” &c. Others permitted their lands to lie waste, and their houses to decay; or betook themselves in hasty flight to the shelter of rocks and caverns, as if the temples of nature were destined to preservation amidst the wreck of man and his works.—Boone.

Equally unwise is the disposition to specify with a minute particularity the events which are to usher in the great day of the Lord, or the convulsions of nature which shall herald and proclaim it, or the astonishing circumstances with which it shall be arrayed. God has chosen to involve them in a mysterious and solemn indistinctness. In bold and sublime figures the inspired writers have delineated a scene which must stand singular and by itself, without any precedent or parallel, and which, therefore, neither human language can directly express nor human understanding adequately comprehend. Instead of endeavouring to explain the images and symbols employed, prudence will lead us to confine ourselves to the very words of Scripture, such as Daniel 12:2; Joel 3:11-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Matthew 25:31-32; Revelation 20:11-13; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53. [1297] On these declarations we should meditate with serious and chastened minds, for if Scripture be true these words cannot be without a real and solemn meaning, and that meaning can only be that there shall be a day in which the world shall be judged by God in Christ, and that from before the Divine tribunal the good and the evil, separated from each other, shall depart to destinies final and irreversible (P. D. 2109).

[1297] I forbear to expatiate on the phenomena or the tokens which shall be premonitory of the Millennium or of the day of judgment. God has not seen fit, even in Scripture, to withdraw the curtain of obscurity from between us and that supreme future. We may well be content that our apprehensions should be vague, when the language of the Bible is not definite, and when we find rather the sublime and half-luminous gloom with which poetry or painting can invest its delineations, than the sharp and precise outline which the chisel can carve.—Boone.

II. In that day the Lord alone shall be exalted.

1. How is this possible? Is not God always exalted far above all blessing and praise? He will then be exalted in the sense in which He is now said to be glorified. He will be exalted in the visible homage and submission of an assembled universe. He will be exalted by the full manifestation of His attributes, in their unclouded and effulgent lustre, by the exhibition, before men and angels, of His omnipotence and justice, His wisdom and truth, His love and mercy, of the holiness of His law, the equity of His administration, the abundance of His grace, so that all hearts shall be bowed down at His footstool, and every mouth shall be stopped.
2. In that day God shall be exalted alone.

(1) The text may lead our minds to other deities as opposed to Jehovah. They shall indeed be gone; in that day they shall be seen to be less than the least of all their worshippers.
(2) It will be the great day of the disclosure of all things; and all creatures shall see the Lord as He is, and themselves also as they are. Therefore shall all the highest orders of celestial intelligences, the cherubim and seraphim, and all the ranks of existence which may occupy the interval between man and his Maker, veil their faces before His throne; they shall be as nothing in His sight. Then shall all creatureship fall low before the one Creator; all derived, dependent being shall shrink into its true dimensions before the Absolute, the Eternal, the I AM.

(3) Even Christ Himself, His office as the Messiah having been accomplished, and His administration of the Church, in His human character, being brought to a close, shall resign His mediatorial sway (1 Corinthians 15:24-28; H. E. I. 985).

(4) But our chief concern, as we are men, is with humanity: “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of man shall be bowed down; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.”

That day shall indeed declare the impotence of human power, the emptiness of human ambition, the nothingness of human renown. [1300] The very circumstances on account of which men have most lifted themselves up in their lifetime will be the occasions of their profoundest humiliation then.

[1300] What shall they all be, the strong rivalries and contentions, which shall have been hushed in the grave; the towering structures of vanity and earthly hope, which shall have been crushed before the moth; the schemes and plottings, the contrivances and expectations, the struggles and triumphs, which shall have been dropped into the burial-place where the worm is feeding on them! Oh, the thrones and dominions of mortality, the crowns and sceptres, the regal splendours and the imperial sway, how shall they then be reduced to their real and intrinsic insignificance! The victories of the warrior who conquered in a hundred fights, and the projects of the politician, whose statesmanship could grasp the globe; the famous men and heroes of the earth, with the poets who celebrated them, and the historians who recounted their exploits, what shall they be before the word of Omnipotence! The learning and science of the philosophers who framed their system of the universe for the admiration of posterity, what shall they be, before the blaze of illumination which shall be poured upon us in another world! The pageantries of courts and palaces; the banquets and the wine-cups, the spectacles and the entertainments, the mirrors and the lamps, the golden furniture of pomp, and the flowing robe of luxury; the great and the affluent, whose patronage was requested for busy undertakings, who were besieged with flattery and obsequiousness from morning to night; the noble and the beautiful, who gathered homage as they moved; the writers and the orators, whose popularity was unbounded, and who lived amidst the incense of human applause; they, and all that appertained to them, where and what shall they be, as we stand poor, and naked, and miserable before Him with whom we have to do! They, the heedless and the selfish, swimming in pleasure, who thought that the whole voyage of life was to be like Cleopatra’s passage along the Cydnus, one scene of mirth and gorgeousness; of prodigal dissipation and fatal revelry, with soft music and delicate odours floating in the air; what shall become of them! How black and cold shall be the cinders of their joy!

All human dynasties will then have crumbled to pieces, and all the gradations in the scale of human rank will then have been blotted out; for all must be dwarfed and prostrated before the ineffable majesty of the Most High God. All other differences must fade when the Divine summits are placed in contrast with them; as from the top of an exceeding high mountain the whole ground beneath is as a level plain, because from that vast altitude all smaller elevations are lost, all minuter inequalities of surface vanish. Human celebrity will then be as a sound, the very echoes of which will have departed. The pompous titles with which the vanity of man was pampered; the distinctions which kings could confer, or heraldry emblazon; privileges of caste, nobility of blood, the pride of ancestry, the blaze of reputation, the splendour of talents, shall then be confounded, one and all, as frivolous toys and trifling baubles. The mighty ones of the earth shall be no more than they who were of the poorest condition; the great shall stand abashed with the mean, the learned with the ignorant, monarchs with their subjects, senators and princes, commanders of fleets and armies, the loftiest and most renowned by the side of the husbandman and the labourer; for what shall they all be in contrast with Him, the Universal Creator, whose dwelling-place is eternity, and to whom belong, throughout all ages, all glory and dominion, sovereignty and praise?—Boone.

In that day our sinfulnesses shall sink us into the dust, and cover us with shame and confusion even more than our vanities. Shall any one of us hope then to be exalted, when the memories of us all shall retrace so many sterile and unproductive intentions, so many good impressions never fostered and ripened into fruits of righteousness, so many talents misused by our iniquity, or buried by our idleness? Then there shall be no more concealments, no more deceits, no more false excuses, no more of those pretences, equivocations, subterfuges, and sophisms which our reason is now so fatally ingenious in playing off upon itself (P. D. 661, 2106). Oh, think of these things, and let not your sins be dearer to you than your salvation. Think of them ere the night cometh, and the sun of your probation has quite gone down.

“The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” Will He then confound the righteous with the wicked? As compared with God there shall be no distinctions between men. All men on that great day at the bar of the Omniscient and the All Holy shall have upon them a universal sense of imperfection, unworthiness, insufficiency, nothingness. But as compared with each other there will be immense differences between them. It is one purpose of the great day to make manifest to all orders of being the infinite value and superiority of moral goodness, the infinite preciousness of a holy obedience above and beyond all else; then God, who sees it in secret, will reward it openly. When the wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the people that forget God, the righteous shall shine forth as the stars of heaven. Therefore estimate all things now as you will estimate them then. Lean less upon earth and man and the things present, set your affections more upon the things to come, upon heaven, and upon the Ruler of heaven. Cultivate diligently those dispositions which are pleasing in His sight. For then, when all social forms shall have vanished away, when all material substances shall have been obliterated, as the shapes in a cloud, and dissipated as the morning dew, your moral temper will abide with you, and your spiritual state, as discerned by the unerring Judge, will decide, and will attend, your immortal destiny (H. E. I. 720).—James Shergold Boone, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 359–399.

Verse 18

THE GREAT DETHRONEMENT

Isaiah 2:18. And the idols He shall utterly abolish.

There are a great number of things which would be incredible if they had not actually happened! Men who, like ourselves, boasted of “reason” and “common sense,” sought to settle their disputes and to vindicate their honour by the duel; they have stoutly believed in witchcraft, in “touching for the king’s evil,” and in other absurdities. But surely the supreme folly of which men have been guilty is idolatry. That men should fashion an idol of wood or stone, and then bow down to worship it, what absurdity is this! Yet

I. The idols have had a long reign in the earth. Trace human history back as far as all extant records will enable you to do so, and you will find idols enthroned in the affections of men. That they should ever have been set up there must be regarded as one of Satan’s subtlest and greatest triumphs. The instincts that lead men to worship are so strong, that his only hope of preventing fallen men from returning to their allegiance to God lay in persuading them to worship some other thing or being. His difficulty and his device were those of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:26-28). He seems to have led men down step by step: stars, images as their respresentatives, then the images themselves: first, natural principles, then living creatures in which these principles were supposed to be embodied, then the living creatures themselves. To have begun at the end would have been too great a shock; the absurdity as well as the wickedness of such worship would have been too obvious. Thus was the empire of the idols founded, and it continues to this day.

II. The empire of the idols has been world-wide. It might have been supposed to be a folly that could be imposed only on a few barbarous tribes, and that all civilised nations would have rejected it with disdain; but as a matter of fact, it is precisely among these nations (Egypt, Greece, Rome, Judæa, India) that idolatry flourished most and in its basest forms. Hence the empire of idolatry was co-extensive with the globe. In Elijah’s time even God thought it a great thing that He would assure His prophet that there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

III. The idols have been served with passionate devotion. In almost all ages worshippers of idols have put to shame the worshippers of God, by their fidelity to their convictions, the scrupulousness of their observance of the rites which they have esteemed religious, and the greatness of the cost at which they have done honour to their gods.

IV. The idols have had for their allies the most influential of social and moral forces. Their priests and dependents (Acts 19:25) have jealously watched every encroachment on the empire of their gods. Rulers, for political reasons, have strenuously endeavoured to uphold the national faiths. Custom and fashion have wrought in the same direction But, above all, the idols have had their most powerful allies in the human breast—in the instinct of worship, and the craving for sensual indulgences. Idolatry has combined these most powerful of all cravings—has provided deities in whose worship the worst passions of man’s animal nature have been gratified.

V. Nevertheless the empire of idolatry shall be utterly destroyed. It shall vanish as utterly as the great empire of Assyria. “The idols He shall utterly abolish.” Already that empire has been overthrown where it seemed most firmly established, and the complete fulfilment of the prediction of our text is obviously now only a question of time. Even in heathen countries, men are becoming ashamed of their idols, and are representing them as merely the media of worship. The victory of Christianity over idolatry is already assured. The struggles that are yet to shake the world will be, not between Christianity and idolatry; not even between Christianity and atheism, for atheism is necessarily merely a brief episode in human experience; but between Christianity and other forms of monotheism.

APPLICATION.

1. In the wide-spread and long-continued empire of the idols we have a conclusive proof of man’s need of a Divine revelation. The natural progress of fallen man is not to light, but to darkness (Romans 1:21-23; 1 Corinthians 1:21).

2. In the prediction of our text, we have a conclusive proof of that in the Bible we have such a revelation. Consider the circumstances of the prophet: idolatry on every hand, corrupting even His own people. It was contrary to all experience; it must have seemed to many who first heard it as the ravings of a lunatic. Such a prediction, already so marvellously fulfilled, came from God!

3. In the approaching complete fulfilment of the prediction of our text, let us rejoice. And let us labour as well as pray, that the time may be hastened when by idolatry God shall be no longer dishonoured nor man degraded.

Verse 22

MAN’S INSIGNIFICANCE AND GOD’S SUPREMACY

Isaiah 2:22. Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

In this verse the whole Bible is summed up. The folly of trusting in man, and the necessity of trusting in God alone, is its great lesson, from its commencement to its close. This is what we are taught—

I. By its record of God’s providential dealings with the Jews and other nations. Continually He has accomplished His ends by very different means than man would have selected. Egypt saved from perishing by famine through the instrumentality of a young slave; Naaman delivered from his leprosy through the ministration of a little maid; Israel rescued by Gideon and his three hundred soldiers; the boastful Philistines defeated by a young shepherd, &c.

II. By the grand scheme of human redemption which it discloses. In it God is everything, and man nothing. The only means by which man can be restored to holiness, to the Divine favour and life everlasting, were provided by God; man contributed nothing either to its completeness or efficiency. The benefit is man’s, the glory all belongs to God. Nor in appropriating it does he do anything that is meritorious. In repentance there is no merit: it is simply that state of mind which is required of us in view of the sins we have committed. Nor in faith; it is simply the recognition of the ability of another, and the consequent entrustment of ourselves to Him, to do that for us which we confess our inability to do for ourselves.—Blessed is the man, and he only, who has learned these two things. So long as a man depends on his own wisdom, power, and goodness, or on the wisdom, power and goodness of other men, he must be disquieted and unhappy. We can attain to substantial quiet and an abiding satisfying peace only when we feel that our dependence is on a Being omnipotent, independent, and supreme, as well as abundant in truth and love (Isaiah 26:3).—Joseph Holdech, D.D., American National Preacher, 36:255–265.

LESSONS FROM A NATIONAL BEREAVEMENT
(Sermon preached on the Sunday after the death of President Harrison.)

Isaiah 2:22. Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?

The event which has just befallen us as a nation is fitted to teach—

I. The vanity of human dependence. The atheism of the human heart displays itself in a disposition to confide entirely in an arm of flesh. This is so in the family, the church, the nation. In various ways God endeavours to teach nations their real dependence upon Himself—by famine, by pestilence, by commercial disasters, by the death of their rulers. What “fools” we must be, and how “brutish” must be our understanding, if we do not lay to heart the lesson which He has now given us (Psalms 146:3).

II. The pettiness of party strife. How much of selfishness, unkindness, anger, and untruthfulness does the spirit of party give birth to! How seldom politicians of opposite parties do each other common justice! How fierce are there rivalries! But how mean, how worthless, how unworthy appear the objects of their strife when death enters the arenas and waves his skeleton arm! What a great calm falls upon the agitated spirits of men! How noise is hushed and excitement subdued! How like do the flushed and eager politicians seem then to silly children quarrelling for the possession of a bubble that has just been blown into the air, and that will disappear the moment it is grasped! [535]

[535] Here, like a shepherd gazing from his hut,

Touching his reed, or leaning on his staff,
Eager Ambition’s fiery chase I see;
I see the circling hunt of noisy men
Burst law’s enclosure, leap the mounds of right,
Pursuing and pursued, each other’s prey;
As wolves for rapine; as the fox for wiles;
Till Death, that mighty hunter, earths them all.
Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour?
What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame?
Earth’s highest station ends in “Here he lies”—
And “Dust to dust” concludes her noblest song.—Young.

III. The vanity of the world, the certainty of death, and the nearness of eternity. These lessons are taught when a beggar dies, but are more likely to be laid to heart when a prince is laid low [538]

[538] The glories of our birth and state

Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate:
Death lays his icy hand on kings;
Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.
Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill;
But their strong nerves at last must yield:
They tame but one another still;
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath,
When they, pale captives, creep to death.
The garlands wither on your brow;
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon death’s purple altar, now,
See where the victor victim bleeds!
All heads must come
To the cold tomb!
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.
Shirley.

IV. The supreme importance of a right moral character. Most instructive is the interest felt by survivors in the moral character of the departed, in the evidences of his preparation for death, in the manner in which the great summons affected him. This is the testimony of the human conscience, that in comparison with a fitness to appear before the tribunal of God, everything else loses its importance. When was the amount of a man’s possessions inscribed on his tombstone? The bare suggestion of such a thing would be construed as a mockery of death, under whose denuding hand the rich man leaves the world naked as he entered it. But if, in all his life, there was one virtue in his moral character, one trait which can afford satisfactory evidence of God’s approval, this, be sure, you will find sculptured in conspicuous characters on his monumental marble. One thing alone can prepare any for their last account—the belief and the practice of the Gospel of God. Have you the great calm which is inspired by the confidence of being thus prepared for the great change?—W. Adams, American National Preacher, 15:97–105.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/isaiah-2.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.