THE LORD'S PEOPLE COMFORTED
Isa . Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.
I. God has a people in the world. In one sense, all whom the Lord designs to create anew by His Holy Spirit, and who, though at present afar off, will at length be brought nigh unto Him, are His people (Act ). But these are not the persons referred to in our text, for they cannot at present be known or addressed as God's people; neither at present are they capable of being comforted, according to the direction here given. The "people" to whom the text refers are those who have fled to Christ for refuge from the wrath to come, and who are earnestly desiring to walk in newness of life.
II. It is the will of God that His people should enjoy the comforts of religion. The very nature of the religion He has given is to inspire comfort, as it is the very nature of the sun to diffuse light and heat. If His people are sorrowful or dejected, it is not because of their religion, but because they have too little religion, or because they do not know how to use the religion which they have. But it is desirable that they should be comforted—
1. For their own sakes. While they lack peace and joy they can never be as diligent as they ought to be in the duties of religion (H. E. I. 306-308).
2. For the honour of religion. The despondency and gloom of professors affords a handle to those who speak evil of the Christian life, and misrepresent it as a life of melancholy (H. E. I. 756-762). For these reasons God's people should lay aside all unreasonable fears, and preachers of the Gospel should consider it an essential part of their office to minister to the people of God that consolation which belongs to them, and which they are capable of receiving. "Comfort ye," &c.
III. Let us examine a few of the most common causes of that want of comfort of which God's people frequently complain.
1. Their misunderstanding the nature and extent of that pardon of sin which the Gospel provides. Reclaimed from a worldly course, the recollection of their former sins is very painful to them. It often overspreads their minds like a thick cloud, and fills them with darkness and alarm. They are not indeed without a hope that they shall obtain forgiveness at last for Christ's sake; but still they ask themselves, "What if God should not pardon me at last?" (H. E. I. 1268). But God does not offer to pardon you at some distant day. He offers, in the Gospel, to forgive you now; nay, He tells you, that if you have in your heart come to Christ and believed in Him, your sins are already forgiven (Rom ; Luk 7:47; Col 2:13; 1Jn 2:12; Isa 44:22). The pardon vouchsafed is a present pardon (H. E. I. 2332-2339). When the prodigal returned to his father's house a penitent, were not his offences fully and instantly forgiven and his self-reproaches stopped? Was he told, amid all the pleasures of the feast provided for him, that he must not enjoy himself too much, because perhaps his father might some years afterwards remember his past misconduct and visit it upon him? An apprehension of this kind would doubtless have much diminished his comfort; but would it not have been groundless and unreasonable? Equally groundless and unreasonable are your apprehensions, if you have indeed come to Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Put them away and rejoice in a present salvation (2Co 4:17; Joh 5:24).
2. Their seeking comfort where it is not to be found. It is one of their privileges that they are renewed in the spirit of their minds, but this renewal is not, and cannot be, at present perfect. But they forget this, and when they look within themselves they find so many imperfections that they are greatly distressed. If you are never to partake of the peace and consolations of Christianity so long as you fall short of the spiritual standard of obedience, you must go mourning all your days: for the more spiritually-minded you grow, the more spiritual will that standard become in your estimation, and consequently the more unholy you will appear in your own eyes. You can never find comfort by poring into your own heart. Peace and joy come by believing. Christ is the only source of consolation to the soul. If you wanted light, would you expect to find it by looking downwards on the ground, or upwards to the sun? Would the Israelite, when bitten by the serpents, have found relief by meditating on his wounds and lamenting the violence and deadly nature of his disease? No; it was by looking on the serpent of brass that he found a cure, and had his heart filled with hope and joy. Look unto Jesus, rejoice in the sufficiency of His grace to redeem you from all evil (Jude ; H. E. I. 4470-4474).
3. Their mistaking the proofs and marks of a really religious state. They say, "If we were the Lord's people, we should feel it in our hearts." But who has told you that warm and rapturous feelings are sure proofs of a truly religious state?
(1.) As a matter of fact, they are really reasons for suspicion when they are experienced at the outset of a religious life (Mat ). There is a religion that is like a bundle of thorns on fire; for a little time there is noise and light and some measure of heat, but presently the flame subsides, the fire goes out, and all is dark and chill.
(2.) Even when feelings are real, it is not possible for them to be long wound up to one high pitch (H. E. I. 2073, 2074).
(3.) The Bible never bids you judge of your religious state by your own feelings. You are there told that you are to walk, not by sight, but by faith; and if by faith, not by feelings. The promises are not made to feeling, but to faith. St. Paul did not say to the jailer who asked what he must do to be saved, "Feel that you have Christ in your heart, and you shall be saved;" but, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ," &c. Are you humbly believing in Jesus Christ as your only Saviour? Are you living in dependence on the Divine promises, and in a faithful use of the means of grace? Are you doing the duties of your station in dependence on God, and with a desire to please, serve, and honour Him? Are you walking in Christian holiness? Then the comforts of Christianity belong to you. Receive them in faith. Be not discouraged because you cannot find in yourself this or that feeling. Rejoice in the Lord; believe His promises, because they are His. Abraham against hope believed in hope. He had nothing but the bare word of the Almighty on which he could confide. But what other ground of confidence could he desire? You have the same word; confide in that. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life." You believe on Him, therefore you have everlasting life. What you may feel is nothing to the purpose. Your salvation is grounded, not on the changeable feelings of a frail and mutable creature, but on the faithfulness of Him who cannot lie (H. E. I. 2064-2067).—Edward Cooper: Practical and Familiar Sermons, vol. vii 345-362.
THE CURE FOR ANXIETY
Isa . Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God, &c.
The skill of a physician is shown—
1. In detecting the disease under which his patient suffers; and,
2. In choosing the best remedy.
There is as great variety in the diseases of the soul as in those of the body: there is the moral palsy, fever, consumption, answering in their symptoms to the corporeal maladies similarly designated; and some souls require quite a different regimen from all others.
I. A PREVALENT SICKNESS.
1. This is pointed out in the words, "Cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished," &c. The condition of Jerusalem is one of distress, anxiety, and distraction; and this so well accords with a passage in the Psalms that it may be connected with it: "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul." The disease is here more clearly described—a "multitude of thoughts." An old translation has it, "In the multitude of the sorrows that I had in my heart, Thy comforts have refreshed my soul;" and Bishop Austin's version is, "In the multitude of my anxieties within me;" whilst the representation in the original Hebrew would seem that of a man involved in a labyrinth from whose intricacies there was no way of escape. All this agrees precisely with the case of Jerusalem in the text; and what cause of distressing anxiety would there be whilst there was warfare unfinished and sin unforgiven! The case of sickness, then, so emphatically prescribed for, is that under which the righteous may be labouring from the difficulties which encompass him.
2. Who labour most under this disease? The persons supposed are they who strive to walk according to the precepts of religion. A man may be "a man after God's own heart," and yet subject to the invasion of a crowd of anxieties; and it is never a part of our business to lessen the extent of what is blameworthy, nor to endeavour to persuade the righteous that freedom from anxiety is not a privilege to be sought after. The Christian may rise superior to all intruders, and prove that they do but heighten the blessedness of the blessing (H. E. I. 2053, 4054-4056).
II. IS THE PRESCRIPTION SUFFICIENT? The disease incapacitates for any process of argument; it were of little use to prescribe dark sayings, mysterious dogmas, as though God, in His dealings with His distracted people, did but prescribe the application of "things hard to be understood." With David, recourse was not had to the mysteries of God, but only to His comfort—and with these the Psalmist found that he could delight his soul. Of what does this comfort consist? Of the rich assurances of His forgiving and accepting love; of the gracious declarations of His everlasting purpose to preserve to the end those chosen in Christ; the multiplied promises of spiritual guidance, protection, victory; the foretastes of immortality; the glimpses of things "within the veil." It is the part of a righteous man, in his season of anxiety and distraction, to confine himself to those comforts, regarding them as a sick man does the medicines given him, as the cordial specially adapted to his state.
Observe that the comforting message is to be delivered to Jerusalem, and that annexed is a statement of "her warfare" being "accomplished." Connect with the exclamation of Paul, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course." It is no farfetched application of the text to affirm it as specially appropriate on the approach of the last enemy—death. It is here that the power of all mere human resources must eventually fail; for when a man thinks on what it is to die; when he reflects that die he must, so inevitable is the doom; and yet, that die he cannot, so certain is his immortality,—in vain does the world offer its richest possessions, or philosophy its conclusions. It can only be what emanates from another world, what comes with authority from another world, that can have a solacing power, when it is the loosening of our connection with this world which causes the confused tumult in the soul; and Christianity furnishes an abundance of what is needed for allaying the fear of death and soothing man's passage to the tomb.
The anxious believer has then only to give himself meekly over into the Good Shepherd's hands. Let him not argue, let him not debate, let him not sit in judgment; let him simply have recourse to the comforts of God. "None," says Christ, "can pluck them out of my hands." Christ holds His sheep; it is not the sheep that hold Christ, and God has caused it to be said of him, "Comfort ye, comfort ye my servant, and tell him that his warfare is accomplished."—Henry Melvill, B.D.; Golden Lectures, 1851, pp. 737-744.
THE DIVINE GLORY REVEALED IN CHRIST
(Preached on Christmas Day.)
These things must be remembered in reference to prophecy. What appears to be human skill is absolutely heavenly wisdom. It must not be interpreted by the common canons of criticism, or we shall lose all its force, and beauty, and meaning.—Watson.
I. ITS LITERAL ACCOMPLISHMENT.
This prophecy was literally accomplished,—
1. In the appearance of John the Baptist.
2. Following the footsteps of the servant comes the Master. Here the glory of God was manifested, and all flesh living at that time in Judea saw it together. Jesus Christ was the visible image of the power, the truth, the holiness of God.
II. ITS SPIRITUAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. This is seen in the work of God in the human soul. In this there is both preparation and manifestation. For Christ no more bursts upon the soul at once than He did upon the world; He sends His messenger to prepare the way before Him. That preparing herald, figured by John the Baptist, is repentance. Consider what repentance is, and you will see how it prepares the soul for Christ, for pardon, happiness, and purity.
1. The first element in repentance is a deep and serious conviction of the fact of our sin.
2. The second is a conviction of the extreme danger of sin and its infinite desert.
3. The third is a burdened and disquieted spirit. When these convictions and feelings have been produced in the soul, it is prepared for the coming of Christ into it. And when He comes into it, in its deliverance from the guilt, misery, and dominion of sin there is a glorious manifestation of the mercy and power of God.
III. ITS ALLEGORICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. It is seen in the establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth. He sends forth His heralds, and by them the world is being prepared for that fuller manifestation of God which will constitute the latter-day glory.—Richard Watson: Works, vol. iv. pp. 307-318.
PREPARING FOR THE COMING OF THE KING
(For Advent Sunday.)
Isa . The voice of him that crieth, &c.
The Spirit of Christ, which spake by the prophets, thus describes the preparatory work assigned to the heralds and forerunners of His advent. The application to John the Baptist is made by all the Evangelists, by John himself, and is confirmed by our Lord. One great point is thereby determined,—the whole passage has a spiritual meaning. It is, in fact, a parable or sacred allegory, by which alone we can be prepared to behold the glory of God revealed in the person of the Son. The "wilderness" represents the whole race of mankind alienated from God and abandoned to the impulses of a corrupt nature. Just so far as men are influenced by worldly principles the call is addressed to them. His way has yet to be prepared in their hearts. This saying applies in the full sense to the unconverted, but in a very true and practical sense it reaches all.
1. In order that the highway shall be made straight, the first injunction is that every valley shall be exalted. In mountainous districts many a deep ravine is found, scarcely visited by the sun's light, filled with noxious vapours, producing scanty and unwholesome food for its squalid inhabitants. How many dark places of our common humanity may be described in these very terms! Man bridges the chasms, and makes a way by which he pusses triumphantly to the accomplishment of his objects; but as for the places themselves, he leaves them for the most part unchanged, or, if changed, but sadder and darker than before, the rushing sounds which tell of his onward progress being no solace to the startled mind of the dweller in the gloomy hollow. Far different is God's way; not thus does He bid us prepare our brethren's hearts, our own hearts, for His coming. He wills that the valley itself shall be exalted—the ignorant raised into the clear light of heaven, the gloomy and despondent spirit raised out of its state of hopeless foreboding and brooding sorrow.
2. "Every mountain and hill shall be made low." Self-exaltation is the surest hindrance to the favour of the great King.
3. "The crooked shall be made straight." Crookedness, dishonesty, the absence of candour, of sincerity, of straightforwardness, is a hateful thing and must be put away. In our temporal and spiritual things alike there must be an integrity that will bear the scrutiny of our Lord (H. E. I. 3000, 3010). When He finds a heart open to receive Him, an humble spirit, and guileless simplicity, He will never withhold the full disclosure of His love.
4. "And the rough places plain." Such rough places were ever common in the East—rugged passes beset by dense thickets, lairs of wild beasts, intricate fastnesses, in which robbers find covert, which obstruct the progress of the sovereign into the remote parts of his dominions. In this we recognise a lively image of the evil passions, the corrupt affections, the unregulated desires which overrun the unregenerate heart, and which are extirpated slowly, with much effort, and very imperfectly from the heart when regenerate. We cannot say that the Saviour will not come to us, nor even that He will not dwell with us, until those hindrances are cleared away. That assertion would paralyse all hope; it is both contrary to experience and to plain texts of Holy Writ. But this we must say, He will not abide in us if things so evil are indulged and tolerated. The rough places must be made plain, at whatever cost; for until that work is accomplished, we cannot know the deep peace of the redeemed and sanctified child of grace (H. E. I. 1466-1468).
The work of preparation must be done. Are we dismayed at its extent? Then remember that it is a work of grace. What is low in us must be exalted by the action of grace upon our consenting hearts; what is haughty must be thus abased, the crooked be made straight, and the rough be made plain (H. E. I. 1071, 2376).—.F. C. Cook, M.A.: Sermons Preached in Lincoln's Inn Chapel, pp. 279-291.
The charge to "prepare the way of the Lord" implies that there are obstacles in the way.
His way is to be made through the desert and the wilderness, i.e., where hitherto there was no way. The reference may be, first, to the state of the Jewish Church in the time of John; but the words contain a true and clear description of the Gentile nations. And what is applied generally to the nations is equally applicable to every human heart:—
1. There is the pride and self-righteousness of man. The thoughts of men rise like mountains to impede the truth. At the very time when man is diseased and dying, he imagines himself whole, and without need of a physician.
2. The heart is by nature hard, impenitent, blinded to its own defects, and, even after confession of them, unwilling to have them condemned or to give them up. Men hear the righteous law denouncing them, but go on to break it; they can stand unmoved before the cross of Jesus and trample upon His blood (H. E. I. 2669-2279).
3. The state of human desires and affections presents other and formidable obstacles to the claims of the Lord. Their desires are low, their affections carnal (Luk ).
4. In some there exists a mass of prejudice, and the truth of Christ is viewed under a false light, or through a perverting medium. They will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, and they cannot enter therein. Some are prejudiced against the authority of revelation,—some against the doctrine of grace, or salvation by the merit of another; and many dislike the holiness, the self-denial, the separation from the world which Christianity inculcates.
1. Repentance is necessary to prepare the way,—humility, to receive and learn the doctrine,—prayer, to give it success in the heart,—and watchfulness, to carry it out into practice.
2. Every Christian has something to do in preparing the way of Christ in the earth.—George Redford, D.D., LL. D.: Weekly Christian Teacher, vol. ii. pp. 105-108.
This chapter opens the great evangelic poem, the work of Isaiah's last years. It is among the most conspicuous of the heralds of the Advent. It contains three distinctly marked features which indicate definite stages of preparation for it.
1. It marks the period of Jewish history in which the temporal power and splendour of Judaism began visibly to wane. The mission of Judah as a kingdom was accomplished. But something in it did not wither. Faded and fallen as a nation, the Jews became at once more powerful than ever as a Church. 2. A very marked prophecy of a universal Church. The first promise (Gen ) was hidden for ages. Here it does not flash,—it shines, the calling of the Gentiles being the great burden of it (Isa 49:5-6; Isa 49:22-23; Isa 9:1-6). The words were spoken on which the King, when He came, could rest His appeal (Luk 4:18-19).
3. There was a clear vision set before the Jews of a great Sufferer for man who should yet be a great Conqueror. From the day when Isaiah wrote, the form of the Messiah was set clearly before mankind.
How far did this preparation fall in with larger movements which made the world ready for the actual Advent?
How the heralds prepared the way of the Lord.
I. THE JEWISH THEOCRACY. Some suppose Christ to have grown out of His age. But Christ and Christianity cannot be accounted for by natural evolution, with the Jewish theocracy standing in the way. Gen struck a keynote which runs through Jewish history.
II. THE JEWISH DISPERSION. The witnesses charged with the promise and the prophecy were scattered through the civilised world. Up to the captivity the Jews kept themselves sternly and sullenly isolated (Act ); afterwards they dispersed with facility. The significance of this is to be found in estimating the confusion of religious beliefs among mankind; and especially that neither Oriental nor Western thought became victorious. Jewish communities, with a firm belief in revelation, sacred books containing credible history, and a definite system of Divine legislation, the purity, righteousness, and charity of which were self-evident, settled among them.
III. THE INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL PROGRESS OF THE AGES PRECEDING THE ADVENT IN THE DIRECTION OF CHRISTIANITY. There was progress between Socrates and Seneca; from the citizen of a state, almost domestic in its character, man became the subject of a great empire, and developed individuality and responsibility. Alexander led the Greek into a world too big for him; he became oppressed, distracted, and broke away from his traditions in a world of ceaseless conflict and change. Between Alexander's conquests and Roman supremacy the thinker was thrown back upon himself, and compelled to ask ultimate questions: What am I? Whence came I? &c. There was a tendency towards the Christian question of salvation. But there was no response to the question forcing itself forward, What must I do to be saved? All was waiting for the proclamation (Isa ).
IV. THE ROMAN EMPIRE. This was by far the most important secular herald of the Advent (Luk ).
1. Modern European society is but the fully-developed Empire of Rome.
2. Amid a universal peace, and with a universal language, preachers could go almost everywhere.
3. The fundamental question opened by the Roman Empire is also that of Christianity—the relation of men to each other. Is it enmity or brotherhood?
(1.) Political amity gave rise to the idea of human brotherhood.
(2.) Still men were at sea about the reality, grounds, and claims of this brotherhood.
(3.) Thus the way was prepared till the time came when there were "shepherds abiding in the field," &c. (Luk ). Thus the Lord entered into this world and took possession of His throne.—J. Baldwin Brown: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii. p. 40.
THE MORAL TRANSFORMATION OF THE WORLD
Isa . The voice of Him that crieth, &c.
We are authorised by the four Evangelists to understand these verses as a prophecy of the ministry of John the Baptist, who appeared as the forerunner of the Messiah; and they may be properly applied to all missionaries and religious workers who go out to uncivilised, heathen, and superstitious countries, to prepare the inhabitants for the reception of pure Christianity. The language is figurative, and is borrowed from an ancient Eastern custom. When monarchs went out to visit distant parts of their dominions or to invade neighbouring kingdoms, they sent heralds or pioneers before them to clear the way and remove obstructions. In allusion to this custom, John the Baptist and all his successors in similar work are represented as going out before the Messiah to clear away obstructions and prepare the way for the establishment of His kingdom in the world. Let us notice—
I. THE CONDITION OF THE WORLD IN ITS SINFUL AND UNREFORMED STATE.
It is here represented as a wild, pathless, and dreary wilderness. This figurative description suggests—
1. That it is unproductive of anything good. The earth when left uncultivated will produce nothing valuable and useful; and so men in their sinful state will bear no fruit to the glory of God and the good of their fellow-creatures.
2. That it is productive of things worthless, noxious, and injurious. A wilderness produces briars, thorns, and worthless weeds, and forms hiding-places for ravenous beasts and poisonous reptiles. This is a proper description of the heathen and uncivilised world. Men there rob, deceive, and devour each other. "The dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty."
II. THE NECESSARY AND IMPORTANT PREPARATION FOR ITS MORAL TRANSFORMATION.
1. Religious teachers must be employed to combat with the ignorance and thick darkness which cover the people. To preach the Gospel to people without any kind of elementary education would be like throwing grain-seed among thorns or over hard rocks uncovered with any soil. This preparatory work is carried on most effectively in the present day. Eleven Protestant missionaries and assistants are now employed on the wide field of the heathen and superstitious world for every one so employed fifty years ago.
2. The Word of God must be made accessible to the rations in their respective languages and dialects. Eighty years ago the Bible had not been translated into more than forty of the languages of the world; now the whole book, or portions of it, is translated into more than two hundred and fifty languages. We thus see that the Christian Church has done six times more to prepare the way of the Lord in the last eighty years than it had done in the previous eighteen hundred years.
3. The international communications which are rapidly opening in every direction are promoted by men of the world simply for mercantile and scientific purposes, but they are evidently overruled by Divine Providence to prepare the way of the Lord. Many are running to and fro, and knowledge is increasing. Pure Christianity will ultimately reap all the advantages of this, for every form of false religion can only thrive in the darkness of ignorance and thoughtlessness.
III. THE GLORIOUS TRANSFORMATION WHICH SHALL BE EFFECTED.
"Every valley shall be exalted," &c., i.e., all the malarious morasses of immorality shall be drained and converted into healthy and productive land; all high hills and barren mountains of false systems of religion shall be levelled down and disappear; and all crooked and uneven dealings in the diplomacies of nations and commercial transactions shall be straightened and made conformable to the golden rule of the Gospel (Mat ). When this blessed change is realised, "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed"—
1. In the number of converts to the true religion. The true followers of Christ in every age hitherto have been only a "little flock" in comparison with all the inhabitants of the world, but the time is coming "when they shall teach no more every man his neighbour and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord."
2. In the beauty of their holy and consistent characters. "Holiness unto the Lord" shall be stamped upon every person and thing then; "and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts." The good works of God's people will so shine before men that they shall be led to glorify our Father which is in heaven.
3. In the temporal and spiritual happiness of the world. All the sources of misery and unhappiness shall be dried up entirely. Wars and bloody contentions between nations shall cease unto the ends of the earth. All tyranny, oppression, and every form of injustice shall be removed, and kindness, charity, and justice will occupy their place. Men who used to be likened to bears, wolves, lions, leopards, and poisonous serpents, shall be changed and become tame and as harmless as the lamb, the kid, and the weaned child (chap. Isa ). The whole earth will become the holy mountain of the Lord. The spiritual condition of the Church will then be indescribably happy and glorious. There will be no lifeless religious service, and no worshipper groaning and downcast under the hidings of the Lord's face, for "the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud of smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for upon all the glory shall be a defence."
IV. THE CERTAINTY OF THE REALISATION OF THIS TRANSFORMATION.
"For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
1. The Lord has ample power to fulfil all His promises. The opponents and obstructors of the promised transformation are described in the next three verses as grass and withering flowers. And what is grass to withstand Almighty power?
2. The Lord is omniscient, and no unforeseen contingencies can derange His plans, as it is often with us (chap. Isa ).
3. The Lord is the God of truth, and it is easier for heaven and earth to pass than one tittle of His law and promises to fail (Num ).—Thomas Rees, D.D.
THE LEVELLING FORCE OF CHRISTIANITY
Isa . Every valley shall be exalted, &c.
The primary reference of these words is to the clearing of the way for the captive Jews in Babylon to return to their own land. Between Babylon and Jerusalem there was an immense tract of country, which was an untrodden and mountainous desert. The prophet hears in vision the voice of a herald demanding that a highway should be made, that the valleys be filled up, the mountains levelled, and the crooked way made straight. The Evangelists give the passage another and a moral application. They regard John the Baptist as the herald who in his wakening ministry prepared the way in men's hearts for the mission of Him who was the spiritual Deliverer of mankind.
The words illustrate the socially levelling force of Christianity. There are and ever have been in the soul of society opinions, prejudices, feelings, conventional notions, which, like mountains and valleys, have separated men into classes, and prevented the free and loving interchange of soul. How does Christianity remove those mountains, fill up the valleys, and give a straight pathway into souls?
In two ways:—
I. By the levelling truths which it reveals.
1. A common God. A plurality of deities divides heathen society into sections. Christianity reveals one God, the Father of all, by whom are all things, and to whom are all things. It denounces all other deities as vanities and lies. A common God wakens a community of love, purpose, and worship.
2. A common nature. In heathen mythology men are represented as the offspring of different deities. In India one caste claims a nobler origin than another; and even in Christendom there are those who impiously claim a higher blood (Act ).
3. A common obligation. Different codes of duty divide men. The Gospel reveals one law for all—to love the one God with all our hearts, and our neighbours as ourselves.
4. A common depravity. Pharisaic sentiment divides (Rom ; Isa 53:6).
5. A common salvation. All are diseased, and there is but one Physician. All are captives, and there is but one Deliverer. All are lost, and there is but one Saviour.
II. By the levelling spirit which it generates. It generates a spirit which raises a man above the prejudices of heart and conventionalities that divide men. It is a spirit which has supreme regard to three things—
1. The spiritual in man. The true Christian spirit sees no dignity where there is meanness of soul, no degradation where there is a true nobility of heart.
2. The right in conduct. The true spirit judges not by custom and policy, but by principles of everlasting right; and it inspires a man to attempt the removal of all social mountains and hills that stand in the way of the right
3. The eternal in destiny. The human race is regarded not in its merely visible and temporal relation, but in its unseen and eternal.
Its levelling, however, does not involve spoliation. Distinctions arising from varieties in intellectual power, mental tastes, physical capacity, and individual circumstances, it recognises and respects. These do not necessarily involve social separations. Rightly used they are a blessed media of intercourse. It is the mountains arising from individual vanity, religious bigotry, national pride, worldly pretensions, and spiritual ignorance that Christianity levels to the dust.—David Thomas, D.D.: Homilist, Third Series, vol. viii. p. 95.
THE UNIVERSAL REVELATION OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD
Isa . And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, &c.
The chapter of which the text is a part forms the commencement of a series of addresses, distinguished not only for their elegance and sublimity, but for the manner in which they point to a future and far-distant period, when a display should be given of Divine splendour infinitely superior to any previously exhibited in our world. The institutions of the kingdom and Church of Judea, even in the days of Isaiah, were glory itself as compared with those of the nations around, and yet even their glory was as darkness when compared with those to which these predictions pointed as constituting the New Testament Church, and what has been emphatically characterised as "the glory of the latter days." The former was but the dawn of a lengthened day; the latter was to be the brightness of meridian splendour; the former illumined a very limited sphere, the latter was to irradiate every part of the world, and to send its brilliancy through the universe.
I. The glory to be revealed—"the glory of the Lord." The word glory is a figurative expression, signifying lustre, effulgence, splendour, magnificence. The glory of the Lord means the bright shining forth of the consummate excellences or perfections of His nature. Never was such an exhibition given of that glory as in the mission and mediation of the Son of God for the redemption of sinful men. It is to this that the declaration in the text unquestionably refers (cf. Isa ; Joh 1:28; Mat 3:3). No event had ever given such a demonstrative display of the glory of the Lord as this (Luk 2:13-14). That the redemption of a ruined world was the object of the Messiah's mission is undoubted (Gal 4:4-5); in this the glory of the Lord appeared (Isa 44:23). He displays His glory in all His works (Psa 19:1-2; Rom 1:20); but the brightest display of that glory by far is given, and is to be seen in the face of Jesus Christ. Note particularly that the glory of every Divine perfection was manifested in the mission and work of Christ.
1. Wisdom (1Ti ; 1Co 2:7; Col 1:26-27; Eph 1:8; Eph 3:10).
2. Power (1Co ); all the resources of earth and hell were laid under requisition to hinder the execution of His undertaking (Isa 63:1-6; Col 2:15).
3. Holiness and justice (Isa ; Isa 53:10-12; Psa 22:1-3). How the glory of Divine grace now triumphed! Though the "Holy One," He yet provided for the happiness of sinners; He showed Himself to be at once "the just God and the Saviour" (Rom 3:23-26; Eph 2:4-8). Like Him who accomplished it, redemption was not only "full of grace," it was also "full of truth;" through Him all the promises of God were made "yea and amen to the glory of God by us;" the significance of the ancient sacrifices and ceremonies was disclosed; feeble glimmerings of light were swallowed up by a full blaze of glory (Mic 7:20; Joh 1:29).
The glory of the Lord was further demonstrated in the manner in which His various attributes were thus made to harmonise. There was no clashing; while the honour of each was advanced, the whole were glorified together (Psa ).
II. The means that were to be employed in revealing this glory of the Lord.
1. The personal ministry of our Lord Himself (Heb ). The manner in which Christ proved the truth of His mission and doctrines emphatically declared His glory (Joh 3:2; Luk 24:19); and all this was substantiated by His sufferings and death, His resurrection and ascension (Php 2:8-11).
2. The written Word of Christ (Joh ; Col 3:16; 2Ti 3:15). All, therefore, who wish the glory of the Lord to be more and more revealed shall strive and "pray that the Word of the Lord may have free course and be glorified."
3. The preaching of the Gospel (Mar ; Mar 16:20). Whenever the preaching of evangelical truth is rightly conducted, the glory of the Lord will be more and more revealed (1Co 1:18-24); but the members of the Church generally are to be instrumental by their prayers, instructions, and example (Mat 6:10; Isa 2:5; Mat 5:16; Php 1:9-11).
III. The extent to which the glory of the Lord shall be exhibited—"All flesh shall see it together." When Isaiah spoke thus, the very existence of Jehovah was unknown to every nation under heaven but one. Innumerable multitudes are yet sitting in darkness. This great promise has still, therefore, to receive its full accomplishment (Isa ; Mat 9:37-38; Rom 10:13; Rom 10:15); then shall come to pass the saying that is written (Hab 2:14; Isa 35:1-2).
IV. The great purpose for which the exhibition of the Divine glory is to be made. What this must be is clearly implied, though, in our version at least, not expressed. It is, that the Lord may so be made known as to be universally and exclusively honoured and obeyed (Isa ). And the next grand object in view is, to promote the best interests of men (Isa 45:22; Isa 52:10).
V. The certainty of the whole, as intimated by the assertion—"For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it" (Heb ; Heb 11:11; 1Sa 15:29). What the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, the power of the Lord will accomplish (Jer 32:27).
1. Let us rejoice that our God is the God of glory, and in this character the God of salvation.
2. Let us individually seek to have saving manifestations of His glory (Exo ; Exo 30:18).
3. Let us recognise our infinite obligations for the means we enjoy for this purpose.
4. Let us seek to advance His glory far and wide (Isa ).—Adam Thomson, D.D.: Outlines, pp. 108-114.
We believe that Jesus Christ was that image of God whom prophets had been desiring to behold. Is that enough for us? Are we content that the world should go on as it is,—the Christian world, or the world that is not Christian?
If not, what is it we wish for? Is Jesus the One that shall come, or do we look for another?
There is a disposition among religious men to look for something else than the manifestation of Christ. Christ is, according to them, a means to an end, but not the end; the sight of Him is not itself what they covet; the loss of Him is not itself what they dread. Again, there are not a few who say that the Gospel has failed of its object. Has it set the world right? Has misery ceased? Has wrong ceased? Has the reign of peace begun? The last of these opinions ought not to be rejected till men have cleared their minds of the first.
I. In the Old Testament the misery of the Jewish people, though produced by the most different instruments, has but one cause. Whoever are the tyrants—Pharaoh, Jabin, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar—tyranny is the cause of their groaning. A Deliverer is their one infinite necessity. Men appear as their deliverers; but they appear in the name of the Lord. Idolatry is the worship of some tyrant force. These thoughts and experiences were the school of the prophets. Through the prevalence of idolatry in the world, they were forced to rely upon the might of God and to expect the revelation of His glory. God cannot be disappointed. His purpose is to reveal Himself, and He will reveal Himself.
II. Isaiah is rightly called "The Evangelical Prophet," because he saw more clearly than any one that only One who perfectly revealed God, who perfectly revealed Him as a Deliverer, could be the Person whom Israelites and all nations desired. Every event was a partial Epiphany. He hungered for one which should be for "all flesh." The mouth of the Lord had as much spoken this as He had spoken the commands against adultery, or murder, or false witness.
III. Apostles, while they claimed the words of this prophet as pointing to Christ, forbade a contentment with what disciples had heard, or seen, or felt, or believed. They said, "We are saved by hope" (Rom ; Eph 3:18-19).
IV. Of such teaching the consequence must be, that whatever calamities come upon the world will be stimulants and encouragements to this hope. There will be no shame in indulging it; because it is a hope for the world and not only for ourselves. There will be no uncertainty about it; because it does not depend upon our faith or virtue, but upon the eternal Word of God. The mouth of the Lord had spoken it.
1. Let us have no doubt that, however we may classify men's oppressions, as individual or social, as political or intellectual, as animal or spiritual, God Himself has awakened the cry for freedom.
2. Let us have no doubt that that cry is, when truly understood and interpreted, a cry that God will appear as the Deliverer, that His glory may be revealed.
3. Let us therefore be most eager to meet all these cries, however discordant they be, with a true sympathy and recognition.
4. Let us, without precipitation—rather by acts than by words—show that we believe we can give God's answer to them.
It is an old commonplace of divinity which we are strangely forgetting, that despair is the only utter perdition, because despair binds a man in the prison of his evil nature, and fastens the chain of the evil spirit upon him; because all hope points upwards to God, and is the response of our spirit to His Spirit. The promise of this final Epiphany stands not on the decrees of lawgivers, or the expectations of holy men, or the confidence of seers. It comes from Him who said, "Let there be light, and there was light."—F. D. Maurice: Lincoln's Inn Sermons, vol. i. pp. 175-289.
COMFORT FOR THE SUFFERING
Isa . Comfort ye, &c.
IT is generally agreed that these last twenty-six chapters relate to the restoration of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon. They are the Gospel of the Old Testament. This is their value to us.
Put into the briefest words, the ideas contained in the first five verses of this chapter are—That a glorious change awaits the exiles, consisting of a new and generous manifestation of Jehovah's presence, for which His people are exhorted to prepare.
The prophet is commanded to speak words of comfort to those captives from Jerusalem—to assure them that her warfare, her time of slavery, is about to end; that her sins are pardoned, abundantly expiated by her sufferings; that her God is coming to deliver her from the oppressor; and that she must prepare the way for His coming, as heralds ride before a conquering king.
The comforting announcement which the prophet was to make to Jerusalem was—
1. That her affliction had become full, and had therefore come to an end.
2. Her iniquity is atoned for and the justice of God is satisfied.
3. The third clause repeats the substance of the previous ones with greater emphasis and in a fuller tone.
The double punishment which she had endured is not to be taken in a judicial sense, in which case God would appear over-rigid, and therefore unjust. The compassion of God regarded what His justice had been obliged to inflict upon Jerusalem as superabundant.
But this is only the negative side of the consolation. What positive salvation is to be expected? "Hark, the voice of one crying!" The summons proceeds in a commanding tone: "Let every valley be exalted," &c. Spiritually interpreted, the command points to the encouragement of those that are cast down, the humiliation of the self-righteous and self-secure, the changing of dishonesty into simplicity, and of haughtiness into submission. Israel is to take care that God shall find them in such an inward and outward state as shall enable Him to fulfil His purpose. "And the glory of Jehovah," &c. When the way is prepared for the coming One, the glory of the God of salvation will be unveiled; and this revelation is made for the sake of Israel, but not secretly or exclusively, for "all flesh" will come to see the salvation of God. "For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," is the confirmation of the foregoing prophecy.
Suffering endured through a long period, comfort promised, the elements of that comfort and the preparation for receiving it—these are the chief thoughts and main topics of the passage.
I. We all have to suffer, and to suffer for our own sins and for the sins of one another, in one way or another, and in a greater or less degree. It is part of the mystery of the world that some lives, even in the morning of their days, are overhung with dark clouds of sorrow. With how many is life a continual struggle with feeble health; in others, mental cares, cares of business, anxieties; in others, pangs suffered over sins committed and things left undone.
II. The Old and New Testaments say that there is Divine comfort for the sorrowful sufferers. This teaching casts a new light upon human grief. It puts to shame all ancient and modern philosophy. The Divine Physician uses suffering as a medicine (Psa ; Psa 119:71).
1. We feel ourselves drawn into the true path of life.
2. Then the comfort of another message begins to be felt—that our iniquity is pardoned.
3. Then His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
III. God is coming over the desert of our lives to reveal His glory to us (Isa ).
IV. But, for coming into the possession of this privilege, we must prepare the way of the Lord (Isa ; Mat 3:2). The conditions of comfort are here laid down. Christian comfort comes by raising up the whole soul of a man; by bringing down every proud thought; by straightening every crooked course; by chastening and refining all that is rugged in character or conduct. It is thus we prepare ourselves for the incoming of God.—Charles Short: Sermons, pp. 255-269.
THE TRANSIENT AND THE PERMANENT
We are witnessing one of the last phases of that wonderful life which Nature unfolds before us each year with ever-new beauty. To most men it is a sad phase. Why? Not because we are entering upon the rugged season of the year. They know that the discomforts of winter are transient; and winter brings its own pleasures. The feeling finds its source in that intuitive faculty in man which enables him to interpret the spiritual significance in Nature, and which tells him that in the withering and falling leaf, decomposing and resolving itself into its first elements,—in the dry and flowerless stalk and the harsh brown grass, he sees the type of his own mortality (P. D. 248, 2222).
The decay of autumn suggesting the thought of decay in human life, suggests also very forcibly the thought of immortality. Never does the longing to live for ever so take possession of my soul as when all about me is telling me that life is transitory. When life is fullest and most satisfying, death is most unwelcome; and when decay and death draw nigh, we long with quickened desire for life.
There are two elements in all things earthly—the transitory and the permanent. Nature has a real life which survives when she sheds what have been the visible tokens of her life. The things which seem most alive in Nature are the leaves, the flowers, and the fruits; but these are the things that perish soonest. The real life lies deeper—hidden from human eyes; and that endures. It is so with man. There is somewhat that is real and abiding; there is somewhat that is only temporary—the foliage in which the real expresses itself to-day, and which it will cast aside to-morrow. And so we find the sacred poet thinking upon the transitoriness of life, reassuring himself with the thought that there is nevertheless somewhat that is real and abiding. "All flesh is grass," &c.
There are lives which all of us can live which will have more than a transitory significance; deeds within the power of us all which will be immortal; things which may be acquired by us which neither time nor accident can wrest from us.
I. Our good deeds will live for ever. Our acts of kindness, generosity, helpfulness are immortal because they are Divine. There is a threefold immortality—
1. Acts that lessen life's burdensomeness and diminish the temptations to sin have far-reaching consequences to others. By these personal ministries, often humble and obscure, we are shaping immortal lives. Our good deeds will live in other souls (P. D. 1006, 2302, 2443, 3205).
2. You cannot do another good without doing yourself good in the deed; you are building your own character, and that will show your work upon it unto eternity (H. E. I. 720; P. D. 3609).
3. Our good deeds become immortal by their life in the thought of God (Heb ; Act 10:31; H. E. I. 451, 1726; P. D. 2012).
II. Our pure affections will live for ever (P. D. 749-2351).
The leaves fall and mingle with the sod, the flower droops and withers, and earth ere long will lie sepulchred beneath the snow; but in the providence of God the spring will come, and earth will wake to a fresh and radiant life. And so, also, when our earthly plans are broken, our accumulations scattered, and our bodies crumble into dust, the soul with all its fulness of love and all its trophies of service shall live on in the immortality of God.—George P. Gilman.
God's comparisons are striking, His contrasts sharp. Could the perishability of creation and the imperishability of its uncreated Author be put more vividly before our eyes than by likening the one to a worn-out garment, ready to drop apart, while the other stands out untouched by time, and with years that have no end? (Psa ). In this passage from ancient prophecy, how the fleeting is made a background on which to set the fixed! Over against Nature's decaying growth are put Revelation's verities that eternally abide. "The grass withereth," &c.
2. But this evanescence is not entirely an outgrowth of human weakness; part of it is the outworking of a Divine design. The fluctuations of earth are its heavenly discipline. God uses it to rid the world of evils, as He uses thunders and lightnings to shake out of the air deadly diseases hanging there. Even for the individual a quiet, undisturbed life is rarely God's plan. The soul is apt to grow hard, and selfish, and narrow, unless over-turnings and ups and downs shake it loose from earthly good and gain (Psa ; Jer 48:11; H. E. I. 3997-4014). To prevent this, changes keep us shaken up. God's merciful hand is in the commotion (H. E. I. 110, 111).
II. Note now the stability with which this inconstancy is contrasted. Turn from the changing world and consider the unchanging Word. "The Word of our God standeth for ever" (Mat ; 1Pe 1:24-25).
1. There is this immutability about the facts which Scripture states. Every little while infidelity with blare of trumpets announces some fresh discovery of science hostile to revelation, and at each disclosure some timid believers are almost ready to concede that the Bible has gotten its deathblow. Children that we are to be scared by shadows! Why, Sir Charles Lyell tells us that in 1806 the French Institute numbered more than eighty geological theories that struck against the inspired record, and not one of those theories survives to-day (H. E. I. 539, 636, 642-645).
3. There is the same perpetuity about the principles or doctrines of this Word. At times the enemy comes in so like a flood that it seems as if all the old landmarks were swept away. But the old verities remain unchanged. Divine holiness, justice, and supreme dominion; human accountability to a righteous law; human sinfulness, and pardon through a crucified Saviour; the necessity of repentance and regeneration through the renewing and sanctifying Spirit; a reckoning day when right shall be crowned and wrong crushed, and the drama of history close amid praises—not one of these Bible truths has been abrogated or annulled by all men's sneers or jeers. Providence is not a myth. Christ is not an amiable enthusiast. Heaven is not a dream, nor is hell a fiction.
4. This Word is permanent in its fruits. "The Word of our God" is first of all sometimes heard with the ear, then sometimes accepted by the understanding, then sometimes received into the soul, and then sometimes manifested in the life of the believer. Where so grasped and held, it is a principle of undecaying power. The work that begins with the saving entrance of the Word goes on for ever. Not only does the truth so embraced by the heart perpetually produce fruit in the individual, but in the community it keeps yielding fruit year after year.—Thomas E. Vassar.
THE STORY AND MORAL OF A BLADE OF GRASS
Isa . All flesh is grass, &c.
I. THE STORY OF THE BLADE OF GRASS.
The tender beauty of these words is not confined to the fact that their leading thought—the transitoriness of human life—is full of pathos. There is a plaintive music in them; the refrain—"grass withers, flowers fade"—goes singing through the brain, quickening the tender grace of days that are dead. Imagination stirs and works; we see the broad pleasant field bathed in sunlight, and then the fierce hot blast sweep across it. Who does not feel at times that that is a true picture of human life? But these words take new force as we connect them with the circumstances in and for which they were spoken. The prophet's main duty hitherto had been to denounce the judgments of God on the sins of Israel. He is now carried on to the distant time when the Jews will start on their return to their native land. He is to "speak comfortably" to them. As he broods over the vision—"Hark, a crier!" Another message of comfort (Isa ). There is once more silence in the prophet's heart. But, "Hark, a voice." It is the Divine Voice saying "Cry!"—i.e., "Proclaim." The herald turns and asks, "What shall I cry?" The Voice replies, "All flesh is grass," &c. The great heathen world was transient.
"Comfortable words" for the Jews. But they must not forget that their life on earth is brief; that they can only endure as they fashion themselves on the Word of God: "This people" is grass.
II. THE MORAL OF THE STORY.
The blade of grass reminds us that human life soon withers, that human fortune often withers even before the man dies. James particularises the general lesson (Jas ). He also reminds us that some men wither even while they retain the full vigour of life and their good fortune abides. "The rich man withers in his ways;" and therefore, argues the Apostle, he should rejoice when his riches use their wings and fly away. Why? Because trial is good for every man (James
1. Isa ; Isa 40:4-12). Great reverses of fortune are among the severest tests of character. This truth is based on a true, on a Christian view of human life.
We may not fear riches for ourselves, but do we not fear them for our neighbour? Do we not fear poverty for ourselves and for our friends? A Christian teacher cannot bid us grieve over any reverse by which our character is tested, matured, perfected. In the Christian view of life, character is of supreme importance; circumstances are of value only as they serve to form and strengthen and purify it. The wealth and the poverty will soon pass, but the character will remain, and will decide our destiny. If you say, "Surely it is very hard to rejoice, to be honestly and sincerely glad when loss and pain come upon us!" what can any man reply but, "Yes, surely it is very hard, so hard that we shall never do it, except as we possess ourselves of Christ's spirit. Heaven is very high; how are we to reach it save by climbing?" The rich man is often like a blade of grass, withering beneath the scorching sun, so that the flower falls off, and its graceful beauty perishes. The sun of prosperity shines upon him with a too-fervent heat; all the beauty and nobility of his character fades under it. He withers away in his "ways," in the multitude of his schemes and pursuits. His fortune grows, but the man dies—dies before his time—dies before he ceases to breathe and traffic.
Is not that a true picture, and a sad one? We must all needs die; and, in some of its aspects, even that fact is sad enough. But it is sadder still that many should be as grass which wilfully exposes itself to a heat it might escape, and withers and dies while the field is still green and fragrant.
CONCLUSION.—The warning comes home to us in this age; for our whole life is so intense, that it is almost impossible to make leisure for thought, or for those religious exercises on which our spiritual health depends. We are literally "withering away in our ways." We all need to take the warning which speaks to us as unto men—i.e., as to spiritual and immortal creatures, sons of God, and heirs of eternity. If we would not have the world crush us, we must resolutely set ourselves to be in the world as Christ was in the world.—Samuel Cox, D.D.: Biblical Exposition, pp. 432-441.
THE UNCERTAINTY OF LIFE
Isa . The voice said, Cry, &c.
One wonders that there should be so sublime and startling a machinery for the delivery to us of so common-place a truth. Here is a voice from the firmament. An invisible agency is brought to bear, as though for the announcement of something altogether new and unexpected (cf. Job ). But truths which we never think of disputing may be practically those which we are most in the habit of forgetting. The voice, the apparition, is not needed to impart new truth, but it is needed to impress old truth; what we want is not an increase of knowledge, but the gaining influence for knowledge already possessed.
I. It is of the first moment that this commonplace announcement should be pressed by all possible means on our attention, because no other announcement could be better adapted for the promotion and growth of the graces of the Gospel. It is undoubtedly the presumed or the imagined distance of judgment which encourages men to persist in their sins (Ecc ). There is a sort of unacknowledged idea that what is protracted and indefinite will never take effect; or it is imagined that life will yet afford numerous opportunities. To overthrow this sinner's theory, and substitute for it the persuasion that "in the midst of life he is in death"—practically to overthrow it—would be to compel him to make provision for the coming eternity, on the threshold of which he may at any moment be standing, and concerning which he is apprised by daily spectacles of mortality. And the effect thus wrought on the unconverted would not be without its parallel in the righteous, on whom we cannot charge the habitual disregard of the dread things of the future. The feeling that the day of death is not near is at work in both. He would say, when inclined to loiter and be slothful in his great work as a candidate for eternity, "Dare I lose a day, when perhaps but few hours are left; when life is the alone season in which to gain a lofty place in the future kingdom of Christ, and life may be already contracted to a span, so that what I grasp not now may be for ever out of reach?" "What shall I say?" saith a voice from the firmament; the answer of the righteous man should be, "Oh! cry so as to make me feel that ‘all flesh is grass; and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field.'"
II. A supernatural authority is needed to gain any practical hold for a truth which is so readily and universally acknowledged. We do not require a voice from heaven to make us know that such and such substances are poisonous, when all experience testifies that they are. And are not our churchyards filled with the old and the young?
The Heavenly Voice bade a solemn proclamation to be made of the frailty of life; as though it were ascertained that observation and meditation would never bring it home to man; as though truth must be delivered with all the force and convincingness of a new revelation, ere there were likelihood of its gaining any practical hold.
And if it be a thing for revelation, and therefore for prayer, all meditations amongst the tombs will be practically of no worth, except as they bring men to their knees.
It is most important to remember that there is no inherent power in truth to work effectually on the soul. The power is in truth only as applied by the Spirit of God. We must not substitute the Gospel for the Saviour. A voice saith, "Cry!" Your anxiety must be that the thing cried—cried so as to come as a revelation from God—may be our own constant exposure to death (H. E. I. 1557-1566).
CONCLUSION.—Let this be part of your daily prayer to Almighty God (Psa ). What we need is the being brought to feel old truth, rather than the being brought to recognise new. Oh! cry, cry earnestly, that God will proclaim so as to make you practically and permanently feel this simple, well-known truth—"All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field."—Henry Melvill, B.D.: Golden Lectures, 1851, pp. 733-740.
I. ISAIAH'S MESSAGE. "All flesh is grass." I also have the same message to publish to my hearers to-day. These words suggest—
1. Our earthly origin. The earth is the mother of us all. Every kind of grass has its roots in her, and the most beautiful flower is not ashamed to own its mother. But many conceited people, especially if they have risen in society, are ready to forget the lowliness of their origin. Their parents and the friends of their childhood they would gladly disown. What mean and ignoble vanity!
2. Our constant dependence upon the earth for our sustenance.
3. Our equality. Some flowers are fairer than others, yet they are made of the same matter. One may be in better soil than another, more sheltered by nature or man's device from the blasting north wind, and more open to the sunlight, but it is the same in substance. When we look round on society, we see men widely different in appearance from each other. How varied have been the circumstances of their birth, education, employment, opportunities, &c.! Yet they are all brethren. A common lot awaits them all (H. E. I. 1536, 1537; P. D. 677).
4. Our frailty and the uncertainly of our life. "As the flower of the field." Not the garden flower, defended from storms and intruders by the gardener's devices, but "as the flower of the field!" It opens with beauty in the morning and drinks in the warm rays of the sun; but there is no certainty that a burning tempest will not beat upon it or a beast trample it down before noon. Thus it is with us all. Confidently as the young reckon on seeing many years of happiness, "there is but a step between us and death" (H. E. I. 1539-1546; P. D. 705, 2225).
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THE PROPHET WAS TO DELIVER HIS MESSAGE. "Cry!" Be stirring, earnest, urgent. Not that he who can cry the loudest is the best preacher. But the command suggests—
1. That there is danger. A vehement call is an indication of peril. There is danger to the sinner—not to his property, nor even to his body, but to his soul!
2. That the people do not see their danger. How true this is! How many are like a man sleeping soundly on the beach while the tide is rapidly surrounding him! Such are some of you. Wonder not, then, that we "cry" to you.
3. That the people and their danger are coming nearer to each other each moment. Many, like men working in a hayfield when a thunderstorm is gathering, postpone their escape to the last moment, and often find that the danger was nearer to them than they thought.
4. That the danger to which the people are exposed is very great.
5. That the people are unwilling to hear.
Life and Works of the late Rev. David Rees, of Lanelly, pp. 87-94.
THE IMPERISHABLENESS OF THE GOSPEL
Isa . But the Word of our God shall stand for ever.
A word is a spoken thought. God has spoken His thoughts to man. The record of what He has said is contained in the volume of inspired Scripture. The text affirms that it shall stand for ever. It is appropriated and applied to the Gospel by Peter (1Pe ), who quotes this entire passage. The prophet's general affirmation respecting God's Word is applied to the Gospel in particular. It is imperishable. The grass withers. It is fresh and green when growing on the ground. In due time the mower cuts it down, and, lacking the supply of new life, it withers in the sun. The flower is beautiful in the garden. You cannot carry it away exactly as you plucked it. You have cut it off from the sources of its life; and, however carefully you keep it, in a few days it will begin to fade away. Man grows into health and vigour. He is cut down by an invisible hand in the midst of his life-work; or he accomplishes his life-work, and then sinks into decay and forgetfulness. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." But while the grass withers, and the flower fades, and man dies, the Word of our God stands for ever. Our theme, therefore, is the imperishableness of the Gospel.
I. IT IS IMPREGNABLE IN ITS EVIDENCE.
The assaults of infidelity have been unable to overthrow it. Its historical records receive confirmation from advancing knowledge. Its prophecies have been historically fulfilled in the most remarkable way. Its miracles are abiding evidence of Divine power brought to bear on the confirmation of its truth. Its moral teaching is exactly adapted to man's moral nature, and presents the loftiest ideal of possible humanity. Its conception of the great central figure, the Lord Jesus Christ, can only be accounted for by its truth. Its distinguishing doctrines are characterised by their clear perception of man's ruined condition, and their provision of what is necessary to his spiritual interest. Its continuance and gradual advancement in the world is a fulfilment of its own prediction, and a perpetual proof that God is with it. The grass has withered season by season; the flowers have faded one by one; the generations of men have followed each other to the land of forgetfulness; but it remains. The attacks upon it, made with fresh vigour and from new points of view, have left it—a fortress often attempted, but never captured. As the sea flows up and threatens to overwhelm the land day after day, but retires again to its place, so the periodical assaults of infidelity retire like their predecessors, and leave the Gospel as it was (H. E. I. 2418-2427, 2451, 1165-1168).
II. IT IS UNCHANGEABLE IN ITS NATURE.
Notwithstanding the dangers around it, the Gospel continues the same. Human history flows on, like a stream with many variations and windings. Empires rise and fall. Cities grow to magnificence, and decline. Customs and habits change. Opinions become popular or drop into disuse. Physical science as taught in one age is entirely different from physical science as taught in another. Manufacturing processes give way to invention and improvement. New facts are discovered; new truths deduced from them. Human thought is in continual flux. Yet the facts remain. The crust of the earth and the substances it contains are the same. Change is not in the objects studied, but in the knowledge of the student. The same sun shines, the same atmosphere floats around the earth from the beginning; only both are better known. And God is the same, and the Gospel is the same. Different views may be held of some critical questions; more may be known now than formerly of the localities, the history, the customs referred to in Scripture. But Scripture remains. No criticism has expunged any important doctrine. Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." The same way of salvation, the same invitation to the sinful and weary. The Gospel of Paul and Peter and John is the Gospel still. The "faithful saying" is still true and "worthy of all acceptation." The justification by faith which Luther sounded over Europe is the way in which sinners are justified to-day. The need of regeneration with which Whitefield and Wesley awoke the slumbers of England still exists. Men may throw off or modify their opinions of many things, but the essential nature of the Gospel cannot be changed. It is God's final word respecting men's salvation. It must stand for ever.
III. IT IS IMMORTAL IN ITS INFLUENCE.
It stands for ever, not only in the written book, but in the living soul. When believed, it enters the soul as a living force. It completely changes the currents of life. Its influence pervades everything. It touches and turns into gold everything in the man's nature. It removes fear, brings consolation, sanctifies the heart and life. "Being born again."
And when they pass to the better land, it does not cease to live in them. They carry it with them into heaven. It was Christ in them "the hope of glory." They are now glorified together with Him. Christ will never be effaced from their memories. The love of Christ which was felt below is perfected above. The praise of Christ, which was expressed in many a thankful strain, is the celestial song which embodies their living recollections of the Gospel (Rev ). The Word of God will stand for ever in the thoughts and affections of ransomed souls.
Nor can it, as a vital power in human breasts, pass from the earth. "One generation passeth away and another cometh." The spiritual succession will be maintained to the end of time. Flowers drop their seed before they die, so that from them other flowers may spring. Every Christian desires to leave representatives behind him. Every Christian is an agent; parents, friends, Sabbath-school teachers, ministers. Thus the Gospel lives.
Christians! how great the privilege of an interest in the everlasting Gospel! It nourishes your faith. It rests your soul. It brings daily comfort and strength. It sustains your dearest hopes when all earthly things fade.
See that you discharge your duties to the Gospel.
1. Obey it as the practical expression of your faith.
2. Disseminate it.
3. Believe in its perpetuity and triumph. Away with the drivel about the decay of its influence.
O sinner, consider the bearing of this on you. You are perishable. So is all around. The imperishable you neglect. Once more it invites. It will survive when you, as to this world, have perished. It is the winning side. At present you are on the losing side. It is preached that it may win you.—J. Rawlinson.
THE CHURCH'S MISSION
Isa . O Zion, that bringest good tidings! &c.
It is freely asserted that the influence of the Church of Christ is now extremely small. We have been made familiar with statements like these: "The pulpit has lost its power; the Church has lost its hold upon the people; multitudes are hopelessly alienated from the public services of religion." Consider—
I. The Church's place and function in the world. What have men a right to expect from her? The text represents the Church as a bearer of good tidings to men.
1. She is exhorted to get up on a high mountain where she will be conspicuous to all, and from which her voice shall reach over Judah's hills, along her vales, and to all her villages and towns.
2. To be courageous and energetic, full of faith, and action, and earnestness in fulfilling her work.
3. She is told what her message ought to be: "Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!"
II. So long as the Church is faithful to her mission as the bearer of glad tidings about God, she will be prosperous and powerful. She is in the world not only to hold fast the truth, but also to hold it forth. She is to echo God's message in human language and with human tenderness. Do not many churches fail in this respect? Some churches are turned into concert-halls, some into homes of priestcraft, some into theological arenas or intellectual gymnasia, and others into places where feeble platitudes about sin and grace, and faith and future happiness abound (H. E. I. 1184-1186).
III. How much the world needs to hear the good tidings which have been intrusted to the Church of Christ.
1. One great and growing evil, threatening us with infinite peril, is the cleaving of society into two great classes—the rich and the poor. While forces like these drive different classes apart, what is there to draw them together? Higher secular education does not do it. Politics will not do it. Communism or Socialism has tried to do it, but has failed, and must ever fail. It fights against inevitable inequalities. Men, divided from one another in various ways, must be brought under one roof before God (Pro ).
2. What a terrible fact sin is in human life! Where it does not transgress the decencies of society, what a disturbing, depressing, enfeebling fact it is in our existence! The Church has here a noble field of influence. She ought to have glad tidings for hearts burdened with transgression, or gnawed by remorse, or wearied in the conflict with impurity, or depressed by the sense of helplessness.
3. What terrible facts suffering and sorrow are in human life! The Church's message to the suffering and sorrowful is an infinitely tender and precious one. These should go forth from her courts relieved and comforted. Her Lord and Master was a great sufferer—was made perfect through suffering. "Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!"
4. What a terrible fact death is in human life! Where, how, when, shall we die? From whom can we learn anything of death? Science can explain the chemistry of our decay, can talk wisely about the conservation of energy; but we want something more. Philosophy has loved to speak of death; the Epicurean saying, "Let us eat," &c.; the Stoic, "Death is universal and inevitable; let us meet it bravely and with dignity." But we are only shocked and chilled. Poetry has sought to throw a charm around death; but even poetry cannot satisfy our yearning. It is reserved for the Church to justify her title as "the bringer of good tidings" by unfolding to men her God-given revelations concerning death. To her it has been given to take the sting from death, the triumph from the grave. She provides a Guide who never fails in the valley of the shadow of death. Pointing to One who hung upon the cross, lay in the grave, and rose through the clouds to heaven, she can say to all, "Behold your God!" (Isa ).—William Young, B.A.: Christian World Pulpit, xx. pp. 330-332.
THE PREACHER'S TASK
(Ordination or Missionary Sermon.)
Isa . O Zion, that bringest good tidings! &c.
This chapter commences the second part of Isaiah's prophecies, in which the local and national is less prominent than in the former, and the visions are carried forward to the time of Messiah. The prophet hears voices, each of which contains a message of consolation. The first bids him announce the coming of the King and command the preparation of His way; the second affirms the everlasting duration of the Lord's Word; the third calls attention to the fact of His coming.
The third is our text. It is differently rendered in the margin. "O thou that tellest good tidings unto Zion; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem." This version is adopted in Handel's Oratorio. It is generally preferred. It makes Zion and Jerusalem the recipients of the good tidings along with the cities of Judah.
God's strong hand would terminate the long Babylonian captivity, and lead His people back, as a shepherd leads his flock. But beyond this is the great salvation the Messiah would accomplish. The call is addressed to those whose business is to proclaim that salvation. Their occupation is described; their challenge is dictated; their methods are prescribed; their sphere is defined.
I. THEIR OCCUPATION IS DESCRIBED.
They are evangelists: tellers of good tidings—a suitable description of the preachers of the Gospel, and their work. The Gospel contains the good news men need. The world lies in ruin. It is sick. It has no power of recuperation. Its disease produces a fatal unwillingness to be cured, if only its consequences may be escaped. The preacher is charged with the good news that the disease can be cured, its consequences averted, the dislike of recovery removed. God's love in Christ is the essence of the news (Joh ). If it came to you for the first time, you would say it was the most astonishing statement possible. It involves the whole work of Christ. It involves the proclamation of God's readiness to forgive and cleans the sinner. It is salvation.
Whoever makes this known to any one previously ignorant of it i an evangelist—a teller of good tiding—a preacher of the Gospel. Conventionally this name is given to a professional class. There are many reasons for the existence of such a class. But serious loss is sustained, if the preaching of the Gospel is confined to them. Others should also preach. Parents, Sunday-school teachers, friends in conversation, letters, visitors of the ignorant and neglected, distributors of tracts and books. Every man who has heard and believed the glad tidings should himself be an evangeliser. Every Christian is such a man. He has not heard a secret, but a glorious truth which he is to proclaim.
II. THEIR CHALLENGE IS DICTATED.
The announcement of the glad tidings of salvation does not terminate in itself. It is proclaimed with a view to action. "Behold your God." Hence the Gospel is a manifestation of God and a summons to man.
1. A manifestation of God. He is the Author of the salvation, the Doer of the great and gracious things announced. When surveying a manufactory and its machinery, your thoughts turn to the manufacturer and the engineer. Going over a hospital, you think of the benevolence of the man by whom it was built and endowed. Studying the heavens and the earth, you think of their Maker's power and skill. So when you think of the Gospel, think of God. It is the medium through which He is best known. His full manifestation waited for the incarnation of His Son (H. E. I. 855-857). "The world by wisdom knew not God." That was true of the ancient world. It is true still. Men think and dream about God. But they do not know Him until they come in humility to the Cross. It reveals His holiness and His love. It shows Him righteous, yet delighting in mercy. And this representation of Him has ever been most effective in the reclamation of the heathen from idolatry. Judaism was comparatively uninfluential. When Christianity arose, the idols fell (1Th ). The overthrow of ancient idolatry was the work of two or three hundred years. Modern heathenism is falling in like manner before the manifestation of God in Christ as the redeeming God.
2. A summons to man. "Behold your God!" This is the action required on the part of those to whom the Gospel is addressed. Men must not turn away from the manifestation of God. If a prince were to show himself in an impoverished part of his dominions for the purpose of relieving the people's wants, would indifference become them? Would they not look to him? This is the look the Gospel demands. Behold Him with the eye of faith. When you carry the Gospel to others, call upon them thus to behold Him. If there are those here who are not saved, we call on you thus to behold Him. As the Israelites, when bitten by the serpents, were told to look to the serpent of brass, we tell you to look to Jesus (Joh ; Isa 45:22). Helpless and ruined without Him, we proclaim salvation by Him, and call upon you to look and live.
III. THEIR METHODS ARE PRESCRIBED.
1. For the message they must endeavour to secure publicity. "Get thee up into the high mountain," where you can be seen and heard. Go where the people are; seek the centres of population; avail yourselves of all circumstances to attract attention.
2. The message must be delivered with energy. "Lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up." As if you believed in it, realised its importance, sympathised with its gladness. Bring into the announcement the vigour of mind and body that is born of earnestness.
3. The message must be proclaimed with courage. "Be not afraid." Fearless preaching carries authority and weight. The Gospel has never wanted men of such courage. And it is displayed. Recent offer of Christian young men in South Sea island to take the place of the teachers massacred in New Guinea.
IV. THEIR SPHERE IS DEFINED.
"Zion, Jerusalem, the cities of Judah." Every one must have a definite work. It will gradually expand from nearest relations and friends to neighbours, our country, the world.
Tell it, brethren, because—
1. It is time.
2. It is needed.
3. Its proclamation is commanded.
4. Success is assured.
5. Faithful service will be rewarded.—J. Rawlinson.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Isa . He shall feed His flock, &c.
The Hebrews were, for the most part, a nation of shepherds. To them especially these declarations must have appeared full of beauty, tenderness, and life.
I. THE GOOD SHEPHERD
"He shall feed," &c.
1. Who is this Shepherd? He who was foretold by the prophets (Eze ; Mic 5:4; Mic 7:14). In the New Testament it is declared that these prophecies were fulfilled by our Lord Jesus Christ (1Pe 5:4; Heb 13:20; Joh 10:11).
2. What is He? God as well as man (Isa ; Zec 13:7; Mic 5:4). Being truly God, He is well qualified to be "the Good Shepherd." He never slumbers nor sleeps. His knowledge is infinite, His power almighty, His resources limitless. He has in His heart infinite tenderness, which He manifested by dying for His flock.
II. THE FLOCK FOR WHICH HE CARES.
His flock? The people of God (Psa ). Weak, wandering, defenceless in themselves, they depend entirely upon Him for succour and safety.
The whole flock of Christ is known by distinct marks.
1. It is a little flock. Small compared with the great assembly of saints in heaven, or with the multitudes led captive by Satan. Not because He is unable or unwilling to save. His fold is large enough for the whole world; its door is open for all mankind, and He stands at it inviting all to enter. The real reason (Joh ; Joh 5:40).
2. It is a united flock. Its members live by "one faith" in "one Lord," and are united in principles, in affection, in conduct, in devotion, in destiny (H. E. I. 1202, 1203).
3. It is a holy flock. Holy in heart, in conversation, in conduct (H. E. I. 2831, 2856).
Besides the marks which distinguish the whole flock of Christ, others distinguish its individual members.
1. A death unto sin and a new birth unto righteousness (Joh ).
2. Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd (Joh ).
3. Following Him (Joh ).
III. HIS CARE FOR IT.
1. His general care for His people. "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd." His eye watches over them; His arm protects them; His grace supplies their need (Eze ).
2. His peculiar tenderness to the young. "He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom." His tender care for children (Mar ; Pro 8:17). For young converts. A lamb just dropped on a bleak mountain, where the cold wind rages, where the stormy rain descends, where the wolf, gaunt and grim, prowls around for prey;—such a lamb in such a state is a figure of young Christians in this wicked world. But the Good Shepherd, who watches over them with infinite tenderness night and day, will support them in all their weakness and dangers, and succor them in all their wants and sorrows. When a shepherd sees a young lamb so weak that it cannot keep up with the rest of the flock, he does not leave it behind to die, but takes it up and carries it. Thus does Jesus (text). He pardons their sins, gives them peace, invigorates their souls, and enables them to go on their way (H. E. I. 961).
3. His singular compassion for the feeble and the burdened. "He shall gently lead those that are with young." Almighty, all-wise, all-merciful, He is well qualified to lead the afflicted. He will lead them in the right way, in the best way, gently. His sympathy and His succour will never fail them.—John Cawood, M.A.: Sermons, vol i. pp. 363-378).
JESUS AND THE LAMBS
Isa . He shall gather the lambs with His arm, &c.
Greatness in league with gentleness, and power linked with affection pass before us in this chapter (Isa ).
I. Who are the lambs our Lord is said to gather and carry in His bosom?
1. In a certain sense we may affirm, that all His people are lambs. In so far as they exhibit the Christian spirit, they are lamb-like. As the lamb might be presented in sacrifice, so every believer presents his body as a living sacrifice unto God. He hates wars and fightings. Jesus will gather all such lambs.
2. The word "lamb" frequently signifies the young; and our Lord graciously receives many young persons into His bosom. Jesus always had children among His auditory (Mat ). Youthful piety should not be mistrusted. Children should be invited to declare their faith in the Lord Jesus, and to come forward and be joined to the Church of Jesus. Let them hear the words of the Good Shepherd (Pro 8:17; H. E. I. 795-800).
3. Young converts, those who begin to have religious impressions; those who have recently repented of sin, and been driven from confidence in their own good works (Isa ).
4. Those who are naturally of a weak, timid, trembling disposition. Their needs demand our sympathetic attention. Jesus seeks them out.
5. Those who know but little of the things of God. This class is not so much desponding as ignorant (Joh ).
II. How does Jesus show this special care for the weak ones?
1. By gathering them. The shepherd watches carefully when the little lambs are born. He watches, when the flock is on the march, lest the lambs lag behind. He knows their skittish nature. He gathers them, and keeps them under his own eye.
2. By carrying them in His bosom (H. E. I. 961).
(1.) As the safest place. Who can hope to take His bosom-treasure away from Jesus?
(2.) The tenderest place. Soft for hurt little ones.
(3.) The easiest place. It makes one wish to be always a lamb, if one could always ride in that chariot.
(4.) The most honourable place. We would not put into our bosom that which we despised.
3. By His teachings. These are simple, mostly in parables, full of winning illustrations, and always plain.
(1.) He reveals His teachings gradually. He gives milk before He offers strong meat; does not hang our salvation upon our understanding mysteries.
(2.) His experimental teachings are all by degrees too. He suits the burden to the back.
4. By the solemn curses with which He effectually guarded the little ones (Mat ).
5. By the promises made on purpose for the weak.
6. By requiring of them what is easy (Mat ). He does not send the weak believers to the forefront of the battle, as David did Uriah.
7. By accepting the least service that these little ones may offer.
III. Wherefore this care of Christ towards the lambs of His flock?
1. Because the weak are as much redeemed by the blood of Christ as the strong. A man will not lose a thing which cost him his blood.
2. Because in the new-born child of God there are peculiar beauties which are not so apparent in others. The first love of the beginner is well known. The first tenderness of conscience; the first intense delight in the service of God.
3. Because they will become strong one day (Mar ). Jesus sees them as they are to be (H. E. I. 1071).
4. Because Christ's suretyship engagements require that He should preserve the weakest as well as the strongest (Joh ; Jude 1:24).
5. Because of His promises (Joh ).
6. Because compassion argues that if any should be watched it should be these (H. E. I. 952-958).
IV. Practical Conclusion.
1. Let us gather the lambs.
(1.) For Christ.
(2.) Into His Church.
2. Let us carry in our bosoms those who are gathered (Exo ).—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 1868, pp. 73-84.
This promise concerns "the lambs" of Christ's flock. He is a mighty Shepherd (see Isa ; Isa 40:12); but He does not despise "the lambs," those who are feeble, ignorant, and conscious of their helplessness. He carries them in His bosom! What does this imply?
1. His boundless affection for them. On the cross He has given costly proof of it; and always His is a love that expresses itself in actions, not in words merely.
2. Their tender nearness to Him. How sweet it is to lie on the bosom of the Good Shepherd!
3. Their absolute safety. If He has in His heart love enough, and in His arm power enough to protect them, then for the lamb to perish is as impossible as it is for Him to perish (H. E. I. 934-941).
1. This presentation of Christ has a kindly aspect toward the sinner. How gentle is that Mighty Being to whom we invite you, on whom we counsel you to rest!
2. There is encouragement here for those who feel themselves the weakest and feeblest of all God's children (H. E. I. 959, 960).
3. There is no encouragement here for those who are wilfully weak. For what purpose does the Good Shepherd cherish? It is that He may sanctify. It is not merely to preserve, to protect; but He nourishes His lambs that they may grow.—J. H. Evans, M.A.: Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iv. pp. 324-336.
THE MIND OF CHRIST TOWARD THE YOUNG
Isa . He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.
The earlier verses of this chapter are sufficient to prove that these words were written of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Isa, and Luk 3:3-6). Seven hundred years before the appearing of our Saviour, a prophecy was given of His character; of His tenderness in guiding, protecting, and feeding the souls of those who should be brought to put their trust in Him,—more especially in cherishing and watching over the weaker and the younger members of His flock (cf. Joh 10:11; Joh 10:27-28).
Let us inquire how far this predicted character of the Messiah was fulfilled in the recorded deeds and works of Jesus Christ upon earth.
1. How precisely does Mar set before us the Good Shepherd gathering the lambs with His arm! How precisely does it declare His readiness to receive and bless little children! (H. E. I. 765.)
(1.) How great a comfort to pious parents who now dedicate their children to Him! (P. D. 464, 465.)
(2.) How gracious an encouragement to those who in early years begin to seek Him! (P. D. 962, 963.)
2. In Mar we read that a young man came running to Jesus, with every sign of earnestness, docility, and reverence, to ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. Our Lord saw in him that self-satisfied spirit which immediately appeared in reply to our Lord's answer to his question: "Master, all these have I observed from my youth." Then our Lord gave a direction, designed, not to teach us the method of our salvation, but to bring to light the plague of the young man's heart. The event showed that he was not then prepared to enter into the kingdom of God (H. E. I. 3591, 1889, 3567-3569). Yet there was that in his serious and respectful demeanour, his ingenuous simplicity, and his outward blamelessness which our Lord regarded with deep and affectionate interest (Mar 10:21). He showed that interest by mercifully revealing to him his sad and fatal defect, and urging him to lay the axe to the root of his sins, and to follow Him. From this incident we may learn with how deep an interest our Lord regards that ingenuous openness, that blameless morality, that dutiful and reverent simplicity which is the greatest charm of youth; and yet how far all this may at last fall short of the character of an heir to the kingdom of God (H. E. I. 3603, 3606, 4080-4105).
3. Another manifestation of the mind of Christ towards the young is seen in this, that He takes the character of a little child as the type of that which distinguishes His true disciples (Mat ; Mat 18:2-4). He who so acted and spoke must have had a singular tenderness of feeling towards little children. Doubtless that which commended them to Him was their instinctive feeling of weakness, and of dependence upon others for all things; their consciousness of ignorance, and simple faith in all that is told them by those older than themselves; the absence in them of guile, ambition, hypocrisy, and all assumption. Our sharing in these qualities, and our display of them toward Christ, is essential to our very safety (P. D. 964).
4. Remember also the solemn earnestness with which He denounces a woe against all who lead them into sin (Mat ). Probably "the little ones" here spoken of are those who resemble little children; but still they are peculiarly applicable to children, so liable to be drawn away from Him by the force of evil influence or example (H. E. I. 775).
5. Christ did not disdain the praises of little children (Mat ).
6. Remember His charge to Peter: "Feed my lambs." Those thus referred to might be rather the weak in faith than the young in years, yet in many cases the two would be identical; the young would be also weak. For these their parents should tenderly care (H. E. I. 781-788, 803-806). But when the parents do not discharge that sacred trust, the Church should see to it that the young souls for which Christ died do not perish for lack of knowledge.—C. J. Vaughan: Sermons, 1846, pp. 328-342.
THE GENTLENESS OF CHRIST TO THE BURDENED
Isa . He shall gently lead those that are with young.
We have here an indirect proof of the Deity of our Lord. Infinite power is required to control the movements of the burdened ones of whom our text speaks; so many as He has to lead! Besides, He must have infinite wisdom to know me. I am a mystery to myself; though myself be a book that I study, and ought to study far more than I do, yet how little do I know of it! How then can He know all of them, and each one singly?—know all the maze, the whole of the labyrinth, the "wheel within wheel," the winding path within the winding path, of body, soul, and estate; all that bears on me in my relative positions, in my connection with the Church, in connection with my family; all my personal weaknesses, my constitutional infirmities? Unless He does know this He cannot "lead" me. He must be God who doeth these things. And He is God. May our hearts bow before Him!
I. Christ's people are often burdened. Sin, their inborn corruption, is a burden to them. Still heavier is the burden when they have been betrayed into actual transgression; a guilty conscience is a heavy burden indeed. The slowness with which he makes progress in spiritual excellences is also to the believer a burden. Sorrows and temptations are burdens. The body itself is a burden (2Co ). The service of God has itself a burden in it; we read of "bearing the burden and heat of the day." Often, too, he feels the burdens of others—their mistakes, follies, and sufferings, to rest heavily upon him.
II. When they are thus burdened they experience the infinite tenderness of the Good Shepherd.
1. He does not drive them; He leads them. Satan drives his miserable victims to perdition; the Saviour leads His ransomed ones along the paths of righteousness to eternal blessedness.
2. He leads them gently. Who can unfold the wondrous tenderness, patience, forbearance, compassion, and love with which He has lead each one of us? He leads "gently," not foolishly; not with such tenderness as one sometimes sees in earthly parents, leading their children to their harm, and thinking it to be love,—the worst of all unkindness. It is the kindness of One that wisely loves. Could I suppose a father taking a knife to amputate the limb of his child, there might be an appearance of severity in the sharpness of the knife, but who can tell what would be the tenderness of that yearning father's heart? He "gently leads," and never more tenderly than in some providences that appeared the severest at the time. As Cowper has said, it is but the graver aspect of His love.—J. H. Evans, M.A.: Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iv. pp. 337-348.
(For Trinity Sunday.)
Isa . To whom then will ye liken God? &c.
The extreme point which has ever been reached by objectors to the doctrine of the Trinity is the point of incomprehensibleness, not the point of impossibility. The doctrine, though incomprehensible as to the manner, can never be proved impossible as to the fact (H. E. I. 4811-4814). The same may be said of the Deity, or any of His attributes, e.g., Eternity, Omnipresence. Reason is required to submit to Revelation when she cannot comprehend. We might almost say that until truth is beyond (not opposed to) Reason, it does not strictly belong to Revelation (H. E. I. 537, 1087, 2022-2024).
The text is a simple but energetic assertion, couched in the form of a question, of the impossibility of finding any likeness or resemblance to God.
I. The Creator is distinguished from every creature by being self-existent.
1. No way of accounting for the origin of anything except by supposing something which never had an origin. It was an ancient inscription in a heathen temple, "I am whatsoever was, is, or shall be; and who is he that shall draw aside my veil?"
2. The existence of a Creator is a necessary existence. This should prepare us to find God inscrutable. To depict an Archangel, one has but to remodel himself; but how begin to depict God, the Uncreated?
II. Hence the vanity of all attempts to explain or illustrate the Trinity in Unity.
1. If we could produce an exact instance of three in one, we should have no right to point to it as at all parallel with the union in the Godhead (H. E. I. 4816-4821). Man was made in the moral image of his Maker. It is the image of the nature which the text says it is impossible to find. Still some use may be made of illustration.
III. Is it possible that there may be three persons in the Godhead, consistently with that unity which Scripture unreservedly ascribes to the Divine Being?
1. Observe man's constitution. All confess he is made up of a body and a soul. Apart from seeing this union effected, we might have thought it impossible. It is a union of quite different natures. Why should he not unite two things of the same nature, e.g., two spirits? If with two, then with three; the possibility does not depend upon the number. Thus we admit the incomprehensible, but we disprove the impossible.
2. The foregoing illustration shows no unmindfulness of the truth that we cannot find a likeness to the everlasting God. It shows from what is possible in created being the unreasonableness of pronouncing a certain constitution impossible in the uncreated Being. "Wonderful Being! who has only to tell what He is to make Himself more inscrutable."
IV. Note the practical character of the doctrine of the Trinity.
1. The whole of Christianity falls to pieces, if you destroy this doctrine. If this doctrine be false, Christ Jesus is nothing more than a man, and the Holy Ghost a creature of quality. That truth cannot be a barren speculation which may not be believed or disbelieved without affecting the Christian character.
2. Reflect upon prayer. Prayer must be prescribed and regulated by the doctrine of the Trinity. It is a false god whom man worships, if he adores Unity in which there is no Trinity. The heathen bows down before a stock or a stone, the Socinian before a Godhead in which there is no Son and no Holy Spirit. Without a Trinity, man must save himself; with a Trinity, he is to be saved through Christ.
3. Our duty. Whilst no likeness can be found to the invisible uncreated God, we are to study conformity to the image of His Son. Resemblance to Christ is the nearest approach to resemblance to God (Col ). See Outline: THE TRINITY IN UNITY, vol. i. pp. 133, 134.—Henry Melvill, B.D.: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 284-308.
The passage suggests:—
I. That the greatest things in the material world are nothing to God. The ocean, the heaven, the earth (Isa ; Psa 33:8-9).
II. That the greatest minds in the spiritual universe are nothing to Him (Isa ). He is uninstructible: the only Being in the universe who is so. He is absolutely original: the only such Being. We talk of original thinkers; such creatures are mere fictions. He being so independent of all minds:—
1. His universe must be regarded as the expression of Himself. No other being had a hand in it (H. E. I. 1491-1497; P. D. 631).
2. His laws are the revelation of Himself. No one counselled Him in His legislation.
3. His conduct is absolutely irresponsible. He is answerable to no one. He alone is irresponsible, and He alone can be trusted with irresponsibility.
III. That the greatest institutions in human society are nothing to Him. Nations are the greatest things in human institutions. Nations, with their monarchs, courts, armies—Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome—these are great things in history (Isa ). Islands (Isa 40:15-17).
IV. That the greatest productions of human labour are nothing to Him. Perhaps in all ages the highest productions of human genius have been in connection with religion. Religion has had the finest architecture, carvings, sculpture, paintings, &c. But what are they to Him? (Isa ).
CONCLUSION.—How great is God! Well might the Moslems cry in their prayers, Allah hûakbar!—"God is great." "There is," said an eloquent French preacher, "nothing great but God" (P. D. 1493, 1502, 1508).—David Thomas, D.D.: The Homilist, Editor's Series, vol. xi. p. 167.
THE UNIVERSE AND MAN
Isa . Lift up your eyes on high, &c.
We find in the text—not obscurely, not ambiguously, but with the clearness and positiveness of knowledge—
I. That God should not be confounded with His works, but apprehended as the personal and living Author of all. This faith is conspicuous throughout the whole Bible. The first verse of the Book is an explicit declaration of it. On this foundation the Book rests, and from it it is never moved. In this the Bible writers stood alone in the world. The wisdom of Egypt and Assyria gave them no countenance; they lacked the sympathy, to a large extent, of their own nation. This old Hebrew faith stands as firmly in the light of modern science. Sir Isaac Newton declared that the cause of the universe could not be mechanical; Galileo saw God as clearly as Newton in the heavens, whose scientific prophet he was.
That we moderns know more of the material universe scientifically than did the ancients is not to be questioned; but while the Hebrew writers used popular language, they were preserved from mixing the false or inaccurate science of their times with their religious teachings. But while they knew less of the vastness of the universe than we do now, they did not feel it less. The modern scientist's awe in the contemplation of it may not be in proportion to his knowledge; the Hebrews knew enough and saw enough to produce the profoundest feeling, and more scientific knowledge would scarcely have added to the depth or intensity of their feeling.
II. That which God created He sustains. "For that He is strong in power, not one faileth." But are not the laws of Nature self-working and constant? Constant, certainly; self-working, in the sense of being independent of their Author, as a well-made clock is of its maker, is not, to say the least, so evident. The Hebrew Scriptures affirm the constancy of Nature more consistently than some modern scientists. God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass," &c., and the fruittree yielding fruit "after its kind." "God created every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after its kind. And God saw that it was good." "And God made the beast of the earth after its kind, and cattle after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after its kind." And man, we may add, has produced "after his kind." Nature has been constant; all history proves it. The Bible traces it to its source in an ordinance of the Creator. God saw that it was good. Good it was,—a most beneficent decree (H. E. I. 3157). Anything else would have turned human forethought and activity into folly, and would have furnished a new illustration of the old Greek notion of a fortuitous concourse of atoms. It is not by the Bible, nor by believers in it, that the constancy of Nature is now doubted; it is by a very bold and boastful section of scientific men, who do not believe that things have always produced after their kind. But the Bible asserts with equal explicitness a continued Divine agency in Nature. It tells us that God still causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, &c. (Psa ). "My Father worketh hitherto," said Christ. The Sabbath-rest was not a cessation from Divine activity. The best of our living astronomers, as well as the greatest of the past, believe that "the heavens declare the glory of God," that they are sustained in their immensely complicated but most orderly structure and relations by the power of their Maker; they accept the words of the prophet as containing the conclusion to which science shuts us up. Nor are they offended by the metaphoric or poetic form in which the sublime conception is here expressed; poetic in form, it is true in fact. How consoling is this thought! When we think of the physical possibilities of the universe or of our own globe, we may tremble. Our fear is allayed, not so much by the idea of the regularity and stability of Nature, as by the assurance that God reigneth (2Pe 3:7)
III. These truths are made the foundation of comfort, primarily to the ancient Israel of God, and equally to all the spiritual Israel (Isa ). The vastness of the universe in nowise detracts from nor diminishes God's care over the human race. The prophet's argument seems almost an inversion of our Lord's (Mat 6:26). Suns and stars are glorious things; we are as atoms and worms in comparison (Psa 8:3-4). But if this feeling is turned into an argument to place us at a distance from God, there is a reply to it from His own mouth (Isa 66:1-2). More than this, the Bible story of creation gives us the keynote of the Bible idea of man. The earth was made for him, and he was made in the image of God. The material universe, which "was made glorious, has no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth." This idea lies at the foundation of the whole Christian scheme, which assumes both the "majesty and the misery of man." If man is not a glorious being, he is not worth the expenditure by which he has been redeemed; if he is not fallen, he does not need the redemption of Christ. If we be "human atoms," as a modern Pantheist calls us, without personal relations to God, "dots of animated jelly," to be absorbed by and by into the mass from which we have been taken, assuredly the Christian redemption is uncalled for and incredible. The African traveller was cheered, when almost dying, by discovering a tuft of living moss. But if we understand things as the prophet did, not only every blade of grass that grows, but every star that shines, justifies faith in the providential love and care of our Heavenly Father. Happy if, in addition to this, we can enter into full sympathy with the apostolic argument! (Rom 8:32).—John Kennedy, D.D.: Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi. pp. 225-227.
CHEER FOR THE DESPONDING
Isa . Lift up your eyes on high, &c.
These encouraging assurances must have been of the highest value to the captive and disconsolate Jews in Babylon. Banished for so long a period from the land of their fathers, they were ready to fear that they were outcasts from God. And they are of the utmost value now, for even now the people of God are in times of trouble often tempted to take a dark and depressing view of God's dealings and dispensation. Then let them consider the facts here brought before us.
I. In His providential government, God exerts on behalf of His children the same almighty power which at first created and still sustains all worlds (Isa ). When by the aid of astronomy we attempt to conceive of the vastness of the universe, we are not only astonished, but confounded. Two thousand stars are said to be visible to the naked eye; but astronomers declare that there are 250,000,000 of them. What an evidence of the affluence of God's creative energy! The same power that at first called them into being must be perpetually put forth in regulating their movements, sustaining their harmony, and controlling their mutual influences (H. E. I. 362-365). Surely, He whose eye can discern, whose arm upholds millions of worlds, can distinctly survey and effectually preserve and bless every individual of His redeemed family, without overlooking or disregarding the minutest of their concerns (cf. Isa 40:10-11; Luk 12:6-7; Php 4:6-7; Rom 8:28. H. E. I. 4015-4022).
II. In ordering the concerns of His people, God exercises the same wisdom which He displays in regulating the constitution and course of Nature (Isa ). His wisdom is equal to His power. To Him causes and effects, tendencies and results, are alike known. The events both of the past and the future lie distinctly before Him (H. E. I. 2264, 2268). How great, then, is the encouragement to refer all our interests to Him with whom an error in judgment is a thing unknown, and a mistake impossible! (H. E. I. 4049-4057.)
III. God is pleased to impart ample and diversified communications of grace to those who wait upon Him. Of those who receive from Him renewal of strength it is said, "They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." These words seem to imply that there are those of whom all this elevation of spirit, buoyancy of heart, and untiring alertness in their prescribed course may be asserted. But there are many more to whom some one of these capabilities is imparted without the others.
1. The first part of the description presents to us a favoured class of devout worshippers, distinguished by fervour of spirit in their approaches to the throne of grace, so that they are enabled to soar far above this lower region of cares, fears, and turmoils into a higher and serener atmosphere, where they attain to more realising views of God in Christ, and more intimate, joy-inspiring, and transforming communion with Him. Such were Baxter, John Howe, Leighton, Watts, Doddridge, and other poets of the sanctuary who have aided the upward flight of redeemed spirits. There are such men still among those who here wait upon God.
2. There are other Christians, whose minds are less buoyant, whose affections are less fervid, and whose imagination is less vivid; but, by the grace of God, they run with persevering energy the race set before them, and are not weary.
3. There are others of whom it can only be said—yet, blessed be God, it can be said—"They walk and do not faint." Their movement is less rapid than that of the former classes, but still they are making constant progress in the path of duty and safety. Some of them are aged, infirm, afflicted, or tried, harassed, and tempted; but still they look unto Jesus, and "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no power He increaseth strength" (Psa ; H. E. I. 952-961, P. D. 474).
IV. Divine aid is necessary to support even the strongest. Without it, "even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall." There may be an allusion here to young men selected for military service, singled out as the most vigorous, active, and athletic. As even these cannot secure for themselves the continuance of their health and strength for a single day, so for vigour of faith, fervour in love, energy in obedience, we depend on the grace which renders us "strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (H. E I. 2351-2358).
V. Divine aid is sufficient to strengthen even the weakest. From God comes the strength of the strongest, and in Him they trusted. David (Psa ; Psa 71:16). Paul (2Co 12:5-10). In all times of need and depression, let us look to the same Helper; we shall not look in vain (H. E. I. 4789-4981).—H. F. Burder, D.D.: Sermons, pp. 262-278.
The Christian's life is a continual warfare. Nor has he any strength but in God. He is prone to reflect more on his own weakness than on God's power.
I. THE DISCOURAGEMENTS OF GOD'S PEOPLE.
1. Temporal afflictions.
(1.) Pain and sickness.
(2.) Losses and poverty,—sometimes rendered heavier by the unkindness of friends and calumny. Job sank for a time under their weight (Job ; Job 27:2).
2. Spiritual troubles.
(1.) Corruptions of the heart
(2.) Unsuccessful conflicts.
(3.) Temptations of Satan.
(4.) Desolations of Zion (H. E. I. 1059-1062, 2457, 3398, 3949-3951).
II. THE SUPPORTS WHICH GOD WILL BESTOW.
God is never at a loss for means to succour His people (Isa ).
1. He is not lacking in tenderness and compassion.
(1.) He has given them a sympathising High Priest (Heb ).
(2.) Accepts their weak endeavours (Isa ).
(3.) Infirmities are no bar to His favours (Mat ; H. E. I. 2313-2315).
2. He expects, however, that they "wait upon" Him.
(1.) Prayer is necessary (Eze ).
(2.) Effectual aid obtained by waiting (Deu ). The drooping shall "mount up," &c.; they that had utterly fallen shall "run;" they shall march onward in spite of all opposition; they shall never faint through want of strength or courage.
(3.) None shall be disappointed in his hope (Psa ).
III. PRACTICAL APPLICATION.
1. To those who bless themselves that they have never felt such discouragements. Such ignorance argues an utter ignorance of true religion (Gal ).
2. To those who are now discouraged. Though the sources are many from whence difficulties arise, God is an all-sufficient Helper to those who trust in Him (2Co ; Php 4:13). They shall soon be able to attest the truth of the prophet's assertion (Isa 30:18).—Charles Simeon, M.A.: Skeletons, pp. 202-204.
This is the language of Isaiah's despondency and consolation.
Sorrow may be said to be the heritage of us all. God never intended man's life to be a perpetual song. He made the roses and the thorns, the sunlight and the shadows. But to all who either feel or utter the prophet's lament God sends the prophet's consolation.
I. GOD'S POWER IS THE COMFORT OF HIS PEOPLE.
The problems of our life have no solution if we turn away from God. Life, when we turn to God, is never cruel and hard, however full of trial it may be. God has surrounded us on every side with reminders of what He is.
1. His power is painted on the sky.
2. His power is seen on earth.
II. GOD'S TENDERNESS IS, &c.
This is seen rightly only in conjunction with His greatness. We see the tender in contrast with the mighty. "The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth," stoops to give power to the faint. Tenderness is strength in gentle action. Gentleness is not weakness, but calm, quiet, loving strength. The Great Father has also a mother's tenderness (P. D. 1499). He giveth power to the faint. Not He gave; not He shall give; but He giveth (H. E. I. 2304). HE GIVETH!—that is God's name. He who fainteth not is drawn to those who do faint; and to the faint He giveth power. There is nothing so mighty as the faintness and weakness which takes hold of the Divine strength. It has omnipotence behind it (2Co ).
In Christ how is this character given Him by the prophet confirmed? Strong to exorcise devils, yet how tender with His disciples' faults; strong to still the storm, yet so touched by His disciples' trouble; strong to raise the dead, yet so tender to weep tears of natural sorrow (H. E. I. 951-961).
III. GOD'S WISDOM IS, &c.
"There is no searching of His understanding." This is not to say much if it only means that we cannot search it; but there is no searching of it. God's infinite wisdom is to us the needful complement of His infinite power.
CONCLUSION.—We cannot understand, but God knows all. Some plan there is in our changeful life. We can only rest in the thought of His wisdom, His tenderness, His power.
And Christ! He is the wisdom of God, the love, the tenderness of God. Away from Christ, there is no certainty, no rest; and hope is quenched in darkness.—Henry Wonnacott: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi. pp. 180-182.
Isa . Why sayest thou, O Jacob? &c.
Here is no mere utterance of the complaints of the people; for although the more earnest Jews of the day doubtless did feel that God had forsaken them, the prophet had felt it with the keenest agony. Consider the circumstances in which Isaiah was placed when the text was written.
1. He had been prophesying for fifty years with but few glimpses into the splendour of the future, and without any indications in the people of the beneficial results of his mission.
2. Imagine now his position. Summoned to prophesy with the strange warning that his words would harden the people (chap. Isa ), he had found for half a century the truth of that mysterious commission. He had seen words both of the most awful woe and of the tenderest love alike fail to rouse the people from their dreams. Invasion after invasion swept over the land; he had just seen the people panic-stricken at the approach of the dread Assyrian army; had beheld their hosts wither in a night before the breath of the Destroyer. Another and darker invasion, which would carry them captive to Babylon, had shaped itself before his prophetic eye. Must not the grey old man have been more than human if he had not been tempted, in some moments, to cry in utter gloom, "The Lord has forgotten me?"
3. In the midst of that deep depression, the new revelation, which begins with a shout of joy in this chapter, opened before him in its glory. The old question came back, with its grand reply, "Why sayest thou?" &c. We have three points before us—
I. ISAIAH'S DESPONDENCY.
It arose from a twofold source.
1. The sense of a Divine desertion: "My way is hidden from the Lord." Just because the most earnest of the people felt the absence of God from the nation, he felt it far more intensely. Many men have had the same experience. If we are Christians, we shall know it sooner or later.
2. The absence of Divine recompense: "My judgment is passed over from my God." A cry from the prophet himself. Remember how little result of his long labour the man of eighty years had seen.
The people were buried in God-forgetting repose; the priests were dead in formalism; the spiritual life of the land was decaying, and thunders of woe were muttering in the nation's future. All great men think that they die in failure. The same terrible absence of Divine recompense has been felt by lesser minds, if only earnest.
II. THE TRUTH THAT REMOVED IT.
In Isa, we perceive that the double manifestation of God's greatness in Nature and the tenderness of His revealed will dispelled the gloom.
1. The greatness of God in Nature (Isa ; Isa 40:26).
(1.) Would not He who guided unweariedly the stars guide the life of immortal man unforgettingly and righteously? And thus the eternal chorus swept down on the prophet's soul from the heaven of heavens (Isa ). Before the majestic care of the Creator in God's visible Bible of creation man's doubting heart should grow calm.
(2.) He speaks not only of the unsearchable Creator, but of the Everlasting God. The Everlasting implies the thought of One to whom past, present, and future are one now (Isa ).
2. The tenderness of the revealed will (Isa ; Isa 40:29). The revelation of God's tenderness fuller for the Christian man. We know how the Great Shepherd gave His life for the sheep.
III. THE RESULTS OF ITS REMOVAL.
They are twofold.
1. Strength in weakness (Isa ). Feebleness is transformed into power when God has taught His great lesson of glorying in infirmity.
2. Immortal youth. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles." There is an old Jewish fable that the eagle in dying recovered its youthful power. This is what Isaiah meant. The trustful heart never grows old. The dying Christian starts into new vigour at the name of Christ. "The oldest angels are the youngest."—E. L. Hull: Sermons, First Series, pp. 81-90.
GOD'S POWER THE COMFORT OF HIS PEOPLE
Isa . Hast thou not known? &c.
A softer tone one might think better adapted to the despondent; but this great interrogation seems as if the very thunder had taken in charge God's defence and man's elevation. The terms by which God is described are not what may be termed the gracious designations often employed to describe Him. It is not the Father, the Redeemer, the gentle One; it is the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth; as if Divine comfort were not a sentiment only, but arose out of the majestic, dominant, mighty, and grand in the Divine nature.
I. "Hast thou not known?" This is not a new revelation; it is an appeal to memory—a strong point in all the Divine pleading. Our memory should be as the prophet of the Lord in our life; recollection should be inspiration. Let a man be faithful to his own recollections, and it is impossible he can long be despondent, weary, and slow of heart to lay hold of the great work and discipline of life. It is the preacher's strength that he has to speak directly into people's hearts.
II. Is God all-mighty?
1. Then do not fear for the stability of His works. What guarantee have we that the summer is coming? God's Word (Gen ). We work because God is. This is very humbling in one of its aspects, because we have nothing to do with all that is highest and grandest in the creation. We are to do the servant's work; but no employment is menial if it be accepted from God's hand, and wrought out according to the measure of His commandment and the inspiration of His call.
2. Have no fear about the realisation of His promises. It is difficult to see how certain promises are to be realised. God keeps our hands off His promises quite as surely as He keeps them off His stars; He asks that their fulfilment be left to Him. It is God's heart that comes down with His signature; because of His moral attributes, all that He has promised shall be fulfilled.
3. Do not imagine you can escape His judgments. His lightnings find us out. You have evaded Him now fifty years, and you think you can do it fifty more; but you cannot. There are many oxen that are being prepared for the slaughter when they little think it.
4. Be assured that the throne of right shall stand upon the ruins of all wrong. You cannot kill evil with the sword; its abolition is a work of time: "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness" (Psa ). There is a poor outlook for those who are going to fight God!
III. God is not only powerful, but also all-wise. "There is no searching of His understanding." Infinite strength would terrify us, but infinite strength under the dominion of infinite mind recovers us from the shock which comes of immeasurable, unwasting strength. The forces of Nature are not lawless; behind them all is God's mind.
1. The darkest providences have meaning. Let us keep within our little sphere, and live a day at a time, and interpretation will come when God pleases and as He pleases.
2. God's plan of salvation is complete and final. We shall waste our strength and show how great is our folly by all attempts to improve the method of redemption and recovery of the world. Is there a blade of grass we can improve, looking at it as God made it? Then, why seek to improve His method of salvation?
3. Our individual life is all understood by Him. We are often in shadow; it is enough that God knows our life, and that His wisdom is pledged as our defence. View the mysteries of life atheistically, and they become terrors; but regard them as under the control of a beneficent Power, and an eye of glory opens in the very centre of the gloom.
4. We have a guarantee of endless variety in our future studies and services. God is ever extending our knowledge in reward of the endeavours we are making. Monotony depresses and enfeebles; He will ever have something new to communicate to the mind of His servants.
1. What is our relation to this Dread Being, whose power is infinite, and whose wisdom is past finding out? We are either loyal subjects of His or rebels in His realm. Everything depends upon our relation to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Nature itself is but a mocking mystery apart from the Cross, which reveals our sin and God's plan of salvation (Joh ).
2. Those who are rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins have the freedom of the City of God. "What time I am afraid, I will trust in God." God waits to gather us into His infinite strength, and to make us wise with perfect understanding.—Joseph Parker, D.D.: City Temple, pp. 349-356.
THE UNWEARIED GOD
Isa . The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary.
A great contrast between God and all His living creatures on this earth. They all need rest, but He has no need of it, for He is never weary. We shall find this declaration full of comfort; but before we consider the senses in which it is true, we shall do well to remember that we are plainly taught in His Word that there are certain things of which God is weary.
I. THINGS OF WHICH GOD IS WEARY.
God is weary,
1. Of the obstinacy of sinners (Isa ).
2. Of the backsliding of His professing people (Jer ).
3. Of heedless praises and hypocritical prayers (Isa ).
4. Of our cruelty to each other (Exo ; Exo 22:22; Isa 7:13).
II. THINGS OF WHICH GOD IS NOT WEARY.
1. He is not weary in continuing and preserving His creation. The extent of this task; the multitude and minuteness of its parts. Neither its vastness, nor its complexity, nor its duration have availed to weary Him. We rest sometimes by changing the mode of our activity, but there is no cessation possible in God's work (H. E. I. 362-365, 3174-3176).
2. He is not weary of caring for His people, supplying their temporal wants, guiding their affairs, removing unknown hindrances out of their way, solacing them in sorrow, strengthening them against temptation, educating them for time and eternity (P. D. 2908).
3. He is not weary of hearing prayer. This is a special labour, additional to the work of preservation, and even to the care of His people. Remember the multitude of the prayers that are constantly ascending to Him. The folly of many of them! Yet still He listens to us!
4. He is never weary in punishing sin; never so weary as to desist from it. There are cases in which we leave incorrigible offenders alone—we will not trouble ourselves any more about them; but it is never so with God. Not because He loves punishment, but because He loves righteousness. To a tender heart it is always a pain to punish; yet God, whose tender mercies are over all His works, age after age requites all who do wickedly.
5. He is never weary of pardoning penitent sinners. How many He has pardoned! How often He had to pardon every one of those who are now "the spirits of the just made perfect!" How often we have tried His patience! Yet He still waits to be gracious; He does not say, "Here comes another sinner; drive him away!" nor, "Here comes that sinner again; refuse him access to my throne." He is as ready to pardon now as He was when Christ hung on the cross. He looks upon sins, not only as crimes, but as diseases; and, like a physician, is ready to minister to every plague-stricken one. Come, then, to Him now (H. E. I. 2285-2286, 2328-2339).
This view of God should—
1. Awaken our admiration of Him. It is good to admire His works; better to admire Him (Psa ).
2. Strengthen our trust in Him. Our human friends fail us, but God will never fail us (chap. Isa ).
3. Deepen our love for Him. He is unweariable, not in strength merely, but in affection. His love outlasts that of many mothers (chap. Isa ).
WAITING ON GOD
Isa . They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.
I. Two conditions are necessary to physical life, viz., repose and activity. So, also, in the spiritual life, there are two conditions of health, viz., passivity and exercise. The former is expressed by waiting, which implies—
1. Passivity—a state in which we are the recipients, in which we do nothing, but quietly expect something to be done. As men "wait for the morning," they wait for the salvation of God; for the fulfilment of His promises; for the coming of the Lord.
2. Confidence in God, an assurance that He will reveal Himself, that He will accomplish His Word.
3. Desire and expectation. Men who wait for the morning both expect it and long for it; so those who wait for God—for His salvation, for His coming—expect it and long for it (Psa ).
4. Patience and submission—patience, because we know that the good waited for will not be granted before God's time; submission, because we know that it is in God's power to grant or to withhold, and that our only hope is in Him.
Waiting, therefore, is the opposite
(1) Of indifference;
(2) of despair;
(3) of rebellious discontent. (See vol. i. pp. 178, 179, 332.)
II. Those who wait on the Lord renew their strength.
1. Because God flows in upon the soul, imparts larger measures of life; as occurs in sleep. As touching the ground, according to the fable.
2. Because God approves and blesses those who thus confide in Him and long for Him.
III. Times in which we should wait.
1. In seasons of devotion, private and public.
2. In times of sickness and sorrow.
3. In times of spiritual dearth.
4. All the time of our continuance in this world is a time of waiting for the salvation of God.—C. Hodge, D.D.
We have here some of the benefits of waiting upon God as they appeared to the fervid soul of the prophet Isaiah. True messenger of the old covenant, he continues to speak under the new. Let us listen to this old message, which is also new. What does the prophet say? He says:—
I. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." This sounds as if this godly life of theirs involved a considerable tax upon their spiritual strength; as if they were in danger of becoming "weary and faint in their minds." Is this really so, Christian tradesman, householder, citizen, preacher, worker in the Lord's vineyard? What do you say, you who suffer and you who are tempted? To all such this promise of Scripture will be very welcome. The least it can mean is—
(1.) That they shall stand their ground. But it must mean something more than that they shall not retreat, though in such a warfare as ours not to have yielded is itself a victory. It must mean, they shall advance, they shall make sure and steady progress against the foe. But the margin speaks of this renewal as a change of strength, as if it would remind us—
(2.) Of the many-sidedness of the grace of God, and its perfect adaptability to our ever-changing needs. Whatever we need for the journey or the conflict, for prosperity or for adversity, prayer will obtain it for us (H. E. I. 2363-2374).
II. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles." This seems to say that the life of communion with God is not a long series of vapid and unemotional hours, a dead level of mechanical and spiritless employments, but a life that has rare and glorious experiences, holy aspirations, ennobling thoughts, ecstatic emotions, spirit-stirring hopes. "Wings as eagles." What does this mean? Climb where the eagle makes her nest and look. It means—
1. Purer air. Very pure is the atmosphere in which the eagle soars; she leaves all the fogs and mists of earth beneath her.
2. Clearer vision. The eagle sees things in their real relation to each other. What a mighty difference this often makes in our estimate of their nature! Premeditated insults below become mere forgetfulness above; irreparable injuries, mere scratches upon the skin; formidable duties, precious privileges.
3. Untroubled quiet. No one knows but he who has the secret of this Divine communion how deep a quiet God breathes about the heart that loves to speak with Him. In a peace that passeth understanding the praying spirit listens to the still small voice of God.
4. Rare landscapes greet his eye who mounts up with wings as eagles. We know what it is to look on Nature from the level. Can you fancy what it must be to look from eagle's wings? Can you fancy what it is to have beneath you the beauty of the earth from horizon to horizon? So is it with those that wait upon the Lord. Lifted up on faith's strong eagle pinions, over the great world of God's written revelation, what prospects they rejoice in! What order, beauty, harmony, and sublimity they descry! Or if these pinions raise him above the world of human life, it is still the same with him; he sees what none other sees—God overruling all things, causing all things to work together for good to them that love Him.
5. Unclouded sunshine. It is possible to get above the clouds (Joh ; 1Jn 4:18; Eph 3:19).
III. "They shall run and not be weary." Theirs shall be capacity for the most strenuous exertion.
IV. "They shall walk and not faint." Is not this the same as saying that we shall have the power of steady perseverance, of patient endurance under protracted trials? Did the prophet put this last because patience is one of those Christian graces that has its perfect work the latest—because the bearing of the Lord's burden is often a much more difficult thing than the doing of the Lord's work? And was it because he would encourage us by the assurance that that power, difficult as it is, shall yet be ours through prayer?
All this has but one lesson: BE MEN OF PRAYER.—John H. Anderson: Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii. pp. 84-87.
THE STRENGTH WE NEED
Isa . But they that wait upon the Lord, &c.
Divine promises are made to character. The character here described is one who waits on his patron for a benefit, on his master for direction. It is the believer's expectant, obedient look. It probably here describes the attitude of the believing Jews in Babylon in expectation of deliverance.
For all action strength is required. It is more easy to describe than define. There is the strength of a fortress, of an army, of a labourer. There is intellectual strength and moral strength. This last is required in the Christian life. There is an immense power of evil adverse to it, resistance to which requires moral strength. The text suggests the source whence it is derived, the constancy with which it is supplied, and the achievements by which it is distinguished.
I. THE SOURCE WHENCE IT IS DERIVED.
From the Lord on whom we wait. This is the point of connection between the text and what precedes. The prophet has contrasted the Divine power with the helplessness of heathen gods. He speaks of the power displayed in creation. When we contemplate its ample details, we conclude that power equal to their production is Omnipotence. The question is not affected by the fact that, while operating on matter, He is Himself immaterial. We do not understand the connection between mind and matter. But we know that mind operates on matter directly or indirectly. All science, all mechanical and engineering skill, is the indirect command of matter by mind. It can also command it directly. When the centurion came to Jesus pleading for the cure of his sick servant, it was not necessary for the Saviour to go to him (Mat ). Who can explain the contact of the will of Jesus with this sick man at a distance from Him? Yet it was real and effectual. Thus with a word, the expression of mind and will, God at the creation "spake and it was done." It is illimitable, inexhaustible power (Isa 40:28).
Nor is it only the power that controls matter. Equally immeasurable is He in the region of intellect. Hence the prophet advances to this as the completion of his statement. "There is no searching of His understanding." We cannot understand the manner of the Divine thought. It is beyond us, as the thought of the mathematician is beyond the babe. But we know that it comprehends everything that exists, or will exist, or can.
And moral strength is His. He is holy; He is essential holiness. His will is the extremest removal from moral evil and accordance with righteousness. When He made man, He made him in His image; when He formulated laws for man's government, though fallen, they expressed His essential righteousness; and this is His demand, "Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy."
And this is the source of human strength. Will any man say that his physical strength is self-created and independent? Or that his intellectual strength is independent of God? He who gave it sometimes takes it away. Our moral strength comes from Him. For what is it? Is it not the inclination of the will to the good, the righteous, the holy? Is this the natural disposition of man's will? Was it not lost in the Fall? Is not human nature proverbially weak in resistance of evil? How can it be made strong? "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." He not only pardons the past by the power of the atoning sacrifice; He provides by His Spirit a change of heart for the sinner. This regenerating power is the beginning and centre of the soul's strength.
II. THE CONSTANCY WITH WHICH IT IS SUPPLIED.
The body becomes weary by exertion. The over-wrought brain becomes incapable of effort. Both must be recruited by rest and suitable aliment. And the soul's strength gives way under the pressure of evil unless it is constantly replenished from the Eternal source. The difference between such as are permanently strong and such as are weak is the difference between such as rely on their own sufficiency and such as wait on the Lord. Youth is the time when self-confidence is greatest. But if the young Christian becomes confident in the self-perpetuating power of that determination of his will that has been given by the grace of God, he will be in danger of spiritual exhaustion and consequent powerlessness. "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall." Strength is maintained by constant inflowing from God. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." There may be an allusion to the supposed renewal of the eagle's strength. Very impressive is the contrast between Nature when exhausted and weary in winter, and the springtime, when reinvigorated from secret sources and her strength put forth anew. Pleasant to the toiler, weary in mind and body with his work, is the quiet evening with his family, the night's sleep, the Sabbath change and rest. Sweet is returning strength when the crisis of disease has passed, and the power which illness has exhausted is felt again. Thus spiritual forces are liable to waste. They need repair. Bring them to the source of strength. Use the means of grace. Seek the Spirit's help. "Be renewed in the spirit of your mind." How blessed the experience of Paul (2Co ).
III. THE ACHIEVEMENTS BY WHICH IT IS DISTINGUISHED.
"They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint." Weakness seeks ease; strength seeks action. It is described—
1. As elevation. Like the eagle, whose flight is upward toward the sun. Nearer in thought and feeling to God.
2. As progression. In the path of Christian experience, character, service. It becomes easier from habit, as the daily task. And new strength is supplied.
The practical lesson of the whole is, that to fallen men God is this true source of moral strength. "My strength is made perfect in weakness."—J. Rawlinson.
Isa . They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength &c.
Human strength is of many kinds—physical, mental, spiritual; but every form of human strength must of necessity spend itself; for the world of which it forms a part decays, and by and by, like a worn-out vesture, the heavens and the earth shall be rolled up and put away. All strength apart from God is derived strength, and is consequently measurable, and must come to an end. The river runs on and the brook fails not, because they come from fountains that are not affected by drought; but cisterns are dried and reservoirs fail, because they have no springing well at the bottom of them; and if the pipes which supply them cease to flow, they are soon left dry as a threshing-floor. Let every man know, therefore, that whatever his strength may be, of body, mind, or spirit, if it be his own, it will fail him one day. Mingled with all things human there are portions of that all-dissolving acid which fell upon man's nature when Infinite Justice said, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
On the other hand, Divine strength never fails. It seems almost a superfluity to say as much as that: it abides in joyous fulness, never in the least diminished. The Lord was God when as yet this sun, and moon, and all these stars slept in His thought like unborn forests in an acorn cup; and He will be God when all this brief creation shall melt back to nothing, as a moment's foam dissolves into the wave that bore it and is lost for aye. God changes not; the fountain of His almightiness still overflows. You may bring your boundless wants and have them all supplied, but you shall no more diminish His all-sufficiency than when an infant dips his cup into the sea and leaves the sea brimming over upon ten thousand leagues of shore.
What then? These two things seem very far away—man with his faintness, his strength gradually drying up: God with His eternity and inexhaustible omnipotence. If we can bring these two together, if by an act of faith you that are human can be linked with the Divine, what a wondrous thing will happen! Then the sacred words of the text will be fulfilled.
"They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." When the heart drinks life from the heart of God, and man is at one with his Maker, then all is well.
"From God, the overflowing spring,
Our souls shall drink a fresh supply;
While those who trust their native strength
Shall melt away and droop and die."
I. WE SEE HOW A TRUE CHURCH MAY BE DESCRIBED. "They that wait upon the Lord."
1. A Church such as a Church ought to be consists of men who depend upon the Lord alone; for waiting signifies dependence. Their hope is in God. They rest in God's righteousness as their righteousness, and they receive the great sacrifice provided by God to be their atonement and their acceptance. No man is really a Christian who finds his hope and confidence within himself; he must be looking out of himself to God in Christ Jesus. If Christians are what they ought to be, they depend upon God alone in their Church capacity.
(1.) God's Word is their only creed: they do not add to it anything whatever—no, not a sentence, a gloss, or a thought. A true Church of God will say, "We wait upon the Lord for teaching: this Word of the Lord is to us our infallible source of doctrine, and that alone." Those who wait upon the Lord for their creed shall never need to give up their faith for something better, but they shall renew their strength.
(2.) A true Church waits upon the Lord for grace, and has faith in the doctrines of grace as the testimony with which it is to work. It says to the pastor, "Teach you what God has taught. Preach Christ crucified. Preach not your own thoughts, nor notions of your own inventing, but what is revealed of God—preach you that, for it shall be the power of God unto salvation." If the bare unaltered truth of God will not break a man's heart, then it certainly will not break it when it is rounded and toned down and made to look pretty so as to suit the prevailing taste. A Church that waits upon the Lord uses only the doctrine of Scripture as its battle-axe and weapons of war.
(3.) A Church that is waiting upon the Lord always knows where its strength lies, namely, in its God. What is the power with which men are to be converted? Eloquence, say some. The Church of God says, "Not so. Not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of the Lord." I solemnly believe that so much of human oratory as there is in a sermon, so much there is of the weakness of the flesh; for all the power must be of God working with the truth through the Holy Ghost. Therefore we should use great plainness of speech, and never speak for the sake of the language, but always for the sake of the truth we have to say, that God may bless it to the hearts of men. No man in this world was ever converted except by the Holy Spirit, and never will any man be truly converted by any other power. The Gospel has salvation in it when the Holy Spirit works by it, but no other doctrine can save. Many in these days think that we want a great deal besides the Spirit of God, but they are in error. They think that the world is not to be converted and men saved in the old-fashioned way of preaching the Word of God with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; but it is to be converted in that way and no other. You cannot touch a dead heart to make it alive either by excitement or by philosophy. Spiritual life can only come in God's way, and it is God's way by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. God's Word will not return unto Him void; but man's word is void when it goes forth, and void it remains to the end of the chapter. The magicians and their enchantments cannot compare with the rod of Moses. We mean, whatever others do, to keep to "waiting upon the Lord," going to work in the Lord's way, and depending upon the Lord's power, and upon that alone.
2. If we depend upon God, our expectation is from Him. We wait upon God as the birds in the nest wait upon the parent bird, expecting from her their food. Before she comes you hear their cries, and when she comes, if you look into the nest, you will see nothing but so many gaping mouths, all waiting, expecting to be filled by the mother-bird. That is just what a Church of God ought to be—a company of wide-opened mouths waiting to be filled by the Lord alone "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it," says the Lord. Do you not think that some Churches, and some Christians, have scarcely learned to open their mouths at all? Let us expect more of God, and we shall receive more. Is He not able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or even think? Expecting people, a flourishing Church. They are believers in the power of the Gospel, and they act accordingly. When I fire the gun, they are on the alert to pick up the birds, for they believe in the killing power of the Word. If a Church would but wait upon God in this sense of expecting great things from Him, it should have them; for He will never allow His people to complain that He has been a wilderness to them.
3. To make up waiting there is a third thing, and that is patience—to hold out and wait the Lord's time and will. This patience is to the uttermost desirable, that we may endure affliction, persevere in holiness, continue in hope, and abide in our integrity. Patience is the long life of virtue, and sets on its head the crown of experience. It is no child's play to continue to suffer affliction with joyfulness, and to remain for years perfectly acquiescent in the will of the Lord, let that will be what it may. That little word WAIT is a word fit for a father in Christ, and cometh not out of the mouth of a babe in grace. Some are ardent followers of Christ, but they do not seem to have learned the meaning of that word "patience." They are working for Christ, and they are depending upon the Lord, and they are looking for results; but when they do not see them immediately, they are offended and depressed. You were much the same when you were children: you wanted everything there and then, and waiting was dismal work to you. It is the mark of the child that he is in a violent hurry where men are steady. The Lord sometimes sends us speedy results to our labours; but at other times it is not so—the truth works slowly and surely, and effects all the more precious results. We must wait for seed to grow and for fruit to ripen. If we really wait upon the Lord, we shall just keep on, resolved to abide in duty, determined to remain in prayer, undaunted in confidence, unmoved in expectation. We shall not fly into a passion with the Lord and refuse to believe Him any more, neither shall we run off to novelties and fall into the fads and crazes of the day. The Lord will not fail the soul that waits upon Him; all will be well; the blessing will come. What a sweet thing is the calm leisure of faith! "He that believeth shall not make haste." Fret and worry, hurry and haste, are all slain by the hand of faith.
II. WE SEE WHAT THE LORD'S WAITING PEOPLE NEED. They need to renew their strength.
2. Because they are imperfect. Our natural corruption and the imperfection and infirmity of our flesh are about us still, and these bring us down at times till we say with David, "I am this day weak, though anointed king." Because we are human and imperfect, we cannot always be at our best: the sky is not always clear; the sea is not always at flood; the year is not always at summer; the summer is not always in the zenith; the moon is not always at her full; the tree is not always adorned with fruit; the vineyard does not always flow with wine; roses do not always blush, nor lilies always bloom. Creatures have their rises and their falls, and to us also there must be times when we need to renew our strength. It must be renewed, for otherwise it will decline still further, and this would be painful, dangerous, and dishonouring. The Lord would not have us utterly fail, nor fall prone upon the ground in the heavenly race; therefore to those who have no might He increaseth strength.
3. We must renew our strength, for it is for our honour, comfort, and safety.
4. It is for God's glory and for own own usefulness that we should be strong; and if we fall into decline and weakness, pray do not let us stop there. A pining sickness is an awful disease for a Church to die of. Do not linger in such a state. Up with you, and cry mightily unto the Lord, and you shall yet be restored.
Sometimes a man may renew his strength by taking a little rest. He has grown weak through stern labour and long fatigue, and he must be quiet and repose till he recovers. Oh, ye weary, heavy-laden, where is there rest for you except in the Christ of God?
We have known men's strength renewed by breathing their native air. They have risen out of a hot and fœtid atmosphere into the cool breeze of the mountain-side, and the bracing breeze has made them strong again. Oh, to have the breath of the Spirit blowing upon us once again!—Spurgeon.
If a Church wants reviving, if saints individually want reviving, they must wait upon God—
1. In prayer. Oh, what a blessing a day's prayer might be! If you cannot get as much as that, how much renewing may be gained in an hour's prayer!
2. Add to that a re-dedication of ourselves to the Lord who bought us. This often helps us to renew our strength.
3. Then afresh realise your entire dependence upon God. Put yourself into the Lord's hands absolutely. Be like the sere leaf that is carried by the breath of the tempest.
4. Then go forward to renewed action. In renewing your strength, ask the Lord that you may undertake fresh work, and that this work may be done to a nobler tune—that you may have more expectancy, more confidence, more faith, more God-reliance. What things are done by men in common life with self-reliance! But with God-reliance we work impossibilities, and miracles fly from us like sparks from the anvil of a smith. When a man learns to work with God's strength, and with that alone, he can do all things.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1756.
Isa . They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, &c.
As it is the same God who works in nature and in grace, a most interesting analogy may be traced between His operations in both. When the earth is parched with the heat of summer, and its productions begin to languish from excessive drought, it is watered and refreshed by the showers of heaven, and its various plants and fruits not only resume their former health and vigour, but spring up and flourish with greater luxuriance and vigour. The flower, too, that had drooped and withered at the close of day, is revived by the cool and the dews of night, and in the morning puts forth its buds and expands its leaves anew, delighting the eye with the beauty of its colours, or perfuming the air with the sweets of its fragrance. For every degree of exhaustion in nature, the wisest and most adequate provision is made by its all—pervading and beneficent Author. In like manner, when the spiritual strength of the Christian is impaired, from whatever cause, if only he wait upon God, his decays of strength are recruited from above; new fountains are opened for his comfort; he rises up from the ground, on which he was sitting in feebleness and sorrow, and no longer with faltering, but with firm and steady steps, pursues the course of active duty or of patient suffering in which he is appointed to move. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." Observe—
I. TO WHOM THIS COMPREHENSIVE AND ANIMATING DECLARATION IS MADE. "They that wait upon the Lord," i.e., those who
(1) earnestly desire the enjoyment of His favour; and
(2) diligently attend to, and take peculiar delight in, all His service and will.
II. THE IMPORT OF THE DECLARATION. It implies—
1. That the principles of the spiritual life within them shall be gradually strengthened and increased. These principles are faith and love—faith in the Son of God, through whom, as the propitiation for sin and the beloved of the Father, they are justified and accepted and saved; and love to Him as having redeemed them unto God by His precious blood, and given them the first-fruits of His Spirit, that they may live to His praise and be heirs of His glory. These principles are strengthened by the very act of waiting upon God, for thus our knowledge of Him is increased. And the more we know of Him, the more our faith in Him and love towards Him will strengthen.
2. That increased communications of Divine grace shall be made to them.
III. THE EFFECTS OF ITS FULFILMENT.
Such elevated enjoyment is not indeed vouchsafed to every believer. Nay, there are many who perhaps never reach it on this side the grave. But their devotions do in every case become more exalted and habitual as they go on in their course in the strength of the Lord. Perhaps their mental constitution is incapable of such intenseness of meditation and of feeling; or it is not necessary for the particular duties and service assigned them; or their natural temperament is so melancholy and desponding, that were they to be indulged with such high manifestations, their depression might become deeper after these manifestations were over, and the fearful suspicion that they were altogether delusive might sink them in greater distress than before. But one thing is certain, that by all who truly wait upon the Lord progress will be and is made, both in the strength and the countenance of devotional habits, of spiritual affection, and of heavenly-mindedness; and that the grace which they ask in prayer and receive by faith gradually raises them to a far higher state of Christian attainment than that by which the beginning of their spiritual life was marked. Of the degree of this advancement they may not, indeed, be always conscious, for their humility will increase in exact proportion to their other real attainments.—Dickson.
2. They acquire greater alacrity and perseverance in doing His will. "They shall run," or march on, "and not be weary." Here the metaphor is varied, and changed into one that is more common in the sacred writings, as expressive of Christian duty, which is frequently compared to running or marching (Psa, &c.) To those whose spiritual strength is renewed by waiting on the Lord, duty is not a task, but a delight. They are never so happy as when labouring in the sphere of service allotted them; and under the burdens which sometimes press upon them they are supported and cheered by the promises and grace of Him whom they serve.
3. They are enabled to manifest fortitude and patience under affliction. "They shall walk and not faint." Here the metaphor is again beautifully varied, or rather another shade of the same image is presented for the encouragement of every traveller to the Heavenly Zion. Even when incapable, as it were, of increasing their strength or of being active in the service of God, grace is both promised and imparted for enabling them to move forward without fainting in the path of submission and suffering (Psa ; H. E. I. 198-202).—David Dickson, D.D.: Discourses, pp. 198-222.
Isa . But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, &c.
Men develop under a universal law of variableness. We do nothing continuously except breathe and pulsate. It is insanity to think upon one subject continuously. Health demands intermission, even retrocession. This truth may be seen in a larger way in our pursuits and actions. We pursue pleasure, engage in business, seek sociality intermittently (H. E. I. 2064-2066, 2073-2074).
Deep moral and religious thought and feeling are produced by a thousand concurrent influences. All endeavours to hold Christians, Churches, or individuals to a high emotive condition of religious feeling are vain. Virtue, morality, duties are perpetuated; but, in regard to these, we are changing. When reactions and backslidings take place, how shall men renew? How shall the words of the prophet be fulfilled? The method by which spiritual strength may be renewed and augmented must be learned from a study of the providence of God. We ought to take the Bible as men take charts. Human life is the interpreter of the Word of God (H. E. I. 549, 550, 560).
1. We must not be biassed by any theory of Church or ordinances, nor by any preaching, to suppose that we are shut up to the dealings of God with us through these channels. The Church occupies a foremost place here; but the schools, books, newspapers, business, social influences work upon the human soul.
2. It pleases God to make the spiritual development of men depend on time-growth. The body is the first to develop, then the social affections, with the elementary forms of the intellect, then the moral elements, and last the spiritual nature. Many persons develop high religious emotions prematurely. Many may lose by neglect or by delay; but there is an element of time which must be taken into consideration.
3. Spiritual strength is renewed through the removal of false or imperfect views of truth. There is a relation between a man's reason and things that are reasonable. The preaching of the Divine nature is, sometimes, not made drawing to men. It is not altogether human depravity that is at fault. Spiritual growth ought to be more to us than any orthodoxy or regularity of outward forms. Change of circumstances may give the needful impetus to soul-growth.
4. Many persons fail to come to the inspiration of the higher views of religion by reason of worldly prosperity, which tends to satisfy their lower nature (H. E. I. 3998-4014). In these circumstances, distresses, infirmities, and even great sorrows, are blessed of God to the opening of their nature and to the renewing of their spiritual strength. Troubles are well-diggers. We are rich and strong, not by the things which we possess, but by the amount of true manhood developed in us (H. E. I. 129, 130, 204-212).
5. It pleases God also to employ the companionship of friends and neighbours in developing their higher manhood. There is nothing so helpful to a soul as the contact of another soul. How much was there in Christ's personal touch! Go about as a man among men (H. E. I. 1049, 1050).
6. When, by the use of these various instrumentalities, our souls have grown and come into the possibility of a higher spiritual disclosure, then there is a further soul-growth in us. We come to a state in which there is a direct influence of the soul of God exerted upon us—as direct as sight and voice to the bodily senses. Men may come, at last, into that state in which the Spirit of God shines with a steadfast lustre upon them (H. E. I. 974, 2840, 2900). Then there is the triumph of grace in the soul. Then intuitions become truths. What wonder that the dying saint should catch the sound of heavenly music!
CONCLUSION.—It is the privilege of all Christians to live this life, not today nor to-morrow, but as the result of patient continuance in well-doing, growing in grace, and in the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.—Henry Ward Beecher: Christian Age, vol. vii. pp. 102-106.
THE EAGLE-WINGED BELIEVER
Isa . They shall mount up with wings as eagles.
Scripture is full of parables, in which spiritual things are represented by natural. Here the believer's progress is compared to the eagle's flight.
I. THE WINGS WHEREWITH HE MOUNTS UP.
There are especially these two, the wing of faith and the wing of love.
1. The wing of faith. None can mount up to heaven without it, for it is a grace that looks not at the things seen in this world, but at the things that are not seen; and it mounts the soul to heaven and heavenly things (H. E. I. 1902-1907; P. D. 1164).
2. The wing of love. This grace, like faith, unites the soul to Christ. This is such a strong wing that fire cannot burn it; marytrs have found that the fire did not burn their love; no, it mounted up to heaven with the flame (H. E. I. 3337, 3338).
II. THE THINGS WHEREIN HE MOUNTS UP
1. Not in airy speculations. Some have a great deal of head-knowledge, but no heart love of the truth (2Th ). There may be much speculative knowledge where there is no saving grace (H. E. I. 3091).
2. Not in sinful curiosity, to pry into the secrets of God (Deu ). Many fall into this error in regard to the decrees of election and reprobation, the day of judgment (Mat 25:13), heaven (H. E. I. 1508-1518, 1793-1802, 2718).
3. Not in self-conceit and self-estimation, as some do who mount up in the pride of their hearts (Jas ).
4. Not in fits and starts of devotion. Many who hear the Word seem to be mounted up in joy; but it is but a flash, and like a land-flood (Luk ; Luk 8:13).
They mount up—
1. In holy meditation (Psa ; Rom 8:5). They do not allow their thoughts to wander on the mountains of vanity (H. E. I. 3499-3504).
2. In holy desires (Isa ).
3. In heavenly affections (Col ).
4. In lofty designs. Their ultimate design is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.
5. In righteous practices. This is seen in all their actions. The world's standard is not theirs (1Co ).
III. HOW THE BELIEVER MOUNTS UP.
Like the eagle—
1. Naturally. The eagle mounts not at man's command, but by the instinct God has given it (Job ). To the believer a new heart has been given, and it is natural to him to be mounting towards God. When the hypocrite mounts up, he is forced up contrary to his natural tendency, like a stone cast up into the air (H. E. I. 3008).
2. Highly. The eagle flies higher than other birds, and makes her nest on high; unlike the ostrich, that leaves her eggs in the sand.
3. Gradually. Though the eagle's flight is strong and swift, it is gradual. So the believer mounts up, by degrees (Psa ). He rises to more and more knowledge of God and more and more communion with Him, until faith and hope land in vision and fruition.
4. Frequently. The carnal professor mounts up only about the time of a communion, or when in some sore affliction, or during a revival, and whenever these seasons are over, he goes down as fast as he went up; but the believer mounts on week-days as well as on Sabbath-days, on ordinary Sabbaths as well as on communion Sabbaths.
IV. WHY THE BELIEVER MOUNTS UP.
1. Because it is as natural for him to do so as it is for an eagle. He hath a new nature, which ascends to heaven whence it descended (2Co ; H. E. I. 1103).
2. Because he hath his nest on high; like an eagle, his all is above. Christ is all in all to him, and therefore rise he must.
1. A word of terror to you that never mounted up towards Christ. What shall we say to you? You are not like eagles, but like ravens, that do not mount heavenwards, but wander to and fro upon the earth, as Noah's raven did, and feed upon sordid things. You cannot fly to heaven, but flutter upon earth; and while you continue what you are, heaven you will never reach.
2. A word of comfort to the mounting soul. As the mounting soul is blessed, so is he safe as long as he is mounting; he is out of the reach of this world's misery; safe against death itself. The eagle is never in danger but when she is on earth; we are never in danger when we are in Christ till we fly down to the earth. Therefore, seeing God hath renewed your strength to mount up as on eagle's wings, O soar aloft; look down with a generous disdain upon the world and the vanities thereof, and keep your heart up in heaven. Mount, mount, mount; be always mounting, till you come to the throne of God and the Lamb.—Ralph Erskine, M.A.: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 495-519.
He makes a very great mistake who supposes that the word "wait" implies an indolent passivity. The Hebrew word has brawn and bone in it; its signification is primarily to be strong—strong enough to hold out under pressure. Thence the word came to signify patience, as the opposite of discouragement and peevishness. When a soul is ready to do God's will, and to submit cheerfully to God's discipline, and to receive such fulness of supply as God is willing to bestow, that soul may be truly said to "wait on the Lord." It is a great grace, and it leads to a great glory.
The man who thus waits on God renews his strength. He does more; he receives a wonderful inspiration. He "shall mount up with wings as an eagle." Naturalists tell us that the special power of the eagle is in his wings. He can fly in the teeth of a gale, and go out on long voyagings towards the clouds, and play the aeronaut for hours without weariness. The sparrow twitters from the housetop; the dove is content to abide in the forest; but eagles are children of the skies and playmates of the storm. Even their nests are on the mountain crags.
So God means that every soul which waits on Him shall sometimes soar. Not creep or grovel in worldliness, or crouch in bondage to man or devils, but rise above all these baser things into the atmosphere of heaven. When a soul binds itself to God, it finds wings. Such an one has a citizenship in the skies. He catches inspiration from the indwelling Spirit. He rises above the chilling fogs of doubt, gains a wide outlook, is filled with ennobling thoughts, and actually feels that he is an heir to a celestial inheritance. He outflies the petty vexations that worry the worldling, and the grovelling lusts that drag the selfish and sensual soul down into the mire. His soul-life is hid with Christ in God. What cares the eagle, as he bathes his wing in the translucent gold of the sunbeam, for all the turmoil, the smoke, the clouds, or even the lightnings that play far beneath him? He flies in company with the unclouded sun. So a heaven-bound soul, filled with the joys of the Holy Spirit, flies in company with God.
You may realise these happy experiences if you will but wait on Him. You will be surprised to find what an uplift there is in your religion. You will discover how it can carry you above base and sensual desires; how it can give birth to pure and holy meditations; how it can kindle joy in seasons of dark adversities and bereavements; how it can keep your hope as serene and shining as the morning star. Strive after this, by living less on self and more on Jesus. Live more like a son of God or a daughter of God, with the full feeling of adoption. Set your affections on things above. Don't count these perishable things to be your treasures. Seek better ones in heaven. So shall prayer and Bible study, and the daily victory over sin, and the doing of God's will, renew your strength. You will mount up with wings as eagles, until you grow heavenly-minded—"which is life and peace." This is the "higher life" to which Christ calls every believer. And when you and I are inclined to nestle down in indolence and self-indulgence, God "stirs up our nests" and bids us fly towards Him.—Theodore L. Cuyler, D.D.
THE UNWEARIED RUNNER
(A Sermon to Young Men.)
Isa . But they that wait upon the Lord … shall run and not be weary.
Running is the young man's pace. With overflowing strength and buoyant spirits, the danger is not that young men should not run, but that they should run amiss, or that they should attempt to run in the right road in their own strength. The text describes a character as well as gives a promise.
I. THE RUNNING.
There are different paces among the Lord's servants. Ahimaaz is swifter than Cushi; John outruns Peter.
1. Running is the pace of energy. The puff-ball is the emblem of many a forceless life. Others work with both hands. If the Lord's work is worth doing, it is worth doing well. Be it ours to outstrip the energy of this world.
2. Running indicates fulness of alacrity (Gen ; Gen 24:46; 1Sa 3:4-5). Note how often Mark uses about Christ the words "straightway" and "immediately." Every man should be as David with Goliath, eager for the fray; as Elisha, who left the oxen and ran after Elijah; as Philip, who ran to meet the chariot of the Ethiopian.
3. To run is to be diligent. That is hardly running in which a man starts and stops, and starts and stops again. Much of Sunday-school teaching is a very slovenly make-believe. Patient continuance in well-doing is crowned.
4. Running indicates thorough-going hearty zeal. E.g., Aaron running for his censer, and running in between the living and the dead, that the plague might be stayed (Num ). Christ is dishonoured by our heartlessness, the Gospel is derided through our indifference, and souls are lost by our sloth. From all this it is clear that the runner is one whose spiritual life is intense. Young men should be runners.
II. COMMEND THE RUNNING.
1. Because it is a warming pace. Running is better than standing before a fire for warming one; active exertions are better for the Christian life than listening to sermons. Let spiritual dyspeptics turn their hands to work.
2. A ground-clearing pace. Creepers meet with more obstacles than runners.
3. A cheering pace. Runners have no time to become dispirited. David ran to fight Goliath. One can understand the Balaclava charge.
4. The winning pace (1Co ). All our God-given strength must be put out to win.
5. A fitting pace for a believer. Jesus Christ declares that we should run for Him. Christians who fall in love with "life in earnest" become far happier men. This is to live in the light of God's countenance, like Milton's angel in the midst of the sun.
III. THE RUNNER'S GIRDLE.
"They that wait upon the Lord shall run and not be weary." Waiting upon the Lord is essential to the running. They shall not be weary. Much running is short-lived. Many converts are converted back again. Not every bloom becomes a fruit. To wait upon the Lord is—
1. To yield yourselves, by God's grace, to be His servant. Every hair of our head belongs to our Saviour. Consecration is needed to keep up the running so as to win the crown.
2. To go to Him for all your strength. Man's natural strength is perfect weakness as to spiritual things; strong points left undefended lead to ruin. Dare to do great work for God, and you will be enabled to dare ever greater things.
3. To cultivate the expectancy of hope. Wait at the foot of Jacob's ladder for the angels to bring down answers to prayer. (See Outlines, WAITING FOR THE LORD, vol. i. pp. 178, 179, 332, 333.)
IV. THE RUNNER'S STAFF.
"He shall not be weary." Some are not weary of God's work, though they often grow weary in it. To stand, and having done all, to stand, is impossible to flesh and blood; it is only possible to the God-sustained. How run, then? Running Christians have daily strength for daily needs; they find fresh matter of interest (if you want a novel, read your Bible); they look to the end, to the recompense of the reward (1Co ).
CONCLUSION.—Let runners beware of slackening their pace.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (1869), pp. 337-348.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY RUNNING. To run, in a spiritual acceptation, is to engage with great liveliness and zeal in the duties which God has appointed, and to persist in them with all our powers. Running includes—
1. Forwardness, in opposition to culpable delays. When a good work is proposed to some, they catch at any excuse for neglecting it; or, if they do set about it, it is with so much reluctance and indolence, that what little is done is of little worth. But the lively Christian, let God call him when He will, is eager to discharge whatever appears to be his duty (Psa ). The angels are represented as standing round about the throne of God, hearkening to the voice of His word; as it were, watching every motion of His lips: and the instant they perceive the least intimation of His pleasure, they fly to execute it. Those who are truly God's people do His will on earth as it is done in heaven: they do it promptly. Examples (1Ki 19:20; Mat 4:22; Mat 2:9; H. E. I. 3633-3638).
2. Perseverance and diligence. It is not every progressive motion that can be called running. The motion used in it is quick and animated, and that not for a step or two, but for a considerable way, even to the end of the course. It implies, therefore, not merely a forwardness in the setting about a good design, but diligence in prosecuting it, and perseverance to finish it. Our endeavours to please God and win the glorious prize must be strenuous, ardent, continuous. When a person is running for a considerable wager, he doth not loiter, nor enter into trifling conversation with every one he meets. No; he looks at nothing but the prize set before him; he will not suffer himself to be hindered by any one; he pushes on with unremitted ardour to the end of the race (1Co ; Php 3:13).
II. HOW FAR THEY WHO RUN MAY EXPECT TO BE SUPPORTED.
1. They shall never be so weary as to lose their inward delight in religion. Though the flesh sometimes flags and tires, and the present lively feeling of joy and comfort diminishes, the willingness of the spirit still continues; the principle of delighting in God doth not expire; their love to Christ and their eagerness to serve Him are as strong as ever. They are quite vexed and impatient when they find that nature cannot keep up with grace.
2. They shall not be so weary as to throw off the practice of religion. They may forget themselves, as Peter did in the high priest's hall, and speak and act very inconsistently with their professed devotion to Christ; but yet, if they be really born again, grace will recover them from this temporary fainting; a look from Christ will set all right again.
III. WHAT REASON THEY HAVE TO EXPECT SUPPORT.
1. They have the power and promise of God to depend upon (chap. Isa, Isa 40:27-29; Psa 63:8).
2. There is a boundless excellency in religion, calculated to afford continual refreshment. Whatever else men apply their minds and hearts to, they are soon tired of; they find an emptiness in it which makes them throw it aside with disgust (Ecc ; 1Jn 2:16; H. E. I. 4969-4974). But ask one who lives in communion with God, and runs the way of God's commands with an enlarged heart, whether he is weary of it and would rather be excused from it, and you know what his vehement and indignant answer will be (Joh 4:34; Psa 84:10). The toils and labours of religion have one advantage above all other pursuits—there is no climbing to the top; there is no sounding the bottom; there is no finding out the breadth or length of its excellency and sweetness.
APPLICATION.—Let those who are running the race set before them be encouraged. You are in the way of mercy, and may expect not only to be kept from falling, but to have a continual increase of grace. Let the way be never so long, the ascent never so difficult, the opposition never so great, and your strength never so small; what are all these to the power and promise of God? Only—
1. Take care that you begin well. Be sure that your first step in religion is right. Remember that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life," and that "no man cometh unto the Father but by Him."
3. Keep heaven and your Forerunner in your eye. The soul that looks unto Jesus can never lose its way (P. D. 2312-2314).—Samuel Lavington: Sermons, vol. ii 379-396.
"There, to fulfil His sweet commands,
Our speedy feet shall move;
No Sin shall clog our wingd zeal,
Or cool our burning love."
O Christians! with such prospects before us, is it not strange that we run no faster now? that when heaven, in respect to some of us, can be at no great distance, it should be possible for the comparatively trifling concerns of the world to engage our attention? that we do not spurn it from us with indignation, like the Pilgrim, who ran through Vanity Fair shutting his eyes and stopping his ears?—Lavington.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 40". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany