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THE CALL OF CYRUS A FRUIT OF THE CAPTIVITY
Isaiah 41:1-2. Keep silence before Me, &c.
Behold how of old the Lord called the people and the distant nations into judgment, and condescended to plead and question with them concerning the dispensations of His providence, that they might see and know that He doeth according to His will in the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. “Keep silence before Me, O islands, and let the people renew their strength: let them come near; then let them speak: let us come near together to judgment.” This is as it is written in the Book of Job: “Gird up now thy loins as a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou. Me.”
The question which the prophet then proposes is one concerning the future, though in our English rendering it is put all in the past tense: “Who raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to His foot, gave the nations before him, and made him rule over kings?” The Hebrew language has not the same certainty in the distinctions of time with ours; and it may be mentioned that the ancient Greek translators have put the question partly in the future, to which indeed it wholly refers. [The tenses of the Septuagint in Isaiah 41:2-3, are the following:—Τίς έξήγειρεν … έκάλεσεν … πορεύσεται … δώσει … έκστήσει … διώξεται … διελεύσεται.] But the prophet in spirit here takes his stand in the future, and calls into judgment and investigation the things, the persons, and events of the future, as if they were before him, ere even they had budded and sprung forth (Isaiah 42:9). “Who hath raised up the righteous man from the east, called him to His foot, shall give the nations before him, and make him rule over kings? shall give them as the dust to his sword, and as the driven stubble to his bow? He shall pursue them and pass safely; even by the way that he had not gone with his feet. Who hath wrought and doneit, calling the generations from the beginning? I the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am He.” Even in the first member of the sentence the meaning is really predictive of that which then existed only in God’s purpose and in the preparation of His providence, who calleth the generations from the beginning. You will perceive more clearly that it has this prophetic force if you refer to Isaiah 41:21-25 : “Produce your cause,” &c.
It is generally agreed that there is here a prediction of Cyrus; but what I chiefly call your attention to is, that the whole work is claimed by God as His own. It was not merely He that had predicted it, but it was He that purposed it and brought it to pass. As He saith, “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am He.” An erroneous idea of prediction has grown up, as if God had left the things predicted utterly loose from the control of His providence, and as if the marvel were only in the foresight, and not in the power, wisdom, and faithfulness displayed in the bringing to pass. Not thus speaks the Word of God, but the prediction is the declaration of God’s purpose, and the event is His bringing it to pass. It is thus they stand related to one another (Numbers 23:19).
In our text, the question is not put as to the marvel involved in the prediction, but rather as to the overruling power and wisdom manifested in the doing of it. The question is not, Whose was the foresight? but, Whose was the accomplishment? To whom appertained the raising of this righteous man? Whose was his training? Whose were his victories? The fact of Cyrus’s existence, viewed together with his character, actions, and achievements, was altogether more wonderful even than the prediction of him by name. And so will it be in regard to the predicted coming and glory of Christ. Men will cease to debate of the marvel of its being predicted when they see the greater marvel of its being brought to pass. Not that the correspondence of the prediction with its fulfilment will cease to be a subject of admiration; but the actual bringing such a thing to pass from the present state of the world is harder to be conceived than the prediction of anything future.
Now Cyrus was to the Gentiles a type of the Messiah, even as David or Solomon to the Jews; and accordingly we find him spoken of as THE LORD’S ANOINTED (Isaiah 45:1). Comparing the things which are related of him with the history of Eastern kings and conquerors of his age or that preceding, and especially with the monstrous oppressions, butcheries, massacres, and cruelties recorded on the slabs of Nineveh, he seems like a man of another world. It is a gleam of sunshine breaking through thunder-clouds. The soberest and most truthful of the Greek philosophers (himself a statesman, general, and historian) has selected him as the pattern of a perfect prince, and made his education the theme of a most interesting and instructive book. Whence had he that education? Who raised up that righteous man from the east? called him to His foot? At whose feet was he brought up? and from whose precepts did he receive instruction in righteousness?
I think that we have here one of those examples in which the tribulation of the Lord’s people has been made to work blessing to the human race. The centribes of Israel had been carried into captivity, and were placed in Halah and Habor, by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. Their princes were made eunuchs and officers in the palaces of their conquerors, and the daughters of Israel, admired for their beauty, sought after for the music of those exquisite songs of Zion, pitied for their exile and their sorrows, and honoured for their virtue, were not unfrequently made the favourite wives of the conquerors and princes among whom they were placed in captivity. The principles and character of the captives influenced the conquerors. The kingdom of heaven wrought after its own manner, like leaven hid in three measures of meal. Now the mother of Cyrus was a Mede, the daughter of the Median king; and Cyrus, though a Persian, was educated among the Medes, where the principles of the law of the Lord were silently working. Thus the Lord called him to His foot and instructed him; and the good seed in good ground brought forth an hundred-fold. From the rising of the sun he made mention of Jehovah’s name. And so the captivity of Israel in the cities of the Medes served under the good providence of God to leaven the nation of the Medes, and to prepare an avenger of the cause of Judah upon Babylon, and a restorer of His ancient people to Jerusalem.—W. B. Galloway, M.A.: Isaiah’s Testimony for Jesus, pp. 277–282.
LESSONS FROM THE HEATHEN WORKERS
Isaiah 41:5-7. The isles saw it, and feared. &c.
These verses indicate the state of feeling which was created among the heathen nations by the rapid and victorious career of Cyrus. They remind us—
1. That a sense of common danger promotes fraternal feeling and activity (Isaiah 41:5-6). This has been often witnessed in the history of communities. Persecution, oppression, danger, will frequently unite them in one great movement for defence and safety, and thus call forth and develop principles that are too little cultivated in times of prosperity and security.
2. Mutual help is best rendered when each man does his best in his own way (Isaiah 41:7). In the building of a house, in the rendering of a performance, in the manufacture of an article, in the ruling of a state, the general interest is secured, not by all doing the same things, but by each doing his own individual part in honesty and fidelity. Even when an idol was to be made, the carpenter may encourage the goldsmith, &c. A fine lesson is here taught to Christian Churches. See it fully reasoned out in 1 Corinthians 12:0.
3. Even the superstitions of heathendom are a witness to the spiritual cravings of men. We have here a pathetic example of the perversions amongst which idolatry grovels. In their panic-stricken state the people betake themselves for safety to gods that first their own fingers must fashion. Think of a human soul bowing down to an image that a few moments ago was “fastened with nails that it should not be moved!” Yet we do injustice to heathenism, and do not rightly interpret it, if we suppose its significance lies wholly in these material objects. In reality we see here the human soul crying out for Another, an Unseen, an Unknown. The very groping of heathenism is so far a testimony to God, that it proclaims God to be in the worshipper before the worshipper seeks Him elsewhere. Amongst all our modern idolatries, too, idolatries of wealth, pleasure, fashion, power, &c., we see the uneasiness of souls who can find no settled rest in the things that are touched, and tasted, and handled. Though not definitely expressed, the yearning is for God Himself, of whom, and through whom, and to whom are all things.—William Manning.
Thus the heathen helped each other (Isaiah 41:6). There are many seasons in which encouragement from our fellow-Christians is peculiarly soothing and grateful to the mind; for as “ointment and perfume rejoice the heart, so doth a man his friend by hearty counsel” (Proverbs 27:9). This is true—
1. In the wintry day of adversity.
2. In the dreary night of affliction and bereavement. It is one of the privileges as well as the duties of religion to “feel a brother’s care,” to “weep with them that weep,” and to pour the balm of consolation into the bleeding hearts of our suffering friends.
3. In the stormy day of persecution. It was a saying of Martin Luther, that “the plough of persecution was yoked as early as the days of Cain; and it has been going upon the back of the Church ever since” (Galatians 4:29; 2 Timothy 3:12).
4. In the time of fierce conflict and strong temptation.
5. When entering the vale of death. The help we can thus afford we are bound to render.—R. Bond: The Christian’s Remembrancer, p. 162, &c.
Passages in the history of idolatrous worship may be turned to account. Here certain idolaters were alarmed, and ran to seek relief of their gods. They are making a shrine or an idol; they are all in earnest. This suggests what we shall always see whenever we find a model Church. Such a Church is—
I. A scene of activity. Every one is at work. Life is a scene of activity in the physical universe, in the business world. We rejoice that intellectual activity has disturbed the darkness and torpor of the Middle Ages; the printing-press does a nobler work than the old feudal castle; brute force, exclusiveness, have had their day. It is still more encouraging when spiritual life comes into a Church. Then a happy activity reigns.
II. A scene of cheerful, courageous toil. The carpenter encourages the goldsmith. Many Churches are scenes of recriminating discouragement. How much the minister is helped by a little encouragement now and then! It need not be flattery. Let every man do his own but let there be mutual encouragement.
III. A scene of prompt industry and thorough work. There are few worse things for the development of any kind of life than dilatoriness. Promptitude in Church worship and work is much needed. And thoroughness no less. “He fastened it with nails, that it should not be moved.” We want cloths that will not rip; bridges that will bear; characters that will stand temptation; friendships that will last. The model Church does its work thoroughly.
IV. All are working—actively, cheerfully, courageously, promptly, thoroughly—for one common end (Jeremiah 7:18). They are all building a shrine or an altar. So the Church has one end. It is a unity, not a uniformity—a unity in spirit, in aim, in end.
V. Special marks of a model Church.
1. A common-sense sanctuary: central, easy of access, constructed so as to be a house of worship and instruction,—not of worship only, still less for spectacular effect.
2. Kindness to strangers.
3. Well-organised charities.
4. Truly sanctified, truly consecrated by the indwelling Spirit of God. This is the crown of all.—E. P. Thwing, Ph.D.: Christian World Pulpit, xxii. pp. 136–137.
TWO KINDS OF HELP
Isaiah 41:6. They helped every one his neighbour, &c.
Isaiah 41:10. Fear not; I will help thee, &c.
It is manifestly the intention of the prophet to exhibit the contrast between Israel and the heathen nations. In contemplating the promise of the 10th verse, we may be so absorbed by its boundless wealth, so amazed by its condescension, so cheered by its comfort, that we fail to notice the sombre background against which it is placed. There is help in both cases, but how different! In one case it is the help and encouragement which men give to one another in a vain, foolish, and desperate course; in the other it is the help that cometh from above. The rapid conquests of Cyrus throw the nations into alarm. What shall they do in this extremity?
I. Look at the expedients to which idol-worshippers have recourse (Isaiah 41:6). The carpenters and goldsmiths resolve to manufacture a strong set of gods, and to fix them securely. In the idol-factories the workmen stimulate one another. We may smile at such a gross delusion, as possible only among ignorant races in an age of superstition; but is there nothing corresponding to it among ourselves? We may regard image-worship with an air of scorn as too silly and infatuated ever to find place in Christianised communities; but there are many idols to which the unbelieving heart turns in the day of need and trial. The gods of our day have no outward embodiment, but not less loyal are their votaries to them. Idols are made of mammon and worldly ambitions, of services and ceremonies. Thus do the follies of a bygone age reproduce themselves in all their essential features. To see idolatry, you need not take a long journey to the South Sea Islands or Central Africa. In our scenes of commerce you may meet many a mammon-worshipper. In gay circles you may find crowds given up to the worship of fashion. In the very Church you may find the formalist who has made an idol of sacraments. These modern idolatries are godless and unbelieving; but while there is no faith in God, what an immense amount of faith of a different kind is exhibited! Believe! Why, they believe the most absurd things! e.g., they make gold their trust; they believe that they may lead Christless lives, and yet somehow get to heaven at last. We speak of them as unbelievers, yet what faith they have! They believe far more than the Christian can. To them Christianity is irrational, yet what irrationalities they entertain! “O the credulity of unbelief,” that accepts the most glaring absurdities to strengthen its position! And yet with all this rash credulity there is often an uneasy suspicion that all is not right and safe, and in a day of trouble they must help and encourage one another. Observe the power of association and example to blind men to the truth and strengthen them in bad principles. People think themselves all that is excellent if they do as others do, and are no worse than their neighbours; and so they keep each other in countenance, doing in company with each other what they would not do alone.
II. Turn now to the other side, and contemplate the Divine help. Here is Israel’s confidence. It rests on the Almighty Helper.
1. It is help guaranteed by past experience (Isaiah 41:8-9). How intimate the relation in which God stands to spiritual Israel! how gracious the acts He has done for them! how dear they were to Him! What a powerful argument for hope and trust! To cast them off would be the undoing of all that He had done. How securely, then, the promise stands on the foundation of past favours. To the tried, doubting believer there is encouragement here. Your God not only condescends to sustain you with a promise, but to encourage your faith He points to past acts of mercy. He has brought you near; He calls you by endearing names, and appeals to a long experience of His grace and love. The past may be full of unfaithfulness on your part, but amid all there shine out God’s acts of mercy. How can you reject the promise built on this experience? Help in the past guarantees help in the future.
2. Help against opposition (Isaiah 41:11-12), and the reason is assigned (Isaiah 41:13). Israel’s enemies will be frustrated. O Christian! what foes can harm you with God for your Almighty Helper? Plied with temptation, oppressed with fears, surrounded with dangers, you can yet say, “None of these things move me.” All the hosts of evil are passing on to confusion, and through them you are marching to victory. Outward losses cannot injure your real life. These onsets of the foe are for the trial of faith (1 Peter 1:7).
3. Help in weakness (Isaiah 41:14-16). The names “worm” and “me” (i.e., mortals) are expressive of weakness and contempt. But how strong does the feeblest and meanest creature become when armed with a Divine commission and supported by Divine help! “With what,” it has been asked, “may this new threshing instrument be armed but the Word of God?” (Hebrews 4:12). If God has a work to do, the unlikeliest instrument can be made sufficient for it. The worm is not the mean, feeble, and useless creature we think it. Darwin has shown us that earth-worms are the plowers of the soil and the producers of mould, thus by their combined labours fructifying the land. As in nature, so in grace (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). Jesus became “a worm and no man;” and His people, few and weak, yet armed with His powerful help, go forth to the conquest of the world. Why, then, should you shrink from any mission on which He sends you, and why should you doubt of success? (2 Chronicles 14:11).
4. Help in want (Isaiah 41:17-19). There is spiritual thirst quenched and spiritual refreshment provided. The desert becomes a lake, the wilderness a garden. God opens streams, not only in the valleys, but on the hills; “high places.” This points to something above Nature. The whole description is obviously figurative, representing “comfort and refreshment and the largest spiritual blessings. As before there was an allusion to the call of Abraham and the exodus, so here to the journey through the desert when the rock was smitten. The words may include mercies shown to the exiles on their return; but their chief reference must be to the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and also in times to come” (Birks).
Now, what is the intention of this promise of manifold help? “Fear not, be not dismayed,” or, as it has been rendered, “Look not anxiously around you for help.” Rather look up (Psalms 121:2). Vain is the inward look, for we have no help in ourselves; vain is the look around, for no man can redeem his brother; but look up (Psalms 60:11), and listen to the Divine promise.—William Guthrie, M.A.
(A Sermon to the Young.)
Isaiah 41:8. Abraham, my friend.
God here puts a very great honour him His friend. What greater honour upon His servant Abraham. He calls could there be than this? Notice—
I. How ABRAHAM CAME TO BE THE FRIEND OF GOD
Suppose you met on the street a poor, ragged boy, you would very likely pity him, and might say, “That poor boy has got a bad home, and he will grow up a bad man, and will have no one to show him how to live an honest life.” If you wished that you and he might become friends, what would be the first thing to do? Would you not have to tell him that you wanted to become his friend? He would no more think of asking you to be his friend than you would think of asking the Queen to be your friend. God wanted Abraham to be His friend, but how was Abraham to know that unless God told him? Abraham was in the midst of men who were worshippers of idols. As the Psalmist says, “They have mouths,” &c. (Psalms 135:16-17). God knew that Abraham would never come to be His friend unless He spoke to him first. (Read Genesis 12:1-3.)
II. THE TIME WHEN ABRAHAM BECAME GOD’S FRIEND.
It was at a time when God had very few friends in this world. No doubt He had many friends in other worlds, but He had not made many in this. How many had He in the days of Noah? It is possible that He had not even so many in the days of Abraham.
There are some parts of the world where you have no friends,—in Patagonia, for instance, where all the people are savages. Some good missionaries went there once, and tried to teach the people about the Saviour; but they would not listen to Christ’s servants, and starved them to death. Suppose one of the wild savages had taken the missionaries’ part and become their friend, do you not think he would have been a brave man? But why do many people in this country dislike good people so much? It is just because they are good. Bad men do not want to be better; they “love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” It is sad to think that even yet God has more enemies than friends in the world; but He has many more friends than in the day when He called Abraham, and told him to go and live amongst His enemies.
III. HOW ABRAHAM SHOWED THAT HE WAS A FRIEND OF GOD
1. “He builded an altar to the Lord” (Genesis 12:7-8). He was like a sailor or soldier who is not afraid to carry the Queen’s standard into the midst of her enemies.
2. He always believed what God told him. God promised him a son, and although he had to wait a very long time before he had the son, he never gave up believing in God; he said to himself, “God would never have made me a promise if He did not mean to keep it; I am quite sure He is able to perform His promise, and that He will do so some day.” True friends always believe each other.
3. Abraham always tried to do what God told him. He told him to offer up the beloved son, for whom he had waited so many years. And Abraham showed that he was willing to obey the voice of God. In the end he was taught a great lesson, viz., that God did not approve of human sacrifice—a thing commonly done—and so a ram was provided (Genesis 22:0.)
1. You can have Abraham’s name. You, too, may be God’s friend. Remember what Jesus said (John 15:14; Mark 3:35).
2. If you wish to have Abraham’s great name, you must often speak to God. The comfort of having friends is that we can talk to them, and tell them our troubles, and find that they share our joys.
3. If you choose God for your friend, you will have made the best possible choice. Whatever other friends you have, accept the loving invitation of your Heavenly Father—let Him be your dearest Friend; become, like Abraham, “the friend of God.”—Sermons for Boys and Girls, pp. 80–87.
(A Sermon for Adults.)
Much that is honourable is recorded of Abraham in the Holy Scriptures, but nothing equal to this. He was a man of extensive possessions, a venerable patriarch, the founder of two powerful nations, the ancestor of a double race of kings, the father of the faithful, but, as his highest distinction, “he was called the friend of God” (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23).
1. THE DISPOSITION AND CONDUCT OF GOD TOWARDS ABRAHAM
He distinguished him as His friend—
1. By His large munificence. It is not perhaps too much to affirm that God gave to Abraham more than He ever gave to any beside. He gave him not only “exceeding great and precious promises,” but the actual fufilment of them in all their variety and extent, either to himself or his posterity. The grant of Jehovah to this patriarch included a son in his old age, and that his descendants should inherit the fertile land of Canaan; that he should become the father of many and mighty nations, and especially that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed. What does He give to others whom He designates His friends? “His own Son,” “all spiritual blessings,” “a heavenly country,” “a crown of glory.”
2. By His intimate communion with him. “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” In the plains of Mamre, as Abraham sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day, the Lord appeared to him in all the condescension of His favour, attended by two celestial messengers in visible form: there He conversed with him, and the communion He maintained was intimate and friendly in an unusual degree (Psalms 25:14; Isaiah 57:15).
3. By His affectionate confidence in him. “Shall I hide from Abraham the thing which I do?” He meditated the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; but how can He conceal the intention from Abraham, His friend? He told him, therefore, of the judgment which He was about to execute on the guilty cities. The sentiment which Amos and our Lord express is remarkable (Amos 3:7; John 15:15).
4. By His sacred fidelity to him. At an early period Jehovah entered into covenant with His servant, as a man covenants with his friend; and He sware unto him because He loved him. He made the most solemn engagements to visit him with favour, and ratified these engagements in the most clear and condescending manner. Were they ever violated? No! As often, therefore, as the appellation “the God of Abraham” occurs, we have a recognition of covenant transactions and an appeal to testimony of inviolable faithfulness. The covenant of God is His solemn promise; and this He hath given not to Abraham only, but to every believer as His “friend” (Hebrews 6:17-18).
II. ABRAHAM’S DISPOSITION AND CONDUCT TOWARDS GOD.
Friendship ought to be mutual. Observe—
1. Abraham’s steady faith in God. “He believed in God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God” (James 2:23). Faith was the grace for which he was most remarkable, and in which he particularly excelled. He is denominated “faithful Abraham,” and the “father of the faithful.” “In hope he believed against hope, and was strong in faith, giving glory to God.” In such degree as we live in the exercise of faith we are entitled to this honourable distinction, “the friends of God.” Faith in God is cordial reliance on His testimony. It is “taking God at His word” (H. E. I. 1877–1881).
2. Abraham’s holy fellowship with God. He was much devoted to God, and enjoyed special nearness to Him. At the time when he removed from place to place, it is remarked that wherever he rested, “there he built an altar unto the Lord, and called upon the Name of the Lord.” We need only to instance his intercession on behalf of Sodom. (Read Genesis 18:0) Thus let your life be a life of fellowship with Heaven; and the closer this communion is maintained, the higher your enjoyment will rise. Friends love to converse with each other, and do you converse with God.
3. Abraham’s cheerful obedience to God. We have many facts in proof of this assertion. When he “went out not knowing whither he went,” it was in obedience to the command of God. When he manifested such a temper of peace in the separation which occurred between him and Lot, it was in compliance with a heavenly ruling in his heart. But the most prominent act, the noblest proof of the patriarch’s obedience, relates to the sacrifice of his son (Genesis 22:2; Hebrews 11:17-19). Let it be remembered our obedience is the best proof of character, and the surest test of the disposition of the heart (John 15:14).
1. Learn the true dignity of man. It is to have fellowship with Heaven and friendship with God; being the “children of God,” &c.
2. Be thankful for the grace which you have found. Once you were “children of wrath,” &c., now friends.
3. Confide more implicitly and affectionately in Him who hath done so much for you. Friends have a mutual interest in what each other is.
4. Enjoy your comforts with grateful satisfaction. What a friend gives us he wishes us to enjoy (H. E. I. 307).
5. Learn to endure trials with calm submission. We can bear that from a friend which we cannot bear from an enemy.
6. Beware you offend not this Friend. “I was wounded in the house of my friends.” The question which Absalom put to Hushai is pointed and appropriate: “Is this thy kindness to thy friend?”—Thornhill Kidd: Village Sermons, pp. 310–318.
THE SWEET HARP OF CONSOLATION
Isaiah 41:10. Fear thou not; for I am with thee.
Saul was subject to fits of deep despondency, but when David played on his harp the evil spirit departed, overcome by the subduing melody. The text is such a harp. Its notes quiver to the height of ecstasy, or descend to the hollow bass of the deepest grief.
I. NOTE THE TIMES WHEN ITS SWEET STRAINS ARE MOST NEEDED.
1. When we are racked with much physical pain.
2. In our relative sorrows, borne personally by those dear to us.
3. When all the currents of providence run counter to us; when, after taking arms against a sea of troubles, we are being swept down the stream.
4. In the midst of unusual responsibilities, heavy labours, and great enterprises.
5. When one stands alone in the midst of opposition.
6. When we go down to death.
Thus all through life the saints march to the music of this harp, as the Israelites set forward to the notes of the silver trumpets.
II. HEAR ITS NOTES DISTINCTLY.
Their sweetness melts into each other, but each string may be touched severally and by itself. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee.” What does it mean?
1. I am with thee in deepest sympathy. As Baxter puts it—
“Christ leads me through no darker rooms
Then He went through before.”
2. The Lord is with us in community of interests. God Himself would be dishonoured if true believers should fail.
3. I am with thee in providential aid. We do not believe half enough in the providence of God. Providence is strikingly punctual.
4. God is with us in secret sustaining power. It is said of Christ, “There appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him.”
5. By sensible manifestations of His presence. These are made to the opening spiritual sense. This cannot be described. Who shall describe gleams of the sunlight of Paradise? But we can be as sure of them as we are sure that we are in the body, and see the rays of the sun. In such moments—
“Should earth against my soul engage,
And hellish darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
And face a frowning world.”
III. MEDITATE MUCH UPON THE SWEETNESS OF THOSE NOTES.
1. The comfort of the text excels all other comfort under heaven. God’s “I am with thee” is better than the kindest assurance of the best of friends.
2. There is here all the comfort that heaven itself could afford. We have the chariots of God, which are twenty thousand; but better than that, we have God Himself.
3. Here is something sufficient for all emergencies. In the subsequent part of this chapter we find one engaged in a service, and it is written, “I will strengthen thee,” &c.; then he is engaged in warfare (Isaiah 41:15); then he becomes a traveller (Isaiah 41:17-18); then a husbandman (Isaiah 41:19); so, no matter where we may be, God is with us.
4. Divide the words, and view them separately. I am; here is self-existence, eternity, independence. I AM becomes the friend of His people. Note the tense of it—not I was, not I shall be; but I am. I am—what? I am with thee, who art poor and feeble.
IV. THE TEXT NEEDS THAT THE EAR BE TUNED BEFORE ITS MUSIC CAN BE APPRECIATED.
It is not every one that understands the delights of harmony in ordinary music. You must have faith,—the more faith, the sweeter music. You must believe in a real God—not in a myth; your faith must give you eyes to see God. Such trust is human omnipotence. May God bless us with this faith!—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (1867), pp. 385–396.
Men are liable to be afraid whenever they find themselves in the midst of perils. They need a prescription against fear, not against feeling. Peril surrounds us like an atmosphere. “Through much tribulation,” of some sort, “we must enter the kingdom” of heaven (John 16:33). The old Stoics believed that man became excellent in proportion as he became hardened. Christianity has no sympathy with this prescription—insensibility to pain or pleasure.
I. Some of the things of daily life that man is apt to fear. Take not a human catalogue, but a Divine one (Romans 8:35). We find there the whole list of what man has more or less to go through. (Explain and dwell upon the perils in detail.)
II. The basis of our triumphs over every fear is God present with us. To be alone is to aggravate our grief. In every condition God says, “I am with thee.” What is the nature of this presence? It is not God’s essential, but His special presence—cheering, protecting, preserving. Will inspire you with fearlessness. Mark the speciality of it, “I am with thee”—with the individual Christian.—J. Cumming, D.D.: The Daily Life, pp. 335–360.
AWAY WITH FEAR
Isaiah 41:10. Fear thou not, &c.
The later chapters of Isaiah are full of encouragement. Commotions may rend the nations, but God’s people shall abide in safety. Their safety in Him contrasts with the insecurity of those that trusted in idols, the work of their own hands. The Lord, moreover, had especially adopted and chosen Israel. He had called Abraham out of a distant land; had given him importance and influence; had settled the countrv on his posterity; had never cast them off, notwithstanding their frequent deviations from the line of fidelity to Him. In them the prophet sees the representatives of those whom at all times He will distinguish by His special regard. The truth contained in our text is applicable always. It is everlasting truth. It is the Christian antidote to fear. The Christian’s confidence is encouraged; his timidity is deprecated.
I. CONFIDENCE ENCOURAGED.
The encouragement is drawn—
1. From God’s relation to His people. “I am thy God.” Dark is the lot of the man who has no God, who has lost faith. But there are many to whom God is intellectually a truth, to whom, nevertheless, He is not a reality. They live without Him. No praise, no prayer ascends to Him. There is no regard to Him in their daily life. His authority is a dead letter to them. The moral influence of this is perceptible in their indifference to spiritual influences; in the earthliness of their principles; in their low standard of obligation; in their helplessness when overtaken by calamity. In all this the Chiristian possesses an unspeakable advantage. With his faith in God he lives in a higher atmosphere of thought, and feeling, and moral impulse. In the deepest trouble, the fact that he has a God is a stay. For the Christian idea of God is not that of a cold abstraction or an object of awful dread. It is warmed and glorified by the assurance of personal interest. Reconciled to Him by faith in the death of His Son, consecrated by a complete surrender, devoted by a love that takes Him into their inmost heart, they appropriate to themselves all that God is. All His power, and love, and faithfulness is theirs. “I am thy God.”
2. From God’s presence with His people. “I am with thee.” Is He not everywhere? Throughout the universe no place can be found where God is not. By this assurance He means something more than the universally diffused presence of His personality. He is with them in a sense different and peculiar; as a Friend for the purpose of influence, animation, protection. We are morally stronger, happier, better because He is there. We feel that a blessing comes with Him.
3. From God’s promises to His people. How numerous are the promises! God’s Word is like a garden gay with flowers of every beauteous hue, which His children are at liberty to gather freely. We need strength; life’s battle must be fought; life’s work must be done. Sometimes we feel like men who have no power. But, as when we have addressed ourselves to some daily task, our energy was found equal to it, so in the spiritual conflict and work we have found ourselves supplied with energy and power from invisible sources. Was it not God who, according to His promise, invigorated mind and will? Was it not Christ who strengthened us? “I will strengthen thee.” Or suppose the burden has been too great for our unaided strength. One cannot carry the burden, but two may. One cannot accomplish the work, but a number can. One soldier cannot fight the battle, but the army may fight and win. “I will help.” Invisible hands take hold of the labour. Invisible armies range themselves in serried ranks at our side. Angelic hosts come flying down with aid to such as cry to heaven. Or are you sinking down beneath the floods of trouble? All power over yourself has gone. Already you are encircled in the arms of death. Unexpectedly you feel another arm underneath and around you. It lifts you above the wave. It is the everlasting arm. It is the right hand of God’s righteousness. It upholds and sustains you until the peril is overpast. It places your feet on a rock. Such are some of the promises. They are all Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus unto them that believe. In combination with their interest in God and His perpetual presence they are the grounds of their encouragement and the antidote to their fears.
II. TIMIDITY DEPRECATED.
“Fear thou not; be not dismayed.” The future is before us; we cannot be indifferent to it. The state of mind deprecated is that which is disturbed and anxious because calamity is apprehended. Dismay looks on every side anxiously, like one who thinks himself pursued. It destroys comfort and energy. The timid soldier is a coward when he should be courageous and brave. Timid Christians, whose faith is feeble, who are the victims of fear must be encouraged by the antidotes to fear that are found in the Divine relation to His people, in the Divine presence, in the precious promises.
1. Do you fear the non-performance of your duties? Such as holy obedience, self-discipline, the consistent walk of a Christian, the Christian work which the Lord calls on you to do. Be clear that it is your duty; that He calls you. And then address yourself boldly to it; not in your own strength, but looking for His help. “I will strengthen. I will help.”
2. Do you fear the power of temptation? Some unknown and undefined temptation in the future, or some known, present, easily besetting sin. Is your face against it? Keep it against it and fight. But seek His strength.
3. Do you fear the approach of trouble? The mysterious future. Some trouble looming. Jesus is near, though you may not perceive Him. As when He walked on the sea. “It is I; be not afraid.”
4. Do you fear the hour of death? It is a dark valley. It is a cold river. You shudder. Jesus removes the fear (Hebrews 2:14-15). Your chariot waits.
This antidote to fear is addressed to faith. We are not to look at the seen, but at the unseen. Let fear be dismissed. Let Christian courage triumph.—J. Rawlinson.
There is here strikingly brought before us the superiority of the religious man over the worldling. But even he is subject to fear. Idolatry and superstition have easily gained a footing in man’s heart in all times. On account of these God’s people were about to be sent into captivity. The prophet is stirred up to cheer the faithful among them. Discrimination is the soul of instruction. There is an outward literal idolatry, and there is an inward spiritual idolatry. The text comes to cheer those amongst us who are determined to stand out against the latter, to which the temptation is as strong as ever. How are we to stand?
I. LOOK AT SOME OF THE REASONS WHY GOD’S SERVANTS HAVE OCCASION TO FEAR.
1. Our own nature is our enemy. “The flesh lusteth against the spirit.” But is not the believer’s nature a changed one? The believer is regenerated; but to grow from childhood to the manhood of faith implies vast experience. That experience declares that whilst we are justified through the righteousness of Christ, sanctification is a gradual work. There is the Christ aspect and the man aspect of this question. He who knows well what this means does not wonder that the Apostle feared lest he should be “a castaway” (H. E. I. 1053–1062).
2. The world is our enemy. To make the world subserve our highest interests is a lesson beyond the alphabet of the Christian life. The young Christian is exposed to fear of the world’s ridicule and opposition.
3. There is also the great enemy. In seeking to fulfil life’s duties, you will find this enemy, as Jesus did in the wilderness (1 Peter 5:8; H. E. I. 1666–1674).
4. The thought of fear. The very thought of it; the possibility of it (Jeremiah 12:5).
II. REGARD THE ENCOURAGEMENTS OF THE TEXT.
1. The first encouragement is found in the Divine presence: “I am with thee.” The first disciples had confidence and courage in Christ’s presence (John 14:0.) The soldiers of Napoleon felt no fear in his presence; but cried, “Long live the Emperor! lead us, and we go to victory or death.” The believer should dismiss his fears when he hears the Eternal say, “I am with thee.”
2. Here is the most endearing relationship in the universe. “Be not dismayed; for I am thy God.” Supreme and blessed assurance is found in being able to say, “My Lord and my God!” One of the finest things after affliction is to find strength returning and weakness departing. The downcast may know gladness and gratitude as they hear God saying, “I will strengthen thee.”
3. Here is a recognition of our need. “I will help thee.” This implies that we are known to be carrying a burden too heavy for us. We are tired; but there is a Traveller by our side, who seeks to help us.
4. He offers effectual support: “Yea, I will uphold with the right hand of My righteousness.” The burden-bearer is ready to fall by not allowing the Lord to take his heavy load; but the Lord is saying to him, “I will uphold thee.” Of what sort is this upholding? There is no left-hand work with God; no sinister work; it is all right-hand work. All that it brings is “righteousness.” To appreciate this encouragement is to know that there is none like it.
Carry the lesson to your own blessed experience. Fear not; care not for the world’s scorn or the world’s smile. Remember there is one thing needful, and hold it fast.—A. Morton Brown, D.D.: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv. pp. 353–355.
To whom are these words spoken? for we must not steal from God’s Scripture any more than from man’s treasury. We have no more right to take a promise to ourselves that does not belong to us than we have to take another man’s purse. They were spoken—
1. To God’s chosen ones (Isaiah 41:8).
2. To those whom God has called (Isaiah 41:9), effectually, personally called, as Mary was when Jesus said unto her, “Mary,” and that gracious voice thrilled through her soul, and she responded to Him and said to Him, “Master!”
3. They are God’s servants (Isaiah 41:8), doing not their will, but His will.
4. They are those whom He has not rejected from His service, in spite of the imperfections of which they are penitently conscious (Isaiah 41:9). To these every honey-dropping word of this text belongs.
I. A VERY COMMON DISEASE OF GOOD MEN—FEAR.
1. This disease came into man’s heart with sin. Adam never was afraid of God till he had broken His commands, but then (Genesis 3:8). It is consciousness of sin that “makes cowards of us all.” Sin is the mother of the fear which hath torment.
2. Fear continues in good men because sin continues in them. If they had attained to perfect love, it would cast out fear. But this is not their blessedness yet, and they are often cast down (H. E. I. 1051–1062).
3. Fear coming in by sin, and being sustained by sin, readily finds food upon which it may live. When the believer looks within, he sees abundant reasons for fear. Grace is there, but fear is blind to the better nature, and fixes its gaze upon that which is carnal (H. E. I. 2680, 4470–4474).
4. If fear finds food within, it also very readily finds food without. Sometimes it is poverty, or sickness, or the recollection of the past, or dread of the future. Desponding people can find reasons for fear where no fear is. They have a little trouble-factory in their hearts, and they sit down and use their imaginations to meditate terror.
5. In certain instances the habit of fearing has reached a monstrous growth. Some think it a right thing to be always fearing, and are half suspicious of a man who has strong faith. They even call assurance “presumption.” Shun the unbelief that apes humility, and seek after that unstaggering faith in the naked promise of a faithful God which is the truest meekness in His sight. I would not blame all who are much given to fear, for in some it is rather their disease than their sin, and more their misfortune than their fault. In God’s family there are some who are constitutionally weak, and will probably never outgrow that weakness until they have entered into rest. I would give them just enough of the tonic of censure to make them feel that it is not right to be unbelieving, but I would not censure their despondency so much as to make them think they are not God’s children.
6. Even the strongest of God’s servants are sometimes the subjects of fear. His mightiest heroes sometimes have their fainting-fits. Elijah (1 Kings 19:4).
II. GOD’S COMMAND AGAINST FEAR.
“Fear thou not; be not dismayed.” That precept is absolute and unqualified; we are not to fear at all. Why?
1. Because it is sinful. It almost always results from unbelief, the sin of sins. Unbelief takes away the very Godhead from God; for if He be not true, if He be not fit to be believed, He is not God.
2. It feeds sin. The man who believes in God will fight with any temptation, but the man who does not believe in Him is ready to fall into any snare (H. E. I. 1920–1922). He who cannot trust God in times of difficulty soon begins to trust in the devil, and to adopt some of his expedients for relief; and he who trusts the devil soon finds himself in the snare.
3. It injures yourself. Nothing can weaken you so much or make you so unhappy as to be distrusting (H. E. I. 2050–2054).
4. Fear weakens the believer’s influence, and so causes mischief to others. Converts are not brought to Christ through unbelieving Christians. It is faith that wins souls (H. E. I. 1090). For your own sake, for your neighbour’s sake, fear not, neither be dismayed!
III. THE PROMISES WHICH GOD GIVES TO PREVENT FEAR AND DISMAY.
1. Many a man fears because he is afraid of loneliness. More or less we must be alone in the service of God—in suffering—in old age—or in a strange land. But, believer, you are not alone, because God is with you. Omnipotence will be with you to be your strength, omniscience to be your wisdom, immutability to be your succour, all the attributes of God to be your treasury. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee” (P. D. 3145).
2. Men fear they may lose all they have in the world, and they know very well that if they lose their property they usually lose their friends (H. E. I. 23, 24, 2151–2159). But here the second promise comes in, “Be not dismayed, for I am thy God.” Jonah’s gourd was withered, but Jonah’s God was not. Your goods may go, but your God will not; and having Him, you may laugh at penury and distress, for you shall lack no good thing (Psalms 84:11-12).
3. Fear sometimes arises from a sense of personal weakness. “I have a battle to fight, and I am very weak; I have a work to do for God before I die, and I have not sufficient power to perform it.” But here comes in the next word of the text: “I will strengthen thee.” God can, if He wills it, put Samson’s strength into an infant’s arm. Transfer the figure to spiritual strength. The strength we need for our work does not lie in us, or it would be all over with us. It comes from God, and He will give it. Preacher, Sunday-school teacher, look up to Him and take courage. There was a bush in the wilderness, and it was nothing to look at—nothing but a bush; but oh! how it glowed with splendour when God came into it; it burned with fire, and yet “was not consumed.” God can come into you, and can make you blaze with glory like the bush in Horeb.
4. Some fear that friendly succour will fail. A fear apt to trouble those who have large purposes of benevolence towards their fellow-men. The cooperation of others seems necessary to their accomplishment, and in the critical moment they may fall away. But let them note this word: “I will help thee.”  If the work on which we have set our heart is God’s work, He will send to our aid all the succour we need.
 You know what a grand matter is God’s help. A minister was one day bringing his books upstairs into another room, for he was going to have his study on the first floor instead of downstairs, and his little boy wanted to help father carry some of the books. “Now,” said the father, “I knew he could not do it, but as he wanted to be doing something, to please him and to do him good by encouraging his industry, I told him he might take a book and carry it up.” So away he went, and picked out one of the biggest volumes—Caryl on Job or Poli Synopsis, I should think—and when he had climbed a step or two up the stairs, down he sat and began to cry. He could not manage to carry his big book any further; he was disappointed and unhappy. How did the matter end? Why, the father had to go to the rescue, and carry both the great book and the little man. So, when the Lord gives us a work to do, we are glad to do it, but our strength is not equal to the work, and then we sit down and cry, and it comes to this, that our blessed Father carries the work and carries the little man too, and then it is all done, and done gloriously. It is a simple illustration, but may it comfort some desponding heart. “Yea, I will help thee.”—Spurgeon.
5. Many a child of God is afflicted with a fear that he shall one day, in some unguarded moment, bring dishonour upon the cross of Christ. This is a very natural fear, and in some respects a very proper fear. But grasp this precious word: “I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” The self-same hand that spans both sea and shore bears up the unpillared arch of heaven and holds the stars in their place. Can it not bear you up? Oh, rest upon it, and you shall not be cast down! (H. E. I. 2363–2373, 2791).
Here you have angels’ food; nay, the very bread of life itself lies in these choice words. The only fear I have is lest you should miss them through unbelief. Go home, and take this text with you in the hand of faith. It shall prove to you like the widow’s barrel of meal and cruse of oil.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 930.
I. There are fears which rise in the heart at the thought of God. Let a man confront himself even in imagination with Jehovah, and the first and strongest emotion within him is terror. We have all trembled when in darkness and solitude we have thought of God (Job 4:13-17). An horror of great darkness creeps over us when first the truth takes possession of us that we shall stand naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. The root of all this is our guilt. We have broken God’s law, and however we may forget that at other times, it is the first thing we remember when we feel that God is near, so that if we could, we would flee from His presence. How many illustrations of this we have in the Scriptures! (Genesis 3:8; Exodus 20:19; Judges 13:20; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 2:9; Luke 5:8). Whenever in our own case anything occurs which seems to us to belong to that mystic borderland between the visible and the unseen, we have the same spirit-shudder, which must be traced to the same cause. The mercury becomes peculiarly sensitive when the thunder-cloud is overhead; the needle is most restless when some magnetic substance is near; and so when conscience, by reason of any occurrence in providence, feels God to be close at hand, it becomes most active and fills the soul with alarm. There are few who would not quake with fear if they could be compelled to think for but one short hour on God, judgment, and eternity.
Now see how the Gospel meets this dread with its benignant “fear not.” In all the cases in the Bible in which God is represented as coming to talk with men, He begins with these words, “Fear not.” He thereby says, in effect, that we have a wrong idea concerning Him when we think of Him with terror. We regard Him as an enemy, whereas He is our best friend. We run away from Him, when, if we really knew Him, we should betake ourselves to Him in the sure confidence that He will receive us. You ask me how I know all this. I point in answer to the cross of Christ, whereon our innocent Substitute gave Himself up to death for us, that we might be righteously forgiven. That cross, with all its mysterious accompaniments, was God’s great “Fear not!” spoken to the trembling heart of humanity. It is the declaration of His love to thee. Take hold of that, and thy fear will give place to gratitude, as His forgiveness comes into thy soul (H. E. I. 2233–2236, 2319–2321).
II. There are fears which arise in the heart as we think of our fellowmen. We have been often hampered in our discharge of duty by our regard to those who are around us (Proverbs 29:25). There is a course of conduct which we clearly see that it is our duty to take, but if we follow it we shall forfeit the friendship of many whose esteem we have been accustomed to value, and so we pause and try to compromise with conscience. Or we are afraid of the opposition of our fellows, and so we are brought to a halt. We have many such cases described in Scripture. Abraham lying to preserve his life; Aaron making the golden calf to save himself from being stoned; Saul sinning because he feared the people and obeyed their voice; Herod beheading John the Baptist for his oath’s sake and the sake of them that were with him; Peter vacillating at Antioch when he saw those who had come from Jerusalem. And we have been ourselves too often in the same condemnation.
Now see how the Gospel comes to us with its “Fear not” for this ensnaring trepidation. It assures us that God is on our side. It declares that He will never leave us nor forsake us. It does not declare, indeed, that we shall have exemption from suffering, but that we shall be upheld under it, and supported through it, and be at length more than conquerors. To die is oftentimes to conquer. Who was the real victor on Calvary? Was it not He who bowed His head and said, “It is finished”? Who was the conqueror when the proto-martyr
“Heeded not reviling tones,
Nor sold his heart to idle moans,
Though cursed and scorned and bruised with stones?”
This “Fear not “does not guarantee immunity from trouble, but it is God’s word of reassurance whispered into the ears of His tempted, tried, and sometimes weak and irresolute people; and when it is heard in faith, the timid one becomes courageous, and takes his place among the heroes of humanity. See the efficacy of this sovereign antidote to the fear of men on those valiant youths who stood before the monarch of Babylon (Daniel 3:16-18). Behold its power in the conduct of the Apostles when they stood before the Council (Acts 5:29). Behold its success in the aged Palissy, when the French monarch said to him in his cell in the Bastile, “Palissy, if you do not recant, I shall be forced to give you up.” And he replied, “Forced, sire; this is not to speak like a king; but they who force you cannot force me. I can die.” And what met the need of these great sufferers is surely sufficient to meet ours. Oh, ye timid ones, who are terrified by the men around you, hear a few reassuring words from God (Deuteronomy 20:3-4; Nehemiah 1:8; Isaiah 41:14-15, and also Isaiah 41:10). There are multitudes of promises of this same character, and if we would but keep hold of them, no mortal influence would ever be able to move us from our purpose, and no storm of temptation would ever drive us from our anchorage. The Lord is on thy side, therefore go forward undauntedly, for He will make rough places smooth, and crooked things straight before thee (Revelation 2:10).
III. There are fears which spring up in the heart at the thought of the future. We know not what a day may bring forth, and whenever we permit ourselves to think of what may come upon us, except when we do so in the light of the Gospel, we become despondent and afraid. In all there is some anxiety. In some it may have regard to temporal concerns. In others it may respect their spiritual safety. In others it may centre in their children. In others, still, it may relate to the time and manner of their death. In many more it may be the future of the spirit-world that puts fear into their souls, and the thought of judgment and eternity may ride like a nightmare over their troubled breasts.
Each has his own dread, but see how, with its consoling “Fear not,” the Gospel hushes the heart of each to peace, even as a mother calms her troubled infant into quietness (Matthew 6:25-34). In so far as the future of this world is concerned Jesus says, “Take no anxious thought for it.” Learn a lesson here from the great German reformer, who, in a time of terrible perplexity and with a troubled heart, looked out into the twilight, and saw a bird hop into the shade of a thick tree. It stayed a few minutes on its first perch to sing its even-song, and then leaping upon a higher branch, it placed its head below its wing and went to sleep. “Happy little bird,” said Luther; “he sings his song and goes to sleep, and lets God think for him; and I will do the same.” Or is it your spiritual safety that disturbs you? Then hear what Jesus says (John 10:27-29). Or are you anxious for your children? Then the promise is unto you and to your children; and if you will only do your present duty by them, and commit them in earnest prayer to God, all will yet be well with them. Or is it death you fear? Then for that there is a special assurance in these words addressed to the Patmos seer (Revelation 1:18): “Fear not; I am He that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore, and have the keys of Hades and of death.” Yes! at the girdle of the Son of man hang the keys of Hades and of death. The door for your departure will not open until He unlock it; and when He opens it, He will be there Himself to greet you. Why then be afraid? (H. E. I. 1634, 1642, 1643). Then as to judgment and eternity, why should we fear for them except for sin? and has not Jesus appeared already to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself? So we come back to the great centre of the Gospel, the atoning death of Christ, through faith in which alone we shall have boldness in the day of judgment, and happiness throughout eternity. What has the Christian to fear from a Judge who is at the same time his Redeemer? And if Christ be with us through eternity, that is all we need.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.
Fear is very prevalent among Christian people, and is productive of very disastrous results. It seems to be the natural temperament of some and the easy habit of others. In the pious soul a more improper mental attitude could scarce be indulged; for of all men the Christian has the least to fear, as no ultimate injury can come to him, even though apparent dangers threaten him.
I. THE OCCASIONS OF FEAR.
Sometimes occasioned by—
1. The circumstances of the Christian life (Matthew 14:30). Fear is often awakened by life’s physical necessities, by its secular conditions, by its intellectual anxieties, and by its moral inability to achieve duty in its highest method.
2. The phenomena of the material universe (Mark 4:40). Man feels his weakness when brought into contact with the unyielding powers of nature; they heed not his cries, they care not for his rebuke. They are destructive. Man trembles before them. He fears lest they should lead him to the grave, or do him bodily harm. Such phenomena ought not to render timid the Christian heart, as the elements of nature are ruled by the Father’s hand.
3. The phenomena of the spirit-world. Sometimes men imagine that they see visitants from the other world of being; and these, coming in strange garb, with mysterious tidings and ghastly appearance, inspire the human heart with fear. Such timidity is a folly. Heaven has better missions for the immortal good than to send them to frighten the inhabitants of the earth; and hell takes better care of its unhappy crowd than to allow them a momentary release. Such visitations are imaginary. Only the superstitious are troubled with them.
4. Manifestations of the Divine presence (Luke 5:8; Revelation 1:17). The soul of man is too weak and sinful to bear without fear the near and the immediate approach of God.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF FEAR.
It often causes men—
1. To sink into the troubles of life (Matthew 14:31). Fear always makes men sink in their own estimation as valorous; in the estimation of others as cowards; and often into sore perplexities of circumstances.
2. To be anxious without true occasion. God’s ancient people—the disciples. Fear always makes men over-anxious, and makes them imagine danger when there is none. It makes them timorous in every enterprise, even though they have a refuge in the event of peril.
3. To be unfit for the duties intrusted to them (Revelation 1:19). It is not probable that a timid Christian will be very efficient in the public duties of life.
III. THE CURE OF FEAR.
Fear not? Fear will be cured by—
1. A thorough reliance on the providence of God.
2. A complete knowledge of Christ (Revelation 1:17-18). The more we know of Christ in His offices and attributes, His holy sympathy with men, the less will be our fear.
3. A holy mastery over self, obtained by a consciousness of moral purity. A strong soul, well ruled by the will, will not often be timid, especially if it can fall back upon a pure inner life. Sin is the largest cause of fear.
1. To trust God.
2. To know Christ.
3. To rule self.—J. S. Exell: The Study, Third Series, p. 576.
THE BEST HELPER
(Sermon for the Young.)
Isaiah 41:10. I will help thee.
Two persons are spoken of here: I and thee. “I,” the person speaking, is Jesus, our God and Saviour; and “thee,” the person spoken to, means everybody who needs His help and seeks it. In this passage, then, Jesus is presented to our notice as a Helper. We may have many helpers, but Jesus is the best. There are four reasons why Jesus is the best Helper. He is so—
I. Because He is always near to help. If we were hungry, it would not help us to know that a hundred miles off there was a nice loaf of bread. If we were travelling in the desert of Arabia, would it help us any to remember that in England there were many cool and sparkling springs of water? God is always near when people are in trouble. He always could help them if He saw it best. But sometimes He sees good reasons for not helping those who are in need. E.g., there are the wicked men nailing Jesus to the cross. He is God’s own dear Son. God loves Him as no other father ever loved a son. God is near. He sees all His sufferings. The angels of heaven see them. Multitudes of them would fly in an instant to His relief, if God would let them. But no! And why was this? Ah! there was reason enough for it. If Jesus had not died, none of us would have been saved. And just so in every case; there is always a good reason for it, although we cannot always tell what the reason is.
II. Because He is always able to help. Sometimes there are many helpers, and they are near at hand, but they are not able to help. We read a great deal in the Bible about those whom Jesus has helped. There we find how He helped Abel when he offered an acceptable sacrifice to God. He helped Noah to build the ark which saved himself and his family. He helped Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. He helped David to slay the great giant with nothing in his hand but a sling and a stone. He helped Daniel when he was cast into the lions’ den. He helped Daniel’s three friends when they were thrown into the burning fiery furnace. He helped Paul to preach the Gospel; and, in the days of cruel persecution, He helped the “noble army of martyrs” to bear with patience the chain and the dungeon; yea, and even to sing for joy when the flames were kindling around them and the fire consuming their bodies. Rich men can help us with their money, wise men with their counsels, and Christians with their prayers; but Jesus can help us in everything. He can help you in studying your lessons and in all your daily duties. He can help kings and governors to rule and subjects to obey. He can help ministers to preach and people to hear. He can help parents and children, teachers and scholars. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ strengthening (or helping) me:” and we may say and do the same, if we look to Him for His help.
III. Because He is always willing to help. We read in the Bible about the rich man and Lazarus: the rich man was able to help, but he was not willing. Jesus is always willing; He may not send the help just in the way we wish, but, in one way or other, He is sure to send it. He tells us that He is more willing to help those who come to Him than parents are to give bread to their children.
IV. Because He is always kind in helping. There are some people who are willing and able to help others, and who do help them too, but it is done in a rough manner. On one occasion, while Jesus was on earth, the Pharisees brought to Him a woman who had been guilty of a great sin. They wanted Him to say that she ought to be stoned to death. Jesus said, “Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone at her.” Their consciences smote them, and they went out one by one. And He said unto her, “Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee. Go, and sin no more.” In that dark hour, near the Crucifixion, He took His disciples into the garden of Gethsemane, and asked them to watch while He went on to pray. When He returned, He found them sleeping, and all He said was, “What! could ye not watch with me one hour?” He tells us that He “will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax.” He compares Himself to a good shepherd, “who carries the lambs in his bosom.” If any came to Him for instruction, He taught them kindly; if any with troubles and afflictions, He sympathised with them and helped them. He gave health to the sick—sight to the blind—strength to the feeble—comfort to the sorrowing—life to the dead. And what He gave was always given with kind, gentle, loving words. And even when reproof and rebuke were necessary, “the law of kindness still dwelt upon His tongue.” And He is the same now; always near to help, always able, always willing, and always kind in helping.—Richard Newton, D.D.: Best Things, pp. 147–160.
COURAGE—ITS SOURCE AND NECESSITY
Isaiah 41:13. For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, &c.
These words were spoken to the Jews in an age of national peril and dismay; they had slowly been losing their ancient strength through a spirit of indifference, and at length the alarm had come that awoke them from their dream. The Assyrian invasion had paralysed them with fear; no sooner had they been saved from it than the prophet was commissioned to announce an invasion from Babylon that would carry them into a strange land. Then it was that Isaiah proclaimed the source of courage, the power of which he himself had proved. The Jews might seem as nothing before the great surrounding nations; but the Lord was at their side; His voice was in their midst, crying, “Fear not; I will help thee.”
The words which give us the secret of the old Hebrew courage reveal the source of the courage we need as Christians. The notion, indeed, has gone forth that the ancient fortitude has no place in the life of the Christian,—it has declined before the gentler graces of spiritual life; but if this means that the Christian is to be only a loving, and not a righteous man, then the teaching of Christ Himself contradicts it. Not only so, but the gentler graces demand as much fortitude of soul as the stronger and sterner virtues; and, above all, steadfast obedience to God amid sorrows, and temptations, and failures, requires a courage more deep and real than that of the Jewish warrior.
Our subject is—Courage, its source and necessity.
I. ITS SOURCE.
What a broad sense of the Divine presence and aid in the figure: “I will hold thy right hand!” The grasp of the hand is significant of close and present friendship; and that sense of God’s presence—so near that our faith can touch His hand and hear the deep still music of His voice—realised as it may be in Christ, is the source of a courage which nothing can shake. Take the higher forms of courage seen among men, and it will be seen how this belief creates at once that state in which courage rises, and in which it attains its highest power. We may pass by animal courage—the bravery of instinct or temperament—as not proceeding from any principle, and so totally unlike courage of soul. The higher and true form of courage is of two kinds:—
1. The courage of active resistance. Its great element is found in the fixed survey of the means of conquest; fear rises from the contemplation of difficulties—courage from the perception of the thing to be done. There is always a lion in the path of a man who expects to find one. Intense concentration on the means of action creates the courage that actively resists danger. This is especially true of spiritual courage. It is by the aid of God that we conquer in spiritual battle; and while our gaze is fixed on that, fear vanishes; with the sense of omnipotence grasping and cheering his spirit, a man can defy the world, and death, and hell to make him turn aside from the path of Divine duty (H. E. I. 1911–1919).
2. The courage needful for passive endurance. It is harder of attainment; for while there is anything to be done, we find relief in action; but when we can only be still and endure, then it is supremely difficult to resist the assaults of cowardice. The great feature of this aspect of spiritual courage is self-surrender to the highest law of life; but if we could hear God’s voice, amid the dismay and darkness, proclaiming “All is well,” should we not be trustful, courageous, and strong?
II. ITS NECESSITY.
It is essential to Christian life for three reasons:—
1. It requires courage to manifest the Christian character before men (H. E. I. 1042–1046). Regarding the two sides of that character as seen in Christ—the strong and the tender, the severely true and the forbearing, sympathising, forgiving—we feel the incompleteness of any other character, and both of these aspects demand courage for their manifestation. What can give us courage to do the right regardless of consequences but the grasp of God’s hand and the sound of His voice?
2. It requires courage to maintain steadfast obedience to the will of God. Christian life is more than visible Christ-like character; it means Christ-like obedience amid the inner and unseen temptations of the soul. Every man has his own cross to bear.
3. It demands courage to hold fast to our highest aspirations. As Christian men, we are bound to aim at being our highest and best. The revelations of our aspirations must become our practical ideals; if we do not strive to realise them, we shall degenerate. If we would gain the far-off summits, we must keep our eye fixed on the gleaming heights. And can anything give us power and courage to do so but the knowledge that the Everlasting arms are round about us, and the voice of the Eternal cheering us onward? And here, as in all the storm and strife of our earthly pilgrimage, we are simply driven to the man Christ Jesus. He knows our weakness, and left us the legacy of everlasting power when He said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”—E. L. Hull, B.A.: Sermons, Third Series, pp. 157–167.
THE WORM AND THE MOUNTAIN
Isaiah 41:14-15. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, &c.
Though I have read to you only these verses, the treasury of truth upon which I intend to draw now is the whole paragraph in which they occur (Isaiah 41:10-16). In it the prophet comforts the Church by the promises wherewith he had been comforted by God. Before the captivity of God’s people commences, he furnishes them with that which will cheer them while it lasts. In his prophetic vision he sees them in a prostrate and most depressed condition—like a worm trodden under foot in Babylon. But he puts before them the support of their expiring hope, in the assurance of God’s favour. His argument is, that He who redeemed their fathers from Egyptian slavery would redeem them from Chaldean bondage. Mighty as their oppressors were, let them not fear; fast as their chains were riveted, let them not be dismayed; weak and defenceless as they were, let them not despair; for though the mountain threatened to crush the worm, the worm should be strengthened to thresh the mountain. The truths and promises in this paragraph are the heritage of God’s people in all ages, and on them they may, and should, lay hold in every season of threatening and trouble.
I. A VERY UNEQUAL CONTEST.
The worm is called upon to thresh the mountain! Yea, not one mountain only, but many of them—“mountains.” A hopeless encounter, a mad attempt! But the suggestions of sense and the reasonings of faith are widely different; “to do the greatest things and to suffer the hardest is all one to true faith.” We may apply this representation variously—
1. To the efforts needful to establish the kingdom of God in the world. The agency intrusted with the task often seems altogether inadequate. Was it not so when Moses stood before Pharaoh, and when the power and despotism of ancient Egypt seemed ready to destroy the infant Church; when Elijah stood on Carmel, all the power of Ahab and Jezebel, their court, and the priests of Baal against him—one man against a world in arms; when the first disciples went forth to proclaim a crucified Saviour, with all the power of Judaism and all the arms and wealth of the ancient Roman empire against them; when Luther, a poor monk, challenged the Vatican, and stood solitary before the emperor and cardinals, saying, “Here stand I alone for the truth; God help me!” In each case, who would not have expected that the mountain would crush the worm? But in each case the worm prevailed. If we look at the obstacles still in the way—Heathenism, Mahometanism, Popery, Infidelity, and all the forms of vice—they seem most formidable; but the “worm” shall thresh all the mountains! The corn of the Jews was threshed by drawing over it a sharp instrument—a cart with wheels encircled with iron spikes, thus cutting the straw very small, while the corn escaped through interstices left for the purpose. As complete shall be the breaking down of all the obstacles to the Saviour’s glory by the Christian Church, weak as she is in herself.
2. To the cares and calamities of life. We are here in a state of exile, like that of the Jews in Babylon; and we often need encouragement. The frequent repetition of the charge, “Fear not,” implies that there is much to fear. The greatness of the consolation offered proves the greatness of the impending danger. Fear is incident to our nature, for we are weak creatures; to our character, for we are guilty creatures; to our condition and circumstances, for we are the suffering inhabitants of a guilty world. And though it is true that our hopes are greater than our fears, it is equally true that our faith is never so firm as not to be exposed to waverings, and our hope is never so strong as to be altogether above distrust. The path to heaven lies through an enemy’s country; it is strait, narrow, and intricate; there are many turnings, windings, and bypaths in which pilgrims may be drawn aside, and, like Christian in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we are not always favoured with daylight. We pursue it beset by trials and afflictions, and we are often confronted by mountains of care and sorrow, of disappointment and danger. But we need not fear any of them. The worm shall thresh the mountains. See also another great promise in which great perils are implied (Isaiah 43:2).
3. To the Christian conflict—the struggle which the Christian has to sustain against the evil of his own heart, the seductive influences of the world, and the artifices and wiles of the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12; H. E. I. 1059–1062).
II. AN ANIMATING PROMISE.
“Fear not, thou worm Jacob. True, thou art a worm—weak and low in thine own eyes, small and contemptible in the eyes of others; but thou shalt be strengthened for the warfare and successful in the conflict; for I, the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, engage myself on thy side, and will be answerable for the result.” In view of this promise there can be no doubt that grace, though weak, shall be victorious.
Great consolation is to be derived—
1. From the near relation which God sustains to His people. “Thy Redeemer,” &c.
2. From the perpetual presence of God with His Church. “I will hold thee,” &c.
3. From the manner in which He adapts the instrumentality He employs to the end He proposes. “I will make thee a new sharp threshing instrument having teeth.”
4. From the way in which He identifies His glory with our success.
In order to enjoy the consolation of this promise—
1. There must be in us a well-founded hope of acceptance and reconciliation with God.
2. We must seek to possess the character to which this and all such promises are made.
3. We must be much in the exercise of that faith which honours God in all His attributes.
4. We must cultivate the expectation of nothing less than final triumph for the cause of God, and for the individual believer, the recipient of His mercy. The history of the past proves that this expectation is reasonable. How often the worm has threshed the mountain! The captives were delivered from their captivity. The Apostles triumphed over the Roman empire. Luther and his associates did accomplish the Reformation. That which has been is that which shall be; in the future there will be still greater victories for the Church of God.—Samuel Thodey.
CHEER FOR THE CHURCH OF GOD
Isaiah 41:14-16. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, &c.
The first reference of these words may be to the dejected feeling of the Jews in the captivity of Babylon, and they were recorded in order to encourage them in their low condition; but to understand them as referring only to the temporal state of the Jews in Babylon and their deliverance from their captivity would be nothing better than to reduce this sublime inspired record to the level of the writings of Josephus or any other uninspired Jewish historian. The chief and the ultimate reference of the words is evidently to the condition of the spiritual Church in the various ages of the world. Taking the verses in this sense, we are led to consider—
I. THE WEAKNESS OF THE CHURCH.
“Thou worm Jacob.” A worm is a weak and despised thing.
1. The Church of God in itself is weak and helpless. Its most useful and godly members have described themselves as “worms” (Psalms 22:6). It has generally been made up of such persons as the world looked upon with contempt (1 Corinthians 1:26-28.)
2. It has always been despised by the ungodly. The apostles of Christ were regarded by the world as “the filth of the world and the off-scouring of all things,” and eminently godly people have been treated thus in every age.
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE CHURCH. The weak and despised worm is to be converted into “a new, sharp, threshing instrument having teeth.” The Orientals used to thresh their corn with heavy rollers with sharp iron teeth, which separated the corn from the ears, and cut the straw to be fodder for the cattle. The Church is compared here to such a powerful machine.
1. The holiness of God’s people makes them strong and effective to do good (Matthew 5:16; Philippians 2:15).
2. Their activity and devotedness make them like sharp threshing instruments.
3. Their prayers also have in all ages produced wonderful effects.
III. THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE CHURCH. “Thou shalt thresh the mountains,” &c. By the mountains and the hills we are to understand the sinful habits of mankind, such as their commercial frauds, their warlike dispositions, their drunkenness, their lasciviousness, &c., and all the false religions which prevail throughout the world. All these formidable obstructions are to be removed through the instrumentality of God’s people.
IV. THE JOY OF THE CHURCH.
“Thou shalt rejoice in the Lord,” when all the mountains and the hills shall be removed and made as chaff.
1. The temporal condition of the world will be happy and glorious.
2. Its spiritual condition will be heavenly. It will then be the days of heaven upon earth.
3. And the Church will attribute all the glory to the Holy One of Israel, and not to itself.—Thomas Rees, D.D.
Supposed to be an interval of twelve or fourteen years between the first part of the book and that part beginning at chap. 40. The prophet is fast growing an old man. In mind he throws himself into the future, and places himself in the midst of the Jews in Babylon. He supposes their captivity to be nearing its end; but, to the heart yearning so painfully after Jerusalem, it seems without termination. To cheer them, this and the preceding chapter ring with rallying-cries, repeated again and again: “Fear not;” “Be not dismayed.” The text is a remarkable assurance that though their difficulties be as “mountains,” Jacob should rise and “beat them small.”
I. GOD’S OWN RECOGNITION OF THE FEEBLENESS OF HIS PEOPLE.
“Fear not, thou worm Jacob and ye men of Israel,” or “few men of Israel.” It is His epithet, as well as flung at them by their conquerors; but it is not used in their spirit. It is only when the insect of a man struggles defiantly against his Maker that God says in ineffable contempt, “Let the potsherds,” &c. This is a pitiful remembrance of their weakness. Illustrates His infinite condescension. In deigning to ally Himself to men, in inviting us to share His thoughts and counsels, He has not overrated the worth of the creature He receives to such high dignity. Marvellous that He who has in His majesty and glory from everlasting stood alone, and must be for ever the solitary God, without an equal in His universe, welcomes to His heart those who are impotent as a “worm” (Job 25:5-6).
II. GOD’S RECOGNITION OF THE HUGE DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF HIS PEOPLE.
He speaks of them as “mountains,” “hills.” Babylon, with its strong walls, vast army, the desert reaching away weary miles between His people and their country; all is gauged exactly. For them to try and overcome would be like a worm attempting to attack the mountains.
III. CONSIDER THE “WORM” AS THE “MOUNTAIN THRESHER”.
“Thou shalt thresh the mountains,” &c. In the previous chapter God is represented leading His people in their victorious march through the wilderness. A way was to be prepared that He might march right royally before His people (Isaiah 40:3-5). See the instance of Semiramis on her march to Ecbatanæ.
Behold the worm attempting the impossible and accomplishing it! The handful of Israelites were omnipotent with Jehovah at their back. Invested with God’s strength, the “worm” should conquer all difficulties.
The main idea is the completeness of the conquest of hindrances. No words better convey a conception of the thoroughness with which the work should be done: “Mountains threshed small” and “hills made as chaff.”
1. The application of this promise to the followers of Christ personally. The Christian is to be a “mountain thresher” in his own heart and life. “Sin shall not have dominion over you.”
2. Its application to Christian labour in general. This promise is the inspiration of the Church in what the world deems idiotic tasks affecting the conversion of the heathen. Sin is not always to be the “mountain.” “A new heaven and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness” are to arise. You cannot crush goodness out of the world now. (See the failure of Julian, Voltaire, and others.)
3. The application of this promise to any particular neighbourhood. God is jealous of the mountain Sin rising everywhere. If there is any piety in any given locality, though it is as insignificant as a “worm,” it is strong enough with God to save that neighbourhood.—S. Shrimpton.
CONSOLATION FOR THE DESPONDING
Isaiah 41:17. When the poor and needy seek water, &c.
I. IN WHAT EXTREMITIES GOD HERE PROMISES TO HELP HIS PEOPLE.
1. In case of outward want. This is a trying exercise to many, though little understood by those who have all things richly to enjoy. It is compared to an armed man carrying tribulation and terror in his looks (Proverbs 6:11). The body is an essential part of our constitution, and hath wants of its own, numerous and urgent, and to have little or nothing to answer its cravings in a severe trial. But God can easily help us in such a trial, and out of it. Examples: Hagar (Genesis 21:15-19); the widow (1 Kings 17:12-16). There is no exigency of man beyond the power of God. Though creature succours fail, and all the cisterns of earth should be dried up, there is enough in God to support our faith (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
2. In case of inward trouble and distress from sin. This is still more grievous and insupportable. Though most men think that if they had nothing but sin to trouble them they could be happy, some know that one sin set home upon the conscience by the Spirit of God is a terrible experience (Psalms 38:3-4; H. E. I. 1334–1341). But when the poor soul is ready to give up all for God, God comes to His relief (Psalms 31:22). In the Gospel He has provided a sovereign cure for the wounded spirit (Psalms 130:3-5).
3. In the case of approaching death. A trial from which there, is no escape. Is often very terrible. Yet even here God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. By His presence He not only reconciles us to dying, but makes us wish for it, makes us smile at it, makes us triumph over it (1 Corinthians 15:57). Though death be a king with respect to us, he is but God’s servant, and entirely at His command; he comes to us only when and as God pleases. And God knows how to support and comfort while His servant is taking down the earthly house of flesh (H. E. I. 1642, 1643).
I have witnessed only these three cases, but you may apply it to every distress. Whenever the poor and needy cry for help, God engages to hear them. In their misery there is a silent and affecting voice which hath great power with God, and poverty venting itself in prayer hath an amazing force (Psalms 106:44).
II. WHY HE HAS MADE THIS GRACIOUS PROMISE.
1. For the glory of His own perfections (Psalms 7:15). It is for the honour of His wisdom that He knows how to bring help when the skill and contrivance of all His creatures is nonplussed; of His power, that He is able to deliver the godly out of temptation when the ability of second causes cannot accomplish it; of His mercy and free grace, to afford help when the poor creature is in the worst and least deserving condition. Should God favour us only when we are in prosperity, and there is no difficulty in the way, His hand would not be so visible, nor His perfections so glorious; but to help the poor and needy, and that, too, in their greatest straits and necessities, declares His superlative goodness and excellency, that He can and will do what none else can. He therefore chooses such seemingly desperate cases to appear in, for the manifestation of His own glory (Deuteronomy 32:36-39).
2. Because of the special relation God has to the poor and needy. They that are most neglected and forsaken by men are nearest to God and more particularly taken care of (Psalms 68:5). “The poor committeth himself to Thee” (Psalms 10:14). But will He stand to their choice and act for them? Yes (Psalms 12:5). Which of you, being a father retaining the affections of a parent, if you saw a child in distress, would sit by and take no notice of it? Would you go out of the room and think no more about it? No! You would rather seem fonder of that child than of all the rest, and be more tender of it than ever. So will your Heavenly Father have a special regard to His poor and needy children when they seek water and there is none (Isaiah 63:8-9).
III. WHAT WE ARE TO DO WITH THIS PROMISE.
1. Let us praise God for making it to us. What amazing condescension that there should ever be any such thing as a promise from God to His creatures! Will earthly kings thus voluntarily bring themselves under obligation to their subjects? But with a kindness and generosity peculiar to Himself, God makes a covenant with His people, by which He binds Himself in the most solemn manner to be a Father to them, that is, to be watchful and tender to them, and keep them from all evil, and to withhold no good thing from them that walk uprightly.
2. In the time of affliction let us plead this promise in prayer, for that is the surest and speediest way of procuring relief. It may be the design of God, in blasting earthly comforts, to drive us to our knees. By bringing us into trouble, and showing us the insufficiency of creatures to help us, He may intend to lead our thoughts up to Himself, the fountain of living waters (Psalms 142:4-5; H. E. I. 69).
3. However great and prolonged our affliction may be, let us not look upon this promise with doubt or distrust. It is God’s promise; and having passed His word, we must be infidels if we doubt the performance (Numbers 23:19). To doubt the accomplishment of anything He hath engaged for were to question His wisdom in promising what He had not properly considered; or His love, as if He would not be as good as His word; or His power, as if He had promised more than He was able to perform. An affront this which even a man who values his character would highly resent. Let us take care, then, how we offer it to God.—Samuel Lavington: Sermons, Supplementary Volume, pp. 414–432.
In its primary sense, the text is an encouragement to the Jews to trust in God; in its spiritual meaning it extends to the Church of God in all ages. It describes—
I. A DISTRESSING CASE.
1. The people of God are often in a low and afflicted state. All men, if they knew it, are poor and needy; but very many think themselves “rich and increased with goods.” “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up.” Soul and goods; as if the soul had tongue and teeth! God’s people feel their poverty and need.
2. They strive after holiness and comfort. Water, as cleansing and refreshing, may be understood to mean holiness and comfort. They long to be delivered from the body of sin and death; they desire to walk in the light of God’s countenance. They try hard for these; but,
3. They often seem to labour in vain; they “seek water, and find none.” They strive for victory, but the conflict remains; deadness and darkness return upon them.
4. They become dejected; “their tongue faileth,” &c. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” They turn faint, like disappointed travellers on the outlook for water; they begin to lose confidence in God (Psalms 42:1-3; Psalms 42:9; Psalms 88:14).
II. FITTING CONSOLATION.
1. In the words used about God. God is “the Lord,” i.e., JEHOVAH, the Eternal, Immutable, “will hear them;” He is “the God of Israel, ELOHIM, the Mighty One, with whom nothing is impossible.
2. In the promises made. “I will hear.” Let them be encouraged to continue in prayer. “I will not forsake them.” Have courage, then, fainting soul!
3. Those who continue trusting shall certainly be consoled (Isaiah 41:18; Psalms 34:6; Psalms 30:8-11).
1. Most men know but little of spiritual troubles. These are not to be envied. Let them seek to know their spiritual wants and obey Christ’s gracious invitation (John 7:37-38; Revelation 22:17).
2. Let those who are fainting under their troubles believe that none ever waited upon God in vain. From these promises, as from wells of salvation, you may draw water with joy (Psalms 36:8; Psalms 16:11).—C. Simeon, M.A.: Skeletons, pp. 318–321).
The poor and needy must ever command the sympathy of those more favourably situated. They will probably never cease to exist. The text primarily encourages the captive Jews in Babylon. But it also represents all human need and Divine help.
I. THE EXIGENCY.
“The poor and the needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth them for thirst.” It is the dryness of the sandy desert which produces distressing thirst. The traveller seeks water in vain. His throat becomes dry; his tongue is disinclined to speech; he sees only a miserable death before him. It is a picture of suffering, destitution, and necessity.
The distress may arise from external causes, as bodily disease or pecuniary privation. Or it may be entirely in the mind. All suffering is really there. It is a matter of personal consciousness. The onlooker may see no adequate cause. Yet the sufferer feels. You look at the outside of a splendid house, and it seems to you that no deep sorrow can be there. Yet within there may be anxieties and cares which make the owner indifferent to his splendid surroundings; and in many cases there is biting poverty and want which cannot be revealed.
The temptations of such a time are serious (Job 1:9; Job 2:9).
1. Impatience. The sufferer does not readily submit to his impoverishment. His spirit may be that which says, “Not Thy will, but mine be done,” rather than the Saviour’s prayer in Gethsemane.
2. Complaining. When privation presses we are tempted to assume that we are wiser than our Father, and therefore to withdraw our trust and criticise His plans.
3. Despair. And when faith and hope are displaced by despair, there will be prayerlessness. We shall ask, “What profit shall we have if we pray unto Him?” There will be sinfulness. Many plunge into sin to rid themselves of care. There will be recklessness. The temptation is to say, “Things cannot be worse, and can never be better, therefore we may as well lie down and discontinue effort.” Some imagine they escape by terminating their lives.
II. THE CRY.
Better than yielding to such temptation is to cry to the Lord when poverty and sorrow appear. It is here supposed that God’s people do so. It is their privilege and duty to lay all their sorrows before Him and to leave them with Him, as children entirely dependent on their fathers (H. E. I. 176–178).
III. THE PROMISE.
Two things are promised.
1. Divine attentiveness. He is not unmindful, even though He may seem so. He listens for and listens to the cry of distress. “I, the Lord, will hear them.” He heard Hagar in the wilderness (Genesis 21:17). He heard Israel in Egypt (Exodus 3:7). He heard Hezekiah when he spread forth Sennacherib’s letter, and when he was sick. He is the hearer of prayer. Thousands of testimonies to this. Your own experience attests it. Can you not say with the Psalmist (Psalms 116:1-5)?
2. Divine helpfulness. “I, the God of Jacob, will not forsake them” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Sad indeed to be forsaken by a friend when trouble and poverty come. God does not forsake. His love is a guarantee. He is the God of Israel. He is our Father in Christ. He is interested in us. His faithfulness is a guarantee. He has bound Himself by the word of promise. Contrary to His nature to fail. His power is a guarantee. “Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?” Unbelief says it is impossible to overcome this difficulty. But He provided manna in the wilderness and brought water out of the smitten rock. Often by the most unlikely means and in the most unlikely places (Isaiah 41:18). “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
IV. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF THIS PRECIOUS PROMISE.
1. There may be some one here who is passing through a season of affliction. God’s children sometimes seem to suffer more than others. You need a message that may help to lift up your drooping spirit. Satan may be pressing his advantage through the depression your trouble has caused. Listen to the declaration of the text. Fall back on the simple representations of the Bible. Repair more confidently to the Lord for help.
2. There may be some one to whom this subject applies as to his spiritual impoverishment and necessity. You have recently discovered that you are spiritually poor. Like a merchant who has imagined that he was accumulating a princely fortune, but who makes the discovery that he is insolvent, you have found out that you are a ruined sinner. But you are not content to perish. Your tongue faileth for thirst. You desire salvation. Now, the Lord pities you in your low estate. He has opened a fountain in the wilderness. Jesus died. In His perfect righteousness, His atoning blood, and His quickening Spirit there is all you need. If you seek your restoration in Him, you cannot be disappointed. If your soul is impoverished, go to His fulness. He invites you. His compassionate love ever looks down on weary and footsore and thirsty travellers in the wilderness of this world, with infinite readiness to supply their wants (Isaiah 55:1-2; Revelation 22:17).—J. Rawlinson.
GOD’S PROMISE TO THE POOR AND NEEDY
Isaiah 41:17-18. When the poor and needy seek water, &c.
In Isaiah 41:8 the Lord is declaring the relation in which He stands to His people Israel, and then He proceeds to encourage His people in the prospect of trial and difficulty by an assurance of His presence to strengthen and support them (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 41:14-15). The Lord’s people are in themselves but feeble; but in the power of God they shall triumph over their most formidable enemies; as a consequence of their triumph, they shall “rejoice in the Lord and glory in the Holy One of Israel.” Then follows the encouraging language of the text. Consider—
I. WHO ARE MEANT BY THE “POOR AND NEEDY.” Not those who are poor and needy in a temporal sense, but in a spiritual,—those who feel themselves to be so in a spiritual sense.
1. The life of the Christian may be compared to a waste and barren wilderness leading from this world to that which is to come. In their journey, the Lord’s people often feel themselves to be “poor and needy,” without the cheering presence of their God, destitute of the usual manifestations of His love and the consolations of His Spirit. Water is an emblem frequently employed in Scripture to represent Divine influences, which refresh, gladden, and cleanse the soul, as water does the body. The children of God are sometimes reduced to straits; they seek water, and there is none, and “their tongue faileth for thirst.” They realise the feeling of David (Psalms 42:1-2).
2. The Lord’s believing people may be represented as “poor and needy” when they are anxiously desirous of larger measures of grace and knowledge, increasing holiness and spirituality of mind, more complete superiority to the world with the affections and lusts of the flesh, and a growing conformity to the precepts of the Gospel. Here is the difference between nominal and real Christianity, between the religion of form and outward appearance, and the religion of power and inward experience; between a dead and a living faith. It is impossible to stand still in religion.
II. THE CONSOLATORY PROMISE AFFORDED IN THE TEXT. The Lord assures His people that they shall not be disappointed in the objects of their desire: in their extremity of distress, and when they are almost without hope, He will hear their cry.
1. Prayer, that is, the earnest expression of the desires of the heart, shall never be offered up in vain. He can and will do for His own “far more abundantly than they can either ask or think.”
2. He is represented as the “God of Israel.” Israel was taken into covenant relationship with Him; and on condition of their obedience, He engaged to favour them with His constant presence, to preserve them in danger, to protect them from their enemies, and at length to put them in full and undisputed possession of the earthly Canaan. And so it is with the spiritual Israel of God. They stand in covenant relationship with Him as their “reconciled Father in Christ Jesus.”
III. WHAT ENCOURAGEMENT THERE IS HERE TO PRAYER! God is a God of faithfulness and truth; He will not turn a deaf ear to the supplications of His obedient people (Psalms 50:15; Matthew 7:7). The history of the saints in all ages will bear testimony to the truth of that Scripture, “He giveth power to the faint,” &c. (Isaiah 40:29; Isaiah 40:31). Prayer to God, therefore, is, under all circumtances, a great and solemn duty (Luke 18:1; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
1. To the unconcerned about the blesssings of salvation.
(1.) Men can be active enough in the prosecution of their worldly schemes of gain, honour, or advantage; they will take any trouble and submit to any sacrifice; but it is usually quite otherwise in the vastly important business of religion; here all is coldness, apathy, and indifference. But “I say unto you, labour not for the meat which perisheth,” &c. (Matthew 6:33; Mark 8:36; Luke 10:42; Acts 3:19).
(2.) Ignorance of spiritual troubles and necessities is by no means desirable. The pathway to Zion is not always cheered by the sunshine of hope and joy; cloud and tempest will sometimes rest upon it (Acts 14:22). If real religion has its peculiar joys, it is not without its peculiar sorrows.
2. To those who are fainting for want of Divine consolations. Remember, and take encouragement from the thought, that “all the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ Jesus” (Hebrews 10:23; Hebrews 13:5; Isaiah 49:15-16).—Charles Rawlings, B.A.: The Pulpit, vol. xlix. pp. 181–184.
The redemption of our souls is precious; it originated alike in our extreme misery and in God’s great mercy (Isaiah 59:16). But even the people of God are often reduced to dreadful straits. The ultimate perfection of their natures and the unbounded felicity of their future state are the objects of their firm and delightful hope; but the same Book which reveals what is laid up for them teaches them to expect various troubles and trials by the way (Acts 14:22). Yet under all their troubles they shall be well supported; all their wants well supplied. Isaiah received a commission to minister to the consolation of the saints (Isaiah 40:1). The text alone is sufficient to elevate the souls of true believers with good hope and everlasting consolation.
I. THE ACCOUNT HERE GIVEN OF THOSE TO WHOM THE PROMISE IS MADE.
1. Their exigencies are very great. They are poor and needy, and even in want of water. Many of the saints of God have been literally poor. Even when the Lord had brought the seed of Jacob where, generally speaking, “there was no lack of anything,” it was still His sovereign pleasure that, in the midst of abundance, some should be in want (Deuteronomy 15:11). During the captivity in Babylon the number of such persons must have greatly increased. Under the Christian dispensation, poverty has ever been the lot of many who are dear in God’s sight (James 2:5; 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; Luke 4:18; Luke 7:22; Mark 12:37, &c.) All the “rich in faith” are still, in one sense, poor, because completely dependent. Knowing and feeling this, they are “poor in spirit.” Unlike the self-righteous Laodiceans, who boasted of being “rich,” they are ever ready to acknowledge that they are in themselves “wretched and miserable and poor,” &c. (Revelation 3:17). To begin with, they found themselves in want of the most essential spiritual blessings; and afterwards, in proportion as they even partially forsook “the fountain of living waters,” their spiritual necessities became great.
2. Their consequent sufferings are very distressing. The evils of extreme poverty are great, though God supports His people under them, and gives the sanctified use of them. The people of God are not unfrequently subjected to the severest troubles of a temporal kind (Hebrews 11:37-38; Hebrews 12:6; Hebrews 12:11).
3. They earnestly desire and endeavour to obtain relief. They seek water; they cry to the Lord to give it. They who will not work when it is necessary cannot expect to eat when their wants are great. Spiritual supplies are, in every sense, the gift of God; but they are promised only to such as earnestly desire and diligently seek them from Him (chap. Isaiah 55:1-3). The case, indeed, appears pitiable, when bread and water are sought and there is none; but faith is only thus put to the test. God has pledged His faithfulness for your ultimate success.
II. THE PROMISE GIVEN FOR THEIR ENCOURAGEMENT. “I, the Lord,” &c. What is the import of this promise? It implies—
1. Great compassion and kindness on the part of the Promise-maker. How tender are His words! Truly in Him compassions flow (Exodus 34:6; Jeremiah 31:20; Hosea 11:8-9). Not only does He forbear to destroy His people, but He returns to pardon their sins and to load them with benefits (Isaiah 66:9; 1 John 4:10; Romans 8:32).
2. That the prayers of God’s people are heard and accepted. “I, the Lord, will hear” (cf. chap. Isaiah 66:2). One of His names is the Hearer of prayer (Psalms 65:2); all who seek shall find (Isaiah 45:19); as certainly as they pray shall they be heard (Isaiah 58:9); He Says yet more (Isaiah 65:24).
3. That all their wants shall be supplied. What else can be meant by the promise, “I the Lord will hear”? (Psalms 107:6; Psalms 37:19; John 14:13; Philippians 4:19). Can anything be too hard for the Lord? He is the God of Israel, who has pledged Himself, both by His covenanted love and faithfulness greatly to bless His people (1 John 3:1; Hebrews 10:23; 1 Samuel 15:29).
4. That the Lord will be immutably gracious to His people. “I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them” (1 Samuel 12:22; Hebrews 13:5; Isaiah 42:16).
1. Let not the people of God be discouraged and impatient, though their circumstances be low and their distresses great.
2. Let all their trust be in the Lord (Isaiah 26:4).
3. Let them distinguish themselves as a praying people (Psalms 62:8; John 6:68).
4. Let them walk worthy of His kindness (1 Corinthians 15:58).
5. Let sinners see their misery and their hope (Isaiah 29:8; Revelation 22:17).—Adam Thompson, D.D.: Outlines, pp. 214–220.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 41". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter