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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 42

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-4

(Missionary Sermon.)

Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:4. Behold My Servant, &c.

These words belong to one of the most impressive portions of the prophetic Scriptures, and unquestionably relate to the character and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. This might be argued with sufficient certainty from the internal evidence of the passage itself; but it is expressly affirmed, moreover, by an inspired expositor (Matthew 12:17-21). Our text is descriptive of the whole work and administration of the Messiah. It calls us to behold, with admiring attention—


1. Our blessed Saviour is the Father’s Servant. It is entirely in reference to His mediatorial work that our Lord is denominated the Father’s Servant (Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:11; Isaiah 49:6). In His divine nature, as the SON, He possesses, from eternity to eternity, an essential equality with the FATHER. But, for the purpose of recovering our fallen race to holiness and happiness, and of re-establishing that divine dominion over man which sin had subverted, He laid His glory by, and sustains the character of a servant to Him who sent Him (Philippians 2:6-7; Hebrews 10:7). Nor was it only in His mediatorial humiliation that He acknowledged the Father’s will and conducted Himself as a servant. He does so now in His mediatorial exaltation. That exaltation He enjoys as the recompense of His acts and services of filial submission and zeal (H. E. I. 919); and He administers His kingdom with a view to the glory of the Father, to whom He will ultimately resign it, that God may be all in all (Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:27-28; H. E. I. 985).

2. Our Redeemer is the Father’s Elect—called of God to the mediatorial office (Hebrews 5:4-6). In Him alone did God behold the attributes and perfections indispensable for the work of salvation.

(1.) None but a divine person could, as the great prophet of the Lord, manifest the Father’s name to a world which had not known Him (John 1:18; H. E. I. 847–848).

(2.) He was ordained to offer a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of the world, and to present effectual intercession for as many as should come unto God by Him. The merit and prevalency of these acts depended materially on the spotless purity and infinite dignity of the sacrifice which was to be offered, and of the Priest who was to intercede (Hebrews 7:26-28).

(3.) The government was to be on the shoulders of the Messiah. He was to undertake the administration of a spiritual kingdom which requires for the proper transaction of its vast and immensely complicated concerns a wisdom and energy such as no creature can exert. On all these accounts, when the servant was to be chosen to whom the business of salvation was to be intrusted, the elect must needs be the FELLOW OF JEHOVAH.

3. The Divine Person thus and for these purposes chosen by the Father appeared in the form of a servant, by assuming human nature into an ineffable union with the divine nature which belonged to Him from eternity. To qualify that human nature for the momentous duties which the office of Mediator involved, it was made the subject of an unexampled and peculiar anointing from the Holy One: “I have put my spirit upon Him” (cf. Isaiah 11:1-2; Isaiah 66:1-3; and Luke 4:17-21; John 3:24; Hebrews 1:8-9). From all these texts we learn that there were certain qualifications of our Lord’s human nature as essential, in their place and measure, to His success, as the higher attributes which belonged to the divine nature; and that these qualifications were not supplied to the humanity directly and immediately by the simple fact of its personal union with the divinity, but mediately by the unction of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:38). [1351]

[1351] The rational soul in our Lord’s nature was a distinct thing from the principle of Divinity to which it was so united; and being so distinct, like the souls of other men, it owed the right use of its faculties in its exercise of them on religious subjects, and its uncorrupted rectitude of will, to the influence of the Holy Spirit of God.—Horsley.

4. Thus chosen and qualified for the service of God, in the discharge of His functions He is upheld by His Divine Father.

(1.) This may refer partly to the personal succours afforded to our Lord in the course of His life and ministry on earth at seasons of peculiar emergency and trial (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43).

(2.) But it more especially refers to the divine supports afforded to our Redeemer in His mediatorial administration and government. Every dispensation of Providence toward individuals and nations is arranged in entire subserviency to the great purposes for which Christ lived, died, and rose again. So that while He is the Father’s Servant, all are His servants (Ephesians 1:20-22).

(3.) This expression also intimates the high sanction and supreme authority of Jesus Christ. From His teaching and administration, though He be a servant, there is no appeal to the Father who employs Him. God will for ever uphold, and in no one case, nor on any account whatsoever, will He counteract or alter the measures of His Son’s government (John 5:22-23). Let this teach us how seriously and carefully we ought to study the will of Christ.

5. He is also acceptable and approved; one in whom the Father’s soul delighteth.

(1.) This delight has respect, generally, to Christ Himself, as the Agent of redemption (John 5:20; Matthew 17:5).

(2.) It has a particular respect to the sacrifice of atonement made by the death of Christ for guilty man (John 10:17; Ephesians 5:2).

(3.) It has a reference to the Mediator in His present character and operations as the Head of the Church, and the Agent by whom the plans for its gradual enlargement and ultimate perfection are constantly superintended, and shall be brought in due season to a prosperous issue. The salvation of man by Jesus Christ is the concern which is nearest and dearest to His heart, and in the process and consummation of which He takes the highest pleasure.

From the view now taken of the official character of our Saviour we may derive instruction in reference to all Christian ministers and missionaries. He that will as such be God’s servant must, like the Mediator Himself, be able to allege God’s choice and call of him to that office (John 15:16). Upon all God’s chosen servants Christ is ready to put the same Spirit of power and holiness which the text describes the Father as having put upon Him. For such full baptism of that Spirit, let them apply in prayer and faith. Many other qualifications for their work are desirable, but this is indispensable. Having that, let them be thankful for the high honour God has conferred upon them in putting them into the ministerial office, mindful of its momentous responsibilities, careful to do God’s will faithfully, diligently, and heartily, and, like their great Pattern, be so intent on their Master’s work and glory, as never to allow any selfish interest or gratification to interfere for one moment with their ministerial duties. Such men will be upheld in their work by divine grace and providence; and God will smile with acceptance on their labours of love. Thus, in truth, He in one respect accomplishes the promise made in the text to the Mediator Himself.

To the Church of Christ our text speaks the language of instruction in righteousness. It reminds us of our duty to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth such labourers into His harvest.

“He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles”—a prediction of the illumination and conversion of heathen tribes. Great privileges were once granted to the Jews exclusively (Psalms 147:19-20); now privileges still greater are extended to benighted nations. By “judgment” we are here to understand—

1. A direct, well-attested, and solemnly obligatory revelation of the will of God as to the salvation and duty of man (Psalms 119:13; Psalms 19:9-11; Isaiah 51:4). Revealed truth and precepts are called “judgment,” because they contain not only light, but law; not only a rule, but a decision. They are the standard by which we ought to judge ourselves, and by which we shall infallibly be judged of the Lord. When once brought or published to us, they become ipso facto binding on us, and demand our instant acquiescence and obedience. This view of revelation, so admonitory to ourselves, also evinces the propriety of its being communicated to those nations that are unacquainted with it. They need it. Nothing else can root out their inveterate errors, and settle their otherwise interminable disputations.

2. That dispensation of power which accompanies the publication of the Gospel.

(1.) Christianity is not only a system of law, but of soul-subduing grace (Psalms 19:7). This energy “brings forth judgment unto truth”—obtains in the hearts of men a sentence in favour of the truth, induces them to become obedient to it, and thus gains for it a glorious victory.

(2.) The power of Christ which accompanies the Gospel extends also to the restraining of Satan, and to the special counteraction of his agency and influence (John 12:31; Luke 10:18-19).

How interesting and important is the work of Jesus Christ as the Illuminator and Deliverer of immortal men! What true philanthropist can be indifferent to it?

Isaiah 42:2-3 teach us that in the exercise of His functions our Saviour was to be—

1. Humble and unostentatious. It was in connection with an instance of our Lord’s aversion to pomp, noise, and parade, and His readiness to sacrifice His personal credit to the great interests of His public mission, that St. Matthew quotes our text (Matthew 12:15-21).

2. Peaceable and inoffensive. The kingdom which He administered was opposed “not to Cæsar’s, but to Satan’s empire;” and therefore He submitted in all civil affairs to the government of His country, discountenanced all schemes of ambition and violence, and abstained from everything clamorous and contentious. He was willing to suffer rather than to strive.

3. Gracious and benignant in all His dealings with His people, however weak and unworthy [1354]

[1354] Of such persons a reed, frail and insignificant in itself, and still more so when bruised by an external agency, and the wick of an almost extinguished lamp, which no longer flames, but only smokes in its socket, and cannot be rekindled but by a fresh application of external fire, are striking emblems. Such reeds the Messiah will not break, but strengthen and restore; such smoking wicks He will not quench, but rekindle and revive (H. E. I. 951; P. D. 474).

In all these particulars, our great Master is to be admired and imitated by all who work for Him. Let them study with the closest attention this Divine model. If they work the works of Christ, let them imbibe and exemplify the spirit of Christ (2 Timothy 2:24-25).


1. The work of Christ shall ultimately succeed.
(1.) “Judgment shall be set in the earth.”

(2.) This happy effect shall be produced, not only in a few nations, but universally, for even “the isles,” the most distant Gentile nations, “shall wait for Christ’s law” (cf. chap. Isaiah 2:2-3).

2. Before this work shall be finally accomplished, it will encounter formidable obstacles, but they cannot hinder its triumph. He who is at its head “shall not fail nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth.”
3. The certainty of success rests on such grounds as these:

(1.) The almighty power and inviolable faithfulness of God, who has called the Messiah to this work, and will therefore uphold Him in the discharge of His office (Isaiah 42:5-6).

(2.) God’s regard to His own honour (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 42:13-14).

APPLICATION.—The subject teaches us—

1. The great and beneficial results of our Saviour’s advent, and of the dispensation of the Gospel.
2. The duty of perseverance in our endeavours to spread the light and grace of the Gospel.
3. The necessity of a personal submission to Christ.—Jabez Bunting, D.D.: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 21–50.

We find it easier, in human affairs, to discover a fault than to suggest a remedy; we complain without an effort to redeem or to amend. It is not so with Scripture, which is the Word of God. There each word of rebuke is a means to an end. There is no exposure of evil to exhibit the censor’s superiority. There is no delight in the merciless anatomy of sin. There is no mockery of distress by the presentation of sorrow that is hopeless, or leprosy beyond cure. Equal to the need and surpassing it, present as soon as the need is felt and acknowledged—there is redemption To illustrate this thought you have only to look at the verses immediately before the text (Isaiah 41:28-29). As soon as you have realised this necessity, while the heart is yet paining under the sadness which the thought of it has created, the bright light is in the clouds, and in the midst the vision of the Redeemer: “Behold My Servant,” &c. This passage refers to Christ and His great work in the world (Matthew 12:18, &c.)

This is affirmed in this passage to be the bringing forth or establishment of God’s “judgment.” The word has many senses in Scripture, but there are three to which we may especially refer (cf. first, Psalms 147:19-20, and Isaiah 1:17; secondly, Luke 11:42 and Psalms 119:20; thirdly, in the quotation of the text in Matthew’s Gospel it would seem to have reference to the dispensation of grace). These meanings discover the world’s strongest necessity to-day—a bringing forth of “judgment”—

1. As a revelation of God’s Word and will. Who that looks abroad upon the world but must mourn over the bewilderment and confusion of its inhabitants in relation to the things of God? Where there is no revelation there is obscure and distorted vision, and the people perish. Who that looks into his own heart, and frets himself with the many problems of existence which the human mind hath no skill to solve, can forbear the longing for a higher wisdom, for a voice which can make itself heard, and which, when heard, can silence the battle of strange tongues, and in imperial tones proclaim to us the true? This yearning is answered when the judgments of God are revealed to men. In the life and teaching of our Lord we have this revelation.

2. As essential rightness. The original derangement, how thoroughly has it infused itself into every part of the universe, and into every faculty of man! There is no light, no hope. Through the long darkness the eyes strain upward for the glimpse of the day; “the isles wait for the law;” the universal conscience cries out for its coming, and for lack of it “the whole creation travaileth together until now.”

3. As a dispensation of power, because ignorance and impurity are helpless and “without strength,” until “in due time Christ dies for the ungodly.” Without the revelation of this power all other would be an aggravation of the torture. The effect of the Saviour’s mediatorial work is described as the “judgment of this world,” and the casting out of its prince from his usurped dominion. As the special anointing for the great work of deliverance, God says of Christ, “I have put My Spirit upon Him.” That Spirit is a spirit of power. Where He works there can be blindness and feebleness no longer. Here, then, are the wants of the world met by the bringing forth of judgment from the Lord. The world needs nothing “save Jesus only.” All its wants are met in the person of its Surety. Let Him work to the completion of His purpose, and Aceldama must bloom into Paradise. All social wrongs will vanish. All religious evils will be ended. Scepticism will not shake the faith, nor blasphemy curdle the blood. Fanaticism will no longer be grafted upon the reasonable service of the Gospel; men will rejoice in the white light of truth, and blush that they have been accustomed to obscure or distemper its rays; Charity will be no longer a fugitive, housed by stealth in hearts warmer than their fellows, but her rejoicing shall be in the habitable parts of the earth, and her spirit the inspiration of the kingdom “which cannot be moved,” for He shall reign whose right it is, and Christ shall be all in all.

The terms here applied to Jesus abundantly show the harmony of counsel in the Godhead touching the great work of man’s rescue from ruin.

1. Christ is called “the Servant” of the Father. In at least three other places in this prophecy is this term used (Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:11; Isaiah 49:6). It is evident from these passages that our Lord is called the Servant of the Father in reference only to His Mediatorial work. He is not essentially a servant. He “took upon Him the form of a servant,” and, with glad heart and willing feet, went forth to do a servant’s work. There was confided to Him a task which no other could accomplish.

2. He is called again the “Elect” or Chosen of God, in whom His soul delighteth; or, as Matthew renders it, almost in the very words in which the Father attested the Son from heaven, “My Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” If proof were wanting of His essential equality with the Father, and that He was “Emmanuel, God with us,” we might surely find it here. Though in the form of a servant, He had the heart and love of a son. He was chosen to this work because none other was trustworthy. He only could “perfect for ever, by one offering, them that are sanctified.” He was not only chosen to this work, but beloved on its account. Deep and everlasting as had been the love of the Father to the Son, it was intensified on account of this (John 10:17). And He was the subject of special anointing from the Spirit. To this the text refers. Again, Isaiah 11:1-2; Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 61:3, quoted by the Saviour in the synagogue of Nazareth. In unmeasured fulness the influences of the Spirit were upon Christ, to hallow and to counsel, to sustain and to make mighty, every act of His incarnate life. Even His sinless human nature needed the anointing of the Spirit to reunite it with all suitable qualifications. Thus we see the whole Deity at work for man. This should hush rebellion and scatter unbelief and indifference.

We are told that He works—

1. Unostentatiously. “He shall not cry,” &c. This is in keeping with all the characteristics of the Saviour. And so quietly has Christianity spread its influences upon men. It does not “strive nor cry,” but without strife or crying makes its way into the conscience of the world.

2. Tenderly. “A bruised reed,” &c. The perfection of gentleness. If man were in question, how would the bruised reed and smoking flax be treated? The Saviour is great in gentleness; His mightiest energy is to redeem and save. And so tenderly does He watch over the progress of the Gospel in the world.

3. Perseveringly and successfully. “He shall not fail,” &c. It is a plain and unmistakable prediction. This is a settled matter, which the risen Saviour “sits expecting” to realise, and which the faith of believers may anticipate on the warrant of His Word. He is not discouraged by sinister omens or unwonted opposition, by faithless traitors or by wearied friends. Against embattled earth and gathered forces of the pit He shall bring forth judgment unto victory, until He rests from His labour, until He gathers His children, until He wears His crown.—W. M. Punshon, LL. D.: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 18, &c.


1. He was God’s Servant. Supposes—

(1.) Subordination and inferiority. Should this appear mysterious, so it must remain.
(2.) Service or work to be done. Jehovah had work to be done in this part of His dominions. Could be effected by Christ alone.

(3.) Subjection (Matthew 21:39).

2. He was God’s Elect. To elect is to choose: Christ was chosen (Psalms 89:19; 1 Peter 2:4-6). This shows that the act of redemption originated in the Divine will; that it was free and not necessitated; that man’s salvation is infinitely dear to God.

3. He was God’s Elect, in whom His soul delighted. He was God’s “dear Son,” and His “beloved Son,” who was in the bosom of the Father; and “yet He spared not,” &c.

“I have put My Spirit upon Him.” God put His Spirit upon Christ—

1. As a public recognition of His Messiahship (Mark 1:9-11).

2. To fortify Him against the attacks of temptation (Luke 4:1-2).

3. To anoint Him for preaching the Gospel (Luke 4:18).

4. For the purpose of working miracles (Matthew 12:28; Acts 10:38).

III. THE WORK OF THE MESSIAH (Isaiah 42:1). The term “judgment” is differently interpreted. (See other Outlines.)

IV. THE TEMPER OF THE MESSIAH (Isaiah 42:2-4). “He did His work.—

1. Unostentatiously.
2. Tenderly and compassionately.
3. Courageously and fearlessly. An example for all who are now working for Him.


1. Seek to have the Messiah’s work accomplished in you.

2. Seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in order that you may be able to accomplish any work to which He has called you.—Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons, vol. iv. p. 284 (new ed.)

(Christmas or Missionary Sermon.)

Isaiah 42:1. Behold My Servant, &c.

This is a call to attention. It is the announcement of a Saviour. When the infant Jesus was brought to the Temple, Simeon recognised in Him the Lord’s Anointed, whom he was to see before his death. He concluded his song with words borrowed from the sixth verse of this chapter: “A light to lighten the Gentiles.” The whole passage is quoted Matthew 12:18-21.

“Behold the man,” said Pilate. “Behold My Servant,” says God.
The text is the Father’s authentication of His Son’s commission and appointment to His redeeming work.

1. As a servant. A servant is subordinate to his employer. There may be equality of nature while there is subordination in office. The son of a king is equal in nature to his father, while he takes a subordinate position as appointed by him to some office. The Son of God took upon Him “the form of a servant.” He was “made of a woman, made under the law.” He took the nature of man, that He might be in the position of servitude proper to man, render a full obedience to the law, and suffer on the cross the curse due to those who had failed to render the obedience to which they were bound.

2. As a chosen servant. “No man taketh this honour unto himself” (Hebrews 5:4-5). Among all beings in the universe, human or angelic, no other was found competent to the great redeeming work. He was therefore chosen and appointed from eternity. “Mine Elect.”

3. As a satisfactory servant. “In whom My soul delighteth.” At His baptism, and again at His transfiguration, the Voice from heaven was heard saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him.” By the resurrection from the dead He was “declared to be the Son of God with power.” The Father was well pleased with Him from all eternity. He was well pleased with the manner in which He performed His work on earth.

4. As a supported servant. “Whom I uphold.” Although for a season He veiled the splendours of His divine nature, His human nature was not left without divine support. During all His earthly career there was the most intimate fellowship between the Father and Himself. Some of His mightiest works were performed after special seasons of prayer. The consciousness of His Father’s supporting presence kept Him from breaking down beneath the load of suffering, care, and human sin that continually pressed upon Him.


“I have put my Spirit upon Him.” Read Isaiah 61:1-3, with Luke 4:17-21. The relation between the persons of the Godhead cannot be fully apprehended by us; nor can we fully apprehend the action of the Father upon the Son, nor of the Spirit in connection with the Father and the Son. It becomes us to keep close to the letter of Scripture. Still Scripture speaks clearly of some distinction between the Persons of the Godhead, and of a mutual action or going forth of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost in connection with the redemption work. Thus the Son of God, who became a servant, received His qualification and anointing as man for His work. God gave not the Spirit by measure unto Him. He possessed it during His earthly ministry; and then, after His glorification, shed it forth on His Church.

This anointing of the Saviour, corresponding to the ancient anointing of the prophets, priests, and kings of the former dispensation, answers to the threefold office of Christ, which relates to the threefold requirement of our nature.

1. We are ignorant and blinded by sin. Christ received the Spirit as the Teacher of the Church. All that heard Him were astonished.
2. We are guilty and condemned. An atonement was necessary, but was out of our power. He is the anointed Priest. In that capacity He has offered the sacrifice of Himself.
3. We are unholy and depraved. Yet we are under obligation to be holy. Christ is the anointed King. He sends His Spirit into our hearts, and we willingly submit to His authority. “Being by the right hand of God exalted, He hath shed forth this”—

(1.) On the Apostles, so that they were endowed for their work of preaching and teaching (John 14:26). Hence we have the record of His words, the inspired Epistles, the doctrine of Christ.

(2.) On such as are called to service and office in the Church. His ministers must be called and qualified by His Spirit. He gives sympathy with His work of saving men; willingness to consecrate life to it; love that seeks no personal interest, regards only the grand spiritual end and the immortal issues of labour for Christ.

(3.) On all who are interested in His grace (Romans 8:9; 1 John 2:19).

“He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” Observe—

1. What He will bring forth. “Judgment.” Synonymous, as in Psalms 119:0, with the divine law or revelation. Hence the method of the divine government, and eventually the manifestation of the Gospel.

2. To whom. “The Gentiles.” The old prophets frequently dwell on the incorporation of the Gentiles with the Church. The opposite of the spirit of exclusiveness that characterised the Jews. The Gospel is expansive. It contemplates the day when the knowledge of Christ shall be diffused over the wide world.

3. How. By the universal proclamation of Christ as the world’s Saviour.

Christ is the manifestation of God’s wisdom and love. Let us remember His love. Let us yield to His claim of expansive love and devoted service. Let us be co-workers with God in the endeavour to attract attention to Him who is chosen and appointed, as He is exclusively qualified to be the centre of faith and hope to human souls. Cry, Behold Him!—J. Rawlinson.

I. “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold.” These words must be understood of Christ in His mediatorial capacity. If He be not viewed as Jesus upheld by the Father, there is something unintelligible in the prediction; if our Redeemer be not God, in every sense equal to the Father, co-eternal, co-essential, the whole of revelation is flimsy and worthless. But it is often necessary to speak exclusively of His humanity; and Christ Jesus, as man, is the subject of the prophetic announcement. As perfect man, He was the Father’s servant (Philippians 2:7; John 4:34; John 7:16, &c.) Is it necessary to suppose that His nature was fallen nature in order that such a sacrifice might have its force? Not so; but believing as we do that His human nature was not fallen nature, we still believe that it was preserved from becoming so by the energies of the Holy Spirit, communicated without measure by the Father. It is to deny the nature of a creature to suppose it incapable of falling; we cannot ascribe to man properties that would make him cease to be man. God upheld Christ’s humanity by the power of the indwelling Spirit, so that the potentiality of sinning never passed over into actuality. He was so completely upheld, that not the least element of sinfulness could ever be traced to a single action of His. Still, by being allowed—if the expression be not too bold—to become, sometimes almost overpowered, He learned to have a fellow-feeling—sympathy in the true sense of that word—with the believer in his conflict, though He never had partnership with him in his transgression (Hebrews 5:7; H. E. I. 849, 866, 873).

II. “Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth.” Christ Jesus was the Elect of God, in that from all eternity Infinite Wisdom had chosen Him to execute the sovereign purposes of infinite mercy (Hebrews 5:4-5). It lay beyond human conception to imagine the Father reconciling the sinner to Himself in the complex person of our Surety. Had the thought been suggested, we should have expected to see the human temple burned up and turned into ashes by such a sublime and mysterious union.

Why should God delight in this elect Mediator? Because—

1. The mediation of Christ magnified every Divine attribute (2 Corinthians 3:18; Hebrews 1:3). Christ became the shining forth of God’s glory to man (John 14:9). He stood in the midst of an evil generation, but He made it manifest that He was a Being of another world; He was armed with power, before which every created thing bowed down. Note especially, the degree in which Christ Jesus glorified God by His vicarious sufferings and obedience. Contrast holiness, truth, power, and wisdom, as manifested (for they should have been manifested) in man, left an outcast through the first Adam, and man made perfect through the mediation of the Son, and you will not fail to perceive that Christ crucified is the Father glorified—that Christ suspended on the cross for man is God exalted, and avenged, and vindicated.

2. It met every human necessity. Man had been brought under condemnation, and Christ endured that condemnation. Man, even when freed from condemnation, has no righteousness of his own that can be acceptable in the sight of God; but Christ obeyed in all points of the law; and now, where God does not impute sin, He does impute the righteousness of His Son. Man, though pardoned through Christ’s death, though justified through Christ’s life, is yet unfit to enter into the association of the pure; but Christ has risen to intercede for him and procure the gift of the Holy Spirit for his sanctification; and thus, beyond his title, he acquires a meetness for his inheritance (1 Corinthians 1:30). “Behold,” then, “Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth!”

CONCLUSION.—Try yourselves by the simple criterion which this subject presents. Is your dependence placed on the might by which the Mediator was upheld? Do you delight in Christ for any of the reasons which made the Father well-pleased in Him, or are you wrapped up in that formality which is the pestilential blight of so much religion?—Henry Melvill, B.D.: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 67–74.

Religion, if it be important, is all-important. However little importance we may attach to it, God attaches a great deal. Mark its personal aspect. “Behold!”—a message to every member of the human family. We are not addressed in the mass, but in our individual characters. As in the judgment-day each shall find himself singled out from the crowd, so every man in Scripture has a distinct and personal message sent to him, as having the deepest personal interest in the promises and threatenings of the Word of God. We love to escape this personality, to mingle in the crowd, to escape reflection. But God mercifully will not permit this, for we should lose much by it. To young and old, rich and poor, He says, “Behold My Servant,” &c.
I. BEHOLD AND WONDER at the extent of love which pervades the scheme of our redemption. “Behold!”—it is a word of wonder, and indeed there is in Christ a world of wonders. Everything is wonderful in Him. The whole Christian religion is a concatenation of wonders, “a chaining together of mystery upon mystery.” He is wonderful in His person, in His name, in His offices, in the design and character of His work—bringing into life by His death, to glory by His shame. He is the great centre of attraction to heaven and earth; the Father loves Him, angels adore Him, all the redeemed repose their eternal confidence in Him.
“Behold” the display of love that reigns in our redemption—in the selection of such a Saviour, in the benefits that flow to us through Him. Consider the depth of degradation from which it raises, the height of glory to which it conducts. Study this love! In all times the world has been astonished at the extent of God’s love to His people—in their deliverance from their greatest enemies, in the establishment of their brightest hopes. Jethro was astonished at their deliverance from Egypt (Exodus 18:9-11); the neighbouring natives at their rescue from Babylon (Psalms 126:2). But the love of Christ is more surprising still. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jews said, “Behold, how He loved him!” But His love for us passes the knowledge of the holiest saint on earth, of the wisest angel in heaven. Mourn the apathy of the world—let us mourn our own—to the claims of Christ.

II. BEHOLD AND TRUST. If God intrusts Him with the weight of His glory, you may with all the weight of your salvation. He is God’s “Servant,” God’s “Elect,” the object of God’s delight. Why is this said but to show that whatever He did in the business of our salvation He did under the seal of Divine authority? He was God’s Chosen—chosen to be the Head of the Church, the great Peacemaker between earth and heaven. It is a great prop and encouragement to our sinking faith, a great satisfaction to the troubled conscience, that in all that Christ did for us, and in all that He works in us, He is the object of Divine complacency and delight. In all our approaches and applications to God, let this minister boldness to us, that we go to Him in the name of One whom He loves (P. D. 2314).
III. BEHOLD AND LOVE. If God delights in Christ, we should too. The estimate in which Christ is held by us is the most decisive test of oneness of sentiment between God and us. “If God were your Father, ye would love me.” Christ is God’s Elect, God’s Chosen; if He be not ours, there is a great contrariety between Him and us. Great is His love for us; let us return it. He sets a high value on the pardoned sinner’s love. “Unto you that believe, He is precious” (H. E. I. 1003, 1004, 3367, 3369, 3909; P. D. 2338, 2341).

IV. BEHOLD AND LIVE (Colossians 3:3-4).—Samuel Thodey.

(Trinity Sunday.)

Isaiah 42:1. Behold My Servant, &c.

“The Lord our God is one Lord.” But He has been pleased to reveal Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The mystery of the Holy Trinity is inexplicable by us, but it is certainly Scriptural. Three Persons, but one God! By our text we are reminded that the unity of the Persons in the Holy Trinity has been manifested in the salvation of man.

We must never forget that the mission of the Son had its origin in the Father’s pitying love for us [1357]

[1357] If we have any saving acquaintance with the Gospel, we are at all times disposed to offer to the Son of God the homage of gratitude and praise for the work of redemption. But there are times when we are in danger of falling into the mistake of regarding the Saviour as offering Himself as a sacrifice to propitiate an angry God. We are prone to contemplate the Father as a stern, uncompromising, and unpitying Judge, actuated by vindictive feelings, taking pleasure in exacting punishment and inflicting pain; or a personification (so to speak) of the attributes of almighty power, unerring wisdom, and unswerving justice. But there our view of the great Creator stops, and there our apprehension of Him who is the Moral Governor of the world becomes defective.… Contemplating the bleeding Victim, voluntarily bleeding to atone for the guilty, and to bring back rebels to reconciliation and peace, the justice, power, and love of the Father are well-nigh forgotten in the sight of the tenderness and self-abandonment displayed by the Son.… But this Scripture combines with others to teach us that if we would love Him “who first loved us,” we must pass on from Calvary to Him whose will is accomplished by the death and passion of His Son.—Kemble.

1. The Son was sent forth by the Father. He came to accomplish the Father’s purposes (1 John 4:9-10; John 3:16).

2. It was because our Lord undertook to fulfil the purpose of the Father’s heart that the Father loved Him: “Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth.” The Father loved the Son eternally as God in the heaven of His own glory; but it is of the Father’s love to the Son while living in a servant’s form that He speaks here. Our text teaches us not only that the Father appointed the Son to the work, and was willing that He should succeed, but was well pleased when He saw Him going forth on His high enterprise of mercy. Thus the whole scheme of redemption redounds to the glory of the Father.

3. How near that scheme lay to the Father’s heart was manifested also in the manner in which He upheld His Son while He was engaged in its accomplishment: “My Servant, whom I uphold.” It was by means of the grace of the Father that He was enabled to make the sacrifice needed for our salvation (Hebrews 2:9). He not only appointed His Son to the task, but ensured its fulfilment by supplying the strength required, and sustaining Him through the protracted conflict with the powers of darkness [1360]

[1360] Concerning this great mystery, see Dr. Bunting’s comments in the Outline THE FATHER’S ELECT SERVANT, and the note by Bishop Horaley appended thereto.

All this serves to confirm the inspired announcement, “God is love.” Oh, that we could more fully realise the Father’s love to our souls, and yield some larger measure of gratitude to Him who thus so wonderfully, even from everlasting, “first loved us” (H. E. I. 390, 2319–2321).
Though Lord of all, He became a “servant;” though worshipped by the seraphic hosts, He voluntarily became the despised and rejected of men. Though of spotless holiness, He took upon Him the world’s sin, became a “curse” for His people, and humbled Himself to the worst male factor’s most ignominious death, “even the death of the cross.”
“I have put My Spirit upon Him.”

1. It was by the Holy Spirit that the Son was qualified for the accomplishment of the work He had undertaken (John 1:16; John 3:34).

2. It is by the Holy Spirit that the work of Christ is now carried on in the hearts of men (John 16:7-8).—Charles Kemble, M. A.: Seventeen Sermons, pp. 325–349.


Isaiah 42:1. Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, &c.

We need have no doubt about this text applying to Christ, for it is so stated by the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 12:17-21). Our Lord in His human nature, “in the form of a servant,” needed to be “upheld,” even as we do, by the Divine power. It was this that carried Him through the work given Him to do (Psalms 16:8; Isaiah 50:7). “Though He were a Son”, yet learned He obedience “as a servant.” It is so with all God’s servants here on earth; they are sons of God, but they are called to prove their sonship by their service.

“Mine Elect.” He was chosen of God for this service, called of God, sent of God to do God’s work. It is so with all God’s servants. They do not choose God’s service, but are chosen and sent of God. Just as in common life a master selects his own servants.

“In whom My soul delighteth.” This was from all eternity, and throughout the whole period of His earthly service (Proverbs 8:30; Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5).

“I have put My Spirit upon Him.” This was to qualify Him, as man, for His undertaking, as He declared in the synagogue at Nazareth (Isaiah 61:1; Isaiah 11:2). So is it again with all God’s servants: His Spirit rests upon them, and only by His help can they serve.

“He shall bring forth judgment unto the Gentiles,”—declare God’s will to them, and set up His statutes and ordinances throughout the world.
In these things we see the reality of His manhood, and what was needed to qualify Him for His work as the servant of God.
In speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ as the servant of God, we must understand it of the office He undertook, and actually did accomplish, through the union of His manhood with the Godhead. Remembering this, let us consider the characteristics of a good servant, and see how they were exemplified in our Lord.

A servant is one who is under a master; who does as he is told; who is willing to do and not to do; who receives his master’s will as his rule, and does not evade, nor qualify, nor object, but does it all; who has his master’s honour and interest at heart, always working and labouring for him. Such was Christ. The object of His whole life was to show Himself the servant of God. This should be our object. Observe—

1. How absorbing this service was to Him. It swallowed up all besides. Nothing was ever allowed to interfere with it (John 4:6; John 4:34; John 6:38; John 9:4; Matthew 26:39; John 17:4).

2. How love animated Him in all His service (Psalms 40:6-10). Especially notice, “Mine ears hast Thou opened;” or margin, “digged.” The meaning of this we learn in Exodus 21:2-6. Christ served voluntarily and cheerfully, because He loved Him whose will He came into the world to accomplish (John 10:18).

3. How thorough was His service. He had but one object—to do the will of God. For this He lived, for this He died.

Are you following Christ as your example? Is your service of God absorbing, loving, thorough? What do you live for? To do God’s will? If not, there is no conformity to Christ.

To follow Christ’s example, a man must be born again of God’s Spirit. It is the renewed will which desires and strives to do God’s will. The desire may be but as a grain of mustard seed, but if cherished by prayer and practice, it will grow; though at first faint and feeble, it will become supreme (Matthew 25:29).

Every creature must be a servant, either of God or of self—of self in its lowest sense, the self of the “old man.” But in serving God we serve self in its noblest sense.
Do you really long to serve Christ as He served His Father? But you are thinking to yourself, “What a character mine is! Mine is no fit character to take service with such a Master; I am such a sinner.” Well, then, listen—

1. Christ takes His servants without a character. We know how important character is among men; how many fail of service for want of it; how hard it is to gain when once it is lost. If we never entered Christ’s service until we had become fit for it, we never should enter. But He takes us just as we are. He asks only, “Are you willing to be My servant?” Where He finds this will, He gives character. Christian character is formed in Christ’s service. Nowhere else can it be formed. Many try to form a character before they come to Him, but in vain. Come first.

2. He gives the best wages: pardon, peace, acceptance with God here, everlasting life hereafter. Look at the world’s wages and see the difference (Romans 6:23). There are good wages in the service as well as for it (Psalms 19:11; Isaiah 48:18; Proverbs 3:17).

3. His work is light. It is called a cross, a yoke, a burden, that no man may take it up without counting the cost; but, when once taken up, it is light (Matthew 11:29-30; 1 John 5:3). Besides, who ever felt work hard for one he loved? (Genesis 29:20; H. E. I. 3336–3341).

4. There is no dismissal. No; they who enter Christ’s service are taken for life—not for this life only (John 10:28). When their period of service is done here, He says, “Friend, come up higher,” and the believer goes to Christ for ever (Revelation 7:15).

Will you be Christ’s servant? Give yourself to Him heartily, wholly. Think of the difference between the servant of sin and the Lord’s freeman, now and hereafter. Come to Christ, and He will say of you what God says of Him, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold.”—J. W. Reeve, M.A.: Doctrine and Practice, pp. 182–205.


Isaiah 42:1-4. Behold My Servant, &c.

There is no difficulty in determining the subject of this passage,; one interpretation alone is equal to its demands. In inviting attention to its terms, let us consider it as affording—

I. A DIVINE ESTIMATE OF MAN. A crushed reed, a dimly burning wick. These are symbols of impaired, broken, perishing life; they convey the ideas of feebleness, helplessness, almost of worthlessness. There is in the crushed reed no power of self-recovery; the dimly burning wick is the merest mockery of a light. So is man as seen by the eye of God. We can estimate the reed and the lamp; what we see them to be, God sees man to be.

The estimate is not limited to the penitent and broken-hearted; the words signify apostate humanity. The scope of the passage implies the larger application. He is to bring forth judgment to the Gentiles; He has to set judgment on the earth, and the isles are to wait for His law; He is to encounter opposition—the reed and the wick will refuse His ministrations. But “He shall not cry,” &c. Note the undertone of suffering. Men sneer, laugh, jeer, shout, rave, and gnash their teeth; His heart of pity yearns, and He says, “Bruised reeds and smoking wicks!” None more maimed and nearer to death than the impenitent.

“A bruised reed shall He not break,” &c. He does not use mere naked power, but patience.

1. Think of how He might have treated man. The text does not say, cannot break, cannot extinguish. Nothing hindered but grace. Christ was that truth unto which judgment should be brought; He was, and He declared, God’s everlasting righteousness and love.

2. Think of Him, the Truth, taking hold of weak, helpless humanity to give it life, health, and soundness. He will not use force for man’s destruction; neither by force will He restore, but by truth. As force is discarded, suffering is incurred. He who will save by truth must suffer; there is no help. Christ must be made a curse for man that He may bring redemption to him. The idea of suffering pervades the text; the “Elect” One must be upheld; for the salvation of the bruised must He be sustained; there is upon Him a grinding pressure, and under Him He will need, and must have, the Eternal Hand. The Immortal King must be succoured while He stands bearing the tremendous burden of a world’s sin and sorrow. By no omnipotence will He put that burden away, yet He will put it away. He triumphs by the Cross. He is God, bent on saving man by love and truth. The Incarnation and Atonement are both here (John 18:33-37). He must suffer, and He must wait. “But He will not fail nor be discouraged.” He knows that patience will triumph. Truth has ever to wait for victory. The light cannot chase the darkness till its hour comes.

3. The text is, among other things, a brief but wonderful exposition of the providence and government of God upon earth. It reveals the principles of that government and is an interpreter of human history (Lamentations 3:22).


The Servant, the Son, has not been sent forth on a chance or fruitless errand; the King is a triumphant Sufferer (Isaiah 42:4, Isaiah 53:11, &c.; H. E. I. 979, 1168).—W. Hubbard: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv. pp. 291–293.

It is agreed on all hands that the text alludes to weak and afflicted believers, setting forth the care and gentleness of the Lord. It is not quite so clear as to the source of the metaphor. Adopt the theory that the reed referred to is the shepherd’s reed, his instrument of music. The reed is bruised. It was a mean instrument before, but now it is almost useless. The shepherd does not break it up and throw it away; it may recover its injuries, or, if it should not, it will emit some sort of sounds. The shepherd does not break his reed, for—
I. He remembers its former services. Often has its strains cheered him and others; old and precious memories are connected with it. Our Lord does not forget the services the weak and afflicted have rendered.

II. He remembers there is a paucity of such reeds. The shepherd would rather have the imperfect instrument than no reed at all. There is a scarcity of music in the moral world. The sweet notes of gratitude, and love, and hope are sung by few. The Lord loves the song of the upright, and when they lose the power of rejoicing He bears with them.

III. He knows the possibility of the reed being rectified. It is only bruised. The shepherd will use every means to restore it. The Lord knows the certainty of the recovery of His bruised ones. He teaches them to say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? for I shall yet praise Him.” He will not cast off those who say they are useless. Not cast off the aged. His design is by means of the bruising to make His children more joyful and useful in His house.

IV. He prizes it because He fashioned it.

1. The Lord chose the reed. He delights in the possession.

2. It cost Him very much. 3. He bruised the reed—by design.
CONCLUSION.—Recognise the fitness of the metaphor. Believe the declaration. “He will not break.” Believe much more. The bruised reed shall be restored. He will carefully keep, and constantly seek to make it more useful than it was before.—R. A. Griffin: Stems and Twigs, p. 241.


Isaiah 42:3. A bruised reed shall He not break.

Of all the plants mentioned in Scripture, perhaps the reed was the most obscure and inconspicuous, the weakest and most worthless [1363] It was peculiarly obnoxious to mischances; it grew where the wild beasts had their lairs, and it was so slim and fragile. Yet, abject and homely as it looked, a skilful hand could turn it to good account [1366]

[1363] The vine; the palm, the pomegranate yielded delicious fruit; the pine, the oak, the cedar were invaluable for their solid timber; and though the rose and the lily yielded no fruit, and could not be cut into timber, they owed a special endearment to their lovely tints and exquisite perfume. But this poor waif of the wilderness was bereft of every attraction. No one saw any beauty in its russet plume; no one could have tried to rub a morning meal from its chaffy husks, or to rear his cottage from its frail and hollow stems. And instead of growing in picturesque localities—instead of mooring its roots in the sides of Lebanon, or tossing healthfully in the breezes which sported and frolicked over the hills of Galilee—like a recluse or a reprobate, it sought the miry places, and grew in those oozy solitudes where fevers lurk and the foul air rises. So that for uselessness and ungainliness it became a perfect proverb; and of all errands it was the idlest to go out into the wilderness to see “a reed shaking in the wind.”—Hamilton.

[1366] The stronger sorts were converted into that measuring-rod or mete-yard of which we read so frequently, or they furnished the light but serviceable staff on which the traveller leaned, or with which Bartimæus, old and blind. would grope his way. And the more slender sorts supplied with their appropriate weapons the warrior and the scribe. Shaped into arrows, they filled the archer’s quiver or rang from the strings of Jonathan; and shaped into the writer’s pen, a little sheaf was always suspended in the scholar’s girdle; and if that scholar were a man of God, a Moses, a Daniel, or a John, the reed which erst shook in the wilderness would be consigning to immortal leaves the mind of Inspiration.—Hamilton.

Here we read of One whose heart is as kind as His hand is skilful. Though so mighty that nothing can obstruct the progress of His purposes (Isaiah 42:4), He is as remarkable for His benignity as He is for His prowess. It is by kindness that He conquers. It is by cherishing the smoking flax till it burst into flame that, with knowledge of Himself, He lightens every land, and by cementing and healing the bruised reed that He fashions those sharp arrows, those polished shafts by which He subdues the nations under Him.

The lesson which this passage teaches is, that the Saviour is infinite in kindness. Let three classes of persons lay it to heart.

I. Some of you have had dull feelings from thinking you were too inconsiderable for the Saviour’s notice; you are not a rose of Sharon nor a cedar of Lebanon, but only one reed in a marshy thicket. But it is a chief glory of the Saviour that no littleness can evade His eye, no multitude of objects divide His heart. He is like His Heavenly Father (Matthew 10:29-31). In that forest of reeds He can take account of every blade that grows as easily as He can reckon the angels in each legion or the stars of heaven. Moreover, remember that your own is the very nature which Immanuel wore and still wears. He is not ashamed to be called your Brother; He who best understands what immortality means is pervaded by a profound and tender solicitude for all the deathless interests of your soul (H. E. I. 4631). If no man cares for your soul, the Saviour cares (Isaiah 49:15; H. E. I. 947).

II. This omniscient Saviour is gracious and gentle, and does not break the bruised reed. However high we may hold our heads, we are all bruised reeds.

1. Sin has bruised us. Just as far as we have broken God’s com mandments, our integrity, our uprightness, our rightness with God is broken. It is well when the sinner becomes aware of his ruined condition, and recognises himself as a bruised reed; for this is just the mood in which He longs to find us (Psalms 51:17; Psalms 147:3).

2. Afflictions bruise us. Nay, Christ sends them that they may bruise us. There are evils in us that cannot be got rid of in any other way. It would seem as if even Omnipotence could not sanctify a fallen and sinful spirit without the employment of sorrow. But when we are like a reed snapped asunder and all but broken through, let us remember how tender and sympathetic the Saviour is in applying these painful processes. He does not break the bruised reed; He apportions the trial to the exigency; He supports the fatigued or fainting soul (H. E. I. 179).

III. The reed is bruised, but the Saviour will not fail nor be discouraged until He have made it an implement of use, of beauty, or of majesty (H. E. I. 951). Its very weakness will elicit His divine power and matchless skill.

1. The sinner is obscure, but the Saviour is omniscient
2. The sinner is a thing of grief and guilt, but the Saviour is gentleness and grace impersonate.
3. The sinner is in Himself worthless, but the Saviour is mighty, and out of the most worth less can make a vessel of mercy meet for the Master’s use [1369]James Hamilton, D.D.: Works, vol. vi. pp. 163–177.

[1369] In the days of His flesh the Saviour went out among the hills of Galilee and into the wilderness of Judah, and there He found reeds shaking in the wind. He found a few peasants, plain, ignorant, incompetent, carnal and coarse-minded, a crop as unattractive and unpromising as ever tried the patience of Infinite Love or the resources of Infinite Power. But still the Saviour set His heart upon them. He chose them out, and commenced His transforming process on them; and, notwithstanding their refractoriness, He did not fail nor get discouraged, till—Whence came those pens, so nimble and so apt, with which the Holy Spirit wrote the things which Jesus began to do and to teach until the day that He was taken up? That one so steady, broad, and clear in its Hebrew strokes? That other, so like “a feather from an angel’s wing,” so limpid, pure, and loving? And those arrows in the Gospel’s first crusade, so sharp in the hearts of the King’s enemies—those bolts of fire which subdued the people in Pentecostal hours—what are they, and whence came they? Ah! these were reeds of the wilderness once—reeds growing on the edge of Gennesareth, shaking, battered reeds; but passing by, Jesus set His love upon them. Dingy, He did not despise them; bruised, He did not break them; but by dint of His divine painstaking He sharpened some into the pen of a ready writer, and, barbed with truth and winged with zeal, He polished others into shafts of celestial power. He did not fail nor get discouraged till, with pen and arrow forged from a bruised reed, He conquered the world, judgment was set in the earth, and the isles waited for His law.—Hamilton.


Isaiah 42:3. A bruised reed shall He not break, &c.

In this prophecy Isaiah foretells the gentleness of Christ (H. E. I. 951–961; P. D. 47, 1630). St. Matthew quotes it when he is recording the long-suffering of our Lord with the Pharisees. His ministry was not a public disputation, with clamour and popular applause, with factions in the city, and a following of people; it was silent and penetrating, “as the light that goeth forth; “spreading everywhere with resistless power, and yet from a source often withdrawn from sight. So soft and light, the text seems to say, shall be His touch, that the reed which is nearly asunder shall not be broken down, and the flax which has only not left off to smoke shall not be put out. It was in His gentleness, His tender compassion, His long-suffering and patient endurance of sinners, that this and other like prophecies were fulfilled.

1. In all His dealing with His disciples. The first faint stirrings of faith and love He cherished and sheltered with tender care; in His teaching He led them on little by little (Luke 9:55; John 14:9; Mark 9:33-34; John 20:27; John 21:15-17).

2. And so in like manner to all the people (Matthew 11:28-30). He permitted so near an access to all men that it was turned to His reproach; He was “a friend of publicans and sinners;” “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them” (Luke 7:36-48; John 8:3-11).


1. It implies that where there is so much as a spark of life in the conscience, there is possibility of entire conversion to God. Where there is room to hope anything, there is room to hope all things. Such is the nature of sin and of the human soul; such, also, the virtue of the blood of Christ and such the power of the Holy Ghost, that the greatest of sinners may become we dare not say how great a saint (Isaiah 1:18; H. E.I. 1071). Illustrations often become our snares; e.g., we speak of the stains of sin, the soils of lust; but the spiritual nature, though really sustaining these, is capable, as the body is not, of a perfect healing. The very life of sin is the will. By conversion, from being corrupt and unclean, it becomes cleansed and pure. It is imperfect, as subjected to the flesh; but when disembodied, what shall hinder its being as pure as if it had never sinned? And if so, how can we limit its purification in this world? In a moment the human spirit may virtually and truly anticipate an habitual condition of the soul; in a true death-bed repentance there is contained a life of purity though it be never here developed into act.

2. The only sure way of fostering the beginnings of repentance is to receive them with gentleness and compassion. This is a truth which is in the mouth of more than rightly understand it. Some Christ received with a Divine love and pity, and some with a piercing severity; but these last were those only of whom, it seems, there was hope no longer; the reed was already broken and the flax quenched (Matthew 23:13-15; Matthew 21:31-32; Luke 7:30). But sometimes the pure severity of compassion is confounded with personal harshness of temper. Truth told without love is perilous in the measure in which it is true; but encouragement of sinners before they are penitents is even more dangerous. With ineffable compassion Christ spake words of fear and warning (Luke 13:3; Matthew 18:3; Luke 13:24; Matthew 20:16; Matthew 10:22; Luke 9:62, &c.) One great hindrance to true conversion is an imperfect knowledge of His Divine character; sinners fear to come within the range of those eyes that are “as a flame of fire.” It was in this peculiar wretchedness of sin that the gentleness of Christ gave to sinners both solace and hope; it was a strange courage—boldness without trembling, awe without alarm—which came upon them in His presence; it was an affinity of the Spirit working in penitents with His Spirit that made them draw to Him; their fears were quelled, and this opened a new future to them. Knowing the nature of man, its strange depths and windings, He knew that this was the surest way of winning them to Himself”. And have we not made trial of this same gracious and tender compassion? How long some of us have neglected or rejected Him! How is His forbearance and compassion tried in the slow formation of our religious character! Our trials are all so wisely measured to our strength that the bruised reed is never broken.

CONCLUSION.—How great a consolation there is in this Divine tenderness of Christ! Be your beginning never so late, yet if it be true, all shall one day be well. It is a word of cheer to us all. Alas! for us if He were soon wearied out as we are, soon provoked, ready to upbraid, sharp in the strokes of His hand; where should we have been long ago?—Henry Edward Manning: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 377–400.

Strictly interpreted, this is a description of the manner in which the Saviour will effect the triumphs of His kingdom. Unlike other conquerors, He will not proceed by destroying the weak. As His progress is to be unostentatious (Isaiah 42:2), so it is to be merciful. But this is to be because He is merciful; and so this verse may be regarded as an intimation of His personal character, and may be used to comfort sincere but desponding Christians. Consider—


A bruised reed. A reed is a slender, tender, and exceedingly fragile plant, and is therefore a very-suitable emblem of weakness. If you lean upon it it will break; the slightest collision may bruise it. A reed in its best estate is of little value; a bruised reed is altogether worthless.

Smoking flax, or, as it might be rendered, “a smoking wick,” referring to the wick of a lamp, whose flame is not bright, because it has only just been kindled, or of which the flame has died away, and in which nothing but a spark of fire remains.

These emblems set forth—

1. What we all are. We are all reeds, feeble, fragile, bruised; in us all the flame of piety burns faint and dim. Alas! in how many it is dying utterly!

2. What many feel themselves to be. This consciousness of weakness and worthlessness is very humbling and painful. Yet it is a step towards safety and true blessedness (Matthew 5:3; Isaiah 66:2).

“A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.” More is intended than is here expressed. The reed must break if He will not strengthen it; the smoking flax must be quenched if He keep not the flame alive. In each of these declarations there is an expression of the tenderness of Jesus to the feeblest of His followers.

A bruised reed shall He not break, that is—

1. He will not leave those who are impressed with a sense of their guilt to sink into despair.
2. He will not leave those who have been overthrown by some fierce blast of temptation and almost broken off from Him to perish.

The smoking flax shall He not quench, that is—He will not despise the day of small things in relation to our piety. He will fan the feeble spark of our devotion into a flame.


1. Let none but sincere believers dare to draw comfort from this text. There is a broad line of demarcation to be drawn between the man who willingly remains weak and immature in Christian excellences, and the weak Christian who is sincerely endeavouring to grow in grace, but makes slow progress therein, and thereby is tempted to despair.

2. There may be perfect sincerity where there is great weakness. It is about our sincerity that we should be most concerned, and there are certain infallible tests by which it may be ascertained. The feeblest saint is the sworn and steadfast enemy of sin; he longs to be like God; he diligently uses the means of grace; he clings to the Saviour, acknowledges Him before the world, and endeavours to live to His glory.

3. Where there is great weakness, Christ will manifest great tenderness (Isaiah 40:11). Let us not dishonour Him by distrust of His mercy.

4. Let us learn to imitate the tenderness of our Redeemer (Romans 14:1; Romans 15:1-7). A censorious Christian is utterly unlike Christ. Unnecessary wounds innumerable have been inflicted, unspeakable mischief done, by the severe and rash judgments of narrow-minded Christians. Let us remember what we once were, to whom we are indebted for our attainments, and our Lord’s warning respecting humble Christians (Matthew 18:10).—William Reeve.

The virtues of mortals, when carried to a high degree, very often run into those vices which have a kind of affinity to them. “Right too rigid hardens into wrong.” Strict justice steels itself into excessive severity, and the man is lost in the judge. Goodness and mercy sometimes degenerate into softness and irrational compassion inconsistent with government. But in Jesus Christ these seemingly opposite virtues centre and harmonise in the highest perfection. Hence He is at once characterised as a Lamb and as the Lion of the tribe of Judah: a lamb for gentleness towards humble penitents, and a lion to tear His enemies in pieces. He is said to “judge and make war,” and yet He is called “The Prince of Peace.”
The general meaning of the text seems to be, that the Lord Jesus has the tenderest and most compassionate regard to the feeblest penitent, however oppressed and desponding, and that He will approve and cherish the least spark of true love toward Himself. Regard—

I. The character of a weak believer as represented by “a bruised reed.” The idea conveyed is that of a state of weakness and oppression. Under some burden or other many an honest-hearted believer groans out the most part of His life. He finds himself weak in knowledge, in love, in faith, in hope, in joy, in everything in which he should be strong. These weaknesses or defects the believer feels painfully and tenderly, and bitterly laments them; and in this is the grand distinction between him and the rest of the world. He is sensible that his weakness has guilt in it, and therefore he laments it with ingenuous sorrow. He is a bruised reed (H. E. I. 1276–1285, 1995–2003, 2513–2516, 2633, 3366, 4475).

II. The character of a weak believer as represented by “smoking flax.” The idea conveyed is that of grace true and sincere, but languishing and just expiring, like a candle just blown out, which still smokes and retains a feeble spark of fire. It signifies a susceptibility of a further grace, or a readiness to catch that sacred fire, as a candle just put out is easily rekindled. It means religion in a low degree. The weak Christian has very few, and but superficial, exercises of mind about divine things; but he feels an uneasiness, an emptiness, an anxiety within, under which he pines, and all the world cannot heal the disease. His soul “pants for God;” the evaporations of the smoking flax naturally ascend toward heaven. He cannot be reconciled to his sins,—not through fear of punishment, but from a sense of the intrinsic baseness of sin.

He is jealous of the sincerity of his religion, and afraid that all his past experiences were delusive. Hell would be a sevenfold hell to a lover of God. Sometimes he seems driven by the tempest of temptation from off the rock of Jesus Christ; but he makes towards it on the stormy billows.
In short, the weakest Christian sensibly feels that his comfort rises and falls as he lives nearer to or farther from his God.

III. The care and compassion of Jesus Christ for such poor weaklings. Who is there that does not believe it? But it is no easy thing to establish a trembling soul in the full belief of this truth. The understanding may be convinced, but the heart may need to be more deeply affected with this truth.

Dwell, then, upon the emphatic testimony of Holy Scripture that Christ has a peculiar tenderness for the poor, the mourners, the broken-hearted (Isaiah 56:1-3; Isaiah 66:1-2; Isaiah 57:15). He charges Peter to feed His “lambs” as well as His sheep, i.e., to take the tenderest care of the weakest in His flock; and He severely rebukes the shepherds of Israel (Ezekiel 34:1-4). See the contrast in the character of the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls! (Isaiah 40:10-11; Psalms 102:16-20). His people in every age have ever found these promises made good. David (Psalms 34:4). But why multiply instances? Go to His cross! There you may read the same evidence of His compassion as Thomas had of His resurrection.

CONCLUSION.—Why should the bruised reed shrink from Him when He comes not to tread it down, but raise it up? Do not indulge causeless doubts and fears concerning your sincerity. Examine them, and search whether there be any sufficient reason for them; and if you discover there is not, then reject them and set them at defiance (Psalms 43:5).—President Davies: Great Sermons of Great Preachers, pp. 433–445.

I. In seasons of sorrow and dejection the words of our text are all-powerful to supply consolation.
II. They are not less instructive as a directory of our conduct towards the young and inexperienced. That great tenderness and forbearance combined with wisdom and discretion are necessary in the moral and intellectual training of youth, the recollection of our own early years may well enforce. Great diversity of means and method will be found necessary to adapt our measures to the various capacities, dispositions, and tempers of the young (H. E. I. 817–821).

III. These words are to be remembered in the exercise of discipline within the Church. While wilful inconsistency is not to be tolerated in its members (1 Corinthians 5:11-13), those who are unwillingly betrayed into sin, and are sorrowfully struggling against it, are to be treated compassionately and helpfully (Galatians 6:1-2).—Samuel Warren, LL.D.: Sermons on Practical Subjects, pp. 358–360.

(Missionary Sermon.)

Isaiah 42:4. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, &c.

The coming of Christ was the great object of expectation to the Church for 4000 years. The leading design of all prophecy was to keep alive that expectation. The text introduces Christ to us (Matthew 12:18-21).

I. THE GRAND AND COMPREHENSIVE OBJECT WHICH CHRIST CONTEMPLATES. “Till He have set salvation in the earth.” This was—

1. A very needful object. Man, guilty and depraved, needed both a Saviour and a Sanctifier.

2. A very benevolent object, and accords with the large and extensive grace of the Son of God.

3. A very difficult object—one to which none but Christ was equal. The claims of the law must be met, the honours of the Divine administration upheld and repaired, the enmity of the human heart subdued, all the powers of evil overcome. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested; from these difficulties He did not shrink. He descended to Bethlehem, to the wilderness of the Temptation; exposed Himself to the contradiction of sinners through life; agonised in Gethsemane, bled on Calvary, ascended from Olivet. In its prosecution He never faltered while He was on earth; and in heaven He devotes to it His Divine power. It is indeed a work that requires the constant agency and superintendence of Him who commenced it.

II. THE SPIRIT AND CONSTANCY WITH WHICH HE CARRIES IT ON. The prophecy is true still that He shall not fail nor be discouraged till all the results of His mediation are complete in the final spread of the Gospel. To a human eye there are in the moral state and condition of society, after Christianity has been in the world so many hundred years, many grounds for discouragement, such as—

(1.) The benighted condition of the heathen world. Calculate the numbers upon whom the light of truth has never shone.
(2.) The present state of Christendom at large—those nations which possess the Gospel, and have partially acknowledged its claims, but through the blinding influences of corrupt forms of Christianity are almost hopelessly involved in mental delusion and error.
(3.) The controversies that prevail at home, and the slow progress of vital Christianity in the most-favoured circles, in our congregations, in religious families. In all these fields we perceive what we might easily suppose are omens of failure.

But by none of them are we to be discouraged. By them all Christ is not moved. Let me assign some reasons why He is not apprehensive as to the results of His sacrifices and endeavours, and why we should not hesitate in our efforts to extend the Gospel.

1. The long reign of evil and the long contest between truth and error have been distinctly foretold, and are parts therefore of His own system of moral government, and are all comprehended in His calculations. Foretold from the beginning. First promise asserts it. All the prophecies suppose it. Our Lord’s parables declare it. The Book of Revelation announces it: the woman is to be a long time in the wilderness, &c. Religion in our world is a strange plant in an ungenial soil. The boar out of the wood will try to waste it; the wild beast to devour the vine. The poison is slowly extirpated. The Son of Man goes on conquering and to conquer. It is a part of the Divine designs that evil should display itself; that truth and error should meet in open conflict; that no unsettled controversy should remain.

2. The victory obtained upon the Cross, when the empire of darkness was essentially broken, contains the germ and the pledge of final and complete triumph (John 12:31-32). The power that conquered then can conquer always. We know not the nature and extent of the conquest, how much was involved in it, and what great results were comprehended in it; but other and superior natures do. Angels rejoice in it (Psalms 68:17-18). Devils tremble at it. They always knew that in Christ was their conqueror (Mark 1:24, &c.) No attempt was made by the infernal powers during the forty days after the resurrection; a sufficient proof that they felt their overthrow.

3. There is in the works of God a character of progressive developmnt, of which we find strong traces in religion itself. The progress in the dispensations: Antediluvian, Patriarchal, Mosaic, Prophetic, Christian. Our questionings respecting the slow progress of Christianity seem to imply that while human works admit preparation, the works of God must be done instantly. But this expectation is contradicted by the whole course of Nature. For though God may at once do all His pleasure, yet for wise reasons He employs means, and allows such a gradual operation of those means as admits of a progress in which one thing prepares the way for another, giving notice of its approach. God in the revelation of religion seems always to have proportioned His discoveries not only to the actual wants of mankind, but to their capacity of receiving truth and their means of communicating it to others. The same means must be used for diffusing Christianity as for spreading any other system of truth; but in addition to these it has the twofold support of Divine providence and Divine influence. Having these, though the progress is slow, we must not fail in our efforts, nor be discouraged. In that which sometimes saddens us there is nothing surprising.

4. God has given to the Church an instrument of proved efficiency and power—truth, Divine truth! Falsehood has no unity, no stability. In Scriptural truth there is a real adaptation to man (H. E. I. 1151, 2421–2427). When fairly propounded before him, it is felt to be “a faithful saying.” “The power of God unto salvation.” The weapons of this holy war, what victories have been already achieved by them! (2 Corinthians 10:4). Jesus retains in His own hands the influences that make the truth effectual (John 14:16; Matthew 3:11).

5. The inherent vitality of religion encourages the hope of its final prevalence. Religion is in the world—that is something. Religion, though long opposed, hated, despised, is not extinguished! Had Divine truth been capable of being crushed by power, it would have been crushed long since—by the giants before the Flood, by the Pharaohs of Egypt, by the monarchs of Babylon, by ancient Rome under the Cæsars (H. E. I. 643, 1165).

6. The agencies of Providence are constantly going on to prepare the world for the truth, and to send the truth to the world (H. E. I. 979, 4029, 4030).


1. Hope much for the world from Christianity.
2. Cordially co-operate with all who love the Gospel.
3. Act as though all depended on your individual exertion.
4. Be sure you are on the right side yourselves.—Samuel Thodey.

Assuming, what the context abundantly confirms, that this is spoken of our Lord and Saviour, we have here a prophetic picture of the constancy which characterised our Redeemer in pursuing His work on earth. It has been common enough for the Christian pulpit to discuss “the final perseverance of the saints;” it may not be amiss, for once, to consider the “final perseverance of their Saviour.”


1. The fact implies His true humanity. If He were not “very man” as well as very God,” we could hardly speak of His persevering.

2. It also bids us behold Him pursuing His glorious enterprise. It was a unique as well as a noble spectacle. It was verily “a new thing in the earth.” The world had had its warriors, statesmen, judges, kings, patriarchs, poets, and prophets; but in His purpose this “Servant” of God differed from them all.

To realise this we must remember that He was “the man Christ Jesus.”

1. He was almost alone in His great work. Often He felt that only “the Father was with Him,” so out of joint was He with all around Him (John 16:32).

2. He was very poor; and a man is heavily weighted in doing a great work if he is very poor.

3. His views were unpopular. In His principles and practices He ran counter to all parties in the Church and State, and especially was He out of accord with the religious thought and people of His day. He carried on His great work not only without any such aid, but in the teeth of a strong and united opposition.

4. His own family derided Him (John 7:5). No light thing or trifling hindrance.

5. He had recreant followers. Some evinced pride, some anger, some ambition, some fear; one was covetous, most were ignorant and carnal, one denied Him shockingly, another betrayed Him foully, while “all forsook Him and fled.” What a trial and difficulty this was to the Master to have such weak human elements in His chosen companions we can never fully know.

6. He was terribly tempted; and this, I take it, was by far the worst of all. Really tempted “in all points as we are;” terribly tempted, for “He suffered” through it. After this brief review who will dare to say Christ’s difficulties were small or that He had nothing to discourage Him?

The prophecy became fact. He did not “fail” nor was He “discouraged till He had set judgment in the earth.” His success is seen in the fact that—

1. He taught the truth He came to teach (John 18:37).

2. He did the work He was sent to accomplish. He could cry at last, “It is finished.”

3. He suffered all it was necessary He should endure, even to death itself. He was taunted and tempted to “save Himself and come down from the cross,” but He would not; He persevered to the “bitter end.”

4. He showed His victory over sin and death by rising from the grave and ascending into heaven.

5. We see His success through His Apostles and His Church since. Let the Pentecosts and the world-wide spread of the Gospel at the first, and the reformations and revivals of more modern times, be the proof. The remotest “islands” have not only “waited” for, but have actually and joyfully received, “His law.” His success is still thus accruing, and it shall yet go on till “the whole earth shall be filled with His glory,” and He has seen “of the travail of His soul” and is “satisfied.”

What was it? Let us “spoil the Egyptians” by finding the answer in the taunt of His foes. He trusted in God! Jesus Christ was the Greatest Believer as well as the only Saviour (John 14:10). His strong, and abiding, and incomparable faith in God is the secret of His constancy. This led Him to pray to God and work for God as none ever prayed or toiled before or since. And all for the glory of God. “I have put my Spirit upon Him,” is the prophetic explanation in the context, and that of the New Testament is like unto it (John 3:34-35).

It is twofold—

1. There is example and encouragement here for those who are Christ’s followers. Example as to how they should persevere; encouragement to hold on their way (Philippians 1:6).

2. Here is also something to induce those “without” to come and live. “He will not fail,” whatever you need, “nor be discouraged,” though you have done so much to make Him so. “He saveth to the uttermost.” He “receiveth sinners” still.—John Collins: The Study and the Pulpit, New Series, pp. 119–122.

A revelation of Christ’s tenderness and constancy in His mediatorial work. Perseverance is a high virtue.
I. The work in which the Saviour is engaged. It is described as “setting judgment in the earth.” Denotes the benevolence and rectitude of His undertaking. It is no selfish work—no attempt to overreach and destroy His enemies. But He saw that the laws of God had been set aside in this earth, &c., and He came to correct these flagrant evils, and restore the world to purity and peace.

II. The discouragements that rise up before Him. The assurance that He will not fail nor be discouraged implies that He will meet with much to discourage Him, and His work will be inconceivably difficult and painful. This was verified all through His personal residence on earth. In what state did He find the world?

1. Sin.
2. Selfishness—a cold individualism.

III. The victory that will eventually crown His cause. The assurance of this fact rests not on a single passage or promise of Scripture. There shall be the triumph—

1. Of the moral over the physical.
2. Of the real over the ideal.
3. Of the social over the selfish.
4. Of the true over the false.
1. Great will be the results of these mighty changes.
2. Let us take encouragement from the Saviour’s example.—J. T. Peck, D.D.: Sermons by Fifty American Preachers, pp. 193.

I. THE OBSTACLES WHICH OUR LORD MEETS IN HIS WORK OF KINDNESS TO MAN. The assurance that the Servant of the Lord will “not fail nor be discouraged” implies that His work will be difficult and painful, and that He will meet with much to discourage Him. We might consider these obstacles as they were presented in the world He came to redeem. His own people were involved in such pride and earthliness, that although His advent had been amongst them the subject of prophecy during many hundreds of years, they scorned His instructions and resisted His claims (John 1:11). The Gentile nations, ignorant, desperately corrupt, hopeless (1 Corinthians 1:21; Romans 1:21-32; Ephesians 2:12). What a world to visit, what a race to address, what a work to accomplish! But the world had, and still has, to be redeemed by the redemption of individuals. Let us, therefore, call to mind the obstacles which any single human being presents to Christ when He comes forth in the power of His grace to seek and to save.

1. What is the bent of his inclinations? Whither run his affections? What is the tendency of his will? Of what character are his moral instincts? He is an earthly creature. He may be more or less intellectual in his pursuits, but he is still earthly and sensual. He desires earthly things as the means of his enjoyment. He lives to himself, not to his Maker. Unholy selfishness is the principle which puts into motion his activity in all its forms. Yet he has the most exalted conceptions of his personal merits and security. What obstacles are here to Christianity, to the salvation offered by Christ! what strongholds must be demolished, what fierce animosities must be subdued, ere the dominion of Christ can be established in any human soul!

2. Consider the indisposedness of man to receive instruction. How vast is the influence of all this pride and worldliness upon the mind. Its distinctions of good and evil are confounded, the understanding is blinded, the affections are enslaved. Man has no disposition honestly to seek the truth or to retrace his steps to the paths of godliness (Proverbs 14:12; John 3:20). The approach of spiritual light is painful to him. Religious instruction alarms rather than delights his mind. The corrupt heart resists the admission of God’s claims (Psalms 58:3-5). We love the sounds that lull, and the counsels which gratify our passions (H. E. I. 2669–2679).

3. Observe the use which we make of instruction when actually received. With what unequal steps do we advance along the paths of heavenly science! Into how many by-roads do we turn! What inconsistency and irresolution are visible in our daily conduct! How prone to let go the truth and to take up error! What dulness to discern, and what indolence to pursue, the whole will and counsel of God!

Let these facts be considered, and the obstacles in the way of Christ will appear insuperably great.

With what constancy He pursues His gracious object amid all the difficulties by which it is encompassed! He counted the cost ere He engaged in the work of redemption; He fully understood the human heart, and had anticipated all the baseness of its ingratitude; and therefore nothing could turn Him away from the fulfilment of the errand of mercy on which He came (Hebrews 12:2-3). He remains the same, unchanged in His counsels of peace, unwearied in His efforts to enlighten and to save. And not in vain. His religion has overthrown the polytheism of ancient nations. Into how many a cold, reluctant, rebellious heart has His Gospel at length forced its way, and shed a late though lasting peace over the tumults of conscience and the perturbations of passion! What a history of forbearance and compassion on the part of Christ would the secret but detailed memoirs of individual believers compose!

III. THE ULTIMATE TRIUMPHS OF HIS GRACE. “He will not fail nor be discouraged.” Viewed separately, many events may appear contradictory to His purpose; but, under the silent and strong control of an unseen Agency, the complicated system of this world’s occurrences in really “working together for good” (H. E. I. 4024, 4030).

1. Numerous as are the strongholds of idolatry and superstition, truth shall yet brighten every land, and religion have dominion over a willing and converted world (Revelation 11:15; H. E. I. 979, 1166–1168, 2541, 4829, 4831).

2. It is in reference to the completion of Christ’s work of love upon the individual heart that the subject assumes to us the deepest interest. If towards His redeemed servant, notwithstanding all his inconstancy, our Lord has hitherto been compassionate and indulged, it is with the intention to cleanse him from all iniquity. It is a consideration full of comfort for an honest mind which trembles under a sense of weakness and unworthiness, that redemption is a settled and deliberate plan of mercy to bless the wretched and save the lost; that Christ is the Mediator of an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure; and that God has connected the manifestation of His own glory with the deliverance of His people from the captivity of sin. To what conclusion do these considerations bring me? To love my Benefactor more warmly, and to throw myself afresh into the combat with evil (1 John 4:4; Romans 8:37; Jude 1:24; H. E. I. 1070).—Hon. Gerard T. Noel, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 142–158.

Introduction.—Briefly give the spirit of Isaiah 42:1-3, dwelling especially on the greatness of the work to be done, as contrasted with the apparent feebleness of the means to be employed.

I. The hopeful spirit of this Servant of Jehovah. Draw attention to the discouragements arising from the character of the work, and to the hindrances alike in the world, the Church, and the individual. The tendency of workers to lose heart, to grow “weary in well-doing.” The effect of this losing heart on the quality of the work and its efficiency.

Two things essential to hopeful working—

1. Faith in truth.
2. Faith in the possibility of accomplishing the work (H. E. I. 1928–1931; P. D. 1162, 1176).

See both these in the Servant of Jehovah.

1. His trust in God; in God’s word, “it shall not return void;” His calm outlook and untroubled mind, giving dignity and power to every word He spake.
2. His unbounded faith in the power of the Gospel to subdue and save men; in the ultimate triumph of the truth.

II. This spirit of hopefulness is essential to all successful working for Christ. Give illustrations of the power of faith to quicken and inspire, and also to generate faith in others. Luther’s words have been said to be “half battles.” Men felt that he believed in the truth he proclaimed, and had no doubts as to the ultimate issue. Trace this hopeful spirit in the life and work of the Apostles, and of some of the most successful workers for Christ. Contrast the jubilant love of scientific workers in our time with the Elijah-like depression among Christians. They are on the scent of the truth; their past successes embolden them to hope for greater things. Sometimes they may be over-confident, yet their spirit inspires others. So let Christians be hopeful. Give illustrations of the well-grounded character of hope here. As the Jew could look back upon his eventful history, bright with tokens of Divine favour and power, so we can look back to the triumphs of the past, e.g., success of mission work in nineteenth century; some recent triumphs of Christianity showing that the power is the same.

Close by urging the importance of faith in Christ, in His promises, and in the power of the Gospel to save men and nations (H. E. I. 1161–1168).—J. Fordyce, M.A.: The Preacher’s Monthly, vol. i. p. 20.


Isaiah 42:4. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, &c.

In these days we often hear it said that Christianity is a failure; and on this theme many pens have been employed and many addresses have been made. As if foreseeing this state of mind, two thousand five hundred years ago the prophet took up his harp and sung these sweet notes, saying, “He shall not fail nor be discouraged.” These words apply to the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 12:18).

I. The purpose of Christ is the conquest of this world; and, in carrying out this great work, He is not to fail or be discouraged until He has set judgment in the earth—that is, until the system of truth which He teaches is everywhere understood; until the principles of all government shall be brought into harmony with His Word, and men everywhere shall understand and practise the great lessons of truth and holiness.

II. Men are very ready to say that this purpose must be a failure; for—

1. The project is so vast, that it seems to man impossible. There have been great kingdoms set up on this earth of ours, but there was never a kingdom which reached to its utmost bounds. But this purpose is to found a kingdom embracing all lands, taking in its vast sweep of authority all nations of all languages and of all customs. And not only for a time, but enduring through all ages. Such a project seems to man impossible.

2. Men think Christianity must be a failure because the agencies seem to them inadequate. If the earth is to be conquered, they look for the sword, for vast armies, for the employment of agencies vast-reaching and of vast compass. But Christ sent forth His disciples to conquer this world, saying simply, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.”

3. Men say Christianity is a failure because it has not accomplished its work. More than fifty generations have risen and gone down, and as yet not half the population of this earth has been reached. And how can it be that this earth is to be conquered since in eighteen centuries so little, comparatively, of this work has been done?

4. They tell us that Christianity is likely to be a failure because, they say, there is a conflict between science and religion. They tell us that the advance of science has shown errors in the accounts of the Bible; that the Bible has become effete; that the system of Christianity has served its day; that we must look for something grander, and nobler, and stronger to call and hold the attention of the human mind.

III. It is one of the favoured expressions of these men who fancy Christianity is a failure, that in the order of this world there shall be the “survival of the fittest”—that the weaker shall pass away, and the stronger and the mightier shall remain. Now, if we contrast Christianity with other forms of religion, where shall we find its failure? We may say to-day, simply as a fact, that it still remains, and, surpassing any other system in its strength and beauty, we shall see its survival over all.
Compare it with paganism. Not that low, degrading paganism we find among the Indians of our continent or the tribes of Africa, but paganism in its palmiest hours—in the days of the philosophy of Greece and of the power of Rome, when its temples shone with splendour, when its poets sang with grace, when sculpture and architecture gathered around it their forms of beauty. Scepticism then doubted and denied; but all the scepticism of Greece or Rome never closed one temple, never dethroned one of their imaginary deities. In the midst of scepticism popular faith went right on, and the temples had their devotees and worshippers. Judaism taught the knowledge of the one true God, yet it made no advances against idolatry. But what sceptical philosophy and Judaism could not do, Christianity has accomplished. Men without earthly power, men persecuted, men in prison, men reproached, went telling the story of a living and dying and ascended Christ, and as they told this story, the temples became deserted and the idols fell, until to-day there is not a god worshipped on earth that was worshipped in the time of the philosophy and glory of Greece and Rome.

Compare it with Brahmanism—a system that has much in it that is beautiful, with many of its precepts sublime, and many of its declarations grand. We have India brought up under this system, and what is it? I have not time to dwell on its suffering, darkness, and degradation. Two hundred millions of the people of India, with their Brahmanism, are controlled by less than thirty millions of Englishmen, who used to be on an island just at one extremity of the earth. Why? How? Because the system fails to develop men. Because Christianity does develop manhood, and gives its strength to power.

Compare Christianity with the teachings of Confucius, as we find them embodied in the Chinese. Voltaire, Volney, and others spoke of the wonderful influence of this form of heathenism, and made some of us think, in our earlier hours, there was something grand in the system. But what are the results of the teachings of Confucius? What kind of men do they produce? What is the result of the teaching? China, with her four thousand years or more on her head, is bowing to young America, and sending her sons here to be educated. Japan, by her side, is asking for our teachers and our schools. Japan is the object of a resurrection; for to-day in Japan the Bible is becoming the text-book in some of the schools, and the young people are beginning to see the light and the glory that emanate from Christianity.

On the principle of the survival of the fittest, is Christianity a failure? Paganism has gone, Brahmanism is going, and Confucianism is going down. Christianity is just raising herself. Oh, I see her! There is beauty on her brow; there is lustre in her eye; there is glory on her cheek. I see her stepping on the mountains, passing over the plains; I see her with wide-open hand distributing blessings on the sons of men. She is yet young. The dew of youth is yet upon her, and she comes as an angel, having the everlasting Gospel to preach unto men.
But there is infidelity! Yes; and what is infidelity? It is a negation; it has no system. Where are its temples, its schools, its hospitals? What did it ever try to do for man anywhere, or at any time, as an organised system? There was one nation, and only one, that ever tried this system of infidelity. France decreed, “There is no God, and death is an eternal sleep,” and the result was that the streets of Paris ran with blood. Society was upheaved from its very foundations, and men were glad to go back even to poor temples, for the sake of finding some relief from the error and terror into which infidelity had thrown them. Infidelity has had its era. Voltaire said he lived in the “twilight of Christianity;” and so he did. But it was not, as he fancied, a twilight deepening into darkness, it was a twilight opening up into the brighter day; and the Sun of Righteousness shines now in spiritual beauty over our entire world. England, a century ago or more, was under the dominion of infidelity. The result was a degradation of morals and of general society. But as a reaction there came forth those works of Butler and Godwin, and a host of others who defended the principles of Christianity. And we have to-day a purer and clearer and stronger Christianity because of those attacks of infidelity. But who survived? Where are the infidels of that day? Where are their writings? They have scarcely left a mark. But Christian Churches are all over England and America.

The times are full of promise. I look over the earth, and nearly everything is hopeful. Christianity is growing stronger. It is visiting heathen nations and raising man to his full height of stature before the throne of God. Where are our discoverers? Where are our inventors? Where sit power, wealth, and learning? In Christian lands. All these are gathering around Christianity, and they make us hopeful for the future. We have our mission stations; we have our Bible translated. Our missionaries know the way to the very ends of the earth, and there have been more converts this year than in any other year since the Gospel was preached in Galilee. No danger of Christianity falling. No! Dispel all fear. There is no danger of Christianity. It is standing securely. The glory of God is on it. In the last days there shall be scoffers walking in their own ungodly lusts. If there were no scoffers at Christianity, I might doubt its truth. I know there are such scoffers, and I hear them around; but they are few and far between. A lecturer might come and occupy a hall, but the churches are full. There are crowds of the nations gathering around the Cross, and the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ is atracting more and more (H. E. I. 979, 1166–1168).—Bishop Simpson: Christian Age, vol. xix. pp. 115–117.

Some say Christianity is a failure—others that it will never convert the world. Take the text as replying to both. Two standpoints to view the text—
I. That occupied by the prophet himself. Seven hundred years before Christ. So his predictions, as well as all that was written concerning Him, had to cover that space. From Isaiah’s standpoint, He shall not fail—

1. To appear as the promised and predicted Messiah. From the Fall He had been promised. He did not fail as to time, place, or manner.
2. In the great offices and work He would fulfil. Teacher, Prophet, Priest, and Lord.
3. Notwithstanding the opposition and sorrows of His life.
4. To survive and set up His kingdom. Hence His resurrection. Preached in Jerusalem. Reigns in the midst of His enemies. Triumphs of His grace.

II. First Church did not fail. Success everywhere. Now let us take our stand in our own age, and see some reasons for reiterating the declaration of the prophet.

He shall not fail,

1. To overcome all the opposition of His enemies. None more bitter than the past, or more formidable. Recent victories.
2. To attain the universal dominion. The grounds of this are manifold.

(1.) The divine covenant (Isaiah 53:10-11, with Philippians 2:6).

(2.) The divinely repeated prophecies and declarations (Psalms 2:6; Psalms 77:17; Habakkuk 2:14).

(3.) The efficacy and sufficiency of the Gospel.
(4.) The impossibility of Christ’s failure. As the Divine, &c. The failure of Christ would be the triumph of ignorance, &c.
CONCLUSION.—The world has been full of failures. Christ never fails to be all that sinners need. Labour on and in hope. How futile all opposition. Emmanuel’s victories will be sung for ever.—J. Burns, D.D., LL.D.: Sketches and Outlines, p. 228.


Isaiah 42:4. He shall not fail nor be discouraged, &c.

Besides meeting its fulfilment in the ministry of Christ on earth, the text is fulfilled in Christianity, regarded as the Spirit of Christ moving in the world. Moving noiselessly, almost unperceived, Christianity was to accomplish the establishment of a universal kingdom.

I. The progress of Christianity shall continue until the principles of Christ’s Kingdom pervade the entire globe. In human affairs there are oftentimes failures and discouragements. In nature, in all the works of God, and in all the history of man, there are periods of progress and periods of retrogression. Men change their plans and try new instrumentalities; but “He shall not fail nor be discouraged,” or, as the margin reads, “broken;” that is, His plans shall not be broken or changed; and He shall not be discouraged, but shall wait until the great work shall be accomplished (Hebrews 10:12-13). His perseverance is indomitable.

II. But there is a modern tendency to speak of the failure of Christianity. Men speak of the failure of Christianity, “It is not answering its great design; some other system must take its place; Christianity will become one of the world’s past institutions,” &c. The cry comes to-day from the literary circle; from men of scientific pretensions. The youth of the land are taught to expect something better and higher than Christianity.

III. In what direction do indications around us point? It is thought that Christianity attempts too much. “It suits us and our civilisation; Mohammedanism suits a certain part of the earth better; Buddhism suits India,” &c. But is not the tendency of civilisation everywhere to bring man up to one great standard?

(1.) It is so in the material world.
(2.) All the discoveries of science are leading us to see a wonderful unity—a unity in all varieties—a unity in the heaven above us.
(3.) The whole human family is yet to be one brotherhood. If this be so, one religious tie is needed to bind all hearts together to the Father above.
(4.) Difference in the religious sentiment will give rise to varieties of taste, varieties in our modes of worship, &c.; but there will be one great revelation of faith.
2. It is thought that the agency is wholly inadequate to accomplish the work proposed. Men still imagine that the preaching of the Cross is foolishness. “How can it change national customs and institutions?” But the same men talk about the power of thought, about the control of the human mind. Christianity is emphatically a religion of thought. It proposes to conquer, not by the sword, but by entering into the mind of man, transforming his whole being, and changing, by this means, the order of society. Remember

(1.)—The power of thought. It has changed the face of nature; revolutionised empires. Primarily, there is no power in the universe but thought. God thought: “He spake, and it was done,” &c. It is Christian thought that is to conquer the world. Christ is represented as having a two-edged sword proceeding out of His mouth.

(2.) Every man that receives Christianity seeks to communicate it. It is like the spread of fire (H. E. I. 1162). When we think what Christianity promises, and the unseen spiritual influences that act in harmony with it to give it efficiency, we find the means adequate.

IV. The sure future of Christianity.

1. Christianity has already made a great change; and the future conquests of the earth, so far as we can see, will come under the control of the Christian nations (H. E. I. 1161).
2. Christianity has this peculiarity, that it takes up childhood in its arms. Infidelity and Paganism neglect childhood. “Give me the rising generation, and you give me the world.”
3. Out of the work Christianity is doing there comes a feeling of peace. The principle of arbitration is spreading among the Christian nations of the earth. Such is the blessing of Christianity to men. It shall not fail; for our great Leader is at the right hand of the throne; the power of the Father is His.—Bishop Simpson: Clerical World, vol. i. pp. 290–292.

Verses 1-11


Isaiah 42:1-11. Behold My servant, &c.

It is difficult for us who have history, with all its definiteness, to realise the inestimable value of prophecy, notwithstanding its vagueness, to God’s ancient people. But try to put yourself in their place. It was very difficult for them to be God’s people, because it is difficult always to be loyal to an unpopular and apparently hopeless cause. How small was the true Israel! a little speck of light surrounded by a vast continent of darkness. The thought that that darkness would ever be dispelled seemed a vain dream. Besides, there was the terribly depressing influence of the apparent failure of all previous efforts to dispel it. The Law appeared to have been given in vain, kings and prophets raised up to no purpose. In spite of all that the most faithful of them had accomplished, the vast mass even of the chosen people were given over to iniquity, and over all the other nations there brooded gross darkness, the very shadow of death. Idolatry with all its abominations prevailed the whole world over. How, then, could any man reasonably hope that the earth should ever be “full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”? It was contrary to reason to cherish this hope; but yet God’s little band of faithful people did cherish it. In this they were mightily helped by prophecy. The confident assurances of the prophets enabled them to look beyond the things that were seen and temporal, to those that were unseen but eternal. So they walked by faith, not by sight, and rejoiced in hope of the glory of God.

Chief among the predictions that were thus helpful to them was that of a Messiah—an Anointed One—who should triumphantly accomplish all the purposes of God in regard to this earth. In this particular prophecy He was held up before them as the “Servant” of God. This was a phrase with which they were familiar. By other discourses of Isaiah, they had been taught to regard themselves—their nation—as called to be the servant of God—the instrumentality by which the knowledge of God was to be diffused throughout the earth and men everywhere won to His service (Isaiah 41:8-9). This was in accordance with the terms of the covenant into which God had originally entered with them (Exodus 19:6). A glorious calling, but how poorly had they responded to it! But now they were taught to look for One who should be all that they ought to have been, and accomplish all that they ought to have accomplished.

This prediction they would study with minutest care, and as they did so they would think much and often of such points as these:—
This much would be clear to them—

1. That His character would be more than blameless; that all conceivable moral and spiritual excellences would meet in it. “In whom My soul delighteth

2. That He would be unostentatious, thus differing wonderfully from all earthly conquerors (Isaiah 42:2).

3. That He would be gentle (Isaiah 42:3).

4. Yet that this gentleness would not arise from weakness. He Himself would never be broken nor extinguished; over all opposition He would triumph.

We, who have history to guide us, know how wonderfully all these predictions have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

1. He was to be the maker of a new covenant with God’s ancient people (Isaiah 42:6), that “new covenant” of which other prophets wrote and spoke (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

2. He was to be “a light of the Gentiles.” He was to dispel the darkness that brooded over them by bringing “judgment,” i.e., true religion, to them. The effects of the accomplishment of His mission are set forth in beautiful figures in Isaiah 42:7. How blessed and glorious the task assigned to this Servant of the Lord!

His conquests were not to be accomplished as earthly conquests had been.

1. His progress was not to be violent or clamorous (Isaiah 42:2). He was to conquer by simply doing what was right and speaking what was true (Matthew 13:14-21; John 18:36-37). The kingdom of God cannot be extended by legal enactments or force of arms.

2. His triumphs were to be advanced by strengthening what was bruised and fainting. Here history comes to the help of the students of prophecy; it is by His gentle treatment of His feeble followers that our Lord has made them strong, and so made His Church a power in the earth (H. E. I. 951; P.D. 474).

3. His triumphs were to be secured by unwearied perseverance (Isaiah 42:4).


1. He would not undertake it in His own strength (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:6).

2. He who had called Him to it was no other than the Almighty (Isaiah 42:5).

3. The mission which He had undertaken was one that this Almighty Creator could not fail to sympathise with (Isaiah 42:8).


This promise was made by Him who had fulfilled His former promises: in this He would not fail.
These were the hopes and expectations which sustained God’s ancient people, and we may derive comfort from them to-day. Christ’s triumphs are incomplete. Much remains to be accomplished; so much, that we sometimes doubt whether it can be accomplished. But these doubts are condemned—

1. by history;
2. by God’s Word. The kingdoms of this world shall yet become the kingdoms of God and of His Christ—M. N.

The Servant of the Lord.” Who is intended by that phrase? Some have answered, Cyrus, because there is an undeniable reference to him in the beginning of the 41st chapter, where he is spoken of as “the righteous man from the east.” But the allusion cannot be to Cyrus here, for he was far from answering to the description given in Isaiah 42:2-3 : his sternness and severity are inconsistent with tenderness. Others allege that the prophet means himself. But how was “he a light to lighten the Gentiles”? And may we not presume that the phrase here designates the same person as in the other places in which it is employed, in many of which it is clearly impossible to hold that it describes Isaiah? Others think that it means Israel; but this servant was to be given “for a covenant of the people,” and, therefore, he must be distinct from the people. In a sense, indeed, the true spiritual Israel are one with Jesus, and they may be regarded as identified. This is the view of Alexander. But even in this view the passage must be taken first of Him, and is true of them only through their union to Him. So we adopt the view that this passage is purely Messianic,—a view which is adopted even by some eminent Jewish interpreters, and which has the sanction of Matthew 12:17-21. When, therefore, the question is put, “Of whom speaketh the prophet this—of himself, or of some other man?” we answer without any hesitation, of Jesus who is called Christ.


This is comprised in Isaiah 42:1-4. He is the beloved and the chosen of God, and to this prediction corresponds the declaration at the baptism of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He is endued with the Spirit of God, and to this answers the descent of the Holy Ghost on Jesus as He came up from Jordan (Acts 10:38). It is added, “He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles,” which means that He should set up or establish His religion among the Gentiles, and for that the way was prepared in His death and resurrection, and by His great commission to His followers. But the most interesting part of this description is that which follows, and which brings out the humility and tenderness of Jesus (Isaiah 42:2). There was nothing of the love of ostentation about Him. Unlike the Pharisees of His time. When they did anything they supposed to be meritorious, they sounded a trumpet before them. He left His works to speak for themselves. Nay, even sometimes, when He saw that they were not moved by a proper spirit, He forbade those who had been benefited by His miracles from blazing abroad a report concerning them. He said, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” And the whole system of getting up attractions of a factitious character to herald the preaching of the Gospel is out of harmony with His spirit and example. If crowds came after Him, that was an effect of something they had seen in Him, or received from Him. They were not collected by any flourish of trumpets which He caused to be sounded before Him. Few things in these days would do more good in the Churches than the study and imitation of this feature of the Redeemer’s character.

Akin to this humility is the tenderness here described. How beautiful the words, “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench!” In the shepherd’s pipe, if a reed be bruised it gives forth a false note, and the player forthwith takes it out, breaks it, and throws it away. In the lamp, if the wick has gone out it emits an evil odour, and the attendant utterly extinguishes it. But not so with Jesus. That which others would reject as useless, He will endeavour to save (P. D. 475). He will receive even the outcasts, whom the world itself would throw away, and make of them trophies of His grace. We see this illustrated in the Gospel: in His treatment of the most degraded class of sinners (Luke 7:36-50; John 8:1-11; John 4:7-28). In His reception of those who came inquiringly to Him (John 3:1-17; Mark 10:17-22; Mark 12:28-34). In His dealings with the weak in faith (Mark 5:25-34); and in His reception of the backsliding, of which the case of Peter is a conspicuous illustration.

Isaiah 42:4 is a prediction of the universal diffusion of the Gospel which yet awaits its complete fulfilment. Meanwhile, as Christ does not fail and is not discouraged by the delay, why should we?


This commission is issued by the Lord God (Isaiah 42:5). Behold the monotheism which so distinguished the literature of Judaism from that of other systems! This Jehovah has called Messiah “in righteousness,” or for a righteous purpose, or in such a way as shall at once manifest and promote righteousness. And the ultimate design is to fulfil His covenant with His people and bless the Gentiles. In doing that He will, by His Spirit, enlighten men in the knowledge of things concerning which they were formerly in the dark, and give them a nobler liberty than they had ever enjoyed, namely, freedom from the slavery of sin. And the result of all this would be an advancement of happiness, so that the people should sing a new song unto the Lord, and His praise should fill the earth. Could anything better describe the effect of the preaching of the Gospel by the Apostles at the first, or the results which follow, even in our days, the labours of faithful missionaries among the heathen?


1. If Christ needed the Spirit of the Lord upon Him, how much more do we? Let us supplicate God to put His Spirit upon us, that we may do His work in His way, and with the greatest possible success.

2. If Christ does not manifest ostentation, why should we? He who seeks to make himself or any particular feature of his own character prominent, thereby proves that he has not the Spirit of Christ. The wish to make a sensation is one thing; the desire to serve our generation by the will of God is quite another.

3. If Christ, who is all purity, could be gentle with the erring, why should not we? He did not sin, and, therefore, made no demand upon the charity of others; but we are always needing that others shall be tender with us; and, therefore, we ought to be all the more gentle with others.

“Forget not thou hast often sinned,
And sinful yet must be;
Deal gently with the erring one,
As thy God hath dealt with thee.”

W. M. Taylor, D.D.

Verses 5-8


Isaiah 42:5-6. Thus saith God the Lord, &c.

Isaiah 42:5 is a description of God; Isaiah 42:6, a declaration of His purposes. The sentiment is that the God of nature is the God also of redemption.

Assuming the truth of the identity of the Author of nature with the God of revelation, consider certain lessons which follow as corollaries from it:—

I. That religious investigation should be characterised by the spirit of docile inquiry. Want of humility vitiates the methods by which men form their religious opinions. In science, it is settled that docility of inquiry is the one spirit which can lead to scientific discovery; in religion many feel at liberty to create their opinions. Especially is the faith which men think they derive from revelation often formed arrogantly. We bring to it a burden of habits of mind, of purposes of life, of usages in society, of the demands of science, the necessities of philosophy, and of authorities in theology. Pursuing our researches thus, we do not discover our facts; we make them (H. E. I. 558, 559). What is the reception which the civilised world now gives to the old astronomy of the Ptolemies, which mapped out the heavens like a Chinese atlas? The truth which we infer as indisputable from the fact of the oneness of the God of nature with the God of revelation is that the disclosures of God in the one should be received in the same spirit as the disclosures of God in the other.

II. That in revealed theology will be found a definite and positive system of truth. Side by side with Christian dogmatism there grows up a Christianised scepticism within the range of Scriptural thought. On the one hand, it is claimed that a revelation shall teach this; and on the other, that this revelation, properly speaking, can teach nothing. We begin with inquiry, we end with inquiry. It is refreshing to turn to the confidence with which, in the natural sciences, men express their convictions. How courageous is the etymology of the very word “science!” It is power, because it is knowledge. It even believes that it knows things which are not demonstrable. But our God is one God. We must look for a theology which is a system, not of inquiries, but of answers. We must presume, especially, that in the Book of God we shall come upon certain verities which shall be patent to unperverted inquiry. We do not so much find them as they find us. They come home to the heart of a child as readily as to that of a sage, just as the facts of nature do. Moreover, we must presume that these Scriptures contain a theology that can be positively preached. It must be free from self-contradictions, as other sciences are, so that an athletic faith can use it. It must be such as can show its strength in its methods of working; such as can penetrate and agitate and instrumentally regenerate souls.

III. That the facts of these two departments of God’s working will never contradict each other. The trial which Christianity has undergone from its imagined conflict with the discoveries of science has now a history. The history of science confirms the faith which we should cherish, that there is a oneness of God in revelation and in nature. Science itself has established it as an axiom that there are no insulated departments of inquiry. When men think they discover in nature something antagonistic to revelation, we may safely reply, as did the three men at the mouth of the furnace, “We are not careful to answer thee,” &c. (Daniel 3:16-17).

IV. That we should expect to find the revealed government of God to be a system characterised by sacredness and uniformity of law. In the natural world we find no such thing as caprice. Disease, even, has laws which are as beautiful in their operation as the laws of health. Law in nature,—Decree in religion. The two revolve around each other like twin stars; both are developments of one truth—that God acts by plan, and not by caprice (Matthew 10:29-30).

V. That from the unity of God in nature and in revelation we have reason to expect the occurrence of mysteries in a revealed theology. Science, in the world of matter, is thwarted in all its investigations, sooner or later, by insoluble mysteries; and just so, and no otherwise, is it with certain problems in religion. Nor is it any more marvellous that revealed theology does not solve such problems in the one realm of thought, than that natural science does not in the other. Is the connection of the race with Adam one of the hard sayings of a revealed theology? But is it more easy of solution that the vices of a father become a poison in the veins of his children and children’s children?

VI. That from the oneness of God in nature and revelation we may infer a confirmation of our faith in the certainty of this world’s conversion to Christianity. The creation of this world and its redemption are, in a truthful sense, parallel acts of omnipotence. It is as certain that the one will occur as that the other has occurred. The necessity of law in nature,—the certainty of law in redemption. The heart is in the hand of the Lord as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will. Who has not observed the profusion with which the natural world is made emblematic, in the prophetic Scriptures, of the final triumphs of the Gospel? (chap. Isaiah 55:10-11; Isaiah 60:21; Psalms 72:16; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 66:12; Isaiah 11:9; Psalms 72:7; Psalms 72:17; Isaiah 60:6-7; Isaiah 11:6-8). The mountains, &c., become not only the emblems, but the pledges of the mighty works which He will do for man’s recovery.—Austin Phelps, D.D.: Exegete and Homiletic Monthly, vol. i. pp. 281–292.


Isaiah 42:5-8. Thus saith God the Lord, &c.

Some of the most wonderful words ever uttered. It is God speaking to His own Son. It is as if we were secretly admitted into the counsel of God.

I. God provided the Saviour. “I have called Thee in righteousness”—I have asked Thee to do this work of righteousness; to work out this salvation, which shall show me to be a righteous God. God did, as it were, look round all the creatures to see whom He would call to this great work. But He chose His Son. None other could be a sufficient Saviour.

II. God upheld the Saviour. “I will hold,” &c. The figure seems taken from a father and his little child. When God called His Son to the work it could not but be a fearful work in His eyes. God here comforts His Son under the view. Learn—

(1.) How dreadful the sufferings of Christ were.
(2.) The greatness of your sins.
(3.) God’s great hand in Christ’s work.

III. God gave Christ for a covenant. Gave Him away to be a covenant Saviour to the people and a light to lighten the Gentiles. The Son was infinitely dear to the Father. Sinners were infinitely vile in the sight of the Father. Yet, “I will give Thee!” Learn—

(1.) The intense love of God for sinners.
(2.) That God must have the glory of their redemption.

IV. God gave Christ for a light.

1. By nature men have blind eyes.
2. Are bound in prison.
3. Sit in a dark prison-house. A change comes through the gift of God.

CONCLUSION.—Has Christ been made to rise upon your soul? Plead with God to fulfil His word.—R. M. M‘Cheyne: additional Remains, pp. 61, &c.


Isaiah 42:6. I will give Thee for a covenant of the people.

These words are repeated by the prophet (Isaiah 49:8). There are three things which have affinity one to another, and yet differ one from another—a purpose, a promise, a covenant. A purpose differs from a promise and a covenant, in that it lays no obligation upon a man. A promise lays an obligation upon him who makes it. There is in every covenant a mutual promise and stipulation between the parties covenanting, whereby they are equally bound each to other in certain articles and agreements consented to by both. Consider, then—


There are covenants between men and men. Abimelech and Abraham made a covenant (Genesis 21:32); Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:44). Such are called civil covenants. There are also religious covenants, of which two have become famous. One of these was made in the state of man’s innocency (Genesis 2:16-17). In this, God promised to Adam, for himself and his posterity, life and happiness, upon the condition of perfect and perpetual obedience. This is called the covenant of works. The other was made after the Fall (Genesis 3:15); it was renewed with Abraham (Genesis 12:3), and with Isaac (Genesis 26:4), and with Jacob (Genesis 28:14). In this covenant eternal life is promised to man upon the condition of faith in Christ. The apostle calls it “the law of faith” (Romans 3:27). It is of this the text speaks. Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, had nothing to do in the first. It was fœdus amicitiæ. God and Adam were perfect friends when it was made. That of which Christ is Mediator was made to bring man to life and salvation, after his sinful violation of the first covenant.

By “the people” we are to understand the people of Israel. These are principally mentioned for three reasons. 1—Because Christ, according to His human nature, descended from them (Romans 1:3; Isaiah 11:1).

2. Because this covenant of grace was first made with them (Romans 9:4).

3. Because when Christ should come in the flesh, this covenant was first to be pressed upon them (Matthew 10:5-6; Matthew 15:24). Still, the promise of Christ to Abraham extends to the elect of all nations (Genesis 12:3).


1. He is the Head of the covenant. Adam was the head of the covenant of works; Christ, the second Adam, is the Head of the covenant of grace. He is caput electionis; and He is caput fœderis, in whom all the elect are fœderati, entered into covenant with God. Fallen man was unmeet to enter into covenant immediately with the holy God. All the promises of God are in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).

2. He is the Purchaser and Procurer of the covenant. We read of the “blood of the testament” (Hebrews 9:20; Isaiah 53:10).

3. He is the Sum and Substance of the covenant. Take Christ out of it, and it will be but an empty thing; He is its Alpha and its Omega, its very pith and kernel.

4. He is the Messenger of the covenant (Malachi 3:1). He published it of old by the prophets (1 Peter 1:11), and alterwards in His own person (Ephesians 2:17); when He was ascended, by the apostles (Mark 16:15); and still by the ministry instituted by Him to continue to the end of the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

5. He is the Surety of the covenant (Hebrews 7:22). He undertakes on God’s part that all that He hath promised shall be made good to the believer.

(1.) By His Word (John 5:24).

(2.) By the shedding of His blood. His blood was poured out to ratify the covenant.
(3.) By the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. One end of these is to confirm the covenant; they are both outward seals of the covenant.
(4.) By His Spirit. The Spirit is a sealing as well as a sanctifying Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12). And Christ is a Surety on our part. He undertakes that we shall close with the covenant, and that we shall walk according to it (Ephesians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 4:13; Romans 1:4).


1. The whole business of our salvation centres in Christ Jesus. Who can express the strong, rich comfort which springs out of this to all that have an interest in Christ?

2. Let the unbeliever be warned that the covenant of peace is built on Christ. He that hath not Christ hath not the covenant; out of Christ, out of the covenant (Ephesians 2:12).—Ralph Robinson: Sermons, pp. 462–479.

He who is promised as the chief matter, the mediator, surety, scope of the covenant, is by a metonymy called “the covenant.” “I will give Thee for a covenant;” that is, I covenant to give Thee to the people. Jesus is granted in the covenant to bring us to God. To which blessed and glorious purposes He is exhibited—

I. AS THE LIGHT OF LIFE (Luke 2:32; John 1:4; John 8:12). There is a light that serves to kill and destroy, to bring death and condemnation to light: the light of the law, that killing letter concerning which the apostle says (Romans 7:9-10). But Christ brings life and immortality to light (2 Corinthians 4:6; John 14:8-9; John 17:3).

II. AS THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. This is His name (Jeremiah 23:6). To this end He is given to us—

1. As our propitiatory sacrifice (1 John 2:2; Romans 3:25).

2. As a merciful and faithful High Priest (Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 9:24; Exodus 28:12; Exodus 28:29; Hebrews 12:24; 1 John 2:1-2; Romans 8:33-34). Not only a righteous, but a merciful High Priest, that is provided with a sacrifice, and hath a heart to offer (Hebrews 5:2). No dignity to which He is exalted can make Him forget His friends (2 Timothy 2:13).

III. AS OUR LORD AND KING (Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 9:6). God hath more care of His saints than to leave the government of them on their shoulder. He is a King to gather them, to govern them, to defend and save them (Matthew 1:21). Let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.

IV. AS OUR HEAD AND HUSBAND (Ephesians 1:22-23; 1 Corinthians 11:3). Believers are joined to the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17; Colossians 2:19). They are married to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). From this union follows:—

1. A communication of influences (Colossians 2:3; Colossians 1:19). This fulness of Christ is ours, and for us (John 1:16; Colossians 3:3).

2. A complication of interests. Christ and His saints are mutually concerned. They have nothing but through Him; their whole tenure is in the Head; and whatsoever is His is theirs—His God His Father, His merits, &c.—R. Alleine: God’s Covenant Grant, pp. 24–36.

The word “covenant” stands in the centre of this passage (Isaiah 42:5-8), and we may well conclude, on a consideration of the whole context, that the idea of covenant is central also in meaning. In (Isaiah 42:5) we are reminded of God’s creative, providential, and sustaining energy, as manifested in the material universe and in the region of human souls. From this elementary truth we are led on to the deep secret which God is ever unfolding in His revelations of mercy and saving love. The whole passage teaches us—

I. THAT JEHOVAH, WHO IS THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE, IS ALSO THE KING OF GRACE. Isaiah 42:5 sublimely expresses His supremacy over nature and man, and is suggestive—

1. Of what He teaches us in astronomy (“He that created the heavens and stretched them out”).
2. Of what He teaches us in geology, botany, and related sciences (“He that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it”).

3. Of what He teaches us in the history of nations (“He that giveth breath,” &c.; comp. Acts 17:25). So also is He supreme in the empire of souls—in the work of redeeming as well as of creating. His glory in this respect cannot be shared by another (Isaiah 42:8). He is the Originator of all saving methods, and the Source of all spiritual fulness.

II. THAT HIS PURPOSES IN THE DOMAIN OF GRACE ARE EQUALLY REAL AND SURE AS THOSE IN THE SPHERE OF NATURE. He disdains not to make a covenant with the people. His gracious intentions are not capricious, haphazard, accidental, or in any way partaking of the nature of after-thought. They are of the nature of a covenant—a divine purpose, treasured up and unfolded in the course of the ages. Modern science loves to trace the invariability of natural laws. Christian theism, also, accepts the teaching as proof of the divine veracity. In nature and in grace we learn of a covenant-keeping God. Indeed, the one is but an illustration of the other. (See Jeremiah 31:36; Jeremiah 33:25-26; Isaiah 55:10-11.)

III. THAT THE DIVINE COVENANT IS SPECIALLY ATTESTED. God would have us know, beyond all mistake, that He is covenanting with us.

1. The earlier forms of pledge were given in the special selection of the Jewish nation to bear testimony for Him.

2. The crowning pledge of His covenant is afforded us in the gift of Christ. Only in Him do the words of Isaiah 42:6-7 find their true fulfilment.

IV. THAT THE DIVINE COVENANT HAS RESPECT TO ALL NATIONS AND PEOPLES. For the blind and self-righteous Jew of ancient times, or the hard and unsympathetic dogmatist of modern times, to regard the covenant as expressive of an exclusive compact by which a vast portion of mankind was to be shut out from God’s pitying favour, is to mistake its significance. This is to turn a sublime truth into a keynote of caprice and unworthy favouritism. It is a “covenant of the people, a light of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6), that is here indicated. So the earliest form of the promise was comprehensive, and looked onward to an all-inclusive plan (see Genesis 12:3). We see in Jehovah’s covenant, then, a basis of redemption for all men, an offer of saving help to every sinner of every race.—William Manning.


Isaiah 42:8. I am the Lord: that is my name.

The names and titles of the Almighty, which convey ideas of overwhelming greatness and glory mingled with awful mysteriousness, are most worthy of our best attention.
Our translators have only retained the word JEHOVAH four times out of 6855 instances in which it occurs in the original Hebrew. Seldom, if ever, used by the Jews after the Babylonish captivity; on account of their great reverence for the Divine Being, they substituted Adonai—Lord; and their example was followed by our translators, who, out of respect to this feeling, have almost invariably rendered it Lord, always, however, directing it to be printed in capitals, to denote that the original word is JEHOVAH, and to distinguish it from every other name.

Its derivation and meaning. The incommunicable name. Psalms 83:18 accords with this declaration. In two instances we have God’s own interpretation of this great name (Exodus 3:14; Exodus 34:6-7, more fully interpreted). In the former instance He announced Himself to Moses in the glory of His self-existent and eternal majesty, as “I AM;” in the latter, in the glory of His grace and goodness—the most ample and particular description of the Divine character, as given by Himself, in the sacred records.

It also denotes God’s special relation of love and care to His people. The covenant name. He is the God of all flesh, but He is the JEHOVAH of His people (Psalms 68:4). If we would rejoice before the Lord, we must contemplate Him in the special relation of love and care. Our comfort very much depends upon the views we cherish of our God. The splendour of His attributes cannot of itself awaken joy. Trusting in Him, through Christ, as our JEHOVAH—an unchangeable Lord of purpose and promise—gives comfort, and we can view His glorious perfections with holy, chastened joy, that softens down to adoring love. For, Hebrews 6:17-18. Our hearts can only find satisfaction in union with a Being such as God has revealed Himself to be.


1. JEHOVAH TSIDKENU (Jeremiah 23:6). Jesus is not only the righteous Lord, but the Lord our righteousness. This short sentence, only two words in the Hebrew, comprises the whole Gospel. As sinners need a righteousness in which to stand before the Holy One, Christ’s Gospel is the grand provision for the restoration of righteousness in fallen and sinful men (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:25-26); personal righteousness, obtained only by faith (Romans 4:5; Romans 5:1; Romans 10:3-4).

2. JEHOVAH-SHALOM—Jehovah is peace (Judges 6:24). The Lord speaks peace unto His people. He who is our righteousness is also our peace (Ephesians 2:14; Romans 5:1). Our legacy (John 14:27).

3. JEHOVAH-NISSI—Jehovah is my banner (Exodus 17:15). Material warfare an emblem of the spiritual.

(1.) The Church of God is a Church militant; ever at war with the kingdom of darkness. The world must be conquered for Christ. The banner of King Jesus is not placed in our hands for us to be calmly indifferent, but to inspire us with an absorbing ambition for its increase of glory. Victory is sure.
(2.) Our Christian life is a battle. Not only troubles to meet and pass through, but active enemies to resist and overcome. There is no furlough and no discharge. Yet we need not fear.

4. JEHOVAH-JIREH—The Lord will provide (Genesis 22:14). Let this memorial of the past be our watchword for the future. The Lord will provide for us in wisdom according to our necessities (Philippians 4:19). He has done so, and He will (Romans 8:32).

5. JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH—The Lord is there (Ezekiel 48:35). Doubtless Ezekiel has another city and another promised land in view—the Gospel church and the Heavenly Jerusalem. The Church is called “the city of the living God.” The Lord is there—our joy and rejoicing—nor will He ever forsake His people. Of the Church triumphant JEHOVAH-SHAMMAH is the chief glory and happiness. “God Himself shall be with them, and dwell among them.”

“This is their supreme delight,
And makes a heaven, of heaven.”

CONCLUSION.—This Infinite Jehovah is anxious to become your Covenant Friend, and Guide, and Portion.—Alfred Tucker.


Isaiah 42:8. I am the Lord; that is my name, &c.

God is jealous of His honour (Exodus 20:2-5). The injunctions against idolatry have been repeatedly violated by all the nations of the earth: in ancient times by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and even the Israelites; in somewhat later times by the Persians, Greeks, Romans; and every modern nation known to us is either now idolatrous or has been rescued from idolatry through the influence of Christianity. To the corrupted mind of man idolatry has peculiar charms: it gratifies his desire for outward signs; it meets his craving after the material and the visible.

The text is of vital interest to ourselves, inasmuch as every impenitent sinner and every unfaithful follower of Christ dishonours God and is chargeable with a kind of idolatry. Mark—
I. THE IMPORT OF GOD’S NAME. “I am Jehovah, that is my name.”

1. It means the Being that exists. Of every other being, animate and inanimate, it can be affirmed that there was a time when it did not exist; but of Jehovah no such affirmation can be made (Psalms 90:2; Isaiah 40:14).

2. It implies that He is the fountain of all being. A false philosophy affirms the existence of other beings independent of God, and maintains especially the eternity of matter. But such views are irrational and absurd (Jeremiah 10:12; Isaiah 40:26). Nor may it be affirmed that these passages imply no more than that God worked on pre-existent matter (Hebrews 11:3; H. E. I. 353–359).

3. The word signifies that God is also the preserver of being. He made all things for Himself—not to be abandoned to themselves and fate; but to be watched over and sustained, that the end of their creation might be fully answered (H. E. I. 362–365).

4. The name Jehovah indicates that God is the God of Providence. It is admitted that God operates by law; but it is as certainly His power that upholds the worlds as it would be were there no law of gravitation. The laws of nature, so called, are but the modes in which God works. Miracles show that those laws are under His control (Psalms 148:8; H. E. I. 3530–3538).

5. The sublimest feature in His Providence is that which was exhibited in the redemption of mankind. The name Jehovah leads us to this point. God is the Saviour of the world, since for a sinful world there could have been no preservation without redemption. In Christ the character of God as the merciful I AM is clearly manifested (John 1:14).

II. THE GLORY WHICH BELONGS TO HIM. “My glory will I not give to another,” &c. The term glory is sometimes used in Scripture in reference to the visible symbol of Jehovah’s presence—the Shekinah; at other times it denotes the manifestation of His power and wisdom in creation; and at other times again it is employed in a more general sense to set forth the attributes and perfections of His character. But in the text the word is equivalent to honour, worship, adoration. What, then, is the glory which belongs exclusively to God?

1. The glory of the creation of all things (Revelation 4:11).

2. The glory of the world’s redemption. The work to be achieved was not simply the redemption of mankind, but their redemption in a way consistent with the law of God. But achieved it was, and achieved by God Himself; no angelic being aided in the enterprise, and “of the people there was none with Him.”

3. The glory of the application of redemption to the case of each individual believer in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5-6). Where is boasting then? It is excluded.

4. The glory of the advancement of mankind in knowledge, holiness, and peace. The human race is certainly improving; and it is to Christianity we are indebted chiefly for our civil privileges, and for all our social and domestic comforts. To whom is the glory of our national greatness due? To Him by whom kings reign, to whom the wise owe their wisdom, and from whom every good and every perfect gift descends. Christianity, moreover, is the means which God employs for the world’s regeneration; for though other instrumentalities may be brought into operation, they are but subordinate.

III. HIS DETERMINATION TO MAINTAIN HIS RIGHTS. “I will not give my glory to another,” &c. This declaration may be viewed as corrective—

1. Of the sin of idolatry. He has not given His glory to the gods of the heathen, nor will He permit their devotees to give it them. But there are forms of idolatry practised by the Christian professor. What is the worship of the Virgin Mary, of saints and martyrs, of relics and of pictures, but idolatry? And what is the inordinate love of the creature but idolatry? What is covetousness but idolatry? What is the grasping after wealth which prevails but idolatry? (1 John 2:15).

2. Of the sin of pride. The proud man takes God’s glory to Himself. Perhaps one reason why Christians are less useful than they might be is that they fail to give God the glory due unto His name, and would fain reserve a measure of praise for themselves (1 Samuel 2:30).

3. Of the sin of unbelief. This is allied to pride. It scorns to be indebted for eternal life to grace; it will not submit to the righteousness of God. It robs God of His claims to our confidence and love; but God will not give His glory to another, and never will the terms of mercy be other than they are (Mark 16:16).—Thornley Smith: Sermons by Wesleyan Ministers (1852), pp. 172–187.

Verse 9


Isaiah 42:9. Behold, the former things are come to pass, &c.

One may observe, in reading Scripture, the general principle that God usually gives a promise of that which He means to bestow. Before Christ came the Father was continually speaking of His coming. Love meets man as a heralding fragrance before the actual bestowal of blessing.
Why are covenant blessings the subject of promises?
To display—

1. The freeness of His grace. The promise to which the text specially alludes is to open the blind eyes, &c. The blind referred to were not born in the days of Isaiah. God promises before we know our need or seek His face. There are many conditional promises in Scripture; but all God’s promises rest on an unconditioned covenant of grace (Romans 9:25).

2. The fulness of His grace. It is unmerited; Christ died for the ungodly.

3. The power of it. He will open the blind eyes, &c. God is great in nature, but greater in grace. Man is a free agent, but he is not, and cannot be, more powerful in any respect than the Lord of all.


Religious inquirers should find the promises of God unspeakably precious. Some come to Christ easily, others with great difficulty; but there are promises enough in the Scriptures to call forth and stimulate hope in all (Hebrews 7:25). Christian believers, even, need to be told of what God will do, in order, at times, to encourage their hope (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

God desires to educate our confidence in Him. If Christian truth had been made so clear that we could make an axiom of it, there would have been no room for faith. Faith could not then have been the all-important thing it is in the manward aspect of salvation. Faith is the pivot upon which Christian character turns. It is neither a hard nor a wrong thing that God requires from us.
The Lord has told us what great things He is going to do for sinners. Do we believe that He can do what He says? Do we believe in His willingness to do it? Then it is ours to cast ourselves upon His power and will.

Prayer is sure to follow hope and faith. Note the order—first, grace, then hope, faith, prayer. Faith soon brings a man to his knees; and while he is pleading, God is hearing. All God’s promises which are not fulfilled are meant to stimulate to prayer.

Man is made glad when he sees and feels that God’s Word has not returned to Him void; then comes the inference,—If He has done all this for me in the past, He will do as much for me in the future. In the next chapter the argument is, I will do because I have done. “I have redeemed thee; when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.” This is the firm foundation for our hope, our past experience of the faithfulness of God; and strong faith is God’s due.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxv. pp. 685–696.

Verses 14-16


Isaiah 42:14-16. I will destroy and devour at once, &c.

The measure of greatness is the measure of terribleness; constructiveness is the beneficent side of destructiveness.
The fire that warms will, if abused, reduce the palace to ashes; the river which gladdens the landscape may devastate it; the engine that bears the laughing child to his longed-for home will, if mismanaged, occasion terrible havoc; the lightning, which may be caught and utilised, can burn the forest and strike armies blind.
In the text we are confronted with the highest expression of the same truth; the Terrible One is gentler than the gentlest friend. Power belongeth unto God as well as mercy; He is either glorious as heaven or fearful as hell. The terribleness of God is the good man’s security; he does not say, “I must worship Him or He will destroy me;” but, “the beneficent side of that power is all mine.”
I. Look at the doctrine of the text in relation to bad men, who pride themselves upon their success and their strength. Daily life has always been a problem to devout wisdom; virtue has often been crushed while vice has flourished. But there is a power beyond man’s; and nothing is held safely that is not held by consent of that power. God cannot be described in parts; He is to be studied in the unity of His character. Men are bound to be as common-sense in their theology as in the ordinary works of life; in building character they should be at least as sagacious as in building houses; they must build for tempestuous as well as for fine weather. We prepare for the severe side of Nature—why ignore the severe aspect of God? This is not preaching the mere terrors of the Lord; it is being simply faithful to facts. The so-called success of the bad man has yet to stand the strain of the Divine trial. God will examine our title-deeds. Remember, we are not stronger than our weakest point.

II. Look at the doctrine as an encouragement to all men who work under the guidance of God. “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not,” &c. God declares Himself gentle to those who truly need Him. He promises nothing to the self-sufficient; He promises much to the needy. A true apprehension of this doctrine will give us a right view of daily providences, viz., that men who are apparently most destitute may in reality be most richly enjoying the blessings of God.

We ought not to overlook the beneficent law of compensation. Blindness may be but another condition of happiness. Defects are the express conditions on which offers of Divine help are founded; it is because we are blind that He will lead us. It is clear, then, that self-sufficiency on the part of man is an offence to God; not only so, it is a vexation to man himself,—all his efforts at independence end in mortification. Towards one another we are to be self-reliant; towards God we are to be humble, dependent, all-trustful. The removal of the mountains and hills that bar our way is God’s own work; why should we meddle with it as if we could do it better than He? The devil says, “Be your own God,” and we snatch at the suggestion as a prize. Behold! we call you to a God whose very terribleness may be turned into an assurance of safety, and whose love is infinite, unchanging, eternal!

CONCLUSION.—Men of business! Know ye that prosperity is the gift of God, and that He who gave it can also withdraw it? “I will destroy and devour it at once: I will dry up all their herbs” (Psalms 37:35-36). Bread cannot satisfy unless it be broken by God’s hands.

Children of God! ye especially who are called to suffering, and weakness, and great unrest because of manifold defect, God offers you His hand. Rest on God. Fear God, and no other fear shall ever trouble you.—Joseph Parker, D.D.: City Temple, pp. 227–284.


Isaiah 42:16. And I will bring the blind, &c.

Christians, “ye are not as yet come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you.” But thus far He has been your helper. What He has done is only a pledge of what He will do. To aid your grateful remembrance of the past and to confirm your confidence in the future, let us survey Him in three characters, which are all plainly set forth in our text.
I will bring the blind by a way they know not; I will lead them in paths they have not known.”

1. What could we do without such a Leader? Without God man is a poor wanderer on the mountains of ignorance, a prey to every danger, liable to be led astray by his prejudices and passions, certain to miss the only road to heaven.
2. Observe where He leads them: “In paths they have not known.” This is true—
(1.) In regard to their temporal concerns. He has done so. If you look back, and contemplate the bounds of your habitation as fixed by Providence, your connections formed, your friends, your successes, your disappointments, does not all this appear now surprising? And He will do so. What can you know of the future? (P. D. 1432, 1440).

(2.) In regard to their spiritual concerns. They were not born Christians, but have been made such; and if now they differ from others, and from their former selves, it is because He “hath called them out of darkness into His marvellous light.” Once they knew nothing of conviction of sin, of hatred of sin, of faith in Christ, of prayer. And there are heights of holiness to which He will yet lead them by paths they have not now traversed.

I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.”

This is clearly distinguished from the former. You may “lead the blind by a way they know not,” and you may not explain it to them, but only tell them to depend upon you as a guide, while they are unconscious of anything except progress. But God illumines all whom He guides. Observe four instances in which He gradually makes “darkness light before them and crooked things straight.”

1. Doctrine (John 7:17; Philippians 2:15; H. E. I. 2877, 2878, 3127).

2. Experience. There are many things perplexing here.

(1.) Temptations that assail them are among the number, for they hoped to go on in their Christian course without annoyance. They did not remember that Pharaoh, as soon as Israel was gone, pursued, and tried to bring them back again. But presently He shows them that the Christian’s life must be a warfare (H. E. I. 1061, 4768–4776).

(2.) Prayer. They read that God answers prayer; they pray, but no answer comes. Very distressing. But presently He shows them that He is “a God of judgment;” that while His mercy would constrain Him to give, His wisdom leads Him to withhold the blessing for a time (H. E. I. 3897, 3898). Or if in answer to their prayers new and heavier trials are sent them, they are called presently to discern in them discipline and training for greater blessings beyond (H. E. I. 101, 2464, 2465, 3692–3695).

(3.) Joy. They sometimes do not experience the joy of which they read. He corrects their mistakes concerning it (H. E. I. 2064–2074, 3046–3051).

(4.) Assurance. He shows them that they are not to attach undue importance to it (H. E. I. 311–314, 321–323, 340–346). He enables them in the end to rejoice in it.

3. Practical duties. Such as a Christian’s removal from his situation, or his transition from one business to another. In such matters the path of duty is made plain to the man who waits patiently upon God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

4. God’s providential dealings. God’s way is sometimes in the sea, and His footsteps are not known. But sometimes the darkness is dispelled even now, and the Christian sees why he was exercised with such a soul-trouble. Take the case of Joseph (Genesis 45:5-8), or of David (Psalms 119:67).

These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

1. They deserve to be forsaken, and this they will acknowledge readily enough (Lamentations 3:22).

2. They may think themselves forsaken (Isaiah 49:14; Psalms 77:7; Psalms 31:22).

3. At times He may so deal with them that, in the poverty of our language, we have to speak of them as men forsaken—
(1.) In their outward condition (Hosea 5:15).

(2.) In regard to their enjoyment of spiritual comfort (Psalms 30:7; Psalms 119:82; H. E. I. 1260, 1261).

(3.) In giving them over to a sore conflict with temptation (H. E. I. 4774).

But all these apparent forsakings are short (Isaiah 54:7), and they are never real. Even when they can discern no trace of Him, God is still with His people (Hebrews 13:5; Romans 8:35-39; see pp. 78, 79).—William Jay: Sunday Morning Sermons, pp. 120–129.

In relation to the movements of Divine Providence God’s people are “blind.”
What an infinite mercy it is for them that they have a Guide adapted and adequate to lead the blind! To teach the blind is an exercise of guidance unusual and peculiar; and he who can effectually accomplish this must have some important characteristic qualifications.

1. He who leads the blind must have a perfect knowledge of the way. In this respect a blind man can contribute no help and supply no lack. If his guide be ignorant even of a single step of the way, all his other qualifications are vain.

2. He must have a faithful regard to the end. He must display no treachery; the blind are utterly without remedy against any supposable unfaithfulness; their leader must steadfastly keep the end in view, and suffer nothing to turn him aside from the path that conducts to it.

3. He must pay a constant attention to the path. He must indulge in no carelessness. When a guide is careless, it is practically as though there were none. God neither slumbers nor sleeps; innumerable as the objects are which demand His notice, He never withdraws His eye for a moment from the steps of those He loves.

4. He must exercise towards them tender sympathy. The blind are naturally timid; surrounded with uncertainties, they are apt to be full of fears. Such fears are unreasonable, but it would be cruel to treat them with harshness. Above all guides, God might say, “Now you know you have every reason to trust me; let me see no signs of timidity; step boldly in the way I lead you.” He is not angry, however, with the sinking heart and the fearful step (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:2; Psalms 103:14; Hebrews 13:5). Shall we not say cheerfully, “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel”?

While God leads His people as the blind are led, they ought to walk as the blind who are led; for if the leading of the blind is peculiar, the walking of the blind when led is peculiar too. In the walk of the led blind we may notice—

1. A practical acceptance of the guidance offered them. The attitude of God’s people should be one of grateful practical acceptance. “Thou shalt guide me; and where Thou leadest I will go.”

2. A spirit of entire submission to his guide. He feels that it is not for him to ask the question at intervals, “Is this really the right way?” He feels, above all, that it is not for him to be petulant, and to say, “I will not go this way.” And such should the attitude of God’s people be.

3. An unrelaxing grasp. The blind man never for an instant leaves hold of his guide. And not a single step should be taken by God’s people without reference to His discretion.

4. An aspect of cheerful confidence. A blind man who is feeling his own way walks cautiously and anxiously; but a blind man who is led for the most part walks promptly and cheerfully. He has trusted and is in peace. So should the Christian pursue his way, cheerfully and confidingly (P. D. 2970, 2971).—J. H. Hinton, M.A.: The Church, New Series, vol. ix. pp. 1–5.


Isaiah 42:16. I will bring the blind, &c.

Not to every blind man, nor to all sorts of blind people; for there are some blind people whom God does not lead. They are those who are consciously blind, and who confess that once on a time they were totally blind—that what they thought was sight before was all delusion; people that feel their own weakness, their own want of knowledge, their own nothingness; people that are willing to be led; people that cannot see everything, and do not expect to see everything, but are willing to walk by faith in the unseen God, and to trust Jehovah where they cannot trace His footsteps.
II. THE PROMISE THAT IS MADE TO THEM. “I will bring … not known.”

1. God Himself will be the Guide of His people when they feel their blindness. To lead blind men is not an office generally sought; it is not supposed to be attended with any great honour; but it is a very kindly office, and one which any Christian man may be right glad to render to his afflicted friend. But only think of God Himself coming and guiding the blind—leading His blind children! He will not leave you to stumble and grope your way, nor will He bid you depend upon your fellow-Christian, who is as blind as yourself, but HE will be your Guide. Think of it.

2. Being their Guide, He will lead them in ways they never went before. “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not.” [1372] By the paths of repentance, faith, holiness of life.

[1372] The beauty of the promise appears in its especial adaptation to meet the peculiar exigence: “I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not.” Of course, when a blind man knows the way, he can almost go without the guide. Many of our friends afflicted with the loss of sight find their way day by day along the accustomed road; and there have been some that have been so expert, though blind, that they could go over fifty miles of country, or thread their way in town up and down the streets of a milkman’s walk, serving at each customer’s house without ever making a mistake. In fact, they have often acted as guides to others; but then it has always been along a way that they have known.—Spurgeon.

3. Although the way by which we go be a way that we know not, we shall be led safely in it; for it is not only said, “I will lead them,” but “I will bring them,” which is more. [1375] You may lead a man, but he may be unable to follow you. We shall be safely led, even though we may be sometimes conducted along narrow “paths,” and not along the broad and frequented highways.

[1375] The safety follows from the fact that God is the Guide, rather than necessarily from the words of the promise. Alexander translates: “I will make the blind walk in a way they knew not; in paths they knew not I will make them tread;” the meaning being, that God would accomplish the deliverance of His people by a mode of His own choosing, to which they would have to conform.—Spurgeon.

III. WHAT SHALL COME OF IT? “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.”

1. If you are in the darkness of trouble, trust in God and the trouble will vanish. The light of His countenance will chase away the darkness. The trouble may remain, but it will no longer distress you.
2. There is a crook in every lot, but trust in God. He can make the most crooked thing that ever did happen suddenly turn out to be the very straightest thing that ever occurred for our welfare.

IV. WHAT WILL BE THE END OF IT? The end of it will be (if you can see nothing, if you are blind, and leave yourself to the Lord to lead you, leaving all that concerns you to His counsel and His care), your life will be strewn with mercies, fulfilled promises; “These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” You shall find God present with you as long as you live. You will never be able to say, “I rested in Him, and was confounded; I trusted in Him, and found His promise fail.” [1378]C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xxii. pp. 468–480.

[1378] Never does a child of God venture everything by faith but the faith answers.… I was greatly refreshed yesterday by what may seem to you a very small thing, but it was not small to God. I was turning over our church books and I came to the year 1861, and somewhere in January there is a record, “This church requires £4000 in order to pay for the New Tabernacle, and we, the undersigned, not knowing where it will come from, fully believe in our Heavenly Father that He will send it all to us in the proper time, as witness our hands.” And there stood subscribed my hand, and the hands of my deacons, and the hands of my elders, and the hands of a great many Christian women amongst us. Well, I was pleased to see that we had thus put our confidence in God. There were one or two names down there of very prudent brethren, and I recollect at the time I saw them sign it I was rather surprised, because they had been doubting most of the time whether we should ever get the money; but they signed their names like men. A month or two alterwards—say two months—there is this record: “I, Charles Haddon Spargeon, who am less than the least of all saints, set to my seal that God is true, for He has supplied us with all this £4000.” And then follows a fresh minute like this: “We, the undersigned, hereby declare our confidence in Almighty God, who has done to us according to our faith, and sent us, even before the time we wanted it, all that was wanted. We are ashamed of ourselves to think that we even had a doubt, and we pray that we may always confide in. Him in all things henceforth and for ever.” And then there is a long list of signatures.… We have had a good many times to do something like that for large amounts, as a church, but has the Lord ever failed us yet? Never! And He never will, and you may depend upon it that in your business, in your household affairs, in your spiritual struggles, if you will trust God, He will be as good as your trust, and better.—Spurgeon.

A blind man in a strange city dare not move. How valuable as well as kind if some one take him by the hand! You are compelled to travel in a country with which you are entirely unacquainted. There are many cross roads and few indications of the paths you should take. Some one overtakes you and shows you the path which conducts to your destination, but which, without his leading, you could probably not have found. It is night. Impenetrable darkness surrounds. You dare not move, lest you should plunge into some dangerous place; for it is a wild moorland. But the morning breaks. The sun begins to shine. The light is in your way. There is a crooked road which must be straightened before you can prosper. You cannot straighten it. Lo! it becomes straight!
Is not man’s path in this world one of darkness until God illuminates it? We are blind and ignorant. He alone can enlighten and inform us. He alone knows our way, and He has promised to lead us.

I. Look at this truth as illustrated by the history of the Church.

1. In Egypt the Israelites were blind. They groaned under their bondage, but saw no way of deliverance. But God did, and in due time He led them forth.
2. Through the wilderness they were led; they did not foresee the way. Even Moses did not arrange their movements. For great disciplinary reasons God kept them wandering forty years in an unexpected path. But He led them notwithstanding. There was the pillar of cloud and fire by day and by night.
3. In Babylon. It was a dark and dreary time. They hung their harps on the willows. They saw no possibility of restoration. But He knew of the Cyrus whom He would raise up, who would lead the besieging army, who would capture the city, who would proclaim deliverance. He knows beforehand the political movements of heathen courts, and how they will affect His Church.
4. From that time to the birth of Christ. The Jewish people in their own land. Wonderful control of circumstances by which the Advent occurred according to ancient promise.
5. Thus in the Church of Christ to the present time. Early Church led in a way quite other than the Apostles would have chosen. Through many vicissitudes the Christian Church has been brought. Yet her great Head has brought her through. Openings have been made for the gospel in unexpected ways. Thus it will be. We are blind. We know not how the final triumph of Christ will be secured, but it will be secured.

II. Look at this truth as illustrated by the spiritual experience of believers.

God has a people in this world. Some of them may not yet have been called from it. They are in the blindness of heathenism or indifference and sin. God’s time comes. Paul sets forth on his missionary journeys, Williams to the South Seas, Moffat to Africa. Souls are brought into contact with the truth. Christian households are formed. Some are called in early life under parental influence; some resist and continue for years in a course of sin; an unexpected sickness or disaster awakens, or God blesses some sermon (H. E. I. 1414, 1415). You did not know the way of salvation. Human wisdom did not devise it. You could never have discovered it. He brought it near. He led you to His feet, and began in your soul the strange new life.

And thus He is leading you to heaven. His Word and Spirit conduct by paths hitherto unknown. Sometimes through pleasant fields of promise, of communion, of holy aspiration, of Christian work; sometimes through dark passages of sorrow and perplexity; now awakening the slumbering conscience, now soothing the troubled heart. Thus He will continue (Psalms 107:7).

III. Look at this truth as illustrated by the course of Divine Providence.

How often are the Lord’s people brought into complete distress and uncertainty! They dare not move a foot lest it should be a fatal mistake. Then, when He has brought them to the realisation of their entire dependence on Him, and to cast themselves on Him in simple faith, He opens an unexpected way, by means quite unlikely. Jacob thus led into Egypt, where he finds the long-lost Joseph. Peter delivered by the angel from prison. Paul’s desire to see Rome gratified, not as he planned, but by his going as a prisoner. You are not to-day where you expected to be at the outset of your career. Recall your changes and deliverances.
Does not this subject teach the lesson of simple trust? Is it dark with you to-day? It is not so with Him. He knows why your sky is overcast. He may have blessings in store which could not otherwise come. Comfort your hearts with His promises. Gather up your courage. Let faith look through the cloud at His guiding hand.—J. Rawlinson.

A blind man touches the sympathies of those who see his condition. They become at once ready to help him. To God we are all blind. We see nothing as He sees it; and unless He lead, we cannot go. But His gracious promise is, “I will bring the blind,” &c.

I. The fulfilment of this promise has been splendidly exhibited in God’s dealings with our general humanity. How remarkable is that mystery of His gracious providence, that the most important things in the universe should come out of their very opposites!—e.g., that the greatest material prosperity should come out of the greatest spiritual aspiration. And yet this has been the history of the world. The only people able to hold itself unpulverised in the conflicts of nations is the one nation set apart wholly to the service of religion. When men try to further the world, enlarge its commerce, increase its mass of material wealth by devoting themselves only to the things which are seen, they become utterly degraded. On the contrary, material things used for spiritual ends gain new splendours. A house consecrated to God becomes a home. Bread eaten rather for the uses of the spirit that is in the body than for the body itself becomes holy.

II. This promise is no less wonderfully fulfilled in God’s dealings with individual souls. No man knows the way. Science cannot find a door in the hard wall of the visible: God must reveal it. When a spirit undertakes to engineer its course, it naturally seeks to enter at a wide gate, and to go in the broad way. To all human appearance there is room there. But when God takes the hand of the soul, He carries it through a very narrow gate, and along a very strait way. From His throne He sees every possible way from Egypt to Canaan. The soul can only see its immediate surroundings, a sea in front, mountain walls on both hands, or a wide, pathless, and devouring desert. We do not know the paths. He does. He is offering to guide us. Let us not go blundering in our blindness, falling over a hundred obstacles for every clear step we make. Let us put our hands in His, who hath promised to lead us.

“For one thing only, Lord, dear Lord, I plead;
Lead me aright,
Though strength should falter, and though heart should bleed,
Through peace to light.
“I do not ask my cross to understand,
My way to see;
Better in darkness just to feel Thy hand,
And follow Thee.”

The Study and the Pulpit, 1877, pp. 761, 762.

How rich in comfort we should be if we could get well into the thought of this text, and if we could get the thought well into us! As to our being blind, needing counsel and guidance, in constant danger of taking false and disastrous steps if we attempt to pursue our way alone, how often are we reminded of this!

1. There is the blindness that results from the limitation of our faculties.

2. Blindness that is due to our inexperience.

3. Blindness caused by our degradation.

The promise in our text is very consoling by the very closeness and completeness with which it takes hold of our condition. Not only does it assure us of the loving guidance of God in a general way, but in those cases also where the darkness is deepest, and where the blindness is total. Even the blind have sometimes their familiar paths, where they are safe as long as they keep to them. Here, however, the blind are to be brought by ways they know not: they are to be led in paths they have not known. A very special guidance must here be at work, coming in at the moment of deepest need, taking us by the hand and leading us on, just when even the ordinary knowledge that serves us on the familiar paths can be of no use to us. When the usual roadway ends, when the landmarks disappear, when the well-known signs are gone, and no accustomed object meets the eye, then the Divine Hand comes near to lead the trustful heart, and to direct it into the heavenly way, which otherwise it could not find.
The special thought before us, then, is, that God, in His providence, so orders the critical and decisive steps of His people, that they are safe, even when they cannot see the issues. Illustrate this by a few striking examples.

1. The case of Joseph. Trace the stages of his career. Even he does not dream of the steps that will lead to the fulfilment of his destiny. Yet in what marvellous ways, through a process which now we should term romantic, does he at last reach the goal! The full conviction of Joseph, that God had been working through all that wonderful history, is clearly stated in his memorable words to his brethren (Genesis 45:8).

2. The sojourn of Israel in Egypt. Consider the manner in which Jacob was drawn down to Egypt to begin that sojourn. Joseph’s history had affected, not himself only, but that of the whole family and the whole race of Israel. But how totally unable must the members of that family have been to perceive the critical nature of the successive steps of the history! How wonderful that so many long years after Jacob had given up his son Joseph as being dead, regarding it as the crowning grief of a very strange and sorrowful life, news should be brought him that his son was yet alive, and that he must go and see him before his death! Then consider what that journey from Hebron into Egypt meant. Roots up Jacob from his home in his last days to die in a strange land: inaugurates the life of Israel in Egypt, &c. Yet Jacob, too, could see the hand of God in all the strange history of the past, when he could survey it in its wholeness, and was sure also of the future guidance of the people. Among his dying words he said to Joseph, “Behold, I die; but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.”

3. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. Strange process was that by which Moses was fitted to become their deliverer, &c. Similar illustrations might be easily traced in the lives of such men as David, Nehemiah, Daniel, and indeed most of the saints of Old and New Testament Scripture, all bearing out the truth we have previously stated—that God’s providence takes special care of the critical and decisive steps of His people, so that they are safely guided through the paths they did not and could not know.

Our text indicates, also, what these histories beautifully confirm—

1. That happy surprises are in store for those who are thus Divinely led. “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.”

2. That the Divine purpose and fidelity are all-comprehensive. God does not break off in the middle of things, but fully completes what He begins. “These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

Such a subject as this may well be applied to strengthen our faith and hope. It suggests such lessons as the following:—

1. The leading is conducted by Infinite Wisdom and Love. God’s purpose is one of highest beneficence, and He cannot belie Himself. “He who spared not His own Son,” &c. (Romans 8:32).

2. The leadings of God may often cross our wishes, and therefore we must follow in the spirit of trust. Trust is essential to the blind. To break away from the Guide in the spirit of self-will and rebellion is to invite disaster and endanger all that follows. Our safety lies in our self-surrender to God, in our childlike acceptance of His appointed way.

3. This trust is to be combined with the spirit of sincere and honest effort. It is no lazy and spurious resignation, which tamely submits to infirmities it ought to cure, and wearily bears the evils it ought to vanquish. That is not to be led—it is to be carried; and it is a decaying, a rotting religion that will not put its own feet to the. ground and bravely do its part. God guides those who will walk, who will follow. Through many a secret passage of life and over many an untrodden path will He at last bring us out into the open places, where He will make darkness light before us, and crooked things straight. These things will He do unto us, and not forsake us.—William Manning.

The promises of God are not only “exceeding great and precious,” but exceedingly manifold and varied. Now the eye is caught by some single star, shining intensely bright in the midnight sky; and now a clustered constellation seems to burst on the sight. Look, for example, at the text. In it there are four distinct promises, each rising above the other in grace and consolation. They are made by God under the character of a Guide, and they represent Him as undertaking—

1. To bring sinners into the right way.
2. To lead them in the way.
3. To remove difficulties out of the way.
4. To continue His guidance even unto the end.—C. F. Childe: Sermons, pp. 232, 233.


Isaiah 42:16. I will lead the blind by a way that they knew not, &c.

This is the language and promise of the Lord. He here speaks of Himself, and tells us what He will do—things strange and unknown, and perhaps unanticipated. It is impossible to have a just view of this text without adverting with some minuteness to its original application. But its meaning is no less spiritual than prophetical, and is as applicable to every soul as it was to the Gentile nations. This union of prophetical and spiritual meaning forms one of the most striking characteristics, and one of the greatest beauties, of the writings of this prophet. The prophetical meaning has been verified by centuries of history, and all that history now is a bold and open evidence that the spiritual meaning shall equally hold good. If the darkened Gentiles have been led, &c., the darkened sinner, if he will heed God, shall be led so too.
I. SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS PROPOSITION. When God leads men to true religion, He does lead them very differently from any and from all of their previous anticipations. This is true of every soul in many respects.

1. The thing, circumstance, or truth, whatever it may be, which first fixes the great matter of salvation upon the mind, is something very different from anything commonly anticipated. One man has one set of causes, and another another. So with the young, &c. If they are led to seek God at all, He leads them in a way they knew not. This forms among Christians one of the most common and cherished reasons for gratitude (H. E. I. 1410–1415).

2. The same thing will find illustration in the manner of a sinner’s forgiveness. Anxious inquirers are prone to think they must endure some more painful fears, or attain some righteousness which, somehow, shall be an offset to their guilt, before God’s pardon can ever reach them (Romans 10:2-3). All this is in vain. If God leads them, they will see it is in vain. Salvation is a gift; and that God has led them in an unknown way, their own astonishment is evidence, when they have found peace in believing. Among the sweet and grateful recollections of believers, this leading of God has universally a place.

3. Perhaps the most remarkable of all illustrations of this truth is to be found in the experience of Christians. We should naturally expect them to have more correct expectations of God’s treatment than other people. But they are slow to learn; they are often disappointed; their anticipations are no foreshadowings of God’s treatment of them. Their comforts, their prosperity, and strength seldom come to them in the way of their anticipations; yea, very seldom, or never. The allotments of Divine Providence which affect them most are such as they little expected.


1. God will make Himself known as infinitely above us. Be ashamed that you ever distrusted Him.
2. We must have faith. We cannot walk by sight.
3. If God is leading us on toward heaven, He will compel us to trust Him. We are blind. By faith darkness becomes light. Never point out a way for yourself. Take God’s way. Never despond. Trust Him. Accept His Son, and pillow your aching head upon His promises (P. D. 1652–1659).

4. This mode of God’s leading us is calculated to bring us most near to Himself. Has it not been so?
Do nothing but trust Him in His Son.—Ichabod S. Spencer, D.D.: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 247–262.

The great truth which the prophet plainly teaches is, that the whole course of each individual is so guided and arranged by an unseen, but not an unfelt hand, that, like a blind man, he is led by another. Proverbs 16:9 is almost a commentary upon this passage.

“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.”

I. Illustrate this by a little introspective inspection of your inner and past history. Recall, as far as you are able, all you can recollect in your past biography. Is not your whole life, in warp and woof, totally different from anything you ever expected years ago? Like blind men, you have been led in a path that you knew not. This is the fulfilment of God’s prophecy. Did not an unforeseen accident, as the world would call it, alter the course of your career? A bereavement—a sudden reverse—an accidental conversation or remark Will any man tell me that all these little incidents fraught with vast issues were chance? Is it not upon the minutest incidents that the most gigantic results often depend? What can be the explanation? God leads us (H. E. I. 3223–3226, 4015–4022).

But what is still more remarkable, God often takes the sins of His people, and out of those sins He elaborates their progress in likeness to Himself, and in fitness for the kingdom of heaven. Nothing so demonstrates the infinite compassion of God as this.

Apply the same great truths to those things that brought you to the Saviour. The heart wounded to the quick, only to apply to it a balm that heals it perfectly and forever. Instances of this in the Bible: The Samaritan woman (John 4:0); the Feast of Pentecost and Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:0); Saul visiting Damascus on an errand of proscription and blood (Acts 9:0); Abraham—Jacob—the Shunamite woman. What are these but proofs that God leads the blind in a way that they know not? And what do they teach us? “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.

II. Some useful practical inferences.

1. God is in everything. In all things. magnificently great, and microscopically minute. There is nothing so small that it is beneath His notice; there is nothing so great that He does not control (Matthew 10:30).

2. This God, that thus leads the blind by a way that they know not, is the Christian’s Father. If it were God only that is in all things, it would not be comfort; it would be awe, &c. Nothing can touch His children till He has given it its mission and its commission.

3. Do not hastily judge, when adversities overtake you, what the issue will be. We are prone to infer from what overtakes us now what must betide us always: such is not Christian logic. Whatever be the issue, all afflictions that overtake us have a present beneficent action. Never let us employ in estimating what God has done that unhappy monosyllable IF. These ifs are the steps of God—the stages of Providence, &c. (Isaiah 50:10). Therefore, whenever you cannot explain the circumstances that surround you, &c., remember that God your Father is leading you, a blind man, by ways that you do not know. Wait, trust, pray, hope, and God will make crooked things straight, and dark places light.—J. Cumming, D.D.: Redemption Draweth Nigh, pp. 357–369.

God has foreordained everything which He Himself will do (Acts 15:18). And He has been gradually unfolding His designs from the beginning. The restoration of the Jews from Babylon and the calling of the Gentiles into the Church were very wonderful events, but in them this prediction was fulfilled. It receives further accomplishment daily.

I. God’s dealings are mysterious.

1. The dispensations of His providence have been at all times dark.

2. The dispensations of His grace are equally inscrutable. This is seen in the first quickening of men from their spiritual death, and in their subsequent spiritual life.

II. His intentions are merciful. The perplexities of His people are often very great, but He has gracious designs in all (Jeremiah 29:11; Job 42:12-13, with James 5:11). Joseph (Genesis 37:6-10; Genesis 37:28; Genesis 39:17-20). The same mercy is discoverable in God’s dealings with all His afflicted people. He suffers their path to be for a time dark and intricate, but He invisibly directs and manages their concerns; He gradually removes their difficulties, and clears up their doubts (Galatians 3:23-24; John 15:2; Malachi 3:3; Psalms 97:2). They are often ready to doubt His love, but—

III. His regards are permanent. God did not forget His people when they were in Babylon, neither will He now forsake those who trust in Him (Isaiah 44:7-8; Isaiah 49:14-16; 1 Samuel 12:22; Philippians 1:6). The prophets declare this in the strongest terms (Isaiah 54:9-10; Jeremiah 31:37; Jeremiah 32:40). St. Paul abundantly confirms their testimony (Romans 11:29; Hebrews 13:5-6).


1. How careful should we be not to pass a hasty judgment on the Lord’s dealings! (H. E. I. 4038–4048).
2. How safely may we commit ourselves to God’s disposal!—C. Simeon, M.A.: Claude’s Essay, &c., p. 229.


Isaiah 42:16. I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.

This promise refers primarily to the manner in which God purposed to deliver His ancient people from bondage, by means at once unprecedented and complete; but it is surely available for all who, confessing their own blindness and powerlessness, cast themselves upon God for guidance and succour. Such persons may plead this promise in reference—

1. To ignorance which they wish to have removed (James 1:5).

2. To mysterious providences. God’s dealings with us and others are often incomprehensible, and inexplicable by us; but let us wait patiently, believingly, and prayerfully, and in due time this promise will be fulfilled (H. E. I. 4040–4058).

3. To Christian duty. The sincere Christian constantly asks, “What is the will of God concerning me?” But many difficulties may be in the way of deciding this question; a variety of points may require to be nicely adjusted; contrary claims may leave the balance of the scales almost in a state of equipoise; but in due season the sincere seeker for Divine direction shall be directed (Proverbs 3:6).

4. To formidable difficulties that appear insurmountable. “There is a crook in every lot;” but in regard to the Christian all “crooked things shall be made straight.” They may give a great deal of trouble for a time, but in the end they will prove helpful and not hurtful to the patient believer.—William Reeve: Miscellaneous Discourses, pp. 434–440.

Sin has its fascinating lustre and flaring splendour; murky clouds often rest upon the way of righteousness and truth; but sin’s splendours go out in pitch darkness, while at eventide there is light for the Christian.

I. The believer’s darkness is turned into light, and the crooks of his lot are straightened.

1. The frequent grim darkness.

(1.) Much of it is of his own imagining. Many of our sorrows are purely homespun, and some minds are specially fertile in self-torture; they have the creative faculty for the melancholy; enjoyments even cause them to tremble lest they should be shortlived.
(2.) Much existing darkness is exaggerated. “Joseph is not, Simeon is not;” but Jacob pictured Joseph devoured of an evil beast, and Simeon given up to slavery in a foreign land. Take up the cross, and mountains will shrink to molehills.
(3.) Troubles disappear just when we expect them to become overwhelming. The waters of the Red Sea stood upright as a heap to make a pathway for God’s people. Who can tell what plan God may have in store for him? Hezekiah was sore dismayed before Rabshakeh. Little did he know that the talk and boasting were all that would come of it.
(4.) When the trial comes, God has a way of making His people’s trials cease just as they reach their culminating point. As the sea when it reaches to the flood pauses awhile and then returns to the ebb, so our sorrows rise to a height and then recede. Hear God bid Abraham sacrifice his son! He makes darkness light when the darkest hour of the night has struck.
(5.) Every trial was foreseen, and has been forestalled. God can furnish a table in the wilderness.

(6.) However severe the trial, God has promised that as our days our strength shall be. Considering that the grace is always proportioned to the trial, and that trials produce manliness, one might even choose trial for the sake of obtaining the grace which is promised with it; the mingled trial and grace will make our lives sublime.

(7.) Especially dwell upon the promise that the Lord will make your darkness light. How soon, and how perfectly, can Omnipotence accomplish this! How soon is it done in the physical universe! A fulness of consolation can be poured forth in a moment. How is it done? Sometimes by the sun of His providence. Often by the moon of Christian experience, which shines with borrowed light, but yet with sweet and tranquil brightness. Frequently by a sight of Jesus going before, and by hearing Him say, “Follow me; fear not; for in all your afflictions I am afflicted.” God had one Son without sin; but He never had a son without chastisement. And often by snatching a firebrand from the altar of His Word, and waving it as a torch before us, that we may advance in its light.

2. The crooks of the believer’s lot.

(1.) One may lie in your poverty.
(2.) Another in some very crooked calamity.
(3.) If he is free from these, he has at least a crooked self. The others would matter little but for this. It may be you have crooked temptations—temptations to profanity or to certain vices.
3. God will make all the crooked things straight.

(1.) It may be that some are straight now; the making straight is only to make them seem so to us. Our crosses are our best estates.

(2.) God can bend the crooked straight, and what will not bend, He can break. The crooked character has been bent straight; the judgment of God has taken away the crook out of the household, so that the righteous might have peace. If He do not this, He will give power to overleap the difficulty (2 Samuel 22:30).

II. Some words to the seeker.

1. Some doctrines are dark to you. God makes all light to faith.
2. Perhaps your darkness rises from deep depression of mind. Faith must precede its dispersion; faith will disperse it.

3. Your crooked natural disposition God can make straight. Note—
(1.) That which saves is not what is, but what will be. “I will make darkness light; I will make crooked things straight.” There is a transformation in store.

(2.) It is not what you can do, but what God can do. “I, Jehovah, will do it.”

(3.) This work may not be yours at once, but it shall be soon. It does not say, “I will make darkness light today;” still it does say, “I will.”

III. Two lessons to believers.

1. If God will thus make all your darkness light and all your crooked things straight, do not forestall your troubles.

2. Always believe in the power of prayer.—C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (1868), pp. 709–720.

Verses 18-21


Isaiah 42:18-20. Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, &c.

Thus the Lord expostulates with His ancient people, and thus He has reason to expostulate with us. We succeed them, both in religious privileges and in the abuse of those privileges. Where does the light of the Gospel shine more clearly? But do we excel other people in knowledge and virtue, in faith and patience, in temperance and goodness, as we surpass them in the means of acquiring these Christian graces? No! There is here no one who could challenge the justice and propriety of this expostulation, if it were addressed to him. In our text we have—
“Deaf,” “blind,” &c. We are “deaf,” in a spiritual sense, when we do not attend to the Divine admonitions, or give earnest heed to the word of instruction; “blind,” when we do not perceive the glory of the Gospel, and the force and beauty of Divine truth. This description is—

1. Absolutely true of most men. The ignorance of numbers who constantly enjoy the best religious instruction is far beyond what any person can imagine who has not made it a matter of special investigation. Nothing they have ever heard or seen during their attendance upon the ordinance of religion has made any effectual impression upon them. The first principles of Christianity are unknown to them. They have never learned to understand what is meant by repentance, faith, holiness, the Divine character or their own, the evil of sin, the extent of their own sinfulness, or even what is required of them in the common duties of life. Yet some of them delude themselves with the hope that there is before them a future of eternal blessedness! They are not all equally ignorant. Some of them amidst the light of the Gospel and the sound of religious instruction occasionally receive a little. But the whole truth they will not receive. Many doctrines and precepts of Christianity oppose their passions and prejudices, and therefore against these they obstinately close their ears and shut their eyes.

2. In some measure true of all men. The sincerest followers of Christ may be charged with not exercising, as they ought, the spiritual senses which God has given them. The best Christians would have been better still, if they had never, by their siothfulness and inattention, lost the benefits conveyed by the means they have been favoured with (H. E. I. 2570–2584, 2654–2658).

As far as this description is true of us, our condition is a terrible one.

1. It is the result of sin. Is it not a terrible sin even to be heedless of the messages sent us by Almighty God? But many have deliberately shut out the rays of the Sun of righteousness, because light was troublesome, and would not permit them to enjoy those works of darkness on which they were bent.

2. While it continues, all the means intended to deliver us from sin will fail to benefit us. As the most-improving advice given in conversation is useless to a deaf person, and the most delightful objects are displayed to no purpose before the blind, so the word of truth is preached in vain to those who have neither ears to hear nor eyes to see its meaning and excellency. Before one step in the way of salvation can be taken, this hindrance must be removed.

3. Our condition is nearly hopeless, and tends to become absolutely hopeless. [1381]

4. We ought to be ashamed of it. You ought to be ashamed of your ignorance of Christianity in a Christian country, and still more ashamed and humbled for the cause of it, which is always sloth, stubbornness, or self-conceit.

5. We ought to be alarmed on account of it. For the reason already given—that our condition tends to become a hopeless one. And also because the penalty of wilful blindness in the midst of sunlight is consignment to eternal darkness and woe.

[1381] When the habit of inattention is formed, or men’s minds are so armed by prejudice as to be determined not to hear or embrace certain truths which are offensive, their condition is nearly hopeless. He who does not use his spiritual senses, and keep them in constant exercise, must expect to find them impaired, and, in time, lost. Those congregations which have long enjoyed a sound and animated course of instruction without any particular benefit, become in the end more stupid and hardened than those which have not been so favoured. What can be said or done to do them good, which has not been repeatedly tried in vain? As time and increasing years have a happy effect in strengthening and confirming good habits, so they have a still more powerful influence in confirming bad ones. So that those persons who suffer their passions and prejudices, their disrelish for the word of truth, their blindness and inattention, and all their other inveterate habits to accompany them till the decline of life, are likely to lie down with them in their graves, and to be found encumbered with them on the morning of the resurrection.—Richardson.


There is a call to the deaf to hear, and to the blind to look that they may see. This is like the command of our Saviour to the man with the withered hand to stretch it forth, and implies that this deafness and blindness was their fault as well as their misfortune. Every command of God is accompanied with grace and strength. He requires nothing of His people but what He has promised to enable them to perform. In dependence upon His promise, they ought therefore to stir themselves up to the discharge of their duty. The spiritually deaf should endeavour to open their ears to instruction, the spiritually blind to open their eyes to that wondrous display of grace which the Gospel exhibits. The effort will be as successful as that of the man to stretch out his withered hand, when it is made in obedience to the Divine command, and in dependence on the Divine blessing. [1384] And when this fatal obstruction is removed, and we have got ears to hear and eyes to see, the means of grace and salvation will have their proper influence.—William Richardson: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 470–482.

[1384] See Dr. Bushnell’s admirable sermon, “Duty not Measured by Ability,” in The New life, pp. 253–266.


Isaiah 42:18-21. Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, &c.

I. THE NAME HERE GIVEN TO SINNERS (Isaiah 42:18). Equally applicable to all unconverted men.

1. Naturally deaf. Do not hear the voice of Providence, of Christ, of pastors (Psalms 58:4).

2. Blind. This word is constantly used in the Bible to describe the stupidity of unconverted souls (Matthew 15:14; Matthew 23:26; Matthew 23:17; Revelation 3:17). They do not see the depravity, &c., of their own soul, the beauty, &c., of the glorious “Sun of Righteousness,” the path they pursue, leading to hell. “Hear, ye deaf; and look, ye blind.” Those who are deaf and blind are generally the least attentive. Attend, for God calls upon you! But you say this is a contradiction, “If I am deaf, how can I hear? If I am blind, how can I look?” Leave God to settle that difficulty, only listen and look up. There is truly no difficulty about it.

II. THE OBJECT POINTED TO. “Who is blind,” &c. Every expression here evidently points to Christ. [1387]

[1387] This by no means certain. The preacher will remember that concerning this passage diametrically opposite views are held by different commentators. The remarks of Birks and Cheyne are here given as specimens.

Birks:—“Vers. 18–21. These words are commonly applied to the Jewish people. Of recent critics, Dr. Henderson, almost alone, refers them to the Messiah. But his exposition of them as ironical, or the language of the Jews, is open to very weighty objection. On the usual view, the title ‘the Servant of God,’ would be used twice emphatically, and in close connection, in two different senses. The objection is only strengthened by the fruitless attempt to join Messiah and the nation together, in both places, as the common subject. The title ‘perfect’ cannot be applied, without great violence, to those whose sin is denounced in the same context, and belongs naturally to our Lord alone.

“The guilt and shame of the people are here enforced by direct contrast with the true Israel, the Prince who has power with God. Blind and deaf in spirit, not in their outward senses, they are to fix their eyes on Him, that sight and hearing may be restored. Theirs was the blindness and deafness of idolatry and self-righteous pride. He, too, is blind and deaf, but in a sense wholly opposite, by unspeakable forbearance and grace. So Psalms 38:13 : ‘I as a deaf man heard not, and I was as one dumb that openeth not his mouth.’ The Gospels renew the same picture (John 8:6-11). It is the same with the divine perfection in Balaam’s message: ‘He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel.’ The person named is the Messenger whom the Lord was about to send (John 10:36). He is the Perfect One, alone pure and sinless; the Lord’s servant, whose gentleness and patience have been described before, and who is to set judgment in the earth. On this view the repeated question, Who is blind as He? has a deep significance. Where sin has abounded grace still more abounds. The marvel of Israel’s blind idolatry and unbelief is to be surpassed by a greater marvel of love and grace in Israel’s Redeemer, who sees as though He saw not, and hears as though He heard not, when He visits His people in great mercy to pity and to save.

Ver. 20. The blindness of this Servant of the Lord is now explained, with allusion to the promise (Isaiah 35:5): ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.’ It is the free choice of patient love. He can open the ears of the deaf, but refuses to hear the sounds of strife and violence. Every sense is awake for mercy. He gives voice, hearing, sight, to the dumb, the deaf, and the blind, but deaf and dumb Himself in refusing to judge when He comes to save. Thus men are blessed, God is glorified, and the excellence of God’s righteous law of perfect love is for ever revealed.”—Commentary, pp. 218, 219.

Cheyne:—“Vers. 18–20. We are confronted here with an at first sight perplexing discrepancy, viz., that whereas in Isaiah 42:1-7 ‘the Servant’ is introduced as an indefatigable worker in Jehovah’s cause, and as especially appointed ‘to open blind eyes,’ in Isaiah 42:19 we find ‘My Servant’ and ‘My Messenger’ described as spiritually ‘blind’ and ‘deaf.’ This, however, is one of those apparent inconsistencies in which Eastern poets and teachers delight, and which are intended to set us on the search for a higher and reconciling idea. The higher idea in the case before us is that the place of the incompetent messenger shall be taken by One both able and willing to supply his deficiencies and to correct his faults.’ Israel—the people being as yet inadaquate to his sublime destiny—Jehovah’s own ‘elect,’ shall come to transform and elevate the ‘unprofitable servant.’

Ver. 18. Hear, ye deaf …] Jehovah is the speaker. He has before Him a company of spiritually deaf and blind. Surely (we may suppose Him to make this reflection) they are not all stone-deaf; some may be able by exerting the power yet graciously continued to them to hear God speaking in history and in prophecy (comp. Isaiah 42:23)!—Thus it would almost seem as if Jehovah Himself had assumed the function of ‘opening blind eyes,’ previously ascribed to the Servant. But there is no real discrepancy. The operations of Jehovah and of His Servant are all one; Jehovah must nominally interpose here in order that the incompetence of His people-Servant may be exposed, and the necessity for another Servant, springing out of but far worthier than Israel, be made clear.

Ver. 19. Who is blind but my Servant?] The blind and deaf Servant means the people of Israel, regarded as a whole, in its present state of spiritual insensibility. Jehovah is sometimes described anthropomorphically as ‘saying,’ or, more fully, as saying to His heart, i.e. to Himself (Genesis 8:21). It is such a ‘saying’ that we have here. Jehovah sadly reflects, ‘Who among earth’s inhabitants is so blind and deaf as Israel, my servant?’ Strange fact! The servant, who needs a sharp eye to catch the least gesture of his master (Psalms 123:2)—the messenger, who requires an open ear to receive his commissions, is deaf! To interpret ‘Who is blind, &c.’ of Jesus Christ, as if ‘the guilt and shame of the people[were] here enforced by direct contrast with the true Israel, the Prince who has power with God,’ and as if the true, no less than the phenomenal Israel, could be called blind and deaf with reference to His slowness to take offence (Prof. Birks), is to go directly counter to Biblical usage (see Isaiah 6:10; Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Zechariah 7:11). In fact, the only passages quoted in support of this far-fetched view are Psalms 38:13, where the sin-conscious Psalmist resigns his defence to God; and John 8:6-11, where the Saviour (if this interpolated narrator may be followed), under exceptional circumstances, refuses an answer to His persecutors.”—Commentary, vol. i. pp. 259, 260.

1. My servant (Isaiah 42:1, cf. Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 53:2; Luke 22:27; Philippians 2:7). He came not to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him.

2. My Messenger (Job 33:23; Malachi 3:1). God sent Him.

3. He that is perfect. “He did no sin,” &c.

4. Blind and deaf (also Isaiah 42:20). This describes the way in which He went through His work in the world (same as Isaiah 42:2; and Psalms 38:13-14; Isaiah 53:7). He was blind to His own sufferings. He was deaf: He seemed not to hear their plotting against Him, nor their accusations, for He answered not a word (Matthew 15:13-14).

III. THE WORK OF CHRIST (Isaiah 42:21). This is in some respects the most wonderful description of the work of Christ given in the Bible. He is often said to have fulfilled the law (Matthew 3:15; Matthew 5:17). But here it is said, He will “magnify the law,” &c. He came to give new lustre and glory to the holy law of God, that all worlds might see and understand that the law is holy, &c. He did this—

1. By His sufferings. He magnified the holiness and justice of the law by bearing its curse. He took upon Him the curse due to sinners, and bore it in His body on the tree, and thereby proved that God’s law cannot be mocked. Learn—

(1.) The certainty of hell for the Christless.
(2.) To flee from sin. [1390]

[1390] Compare other translations of this verse. Cheyne: “Who is blind but my servant? and deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as the surrendered one? and blind as the servant of Jehovah?” Arno’d: “Who is blind, but my servant? or deaf, as my messenger that I would send? Who is blind as God’s liegeman, and blind as the LORD’S servant?”—See also the translations by Alexander and Delitzsch.

2. By His obedience. He added lustre to the goodness of the law by obeying it. Learn the true wisdom of those who love God’s holy law (Psalms 19:0)

IV. THE EFFECT. “God is well pleased.”

1. With Christ.
2. With all that are in Christ.
CONCLUSION.—He that wrought out this righteousness invites you to get the benefit of it.—R. M. M‘Cheyne: Sermons and Lectures, pp. 349–355.


Isaiah 42:21. The Lord is well pleased, &c.

God may be said to make the law honourable by everything by which He shows His own great respect to it. In every government, the sovereign is the fountain of honour: in the Divine government, God is the fountain of all honour. Whatever shows God’s respect to it, magnifies the law. The law is magnified when either the precepts or penalty of it are fulfilled, when the commands or threatenings of it are satisfied. The work of redemption magnifies God’s law:—

I. By the perfect obedience that Christ gave to the commandments of it. What is meant by His obedience to it? In ourselves, holiness and obedience to the law are but one and the same thing; but it is not so, it was not so always, as to Christ Before He came to the world He was perfectly holy; but that holiness could not be called obedience. It was when Christ took on Him our nature that He fulfilled our law. It was our duty that He performed, and our righteousness that He fulfilled, as well as our sins that He bore.

How much this obedience magnified God’s law as to the commands of it, will appear when we consider the following properties of it:—

1. It was perfect obedience. “He continued in all things written in the book of the law to do them.”
2. It was the obedience of the most glorious person that could be subject to the law.
3. It was obedience performed by express Divine appointment.
4. It was obedience performed in a low condition; which served to show, that obedience to the law in any rank or station is honourable.
5. It was an obedience of universal influence as to the example of it.

II. By the perfect satisfaction He gave to the threatenings of it. He bore the penalty of it, by His sufferings and death. Three things show the importance of keeping up the authority of the law:—the Author of the law, the matter and end of it, and the kingdom that is commanded by it. Notice the properties of Christ’s suffering the penalty of the law.

1. It was a real execution of the law. The law was given by Moses, but fulfilled only by Christ.
2. It is a total execution of the law. No other punishment of creatures shall be called such. It is of Him only that it can be said that “he made an end of sin,” of the punishment of it.
3. It was an execution of it upon the most honourable person that could suffer. All the other persons that ever suffered for sin on earth or hell, principalities and powers of darkness, were but mean, low, vulgar, in comparison of this King of kings and Lord of lords.
4. It was also an execution of it upon the nearest relation of the Judge. The relation between God and Christ is expressed in the analogy between a father and a son. But the relation between a father and a son is nothing to that between God and Christ. This serves to show the righteousness of the law. If a judge executed the law only upon his enemies, he might be called partial; but if he executed the law upon those he cannot be said to have any hatred to, that shows him to be actuated by the purest justice and righteousness (H. E. I. 374–383).

III. The work of Redemption magnifies the law, as it is a work of infinite love. Everything that hath the nature of a motive to strengthen obedience magnifies the law. Favours, as well threatenings, are motives to excite to obey God’s law; and this is the greatest favour, and is one of the chief motives to stir up to obedience and restrain from evil. Threatenings are not the only motives to stir up to obedience. Gifts from the lawgiver are also motives to obey the law.

What can be more fit to magnify a law of love than a work of infinite love? If we considered this, we would see nothing a greater motive to establish the law. The law of God commands us to love God, and the work of redemption is the greatest motive to love Him. The law of God commands us to glorify Him: the work of redemption shows us the brightest manifestation of His glory.

IV. The work of redemption magnifies the law by the reward of obedience. The law is honoured, not only when obedience is performed, but when obedience is rewarded. Every person thinks himself honoured when he is obeyed, but doubly honoured when obedience to him is rewarded. The honour that was done to Christ is done to the law; and not only all the honour that was done to Jesus Christ, but all the gifts that His people get by being united to Him for the sake of His merits, that is, for the sake of His obedience to the law. This, indeed, may make us admire the wisdom of God, that the honour that is done to the criminal is done to the law; for the sinner that believes in Christ is made righteous through His righteousness, and the law is always honoured by the blessedness of the righteous.

V. The application of the work of Redemption through the Spirit magnifies the law. The law is magnified by everything that puts disgrace upon sin. That which puts disgrace upon sin puts honour upon obedience. We are justified by faith in Christ’s righteousness; and by the Spirit we are enabled to render obedience.


1. Every one who despises the law despises Christ.
2. God, having magnified His law so wondrously, will have us always stand in awe of it.
3. We should take encouragement to ourselves, if we truly repent of our sins, if we truly see our need of Christ, to hope for mercy, because justice is so gloriously satisfied.
4. We should be adoring the wonderful, immense wisdom of God in the work of redemption, the manifold wisdom of God, the many attributes manifested in it.—John Maclaurin: “Select Works,” pp. 242–271.

Among all the obscurities about the prophetical writings, the simple fact that there is a mysterious prophetic personage is plain and obvious. He is introduced in the beginning of this chapter in a very solemn and impressive manner. Who this is, it may sometimes be found difficult to determine. Jesus is the key to the interpretation. That this chapter belongs to Christ, would seem to admit of very easy proof: just by the Bible interpreting itself (Matthew 12:17-21; Mark 1:11; Mark 9:7). This passage is spoken of Christ.

I. A preliminary observation or two.

1. With respect to the “law.” It is a word used in Scripture in two ways.
(1) As a universal thing—the moral law.

(2) As a limited thing—the ceremonial institutions, given to a particular part of mankind, and for a particular time.

2. To “magnify the law and make it honourable” cannot mean that Messiah was to produce any change in it—that what He did was to perfect the law itself; as if the law had any defect about it. The moral law, necessarily resulting from the Divine perfections and government, is incapable of improvement. Christ did not do anything in the way of enlarging the ceremonial law.

3. We cannot suppose that this means, that there was to be any change effected in the conceptions of God about the law—that the work of Christ was intended to affect the Divine mind in relation to it.
4. It must signify the manner in which created minds were to be affected by it. Something was to be done, by which there should be a certain impression with respect to law, produced upon the minds of the intelligent universe—that should, so to speak, give body and substance and visibility to God’s own conceptions about His law.

II. The necessity for this. If sin had never entered into the universe, God’s law would always have been a sublime and grand thing in the estimation of that universe. And if when sin was permitted to enter the universe, the penalties and sanctities of the law had been carried out fully and literally, then law would always have been magnified; it would then have been always a great and glorious thing. But if there is to be the fact, that there are sinners and violators of law, those that on just principle are exposed to the penalty, and yet they are to escape, and to be treated as if they were actually righteous, &c., then law so far seems to go for nothing,—there is danger of a certain effect being produced upon the minds of God’s creatures, injurious to His character, and government, and law. And, therefore, there was a necessity in the nature of things, that this escape from penalty and punishment should not only be agreeable to the principles of law, but that there should be a manifestation of that: that something shall be done, the moral effect of which upon the minds of God’s rational creatures shall be equivalent to the impression which would have been produced by the literal carrying out of the principles of law itself. The work of Christ does this, and this prophetic declaration is realised.

III. The manner and way in which this thing, thus necessary, was done.

1. Christ’s teaching always maintained the authority of the law (Matthew 5:17).

2. His personal character magnified and honoured it. He was “made under law,” and obeyed it, and never wished to be free from it (Hebrews 7:26).

3. But these are but preparatory to that one great act which was the consummation of His work—His propitiatory sacrifice; in which, in a certain sense, He stood forth, as it were, bearing the penalty of the moral law, and in another sense manifesting the substance and casting a light and glory upon the ceremonial. (Hebrews 2:14-17.) There was a substitution in two senses:

(1) of person—
(2) of suffering—producing an impression upon all moral nature of God’s regard to His own authority, and His determination always to act in harmony with law.

4. His people are redeemed unto obedience (Titus 2:14; Romans 8:3.) Hence, saints love the law—respect it—rejoice in it.

The substitutionary work of Christ expounds those many representations of Scripture, harmonising with the text. The private and personal affections of our nature are not enough as an analogy to the work of God. The case of the king of Babylon and Daniel will illustrate the whole of this subject (Daniel 6:0. See also, H. E. I. 376, 383, 391).—Thomas Binney: The Pulpit, vol. 40, pp. 234–240.

I. It is necessary to have clear views of the characteristics and operations of the two dispensations.

1. The Law of God is simply the revealed will of the Creator. First proclaimed when the first intelligent creature was formed, and it requires from all moral beings unqualified and instant submission. This Law made known to man at his creation, revealed anew at Sinai, renewed and confirmed by Christ. No intelligent creature exempt from it. Disobedience involves condemnation and ruin, arrays God against transgressors. Thus it was with angels who sinned, with Adam, and is with man now. The holiness, faithfulness, authority of this law can never be annulled. It is the law of God, not of Moses.
2. The Gospel is a free offer of actual and finished salvation to man, who is under condemnation of law. It is a remedy for existing, actual evil; restores the transgressor of the Law, not by annulling, but by fulfilling the Law for him; announces a Saviour who has assumed the sinner’s place, and rendered for him the satisfaction and obedience required by Law.

The same Divine Being who gave the Law also gave the Gospel. No inconsistency or change in Him.
II. Consider the direct assertion of the text—that the righteousness of Christ magnifies the Law and makes it honourable. Gospel teaching does not set aside the Law or subvert moral obligations. In preaching justification through grace, we establish, confirm, and honour the Law. For we announce a salvation provided by God, in which He is well pleased; which satisfies every legal demand; makes the sinner secure; and infinitely glorifies the Divine character.

1. The Gospel honours and magnifies the Law by the voluntary obedience of Jesus. The Law is honoured by the obedience of angels, would have been honoured by man’s obedience; but the submission and obedience of Christ magnifies it even more highly.

2. By the voluntary sufferings of Jesus. If all the transgressors of the Law had been punished, the Law would have been honoured. It was more honoured when God Himself consented to bear its penalties. Christ’s sufferings the same in nature as those which unpardoned sinners endure. Those sufferings were a perfect satisfaction to the violated Law (H. E. I. 377–383).

3. By requiring every sinner, as a condition of pardon, to acknowledge his guilt in breaking the Law, and his desert of condemnation under its sentence.

4. In the new obedience rendered by those whose hearts have been renewed.

These the truths which the apostles preached, for which the Reformers died, without which the Gospel cannot triumph over error and sin.—Stephen H. Tyng, D.D.: The Law and the Gospel, pp. 374–390.

Verse 22


Isaiah 42:22. But this is a people robbed and spoiled.

When the unsuspecting traveller is waylaid, overcome by superior force and plundered; when a house is broken into and all its valuables carried off; when a country is overrun by hostile armies, devastated and pillaged, we cry out against such outrages, and pity the poor victims. Shall we be moved by wrongs like these, and yet be indifferent to the far more fearful robbery and spoliation which we have suffered through sin? Shall we continue to harbour and encourage the spoiler, who is snatching from us our most valuable possessions, nay, is even making a prey of ourselves? It is sad to contemplate the havoc which sin has made upon our nature. But it is necessary to have a right estimate of the extent to which we have suffered. Deep convictions of the reality, nature, and consequences of sin are essential to a proper appreciation of the blessings of the gospel.

We are not left in doubt as to the cause of Israel’s degradation. The question is put and answered in Isaiah 42:24. There is the explanation of the misery and ruin in which the people were involved. It would have been a small matter had the invaders only spoiled them of their possessions, but they themselves became a prey. The condition to which they were reduced is a good example and representation of the consequences of sin. Let us contemplate the ravages of this spoiler in the light of the words before us:—

I. Sin robs us of peace. It is a truth which we cannot evade, that as soon as a man commits a sinful act he has introduced into his life an element of unrest and misery. He has broken down the walls which protected him on every side, and now the forces of evil assail him unopposed. In this respect every sin bears a resemblance to the first sin. The guilty pair in Eden sought concealment among the trees, but it was an unavailing refuge. God brought them forth for conviction and sentence. There is no peace to the wicked. He has leagued against himself penal forces which cannot be resisted. What is here said of Israel is true of him, “they are snared in holes.” In the false refuges to which the guilt-stricken soul betakes itself, it is “snared and taken.” Sin most surely finds out the sinner. He becomes a prey to the wicked deeds which he has committed. We have heard of man-traps and spring-guns being fixed with wires in such a manner that when a wire was trod upon, a gun wheeled round, and shot or wounded the intruder. Such are the dangers which beset the sinner as he pursues his lawless course. How can there be any peace or security in such a case? The moment we sin, God delivers us over to the spoilers, who track our steps, and give us no peace (H. E. I. 4603–4612).

II. Sin robs us of liberty. Under the plausible pretext of giving us liberty, it takes it from us. (2 Peter 2:19.) Men think that by indulging evil desires they widen the bounds of their freedom, but soon they find themselves degraded slaves (H. E. I. 4482–4484). They think it a fine thing to be allowed to do as they like, but ere long they become the captives of their sinful likings. We all know the enchaining power of habit. Sin is a hardening thing, but it is also cunning, deceitful, insidious (Hebrews 3:13). “Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird,” but foolish man rushes into the net. He harbours the thief who will plunder him of his choicest treasures, and deprives him of his liberty. He dallies with the deceiver, till he is fast in its clutches. Priding himself on his freedom, he finds it only a freedom to do evil, a freedom from law, while he has lost the power of doing good. Milton speak of those

“Who bawl for freedom in their senseless mood,
And still revolt when truth would set them free:
License they mean when they cry Liberty!”

III. Sin robs us of moral power and influence. Righteousness is bold, fearless, strong; but disobedience is weak and cowardly. A holy and upright life is an influence for good. The man who walks with God, who is much with Him in secret communion, reflects the heavenly rays that fall upon his own soul, and becomes a light and a guide to others. But once admit sin into the heart, and his moral power is so far lost. He no longer looks with reproving eye on the sins of other men, for he has allowed the spoiler to enter his own heart and to sap his spiritual strength. Take Samson as an example. Revealing to his temptress the secret of his strength, and suffering his locks to be shorn, he thought he might go forth as at other times and shake himself free of his assailants; but he wist not that the Lord was departed from him. He is a type of thousands who have been spoiled through sinful indulgence of their moral power. This result is brought about in a gradual, imperceptible way, just as a disease may for long have its seat in the system before it reveals itself outwardly; but meanwhile the man’s strength is declining. The sin you indulge may be unknown to the world, but there will be a something in your life and demeanour which will betray a hidden weakness, a waning power, a flagging zeal (H. E. I. 4491–4495).

IV. Sin robs us of sensibility. A long course of wickedness deadens the moral sense, makes men think lightly of sin, and even disregard the divine threatenings and judgments (Isaiah 42:21.). What spiritual blindness sin has wrought! what gross insensibility! The fire closes round him, yet he cares not. God contends with him, but conscience is so seared and deadened that nothing can rouse it. See, then, what sin can do. It can so rob and spoil us as to leave us destitute of any feeling to which either God’s love or wrath can appeal.

These are some of the treasures of which sin robs us. It opens so many doors by which spoilers enter. The theft may be perpetrated in a stealthy, secret way, so that for a time the sinner is not aware of his loss, nay, may be deluded with the notion that he is a gainer, and not a loser; but soon the deception is discovered when he finds that for a few glittering toys he has bartered away his choicest endowments, that the prowlers whom he never suspected have made off with his most precious treasures. Our subject presents a true picture of man’s state; but a man may be robbed and not be aware of it. Some precious article may be surreptitiously taken from his house, and not be missed for a long time. So it is with the unawakened sinner. He knows not that he has been harbouring thieves who have carried off his substance and robbed him of his spiritual possessions. If he set any value on these things, he would soon see his destitution; but, pleased with trifles, he knows not his loss (Revelation 3:17).

Our first need, then, is to be convinced that we have been robbed and spoiled. Reflect, O sinner, on the state to which Satan has reduced you, the prey which sin has made of you. Look up to God—no peace, no communion, but a sentence ready at any moment to be carried into execution. Look into your own heart, where corruption is weaving its cords around you.

But can the stolen goods be recovered? So far as human help goes we are helpless; “none saith, Restore.” But there is One who can arrest the spoiler and bring back the lost treasures. If stung by the nettle, you have not far to look for the leaf that eases the pain (Isaiah 42:21). Christ has said, “Restore: stop thief,” and invites us to the enjoyment of the dignity and riches we have forfeited (Romans 5:1; Colossians 1:20; Romans 3:22-26; John 8:32; Galatians 5:1; Zechariah 12:10).—William Guthrie, M.A.

Verses 23-25


Isaiah 42:23-25. Who among you will give ear to this? &c.

I. The desolation brought upon the Jews. Terrible. Sent upon them by God. Defeated after their rejection of the Messiah. It continues to this day.

II. The justice of the sentence that is gone forth against them.

III. Their insensibility under these judgments. They do not see the sentence which, in evil hour, their own ancestors pronounced against them: “His blood be on us and on our children!”—and on them it hath been. This is the awful curse under which they are now drooping and groaning (H. E. I., 143).

IV. An appeal arising out of this awful dispensation as applicable to ourselves. The whole history of the Jews is intended to be an admonition to us. Sharing in their sins, we shall certainly share in their chastisements.—R. C. Dillon, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 72–103.


Isaiah 42:25. And it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart.

One of the most evil results of sin is, that it hardens and deadens the soul. When persisted in it goes beyond the stage of arousing anxiety and alarm; it stupefies and benumbs, so that a man gets “past feeling.” What a pitiable object does he become who is so under the influence of poison that he is no longer himself! Fire burns him, yet so insensible is he, that where a healthy man would be active in self-defence, he lays it not to heart (H. E. I., 4535, 4540). We take the meaning of the text to be, that the corrupt part of Israel had become so depraved by their sins that they were not to be roused even though they witnessed the judgments of God inflicting upon the nation the just penalties of their rebellions: “they laid it not to heart.” It matters not whether we regard the judgment as a special interposition of God or as a natural result of sin, the doctrine is frequently illustrated in human experience. All sin carries with it a fire that burns the sinner; yet we see instances in which the sinner has been previously so hardened that he lays it not to heart, and the fire goes on burning him. E.g.,—

1. The fire of Covetousness takes hold upon some men. The just desire to secure a fitting recompense for honest effort is here distorted into a consuming fire of avarice. How seriously it deadens all the higher faculties of their nature. Selfishness is the centre of their life, and there they live in the midst of one raging desire, the desire for possessions, to the exclusion of God and divine things. Ponder this picture of insensibility as drawn by Christ’s own hand (Luke 12:15-21).

2. The fire of Lust does deadly damage upon others. Here the lurid flames of unholy passion obtain the mastery where God’s temple should be (1 Corinthians 6:19). The powers of body and mind sink down in debasement under the tyranny of this ruinous vice.

3. The fire of Intemperance has a destructive hold upon tens of thousands. And how insensible its victims become! Draw the too well known and familiar picture of a drunkard’s life, and a drunkard’s home. Health, property, reputation, comfort, all drop away: wife and family are debased; yet, whilst poverty and ruin are creeping over the scene, he can look upon it all with astonishing indifference. The fire burns him and his, yet he lays it not to heart.

These instances suggest many others. How fearfully true it is that men can live in such flames as these, and not lay it to heart.
They remain insensible—

1. To all Warning.

2. To most Impressive Examples in the fate of others.

3. To most Agonising Convictions which now and then haunt even themselves.

CONCLUSION.—Where fire is concerned, prompt, earnest, and wise attention is the duty of the moment. If there be some feeling left, begin with that, and lay hold of recovering help.—William Manning.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 42". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/isaiah-42.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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