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CHEERING WORDS FOR THE AFFLICTED
Isaiah 43:1-3. But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, &c.
These cheering words were addressed by God to His peculiar people the Jews; but He has a peculiar people now, and all who partake of their faith and love may consider this Scripture as written for the purpose of imparting comfort and strength to their troubled hearts. It suggests four subjects for consideration: the afflictions to which the people of God are liable; the exhortation addressed to them; the promises by which it is strengthened; and the arguments by which it is enforced.
I. Compared with the miseries they have deserved, or with the weight of glory reserved for them, the afflictions of God’s people are light (H. E. I. 3703, 3704); but in other points of view, they often appear sharp and heavy. The text implies, 1, that these afflictions are certain; that they not only may come, but will come. It speaks of them as things of course (H. E. I. 47–55, 3674).
2. That they may be great; deep as rivers, dangerous as rapid torrents.
3. That they may be greatly diversified. They may be in the waters to-day, and may have deliverance, but to-morrow they may have to walk through the fire and the flame; to endure trials which are unexpected and strange, and far more severe and bitter than any they have previously experienced.
II. How suitable and encouraging is the exhortation which is here addressed to us: “Fear not.”
1. The power and greatness of Him from whom it proceeds gives to it a force which it would not otherwise possess. It comes from the only Being in the universe who can bless a sinner, or whom he has cause to fear.
2. The natural tendency of our trials is to excite fear. This fear may be innocent; it may lead us to avoid them, if God will, and if not, it will move us to circumspection and prayer. Such a fear our Saviour manifested in Gethsemane.
3. But there is a fear of another kind, and this we are here called on to lay aside: a fear which is the effect of unbelief, and the cause of murmurings, despondency, and wretchedness; a fear which tempts us to choose sin rather than affliction, which provents us from praising God under our trials, and from trusting Him to bring is out of them.
III. This exhortation God supports and strengthens by two most gracious promises.
1. He promises His own presence with us in our trials. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee” (H. E. I. 198–202, 3677).
2. He promises us preservation under all our calamities. “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee; when thou walkest through the fire thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.” What does this imply? That our trials shall not injure us. In proportion as they tend to become temptations, grace will be ministered to us, and they shall not overthrow us. Nay more; the very calamities which appeared likely to destroy every spiritual grace within God’s people, to overwhelm their patience, their confidence and love, are made the very means of displaying and brightening them all (H. E. I. 204–214). By calling the suffering graces of His people into exercise, He will render them invincible. He will enable them to pass through rivers of trouble as safely as His beloved Israel passed through the Red Sea, and cause the fires of affliction to play as innocently around them as they played around His three servants in the furnace at Babylon.
IV. In the greatness of His condescension, God vouchsafes to add to His precious promises several arguments to assure us of their fulfilment.
1. The first is drawn from the relation in which He stands to us as our Creator. “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel.” He created us naturally, and has re-created His people spiritually (Isaiah 43:21; Ephesians 2:10). Here, then, is a solid ground of confidence. The Father of our spirits must be well acquainted with our infirmities and weakness (Psalms 103:13-14; Isaiah 63:9). Neither will He ever forsake the work of His own hands. He raised us out of the ruins of the Fall, made us temples in which He delights to dwell and be worshipped; and He will never suffer the structures which He has erected at so much labour and cost to be thrown down by violence, or worn away by storms (Psalms 138:8; 1 Peter 4:19).
2. The Almighty draws another argument from the property which He has in His people and the manner in which He acquired it. “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” We are His by redemption also. And what a mighty price did He pay for us! He gave “Egypt for the ransom” of His ancient people, “Ethiopia and Seba for them.” But when we were to be redeemed, kingdoms and empires were too poor a ransom (Romans 8:32; Acts 20:28). Hence He estimates us, not by what we are, but by what we have cost Him. Will He abandon that which cost Him so dear? (Zechariah 2:8).
3. The covenant which God has formed with His people ensures the fufilment of His promises. “FOR I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour;” thus implying that He has entered into some engagement with His Israel; that He considers Himself bound to be with them in their troubles and distresses; that His own veracity and faithfulness are at stake, and would be sacrificed if Israel were forsaken or injured.
1. How rich in consolation is the Word of God!
2. How essential to our happiness is a knowledge of our interest in the divine promises (H. E. I. 306–308).
3. How full of confidence and praise ought they to be, who live in the enjoyment of the divine presence in the hour of trouble! It is tranquillising and sweet to have a beloved friend near us when our sorrows are multiplied upon us, but what is the presence of the dearest earthly friend, when compared with the presence of a sympathising God!
4. How blind to their own interest are they who reject the gospel of Christ!—Charles Bradley: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 266–285.
I. The most eminent piety, the most exalted privileges, form no ground of exemption from the heaviest trials.—God, by His prophet, in this chapter multiplies descriptions of the character and dignity of His people, and yet in the same breath speaks of the severe trials that await them. The people of God have had to pass through severe trials; not merely to hear about them, &c., but to endure them. Abraham (Genesis 22:2). Jacob (Genesis 37:32). Martha and Mary (John 11:1, &c.)
1. Let us not presume upon exemption from them (H. E. I. 234–236, 3361, 3674).
2. Let us not wonder if trial increases in weight and severity. This may be intimated in the text—waters, rivers; fire, flame. There is an ascent in the path of suffering, a graduated scale of sorrow. Trials are proportioned according to our strength; to our missing the improvement of former calamities; to our insensibility to chastisements (Amos 4:0.)
II. The supports which God furnishes are equal to the utmost emergency in which we can be placed. “I will be with thee.” Enough!
1. Enough to temper the excess of trial, and to enable us to bear up under it. The text engages that the trial shall not reach beyond a certain point: “they shall not overflow thee.” Our supports shall be in every way equal to our necessity. Mr. Cecil says: “I shall never forget the encouragement when standing by the dying bed of my mother. I asked her, ‘Do you not tremble at entering an unknown world, not knowing what you shall meet there? ‘It is no matter what I shall meet there,’ was her answer; ‘He hath said, when thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee’ ” (H. E. I. 198, 3677).
2. Enough to sanctify the calamities to the promotion of our highest interest (H. E. I. 215, 3696–3701).
III. The promise of support is as certain as the trial is inevitable (Numbers 23:19). “I will be with thee,” &c. Apprehended, this promise induces resignation, prayer, commitment to God, hope.—Samuel Thodey.
I. The character of the people to whom this promise is made. “Jacob,” “Israel.” II. What God has done for them in time past; or what are the steps which He has taken to make them what they are. He has created them; He has redeemed them; He has called them by their names. Therefore He calls them His; “Thou art mine.” III. What He promises to do for them in time to come.—Daniel Rees: Sermons, pp. 136–156.
We have here God’s redemption, calling, and adoption of His people set forth as a ground of fearlessness in danger, and of comfort in the season of greatest distress.—Charles Neat: The Protestant Preacher, vol. iii. pp. 383–390.
GROUNDS OF CONFIDENCE IN GOD
Isaiah 43:1-2. But now thus saith the Lord, &c.
I. Here we have four distinct grounds of confidence in God.
1. Our creation: “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel; fear not.”
2. Our redemption: “For I have redeemed thee.”
3. Our calling: “I have called thee by thy name.”
4. Our adoption: “Thou art mine.” Are not all these the very strongest grounds of confidence in God?
1. Shall we not trust in Him who created us? The ungodly indeed can derive no confidence from the consideration of God having formed them; their relation to Him renders their rebellion against Him an incalculable evil (H. E. I. 4488–4489). A man must be renewed and reconciled to God before his creation can be judged a proper ground of confidence in Him. But it should be rested on by those who have received the atonement. Is it possible that He who made you, and whose forfeited favour as your Creator has been restored to you, can ever leave you or forsake you? Shall He become the Father of your spirits, and suffer your spirits, and souls, and bodies to perish?
2. If creation is a ground of confidence in God to them who are reconciled to God and bear His image, what must redemption be? What a magnificence of love, grace, mercy, compassion, holiness, and justice do we behold in this wonderful transaction! Is it to be supposed that redeeming mercy, surmounting every obstacle to the salvation of a sinner, can suffer you, in all the helplessness of your corrupted nature, to be driven to and fro with every wind of passion, and at last to be destroyed for ever! No! if you would calculate the extent of the divine assistance offered to the people of God, you must calculate upon the scale of redemption (H. E. I. 4631–4632; P. D. 3204).
3. In calling you by His grace, God has given you a personal interest in the redemption of His Son, and in all the blessings of His salvation. The unspeakable condescension, friendship, and tenderness which God in this heavenly calling manifests are strikingly declared here: “I have called thee by thy name.” When you call each other by your proper names, you do not by this signify more familiarity, benignity, and confidence than God does in calling you by them. He speaks to you, as to Abraham His friend; when He addressed Abraham by name, He did not feel more love for him than He feels for you day by day, continually. Why should you fear, whom He calls by your names? He has thus made your redemption and all its blessings His personal concern.
4. He who has called you by your names has adopted you into His family. “Thou art mine,” my servant, my child, mine heir, the heir of mine everlasting kingdom. What can be a higher ground of confidence in God than adoption into His family, than the endearing and exalting relation of a child? What condescension and mercy in God, thus to select one of the tenderest relations in life, by which to illustrate the nature of His love to us! (Isaiah 49:15).
II. On these grounds God exhorts His people to display a fearless fortitude when they are exposed to trials: “Fear not.”
III. In order to render it easier for them to manifest the courage which His children may well be expected to display, He adds gracious promises which should be to them a pillar of fire, to illuminate, guide, keep, and cheer them in the wilderness, or in the deep waters, through which their passage to a better country has been marked out for them: Isaiah 43:2. Right on to the end, they shall have His presence and protection.—Miles Jackson: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 233–257.
Those relations of God to man which form the groundwork of the believer’s obligations, are in this passage adduced as the foundations of his confidence and peace; and this fact shows, further, that the two must stand or fall together. Men should think of this before they seek to lower the strict requirements of God’s law. We can only lower our estimate of what we ought to do for God, by first lowering our estimate of what God has done for us, and so stripping from our faith all that now raises it into heights above our reach, and depths beyond our fathoming. God is your Creator, Preserver, Saviour, King. These are the very grounds of the assured confidence of which the prophet speaks. Consider—
I. THE CHARGE GIVEN—“Fear not.” The quality of fear is described in the Scriptures under various aspects.
Thus it is spoken of sometimes as a feeling to be exercised. “Be not highminded, but fear;” and again as a thing to be avoided, “Fear not.” There is the coward’s fear, which cannot bear the very sight of danger. Such is the fear that makes a man shrink from examining into the true state of his soul before God, and that makes men hide from themselves the thought of death. There is another kind of fear, which never shows itself till the time of actual trial comes; beforehand, it is arrogant and boastful, but sinks into despondency and despair when it is put to the test. God’s people are free from both of these; they are deeply conscious alike of their danger and of the inadequacy of their own strength to meet it: but they stand fast, “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” A righteous, godly fear, the believer has; but the cowardice of the world, which is loud to boast, and slow to act, and quick to doubt, he must never know. It becomes neither the dignity of his calling, nor the faithfulness of his God. The believer and the unbeliever are sharply separated in respect of the objects of their fear. The timid child and the courageous man both have fear; but the one fears a shadow: the other, that which, not to fear, would show the absence of a reasonable courage.
What things ought we to fear? Shall we fear the opposition and hatred of the world; those who can injure the body, but cannot touch the soul; pain, or sickness, or temporal misfortune? Those may do so who make this world their all, but not the believer, who recognises in them the medicines of the soul. Shall we fear the devil? Not with God on our side. Or death? Not so; for it is the gate of higher life, and introduces us to life’s crown of glory. He who fears God need know no other fear. Such fear is not a base naked terror; it becomes a wondering reverence, and loses itself in love; for He is not against His people, but for them; “Fear not, for I am with thee.” But the absence of this fear makes everything else fearful.
II. THE REASON ASSIGNED. “Thou art mine.” These words were spoken to Israel after the flesh; yet, as the relations named—Creator, Redeemer, and Saviour—are not peculiar to them, but are realised by every believing heart, every believer may take to himself his share in this animating promise; for all these relations are adduced, not as reasons for anything we are to pay to God, but as reasons for that which we are to receive from Him,—they form the ground of our confidence (Psalms 119:94). The certainty of our hope does not depend on our holding God, but on God’s holding us; it is not in our power to realise His promise at all times, but we may rest on the immutability of that promise (2 Timothy 2:13). The believer’s hope is “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast.” To see to what a strong rock that anchor holds, turn your thoughts to the relationship spoken of in these words, “I am thy Creator, thy Redeemer, thy Saviour;” “I have called thee by thy name,” words which imply a personal, immediate interest. All is His work; the goodness which created, the grace which has quickened, corrected, strengthened, taught, sanctified, has all come from Him!
III. THE PROTECTION PROMISED (Isaiah 43:2). This does not consist of any absence of trial and danger; the expressions of the text rather imply their presence, many in number, and varied in kind (Psalms 69:1-2). No extraordinary interposition will preserve the child of God from those miseries “to which man is born as the sparks fly upwards.” The protection promised consists in the constant presence with the soul of its unseen but Almighty Saviour (Psalms 16:8; Hebrews 13:5-6).
CONCLUSION.—Contrast the condition of the believer, and of the unbeliever. Affliction is the lot of all; but while a man loses nothing, in the calculation of earthly happiness, by becoming a follower of the Saviour, in the calculation of heavenly happiness he gains all. There is more sunshine, even in this world, to the righteous than to the unrighteous. Both have to share the “ills that flesh is heir to;” but what a difference in the strength of the two to meet them! If for a moment the Christian’s heart sinks, then the promise comes back to him like a refreshing breath from above—“Fear not; for I have redeemed thee.”—Edward Garbett, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 204–222.
Isaiah 43:2. When thou passest through the waters, &c.
I. THE PATHWAY THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE CALLED TO TREAD. Through waters and fires; used in the Scriptures as emblems of troubles and sorrows (Acts 14:22).
1. Temporal troubles. You can scarcely look into the narrowest circle of your acquaintance without finding sorrows, losses, cares, broils, contentions, all the fruits of sin (H. E. I. 47–51).
2. Spiritual troubles. Consciousness of utter inability to comply with the demands of the fiery law. Satan’s suggestions and temptations.
The troubles of life are—
1. to the ungodly, judicial punishments;
2. to God’s people, fatherly corrections, or trials of their faith (1 Peter 1:7; H. E. I. 66–70; 3678–3684).
II. THE UPHOLDING POWER THAT BEARS THEM ALONG. “I will be with thee.” Two views may be taken of this precious promise: there is such a thing as God being with His people, and they not knowing it; and there is such a thing as their sensible enjoyment of it.
1. God never deserts the objects of His love. But there have been many instances in which His people have had added to their trials the terrible fear that He had deserted them (Lamentations 3:8; Psalms 77:7-9; Job 23:8-9; H. E. I. 1644–1657).
2. But to those who humbly wait upon Him, He reveals His presence with them; and in that they find all they need to sustain them, and heaven begun below.
III. THE TERMINUS WHERE THE PATHWAY OF GOD’S PEOPLE WILL END. It is a mercy that the promise is “when thou passest through,” not merely into. God’s elect pass through waters and rivers, fires and flames, but they get to the other side. And what is found there? The rest that remaineth for the people of God (H. E. I. 2792, 2793; P. D. 1784).—Joseph Irons: Grove Chapel Pulpit, vol. iv. pp. 289–299.
I. THE WATERS AND RIVERS WHICH ARE IN THE CHRISTIAN’S WAY. 
 In most parts of our country, ingenuity and labour have been employed to lessen the fatigues and remove the dangers of travelling. Roads are cut through woods and morasses, and over mountains; inns are established; and bridges are thrown over rivers and brooks. But in countries which are thinly inhabited, or into which the improvements of modern times have not been introduced, travelling is full of danger and of toil. The stranger, if he has not a guide, is in perpetual uncertainty, is harassed by apprehensions; and if he reach his destined place, it is not till he is almost exhausted by fatigue, and after many hair-breadth escapes. At one time, he is almost faint with hunger; at another, he is parched with thirst; at another, either benumbed with the cold, or scorched by the heat, or overpowered by the severity of the storm, before he can reach a place of shelter, or find the necessary refreshments of nature. Now, he knows not at what place he shall enter the forest, to avoid being torn by the briars and thorns, or entangled in some impenetrable thicket. Then, he hesitates whether the thick mire be not too deep for him, or the marshy ground may not sink beneath his feet. In a little while he is distressed how he shall, by the best and easiest path, ascend the steep and woody mountain; or how, in descending, he shall avoid the precipices which appear below. Again, he arrives at the banks of some deep and rapid river, or approaches some torrent descending from the mountains, and swelled by the winter floods; and how he shall descend, and where he shall pass through, and whether the waters be fordable, or the streams be not too rapid, are questions which distress his mind and fill him with anxiety and fear.
Many such impediments were in the traveller’s way; and to many such hazards was he exposed in Canaan, and especially in the countries adjacent, many of which were mountainous and waste. On this account, frequent allusions to this state of things are made by the Spirit of God in scripture, especially in describing the Christian life. The Christian is represented as a man travelling through the waste howling wilderness to Immanuel’s land.… Many a mountain of difficult duty has he to ascend, and many a steep of painful suffering has he to descend on his way to his heavenly home. Many waters of deep distress, which sometimes rush unexpectedly upon him, like torrents from the mountains, and threaten to sweep him away into destruction, has he to pass through.—Peddie.
“Waters” and “rivers” are employed metaphorically in two opposite senses. Because, in a warm climate especially, waters are so necessary to allay the thirst of man, and to cool and invigorate the body enfeebled by excessive heat, and are so calculated to beautify the landscape and to diffuse fertility, everything that is comfortable and joyous is shadowed forth by “waters,” “rivers,” “streams” (Isaiah 41:18). But in other places, as here, by “waters” and “rivers” we are to understand afflictions and tribulations; because waters, which are so beneficial, when in over-abundance are so noxious; and because he who has to pass through them has a difficult and hazardous task to perform, and he who is plunged into them is in imminent risk of his life.
1. The waters of affliction are numerous. The Christian in his progress towards heaven has not one river only to pass through; there are many, including the Jordan, that lie between him and that happy land (Psalms 34:19; H. E. I. 3661, 3674).
2. They are often deep. Every stream is not a brook; there are rivers as well as rivulets; and all afflictions are not “light.” The stream is easily passed over in summer months, or when the sky is serene and settled, compared with what it is in the midst of winter, or when it overflows its banks in consequence of the descending torrents. When it goes well with the soul, and the Christian walks “in the light of God’s countenance,” and “in the fellowship of Christ,” and “in the comforts of the Holy Ghost,” the waters of trouble are easily forded; they seem not half so deep as at other times when the heavens above, as well as the things on earth, frown upon him. The union of many streams occasions a greater depth of water than can be found in any of them singly; and how deep must be the affliction of that saint who meets with combined distress of body and of soul (Psalms 42:7; Jonah 2:3).
3. They are frequently muddy. When the waters of a river are most plentiful they are usually least limpid, and the traveller who has to pass through them, besides the uneasiness which he suffers from perceiving their increased quantity, is distressed because he can neither see the bottom nor conjecture their depth. How often in times of affliction is it thus with the saints! The designs of Providence are wrapt up in obscurity. Their eye is unable to discover the reasons of the Divine controversy with them; neither can their anxious minds form any idea of that depth and severity of distress which they must yet suffer before they obtain deliverance.
4. They are in many places broad. The river is often confined by the height of its banks within a narrow channel, and whatever be the difficulty of passing through, the traveller soon reaches the further side; but at other times it spreads itself out to a great extent, and it is not till after many a weary step that he reascends to the dry land. The waters of affliction often extend over a great space (Psalms 90:15; Psalms 88:15). It is no small addition to trouble of any kind, when it is lengthened out. The soul is ready to faint because of its continuance; faith, patience, and hope are ready to die out (Psalms 13:1-2). Indeed in no case can we see the further bank of the river of trouble. A mist hangs over it. When we enter it; we can never say how long it will be before we reascend out of it. This only we know, that when the journey of life is finished, we shall be delivered out of all tribulation, and “the days of our mourning shall be ended.”
5. They are at certain seasons exceedingly rapid. They sometimes descend upon the saint with all the rapidity of a torrent, and ere he is aware he is in the midst of great distress. As in Job’s case, the messengers of woe come running unto us at a time when all is quiet, and we looked for joy (Job 30:14; Job 30:26; Job 30:31). Even when the soul enters the stream with full warning of what it is to meet with, it is often found more rapid than was supposed, and descends with a force which it is not easy to sustain (H. E. I. 54, 55).
II. THE PASSING THROUGH THE WATERS.
1. There is no getting to heaven without passing through the waters. The heavenly land, like Canaan to Abraham when he dwelt in Ur of the Chaldees, “lies beyond the flood,” and through this we must pass before we can enter in and possess it. Affliction is the portion of saints in this world. Each of them in his order seems to say with Jeremiah, “I am the man that hath seen affliction.” The Great Head of the Church Himself passed through many waters of tribulation (Isaiah 53:3).
2. Some saints on their way to heaven pass through more rivers of trouble than others. Travellers who set out to the same place from different parts of the country pass through tracts different in their form and scenery, and some meet with rivers which others avoid. The Lord, in wisdom and sovereignty, diversifies the lot of His people.
3. The travellers to Zion pass through the same waters at different stages of their journey. The rivers wind. Hence they are met by the travellers from different parts at earlier or later periods, at greater or less distances. Let us not take it for granted that because we have never experienced trials against which others have had to contend, therefore we shall never meet with them.
4. Through the very same waters of affliction the Christian in his journey has often more than once to pass. We ought not to imagine that, because we have been in any particular period afflicted in a certain manner, we shall no more experience that distress. The waters through which you have already passed may wind about, and you may have to pass through them yet again. Never think yourself secure against any one trial, temptation, or affliction, while you are so far from the house of your heavenly Father.
5. The Christian, in passing through the waters and the rivers, much needs a guide and helper. Without one, he could never pass through them in safety. His own wisdom, courage, and strength are utterly unable to resist the impetuosity of the torrents that assail him. His fellow-Christians need the same assistance as himself. His help can come only from Him who says here: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”
III. THE PROMISED PRESENCE OF GOD DURING THE CHRISTIAN’S PASSAGE THROUGH THE WATERS.
1. It is the presence of God Himself which is promised. Not merely by means of instruments. The Lord has more love to His people than to leave any of them to pass through the waters with no other comforter or helper than the best of men, or even the greatest angels. Their wisdom, power, and grace are finite, limited, and insufficient for an undertaking so arduous. He has therefore promised to be with them, and this is everything.
2. It is the special presence of God which is promised to be with them. By His essential presence God fills heaven, earth, and hell, upholding and governing all things. But if the promise has any meaning or comfort in it, it is a promise of special presence; a promise of His presence as a God of grace and love. How big with comfort, help, and deliverance is our text when thus understood! In the time of trouble, we wish our friends to be near us. Yet, often their sympathy cannot remove our anguish, nor their help effect our deliverance. But when we have God with us, He can do for us all we need.
3. It is the presence of the Lord in all distresses which is here promised. Were there one river through which a saint had to pass in which he had not reason to expect the Divine presence, he would have cause to be afraid. But as His presence is intended for the consolation and salvation of His people, the promise reaches to every kind of distress.
4. It is His presence at all times which is promised. He is not like a stranger who occasionally appears for the relief of those who are struggling with the stream, and are ready to be swept away by it. No, He abides with His people (Isaiah 54:10; Psalms 138:7).
5. The promise guarantees the presence of God with all the saints when passing through the waters. Partialities are unknown with our God. He loves all His children, and He will provide deliverance for them all. If this promise was made for any, it was for them that especially need His presence and help. The more helpless thou art in thyself, the greater is the evidence that He intended it for thee.
IV. THE HAPPY CONSEQUENCES OF GOD’S PRESENCE WITH THE SAINTS WHEN THEY PASS THROUGH THE WATERS.
1. He guides and directs them. It is His general promise to His people: “I will guide thee with mine eye;” and if there is any season in which they need Divine counsel and heavenly guidance, it is in the season of distress. But then He gives it to them as He did to Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:12; H. E. I. 176).
2. He comforts them (H. E. I. 202; P. D. 93).
3. He sanctifies to them the waters of affliction. Since God is with him, the swelling waters purify the believer, and cannot destroy him; they fit him for heaven, and cannot prevent his progress to it. Many, besides David, instead of suffering by affliction, have come up out of the waters “like flocks of sheep which go up from the washing” (H. E. I. 116).
4. He strengthens them to pass through the waters. Cry then unto Him (Psalms 20:1-2).
5. He delivers them from the waters. They cannot deliver themselves. But they are not therefore lost in the deep waters (Psalms 34:6). Deliverance comes not always as soon as they desire it; but it comes in due season; it never comes too late. In the most unexpected moment, in the most unexpected manner, He appears for their deliverance; so singular is it sometimes that they can scarcely credit it (Psalms 126:1-3). He does not always deliver them from every river into which they enter. He permits some one or other of them to carry them down the stream till they reach the waters of Jordan. But there they do not perish. He gives them victory over death, and by means of this deliverance sets them free from all their troubles.—James Peddie, D.D.: Discourses, pp. 395–424.
It is assumed that God’s people will pass through the waters and through the fire. These elements, so useful as friends, so terrible as enemies, represent trouble and distress. Water may be too deep to ford, the practised swimmer may be overpowered. Within the grasp of fire, injury, destruction, death are speedily accomplished. The sufferer is sometimes like one aroused from sleep in a burning house. Despair seizes him. Those who have no God, or whose faith fails to realise His sufficiency, relinquish effort and hope. The antidote is found in God’s all-sufficient promises. Here is one that assures believers of the Divine presence in trouble, and the Divine deliverance from it.
I. THE DIVINE PRESENCE IN TROUBLE. What is it in our nature that finds a relief in the presence of a friend in times of deepest sorrow? In the first burst of sorrow, the heart must be left alone. It prefers to be alone. The nearest earthly friend must not intrude on the sacredness of its grief. But the time comes when it craves for sympathy. The presence of a friend, even if no word is spoken, exerts the mysterious influence that brings relief and consolation. At suitable time and in suitable manner, there will be the sympathetic word. Perhaps the substantial aid. Whether or not, there will be the restful feeling of the weak when they depend upon the strong.
Your friend’s trouble may have been the hopeless ruin of his fortune. You could do nothing for him. But you made it in your way to call upon him. He will never forget it. He is sick; and time, to the sick, is weariness. You visited him. Dear to Paul the apostle were those friends who were not ashamed of his chain; who visited him in imprisonment and ministered to his wants. It is not merely that there is society to relieve the tedium of solitude, and divert attention from the presence of sorrow. Any one might do that. But more is wanted. A stranger, or one to whom the sufferer is personally indifferent, could not convey the mysterious influence that has help and comfort in it. The comfort comes from the consciousness that the presence is that of a friend.
Now, God is the best of friends. It is the privilege of believers to call Him friend. By faith their sins are forgiven. They are reconciled to Him. By His grace they are born again. The old enmity of their hearts is abandoned. Its place has been taken by love. Fellowship with God is the Christian’s joy. His friendship reflects glory on those who are honoured with it. It is this Friend who says, “When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee.” We cannot see Him. Sight is not necessary to the conscious presence of even an earthly friend. The room may be dark, not a word may be spoken, not a sound heard; but we feel that he is there; the influence is the same as if we saw him. God’s conscious presence fills the soul with faith, hope, peace. It is the consciousness of love and sympathy. It is the invisible, secret, gentle power of His Spirit that gives calmness and strength while trouble is pressing most heavily, and while external circumstances are the most distressing. “I will be with thee” (H. E. I. 198, 3677).
II. THE DIVINE DELIVERANCE FROM TROUBLE. If the believer is called to pass through the waters, they shall not overflow him; if he is called to walk through the fire, he shall not be burned, nor shall the flames kindle upon him. Trouble may come: but he shall be brought through at the last. It may seem like a miracle. It is like saying the action of fire and water shall be so controlled that their natural result shall not follow. No difficulty, no trouble is so great that the Lord cannot effect a deliverance; in some unexpected way deliverance shall come. The day is overcast with gloomy clouds; the atmosphere is depressed; the rain comes in torrents; the wind sweeps down houses and trees before it; universal wreck seems impending; when unexpectedly the storm abates, wind and rain cease, the clouds separate, a genial warmth is diffused, the sun shines out, the storm is forgotten. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” He suffers His people to pass through fire and water, not only that He may display His power and love in their deliverance, but often, because the fire and the water lie in their way to some good exceeding what they have ever enjoyed; which, without it, could not have been reached. Sickness is sometimes the pathway to health; temporal calamity to prosperity; sorrow to established Christian character; spiritual distresses to a profounder realisation of spiritual blessings. The cross prepares for the crown. Death is the gate of life.
Oh, how many such deliverances are recorded in the sacred history! Joseph from prison. The bush burned, but was not consumed. The children of Israel through the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan. Daniel from the lions’ den. The three Hebrew youths in the furnace of fire; but there was one with them “like the Son of God, and therefore upon their bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed.” Fire cannot burn, water cannot drown those whom the Lord preserves. Nothing can prevent the fulfilment of His word.
Consider the grounds on which your confidence may repose—
1. His purpose. The salvation of His people from every evil is part of His redeeming plan. Everything is subordinate to this. Hindrances have been swept away. He has spared no expense. “I gave Egypt for thy ransom. Ethiopia and Seba for thee.” He gave His Son.
2. His faithfulness. You can plead His word of promise. The truth of His nature is pledged. He will do as He has said.
3. His love. Is He not thy Father? He loves His children. His heart is set on their salvation. Will not love do all that is necessary?
4. His power. He can sweep away all material and spiritual hindrances that lie in the way. Nothing is too hard for the Lord.
But there must be faith. God’s promises are made to faith. The blessing is according to faith. Let your mind rest in the promises in every time of distress, whatever its nature, assured that either He will remove it or overrule it, so that a blessing shall come through it. If there are losses, disappointments, bereavements, soul-troubles, the solemn hour of death, His presence, and His delivering power shall be the sufficient antidote.—J. Rawlinson.
God’s grace never shines so brightly as when it shines through the cloud of His people’s sins. Nor does it ever appear so glorious as when displayed in the depth of their unworthiness. When nature is at the lowest, grace is generally at the highest. When God has threatened His people for their sins, or chastened them for their follies, He then generally steps in with some revelation of His grace, or makes some precious promise. This was the case with Israel of old, whom God had visited with sore and terrible judgments; and then, instead of utterly consuming them, He comes forward and says, “When thou passest,” &c.
I. THE PILGRIM’S PAINFUL LOT. He has to pass through deep, sore, and successive trials. Persecution, temptations, conflict within. Temporal trials: losses, crosses, disappointments, and vexations. The fire tries the metal, and separates it from the dross, &c. So the believer’s trials refine him, &c.
II. THE LORD’S GRACIOUS PROMISE. “I will be with thee.” Nothing is so much needed, nothing so much prized by the believer in affliction, as the presence of God.
1. To direct thy steps, for I know all the way.
2. To strengthen thy faith, for I know how weak and feeble it is.
3. To cheer thy heart, for I know all thy sorrows.
4. To secure thy benefit, for I will surely do thee good.
5. To bring thee safely through all, and lead thee safe to glory.
CONCLUSION.—Our trials will sweeten home. Heaven will make amends for all. Whatever happens, God is still our Father, and we are His beloved children.—James Smith.
GOD’S APPRAISEMENT OF HIS PEOPLE
Isaiah 43:4. Since thou wast precious, &c.
We learn here—
1. That nations and armies are in the hand of God and at His disposal.
2. That His people are dear to His heart, and that it is His purpose to defend them.
3. That the revolutions among nations, the rise of one empire and the fall of another, are often in order to promote the welfare of His Church, to defend it in danger, and deliver it in time of calamity.
4. That His people should put the utmost confidence in Him as being able to defend them, and as having formed a purpose to preserve and save them.—A. Barnes.
(A Motto Text for the New Year.)
Isaiah 43:5. Fear not, for I am with thee.
Again we enter upon the dark of uncertainty. Standing upon the threshold of another year, which we know by experience will have its cares, and its perils, and its sorrows. What is the true antidote of fear? What is the real elixir of the happiness we wish to one another but the presence and protection of the Lord? This He guarantees to us: “Fear not, for I am with thee.”
I. FEAR IS NATURAL TO MAN.
1. As a feeble creature in the midst of the irresistible and mysterious powers of the universe. What can allay this fear but the protection of One who can control those forces, who is mightier than they, and will use that might in my behalf?
2. As a sinner, conscious of violations of the law of the Great Ruler, and therefore justly apprehensive of the divine displeasure. The religion of the Bible reveals the Creator as a Saviour, delighting in mercy. Thus the real language of the Bible is, Fear not. To Abraham, Isaac, Joshua, Gideon, &c. In all these exhortations not to fear, the reason given is Jehovah’s presence; but it is that very presence that makes the conscious sinner afraid (Genesis 3:8). Yet in the Bible the presence of God is urged as a dissuasive against fear. Because God is revealed to us as merciful, &c.—in Jesus Christ as the Saviour and the friend of sinners.
II. THOSE QUALITIES WHICH RENDER THE PRESENCE OF GOD AN ANTIDOTE TO FEAR.
The power which any one possesses to dissipate fear by his presence depends upon the qualities of that person, his ability and his willingness to help. The character of God is what He is in Himself, what He has already done, and what He has promised to do; it is this which gives force to the exhortation, “Fear not, for I am with thee.”
III. SOME OF THOSE OCCASIONS TO WHICH THE EXHORTATION IS SPECIALLY APPLICABLE.
The first Sabbath of the year. We walk forward in darkness; what that darkness conceals we cannot even conjecture. Fear may suggest various evils. God says, “Fear not, for I am with thee.” To some the year is sure to prove one of severe trial. To some this year will be the last on earth.
CONCLUSION.—Appeal to those who do not regard the presence of God as the chief element of their joy, as that which chiefly will make the year a happy one.—Newman Hall, LL.B.: The Christian World, January 8, 1864.
GOD’S CALL, OUR DIRECTORY
Isaiah 43:6. I will say to the south, Keep not back.
I. THE GRANDEUR OF THE SPEAKER. “I will say.” Who is He? The tone He assumes is that of one who need only speak to be heard, felt, and obeyed through all nature. It is He who is the great I AM; in comparison with whom the universe, with all its furniture, is as nothing, &c. Such an agent, such a friend, one so high and unspeakable, suffices you. But what will He say? or, what will He do? He promises to interest Himself in the conversions of the heathen, to bless our attempts for their conversion. How divinely pleasant and supporting! What more do you ask? But how will He speak? Not merely to the understanding, but to the conscience and heart; to all the secret springs of our nature; so as to make converts not to the sect of the Nazarenes, but to righteousness; not to Christianity only, but to Christ. Take two or three instances: St. Matthew, St. Paul. Are you converted to Christ? Without it, perish you must everlastingly (Matthew 18:3, &c.) We see the grandeur of the speaker in these and all similar instances.
1. Does the ineffable JEHOVAH Himself promise to speak in this manner? Then, let us not regret the want of miracles to convert the heathen. The promise suffices alone. What greater miracle than conversion itself? Be content with these miracles, and expect them from Him who says, “I will say,” &c.
2. Does He promise His efficiency in converting the heathen, on the supposition that we become His organ? Then, let us no longer blame Him for the partial communication of the Gospel. As was said by the Israelites to Pharaoh, “The fault is in thine own people.” The Gospel is committed to us in trust.
You whisper, “But if success is thus indefinitely assured to Gospel missions, none can fail of effect.” I answer—
(1.) None do fail altogether.
(2.) The promise in the text, and every similar one, implies that, though God will command success, it shall be through a fit instrument.
(3.) God will work in a way worthy His infinite wisdom as well as goodness. Duty is our province; events of time, &c., belong to Him.
II. THE GLORY OF THE THING SPOKEN.
“I will say to the south.” No particular country is specified. Better so, than otherwise. “The south,” amongst the cardinal points of the world—the east, west, north. In those verses (5, 6) we have a grand promise of universal conversion.
“I will say to the south, Keep not back.” This implies—
1. Something divinely tender and affecting. “I am your Maker and Saviour—essential love; and wait upon you, to unite you to myself and to all the flower of being in the universe,” &c. Can infidelity propose a greater good to mankind than the Gospel?
2. He will say to the south as He says to us, “Bring out your dead, deliver up all your vices, keep none of them back.” The design of Jesus Christ is to redeem from all iniquity.
3. That there is a disposition in the south to do the contrary. They have not only the common corruption of our nature to contend with, but the prejudice of ages to keep them back from the Gospel. Then, every exertion on our part is necessary. The natural and strong predilection of the heathen for their own ancient system.
In this work nothing can be lost. Nothing less will be gained than eternal glory, for millions upon millions in the South Seas will be won.—T. Prutycross, A.M.: The Pulpit, vol. v. pp. 161–172.
Isaiah 43:10. Ye are my witnesses.
This is what Jesus says to us. He has left His fame in our hands (Acts 1:8). He could have done without us. But He has chosen the weak things to witness as to what He has done and is doing now.
I. WHY GOD HAS CHOSEN A BELIEVER FOR THIS WORK. Because—
1. He knows experimentally more of God than any other being. Angels could witness of His majesty and goodness. Devils, of His wrath and justice. All men, of His wisdom. But a child of God, while witnessing to all these, can tell of His forgiving love, &c.
2. He can have no greater joy.
3. On account of our being constantly in the presence of our fellow-men. He would have the world without excuse.
II. THE THINGS A BELIEVER MUST POSSESS IN ORDER TO WITNESS FOR CHRIST.
5. Boldness, firmness. (H. E. I. 3922–3976).
III. THE BEST METHODS CHRIST’S WITNESSES CAN ADOPT. A parade of private devotion? Learned expositions of your creed? Denunciation of your opponents? Seclusion in a hermit’s cell? Nay. But rather—
1. A daily manifestation of heart-loyalty to Christ.
2. A daily feeding on His promises, thus showing contentment and hope.
3. A daily growing in His likeness.
4. The daily display of the graces of His Spirit.—R. A. Griffin: Stems and Twigs, pp. 63.
One grand design of God in leaving Christians in the world after their conversion is, that they may be witnesses for Him. It is that they may call the attention of the thoughtless multitude to the subject, and make them see the difference in the character and destiny of those who believe and those who reject the Gospel.
I. TO WHAT PARTICULAR POINTS CHRISTIANS ARE TO TESTIFY FOR GOD.
Generally they are to testify to the truth of the Bible. They are competent witnesses to this, for they have experienced its truth.
But more particularly Christians are to testify—
1. To the immortality of the soul.
2. The vanity and unsatisfactory nature of all earthly good.
3. The satisfying nature and glorious sufficiency of religion.
4. The guilt and danger of sinners.
5. The reality of hell, as a place of eternal punishment for the wicked.
6. The love of Christ for sinners.
7. The necessity of a holy life.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY ARE TO TESTIFY.
By precept and example. On every proper occasion by their lips, but mainly by their lives. Because example teaches with so much greater force than precept. They should live in their daily walk and conversation, as if they believed the soul to be immortal, &c.
1. Sinners will never feel right on the subject of religion, unless God’s witnesses rise up and testify.
2. We see why preaching does so little good.
3. The standard of Christian living must be raised.
4. Every Christian makes an impression by his conduct, and witnesses either for one side or the other.
5. It is easy to see why revivals do not prevail.—C. J. Finney: Revivals, Lecture X.
ONE LORD AND SAVIOUR
Isaiah 43:11. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside Me there is no Saviour.
I. This is a declaration that is now needless in many parts of the world. All the civilised nations are convinced that, if there is a God at all, there is only one God. What an intellectual advance! In Isaiah’s time, the monotheists were in a miserable minority. All the great nations had their god or gods. The depressed condition of the worshippers of JEHOVAH seemed to most people a sufficient proof that He was only a god, and a god inferior to others. Sennacherib’s estimate of Him (2 Chronicles 32:10-15, “How much less!”) seemed to have been ultimately justified. The men for whom this prophecy was intended knew that He had not delivered Jerusalem from the power of the worshippers of the Assyrian gods, who ascribed their victories to those gods. Hence it was necessary for them to protest against the belief that JEHOVAH was at the most only a god; to proclaim Him as the only living and true God (Isaiah 43:12). This proclamation was not made in vain. Belief in Him as the only God and Saviour has been spreading ever since. Cured during their exile of their passion for idolatry, the Jews have ever since been His faithful and successful witnesses. The testimony first of those Jews to whom God had revealed Himself in Christ, and then of their converts, consigned to oblivion the gods of Greece and Rome, and has rendered idolatry impossible among the leading races of mankind. What a glorious intellectual advance! And what inestimable moral advances have been its results!
II. But it is a declaration that is still needful in many parts of the world. The world is not merely the particular portion of it in which we dwell. We are apt to think so. But we should look beyond the circle in which we are living. When we do so, what do we see? Idolaters—millions of them. Polytheists still outnumber Monotheists. To this fact we must not be indifferent. For us, it is a call to duty. Knowing God, we must make Him known. It is for this purpose that He has mercifully revealed Himself to us (Isaiah 43:10-12). Shall we be silent concerning Him? Zeal for His glory forbids it. Compassion for our fellow-men forbids it. No greater benefit could we confer upon them. If we have no zeal for His glory, no compassion for our fellow-men, how dare we call ourselves God’s people? how can we hope to dwell with Him in blessedness for ever when this short life is over?
Mission work is our duty. It would be our duty, if it were as hopeless an enterprise as was Isaiah’s in his own day (Isaiah 6:9-10). But faithful witness-bearing for God has been in this century prolific of glorious results. Results of mission work in the South Seas, Madagascar, &c. So it will be. The task has the allurement of certain success. Let us address ourselves to it vigorously and with glad heart.
III. It is a declaration which we may make with even more confidence than did our fathers. The unity of God is being more and more clearly revealed to us. Science is the friend of religion. By it how wonderfully has our conception of the vastness of the universe been enlarged! How completely we have been convinced that it is in a universe we find ourselves, in an immense empire over which one Power rules. Marvellously varied are its provinces, but in each and all the same laws are in operation. Behind all these laws there is one Will (H. E. I. 2222, 3174). Nothing can oppose or evade it with success. The attempt is madness, and ends always in misery. Throughout all the revelations of science, God speaks to us precisely as He does in this chapter: “I, even I, am the Lord, … and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who will turn it back?”
Being so much more fully instructed than our fathers were, we should also be more clearly, confidently, and fervently witnesses for God.
IV. It is a declaration which we should not only make to others, but should lay to heart ourselves. Wonderful and glorious is the revelation given us in our text.
1. On one side, it is an awful revelation. It is an assertion of absolute authority, under which we must live and act: “I am the LORD!” Science bears especially this testimony, that we are in an empire where law is universally and indiscriminately administered (H. E. I. 3171). In God’s kingdom there is no border-land, such as the strip that divided England and Scotland before the days of the Stuarts, where men may do very much as they please, without fear of government penalties; no realm of lawlessness such as the Highlands of Scotland were in the days of the Stuarts. God’s authority is maintained everywhere; there is not one physical law of His which can be violated or disregarded without mischief. The testimony of Science and of Scripture is one and the same: Sin and suffering are inseparably united. This is as true in the moral and spiritual realm as in the physical; one Lord rules over all! (Numbers 33:23; Proverbs 10:29; Proverbs 11:21; Romans 2:6-9; H. E. I. 3188, 4603–4610.)
To this revelation of God let us give heed. Let it govern our conduct. So will temptation be stripped of all its allurements and seductions (H. E. I. 4673–4676, 4754–4757). So we shall travel life’s journey safely.
2. To this revelation there is another side which is indeed a Gospel. Were there no other voice than that of Science to address us, we should shudder as we listened; we are surrounded by so many possibilities of transgression, we are so prone to fall into them, and their results are so disastrous! Conscience would then be only an alarming force; it would haunt us with its testimony that we have already sinned against the Ruler who administers justice so inflexibly, and punishes transgression so relentlessly. But Scripture had another word to add; it reveals Him to us as the SAVIOUR: “I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no Saviour!”
1. He is a Saviour. By His very nature. “God is love”—practical love. He cannot behold His children in need, and sit idle; cannot listen unmoved to their cries for help (Exodus 3:7-8; H. E. I. 2303). In every time of trouble let us remember this, and be comforted and strengthened.
2. There is no other Saviour. Experience had been teaching this lesson to the captives in Babylon. When the power of Assyria and Babylon had begun to loom up before them and their fathers, and threatened to enslave and destroy them in their fear and unbelief, they had sought help from human powers, but had sought it worse than in vain (Isaiah 30:1-5, &c.)
Is not this a lesson we need to learn! In the time of temporal trouble or of spiritual conflict, how apt we are to look elsewhere than to God! But we look in vain. In neither kind of necessity can we do anything for ourselves (John 15:5; H. E. I. 2358). Nor can our friends help, further than God pleases (Psalms 146:3-4). Nor even in sacred things, apart from God, is there help for us (H. E. I. 3438–3442). In every time of need, let us trust in God only (Psalms 62:5; H. E. I. 172–176.)
3. We need no other Saviour, for He is an all-sufficient Saviour. This was the lesson the poor captives in Babylon needed. Not easy for them to learn it. Their case appeared hopeless. Think how the power of Babylon must have seemed to them (they were far weaker in comparison with it than is Poland now in comparison with Russia); how impossible that they should ever be set free from it! What they needed to be taught was, that in comparison with God, Babylon was nothing, and less than nothing; that when JEHOVAH was pleased to set them free nothing could withstand Him (Isaiah 43:5-6; Isaiah 43:13-17). How completely and gloriously these promises were fulfilled, we know.
We also need to learn this lesson. Sometimes our distress is so great, that we are ready to believe that there can be no deliverance from it. But this despair and distrust in God is foolishness (Jeremiah 32:17). The wiles of the devil are so subtle, his assaults so overwhelming, that we are disposed to cease from the conflict as a hopeless one. But again our fear is foolishness (2 Corinthians 12:9; Ephesians 6:10; Romans 8:37; H. E. I. 3363–2376.)
In God our Saviour let us rejoice with great joy, and let us hasten to make Him known to our fellow-men, whose needs are as great, whose conflicts are as severe, and whose perils are as terrible as our own.
Isaiah 43:12. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.
Catch a view of the picture with which these words are connected, and then let us look at the sentiment in relation to ourselves. God is supposed to be observing the conduct of man in relation to Himself. He sees that almost everywhere He is virtually excluded from His own world, His place usurped by idols. He seems to say, “Shall this state of things be allowed to continue? Am I never to have my due? I will bring this matter to a test. I will assemble the whole world, and will call upon the nations who worship idols to produce their evidence of the deity of these things they worship, and I will call upon my own people to stand forth and give their testimony for Me. I have given you proofs of the reality of my existence; ye are therefore my witnesses. I will confront all idolaters with you, and you shall testify that I am God (Isaiah 43:8-13).
I. THE CHURCH, whose internal blessedness is in God, and whose experienced blessedness is from Him, is under obligation to stand forth to the world as giving a perpetual testimony for God. (H. E. I. 3903–3907.)
1. She is able to do this. Having been from the beginning the repository of the sacred documents, she can testify
(1) that He gave prophecies which have been fulfilled in her history (Isaiah 43:12); and
(2) that He has wrought miracles on her behalf (Isaiah 43:12).
2. She does this—
(1) By the very fact of the assembly of her members for worship, she testifies to the world her confidence that “He is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
(2) By her ordinances—preaching and the sacraments—she bears perpetual testimony with respect to the nature of religion, the condition of man, the claims of God, the principles on which God and man are to be harmonised and reconciled to each other.
II. THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN may be viewed in the same light.
1. The Christian may sometimes be called to give testimony for God in word, to a friend, or to an enemy (1 Peter 3:15).
2. Special calls may be made upon him to be a witness to God’s faithfulness to His promises, and to the fact that He is the hearer and answerer of prayer (Psalms 18:6; Psalms 34:6; Psalms 66:16).
3. Whether he will or no, by his habitual conduct he bears a testimony to the world as to his real belief concerning God. It ought deeply to impress our conscience that thus we are constantly giving either faithful or unfaithful testimony concerning Him.
III. In view of these facts, let us recognise and remember—
1. The honour God has put upon us in thus committing His character into our hands.
2. That thus we are brought into a wonderful resemblance to our Lord Himself. He is termed “the true and faithful Witness.” While He lived on earth He gave such a representation of the character of God that He could say, “He that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father;” and it should be our ambition, by a close imitation of Him, also to show forth the glory of God, “full of grace and truth.”
3. The obstacles, temptations, and dangers by which we are surrounded, that we may be on our guard against them.
4. The guilt of that professing Christian who by his inconsistencies gives a false witness for God, so that men looking at it can see nothing at all of the Divine character. How often have men of the world been hardened by regarding the false testimony which inconsistent Christians give (H. E. I. 1163, 1164, 4177).
5. The sinfulness of those divisions by which the power of the Church’s testimony on behalf of God is broken (H. E. I. 1225, 2450).
6. The greatness of the reward of faithful witnesses for God (Matthew 10:32).
IV. Consider the character, the duty, and the doom of those who render this testimony of the Church necessary.
1. Your character is—opposers of God, deniers of God; refusing His claims and His rights, expelling Him from the very earth He has made.
2. Your duty is immediately to receive the testimony of the Church, and be led by it to an earnest inquiry into the claims of God upon you, and to a penitent, believing acceptance of the salvation He offers you.
3. If you will not do this, your doom will be that God will triumph over you; He will glorify Himself, His power, and His justice in your eternal destruction from His presence (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Psalms 2:10-12).—Thomas Binney.
Before a great assembly—all the nations of the earth—the question to be decided is, which out of a host of rival gods is the living and true God? The mode of test is a crucial one, viz., which out of these gods has foretold the future? Plain prophecies are asked for—distinct predictions which could not be ascribed to human sagacity. The gods of the heathen fail; and Jehovah summons His people Israel to attest that the fortunes of their nation had been foretold and had fallen out as predicted (Genesis 15:12-16; Genesis 15:18-21).
Christian believers may be regarded as taking the place of ancient Israel; and in the widest sense they may be appealed to as God’s witnesses in the great controversy going on between God and the world. Let us note—
I. Some of the questions upon which Christians are called to give evidence in favour of their God.
1. One of the first is this: Is there distinct interposition of God on behalf of man, in answer to believing prayer? The world is ready—too ready—to ridicule the idea. “Providence is a blind Fate, impartial alike in its severities and its bounties.” Now, albeit there is the same event to the righteous and to the wicked, the former are ready to testify that in the same events there are distinct differences in God’s dealings.
But the precise question is, whether or no God answers believing prayer. How many witnesses might be called to answer, Yes!
2. What are the ultimate results of affliction? The Christian holds that the woes of unbelievers are very different from the chastening sorrows of believers. He believes that he gains by his losses; he is ready to prove it from his own experience.
3. Is the believer’s life a joyful one? What happy people other people must be, if Christians are melancholy! With all their trials they can rejoice in the Lord, and again and again rejoice.
4. The moral tendencies of evangelical Christianity are sometimes called in question. It is thought that the doctrine of free grace tends to make men think lightly of sin. “If God forgives sin so easily, men will sin more and more.” But the world abounds with proofs to the contrary! Men hate sin most at the foot of the cross; they love holiness most when they feel that God has blotted out their sins like a cloud.
5. The Christian religion is sometimes said to be antiquated: “it has had its day.” Now is the time for true believers to vindicate the manliness and force of their faith. They are “God’s witnesses;” can Christianity no longer nourish heroes? Let us teach the world that we retain the old power among us.
6. It is our daily business to witness for God as to whether or no faith in the blood of Jesus Christ really can give calm and peace to the mind. Our hallowed peace must be the proof of that.
7. We shall be called one day to prove whether Christ can help a man to die well or not. A continuous faithful witness will make that last testimony indubitable.
II. Some suggestions as to the mode of witnessing. You must witness, if you be a Christian. You are subpœna: You will suffer for it if you do not.
1. As a witness, you are required to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Speak the truth, but let your life be true, as well as your words.
2. Direct evidence is always the best. Second-hand Christianity is one of the worst things in the world.
3. A witness must take care not to damage his own case. Some Christian professors give very telling testimony the other way; but we are God’s witnesses! Let our testimony be clear for Him.
4. Every witness must expect to be cross-examined. “He that is first in his own cause,” says Solomon, “seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.” Therefore, watch!
III. There is another witness beside you. “Ye are my witnesses, and my Servant whom I have chosen” (Philippians 2:7-8). Witnesses for God are not solitary (Daniel 3:25; Revelation 1:5). “I am the Truth,” said Christ; in Him was no sin (John 14:30); His witness-bearing was perfect; He witnessed to Divine justice; read Christ’s witness to God’s love (1 John 4:10); He could say—“He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”
1. Christians, make your lives clear! Be as the pellucid brook—not as the muddy creek. You need not tell men that you love them: make them feel it.
2. Our witness to those to whom this subject does not apply is, Except ye seek God in Christ, ye must perish; but if ye seek Him, He will be found of you.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xi. pp. 445–456.
(A Sermon to Young Men.)
“Ye,” men of Judah, people of Israel, “are my witnesses”—witnesses that I am, and of what I am. All the nations round about you have corrupted themselves and gone astray, and worship and serve the creature more than the Creator. “Ye are my witnesses.”
But God has other witnesses:—
1. Nature (Romans 1:20; Acts 14:17).
2. Man’s own soul. Its capacities, its attributes, its aspirations, can neither be explained nor satisfied without God.
The world’s greatest want is God. Man is made for God, and without God he cannot be a true and perfect man—his nature will be at once defiled and incomplete, and his experience more that of the animal than of the angel. Sooner far will you succeed in covering the earth with fruitfulness and beauty without light, than make human nature and society bright, pure, and blessed without God. We call on you, then, for your own souls’ sake, for your country’s sake, and for the world’s sake, to become witnesses for God.—In those who would be witnesses for God, three things are necessary:—
I. KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. Unless you know Him—not absolutely and perfectly,—that no finite mind, not even Gabriel’s, can do; but as it hath pleased Him to make Himself known in His works and in His Word—you cannot bear witness of Him. If you would know Him truly, you must study the book in which He is revealed; study it as you would a history, a philosophy, or a science which you wish thoroughly to understand (H. E. I. 576–580).
II. STRONG FAITH IN GOD AND IN HIS CHRIST. Without such faith, Moses, the apostles, and the martyrs could not have witnessed for God as they did. Nor can you. The morals, practices, and spirit of our age render a deep and abiding faith essential to a stable and successful witnessing for God. Such a faith you cannot have by merely wishing for it. It is born of light and nursed in light. To be of the highest, truest, and strongest order, it must be born of the intellect and the heart. The surest means of begetting it is to have in your own souls the experience of the power of the Gospel to meet all the necessities of your moral nature. To this evidence of experience you should add a comprehensive knowledge of the varied and external evidences of your faith. Thus you will be able to give a reason for the faith that is in you (H. E. I. 1138–1149).
III. A WHOLE-HEARTED DECISION FOR GOD. “Be a whole man in everything,” said Joseph John Gurney to his son,—“a whole man in the playground, and a whole man in the schoolroom.” We must be whole men in witnessing for God. Vacillation and half-heartedness will make our testimony of none effect. There will be no need of roughness or ruggedness of character in order to all this. Jesus was very gentle. The most prominent Bible examples suggest to us, not the storms and tempest, but the quiet stream, ever deepening and growing, which flows on for ever. Moses, Joseph, the three true-hearted Israelites in Babylon—what they were in the fulness of their purpose to serve the Lord, and in the calm fearlessness with which they fulfilled their purpose, we must be. It is not required of us that, being firm as rocks, we should be as unfeeling. It is only required that we be as the well-rooted oak, which feels the stormy blast and tempest, but sends its roots the deeper, and grows the stronger, from the force which threatens its destruction.
Now, with these three things—knowledge of God, strong faith in God, and a whole-hearted decision for God—do you ask what you have to do as witness-bearers? You might almost as well ask what the sun has to do. What but to shine? The influence of the man in whom these three forces dwell will be felt, even if he put forth as little direct effort to make it felt as does the violet when it perfumes the air. And yet the Christian has this great superiority over the sun, which sends forth his light through millions of miles of space, and over the flowers which fill plains and valleys with their fragrance—that he knows what he is and does, and means it all. He may, and does, consciously aim at a character of greater brightness and sweeter fragrance, and at making himself a more efficient instrument of the divine beneficence to mankind (H. E. I. 1089–1095).
With such aims and endeavours, “How shall he bear witness for God?” He will connect himself with a Christian church; he will take part in the common labours of the church; in the business of life he will be honest and honourable; he will strive, through Divine grace, to embody in his life the spirit and morals of the Sermon on the Mount. The man who is all this, and in his heart aims at all this, will be prepared to bear witness for God in every form and way that Providence may determine. He will not need to write “Christian” on his forehead; men will take knowledge of him that he has been with Jesus.
Among such witnesses for God, we want greatly to enrol you.—John Kennedy, D.D.: Christian World Pulpit, vol. i. pp. 424–427.
THE ETERNITY AND OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD
Isaiah 43:13. Yea, before the day was, &c.
The doctrine taught here is—
1. That God is from everlasting—for if He was before time, He must have been eternal (H. E. I. 2253; P. O. 1493).
2. That He is unchangeably the same—a doctrine which is, as it is here designed to be used, the only sure foundation for the security of His people—for who can trust a being who is fickle? (H. E. I. 2254–2256, 2324, 2341).
3. That He can deliver His people always, no matter what are their circumstances.
4. That He will accomplish all His plans; no matter whether to save His people, or to destroy His foes.
5. That no one, man or devil, can hinder Him.
6. That opposition to Him is as fruitless as it is wild. If men wish for happiness, they must fall in with His plans, and aid in the furtherance of His designs.—A. Barnes.
THE FUTURE BETTER THAN THE PAST
Isaiah 43:19. Behold, I will do a new thing, &c.
God’s messages to Israel are steeped in imagery supplied by their past experiences. From this familiar store the figurative expressions of the text are derived; it holds out a challenge to faith, a rebuke to unbelief.
I. The emphasis of the promise lies in God’s promise to do a NEW thing—i.e., something unprecedented. Israel was cautioned not to make the past the measure of the future (cf. Isaiah 43:18-19). They were often exhorted to seek help and consolation in remembering their past; but this is a caution against a way of looking at the past which works injury—against a brooding on it that spoils the future. Self-consciousness comes with increasing years; we are apt to exclaim, “The thing which hath been is that which shall be;” “The child is father of the man,” points to the conclusion of a wide induction. Philosophy tells us that this unreadiness to believe that the future can be better than the past is but a proof of growing wisdom; and we are often inclined to say, “our theories of the Christian life have always been far in advance of our attainments; but shortcomings have brought down our expectations.” It is one of the severest penalties of unfaithfulness, that hope for the future is slain.
Often men are not troubled much about the loss of hope, but even these know what it is to have a dark void where there should be a light shining more and more.
One of the hardest tasks of the Hebrew prophets was that of renewing in the people the impulses of hope; and so this representative messenger of God proclaims, “Remember not the former things,” old things may pass away, all things may become new.
II. This new thing is compared with the opening of a path in the wilderness, and the supply of rivers in the desert. Before each one there is a pathless wilderness, beset by difficulties and perils; but even there God will make a way for His people, and sustain their life. Preparation and guidance, difficulty, peril, privation! These are thoughts which associate themselves with the desert and the wilderness. For every Christian, God is preparing a way through unknown experiences. Of each man it may be said—
“He was the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.”
But God prepares the way; He preserves the traveller; He connects the present, the future, and the past Each day shall be, in some respects, different from all past days; and when the heart turns faint at new demands made upon it, He breathes new life into it with the promise, “Behold, I will do a new thing!” The voice of apprehension cries, “How shall freshness and vigour be maintained within me?” God says, “I will supply rivers in the desert;” not simply sufficiency, but abundance. To-morrow may be a barren prospect; but God is with us; we are near to the Fountain of Life. We often speak of our lack of spiritual life and vigour as though it were a perplexing problem. Is it so, when we do not, will not, drink? There is a “law of the life” of the spirit as well as of the body. Our hearts are like seeds wrapped round so that moisture and air are excluded; such seeds may be planted, but they will not grow. Nor will our hearts wrapped round by prayerlessness, selfishness, indolence, and forgetfulness. Take away these wrappings, lay them aside for ever!
Note further, that this Divine promise pledges God to supply that which is a natural source of verdure, gladness, beauty. This is only one of many instances, in which we are taught that God’s will is not only to preserve, but also to adorn our life (Isaiah 35:1). The young should surely listen to this voice. For them all life is emphatically new; their experiences shall not, indeed, be unparalleled in the history of men, but to them they shall be a new thing from God. Christ declares Himself to be the Giver of “living water;” life, and light, and beauty go before Him; He speaks the word which cannot fail: “Behold, I make all things new!”—Thomas Stephenson: Christian World Pulpit, vol. v. pp. 209–210.
Isaiah 43:21. This people I have formed for myself, they shall show forth my praise.
 In ancient history we read of a prince, who, from the summit of his palace beholding the metropolis of his extensive empire, exulted thus, “This is Babylon the great—Babylon, which I have built for the house of my kingdom, by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty.” He beheld the rising domes, the solemn temples, the numberless palaces of his lords; his heart bounded at the prospect, and his soul inflated with pride. Small cause, however, to be proud, had he recollected that these buildings were inhabited by a nation of slaves, and these temples filled with superstition and idolatry. In the sentence just read you have a far more noble potentate, even the King of kings Himself, reflecting upon the work of His hands, and rejoicing in the review of it. Beholding the triumphs of His grace, the accomplishment of His sacred purposes, and the wonders of His power, He expresses His complete satisfaction. His labour is not found in vain, His exertions are crowned with the designed success, and the production exactly corresponds with the plan laid down. With pleasure He reviews His workmanship, and already anticipates that chorus of praise which will perpetuate the honour of His name through eternal ages.—Lambert.
I. It is the prerogative of God alone to form the soul of man anew, both for His service here, and enjoyment hereafter.
1. The subjects of his workmanship: sinners of Adam’s family. Poor material, degraded by sin; but power belongeth unto God, and nothing is too hard for Him to do. He can humble the most stubborn heart, &c. Great comfort in this truth for ourselves individually.
2. The work itself, creating them in Christ Jesus unto good works; renewing them in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness after the image of Him who created them. This work will be completed in each of His people.  Cheerfully acquiesce in any discipline through which He may be pleased to put you for this purpose (H. E. I. 113–115, 157, 158, 3696–3703).
 When it is said, “This people have I formed for myself,” it is not to be understood as though the work were already completely accomplished. That will not be the case till all the ransomed of the Lord shall be brought safe to the heavenly Zion. God is here represented as seeing the things which are not as though they were, and as beholding the end from the beginning. With Him to will and to do, to purpose and to perform, are so closely, so infallibly connected, as in effect to be the same.—Lambert.
II. In this act of special sovereign grace He has always respect unto Himself; that is, to the display and manifestation of His own glory as the end. The Scriptures invariably teach us to reflect upon God as having made all things for Himself; a lower motive than this He never acted from. He forms this people for the manifestation of the astonishing and unsearchable riches,—
1. Of His grace. How glorious is the grace manifested in the conquest and captivation of sinners, in the pardon of sin, in the sanctification of the soul, and in the support, supplies, and consolations of the people of God. Instance: (1 Timothy 1:12-15).
2. Of His power. Manifest in penetrating a heart hard as adamant; in enthroning grace in the very heart where sin has reigned; in preserving it in spite of all opposition (H. E. I. 2365–2376).
3. Of His wisdom. Manifest in fixing upon the means of bringing sinners to Christ, ordering all things relative to their course, overruling all things for their good, and raising them from the depths of human misery to the summit of heaven’s honours.
III. From this, as from all His other works, He will eventually derive a glorious revenue of praise: “They shall show forth my praise.”
1. It is not only the duty, but the desire of that people whom God forms for Himself to praise Him in the present life (1 Peter 2:9).
2. It will be their happy disposition and delightful employ eternally to give unto Him the honour due on that account.—George Lambert: Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 274–293.
The text refers to the literal house of Israel. The Church of Christ now enjoy the appellation of “the people of God.” Whether Jews or Gentiles, to them the text will apply.
I. THE PEOPLE REFERRED TO. The people of God. Sometimes called saints, &c.
1. They are a saved people. Not only redeemed, but saved. Christ is the “Saviour of all men, but especially,” &c. St. Paul says, By grace are ye saved, &c. Not shall be, &c., but are (Ephesians 2:8; Titus 3:5; 1 Corinthians 1:18). They have felt the efficacy of divine grace; have been justified, &c. Saved from sin to righteousness; from darkness, &c.
2. They are a peculiar people. So they are described by the apostle (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9). Not like others. They are not of the world, &c. Hence their manners and customs, their spirit and temper, their conduct and pursuits, are all peculiar to themselves. It must be so, it ought to be so. The opposite would be evil, &c.
3. They are a distinct people. There are peculiar people in the world, yet they are of the world. But His people are distinct and separate. A people in the world, but not of the world. Crucified to the world, &c. (H. E. I. 5026–5032).
II. THE FORMATION SPECIFIED.
1. The nature of this formation. Formed into a “people.” God does not intend believers to be isolated beings. He designed they should be collected—united—a people. Hence they are likened to a family, &c. Only in this way they can exercise their graces, &c., exhibit Christianity in its social influences, and extend it in the world. Beautifully likened to the members of the human body (1 Corinthians 12:14; 1 Corinthians 12:20).
2. The Author of this formation. It is divine—it is of God. The Church is God’s husbandry, God’s building. He gives the same spirit to all, but a diversity of operations, that each may add to the comfort and prosperity of the whole. Hence the term, “the Church of God.” God’s collecting—calling—keeping—saving, &c.
III. THE END CONTEMPLATED IN THIS FORMATION. “For myself,” &c. He made all things for Himself—the Church for Himself. It is called His rest, His dwelling, His delight; and He designs that they “should show forth,” &c. They do this by—
1. Exhibiting the effects of His gracious operations.
2. Labouring to diffuse His glory. For this they live, and act, and pray.
3. Resignation to the divine appointments. Thus Job, the apostles, and first Christians, &c.
CONCLUSION.—Of what people are you personally a part? Let the people of God think of their high vocation, &c.—Preachers’ Magazine, 1839.
HOPE FOR THE PENITENT
Isaiah 43:24-26. Thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, &c.
These words are addressed to penitent sinners, mourning before God on account of their transgressions. I joy to bring to them this message of mercy and peace. Listen, then, O mourners in Zion,
I. TO A DECLARATION OF YOUR SINS AND DESERTS.
With what a heavy charge does my text begin! Yet, you know it is true. Not only sinners by nature, you have grieved and wearied God by your actual transgressions. What evil tempers, words, actions, sins of omission and of commission, you have to confess before God! How often did you offend Him even in His sanctuary! The charges His word brought against you, you met by unbelief, itself the sin of sins; but now you feel that you are indeed guilty before God. But let not a sight and sense of your guilt discourage your souls; but let it make Christ and His salvation the more welcome. Listen,
II. TO THE PROCLAMATION OF A FREE AND FULL FORGIVENESS (Isaiah 43:25).
There is nothing but encouragement in these gracious words; they abound with blessings; they make known
“Mercy for all, immense and free.”
The Promiser, the promise itself, its kind application, and the basis on which it rests, open to us four sources of the most abundant joy and consolation.
1. The Author of the promise. “I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions.” Mourning sinners, do you know that voice? It is the voice of the Lord (Exodus 34:6-7). He does not commission a multitude of the heavenly host to carry glad tidings of great joy to all who mourn over their trangressions; neither does He merely command the minister of His word to speak comfortably unto them: but from His lofty throne He Himself speaks unto their hearts!
2. Hence the promise in the text is expressed in the most cheering language (Isaiah 43:25). It is not uncommon for the Scriptures to represent sins as debts, an account of which is preserved in the book of the creditor. When the debt is paid, the sum is crossed over, to intimate that the creditor’s demands are satisfied, and that the debtor is known in that character no longer. But here, to point out the free and full manner in which God bestows pardon, the significant expression “blotteth out” is used, the debt is not merely crossed but obliterated; so that the record can be read no more. God forgives large debts as well as small (Luke 7:40-42). Nor will He make any demand of thy debt at any future time; He will remember thy sins no more.
3. His promise applies to the man who feels most that he deserves no mercy from God. Thou mourner in Zion, thy self-despair makes it evident that “thou art not far from the kingdom of God.” No longer despair; “be not faithless, but believing” (H. E. I. 2332–2337).
4. The basis on which this promise rests may further assure us of the certainty of its fulfilment. God forgives the guilty for His own sake, and not for the sake of their deservings (Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 48:9-11; Ezekiel 36:22; Ezekiel 36:25-26; Ezekiel 36:31-32). God pardons the believing penitent—
(1) For His mercy’s sake. It is the property of the eternal Jehovah “always to have mercy,” but every act of free unmerited grace in justifying the ungodly furnishes a new display of His glory. God is concerned for His own honour; He, therefore, will save all who come to Him through His Son Jesus Christ. Will God, “who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, that with Him He might freely give us all things,” withhold from thee that pardon which, at His feet, thou art groaning to obtain? If thou wert to perish while coming to God in the way He Himself hath appointed, what a triumph it would afford to all the powers of darkness!
(2) For His justice’s sake (Romans 3:23-26). On the ground of the all-sufficient atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is for the honour of the justice of God to pardon the guilty the moment he confesses his sins, and truly believes upon the righteous Saviour.
(3) For His truth’s sake (Ezekiel 33:11; Isaiah 55:7). God will as certainly perform all His promises as His threatenings.
As the promise rests on a foundation that cannot be shaken, we ought with confidence and joy to receive it.
III. TO THE INVITATION URGING YOU TO ACCEPT THE PROFFERED MERCY (Isaiah 43:26).
These glorious words invite all the contrite in heart into the very presence of God, there to prefer their requests, assured that He will “fulfil all their petitions.” In pressing these petitions they have a threefold duty to perform:—
1. To state the grounds on which they expect an answer: “Put Me in remembrance.” Thus He speaks in compassion to our infirmities, and to encourage us to “come with boldness to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy.” Put Him in remembrance—
(1) Of Gethsemane and the cross.
(2) Of His promises. The best prayers penitent sinners can use are the promises of God turned into petitions.
(3) Of His wonted compassion to sinners.
2. To urge in humble confidence their requests: “Let us plead together.” (Cf. Job 23:1-7.) Let the pleading begin on your part; and let this be your encouragment, that the Holy Spirit “will help your infirmities.” All your arguments must be such as proceed from a full and unqualified admission of your own guilt, a ready acknowledgment of past sinfulness, of your present unworthiness, and of your utter helplessness. Confession of sin is one of the most powerful pleas you can use! But, saith the Redeemer, “Let us plead together.” Listen, therefore, to His pleadings with you. Renouncing your own righteousness, you plead His merits; He also pleads those merits as a reason why you should no longer doubt, but take Him as the Lord in whom you have righteousness and strength. He will remind you of His promises; and if there be any upbraiding at all on His part, it will be nothing more than is contained in these Scriptures (John 16:24; John 20:27).
3. To claim in strong faith the promised blessing: “Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.” Nothing is wanting to pardon, but their own declaration! “What must I declare?” Declare with all thine heart, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe that He is my Saviour, my Lord, and my God. I take Him for my wisdom, my righteousness, my sanctification, my redemption.”
“Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which at the mercy-seat of God
For ever doth for sinners plead,
For me, even for my soul, was shed.”
—W. J. Shrewsbury: Sermons, pp. 370–400.
FORGIVENESS OF SIN
Isaiah 43:25. I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions, for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.
“THY SINS.” What is sin? We must go the Word of God for a correct reply; for although at first the divine law was written on the human heart, yet now depravity has well nigh effaced that writing, and sin itself has made the conscience vile. Neither can we truly learn what sin is by comparing ourselves with our fellow-men, for they are sinners as we are. In God’s Word alone can we clearly perceive what sin is, as being in its essence a violation of law, and contempt of the divine Lawgiver (H. E. I. 4478–4480). But even in this aspect its full enormity does not come into view. We must consider what God is, and what we owe to Him, and then it will appear that our iniquity is the forthputting of our strength against Him from whom our strength has been derived, and to whom we owe our all.
Observe, our iniquities are here called ours. “Thy sins,” “thy transgressions.” We often boast of our possessions, but there is nothing else ours as sin is ours. In the sense of absolute possession, sins are the only things we have. We are their authors, their creators; and if we repent not, throughout eternity they will be vultures which will gnaw our hearts, the undying worm, and the unquenchable fire to which we shall be constantly exposed.
Can no one sever the connection between me and my sin? Must I perish thus? The text is God’s gracious answer to that anxious question.
I. THE BLESSING HERE PROMISED.
1. Forgiveness. “I am He that blotteth out thy transgressions.” The language is figurative, and may refer either to the blotting out of a dark cloud from the heavens, until thereshall not be a single speck upon the blue expanse; or to the blotting out of a sentence, when the criminal is pardoned. Forgiveness is the setting free of a guilty man from liability to the punishment which his crimes have merited. Of this pardon two characteristics are prominent in the phraseology of the text.
(1.) Its fulness. It is a blotting out. He redeems Israel from all his iniquities.
(2.) It is a present blessing. The words imply that God does so even now. Soon as the sinner believes, he is forgiven.
2. “I will not remember thy sins.” In a strict sense I am not sure that God can be said to remember or to forget anything. The expression of my text must not be taken in its strictest literality; it is used in accommodation to our finite minds, as the best means of telling us that our former sins will not, after we are pardoned, be any, even the slightest barrier, on God’s side at least, to our intercourse with Him. They are as good as forgotten; we may therefore rise to friendship with God, undimmed by anything which, coming from Him, could painfully remind us that we had formerly been His enemies.
II. THE SOURCE FROM WHICH THIS BLESSING FLOWS.
“I, even I,” &c. It is thus a pardon from God. “Who can forgive sins but God only?” There can be no peace enjoyed by any one until he knows that it is God who has forgiven him. When a criminal has been condemned to death, the fact that he is pitied and forgiven by the friends of him whom he has murdered will not save his life, for he has sinned not merely against them, but against the law, and if the sovereign do not issue pardon, he must endure the penalty. And so I have sinned against God; and I can rest in nothing short of absolution pronounced by Him. If it be a merely human pardon on which I rest, the first thought of God will be sufficient to bring back my disquietude and fear; but if it be God’s forgiveness, I may rest on that for ever. If I certainly know that He has justified, I may sound out the daring defiance, and challenge the universe for a reply, “Who is he that condemneth?” If man pardon, God may still condemn; but if God forgive, then there is no power that can reverse His deed, and He Himself will never revoke it.
III. THE GROUND ON WHICH THIS BLESSING IS BESTOWED.
“For mine own sake.” The words imply,
1. That God does not forgive sin on the ground of anything in the sinner, or done by him. It is not written, for thy tears’ sake, or for thy good deeds’ sake, or for thy repentance’ sake, but “for mine own sake.” When the tribes of Israel were about to enter Canaan, it was over and over again declared that God gave them not that good land to possess it for their own sake, &c. (Deuteronomy 9:4-6). So with the blessings of the new covenant, “Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord” (Ezekiel 36:32). God will not, because He cannot, forgive you on the ground of your own worthiness, or for your own sake.
2. That God forgives sin only on such a ground as glorifies Himself. He cannot forgive sin in every way, or on every ground. He cannot do it simply for His mercy’s sake, for He is just as well as merciful; and both of these attributes must be radiant with glory, in His method of forgiveness. Hence it is only “for His own sake”—that is, through the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ—that this blessing is bestowed: for only thus is the whole glory secured to Himself. If God were to forgive sin without any satisfaction to His justice, or any vindication of His law, His doing so would dishonour His character, and sap the foundations of His moral government. He must be seen to be a “just God” as well as “a Saviour:” and in the very matter of justifying the ungodly, His justice must be clearly manifested (H. E. I. 376).
“In that salvation wrought by Thee,
Thy glory is made great.”
For here His justice is satisfied, His law magnified, His name honoured.
IV. THE EVIDENT DELIGHT WHICH GOD HAS IN GRANTING THIS BLESSING.
“I, even I, am He.” He dwells on it, and specially on the fact of its coming from Him, to show that it is not only His own proper prerogative, but His especial delight, to forgive sin for His own sake. He delighteth in mercy, and the depth of that delight is nowhere seen so clearly as in the Cross through which He seeks to enjoy it. He is not the austere Master that many picture Him to be: He is a loving Father, if men would only let Him love them; and there is nothing now in which He so rejoices as in the bestowment of forgiveness on His believing people. Some of us can tell how blessed it is to receive this pardon; but who can conceive how much greater is the blessedness of Him who gives it! (H. E. I. 2328.) Sinner, the highest happiness thou canst give to God will be by accepting this gracious blessing.
V. THE CHARACTER OF THOSE TO WHOM THIS DECLARATION IS HERE MADE.
Read Isaiah 43:22-24. After this, as an old commentator has said, “one would think it should follow—I, even I, am He that will destroy thee, and burden myself no longer with care about thee:” but no; where sin has abounded, grace does much more abound; where wrath is most deserved, mercy is most graciously expressed. If forgiveness has been offered to sinners such as these, who had wearied God with their iniquities, is there any reason why it should not be to us? We may have been very aggravated transgressors, but we can hardly be worse than they were. Yet even if we are, we may take these words as addressed to us. It makes no matter who or what we are, yet with the Lord there is mercy for us, and with Him there is plenteous redemption.
But how, you say, am I to take it? I answer in the words of the prophet, “Let the wicked forsake His way,” &c. You are to take it by repentance and faith. Repentance looses your hold from sin, faith fixes it upon Jesus Christ.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.: “Life Truths,” pp. 21–37.
That article in the creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sin,” is too little thought of. Men flippantly declare that they believe in it when they are not conscious of any great sin of their own, but when his transgression is made apparent to a man, and his iniquity comes home to him, it is quite another matter. His first instinct is to fear that his sins are altogether unpardonable. If he does not state his unbelief in so many words, yet in the secret of his soul that dreadful conviction takes hold upon him and darkens every window of hope. He looks to the law of God, and while he looks in that direction he will certainly conclude that there is no pardon, for the law knows nothing of forgiveness. Within the awakened man there is the memory of his past offences, and on account of these his conscience passes judgment upon his soul, and condemns it as even the law doth. Many natural impressions and instincts assist and increase the clamours of conscience; for the man knows within himself, as the result of observation and experience, that sin must bring its own punishment. He perceives that it is a knife which cuts the hand of him that handles it, a sword that kills the man who fights therewith. He feels that he cannot himself readily pass by offences committed by his fellow-men, and so he concludes that the Lord cannot willingly forgive. That part of the hardness of his heart goes to deepen the conviction that God will not pass by his transgression; and he is therefore terribly dismayed and hopeless of mercy. The convinced sinner is able to believe that mercy may be shown to others; but as for himself he signs his own death-warrant, and labours under the full persuasion that the acts of God’s mercy can never extend to him. No stocks can hold a man so fast as his own guilty fears.
With the desponding I shall try to deal.
I. THERE IS FORGIVENESS.
1. This appears in the treatment of sinners by God, inasmuch as He spares their forfeited lives. When our first parents had transgressed, they came at once under desert of penalty. The Lord visited the garden and convinced the offenders of their transgression; but instead of there and then casting them for ever away, He talked to them of a certain seed of the woman that should bruise the serpent’s head. Would the Lord thus have spared them, if He had not meant to show mercy? If God had no pardons, would He not long ago have cut us down? God waiteth long, because He willeth not the death of any, but that they turn to Him and live.
2. Why did God institute the ceremonial law, if there were no ways of pardoning transgression? Why the sacrificial shedding of blood, if God did not intend to blot out sin? Does not a type imply the existence of that which is typified? The evident design of the whole Mosaic economy was to reveal to man the existence of mercy in the heart of God, and the effectual operation of that mercy in washing away sin.
3. If there is no forgiveness of sin, why has the Lord given to sinful men exhortations to repent?
4. There must be pardons in the hand of God, or why the institution of religious worship among us to this day? Why are we allowed to pray, if we cannot be forgiven? Why are we allowed to sing the praises of God? Does God expect the condemned to praise Him? Will He shut us up in the prison-house for certain death, and yet expect us to chant hallelujahs to His praise?
5. Why did Christ institute the Christian ministry, and send forth His servants to proclaim His gospel? What is the gospel but a declaration that Christ is exalted on high to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sins? Why are we so earnestly commanded to preach this gospel to every creature, if the creature hearing it and believing it must, nevertheless, still lie under his sin?
6. Why are we taught in that blessed model of prayer which our Saviour has left us, to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us”? It is evident that God means us to give a true absolution to all who have offended us. He does not intend that we should play at forgiveness, but should really forgive all those who have done evil towards us in any way. Yes; but then He has linked with that forgiveness our prayer for mercy, teaching us to ask that He would forgive us as we forgive them. If, then, our forgiveness is real, so is His. A star of hope shines upon the sinner from the Lord’s Prayer in that particular petition.
7. God has actually forgiven multitudes of sinners. We have read in Holy Scripture of men who walked with God and had this testimony, that they pleased God; but they could not have pleased Him if their sins still provoked Him to wrath; therefore He must have put their sins away. But I need not talk of past ages; many sitting among you this day will tell you that they enjoy a clear sense of forgiven sin.
II. THIS FORGIVENESS IS TANTAMOUNT TO FORGETTING SIN.
The Lord does not exercise memory as you and I do. We recall the past, but He has no past; all things are present with Him. God sees everything at once by an intuitive perception: the past, the present, the future are before Him at a glance. We may not speak, except after the manner of men, of the Lord God as having memory; and yet how blessed it is that He should Himself use the speech which is current among ourselves, and represent Himself after the manner of a man, and then say, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more for ever.” He wishes us to know that His pardon is so true and deep that it amounts to an absolute oblivion, a total forgetting of all the wrongdoing of the pardoned ones.
You know what we do when we exercise memory.
1. To speak popularly, a man lays up a thing in his mind; but when sin is forgiven it is not laid up in God’s mind. We make a kind of store-room of our memory, and there things are preserved, like fruits in autumn, stored up to be used by and by (Luke 2:19). The Lord will not do this with our sins. He will not store them in His archives; He will not give them house-room. As for the ungodly, their sins are written with an iron pen, and the measure of their iniquity is daily filling, till it be poured out upon their own head; their sins have gone before them to the judgment-seat, and are crying aloud for vengeance. As for God’s people, their case is otherwise; the Lord imputeth not their iniquities to them, and does not treasure them up against a day of wrath. Of course the Lord remembers their evil-doings in the sense that He cannot forget anything; but judicially, as a judge, He forgets the transgressions of the pardoned ones. They are not before Him in court, and come not under His official ken.
2. In remembering, men also consider and meditate on things; but the Lord will not think over the sins of His people. I have known persons brood over an offence, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings. The wrong grows worse as they think it over. They carefully observe the offence from different points of view, and whereas they were indignant at first, they nurse their wrath and make it so warm that it turns to fury. At first, they would have been satisfied with an apology; but when they have brooded over the injustice, it seems so atrocious that they demand vengeance on the offender. The merciful Lord doth not so to those who repent. No; for He saith, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.”
3. Sometimes you have almost forgotten a thing, and it is quite gone out of your mind; but an event happens which recalls it so vividly, that it seems as if it were perpetrated but yesterday. God will not recall the sin of the pardoned. The transgressions of His people are dead and buried, and they shall never have a resurrection: “I will not remember their sins.”
4. This not remembering means that God will never seek any further atonement. Under the old law, there was remembrance of sins made every year on the day of atonement; but now the blessed One hath entered once for all within the veil, and hath put away sin for ever by the sacrifice of Himself, so that there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin. The Lord will never seek another expiatory offering. The sufferings of Jesus are so all-sufficient that no believer shall be made to suffer penalty for his unrighteousness.
5. When it is said that God forgets our sins, it signifies that He will never punish us for them. How can He, when He has forgotten them? Next, that He will never upbraid us with them,—“He giveth liberally and upbraideth not.” How can He upbraid us with what He has forgotten? He will not even lay them to our charge (Ezekiel 18:22; Romans 8:33-34).
6. When the Lord says, “I will not remember their sins,” what does it mean but this—that He will not treat us any the less generously on account of our having been great sinners? Look how the Lord takes some of the biggest sinners and uses them for His glory. When I think of Peter standing up on the Day of Pentecost, and three thousand being converted under his first sermon, I think no more of Peter’s failure and the cockcrowing. I can see that the Lord has forgotten his threefold denial, and placed him in the front to be a soulwinner. But the Lord Jesus not only uses His people, He honours then greatly. What honours He put upon the apostles, those men that forsook Him and fled in the hour of His passion! God has taken some here present, and has given them commission and ability to bring blood-bought souls to Himself. Is not this the sign of perfect forgiveness? Blessing He blesses us; yea, and makes us blessings. We shall have grace on earth, and glory in heaven. Surely all this proves that He has altogether blotted out our sins, and has determined to treat us as if we had been perfectly innocent.
III. FORGIVENESS IS TO BE HAD.
How? Through the atoning blood! Come for it in God’s appointed way. “Repent;” that is, be sorry for your sin; change your mind about it and hate it, though once you loved it. Then confess it, for He saith, “only acknowledge thine iniquity.” Chief of all, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,” and that saving includes an act of amnesty and oblivion as to all your sinful thoughts, and words, and acts. Hast thou done this? Then thou art forgiven Never forget thy sin, nor the mercy which has forgiven it. Always repent and always praise the Lord. Honour the forgetfulness of God in not remembering thy faults, and henceforth do thou tell this blessed news to every one thou seest—there is forgiveness, such forgiveness as was never heard of until God Himself revealed it by saying of His people, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more”.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1685.
It is in standing well with God that the chief good of man consists. On this everything depends, both for time and eternity. As man is His creature, His child, there can be in the heart of God no other feeling towards him in this character than good-will and complacency. But one thing there is that has come between us and Him—sin, a thing that He cannot but hate; the one thing in all the universe against which His displeasure is declared. Yet it has proved the occasion of bringing out His love into fuller manifestation. He has been pleased to proclaim a free pardon, altogether irrespective of the nature and extent of our sins, and with no other condition attached to it than that we receive it as the gift of His grace. How great a blessing! The pledge of every other blessing that can come upon the soul. Needed by every one of us (H. E. I. 2329, 2330). Needed all through life, in death, and beyond death!
I. God undertakes to pardon sin for His own sake. It is against Him that we have sinned, and consequently it is only He that can forgive us. There is but one thing that can give hope to the guilty soul, and that is an assurance from God Himself that He will deal with it in mercy, and not remember it against us. Such an assurance He has given us; indeed it may be said to be the chief purpose of Revelation to convey this message of peace to our sinruined world, and commend it to our acceptance (Exodus 34:6-7; Isaiah 1:18; Psalms 86:5, &c.)
But it is not in love alone, but in righteousness as well that sin is forgiven. He has also made known to us the special provision which has been made for this purpose. The Son of God appears in this world in our nature, bears the burden of our sin, suffers and dies in homage to the law of righteousness, and rises from the dead as a sign that nothing more can be demanded either at His hands or at the hands of those whose representative He is (Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 3:18; 2 Corinthians 5:21). It is as the All-just, then, and not only as the All-merciful,—in His full character as the Righteous Father,—that God saves the soul from sin. This meets the demands of our moral nature. It is a righteous pardon that is conveyed in the Gospel, and as such it is proof against conscience, and law, and judgment, and all the terrors which it is in their power to summon against us.
Yet we must never cease to think of mercy as the grand source of salvation. Let no one suppose that the work of Christ was necessary in order to incline God to mercy (see p. 92, and H. E. I. 390). On the contrary, it was in His mercy that the plan of grace took its rise (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). It is “for His own sake” that He pardons and saves,—not on the ground of anything lying outside His own nature, but on the ground of that love, so full and changeless, that it has been in His heart from of old, even from everlasting. And if it is “for His own sake,” in this high sense, how much more may we say that it is not by reason of anything in man that He pardons sin?
II. Let us now consider pardon as a thing which every one may look upon as put in his own power. It is the guilty that are in need of pardon; it is to them that it is offered; and as all men are guilty in the sight of God, the offer is intended to be co-extensive with the whole human family.  This being so, with what shadow of reason can any one stand afar off, as if the message of peace were not intended for him?
 As far as the proclamation of mercy is concerned, no one is excepted of any class or character, so that every one is warranted to take it to himself. Where there is no express exclusion, all must be held to be included. A whole province, let us suppose, has risen up in rebellion against its sovereign, and he might justly take punishment on all the inhabitants. Instead of this, however, he proclaims a free pardon through all its borders, among all ranks and classes of the people, whether leaders or followers in the revolt, whether more or less criminal, without exception or qualification of any kind. Such a proclamation would take in every individual in the land, and would at once put an end to fear and inspire universal confidence. For none could pretend, with any show of reason, that the king’s pardon was not meant for him, and that he had no warrant for embracing it. Now this is an exact representation of how the matter stands between the King of heaven and the inhabitants of this guilty world. As all are involved in the same sin, the same pardon is proclaimed to all.—Hutchison.
The offer of pardon is sometimes presented in a manner still more pointed and individualising. The individual is singled out from the mass, and has the offer made to him in as direct and personal a manner as if it were made to none beside him.
The offer applies to every one just in the state in which it finds him. Yet there are few things men are more slow to believe, than that a free and unconditional pardon is put in their own power.
“How can pardon have any reference to us, so long as our hearts are hard, cold, and impenitent, as we know them to be!” There are discases to which the body is liable of a very formidable kind, and which yet are attended with so little pain as to give the patient no alarm of his danger. But when the physician assures him of his real condition, and offers to cure him, would his insensibility to the disease be any good reason for saying that the remedy prescribed to him could have no application to his case? And so as to the sinner. This very want of feeling is itself a part of our sin; and therefore, to say that we dare not think of pardon until we get rid of it, is to say either that it is a sin which the mercy of God does not reach, or that it must be overcome in some way or other before it can be forgiven. But “the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin;” and this includes blindness, coldness, impenitence, not less than sin of any other kind, so that however insensate a man may be, he has full pardon put in his power.  It is not merely to the humble and contrite that pardon is proclaimed, but to man simply as a sinner, with all his impenitence and all his insensibility (H. E. I. 942).
 As to overcoming our insensibility or any other sin, as a prerequisite for pardon, that is a thing which it is not in any man to achieve. But suppose it were possible, and that it were made one of the conditions on which sin is forgiven, then pardon would come to be a kind of compromise between God and man—each going so far to meet the other—God doing so much in mercy, and man being expected to do the rest in the way of a meritorious movement towards God. Nor is this objection met even if we strike out the element of merit, and ascribe the movement to the grace of the Spirit; for this would be to reverse the Divine order of the two grand elements of salvation, as if holiness could come before pardon, and as if pardon were not the very first step in the way of life.—Hutchison.
III. The manner in which we close with the offer of pardon. As the offer is made to us in the free and unqualified form in which we have just described it, a simple acceptance of it is all that can be necessary. But what are we to understand by the acceptance of a gift of this nature? Faith is the only power by which we can deal with it. When some one whom you have offended tells you that he forgives you, all you have to do is to satisfy yourself that he is sincere in what he says, and trust in his honour to make it good; and at once the difference is at an end, and you have no more any uneasiness on the subject. In like manner, an offer of pardon is made to you by God: He cannot be insincere in making it. He can neither repent of it, nor prove unable to do as He has said. Rest in all this as true, trust in God for His own blessing, and in this state of mind you close with His great offer, and your sin is no more remembered against you (H. E I.1962).
IV. The acceptance of pardon will lead to two things,—Comfort and Holiness.
1. If we could realise all that is implied in it,—how deep the death from which we are saved, and how high and blessed the life which begins to open up to us; and could we take it home to ourselves in all its fulness, our consolation would be unspeakable (H. E. I. 306, 307). The man who has no belief that his sins are forgiven can have no comfort in the thought of God or eternity. But just in the degree in which you can trust in God for the pardon of which He has been pleased to assure you, you will have peace. To you He will be a Friend and a Father. There is joy also in the sense of pardon. Those who know what it is to be in distress of soul, as if the terrors of the Lord had been let loose upon them, and the pains of hell had taken hold upon them, and who pass from this into the peace of God, will be filled with gladness, and for a time perhaps with ecstasy. 
 But let no one reckon on the permanency of such emotions, nor despair when they sink down into a calmer state of mind, as if the mercy and faithfulness of the Most High were dependent on the variable flow of human feelings. As the man that but an hour before was counting the few swift days that seemed to lie between him and his doom, goes along the streets on his way from prison pardoned and free, we can suppose him to be so glad at heart that the very din and tumult of the busy crowds, as they hurry to and fro, are as music to his ear; and when he goes out into the fields and woods, he sees a beauty in the leaf and in the flower, and hears a melody in the song of the birds, such as he had never known before. But can it be supposed that rapture like this will continue for any length of time? And when it has given place to a calmer state of feeling, are we to say there is no comfort remaining? Emotion may and must subside, but there is a happiness bound up with a sense of safety that is sure to survive. And so with the man whose sins are forgiven, and who clings to this conviction in every variety of experience. Your hearts at times may be as dry as dust, yet doubt not even then that you are safe,—as clear of guilt in the eye of God, and as radiant in the white robes of righteousness, as at other times when the tide of feeling is at the fullest.—Hutchison (see also H. E. I. 2073, 2074).
2. The other result that may be expected to flow from an acceptance of the remission of sin is Holiness. No sooner do we receive the grace of reconciliation, than we enter into new relations, and begin to move in a new sphere: the whole of our spiritual surroundings are changed: “old things are passed away, and all things are become new.” The consequence of this will be a new tendency of thought and action. It is not in the spirit of a hireling, not for wages that we serve, but in love to one who loves us with an everlasting love, and at whose hands we receive infinitely more as a free gift than anything we could have ever earned for ourselves. Having been forgiven much, we love much. Here is the great spring of holiness,—love to the Holy One, and this blending with a regard for His holy will, and this, again, being inseparable from a feeling of active delight in His holy law.—George Hutchison, D.D.: Sermons, pp. 244–266.
This is a promise of forgiveness. Every criminal is liable to punishment, and fears it. Does not the child desire forgiveness when he has transgressed his father’s command? This promise is made to sinners. In promising or bestowing forgiveness, God does not exterminate sin. The accusation against the Jewish people is drawn out in Isaiah 43:22-24. Sin is universal. There are degrees of heinousness. Some have gone greater lengths than others, and sinned against greater light. There is more or less acknowledgment of sinfulness in all. Some are deeply convinced and awakened to concern. They are conscious of the alienation from God and exposure to wrath.
The Gospel proclaims forgiveness. It is a Gospel of mercy.
I. The text represents the Gospel forgiveness as Divine. “I, even I, am He.” It rested with Himself exclusively to determine whether mercy should be exercised; and if so, in what way. And it is His exclusive prerogative to exercise the mercy, if it is exercised at all. “Who can forgive sins, but God only?” No priest possesses this power. His words of absolution are ineffective, excepting as they declare God’s readiness to forgive. “But did not Jesus give this power to the Apostles?” (John 20:23). If He did, it would not follow that the power descended to any subsequent minister of Christ. The Apostles had no successors. But there is no instance recorded of their ever exercising this power. It is fair to infer that they did not possess it. The power conferred was simply ministerial. Power to declare the way of salvation, the forgiveness of sins. Possessed by every preacher. And by every Christian (Revelation 22:17).
He who alone can forgive does forgive. He has chosen to provide mercy. The text affirms it The Gospel affirms it. In this capacity He will be known to men. He is the sin-pardoning God. Encouraging to those who desire forgiveness.
II. The text represents the Gospel forgiveness as Gracious. “For mine own sake.” He must glorify Himself. The display of the Divine glory is intimately associated with and essential to His moral government. The mercy of the Gospel displays—
1. His love. Human sin is the fearful problem of the ages. But it gave occasion for the manifestation of an attribute which without it could not have been known. Divine love, in the exercise of forgiveness, becomes possible by sin. The truth that God is love stands forth more distinctly.
2. His righteousness. Seen in the method and grounds of forgiveness. What a father may do in the privacy of his family in relation to offences, is different from what a magistrate may do in his public capacity. The latter is bound to maintain the law without deviation. He is the representative of justice. In this capacity the Divine wisdom and righteousness have combined with love in providing mercy, after satisfying the demands of justice. Christ has made the satisfaction (H. E. I. 376).
3. His faithfulness. He revealed His saving purpose to the Jews. He has revealed His grace in Christ. His honour is bound to the pardon of all that accept the proclamation by believing in Jesus.
In providing mercy and exercising forgiveness He acts according to His own nature as well as for the sinner’s advantage. And the view of the Divine character which is presented by the Gospel is more calculated to secure honour, and trust, and love, and obedience than any other.
III. The text represents the Gospel forgiveness as Complete. “That blotteth out thy transgressions; and will not remember thy sins.” Here is the assurance of a true, because a complete forgiveness. There is a sense in which it is impossible for sin to be blotted out. Many of its effects must remain on ourselves and on others. Even suffering through sin after it is forgiven. The drunkard and the impure may have repented and found forgiveness in Christ, and yet the ruin of their health and affairs may not be repaired. Nothing can undo the past. Neither can God literally forget sin. His Omniscience retains everything for ever. Men say they may forgive, but cannot forget. They often mean something different from what He means. He blots out sin, when the sinner repairs to the Cross, as the record of a debt is blotted from the book; so that the debtor is treated as if he did not owe it. He will not remember sin against the sinner. It is as if the recipient of a past injury dismisses all feeling from his mind, and treats the offender as if he had not sinned. He reconciles him to Himself. He numbers him among His children (Psalms 32:1-2).
How interesting and attractive this representation of the Divine character. Have you contemplated God only with dread as the righteous Judge? Let His mercy be also taken into the account. His mercy does not destroy His justice; His justice consents to the exercise of mercy. For justice is satisfied when Jesus dies.
The subject suggests solemn inquiry. All are sinners. Are all our sins forgiven? Have we turned from sin? Have we trusted in the Saviour? Let there be a continued resting in Him. Let there be a steadfast current of the heart’s preferences towards God’s ways. Let there be watchful holiness and earnest usefulness.
Are your sins not forgiven? Living on with all the sins of your life against you as an uncancelled debt? Kind and amiable in your deportment; you would not wrong any man. Yet you live in this state of alienation from God. And you are allowing the opportunity of reconciliation to slip past you. You cannot say you are unforgiven because He is unwilling to forgive. Conscience says it is because you have never sought forgiveness, because you do not like the terms on which it is offered. You will not relinquish your sins. You will not come to Him that you might have life.
Do you say you would gladly come; that you earnestly desire forgiveness; that you are willing to have Christ if He will only have you? What have you to fear? Does not the Gospel proclaim the forgiving God? Come to Him then. “Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”—J. Rawlinson.
There is one thing that God always does with sin. He removes it out of His presence. When He casts away a guilty soul, and when He pardons a penitent soul, He is doing the same thing—removing sin absolutely and infinitely. In the depth of His justice, I see the height of His mercy. There is not a greater distance between a soul in hell and heaven than there is between a pardoned man and a pardoned man’s sins. When we think of sin’s power and consequences, what can be compared with that single word, forgiveness?
I. THE AUTHOR OF FORGIVENESS. “I, even I,” an expression which denotes that God is taking to Himself, in some especial degree, some sovereign prerogative.
In earthly things, when a sovereign passes pardon, he has been aggrieved, indeed, in so far as the cause of justice is the cause of all; but still he has no personal injury to forgive. Or, when an offended man forgives his enemy, there comes across his mind the recollection that he must stand in need of pardon too. But now mark it with God. He is the being most nearly concerned in all the transgressions you have ever committed (H. E. I. 4478–4480). His law was broken; His empire disarranged; His mercy trampled upon; His love frustrated (Isaiah 43:24). But then, how grandly comes in the text! Were it that one God is injured and another God steps in to make the atonement and forgive, I should marvel less. But here lies the wonder, that God whom we provoke, despise, and neglect, originates the plan and conducts the scheme of mercy Himself.
Carry this thought a step further into the manner in which pardon of sin is procured. Men wish to do something to help their pardon. If they could feel more, pray more, do more, and be better than they are, they might hope for forgiveness. We want to find some reason in ourselves why God should forgive us. We endeavour to have before pardon that which will never come till after pardon. But how does God forgive? Like a sovereign: not because you are good, but because He is love. This is the hinging-point of the peace of thousands, who will not take forgiveness as an act of mercy.
Look, again, at the text in respect to the way by which the sense of forgiveness when it is granted is communicated to a man’s mind. This is the direct work of Almighty God, who has never communicated it to any man to do it. It belongs not to any living man to pronounce a sinner’s pardon in any other than a conditional or declaratory sense. If you desire a clear apprehension of God’s reconciling love, you must acknowledge that to Him alone it appertaineth to forgive sin. The Author of forgiveness, then, is God. All the attributes are brought to bear upon your peace—omnipotence, unchangeableness, love, justice. The pardoned sinner stands upon the eternal, leans upon the infinite, and looks out upon the unfading. It is the very Saviour who shed His life-blood, that says, “I, even I” (Romans 8:33-34).
II. THE NATURE OF FORGIVENESS.
1. In respect of time. The verb runs in the present tense. It is not “I have blotted,” nor, “I will blot,” but something far better. Probably, the metaphor is taken from a man obliterating with a sponge the record made upon a tablet. We think of God as unwilling to forgive; but He is ready, always waiting to blot out the record of every sin, as the mist that gathers round the mountain top is dispersed by the breeze. See, then, the Christian’s privilege. He looks up to God and he is forgiven. And He who forgives once goes on day after day forgiving. He does not upbraid, and say, “I forgave you yesterday, and I cannot forgive you to-day.” Sins are falling every moment upon that book, but the hand of love wipes out the record. A drop of blood fell on the page and washed it all away like snow. O try it! There is God waiting to wipe out every trace of your sin, if only you look up in simple faith to Him.
2. In respect of degree. I thank God for that little word “out.” None can read a trace where God’so bliterating hand has once passed. You never read of a partial cure wrought by Christ on earth, and you never find such a thing in the history of the Church as the partial healing of a man’s soul. Whatever God does is infinite. It is out—“blotteth out.” Some may feel, “God has forgiven me that sin, but not all my sins.” That is impossible. There never was the case of a man upon the earth who has had only one sin forgiven.
There is a distinction between “transgression” and “sin.” The former is the wicked act that lies upon the surface; the latter the deep corruption that lies within the heart. God blots out the transgressions, and will not remember the sins. He deals with both the stream and the fountain. Do not misunderstand me. God’s people commit sin, and are punished very heavily for it in this world after forgiveness. But sin is never imputed to a man in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
3. In respect of continuance. The present swells out into the future. It stretches on to your sick and dying bed; it meets you at the judgment-seat—“I will not remember.”
III. THE REASON OF FORGIVENESS. God finds all motive within Himself—“for mine own name’s sake.” You say, “Does not He seek the good of His creatures?” Yes; but the good of His creatures and His own glory are identical. You ask, “Why does God forgive a rebel creature?” The answer is nowhere in the creature. It is not in prayer, not in repentance, not in faith; but it is in God. Here is our confidence. God’s forgiveness is not like the ocean. It has the ocean’s depths, but not the ocean’s tides. Therefore He has based it, not on the universe, but on Himself. If the ground of your pardon rested on yourself or your fellow-creatures, on the holy motives you cherished, on the good deeds you performed, what hope could there be of forgiveness? The reason for forgiveness is found in that eternal counsel wherein God gave to His Son a kingdom; in God’s will that there should be a multitude round the throne of His glory; in that unfathomable love in which He is the loving Father of all His creatures; in justice, where, in faithfulness to His Son, He hath made it unjust to punish one pardoned in the Son; in that immutable wisdom wherein He hath given us an earnest of His forgiveness; but above all, seek it in that spot where His love, power, and wisdom stand out unitedly magnified, that purest revelation of His being, that bright effulgence of His name, wherein all meet—in the man Christ Jesus, the crucified, the risen Saviour.—James Vaughan, M.A.: Fifty Sermons, pp. 279–288.
I. Free grace blots out our transgressions FROM GOD’S BOOK.
II. WITH GOD’S HAND.
1. The recording hand.
2. The hand of Him against whom you have offended.
3. The rejected hand.
4. The avenging hand.
5. The spotless hand of justice.
6. The hand of the Supreme Being.
7. The hand of the unchanging God.
III. FOR GOD’S SAKE. “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions, for mine own sake” (Ezekiel 36:21-22; Ezekiel 32:0). Everything God does is for His glory. “Of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” “Of Him,” as the great cause; “through Him,” as the great worker; “to Him,” as the great end.
1. Is it for the glory of God to manifest His infinite wisdom? See it, in its brightness, in this work of salvation.
2. Is it for His glory to manifest His infinite justice? In the salvation of the Church, God has revealed that justice in its inflexible severity.
(1.) In the eternal plan of salvation by sacrifice.
(2.) Shining in the solemn glory of the cross of Emmanuel.
3. Is it for His glory to manifest His infinite power? See it in the fearful miracles of Egypt; in the merciful deeds of the great Miracle-Worker; in the pardoning of sins, the destroying of the works of the devil, the regeneration of the corrupt, the resurrection of the dead, the restoration of immortality, and the everlasting reign of righteousness.
4. Is it for His glory to manifest His infinite love? In the salvation of the Church it is revealed in its immeasurable greatness; in His compassion for the perishing, forbearance towards the rebellious, forgiveness of the repenting, and in His kindness to the believing.
IV. FROM GOD’S MEMORY. “I will not remember thy sins.” A heavenly truth in an earthly dress.—H. Grattan Guinness; Sermons, pp. 333–363.
If we were to ask, who need the forgiveness of sins? the ready answer would be, sinners. All men are sinners (Romans 3:10; Romans 3:12; Romans 3:23, and 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10). The dreadful reality of sin in us, and sin on us, making us sinners in the deepest sense, gives the teaching of the Word touching forgiveness a large and living interest to us all.
I. The fact that God forgives sin. Stated in Exodus 34:6-7; 2 Chronicles 7:14; Psalms 86:5; Psalms 130:4. Illustrated in David (Psalms 32:5). Sick of the palsy (Matthew 9:2). Woman in Simon’s house (Luke 7:48).
II. The meritorious ground on which God forgives. Christ Jesus (Colossians 1:14; 1 John 2:12; Acts 10:43; Romans 3:24-25). The question may be asked, What has Christ done that He forgives for His sake? See Hebrews 9:22-26; 1 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 53:5-6.
III. The conditions in us necessary to forgiveness. Repentance (John 1:9; Acts 3:19). Faith (Acts 13:38). Forsaking sin (Proverbs 28:13).
IV. The perfection of Divine forgiveness.
1. Sins are blotted out (Isaiah 43:25).
2. Totally removed from sight (Isaiah 1:18).
3. Forgotten for ever (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 10:17).
V. The consequences of forgiveness. We have:—
1. Life (Colossians 2:13).
2. Blessedness in the soul (Psalms 32:1-2; 1 John 5:10).
3. Praise in the heart (Isaiah 12:1).
4. The fear of God (Psalms 130:4; Jeremiah 33:8-9).
5. Reconciliation with God (Luke 15:12-32).
6. Praise and joy (Romans 5:1-2).—J. A. R. Dickson.
We may learn:—
I. That it is God only who can pardon sin. How vain, then, is it for man to attempt it! How wicked for man to claim the prerogative! And yet it is an essential part of the Papal system, that the Pope and his priests have the power of remitting the penalty of transgression.
II. That this is done by God solely for His own sake. It is not—
1. Because we have any claim to it, for then it would not be pardon, but justice.
2. Nor have we any power to compel God to forgive—for who can contend with Him, and how can mere power procure pardon?
3. Nor have we any merit, for then also it would be justice; and we have no merit.
4. Nor is it primarily in order that we may be happy—for our happiness is a matter not worthy to be named, compared with the honour of God. But it is solely for His own sake; to promote His glory; to show His perfections; to evince the greatness of His mercy; and to show His boundless and eternal love.
III. They who are pardoned should live to His glory, and not to themselves. For that they were forgiven.
IV. If men are ever pardoned, they must come to God—and to God alone. They must come not to justify themselves, but to confess their crimes; and they must come with a willingness that God should pardon them on just such terms as He pleases; at just such a time as He pleases; and solely with a view to the promotion of His own glory. Unless they have this feeling, they never can be forgiven, nor should they be forgiven.—A. Barnes.
The text solves most of the problems arising out of our moral condition.
I. OUR NEED OF FORGIVENESS. This is evident on account of our transgressions. All guilty before God. The text refers to one species of moral evil—“transgressions”—violations of the Divine law. They are—
1. Diversified. Against both tables—Divine providences, &c.
3. Individual—distinctly ours.
4. Heinous. As committed against a good and gracious God, &c. As scarlet and crimson.
5. Recorded. Symbol of the text (Revelation 20:11. &c.)
6. Connected with Divine penalties.
7. No created being can deliver us from the results of our transgressions. No priest, &c. Jesus only.
II. THE DIVINE DECLARATION AS TO BLOTTING OUT TRANSGRESSION. Striking. I. the Creator (Isaiah 43:15); the Jehovah (Isaiah 43:3); the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 43:3); your Redeemer (Isaiah 43:14).
1. He has sovereign right to do so.
2. His infinite love and mercy disposes Him to do so (Exodus 32:18, &c.)
3. This Divine nature and name Christ the Saviour possessed as the Son of God (Colossians 2:9). He was appointed the Mediator, and by and through His person, merit, and work we obtain forgiveness of sin. There is salvation in none other.
4. By faith in the Gospel of Christ, we realise the removal of our sins.
CONCLUSION.—God blots out all sin utterly and for ever. The erasure is complete. How solicitous we should be to hear God speaking thus to our hearts, by His Holy Spirit. There is no excuse for the unforgiven.—J. Burns, D.D., LL.D.: Sketches and Outlines, pp. 348.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 43". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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