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THE SPIRIT PROMISED TO THE SEED OF JACOB
Isaiah 44:1-5. Yet now hear, O Jacob my Servant, &c.
The three Divine Persons in the Godhead are represented in Scripture as concurring in the salvation of fallen man. Our text is one of those interesting passages in which the Holy Spirit is promised in the Old Testament.
I. THE PEOPLE TO WHOM THE PROMISE IS MADE. The “seed” or “offspring” of Jacob, i.e., those who resemble Jacob in his state and character, in his spirit and conduct.
1. Jacob is here represented as the creature of God. “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb.” The same is true of all His spiritual children (Ephesians 2:10).
2. God had chosen Jacob. Twice declared in our text. True also of His spiritual children (1 Peter 2:9).
3. In the text twice called the servant of God. His children are also in the same capacity (Acts 27:23; Romans 12:1).
3. Jacob is also called Israel. We know on what occasion that name was first given him (Genesis 32:28). It is the memorial of his triumph in prayer; and the promise in our text is made to those who, like Jacob, wrestle with God in prayer for spiritual blessings,
5. Jacob is here called Jesurun, i.e., “the upright one.” Those who are interested in this promise are such as are upright before God. Imperfection may cleave to them; overpowered by temptation, they may fall into sin; yet they are sincere (H. E. I. 1022).
II. THE PROMISE MADE IN THE TEXT (Isaiah 44:3). What is here promised is the Holy Spirit of God, the Sanctifier and Comforter of the Church. A blessing in which all other blessings may be said to be included. With it, and it alone, there come to the soul spiritual life, pardon, purity, peace, and meetness for heaven. Here promised under the emblem of water.
Water is a blessing—
1. Universally necessary. Without it, both man and beast must speedily perish.
2. Universally diffused. In some countries, indeed, it is more abundant than in others; but there is no habitable region on the face of the earth where it is entirely wanting. Nor is the Holy Spirit confined to a few favoured ones (Acts 2:17). This promise is being fulfilled.
3. Abundant. Note the promise of the text: “pour floods.” He will communicate His Spirit copiously to earnest suppliants.
4. Cheap. Generally cheap, as the light of the sun, or as the air we breathe. What can be cheaper than the grace of the Spirit? Too precious to be sold (Job 28:14). It is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (John 4:10).
III. THE EFFECTS ATTENDING THE FULFILMENT OF THIS PROMISE (Isaiah 44:4-5). When the earth has been long without rain, the whole face of nature assumes a mournful and sterile appearance. Let rain be given, and fertility and beauty are seen on every side. Without the Holy Spirit, there is barrenness in the Church. When the Spirit is poured out upon the Church, what are the results?
1. Its converts become exceedingly numerous. “They shall spring up as among the grass”—numerous as the blades of grass. Preliminary fulfilments of the promise (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:34; Acts 5:14). In every age since that time, the number of converts has multiplied in proportion to the outpouring of the Spirit.
2. Its converts become distinguished for the rapidity and luxuriance of their spiritual growth. “They spring up as willows by the water-courses” (cf. Hosea 14:5-7). The young convert, watered by the dews of the Spirit, makes rapid progress in spiritual knowledge and in grace. He rivals the lily in grace, the olive-tree in beauty, the cedar in stateliness, and the vine in fruitfulness. He ripens as quickly as the full-grown ear of corn; and, like the vine of Lebanon, diffuses around him the most delightful fragrance.
3. They are animated by the purest spirit of self-dedication to the Lord, and of cordial attachment to His people (Isaiah 44:5). That is, they shall dedicate themselves to the Lord as His faithful servants and sincere worshippers; and separating themselves from the ungodly and profane, shall solemnly and publicly join themselves to His Church. That this is the duty of those who have been converted and benefited by the Spirit, may be safely inferred from the practice of the Church in every age (Acts 2:44; Acts 2:46). Can we do better than follow the example set us by the primitive Church? Is it not at once our duty and the most likely way to promote the edification and salvation of our souls? Are we not more likely to go to heaven in company with those who travel thither, than by keeping aloof from them? (H. E. I. 3903–3911.)
1. What resemblance do we bear to the character of the people to whom the promise is made? Is the workmanship of God seen in us? Does the sanctity of our lives prove that we are His elect people? Are we men of fervent and persevering prayer? Are we sincere and upright before God?
2. Has the promise of the text been fulfilled to our souls? We so absolutely need the grace of the Spirit that we must perish, if we have it not. There is no good reason why we should be without it; like water, it is everywhere placed within our reach, and may be obtained in the greatest abundance by only asking for it. How inexcusable, then, must we be, if we still remain without it!
3. Some of us profess to have received the Spirit! What are the effects which He has produced on our spirit and conduct? (H. E. I. 2897, 2898, 1430–1437).
4. Have you truly dedicated yourself to God? and have you joined His people?—Daniel Rees: Sermons, pp. 469–479.
THE HOLY SPIRIT AND HIS INFLUENCE ON MAN
Isaiah 44:3-4. I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, &c.
When God designed the recovery of ruined man, He purposed to accomplish the gracious and glorious work by two great means: by giving the Son to take upon Him our nature, to obey and suffer for us therein; and by sending the Holy Spirit, to render all that Christ has done and suffered for us applicable and effectual to the salvation of our souls.
In this Scripture an abundant effusion of the Spirit is promised to the Church, under the emblem of water: “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty.” Being made truly sensible of spiritual need, and earnestly desirous of something better than creature satisfaction, this declaration promises a supply of spiritual blessings for the refreshment of the soul. Is that soul barren as the dry ground where there is no water? There is an enlargement of the promise—floods of grace are spoken of: “and floods upon the dry ground.” Then there is an explanation, in the plainest language: “I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessings upon thine offspring.”
This promise was strikingly fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. It is doubtless to have a more complete fulfilment in that happy and glorious state which yet awaits the Church, when the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea. But it has also a most important reference to those operations which are carried on by the Holy Spirit in our own souls, and upon which our salvation depends (John 3:3). Let us, then, reverently study what has been revealed to us in the Word of God concerning the being and operations of the Holy Spirit.
I. THE HOLY SPIRIT.
1. The Spirit, of whom this and other Scriptures speak to us, is Divine.
(1) This, and more, is involved in our Lord’s command, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
(2) The same distinguishing names and titles are given continually in the Word of God to the Holy Ghost, as belong to no other than Almighty God. “THE LORD” (2 Corinthians 3:1. Cf. Isaiah 6:9 with Acts 28:25). “GOD” (Acts 5:3). “JEHOVAH” (Cf. Isaiah 63:14 with Deuteronomy 32:12 and Numbers 14:11).
2. The Holy Spirit is not an attribute or operation of God the Father; His distinct personality is clearly manifest from several scriptures.
(1.) From distinct and visible appearances. At the baptism of our Lord. In Matthew 3:16, we read of a distinct manifestation of three Sacred Persons, at one time and place: The voice of the Father was heard, “This is my beloved Son;” the Lord Jesus came up out of the Jordan; and the Holy Spirit in a bodily shape descended from heaven, and lighted upon Him. On the day of Pentecost. He visibly descended on the apostles, in the likeness of fire.
(2.) To “the Spirit” divine and personal attributes are assigned. He is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). Omnipresent (Psalms 139:7). Omniscient (1 Corinthians 2:10).
(3.) He acts in a personal manner, as one who has a distinct and personal will (John 14:7-8; 1 Corinthians 12:11).
(4.) He has personal appellations (Isaiah 11:2; John 14:16; John 14:26). He is called “a Comforter,” which is the name of a person, and of one vested with an office; “another Comforter,” to distinguish Him from God the Son, who is a Comforter and indisputably a Person.
(5.) The immediate care and government of the Christian Church has been committed peculiarly to the Holy Spirit. Regeneration is His especial work, spiritual life His especial gift; by Him the work of sanctification is carried on; all Christian holiness, and the exercise of every grace, proceed from Him (John 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 13:14, &c.) He also qualifies and appoints persons to minister in the Church of Christ, and claims their services (Acts 13:2; Acts 20:28).
These testimonies place it beyond doubt that the Holy Spirit is a divine, distinct, and self-existent person, infinite in all His attributes; that He is also, with the Father and the Son, One, God over all, blessed for evermore (H. E. I. 2867).
II. HIS OPERATIONS IN THE HUMAN SOUL.
He is the great Teacher, the Spirit of Illumination, the promised Guide, who alone can lead us into a saving knowledge of the truth. We all continue in a state of spiritual darkness and death until by His mighty power we are born again. It is only through His agency that the corruptions of the human heart can be subdued and mortified, and a holy conformity to the will of God either acquired or sustained. He is the great and only true Comforter, from whom alone any solid consolations come. His work in the soul is just as necessary for its salvation as was the work that was finished on the Cross; and no man, however wise or learned he may be, knows really one tittle more of spiritual things than he is experimentally taught them by the Holy Ghost. His blessed influences, which are so absolutely necessary to us, should be earnestly sought (H. E. I. 2871–2891; P. D. 1815–1821).—John Johnstone, M.A.: The Way of Life, pp. 172–196.
The suitableness of this passage to the important subject of the day, when we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, is obvious. Let us consider—
I. THE PROMISE. “I will pour,” &c. This, then, is a promise of the Spirit, which is here compared, as in other scriptures, to water, on account partly of its purifying, and partly of its comforting properties. For as water cleanses the body and quenches thirst, so the Spirit purifies the soul and satisfies spiritual desires.
But who are they upon whom the Spirit is poured?
1. Upon the people of God, compared to the earth in the drought of summer, parched and thirsting for rain; upon those who are sensible of their spiritual barrenness, and are not looking for the supply of their wants to their own imaginary merits or strength, but are trusting in the mercy of God through Christ. Upon these the Lord will shed the Holy Ghost abundantly.
2. Upon the children of believers.
II. ITS EFFECTS. “And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses.” The image here employed implies two things—an increase of the Church, and a growth of individual piety. As plants and herbs spring up of themselves and spread in a grassy and well-watered spot, so did the Christian religion at first rapidly extend itself, through the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Thousands were converted by a single sermon, and churches were planted over the whole of the then known world. As the willow situate by the river’s side shoots up quickly, so he upon whom the Lord pours His Spirit plentifully thrives and flourishes in the divine life. His faith becomes steadfast, his love pure and fervent, his humility profound, his knowledge and wisdom extensive and deep, his zeal ardent and constant, lowly and meek, his deadness to the world thorough, and his devotedness to God unreserved.
If the gift of the Spirit be so important, how earnestly should we pray for it! Prayer is the appointed means of obtaining every blessing, whether temporal or spiritual, which God has to bestow. It is the particular duty annexed to the promise of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:27; Ezekiel 36:37). Neglect it not! Pray first of all for your own dry and barren souls, that they may be visited with an abundant outpouring of the Spirit, and thereby be softened, refreshed, and fertilised. Pray next for your children, and pray in faith, expecting, on the ground of the new covenant and of the Divine promises, that your prayers will be heard and answered; your children are included in the promise as well as yourselves. Make a constant practice of praying “for the good estate of the Catholic Church, that it may be so guided and governed by God’s good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in the unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life.”—James Gibson, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 87–99.
Three things demand our attention—
I. THE NECESSITY OF DIVINE INFLUENCE.
This is seen in the condition of the persons to whom this promise is addressed. Graphic and affecting terms are used to describe the state of the Church when the grace of the Spirit is withdrawn or withheld. It is a state—
1. Of destitution. The face of nature is entirely dependent on the dews and rains of heaven for its picturesque and fruitful appearance. In their absence the earth pines and languishes. Think of the condition and appearance of Israel, when for more than three years rain was withheld from it. As dependent is the heart of man upon God; where His gracious influence is not exerted, there is no true peace or joy.
2. Of sterility. This is denoted by the phrase “dry ground.” Dry ground is barren. Equally barren is the human heart in the absence of divine influence; it brings forth nothing valuable.
3. This destitution and barrenness extends even to the rising generation. Grace is not hereditary. The children of the most devout are individually dependent on God for all excellence. Unless that dependence is exercised, all the excellences resulting from their religious education will dwindle away and ultimately die. The necessity of divine influence clings to us all.
II. THE NATURE OF THE DIVINE INFLUENCE.
This is represented in the metaphor by which it is described, “I will pour water,” &c. The opposite metaphor, fire, is also used to describe the work of the Holy Spirit. The propriety and beauty of the metaphor employed here will appear if we consider—
1. The peculiar proprieties of the promised blessing. Remember
(1.) its cleansing influence.
(2.) Its softening power.
(3.) Its fertilising tendency.
(4.) Its satisfying quality. Nothing else so effectually quenches thirst.
2. The manner of its bestowment.
(1.) It falls from heaven.
(2.) It is imparted freely.
(3.) It is poured forth copiously. “Floods upon the dry ground.”
III. THE EFFECTS OF DIVINE INFLUENCE.
When it is exerted, the results are seen—
1. In numerous conversions to God (Isaiah 44:4). As grass springs up in the water-courses, and willows grow in the moistened earth, so where the Spirit is poured forth numbers of converts arise to call the Redeemer blessed.
2. In consecration to the service of Christ (Isaiah 44:5).
(1.) It is individual and personal.
(2.) It is marked by holy decision openly avowed.
(3.) It is influential in its example. “One shall say … and another!”
1. This promise should teach us to cultivate dependence on the Holy Spirit.
2. Let us derive encouragement to seek an enlarged effusion of the Divine influence for ourselves and for others.
3. The promise and the pictures of the text appeal to you young folk. They show you what you are without the Holy Spirit; what you may become under His gracious influence; and they stimulate you to that personal dedication to God on which your present and eternal well-being depends.—George Smith, D.D.
Who are they that shall participate in these rich blessings? The region surveyed by the promise is one of destitution. It is a “dry ground.” Months since a drop of rain fell. It is parched. Nothing grows. The land is thirsty. The land and people represent God’s Church. It was a separated people (Isaiah 44:2). Jacob and Israel, names of the chosen people. Jesurun, “my righteous” or “beloved one.” So that the promise of the text relates to the Church.
1. IN ITSELF. This is the primary idea. The Church is depressed. Here is a promise of revival and refreshing. This is God’s usual course. He reanimates the spiritual life within the Church before He extends it beyond. The world’s conversion is through the Church. But if, like salt that has lost its savour, it has become incapable of its proper influence, how shall its capacity be regained? Only by a new outpouring of the Spirit from on high. God brought back His people; then the heathen knew that He was the Lord. At the Day of Pentecost the Spirit was first given to the disciples, then to the multitude. “Beginning at Jerusalem.”
2. IN ITS CHILDREN. The special promise of the text is that the children shall be brought under the saving influence. “I will pour my Spirit on thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Acts 2:39). There is a special propriety and beauty in the arrangement that the Christian parent should be the means of training his children for the Church. If the children of Christians are not Christians, it is usually because the parents have failed in some respect to be to their children what they should have been. We ought to be able to look around on the families of Christians and anticipate their union in the fellowship of the Church as a matter of course.
Thus there is in this promise the idea of the Gospel’s perpetuation in the world. It shall not expire with the existing generation. If not a single convert were added from the regions beyond, it will continue to live in the children of God’s people. So that, though the grass withers and the flower fades; though the man dies and is forgotten, the Word of the Lord, which by the Gospel is preached unto you, endureth for ever. Is not the greater proportion of conversions usually among the young? Is not this a fulfilment of the promise? Let Christian parents and Christian ministers be specially interested in the young (H. E. I. 781–788, 795, 803–806).
Nor does it terminate there. It spreads outwards. Unlike Gideon’s fleece, which was saturated while the surrounding ground remained dry, the dew which falls upon the Church reaches the region outside (Ezekiel 34:26). Large numbers attend our Christian sanctuaries who do not identify themselves with the Church. They hear the Gospel; are interested in its success; but they have not its blessing. The waters of salvation are flowing around them; but their souls remain parched. For them every Christian should pray. They will suffer me to say a word to them. You are like a drowning man who clings to the side of the boat, but refuses to enter it. This is not God’s fault. It is your own. How long shall it continue?
We want more prayer for the Holy Spirit; a more real belief in His work.—J. Rawlinson.
REVIVAL: A HOMILY FOR SPRING
Isaiah 44:3-4. For I will pour water, &c.
Foremost among the judgments which followed Israel’s idolatries was the visitation of drought. We enjoy copious supplies of fertilising rain. Yet, even in our own land, a sensible reduction of the rain-fall in spring is followed by empty shocks in August. But in the sunny climes of Syria, if the half-yearly gift of rain failed, the effect was disastrous in the extreme.
If drought is so injurious in the fields of nature, is it not equally injurious in the Church? In our text there is,
I. A STATE OF BARRENNESS DESCRIBED. The ground is said to be “dry,” in a parched and impenetrable condition. Deadly to vegetable growth. With such homely imagery the prophet leads our thoughts from the outer world to the inner. Is it my soul that is here described? Whatever be the reason, God shall be held clear of blame; and, like the first sign of approaching spring, comes His gracious promise, “I will pour,” &c.
II. A SENSE OF NEED EXPRESSED. The insensibility is gone. The rigid hardness of winter is at an end. Who is there among us whose spirit thirsts not? (Matthew 5:6.)
III. A GENEROUS GIFT PROVIDED. A promise from God is as good as its performance.
1. The source of the supply. The great folly to which all men are prone is to seek the supply of their wants elsewhere than in God. Yet God has wisely ordained that nowhere out of Himself shall man’s highest good be found.
2. The suitableness of the means. Showers for a thirsty soul—mercy’s gifts to satisfy the wants of dependent man. Showers of spiritual influence to refresh our drooping piety. Not half so skilfully do the several parts of a key fit into the wards of a complicated lock as the gifts of Christ fit the needs of a human soul.
3. The copiousness of the gift. If showers will not suffice, there shall be “floods.”
4. The range of the promise. It shall not terminate with ourselves; it shall extend to our children—ay, to our children’s children. Consolation for parents. The spirit of piety is as contagious as the spirit of profanity. If our Christian faith and love be vigorous, our ambition for our children will be, not riches, &c., but salvation.
IV. ABUNDANT FERTILITY FORESEEN. There shall be a revival of life in the Church, as in the parched fields after a copious shower, as in nature at the advent of spring. What a delightful change!
1. Multiplicity of conversions is here predicted. Appearances may be unfavourable; unbelief may ridicule the hope; but the word has gone forth, and cannot fail.
2. Rapidity of growth shall be another feature of this era. Now, for the most part, growth is slow; good fruit is scanty. We scarce can tell whether we gain or lose. But when the heavenly rain shall descend, the young life will break through every bond, will send out new shoots, and make every branch fruitful.
3. Constancy of verdure will be enjoyed. They shall be “as willows by the water-courses.”—D. Davies, M.A.: Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv. p. 407.
These words describe a time of refreshing.
I. Who is the Author of a work of grace? God.
1. He begins a work of anxiety in dead souls (Zechariah 12:0; John 16:0; Ezekiel 37:0)
2. He carries on the work, leading awakened persons to Christ (Joel 2:28; Joel 2:32).
3. He enlarges His people. Learn
(1.) To look beyond ministers for a work of grace;
(2.) Good hope of revival in our day;
(3.) That we should pray for it.
II. God begins with thirsty souls.
1. Awakened persons.
2. Thirsty believers. Signs:
(1.) Much thirst after the word.
(2.) Much prayer.
(3.) Desire to grow in grace.
III. God pours floods on the dry ground. Represents those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Marks:
(1.) They do not pray.
(2.) They do not wish a work of grace in their souls.
(3.) Those who do not attend to the preached word.
Learn, Christians, to pray for floods of blessing.
1. Saved souls will be like grass.
2. Believers shall grow like willows.
3. Self-dedication.—R. M. M‘Cheyne: Sermons, pp. 66–72.
THE CHURCH AND THE CHILDREN
(For the third Sunday in October, the day for “universal prayer and effort on behalf of Sunday-schools and young people.”)
Isaiah 44:3-5. For I will pour water, &c.
The third Sunday in October is, in many places, an anniversary associated with blessed recollections. If the mighty hosts of godly parents and Sunday-school workers agree to ask for the gift of the Holy Ghost, it will be made manifest that we are among the heirs of Pentecost; in our dwellings, &c., we shall be richly blessed, and multitudes of the young will be added to the Church, according to these glorious declarations. Let there be no misgiving; these “exceeding great and precious promises” are “unto us and our children.”
I. GOD’S PROMISE OF BLESSING UPON THE CHURCH.
1. The nature of the promised blessing. Consists in the influences of the Holy Spirit which are frequently represented in the Scriptures, and especially by Isaiah, under the figure of water, either as “streams,” “rivers,” or “floods.” Here the terms “water” and “Spirit” are used interchangeably (cf. John 7:38-39). Analogy between water in the natural world, and the Spirit’s influences in the moral world. Whatever good there is in the Holy Spirit’s agency, this promise includes them all, for when God gives His Spirit, He gives all other blessings (Luke 5:23 with Matthew 7:5).
2. Abundant. The terms employed indicate communications commensurate with the existing need, however great. Like torrents of rain poured on the thirsty earth. The fulness of the Spirit’s influences shall be communicated to us if we seek in the way of obedient prayer and faith. Not a solitary promise—one of a group (Ezekiel 34:26; Joel 2:28; Hosea 14:5; Malachi 3:10, &c.) Had their first grand and signal fulfilment upon the day of Pentecost—the beginning of the fulfilment of these promises.Acts 2:39; Acts 2:39 proves the universality of the promise. It is yours now. What abundant communications of divine influence we should expect!
3. Needed. God’s ancient people were in a sadly backsliding state. They needed the bestowment of divine influence. So do we.
(1.) The low and languid piety of the Church.
(2.) The comparatively small success of the various agencies for the conversion of sinners. Our agencies will not be spiritually useful upon anything like a large scale, until they are charged with spiritual force.
4. Must be sought. The promise is made to the “thirsty.” God gives what He promises only in answer to prayer. His promise cannot fail.
5. The results will be most glorious. Individuals. Church. World.
II. GOD’S PROMISE OF BLESSING UPON THE CHILDREN OF THE CHURCH. Has made the hearts of multitudes of pious parents and teachers thrill with delight. Accords with many others.
1. Our children need the Holy Spirit. No natural goodness can supersede the work of the Spirit. Religion not hereditary.
2. God promises to give the Spirit as abundantly to them as to us. Same terms used in each case. Having received the Spirit, they are to grow in grace most vigorously (Isaiah 44:4). The manifestation of this in public (Isaiah 44:5).
3. Must be sought. As in the former case, so in this. The universal Church is seeking this blessing to-day upon Sunday-schools and young people. Grand and inspiring fact! The salvation of our children is placed before us as the crowning glory of the Church when she is in the full tide of her prosperity. Let parents and teachers, &c., expect the fulfilment of the promise to-day.
CONCLUSION.—A word to unconverted parents. You are glad to see your children pious, though you are neglecting salvation yourselves. One of the strongest reasons why you should seek it. How sacred and solemn is the parental relationship.—A. Tucker.
I. That God will pour His blessing on the children of His people. A promise which in all ages, when parents are faithful, is abundantly fulfilled.
II. That one of the richest blessings which can be imparted to a people is, that God’s Spirit should descend on their children.
III. That the Spirit of God alone is the source of true happiness and prosperity to our children. All else—property, learning, accomplishments, beauty, vigour—will be vain. It is by His blessing only—by the influences of piety—that they will spring forth, &c.
IV. Parents should pray earnestly for a revival of religion. No better description can be given of it than we have here. Who would not pray for such a work of grace? What family, what congregation, what people can be happy without it?—A. Barnes.
A PUBLIC PROFESSION OF RELIGION
Isaiah 44:5. One shall say, I am the Lord’s, &c.
This chapter begins with a prediction of the future prosperity and increase of the Church of God; and the prophet here represents converts as spontaneously choosing to make a public profession of religion.
I. SOME REASONS WHY TRUE CONVERTS DESIRE TO MAKE A PUBLIC PROFESSION OF RELIGION.
1. Those who have experienced a saving change of heart love God’s law. It is in the creation of such a love within them that this change consists (Jeremiah 31:33; Psalms 119:97). Those who love God’s law choose to obey it, and to bind themselves to obey it for ever (Jeremiah 1:4-5).
2. They love God’s ordinances. They delight to observe them all, especially that which commemorates the death of their Divine Redeemer (Acts 2:41; Acts 2:47).
3. They love God’s people, and delight to unite with them in the duties of religion, and in their attendance on divine ordinances.
4. They love God’s cause. They desire to be workers together with God in building up His kingdom, and for this reason wish to put themselves in the best situation, and under the strongest obligations to promote the cause of truth and the prosperity of Zion. Their profession gives them a greater freedom, and creates a greater obligation to speak and act for God and for the good of their fellow-men.
5. They desire to grow in grace; and for that reason desire to join the Church, that they may enjoy the best means of spiritual instruction and edification.
6. They desire to persevere to the end; and being conscious of the deceitfulness of their own hearts, and their proneness to forget and forsake God, they gladly avail themselves of the help that is afforded by a public vow and covenant to be steadfast in His service (H. E. I. 3903–3911).
As all who make a profession of religion are not Christians, so neither are all who omit to do so unbelievers. Let us note, therefore—
II. SOME EXCUSES WHICH SOME CONVERTS OFFER FOR NOT MAKING A PUBLIC PROFESSION OF RELIGION.
1. “I am not absolutely certain that I am a Christian.” But you hope you are; and will disobeying God do anything to turn your hope into a settled confidence? The way to get more grace is to use the grace you have.
2. “I do not know that the Church would receive me.” Why not? Do you think that the Church is not competent to arrive at a just judgment concerning you? or that it would wilfully judge you unjustly? or that your excellences are so transcendent that full justice would not be done to them? If this is what you mean, you are not worthy to enter the Church. But if your fear of not being accepted arises from a humiliating sense of your own unworthiness, such humility will rather commend you to the esteem and confidence of good men.
3. “I fear I should do more dishonour than honour to religion.” But you have no right to fear anything of the kind. God promises to sustain you with His all-sufficient grace. Put away this sinful, because unbelieving, fear.
4. “I know a great many good people who are not Church members.” That is no concern of yours. Their neglect will not excuse yours (John 21:21-22; Romans 14:12).
5. “A great many Church members are no better than they ought to be.” True. Let us be sorry that it is so. But this is no reason why you should neglect to name Christ’s name and promote His cause; it is rather a strong reason why you should unite with His few friends to purify, strengthen, and revive religion, and to rectify whatever is amiss in the Church. Note—
III. SOME OF THE EVILS THAT RESULT FROM THIS NEGLECT TO MAKE A PUBLIC PROFESSION OF RELIGION.
Those who are guilty of it—
1. Injure themselves, by depriving themselves of that peace and comfort which they might enjoy in communion with God and His people.
2. They injure religion, by neglecting to perform those peculiar and important duties by which it is to be promoted in the world.
3. They injure the friends of God by practically joining with the world in neglecting and opposing the cause which they desire and have bound themselves to promote (Matthew 12:30).
4. They injure the impenitent by practically justifying them in their impenitence and unbelief. The more upright and amiable they appear, the more they injure the cause of God and the souls of men by the weight and influence of their criminal example.—Dr. Emmons: Works, vol. v. pp. 458–469.
The immediate effect of the outpouring of the Spirit, promised in Isaiah 44:3, will be a general awakening to the claims of religion. When so visited, men think seriously about the soul, eternity, and God. Hitherto their practice may have been at one with the sentiment expressed in the words, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;” but, under the influence of the new quickening, the unseen state is felt to be a reality, and the interests of time give way before the urgency of the great hereafter. Such views ripen into religious devotion, or the soul’s consecration to God.
Touching the nature and method of the surrender and dedication of the soul to God, the prophet’s language indicates these things:—
I. The act is strictly personal. “One shall say,” “and another shall call himself,” “and another shall subscribe with his hand.”  Men proceed singly in the matter. Repentance, faith, and regeneration and consecration are individual transactions between the creature and the Creator. Into the fellowship of saints many may enter at the same time. The text favours the idea of concealed action. In their turning to God, it is common for men to move together. Yet the procedure is no more a collective process than eating and drinking at one table and hour is a collective process. As the servants of the Crown have to take the oath of allegiance one by one, so must the vow of service to the King of kings be, in every case, independently plighted. Each person has to enter into the covenant on his own account.
 “And another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” According to Bishop Louth, this might be rendered, “Another shall inscribe his hand to Jehovah;” or still more plainly in the Septuagint translation, “An other shall write upon his hand, I belong to God.” You have doubtless seen upon the hands or arms of seamen the name of the ship in which they have served, rendered indelible by puncture, or by staining; this, perhaps, is one of the oldest customs in the world. The slave, in former days, used thus to be marked with the name of his master; the soldier, of his commander; the idolater, with the name of his god; while one of the Christian fathers tells us that in his day, “many marked their wrists or their arms with the sign of the cross, or with the name of Christ.” This, then, will give you a very distinct idea of what the Lord requires of you, and what He will enable you to perform; it is such a decided choice of the Lord for your portion, such an avowal by your daily actions, that you are not your own, but His who has bought you with the price of His precious blood, that all shall know it as certainly, and that your actions shall proclaim it as unequivocally, as if the name of Christ were inscribed on the back of your hand, and could be seen and read in all companies, and on all occasions.—Blunt.
II. The act is performed specially by the faculty of choice and determination. The other mental powers share in the engagement. The understanding and reason, the conscience and the affections, are parties to it. But, whilst the sister faculties conduce to and support the pledge, the utterance of the binding promise does not rest with any or all of them. The decision itself pertains to the instrument of choice. The making up of the mind to what is good and holy is pre-eminently the function and act of the will. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power.”
III. The act, in order to be rightly completed, requires an outward sign or seal. The word of acknowledgment is spoken. “I am the Lord’s;” or “the name of Jacob” is assumed, the visible fellowship of good men is entered; or a subscription with the hand is appended in token of acceptance and submission. When the soul attaches itself to the service of its Saviour, the internal establishment is to be accompanied by some sort of external work. This is seemly by way of open confession. It is right and becoming for the children of God to show whose they are. The sign, too, helps one’s own resolution. Our purpose is the stronger when we have definitively committed ourselves to the adopted course. Again, the sign has its effect upon others. Where the decision for Christ is not avowed, the example cannot be clear and forcible. The token is a reasonable adjunct, and not to be neglected without loss in various ways. Hence the Scriptures call for the outward profession of faith. Our courage is not to shrink from view. Instead of continuing to come to Christ by night only, Nicodemus must consent to receive baptism with water, and take upon him the badge of open identification with an unpopular cause. The Christian’s light is to shine before men. Jesus did not invite to secret discipleship (H. E. I. 1042–1045).—W. Follard.
I. The nature of true religion.
1. It is a surrender of ourselves to God. “I am the Lord’s.”
(1.) He has an original right—formed us for Himself.
(2.) Reasonable right.
(3.) Redeeming right.
2. It is an avowed acknowledgment of God. “Another shall,” &c. Profession is demanded by the Lord.
3. It includes union and fellowship with His people. “Call themselves,” &c. So in apostolic times, &c.
II. The characteristics of religion as presented in our text.
1. It is personal.
III. The importance of such a spirit of religion.
1. It is intensely important to Jesus.
2. To the Church. 3. Supremely important to yourselves; it is not a vain thing, it is your life.—R. M. M‘Cheyne: Sermons on Special Occasions, pp. 170–173.
THE SOLITARINESS AND ETERNITY OF GOD
Isaiah 44:6. Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, &c.
A magnificent text! It places before us three of the loftiest of all themes of thought—the solitariness and eternity of God, and His relations to the Church. There are speculations that are profitless; but others are ennobling. These! About such topics we should often think; or the noblest faculties of our mind will dwindle and die (H. E. I. 3294, 3493).
I. THE SOLITARINESS OF GOD. “Beside Me there is no God.” To us a familiar fact; but let us think about it. One God! Then—
1. One Creator of all things. All—what a comprehensive term! Includes—
(1.) The lifeless universe. The sun—suns. Mountains, gems. The rocks, the waves that roll and dash against them, &c.
(2.) The living universe. How varied the living forms in this earth, this infinitesimal fragment of the universe! But God is the one source of all the life of the universe, of all its grandeur, of all its beauty.
(3.) The moral universe. Men. Angels. What a wonderful Being, of whom the outcome is so various and glorious (P. D. 631).
2. One Sustainer of all things. The regularity of the procession of the seasons, of all the events of the universe, is a sufficient proof that behind all things there is one God (H. E. I. 362–365, 3173–3182).
3. One Ruler of all things. Every departure from the laws of righteousness and love, is not merely an infraction of law, but a sin against GOD (H. E. I. 4478).
In all these respects God abides alone, eternally!
II. THE ETERNITY OF GOD. “I am the first, and I am the last.” Space and time the two mysteries before which the human mind stands defeated and appalled. They defy our attempts to grasp them (P. D. 1078). But science has done a noble service by enlarging our ideas of both. Astronomy and geology—what suggestions they are giving concerning the meaning of the word Time! But when our thoughts have travelled back as far as is possible, with what do they find themselves confronted? With God! “In the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth” (H. E. I. 2253). Let us travel forward. What a changing universe we are in! The predictions of science concerning the solar system. When they are fulfilled, what will remain unchanged? GOD! With Him there is no variableness (P. D. 2536).
1. This enables us to look forward without foreboding. The one Ruler will overrule all the changes for His glory and the good of His creatures. There is a richer universe ahead (P. D. 1492.)
2. How certain is the fulfilment of the promises of Scripture! He who made them will remain to fulfil them (H. E. I. 2254).
3. What an immense interest we have in this truth of the eternity of God! His children shall share in His eternity with Him (Psalms 122:4-8; P. D. 1693, 1971).
III. GOD’S RELATIONS TO HIS CHURCH. In considering them, remember that what He is to His Church He is also to each member of it.
1. He is its King. “Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel.”
(1.) Its ruler. His will only should be consulted by it. The Church should not fear man nor seek his favour; to GOD only should obedience be rendered. This the inspiring, ennobling principle of the martyrs (Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:29).
(2.) Its defender. No evil can happen to it (Matthew 16:18). The testimony of the past. No fear as to the future (H. E. I. 1246–1251, 2249).
2. He is its Redeemer. “And his redeemer the Lord of hosts.” “Redeemer,” i.e., rescuer. Two modes of rescue, by payment and by power. By payment He has rescued His people from the just claims of the avenging LAW (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6; Romans 3:24-26; H. E. I. 382). By sanctifying power He will rescue them from the dominion of ignorance and sin (Matthew 1:21).
(1.) There are many imperfections in the Church. But they shall all be removed (Ephesians 5:25-27). His ransomed ones shall form a glorious host with which He shall be “satisfied.”
(2.) There are many imperfections in us. Let us not be dismayed because of them, but let us struggle against them valiantly. In our case, too, God will show that He is the Redeemer of Israel (Philippians 1:6; Jude 1:24; H. E. I. 1053–1070).
Isaiah 44:8. Fear not, neither be afraid, &c.
Boldness for God, and boldness in dealing with God, should form part of the Christian character; and the Word of God, from the beginning to the end, encourages this Christian boldness. We are repeatedly exhorted to “fear not,” to “be of good courage.”
I. WHY GOD’S PEOPLE ARE LIKELY TO FEAR.
1. Because they are few in number and “peculiar.” Many are called, but few are chosen. “Fear not, little flock,” &c.
2. The result of this is that they have always been a persecuted people (Genesis 5:29; Isaiah 41:10-11).
3. Because they are called to live not by sight, but by faith, and therefore to make present sacrifices (Matthew 19:2-30; Philippians 3:4-7).
II. WHY THEY SHOULD NOT FEAR. Because the Lord thus argues with, us: “Have not I,” &c. God challenges man to deny this fact, that He knows the end from the beginning, and has proved that He knows it by foretelling the end from the beginning.  This is the manner in which God argues in other passages (Isaiah 42:9; Deuteronomy 28:47-49; Matthew 26:31). So, again, the Lord has foretold to us everything that is required for our deliverance in the advent and work of Christ (Isaiah 9:6; Zechariah 13:7; Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:5). These prophecies have been fulfilled to the very letter. Hence, God knows the end; foresees the means, and exercises control over those means. Everything that happens, great or small, is under the control of God, and therefore we have nothing to fear, because we are in His hands who “doeth all things well.” In this manner we find the argument used (Isaiah 51:12).
 See also Isaiah 44:7 : “And who, as I, shall call,” &c. Foreknowledge is the exclusive prerogative of God; it is exemplified in the prophetic history of His people; it extends to things remote as well as near; it supplies a strong argument for unwavering confidence.—Lyth.
III. THE PERSONAL APPEAL WHICH THE LORD MAKES TO HIS PEOPLE. “Ye are even my witnesses,” thus urging upon them, by the strongest possible personal appeal, to bear testimony to the fact that He is their God for ever and ever. He would have all His people speak of His faithfulness (Isaiah 43:10-13). The duty from which many shrink, from a want of simple courage. Many ways in which we may be witnesses.
1. By a consistent life. Should be a “living epistle.”
2. By speaking for the cause of truth and holiness.
3. By zeal for the salvation of souls.
Are you amongst the real witnesses for God?—M. Villiers, M.A.: The Pulpit, vol. lxix. pp. 129–134).
Isaiah 44:9-20. They that make a graven image, &c.
What have we in this section of this chapter? An effective exposure of the folly of a practice that was almost universal! A fact in itself worth thinking about. We see the folly of the practice, yet it prevailed without any one suspecting its absurdity! Practical lesson: Things are not necessarily right because they are common. True of matters of faith and practice. Yet there is a general tendency to take it for granted that things that are common are right. A perception of the falsity of this assumption leads some men to an opposite error—the assumption that anything that is ancient is absurd. So pendulum-like is our tendency! But the first of these errors, because it is most prevalent, is most distinctly condemned in Scripture. The special aim of Scripture is the cultivation of individuality. It teaches that God is to be worshipped with the understanding (Psalms 47:7; Mark 12:33; 1 Corinthians 14:15). It commands and commends individual search after truth (John 5:39; Acts 17:11). It warns us against idly conforming to common practices (Exodus 23:2). To this aim of Scripture let us respond. Let us have the wisdom and the courage to think and act for ourselves. This is the secret of the origin of the reforms the world needed so much; the absurdity and wickedness of idolatry, witchcraft, Popery, slavery, &c., first dawned upon individual thinkers, who risked their lives in exposing the delusion to others. Thus only can the reforms the world still needs be accomplished. In the very nature of the case, the cultivation of individuality is a duty that devolves on you and me. Let us give heed to it. This an important lesson from the general purpose of our text. Note also—
I. THINGS EXEMPLARY IN THESE IDOL-MAKERS.
Like our Lord, we should be observant of things that are excellent in men whose general character and course is wrong (Luke 16:8). The idol-makers were not content merely to believe; they carried out their belief into practice. They believed that they ought to worship idols, and they made and worshipped them. So it is with idolaters to-day. How poorly we should come out, if we were put to this test. We believe many right things: that God should be worshipped, that the Sabbath should be kept holy, &c., but how about our practice? (James 1:22.)
2. They did not hesitate to make the sacrifices necessary to accomplish the object they deemed desirable. Many of the idols were exceedingly costly (Isaiah 40:19). The poorest stinted themselves that they might at least procure for themselves idols of carved wood (Isaiah 40:20). Before the idols they offered costly sacrifices, some of them even their children. What terrible sacrifices idolaters often make now! But we, how little we are prepared to sacrifice, in order to do what is right, and to extend the kingdom of God in the world!
II. THINGS ADMONITORY IN THESE IDOL-MAKERS.
When we look upon them thoughtfully, we learn—
1. That intellectual ability is not sufficient to save men from the grossest spiritual follies. The idolaters were not all idiots. Many of them were great statesmen, soldiers, &c. Yet they were guilty of the gross folly of idolatry. Intellect is a great gift, but there are many things for which it is insufficient. Spiritual things can be only spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 1:21; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
2. That neglect of the duty of thinking leads men into most foolish beliefs and injurious practices (Isaiah 44:19. See also Isaiah 1:3, and outlines on that text in vol. i. pp. 7–12).
The great lesson of this text: the duty of diligent and earnest self-examination. Let us look into our right hand, and see what it is that we are cherishing there (Isaiah 44:20; H. E I. 4433, 4434).
THE DECEIVED HEART
Isaiah 44:20. He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart, &c.
The moral government of God in this world is carried on by agencies that, generally speaking, seem to us most perfectly appropriate to the accomplishment of His designs. But He sometimes chooses means that appear unlikely to bring about what He intends to effect. Such was the method He adopted to cure the Jews of their idolatry. They were addicted to it for many generations. He caused them to be carried away captive to a country in which this degradation was practised universally! Yet it was there they became totally changed in this respect. Considered in itself, there was nothing in their captivity in an idolatrous country to secure this end; indeed it rather had a contrary tendency. But it was the grace of God working with their affliction that rendered it productive of this unexpected result. The warnings and instructions of the prophets accompanied the affliction, and the blessing of God rested on both; while they looked on the idolatrous practices, God’s messengers pointed out their absurdity, degradation, and danger. This chapter was designed for this purpose. But while our text refers to the folly of the idolater, it admits of easy and legitimate application to all the fallen children of Adam who are in their unrenewed state. They are turned aside by a deceived heart; they are feeding on ashes; they cannot deliver their souls, nor say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
I. THE NATURE OF THAT DECEPTION BY WHICH AN UNCONVERTED PERSON IS INFLUENCED. “A deceived heart hath turned him aside.” The deception is therefore—
1. Fundamental in its character. It has its seat in the very centre of his being. It perniciously affects his governing principles. Principles determine action. True, bad men will sometimes, through the operation of outward causes, act contrary to their secret inclinations; and a good man, overborne by temptation, may act contrary to his settled principles (Romans 7:18-19). Peter denied his Master at the very time when his principles, if carried out, would have led him to come forward in His defence. But deception of the heart consists not merely in having the principles overruled by the force of temptation, but in the principles themselves being wrong. In this case, the very springs of a man’s action are out of place, and consequently wrong must be the rule by which he walks and the judgment which he forms. When the fountain is corrupt, all the streams that issue from it will be corrupt. When the heart is in error, all that depends upon its unaided decisions must be erroneous (Proverbs 4:23; H. E. I. 2689–2693).
2. It is powerful in the influence which it exerts. Whether a man will walk in the paths of virtue or of vice, depends entirely on the state of his heart, for in all cases it is true that “as he thinketh in his heart so is he.” His conduct will sooner or later be of the character to which that inclines. Such is the influence of the heart over the inferior faculties that, whatever resistance they may set up at first, it will be but feeble and temporary. There are instances on record—even in regard to good men, as David in the matter of Uriah, and Peter in denying Christ—in which the inferior faculties, not being fully subject to the heart, have, like a factious colony, revolted; but the heart, being right and strong, has exerted its sovereign power, and they have been again reduced to subjection, order, and obedience. On the other hand, in hypocrites and persons partially awakened, the inferior powers have been wrought upon to a great extent; but the heart not being changed, they have soon drawn back to its government and control. The intellect is curiously affected by the heart. How much the heart has to do with the opinions we hold! With what ease a person is brought to believe that to which he is inclined! (P. D. 119, 2382, 3057). How apt the judgment is to protest against that to which the heart is opposed! Such was the powerful influence by which the Jews, in the days of the Prophet, were retained in their idolatrous practices. It was seen to be equally efficacious in the days of our Lord. The corrupt hearts of the Pharisees were averse to His claims, and their aversion influenced their wills to reject and destroy Him; if at any time they found conviction stealing over them, it was met within by a powerful check. They saw, and yet they hated, both our Lord and His Father.
3. The existence of this deception is usually unsuspected, because it is so natural and easy in its mode of operation. Amongst all the reasons assigned for indifference about the state of the soul in the sight of God, this is not the least frequently assigned, that the mind is now at ease. Most persons think that nothing but fanatical zeal can make a man anxiously concerned for himself, or induce him deliberately to awaken suspicion in the reposing souls of others. But there is a quietness which deserves to be dreaded more than the greatest distress that can be experienced. It is the quietness of spiritual death—a false peace arising from the spiritual ignorance of its possessors, or the delusion of others by whom they are led (Jeremiah 6:14; H. E. I. 1327–1333). Though conversions are not all after one pattern, yet there are few whose present spiritual comfort, if it be worth anything, has not been preceded by a severe spiritual conflict.
What is required of every one who would avoid the delusion specified in our text? It is that he should act with regard to the momentous concerns of the soul as he does in reference to the interests of the present life. When a man is about to purchase an estate, he most carefully examines the title to it that is offered him. But how seldom are the Scriptures searched for the express purpose of bringing the heart to that test! But consider—
II. THE PROOFS OF THIS DECEPTION WHICH ARE TO BE FOUND IN THE SINNER’S LIFE AND CONDUCT. “He feedeth on ashes.” A deceived heart is known—
1. By the vitiated taste which characterises its possessor—by the utter insufficiency and impropriety of those things by which he, as an immortal being, seeks to satisfy the desires of his spiritual nature; just as, when we see a person craving after that which cannot be of any benefit to him, we conclude at once that there is a diseased condition of body, or a perverted state of mind. Only in God can there be found the satisfaction for the soul’s craving after happiness (H. E. I. 2379–2387, 4627–4630). But instead of looking to Him, the man of deceived heart endeavours to supply His place with inefficient substitutes—the things of this world. “He feedeth on ashes,” sensual enjoyments, schemes of worldly pleasure, delusive hopes (P. D. 1680).
2. By the injurious tendencies of the man’s practices. He who “feedeth on ashes” not only debars himself of what is good, but also inflicts upon his constitution a positive evil, by rendering himself incapable of relishing necessary future good when he may feel disposed for its enjoyment. As true of the soul as of the body! The longer repentance is delayed the more difficult it becomes; the longer vice reigns in the heart, the more arduous and painful is the work of its expulsion.  “Feeding on ashes” must also affect the future. That there are degrees of glory we are clearly taught in the Scriptures; but by what rule are they regulated except by the measure of grace received and cultivated here? (P. D. 412, 1752).
 To which of the saints can we turn who did not enlist under the banner of the Cross until late in life, and after a terrible course of error and profanity, who does not find, to his deep regret, that in the time of his former ignorance he was not only keeping himself from the proper nourishment of his soul, but also that the ashes on which he then fed have left behind injurious consequences, which now prevent him from enjoying so much as he otherwise would of the excellency of Christ and His Gospel? When the memory has been previously stored, and perhaps at a very early period of life, with the pernicious productions of a licentious press, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to forget them, and supply their place with better things. When the affections have been firmly set on the vanities of time and sense, and through a long period have exercised their strength upon a certain set of objects, it will be extremely difficult to prevent the intrusion of those objects; and that, too, when they ought especially to be annihilated. Many and painful will be the struggles between these and better things for the throne of the heart.—Slye.
3. It is seen in that contentment and satisfaction the man appears to possess. “He feedeth on ashes.” He does not take them as a medicine that has been prescribed for him; he sits down to them as a meal, as a matter of habit and choice! How pitiable!
III. THE DIREFUL EFFECTS OF THIS PRACTICE ON THE SINNER. “He cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” If the body be diseased in some of its inferior or less essential parts, the vital organs being healthy and the constitution good, it may recover itself, and again perform its wonted actions; but if the seat of life be affected, there is no hope of recovery but by a miracle, or that which nearly approaches to it. It is just so with a deceived heart. Sin has untuned the instrument, and though it has still left the strings, they have no power to rectify themselves. In a dead body there are all the properties for action, and there may be some of the animal warmth, while there is no animation, but the lifeless mass cannot recover itself. No more can the man who has long fed upon “ashes.” The very desire, as well as the ability, to rise to a nobler life passes away from him (H. E. I. 1527).—James Slye: Home Exercises, pp. 33–66.
Mistaken notions of image-worship may lead us to regard it with an air of scorn, as too silly and infatuated ever to find a place in Christianised communities; but let us not be deceived; the pagan does not bow down to the mere material of which his god is formed; he believes it to be fraught with a divine power and intelligence, that in it or in his act of worship there resides a secret virtue; and whenever the symbol in Christian worship is believed to have in itself an efficacious virtue, whenever religious acts as such, religious ceremonies or places of worship, are supposed to be possessed of a peculiar sacredness and saving efficacy, we have only a refined species of image-worship. But if not images, we have our idols in abundance. The gods of our day may not have an outward embodiment, but not the less loyal are their votaries to them. Men are prone to make idols of mammon and worldly desires and selfish ambitions. Human nature is substantially the same in all ages. The follies of bygone times are continually being reproduced, and instead of exciting our ridicule, they should call us to examine our own conduct.
The text concludes the Prophet’s scathing exposure of the folly of idol-manufacture and idol-worship, which he traces up to “a deceived heart.” “So wrapped up is he in his delusion that he never thinks of examining the grounds of his hope.” May not this explain every false confidence, and every sinful course? As the long practice of idolatry blinds the idolater to its folly, so every sin and superstitious trust has a blinding effect. The lie in the hand becomes a lie in the heart, and the lie in the heart keeps the lie in the hand. Practice and belief have a reciprocal influence. Self-deception is at once the fruit and the seed of sin (H. E. I. 4538). Sin works spiritual blindness, so that the sinner is like a ship in a fog, or a traveller in a deep ravine who knows not his direction on account of the overhanging cliffs and dense foliage (Matthew 6:23); nay, he is worse, for not only is he unable to review his conduct and test his principles, he is indisposed to do so, and it never even suggests itself to him that he is possibly on a wrong track. Look at some of the causes and forms of self-delusion in regard to a sinful life and a foolish confidence, both of which are denoted by “the hand,” as that which acts and that which grasps:—
1. Ignorance of self and neglect of self-scrutiny. Men busy themselves in exploring the expanse of the sky, and ranging the bodies of the universe, while they neglect to scrutinise their own hearts. They recoil from self-examination because it is painful. “O grievous strait!” cries one; “if I look into myself I cannot endure myself; if I see not myself I am deceived, and death is unavoidable.” Surely it is better to open the wound than to let it mortify. If only the sinner would pause and reflect, he might discover the lie to which he is clinging and the deception that lurks in his heart (Psalms 139:23-24).
2. The false religions of the world. Even the heathen have a sense of guilt and a fear of retribution, and when they ask, “How can we obtain pardon and peace?” their own hearts cannot tell, nature gives no response; but the superstitions of the world come to their aid with soothing opiates for a guilty conscience. They are taught to propitiate the gods by bloody rites. So strong is the sense of guilt that the deluded Hindoo practises upon himself every form of torture, prostrating himself before the wheels of the car of Juggernaut. The Mohammedan is very scrupulous in his fasts and prayers, or undertakes a toilsome journey to the tomb of the false prophet, hoping thus to expiate his guilt and obtain a passport to paradise. The Romanist confesses his sin into the ear of a priest, and implores the aid of the Virgin and the saints. The indulgences which he can purchase are paper falsehoods, but so deluded is he that he does not ask, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” In these ways the false religions of the world encourage their votaries in sin and self-deception. All of them are offshoots and creations of depraved human nature (Deuteronomy 29:19).
3. The practice of giving soft and soothing names to sin to disguise its real nature. The lie in the hand is concealed by the lie in the heart, when plausible names are given to dishonourable actions. A man who ruins himself by some degrading vice is said to be “a good-hearted fellow, who harms no one but himself;” a shameful sin is but “a misfortune.” Thus are men led into the belief that there is no such thing as sin at all. They hide their eyes from its sinfulness, and live in the practice of it, because they think lightly of it.
4. The excuses of our own evil hearts (Jeremiah 17:9). In ancient times men ascribed their moral delinquencies to the influence of the stars under which they were born, casting their guilt upon the circumstances of their birth, and imagining that they were under a fatal influence which compelled them to sin (Jeremiah 7:10). Many still believe themselves to be the slaves of inflexible fate, and are bold enough to charge their Maker with their guilt, like Burns, who wrote—
“Thou knowest that Thou hast formed me
With passions wild and strong;
And listening to their witching voice
Has often led me wrong.”
They declare themselves to be the victims of circumstance, unable to help themselves (Genesis 3:12; James 1:13).
1. The degradation and disappointment of the self-deceived. “He feedeth on ashes,” which cannot nourish nor satisfy (Deuteronomy 32:32; Luke 15:16). No solid comfort nor abiding peace is found in the lies to which the natural heart has recourse. Foolish man is like the ostrich that tries to elude the pursuit of the hunters by hiding its head in the sand. Lies in heart and life shall have lies for their reward—ashes instead of food. In Doddridge’s well-known hymn, “O Happy Day,” there is a reference to our text, which in some collections has been tampered with. The verse runs—
“Now rest, my long-divided heart;
Fixed on this blissful centre, rest:
With ashes who would grudge to part,
When called on angels’ bread to feast!”
2. The helplessness of the self-deluded. “He cannot deliver his soul” by detecting the delusions in which he is ensnared. Nothing short of Divine power and heavenly light can break the spell under which he lies (John 16:8-11; Ephesians 5:13-14).—William Guthrie, M.A.
THE BLESSEDNESS AND DUTY OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Isaiah 44:21-22. Remember these, O Jacob and Israel, &c.
God contrasts the happy condition of His chosen people with that of the poor blind idolaters whom He had been describing in the verses before.
I. All who have come to Christ are forgiven (Isaiah 44:22).
1. The completeness of their forgiveness. Shown in many ways in the Bible (H. E. I. 2332–2337).
2. It is present forgiveness. “I have.” Some say, “I hope, &c.; I don’t know, &c.; It is impossible to tell, &c.”
3. It is Divine.
(1.) Some try to blot out their own sins.
(2.) Some hope that Christ will blot out their sins. Speak to unforgiven souls.
II. All that have come to Christ are God’s servants. Two reasons are given:
1. Because redeemed.
2. Because formed by God.
III. Souls in Christ shall not be forgotten of God. His children often think He has forgotten them.
1. So it was with Moses in the land of Midian.
2. So it was with David (Psalms 77:13, 21)
3. So it was with Hezekiah when God told him he must die (Isaiah 38:14). But God said, “I have heard thy prayer,” &c.
4. So shall it be with God’s ancient people (Isaiah 49:14-15).
5. So it is in the text. The world may forget thee—thy friends, &c. Yet “thou shalt not be forgotten of me.” The Lord cannot forget you.
IV. A redeemed soul should return unto God. The sin and misery of every natural soul is in going away from God.
1. Come into the arms of His love.
2. Come into communion with Him.
3. To the backslider. You have done worse than the world, yet He says, “Return,” &c.—R. M. M‘Cheyne: Sermons and Lectures, pp. 60–65.
GOD’S REMEMBRANCE OF ISRAEL
Isaiah 44:21. O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me
1. This promise was addressed, literally and primarily, to the natural descendants of Jacob: a people whom Jehovah had deigned to call into special relation with Himself, and whom He had distinguished by various privileges from all other nations of the earth. But we are abundantly warranted in extending it also to the Christian Church, the spiritual Israel, of which the literal Israel was an instructive type (cf. Exodus 19:5-6, and 1 Peter 2:9-10). It belongs also to every individual believer in Jesus, as a lively member of that body.
2. More is intended in this declaration than is expressed. “Thou shalt not be forgotten of me;” that is, I will not overlook thy interests, or neglect thy welfare, or withhold anything that will promote thy real and permanent advantage (Isaiah 49:13-16).
I. Consider this promise as it applies to the ancient Jewish Church. The literal posterity of Jacob were separated from all other nations by a covenant which conferred on them peculiar privileges. But they proved themselves “a foolish people and unwise,” by the manner in which they requited His love. As a just expression of His displeasure, He had determined that they should be carried away into captivity at Babylon (Isaiah 42:22-25; Isaiah 43:27-28). But the prophetic denunciations of chastisement and desolation were coupled with assurances of fatherly regard, and with promises of ultimate deliverance. Even among this degenerate people there were some truly pious individuals who mourned over the iniquities of their countrymen and trembled at God’s word. For their support and encouragement Isaiah subjoins to the threatenings he has delivered the comfortable words of our text. To the righteous individuals of the community it gave a pledge that it should be well with them at all times and in all circumstances; and it also conveyed an assurance that in due time the collective Israel should be released from captivity, brought home again, and indulged with another period of national trial (chap. Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 44:26-28). The accomplishment of these gracious promises in the actual return from Babylon is recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Though the national independency and prosperity of the Jews suffered occasional suspension and decline, yet they were not finally scattered till the measure of their iniquities was filled up by their murder of the Messiah, and their obstinate rejection of the glorious gospel. Then wrath came upon them to the uttermost (P. D. 2063, 2080, 2082). But, low and degraded as is their present situation, God can yet lift them up. Israel is not yet totally forgotten of God. He remembers His ancient covenant with Abraham His friend. These natural branches, at present cut off and rejected, will be grafted again into their own olive-tree.
II. Consider the promise of our text as it applies to the Christian Church of the present age. God’s Church at large is not and cannot be forgotten of Him. Many have been her afflictions and persecutions, but out of them all He hath delivered her. The attacks of her enemies He has over-ruled for her ultimate increase and establishment. Many are the promises given for her encouragement. They may be arranged under four general classes:—
1. He has promised at all times to afford to His Church the means of grace, and to give His blessing with the means (Isaiah 30:20-21; Jeremiah 3:15; Isaiah 12:3; Isaiah 48:17; Matthew 18:20.)
2. He has promised to His Church a great increase of her internal purity, tranquillity, and glory (Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 65:25; Isaiah 11:13; Isaiah 60:21; Zechariah 14:20; Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 4:5).
3. Another class of promises relates to the external peace and victory which God has destined His Church to enjoy in the latter days (Isaiah 41:11). The prophetical part of the Book of Revelation is sublimely explicit in its declaration on this head.
4. A fourth class relates to the future enlargement and extension of the Church (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 49:6; Zechariah 14:9; Malachi 1:11).
These promises are an ample comment on the more general and laconic declaration of our text. God is now in the very act of accomplishing these gracious engagements. The interests of the Church are safe, for they are in the hands of God. The cause which lies so near your hearts occupies a distinguished place in His. Tremble not for the ark of God (H. E. I. 1246–1251; P. D. 518).
III. Consider the import of the text in its application to individual Christians. What the Lord says of His Church at large He says to every member of it in particular. Only ascertain your right to the character of “an Israelite indeed,” and then you will also have ascertained your right to be comforted by the assurance that you shall not be forgotten of God.
1. He will not forget those circumstances in your situation which may at any time render necessary His special help and interference. Trust in Him always (H. E. I. 4049–4053).
2. He will not forget the intimate and endearing relations which He bears toward you, nor the claims which these relationships give you on His friendship. He will not forget that He is your Creator, your Redeemer, your God in covenant.
3. He will not forget “the exceeding great and precious promises” by which He is explicitly pledged to help and save you. Men often forget their promises, but God never!
4. He will not forget your prayers. They are all duly filed and registered, ready to be answered in that time, in that way, which will be most for your good and so for His glory (H. E. I. 3884–3886). What a blessed counter-action of those uneasy apprehensions as to our future lot and circumstances, which we are too prone to indulge. We may apply the same consideration as an antidote to our natural dread of dying. Many sincere Christians, though not afraid of what shall be after death, feel considerable apprehension as to the act of dying. They shrink from the prospect of dissolving agonies and parting pangs. But you have unbosomed your feelings and fears on this subject before the Throne. Your prayers will surely be answered to your soul’s comfort when your appointed time shall come (H. E. I. 1642, 1643).
5. God will not forget to confer upon you, if faithful unto death, the reward of glory. He will not forget your services in His righteous cause, your active zeal in doing His will, your patient resignation in suffering it (Hebrews 6:10; Matthew 10:42; Galatians 6:7-8; Matthew 5:12; Matthew 25:23; Matthew 25:34-40). THEREFORE, 1 Corinthians 15:58.—Jabez Bunting, D.D.: Sermons, vol. i. pp. 438–452.
I. THE EXPERIENCE HERE ADDRESSED. It is that of a soul in doubt of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Few, if any, of God’s people go through life without knowing something of this state of mind (cf. Isaiah 49:14; Psalms 77:7-9).
1. We may feel thus when God is less in our thoughts than is our wont. It very often happens that we attribute to the want of thoughtfulness in a friend what is really due to nothing more nor less than our own forgetfulness of him; and so when we are tempted to think less of God, we fancy He has forgotten us.
2. We may feel thus when we are less active than is our wont in Christ’s service. Work for God keeps the sense of His presence and sympathy alive and strong. When we diminish aught of our work, or do it with less intensity of feeling, we suffer a corresponding loss of God’s presence and favour, &c.
3. When we are unusually tried and afflicted. We find it hard always to persuade ourselves this does not mean a distant, if not an angry God. It is only when sunshine returns that we are able to see love and chastening hand in hand.
4. When our prayers seem unanswered. Nothing so helps the feeling that God has forgotten us as delayed answers to prayer, &c.
5. When we lack the signs of prosperity in our work for Christ. Some natures are exceedingly sensitive on this point, and when the harvest is long coming we think ourselves forgotten, &c.
II. THE PROMISE HERE GIVEN. “O Israel,” &c. Every promise is based on the promiser. This is God’s word to His people.
1. He will not forget our persons. We are not known before God in the aggregate, but as individuals (Isaiah 49:16). He knew what house and street Peter was in at Joppa. He will not forget our persons.
2. He will not forget our prayers. If not what we ask, He will give us an equivalent good.
3. He will not forget His work in us.
4. He will not forget our work for Him.
Some reasons for thus speaking:
1. His nature will not allow Him to forget us.
2. Nor His promises.
3. Nor His redeeming work in Christ.
4. Nor His honour (see vol. i. p. 267).
1. We forget God. Let this promise rebuke us.
2. When we think God forgets us, let this promise encourage us.—James Hoyle: The Study and Homiletic Monthly, vol. iv. new series, pp. 231, 232.
The bane of friendship, the canker worm of human life, is suspicion and distrust. Confidence in the character and reliance upon the attachment of those we love form principal ingredients in the cup of human happiness; if these be withdrawn, affection has no resting-place. Every one wishes for some firm object on which he may repose his confidence; a mind endued with any portion of proper sensibility feels equal pain at distrusting or being distrusted. Mutual good faith is the cement of society,—the bond which binds man to man (H. E. I. 1882–1888). A willingness to confide, where no cause for hesitation or demur can reasonably be presumed to exist, is a characteristic of a noble mind; a readiness to distrust without sufficient reason marks an uncertain and unstable character.
As suspicion is the bane of human friendship, unbelief is the destruction of religious hope. It is equally dishonourable to God and injurious to ourselves. To guard us against distrust, in regard to God’s providence and grace, is one great design of Holy Scripture. For this purpose God mercifully gives us such promises and assurances as our text.
I. WHAT THIS PROMISE SUPPOSES.
When God says to us, “Thou shalt not be forgotten of Me,” it is implied,
1. That we set a high value upon God’s gracious remembrance. The wicked deem it no sorrow to be forgotten of God; He is not in all their thoughts, and they have no wish to have any share in His. But those who are born of God attach great importance to His gracious remembrance of them; they know it secures happiness in all circumstances, victory over all enemies, support under all trials, a saving interest in all spiritual blessings (Psalms 25:7; Psalms 106:4, &c.)
2. That we have some apprehensions that it is not extended to us. Thus it was with Israel, and with some apparent reason. Thus it is with ourselves when the promise is very long delayed (Isaiah 49:14); when Providences wear a frowning aspect (Psalms 31:12); when conscience is awake to the number and aggravation of our offences; when our enemies appear to triumph over us (Psalms 74:10; Psalms 74:22-23); when our religious state is after all doubtful; when we experience a sensible decline of consolation (Psalms 77:9).
3. That God is concerned, not only for the safety, but also for the happiness of His people. He anticipates the objection, and answers it. He loves to see the harp taken down. You may be forgotten by your dearest earthly friends; many unexpected things happen (Genesis 40:23; Jeremiah 2:32; Isaiah 49:15), but God will never forget His people, nor leave them long under the delusion that He has forsaken them.
II. ON WHAT GROUND DOES THIS PROMISE REST?
Anxiety would be becoming if the fact were doubtful. Some anxieties concerning men are reasonable; some of the “securities” they put into our hands are worthless. But in this promise we should trust unfalteringly, for it rests—
1. On a perfection that cannot be tarnished. Remember who is the speaker; Him in whom all perfections centre as their birthplace, their residence, their home.
2. On a covenant that cannot be broken. The covenant of grace made with Christ is immutable (2 Corinthians 1:20).
3. On a relationship that cannot be destroyed. The union that subsists between Christ and believers is the great guarantee of its fulfilment: “I in them.”
Besides, we have for our encouragement unimpeachable records of the manner in which God has dealt with His other promises to His people (1 Kings 8:56).
III. WHAT CORRESPONDING FEELINGS IT DEMANDS.
2. Gratitude, which manifests itself in loving remembrance of all His loving-kindness to us, and in cheerful obedience to all His commandments.—Samuel Thodey.
SIN AND MERCY
Isaiah 44:22. I have blotted out, &c.
There are some representations of the character of God which strike us, when we think of them, only with awe. But there are others infinitely more tender and consoling. Such are the contemplations suggested by this passage.
I. There is the thought of sin. The individuals to whom these words were originally addressed were guilty of crimes of great enormity and aggravation, crimes that had gathered themselves up until they were black and dense as a thick cloud (Isaiah 1:2-15). But, passing from this particular case to the general application, the substance of these terms applies to us all. “Who can say, I have made my heart clean; I am pure from sin?” Sin is everywhere (Romans 5:12). By pseudo-philosophers and benevolent idealists this doctrine is deemed unpopular and repulsive, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence This fancied exemption from the ruin of the Fall, this clinging to the unaided perfectibility of human nature, is a dangerous error, and must be confronted and exposed. “Man goeth astray even from the womb, and every imagination of the heart is only evil continually.” The gospel proceeds upon the basis of universal depravity, which is so repulsive to human pride. The Scriptures recognise only two varieties of condition. There may be the purest and most beautiful morality without godliness (John 5:42). The true minister of Christ must set forth the personal guilt and danger of every member of his charge. There is sin—sin as a cloud, and as a thick cloud.
II. If that were all, this would be a melancholy message; but I now come to the second thought—there is mercy. It might seem strange, and it does seem strange, that after this declaration of apostacy and of impenitence the prophet should not have gone away after pronouncing sentence of doom—gone away without leaving any hope of mercy. Premising that this method of reconciliation must provide somehow for the purity of God, and of the vindication of the honour of His throne, and that all that has come about by the atonement of Jesus, we proceed to observe—
1. That the character of God, as the God of mercy, is the great Bible theme. The whole tale of the Bible is a tale of grace. The last words of the Bible are words of grace (Revelation 22:17). Grace is everywhere (Romans 5:18). This gift of grace was not known in the world until the entrance of sin. There had been many attributes of God before; but grace was, so to speak, a new idea, a new fountain struck out of the heart of the Deity. There was no room for grace in a universe where there was no room for sin; but when sin came into the world, grace came into the world. This was the first stoop of the Divinity. “God can be just, and yet,” &c., Christ died for you all.
2. Look at the sufficiency with which the salvation is invested. As aggravated as your sins have been, so abundant is the mercy of the Lord. Men do not sin and finally perish because they are appointed thereunto by an irreversible decree of God. There can be no responsibility where there is no power. There is no barrier to your own present and eternal salvation except the barrier which your own hands have piled. There is mercy for you. Search the Bible through from the beginning to the end, you find frequent, explicit, and continual declarations of mercy. If you are a sinner, not all the morbid ingenuity of human unbelief, and not all the sophistry of the old demon of the pit, can prevent you from entering, if you will, into the charter of liberty wherewith Christ waits to make His people free. You may tell your own tale if you will, I do not care. “Let the wicked,” &c. There is mercy for all, mercy for you.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.: Penny Pulpit.
FORGIVENESS A PRESENT MERCY
Isaiah 44:22. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, &c.
I. THE PROPHET’S SIMILE. Our sins may well be likened unto clouds, as to,
1. Their number. Who can count the clouds which chase each other across the winter sky? And has not one of the holiest men who ever lived left upon record the humiliating confession that his sins were not less numerous (Psalms 40:12).
2. Their nature. The clouds are all exhalations from the land and sea, the earthly portion of the universe, and our sins are all the produce of our corrupt and earthly nature; they all ascend out of the soil of the natural heart (Matthew 15:19).
3. Their effects. The clouds shut out from us the sun’s clear and shining light and the bright blue sky, and when they greatly thicken they augur storms and tempests; so our sins, &c.
4. Their situation. The clouds are hung out in mid-heaven, high above our heads, and although it appears the simplest thing in nature to dissolve and dissipate them, for ofttimes while we look the rays of the sun are melting them away, so that the figure which we have just delighted to trace in them is, even while we gaze, changed, and loosened, and scattered, and then gone for ever, yet they are so placed that, weak and transient as they are, not all the efforts of all the men that ever dwelt upon the wide world’s surface could avail to blot one cloud out of existence. So is it with our sins. Man may punish sin, but he cannot pardon it; he may pardon the crime, that is, the portion of a transgression which affects himself, but he can never pardon the sin. No man can dissipate the smallest sin that hangs between us and our Maker. There is but one Being in the universe who can do this, “I, even I,” &c.
II. THE PROPHET’S DOCTRINE: that forgiveness is a present mercy. “I have blotted out,” &c. The idea of blotting out a cloud seems to be an allusion to that dissolving of these vapours which is continually taking place in the atmosphere, when the heat of the summer sun draws up the moisture of the cloud, and renders it completely invisible. As completely does God dissipate the sins of the believing penitent. It is as impossible to bring them forth again to judgment as it would be to reconstruct the clouds, with all their varied shapes and hues and tints which we looked upon last summer, and which never outlived the day we gazed upon them. Blessed consideration for the souls of God’s believing and pardoned people. It is the teaching of Scripture, not that God will forgive the penitent at the day of judgment, nor even in the hour of death, but in the very moment that they turn to Him. The forgiveness which He bestows is full and free, and it is bestowed at once and for ever. The Scriptures abound with instances of men who could rejoice in a present pardon (2 Samuel 12:13; Isaiah 6:7; Isaiah 38:17; Matthew 9:2; Ephesians 4:32; 1 John 2:12; Psalms 32:1-2).
III. THE DIVINE ARGUMENT. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee.” God’s method of dealing with His fallen and rebellious creatures is the very reverse of what we would naturally expect. The great argument which He employs to bring them back to Himself is, not what He will do for them, but what He has done for them (Romans 5:8; Romans 12:1; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21). So here, He does not encourage the penitent by telling them that if they attain to a sufficiently deep and poignant repentance He will forgive them, but by assuring them that they are already forgiven; that in the very first moment when sorrow for sin sprang up within them, He blotted out their sins. Surely this argument should prevail to turn us from our iniquities, to encourage us to accept the offers of Divine mercy, and to begin to serve God with that holy devotedness which can be inspired only by grateful love.
Lastly, if we yield to this Divine argument, and grasp firmly the prophet’s doctrine, the firmament that bends above us will speak to us evermore of the abounding grace of God. If in the clouds that pass over it we behold symbols of our many, our daily, our dark, our desperate sins, the blue vault of heaven through which they sail will speak to us still more eloquently of the Divine mercy—immeasurable in height, and length, and depth, and breadth, all infinite in love. Sinner as I am, why should I despond? why should I fear? why should I for a moment doubt? As easy that one vast cloud should shroud both hemispheres, should shut out for ever sun, moon, and stars, as that my sins, however great, however numerous, should surpass in magnitude God’s pardoning love, that abounding grace, that infinite forgiveness which is treasured up for me in Christ Jesus my Lord.—H. Blunt, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 22–39.
Sin and iniquity are represented here under the figure of clouds. True, in some respects they are not like clouds. Clouds do good service. They are reservoirs to store up the excessive moisture of the earth, and in due season to return it to the earth for refreshment and fertility (Psalms 65:2.) They serve as conductors of the electric fluid from one part of heaven to another. They are sometimes welcome as screens to moderate the excessive heat of a burning sun. But sin and iniquity produce nothing but evil; no good either to man’s interest or happiness. Yet there are points of resemblance between clouds and human sin. Clouds veil the sun, and sins hide from us the face of God, and darken our view of heaven. Clouds narrow our prospect, and sin prevents us from looking clearly and cheerfully into the great future world, blinding us to everything except the lower things in the world that now is. Clouds, when they are fully charged, bring down the fury of the storm; and sin, when it is finished, brings upon the sinner the tempest of God’s righteous anger, in full and just retribution for every evil word and deed. Lastly, clouds are quite beyond our control; the power to disperse cloud, or blot out sin, rests with God alone.
1. Carefully consider this last point of likeness. God removes the clouds, and He alone. “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins.” Man can make many changes and removals; in the physical world in which he lives, in the world of humanity of which he forms part. But not one sin can he blot out. God has reserved to Himself that power and and prerogative:
(1.) Because the dispensing of pardon is too precious to be entrusted either to men or angels. Not having the power of omniscience to read the heart, they might not dispense it wisely. What mistakes they might make!
(2.) All sin, whoever may be injured by it, is ultimately against God (H. E. I. 4480). Therefore all punishment is in His hands, and the dispensation of pardon is His prerogative.
2. It is a great thing we do when we ask Him to exercise it on our behalf. This appears when we consider a further point of likeness between wickedness and clouds. Clouds are used in Bible language to express a vast number (Hebrews 12:1; Isaiah 60:8). Can we deny that in this respect this figure is sadly applicable to us? How terribly all our life long—every day!—our sins have been massing themselves into thick clouds, which are only awaiting the word to come down in the storms of retribution (Psalms 11:6).
3. For some God has done this great thing. To them He has said plainly, “I have blotted out,” &c. To whom has He said this? To those who have obeyed the latter part of the text: “Return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee.” These have found that God has provided a full and perfect redemption. Clouds, be they ever so thick, ever so fully charged with the wrath of future punishment, are blotted out: and the forgiven soul stands before God, and looks up into the cloudless sky of His love.
4. For any one whose conscience is not stone-dead, such a change as this must appear of all things most desirable and full of blessing. It is so, but it can never be yours, until you get rid of that thick cloud of unrepented, unforgiven sin which always abides between you and the Father of Mercies. How to get rid of it you know.
5. The sins which form that cloud are yours—“Thy sins, thy transgressions.” You cannot shift them from your own shoulders to some one else; they belong to you, and you only. You may shut your eyes to them: but there they are, like a heavy cloud. You can no more drive them away than you can disperse it. You may try so to colour this or that evil deed as to give it a better look; just as the thunder-cloud sometimes gets touched by a transient light, till the skirts of the terrible thing look bright with crimson and gold. But it is a terrible thing, in spite of all that fleeting brightness which does not belong to it. God looks through all the gay colouring you would lay upon your sins, and sees them as they are. They are the cause of your separation from Him now, and will be the cause of your separation from Him in eternity, if they be not blotted out while you are on this side of the grave.—Edward Baines, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 13–25.
What becomes of the believer’s sins?
1. They are forgiven (Ephesians 4:32; 1 John 2:12).
2. Not to be even mentioned unto him (Ezekiel 33:16).
3. Blotted out (“I have blotted out,” &c., and chap. Isaiah 43:25).
4. Covered (Psalms 85:2; Psalms 32:1).
5. Removed (Psalms 103:12).
6. Cast into the sea (Micah 7:19).
7. Hid (Hosea 13:12).
8. Behind God’s back (Isaiah 38:17, see vol. i. p. 438).
9. Forgotten (Isaiah 43:25; Hebrews 10:17).
Believer, ponder these precious figures. If they do not teach full, perfect, complete, and present salvation, what language can teach it?
CONCLUSION: Isaiah 1:18.—Bible Readings, edited by Briggs & Elliott.
A CALL FOR UNIVERSAL PRAISE
Isaiah 44:23. Sing, O ye heavens, for the LORD hath done it, &c.
The prophet, beholding Israel’s redemption achieved and the people restored to their land and privileges, exulted in the blessed change, and burst forth in this impassioned address to all nature above and around him, and lest it should be supposed that his transport was premature, and that he had anticipated more than could reasonably be expected, Jehovah resumes the discourse and names the man whom He had destined to be His people’s deliverer (Isaiah 44:28). It is natural to ask, Was the deliverance of the Jews so great, so blissful, so universally interesting as to justify the prophet’s rapturous call? In reply, we observe that the Jews exclusively were the Church of the living God, and their restoration was necessary to the accomplishment of the predictions concerning the Messiah. It was a shadow and pledge of the spiritual and eternal redemption which He was to obtain. The primary subject is the liberation of the captive Jews, but that speedily merges in a more glorious theme.
I. The work which it is here said God hath performed. This work, though then future and still only in progress, is spoken of as already effected. The purpose of God renders its completion absolutely certain.
1. The nature and extent of that deliverance with which the Israel of God are blessed. It is not only redemption from evil but redemption to God, and includes the restoration of His image to our souls. We are only yet beginning to enjoy these high privileges. Where is the man who can sufficiently appreciate the magnitude and blessedness of that change which takes place in the relations, character, and prospects of a sinner when he passes from darkness to light,—from life to death,—from bondage to freedom? Every scene around him seems now to smile upon him,—to speak to him of the goodness and greatness of his divine Benefactor, and animates his gratitude and praise. The names “Jacob” and “Israel” designate all who prove themselves Israelites indeed. What a multitude of all ages, countries, characters, and conditions this name embraces!
2. The display of the divine glory in this redemption. Who but a Being of boundless benevolence, wisdom, and power could have conceived and accomplished it? It delights Him to be known and acknowledged as its Author. How did He effect this redemption? It is the result of His Son’s sacrifice in our nature (Hebrews 9:11-12). “It is finished;” the work is done (Psalms 22:31), and in it God “has glorified Himself” (Psalms 85:10).—Consider, further, that God Himself is the source and sum of all the good which this redemption comprises. What must be the fulness of His knowledge and wisdom who irradiates so many minds; of His love who feeds this celestial flame in so many hearts; and of His blessedness who gladdens and delights so many immortal creatures?—Further, think of the means He employs for putting His people in possession of this redemption. Among these, the word and the ministry of reconciliation occupy the chief place,—means which in the estimation of the world are weak and foolish (2 Corinthians 4:7). Think, too, of the opposition offered to the execution of His gracious designs,—opposition from ignorance and depravity, from the world, and from the hosts of hell; yet it is ineffectual to frustrate the counsels of His wisdom and love.
II. This work of redemption supplies, not to the redeemed only, but to the creation of God, a fit theme of the highest exultation and praise. The prophet calls on all orders of creatures. The redeemed are not themselves addressed. Could they need any excitement to joy and praise? There are beings, indeed, who will not sing. They rather look on with malignity and “howl for vexation;” for this deliverance frustrates their designs, abolishes the evil they labour to extend, and exalts the name they dishonour (1 John 3:8). What must be the mortification of that proud and wicked spirit! What fills others with joy will be to him a source of bitter disappointment. It does not surprise us that the fallen angels should raise no song of praise. But what shall we say when we recollect that there are human beings for whose redemption Christ died, to whom the glad news are proclaimed, but who yet reject salvation? This is impiety, folly, and madness, of which even devils cannot be accused.
With these exceptions of fallen spirits and impenitent men, the whole creation of God obeys the joyous call.
1. The holy angels delight to behold sin condemned, its works abolished, and its slaves disenthralled (Luke 2:14; Luke 15:10).
2. Even the inanimate and irrational parts of creation have an interest in Israel’s redemption. As this work advances, creation is freed from the vanity to which it is subject (Romans 8:20-21). Not only has earth, as smitten with the curse, been comparatively unfruitful, but its various productions have been desecrated to the vilest purposes,—have been compelled to minister to the sensuality, avarice, and other passions of mankind. The prevalence of purity, justice, sobriety, and mercy will deliver the inferior creatures from a load of misery, and restore all things to their right uses. No sooner is a sinner born of God than he contemplates the works of God with a new eye. He hears them proclaiming the goodness of his heavenly Father, and praising Him by fulfilling His word. Meditating on these results, it is no wonder that the prophet should represent nature in the happy coming age as inspired with new life, clothed with new beauty, and delighting to open her treasures and pour forth from them abundance of good (Psalms 96:11-13; Psalms 98:7-9).
If, then, we would see God’s glory, we must study His chief work. There is enough in redemption to awaken our joy.—James Stark, D.D., of Dennyloanhead: Posthumous Discourses, pp. 59–99.
This is the response of the prophet’s soul to the redemption announced in the preceding verses. His joy is as reasonable as it is excellent; the demand he makes is as just as it is poetic. There is instruction here as well as eloquence.
I. Redemption is peculiarly God’s work. “The Lord hath done it; the Lord hath redeemed Jacob.”
1. This is the teaching of Scripture throughout.
2. On enlightened and careful consideration, reason pronounces that it could have been accomplished by God only.
II. Redemption is the work in which the glory of God is most conspicuously manifested. “The Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel.” In His material works we see His wisdom, power, and goodness, and they should be devoutly studied by us as revelations of what He is: but in this work we have a disclosure of His patience, His forbearance, His love, His self-sacrificing pity—those moral attributes which are most worthy of our admiration.
III. The redemption that God has wrought is a work that demands universal praise. The heavens and the earth may well be called upon to unite with us in thanksgiving, for they also shall share in the blessings of this wonderful redemption (Romans 8:19-21; P. D. 975, 2465).—J. Alwin Flide.
THE FULFILMENT OF PROPHECY IN THE CAREER OF CYRUS
Isaiah 44:28. Cyrus, my shepherd, shall perform all my pleasure.
The fulfilment of prophecy is one of the two supernatural arguments for the truth of the Scriptures. I now present in some detail the fulfilment of prophecy in the career and conquests of Cyrus.
Isaiah wrote not less than a hundred and thirty years before Cyrus was born; and not less than a hundred and fifty years before his conquest of Babylon. It was long before the Median kingdom existed. The captivity of Judah had not begun. Three or four generations lived and died between the prophet and the Persian prince. The prophet could not possibly have other means of knowing who Cyrus was to be, or what he was to do in the world, than the simple revelation of the facts by the Spirit of God. Yet that he foretold the conqueror’s career, down to minutest details, is established by precisely the same kind and amount of evidence which proves that either Cyrus or Isaiah existed at all.
1. The name of Cyrus, the point of the compass indicative of his birthplace, and the direction of his march upon Babylon, are distinctly foretold. “Thus saith the Lord to Cyrus, I have raised up one from the North. From the rising of the sun—that is, from the East—shall he call upon my name.” The two points of the compass named in this language of Isaiah are singularly true. Cyrus was born in Persia, which was east of Babylon. It was commonly called “the East.” One historian speaks of it as the “land of the sunrising.” But at a very early age Cyrus was removed to Media, lying on the north of Babylon; and it was from Media that he came down, at the head of victorious hosts, upon the doomed capital. The prophet thus sees in a vision a prince of eastern birth marching upon the city from the north, and that his name is Cyrus.
Small matters these, but all the more significant for that. The question is: Who told Isaiah such minute details about a man he never saw or heard of; coming from a kingdom which at that time had no existence; achieving a conquest which then had not been dreamed of? How did he know what name the future conqueror would bear, a hundred and thirty years before he had a name?
Did anybody ever predict Bonaparte’s conquest of Italy a century before his birth? Did ever statesman or magician, as far back as A.D. 1650, declare that, a century and a half later, a conqueror born in the west of Italy would come down from the north and take possession of Rome, and that his name would be Napoleon? Yet this is in kind what the Hebrew prophet did. The question is, Who told him all that? How did he alone, of all the inhabitants of the world, find out the facts so exactly and so minutely?
2. Isaiah furthermore describes with remarkable accuracy the personal character of Cyrus. His warlike spirit, his towering ambition, the rapidity of his conquests, the equity of his administration, and his heathen religion, are all declared after the manner of prophecy. “Calling a ravenous bird from the East,” is the prophet’s language. Prophetic vision deals largely in symbols. The eagle is its favourite symbol of an aspiring, warlike, swift conqueror. “Who raised up the righteous man from the East” is the prophetic description of Cyrus. It is almost the exact language in which historians describe the government of the Persian king. “The just one” he is often called. “Take example from the Persian,” the tutors of Oriental princes used to say to their royal pupils. “I have girded thee, though thou hast not known Me,” are the words which prophecy puts into the mouth of God concerning him. This is a distinct prediction of his ignorance of the true God.
These are but a few specimens of the prophetic touches of which there are many more, portraying with an artist’s skill the character of this monarch. Imagine now that, in addition to announcing the name and the birthplace of Napoleon a hundred and thirty years before he was born, the magician had described him as an eagle in his conquests; had said that he would originate a superior code of jurisprudence,—the “Code Napoleon;” and that in his religion he would be a Romanist. Would not such hints, added to the items before named, redouble the surprise at the magician’s power? Would not men ask with astonishment who he was, where he came from, by whose authority he spoke, and where he got his information? Yet this is just what Isaiah declares of the great conqueror of the East.
3. The significance of the prophecy deepens, when it comes to describe the conquests achieved by Cyrus. Passages abound of which these are specimens: “He gave the nations before him. He made him ruler over kings. He made them as dust to his sword, and as driven stubble to his bow. The isles saw it and feared, they helped every one his neighbour. Every one said to his neighbour, ‘Be of good courage.’ I will subdue nations under him. I will loose the loins of kings.”
By such rapid glances, the half of which I do not quote, the prophet foretells the victories of Cyrus over the great nations of the East; the consternation of their kings; their alliances for mutual defence; and the velocity with which the Persian legions marched from victory to victory.
Turn we now to history: what has that to say? It does but repeat the prophecy in describing the facts as they occurred. Says one: “He had scarcely gained one victory, before his tumultuous forces poured down on other battle-grounds. Scarcely had one city fallen, before he stood thundering at the gates of another. Empires were like dust before him, and cities like chaff.” That prophecy, “I will loose the loins of kings,” had its exact fulfilment in the consternation of Belshazzar at the handwriting on the wall, when the Persian armies were on the march, and within twenty-four hours would be heard tramping the streets of the doomed capital.
4. The prophecy of the downfall of Babylon deserves distinct review. The prophetic story runs in this style: “Evil shall come upon thee. Thou shalt not know from whence it ariseth. Thou shalt not be able to put it off. Desolation shall come suddenly, which thou shalt not know.” Thus is expressed the sudden, the unexpected, the irresistible, and the improbable calamity which was coming upon that haughty city.
Just such, in fact, was its conquest by Cyrus. That event, to begin with, was in itself, and in any form, improbable. The military science of the age pronounced Babylon impregnable by any methods of assault or siege then known. So secure did king and people feel that it could not be taken by human force or strategy, that on the very night of its capture by Cyrus, they were given up to feasting and carousal behind their insurmountable walls. The king would not believe the rumour of the enemy’s entrance, even when the blood of his people was flowing in the streets.
Here, again, little incidents are detailed which no soothsayer would have thought of, or would have dared to predict, if he had thought of them. “I will say to the deep, ‘Be dry.’ I will dry up thy rivers. I will open before him the two-leaved gates. The gates shall not be shut.” The significance of this language will appear from arraying it side by side with the historic facts. Babylon was a city fifteen miles square. It was intersected by the river Euphrates, as London is by the Thames, and Paris by the Seine. Solid walls surrounded it three hundred and fifty feet high, and broad enough on the top for four chariots to be driven abreast. The two sections again were separated by walls running along both banks of the river. Fronting the streets on either side were folding gates for convenience of access to the stream by day, which the police were instructed to close at the setting of the sun.
Cyrus took the city by a remarkable stratagem. He invented a novel way of marching his army into impregnable Babylon. If he could not march over the walls, he would contrive to march under. He did it by a very simple expedient, when once thought of, but only he had the genius to think of it. He dug an immense canal around the walls, and turned the river Euphrates into it. Then he marched his army at dead of night, and in dead silence, under the walls, in the vacant bed of the river. But this brought him only between the two other immense river-walls inside. How to surmount these was the question. The indomitable general had provided scaling-ladders for the purpose. But the God of Isaiah had done better for him than that. He found those gates which let the citizens down to the river in the day-time—“two-leaved,” that is, folding-gates—wide open. Like other drunken policemen, the custodians of Babylon had neglected to close those gates. Even the palace gates were not closed. The invader got near enough to hear the drunken carousals of the king and his courtiers inside, before they were convinced of his approach. Do you not now see a new meaning in the words, “I will dry up thy rivers; I will open the two-leaved gates; the gates shall not be shut; I will loose the loins of kings”?
Herodotus, writing seventy years afterwards, says, “If the besieged had been aware of the designs of Cyrus, they might have destroyed his troops. They had only to secure the folding gates leading to the river, and to have manned the embankments on either side, and they would have enclosed the Persians in a trap from which they could never have escaped. As it happened, they were taken by surprise; and such is the extent of the city that they who lived in the extremities were made prisoners before the alarm reached the palace.” “As it happened.” Yes, it happened; but a hundred and more years before God had said by His prophet how it should happen. He had said, “I will open the two-leaved gates.” So Cyrus found them wide open, and the way clear to the very banquet-hall of the palace, just as Isaiah had said, before Cyrus was born, that they should be.
The question therefore returns, laden with redoubled significance, Where did Isaiah get his information? Who told him that Babylon, a hundred and fifty years afterwards, would be shut off from the Euphrates by gates? Who told him that they would be folding-gates? How did he know that a man named Cyrus would enter the capital in the bed of the river, and on that particular night, contrary to usage and to law, would find that the police had left those gates open, as if on purpose to let the invader in? In short, how came he to write history a hundred and fifty years beforehand? Did any other historian ever write his history a century and a half before it happened, instead of a century and a half later, and be lucky enough to have it all happen to be true, even down to the structure and the opening of gates?
5. One other feature of the prophecy and the history in parallels remains to be noticed. Isaiah explicitly foretells the restoration of Judah from captivity, and the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, through the agency of Cyrus, God declares by the mouth of the prophet: “I will direct all his ways. He shall let go my captives;” even saying to Jerusalem, “Be built,” and to the temple, “Thy foundations shall be laid. He shall let go my captives, not for price or reward. Ye shall be redeemed without money. Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight.”
Here we find another group of details which no uninspired mind could have guessed at, and no soothsayer would have dared to predict. Every one of them was to the last degree improbable. No statesman of the age did conjecture them. In the prophet’s time there were no captives at all in Babylon from Judah. When they became captives, long after, it was improbable that they would be released in any way by an Oriental despot, flushed with victory. They were very valuable captives. They were of an intelligent race. Good servants, able-bodied men and women for household use, skilful artisans, honest labourers, were abundant among them. Men of learning and genius, like Daniel, some of whom were deservedly advanced to high places in the realm, were Hebrews. Never was a more valuable class of slaves of equal number held by the rights of war than those held under command of Cyrus from Judea. It was the last thing to be expected from an Eastern despot, that he should let such a people go free; that he should charge no ransom for them; that they should not be compelled to take their freedom by force or stratagem; that their master himself should restore to them their plundered treasures, and direct the rebuilding of their desolated temple. Never was a prediction more improbable on the face of it.
Yet all these things happened, just as Isaiah said they would. The truth of the history no infidel presumes to question, whatever he may think of the prophecy. The question therefore returns again, How did Isaiah get his knowledge of coming events? Who told him facts a hundred and more years before the wisest statesman of the age had once thought of them as conjectures? Did any other man, not inspired of God, ever coin history thus out of guess-work? Did ever romance fall true like this? Sir Walter Scott wrote historical romances. Has “Ivanhoe” or “Quentin Durward” ever come true? Toss up a font of alphabetic type at random in the air, and will they come down all set and ready for the press in the form of the “Arabian Nights?” Yet this is, in substance, what infidelity asks us to believe, when it denies the gift of Divine inspiration to the Hebrew prophets.
Such, then, is the argument from fulfilled prophecy for the Divine origin of the Scriptures. The career of Cyrus is but a single sample. Other cases of the same kind swell the proof to volumes. The present condition of Babylon, the destruction of Moab, the fall of Tyre, the conquest of Egypt, the doom of Damascus, the desolation of Idumea, the sack of Jerusalem, the life, death, and burial of Christ, are events which belong to the same class. They all abound with the same sort of coincidence between the prophecy and the history. The coincidence extends to minute details. It is sustained without a break through long-continued narrative, covering years—yes, centuries, and involving the destiny of individuals with the fate of nations and of empires.
Such intricate and involved prevision no human mind could have painted without a break in the truthfulness of the story, unless inspired by an omniscient God. Any other solution of the mystery throws upon us a weight of credulity a hundredfold greater than that of faith in the “Arabian Nights” as authentic history. For the most part infidelity feels this, and very shrewdly decides to let the fulfilled prophecies of the Bible alone. There is no other argument for the truth of the Christian Scriptures, which infidels so generally agree to ignore as this.—Austin Phelps, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28