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A SAD CONTRAST
Isaiah 48:1-2. Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, &c.
Here is, I. Privilege. II. Form. III. Profession. IV. Yet no religion.—J. Lyth, D.D.: The Homiletical Treasury, Isaiah, p. 65.
THE PROBABILITY AND USE OF INSPIRED PREDICTIONS
Isaiah 48:3. I have declared the former things, &c.
I. Is it quite plain that any being that is distinguished above others must be exalted, either by knowledge or by power, or by both? Hence God is known in this way, and chiefly by knowledge.
II. The uses of inspired predictions.
1. Study the book that contains them.
2. Watch God’s providence, and see how it fulfils His word.
3. Learn from hence to admire and adore the omniscience and faithfulness of God.
4. Expect all that God has predicted, both for time and eternity.—Dr. J. Bennett. Biblical Museum, in loco.
GOD’S COMMUNICATIONS TO MANKIND
Isaiah 48:6-8. I have showed thee new things, &c.
I. The manner of God’s communications. Prophetic, addressed to the ear, and concerning things hidden from human reason. Providential, addressed to the eye. (In dealing with Isaiah 48:7, show—
1. Man’s tendency to intellectual pride.
2. How this is checked by God’s method of revelation.)
II. The manner in which they are received. With inattention; without understanding; with wilful impenitence—all arising out of natural corruption.—J. Lyth, D.D.: The Homiletical Treasury, Isaiah, p. 65.
GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE OF MAN’S SIN
Isaiah 48:8. Yea, thou heardest not; yea, thou knewest not, &c.
The ancient people of God were most vexatiously stolid; and although the Lord taught them very plainly and repeatedly, line upon line, &c., yet they would not understand His will. Though taught by God-sent prophets, yet the people refused to be instructed. As in a looking-class, let us see ourselves! Let the unconverted man see his own picture! God has spoken quite as pointedly to you as ever He did to the seed of Israel. He has called you by providences, &c. Three times a yea is put into our text, as if to show God’s wonder at man’s obstinacy, and the certainty that such was the state of the heart. More painful still is it to remember, that in a certain degree the same accusation may be laid at the door of believers. Even they have not such a degree of spiritual sensibility as they should have. Alas! we may well bewail ourselves that we do not hear the voice of God as we ought. Having thus reminded you of your sin, trusting we may be led to confess it with deep humility, I have now an encouraging truth to tell you, a very simple one, that all this folly, and ignorance, and obstinacy, and rebellion on our part, was foreknown by God; and notwithstanding that foreknowledge, He yet has been pleased to deal with us in a way of mercy.
I. I ADDRESS THIS TRUTH TO THE BELIEVER.
1. A mournful fact, “I knew,” &c. That word “treacherously” is one which a man would not like to have applied to himself in the common transactions of life; he would feel it to be very galling, and if there were truth in it, very degrading; and yet I question whether it will produce the same effect upon our minds when it is applied to us in relation to unfaithfulness to God. How treacherous we have been to our own vows and promises when we were first converted! This is not all. It is not merely that we have failed in promises which were made in a period of excitement, but we have been treacherous to obligations which were altogether apart from voluntary vows on our part; we have been treacherous to the most blessed relationships which mercy could have instituted. Have you not lived as if you were your own? As soldiers, by cowardice, disobedience, and desertion, we have been treacherous to a very shameful degree. Worst of all is the fact that we have been treacherous to our Lord in a relationship where fidelity constitutes the very essence of bliss, the marriage bond which exists between our soul and Christ.
2. The Divine statement of the text, that all this was known. It was no secret that we were transgressors from the womb. As the Lord foreknew the fountain of sin, so He knew all the streams which would gush from it. There are no things unknown to God. We never have surprised the Most High; we never have brought Him to such a position that He could say, “I did not know this.” We have never gone into any sin of which it could be said concerning God, that He did not know that it would so be wrought by us.
3. Seeing that this is most certain and sure, adore the amazing grace of God. You have dealt very treacherously, and yet you were redeemed not with silver and gold, &c., and you have been adopted into the Lord’s family.
4. This truth is very important to us, because in the light of it our security is clearly manifest. God can never be obstructed by a circumstance in us which can create surprise in His mind, or throw His course out of His reckoning.
5. This truth, also, should tend very much to enhance our sense of the fulness which is treasured up in Christ Jesus. The Lord our God has provided for us in Christ for all the necessities that can occur, for He has foreknown all these necessities.
II. I APPLY THIS TRUTH TO THE UNCONVERTED.
You have discovered lately the natural vileness of your heart, &c. You have a deep regret for your long delay in seeking mercy. You are willing to acknowledge that there have been special aggravations in your case. Now, the gospel of Jesus Christ is sent to you in the state in which you now are. All these sins, delays, aggravations, and rebellions of yours, were all foreknown to God; therefore, since He has sent the Gospel to you, be not slow to accept it, since it is not possible that your sins, whatever they may be, can at all militate against the fact that, if you believe and receive the Gospel, you shall be saved. Why invent a scheme by which a rebel might be saved, if He foreknew that on account of sin that rebel never could be pardoned? Do you think God would have gone farther—gone to the vast expense of providing a Saviour, if really the Gospel were null and void? He maketh not an exception. Though a man had daubed himself a thousand times with the blackest filth that ever came from hell, yet, if he believes in Jesus, God must be true to His solemn promise (H. E. I. 2332–2337).—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 779.
THE GOVERNING PRINCIPLE OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE
Isaiah 48:9. For My name’s sake, &c.
It is possible that the design of this verse may be to answer an objection. “If the character of the nation is such,” it might be said, “why should God desire to restore them again to their own land?” To this the answer is, it was not on their account—not because they were deserving of His favour, nor was it primarily and mainly in order that they might be happy. It was on His own account—in order to show His covenant faithfulness, His mercy, &c. And this is the reason why He “defers His anger” in relation to any of the children of men. His own glory, and not their happiness, is the main object in view. And this is right. The glory, the honour, and the happiness of God, are of more importance than the welfare of any of His creatures.
1. God acts with reference to His own glory, in order to manifest His own perfections, and to secure His praise.
2. The reason why the wicked are not cut off sooner in their transgressions is, that He may show His forbearance, and secure praise by long-suffering.
3. The reason why the righteous are kept amidst their frequent failures in duty, their unfaithfulness, and their many imperfections, is that God may get glory by showing His covenant fidelity.
4. It is one evidence of piety, and one that is indispensable, that there should be a willingness that God should secure His own glory in His own way, and that there should be a constant desire that His praise should be promoted, whatever may befall His creatures.—A. Barnes, D.D.: Commentary on Isaiah, in loco.
MERCY’S MASTER MOTIVE
Isaiah 48:9-11. “For My name’s sake will I defer Mine anger,” &c.
The people of Israel, in all their generations, were full of evil. The Lord falls back upon Himself, and within Himself finds a reason for His grace. “For my name’s sake,” &c. Finding a motive in His own glory which was bound up in the existence of Israel, and would have been compromised by their destruction, He turned unto them in love and kindness; Cyrus wrote the decree of emancipation, the Israelites came back to the land, and once again they sat every man under his own vine and fig-tree, and ate the good of the land. So far we give the historical meaning of the passage. We shall now use the text as an illustration of Divine love in other cases, for from one deed of grace we may learn all. As God dealt with His people Israel after the flesh, in the same manner He dealeth with His people Israel after the spirit; and His mercies towards His saints are to be seen as in a mirror in His wondrous loving-kindness towards the seed of Abraham. I shall take the text to illustrate—
I. THE CONVERSION OF THE SINNER.
1. God finds him so utterly ruined and depraved, that in him there is no argument for mercy, no plea for grace. You have been obstinate in sin; impudent in your dealing with God; your brow has been brass. You have behaved very treacherously towards God. You have broken your vows of repentance, &c.
2. God Himself finds the reason for His mercy. Here is the drift of the thought—the Lord is a patient God, and determines to make His patience glorious. God also would illustrate in the salvation of a sinner, not only His patience, but His sovereign and abundant mercy towards sinners. God can, by saving such a one as thou art, not only glorify His patience and grace, but display His power. It is evident that it is not an easy task to conquer thee. But now, it may be that a soul here present is saying, “Well, I can see that God can thus find a motive for mercy in Himself, when there is none in the sinner, but why is it that the Lord is chastening me as He is?” Possibly you are sick in body, have been brought low in estate, and are grievously depressed in mind. God now, in our text, goes on to explain—
3. His dealings with you, that you may not have one hard thought of Him. It is true He has been smiting you, but it has been with a purpose and in measure. “I have refined thee, but not with silver.” You have been put into the furnace of affliction, but not—note the “but,”—“but not with silver.” Now, when silver is refined it requires the most vehement heat of all metals. God has not brought upon you the severest troubles. You have been chastised, but not as you might have been, nor as you deserved to have been.
4. The Lord declares that the time of trial is the chosen season for revealing His love to you: “I have chosen thee,” &c. God seeth the things that thall be as though they were; everything is now with Him.
5. Lest the soul should forget it, the Lord repeats again the point He began with, and unveils the motives of His grace once more. What is the 11th verse but the echo of the 9th? God cannot save you, sinner, for your own sake; you are not worth the saving. Yet the Lord declares that He will refrain from wrath. He will have mercy upon you, O broken heart, for His own sake. Plead the merits of Christ, &c. If you will go to Him in Christ Jesus, though you be all but damned already, and feel that your death-warrant is signed; He will not, He cannot, reject you. Throw yourself at the cross-foot, and say, “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief;” and God will never tarnish His name by thy destruction. And then He adds, “And I will not give my glory unto another.” But if a soul should perish while trusting in the blood of Christ, the glory of God would go over to Satan.
II. THE RECLAIMING OF THE BACKSLIDER.
1. Backsliding professor, your case is more evidently meant in the text even than that of the sinner, for God was speaking to His own people Israel in these remarkable words. Now your crime, if anything, is a more censurable one than that of the sinner. I can see no more reason why God should have mercy upon you than upon the ungodly; indeed, I see more reason for punishing you, for you have made a profession and belied it. How great your guilt! You see there is no reason for God’s grace that can be found in your person or in your character, but it is found in the divine heart.
2. Observe, that God, having thus declared the reason of His love to the backslider, goes on to tell him that the present sufferings, which he is now enduring as the result of his backslidings, should be mitigated. “I have refined thee, but not with silver,” &c.
3. Then comes His next word: “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” Though you are not open backsliders, perhaps you may be worse than those who are.
CONCLUSION.—Let us go one and all, whether we be unsaved sinners or backsliders, or may suspect ourselves to be either the one or the other—let us go to the dear fountain of His blood, whose open veins are the gates of healing to us; and together let us rejoice that He for His mercy’s sake can save us, and magnify Himself by the deed of mercy.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1041.
THE FURNACE OF AFFLICTION
Isaiah 48:10. I have chosen thee, &c.
No one can read the history of God’s ancient people without perceiving the wonderful compassion of God. Their numerous transgressions frequently call for the exercise of His justice; but He spared them in mercy. Sometimes He exercised them with heavy trials, placing them in the furnace of affliction; and it appears from the context that a consignment to such an ordeal has been salutary in its influence. A furnace is a fireplace or crucible for melting and refining gold or other metals (Proverbs 17:3; Proverbs 27:21). Sometimes it is the emblem of cruel bondage (Deuteronomy 4:20; Jeremiah 9:4). Also of judgments and severe and grievous afflictions, by which God punishes the rebellious (Ezekiel 22:18-20). By the furnace of affliction He also tries and proves His people, as in the text.
I. This furnace is afflictive. It is composed of numerous severe trials.
1. The scantiness of temporal things.
2. Bodily afflictions.
4. Domestic trials of various kinds from ungodly relatives—refractory and disobedient children, &c. &c. Thousands of God’s people have been in this furnace. Even Jesus was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.
II. This furnace is divinely appointed. Afflictions are not the result of chance (Job 5:6); not to be traced to mere natural causes; not the works of our enemies merely. They imply the moral government of God, and the wise and gracious arrangement of His providence. Every event is either His appointment, or has His all-wise permission (see Isaiah 45:7; Job 2:10; Job 34:29). Such views of the subject have reconciled and supported the minds of the godly under their various afflictions (Job 23:14; Psalms 31:15; Lamentations 3:27). What a blessing that all is arranged by infinite wisdom and love! (H. E. I. 143, 179–188, 3675, 3676).
III. For God’s people this furnace is not vindictive, but gracious. Divine chastisement may be a kind of punishment for sin committed. It frequently supposes some fault, which it is intended to correct. But sometimes men are persecuted “for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10). God will suffer affliction to befall us when we are cold and indifferent in His cause. But such punishment is not like that inflicted on the wicked. Punishment may be vindictive or corrective. The one is in wrath, the other in love; the one is for the good of society, the other for the good of the individual, to recover from the evil which affliction is intended to correct. God may be angry with His child, and not hate him. He may chastise him with His rod, yet love him with His whole heart (Hebrews 12:5-11; H. E. I. 56–74, 116, 189–196).
IV. This furnace is proportionate. That is, God will regulate its heat according to the circumstances of His people who may be placed there (Malachi 3:3; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Isaiah 43:2; Zechariah 3:9; Hebrews 4:15; H.E. I. 198, 3677). The paternal relation He bears to His people will not permit Him to deal with them after the manner of the “fathers of our flesh.” There can be no caprice, no unwise or intemperate anger in Him; He treats them tenderly (Psalms 103:8-9; Psalms 103:13-14). Compassion is mixed with the severest dispensations, and a wise distinction made between the different members of His family.
V. The tendency of this furnace is beneficial. “I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.” A more proper translation would have been, “I have tried thee,” &c. [Delitsch: “I have proved thee”]. By affliction of various kinds I have proved thy faith, hope, patience, and love (H. E. I. 75–84). Observe, God has nevertheless chosen some in the furnace of affliction. He has met them there, and by His Spirit has subdued them, and brought them to repentance, faith, and consecration to Himself. The furnace of affliction has been instrumental in their conversion. The design of a position in this furnace is to purify the Christian from sin, to wean from the world, &c. The believer emanates from this furnace improved, refined (James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6-7, &c.; H. E. I. 85–90, 204–212, 3696–3702). Afflictions exercise the graces of the Christian (Romans 5:3-5). They preserve from sin. They assimilate the soul to Christ, who was “a man of sorrows.” They show the frailty of human life, and the vanity of the world. They teach sympathy with others (H. E. I. 135, 136). They make very humble, and break the haughty mind, and bring down the lofty thought (Isaiah 38:15). They induce a spirit of prayer (Psalms 77:2, &c.) In short, God, by placing His people in the furnace of affliction, is educating them for heaven (H. E. I. 112–115, 215).
1. Let the sublime design of this furnace induce patience and submission.
2. Remember the time of trial is but short. Called the day of adversity—the hour of affliction—but for a moment (H. E. I. 217, 218, 3705, 3706).—Helps for the Pulpit, 1st series, pp. 175–178.
Affliction as a furnace 
 See also outline: “The Fiery Ordeal of the Church,” vol. i. p. 347.
1. A furnace is prepared for gold (Proverbs 17:3). So afflictions are appointed for the saints, who are compared to gold.
2. A furnace refines gold, and makes it much purer than before; so afflictions refine and make more holy (Job 23:10).
3. A furnace is made sometimes very hot, according to the kind and condition of the metal; so are afflictions, sometimes, very grievous, heavy, and trying, as the case requires. 
 It requires an excessive heat to purify silver, and to consume all its dross. Were God to keep His people in the furnace till all their dross, sin, and corruption were removed they would be utterly consumed. His chastisements are, therefore, not fierce, but gradual; in mercy, and not in rigid justice.—Dr. Gill.
4. A furnace melts the gold, and makes it soft before it is refined; so afflictions those whom they are meant to purify.
5. A furnace will destroy tin, lead, &c., and also the drossy part of gold; so afflictions burn up the loose and hypocritical, and purge from His people all their corruptions.
6. The metal, when it comes forth from the furnace, is more prepared for its proper use; so are the people of God when they come forth from affliction. Therefore, let us be cheerful and hopeful while we are in the furnace.—B. Keach.
GOD’S UNCHANGEABLENESS THROUGHOUT ETERNITY
Isaiah 48:12. I am He; I am the first, I also am the last
Having called on the Jews in Babylon to attend to what He was now about to say by His servant the Prophet, God begins by asserting that He is the same, the true and only God, who existed before all things, and therefore was able to accomplish all His purposes and promises of deliverance. The text introduces us to a subject of tremendous import—God’s unchangeableness throughout eternity. “The eternity and immutability of God are in their own nature inseparable, and are so generally united in the Holy Scriptures, that the passages which declare the one, declare or imply the other also.”
I. GOD IS ETERNAL.
1. Reason itself claims this attribute for God. Nor was it unknown even to the heathens. Proclus, a follower of Plato, proved God to be eternal, because He exists of Himself. Thales defined God to be a being that is without beginning and end; before all things; and who was never born (H. E. I. 2253; P. D. 1492, 2536).
2. What reason teaches, the Scriptures assert. They represent God’s eternity to be—
(1.) An eternity of duration, “I am He; I am the first, I also am the last” (Psalms 90:2). Not merely everlasting, but eternal! He had no beginning, even as He shall have no end. This is the difference between the eternity of God and that of the angels and of “the spirits of just men made perfect.” They are, by the will of God, never to end; but, by His will also, they came into being. But to His being there was no beginning!
(2.) An eternity of perfection. There has been in Him no development of excellence, as in Him there will be no diminution of it. “From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art GOD!” All that is involved in that great name He always was, and always will be! (See pp. 187, 188, and outlines on Isaiah 57:15).
II. GOD IS UNCHANGEABLE—eternally unchangeable. “I am He,”—the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
1. Unchangeableness is an essential perfection of God. If He were subject to “variableness or the shadow of turning,” He would not be a perfect and eternal being, &c. When, therefore, it is said that God repents or alters His purpose, it must not be supposed that His nature changes, but that the Holy Spirit accommodates His language to the general comprehensions of men, &c. (H. E. I. 2254–2256). He continues always the same—
(1.) In His existence He cannot cease to be (Psalms 102:27).
(2.) In His nature or essence—He cannot cease to be what He is in every perfection.
(3.) In His purposes (Isaiah 46:10; Isaiah 14:24).
(4.) In His promises to His people; in His threatening against the wicked; and in all His predictions (Numbers 23:19).
2. All these declarations are in harmony with the teachings of Scripture and the conclusions of Reason.
(1.) Scripture (Malachi 3:6; Psalms 33:11; Isaiah 44:10; James 1:17), &c.
(2.) Reason. As God is self-existent—caused by none, so He can be changed by none. As He preceded all and caused all, so His sovereign will determined the relations which all things are permitted to sustain to Him. As He is infinite in duration, He cannot know succession or change. As He is infinite in all perfection of knowledge, &c., therefore He cannot change; for nothing can be added to or taken from the infinite—any change would make Him less than infinite before or after.
The unchangeableness of God is confirmed
(1.) by the stability of His natural government;
(2.) by His moral government and the identity of the several dispensations of grace. But it does not exclude the exercise of dispositions and affections, nor involve a stoical indifference to the welfare of His creatures generally, or the character which may be assumed by moral agents. Nor does it involve uniformity of action or relation, much less fatalism, &c. (H. E. I. 3750–3753).
III. SOME PRACTICAL LESSONS WHICH THIS GREAT SUBJECT TEACHES.
1. It assures us of the essential Divinity of the Christ. The application to our Lord Jesus Christ of the terms here used by God to describe Himself, places His Deity beyond doubt (Revelation 1:8; Revelation 1:17; Revelation 22:13; and many other passages which express or imply eternity). Hold fast the vital fact of our Lord’s Divinity. That gone, all is gone. “A divine Christ is the central sun of Christianity; quench it, and all is confusion, worse confounded.” Revelation 1:8 did more than any other passage towards preventing Dr. Doddridge from assenting to the Socinian theory, which reduces our Lord to a deified creature.
2. It assures us of the fulfilment of God’s promises, and the accomplishment of His plans. (Jeremiah 10:10; Daniel 4:34; Isaiah 60:19; 2 Peter 3:8-9).
3. It affords “strong consolation” amid all the trying changes of this mortal state. To this eternal and unchanging God we may commit ourselves with unwavering confidence, assured that He is both able and willing to sustain, &c.
4. It should stimulate us to seek stability of character. (Ephesians 5:1; Psalms 77:7; Psalms 108:1). How reasonable and weighty is the admonition which follows the declaration of our Saviour’s unchangeableness in Hebrews 13:9.
5. It should alarm the impenitent. What folly and audacity is there in rebellion against God, since an eternal being is offended thereby! How dreadful to lie under the displeasure of an eternal God! (Jeremiah 10:10.) We are charged by this glorious Being with a message of reconciliation to you (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).—Alfred Tucker.
Isaiah 48:13. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation, &c.
It seems to be an axiom of modern philosophy that all human knowledge has been progressive, from the roughest fanciful guesses to the safely applied science of our days. Assuming this, we can only account for the recognition of the Oneness of the Creator and the Unity of Creation, not only in the age of Isaiah, but in that of Moses and in that of the Patriarchs, by attributing it to God’s own revelation of Himself to man. This verse brings to mind the sublimely simple and authoritative declaration with which that revelation opens, and it claims our attention in the same calm way to the terrestrial and celestial manifestations of the Divine handiwork.
I. THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH.
The solid earth has been regarded in all ages as the type of all that is “sure and firm set.” But how does its enormous axis remain unbent? Why does not its crust fall in upon the attracting centre, or why do not the resisting forces shatter it? Because matter and forces have been balanced and adapted by Infinite Wisdom and Power (see Isaiah 40:12; Job 38:4-7). But it is not merely a dead weight and bulk. There is incessant physical and chemical action from the outermost aerial limit to the inmost metallic core. Change, decay, renewal, progress, are incessantly busy upon it. Individuals, races, and types all yield place to more advanced successors. The writer of the Book of Job saw the mountains falling and coming to naught, and the rivers wearing the stones. Close research reveals even land and sea changing positions. “The mountains depart and the hills are removed.” Earthquake, volcano, ice, storm, flood, all contribute to the constant ruin—
“The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands:
They melt like mist, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.”
Yet the earth, the platform of all these changes, continues stedfast and intact: through all seeming change there is real establishment. Day follows night; spring follows winter. Mountain ridges always lift up their crests on the continents; rivers flow down to the seas; varied life peoples the plains, the forests, the air, the waters. New dynasties, civilisations, faiths replace the old. And there is continuous progress; from “chaos and old night” to light and order; thence to beauty and life; thence on to consciousness, sensation, will, thought, soul, worship.
It requires a stronger foundation to keep principles firm, while details change, than if all change were impossible. Strongest, when all changes are dominated into orderly measured advancement, “With ebb and flow conditioning their march.” The conditions are met by the declaration that God’s hand “hath laid the foundation of the earth,” of life, of human society (Psalms 119:90-91).
II. THE OVER-ARCHING HEAVENS.
“My right hand hath spanned the heavens.” The mind is utterly lost in the attempt to realise a personal Being as ordering and dominating only the earth’s changes throughout all time. What, then, of One who not only “sitteth upon the circle of the earth,” of which “the inhabitants are as grasshoppers;” but who “stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them abroad as a tent to dwell in;” who extends them from system to system throughout the space depths, and rules them from eternity to eternity? Thought dies in trying to realise only unoccupied immensity, much more in grappling with the interaction of interminable forces on the atoms of numberless worlds ranging in streams and galaxies throughout it, or scattered in solitary grandeur. “End is there none,” exclaim the angels in the poem of Richter, “whereof we ever heard, neither is there beginning.” Philosophy on such grounds declares a personal God unthinkable. But this is only a testimony to the weakness and limitation of thought, and disqualifies it at once as the sole judge of Divine truth and Divine possibility.
The demonstrated unity of material and action throughout space and time establish the existence of one everlasting directive Mind. Otherwise Night and Nothingness have evolved all the living wonder within us and around us, which is more “unthinkable” yet, than that one guiding Being, who
“Lives through all life, extends through all extent,
Spreads undivided, operates unspent.”
Telescopy reveals this infinity of worlds as to number. God here declares that His right hand grasps them all. The universality of gravitation and the teachings of the spectroscope emphasise the unity of Matter, Force, and Law. The microscope reveals that bountiful Wisdom which extends to creatures beneath our visual ken. Logical and mathematical deductions from observed physical and chemical phenomena are taken to prove that the infinitesimal atoms are the originators of all forces, and that all things thus appear to create themselves. Either, then, every atom is a deity, and these free and powerful agents must at some distant epoch have conferred and agreed upon their future action under all possible conditions, with a view to the successive ends to be produced, and each must ever since have kept infallibly faithful thereto, or there is One God, wise enough and powerful enough to “call unto them,” and to cause them to “stand up together.” This is the view which has stood the test of the ages. “To us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things” (1 Corinthians 8:6; H. E. I. 353–359, 1491–1494).
There is no part of nature, not even the whirling nebula, the flying comet, or the solitary wandering meteorite, in which law and force are not. Therefore no point of space is without God. And nothing has leaked out from the hollow of His hand. The infinitely great and the infinitely little have not. In spite of all the apparent contradictions of life and of history, man has not. The believer realises that he has not, and will not. In the midst of darkness and perplexity we may well remember that our restless, pain-fraught circumstances never shall. We may remind the sinner that he has not and cannot. Even “hell is naked before God, and destruction hath no covering.” This truth may be ignored for a while, but rocks and mountains shall be powerless to hide it one day. God’s grasp will soon tighten itself irresistibly. Shall it prove the embrace of the all-loving Father, or of the consuming unquenchable fire?
III. THE DIVINE PURPOSE IN THESE GREAT WORKS.
God has founded the earth and His right hand spans the heavens. He has not done His marvellous work without well-determined purpose. But “who hath known the mind of the Lord?” The soul can gather hints. Upon the laying of earth’s corner-stone, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Why? Could it be at the forecast of all the sin, the misery, and death of which its surface was to become the theatre, and upon which the heavens continue to look down? Has any human heart ever experienced that high degree of happiness and satisfaction here, which could have inspired by anticipation their rapturous strains? Or can we believe that they arose in response to any such cheerless vision as that final future to which science looks as the most hopeful prospect she dares to cherish from the long interaction of her all-potent all-promising atoms? Sir William Thompson has expressed it for us:—“That the sun, with all his planets fused into his mass, shall roll a black ball through infinite space.” That is, that life having worn itself out in the weary struggle from form to form, shall at last fruitlessly inherit only the blackness of darkness for ever. Their visions were brighter than these, or no joyous shouts would have applauded the work of creation. But whatever were their visions, these are facts:—
1. The heavens have been God’s grand lesson-books for the instruction and elevation of His children (Psalms 8, 19)
2. The earth has been the scene of revelations of His character, which we cannot believe to be surpassed by any vouchsafed to any other portion of His universe: His judgments on sin; His manifestations of mercy; His tabernacling amongst men in the person of His Son; the death on the cross for the redemption of lost humanity; the nobleness, sincerity, patience, unselfishness, and forgiveness of God manifested in the spiritual education of His children.
3. The long process of sin and redemption shall at length have a glorious consummation. “The righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” God works in nature by stern and relentless agents; and sin, pain, and death will be found one day to have borne necessary parts in elaborating the new creation, which shall know them again no more for ever. Whether the same grand laws working in the same matter shall continue to evolve ever-new phases of order, life, and beauty out of “the infinite resource of the divine mind,” or whether matter and laws themselves along with us shall be gloriously changed, we know not. Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.—William Seward.
THE UNITY OF THE GODHEAD
Isaiah 48:16. Come ye near Me, hear ye this, &c. 
 Some refer this whole verse to Isaiah (Kimchi, Hitzig, Knobel), and many the second clause of it alone (Calv., Zuingl., Musculus, Gesen., Meyer, Hengst., Umbr., Hahn). Others think there is a confusion of style (Jarchi, Rosenm.) But the only consistent view makes the Son of God the Speaker here, as in the last verse (Augustine, Basil, Jerome, Œcolamp., Vitr., Alex., Herd., Stier). The same is true throughout the chapter, though the distinctness of Divine Persons comes into full relief only here at the close. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made that is made” (John 1:3).
The voice of love is here the same as in the appeal to Jerusalem in the Gospel, “How often would I have gathered thy children together!” (Matthew 23:37). The Word of God “has not spoken in secret from the be-beginning,” but from the hour of creation has been the Revealer of the Father’s will. The limit “from the time it came to be,” is the same as in Proverbs 8:23; Proverbs 8:27, “from the beginning, or ever the earth was,” when creation came into being. The construction, “the LORD hath sent me and His Spirit” (Orig., Vitr., Knobel, Gesen., Herd., Alex., Hahn), is disproved by the loss of emphasis, the last clause having thus neither the same subject nor object with the rest of the verse, by the harshness of the construction, and the want of the objective sign. The Word, who speaks, is the mental object of the whole statement, first, as the Divine Revealer, and next, as divinely sent and revealed. The mission here is not the Incarnation, but the signal providence of the Return from Baby lon. So in Zechariah, “After the glory hath He sent me to the nations that spoiled you; for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye, … and ye shall know that the Lord of Hosts hath sent me” (Zechariah 2:7-9.) This mission of the Word to deliver captive Israel was an earnest of that fuller and later message, when “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”—Birh: Coram., pp. 246, 247.
There can be little doubt as to the real character of the personage who utters these words. (Context.) Can it be questioned that the personage who claims such attributes as these claims also to be divine? Yet it is equally clear that although He is divine, there is some sort of distinction to be observed between Him and Jehovah, for He was sent by Jehovah. We have here the mystery of one Divine person sending another. And we are irresistibly reminded of the passages of the New Testament in which our Lord asserts that He cometh forth from the Father, and also that He is furnished and equipped by His Spirit for accomplishing the great work of human redemption. It is clear, then, if we appeal to such statements as those of our text, that we are justified in affirming the fundamental truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ to be imbedded in the teaching of the Old Testament Scripture. This, it may be, is what is meant by the expression, “I have not spoken in secret from the beginning.” Our Lord, during His ministry upon earth, when arguing with certain of the Sadducees, pointed to a saying of Moses, and told them that it implicitly contained the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead (Luke 20:37). It may be, then, that the Messiah meant to indicate, by the expression just quoted, that the doctrine of His true and essential Godhead, although latent in the sacred page, was yet not so much of a secret that it could not have been brought to light by the earnest and diligent search of a God-directed and God-illuminated inquirer. But whether this be so or not, we may be perfectly confident that the doctrine in some form or other is contained in the elder revelation. If it could not be found there, grave doubt would be cast upon it. But there are traces of it to be found—truth, as it were, in embryo, waiting for development—and some of these I shall make it my endeavour to point out. My contention is simply this: that simultaneously with the grand revelation of the unity of the Godhead which was given to Israel, there was revealed in shadowy outline, in hidden rather than in plain and explicit statement, a distinction of persons existing in that Godhead; there was the full stream of doctrine, and side by side with it there was the little rill, but both of them equally proceeding from the throne of God. In the background of the picture, projected before the eyes of the chosen people, stood a second majestic figure, which did not interfere with the main purpose of the scene, but still made itself felt; was seen, though dimly seen; emerged more and more into the light as the ages rolled on, and at last stood out to the view in all the full proportion of its magnificence and its beauty. Abraham was the great founder of Monotheism at a time when the world was overspread by the worship of gods many and lords many; once in all probability a sharer in the general ignorance and superstition, he was brought by God to a knowledge of the truth, and sent forth as a witness to it amongst the nations of the earth. Now, it was obviously of extreme importance to keep such a man’s conception of the Unity of the Godhead distinct and clear, and yet, on a certain occasion, an incident occurred which must have tended in no slight degree to confuse and to bewilder him if his conception of the Unity of the Godhead prohibited his believing in the distinction of persons (Genesis 18:0.) It is hard to believe, that unless this personage was divine, he would have addressed Him and pleaded with Him as he did. Who was the person here spoken of as “the Lord,” spoken of as “communing with Abraham,” and spoken of as finally departing from him? And no less so when he was upon Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:0.) “From me!” What a singular confusion there must have been if there be no distinction of persons in the unity of the Godhead, &c. Pass with me now to the story of Jacob (Genesis 32:0.) Compare with the narrative in Genesis the comment upon it given in Hosea 12:0. Now, who was this “angel” whom Jacob saw face to face? If he was not divine, I say again, what a frightful mental confusion and perplexity the Monotheist patriarch must have been involved in! Pass on to the time of Moses (Exodus 23:0.) Very singular language indeed if the angel be only a created angel. But yet, what do we find in chap. 33? We find Moses prostrate on his face before God in an agony of supplication pleading for the restoration of the angel in whom the name of God is. Advance to the book of Joshua (chap. 5.) Who is the speaker? A created angel do you say? Nay, no created angel that was ever created would dare to receive worship. These passages are merely specimens, a few amongst many. In the life of Jacob, of Moses, and of Abraham, especially in that part of it which refers to the Egyptian handmaid, Hagar; in the story of Manoah, at the birth of Samson; in the book of Daniel, where, not Gabriel is the angel of Jehovah, the messenger of the covenant, but the mysterious person “clothed in linen,” &c. In all these and in many similar statements, I might find the corroboration of the view which it has been my desire and endeavour to set before you. In passage after passage of the ancient Scriptures, a personage appears who claims the attributes of Jehovah, who speaks as Jehovah, and directs and commands as Jehovah, who accepts homage and sacrifice as Jehovah, who is, in fact, to use the language of my text, Jehovah sent by Jehovah. Jealously as the Scripture guards the unapproachable majesty of God, is it conceivable that such an intermingling could have been possible if the personage in question had no right or title to be considered divine? Surely not; and I venture, therefore, to consider it satisfactorily established, that together with the great revelation of the Unity of the Godhead came, not as plainly and as explicitly, but quite as truly, not indeed in the development, but in the germ, in shadow, and in outline rather than in solid substance, a revelation of a distinction of persons existing in that unity, a revelation which prepared the way for the great doctrine of the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God. We are told that we degrade Deity by supposing God to be incarnate. On such a subject I think it is most suitable for such people as we are to keep a reverent silence, for none amongst us is competent to express an opinion as to what is suitable or unsuitable, appropriate or inappropriate, to the Divine essence. But may we not go a step farther, and say that such an objection as this has its root in our human inability to conceive adequately the love of God? (H. E. I. 851, 852, 4809–4815).—Gordon Calthorp, M.A., The Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii. 33–35.
A TREASURY OF GREAT TRUTHS
Isaiah 48:16-17. Come ye near unto me, &c.
It is God in Christ who here speaks to us (see preceding note by Mr. Birks). A treasury of great truths; we can look only at a few of them.
I. THE GRACIOUS INVITATION GOD GIVES US. “Come ye near unto me.”
In all the means of grace God comes very near to us, and would have us approach Him. He says to us, as Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near to me, my son, that I may bless thee.” He would not have us stand at a distance, but draw nigh; not treat Him as a stranger, but as a personal friend; not be content to be outer-court worshippers, but advance as to a footing of holy personal intimacy (1 John 1:3; H. E. I. 3427, 3428, 3448, 3449).
God would have us close the ear to the voice of the tempter and the seductions of the world, and open the ear to the whispers of His Word and the pleadings of His Spirit within us. Those who would learn the lessons of heavenly wisdom must approach near to Him, and desire immediate communications from Him. Moses went up into the mount, while the elders stood afar off; we are permitted to imitate Moses, and we should do so. While Martha was troubled about many things, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet.
The tendency of irreligion and worldliness is to separate the soul further and further from God; the tendency of all the influences of the Spirit upon the spiritual mind is to bring us nearer to the God we worship. There should be one continual desire: “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” &c.
II. THE NEEDFUL WORK WHICH GOD ACCOMPLISHES IN HIS PEOPLE.
1. He is their Teacher. “I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit.” No one can do this effectually but God. None but He has wisdom, patience, or power enough to deal with these hearts of ours which are always prone to depart from Him. The labyrinth of human ignorance has such a maze that none but He can penetrate it.
Divine teaching consists in opening the eyes of the understanding to perceive spiritual objects, and inclining the will to choose and pursue them.
It is most needful. God never acts in vain; unless His children needed His help as their teacher, He would not undertake to help them in this form. The necessity for His teaching arises from our spiritual blindness and native distaste for divine things; through sin all the faculties of the soul are left in the same condition as the body would be without light. Hence certain important Scripture sayings (Psalms 119:8; Isaiah 42:6-7, &c.; H. E. I. 3399, 2877–2882).
2. He is their Guide. “Which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.” He leads them as well as instructs them, and makes dark providences the means of giving them spiritual light; for His Word and His providence are mutual interpreters. How did He teach Job? By philosophical lectures and a large scientific apparatus? No; but by strange and trying providences (H.E.I 99, 100, 133, 134).
III. THE CONDESCENDING RELATIONS HE SUSTAINS TO THEM.
1. He is their Lord—the sovereign of the Church. Let past experience encourage future hope. “This God is our God for ever and ever:” a changeless friend, an endless portion.
2. He is the Redeemer of the Church. He had redeemed the Israelites from Egypt; He was about to redeem them from Babylon. He will finally redeem His people from sin, death, and hell. However much the world overlooks the mystery of redemption, God Himself places the greatest stress upon it. It is that work from which He derives the highest glory, and the Church the noblest comfort. “The Lord thy redeemer” is a title in which He rejoices, and we should too.
3. He is “the Holy One of Israel.” This expresses at once His own perfection and the influence He exerts on His people—not only holy, but also the author of holiness. To produce that in them is the purpose of all His dealings with them (Hebrews 12:10; Titus 2:14; H. E. I. 2842, 2843).
4. He is thy God. Let this crowning and all-comprehensive fact be kept constantly in mind, prompting us to devout worship and thankful service of Him to whom we owe life, breath, and all things that minister to our present well-being, and enable us to look forward without fear to the eternal future.—Samuel Thodey.
DIVINE NAMES AND DIVINE WORK
Isaiah 48:17. Thus saith the Lord thy Redeemer, &c.
These words were spoken in dark and troublous times. They are fraught with instruction and comfort. In them we have—
I. DIVINE NAMES. They convey ideas of overwhelming greatness and glory, mingled with awful mysteriousness, and are worthy our careful consideration.
1. “Lord.” That is, Jehovah, the proper and incommunicable name of the Most High God. Represented in our version by the word LORD, printed in capitals. In the Pentateuch it is God’s personal and covenant name. It is indicative of the attributes of self-existence, eternity, immutability, and perfect independence. How great and glorious is our God! (See outline on Isaiah 42:8.)
2. “Redeemer”—vindicator or deliverer. Isaiah addresses his countrymen as being actually in a state of captivity.
(1.) Man is in a state of spiritual captivity—the worst sort of captivity. He is in bondage to sin (John 8:34). Sin rules and reigns in him. He is a slave to his lusts (2 Peter 2:19). To Satan (2 Timothy 2:16; Ephesians 2:2). To the law. Not having performed the requirements of that law, he is placed under arrest to it (Galatians 4:24-25; Galatians 3:10). To death (Hebrews 2:15; John 3:36).
(2.) God, in Christ, is the great deliverer. No other way (Acts 4:12; John 8:36). The Gospel is glad tidings of salvation to poor, guilty captives ready to perish. Deliverance has been effected through Christ. By a great ransom (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19). By conquest. He not merely paid the ransom price, but He destroyed the power of man’s enslavers. See the argument of Christ (Luke 11:21-22; cf. 1 John 3:8). He rescues sinners from the thraldom of Satan, and gives them the liberty of the sons of God. Multitudes have been delivered, and are now in a state of perfect freedom (Romans 8:1). You may be delivered. Is realised by faith. No other way.
3. “The Holy One of Israel.” This name is often applied to Him in Scripture. “There are other beings in the universe that are in a sense holy—angels and saints are holy, but He is ‘the Holy One.’ His holiness is essential and underived. It is the eternal source and the absolute standard of all holiness in the universe. Other holy beings to Him are only as the dim stars of night to the unclouded sun of day. He is the immaculate fountain of all holiness, the Father of lights whence every ray of purity in the universe proceeds.” His holiness is incomparable (Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 40:25; Revelation 15:4). His holiness is manifested in His words and His works, especially the work of human redemption. Is pledged for the fulfilment of His promises (Psalms 89:35). Should produce reverential fear (Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 6:20; Psalms 5:7; Revelation 15:4).
II. DIVINE WORK.
(1.) The need of a divine teacher, for we are ignorant as to spiritual knowledge (Ephesians 4:18). Naturally our understanding is so darkened that we see no beauty in Christ that we should desire Him (1 Corinthians 2:14).
(2.) We have a divine teacher. God, by His Spirit (Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27). By His incarnate Son. “God’s great lesson-book is the cross of Christ. All truth is condensed there. Everything you have to learn, or to do, or enjoy, is written upon that page. It is the babe’s alphabet, and it is the philosopher’s compendium. There are the glories which are to be expanded throughout eternity. God holds the clue to that divine labyrinth of awful, blessed mystery. Only the Holy Spirit can unlock those spiritual passages.”—J. Vaughan.
2. Leading or guiding. “I am thy conductor and guide.”
(1.) We need a divine guide. “We are pilgrims to eternity. We are in the labyrinth of error and sin. Life is like a heath with paths stretching in various directions. Many appear pleasant and safe that lead astray. We are often bewildered, and often choose wrongly.”
(2.) We have a divine guide. God Himself engages to be our guide. He is the only infallible guide—infinitely wise, powerful, good, gracious. He guides His people by His Word. Its precepts instruct; its revelations enlighten; its examples encourage and warn us. By His Spirit, acting directly upon our spirit (Isaiah 30:21). By His providence, pointing out the way by the indications of circumstances and current events. By the example of Christ. By the counsel of His servants (Psalms 77:20). The wise and good are here to direct us.
(3.) God guides His people in the way they should go, not in the way they would go—that is man’s interpretation. There is a way in which we should walk—a divine way, clear to those who will see it. God’s way is not always our way, but it is always the right, the best, the safest, and the happiest way. This assurance should always cheer and comfort us.
Unconverted sinner! you must move forward—you must “go,” it is the law of your being. But how will you “go”? with God, or without Him? You are free to choose which you will do. Take God as your guide, the wisest, the best of all leaders. To refuse divine leadership is to grope in darkness, and ultimately to perish.—Alfred Tucker.
GOD OUR TEACHER AND LEADER
Isaiah 48:17. I am the Lord thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, &c.
How beautiful and impressive are the “I am’s” of God! Only from God has the declaration “I am” its full meaning. But God does not isolate Himself. What He is, He is for His people.
We must go out of ourselves to get real blessing for ourselves; and to whom shall we go? The heart must have a Person to love, to lean on, to live for. No doctrine, no idea, no creed can take the place of the Person—“I am the Lord thy God.” The apostle of love seems to have taken special heed of the self-revelations of Christ; for in his pages we meet with some of the glorious “I am’s” of Christ (John 8:12; John 6:35; John 14:6; John 10:7; John 15:1; John 8:58; John 11:25). In the text God is revealed as our Teacher and Leader; and “Learn of Me,” and “Follow Me,” are two most important commands of Jesus Christ.
I. There is an important relation between these two offices of our Divine Master. Not every teacher is a leader, not every leader a true teacher. Theory and practice are often divorced; words and works are not always wedded. But Christ is like a general who trains his soldiers in the barracks and leads them on the field, or like a traveller who braves the dangers and endures the toils of opening up a country, and then describes its beauties, dilates upon its capacities, and adds to the common fund of scientific knowledge. Does Jesus teach us to “pray and not to faint?” He also leads (Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12); does He teach us to glorify God by our “good works?” He “went about doing good.” Does He teach us to love our enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use us? How grandly are we led by His dying prayer, “Father, forgive them!” Are we to “seek first the kingdom of God,” according to His teaching? It was His meat and drink to do His Father’s will. He truly “teaches us to profit, and leads us by the way we should go.” These are the two great forces which aid in the formation of Christian character, and the development of Christian life (H.E.I. 894–899).
The teaching of our Master is sometimes out of the book of affliction and sorrow. We have been drawn away from Him by much resting in creature strength; He is jealous for our sakes; so He teaches us our folly, and weakness, and sin; and then leads us into His wisdom, and strength, and holiness. Perhaps His lesson comes out of the book of poverty and distress. He strips us, that we may be clothed with change of raiment. In multitudes of ways does our Lord teach His people, but ever to the end that He may lead them in the way in which they should go. All the way along He is Teacher and Leader, and we love to have it so. The thought of His instruction encourages us, while His leadership emboldens us.
II. Contemplate the words “who leadeth thee.” Read them in the light of Scripture thoughts and incidents. How they remind us of God leading His people from the thraldom of Egypt (Exodus 13:21). In Moses’ song there is a beautiful figure to help us in understanding our Lord’s leading (Deuteronomy 32:11-12). Passing on, we come to the poem of the shepherd-king (Psalms 23:0) And then we find David’s putting into the lips of wisdom the words, “I lead in the way of righteousness.” Take another example; now from Isaiah (Isaiah 42:16). How soothing the words of Jeremiah! (Isaiah 31:9).
III. What spirit shall we manifest in view of this truth? “Suffer thyself, O Christian, to be led! Presume not at any time either to linger or to precede. Follow thy Shepherd patiently, gladly, and constantly. Keep close to His footsteps. Go unhesitatingly through this dry and thirsty land of sorrows, trials, and disappointments. Let no hurry of business delay, no burden of care prevent thee. Let not the sorrows of thy heart prove too overwhelming to deter, no joys of this life too captivating to detain thee from thy God” (Stephenson on Psalms 23:0)
“When we cannot see our way,
Let us trust and still obey;
He who bids us forward go
Cannot fail the way to show.”
CONCLUSION.—Let us take our place by the psalmist, and with him in a spirit of humility, resignation, trustfulness, and hope, put up these petitions (Psalms 5:8; Psalms 26:5; Psalms 27:11; Psalms 31:3; Psalms 61:2; Psalms 139:24; Psalms 143:10). Thus shall we on earth have a true foretaste of the blessedness of that sinless place, where “the Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, shall lead them, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.”—Walter J. Mayers: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii. pp. 228–230.
THE BENEFIT OF AFFLICTIONS
Isaiah 48:17. I am the Lord thy God, which teacheth thee to profit.
God can make all the objects by which men are surrounded, and all the scenes through which they are called to pass, produce just such effects in their minds as He sees best. He can blast prosperity, and bless adversity. He can make afflictions instructive and beneficial. It was while His people were in a state of adversity, and despairing of relief, that He undertook to comfort them, by reminding them of His power over them, His relation to them, and His tender regard for their spiritual good (Isaiah 48:12-13; Isaiah 48:16-17). We find no intimation here that God would put an end to the afflictions of His people, but only that He was able to sanctify them, or cause them to have a salutary and desirable effect.
I. Afflictions may be profitable to the children of God. They are not in themselves joyous, but grievous; it is natural to dread them; even our Saviour recoiled from the prospect of His approaching sufferings; nevertheless they may eventually prove very beneficial:—
1. By turning off their attention from the world. Living in the world, and compelled in some measure to its concerns, they are prone to “mind earthly things” too exclusively; but afflictions have a direct tendency to turn away their eyes from beholding vanity, and to prepare them to attend to things of everlasting consequence.
2. By turning off their affections from the world. Many of its objects have an immense fascination for the human heart, and we are always in danger of giving them that place in our hearts which is due to God alone. But in the time of affliction men learn that in the world there is nothing to soothe and comfort them. When they find how little it can do for them, how apt it is to deceive them, and rob them of superior happiness, they learn to hate rather than to love it.
3. By raising their affections to God, the source of all good. By taking away every other ground of dependence and consolation, they may be said to drive them to the Fountain of all good. Thus they operate even upon the ungodly (Psalms 107:17-19). Much more is this likely to be their effect upon the righteous.
II. GOD is able to make afflictions profitable to His children. Afflictions do not necessarily sanctify; they make some men worse, and not better (2 Chronicles 28:22; Revelation 9:20; Revelation 16:9; Revelation 21:0; H. E. I. 229–233); but God is able to teach each of His children how to turn them into sources of blessing:—
1. He is able to bring Himself into their view. As when the sun rises men cannot see the stars, so when God presents Himself before the minds of His people, they cannot see anything else. Or rather, they see Him in all things—in the providences and afflictions which have befallen them. But barely bringing Himself into their view, and turning off their attention from all created objects, will not afford relief; because men may behold God and be troubled (Exodus 14:24). It is therefore necessary to observe—
2. That He can draw their affections as well as their attention towards Himself. When He brings Himself into view of the afflicted, He can awaken every holy affection in their hearts, and give them a sensible enjoyment of Himself, which is far better than the enjoyment of sons, or of daughters, or of any earthly good (H. E. I. 116–142, 204–221).
III. These facts are fountains of consolation for God’s afflicted children. What a deep and exhaustless well of comfort is this, that God bears a covenant relation to them, and has engaged to treat them as children! All His dispensations towards them are the genuine expressions of His fatherly care and kindness (Hebrews 12:6; Job 5:17-19; Job 5:27; 2 Corinthians 4:17). It is not necessary that they should know that their afflictions shall be removed or diminished; they may exercise faith, confidence, submission, patience, and even joy, while they know that the Lord is their God, and will certainly teach them to profit by those things which would otherwise sink them in sorrow and despair.
1. Since God makes use of afflictions to keep His children near Him, it is clear that they are extremely prone to forsake Him. He does not grieve nor afflict them willingly, but only because they will not regard His milder means of instruction. It is a certain sign that a child is very undutiful and disobedient, if nothing but repeated and severe corrections will restrain or reclaim him. We should humble ourselves before God because of our waywardness.
2. Seeing that God chastises His children for their good, and teaches them to profit under His correcting hand, those who are suffered to live on in uninterrupted prosperity have reason to inquire whether they belong to the household of faith. Prosperity is a thing to thank God for; but it is as frequently granted to the evil as to the good; and those who have been long in the enjoyment of it have good cause seriously to inquire whether their hearts are right with God, and whether He has not been granting their requests for outward prosperity and sending leanness into their souls.
3. Since God afflicts His children only for their good, they have the best of all reasons for being submissive and cheerful in seasons of sorrow.
4. Since God afflicts His children only for their good, the severer the sufferings through which they are called to pass, the greater is the profit they may expect to derive from them in the end. The oftener He puts them into the furnace of affliction, and the longer He continues them there, the brighter He means to bring them out.
5. Since God teaches His children to profit by their afflictions, afflictions afford us a means of determining whether we belong to His family or not.
6. Since God can make afflictions profitable to His children, we may justly conclude that He can make them profitable to others also. Though sinners hate instruction and despise reproof, yet they are not beyond the reach of divine power and divine grace. God has often used affliction as an instrument for the conversion of sinners (2 Chronicles 33:12).—Dr. Emmons: Works, vol. iii. pp. 52–66.
THE PROFIT OF LIFE
(A New Year Motto).
Isaiah 48:17. I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.
Inscribe these words on the banner that waves over our heads as we march through the year, that they may be always in sight, ready for use in all the varying turns of our experience. They are stored with rich promise, wise direction, sustaining comfort. This is a voice from heaven to explain God’s dealings with us, to elevate our aims and to encourage our trust.
I. The end which God has in view in the guidance of our lives, “profit.” This is His aim, and He would have us make it ours. “Profit” in heaven’s vocabulary has not the meaning it bears on earth. The profit which the world pursues is material, but this is spiritual. That is often lost, and must be left behind at death; this endures unto life eternal, and is the only real profit, for it is a part of our very selves. The solemn utterance of Christ on this matter runs (Mark 8:36-37)—a statement which is reversed by those who mind earthly things. Not what you will get, but what you will become should engage your attention. Your greatest wealth lies in yourselves, in your being renewed and sanctified. All other profit is of no value in comparison. Every advantage, talent, opportunity, which is not minted into this coin is wasted. Is this, then, the lofty purpose which you are throwing into your life? How few inquire—What will tell upon my spiritual interests? how many—How can I add to my worldly gains, and make a comfortable livelihood? I do not say you should never ask such a question, but only that it should have a subordinate place. Lot had an eye to worldly gain in selecting the plain of Sodom for his residence. The religious disadvantages and dangers of the step did not enter into his calculations. He first “pitched his tent toward Sodom,” and then thought it would be a fine thing for his family to be settled in the city, where he would be held in consideration as a man of growing wealth. But spiritual profit—growing sympathy with what is pure and beneficent, closer resemblance to Christ—is the loftiest aim in life, and all our plans should be formed with a view to its acquisition. If this profit be wanting as the years roll by, life is a losing concern, leading to spiritual bankruptcy.
II. God engages to teach us how to extract profit from life. Everything may yield us profit, if we learn the happy art of taking the profit out of it. A naturalist has said that “the seeing eye is never in want of its proper aliment;” and the Christian soul never lacks the means of spiritual profit. The bee may find it delightful to roam far and wide through the long summer day, looking into the flowers and breathing their fragrance; but he is an idle drone if he bring home no profit for the hive. One man has neither the will nor the power to extract the honey from life’s experience, while another finds profit in all that meets him. Two persons take a tour through an interesting country. One sees but little, and carelessly hurries past the grandest scenes and through the finest cities. The other comes home with large additions to his information, and with scenes impressed on his mind which he can recall long after with delight. Let me specify some of the departments of our life, and show how real profit may be derived from them. Take our daily Bible-readings and our visits to God’s house. These are occasions of richest profit, but many miss it. Not to speak of those who lay aside the Bible for books that have a stronger interest for them, and rarely, if at all, frequent the sanctuary, to others these privileges come as a matter of course. No wonder there is small profit when none is expected. Believing prayer makes the Lord’s day a day of blessing, and extracts profit from the poorest sermon. By the sorrows and difficulties of the week God sometimes sends us to His house with quickened appetite.—Our joys and sorrows may be made springs of profit. This is the very purpose of the Divine chastenings (Hebrews 12:10).—Our intercourse with others may furnish contributions to our spiritual wealth. Our closest friends should be the friends of Jesus, and from such companions we may get much profit by the interchange of thought and the influence of example; and even those who are otherwise minded may teach us to be gentle to the erring.—Our very temptations, if met with a firm resistance, will bring us a return of strength.—Our daily work may be made to yield us a better renumeration than mere wages, if we accept it as our God-appointed task.—In all these departments, if we take God for our teacher, life, with its changing scenes, will become a school of precious instruction, and a mine of solid wealth.
III. God engages to lead us by the way in which profit may be found. By “the way that thou shouldest go” we are to understand the experiences through which God sees it needful to lead us. “God has His plan for every man.” Each requires a special discipline. Since God has taught His children the happy secret of profiting from the experiences of life, they may be sure that the experiences will be such as to yield the profit which they most need, as the bee’s faculty and instinct do not lack flowers. This assurance ought to nerve us alike for life’s trials and life’s work. It should silence every murmur. All envying of the lot of others, all impatience with our own, will vanish when we feel that we are where God placed us. Even in the severest afflictions this thought will stay the soul. It is part of God’s plan to send trials upon us; they stand in His programme of our lives. Were any of them withheld we should lose their intended profit. Our very work has been pre-arranged (Ephesians 2:10). We are disposed to think that if our talents were better, our opportunities more favourable, we would serve God to greater purpose; but these are precisely what God sees we can use. Be it ours to inquire at every step, What good may I get here? what profit may I acquire? Would it not bring a truly happy year to import these principles into your life? Do they not furnish a sufficient answer to the question that has recently been discussed—“Is life worth living?” If you live while you live, if you have been taught of God to extract profit from life’s experience, certainly life is well worth living. The ship constructed at great expense does not lie anchored in some quiet bay. The owners expect a return, and send her across the seas to trade in the ports of many lands. Their end is profit, and every day their vessel is laid up is a serious loss. So it is with our lives. If there is no real profit, there must be a sad, a fatal deficit.—W. Guthrie, M.A.
SPIRITUAL PROSPERITY SECURED BY OBEDIENCE ONLY
Isaiah 48:17-19. Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, &c.
Whatever may be the reason, in the Church there are frequently mournful complaints of the want of prosperity, both general and individual. Viewing the case only under one aspect, this might appear strange. For is not God with His people? &c. Whence, then, these complaints? Their true cause is in man, not in God. The terms here employed show us, that though the complaint is in accordance with fact, the fact might and ought to have been avoided. The real cause is found in negligence and disobedience of man. God’s complaint implies censure; and teaches us that the limitation of the blessing which was promised in the most abundant fulness, is a reproving judgment, calling us to “consider our ways,” and by renewed obedience and carefulness to remedy the evils which we ourselves have occasioned. Observe the remarkable manner in which it pleases God to address His people. It is not said, generally and alone, “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments!” He speaks as sustaining certain characters, performing certain works. And in examining the terms employed in this divine record, we shall find that they include and suggest the reasons why the required obedience should be rendered. We have thus—
I. THE FUNDAMENTAL CHARACTER WHICH GOD SUSTAINS IN RELATION TO HIS PEOPLE, AND AS SUSTAINING WHICH HE REQUIRES THEIR OBEDIENCE.
1. “The Holy One of Israel.” Redemption chiefly implies mercy, but by no means exclusively. It is set before us in the New Testament, with the strongest emphasis, as that exhibition and proof of love which, for its vastness and grandeur, claims to be regarded as the highest of all. But men are apt to take false views of love. These false views generally tend to very dangerous issues. With men, love is often an indulgent fondness, seldom rising above the limits of natural instinct, and possessing in its character nothing distinctively moral.
2. “Thus saith the Lord.” This is the basis of the whole (Exodus 3:14). He is essential being, independent, perfect, eternal. Whatever exists, exists by Him and for Him; every faculty, by Him given, should be for Him employed. No creature possesses the excellence for which we are commanded to love, worship, and serve Him. As far as possible, there must be a difference as complete and manifest between the service we render to any creature, and that which we render to God, as there is between the creature itself and God.
3. “Thy Redeemer.” Thus has He made Himself known to us. Thus will He be acknowledged, worshipped, and served by us. True, He is our Creator, our Preserver, our Sovereign; none of these truths are set aside by the evangelical revelation; still it is our duty to remember that the chief of His royal styles and titles, is that of Redeemer. It is as our Redeemer that we are to behold His glory, study His character, acknowledge, love, worship, and serve Him. In Himself, our true and highest good, He only becomes so to us when we approach Him as our Redeemer; acknowledging all the wickedness and weakness in us which that term implies.
But there is one character which the Scriptures teach us God always must sustain,—that of the most exalted moral excellence. We must never forget that He is “the Holy One of Israel” (H. E. I. 2316, 2317). This, then, is the character in which God addresses to us the commandments to which He requires us to hearken.
II. A PARTICULAR PROCEEDING IN WHICH IT PLEASES GOD, AS SUSTAINING THIS CHARACTER, TO REPRESENT HIMSELF AS ENGAGING. “I am the Lord thy God which teacheth,” &c.
1. God teaches us. Advert to the principal methods which He is pleased to employ. But in whatever way the instruction is communicated, the object of it is always the same—our benefit and advantage.
2. God is also our Guide. “Which leadeth,” &c. Distinctly asserted in the Word of God. The wisdom of ancient philosophy could never realise the doctrine of a particular providence. To the wisdom of the world it is still a stumbling-block. Observe the character of the guidance: “In the way that thou shouldest go.” That we may perceive what that way is, let us remember what man is, and for what he is destined. There is nothing merely casual. Everything is wisely appointed or wisely permitted. And thus, putting together all these representations, is a foundation, broad and stable, laid for that enlightened, that deliberately chosen obedience which He requires.
III. THE OBEDIENCE WHICH HE CONSEQUENTLY REQUIRES FROM US.
1. God teaches us for our profit; it is therefore our duty to be learners, and that from first to last.
2. God leads us, &c.; it is therefore our duty to follow His guidance. But how? No pillar of cloud and fire goes before us, marking the way to sense. We walk by faith. What are the indications which faith must follow?
(1.) His revealed will. He never leads in opposition to that.
(2.) The specific duties indicated by every particular providence must be fulfilled. Let there be unhesitating submission, unreserved devotion. The old Vulgate employs a word that may suggest an illustration. Gubernans te in viâ. A vessel sails from harbour destined to a certain port. To guide her safely is the task of the pilot, the Gubernator. In modern times, when navigation is so well understood, such a person is usually only employed where the navigation is difficult, from dangers known to himself, but unknown to the crew—perhaps close by the port where the voyage terminates.
3. God condescends to speak to us! it is therefore our duty continually and reverently to hearken. “O that thou hadst,” &c. It is not said, “O that thou hadst obeyed!” but, “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments!” Of course, obedience is implied, but the word actually used teaches us the real character of the obedience. The master issues his orders. The servant stands by attentively. He hearkens to them, perceives his duty, and goes to perform it. And thus must it be with us.
(1.) We must hearken to His commandments in their evangelical order;
(3.) attentively, thoughtfully, so as to make their very meaning our own;
(4.) exclusively. Other voices will sound in our ears. To none must a moment’s heed be given;
(5.) supremely and constantly.
IV. THE RESULT OF THAT OBEDIENCE.
Great shall be the prosperity you shall thus certainly secure. “Your peace,” &c. The imagery is as instructive as it is beautiful. (See other outlines on this text.)
APPLICATION.—Assume the existence of religion in some degree. Seek to realise it in all its blessed fulness as here set forth. Wherever personal religion revives, zeal for the spread of religion revives also. Then efforts to do good will be better sustained, and the prospering blessing of God will be more richly given. The consequence will be numerical increase. (Note Delitzsch’s translation of Isaiah 48:19.) Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine, 1849, pp. 913–934.
THE LOST IDEAL
Isaiah 48:18. O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! &c.
Exile and home-coming, captivity and deliverance, judgment and mercy, these are the things of this chapter. In the immediate context there is an expression of the deepest regret on God’s part that it had been necessary to bring on His people heavy judgments; while the text is a tender wish and longing that they had chosen the better way. Three thoughts are suggested for our instruction—
I. THE LOST IDEAL.
What might have been, and ought to have been. There had been an unattained national, and, therefore, individual possibility, which was now unattainable, at least to the extent that things could never be exactly as if they had attained it. So, too, there is to each man an ideal life as a matter of abstract possibility, not abstractly imaginable, but real and true as the life of God. The ideal life is the life. But what is it? There is a natural outline in every man’s life. Sin depraves, but it does not obliterate the organic powers and the natural peculiarities and tendencies of the individual. There is an outline of what might have been left in each man. There are diversities; but the question is about each man’s own ideal. What is it each of us has missed all these years—getting a glimpse of it now and again? This lost self is the self that must be found, else happiness cannot be found. It is descried in some of our best states, in elevated moods, or in quietness; and also in working earnestly towards some good practical object; or when, weary with all this world’s wilfulness and folly, we can, notwithstanding, leave it all with Him who made and can rule the world: in these, and like exercises or states of mind, we can get some glimpses of the wonderful picture that stands clearly out in the Divine ideal, and from which it will never fade away.
II. THE DIVINE LAMENTATION OVER IT.
God continues to have a Divine preference concerning human life. What depths of love and compassion are in the words, “O that thou hadst hearkened,” &c. Certain images are chosen because they are known to all the world: “Peace like a river; righteousness like the waves of the sea.” According to the Divine idea, a man’s life should be deep, and wide, and clear, and voluminous, and refreshing, and fertilising, and progressive—like a river; and, like the waves of the sea, possessed of a righteousness that cannot be measured, and that can never end. God has not forgotten the ideal, which is ever-present to Him; and at sight of the actual, so unlike these grand images, Jehovah laments. Natural goodness, without the special help and grace of God, is, at best, a sorry sight to Him.
III. THE DIVINE PROPOSAL FOR RESTORATION.
Can the Divine lamentation be turned into Divine song and rejoicing? Are there any who are rising up from their fall? We know the answers to such questions, and how they touch the very core and substance of the Gospel (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 2:13). We are God’s husbandmen; we are God’s building (Isaiah 48:20). In the text God stands as with uplifted hands, pathetically lamenting over a great loss, a great disappointment, a great ruin; the might have been has not been realised. But what means the next word in the next verse, “Go ye forth of Babylon?” &c.; God will continue His work, He will restore the ruins of it, and carry it on to ultimate success. “Go ye forth of Babylon;” that means when interpreted, just begin where you are, do the nearest thing, forsake the sin that is strongest, rectify the wrong that is nearest, take the path that is open, make room in your heart for all that God will give you, and especially for the renewing Spirit. And in all this, look unto Jesus, and press towards Him as you look, and you are a new creature in Him; the ruin is restored, Eden blooms again, the dead is alive, the long-lost self is found.
“Have we not all, amid life’s petty strife,
Some ideal of a noble life,
That once seemed possible? Did we not hear
The flutter of its wings, and feel it near?
And just within our reach it was; and yet
We lost it in this daily jar and fret;
And now live idly, in a vain regret.
But still our place is kept, and it will wait
Ready for us to fill it, soon or late.
No star is ever lost we once have seen;
We always may be what we might have been.”
—Alexander Raleigh, D.D.: Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv. pp. 269–371.
These words would be sad from the lips of man, but coming from God they are inexpressibly touching and solemn. They are the cry of a wounded heart. They tell not of the wrath of justice, but of the sorrows of love. There is, indeed, mystery, as there must be whenever we have to do with the Infinite, but that very mystery makes the lament the more affecting and impressive. In this pathetic verse there is a threefold lament:—
I. A LAMENT OVER LOST HOPES. Once there was hope and fair promise. God’s beautiful ideal might be realised. But that is all gone. God only knows what has been lost. He is, so to speak, alone with His sorrow. Think of Aaron’s grief for his sons (Leviticus 10:3); of David’s lament for Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33); of the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). In these we may see reflected the sorrows of disappointed love. How dreadful must be the cause that produces such effects (Psalms 81:13-16; Jeremiah 44:4)—
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these, It might have been.”
II. A LAMENT OVER NEGLECTED OPPORTUNITIES. God is speaking here in the character of “the Redeemer—the Holy One of Israel.” He recalls what He had done, and what might and ought to have been the happy results. But the precious opportunities had been abused.
1. Gracious instruction, “I am the Lord which teacheth thee to profit.”
2. Infallible guidance, “Which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go.”
3. Holy blessedness, “Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.” How beautiful are these emblems! Deep and tranquil as the Euphrates, the noblest of the rivers of Asia, is the peace of the believer. Noble and majestic as the waves of the great sea, ever moving in harmony with law, and ever manifesting new forms of loveliness, is the righteousness of God’s saints. All this, and more, might have been realised, if only God’s commandments had been regarded. But the time is past. The glorious vision has faded away for ever. Neglected opportunities bring sure and terrible retribution. O man, consider thou hast been God’s enemy. He has made thee gracious offers of peace. He has called thee to place thyself under the leadership of His Son, when all shall be well. And what has been the result? Reconciliation a failure. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Hebrews 2:3; cf. 2 Chronicles 36:15-17.)
III. A LAMENT OVER NEEDLESS RUIN. Sometimes evil comes in spite of us. It is a calamity, and not a crime. Borne aright, it turns to good. We see in it the chastisement of a loving Father, and learn to be content. But, alas! rarely can we hold ourselves blameless. If we suffer, it is because we have sinned. If we perish, it is our own fault. Reason, conscience, and the Holy Scriptures combine in testifying that man’s ruin is not of chance or fate, far less of God, but exclusively of himself. The sinner feels, and must feel for ever, that if he had only hearkened to God’s commandments, ruin would have been impossible. God’s commandments in the law are all good. To keep them is life and blessedness. But we have sinned. Righteousness by the law is no more possible. God’s commands in the Gospel are also good (1 Timothy 1:15; John 6:29; John 3:16). When we consider who and what. Jesus is, and how great things He has done for us, is it not the most reasonable thing in the world that we should love and trust Him? If we have not eyes to see His beauty, we are blind. If we have not the heart to commit ourselves to Him and to choose His service, as the most free and rightful and blessed of all services, it must be because we wilfully prefer evil to good, and the pleasures of sin for a season, to the love of God for ever (cf. Isaiah 5:1-7; Ezekiel 33:11; Proverbs 1:24-33; Matthew 23:37).—W. Forsyth.
When God smites men on account of sin, it gives Him no pleasure. The voice which speaks here is not that of the seraphic prophet, but the voice of the Lord God of the prophets. The manner is not merely the majestic formula, “Thus saith Jehovah,” but it is supplemented with words intended to remind us of His graciousness and His goodwill (Isaiah 48:17). Nor is this the only lesson which lies on the surface of the text. Observe, the Lord addresses words of poignant regret over the prize the sinner has lost, as well as the penalty he has incurred. So did Jesus Christ look upon Jerusalem. Musing on the desolation to which she should shortly come, He reflected on the preservation in which she might have safely stood, &c. God looks upon the “peace” you might enjoy, and the “righteousness” that would enrich you, did you hearken to His commandments, and obey His great mandate, “Believe, and live.” Sinner! the infinite heart of my Divine Master yearns over you.
What loss is that which God bewails on thy account? “Peace like a river,” and “righteousness like the waves of the sea,” are not within the limits of thy comprehension. There is a privation which you unconsciously suffer.
1. You are a stranger to peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” There are two kinds of peace into the secret satisfaction of which no unconverted person can enter—peace with God, and peace in the heart. Yet both of these are the inalienable right of the believer; for the peace which our Lord Jesus Christ made by the blood of His cross has sealed his acceptance with the Father; and the peace which is produced in his conscience as the fruit of the Spirit, calms the troubled passions of his breast. This is a peace which no man can attain unto except the man who hearkens to the commandment, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” But if you hearken to it, you shall have peace, and that peace shall be like a river. The metaphor is full of beauty, and not wanting in instructiveness either, by which peace is compared to a river. What does this mean? Several things. Peace like a river, for
(1.) continuance. For ever, throughout all generations, the river speedeth to its destined place. Such is the peace of the Christian. He is always at peace.
(2.) Freshness. The peace which a Christian has is always fresh, always receiving fresh supplies.
(3.) A river increases in breadth, and its waters augment their volume. Such is the Christian’s peace. It will go on increasing till it melts into the infinite peace of the beatific vision, where
“Not a wave of trouble rolls
Across the peaceful breast.”
(4.) Its joyful independence of man. Habakkuk’s song: “Although the fig-tree,” &c. The devil cannot rob us of the peace which comes from God, neither can the world take it away. What would some of you give to have such a peace as this? Such peace you shall have if you hearken to God’s commands.
2. Thou hast not the righteousness which is “as the waves of the sea!” Notice how this metaphor surpasses the previous one in dignity, if not in delicacy. We can all see a sort of comparison, and yet at the same time a strong contrast, between the water of an inland river and the collection of waters which make up the wide expanse of the sea. One, for the most part, is tranquil, the other always heaving and surging to and fro. So I suppose, as the words were originally addressed to the Jewish nation, and referred to their temporal welfare, the river would represent the beauty and happiness of their own land, like the garden of Eden, watered by the river of God’s pleasure; and the sea, with its waves rolling in majestically one after another in unbroken succession, would set forth that progress which is the renown of righteousness. Generation after generation would witness the rising tide of prosperity. Oh! what did that rebellious seed of Jacob lose by forsaking the Lord! Apply this metaphor of the waves of the sea, like that of the flowing of the river, to the happiness of the believer. Look at this precious doctrine of the Gospel through the glass of that Old Testament symbol. The man who believes in Jesus Christ has the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, that is to say, the obedience of Christ is considered by God as his obedience. So, if I believe in Christ, I am as much beloved and as much accepted as if I had been perfect in a rectitude of my own; for the righteousness of Christ becomes mine. But how is this righteousness like the waves of the sea? It is like the waves of the sea
(1.), for multitude.
(2.) For majesty. What an illustration of overwhelming power! Who can withstand the power of Christ’s righteousness? “Who shall lay anything to God’s elect?” &c. Then it is majestic because it is profound, and because of its ceaseless energy.
(3.) For sufficiency.
(4.) For origin. That some of you have not got this righteousness is owing to this, that you have not hearkened to God. When the Gospel has been preached, have you listened attentively? &c. I know how some of you hear; it is always with procrastination. Even now, hear ye the voice of the Lord!—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 609–610.
DISREGARD OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS
Isaiah 48:18. O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments, &c.
There are moments of reflection on the past. What would have been the history of this island, if Cæsar had not invaded it? if the Stuart kings had been inspired by different ideas? if the first Napoleon had not arisen? Similarly, we reflect on our own life. What would have been our career, if we had not, at some time, made such a mistake, or committed such a fault?—Thus also we think of some one whom we have known. With his talents and opportunities, what he might have become, if he had not spoiled everything by his folly or misconduct! Many a father laments over the son who has thrown away all his chances.
Thus God lamented over Israel. He had dealt with them as with sons; had bestowed upon them counsel and culture; but they had followed their own devices. And the consequences had overtaken them in diminished resources, a weakened empire, and eventual subjection to a foreign yoke. Had they hearkened to His commandments their state would have been different (Isaiah 48:18-19).
There are multitudes over whom He is pouring this lamentation to-day. He has not left them without instruction and direction. He has given them His word, His commandments, His Gospel. He has surrounded them with gracious influences. But they have been regardless of Him and of His efforts to save them. They have indulged their natural disposition to sin. Confident of themselves, and heedless of warning, like children ignorant of themselves and of the world, they have fallen over the rocks into moral ruin.
There may be some here over whom He thus laments. As you look back on your “wasted lives,” your “sins indulged while conscience slept, your vows and promises unkept,” you see that He has good reasons to do so. We invite you to consider what might have been, if you had hearkened to the calls of the Gospel and formed your life according to the Word of God; what it might have been in contrast with what it is—
I. IN RELATION YOUR CHARACTER.
Disregard of God’s commandments has led to many sins which need not have stained your life. One by one they have grown beyond all power of computation, as when debts grow until the position is irretrievable. After all allowances for the weaknesses of human nature, and the sins which would have been committed in spite of your endeavours, how many of them could have been prevented if you had hearkened to God’s commandments!—Moreover, these sins and the habit of mind which led to them have exerted a deteriorating influence on your character. Every wilful sin weakens the power of conscience and lowers the moral tone, so that the more sins a man commits the more likely is it that he will commit sin. It is a gradual descent towards the lowest point of moral being (H. E. I. 1527, 1528, 4500, 4501). Multitudes have become so degraded in conscience that they are living lives, the future of which, if shown to them some years ago, would have shocked them and called forth the indignant protest of Hazael, “Is thy servant a dog that he should do this thing?” Contrast this with what might have been. The habit of obedience, associated with love to the commander and approbation of the command, exerts a gradually formative influence on the character. Good principles become more firmly rooted, the conscience is trained to a quicker perception of moral differences, the inclinations are more completely engaged on the side of goodness, the holy life becomes natural, the entire moral tone is elevated. Like a tree which was at first only a slip, but has grown (Psalms 92:12-14).
II. IN RELATION TO YOUR HAPPINESS.
All seek for happiness. Have you really found it in disregard of God’s commands? Has not sin often involved you in trouble? Has it not left the stinging conscience? Are you not often conscious of dissatisfaction and disappointment with the world?—It might have been so different! You might have been enjoying “the peace of God.” The troubles of life might have been to you channels of superior consolation. The blessedness of a conscience at rest through the pardoning and renewing grace might have been yours. Your heart might have been at rest, fixed, settled, centred in God, instead of being storm-driven. You might have had the happiness of friendship and fellowship with God. Instead of the gloom of the future, the thought of which is unwelcome, your future might have been radiant with the glorious Christian hope.
III. IN RELATION TO INFLUENCE.
For all have influence over others. If you have not hitherto hearkened to God’s commandments, your spirit and example has fallen on some one as an evil shadow. Within the circle of your influence, you have sown the seeds of evil and prevented good to an extent you can never calculate. You will never, at least in this world, know how many sins have been committed through you, and how many persons are morally worse than they would have been had they never known you. Some may have been irretrievably ruined. They have exceeded their exemplar.
Instead of this, had you been a Christian, consistent, earnest, your influence on these persons would have been quite different. It would have been a recognised and valued, as well as unconscious influence for good. Your own children. Not they alone. Some Christian work. The Church of Christ. The young. Society around you. You might have had the satisfaction of knowing that you had plucked some brand from the burning, and that you would be welcomed on the eternal shore by some who had passed through the golden gates because of your influence upon them. All this, and more, might have been if you had hearkened to God’s commandments.
Would it not have been unspeakably better if you had? Better for God to give us His Gospel and require obedience, rather than leave us to ourselves. Better for the gardener to train the plant than leave it wild. Better that the elder brother remained at home and obeyed his father, than that he should have ruined himself, like the prodigal. Better that Manasseh, and David, and Peter had not stained their memories with sin, even though they repented. Can you recall any of your sins which would not have been better uncommitted?
But lamentation cannot undo the past. There it lies, and will lie for ever. But one thing can be done. You can repent; confess; forsake; sue for mercy through the Cross. God laments it, that He may attract your attention to this. Listen and turn. Let the young ponder His lamentation as a warning voice. Let your character, happiness, influence be what the Gospel secures.—J. Rawlinson.
It is one of the simplest and most impressive laws of the Divine government to render to every man according to his works. The operation of this law is strikingly illustrated in the history of God’s dealings with the Israelites, to which reference is made in this chapter. But He has infinitely more pleasure in dispensing mercy than in executing judgment. When, through the impenitent obstinacy of the sinner, He arises to judgment, it is with reluctance and regret—a regret which finds expression in words of profound and tenderest pathos—“O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments!” Consider—
I. DISOBEDIENCE IN ITS HUMAN ASPECT.
1. It involves a serious loss. A man may lose a sum of money, and, by a simple process of arithmetic, be able to tell the exact amount. But there are losses which no figures can adequately report, or words describe; they are all the more keenly felt because of the reeling, bewildering sense of indefiniteness that surrounds them. More especially is this the case when we reflect upon the spiritual loss occasioned by a course of disobedience to the Divine commandments. We are conscious of a loss of something, though in what form, or to what extent, we cannot precisely say. Not only is there the absence of what we once possessed—the soul having suffered eclipse by the dark, cold shadow of earthliness and sin resting upon it; but there is also the vague impression of what might have been! We never know what we lose by one single dereliction of duty.
2. It involves a loss of profitable instruction. This we infer from the preceding verse. There is a close connection between obedience and growth in sound and useful knowledge (H. E. I. 3153–3154). Who, then, can estimate the loss incurred by repeated disobedience? Lofty and expansive views of the character and works of God, views of Christian duty from the clearest standpoint, glimpses of the glorious possibilities of Christian enjoyment, the remodelling or the rejection of opinions that have led into grievous and fatal errors—all are for ever lost by a pertinacious refusal to hearken to the Divine commandments. Nor is this the worst. We have brought darkness into our minds, hardness and apathy into our hearts, fear and uncertainty into our prospects, and bitterness into our experience.
3. It involves a loss of wise and infallible guidance. This we also learn from the preceding verse. Who can estimate the misery occasioned by the loss of that guidance, and the consequent prostitution to base and ignoble purposes of the rarest talent, the wreck of innocence and virtue, of youth and beauty and power, the withering of fondly cherished hopes, the blighting of domestic and individual life?
4. It involves a loss of personal happiness. “Then had thy peace been as a river”—or the river—referring to the Euphrates, the largest and most important of all the rivers of Western Asia. To an Oriental mind this noble river would vividly represent the deep, clear, and abundant peace which flows in the heart of that man whose ways please the Lord. Peace with God is the only source of permanent happiness. Its possession is conditioned on the obedience of faith (Romans 5:1-2). What a loss, when peace is gone and happiness takes wing! (H. E. I. 2828).
5. It involves a loss of character. “Then had thy righteousness been as the waves of the sea.” Character is a compound, of many separate elements—the outcome of many conflicting influences; but that which gives it lustre, dignity, and worth, is righteousness. As man lives in harmony with the laws of God, his righteousness is “as the waves of the sea.” The waves of the sea are attractive, exhibiting in their ceaseless movements ten thousand forms of wondrous beauty; imposing, as they heap themselves in mountainous billows and march as with conscious majesty along the pathways of the mighty deep; irresistible in power. Most forcibly do they symbolise the beauty, majesty, and power of that character which is based in righteousness and moulded in harmony with the Divine commandments. There is something ineffably potent in the influence of a holy life (H.E.I. 1089–1095). It checks the froward, rebukes the obstinate, lures the penitent from the haunts of sin, and conducts to the way of righteousness. Every act of disobedience is a loss, not only to the individual, but to the whole community.
II. DISOBEDIENCE IN ITS DIVINE ASPECT.
1. It calls forth the expression of Divine regret. “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments!” What a cry is this!—the Deity lamenting the fate of those who have lost their all by disobedience to His commandments (see Luke 19:41-42).
2. The expression of Divine regret becomes profoundly suggestive when we reflect that disobedience frustrates the Divine purpose regarding the happiness of the race. The gracious purpose of God is to save man: His heart hungers for the love of redeemed humanity. Every act of disobedience insults the Divine love, spurns His mercy, and delays the work of emancipating and elevating the entire race.
3. The expression of Divine regret becomes profoundly suggestive when we reflect that God only can aright estimate the present loss which disobedience entails.
4. The expression of Divine regret becomes still more profoundly suggestive when we reflect that God only knows the terribleness of the misery to which the disobedient must be consigned. The being God created to bless and exalt, He is obliged, in justification of His own righteousness, to punish (H. E. I. 2177, 2183); and the recollection of the Divine beneficence in the past will only augment the woe to which the soul is doomed for ever.
Do not think, O sinner! that your transgressions are unnoticed, or that you are the only one affected by them; they cannot be regarded with indifference by a just and beneficent God. And if you will persist in your disobedience, breaking through all restrictions, and spurning all help—if you will court ruin and voluntarily surrender yourself to the tormentor—He who has done all He consistently can to recall you to obedience, resolves you shall not perish unlamented; and as you drop into the abysmal depths of unutterable woe the voice of Infinite Pity exclaims, in tones which, though not intended to do so, can only sharpen the stings of remorse: “O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea!”—G. Barlow, in The Study and Pulpit (1877), pp. 57–60.
“Godliness is profitable unto all things.”
I. God hath given us commandments.
2. Perspicuous in their style (Habakkuk 2:2; Proverbs 8:8-9; 2 Timothy 3:15).
3. Universal in their application.
4. Reasonable in their claims.
II. God’s commandments deserve attention.
1. They should be read.
III. Attention to God’s commandments produces the happiest results.
1. The nature of that tranquillity which the people of God enjoy.
2. Its perpetuity (Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 66:12).
3. Its increase.
4. “My righteousness,” &c., may refer to the justice of the cause in which Israel was engaged; and had they hearkened to God’s commandments, they would have borne down all opposition, like the waves of the sea, which no might nor power can withstand.
IV. The people of Israel were inattentive to God’s commandments. They had not hearkened (2 Chronicles 36:15-16; Psalms 81:11). This conduct was—
1. That attention to God’s commandments is a highly important duty.
2. Where they are disregarded, peace is forfeited (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:20).
3. That God most compassionately commiserates the circumstances of His creatures.
4. That man’s final ruin is wholly of himself.—Sketches of Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 299–303.
THE RIVER AN IMAGE OF PEACE
Isaiah 48:18. O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! then had thy peace been as a river.
The images of this verse are images of national life; the peace, i.e., the outward prosperity of the people, shall flow like a river; the righteousness of the united people shall be like the forceful, restless energy of the sea waves. There is a peace which is the fruit of Christian faith; and it is of peace in this regard that we are to see the image in the river. What are the characteristics of Christian peace? What answer to this question does the river afford us?
I. The image sets before us a peace which is the expression of life and power. The life of a full and flowing river is not like that of a shallow stream; we find in it neither suggestion of feebleness nor stagnation, as in the marshy pool. The latter is still—so still, it is ghastly. The Christian is called to peace, but he is called to life more absolutely than to peace; the peace he is to realise is that, not of deathly calm, but of full, healthful life. The peace is as a river—not the babbling mountain stream; but the broad, deep, majestic river, that has gathered the shallow streams. The perfect restfulness of the broad flowing river is the outcome of power. Peace is fruitage of power—we can only reach peace by power. Faith must become firm and resolute. The great commandment cannot be fulfilled by irresolute will and feeble energy (Matthew 22:37-38). “The peace of God”—why is that so perfect? Because in Him there is such perfectness of power, such force and fulness of character. There is a peace which comes by pardon that is very sweet (Matthew 11:28; Luke 7:50). But there is another peace, a peace which flows out of life’s conduct—and that is the rest which is like the peace of the river (Matthew 11:29). The rest of pardon is given—“I will give you rest;” the rest of obedience is found, “Ye shall find rest to your souls.” Forgiveness is a word of welcome, yet is it also a call to duty. Through the Christ-like life we come to the Christ-like peace.
II. The image of the text is expressive of healthful influence. The river’s life is one of ministry. Where the deep rivers flow, there are the rich valleys; “the still waters” make the “green pastures.” The river does not live unto itself. The Christian’s peace is not an idle reverie. We have not to seek peace, but life—a life of healthful influence, and we shall surely find peace. We cannot sever our peace from a life consecrated to service, if that peace is to be as a river (Philippians 2:4; P. D. 2680).
III. The image of the text is expressive of progress and perpetuity. The river flows to the sea—finding no rest, nor seeking it in stagnant idleness, for it has a more perfect rest in its ceaseless progress. The Christian’s peace is to progress—grow deeper, fuller with a progressive life. We are called to movement, the forward movement of the river. The progress of the river is perpetual. It is not a progress in spasms of energy. It would not have with such a movement a prevailing peace. Such energy is impulsive passion, fretful restlessness, This image of a Christian’s peace is a far-off ideal; and yet, if Christian character has any fulness, Christian experience any depth, we should realise peace with an almost unbroken constancy; we should have beneath outward conflict inward calm (John 16:33, P. D. 2673).
IV. The image of the text is expressive of pleasantness. The peace of the flowing river is not dull and wearisome—it pervades a fresh, bright, and changeful movement. The Christian’s peace is to be like the flowing, radiant waters of the river, not the still waters of a shadowed well. Peace and joy, joy and peace; these must flow together in Christian experience, bound together in a sacred wedlock. Rest in the Lord and be thankful, and your peace shall flow like a river (P. D. 2669).
CONCLUSION.—The peaceful life is dependent on obedience to God’s commandments—“Hearken,” &c. The Lord is saying to you, “Give me your heart, love Me, trust Me; be at peace with Me, and My peace shall be yours.”
“Rest, and hope, and glory,
Are found at Jesus’ feet.”
Look into His face, hear His words, sit at His feet, abide in His love; do whatsoever He commands you, and your peace shall flow like a river.—W. Steadman Davis: Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv. pp. 152–154.
How touching is the appeal of the Lord to His rebellious people! What a revelation does it give us at once of the ingratitude and folly of their disobedience, and of the greatness of His love! Consider now the first of the two figures under which the results of obedience to God’s commands are set forth: “Then had thy peace been as a river.”
“The Lord will bless His people with peace.” A blessing indeed! Without it there can be no real happiness. There is a peace which the world has to offer. But it cannot be trusted, it will not last. It is like the opiate which for a short while enables the sufferer to forget his pain, but for a short while only! It is like the tempting calm over the face of the sea, so smooth that only a ripple appears; but soon the calm will disappear, and the storm imperil the unwary mariner. Do you wish for true peace? See how God instructs you. “O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river.” It is in obedience to God’s commands, and especially to the great Gospel command, that peace can be found (John 6:28-29; Romans 15:13).
Observe the comparison made use of. Peace as a river.
1. We can imagine the broad and noble river winding its course down to the sea; but let us trace it up to its source. What shall we see there? Probably on a mountain-side a spring—the fountain—partly concealed from view. It might be passed without notice by many a traveller, and yet this is the origin of the wide river, with its deep, ever-flowing waters. Whence comes the river of the Christian’s peace? Trace it up to its source, and what find we? The fountain ever open, ever fresh, of the Saviour’s atoning blood! Here, and here alone, is peace to be found (H. E. I., 1321–1324).
2. Having found the source of the river on the mountain-side, we do not see at once what we find farther down—the deep, wide stream, with sure and ceaseless course hastening on towards the sea. No, we find the streamlet, with but little depth of water, gushing down with impetuous force and noise, ever meeting in its bed with stones and rocks which seem to try to arrest its progress, but in vain. They stay the current but for a moment, and then it bursts over and around them with strength increased by the interruption. By and by the stream runs more smoothly and steadily; the water becomes deeper; and though the obstacles in the bed of the river still exist, yet they are less noticed, and have less and less power to interrupt its course. There is less noise, but a more even, constant flow. Does not this aptly represent the experience of many a Christian?
3. The waters of the river become deeper and broader, because they are fed in many ways, and thus increase their volume. Other streams flow into it, and there is, too, the rain direct from heaven. These help to swell the river, and to give additional depth and force. So the Christian’s peace needs a continually fresh supply, that it may deepen and widen, and be less interrupted in its course. It is continually fed by the direct outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and by the many and various means of grace. You who enjoy some measure of this peace, would you have it increased? Resort more constantly to the channels which Christ makes use of, for the impartation of His grace—the Word, communion with Christ by prayer in private and in public, and by the feast of His love; and be more watchful and prayerful in hearkening to and obeying all God’s commands. The more implicitly you obey, the more entirely the rebellious will is brought under and subdued, the more strongly and quietly will the river of your peace flow.
4. Where rivers flow, we find the country fruitful; but where water is not found, there is barrenness. Those Christians with whom the river of peace is flowing the most steadily and smoothly, will be found the most fruitful in good works to the praise and glory of God. It is far otherwise with those who are continually distracted with doubts and fears.
5. The noblest rivers become deeper, wider, stronger, until they enter the vast ocean. So the Christian’s peace, received from Christ, and fed uninterruptedly by the Holy Spirit, at death expands into participation in the peace and joy which are in the presence of the Lord for ever!
Would you know for yourselves this present peace, this future joy? Remember, you must first hearken—hearken now—to the commands of God, lest when the opportunity shall have passed beyond recall, God should say of thee, and thou shouldest seem to hear it, “O that thou hadst hearkened to My commandments! Then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea.”
“Oh for the peace that floweth like a river,
Making life’s desert places bloom and smile;
Oh for the faith to grasp Heaven’s bright ‘for ever,’
Amid the shadows of earth’s ‘little while!’ ”
—J. H. Holford, M.A.: A Memorial Volume of Sermons, pp. 1–13.
The figure conveys three ideas:—
1. Constancy. A river is, in most cases, a permanent thing. Not like an occasional torrent which rushes down from the mountain to-day and disappears to-morrow, nor like a lake which the rains have formed, but which will dry up when the rains are over. A river flows on day after day, year after year, deeper at one time than another, and more rapid and wide, yet never exhausted, rolling on the same throughout all generations. So that peace of which this text speaks is a permanent, established thing. As long as the believer hearkens to God’s commandments, it reigns over his soul, and keeps it, if not in an unbroken, yet in an abiding calm. Not that the state of his mind is always the same. Trace a river from its source to its mouth, and there is generally an almost endless variety in its course and appearance. It is now half hidden in a narrow channel among mountains and forests, and now spread over a wide bed, conspicuous in the plain; and then again, it is seen contracting and deepening itself and moving onwards with tenfold velocity and strength. The Christian’s peace seems to vary as much. It sometimes nearly disappears; the man himself perhaps thinks it quite gone. But he is never wholly without it, while walking in the path of God’s commandments, and never will be.
2. Abundance. The Christian’s peace, it says, shall not enter his soul by drops, or flow through it as a scanty and shallow rivulet. There shall be a tide of peace, a wide and deep stream of it, passing into his soul. The waters shall be deep as well as broad (Isaiah 26:3; Psalms 119:165; Philippians 4:7). We cannot tell how peaceful God can make us. There is abundance of peace for us, for there is God’s own peace for us! We often wish for the peace of this Christian friend, or the quiet of that Christian neighbour. But Christ says to us, “My peace I give unto you—a calmness like My own!” (P. D. 2666).
3. Increase. A river is not formed at once. At first it is generally a mere thread of water, scarcely perceptible through the grass and rushes among which it is running. But, as it flows on, other streams fall into it; it widens and deepens; the farther it flows the more enlarged it becomes, till it loses itself at last in the depths of the ocean. There is not much peace in the sinner’s heart, when his attention is first fixed on God’s commands; no, not even when he hopes he has found pardon in Christ for his transgressions of them. There is sometimes a good deal of joy at such seasons—it would be strange if there were not; but there is not what he himself, at a later period of his course, would call peace. True, solid peace is generally at first small; it is hardly perceptible amid the fears and perplexities with which the soul has to struggle; but as the soul goes on listening to the Divine commandments, applying to the Saviour for pardon and to the Comforter for strength, and gradually becoming moulded more and more into the Divine image, peace flows into it in a more copious stream, the sources of peace are multiplied, and the soul’s capacity to receive and hold it is increased. All this, unless God’s ways are forsaken, goes on to the last. New springs of consolation burst open in every stage of our progress, old sources of comfort become richer and sweeter; our peace constantly flows deeper and deeper, till it ends in an ocean of peace, the boundless, fathomless ocean of everlasting joy.—Charles Bradley: Practical Sermons, vol. i. pp. 276–278.
It is from simple natural imagery that the mind is put into a fitting frame for catching the spirit of the text. The good and gracious God addresses this tender language of expostulation to those who have forgotten His laws.
I. Our heavenly Father is continually speaking to us by His Word, &c. Sometimes His voice is heard in thunder tones, as on the smoking top of Sinai. Sometimes its gracious accents are those of gentleness and love. It is the duty of all to “hearken,” however and whenever God speaks. To “hearken “implies—
1. A reverent and careful attention to God’s message.
2. That we consider God’s commandments as binding upon us, and as pointing out certain particulars which we are required to attend to. God is a lawgiver, and the sceptre of dominion is held firmly in His grasp (Revelation 22:14).
II. The blessing promised, as the reward of such obedience, is peace—peace of mind and heart; peace with God through Christ Jesus. Peace may be compared to a river,
1. In its origin; small, joyous, sparkling, vigorous, rapid.
2. In its progress: widening and deepening; receiving new tributories on the right and left, from the various means of grace, as they are supplied with the dew of heaven and showers of blessings; sweeping away as it rolls on in its strength the obstacles of unsanctified affections and unconquered lusts.
3. In its overflowing abundance. It is not a scanty, fluctuating, failing stream, but a full tide of peace, both wide and deep, and supplying to the utmost every longing of the soul.
4. In its perpetuity. A river differs from a mountain torrent or summer brook in this: the river flows on with a comparatively steady current—sometimes broader and deeper than at others, it is true, but never exhausted, never dry—while the very existence of the brook and the torrent depends upon uncertain showers. The Christian who hearkens diligently to the laws of the Lord shall enjoy perpetual peace. It is not uniform, indeed, any more than the course of the river.
5. In its increase. Peace shall not only dwell perpetually with God’s children, but it shall grow stronger and more pervading.
If you saw a man trying all his life to satisfy his thirst by holding an empty cup to his lips, you would smile at his folly or pity his ignorance. Not more deplorable folly and ignorance, however, than when immortal spirits persist in seeking peace everywhere except from its true and only source. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked,” and yet each one of those who will be condemned at the last day might have enjoyed “peace as a river.”—J. N. Norton: Sermons for the Christian Year.
1. Like a river in its commencement—trickling from some fissure in the heart, singing its own song as it drops from leaf to leaf, from ledge to ledge—now gathering itself up in a little pool, saying to its joyous waters, “Here we rest,”—anon rushing on again to fulfil its purpose, and gain its parent sea.
2. Like a river in its progress, ever widening and deepening, from the ankles to the knees, from the knees to the loins, from the loins to waters to swim in, a river that cannot be passed over,—receiving new tributaries on the right and left, sweeping away as it rolls on its healthful stream the dead and dying remains of past affections and former lusts, and bearing on its bosom a thousand newly launched hopes.
3. Like a river in its influence—holy, healthy, generating—causing a wide expanse of “living green” to spread out on either side—making even the desert of the soul “rejoice and blossom as the rose.”
4. Like a river in its termination—rolling into and mingling with the shoreless, blessed sea of perfect peace, where undulating waves never roll in strife, or break in death, but where the people of God are “ever with the Lord.”
Away among the Alleghanies there is a spring so small, that a single ox in a summer day could drain it dry. It steals its unobtrusive way among the hills, till it spreads out in the beautiful Ohio. Thence it stretches away a thousand miles, leaving on its banks, cities, villages, and cultivated farms, and bearing on its bosom more than half a thousand steamboats. Beautiful representation of a Christian’s peace! Peace “as a river.”
How little do we know of this peace of God! We deem ourselves happy if we have one serene hour out of the twenty-four; and if now and then there comes a Sabbath which is balm at morning, and sweetness through the still noon, and benediction at evening, we count it a rare and blessed experience.—H. W. Beecher.
I. Their peace would have been like a river.
1. It has a source. It begins at the fountain of Christ’s blood.
2. It is fed from above. Rains and showers feed the rivers. The shower of grace swells the rivers of peace.
3. It has inundations, as the Nile. An awakening providence often makes an overflow. Afflictions and the consolations under them always, if the sufferings are the sufferings of Christ. Sacramental times also; hence the desirableness of frequency in the administration of the Lord’s Supper.
4. It gets broader and broader to the sea. The Tay. (Proverbs 4:18.) Try yourselves by this test.
5. It is fertilising. It conveys nourishment. Egypt owes all its fertility to the Nile. The peace of Christ makes every grace grow. Holiness always grows out of a peaceful breast.
II. Their righteousness would have been as the waves of the sea.  Because—
1. It covers over the highest sins.
2. It covers again and again. It is infinite righteousness. You cannot count the waves of the sea.
 The ideas suggested by the figure of a river are abundance, perpetuity, and freshness, to which the waves of the sea add those of vastness, depth, and continual succession.—Alexander.
Inference. God wishes men to be saved. God sometimes pleads with men to be saved for His own pleasure: it would be pleasant to Him, it would make Him glad, as in the parable of the lost sheep. Sometimes He pleads for His own glory (Jeremiah 13:16; Malachi 2:1). But here it is for the happiness of sinners themselves (so Psalms 81:13). Once more, He pleads with men, because unwilling that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).—R. M. M‘Cheyne: Memoirs and Remains, p. 467.
THE RIGHT USE OF THE HISTORY OF GOD’S DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE
Isaiah 48:20-21. Go forth from Babylon! Flee ye from the Chaldeans! With the voice of joy tell this, &c.
Isaiah had prophesied that his fellow-countrymen would be led captive into Babylon; but he was able to look forward to the termination of their captivity, and could speak thus confidently because he knew—1, that God, who was about to consign them for a time, and for corrective purposes, into bondage, also purposed to deliver them therefrom; and 2, that every purpose which God has formed is certain to be accomplished. Assured of these facts, there rises before his prophetic vision two others:—
1. He sees the gates of the prison-city thrown open; yea, the prison-city itself falling; and, standing in spirit before them, he bids them flee from the peril involved in its destruction, into the freedom which the mighty change had once more rendered possible for them. “Go forth from Babylon! Flee ye from the Chaldeans!”
2. He sees the flight accomplished, the pilgrimage from the land of captivity completed safely, and his fellow-countrymen settled down peaceably in the good land promised to their fathers, and he exhorts them to proclaim to the whole world what God has done for them, “With the voice of joy,” &c.
His exhortations are in themselves prophecies of what would happen to them, and the terms of those predictions as to what God would do for His people in the future were suggested by the history of what God had done for them in the past. Those prophecies must not be too literally interpreted; there is no record that God wrought any such miracles for His people during their march from Babylon homewards. What Isaiah wished to impress upon them was, that God would do everything necessary to perfect His deliverance of them, and to sustain them throughout it; and he did this in terms which reminded them how in all the trials through which their fathers had passed they had found God able to deliver them. How terrible was the difficulty to which he refers, and how marvellous the deliverance therefrom (Exodus 17:1-6; Numbers 20:1-11).
Isaiah was enabled thus to instruct and cheer them, because he knew how to make a right use of the history of God’s dealings with His people. He remembered that that history is more than a history; that it is also a revelation and a prophecy—a revelation of what God will always be found to be; a prophecy of what He will always do for His people.
I. The use that Isaiah made of that history, we also ought to make. Two ways of reading the Bible—with a literary interest, with a personal interest. Geology—what it means to an earnest student; what it means to the intelligent owner of a vast estate. With like personal interests we should read the Bible, remembering that God is un changeable, and that the laws on which He has made human welfare and happiness to depend are the same in every age. Reading the Bible thus,
1. we shall love it more and more, for the fullness of its treasures will become more and more clear to us (H. E. I. 613).
2. Fears suggested to us by the difficulties of the Christian pilgrimage, and that otherwise might greatly trouble us, will be driven away; for the history will convey to us the prophetic assurance that in every stage of our pilgrim age, and in every emergency that may arise therein, the grace of God will prove sufficient for us.
II. We are reminded also of our duty in regard to our own experience of God’s dealings with His people. Isaiah here teaches that it would be the duty of redeemed “Jacob “to make known to the whole world what God had done for them. This is the duty of God’s redeemed ones in every age; collectively, and hence the necessity of mission work of various kinds; individually. Let us not forget this (Psalms 66:16).
1. Gratitude should move us to do this.
2. Compassion for our fellow-men should teach us to do this.
Heaven will be eternally the realm of song, because there the redeemed of the Lord will never grow weary of making known what He has done for them. “Go forth from Babylon! Flee ye from the Chaldeans! With the voice of joy tell this,” &c.
WATER FROM THE ROCK
Isaiah 48:21, and Exodus 17:6.
Narrate the instructive fact recorded in Exodus 17:0
This wonderful fact suggests—
I. That human life has its great emergencies. Abraham, Jacob, David, Paul, &c. So with us. Christianity does not exempt us from the sorest trials. Sooner or later, every Christian has his Rephidim in his way to Canaan. Secular misfortunes, family trials, personal spiritual conflicts, &c. Such emergencies are needful for the testing of our principles, and the maintenance and increase of our spiritual vigour.
“We need as much the cross we bear,
As air we breathe, or light we see:
It draws us to Thy side in prayer,
It binds us to our strength in Thee.”
II. That deliverance often comes from most unlikely and unexpected sources. Water from a flinty rock. Redemption from the carpenter’s son at Nazareth. The promulgation of the gospel by fishermen and tentmakers, and in modern times by Carey, the shoemaker; Williams and Thomas, the blacksmiths; and Moffat, the gardener, &c. 
 “God can bring good to His people from the most unlikely sources. Nothing seemed more unlikely to yield water than the barren rock of Horeb. So God often brings refreshing streams of comfort to His people out of hard circumstances. Paul and Silas could sing in the dungeon, and their imprisonment was made the means of adding to their converts in Philippi. The lot of John in Patmos seemed hard and dreary indeed, but at the bidding of Christ, streams of living water gushed forth there, which refreshed the soul of the Apostle at the time, and have followed the Church until the present. Out of the sufferings of the martyrs came joy to themselves and blessings to their descendants. Above all, out of the hard circumstances of the crucified Lord of glory, God has brought forth waters of everlasting life.”
Learn: To confide in God in the greatest emergency. He can help you, whatever it is—however dire. He has promised to support and deliver. Let your trust be determined, heroic, constant.—Alfred Tucker.
I. THE SOURCE OF THE WATERS.
1. Its durability and unchangeableness. It was a rock, and one of peculiar solidity and strength. Time has not been able either to destroy or materially alter it. So the Rock of Ages (Hebrews 13:8).
2. It was chosen by God Himself. So Jesus is a Saviour of His appointment.
3. It was opened according to Divine appointment by the hand of man. It was a smitten rock. So Jesus “gave His back to the smiters.” And man gave the blow.
II. THE STREAM THAT FLOWED FROM THE ROCK.
1. It saved Israel from perishing. This was its chief use. And it saved them when nothing else could save them. So with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. It did more than save. Enabling them to wash away the defilement of the desert, it cleansed the Israelites. Sin pollutes while it destroys. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin, because by it He obtained for His church the gift of the Holy Ghost.
3. It refreshed them. Their strength was so renewed that they rose up, and after fighting a whole day with the Amalekites, they overcame them, and passed on with fresh vigour to Canaan. In like manner the waters of life refresh the people of God.—C. Bradley.
This fact reminds us that Jehovah is the God of providence, working even miracles for the accomplishment of His purposes; while the great Apostle of the Gentiles directs us to Jehovah as the God of grace, when, pointing to it, he exclaims, “that rock was Christ.” View the occurrence—
I. As a seasonable, providential interposition.
1. A period of great distress; myriads of men and women and much cattle without water.
2. An instance of the omnipotence of God—a flinty rock yields water at His command.
3. Encouragement to hope in God, though we see no prospect or way of supply.
II. As an illustration of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The rock is an emblem of Christ, in solidity, strength, shelter, and duration.
2. The smiting of the rock prefigures Christ’s sufferings. He was stricken, smitten of God, that He might bear our sins and carry our sorrows. The body of Christ was indeed smitten, His soul was made an offering for sin.
3. The waters that flowed from the smitten rock represent the benefits we derive from Christ’s atoning sacrifice. How suitable was this supply, how abundant, how lasting! Let there be grateful remembrance of the smitten rock, vigorous prosecution of our journey; we drink to be refreshed and press on. Invite, and bring, our children and friends. Come sinner, thou!
“See from the Rock a fountain rise!
For you in healing streams it rolls;
Money ye need not bring, nor price,
Ye labouring, burdened, sin-sick souls.
Nothing ye in exchange shall give,
Leave all you have and are behind;
Frankly the gift of God receive,
Pardon and peace in Jesus find.”
—John Hirst: The New Evangelist, p. 185.
THE POSSESSORS OF PEACE
Isaiah 48:22. There is no peace, saith the Lord, to the wicked.
“There is a caveat put in against the wicked, that go on still in their trespasses. Let them not think they have any benefit amongst God’s people, though in show and profession they herd themselves among them—let them not expect to come in shares. What have they to do with peace that are enemies to God? Their false prophets cried peace to them to whom it did not belong; but God tells them that there shall be no peace to the wicked.”
Whatever the reason for its introduction here, this verse contains a most important truth which demands universal attention.
I. WHAT THE TEXT ASSERTS—that there is no peace to the wicked (H. E. I. 2296–2301).
1. Who are the wicked?
(1.) Enemies of God (Psalms 37:20; Psalms 87:1-5; Romans 1:30; James 4:4).
(2.) Enemies of the Cross of Christ (Philippians 3:18).
(3.) Evil-doers (Psalms 28:3; Psalms 36:12; Psalms 37:1; 1 Peter 2:14).
(4.) Men of the world (Psalms 17:14). The wicked are “not only all who think and feel and do wrong, but all who have not the right spirit within them—supreme sympathy with the supremely good. There are degrees in wickedness as well as in goodness. All bad men are not equally bad. Sin has its blade, its ear, its full corn in the ear.”
2. The wicked have no true peace. They may have the semblance, but even that is transient and vain (Job 20:6; Luke 12:20; Ecclesiastes 2:1; Ecclesiastes 7:6). They have no real peace—
(1.) In the act of wickedness. There can be no happiness in sin—simply the gratification of bad passions.
(2.) In the business or pleasures of life. The world in none of its forms or modifications can afford solid, substantial, elevated peace. “Pleasures pall upon the sense;” riches take wings; disappointment comes, and the highest earthly and sensual pleasure leaves a sad sense of want—a feeling that there is something in the capacities and wants of the undying mind which has not been filled (H. E. I. 4969–4974).
(3.) Of conscience—no conviction that they are right. Indeed there is often the reverse of peace—care, distress, alarm, apprehension. “They and their consciences are ever and anon at drawn daggers; … their consciences are still galling and terrifying them for imprisoning their convictions” (Flavel). This world can furnish nothing which will give peace to the heart that is agitated with a sense of unforgiven sin (Isaiah 57:20; H. E. I. 1321–1324).
(4.) In death. There may be callousness, insensibility, freedom from alarm, but that is not peace, any more than sterility is fruitfulness, &c. Often, however, the mind is filled with alarm, and the death-bed is a scene of blank despair (H. E. I. 1567, 1568, 1590–1593; P. D. 684).
(5.) Beyond the grave. “A sinner can have no peace at the judgment bar of God—no peace in hell. In all the future world there is no place where he can find repose.”
It is not man but GOD who says the wicked have no peace—God who made them, redeemed them, knows them; God who has no interest of His own to serve, who is “abundant in goodness and truth.”
The urgent necessity of repentance and faith. “The quarrel sinners have commenced with God, if not taken up in time by repentance, will be an everlasting quarrel.” Christ has procured peace. Realised by penitent faith in His all-meritorious atonement (Romans 5:1, &c.) How earnestly should all who have not this peace seek it, since the world can neither give it nor take it away. It is necessary to the enjoyment of life (Psalms 34:12; Psalms 34:14, with 1 Peter 3:10-11).
II. WHAT THE TEXT IMPLIES—that the godly have peace.
1. Who are the godly? They are frequently described in the Sacred Word (e.g., Isaiah 1:10). They fear the Lord, obey His commandments, and amid providential darkness they trust in Him.
2. The godly have peace. God’s word everywhere declares it, and Christian experience uniformly confirms its statements.
(1.) They are justified by faith in Christ, and have peace with God (Romans 5:1). Once at enmity with God, at war with the law and perfections of God, with all the truths of religion and with conscience; but now they are reconciled to God, and they acquiesce in all His claims.
(2.) They are Christ’s disciples, and the peace which He has left He gives—He breathes it into their hearts (John 14:27; P. D. 2666–2669). Peace such as Jesus only can impart. Not such as worldly objects, pursuits, and pleasures give. Not such as systems of philosophy and false religion give. But such as meets and satisfies the soul’s deepest needs, silences the alarms of conscience, abides amidst all the changing scenes and circumstances of human life, and in the hour of death and for ever.
(3.) They love God’s law, and have great peace (Psalms 119:156). They have great calmness of mind. They are not troubled and anxious. They believe and feel (Romans 8:28). Great because divine, satisfying, abiding (P. D. 2673, 2677). Great because powerful: “It keeps the heart and mind.” Great because incomprehensible. “It passeth all understanding.”
(4.) They cultivate the devotional spirit in relation to “everything,” and consequently have “the peace of God” (Philippians 4:6-7). How desirable in a world of anxiety and care to possess this peace—this rest from corroding care and distressing anxiety (Isaiah 26:3).—Alfred Tucker.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30