OUR SAVIOUR AND THE WORK OF OUR SALVATION
Isa . Listen, O isles, unto me, &c.
It is to the Gentiles, to us, that Christ here speaks concerning Himself and the work of salvation (Isa ). What is the information to which He would have us "hearken?" This—
I. For the work of redemption He was appointed and set apart by God (Isa . Cf. Mat 1:21). From the womb of eternity, before all worlds, He was called to this service. From this divine appointment comes His authority for its prosecution (Heb 5:4).
III. For the service to which He was preferred, God had reserved and protected Him (Isa ). "In the shadow of His hand hath He hid me, in His quiver hath He hid me," denotes—
1. Concealment. The Gospel of Christ, and the calling in of the Gentiles by it, were long hidden in the counsels of God (Eph ; Rom 16:25).
2. Protection. The house of David was the particular care of the Divine Providence, because that blessing was in it. Christ in His infancy was sheltered from the rage of Herod.
IV. That God had Himself announced to Him His election and its ultimate result (Isa ).
V. That when He shrank discouraged from the prosecution of His work, God had strengthened His heart (Isa ).
1. There came to the Redeemer a period of discouragement (Isa ). This seems to point to the obstinacy of the Jews, among whom Christ went in person, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, laboured and spent His strength, and yet the rulers and the body of the nation rejected Him and His doctrine; so very few were brought in, when one would have thought that none should have stood out, that He might well say, "I have laboured," &c. His prophets had passed through the same trial (Isa 6:9; Jer 20:9). It is the complaint still of many a faithful minister.
(1.) Let not ministers think it strange that they are slighted, when the Master Himself was.
(2.) Every faithful minister passing through such a trial, may be sure of the sympathy of Christ (Heb ).
2. In this period of discouragement, He comforted Himself by remembering that it was the cause of God in which He was engaged, and the call of God that engaged Him in it, and that by God Himself His efforts would be judged (Isa ).
3. In that trying time He was comforted by a gracious communication made to Him by God Himself (Isa ). If He seemed for a time to fail in the small work to which He was called, in a work much greater He should be successful.—Matthew Henry, Commentary, in loco.
THE SHARP SWORD
Isa . And He hath made My mouth like a sharp sword.
The prophet having, in the foregoing chapters, comforted the Church by promises of deliverance from captivity, goes on, in this and the following chapters, to comfort it with promises of its restoration by Christ, of which all outward deliverances were but as types. The text brings before us the furnishing of Christ for the work to which He is separated, together with God's protecting of Him in it. Christ's fitness for the work is set out metaphorically by a double resemblance. In considering the first part of it, let us inquire—
I. What resemblance is there between Christ's mouth and a sword? By Christ's mouth we are to understand here the words or doctrine of His mouth. It is frequent in Scripture for the mouth to be put for the doctrine or words of the mouth (Gen ; Lev 24:12; Num 3:16). In the vision of Christ which the evangelist saw in Patmos, it is said, that "out of His mouth went a sharp sword" (so Rev 19:15); the word of God in the mouths of ministers is compared to a "two-edged sword" (Heb 4:12); much more is it so in the mouth of Christ.
1. A sword is a killing weapon. And the mouth of Christ has a killing power; by it is sin killed in the hearts of His people; by it is the head of pride cut off, and the heart-blood of unbelief let out; by it are all the noisome lusts which fight against the soul put to death (Hos ; Isa 11:4). There is a twofold killing of men about which the sword of Christ's mouth is employed; the one is a killing of sin in them,—this killing is a making of the soul alive; the other is a killing of them for sin,—to the wicked, it becomes a soul-destroying sword.
2. A sword is a conquering weapon. By the power of the sword did Alexander conquer the world. Christ did not use the material weapon; but "from conquering to conquer" He used, and uses, the sword of His mouth (Psa ; 2Co 10:4-5; Rev 6:2). The sinner yields himself up when this sword reaches his conscience; it subdues him, and reveals to him Christ's right to exercise dominion, to dethrone usurpers, and to introduce men to the delights of His kingdom.
3. A sword is a weapon of defence. It is offensive to the enemy, defensive to him who has skill to manage it (Pro ).
(1.) In case of sin. By it is the soul preserved from falling into sin (Psa ).
(2.) In case of temptation (Eph ). As Christ did, so Christians may preserve themselves by the word of Christ's mouth (Mat 4:4; Mat 4:7; Mat 4:10).
II. In what respects does this sword differ from others?
1. It reaches not only to the outward, but to the inward man. No sword can prick the heart but the sword of Christ's mouth (Heb ; Act 2:37).
2. There is no defence against it. There is hardly any harness but is sword-proof. What is said of the behemoth and the leviathan may be said of the unconverted hearts of men (Job ; Job 41:24); and yet also, "He that made them can make His sword approach to them" (Job 40:19).
3. It is a healing as well as a wounding sword. What the prophet says of God, "He hath smitten, and He will heal," may be said of the sword of Christ's mouth. When the 3000 were pricked in their hearts, nothing but the sword of Christ's mouth could cure them again.
4. It can do execution on many at once. It can as easily pierce a thousand as one man (Joh ; Act 2:37).
5. It is never the worse for the using. It contracts no rust, it never loses its edge (Isa ).
6. It is all edge (Rev ). His precepts have a sharpness to direct, inform, command the conscience; His promises are acute to revive, comfort, raise up; His threatenings are sharp to affright, terrify, cast down, and wound the guilty.
7. It has no dross in it. The purest metal is not without some coarse mixture; but this sword is all pure metal (Pro ). A pure heart sees nothing but purity in the word of Christ (Pro 30:5).
8. It is of God's own framing. God has made the sword of the word for Christ's mouth, and filled His mouth to manage it for our good.—Ralph Robinson: Sermons, pp. 429-436.
THE POLISHED SHAFT
Isa . And He hath made me a polished shaft.
The mouth of Jesus Christ is like a polished shaft. A shaft or arrow is a military weapon used to wound the enemy; formerly it was held in high esteem. As great victories have been obtained by the bow and shaft as by the sword. The old Latin and the Greek read a "choice shaft," and the word sometimes signifies chief or choice (Son ). Others read a "bright shaft," which our translators have well rendered a "polished shaft." We find in Scripture the word of Christ's mouth compared to the shaft, as well as to the sword (Psa 45:5); and Jesus Christ, as He manages the Gospel, is said to have a bow in His hand (Rev 6:2). Let us inquire—
I. Why is the word of Christ's mouth compared to a shaft?
1. The shaft does execution at a farther distance than the sword. When the enemy is fled from the reach of the sword, the shaft can follow him. There is no heart at such a distance from Christ but His word can easily reach it; though men be far off in place, or in state and condition, yet they are not out of the command of the polished shaft (Eph ).
2. The arrow comes with greater force than the sword. The word of Christ's mouth pierceth, like the shaft, into the very bowels of the soul (Heb ).
3. The shaft is not so discernible as the sword. It goes so silently and swiftly to its mark, that it is often lodged in the heart before it is perceived. So with the word of Christ's mouth; the heart is pierced often before it is aware (Joh ).
4. The arrow can enter where the sword cannot. The shaft can screw itself in at the least hole (1Ki ). The word of Christ's mouth is compared to light (Psa 119:105).
II. Why is it called a polished shaft?
1. To show its fitness for the work for which it is designed. A shaft that is untrimmed is unfit for service. When God calls His archers against Babylon, He commands them "to gather the shields and make bright the arrows." The mouth of Christ is always fit for holy service.
2. To show the constancy with which it is used. Things that are often used are bright and shining. Christ does not keep His arrows in their quiver, but makes daily use of them as the people stand in need.
3. To show the glory of it. The best refined gold is but dark compared with the word of glory (1Ti ).
III. In what respects does this shaft differ from others?
1. In the swiftness of its flight (Psa ). We read of the immediate effects of the word of Christ (Mat 8:3; Mar 10:52). No sooner does Christ say to the soul, "Be enlightened, be quickened, be comforted," than the work is done.
2. In the certainty of its execution. This arrow never misses its mark. E.g., the eunuch under the ministry of Philip; Christ and Zacchus; the Philippian jailer; Saul, when Christ forced him to cry, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"
1. How dangerous it must be to oppose Jesus Christ! (Act ).
2. Christ is able by His own power to defend His people against the strength and rage of all their enemies. He hath both sword and shaft which He can use for the defence of His Church.—Ralph Robinson: Sermons, pp. 436-442.
Isa . Then I said, I have laboured in vain, &c.
Man will not only work, but he will sit in judgment upon the results of his labour. Accustomed to take the harvest-field as his rule of adjudication, he is not content merely to sow the seed and leave results with God; he must needs see an adequate return for the labour of his hands, else he will complain loudly and bitterly of misspent strength. This anxiety about results is not vicious in itself; it is, indeed, indicative of acute sensitiveness, and when properly controlled may keep a man from carelessness and stagnation. On the other hand, it may be abused and turned into an instrument of daily torture. The idea of a wasted life strikes horror into the reflective spirit. A man should truly be careful about this kind of thing—about the possibility of facing the King without any token that life has been well spent—about the possibility of having no proof that he ever lived, except that he is dead! But some persons give themselves much unnecessary pain by underrating their real service in the world. They mistakenly say—"I have," &c. It has been very common to rebuke persons who over-estimate their position and service, and very bitter contempt has most justly been poured upon those who have used the words of modesty without having felt its spirit—under-rating themselves to entrap society into the payment of compliments. Still, there are some who throw their spirits into great disquiet by under-calculating their influence and falsely imagining that they have done little or no good in the world.
This question of good-doing is one of great subtlety. Quiet workers are apt to envy the man who lives before society in a great breadth of self-demonstration, and to under-rate themselves. There are mothers of large families who have no time to do what is generally known as church-work, who are shut up within the sanctuary of home to do work there which attracts no public attention, &c. Do you mean to say that you have spent your strength for nought and in vain? Far from it. Here is a young woman who for years has been afflicted; the day has been long and the night wearisome to her suffering flesh. When she hears of the doings of other people, the tear starts into her eye, and she says—"I have laboured in vain," &c. Nay! she passes harsh judgment upon herself, &c. The sister, too, is apt to under-rate her influence, and mistakenly to mourn over a mis-spent life. The same principle applies to different classes of spiritual labourers. It applies to the teacher in the day-school and to the teacher in the Sunday-school. It applies to preachers of the Gospel in a peculiar sense. If they are truly called of God, they thus pass false judgment upon their lives.
The text shows the true comfort of those who mourn the littleness and emptiness of their lives—"My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God." The whole case is referred to Him who judgeth righteously. God knows our purposes, our opportunities, and our endeavours, and He will perfect that which concerneth us. The intention of the heart which it was impracticable to realise will be set down to our favour as if we had accomplished it all.
This subject is fraught with very delicate, yet most potent comfort; it is also fraught with warning and rebuke. This is the children's bread, and not a crumb of it must be given to dogs! Chief among those who must be warned of this comfort are the idlers—those who neglect themselves, neglect home, and neglect the church; and next to them must stand those who are conscious of doing much, yet who covet praise by depreciating their own labour.
The text must be reserved for hardworking, faithful people, who are not favoured with the immediate and visible results which gladden and strengthen some of their fellowlabourers. In the name of Him who did not lift up His voice, or cry in the streets, I would bid such people stand to their work till the bell strikes the ceasing hour.
1. Other men do not see the full result of their labour—they know not how many lamps are kindled by their torch. Did you ever hear of Thomas Barber? Probably not. His name is written but in pale ink on the world's scroll, yet that man was the means of converting DR. ADAM CLARKE, one of the world's deepest scholars and most luminous expositors of the Divine Word. Did you ever hear of Robert Burnard? Probably not; yet that good man laid hold of a drunken mason's son in Plymouth workhouse, and watched over him with ever-helpful generosity, until that deaf pauper was known throughout the world as DR. JOHN KITTO. These are but two names out of a long roll. They show how even obscure names may be associated with stupendous results. Here is encouragement to continue all good work; "for as the rain cometh down," &c.
2. I say with reverence that the Almighty Himself often appears to be spending His strength for nought and in vain. To Israel He saith, "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people." Again and again He uttered the voice of complaining: "The stork in the heavens," &c. We are, then, as merely human labourers, not alone in our apparent failure. "My beloved hath a vineyard," &c. This is apparent failure. Judge not the Divine worker by one thread of the immeasurable web which He is working, or by one stone of the majestic fabric which He is building. He carries great breadths of work before Him, and by reason of its vastness, delicacy, and grandeur, time is required. There are many signs of failure, but they are temporary, not final. Why, then, art thou cast down? &c. If I be true to my work, I can fail only as God fails—if the Church be sincere, she can fail only as Christ fails—if the spirit be upright, it can fail only as the Holy Ghost fails.—J. Parker, D.D.: Pulpit Analyst, vol. i. pp. 661-670.
I. The most faithful labourers may be for a time unsuccessful. Not absolutely, but comparatively. If our Lord and Master had occasion to say that He had laboured in vain, &c., we should not be surprised that we have occasion to use the same language. Is the servant above his Lord? It may not be our fault. The opposition of Satan and wicked men may be of such a character as for a time to frustrate our plans, and prevent our success.
II. Faithful labourers will ultimately be crowned with abundant success. It has been so, and will be so to the extent desired, with the Saviour (Isa ). It will be so with His faithful workers. Not only can no true work done for God be in vain, but it will be rendered abundantly successful sooner or later. This we know from the promises of the "sure word" (Isa 55:10-11; Ecc 12:1, &c.; 1Co 15:58; Gal 6:9; Heb 6:10).
III. Faithful labourers should commit their work to God in the assurance that they and their work will be accepted. Not on the ground of success, but in proportion to their faithfulness and self-denial. Let us never doubt—
1. God's approval of our work. In all our labours, pursued with singleness of eye to His glory, we have His approving smile. He is not only acquainted with all we do, but He approves—takes pleasure in our services (Psa ; Heb 6:10; Heb 13:16; Rev 2:2). "I know thy works;" i.e., I approve of them—the meanest as well as the mightiest; the cup of cold water alike with the most costly sacrifice, &c.
2. God's ultimate and full reward of our work (Gal ; 1Co 15:58). It is not as if we were to die, and never live again. There will be a resurrection, and we shall be fully recompensed then. In view of this we should be "in labours more abundant" and self-denying (Rev 2:8-10). "I will give thee a crown of life"—an unfading, imperishable crown; life in its highest forms and manifestations; life eternal and ineffable, ever developing in all strength, and beauty, and joy, and perfection. This reward is certain, for He says "I will," whose authority is indisputable, whose power is supreme, whose faithfulness is unchallenged. He will accomplish His own Word.
1. Let us not yield to discouragement, even though our work is comparatively unsuccessful. Jesus never did, and He is the model worker. Success is not the rule of action, but God's command to "go work in My vineyard." Press every energy into this service. Let no obstacles deter, no difficulties drive from the field.
"Do all the good you can,
In all the ways you can,
To all the folk you can,
At all the times you can,
And as long as you can."
—Mrs. S. Glover.
3. Notwithstanding all the labour and prayer expended, some of you have not been prevailed upon to "repent and believe the Gospel." "We then, as workers together with God, beseech you, that ye receive not the grace of God in vain" (1Co ).—Alfred Tucker.
THE PURPOSE OF GOD'S GREAT GIFT
Isa . And He said, It is a light thing, &c.
The chapter refers to gospel days; and the meaning of the text in particular seems to be fixed by good old Simeon, who, when Jesus was presented to the Lord, hailed Him as God's "light," and His "salvation" (Luk ). We regard this passage, therefore, as an epitome of the scheme of redemption; and recognise in it God's gift to man, and His intention in that gift.
I. GOD'S GIFT TO MANKIND. "I will give thee," &c. As this gift is bestowed for moral purposes, the subject is calculated to lead our thoughts to the Giver, as our Supreme Lord and moral Governor. It shows in Him an infinite condescension to interest Himself about us, for, Isa . Two things here invite our notice—
1. The person given (Mat ). His dignity (Joh 1:1; Zec 13:7; Mat 26:31; Joh 14:10-11; 1Jn 5:7). Hence it follows that this is a great, an incomparable gift. He is God's "only-begotten Son," &c. (Rom 8:32). Yet this, great as it is, is a free gift; not conceded to the powerful, but granted to the impotent, the needy, the perishing; not conferred on the deserving as a reward of merit, but bestowed on the rebellious; not yielded to importunity, but given to "the evil and unthankful," unasked and undesired.
2. The office or undertaking to which He is appointed. This office of "servant" may be one of honour, but is always one of subordination (Php ).
II. GOD'S INTENTION RESPECTING MANKIND.
1. "To raise up the tribes of Jacob," which are fallen from their religious honours and pre-eminence, and from national independence into dispersion and disgrace and contempt (Deu ); and to restore "the preserved of Israel"—wherever scattered, or howsoever persecuted, still preserved from extermination, and still preserved a distinct people; to restore them to the favour of God, and to His spiritual service; and perhaps to their country and independence (Luk 1:69-75; Rom 11:26; Isa 49:13-23; Jer 23:5-8).
2. But seeing that the Jews are but a small part of the whole family of man, their restoration "is a light thing," in comparison with the enlightenment of the Gentiles, and the salvation of the ends of the earth. The Gentile world was enveloped in the darkness of ignorance, error, and superstition, of misery, guilt, and condemnation (Isa ; Luk 1:77-79; Luk 4:18). To them Jesus was, by His doctrine, a light—concerning the invisible world, teaching the unity and perfections of God, &c.; concerning the future world; teaching the immortality of the soul, which even their wise men doubted, and a resurrection of the body, which they reckoned impossible. Besides this He may be considered as affording light on most important subjects, by His holy life, His vicarious death, &c. He enlightens still by His Spirit, &c. (2Co 4:6; Mat 5:14-16; Php 2:15). But further, He is God's salvation, and therefore, in all respects, a salvation suited to man's necessities. He finds us guilty, &c., and He saves us by bearing our punishment for us (1Pe 2:24). He finds us enslaved, defiled, and unfit for heaven; and He saves us from thraldom and pollution by His Spirit working in us (Rom 8:2; Tit 3:5; 2Pe 1:4). He finds all men, everywhere, poor and helpless, and He saves to the end of the earth, fully, freely, &c. (Heb 7:25; Rev 22:17).
1. We ought very highly to value our souls: God does. If we lose them, we lose all.
2. We should accept the salvation which God has so kindly sent to us (Isa ).
3. We should love Him who has manifested such love to us, and give proof of our love, by submitting to Him who submitted to shame, &c., in our stead (Joh ; 1Jn 5:3).
4. We may confidently expect "all things necessary for life and godliness" (Rom, et seq.)
5. We should employ both our example and our influence to open the eyes of our fellow-men to behold God's light, and their hearts to receive His salvation (Isa ; Isa 62:1).—Zeta: Sketches of 400 Sermons, vol. ii. p. 84-88.
CHRIST OUR LIGHT
Isa . I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles.
Not here only, but elsewhere, in many places, our Lord Jesus is held forth under the notion of a light. Show—
I. WHAT KIND OF A LIGHT JESUS CHRIST IS. There are several kinds of light" There is glow-worm light, &c. But there is one light that is far beyond them all, and that is sun-light, between which and the former there is no comparison; and that light Jesus Christ is—sun-light (Mal ; Psa 84:11; Luk 1:78). Now sunlight hath these properties; it is—
1. Glorious light (1Co ; Mat 13:43; Mat 17:2). And is not Jesus Christ of all others the most glorious? (Son 5:10; Col 1:8). Let this advance your esteem of Him more and more.
2. General light. It shines everywhere (Psa ). One sun serves all the world, &c. There is but one Christ, but that one is a universal Saviour to all the world (1Jn 2:2; Luk 16:15; Rom 10:18; Joh 12:36).
3. Fountain-light. What light the moon and the planets have, they derive it all from the sun. So Jesus Christ is the spring-head and fountain from whence every good and perfect gift comes. Gifts of nature do all flow from Him (Joh ). So also gifts of grace (Joh 1:16; Heb 12:2). And therefore, in all our wants we must have recourse to Him; and in all our receivings we must give Him the praise.
4. Free light. It costs us nothing. What is more free than the light, and what is more free than grace? (Joh ; Rom 5:15; Isa 55:1-2; Rev 22:17). Therefore ye are inexcusable, if you go without it.
5. Enlightening light. The sun hath not its light for itself, but for the world, and it communicates it accordingly. It rises every morning, and dispels the darkness of the night, and shines all day; and very sweet and useful it is. So Christ (Luk ; Rev 3:1). He opens blind eyes (Isa 42:6-7; Mal 4:2; Rev 3:18). Pray as the blind man that came to Christ for eyesight.
6. Increasing light. By degrees, as the sun gets up, mists, &c. vanish, and noonday comes. So it is with the souls that Christ enlightens (Pro ; Isa 30:26).
II. WHAT INFERENCES ARE TO BE DRAWN FROM THIS SUBJECT?
1. What a miserable condition is a sinful Christless condition! Those who are out of Christ are out of the light (2Co ; Joh 3:19-20; Job 24:13; Job 21:14). But wherein lies the misery of a blind and dark condition?
(1.) It is very uncomfortable (Ecc ; Pro 2:10).
(2.) It is very unsafe. Thou hast a journey to go, that will not be gone without light. There are many by-ways, &c. (Joh .) Thou hast work to do that will not be done without light, nay, not without sun-light (Luk 10:42).
(3.) It is miserable here (Eph ; Isa 42:7; Act 26:18). It will be miserable hereafter. Make the application to yourselves: Is not this my condition? (Joh 9:25; Joh 9:40).
2. What an unspeakable mercy then was the giving of Christ to save us from all this misery; to be a light to lighten the world! What a dungeon were the world without it! Therefore thank God for this unspeakable gift (Eph ; Col 1:12-13).
3. Of what concernment it is to come to Christ to be enlightened by Him! Only by coming can we have the true light (Rev ). Delay no longer; away quickly to the throne of grace, and beg for this eye-salve;—to the means of grace, and seek it there.
4. What is to be done by those on whom this light is risen? As Christ is the light of the world, so ye also are the light of the world (Mat ). Then
(1.) let your light shine before men (Eph ; Rom 12:13; 1Th 5:5-8)
(2.) Let your light be increasing more and more—especially concerning the evil of sin, the weakness of self, the excellency of Christ, &c.—Philip Henry: Christ All in All, pp. 81-90.
CHRIST'S FUTURE REIGN
Isa . Thus saith the Lord, &c.
In this and the subsequent verses we have a direct promise from Jehovah to the Messiah, of the ultimate success of His mediatorial work. Consider—
I. THE DESCRIPTION GIVEN OF THE MESSIAH.
1. As despised, rejected, and contemned by men. "Him whom man despiseth"—literally, whom the soul despiseth. It was a characteristic of Him that He was despised and rejected; and the prophet, in this verse, has given a summary of all that He has said respecting Him in chap. 53. (Joh ). "Despised by the mere animal passion of man, which judges according to the outward appearance; and is therefore carnal, and not spiritual."—Wordsworth.
2. As abhorred by the Jewish nation. "Him whom the nation abhorreth" (cf. chap. Isa ; Isa 10:6). He was regarded as an abomination by the people (Luk 15:2). "This man"—this fellow—"receiveth sinners"—is in secret sympathy with them. In Mat 26:67; Luk 23:18-26, Isa 53:3-4 is literally fulfilled. He is still abhorred by the Jews. His name excites the utmost contempt among them, and they turn from Him and His claims with the deepest abhorrence. They contemptuously call Jesus Tolvi, the crucified; and nothing excites deeper abhorrence and contempt than the doctrine of salvation by the merits of the crucified Nazarene (1Co 1:23, and others).
3. As "a servant of rulers." Though He was ruler of all worlds, He voluntarily submitted Himself to human power, and yielded obedience to human rulers—the constituted authorities of His day. He conformed to the institutions of His country (Mat ; Mat 26:52-53). He submitted to an unjust trial and verdict. In the strictest sense He was "a servant of rulers," for "He was deprived of His liberty, comfort, and life at their caprice."
II. THE PURPOSE OF GOD RESPECTING THE MESSIAH'S REIGN.
1. He is "chosen of God" to accomplish the world's salvation. "He shall choose thee." He was elected to diffuse light and truth among all nations (Isa ; also chap. Isa 42:1-10).
2. All shall bow to His sceptre. "Kings shall see," &c. That is, kings shall see the fulfilment of the Divine promise by which He is destined to be the light of the nations, and they shall rise up with demonstrations of respect and reverence; they shall render Him honour as their Teacher and Redeemer. They shall do homage to the great King-Saviour. "Kings, being usually seated in the presence of others, are described as rising from their thrones; while princes and nobles, who usually stand in the presence of their sovereigns, are described as falling prostrate"—(Hitzig). The universality of His reign is distinctly foretold (Psa ; Psa 2:8; Isa 42:1; Isa 42:4; Zec 14:19; Rev 19:6; Rev 19:11-17; and others). The text has been fulfilled. Kings and princes have bowed before the Redeemer, and the time is hastening on when throughout the world they shall adore Him.
3. God in His faithfulness will accomplish His gracious purpose. "Because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel." His purpose shall assuredly be brought to pass. For this He pledges the veracity of His word. The universality of Christ's reign shall be traced entirely to the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God.
1. What a glorious period is approaching! All the world shall see the salvation of God. He who is now despised and rejected by so many, shall be universally honoured, loved, adored. All shall bow to Him, as the ripe fields of autumn do to the winds of heaven. The day of His triumph draws nigh—all things betoken it! Glorious prospect! (H. E. I. 979, 1161, 1162; P. D. 475).
2. What encouragement have all Christian workers—Ministers, missionaries, &c. The success of our efforts is certain. What honour is conferred upon us as the instruments of diffusing light and truth! Christ deemed it the highest honour, so should we. Let us with all possible earnestness seek the advancement of His reign, and the increase of its glory. They who do most for the conversion of the world, are most like Christ, and will have the greatest reward in heaven.
3. What is your relation to this great King-Saviour? Is God's gracious purpose accomplished in your salvation? Does He reign in your heart? Do you despise and reject the crucified Jesus, or do you receive Him as your prophet, priest, and king? It is of infinite importance that you belong to His kingdom. Without this, there can be no real holiness, happiness, security. Hostility to Christ, the Divinely appointed Saviour-King is utterly useless. He must and will be victorious (Psa, and others). How fearful will be the condition of all who refuse allegiance to Him! Let Him become without delay your Saviour and your King (Psa 2:11-12).
"O Thou Almighty Lord,
My Conqueror and my King,
Thy sceptre and Thy sword,
Thy reign of grace, I sing;
Thine is the power: behold, I sit
In willing bonds before Thy feet."
THE SUFFERING REDEEMER THE SOURCE AND DISPENSER OF BLESSING TO HIS PEOPLE
Isa . Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer, &c.
I. THE HUMILIATION AND EXALTATION OF THE MESSIAH (Isa ). He who had always taken care of the Jewish church, and wrought out for it those deliverances that were typical of the great salvation, here speaks to Him who was the Undertaker of that salvation.
1. He takes notice of His humiliation (Isa ). "Whom man despiseth," &c. (cf. Isa 53:3; Luk 23:21). "A servant of rulers." Pilate boasted of his power over Him (Joh 19:10).
2. He promises Him exaltation. Honour was done Him, even in the days of His humiliation. Noblemen, rulers, centurions came and kneeled to Him; but this was more fully accomplished when kings received His Gospel, submitted to His yoke, joined in His worship, and called themselves His vassals. Not that Christ values the rich more than the poor (they stand on a level with Him), but it is for the honour of His kingdom among men, when the great ones of the earth appear for Him, and do homage to Him.
II. THE SUCCOUR AND SUCCESS PROMISED HIM.
1. The succour. God will hear His cry for help (Isa ; Heb 5:7). In the days of His flesh Christ knew that His Father heard Him always (Joh 11:42; Joh 17:24). He will also help Him to go through with His undertaking. The Father was always at His right hand, and did not leave Him when His disciples did (Joh 16:32).
2. The success. He is assured
(1.) that He should be the Guarantee of the treaty of peace between God and man: "I will give Thee for a covenant of the people" (see pp. 113-115).
(2.) By Him the decays of the Church should be repaired, and the Church itself established on a "rock" (Isa ). "Establish the earth," or rather, "the land," the land of Judah, a type of the Church.
(3.) To Him should be gathered those who were farthest from God and the good land He had promised to His people (Isa ). The Jews were dispersed into several parts of the country of Babylon, as enemies pleased, to prevent any combination among them. But when God's time is come to bring them home together, one spirit shall animate all them that lie at the greatest distance from each other; and those also that had taken shelter in other countries shall meet them in the land of Judah. This promise was to have a further accomplishment in the great confluence of converts to the Gospel-church, and its full accomplishment when God's chosen shall come from the east and the west, to sit down with the patriarchs in the kingdom of God (Mat 8:11).
III. THE BLESSINGS IN STORE FOR ALL THOSE TO WHOM HE IS MADE SALVATION. It was by the foresight of these that He was encouraged to prosecute the great and costly work He had undertaken. He is assured—
1. That by Him the souls of men should be freed from the bondage of guilt, and brought into the glorious liberty of God's children (Isa ).
2. That He should be enabled to provide for the comfortable passage of those whom He set at liberty to the place of their rest and happy settlement (Isa ). These verses refer to the provision made for the Jews' return out of their captivity, who were taken under the particular care of Divine providence; but it is applicable to that guidance of Divine Grace which all God's spiritual Israel are under, from their release out of bondage to their settlement in the heavenly Canaan.
(1.) They shall have their charges borne and shall be fed at free cost with food convenient. "They shall feed," &c. Now, as formerly, God leads Joseph like a flock. When God pleases, even highway ground shall be good ground for His sheep to feed in. Their pastures shall be not only in the valleys, but "in all high places," which are commonly dry and barren. Wherever God brings His people, He will take care they shall want nothing that is good for them (Psa ). So well shall they be provided for, that "they shall not hunger nor thirst;" for what they need they shall have seasonably, before their need of it comes to any extremity.
(2.) They shall be sheltered and protected from everything that would incommode them. "Neither shall the heat nor sun smite them," for God causes "His flock to rest at noon" (Son ). No evil thing shall befall those who put themselves under Divine protection; they shall be enabled to bear "the burden and heat of the day."
(3.) They shall be under God's gracious guidance (Isa ). He will lead them, as He did His people in the old time through the wilderness. The world leads its followers by broken cisterns, or brooks that fail in summer; but God leads those that are His "by the springs of water." He will furnish them with suitable and seasonable comforts.
(4.) Those whom God guides shall find a ready road and all obstacles removed (Isa ). He that in times past made the sea a way, now with as much ease will make the mountains a way, though they seem impassable. The causeway shall be raised, to make it both the plainer and the fairer. The ways in which God leads His people, He Himself will be the overseer of, and will take care that they be kept in good repair, as of old the ways that led to the cities of refuge. Though there be difficulties in the way to heaven, which we cannot by our own strength get over, yet the grace of God will be sufficient to help us over them, and to make even the "mountains a way."—Matthew Henry: Commentary, in loco.
CHRIST DESPISED AND HONOURED
Isa . Thus saith the LORD, … to him whom man despiseth, &c.
This verse has been called "a prelude of chap. 53." It anticipates that minute and graphic exhibition of the Messiah's sufferings and glories, which we have so often pondered, and prize so highly. In brief compass it states the leading points presented in that chapter. This is the twig which is there expanded into a magnificent tree. Here, as there, the prophet transports himself into the time when our Lord lived and suffered on earth, and stands at the point of transition between the humiliation and the exaltation. The shame, the indignities, the rejection, the cruel sufferings are stated as present facts: the glory, the honour, the worship, the world-wide influence are viewed as future. When Jesus died upon the cross, and His body was consigned to Joseph's tomb, His degradation seemed complete, His cause hopeless. His persecutors never dreamt that He would ever be heard of again, and even the faith of His disciples was shaken (Luk ). Never were surmises more signally falsified; never were fears and doubts more effectually relieved than when the Redeemer rose on the third day, and, after showing Himself to His disciples, ascended to the seat of honour and power. From this time onward His career is an entire reversal of the circumstances connected with His previous earthly course.
I. View the prophecy in its historical fulfilment. "The sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow" form the great theme of Old Testament prediction, and in this one verse, which contains the substance of chap, 53, both the sufferings and the subsequent glory are clearly foretold.
1. Look at the features of His humiliation. The Messiah is spoken of as one "whom man despiseth (or of contemptible soul), whom the nation abhorreth, a servant of rulers." In these successive clauses the number of Christ's enemies is narrowed from men to the Jewish people, and from the Jews to their rulers; but the feelings of hostility and the active opposition became more intense, passing from contempt to abhorrence, and from abhorrence to the infliction of cruel sufferings and abject degradation, culminating in the death of a slave. In Him men saw nothing to attract their admiration,—none of that earthly greatness and outward display which captivate the mob. His meekness and holiness repelled them, and His lowly station rendered Him an object of contempt (Isa ). By the Jews he was regarded with abhorrence. He did not answer to their carnal notions, He shocked their prejudices: they reasoned from His sufferings and mean condition to His character, inferring that for some sin He was the object of the Divine displeasure, not knowing that the sin was their own. In fanatical zeal their rulers condemned Him to die a shameful death. Thus was He rejected by all classes. His cross was an offence. His mission, character, and work were strangely misunderstood. The ignorance and blindness of His adversaries explain their treatment of Him (Act 3:17; 1Co 2:8). The power and passions of the world were arrayed against Him.
2. His subsequent honours and influence. Behold how changed is the estimate formed of Him! Even kings rise from their thrones to pay Him homage, and princes worship Him, implying that if those of highest rank acknowledge His claims and bow before His throne, those of meaner position will likewise do so. Already we can witness the fulfilment in part of this prophecy, but more remains (Psa ). The King of kings and Lord of lords has won the love and allegiance of all ranks, and sovereigns have given Him their personal service and the homage of their hearts. Crowned heads have appeared in the meetings of the Evangelical Alliance, and shown a deep interest in its proceedings. The Redeemer has won His conquests from all classes; all ranks grace His triumph. "The servant of rulers" has become their Master.
3. The explanation of this surprising change in men's attitude towards Christ. All hinges on the word "see." That is the secret of the transition. Men are brought to see the truth in reference to Christ's person, character, and work. The veil is removed from their heart (2Co ). They see the glory of the cross, the love and justice displayed in redemption. The Godhead of Christ, the surpassing beauty of His character, and the necessity and efficacy of His sacrifice flash upon their minds, and revolutionise their views and feelings. The real cause of their hostility was that they would not "come and see." Honest inquiry removes every stumblingblock in the way of faith. The lowliness of the suffering Saviour would become His strongest attraction, for to this He condescended in His love for the guilty (2Co 8:9).
4. The result of this transition. "Because of, or for the sake of the Lord, who is faithful." It manifests the Father's faithfulness to His Son in crowning Him with the promised reward of His work (Isa ), and to mankind in accomplishing the long-foretold redemption. When "every knee shall bow to Christ," it will redound "to the glory of God the Father" (Php 2:11).
II. View the prophecy as a description of our own spiritual history. Once, it may be, we were indifferent to Christ and despised Him in our hearts, evading the very thought of Him. But now we have tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious. God has shown us the madness of despising His Son (Gal ). Our experience resembles that of the Jewish converts as expressed in chap. Isa 53:2-6. They who hid their faces in shame at the sight of the Messiah now own Him as their Saviour. There is nothing in Him to draw the carnal eye. The sensual mind has no appreciation of His excellence; the self-deluded and impenitent can dispense with His sacrifice; the sin-loving soul is repelled by His holiness; the ignorant and indifferent disregard Him. If the unbeliever studies Christ at all, he is forced to maintain that He is not the Son of God, and that His death was the merited punishment of His claim to be the Son of God. But he whose eyes have been opened is entranced by the vision of His divine glory and self-sacrificing love (Eph 5:8; Joh 9:25; 2Co 5:17). "Would that all of us could see the glory of the cross, the true character and dignity of the Redeemer! As preachers we do all in our power to draw aside the veil of ignorance and prejudice, that the glories of Christ might break upon the benighted soul. What think ye of Christ, then? Do you despise Him, or do you worship Him?—William Guthrie, M.A.
THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD
Isa . The Lord that is faithful.
This verse contains a promise of the future honour that should await the Redeemer, and of the success which should crown His work. Because Jehovah is faithful in the fulfilment of His promises, He will assuredly bring this to pass, and the fact that the Messiah shall be thus honoured shall be traced entirely to the faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God.
I. THE NATURE, CHARACTERISTICS, AND MANIFESTATIONS OF THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS.
1. What is faithfulness in relation to God? It is that absolute perfection of the Deity by which He is true in Himself, and by which it is impossible for Him not to fulfil whatever He has promised, or not to bring to pass whatever He has purposed. "It is the attribute that pledges to man in infinite condescension—for it is the most anthropopathic of all His attributes—the fulfilment of every specific promise based upon the economy of His righteousness" (Dr. Pope). It is necessarily implied in His holiness. Testimonies of Scripture at once explain and prove this view of Divine truth, and place this topic in a clear and convincing light (Num ; Psa 36:5; Psalms 6; 1Co 1:9; 1Co 10:13; 1Th 5:24; 2Th 3:2; Heb 6:16-18; Heb 10:23; Tit 1:2; 1Jn 1:9).
2. What are the distinguishing characteristics of the Divine faithfulness? It is declared to be—Established (Psa ). Unfailing (Psa 89:33; 2Ti 2:13). Great (Lam 3:23). Incomparable (Psa 89:8). Infinite (Psa 36:5). Everlasting (Psa 119:90; Psa 146:6).
3. How is the Divine faithfulness manifested?
(1.) In the triumphs of Christianity in the world. See text and context, with records in "The Acts of the Apostles." Modern triumphs of the Gospel at home and abroad.
(2.) In forgiving sin. Sinners repenting of their sin, and confessing it, are assured that God "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1Jn ).
(3.) In the preservation and establishment of believers. Believers oppressed by the weariness of the way, and their own instability, are reminded that "the Lord is faithful," &c. (2Th ).
(4.) In the entire sanctification of believers. The saints, encouraged to aspire to perfect holiness of body, and soul, and spirit, are assured that faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it (1Th ).
(5.) In the relations which He sustains. As a King, Friend, Father, &c.
(6.) In the afflictions of the godly (Psa ).
(7.) In the fulfilment of His promises. However apparently improbable (1Ki ; Psa 111:5; Psa 132:11; Mic 7:20; Heb 10:23). "There is not a promise which God has made but what either He has kept it, or else, being dated for the future, He will keep it when the time appointed comes." "If God were to forget His engagements, He would cease to be God."
These passages carry the Divine fidelity into the entire process of personal salvation from beginning to end.
II. THE LESSONS WHICH THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS SHOULD TEACH US.
1. How it ought to warn the wicked! It is remarkable that this attribute is never expressly connected with the Divine threatenings, though equally applicable to it. God will inflict the punishment which He has denounced against sin (H. E. I., 2180-2184, 2296-2299, 4603-4610).
2. How it ought to encourage the penitent! The promises of forgiveness and grace are to be relied on with the utmost possible confidence.
4. How it should encourage pleading prayer! (Psa ). "We should turn God's promises into prayers, and He will turn His promises into performances, for with God saying and doing are not two things, as they often are with men. God will do as He hath said"—(Henry). "Thou hast said"—a mighty plea in prayer.
5. How it should incite us to bear our personal testimony! Every trusting soul can say, like Joshua (Jos ). This testimony we should bear (Psa 40:10; Psa 89:1).
6. How it should teach us to cultivate faithfulness in all its forms and degrees!
(1). To God. "Be ye followers"—imitators—"of God as dear children," Faithful as servants, &c. Faithful to His word—in holding it, and in seeking to spread it.
(2.) To our fellow-men. "The fruit of the Spirit is faith"—fidelity (Gal ). True religion makes a man faithful—as a neighbour, friend, father, husband, son. He is faithful to his fellow-men. All pretensions of being the subject of the renewing influence of the Spirit, when such fidelity does not exist, are deceitful and vain.—Alfred Tucker.
CHRIST IN THE COVENANT
Isa . I will give Thee for a covenant of the people.
We all believe that our Saviour has very much to do with the covenant of eternal salvation. We have been accustomed to regard Him as the Mediator of the covenant, as the surety of the covenant, and as the scope or substance of the covenant (see pp. 113-115). But now I shall dwell on Christ, not as the Mediator, nor as the surety, nor as the scope of the covenant, but as one great and glorious article of the covenant which God has given to His children.
I. EXAMINE THIS PROPERTY.
Here is a great possession. Jesus Christ by covenant is the property of every believer. By this we must understand Jesus Christ in many different senses.
1. He is ours, in all His attributes. He has a double set of attributes, seeing that there are two natures joined in glorious union in one person. He has the attributes of very God, and He has the attributes of perfect man; and whatever these may be, they are each one of them the perpetual property of every believing child of God.
2. He is ours, in all His offices—prophet, priest, king, &c. How varied is the value to us of this property!
3. Christ is the believer's in every one of His works. Whether they be works of suffering or of duty, they are the property of the believer.
4. His fulness is ours (Col ; Joh 1:16).
5. The very life of Christ is the property of the believer. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "Ye are dead; and your life"—where is it? It is "hid with Christ in God."
6. And best of all, the person of Jesus Christ is the property of the Christian. The wife loveth her husband; she loveth his house and his property; she loveth him for all that he giveth her, for all the bounty he confers, and all the love he bestows; but his person is the object of her affections. So with the believer; he blesses Christ for all He does and all He is.
But oh! it is Christ that is everything. He does not care so much about His offices as he does about the Man Christ.
II. THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH IT WAS CONVEYED TO US.
1. Christ is in the covenant in order to comfort every coming sinner. "Oh," says the sinner who is coming to God, "I cannot lay hold on such a great covenant as that, I cannot believe that heaven is provided for me," &c. Here comes in the thought that Christ is in the covenant. Sinner, canst thou lay hold on Christ? Canst thou say,
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling?"
Well, if thou hast got that, it was put in on purpose for thee to hold fast by. God's covenant mercies all go together, and if thou hast laid hold on Christ, thou hast gained every blessing in the covenant. That is one reason why Christ was put there.
2. Christ is put also to confirm the doubting saint. Sometimes he cannot read his interest in the covenant. So he lays hold of Christ, and were it not for that even the believer dare not come at all.
3. It was necessary that Christ should be in the covenant, because there are many things there which would be nought without Him. Our great redemption is in the covenant, but we have no redemption except "through His blood."
4. Christ is in the covenant to be used. Believer, use Him. Thou dost not use thy Christ as thou oughtest to do. Why, man, when thou art in trouble, &c., why dost thou not go and tell Him? Has He not a sympathising heart, and can He not comfort and relieve thee? There is nothing Christ dislikes more than for His people to make a show-thing of Him and not to use Him.
III. A PRECEPT and what shall the precept be? Christ is ours; then be ye Christ's. Ye are Christ's, ye know right well. Ye are His, by your Father's donation, when He gave you to the Son, &c. Show the world that you are His in practice. Stand fast in the evil day, remembering that you are one of Christ's.
CONCLUSION.—Some of you have never laid hold of the covenant. I sometimes hear it whispered, and sometimes read it, that there are men who trust to the uncovenanted mercies of God. Let me solemnly assure you that there is now no such thing in heaven as uncovenanted mercy; there is no such thing beneath God's sky or above it, as uncovenanted grace towards men. All ye can receive, and all you ever ought to hope for, must be through the covenant of free grace, and that alone. Mayhap, poor convinced sinner, thou darest not take hold of the covenant to-day. Canst thou not trust to Christ?
"Are not His mercies rich and free?
Then say, poor soul, why not for thee?"
"I dare not come; I am so unworthy," you say. Hear, then, my Master bids you come, and will you fear after that? "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest."—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. ii. pp. 393-400.
THE WORLD GIVEN TO CHRIST
Isa . Thus saith the Lord, &c.
The prophet was looking forward, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to the Messiah and His times, and here states several important truths respecting His great mission.
Customary for some kings to grant to favoured ones whatever they requested. God says to His kingly Son, "Ask of Me, and I shall give," &c. (Psa ). Here He is represented as having asked, and this is the answer, and the assurance that JEHOVAH would in His own good time make Him the means of salvation to all mankind. Consider—
I. THE PROMISED UNIVERSAL DIFFUSION OF THE GOSPEL.
1. It was commenced in the apostolic age. "The word of the Lord grew and mightily prevailed" over the various forms of error, superstition, idolatry, &c.
"Many thousands have looked upon ‘The Dream of Pilate's Wife,' that great picture of that great commentator in colour, Gustave Doré, and have marked as its most wonderful conception the distant Calvary with its empty cross bathed in mysterious light, and the innumerable throngs that toil upward to it with their shining faces, and the deep night-sky that seems to over-brim with angels. So the cross will shine at last above the dark continent where Moffat lived, and Livingstone died praying; over India where Carey planted his forlorn hope, and grand old Samuel Wesley would have gladly laid his dust; and the shining hosts shall be the souls of all the saved, and the wondrous light the morning of the new heaven filling the new earth; for Christ will have drawn all men unto Himself."—W. J. Dawson.
What reasons have we for believing this? We have—
(1.) The faithful and unerring promises of JEHOVAH (Psa ; Psa 22:27; Psa 72:17; Isa 40:5; Isa 44:2 &c.) Believe these promises. Labour and pray for their accomplishment. Especially pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to render all the means which are employed effectual. Ponder them as a source of continual encouragement.
(3.) The present aspect of the world furnishes much reason to hope that the accomplishment of this promise is drawing nigh. The whole world is practically open to the missionaries of the Cross. The progress of various forms of improvement throughout the civilised world—facilities for intercourse between the nations—extension of commerce—numerous translations of the Bible. The progress of public sentiment in regard to the conversion of the world. The probable prevalence of the English language, &c.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THOSE WHO SHALL EMBRACE IT (Isa ). The figure is taken from the shepherd leading home his flock, &c. "It is a most beautiful image of the tender care of the Great Shepherd of His people in a world like this—a world, in its main features, in regard to real comforts, not unaptly compared to barren hills, and pathless, burning sands."
The promise includes—
1. Abundant provisions.
2. Careful protection.
3. Unerring guidance (see p. 336).
III. THE EXULTANT PRAISE WHICH SUCH GLORIOUS PROSPECTS SHOULD AWAKEN (Isa ). It is common with our prophet thus to interject a song of praise on the announcement of any great and glorious event, and to call on the heavens and the earth to rejoice together (ch. 12; Isa 42:10-11; Isa 44:23).
We should raise this song—
1. Because of the glory which the fulfilment of this promise will bring to the Triune Jehovah. Here we have a test to apply to ourselves. Every true child of God spontaneously rejoices in this expectation, just as every true patriot rejoices in any certainty of the future glory of his country.
2. Because of the blessings the Gospel will bring to humanity. The universal prevalence of righteousness—peace—benevolence—social elevation and secular prosperity. Wherever Christianity is received, it effects great changes in the moral and social condition of the people. What has it done in our own and other lands? Christ will rectify all wrongs, and when God is glorified man shall be honoured. "Truth shall spring out of the earth," &c. Animating, delightful, glorious prospect! When will it be realised? Not informed. All calculations respecting it vain.
CONCLUSION.—Has this Gospel come to you, not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance? It has come in word, but unless it comes in saving power also, it has not accomplished its design, &c. (Psa ).—Alfred Tucker.
Isa . They shall feed in the ways, &c.
"The comparison of God's care to that of a shepherd was first used by Jacob (Gen ); then by Moses (Deu 32:6; Deu 32:12). From these passages the prophets borrowed the same figure (Isa 40:11; Eze 34:12-13; Mic 7:14). In the New Testament Christ is compared to a shepherd (Joh 10:11; 1Pe 2:25; 1Pe 5:4; Heb 13:20). Travellers in the East and others record the peculiarly close and tender relationship of the Oriental shepherd to his flock."
The Saviour is here represented under the image of a shepherd, who leads forth His flock in green pastures, &c.
I. The Divine Shepherd nourishes His flock. "They shall feed in the ways," &c. A shepherd's express engagement to feed, tend, keep. When one pasture was bare he would lead the sheep to another, and when the herbage was deficient he would cut down the tender shoots of trees for them to eat, and he would see that they had water to drink. In thus providing for them he frequently underwent long and severe labour. Jesus provides for all the wants of His people—temporal and spiritual. He opens before them unexpected sources of supply.
The Divine life must be fed, nourished, sustained. Our Good Shepherd's provisions are plentiful, adapted, exhaustless—Himself His Word, His ordinances, &c. With Jehovah-Jesus for our shepherd, whose hand rests on all sources of supply, we can lack no temporal or spiritual good.
II. The Divine Shepherd protects His flock. "Neither shall the heat nor sun smite them." They shall be sheltered from suffering like that of the intense heat of the burning sun reflected from the sandy wastes. The idea is, the Divine Shepherd will protect—shelter—His flock. This is the doctrine of the Bible, of the Old Testament as well as the New. "Whatever charge He gives His angels, He has not thereby discharged Himself, so that whether every saint has an angel for his guardian or no, we are sure he has God Himself for his guardian, and what higher consolation can we desire?" Those are well protected who have the Lord for their protector. He has manifested Himself as the protector of His people in all ages. Did He not deliver the stripling David out of the paw of the lion and the bear? (1Sa ; &c.) Our good Shepherd's protection is ever watchful, ever present, all-sufficient, never-failing (Psa 121:3-8, &c.) Have not you experienced this protection? What He has been, and what He has done in the past, He will be, and do in the future. Let us trust in the protection of our Divine Shepherd, and rejoice.
III. The Divine Shepherd leads His flock. "He that hath mercy on them shall lead them." With infallible knowledge and tender care, He goes before His people in all their journeyings. No longer by the mystic and majestic pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night does He lead them, but by the indications of His providence, by His Word, and by His Spirit, &c. He shall lead them, not drive them. "He"—what a leader! It is a long and perilous way, but He knows every step. Let us cheerfully follow His gracious guidance, and be assured "He leadeth us in right paths" (Psa ). "The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them."
IV. The Divine Shepherd refreshes His flock. "Even by the springs of water shall He guide them." The faithful shepherd leads his flock beside cooling streams. When panting and breathless, he leads them to the "little green glen, with a quiet brooklet, and a moist lush herbage all along its course, while the ‘sunbeams, like swords' are piercing everything beyond that hidden covert." So Jesus leads His flock beside many a cooling spring. The spiritual life is liable to exhaustion. But our Divine Shepherd refreshes, vivifies, quickens the spirit when wearied and exhausted and troubled—worn down with toil, and conflict, and care. The blessings of the gospel are often compared to water; they are the rivers of soul-life."
1. Is Jesus your Shepherd? Have you been convinced of your far and perilous wanderings? Have you heard and obeyed the Shepherd's voice?
2. If you acknowledge Jesus as your Shepherd, then follow, love, obey, and trust Him.—Alfred Tucker.
THE IMPERFCTION OF EARTHLY BLESSINGS
Isa . Neither shall the heat nor sun smite them, &c.
One of the blessings promised to Christ's people in the latter days. The promise is fulfilled now to those who depart hence believing in Him. This promise reminds us—
I. That the best things when bestowed in excess become great evils. What a glorious gift to man is the sun! How essential is its heat to human life and happiness! Yet how oppressive are the heats of summer! With what terrible blows the sun sometimes smites men! Let us remember that the measure of a thing is as important as its kind. "Moderation in all things," is the wise man's motto. How necessary to remember it in regard to food, sleep, work, recreation; in the household, in regard to kindness and to severity, &c.
II. That all earthly blessings have their drawbacks. The heats of summer are great blessings; without them how poor would the harvest be in the autumn! Yet what a strain they often are on human strength! How fatal they often are to human life! Noteworthy that it can be said as a promise, "Neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them." So with other things; "every rose has its thorn." Wealth, its moral dangers (H. E. I. 4358-3364, 4389-4399, and social inconveniences (H. E. I. 4381, 4387, 4388). Learning; how dearly it is often purchased (H. E. I. 3089). Domestic happiness; what possibilities of profound sorrow are bound up with it. "Every possession renders us capable of loss." Long life; how much there is in connection with old age that is undesirable.
III. That in heaven we shall have all the blessings without any of the drawbacks (H. E. I. 2721-2727).
Some practical lessons:—
1. Let us not grumble at the natural and providential drawbacks of our earthly lot. Let us remember that, so to speak, they are the prices of the blessings, and that if we are called to endure the drawbacks the blessings will not be withheld. Many men grumble that they have to pay an income-tax, and forget to thank God that they have an income. If they had not that, the tax-gatherer would never knock at their doors. So with the drawbacks of other blessings. Murmuring is unwise and wicked.
2. When the conditions of our earthly life press on us most heavily, let us comfort ourselves by the remembrance of the perfect life towards which we are hastening. The prisoner is sustained by the knowledge that the hour of his liberation is drawing nigh; the mariner, by the fact that every gale blows him nearer to the "desired haven." It is a good thing to walk now by faith and hope in that land where neither the heat nor the sun shall smite us (H. E. I. 216-218, 2766-2770).
3. If the future life for God's people will be all perfection without abatement, how little should they dread that event which will introduce them to it! Are we prepared for that wonderful transition which we call death? If so, why should we fear it? If we are not prepared for it, how shall we excuse ourselves for the insane unpreparedness in which we are living? Prepare for it, and the: all the great and precious promises concerning the future life will be promises made to you, and that event of which the very name has been disagreeable to you will be the beginning of inconceivable joy (H. E. I. 1623-1635; P. D. 667, 694, 745).
GATHERED FROM AFAR
Isa . Behold there shall come from far, &c.
Whatever bearing this prophecy may have had upon the time of Isaiah, or the time immediately after him, it has an important bearing on the time of the Messiah and the course of His kingdom. The prophet sees multitudes coming into that kingdom from every quarter of the globe. Taking his position in Palestine, he mentions the north and west by name; the far country may be regarded as the south, beginning with Egypt, and running down to Southern Africa; while the east runs through Persia and India to China, which many expositors consider identical with Sinim.
The sentiment of the text is that the redeemed Church of Christ shall come from every part of the earth.
I. This sentiment is in accordance with the genius of the gospel
The gospel is in the world. It exerts an immense influence over the best portions of the human race; whose excellence, indeed, is directly owing to its influence. What is its nature? It is the manifestation of God's love to man. It is not a mere declaration of the Divine existence and character, nor a mere exposition of human nature and its obligations. It. is a revelation of the Divine character in its relations to man. It unfolds the way in which God deals with human sinfulness. Instead of sweeping it away by sweeping man away, He provides salvation from sin and its doom. That provision consists in the incarnation of the Son of God' who has obeyed the law and endured its curse for man. The good news is the proclamation of God's forgiving mercy to as many as believe in Him, repenting of their sins; and the further proclamation that all needful influences and help will be supplied by the Holy Spirit for their complete regeneration and purification.
Now this is not a story likely to be concealed in the hearts of those who happen to know it. It is of such a nature that those who know it and have acted upon it instinctively desire to communicate it to others. Why?
1. Because it is true.
2. Because it redounds to the honour of its chief Personage, whom they have learned to love with supreme devotedness.
3. Because it is closely connected with the interests and destinies of the human race. Their participation of its blessing, their falling under its influence, has brought them into sympathy with the love of God to man, which, like a spark from the central fire of love, has fallen on their susceptibility and set it aflame. Men need the gospel, in life and in death; and the gospel inspires its recipients with the benevolence which cannot rest until the blessing has been universally received. Nor is it conceivable that He who provided the gospel should not desire men to avail themselves of its provisions; having prepared a home for the wanderers, He desires them to come into it.
II. This sentiment is in accordance with the spirit of prophecy
There is a marked difference between the Christian and Jewish dispensations. The Jews, with a narrow strip of territory, were separated from the nations. Their religion was intimately associated with their national life and being. It was given to them; adapted to them. No wonder that they became possessed of the idea that God never meant to bring other nations into His Church; that therefore they never sought the conversion of the heathen, nor welcomed the idea when it was propounded.
Yet in their own Scriptures there was abundant evidence that the time would come when God would both welcome and seek the heathen. Intimations in the earlier Scriptures. Isaiah prolific of passages. He dwells on the idea, delights in it as if he had already caught the spirit of that Gospel time whose advent he was inspired to predict. Our Lord distinctly enunciates the idea in terms almost similar to those of the text (Mat ; Mat 24:14). Paul anticipates the coming in of the fulness of the Gentiles. His labours were conducted with that view. The assumption is everywhere that in the great future the gospel shall be universally prevalent.
III. This sentiment is in accordance with the course of events
Has the genius of the Gospel vindicated itself? Have the predictions of its attracting the heathen been verified? Take the history of the Church from the earliest time to the present. Its course has been one of steady advancement towards the point at which the predictions of its extension will be fully accomplished. During the apostolic age, although to a less extent than subsequently, the Gospel travelled north and south and east and west of Palestine. Beginning with a very small handful of Jews under persecution, before three hundred years were over it had made itself so felt that the Emperor of Rome found it his advantage to adopt it publicly. Through the centuries since, it has gradually covered a larger area. And the text is now in course of fulfilment. With a map in your hand, survey the parts of the earth in which the Gospel has been preached. You will find that it has planted its foot in every quarter, and that its converts are gathered from almost every land. China must not be overlooked. It is probably specially mentioned here. Christian missionaries of various names are attracting numbers of that multitudinous and remarkable people. As the completed fulfilment of the prophecy, there will be in heaven "a multitude which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, who will stand before the throne and before the Lamb."
Two points may be mentioned as suggested by this subject:—
1. It recognises the brotherhood of man. For the purposes of this prophecy, every man must be regarded as belonging to one great family, equally capable of and needing redemption. God has put the highest honour on human nature by giving His dearest and best. Let not the most degraded be supposed beyond our reach. 2. It imposes a stupendous obligation on the Church. God works by means. Are we doing all in our power to help those who are labouring among the heathen?—J. Rawlinson.
CHINA FOR CHRIST
Isa . Behold these shall come from … the land of Sinim.
Most commentators are agreed that this refers to China. "The Arabians and other Asiatics called China Sin or Tchin; the Chinese had no special name for themselves, but either adopted that of the reigning dynasty or some high-sounding titles. This view of ‘Sinim' suits the context which requires a people to be meant ‘from far,' and distinct from those ‘from the north and from the west'" (Gesenius).
In these words we have a promise of the conversion of China, the spiritual needs and claims of which the Churches of Christendom will do well to consider most prayerfully. Observe—
1. The population, extent, and religion of China, &c. Next to the Russian Empire, the Chinese Empire, including Mantchuria, Mon golia, and Thibet, is in extent of territory the largest in the world. China itself is one-third the size of Europe, seven times the size of France, and is equal to eleven of Great Britain and Ireland. The population is estimated at 400,000,000—twenty-two times the population of England; or more than one hundred and thirty times that of Scot land. Were all the subjects of the court of Pekin to march past a spectator at the rate of thirty miles a day, they would move on and on, day after day, week after week, month after month; and more than twenty-three and a half years would elapse before the last individual had passed by.
The number is inconceivable—the view is appalling. The daily mortality of China is 33,000! Think of it—a mortality which in less than three months exceeds the whole population of London;—which in a year and a half exceeds the total number of the inhabitants of England. The thought is overwhelming.
The State Religion is founded on the ethical and political maxims of the sage Confucius. His writings ignore the existence of a God and a future state, consisting mainly in the advocacy of what is expedient and useful and proper, &c. Various species of idolatry prevail—Taouism, Buddhism, ancestral worship, &c.
2. We cannot say that the amazing population of China has been altogether neglected by the Christian people of Europe and America. For some years the London Missionary Society, hoping against hope, and exhibiting a perseverance worthy of all imitation, sustained the only Mission in China, begun by the honoured Morrison in 1807. China can never again be isolated as heretofore. We have long prayed that China might be "open" to evangelical effort. Prayer has been answered; "the fields are white to the harvest," but as yet "the labourers are few," and bear no proportion to the magnitude even of the initiatory work which remains to be accomplished.
3. Among the obstacles which oppose themselves to Christian missions in China, may be mentioned—
(1.) The theocratic assumption of the imperial government.
(2.) The ignorance, immorality, conceit, and superstitiousness of the population.
(3.) The system of ancestral worship—a plausible custom, but one which is a most unequivocal form of idolatry, &c.
(4.) Sundry superstitions.
(5.) The opium traffic, which has created a most power [n] prejudice against us among the best men in the country. A Wesleyan missionary, writing home (in 1884) said, "It would interest the supporters of our society if they could hear the various objections the Chinese make on the one hand against abandoning old customs, and on the other, against becoming Christians. To give just one specimen of each kind. At the close of a service held some weeks ago at Fatshan, and when the congregation were requested to ask any questions they might wish on the address just delivered, or on the new religion generally, one man maintained very strongly that it would be wrong in him not to worship idols, for his parents had worshipped them before him. He must do as they did, or be unfilial. This reasoning (if such it may be called) was easily disposed of, but not to his satisfaction, for he still held to his point. Another man seemed, however, annoyed that nothing stronger could be urged against the Gospel, and, leaning forward, he touched the man—who was so afraid of being unfilial—on the shoulder, and said, ‘You will do no good arguing that way. I tell you what to do, you just ask the foreigner, Where does the opium come from?' And with that he ran out of the chapel, and we saw him no more. Whether he thought he had really vanguished us, or he was afraid of being vanquished, I don't know. I suppose his reasoning was something like this: ‘opium is from abroad, and is injurious; the Gospel is from abroad, and it is, ergo, injurious.' Or, ‘The Gospel is not much good, or it would keep foreigners from hurting China; and if it has not made them good, why do they bring it here?' Opium, the impure lives of foreigners, and brandy, are the staple objections against the Gospel, when none can be found against its doctrines and morals. If opium could be got rid of, and the lives of Europeans and Americans were at all in accordance with the Bible, I am persuaded that our work would make greater progress. But as it is, opium (grown in British territory) is eating out the very life of the nation, physically and morally, among both high and low, and the ungodly lives of foreigners cause the adorable name of Jesus to be every day blasphemed among the heathen."
4. There are some advantages on the other hand. The press is a powerful instrument; and the circulation of the Scriptures and other books is furthered by the cheapness of printing and paper, so that the entire Bible can be sold for less than a shilling, and the New Testament for fourpence. One cheering sign of the times is the organised opposition to missionary teaching which has recently appeared; a proof that the new opinions are beginning to move the apparently inert masses of the Chinese population.
5. The ultimate conversion of China's teeming millions to Christ. Unprecedented opportunities now offer for Christian enterprise. Success has attended the labours of the past—upwards of 20,000 Chinese are now in Christian communion in Protestant Churches. A vast preparatory work has been done in a much wider circle, opening the way for the missionary reaper. Many fields are white already unto harvest. Let the Churches of Christendom obey the imperative command of their Lord. "Go ye," &c., and the stupendous work shall be accomplished in due time, for "Thus saith the Lord, behold, these shall come from the land of Sinim." Blessed be God, they are coming and shall come, until the word of promise is completely fulfilled.
"Faith, mighty faith. the promise sees,
And looks to that alone;
Laughs at impossibilities,
And cries. It shall be done!"
GOD'S CARE FOR HIS CHURCH
Isa . Sing, O heavens, &c.
I. Nothing can furnish us with better matter for songs of praise and thanksgiving than the tender care God has of the Church (Isa ). Let the whole creation join with us in songs of joy, for it shares with us in the benefits of the redemption (Rom 8:19; Rom 8:21).
II. The care which God has for His Church is never to be doubted by us. True, the troubles of the Church have given some occasion to question His concern for it (Isa ). The case of His people may sometimes be so deplorable that they seem to be forsaken and forgotten by Him; and at such a time their temptation may be alarmingly violent. Weak believers, in their despondency, are ready to say, "God has forsaken us," &c. But we have no more reason to question His promise and grace, than we have to question His providence and justice. He is as sure a Rewarder as He is a Revenger. Away, therefore, with those distrusts and jealousies which are the bane of friendship. The triumphs of the Church, after her troubles, will in due time put the matter out of question (Isa 49:17).
III. Be assured that God has a tender affection for His Church and people (Isa ). In answer to Zion's fears, He speaks as one concerned for His own glory; He takes Himself to be reflected upon if Zion say, "The Lord hath forsaken me;" and He will clear Himself. As one concerned also for His people's comfort, He would not have them droop and be discouraged, and give way to uneasy thoughts. You think that I have forgotten you; "can a woman forget her sucking child?"
1. It is not likely that she should. A woman, whose honour it is to be of the tender sex as well as the fair one, cannot but have compassion for a child, which, being both harmless and helpless, is a proper object of compassion. A mother, especially, cannot, but be concerned for her own child. for it is her own, a piece of herself, and very lately one with her. A nursing mother, most of all, cannot but be tender of her sucking child. But
2. it is possible she may forget. A woman may be so unhappy as not to be able to remember her sucking child; she may be sick, dying, and going to the land of forgetfulness; or she may be so unnatural as not to have compassion on it (Lam ; Deu 28:57). But, says God, "I will not forget thee." His compassions to His people infinitely exceed those of the tenderest parents toward their children (P. D. 1499).
IV. Be assured that God has a constant care of His Church and people (Isa ). "I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands," alludes to the custom of wearing signet or locket rings in remembrance of some dear friend. If we bind God's law as a sign upon our hand (Deu 6:8-11), He will engrave our interests as a sign on His hand, and will look upon that and remember the covenant, "Thy walls shall continually be before Me;" "thy ruined walls, though no pleasing spectacle, shall be in my thoughts of compassion." Or, "The plan and model of thy walls, that are to be rebuilt, is before Me, and they shall certainly be built according to it."—Matthew Henry. Commentary: in loco.
A GLORIOUS IMPOSSIBILITY
Isa . But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, &c.
I. The believer, like Zion of old, is sometimes led to form suspicions concerning the Lord's goodness. Such suspicions are apt to arise—
1. In periods of deep spiritual temptation: times of dark and mysterious providences; days in which God's people "walk in darkness and have no light." Such times are apt to come upon us through neglect of prayer, through neglect of some known duty; and then, instead of blaming ourselves, we are apt to distrust God.
2. In times of deep temporal trial.
II. The love of God for His people renders all such suspicions utterly unreasonable. A mother's love for her child is tender and strong; many mothers have contentedly laid down their lives for their children; but history is full of proofs that a mother's love for her child may utterly pass away. But God's love for His people will never fail. "Can a mother forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget; yet will not I forget thee." How tender, comprehensive, and touching is this figure! There is much to be considered in it: the tenderness of the tie, the helplessness of the child, the very posture of the child.
2. The helplessness of the child. The helplessness and dependence of the believer is still greater. In a few months it will be able to walk alone; in a few years we shall find it not only walking and running, but labouring independently of its mother. But look at the believer—at those most advanced in the life of God, most filled with heavenly wisdom; look at "Paul the aged." He is as feeble, as dependent, as helpless in himself as at the first moment (1Co ).
3. The posture of the child: that is more touching still. There are few sights more endearing, as every mother will acknowledge, than that of a child hanging on her bosom, deriving the support of its physical life from herself. It is one of the most touching pictures that can be presented to our eye. And yet, compared with that of a believer, it is as nothing. His is not an unconscious hanging upon the author and sustainer of His being; His is a conscious, glad dependence upon God for those supplies that come from His Father's heart, and minister to His spiritual life—that life which is the commencement of life eternal. Who can compare the one with the other? It is a closer tie, a tenderer tie, a more dependent object, and a posture infinitely more endearing. No wonder God gives the strong assurance which our text contains.
III. God's love for His people manifests itself in a constant remembrance of their condition and needs. "Yet will I not forget thee," is only another way of saying, "I will always remember thee."
1. He does not forget their persons (Isa ).
2. Nor the work of grace that is in them. It is described as His poem: "we are His workmanship"—His poem (Eph ). A man takes care of his book; but if he has his own poem, will he be likely to forget that?
3. Nor their trials (Isa ).
4. Nor their returns to Him (Jer ).
5. Nor their obedience (Isa ; Heb 6:10).
6. Nor their needs in death (Psa ). Blessed truth, it is full of unutterable sweetness.
The subject is full of instruction.
1. It should lead to self-examination. Are we of the number of those whom God knows, in the sense of reproving and acknowledging as His? If He does not thus know us, how can we expect Him to remember us?
2. A sight of the helpless child hanging upon its mother's breast should show us our own dependency, and take away every thought of self-sufficiency.
3. The fickleness of the tenderest of human affections brings out more clearly into view the glory of God's love for His people.
4. The constancy of the Divine love should make us ashamed of our despondency and distrust in times of trial.
5. If God never forgets us, we should never forget Him.—J. H. Evans, M.A., Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iv. pp. 305-316.
I. A MOURNFUL COMPLAINT (Isa ). The wicked think too much of the goodness of God, in reference to themselves; they mistake the effects of His general bounty for evidences of His peculiar friendship (H. E. I. 3977-3980). The very reverse of this is the disposition of all subjects of Divine grace; they know that self-deception is tremendous, probable, common, and are therefore afraid of it; they often carry their solicitude beyond the point of duty; they apply to themselves what was intended for others, and sometimes think themselves forsaken of God.
1. This arises sometimes
(2.) From ignorance; they have a knowledge of God, but it is very imperfect, and therefore they form mistaken apprehensions as to the manner in which He is likely to deal with them.
(3.) From a suspension of divine manifestation. The sun is always in the sky, but it is not always visible. God hides Himself from the house of Jacob; and if you are part of the house of Jacob, you will be affected thereby (Psa ). When He does this, it is not in the mere exercise of Divine sovereignty, but either as a prevention of sin, or as correction for it (Isa 59:2; Hos 5:15; Job 15:11; H. E. I. 1644-1659).
(4.) From conflict with the troubles of life. It is forgotten that these are really proofs that God has not forsaken us (Pro ; Heb 12:6; H. E. I. 189-196, 3692-3695).
(5.) Sometimes from God's delay in the accomplishment of prayer. Distinguish between the acceptance and the answer of prayer; God always immediately hears, but does not always immediately answer the prayer of faith (2Pe ; Lam 3:26; H. E. I. 3884-3899).
2. Who can find language to express the wretchedness such a false conclusion causes? The misery produced by it in a child of God is due to three causes:—
(1.) He loves God, not perfectly, but supremely; and love can never be reconciled to the absence of its object.
(2.) He entirely relies upon Him, and therefore feels that if God has withdrawn from him, all must be darkness, dreariness, desolation, and death.
(3.) He has enjoyed Him already, and therefore nothing can satisfy him but God (H. E. I. 1018, 2378-2387).
II. A SATISFACTORY ANSWER (Isa ). Notice,
1. The improbability of the fear. This is metaphorically expressed. The case supposed is not likely, but it is possible. But the tenderest feelings of nature are as nothing when compared with the kindness of God.
2. The certainty of the assurance. "Yet will not I forget thee." With God there is no fickleness (Num ).—H. E. I. 2324, P. D. 815.
3. The all-sufficiency of the truth established; that is, the perpetual regard of God for us. If His favour is set upon us, it secures everything else (Psa ).
1. Distresses and discouragements are not incompatible with religion (H. E. I. 339-346, 2907).
2. See how concerned God is, not only for His people's safety, but for their comfort also. Let His people fall in with this design (Psa ).
4. Do not take the comfort belonging to a gracious state, unless you are the subjects of a gracious character.—W. Jay: "The British Pulpit," vol. v. pp. 221-230.
We have here two assertions; Zion's and God's.
I. ZION'S ASSERTION. "The Lord hath forsaken me," &c. Observe four things which may cause this complaint:—
1. The mysteriousness of Divine providence.
2. The long duration of Zion's troubles.
3. Lack of success.
4. Zion's own sinfulness and weakness.
II. GOD'S ASSERTION. "Can a woman forget her sucking child?" &c. "Yet will I never forget thee." Why?
1. He is too nearly related to Zion.
2. He bestows too much thought upon Zion.
3. He has done too much on behalf of Zion.
4. He has given too many promises—great and precious—to Zion.
5. He expects too much from Zion.
6. He hath ordained that Zion shall for ever dwell in His immediate presence. "For ever with the Lord." God, then, cannot forget His people.
1. Zion should at once withdraw her complaint.
2. As God will never forget Zion, Zion should never forget her God.
3. Zion should never despond in the presence of any untoward event which may overtake her.—W. Roberts, Penybontfawr, "Pregethau."
1. God's love is like a mother's love. There is no love in this world like a mother's love. It is free, unbought, unselfish (P. D. 2357). God's love to a soul in Christ is stronger (Psa ; Mal 3:17; Isa 66:13; H. E. I. 2322-2333; P. D. 1499). Be not cast down in affliction (H. E. I. 189-196). Deserted souls, God's love cannot change unless His true nature change. Not till God cease to be holy, just, and true, will He cease to love the soul that hides under the wings of Jesus (H. E. I. 2324).
2. His love is full love. A mother's love is the fullest love which we have on earth. She loves with all her heart. But there is no love full but that of God toward His Son; God loves Jesus fully—the whole heart of the Father is as it were continually poured down in love upon the Lord Jesus. But when a soul comes to Christ, the same love rests on that soul (Joh ). True, a creature cannot receive the love of God as Jesus can; but it is the same love that shines on us and Him—full, satisfying, unbounded love. How can God forget what He fully loves? A creature's love may fail; for what is a creature?—a clay vessel, a breath of wind that passeth away and cometh not again. But the Creator's love cannot fail—it is full love toward an object infinitely worthy of His love—in which thou sharest.
3. It is an unchanging love. A mother's love is, of all creature-love, the most unchangeable. But far more unchanging is the love of God to Christ, and to a soul in Christ: "I am the Lord; I change not." The Father that loves has no variableness. Jesus who is loved, is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. How can that love change? It flowed before the world was; it will flow when the world has passed away. If you are in Christ, that love shines on you (Jer ; Rom 8:38-39).—R. M. M‘Cheyne: Sketches of Sermons.
These words apply, first of all, to God's ancient people, the Jews, but they are equally true of all believers.
I. There are times when believers are apt to think themselves forsaken.
1. In time of sore affliction. So it was with Naomi, Hezekiah, Job. It is a sad thing when the soul faints under the rebukes of God. They were intended to lead you deeper into Christ—into a fuller enjoyment of God (H. E. I. 66-70).
2. When they have fallen into sin. As long as a believer walks humbly with his God, his soul is at peace. But the moment that unbelief creeps in, he is led away into sin—like David he falls very low. A believer generally falls lower than the world; and now he falls into darkness. When Adam fell, he was afraid; and he hid himself from God among the trees of the garden, and he made a covering of leaves. When a believer falls, he also is afraid—he hides from God.
3. In time of desertion. Desertion is God withdrawing from the soul of a believer; so that His absence is felt. Sometimes it pleases God to withdraw from the soul, chiefly, I believe, to humble us in the dust; or to discover some corruption unmortified; or to lead us to hunger more after Him. Such was the state of David when he wrote Psalms 42 (Job ; Job 29:1-2; H. E. I. 1644-1659).
II. God cannot forget a soul in Christ: "Can a woman," &c.
TO THE PREACHER.
1. Comfort downcast believers. Your afflictions and desertions only prove that you are under the Father's hand. There is no time when the patient is an object of such tender interest to the surgeon, as when he is under his knife; so, you may be sure, if you are suffering from the hand of God, His eye is all the more bent on you (Deu ).
2. Invite poor sinners to come and taste of this love. It is a sweet thing to be loved. I suppose the most of you have tasted a mother's love; but this is nothing to the love of your God.
Oh! it is sweet to pass from wrath to love—from death to life. That poor murderess would leap in her cell, when the news came that she was not to die the murderer's death; but, ah! ten thousand times sweeter would it be to you, if God were, this day, to persuade you to embrace Christ freely offered in the gospel.—R. M. M‘Cheyne: Sermons and Lectures, pp. 99-105.
GRAVEN UPON JEHOVAH'S HANDS
Isa . Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands.
The prophets were more than half poets. The language here is highly figurative. It is a bold anthropomorphism. The words are used of Zion, the Church of God. That glorious building, complete in the Divine idea, is regarded as graven upon God's hands. Each individual member of the spiritual Zion has his own place therein marked out by Jehovah. It is to the individual reference implied in the text that attention is invited.
I. Amid temptations to regard ourselves forgotten of the Lord, how consoling is the reflection that the life of the true believer in God is linked with the life of the Eternal! "Where there is no eye to see reality," it has been said, "there is ever an eye-brow waiting to rise in scornful wonder at the name of it." And again, "Where the substantial hand to grasp things worthy is wanting, there is always some thin shadow-hand to wave them off with mocking gestures." But spiritual discernment embraces the fact, that man, and especially the Christ-like man, lives in God. The being of the godly is bound up with the being of God; they are specially dear to God, shall never be lost sight of by Him, have their life hid with Christ in God, and go forward to the fulness of life, to the pleasures, which, according to another use of the same figure, are said to be at God's right hand for evermore. To speak after this manner is no doubt mysticism to the unspiritual. But the obscurity is in them. Not always is this momentous truth quite clear even to the spiritual; but it is peculiarly dark and unintelligible to those whose understanding has not been enlightened from above: for it is one of those things which "are spiritually discerned."
II. Why it is often hard for even the believer in God to realise this union. Many reasons might be suggested. Consider one. The world is but a small part of the universe, and man's life on earth bears but a small proportion to his God-given immortality. Hence the obscurity resting upon the purpose to which all things tend, and also upon the tendency itself as residing in the means to the end. Chance and accident seem to rule widely in this world. The goal is reached by much of seeming waste, sacrifice, and sorrow (H. E. I. 4033, 4034). As for the world, so for the individual, there is a divine idea, but it is a mosaic, beautiful as a whole, we may believe, yet tesselated with innumerable fragments. Why trouble ourselves unnecessarily, complaining till ourselves are hoarse, and others miserable?—why not just fall in to our little work patient, and believing that the Divine purpose is good, and will yet sparkle forth like a bright jewel from the short period of confusion? (H. E. I. 4047).
III. Consider some part of the proof that our union with God endures and is indissoluble.
1. The believer in God should find it easy to convince himself that there is much undeveloped power in the Church which shall yet be made manifest. And so with the individual. The feeling of undeveloped power within us, this feeling that there is life within us down below our present life, is identical with being graven on Jehovah's hands. We do not know the possibility of our being, but we feel within us depths that no man knows, and which we ourselves, can appreciate with no distinctness.
2. Do not suppose, because you have been appointed a humble place in the world's work, because your luxuries are few, and your hands never idle, and sickness like a lion ever crouching at the door of your house, that God has forgotten you, and not graven out your place on the palms of His hands. Poverty, weakness, suffering, shame, are not these just so many powers plying to bring up into play the deep, Divine life? (H. E. I. 91-98). In ways we cannot fathom, God is showing us that He remembers us, is present, ordaining for the best, in every circumstance of life. For the bringing of order out of seeming confusion, it is necessary to believe that He is present in the most trivial circumstances, and, as Christ says, numbers the very hairs of your head.—J. M. Simcock.
The text belongs primarily to the seed of Israel; next, to the whole Church as a body; and then to every individual member.
I. Consider our text verbally. Every single word deserves to be emphasised.
1. "Behold." It is a word of wonder; intended to excite admiration. Wherever you see it hung out in Scripture, it is like an ancient sign-board, signifying that there are rich wares within, drawing attention to something particularly worthy of observation. Here, indeed, we have a theme for marvelling. Heaven and earth may well be astonished that God should grave upon His hands the names of sinners. Speak of the seven wonders of the world, why this is a wonder in the seventh heavens! No doubt a part of the wonder which is concentrated in the word "Behold," is excited by the unbelieving lamentation of the preceding sentence. How the Divine mind seems to be amazed at this wicked unbelief of man! What can be more astounding than the unfounded doubts and fears of God's favoured people? He seems to say, "How can I have forgotten thee, when I have graven," &c. Here follows the great marvel, that God should be faithful to such a faithless people, and that when He is provoked with their doubting, He nevertheless abideth true. Behold! and be ashamed and confounded for all your cruel doubts of your indulgent Lord.
2. Behold, "I have," &c. The Divine Artist, who has been pleased to engrave His people for a memorial, is none other than God Himself. Here we learn the lesson which Christ afterwards taught His disciples—"Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." No one can write upon the hand of God but God Himself. Neither our merits, prayers, repentance, nor faith, can write our names there, for these in their goodness extend not unto God so as to write upon His hands. Then, again, if the Lord hath done it, there is no mistake about it. If some human hand had cut the memorial, the hieroglyphs might be at fault; but since perfect wisdom has combined with perfect love to make a memorial of the saints, then no error by any possibility can have occurred; there can be no erasures, no crossing out of what God has written, no blotting out of what the Eternal hath decreed.
3. "Behold, I have graven thee." Not, "I will," nor yet, "I am doing it;" it is a thing of the past, and how far back in the past! Oh! the antiquity of this inscription! Do not these deep things comfort you? Does not eternal love delight you?
4. "Graven." I have not merely printed thee, stamped thee on the surface, but I have permanently cut thee into my hand with marks which never can be removed. That word "graven" sets forth the perpetuity of the inscription.
5. "I have graven thee," &c. "My Lord, dost thou mean me? Yes, even me, if I by faith cling to Thy cross." "I have graven thee." It does not say, "Thy name." The name is there, but this is not all; "I have graven thee." See the fulness of this! I have graven everything about thee, all that concerns thee; it is a full picture, as though the man himself were there.
6. We are engraven, where? Upon His hands, not upon the works of His hands. They shall perish; yea, they shall all wax old as doth a garment, but His hands shall endure for ever. Notice, it does not say, "I have graven thee upon the palm of one hand," but "I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands." There are two memorials. His saints shall never be forgotten, for the inscription is put there upon the palm of this hand, the right hand of blessing, and upon the palm of that hand, the left hand of justice.
Now let us proceed to the second part of the subject—
II. Consider the text as a whole. God's remembrance of His people is—
2. Practical. He will work and show Himself strong for His people; He brings His omnipotent hands to effect our redemption.
3. Eternal. You cannot suppose it possible that any person can erase what is written on God's hand.
5. Most surprising. Child of God, let your cheerful eyes and your joyful heart testify how great a wonder it is that you, once so far estranged from God, are this day written on the palms of His hands.
6. Most consolatory. There is no sorrow to which our text is not an antidote.
III. Be heedful of the duty which such a text suggests.
1. If you be partakers of this precious text, is it not your duty to leave your cares behind you to-day? Should not the fact that God always graciously and tenderly recollects you, compel you once for all to leave your burden with Him who careth for you?
2. If this text is not yours, how your mouths ought to water after it! Is there a soul here who says, "O that I had a part and lot in this matter!" Thou mayest have His pardoning love shed abroad in thy heart even now.—C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 512.
THE PROMISED INCREASE OF THE CHURCH
Isa . Lift up thine eyes round about, &c.
Two things are here promised, which were to be in part accomplished in the reviving of the Jewish church, after its return out of captivity, but more fully in the planting of the Christian Church, by the preaching of the Gospel of Christ; and we may take the comfort of these promises.
I. That the Church shall be replenished by the adding to it of great numbers. It was promised (Isa ) that her children should "make haste;" that promise is here enlarged upon, and is made very encouraging. It is promised—
1. That multitudes shall flock to the Church from all parts (Isa ). They came to Jerusalem from all the adjacent countries, for that was then the centre of their unity; but, under the Gospel, it is by a spiritual accession to the mystical body of Christ in faith and love (Heb 12:22-23). It is a matter of joy to the Church to see a multitude of converts to Christ.
2. That such as are added to the Church shall not be a burthen and blemish to her, but her strength and ornament (Isa ). This promise is accomplished, and only then, when those who are added to the Church are serious, holy, and exemplary in their conversation.
3. That the country which was waste, desolate, and without inhabitant, shall be again peopled, nay, it shall be overpeopled (Isa ). What a reversal of the sentence previously and justly passed! (Isa 5:9-13; Isa 6:11). The kingdom of God among men, which had been impoverished and almost depopulated, partly by the corruptions of the Jewish church, and partly by the abominations of the Gentile world, was again peopled and enriched by the setting up of the Christian Church, and by its graces and glories.
4. That the new converts shall strangely increase and multiply (Isa ). Jerusalem, after she has lost abundance of children by the sword, famine, and captivity, shall have a new family growing up instead of them (Zec 8:5). So the Church, after it has lost the Jews, cut off by their own infidelity, shall have abundance of children still, more than she had when the Jews belonged to her (Gal 4:27). They shall be so numerous that
(1.) the children shall complain for want of room (cf. 2Ki ). Yet still more shall desire to be admitted, and the Church shall gladly admit them, and the inconvenient straitness of the place shall be no hindrance to either (Luk 14:21-22).
(2.) The mother shall stand amazed at the increase of her family (Isa ). The Church may at times be few in number, and left desolate. Yet the desolations shall not be perpetual, nor will it be found hard for God to repair them, and out of stones to raise up children to Abraham. The increase of the Church is always due, not to the efforts of the Church, however well and wisely they may be put forth, but to the blessing" of God (1Co 3:7).
5. That this shall be done with the help of the Gentiles (Isa ). Observe,
(1.) How the Gentiles shall be called in.
(2.) The kindly service they shall render to the sons of Zion.
II. That the Church shall have a great and prevailing interest in the nations (Isa ).
2. Others of them, who stand only against the Church's interests, will be forced to yield, and repent of their opposition. "They shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet." And by all this it shall be made to appear—
(1.) That God is the sovereign Lord of all, against whom there is no standing out or rising up.
(2.) That those who wait for Him, in dependence upon His promise and resignation to His will, shall not be made ashamed of their hope.—Matthew Henry: Commentary, in loco.
I. The promised increase of the Church. 1. In number.
2. In honour.
3. In triumph.
II. The encouragement it affords us for missionary exertions.
1. God is able to effect this great thing.
2. He has engaged to effect it
3. The beginnings are already visible before our eyes.
1. Let our expectations of it be enlarged.
2. Let our prayers for it be poured forth.
3. Let our exertions be used.—C. Simeon, M.A.
THE DUTY OF THE RULERS OF NATIONS IN REGARD TO THE CHURCH OF GOD
Isa . Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers.
The Church is here foreseen and described in her abased condition—a captive, oppressed, in exile, diminished, feeble, afflicted, brought low. The prophet anticipates and predicts her restoration, increase, and glory; and he calls upon heaven and earth to rejoice in the event (Isa ). It is evident that the predicted blessedness comprehended a vast deal more than the restoration from the Babylonish captivity. The prophet speaks of the admission of the Gentiles into the Church of God; multitudes were thereby to be added to it (Isa 49:6-7; Isa 49:12; Isa 49:18). Then we are informed in what manner and by what means the Lord will bring all this to pass (Isa 49:22-23). The obvious meaning is, that the Lord would so overrule the hearts and ways of men, in the accomplishment of His gracious designs, as that, even where they were themselves not partakers of His mercy, He would dispose them to favour His cause; and whether with or against their consent, He would so work upon them as to make them instrumental in the deliverance of His Church and the promotion of His glory. Nor should this wonderful exertion of the Divine wisdom and power be confined to the lower classes; even kings and queens should deem it their highest honour to take part in so great a work.
The present truths which this prophecy brings before us are these:—that all rulers of nations should now exert their power for the extension and welfare of the Church; that it would be for their happiness and honour were they so engaged; and that they cannot neglect this duty, or disregard this privilege, without incurring the most awful responsibility, and provoking God to mark them out as signally in the execution of His judgments, as they are elevated above others in rank and dignity.
I. The rulers of the nations are the servants of God (Pro ). According to the teaching of His Word, He, by various providential means, calls them and appoints them to their work; and holds them responsible for the manner in which they execute it. The mightiest potentates of old are, for these reasons, spoken of as His servants: Cyrus (Isa 41:1-4; Isa 44:24-28; Isa 45:1-6); Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 25:9; Jer 43:10); Pharaoh (Exo 9:13-16). So it is still.
II. As such, they are bound, above all things, to promote the honour of His name in the welfare of His church and people. All who are entrusted with the ruling authority are bound to promote the best interests of the people over whom they preside. But what are these? Not the extension of territory, the spread of conquest, the multiplicity of resources, the advancement of the arts and sciences, of wealth and honour, business and trade; these cannot be neglected without a gross violation of the trust with which rulers are invested; but a nation's best interests are those that are distinctly religious. It is on the promotion of these that the true happiness of nations depends, and therefore it is to the furtherance of these that the attention and energy of their rulers be most constantly and carefully given.
III. A discharge or disregard of this obligation will always yield a sure test of their own state and the character of their government. "By their fruits ye shall know them."
IV. Where this duty is intelligently recognised and reverently obeyed by rulers, certain things are certain to occur:—
1. There will be on the part of the rulers deep humiliation before God, coupled with free and ingenuous confessions both of individual and national guilt. No man can ever heartily desire or attempt to promote the glory of God without perceiving how grievously he has hitherto neglected his bounden obligation; and how unworthy he is, either of the mercy which is requisite for his salvation, or of the honourable service to which he is called. This discovery and conviction will lay him low before God (Ezr ; Dan 9:4-6).
2. There will be desire to seek the guidance and acknowledge the hand of God in everything. Whoever aims to serve God aright will never set about such a work in his own wisdom and strength. What a pattern for all princes and rulers is the prayer of Solomon! (1Ki ). In national adversity and prosperity alike, the superintending providence of God will be recognised (Job 10:2; Psa 118:23).
3. There will be on the part of the rulers a fixed determination to banish all wicked men from their presence, and to exclude them from their councils (Psalms 101; P. D. 2157).
4. There will be an anxiety to fill all the offices of the Church and State with men that fear the Lord, love the truth, and who will labour with heart and hand for the promotion of true godliness. When a man is brought under the influence of the principles now set forth, the question will be, not merely what shall I do immediately by mine own hand, but what am I able to accomplish through the agency of others? If "he who ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God," they that bear office and authority under Him must be men actuated by the same motives, and aiming at the same object.
1. How evident it is, that it is not to an easy office that any man is called when he is exalted to a throne, or entrusted with the affairs of a kingdom! (P. D. 2143.)
2. How disastrous is the influence, and how great is the guilt, of ungodly princes and rulers! (P. D. 2145-2147).
3. How earnestly should we pray for our rulers, that God may bless them and direct them in all His ways! (P. D. 2153).—R. Shittler, in the Protestant Preacher, vol. iii. pp. 419-438.
THE RESULT OF WAITING UPON GOD
Isa . They shall not be ashamed that wait for Me.
For the godless of every kind, for hypocrites in particular, the future is full of dread. Millions shall be put to shame, and given over to everlasting contempt. But not so shall it be with one of those who wait upon God.
I. WAITING UPON GOD. This signifies,
1. A patient expectation of the fulfilment of His word, whether it be a prophecy or a promise.
2. A regular attention to the means of grace (see vol. i. pp. 179, 332, and pp. 38-49 of this volume).
II. THE RESULT OF WAITING UPON GOD. Not disappointment and humiliation, but prayers answered and hopes fulfilled. Those shall not be ashamed:
1. The penitent who feels the bitterness of trangressions, and laments it with a broken and contrite heart, and waits upon God, seeking for pardon and righteousness through the atoning sacrifice of Christ.
2. The Christian who is relying upon the providential help of a covenant-keeping God.
3. The believer who is waiting for the accomplishment of God's grace in himself, in the sanctification of his heart.
4. The Christian waiting for the coming of Christ, and the crown of righteousness which shall then be given to all who love His appearing.—Thomas Blackley, A.M.: Practical Sermons, vol. ii. pp. 182-199.
THE DIVINE SLOWNESS
Isa . "Wait."
This word is the one word which the Divine wisdom often seems to utter in rebuke of human impatience. In holy Scripture men are often counselled to wait; to wait upon God, to wait for God: language which supposes delay and the need of patience. Man is eager, hurried, impatient—everywhere so, but God is never in haste. The Divine proceedings are slow—everywhere slow. This is a great fact; a fact full of light, such as should contribute to guide us safely through many a season of darkness.
I. We see it in the realms of nature and providence.
1. The history of the earth is illustrative of it. Concerning the process by which the heavens became peopled with the brilliancies we now see there, we know nothing, &c. But we have some knowledge of the changes through which this earth had to pass before it became a fitting habitation for man. In the solitude of those far-off ages progressive change gave existence to progressive life—the lives of plants and of animals, &c. During those long eras the Eternal was here alone. Of beings conscious of His being, none would seem to have been with Him. Man is to come; but for him there is to be long waiting, &c. And He would have men regard the operation of His hands, so that they also may know how to wait. There is something divine in being able so to do.
2. There is something in the movement of the seasons tending to remind us of this great law. The changes of day and night, how slow, how gradual, how imperceptible! How gentle is the coming of the light! How silently and slowly does it give place to darkness! These might have come with suddenness, as if from a hurried hand; but they do not, &c.
3. There is something in the history of all life adapted to convey the same lesson. Life, whether in plants or animals, is everywhere a growth; and all growth is silent, gradual, so gradual as not to be perceived. All this is rooted in mystery. Individual life in man, in the sense of education or development, is in harmony with all that has gone before it. But the truth we are illustrating is seen conspicuously in the history of national life. If the education of an individual be so slow, what marvel if the education of a people should be very slow? (H. E. I. 3420.)
II. So far we see, from facts in nature and providence, it behoves us to guard against impatience in judging the ways of God, and to know how to wait. Religion, revealed religion, includes much in harmony with those facts. It is, moreover, in these phases of religion that we find some of the aspects of it which are often especially perplexing to Christians.
1. We see a fact of this nature in the long interval which was to pass between the promise of a Saviour and His advent. Sin enters the world, &c. Four thousand years pass, and the Promised One does not come. Now in the history of the earth, in the slowness of the changes through which it was to pass before it came to be what it was to be, we see enough to prevent our being greatly surprised by such a fact. What was to be gained by this delay, we can know only in part.
2. So when the Saviour did come, the manner of His coming was not such as the thoughts of man would have anticipated. The kingdom of God was to come without observation (Luk ). It was to begin with small beginnings. Its Founder was to be to many as a root out of a dry ground, as one without form and comeliness, &c. But these facts are in harmony with the Divine conduct as known elsewhere. It is not the manner of the Almighty to cause great things to become great at once. Our Lord revealed Himself even to His disciples gradually, slowly, imperfectly. If the Church, which is to fill the world, had its beginning in the hut of a fisherman, or in the upper room in Jerusalem, this is only in accordance with the Divine law of things. The great forces of nature all move thus, without noise, without haste, so secretly that we never know their beginnings, and so slowly that we can never see their motion, though we know that they are moving.
3. Nor is it without mystery to many minds that the history of revealed religion since the advent should have been such as it has been. No truth the world had ever possessed had been proof against corruption. Out of all the evolutions of error, out of all the devices of evil, He will educe lessons for the future which shall cause His universe to be upon the whole the wiser and the better for all that has happened. But for this we must wait. Often we see good come out of evil. In the end we shall see that all things have been regulated towards such an issue. "The Lord God omnipotent reigneth."
4. If we descend from the general life of the Church to the spiritual history of the individual believer, we may find much there to remind us that the experience of the Church at large and of the Christian, taken separately, are regulated by the same intelligence. In our tendency towards haste we naturally wish to see the world converted soon, very soon. So when we enter on the Christian life, we covet that it should be matured speedily. But it does not so mature. We unlearn the evil slowly; we learn the good still more slowly, &c. All this is very humiliating and very painful. But, as the good in the Church is to be tasked and strengthened by being exposed to the evil in the world, so the better principles and tendencies in the Christian are to become more rooted and powerful by means of this personal conflict. Here, as everywhere, we are schooled to wait (H. E. I. 2508-2530).
5. So it is with the events which make up the story of a life. The meaning of some of these we may see at once; we feel that we need the sort of discipline they bring with them; we pray with the devoutest ancient, "Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me;" and the wherefore is not allowed to remain a secret Paul's thorn in the flesh was an experience of this nature, painful in many ways, but declared to be salutary for his inner and higher life. But in most instances of this kind, we have to wait, it may be to wait long, before we see the Divine purpose in the things which befall us. With regard to much in our history, we are expected to wait for the revelations of the world to come. It need scarcely be said that the waiting intended is not mere passiveness; it is to be as those who wait for the bridegroom, not in sleep, but with loins girt about and lamps burning. (See pp. 38-49).—Robert Vaughan, D.D., Pulpit Analyst, vol. iii. pp. 1-15.
THE PREY TAKEN FROM THE MIGHTY
Isa . Shall the prey be taken from the mighty? &c.
The history of God's love to His people is a ground of encouragement and hope to the Church in all aftertime, because God, human nature, and the power and influence of religion are always the same. The text turns upon the difficulty of conveying hope and comfort to disconsolate minds. The prophet had been giving to the disconsolate glorious promises of the future restoration of the Church (Isa ), but he was met by the difficulty of their inability to believe that those promises could be fulfilled. They asked, thinking that only an unfavourable answer could be given to their question, "Shall the prey," &c. Mark the confidence of the prophet's answer, "But thus saith the Lord," &c. Various lawful, instructive, and encouraging uses may be made of our text.
Note how amply the promises of the text meet these sources of discouragement. It is answered by a "Thus saith the Lord," i.e., hopeless as the case may seem to you, all the difficulties shall give way when I interpose. "Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away," &c.; "though they be a nation strong and powerful, ye shall be rescued from their hands, for I will oppose My strength and wisdom to theirs, and the resources of My providence to all the pride of their power." God Himself would come down into the field as their champion: "I will contend," &c. Nay, more: He promises to make the ruin of the foe conspicuous as the deliverance of His friends. "I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh, and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as sweet wine;" i.e., He would cause them to destroy one another with as much eagerness as half-famished men fall upon a well-furnished table; they shall hasten to that banquet of blood with as much fervour as men hasten to a banquet of wine. The historian tells us that on the night in which Babylon was taken many of the Chaldeans fell off from Belshazzar and joined the standard of Cyrus; they were themselves most forward in surprising the city, and showing the way into the king's palace, where they slew him and all his attendants. Thus the promise of the text was fulfilled by the overthrow of the reigning government, and the introduction of a new dynasty to the throne. So completely was this done, that the captives were as much overpowered by the greatness of their deliverance as they had before been confounded by the depth of the calamity (Psa ).
Learn, then, how fully God can make good His promises, and disperse the worst fears of His people. "The Lord can clear the darkest skies." And He does it with as much tenderness as power (Isa ). The captives feared more for their beloved families than for themselves, as you do for yours, and the promise respects them: "And I will save thy children."
II. Apply it spiritually to man's redemption by Christ. To the convicted sinner, human redemption has often seemed incompatible with the inalienable claims of Divine justice, which seem to demand that the punishment of the transgressors should take its course. God cannot connive at sin; and the law we have broken is holy, just, and good, as necessary to the happiness of the universe as it is essential to the glory of God; a law too good to be repealed, too sacred to be trifled with; the abrogation of it would dethrone the Deity, and pour anarchy through all the worlds He has made (H. E. I. 3157, 3188). How then shall the great dilemma which sin has introduced be met? If mercy triumphs, justice is tarnished; if justice prevail, man is overthrown for ever. Mere power has no force in regard to moral questions; it cannot make right wrong, or wrong right. To solve this question was a task for Omniscience: God dealt with it, and through Scripture has made known to us its solution (Isa ; Rom 3:19-26, &c.; H. E. I. 375-382, 396). Justice triumphs in the death of Christ, and mercy triumphs in the pardon of penitent sinners through Him. The very idea of redemption turns upon this point. It means the buying back again of lost and forfeited good, by a compensative arrangement between the parties. In ancient times the lives of prisoners taken in war were held to be at the disposal of the conqueror, and the acceptance of a stipulated ransom was the established mode of buying back the lives and liberty of the prisoners. The law of God, with all the forces of the universe behind it, must be in the end the conqueror of all who rebel against it, and in the Gospel we are told that the ransom-price was the death of Christ, who gave Himself for us and suffered in our stead (1Pe 1:18). The ransom was sufficient (H. E. I. 377-381).
III. Apply the text experimentally to the Christian's deliverance from sin.
1. Jesus not only made atonement for our sins; He at the same time contended with and overcame our worst enemies. Man was the willing servant of the powers of darkness; not a forced captive, but a ready subject of Satan. But, by dying, Jesus overcame him who had dominion over our race (Heb ; Eph 4:8). He literally made good the promise, "I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children."
2. In converting grace, the triumph is the same; and in the experience of the penitent sinner it is continually renewed (Luk ; Luk 11:20-22). Christ's people are pardoned and delivered from the power of sin in all its forms; in every conflict He gives them victory, and He will do so to the end (Rom 6:14; Rom 8:37; H. E. I. 1099, 1106, 1112-1119).
IV. Apply it prospectively to the blessed resurrection from the dead promised to the people of God.—Samuel Thodey.
Both in providence and grace, "man's extremity is God's opportunity." Of this, the Jews needed to be reminded. They had been taken into captivity, and were detained there for the punishment of their sins. They had been assured that God would deliver them in due time, but the difficulties in the way of the fulfilment of that promise seemed so insuperable, that they despairingly asked, "Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?" To this question Isaiah was authorised confidently to give a reassuring reply (Isa ).
I. To this question there was an answer in the deliverance of the Jewish people from the tyranny of Egypt. The history of what God did for their fathers should have prevented the Jews in Babylon from asking this question. But in every new extremity men are prone to forget the history of the past.
II. There was an answer to this question in the deliverance of the people of God from their captivity in Babylon. It seemed impossible, but it was accomplished, and in precisely the manner that God had predicted. These things were written for our learning!
III. There was an answer to this question in the great work of human redemption effected by Christ on the Cross. That seemed the hour of Satan's victory; it was the hour of his defeat (Col ).
IV. There are answers to this question in the conversion of sinners by the preaching of the Gospel. The glorious work of emancipation still goes on (Luk ; 2Co 10:4).
V. There will be an answer to this question when our Redeemer returns with power and great glory. Then death and the grave shall be compelled to give up their prey; and death and hell shall be "cast into the lake of fire."—W. Dransfield: Forty-six Short Sermons, pp. 239-264.
I. The enemy to be encountered. Satan, an enemy that is mighty and terrible.
1. In the nature of his influence. On the intellectual and moral man—the immortal soul.
2. In the number of his agents. A legion against one.
3. In the extent of his territory.
II. The captives he retains.
1. Those who are born where he reigns unrivalled. Idolatrous countries.
2. Those who yield to his sway, though deliverance is at hand. Pharisees. Hardened sinners.
III. The prospect of deliverance.
1. The price of their redemption is provided.
2. The agent that can make it effective.
3. The means are in operation to make the deliverance known.
4. Specimens of triumph already obtained.
IV. The means to be employed.
1. Fervent and importunate prayer.
2. Free and extensive diffusion of the charter of liberty—"The Word of God."—Studies for the Pulpit, part ii. p. 308.
RESOURCES OF THE ADVERSARY, AND MEANS OF THEIR DESTRUCTION
Isa . Thus saith the Lord, &c.
The Scriptures teach that sin commenced its reign on earth under the auspices of a mighty fallen spirit; and that he, having seduced mankind from their allegiance to God, has constantly maintained his bad eminence overthem. They also teach, that the Son of God has interposed to destroy the works of this spirit; and that He will accomplish the object; that the power of Satan shall be broken, and the whole world be restored to loyalty and the favour of heaven. Other passages allude to the success with which the enemy of God has fortified his cause; to its final overthrow; and to the exultation and joy with which the event will fill earth and heaven (chap. Isa ; Luk 11:21-22; Rev 11:15; Rev 19:5-6). An alienated world requires more moral power for its restoration than that of simple law, which proved insufficient to maintain its allegiance. It requires a new moral influence, so introduced and applied as to corroborate law, and strengthen the loyalty of all the good, while rebels are reconciled and pardoned. Consider—
I. THE WEAPONS AND RESOURCES OF THE ENEMY.
1. At the head of opposition to the Gospel, in numerical power, must be placed idolatry. To banish from the earth all knowledge of God and His government, and substitute a worship composed of lust and blood, seems most desirable to the great adversary, where circumstances allow it to be done; and this he has achieved in respect to about six hundred millions of the human family.
2. Imposture. This was introduced by Mahomed. It was a system accommodated to the condition of a mingled population, composed of Pagans, Jews, and nominal Christians, all in a state of great ignorance and deep moral debasement.
3. Papal superstition. This has been, and is still, the master-piece of that wisdom which is from beneath; concentrating the bad influence of all past systems. Popery is a system where science and ignorance, refinement and barbarism, wisdom and stupidity, taste and animalism, mistaken zeal and malignant enmity, may sanctimoniously pour out their virulence against the Gospel, and cry "Hosanna!" while they go forth to shed the blood and to wear out the patience of the saints.
4. The despotic governments of the earth.
5. Crime in its varied forms. A vast amount of capital is embarked in enterprises which, directly or indirectly, war against morality. All this, when the spirit of Christianity shall prevail, will be contraband, and be withdrawn.
6. A more liberal sort of religion which shall keep the opposition in countenance, and enable them to wield the name and institutions of Christianity against Christianity—including so much truth as may serve to beguile, but so little as cannot avail to save—sustained by such as live in pleasure, and will not bow the knee to Christ.
7. The corruption of the purity of revivals of religion. Terrible, by the power of revivals, as an army with banners, the victory of the Church is secure, unless fanaticism can be substituted for pure-religion, and her compact masses be broken and scattered by the commotion of unhallowed passions within. In this manner was the glory of the Reformation eclipsed, and vital religion, in the time of Cromwell, made a scoff and a by-word. The same attempt was made in New England early in the days of our fathers. It was repeated in the time of White-field and the immortal Edwards, with lamentable, though with but partial success.
8. All these great divisions of systematic opposition to the Gospel have, where circumstances allowed, been supplemented by the sword. Christianity, in her first attempt to disenthrall the world, met the storms of ten persecutions, protracted through a period of three hundred years.
And now, can such varied and mighty resistance to the truth be overcome? Can the earth be enlightened? Can the nations be disenthralled? Can the whole creation, which has groaned and travailed together in pain until now, be brought out of bondage into glorious liberty? Yes; all this can be done, and will be done. Our next inquiry then is,
II. HOW SHALL EVENTS SO DESIRABLE BE ACCOMPLISHED?
1. By the judgments of heaven, in which the Son of man will come upon the strong man armed and take away his armour.
2. By the universal propagation of the Gospel; before the light of which, idolatry, imposture, and superstition, will retreat abashed.
3. By frequent, and at last, general revivals of religion; giving resistless power to the Gospel, as it is preached to every creature.
4. By the special influence of the Holy Spirit. The simple presence of Christianity would no more convert the heathen, than it converts those where it already exists. Were every family on earth now blessed with a Bible and a pastor, these, without the effusion of the Spirit, would not maintain upon the earth an uncorrupt, nominal Christianity for one hundred years.
5. By a new and unparalleled vigour of Christian enterprise. Until then, the Church will have been the assailed party, and stood upon the defensive; but thenceforth the word of command will not be "Stand," but "March." The gates of the holy city will be thrown open; the tide of war will be rolled upon the enemy; and one shall chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight. The means and efforts for evangelising the world must correspond, however, with the magnitude of the result. The idea that God will convert the heathen in His own good time, and that Christians have nothing to do but to pray and devoutly wait, is found in no canonical book. From the beginning the cause of God on earth has been maintained and carried forward only by the most heroic exertion. Christianity, even in the age of miracles, was not propagated but by stupendous efforts. And it is only by a revival of primitive zeal and enterprise that the glorious things spoken of the city of our God can be accomplished.
But what can be done? There must be in the church of God—
1. More faith.
2. More intense love for Christ.
3. More decided action.
4. More courage.
5. New and more vigorous efforts to increase the number and power of evangelical churches in our lands.
6. Special effort is required to secure to the rising generation an education free from the influence of bad example, and more decidedly evangelical.
7. The vigour of charitable effort must be greatly increased.
8. The jealousies of Christians who are united substantially in their views of evangelical doctrine and religion, and who are divided only by localities, and rites, and forms, must yield, and give place to the glorious exigencies of the present day.
9. We must guard against the dangers peculiar to a state of religious prosperity.
CONCLUSION.—Will any of you, in this glorious day, take side against the cause of Christ? It will be a fearful experiment. And woe unto him who contendeth with his Maker!—Lyman Beecher, D.D.: Missionary Enterprise, pp. 121-142. (Boston Edition.)
THE SAFETY OF THE CHURCH
Isa . And all flesh shall know, &c.
I. God is the protector of the Church, and no weapons formed against her shall prosper. The efforts which have been made to destroy the Church of God have been vain. Israel in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Babylon, and under Antiochus Epiphanes. The early persecutions of the Christians in Judea, in the Roman Empire. The persecution of the Waldenses in Switzerland; of the Huguenots in France; and of the Reformers in England. "The gates of hell shall not prevail against her" (H. E. I. 1246-1251).
II. The Church's enemies shall be distracted in their counsels, and left to anarchy and overthrow. God will fill the ranks of His foes with confusion, and suffer them to be torn and distracted with internal strifes.
III. The Church shall rise resplendent from all her persecutions, and shall prosper ultimately, just in proportion to their efforts to destroy it. The effect of all shall be the diffusion of the Gospel among all nations, and to bring all men to acknowledge that He who thus protects His Church is the true and only God—the Saviour, the Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.—Adapted from Barnes' Commentary.
SALVATION FOR THE LITTLE ONES
Isa . I will save thy children.
This promise of salvation for the children has made the heart of many a pious parent thrill with delight. "The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice." In fact, worldly and even wicked parents are often glad to see their children religious. They admire and approve in them that religion which they know, to their sorrow, they are neglecting themselves. If an appeal were made to the adult members of an ordinary congregation as to whether a minister ought to urge religion upon the attention of children, all as with one voice would respond, "By all means try to save the little ones." This blessed promise, "I will save thy children," will be regarded by such as one of the most precious in the Bible.
I. TO WHOM THIS PRECIOUS PROMISE IS MADE. The verses which cluster around it possess more than common interest. They depict scenes radiant with the glory of Zion's successes and triumphs. In the midst of all these glorious triumphs, this heart-cheering promise comes in, "and I will save thy children."
Viewing those words in the light thrown upon them by these surroundings, may we not safely say, This is a part of the heritage of God's Church? And are we not to expect that the Lord will fulfil His promise in a special manner at a time when His church is reviving and multiplying? Is not the salvation of the children here placed before us as the crowning glory of Christ's Church, when she is in the full tide of her prosperity? Is it not made to you, and on behalf of your children?
Let each pious parent at once put in his claim, "Lord, Thou hast specially promised to save my children; now fulfil Thy gracious word. Let me see them holy, useful, and happy here; let me hereafter meet them in heaven. According to Thy word, I look for this. While I pray, watch, and work for the salvation of my children, I am expecting Thee to verify the truth of Thy promise and to save them." Those parents who connect with this spirit of prayerful expectation a godly and winsome example, will soon see their children happy in God.
Save! Nothing less than the unsearchable riches of Christ. Health for the soul, complete liberty from the bondage of sin, "the glorious liberty of the children of God." These four letters SAVE include "the gift of God," which is "eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
This promise specially belongs to God's own people. Does not this furnish one of the strongest reasons why unconverted parents should seek religion? How sacred and solemn is the parental relationship! Every child is a fallen, though a redeemed, sinner; and each will be saved or lost for ever. Yet how few unsaved parents think of the eternal ruin that thus threatens their own children.—G. A. Page.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany