THE DIVINE PROVISION FOR HUMAN NEED
Isa . Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, &c.
The world owes much to the Hebrew mind, and the fine foreshadowings of the ancient prophets. Isaiah touches a chord to which all hearts vibrate, speaking of the birth of Christ, &c. And like a true friend of our suffering race, he sympathises with those who hunger, with those who are weary, and with those who are athirst, No wonder that this old book should still be welcome to man, should never exhaust itself, never grow old, because there is so much in it which appeals to the living heart of humanity. Take the text as an instance, which exhibits the blessings of the Gospel under the most delightful aspects. Consider—
I. How DEEPLY THE BLESSINGS OF THE GOSPEL ARE NEEDED.
1. They are not blessings which we can do very well with, or very well without, but they are absolutely vital to our existence. The Gospel is one thing in all ages, and it is the one thing needful for sinful, suffering, dying man—needful to youth and age, &c.
2. But besides this, the thirst of the soul for something greater or nobler than earth can give, is universal
3. The text especially addresses those who thirst after the blessings of pardon and salvation, who feel their destitution of grace, &c. How precious are Gospel blessings to those who feel their need of them!
II. HOW EMINENTLY ADAPTED THEY ARE TO OUR NEED.
Water, milk, wine, bread, are not more suited to the wants of the body, than Christ and salvation are to the deeper wants of the immortal mind. The real ground of the adaptation of the Gospel to man's need, arises from its power to meet the twofold difficulty under which we labour—the guilt of past sin, and the present love of sin. The Gospel experimentally received, acts with the fixedness and certainty of a general law, and becomes "the power of God unto salvation," &c.
III. HOW FREELY THEY ARE PROCLAIMED.
Our encouragement to seek these blessings is as ample as our need is great. "Come ye to the waters," &c. There can be no contrariety between the absolute freeness of Divine grace, and the appeals and invitations to sinners in the Gospel. The doctrine of the Scripture is that all are welcome to Gospel grace to whom Gospel grace is welcome, &c. The invitation is very free and full, designed to meet all the discouragements of grace-wanting spirits. Come, and come NOW.
IV. HOW FEARFUL ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF NEGLECTING THEM.
An eternal famine must be the result. The greatest guilt must be involved in the rejection of the greatest mercy; and by the grandeur of the blessedness of the saved, you may calculate the depth of the misery of the lost. This ruin is aggravated—
1. By the thought that it is self-caused.
2. By the thought of the worthlessness of the objects for which it is resigned. "Wherefore do ye spend," &c. Though the Gospel is absolutely free and gratuitous, yet its blessings must be sought.—Samuel Thodey.
We may term these words the Gospel summons, the trumpet call from Heaven to man, bidding him to the great fulness of God's redeeming love. The call reminds us—
I. That the religious wants of man are imperious, and they are universal. By their being imperious we mean that they have a power to assert themselves in such a way that we must feel them, however we may explain them. The opening verses of this chapter supply us with the strongest illustration of the religious feeling in man, for they describe it as a hunger and a thirst—a view of the matter very familiar to us in the Scriptures. And what more imperious feelings does the body experience than those of hunger and thirst? So is it with the soul. It hungers and thirsts quite as truly, quite as deeply, as the body. No thirst was ever more real than that described by the psalmist (Psa ).
The religious need is also universal, i.e., it is involved in the life of every human soul. It may be more or less developed, but the spiritual capacity is there, and will in due time assert its strength. We may say that the spiritual craving is—
1. Conscious, i.e., has become distinctly intelligible to the soul who is alive with yearnings after God. This is the state of which our Lord speaks (Mat ).
2. Or, it may be said to be unconscious, i.e., all the elements of yearning and dissatisfaction may be there, though the soul does not recognise their true meaning and treat them in the right way. Hence we may trace the hunger and thirst of the spirit in the very perversions of life, such as the following:—Undue eagerness after earthly possessions; vices, by which men seek spurious happiness; tyrannies, by which they seek undue mastery, &c. These very disorders witness to the active spirit within, and the facts are everywhere present: "that religious instincts are as truly a part of our nature as are our appetites and our nerves, is a fact which all history establishes, and which forms one of the strongest proofs of the reality of that unseen world to which the soul of man continually tends."
II. Our text announces that these spiritual wants are provided for. "Come ye to the waters: come and eat." This is a great secret of the Gospel message, that it not only describes our need, but also offers the supply. The former without the latter would prove a cruel mockery. "The waters" here spoken of set forth the fitting and overflowing provisions of God for our wants. When we rightly know our need, we shall eagerly respond to His message:—e.g., the Gospel declares—
1. God's love for human souls. We are not Fatherless. With a deep and infinite love far beyond expression or thought, He cares for us (Joh ).
2. God's help for human souls. In order to attain to our true life, we need—light in our mind: cleansing of the heart: redemption from the power of all sin. All these things are meant by the one word salvation, and they are comprised in the saving work of Christ (1Co ). Salvation, then, is a great word, and it means a great provision. "Come ye to the waters." The provision is as wide as the need—"Every one."
III. The terms are within the reach of all. In this matter of salvation there is no privilege of aristocracy, or money, or position, or power. It is not a question of purchasing. What can I offer to God for what He gives me? All that I have, worth possessing, first came from Him: I have nothing of my own. In this respect we all stand upon equal footing before God. The richest has nothing to give, and the poorest is not kept back by his poverty.
And yet there is a condition in the matter which we must all face. There is one thing we have to do—we have to come to the waters. This indicates the personal trust and the voluntary surrender that God requires of us, and this is what we mean by faith. The condition upon which God saves us may be fulfilled by any and all of us.
IV. From all this it follows, that those who come short of the blessings of God's redemption, are themselves to blame.—W. Manning.
Here are plain words, in which plain facts and truths are stated, for the instruction and encouragement of plain people. The prophet uses figures drawn from the common experience of common life to set forth the promises of Divine revelation.
I. MAN'S WANT. As hunger and thirst are primary and universal facts of human nature, so has man's soul appetites which call for satisfaction. We experience desire and need for true happiness, for the favour of God, for joy and peace of heart, for a law of life, for comfort under trials, for a hope, an assurance of immortality. Man's wants are real, numerous, and pressing.
II. MAN'S VAIN ENDEAVOUR TO SATISFY THE WANTS OF THE SOUL. As the miserable inhabitants of a besieged city buy the vilest carrion to stay their hunger, as wretched slaves toil beneath the sun for long hours with no wages in prospect, so the irreligious, in their folly and delusion, seek to satisfy the needs of the soul with the vain things of this perishing world; so the misguided and superstitious strive to appease the conscience with unprofitable observances (H. E. I. 2378-2387, 4627-4630).
III. GOD'S SUPPLY IS PROVIDED FOR MAN'S WANTS. In contradistinction from the foul carrion and the polluted waters of the world, we have here set before us the wholesome bread, the new milk, the pure wine of the Gospel of Divine grace. Here you may find in Christ a provision of salvation; in the gift of the Holy Spirit all spiritual help and guidance. The fact that the Gospel is from God is a guarantee that it is adapted to the necessities of men; and He has caused it to be published from His fatherly desire that our hunger and thirst should no longer distress and torment our spirits.
IV. THE GRACIOUS TERMS UPON WHICH THE GOSPEL OFFERS TO SUPPLY HUMAN WANTS.
1. The blessings of Divine love are offered to every one who both needs and desires them—to every one who will receive them by faith.
2. They are offered without any demand for payment, without money, and without price. In fact, it is impossible for us to give anything which can purchase them; and it is impossible for the Giver to accept any recompense save that of love and obedience.—The Homiletical Library, vol. ii., p. 117, 118.
THE GOSPEL INVITATION.
Men seek happiness. But they usually seek happiness in some wrong way. There is in many men a craving for religious peace and satisfaction. The soul's craving is met by this Gospel. Here is—
I. THE DESCRIPTION OF A PRICELESS BLESSING.
"Water," "wine," "milk." The metaphors come from the East. We must place ourselves in the circumstances of Oriental life. Wine, such as was commonly used in Palestine. Milk, so precious everywhere. Water Travellers in the desert know the value of water when the supply is exhausted and no stream appears. Also those who have climbed a mountain on a hot summer's day. Suppose the case of a great city, with the supply of water completely exhausted. Suppose, by some change in the course of nature, water was entirely withdrawn from the earth. It would be speedily reduced to a dreary waste, where desolation and death would reign supreme. But this is man's condition when destitute of the Gospel of Christ.
II. THE TERMS OF A GRACIOUS INVITATION.
1. The act which it contemplates. "Come." "Buy." "Eat." This is the attitude of the Gospel towards mankind as distinguished from other religions. They say to poor, helpless, fallen humanity, "Go and do something." The Gospel says, "Come." It is the attitude of the loving Father toward His wandering child; of the wealthy friend who says to the needy one in whom he is interested, "Come to me;" of the strong and gracious Saviour, Who bids the weary and heavy laden come. Can anything be simpler than to come and take what you need? To come to Jesus is to believe in Him, &c.
2. The condition it specifies. In many parts of our cities benevolent individuals have placed drinking fountains where men and cattle may quench their thirst freely by simply coming and taking the water as it flows. It is a good emblem of the Gospel, and of the terms on which sinners are invited to partake its blessings. When God provided salvation in Christ, He provided it on terms that illustrate its derivation from His love. He does not demand, and will not accept a price at our hands. What price could we bring? Our righteousness is an inadequate price. Self-righteous pride must be abandoned when we come to Jesus. He has paid the price. We hold our empty hands and take the gift. The condition of absolute spiritual impoverishment to which man is reduced, demands that the salvation be free.
3. The characters it comprehends. The consciousness of need is the only qualification. Have you seen the emptiness of the world, and are you reaching forth, even blindly, towards something better? He invites you to Himself, where you will find what you need, and more than you at present think of. Do you desire salvation? Desire is a prominent element of thirst (Mat ). Is there in your heart such a consciousness of sin as disturbs your comfort in it, produces distress, excites desire of mercy? Your case is described in the invitation. You are "one that thirsteth." Are you sensible of your inability to save yourself—your utter spiritual impoverishment? The invitation includes him that hath no money. It is addressed to every one. No need to hesitate because of unworthiness, or the greatness of your sin. This "every one" is equivalent to Christ's "whosoever." Do not exclude yourself from it.
Let me urge the acceptance of this gracious invitation (Rev ).
1. God's Spirit says "Come."
2. God's Church says "Come." Those who have accepted the invitation are bound to pass it on.
3. Your urgent need says "Come."—J. Rawlinson.
By these emblems are set forth—I. THE OVERFLOWING FULNESS OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. "Come ye"—not merely to the water, but—"to the waters." "The waters"—
1. Of forgiveness, in which all our sins are buried out of sight (Mic ).
2. Of purification, by which every trace of defilement shall be washed away.
3. Of refreshment. II. THE DELIGHTFUL PLEASANTNESS, &c. The blessings of the Gospel cheer and satisfy like wine and milk. III. THE ATTRACTIVE FREENESS, &c.
1. The blessings of the Gospel are offered to all. "Ho!"—a call to arrest the attention of the travellers along life's highway, whoever they may be—"every one that thirsteth."
2. They are offered to all freely. IV. THE MARVELLOUS ADAPTATION OF THE BLESSINGS OF THE GOSPEL. "Without money and without price." APPLICATION.
1. To man's needs.
2. To man's condition—morally bankrupt.
(1.) God's invitations are not mere complimentary words, such as are sometimes current in society—invitations made with a secret fear least they should be accepted. God is in earnest.
(2.) Sincere invitations cannot be slighted without offence. This is true of invitations addressed by men to their equals; much more, of invitations addressed by men to their inferiors. The Queen's "invitation" is a "command." What excuse then shall we offer if we slight the invitations addressed to us by Almighty God?
(3.) If we slight the gracious invitations which He has addressed to us, where shall we obtain the "waters" needed to satisfy our spiritual thirst, the "wine and milk" needed to sustain our soul's life? The alternative before us is to turn to Him and live, or to turn away from Him and die!—J. H. Stewart: Lectures on Isaiah lv., pp. 1-24.
I. The moral condition of the persons invited. The description implies—
1. A conviction of the need of spiritual blessings.
2. A discovery of the abundant fulness in Christ for salvation and enjoyment.
3. An ardent desire for the blessings of His grace. Are you thus thirsting, &c?
II. The benefits they are invited to share. Figurative expressions, pointing to the blessings of the New Covenant procured for us by the Atonement and resurrection of Christ. The phraseology refers—
1. To their variety and fulness.
2. To their perfect adaptation.
3. To their gracious freeness.
III. The nature of the invitation addressed to them.
1. You are to "come." But where, and to whom? You are to come to the appointed source.
2. You are to come and purchase covenant blessings. They are invaluable. They have been procured by the Saviour.
They are to be obtained as free undeserved gifts.
3. You are to participate in the blessings of the Gospel.
CONCLUSION.—What response do you give to this invitation? Some perhaps will make light of it—postpone compliance—begin to make excuse, &c. See what you reject None need despair.—George Smith, D.D.
The benefits of the Gospel are offered to the perishing.
I. The fulness of the offered gift.
II. The freeness of the offered gift.
III. The universality of the offer.
1. Offered to all nations of mankind.
2. To men of every state, class, and character.
3. The salvation is free to the chief of sinners.
4. The offer of life ought, therefore, to be considered by each individual hearer as addressed personally to himself.—J. W. Alexander, D.D.: The Preachers' Monthly, New Series, vol. vii. pp. 41-44.
THE WAY TO TRUE HAPPINESS
Isa . Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, &c.?
Having set forth in Isa the perfect freeness of the grace offered in the Gospel, and its adaptation to the wants of sinners, the prophet now expostulates with those who are unwilling to receive it, and exposes the absurdity of thus refusing to embrace the only real good, while at the same time they are toiling in pursuit of that which is imaginary. The question presupposes that the soul is hungry, that it must be hungry until it is fed, that the gnawings of hunger will constrain it to seek food, and that the instinct of self-preservation, no less than the desire of enjoyment, will induce it to give anything it has in exchange for the necessary means of its subsistence and enjoyment; that the fatal error lies not in the seeking after something to sustain it and to make it happy, but in imagining that this end can be answered by the pleasures, gains, and honours of the world, which are not only brief in their duration, but unsuited in their nature to satisfy the wants of an immortal spirit. It is this view of man's natural condition upon which the invitations of the Gospel are all founded. Observe, then—
I. THE PROPHET MAKES THE INSUFFICIENCY OF EARTHLY GOOD AN ARGUMENT FOR FIXING THE DESIRES ON OBJECTS ADAPTED TO OUR NATURE. He assures the disappointed soul that happiness is really attainable. But is this indefinite assurance that there is a good sufficient and attainable, the highest and best offer that the Gospel makes to sinners? If this were all, the tender mercies of the Gospel would be cruel. The voice of God has no such "uncertain sound," for—
II. THE DIRECTION OF THE SOUL TO A SPECIFIC AND EXCLUSIVE OBJECT AS ITS ONLY GROUND OF HOPE AND TRUST IS A DISTINCTIVE FEATURE OF THE GOSPEL. God stands at the fountain of life, and cries, "Ho, every one that thirsteth," &c. Annexed to this gracious invitation is the specific promise of a sure salvation, "And I will make," &c. (2Sa ; cf. Luk 1:32-33; Jer 23:5-6, and others).
1. The offer of salvation is specific. It is not mercy in general that is offered, but the mercies of David—purchased by the second David—promised to the ancient David, which he hoped for, which he trusted in, and of which he could say, "This is all my salvation," &c.
2. It is sure. It is a covenanted blessing, and it therefore cannot fail; it is a permanent blessing, and can undergo no change; it is a durable blessing, and shall last for ever.
III. ALL, WITHOUT EXCEPTION, ARE ENCOURAGED TO CONFIDE IN THE SAME ALL-SUFFICIENT SAVIOUR (Isa ). The connection leaves no doubt that Christ is here the subject of discourse. To the nations generally He reveals the Father, and brings life and immortality to light (Isa 55:5). In addition to the doctrinal instructions of this passage, we may learn from it a lesson in the art of invitation.
2. Let us see to it, that this great offer of the Gospel be distinctly and specifically held up to the sinner's view, instead of suffering his mind to rest in a mere negative conviction that the world is not a satisfying portion, or allowing it to roam at large in search of untried sources of enjoyment.
3. Let no man be invited to a general, indefinite reliance upon mercy as an attribute of God, without regard to that particular and only way in which it can and will be exercised to fallen man; but let him be invited to a share in the provisions of that everlasting covenant which God has promised to bestow upon him.—J. A. Alexander: Gospel of Jesus Christ, pp. 345-356.
Is it not precisely so in the experience of those who are seeking and finding their portion in earthly things? They are contented with it, and yet their hunger is in reality unappeased. Their desires are crowned, and yet they are actually perishing of want. God gives them their request, but sends leanness to their souls.—H. Macmillan.
We are reminded—
I. OF THE SINNER'S MISTAKE. He seeks happiness in the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world; sustenance for his soul in mere confectionery, which may allure the eye and gratify the palate, but which leaves the appetite craving, and the frame unrefreshed.
II. OF THE SINNER'S DISTANCE FROM GOD, implied in the invitation, "Come unto me." Considered as a fact, how astonishing it is—that the younger and well-beloved son should be found in this "far country;" how sorrowful—that he should be a swine-herd, and be hungrily devouring husks which cannot satisfy; how perilful—what must he the end of this alienation from God, and this vain attempt to satisfy the hunger of the soul with "carobs"?
III. OF THE SINNER'S DISLIKE TO THE GOSPEL, implied in the exhortation, "Incline your ear." The evidences of this fact are all around us; what are its causes?
1. Unbelief—unbelief in the great fact that true happiness is only to be found in the service of God.
2. Pride, which rebels against the humbling declarations of the Gospel as to man's natural condition, and his entire inability to do anything to merit salvation.
3. Love of the world and fear of man. These things go together. Men shrink from the necessity which the Gospel imposes of adopting a standard differing from that acknowledged by "society," and fear that by doing so they will hinder their worldly advancement.
4. Desire for self-indulgence. The fact that the Gospel will make no compromise with sin renders it offensive to vast multitudes.
IV. OF THE GREATNESS OF THE BLESSINGS WHICH GOD OFFERS TO THE PENITENT AND BELIEVING SINNER. These are—
1. True satisfaction.
2. True and eternal life.—J. H. Stewart, M.A.: Lectures on Isaiah lv., pp. 25-40.
We have already considered the hunger and thirst which men feel in the way of spiritual cravings. Our text expostulates with those who resort to unhealthy and unnatural ways to satisfy those cravings in the pursuit of sin. It reminds us that—
I. Godless effort is misdirected, and therefore foolish expenditure. It is spending money for that which is not bread. Picture the folly which this would be in the case of famine and starvation. In spiritual matters this is being continually done. E.g.—
1. The mammon-worshipper is doing it. He spends all his energies upon the tasks of gain. What does he get? (Luk .)
2. The voluptuary is doing it. When the round of "pleasures" is exhausted, what is his reward? Vanity and vexation of spirit.
3. The merely religious formalist is doing it. Isaiah 1 clearly suggests what is to be got by the hollow pretences of religion. (See also Mat .)
II. All this involves not merely expenditure, but spiritual loss. "You labour for that which satisfieth not." Not only money, but strength also goes; and therefore the loss is not external to ourselves, but a part of ourselves. Labour wears men down physically, &c. So here: the supreme matter of concern is the soul-loss that results. Consider our Lord's question on this point: "What shall a man gain," &c. Even suppose we get the little all that we seek in the realm of mere materialism, what then? Think of the soul degraded, impoverished, helpless, hopeless. What can compensate for a soul in ruins? The life of the soul is everything to us.
III. This is a matter for reflection and decision. "Hearken," &c. Observe—
1. One of the delusions of sin is that it throws men into a state of indifference.
2. The Gospel requires a man's whole judgment and thought (Isa ).
3. The Gospel also requires our voluntary surrender and obedience to God.
IV. The foundation of the Gospel offer. "I will make," &c. Much is said of this Davidic covenant, and the brief interpretation of it is, that David's history runs in the line of God's saving purpose, begun in Abraham and fulfilled in Christ. Love is at the root of it all (chap. Isa ; Psa 89:28). Christ is the real David of our faith. In Him we see the sureness of God's infinite love (Rom 8:31-32). All else is fickle, transitory, perishing. The one hope of the world that abides amidst all change is God's love. Here only can our enduring satisfaction be found, therefore give heed to Christ's own word (Joh 7:27).—W. Manning.
THE WAY TO LIFE
Isa . Hear, and your soul shall live.
The great secret of all true happiness is obedience to the will of God. And the fruitful cause of misery and discomfort, is the spirit of indifference to the Divine authority and contempt for the commands of Heaven. It is therefore of infinite importance that we should be acquainted with the rule and principle of obedience, and that its delightful effect in promoting our happiness should be so exhibited to our view, and impressed upon our hearts, as to induce and secure the performance of that which God commands. This is one great end of the Scripture revelation, &c. Obedience is enforced by a regard to our own happiness.… Nowhere, perhaps, is this more conspicuous than in this chapter.… And in the text, the principle is again displayed, that obedience to the Divine will is needful in order to receive any good.
I. A GRACIOUS PROCLAMATION FOR AUDIENCE.
1. The Almighty Sovereign by whom the proclamation is made. Marvellous that He should stoop to speak to man, &c. Yet a latent scepticism prevails, leading men to overlook the fact that it is God who addresses them. God is speaking in His Word.
2. The solemn business to which the proclamation relates. The life of our soul—the life of God in the soul, &c.
3. The serious attention to this proclamation demanded. Several terms are brought together. Implies attention, humble submission, obedience (1Sa ; Pro 1:24-26).
II. A MERCIFUL DECLARATION OF DIVINE FAVOUR.
1. The nature of the engagement proposed.
2. The peculiar properties of the covenant. Divine in its origin, eternal in its duration.
3. The invaluable blessings that flow from submission. These mercies are great, numerous, valid. Have you submitted to God? (Rom ).—George Smith, D.D.
I. THE MESSAGE IMPLIED.
When we are commanded to "hear," it is supposed that there is a voice which addresses us. This is none else than the voice of Jehovah, who addresses us in this chapter with peculiar energy and feeling. In the first verse we have an epitome of the whole Gospel. This is the message implied in the text.
II. THE REGARD THIS MESSAGE DEMANDS.
"Hear." This command condemns such as do not hear the gospel when they have the opportunity of doing so. It also reproves such as do so only occasionally, and permit the most trivial engagements and excuses to keep them away from the sanctuary. But more is meant by hearing than your presence in the place where the Gospel is preached. Hear,
1. With attention (H. E. I. 2573-2576);
2. With affection;
3. With believing application (H. E. I. 2654-2658);
4. With obedient compliance;
5. With humble prayer.
III. THE ADVANTAGE PROMISED.
It is a personal, spiritual, great, and sure advantage.—Thornhill Kidd: Fifty-three Sermons, pp. 1-7.
How much of the language of Scripture is language of invitation! He who has the most and best to give is most free in disposing of it; and in this the Divine Benefactor proves that His thoughts and ways are above those of men.
I. THE BLESSING PROFERRED: the life of the soul.
1. The soul was originally made for life.
2. The soul's life is endangered by sin, the wages of which are death.
3. The soul is redeemed by the death of Him who was and is "the Life," even Jesus Christ.
4. The soul is capable of renewal and revival by the quickening influence of the Holy Spirit, "the Lord and Giver of life."
5. It is God's pleasure that the soul should live. The true life of the soul is an immortal life. "Life and immortality" are Gospel gifts.
II. THE CONDITION IMPOSED: attention to the Divine voice.
1. A voluntary act. The first indispensable step in order to life is the giving heed to Heaven's quickening voice.
2. Submission and self-surrender. This is involved in "Hear!" for this requires that self-sufficiency be given up, and that God's voice be heeded as of supreme authority.
3. The approach and obedience of faith. "Come!"
4. The condition is one compatible both with God's grace and with men's freedom. Desert is out of the question; by hearing men cannot merit or earn life. At the same time the condition imposes a true probation to all who are addressed. The terms of life are not hard; they are suitable to man, the receiver; they are honourable to God, the Giver!—Homiletical Library, vol. ii. p. 117.
I. Reasons for a diligent attention to the voice of Christ in His Word.
1. The majesty and grace of Him who addresses you (Isa, and others).
2. The great end proposed by Christ, for which He seeks a conference with you. That your souls may live—live a life of faith, holiness, happiness, &c.
3. The rich consolations which follow a devout reception of the Word. All the blessings of grace and glory.
4. The awful denunciations following a neglected Gospel.
II. Requisites for a profitable attendance.
1. Before you come—meditation and prayer.
2. When you come—with prayer, reverence, faith—Christ is present with all His capacity to bless.
3. Afterwards, aim to retain the impression. Where hearing ends practising begins.—Samuel Thodey.
CHRIST GIVEN FOR A WITNESS, LEADER, AND COMMANDER
Isa . Behold, I have given Him for a witness, &c.
In going into the wide world and entering upon the stern battle of life, feelings of doubt and uncertainty are not unfrequently experienced, especially by the young. They are comparatively ignorant of the difficulties, &c., that are before them; they have heard much from their seniors of the snares, &c., in life's path; they have read many a story of moral wreck and ruin, or of suffering innocence and unprincipled prosperity, and consequently they often shrink from the arduous duties which spread out before them. How eagerly at this juncture of life do they long for some friend or guide to direct them, and when such an one is found with what unshrinking adherence and tenacity do they cling to that friend. What they so naturally and earnestly desire, and what we all stand in need of, our Heavenly Father has graciously provided in Christ, of whom the prophet speaks in the text.
I. GOD'S GREATEST GIFT TO MAN.
1. The Person given. His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (Isa ; Eze 37:25; Joh 3:16, and others). Given in purpose and in promise, He came "in the fulness of time"—the completion of the designed period, the exact date when all things were ready for His coming (Gal 4:4). What an infinitely great and glorious gift! manifesting in the highest possible degree God's boundless love towards us, for His Son was infinitely dear to Him, and sinners were infinitely vile in His sight (Joh 3:16; Joh 15:13; Rom 5:7-8; Rom 8:32). "Thanks"—eternal thanks—"be unto God for His UNSPEAKABLE gift!" (Cf. p. 112, 113).
2. To whom He was given. To the peoples or nations of the world universally, as the subsequent verses express The Evangelical Prophet loved to dwell on this delightful truth—one of the chief glories of the Gospel (Isa, and others). The Messiah was given to be the Saviour, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles—the race that had rebelled, and were in a hopeless condition (Isa 49:6; Luk 2:10; Joh 6:33; Joh 17:21; 2Co 5:15; 1Jn 2:2; Heb 2:9). What "glad tidings of great joy!" Christ is God's great gift to you; receive Him here and NOW.
II. GOD'S BENEFICENT PURPOSE IN THE GIFT OF HIS SON. He has given Him—
1. For a Witness. The office of a witness is to give evidence of some important fact or facts. Thus Christ is a witness (Joh ). He states facts. He is the great Prophet and Teacher, the perfect Revealer of Divine truth to mankind, of everything necessary to salvation. By the fall man has lost the knowledge of God, and Christ is the only source of spiritual light (Joh 1:9; Joh 8:12). All who lived before His advent were enlightened by Him (1Pe 1:10-11). He bore witness even unto death (1Ti 6:13).
(1.) To the beneficence of God's laws.
(2.) To the mercifulness of God's character, manifested especially in His gracious provision for man's salvation—provision full and free, &c.
(3.) To the justness of God's claims—based upon redeeming love.
(4.) To the reliableness of God's promises.
(5.) To the condemnation of the unbelieving and disobedient (Joh ; Joh 3:36, and others). As a witness He is
(1.) credible and competent; His credentials are supreme; He is thoroughly acquainted with everything of which He testifies; He can be trusted implicitly without fear.
(2.) Faithful and final, because Divine. False witnesses abound—beware! But this witness cannot be deceived, nor can He deceive us. Thank God for such a "faithful and true witness." Listen to, and confide in His testimony as recorded in the Scriptures of truth (Joh ).
2. For a Leader. The same word is translated "Captain," "Ruler," "Prince" (2Sa ; 1Sa 25:30; Eze 28:2; Dan 9:25). The expression may be understood in such an extensive meaning, as applied to Christ as possessed of supreme authority and jurisdiction over the Church, and over the world, in His mediatorial capacity. This is the grand glory of Christ our King (Eph 1:20-23; Rev 19:16). The office of a leader is to go before, to conduct, &c. As such Christ executes this office—
(1.) By the instructions of His Word.
(2.) By His perfect example (Joh ; 1Pe 2:21; Heb 12:2). He never says go, always come; because He has gone before us in hardship and suffering, &c.
"He leads us through no darker rooms
Than He went through before."
(3.) By the light of His Spirit.
(4.) By the events of His providence. He has never led one astray, but millions to a glorious character and heaven. Is He your Leader? Can you say, "He leadeth me"? What an unspeakable blessing is a Divinely guided life (P. D. 1640).
3. FOR A COMMANDER (Zec ; 1Ch 16:15-16; Psa 33:9; Psa 110:2-3; Isa 2:3-4). As Commander—
(1.) He enlists for the conflict against foes.
(2.) He trains for service.
(3.) He gives orders.
(4.) He provides the weapons—not carnal.
(5.) He encourages by His presence.
(6.) He leads and goes forward to victory. Are you submitting to His rule, obeying His commands, fighting under His banner, &c. (2Ti )? Let not "other lords" have dominion over you—He only has the right. You have been called into His kingdom. But you cannot have Him as your Saviour unless you take Him as your Sovereign. "Where Jesus comes He comes to reign." Trajan won the heart of his soldiers by tearing up his royal robe to bind a soldier's wound. "The King Immortal" gave His life for you.! But if you refuse His righteous reign your danger and doom cannot be exaggerated.—A. Tucker.
I. THE GRAND BESTOWMENT.
Christ is the greatest gift God could bestow, or man receive. All that He is, has done, has obtained, is given. This is a gift—
1. We could not claim.
2. We did not deserve.
3. We did not ask.
4. We cannot adequately estimate. "God only knows the love of God."
II. THE SPECIAL CHARACTERS UNDER WHICH CHRIST IS PRESENTED.
1. As a Witness to the people.
2. As a Leader, &c.
3. As a Commander, &c.
III. THE REGARD DUE TO HIM UNDER THESE CHARACTERS.
1. Is He a Gift? Receive Him with cheerfulness, gratitude, affection.
2. Is He a Witness? Believe and rest upon His faithful word.
3. Is He a Leader? Follow Him in every conflict. Rely upon His presence and wisdom in every emergency, &c.
4. Is He a Commander? Let your obedience to Him as a Sovereign attest your love to Him as God's chief gift.—Samuel Thodey.
I. The representation afforded of the Mediatorial offices of the Saviour. Numerous and varied epithets are employed in sacred Scripture to describe Christ. They are not empty and unmeaning, as among men; but describe a corresponding variety and excellence in His Person and work. Examine the several terms used in the text, and mark their mutual relation and bearing on each other.
1. As a Witness.
2. As a Leader.
3. As a Commander.
II. The circumstances connected with His designation to these offices. They are remarkable, and claim our best attention.
1. He is Divinely appointed.
2. He is graciously bestowed.
3. He was given for the advantage of a countless number.
4. He was given in such a way as to demand our attention. "Behold!" Contemplate the fact with astonishment. Put yourself under the guidance and control of this great Leader. Confide in Him. "Follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth."—George Smith, D.D.
THE CALLING OF THE GENTILES
Isa . Behold, Thou shalt call a nation that Thou knowest not, &c.
It early obtained belief in the Christian Church, that Isaiah was sawn assunder for predicting so freely the vocation of the Gentiles by Messiah. Paul mentions it as a proof of his moral heroism (Rom, with Ch. Isa 49:6). These words were uttered long after this country was a part of the Gentile world; and perhaps, in importance, it is the principal instance of it, considering what we have become, what we have done, what we are doing, and what we seem destined to accomplish. The text calls for our attention—"Behold!" And what you are to behold regards the Messiah, and consists in these four things—
I. HIS AUDIENCE.
1. A nation that He knew not. This seems a paradox. Did He not know all His creatures? The apparent difficulty may be easily solved, when you remember that the word "knowledge," in the Scriptures, signifies not merely intelligence, perception, apprehension; but approbation, regard, due acknowledgment (1Th, and others). The Messiah did not, and could not, view the Gentiles with regard and complacency; He could not thus know them. There was everything among them offensive to the eyes of His holiness. Idolatry is the essence of all evil—accompanied with cruelty, impurity, &c. Yet we do not deem it impossible that the heathen should be saved.
2. Nations that knew Him not. It is true, they did not love Him, but they could not, because they were destitute of the knowledge of Him, "sitting in darkness," &c. It is not the reality of things, therefore, but the knowledge of them, which must affect and influence us (Rom ; Ch. Isa 53:11, and others). This implies, therefore, the importance of what follows; viz.—
II. HIS WORK.
He will "call." This takes in very much. He calls by the blessings of His gracious providence; by affliction, &c. You are all, therefore, among the called of God. Perhaps you have never, to this hour, obeyed His voice. But the calling here intended, is principally by preaching of the Gospel; for "faith cometh by hearing," &c. His calling by the Gospel is not only to inform, but to accomplish their pardon. His calling was to awaken their attention, and to justify the appropriation of the blessings displayed.
III. HIS SUCCESS.
1. Observe the centre—"Thee" (Gen ; Joh 6:68, and others).
2. The swiftness, "They shall," not walk to Thee—they "shall run to Thee" (Ch. Isa ; Heb 6:18). What can there be in any case that would induce a man to run, that might not be applied in a much higher degree to sinners, who are seeking salvation? The nearness of the danger? The magnitude of the object? The extreme want of it? The strength of their desire? The shortness and uncertainty of their opportunity?
IV. THE CAUSE OF HIS SUCCESS.
1. The glorification of the Messiah.
2. The season "hath," marks the certainty of the accomplishment.
3. The connection this glory has with, and the influence it has over, this conversion of sinners. His glorification is the ground of all our confidence in God. Surely this is enough to induce and encourage them. This glorification furnishes Him as Mediator with His power to save, and it ensures the salvation of sinners.
"This day this Scripture is fulfilled in your ears."—W. Jay: The Pulpit.
I. The Father speaking to the Messiah, assures Him of success.
I. The Call.—Behold, Thou shalt call a nation that Thou knowest not. Does not mean that Christ is ignorant of any nation, but that He does not know them as His followers, since they are not His followers. And nations that know not Thee. Perhaps, absolutely ignorant of Him; ignorant of Him, however, as the Messiah, the Son of God, their Saviour. He shall call them by His servants, His Spirit.
2. The result.—They shall, not walk, but run unto Him, indicating their eagerness and joy to receive Him. Has been partially realised in the past, is being realised somewhere every day, will be fully realised in the future. Every habitation of cruelty in the world to become the abode of peace and love. The dark places of the earth, to be lit up with the light of His Gospel. The knowledge of the Lord to cover the whole earth. Nations to be born to Him in a day. The kingdoms of this world, &c.
II. The cause of His success.
The nations will see by the agency of the Holy Spirit that God had appointed Christ to be the Saviour of man, and had glorified Him. May we give, labour, and pray, to hasten the dawn of this glorious day.—A. M'Auslane, D.D.
I. The condition of the Gentiles. Unknown. Unknowing. II. Their call. Effected by the Gospel. Eagerly received. III. The cause. Displays of Divine power. Diffusion of the Divine Spirit. Consequent on Christ's glorification.—J. Lyth, D.D.
I. The gospel is for the world. II. The world is ready to receive it. III. Divine power accompanies it. IV. Therefore send it.—J. Lyth, D.D.
GOD UNKNOWN YET KNOWN
Isa . Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, &c.
There is a paradox in these words. They invite us to seek a God who yet cannot be found, to know a God who yet cannot be known. For where should we seek God if not in His "ways;" or how shall we know Him except by coming to know His "thoughts"? And yet, while we are urged to seek Him, we are expressly told that His thoughts and ways are as high above ours as the heavens are high above the earth. Is God, then, unknowable absolutely? Consider—
I. THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION RETURNED BY SCIENCE AND PHILOSOPHY. Science says, or some of her disciples say for her: "In the whole range of visible and observed phenomena we find no proof of God." What then? If men will go to the visible for the invisible, to phenomena for realities, how can they hope to find what they seek? They might as well go to the sand of the desert for water, or to the troubled sea for a solid foundation. Votaries of philosophy say: "In the whole range of human experience and knowledge we can find no proof that God is, or no means of coming to know Him as He is." What then? So far as their affirmation is true, do they say anything the world has not heard on still higher authority before?—anything which the Bible does not say again and again? "Canst thou by searching find out God!" No doubt we know Him, in part, by our reason. According to one great thinker, the starry heavens and the law of conscience are a sufficient proof of the being and rule of God to the thoughtful and susceptible heart. Still, it is an open question whether the logic and researches of reason can carry us further than the position assumed by one of the leading expositors of modern science, who says, "that there is a God I can neither affirm nor deny; that we can discover and know Him I wholly doubt: and yet in my most open and best moods I am dimly aware of the Creative Power which we call God." And perhaps we shall never be able to prove the existence of God any more than we can prove our own.
II. THE ANSWER RETURNED BY REVELATION. The Scriptures, in a great variety of forms, do proclaim God to be above our reach. The Bible nowhere undertakes to demonstrate His existence, though it everywhere assumes and asserts it; and God Himself has warned us that we must wait for a full and perfect knowledge of Him until this mortal put on immortality. Admitting God to be unknowable, the Bible yet affirms that He may be known. We cannot find Him out to perfection, but He sufficiently and most truly reveals Himself to us in His works, in His Word, in His Son. Take the illustration of the text. God's thoughts and ways, we are told, are as high above ours as the heavens above the earth. But the heavens, high as they are, are yet known to us, and, though known, are yet unknown. The most accomplished astronomer will tell you that in the heaven above, as in the earth beneath us, there is very much more to be learned than he has acquired or hopes to acquire. But though "heaven" be so imperfectly known to us, does any sane man doubt that there is a heaven, or that it holds within it the sun, moon, and stars? We know at least enough of the heavens to guide us in all the practical purposes of life. And it is precisely in the same sense that God is both known to us and unknown. We cannot learn all that He is, all that He does, or all the reasons which determine the several aspects of His providence; but we may know, we do know and are sure, that He is, and that He rules over all. For consider—
III. THAT IN MAN TO WHICH GOD REVEALS HIMSELF. The pure in heart shall see God. The Bible says: "The righteous God reveals Himself to righteousness, the pure God to purity, the kind God to kindness." In proportion as we approach to moral purity and perfection, we possess ourselves of the organ or instrument by which we may see Him. Paul affirms that as we nourish ourselves in faith, in hope, in charity, we shall come to know Him even as also we are known by Him; and John, that if we purify ourselves we shall hereafter see Him as He is, and be like Him. Is not that the way in which we come to know all persons, and especially good persons? The child does not know his father perfectly; but need he doubt that he has a father? Do we not know that God is, although we are but children in understanding? Is not this scriptural, this Divine way of coming to know God the natural and reasonable way? It is not by arbitrary caprice that God often hides Himself from the wise who want to find Him out by logic, by quest of intellect, by force of reason and induction, and reveals Himself to the "babes" who keep a simple, sincere, and loving heart. It is only because goodness and purity and kindness can only reveal themselves to kindness and purity and goodness. The true way to know God is by the heart, by the great moral qualities and emotions through which we are most closely akin to Him.—Samuel Cox, D.D.: Genesis of Evil, pp. 61-76.
The incredible Mercy of God
If there be some who find it hard to believe that there is a God, there are others who find it equally hard to believe that He is good,—so good that He can forgive all sins, even theirs, and cleanse them from all their iniquities. The Prophet had been commissioned to carry a message to the captive Jews. It was that, heinous as their iniquity had been, it was pardoned; and that to the merciful and relenting heart of Jehovah it seemed as if they had already endured "double" for all their sins, i.e., twice as much as their sins had deserved (Isa ). Hence He was about to appear for them, to appear among them, delivering them from their captivity (Isa 40:3-11; Isa 55:12-13). In this message, God was drawing near to them; finding them, that they might find Him. But sinful men, especially when they are suffering the bitter punishment of their sins, are apt to be hopeless men.
As nothing is possible to doubt and despair, God sets Himself to remove the natural incredulity and hopelessness of the men He was about to save. That His mercy is incredible, He admits; but He affirms that it is only incredible in the sense of being incredibly larger and better than they imagine it to be. They might have found it impossible to forgive those who had sinned against them as they had sinned against Him. "But," pleads God, "My thoughts are not your thoughts," &c. The main point of these verses is not so much that God Himself is unknowable to us, as that His mercy is incredible to us. If, then, we would learn the lesson of these words, and take their comfort, what we have to do is,
I. TO CONVINCE AND PERSUADE OURSELVES THAT THE MERCY OF GOD IS IMMEASURABLY, INCALCULABLY, GREATER THAN WE HAVE CONCEIVED IT TO BE, SO MUCH GREATER THAT IT NATURALLY APPEARS TO BE ALTOGETHER INCREDIBLE TO US. We must get ourselves to believe, that the more largely we think of the Divine Mercy the more truly we think of it, if only we remember that it is a mercy which does not condone men's sins, which calls upon them and compels them to abandon their "wicked ways" and their "unrighteous thoughts." No mercy short of this would be true mercy. To make men happy in their sins is impossible, as impossible as to make them good in their sins. For sin is misery. And even if this ignoble miracle were possible, who that is capable of reflection, of virtue, of goodness, would care to have such a miracle wrought upon him? To be happy in sin he must cease to be himself, cease to be a man. What we really desire when we ask for mercy is a mercy that will be at the pains to cleanse us from the soils of evil and strike its fetters from our souls. And so long as we cherish this desire, we may be sure that the mercy of God stands waiting to meet it, to outrun all our thoughts and expectations, all our wishes and hopes. The very punishments that wait on sin, since they wait on it by a constant and invariable law, are designed for our good. This law makes us terribly aware that we have sinned,—a fact we are very slow to realise. We ought to take the retributions which wait on sin, not as proofs that God has abandoned us and ceased to care for us, but as proofs that He is near us, so near that, if we seek, we shall find Him, that, if we call on Him, He will answer us. By His merciful punishments God is at once convicting us of sin and calling on us to repent, that, repenting, we may be forgiven, purged, saved.
II. WE MUST EXPECT TO BE CONVINCED OF THE PITY AND COMPASSION OF GOD, NOT SO MUCH BY HAVING THE KINDNESS OF HIS LAWS DEMONSTRATED TO US, AS BY LISTENING TO THE MEN WHOM WE BELIEVE TO HAVE HAD THE LARGEST EXPEDIENCE OF HIS WAYS AND TO ENJOY THE PROFOUNDEST SYMPATHY WITH HIS THOUGHTS. This is a corollary from the conclusion, that it is not by arguments addressed to the understanding that we come to know God, or the mercy of God, but by experience and sympathy. Just as we come to know the righteous God by becoming righteous, so we may hope to learn more of Him from the men whose righteousness is far more eminent and conspicuous than our own. Just as we come to know the mercy of God by becoming merciful, so we may hope to acquaint ourselves more fully with Him by listening to men far more merciful and gracious than ourselves. Such a man, and teacher, was the prophet who penned these words. This man has a claim to speak of God with an authority which few can rival. And this is what he has to say to you of God,—that God's mercy transcends all your conceptions of mercy, that it seems incredible to you only because it is so large and rich and free that you can very hardly bring yourselves to believe in it. Isaiah's testimony is, that in all those painful, restless, self-despairing moods bred in you by the sense of sin, God is drawing near to you, and calling on you to seek His face; and that, if you do seek Him, you shall find Him.—Samuel Cox, D.D., Genesis of Evil, pp. 77-90.
SEEKING THE LORD
Isa . Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, &c.
The previous context was addressed, in the first instance, to the Jews; and now the prophet seems to press upon them the practical question—What, then, ought you to do? Shall the Gentiles (Isa ) enter the kingdom of heaven before you? How will you prevent it? By excluding them? No; the true course is to enter with them, or, if you will, before them.
But it may be doubted whether this is the chief meaning of the text. Its terms are in no respect more restricted than those of the preceding verses, and especially the first part of the chapter, which obviously relates to the wants of men in general, and the best way to supply them.
Notice in this passage—
I. THE REASON IMPLIED FOR THE COMMAND. If the words "while He is near" denote "while He continues in a special covenant relation to the Jews," then the command would seem to imply that by seeking the Lord and calling upon Him, that peculiar, exclusive covenant relation might be rendered perpetual, which was not the case. Or if, on the other hand, "while He may be found" denotes in a general way the possibility of finding favour and forgiveness at His hands, then the reason suggested is in no respect more applicable to the Jews than to the Gentiles. In this sense God was just as near to the one as to the other. The principles on which He would forgive and save were just the same in either case. The necessity of seeking, the nature of the object sought, the way of seeking it, are wholly independent of external circumstances. There is a limit to the offer of salvation, which is made to all. If there were not, sin would be without control. If the sinner could suspend his choice for ever, there would be no punishment. Even in this life there is a limit. There is a time when God is near, and when He may be found. There must be a time, therefore, when He is no longer near, and is no longer to be found.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH GOD IS TO BE SOUGHT. Not in this or that locality. Regard not those who say, "Lo, here; lo, there!" "Call upon Him." But is no reformation, no change of life required? Not as the meritorious cause of salvation. It is purchased by another. But you cannot avail yourselves of it and continue as you are. The same voice which says, "Seek ye the Lord," says likewise (Isa ), "Let the wicked forsake his way"—a common figure for the course of conduct. He who would tread the way of God must forsake the way of sin. How?—by a mere external reformation? No; the law of God extends to the "thoughts," &c. But this is still merely negative. It cannot be that what God calls men to is a mere negation, a mere abstinence. There must be commands as well as prohibitions. The mere cessation of former habits would be insufficient; nay, it is impossible. An active being must have something to seek as well as something to avoid. Evil courses can be really abandoned in no other way than by exchanging them for good ones. This is a dictate of nature, of reason, of experience, of revelation. "Let him return unto the Lord." The fact is assumed that all have departed from Him. The words may seem strictly applicable only to backsliders; but they are indeed appropriate to all mankind. Can any departure be more real or deplorable than that which involves, not merely individuals, but the whole human family? The terms of the summons do indeed point back to that original apostasy under the curse of which the whole race groans. In the exercise of faith in Christ, and of that repentance which has never yet failed to accompany it since the world began, and of that zeal and obedience which can no more fail to spring from such repentance and such faith than the fruit can fail to spring from the prolific seed, "Let the wicked forsake his way," &c.
III. THE INDUCEMENT HELD OUT TO RETURN. It is man's part to forsake his evil ways and thoughts, to return to God, to seek Him, and to call upon Him. None of these can he do until God enable him. But this is true of every service which man ever renders. Though unable of himself to do these things, he is still bound to do them. It is his part to do them; and when he has performed his part, what does God promise in return? What will He do for man? He will have mercy upon him. Mercy is the inducement offered, and mercy is precisely what the sinner needs. Without this nothing can be given, or, if given, can do him any good. Mercy implies two things, misery and guilt. In all of us, the two pre-requisites are found abundantly—misery present and prospective, misery not produced by chance, but by our own sin. To us, then, this inducement ought to be a strong one. But, alas! the sinner is insensible of his condition.
IV. THE PROOF THAT SIN AND SALVATION ARE IRRECONCILABLE. Isa gives a reason for the call to reformation and repentance. Here the same two words are placed in opposition—"ways" and "thoughts"—"let the wicked," &c., i.e., you cannot walk in My ways and the ways of sin; you cannot think My thoughts, and yet cherish thoughts of sin; you must choose between sin and salvation. Many are afraid of hell; they are willing to be saved from it, but that is all. That slavish fear is the sum of their religion. They must keep their sins. Judge not God by man. God pardons nothing, or He pardons all. Man may be unforgiving when he is not just. God can be just, and yet not unforgiving. Man can be himself unjust, and yet condemn the innocent. God can be just, and yet justify the guilty. His grace will not save men in sin, but will freely save them from sin—since it will pardon sin itself to the believer, and whenever it pardons at all, will abundantly pardon even the chief of sinners—however foreign such forgiveness may be from human passions and human feelings: let the sinner hesitate and doubt no longer.—J. Alexander, D.D.: Gospel of Jesus Christ, pp. 357-370.
The characters here described. All are sinners, but some have repented and obtained forgiveness; while some remain impenitent and unforgiven. To which class do you belong? If to the latter, this discourse is especially addressed to you.
I. A GRACIOUS PROCLAMATION.
The Lord, "may be found. "He is near." "He will have mercy." "He will abundantly pardon." God is ready to save sinners. As a father, who follows the steps of his wayward son, unwilling to cast him off, anxious to induce his return, ready to receive him on the first indication of a change. His heart is full of mercy. He desires to bestow a full forgiveness and make the reconciliation complete. There is the fullest proof of this—
1. In the atonement of Christ, which in itself and by the Divine arrangement affords a satisfactory basis for the exercise of mercy.
2. In the declarations of His word.
3. In the preaching of the gospel. This proclamation of mercy to man proceeds from the Divine love.
II. AN EARNEST CALL.
"Seek ye the Lord," &c.
1. It is practical. It implies that the sinner must not lie still and wait for some hitherto unexperienced impulse. In the work of salvation there is doubtless something he cannot do. But there is something he can do. The text demands action. Do that which lies within your own province and is in your own power.
2. It is plain. What do these directions involve?
(2.) Abandonment of sin—God will save no man in his sins.
(3.) Prayer. He is to be called upon. God's readiness and desire to save do not dispense with the necessity for prayer. He does not force salvation on any. He excites the desire for it, and then responds to the sinner's cry. The penitent is sure to cry. The first sign of a child's life is when it cries.
(4.) Faith. Faith in the word of God, faith in the saving power of Christ, which, however feeble at first, renounces self-righteousness as well as sin, and rests simply in Him (Rom ; Rom 10:14).
3. It is essential.
III. A SOLEMN MONITION.
"While He may be found." "While He is near." This is clearly a monition. It indicates that there is a limit beyond which the opportunity is not extended. The opportunity is limited to the present life. We will not enter upon the awful question of judicial blindness; the terrible case of those who so persistently refuse to see the truth of Christ that their blindness and hardness become a punitive infliction. Nor on the cases of those whose opportunities are terminated by removal of residence, or by sickness. Nor on the cases of those whose opportunities are cut short by the terrible occurrence of insanity before the gospel is accepted; except to remark that the question is fairly suggested, how they will be dealt with, who up to the moment when the condition of responsibility ceased to exist, failed to seek the mercy which had been proffered. We will assume that ordinarily the opportunity, the possibility of salvation, continues during the present life. But the text implies the termination of that possibility. The present life is the grand opportunity. There is none beyond. At least, whatever may be the principle on which those will be dealt with to whom the gospel was never made known, the warnings addressed in Scripture to the hearers of the gospel imply that, so far as they are concerned, no second opportunity will be afforded. And none can say how near death is. Accept the offer of mercy without delay.—J. Rawlinson.
I. A DUTY ENJOINED, viz., to make the favour of God the object of our pursuit. "Seek ye the Lord," "Call ye upon Him." We must seek Him; 1, in the way of genuine repentance. It is vain to think of seeking God without such sorrow for sin and hatred of it, as lead on to "cease to do evil, and to learn to do well" (H. E. I. 4269-4273).
2. In the exercise of faith in Christ. He alone has made provision for our return to God; and if we do not take advantage of the provision thus made for us, we must remain at a distance from God for ever (Joh ).
3. In the use of those outward means of grace which He has appointed, such as the Word of God and prayer. We cannot expect that God will work miracles on our behalf. If we wish for the manifestation of His favour, we must wait for it in the use of such means as He has instituted for the purpose of making such manifestation to the soul (H. E. I., 3444-3459).
II. A TIME SPECIFIED FOR ITS PERFORMANCE. There is one sense in which God is ever to be found, and is ever near us. But Isaiah does not here refer to His omnipresence, for that is perpetual. He means a nearness of God in a way of grace and favour, a readiness in His appointed way to bestow every blessing upon us. In this sense, it is the plain doctrine of the text, that there is a time when He is near us and will be found of us, and that there is also a time when He is distant from us and will not be found of us.
1. This is a truth which holds good in the case of collective bodies of men. For nations there is a time of mercy. God affords them in rich abundance the means of grace; this is the accepted time, when God is near and ready to be found. If these privileges are abused or neglected, there follows a time of wrath, and He will no longer be found of a people who have thus slighted His mercy. Examples:
(1) Compare what is said of the Jewish nation (in Deuteronomy 4) with their present condition.
(2) The nations among whom Christian churches were planted by the apostles and their immediate successors, now, as the just reward of the abuse of their privileges, groaning, for the most part, under the scourge of Mohammedan tyranny and imposture. How full of solemn admonition are these instances for the inhabitants of this land!
2. It holds good also in respect to individuals.—
(1) With respect to every person who is favoured with the means of grace there is a time of mercy, in which, if he seeks the Lord, He will be found of him. Generally speaking, this is the time of the present life. More especially it is vouchsafed when, by means of His Word, His Spirit strives in our hearts. The hour of conviction should be the hour of conversion.
(2) But for individuals also there is a time of wrath, in which God will no longer be found of them. If we neglect to seek Him until we are removed out of this world by death, it will then be for ever too late to do so (Luk ). But it is by no means impossible that that time may arrive even on this side of the grave. If we persevere in acting in defiance of our convictions, if we refuse to yield to the salutary motions of His Spirit, He may be provoked to give us over to final impenitence and to judicial hardness of heart (H. E. I., 2349, 4249, 4250).—John Natt, B.D.: Posthumous Sermons, pp. 168-183.
I. THAT MANKIND HAVE LOST HIM.
1. This loss is caused by sin (Isa ; Isa 59:2). Sin has offended the Divine Lawgiver. Hence there is moral distance between Him and us. We are aliens, strangers, far off by wicked works. While man was holy he had communion with Him; but the pure One cannot commune with transgressors. We have lost the Divine friendship, image, &c.
2. This loss is the precursor of infinite and eternal loss. Who can fully estimate it?
3. It is a loss which no human resources can repair (Mic ; Rom 9:31-32; Rom 10:1-3).
II. THAT A WAY HAS BEEN DEVISED BY WHICH THE DIVINE FAVOUR MAY BE REGAINED. That way is through the mediation of Christ (2Co ; Joh 3:16; Rom 5:2; Eph 2:18; Eph 3:12). Formerly, the Lord was sought through sacrifices; but all were typical of the one great sacrifice offered up on Calvary. Those harbingers of the cross are now no more, a Divine Victim has bled, and the way of salvation is through Christ (Heb 7:25).
III. SUBMISSION TO THE DIVINELY APPOINTED PLAN OF SALVATION BY THE USE OF THOSE MEANS SCRIPTURALLY SPECIFIED. Man has sought out many inventions by which to be saved Rom, with Php 3:4-9; 1Co 3:11).
1. A deep conviction that we cannot be happy till we have found the Lord, combined with the renunciation of self-righteousness (Act ).
2. Diligent inquiry and attention.
3. Faith in Christ and earnest prayer.
IV. SEEKING THE LORD REQUIRES IMMEDIATE ATTENTION. We are prone to procrastinate. Some say they are too young, &c. The Lord may be more easily found—
1. In early life.
2. Under the preaching of the Gospel (Gal ).
3. When under Divine conviction.
CONCLUSION.—The privilege of seeking the Lord is limited to the present life. Our opportunities are passing away, &c. Seek Him now.—Helps for the Pulpit: Second series, pp. 10-14.
Propose and answer three questions—
I. Why you should seek the Lord?
We could give many reasons why you should, but you cannot give one why you should not. That a man should be religious is the first dictate of reason, and the first command of Revelation. It is recommended too by the sense of interest (1Ti ). Seek the Lord for three reasons—
1. Because you cannot be happy without Him.
2. Because you have much to apprehend from His displeasure as sinners.
3. Because you have everything to hope for from His friendship. "In His favour is life."
II. When you should seek the Lord?
1. Now, while He may be found.
2. Now, while He is near.
III. How you should seek the Lord?
1. Penitently. Renouncing the sins you have loved.
2. Believingly, without distrust.
3. Joyfully, without despondence.
4. Continually, without end.—S. Thodey.
I. The character of the persons to whom the invitation is directed. Partly implied, and in part declared. They are distinguished not by their excellence and valuable qualities, but rather by those marks which prove them unworthy of the Divine regard or consideration. Such is our natural condition, and hence to us is the word of salvation sent.
1. To such as are ignorant of God. This is implied in the exhortation to seek Him. Man is naturally unacquainted with Him.
2. To those whose characters are marked by the wickedness of their lives.
3. To those whose state is indicated by their thoughts. Men look at the outward appearance, God at the heart. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
II. The nature of the exhortations addressed to them. It is the manner of God and not of men thus to speak.
1. The import of the injunctions. These are suited to the characters of the persons addressed. They are exhorted—
(1.) To seek the Lord.
(2.) To the exercise of prayer.
(3.) The abandonment of every sinful course.
(4.) Return to God. No more neutrality.
2. The season to which these exhortations apply.
III. The encouragements afforded to an immediate obedience.
1. The promise of mercy.
2. A plenitude of forgiveness.
3. Confirmation derived from the experience of others: "And to our God"—the God of His people. The language of piety—the experience of those who have found mercy. The idea is, He who has bestowed mercy upon us, will be ready to bestow it on others. "I obtained mercy."
CONCLUSION.—Learn the duty of immediate return to God and submission to Christ. Come as you are.—George Smith, D.D.
I. There is moral distance between Christ and unconverted sinners. He thinks of them; they do not think of Him. He loves them; they do not love Him. He wishes them to do His will for their own benefit; they refuse. Awful antagonism. II. This moral distance can be removed. How? Not by sinners remaining passive. They must seek the Lord; know Him; call upon Him; pray to Him; trust Him. III. A time when this moral distance cannot be removed. When will this be? No day nor hour specified. The duty of sinners, therefore, is to seek and call now. Do not delay for a moment, lest then it may be too late.—A. M'Auslane, D.D.
PARDON TOR THE PENITENT
Isa . Let the wicked forsake his way, &c.
I. AN EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE. Embraces three particulars.
1. The wicked man must forsake his way—the way of the multitude who do evil, the broad way which leadeth to destruction. We should confess our sin. But true repentance is something more than a bare confession of sin; it is a forsaking of sin (Isa ; H. E. I. 4269-4272).
2. The unrighteous man must forsake his thoughts. It is not enough that the outward conduct should become moral, decent, and amiable. This is the case with many who yet know nothing of the grace of God in truth. Repentance, when it is genuine, strikes at the root of the evil: it will no more allow its possessor to indulge impure ideas, sinful thoughts, and unholy affections than it will suffer him to become guilty of gross immoralities and abominable crimes. It labours to expel from the temple of the heart whatever is displeasing in the sight of God, and endeavours to keep it swept and garnished for His reception (Psa ; Psa 19:14),
3. His evil way and his evil thoughts forsaken, the penitent must next return unto the Lord, like the prodigal son in the parable.
II. A PROMISE OF PARDON. Upon the man who really obeys the exhortation God will have mercy, and will abundantly pardon him. Penitence is the indispensable pre-requisite to pardon. Not that it entitles any man to it (H. E. I. 4225-4228); but it qualifies us for it.
III. AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO LAY HOLD ON THE PROMISE (Isa ). Before the truly penitent, their guilt often lies so clear and huge, that it seems to them that it would be presumption were they to hope for pardon. They are awe-stricken by the number of their sins, or by their enormity, or by the fact that they are the transgressions of backsliders. They feel that they could not forgive corresponding offenders and offences against themselves. See how the prophet answers them (Isa 55:8-9; H. E. I. 2331-2337.—Daniel Rees: Sermons, pp. 170-186.
I. The resemblance between God and man.
1. God has His "thoughts." Multitudes of these have been manifested in creative works, providential events, the plan of salvation, &c. Man has his "thoughts." He is always thinking, even when sleeping. Cannot prevent him from thinking. This is the grandeur of his nature.
2. God has His "ways"—His methods of working. So has man.
II. The difference between God and man in regard to thoughts and ways. Might be illustrated variously; the text limits us to pardon.
1. Men unwilling to pardon. God extremely willing.
2. Men disposed to pardon a few. God ready to pardon all.
3. Men inclined to pardon certain offences. God will blot out all iniquities.
4. Where are the men who make sacrifices to pardon? God, to pardon, gave His Son, &c.
III. This difference renders a moral change on the part of man necessary.
1. Unless he does so he cannot have fellowship with God. Two cannot walk together except they are agreed. God does not require to change, therefore man must change or be lost for ever.
2. If man returns to God, He will most mercifully deal with him. What encouragement!—A. M'Auslane, D.D.
MAN'S ABILITY TO TURN TO GOD AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL
Isa . Let the wicked forsake his way, &c.
God has done and is doing, in the work of Christ and in the work of the Holy Spirit, all that is needful for the salvation of every child of Adam, and having done this He now commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel. That man is able to turn to God and believe the Gospel is evident from the following considerations:—
II. Conversion to God is a duty required of man. Conversion is a command binding upon all men. God commands all men to turn to Himself. Is not man bound to obey the moment God calls? Every moment he refuses, he is adding to his rebellion and guilt. But if man cannot turn to God, he cannot obey the call, nor is he bound to obey; and consequently, he is not guilty of disobedience should he not turn. It is impossible to prove man's guilt in not being converted, and deny his ability to turn to God. Nothing could be more striking and remarkable than the words of Eze ; Eze 33:11. See also Act 3:19, "Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out;" or more properly, "Change your mind and turn, that your sins may be blotted out." To change the mind is the same as to make a new heart and a new spirit. And surely man can change his mind when God shows him something capable of working a change. Man can change his mind regarding anything he learns from man; and surely he can change his mind regarding what he learns from God. The words, "be converted" in this verse, ought to be simply "turn."
The former are destitute of objective ability; the latter of subjective ability, without both of which it is impossible to believe in Jesus. Any man who comes under one or other of these cases will never be punished for unbelief. This is plainly taught by our Lord, in Joh ; Joh 15:22-24. All those, therefore, who have the truth, the gospel, and the faculty—mind, are able to turn to God and believe in Jesus. God commands them to do so, and He will not command what is not duty; and that cannot be duty to a man which the man is not able to do. It is not a blind man's duty to see; nor a deaf man's to hear; no more is it the duty of man to believe if he cannot believe. Our Saviour frequently alludes to this very thought, when He so often says, "He who hath ears to hear, let him hear." And mark how He remonstrates with His disciples (Mar 8:18).—Johnston.
Conclusion.—What is your state? Have you believed on the Lord Jesus? Have you forsaken your evil ways and thoughts and turned to God? If so, happy are you; your sins are all forgiven; eternal life is yours. But if not, except you repent, &c., there is nothing for you but everlasting woe. Let me ask you: why have you not believed? Do you think you are unable? How strange that you should be able to believe man, and not be able to believe God! &c. "Awake, thou that sleepest," &c.—F. Johnston: The Work of God and Man in Conversion, pp. 110-124.
GOD'S WAY OF PARDONING ABOVE MEN'S
Isa For my thoughts are not your thoughts, &c.
Suppose your sovereign taking a personal interest in you. But you have become a rebel. She has every justification in casting you off. Instead of this she makes an arrangement at great cost by which she is able to offer a free pardon. And this purely because of the benevolent interest she takes in you.
Think of the Divine greatness (2Ch ) and holiness. Contrast these with our littleness and sinfulness. Yet He offers pardon. He will have mercy. It is because His thoughts and ways are higher than ours. You cannot measure the distance between heaven and earth. You only think of it as immeasurable vastness. This is true in relation to every thought and every action about subjects on which we think or act. Especially so as regards forgiveness. God's magnanimity is asserted here. It is illustrated—
I. IN THE DISPOSITION TO FORGIVE.
How different from man! When injured he seeks revenge. Usually difficult to turn aside from this. God's nature is to forgive (Exo ). This is one phase of His love.
II. IN THE TERMS OF FORGIVENESS.
The statement of this part of the case involves the fact that He not merely stands in the attitude of readiness to forgive, but also that He overcame the formidable difficulties in the way of forgiveness. And this at great cost and sacrifice. We hear much at present of the demands of man's moral nature. One demand of our moral nature is that the supreme ruler be just, as a primary condition of our confidence and respect. Here, then, was the problem that demanded solution. And God's thoughts were equal to it. When in His love He desired to exercise mercy, He in His wisdom discovered a way by which mercy could be exercised while justice should be satisfied. By the sacrifice of His dear Son. A Divine victim for human sin. God vindicates His justice in the forgiveness of sin on the ground of the satisfaction He has made (Rom ). Hence the terms, so far as we are concerned, are perfectly free (Isa 55:1). Salvation is not of works, but grace. You have simply to trust.
III. IN THE COMPLETENESS OF FORGIVENESS.
Remember the number and aggravation of your sins. Remember God's hatred of sin. Yet He forgives fully. Casts them into the depths of the sea. Blots them out as a cloud. Will not remember them. Men remember offences against them, and make a difference. God forgets them.
IV. IN THE RANGE OF FORGIVENESS. The promises and invitations and overtures of the Gospel are made to all sinners everywhere. "Whosoever will let him come." There is sufficient in God's love, sufficient in Christ's blood for all. If all mankind would come they would find the ample provision and the loving heart. Nor shall His mercy be provided in vain (Isa, &c.)
So magnanimous is God. So much higher than ours are His thoughts and ways. They are the thoughts that are unfolded in the proclamation of mercy to sinners in the Gospel. It is gracious; necessary; all-sufficient.—J. Rawlinson,
THE MYSTERY AND GLORY OF GOD'S WAYS IN REDEMPTION
The whole Bible is but the expansion of one sentence, one utterance of the Eternal, "I am the Lord." Hence the revelation must be incomplete, for a god that could fully reveal himself to his creatures would be no god; and it must also be astonishing and amazing, for a professed record of any part of God's thoughts and ways that did not land in mystery, and tend to wonder would be self-condemned, and proved to be neither true nor divine. It is not only here and there that God's thoughts and ways are superhuman, but throughout; just as a circle is everywhere a circle, and nowhere a square or capable at any point of being reduced to the other figure. How man can at all lay hold of God, or frame any conception of Him with his finite and infinitely inferior mental faculties, this is the wonder and has sometimes been the stumbling-block of philosophy; and it is only removed out of the way by devoutly and thankfully accepting the fact that we do know Him (though darkly), and are so far made in His image that there may be and ought to be reverential contact and communion with Him. We must be constantly reminded that though brought near we are not brought up to Him, though companions we are not equals, and that while our line touches His, it cannot run parallel with it as it sweeps in its own awful circle from eternity to eternity. The lesson is one of humility but also of consolation; for the depths of God's mind are depths of truth, of wisdom, and of love; and therefore we may be not only cast down, but lifted up as we study together in this lofty chapter the great words: "For my thoughts," &c. In order to give unity to the subject I shall say nothing of the ways of God in creation and natural providence, but limit myself to redemption, showing how in various departments the ways of God are superhumanly mysterious and yet divinely glorious. God's ways are not our ways, nor our thoughts His thoughts—
II. In regard to the purpose of redemption. Man is not the only being who has fallen, and yet man is the only being who is redeemed. When we inquire as to the reason of this arrangement we find none. It is one of the deep things which belong to God. It is an impressive display of sovereignty, where all that is left for us is to bow and to adore. We might have supposed that the higher race would have been selected, and that God would have glorified His mercy on the still more conspicuous theatre from which they had sought to cast themselves down. And altogether independently of the example of their rejection, we might have anticipated that man's ruin would have been final and hopeless. Man does not forgive where he has been insulted as God was in man's rebellion. Nations do not tolerate blows aimed at their independence and their very existence, and therefore man's revolt might have been expected to draw down swift and remediless destruction, for it was a blow aimed at God's throne and being. That God's thoughts should in such a crisis have been thoughts of peace is the wonder of unfallen beings and of those who are redeemed. They cannot rise in thought to that awful council wherein, though every foreseen trespass demanded vengeance, mercy yet rejoiced against judgment, without exclaiming, "This is not the manner of man, O Lord God." "O the depth of the riches," &c.
The grandeur of these provisions comes home with a consoling and peace-giving as well as purifying power to the sin-burdened conscience and heart. They reveal the majesty and strength as well as the love of the Godhead, and are thus the support and stay of dying men. Never can we surrender this Godlike greatness of the Gospel, or suffer this high stronghold to be dismantled and destroyed. It were to surrender our own soul's refuge, and that of all the guilty, and with a heaven above that stooped not to our rescue, and an earth at our foot that crumbled to our tread, to sink unpitied in the waste of sin and ruin.
IV. In regard to the progress of redemption. Redemption has a history, and this is, of all others, the most difficult to scan, not only as it lies in the Bible, but in uninspired records. It has been said, "Interpret the Bible as any other book;" but this ultimately means, "Interpret God as you interpret man," and you cannot even interpret Church history as you do other history. It is, in a sense which belongs to no other history, the story of a battle not yet fought out, or of a campaign not yet ended; and there are combatants at work beyond the range of human observation, and a supreme celestial Leader whose point of survey none can share. It was to be expected, therefore, that the progress of redemption, as surveyed by human eyes, would present many anomalies and many difficulties, while at the same time, true to the analogy of the substance of redemption, there would be a lofty, all-pervading grandeur that spoke to the devout observer the presence and the hand of God. I will illustrate this union of mysteriousness and Divine greatness in regard to three features in the progress of redemption.
1. The rate of the progress of redemption. How much is there here, unlike the thoughts of man! But no one can deny that there is a Divine hand in the onward movements, and that it is all the more glorious for its incessant recovery from retardation and retrogression. When the whole is known it will be pre-eminently Godlike, and it will be seen that God's law of progress, both as to time and space, was as far above man's law as the heavens above the earth.
2. The instruments of the progress of redemption. How unlike all that man would have conceived or devised! This applies even to the Old Testament dispensation, but far more to Christianity. Its leaders were the poor; its soldiers were slaves and women; its heroes were martyrs. How unlike the agents in any other revolution, and yet God chose "the weak things to confound the mighty," &c. By similar instrumentalities has Christianity perpetually renewed its strength. What new development of glorious possibilities, undreamt of before, has the Gospel everywhere achieved and made tributary to its progress! Nothing so unlike to human predictions, nothing so far above human thought as the march of this Gospel.
3. The hindrances to the progress of redemption. Man would have thought that hindrances would be speedily removed, or, if suffered to remain or to return, would constitute unmingled evils to the Church. But God, on the other hand, we can see, by giving the victory slowly, trains the faith and courage of successive generations; and by permitting old enemies to return or new ones to spring up, shows the unexhausted and inexhaustible power of His Gospel to face and put down every hostile power. The variety and vicissitude of attack when it is once surmounted, surrounds the Gospel with richer trophies and places on its head more crowns. As it has been so it shall be. The onsets of unbelief that now disturb us shall be the consolation of our successors, and its scarce-remembered names and war-cries shall swell their song of peace.
V. In regard to the limits of redemption. Why should redemption have limits at all? Why should not all be saved as God wishes, and come to a knowledge of the truth? Thus man fondly argues, and by arguing like this not a few are in our day plausibly deceived, in forgetfulness of the warnings of conscience and the solemn voice of God, to the effect that he that believeth not shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. On this awful subject we cannot in this darkling state profess to justify the ways of God to man, for this He will do Himself in the day of the revelation of His righteous judgment. But it may be seen, even here, that whatever God appoints for the impenitent, cannot be inconsistent with His moral attributes. If the cross clears God from every aspersion in regard to the entrance of evil, not less does it do so in regard to the continuance of evil in His universe. What He has done in Christ is a sufficient proof that the fault is not His, and that man is the author of his own undoing.
Of this let us be sure, that though His ways are above us, they are so only as the heavens to supply a pathway for the sun and a fountain for the dew, and that shall break in blessings on our head.—Professor John Cairns, D.D.
GOD'S WAYS ABOVE MEN'S
There is the strongest reason to believe that these memorable declarations refer to God's pardoning mercy. His method of forgiveness is contrasted and exhibited as vastly superior to that of men. They find it difficult to pardon at all; they are slow to forgive an injury, &c. But God is not reluctant to forgive, &c. It may refer to the number and aggravation of offences, or to the number of offenders, &c. But while the passage refers primarily to pardon, and should be interpreted as having a main reference to it, it is also true of the ways of God in general.
I SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE GLORIOUS TRUTH ASSERTED.
Anything in the shape of proof might be justly deemed superfluous, if not profane, inasmuch as it is affirmed by Him who cannot lie. The purposes, plans, and actions of God are exceedingly unlike ours; they are beyond measure more noble and excellent than ours can be. Any illustrations must be vastly beneath the greatness of our theme—
1. In the fact that He produces the most important results from apparently insignificant causes.
2. As He accomplishes the most glorious designs by feeble instrumentality.
3. As He accomplishes the plan of salvation on a principle totally different from what we should have determined.
4. In the sovereignty with which He bestows mercy.
5. In the varied and mysterious dealings by which He trains up His people for glory.
II. THE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH THIS ARRANGEMENT IS FOUNDED AND JUSTIFIED.
1. The Divine knowledge is infinitely more extensive than ours.
2. The Divine purposes are inconceivably superior to ours.
3. It is His fixed, unalterable purpose to fulfil His plans in such a way as to hide pride from man.
III. PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS WHICH THIS VIEW OF THE DIVINE CONDUCT SUGGESTS.
1. It should awaken emotions of gratitude.
2. We should seek to have our will and our ways conformed to those of God. His will is the wisest, the kindest, and the best, and must be carried into effect: hence it is the highest wisdom of the creature to submit to His will and bow to His authority.
3. Learn to confide in His wisdom and love.
4. Anticipate the clearer light of heaven.—George Smith, D.D.
I. OBVIOUS REASONS FOR THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOD AND OURSELVES.
God's ways and thoughts must be far above ours—
1. Because in situation and office He is exalted far above us. He is in heaven, we are upon earth. We occupy the footstool, He the throne. Consider the extent and duration of His kingdom. Must not the thoughts and ways of a powerful earthly monarch be far above those of one of his subjects who is employed in manufacturing pins, or cultivating a few acres of ground? Can such a subject be competent to judge of his sovereign's designs, or even to comprehend them? How far, then, must the thoughts and ways of the eternal King of kings exceed ours; and how little able are we to judge of them, further than the revelation which He has been pleased to give enables us!
2. Because He is infinitely superior to us in knowledge and wisdom. He must, therefore, be able to devise a thousand plans and expedients, and to bring good out of evil in numberless ways, of which we could never have conceived, and of which we are by no means competent to judge, even after they are revealed to us.
3. Because He is perfectly benevolent and holy. We love sin, and care for nothing but our own private interest, while His concern is for the interests of the universe. Hence His thoughts, affections, maxims, and pursuits must be entirely different from ours. Do not even the thoughts and ways of good men differ from those of the wicked? How infinitely, then, must a perfectly holy God differ from us!
II. SOME INSTANCES IN WHICH THIS DIFFERENCE MOST STRIKINGLY APPEARS.
1. In permitting the introduction and continuance of natural and moral evil.
3. In God's choice of means and instruments for propagating the religion of Christ. Not angels, but men; and those at the outset the humblest (1Co ; see p. 583).
4. In His choice of the best methods of dealing with His people, and carrying on the work of grace in their souls after it is begun.
III. SOME PRACTICAL LESSONS.
If God's ways and thoughts differ thus widely from ours, then,
(1), it is no reasonable objection against the truth of any doctrine, or the propriety of any dispensation, that it is above our comprehension and appears mysterious to us. On the contrary, we should have reason to doubt the truth of the Scriptures, and to suspect that they are not the Word of God, if they did not contain many things which appear mysterious, and which we cannot fully comprehend. In this case, they would want one great proof of having proceeded from Him whose thoughts and ways must be infinitely above ours (H. E. I., 587; see p. 581).
3. From this subject we infer the reasonableness of the implicit faith in God which Christians exercise, believing what they cannot fully comprehend. For this they are ridiculed. But if God's ways and thoughts are thus high above ours, ought we not implicitly to believe that all He says and does is perfectly right? Is it not reasonable for children thus to believe their parents? for a sick man to trust in a skilful physician? for a passenger unacquainted with navigation to trust to the master of the vessel? If so, then it certainly is much more reasonable for us to trust implicitly to an infinitely wise, good, and infallible Being; and when any of His words or works appear wrong, to ascribe it to our own ignorance, blindness, or prejudice, rather than to suppose that there is anything wrong in Him. Is it not more likely that we should be wrong or mistaken, than that God should be?—Edward Payson, D.D.: Sermons, pp. 37-55.
THE ERRAND OF THE WORD
Isa . For as the rain cometh down, &c.
Upon what errand has God sent forth His Word? It publishes "salvation" with all its tongues. It has tidings for us of great truth; and the fault will be ours if the tidings be not also of great joy. These words of the prophet are the more powerful because they are so pleasant. They have the charm and vigour of Nature in them. Every one cares about rain, and believes in it. Every one does not care about truth, and believe in that. The prophet takes that in which we believe most to help our faith in that in which we believe less. And this is the lesson he would have sink into the heart of dull unbelieving man as the rain does into the earth, that the heavenly errands of Nature are not more sure of success than the heavenly errands of Grace; that the God of husbandry is even more the God of the husbandman; that, if water nourishes the earth, much more truth nourishes the soul; that if God's bidding is done by the winds that carry about the clouds to water the world, so also is it done—as surely, and in a higher way—by the Spirit that brings and dispenses to us the words of holy instruction and comfort.
Let us speak further—
I. OF THE WORD. God has His word of instruction and kindness for particular men at particular times; but His great general word of assurance is this, "I am thy God and Saviour, and all things round thee are subject to Me: trust Me and it shall be well with thee." Many minds besides the mind of God have to do with the affairs of the world; but His is supreme. This word of God, by which the world is ruled, is a word that has been uttered, that is uttered, that will be uttered. He settled at first the order of the outward heaven and earth (Psa ). He settled at first the order of the inward heaven and earth; but He made souls free, and, in His wise good will, subjected them to trial amid scenes of disorder and distress. And His word to them is one of direction, and of mercy, and of warning. It is specially a word inspiring humble spiritual trust in Himself, as the Source of all goodness, the Pardoner of iniquity. And it is a word which cheers, and leads us on day by day, with hope of comforts as we journey, and of a good end at last (Isa 55:12). It is also a word of promise. And he who feels the spirit of hope opening within him an entrance into a better mind, access to the wise healing truth, has not only the promise of deliverance, but real deliverance, in part, at once; and the prophetic Word shall have for him its entire fulfilment.
II. OF THE RETURNS MADE TO GOD BY HIS WORD.—
1. Of the certainty. The great purpose of God cannot fail. What evidence is there in Nature of lacking strength? It shows no sign of age, palsy, or consumption. Amid all its changes and its terrors, there is no rest from action. Shall God's word, then, rest from its activity? shall His perfect Word fail?
2. Of the manner. The Word returns to God in many ways. It yields, by its operation, proofs that His charge against men is true. It yields fruits of patience in the souls of those who carry for God the rejected message; it produces, by the results of its rejection, the acknowledgment that it ought to have been accepted. The issue of events must be according to God's mind. So God's word is always fruitful, however unfruitful we may be. It has many manner of effects, but is never without effect. For we must all come to render to the Truth our account, though perhaps we will not come to receive from Truth our freedom and its promise.
3. Of the measure. God's always powerful Word returns to Him variously. Given to us for our use, and given with its certain promise, let us seek to make it profitable to ourselves, honourable to Him in an increasing measure.
4. Of the time. And let us remember that our time is short, and God's time long. Our time is short; we must then hear the Word and do it promptly. God's time is long; and therefore many of the returns His Word shall make Him are of necessity, and most wisely, delayed. No one of us is so mad as to set at naught Nature's power: no one of us so foolish as to expect to do any outward action, without Nature's help: and no one of us so weak and despondent but that sometimes we have both confronted and overcome Nature's hindrance. Shall we, then, set at nought the Word of God, and expect success without it? or fear to overcome, by it said, that world of which it is the real ruler?—Thomas T. Lynch; Sermons for my Curates, pp. 253-271.
These words stand in connection with the gracious invitation addressed to sinners in Isa . The invitation is followed by inducements. The first is that the search for God will be successful—repentance will be followed by mercy. The second is drawn from the Divine magnanimity (Isa 55:8-9). The third is the definiteness of the Divine intention with respect to this. This is expressed in our text.
Two ideas are contained in it—
I. THAT IT IS INTENDED TO ACCOMPLISH A DEFINITE END.
Observe the imagery of the text. Rain and snow fall from heaven. They do not return thither. They have a mission. They water the earth. They help its fruitfulness. They make it bring forth and bud. It furnishes the present beauty and plenty. It provides future beauty and plenty. For it gives seed to the sower. The seed produces the harvest. From the harvest bread is produced, which is the staff of life. Thus its mission is the sustentation of man.
The Word of God spoken and written, the Gospel of Christ is compared to this. It is like the rain and the snow. It has a mission. Every word of God has a purpose and a destination in connection with the salvation of man. It aims to convert the individual sinner. The truth made known in the Gospel is the instrument of this. It aims to convert the world. If the conversion of individuals proceeds in a ratio exceeding that of the increase of population, the work of conversion will in due time overtake the population. And every individual converted becomes an agent for the conversion of others. Like the self-perpetuating power of nature, so in the operation of God's grace the man is converted, not only that he may enjoy his own salvation, but that he may be the means of salvation to others. An inward prompting impels him to seek that result. The Word of God in the heart is not only thus bread to the eater, but seed to the sower.
II. THAT THE END FOR WHICH IT IS GIVEN WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED.
1. Provision is made for the publication of the Gospel. Christ made provision when on earth by means of the few whom He had converted by His own ministry. The Gospel is in its nature diffusive. It produces an identity of feeling, principle, and aim with Christ. Love to God and man have been displaced by sin. The Gospel, when received into the heart, replaces these principles. In the introduction of these principles to the heart every provision is made for the publication of the Gospel. They animate some to preach, others to give liberally of their substance. They kindle zeal. They incite to labour, patience, diligence in this great work.
2. The Gospel is recommended with sufficient authority. From the constitution of our minds we cannot assent to any truth until we perceive it to be truth. Nor can we withhold our assent to anything we perceive to be truth. Therefore it is not sufficient that the Gospel be merely preached; it must also be attended with sufficient evidence of its truth. It brings various kinds of evidence,—Miracles—Prophecy—Experience,—a kind of evidence possessed by persons who have neither time nor ability to examine the other kinds. It is the power of the truth upon the heart and life.
3. The publication of the Gospel is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit. Holy beings would appreciate the evidence. But man is not holy, he is influenced by improper feelings and motives. Therefore the Spirit of God is poured down from on high. The means we have mentioned are channels through which the Divine influence flows. God works by means. We may resist the moral means, but the direct power of the Holy Spirit carries all before it. The husbandman sows the seed, and it is adapted to the production of the harvest Yet influences are necessary which are beyond the command of the husbandman. There must be storm, and lightning, and sunshine. So when all suitable means are employed, there must still be the power of the Holy Spirit.
4. The saving effect of the Gospel is distinctly predicted. The text expressly says it shall accomplish its intended end. Study on this subject the prophecies of the Old Testament and the words of Christ. Then think of the future of the world. Has it accomplished its saving end in you?
What God has purposed He will perform. Let us then—
1. Work. Enlist in the army. Engage in the service. All do something.
3. The world's glory has not reached its fulness. That will be when Christ reigns universally. The Gospel is as fresh and vigorous as ever for its appointed work.—J. Rawlinson.
The WORD OF GOD LIKENED TO THE RAIN AND SNOW.
Observe the analogy in the kingdoms of nature and grace, between the rain and snow, and the Divine Word. We see the resemblance—
I. In the origin of both. The rain, although naturally produced, is yet obviously the work and gift of God. He prepareth it; storeth it up; bears it on the wings of the wind, and freely pours it upon the earth. So also the word of life is His own production. He inspired the minds of the writers, &c.
II. In the mode of communicating both, He giveth the rain—
1. At peculiar seasons—periods when its bestowment is desirable and necessary. So God gave His Word, during the various seasons of the world's history, in divers manners, and at various periods—to the fathers by the prophets, &c. Just as God exercises His infinite skill in giving rain from heaven, so also did He give the words of truth and salvation to the world.
2. Abundantly. So also He has fully revealed His will in His holy Word. Enough for all the purposes of personal piety, usefulness, &c. (2Ti ).
3. Discriminately. The rain is not given to all countries in like manner, as to seasons, abundance, &c. So with respect to His Word, He deposited it originally with the seed of Abraham. To them pertained His oracles. They had God's Word while the rest of the nations were in darkness. So it is even yet. As a nation we have been greatly favoured. But other countries are only now receiving in their own tongues the wonderful testimonies of God's Word.
4. Gratuitously. So also His Word is His free gift to man.
III. In the design of both. The rain is sent to make the earth fruitful, and cause it to bring forth and bud.
1. The earth, like the heart of man, without this would be unfruitful. The earth requires rain, the heart of man requires the Word of God, and is dark and barren without it. Nothing will answer as a substitute for rain, and nothing meets the exigencies of the soul but the Word of God.
2. The adaptation of both for the end contemplated. Rain softens and moistens the earth, and produces fruitfulness. The Word of God enlightens, &c. It is the instrumental means of regeneration and holiness. Wherever it is received it produces the most happy and delightful effects.
IV. In the results arising from both. The rain and snow answer the end for which they are sent. Thus God's Word shall not be ineffectual. It shall accomplish God's pleasure—produce fruit to the honour and glory of His name.
1. It shall make barren souls fruitful (1Co ).
2. It shall increase the means of doing good. All converted persons are as seed-corn, they have been produced for the reproduction of others.
3. It shall reward the labourer (Php ; 1Th 2:19).
4. It shall satisfy the author. God will be eternally glorified in the achievements of His Word. It will attain all God intended and expected from it.
Application: Do we bear fruit to the glory of God's grace?—J. Burns, LL.D.: Sketches on Metaphors, &c., pp. 259-263.
In these words Isaiah means to trace a resemblance between these natural and spiritual influences—
I. IN THEIR DIVINE ORIGIN. (See p. 589.)
II. IN THE IMPORTANCE OF THEIR PRODUCE. What would this earth be without the rain and snow from heaven? What would this world be without the Gospel? But both come from God, and bring forth provision for both present and future needs; there is bread for the eater and seed for the sower. The Christian enjoys the blessings of the Gospel himself, and with delight conveys them to others.
III. IN THEIR MODE OF OPERATION. In both cases this is—
3. According to the soil.
4. In accordance with human means. and exertions.
IV. IN THE CERTAINTY OF THEIR SUCCESS. This seems to be Isaiah's principal, though not his only aim. Who will dare to say that the rain. falls anywhere to no purpose? Certainly the Gospel is never preached in vain.
1. Where it does not accomplish God's designs of mercy, it leaves sinners without excuse in the day of judgment.
2. Where it does not save, it civilises; where it does not sanctify, it restrains. The social influences of a faithful minister can scarcely be over-rated.
3. Where the highest results are produced, they are often hidden. Not now, but "the day of Christ" is the appointed season for ministerial rejoicing (Php ).
1. No man can listen to the preaching of the Gospel without being influenced for good or for evil (H. E. I., 2439-2442).
2. In this subject there is encouragement for God's servants. Ministers should read this text whenever they are about to enter the pulpit.—William Jay: The British Pulpit, vol. iii., pp. 409-422.
THE CHEERFUL COURSE OF THE GODLY
Isa . Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace, &c.
There is resolution and effort on our part, and help and guidance on God's part. We "go out" and we are "led." We must not forget either side of the truth. The farmer works in harmony with the rains and sunshine; the sailor in harmony with the winds and the sea. These two things, "going out" and "joy," do not naturally agree. Going out is naturally more or less painful. Even although it is to make your position better, there is yet pain in leaving. But God says to the believer: "These two incompatible things will meet in your case; nay, the one shall be the occasion of the other." The text also speaks of leading forth, and says of it that it shall be "with peace." The Christian's course is like a stream bounding forth from its native darkness with joy, and then gradually acquiring the tranquil flow of the broad river in the plain. Some applications—
I. In conversion, the soul goes out with joy and is led forth with peace. Conversion is the soul's first and great "going out." That is the essential idea of conversion. It is not so many prayers and tears and resolutions. It is turning our back on the old life of sin and selfishness, and coming out into the light of God, as really as the emigrant leaves one country and goes to another. This coming out is a joyful thing. The Israelites celebrated their leaving of Egypt by a feast; and surely the coming out of the soul from darkness to light, from condemnation to life, may well be the signal of joy. And in the case of the soul delivered from death there is the peaceful leading, as well as the joyful departure. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace," &c.
II. In the varied changes of life, the Christian goes out with joy and is led forth with peace. If we are the people of God, if we meet all changes in a spirit of faith and obedience, we may go forth with joy. Let us meet all our changes clinging to God's guidance, taking a firmer hold of God as the scenes get stranger and stranger, as a child takes a firmer hold of his father the further he is from home.
III. At death the believer goes out with joy, and is led forth with peace. He may have looked forward to it with misgiving, with something like dismay. But at midnight, when the cry comes, he rejoices greatly because he hears the Bridegroom's voice. Like a tired labourer, he goes thankfully home, like a welcome and expectant guest, he goes rejoicing to the banquet.—The Homiletical Library, vol. ii. p. 122.
THE PERPETUAL MIRACLE
Isa . Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, &c.
I. MIRACLES PROMISED IN THE CHURCH OF GOD.
1. The promise takes different shapes. Savage beasts shall lose their nature and become harmless and tractable (Isa, &c.). In sandy wastes streams of water shall flow till they become green with foliage and gay with flowers (Isa 35:1-2; Isa 35:7). Here, out of the ground which produced only thorns and briers, shall grow stately trees.
But here is something beautiful. In many cases it is found that thorns yield to culture. By taking in the wild plant and giving it kind treatment the skilful gardener tames and transforms it, till in the process of years the trenchant thorn is replaced by a golden apple or a rosy flower. And greater wonders are effected in God's husbandry. In nature some plants have baffled horticulture; but if you watch, pray, and really strive, there is nothing impossible to faith and prayer. Fix on your besetting sin, and fight against it; and as in dependence upon the Heavenly Husbandman you strive and pray, the Spirit poured forth from on high will fulfil in you the promise of our text.—James Hamilton, D.D.
II. FALSE MIRACLES CLAIMED BY CORRUPT CHURCHES.
1. The Church of Rome and the Greek Church both profess that miracles are continually being wrought in their communion.
But here is something beautiful. In many cases it is found that thorns yield to culture. By taking in the wild plant and giving it kind treatment the skilful gardener tames and transforms it, till in the process of years the trenchant thorn is replaced by a golden apple or a rosy flower. And greater wonders are effected in God's husbandry. In nature some plants have baffled horticulture; but if you watch, pray, and really strive, there is nothing impossible to faith and prayer. Fix on your besetting sin, and fight against it; and as in dependence upon the Heavenly Husbandman you strive and pray, the Spirit poured forth from on high will fulfil in you the promise of our text.—James Hamilton, D.D.
III. THE TRUE MIRACLES WROUGHT IN THE TRUE CHURCH, i.e., the Church of such as love Christ, wherever they are found.
1. These consist in the conversion of sinners, and are spoken of in the New Testament as a second birth, &c. (1Jn ; Act 26:18; Eph 2:5; 2Co 5:17; Eph 2:8; Eph 1:19-20).
2. All conversion is from God and supernatural, but this most clearly seen when great sinners converted suddenly.
1. Never to despair of any sinners, however hardened.
2. To think it natural that mighty deeds should be wrought by a mighty God.—C. S. Carey; The Class and the Desk, vol. ii. p. 189.
Isa . Figurative language, yet the meaning obvious.
I. The world-wide diffusion of the Gospel. II. The Gospel is redolent with blessings, and only blessings to man. III. The glory of Christ is hereby secured, much more than in any other way.—A. M‘Auslane, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 55". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany