Click here to join the effort!
THE SUPPOSED AND THE REAL CAUSE OF FAILURE IN THE CHURCH
Isaiah 59:1-2. Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened, &c.
As the Church is essentially an aggressive institution, at some periods her success has been most marked; at other times her energies have seemed paralysed. It behoves us not only to inquire into the conditions of the Church’s growth and expansion, but to be most careful as to our spirit and conduct, lest we by any means should prevent her development. In certain conditions, on the testimony of God’s Word, we may be sure of her growth; in certain others we may be as sure of her failure. Her expansion depends upon her purity, &c.; while her failure is as inseparably associated with her sins. The excuses that are often made for the Church’s non-success would be amusing had they not reference to so very solemn a subject. To us we confess they appear alarming, as they seem in many instances to indicate ignorance in regard to the very fundamental conditions of growth and prosperity. If she does not accomplish her soul-saving work something must be wrong. Excuses for her failure generally reflect more or less on the Divine Being and government, an issue from which thoughtful and devout minds ought at once to recoil. The text rebukes those who would so think or speak. Israel in the days of Isaiah attended to the outward forms of religion; and yet tokens of the Divine favour were withheld; and when these favours did not come as in the olden time, the people blamed God, instead of charging it to their own sins. The text is an answer to their utterances (ch. 58.). Consider—
I. THE SUPPOSED CAUSE OF THE CHURCH’S NON-SUCCESS. This has reference to the work of the Spirit, and to unanswered prayer. Dwell—
1. On the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Upon His grace all prosperity in the Church depends. In some periods God has been pleased to pour out very abundantly His Holy Spirit. At other times He seems strangely to withhold this necessary gift. The all-important question then is: Why is the Divine Spirit withheld? Some affirm—
(1.) Because it is God’s will. Is this true? It is contradicted by experience. Church history and observation teach that every great revival in the Church has been preceded by the action of the Church herself. Prayer has become more ferment and constant, &c. It is also contradicted by the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. We are not directed to wait till God shall in His sovereign wisdom determine to send us the Holy Ghost; but we are taught distinctly to pray for Him (Luke 11:13, with Matthew 7:7; James 4:3).
(2.) We are not to expect any extraordinary manifestations of spiritual power in these days. Though we do not need the “cloven tongues,” &c., we know of no scripture that would discourage the expectation of the conversion of even three thousand in one day. Pentecost was the type and pledge of something greater and better. We are living in the “latter days,” and there are many plain indications that we ought now to expect the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. Plainly, then, if the Spirit is withheld it is not because the “Lord’s arm is shortened.”
2. The efficacy of prayer in the Church. God is moved by the prayers of His people. Witness Moses, Elijah, &c. (James 5:16). Why then so many prayers unanswered? For the cause we must look into the Church rather than up to God.
II. THE REAL CAUSE. As of old—our sins. Look at this matter of sin in the Church. Though the Church in this age may be innocent of those more flagrant transgressions (ch. 58.), yet are we not guilty before heaven, for stopping in some measure the spread and growth of the Church. Let us particularise a few of the Church’s sins. Think of—
1. Her worldly spirit.
2. Her formalism.
3. Her apathy in reference to the masses. It but remains, now that we see the cause of the Church’s small success, that we humble ourselves before God, &c.—F. Crozier: The Methodist Recorder, July 14, 1871.
GOD’S POWER UNDIMINISHED
By the Lord’s hand His power is intended. By the hand of His power He is in contact with the object on which He designs to operate. The question proposed is this: Is His power diminished? Its present extent is considered in relation to some previously recognised extent of it. It was previously recognised as without limit. Is it now less? The text is really an affirmation in the form of an interrogation. The Lord’s hand is not shortened: His power is not diminished. This is the answer to the question in Numbers 11:23 and Isaiah 1:2. Let us consider the truth and some applications of it.
I. THE TRUTH ITSELF (see p. 365).
It is that the Lord’s power was and is unlimited, and therefore equal to anything it becomes Him to do or which He has undertaken to do.
In creation, providence, and redemption, the Divine power has been displayed, &c.
Omnipotence, then, is an attribute of the Divine nature. We probably regard this as a settled point. But the river of our faith does not exhibit an uninterrupted flow. It encounters obstacles at many points. It sometimes suffers loss. When a new difficulty occurs we debate the whole question. Notwithstanding our clear perception of the greatness of God’s power, the temptation is to measure it by our own. We catch the infection of the world’s atmosphere. We are told that if science declares a thing impossible, and revelation declares it possible, science must win the victory. We lack the courage to reply that science is only the human knowledge of the day, which is continually undergoing change. The wonders of the past were pronounced impossible by the science of the past. And as the divine science of the past has shown itself in advance of the human, it will show its superiority in the future. God is unchangeable. Human power, after being used a given time, becomes feeble, and eventually incapable of exertion. There is no cause of decay or diminution in God. He can neither increase nor diminish; because He is infinite and immutable. Let us mention—
II. SOME OF ITS APPLICATIONS (see pp. 365, 366):—
1. It should be applied to our temporal anxieties. Moses and the children of Israel (Numbers 11:0). The disciples and the five thousand people. How frequently in the experience of believers has there been some pressing difficulty, from which extrication seemed impossible, and their customary faith staggered under its weight, when an unexpected way was made by some new turn of affairs, and the difficulty disappeared. It may have happened to some of you. God seemed to ask an answer to the question: “Is my hand shortened?”
2. It should be applied to spiritual difficulties. Many things clearly revealed in the Gospel as things that may happen. We do not see how they can. Falling into the snare of the devil we measure the Divine power by our own. “How can these things be?” &c. Do some of you say the difficulty in the way of your salvation is insuperable because of your extreme sinfulness and hardness? You are measuring the Lord by yourself. You are putting a limit to the power of His Spirit and the efficacy of the Saviour’s blood.
3. It should be applied to the world’s conversion. You look abroad on the world with something like the prophet’s hopeless scepticism. Can these bones live? It is beyond you. But it is not beyond Him.
4. It should be applied to our intellectual doubts. There are many questions in respect to which we are driven upon the simplest trust in the Divine character. Take only the resurrection from the dead. The apostle throws the whole question back on the Divine power by the analogy of the sowing and the reaping, which to man is impossible and inexplicable (1 Corinthians 15:36; 1 Corinthians 15:38).
The grand lesson from this subject is the cheerful acceptance of our Divinely appointed lot. Cease to measure Him by ourselves. Simply trust.—J. Rawlinson.
Isaiah condemns the sins of ancient Israel, and justifies the judgments of God. Observe—
I. WHAT SIN HAS DONE.
1. Mark its tendency to separate the soul from God. It estranged man from God at the very beginning. It does the same still, and if unforgiven will separate from Him to all eternity.
2. It has obscured and withdrawn from us the tokens of His favour.
3. It fearfully indisposes you to return: you refuse His overtures, &c.
II. WHAT GRACE CAN DO.
1. There is no deficiency in God’s power to save. We are prone to limit the Holy One of Israel. Satan, who labours to diminish the evil of sin before its commission, equally loves to aggravate and enhance the difficulties of reconciliation. All obstacles to the sinner’s restoration removed by Christ.
2. There is an infinite willingness in the heart of God to rescue and to save (Isaiah 55:6-9), &c. God has shown His mercy to the chief of sinners. Heaven itself is a colony of saved souls. Christ describes Himself as more deeply wounded by the rejection of His mercy than He was by the agonies of the cross.
III. THE VAST IMPORTANCE OF SEEKING MERCY—mercy to pardon sin, and grace to subdue it.
1. Seek Him in the full faith of His unbounded grace.
2. Labour to acquire a just sense and apprehension of the magnitude and aggravation of your rebellion. You cannot be united to Christ unless you be divorced from sin.
3. Own and accept Christ in all His relations and offices.
4. Be diligent and earnest in prayer.
5. Honour the work of the Spirit.
6. Keep Heaven and Eternity full in view.—Samuel Thodey.
I. A lamentable state—separation from God. Loss of His favour. No access to Him. II. The cause of it. Much of all knowledge lies in the knowledge of causes.
1. Not in God—He is able and willing to save.
2. But in ourselves—our sins.—Archbishop Leighton: Works (1868 edition), pp. 428–432.
Man’s miseries—I. May not be charged upon God. He is able to save. Willing to save. II. Must be referred to man’s wickedness. Actual—in thought, word, deed; negligent; infatuated.—Dr. Lyth.
SIN SEPARATING FROM GOD
Isaiah 59:2. But your iniquities have separated, &c.
Present separation supposes previous union and capacity for it. Man is capable of communion with God. God is capable of communion with man. There was a time when they were in full communion—when man was pure. When he fell he lost, not the capacity, but the privilege. How great a loss it was! Why are these two, so fitted to each other, one of them absolutely needing the other, separated? Sin has effected the separation. It produced it at first It is the only hindrance in the way of friendly intercourse. This is the doctrine of our text.
I. Sin unfits man for communion with God
Unrepented, unforsaken, unforgiven sin. Such sin is utterly contrary to God’s holy nature. If you have been at any time guilty of sin which you are unwilling to renounce, you have felt that intercourse between God and you was incongruous and presumptuous. Do we not all know this by experience?
II. Sin disinclines man for communion with God
It is “enmity against God.” He who wrongs another will avoid his society if he thinks the wrong is known. The presence of the victim is a rebuke to his conscience and an excitement of his fears. The passage to dislike and hatred will probably not be slow. Is not this the course of the human heart in relation to God? Why do the great majority of men around us seem to live without any conscious thought of God, &c.? He is avoided because there is a deep consciousness of sin. God, instead of being the object of supreme love, has become, through man’s conduct toward Him, the object of fear. Examine your own experience. Does a life of willing sin incline you to pray?
III. Sin excludes man from communion with God
It is possible not only for us to separate ourselves from God, but for Him to separate Himself from us. It is conceivable that a man, while unwilling to forsake his sin, might desire the advantage of intercourse with God in prayer and religious services. Many have imagined that by these they would compensate the Divine Being for sin. This notion seems to have been entertained in the time of Isaiah. The religious services and the flagrant iniquities of the Jewish people are described together. God declines to accept the services because of the iniquities (ch. 58, 59.). No multitude of prayers or religious observances can be set against the holiness of heart and life which are required in those that come into any association with God. The spotless holiness of His nature forbids. Thus then the case stands.
CONCLUSION.—What, then, have God and man cut each other off from all possibility of happy intercourse, &c.? We owe it to God’s mercy that the breach can be repaired. A qualified Mediator has appeared, &c., has bridged over the distance sin had made between God and man. Repenting of your sins, casting yourselves at the footstool of mercy through the cross, friendship is restored. He becomes accessible. The call is addressed to every sinner. His Spirit will be given to help.
This subject teaches the great evil and danger of sin as the separater.—J. Rawlinson.
Isaiah 59:3-4. A sad picture of depravity. I. In the bauds and fingers. II. The lips and tongue. III. Desires and motives. IV. Heart and imagination. V. Life and conduct.
Isaiah 59:4. I. Actions proceed from thoughts. II. Correspond to the thoughts which produce them. III. Hence, when mischief is conceived iniquity is the produce.—J. Lyth, D.D.
Isaiah 59:5-6. I. The devices of the wicked. Like eggs—productive. Like cockatrices’ eggs—injurious, (α.) Like spiders’ webs—frail, useless. (β.) II. Their effect. Upon others—mischief, death. Upon themselves—disappointment, retribution.—Dr. Lyth.
See the spider’s web, behold in it a most suggestive picture of the hypocrite’s religion.
1. It is meant to catch his prey; the spider fattens himself on flies, and the Pharisee has his reward. Foolish persons are easily entrapped by the loud professions of pretenders, and even the more judicious cannot always escape. Philip baptized Simon Magus, whose guileful declaration of faith was so soon exploded by the stern rebuke of Peter. Custom, reputation, praise, advancement, and other flies, are the small game which hypocrites take in their nets.
2. A spider’s web is a marvel of skill; look at it and admire the cunning hunter’s wiles. Is not a deceiver’s religion equally wonderful. How does he make so barefaced a lie appear to be a truth? How can he make his tinsel answer so well the purpose of gold?
3. A spider’s web comes all from the creature’s own bowels. The bee gathers her wax from flowers; the spider sucks no flowers, and yet she spins out her material to any length. Even so hypocrites find their hope and trust within themselves; their anchor was forged on their own anvil, and their cable twisted by their own hands. They lay their own foundation, and hew out the pillars of their own house, disdaining to be debtors to the sovereign grace of God.
4. But a spider’s web is very frail. It is curiously wrought, but not enduringly manufactured. It is no match for the servant’s broom, or the traveller’s staff. The hypocrite needs no battery of Armstrongs to blow his hopes to pieces, a mere puff of wind will do it. Hypocritical cobwebs will soon come down when the broom of destruction begins its purifying work.
5. Which reminds us of one more thought, viz., that such cobwebs are not to be endured in the Lord’s house. He will see to it that they and those who spin them shall be destroyed for ever. O my soul, be thou resting on something better than a spider’s web. Be the Lord Jesus thine eternal hiding-place.—C. H. Spurgeon.
WEBS BUT NOT GARMENTS
Isaiah 59:6. Their webs shall not become garments
What a telling blow the prophet deals at the corruptions of his age! His illustration is homely, but, on that account, all the more forcible. The whole passage presents an appalling picture of the state of society,—powers perverted, &c. The two things always go together—the practice of wickedness, and recourse to vain excuses to palliate it. An evil course cannot long be pursued without some plea which justifies it to the sinner’s mind. These fictions are the very food on which his sin lives. Tear them away, and you strip him of those defences behind which he fortifies himself in the practice of iniquity. This is what God’s prophet is trying to do; not only denouncing sin, but exposing the worthlessness of the pleas by which it is encouraged. These fancies he characterises as “spiders’ webs” (Isaiah 59:5); and, continuing the metaphor (Isaiah 59:6), he declares—“Their webs shall not become garments.” It is a kindness to undeceive one who labours under a fatal mistake, however unpleasant the task. Some of you are the victims of soul-destroying delusions; but soon you will pass into a world of reality, where every dark subterfuge in which you try to hide yourselves, will be illumined in all its corners by the fierce and searching light of eternity. You are weaving your subtle webs of fancy and practice now, bestowing pains upon them, thinking well of them, and gaining the approval of others; but they are mere shoddy, which, though it pass from the loom, is worthless for wear. Let us visit some of the looms in the great factory of human life, and see what sort of fabrics the weavers are turning out.
I. There is one who is weaving the web of a respectable life. Living for appearances, squaring his opinions and behaviour by the maxims of the world; pleasant and accommodating whatever company he may enter, and putting up even with Christian society, if they are not too decided. No strong principles has he to bring him into collision with other people. His principle is to have no principles, but to fall in with those of others. If ever he offered a real prayer it would be—“O God, keep me on good terms with the world; save me from anything that would incur its censure, or draw down upon me its frown.” He worships the goddess of respectability. It would never do for him to be anything but sober, honest, and industrious. He cannot throw into his web the dark threads which they use who have sunk so low as to have no regard even for public opinion. It has attractive colours and a glossy surface. Such goods are in demand in the world’s market; but with no higher purpose, his web shall not become a garment. He has lived without the thought of God, and tried to do as others do, not what conscience and Scripture command.
II. At another loom sits a busy worker weaving the web of formalism. The formalist sees something good in religion, but is mistaken as to the way in which its blessedness is secured. His trust is in the outward observance of religious ceremonies, forgetting that the Kingdom of God is a thing of the heart. Precise and regular in his church attendance and Sabbath observance, he is yet cold and heartless. No warm, loving impulse stirs his soul. He has made a god of religious routine (Job 8:13-14). It is hard to undeceive such a man, just because of his familiarity with sacred things (Matthew 21:31). He who weaves such a web, is only preparing a winding-sheet for his dead soul.
III. There is another weaving the web of self-righteousness. Not blindly trusting in ceremonies, but relying on an upright life. Without a change of heart he tries to obey the law (Romans 10:3), but his view of sin is defective. So long as the Divine law is regarded as an outward rule, you may think you render a tolerably perfect obedience, but let its light shine into the heart and it reveals the sinner’s guilt (Romans 7:7-9). Self-righteousness may be a web, but it never shall become a garment (Isaiah 57:12; Isaiah 64:6). We are to work not for but from acceptance and pardon. Never can we fulfil the law until the heart has been changed by the experience of God’s mercy (Philippians 3:9).
IV. Further on we encounter another who is weaving the web of reliance on the future. A young man who promises himself long life and abundant opportunity. He is bent on trying some experiments in weaving before he settles down to serious work. He means to attend to religious matters, but not just now. Can he count upon the uncertain future? can he promise himself inclination and opportunity? That is the web which the young are prone to weave. How is it with those more advanced in life?
V. Here is an old man busily weaving the web of amendment, thinking thus to atone for the vices and follies of an ill-spent youth. But can any resolution for the future wipe out the guilt of the erring past? If he wishes to begin life anew he must go to the cross, and make that his starting-point, but he blindly imagines that reformation of life will supply the garment which he needs.
VI. Have I exhausted the various classes of weavers? Alas for our race if I have! Many find the requisite garment provided for them in the righteousness of Christ (Romans 3:21-26; Romans 4:5). It fits us, becomes us, protects us, will never grow old, and will never be out of fashion. How can you appear before God in the flimsy dress of your own manufacture? (Matthew 22:11-13). But do we cease to be weavers when we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ?” The weaving of the right sort can only then begin; for, the righteousness wrought out for us and imputed becomes a righteousness wrought in us and imparted. Christ takes the web of our life into his own hands (1 Corinthians 1:30; Galatians 2:20). Instead of leading to licentiousness a free justification alone can sanctify the life (Romans 6:1-4).
To which class of weavers do you belong? Look at your life—how profitless, purposeless, and polluted! Can that web clothe you for standing before God, when it is finished and removed from the beam? Throw it away, tear it to shreds, abandon alike your good and bad works, and listen to the Redeemer’s voice (Revelation 3:18). You pity the poorly-clad amid the biting frosts and snows of winter, but more to be pitied are they who advance into the winter of declining years, the chill region of death, and the storms of judgment, with no sufficient clothing for their defenceless souls!—William Guthrie, M.A.
Isaiah 59:7. Depravity. I. Has its seat in the heart. II. Its expression in the conduct. III. Its issue in misery and ruin.—J. Lyth, D.D.
Isaiah 59:8. I. The characters described. Those who make crooked paths—
1. From the line of duty prescribed by the law.
2. By the Gospel.
3. By conscience. II. Their awful condition. Cannot know peace. In life—death—eternal world.—C. Simeon, M.A.
The path of transgressors is one—I. Of contention. II. Of injustice. III. Of perverseness. IV. Of misery.
Isaiah 59:9-15. I. The misery of sinners. No light, comfort, certainty, security, relief, salvation. II. The cause. Transgression multiplied, acknowledged, aggravated, open, wilful, exciting justly the displeasure of God.—Dr. Lyth.
HELP FOR SEEKERS OF THE LIGHT
Isaiah 59:9. We wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
I. I address myself, through the words of the text, to persons who are desirous of obtaining the true and heavenly light, who have waited hoping to receive it, but instead of obtaining it are in a sadder state than they were, and they are almost driven into the dark foreboding that for them no light will ever come; they shall be prisoners chained for ever in the valley of the shadow of death.
1. These persons are in some degree aware of their natural darkness. They are looking for light. They are not content with their obscurity, they are waiting for brightness. They discover in their nature much of evil, they would fain be rid of it; they find in their understanding much ignorance, and they would fain be illuminated. They pant to escape from this ignorance, they desire to know the truth which saves the soul; and their desire is not only to know it in theory, but to know it by its practical power upon the inner man.
2. They have a high idea of what the light is. In the text they call it “brightness.” They wait for it, and are grieved because it comes not.
3. They have some hope that they may yet obtain this light; in fact, they are waiting for it, hopefully waiting, and are somewhat disappointed that after waiting for the light, behold, obscurity has come. They are evidently astonished at the failure of their hopes.
4. They have learned to plead their case with God, for our text is a complaint addressed to the Lord Himself. It is a declaration of inward feelings, a laying bare of the heart’s agonies to the Most High.
II. It shall now be my happy task to endeavour to assist into the light those who would fain flee from the darkness, by trying to answer the query, “How is it that I, being desirous of light, have not found it yet? Why has not the Lord revealed Himself to me?”
1. You may have been seeking the light in the wrong place. Many, like Mary, seek the living amongst the dead. You may have been the victim of the false doctrine that peace with God can be found in the use of ceremonies, &c. You may have been looking for salvation in the mere belief of a certain creed.
2. You may have sought it in the wrong spirit. When we ask for pardon, reconciliation, salvation, we must remember to whom we speak, and who we are who ask the favour. Some appear to deal with God as if He were bound to give salvation; as if salvation indeed were the inevitable result of a round of performances (H. E. I. 3431, 3432), or the deserved reward of a certain amount of virtue. You must come down from such vainglorious notions; you must sue out your pardon, as our law courts put it, in formâ pauperis; you must come before God as a humble petitioner, pleading the promises of mercy, abhorring all idea of merit, confessing that if the Lord condemn, He has a right to do it; and that if He save, it will be an act of pure, gratuitous mercy.
3. Others have not obtained peace because they have not yet a clear idea of the true way of finding it. The way of peace with God is seen through a haze by most men, so that if you put it ever so plainly, they will, if it be possible, misunderstand you. They will not give a simple look to the Saviour, and rely alone on Him. The waters of Abana and Pharpar are preferred by proud human nature, but the waters of Jordan alone can take away the leprosy.
4. Perhaps you have not found light because you have sought it in a half-hearted manner. None enter heaven who are but half inclined to go there. Cold prayers ask God to refuse them (H. E. I. 3831–3835).
5. There may be some sin within thee which thou art harbouring to thy soul’s peril. Art thou willing to give sin up? If not, it is all lost time for me to preach Christ to thee, for He is not meant to be a Saviour of those who persevere in sin. He came to save His people from their sins, not in them; and if thou still must needs cling to a darling sin, be not deceived, for within the gates of heaven thou canst never enter (H. E. I. 2823, 2856, 4597–4602).
6. It may be that you have only sought peace with God occasionally. After an earnest sermon you have been awakened, but when the sermon has been concluded, you have gone back to your slumber like the sluggard who turns again upon his bed. After a sickness, or when there has been a death in the family, you have then zealously bestirred yourself; but anon you have declined into the same carelessness as before. Oh! fool that you are, remember he wins not the race who runs by spurts, but he who continues running to the end.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 884.
Isaiah 59:12. Conviction of sin. I. Our transgressions are revealed in the light of God’s countenance. II. Testify against us. III. Produce condemnation in the conscience. IV. Cannot be evaded—we know them.
Confession of sin. Includes—I. A perception of its guilt—committed against God—multiplied. II. An acknowledgment of its guilt—“They testify,” &c. Justly awaken God’s displeasure. III. A sense of its misery. Condemnation—compensation. IV. A full conviction of our own demerit and helplessness.—Dr. Lyth.
Isaiah 59:13. Sin and its aggravation. I. In its lowest form it is transgression against God. II. Is aggravated by apostacy. III. Still more by its propagation. IV. Most of all, when it is conceived and uttered of set purpose.
Isaiah 59:14-15. Society in a demoralised condition. I. Right and justice perverted. II. Truth and equity excluded. III. Falsehood predominant. IV. The good oppressed. V. God justly displeased.
Isaiah 59:16-19. God’s interposition for His people. I. The occasion. They were in distress—helpless—no deliverer. II. The display of His power. He brings salvation—by righteousness—His own. III. His weapons. Righteousness—salvation—vengeance. IV. The glorious issue. Recompense to His enemies. Deliverance for His people.—Dr. Lyth.
ZEAL—THE BEST CLOAK
Isaiah 59:17. And was clad with zeal as a cloke.
The solitary champion here spoken of we cannot fail to recognise as the Prince of the house of David, our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever may have been the first and primary meaning of the text, &c., of Him we may say beyond and above all others, that He “was clad with zeal as a cloke.”
When the grace of God has wrought in a man all other virtues, zeal is still needed to elevate and perfect his entire manhood 
 Behold the altar, built of unhewn stones, and after God’s own law; behold the wood laid thereon; see the victim slain and the blood flowing; but you cannot make a sacrifice without fire—unless the fire from heaven shall perfect the sacrificial preparations, all will be useless. Behold in the altar the figure of the man; he has faith, courage, love, consecration; but if he lacks the fire of fervent zeal his life will be a failure; he will remain an offering unconsumed, and consequently worthless and unaccepted.—Spurgeon.
One of the first requisites of an earnest, successful, soul-winning man must be zeal. As well a chariot without its steeds, a sun without its beams, a heaven without its joy, as a man of God without zeal.
I. ZEAL IS TO BE REGARDED AS CLOAK THAT COVERS ALL.
The Christian man is to wear zeal as we wear an outward garment which covers all the rest of our garments—a flowing robe which encompasses the entire person.
1. Zeal is all-enveloping. The Christian is to invest himself with faith, love, patience; but zeal must be over all these, just as the traveller in the snowstorm wraps himself up in his greatcoat, or binds his cloak about him.
2. Zeal is preserving. The cloak covers the arm, the breast, the heart, and all the more delicate parts of the body. Zeal is to wrap up the whole man, so that when he is subject to a furious hail of persecution, or a biting wind of poverty, or a torrent of down-pouring griefs, the pilgrim to the skies may hold on his way, and bid all weathers brave defiance.
3. Zeal is comforting, even as the cloak when wrapped about the traveller in the snowstorm. The man who is possessed by an irresistible passion for carrying out his life-work, will gird this gracious ardour well around him, and let the snow-flakes come as they may, they will only fall, as it were, into a furnace, and will melt before they can injure. You who have zeal for God in your Sabbath school, will find it protect you from the numbing influence that will come over you in the class.
4. Zeal endures. There is no more becoming garment to the Christian when he possesses all the virtues than an all-enveloping zeal. You will not be as Christians thought beautiful in the eyes of angels and perfect intelligences (and these are the best judges of beauty), because you coldly pursue the regular rounds of duty; but you will be beautiful to them if you glow, and flame, and blaze with intense affection towards God.
5. We must take care to put on zeal as a cloak and not as a hood. Nobody wears his cloak over his head, and yet I have known some persons whose zeal has entirely blindfolded their judgment 
6. Zeal is a cloak, and therefore is not intended to supersede the other graces. We do not see the traveller climbing the Alps with nothing upon his body but his cloak—that would be most absurd; and so zeal cannot take the place of knowledge, &c. It is a cloak, which is a great thing, it is true, but it is nothing more than a cloak, and the rest of the garments must be carefully attended to.
7. Zeal is a cloak, and therefore we are not to regard it as an extraordinary robe to be worn only occasionally on high days and holidays. A man reckons his cloak not to be a thing in which to walk in state with my lord through the streets, but as a portion of his ordinary working-day dress; and so ought our zeal to be. If it be genuine zeal it will be like the cloak which always hangs ready on the nail in the hall. Nay, since the storm is always on, and we are always pilgrims, it will be like the cloak which we cannot bear to lay aside.
8. While I say that zeal is not everything, recollect that the cloak covers everything, and do not let your zeal be such a scanty thing that it will only hang like a girdle round your loins, but let it be a great wrapper in which to enfold all your manhood, apparent everywhere; not secret and inward alone, but revealed and active. Our Lord is said to put on zeal as a cloak; He manifested and displayed His holy fervour; He had not zeal in His heart merely, but He had zeal outwardly as well. Where there is grace in the heart, it soon shows itself in the life.
 The zeal that God would have us cultivate is wise and prudent; it does not heedlessly leap into the ditch, though it would swim a river, yea, and the Atlantic to boot, if it felt that God had bidden it do so. Zeal is like fire, which is said to be “a good servant, but a bad master.” The fire in the grate, who shall say too much in its favour? But fire in the thatch of the house, who shall say too much against it? The flaming fire of zeal, burning and blazing in the soul, is a Christian gift and virtue; but when zeal takes away the judgment, the man does not wear zeal as a cloak, he makes a hood of it, and makes himself brother to a fool—Spurgeon.
II. OBSERVE HOW OUR LORD EXHIBITED THIS ZEA.
1. In His earliest childhood, you have tokens of His inward zeal. He is found in the Temple.
2. In after life, you see His burning zeal in leaving all the comforts of life. What but His zeal brought Him to such a condition that He said, “Foxes have holes,” &c. His very dress showed His zeal, because it was not ostentatious, but in every way suitable for incessant labour and humble service. He had given up all the dainties, ay, and all the comforts of life, for the one great object of accomplishing our redemption.
3. He showed His earnestness in persevering in His work under all manner of rebuffs. He was constantly misrepresented. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. Still He never turned aside from His work.
4. As a clearer proof of His zeal, all the blandishments of the world could not attract Him. The excited crowd would have taken Him by force, and have made Him a king, but such was His zeal for the one work He had in hand, that He counted royal honours to be less than nothing and vanity. Many a man has been zealous for God till he has met with fierce persecutions, and then he has turned his back; and many more have been zealous in the highest degree until wealth came in their way, and the possibilities of honour, and then they have stooped, and have licked the world’s foot, and have been mere poodles of fashion; their ardour for truth has evaporated, and their zeal has fled.
5. Look at His incessant labours. His life was very short—in truth, it consists of only three years of labour, as the former part of His life was spent in obscurity—and there we leave it as God has left it—but the three active years of His earthly sojourn, how they are crowded with incident!
6. Look at His preaching, and you see His zeal 
7. You see His zeal in His prayers. What cries and groans; what strong cryings and tears were those that shook the gates of heaven, as Jesus prayed and pleaded for the sons of men! Ah! if you seek a pattern of zeal, you must stand in the garden, &c.
8. He proved His zeal again by giving up Himself. Having persevered alone when deserted by His friends, He persevered still when given over to His enemies. What zeal was that which makes Him stand so silent before the bar of Pilate? It was a wonderful triumph of Christ thus to hold His tongue. A master speaker feels an intense longing to speak when great occasions demand his voice, but Jesus was greater than a master speaker, for He was a great master of silence, and He restrained Himself, and uttered not a word. Then when they scourged Him, &c., a wish of His could have destroyed them all; but His zeal was with Him when covered with His dying crimson: it was wrapped about His naked body as a cloak, so that the shame He despised and the cross He endured, looking forward to the recompense of reward.
 What words of love He uses! How gently He addresses the poor trembling ones, as He bids them come unto Him, and they shall have rest. He does not utter those blessed invitations in a sleepy manner, but His heart goes out with every syllable, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And when He turns to sterner oratory, and addresses those enemies of the truth, the Scribes and Pharisees, how He thunders and lightens at them! Were ever such indignant words uttered as those of the Master, “Woe unto ye, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites”? Why, there stood the men. He was not speaking of them, as I might speak of people who are in Abyssinia or Japan; but there they were, before His eye, gnashing their teeth at Him, looking indignant, and longing to tear Him down and drag Him off to death. But, “woe unto you!” came again from His lips, and yet again “woe unto you!” For a pretence ye make long prayers; ye strain at a gnat, and ye swallow a camel.” No man could speak more plainly than He did in the face of these hypocrites, for zeal was girt about Him as a cloak, and no fear of man could restrain Him.—Spurgeon.
Observe what His zeal was made of.
(1.) It was zeal for God (John 2:17).
(2.) It was also a zeal for truth.
(3.) For souls.
III. WHAT WAS IT THAT THE ZEAL OF CHRIST FED UPON?
1. Christ’s zeal was based upon a defined principle. It was not a hurried hasty zeal, excited in Him by the earnest addresses of eloquent pleaders; it sprang from fixed and intelligent principles; for He had set His heart upon a great purpose, He had weighed it, counted the cost, looked at it on all sides, and now He was not to be turned from it.
2. It was occasioned by intense love. He loved His Father; He could not, therefore, but do His will. He loved His people; He could not, therefore, do otherwise than seek their good.
3. It had an eye to the recompense (Hebrews 12:2). Christian, think of the recompense of the faithful servant—not of debt, but of grace. What joy, when you enter heaven, to be met by those who were converted to God through your means; to hear them hail you as their spiritual father or their spiritual mother!
4. Christ was so zealous because He had a greater spiritual discernment than you and I have. He beheld the spirits of men; He beheld not their bodies only, but their inner selves; and He looked upon men, not as flesh and blood, but as immortals. Best of all, He saw God. He could say, “I have set the Lord always before me,” &c. What a source of zeal this must have been!—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 832.
Isaiah 59:17. EXCHANGING CLOAKS.
The cloak, the seamless outer garment of Christ, is constantly used in Scripture as a symbol of certain things to be laid aside, and of others which are to be assumed.
I would speak—I. OF THE CLOAKS THAT ARE CAST OFF BY HIM WHO COMES TO CHRIST.
1. Taught of Christ, you will substitute this zeal of Christ for the cloak of sin (John 15:22).
2. For the cloak of maliciousness (1 Peter 2:16).
3. For the cloak of selfishness (1 Thessalonians 2:5). II. THE NEW COSTUME, THE CLOAK WE ARE TO PUT ON—“Clad with zeal as with a cloak.”
1. The material of this cloak.
2. Its appearance.
3. Its uses. Let me exhort you to make this change. It can be made now in a moment of time.—S. H. Tyng, D.D.
Christ the Champion of His people. I. His righteousness. II. His saving power. III. His judicial authority. IV. His unwearying zeal.—Dr. Lyth.
SUPPORT AMIDST DANGER
Isaiah 59:19. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, &c.
Ever since the moment when the tempter appeared to the woman this world has been the battlefield of good and evil. It is so now. For God did not abandon man. We have here a vivid picture of these two forces. The standard of heaven is lifted up against the hosts of hell. Without attempting to trace the historic bearing of the text we shall simply apply it to personal Christian experience of spiritual danger and spiritual support.
I. Let me place before you YOUR DANGER.
The enemy will come in. The onslaught may be so impetuous as to defy all power of resistance.
1. We remind you of the personal character of your enemy. The struggle for the mastery of human hearts is described in Scripture as a personal struggle. We are warned against a real, living, subtle, wicked, powerful enemy (1 Peter 5:8).
2. But he attacks usually by means of others.
The world is an instrument of temptation and danger. Its business, customs, &c., are sources of danger. And your weakness in great part arises from the fact that you cannot always rely on your own forces. You carry a traitor within. The battle between good and evil is really fought within our own hearts. It is life and death.
II. We point out YOUR SUPPORT.
Read the whole passage. Jehovah exposed the quarrel of His Church with her enemies. This is our encouragement when pressed hard by temptation.
1. The redeeming work of the Son of God has emasculated the power of the enemy. He espoused the cause of humanity, &c. (Hebrews 2:14-15).
2. He has secured the influence and help of the Holy Spirit. Christ sends His Spirit.
(1.) In His Word.
(2.) In His personal agency. If there is a Satanic influence acting in the soul there is also a Divine influence. He works within the heart so as to produce the repugnance to the enemy without which we shall not desire his overthrow. By a real, though imperceptible action on the heart, the Spirit of the Lord animates His people so that in the moment of temptation their prevailing disposition is with Him. And He influences the understanding and judgment so that true thoughts and holy motives come to the mind when the enemy comes in. The great truths and motives contained in the written Word—“The sword of the Spirit.”
Would you have the standard lifted up against the assaults of Satan?
1. Be acquainted with your exposure and your weakness. Self-confidence insures defeat.
2. Seek the Spirit’s help by constant prayer.
3. Watch as well as pray. When God lifts up His standard the victory is sure.—J. Rawlinson.
The enemy. I. There is an enemy. II. That enemy has tremendous influence—“like a flood.” III. That enemy is unable to overcome the resources of God. Apply—
1. This promise of the Spirit must not discourage watchfulness, but must—
2. Inspire hope.—J. Parker, D.D.
I. The foe. II. The onset. III. The defeat.
I. How the adversary assaults us. By error, iniquity, persecution, temptation. II. How the Holy Spirit withstands him. By His Word, providence, grace.
I. The enemy. Invisible, cruel, mighty, skilful, malignant. II. His assault. Sudden, impetuous, overwhelming. III. Our defence. The Spirit of God. Almighty, ever near, watchful, &c.
I. The object of reverence. God’s name. God’s glory. II. The expression of it. Fear. III. The prevalence of it.—Dr. Lyth.
Isaiah 59:20-21. I. The Redeemer.
1. His person.
2. His work. II. His advent. He comes to Zion, in human flesh. III. The persons specially interested in His coming. IV. The blessings consequent on His coming.
Isaiah 59:21. The New Testament covenant is—I. Inspired by the Holy Spirit. II. Announced by Jesus Christ. III. Enjoyed by His people. IV. Shall be perpetuated for ever (see Barnes’ Commentary in loco).—J. Lyth, D.D.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29