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GOD’S COMPLAINT AGAINST HIS PEOPLE
Isaiah 1:2-3. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.
IT is the Lord God Almighty that now speaketh respecting us. Let every ear attend; let every heart be humbled in the dust before him. He hath a controversy with us, and a complaint against us: and he summons both heaven and earth to attest the truth of his charge, and the equity of his judgment. Though he is a Sovereign, and amenable to none, yet he does frequently make his appeal to the whole creation, and constitute his creatures judges between himself and us [Note: Micah 6:2.]. In this charge we behold,
The evil we have committed—
The charge is doubtless in the first place uttered against the Jews—
[God had truly “nourished them, and brought them up as children.” He had chosen them to himself, as his peculiar people; he had brought them up out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and an out-stretched arm: he had fed and supported them forty years in the wilderness; he had given them a revelation of his mind and will; and he had planted them in that good land which he had promised to their fathers. In all this he had acted towards them with all the care and tenderness of a most affectionate Parent [Note: Deuteronomy 1:31; Deuteronomy 32:9-12.] — — —
But how had they requited him for all his kindness? From the very beginning did they show themselves a rebellious and stiff-necked people [Note: Deuteronomy 9:24.]. They were always murmuring under every succeeding trial, and distrusting God in every difficulty, and in heart going back again to the flesh-pots of Egypt. They were often ready to stone those servants of God who had been the instruments of their deliverance; they retained their idols which they had worshipped in Egypt; and even made a golden calf, as the representative, or rather, as the rival and competitor, of Jehovah. In their history we find some seasons of amendment; but, on the whole, they were “a rebellious and gainsaying people.”]
But this is no less applicable to ourselves—
[Certainly we are quite as much indebted to the Lord as ever the Jews of old were: for though we have not had such visible interpositions in our favour, we have been no less the objects of his paternal care: and, in that which constituted their “chief advantage,” we greatly excel them [Note: Romans 3:2.].” “To them were committed the Oracles of God:” but to us is given the Gospel of his dear Son; in comparison of which the Law, glorious as it was, had no glory at all; being eclipsed as a star before the meridian sun [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:7-11.]— — —
And what has been our conduct towards him? Have we been sensible of the benefits conferred upon us; and have we endeavoured to render to him the recompence that was due? Alas! we have been unmindful of his kindness, and regardless of his authority altogether. It has never entered into our hearts to say, “Come, let us serve the Lord, who hath done such great things for us [Note: Jeremiah 2:5-6; Jeremiah 5:23-24.].” Whilst we have violated his holy laws, we have “puffed at his judgments,” saying in our hearts, “God seeth not, neither regardeth what we do.” If called to obey him, we have replied, in spirit, if not in word, “Who is the Lord, that we should serve him? We know not the Lord, neither will we obey his voice [Note: Job 21:14-15.Exodus 5:2; Exodus 5:2.].” “Our lips are our own: Who is Lord over us [Note: Psa 12:4]?” In truth, we have lived “without God in the world [Note: Ephesians 2:12.];” and have practically said, “There is no God [Note: Psalms 14:1.].”]
Not content with charging upon us our multiplied rebellions, God proceeds to set forth,
The extent of our criminality—
The brute creation demean themselves, for the most part, in a way suited to their several capacities—
[The ox and the ass are amongst the most stupid of the brute creation: yet have they some knowledge of their master, and some sense of their dependence on him. Though fed only for their master’s benefit, and used only to subserve his interests, they often express themselves with a kind of grateful acknowledgment towards him.]
But we, notwithstanding our superior advantages, act more irrationally than they—
[We live from year to year on the bounty of our heavenly Father, and yet feel no sense of gratitude towards him. We “do not even consider” our obligations to him. We “do not consider” either what he has done for us; (though it is so great, that neither the tongues of men or of angels can ever worthily declare it:) or, what he requires of us: (though that should be the subject of our unceasing contemplation:) or, what return we have hitherto made to him; (though on that our eternal happiness depends: or, what account we shall hereafter give to him; though we know not but that before the expiration of another hour we may be summoned into his immediate presence.) In a word, God’s testimony respecting us is, that “he is not in all, or any, of our thoughts [Note: Psalms 10:4.].” Of the brute creation there are many that act with a degree of foresight and wisdom [Note: Proverbs 6:6-8. Jeremiah 8:7.]: but we, who are endued with reason, act a part more irrational than they: and hence are justly reproached by God as more brutish and sottish than even the ox and ass [Note: Jeremiah 4:22; Jeremiah 5:21.]. How humiliating is this view of our state, and especially in relation to persons who have been redeemed by the blood of God’s only dear Son! Verily there is not one amongst us who has not reason to blush and be confounded under the accusations that are brought against us.]
In conclusion, we will,
Inquire what plea you can offer in your own behalf?
[We know that the young, the old, the rich, the poor, have all their appropriate excuses: but what plea have they that will avail them at the bar of judgment? Will any deny the charge! Alas! alas! Where is there one amongst us that has not been a rebel from the womb? Where is there one amongst us that has ever equalled the ox or ass in their attachment to him who feeds them, and their willing submission to his yoke? We must confess, every one of us, that we have not so much as considered our obligations, or our duties, or our interests, or our true happiness in any respect, unless we have been renewed in our minds by the Spirit of God himself. Let us then put away all our vain pleas and excuses, and adopt, each of us for himself, the language of Agur; “I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man [Note: Proverbs 30:2.].” If we feel not the depth of our depravity, and refuse to humble ourselves before God, we do in fact “make God a liar,” and provoke him to execute upon us the judgments we have deserved.]
Suggest a plea which you may offer with safety to your souls—
[Vile as we are, Christ died for us; and his death shall avail even for the chief of sinners. Hear with what confidence it was pleaded by the Apostle Paul: “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died.” Does any one imagine that he is unworthy to hope that this plea shall ever avail for him? God himself, at the very time that he most fully expatiates on our guilt, puts this plea into our mouths, and declares that, if we offer it before him, it shall avail for our justification in the last day [Note: Isaiah 43:22-26.]. Let us then rely simply on the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, and plead his merits at the throne of grace: then, if heaven and earth do testify our desert of eternal condemnation, they shall testify also our affiance in the Divine “promises, which in Christ are yea, and in him Amen, to the everlasting glory of our offended God [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.].”]
THE SINPULNESS AND INCORRIGIBLENESS OF THE NATION
Isaiah 1:4-5. Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters! they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more.
THE end for which God inflicts punishment upon his people, is, to bring them to repentance, and thereby prevent the necessity of punishing them in the eternal world: and when this end is not answered, he leaves them to themselves, to follow the imaginations of their own hearts, and to bring upon themselves an accumulated weight of wrath. But before he utterly abandons them, he sends them many solemn warnings, if that by any means he may prevail upon them to turn unto him. Extremely solemn is the reproof which he gave the Jews in the passage before us: he summons heaven and earth to hear his controversy, and to judge between him and his people: and then, in a way of affectionate expostulation, he threatens to cease from visiting them with parental chastisements, and to leave them to fill up the measure of their iniquities.
The words of our text, accommodated as they may be to our present circumstances [Note: A time of war and of great national calamity.], naturally lead us to set before you,
The general description given of the Jews is equally suitable to us—
[We are a “nation” extremely and universally “sinful:” we are “laden with” every species of “iniquity” — — — We are “a seed of evil-doers:” all ranks and orders of men amongst us are depraved: the transgressions of individuals are indeed exceeding various; but sin of some kind is the delight of all, yea, it is the very element wherein we live — — — Nor are we merely corrupt, but “corrupters” of each other, laughing religion out of the world, and hardening one another in the commission of sin — — —]
Nor is the particular charge that is brought against them less applicable to us—
[It is lamentable to see what a general dereliction of religious principle obtains amongst us. Men do not indeed formally renounce Christianity; but “they forsake the Lord” as unworthy of their love or confidence: and, by an inward “apostasy” of the heart. “provoke the Holy One of Israel to anger.” We might adduce a great variety of charges in confirmation of this; but we will notice only one, namely, our dependence on our fleets and armies, rather than on God [Note: Instead of this, might be specified, our not seeing and acknowledging the hand of God in his judgments.]. This is peculiarly provoking to the Deity, because it is a virtual denial of his providence, and an excluding of him from the government of the world [Note: See Isa 22:8-11 and Jer 17:1] — — —]
But besides these things, there is a further charge to be brought against us, on account of,
What improvement have we made of our late chastisements?
[Almost every kind of plague, as war, famine, and pestilence, has been lately sent us by God [Note: This, of course, must be accommodated to existing circumstances.]; and what are we profited by them? What national sin has been put away? I might almost ask, What unregenerate man has laid to heart his transgressions, and turned to the Lord? Does not sin reign amongst us as much as ever? Are we not like the incorrigible Jews [Note: Jeremiah 5:3-5.]; or rather like King Ahaz, who had a brand of infamy set upon him on this very account, that “he trespassed yet more in his distress [Note: 2 Chronicles 28:22.]?”— — —]
What reason then have we to hope that our present troubles will be sanctified to our good?
[From past experience we have reason to fear, that we shall still remain a perverse and rebellious people, and only “revolt more and more.” And, if God foresee that this will be the case, what can we expect, but that our present troubles should be sent, not for our correction, but for our utter destruction? What can we expect, but that he should execute upon us the vengeance he has threatened [Note: Ezekiel 24:13-14.], and that “his wrath should now come upon us to the uttermost?”]
Let us adore our God for the patience he has long exercised towards us [Note: 2 Peter 3:15.Romans 2:4; Romans 2:4.] — — —
Let us tremble at his judgments now impending over us [Note: How soon may we find those threatenings fulfilled! Leviticus 26:27-28; Leviticus 26:36-37.] — — —
Let us take encouragement from his present dealings with us, to turn unto him [Note: See Jer 18:7-8 and Judges 10:15-16.] — — —
THE SERVICE WHICH ALONE IS PLEASING TO GOD
Isaiah 1:10-17. Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrha: To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations: incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with: it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul haleth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well: seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge the fatherless; plead for the widow.
THOUGH tenderness and compassion are essential requisites for a Christian minister, yet is fidelity also indispensable for a due discharge of his duties. If even a young minister, like Timothy, was to “reprove and rebuke with all authority,” it must become every servant of God, especially when dealing with hypocritical professors or hardened sinners, to “use great plainness of speech.” It is true, a minister in this day has not the same license as was given to the prophets of old: we should not altogether think him justified in calling his audience “Rulers of Sodom, and people of Gomorrha:” but, when speaking in Jehovah’s name, we must expostulate with all, even with the greatest of men, and declare to them, as the prophet does, the only way in which they can please and serve God. With this view the prophet used the language in our text; and in prosecution of the same end, we shall now declare,
The inadequacy of ritual observances—
The Jews were prone to rest in a compliance with the ceremonial law: and our text is, as it were by anticipation, an answer to their self-justifying remarks. They are supposed to have said, ‘How can you justly complain of us? We have served God with the most commendable zeal: we have offered him sacrifices—yea many—and of the best kind—and in the appointed manner—and with great reverence—and we have abounded in spiritual services also, no less than in carnal rites.’ But, in answer to all this, God indignantly replies, that, instead of being pleased with these services, he lothed and abhorred them; since, in the midst of all their boasted regard for him, they held fast their besetting sins [Note: ver. 10–15. The particular expressions throughout this whole passage are very emphatical, and worthy of attentive observation.] — — —
The Jewish ritual being abolished, it may be thought that this address is inapplicable to any of the present day: but it may justly be applied,
To self-righteous formalists—
[There is still, as Solomon expresses it, “a generation that is pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness.” There are many whose whole religion consists in a performance of outward duties. Among the Papists this is an acknowledged fact: but it is also true of us Protestants, though to a less extent than it was a century ago. A regular attendance on all the public ordinances; a strict observance of the fasts and feasts of our Church, particularly of the time of Lent; a daily reading of the Psalms and Lessons for the day, and a recital of certain prayers; a rigid adherence to some particular forms, with an uncharitable censuring of all who are not equally strict in their attention to them; these, and other similar habits, form the ground of their hopes, and of a self-complacent confidence towards God. But, with all these apparently religious habits, their views, desires, and pursuits are altogether earthly: their friends and associates are men of this world: and vital godliness, together with all who possess it, is regarded by them with suspicion and dislike.
Now, whatever such persons may think of themselves, they are by no means in a state acceptable to God. Instead of looking with humility and contrition to the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, they are ready to claim heaven as the reward of their good deeds: and instead of loving, for the Redeemer’s sake, every member of his mystical body, they are among the foremost to despise and persecute his believing people. Whilst therefore they, in effect, say, “Stand off, I am holier than thou,” they are, as God declares, “a smoke in his nose [Note: Compare Isaiah 65:5. with Luke 18:9; Luke 18:14.].”]
To many who make a profession of vital godliness—
[Many there are whose views of the Gospel are correct, but who are far from experiencing all that it is designed to teach them. Their zeal for the Gospel is great and ardent: they will go miles to hear it faithfully proclaimed: they will lose no opportunity of attending their favourite minister: their very life seems to be spent as it were in hearing sermons. They will subscribe largely for building places of worship, especially for the use of those who are of their own sect and party. They are fond of prayer-meetings, and religious societies; and perhaps of shewing forth their own talents too in exposition or prayer. But, instead of using these things as means to a farther advancement in holiness, they regard them only its sources of present gratification, and as evidences of a pious mind; while at the same time they are destitute of all those tempers and dispositions, which are the chief ornament of religion, and the surest evidences of its existence in the soul. We read of Ezekiel’s hearers, that they attended his ministrations with great delight, and listened to him as persons fond of music would to a great proficient in that science; and laid claim to superior piety on that account: but, “though they heard his words, they would not do them; for their heart went after their covetousness [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32, See also Isaiah 58:2.].” Now this is an exact description of the persons we refer to: they are conceited of their own knowledge and attainments, uncharitable towards those who differ from them, contemptuous towards those who are less instructed than themselves, regardless of the prejudices of others, and indifferent about the effect of their conduct upon them: they often make religion a cloak for idleness in their respective callings: they are headstrong and untractable, and insolent towards their superiors: they often cannot be depended on, even for truth in their words, or honesty in their dealings. What shall we say of such professors as these? Are they in a state pleasing unto God? No verily: they are an offence both to God and man; and their very best sacrifices are no better than “the cutting off of a dog’s neck, or the offering of swine’s blood [Note: Isaiah 66:2-3.].”]
Whilst our text thus forcibly declares the insufficiency of outward duties to please God, it sets forth in the strongest terms,
The necessity of moral attainments—
In relation to these, two things are required;
A renunciation of accustomed sins—
[Every person has some sins which more easily beset him, and which he is in a more especial manner called to mortify. We will not speak of gross open sins, as swearing and drunkenness, and such like: for no man who reflects at all, can suppose it possible to please God, whilst he is guilty of such flagrant abominations. But one man is naturally addicted to anger and passion; another to discontent and envy; another to lewdness and impurity; another to sloth and idleness; another to covetousness: one is filled with conceit and vanity; another with scepticism and infidelity; another with unbelieving fears: in a word, however the conduct of men may differ as to the immediate line which they pursue, they all, in their natural state, affect pleasure, or riches, or honour, and feel abundantly more satisfaction in the things of time and seuse, than they do in the service of their God. Now every man is concerned to find out what his besetting sin is: for if we must all without exception become “new creatures in Christ Jesus,” if “old things must pass away, and all things must become new,” then is it necessary that we all should experience this change, and have an evidence of it in our own souls.
Earnestly would we press this thought upon the minds of those who have been externally blameless in their conduct: for it is common for persons of this description to be satisfied with a change in their sentiments, when they have never experienced any change in their hearts and lives. We all have, though certainly in different degrees, a need of that exhortation, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes.” It is possible that very little change can be needed by us that is visible to man; but there is no natural man under heaven, who does not need to be greatly changed in the sight of God: and to him it is that we must approve ourselves, if ever we would be accepted in his sight.]
A performance of neglected duties—
[True piety will not consist with any allowed sin, whether of commission or of omission. But if we look back to our unregenerate state, how many duties are there, both to God and man, that we have neglected! By nature we are satisfied with doing acts of kindness when they come in our way: but to live for God, and our fellow-creatures, we know not: we do not search out occasions for the exercise of our benevolence, nor do we redeem our time in order to effect the greatest good within our reach. But, if we would please end honour God, we must imitate him who “went about doing good:” our time, our talents, our influence must all be put forth for the relief of the needy, the comfort of the afflicted, the succouring of the oppressed, and for the spiritual, as well as temporal, benefit of all. We must also cultivate every kind of grace: not only putting off what is evil, but putting on what is good. In particular, “as the elect of God, we should put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us [Note: Colossians 3:8; Colossians 3:12-14.].” These are the things which God prefers to all the sacrifices that can be offered [Note: Psalms 50:8-14.Micah 6:7-8; Micah 6:7-8.]; and without these, all that we can possess is in his estimation lighter than vanity itself [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].”]
From hence then we may see,
The nature of true religion—
[That there are many who greatly mistake its nature, is evident from our text: but, when duly received into the heart, it neither insists on spiritual exercises to the neglect of moral virtues, nor on moral virtues to the neglect of communion with God: it has equal respect to both the tables of the Law. Let not any then attempt to put asunder what God has so inseparably joined. Let not any trust to their moral virtues on the one hand, nor to their spiritual exercises on the other; but let it be the endeavour of all to “have respect unto all the commandments,” and to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”]
The danger of self-deceit—
[We think it evident, that the persons here addressed as “Rulers of Sudom and people of Gomorrha,” had by no means formed a just estimate of their own character. And we all see among those around us many who lie under a similar delusion: the conceited professor sees the blindness of the Pharisee, whilst the Pharisee notices with equal clearness his vain conceit. Professors too notice each other’s failings, and often, with too much reason, stand in doubt of each other. But all are blind to their own failings: they make far too much allowance for their own evils; and sometimes glory in them as virtues: and so confident are many, of their own acceptance before God, that they will almost at the bar of judgment challenge heaven as their desert [Note: Matthew 25:44.]. But, whilst they remain under the power of any allowed sin, “their religion is vain [Note: James 1:26.],” and their Judge will disclaim all knowledge of them [Note: Matthew 7:22-23.]; yea, their unmortified lust, whatever it be, will plunge their souls into everlasting perdition [Note: Matthew 5:29-30.]. We say not this to discourage the sincere, but to put all upon their guard, and especially to bring to self-examination those who are most confident that all is well with them. For it is certain that “the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath,” and “tearfulness will surprise them” in the day of judgment [Note: Isaiah 33:14. ].]
The excellency of the Gospel—
[The Gospel not only teaches us these things [Note: Titus 2:11-12.], but shews us where pardon for all our transgressions may be obtained, and how strength may be acquired for the discharge of all our duties. Even under the law, these views were revealed; for, in the words following our text, God told his people, that their scarlet sins should, if mourned over and forsaken. “become white as snow:” and in other places he promised his Spirit to “write his laws upon their hearts,” and to “cause them to keep his statutes [Note: Ezekiel 36:27.].” But under the Gospel dispensation, the efficacy of the Redeemer’s blood to “cleanse from sin,” and of his grace to renew the heart, is declared in the strongest terms [Note: 1 John 1:7; 1 John 1:9.]. Hence then, when it is said, “Wash you, make you clean,” there is no room to say, “I cannot;” for “the grace of Christ is sufficient” for all, and “we can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth us [Note: Philippians 4:13.].” Seek then to be washed in his blood, and to be sanctified by his Spirit, and then the smallest of your offerings, even a cup of cold water, shall be an acceptable sacrifice in the sight of God [Note: 1 Peter 2:5.].]
CRIMSON SINS MADE WHITE
Isaiah 1:18. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
MAN is a rational being; and, though prone to abuse his reason for the vindication of his own evil ways, is capable of judging, when sound argument is proposed for his consideration. Hence God addresses himself to our reason, and makes his appeal to the whole creation, when our pride or obstinacy prevent us from acknowledging the truth of his assertions. The chapter before us exhibits a judicial process: heaven and earth are called as witnesses against Israel; the charge against them is opened [Note: ver. 2, 3.], and their vindication of themselves is duly considered [Note: Their reply is not set down at length; but it may be gathered from the answer given to it by God. They plead that they have offered sacrifices, yea, many, and of the fattest of their flocks; that they have done this themselves, before God in the temple, with great reverence; that they have presented other offerings also; that they have observed the stated feasts; and that, instead of resting in carnal ceremonies, they had joined with them the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise. God follows them through their objections, and leaves them not a word to add, ver. 11–15.]. Having convicted them of their iniquities, God invites them to come and reason with him, and shews them a better way of pleading for themselves.
It is by his ministers that he now condescends to reason with mankind. We therefore propose to you on this occasion in God’s stead, and will argue with you upon, the two most important of all points, the necessity and the efficacy of a religious life:
The necessity of a religious life—
The common reasonings of men on this subject are extremely futile and erroneous—
[We are too apt to “confer with flesh and blood,” and to be misled by the suggestions of our own evil hearts. The world around us, and our own corrupt nature, unite in asserting, that a life of devotedness to God is not necessary, not desirable, not practicable. ‘How can it be imagined,’ say these objectors, ‘that God should require all persons to live in such a holy self-denying way as the first Christians did? It might be proper for them in the infancy of Christianity to set such an example; but it cannot be necessary for us in these times to follow it. And to suppose that all who do not give up themselves to God as they did, are doomed to eternal misery, would be to make God a cruel tyrant, and to rob him of his noblest attributes of goodness and mercy. Nor is it to be wished, that religion should operate now as it did then: for how could the affairs of nations be conducted, or the common offices of life be performed? There would be an end to trade, and to all the refinements of civilized society; and men must be brought back again to the simplicity and vacuity of the Patriarchal age — — — In short, it cannot be effected now. A few visionaries and enthusiasts may experience something, and pretend to a great deal more: but to eradicate from the breast the love of sin, and to raise the soul above all the things of time and sense, and to bring it into a state of habitual communion with God, is impossible; unless we were all to be set apart to the work of religion, just as the Apostles were, and had nothing else to attend to — — —
Such are the reasonings of flesh and blood. But here is little else than mere unfounded assertion, which is contradicted by every page of the Holy Scriptures, and by the actual experience of thousands.]
Let us now, in God’s name, reason with you on the same subject—
[Has not God done enough to merit all the services that you can possibly render him? Think of what he has done for you in creation and providence, and, above all, in the work of redemption, and then say, whether there “be any thing which he could have done for you more than he has;” or whether, if he had permitted you to ask whatever you would as the price of your services, you could have ventured to have asked a thousandth part of what he has already done for you? Could you have dared to make such a request as that he would give you his dear Son to die for you, and his Holy Spirit to instruct and sanctify you? — — —
Has he not promised you assistance for the performance of every thing he has required of you? We acknowledge your impotency for that which is good: but that is no excuse for your disobedience, while he says, “My grace shall be sufficient for you,” If his grace wrought effectually in the saints of old, it cannot but be as sufficient for you as for them — — —
Will not his love and favour amply compensate for all that you can either do or suffer for him? I might ask this question in reference to the tokens of his favour which he would give you now; but how much more hereafter! Can it be imagined that one saint in glory ever had the thought pass through his mind, that his reward was an inadequate recompence for his former labours? — — —
Will not all of you at a future period wish that you had dedicated yourselves unreservedly God? Many begin to express that wish on their dying bed; though many are so insensible even to the last, as to feel no regret upon the subject. But what does the soul of every man wish, the very instant it is separated from his body? If we could hear it speak then, we can have no doubt what its language would be. If it had not been convinced before, we have no doubt it is convinced then, that former reasonings were vain and delusive — — —
Much more we might easily urge in God’s name; but this is sufficient to convince any one who is open to conviction, that an entire surrender of ourselves to God is a good and “reasonable service.”]
From the latter clause of the text we are led to reason more especially with you respecting,
The efficacy of a religious life—
Men, driven from the false refuges of presumption, are ready to run into the contrary extreme of despondency; and, when convinced of the necessity of a holy life, to doubt, whether any efforts on their part will succeed for the attainment of eternal happiness.
Here, as before, let us briefly consider the reasonings of flesh and blood—
[Many, under a sense of their past transgressions, will say, that it is too late for them to turn to God; that they have sinned away their day of grace; that they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost; and that God has already sealed them up to final impenitence, and to everlasting condemnation — — —
But here, as in the former instance, is nothing but assertion, founded on unwarrantable surmises and groundless fears. We know that such persons will appeal to Scripture: but by what authority do they apply to themselves passages that have no real reference to their state, and make use of those passages to invalidate the plainest assertions of Holy Writ? If only they desire to come to God, they have an express assurance from God, that “he will in no wise cast them out.”]
Let us again, in God’s name, oppose these reasonings by others that are more substantial—
[Is not God a God of infinite mercy and compassion? Search the Scriptures: see the representations which he gives of himself: how often is it said, “His mercy endureth for ever!” If then “he delighteth in mercy,” who are we that we should presume to limit him in the exercise of it towards ourselves? — — —
Do not his promises extend to all the sins that you have ever committed? You know that he hath said, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.” Moreover, read the words of our text; and doubt if you can. But, perhaps, you will reply, that the sin against the Holy Ghost is excepted; and that that is the sin which you have committed. To that we answer, that if you desire to repent and turn unto God, it is not possible that you should have committed it; because, if you had committed it, you would have arrived at such a degree of obduracy, that you would glory in your shame, and never wish to repent at all — — —
Have not the vilest of sinners already found acceptance with God? Look at the character given of the Corinthians; and see whether you can be in a worse state than they: yet “they were washed and sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.].” If you are alarmed about backslidings after conversion, see whether you have been worse than David and Peter: yet they were restored to the divine favour as soon as ever they repented themselves of their iniquities. And myriads of others, once as vile as they, are at this very moment around the throne of God, rejoicing and triumphing in redeeming love. What bar then can there be to your acceptance through “him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood?” — — —
We forbear to urge other considerations, because if you can withstand these, there is no hope that any others could be urged with effect.]
Those who still hold out against God—
[We call heaven and earth to witness against you, that you are most unreasonable creatures. The ox and the ass are indeed more rational than you are in relation to your souls. They seek their true interests, and acknowledge their benefactor: would to God that you might be brought to do the same!]
Those who are convinced by his reasonings—
[Beware how you listen to the dictates of flesh and blood. You know how you have been deceived; be on your guard against fresh deceits. Regard not the laughter of a blind infatuated world. They may call you mad; but they, and they only, are “come to themselves,” who have been brought to say, “I will return and go to my Father.”]
GOD PURIFYING HIS PEOPLE
Isaiah 1:25. I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin.
IN the Holy Scriptures, judgment is often denounced, and mercy promised, with such peculiar force and emphasis, as might lead one to imagine that it was almost a matter of indifference to Jehovah which of the two were called into exercise towards his offending creatures. But we know that “judgment is his strange act,” to which he is utterly averse [Note: Isaiah 28:21.]; and that “mercy is the attribute in which he supremely delights [Note: Micah 7:18.].” In the passage before us, however, he speaks as if he contemplated vengeance with a degree of pleasure and satisfaction: “Thus saith the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, the Mighty One of Israel; Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies.” On the other hand, in the words which I have just read, he expresses no less satisfaction in the thought of conferring benefits on his chosen remnant, whom he has determined to restore and save.
From them I shall be led to consider,
The work which God will accomplish in all his chosen people—
The whole passage primarily refers to the Jews; whom God will, at no distant period, restore to their own land, and elevate in the rank of nations; making them no less conspicuous for piety than in the most favoured seasons of their former prosperity [Note: ver. 26, 27.]. In the promise made to them, we see what God will do for all his chosen people; cleansing them from their sins, and thereby fitting them,
For his service on earth—
[God’s people must be “a holy people,” dedicated unreservedly to him. He will not accept “a divided heart [Note: Hosea 10:2.].” He will not behold with satisfaction any one that retains a bosom sin, though it be dear as a right eye, or useful as a right hand [Note: Mark 9:43-48.]. However loud such persons’ professions of attachment may be, he will say to them, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say [Note: Luke 6:46.]?” The very “prayers of such persons are an abomination to him [Note: Proverbs 28:9.].” The hypocrite is, beyond all other persons, an object of his abhorrence [Note: Job 36:13.]: “He requireth truth in the inward parts [Note: Psalms 51:6.]:” and, to please him, “we must be Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile [Note: John 1:47.].”]
For his presence in a better world—
[“God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, or to look upon iniquity [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.]:” much less could he admit into his presence in glory any soul that was not purged from its sins [Note: Ephesians 5:5.Revelation 21:27; Revelation 21:27.]: nor, in truth, could a soul that was polluted with sin be happy in heaven, even if he were admitted there. The holiness of God would utterly confound him: nor could he have any communion with the saints and angels that are around the throne. His want of resemblance to them would make his deformity hateful, even in his own eyes; whilst their employment would be so distasteful to him, that he could not join in it for a single hour. Indeed the inhabitants of heaven could not endure the presence of such a hateful being; but would all unite in “thrusting him out [Note: Luke 13:28.].” As it is said of King Uzziah: When he was struck with leprosy in the Temple, the priests rose up to thrust him out, “yea, himself also hasted to go out [Note: 2 Chronicles 26:20.]:” so I doubt not but that an unholy soul would of itself hasten out of heaven, because of the shame and misery it would feel in a place so unsuited to its dispositions and desires.
Hence, then, God engages for his elect, that he will “turn his hand upon them, purely to purge away their dross, and to take away all their tin;” so that they may be “meet for the inheritance of heaven [Note: Colossians 1:12.],” and “vessels of honour, meet for their Master’s use [Note: 2 Timothy 2:21.].”]
Nor are we at any loss to declare,
The means by which it shall be effected—
God says, “he will turn his hand upon them, to purge them from their dross:” and this he will do,
By the visitations of his Providence—
[Gold is put into a furnace, to purge it from its dross: and, in like manner, God has told us that he will subject his people to afflictions, “in order to purify them, that they may offer to him an offering in righteousness [Note: Malachi 3:3-5.].” In this way shall God’s ancient people be cleansed from their corruptions, and be made holy, “when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning [Note: Isaiah 4:3-4.].” So also shall his people, in every age, be purified. In truth, the experience of multitudes resembles that of David, when he says, “Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now have I kept thy word [Note: Psalms 119:67.].” It is by means of affliction that God brings us to consider our ways: by means of it, also, he humbles us before him, and prepares us for the manifestations of his love and mercy to our souls. Hence it is that he promises correction to those who are the objects of his love [Note: Psalms 89:30-34.], and teaches us to regard our trials as tokens of his paternal care and tenderness [Note: Hebrews 12:5-11.]. He will, indeed, accommodate his dispensations to our necessities; “sitting by us as a refiner and purifier of silver,” and watching the process for our good. He has told us, that he will “debate with us in measure, staying his rough wind in the day of his east wind: and that by this shall the iniquity of his people be purged; and this shall be the fruit to take away their sin [Note: Isaiah 27:8-9.].”]
By the communications of his grace—
[Affliction, of itself, would only harden; as in the case of Pharaoh; and of those also who gnash their teeth, and blaspheme their God, in hell [Note: Revelation 16:9-11.]. But when divine grace is given to accompany and to sanctify the dispensation, then its end is answered, and the afflicted sinner returns in penitential sorrow to his God. It was thus that Manasseh’s most enormous wickedness was purged: “God took him among the thorns; and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon: and when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and so God was entreated of him, and heard his supplication [Note: 2 Chronicles 33:11-13.]. In fact, “without the grace of Christ we can do nothing [Note: John 15:5.]:” it is “by his Spirit alone that we can mortify the deeds of the body [Note: Romans 8:13.],” or “bring forth any fruits of righteousness to his praise and glory [Note: Philippians 1:11.].” But to all his chosen people God will “give more grace [Note: James 4:6.],” even “grace sufficient for them [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.],” whatever their necessities may be; and will thus “fulfil in them all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11.].”]
Let me now address myself,
To those who are trembling through fear of God’s displeasure—
[Amongst those whose destruction God contemplated as a source of ease to his own mind, there was yet a remnant, towards whom he was “filled with thoughts of love.” And why may not you be amongst that happy number? Certainly, if you have begun to “tremble at the word of God, that very circumstance is a proof that “the Spirit of God is striving with you,” and that you are not given over to a reprobate mind. Peradventure God has already said, “I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin:” and who can tell but that this may be the very hour fixed, in his divine counsels, for the accomplishment of this blessed end? Lift up your heart to him; and beg him now to work effectually upon you, that, being created of him anew, and transformed into his image, you may serve him worthily on earth, and participate in his glory in a better world.]
To those who are desiring to experience the full work of God’s grace upon their souls—
[Limit not God to any particular mode of acting; but be as clay in the potter’s hands; and let him deal with you as, in his unerring wisdom, he shall see fit. If he be pleased to put you into a furnace, complain not of it; but say, ‘This he has done to purge me from my dross.’ You cannot but know that there is an abundance of dross within you. You cannot but be conscious that every thing which you do is very imperfect; your very prayers and your praises being little better, for the most part, than a cold and formal service. Will you not, then, have reason to bless his name, if, by any means, he purge you from your corruptions, and assimilate you to his divine image? This, then, I say to you: If God send you any affliction, whether personal or domestic, “hear the rod, and Him that hath appointed it [Note: Micah 6:9.].” Entreat of God to shew you what sin it is that he would correct, or what grace it is that he would confirm and perfect within you. In a word, desire not deliverance from affliction, but a sanctified improvement of it to your soul. Thus shall all the purposes of his grace be accomplished; and when the end shall come, it shall be no grief to you, that “through much tribulation you entered into the kingdom of your God.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 1". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter