THE OUT-POURING OF THE SPIRIT PROMISED
Isaiah 44:1-5. Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
THERE is a striking analogy between the things which take place in the natural and in the moral world. As, in addition to the genial warmth of the sun, the showers are necessary to promote the progress of vegetation, so, in addition to the rising of the Sun of Righteousness upon us, the influences of the Holy Spirit are necessary, to soften our hearts, to water the seed that has been sown in them, and to produce in us those “fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.” In this the office of the Holy Spirit consists. By his gracious operations on the soul, he applies to men that redemption which Jesus Christ has obtained for them; and by his sanctifying power he makes them meet for that inheritance which their Redeemer purchased for them by his blood. Whenever therefore we behold in the Scriptures a promise of the Holy Spirit, we should treasure it up in our minds, and seek not only to understand its import, but also to experience the accomplishment of it in our souls.
In discoursing on the words which we have just read, we shall consider,
I. The glorious promise here given us—
The manner in which the promise is introduced, is particularly deserving of our attention—
[In the last verse of the preceding chapter, the state of Israel is represented as altogether desperate: they were “given up by God to the curse and to reproaches.” Nevertheless God would not have any of them to despair; for, if they had but a desire to obtain mercy, he had mercy in reserve for them. He still regarded them as his “servants,” whom he had “chosen and formed” for his peculiar people, whom he had helped hitherto, and was still ready to “help” on every occasion that should arise: he calls them by the endearing names of “Jacob, and Israel, and Jesurun;” and bids them to dismiss their fears, and to expect from him all that their hearts could desire.
And is it not in the same way that he addresses us? Yes: notwithstanding all the judgments he has denounced against us for our sins, he says, “Yet hear now this, O Jacob my servant;” ‘remember thy relation to me; consider how free and rich has been my grace towards thee, in that I have “formed thee from the womb,” and “chosen thee” from all eternity, to be my most favoured servant: put away thy fears: entertain worthy thoughts of thy best Friend: limit not my tender mercies: enlarge thine expectations to the utmost extent of thy necessities; and thou shalt never be disappointed of thy hope.’
It is of great importance to notice the tender and affectionate manner in which God addresses his people; because it is from thence that we collect the most just conceptions of his condescension and grace, and derive the richest encouragement to wait upon him. It is also of great importance to observe what use God makes of the doctrine of election. Twice does he call them his “chosen;” because in that term is contained every thing that is endearing and encouraging. Only let us reflect on the state we were in when he chose us, and we shall see that there is nothing too great for us to expect at the hands of such a gracious God [Note: Ezekiel 16:3-6.].]
But the promise itself is most glorious—
[The gift of the Holy Ghost is that peculiar blessing which the Church in all ages was taught to look for under the Christian dispensation. A measure indeed of the Spirit was vouchsafed to the godly at all times; but the fuller effusion was reserved for the times of the Apostles; as it is said, “The Spirit was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified [Note: John 7:39.].” If we go back as far as to the days of Abraham, we shall find, that the promise of the Spirit was made to him, not so much for his descendants after the flesh, as for his spiritual progeny among the Gentiles, to whom it was fulfilled in the Apostles’ days [Note: Galatians 3:14.]. And the prophets taught the Jews, in every successive period, to look forward to the same time for the full enjoyment of this privilege. The prophet Joel in particular spoke strongly on this subject: and St. Peter refers to his words, as accomplished on the day of Pentecost [Note: Compare Joel 2:28-29. with Acts 2:1-4; Acts 2:16-18.]. Our blessed Lord also, both before and after his resurrection, instructed his disciples to expect a more abundant measure of the Spirit than had ever yet been vouchsafed to the world; and to that very instruction of his did St. Peter refer, when the Spirit was first poured out upon the Gentiles [Note: Compare Matthew 3:11 and Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:4-5. with Acts 11:15-16.]. The measure in which this blessing was to be imparted to the Church, is also particularly marked in the words of our text: “I will pour (not merely sprinkle, but pour) water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground;” even such abundance, as shall be sure to reach the roots, and produce, not a transient change, like that of grass upon the house-top, but a radical and permanent change, both of heart and life.
That we may estimate the change aright, we have it exhibited in two striking images; that of grass, growing up after a season of extreme drought; and that of willows, watered by perennial streams. Here are images familiar to every eye, and calculated to convey a just idea of the effects universally produced by the operations of the Spirit of God upon the soul. A new principle of life begins to shew itself; and a new beauty and excellency to adorn the whole character: the appropriate fruits of every season, and of every condition, are brought forth, and the whole soul appears “as a well-watered garden.” Partial changes may be produced by natural means: but the supernatural operation of the Spirit invariably causes a total surrender of the soul to God. The unconverted man in his best estate conceives himself to have some right over himself: but the true convert says, yea, and delights to say, “I am the Lord’s:” ‘I am his rightfully; I am his willingly and deliberately; I am his unreservedly and for ever.’ It is for this very end that the Spirit is promised; and these are its effects, wherever that promise is fulfilled.]
Now then let all the house of Israel hear,
II. The duties and privileges resulting from it—
Every promise brings with it correspondent duties as well as privileges: and most assuredly this promise is replete with instruction and consolation,
1. To the Church at large—
[Think of Israel when under “the curse” of God, and overwhelmed by the “reproaches” of their enemies: What comfort must the words of our text have administered to them, especially to all who believed the prophet’s testimony respecting them! And shall it afford less comfort to us at this time? Certainly this is a season of lamentable drought, when compared with the apostolic age. Though God does not leave us altogether without witness, yet the effect of our ministrations is very small and partial. But we look forward to a period, yea, and we hope that the clouds are even now gathering, when the Spirit shall be poured out again, and “showers of blessings” descend upon our thirsty land [Note: Ezekiel 34:26.]. We look for the time, when the Church, which is now but as a slender plant, shall become a tree, in whose branches the “fowl of every wing shall lodge [Note: Ezekiel 17:23. Mark 4:31-32.].” Then shall converts be “as the morning dew;” they shall fly in immense multitudes “as a cloud,” and with the speed and velocity of “doves to their windows [Note: Psalms 110:3. Isaiah 60:8.].” The Church itself will be perfectly astonished at the vast increase, of her members [Note: Isaiah 49:18-21.]; for “a nation shall be born in a day;” the most dreary regions of the earth shall, equally with ourselves, participate the blessing; and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” O what joy should such glorious prospects afford us! Did Abraham rejoice when he obtained but a glimmering view of the day of Christ; and shall not we, who have already seen him risen on our horizon, and behold him now rapidly advancing to his meridian height? Was the birth of Jesus announced by angels as “glad tidings of great joy to all people;” and shall not his universal reign, now speedily approaching, be hailed with joy? Yes; blessed be God! we not only “see the cloud of the bigness of a man’s hand,” but we behold the commencement of those showers, which shall refresh and fertilize the whole earth.]
2. To the weak and disconsolate in particular—
[What mercy can be in reserve for me, may one say, who am “given over to the curse of God, and to the reproaches” of my own conscience? Were I like “the earth that drinketh in the rain, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, I might hope for a blessing from God: but bearing, as I do, only briers and thorns, 1 am rejected, and nigh unto cursing; and my end is to be burned [Note: Hebrews 6:7-8.].” But what room is there for such desponding apprehensions, when we contemplate the state of Israel as described in the preceding chapter [Note: Isaiah 43:28.], and in the very words of our text? The “thirsty and the dry ground” is that to which the promise is made: and who may not find his character designated by those terms? But if these be not sufficiently humiliating, to warrant our hope of an interest in the promise, let us reflect on the description of persons for whom our blessed Saviour, on his ascension to heaven, received the gift of the Holy Ghost: it was “for the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them [Note: Psalms 68:18.].” Surely the most self-condemning person in the universe may venture to place himself in that class, and consequently to expect under that character what he could not venture to hope for as promised to the righteous. And, if a very extraordinary measure of grace be thought necessary for us, more than for others, we may surely find a sufficiency in the “floods” which are contained in the promise before us. Fear not then, whoever thou art; for God has said, that the poorest, even in the most destitute and desponding state, shall, on looking to the Saviour, have floods and fountains of grace, unbounded in their measure, irresistible in their efficacy, and endless in their duration [Note: Isaiah 41:17-18.].]
3. To parents more especially—
[The covenant made with Abraham, was made with him and with his seed [Note: Genesis 17:7-9. with Isaiah 59:21.]; and this very promise, which holds forth to us the chief blessing of that covenant, is expressly said to be “unto us, and to our children, and to as many as are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call [Note: Acts 2:38-39.].” Let not any then be satisfied with having it fulfilled to themselves alone: let all consider the interest which their children also have in it; let them plead it with God in behalf of their offspring: and let them remember, that, whatever measure of grace they themselves possess, it is given them, not for their own good only, but “for the good of their children after them [Note: Jeremiah 32:39.].” O Parents, bear in mind, that the gift of the Spirit is more to be desired in behalf of your children than thousands of silver and gold: let it be your daily prayer, that they may be endued with this precious gift: and, whilst you look for their growth in bodily nature and intellectual attainments, look to see them “growing up as willows by the water-courses,” and manifesting to all around them, how richly they are watered by the grace of God. That there is a great neglect of these things amongst religious professors, is but too true; but if the grace of God really exist in us, it will shew itself by an unwearied solicitude for the welfare of our offspring; as the prophet clearly intimates, when he says of the converts in the latter day, “They shall bring their sons in their arms, and their daughters (in litters) upon their shoulders [Note: Isaiah 49:22.].” O that every mother might be as Hannah, and every father as Abraham [Note: 1 Samuel 1:22-28. Genesis 18:19.]! and that none of you would “give rest unto your God [Note: Isaiah 62:7.],” till you have prevailed, like wrestling “Jacob [Note: Hosea 12:4.],” and constrained him, as it were, to “shed forth his Holy Spirit abundantly upon your offspring through Jesus Christ our Saviour [Note: Titus 3:5-6.]!”]
4. To young people, above all—
[Of whom is it said, that they shall, with such zeal and unanimity, devote themselves to God, and glory in the appellation of his people? Is it not of the young, who are springing up as willows by the water-courses? See then what is the first duty, and the highest privilege of the young! and see what all young people will do, as soon as they have “received the grace of God in truth!” And are there none amongst you who feel your obligations to God for the gift of his only dear Son to die for you? are there none so penetrated with his redeeming love, as to say in the fulness of your hearts, “What shall I render to the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?” Come then to the table of the Lord, and surrender up yourselves to him there! Think it not too early to wait upon him in that ordinance: if you truly desire to be the Lord’s, that is the ordinance at which in a more especial manner the surrender of yourselves to him should be made; and in that ordinance you may confidently expect that the Lord will more especially accept and bless you. In that ordinance too you form a closer union with the people of the Lord, who will delight to see you added to their society, and to help you forward by their counsels and their prayers. Come then, and “subscribe with your hand unto the Lord;” or rather, as soldiers, and slaves, and idolaters were used to inscribe on their flesh, in some indelible characters, the name of the general, or the master, or the idol, whom they served, so do you get inscribed on your heart, and on your arm, the name of your adorable Saviour, and give yourselves up to him in “a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten [Note: Jeremiah 50:4-5, 2 Corinthians 8:5.].”]
THE FOLLY OF SPIRITUAL IDOLATRY
Isaiah 44:20. He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
WE who have lived under the light of revelation, and have been instructed in the knowledge of the one true God, are amazed at the stupidity of the Heathen, who form idols of wood and stone, and worship gods which they themselves have made. But we do not consider, that it is not the forming of these images, but the trusting in them, that makes them gods: and that we ourselves are guilty of idolatry as much as the heathen themselves, if in any respect we “love and serve the creature more than the Creator [Note: Romans 1:25.].” This is the essence of idolatry; as the Apostle tells us; “Beware of covetousness, which is idolatry [Note: Colossians 3:5.].” And of persons addicted to sensual enjoyments, he says, they “make a god of their belly [Note: Philippians 3:19.]:” and Christians universally, being in danger of indulging an undue confidence in, or attachment to, the creature, are guarded against those evils in these very expressive terms, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols [Note: John 5:21.].” In speaking therefore of idolaters, it is not necessary that we carry you back to the prophet’s days, or that we take you amongst Pagans of the present day: the language in our text is quite as applicable to us at this time as to any of them. With a view therefore to spiritual idolaters amongst ourselves, I will shew you,
I. The folly of their ways—
Of every one amongst them it may truly be said, “He feedeth on ashes:” for, whatever the things be with which he seeks to satisfy his desires, they are,
[It is needless to say, how unsuitable ashes are for the food of the body: but they are not a whit less so than the things of this world are for the nourishment of the soul. The soul is a spiritual substance, and must be fed with that which is spiritual. It was formed for God: and nothing but what comes from God, and leads to God, can support it. The word of God, for instance, is food on which it may subsist: and hence “the new-born babe desires the unadulterated milk of the word, that he may grow thereby [Note: 1 Peter 2:2.].” On this the saints of old subsisted: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart [Note: Jeremiah 15:16. Psalms 119:103.].” The presence of God also is that which strengthens the believing soul: “for that it hungers and thirsts, even to see his power and glory, as they are revealed in the sanctuary: and, when a sense of his loving-kindness is imparted to it, the soul is filled as with marrow and fatness, and praiseth him with joyful lips [Note: Psalms 63:1-5.].” In a more particular manner the Christian is nourished by the flesh of Christ and the blood of Christ; on which he feeds continually, and which he finds to “be meat indeed, and drink indeed [Note: John 6:53-55.].” As for the things of time and sense, they are but as husks which the swine eat of: and to attempt to feed on them, is only to “feed upon the wind [Note: Hosea 12:1.],” and to “fill the belly with the east wind [Note: Job 15:2.].]
[To all who go to the creature for happiness, the prophet says, “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness [Note: Isaiah 55:1-2.].” In confirmation of the reproof here given, I will venture to appeal to all, even to those who have drunk deepest of the cup of pleasure, and feasted themselves most largely with carnal delights; ‘Has any thing that you have ever enjoyed, afforded you permanent satisfaction?’ “Was your eye ever satisfied with seeing, or your cur with hearing?” or, “Was any man that loved silver, ever satisfied with silver [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:10.]?” There is but one testimony on this head, from every child of man. Vanity is written upon all human enjoyments; and vexation invariably follows in the pursuit of them.]
[As ashes, if taken into the stomach, would soon injure the constitution of the body, so all endeavours to satisfy the soul with carnal enjoyments will of necessity deprave and vitiate all its faculties. Such food will indispose the soul for every thing that is spiritual and divine: it will weaken all its energies; and debase all its powers; and reduce it to the lowest possible state of degradation, causing it to nauseate every thing which God has ordained for its good, and to affect every thing which will tend to its destruction. Every day that a man lives to himself and to this present world, he departs farther and farther from God, and renders himself more and more incapable of heavenly pursuits and heavenly enjoyments. He is “a sinner against his own soul [Note: Numbers 16:38.];” and is fitly represented as “wronging his own soul, and loving death [Note: Proverbs 8:35-36.].”]
But to what shall we look as,
II. The source of their errors—
It is not from any radical defect in their understanding that this idolatry proceeds: it comes from their heart: “a deceived heart hath turned them aside.” This is a point which is by no means duly considered. If the subject of idolatry be brought fairly before a heathen, he sees at once that his god cannot help itself, and consequently can much less afford any help to him. And in like manner the spiritual idolater, if only he will candidly examine the matter, must see, and be convinced, that a vain world can never satisfy an immortal soul. But,
1. His heart is deceived by Satan—
[Satan is the great deceiver of mankind, He puts a gloss on every thing; representing as desirable that which is in itself evil; and hiding the deformity of it; and assuring us, that no painful consequences will follow a compliance with his suggestions. Thus he beguiled Eve in Paradise: and thus he still deceives the children of men, over the face of the whole earth. “He was a lying spirit in all the prophets of Ahab [Note: 1 Kings 22:22.]:” and he has his agents in every place, who are ready by every possible means to forward his delusions. He can, and often does, “assume the form of an angel of light [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:13-15.]:” and not unfrequently urges his temptations in so specious a way, as “to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect [Note: Matthew 24:24.].” In a word, so subtle are his devices, that to know them, and be aware of them, is a science which scarcely any human being is able to attain [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:11.]; so innumerable are his wiles, and so unsearchable his deceits.]
2. His deceived heart turns aside his whole man—
[The heart, beguiled thus, and vitiated with evil propensities, blinds his understanding, biasses his will, and carries him forward in ways, which a more dispassionate view of things would lead him to condemn. This distinction clearly appears in the two verses preceding our text: “They have not known nor understood: for God hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see, and their hearts, that they cannot understand. And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire, &c and shall I make the remains thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?” Then it is added, “He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside.” The blindness in his understanding arises from a want of due and unbiassed consideration in the heart. And, in fact, all evil will be found to originate here. “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:3.];” and it is “deceitful above all things, as well as desperately wicked [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.]:” and, like a bias in a bowl, even when under any strong impulse a man has been going for a season in u right direction, it draws him gradually aside, and causes him to rest in a situation far distant from that at which he aimed. Who amongst us has not had abundant experience of this in his own soul? Who amongst us has not been drawn from complying with the dictates of a better principle, by the more powerful influence of an evil principle within him; and thus followed the less proper course, at the very time that he beheld and approved the better [Note: Romans 7:23.]? Thus it is with all the votaries of this world: they have an internal consciousness that their ways and their doings are not good: they therefore will not bring them to the test of God’s revealed will: “they are afraid of coming to the light, lest their deeds should be reproved [Note: John 3:19-20.]:” yet, through the deceits of Satan and their own hearts, they say, “We shall have peace, notwithstanding we walk in the imagination of our own hearts [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19.].” Thus, I say, it is with them: they are “carried away by a spirit of whoredom [Note: Hosea 4:12.]:” “they are drawn away of their own lust, and enticed. Then, when their lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death [Note: James 1:14-15.].”]
Hence we may easily account for,
III. The strength of their delusions—
“They cannot deliver their souls”—
[Truly, as our Liturgy well expresses it, they “are tied and bound with the chain of their sins.” The whole generation of ungodly men are “led captive by the devil, at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.],” and are “carried away to their idols, even as they are led [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:2.].” Amongst them all there are few, if any, who have not felt at times some desire to liberate themselves from their thraldom, and formed some purpose to turn unto their God. But they have not been able to effect it; their inward lusts have been too strong for them, and their deep-rooted habits too inveterate; so that “they could no more change their course of life, than an Ethiopian could change his skin, or a leopard his spots [Note: Jeremiah 13:23.].” Their good desires have perhaps been renewed from time to time; but have soon vanished again; “their goodness being only as a morning cloud, or as the early dew that passeth away [Note: Hosea 6:4.].” In a time of sickness possibly, and at the expected approach of death, they may appear to have gained the victory over their corruptions. But no resolutions of theirs have been found sufficient. Returning health has brought with it renewed temptations; and these have borne down all their purposes, which have snapped asunder, as the cords or withs with which Sampson was bound: and the poor devotees of this world have returned again to their idols, “as a dog to his vomit, and as a sow that is washed to her wallowing in the mire.”]
“They cannot even say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
[Even to consider their ways with any seriousness, is an effort beyond their power. I mean not that they are under any natural incapacity for this; but such is their moral weakness, and such the strength of their corrupt nature, that they cannot do what their better judgment would dictate. If they attempt to read or pray, their minds start aside from the employment, “even as a deceitful bow [Note: Psalms 78:57. Hosea 7:16.]:” and their thoughts quickly rove to the very ends of the earth. It is said of Satan, that, “as a strong man armed, he keepeth his palace, and his goods are in peace [Note: Luke 11:21.].” And this is verified in experience: for he keepeth his vassals from considering their bondage; he suggests to them that they will have some more convenient season for such unwelcome reflections; and he thus induces them to “think only of peace and safety, till sudden destruction come upon them [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:3.],” and they “perish without a remedy [Note: Proverbs 29:1.].” One would indeed scarcely conceive it possible that rational and immortal beings should be so insensible in the midst of their dangers, and against all the dictates of their better judgment: but so it is: they are willingly deceived, and are therefore “given over to a delusion to believe their own lie [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:11.]:” and so “vain are they in their imaginations, and so darkened in their foolish hearts [Note: Romans 1:21.],” that to bid them examine whether they have not a lie in their right hand, is as great an offence to them, as it would be to a poor, blind, infatuated heathen.]
1. How thankful should we be for a Saviour!
[If God had not “laid help for us upon One that is mighty,” who amongst us could ever be saved? Blessed be God, if there is “a strong man armed that has enslaved us, there is a stronger than he, that has overcome him, and taken from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divided his spoils [Note: Luke 11:21-22.];” and at this moment sends his servants to proclaim, in his name, “liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound [Note: Isaiah 49:9.].” The very first sermon which he himself ever preached on earth was to this effect [Note: Luke 4:18-19.]. In his name therefore I now “preach the acceptable year of the Lord,” even the year of Jubilee, wherein every slave may assert his liberty, and claim the possession of his forfeited inheritance. Rejoice then, Brethen, in these glad tidings: and now “cast your idols to the moles and to the bats.” Feed no more on ashes: let not a deceived heart any longer turn you aside: but deliver your souls; and come forth into the light and liberty of the children of God. If your cast idolatries have involved your souls in guilt, there is a sufficiency in the blood of Christ to cleanse you from it [Note: 1 John 1:7.]: if your corruptions appear so inveterate that you cannot hope to subdue them, “the grace of Christ shall be sufficient for you [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.].” Only seek henceforth your all in him, and “you shall be saved by him with an everlasting salvation: you shall not be ashamed or confounded, world without end [Note: Isaiah 45:17.].”]
2. How watchful should we be against the remains of our corrupt nature!
[Whilst we are in this world, we still carry about with us “a body of sin and death,” and many corrupt propensities, against which we must be ever on our guard. We are but “in part renewed.” “The flesh still lusteth against the Spirit, as well as the Spirit against the flesh [Note: Galatians 5:17.].” And Satan has still power to tempt us, yea, and “will sift us all as wheat,” if our blessed Lord do not interpose for our help. We see in Demas, how prone the carnal heart is to relapse into the love of earthly things; and we know very little of ourselves, if we have not learned, by our own manifold backslidings, that we are yet in danger of “turning back unto perdition [Note: Hebrews 10:38-39.],” and of “losing all the things which we have wrought [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.].” I would say then, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation [Note: Matthew 26:41.]:” “and take to you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand [Note: Ephesians 6:12-13.]”— — —]
THE WORK OF REDEMPTION A MOTIVE TO CONVERSION
Isaiah 44:22. Return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.
ON occasions of public worship we generally expect a set discourse from man. But on the present occasion, I wish you to place man altogether out of the question, and to listen to a few words addressed to you by Jews Christ himself. It is he who is speaking in the passage before us, and who, addressing, as it were, every one of us by name, urges us by the most forcible of all considerations to return to him. True indeed the words in the first instance were delivered to the Jews, who, notwithstanding all that Jehovah, the only true God, had done for them, were prone to idolatry; and who were absurd enough to cut down a tree, and fashion it after the image of a man, and, after having roasted their food with a part of it, to worship the residue of it as a god. Yet, instead of denouncing his heaviest judgments against them, our Lord says, “O Jacob and Israel, thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” Now though we are not gross idolaters as the Israelites were, we may very fitly consider the words of our text as addressed to ourselves, since every one of us has lived in spiritual idolatry, “loving and serving the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for evermore.”
Let us then consider,
I. The invitation, “Return unto me.”
That we have all departed from God is evident from what the Prophet Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way [Note: Isaiah 53:6.].” Thus though, as to the particular ways which we have pursued, we may differ, one having rushed into all manner of gross sins, whilst another has walked in a more moral and decent way, we are all alike in this, that we have lived to ourselves rather than unto God. This we all have acknowledged in the general Confession [Note: Cite it.] — — — and therefore we may all, without exception, consider the invitation as addressed to ourselves: “Return unto me;”
1. In penitence—
[As sinners, we are all called upon to repent: nor can we ever be accepted of God, whilst we continue impenitent. The Prodigal Son, in his return, is a pattern to us all [Note: Luke 15:18-19.] — — — The Publican, and not the self-applauding Pharisee, was justified before God [Note: Luke 18:14.]. It is not the more notorious sinner only that is to “sow in tears, in order to reap in joy:” for “he that covereth his sins, whoever he may be, shall not prosper: it is he only who confesseth and forsaketh them, that shall find mercy [Note: Proverbs 28:13.].” Hence the Saviour would have the very best of men approach him with that penitential acknowledgment, “Behold, I am vile: I repent and abhor myself in dust and ashes [Note: Job 42:6.].”]
2. In faith—
[We are not to come to the Lord doubting either his power or his willingness to save us [Note: Mark 9:22-23. Matthew 8:2.], but fully confiding in him as able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him [Note: Hebrews 7:25.]: “If I may but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be whole [Note: Matthew 9:21.].” Our Saviour would not have any doubts entertained in our mind. He reproved Martha for questioning the fullest possible accomplishment of his word: “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God [Note: John 11:40.]?” In our return to him he will make our faith the measure of the benefits he will confer upon us; “He says, according to your faith it shall be unto you [Note: Matthew 9:29.].”]
3. In love—
[He must have willing servants, or none. We must account “none of his commandments grievous [Note: 1 John 5:3.],” but regard “his yoke easy and his burthen light [Note: Matthew 11:30.].” In returning to him, the language of our hearts must be that which he himself used, when first he undertook our cause: “Lo, I come; I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart [Note: Psalms 40:7-8.].” In fact, our readiness and determination of heart to obey his will is the only true test of our repentance, our faith, or our love. With whatever measure of penitence or faith we may profess to return to him, “it will be in vain to cry, Lord! Lord! if we do not the things which he commands [Note: Luke 6:46.].”]
Whilst we listen to our Saviour’s invitation, it will be well to consider,
II. The motive with which he enforces it.
He might well have enforced it with the most terrible denunciations of his wrath in the event of our refusal. But he rather reminds us of the great things he has done for us;
1. As a call upon our gratitude—
[Think what I have done for you, in leaving my Father’s bosom, in assuming your fallen nature, in bearing your sins upon the cross, and in effecting your reconciliation with your offended God. Does all this love call for such a return at your hands; and “is it right for you to requite” it as you are now doing? Is it well for you to abide at a distance from me, and to “trample upon my blood as an unholy thing,” and to “crucify me afresh by continuing in your sins [Note: Hebrews 6:6; Hebrews 10:29.]?” Had I never shewn such mercy to you, your wickedness in departing from me would have been comparatively light: but “now you can have no cloak for your sin [Note: John 15:22.]:” nay, you must stand utterly condemned in your own minds. But if you will duly contemplate the love which I have shewn to you, it will surely generate in your hearts somewhat of a corresponding love to me, and “constrain you to live unto him, who has so lived and died for you [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:14.].”]
2. As an encouragement under our fears—
[In despite of all that the Lord Jesus has done and suffered for us, we are prone, under a deep conviction of our sins, to doubt whether he will receive such sinful creatures as we. But let us suppose, that, immediately after his resurrection, he had met many of his murderers, and told them, that the very blood which they had shed should cleanse them from the guilt of shedding it; could they have doubted his willingness to save their souls? Now it is in this very way that he meets us at this time. Our sins were the true cause of all his sufferings: and in his word he meets us at this very hour, and says to every one of us individually, “I have redeemed thee; O return to me; for I have redeemed thee.” Dismiss then your fears, whatever you may have been, or whatever you may have done: for his blood will cleanse from all sin [Note: 1 John 1:7.],” nor shall any soul perish that believes in him [Note: John 3:16.]. Let the most unrighteous man in the universe only return to him in penitence and faith, “and He will have mercy upon him, and abundantly pardon all his multiplied transgressions [Note: Isaiah 55:7-8.].”]
[Let the careless sinner hear this. When you are in the midst of all your mirth and gaiety, call this to mind: ‘My Saviour is here with me; and in a still small voice he says to me, Return unto me from whom thou hast deeply revolted; “return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” What has the world ever done for you, that it should be preferred to me? or what can it ever do, that shall compensate for the loss of my redeeming love?’ Surely, my Brethren, one such thought as this will damp all your joys, and constrain you, like the Saviour’s look on Peter, to go forth from your scenes of dissipation, and weep bitterly [Note: Matthew 26:75.] — — —
Let the backsliding professor, in particular, consider himself as here addressed. To him our Saviour says, ‘What iniquity have you found in me, that you should so slight my love? Have I been a wilderness to you, and a land of darkness, that you should thus wickedly depart from me [Note: Jeremiah 2:5; Jeremiah 2:31.]? O remember, “It were better for you never to have known me, than thus to reflect dishonour un my name [Note: 2 Peter 2:21.].” Think, in what your declension must issue, if you return not to me with your whole heart.’ And now, ere it be too late, say, “What have I to do any more with idols?” “I will return unto my first Husband; for then it was better with me than now [Note: Hosea 2:7; Hosea 14:8.]” — — — Then shall you pour forth those joyous strains which follow my text; and, with David and Peter, unite for ever in the loudest hosannas to your redeeming God.]
REDEMPTION A GROUND OF JOY
Isaiah 44:23. Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
IF the word of God produced its full effect upon the hearts of men, this world would be very much assimilated to heaven: there would be the same views, the same dispositions, the same exercises and employments amongst our fallen race, as are found amongst the angels, in the presence of their God. Let us only conceive that the subjects in the text universally occupied the minds of men; and that they were celebrated by all ranks of people with the ardour and affection suited to their importance; surely we should have a very heaven upon earth! Permit me then to remind you, that,
I. “The Lord hath redeemed his people”—
The redemption of the Jews from Babylon was a great and joyful event. The person who was to effect it was foretold by name. The manner in which he should take the city of Babylon (by turning the course of the Euphrates, and passing through the gates of brass), and the use which he should make of his triumph (by liberating the captive Jews, and ordering them to rebuild their city and temple), was all distinctly specified, above two hundred years before such a person as Cyrus existed in the world [Note: ver. 26–28 and ch. 45:1–4.]. But, extraordinary as this event was, it was only a shadow of one infinitely more important,—the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. He has redeemed his people,
1. By price—
[In a figurative sense, God may be said to have “given Egypt and Ethiopia as the ransom of Israel [Note: Isaiah 43:3.].” But what is the “ransom that he has found for us [Note: Job 33:24.]?” What is “the price with which he has bought us [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.]” out of the hands of sin and Satan? Kingdoms and worlds were insufficient for the purpose. We could not be “redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but only with the precious blood of God’s co-equal Son [Note: 1 Peter 1:18-19.].” Great as the price was, God did not hesitate to lay it down: “he purchased the Church with his own blood [Note: Acts 20:28.].” No longer can we now be detained in bondage, if we claim our liberty in the name of Christ. “The law cannot condemn us [Note: Galatians 3:13.]; Satan cannot lead us captive [Note: Luke 11:22.]; “sin cannot have dominion over us [Note: Romans 6:14.].” If we avail ourselves of “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” we shall be “delivered from every kind of bondage, and be brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God [Note: Romans 8:21.].” “Being made free by Christ, we shall be free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].”]
2. By power—
[The deliverances vouchsafed to the Jews of old were effected by “a mighty hand, and a stretched-out arm.” And it is only “in the day of God’s power that any are made willing [Note: Psalms 110:3.]” to embrace the salvation offered them in Christ Jesus. The “report of the Gospel is believed by those only, to whom the arm of the Lord is revealed [Note: Isaiah 53:1.].” To rescue a soul from the tyranny of sin and Satan, is a work of omnipotence. Easy as it may seem to persuade a person to believe in Christ, it far surpasses the ability of any created being. “God himself must bring us to this self-same thing [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.]:” and we are told, that, in the accomplishment of this work, he exerts no less power than he did when he raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, above all the principalities and powers, whether of heaven or hell [Note: Ephesians 1:19-21. The original in ver. 19. shews that the Apostle laboured to the utmost to express his ideas, which were too big for utterance. τίςἡ ὃυνάμιςmight have sufficed; but to that he adds μέγεθος; and to that ὑπερβάλλον. Because all this was inadequate to convey his mind fully, he accumulates other terms; κατὰ τὴν ἰσχὺν— κατὰ τὸ κράτον τῆς ισχύος— κατὰ τὴν ἐνἐργειαν κ. τ. λ. Having thus multiplied his terms to the uttermost, and pressed into his service the strongest word that the Greek language could afford him, he repeats it; ἣν ἐνήργησεν. What light does this cast upon the subject before us!]. Redemption is prepared for us before we come into the world: but, in order to enjoy its benefits, we must, each in his own person, experience the mighty working of God’s power: He who “spoiled principalities and powers upon the cross,” must triumph over them in our hearts; and incline us, by the effectual operation of his Spirit, to embrace the salvation which he purchased with his blood.]
God has not only thus consulted our happiness, but,
II. Herein “he has also glorified himself”—
Every work of God’s hands bespeaks his wisdom, his power, and his goodness: but the work of redemption glorifies all his perfections. We might easily shew how his justice and his holiness are illustrated by it, and how they are made to harmonize with truth and mercy: but we shall content ourselves with shewing, that herein he has glorified,
1. His grace and mercy—
[Consider only the state in which we were, when God sent his only dear Son to redeem us; and the state in which we are found, when he sends his Holy Spirit to apply that redemption to us; we were fallen after the example of the apostate angels; yet God passed by them, and delivered up his own Son for us; we are still “enemies to God in our minds by wicked works,” and are actually fighting against God with all our might; and yet does he subdue us by “the rod of his strength,” and make “his Gospel to be the power of God to the salvation of our souls.” And must we not stand amazed at this difference which is put between us and the fallen angels? must we not adore that sovereignty which “chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world [Note: Ephesians 1:4.],” and in due season exalts us to thrones of glory; yea, which in many instances favours the vilest of publicans and harlots in preference to learned Scribes and self-applauding Pharisees [Note: Matthew 21:31.]: We are told indeed, that God designed by his Gospel to display “the exceeding riches of his grace [Note: Ephesians 1:6-7; Ephesians 2:7.]:” and this end is thoroughly accomplished: for wherever the Gospel is received, it invariably magnifies his grace in the eyes of men: ‘Why didst thou choose me, Lord? Why was I made to comply with thine invitations, while so many were suffered to decline them, and to perish in their sins?’ Scarcely the gift of Christ himself will furnish matter for more admiration and gratitude in heaven than this: or rather, I should say, the greatness of the gift, and the sovereignty with which it is bestowed, will be interwoven with each other in everlasting hallelujahs.]
2. His truth and faithfulness—
[The redemption given us in Christ was a subject of prophecy, as well as that which was vouchsafed to the Jews through the instrumentality of Cyrus. And when Christ was sent into the world, the truth and faithfulness of God were most conspicuously displayed. Of these, the aged and inspired priest more particularly expressed his admiration; repeatedly blessing and praising God for “performing the promises made by the mouth of his holy Prophets, and remembering the oath which he had sworn to our father Abraham [Note: Luke 1:68; Luke 1:70; Luke 1:72-73.].” Nor is the truth of God to be noticed only in sending us a Redeemer: it is equally visible in applying redemption to our souls. There is not one that ever partakes of this redemption, but in consequence of his having been “given to Christ” before the foundation of the world [Note: John 17:6. 2 Timothy 1:9.]: nor is one brought finally to the complete enjoyment of it in heaven, but his continued preservation through all his perils and conflicts is an accomplishment of that promise, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee [Note: Hebrews 13:5.].” Surely at the end of our journey we shall take the same review its Joshua did in his last moments; we shall adore the faithfulness of God and say, “Of all the good things which God hath promised me, not one thing hath failed [Note: Joshua 23:14.].”
Is the glory of God so blended with the happiness of man? Surely,
III. This is a ground of most exalted joy to the whole creation—
All, both in heaven and earth, are required to rejoice in it—
[Even the angels who never fell have reason to rejoice in this great event, because by means of it they have brighter discoveries of God’s character, and more enlarged views of his perfections. Indeed they no sooner beheld its accomplishment in the incarnation of Christ, than they sang, “Glory to God in the highest!” and from the moment that Christ had completed his work, and was seated at the right hand of God, they commenced a new song, ascribing glory to the Lamb, as well as unto Him who sitteth upon the throne [Note: Revelation 5:12-13.].
But it is to men more especially that the Gospel is “tidings of great joy [Note: Luke 2:10.].” They are the persons more immediately interested in it; nor is there “a tree in the whole forest” of the universe, “from the cedar to the hyssop,” that ought not to “break forth into singing, and shout for joy.” Let those who are most elevated in rank and dignity consider, what source of joy the whole world affords them in comparison of this. Do they admire wisdom? “In this are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge [Note: Colossians 2:3.].” Do they find gratifications in wealth and honour? What can ever enrich or ennoble them like the Gospel of Christ, by which they become children of God, and heirs of his kingdom? Let the poor also, who merely vegetate, as it were, in obscurity, let thorn remember, that they are “plants of the Lord’s planting [Note: Isaiah 61:3.],” and that they are as much interested in redeeming love as any people upon earth. Methinks, the less they have of carnal joy, the more they should seek to rejoice in God. Indeed they are as much distinguished above the rich in respect of spiritual privileges, as the rich are above them in the vanities of this world [Note: James 2:5.]. What God therefore has chosen for them, let them choose also for themselves.]
Moreover their joy should be proportioned to the occasion for it—
[A cold or languid expression of gratitude would be utterly unsuited to the mercy vouchsafed unto us. It calls for all the powers of our souls; yea, “all that is within us should bless God’s holy name [Note: Psalms 103:1.].” If we would form a just idea of the state in which we should be, let us imagine ourselves, not merely condemned, but already “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire:” How should we then hear the tidings of redemption? How would the fallen angels rejoice to see the gates of hell opened to them, and to have an offer of immediate restoration to the felicity of heaven! How would every one break forth into singing! What shouts of joy would echo through the vast expanse of hell! Precisely thus ought we to be affected with the deliverance that is proclaimed to us. We are told that when Titus Flaminius, the Roman general and proconsul, caused liberty to be proclaimed in the theatre to the States of Greece, the people with one consent rent the air with their acclamations, extolling him as their greatest benefactor, and crying, A saviour! a saviour! How much more reason have we to exalt our adorable Benefactor, who has “redeemed us to God by his blood, and made us kings and priests unto God and his Father [Note: Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 5:9.]!” Let us then sing, and shout for joy. Let the “mercy and truth” which God has manifested in this redemption, be the especial subjects of our praise [Note: Psalms 98:3. This whole psalm is exactly suited to the occasion.]. Thus shall we be prepared to join the heavenly choir, and to sing hallelujahs to God and to the Lamb for ever and ever.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 44". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter