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CHRIST THE LIGHT AND SALVATION OF THE GENTILES
Isaiah 49:6. And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
THAT the Gentiles were to be received into the Church of God, was a truth which the Jews were backward to admit. Several years after the Gospel had been preached to the Jews, Peter declined visiting the Gentiles, and was afterwards called to an account by the Apostles themselves for going to them [Note: Acts 11:1-2. This was six or seven years after Christ’s ascension.]; nor could any thing but repeated miracles in their favour overcome the prejudices which he entertained respecting them. Not but that the conversion of the Gentiles had been very frequently and plainly foretold. The very passage before us, if there had been no other, was quite sufficient to raise an expectation of that event. In the context there is a conversation between Jehovah and his Son. The Messiah announces to the Gentiles his qualifications for the work to which he was called [Note: ver. 1–3.]; but at the same time complains that his labours among the Jews were almost in vain [Note: ver. 4.]. Nevertheless He declares his unshaken confidence that Jehovah would not leave him without ultimate success [Note: ver. 4.]. Jehovah then, in answer to his Son, assures him, that however he may be treated by the Jews, he shall be upheld and accepted in his work [Note: ver. 5.]; and that his failure among the Jewish nation shall be far overbalanced by his success among the Gentiles.
To elucidate this prophecy, we shall consider,
The characters here given to Christ—
There can be no doubt but that the words of the text relate to Christ—
[They are far too strong to be applied to Isaiah himself; nor could they with propriety be spoken of any but the Messiah. The expressions here used are similar to those which the prophet elsewhere uses in reference to him [Note: Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 60:3.]: they were evidently alluded to by the patriarch when he took up the infant Jesus in his arms [Note: Luke 2:30-32.], and are expressly quoted by St. Paul as having received their accomplishment in Christ [Note: Acts 13:46-47.].]
To him the characters, there specified, most eminently belong. He is “the Restorer of Israel,” having reconciled “many myriads” of them to God. He is also the “Light of the Gentiles”—
[Another prophet describes him as “the Sun of Righteousness [Note: Malachi 4:2.].” In the New Testament also he is repeatedly called “the Light of the world [Note: John 1:4; John 1:9.].” Others have enlightened the world by revealing the will of God; but He alone reveals it by his Spirit to the souls of men: He only, who opened Lydia’s heart, can have access to ours [Note: Acts 16:14.]: He only, who opened the understanding of his disciples, can illumine our benighted minds [Note: Luke 24:45.]; and this he does for them that lie in darkness and the shadow of death. While his once favoured people the Jews are blinded, he takes the veil from our hearts, and guides us into all truth. Thus does he abundantly fulfil to us his gracious promise [Note: John 8:12.].]
He is moreover “the salvation of men even to the ends of the world”—
[Many of the judges and kings of Israel were saviours in a temporal view; but Jesus imparts to his followers a far more glorious salvation. By his own blood he has “obtained an eternal redemption” for them, and by his meritorious obedience he renders them completely righteous. He is not merely a Saviour to them, but “salvation” itself. As he procured, so he imparts, maintains, and perfects the salvation of those who trust in him. There are none so remote but he extends to them the benefits of his death. “He came to save the lost,” in whatever quarter of the globe they be. For this very end was he sent into the world by his heavenly Father; and, as being expressly appointed to this office, he is called God’s salvation.]
In fulfilling these characters, he displays,
The excellence of the dispensation committed to him—
The dispensation of the law to the Jews was glorious—
[There was much of the Gospel communicated in and with the Law. The ceremonial rites were altogether “shadows of the good things” which were afterwards to be more fully revealed. The moral law itself, while it condemned the Jews, was intended to promote their salvation; and many, in different ages, were guided to heaven by the light which was then afforded them. The Mosaic law therefore was a rich blessing to that nation, and the salvation of a remnant from among them clearly manifested the efficacy of the great sacrifice.]
But the dispensation of the Gospel to the whole world is incomparably more glorious—
It brings far greater good to men—
[We must not disparage the salvation of one single soul; much less should we undervalue the mercy shewn to so many of the Jews; but still, the Jews were a small body, when compared with the Gentile world, and it was but a little remnant, even of them, that obtained mercy; but the publication of the Gospel to the Gentiles has been the means of saving unnumbered myriads. There are persons in every quarter of the globe, who experience the efficacy of the Redeemer’s blood; yea, every day and hour are multitudes ascending from the darkest corners of the earth to swell the chorus in heaven. How much more glorious then is the dispensation which diffuses its blessings so extensively, than that which confined them to such a narrow sphere! Surely it would have been “a light thing to save the Jews” in comparison of such a multitude. We may well therefore apply to this subject those words of tho Apostle [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:9-11.]—.]
It brings also far greater glory to the Saviour himself—
[Had none but Jews been saved by him, he might have appeared partial in his regards, or it might be thought that his sacrifice was but of a limited value; but the extension of mercy to the Gentiles displays “the exceeding riches of his grace,” and shews that his death is a sufficient “propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” How transcendent is the Redeemer’s glory in this view! And how glorious will he appear, when all that he has redeemed from every nation of the earth shall unite in ascribing salvation to him! The saving of a few from one nation only would not have been a suitable recompence for his work. He might well have complained that he had “spent his strength for nought;” but he will be fully “satisfied with the travail of his soul,” because so enlarged will be his Church, that “the birth of her womb will be as the dew of the morning [Note: Psalms 110:3.].”]
We shall conclude with a word of two of advice—
Welcome the Saviour under the characters which are here given him—
[We all need him as the light of our minds, and the Saviour of our souls. Let none then boast of the light of reason, or “lean to their own understanding;” nor let us trust in our own goodness to merit, or strength to work out, salvation. Let us rather look to Jesus for the teaching of his word and Spirit, and unite our acknowledgments with those of the saints of old [Note: Isaiah 45:24.]. Let us rejoice exceedingly that “help is laid upon One so mighty [Note: Psalms 89:19.],” and let us receive him for all the ends for which he is offered to us [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.]. Let none say, I am so far off, I can never hope for salvation by him. His exhortation recorded by the prophet yet sounds in our ears [Note: Isaiah 45:22.]; nor shall any be ashamed who put their trust in him.]
Do not attempt to separate his characters, but unite them—
[In vain shall we hope to be saved by Christ, if he have not enlightened our understandings. Though he gives not to all his people the same degree of knowledge, he invariably instructs them in the most important truths; and if we have no views of the evil of sin, the deceitfulness of the heart, the beauty of holiness, and the suitableness of his salvation, we are still in a lost and perishing condition. The text itself informs us that Christ becomes our salvation by being our light. On the other hand, let us not rest in a speculative knowledge of these things. We must manifest the practical and sanctifying effects of what we know. We must be delivered from the love and practice both of open and secret sin. Without this, the clearest perception of divine truths will be of no avail. Let us unite in our experience what is thus united in Christ, and seek to grow as well in gracious affections, as in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour [Note: 2 Peter 3:18.]]
CHRIST’S FUTURE REIGN
Isaiah 49:7. Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers; kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.
OF prophecy we may say, that it is by far the most satisfactory evidence which we have of the truth of our holy religion. Yet it is not altogether the number of the things that have been foretold respecting our blessed Lord, no, nor even the minuteness of them, that carries the fullest conviction to our minds: it is the strangeness of them, and the great improbability that such things should ever have combined in our Lord and Saviour: this, I say, it is which renders the prophecies so demonstrative of the Messiahship of Jesus. For, suppose that God had determined to send his only dear Son into the world for our redemption, and to inform us beforehand what an appearance he should make in the world, and what a reception he should find; what should we expect to be declared concerning him? Certainly we should expect that God would send him in a way suited to his august character; so that by the very splendour of his appearance he should manifest his relation to God, and carry conviction to the minds of all who should behold him. We should expect that his reception should perfectly accord with this. In truth, we could conceive no other, than that, if God should manifest himself in human flesh, and more especially if he should, in proof of his divine mission, work innumerable miracles, which, whilst they could admit of no doubt, should shadow forth the salvation which he was come to impart, all of necessity must love him, and acknowledge him as their Lord, and give themselves up to him as his obedient followers. And if the general tenour of prophecy had accorded with these views, and represented him as to be so received, it would have precisely answered the expectations we had formed. But in proportion as the prophecies corresponded with our previous expectations, they would have been divested of their force. It is the contrariety of the prophecies to all human expectations that gives them such weight; for the less the events predicted could be expected by men, the more, provided they were really accomplished, they would shew that they had proceeded from God; who alone could foresee what should really occur, or think of accomplishing his purposes by such extraordinary means. Now the prophecy before us commends itself to us most highly in this particular view; since its representations of the Messiah are such as no finite intelligence could ever have anticipated; and its statements of events are such as could never have been expected to flow from the mission of such a person into the world.
Let us consider,
The representation which is here given of the Messiah—
The words before us are an address of the Father to his own Son, under the character of the Messiah. And behold the description given of him!
Nothing can be conceived more humiliating—
[It is here predicted, that he should be an object of contempt and abhorrence to his whole nation, and, though in himself the Creator of heaven and earth, be regarded by the Rulers as the meanest slave. But can it be of the Messiah that such things are foretold? Yes, of the Messiah himself, who was to be known und distinguished by these very marks: so that, if any person, professing himself to be the appointed Messiah, should not answer to this character, it would be a sufficient proof that he was an impostor. If he be the Messiah indeed, he must be one “whom men despise, and the whole nation abhor,” and who, by “the Rulers,” is treated as a slave.]
This, however, was the character of the Lord Jesus Christ—
[Never was a being more despised than he. His whole appearance was contemptible in the eyes of those who looked for a temporal prince; so that he was indeed “a root out of a dry ground, having no form nor comeliness; and they who saw him could find no beauty in him, for which he was to be desired [Note: Isaiah 53:2.].” In truth, he was as “a worm,” and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people [Note: Psalms 22:6.].” Nothing was too contemptuous to say of him, nothing too insulting to do unto him. Some said of him, “He is a gluttonous man, a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners [Note: Matthew 9:19.]:” others even appealed to himself for the justness of their reproaches; “Say we not well, that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil [Note: John 8:48.]?” And when they could not deny his miracles, they denounced him as a confederate with Beelzebub, and as acting by a power derived from him [Note: Matthew 9:34.]. To express their utter contempt of his pretensions as the promised Messiah, they “arrayed him in mock majesty, and spat upon him, and smote him, saying, Tell us who smote thee [Note: Matthew 27:29-30. Luke 22:64.]?” In this “the whole nation” concurred. The Rulers would on no account suffer Pilate to release him: the people “with one voice cried out, Crucify him! crucify him!” and “desired that Barabbas, who was a murderer, should be granted to them in preference to him.” Crucifixion was a death to which none but slaves were doomed: but nothing less than that would satisfy the Rulers; who having dragged him before the different tribunals of Pilate, and Herod, and the High Priest, consigned him over, at last, to that death which was regarded as accursed both by God and man [Note: Galatians 3:13.].]
And that same character attaches to him at this very hour—
[I need not say how his name is cast out both by Jews and Gentiles. I will speak of him rather as he still appears even in the Christian world. I grant that nominally he is regarded with great veneration and respect; but really he is treated, and that too even by his professed followers, just as he was in the days of old.
What is there in his religion that conciliates the regards of men? It is at this very hour, no less than in former ages, to self-righteous pharisees “a stumbling-block,” and to those who are wise in their own conceit “foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.].” To stand indebted wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ for righteousness and strength, and to give the whole glory of our salvation to him alone, is thought as absurd in this day, as it was, in the Apostle’s days, to look for salvation to one who saved not himself, but was crucified as a malefactor. In like manner to devote oneself entirely to him, and to live altogether to his glory, is deemed a ridiculous excess at this day, just as much as it was in the days of old. Does any one doubt this? Look then at any person who preaches fully and faithfully the cross of Christ; and say whether his doctrine be not despised as in days of old? or look at any one that truly follows Christ, and see whether there be not, as arising out of that very circumstance, a good measure of contempt and obloquy cast upon him by his friends and relatives. See whether “the offence of the cross have ceased [Note: Galatians 5:11.].” See whether Christ be not still hated and persecuted in his members, just as he was in his own person, though not altogether with the same malignity. Yes truly, his obedient followers are still regarded as “the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:13.]:” and if they be not treated as in former days, it is not owing to any change that has taken place in the hearts of their enemies, but to the protection afforded by the laws, where Christianity is the religion of the land.
Now this I consider as an evidence in favour of the Gospel which we preach. If our doctrine und its professors were generally approved by the world, it would give very just ground to suspect that our sentiments were not those of the Apostles; since our blessed Lord foretold that his disciples should “be hated of all men for his name’s sake [Note: Matthew 10:22.];” and St. Paul also has declared that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.].” But our blessed Saviour was treated as the Prophet Isaiah had foretold; and, both in his doctrine and in his members, he is still treated precisely as he and his inspired Apostles have given us reason to expect.]
We are not however discouraged: nor need we be, if we consider,
The determination of God respecting him—
God has decreed that all mankind shall bow to the sceptre of his Son—
[Kings and princes, however great in the eyes of men, are as much under the control of God as the meanest of the human race: and in God’s good time they shall all, even all throughout the whole world, submit themselves to him: “they shall see, and arise, and worship him.” Yes verily, dishonoured as the Lord Jesus Christ has been, and despised as he still is, and especially among the great and mighty, “he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high;” and “kings,” being brought to a just consideration of his character, “shall shut their mouths at him” with the profoundest reverence [Note: Isaiah 52:13; Isaiah 52:15.]. Nor shall he be thus regarded only by his ancient people the Jews: the remotest monarchs of the earth shall honour him: “the kings of Tarshish and of the Isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts: yea, all kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall serve him [Note: Psalms 72:10-11.].”]
For this he pledges both the veracity of his word and the immutability of his counsels—
“All princes shall worship him, because of the Lord who is faithful.” Jehovah has not only said, “I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion [Note: Psalms 2:6.];” but he has confirmed his word with an oath, saying, “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone forth out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me (in my incarnate state) every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear [Note: Isaiah 45:23.].” Now this word is not gone forth in vain. It began, in some small degree, to be accomplished even in the apostolic age; and still more when Christianity was embraced by the head of the Roman Empire. But a mere nominal subjection to him, such as is now professed amongst the princes of Christendom, is not that allegiance of which my text speaks. No: there shall be a willing and unreserved subjection to him amongst all the kings of the earth, and all the kingdoms of the world shall become his undisputed empire [Note: Revelation 11:15.]. It has been promised to the Messiah himself: “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost ends of the earth for thy possession [Note: Psalms 2:8.].” It has been promised also to the Church of God: “Kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and Queens thy nursing-mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet [Note: ver. 23.].” And “hath God spoken thus, and will he not make it good?”
“His counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure [Note: Isaiah 46:10.].” “He hath chosen [Note: The concluding words of the text should have been translated in the past tense. See Vitringa in loc.]” the Lord Jesus to be his servants and “given him for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth,” and to redeem the inhabitants of it from their bondage [Note: Compare ver. 8, 9. with ch. 42:1.]: and who shall change his purpose, or obstruct the execution of his will? In the covenant he entered into with his own Son, he engaged, that, “when his Son should make his soul an offering for sin, he should see a seed who should prolong their days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hands: yea, that he would give unto him the great for a portion, and divide unto him the strong for a spoil [Note: Isaiah 53:10-12.].” And we may be perfectly assured, that this stone, however disallowed by the professed builders of the Church. “shall become the head of the corner [Note: 1 Peter 2:6-7.]:” yea, “this stone, cut out without hands, shall break in pieces all the kingdoms of the world, and establish one undivided empire over the face of the whole earth [Note: Daniel 2:34-35; Daniel 2:44-45.].”]
What a glorious period is fast approaching!
[Assuredly, what is here foretold shall be fulfilled in its season. Was Jesus, “after all his humiliation” unto death, exalted above all the principalities and powers of heaven, earth, and hell [Note: Philippians 2:6-11.]; and shall not all that hath been predicted concerning him be fulfilled? Yes; “He shall be king over all the earth: there shall be but one Lord, and his name one [Note: Zechariah 14:9.]:” and if any refuse to bow to the sceptre of his grace, “they shall be broken in pieces, as a potter’s vessel [Note: Psalms 2:9.].” Contemplate then this day, when all, without exception, “shall be righteous [Note: Isaiah 60:21.];” when “holiness to the Lord shall be written upon the bells of the horses;” and when “there shall no more be found a Canaanite in the land [Note: Zechariah 14:20-21.].” Did Abraham, at the distance of two thousand years, rejoice at his glimmering prospect of the Redeemer’s first advent [Note: John 8:56.]; and shall not we rejoice in the glorious consummation which is now so fast approaching? Surely the heavens and the earth should rejoice, yea, the “hills should break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field should clap their hands,” at the prospect which we now enjoy of a speedy and universal establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom upon earth [Note: ver. 13. with Psalms 98:4-9.].]
What encouragement have they who minister in holy things!
[The Prophets and Apostles had much to contend with, in their day; and some of them saw, at the time, but little fruit of their labour. But would one among them think either his labours or his sufferings too great, if he could now see what exists upon the face of the earth, among the saints of God? How much less, then, will they grudge their services, when they shall behold the Lord Jesus reigning in his millennial glory; and still less, when they shall see the full and entire fruit of their labours in the heavenly world! Let those, then, who engage in the service of their Lord, whether in the contracted circle of a single parish, or in the more enlarged sphere of a mission to the heathen, contemplate the benefit which may be hoped to arise from their labours; and that, not at the first moment of their exertions, but at a more remote period, when perhaps a “little one, whom they shall have begotten to the Lord, shall have become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation [Note: Isaiah 60:22. N. B. If this be the subject of a Mission Sermon, this thought must be enlarged.].” Let every one that is engaged in this blessed work gladly “do all things, and suffer all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory [Note: 2 Timothy 2:10.].” And if only they be permitted to sow the seed, let them remember, that the day is coming, “when they who sowed, and they who reaped, shall rejoice together [Note: John 4:36.].”]
How happy are they who truly believe in Christ!
[The same things has God decreed respecting you, as concerning his dear Son; and on the same grounds does he assure them to you. Like the Saviour himself, you shall be hated and despised of men: but, like him, you shall triumph over all your enemies, and be exalted to thrones of glory [Note: Revelation 3:21.]. Even “Satan himself,” with all the principalities and powers of hell, “shall be bruised under your feet shortly [Note: Romans 16:20.]” — — — And would you be certified of this? Know, that “God has chosen you to salvation [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.],” and “promised you eternal life [Note: Tit 1:2. 1 John 2:25.].” And who shall set aside his purpose? Who shall make his promises of no effect? Look forward, then, to the issue of your present conflicts. Let it be a light matter in your eyes to be an object of scorn and derision to ungodly men: (rather rejoice that you are permitted so to resemble your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 4:13.]:) and look forward to the same blessed recompence as he himself received. “He, for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down on the right hand of the throne of God [Note: Hebrews 12:2.]:” so do ye also expect assuredly, that, if you are conformed to him in sufferings, you shall also be conformed to him in glory: for “if you suffer with him, you shall, as sure as God is true, reign with him also in glory for ever and ever [Note: 2 Timothy 2:11-12.].”]
THE GREATNESS OF CHRIST’S SALVATION
Isaiah 49:8-10. Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages; that thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places. They shall not hunger nor thirst; neither shall the heat nor sun smite them: for he that hath mercy on them shall lead them, even by the springs of water shall he guide them.
TO the Messiah God had promised, that, after his inconceivable degradation, he should be exalted, insomuch that the Kings and princes of the earth should bow down and worship at his footstool [Note: ver. 7.]. In the passage before us, the same idea is amplified and enlarged. Jehovah had said to him, “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession [Note: Psalms 2:8.].” And in the Epistle to the Hebrews we are informed, that “in the days of his flesh he offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears; and was heard [Note: Hebrews 5:7.].” Whilst he prayed for himself, he interceded also for all his people, to the very end of time [Note: John 17:9; John 17:20; John 17:24.]. For them also was he heard; as we are told in the words which I have just read: “In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will give thee for a covenant of the people, that thou mayest cause them to inherit the desolate heritages.”
In these words, together with those which follow them, we may see,
The promised diffusion of the Gospel—
To enter properly into the meaning of the passage, we must bear in mind the redemption from Babylon, to which there is a manifest reference. Not that the redemption from Babylon is here predicted: that has been very fully and largely spoken of by the prophet in the foregoing parts of his prophecy. He soars far above that subject in this place; and speaks of the redemption of the whole world by the Lord Jesus Christ, though in terms applicable to the other event. The whole of Judea was desolated by the Chaldean invaders: and, on the proclamation of Cyrus, the people were permitted to resume their former inheritances, and to repair the desolations throughout the land. In like manner, the whole world, which has been desolated by sin and Satan, is here spoken of as to be repaired by the Lord Jesus Christ, at the period foretold in prophecy, even at “the accepted time.”
This was begun in the apostolic age—
[The Lord Jesus Christ, after all his sufferings and death, was raised from the dead; and, after all the efforts made by men and devils to suppress his rising cause, “was preserved;” yea, and was “made a covenant-head to all the people of the world;” that, by believing in Him, they might regain all that they had lost in the first Adam, and all of which sin and Satan had despoiled them. Holiness was the possession, and heaven the heritage of man, whilst he retained his innocence: but he lost them; and must be restored to them by the Lord Jesus Christ: and, through the preaching of the Apostles, multitudes, not of Jews only, but of heathens also, were restored, Those who were bound, as it were, in chains, and immured in dungeons, were liberated by the Lord Jesus Christ; and they came forth, even as Lazarus had done, at his bidding, and became visible and living monuments of his power and grace. “Being made free by him, they became free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].” Hence St. Paul, expressly referring to the prophecy in my text, declared that the period spoken of was then arrived: “Behold, now is the accepted time: behold, now is the day of salvation.” But,]
It is still existing at this present moment—
[To this hour, in despite of all the powers of darkness, yea, and of the weakness and wickedness of man, are the interests of Christ and his Church still “preserved.” Thousands do yet look to him as their Covenant-head, and receive through him all the blessings of salvation. Blessed be God! we yet see, I trust, in the midst of you, those who “have been begotten again to an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away [Note: 1 Peter 1:3-4.];” and who, by the word and Spirit of God, are “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.].” “To those, therefore, who are yet in prison I feel myself authorized to say, Come forth; and to those who are in darkness, Shew yourselves.” I declare that this is the accepted time, as truly as that was in the apostolic age; and that “no one, who will come to Christ, shall ever be rejected [Note: John 6:37.].” “To you, Beloved, is the word of this salvation sent:” and without hesitation I declare unto you, that “all who will believe in Christ shall be justified from all things [Note: Acts 13:39.].”]
It will be completely and fully arrived in the Millennium—
[However low the cause of Christ may sink (and it has sunk very low at different periods since its first promulgation), it shall be “preserved,” yea, and shall be “established” too, over the face of the whole earth. There is not in the universe a people, however ignorant or enslaved in sin, who shall not be “brought forth into the marvellous light of his Gospel.” Jews and Gentiles shall alike partake of his blessings. For all, beholding Christ as their Covenant-head and Surety, shall obtain an interest in the covenant which he has ratified, oven in the covenant which is “ordered in all things and sure.” A blessed day will that be! Methinks the whole creation is groaning and travelling in pain for its arrival. The deliverance from Babylon was but a very faint emblem of that day: for from Babylon a small remnant only returned to possess their former inheritance; but, at the period of which we are speaking, a redeemed world “shall come with singing unto Zion,” and “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”]
In connexion with the spread of the Gospel, the prophet proceeds to state,
The felicity of those who shall embrace it—
Here, the reference to the redemption from Egypt, which had long; since taken place, and that from Babylon, which was yet future, must be more distinctly noticed. Both the one and the other of those far exceeded all that could have been expected, and all that could have been supposed within the verge of possibility. The obstructions to that from Egypt, especially, appeared utterly insurmountable. For, how should such a multitude be fed? How should they be screened from the heat, which, at seasons, must be too oppressive to be borne? How should they also be conducted through a wilderness which was utterly unexplored? And how should they find refreshment in a land where there were neither rivers nor springs? These difficulties had been overcome through the good providence of God; and whatever may be supposed to correspond with them in the spiritual life shall also be vanquished by all who commit themselves to Christ as “their Leader,” whom they will follow, and “their Commander,” whom they will obey [Note: Isaiah 55:4.].
He here assures to his people,
[He that gave his people bread from heaven for the space of forty years will be at no loss to “feed” his flocks, however numerous, in this dreary wilderness; or to give them ample “pasturage,” even on the summit of the most barren “mountains.” “A feast of fat things has he provided for us [Note: Isaiah 25:6.]; yea, and has “spread a table for us in the presence of our enemies [Note: Psalms 23:5.].” “The meek therefore may rest assured that they shall eat and be satisfied [Note: Psalms 22:26.]:” “their souls shall be satisfied, as with marrow and fatness [Note: Psalms 63:5.];” and in the strength of the divine communications they shall be enabled to go forward, finding no labour too arduous, no difficulty too great, for them to surmount [Note: 1 Kings 19:7.].]
[One of the greatest obstacles to the progress of unprovided travellers is the intense heat of the sun, which frequently destroys those who are exposed to its fiery rays. But to his people, when assaulted by persecution or temptation, Christ himself will be a shelter, even “as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land [Note: Isaiah 32:2.].” Neither heat nor sun shall smite them.” True it is, that, in the apostolic age, myriads were persecuted even unto death; and even at the present time there are but few followers of Christ who have not a cross to bear: but still is this prophecy fulfilled; because, if afflictions abound, our consolations much more abound; and, instead of feeling the rays of the sun intolerable, we are enabled to “glory in tribulation,” and to “rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer either shame or death for Christ’s sake [Note: Rom 5:3.Acts 5:41; Acts 20:24.].”]
[The cloud, which covered the camp of Israel from the action of the solar rays, was a pillar of fire to light them by night, and went before them in all their journeys. So our blessed Lord will lead his people now, and make their way plain before their face. His word shall mark their path; his Spirit shall shine upon it; his providence shall open it from time to time; and thus “he will guide them by his counsel, till at last he receive them to glory [Note: Psalms 73:24.].”]
[To God’s people in the wilderness the fatigues of travelling were great, notwithstanding all the advantages they enjoyed; insomuch, that “they were greatly discouraged by reason of the way.” And we too, through the weakness of human nature, shall often be ready to faint in our heavenly journey. But God will “lead us by springs of water,” where we can at all times quench our thirst, and refresh our weary souls. Our blessed Lord promises that we shall have his Spirit within us, as “a well of water springing up unto everlasting life [Note: John 4:14; John 7:37-38.].”
But in this last communication, methinks I see, us it were, a heaven upon earth; for the description given us of heaven itself is conveyed in the very words of my text: “They are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and He that sitteth on the throne dwells among them. And they hunger no more, nor thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat: for the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes [Note: Revelation 7:15-17.].”]
Such was the blessed state of the Church in the apostolic age — — — And such it is at this very hour — — — And such, only in a far more exalted degree, shall it be in the day when Christ shall take to him his great power, and reign unto the ends of the earth.
[And now, let me ask, Who amongst you does not need this salvation? Who amongst you, if not already liberated by divine grace, is not at this hour in bondage to sin and Satan, death and hell? — — — But I am happy to declare, that “now is an accepted time, and a day of salvation,” to all who will “lay hold on the covenant” of grace, and embrace Christ as he is offered in the Gospel. And why should it not be an accepted time to you, my Brethren, as well as unto God? Is there any other time better than the present? — — — And are not the advantages which are here proposed to you sufficient for your encouragement? Is it a light matter to be emancipated from your thraldom, and to be brought forth into light and liberty? Is it a small matter to have every thins provided for your journey, and eternal glory at the end? What would you have more in this dreary wilderness than God has here promised you? What, if I should proceed to open to you the richness of the provision, the strength of the protection, the certainty of the guidance, the sweetness of the refreshment; especially if we view in it, as we may, the glory and felicity of heaven? But I trust that more is not necessary. “This is the heritage of all the servants of the Lord.” Let it be yours. Beg of God that you may be begotten to it; and become “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” Never forget that Christ has purchased it for you; and offers it to you, as freely as ever he did redemption from Egypt, or from Babylon, to his ancient people. I pray God that not one amongst you may fall short of this inheritance; but that all of you may possess it, by faith in this world, and by actual fruition in the world to come.]
GOD WILL NOT FORGET HIS PEOPLE
Isaiah 49:14-16. But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget: yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I hare graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.
WERE the glorious truths of Christianity allowed their due operation on the hearts of men, this world would be a scene of universal peace and happiness: “the heavens and the earth, the mountains,” and the valleys would form one harmonious concert, all singing aloud for joy at the glad tidings of redemption through the sufferings of our incarnate God. But the great mass of mankind disregard the tidings as “a cunningly devised fable;” whilst multitudes who profess to believe them, derive no comfort from them, by reason of the corrupt state of their own minds, and the hard thoughts which they entertain of God. In the verse preceding our text, we see what reason there is for joy; but in the text itself we are told, how lamentably the proper influence of the Gospel is counteracted by the mistakes and errors of God’s professing people, which yet he is endeavouring by all possible means to rectify.
We here behold,
The Church’s complaint against God—
The complaint, in its primary sense, may be understood as uttered by the Church in Babylon, where her state was indeed most disconsolate. Moreover, in the present dispersion of her members, which has now continued so many hundred years, we may find a further ground for the complaint, that she is forsaken and forgotten of her God. St. Paul, aware that there was in appearance some reason for such an apprehension, states the question, “Has God cast off his people?” and then, by an appeal to fact, he establishes the truth which is asserted in our text, in opposition to it [Note: Romans 11:1-5.].
But it is in reference to individuals, and not to the Church at large, that we shall consider the complaint. It is common for persons under the Christian dispensation to adopt the language of our text. We will therefore state,
The occasions that most generally give birth to it—
[Among the various causes of such a desponding apprehension, the first to be noticed is, a long continuance of some temporal affliction. Little as we think of God in n state of prosperity, and little as we are inclined to mark his hand in the earlier stages of adversity, when we have long been oppressed with trials, our mind almost of necessity reverts to him as the author of them; and that too, not in a way of meek submission, but in a way of murmuring and discontent. Thus did the Church in David’s days: she complained that God had cast her off [Note: Psalms 44:9.]; and adduced all her trials as proofs of her assertion [Note: Psalms 44:10-14; Psalms 44:22.]: and then, as though God were asleep, and had altogether forgotten her affliction, she entreats him to “awake, and arise” for her relief [Note: Psalms 44:23-26.]. Thus also did Job, though on the whole a perfect man, sink at last under his troubles, and become the accuser of his God [Note: Job 3:23-24; Job 6:2-4.]. And perhaps, if we inquired diligently into the first causes of despondency, we should generally find that it has originated in temporal afflictions, which have put the soul off its balance, and disposed it to entertain hard thoughts of God.
Another occasion of such apprehension is, a long continuance of guilt upon the conscience. After we are sensible that we have sinned, we are frequently a long time before we can humble ourselves before God as we ought to do: and whilst that hardness of heart continues, it is impossible but that we must be harassed with much disquietude. Thus it was with David, after his sin in the matter of Uriah: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long: (for day and night thy hand was heavy upon me:) my moisture is turned into the draught of summer [Note: Psalms 32:3-4.].” That “iniquities will separate between us and our God, and cause him to hide his face from us,” is certain [Note: Isaiah 59:2.]: but we are not therefore to conclude, that he has forsaken and forgotten us; since, however he may “speak against us,” as with the voice of an enemy, “he does earnestly remember us still; yea, his bowels are troubled for us,” till, by our humiliation and contrition, we open a way for him to exercise, consistently with his own honour, his tender mercy towards us [Note: Jeremiah 31:20.]. Nevertheless, till that reconciliation takes place, the distress of a soul that dreads his displeasure must be great indeed [Note: Psalms 31:9-10.].
One more occasion of such apprehensions is, a want of answers to prayer. When God is following us with invitations to accept of mercy, we think nothing of months or years: but, if he delay an answer to our supplications, a few days or weeks appear an age; and we begin to conclude, that he will never vouchsafe us any answer at all. Perhaps, of all reasons for despondency, this is the most justifiable; because God has so often promised to hear and answer the prayers of his people: and from hence we may account for those sad complaints, which David, the man after God’s own heart, uttered against his God [Note: Psalms 88:1-7; Psalms 88:9; Psalms 88:13-16.]. Doubtless it is distressing to be constrained to say, “I cry in the day time, and thou hearest not; and in the night season, und am not silent:” but the proper reflection for the soul in such cases is, “Thou nevertheless continuest holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel [Note: Psalms 22:3-4.].”]
The dispositions and principles from which it springs—
[Whatever be the occasion of desponding apprehensions, they always arise from a morbid state of mind: for, if we were in a right frame, we should, under all circumstances, say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him [Note: Job 13:15.].”
At the root of all despondency will be found impatience. We do not like to wait God’s time: we would “walk by sight, rather than by faith;” and, if we have not immediately what we desire, we are ready to ask, “Is the Lord amongst us, or not [Note: Exodus 17:7.]?” We have a surprising exhibition of this spirit among the more religious part of the Jews in the time of the Prophet Jeremiah: God had denounced his judgments against the whole nation; and had refused to hear any prayers that should be offered for them [Note: Jeremiah 14:10-11.]. Upon this they complain, “Hast thou utterly rejected Judah? Hath thy soul lothed Zion? Why hast thou smitten us, and there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, and there is no good; and for the time of healing, end behold trouble. We acknowledge, O Lord, our wickedness, and the iniquity of our fathers; for we have sinned against thee. Do not abhor us, for thy name’s sake; do not disgrace the throne of thy glory: remember, break not thy covenant with us [Note: Jeremiah 14:19-21.].” Now, after every allowance which must be made for the condescension of God in permitting his people to plead with him, we cannot but think, that the terms here used savour of impatience; and that a more respectful and reverential language would have better comported with their state. But strong feelings usually issue in hasty and unadvised expressions.
Another source from which these apprehensions spring, is Unbelief. The promises of God are as clear as the powers of language can express: but we know not how to believe them. Sometimes they appear too good to be true: at other times we doubt whether they are made to us: and at other times we are ready to think that they cannot be fulfilled; yea, the very providence of God seems to oppose their accomplishment. Hence we listen to the dictates of sense, and, because of our present distress, conclude that God hath forsaken and forgotten us. This was the unhappy experience of David himself, who was brought by his trouble to ask, “Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies [Note: Psalms 77:7-9.]?” Well might he add, “This was my infirmity [Note: Psa 77:10];” for a dreadful infirmity it was, to entertain such distressing apprehensions for himself, and such injurious thoughts of God. Yet thus it is, that, under the influence of unbelief, multitudes are yet daily dishonouring their God.
But we must not omit to mention, that these apprehensions frequently proceed also from disease of body or mind. There is a nervous habit of body that is very apt to produce the feelings we are now speaking of; and, the mind partaking of the weakness of the body, Satan takes advantage of it, to impress on the imagination every thing that is gloomy and melancholy: ‘God has not elected me: I am given over to a reprobate mind: I have sinned away my day of grace: I have committed the unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost: It is in vain for me to pray, for my doom is sealed: God has entirely forsaken me, and, as to any purposes of his grace, has eternally forgotten me.’ This is indeed a most distressing state of mind; and the more so, because the persons so affected have not the least conception from whence all. their distresses arise. Their apprehensions about God have the same effect on them as if they were founded in truth: and it often happens, that a man’s whole life is embittered by fears, which the restoration of bodily health would remove at once. It seems probable that David, whose experience, under all the diversified circumstances of his life, is so fully recorded in the Psalms, had somewhat of this trial also; for, under the united pressure of bodily and mental disease, he doubted whether he should ever be restored to a sense of the Divine favour [Note: Psalms 6:1-7.]. But, at all events, it is desirable that they who have to deal with troubled consciences, should be aware that this apparently religious depression is often little more than a bodily disorder; and that they should in many such cases recommend a physician for the body, as the most likely means of curing, what, to an ignorant observer, would appear a disease of the soul.]
From hearing Zion’s complaint against God, let us turn our attention to,
The consolatory reply of God to her—
God desiring that his people should be filled with “strong consolation,” has given them such assurance of his care and love, as shall be abundantly sufficient to dissipate all their fears, if only they rely on his word. That no part of his address to them may escape our notice, let us consider,
The assurance that he gives them—
[Let the Church’s compliant be borne in mind; because to that his answer is immediately directed. She had said, “The Lord hath forsaken me; my Lord hath forgotten me.” To this he answers, “I will not forget thee;” or, as it is most tenderly expressed in another part, “O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me [Note: Isaiah 44:21.].” Assertions to the same effect occur in numberless other passages of Scripture, and under a variety of forms [Note: 1 Samuel 12:22.Hebrews 13:5-6Hebrews 13:5-6. Malachi 2:16. Romans 11:29.]: but nowhere is it made with greater force than in the passage before us. He appeals to us respecting the care of earthly parents over their offspring. A father is represented as full of pity towards his suffering child [Note: Psalms 103:13.], and as sparing with affectionate regard his duteous son [Note: Malachi 3:17.]. It is even taken for granted, that a parent cannot disregard, and much less mock, the necessities of his child, “giving him a stone when he asks for bread, or a scorpion, when he desires an egg [Note: Matthew 7:9-11.].” And, if a father cannot act thus, how much less can a mother turn her back upon her sucking infant, and forget to administer to its necessities, when even her bodily feelings, no less than the tender emotions of her mind, must interest her deeply in supplying its wants. Rare as are instances of a mother being entirely destitute of natural affection, some have been found who, through shame, have murdered their own offspring, and, through the pressure of famine, have even devoured them. It was foretold that such instances would occur [Note: Leviticus 26:29.]; and we know that they did occur at different times [Note: 2 Kings 6:28-29. Lamentations 4:10.]: but, says God, though there may be found, not only one but many such unnatural mothers, no such forgetfulness of my children shall ever be found in me; I will never forget my Church at large, nor any individual of it in particular. As for my Church at large, “I will keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it day and night [Note: Isaiah 27:3.]:” and, as for the weakest individuals that are found in it, I will consider them as infants with whom I have travailed in birth; and will carry them in my bosom, till time and age have worn away their strength, and covered their heads with hoary locks [Note: Isaiah 46:3-4.]. Both collectively and individually, “Mine eye shall be upon them from one end of the year unto the other end of the year [Note: Deuteronomy 11:12.],” and not only shall “their place of defence be the munitions of rocks, but bread shall be given them, and their water shall be sure [Note: Isaiah 33:16.].”]
His confirmation of it—
[To confirm his assertion the more strongly, he introduces two striking and well-known illustrations. The first is taken from a custom which prevailed among the Jews, of imprinting on their flesh, by punctures or by staining, an image of the temple, in order at all times to bring it to their remembrance. ‘Now,’ says God, ‘I have you, and all my children, imprinted thus upon my heart, and on my arms [Note: Song of Solomon 8:6.]. I have set you there as a seal or signet, which shall operate at all times to remind me of you, and to interest me in your favour: yea, “I have graven you on the palms of my hands;” so that I can never open my hand to dispense blessings to any of my creatures, but I must instantly behold your name, and be stirred up to supply your every want.’ What a beautiful and encouraging representation is this! Nor is the other illustration at all less comforting to the mind. It refers to an architect, who, whilst he is only just beginning to lay the foundation, has a perfect idea of the whole building in his mind, and sees it there as plainly as if it were already complete. Thus does God even now behold the entire building of his Church complete in all its parts, not a stone wanting, or out of the place ordained for it, yea, he sees also every individual stone formed and fashioned according to his sovereign will, and fitted perfectly for the situation which in his eternal counsels he has appointed it to fill. To a common eye all may appear at present a scene of confusion: but to him who seeth all from the beginning, all is in perfect order as far as it has advanced; and the whole edifice is, as it were, already prepared as a meet habitation for the God of heaven [Note: Ephesians 2:20-22.].
Say then, Whether there be any ground for the complaint which we have been considering? Can God have forsaken his people, when he is ever present with them? Can he have forgotten them, when he is incessantly carrying on his work in their hearts? He may, it is true, for wise and gracious purposes, so veil himself, that they shall not immediately behold him; but he can no more forget his redeemed people, than he can forget the interests of his beloved Son, or the honour of his own perfections. This he has stated in the fullest manner, for the comfort of his people [Note: Isaiah 54:7-10; Isaiah 54:17.] — — — and, whether we believe it or not, he will accomplish every jot and tittle of it in its season, As he has no inducement to falsify his word, so he will not, “he cannot, deny himself [Note: 2 Timothy 2:13.].”]
Those who have forsaken and forgotten God-
[Hear ye the complaint which God utters; “Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? yet my people have forgotten me, days without number [Note: Jeremiah 2:32.].” Alas! how true is this of multitudes amongst ourselves! Though “He is the fountain of living waters, yet have we forsaken him, and hewn out to ourselves cisterns that can hold no water [Note: Jeremiah 2:13.].” We have even laboured to blot out the remembrance of him from our minds: and so thoroughly have we succeeded in this impious attempt, that, as the Searcher of hearts himself testifies, “God is not in all our thoughts [Note: Psalms 10:4.].” Every vanity has been harboured in our minds; but we have found there no room for God: in short, we have lived “without God in the world [Note: Ephesians 2:12.].” What astonishing wickedness is this, that when God has been following us with invitations and entreaties all our days, saying to us, “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” we have “refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped our ears that we should not hear [Note: Zechariah 7:11.].” This however cannot always continue: God “will not always strive with us” in this manner: the time is coming when he will requite us according to our deeds, and turn a deaf ear to all our entreaties [Note: Proverbs 1:24-31.]? O that we may be wise in time, and improve aright “this day of our salvation [Note: Compare ver. 8. with 2 Corinthians 6:2.]!”]
Those who think they are forsaken and forgotten of God—
[This may be the state even of the best of men; for David, and even the Messiah himself, in a season of dereliction, cried, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me [Note: Psalms 22:1.]?” Nevertheless, for the most part, the hidings of God’s face may be traced to some special cause: some inward lust unmortified, or some wilful neglect indulged. Search out then, and put away, whatever is displeasing to your God. But, if you cannot find any particular reason for the dispensation, then follow that advice of the prophet, “Who is among you that feareth the Lord, and yet walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay himself upon his God [Note: Isaiah 50:10.].” Let him plead with God, as David did, and sum up his petitions with that bold request, “Arise, O God, and plead thine own cause [Note: Psalms 74:19-22.]!” We may be sure that “God will not contend with us for ever, because he knows that our spirits would fail before him, and the souls which he hath made [Note: Isaiah 57:16.].” Even where we have been wilfully rebellious, he gives us reason to hope, that, for his own sake, he will heal our wounds, and speak comfortably to our souls [Note: Isa 57:17-18 and Hosea 2:14.]: but, if we humble ourselves before him, then are we sure that in due season he will lift us up [Note: James 4:10.].
Let every one then, however disconsolate he may be at the present moment, yea though heaven, earth, and hell should seem conspiring to destroy him [Note: Psalms 42:7.], check his unbelieving fears, and say, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance, and my God [Note: Psalms 42:11.].”]
PROMISED INCREASE OF THE CHURCH
Isaiah 49:18-23. Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee. As I live, saith the Lord, Thou shall surely clothe thee with them all as with an ornament, and bind them on thee as a bride doeth. For thy waste and thy desolate places, and the land of thy destruction, shall even now be too narrow by reason of the inhabitants; and they that swallowed thee up shall be far away. The children which thou shaft have, after thou hast lost the other, shall say again in thine ears, The place is too strait for me: give place to we that I may dwell. Then shalt thou my in thine heart, Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children, and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone; these, where had they been? Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders: and kings shall be thy nursing-fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
TO consider past events, and especially those recorded in the Holy Scriptures, is obviously the duty of every man; since from them we learn the true character of God, and know what we are to expect at his hands. Nor are present things to occupy a small portion of our regard: for, though we cannot judge of them with certainty, or declare what their ultimate issue will be, we behold them stamped with a visible impression of Divine wisdom and goodness: the very chastisements of heaven, if viewed aright, convey to us the idea of parental love. But we have a further duty, which is, to look into futurity, and to read in the page of prophecy the events that are yet future. We are not indeed to expect that we ourselves shall be enabled to prophesy, or to obtain such an insight into futurity as to discover the times and the seasons which God has reserved in his own hands: but there are certain great events which shall assuredly come to pass, and which it is our privilege to look forward to, as the pious Jews waited for the coming of their Lord, and looked for redemption in Jerusalem. Indeed it is for this end that the prophecies are given us; namely, that having expected the completion of them, we should acknowledge God in the events whereby they are completed.
In the passage before us, there is a prophecy relating to the future state of the Church: in discoursing upon which we shall notice,
The promised increase of the Church—
In the verse preceding our text, the substance of the promise is contained [Note: In Bishop Lowth’s Translation it stands thus: “They that destroyed thee shall become thy builders; and they that have laid thee waste, shall become thine offspring.”]: and in our text itself, its accomplishment is represented as actually begun.
In two respects is the Church to be increased;
[To enter fully into the spirit of this prophecy, we should call to mind the state of Israel in Palestine. The land of Canaan was but a small tract of country, when compared with the numbers that were to inhabit it; so that some of the tribes, particularly Dan, and Ephraim, and Manasseh, complained of the smallness of their lot [Note: Joshua 17:14-18; Joshua 19:47.]. But, after the desolations occasioned by the Assyrians and Chaldeans, the population was so reduced, that they were quite insufficient to inhabit the cities, or to cultivate the ground [Note: 2 Kings 24:14.]. Imagine now the people all on a sudden restored to their country, and multiplied far beyond all former precedent; what surprise would be excited, and what universal clamour for want of room! Such is the change which is here predicted in relation to the Church: the numbers that shall be added to it will surpass all human expectation, so that “space shall not even be found for them [Note: Zechariah 10:10.].” In every country, in every city, in every village, yea in every congregation also, shall converts spring up as the piles of grass in the earth [Note: Psalms 72:16.], and “shall say in the ears of the Church, The place is too strait for me: give place for me that I may dwell.” The Church herself shall be filled with utter amazement at the multitudes that flock to her; and shall say in her heart, “Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children and am desolate, a captive, and removing to and fro? and who hath brought up these? Behold, I was left alone: these, where had they been?”
Incredible as this may appear, the prophet not only foretells it, but speaks of it as at that moment taking place before his eyes; and of God himself, as swearing that the whole multitude shall become brighter ornaments to the Church, than the richest jewels to a bride [Note: ver. 18.].]
[It is not the poor only that shall devote themselves to God in that day, but the rich also. Hitherto “not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble have been called [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26.]:” but then it shall not be so: for all the great and mighty of the earth “shall bring their sons in their arms, and their daughters (in litters) upon their shoulders; and kings shall be the nursing-fathers of the Church, and queens her nursing-mothers.” As for the enemies of the Church, they shall all be prostrate before her, and “lick up the very dust of her feet:” and God shall be as manifestly revealed among them as ever he was in the days of old [Note: ver. 23.].
Is it asked, How shall this great change be effected? We answer, “God will lift up his hand to the Gentiles, and set up his standard to the people:” he will cause the standard of the cross to be erected in every place, and by the influence of his Spirit will reveal his Son in the hearts of men; “making them willing in the day of his power,” and rendering “his Gospel the power of God to the salvation of their souls.”
Perhaps in this passage there is a more immediate and explicit declaration of the way in which God’s ancient people the Jews shall be converted to the faith. We have reason from St. Paul to think, that an extraordinary conversion of the Gentiles shall precede the restoration of the Jews [Note: Romans 11:25-26.]: and here, it should seem, that God will make the efforts of those Gentiles instrumental to the conversion of his once-favoured people: “I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters on their shoulders.” Surely this thought should animate us to diffuse as far as possible the knowledge of salvation through the heathen world, that, the Gentiles being made partakers of this grace, the Jews may be provoked to jealousy to seek it for themselves [Note: Romans 11:11-14.].]
Let us now contemplate,
The encouragement it affords us for Missionary exertions—
Is such a glorious prospect held forth to us, and shall we be indifferent about it, or entertain a doubt of its being realized in due season? No: we will expect it rather, and by anticipation rejoice in it: for,
God is able to effect this great thing—
[Were this promised event to be produced by human efforts only, we might well doubt whether it should ever be accomplished. But God has taken the matter into his own hand; and has said “I will do it; I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles.” And, if GOD will work, who shall let it? It is worthy of remark, that St. Paul himself grounds his assured expectation of these events on this very consideration of God’s almighty power. Speaking of the Jews being again grafted into their own olive-tree, he says, “They, if they abide not in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again [Note: Romans 11:23.].” In the very chapter before us also, God mentions his all-powerful interposition as an effectual antidote to all the unbelieving fears of his people. The Church, doubting almost the possibility of the promised events, asks, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?” Can it be hoped, that they who are in bondage to such powerful adversaries, and have even sold themselves, as it were, by their iniquities, should ever be redeemed? Yes; “thus saith the Lord; Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away; and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children [Note: ver. 24, 25.].” Let us expect it then at the hands of God, knowing that “what he has promised, he is able also to perform.” Let difficulties, how great soever they may appear in themselves, be as nothing in our eyes, because that Omnipotence is engaged to surmount them all; and “nothing can be too hard for the Lord.”]
God has moreover actually engaged to effect it—
[Survey the promise in our text, confirmed by a most solemn oath, and therefore “confirmed by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have the stronger consolation.” Compare with it many other passages of Holy Writ, which speak decidedly to the same effect [Note: Isaiah 54:1-3; Isaiah 61:4-6; Isaiah 66:18-20.] — — — Shall all these fail of their accomplishment? Surely “God is not a man that he should lie, or a son of man that he should repent.” As to “the times and the seasons, he has reserved them in his own power: but the ultimate accomplishment of them, if we may so speak, he has put out of his own power; because “He cannot deny himself;” and he has himself assured us, in reference to this very thing, that “his gifts and calling are without repentance [Note: Romans 11:29.].”]
The beginnings of it are already visible before our eyes—
[What the prophet says by anticipation, we may almost speak literally: “Lift up thine eyes round about, and behold: all these gather themselves together, and come to thee.” Since the apostolic ago, there has been no period like the present [Note: June 5, 1814, three days after the tidings of peace with France had arrived.]; all nations making peace in the spirit of peace; and societies of every kind combining, not in this land only, but in foreign lands also, to translate the Scriptures into all languages, and to impart them to every nation under heaven. Is not this the finger of God? and is not God’s display of his own almighty operation a motive and a call to us to work together with him? Doubtless, if ever there was a time that we were particularly encouraged to engage in missionary exertions, it is now: “The sound is already gone forth in the “tops of the mulberry-trees;” and therefore this is the time for us to “bestir ourselves: God is already gone out before us [Note: 2 Samuel 5:24.];” and he will be with us in all that we put our hands unto.]
We conclude with pointing out our duty in reference to this great event;
Let our expectations of it be enlarged—
[St. Paul represents the whole creation as waiting and longing for this blessed period [Note: Romans 8:19-22.]: and shall not we, “we, who already have the first-fruits of the Spirit [Note: Romans 8:23.];” shall not we be expecting this glorious harvest? Shall we not look forward with holy joy to that time when “all the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and of his Christ [Note: Revelation 11:15.]?” O glorious day! The Lord hasten it in his time! — — —]
Let our prayers for it be poured forth—
[We cannot contemplate the universal reign of peace, and love, and holiness, without feeling an ardent desire that it might immediately commence, or without crying unto God, “How long, O Lord, wilt thou not have mercy on the world, against which thou hast had indignation almost six thousand years [Note: Zec 1:12 and Revelation 6:10.]?” Indeed God has particularly commanded that we should pray to him on this subject, and not give him rest, till he arise and answer our petitions [Note: Isaiah 62:1-7.] — — — We are not to imagine, that because the period is fixed in the Divine counsels, it is therefore in vain for us to pray: for God has invariably connected the accomplishment of his promises with the prayers of his people; and however absolute his promises may be, “he will yet be inquired of, to do the things which he has promised [Note: Ezekiel 36:36-37.].”]
Let our exertions be used—
[God works by means: and it is by a blessing upon our efforts that he will accomplish his own gracious purposes. In this view, the answer which he gives to the petitions of his Church on this subject is very remarkable. The Church, in terms the most appropriate that can be imagined, entreats him to arise and execute this great work: “Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord! awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old! &c. &c. [Note: Isaiah 51:9-10.] ” And what is his reply! Does he content himself with renewing his promises to fulfil their desire in due season? No: he says, “Awake, awake! stand up, O Jerusalem [Note: Isaiah 51:17.]!” and again, “Awake, awake! put on thy strength, O Zion! shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem! loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion [Note: Isaiah 52:1-2.]!” And so far is our entire dependence upon him from being a reason for listless inactivity, that it is the strongest reason for putting forth our utmost exertions: we must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure [Note: Philippians 2:12-13.].” Let all of us then awake for the occasion, and inquire, What we can do for the advancement of the Gospel, either at home or abroad! How can we aid the different Societies that are established for these ends? Let us consider our time and our talents, our wealth and our influence, yea, our bodies and our souls, as consecrated to the Lord, and as to be disposed of by him in such a way as shall be most subservient to his glory. Then, if we live not to see the Temple of our God erected, we shall at least have the comfort of having provided materials for it: and at all events we shall secure to ourselves a rich reward; for God himself in our text assures us, that “they shall not be ashamed that wait for him.”]
DESPONDING FEARS REMOVED
Isaiah 49:24-26. Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee: and I will save thy children. And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh: and they shall be drunken with their own blood, as with sweet wine: and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob.
THE human mind is prone to extremes. Before we come into trials, we think them easy to be borne: but, when oppressed with them, we are apt to sink under them as an insupportable burthen. The Jews, previous to their captivity in Babylon, would never believe that such an event could take place: but, when they felt the galling yoke, they could not at all conceive that their Church should ever behold such glorious days as they were encouraged to expect. Certainly, humanly speaking, there was reason enough for them to despair: for they were in a state of the most abject slavery; the people by whom they were enslaved were the most powerful of any upon earth; and they had a consciousness, that they had sold themselves into that very state, by their iniquities. Hence they ask, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?” To this, however, God gives them a most gracious answer, assuring them, that he will interpose effectually in their behalf, and deliver them for his own name’s sake.
But we must not confine the words to the Jewish Church. They may properly be applied to God’s people in all ages; and be considered as representing,
Their desponding fears—
Whilst men are living as without God in the world, they are for the most part unconscious of any danger; or at least they think that they are in no danger from which they may not easily be delivered. But as soon as they are awakened to a sense of their lost condition, they are apt to yield to the most discouraging apprehensions, on account of,
[They see that they have been in a state of captivity all their days, having been taken alive, as it were, by the devil, and been led “captive by him at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26. ἐξωγρημένοι.].” And how shall they ever recover themselves from his snares? He is a god, even “the god of this world,” who “ruleth in all the children of disobedience [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.Ephesians 2:2Ephesians 2:2.].” Shall the prey be taken from one who is so mighty? As well might a lamb hope to deliver itself out of the jaws of a lion, as they to liberate themselves from that “roaring lion who is just ready to devour them [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.]” — — —]
[It is not their misfortune merely, but their fault, that they are in this sad bondage: they have “sold themselves to it by their iniquities [Note: Isaiah 50:1.]:” as Esau bartered away his rights of primogeniture for a mess of pottage [Note: Hebrews 12:16.], so have they their liberty. They have chosen the gratifications of the flesh from the very first moment that they began to net: the indulgence of their corrupt inclinations was more to them than the favour of their God; so that by continual and wilful habits they have confirmed their natural propensities, and riveted the chains which Adam forged. Feeling themselves thus “sold under sin [Note: Romans 7:14.],” and become, as it were, the lawful property of Satan, they ask, “Shall the lawful captive be delivered?” The many acts of wilful transgression by which they have given him a right over them, appear an insurmountable bar to their deliverance, insomuch that the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision scarcely appear in a more hopeless state than they [Note: Ezekiel 37:11.]. In this view of their just desert, they are tempted to say, “There is no hope [Note: Jeremiah 2:25.].”]
These feelings however may well be assuaged by,
The gracious promises of God to them—
It is delightful to observe how directly God meets the wants and wishes of his people: the very language of their fears is here adopted by him, and made the vehicle of his promises to their souls. He engages that,
He himself will interpose for their deliverance—
[In a most wonderful way did he rescue his people from their captivity in Babylon. He raised up against that city an enemy; and, in the precise way that he had foretold, delivered it into his hands, even into the hands of Cyrus, whom he had specified by name above two hundred years before he existed in the world! and by him he dealt to the Babylonians that measure which they had before meted to his people [Note: See Jeremiah 31:0 especially ver. 35, 36, 49, 56.], “feeding them with their own flesh, and making them drunk with their own blood.” And thus “will he bruise Satan also under his people’s feet [Note: Romans 16:20.].” Strong as Satan is, God has raised up against him One stronger than he, who has overcome him, and taken from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and utterly despoiled him [Note: Luke 11:21-22.]. The Lord Jesus “came on purpose to destroy the works of the devil [Note: 1 John 3:8.];” and he did destroy them. “Upon the cross he triumphed over him openly [Note: Colossians 2:15.],” and “by his own death utterly destroyed him,” “and delivered from his power millions whom he had held in the most cruel bondage [Note: Hebrews 2:14-15.].” In his resurrection and ascension “he led captive,” as it were at his chariot wheels, this malignant foe [Note: Ephesians 4:8.]; and has left his people nothing but to triumph over a vanquished enemy [Note: John 16:11.].
Here then is Gods gracious answer to his people’s fears. Are you asking, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? Yes, the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with them that contend with thee, and I will save thy children.” What more than this can any soul desire? for, is not God able to deliver? or will he falsify his word? “Hath he said, and will he not do it? hath he spoken, and will he not make it good?”
But he further promises, that,]
He will glorify himself in their salvation—
[The deliverance of his people from Babylon, and their restoration to their own land, was an event that excited the astonishment of all the surrounding nations: “They saw, and could not but acknowledge, that he was their Saviour and Redeemer, even the Mighty One of Jacob.” His own glory also will he display in the deliverance of his desponding people, as soon as ever they simply and believingly commit their cause to him. In fact, there is not in the whole universe a more striking monument of God’s power than a redeemed soul. “He is a new creation [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:17. Ephesians 2:10.].” And, if it be said, “He is still weak;” true, he is so: but he is “a worm threshing the mountains [Note: Isaiah 41:14-16.];” and “God’s strength shall be perfected in his weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.],” and shall carry him on, though in the midst of the most potent enemies, “from strength to strength, till he shall finally appear before his God in Zion [Note: Psalms 84:7.].” To whatever circumstances he may be reduced by the assaults of men or devils, the Lord Jesus Christ will make them only a more conspicuous occasion for the display of “his own grace, which shall surely be sufficient” for all who trust in it, and shall constrain even their enemies themselves to acknowledge that the power which supports them is divine [Note: Daniel 3:28; Daniel 6:25-27.].]
Here then we see,
What extremes we are to avoid—
[In the concerns of our souls, we should stand at an equal distance from presumption and despondency. It surely can never be right for persons, corrupt as we are, to presume upon salvation, as though it were a blessing easy to be attained. We are in a state of bondage to sin and Satan — — — (To this our whole lives bear witness.) The power of our adversary is such as no human being has within himself an ability to withstand — — — (His victory over our first parents in Paradise is proof enough of this.) Nor, considering how willing servants we have been to the destroyer, have we any just cause to expect the interposition of Jehovah in our behalf. Are we then to be secure and careless, as if we were in no danger? If “the righteous scarcely be saved,” shall we be as much at our ease, as if no effort were necessary to counteract the designs of Satan, and to rescue ourselves from his dominion? No verily: we must “not be high-minded, but fear.”
On the other hand, shall we, because of these difficulties and dangers, give way to a desponding frame? Shall we forget that there is a Saviour, who is both able and willing to deliver us? Justly does God reprove such folly and ingratitude: Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding [Note: Isaiah 40:27-28.].” To entertain such thoughts, is greatly to dishonour God, whose tenderness and fidelity infinitely exceed all that ever existed in a mother’s bosom towards her infant offspring [Note: ver. 11–16]. Whatever therefore be our difficulties or our dangers, we should confide in Him who has undertaken for us that “we shall take those captive whose captives we were, and shall rule over our oppressors [Note: Isaiah 14:2.].”]
What is that happy medium which it becomes us to observe—
[The proper medium is, not to lessen either our fears or our hopes; but to call them forth into united and simultaneous exercise. Instead of attempting to lessen our sense of danger, it is desirable to have it augmented a hundred-fold: because then we shall feel the deeper need of God’s help, and be the more earnest in our prayers to him for it. So again, instead of lowering our expectations from God, we should endeavour to have them also greatly enlarged; because we shall then honour him the more, and go forth with tenfold energy to fight the good fight of faith. This is that union, which, whilst it humbles the sinner, will exalt the Saviour, and lead us, like the heavenly hosts, to fall on our faces before him, at the very time that we are glorying in his salvation [Note: Revelation 5:8.]. This is a point which is never fully understood, but by experience. Those who have never known it by experience, are ready to imagine, that a deep sense of guilt and helplessness will produce discouragement; and that an assured confidence in God will foster pride. But, if both be combined, as they ought to be, in our hearts, we shall possess that most desirable of all attainments, a childlike spirit [Note: Mark 10:15.]. Nothing servile will remain. “The fear that has torment will be swallowed up in love [Note: John 4:18.],” whilst that which flows from love will be in full activity. We shall rejoice evermore in the God of our salvation; but shall “rejoice with trembling [Note: Psalms 2:11.];” not “boasting as if we had put off our armour,” but girding it upon us for fresh encounters, till we have accomplished our warfare, and are crowned with everlasting victory.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter