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Isaiah 52:1-3. Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion: put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city: for henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean. Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion. For thus saith the Lord, Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money.
NOTHING is more common, than for men to cast reflections upon God, when the fault is wholly in themselves. The ungodly world, when urged to devote themselves to God, agreeably to the divine commands, will allege, that those commands are themselves unreasonable, because it is not in their power to obey them. Thus they cast the blame, not on themselves, for the inveteracy of their evil habits and the alienation of their hearts from God, but upon God himself, as requiring so much at their hands. It were well if this disposition were not found also amongst persons professing godliness. But the godly themselves, under the power of temptation, are apt to complain of God, as unwilling to hear their prayer, and to deliver them from their troubles; when, in fact, they neglect to use the means through which alone they are authorized to expect success. This the Jewish Church had done; saying, in a querulous tone, to God, “Awake, awake; put on strength, O arm of the Lord!” But the Lord retorts upon them the accusation, and says, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion!” that is, ‘Do not stand complaining of me, as if I were inattentive to your welfare; but exert the powers which ye have; and, in the diligent use of them, expect my promised blessing.’
The words thus explained will give me a just occasion to observe,
That we should exert ourselves, as if all depended on our own efforts—
To this the Jews were called, in the midst of all their discouragements—
[In the Babylonish captivity, despondency prevailed amongst them, as if it were not possible for them ever to be delivered. But it became them, like Daniel, to study the prophecies relating to their captivity; and, in a state of holy preparation, confidently to expect deliverance at God’s appointed time. “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord; for ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rere-ward [Note: ver. 11, 12.].”
The promise, that “there should no more come into Jerusalem the uncircumcised and the unclean,” evidently directs our minds to a period yet future: for not only was Jerusalem invaded after their return from Babylon, but the very worship of the temple was suspended by Antiochus: their city also, and temple, und polity, were subsequently destroyed by the Romans; and their whole nation have now remained above seventeen hundred years in a state of utter desolation and dispersion. But they must not on that account despond. The prophecies relating to their future restoration shall surely be fulfilled: and it becomes them all to be in a state of holy expectation; just as Abraham was, when, at the distance of two thousand years, “he saw the day of Christ, and rejoiced.” This gives us what I apprehend to be the true view of our text: God directs his complaining people to anticipate with joy that blissful period: “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; (even as a bride expecting the speedy arrival of the bridegroom:) for there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean: (after their restoration, no Chaldean, or other foe, shall ever overwhelm them more.) Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem: loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion.”]
To this also every desponding saint is called—
[There is no condition that can justify a desponding inactivity. The word of God is full of exceeding great and precious promises, which shall all be fulfilled in their season, to those who rely upon them. These we should contemplate: we should treasure them up in our minds: we should plead them before God in prayer: we should expect assuredly the fulfilment of them: however long or dark our night may be, we should look with confidence for the returning light of day: we should know, that “the goings forth of Jehovah” for the salvation of his people “are prepared as the morning;” and that he will appear at the appointed hour. However frequently vanquished by our spiritual foes, we should return to the charge, “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” We should never, for a moment, suffer the thought of our weakness to discourage us: we should rather make it a reason for exertion, in the full confidence, that “when we are weak, then are we strong;” and that “God will perfect his strength in our weakness.” This is the very instruction which an inspired Apostle gives us: “Work out,” says he, “your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure [Note: Philippians 2:12-13.].” The man with the withered hand is a fit example for us to follow. The command given him by our Lord was, “Stretch forth thine hand.” He did not indolently reply, ‘I cannot; but immediately made an effort to comply; and, in the attempt, he was strengthened to perform the deed [Note: Matthew 12:13.]. So would it be with us, if, in Obedience to God’s word, and in dependence on his grace, we addressed ourselves to the duties which we have to perform: “our light would soon rise in obscurity, and our darkness be as the noon-day.” The very exhibition of a lamp from a broken pitcher, if done in faith, should be sufficient to overcome the strongest foe [Note: Judges 7:16-21.].]
From God’s reply to his complaining people we learn,
That we should expect every thing from God, as if there were no need of personal exertions—
Such was the instruction given to the Jews—
[Captives are wont to be redeemed with money. But what prospect had the Jews of being liberated from captivity on such terms as these? They were despoiled of every thing; and had no friend to interpose in their behalf, and to pay a ransom for them. But, says God, “Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ve shall be redeemed without money.” Look back, and see, What did ye ever gain by all the transgressions by which ye provoked me to cast you off? Know then, that as ye never received any thing in return for your souls, so shall ye never be called upon to give any thing for the liberation of them. This was specifically promised; and the very person who should liberate them was proclaimed by name three hundred years before any such person existed in the world [Note: Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:13.]: and it was fulfilled at the time predicted; yea, so literally fulfilled, that not only were they permitted to return to their native land, but means were afforded them for rebuilding their city and temple; and the vessels which had been taken away by the Chaldean monarch, were restored to them, for the service of the sanctuary, and the worship of their God [Note: 2Ch 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:2-11.].
In what precise manner their future restoration shall be accomplished, we do not exactly know: but sure we are, that it shall “not be by price or reward” given to the various potentates who rule over them: no; it shall be in a way not less wonderful than their deliverance from Egypt or from Babylon; a way that shall leave no doubt, upon the minds of any, that the hand of the Lord hath done it [Note: ver. 6.]. To this the whole nation may look forward with confidence; for “the mountains shall depart,” saith God, “and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee; neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord, that hath mercy on thee.”]
Such, too, is the lesson that must be learned by us—
[“We have sold ourselves for nought.” I will appeal to every one amongst you; What have you ever gained by sin? What has the world ever done for you? What have you ever found in it, but “vanity and vexation of spirit?” Truly it may be said of you also, that you have never received any thing in return for your souls. To you also may it be said, that neither are ye called to give any thing for their redemption. The price has been already paid, even “the precious blood of God’s only dear Son, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot [Note: 1 Peter 1:18-19.]:” and all that remains for you is, to receive freely what your God so freely bestows [Note: Romans 3:24.]. The proclamation has gone forth: it is already issued from the court of heaven: the jubilee-trumpet has announced it long: “Shake yourselves from the dust: loose yourselves from the bands of your necks, ye captive daughters of Zion:” return ye, every one, from your sore bondage, and take possession of your forfeited inheritance: receive all the blessings of salvation “freely, without money, and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.].” Sit not, any of you, in a desponding frame, crying, “Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord!” but hear your God saying to you, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and unclean.” Complete deliverance is at hand, for all that truly desire it; for all that are willing to receive it. Do not imagine that it is any mark of humility to doubt: it is no virtue in you; but rather a grievous insult to your God. So God himself represents it: “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. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint [Note: Isaiah 40:27-31.].” As for seeking to justify your despondency. by any peculiarities in your state, it is all folly; it is all impiety; it is all a forgetfulness of God. “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? 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: Isaiah 49:24-25.].” Fear not, then, thou desponding soul; but commit thy cause to God: and know assuredly, that the more simple thine affiance is in him, and the more confident thine expectation of his effectual help, the more speedy and manifest shall be his interpositions in thy behalf. Only believe in him; and he will glorify himself in thy complete and everlasting deliverance.]
THE NATURE OF THE GOSPEL
Isaiah 52:7. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!
IN order to understand the prophetic writings, we must always bear in mind that they have a spiritual or mystical sense, as well as a plain and literal one. The words before us, in their primary meaning, evidently refer to the joy with which the proclamation of Cyrus, when he permitted the captive Jews to return from Babylon to their native country, would be received. But they certainly relate also to the deliverance announced to us under the Gospel-dispensation; for it is in this view that they are quoted by the Apostle Paul [Note: Romans 10:15.]. We shall take occasion from them to shew,
What the Gospel is—
It is described with sufficient accuracy in the text: it is,
A proclamation of “peace and salvation” to man—
[The Gospel supposes men to have offended God, and to be obnoxious to his everlasting displeasure. It further supposes that they have no way of conciliating the Divine favour, or of warding off the stroke of his indignation. Coming to men in this helpless and hopeless state, it publisheth tidings of peace and salvation: it represents sin as expiated by the atoning blood of Jesus; and God as reconciled to all who will trust in his meritorious and all-prevailing sacrifice. This is the view which St. Paul himself gives us of the Gospel; in preaching of which Gospel ministers resemble the messengers sent to Babylon, who had nothing to do but to proclaim a full and free deliverance to the wretched captives [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.].]
A declaration of Christ’s power and grace—
[The Chaldeans, who so grievously oppressed their Jewish captives, may justly represent to us the bitter and tyrannical dominion of sin and Satan: and Cyrus, who, without fee or reward, liberated them from their bondage, may be considered as the agent and representative of the Deity. As therefore the messengers would not fail to remind the Jews, that Cyrus, the one author of their happiness, would continue to them his protection and favour while they maintained their allegiance to him; so, in preaching the Gospel, we are to declare, that Christ, to whom we owe the beginnings of our liberty, will complete our deliverance, and continue to us all the tokens of his love, provided we yield him, as we are in duty bound, a willing and unreserved obedience. Thus did Christ himself preach the Gospel, saying. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [Note: Compare Mark 1:14-15. with Matthew 4:17.].]
If we view the Gospel in this light, we shall see immediately,
That it is a ground of joy—
By a beautiful figure, the very steps of the messenger hastening over the distant mountains are represented as inspiring us with joy. That the Gospel itself is a source of joy, appears in that,
It has been considered so from the first moment of its promulgation—
[Abraham, two thousand years before its promulgation, rejoiced exceedingly in a distant prospect of it [Note: John 8:56.]. At the birth of Jesus, our deliverer, a host of angels congratulated the world, saying, “Behold, we bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord [Note: Luk 2:10-11].” As soon as ever the full effects of the Gospel came to be experienced, the converts, filled with every malignant temper just before, were filled with joy, and “ate their bread with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God [Note: Acts 2:46-47.].” No sooner was the Gospel preached in Samaria, than “there was great joy in that city:” and, the instant that the eunuch had embraced it, “he went on his way rejoicing [Note: Acts 8:8; Acts 8:39.].” Thus it is at this day a healing balm and a reviving cordial to all who understand and receive it.]
It is in itself well calculated to create joy in our hearts—
[Let but its blessings be felt, and it will be impossible not to rejoice. Did the Jews exult at a deliverance from a cruel yoke, and a restoration to their native country? How much more must a sinner rejoice at his deliverance from death and hell, and his restoration to the forfeited inheritance of heaven! The transports of joy manifested by the cripple whom Peter and John had healed, were the natural effusions of a grateful heart: we should have wondered if he had not so expressed the feelings of his soul [Note: Acts 3:8.]: but he had received no benefit in comparison of that which the believer enjoys when he first embraces the Gospel of Christ. Hence our prophet represents the Gospel as invariably producing such sensations as the husbandman feels when bringing home the fruits of the field, or the soldier when dividing the spoils of victory [Note: Isaiah 9:3; Isaiah 9:6.].]
It is, and ever will be, the one subject of thanksgiving in the realms of glory—
[The glorified saints never have their attention diverted from it for one single moment: day and night are they singing to him who loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood [Note: Revelation 1:5-6.]. And though the angels are less interested in this subject, because they never needed redeeming grace, yet do they join the general chorus, ascribing honour and glory to him that sitteth on the throne, and to the Lamb for ever. Nor will they ever be weary of this subject; such an inexhaustible fund is it of light, and happiness, and glory.]
How strange is it that the Gospel should be treated with indifference!
[That it is so treated, needs no proof: but how amazing that it should ever be slighted by those to whom it is sent! that condemned criminals should disregard the offers of pardon sent them by their prince! O that there might be no more occasion for that complaint, “Who hath believed our report?” Let the very feet of the messengers who bring the tidings be henceforth beautiful in our eyes.]
Of what importance is it to distinguish between mere morality, and the Gospel of Christ!
[Lectures upon honesty would administer but little comfort to a person about to be executed for breaking the laws of his country: nor can mere discourses on morality administer much comfort to a self-condemning sinner: and if he mistake such discourses for the Gospel, he is fatally deceived. The Gospel is a full and free offer of salvation through the blood of Christ: and this is glad tidings indeed; like “rivers of water in a dry place, or a shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” O that all who are ambassadors of God may remember the great scope of their ministry, and testify the Gospel of the grace of God! And let all who hear the joyful sound, improve the day of their visitation: blessed are they if they receive the truth in the love thereof; but most aggravated will be their condemnation if they despise the mercy so freely offered them.]
THE SAINT’S VISION OF CHRIST
Isaiah 52:8. They shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.
EXCEEDINGLY strong and animated are the descriptions given us, in the prophetic writings, respecting the return of the Jews from Babylon [Note: Read the first three verses of this chapter.] — — — And in that event is God represented as to be preeminently glorified [Note: ver. 6. with chap. 60:21.]. But we must not, in reading these glowing passages, confine our attention to that one event: we must bear in mind, that it was altogether typical of our deliverance by Christ; and we must therefore regard it in that view, comprehending under its vivid representations that infinitely greater redemption which it was intended to prefigure. In truth, to understand the prophecies aright, we must remember that they contain, in general, a primary and a secondary sense; primary, as having a literal fulfilment; and secondary, as having a mystical accomplishment under the Christian dispensation. By the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, God’s glory was made to appear: but it was more clearly seen in the apostolic age; and will be yet more fully manifested at the latter day. Those periods, it is true, in respect of time, are far asunder: but in respect of purpose they are one; and may be considered, therefore, as declaring one great event, in its commencement, its progress, and its completion. It is in that view that I enter upon the passage before us: from which I shall take occasion to shew you,
The views which men had of Christ under the Mosaic economy—
Certainly, under the Mosaic dispensation, their views of Christ were very indistinct—
[True it is, that Christ was then prefigured in his person, work, and offices. It may well be doubted whether there was so much as a pin in the tabernacle which did not correspond with something in Christ; or whether there was any thing in Christ which was not prefigured: for God gave to Moses a model; and agreeably to “that pattern shewn him in the mount,” was every thing made. Still, however, the Mosaic ritual was only a shadow: and, as a shadow will give but a very imperfect conception of a man, especially in his intellectual and moral powers, so did the laws of Moses give a very inadequate representation of Christ, and of the salvation which he was to work out for us. It was to intimate this, that Moses put a veil on his face when he spake to the people under his charge [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:13.]: and even the best informed of the prophets themselves were far from comprehending the full import of what they conveyed to us [Note: 1 Peter 1:10; 1 Peter 1:12.]. Doubtless “Abraham saw the day of Christ, and rejoiced in the sight [Note: John 8:56.];” but still both he and all his posterity saw but little, in comparison of what was afterwards revealed to Moses and the prophets: and the prophets themselves, yea, and even John the Baptist, who was the greatest of them all, were inferior in knowledge to the least and meanest of the followers of Christ [Note: Matthew 11:11.].]
The deliverance from Babylon added but little to the knowledge which the Law conveyed—
[That event indeed, duly considered, would serve to throw light upon our redemption by Christ; and more especially in the view in which it is foretold in the preceding context: “Thus saith the Lord: Ye have sold yourselves for nought; and ye shall be redeemed without money [Note: ver. 3.].” And, as we shall see presently, it was intended to shadow forth that stupendous effort of God’s mercy and love. But still, the temporal blessing that was then imparted, so occupied the minds of all who partook of it, as to swallow up every consideration of the spiritual benefits which the temporal deliverance was ordained to prefigure.]
But men’s views of Christ will be found greatly enlarged, if we consider,
Those which were vouchsafed to them in the apostolic age—
The passage manifestly refers to that period—
[In the verse preceding our text, the prophet, seeing, as it were, his prediction already carried into effect, exclaims, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good; that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth [Note: ver. 7.].” And this very passage does St. Paul quote, as fulfilled, under the Christian dispensation, by those who preach the Gospel of Christ [Note: Romans 10:15.]. This shews clearly, that the one event was typical of the other; and that we must look to the Christian dispensation for the accomplishment of the prediction before us. Indeed, it is under the Christian dispensation alone that God does “bring again Zion” to the state from which it had fallen through the apostasies of his unbelieving and gainsaying people.]
Then was Christ seen, comparatively, “eye to eye,” and face to face—
[He did assume our nature, and tabernacle amongst men. And though his appearance was mean, even like “a root out of a dry ground [Note: Isaiah 53:2.],” yet to a chosen few he revealed himself in a more especial manner, as “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person [Note: Hebrews 1:3.].” On one occasion he was transfigured before them, “shining forth as the sun” in its meridian lustre [Note: Matthew 17:2.]: to which event St. Peter refers, when he says, “We were eye-witnesses of his Majesty [Note: 2 Peter 1:16.].” Indeed, his disciples generally “beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father [Note: John 1:14.].” Not that they fully understood his character and mission, until the day of Pentecost: but when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, then they saw him to be indeed “the Son of God, the Saviour of the world [Note: 1 John 4:14.].” They had seen him, and conversed familiarly with him after his resurrection, for the space of forty days; and had now received the promised effusion of the Holy Ghost; so that there remained no longer any doubt upon their minds: and hence St. John, speaking of him as the incarnate “Word,” the eternal Son of God, says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled of the Word of life …. that which we have seen and heard, declare wo unto you …. And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full [Note: 1 John 1:1-4.].” How clear their knowledge was, in comparison of that which men possessed under the Mosaic economy, will be seen to advantage by reading the Epistle to the Hebrews; where the whole of his work and offices, as depicted in the ceremonial law, is fully developed and explained. Hence, then, it was justly said by St. Paul, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him: but God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.].”]
We must however, for the full understanding of the text and views which are there spoken of, we must, I say, look forward to,
Those which shall be enjoyed in the latter day—
To this period our text has a still further reference—
[Doubtless many of the Jews were converted to Christ, and many of the Gentiles also, through the ministry of the Apostles: but the bulk of the Jewish nation rejected their testimony, as did the great mass also of the Gentile world: so that Zion still needs to be “brought again,” no less than at the first promulgation of Christianity. It cannot yet be said that “the Lord hath made bare his arm in the eyes of all the nations, and that all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God [Note: ver. 10.].” But that period shall arrive, as the prophet has said; and then only shall my text be fully accomplished.]
Then, indeed, shall men behold our Lord “eye to eye”—
[Some have thought that Christ will appear again personally upon earth, and be seen amongst his followers. Certainly, if that should be, our text will then receive a most remarkable accomplishment, But without determining any thing respecting that, one thing is clear; namely, there will be a vast increase of light bestowed upon the Church in that day; insomuch, that “the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of his people, and healeth the stroke of their wound [Note: Isaiah 30:26.].” We know that there is a veil upon our hearts when we read the word and attend upon God’s ordinances; and that, for the most part, it is on some particular occasions only that Christ appears to us in his glory, and manifests himself to us in all the wonders of his love. But in that day this will be a common occurrence amongst all the members of his Church; for “the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea [Note: Habakkuk 2:14.].” And so glorious will be the discoveries vouchsafed to them, that “the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and before his ancients, gloriously [Note: Isaiah 24:23.].” Then shall be fulfilled what St. John has spoken in the book of Revelation: “There shall be no more curse in the Church; but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him: and they shall see hit face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 22:3-5.].”]
And now let me ask,
What views of Christ have you?
[St. Paul speaks of Christ as “revealed in him [Note: Galatians 1:16.]:” and such is the revelation which we also must have, if ever we would partake of his saving benefits. That he has been revealed to us in the word, will only tend to our heavier condemnation, if “an understanding be not given us, that we may know him;” and a vital power also communicated, “that we may be in him,” as branches of the living vine [Note: 1 John 5:20.]. O Brethren, rest not in a head-knowledge of the Saviour; but beg of God that he would pour out upon you the Holy Spirit, as “a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; that the eyes of your understanding being enlightened [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.],” you may know him in all “his excellency and glory [Note: Isaiah 35:2.].” It is the Spirit’s office to glorify Christ; and to take of the things that are his, and to “shew them unto you [Note: John 16:14.].” Pray ye therefore, without ceasing, that God, of his infinite mercy, would give you his Holy Spirit, and, through his divine agency, impart to you that “knowledge of Christ in which alone consists eternal life [Note: John 17:3.].”]
What effect has your knowledge of Christ produced upon you?
[From my text we may learn, that, in proportion as we see Christ “eye to eye,” we may hope, both in our individual and collective capacity, to be restored to God. And to the same effect says St. Paul; “We all, with open and unveiled face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].” Now what know you, Brethren, of this experience? It is not the Law, with its terrors, that can ever effect this: no, nor can a desire of heaven give us a sufficient stimulus, or obtain for us so rich a benefit. Nothing but a sight of Christ can transform the soul into his likeness. Even in heaven this assimilating efficacy is felt and acknowledged: for we there “shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is [Note: 1 John 3:2.].” Study, then, I pray you, his glorious character: survey him diligently, as he is revealed in the word: and cease not to contemplate the wonders of his love, till, “by comprehending the breadth and length and depth and height of it,” as far as such an incomprehensible subject can be known, “you be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].”]
CHRIST REWARDED FOR HIS SERVICES
Isaiah 52:13. Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.
IN the writings of Moses, the enjoyment of the land of Canaan was held forth as the great incentive to obedience; and spiritual blessings were but obscurely intimated. But in the prophetic writings, the greatest of temporal blessings were promised rather as pledges of infinitely richer benefits, which they typically represented: and frequently the very language in which they were promised, clearly shewed, that their mystical sense was, in fact, the most literal. Sometimes, as in the prophecy before us, the inspired writer entirely loses sight of all temporal considerations, and is wholly wrapt up in the contemplation of that spiritual kingdom, which the Messiah was in due season to erect. From the redemption of the Jews out of their captivity in Babylon, he goes on to speak of a more glorious redemption to be effected for all the nations of the world from the dominion of sin and Satan, of death and hell. The means of its accomplishment are described at large from this verse to the end of the following chapter. The Messiah, by whom it was to be effected, is set forth in all that variety of character which he was to assume, and in those diversified states of humiliation and glory which he was to pass through, in order to fulfil the work assigned him. That a passage so decisive for the establishment of Christianity should be wrested by the Jews, and be applied to any one rather than to Christ, is nothing more than what might be expected. But so harsh and incongruous are their interpretations, that they need only to be stated, and the absurdity of them immediately appears. Besides, the numerous applications of this prophecy to Christ, which occur in the New Testament, leave us no room to doubt respecting its true import. The portion, which now demands our attention, declares to us,
The success with which he executed the work assigned him—
The office which Christ sustained was that of a “servant.” He was to do his Father’s will, to seek his Father’s glory, and to advance the interests of his Father’s kingdom. On this account the Scriptures frequently speak of him as a servant: “Behold my servant whom I uphold;” “by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;” “I will bring forth my servant the Branch [Note: Isaiah 42:1; Isa 53:11 and Zechariah 3:8.].” Our Lord himself also often speaks of himself under this character: “I have not spoken of myself, says he, but the Father who sent me, he gave me a commandment what I should say, and what I should speak [Note: John 12:49.].” In above thirty other passages in St. John’s gospel he represents himself as sent by the Father, and as receiving a commandment from him. We must not, however, conceive from hence that he is only a creature; for though in his official capacity he was inferior to the Father, in his own nature he was equal to the Father, as St. Paul tells us; “He was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant [Note: Philippians 2:6-7.].”
Christ’s work as a servant was, to reveal the Father’s will to mankind, to make atonement for their sins, and to reduce them to a state of holy obedience; or, in other words, to execute the offices of a prophet, a priest, and a king, in compliance with the Father’s appointment, and in subserviency to his honour. Now that he delivered his doctrines in the capacity of a servant, is evident from his own repeated confessions; “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me:” “Whatsoever I speak, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak [Note: John 7:16; Joh 12:50].” It was also in obedience to his Father’s will that he offered himself a sacrifice for sin. Our Lord himself says, “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I might take it again: no man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again: this commandment have I received of the Father [Note: John 10:17-18.]:” and St. Paul also says, that “being found in fashion as a man, he became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross [Note: Philippians 2:8.].” Thus also in the manifold exercises of his regal power, whether he cured diseases, rectified abuses, or forgave sins, he acted by an authority delegated to him for that purpose. When, at the very beginning of his ministry he took the sacred volume into his hands to read out of it to the people in the synagogue, he selected this passage, which fully declared to them by what authority he acted; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted:” and at another time he told his disciples, that “the Father had appointed unto him a kingdom.” Thus plain is it, that whether he executed the office of a prophet, priest, or king, he acted in the capacity of a servant.
In the whole of his work he prospered. The text says, “My servant shall deal prudently;” but in the margin of the Bible it is put, “shall prosper.” This rendering of the word seems rather better to agree with the context, and with that expression in the following chapter, “the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.” The very same word also is used in reference to Christ by Jeremiah, where our translators have given this sense to it; “I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper [Note: Jeremiah 23:5.].” Let us view this servant of Jehovah in the various offices he performed, and we shall see that he prospered in them all. Was he teaching the people? behold, what wonderful things he brought to light; things, which from eternity had been hidden in the bosom of the Father! How did the clouds of ignorance and superstition vanish before him! the corrupt glosses, with which the Jewish doctors had obscured the law, were refuted: the truths of God were established on the firmest basis; the most subtle objectors were put to silence; the most ignorant were instructed in the deepest mysteries; and all, with such condescension, such ease, such wisdom, and such authority, that his very enemies were constrained to say, “Never man spake like this man.” Was he setting up his kingdom? he rejected with disdain the pomp of earthly monarchs, and laid the foundations of his throne in the hearts of his people. Nor did he bring any into subjection by outward force: a single word was sufficient to subdue the stoutest heart. If he said to Matthew, “Follow me,” not all the wealth of kingdoms could detain the willing captive. If he said, “Come down, Zaccheus,” behold, a covetous extortioner is instantly transformed into a benevolent and obedient servant. Whomsoever he would, he called: and such was the constraining power of his voice, that, without hesitation, they left all that they had, and followed him. And though he commanded his subjects to make no account even of their own lives when standing in competition with his will, and promised them nothing but poverty and persecution in this world, yet they all delighted in his law, and gloried in the cross for his sake. So entirely did they yield up themselves to him, that opposition served but to rivet their affections to him, and to confirm them in their determination to live and die in his service. Did he expiate his people’s sins? behold, there was not any thing wanting either to complete his obedience, or to fill up the measure of his sufferings. He “fulfilled all righteousness,” even though by so doing he made himself appear to be a sinner like unto us: he not only was circumcised by his parents, but voluntarily submitted to the ordinance of baptism, as though he had needed it for the washing away of his own iniquities. Nor was there any kind of suffering which he did not endure, that he might fully expiate our guilt by bearing in our stead all that our sins had merited. He never ceased from his labours, till he could say in reference to all that he had undertaken to do or suffer for us, “It is finished.”
But must we confine our views of his success to past or future times? Are there not many living witnesses of his power and grace? Is he not teaching some amongst us by his good Spirit, and “revealing unto babes the things that are hidden from the wise and prudent?” Do not many of us also experience the virtue of his blood, and reap the fruits of his continual intercession? Is not his almighty arm yet stretched out to deliver us from our spiritual enemies, and to bring our hearts into captivity to his will? Wherever there is one who is brought out of darkness into marvellous light, one who enjoys peace with God through the blood of sprinkling, and whose corruptions are mortified through the influence of divine truth, there is a monument of our Lord’s success, “an epistle of Christ known and read of all men.”
We might further illustrate his success by enumerating the benefits which his mediation has procured: but as these constituted a part of that reward which was conferred on him, we shall wave the mention of them in this place, and proceed to consider,
The recompence that was awarded him for his fidelity—
Our Lord, as a servant, “had respect unto the recompence of reward:” “for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross and despised the shame.” Nor was this reward withheld from him, when he had finished his work. St. Paul tells us expressly, that his resurrection and consequent ascension are to be regarded in this view: “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; therefore God hath highly exalted him.” Of this also the prophet spake in the words before us: “he shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high.” Whether the prophet meant to point out three different steps of our Lord’s advancement, we cannot positively say: but his words may well bear that interpretation; “he shall be exalted” by God to a throne of glory; “he shall be extolled” by men with adoration and thanksgiving; and he shall “be very high,” reigning as Head over men and angels for ever and ever. In this view his advancement may be considered as immediate, progressive, final.
His immediate advancement consisted in his resurrection from the dead, and his elevation to the right hand of the Majesty on high, according to what is said by the Apostle; “God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” He, who left his glory for our good, resumed it again; and his human nature is made to participate his glory: yes; that very body, which endured fatigue and hunger, which was torn with scourges, and pierced with nails, which agonized in the garden, and expired on the cross, is now at the right hand of God in the highest seat of dignity and honour. That human soul also, that once was harassed with the temptations of Satan, and that endured the wrath of a sin-avenging God, is now assumed into such an union with the godhead, as to be exalted infinitely above the highest archangel. It is in his human nature that the brightest effulgence of the Deity is seen: so that, while he appears as a lamb that has been slain, he is the very joy and glory of heaven, the sun that illumines the regions of the blest; “the glory of God doth lighten them, and the Lamb is the light thereof.”
And who does not rejoice that the Saviour should be thus glorified? Who does not even leap for joy at the thought, that he, who loved us unto death, should be thus exalted far above all principalities and powers? Surely, independent of the interest which we ourselves have in his advancement, we ought to be exceeding glad that our greatest friend and benefactor should be thus gloriously rewarded.
The next, and more remote step of his advancement was, the progressive extending of his kingdom throughout the earth. It is true that, in a very short space of time, there were thousands of souls subjected to his dominion; and gradually his empire was enlarged among the Gentile world: multitudes in every place took, as it were, an oath of allegiance to him, and were made willing even to lay down their lives for his sake. But yet his kingdom has hitherto been only partially established: there is a time coming when, in the most literal sense, that prophecy of Daniel shall be accomplished, and “there shall be given him dominion and glory, and a kingdom; and all people, nations, and languages shall serve him.” This methinks is that prospect, to which our Lord looked forward, with peculiar delight as to “the joy set before him.” When he shall see the whole human race bowing before his footstool, and hear them “extolling” and magnifying his name, he will look back upon the travail of his soul with pleasure and satisfaction, and account himself amply recompensed for all that he has done and suffered.
O that this glorious season might speedily begin; that his kingdom might come, and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven! But if we be not favoured to behold this period, let us at least make him the most acceptable return we can for his kindness, by devoting ourselves to his service, and endeavouring to bring others to the obedience of faith.
The final step of his advancement will be, when he shall come again to judge the world, and reign over his elect for ever and ever. What he has already received is only a pledge and earnest of what he will hereafter enjoy. At a future period, fixed in the divine counsels, but known to no creature either in heaven or earth, he is to come in his own glory, and in the glory of his Father, surrounded with all the holy angels. He is then to summon the whole universe before him: all, in one vast assembly, will stand at his tribunal, and be judged by him according to their works: those that were his enemies, and would not that he should reign over them, he will cast, together with the fallen angels, into the lake of fire; but his faithful servants he will take, together with the holy angels, to dwell with him, that they may be one fold under one shepherd for evermore. His mediatorial office indeed he will then lay down, as having no more need to exercise it; and in this sense, “he will deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father, that God may be all in all.” But he will not cease to reign as a king over his people; for the prophet expressly says, that “of his kingdom there shall be no end.” To all eternity therefore will he be the Head of the church; to all eternity the one source of their joy, the one object of their adoration. As the glorified saints and angels are already singing, so will they never cease to sing, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, and wisdom and strength, and glory and honour and blessing; therefore blessing and honour, and glory and power be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.”
In improving this subject, we shall find abundant matter of reproof to the ungodly, of encouragement to the humble, and of direction to all.
Reproof to the ungodly—
On the most diligent inquiry into the life and conduct of our Lord, we shall find that he omitted nothing that was necessary for the effecting of our reconciliation with God. Yet how ill is he requited by the generality of mankind I Notwithstanding he has come down from heaven for our salvation, and accomplished the work which had been given him to do, the ungodly world will scarcely bestow a thought upon him. Instead of “exalting” him in their minds, and “extolling” him with their lips, and setting him “very high” in their affections, they regard him little more, than if all that is related of him were a mere fable. Every earthly vanity can fix their attention, and engage their favour; but he, whose condescension and grace have filled all heaven with wonder, can attract no notice. What base ingratitude is this on the part of man! What is it but practically to deny the Redeemer’s excellency, and to frustrate, as far as in us lies, the purposes of God respecting him? It is, in fact, to say that, whatever reward God has decreed to give him for his services, he shall receive no part of it from us. And who amongst us has not been guilty of this conduct? Who has not passed months and years without any admiration of his love, any zeal for his honour? If he were as much forgotten by all, as he has been by the generality, his very name would soon be put out of remembrance. What more awful proof of our fallen nature can we have; what greater evidence of our apostasy from God? “If God were our Father, we should love Christ; if we were true believers, he would be precious to our souls.” And if God has said that “all who forget him shall be turned into hell,” shall our forgetfulness of his dear Son involve us in no danger? Is it without reason that the Apostle asks, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” Surely if we exalt him not willingly, he shall be exalted against our will; for “he will reign, till he has put every enemy under his feet.” If we will not bow to the sceptre of his grace, we shall be broken in pieces with the rod of his indignation.
Encouragement to the humble—
They who are humbly endeavouring to serve God, may, on the other hand, derive from this subject much comfort and encouragement. As Christ was, so are all his followers, servants of the most high God. Like him too, in spite of men and devils, they prosper in their work. And is there no reward prepared for them? Shall they not, like him, be exalted to thrones of glory? Shall they not be extolled by men, as the excellent of the earth; and by God, as good and faithful servants? Shall they not be very high, even “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ?” Yes; God is not ashamed to be called their God: and, as soon as they have overcome, they shall be carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom, and inherit the glory prepared for them. Let the believer then look forward to the recompence of reward. Let him rest assured that the felicity which awaits him will abundantly compensate his labours and sufferings in the pursuit of it: let him “be faithful unto death, and God will give him a crown of life.” In the meantime, however, they who expect the wages, must be careful to execute the work assigned them. They must “deal prudently,” that they may prosper; and “prosper,” that they may obtain the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give them. But it is not in their own strength that they are to proceed, but in the strength of their exalted Saviour; of him, who, having endured the same trials, can sympathize with them; and, having all power in heaven and in earth committed to him, can succour them. To him then let every eye be directed; to him, in whom all fulness is deposited, and our life itself is hid: and “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.”
Direction to all—
While the words before us prophetically declare what Christ shall receive as the reward of his labours, they serve as a direction to every one that names the name of Christ: they virtually enjoin us to pay him the tribute which is so justly due. “What shall I render unto the Lord,” was the reflection that inspired the breast of David on a review of the mercies which he had experienced. And can we call to mind what our blessed Lord has done, and is yet doing, for our salvation, and not feel the liveliest emotions of gratitude in our hearts? Are we not constrained to break forth in the language of the Psalmist, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; bless the Lord, O my soul, and let all that is within me bless his holy name?” Yes; “let us abundantly utter the memory of his great goodness, and sing of his praise without ceasing.” It is the most reasonable, and surely the most delightful, of all duties to exalt his name, and magnify it with thanksgiving. Let this then be the disposition of our minds, and the practice of our lives. Let us say, “Awake up, my glory, awake, lute and harp, I myself will awake right early;” “I will sing of his righteousness all the day long;” “I will praise his name while I have my being.” Then, at whatever period we shall be summoned into his immediate presence, we shall change our place, but not our employment; for the song, which we began on earth, shall be continued by us to all eternity: “To him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God, and the Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
THE DEPTH OF OUR SAVIOUR’S HUMILIATION
Isaiah 52:14-15.—As many were astonished at thee [Note: Should be “him,” Bishop Lowth.]; (his visage was so marred, more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:) so shall he sprinkle many nations.
OF all the subjects that ever engaged the attention of the human mind, there is none so important as that which the prophet is now opening: the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament are full of it: it was exhibited in the first promise that was given to man after his fall: it was continued from that period with increasing clearness in the prophecies: it was set before the eyes of men in the sacrifices that were offered: and memorials of it are yet preserved in all Christian churches in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. Our Lord himself frequently introduced it in his discourses: it was the one topic of conversation when he talked with Moses and Elias on the mount of transfiguration. The Apostles in their sermons and epistles represent it as the foundation of all their hopes. Paul found it to be such an irresistable weapon, and so mighty to destroy the strong holds of sin and Satan, that he determined to know nothing among his people but Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is that mystery, in which are contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. It is so extensive a field for meditation, that, though we traverse it ever so often, we need never resume the same track: and it is such a marvellous fountain of blessedness to the soul, that, if we have ever drunk of its refreshing streams, we shall find none other so pleasant to our taste; or rather, we shall never wish to taste any other. To the consideration of this subject, we are immediately led by the words before us, in which we may observe both our Lord’s unparalleled humiliation, and the ends for which he submitted to it.
His unparalleled humiliation—
In order to mark this the more distinctly, we will briefly notice the different steps of it from his cradle to his grave. Notwithstanding he was the Creator of the universe, he had no fitter place for his reception than a stable, no better accommodation than a manger: nor had he long made his appearance in the world before his life was sought, and he was driven a fugitive from his native country. Till the age of thirty his occupation was that of a carpenter, at which business he worked with his reputed father. And during the four last years of his life, nothing could exceed the contempt and ignominy with which he was treated. He was called a deceiver, a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber: he was said to be in league with Satan himself: and the people thought they spake well and properly concerning him, when they said, He hath a devil, and is mad [Note: John 8:48.]: yea, they even called him Beelzebub, the prince of the devils [Note: Matthew 10:25.]. But, most of all, when the time of his crucifixion drew nigh, then all ranks of people seemed to vie with each other in insulting him. They arrayed him in mock majesty with a purple robe, a crown of thorns on his head, and a reed or cane in his hand for a sceptre. They spat on him, they smote him, they plucked off his beard, according to that prediction, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; I hid not my face from shame and spitting [Note: Isaiah 50:6.].” Nor was this the conduct of a few only: for he was universally execrated; he was considered as “a worm and no man, the very scorn of men, and the outcast of the people:” he was “one, whom man despised, and whom the nation abhorred.” Having loaded him with all manner of indignities, and “plowed up his back with scourges, so as to make long furrows” in it, they nailed him to the cross, and left him to hang there, till exhausted nature should sink under the torments inflicted on him.
But, as others of mankind have been called to endure many things, let us particularly notice wherein his sufferings were unparalleled; for it is certain that “his visage was marred more than any man’s.” And here we shall find that both in variety and intenseness, they infinitely surpassed all that ever were sustained by any human being. In his civil state, as a member of society, he was degraded so low, that even a murderer was preferred before him. In his natural state, as a man, he was eminently distinguished above all the human race as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He suffered much in his body, from labours, watchings, fastings; from the want even of a place where to lay his head; from the wounds made in it from head to foot, by the thorns, the scourges, and the nails. We may judge of this by what is said of him in the Psalms; “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax, it is melted in the midst of my bowels: my strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death [Note: Psalms 22:14-15.].” The troubles of his soul were yet greater still. Of these he himself frequently complained: “Now is my soul troubled; my soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.” To such a degree was he agitated by internal conflicts, that, before he was even apprehended by his enemies, he was in an agony, and sweat great drops of blood from every pore of his body. Moreover, as his sufferings were thus various, so did they also spring from a variety of sources, from men, from devils, and from God himself. Men laboured to the utmost to torment him by calumnies and reproaches, by taunts and revilings, and by all the cruelties that the most inveterate malice could devise and execute. Satan assaulted him with fiery temptations in the wilderness; and all the powers of darkness conflicted with him at the close of life. His heavenly Father too hid his face from him in the hour of his greatest extremity, and “bruised him” for the iniquities of his people, and called forth the sword of vengeance to slay “the man that was his fellow [Note: Zechariah 13:7.].”
Together with this variety of sufferings, let us take a view also of their intenseness. In drinking this bitter cup, he found nothing to mitigate his sorrows, but every thing to aggravate them to the uttermost. If we except the sympathy of a few women, he met with nothing but scorn and contempt from all who beheld him. Not even his beloved disciples afforded him any comfort; on the contrary, he was betrayed by one, denied by another, and forsaken by all. All orders and degrees of men were alike inveterate and devoid of mercy. Of this he himself complains by the prophet, “I looked for some to take pity on me, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none; they gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink [Note: Psalms 69:20-21.].” When, in the depth of his dereliction he cried, “Eli, Eli! lama sabacthani? My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” so far from pitying, they, with unexampled cruelty, played or punned, as it were, upon his words, and mocked him as idolatrously calling upon Elias, instead of upon God; and, when he complained of thirst, they gave him vinegar, to increase his anguish, instead of a draught calculated to assuage it. Nor did he receive consolation from God, any more than pity from men. On the contrary, his heavenly Father now hid his face from him, and thereby extorted from him that bitter complaint which we have just recited. The united efforts of men and devils could not shake his constancy: but the hidings of his Father’s face seemed more than he could endure; so painful was it to find an estrangement there, where he could alone look for comfort and support. There were many things also which concurred to aggravate his sufferings beyond measure. It is not improbable that the perfection of his nature rendered him more susceptible of pain than other men: but however this might be, certainly his zeal for God must have given a tenfold poignancy to all his anguish. Consider that immaculate Lamb tempted by Satan to distrust his Father’s care, and turn the stones into bread for his support; then to presume upon his Father’s care, and cast himself down from a pinnacle of the temple; and then to deny his Father altogether, and to worship the devil in preference to him; how horrible must such suggestions be to his holy soul! Peculiar stress is laid on this by the Apostle, who says, “He suffered, being tempted:” and we are told, he was so distressed by the conflict, that an angel was sent from heaven to strengthen him. The dereliction also before mentioned, must have been afflictive in proportion to the regard which he bore towards his heavenly Father. His love for men must also have been a source of inconceivable trouble to his mind. If “Lot vexed his righteous soul from day to day;” and David had “rivers of waters running down his eyes;” and Isaiah exclaimed, “Look away from me, I will weep bitterly, labour not to comfort me;” and Jeremiah cried, “My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart;” on account of the ungodliness they beheld, and the consequences they foresaw; what must Jesus have felt when he saw, not only the wickedness of men’s actions, but all the enmity of their hearts against God, and knew the full extent of those judgments which were soon to come upon them? How must the pride of the Pharisees, the unbelief of the Sadducees, the cruelty of the Herodians, and the stupidity of his own disciples wound his soul! The foresight which he had of his own sufferings must have been a still further aggravation of them. In many instances the expectation of pain is even worse than the pain itself; what then must he have endured, when, from the very beginning, he foresaw every thing that should come upon him! To complete the whole, the accumulation of all his sorrows at once must have added so greatly to their weight, that, if he had not been God as well as man, he could never have sustained the load.
See then whether “the visage of any man was ever so marred as his?” Others, if they have been tried in body, have had comfort in their soul: if they have been persecuted by man, they have received succour from God: or if their trials have been of a diversified nature, still they have found some to commiserate, and, by a tender sympathy at least, to participate their lot: but he trod the wine-press of God’s wrath alone, and drank, even to the dregs, that cup of bitterness, which the sins of the whole world had prepared for him, and which could not be removed consistently with God’s honour and man’s salvation. Well therefore may we put into his mouth those words of the prophet, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger [Note: Lamentations 1:12.].” Well too, as the text observes, might “many be astonished at him;” for whether we consider the innocence of him on whom these sufferings were inflicted, or the greatness of him who submitted to them, or his meekness and patience in enduring them, we are equally lost in wonder and astonishment.
Upon a view of our Lord’s unparalleled humiliation, we are naturally led to inquire into,
The end for which he submitted to it—
Moses, speaking of the truths which he was inspired to proclaim, says, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass; because I will publish the name of the Lord [Note: Deuteronomy 32:2.].” By a similar figure “the sprinkling of the nations” may be understood as relating to the publication of the Gospel to the whole world. And doubtless this was, in a general view, the end for which our Saviour died. But the term “sprinkling” alludes more particularly to the sprinklings which were made under the law. These were sometimes of blood, as when the mercy-seat was sprinkled with the blood of bulls and goats on the great day of annual expiation [Note: Leviticus 16:15.]. Sometimes the sprinkling was of water, as when a person ceremonially unclean was purified from his defilement by water of separation [Note: Numbers 19:13.]. Sometimes the sprinkling was both of water and blood, as when the leper was cleansed by the blood of a bird mixed with running water [Note: Leviticus 14:6-7.]. To all of these there is a reference in the text: and from these ceremonial observances, especially as they are more fully opened to us in the New Testament, we learn distinctly the ends of the Redeemer’s sufferings.
He suffered, first, that he might purge us from the guilt of sin by his blood. To this the inspired writers bear witness with one consent. They declare that he was a propitiation for our sins; that we are reconciled to God by his death, and that we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins. Even the saints that are in heaven are represented as singing praises to him that loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and as ascribing their salvation wholly to the Lamb that was slain. Behold then, ye who are bowed down under a sense of guilt; draw nigh to Calvary, and see the provision made for your salvation: God had ordained, that without shedding of blood there should be no remission; and behold, here is the blood of that spotless Lamb once offered for you on the cross. Take of this by faith, and sprinkle it on your hearts and consciences; and you shall find it effectual to cleanse from sins of deepest die. The true Christian is characterized by the Apostle as having “come to the blood of sprinkling [Note: Hebrews 12:24.].” Let us then answer to this character: so shall we be protected from the sword of the destroying angel [Note: Hebrews 11:28.], and sing for ever the song of Moses, and possess the white and spotless robes in which the redeemed are arrayed before the throne of God [Note: Revelation 7:14-15.].
The other end of Christ’s suffering was, that he might cleanse us from the power and pollution of sin by his Spirit. It had been promised by the prophet, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you [Note: Ezekiel 36:25.].” And it was to procure this benefit for us, that Christ submitted to his sufferings; “He gave himself for us,” says the Apostle, “that he might sanctify and cleanse us with the washing of water, by the word, that he might present us to himself holy and without blemish [Note: Ephesians 5:25-27.].” Let us then draw near to him, “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” “Since he bare our sins in his own body, on purpose that we, being dead unto sin, might live unto righteousness,” let us not be unmindful of our duty and our privilege. Let us seek “the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” and labour to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
It is of great importance to observe, that though, under the law, these two kinds of sprinkling were often separated, they are invariably united under the Gospel. St. John particularly notices, that “Christ came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and blood [Note: 1 John 5:6.].” By this we understand, that the water and blood, which flowed in one united stream from the wounded side of the Redeemer, were significant of the united blessings which we should receive from him, namely, of justification by his blood, and sanctification by his Spirit. And St. Peter expressly declares, that these ends were united in the eternal counsels of the Deity, by whom we were “elected through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and to the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:2.].” What God therefore has joined together, let us never presume to separate: for, as there is no “redemption but by the blood” of Jesus, so “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
The connexion between these blessings, and the means used for the procuring of them, is frequently mentioned in the ensuing chapter, and therefore need not be insisted on in this place. Suffice it therefore at present to say, that the sprinkling of the nations is the fruit and consequence of our Lord’s astonishing, unparalleled humiliation [Note: “As,” “so.”]. Neither could he have had a right to communicate salvation, if he had not first suffered for our sins; nor can we enjoy his salvation, unless we receive it as the purchase of his blood.
The blessings mentioned in the text were not procured for one nation only, but for “many” even for all, to the remotest ends of the earth. And as no nation is excluded, so neither is any individual in any nation. The fountain is opened for all; and will cleanse from sin and uncleanness all who wash in it. As “Moses took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled all the people [Note: Hebrews 9:19.],” so now may every sinner in the universe have his heart and conscience sprinkled through faith in God’s promises. None can say, ‘I am too vile; the blood of Christ can never cleanse from such guilt as mine:’ nor can they say, ‘My lusts are so inveterate, that the Spirit of Christ can never purify my polluted heart;” for, “if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sanctified, in any instance, to the purifying of the flesh, much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the Eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God, purge, in every instance, our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
THE MEANS AND EVIDENCE OF CONVERSION
Isaiah 52:15. Kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them, shall they see; and that which they had not heard, shall they consider.
MANY are advocates for the preaching of morality in preference to the unfolding of the mysteries of the Gospel, because they think that men will be more easily influenced by what they know and understand, than by any thing which surpasses their comprehension. But to judge thus is to be wiser than God, who has commanded his Gospel to be preached to all nations, and has appointed it as the means of converting the world unto himself. The most wonderful effects have been produced by it, not only on the vulgar, who might be thought open to deception, but on persons of the most cultivated minds, and most extensive influence. From the first promulgation of it to the present moment, events have justified the prediction before us; for “kings,” on hearing of a crucified Saviour, have “shut their mouths before him,” and acknowledged him as the foundation of all their hopes.
The terms in which this prophecy is expressed will lead us to consider, The means of conversion, and, The fruit and evidence of it:
The means of conversion—
God is not limited to the use of any means. He, who by a word brought the universe into existence, can, with a simple act of his will, produce any change in the state and condition of his creatures, or do whatsoever pleaseth him. Nevertheless he has appointed a method of converting souls to the knowledge of himself: and though we presume not to say what changes he may effect in the minds of unenlightened heathens, yet we have no reason to expect that he will dispense with the means where he has sent the light of his Gospel. The means which God has appointed for the conversion of men may be considered either as external or internal; the external is, The preaching of the Gospel; the internal is, The seeing and considering of that Gospel.
With respect to the external mean, the prophet speaks of it as “that which kings had not heard.” He has just intimated that the sufferings of the Messiah should exceed all that ever were experienced by man; but that, at the same time, they should avail for the expiating of our guilt, and the purifying of our souls from sin. He then adds, that the great and mighty of the earth should he made to consider these glad tidings; and that, after some opposition for a season, they should become the willing subjects of the Messiah’s kingdom. In this way St. Paul himself understood the words of our text; for he quotes them exactly in this sense; “So have I strived,” says he, “to preach the Gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation; but as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see, and they that have not heard, shall understand [Note: Romans 15:20-21.].” And, indeed, this is a very just description of the Gospel; for, the productions of human wisdom were open to the view of kings: but the Gospel was far out of their sight; it was “a mystery hid in the bosom of the Father from the foundation of the world.”
This was the weapon which the apostles used in their warfare. They preached Christ in every place: Jesus and the resurrection were their constant theme: and so effectual did St. Paul find it for the conversion of men, that “he determined to know nothing, and to preach nothing, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” The same must be the constant tenour of our ministrations: there is no other subject that we can insist upon with equal effect. Philosophy leaves men as it finds them: it may afford some glimmering light to their minds; but it can never influence their hearts. Nothing can pull down the strong holds of sin, but that which points out a refuge for sinners.
But besides this external mean of conversion there is another no less necessary, the operation of which is altogether internal. Many hear the Gospel, and, instead of receiving benefit from it, have only their latent enmity brought forth, and their hearts made more obdurate. To feel its full effect, we must “see and consider it.” There are many things of which we may have but dark and confused views without sustaining any loss; but in our views of the Gospel we should be clear. Our minds must be enlightened to see the ends and reasons of Christ’s death. To know the fact, That he did suffer, will be of no more use than any other historical knowledge: we must know why he suffered; what necessity there was for his coming in the flesh; what need of his atonement; and what the virtue of his sacrifice. It is not necessary indeed that we should be able to descant upon these subjects for the instruction of others; but we must have such a knowledge of them as leads us to renounce every false ground of hope, and to rely on Christ alone for the salvation of our souls. We must so discern their excellence, as to be induced to “consider” them; to consider the death of Christ as the only sacrifice for sin; and to consider an interest in it as the only means for salvation.
Thus, in order to our being effectually converted to God, Christ must become our meditation and delight. The height and depth, and length and breadth of his unsearchable love must occupy our minds, and inflame our hearts with love to him. Nor is it in our first conversion only, but in every subsequent period of our lives, that we must thus have respect to his death. In all our approaches to God we must come, pleading the merits of the Redeemer’s blood, and trusting only in his all-sufficient atonement. It is this alone that will preserve our souls in peace, or enable us to manifest to others,
The fruit and evidence of conversion—
The hearts of men are the same in all ages; and the effects produced on them by the Gospel are the same: the very first fruit and evidence of our conversion by it is, that our “mouths are shut at, or before the Lord Jesus.” First, with respect to the vindicating of ourselves. Natural men, according to the external advantages they have enjoyed, will acknowledge more or less the depravity of their hearts. But, whatever difference there may be in their outward confessions, there is very little in their inward convictions. All entertain a favourable opinion of themselves: they cannot unfeignedly, and with the full consent of their minds, acknowledge their desert of God’s wrath: they have some hidden reserves: they secretly think that God would be unjust if he were to condemn them: they cannot persuade themselves that their iniquities merit so severe a doom. They pretend to hope in God’s mercy; but their hope does not really arise from an enlarged view of his mercy, so much as from contracted views of their own sinfulness. But, in conversion, these “high imaginations are cast down.” The soul, enlightened to behold its own deformity, dares no longer rest on such a sandy foundation. Others may go presumptuously into God’s presence, “thanking him that they are not as other men;” but the true convert “stands afar off,” and, with an unfeigned sense of his own unworthiness, “smites on his breast, and cries for mercy.” Instead of preferring himself before others, he now “prefers others before himself,” and accounts himself “the very chief of sinners.” Nor, however eminent his attainments afterwards may be, will he ever exalt himself. Paul indeed, when compelled to assert the dignity of his apostolic office, did declare that he was “not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles: ”but, to shew how far such declarations were from being either agreeable to himself, or voluntary, he repeatedly called himself “a fool in boasting,” and said, that, after all, “he was nothing.” Thus any other Christian may be necessitated on some occasion to vindicate his own character; but, so far from priding himself in it, he will lothe himself in dust and ashes, crying with the convicted leper, “Unclean, unclean!” The habitual frame of his mind will be like that of Job, “Behold, I am vile.”
Further, the mouth of every true convert will be shut with respect to the raising of objections against the Gospel. The doctrine of the cross is foolishness in the eyes of the natural man. To renounce all dependence on our works, and rely wholly on the merits of another, is deemed absurd. The way of salvation by faith alone is thought to militate against the interests of morality, and to open a door to all manner of licentiousness. On the other hand, the precepts of the gospel appear too strict; and the holiness and self-denial required by it are judged impracticable, and subversive both of the comforts and duties of social life. But real conversion silences these objections. When the Gospel is “seen and considered” in its true light, Christ is no longer made “a butt of contradiction [Note: Luke 2:34.]:” the glory of God as shining in his face is both seen and admired, and the union of the divine perfections as exhibited in the mystery of redemption is deemed the very masterpiece of divine wisdom. The believer finds no disposition to open his mouth against these things, but rather to open it in devoutest praises and thanksgivings for them. As for the way of salvation by faith alone, how suitable, how delightful does it appear! He is convinced that, if salvation were less free or less complete than the Gospel represents it, he must for ever perish. He sees that it is exactly such a salvation as was most fit for God to give, and for man to receive; for that, if it were not altogether of grace, man would have whereof to boast before God; and that, if one sinless work were required of him, he must for ever sit down in utter despair. Nor does he now think the precepts of the Gospel too strict: there is not so much as one of them that he would dispense with; not one which he would have relaxed. He would account it an evil, rather than a benefit, to be released from his obligation to obey them. He never now complains, “How strict are the commandments!” but rather, “How vile am I, that I cannot yield to them a more cordial and unreserved obedience!” And so far is he from condemning those who are most holy and heavenly in their deportment, he wishes that he were like them; and strives to follow them as they follow Christ.
Such are the fruits that are found on all true converts without exception; even “Kings shut their mouths.” They indeed, from their high station, are less under the controul of human laws, and are ready on that account to suppose themselves less amenable also to the laws of God: but, when the Gospel comes with power to their souls, they no longer ask, “Who is Lord over us?” but prostrate themselves before the Saviour with unreserved submission both to his providence and grace.
Let us learn then from hence,
The evil and danger of prejudice—
It is difficult to conceive what destruction this evil principle brings upon the world. Thousands of persons in every place take exceptions against Christ and his Gospel without ever examining for themselves: they even shut their ears against every thing which may be said in vindication of the truth; and thus harden themselves in their iniquities, till they perish without a remedy. Whence is it that so many have their mouths opened against the followers of Christ, stigmatizing every godly person as an enthusiast or deceiver? Have they searched into, and acquainted themselves with the real effects of the Gospel? And have they been careful to distinguish between the tendency of the Gospel itself, and the faults of those who embrace it? No: they have never considered, never seen, perhaps scarcely ever so much as heard, the Gospel: they have listened to some vague reports; they have gladly entertained every story which could in any wise confirm their aversion to the truth; and then they think they cannot exclaim too bitterly against it. But let us guard against indulging such an unreasonable disposition: let us hear and examine candidly for ourselves: let us consider whether the Gospel be not suited to our own particular case: and let us beg of God to open our eyes, and to “give us a right judgment in all things.” If we use not these means of conversion, we shall be utterly inexcusable before God: but if we use them in dependence upon God, we shall surely be brought at last to the knowledge of the truth, and to the enjoyment of those blessings which that truth is sent to convey.
Let us further learn from this subject,
The excellency of the Gospel—
If we compare the effects of the Gospel with those wrought by philosophy, we shall see that the latter never was able to produce any general reformation, while the former, in the space of a few years, triumphed over all the lusts and prejudices of mankind. And, at this hour, the Gospel has the same power, wherever it is faithfully preached, and cordially received: there is no lust, however inveterate, which it will not subdue; no enmity, however rooted, which it will not slay; no pride, however stubborn, which it will not humble. The more it is examined, the more it prevails: it needs only to be “seen and considered;” and it will soon remove every objection, and commend itself with irresistible evidence to the soul. Let us then consider, and reflect upon this glorious subject: let us meditate on it, till our hearts are inflamed with love towards our adorable Redeemer: and let our mouths be never opened more, but in thanksgivings to God and to the Lamb.
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26