EXHORTATION TO RECEIVE THE BLESSINGS OF THE GOSPEL
Isaiah 55:1-3.—Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat; yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.
WE can never sufficiently admire the condescension and grace of God in noticing such insignificant and worthless creatures as we are. That he should provide for our returning wants, and permit us to ask of him the things we stand in need of, may well excite our deepest astonishment. But that he should be as much interested in our welfare, as if his own happiness and glory depended on it, seems utterly incredible: yet, that this is really the case, is manifest from the earnest invitations and entreaties, which he uses to prevail upon us to accept of mercy. In confirmation of this, we need only notice the passage before us, in which God, with inexpressible affection, labours to awaken the attention of sinners to their own truest happiness, and to bring them to the enjoyment of everlasting salvation.
In his words we may observe,
I. An invitation—
No words could be devised that should more forcibly declare God’s desire for our welfare—
[The blessings of the Gospel are here set forth under the most natural and expressive images. What can be more refreshing than water? more reviving than wine? more nutritious than milk? yet do these but faintly represent the operations of the Gospel on the soul of man. Nor can water or milk be by any means dispensed with; they are altogether necessary for human subsistence: so that on this account also are they fit emblems of spiritual blessings. What would be the state of man if there were no Saviour to atone for him, no Spirit to renew him, no God and Father to preserve and bless him? On the contrary, how revived and animated is he by the promises of pardon and peace, of holiness and glory! Such then are the blessings which God offers to mankind. And to a participation of them he invites every one that thirsteth: every person, whatever have been his character or conduct, is called: if only he thirst, nothing shall be a bar to his acceptance. Yet no man needs to decline the invitation, under the idea that he is not welcome, because he does not thirst enough: if he be willing, that is sufficient [Note: So St. John expounds the passage, Revelation 22:17.]. Nor need any one he discouraged at the thought that he has nothing wherewith to purchase these benefits: for though they are to be bought, it is “without money and without price;” and therefore they “who have no money” are particularly specified in the invitation. Indeed, if any man bring a price in his hand, he shall surely go empty away: Christ has paid the price; nor can we obtain any thing, unless we be willing to receive it as the free gift of God through Christ.
The earnestness with which God entreats us to accept these blessings, is well worthy of our notice. He personates a herald standing in the place of public concourse, and, in the accustomed manner, calling the attention of all around him. He then expatiates on the blessings which he is ready to communicate, and the terms on which he will bestow them: he describes the persons to whose necessities the blessings are suited, and to whose indigence the terms are more especially adapted: and then, as though he were determined to take no refusal, he cries, “Come,” “come,” “come!”]
And shall we despise such a gracious invitation?
[Let us but contemplate the blessings we are invited to partake of: how rich, how suitable, how necessary! — — — Let us reflect on the terms on which they are offered: can any thing be more reviving? — — — Let us recollect who it is that calls us: Is he used to mock his people? or is he incapable of supplying all their wants? — — — Let us consider his description of the persons invited: can any thing be more encouraging? and shall we not be inexcusable if we turn a deaf ear to such entreaties? — — —]
But God, knowing our extreme backwardness to go to him, urges us yet further by,
II. An expostulation—
Our infatuation justly calls for a severe reproof—
[The contemners of God’s invitations may be comprised under two classes, the worldly-minded, and the self-righteous. Both of these despise the offers of the Gospel; the one, because they have no relish for spiritual things; the other, because they think they already possess them: the one find their happiness in the pursuit and enjoyment of earthly things; the other in self-applauding reflections on their own goodness. But we may appeal to both, whether they have ever attained any abiding satisfaction in their respective courses? Have pleasures, riches, or honours ever proved a source of solid peace? Are they “bread” proper for the soul? Does not the comfort, derived from such things, fail us in the hour that we most need it? And will any satisfaction arise from the remembrance of them, when we stand at the bar of judgment? Nor however laudable the conduct of the self-righteous may be in the sight of men, can it yield them the comfort they aspire after: it cannot satisfy either God or their own consciences; not God, because it does not fulfil the demands of his Law; not themselves, because they never can know that they have done enough to procure them acceptance with God: in the midst of all their boasted confidence, they have many misgiving fears lest they should have laboured for nought, and “spent their money for that which is not bread.”
To impress this thought on our minds, God contrasts the blessings ho offers with those which we foolishly prefer. He calls them “good,” and declares that they will “delight the soul with fatness.” And are they not good? What so worthy of this character, as a free and full pardon to the guilty; a peace that passeth all understanding to the troubled; renewed strength to the weak; and everlasting glory to the lost? Can these be received into the soul, and not comfort it? or can they be promised to us by a faithful God, and not satisfy the mind? Surely they are “meat indeed, and drink indeed;” nor can they fail of filling us with “joy unspeakable and glorified.”]
Let us then call ourselves to an account for our conduct—
[Who amongst us has not had abundant experience of the insufficiency of every thing except the Gospel, to make us happy? And shall we yet persist in our error? shall we never cease to “hew out to ourselves broken cisterns,” when we may have access to “the fountain of living waters?” shall we still grasp at a shadow, while we lose the substance? — — — “Wherefore” act we thus? What reason can we assign to ourselves for such obstinacy? and what shall we assign to God, when he shall interrogate us respecting it in the day of judgment? shall we plead a want of information? God has informed us. Shall we say that the blessings of salvation were out of our reach? God has freely offered them to every one of us: nor can any thing but a deliberate rejection of his mercy ever finally destroy us — — —]
Lest any thing should be wanting to affect our hearts, God confirms his invitation with,
III. A promise—
There is not any thing which God will not do for those who obey his call—
[Whatever a carnal man may enjoy, he has no right or title to eternal life. On the contrary, whatever a spiritual man may want, this privilege he shall assuredly possess, “his soul shall live.” Nor shall this life be terminated like the life of the body; for God will make a covenant with him, “an everlasting covenant,” a “covenant ordered in all things and sure;” so that every thing necessary for the maintaining and perfecting of this life shall be secured to him. And as the rather gave unto his Son “the sure mercies of David” by raising him from the dead, and setting him at his own right hand in heaven [Note: Acts 13:34.], so will he bestow on his believing people every thing that he ever promised unto his Church. Notwithstanding he may suffer them for a time to be reduced to a most forlorn and desperate condition, as was the state of Christ when enclosed in the tomb, his mercies shall be “sure” to all his seed, and every soul amongst them shall in due season be exalted to a throne of glory in heaven.
Lest we should still remain unmoved, God calls our attention to this promise, repeating his entreaties with all the energy and affection that words can express. “Hearken,” says he, ‘as to a distant sound which you are solicitous to hear: hearken “diligently,” not suffering any thing to divert your attention for one moment: “incline your ear” as one that is afraid of losing a single word that is spoken to him: “hear,” determining to judge with candour, and to follow the dictates of sound wisdom. Do this,’ says God, ‘and the promise shall be yours: I pledge myself by covenant and by oath that your soul shall live, and that nothing that is good shall be wanting to you either in time or in eternity.’]
How incurably obstinate then must we be, if such accumulated means be used in vain!
[Is the life of the soul a matter of such indifference, that a promise of it shall have no effect on our minds? Shall God engage himself to us by covenant and by oath to supply all our need both of body and soul, and shall we account his word unworthy of our attention? — — — Who ever experienced his blessings, and found them of no value? or whom has he ever deceived, that we dare not trust him? — — — Let us at least remember what an alternative we prefer; we reject life, and happiness, and glory, and embrace death and misery as our eternal portion — — — O that God might prevail at last! that we might now accept his gracious offers; and be made partakers of present and everlasting felicity!]
CHRIST A WITNESS AND COMMANDER
Isaiah 55:4.—Behold, I have given him for a Witness to the people, a Leader and Commander to the people.
AMONGST the various means which God used for the spiritual benefit of his ancient people, one was, to provoke them to jealousy, by declaring, that the blessings which they so abused should be transferred to another people, who would make a more suitable improvement of them. From the beginning he warned them of this by Moses: “They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation [Note: Deuteronomy 32:21.].” Our blessed Lord and his Apostles frequently had recourse to this expedient: and St. Paul tells us, that he had used it, not to irritate his countrymen, but, if possible, to save them [Note: Romans 11:11; Romans 11:15.]. The Prophet Isaiah had this object in view, in the passage before us. He has been expostulating with the Jewish people on their folly and impiety in not seeking after the blessings of salvation, and especially those blessings which God had covenanted to bestow upon them through their exalted Messiah [Note: Compare ver. 3. with Acts 13:34.]; and he tells them, that God had given this Messiah, not, as they imagined, to them only, but to the whole Gentile world; who would eventually run to him, and embrace him, and become the heirs of those benefits, which the ungrateful Israelites neglected and despised.
That it is the Messiah who is here spoken of, there can be no doubt. He is often designated by the name of David [Note: Jeremiah 30:9. Ezekiel 34:23-24. Hosea 3:5.]: and “an unspeakable gift” he is to a ruined world [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:15.].
We propose to shew,
I. For what ends he is given—
Doubtless he was sent for the salvation of man; according as it written, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but should have everlasting life [Note: John 3:16.].” But there are two ends of his incarnation specified in the text; to which therefore we will confine our attention. He was given,
1. “To be a Witness to the people”—
[God had from all eternity devised a plan for the redemption of the world through the sufferings of his only-begotten Son. And of this plan the Lord Jesus Christ came to testify. For this office he was well qualified; having concerted the plan together with his Father; as it is written, “The counsel of peace was between them both [Note: Zechariah 6:13.].”
Of this stupendous mystery the Lord Jesus testified by the Prophets, hundreds of years before he came into the world. Not one word of all that they delivered on this momentous subject proceeded from themselves: “they spoke only as they were moved by the Holy Ghost [Note: 2 Peter 1:21.],” and as they were instructed “by an immediate inspiration from God [Note: 2 Timothy 3:16.].” The Spirit by whose sacred agency they were moved, was “the Spirit of Christ:” as St. Peter says: “The Prophets, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto us, searched what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow [Note: 1 Peter 1:10-11.].” Here both the subject and the author of their testimony are declared to be precisely such as we have affirmed. It was of the wonders of redemption that they testified; and the Author of their testimony was Jesus Christ.
In due time he came down from heaven, and testified of these things in his own person. He had from all eternity been “in the bosom of his Father [Note: John 1:18.],” and was privy to every thing which the Father had ordained [Note: John 5:20.]: and at the appointed season he came, “as a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the Fathers [Note: Romans 15:8.]:” as St. John informs us; “He that cometh from heaven is above all: and what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth [Note: John 3:31-32.].” The light which he cast on this mystery was far greater than that which had been given to the Jewish Church: yet the time was not come for the full disclosure of it: he had many things to say, which the people could not hear whilst he was yet sojourning on earth, because the mystery itself yet remained to be accomplished, by his death, and resurrection, and ascension.
He therefore afterwards bore a fuller testimony by his Apostles; who, through that “unction of the Holy One who taught them all things” and “brought all things to their remembrance,” “testified of the Gospel of the grace of God [Note: Acts 20:24.],” and “declared the whole counsel of God” respecting it. To this effect St. John says; “We have seen, and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world [Note: 1 John 4:14.].” The record was the same, by whomsoever it was delivered; namely, “that God has given to us eternal life; and that this life is in his Son: he that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God, hath not life [Note: 1 John 5:11-12.].” By whomsoever it was delivered also, it was equally “the testimony of Christ [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:6.],” both as having him for its Author, and him for its end.
Hence the appropriate name of Christ, as designating the first great object of his Mission, is, “The faithful and true Witness [Note: Revelation 1:5; Revelation 3:14.].”]
2. To be “a Leader and Commander to the people”—
[Moses, in his day, was a witness from God, to make known to the Jewish people the Divine will: but Joshua was the commander, who was to lead them into the Promised Land, and to give them a full possession of their inheritance. The two offices are combined in Christ; who, whilst he is given for a Witness, is also given for “a Leader and Commander to the people.” He even appeared to Joshua of old, “as Captain of the host of the Lord,” from whom alone all Joshua’s success should spring [Note: Joshua 5:14-15.]. And to us also is he revealed under the same blessed character, “The Captain of our salvation [Note: Hebrews 2:10.].” He is at the head of all his people, and goes forth with them to battle: and all who have enlisted under his banners are to fight as good soldiers of Jesus Christ,” and to “quit themselves like men [Note: 2 Timothy 2:3. 1 Corinthians 16:13.];” nor are they ever to cense from their conflicts till they have gained the victory [Note: 1 Timothy 6:12.]. Indeed “through him they shall be more than conquerors [Note: Romans 8:37.]:” for he will never leave them, till he has fulfilled to them all that he has undertaken, and put them into possession of their promised inheritance [Note: Joshua 23:14.].]
From the ends for which he is given, we proceed to shew,
II. The manner in which he is to be received—
This must correspond with God’s design in sending him into the world. He must be received,
1. With a faith that wavers not—
[As he is a Witness to us, we must listen to his testimony with childlike simplicity. If he declare to us the plan of salvation, we must submit to it with the deepest reverence, and not for a moment dispute against it, or attempt to substitute in its place any plan of our own. If he open to us the great and precious promises which God has made in his word, we must rely upon them, and expect their accomplishment with the most assured confidence. If, on the other hand, he denounce the judgments of God against impenitent transgressors, we must tremble at his word, and humble ourselves before him in dust and ashes. As for all that men may say in opposition to his testimony, it must be to us of no greater weight than the dust upon the balance. Our answer must be, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them [Note: Isaiah 8:20.].” To sit at his feet, like Mary, must be the delight of our souls. We must treasure up in our hearts his every word, even as his own Mother did, whilst he was yet a child [Note: Luke 2:51.]. We must “meditate on his sayings day and night [Note: Psalms 1, 2.].” They must be “more to us than our necessary food [Note: Job 23:12.],” and “sweeter to us than honey and the honey-comb.” If under any circumstances our faith in his word begin to waver, we must be ashamed of ourselves, and mourn for it, as treating him with the greatest dishonour. Such conduct would be deemed a heinous offence even to a creature like ourselves: how much more offensive then must it be to him! it is nothing less than “making God a liar.” This is the interpretation which God himself puts upon such conduct [Note: John 5:9-10.]. Let us dread lest we be found guilty of this sin; and let us “be strong in faith, giving glory to God.”]
2. With an obedience that has no reserves—
[The obedience which a soldier owes to his Commander is unbounded. The Commander has only to say, “Come,” and he cometh; “Go,” and he goeth; “Do this,” and he doeth it. He does not think it any excuse for disobedience, that by following the command he shall have to encounter an enemy that will seek his life. On the contrary, the more dangerous the post is that is assigned him, the more he considers himself bound to execute the command with promptitude and zeal: and, if he hesitate through fear, he is deemed unworthy any more to serve his prince: yea, he may account himself happy, if his life be not also forfeited as the penalty of his transgression. Shall there then be any limit to the obedience which we shall render to our heavenly Leader? Shall his commands be disobeyed through fear, or be executed with a timid trembling mind? Shall not his authority awe us, and his example shame us, into a conduct more worthy of our profession? Shall we not account it rather an honour to suffer for him, and be ready at any time, or in any manner, to lay down our lives for his sake? Yes; we must fight the good fight of faith. We must put on the whole armour provided for us, and go forth “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” We must be studious to learn from day to day, what is his will concerning us; and, once apprised of it, we must set ourselves instantly to obey it. Does it call for self-denial? We should for his sake “mortify the flesh with the affections and lusts.” Does it summon us to action? “Whatever our hand findeth to do, we must do it with our might.” We must be ever ready to “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” There is nothing to which he calls us, which He has not himself both done and suffered; he, without any obligation on his part, except what his own love had imposed upon him: whereas we are bound by our allegiance to the God of heaven, and by all our hopes of acceptance with him in a better world, to “war a good warfare:” for it is only by being “faithful unto death that we can ever obtain the crown of life [Note: Revelation 2:10.].”
It is said in the words following my text, that the Gentiles to whom this Saviour was given, “should run unto him, and glorify his name.” I call on you therefore to verify this prediction, and “not to receive the grace of God in vain.” It is in this way only that you can shew to the Jews what blessings you enjoy, and stir them up to seek a participation of them. And in this way alone can you “walk worthy of your high calling,” or “render to the Lord according to the benefits he has conferred upon you.”]
OF SEEKING THE LORD IN TIME
Isaiah 55:6. Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near [Note: There is a beautiful plan of a Sermon on this text in Claude’s Essay, page 54 of fifth and improved Edition.].
THERE is scarcely any more striking proof of our insensibility with respect to eternal things, than the unconcern we shew whilst death is casting his darts all around us. If our neighbour’s house were on fire, we should think of exerting ourselves to secure our own habitation from the flames, or to save our property: yet we can hear of the deaths of others, and confess that we ourselves also are dying creatures, and yet delay our preparation for death as much as if we were exempt from the common danger. But every fresh instance of mortality is a voice from God to the survivors; and speaks to them the very language of the text.
We need not give a formal distribution of the text, as it is our intention only to ground upon it a general exhortation to seek the Lord. Yet, that our plan may not be altogether concealed, we shall arrange our thoughts under the following observations.
I. There is reason to fear that God, though essentially present with all, is spiritually and practically absent from the most of us—
[It is not improbable that some amongst us may live in the occasional, if not also the habitual, commission of known and open sin. In some will be found drunkenness and lewdness; in others, falsehood and dishonesty: in some, pride and envy; in others, malice and revenge. And are not these manifest tokens that they are strangers to the Divine presence? Can it be said of such persons that God is with them of a truth?
But where the external deportment is blameless, and where the outward form of godliness is maintained, how little is there, for the most part, of its power! Many read the Bible, and find it only a sealed book: they attend the ordinances of religion, but experience no delight in them: they pray in secret (if mere formal devotions can be called prayer) and derive no benefit to their souls. Whence is all this, but because God is absent from them? If God were with them, his “words would be spirit and life” unto them [Note: John 6:63.]; their communion with him would be sweet; their communications from him would diffuse a glory round their very countenance [Note: Exodus 34:35.]; and the exercises of religion, though not always alike spiritual, would on the whole be accompanied with vital energy, and be followed with progressive sanctification.
Such, alas! is the state of the generality: however they may have witnessed the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, and have felt some alarm and terror in their souls, they are yet strangers to that “still small voice” in which the Lord reveals himself to his people [Note: 1 Kings 19:11-13.]. We may say, in reference to what was spoken on a very different occasion, Lord, if thou hadst been with them, they had not been thus habitually dead and formal [Note: John 11:21; John 11:32.].]
II. We cannot hope to find him, if we do not seek him—
[We know that, in the ordinary course of providence, neither the countryman can fill his barns without much previous toil, nor the student acquire knowledge without much patient investigation. How then can it be supposed that we should attain the knowledge and enjoyment of God, without seeking after him in his appointed way? He has indeed sometimes been found of them that sought him not, and made known to them that inquired not after him [Note: Romans 10:20.]: but this must no more be expected by us, than that the sea should open a passage for our feet, or the sun stand still to lengthen out our day. God has said he will be inquired of by us [Note: Ezekiel 36:37.], and that we must ask, if we would have; and seek, if we would find [Note: Luke 11:9.]. Nor is it in a cold indifferent manner that we must seek; we must strive as persons in earnest [Note: Luke 13:24.], and if once we get access to God, we must detain him, as it were, by force [Note: Genesis 32:26.], and take his kingdom, as it were, by violence [Note: Matthew 11:12.]. And it is for want of this holy zeal in our endeavours, that so many of us seek him throughout our lives, and never obtain a saving “acquaintance with him.” We must also seek him in and through Christ: for it is by Christ only that we can ever come unto the Father [Note: John 14:6.].]
III. There is a time coming, when, though we should seek him, he will not be found of us—
[This awful truth is strongly intimated in the text; nor ought it to be concealed from our view. We all know that, at the time of death, our opportunities of seeking God will be for ever closed [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:10.]. However earnestly we may implore the Divine favour [Note: John 9:4. Matthew 25:11-12; Matthew 7:22-23.], or even the smallest expression of it [Note: Luke 16:24; Luke 16:26.], we shall ask in vain. But our day of grace may also be terminated on this side the grave. The Jews in the wilderness [Note: Psalms 81:11-12; Psalms 95:11.], and those who rejected our Lord’s word [Note: John 8:21.], and the greatest part of the Jewish nation at the time of his death [Note: Luke 19:42.], were given over to final impenitence, even while they continued in the full enjoyment of health, and of all outward privileges. And we have reason to fear the same dreadful judgments, if we persist in slighting God’s warnings, and in deferring our repentance [Note: Proverbs 1:24-31.]. How earnestly should we improve the present hour, if we duly considered this!]
IV. If we would seek him now, he would be found of all of us—
[This is the accepted time; this is the day of salvation [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:2.]. God “is near” to us at present, both in his word and ordinances, and he is willing to be found of every sincere worshipper. If indeed we have determinately set ourselves against him, and resisted all the motions of his Spirit, till he has ceased to strive with us, it is possible that we may be already given up to final obduracy [Note: Genesis 6:3.]. But if we feel any desire after God, then we may be sure that he has not yet cast us off: that very desire is, if we may so speak, a knock at the door of our hearts, whereby God intimates his willingness to take up his abode with us [Note: Revelation 3:20.]. Only let us cherish the latent spark; and we may be assured that he will not quench the smoking flax [Note: Matthew 12:20.]; he will not despise the day of small things [Note: Zechariah 4:10.].]
We will not conclude this address without a more particular application of it to different persons,
1. To the young—
[To you God has given an express promise that you shall not seek his face in vain [Note: Proverbs 8:17.]. Seek then to resemble those whose names are recorded for your encouragement, as having obtained mercy in their earliest years [Note: Samuel, Josiah, and Timothy, from their very childhood, and John Baptist from the womb.], ana as being highly distinguished among the saints of God. And let not these years, which are so favourable for the reception of divine impressions [Note: Proverbs 22:6.], be wasted in the service of sin and Satan.]
2. To the afflicted—
[Affliction is oftentimes the voice of God [Note: Micah 6:9.]: and, if you have the wisdom to improve it, you also have a special promise, that you shall find favour with God [Note: Psalms 50:15.]. Begin then “in the day of adversity to consider;” and you shall have no reason to regret the seventy of the means, when once you have attained the end which God designs to accomplish by them.]
3. To the old—
[You above all should set yourselves to seek the Lord, because your day of grace cannot be continued much longer. It is a comfort, however, to reflect, that you may obtain mercy even at the eleventh hour [Note: Matthew 20:5-6.]. Let then your past time be redeemed with diligence; and, the shorter the space allowed you is for seeking the Lord, the more earnest let your exertions be to “know the things belonging to your peace, before they be for ever hid from your eyes.”] [Note: If this were the subject of a Funeral Sermon, the friends of the deceased might be addressed, and the deceased person’s past and present views of this subject be impressed upon their minds as incentives to diligence.”]
ENCOURAGEMENT TO TURN TO GOD
Isaiah 55:7. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
WE may discern many of the attributes of the Deity, as wisdom, power, and goodness, in the works of creation: but it is from the book of revelation only that we obtain the knowledge of his mercy. The Heathen indeed entertain some faint ideas that God will pardon them; though they know not how to approach him with acceptance, nor have any assurance that they shall find acceptance with him. But we are invited by God himself to come unto him, and are encouraged by an express promise that he will pardon even the vilest of returning prodigals.
In the words before us, we may see,
I. Our duty—
All of us by nature are in a state of departure from God, and of subjection to sin. Hence our duty is,
1. To forsake our sins—
[Every one has some “way” which he has marked out for himself; some way that is suited to his age, his education, his circumstances in life, or his constitutional propensities. Some are addicted to open vice; others to a more decent species of gaiety; others to the pursuit of riches; others to the more refined, though not less destructive, gratifications of literary pride; while others again regard nothing but their ease, and the indulgence of their peculiar habits. But whatever be our ways, if they be not such as are prescribed in the Scripture, and such as lead directly to heaven, they must be “forsaken.” We may indeed, and must, attend to our earthly duties; but in them, as well as in our religious exercises, we must seek the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.
We must moreover forsake our “thoughts.” Even they who are most correct in their conduct, will find abundant matter for humiliation in their “thoughts.” What proud thoughts arise even from their supposed superiority to others! What vain, angry, envious, worldly, covetous, impure, and unbelieving thoughts lodge within us all, and find a welcome reception in our hearts! These then, no less than our ways, must be “forsaken:” we must watch and pray against them, and labour to have our minds occupied with holy and heavenly contemplations.]
2. To turn unto our God—
[As it is from God that we have departed, so it is unto God that we must return: nor will any reformation of our lives, or even renovation of our hearts, avail us, if this further change be not accomplished within us.
We must turn to him in humility. All of us, without exception, are guilty before God. Let us, even the best amongst us, only mark what our thoughts most easily recur to, and what they fix upon with the greatest frequency and delight, in those seasons when there is nothing particular to engage them, and we shall find no great cause for self-preference and self-complacency, Such a view of ourselves would shew us what we are before Him “who searcheth the heart and trieth the reins;” and would convince us that we need to abase ourselves before him with self-lothing and self-abhorrence.
We must also turn to him in faith. There is but one Mediator between God and man, whose merits and intercession must be the only grounds of our hope. In him, even in the Lord Jesus Christ, we must trust: we must make mention of his name and of his righteousness, even his only: and we must believe that God, for his sake, is willing to accept the very chief of sinners.
We must yet further turn to him in an unreserved devotedness both of heart and life. Mark, how entirely the heart of an unregenerate man gives itself to the world! Not that he never engages in religious duties; but, whatever he does, his affections are set upon things below, and not on things above. The very reverse of this is our duty: we are not to be so occupied with heavenly pursuits, as to neglect the duties of our place and station; but, in the midst of all our earthly occupations, God must have our hearts: his command must be the reason, his word the rule, and his honour the end, of all our actions. To fulfil his will, and enjoy his presence, should be the one object of our lives.]
Nor shall we decline this duty, if we consider what the text proposes for,
II. Our encouragement—
God will “shew mercy” to returning penitents—
[If it were doubtful whether our efforts would prove effectual for our salvation, we should not readily undertake the work of mortifying sin, and of turning unto God. But there is no doubt: for God delighteth in the exercise of mercy: “judgment is his strange work,” to which he is utterly averse: “he willeth not the death of any sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.” He invites us and expostulates with us in the most tender manner, “Turn ye: turn ye! why will ye die?” “Wilt thou not be made clean? O, when shall it once be?” — — — Let but the assurances of mercy which the Scripture affords to penitent sinners be considered, and no one will want a motive for abandoning his sins, and for returning to his God.]
He will “abundantly pardon” transgressions, however multiplied they may have been—
[They whom iniquities have been heinous and long-continued, are apt to despond, and to imagine themselves beyond the reach of mercy. But none need to despair: God’s mercy is infinite: though our sins may have been numerous as the sands upon the sea-shore, his mercies will far exceed them: “as the heaven in high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.” See what sinners have been forgiven! mark the transgressions of David, Manasseh, Peter, and others; see the peculiar aggravations of their guilt! and then say whether God will not multiply his pardons to the very utmost extent of our necessities? — — — After such a view of God’s mercy, our hearts must be harder than adamant, if we refuse to repent, and to turn unto him.]
Address—To those who,
1. Presume upon God’s mercy—
[You are at ease, because God is merciful: but are his mercies ever promised to those who live and die in sin? Are
not rather his judgments denounced against them? Search the Scriptures, and see if you can find one word to comfort those who persist in wilful impenitence: alas! you will soon find to your cost, that, as God is merciful to repenting sinners, so will he fulfil the declaration, that “except ye repent, ye shall all perish.”]
2. Limit it—
[Satan’s first device for the retaining of sinners under his dominion is, to represent God to them as a Being who it too merciful to punish them. His next endeavour is, to make them believe that their sins are too great to be forgiven, and that there is not mercy enough in the heart of God to pardon such transgressors as they. But, if any of us are tempted to entertain such thoughts of the Deity, let us only reflect upon the words of the text, and the many passages of Scripture which illustrate and confirm them, and we shall see at once the folly and impiety of limiting his mercies. Let such persons at least put the matter to a trial; and they shall find, by sweet experience, that “whatsoever cometh unto him, he will in no wise cast out.”]
3. Abuse it—
[Are there those in the world, who, because they have obtained mercy (as they think), are remiss in “working out their salvation?” Are there those who imagine, that, because they have “once overcome the world, they may be again entangled therein, and overcome” by it, without any danger to their souls? Let them know, that they are fatally deluded; and that, if they do not awake from their stupor, “their last end will be worse than their beginning.” If the mercy of God do not stimulate us to an unfeigned renunciation of all sin, and an unremitting activity in his service, we shall in vain hope that it shall be exercised towards us in the day of judgment.]
4. Enjoy it—
[What reason have you to admire and adore the goodness of your God! O, let a lively sense of it be ever on your minds. Be meditating daily how you shall most acceptably express your gratitude towards him. Labour to glorify him to the uttermost. Commend him to your fellow-sinners. Let your “ways” be such as shall be well-pleasing in his sight. Let your “thoughts” be devoutly occupied in praises and thanksgivings to him. And let your fellowship with him become daily more sweet, more intimate, and more abiding. Thus shall his mercy, which has already abounded towards you, be displayed in yet richer communications to all eternity.]
GOD’S WAYS ABOVE OURS
Isaiah 55:8-9. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord: for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
MEN are apt to judge of God by themselves, and to suppose him restricted by such laws as they deem proper for their own observance. The wicked almost reduce him to a level with themselves in a moral view [Note: Psalms 50:21.]: and even the godly form very inadequate conceptions of his ways and works. Of this God himself apprises us in the words before us; which we shall elucidate by shewing how different his thoughts and ways are from what we should have expected with respect to,
I. The objects of his choice—
[If we thought to take a person into the nearest relation to ourselves, we should be inclined to prefer one of high rank: if we undertook to instruct a person, we should select one who was intelligent and docile: or if we purposed to confer any favour, we should look out for an object that was worthy of it. But God acts in a very different manner. He takes the poor in preference to the rich [Note: Matthew 11:5. James 2:5. John 7:48.] — — — the ignorant before the wise [Note: Matthew 11:25-26. 1 Corinthians 1:19-20.] — — — and, in many instances, the vile before those, whose lives have been more moral [Note: Matthew 21:31-32; Matthew 19:20-22. contrasted with Luke 7:37; Luke 7:47 and 1 Timothy 1:13.] — — — Not that God disregards morality, where it flows from proper principles, and has respect to his glory: but his grace is his own [Note: Matthew 20:15.]; and he will impart it to whomsoever he will [Note: Romans 9:15-16.], without accounting himself responsible to any for the distribution of his favours [Note: Job 33:13. Romans 9:20.].
This exactly accords with the experience of the primitive saints [Note: See 2 Samuel 7:18-19. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.], and with the Church of God in every age and place — — —]
II. The extent of his love—
[If it were told us that God would shew mercy to our fallen race, what should we have been led to expect at his hands? We should scarcely have raised our thoughts higher than an exemption from punishment. Indeed, this is the limit which unenlightened men universally assign to God’s mercy; “He is merciful, therefore he will not punish.” But who would have ever thought, that he should so love us, as to give his only dear Son to die for us? — — — Who would have conceived, that he should moreover send his Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts as our instructor, sanctifier, and comforter? — — — Who would have imagined that he should give himself to us, with all that he is, and all that he has, as our present and everlasting portion? — — — Is not all this “as much above our thoughts as the heavens are above the earth?”]
III. The methods by which he accomplishes towards us the purposes of his grace—
[Supposing us informed that God would take us to heaven, we should be ready to think, that certainly he would deliver us at once from temporal affliction, and more especially from spiritual conflicts. Would it ever enter our minds, that the objects of his eternal love should be left to endure the pressures of want, or the agonies of a cruel death? Could we once imagine, that they should be exposed, year after year, to the assaults of Satan: and be suffered, on many occasions, to wound their consciences, to defile their souls, and to grieve his good Spirit, by the commission of sin? Yet these are the ways in which he deals with them, and it is by these means that he “fulfils in them the good pleasure of his goodness [Note: God does not approve of sin, or tempt to sin: but he makes use of the sins which men commit, to humble them in the dust, and to magnify his own superabounding mercy. Romans 5:20-21. Thus he permitted the fall of Peter, and overruled it for good, Luke 22:31-32.; but that permission neither excused, nor extenuated Peter’s guilt. The sin was the same, whether it were pardoned or punished: but the grace of Christ was eminently displayed in the pardon of it; and backsliders have over since derived much encouragement from thence (not to deny their Lord, but) to repent, and turn to God.].” Nor is this a mere arbitrary appointment: for, by these means, he discovers to us far more abundantly the riches of his grace, and affords us more ample grounds for praise and thanksgiving [Note: The deliverance vouchsafed to the Israelites was not a little enhanced by their oppression in Egypt, and their subsequent embarrassments.]. The way is circuitous indeed; but it is the right way to the promised land [Note: Psalms 107:7.].]
1. How should we magnify and adore our God for the blessings of his grace!
[Well may every child of God exclaim with wonder, What manner of love is this wherewith thou hast loved me, that thou shouldest give thine only dear Son to redeem me by his blood, and thine eternal Spirit to sanctify me by his grace? In the review of his own life he may well add, ‘Why me, Lord? why hast thou chosen me, and borne with me, and plucked me as a brand out of the burning? Why too hast thou used such methods for my recovery and salvation?’ Yes verily, in the review of all these mercies, he must of necessity exclaim, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and let all that is within me bless his holy name.”]
2. How submissive should we be under the darkest dispensations of his Providence!
[While we are saying, with Jacob, “All these things are against me,” perhaps the very dispensations, of which we so complain, are absolutely necessary to our eternal welfare [Note: Perhaps something which has met us unexpectedly has been, like Abigail, God’s messenger to keep us from some deadly sin. 1 Samuel 25:17-33.]. Let this thought silence every murmur, and encourage us to say, even in the most afflictive circumstances, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him [Note: Job 13:15.].”]
3. How should we acknowledge God even in the most trivial occurrences!
[There is no occurrence really trivial, or unimportant: for there is such a concatenation of causes and effects fixed in the Divine purpose, that the most important events depend on circumstances, which seem to us altogether trifling and contingent [Note: Luke 19:3-4; Luke 19:9.]. Let the life of Joseph be surveyed, and we shall find that a thousand different things, apparently casual and independent, concurred to accomplish God’s promises towards him. Thus it is with respect to us; and it is our privilege to “acknowledge God in all our ways,” and to commit ourselves wholly to his guidance.]
4. What a glorious place will heaven be!
[There the whole of the Divine dispensations towards us will be opened to our view. There Gods “ways, which were in the great deep, and his footsteps, which were not known,” nor perhaps capable of being comprehended by us in this world, will be clearly seen. O! what wonders of love and mercy shall we then behold! With what rapture shall we then exclaim, O the depths [Note: Romans 11:33.]! Let us then wait a few days; and the most painful events of this life shall be a source of everlasting joy.]
RESEMBLANCE OF THE GOSPEL TO RAIN AND SNOW
Isaiah 55:10-11. As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
THE more just our views of God’s perfections are, the more firm and enlarged will be our expectations from him. We are apt to distrust his mercy and love, because we “judge him to be such an one as ourselves:” whereas, if we considered how infinitely remote his ways and thoughts are from ours, we should repose the most unlimited confidence in him, and have every fear swallowed up in the contemplation of his power and grace. These considerations are proposed by God himself as an encouragement to us to return from our evil ways; and, in the words before us, we are assured, that the blessings which he will convey to us through the medium of his word, shall be as free, as certain, as abundant, as those which he imparts to the earth by means of the rain and snow. In illustrating this comparison, we shall trace the resemblance between the word, and the rain or snow,
I. In their origin—
“The rain and snow come down from heaven”—
[If the whole world should unite their efforts to produce rain, they would never accomplish their end. It is God who forms the clouds, and causes them to water the earth: and therefore to him we must acknowledge ourselves indebted for every shower that falls. Of this we are frequently reminded in the Scriptures [Note: Psalms 147:8. Job 38:25-28.]: and the gods of the Heathen are challenged, if they can, to exert a similar power, and thus establish their right to the honours ascribed to them [Note: Jeremiah 14:22.].]
The word of the Gospel also “cometh forth out of God’s mouth” —
[It proceeded from God originally; the words of “prophecy came not of men; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost [Note: 2 Peter 1:21.]:” yea, “all Scripture,” and not the prophetic parts only, “was given by inspiration of God [Note: 2 Timothy 3:16.].” Moreover the Gospel, when faithfully preached, is also at this time from God. It is God who instructs his servants, and qualifies them to declare his truth: and the word delivered by them is, “not the word of man, but in truth the word of God.” We mean not to insinuate, that any persons now have the same kind of inspiration which was vouchsafed to the Apostles: but every faithful minister is taught and directed of God what to say, and is assisted in the delivery of his message [Note: Matthew 28:20. And though we cannot strictly apply to ourselves such passages as Mark 13:11, and Luke 21:14-15. yet they teach us what assistance to expect from Christ, provided we apply to him in the diligent use of means.]. As an ambassador of God, he speaks altogether in God’s name, and may address every one of his audience in the words of Ehud to Eglon. “I have a message from God to thee [Note: Judges 3:20.].”]
But the resemblance between the word and the rain is yet more strongly marked,
II. In their operation—
The “rain and snow” are the means of rendering the earth fruitful—
[If the earth be only a few months without rain, the most calamitous consequences ensue [Note: See Jeremiah 14:2-6.]: but if the parched and thirsty earth be visited with rain or snow, its vegetative powers are revived, and it yields an abundance of food for man and beast [Note: Psalms 65:9-13.]; yea, there is a sufficiency not only for the present consumption, but for “sowing,” in order to a future crop.]
The word of God also is instrumental to the fructifying of the souls of men—
[God has many gracious ends to “accomplish” by his word: sometimes he sends it to quicken the dead; and then even “the bones that are dry, very dry,” are made to live [Note: Ezekiel 37:1-10. Psalms 119:50. James 1:18.]. Sometimes he sends it to comfort the afflicted; and then it proves as balm to the wounded spirit, nor can the most distressed mind withstand its energy [Note: Psalms 107:8-20. Deuteronomy 32:2.]. Sometimes he sends it to sanctify the polluted; and then the most inveterate lusts give way, and his people are transformed into his image [Note: John 15:3; John 17:17. Ephesians 5:26.]. Finally, by its various operations he determines to save the lost; and behold, it stops not short of his purpose: it “prospers in the thing whereto he has sent it,” and becomes “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth [Note: Romans 1:16. 1 Corinthians 1:21.].”
An easterly wind may counteract the benefits which would accrue from the rain; but not all the powers of hell shall be able to defeat the purposes of God, in sending his word: “it never returns unto him void:” weak as it seems to be when delivered by sinful man, it yet is “sharper than any two-edged sword [Note: Hebrews 4:12.];” it “casts down every thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ, and brings into obedience to him” the heart that would resist its power [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.].]
Let us learn then from this beautiful comparison,
1. The importance of attending the preached word—
[We know not when it is that God intends to send his word home to our hearts; and therefore we should always be found waiting upon him in the way of his appointment. The man who was healed at the pool of Bethesda had been there many years; and if he had absented himself on the day that Jesus visited the place, he had lost the blessing that was designed for him [Note: John 5:1-9.]. However long therefore we may have attended at the house of God, apparently in vain, it becomes us still to tarry the Lord’s leisure, and to expect the showers of his grace in due season.]
2. The danger of despising it—
[The text, though often interpreted as comprehending God’s judicial purposes, does not properly relate to them; for, as the rain is not spoken of as deluging the earth, but only as rendering it fruitful, so the parallel between the Gospel and the rain should be drawn only as relating to mercies, and not to judgments. Nevertheless we may notice in this place, that, as God sent his miracles to harden Pharaoh’s heart, so he may, and often does, send his word to blind, and harden the hearts of proud opposers. This was the end of the commission given to Isaiah [Note: Isaiah 6:9-10.]; and, though it was not the primary intent of Christ when he preached to the people in parables, it constituted a part of his design in relation to the proud, cavilling, and incorrigible Pharisees [Note: Luke 8:10.]: and the same end is accomplished, though not primarily intended, in respect to thousands of infidels in every age [Note: Romans 11:8. Acts 28:26-27.]. Beware then, lest God “take you in your own craftiness:” for whether you receive his word or not, “it shall not go forth in vain:” if it be not “a savour of life unto life, it will prove a savour of death unto death [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:16.].”]
3. The benefit of praying over it—
[It is not in the power of man to command a blessing on the word. “Paul may preach in vain, and Apollos water in vain, unless God give the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.].” But if we pray to God, he will send us such a word as shall be suited to us; such a word as shall make us ready to think that the minister has received private information respecting us; such a word as shall discover to us our whole hearts [Note: John 4:29.], and constrain us to fall down on our faces, and confess that God is indeed present in his ordinances [Note: 1 Corinthians 14:25.]. The minister may draw the bow at a ventures but God will direct the arrow between the joints of the harness, and cause it to pierce our inmost souls [Note: 2 Kings 22:34.]. Let us then pray that God would direct and assist the minister, and render his word effectual to our good. Thus shall we secure to ourselves a blessing, and, like the refreshed earth, bring forth fruit suited to the culture bestowed upon us [Note: Hebrews 6:7.].]
THE CHANGE WROUGHT BY THE GOSPEL
Isaiah 55:12-13. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle-tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
THE change wrought annually on the face of nature from desolation and barrenness to beauty and fruitfulness, is a lively representation of the change effected by the Gospel of Christ. “The vain and the snow descending on the earth” nourish the whole vegetable creation, and cause every part of it to spring forth in its appointed season: and, in the same manner, “the word of God, dropping as the rain, and distilling as the dew” upon the souls of men, infuses life into them, and renders them fruitful in every good word and work. This is the parallel drawn by the prophet himself, who, expatiating on the subject, predicts, under the image of the Jews’ return from Babylon, the progress of the Gospel in renovating the intellectual and spiritual world. His words will lead us to consider,
I. The effects of the preached Gospel—
The civilizing of the world is a very small part of the work which the Gospel is intended to accomplish. It is sent,
1. To inspire new feelings—
[Man in his natural state is an entire stranger to spiritual joy, or solid peace. The peace that flows from a want of foresight or reflection, and the joy that consists in mere animal gratifications, he may possess: but he is as destitute of spiritual enjoyments, as the brute creation are of intellectual pleasure. His state however is wonderfully changed when he receives the word of God in truth. At first indeed he feels trouble and anguish; but as soon as ever he has obtained a sense of his acceptance with God, his tears are wiped away, and “the bones which were broken rejoice.” It frequently happens, especially where the preceding sorrows have been deep, that the joy which succeeds them is rapturous and abundant. The surprise of Peter, on the eve of his expected execution, was not unlike that of a new convert: suddenly, a light shone in, upon him, and his chains fell off, and the prison doors flew open, and an angel conducted him out, so that he could not persuade himself that he was awake, but thought he saw a vision: thus when the new convert is first brought forth into light and liberty, and finds the obstacles, which had seemed insurmountable, removed, he is ready to think it must be all a delusion: it is with him as with those of old, “when the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream: then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing;” yea, “the very hills break forth before him into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their hands.” We must not however suppose, that all are equally elated; or that the joy which any feel will continue with them: it will rather subside into a peaceful tranquillity of mind: they may go out with joy; but they will be led forth with peace. The Saviour’s joy, which is to be fulfilled in us, consisted rather in peace than exultation; and such is the legacy that he has left to us [Note: John 17:13; John 14:27.]. At first we are like a stream rippling and murmuring near the fountain head; but in our more advanced state we resemble rather the deepened river flowing with silent majesty.]
2. To infuse new dispositions—
[A thorny bush is unproductive and worthless; as a brier is unseemly and injurious. The one is a just image of the more decent of mankind; the other, of the more profane. All are low and grovelling in their nature, having no desires beyond this present world; and too many, by their influence as well as by their example, would impede the progress of those who are walking in the good way. The fir-tree on the other hand lifts its head on high; while the myrtle diffuses its fragrance all around; and both of them retain their verdure all the year: yet such shall the vilest of mankind become, when once they embrace the Gospel of Christ. They shall soar to heaven with devout affections; they shall spread around them a sweet savour of the knowledge of Christ; they shall be unfading ornaments in the place where they grow; and instead of wounding, like the brier, all that come in contact with them, they shall, like the myrtle, emit the sweeter fragrance the more they are bruised, and perfume, as it were, the very hand that bruises them.]
To impress our minds with a due esteem for the Gospel, let us proceed to consider,
II. The excellency of those effects—
There is an inherent excellence in holy dispositions, which, independent of the consequences flowing from them to ourselves or to society, must render them amiable in our eyes. But, as the text limits our views to the honour which accrues from them to God, we shall content ourselves with observing, that the change effected by the Gospel is to the Lord,
1. An occasion of praise—
[None who are quickened and renewed by the word ever take the honour to themselves: all with one voice cry, “He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God; therefore, not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise!” The greater the change that is wrought in any person’s heart, the less will he be disposed to arrogate any thing to himself on account of it: and most of all, “when the top-stone of the spiritual building shall be brought forth, will he shout, Grace, grace unto it!” From his first acquaintance with divine truth will he begin to speak of God with love and gratitude. His own experience will furnish him with an inexhaustible fund of praise and thanksgiving. Nor will his acknowledgments any longer be a dull recital of an established creed, but the lively effusions of a grateful heart.
Now if that be deemed excellent, which causes the name of any human being to be held in estimation, and to be transmitted to posterity with honour, how much more must that be excellent, which makes the name of God to be reverenced and adored!]
2. A monument of glory—
[It is not in this world only that God is glorified by the dispensations of his grace: at the day of judgment every saint will “be to him for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory.” “Christ will come to be glorified in his saints, and admired in all that believe.” How sovereign will the grace of God appear to every one amongst them, when each sees himself as a brand plucked out of the fire! What stupendous wisdom will be discovered in the plan, whereby he has effected their restoration to his favour! What marvellous patience will he appear to have exercised towards them under all their backslidings; and what unbounded mercy in pardoning their multiplied transgressions! Nor will his power be less an object of admiration, when it is seen how wonderfully it has been exerted in converting their souls, and in preserving them unto his heavenly kingdom. Yea, as long as there shall exist one glorified saint in heaven, so long shall the perfections of the Godhead be most eminently displayed in the salvation of sinful man.
How excellent then must that change be, which to all eternity shall be the brightest monument of the Divine perfections! The work of creation is excellent, though it is so soon to pass away: but that, glorious as it is, has no glory by reason of the glory that excelleth in the new creation.]
1. What encouragement have men to hear the Gospel!
[As a person who had never seen the face of nature but in the depth of winter, would scarcely conceive it possible that so great an alteration could take place in it as is annually made within the space of a few weeks, so are many ready to imagine, that their hard and barren hearts are incapable of experiencing such a change as God requires. But his word is as powerful as ever: it is still “like fire, or like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces:” and though “it runs not, nor is glorified” to the same extent as in former days, yet wherever it is preached in sincerity and truth, there are some to attest its efficacy, and to prove, that “it is the power of God to the salvation of men.” Let none then despair: for though “the treasure be put into an earthen vessel, God will display the excellency of his power by means of it:” he will plant the fir-tree and the myrtle where nothing grew but thorns and briers; “he will make the wilderness like Eden, and the desert like the garden of the Lord.”]
2. What a sure criterion have we whereby to judge of our state!
[An insensibility with respect to spiritual things characterizes the natural man; and a quickness of perception with respect to them marks the person in whom the word of God has taken due effect. Have we then surrendered up our false peace, and our carnal joy? and have we attained to a scriptural “joy and peace in believing?” Have the creatures all around us been led, as it were, to sympathize with us, and congratu- late us on the change? Look then next to the tempers and dispositions of the soul: have the low grovelling desires of the carnal mind been made to ascend to heaven; and the natural aversion to holy exercises been exchanged for an unfeigned delight in them? In short, is God now glorified in the whole of our deportment, so that, whosoever beholds our spirit and conduct is constrained to admire the grace of God in us? Doubtless, this change is not perfect in any; nor can we expect it to be so, while we carry about with us this body of sin and death: but is the change begun! and is it carrying on towards perfection! O that on considering these questions we might have the testimony of our consciences that things are so! But if there be no evidence of these things, let us beware, lest, instead of being eternal monuments of God’s love, we be objects of his everlasting displeasure.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 55". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany