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Isaiah 61:1-3. The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mount in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
IMPORTANT as these words evidently are on account of the blessed truths contained in them, they come recommended to us with double force, from their having been made the subject of our Lord’s first discourse after his entrance on his prophetic office. The interpretation of them, which he has suggested, leaves us no doubt respecting the propriety of applying them to him [Note: Luke 4:17-22.]. While therefore we “begin at this Scripture, and preach unto you Jesus,” we may truly say, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” May the rehearsal of it excite amongst us, not merely a transient admiration, but a deep and permanent desire to enjoy the blessings revealed in it. The prophet, speaking of the Messiah, declares,
His call to his office—
Our Lord was consecrated to his prophetic office by a visible unction of the Holy Spirit.
[As the priests and kings were separated to their respective offices by pouring oil upon their heads, so, on some occasions, were the prophets also [Note: 1 Kings 19:16.]. Our Lord, who, in all his offices, infinitely excelled all that had gone before him, was consecrated by an unction, of which the anointing oil was but a type and shadow. “The Spirit of the Lord God” was poured out upon him at the time of his baptism; and the descent of the Spirit in a visible shape, like a dove, upon him, marked him as divinely commissioned to execute the work and office of the Messiah [Note: John 1:32-34.]. Indeed, he was called Messiah, and Christ, from that very circumstance of his being “anointed with the oil of gladness above all that ever had partaken” of that heavenly gift [Note: Τοὺς μετόχους σου. Hebrews 1:9. with Psalms 45:7.].]
By that unction too he was qualified for the discharge of the office committed to him.
[Though, as God, our Saviour was incapable of improvement, yet, as man, “he grew in wisdom as he grew in stature,” and needed to be furnished with those gifts and graces, which were proper for the discharge of his mediatorial office. Accordingly we read, that the “Spirit was given to him, not by measure,” as to other prophets, but in all his fulness [Note: John 3:34.]; and that it rested on him as a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of might, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord [Note: Isaiah 11:2-3.]. Thus was he both called and qualified at the same time: for though he was destined for his work from eternity, and prepared for it from his first conception in the virgin’s womb, yet were not his qualifications completed till the great seal of heaven was affixed to his commission, and he was openly consecrated to the service of God.]
The prophet proceeds to open at large,
The commission given him—
The terms, in which his commission are expressed, have especial reference to the jubilees that were proclaimed every fiftieth year. He was sent,
To offer salvation to all who needed it—
[At the time of jubilee all who had by any means been reduced to sell their estates, and to surrender up themselves and families as slaves to their creditors, were liberated from their bondage, and restored to the full possession of their inheritance, the very instant the trumpet sounded [Note: Leviticus 25:10; Lev 25:41]. The Gospel is that trumpet, and it proclaims “liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;” and our Lord’s office was to sound this trumpet, to announce these glad tidings, to declare that this acceptable year was arrived, and that the “day” was come wherein God would take “vengeance” on all their enemies and oppressors. These are glad tidings indeed to those who are sensible of their bondage to sin and Satan, and who know that they have sold the inheritance of heaven for the pleasures of sin: but to those who are unconscious of their guilt and misery, the sound of the trumpet seems an empty noise, or rather, an insult, as implying a state of degradation, which they do not feel and will not acknowledge. Hence our Lord’s commission, though extending to all, was more particularly to “the meek:” for it is to them only, who are humbled under their wretched condition, that the offer of a free salvation contains any welcome news.]
To impart salvation to all who desired it—
[To “the broken hearted, and the mourners in Zion” he came to “appoint” and to “give” the blessings they desired. He was expected as “the consolation of Israel;” and, in that character, he particularly appeared. Were any bowed down with “a spirit of heaviness,” and “mourning in” dust and “ashes!” he came to “bind up their broken hearts,” and to exhilarate their souls; that they might be comforted, and become as persons anointed with oil, and arrayed in gayest apparel for some great festivity [Note: There is in the original a paronomasia which cannot be expressed in a translation; he will give Phear for Ephar, that is, “beauty for ashes.”]. We may conceive the feelings of a man who in one instant has been restored, from the lowest degree of servitude and want, to affluence and honour; but we must experience the blessedness of salvation, before we can form any adequate idea of the joy and gladness which Christ infuses into the contrite and believing soul.]
Thus far our Lord himself applied the passage: but the prophet adds,
The ends for which he executes this commission—
Our Lord in every part of his work connected two great ends:
The benefit of man—
[Though “once we were planted a noble vine, we are become the degenerate plants of a strange vine; and instead of producing good fruit, we bring forth nothing but grapes of Sodom, and clusters of Gomorrha [Note: Jeremiah 2:21.Deuteronomy 32:32; Deuteronomy 32:32.].” But Christ desires to rectify our fallen nature, and to make us “trees of righteousness;” that, “instead of the thorn may come up the fir-tree, and instead of the brier the myrtle-tree [Note: Isaiah 55:13.],” that so we may be as trees “planted and watered by the hand of God.” This was the end of his mission; and it is invariably the effect of his ministration. Let us only view the converts on the day of Pentecost, and in them we shall behold a just specimen of the effects produced by the preached Gospel: and, to whomsoever the word of Christ comes with power, the same blessings are given; they are transplanted from the wilderness into the garden of the Lord, and “they have their fruit unto holiness, and their end everlasting life.”]
The glory of God—
[This could not but be the great end which Jesus ever had in view: he had sinned if there had been any consideration in his mind superior or even comparable to this. And how well was his commission calculated to promote it! View him as undertaking our cause, and coming from heaven to redeem us; can we fail of admiring the love and condescension of that God who sent him? Hear the tidings he proclaims; a full, a free, an everlasting salvation to perishing sinners: are we not filled with wonder at such stupendous mercy? See the myriads whose broken hearts he has healed; see them rejoicing on earth, or shouting their hallelujahs in heaven; are we not ready to clap our hands for joy, and to break forth into acclamations and hosannahs? There is not any part of Christ’s work, whether as performed by him, or enjoyed by us, but what calls upon us to glorify God with our whole hearts: and to all eternity will the praises of God resound from myriads of the redeemed, who, with united voices will exclaim, “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever [Note: Revelation 5:13.].]
This subject may be improved,
[All profess to hope for salvation through Christ, even though they be insensible of their lost and helpless state. But, if it be to the meek, the mourners, and the broken-hearted, that Christ came, what can they have to do with him, whose hearts are whole, and who are unhumbled before him? “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: nor did he come to call the righteous (those who fancy themselves righteous), but sinners to repentance.” Let none then expect to participate his salvation, unless they feel their need of it, and consent to receive it as his free unmerited gift.]
[They who are sensible that they have sold heaven and their own souls “for a thing of nought,” are ready to say, “Can such a lawful captive ever be delivered [Note: Isaiah 49:24-25.]?” We answer, You may instantly cast off your bonds and assert your liberty, if you will but accept the preferred mercy. Only believe in Christ, and the forfeited inheritance of heaven shall be yours. Arise then, and sing, thou that sittest in the dust; put off thy sackcloth, and gird thee with gladness. Be not afraid, us though the tidings were too good to be true: the jubilee is come, and the trumpet now sounds by the command of God himself: you have not to pay any thing for your deliverance; but to receive it freely: you have nothing to fear from your enemies; for “the day of God’s vengeance is come,” and he will bruise all your enemies under your feet. Let but these tidings sink into your hearts; and God will glorify himself in your eternal happiness.]
BLESSEDNESS OF THE LORD’S PEOPLE
Isaiah 61:9. All that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed.
IN the different countries of the world, the inhabitants are characterized by distinctive differences in their features; and from generation to generation, notwithstanding the vast diversity of countenances, that peculiarity of cast pervades them all. Nevertheless, amidst all the nations where they are scattered, the descendants of Abraham may be clearly discerned from the original inhabitants of the soil: they all shew, by their countenances, their relation to their common parent. And may we not say respecting his spiritual children also, that they may be distinguished from others? True it is, that in outward appearance they resemble those around them; but in heart, in spirit, and in life, they are different from all the world; and yet, however distant from each other in climate, in education, and in habits, they all resemble each other, and bear the stamp and character of God, as their common Father.
In the passage before us, which foretells the increase of the Church in the Apostolic and Millennial periods, this circumstance is noticed: a peculiar blessedness is said to belong to the people of the Lord, even such a blessedness as should be visible to all who beheld them, and should distinguish them from all other persons on the face of the earth. In confirmation of this singular fact, we propose to shew,
That the Lord’s people are pre-eminently blessed—
They are so—
[Consult the names given to them in the Holy Scripture: they are “the children of light,” “the children of obedience,” “the children of God;” whilst all others are the children of darkness, of disobedience, of the wicked one — — — Consider the state into which they are brought, a state of pardon, of peace, of holiness, of joy: whilst the whole world besides lieth in wickedness, and are utter strangers to all the blessings of the New Covenant — — — Consider further their prospects in the future world, they being made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; whilst to all others there is nothing but “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation” to consume them — — — Are not such persons then “a blessed seed?”]
They were so, in God’s purpose, before they came into the world—
[We are astonished that many who profess to approve of the Articles of the Church of England, should be so averse to hear the smallest mention made of the counsels and decrees of God. That it is not profitable to be always insisting upon them, we readily admit; and that to dive too curiously into them, as though we were capable of comprehending the deepest mysteries in them, is highly presumptuous: but we must not on that account keep them wholly out of view, or be afraid of speaking as the Scripture speaks. God did most assuredly know from all eternity who were, or should be, his: and he did “choose them in Christ before the foundation of the world,” and “predestinate them to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself [Note: Ephesians 1:4-5.];” and “he gave them to Christ [Note: John 17:2; John 17:6.],” to be redeemed by his blood, to be saved by his grace, and to be made heirs of his glory [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.]: yea, he “wrote their names in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the world [Note: Revelation 13:8.].” How truly blessed then must they be! — — —]
They will be so to all eternity—
[All their present privileges and blessings are only preparatory to their future state, when their happiness will be perfect, unchangeable, and everlasting. They are to be “made meet for their inheritance” in this world; and, when they are completely ready for their nuptials with their heavenly Bridegroom, he will come and take them to himself, that they may live for ever in the perfect fruition of his love [Note: Revelation 19:7.] — — — To bring them to this, was God’s original design in choosing them. To fit them for it, is the end of all his dispensations, both of providence and grace. And to possess it, is the one object which they have in view, in all their labours, in all their sufferings, in all their conflicts.]
Moreover, our text asserts that this their blessedness is visible to others, even to all who know them. We proceed therefore to inquire,
Whence it is that all who know them acknowledge this—
The world at large do not know them [Note: 1 John 3:1.]: they stand at so great a distance from the Lord’s people, that they cannot properly be said to “see” them: and hence, from the indistinctiveness of their views, they imagine that these people are either vile hypocrites or deluded enthusiasts. But those who have an opportunity of ascertaining their real character, are constrained to acknowledge them as the blessed of the Lord. This conviction is wrought on the minds of others by,
Their delight in God—
[Their happiness is altogether in God, even in that God and Saviour who bought them with his blood: they delight in a sense of his favour, in the enjoyment of his presence, and in the performance of his will — — — In this respect they differ from all other men on the face of the earth. Others may render unto God some external services; but the believer alone “loves the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity,” so as to serve him with all the powers and faculties of his soul — — — Hence there arises to the believer a peculiarity of character which elevates him above all other men, and makes it manifest that “he is of the seed which the Lord hath blessed.”]
Their superiority to the world—
[Believers, though in the world, “are not of it, even as Jesus Christ himself was not of the world:” they rise above its maxims, its pleasures, its interests, its honours: “they are crucified to it, and consider it as crucified to them” — — — But all other people are of the world: whether they live immersed in its cares, or secluded from its society, they still have their affections placed on things below, and not on things above; and, however they may pretend to despise the world, they are in reality its votaries, as much as if they were following it in the more accustomed way. The monk in his cell lives to himself and to the flesh, as much as the voluptuary or the man of business — — — Now here is another visible mark of distinction between the children of God and others: they may possess, and may enjoy, much of this world; but “though they use this world, they do not abuse it;” though they discharge their duties in it, they are in no respect in bondage to it: and this also elevates their character in the eyes of all who know them, and distinguishes them as pre-eminently favoured of their God.]
Their activity in doing good—
[Like their Divine Master, they “go about doing good.” This is, as it were, the element in which they delight to move: and, though they themselves are a very “little flock” in comparison of those around them, it will be found that almost every great and extensive charity has proceeded from them. Of the charities which relate to the souls of men and their edification in the faith of Christ, they, under God, are the sole authors: others may contribute to the spread of the Bible, the establishment of missions, and the promotion of religion in various ways; but the proposals that first set on foot those charities will be found, perhaps universally, to have originated with men of real piety. Here again they differ from all around them; for though we thankfully acknowledge that there is a considerable portion of benevolence in many who are not truly devoted to God, yet there is no real zeal in them for the diffusion of the Gospel, and the salvation of a ruined world.]
The whole consistency of their conduct—
[Times and circumstances make no change in them. At all times, and under all circumstances, they are glad in non-essentials to consult the weakness of others: but in things essential they are equally unmoved by hopes or fears. They know not to please men, unless it be for their good to edification. They have but one rule, the written word of God; and to that they are determined to adhere in life and death. But this is a character peculiar to them. All other persons, how pertinacious soever they may be in some things, will relax in others, according as inclination or interest may lead them. In regard to honour and probity indeed a worldly man may be as immovable as others; but in things relating either to the exercise or encouragement of vital godliness, he cannot possibly maintain an uniform tenour of conduct: he wants the principle which alone can produce a firm, uniform, and decided character: consequently where consistency in true religion is, there it will commend itself to all who are able to appreciate its value, and will stamp its possessor as a child of God.]
Let all be ambitious to attain this honour—
[To be acknowledged as the friends and favourites of earthly monarchs were no honour at all in comparison of that which is mentioned in our text. Yet this is within the reach of all. As for that common objection, “If God has not chosen me, how can I help myself?” it is impious in the extreme [Note: Romans 9:19-20.]. We have nothing to do with the decrees of God, any farther than to refer all good to him, as its true and only source: our duty is, not to dispute, but to obey: and if, in obedience to God’s command, we will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be numbered amongst his spiritual seed, and be “blessed in him with all spiritual and eternal blessings.”]
Let those who possess it endeavour to walk worthy of it—
[Remarkable is that exhortation of St. Paul, in his Epistle to Timothy, “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his: but [Note: 2 Timothy 2:19. The word Καιhas this meaning, in this and many other places.], Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Do we profess to be of the seed which the Lord has blessed? let us shew that we are so by our conduct and conversation. If we are “sons of God, we must be blameless and harmless, shining as lights in the world, and holding forth in our conduct the word of life [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.].” It is in this way only that we can approve ourselves to be God’s chosen people; and in this way only can we constrain our fellow-creatures to acknowledge the justice of our pretensions.]
THE BELIEVER CLAD WITH THE GARMENTS OF SALVATION
Isaiah 61:10.—I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of rightteousness, as a Bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a Bride adorneth herself with her jewels.
THE abruptness of this passage cannot but strike every one who reads it. But this is common in the prophetic writings. The prophets are wont to pass over hundreds or even thousands of years, as though they were already past; and to represent as existing before their eyes, the things which shall exist at periods the most remote. It is in this way that they express their confidence in the truth of their own predictions, and encourage us also to look forward to the accomplishment of them with the fullest assurance.
The words are uttered, as it were, by the Jewish Church at the period of their conversion to Christianity. In the three first verses of this chapter the Lord Jesus Christ declares his commission to save the world [Note: ver. 1–3. with Luke 4:17-21.]. In the three next, the Jews, notwithstanding their desolate condition previous to that time, are assured of their participation in his benefits, being themselves restored to their own country, and converted to the faith of Christ. In the three next verses they are informed, that they shall be pre-emimently blessed, far above all that ever their nation experienced in its most favoured seasons; insomuch, that they shall be objects of admiration and envy through the whole Gentile world. These things being predicted, the Jewish Church is introduced as exulting in the actual experience of them: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God.” But it is as members of the Christian Church that they use this language: and therefore without confining our attention to them, we shall consider our text as expressing,
The believer’s boast—
To boast in any thing of our own would be absurd and impious: but to boast in God is highly becoming; as David says, “In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever [Note: Psalms 44:8.].”
The mercy vouchsafed to him is exceeding great—
[He is “clothed with the garments of salvation, and covered with a robe of righteousness,” that has been formed for him by God himself. In the 6th verse of this chapter the Jews are informed, that “they (not the tribe of Levi only, but their whole nation) shall be named the priests of the Lord, and the ministers of their God.” Now for the priests there were certain garments appointed, wherein they were to minister, especially the linen ephod; which was intended to intimate to them the purity that became their high office. For the high priest there were some other “garments for glory and for beauty [Note: Exodus 28:2.].” In reference to these it is that the believer says, “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation;” for every believer under the Christian dispensation is “a king and a priest unto his God [Note: Revelation 1:6.]:” the whole body of them are “a royal priesthood [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.]:” and for them a robe of righteousness is prepared, which shall be to them a garment of salvation. This robe of righteousness may be understood of that righteousness which the Lord Jesus Christ hath wrought out for his people by his own obedience unto death, and “which is unto all, and upon all, them that believe in him [Note: Romans 3:22.].” This is the righteousness which the Prophet Daniel speaks of as to be brought in by the Messiah [Note: Daniel 9:24.], and which St. Paul desired to possess, “not having his own righteousness which was of the law, but the righteousness which was of God by faith in Christ [Note: Philippians 3:9.].” It is by imparting this righteousness to the believer that “Christ is made righteousness unto him [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.],” and that he acquires that title which is given him by all his people, “The Lord our Righteousness [Note: Jeremiah 23:6.].”
But these garments of salvation may also be understood of that righteousness which the Holy Spirit imparts to all who believe in Christ. He forms them anew: he enables them to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ [Note: Romans 13:14.];” or, in other words, to “put off the old man, and to put on the new, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:24.].” This is the idea which the priestly garments were more immediately intended to convey: for though they were an outward covering, they were chiefly emblematic of inward purity; in reference to which it is said, “Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation [Note: Exodus 19:6.].” And this may well be called “a garment of salvation:” for, though it is not that which justifies us before God, it constitutes our meetness for the heavenly inheritance [Note: Colossians 1:12.], and is that “without which no man shall see the Lord [Note: Hebrews 12:14.].”
With these garments and this robe is the believer clothed: the very moment he comes to Christ, the one is imputed to him, so that he is “accepted in the Beloved [Note: Ephesians 1:6.];” and the other is begun within him, to be progressively advanced and “perfected unto the day of Christ [Note: Philippians 1:6.].”]
In this he may well boast—
[So far is it from being an act of presumption to boast in this, it is the believer’s duty to do so: for the Prophet Isaiah expressly says, “Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory [Note: Isaiah 45:24-25.].” The believer ought to contemplate the mercies he has received, and to acknowledge the goodness of God in conferring them upon him. If he did not give glory thus unto his God, “the very stones would cry out against him.”]
Such being the believer’s experience, we shall not wonder at,
When the blessed Virgin was congratulated on the mercy vouchsafed to her, she burst forth into this devout acknowledgment, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour [Note: Luke 1:46-47.].” So every believer, reviewing the mercies conferred on him, says, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord: my soul shall be joyful in my God.” And this determination is,
[Contemplate the comparison which the prophet himself institutes between the ornaments thus put on the believer, and those in which persons are wont to deck themselves at the celebration of their nuptials: for “he is covered with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” Are they happy in the prospect of their union, and shall not he be happy in the union which has already taken place between Christ and his soul? For it is not only to serve his God that he is now brought, but to enjoy him; and that too in an union the most intimate and endeared that can possibly be conceived. A man and his wife are one flesh; but “he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:17.].” Nor is this union in prospect merely, but in actual existence. From the moment that the believer is clothed with the garments of salvation, he is espoused to his God: he is set apart for God; and God reserves himself, as it were, for him [Note: Hosea 3:3.]: and in due time the union will be perfected in glory. And does not this call for joy and thanksgiving? See what feelings it will create in heaven, the very instant that the period shall have arrived when the Spouse shall be presented to her Lord, to be happy for ever in more immediate fellowship with him: “A voice came out of the throne, saying, Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him both small and great. And I heard, as it were, the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth! Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted, that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints [Note: Revelation 19:5-8.].” Shall the believer then stay till he arrives in heaven before he begins his joy? No: the language of his heart and lips should be that of David; “I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me; and let us exalt his name together [Note: Psalms 34:1-3.].” Thus will he not be contented with praising God himself: he will stir up all around, to join him in this delightful, this reasonable service.]
Most pleasing to God—
[The command of God to every Believer is, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice [Note: Philippians 4:4.].” “Let Israel rejoice in Him that made him; and the children of Zion be joyful in their king [Note: Psalms 149:2.].” Indeed it is in this way only that we can give him the honour due unto his name. It may appear as if our feeble praises were nothing: and it is true that they can add nothing to the Lord: but still it is true, that they are the tribute which he requires, and by which he considers himself as honoured: “Whoso offereth me praise, glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God [Note: Psalms 50:23.].”]
Let none put away this honour, as too great for them to expect—
[It is not uncommon for persons of a desponding frame to think that such privileges and blessings are not for them. But can any one be in a more hopeless state than the Jews? View them in any light, and say whether there is, humanly speaking, any probability of their being brought to the state described in the preceding context, and to the frame expressed in our text? Yet that shall be: nor shall all the powers of darkness ever prevent it. Be strong then, and of good courage, thou desponding soul; and go unto thy God with the prayer of faith. Then, though thou hast been like the prodigal in extravagance and sin, thou shalt be clothed in the best robe that is in thy Father’s house, and “be presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy [Note: Jude, ver. 24.].”]
Let none abuse this honour to the purposes of licentiousness—
[There are those who “turn the very grace of God into licentiousness;” and who pervert the doctrine of imputed righteousness to sanction and to justify their continuance in sin. But it is a certain fact, “that Christ is never made righteousness to any man, without being made his sanctification also [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:30.].” If Christ have redeemed you by his blood, it is that you may be mude “a peculiar people, zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” Without this inward change, all your joy and glorying will be an empty boast: and “every sacrifice which you offer to your God, will be an abomination to him [Note: Proverbs 15:8.].” You well know the fate of him who presumed to sit down at the marriage supper, not having on a wedding garment: and if he, a mere guest, “was cast out into outer darkness,” what must be the fate of one who should claim the privileges of the Bride herself, whilst yet she possessed not the only qualities that could endear her to the Lord? Be assured, you must be “all glorious within, and have your clothing also of wrought gold,” if you would find acceptance with the King of kings, and “be brought with gladness and rejoicing to the palace” of the heavenly Bridegroom [Note: Psalms 45:13-15.].]
THE CONVERSION OF THE WORLD TO GOD PROMISED
Isaiah 61:11. As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to bring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.
TRUTH when delivered in simple terms, does not so forcibly impress the mind, as when it is embodied, as it were, in some image that is visible before our eyes: for a great number of ideas are, by means of a metaphor, presented to us at once; and, having been long familiarized to our mind, they require no stretch or intenseness of thought to bring them together; so that we view a subject, as it were, almost in its full extent, without the labour of prosecuting it in its several parts. To the great mass of mankind this species of instruction is peculiarly beneficial; because it puts the poor on an equal footing with the rich, and, in many respects, enables the illiterate peasant to comprehend truth as extensively and as accurately as the most learned philosopher. The conversion of the world, and of the Jewish nation more especially, is the subject here spoken of [Note: If it were a Sermon for the Jews (to whom the passage primarily refers), the reference to them should be made somewhat more prominent in the discourse.]; and it is predicted as resembling the spring season, wherein the whole face of nature is changed. Now, every one, however ignorant, beholds this change, and is able, in a great measure, to appreciate both its extent and value; and consequently may look forward to the accomplishment of the prediction with an interest which a more laboured and extended statement might fail to excite.
Let us then consider,
The comparison here instituted between the natural and moral world—
In the natural world, the parts which are uncultivated present to the view a dreary and desolate wilderness; but, when brought into cultivation, they assume altogether a new appearance, producing every thing which is beautiful to the eye, or profitable for the use of man. It is necessary, however, that human agency should be employed in effecting this change: though, after all that man can do, the work is God’s alone.
In these four particulars the comparison may well be traced.
Barren beyond expression are the countries that are destitute of spiritual cultivation—
[What is the very religion of such countries, but a mixture of the darkest ignorance with the most gloomy superstition? — — — And if such be their religion, which is under regulation and restraint, what must be their habits when subjected to no restraint? — — — A desert, or a wilderness, that brings forth nothing but briers and thorns, is but too just a picture of their state.]
But, through the Gospel of Christ, a wonderful change is wrought—
[See it in the people on the day of Pentecost; their hands were yet reeking with the Saviour’s blood; yet, by the labours of a few short hours, not less than three thousand souls were “turned from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Such is the change which the Gospel operates, wheresoever it is received into the heart [Note: Colossians 1:6.]: “instead of the brier grows up the fir-tree, and instead of the thorn grows up the myrtle-tree [Note: Isaiah 55:13.];” and the whole “desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose.”]
This is effected through the instrumentality of man—
[As, in the productions of the garden and the field, it is by human labour that fertility is produced; so it is by the ministry of man that God extends to men the blessings of salvation: as it is said, “How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how can they hear without a preacher [Note: Romans 10:14.]?”]
The power, however, that effects it is God’s alone—
[In man himself there exists no power to produce any thing that is spiritually good; no, “not so much as to think a good thought [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:5.]:” on the contrary, “in his heart there is nothing but evil, and that continually [Note: Genesis 6:5.].” The work, as far as it prevails in any man, is God’s alone [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:5.]. As to him must be ascribed the glory of all the products of the earth; so must all spiritual good, in whomsoever it be found, be referred to him as its true and proper source [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:7.]. And if this be the case with respect to all the good that is in man, much more must it be so as it respects any good that is wrought by man. Even “Paul may plant, and Apollos water; but God alone can give the increase [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:6.].” As far as relates to the practical efficiency even of the best means, the creature is nothing, and God is all [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:7.].]
From the image in which the prediction is conveyed, let us turn to,
The change itself, which is predicted in it—
The passage primarily belongs to the Jews; and declares, as the whole preceding and following contexts do, their restoration to God, to the admiration and astonishment of the whole world. We need not, however, confine it to them [Note: This observation, if the subject be used as a Sermon for the Jews, should, of course, be omitted.]; but may contemplate generally,
The change described—
[Behold the whole world, Jewish as well as Gentile, yea, and I must add, the Christian too; how little is there of vital and evangelical “righteousness” to be seen! — — — As for “praise,” except amongst a very small remnant of true Believers, it is never heard ascending to the throne of God. A form of godliness, indeed, is common: but such piety as existed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and such devotions as were poured forth by the holy Apostles, are rare indeed: so rare, that neither is the one seen, nor the other heard, but as a strange thing, to be gazed at with wonder, or be stigmatized as folly [Note: 1 Peter 4:4.].
But it shall not be always so: for, in God’s time, righteousness shall spring up, as it were, not partially on this or that favoured spot, but simultaneously, like the verdure of the spring upon the face of the whole earth. Though the word be sown only like “an handful of corn upon the tops of the mountains, its fruit shall shake like the woods of Lebanon, and the converts be like the piles of grass that cover the earth [Note: Psalms 72:16.].” “In every place, too, will incense be offered, and a pure offering” of praise and thanksgiving [Note: Malachi 1:11.]; so that earth will be an emblem, and an antepast, of heaven. Then will be realized that vision of the beloved Apostle, who “saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband [Note: Revelation 21:2.].” For this period we look with the strongest possible assurance, even for “the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness [Note: 2 Peter 3:13.].”]
The excellency of it—
[View this change, either as it respects God and his honour, or man and his happiness. Is it not grievous to reflect that God is almost banished from this lower world; and that the Saviour, who came down from heaven to redeem it, is scarcely known, or known only to be dishonoured and blasphemed? Verily, it is a wonder that a world so lost in wickedness is not burnt up, as Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed it would be so, but for the elect’s sake. God in tender mercy spares it, because he has ordained that one day this barren fig-tree shall yield him fruit; and unnumbered millions, who shall spring from the loins of his inveterate foes, shall rise “a new creation,” and “be to him for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory, to all eternity.”
And how blessed will this change be to our fallen race! At present, men are but miserable creatures, full of evil passions, “hateful in themselves, and hating all around them [Note: Titus 3:3.];” yea, filled also with terrible forebodings in relation to their eternal state. But then, freed from the bonds of sin and the apprehensions of death, and living in the enjoyment of God’s presence and in the prospect of his glory, they will go on their way rejoicing. Every day will bring them an augmentation of bliss, and be, as it were, a prelude of eternal felicity. Not that this blessedness shall then commence on earth: no; it is already experienced by thousands, who can bear their testimony, that, both in respect of holiness and happiness, they have known a transition, great as from the wintry aspect of a desolate wilderness to the vernal beauty of a highly-cultivated garden.
Such is the change which is now fast approaching; and such is “the work of God’s hands, wherein he will ere long be glorified” throughout the earth [Note: Isaiah 60:21.].]
See then, Beloved,
What you should seek for yourselves—
[Look for such a change to be wrought in your hearts. This is conversion: this is salvation begun in the soul: this is the indispensable requisite for the enjoyment of heaven. Cast your eyes around you, and see the face of nature now, as contrasted with its appearance during the winter months: you see it; you admire it; you enjoy it. O! let the great Husbandman behold this blessed change in you! Let not the showers of grace, which he pours forth around you, and the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, which he causes to shine upon you, be received in vain: for then will you only bring down the heavier curse upon your souls, as the Apostle Paul has warned you: “The earth that drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth briers and thorns is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing: whose end is, to be burned.” Pray rather to God, that his Holy Spirit may be poured out upon you, as “rain upon the mown grass [Note: Psalms 72:6.];” and that your beloved Saviour may “come down into your souls, as into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits [Note: Song of Solomon 4:16.].” And be not contented with any measure of fruitfulness which at any time you may have attained: but, if there be the blade, look for the ear; and if there be the ear, look for the full corn in the ear [Note: Mark 4:28.];” that “you may be trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord; and that he may be glorified.”]
What you should desire for the world at large—
[Take for your prayer these words of the prophet: “Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation; and let righteousness spring up together [Note: Isaiah 45:8.].” You have abundant encouragement to address your God in these terms, because he has absolutely promised that the event predicted shall be accomplished: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose: it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God [Note: Isaiah 35:1-2.].” Shall such prospects be opened to us, and we feel no desire to have them realized? Let us be ashamed that we can be so regardless of God’s honour, and so indifferent about the salvation of our fellow-men. And, whilst we pray to God to effect this great work, let us, according to our respective abilities, be “fellow-workers with him;” and never rest till “the wilderness become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest [Note: Isaiah 32:15.].”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 61". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17