Thursday, June 8th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ isaiah-1.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz
Isaiah the son of Amoz
This is not Amos the inspired herdsman.
It is his glory simply that he was the father of Isaiah. Like many another he lives in the reflected glory of his offspring. The next best thing to being a great man is to be the father of one. (S. Horton.)
The rabbis represent his father Amoz as having been a brother of King Amaziah; but, at any rate, if we may judge from his illustrious son’s name, which means “salvation is from Jehovah,” he was loyal to the national faith in days clouded by sore troubles, political danger threatening from without, and deep religious decay pervading all classes of the community. (C. Geikie, LL. D.)
The vision of Isaiah
The word “vision” is used here in the wide sense of a collection of prophetic oracles (Nahum 1:1; Obadiah 1:1). As the prophet was called a “seer,” and his perception of Divine truth was called “seeing,” so his message as a whole is termed a “vision.” (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The time when Isaiah prophesied
Why does the Bible tell us so particularly the time when Isaiah prophesied? Does not the thinker belong to all the ages Does not the poet sing for all time? Why weight the narrative with these thronelogical details? Because you can only judge either a man or his message by knowing the circumstances of his time. If you take a geologist a new specimen he not only wants to know its genus and species, but the matrix out of which it was hewn. The best men not only help to make their times, but their times help to make them. He who is moulded entirely by his surroundings is a human jelly fish--of no account. He who is not influenced at all by “the play of popular passion”--the set of public opinion--is an anachronism, a living corpse. (S. Horton.)
Isaiah’s manly outspokenness
It is a living man who speaks to us. This is not an anonymous book. Much value attaches to personal testimony. The true witness is not ashamed of day and date and all the surrounding chronology; we know where to find him, what he sprang from, who he is, and what he wants. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken
God finds vindication in nature
I well remember two funerals going out of my house within a few brief months during my residence in London.
There were cards sent by post and left at the door, in all kindliness; but one dark night when my grief overwhelmed me I looked at some of the cards and could find no vibration of sympathy there. I had not felt the touch of the hand that sent them. I went out into the storm that moaned and raged alternately, and walked round Regent’s Park through the very heart of the hurricane. It seemed to soothe me. You troy I could not find sympathy there. Perhaps not, but I at least found affinity: the storm without seemed to harmonise with the storm within; and then I remembered that He who sent that storm to sweep over the earth loved the earth still, and then remembered that He who sent the storm to sweep over my soul, and make desolate my home, loved me still. I got comfort there in the darkness, and the wild noise of a storm on an autumn night, which I found not in cards of condolence, sincere as in many instances the sympathy of the senders was. Ah me! when man not only failed to sympathise, but also forgot all gratitude and rebelled against his Heavenly Father, I can imagine God looking out to His own universe, to the work of His own hand, and seeking vindication, if not sympathy, as He spoke of man, his rebellion and folly. (D. Davies.)
The sinful nation
I. THE PRIVILEGES OF THE NATION. It was no mean prerogative to become the chosen people of God, but for what was that choice made? Not because of perfect characters surely; but rather to declare among the nations the messages of God; not a nation holy in character, but with a holy errand. When the ten tribes revolted, leaving only a remnant, that remnant must do the errand appointed. Thus did God speak of them as “My people,” “My children.” Our privileges cannot save us, and even our blessings may become a curse. God cannot give to us personally what we will not receive.
II. THE NATIONAL CORRUPTION. What the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is in the New Testament, that is the first chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy in the Old. Deeper degradation than that of Israel it would be hard to find. In Isaiah’s time, gold and silver idols glittered on every street of Jerusalem. By royal authority, worship was given to the sun and moon. At the opening of each new season, snow-white horses, stalled in the rooms at the temple entrance, were driven forth harnessed to golden chariots to meet the sun at its rising. Incense ascended to heathen gods from altars built upon the streets. Vice had its impure rites in the temple itself. The valley of Hinnom echoed the dying screams of children offered as sacrifices in the terrible flames of the hideous Moloch. Words fail in depicting the deep corruption. There is the sting of sin in the plain statement of the awful history, “They have forsaken the Lord,” etc.
III. THE RELATION OF RITUAL TO MORALITY. The more pronounced the ceremonial, the more tenaciously will men cling to it. Thus, in Isaiah’s day, they who had swung their incense to the sun and moon; who had worshipped Baal upon the high places and in the groves; who had cast their children into the burning arms of Moloch, turned immediately from these heathenish practices to worship in the temple. Of burnt offerings and sacrifices there was no end. The purest spiritual worship, like that of Enoch and Abraham and Melchizedek, did not need it; it was given when a nation of slaves, degraded by Egyptian bondage, could appreciate nothing higher, and it was taken away when the true, light was come. There was neither perfection nor spirituality in such a ritual; yet in such a system God tried to elevate the nation to spiritual truths they could not yet apprehend. The ritual could not make morality.
IV. ANY WORSHIP TO PLEASE GOD MUST BE REASONABLE. The Divine appeal claims the undivided attention of the profoundest thoughts; “Come, now, and let us reason together.” (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
The sinful nation
The message to the “sinful nation” with which the book of Isaiah begins has for ourselves the tremendous force of timeliness as well as truth.
I. We are led to consider, that STATE AND NATION ARE INVOLVED TOGETHER. The country is “desolate,” the cities are “burned with fire, and the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.” We remember indeed that the saints have survived in “the dens and caves of the earth.” But these victories of truth and righteousness--God’s power to overrule wickedness--by no means contradict Isaiah’s vision. If it is true that the Founder of the Church can maintain its strength notwithstanding civil turmoil and decay, let us also consider how God magnifies the Church through days of peace and virtue. Jesus Himself waited until the nations were still And what may be the possibilities for His kingdom of the continued growth and happiness of our own country, it is entrancing to contemplate. The treasuries of love, how full they may be! The pastors and teachers for every dark land,--what hosts there may be prepared!
II. Aroused to the consideration of such a problem, we readily appreciate the prophet’s reference to THE RESPONSIBILITY OF RULERS (verse 10). Our own happy visions of the future may all be over clouded if there be but one Ahab in authority. The exhortation, therefore, addresses those who as citizens are to be charged with the duty of placing men in power.
III. We find the prophet distinctly TRACING THE NATIONAL CALAMITIES TO THE NATION’S WICKEDNESS (verses 4-8).
IV. THE PROPHET’S MESSAGE TO HIS COUNTRYMEN IS PARTICULARLY DIRECTED AGAINST THEIR IMPIETY. They have forms of religion enough, indeed. But out of the people’s worship the heart and life have departed. Only the husks remain. Perhaps it will be seen in the end that the Pharisee is not only as bad, but as bad a citizen too, as the glutton and the winebibber. The Pharisaic poison works with a more stealthy force and makes its attacks upon more vital parts. We are to look not only for a sinful nation’s natural decay, but besides for those mighty interpositions of Providence in flood and famine, in pestilence and war, directly for its punishment and overthrow.
V. THE VALUE OF A “REMNANT.” God has been saving remnants from the beginning--Noah, Abraham, Moses, Nehemiah--and the little companies of which such souls are the centre and the life in every age. God’s plans are not spoiled by man’s madness. If many rebel against Him, He saves the few and multiplies their power. The leaven leavens the whole lump again.
VI. Most impressive, therefore, is THE TENDER AND EMPHATIC PROCLAMATION OF MERCY AND PARDON in this chapter. (Hanford A. Edson, D. D.)
I. THE WRITER (verse 1).
The sinful nation
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE PEOPLE (Isaiah 1:2-6).
III. THE FRUITS OF THIS CHARACTER (Isaiah 1:7-9).
IV. FALSE EFFORTS TO OBTAIN RELIEF (Isaiah 1:10-15). Murderers may be found at church, making their attendance a cloak for their iniquity or an atonement for their crime. God cannot become a party to such horrible trading.
V. THE TRUE WAY OF DELIVERANCE (Isaiah 1:16-18). God not only describes the disease, but provides the remedy. The fountain is provided; sinners must wash in it--must confess, forsake, get the right spirit, and do right. (J. Sanderson, D. D.)
The sermon which is contained in this chapter hath in it--
I. A HIGH CHARGE exhibited in God’s name against the Jewish Church and nation.
1. For their ingratitude (verses 2, 3).
2. For their incorrigibleness (verse 5).
3. For the universal corruption and degeneracy of the people (verses 4, 6, 21, 22).
4. For their rulers’ perverting of justice (verse 23).
II. A SAD COMPLAINT OF THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD which they had brought upon themselves by their sins, and by which they were brought almost to utter ruin (rots. 7-9).
III. A JUST REJECTION OF THOSE SHOWS AND SHADOWS OF RELIGION which they kept up among them, notwithstanding this general defection and apostasy (verses 10-15).
IV. AN EARNEST CALL TO REPENTANCE AND REFORMATION, setting before them life and death (verses 16-20).
V. A THREATENING OF RUIN TO THOSE THAT WOULD NOT BE REFORMED (verses 24, 28-31).
VI. A PROMISE OF A HAPPY REFORMATION AT LAST, and a return to their primitive purity and prosperity (verses 25-27). And all this is to be applied by us, not only to the communities we are members of, in their public interests, but to the state of our own souls. (M. Henry.)
A last appeal
The prophets are God’s storm signals. This was a crisis in Israel’s history. Mercy and judgment had alike failed. The mass of the people had become more hardened. Judgment alone had now become the only real mercy. The prophet was sent to make a last appeal; to warn of judgment.
I. THE CHARGE. They have proved unnatural children. Have disowned their Father. Have failed to meet the claims due from them. Have frustrated the purpose of their national existence. Have, as a nation, wholly abandoned themselves to sin. In spite of exceptional privileges, they have lowered themselves beneath the level of the brutes. Nature witnesses against them, and puts them to shame.
II. THE DEFACE. The prophet imagines them to point to their temple services,--so regular, elaborate, costly,--in proof that their natural relations to their Father have been maintained. But this common self-delusion is disallowed, exposed, repelled. Not ritual, not laborious costly worship is required, but sincerity of heart, integrity of purpose, rightness of mind. Acceptable religious observance must be the spontaneous expression of an inward religious life.
III. THE OFFER OF MERCY. But the day of grace is not even yet past. One last attempt is yet made to arouse the sleeping spiritual sensibilities of the nation by the offer of pardon. Reconciliation is possible only upon amendment.
IV. THE THREAT OF JUDGMENT. Fire alone can now effect the change desired. God cannot be evaded. He is as truly merciful in threatening as in offering pardon. The nation shall be purged, yet not destroyed. Evil shall be consumed. But thereto who, like gold, can stand the fire and come out purified shall be the nucleus of an ideal society, and remodel the national life. All social amendment has its roots in complete purification of individual hearts. The prophet’s dream was never realised. Yet it was not therefore wasted. It was an ideal, an inspiration to the good in after ages. It will one day be realised through the Gospel. (Lloyd Robinson.)
I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me
The Fatherhood of God in relation to Israel
Israel is Jehovah’s men Exodus 4:22, etc.); all the members of the nation are His children Deuteronomy 14:1; Deuteronomy 32:20); He is the Father of Israel, whom He has begotten (Deuteronomy 32:6; Deuteronomy 32:18). The existence of Israel as a nation, like that of other nations, is effected, indeed, by means of natural reproduction, not by spiritual regeneration; but the primary ground of Israel’s origin is the supernaturally efficacious word of grace addressed to Abraham (Genesis 17:15, etc.); and a series of wonderful dealings in grace has brought the growth and development of Israel to that point which it had attained at the Exodus from Egypt. It is in this sense that Jehovah has begotten Israel. (F. Delitzsch.)
Two things that ought never to have been conjoined--
I. THE GRACIOUS AND FILIAL RELATION OF ISRAEL TO JEHOVAH.
II. ISRAEL’S BASE APOSTASY FROM JEHOVAH. (F. Delitzsch.)
The Fatherhood of God in the Old Testament
Sometimes we imagine that the Fatherhood of God is a New Testament revelation; we speak of the prophets as referring to God under titles of resplendent glory and overpowering majesty, and we set forth in contrast the gentler terms by which the Divine Being is designated in the new covenant. How does God describe Himself in this chapter? Here He claims to be Father: I have nourished and brought up sons--not, I have nourished and brought up slaves--or subjects--or creatures--or insects--or beasts of burden--I have nourished and brought up sons: I am the Father of creation, thefountain and origin of the paternal and filial religion. (J. Parker, D. D.)
As the Dead Sea drinks in the river Jordan and is never the sweeter, and the ocean all other rivers and is never the fresher, so we are apt to receive dally mercies from God and still remain insensible to them--unthankful for them. (Bishop Reynolds.)
God man’s truest Friend
We are obliged to speak of the Lord after the manner of men, and in doing so we are clearly authorised to say that He does not look upon human sin merely with the eye of a judge who condemns it, but with the eye of a friend who, while he censures the offender, deeply laments that there should be such faults to condemn. Hear, “O heavens, and give ear, O earth: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me,” is not merely an exclamation of surprise, or an accusation of injured justice, but it contains a note of grief, as though the Most High represented Himself to us as mourning like an ill-treated parent, and deploring that after having dealt so well with His offspring they had made Him so base a return. God is grieved that man should sin. That thought should encourage everyone who is conscious of having offended God to come back to Him. If thou lamentest thy transgression, the Lord laments it too. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The parental grief of God, and its pathetic appeal
(with Isaiah 1:3):--I look upon this text as a fragment of Divine autobiography, and as such possessing the greatest significance to us.
I. It presents to us in a striking manner THE SOCIAL SIDE OF GOD’S CHARACTER. It is well for us to remember that all that is tender and lovable in our social experience, so far as it is pure and noble, is obtained from God. The revelation which we have of God presents Him to us, not as isolated from all His creatures, but as finding His highest joy in perfect communion with exalted spirits whom He has created. I love to think that man exists because of this exalted social instinct in God. Further, when God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” methinks I hear but the echo of a Divine, of a God felt feeling. Among the mysteries of Christ’s passion we find an element of suffering which, as God and man, He felt--“Ye shall leave Me alone”; “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!” Our God is to us an object of supremest interest because He holds with us the most sacred relationship.
II. Our text represents GOD ON THE DOMESTIC SIDE OF HIS CHARACTER. It is the parental rather than the paternal that we see here. The word father does not express all that God is to us. The illustrations of this Book are not exhausted with those that refer to His fatherhood: “Can a woman forget her sucking child,” etc. (Isaiah 49:15). All that is tender in motherhood,as well as all that is strong in fatherhood, is to be found in Him. It is as a parent that He speaks here: “I have nourished”--or “given nutriment.” In other words, “Out of My rich resources of blessing have I provided for their need; I have nourished and brought up children.” Here we have God’s grief revealed in the light which can only come through such tender and loving channels as parental patience and wounded love.
III. Our text reveals GOD’S CHARACTER IN ITS REPROVING ASPECT. The folly is emphasised by the comparison with two creatures, by no means noted for their intelligence. Yet both are domesticated creatures, and feel the ties of ownership. What is it that domesticates a creature? The creature that recognises man as his master, by that very act becomes domesticated. The higher type of knowledge possessed by the domesticated animal is a direct recognition of its master. The finest creatures possess that. There is a lower grade of knowledge, but yet one which stamps the creature as domesticated. That is an acknowledgment, not of the master directly, but a recognition of the provision which the master has made for its need. “The ox knoweth his owner.” The ass does not do that; but the ass knoweth “his master’s crib.” The ass knows the stall where it is fed, and it goes and is fed there. By that act it indirectly acknowledges the sovereignty of its owner, because it recognises his protection.
IV. The text presents to us THE TENDER AND PATHETIC SIDE OF GOD’S CHARACTER. This is God’s version of human sin. His rebukes are full of pathos. With the great mantle of charity that covers over a multitude of sins, and with the Divine pity that puts the best construction upon human rebellion, He puts all down to ignorance and folly. Observe further, that although they have rebelled against Him, He does not withdraw the name He gave them, Israel--“Israel doth not know: My people doth not consider.” He does not repudiate them. The last thing that love can do is that. There is something exceedingly pathetic in God here making an appeal to creation relative to His relationship with man. What if it gave a relief to the heart of God to exclaim to His own creation that groaned with Him over human sin, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth!” Am I imagining? Do we not find a Divine as well as human feeling in Christ’s going to the wilderness or the mountain top in the hours of His greatest need? There, amid God’s creation, He found His Father very near. Here the fact that the child does not know his Heavenly Father is represented as the burden of God’s grief. But in this case the ignorance was wilful This was the burden on the heart of Christ in His prayer (John 17:1-26). There everything is made to depend upon men knowing God as their Father. That is just why we preach. We seek to make it impossible for you to pass through God’s world, and receive from His hands blessings great and boundless, and yet not know Him. We seek to make it impossible for you to look at the Cross and listen to the story of an infinite sacrifice, and yet forget that “God so loved the world,” etc. (D. Davies.)
The heinousness of rebellion against God’s paternal government
The criminality of rebellion must, of course, be affected by the nature of the government and administration against which it is exerted. It must be measured by the mildness and propriety of the system whose authority it renounces, and by the patience, lenity, and wisdom with which that system is administered. If the government be despotic in its character, and administered with implacable or ferocious sternness, it can hardly be unlawful, and may be deserving of commendation. If the government be paternal in its character and administered with paternal sensibilities, then criminal to a degree absolutely appalling.
I. THE PATERNAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD. This is seen in--
1. The object of its precepts. The entire and simple aim of all and every one of His commands, and the motives by which He urges them, appear to be an advancement in knowledge, holiness, and felicity, that we may be fitted for His own presence and intimate communion; for the exalted dignities and interminable bliss of the realms where His honour dwelleth.
2. The length of His forbearance. Who but a father, surpassing all below that have honoured this endearing name, could have borne so long and so meekly, with the thankless, the wayward, the audacious, the provoking! Who but a father, such as Heaven alone can furnish, would return good for evil, and blessing for cursing, hundreds and thou sands of years, and then, when any finite experimenter had utterly despaired, resolve to vanquish his enemies, not by terror, wasting and woe, but by the omnipotence of grace and mercy! Who but a GOD, and a paternal GOD, would have closed such a strange and melancholy history as that of Israel, by sending “His Son into the world, not to condemn the world,” etc.
3. The nature of His tenderness. The philanthropist commiserates the distresses of his fellow creatures, and magnanimously resolves to meliorate them. But he is not animated by that lively, that overpowering, self-sacrificing tenderness which prompts the exertions of a father in behalf of his suffering child. No; that tenderness shrinks from no expenditure, falters before no obstacles. And such was the tenderness of God, for it is not said that He so pitied, but that “He so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son,” etc.
II. IF SIN BE THE RESISTANCE OF THE COMMANDS AND CLAIMS, THE MOTIVES AND EXPOSTULATIONS, THE GRACE AND MERCY OF ONE WHO HAS GIVEN US SUCH ILLUSTRIOUS PROOFS OF HIS PATERNAL REGARD AND
GOODNESS--CAN IT BE OTHER THAN REBELLION? Can it be other than rebellion of a most aggravated character? The consideration should silence every whisper of pretension to meritorious virtue, and stir up the sentiments of profound contrition. It should take every symptom of stubbornness away, and make us self-accusing, lowly, and brokenhearted. (T. W.Coit.)
The ox knoweth his owner . . . but Israel doth not know
What does Isaiah teach about God?
A prophet of his times had much to do in clearing the minds of the people from the confusion, or something worse, into which, as the history shows, the Jews were only too prone to fall. They were surrounded by idolatrous nations, and there was a danger that they might regard Jehovah as though He were like these gods of the nations. Even when they did not sink to this level they were prone to regard Him as their national God, not as the God of all the earth.
I. What the prophet sought to do was to communicate to them something of that view of the MAJESTY OF HIS GLORY AND THE BEAUTY OF HIS HOLINESS which had impressed itself so deeply on his own mind. He had seen God, and he would fain have them see Him also. And where can we search for more sublime conceptions of the spirituality, the holiness, the majesty of God than those which we find in this book?
II. But the teaching of the prophet includes another conception of God which we should be still less prepared to find in the Old Testament. If the lofty conceptions of the Divine spirituality surprise, still more are we impressed with the revelation of THE DIVINE TENDERNESS AND THOUGHT FOR MAN. This is the basis of all those urgent appeals addressed by Isaiah to his own generation. The first chapter strikes the keynote. Here is not a distant God so absorbed in the care of His vast empire that He has no remembrance of His poor children here, and so far removed that between Him and them there can be no sympathy. The prevailing note is that for which we are least prepared--that of Love. There is no dallying with the sin. The apostasy of the people is set forth in its darkest aspects, and the enormity of the rebellion only serves to make more conspicuous the glory of the grace which is proclaimed to these sinners. All their iniquity, their ingratitude, their pride of heart, their forgetfulness of God have not turned the heart of their God from them. Surely these are wondrous teachings to find in this old world record. Isaiah had them from God Himself. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
The inconsiderateness of mankind towards God
I. A SERIOUS FAULT, common, yea, universal. “Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.”
1. Men are most inconsiderate towards God. One would pardon them if they forgot many minor things, and neglected many inferior persons, but to be inconsiderate to their Creator, to their Preserver, to Him in whose hand their everlasting destiny is placed, this is a strange folly as well as a great sin. If it were only because He is so great, and therefore we are so dependent upon Him, one would have thought that a rational man would have acquainted himself with God and been at peace; but when we reflect that God is supremely good, kind, tender and gracious, as well as great, the marvel of man’s thoughtlessness is much increased.
2. Then, again, man is inconsiderate towards himself in reference to his best interests.
3. Thoughtless man is inconsiderate of the claims of justice and of gratitude, and this makes him appear base as well as foolish. The text says, “Israel doth not know.” Now, Israel is a name of nobility, it signifies a prince; and there are some here whose position in society, whose condition amongst their fellow men, should oblige them to the service of God. That motto is true, “noblesse oblige,”--nobility has its obligations; and where the Lord elevates a man into a position of wealth and influence, he ought to feel that he is under peculiar bonds to serve the Lord. I speak also to those who have been trained in the fear of God. To you more is given, and therefore of you more is required.
4. One sad point about this inconsiderateness is, that man lives without consideration upon a matter where nothing but consideration will avail.
5. This inconsideration, also, occurs upon a subject where, by the testimony of tens of thousands, consideration would be abundantly remunerative, and would yield the happiest results.
II. AGGRAVATIONS WHICH ATTEND IT, in many eases.
1. And first, remember that some of these careless persons have had their attention earnestly directed to the topics which still they neglect. Observe in this passage that these people had been summoned by God to consider. The heavens and the earth were called to bear witness that they had been nourished and brought up by the good Father, and in the fourth verse they are rebuked because they continue to be so unmindful of their God. Now, if a person should for a while forget an important thing, we should not be surprised, for the memory is not perfect; but when attention is called to it again and again, when consideration is requested kindly, tenderly, earnestly, and when because the warning is neglected, that attention is demanded with authority, and possibly with a degree of sharpness, one feels that a man who is still unmindful is altogether without excuse, and must be negligent of set purpose and with determined design.
2. The prophet then mentions the second aggravation, namely, that in addition to being called and admonished, these people had been chastened. They had been chastised, indeed, so often and so severely that the Lord wearied of it. He saw no use in smiting them any more. Their whole body was covered with bruises, they had been so sorely smitten. The nation as a nation had been so invaded and trodden down by its enemies that it was utterly desolate, and the Lord says, “Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more.” I may be addressing someone whose life of late has been a series of sorrows. Know you not that all these are sent to wean you from the world? Will you still cling to it! Must the Lord strike again and again, and again and again, before you will hear Him?
3. It was an additional piece of guiltiness that these people were all the while that they would not consider, very zealous in an outward religion.
4. Yet further, there was an aggravation to Israel’s forgetfulness of God, because she was most earnestly and affectionately invited to turn to God by gracious promises. “Come now, and let us reason together saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” A man might say, “Why should I think of God? He is my enemy.” O man, you know better.
5. As a last aggravation, note that these very people had ability enough to consider other things, for we find that they considered how to get bribes, and were very shrewd in following after rewards; yet they did not know and did not consider their God. Oh, how quick are some men in the ways of evil, and yet, if you talk to them about religion they say it is mysterious, and beyond their power of apprehension. Those same persons will discuss with you the knottiest points of politics, or unravel the abstrusities of science, and yet they pretend they cannot understand the simplicities of revelation. “I am a poor man,” saith one, “and you cannot expect me to know much”; yet, if anybody were to meet that same “poor man” in the street and tell him he was a fool, he would be indignant at such an accusation, and would zealously prove that he was not inferior in common sense. “I cannot,” says one, “vex my brain about such things as these”; yet that very man wears his brain far more in pursuit of wealth or pleasure. If a man has an understanding, and can exercise it well upon minor matters, how shall we apologise for his neglect of his God?
III. THE SECRET CAUSES of human indifference to topics so important.
1. In the case of many thoughtless persons we must lay the blame to the sheer frivolity of their nature.
2. I have no doubt that in every ease, however, the bottom reason is opposition to God Himself.
3. Upon some minds the tendency to delay operates fearfully.
4. Some make an excuse for themselves for not considering eternity, because they are such eminently practical men. I only wish that those who profess to be practical were more truly so, for a practical man always takes more care of his body than of his coat, certainly; then should he not take more care of his soul than of the body, which is but the garment of it? A practical man will be sure to consider matters in due proportion; he will not give all his mind to a cricket match and neglect his business. And yet how often your practical man still more greatly errs; he devotes all his time to money making, and not a minute to the salvation of his soul and its preparation for eternity!
5. I have no doubt with a great many their reason for not thinking about soul matters, is prejudice. They are prejudiced because some Christian professor has not lived up to his profession, or they have heard something which is said to be the doctrine of the Gospel, which they cannot approve of.
6. In most cases men do not like to trouble themselves, and they have an uncomfortable suspicion that if they were to look too narrowly into their affairs they would find things far from healthy. They are like the bankrupt before the court the other day who did not keep books; he did not like his books, for his books did not like him. He was going to the bad, and he therefore tried to forget it. They say of the silly ostrich that when she hides her head in the sand and does not see her pursuers she thinks she is safe; that is the policy of many men.
IV. A few words of EXPOSTULATION. Is not your inconsiderateness very unjustifiable? Can you excuse it in any way? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Instinct compared with reason in its recognition of persons
Adam, previous to his fall, instinctively recognised the relations in which he stood to God, to his only existing fellow creature, and to the beasts of the field. He recognised God as his Creator and Preserver; Eve as partaker of the same nature and the same sympathies with himself,--as one therefore to whom he owed a debt of benevolence and support; the inferior animals as vassals put under his feet. But no sooner did he fall, than his natural acknowledgment of these several relations forsook him. The relations, indeed, themselves existed still; but he lost all sense (or nearly all sense) of the obligations grounded upon them. Of all the three ruptures which took place at the fall, the first was--not only far the most serious, but also--the most total and complete. We do not assert that the natural man has lost all sense of obligation to his fellow creatures and to the beasts of the field. We do not desire to derogate from this amiability, this considerateness, this benevolence;--let them pass for what they are worth. At the same time it should be remembered that such traits of character, however pleasing in themselves, rather aggravate than extenuate the fact of the man’s godlessness. What shall we say to man’s acknowledgment of his family and dependants, but that it gives point to the insult of withholding acknowledgment from God? Nor, although the brute creation revolted from man in the hour of his fall, and became intractable, was this breach of separation total and complete. “The ox knoweth his owner.” Even those animals whose instinct is less keen, whose very name has passed into a proverb of stupidity and stubbornness, do not fail to recognise the place in which, and the hand from which, they are in the habit of receiving their daily sustenance. “The ass knoweth his master’s crib.” (Dean Goulburn.)
Man in his relation to God
I. COMPARE THE RELATIONS SUBSISTING BETWEEN AN INFERIOR AND A SUPERIOR CREATURE WITH THOSE SUBSISTING BETWEEN A SUPERIOR AND THE CREATOR. And it will at once suggest itself that, though these relations may be susceptible of comparison, yet there is an insufficiency in the lower relation to type out the higher. The distance, in point of faculties, between man and the inferior creatures, if great, is at least measurable. Man has the superiority over the brutes in respect of his reason,--but in respect of our mortal bodies, the subjects of infirmity and decay, we are both entirely on a par. Whereas the distance between finite man and the Infinite God is, of course, incalculable. This inadequacy of the comparison suggested in our text will become more evident, as we enter into a consideration of its details. The dumb creature recognises the master, whose property he is “The ox knoweth his owner.” What constitutes man’s right of ownership to the ox? Simply the fact that he has given in exchange for it an equivalent in the gold that perisheth. It was not he who created the ox. If he supports its life, it is only by providing it with a due supply of food, not by ministering to it momentarily the breath which it draws. So much for man’s ownership of the ox. Turn we now to God’s ownership of man. What constitutes God’s right of ownership in us, His intelligent creatures?
1. The fact that we are the work of His hands. This constitutes a claim to our services, a property in all our faculties, whether bodily or mental, which no one creature can have in the faculties of another.
2. But creation is not the only ground on which God’s ownership of man rests. Of all things which we may be said to own, our property is most entire, in those things which, having been once deprived of them by fraud or violence, we have subsequently paid a price to recover. That claim, grounded originally upon the fact of creation, has been confirmed, and extended by the fact of redemption. “Ye are not your own,” says the apostle Paul; “for ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Where, in the whole realm of nature, shall we seek a claim so overwhelmingly powerful as this, upon the unreserved devotion of our hearts,--of all that we are and all that we have?
3. But our text suggests to us another detail of the claims which our heavenly Owner has upon our allegiance. “The ass knoweth his master’s crib.” He knows the hand that feeds him and the manger at which he is fed. It asks no scintillation of intelligence, no high effort of an almost rational instinct, to recognise this claim. If man seems to ignore those claims of God which are established by creation and redemption, it might haply be pleaded in his behalf that he is a creature of the senses, and that the facts of creation and redemption are not cognisable by the senses. These stupendous facts are transacted and past, and as far as our animal life is concerned, we do not seem to derive any present benefit from them. But is not even this paltry justification entirely cut off by the fact here implied, that man is indebted to his God for his daily maintenance, for the comfort and the continuance even of his animal life? Our every period of refreshment and repose, of ease and relaxation from toil, is from the unseen hand of our heavenly Owner. It is not, then, the brute creation in a savage state, whose relations towards man are here drawn into comparison with the relations of man towards God. The inspired writer has chosen, as best adapted to illustrate his argument, instances from the domestic animals, who are domiciliated with man, who share his daily toils, and live as his dependants in the immediate neighbourhood of his home. He mentions not the wild and untamed buffalo, which ranges in the distant prairie, but the patient ox and ass, accustomed from early youth to the restraints of the yoke, and familiarised by long habit with their master’s abode and ways of life. Neither, on the other hand, in drawing out the contrast, does he mention mankind generally; the charge of ingratitude is here brought against a specific portion of the human race. Israel doth not know--My people doth not consider.” It were, in some measure, excusable that the Gentiles should refuse acknowledgment to the living God. They possess no revelation of His will. If Israel entertain a secret distaste for the things of God, it is not that such things are strange to him,--jar with his old prejudices or grate upon his early associations. And that which enhances so peculiarly the guilt of Israel enhances yet more the guilt of that Gentile who, by the reception of the first sacrament of the Gospel, has become a fellow citizen with the saints and of the household of God. We might reasonably expect, then, that the baptized at least, whatever others may do, will yield to their Creator, Redeemer, Benefactor, and adopted Father some heartfelt tribute of acknowledgment.
II. A CONTRAST IS DRAWN BETWEEN THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT MADE BY DUMB ANIMALS OF THEIR RELATION TO THEIR OWNERS AND ISRAEL’S REFUSAL OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT TO HIS GOD.
1. And first of the dumb animal’s acknowledgment of his owner. “The ox knoweth his owner.” I understand the term “know” in the ordinary sense of recognising. The cattle recognise the voice of their owner. A word, either of menace or of caress, if addressed to them in the well-known accents of their lord, has an instantaneous effect. Not so the menaces or caresses of strangers. What a cutting proof upon the insensibility of God’s people!
2. “Israel doth not know” The professing members of God’s household, the Church, heed not the calls which He is daily addressing to them by the dealings of His providence without, and the pleadings of His Spirit within them.
(1) They recognise not God in His warnings, whether those warnings be addressed to themselves as individuals, or to the nation of which they are members. Some of them have been stretched upon a sick bed, where death and judgment and eternity have come very nigh unto them.
(2) But, finally, can we allege in his behalf that he habitually acknowledges God in His mercies? God’s blessings of nature and providence are accepted by the great body of His professing people as a matter of course. “The ass knoweth his master’s crib”; but Israel, more senseless than the dumb creature, recognises not the hand which confers his blessings. “He doth not consider.” Want of consideration is the root and reason of this strange insensibility. It is not that he lacks the faculty of apprehending God, but he will not be at the pains to exercise that faculty. It is not that he lacks a speculative knowledge of the truths we have set forth, but that he does not lay to heart that knowledge, nor allow it its due weight. The want of impressibility proceeds from deliberate and wilful thoughtlessness. (Dean Goulburn.)
The distinction between knowledge and consideration
It would appear, from this verse, that the children of Israel neither knew nor considered--but still there is a distinction suggested by it between these two things. And in the Book of Malachi, we have a similar distinction, when the Lord says to the priests, “If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart.” It is, in fact, possible for a man to do one of these things, and not to do the other. He may know the truth, and yet he may not consider it. He may hear, and yet not lay it to heart. And thus it is that we may gather the difference which there is between knowledge and wisdom. The one is a speculative acquirement. The other is a practical faculty or habit. By the latter, we turn to its profitable use the former. Thus it is that there may be great folly along with great scholarship; and, on the other hand, may an unlettered mind be illustrious in wisdom. You have perhaps seen when there was great wealth, and yet, from the want of judicious management, great want of comfort in a family; and what stands in beautiful contrast with this, you may have witnessed the union of very humble means, with such consideration in the guidance of them, as to have yielded a respectable appearance, and a decent hospitality, and the sufficiency of a full provision. And so, with the treasures of intellect, the acquisitions of the mind, whereof one may be rich, being possessed of most ample materials in all knowledge, and yet have an ill-conditioned mind notwithstanding; and another destitute of all but the most elementary truths, may yet, by a wise application of them, have attained to the true light and harmony of the soul, and be in sound preparation both for the duties of time and for the delights of eternity. All have so learned to number their days as to know the extreme limit of human life upon earth; yet all have not so learned to number their days as to apply their hearts unto wisdom. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Knowledge and wisdom
I. This distinction between knowledge and wisdom is abundantly realised even on THE FIELD OF EARTHLY AND OF SENSIBLE EXPERIENCE. The man of dissipation may have his eyes open to the ruin of character and of fortune that awaits him, yet the tyranny of his evil desires constrains him to a perseverance in the ways of wretchedness. The man of indolence may foresee the coming bankruptcy that will ensue on the slovenly management of his affairs, yet there is a lethargy within that weighs him down to fatal inactivity. The man of headlong irritation may be able to discern the accumulating mischief that he raises against himself, and yet continue as before to be hurried away by the onward violence that seizes him. In all these instances there is no want of knowledge in possession. But there is a want of knowledge in use, or in application. The unhappy man has received the truth, but he does not give heed unto the truth.
II. But what we have affirmed, even of those events and consequences that take place along the journey of this world, is still more strikingly apparent of THAT GREAT EVENT WHICH MAKES ITS TERMINATION. There is not a human creature of most ordinary mind, and who hath overstepped the limits of infancy, that does not know of death, and with whom it does not rank among the most undoubted of the certainties that await him. And it is not only that of which he is most thoroughly assured, but it is that of which, in the course of observation and history, he is most constantly reminded. But how is it truly and experimentally? That death of which we all know so well, is scarcely ever in our thoughts. The momentary touch of grief and of seriousness, wherewith we are at times visited, speedily goeth into utter dissipation. It seems not to work the slightest abatement in the eagerness of man after this world’s interests. It needs no impetuous appetite to overbear the thought of death; for in the calm equanimity of many a sober and aged citizen, you will find him as profoundly asleep to the feeling of his own mortality as he is to any of the feelings or instigations of licentiousness. Death is the stepping stone between the two worlds; and so it somewhat combines the palpable of matter, with the shadowy and the evanescent of spirit. It is the gateway to a land of mystery and of silence, and seems to gather upon it some thing of the visionary character which the things of faith have to the eye of the senses. And so, amid all the varieties of temperament in our species, there is a universal heedlessness of death. It seems against the tendency of nature to think of it. The thing is known, but it is not considered. This might serve to convince us how unavailing is the mere knowledge, even of important truth, if not accompanied by the feeling, or the practical remembrance of it. The knowledge in this case only serves to aggravate our folly. Thus, the irreligion of the world is due not to the want of a satisfying demonstration on God’s part, for this might have excused us; but to the want of right consideration on ours, and this is inexcusable.
III. Let us now pass onwards to THE INVISIBLES OF FAITH--to those things which do not, like death, stand upon the confines of the spiritual region, but are wholly within that region, and which man hath not seen by his eye, or heard by his ear--to the awful realities that will abide in deep and mysterious concealment from us, so long as we are in the body. This character of unseen and spiritual is not confined to things future. There are things present which are spiritual also. There is a present Deity, who dwelleth in light, it is true; but it is light inaccessible. And yet, even of this great Spirit we may be said, in one sense, to know, however little it is that we may consider Him. There are averments about God which we have long recognised and ranked among our admitted propositions, though we seldom recur to them in thought, and are never adequately impressed by them. We know, or think we know, that God is; and that all other existence is suspended upon His will; and that He is a God of inviolable sacredness, in whose presence evil cannot dwell. Now, as a proof how distinct this knowledge of God is from the consideration of Him, we will venture to say that even the first and simplest of all these propositions is, by many unthought of for days and weeks together. In the work that you prosecute, and the comforts that you enjoy, and even the obligations of which you acquit yourselves to relatives and to friends, is there any fear of God before your eyes?--and is not the fear of disgrace from men a far more powerful check upon your licentiousness, than the fear of damnation from Him who is the judge and the discerner of men? This emptiness of a man’s heart as to the recognition of God runs throughout the whole of his history. He is engrossed with what is visible and secondary and he thinks no farther. When he enjoys, it is without gratitude. When he enjoys, it is without the impulse of an obedient loyalty. When he admires, it is without carrying the sentiment upwardly unto heaven. Now, this is God’s controversy with man in the text. He there complains of our heedlessness. And this inconsideration of ours is matter of blame, just because it is a matter of wilfulness. Man has a voluntary control over his thoughts.
IV. But the distinction between those who only know and those who also consider, is never more strongly marked than in THE PECULIAR DOCTRINES OF THE GOSPEL. And fearful is the hazard lest knowledge and it alone should satisfy the possessor. The very quantity of debate and of argument that has been expended on theology, leads to a most hurtful misconceiving of this matter. The design of argument is to carry you onward to a set of accurate convictions. And yet, the whole amount of your acquisition may be a mere rational Christianity. There are no topics on which there has been so much of controversy, or that have given rise to so many an elaborate dissertation, as the person and offices of Christ. Yet, let it not be disguised that the knowledge of all these credenda is one thing, and the practical consideration of them is another. First, He is the Apostle of our profession, or we profess Him to be our Apostle. Let us bethink ourselves of all which this title implies. It means one who is sent. How it ought to move us with awe at the approach of such a messenger when we think of the glory and the sacredness of His former habitation! And what ought to fasten upon Him a still more intense regard, He comes with a message to our world--He comes straight from the Divinity Himself, and charged by Him with a special communication. By your daily indifference to the word that is written, you inherit all the guilt, and will come under the very reckoning of those, who, in the days of the Saviour, treated with neglect the word that was spoken. There is one topic which stands connected with the apostleship of Christ, and that stamps a most peculiar interest on the visit which He made to us from on high. He is God manifest in the flesh. In the character of a man hath He pictured forth to us the attributes of the Divinity. And we, by considering this Apostle, learn of God. But this leads us to another topic of consideration, the priesthood of Christ. The atonement that He made for sin has a foremost place in orthodoxy. But, a truth may be acquired, and then,--cast, as it were, into some hidden comer of the mind,--may lie forgotten, as in a dormitory. And therefore would we again bid you consider Him who is the High Priest of your profession we call upon you, ever and anon, to think of His sacrifice; and to ward off the legality of nature from your spirits, by a constant habit of recurrence, upon your part, to the atonement that He hath made, and to the everlasting righteousness that He hath brought in. Without this, the mind is ever lapsing anon into alienation and distrust. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
It is not a charge brought against the human family in general. The terms are special, “My people doth not consider.” If, then, the chiefs and leaders of society have fallen into inconsiderateness, what wonder that the nameless multitude should be giddy? The salt has lost its savour and the high city has concealed its beauty. It was not left for unbelievers and scoffers to bring the severest accusations against the Church; God Himself has marked her shortcomings and loudly charged her with sin! Never has He been the special pleader of His people; He never sought to make out a case for them in spite of facts or even appearances; with solemn fidelity and poignant grief He has shown the Church her corruptness and made her ashamed in the presence of her enemies. We shall dwell on the subject of Inconsiderateness as it bears upon the Church and upon men generally. There are two noticeable points common to both. Why do not men consider?
1. Not for want of opportunity. There are the great heavens which David considered; there are the lilies which Jesus Christ charged men to consider; there are the signs of the times, full of significance; a thousand objects, indeed, daily challenge our thoughtfulness.
2. Not for want of reproof or encouragement. Failures, disappointments, blunders, beyond numbering, have shown us the mischief of inconsiderateness. On the other hand, consideration has always rewarded us with the quietness of a good conscience; yet again and again we cease to be thoughtful. Let us look upon inconsiderateness--
I. IN ITS REASONS.
1. Inconsiderateness saves intellectual trouble. Men do not like to think deeply. They prefer to skim the surface, and instead of working steadily for results, they choose to snatch at anything which may serve them for the passing moment. A decline of thoughtfulness is also a decline of moral strength! The Church thinks but little. Nearly all its propositions have been accepted on trust. Observe! Jesus Christ always challenged the thought of those who beard Him. He never discouraged honest and devout inquiry. He never said a word in praise of ignorance. No authority of His can be quoted for intellectual indolence. Christianity vivifies the intellect.
2. Inconsiderateness mitigates moral compunction. It does this by concealing a man from himself. Men, in many instances, dare not consider themselves. One look at their own hearts would affright them! We may think well of ourselves simply because we do not know ourselves. Pain comes with self-knowledge; but if pain drive men to the Healer, it will be to them as the angel of God.
3. Inconsiderateness escapes social obligation. There is ignorance to be taught; but we don’t go into the question! There is misery to be alleviated; but we think nothing about it! There is a man dying in the road; but we pass by on the other side! (Proverbs 24:12.)
II. IT ITS RESULTS.
1. Practical atheism. God is acknowledged with the lips, but He hath no place in the heart. Things are viewed from the outside, and secondary causes are looked upon as primary and original.
2. Spiritual feebleness. Without consideration no man can be strong. He has no abiding convictions. There is nothing about him or within him which he is unprepared to cast off under pressure.
3. Needless alarm. The man who has spent no time in quiet thinking mistakes the bearing of unusual circumstances. A shadow frightens him. He has no grasp of history. Having eyes, he sees not.
4. Self-deprivation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I shall treat of the charge here brought against the ancient Jews in a double view--
I. AS IT MORE ESPECIALLY CONCERNS IMPENITENT SINNERS. It is the proper character of all the impenitent, that they do not and will not consider. This is the ground of their guilt, and the fatal cause of their ruin. Consideration is the same as attentively applying the mind to things, according to their respective nature and importance, in order to our having the clearer apprehension of them, and knowing how we ought to act in relation to them. And, forasmuch as the things of religion are of the highest nature, and the utmost conceivable importance, our considering these things must imply our looking into them, and pondering them with the greatest care, and seriousness, and impartiality; and this with a view of our being able to form a truer and more distinct judgment concerning them, and concerning the manner in which they ought to influence our actions; to the end we may be effectually led and determined to act as we ought, and as the nature and importance of the things should persuade us to do. We must attend carefully, examine impartially, think and reflect seriously, that we may judge, and resolve, and act rightly. I shall--1. Instance some particulars in which it is manifest the persons I am now speaking of do not consider.
(1) They do not consider what their own reason and the Holy Scripture would instruct them in concerning God, His being and providence, His attributes and works. “The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts” (Psalms 10:4).
(2) They do not consider the end for which they were made, and what is their true interest and highest happiness. This is a most important question, of absolute necessity to regulate human life; for as our end is, such will the course of our actions be in pursuance of it.
(3) They do not consider the infinite obligations they are under to that God whose commands they disobey. This is the particular ground and instance of the allegation against the people of Judah.
(4) They do not consider the vast importance of salvation and what the indispensable terms of it are.
(5) The same persons do not consider the nature and tendency of their present course of life. They do not reflect upon their actions and weigh and ponder their steps. They have not the caution of common travellers, to think whether they are right or wrong.
(6) They do not consider the uncertainty of life.
(7) Or, the certainty of a world to come.
2. Set before you the deplorable consequences of this neglect of serious consideration.
(1) Men do not consider, and therefore do not know.
(2) Men do not consider, and therefore are without all awakening apprehensions of the guilt and misery of a vicious course of life.
(3) Persons engaged in a vicious course do not consider, and are therefore little solicitous to make their peace with God, and to secure an interest in the Saviour, and the salvation proposed to them in the Gospel.
(4) They do not consider, and therefore resign themselves to the conduct of appetite and lust and passion.
(5) Men do not consider, and for that reason it is the temptations to sin are so invincible.
(6) Men will not consider, and therefore support themselves with false and dangerous props, such as these: God is merciful; Christ died for sinners; and it will be time to repent hereafter.
(1) How inexcusable must all those appear who perish in their sins! They perish because they will not consider.
(2) Here you see, in case you have any purposes of leading a holy life, where you must begin. You must sit down and consider. “I thought on my ways,” etc. (Psalms 119:59).
(3) Let me therefore exhort you to practise a duty so necessary and of such infinite advantage.
II. AS IN A LESSER DEGREE IT TOO FREQUENTLY AFFECTS PERSONS OF SINCERE PIETY. All that consideration which is necessary to the essence of virtue and piety, they practise; but not always that which is requisite to a state of greater perfection. There are several things which too plainly prove their want of consideration.
1. The errors and failings of which they are too often guilty. I do not mean those which are so incident to human nature in the present state, that it is next to impossible to preserve ourselves entirely free from them; but those which, with due care and circumspection, we might easily enough avoid.
2. Sloth and inactivity in a virtuous and religious course of life is another argument of a defective consideration, even in good men. Akin to this is--
3. That indevotion in the exercises of religious worship, which Christians are too apt to slide into, and which too visibly argues their disuse of that consideration which would be of admirable service to fan the sacred fire, when it began to grow dull and languid. “While I was musing,” saith the Psalmist, “the fire burned.”
4. The love of the world, which has too much the ascendant over some pious minds, and their being so greatly moved, if not unhinged, by the shocks and changes of it, must often be ascribed to the same cause.
5. A misplaced and misconducted zeal; a zeal for opinions and practices we know not why, and this zeal under so little government, as to occasion bitter strife and animosity among Christians, and raise such disturbances in the Church of God, as hinder its flourishing state; this likewise shews that men do not consider.
6. It is many times because they do not consider that they who are religious do not enjoy their religion. (H. Grove, M. A.)
Reasons for consideration
1. Consideration is the proper character of reasonable beings: this faculty is the main distinction of the man from the beast; and the exercise of it, of the wise man from the fool
2. We show that we can consider in the things of this life; and why not then in the things of religion?
3. Do your part, and God will not with hold His grace, by which you shall be enabled to do all required of you.
4. By time and use this exercise, however ungrateful at first, will become more easy and pleasant.
5. Consideration is further recommended by its most blessed effects. As, to mention only two of a more general nature: the first, our being converted from the error of our ways; the other, our constant perseverance in the practice of holiness.
6. Were there nothing else but this one motive to engage you to consider, this one should be irresistible, that it is absolutely necessary: it cannot be dispensed with; the consequence of neglecting it is fatal, and never to be retrieved. (H. Grove, M. A.)
Man shamed by the lower animals
A fine pass man is come to when he is shamed even in knowledge and understanding by these silly animals; and is not only sent to school to them (Proverbs 6:6-7), but set in a form below them (Jeremiah 8:7); “taught more than the beasts of the earth”Job 35:11), and yet knowing less. (M. Henry.)
Inconsideration of what we do know is as great an enemy to us in religion as ignorance of what we should know. (M. Henry.)
God’s grief became His children do not know Him
An ancestor of mine was once imprisoned for righteousness’ sake, and among the tenderest traditions which have been handed down to me is this, that when that strong man entered gaol not a nerve quivered, and not a look of sorrow was seen upon his countenance. Again, when he was released and met his friends, he bore up heroically; the joy of deliverance did not break him down: but when he entered his home, and when the little child on the mother’s knee, that a month or so before had known its father, did not know him, but turned away from him, the strong man wept as a child. He burst into tears and sobs. The grief of God here is that His own children did not know Him. (David Davies.)
Ah, sinful nation
God’s indignation against sin
The word “ah” is not an interjection, indicating a mere sighing of pity or regret; the word should not be spelt as it is here, the letters should be reversed, it should be “ha,” and pronounced as expressive of indignation.
God does not merely sigh over human iniquity, looking upon it as a lapse, an unhappy thing, a circumstance that ought to have been otherwise; His tone is poignant, judicial, indignant, for not only is His heart wounded, but His righteousness is outraged, and the security of His universe is threatened,--for the universe stands in plumb line, in strict geometry, and whoever trifles with the plumb, with the uprightness, tampers with the security of the universe. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A sinning nation
The original words used in reference to God’s ancient people are “a sinning nation,” which denotes a nation sinning habitually. There are three ways in which a nation becomes sinful.
I. WHEN THE GREAT BODY OF THE PEOPLE CONSENT TO OR APPROVE OF THE SINS OF FORMER GENERATIONS. Thus Christ said to the Jews, “Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers.”
II. WHEN THE GREAT BODY OF THE PEOPLE CONSENT TO THE SINS OF THEIR RULERS. Thus the Jews were a sinful nation, because they approved of the deeds of their rulers in killing the prophets and in crucifying Christ, and these sins are expressly charged against them, and were visited upon them nationally.
III. WHEN THE GENERALITY OF THE PEOPLE ARE LIVING IN THEIR OWN REASONS. Such was the state of the Jews when Isaiah charged them with contempt of God, hypocrisy and manifold habitual transgressions. (Original Secession Magazine.)
Savonarola and Florence
Florence, in the days of Lorenzo the Magnificent, had become practically a pagan city. She had fallen from Christ as Jerusalem from Jehovah. One of her historians descants upon her as being “hopeless morally, full of debauchery, cruelty, and corruption, violating oaths, betraying trusts, believing in nothing but Greek manuscripts, coins and statues, and caring for nothing but pleasures.” It was into such a city, to which Isaiah’s prelude would almost literally apply, that Savonarola came. Seeing, as he expressed it, “the world turned upside down,” he traversed the streets and wandered along the banks of the Arno, musing and weeping over the great misery of the world, and the iniquities of men, and the enormous wickedness of the people of Italy. Then, after a time of probation at the convent of San Marco, he burst upon the Florentines as a prophet of fiery eloquence and uncompromising virtue, of a fearless character, and with Divine insight akin to that of his great prototype, Isaiah of Jerusalem. Through internal troubles, and assaults from without, he warned the people and their rulers, endeavouring to turn their hearts to God, and to stay them upon Him. To the priests he said, that the false and lukewarm among them, the dumb dogs that could not bark, had perverted the people, and prejudiced them against the truth. “Before all, the wicked priests and servants of the Church are the guilty causes of this corruption as also of the coming calamities.” “He cried aloud to the populace, Thou knowest, thou knowest, O Florence, that I would have thee a spiritual State. I have always shown thee clearly that a kingdom is only strong in proportion as it is spiritual, by being more closely related to God.” Thus faithfully and boldly spoke out Savonarola what was in him from the Holy Spirit. (F. Sessions.)
Sons that are as cankerworms; sons that throw poison into pellucid water streams; sons that suggest evil thoughts to opening minds. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The force of example
Have fellowship with the lame and you will learn to limp. (Latin Adage.)
The corrupt are corrupters
One rotten apple will infect the store; the putrid grape corrupts the whole cluster. (F. Jacox.)
Companionship in evil
Men love not to be found singular, especially where the singularity lies in the rugged and severe paths of virtue: company causes confidence, and gives both credit and defence, credit to the crime, and defence to the criminal (R. South, D. D.)
The contagion of character
“Do you see,” said Dr. Arnold to an assistant master who had recently come to Rugby, “those two boys walking together? I never saw them together before; you should make an especial point of observing the company they keep;--nothing so tells the changes in a boy’s character.” (F. Jacox.)
Bad company injurious
He that lies down with dogs shall rise up with fleas. (Spanish proverb.)
Leading others astray
A father bade his son set up some bricks endways, in regular line a short distance apart. “Now,” said he, “knock down the first brick.” The boy obeyed, and all the others fell with it. “Now,” said the father, “raise the last brick and see if the others will rise with it.” But no, once down, they must be raised singly. Said the father, “I have given you this object lesson to teach you how easy it is for one to lead others astray, but how difficult for him to restore them, however sincere his repentance may be.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
They have forsaken the Lord
A specific and terrible indictment
What have they done? They have done three things. It is no general accusation that is lodged against Judah and Jerusalem, and through them against all the nations of the earth; it is a specific indictment, glittering with detail.
I. “THEY HAVE FORSAKEN THE LORD.” By so much their action is negative; they have ceased to attend the altar; they have neglected to read the Italy writing; they have turned their backs upon that towards which they once looked with open face and radiant eye.
II. “THEY HAVE PROVOKED THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL UNTO ANGER.” Observe how the intensity increases, how the aggravation deepens and blackens; they have grown bold in sin; they have thrown challenges in the face of God; they have defied Him to hurl His thunderbolts and His lightnings upon them.
III. “THEY ARE GONE AWAY BACKWARD.” They forsook, they provoked, they apostatised. Sin has its logical course as well as holiness. Men do not stand still at the point of forsaking God: having for a little while forsaken Him, they will find it almost necessary to provoke Him, that they may justify themselves to themselves and to others, saying, Even provocation cannot awaken the judgment of heaven with any sign of impatience; and having provoked the Holy One of Israel, the next point will be universal apostasy, a thorough off-casting of the last traces and semblances of religion. See if this be not so in the history of the individual mind. (J. Parker, D. D.)
There is a law of gravitation, spiritual as well as physical, and now the man who has begun by forsaking will end by going backward, his whole life thrown out of order, decentralised; and he perpetrates the irony of walking backwards, and his crab-like action will bring him to the pit. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Holy One of Israel
The Holy One of Israel
That is, “He who shows Himself holy in Israel.” (Prof. T. K. Cheyne.)
Why should ye be stricken any more?
The power of evil habits
There are no passages in Holy Writ more affecting than those in which God seems to represent Himself as actually at a loss, not knowing what further steps to take in order to bring men to repentance and faith (Isaiah 5:4; Hosea 6:4). Of course, the chastisements may be continued, but the experience of the past attests but a strong likelihood that further afflictions would effect no reform. God, therefore, can only ask, and the question is full of the most pathetic remonstrance--“Why should ye be stricken any more?”
1. Now, observe that it was a long course of misdoing that had brought the people into such a morally hopeless condition. It was the habit of committing sin, the habit of resisting the admonitions and the chastisements of God that had at last exhausted the resources of Divine wisdom. The words in which Jeremiah states the tremendous power of habit are very striking--“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” Yet our text, probably, puts it in a yet more affecting point of view--the considering wherefore it is that men who have long been accustomed to do evil, thereby bring themselves morally into such condition, that God, as if in despair, is forced to exclaim “Why should ye be stricken any more? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” Now, they can know very little of their moral constitution, and of the tendency of their nature, who are not thoroughly aware how, as a general rule, the doing a thing twice facilitates the doing it again. We have no right to complain of there being such a law, for it is of universal application, and will therefore be every jot as beneficial to us if we aim at doing good, as detrimental if we allow ourselves to do evil. The man who has yielded to a temptation will undoubtedly find himself less able to resist when that temptation assails him again. But if he have overcome, he will as undoubtedly find himself better able to withstand. The inveterate habit and the seared conscience are so far necessary companions, that when we wish to induce a man to abandon a long-cherished practice, we do not reckon on any such keenness of the moral sense, as will make it second our remonstrance, or give point to our advice; and this it is which renders almost; desperate the case of those who have been long living in any known sin. Such men must have won that most disastrous of victories--the victory over conscience. Therefore, we hardly know under what form to shape our attack. Our position takes for granted that there is an internal monitor, so that the voice from without, answered from the voice from within, may force for itself an audience, and cause a present conviction, if not a permanent resolution; but now the internal monitor is wanting; the voice from without calling forth no voice from within, would seem to have no organ to which to address itself, and therefore our words will be as much wasted as though spoken to the air. Hence it is we are so urgent with the young that they put not off to a later day the duties of religion. The young seem to imagine that the question between us and them is simply a question as to the probabilities of life; and that if they could ensure themselves a certain number of years, they should run no risk in delaying, for a time the giving heed to religion. Thus they take no account of the inevitable result of a continuance in sin, namely, that there will be generated a habit of sin, so that when the time shall be reached which they themselves may have fixed as suited to repentance, they will be widely different beings from what they are when resolved to delay--beings tied and bound with fetters forged and fastened by themselves, and wanting in the principle which might urge them to the breaking loose from the self-imposed bondage. It is this which makes the aged sinner so unpromising a subject for the ministrations of the Word--not his being old in years, but his being old in sin. This is the first evidence which we advance as to the truth of that fearful fact which we derive from our text--the fact that habitual sin brings even God Himself into a perplexity as to how to deal with the sinner; makes it difficult for Him to employ further means for recovering that sinner from wickedness.
2. There is a yet worse thing to be said. The man who persists in sinning, till to sin has become habit, alienates from him that Holy Spirit of God whose special office it is to lead us to repentance, and renew our fallen nature. It is not by an occasional act of sin that a man may “quench” the Spirit; though his every transgression may “grieve” that Spirit. You will observe what a correspondence there is between quenching the Spirit and quenching the conscience. So connected, if not identified, are conscience and the Holy Spirit, so actually is the one an engine through which the other works, that in proportion as man succeeds in deadening his conscience, he advances towards quenching the Spirit. Why wonder then at the expression of our text?
3. Our text implies a great difficulty rather than an impossibility, and it ought not therefore to be without some measure of hope that the minister addresses even those who are the slaves of bad habits. The Spirit, it may be, does not so depart as to determine that He will not return We may rather regard Him as hovering over the transgressor who has so pertinaciously grieved and withstood Him; and let there be only the least intimation of a wish for His presence, and He may descend, and take up His abode in the soul which He has been forced to forsake. And, if conscience were but roused, there may be a desire for the return of the Spirit. Whilst we do not shut the door even against habitual sinners, our great effort must be that of persuading men against the forming bad habits. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The power of evil habit
If a man be a confirmed drunkard or gambler, it has almost passed into a proverb, that there is but little hope of reform, and you regard it as little short of miracle if he be brought to abandon the wine or the dice. In such instances, the habit forces itself on your notice in all its fearful tyranny. The efforts to break sway are made, in a certain sense, in public, and whether they fail or succeed, you are able to observe. But if these be the more notorious cases of striving against the power of an evil habit, you are not to think that the power may not be as actuary, or as injuriously exerted in cases where there is little or nothing of manifest tyranny. There may be habits of mental or moral indulgence; habits of self-indulgence; habits of covetousness; habits of indifference to serious things; habits of delaying the season of repentance--these may be, and often are found in one and the same person; and though, unquestionably, no one of these can be parallel to the habit by which the drunkard or the gambler is enthralled, yet they resemble so many lesser cords tying down a man in place of one massive chain; and the endeavour to break loose will be equally likely to be unsuccessful. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The deceitfulness of sin
In this, and in the like cases, it is especially by and through its deceitfulness, that sin produces final obduracy, making “the whole head sick, and the whole heart faint.” The man is blinded to the fact, that he is being hardened; it is all done underhand; and while there is the rapid formation of an inveterate habit of indulgence, a depraved inclination, or a habit of covetousness, or a habit of selfishness, or a habit of procrastination, there may be great ease and satisfaction, and a feeling of cordial commiseration for those slaves of their passions who may be said hardly to put forth exertion, and to be led captive by Satan at his will. Away then with the limiting the power of evil habits to persons who live in the practice of gross sins. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Sin not self-reformatory
It might seem, if sin can be called unnatural and monstrous, that nature could shake it off, and return to her own law. It might seem also that the results of sin would cure the sinner of his evil tendencies, and send him back on the path of wisdom. We grant that a man in a state of sin may be led to abandon some sin, or some excess of sin, from considerations of prudence. We grant also that affliction softens many characters which it fails to lead to sincere repentance, by lowering their pride, or by sobering their views of life. We have no doubt that the seeds of a better life are sown amid the storms and floods of calamity. And for the Christian it is certain that sorrow is a principal means of growth in holiness. Nay, it may even happen that a sin committed by a Christian may, in the end, make him a better man, as Peter, after his denial of Christ. We admit, also, that a life of sin, being a life of unrest and disappointment, cannot fail of being felt to be such, so that a sense of inward want, a longing for redemption, enters into the feelings of many hearts that are not willing to confess it. But all this does not oppose the view which we take of sin, that it contains within itself no radical cure, no real reformation Man is not led by sin into holiness. The means of recovery lie outside of the region of sin, beyond the reach of experience,--they lie in the free grace of God, which sin very often opposes and rejects, when it comes with its healing medicines and its assurances of deliverance. The most which prudence can do, acting in view of the experienced consequences of sin, is to plaster over the exterior, to avoid dangerous habits, to choose deep seated sins in lieu of such as lie on the surface. (T. D. Woolesey, D. D.)
Sin not self-reformatory
That sin by no process, direct or indirect, can purify the character, will appear--
I. FROM THE SELF-PROPAGATING NATURE OF SIN. If sin has the nature to spread and strengthen its power, if by repetition habits are formed which are hard to be broken, if the blindness of mind which supervenes adds to the ease of sinning, if sin spreading from one person to another increases the evil of society, and therefore reduces the power of each one of its members to rise above the general corruption, do not all these considerations show that sin provides no cure for itself, that there is, without Divine intervention, no remedy for it at all? Can anyone show that there is any maximum of strength in sin, so that after some length of continuance, after the round of experiences is run over, after wisdom is gained, its force abates, and the soul enters on a work of self-restoration!
II. FROM THE FACT, THAT THE MASS OF THE PERSONS WHO ARE TRULY RECOVERED FROM SIN, ASCRIBE THEIR CURE TO SOME EXTERNAL CAUSE,--nay, I should say to some extraordinary cause, which sin had nothing to do with bringing into existence. Ask anyone who seems to you to have a sincere principle of godliness, what it was that wrought the change in his case, by which he forsook his old sins. Will he tell you that it was sin leading him round, by the experience of its baneful effects, to a life of holiness? Will he even refer it to a sense of obligation awakened by the law of God? Or, will he not rather ascribe it to the perception of God’s love in pardoning sinners through His Son? Nor will he stop there; he will go beyond the outward motive of truth to the inward operation of a Divine Spirit. You cannot make those who have spent the most thought about sin, and had the deepest experience of its quality, admit that spiritual death of itself works a spiritual resurrection. Moreover, were it so, you could not admit the necessity of the Gospel. What is the use of medicine, if the disease, after running its course, strengthens the constitution, so as to secure it against maladies in the future? Can truth, with all its motives, do as much? To this it may be added, that the prescriptions of the Gospel themselves often fail to cure the soul; not half of those who are brought up under the Gospel are truly Christians. This again shows how hard the cure of sin is.
III. WE DO NOT FIND THAT INORDINATE DESIRE IS RENDERED MODERATE BY THE EXPERIENCE THAT IT FAILS TO SATISFY THE SOUL. A most important class of sins are those of excited desire, or, as the Scriptures call them, of lust. The extravagance of our desires--the fact that they grow into undue strength, and reach after wrong objects, is owing to our state of sin itself, to the want of a regulative principle of godliness. But no such gratification can fill the soul. How is it now with the soul which has thus pampered its earthly desires, and starved its heavenly! Does it cure itself of its misplaced affections? If it could, all the warnings and contemplations of the moral philosophers might be thrown to the winds, and we should only need to preach intemperance in order to secure temperance; to feed the fire of excess, that it might the more speedily burn out. But who would risk such an experiment? Does the aged miser relax his hold on his money bags, and settle down on the lees of benevolence?
IV. THE PAIN OR LOSS, ENDURED AS A FRUIT OF SIN, IS NOT, OF ITSELF, REFORMATORY. I have already said that under the Gospel such wages of sin are often made use of by the Divine Spirit to sober, subdue, and renovate the character. But even under the Gospel, how many, instead of being reformed by the punishment of their sins, are hardened, embittered, filled with complaints against Divine justice and human law! We find continual complaints on the part of the prophets that the people remained hardened through all the discipline of God, although it was fatherly chastisement, which held out hope of restoration to the Divine favour. Such was a large experience of the efficacy of punishment under the Jewish economy. Turn now to a state of things where the Divine clemency is wholly unknown or seen only in its feeblest glimmerings. Will naked law, will pure justice work a reform to which Divine clemency is unequal?
V. REMORSE OF CONSCIENCE IS NOT REFORMATORY. Remorse, in its design, was put into the soul as a safeguard against sin. But in the present state of man remorse has no such power for the following reasons--
1. It is dependent for its power, and even for its existence, on the truth of which the mind is in possession. Of itself it teaches nothing; it rather obeys the truth which is before the mind at the time. If now the mind lies within the reach of any means by which it can ward off the force of truth, or put falsehood in the place of truth, sin will get the better of remorse,--the dread of remorse will cease to set the soul upon its guard.
2. Every sinner has such means of warding off the force of truth, and so of weakening the power of self-condemnation, at his command. The sophistries which a sinful soul plays off upon itself, the excuses which palliate, if they do not justify transgression, are innumerable.
3. Remorse, according to the operation of the law of habit, is a sentiment which loses its strength as the sinner continues to sin.
4. But, once more, suppose that all this benumbing of conscience is temporary, as indeed it may well be; suppose that through these years of sinning it has silently gathered its electric power, but, when the soul is hackneyed in sin and life is in the dregs, will give a terrible shock--will this work reform? Will there be courage to undertake a work then for which the best hopes, the greatest strength of resolution, and the help of God are wanted? No! discouragement then must prevent reform. The sorrow of the world worketh death.
VI. THE EXPERIENCE OF SIN BRINGS THE SOUL NO NEARER TO RELIGIOUS TRUTH. For sin, amongst other of its effects, makes us more afraid of God or more indifferent to Him. The first inward change wrought by sin is to beget a feeling of separation from God. To this we may add that a habit of scepticism is contracted in a course of sinning, which it is exceedingly hard to lay aside. It became necessary in order to palliate sin and render self-reproach less bitter to devise excuses for the indulgence of wrong desires. Is then such a habit easy to be shaken off? Is it easy, when habits of sin have brought on habits of scepticism, to become perfectly candid, and to throw aside the doubts of a lifetime, which are often specious and in a certain sense honestly entertained? The blindness of the mind is the best security against reformation.
1. From the course of thought in this discourse it appears that our present life shows no favour to the opinion that sin is a necessary stage in the development of character towards perfection. The tendency of sin, as life shows, is to grow blinder, more insensible, less open to truth, less capable of goodness.
2. And, again, the experience of this world throws light, or, I should rather say, darkness, on the condition of the sinner who dies impenitent. There is no tendency in the experience of his whole life towards reform. How can it be shown that there will be hereafter!
3. Our subject Points, as with a finger that can be seen, to the best time for getting rid of sin. All we have said is but a commentary on that text, “Exhort one another daily while it is called today, lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Sin is now shapening your character; he is adding stroke after stroke for the final countenance and form. If you wait all will be fixed; his work will be done. (T. D. Woolesey, D. D.)
Isaiah a physician as well as a seer
He says, you are vitally wrong, organically out of health: the whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint: the chief members of your constitution are wrong. It is a question of the head and the heart. Not, the foot has gone astray, and the hand has been playing an evil game, or some inferior member of the body has given hint of restlessness and treason; but, the head, where the mind abides, is sick; the heart, continually keeping the life current in action, is faint and cannot do its work. Until you see the seriousness of the case you cannot apply the right remedies. (J. Parker, D. D.)
What is human nature?
Do not consult the sanguine poet, for he takes a roseate view of everything: he sees in leprosy only the beauty of its snowiness; he looks upon the green mantling pool, and sees nothing there but some hint of verdure. Do not consult the gloomy pessimist, for at midday he sees nothing but a variety of midnight, and in all the loveliness of summer he sees nothing but an attempt to escape from the dreariness of winter. But consult the line of reason and solid fact, or undeniable experience, and what is this human nature? Can it be more perfectly, more exquisitely described than in the terms used by the prophet in the fifth and sixth verses of this chapter? Do the poor only fill our courts of law? Are our courts of justice only a variety of our ragged schools? Is sin but the trick of ignorance or the luxury of poverty? Or the question may be started from the other point: Are only they who are born to high degree guilty of doing wrong? Read the history of crime, read human history in all its breadth, and then say if there be not something in human nature corresponding to this description. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A cottage in a vineyard
A lodge in a garden
The true point of the comparison will not appear until the crop is over, and the lodge forsaken by the keeper.
Then the poles fall down or lean every way, and those green boughs with which it is shaded will have been scattered by the wind leaving only a ragged, sprawling wreck,--a most affecting type of utter desolation--“as Sodom, and like unto Gomorrah.” (Thomson’s “The, Land and the Book. ”)
Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very mall remnant.
The influence of good men
1. God’s greatness in the universe. The “Lord of hosts,” or Jehovah of hosts. Who are His “hosts”? Angels. Who shall count the number of these troops? He is their Creator and Sustainer.
2. God’s authority over good men. He is here represented as having “left a very small remnant.” whilst an existences are absolutely His, He has a special interest in the good. He keeps good men here as long as He thinks fit. He removes them at His pleasure.
I. THEIR INFLUENCE IS HIGHLY BENEFICENT. From what evil did this remnant deliver the country? The answer will come out with potency by replying to two other questions.
1. What was the moral condition of Sodom and Gomorrah? Their sin was “very grievous” (Genesis 18:20).
2. What was their doom? (Genesis 19:24-25.) Now, it was from this moral corruption and terrible doom these good people, it is said in our text, delivered others. “Ye are the salt of the earth,” History abounds with examples of moral declination, and all hearts are conscious of this gravitating force, What is the counteractive? The life of Christ in man. That life flashes a light upon the corrupt heart of society, and makes it blush. But few will dare to sin in the presence of living holiness. Vice cowers under the radiant eye of virtue.
II. Their influence is highly beneficent, HOWEVER FEW THEIR NUMBER. “A very small remnant.” A little goodness on this earth goes a great way. Even one man like Moses, Elijah, Paul, Luther, Whitefield, Wesley, may stop the flow of depravity and turn the destinies of an age. Conclusion--
1. The criminal ignorance of nations in relation to their true benefactors
2. The supreme value of Christianity. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Beneficial influence of goodness
On a hot summer’s day, some years ago, I was sailing with a friend in a tiny boat on a miniature lake enclosed like a cup within a circle of steep, bare Scottish hills. On the shoulder of the brown sunburnt mountain, and full in sight, was a well with a crystal stream trickling over its lip, and making its way down towards the lake. Around the well’s month and along the course of the rivulet a belt of green stood out in strong contrast with the iron surface of the rocks all around. We soon agreed as to what should be made of it. There it was, a legend clearly printed by the finger of God on the side of these silent hills, teaching the passer-by how needful a good man is, and how useful he may be in a desert world. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The, Lord of hosts
Jehovah of hosts, or of armies, is a favourite expression of the Hebrew writers, and especially of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi, by which they recognise Him as the universal governor of heaven and earth, “who has ordained and constituted the services of men and angels in a wonderful order,” and who employs His kingly and almighty power to rule the nations in righteousness, and, as now, both to punish and to save His chosen people. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom
The true prophet deals with the needs of the present
It is a very miserable thing for a preacher when he lives wholly either in the past or in the future, and so allows either the one or the other to divert him from the duty he owes to God in the present.
What is more pitiful, more unlike the idea of a true prophet, than to find one whose work is to preach to men of the twentieth century occupying his time in discoursing of the sins of the Jews centuries before Christ, or even of those sinners of Jerusalem who crucified the Lord, unless his first care be to warn them lest they fall after the same example of unbelief? And Isaiah would have done a very poor service to the Jews at that time if, instead of holding out to them light for their present guidance and wisdom to direct them in the emergencies of the terrible crisis through which they were passing, he had simply been forever inviting them to contemplate the glories of a future into which they would never enter. He was there to tell men what God’s will was in relation to themselves, to deal with their own difficulties, to answer the problems by which their hearts were agitated, to cheer them under the reverses by which they were disheartened, to rebuke them for the evil which was separating them from God, and warn them of the judgment which God would bring upon them; but, at the same time, to assure them of His infinite pity and compassion. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
This is plain speaking; but God never sends velvet-tongued men as His messengers. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The fish stinks first at the head. (Turkish proverb.)
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me?
saith the Lord
Hypocrisy and partiality in religion
These words are not to be understood absolutely but comparatively, and with respect to the manners of these men. For--
I. GOD COULD NOT ABSOLUTELY REJECT SACRIFICES, because they were of His own appointing, as we are abundantly certified in the Books of Exodus and Leviticus. And they were instituted for very good put poses.
1. As federal rites between God and His people, that by eating of what was offered upon His altar they might profess their union and communion with Him, that they were of His family, He their Father, and they His children. And this is what made idolatry so odious to Him, and for which He declares Himself a jealous God, that when they sacrificed to idols they made the same acknowledgments to them.
2. Sacrifices were instituted to expiate sins of ignorance and trespasses of an inferior nature. It is true, St. Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews affirms, that it was impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should purify the conscience, so as to wash away the guilt of sin, which only can be atoned for by the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world. But yet they availed to the purifying of the flesh, and were accepted of God in lieu of temporal punishments.
3. Sacrifices were designed to teach men that without shedding of blood there could be no remission of sins. They were hereby led to consider that infinite justice properly required the life of the offender, but that infinite mercy accepted of a vicarious life.
4. Peace offerings, or sacrifices of gratitude were offered to God in hope of obtaining some favour, or as a thanksgiving for having received some signal mercy from Him.
5. Sacrifices were instituted for types and representatives of that final sacrifice of the Son of God in whom they all centred and were consummated. (Psalms 40:6; Hebrews 10:5-6) “He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second,” i.e., the sacrifice of Himself; and consequently Paul calls the law our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, and Christ the end of the law, because it was ended in Him and by Him. In this sense it is that our Lord affirms that He came not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. He fulfilled the moral law by His perfect holiness and virtue, and the law of sacrifices by His death and passion. From all this I infer that God does not reject sacrifices as such, and therefore we must conclude that--
II. HIS AVERSION TO THEM WAS OCCASIONED BY THE ILL MANNERS OF THOSE THAT OFFERED THEM, who had no concern to accomplish the good ends which were intended by them, nor considered that by these sacraments they laid themselves under renewed obligations to be sensible of their own demerits, to repent and reform whatever they found amiss in their lives, and to abound in the love of God, and the fruits of His Holy Spirit. It appears from the characters of these men, especially in their latter and worst times, that they satisfied themselves with the opus operatum, the external duties of religion, and had no regard to the renovation of their hearts and minds. (W. Reading, M. A.)
The common man’s commonest refuge from conscience. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Sin offensive to God
1. The Scripture for our understanding ascribes senses to God, and here we find every sense displeased with their sins.
(1) They were offensive to His tasting; for their burnt offerings of rams, with the fat of lambs, etc., He could not relish--they delighted Him not, they were sour to His palate.
(2) They were offensive to His smelling; for He tells them that their incense was an abomination unto Him--that precious perfume, which was made with so many sweet spices and pure frankincense (Exodus 30:34-35), did stink in His nostrils, the scent thereof He could not abide.
(3) They were offensive to His feeling; for their new moons and appointed feasts were a burden unto Him, He was a weary to bear them. And though He be not weary of bearing the whole world, yet He is aweary of this burden; so heavy is it to His sense, that He complains He is “pressed under it, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves” (Amos 2:13).
(4) They were offensive to His seeing; and therefore He tells them, though they spread forth their hands, He will hide His eyes. His pure eyes “cannot behold evil,” nor endure to look upon iniquity, and therefore He must turn away His face from them.
(5) They were offensive to His hearing; for when they make many prayers He will not hear. Their prayers were as jarring in His ears as if divers distracted musicians should play upon divers bad instruments so many several tunes at one time.
2. Neither were their sins only displeasing to His senses, but also grievous to His mind, and therefore He tells them, their new moons and appointed feasts His soul did hate; which is an emphatical speech, and an argument of God’s hearty detestation. (N. Rogers.)
Dissembled piety is double iniquity. (M. Henry.)
God is not mocked, and even man is not long imposed upon by a vain show of devotion. We once heard Father Taylor, a noted preacher to sailors in America, pray that men who thought themselves good, and were not, might be undeceived; and he cried, “Lord, take off the whitewash!” (D. Fraser, D. D.)
Religious hypocrisy: Dukes Orleans and Burgundy
On the 20 th of November 1407, the two cousins heard mass, and partook of the holy sacrament together at the church of the Augustins. Never was there a blacker instance of sacrilegious hypocrisy. At the very moment when he thus profaned the most solemn rite of Christianity, Jean sans Peur had deliberately doomed his enemy to a bloody and violent death. (Student’s France.)
Dickens describes how in Genoa he once witnessed “a great fiesta on the hill behind the house, when the people alternately danced under tents in the open air and rushed to say a prayer or two in an adjoining church bright with red and gold and blue and sliver: so many minutes of dancing and of praying in regular turns of each.” (H. O.Mackey.)
Writing of Lorenzo de Medici, Mr. Howells says: “After giving his whole mind and soul to the destruction of the last remnant of liberty, after pronouncing some fresh sentence of ruin or death, he entered the Platonic Academy, and ardently discussed virtue and the immortality of the soul; then sallying forth to mingle with the dissolute youth of the city, he sang his carnival songs, and abandoned himself to debauchery; returning home with Pulci and Politian, he recited verses and talked of poetry; and to each of these occupations he gave himself up as wholly as if it were the sole occupation of his life.” (H. O. Mackey.)
“Holiness becometh Thine house”
When Ruskin was making explorations about Venice, in the Church of St. James, he discovered, engraved on a stone, these words, “Around the temple let the merchant’s weights be true, his measures just, and his contracts without guile.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
The Paris Figaro mentions that a curious discovery was made recently when the famous robber gang of Papakoritzopoulo was broken up. In the pocket of this most notorious of European brigands was found a small Bible, neatly bound and wrapped in a clean, silk handkerchief, a prayer book, holy relics in tiny boxes, a cross, and other religious objects.
The son of Sirach asks of him that washeth himself after the touching of a dead body, and then touches it again, what availeth his washing? “So is it with a man that fasteth for his sins, and goeth again, and doeth the same: who will hear his prayer? or what doth his humbling profit him?” (F. Jacox, B. A.)
When Pope Hadrian II consented at last to admit Lothair to the holy communion he warned him, “But if thou thinkest in thine heart to return to wallow in lust, beware of receiving this sacrament, lest thou provoke the terrible judgment of God.” And the king shuddered, but did not draw back. (F. Jacox, B. A.)
Dr. South says of him who, by hypothesis, comes to church with an ill intention, that he comes to God’s house upon the devil’s errand, and the whole act is thereby rendered evil and detestable before God. The prayers of a wicked man are by Jeremy Taylor likened to “the breath of corrupted lungs: God turns away from such unwholesome breathings.” (F. Jacox, B. A.)
Smuggler and preacher too
The letters of Robert Louis Stevenson tell an astonishing story of smuggling in the Shetlands. The revenue official had great trouble with a man known as Preaching Peter, who, whenever he returned with his spoils, sent round handbills to announce his coming, and went about the country preaching. After he had much prayed and much preached, he gave the benediction, and this was the signal for all who knew him to crowd round. “How many gallons shall I give you? How many do you want?” Such was the conversation; and so he sold his smuggled spirits and improved the people’s souls while he filled his own purse. Worship and wickedness:--A famous brigand in Sicily was constantly robbing and sometimes murdering. But he would never go forth on his expeditions without first kneeling at a little shrine in his cave, where he kept an image of the Virgin. (Christian Commonwealth.)
Emerson, in an essay, refers to “what is called religion, but is, perhaps, pew holding.”
A red-handed religionist
There is no name in Scottish history round which darker or grimmer or bloodier associations gather than the name of John Graham of Claverhouse. He hunted and harried the men of the Covenant. He shot some of them with his own hand. He brought misery and weeping, widowhood and orphanhood, to many a lowly and godly home. Yet he was scrupulous in the observance of all religious ordinances. Let me beware of this double life. (A. Smellie, M. A.)
The calling of assemblies, I cannot away with
Service not services
Many think religion flourishes if services are well attended. But, unless we are “willing and obedient” our “fat things” will not make us fat. They will rather harm us. Paul says, “Ye serve the Lord Christ.” Your vocation is the main part of your service for Him, provided you are in the place where He would have you be. If you are not clear about that point, be sure and inquire of Him. In a well-ordered house there are many servants, and, if one tried to do another’s work, there would be confusion. Do your work and do it faithfully. If God has special and occasional service, beyond this, He will direct you to it.
2. Again, remember what the apostle says about service, “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”--fervent, that is, quite not, boiling. You might as well run a locomotive without steam as try and serve the Lord without fervour. How shall you get it? You can get it in a measure from the influence of those who themselves are warm in God’s service. Catch fire from such as Samuel Rutherford, whose volume reminds me of a contrivance they had before matches were invented. It was a kind of bottle, containing some mixture, into which you dipped the match, and it immediately took fire. These letters of Rutherford’s are just like that. When you feel dull, lukewarm, read one or two of those letters, and, provided your heart is sincere, see if it does not set you on fire. But we have better than that. We have Rutherford’s Master. The central source of holy zeal, of burning love, is there.
3. Again, be willing to do what is humble, what seems useless, if He so direct. It is a great trial of patience. Moses tended sheep forty years. God’s chief difficulty with us is, not filling, but emptying us; not edifying or building up, as it is pulling us down. Look at the history of the Church, and you will see that most, if not all, of those whom God has employed in a signal manner for His glory, have been, in one way or another, among the most afflicted of men either in heart or in body, sometimes in both. Therefore, do not be afraid of suffering; it helps service. The work of God is mostly hidden work, fully known to Him, known partly to those who are the immediate objects of it, scarcely known to ourselves. I am afraid, nowadays, there is a great deal too much speaking about the work done or doing. I have sometimes thought how well the apostles got on without newspapers--and the work was done all the same!
4. if we are thus doing God’s work fervently, humbly, patiently, though obscurely, looking to Him alone, we, like our Master, will finish the work that He has given us to do. Only as we abide in Christ, can we be able to complete our work. Mere machinery and outward activity are of no account without this daily dwelling in, and drawing from, Him. (T. Monod.)
To adore God for His goodness, and to pray to Him to make us good, is the sum and substance of all wholesome worship. Then is a man fit to come to church, sins and all, if he carry his sins into church not to carry them out again safely and carefully, as we are all too apt to do, but to cast them down at the foot of Christ’s Cross, in the hope (and no man ever hoped that hope in vain) that he will be lightened of that burden, and leave some of them, at least, behind him. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
I am weary to bear them
Wonderful expression this! It suggests the idea that the Almighty is oppressed with the weight of human sins.
I. THE EXQUISITE MORAL SENSIBILITY OF GOD. God is not mere force or intellect, He is heart, He is infinite sensibility. All events and actions vibrate on His nature--He is feelingly alive to all.
II. THE AMAZING PATIENCE OF GOD. If He is “weary” why does He “bear” it? Why does He not quench in the midnight of eternal extinction all the authors of sin.
III. THE REMEDIAL AGENCY OF GOD. Because sin is so abhorrent, and the sinner so dear, He sent His “only begotten Son” into the world, in order to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Homilist)
Wash you, make you clean
Repentance necessary and possible
Two things are necessarily to be acknowledged to encourage endeavours after piety.
1. To be assured that God will not be wanting to afford the assistance of His grace and Spirit.
2. That by this assistance we are enabled to do our duty. There are two things which no wise man doth submit to his care or thought, namely, necessaries and impossibles. For things necessary, he needs not to charge himself with them, for they will be done of course; and for things impossible, it is a vain thing for him to undertake. We are not to consider ourselves to be in a state of impossibility, therefore we must suppose that God is with us by His grace and assistance; and while God is with us that we are able to do those things that He requires of us--to wash and make us clean, etc., which words are to be considered according to their form and according to their matter.
1. According to their form, they are an exhortation, and so it is not in vain that we are exhorted to duty.
2. In respect of their matter, they afford these two observations--
(1) That sin is in itself a thing of defilement and pollution.
(2) That religion is a motion of restoration.
Ill habits do strangely bias our faculties; but though they do this, yet they do not absolutely determine our faculties or sink them, for these faculties are of the essence of the soul. It is with much difficulty they are overcome Jeremiah 13:23); but the faculty is free notwithstanding any habit acquired; otherwise it were impossible ever to recover any habitual sinner.
I. GOD DOTH PRIMARILY DESIRE THE GOOD OF ALL HIS CREATURES (1 Timothy 2:4; Isaiah 5:4).
II. GOD DOTH NOT DESIRE MAN’S SALVATION WITHOUT HIS RETURN. For it is impossible that any man should be happy in a way of obstinacy and rebellion against God,
III. GOD DOTH NOT DESIRE MAN’S RETURN WITHOUT HIS OWN CONSENT. For if He should desire this, He should desire that which cannot be: for being intelligent and voluntary agents, we cannot truly be said to do that which we do against our minds. For to a human act two things are necessary; that there be the judgment of reason in the understanding, and the choice of the will If the mind do not consent, it is not a free act; and if not done freely, and of choice, it cannot be an act of virtue; and if not an act of virtue, it cannot be of any moral consideration. It is no less an act of the will, though a man be at the first attempt unwilling and averse; yea, though he suffer great difficulty to bring himself to it. For this man hath brought himself to it by reason, consideration, and argument, and so his consent is the better grounded. Application--
1. We ought to be thankful to God, and to acknowledge Him for the gracious assistance that He doth afford unto us.
2. We ought to make use of and employ this Divine assistance, which is in the apostle’s language, not to receive the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1). (B. Whichcote D. D.)
I. THAT SIN CAN BE SEPARATED FROM MAN’S NATURE. Sin is no more a part of human nature than a stain is of a garment.
1. Human nature has existed without ever having been touched by sin. Christ through all His life could say, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in Me.”
2. Human nature does exist after having been cleansed from sin. It does so in heaven.
II. THAT SIN SHOULD BE SEPARATED FROM MAN’S NATURE. There are three obvious reasons for this command--
1. Because your pollution conceals the moral image of Himself which your Maker has impressed upon your nature. Sin is such a besmearment of the moral mirror of man’s being, that scarcely a Divine ray is seen reflected.
2. Because your pollution enfeebles your moral health. Physical pollution is inimical to physical health. Sin renders a man powerless for good.
3. Because your pollution injures society. (Homilist.)
The call is made to the class that are usually given up. Two questions come up in connection with this subject.
1. When a man is wrong in his life, is wicked on account of the strength of constitutional peculiarities, and is organised with such passion, such will, such temper, such pride and avarice, that that organisation compels as well as controls him, is it possible for him to change that organisation and its fruits?
2. Whatever may have been the proportions in which a man’s faculties are given to him, if he has been cast in the midst of temptations, is it in his power, if he be an average man, to break away, to assert his own sovereignty, and recover himself? Can a man control, first, himself inwardly, and second, himself outwardly? Did not Peter wrestle success fully with his constitutional organisation? There is an example which is still more remarkable in some respects. The account which Paul gives of himself is most striking. Here we have a precisionist, a narrow and intense bigot, a man whose conscience was logical, and who therefore followed his conscience without scruple and without the restraint of any meliorating principle. Not only was he man of the most malign feeling in the service of religion, but he was a man of the utmost firmness of purpose. Nothing could stop him on sea or on land. He was a man of the most sensitive pride. Now, turn to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and see what the fruit of Paul’s change was. It may be said to be a record of his experience. Then, as to the other question, Can men control their circumstances? If a man can overrule a constitutional peculiarity, how much easier can he control that which is not of himself, but is exterior to himself! The experiences of the Gospel for thousands of years show that men can be reclaimed from all forms of vice. Men can break through and rescue themselves from the power of wickedness when it takes on an external and social form. That is the voice of the Old Testament. Is it a false proclamation, based upon a false view of life and possibility? Preeminently it is the voice of the New Testament. The invisible things of God are more and mightier than the visible. If a man treats himself simply as a physical organisation, and believes in nothing but what he can see and handle, it may seem to him as though this world were simply a gigantic crushing machine, irresistible in its impulses, and as though the best way for him were to submit himself to it, and let it take him whither it will; but we are taught, and we believe that the whole heaven is full of powers which are mightier than any which are seen. (H. W. Beecher.)
Renewing forces are silent and gentle
Nature itself gives us an illustration of it. When the spring draws the sap out of the ground into the trees the actual force which is exerted is greater than that of all human machines put together. Never was there an engine built that could for one mingle moment compare with the development of actual physical power in an oak tree standing in a field, acre broad, every spring. Yet you see nothing and hear nothing. But it has been measured and estimated. There is in the silent influence of the seasons more power than in all the storms that ever swept over the earth since creation. The invisible forces of nature are mightier than the visible. Look into a household. The bustling husband who drives the children here and there, and will have order, has nothing but disorder; while the mother sits still, and loves, rules over every child in the family, and secures perfect obedience. The silence of love is mightier than all the physical or moral force of boisterous strength. Now, this truth, which we discern even in the lowest forms of matter, and which grows more and more striking as you ascend along the line of human society, meets the great declaration of the Divine Word, that God has given the Holy Spirit, and that this invisible and silent force in the universe is such that more are they that are for a man who wants to turn than are they that are against him. The whole heaven is God’s apparatus for helping men to unharness their faults, to lay aside their habits, to change mightily their whole internal economy, yea, to so revolutionise themselves that, whereas before the animal, the physical, was in the ascendency, now the angel, the spiritual, is. Is there, then, such an influence existing in every community? Yes, in every community. (H. W. Beecher.)
In regeneration man must cooperate with God’s Spirit
If men would have the help of the sun they must not sulk in caves; if men would set the sun to bringing forth vines and corn and other grains they must employ it according to the sun’s laws and methods. If they do this they shall have the benefit of its might. All the power that is in nature is mine if I but study natural law and obey it. Now, the invisible influences in the Divine nature, we are taught very abundantly in the Word of God, are to be sought as men seek the seasons. If the power that is in God is to come to the help of a man there should be at least as much seeking as men give to the laws of nature when they seek them. How do men attempt to renovate their spiritual nature? With what dalliance, what carelessness, what facile discouragement, what intermissions, what associations that neutralise or blur that which is bright in us do men seek to bring the Divine influence to bear upon their constitutional peculiarities! Are you proud? You know how to extract the roots of the mightiest tree that ever grew; you know how to attack it and draw it forth; and yet the influences by which a man may extract by the roots all the evil influences within him are a hundred times greater, if men had some conception of the necessity. A man can overmaster his pride. Paul did it. Can a man change his basilar passions so that they shall be held in abeyance? Certainly he can. Something can be done for every man by physiological methods. A man of violent temper, easily excited, an excessively meat-eating man, or a man addicted to the use of stimulating drinks, can hardly expect to overcome the animal in himself while he is gorging him, and is building fires under the very caldrons which he would cool off. If a man choose to go through the necessary practice, he certainly can change; but if a man say to himself, “I do not believe in religion; I will change by and by; it is not convenient now; I do not under stand this great change, and I do not like to go into anything which my reason does not comprehend,” I say to him, Do you insist, when you are sick, and you send for your physician, upon entering into an argument with him? Do you say to him, “What is the matter with me?” and when he prescribes for you do you say, “Sit down and tell me the whole history of this medicine, who invented it, what its use is, who has employed it, and what right the man had to compose it or mix it”? You do not act so. A man under such circumstances instantly makes a practical matter of it, and takes certain practical steps. On the other side, no man can tear himself away from surrounding temptations and evil influences without an adaptation of his life and will to the peculiar work which is required. Shall a man attempt to change himself from evil to good, and do it easily and thoughtlessly and carelessly? Such a change never comes by accident nor by a little striving. Here is the simple fact of this whole subject: both philosophy and example teach that in our strife for virtue the passions and appetites, the infelicities of our organisation, can be overmastered; that we can take ourselves out of our constitutional faults, and that if we have fallen under temptations, it is possible for us to break the net and escape from them. When Jesus came, one of the most matchless and eloquent of all His utterances was that He had come to open the prison doors, to break the shackles, to give the prisoners liberty, and to let those that were bound go free. (H. W. Beecher.)
Cease to do evil; learn to do well
An inoffensive life
The order in which these words are placed, was evidently designed to teach us, that the foundation of acting right is avoiding everything wrong.
Several other parts of Scripture lay down the same rule in almost the same terms (Psalms 34:14; Psalms 37:27; Am Romans 12:9; 1 Peter 3:11); and many express or imply the same doctrine, putting repentance before faith and obedience (Mt Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21; Titus 2:12-13). Even heathen authors, in very distant ages and countries, have given the like direction. And indeed everyone must own the justness of it: but still very few appear to perceive or attend sufficiently to its importance: which, therefore, I shall endeavour to shew you--
I. IN RESPECT OF OUR CONDUCT IN GENERAL. It is plainly the natural and rational method to begin with removing what else will obstruct our progress, and to make unity within our own breasts our earnest care. He who hath only consistent pursuits may follow them with a prospect of success: but a mind, distracted between contrary principles of action, can hope for nothing but to be drawn backward and forward by them continually, as they chance to prevail in their turns. Things, indeed, that do but accidentally give some little hindrance to each other now and then, may be prosecuted together, and the due preference, when they interfere, be adjusted well enough. But sin and duty are so essentially opposite, that their interests can never be reconciled, They flow from different motives, proceed by different means, aim at different ends, and thwart one another perpetually. And it is to men’s overlooking this obvious truth, that the miscarriage of their good intentions, the irresolution of their lives, the incoherence of their characters, in a great measure, owes its rise. Every one of us knows, in the main, what he ought to do: everyone feels an approbation of it; and so far, at least, a disposition to it. But then he feels also dispositions quite adverse: and though he sees them to be unwarrantable, yet it is painful to root them out, and not pleasing even to take notice of them. So, to avoid trouble, both sorts are allowed to grow up together as they can; and, which will thrive faster, soon appears. Perhaps but one or two sorts of wickedness were intended to be indulged: but these have unforeseen connections with others, and those with more. Or, had they none, when men have once yielded to do but a single thing amiss, they have no firm ground to stand upon in refusing to do a second, and a third: so gradually they lose their strength, God withdraws His help, and they fall from bad to worse.
II. IN RESPECT OF OUR BEHAVIOUR TO EACH OTHER. It is a remarkable thing in the constitution of this world, that we have much more power of producing misery in it than happiness. Everyone, down to the most insignificant, is capable of giving disquiet, nay, grievous pain and affliction to others, and often to great numbers, without the least difficulty; while even those of superior abilities in every way, can hardly discover the means, unless it be within a very narrow compass now and then, of doing any great good, or communicating any considerable pleasure. Besides, the effects of kindnesses may always be entirely lost: but those of injuries too frequently can never be remedied. And therefore we ought to watch over ourselves with perpetual care, examine the tendency of all our words and actions, and, not contented with meaning no harm, be solicitous to do none. The harm that we do through heedlessness is certainly not so criminal, as if it were purposely contrived: but may be almost, if not quite, as severely felt notwithstanding: or though it were but slightly, why should we be so inadvertent, as unnecessarily to cause but an hour’s, nay, a moment’s vexation or grief to one of our brethren; or deprive him of the smallest of those innocent gratifications, that help to alleviate the sorrows of life, and make the passage through it comfortable? (T. Secker, LL. D.)
The Bible art of reforming men
I. Its primary principle is, that REFORMATION SHOULD BEGIN AT THE SOURCE OF HUMAN CONDUCT. Change the springs of all action and you change every element of conduct. Ye must be born again. Out of the heart proceed all evils.
1. It does not set aside all forms of outward help--society, industry, family, church, but these are auxiliaries to the central endeavour of the human will.
2. It recognises, too, that the complete work is by stages, gradual--though the purpose may be immediate.
II. Not only is the central element of reformation clearly established, but what may be called THE WORKING PLAN OF REFORMATION FROM EVIL IS LAID DOWN. (Daniel 3:27. Compare that with Matthew 3:8-10.)
1. Right-doing is the way to cease wrong-doing. Ephesians 4:28 --not enough to stop getting by stealing, but must do that by learning how to get by working! The way to cure evil, is to set a current of contrary action.
2. The illustration of the inward government of mind--how feelings of one class rise or fall in answer to the excitement or somnolency of another.
3. The two faulty forms.
(1) Forming a purpose, without taking practical steps--empty resolves--by repentance--leaves only; no fruit.
(2) Reformation by external regulation--mechanical.
III. THE DIFFICULTIES OF VICE, OF HABIT, WHEN THEY ARE SIMPLY WATCHED AGAINST.
1. They leave men lonesome--unhappy.
2. The soul develops power to overturn evil only by inspiration of opposite virtues.
IV. THE REASON SO MANY PEOPLE BECOME NEGATIVE, FEEBLE, AND UNINTERESTING WHEN THEY BECOME RELIGIOUS.
V. THE REASON SO MANY ARE STRONG, NOBLE, AS WORLDLY MEN IN BUSINESS, BUT WITHOUT FORCE IN SPIRITUALS. They let loose their whole selves in the one case. They tie up the strong elements in the other, for fear of mischief--and do not let out any other. (Proverbs 3:13-18; also 8:11, etc.)
VI. WHEN MEN TURN FROM EVIL LET THEM GO CLEAR OVER TO RELIGION! (H. W.Beecher.)
The men for the times
Men are wanted who are prepared to march in the van of the army of national, civic, and personal reformers,--men with the one thought dominating them that God the Father lives, and loves with an everlasting love every member of the human race,--men who, influenced by this irresistible intuition, seek to purge and purify politics and trade, society and the Church, law and custom, speech and practice, of all things that oppress and injure, and which in any way retard the triumph of the kingdom of God. The watchword still is, “Cease to do evil,” etc. (F. Sessions.)
The prophetic temper in James Russell Lowell
The temper that was in James Russell Lowell is the temper we seek for in all our public men--in all leaders of thought in Church or State, of local or general following. “He sang of the wrongs of the poor and the slave; the emptiness of life without conviction; of the nullity of poetry without purpose; the vapidness of preaching without piety; the shame of law without justice; the blank horror of a world without God.” (F. Sessions.)
Holding on to a sin
A little child was one day playing with a very valuable vase, when he put his hand into it and could not withdraw it. His father, too, tried his best to get it out, but all in vain. They were talking of breaking the vase, when the father said, “Now, my son, make one more try; open your hand and hold your fingers out straight, as you see me doing, and then pull.” To their astonishment the little fellow said, “Oh, no, pa. I couldn’t put out my fingers like that, for if I did I would drop my penny.” He had been holding on to a penny all the time! No wonder he could not withdraw his hand. (J. McNeill.)
The first principle
There is no religion--or if there is, I do not know it--which does not say, “Do good; avoid evil.” There is none which does not contain what Rabbi Hillel called the quintessence of all religions, the simple warning, “Be good, my boy.” “Be good, my boy,” may seem a very short catechism; but let us add to it, “Be good, my boy, for God’s sake,” and we have in it very nearly the whole of the Law and the Prophets. (Max Muller.)
What repentance is
Suppose I am to go down to Boston tonight, and I go down to the Union station, and say to a man I sere there, “Can you tell me, is this train going to Boston?” and the man says “Yes.” I go and get on board the train, and the superintendent comes along and says, “Where are you going?” I say, “I am going to Boston,” and he says, “Well, you are in the wrong train, that train is going to Albany.” “But I am quite sure I am right; I asked a railroad man here, and he told me this was the train.” And the superintendent says, “Moody, I know all about these trains; I have lived here forty years, and see these trains go up and down here every day.” And at last he convinces me that I am on the wrong train. That is conviction, not conversion. But if I don’t remain on that train, but just get into the other train, that is repentance. Just to change trains--that is repentance. (D. L. Moody.)
Evil to be supplanted by good
Sin is to be overcome, not so much by maintaining a direct opposition to it, as by cultivating opposite principles. Would you kill the weeds in your garden, plant it with good seed: if the ground be well occupied there will be less need of the labour of the hoe. If a man wished to quench fire, he might fight it with his hands till he was burnt to death; the only way is to apply an opposite element. (Andrew Fuller.)
Learn to do well
The highest education
We hear much about various grades of education--primary, secondary, and higher education; by the text we are reminded of that highest education which concerns all, and which it is the main end of life to secure. Moral culture is even more imperative than intellectual development.
I. THE NECESSITY FOR MORAL LEARNING. Numerous definitions have been given of man, but he might justly be defined as the being who learns. Other creatures can scarcely he said to learn; whatever pertains to their species they do instinctively, immediately, perfectly. A lark builds its first nest as skilfully as its last, a spider’s first embroidery is as exquisite as anything it spins in adult life, a bee constructs its first cell and compounds its first honey with an efficiency that leaves nothing to be desired. We know that naturalists are not altogether agreed on this point, but we may conclude that substantially instinct dispenses with that laborious process which we know as learning. It is altogether different with the human creature. If we are “to do well,” taking that phrase in its noblest sense, we must “learn” to do it, acquiring the splendid power through attention, repeated endeavour, and manifold sacrifice. Take, e.g., the virtue of contentment. We, are persuaded of the reasonableness of contentment with the dispensations of Divine Providence; yet the folly of the soul is subdued only through much failure and discipline. Or, take the virtue of sincerity. This virtue, if it be not rather of the essence of all virtues, we all, to some extent, require to learn, some, however, finding in the learning of it the chief task of life. It seems paradoxical to say so, but some men are naturally theatrical; the temptation is always to act a part. Through repeated and hitter castigations of the soul do we master this passion for masquerading, and attain sincerity, simplicity, and thoroughness of life. Take the virtue of veracity. We have much to learn here--to speak the truth, to act the truth, to live the truth. Take the virtue of temper. There is a faculty of wrath in nature, and a faculty of wrath becomes noble men but to harmonise this faculty with reason, and to be at once high-spirited and gentle, is a problem that may demand years for its solution. Or, take the virtue of kindness. We pass through much self-reproach, scourging, and shame in striving to reach the beauteous ideal. St. Paul bears witness of himself, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Let us remember in the training of our children that virtue is acquired much as intellectual life is.
II. CONSIDER THE METHOD OF THIS MORAL CULTURE. Three things are essential to the liberal education of the soul.
1. A pattern. “Looking unto Jesus.” He is the supreme Pattern. Said an American artist, “I would give everything I have to see Velasquez paint for one week, one day.” But the splendid privilege is given to us to behold the Lord Jesus live through years! “Learn of Me,” says the Master, and a loving, thoughtful glance into the New Testament every day is a lifelong vision of perfection. Let us learn of Him in joy and sorrow, in work and leisure, in strength and weariness, in popularity and neglect, in success and failure, in life and death. He best teaches the art of life.
2. Power. We can never become holy except as we have a genius for holiness, and this genius in an adequate degree only the Spirit of God can impart. Let us in prayer seek for more inward vision, receptivity, and energy, more of the Spirit that worketh mightily in fully surrendered souls, and all things will become possible.
3. Practice. We learn to do well through doing well. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Life’s great lesson
I. THERE IS NO ROYAL ROAD TO RENOWN. “You envy me, do you?” said a marshal (Lefevre) of France, to a friend complimenting him on his possessions and good fortune. “Well, you shall have these things at a better bargain than I had. Come into the courtyard: I’ll fire at you with a gun twenty times at thirty paces, and if I don’t kill you, all shall be your own. What, you will not come! Very well; recollect, then, that I have been shot at more than a thousand times, and much nearer than thirty paces, before I arrived at the state in which you now find me!” The marshal’s friend saw only the success attained; he forgot the toil, the suffering and peril through which it had been achieved. The traveller with ardent love of beauty climbs the rugged hill whence his view, he fancies, will be unobstructed and complete; but the first ascent made, behold, another hill overshadowing him; and that surmounted, behold, still another frowns upon him higher yet. So with the hill of life. One arduous ascent made, one difficulty overcome, another presents itself, another, and still another. It is ever “Excelsior!” We would not have it otherwise. Without difficulty, there were no display of energy. Without temptation, there were no self-discipline. Without trial and suffering, there were no fortitude and resignation.
II. OBSERVE THE ENFORCEMENT OF THIS LESSON OF THE PART OF NATURE THE VERY BEGINNINGS OF LIFE. We begin life as “strangers in a strange land.” We bring nothing with us into the world, either of wealth, knowledge, or experience. What we possess, we receive, acquire, or learn. We find the conditions of life already existing We must “accept the situation”; meet it as best we may, and each go on to act his part. Beginning to learn, we find nature and her laws fixed, inexorable, demanding recognition sad obedience. Observe these laws, heed nature’s warnings, and she is a gentle mistress, a kind benefactress; but disregard them, disobey them, and she becomes a terrible avenger. The penalty she never fails to inflict. If not in youth, then in manhood; if not in manhood, then in old age. Though her voice be silent, still nature speaks. And this is her word: “Whatever and wherever your place in life’s arena act well your part,--learn to do well.” For the sake of your physical well-being; for the sake of your temporal happiness; for the sake of those to come after you--observe my commandments to do them!
III. CONSIDER THE UTILITY OF THIS LESSON AS TAUGHT BY SOCIETY AND EMPHASISED IN EVERY SPHERE OF LIFE. The household, the school, the college, the counting room tuitions, the business apprenticeships, civil and political laws and institutions--whatever factors enter in to develop and improve society--are but the outgrowth and exemplification of the precept of “learning to do well.” They are nature’s assistants, teaching us how to do well in life. What is self-denial? It is but another word for “learning to do well; that is, learning to forego the lesser for the sake of the higher good; denying the present moment for the sake of the moment that is to come--all which involves difficulty, cost, pain, persistent effort. Persistent effort in the mastering of difficulties lies at the basis of true advancement and success. Wisdom, skill, mastery in hall of trade or science, in field of politics or war, come not by wishing.
IV. BUT, ALONG WITH SELF-DENIAL “LEARNING TO DO WELL” INVOLVES SUBMISSION TO HIGHER AUTHORITY. Who could expect to become an able soldier without first submitting to a tactician’s guidance? There must be days, weeks, months of weary taxation of eye and ear, nerve and muscle; there must be continued restraint of body and mind; there must be submission to another’s will--obedience to a master’s command. But--there it comes again--obedience, self-restraint, is difficult. And what is all this struggle with difficulty for? Why, simply for the sake of “learning to do well”--to drill well; for the sake of becoming a good soldier!
V. But the Bible declares that this life is a period of trial, on the issue of which turns the destiny of our future being. If, then, whatever is worth the having in this present life comes not without conflict with difficulties, IS IT REASONABLE TO SUPPOSE THAT THE ADVANTAGES OF THE FUTURE LIFE WILL ACCRUE TO US WITHOUT LIKE CONFLICT WITH DIFFICULTIES? Do nothing, and still inherit eternal life? It is not so cheap a thing as that.
VI. Beyond this, THE BIBLE NOT ONLY POINTS OUT THE DIFFICULTIES THAT OPPOSE US--IT SHOWS HOW THE DIFFICULTIES ARE TO BE MET. In the lives of its heroes the Bible individualises every virtue, but in no one of them does every virtue appear till we come to the perfect man, Christ Jesus. He is the Master of goodness. And He says, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” If the way seem too full of obstructions, and old sins hedge us in, and our weakness is very great, He yet kindly says to us as to the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee,” etc. (C. P. H. Nason, M. A.)
The struggle between good and evil in the human soul
We see what the author has produced, but we do not see what he has destroyed. The book comes out in fair copy, and we, looking upon the surface only, say, How well done! Who can tell what that “fair copy” cost? We see the picture hung upon the wall for exhibition, but we do not see how much canvas was thrown away, or how many outlines were discarded, or how many efforts were pronounced unworthy. We only see the last or best. So much is to be done in private with regard to learning to do well. We do not live our whole life in public. We make an effort in solitude: it is a failure; we throw it away; we acknowledge its existence tone one: still, we are acquiring skill--practice makes perfect--and when we do our first act of virtue in the public sight people may suppose that we are all but prodigies and miracles, so well was the deed done. Only God’s eye saw the process which led up to it. This is a characteristic of Divine grace, that it sets down every attempt as a success, it marks every failure honestly done as a victory already crowned. So we are losing nothing even on the road. The very learning is itself an education; the very attempt to do, though we fail of doing, itself gives strength, and encouragement, and confidence. In learning to do well we assist the negative work of ceasing to do evil. (J. Parker, D. D.)
“Learn to do well”
1. We must be doing; not cease to do evil, and then stand idle.
2. We must be doing good; the good which the Lord our God requires, and which will turn to a good account.
3. We must do it well, in a right manner, and for a right end.
4. We must learn to do well, we must take pains to get the knowledge of our duty, be inquisitive concerning it, in care about it; and accustom ourselves to it, that we may readily turn our hands to our work, and become masters of this holy art of doing well (M. Henry.)
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord
Further reasoning useless
“You have nothing more to say; all that you have already said has no value; reasoning has done its work; if reasoning is to rule, the case must go against you--there can be no other issue; but if yielding to the force of My reasoning, admitting it is true and fair, you confess yourselves convicted and condemned, then My mercy shall have its free, triumphant exercise upon you; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
” (W. Perkins.)
Reform and pardon
“Cease to do evil,” etc. “Come now,” etc. As early as the time of Isaiah we find the doctrine of the reformation of character dependent on forgiveness of sin distinctly taught. God’s remedy for sin is the same in all ages. More prominence perhaps was given to the observance of the law in the olden times, but not to the exclusion of grace; while in the New Testament grace appears the more prominent, but surely not to the exclusion of law. Neither in the one nor in the other was the law the condition of life. Both represent rather two different stages in the same covenant of grace--the one preparatory to the other.
I. THE DEMAND HERE MADE.
1. The nature of the demand. It is for reformation of practice. “Wash you, make you clean,” etc. This is the one Divine call to fallen man. In it everything is summed up. Made in sundry times and in divers manners, it ever remains substantially the same. The essence of moral beauty is goodness. Now goodness is not a quality deposited in the heart and there shut up; nor yet a something to put on as a garment at will. Rather it is the fruit of well-doing--the outgrowth of a righteous life. This is what God requires. This is to be the outcome of His redeeming love. But it cannot be accomplished without the cooperating activity of the human will. While the hands are besmeared with blood--the token of an immoral life--all natural refinements are of very little value in His sight. God is uncompromising here. Our greatest happiness is to do good. By doing good we shall find the highest good. This then is the great lesson of life--“Cease to do evil; learn to do well.”
2. The word “learn” suggests a further thought, namely, the ground of this demand for reform. Man is evil and does evil. Even those who take the most sanguine view of human nature admit that there is something wrong in man’s moral constitution.
3. To estimate rightly, however, this cause, we must consider the justice of the demand. It is God who makes it. But He could not have made it unless it were just to do so; nor would He have made it unless it were possible for man to meet it.
II. HOW TO MEET GOD’S DEMAND. Where is the power to come from? Two answers only are possible: either it is inherent in man--this is the answer of nature or it is supplied from without--this is the answer of grace.
1. The answer of nature. The belief in the ability of man to reform himself is founded either on ignorance of the real nature of his moral condition, as was the case in the pagan world, or on a deliberate refusal to recognise the truth when it is presented concerning that condition, as was the case in Judaism, and is the case at the present day with those who persuade themselves to a belief in the infinite intrinsic capability of human nature. Such is the pride of man, that he is ever slow to admit his own weakness. No, says the modem enthusiast: I regret the new light, for the demands it makes upon me are far too humiliating; I see no reason why a man, given the necessary favourable environments, should not, by a little effort, become perfectly good. Neither the religion of the pagan world, nor the philosophy of the Greeks, nor the power and civilisation of the Romans afford much ground for this belief in human nature. Wisdom then, under the most favourable circumstances, has failed to supply the necessary power to reform the World. Neither the enactments of a Roman senate, nor the Acts of a modern Parliament, nor any power of law, can make man good or even moral. Justice by itself, no more than wisdom, can remove the evil. But nowhere is the inadequacy of wisdom and of law to draw forth the power there is in man to reform his own character, better illustrated than in the case of the chosen people of Israel. They could boast of a wisdom more divine than that of the Greeks, a system of law superior to that of the Romans; while in virtue of their peculiar privileges as a nation they were in an incomparably more advantageous position than any other people, to succeed in their own strength, since they had a will to it. The very possession of their superior privileges, when they abused them, brought upon them a severer punishment.
2. The answer of grace. A power from without is absolutely necessary to enable man to meet the demand for reform. This power is God’s forgiveness. “Come now, let us reason together,” or better, “let us end the dispute”: “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Although the demand precedes the offer of forgiveness, we are not to suppose that the work of reforming is to precede the enjoyment of the Divine gift. That indeed were impossible. As every duty of man is summed up in the command to reform, so all the riches of grace are summed up in the gift of pardon. But what peculiar virtue or power does pardon possess for producing a change of life?
(1) It is an inducement to repentance, which is the first step in the reformation of character. It induces the resolution to referrer then becomes a power in the penitent man to help him to carry out his resolution. Pardon thus bridges the chasm which exists between a knowledge of duty and the doing of it..
(2) Another function of pardon, and, perhaps, the most important of all in the reformation of character, is that it removes, or rather is itself, as its name implies, the removal of sin. Pardon will convert the criminal into a saint. The pagan world knew nothing of this. It is “the power of God unto salvation.” (R. E. Morris, B. A.)
God reasoning with man
The gracious promise that God will make us clean follows immediately on a most distinct commandment that we make ourselves clean. Does this seem to you inconsistent? The Jews are here exhorted to make themselves clean,, by putting away from them the evil of their doings--ceasing to do evil, learning to do well. In fact, they are spoken to just as though it had wholly rested with themselves to acquire moral purity.
1. But I dare say they were ready with their objections: they would plead that it was really of no service to decry and exhort them in one and the same breath. “Of what use,” they seem to say, “is it for us to make any effort, unable as we confessedly are to keep the law of God? And even were we able to obey for the future, is there not past disobedience for which we have yet to be reckoned with?” It is much in this way that men still receive exhortations to repentance and amendment; for such exhortations belong to the Gospel as much as to the law. And what do men say in reply? The minister, teaching as he does the doctrine of human corruption and helplessness, it is absurd that he should tell men to repent. Is he not contradicting himself?” It was, we may believe, in the face of such arguments as these, that God challenged me Jews to controversy in the words of our text. “Is this the way,” the Almighty seems to exclaim. “in which you treat My urgent admonitions to amendment! Come now, let us reason together!” But with what sort of reasoning are the objectors met? Perhaps you look for some subtle and ingenious argument. Yet you have no argument at all; you have only the promise--a most free and gracious one, but still only a promise--“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” But how does the promise do away with the objection? Only thus,--God states this to be His appointed way; He designs to save men in this manner, and therefore is this manner prescribed.
The parties to whom He will impart additional grace are those who, in obedience to His call, are straining every nerve to forsake evil ways. It is not that they are able of themselves to work out a moral amendment; but it is that God intends to bestow on them the ability whilst they are making the effort.
2. And, perhaps, the Jews raised more general objections. They may have murmured at God’s dealings, without selecting this or that particular instance, just as men are now disposed to arraign the appointments of Heaven as severe or unjust. The chapter in which our text occurs is full of indignant rebuke, and vehement threatenings, and it may not be imagined that a haughty people would fail to resent being so sternly addressed, and deny the equity of the judgments which the prophet foretold. If this be supposed, then God invites men to reason with Him on the goodness of His dealings. Come, let us clear the scene for the controversy. Come, all of you who think you are in any way hardly dealt with by God--that His dispensations are not such as might have been looked for--“Come, let us reason together.” You need not, therefore, hesitate to utter plainly what you think, and to make statement of your grievances. Well, what have you to say? You urge, it may be, that your lot is one of poverty, that troubles are multiplied beyond your power of endurance, and temptations beyond your power of resistance. Some of you, perhaps, plead that, born as you are with corrupt tendencies, and placed where there is everything to incite and strengthen them, you have really no chance of keeping out of vice; that you are summoned to duties which are manifestly too arduous, and threatened, if you fail, with punishments which are manifestly excessive. You expect that God will take your complaints one by one, and either show them to be groundless, or, if He admit certain evils, show them more than counterpoised by blessings. Or, again, you expect that, as far as you have dwelt on trials peculiar to yourselves, God win patiently weigh them, prove them not excessive, or trace out beneficial results which they are calculated to produce. Well, this is very natural; I think it is just what would be, if the debate were with a mere human reasoner. But you will hearken in vain if you expect from God this careful exposure of the fallacy or falseness of your statements. There is heard nothing but the beautiful promise: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)
The right use of reason
The occurrence of the word “reason” warrants my speaking to you on the right use of reason, and warning you against mistakes into which some are apt to fall.
1. If you hear some objections to Christianity which you are not able to answer, do not on that account conclude that they cannot be answered,--have the modesty to believe that others may be able to explain what is too hard for you. There is one evidence which I can promise you: if you read the Bible carefully and prayerfully the Bible will speak for itself.
2. And, besides the evidences of Christianity, reason has a great part to perform in regard to the doctrines. It would be as great a fallacy as could be alleged against the Gospel were it to be said that it does not commend itself to man as exactly what he needs, so that when he receives it it must be on the strength of external testimony and not at all in the consciousness of its meeting his necessities. I do not say that reason can trace in every point the connection between the death of Christ and the pardon of sin; but, at all events, reason can clearly make out that, because God’s honour is provided for by the sacrifice of Calvary, and that this sacrifice must have been of so stupendous a value as to render possible the salvation of every human being,--there is, therefore, nothing to shrink from in the challenge of our text. I am jealous for reason; I will not, indeed, bum an idolatrous incense before reason; as though I held it sufficient for man’s guidance, wanderer as he is in a darkened world; but let reason keep her right province, and in place of jostling with revelation, she will put revelation on a throne, and then reverently and submissively prostrate herself before it. For it is quite wretched to think how many a man loses his soul because he will not humble his reason. The directions are very plain; do not puzzle yourselves with any difficulties; the directions are--“Cease to do evil, learn to do well.” Make a beginning. Many a man loses his soul by neglecting to act at once on some truth which has been brought home to his conscience. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I. Take that basal truth which lies at the bottom of all reasonable religion--THE BEING OF GOD. The doctrine of the existence of God is reasonable. To believe that there is no self-conscious power behind the world to account for it, is irrational. It argues nothing that all minds do not see God behind nature; all minds do not see the beauty of art; all ears are not ravished with music.
II. Again, we are living under A MORAL GOVERNMENT that is reasonable, one that can be defended and rested in. A moral government is here, which brings evil to its doom, and makes right safe and successful in the long run.
It is rational, and can be defended, as it can be understood. All sin is irrational and utterly indefensible.
III. Take again some of the FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS OF SUPERNATURAL RELIGION.
1. The doctrine of the incarnation is reasonable. Whether the incarnation is or is not reasonable depends upon your conception of God. If He is like men generally, a sort of incarnate selfishness, out of sympathy with suffering, indifferent to the miseries of the world, then the incarnation is unreasonable. But if God is love, and loves His children as we love ours, then the incarnation is reasonable, it is inevitable.
2. Then again His life in the flesh is rational The Gospels narrate just what we might expect God to do if He came here.
3. Then it was reasonable that He should die. The principle was in the heart of God from an eternity. The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world. Sacrifice was not foreign to the nature of God and suddenly invoked for a specific occasion or emergency; it was eternal with Him. The atonement is the most rational of all rational truths. The principle at its heart is at the heart of nature; it is at the heart of humanity. It is the condition on which rests the world’s best life.
4. And the same can be claimed for the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is a rational doctrine. It is the fitting climax to the life behind it, to the mission upon which He came. It was not fitting in the nature of things that death should hold in its grip such a life. It was due to the majesty of truth and virtue that such vindication should be appealed to.
IV. Turn now to some of the PRACTICES REQUIREMENTS of the Biblical religion.
1. Take that initial requirement of faith. Faith is reasonable. The best things are out of sight. We rise toward our highest possibilities only as we live by the unseen.
2. Repentance is a reasonable demand.
3. Closely connected with faith and repentance is confession. Confession of sin is rational, but so is the confession of Jesus Christ.
4. The duties of Christianity are reasonable. Prayer is a rational exercise of the soul. If we have a Father in heaven it is reasonable that we should come into touch with Him. And so of the means of grace in their entirety. The use of the means of grace is reasonable and right. Effects come through well-defined causes always and everywhere. The use of the Church to the utmost of its power to serve us is a rational procedure. We have no great saints among those who ignore the Church of Jesus Christ. There is one conclusion: a set of opinions and beliefs that will not bear the test of reason had better be abandoned. A life that you cannot defend and justify had better be given up. We had better put our life on a basis that can be justified at every point. (S. H. Howe.)
God’s argument with man
It has been pointed out to us that in the opening verses of Isaiah’s book we seem to be present in a Law Court, at some Assize, and it is a Crown case that is on. And the Crown is present in person to argue and plead its own cause. God and His people Israel are the parties concerned, and God is heard in argument establishing the charge He makes, sweeping away utterly the pleas and excuses that are offered, until in this verse He seems to sum up the position, and the case comes to a most wonderful and unexpected and Divine conclusion. The people are brought in guilty on every count. Any attempt at justifying their conduct but makes it worse, and covers them with darker guilt. The case has gone so clearly against them, their arguments have proved so utterly worthless, the verdict is so certain, that we are almost waiting in silence for the dread sentence to be uttered. But lo! instead of the sentence of condemnation and punishment, pardon, perfect and complete, is offered. I have given you the case of God versus Israel, but it is a typical one repeated from age to age. It is equally the Case of God versus man, God versus the sinner. It is a case in which we are not spectators, we are ourselves the defendants. God is here in argument with us, in argument against us, and He sums up the whole by the gracious declaration, “Admit the force of My reasoning, yield yourselves to it, confess yourselves convicted and condemned, and My mercy shall have its free and triumphant exercise upon you.” (W. Perkins.)
The reasoning God
God reasons with man--that is the first article of religion with Isaiah. God addresses man’s mind, intelligence, conscience. There are two great falsehoods in the world about God.
1. That He is too great to reason with man; that He never gives any reason for anything He commands or does.
2. That God Himself is not a reasonable Being at all. It is a falsehood not openly declared in so many words, but a practice adopted in the lives of men. Men act as though they believe they could impose upon God. Let us try to follow God’s reasoning in this chapter. There is a threefold basis of reasoning laid down.
I. God reasons with man ON THE BASIS OF MAN’S WHOLE LIFE. God said to man, “Come, let us reason together.” “Very well,” says man, “let this be the ground of our reasoning. Look at my life as it lies within the circle of its religious action and exercises, the sacrifices I bring to you, the incense I offer, the fasts I make. Let us reason on that basis, let us take our stand there.” And as you will see in this chapter, God utterly rejects reasoning like this, and says, “No, no; I must deal with you on the basis of your whole life, not any limited and selected part of it which you choose to present and urge.” Now there is great significance in this connection in the opening words of this chapter. God cries out to earth and heaven, and says, “These are the only limits of man’s life I can recognise--the earth on which he walks, on the surface of which everything is done, the heavens over his head, which look down upon every transaction of his life; that is the basis of My reasoning, and that alone.” It is well for us to remember this, for today men are trying continually to reason with God on some narrow chosen ground of their own.
II. God reasons with men or THE BASIS OF HIS OWN FATHERHOOD. You will see how in this chapter He reminds all men of it, gives men proofs of it, tells men He has fulfilled it in relation to them. “Admit,” He says, “My Fatherhood, and what does your life look like in the light of it? How unnatural and base it becomes. You sink below the brute.” This is God’s reasoning, and who of us can stand against it?
III. God reasons with man or THE BASIS OF SIN’S RESULTS. He says, “You have rebelled against Me. Has it justified itself in its success?” And God gives the answer in searching and terrible words “Why should ye be stricken any more?” etc. (verses 5-8). He points them to the terrible and pitiful results which have come to pass for the Individual and the nation through their disobedience towards God; and He challenges them, and says, “Now, look at it as I have reasoned it out with you.” This is God’s argument still. If we would listen, we might hear His voice in His Word, and in our consciences, saying, “Tell me, O men and women who are living without Me and in sin, what good has your sin ever done you!” There is no answer. And so we are led to the crisis of my text. We seem to be in the presence of a great dilemma. Either God must abate His claims, lower rebellion, or else logic must rule, justice must have its way. The first of these we know God cannot do. It would wreck His universe if God declined from the absolute right, it would bring ruin and shame wherever created and finite beings are found. If that be impossible, what remains? Oh, there seems to be an awful moment between that first clause of the text and what follows. “Come now, let us bring our reasoning to an end. There is nothing more to be said. The case has gone against you; all your arguments have fallen to the ground.” What remains? We wait to hear, and instead of the dread sentence of wrath and judgment come the words of mercy: “Though your sins be as scarlet,” etc. Right in between the eternal and infinite righteousness and the sinner’s doom mercy breaks in, pardon perfect and complete. So great the change that when a man feels the pardon in his heart, he can turn his face and address himself hopefully to that great ideal of life which the law of God presents. “Wash you, make you clean,” etc. And then, the soul within us rises up and asks, “Why is this, if God be infinitely reasonable, if He reasons with such force and conclusion, why does He not follow out His reasoning to its logical conclusion? Why does He spare and pardon the sinner taken red-handed in his sin?” Why, simply because there is something more scarlet than the scarlet of a sinner’s sin, that covers the sinner’s sin, and makes God’s pardon a just and rightful thing. “There is a fountain filled with blood,” etc. (W. Perkins.)
Men invited to reason with God
1. God is a moral agent. That He has moral character is sufficiently manifest from the revealed fact that man is made in His image.
2. God is also a good Being--not only moral, but holy and wise. He always acts upon good and sufficient reasons, and never irrationally and without reasons for His conduct.
3. God is always influenced by good reasons. Good reasons are more sure to have their due and full weight on His mind than on the mind of any other being in the universe.
I. WHAT IS THAT TO WHICH THIS TEXT INVITES US? “Come now, and let us reason together.” But what are we to “reason” about? The passage proceeds to say, “Though your sins be as scarlet,” etc. In the previous context God makes grievous charges against men Now, He comes down to look into their case and see if there be any hope of repentance, and proceeds to make a proposals “Come,” etc. Produce your strong reasons why your God should forgive your great sin.
II. The invitation, coupled with the promises annexed, implies that THERE ARE GOOD AND SUFFICIENT REASONS WHY GOD SHOULD FORGIVE THE PENITENT. Sinners may so present their reasons before God as to ensure success.
III. The nature of the case shows that WE ARE TO ADDRESS OUR REASONS AND MAKE OUR APPEAL, NOT TO JUSTICE BUT TO MERCY. We are to present reasons which will sanction the exercise of mercy. (C. G. Finney.)
Reasons for pardon and sanctification
I. THE REASONS WHICH MAY BE OFFERED WHY GOD SHOULD PARDON OUR SIN.
1. You may plead that you entirely justify God in all His course. You must certainly take this position, for He cannot forgive you so long as you persist in self-justification. You know beyond all question that all the wrong is on your side and all the right on God’s side. You might and should know also that you must confess this, You need not expect God to forgive you till you do.
2. You may come to God and acknowledge that you have no apology whatever to make for your sin.
3. You must also be ready to renounce all sin, and be able in all honesty to say this before God.
4. You must unconditionally submit to His discretion. Nothing lees than this is the fitting moral position for a sinner towards God.
5. You may plead the life and death of Jesus Christ as sufficient to honour the law and justify God in showing mercy. Pardon must not put in peril the holiness or justice of Jehovah. The utmost expression He could make, or needs to make of His holiness and justice, as touching the sins of man, is already made in the death of Christ, “whom God did Himself set forth to be a propitiation,” etc.
6. You may also urge His professed love for sinners.
7. He has also invited you to come and reason with Him. Therefore He has fully opened the way for the freest and fullest communion on this point. You may also plead His honour; that, seeing He is under oath, and stands committed before the universe, you may ask Him what He will do for His great name if He refuse to forgive a repentant and believing sinner. You may plead all the relations and work of Christ. You may say to Him, Lord, will it not induce other sinners to come to Thee? Will it not encourage Thy Church to labour and pray more for salvation? Will not Thy mercy shown to me prove a blessing to thousands! You may urge the influence of refusing to do so. You may suggest that His refusal is liable to be greatly misapprehended; that it may be a scandal to many; and that the wicked will be emboldened to say that God has made no such exceeding great and precious promises. You may urge that there is joy in heaven, and on earth also, over every sinner pardoned and saved. You may urge, that, since God loves to make saints happy in this world, He surely will not be averse to giving you His Spirit and putting away your sins--it will cause such joy in the hearts of His dear people. You may also plead the great abhorrence you have of living in sin, as you surely will unless He forgives you. Tell Him, moreover, how wretched you are, and must be in your sins, if you cannot find salvation, and what mischief you will be likely to do everywhere, on earth and in hell, if you are not forgiven and renewed in holiness.
II. THE REASONS WHICH MAY BE URGED BY THE PARDONED SINNER WHO PLEADS FOR ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION.
1. You may plead your present justification.
2. You may plead your relation to Him, to the Church, and to the world--that, having now been justified and adopted into His family, you are known as a Christian and a child of God, and it therefore becomes of the utmost consequence that you should have grace to live so as to adorn your profession, and honour the name by which you are called. You may also plead your great responsibilities, and the weight of those interests that are depending upon your spiritual progress. Plead the desire you feel to be completely delivered from sin. Ask Him if He has not given you this very desire Himself, and inquire if He intends to sharpen your thirst and yet withhold the waters of life. Plead also His expressed will. Appeal to His great love’ to you, as manifested in what Christ has done, etc. Tell Him how you have stumbled many by your falls into sin, and have given great occasion of reproach to the cause you love; tell Him you cannot live so. Tell Him of your willingness to make any sacrifice; that you are willing to forego your good name, and to lay your reputation wholly upon His altar. Be sure to remind Him that you intend to be wholly disinterested and unselfish in this matter; you ask these things not for your own present selfish interest; you are aware that a really holy life may subject you to much persecution. You want to represent Him truly. Then tell Him of your great weakness, and how you entirely distrust yourself. Tell Him you shall go away greatly disappointed if you do not receive the grace you ask and need. Remarks--
1. Whenever we have considered the reasons for God’s actions till they have really moved and persuaded us, they will surely move Him. God is not slow--never slower than we, to see the reasons for showing mercy and for leading us to holiness.
2. Many fail in coming to God because they do not treat Him as a rational being.
3. Many do not present these reasons, because in honesty they cannot.
4. When we want anything of God, we should always consider whether we can present good reasons why it should be granted.
5. All who are in any want are invited to come and bring forward their strong reasons.
6. Of all beings, God is most easily influenced to save. He is by His very nature disposed to save the lost. (C. G. Finney.)
The cultivation of the reason
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god!” In this well-known panegyric on man the great dramatist puts the reason foremost: “How noble in reason!” and, perhaps, the reason is the prime dignity of man. It is by it, more than ought else, that man is separated from the inferior animals. It is by it that he rules over them. It is by the development of reason that one race outstrips another in the course of progress, and this is the accepted standard by which we measure greatness between man and man. Therefore the cultivation of the reason must be a subject of supreme and even religious interest to all who wish to attain to a noble and well-developed manhood. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
I. THE WORK OF THE REASON.
1. The reason is the faculty by which, from things already known, we advance to conclusions which these imply, but which, till the act of reason is performed, are unknown; so the work of the reason is a kind of creative work, and do you not think there is an inkling of that in the kind of exultation with which we complete any difficult act of reasoning, or even hear a speaker completing it? I think every schoolboy feels a touch of this exultation when he sees a sum at which he is working coming right, and every housewife feels it when she sees that the two sides of her accounts are about to balance exactly. In a court of law, at the conclusion of the evidence the facts often appear to the Jury a confused mass, pointing in no particular direction; but when a skilful advocate rises, and taking hold of the evidence, separating one thing from another, and laying this beside that, shows that from the confused mass there emerges a necessary, irresistible conclusion, how delightful it is to listen to that. The whole science of mathematics is deduced from a few simple axioms. To these an ordinary mind might give assent, without observing that anything might be implied; but the practised intellect deducts from them, step by step, a magnificent system of truth. Thus, the reason, bringing its forces to bear on the raw materials of knowledge supplied by the lower faculties, infers from them a more advanced and lofty knowledge of its own.
2. But now, I would like to give a clearer and simpler explanation of what its work is. The reason may be called the faculty of comparison, or the faculty by which we perceive the connections or relations of things. These relations between things with which the reason has to deal are of different kinds, but of whatever kind they are, the reason has to deal with them.
(1) One of them is that of means and ends. Something requires to be done, but how? It is the work of the reason to find that out.
(2) Another relation between things which is still more important for the reason, is that of cause and effect. The word “why” is a great word of the reason, and its sister word is “because.” Wherever “why” and “because” are coming into speech, there reason is at work.
(3) But this process can be turned the other way. Instead of looking at phenomena, and asking how they come there, we can say, “Given certain things, what will be the consequence! Suppose there are certain conditions, what will follow from them?” If fire and gunpowder are brought into contact, we know what will follow. If people live in a polluted atmosphere, we know what the result will be to their bodies. But we cannot deal much with such relations without this question arising, How do these relations come to subsist between things?
(4) One of the greatest triumphs of the reason is to find out the laws of nature, e.g., the law of gravitation. Newton discovered that law, and applied it first to some trivial things; then he and others applied it to more distant and sublime things, until we now know it to be a law prevailing in the whole system of things, and among the bodies that roll in space; but how comes it that all the bodies in earth and heaven are directed by this law? As the mind thus moves through nature it finds that it cannot go arbitrarily. The divisions which it makes are in nature before it finds them. In short, nature is intelligent--aye, and it is moral, because nature is seen to be so arranged as to encourage certain lines of action, and to discourage certain other lines of action. The stars in their courses, so to speak, fight against evil and on the side of righteousness. And does not that look as if behind nature there were some One who is intelligent, and who, because He orders nature so as to make for righteousness, is good?
II. THE CULTIVATION OF THE REASON. This faculty is bestowed on different individuals in very different degrees. To those intended by the Creator to be leaders of their fellows, it is given in liberal measure. There are multitudes of others whose ideas are habitually vague and feeble. Reason may be given in different forms, some of which are more conscious, and some more unconscious. Reason in the unconscious form, we call by such names as tact, or common sense. The science of logic has for its aim the making visible to the eye the process through which the mind passes in reasoning, whether it is conscious of this process or not, and at the same time it makes visible, so as to show their absurdity, the different kinds of fallacious reasoning; and there can be no doubt that the study of that science is one of the best means of cultivating the mind.
III. THE RELIGIOUS USE OF REASON. The marks of God are on all things that He has made, and by collecting these from all places where they can be seen, the reason apprehends His eternal power and Godhead, and never in the reason of man so nobly employed as when thus it is collecting the indications of God, so as to convert them into a correct and impressive conception of what He is, or when it is vindicating His existence and His character against the attacks of unbelief. Our text says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord,” and one of the commonest complaints of the Bible is that people will not reason. “Israel doth not know, My people doth not consider.” That is the complaint all through the prophets. It is always taken for granted that if people only would think, they would love and obey God. One of the commonest names in the Bible for sin is folly. At the present time we have need of a reasoned Christianity, because Christianity is tending far too much to sentimentalism and sensationalism. Christian work is becoming so absorbing that men have not leisure to think, and if Christians do not think, Christianity will before long suffer the consequences, and they will be hard to bear. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
The Gospel of pardoning mercy as preached by the prophets of the kingdom
Analyse carefully the picture of the sins which the prophet sets before his people, as preliminary to his glorious, full and free offer of mercy.
1. A marked feature of the portraiture, here drawn, is that they are sinners under the light of Jehovah’s special revelations and appointed ordinances.
2. These sinners are such in face of every obligation of love and gratitude to Jehovah, arising out of peculiar blessings and privileges.
3. Yet in the midst of all these mercies, sin everywhere abounds. The public men and the people alike are corrupt.
4. All this wickedness clothes itself in the garb of religion. Having considered to whom he speaks, let us consider what it is the prophet says to all such. It embraces three points chiefly.
I. A PROPOSITION TO STOP AND REASON THE MATTER WITH JEHOVAH. The proposition is very suggestive; both of the cause why men continue to live in sin; and of the means and process whereby Jehovah would bring them back to Himself. The grand cause of the continuance in sin is that men will not reason of the matter. It is not that they do not know enough; but they do not reason concerning what they do know.
II. THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THE PARLEY--sin and its consequences.
III. THE REMEDY FOR SIN--its effectiveness, certainty, and readiness. (S. Robinson, D. D.)
Pardon for aggravated sin
“Though your sins be as scarlet, and red like crimson.” The critics tell us that one of the terms here refers to the outward appearance, glaring, attracting and fixing the attention; the other, from a root signifying double-dipped, refers to the ineffaceable stain of sin upon the soul; a stain that no rain, nor sunshine, nor dew can ever wash out, or bleach. The meaning is, however aggravated your sins may be. What, then, are some of the circumstances that aggravate sin? Sins are aggravated--
1. When committed against special light and knowledge.
2. When committed against special obligations of gratitude.
3. From the social position of those who sin, or their relative position towards others, or their peculiar gifts and endowments which give them influence over others.
4. As committed against special covenants and vows. (S. Robinson, D. D.)
God reasoning with man
This text strikes at the root of the wicked notion that man is under an arbitrary government, that he is a mere slave, or a mere machine, and that he is controlled apart from principles that are moral. He is addressed almost as the equal of the Almighty. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God reasoning with man
The proposition comes from God. It does not arise from the human side at all.
1. God having made this proposition proceeds upon the assumption that He knows Himself to be right in this case. The man who knows himself to be in the right is always the first to make the noblest propositions, and to offer as many concessions as are possible without impairing the law of absolute right, truth, and propriety. If amongst ourselves we do so, it is in an infinitely higher degree true in the case of Almighty God. He makes the proposition to His rebel. This proposition is not only the proof of the grace of God; but that grace itself is the vindication of His righteousness. He knows He is right in the court of reason; that if the case be fully stated the criminal will convict himself, he will burn with shame, and cry out for the judgment that is just. We are not wrong partially, not wrong here and there, with little spots of light and blue, between the errors, but we are wrong altogether,--shamefully, infamously wrong!
2. Yet God knowing this, asks us to reason the case with Him. Showing us, in the next place, that God proceeds upon the assumption that man ought to be prepared to vindicate his conduct by reasons. God says, “Why do you do this! Let Me know your reasons for having done so. Will you state your case to Me! I give you the opportunity of stating your own casein your own terms.” Observe how wonderfully influential, when rightly accepted, is a proposition of this kind. If men would think more they would sin less. Logic is against you as well as theology. Common sense is against you as well as spiritual revelation. This is the strength and the majesty of the Christian faith, that it challenges men by the first principles of reasoning to defend themselves, as sinners, before the Almighty.
3. But there is something to be remembered at this point. If God could trifle with righteousness in making a case up with us, His own throne would be insecure, His own heaven would not be worth having. In taking care of righteousness He is taking care of us. Herein do men greatly err. Talking upon religious questions, they say, “Why does not God come down and forgive us all!” That is precisely what God Himself wants to do. Only even God cannot forgive, until we ourselves want to be forgiven.
4. With all this before me I am driven to this conclusion, that now the sinner is left absolutely without excuse. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God reasoning with man
I. THE PARTIES INVITED. Who are these? They are those of whom it is said, “their sins are as scarlet, and red like crimson”--terms which clearly convey the idea that there are no sins so heinous that they may not be forgiven, and no men so wicked that they may not be saved. These terms designate bright, glowing, easily-seen colours, teaching most explicitly, in their present connection, that sin, though so large as to fill the public eye, nevertheless may be pardoned. Indeed, I cannot help thinking that the language of the prophet here has also a symbolical meaning, and that as crimson is the colour of the blood, there is set before us the thought that not merely the flagrant transgressor, but the atrocious criminal--the man whose hands have been imbued in the blood of his fellow man--is declared to be within the reach of the Divine mercy. And I am fortified in this persuasion by the words of the Master, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
II. THE INVITATION GIVEN THEM. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” What forcibly impresses us in this statement is not only the all-embracing sweep of the Divine mercy, but the singular way in which this mercy is offered. The usual manner in which a superior makes known his will to an inferior is by a command. The master gives his orders to his servant. The parent commands his child, and the language of royal personages is never the language of solicitation. But we have here the King of kings, and Lord of lords, very unlike man, not employing force, authority, command, but condescending to reason with His creatures, and trying, as it were, by argument and persuasion, to induce them to accept His grace.
III. THE AUTHORITY ON WHICH THE INVITATION RESTS. When good news is brought to us we sometimes hesitate about receiving it. And why? Because we think it too good to be true, and are not satisfied of the entire truthfulness and fidelity to fact of the person who brings it when it was told Jacob that Joseph, his beloved son, whom he had long mourned as dead, was alive and well, and governor of Egypt, his heart fainted, “for he believed them not.” But here, the authority is as unassailable as the invitation is cordial, and it is issued on the authority of God Himself.
IV. THE PERIOD WHEN THE INVITATION IS GIVEN. All privileges urged upon your acceptance in the Bible are strictly applicable and limited to the very time when they are offered to you. That mental and moral inaction, so fatal to our spiritual prospects, gets no countenance from the Word of God. On the contrary, it is always denounced as fraught with the greatest dangers to our souls. (J. Imrie, M. A.)
Reasoning with God
From this passage we infer--
I. THAT MAN, THOUGH DEPRAVED, HAS STILL A FACULTY TO REASON WITH GOD.
1. This power exists as an unquestionable fact. It is a fact--
(1) Involved in the existence of a revelation. Would Infinite Reason appeal to us unless we had the power of appreciation?
(2) Implied in the considerations addressed to our reason. The Bible abounds in considerations addressed to us as to the wisdom and the folly, the right and the wrong, of our conduct.
(3) Attested by the universal consciousness of humanity.
2. This power exists as the chief glory of human nature. What is the chief glory of human nature in itself considered? Not its faculties of contrivance and logical investigation, as you see them developed in the arts and sciences. But man’s power to reason with the Infinite--to take the thoughts of God and to feel their power.
3. This power exists, notwithstanding the devastations of depravity.
II. THAT MAN, THOUGH DEPRAVED, HAS NOW AN OPPORTUNITY OF REASONING WITH GOD. Whilst all sinners forever will have the power of moral reasoning, only now on earth are they invited to a merciful conference with God. This invitation implies--
1. The existence of an extraordinary principle in the Divine government of God. Antecedent reasoning would lead us to conclude that whenever a creature rebelled against the righteous government of his Creator, banishment from His holy presence would be the result. “The angels that kept not their first estate,” etc. God governs humanity through the mediation of Christ.
2. It denotes the astonishing condescension of God.
III. THAT MAN, THOUGH DEPRAVED, BY RIGHTLY AVAILING HIMSELF OF THIS OPPORTUNITY, MAY BE ENTIRELY CLEANSED OF HIS SINS. “Though your sins be as scarlet,” etc. Notice--
1. That sin has taken a very fast hold on human nature. How closely and firmly attached to human nature is sin! It has coloured not only the complexion, but the vital current, of man’s life. Every thought, feeling, and expression, is tinged with the stain of sin.
2. That though it has taken this fast hold, it can be separated. The scarlet is not a part of the texture. So of sin. Though closely identified with human nature, it is not of it. Human nature can exist without it, has existed without it, will exist without it. There is a moral chemistry that can take the scarlet and the crimson from the texture of human nature.
3. That right attention to God’s reasoning will certainly and effectively remove the stain of sin. (Homilist.)
I. I have to PUBLISH THE LORD’S INVITATION TO DESPERATE CHARACTERS. The invitation is to those whose sins are double-dyed scarlet and crimson in colour.
1. You have had pious parents.
2. You were once a member of a Christian congregation or Church.
3. I have to give the invitation to those whose sins have made them worse than beasts.
4. And to those who are “laden with iniquity.”
5. And to those who are “corrupters” of others.
6. This all-embracing invitation is to those who have “forsaken the Lord.”
II. I am to give REASONS WHY DESPERATE CHARACTERS SHOULD ACCEPT THE INVITATION.
1. You say, “It is impossible for me to accept of it because my heart is perfectly hardened.” Impossible! If your heart is hard, come and accept the invitation, because God has promised to take away the stony heart and to give you one of flesh.
2. Again, you say, “I cannot accept it, because I am so wicked.” If you feel wicked it is God’s Spirit showing His light in your soul in order that you may be led to the Cross of Jesus and have your sins washed as white as snow.
3. Then somebody else answers, “Well, I would accept it, but I have always failed.” Though you have failed, yet come again, for our heavenly Father is noted for receiving sinners.
4. But another says, “Before I came tonight I said I would not be converted.” Two men were bidden to do their lord’s will. One of them said, “I will do it”; but he went away, and did it not. And the other was angry and exclaimed, “I will not do thy will,” but after he had gone away he repented and went and did it. Copy the example of the latter.
5. Perhaps, somebody still answers, “You have not put your hand on me, for I am sunk in sin.” The Bible tells me that no man can be sunk lower than the reach of the everlasting arms of God. Though you have lost your character, your honour, and your self-control, yet God invites you to be saved.
III. AN EARNEST ENTREATY FOR YOU TO COME AT ONCE. (W. Birch.)
The Lord reasoning with sinners
Let us regard these words--
I. AS ADDRESSED TO THOSE WHO ARE LIVING IN SIN. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” Sinner, bring forth thy strong reasons; then hear the reasons of God. What plea will you make for not turning to God?
1. You say, perhaps, “This world is all I desire. I am well content with what it gives. Its gains and pleasures suit me well. I wish for nothing beyond. Why not leave me to follow my own way?” What says God in reply? “The world passeth away, and the lust thereof.”
2. Or, wilt thou reason thus: “I have years yet before me. At a more convenient season I will seek God”? What does God answer? “Thou fool, this night, it may be, thy soul shall be required of thee”
3. Or, dost thou say in thine heart--“I hate the knowledge of God’s ways Religion is a weariness to me. I will go on as I am, and take the consequences”? Dost thou know the end of the terrors of the Lord?
4. Or, is it in thy thought to say to God, “Wherein have I sinned so much against Thee?” Behold, He answers thee: “I made thee, O man, and every power thou hast should be devoted to Me--thy life, thy health and strength, thy body and soul. Have these been devoted to Me? Has thy body been kept in soberness, temperance, and chastity? Hast thou always been led by My Spirit?”
II. But the text is addressed, in its latter part more particularly, TO THOSE WHO KNOW THAT THEY HAVE DEEPLY SINNED AGAINST GOD, AND WOULD WILLINGLY, IF THEY DARED, RETURN TO HIM. What is the feeling of such? It may be, you are tempted to say, “There is no hope. My sin is too great to be forgiven.” God’s answer is, “Come now, and let us reason together,” etc. Is it not well suited to your case?
III. THE TEXT IS NOT WITHOUT ADMONITION AND COMFORT TO THE BELIEVING CHRISTIAN. (E. Blencowe, M. A.)
Forgiveness of sin
I. THE GRACIOUS CONDESCENSION AND BOUNDLESS LOVE OF GOD, IN ADDRESSING THIS INVITATION TO SINNERS. Even among friends, the offended party does not first display a disposition to be reconciled. He usually deems that the first overture should proceed from the offender. But behold the infinite condescension and compassion of the most high God toward sinful man. He does not wait till men come to a sense of their delinquencies.
II. THE IMPORT OF THE INVITATION. What is this to which God calls you? He says, “Let us reason together.” It seems to be an expression borrowed from courts of justice, and is tantamount to saying, “Let us hear the cause of the defendants.”
1. The sinner must listen to the charge--to the grand indictment, that he may know both the extent of his guilt and feel the hopelessness of his case. This charge is indeed heavy, but it must be heard. The law is holy. Let it operate on you as it did on Saul of Tarsus.
2. Observe, God is willing to hear your defence, if you can make one honestly and truly; but if not He will hear your confession. Which shall it be?
III. GOD MAY BE CONSIDERED AS ADDRESSING THOSE WHO, WITH A CONVINCED AND BROKEN HEART, ARE AFRAID TO VENTURE BEFORE HIM, and who have the sentence of condemnation and death in themselves.
IV. Let us complete the whole of this glorious theme of salvation, by calling upon you to observe, and admire, the great principle established by this text, that, WHATEVER THE MAGNITUDE OF OUR SINS MAY BE, THEY DO NOT EXCLUDE US FROM THE BENEFITS OF THE DIVINE MERCY. (The Evangelist.)
The pardon of sin has been justly called “the life blood of religion.” It is this which runs through all parts of the Scripture, like the blood in our veins, and is the foremost object in the glorious Gospel.
I. The first thing in the text is A CHARGE IMPLIED, and more particularly expressed, in the former verses of this chapter. The charge is sin--sin the most aggravated. Scarlet and crimson are colours far remote from white, which is the emblem of innocence, or righteousness. (Revelation 19:8.) But here sinners are represented as in garments stained with blood. The bloody, murderous, destructive nature of sin may be intended. Sin has slain its millions. (Romans 5:12.) Some understand by the word “scarlet,” double-dyed; as deeply tinctured by sin as possible; as when any garment has been twice dyed, first in the wool, and again in the thread or piece. So great sinners are twice dyed, first in their corrupt nature, and then again in the long confirmed habits of actual transgression. It is absolutely necessary that each of us should personally know that this is his own case.
II. THE INVITATION. True religion is the most reasonable thing in the world.
1. Is not self preservation highly reasonable? We account it the first law of nature, and should blame the man who neglects it. Is a house on fire? Let the inhabitant escape for his life.
2. Is it not reasonable for a man to do well for himself? Yes; “Men will praise thee when thou doest well for thyself.” We commend the honest, ingenious, industrious tradesman. Is it reasonable for a man to mind his own business? Well, “one thing is needful”; the care of thy soul is the business of life (Luke 10:42). Is it reasonable to improve opportunities for business, as fairs and markets? Redeem then the time, and catch the golden opportunities of gain to thy soul. Is it reasonable to make a good bargain? The Christian makes the best in the world. Is it reasonable to cultivate friendship with the wise, the good, and the great? Oh, how wise to make Christ our Friend.
3. Is it not reasonable to believe the God of truth? The Word of God has every confirmation we could wish.
4. Is not love to God and man perfectly reasonable? This is the whole of our religion. Is it reasonable or not to love the Best of beings better than all other beings?
III. THE GRACIOUS PROMISE. “Though your sins,” etc. The pardon of sin is the first thing in religion. It was the great business of Christ upon earth to procure it. The pardon of sin originates in the free mercy and sovereign grace of God, without respect to anything good in the creature. But we are not to expect pardon from an absolute God. Pardon is an act of justice as well as of mercy. Mercy on God’s part, but justice on account of Christ. Another thing is, that it is by faith alone we are made partakers of pardoning mercy. Notice, too, the perfection of pardon, which is expressed by making scarlet as snow, and crimson like wool. We are to understand this of the sinner, not of his sins. Pardon does not alter the nature, or lessen the evil of sin. (G. Burder, D. D.)
The reasonableness of the offers and terms of the Gospel
I. THE OFFERS OF THE GOSPEL. The Almighty here proposes completely to take away the guilt of sin, and consequently to remit the punishment due to it. There are various kinds and degrees of sin; sins of different colours and complexions, more or less aggravated, more or less strengthened by habit and indulgence. But the offer of pardon extends to all alike. Is not this a blessing peculiarly adapted to our need? Nothing but a gratuitous remission of sin can suit our case. God deals with us in the most reasonable manner, and leaves us without excuse, if we attend not to His offer.
II. THE TERMS OF THE GOSPEL.
1. With respect to faith. Is not this a perfectly reasonable requisition? Since God has provided a salvation for you, has He not a right to stipulate the means by which you shall apply to yourself the benefit of that salvation? And what easier, simpler way could He have devised?
2. As to repentance. Is there anything unreasonable in this requisition? Can it be considered as a hard condition that we should relinquish those practices which cost the Son of God His life; and which, if He had not died for them, would have cost us our souls? If religion be in itself so reasonable a service, how can you act so unreasonably as not to choose and follow it? (E. Cooper.)
Self-scrutiny in God’s presence
I. THE DUTY OF EXAMINING OUR MORAL CHARACTER AND CONDUCT ALONG WITH GOD. There are always two beings who are concerned with sin--the being who commits it, and the Being against whom it is committed. Such a joint examination as this produces a very keen sense of the evil and guilt of sin. When the soul is shut up with the Holy One of Israel there are great searchings of heart. Another effect is to render our views discriminating. Objects are seen in their true proportions and meanings.
II. THERE IS FORGIVENESS WITH GOD. We deduce the following practical directions.
1. In all states of religious anxiety, we should betake ourselves instantly and directly to God.
2. We should make a full and plain statement of everything to god. (W. G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
In this passage--
I. THERE IS ASSUMED THE EXISTENCE OF ENORMOUS GUILT. The aggravations of sin are to be found in their highest form where there are instituted powerful means to deter from its perpetration, and where yet it is committed in spite of restraints eminently calculated to direct the soul to goodness. We turn at once to the country in which we dwell, to find the sins which are as the “scarlet” or the “crimson” dye. Ours is a country, signally favoured with means the best adapted to lead from transgression, and excite to obedience.
II. THERE IS PROMISED THE BESTOWMENT OF PARDONING MERCY.
1. It might indeed have been imagined, that, after such repeated accusations of iniquity, there would succeed only a threatening of doom. Is God not just? Is He not jealous of His glory?
2. Such a promise as this is made in perfect consistency with the immutable justice and holiness of the Divine nature.
3. It will be proper to observe the manner in which the promised blessing is bestowed. God communicates forgiveness through the atoning sacrifice of His Son.
4. In order to secure the personal application of the sacrifice of Christ, there must be, in yourselves, the production of certain emotions and principles, by the operation of the Spirit of God.
5. Let us further observe, the sufficiency by which this promised blessing of forgiveness is characterised.
III. THERE IS DESIRED THE EXERCISE OF WISE CONSIDERATION. (James Parsons.)
I. THE CHARACTERS WHO ARE HERE ADDRESSED. We see the Jews charged--
1. With a gross departure from God.
2. With carrying their abominations into the religious services of the sanctuary.
II. THE CHARACTER IN WHICH GOD IS HERE REPRESENTED BY THE PROPHET--that, namely, of the most amazing condescension. Various are themethods in which God may be said to reason with us.
1. By family afflictions.
2. By personal inflictions.
3. By awful providences.
4. Through the ministry of His Word.
For what does God condescend to reason with us? For the bestowment of pardon. Your reason, in its highest powers, is challenged. (J. Gaskin, M. A.)
The silver trumpet
I. Our text is addressed to SINNERS OF THE DEEPEST DYE.
1. In the second verse you will perceive that the text was addressed to senseless sinners--so senseless that God Himself would not address them in expostulation, but called upon the heavens and the earth to hear His complaints.
2. The text is given to ungrateful sinners. “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me.” Oh, how many of us come under this description!
3. By reading in the third verse, you will perceive again that the text is addressed to men who are worse than beasts. None of us would keep a horse for twenty years, if it never worked but only sought to injure us; and yet there are men whom God has kept these forty and fifty years, put the breath into their nostrils, the bread into their mouths, and the clothes upon their backs, and they have done nothing but curse at Him, speak ill of His service, and do despite to His laws.
4. They were a people “laden with iniquity.”
5. They were not only loaded with sin themselves, but they were teachers in transgressions. “Children that are corrupters.”
6. The blessed text we have on hand is addressed to men upon whom all manner of afflictions had been lost and thrown away. It is a great aggravation of our sin when we sin under the rod.
7. The invitation is sent to men who appeared to have been totally depraved from the sole of the foot even to the head.
II. The text presents us with REASONING OF THE MOST PREVALENT POWER.
III. The words of this text contain a PROMISE OF PARDON OF THE FULLEST FORCE. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; and though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” These colours are selected because of their exceeding brilliancy. Now some sins are striking, glaring sins; you cannot help seeing them; and the sinner himself is compelled to confess them. But the Hebrew word conveys the idea of doubly dyed--what we call ingrained colours--when the wool has lain so long in the dye that it cannot be got out; though you wash or wear it as long as you please, you must destroy the fabric before you can destroy the colour. Yet here is the promise of full pardon for glaring and for ingrained lusts. And note how the pardon is put--“they shall be as snow”--pure white virgin snow. But snow soon loses its whiteness, and therefore it is compared to the whiteness of the wool washed and prepared by the busy housewife for her fair white linen. You shall be so cleansed, that not the shadow of a spot, nor the sign of a sin, shall be left upon you. When a man believes in Christ, he is in that moment, in God’s sight, as though he had never sinned in all his life.
IV. THE TIME mentioned in the text, which is of the MOST SOLEMN SIGNIFICANCE. “Now.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Reasons for parting with sin
It is the great joy of our heart that we do not labour in vain, nor spend our strength for nought. Still, there is a bass to this music: there are some, and these not a few, who remain unblest where others are saved. It is obvious that something hinders. What can it be? The real reason why men who have an earnest desire to be saved, and have sincere religiousness of a certain sort, do not find peace, is this, because they are in love with sin. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.” Let us have this matter out, and hear what is to be urged in favour of God’s demands.
I. IT IS A REASONABLE THING THAT SIN SHOULD BE RENOUNCED.
1. Because it is most inconsistent to suppose that pardon can be given while we continue in sin. How could the Judge of all the earth thus wink at iniquity? Only fancy what the effect would be upon our country if a proclamation were issued, that henceforth all manner of offences against the law would be immediately forgiven, and men might continue still to perpetrate them. And what would be the effect Upon the sinner himself if such could be the case? Say to a man--you are not to be punished for your sin, and yet you may live in it still, and what worse turn could you do him? Here is a bleeding wound in my arm; the surgeon says he will allow it still to bleed, but he will remove my sense of faintness and pain. I would decline to have it so. It is unreasonable that you should expect that God will allow you to remain impenitent, and yet give you the kiss of forgiving love. It would be neither honourable to God, nor good to your fellow men, nor really beneficial to yourself.
2. Is it not reasonable, too, that we should part with sin, because sin is so grievous to God?
3. Should it not be given up because of the mischief it has already done to man!
4. Remember, also, that unless sin is repented of and forsaken no act of yours, nor ceremony of religion, nor hearing, nor praying can possibly save you.
II. Let me now go further, and declare that IT IS MOST REASONABLE THAT MAN SHOULD SEEK PURITY OF HEART. You ask for forgiveness, and in return God says to you, “Wash you, make you clean; put sway the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge the fatherless; plead for the widow.” Is there not reason in this command! You practically say, “Lord, enter into amity and peace with me.” The Lord replies, “There is no peace to the wicked: only as you become renewed in nature can there be any peace between us.” Do you dam to ask God to commune with you while you are a lover of sin?
III. IF THE SINNER REMAIN IMPENITENT IT IS MOST UNREASONABLE FOR HIM TO LAY THE BLAME OF HIS NOT BEING FORGIVEN UPON THE CHARACTER OF GOD, FOR GOD IS READY TO FORGIVE.
IV. IT IS A REASONABLE THING THAT GOD SHOULD DEMAND WITH THIS PARDON OBEDIENCE TO HIS COMMAND. And what is that command? It is, “If ye be willing and obedient ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel the sword shall devour you.” Obedient to what? Obedient to all Gospel precepts. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Scarlet sinners pardoned and purified
It is a wonderful instance of Divine compassion that God should be willing to hold a conference with man. Of course, the first person to ask for such a conference ought to have been the offending party. But, instead of man seeking God, and pleading, with bitter tears, “Lord, pitifully hear me; graciously listen to me, and forgive me”; it is God who comes seeking man. Surely it should be a great joy to a man to hear that God invites him to a conference; he should take heart of hope from that fact. God meets man in two ways: first, by the perfect pardon of sin, and, next, by a clean deliverance from the power of sin.
I. First, I will suppose that I have before me someone who says, “MY SINS ARE AS GLARING AS SCARLET.” How can I ever be the friend of God as my sins are so prominent? Some people’s sins are of a drab colour, you might not notice them; other people’s sins are a sort of whitey-brown, you would scarcely perceive them; but my sins are scarlet, that is a colour that is at once observed. What sort of sins may be called scarlet?
1. The filthier vices.
2. The universally condemned sins, those sins which are offences against the State, and against the well being and social order of the community, such as dishonesty, theft, peculation in all its forms, knavery, cheating, lying.
3. The louder defiances of God. Some men dare to contradict Scripture, to express their disbelief in it, nay, to contradict God Himself even to express their disbelief in His existence; and, disbelieving in God, they dare to cavil at His providence, to judge His words, and to utter criticisms and sarcasms about the acts of the Most High.
4. Scarlet sins may consist, again, in long-continued dissipations.
5. In repeated transgressions.
6. In any act of sin which is distinctly deliberate. Do you want to know how this can be done? It is through the great atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
II. But there is a second difficulty. The man of whom I first spoke also says, “MY TENDENCY TO SIN IS DEEPLY INGRAINED.” He says, “If all my scarlet sins were forgiven, yet I am afraid I should not be all right even then.” Why not? “Because I feel impulses within me towards evil which, I think, are stronger than in anybody else. Well, I will take you on your own ground; I do believe that there are some persons who have a greater hereditary tendency to some sins than others have. Still, though your sins be red like crimson, they shall be as wool God knows how to effect this transformation by the working of the Holy Spirit. “Oh!” says another, “I should not mind about hereditary tendencies; but my difficulty is that I have been habitually committing sin.” The Holy Spirit will help you to break off every sinful habit at once. You know that scarlet and crimson are colours very hard to get out of any fabric. Neither the dew, nor the rain, nor any ordinary processes of bleaching, will get out the scarlet. But God knows how, without destroying the fabric, to take out a fifty years’ crimson habit, and not leave a stain behind. I heard a third person say, “The trouble with me is that I have such feeble mental resistance to evil, I am so weak, such a poor fool. Well, you are not much of a fool if you know you are; the biggest fools are those who never know that they are fools. Still, there are people of this kind. Now, if you will come and reason with God, and yield yourself to the power of the Holy Spirit, He will put a backbone into you. Still, perhaps, I have not quite hit the nail on the head with all of you. Some are entangled by their circumstances. But God’s grace can deliver you. There is nothing like making up your mind that you are coming right straight out from everything that is wrong, let it cost whatever it may. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The ship is going down, and if your little boat is tied to it, you will go down too. Up with the axe, and cut the rope! I think I hear another say, “But I am a man of such strong passions.” They must be got rid of; and I do not know of any surgical operation that can do it; you will have to be born again, that is the only real cure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Dyeing and bleaching
All men can dye their souls, but, as saith a quaint divine, only God can bleach them. It is in our power to dye ourselves into all colours, but only God can make us white. The idea is that there is no human condition too desperate for Divine treatment. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The theology of colours
There is a philosophy of colours; there is a theology of hues; and it hath pleased God to represent purity by whiteness. The saints above are robed in white; they who love God are clothed in white raiment now, and it is the harlot of the earth that is scarleted and that lives in her significant redness. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Scarlet and crimson sins
Sins are here likened to scarlet and crimson dye, and with good reason, indeed. For, first of all, scarlet and crimson are the most glaring and flaunting of colours; and sin is the most audacious as well as self-delusive appearance, under which man affronts the majesty of God in the sight of heaven and earth. Scarlet and crimson, also, are the blush of shame. And what so shameful as sin, or rather what can be shameful but sin! Scarlet and crimson are also the colour of blood; and blood is on the head of every sinner, as St: Paul, told the unbelieving Jews when they refused to be converted from their sins: Your blood be upon your own heads” And scarlet and crimson were (whatever they may be now) colours which it was beyond all men’s power and skill to discharge from the cloth which had been ones dyed with them. And is it not equally beyond all man’s power to cleanse his own soul from the dye of sin? (R. W.Evans, B. D.)
A preacher admired the whiteness of a washerwoman’s clothes. There they hung upon the line, beautifully white, as compared with the dark slates of the roof of the house behind them. But after a snow storm had come on, which covered the roofs and streets with a mantle of unsullied purity, they seemed to have lost all their whiteness. And when he said to her, “The clothes do not look quite so white as they did,” she replied, “Ah, sir! the clothes are as white as they were, but what can stand against God Almighty’s white?” (Life of Saith.)
“Do you know, that as I live,” wrote James Smetham, “I become more and more impressed by one word, and that word is Now!”
“We have some little difficulty,” said a scientific lecturer, “with the iron dyes; but the most troublesome of all are Turkey red rags. You see I have dipped this into my solution; its red is paler, but it is still strong. If I steep it long enough to efface the colour entirely the fibre will be destroyed; it will be useless for our manufacture. How, then, are we to dispose of our red rags? We leave their indelible dye as it is, and make them into red blotting paper. Perhaps you have wondered why our blotting pad is red; now you know the reason.” What a striking illustration of the fitness and force of this figure of God’s Word, and of the power of “the precious blood of Jesus” to change and cleanse is furnished by the above explanation! The Spirit of God led the prophet Isaiah to write, not “though your sins be as blue as the sky, or as green as the olive leaf, or as black as night.” He chose the very colour which modern science, with all its appliances, finds to be indestructible--“though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
Roses speaking of sin and forgiveness
One night in June, a few years ago, Sister Margaret was going home from her work in the streets, sad at heart because of the sin and misery about her, and somewhat disappointed at what seemed a night of fruitless toil. She had taken with her a bunch of flowers, and now they were all withered except two roses that had kept their freshness--the one a deep red, the other a pure white. As she looked at them, the words occurred to her mind, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Suddenly looking up, she saw in the shadow of a doorway in Piccadilly a young girl, a picture of utter despair. The sister came to her and held out the roses; but the girl’s face at once hardened scornfully, and she turned away. Quietly the sister followed her, when the girl turned and said angrily, “Why do you come to me with flowers? Do you want to torment me?” “Do you know what these roses seemed to say to me--this white and this red rose?” said the sister, kindly. “The message they spoke was this: ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’” “Yes,” said the girl, “that is all very well for you, but I am not fit to touch them.” “Oh, but the message is meant for you as much as for me,” and again the sister held out the flowers. Then the girl burst into tears, “I will take them and keep them for my mother’s sake. She sent me two roses in her last letter. I have got them now in the Bible she gave me when I left home to come to London. It was an easy thing now to urge the message of love. That night the girl left her life of sin and came simply to the Saviour. She was soon restored to her home in the country, and her new life has been a blessing to many. Frequently there comes from her a box of flowers to Sister Margaret, with the message: “Give these to the girls; a flower saved me. It may do as much for somebody else.” (M. Guy Pearse.)
If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land
The obligation of all who have received the revealed will of God to conform thereto
The text, involving the great truth which is evidently implied therein, is the sanction with which the whole of the chapter is enforced.
I. IT IS THE BOUNDEN OBLIGATION OF ALL WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE REVEALED WILL OF GOD, WHETHER NATIONS OR INDIVIDUALS, TO ABIDE BY THAT WILL,--as well in the regulation of their faith and practice, as in the order and management of their affairs, in the formation and execution of their laws; and to admit of no other principle, nor to walk by any other rule whatsoever. Consider--
1. Whose revelation it is for a devout and universal conformity to which we plead.
2. For what purpose God has been pleased to make known His mind and will to us.
3. The wonderful adaptation of this heavenly will to all our wants and circumstances.
4. The deplorable condition of man without such a light from heaven.
5. It is by God’s revealed will we shall all be judged at last.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES of adhering to, or swerving from, that Divine revelation, in either respect. We can never suppose that God will permit any nation or individual to disbelieve or disregard His Word with impunity; nor can we imagine that He will suffer any nation or individual, obeying His voice, to go without His blessing.
III. SOME OBJECTIONS WHICH MAY BE URGED.
1. All this applies to Israel of old, as a peculiar nation, raised up in a particular manner, for a special purpose. But is not He, who was their God, the God of all the families of the earth?
2. But does the Old Testament equally apply to us as the New? Undoubtedly.
3. Do we meet with any intimation of this kind in the New Testament? Certainly. (Matthew 5:17-18; Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11.)
4. How is it possible, amidst a mixed description of character, to bring about such a state of things? Try and leave the issue with God.
5. But would you have everything to be based upon the Divine Word Yes, everything. I would wish to see the whole nation living in the fear of God, and striving to promote His glory. (R. Shittler.)
Sincere obedience accepted
He doth not say, If you be perfectly obedient, but willingly so; for if there be a willing mind it is accepted. (M. Henry.)
Guilt embitters creature comforts
If sin be pardoned, creature comforts become comforts indeed. (M. Henry.)
Close to Port Arthur in the Canadian Dominion there is a little island named Silver Island. It was known that silver was there, and a few Canadian gentlemen united in explorations. Most of them, however, objected to the necessary outlay on works, and sold their claims to an American Company. The Americans began to dig, and found silver not only in rich veins, but also in thick, solid sheets. The Canadians bitterly lamented their folly in not spending the money which would have secured the treasure, but it was too late. There are those who, though called to enrich themselves both for time and eternity, are unwilling to give up the sins they find so pleasant. They will not pay the preliminary price, and discover when too late how much they have missed. Others have paid the price; they have secured the treasure, but when regrets are unavailing, the lovers of the present world see what a fatal mistake they have made, and have a dark eternity in which to meditate on their folly. (Gates of Imagery.)
The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it
The infallibility of Scripture
What Isaiah said was, therefore, spoken by Jehovah. All Scripture, being inspired of the Spirit, is spoken by the mouth of God. The like valuation of the Word of the Lord is seen in our Lord’s apostles; for they treated the ancient Scriptures as supreme in authority, and supported their statements with passages from Holy Writ.
I. THIS IS OUR WARRANT FOR TEACHING SCRIPTURAL TRUTH. It would not be worth our while to speak what Isaiah had spoken, if in it there was nothing more than Isaiah’s thought; neither should we care to meditate hour after hour upon the writings of Paul, if there was nothing more than Paul in them. We feel no imperative call to expound and to enforce what has been spoken by men; but, since “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” it is woe unto us if we preach not the Gospel!
1. The true preacher, the man whom God has commissioned, delivers his message with awe and trembling, because “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” He bears the burden of the and bows under it. They called George Fox a Quaker, because when he spoke he would quake exceedingly through the force of the truth which he so thoroughly apprehended. Martin Luther, who never feared the face of man, yet declared that when he stood up to preach he often felt his knees knock together under a sense of his great responsibility. Woe unto us if we dare to speak the Word of the Lord with less than our whole heart and soul and strength! Woe unto us if we handle the Word as if it were an occasion for display!
2. Because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken the truth of God, we therefore endeavour to preach it with absolute fidelity. It is not ours to correct the Divine revelation, but simply to echo it.
3. Again, as “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” we speak the Divine truth with courage and full assurance. Modesty is a virtue; but hesitancy, when we are speaking for the Lord, is a great fault. Those who fling aside our Master’s authority may very well reject our testimony: we are content they should do so. But, if we speak that which the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, those who hear His Word and refuse it, do so at their own peril.
We are urged to be charitable. We are charitable; but it is with our own money. We have no right to give away what is put into our trust and is not at our disposal. When we have to do with the truth of God we are stewards, and must deal with our Lord’s exchequer, not on the lines of charity to human opinions, but by the rule of fidelity to the God of truth.
4. Because “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” we feel bound to speak His Word with diligence, as often as ever we can, and with perseverance, as long as ever we live. Surely, it would be a blessed thing to die in the pulpit; spending one’s last breath in acting as the Lord’s mouth. Dumb Sabbaths are fierce trials to true preachers. Remember how John Newton, when he was quite unfit to preach, and even wandered a bit by reason of his infirmities and age, yet persisted in preaching; and when they dissuaded him, he answered with warmth, “What! Shall the old African blasphemer leave off preaching Jesus Christ while there is breath in his body!” So they helped the old man into the pulpit again, that he might once more speak of free grace and dying love.
5. If we get a right apprehension concerning Gospel truth--that “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”--it will move us to tell it out with great ardour and zeal. How can you keep back the heavenly news? Whisper it in the ear of the sick; shout it in the corner of the streets; write it on your tablets; send it forth from the press; but everywhere let this be your great motive and warrant--you preach the Gospel because “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
II. THIS IS THE CLAIM OF GOD’S WORD UPON YOUR ATTENTION.
1. Every word which God has given us in this Book claims our attention, because of the infinite majesty of Him that spake it.
2. God’s claim to be heard lies also in the condescension which has led Him to speak to us.
3. God’s Word should win your ear because of its intrinsic importance. “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”--then it is no trifle. God never speaks vanity. No line of His writing treats of the frivolous themes of a day. Concerning eternal realities He speaks to thee.
4. Depend upon it, if “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” there is an urgent, pressing necessity. God breaks not silence to say that which might as well have remained unsaid. His voice indicates great urgency.
III. THIS GIVES TO GOD’S WORD A VERY SPECIAL CHARACTER.
1. In the Word of God the teaching has unique dignity. This Book is inspired as no other book is inspired, and it is time that all Christians avowed this conviction. I do not know whether you have seen Mr. Smiles’ life of our late friend, George Moore; but in it we read that, at a certain dinner party, a learned man remarked that it would not be easy to find a person of intelligence who believed in the inspiration of the Bible. In an instant George Moore’s voice was beard across the table, saying boldly, “I do, for one.” Nothing more was said. Let us not be backward to take the old-fashioned and unpopular side, and say outright, “I do, for one.” Where are we if our Bibles are gone? Where are we if we are taught to distrust them! It is better to believe what comes out of God’s mouth, and be called a fool, than to believe what comes out of the mouth of philosophers, and be, therefore, esteemed a wise man.
2. There is also about that which the mouth of the Lord hath spoken an absolute certainty. What man has said is unsubstantial, even when true. But with God’s Word you have something to grip at, something to have and to hold.
3. Again, if “the mouth of the Lord hatch spoken it,” we have in this utterance the special character of immutable fixedness. Once spoken by God, not only is it so now, but it always must be so. One said to his minister, “My dear sir, surely you ought to adjust your beliefs to the progress of science.” “Yes,” said he, “but I have not had time to do it today, for I have not yet read the morning papers.” One would have need to read the morning papers and take in every new edition to know where about scientific theology now stands; for it is always chopping and changing.
4. Here let me add that there is something unique about God’s Word, because of the Almighty power which attends it. “Where the word of a king is, there is power”; where the Word of a God is, there is omnipotence.
IV. THIS MAKES GOD’S WORD A GROUND OF GREAT ALARM TO MANY. Shall I read you the whole verse! “But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” God has never yet spoken a threatening that has fallen to the ground. It is of no avail to sit down, and draw inferences from the nature of God, and to argue, “God is love, and therefore He will not execute the sentence upon the impenitent.” He knows what He will do better than you can infer; He has not left us to inferences, for He has spoken pointedly and plainly.
V. THIS MAKES THE WORD OF THE LORD THE REASON AND REST OF OUR FAITH. “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” is the foundation of our confidence. There is forgiveness; for God has said it. I think I hear some child of God saying, “God has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,’ but I am in great trouble; all the circumstances of my life seem to contradict the promise”: yet, “the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it,” and the promise must stand. Believe God in the teeth of circumstances. By and by we shall come to die. Oh, that then, like the grand old German emperor, we may say, “Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” and, “He hath helped me with His name.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
How is the faithful city become an harlot
The faithful city a harlot
A dirge in dirge metre over Jerusalem.
“Harlot” is unfaithful wife. In Isaiah “unfaithfulness” is declension from social and civil righteousness. (A. B. Davidson, LL. D.)
It is not merely gross outward idolatry, that makes the Church of God a “harlot,” but the defection of the heart, however this may, at any time, express itself; for which reason Jesus also could call the generation of His time γενεὰ μοιχαλίς, in spite of the strict worship of Jehovah carried on in the Pharisaic spirit. For, as shown by the verse before us, the basis of that marriage-relation was justice and righteousness in the widest sense. (F. Delitzsch.)
An aggravation of guilt
It is a great aggravation of the wickedness of any family or people that their ancestors were famed for virtue and probity; and commonly those that thus degenerate prove the most wicked of all other. “Corruptio optimi est pessima”--that which was originally the best becomes, when corrupted, the worst (Luke 11:26; Jeremiah 22:15-17). (M. Henry.)
Righteousness lodged in it
Jerusalem, the righteous city
Righteousness was not merely like a passing guest in the city, but she who came down from above had there fixed her permanent abode; there she used to tarry day and night, as if it were her home. When the prophet refers to former days, he has in his mind the times of David and Solomon, but especially those of Jehoshaphat, who (about 150 years before Isaiah appeared) restored the administration of justice which had fallen into neglect since the latter years of Solomon and the days of Rehoboam and Abijah,--a point to which the reformation of Asa had not extended,--and who reorganised all in the spirit of the law. (F. Delitzsch.)
Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water.
The silver represents the princes and lords, viewed with reference to the nobility of mind associated with their nobility of birth and rank; for silver--sterling silver--is a symbol of all that is noble and pure, and it is the purity of light which shows itself in it, as in the pure white of byssus and of the lily. The princes and lords formerly possessed the virtues which together are in Latin called candor animi,--the virtues of magnanimity, courtesy, impartiality, and freedom from the influence of bribes; now, this silver has become dross, such base metals as are separated or thrown aside. (F. Delitzsch.)
In a second figure, the leading men of Jerusalem in former days are compared to “choice wine,” such as drinkers like. This pure, strong, and costly wine is now adulterated with water, or weakened; i.e., through this addition, its strength and flavour are diminished. The present is but the dregs and the shadow of the past. (F. Delitzsch.)
The essential idea seems to be that of impairing strength, (J. A. Alexander.)
The possible degeneracy of valuable things
There are many valuable and good things in the world that through varied causes are rendered comparatively useless.
I. THE SILVER OF THY CHARACTER HAS BECOME DROSS BECAUSE OF LITTLE FAILINGS.
II. THE SILVER OF THY SERVICE HAS BECOME DROSS BECAUSE OF UNHOLY MOTIVES.
III. THE SILVER OF THY MONEY HAS BECOME DROSS BECAUSE OF SELFISHNESS.
IV. THE SILVER OF THY TALENTS HAS BECOME DROSS BECAUSE OF INDOLENCE. Silver is bright when kept in use. Talents are valuable when active. (J. S. Exell, M. A.)
Sinful compromise and its results
“Thy wine is mixed with water”--that sounds like a compromise. Thy wine diluted; it is the corruption of the ideal. “Thy princes are rebellions”--that is the corruption of government. “Everyone loveth gifts and followeth after rewards”--that is the corruption of justice. “They, judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them”--that is the corruption of the tenderest ties of the heart. Do you see where you begin? You begin by mixing wine and water, you begin by illicit compromise, by lowering and corrupting the ideal, and you end in cruelty, you forget God, then the ideal is forgotten, then yourself is forgotten, you forget your neighbour, and the cause of the widow makes no appeal to you. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
Thy princes are rebellious . . . everyone loveth gifts
Instead of suppressing rebellion, they were rebels themselves.
(J. A. Alexander.)
The rebellious princes
I. THE PROFIT OF THEIR PLACES IS ALL THEIR AIM. They love gifts, and follow after rewards; they set their hearts upon their salary, the fees and perquisites of their offices, and are greedy of them, and never think they can get enough. Presents and gratuities will blind their eyes at any time, and make them pervert judgment (Hosea 4:18).
II. THE DUTY OF THEM PLACES IS NONE OF THEIR CARE. They ought to protect those that are injured, and take cognisance of the appeals made to them; why else were they preferred? But “they judge not the fatherless,” take no care to guard the orphans, “nor doth the cause of the widow come unto them,” because the poor widow has no bribe to give. Those will have a great deal to answer for, who when they should be the patrons of the oppressed are their greatest oppressors. (M. Henry.)
Catiline, being prosecuted for some great offence, corrupted the judges. When they had given their verdict, though he was acquitted only by a majority of two, he said he had put himself to a needless expense in bribing one of those judges, for it would have been sufficient to have had a majority of one. (Plutarch.)
Political corruption in England
The machinery of both sides [Whig and Tory] was unlimited bribery. The degradation of the briber was as great as that of the bribed. Berkeley writes in 1721:--“This corruption has become a national crime, having infected the lowest as well as the highest amongst us.” (Knight’s England.)
He was charged by the Commons before the Lords, with twenty-two acts of bribery and corruption. He attempted no defence. He made a distinct confession in writing of the charges brought against him. And when a deputation of peers asked if that confession was his own voluntary act, he replied: “It is my act, my hand, my heart. O my lords, spare a broken reed.” (Knight’s England.)
Corruption in the reign of James I.
It was an age of universal abuses. Local magistrates were influenced by the pettiest gifts, and were called “basket justices.” (Knight’s England.)
Corruption checked by Act of Parliament
[In 1275 Parliament enacted] that no king’s officer should take any reward to do his office, such enactment being one of the many proofs of the inefficiency of law to restrain corruption; for within fourteen years there were only two judges out of fifteen who were not found guilty of the grossest extortions. (Knight’s England.)
Ah, I will ease Me of Mine adversaries
God’s enemies and His treatment of them
WICKED PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY WICKED RULERS THAT ARE CRUEL AND OPPRESSIVE, ARE GOD’S ENEMIES.
II. THEY ARE A SUDDEN TO THE GOD OF HEAVEN. This is implied in His easing Himself of them.
III. GOD WILL FIND OUT TIME AND WAY TO EASE HIMSELF OF THIS BURDEN. (M. Henry.)
Salvation through judgment
Salvation through judgment is still and ever the only means of reproving and preserving the congregation that takes its name from Jerusalem. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
And l will turn My hand upon thee
True reformation the work of God
THE REFORMATION OF A PEOPLE IS GOD’S OWN WORK.
II. HE DOTH IT BY BLESSING THEM WITH GOOD MAGISTRATES AND GOOD MINISTERS OF STATE (Isaiah 1:26).
III. HE DOTH IT BY RESTORING JUDGMENT AND RIGHTEOUSNESS AMONG THEM (Isaiah 1:27).
IV. THE REFORMATION OF A PEOPLE WILL BE THEIR REDEMPTION. Sin is the worst captivity, the worst slavery.
V. THE REVIVING OF A PEOPLE’S VIRTUE IS THE RESTORING OF THEIR HONOUR. “Afterward thou shalt be called, the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Matthew Henry.)
And purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin
Purging away dross
“Purely”; R.V. “thoroughly”; lit. “as with lye,” i.e., potash, which was used as a flux to facilitate the separation of the metals. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Dross and alloy
Notice the imagery. Here is a community, an individual, that knows and belongs to God; redeemed of the Lord; His own. Yet into life, and into work, and into testimony and service, there has come that which He compares to dross and to alloy in metal The two words in the imagery (dross and alloy) are not precisely the same in idea, Dross suggests to us that which is repulsive, as well as worthless--the glaring inconsistency, crude, and ugly. In the alloy or tin, which looks so much like silver, and yet is different, we see rather the ore, specious and subtle ingredients of evil that enter into the Christian’s work and life--not crying inconsistencies so much as the more interior and hidden evil of silent self-complacency; of a tacit search for our own glory under colour of the Lord’s; things which the soul has never fairly traced out, but which it may plainly trace if it will firmly use God’s tests. And these are the things of which we read: “I will turn my hand upon them and thoroughly purge them.” (Bp. H. C. G. Moule, D. D.)
Dross and alloy
“I will purge away thy dross.” What is the dross? That which is openly flagrant in the life. It is different from the metal, and is comparatively easily separated from it. But God goes further. He says, “I will take sway all thy alloy.” This is far more wonderful, because the alloy is something which enters into the nature of me metal, as is were, and it requires a chemical process to separate them. God says that He will deal not only with the outcrop of sin in act, but He will deal with the sin of which the act is the outcrop. (G. H. C. Macgregor, M. A.)
What is the dross which God sees in our heart and life? Lack of truthfulness, showing itself in simple lying, in exaggeration, in fraud, in deceit, in slander, in gossiping, in prevarication, in equivocation, in guile, in evil speaking. Lack of justice and due regard to the rights of others, showing itself in a spiteful temper, in unwillingness to give up our own way to others, in incivility, in rudeness, in disregard of the comfort of others, in thoughtlessness, in ingratitude, in unthankfulness. Lack of wisdom, showing itself in the misuse of the opportunities God gives us, in our ignorance, in our thoughtlessness, in our stupidity, in our blindness to the things of God. Lack of love, showing itself in our pride, in envy, in malice, in hate, in unwillingness to forgive, in unwillingness to apologise for evils which we have done. Lack of self-control, showing itself in our avarice, in covetousness, in sloth, in lethargy, in laziness, in sleepiness, in lust, in sensuality, in gluttony, in self-indulgence in all sorts of ways. What shall we say about our sins against God, our want of prayerfulness, our want of knowledge of God’s Word, our want of trust in God, showing itself in our worry; our want of love to God, showing itself in our shameful hankering after the things of this world? The case is indeed desperate, and calls for the Divine interference. I should go mad at the sight of my own heart if I did not believe in the power of God to cleanse that heart. (G. H. C. Macgregor, M. A.)
And I will restore thy Judges as at the first
A grand ideal
Two things are noteworthy in this passage.
1. The ideal is political. The salvation of Israel is secured when all public offices are filled with good men. “Judges” and “counsellors.”
2. The ideal will be realised by a restoration of the best days of the past. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
I. ALL THE ARRANGEMENTS OF SOCIETY ARE ABSOLUTELY IN GOD’S HANDS. “I will restore,” etc. No man can overturn, or build up, but by His permission.
II. ALL INTERRUPTIONS OF SOCIAL ORDER ARE UNDER THE CONTROL OF GOD.
III. NO SOCIAL STATE CAN BE PURIFIED BUT BY RELIGIOUS PROCESSES. There are many philanthropic and political projects which have for their aim national regeneration, but they are all foredoomed to come to nought, because they lack the religious element.
IV. THE GREAT NAME WILL FOLLOW THE TRUE REGENERATION. “Afterward thou shalt be called,” etc. Not first the exalted title, but the illustrative character; not first the splendid renown, but the glorious achievement! (J. Parker, D. D.)
The imperishable kernel that remains becomes the centre to which all demerits of excellence are attracted. (F. Delitzsch.)
“The city of righteousness”
With Isaiah, the giving of a name is the perception and recognition of the real existence of what has come into outward manifestation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Zion shall be redeemed with judgment
Evil in the Church
WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND BY ZION. The word signifies a heap of stones--a monument--a sepulchre. This figuratively describes the literal Zion; and spiritually sets forth the visible and mystical Church. The true members of the Church of Christ are as lively stones, built up a spiritual house; and for their security God Himself has laid a foundation. (1 Peter 2:5.) Every stone of this sacred building is hewn out of nature’s quarry, and when prepared by the transforming power of God the Holy Ghost is placed in that part of the spiritual edifice which it is appointed to occupy. And the building thus formed is, indeed, as the word Zion signifies, a monument--an everlasting monument of God’s grace; whilst a mere professing, but not a confessing, protesting, and believing Church may very properly be compared to a sepulchre. Hence Zion of old contained a church within a church; those who were circumcised outwardly in the flesh, and those whose circumcision was that of the heart. According to the New Testament we understand by Zion the Church visible and the Church mystical.
II. WHAT MAY BE CONSIDERED ZION’S TRANSGRESSION. If we look at Zion of old, we behold formality manifestly pervading the Church, and the most lofty and presumptuous hypocrisy characterising the outward worship of God. Now, turn your attention to the Church of God in her present state. Such an examination will bring to light many evils, which are serious hindrances to the spread of evangelical truth, and afford ground for sarcasm and opposition, to the enemies of the Church.
2. Laodicean lukewarmness.
3. Abuse of doctrine and discipline.
III. ZION’S VISITATIONS AND CHASTISEMENTS. The history of the Church, as well as of nations, affords the most impressive evidence of the truth of that often fulfilled declaration, “Be sure your sin will find you out.” Romans 11:19-22; Ezekiel 34:2-5; Ezekiel 34:9-10; Revelation 2:15; Revelation 3:1-3; Revelation 3:14-20.)
IV. ZION’S DELIVERANCE. In the exercise of justice, in the overthrow of the enemies of His Church and deliverance of His people, as well as by the faithful performance of His promises, God has engaged that Zion shall be redeemed with judgment and her converts (or those that return of her) “with righteousness.” (J. F. Witty.)
Redeemed with judgment
Jesus lived to die. It was a voluntary necessity. We are redeemed with “judgment.” The Judge has pronounced the sentence over the sacrifice: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” The converted soul is redeemed with “righteousness.” “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood,” etc. (T. Davies, M. A.)
They that forsake the Lord shall be consumed
Forsaking the Lord
THE GUILT OF FORSAKING THE SERVICE OF THE LORD.
1. Man is bound by the law of his nature to obey that Almighty Being by whom he was made an intelligent and immortal creature.
2. Many in forsaking the Lord violate their own express and solemn engagements. (Hebrews 10:29.)
II. THE FOLLY OF FORSAKING THE SERVICE OF THE LORD. If we do so we shall--
1. Incur the reproaches of our own mind.
2. Forfeit the esteem and confidence of all good men.
3. Forfeit the favour and incur the wrath of God. And for what are all those tremendous sacrifices made? For “the pleasures of sin,” which are but “for a season”!
III. THE DANGER OF FORSAKING THE SERVICE OF THE LORD. “Shall be consumed.” The threatened doom is--
2. Certain. (J. H. Hobart, D. D.)
They shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired.
God’s judgment of destruction
“For they shall be ashamed of the terebinths in which ye delighted, and ye must blush because of the gardens in which ye had pleasure” (Isaiah 1:29). The terebinths and gardens are not referred to as objects of luxury (as Hitzig and Drechsler suppose), but as unlawful places of worship (Deuteronomy 16:21), and objects of worship; both of them are frequently mentioned by the prophets with this meaning (57:5, 65:3, 66:17). (F. Delitzsch.)
“For ye shall be like a terebinth with withered leaves, and like a garden in which there is no water” (Isaiah 1:30). Their prosperity is being destroyed, and they are thus like a terebinth which is withered in its foliage; their sources of help are dried up, and thus they resemble a garden that has no water and is therefore waste. The terebinth (turpentine pistacia), a native of southern and eastern Palestine, casts its leaves (which are small, and resemble those of the walnut) in the autumn. In this dry and parched condition terebinth and garden, to which the idolaters are compared, are readily inflammable. There is but needed a spark to kindle, and then they are consumed in the flame. (F Delitzsch.)
And the strong shall be as tow
The tinder, and the spark
“The strong shall become tow, and his work a spark, and both shall burn together”--a vivid picture of the doom of transgressors, since the mighty man is made combustible, and his own act is that which kindles the flame.
(T. W. Chambers, D. D.)
The fire of judgment
The fire of judgment that consumes sinners does not need to come from without; sin carries within itself the fire of wrath. (F. Delitzsch.)
The tow and the spark
These terrible words of warning are not levelled--
1. Against low and vile people (Isaiah 1:23-26). Nor--
2. Against the avowedly irreligious. The people addressed performed a multitude of sacrifices (Isaiah 1:11), were punctilious in their attendance on the house of God (Isaiah 1:12-14), were full of apparent devotion (Isaiah 1:15). Nor--
3. Do they refer to the grosser forms of sin. These would, of course, come under the same condemnation. But spiritual sins, though more refined to our perception, are more fatal even than sensual sins. It is preeminently a spiritualism in root, however sensual in fruit, that is here arrived at. It is all summed up in the one evil, “forsaking the Lord” (Isaiah 1:28). Consider--
I. THE RADICAL CHARGE SIN WORKS IN THE CONSTITUTION OF THE SINNER. Sin, the prophet says in effect, has a disintegrating, deteriorating, degrading influence upon the man’s nature who yields to it. “Tow” is the coarse, broken part of flax or hemp--waste, refuse--It is used here in contrast to that which is strong--also as a pattern of what is inflammable.
1. Sin lowers the tone and tenor of our nature.
2. Sin, depraving and degrading the type and tenor of our nature, enfeebles our powers of resistance to the assaults of external evil. Sin is weakness as well as wickedness; weakness as the result of wickedness.
3. Sin imparts to us an increased susceptibility to evil--makes us more inflammable.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH THE SINNER AND HIS SIN COOPERATE FOR THEIR COMMON DESTRUCTION. Sin is ever multiplying itself between the sinner and his sinful deed. And the issue is irremediable ruin. “They shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.” The moral is, that if we would keep out of hell, we must keep out of sin. (W. Roberts, B. A.)
Sin weakens the strong
The Earl of Breadalbane planned the massacre of Glencoe, and carried it out in the most cruel and dastardly manner. Macaulay, speaking of the effects produced upon the mind of the perpetrator of this atrocious deed, says that “Breadalbane, hardened as he was, felt the stings of conscience, or the dread of retribution. He did his best to assume an air of unconcern. He made his appearance in the most fashionable coffee house at Edinburgh, and talked loudly and self-complacently about the important services in which he had been engaged among the mountains. Some of his soldiers, however, who observed him closely, whispered that all this bravery was put on. He was not the man that he had been before that night. The form of his countenance was changed. In all places, at all hours, whether he waked or slept, Glencoe was ever before him.” (Tools for Teachers.)