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Woe to the rebellious children
A foolish mission
In chapter 30 the negotiations with Egypt are represented as having reached a further stage: an embassy, despatched for the purpose of concluding a treaty, is already on its way to the court of the Pharaohs.
Isaiah takes the opportunity of reiterating his sense of the fruitlessness of the mission, and derides the folly of those who expect from it any substantial result. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The only Counsellor
These words contain a most important lesson for all such as have anything to do with managing the affairs of nations: and it would be well for the world if its rulers would give heed to that lesson, and keep guard against the sins on account of which the prophet here denounces woe against the rulers of Judah. They entered into an alliance with Pharaoh, with the view of gaining assistance from him which might enable them to cope with Sennacherib in the field. This is just what a statesman, who plumed himself on his wisdom in these days, would do. Yet it is for doing this very thing that the prophet Isaiah in the text denounces woe against them. Their conduct therefore must have been sinful. Let us try to discover in what their sin lay.
1. They were making use of human means to ward off the danger which threatened them. Not that thins in itself is altogether wrong in God’s eyes. On the contrary, we are so placed here on earth, in the midst of so many wants and necessities, and so helpless by ourselves, that we are compelled to be forever making use of human and earthly means. Only, we ought to make use of these means with the conviction that they are merely instruments in the hands of Him who can alone endow them with the power of being of use to us. This is what the rulers of Judah forgot and entirely lost sight of. They trusted in Pharaoh. We are all apt to take counsel of ourselves, of our own understandings, our own wishes, our own convenience, our passions, our interest, our sloth, our purses, our appetites. Or we take counsel of our friends, of our neighbours, of such men as are esteemed to be quick and far-sighted, of every person, and of every thing, except of God. His counsel is the last we seek. Therefore does the prophet’s woe fall upon us also. And why is it that we are so loth to take counsel of God? Our unwillingness can only proceed from an evil heart of unbelief; from that unbelief which loses sight of the Ruler and Lawgiver of the world, and which is prone to worship whatever dazzles the senses and flatters our carnal nature.
2. But there was another feature in the conduct of the princes of Judah which deepened their sin. They were not merely putting their trust in an arm of flesh,--they who had been so strongly forbidden to trust in such vanities, and who had the living God to trust in such vanities, and who had the living God to trust in: but the arm they were trusting to was the arm of Egypt. Egypt had from the first been the deadly enemy of the Israelites, and of their God. Egypt was the source from which all manner of idolatrous abominations had flowed in upon them: out of Egypt they had been called; and they were no longer to hold any intercourse with it. Therefore the prophet goes on to cry, “Woe to those who walk to go down into Egypt, to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt:” and he declares that, because they do so, “the strength of Pharaoh shall be their shame, and the trust in the shadow of Egypt their confusion.” Nor will it be otherwise with us. If we are guilty of their sin we shall not escape their woe. And alas! how often in moments of fear, of distress,--when some danger starts up suddenly in our path, when the enemy seems to be hard at hand, and just ready to overwhelm us,--do we feel tempted to go down into Egypt, in the hope of strengtheningourselves with the strength of Pharaoh, and of sheltering ourselves with the shadow of Egypt! Satan at such moments is always close at our ear, whispering to us, that, if we will but take counsel of him, and do as he bids us, he will help us out of our difficulty. It should be borne in mind that, every time we sin we weaken our souls, we cripple our good feelings, we blunt our conscience, we drive away the Spirit of God from our hearts. Therefore, instead of our being better able to meet the next temptation, the odds against us are increased. (J. C. Hare, M. A.)
The Jews’ dependence on Egypt
The advantages which the Jews promised themselves from their alliance with Egypt were these--
1. The Egyptians abounded in chariots and horses, which the Jews were destitute of. For Palestine, being a country full of steep hills and narrow difficult ways, was in many places impassable by horses, and therefore their beasts of burden were camels, asses, and mules, which are not apt to start, but tread sure in dangerous ways. These served them very commodiously in times of peace. But when they were invaded by armies of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, who had troops of horse, and multitudes of chariots, they wanted the like forces to oppose them; and such the Egyptians could very well supply them with.
2. Besides, the Assyrians and Chaldeans were at that time the most formidable Powers of the East, ambitious of universal monarchy, and threatening to subdue Egypt as well as other rich kingdoms. On which account the Egyptians were jealous of them, and therefore were most easily prevailed upon, and more cheaply engaged to assist the Jews, or any other people in their wars against them. (W. Reading, M. A.)
God’s prohibition of alliance with Egypt
The reasons why God prohibited His people to confederate with the Egyptians, are these--
1. He had delivered their forefathers out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, stretched out from Heaven, and unassisted by any human means. He had manifested Himself to be far above all their gods, in that He triumphed over them in the ten plagues, and drowned their king and army in the Red Sea. Notwithstanding all which sufficient convictions, the Egyptians still persisted in their gross idolatry; which might justly provoke God to forbid His people any dealing with them.
2. Their applying to Egypt for aid against their enemies, was derogatory to the honour of God, who having anciently demonstrated His ability to save His people, and having promised still to vouchsafe them His protection in proportion to their obedience, these idolaters might be apt to conclude that His former power was now decayed, and that their gods had gained the ascendant over Him, since they were called in to the protection of His people.
3. An Egyptian had proved fatal to Israel in their happiest state; I mean the daughter of an Egyptian king, who was one of the wives of King Solomon, and helped with other strange women to entice him to idolatry. The immediate consequence of which, by the just judgment of God, was the division of the twelve tribes into two kingdoms, who often waged unnatural wars one with another.
4. God had, in general, forbidden His people to make confederacies with any of the nations round about them, lest they should defile themselves with their idolatrous principles and abominable practices; or lest they should put their trust in man and make flesh their arm, and their heart depart from the Lord. (W. Reading, M. A.)
“Cover with a covering”
Perhaps, “weave a web,” hatch a scheme. (A. B.Davidson, LL. D.)
R.V. marg gives two translations between which it is difficult to choose. The latter is perhaps preferable, although the noun does not occur elsewhere in the sense of “libation.” The allusion would be to drink offerings accompanying the conclusion of a treaty. (J. Skinner, D. D.)
Adding sin to sin
The sin of forsaking God, and trusting in the arm of flesh, to their sin of drunkenness (Isaiah 28:8), and their other sins. (W. Day, M. A.)
Their strength is to sit still
A policy in an epigram
Sometimes a policy is summed up in an epigram, or in an easily quotable sentence; and it can be used as a war cry or as an election cry; it can be adapted to political uses of many sorts.
Thus it was said of the Bourbons that “they forgot nothing, and remembered nothing.” It was said of an illustrious statesman in Europe that his policy was “blood and iron.” In relation to many persons we are recommended to use “masterly inactivity”--to be appearing capable of doing miracles, and yet to take infinite care not to attempt the performance of one of them. This is precisely the spirit of the text. The peoples to whom the words were addressed were mocked, and the paraphrase which the spirit of the text would justify is this:--They have great mouths, but say nothing; the hippopotamus cannot make his voice heard; the ox mouth is closed: their energy is inaction; when they are about to come forward to do wonders they shrink back and do nothing. It is a taunt--an exclamation wholly ironical thrown in the face of a detested enemy, or an absconding friend, or one who has great appearance of energy, and yet is unable to move the tiniest of his fingers. (J. Parker, D. D.)
“Rahab, that sitteth still”
So full were Egyptian politics of bluster and big language, that the Hebrews had a nickname for Egypt. They called her Rahab--“Stormy speech,” “Blusterer,” “Braggart.” It was the term also for the crocodile, as being a “monster,” so that there was a picturesqueness as well as moral aptness in the name. Ay, says Isaiah, catching at the old name, and putting to it another which describes Egyptian helplessness and inactivity, I call her “Rahab sit-still,” “Braggart-that-sitteth-still,” “Stormy-speech stay-at-home.” Blustering and inactivity, blustering and sitting still, that is her character. “For Egypt helpeth in vain and to no purpose.” (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Strength and stillness
The context reveals two things.
(1) A great national danger.
(2) A great national sin. Wherein is the truth of the statement, that man’s strength is in sitting still? or, rather, what is meant by sitting still? It is not the stillness of indolence. Indolence is weakness--is ruin. Activity is the condition of strength. Industry is essential to progress in all that is great and happy. What, then, is the stillness? It is the stillness of unbounded trust in God.
I. STILLNESS OF CONFIDENCE IN RELATION TO GOD’S REDEMPTIVE PROVISION IS STRENGTH. The sacrifice of Christ is all-sufficient.
II. STILLNESS OF CONFIDENCE IN RELATION TO YOUR FUTURE HISTORY IS STRENGTH. “Take no thought for the morrow,” etc.
III. STILLNESS OF CONFIDENCE IN RELATION TO PRESENT PROVIDENTIAL TRIALS IS STRENGTH. The Israelites, with piled mountains on each side of them, the sea rolling before them, and Pharaoh and his host approaching them, were exhorted by their leader to “stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.” Peter slept between two soldiers; and Paul said, “None of these things move me.” (Homilist.)
Strength in sitting still
I. SOME THINGS TO WHICH THE SENTENCE OF THE TEXT WILL NOT APPLY.
1. It will not apply when we have to get our daily bread. We are to be diligent in business, as well as fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Neither do we say so when learning is to be acquired. This is to be sought by application, and earned by incessant toil. Neither is our preaching by sitting still. If any think to enter the ministry that they may sit still, and spend a life of ease, they utterly mistake the office.
3. Nor when any temptation is to be resisted, or any evil overcome. You are to resist the tempter. And you are to maintain that particular virtue, which is in direct defiance of the particular temptation. If you are tempted, there is another thing which you can do. You can flee. Safety is often in flight. Joseph fled. “Flee youthful lusts.”
4. Nor does the text apply when duties of any kind are to be done. Idleness is a base condition. Better dig a hole and fall it up again. Better roll a stone up and down a hill, than pass your time in listlessness and languor. There are duties belonging to every state of life. Let them be attended to in promptitude and despatch.
5. Nor is the text applicable when good works are to be undertaken. We have many instructions in Scripture on this subject. “Be not weary in well-doing,” etc. “Be steadfast, unmovable,” etc. “These things,” says St. Paul, “I will that ye affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God, may be careful to maintain good works.”
6. We do not say it when the heavenly prize of eternal life is to be contended for.
II. STATE THE CONDITION OF THINGS TO WHICH THE AXIOM DOES APPLY.
1. It will apply to many important questions concerning the salvation of the soul. It will apply to the expiation of guilt. So respecting regeneration. “Ye must be born again.” There must be wrought an inward change. It will be wrought of God. And the Spirit of God works when, how, and where He pleases.
2. There are some matters belonging to our daily and nightly life, in which the principle is likewise of great value and importance. For example, the evening is come. The day’s labour is finished. It is time to cease. God says to you, Lie down; go to sleep. And when you sleep, “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Be not afraid. God will keep both the city and the watchman. Then, here is God’s own day. This is the day when God emphatically says, “Sit still”; and in quietness and rest is your strength. Be not afraid. Commerce will be uninjured, and none the worse for your being quiet on this day. You will return to your occupations with augmented might and vigour on the morrow.
3. Then, again, there are providential conjunctures, in which we can do nothing, in which every effort and interference of ours is of no avail. And now the end of all this is manifest. Man’s chief wisdom is--
(1) To be active and diligent in all his appointed fields of labour and exertion.
(2) To be tranquil, and resigned, and passive in matters over which he has no control.
(3) To trust God, and acquiesce in the Divine will in everything. (J. Straiten.)
I. The ATTITUDE enjoined by the text. What is it to “sit still”?
1. It indicates a condition of silence. Times occur for silence before men--when it is best to refrain from all vindications touching our character and doings. There are seasons for silence before God--times when our lips are neither opened in complaint nor importunity. “Rest in the Lord (be silent to the Lord), and wait patiently for Him.”
2. A condition of resting is suggested. We must resign our opinions, anxieties, merit, strength, and resources, looking simply into heaven.
3. It is also the attitude of waiting. “I bide my time,” is the motto of one of our noble families, and he who can bide his time, or, to speak more accurately, can bide God’s time, is perfect in the sublime art of sitting still.
4. The text also sets forth a condition of expectation. Sir Thomas Lawrence painted the portrait of the Duke of Wellington, and when the portrait was half finished, the Duke was represented as holding a watch in his hand, waiting for the Prussians at Waterloo. When the great soldier understood what the watch was intended to indicate, he observed, “That will never do. I was not waiting for the Prussians at Waterloo. Put a telescope in my hand, if you please, but no watch.” The temper here enjoined is very different to stoicism, involving no sacrifice of sensibility; it is distinct from fatalism, because it recognises the good and righteous God freely acting in all the government of the world; and it cannot be confounded with despair, for its inspiration is faith and hope.
II. The SEVERAL OCCASIONS when the admonition before us is specially applicable.
1. In the development of our religious life we may sometimes remember the text with advantage. Spiritual life commences in the passive mood.
2. But “justified by faith” “we often forget we must “live by faith,” and by pure and simple faith pass into the highest stages of spiritual life.
3. There are two sides to a complete Christian life--the contemplative and enterprising, the hearkening and speaking, the receptive and communicative and it is of prime importance that both sides receive full attention.
4. Distressed by the problems and tribulations of life we may justly rest in the passive mood. Sometimes we are bitterly bereaved. In these days when our eyes are full of heartbreak let us not go down into the Egypt of carnal reason for light or help--only be still. God does not even expect us to say big words in such crises--only to be still. Sometimes we are prostrated by extreme physical suffering. Said a poor afflicted woman, “All that God requires from me now is to lie here and cough.” Yes; simple suffering and quiet confidence--that, and nothing more. Sometimes we are defamed. When our reputation is unjustly eclipsed, are we to agitate and worry ourselves? Let us rather exemplify the maxim of Lavater: “I can wait”; let there be no impatience, no fretfulness, no bitterness. In the days of sorrowful surprise, of overwhelming misfortune, of sore dilemma, let us not go down into Egypt for wisdom to explain, or strength to bear, or consolation to soothe, but looking up to the everlasting Love, a whole army of fiery cars and coursers shall shelter and deliver us.
5. The counsel of the text is applicable to us when oppressed by spiritual conflict and darkness. “Who is there among you that feareth the Lord,” etc. Isaiah 50:10).
6. This monition is applicable to us also when we are discouraged in our evangelistic enterprises. The Indian juggler is said to contrive to make a flower grow from a seed to maturity before the eyes of the spectators in a few moments; and thus we expect the truth we sow to spring forth speedily bearing its rich crown of beauty and fruit. But alas! we wait, wait long, and sometimes sink into a state very like despair. Then again, when the triumph of the truth is delayed, workers are tempted to alloy it, with a view to its speedier popularity; hoping that in its debased form it may secure an entrance denied to pure doctrine. And yet once more, when the faith of Christ has not forthwith run and been glorified, the Church has been tempted to form political, artistic, and worldly alliances, which in the end only betray and mock. Paradoxical as it may seem, it is a grand thing for workers to “sit still”; having with both hands toiled for God, calmly and confidently to wait the issue (James 5:7-8). The difficulty of rendering obedience to this injunction is really great. There is a sitting still easy enough and common enough, but to rest in God with an absolute faith is neither easy nor common. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Our solicitudes, intermeddlings, overdoings ruin us, or, at least, bring us into many and sore distresses.
1. They do in regard to our character. When shall we understand we are clay in the Potter’s hand, and our grand business the simple yielding of ourselves to the fashioning of God’s sovereign Spirit? How often our overweening care, our intrusive curiosity, our vanity and self-will have spoiled God’s grand handiwork, and arrested the growing completeness of our spirit!
2. And so in regard to our circumstances--our safety is in quietness. In days of tempest the helm is safest in charge of the pilot; in moments of alarm the reins are best in the driver’s skilful grasp; and if the man overboard will only be still all the Waves of the sea shall not drown him. Oh! when shall we learn the blessedness of resignation, the power of passivity, the victory of faith? (W. L. Watkinson.)
The secret of spiritual power
I. REST IN ANOTHER NECESSARILY IMPLIES THAT WE MUST LEARN TO REST IN OURSELVES. No man has a right to say that he is living the Divine life, without faith, without patience, without trust in God, without that spirit of waiting upon God, to which all the Scriptures exhort and encourage us. The patient places himself in the hands of a physician, but he will keep meddling with the physician’s prescriptions; he will keep taking nostrums of his own. And the physician says very properly, “Not so; this must not be. I can do nothing for you if it is so.” And men who put their salvation into God’s hands, as Israel ought to have done, must stand by that--stand by it always.
II. As arising from this, WE ARE STRONG IN LIFE JUST AS WE LAY HOLD OF THIS PRINCIPLE and learn to restrain ourselves. (W. Baxendale.)
The stillness of faith
(with Isaiah 30:15):--Does this expression embody a universal principle--one applicable under all possible circumstances? The least consideration will convince us that this cannot be the case.
1. You are naturally, it may be, somewhat apathetic. I fear we all are so in religion--in the concerns of the soul. And this natural indolence is sometimes greatly strengthened by a false theology, a one-sided, overstrained evangeliser, which, by forever insisting on the one point of human inability, has a tendency to lull men asleep. And thus it is that multitudes sit down with folded hands, in an attitude of waiting, as they say, for I know not what mysterious influence from on high to visit their souls. The error is a very grievous one. Scripture bids us awake out of sleep, it bids us flee from the coming wrath, it bids us turn from sin unto God, avoid temptation, resist Satan, restrain our own evil tendencies; it bids us repent, and believe, and pray, and use the means of grace.
2. There is another class, however, who are likely to fall into an opposite error. They are not apathetic, their natural constitution of mind is the very reverse of this. These are your active, bustling, restless people. There is no quietness about them, no repose, no calmness. You read their character in their very look. There is an uneasy air, a feverishness, a fretfulness, characterising them and all their actions, which distinguish them from others, and place them in a class by themselves. When the Gospel comes to one of this class, saying, Cease from all efforts of your own for acceptance;--“your strength is to sit still, to rest in God, to believe in Jesus; inreturning and rest thou shalt be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength,”--is there no risk that there be a temporary recoil from a system that thus comes so directly into collision with his individualism of character? His first prompting is to something quite different. Let him have his own way, then; it is humbling he needs. It is not necessary we should follow him in his efforts; they are the same as the efforts of those who “go about to establish their own righteousness.” We know what the result must be; nor are we mistaken, for by and by we find him by the Cross--he has sunk down there exhausted. Yet there are other occasions on which his natural constitution--strong, because deeply rooted--will rise up, and place itself in antagonism with the dealings of God; and chiefly, perhaps, in these two ways--duty and suffering.
(1) Suffering. He is now a child of God, but not on that account exempt from chastisement; nay, rather on that very account exposed to it as part of that salutary discipline by which he is training up for Heaven. Perhaps such a man as he needs a severer discipline than that of a more quiet, subdued, restful disposition, to humble him, and wean him from all vain confidences; and so affliction comes in some shape or other--such as will touch him most acutely. We need not think it strange if he go down to Egypt for help; if he have recourse to false physicians; if, instead of looking to God, he trust in an arm of flesh to deliver him; if he weary under God’s chastening hand, and wish it removed ere the end in view has been answered. He finds no rest till he returns to God, and says, He hath put me into the furnace, and here will I lie quietly till He take me out again.
(2) Passing now from the sphere of suffering to that of duty, we find him maintaining the same conflict between the Divine authority and his own will. Remember he is essentially active. He loves a conspicuous position. It is not exactly that he is vain or ambitious, but something within him stimulates him to come forward; he feels as if he were formed for a position of usefulness and eminence; and perhaps he is right. Only he must wait God’s time for this; he must suffer God to choose for him; and this is what he is rather unwilling to do. (A. L. R. Foote.)
The strength of the Church in troublous times
1. The strength of the Church in troublous times is not in listening to carnal counsel.
2. Nor in trusting in carnal confidences.
1. The strength of the Church in troublous times is to sit still in the way of seeking and obeying Divine direction.
2. To sit still in the way of exercising a humble dependence upon Divine aid (Isaiah 30:15).
3. To sit still in the way of holding fast all her scriptural attainments.
4. To return to the Lord in those respects in which she has departed from Him.
5. To go forward in the performance of whatever work God is laying to her hand. (James Patrick.)
Strength perfected in weakness
When we sit down, God stands up; when we are silent, He speaks; when we have laid down our reeds, He Himself becomes our shield and salvation. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Difficulty of spiritual passivity
Theatrical performers affirm that to play at statues, which, of course, require perfect motionlessness, is the hardest trial of human nature; and all who have sat for their photograph know something of this experience. The difficulty of physical stillness may serve to represent the extreme difficulty of spiritual passivity under the truth and discipline of God. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The albatross a symbol of power
The albatross sailing over the sea with vast unstirring wings is a symbol of power, not of weakness; and the soul which sustains its flight in the empyrean without noise or flutter, does so in the fulness of power, in the perfection of life. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Waiting may contribute to victory
The Duke at Waterloo ordered certain regiments to form and wait. For many hours this order remained in force, and only late in the day were the obedient warriors led to victory. We may be sure those hours of waiting were the hardest hours in those soldiers’ lives. In that space of anxious suspense the Duke was winning the battle for them, but they would much rather have been doing something to the winning of it for themselves. So is it frequently with us in the strife of life. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Note it in a book
Keeping a journal
THE JOURNAL YOU MAY KEEP. You may spend your pocket money in a book, pen and ink, and set up a journal. If so--
1. Its nature.
(1) Not about self. Do not write much about yourself, your own thoughts and feelings. Let there be but few capital I’s.
(2) Not a dreary, lifeless chronicle. If you can do no better than the following, day after day, do not keep a journal at all: “Got on all right through the day, went for a walk at night, came home and went to bed at nine,” which was the constant entry in the diary of a boy I know.
(3) But a record of facts and events. Do as did Doyle and Dickens when lads--record in a journal fresh places seen and persons men--the substance of new books read, things heard new to you, sights and scenes in town and country.
2. Its use.
(1) It assists observation and expression. Two most important things to you. Develops faculties of attention, memory, reproduction. Prepares you for science, poetry, writing, and speech.
(2) It is helpful in afterlife. Not only from above considerations, but also because it will awaken tender and pleasant memories, evoke gratitude to God, and keep you in touch with boys when a man.
II. THE JOURNAL YOU MUST KEEP.
1. For yourself. Your brain is a self-acting journal. In its cell lies hidden, all unknown to you, a register of all your past deeds, words, and thoughts. Sometimes the door of recollection flies open, and you see this record of the past. The record is written in invisible ink, but the fire of memory brings it out. And if sometimes now, how much more at the last!
2. And partly for others. Every day you also write something down in the brain--journals of others, of parents, brothers and sisters, playfellows, teachers. The words and deeds which they hear and see. Be careful to write down for them good and pleasant things--things sweet and helpful.
III. THE JOURNAL GOD KEEPS.
1. Instance in the text. Prophet to write that Jews were “lying children--children that will not hear the Word of the Lord” (Isaiah 30:9), and to write it “that it may be for the time to come, forever and ever” (Isaiah 30:8). A terrible entry in God’s journal. May no such entry be written concerning us!
2. God’s journal complete. He makes no omissions. He puts all in, good and bad. We make selections to our own advantage. We may deceive ourselves--we may hide much from our friends, but not from Him. “Thou God seest me”; and when at the judgment “God’s books are opened,” His will be a check diary to supply all our omissions. Therefore, let us wisely number our days, and see that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (S. E. Keeble.)
This is a rebellious people
Dislike to ministerial fidelity
The Jews have very many followers under the Christian dispensation.
I. STATE THE TRUTHS WHICH ARE USUALLY OBNOXIOUS TO SUCH PERSONS. There are many doctrines to which every faithful preacher of God’s Word feels bound to give ample room in his stated ministry, that are by no means welcome to many of his hearers; such, for instance, as the spirituality and unbending strictness of the Divine law, the deep depravity of human nature, the exceeding sinfulness of man’s conduct, the universal necessity of regeneration, the inefficacy of works for justification, and the indispensable obligation to a separation from the world. The Scriptures, not only of the Old Testament, but of the New, abound with the most appalling descriptions of the Divine displeasure against sin. It is a striking fact, that He who was love incarnate--who was named Jesus, because He was to be the Saviour of His people--delivered, during the course of His personal ministry, more fearful descriptions of Divine justice and the punishment of the wicked, than are to be found in any other part of the Word of God. No man can fulfil his ministry, therefore, without frequently alluding to the justice of God in the punishment of sin. But such a subject frequently calm up all the enmity of the carnal mind.
II. THE CAUSES TO WHICH WE MUST TRACE THIS DISLIKE OF MINISTERIAL FIDELITY, and this love of smooth and delusive preaching.
1. In some cases it is occasioned by absolute unbelief. Multitudes who admit in gross the authority of the Bible, deny it in detail.
2. The refinements of modern society and taste lead many to ask for smooth things. There is no respect of persons with God; before Him the distinctions of society have no place.
3. Wounded pride is with some the cause of a dislike of faithful preaching. They hate the doctrine which disturbs their self-complacency, and revile the man who attempts to sink them in their own esteem.
4. But in by far the greater number of instances, this dislike of the truth, and this love of smooth things, is the result of painful forebodings of future misery.
III. THE FOLLY, THE SIN, AND THE DANGER OF A DESIRE TO SUPPRESS THE FAITHFUL VOICE OF TRUTH, and to be flattered with the soothing language of deceit.
1. Its folly is apparent from the consideration that no concealment of the situation of the sinner can alter his condition in the sight of God, or change the relation in which he stands to eternity.
2. The sin of this disposition is equal to its folly. It is sinful alike in its origin, its nature, and its consequences. Why does a person wish to have a false representation of his state? For this one reason, that as he is determined to go on in sin, he may be left to sin with less reluctance and remorse. As it is sinful in its origin, it is manifestly so in its nature, for it is the love of falsehood; a desire to confound the distinction between sin and holiness. Nor is this all; in aiming to suppress the voice of warning and the note of alarm, he acts the part of that infatuated and cruel wretch, who would bribe the sentinel to be silent when the foe is about to rush, sword in hand, into the camp; or would seduce the watchman to be quiet, when the fire had broken out at midnight, and was raging through the city. For thus saith the Lord, “O son of man, I have set thee a watchman over the house of Israel,” etc. (Ezekiel 33:7-8).
3. The danger of such a disposition to the individual himself, is as great as its sin and its folly. The man who is unwilling to hear of approaching misery, is not likely to use any means by which it may be averted.
By way of APPLICATION I infer, how great are the importance, responsibility, and difficulty which attach to the ministerial office, and how anxious should those be who sustain it, to discharge its duties with uncompromising fidelity.
1. The conversion of sinners should be the leading object of every minister of Christ.
2. This must be sought by suitable means. The means for awakening the unconverted are, of course, various. What might be called the alarming style of preaching is most adapted to convert the impenitent.
3. Ministers are under a great temptation to preach smooth things, and to shrink from what may emphatically be called the burden of the Lord. A false charity leads them, in some instances, to be unwilling to disturb the peace or distress the feelings of their hearers; or, perhaps, there are some in their congregation who may feel an objection to what they contemptuously call the harrowing style. But most of all are those in danger of compromising their duty, who are appointed to minister to well educated and wealthy audiences.
4. A word of admonition is here needed for professing Christians. Are there not many who are dissatisfied with everything but words of comfort and statements of privilege? They object to everything of a searching and practical tendency. (J. A. James.)
Church and world
I. A chief part of the work of the pulpit is THE PLAIN AND FERVENT TEACHING OF DAILY LIFE MORALITY. There is no Gospel without morality, and the morality of Christ, i.e., a morality whose inspiration is the Spirit of Christ, is a very large part of the Gospel indeed. What of our Lord’s own teachings? Are they chiefly moral teachings or theological? It is needless to answer the question. What do we mean when we talk of being saved from sin? Just what the words say,--that sin shall be taken away; that is, that men shall obey God’s law instead of the devil’s; that is, that they shall live pure, virtuous, and moral lives.
II. And do not MORALS OCCUPY A VERY FOREMOST PLACE IN THE WELFARE OF MANKIND. What is it makes the world often so miserable? It is sin, that is, immorality; and if we can do away with the sin and immorality, and bring in virtue and morality, then we shall do much to diminish the miseries of our fellow men. And if it is important that morals should be taught for the welfare and happiness of mankind, who are to teach morals, if not the ministers of religion! It is for us to educate the public conscience, until men feel each moral distinction as a solemn fact, until the force of public opinion fall heavily upon him who violates the moral law, until a fairer morality take its place among us.
III. But why have we succeeded so ill? WHY IS THE GENERAL MORALITY SO LOW! It is because the people have said, “Speak unto us smooth things,” and we have yielded to their words. If you tell men the faults which are diseases in their characters, slowly but surely bringing them down to the grave, they cannot bear it, but keep the disease and dismiss the physician. Whether it hurts or not, the truth must be said, if men are to be saved from the error of their ways. (W. Page-Roberts, B. A.)
Speak unto us smooth things
The smooth things by which men are apt to be deceived
I propose to instance a few of these smooth things which teachers may address to the people who love to be deceived, or wherewith the people themselves lay a flattering unction to their own souls.
I. The first of these, which though not generally ranked among the smooth things, I hold to be the universal deceit, and that in virtue of which we so MAGNIFY THE PRESENT WORLD, give such an exaggerated importance to things present and things sensible, regard time as if it had all the worth and endurance of eternity, and look on eternity as a thing of remote and shadowy insignificance, the care and consideration of which may be indefinitely postponed.
II. A MEAGRE AND SUPERFICIAL IMAGINATION OF THEIR GUILT, AND PROPORTIONALLY TO THIS, A SLIGHT APPREHENSION OF THEIR DANGER.
III. A man who feels his disease so slight, will be satisfied with a very slight remedy; and accordingly the remedy which men are satisfied with, is RESTING ON THE GENERAL MERCY OF GOD. God is represented as a Being full of tenderness, thus making it the whole character of the Godhead, and in this way lulling themselves into a deceitful security--not thinking of one set of attributes, justice, truth, and righteousness, but keeping these in the background, and bringing in the foreground, God being of universal tenderness and benignity, and who will not be severe on the follies of His poor erring creatures.
IV. A CERTAIN ANTINOMIAN SECURITY which they connect with the doctrines of grace and justification by faith. When we see people reposing on their orthodoxy, and making use of it as a soporific to lull themselves, we should ply them with questions founded on the true representation which the New Testament gives. Are they running so as that they may obtain? Are they fighting so as that they may gain a hard won victory? Are they striving so as that they may force an entrance at the strait gate? (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
The craving for the entertaining
What did the speakers want? They wanted what is desired by every age, namely, to be entertained. It is entertainment that is often frittering away the noblest courage and finest faculty of the Church. There may be parts of the service which are instructive, and they are tolerated that the entertainment may be enjoyed: entertain us with ritual, with music, with stories, with something that will give us intellectual excitement and even a degree of intellectual delight: but do not prophesy, do not teach, do not become rigorously moral: let the day of judgment alone; if we have to go to hell let us go down a bank covered with velvet moss. The people make the pulpit. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The demand for smooth things
What was the utility of the Hebrew prophet, and what were the errors to which he was more particularly exposed?
I. It was THE DUTY AND THE PRIVILEGE OF ISRAEL to keep alive monotheism in the world. It was no less the duty of the prophetic school to preserve in the chosen nation itself the spirituality of religion. Both agents were in the same relative position--a hopeless minority. And both had but an imperfect success. Yet the nation and the institution served each an important purpose. Monotheism languished, but did not die. And though the prophets were not very successful in imbuing the nation generally with their own spirituality, yet they kept the flame alive. They served to show to the people the true ideal of spiritual, not ritualistic, Judaism, and thus supplied a corrective to priest taught Judaism.
II. WHAT WAS THE GREAT SOURCE OF ERROR IN THE PROPHET’S UTTERANCES? What was the great pressure that pushed, or tended to push him aside from the path of duty? The text has told us. “Prophesy not unto us right” things, speak unto us smooth things. The desire of man--king or peasant--to hear from the prophet, or the courtier, or the demagogue, not truth, but flattery,--it was that fatal longing which led them to put a pressure on the prophet which often crushed the truth within him.
III. FLATTERY EXISTS STILL. If nations have not prophets to flatter them, they have those whom they trust as much. Far from attempting to correct their faults, the guides whom they trust are constantly labouring to impress on them that they are the most meritorious and the most ill-used nation in the world. Eyes blinded to present faults; eyes sharpened to past wrongs,--there is no treatment which will more completely and more rapidlydemoralise the nation which is subjected to it. There will be no improvement where there is no consciousness of fault; and no forgiveness where the mind is invited, almost compelled, to a constant brooding over wrong. With the growth of such feelings no nation can thrive; and he who encourages them is not the saviour but the destroyer of his country. (J. H.Jellett.)
Cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us
The Holy One of Israel repudiated
The meaning is not, of course, that the people disown Jehovah as the national Deity, but that they repudiate Isaiah’s conception of Him as the Holy One of Israel, and the teaching based on that conception. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Smooth talk proves often sweet poison. Flattery is the very spring and mother of all impiety. It unmans a man, it makes him call black white, and white black; it makes a man change pearls for pebbles, and gold for counters; it makes a man judge himself wise, when foolish; knowing, when he is ignorant; holy, when he is profane; free, when he is a prisoner; rich, when he is poor; high, when he is low; full, when he is empty; happy, when he is miserable. (J. Bate.)
Truth sometimes unpopular
An animated debate took place whether Martinelli should continue his “History of England” to the present day.
Goldsmith: “To be sure he should.” Johnson: “No, sir; he would give great offence. He would have to tell of almost all the living great what they do not wish told.” Goldsmith: “There are people who tell a hundred political lies every day, and are not hurt by it. Surely, then, one may tell truth with safety.” “Johnson: Why, sir, in the first place, he who tells a hundred lies has disarmed the force of his lies. But besides, a man had rather have a hundred lies told of him than one truth which he does not wish to be told.” Goldsmith: “For my part, I’d fen the truth, and shame the devil.” Johnson: “Yes, sir; but the devil will be angry. I wish to shame the devil as much as you do, but I should choose to be out of the reach of his claws.” Goldsmith: “His claws can do you no harm when you have the shield of truth.” (Boswell’s Johnson.)
Two Chinese jugglers have been making a public exhibition of their skill. One of these is set up as a target, and the other shows his dexterity by hurling knives which stick into the board at his comrade’s back, close to the man’s body. These deadly weapons fix themselves between his arms and legs, and between his fingers; they fly past his ears, and over his head and each side of his neck. The art is not to hit him. Are there not to be found preachers who are remarkably proficient in the same art in the mental and spiritual departments? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Our preaching must not be general, but particular. “It is not lawful for thee to have her to wife.” This was John Baptist’s style. We must collar men. “Thou art the man--I mean you, sir.” We are not half enough convinced of the evil of general preaching. The beef must have the salt of truth, and the saltpetre of life, but it must be rubbed in by particular application, and rubbed into every part by a comprehensive mind, and rubbed in by clean hands. (R. Cecil.)
As a breach ready to fall.
A retributive crash
The best translation seems to be: “Therefore this guilt shall be to you as a rent descending (literally, “falling”) (and) bulging out in a high wall, whose crash comes,” etc. The slight beginnings of transgression, its inevitable tendency to gravitate more and more from the moral perpendicular, till a critical point is reached, then the suddenness of the final catastrophe,--are vividly expressed by this magnificent simile. Psalms 62:3. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
1. The people, on account of the eminence and grandeur to which they were elevated, are compared to a high wall.
2. The sin whereby they despised the Word of the Lord, the instructions of His servants, and even the name of the Holy One of Israel, and sought assistance from Egypt, was to prove ruinous to them, as the swelling out in a high wall. The breach, or bulge, which is supposed to have been in the lower part of the wall, as often happens in old buildings, might signify the insolence and pride whereby the posterity of Israel were puffed up in the confidence of being aided by the Egyptians. (R. Macculloch.)
I. WHO IT IS THAT GIVES JUDGMENT UPON THEM. “The Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 30:12). See Isaiah 30:11. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are proper to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing.
II. WHAT THE GROUND OF THE JUDGEMENT IS. “Because ye despise,” etc., (Isaiah 30:12).
III. WHAT THE JUDGMENT IS THAT IS PASSED UPON THEM. The ruin they should bring upon themselves should be--
1. A surprising ruin, coming suddenly.
2. An utter ruin, universal and irreparable (Isaiah 30:14). (M. Henry.)
He shall break it as the breaking of the potter’s vessel
A pottery mound
One of the most curious objects in Rome is a huge artificial mound called Monte Testaccio.
It stands near the gate of St. Paul’s, between the Aventine Hill and the Tiber . . . It is a conspicuous object, being nearly one-third of a mile in circumference, and about a hundred and fifty feet high, commanding from its top an extensive view of the most desolate and historical parts of the Eternal City, and the Campagna a beyond. It is an easy task to climb it, for on different sides there are well-worn tracks from the base to the summit. The surface covered in a few places with a little sprinkling of soil, and a sparse vegetation of grass and coarse weeds; but a close examination reveals the remarkable fact that the mound is almost entirely composed of fragments of broken earthenware. Specimens of ancient pottery of all kinds may be found lying loosely on the surface of the heap, or by digging a little way into the mass . . . Not one vessel was whole, nor could the broken pieces be united to form even the least important part of any vessel. The mound, from the nature of its materials, is evidently of very ancient origin, nothing having been added to it since the early Christian ages; but it must have taken many centuries to form it by slow accumulation. Various theories have been proposed regarding it; but the most plausible conjecture is that which connects it with the neighbouring emporium or custom house, where all the goods that were landed at the ancient quay of Rome were stored up for a time. It was the practice in those days to import not only wine and oil, and other fluids, but also corn and solid articles of food and of domestic use into the imperial city in earthenware jars for more convenient carriage. In the act of unloading, immense quantities of these fragile vessels would be broken, and the fragments carried away to this spot, where they would accumulate in course of time into the huge heap which now astonishes every spectator. This explanation, however, is only a partial one; for were it complete we should expect to find in the mound only vessels of one kind, fitted for storage purposes. But it contains, as I have said, fragments of the most varied assortment of vessels for household use and for ornamental and even for sepulchral purposes . . . It became, in fact, the general receptacle for the broken pottery of the whole city. That this was carefully collected into this one spot, instead of being thrown out anywhere, and that no other rubbish was allowed, except accidentally, to ruing o with it, shows clearly that the heap was intended for some economical use. We have indeed reason to believe that this broken earthenware, ground into smaller fragments and pulverised, formed an ingredient in the famous Roman cement employed in the construction of buildings whose hardness and durability were proverbial. But it is not in Rome only that such ancient mounds of broken pottery are found. Similar heaps of potsherds, not on quite so large a scale, may be seen outside the walls of Alexandria and Cairo. The sites, indeed, of many ancient towns, especially those built of crude, sun-dried bricks, are often covered with great quantities of such fragments exposed to view and collected together by the disintegrating action of the weather upon the ruins, giving them the appearance of a deserted pottery rather than that of a town. Parti-coloured heaps of broken pottery are common in the neighbourhood of old villages and towns in Palestine. They are especially abundant in one or two places near Jerusalem. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The shivering of the potter’s vessel
The passage is literally, “And its shivering שֶׁבֶר shever, from which perhaps comes our ‘shiver’) shall be like the shivering of a potter’s vessel, a shattering unsparingly; so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a potsherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water out of the pit.” Bearing in mind the size and strength of many potters’ vessels in Palestine, it is clear, that a mere dashing out of the hand upon the ground would fail to effect a “shivering” anything like this. To what then do the prophets refer? We think the matter admits of a very clear explanation. One of the most constant features of the land is the well or “beer,” which, as no rain falls for many months together, and springs and streams are rare, becomes an essential adjunct to every house. In these large underground structures rainwater is collected from surface drainage, and stored for use during the year. The “Moabite stone” records an act, passed by Mesha, King of Moab, so far back as the days of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, directing every man to make a “beer,” or rain cistern, in his house. But such testimony would not be needed to establish the great age of these huge artificial cisterns. They abound everywhere, and many of them, In fine preservation, mark the sites of very ancient cities, where no other structure remains. There are no less than thirty of them, some of vast size, built on piers, and arched like the crypt of a church, to be found within the precincts of the temple area at Jerusalem. They are specially numerous in the fine olive grove to the north of the city, where they are in such a ruinous condition, apparently from extreme age, that they now form a series of dangerous pitfalls. In addition to these wells is to be found a system of immense artificial pools, or rain reservoirs, which are often referred to in the Bible, and of which no less than seven may now be traced in and around Jerusalem itself. To all these cisterns and reservoirs, whether cut in the rock, or built of rough masonry, one thing is common. To render them perfectly watertight, a peculiar cement has to be used. This cement is composed partly of lime and partly of a large admixture of what is called in Arabic, “homrah.” This “homrah” is nothing else than broken pottery of every description, ground down generally into very small pieces, and sometimes into powder. It answers excellently the purpose for which it is employed. Every year it grows harder; until, in the case of those wells and pools where it is presumably many hundred years old, it is as firm as the rock to which it adheres. This “homrah” is consequently an article of daily commerce throughout the country. Its preparation by the peasants still remains the same simple and striking sight that must always have been familiar to the dwellers in every Judean town, but especially to those who lived within the waterless precincts of Zion. (J. Neil, B. A.)
Shivering the potter’s vessel
It may be seen now every autumn in the valley of the son of Hinnom. Upon the upper terrace, on the side adjoining the city, several “fellahin” (peasants), both men and women, sit on the ground in front of small brown heaps. They have under their hands a huge stone or rather rough piece of rock slightly rounded, about a foot in diameter, which they push backwards and forwards over the mounds before them. These mounds consist of broken pottery, which they have purchased in the city, or picked up from the heaps outside. Here we may see the whole of this simple but very effective process of shivering or crushing the “potter’s vessel.” (J. Neil, B. A.)
The potter’s vessel
It could hardly be expected that a custom so ancient and so suggestive as this should have remained unutilised by the spiritual teachers of Israel to point a moral. It lent itself so easily and naturally to the peculiar didactic method of instruction which the Orientals affect, that it was early taken advantage of for this purpose. Throughout the Bible there are numerous direct and indirect allusions to it. In the second Psalm it is said of those who oppose the Messianic kingdom of God that they shall be dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel; and Isaiah foretells that a similar fate should happen to those who despised God’s Word and placed their confidence in Egypt. They should be like one of those high mud walls--like the cob walls of Devonshire, said to be derived from the East--which so often decline from the perpendicular, and bulge out in different parts. (H. Maxmillan, D. D.)
In returning and rest shall ye be saved
The vanity of earthly help in time of trial, and the profit of patient waiting
THE INSUFFICIENCY OF ALL HUMAN DEPENDENCE. The records of the Jewish nation, which have come down to us, abundantly prove this truth.
1. These words were especially spoken to the Church of old time. We must gather therefore great instruction herefrom, in respect to the community of God’s people in all after time, and perhaps in our own days especially.
2. What is true in respect of the Church, considered as a community, is equally true in respect of all its members, if we consider them in their individual character. God teaches them separately, as He teaches the Church collectively, that upon Him they are to depend, and not upon human help. And in order that they may learn the lesson the more certainly, and that it may stay with them the more abidingly, God oftentimes brings them down into circumstances where human assistance can render them no avail.
II. THE NATURE AND THE PROFIT OF PATIENT WAITING. In this way it is that God gives the instruction which the hearts of His people want. He suffers them oftentimes to lean upon other helps, and to cast their dependence upon other agencies, than His appointed one. Then, when they have found that these have been but as a broken reed to trust to, they come back again to Him--their faith confirmed--a precious lesson learned in the time of their wandering, which henceforth they shall find in the establishment of their souls. Faith has indeed oftentimes its best exercise in the time of the heaviest trial It is made to bring forth its richest and rarest fruits. (S. Robins, M. A.)
Let us ponder the four words which the prophet here uses to indicate in what direction their salvation lay, and upon what terms they might be sure of the Divine interposition and abiding protection.
1. “Returning.” Instead of going to Egypt for help, and impoverishing themselves by an alliance forbidden, senseless, and unprofitable, they might be assured of God’s forgiveness and favour by returning in brokeness of spirit to Him. The place of confession is the place of forgiveness.
2. “Rest.” The meaning is, or course, such a resting in God as would prove the genuineness of their return to Him. Vain was their reliance on the multitude of chariots and the strong body of cavalry to which they would point as a valuable addition to the fighting strength of Judah (Isaiah 31:3).
3. “Quietness.” How the very word rebukes the haste, excitement, and trepidation with which they had prepared for the siege of their city!
4. “Confidence.” (J. G. Mantle.)
In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength
The strength obtained from quietness and confidence
I. THE STATE OF MIND HERE NOTICED.
1. Consider “quietness” of mind. It means strength of purpose, combined with calm collectedness of thought as well as of word and act.
2. Consider “confidence” as another feature of true Christian character. Confidence is something more than a dead theory of belief; it is faith in exercise. And is there not something very sublime and beautiful in
“confidence,” as we see it linking the heart of man to the Creator and Redeemer of the world?
II. THE ADVANTAGES TO BE DERIVED FROM THE STATE OF MIND DESCRIBED.
1. The promise expressed in the words, “shall be your strength,” is very encouraging and full of meaning. It points to the Deity as the only source of strength.
2. The strength here spoken of is Divine, granted to us through the instrumentality of quietness and confidence
3. This strength, too, implies safety.
4. But the strength promised is conditional. (W. D. Horwood.)
The promise associated with quietness and confidence
I. THE FRAME OF MIND which God encouraged His people to have under all these circumstances--“quietness and confidence.”
1. Observe what the fault of Israel had been. God had said one thing, and Israel thought another. God had told them that He would be their refuge.
2. Their warrant for their confidence was the Word of God. Here is the distinction to be made between what is presumption, and what is faith.
3. Observe, next, the peculiar relation in which Israel stood to Jehovah, which made their unbelief so reprehensible. The Lord seems to bring this before their minds, as that which should cause the most stinging conviction in their hearts. “Thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel.”
II. THE PROMISE THAT IS HERE ANNEXED. God says, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” Take, for instance, Hezekiah’s history (2 Kings 18:1-37). Again, remember the story of Israel’s deliverance, as recorded Exodus 14:1-31. I might refer you to other passages, such as that beautiful narrative in Daniel 3:1-30, where we are told of three believing men being cast into a burning fiery furnace. Look at their quietness and confidence, which was their strength. There is a direct promise upon this subject in Deuteronomy 32:1-52. “The Lord shall judge” (avenge, or come to the help of) “His people, and repent Himself for His servants, when He seeth that their power is gone” If you want a New Testament promise to the same effect, you have it in that word which was spoken by our Lord--“Come unto Me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Do you say then, are we not to use means? There may be as much unbelief when men despise means, as there may be in their over-anxiety to use means. (W. H. Krause, M. A.)
The duty of conservatives in a time of theological conflict
1. It is our duty to recognise the inevitable margin of difference among those who substantially agree. It is only in the exact sciences that a formula has absolutely the same value for all men and for the same man at all times. But theology is not an exact science
2. It is the second duty of conservatives in a time of theological conflict to recognise the margin of error in all human views of truth. If the writers of the Bible were infallible, the readers of it are not. But have we not, it may be asked, the promise of the Paraclete to lead us into all the truth? Yes, and wonderfully has the promise been fulfilled. But here again two things should be observed.
(1) That promise was not given to any particular branch of the Church.
(2) It guarantees infallibility, to no one.
3. It is especially the duty of conservatives at the present moment in the history of the Church to discriminate between those who are seeking defend and those who are seeking to overthrow the fundamental principles of Christianity. Criticism must be met by criticism, scholarship by scholarship.
4. We should beware of testing the views in regard to the Bible, which are now more and more freely expressed, by what seem to be their tendencies.
(1) One of these is the tendency to unsettle the minds of simple and devout believers. They certainly have such a tendency, and it is much to be regretted. But the questions are here. We are not responsible for their presence. They are forced upon us.
(2) Another thing concerning which no little apprehension is entertained is that these discussions may tend to diminish the reverence which is felt for the Bible, and to weaken the faith of men in Christianity itself. The apprehension is natural. So Erasmus felt concerning what he called “the noisy quarrel of religion” that had broken out in his day, when (as he says) “I wrote frequently and industriously to my friends, begging that they would admonish this man (Luther) to observe Christian meekness in his writings, and to do nothing to disturb the peace of the Church.” The true conservative is always prone to apprehend the worst results from anything that disturbs the ancient order of ideas and practices. But how many times over has experience shown these fears to be groundless? In quietness and in confidence is our strength. Let us be honest. Let us not be afraid. “If this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, ye will not be able to overthrow it, lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God.” (E. B. Coe, D. D.)
Quietness and confidence
“Quietness” is just collectedness, repose, equanimity, freedom from excitement and boisterousness. “Confidence” is trust, reliance, upon God, producing, if not implying, a calm and steadfast courage.
I. “Quietness and confidence” are STRENGTH OF CHARACTER. They bespeak the existence of thought, reflection, judgment; they evidence self-control; they mark a nature that is not superficial; they show a superiority to influences which rouse the stormy passions of other men, and leave them the victims of blind impulse; and all this implies true strength of character.
II. “Quietness and confidence” are STRENGTH FOR WORK AND ACHIEVEMENT. The quiet, steady, hopeful man--other things being equal, and sometimes when they are very unequal--will prove, far away, the best workman. For one thing, such a man will lose no time in vain speculation, in daydreams about his work, in clearing away self-imposed hindrances, the result of his own hurry or forgetfulness or preoccupation. Calm and thoughtful, he will always settle to his employment at once, while another man will have to give himself time to acquire the proper mood for it. “Confidence” will also yield him resolution, and that will “make him proof against interruption,” which often defers the results of men’s endeavours and chafes their temper as well. Nearly all the men who have won renown in the sphere of successful toil, whether secular or sacred, have been men of quiet energy, rather than men of powerful impulses; of steadfast reliance upon a Power above them, rather than of mere human enthusiasm. And in fact, such are the discouragements and trials that wait upon all kinds of labour, whether for ourselves or others--such the sameness, the dryness, the weariness, that only quiet confidence will enable a man to persevere. It was this that kept Moses at the head of the chosen tribes till they reached the borders of Canaan. It was this that carried St. Paul through his almost superhuman toils and exertions. It was this that sustained such men as Columbus and Newton, Washington and Wellington, and a host of others, in carrying out enterprises, differing, indeed, in their objects, but all encompassed with difficulties that would have driven weaker men to despair at their outset. And, if we would do any real work for God and our fellow men, we must seek more to possess the quietness and confidence of me text, than those more shining qualities which gain popular applause, but often leave no real impress upon a man’s age and sphere.
III. Quietness and confidence are STRENGTH FOR ENDURANCE. Restlessness, impatience, distrust, do but aggravate trials, and intensify suffering. Like the struggles of a prisoner in his fetters--like the beating itself against the wires of the poor caged bird, they only serve to augment pain, and to bring on the dejection and weariness that follow fruitlessly expended energy. But to have a mind stayed on God is to take the most certain method to lighten every burden, to diminish the bitterness of every sorrow, to modify and transmute every curse into a blessing, and to make even the path of tribulation pleasant and attractive.
IV. “Quietness and confidence” are specially the STRENGTH OF SPIRITUAL ADVANCEMENT. All religious progress depends, primarily and efficiently, upon the grace of God. But the order of God’s working is such that this process may be very much helped or hindered by ourselves. The growth of plants and flowers depends materially upon the nature of the soil in which they are set, and upon their capacity for receiving the influences of air and sunshine, dew and shower. And it is much the same as to the growth of holy character; it is checked or advanced by our prevailing moral dispositions. Now, “quietness and confidence” imply a state of mind the most favourable to Divine operations. The subject may he viewed in another light. In the endeavour to live a holy life, we are all conscious of our exposure to hindrances, arising from our lapses and failures. We go on, it may be, somewhat well for a time; but a temptation overtakes us, unwatchfulness supervenes, and we fall, not into any great sin, but from the vantage ground that we thought ourselves to have reached. Now, what will be the effect of this upon a Christian person of excitable, impulsive, unsteady mind! Why, ceremony he will be discouraged and dismayed. But it will not be thus with the Christian who is marked by “quietness and confidence.” He will say, “Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy; for though I fall, I shall rise again.” (C. M. Merry.)
Rev. John Keble’s motto
In Poet’s Corner, at Westminster Abbey, there is a medallion erected to the memory of John Keble, upon which is inscribed the prophetic utterance which was the motto of his simple, beautiful, well-ordered life: “in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (R. Hebbron.)
Faith and introspection
In quietness and confidence is our strength, but not in thinking of quietness and confidence, or grieving that we have so little of either, but in simply assuring ourselves of the ground that we have to believe that God is our Friend now and ever, and that He can be nothing else, and that the forgetfulness of this and nothing else has been our sin and our shame. (F. D. Maurice to his mother.)
The triumph of simple trust
I am to be like General Gordon in Khartoum during the last weeks of the long siege. He built himself a tower of observation, from the top of which he could command the whole country round. At dawn he slept; by day he looked to his defences, and administered justice, and cheered the spirit of his people; every night he mounted to his tower, and there, as one of his biographers says, “alone with his God, a universal sentinel, he kept watch over the ramparts, and prayed for the help that never came.” He could not work out the deliverance himself, but he had childlike confidence in God. And the Divine help did come--the martyr’s crown, the everlasting rest, the good soldier’s welcome from his Commander-in-chief. (A. Smellie, M. A.)
Settling down upon God
What can explain the confidence of Judson and many another noble missionary, working steadily on for years without any sign of visible success, but the settling down of the spirit upon God--an attitude which had, with them, become a habit of life? (J. G. Mantle.)
Working with Divine resources
“I used to think I had to do it,” says one of the most successful evangelists of the nineteenth century, “and the result was great physical strain and exhaustion; but now I feel He has to do it through me: the responsibility His; the message His; the strength His.” (J. G. Mantle.)
Till ye be left as a beacon upon the top of a mountain
Israel’s past, present, and future
1. Sins of God’s people (Isaiah 30:1-2; Isaiah 30:9-12). Rejecting His Word; trusting in arm of flesh.
2. Judgment on them (Isaiah 30:16-17).
3. Mercy to them in things spiritual and temporal (Isaiah 30:19-21; Isaiah 30:26; Isaiah 30:29; Isaiah 23:1-18; Isaiah 24:1-23). Deliverance from their enemies (Isaiah 30:30-33). Especially destruction of Sennacherib’s army (Isaiah 30:31).
4. Glory to God, who is “exalted”--in His judgments--in His mercies.
II. THE PRESENT.
1. The people now left as a “beacon.” upon the top of a mountain (marg., “tree bereft of branches”). Condition bare, and seen of all. “And as an ensign, on an hill.” Word for ensign same as “sign” in Numbers 26:10. The people “cannot be hid.”
2. Now God waits for the set time, for the filling up of His people’s sins Hosea 5:15); for the filling up of His judgments; for the fulness of the Gentiles to be come in (Romans 11:25); for the showing mercy in the end.
III. THE FUTURE. It will be as the past, but greater.
1. Sin still continues in unbelief of Messiah, in pride, worldliness, and self-righteousness.
2. Judgment on these sins up to the end.
3. Mercy when they “cry.” Deliverance from their enemies, as prophesied Isaiah 66:13-16.
4. Glory to God, the “God of judgment,” the Father of mercies. He shall be “exalted,” as prophesied in Isaiah 2:10-11; Isaiah 2:17-22.
5. “Beacon” and “ensign”--refer to again. Israel conspicuous now, will be more so in the last days, as a landmark amidst waves of trouble and strife. “Ensign,” the same word as rendered “pole” in Numbers 21:8-9. See again in Exodus 17:15, “Jehovah-Nissi.” See Isaiah 31:9; Isaiah 11:11-12; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 49:22; Isaiah 62:10. Israel the rallying centre of the nations, in the midst of them the royal standard of the King, high on “God’s hill, in the which it pleaseth Him to dwell” (Psalms 60:4; see Zechariah 8:2-3; Zechariah 8:22-23).
IV. THE BLESSING.
1. “To the Jew first.”
2. “And also to the Gentile.”
3. Note the correspondence between God’s waiting and His people’s waiting. (Flavel Cook, B. A.)
And therefore will the Lord wait, that He may be gracious unto you
The waiting hours of life
We are all familiar with the waiting hours of life, when the stream hardly seems to move, or the air to stir; when the heart grows sick with deferred hope.
There are hours on languid summer days when all nature seems to have become stagnant--the aspen leaf does not quiver; the fish does not rise in the pool; the hum of the bee becomes less frequent and more drowsy; and the shadow hardly moves on the dial--and these hours in nature find their counterpart in the monotony of life’scommon round, the commonplace routine of its daily task. Such waiting times were wearily passing over the godly at Jerusalem while the invader was drawing his coils ever nearer to the doomed city, and the ambassadors were being cajoled in Egypt by false hopes; and ceaseless prayers to God were apparently bringing no response. To such the prophet addressed these words, encouraging them to believe that God was not unmindful of their case, but was waiting that He might act more graciously towards them than He could by answering them at once. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
He waits that He may be gracious; i.e., until there is such a combination of circumstances, and such a refining of character, that He can do ever so much better than if He had interposed in the first moments of our agonised appeal.
I. HE DOES NOT DELAY BECAUSE OF ANY CAPRICE. Heaven has no favourites, who are always served first.
II. HE DOES NOT DELAY BECAUSE OF ANY NEGLECT. A woman may forget her sucking child, but our Saviour cannot forget us.
III. HE DOES NOT DELAY BECAUSE HE DENIES. The remittance is not sent as asked; yet that does not prove that it is not there in our name, but only that it is being kept at interest, accumulating till it reach a higher figure, and be more of service, because coming at a time of greater need. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
Reasons for God’s delays
What results are served by this prolonged delay!
1. The energy of the flesh dies down. There is nothing which so tames and subdues us as waiting. And there is no kinder thing that God can do for us than to destroy the egotism, the self-assertiveness of our life, and to bring its pride to the dust. Waiting with mountains on either side, the sea in front, and the lee behind, is enough to empty the stoutest heart of its self-confidence, and to make it cry out to the strong for aid.
2. We often cease to want the very things on which we had set our hearts. Thus it has happened, as the years have passed, that we have seen reason to admire and adore the wise love which withheld that on which we had set our hearts with passionate intensity.
3. Our character also becomes riper by waiting. It is better for the young man to accumulate his fortune slowly, because he learns to value his money rightly, and to spend it well Better for the student to acquire knowledge by degrees, because he gains habits of industry which are simply invaluable. Better for the saint to grow to goodness by long and insensible progress, that he may be able to sympathise with those who are beginning to take the upward path.
4. Moreover, we secure larger results by waiting. If the Egyptian farmer is too impatient, and sows his seeds before the Nile has reached its full flood, they will not be carried to the furthest limit of his ground, and his harvest will suffer. So often there is a result which may be gained by patient waiting, which would defy us if we snatched at it. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
God’s gracious purpose towards His people
I. THE GRACIOUS PURPOSES OF GOD TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE. He “waits, that He may be gracious”; He is “exalted, that He may have mercy.” The Jewish people are here supposed to be in a state of suffering; and they are assured that when the design of these sore judgments was fully answered, God would have mercy upon them. In what manner the Lord will be gracious unto them, the prophet unfolds (chps. 19-21). To these promises of spiritual blessings and permanent prosperity others are added; and the passage closes with this munificent prediction,--“The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun,” etc. (Isaiah 30:26). This splendid prophecy points to a period which is yet future, and to which the Church is still looking forward.
II. THE CHARACTER OF GOD IN REFERENCE TO THESE PURPOSE. In all our undertakings we have encouragement from the character of God. The text speaks of Him as “a God of judgment,”--a title which is calculated to awaken the most useful reflections. He does as He pleases, and all He does is right. The word also implies deliberation--prudence: the will of God is not an arbitrary determination, but the will of deliberation. The word is opposed to haste and inconsideration. The term is applicable to all God’s proceedings.
III. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH WE SHOULD LOOK FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THIS PURPOSE. If the question be now asked, What is the posture the Church, which has been gathered from among, the Gentiles, should assume in reference to the rich provision made for the Jews? the answer is, They should “wait for Him.”
1. In a spirit of patient expectation.
2. In the use of diligent exertions.
3. In the exercise of fervent prayer. (T. Thomason, M. A.)
God sets forth Britain amid the nominal Christian nations, as He set forth Israel of old amid the heathen world, as a mighty field in which He displays His dispensations and dealings towards nations in professed and visible covenant with Himself. We are, therefore, not only warranted, but bound to take the words addressed to the ancient people of God, and to apply them to His people in modern times.
I. The spirit and attitude which God is here represented as sustaining toward a guilty and corrected, though not forsaken people, is ASPECT AND ATTITUDE OF LONG SUFFERING AND PATIENT FORBEARANCE.
II. But there is yet another feature in the attitude and aspect of God towards a land that He waits to see repenting--for GOD IS A GOD OF JUDGMENT.
III. LET US APPLY ALL THIS VIEW of the aspect of God towards nations to His recent dealings with ourselves.
IV. Lot us not pass lightly by what constitutes THE GREAT MORAL LESSON that springs from the view of God we have been taking. “Blessed are they that wait for Him.” We are not to become impatient under God’s hand; we are not, because His chastisement yet remains, to forget His mercies. (H. Stowell, M. A.)
Strange, but true
Some have thought, “Oh, how I wait upon God.” It will be nearer the truth if you think, “How marvellous it is that God should wait upon men!”
I. THE STRANGENESS of this Bible truth.
1. It is quite contrary to our common experience, that favours should be kept waiting out of doors. Favours do not generally wait for clients, but clients have to wait for favours.
2. You will be struck with the strangeness of this statement if you keenly watch the early experiences of an anxious soul. The man determines to be a seeker after God, and you would suppose that immediately the soul turned to God it would be flooded with light, whereas it very often happens that God never seems so far away from a man as when, first of all, the man begins to seek Him. Yet, all the while, God upon His throne waits to be gracious.
3. I doubt whether we Christian men are not a little to blame for the strangeness of this beautiful text. Do we not often pray as if we were praying into an unwilling ear? Do we not often cry as if we were crying to a hard heart? We have failed fairly to represent in our prayers the great readiness of our Father’s heart, and so we have in the matter of our Christian standing. How few of us know well our standing in Christ Jesus, and have a life and death confidence in it. And then in our relationship to others, where are the abounding compassions of Christ? where the undying energy with which a man who knows the heart of the great Father, will seek to reclaim His erring sons and daughters, His children far away upon the wild?
II. THE BLESSED CERTAINTY of this Bible truth.
1. We have first of all the testimony of Isaiah, a testimony given with a boldness that indicates that behind this testimony there is, first of all, a Divine inspiration; that behind it there is, in the second instance, a God-given experience. Here is a man whose testimony ought to be received. Of all the men of the Old Testament I believe there was not one who was more sensitive to the nation’s sin than Isaiah. Not a man who was more sensitive to the righteousness of God, who went down lower into himself, who rose higher unto God, than Isaiah. For spiritual insight he stood upon a par at least with his contemporaries. He was the salvation of Jehovah: that is his name. The man ought to know.
2. His testimony, too, is abundantly and blessedly confirmed, not by detached experiences or single events. If you judge about God you must have something more than a single experience; you must take some experience that has been rounded off and Divinely finished. We have such experiences in this book. We may come down to more modem times and more recent experiences. Take the poets of the past century, the men whose hymns we sing service after service. They do not all belong to one Church or to one school of thought or theology, but their testimony is uniform upon this great subject.
3. We have evidence that God waits to be gracious in this present service. His Word is near to us this moment; the Gospel is here with its pleadings and its overtures of mercy. (J. R. Wood.)
The waiting Lord
Notice two or three times in which God is compelled to wait that He may be gracious unto us.
I. THE TIME OF DISOBEDIENCE.
II. THE TIME OF FALSE CONFIDENCE (Isaiah 30:7; Isaiah 30:15-18).
III. THE TIME OF APATHY. (J. Brash.)
A waiting God and a waiting people
I. A WAITING GOD.
1. A wonderful reason for waiting. “Therefore”--mark the word! The Lord Jehovah does as He wills both in heaven and earth, and His ways are past finding out; but He never acts unreason ably; He does not tell us His reasons, but He has them; for He acts “according to the counsel of His will.” God has His “therefores,” and these are of the most forcible kind. Full often His “therefores” are the very reverse of ours: that which is an argument with us may be no argument with God, and that which is a reason with Him might seem to be a reason in the opposite direction to us. For what is there in this chapter that can be made into a “therefore”? Whence does He derive the argument? Assuredly it is a reason based on His own grace, and not on the merit of man.
(1) The chapter contains a denunciation of the false confidences of the people, and because of these one might have concluded that the Lord would cast them off forever. If they will have Egypt to lean upon, let them lean on Egypt, till like a spear it pierces their side.
(2) Further, these people were rebels against God, and the Lord was waiting to let them fully manifest their rebellious spirit, and be made ashamed of it. The chapter begins that way: “Woe to the rebellious children.” Further on He calls them “a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord”--was that a reason for waiting to be gracious? Yes, with the Lord sin shows the need of grace, and so becomes a reason for grace. I think the Lord permits many sinners to go to the full length of their tether in order that they may know in future what stuff they are made of, and may never trust in themselves.
(3) The Lord would wait for yet another reason, namely, to let them suffer somewhat the effect of their sin. It is well that they should see what kind of serpent is hatched from the egg of evil. Perhaps some of us were left in the same way, and we shall never forget what we thus learned. We put our hand into the fire until it was burned, and now we dread the fire.
(4) I do not doubt that the Lord waited in this case to be gracious until the people should begin to pray, for that seems to be the turning point in this affair. The prophet says, “He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry.” The Lord is listening for the sinner’s prayer.
2. The singular patience of God in that waiting. What does it mean when we are told that the Lord waiteth that He may have mercy upon us?
(1) It means that He kept back the sword of justice.
(2) It means the continuance of privileges; for the Lord told these people that, although He might give them the bread of adversity and the water of affliction on account of their sins, yet He would not take away their teachers from them any more; they should still be instructed, and warned, and invited to come to Him.
(3) So singular was God’s patience that He even increased His holy agencies to lead the people to Himself. He says, “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it.” Do we not remember how when the public ministry seemed to miss us we began to be bestirred by an inward force more powerful than visible ministries? Conscience cried aloud and accused us from within doors.
(4) This is not all; for all this while God was passing by our rejections of Him, blotting out our sinful refusals, and insulting despisings of His goodness.
(5) Please remember that all this while God has been waiting but everything has been ready, ready for the sinner to come to Him.
3. A most remarkable action which follows upon the waiting. After the Lord had displayed His patience to His people, He resolved to go further, and proceeded to a most notable matter which is thus described--“Therefore will He be exalted, that He may have mercy upon you.” You and I would have turned the text round the other way, and said, “Therefore will He have mercy upon you, that He may be exalted”: that would be true, but it is not the truth here taught. The picture represents the Lord as it were as sitting still, and allowing His people through their sin to bring suffering upon themselves; but now, after long patience, He arouses Himself to action. Methinks I hear Him say, “They will not come to Me, they refuse all My messengers, they plunge deeper and deeper into sin, now will I see what My grace can do”! It also bears this meaning. When a man is about to deal a heavy stroke he lifts up himself to give the blow: he exalts himself to bring down the scourge more heavily upon the shoulder. Even so the Lord seems to say, “I will put forth all My might, I. will exercise all My skill, I will display all My attributes up to their greatest height, that I may have mercy upon these hardened, stiff-necked sinners--I will be exalted that I may have mercy upon them.”
4. There is a final success to all this waiting (Isaiah 30:19-22). See what free grace can do: it is no enemy to holiness, but the direct cause of it.
II. We have A WAITING PEOPLE. “Blessed are all they that wait for Him”
1. God’s waiting people wait upon God only.
3. What are they waiting for? For many things. Sometimes they wait for the tokens of His grace. Sometimes for the fulfilment of His promises. Every promise will be kept, but not today nor tomorrow. God’s word has its due season, and His times are the best times. We may also have to wait for answers to our prayers. Frequently we may have to wait for temporal blessings. There may be somewhat in your character which cannot be perfected except by suffering and labour and it is better that your character be perfected than your substance increased. Wait cheerfully. If God sees fit to say “Wait,” do not be angry with Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Lord is a God of Judgment
“A God of judgment is the Lord”
“A God of judgment is the Lord” is an unfortunately ambiguous translation. We must not take “judgment” here in our familiar sense of the word. It is not a sudden deed of doom, but a long process of law. It means manner, method, design, order, system, the ideas, in short, which we sum up under the word “law.” Just as we say of a man, “He is a man of judgment,” and mean thereby not that by office he is a doomster, but that by character he is a man of discernment and prudence; so simply does Isaiah say here that “Jehovah is a God of judgment,” and mean thereby not that He is One whose habit is sudden and awful deeds of penalty or salvation, but, on the contrary, that, having laid down His lines according to righteousness and established His laws in wisdom, He remains in HIS dealings with men consistent with these. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The Lord is a God of judgment
The Lord is a God of judgment in the several important senses in which the word is used in Scripture.
1. His understanding is infinite; so that He is intimately acquainted with all the characters, the actions and circumstances of mankind.
2. The decisions which He forms, concerning their condition and conduct, are perfectly equitable and just.
3. All the punishments which He inflicts and the deliverances which He works, are conducted with the highest wisdom and prudence, executed at the fittest season, in the most proper measure and for the best purposes. When He corrects them for their faults, He does it not in anger but in judgment, with affection and moderation; not in His hot displeasure, with unrelenting severity, but with kindness and forbearance. They may therefore be assured that, at the very time wherein He knows His own glory and their real benefit will be most effectually promoted, He will interpose in their behalf and send them deliverance. (R. Macculloch.)
The God of judgment
What are all our histories but God manifesting Himself, that He hath shaken and tumbled down and trampled upon everything that He hath not planted! (Oliver Cromwell.)
Blessed are all they that wait for Him
Waiting for God
1. In steadfast faith.
2. In living hope.
3. In patient humility.
4. In active preparation. (Homiletic Review.)
The spiritual waiter and his blessing
I. DESCRIBE THE REAL WAITING CHARACTER AND ENDEAVOUR TO SHOW WHAT IS REAL WAITING.
1. The real waiter is a person who does not possess something he wants. A real waiter is a real beggar.
2. But; then, the real waiting man must not only be poor but needy
3. When a man is thus brought into experimental poverty, and experimental need, he will also be led into experimental helplessness; he is delivered from looking to his prayers, his Bible reading, his alms doing; he is brought to feel he needs another refuge, he is brought to feel these waters cannot cleanse away his pollution, that these webs cannot become garments, that these are works with which he cannot cover himself.
But what is true waiting?
1. Not working,
2. Nor sleeping.
3. Nor stealing. There are many who do not trust in works, but like a thief take the blessings into their hands the Lord has never put there. How many presume all is well without having had the atonement applied, or even without ever having been truly Drought to feel the need of reconciliation to God by the blood of Jesus.
4. Neither is it despairing.
II. WHERE DOES THE TRUE WAITER WAIT? He goes to the means, saying, “Oh, let not the oppressed return ashamed; let the poor and needy praise Thy name.” Mercy’s door is the place at which he waits.
III. What DOES HE WAIT FOR? “Blessed are all they that wait for Him.”
IV. THE BLESSEDNESS OF TRUE WAITERS. (S. Sears.)
I. THE NATURE OF RIGHT WAITING UPON GOD.
Waiting for God
1. There must be continual waiting. “Turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment, and wait on thy God continually.” Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day.” Not that we are always to be engaged in formal acts of devotion. Waiting upon God is not wholly comprehended in praying to Him. By inward meditation, by heartfelt desires, by continual supplications as suggested to us in the Church, or as carried on in the closet, or the family, we must never fail to wait upon God for those blessings generally, which He has promised; or particularly, which we know that we individually require. We must be constant expectants; unawed by the suggestions of Satan, the coldness and apathy of our own hearts, or the low and unchristian standard of those around us.
2. There must be importunate waiting. We are not to suppose that “waiting” implies a sitting still in listless supineness, as if no exertion were to be made. The waiting upon God which will prove successful, is a waiting that will take no denial. It springs from a heartfelt sense of the necessities of the soul; and it calls into exercise all the energies of the whole man.
3. There must be patient waiting (Psalms 40:1; Psalms 37:7).
4. There must be waiting on the name of Jehovah. David has a remarkable expression: “I will wait on Thy name; for it is good before Thy saints.” The name of God imports His attributes and perfections. A calm, serious contemplation of the Divine character is an important part of waiting upon God.
5. The soul must wait upon God. Many mistake here. They satisfy themselves with the external homage of the body, without the inward bending of the soul.
6. There must be waiting only upon God.
7. We must wait God’s own time and way.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THUS WAITING UPON HIM.
1. “The Lord is good to them that wait for Him: to the soul that seeketh Him.”
2. He is good beyond conception.
3. The blessedness of waiting upon God appears likewise in the increase of spiritual strength.
4. They who thus wait shall at length take up the language of holy triumph. “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him,” etc.
1. Our subject condemns many amongst you.
2. Let the faithful learn their duty. (Carus Wilson.)
Waiting should be expectant
We must not cower in the dark closet, but climb to our watchtower and scan the horizon. We must look out for God’s carrier pigeons; lest they come to the cote with messages under their wings which we may miss. We must go down to the quay; or God’s heavily freighted ships may touch there, and go away again without discharging their cargoes. We must imitate the shipwrecked sailor, who keeps the fire lit by night, and is incessantly on the outlook for passing ships; else a search expedition may come near his poor islet and miss him. Those who wait thus cannot be ashamed. It is impossible that God should disappoint the hope which He has instilled and nourished in the heart of His child. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
He will be very gracious unto thee
Encouragements for faith
Observe the kind of prayer which is here said to move the Divine pity and win the Divine favour.
It is designated a cry, i.e., it is a very fervent, earnest, importunate prayer. It is a prayer that comes out of the depths of the heart. It expresses a very deep sense of need. It utters a very longing desire after God. There is very good reason why our prayers should very often tale this form. Our sins are such that they should work in us a penitence that may fitly take expression in a cry. Our spiritual needs are so urgent that we may give utterance to them in a cry. The strife is, sometimes at least, so hot, and the battle seems so going against us, that it may very reasonably be expected from us that we should cry unto God for His help. And God is such a necessity to these natures of ours, and God as a possession is so sufficing, that our desire for Him may well be intense enough to require this language to give expression to our prayer.
I. There is encouragement for faith in prayer to be found in THE NATURE OF GOD HIMSELF, as we cannot help conceiving of it. Goodness enters into His very nature. We find it necessary to believe that. It is too dreadful to believe the contrary. If I apprehend Him as perfectly good He must be pitiful, He must be tender in His pity; and if so, He is surely likely to be very gracious when He hears the voice of our cry.
II. There is encouragement, too, in THE RELATIONS WHICH WE MUST CONCEIVE GOD AS SUSTAINING TO US. He is our Creator, and there is no reason at all in the suspicion that He who has made us is looking with indifferent eyes upon us or listening with indifference when the voice of our cry reaches His ear. He is our Father. He has communicated to us of His own nature, and so has become our Father as He is not the Father of other creatures that live on the face of this earth. But how does He fill up your idea of Father if, when you are in want, He does not heed? if, when you express your want of Him and of His help by a cry, He is not moved?
III. THE INSTINCT OF PRAYER which we have offers encouragement to us that He will be moved when we call. We are in pain; some One is near who can relieve us, and we instinctively cry for relief at His hands. Your child is in imminent peril, and there is a man near who can rescue him; you instinctively call for the help of that man. And so we feel great wants which God only can supply. We are in great peril, from which God only can deliver us. There is something which instinctively moves us to appeal to God, to cry to Him. If God has put that instinct in our nature, He mast have intended to gratify it. There is no instinct of human nature for the gratification of which God has not in some way provided.
IV. We have encouragement, too, in THE ANALOGY TO ALL HUMAN RESPONSE GIVEN TO GREAT NEED. It is not to children only that we give our compassion when they appeal to us in great distress; we are moved by the lower animals when in their great trouble they make an appeal to us. But you are not more pitiful than God. There is no love or pity in man that was not first in God.
V. We have the highest encouragement to this faith in God in THE REVELATION OF HIM IN THE SCRIPTURES. It is a positive command of His that we should call upon Him when we need Him, that we should cry unto Him when we are in distress. His command means His purpose to hear; His command involves a promise in it. What do we find given in the revelation? Explicit promises without number, and in every form--proofs and illustrations and examples without number of God’s readiness to be very gracious unto those that cry unto Him. What do we see in the revelation of God in the Christian Scriptures? God showing what He is through a man. He went about in the form of a man. The sinning, and the needy, and the suffering came to Him, surrounded Him, tracked His steps, and cried to Him for His pithy and for His help. And was He not very gracious! When He was suffering, dying Himself, there came a cry from another who was in great distress, saying to Him, “Remember me”; and He was very gracious at the voice of that cry. But some are thinking that it is all true about the nature of God, but that they are guilty, and there are God’s law, and God’s government, and God’s justice, in the way of His nature expressing itself in His pitifulness to them in answer to their cry. Whatever hindrance they put in the way has been taken away by Christ. (D. Thomas, B. A.)
Encouragement to trust and pray
I. THIS ASSURANCE IS PARTICULARLY SUITABLE TO CERTAIN CHARACTERS.
1. This is applicable and comfortable to all afflicted people.
2. To those who are troubled on account of sin.
3. To backsliders filled with their own ways, who are alarmed and distressed at their grievous departures from their God.
4. To all believers in Christ who are at all exercised in heart.
II. THE ASSURANCE HERE GIVEN IS VERY FIRMLY BASED. The words of our text are no old wives’ fable, they are not such a pretty tale as mothers sometimes tell their children, a story made to please them, but not actually true. What is the ground of this assurance?
1. The plain promise of God.
2. The gracious nature of God.
3. The prevalence of prayer. “He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry.”
4. Personal testimony as to the result of faith in God and supplication to
III. THE ASSURANCE OF THE TEXT BEING SO WELL CONFIRMED SHOULD BE PRACTICALLY ACCEPTED AT ONCE.
1. Let us renounce all earthborn confidences.
2. Refuse despair.
3. Try the power of prayer and childlike confidence in God. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Thine eyes shall see thy teachers
Trouble making the heavenly Teacher real
The siege shall surely come, with its sorely concrete privations, but the Lord will be there, equally distinct . . . Real, concrete sorrows,--these are they that make the heavenly Teacher real! It is linguistically possible, and more in harmony with the rest of the passage, to turn “teachers,” as the E.. has it, into the singular, and to render it by “revealer.” The word is an active participle, “moreh,” from the same verb as the noun “torah,” which is constantly translated “law” in our version, but is, in the Prophets at least, more nearly equivalent to “instruction,” or to our modern term “revelation” (Isaiah 30:9). Looking thus to the One Revealer, and hearkening to the One Voice, “the lying and rebellious children” shall at last be restored to that capacity for truth and obedience, the loss of which has been their ruin. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
There are troubled hours in life, in which we long to see our teachers; to know what certain things mean; and to have it explained why some special trials have been put upon us, and to what end events, now inexplicable, are tending. Devout men and women suspect, or feel sure, already; they think that the hand of the Lord is in all thin They rest assured that what seems wrong now will be made right by and by: that all is for the best; and, more than this, they are persuaded that some time or other, perhaps as death approaches, perhaps in the shadowy and thoughtful place of departed spirits, perhaps at the last great day of God, they shall see their teachers, and comprehend it all. (Morgan Dix.)
The blessing of Christian teachers
Though the Gospel first began to be preached by the Lord, yet, as it was expedient that He should go away, He has instituted, and in every age preserved an order of men, for guiding others in the way of faith, of holiness, and of peace.
I. A BRIEF SURVEY OF THE ADVANTAGES WHICH MEN DERIVE FROM THIS INSTITUTION.
1. Attend to the thousands who devote themselves to the service of the sanctuary, and whose characters are improved and ennobled by their previous studies. With what diligence and success, prompted by motives of piety and benevolence, do they search for the good way, that they may walk in it themselves, and teach and recommend it to others with advantage! Their gifts ripen and expand; their moral and religious excellences become distinguished. Giving themselves to the Word of God and to prayer, and, in subserviency to these, to inquiries after truth, to meditation, and to the perusal of useful human writings, their good resolutions strengthen; and their knowledge, wisdom, activity, and usefulness increase.
2. Public teachers often refine the taste, improve the genius, civilise the manners, and promote the literary pursuits of a nation.
3. Instructions from the pulpit greatly promote a virtuous behaviour.
4. Attend to the gentle, penetrating, beneficent effects of pastoral instruction, on the sorrowful, the disconsolate, the tempted, the doubting, the feeble-minded, the sick, and the dying.
5. Teachers are profitable as they spread and defend the doctrines of religion, and excite and cherish just sentiments of Divine things.
6. Pastoral instruction is a chief means which God hath appointed to rescue sinners from the ruins of their apostasy, and to interest them in His favour and friendship.
II. But, must it not be acknowledged that CONGREGATIONS SOMETIMES DERIVE LITTLE OR NO BENEFIT FROM SERMONS, and that to their teachers much of the blame belongs?
1. Bad men regard the effect of what they preach with cold indifference, except in so far as worldly honour or interest is advanced by their seeming success; and efforts naturally are feeble and ineffectual, where desire is languid.
2. Sometimes a clergyman’s behaviour is not visibly influenced by the doctrines and duties of religion. Men of small sagacity discern it, infer his craft and disingenuity, or conclude that they may imitate him without hazard.
3. The natural abilities, extent of knowledge, and persuasive talents, highly important in a teacher of religion, do not always accompany true piety. (J. Erskine, D. D.)
And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee
The Bath kol
The voice is evidently that of a faithful guide and monitor; according to the Rabbins the Bath kol or mysterious echo which conducts and warns the righteous.
(J. A. Alexander.)
A voice behind thee
The direction of the voice “from behind” is commonly explained by saying that the image is borrowed from the practice of shepherds going behind their flocks, or nurses behind children, to observe their motions. A much more natural solution is the one proposed by Henderson, to wit, that their guides were to be before them, but that when they declined from the right way their backs would be turned to them, consequently the warning voice would be heard behind them. (J. A. Alexander.)
The way of life and the ways of death
This world is full of ways, as it is of men; and one way only is right. One only is the straight way of God’s commandments, that leadeth to eternal life. The rest are the ways of men, that lead to destruction; and the most deceitful of them all are those which branch off from this one, going, some of them more, some of them less in its direction, and then by a sudden turn forsaking it. So that amid the multitude of ways many travellers through life never find the right one at all. And too many, after they have been graciously set upon it, forsake it for the many byways of sin. But the promises of God are found on His one way only; there alone their light guides amid darkness, on that alone will men meet their Saviour. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)
Care needed in going through the world
We should never forget our true position in this mortal life. We have to pick our way in it. The best known road in the world may be missed by such want of proper attention. (R. W.Evans, B. D.)
Good company in the right road
What words do we hear behind us? what company is following us? If it be not good company, can we be on the right road? If a person going (as he thought) towards London, heard persons behind him talking as if they were going towards Manchester, would he not be alarmed, suspecting that he had missed his way? How then can he be on the right road to Heaven, who hears the company that treads on his steps, talk of very different places, of very different ends of their journey? (R. W. Evans, B. D.)
The guiding word
I. THE SINNER’S ATTITUDE BEFORE GOD IS UNSEEMLY AND DANGEROUS. “A word behind thee.” A man who hears a word behind him has his back to the speaker. He is, for some reason, not in a friendly attitude.
1. The fact is implied, in the context, that the sinner has not only his back turned to God, but is actually going away from Him. And that the going away is not an inadvertency or oversight, but the result of a set purpose.
2. That he is self-willed, stubborn, and persistent in his efforts; he continues his course of separation, in spite of the constant overtures and entreaties of love.
II. GOD’S WARNINGS AND OVERTURES ARE SIMPLE AND EASILY UNDERSTOOD. “A word behind thee.” Not a confusing, rapidly uttered discourse--not a cold philosophical, or logical treatise; not a metaphysical disquisition, couched in scientific phrase--bewildering and vague, but, “a word.” Not a mysterious echo from the hilltops, or an unknown voice speaking from afar, but, “a word behind thee.” “Thine ears shall hear.” God is not unreason able in His demands. When He calls, man possesses the God-given capacity to hear and obey.
III. A KNOWLEDGE OF HIS DUTY IS NOT OPTIONAL WITH THE SINNER. “Thine ears shall hear.” A man’s knowledge of his duty is not conditioned by his conduct, as are the blessings of religion. God never gives any man up until he becomes so wedded to his sins that he indignantly spurns all efforts for his salvation, both human and Divine.
IV. GOD’S WARNINGS AND INSTRUCTIONS ARE ADEQUATE AND AMPLE, THEREFORE THE SINNER IS WITHOUT EXCUSE. “This is the way, walk ye in it.” In His teachings, Jesus Christ always presents duties as well as doctrines,--practice as well as principles.
1. Here we have doctrine. “This is the way.” Not one of a number of ways, or an improvement on the old. No; it has neither duplicate nor substitute.
2. We have also the practical. “Walk ye in it.”
V. THE LIFE OF THE SINNER IS NOT NECESSARILY FIXED AND MONOTONOUS. “When ye turn to the right hand, or to the left” The tremendous prerogative of free agency leaves it with every man to formulate and determine his own activities.
1. Notice the broad sphere open to the sinner, and from which he is to select the pathway of his activities.
(1) He may go straight ahead. This may involve very little that is specially good or bad.
(2) He may “turn to the right hand.” There is such a thing as right-hand sins. “Popular, paying iniquities,” which evoke but little human condemnation.
(3) He may also turn to the left. There is such a thing as “left-hand” sins, awkward, unseemly, embarrassing. Conduct that destroys reputation, health, character, destiny. The forger, the liar, the thief, the drunkard, the sensualist, all come in here. Everything sacred, noble, manly, valuable, is sacrificed to the absorbing demand of the present.
2. Notice the grandest possibility within reach of the sinner. Right about face. This grand movement at once brings to an end both his conduct and character as a sinner. (Thomas Kelly.)
The guiding word
Man is a traveller. He has lost his way. He needs a guide, both to bring him back to, and keep him in, the right path to the end of the journey. Where is that guide to be found? It is referred to in the text. “A word behind thee.” The following remarks are suggested concerning this guiding word.
I. It comes to man from WITHOUT. There are inner guides placed there by our Maker in our constitution. Reason. Conscience. But both these have failed us. They themselves are lost in the haze of depravity. Hence the need of a guide from without; such a guide as “the word.” It comes from God to man--
1. Through nature.
2. Through Christ.
II. It comes to man in EXPLICITNESS. “This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” There is no indefiniteness here, no vagueness, and no uncertainty; no suggesting a choice between different ways. The word reveals the right and only way, and that way is Christ. “I am the way”--“Follow Me.”
III. It comes to man from MYSTERY. “Behind thee.” Thou dost not see the speaker. The voice breaks out from the dark past. It comes from “behind.” Behind all that is seen and heard, behind all the phenomena of nature, behind the universe, from God Himself, the Mysterious One.
IV. It comes to man, BUT HE MUST LISTEN. “Thou shalt hear.” This hearing is the want. Men’s spiritual ears are deaf. The guiding word is everywhere.
“There is no speech nor language where His voice is not heard.” Open thine ear: listen and thou shalt catch the guiding directions. (Homilist.)
Diving guidance and admonition
The text may be applied to the abundant means of grace, and the plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit, under the Gospel dispensation--to the privileges which we enjoy, and the assistance promised to us.
I. THE WAY, referred to in the text, may be applied--
1. To God’s method of saving sinful men, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was said of the apostles, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who show unto us the way of salvation.” We must walk in it, actually choosing Him to be our Redeemer and Advocate, committing ourselves entirely to Him, and earnestly seeking the continual supplies of His Spirit, that we may be saved from sin.
2. The text may be applied to the way in which the sanctification of the believer is, through Divine grace, effected. We are not only to receive Christ Jesus the Lord, but also to walk in Him; and to prove that we live in the Spirit, by walking in the Spirit. It is by daily prayer, and the daily improvement of Scripture, of Divine ordinances, and providential occurrences, and a steadfast adherence to the will of God, that we must expect to grow in grace, and go from strength to strength.
3. It may be applied to that particular course of service to which each Christian is called, by the circumstances in which he b placed, the talents committed to him, or the relations he bears to others. Knowing that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps--how liable he is to mistake the path of duty on various occasions, he will pray, “Teach me Thy way, O God” (Psalms 27:11; Psalms 119:33-37).
II. THE PROMISE meets all the cases which have been mentioned.
1. It is a promise of the direction which God will afford to all who really seek it.
2. It is a promise of Divine grace to incline us to walk in God’s way. “Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee,” etc.
3. It is a promise that He will quicken us in the path of duty.
4. It is a promise that the Lord will preserve His people, and enable them to endure unto the end. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
The teachings of the past
I. THE VALUE OF EVERY EXPERIENCE THAT BEFALLS US.
II. THE SOLE ROAD TO BLESSEDNESS, TO PEACE, TO JOY, TO TRUE PROSPERITY OF LIFE, IS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
III. GOD’S GUIDANCE OF THE FAITHFUL SOUL. (H. Varley, B. A.)
The word behind thee
I. THE MONITOR in these words. “Thine ears shall hear a word,” etc.
II. THE ADMONITION ITSELF. “This is the way,” etc.
III. THE OCCASION. “When ye turn to the right hand,” etc. (T. Horton.)
The Divine monitor
It is a promise--
1. Of ministerial opportunities.
2. Of the continuance of spiritual suggestions. (T. Horton.)
The voice behind
1. It is a pursuing and overtaking word; a word that follows us and comes at our heels.
2. A revoking and recalling word. A word of restraint.
3. An impulsive and provoking word. A word that puts thee forward, that furthers thee and promotes thee in thy way. (T. Horton.)
“This is the way, walk ye in it.”
1. A word of correction and reformation in case of miscarriage. It is very fitly said to those who wander and are out of the way, to bring them again into it.
2. A word of direction and instruction in case of ignorance.
3. A word of strengthening and confirmation in case of unsettledness. It is very suitably said to those who are doubtful and wavering and uncertain in themselves whether they be right in the way or no, to encourage them to persevere and go on in those good ways which they have made entrance upon. (T. Horton.)
Turning to the right hand or to the left
The expression plainly intimates that there are dangerous bypaths on both hands, into which the people of God are apt to turn aside.
I. ON THE RIGHT HAND, there are erroneous principles and practices which are mistaken for that truth and holiness whereof they are really destitute. Such are--
1. Professed confidence in God’s pardoning mercy, disjoined from the acknowledged necessity of His sanctifying grace.
2. High pretensions to faith which are not verified by solicitude to maintain good works.
3. Flaming profession of piety toward God, unaccompanied with the exercises of justice, mercy, and charity toward men.
4. Great pretended zeal against public vices, attended with indifference as to secret personal transgressions.
5. Loud approbation of discourses that expose infidelity, hypocrisy, and iniquity, whilst these sins are indulged in heart and life.
II. ON THE LEFT HAND there are also pernicious principles and dangerous practices into which men are prone to deviate. Such are--
1. The confession that holiness is indispensably requisite to the enjoyment of God, whilst the necessity of atonement for sin is denied or overlooked.
2. Strenuous assertions of the importance of good works, separate from a proper regard to faith, the active principle from which they proceed.
3. High respect for the duties of justice, mercy, and charity, joined with criminal indifference and neglect of the exercises of piety and devotion.
4. Partiality to their own favourite sins and unaffectedness with the transgressions of other people, whereby God is offended, His law transgressed, and His truth dishonoured. (R. Macculloch.)
Virtue lies in the middle, between two extremes, which are equally to be avoided. (R. Macculloch.)
The voice behind thee
I. THE POSITION OF THE WANDERER to whom this special blessing comes. How does God find men when He declares that they shall hear a word behind them?
1. With their backs turned to Him. The wanderer seeks not God, but God seeks him. Man turns from the God of love, but the love of God turns not away from him.
2. They were going further and further away from Him. Of course, when you have once turned your back upon the right, the further you travel the more wrong you become.
3. They were pursuing their course in spite of warning. Read the twentieth verse: “Thine eyes shall see thy teachers”: there they stood, good men, right in the way, entreating their hearers to cease from provoking their God and destroying their own souls.
4. They had many ways in which to wander. Sometimes they roamed to the right hand, at other times they wandered to the left, but they never turned face about. Some men have right-hand sins, respectable iniquities which challenge little censure from their fellows. Others have left-hand sins; they plunge into the sins of the flesh; no vice is too black for them.
II. THE CALL OF MERCY.
1. It is a call that is altogether undesired, and comes unsought to the man who has gone astray.
2. “A word behind thee”: it is the voice of an unseen Caller whose existence has been almost forgotten. It is not the teachers that speak in this powerful way. The teachers you have seen with your eyes, and they have done you no good; but some One calls whom you never saw, and never will see, till He sits on the throne of judgment at the last great day; but still He utters a word which cannot be kept out of your ears. It will come to you mysteriously at all sorts of hours crying, “Return, return, return.”
3. This voice pursues and overtakes the sinner.
4. That voice when it comes to sinners is generally most opportune, for they are to hear this voice behind them when they turn to the right hand or to the left.
5. It is absolutely necessary that the potent word should be spoken, and should be heard. For the man had seen his teachers, but they had not wrought him any good.
III. WHAT WAS THE WORD OF THAT CALL? It is stated at full length. “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
1. It contains within itself specific instruction. “This is the way.” There is a kind of preaching which has nothing specific, definite, and positive in it: it is a bit of cloud land, and you may make what you like out of it.
2. This definite instruction may also be said to be a special correction. It as good as says the opposite path is not the way.
3. It is also a word of sure confirmation. “This is the way.”
4. This is followed up by a word of personal direction. Do not merely hear about it, but “walk ye in it.”
5. This takes the form of encouraging permission. “This is the way.” Do not sit looking at it: “walk ye in it.” “But I am so big a sinner.” “Christ is the way; walk ye in it.” There is room enough for big sinners in Jesus. “But I have been so long coming.” Never mind: this is the way, “walk ye in it.” “But I am afraid my feet are so polluted that I shall stare the way.” “This is the way, walk ye in it.”
IV. THE SUCCESS OF THE WORD. “Thine ears shall hear.” God not only gives us something to hear, but He gives us ears to hear with. This is effectual grace.
1. This means that the message of Divine love shall come to the man’s mind so as to create uneasiness in it.
2. After awhile there gets to be a desire in his heart.
3. As that voice continues to sound, it pulls him up and leads to resolve. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
This is the way, walk ye in it
The right way
The right way is possessed of every qualification and advantage that you can possibly desire.
1. It is a highway, open to persons of every description.
2. It is the way of holiness, wherein the unclean shall not walk.
3. It is a patent way, wherein the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err.
4. It is a safe way, wherein you shall be protected from the hostile attacks of your enemies.
5. It is a pleasant way, wherein you shall enjoy sacred peace.
6. It is an infallible way to arrive at fulness of joys, and rivers of pleasures for evermore. (R. Macculloch.)
Then shall He give the rain of thy seed
The effusion of the Holy Spirit
These words are, in their literal sense, a promise of a bountiful supply from God of the showers of dew and rain, by which the earth would be made abundantly fruitful.
The promise is given with reference to the casting away of their idols by the Jewish people. But the words are capable of a larger interpretation. The whole chapter looks to blessings greater than any that can be counted by the numbers of time. The plentiful effusion of the Holy Spirit of God, which is so often spoken of under the emblem of “rain” and “dew,” is hereby intended. As the rain and dew could elicit no fertility without preparation of the ground, and industrious tilling upon the part of man,--as the concurrence of both these conditions is requisite in order to secure a produce,--so is it true likewise with regard to spiritual husbandry. There must be on the part of man the use of means, as well as the bestowing of His gifts on the part of God. But it may be asked, How is God’s grace to be obtained? Have any means or channels been appointed for its supply?
1. Prayer is one appointed channel.
2. So is hearing the Word of God.
3. The sacraments. (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)
The Light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun
It is worthy of closest observation that the Bible standpoint is as distinct from the astrologer’s position as it is from that of the modern observer.
It differs equally from each in this respect, that God’s believing children are ever taught to regard these mightiest natural powers as our servants, and not as our sovereigns. Instead of their regulating our destiny, it is our destiny which regulates their continuance and perpetuity. So in this passage we have an example of faith’s astronomy.
I. We have here A VISION OF INTENSE GLORY. We are told that even now the moonlight in the lands with which Isaiah was familiar is far more brilliant than that with which we are favoured. It is the strength of those moonbeams that gives significance to the promise, “The sun shall not smite thee by day nor the moon by night.” And yet the prophet, with all his acquaintance with brighter heavens than ours, ventures upon the conception of still further splendour both by night and by day. It is evident that he is not looking at these things from a bare mundane standpoint. But he is in an ecstasy over the blessed intents of love which God has or His people, and he finds all the ordinary accounts of well-being too scant and meagre to portray the good which is in store; and so, in a bold flight of descriptive eloquence, he tells of sevenfold suns and of sun-like moons diffusing through renovated skies all the myriad benefits of their beams with unfailing profusion. We observe that this forecast of increased glory is the reverse of that which natural calculation would give. The natural theory that finds favour is that the sun once shone more potently than now he does, and that in the future his ray will become still feebler, until night and death settle down upon the entire solar system. While science, then, tells us of exhausting power and expiring energy, it is the province of revelation and of faith which accepts it to speak of superior founts of being, those original sources from which the sun itself and all on which it shines first derived their existence. We observe, again, that human calculation, if it did foresee such an augmentation of sunlight, would be ready to account it disastrous rather than welcome. A seven-fold sun would only emit one flash, and anon this globe would be drawn into its flaming vortex, and the brightness would be but that of conflagration and ruin. Again, then, we have to hall another wisdom besides that of men, which contemplates exaltation where sense only detects degradation, and which effects felicity where carnal reason would only anticipate evil. For “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man.” There was as much disposition in Isaiah’s day as there is in ours to think that the world and the sun are wearing out and growing old, and also to think that an intense blaze would be obnoxious rather than welcome. But Isaiah was moved by the Holy Ghost to tell us of a light that should be at once of surpassing effulgence, and yet of sweet and benign influence; a light that should shine, not upon a trembling and alarmed race, but upon those whose breach had been bound up and whose wound had been healed. A vision this, then, of fuller light, of fairer sight, and of people with capacities of beholding and revelling in these sun-like moons and seven-fold suns. Intellectually this promise is accomplished in our days by our discoveries in the structure of the heavens. The moon is for us a grander object than the sun was to the beholders of ancient days, and the sun now strikes our minds as sevenfold, yea, as we speak now, a thousand fold, more magnificent than they thought him then. But the benefit of these discoveries to our spirits was all vouchsafed to Isaiah when the Holy Ghost moved him to contemplate in believing rapture the great resources of God and the beneficence with which He would unlock those resources for the enrichment of men upon whom He would shine with other light than that of suns and moons in the day when the Lord shall bind up the breach of His people. The seven-fold sun is the visage of God Himself; the moon equalling the sun is the glory of the Lamb illuminating the Holy City.
II. This glory is set forth as TARRYING FOR A CERTAIN DAY. Our temptation is to think that our circumstances make our characters. But there is more of truth in the contrary thought, that our characters make our circumstances. The land of Palestine has become barren, but this did not produce the degeneracy of her people, but the people degenerated first and the land subsequently. God “turneth a fruitful land into barrenness for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.” So material things may lend their aid to spiritual results, but really it is the spiritual that regulates the material. The first great change must happen in us, then we shall be qualified to behold and to enjoy the splendour that God will disclose without us. “The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun” on a certain day at a date which is determined, not by the chronology of suns and moons, but by that of quickened spirits and broken hearts in the day that the Lord shall bind up the breach of His people.
III. Notice, ON WHAT IT IS THIS VISION OF GLORY IS THUS SUSPENDED. There is “joy amongst the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth,” and it is no exaggeration to say that the events that transpire within human hearts are of more account in God’s eyes than the vastest convulsions of nature. And the wonder is that sin has not altered that. The story of Joshua’s command over the heavenly orbs is not too severe a demand upon my faith when once I have a firm grasp of the truth that the sun has a personal Maker and Maser. But that when we have erred and offended, when the constancy and regularity which the heavenly masses show is found wanting in us, and we become like shooting stars, wandering on a devious way without settled orbit or consistency of course, that God should still track us with His pity, that He should still reserve Lines of gracious attraction for us, and that even for such offenders as we He should submit an entire universe to reconstruction--is not this the most incredible thing of all? Two practical interpretations may be assigned to this imagery.
(1) The joy of the new convert may be depicted thus. The exultation of the delivered one often causes all outward sights to appear brighter because of the soul’s quickened enjoyment.
(2) Or, again, the prosperity that attends upon Christian union and concord may be delineated by this imagery. (J. M. Stephens, B. A.)
The seven-fold light of the sun
There is a glory above the brightness, of the midday sun; it is the more excellent glory of the “Sun of Righteousness.” There is a beauty softer and more tender than the pale splendour of the queen of night; it is that of the Church, walking in the beauty and light of her Lord. Taking it all in all, the Church, even now, is the glory of humanity, and the light of the world. And better days are in store for her, when the clouds and shadows shall flee away, and a more glorious illumination shall break forth upon her and from her. This promise, in common with many other texts of Isaiah, shines out like a sun from an angry and troubled sky. But the gathering clouds only add to the intensity of the splendour. God’s richest love ever shines on the blackest clouds of sorrow and sin. We have here--
I. THE CHURCH’S UNHAPPY CONDITION. “The breach of His people, and the stroke of their wound,” may represent more than internal division or disunion; but it may well stand for that, as being among the most grievous of the Church’s wounds, and the invariable outcome and index of other maladies.
1. As a cause of pain. All the Christians of most Christlike spirit have mourned over these divisions, and have had great searchings of heart because of them.
2. There is also the disfigurement of a wound, in the marring of a most perfect and glorious creation by these internal divisions.
3. There is also fatal weakness for work and service from these wounds.
II. GOD’S GRACIOUS VISITATION OF HIS CHURCH. “The Lord shall bind up the breach of His people, and heal the stroke of their wound.” We know that the wounds of the body are healed, not by external applications, but by the vigour of the vital forces within itself pouring out their overflowing life, bringing the parts together, and making them whole; and the Church’s wounds are to be healed by the Lord’s infusion of a larger measure of spiritual and Divine life; of more piety, more power, more zeal, more affection.
III. THE BLESSED CONSEQUENCES OF THE HEALING OF THESE WOUNDS. “The light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun seven fold, as the light of seven days.”
1. These images denote an immense increase of the Church’s light, or future glory, as the consequence of the healing of the Church’s wounds. Where there is more love there will be more light.
2. The healing of the breach would bring an immense increase of light to the Church within her actual boundaries. This light of the various portions of the Church when brought together, will be more intense--will shine with a mightier fulness, than when separated.
3. The healing of the Church’s wounds would bring increase of light beyond the boundaries of the Church. The Church is destined to be the light of the world. “Seven fold!” There are days that have a seven-fold fulness of light in comparison of other days, when the summer sunshine has a splendour, and a glory, and a fulness, that are equal to the light of many cloudy and dark days. And what is it that makes the difference? It is the intervening atmosphere that is different; it is the thick and murky air that intercepts and weakens his light. Only let the Church be in a right condition, and the revealed Christ will shine forth in gladness, and the revelation will discover itself in all its fulness. There is no glory of the Church that is not made up of individual excellence, and the only way to promote its splendour and glory is to elevate individually the Christian spirit. (J. Riddell.)
The transfiguring power of righteousness
As men grow in godliness and righteousness so will the glory of all things be revealed and heightened. Just as men realise the grace of God will human nature itself be uplifted and all things be transfigured with it.
I. The text finds an illustration in the direction of NATURE. How wonderfully science has enlarged our conception of the magnitude of the universe; it is always pushing back the sky. How wonderfully, too, has science raised our conception of the orbs which fill the infinite abyss! To us also the sea has become mysterious and magnificent as an inverted sky. And the earth itself has become a veritable wonderland. The microscope, the spectroscope, the telescope, have discovered unexpected treasures. But someone asks, What have godliness and righteousness to do with that science which is ever more fully interpreting the world? I reply, Godliness and righteousness make science possible. Godliness creates that infinite curiosity of soul which is the life of science, and righteousness secures that condition of things which makes the prosecution of science possible. Galileo was a Christian, and it was whilst he was worshipping in the Cathedral of Pisa that the swinging of the lamp set him thinking aright about the sublime forces and laws of the universe. Which historical fact is a parable, for again and again has science lit her torch at the lamp of the temple. Faith and righteousness make science possible. And the more pure in heart men become the more vividly do they see and appreciate the beauty and grandeur of the world.
II. The text will be illustrated in THE PERFECTING OF HUMANITY. As the Spirit of God frees us from unbelief, fear, passion, and puts us into fellowship with our Heavenly Father, so does our nature unfold all its wonderful faculties. Just as men become spiritual and righteous so do they gloriously realise themselves.
1. The fact is that our bodily organs are growing, they are ever becoming enlarged in range and heightened in ability. Our senses are becoming sevenfold. What a wonderful ear the telephone has given us! What a penetrating quality the telegraph has imparted to our voice! What a splendid eye the telescope, the microscope, and camera have given us! What marvellously manifold and facile hands we have acquired in the scientific and mechanical apparatus of our times. All this is equivalent to the enlargement of the bodily organs themselves.
2. A higher moral and spiritual life will realise most gloriously our intellectual faculties. Ruskin assures us that none of the great masters had faults of character but those faults told in their work, mysteriously staining and darkening the prismatic splendours of their masterpieces.
3. Man’s highest moral possibilities are being attained in Jesus Christ.
III. The text finds fulfilment in THE TRANSFORMATION OF SOCIETY. By the action of the Spirit of God society is being purified and uplifted; instead of being a mere convention for selfish ends it is becoming a brotherhood, its spirit the spirit of kindness, its law the law of love. And how wonderfully will this change, silently, deeply working, ennoble and glorify everything. Nothing glorifies like unselfishness. How a noble, unselfish spirit will exalt government! And ennoble commerce! And all industrialism! And so everything else will be uplifted and beautified as you get more of the spirit of love into it. All culture, all pleasure, all domesticity, all friendship. I heard a brother say in a love feast that when he walked home after his conversion he thought that all the sign boards in the street had been freshly painted. Yes, indeed, love will paint everything fleshly, both the commonplace and grand; paint them with the hues of heaven, gild them with untarnished gold. Today we have to apologise for government whenever we mention it; we have to confess the vulgarity of trade and industrialism; we have sorrowfully to acknowledge how much there is in social life that justifies cynicism and satire; we have to blush for pleasure; there is little poetry and greatness in these things, but it shall not be always so. Poor sentiments are yielding; nobler thoughts are prevailing; and the prophecy in our text is being fulfilled every day. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The Christian should cherish large expectations concerning the Church and the race
God has done wonderful things, but He will do greater yet. A brother in York told me that one day he noticed an American eagerly scanning one of their ancient buildings. Said the visitor: “I am looking at your grand cathedral.” “Our cathedral,” said the citizen; “Stranger, come with me,” and taking the pilgrim a little distance, he pointed him to the magnificent pile, and said, “That is our cathedral, sir.” We are always being tempted to pause at some miserable shanty or other as if it were the final shrine of God. We look at our nation as if it were about the embodiment of ultimate civilisation. We look at our Church as if it were the perfected Church of God. But the Spirit is ever showing us beyond all the poor present an idea home, Church, nation, an ideal full of righteousness. (W. L. Watkinson.)
Ye shall have a song
These Jewish wayfarers returned to their several homes to resume their usual occupations.
So it is with us. After the most sacred festal and sacramental seasons, the world’s business and cares necessarily reassert their claims. But, would these old Jewish worshippers in casting off their holiday attire, cast off also their holiday and festive spirit? In the midst of the coarse contacts of daily existence, would the recollections of the Jerusalem festival no longer linger in their memories? Nay, rather, would not these songs of Sion still haunt their ears and hang upon their lips?--would not the shepherd be heard chanting them in the midst of his fleecy charge by green pastures and still waters?--would not the fisherman warble them in his night watch on the lake? and the sailor as he bounded over the great sea, and the dim mountains of his fatherland were receding from view?--would not the cottager, as he reached his home among the hills of Kedesh or on the spurs of Hermon, evening after evening, in returning from his toil, gather his little ones by his knee, and rehearse to them the joyful remembrances of the holy season? Be it ours, while we leave the New Testament feast, and engage in our daily avocations, to carry the hallowed memories of it along with us. (J. R.Macduff, D. D.)
The song of God’s redeemed
I. A GLORIOUS ANTICIPATION. This is represented under two figures.
1. A holy service. “The night when a holy solemnity is kept.”
(1) Observe the time, the “night.” It is not until the day of life is past and the turmoil of earth is done, that the great and solemn assembly shall be convened.
(2) Observe the character, “holy.” Impurity is done away. There shall nothing enter which can pollute or mar or injure.
(3) Observe the proceedings, “a solemnity.” Our meetings with God lack proper solemnity. But how great and solemn will be the eternal service! A joyous meeting. “As when one goeth forth with a pipe to come to the mountain of the Lord.” Here are subjects going forth to meet their King, who is good and great. Here are friends going forth to meet their Brother, whom they have long desired to embrace. Here are guests going forth to the banquet of their Beloved.
II. A SUITABLE STATE OF MIND. “Ye shall have a song and gladness of heart.”
1. Ye shall have a song. There are two things, revolved “in” this.
(1) There is a subject to sing of. He hath put a new song in my mouth.”
(2) There shall be a disposition to sing. The redeemed soul will be filled with praise.
2. Ye shall have gladness of heart. It will be caused by--
(1) The presence of God.
(2) Happy surroundings.
(3) Blessed reunions.
III. A PRESENT ENCOURAGEMENT. This future promise may be now realised by faith. And what a different aspect will this give to the present life! We may not sing the full chorus of the songs of Heaven, but we can hear the echo. We cannot see our Lord, but we can feel His arms and hear His voice.
IV. A DESIRABLE CONDITION. The text affords a most urgent stimulus to our present life. It speaks of a song which the people of God will be enabled to sing with confidence when their Lord’s judgments are abroad. Let us endeavour to realise the confidence, the peace, the happiness of that future time. (Homilist.)
For Tophet is ordained of old
The annihilation of the Assyrian power
The annihilation of the Assyrian power is graphically set forth as one great funeral obsequy, such as were well known among Eastern nations.
The Divine command prepares the Tophet or pyre; and in its flames all the glory of Assyria shall consume away. What had been prepared by human wisdom for the idolatrous worship of Moloch, shall now by Divine decree be used for Assyria’s destruction: her king shall be the great victim. (Buchanan Blake, B. D.)
The destruction of Assyria in Tophet
The description is, of course, figurative; and the details, as is often the case in prophecy, are not to be understood literally; they merely constitute the drapery in which the prophet clothes his idea. No such scene as is here described was ever actually enacted; Sennacherib, in point of fact, perished twenty years after his invasion of Judah, in his own land being assassinated by his own sons Isaiah 37:38). (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The wicked man warned
I. The first doctrine that we have is--that THERE IS A HELL.
1. Justice requires it. If a man sins, doth not justice require that he should be punished?
2. But more than this, doth not Divine benevolence require it? Would it be benevolent in any man to propose to take away our police, to pull down our gaols, to abolish our penal settlements, and to stop forever all imprisonment and punishments for sin? It might appear to be liberal and charitable, but the fate of the rest of the community would be so direful that verily we might say, “Build up the gaols once more! Let it be seen that sin cannot go unpunished here, and that the ruler beareth not the sword in vain!”
3. We ask, If there were no hell for the wicked, where are they to be put to? The answer is, “Why, let them all go to Heaven.” But have you never heard me expose the absurdity of the idea of a wicked man being carried to Heaven as he is?
4. O sinner! why need I argue that “Tophet is ordained of old”? Is there not something within thyself which tells thee that there is such a place?
5. How is it that so many people in the world are always laughing at the idea of hell? I will tell you. The worse men are, the less they like hell. Scorning is sweet to the mouth, but it is bitter afterwards.
II. THE SIZE OF THIS PLACE. It is “deep and large.” We do delight in the thought that Heaven is great and large; that there will be more saved than there will be lost. But this is a sad thought to us--that hell is “deep and large.” Persons say that “if the heathen lives up to his light and knowledge, will he not be saved by the blood of Christ?” The heathen does not live up to his light and knowledge, and, therefore, it is an assumption that is not correct. Tophet is deep and large. There is room for you great sinners, room for you rich sinners, room for you proud, stiff-necked sinners, room for the whole mass of sinners, for though you should join in hand, yet shall not the wicked go unpunished.
III. THE FUEL OF IT. “The pile thereof is fire and much wood.” The wicked are their own woodmen; they find their own fuel for their own flame.
IV. THE FLAME OF IT. “The breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.” What kind of breath will that be?
1. It will be His condemning breath. God on high will breathe out sentences of condemnation against the wicked perpetually.
2. His reproving breath. For He will be always saying, “Son, remember, remember such s time you heard a sermon; such a time you sinned; such a time your conscience smote you; such a time in your life you attended Sabbath school; such a time you cursed Me to My face; such a time you blasphemed My day; such a time you spoke ill of My servants; such a time you did this; such a time you did that.”
3. The eternal life of God Himself shall kindle the flame breath of God shall keep the flame burning. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 30". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13