Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 38". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ isaiah-38.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 38". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death
Hezekiah’s sickness: the historical framework
It cannot surprise us now to be carried back to the time when Jerusalem was still under the despotic sceptre of Assyria, since the purpose of the concluding piece Isaiah 37:36-38) was merely in anticipation to complete the picture ofthe last Assyrian troubles, by relating their termination as foretold by Isaiah Isaiah 31:8).
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The parallel passage
(2 Kings 20:1-11) varies more from that before us than in the preceding chapter. So far as they are parallel, the narrative in Kings is more minute and circumstantial, and at the same time more exactly chronological in its arrangement. On the other hand, the Psalm is wholly wanting in that passage. All these circumstances favour the conclusion that the text before us is the first draft, and the other a repetition by the hand of the same writer. (J. A. Alexander.)
Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery
This sickness and recovery of Hezekiah from the gates of death, was an event of such national importance as made it properly find a place here, as well as in the historical books. For the throne of David, as far as we know, was without an heir at this moment; and Hezekiah’s death might have been followed by some such interregnum, anarchy, and seizure of the crown by a soldier, as hastened the downfall of the kingdom of Ephraim. Such a failure in the succession, in times of national depression and disorganisation, would be pregnant with evil even in England now; and we must remember that in Judea then, as in all Eastern and patriarchal governments still, the personal character of the hereditary sovereign was of an importance to the people which it has to a great degree, though not utterly, lost in every country of Europe except Russia, Let us contrast the character and acts of Hezekiah with those of his immediate predecessor and successor, and we shall see of what moment it was that the interval by which his reign separated theirs should be prolonged fifteen years; and especially when the country needed a hand disciplined by experience and guided by faith to recover it from the moral and material disorganisation into which (as we know from Isaiah’s discourses) it had fallen during the Assyrian supremacy. And thus this crisis in the personal life of Hezekiah--the fact cannot be denied, though here, as in so many like cases, our philosophy cannot trace out the connection of cause and effect became the type and symbol of the like crisis in the life of the nation: it, too, was sick unto death, and was granted a new period of life by God after it was past the help of man. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
When the prophet first came to him he addressed him in words clearly indicating the gravity of the disease. “Thus saith the Lord, Set thine house in order,” &c. We cannot, therefore, think that it was an ordinary simple boil with which the king was affected. Nor have we any ground for supposing, as some have suggested, that the disease was bubo-plague, which does not occur as an isolated case, and we have no evidence to lead us to think that any epidemic of such a disease prevailed. But it might have been, and probably was, a carbuncle, which is often a most severe and painful thing, endangering and often terminating the life of the sufferer. For this a poultice of figs would be an appropriate local remedy, as in the present day are cataplasms of various kinds. But doubtless the recovery of the king was through Divine interposition, by which the danger to life was averted, and of which Isaiah’s prescription was but a symbol. The answer to his prayer, accompanied by the promise that on the third day he should go up to the house of the Lord, is sufficient evidence that the cure of a disease by which he had been brought to death’s door, was not brought about by natural means. (Sir Risdon Bennett, M. D. , LL. D.)
What was Hezekiah’s disease?
My friend, Dr. Lauder Brunton, tells me that he has been led to view the disease as “tonsillitis,” from the similarity of the symptoms described by Isaiah with those of some cases of quinsy (tonsillitis). “In many cases,” says Dr. Brunton, “that I have seen, the pains in the bones have been so severe as to attract the attention of the patient, to the exclusion of all mention of sore throat. If Hezekiah suffered from tonsillitis, his comparison of a lion breaking his bones is a very apt one, and the swelling, of the tonsils would also explain the alteration in his speech, which made him ‘chatter like a crane or a swallow.’ The dried figs would be almost the only poultice that could be applied to the boil in his fauces, and the rapid maturation of the inflamed boil in the throat affected by the poultice would explain the rapid recovery.” (Sir Risdon Bennett, M. D. , LL. D.)
Every disease is a little death
I have heard it said that every disease is a little death; therefore God sends us many little deaths to instruct our preparation for the great death. The oftener a man dies, the better he may know how to die well. (T. Adams.)
A sick man’s glass
I. THE MESSAGE sent to Hezekiah while he was sick.
1. The time.
2. The person to whom it was sent.
3. The person by whom it was sent.
4. The message itself. “Set thine house in order.”
5. The reason why the king is advised so to do. Thou shalt die, and not live.
II. THE BEHAVIOUR OF HEZEKIAH when he had heard the message.
1. He turned his face to the wall.
2. He prayed.
3. He wept sore. (R. Hachet, D. D.)
1. These words present to our view a person
(1) of the highest rank
(2) in the prime of life
(3) and the full tide of prosperity, seized with a mortal disease: a case which ought strongly to remind the securest of us all, how uncertain our condition is here on earth.
2. By the goodness of God, a prophet was sent to him, to admonish him of the preparation that his state required: and the same goodness hath provided that you shall all be frequently admonished of the same thing, by the ministers of His Word.
3. The admonition given him was the means of prolonging his days in peace and comfort: and those given you, if received in a right manner, may, both naturally and providentially, contribute to procure you longer and happier lives in this world; and will certainly lead you to a life of eternal happiness in the next. (T. Seeker, LL. D.)
The duties of the sick
The text mentions the obligations of sick persons--
I. RESPECTING THEIR FELLOW-CREATURES. “Set thine house in order.” This direction may well be enlarged to comprehend--
1. Due regulation of all affairs in which the sick are interested.
(1) The principal point at which men should aim in settling their temporal affairs is justice; and one of the most evident branches of justice is paying debts.
(2) Besides those who are commonly called creditors, there is another sort--I mean those to whom we have done injuries, and owe restitution.
(3) But as we have all, more or less, need to ask pardon, another of our duties evidently is to grant it in our turn: when others have used us ill, not to “recompense” or wish them “evil for evil.” The expedient to which, it is said, some have had recourse, of forgiving if they die, and being revenged if they live, is as foolish a contrivance to deceive themselves, and to mock God, as the human heart can frame.
(4) The next thing, after providing for the payment of our debts, and which, like that, should be done in health, but much rather in sickness than not at all, is disposing of the remainder of our substance. The principal rule is, that we ought not to be governed in it by fanciful fondnesses, much less by blamable resentments.
2. Proper advice to all persons with whom the sick are connected.
II. RESPECTING MORE IMMEDIATELY GOD AND THEIR OWN SOULS. “Then Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord.” His prayer, indeed, if the whole of it be recorded in Scripture, was only that he might recover; a request which for the public good he had urgent reasons to make in the first place. And that being instantly granted, he had no need to apply further to God, in relation to his sickness, otherwise than by thanksgiving, which he did. But they who have more extensive wants at that time are both authorised and bound to enlarge in proportion the subject of their addresses to the throne of grace; and therefore I shall endeavour to comprehend under this head all the religious duties of the sick.
1. The first principle of all regard to God is faith. There are indeed very good persons who, m illnesses, are tempted to partial, or even total unbelief. And if any seeming reasons for it be suggested to their minds, they ought to inquire after, and oppose to them reasonable answers.
3. Such repentance as our case requires.
4. The sick ought to be very constant in every other exercise of private piety. For as they are cut off from active life, they have more leisure for religious contemplation. And as they want all the improvement and comfort which they can have, so they will receive the most of both by frequent lifting up of their hearts to “the God of patience and consolation.” (T. Seeker, LL. D.)
Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery
I. THIS SICKNESS WAS VERY GRIEVOUS, upon several accounts.
1. For the nature of the disease, which is supposed to have been pestilential.
2. The pain of his distemper was aggravated with the sentence which the prophet passed upon him in the name of God. The hope of recovery, which contributes very much to the cure of any distemper, was taken away from him.
3. Hezekiah’s sickness and sentence of death were embittered with this consideration, that he was going to be cut off in the strength of his age. This shortening of life was always esteemed as one of the calamities of our mortal condition; especially in so high and happy a station as that of a king. David prayed against it, saying, “O my God, take me not away in the midst of my age.”
4. That which made Hezekiah more lath to leave the world at this time was, that he had no child to succeed him in his throne.
II. HIS REQUEST he enforces with the following arguments.
1. He begs God to remember how he had walked before Him in truth and with a perfect heart.
2. Whereas other kings had been too apt to consult their ease and carnal interests in the practice of religion, Hezekiah had a true and thorough zeal for the glory of God in all that he did.
III. He urged it with importunate cries and tears, WHICH PREVAILED WITH GOD TO HEAR HIM AND GRANT HIS REQUEST. (W. Reading, M. A.)
Supreme attention to spiritual concerns
(with Luke 10:42):--Let us reflect--
I. ON “THE ONE THING NEEDFUL,” i.e., living religion.
II. ON THE CONSEQUENT DUTY OF “SETTING OUR HOUSE IN ORDER, knowing that we shall die, and not live.” (W. Graham.)
This verse (Isaiah 38:3) is not an angry expostulation, nor an ostentatious self-praise, but an appeal to the only satisfactory evidence of his sincerity. (J. A. Alexander.)
Set thine house in order.
I. We have here set before us THE FACT OF OUR MORTALITY. “Thou shalt die, and not live.” How apt we are to think of other people’s death, but not of our own. We are ready to say, “O! it was no wonder that little, weak infant died--it was no wonder that worn-out, aged man or woman died--it was no wonder that sickly person died.” And when we hear of suddendeaths, by some strange disease or accident, we have a secret feeling that the same thing is not likely to happen to ourselves. There was something peculiar in their condition or circumstances, which made them more open than ourselves to that awful visitation. Yet why all this foolish hiding of the truth? Until we are able boldly and peacefully to face this truth, there is no real comfort for us in this world. When our Almighty Father in heaven sends to us such a message as this, “Thou shalt die, and not live,” it is not to vex and to distress us, but only to awaken in us those thoughts which are needful for us in our present state of being.
II. HOW WE ARE TO “SET OUR HOUSE IN ORDER,” so as to be able to meet with calmness both the actual coming of death and the thought of its coming. With the best of men, the near approach of that last dread hour is a time of deep solemnity.
1. The first point in this work is to see that our hope for eternity is placed upon a right foundation; and none other can be found but that which God Himself has laid for us to build on--namely, His own free mercies in His dear Son, Jesus Christ.
2. If we would “set our house” truly “in order,” we must remember that there is a work to be wrought in us, as well as for us. “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord!” (J. W. Colenso, D. D.)
Preparation for the end of time
I. THE INJUNCTION URGED. “Set thine house in order.” We refer--
1. To temporal affairs. This is evident from the more literal translation: “Give charge concerning thine house.”
2. To spiritual matters.
II. THE REASON. “For thou shalt die, and not live.”
1. Death is certain for all.
2. The time is uncertain; therefore, it is every one’s duty to be prepared.
3. The time may be very near.
4. The best of men need special preparation.
Hezekiah was not a bad man, but he had a special message. So God often scuds a time of sickness as a special warning. How much better and happier will every man be if he has set his house in order! (Homilist.)
New Year’s thoughts
The first Sunday in the new year is surely, with every minister of Christ who watcheth with the eye and love of a true shepherd over his flock, a time for--
1. General rebuke.
3. Godly encouragement.
I. THE AUTHORITY OF THE COMMISSION. It came directly from God at the mouth of His prophet; and whatever comes from God must be characterised by God’s attributes, must bear the impress of His wisdom, must be pregnant with the purposes of His love.
II. THE SUDDENNESS OF THE COMMISSION. How it must have startled the king on his bed!
III. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE COMMISSION. “Set thine house in order”--this is the direction; “for thou shalt die, and not live”--this is the doom. Thou art the man upon whom the mark is set, this carries the reflections home. When shall I die? How shall I die? Shall I die a hard or a peaceful death? Shall I die as an impenitent and despairing sinner, or as a pardoned, a redeemed, a rejoicing saint? (T. J. Judkin.)
Preparation for death
Our being ready for death will make it come never the sooner, but much the easier; and those that are fit to die are most fit to live. (M. Henry.)
Contemplating the time of death
Perhaps the most awful moment of our lives is when we first feel in danger of death. All our past life then seems to be a cloud of words and shadows, altogether external to the realities of the soul. Not only childhood and youth, happiness and sorrow, eager hopes and disturbing fears, but even our communion with God, our faith in things unseen, our self-knowledge, and our repentance, seem alike to be but visions of the memory. All has become stern, hard, and appalling. It is as if it were the beginning of a new existence; as if we had passed under a colder sky, and into a world where every object has a sharpness of outline almost too severe for sight to bear. Let us see what we ought to do when God warns us.
I. WE MUST ASK OURSELVES THIS QUESTION, Is there any one sin, great or small, of the flesh or of the spirit, that we willingly and knowingly commit? This is, in fact, the crisis of our whole spiritual life. By consent in one sin, a man is guilty of the whole principle of rebellion. A holy man is not a man who never sins, but who never sins willingly. A sinner is not a man who never does anything good, but who willingly does what he knows to be evil. The whole difference lies within the sphere and compass of the will.
II. WE MUST NEXT SEARCH AND SEE WHETHER THERE IS AN ANYTHING IN WHICH OUR HEART IN ITS SECRET AFFECTIONS IS AT VARIANCE WITH THE MIND OF GOD; for if so, then so far our whole being is at variance with His.
III. A third test by which to test ourselves is THE POSITIVE CAPACITY OF OUR SPIRITUAL BEING FOR THE BLISS OF HEAVEN. When St. Paul bids us to follow after “holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” he surely meant something more than a negative quality. Doubtless he meant by “holiness” to express the active aspirations of a spiritual nature, thirsting for the presence of God.
IV. There are TWO SHORT COUNSELS which it may be well to add.
1. That we strive always to live so as to be akin to the state of just men made perfect.
2. That we often rehearse in life the last preparation we should make in death. (H. E. Manning, D. D.)
1. He was warned.
2. He was religiously warned. Isaiah was charged with the intelligence.
3. He was considerately warned. He was not to die on the morrow, he was to have time to set his house in order. Sometimes we feel as if we would rather not have that time, and yet there is a merciful dispensation in the arrangement which gives a man an opportunity of calmly approaching the end. (J. Parker, D. D.)
“Set thine house in order”
What does this injunction signify?
I. THAT WE ARE TO GIVE ACCOUNT OF OUR STEWARDSHIP.
II. THAT WE ARE TO BE DILIGENT IN OUR DAILY WORK
III. WE MUST LEARN TO LEAVE OUR POSSESSIONS, AND HOLD OURSELVES READY TO DEPOT. (C. Schwartz.)
The habitual thought of death not painful
The time will of necessity come when to every man that lives these words will be spoken: God Himself will speak them in the manifest dealings of his providence, making this known to us in some way which our own hearts will instinctively interpret. Why should we be afraid to think of death!
1. Do you reply that there is in man a natural love of life? No doubt there is. But what, then, is that true life which lies beyond, and to which the act of departure, which we call death, is but the entrance?
2. Or, do you say that we are naturally repelled from mortality, and that we shrink from thinking of the lifeless and decaying flesh? I admit it, and there is a necessary and wholesome lesson in the bitterness of it, for how should we know what sin was without some little conception of what death was? But I plead that this is but for a time, till the body shall rise again in glory. The horror is to those who live and watch the dead.
3. Or, do you say that you fear death because it will stop for ever all the schemes and activities of life? Do you think that the state into which we shall enter will be a passive calm? Every hint and word in Scripture appears to me to point to something very different.
4. Or, do you say that you shrink from the idea of never seeing again the blue skies and the sweet flowers, and losing all the sights and sounds that make this world beautiful? Again, I think that you are wrong. Certainly all the imagery of the Bible suggests a different conclusion.
5. Or, do you say that you dread death because you cannot bear to think of parting from those you love, and losing that sweet intercourse, and that happy interchange of mutual affection, which spring from love? Well, all separation is painful; but in itself, and of necessity, this separation need only be for a time--a brief parting, with an eternal reunion beyond it, when, free from the little hindrances that mar a perfect love on earth, we shall renew a pure affection, consecrated for ever by the seen presence of God.
6. Do you say that you dread to think of death because you are not certain of your state before God? Ah! here we reach the deepest secret of all, the true source of the uneasiness with which men think of their mortality. “The sting of death is sin,” &c. The Eternal Father is ready to forgive; the Eternal Son sufficient to atone; the Eternal Spirit almighty to convert and sanctify; all ready; nay, all pleading, inviting, expostulating, entreating.
7. Do you say that you dread to think of death because the thought saddens and darkens life? Surely this is no longer true, if, accepted in Christ Jesus, we have peace with God. (E. Garbett, M. A.)
Preparing for the end
I. Preparation for death is an immediate duty, because YOU CANNOT TELL WHAT A DAY MAY BRING FORTH.
II. IT OUGHT TO BE A CALM, DELIBERATE, AND INTELLIGENT PREPARATION. Not with panic, or haste, or gloom.
III. THERE IS A GOD TO MEET, whose eyes will inspect the house.
IV. THERE ARE IMPORTANT MATTERS TO BE ADJUSTED ARISING FROM OUR HUMAN RELATIONS. (Homiletic Review.)
Thou shalt die
1. In its causes. The primary cause of death was sin. But the immediate and acting cause of mortality is the frailty of our bodies.
2. In its nature. What is it to die! It is not to terminate our existence. We are well assured that nothing in being can cease to be, either of itself or by the influence of other finite beings, but only by an exercise of the almighty power of the Creator. To die is to undergo a solution of our present mode of existence, in which the immaterial soul is severed from the material body, and exists thenceforth for a time alone; whilst the body, bereft of life, loses the qualities necessary to preserve its substance, and becomes disorganised, and resolved into its primitive elements. How near is this world to the next! God’s wisdom and goodness have appointed a bed of sickness to be the general precursor of death. By this He repeats solemnly, and enforces, His thousand other warnings to us, and, in our seclusion from the engagements and pleasures of time, gives us a further opportunity of becoming familiar with the things of eternity, and making our peace with Him. But His wisdom discovers in what ways our deceitful hearts will teach us to abuse His mercy, and He provides against the evil. Had we always the warning and opportunity of sickness, we might neglect God till it was given to us; and God has, perhaps, therefore, appointed that death should sometimes come unwarned.
3. In its consequences. I will not view them as they affect the body: let us leave it, lifeless and cold, in the narrow coffin and the quiet grave, awaiting the trumpet of the archangel. The effects of death on the soul include, doubtless, the enlargement of its capacities, as well as its entrance on eternal joy or misery.
II. ITS PERSONALITY. “Thou.” The young. Those in the prime of life. Those of mature years, &c.
III. ITS CERTAINTY. “Thou shalt die.”
1. What has become of all our race--Adam, Noah, &c.?
2. Where are the multitudes that have peopled your town in past days? All who have lived before us have died, and all now living are dying. (J. Badcock, LL. B.)
Death sometimes sudden and unexpected
I have known the bride to expire on her bridal day, the shopkeeper when serving his customers, the player on the stage, the clergyman in his pulpit, the lowly Christian on his knees in prayer, the swearer uttering his curse, the thief with his plunder at his side. (J. Badcock, LL. B.)
The human body, beautiful yet frail
The beautiful frame of man it is impossible to consider unaffected by its frailty. A distinguished philosopher, on rising from the study of the human frame, was so impressed with this and With the complicated nature of its machinery, and the numberless parts that must all duly discharge their functions to continue existence, from moment to moment, that he trembled and feared to move, lest, by disordering some one of them, he should fall on the floor a corpse. (J. Badcock, LL. B.)
“The biography of death”
“The biography of death” was the title of a sermon preached by a famous London minister. For death has had a parentage, birth, history, a career of conquest and victory, a coronation and kingdom, a ghastly dining-hall and retinue of hired servants, and, finally, a record of disaster, defeat, and death! The last enemy to be destroyed is Death. (Homiletic Review.)
Is there any peculiar significance in the announcement? There ought not to be. All life is a warning that we are going to die. (J. Parker, D. D.)
When the physician told General Grant that his disease was fatal, and might quickly do its dire work, for a little while he seemed to lose, not courage, but hope. It was like a man gazing into his open grave. He was in no way dismayed, but the sight was still appalling. The conqueror looking at his inevitable conqueror: the stern soldier to whom armies had surrendered, watching the approach of that enemy to whom even he must yield. (H. O. Mackey.)
Looking over the brink
A godly minister who was fond of visiting his sick and dying people on Saturday afternoons, was asked by a brother minister, who met him on this errand one day, why he did this, instead of staying at home and preparing his sermons. He replied, “I like to take a look over the brink.” Sometimes it is a blessing to a man to be brought suddenly to the brink in his own life, to look over it seriously and prayerfully, and then to take back into life the lessons he has learned there. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
Death, the ringing of the curfew bell
William the Conqueror established the ringing of curfew bells. The meaning of that curfew bell, sounded at eventime, was, that all the fires should be put out or covered with ashes, all the lights should be extinguished, and the people should go to bed. Soon for us the curfew will sound. The fires of our life will be banked up in ashes, and we shall go into the sleep, the cool sleep, I hope the blessed sleep. But there is no gloom in that if we are ready. The safest thing that a Christian can do is to die. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
A true life the best preparation for death
An old slave, when told by his doctor that he was near death, said: “Bless you, doctor, don’t let that bother you; that’s what I’ve been living for.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall
Hezekiah’s face turned to the wall
The obvious meaning is the wall of the room, towards which he turned, not merely to collect his thoughts, or to conceal his tears, but as a natural expression of strong feeling.
(J. A. Alexander.)
The sick man turns his face to the wall in order to retire into himself and God. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
A natural shrinking from death
The voice sounded naturally as it pleaded with the Lord. The old man wants to die; he says, I am living amongst strangers: who is he! and who is she? what are those people? what is their occupation! I do not know where I am: I will live in the sacred past. But the young man in middle life does not want to die. The child does not want to go to rest at nine o’clock in the morning. We feel as if we had a call to work. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Hezekiah’s face turned to the wall
The place of honour in an Eastern room is an angle of the apartment, so that whichever side Hezekiah turned upon, his face would be to a wall, and screened from observation. (E. W.Shalders, B. A.)
A good man’s plea
1. Holy men did sometimes make mention of their good deeds before the Lord, in their prayer to Him (Nehemiah 13:14; Jeremiah 15:15-17).
2. When they did make mention of their good deeds before the Lord, they did it, for the most part, when they were in trouble.
3. They did not mention them as meritorious causes of whet they prayed Nehemiah 13:22).
4. The reason why they mention their good deeds at such time is--
(1) That they might the more incline the Lord to mercy; for the Lord is more ready to show mercy to those who endeavour to live according to His laws than to those who neglect them.
(2) That they might sustain themselves against the faint-heartedness which might assail them, being prone by nature thereto; for the testimony of a good conscience produceth boldness towards God (2 Corinthians 1:12; 1 Peter 3:21). Besides, Hezekiah might have a special reason to move him to mention his good deeds, and it is this, because the Lord had made a promise to David (1 Kings 2:4). At this time Hezekiah had not a child to succeed him in the throne. (W. Day, M. A.)
And Hezekiah wept sore
In these tears we can discover--
I. A DREAD OF DEATH COMMON TO HUMAN NATURE.
1. This dread of death has a moral cause. What is the cause? A consciousness of sin, and an apprehension of its consequences. On the assumption that man would have died, had he not sinned, his death, we presume, in that case, would have been free from all that is terrible.
2. This dread of death has a moral antidote. “O death, where is thy sting?” &c. Those who apply this remedy hail rather than dread mortality; they “desire to depart,” &c.
II. THE INABILITY OF THE WORLD TO RELIEVE HUMAN NATURE. Hezekiah was a monarch. His home was a palace, and the great men of the nation were his willing attendants. Whatever wealth could procure, he could get at his bidding; and yet with so much of the world, what could it do for him? Could it raise him from his suffering couch? Nay! Could it hush one sigh, or wipe one tear away? No! In truth, the probability is that his earthly possessions and splendour added to the awfulness of the idea of death. The world has no power to help the soul in its deepest griefs and wants. The soul weeps in palaces.
III. THE POWER OF PRAYER TO HELP HUMAN NATURE. These tears were the tears of prayer as well as of fear, and his fear stimulated his prayer. And what was the result of this prayer? “I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.” This is a remarkable instance of the power of prayer, and is recorded here to encourage our suffering nature to direct its cries to heaven. (Homilist)
Hezekiah’s distress and prayer
Hezekiah had tried to serve God faithfully, and had been taught to expect length of days as his reward. The very consciousness of his integrity, and of his desire to honour the Lord in the presence of his people, must have added to his distress. What had been the fatal flaw in his service that had brought upon him this unexpected doom? Life and immortality had not been brought to fight. Death, for him, seemed banishment from the presence of the Lord. In the grave he could not praise Him; dead, he could not celebrate His glory (Isaiah 38:11; Isaiah 38:18). Twice he says, “Thou wilt make an end of me.” We seldom realise how much we owe to that resurrection which lifted the veil that was spread over all nations. But Hezekiah teaches us how much strength, consolation, and joy may be found in communion with God in this life. His earthly experience, which he thought was to come to an end, was, after all, part of the life eternal. The Hebrew’s vivid sense of God’s presence with him in this life, were it more generally ours, would make our fear more reverent, our obedience and submission more complete, and would put an end to much of that practical atheism which prevails in the world of to-day. Let us not miss the consolation of the message Isaiah brought to his king, “I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears.” Our prayers may be ignorant and shortsighted, we may not know what to pray for as we ought, but our tears are not overlooked. When our sadness is speechless, the scalding tears that tell our heart’s woe, move the Divine pity, and plead for us more eloquently than any words we can put into frame. “In all our afflictions, He is afflicted”--to believe this is to be consoled. (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)
Hezekiah’s prayer in affliction
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT LED TO THE UTTERANCE OF THIS PRAYER.
1. Hezekiah was sorely afflicted. The exact nature of his disease may be difficult to determine. There is no ground for the vague supposition that he was afflicted with the plague which destroyed the Assyrians. The malady was probably “a fever boil” (Ewald), or “a single carbuncle formed under the back of the head” (Thenius), or “fever terminating in abscess” (Meade). The word shechin, translated boil, means strictly inflammation. The crude state of medical science then would make many diseases fatal which are now easily removed. The body is subject to multifarious maladies. Few have perfect health. Doubtless better health would come from wiser habits and simpler faith. But many causes of disease are indefinable. A sick body often ministers to the growth of the soul. It casts the shadow of eternity over the fife. It awakens prayer in the most callous. It brings the prayerful nearer God.
2. Hezekiah believed that his affliction would be “unto death.” He probably encouraged a hope of recovery until Isaiah came; though, as Josephus informs us, “the physicians despaired of him, and expected no good issue from his sickness; as neither did his friends.” Hope dies hard in a sick man’s breast. Isaiah, perhaps, did what, none of Hezekiah’s physicians or courtiers were prepared to do. He faithfully delivered the Divine message. It was a painful duty. The dying should be warned. Not to do so is an unkindness and a sin. All have some preparations to make when death comes unexpectedly. The house of the soul needs to be set in order as well as the estate.
3. Hezekiah met death with great reluctance. Men generally shrink from death at its first approach. Dr. Johnson held that no man met death willingly. Many doubtless have. But to meet death without reluctance is no direct proof of meetness for eternity. Remember Bunyan’s “Weary of the World.” The good may be unwilling to die. Hezekiah was not spiritually unprepared. He was reluctant to die--
(1) From the natural disinclination which men feel towards death. He was in the prime of life. His hold of all earthly things was firm. Age loosens the grasp. He saws time of quiet and prosperity dawning upon his kingdom, and he desired to live to enjoy it.
(2) He had no heir. It is certain that Manasseh who succeeded him was not then horn, for twenty years later he was but twelve years old; and the land had not yet begun to recover from the late ravages, so that his death would have left the nation in a distracted condition, and would probably have exposed it to many new calamities” (Kitto).
(3) He had not that clear revelation of immortality which we as Christians possess. He would look upon death as being “cut off from the land of the living,” as going down into silence. Christ had not opened the kingdom of immortality to the eyes of men. This life was all to him, and he clung to it.
II. HEZEKIAH’S PRAYER.
1. He does not utter the desire that was uppermost in his mind. We may not have recorded all that he prayed: probably his prayer was broken off abruptly in weeping. He knew God could interpret his broken words, his sighs, his tears. Many prayers are too elaborately expressed. They prove their shallowness by the smooth elegance of the language in which they are uttered. Strong feeling makes the tongue falter. Much in prayer may be left to God’s omniscience, justice, wisdom, tenderness, and love. Like a father He interprets the heart of His child.
2. Hezekiah appeals to his past life as a reason why his life should be prolonged. Few can do this. Most lives are so marred, so imperfect, so sinful, that they can furnish no argument before God. But, it has been asked, was there not in this prayer a spirit of self-commendation contrary to the spirit of the Gospel? Not a conscious self-clothing of deceit, but a pernicious self-ignorance? We think not. Hezekiah lived under a dispensation of religious thought that led him to believe that a man’s character and conduct were the grounds upon which God’s favour or displeasure was bestowed. And this is true under a dispensation of grace; though we, under that dispensation, realise as Hezekiah could not that all our virtue is by the help of God’s Spirit, and can merit little in His sight. The modern habit of self-analysis and eagerness to find some evil to condemn at every turn, so as to describe ourselves as the vilest of the vile, was unknown to him. Many merely attempt to descend to some imaginary standard of vileness which they suppose is the proper depth of self-humiliation to reach to secure God’s favour. Much of this confession of being miserable sinners is but miserable cant. Sick-bed confessions are exposed to this danger. Such lip-service may be, as Lynch says, “most suspicious and affrighting.” What God desires is an honest expression of our heart’s convictions.
This Hezekiah gave. This prayer was uttered with true humility. Whatever had been his sins--and he recognised them (verse 17)--he could claim--
1. Sincerity. He had walked before God in truth. He was conscious of no deceit, no inward angularities, no warping of conscience, no sophistical coverings, no histrionic attitudes. He lived out the verities of his soul.
2. Simplicity of purpose. His heart was perfect in its consecration to the Divine glory. He had no double aims. In building up the religious life of the nation he had not sought his own honour but God’s.
3. That his acts had been regulated as in God’s sight, and had been to increase goodness in the earth. His life was indeed his prayer. Life will have to be reviewed. A life of sin makes a death-bed terrible.
III. THE EMOTIONS WITH WHICH THIS PRAYER WAS OFFERED.
1. Hezekiah was filled with grief. But while grief prostrates the mental and physical energies it often gives great potency to prayer. The gaze of Hezekiah’s almost speechless soul was fixed on God with beseeching earnestness, and the poignancy of his grief arrested the Divine arm.
2. There was in Hezekiah’s mind a feeling of bitter disappointment. He expected to live, and his expectation rested upon his religious belief. In his day, under the incompleted revelation of t he Divine purposes, centering in human life and destiny, which was then possessed, longevity was regarded as one of the peculiar rewards of piety (Psalms 90:16). Hezekiah had fulfilled the conditions and he now looked for the reward. He was disappointed in God. To be disappointed in God is the direst disappointment that can fill a man’s soul with bitterness. If God fail him, what is there in the universe that is firm? God sometimes permits men to think that He has not been faithful to them. This is, perhaps, the severest test that the human heart can bear. Christ descended to that “profundity of woe” when He uttered His agonising cry upon the cross. Many fail in such hours. But true faith can enable us to triumph even then. It will enable us to lie weeping before God, waiting for the explanation that it assures us God can and will give; clinging to His garments even when His face seems turned away, and His form, once so near and trusted, has changed, and seems moving steadily away from us. Thus Hezekiah waited, weeping Sore.
3. There was also within him the feeling of utter helplessness. All earthly resources had failed him. When he turned his face to the wall, he felt that no power on earth could help him. His physicians, his attendants, his most trusted counsellors, could render no assistance. He had only God.
Hezekiah, even in such circumstances, found God nigh to help and to save. Isaiah was speedily sent back to comfort him with the Divine message: “I have heard thy prayers, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.” Learn--
1. That true piety will enable us to seek and find God m life’s most painful extremities.
2. That in our hours of bitterest grief prayer will reach God’s ear and bring us relief and deliverance. (Homiletic Magazine.)
I have heard thy prayer
Was Hezekiah’s recovery an unmitigated blessing?
Most of us who have had some experience of life, have seen instances in which a man who has set his heart too fondly upon one object, has gained that object, and with it (to use the language of St. Paul to his shipmates) “much harm and loss.” He has won the position which he coveted; but perhaps he finds himself saddled with the burden of a crushing responsibility; or perhaps his health--the one condition of enjoyment--breaks up just as he grasps the prize; or perhaps he is snatched away by death, “while the meat is yet in his mouth”; and those who knew him are unpleasantly reminded of the end of Israel’s lusting in the wilderness, “He gave them their desire, and sent leanness withal into their soul.” And thinking men say, when they hear of this result, “Strong wishes for earthly blessings are to be avoided.” The Book of God, as being the book of Truth, gives an exact echo of human experience in this matter. God acceded to Hezekiah’s request, and added fifteen years to his life. But now comes the grave question, Did the fifteen years thus added prove, in the issue, a blessing to Hezekiah personally, or to the nation over which he so worthily presided? The sacred narrative gives an emphatic negative to both branches of the question.
1. Hezekiah, when God had originally proposed to take him to Himself, and had sent Isaiah with the message, “Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live,” was at the zenith of his spiritual prosperity. And now Hezekiah was to be gathered to his fathers, full, if not of years, yet of honours, spiritual and temporal. But by his prayers and his tears he succeeded in prolonging his span; and the first result of this, which the history brings before us, points to a spiritual decline in Hezekiah (chap. 39.). The sweet ointment of Hezekiah’s graces was flawed and corrupted by the dead fly of vanity. Had Hezekiah died when God proposed to take him, he would have died humble; as it is, he dies after being humbled by God; and all those who read the narrative thoughtfully will surely say, “Better far he had died at first.”
2. But more than personal interests are at stake in the life of princes; and we are led to inquire what, as far as it is given us to know them, may have been the effects upon the Jewish nation of the addition of fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life? The answer is conveyed in these words: “Manasseh (Hezekiah’s son, who succeeded to the throne) was twelve years old when he began to reign;” so that if Hezekiah had died when God intended he should, Manasseh would never have existed. Now who was Manasseh? and what part did he play in Jewish history? Manasseh, by his extraordinary wickedness, surpassing that of all who had gone before him, involved the nation which he governed in ruin. Manasseh’s crimes cried to heaven for vengeance, and were heard, long after Manasseh s body had mingled with the dust, and long after Manasseh’s soul had become, through Divine grace, profoundly penitent. For when the author of the Books of Kings traces up the captivity to its originating cause, thus he writes: “Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of His sight, for the sine of Manasseh, according to all that he did; and also for the innocent blood that he shed (for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood), which the Lord would not pardon.” Possibly, then, if Manasseh had not existed, the great national de gradation of the Jews by the captivity, and the demolition of the city and temple, would never have taken place. (Dean Goulburn.)
Ministers should have access to the sick
Besides its other important lessons, this history teaches the propriety of admitting the minister of God into the chamber of sickness. His soothing words and the prayer of faith, always secure to the sufferer some blessing, which he could little afford to lose. No intelligent, right-minded medical man will bar the door of the sickroom against the physician of the soul. (J. N. Norton.)
Hezekiah a life prolonged
He had an interview with the Giver of life. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And this shall be a sign unto thee from the Lord
The shadow on the sun-dial of Ahaz
We are not to imagine that in this miracle any effect was wrought upon the motion of the earth round its axis.
A miraculous refraction of the sun’s rays was effected by God on a particular sun-dial, at the prayer of King Hezekiah. It was a miracle, wrought on a particular dial, in a particular place, showing that it concerned a particular person; and it was not wrought on the solar orb, but on the solar light. (Bp. Wordsworth.)
The shadow reversed on the sun-dial of Ahaz
This astounding miracle could only have been affected by a light. “brighter than the sun,” rising on the other side of the sun-dial. We all know how electric light reverses the shadow of gas light. At St. Paul’s conversion, “the light from heaven,” the Shechinah brightness of Immanuel, outshone the splendour of the noonday sun. In the heavenly city there is no need of the sun to shine on it, nor of the moon to lighten it, for the glory of God and the Lamb is the light thereof. Unfortunately, we cannot tell on which side of the temple at Jerusalem the sun-dial of Ahaz was situated. It was probably a monolith or obelisk, resembling that on the Thames embankment, elevated on steps--translated “degrees”--and intended to regulate the hours of public worship. The setting sun had thrown the shadow across the steps; it had gone down ten degrees, when suddenly from the gate or window from the mercy-seat behind the veil of the naos, or temple proper, there flashed forth the majestic light of Divine glory that dwelt between the cherubim, reversing the shadow of the natural sun, and converting for Hezekiah the shadow of death into morning. (R. Balgarnie, D. D.)
The Light of the Mosaic past
To the ardent eyes of the old prophet the light that had reversed the shadow on the sundial was the old “Light” of the Mosaic past. It had illumined the land of Goshen in the days of supernatural darkness that overspread the rest of Egypt. It had flashed out with more than electric brightness upon the hosts of Israel as they struggled on through the night and the sea to escape the pursuing army of the Pharaoh. It had “glided” as a fiery pillar before the tribes through the rocky desert, warning off their enemies, and guiding the pilgrim army homeward to the fatherland. It had synchronised their movements with those convulsions of nature that arrested the Jordan at harvest flood, and shook down the walls of Jericho at the moment when they were prepared to cross and capture the devoted city. And it had stood over Gibeon as a sun that would not go down, and as a moon that would not withdraw, while Jehovah fought for Israel, and gave them their “crowning victory” over the idolatrous Canaanites. Isaiah knew the Light. (R. Balgarnie, D. D.)
Christ the glory of His people Israel
Was it this, I wonder, that evoked from Isaiah that unwonted outburst of enthusiasm in the chapter beginning, “Arise, shine, for thy Light is come, and the glory of Jehovah is risen upon thee”? “Thy sun shall no more go down . . . for Jehovah shall be unto thee an everlasting Light, and thy God thy glory”? If so, how appropriate the words to the occasion. It is easy to identify the Light of Israel with Christ, the Light of the world. (R. Balgarnie, D. D.)
Christ dispels and reverses life’s shadows
I do not consider that I am putting any undue strain upon the text in applying it to Christ. The Shechinah was the recognised token to Israel of the presence of her covenant God. It led the Magi to Bethlehem. It shone around the shepherds on the night of the nativity. It overwhelmed Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus. Christ is the Light that dispels and reverses our shadows. Christ has dispelled and reversed--
I. THE SHADOW OF, SIN.
II. THE SHADOW OF GRIEF.
III. THE SHADOW OF DEATH. “If He be in thee,” wrote John Pulsford, “who is the Light of Life, very Light and very Life, then, when the candlelight of ,thy body’s life goes out, the sunlight of thy soul’s life shall be bright about thee. ‘ (R. Balgarnie, D. D.)
The great miracle
The miracle is how God Himself began. Why will men always attack the wrong point, as if it were a wonderful thing that a man should have fifteen years added to his life; and yet we omit the stupendous miracle that man ever began to live. Thus attack what mystery we may we only go backward and upward until we come to Deity Himself. That is the great mystery, and there is none other. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The writing of Hezekiah, king of Judah
He was sick, and then he prayed.
2. He is recovered, and now he gives thanks. (R. Harris, D. D.)
I. THE INSCRIPTION acquaints us--
1. With the author of the song.
2. With the nature of it--a poem written.
3. With the argument of it--a song of thanksgiving for the removal of sickness, and restoring of health.
II. THE DESCRIPTION presents unto us the parts of it.
1. An aggravation of Hezekiah’s former misery.
2. An amplification of the present mercy. (R. Harris, D. D.)
In the first part of this psalm, he describes the views and feelings which occupied his mind when he saw himself apparently on the brink of the grave.
1. Though he had been one of the best kings with which God ever blessed a nation, he viewed his sins as great and numerous, and felt that he was, on account of them, justly exposed to the Divine displeasure.
2. Hence death appeared dreadful to him, and his dread of it was increased by the darkness which, at that time, before Christ had brought life and immortality to light, hung over a future state.
3. Hence, too, he was assailed by fearful apprehensions of God’s anger (Isaiah 38:13).
4. In consequence of these apprehensions he could neither look nor ask for help from God with confidence, as he had been accustomed to do. “My eyes,” he exclaims, “fail upward;” that is, I cannot look upward, cannot look to heaven for relief and consolation, as I formerly could.
5. And when he endeavoured to pray, he found that he offered nothing which deserved the name of prayer; for unbelief and despondency prevailed. “Like a crane or a swallow,” says he, “so did I chatter;” that is, my prayers were little better than the complaints of a bird entangled in the snare of the fowler.
6. Finally, he gave up all hope, and cried in bitterness of soul, “I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living.”
7. But to the righteous there ariseth light in the darkness. There did in this case. And as soon as it began to dawn, faith revived, and he cried, though still with a feeble voice, “O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me;” that is, be my help and deliverer, make my cause Thine own, and do all that for me which Thou seest to be necessary. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The prayer of Hezekiah
It is a strain most natural and pathetic. It is the simple expression of one who has found this life beautiful and desirable, and who would fain be permitted to remain till the limit of human existence has been reached. Its very simplicity, the very honesty with which it depicts the clinging to life and the shrinking from death, has been a stumbling-block to many--has been at complete variance with their preconceived notions as to the frame of mind in which a good man would meet such an hour. He appealed to the life which he had led, to the work which he had done, to the integrity of purpose with which he had done it. He also ventured to recall, as it were, to the Hearer of his prayer, that in his removal there would be one worshipper the less. “The grave cannot praise Thee,” &c. There would be--such is the daring argument which he employs:--loss to God as well as to himself: if Hezekiah lost all that he had prized and hoped for, God would likewise be deprived of praise and honour which would have been His in days to come. It is a method of expostulation which we who have, through Christ, boldness to enter into the holiest, would hardly venture to employ. Then, on the other hand, the unfeigned alarm with which he contemplates the approaching change--the evident superiority which he assigns to the present life compared with what lies beyond the grave--is not in accordance with the language which would be used by one who cherished the glorious hope which Christ has enkindled. But, with all this admitted--it may even be on this very account--we find in this poem the expression of a human heart like our own, brooding over the great mystery of life and of death, uttering, without reserve, its sorrow and complaint; shrinking, yet trusting; resisting, yet submitting; delighting in life, but finding in God its only portion. The poem is but the record of what any human spirit would feel in being confronted with death, and in seeing death again withdraw. (P. M. Muir.)
The fear of death
What are the main elements of this fear in the writing of Hezekiah? Why is his spirit oppressed and overwhelmed as the great change approaches? Some of the reasons are what we all have experienced; others of them may be only too strange to us.
I. One reason is that HE MUST BID FAREWELL TO THE JOYS OF LIFE. He was deprived of the residue of his years. Life had been to him full of interest and of beauty. In this respect there were even elements of weakness in his character. His love of case and of display showed itself in various ways.
II. Another and a nobler reason for the sadness of Hezekiah, is to be found in the fact that HE WAS ABOUT TO BE CUT OFF FROM THE WORK ON WHICH HIS HEART WAS SET. That is a sorrow which is apt to overcloud a lofty mind. The idolatry which he had sought to crush might again lift up its head. The ritual which he had restored might again be suffered to decay. The bondage from which he had kept his country might lay hold upon it. Because, after his day, the hand of the spoiler might seize the wealth which he had amassed for the good of the nation, he might well desire that his day should be prolonged.
III. He shrank from death as AN ENTRANCE ON AN UNKNOWN SPHERE. It is an exaggeration to say that kings and righteous men of the Old Testament had no conception of a future state. There are sayings which infer that the thought of life was not bounded by the grave, that there was a conviction of union with Him who is eternal. But the sayings are comparatively few: there is no greater difference between the Old Testament and the New than the difference of the way in which they speak of the life hereafter. So dim, so fluctuating, so uncertain are the allusions in the Old Testament, that the revelation of the New may well be called the bringing of life and immortality to light. Even with that revelation, “our knowledge of that life is small, the eye of faith is dim”; but, without it, the horror of a great darkness may naturally oppress the soul.
IV. The reason which, most of all, produced the regret of Hezekiah in the thought of quitting the visible world is to us the strangest of all. It was that HE SHOULD BE MORE DISTANT FROM GOD. “I said, I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord, in the land of the living.” This is to us a strange contradiction, an evidence of marvellous ignorance. It was exactly in that world, to the confines of which he was drawing near, that he would find God. This is true, and there is ground for our astonishment. But might not Hezekiah, in his turn, be astonished at us? Does his lamentation convey to us no lesson, no reproach? He was mournful at the prospect of seeing God no more in the land of the living, of seeing Him no more in the glories of the world around, of seeing Him no more in the worship of His temple. Were we honest with ourselves and with one another, might we not confess that our talk of seeing God hereafter is all the more voluble because we have not seen Him here? We too much forget that He is here at all. And one element of terror in our imagination of the hereafter consists too often in the reflection that He is there. (P. M. Muir.)
Hezekiah’s return to health
If we may learn something from Hezekiah even in his imperfect, hopeless mode of looking on impending death, much more may we learn from him in his joyous mode of welcoming returning health. That he should be glad is no cause for wonder.
1. There is perhaps no keener sense of enjoyment than that which attends convalescence, when simple pleasures, which may once have palled, are felt again in all their freshness, when strength is actually felt to be reanimating the enfeebled frame. For the man who has been tossing and turning in restlessness and pain, the restoration of peace and ease brings a pleasure before unknown
2. But it was not simply this delight in outward things which inspired Hezekiah. It was that the vision of God would again be granted, that the worship which he loved could again be offered, that the work which had been interrupted might again be taken up, that his recovery was a pledge of
Divine favour, of sin forgiven and forgotten, and must awake the gratitude of his heart, the service of his whole life. Whatever has been our past, whatever is to be our future, the present is ours to use, to improve, to spend in the service of God and of man. (P. M. Muir.)
Hezekiah’s sickness and recovery
I. THE AFFLICTION AND DANGER OF HEZEKIAH. This writing records his affliction. From his previous character, you perhaps expect to find that he will welcome the message which announces his release from suffering, or at least receive it with calmness and submission. But there are two principles on which we account for this emotion.
1. From that love of life which is the strongest instinct of our nature.
2. Hezekiah was engaged in a great and important work.
II. THE DELIVERANCE WROUGHT ON HIS BEHALF.
1. He traces his recovery to God.
2. He desires to retain the salutary impressions he had received (Isaiah 38:15).
3. He acknowledges the beneficial influence of affliction (Isaiah 38:16).
4. He gratefully commemorates the Divine goodness (Isaiah 38:17). (H. J. Gamble.)
The wisdom of keeping a record of one’s life
It is well, for the purpose of frequent review, to keep a record of the principal events of our lives, and of the thoughts which in trying circumstances have most deeply impressed us. This is the way both to multiply and prolong the advantages of experience. Such a record may be of great use also to our successors, and especially to our children. Of all the periods of life pregnant with materials for such an instructive memorial, that of sickness, for the supports attending it, the thoughts that arise out of it, and the influence to be exercised by them upon the subsequent course of our lives, seems to have a pre-eminent claim to notice. It is to a record of this kind, penned by the pious monarch of Judah, and which was probably- of great service to his son Manasseh, that our text refers; and the consideration of which may serve to remind us of what we should aspire after, and what we should cautiously avoid, in a similar situation. (J. Leifchild, D. D.)
Sickness and recovery
I. THE GENERAL CAUSES AND EFFECTS OF BODILY SICKNESS. Man is much more liable to attacks of this nature than the mere animals. The peculiar organisation of the human being, and the wearing effect of mental excitement upon the corporeal system, may m part account for this. But moral causes must also be taken into consideration. Sin is the great parent of our bodily maladies. Though some conditions of human society are more exposed to disease than others, yet no station in life forms any certain security against the interruption of health. Even piety itself, though a preservative against spiritual ills, and a preventive of many bodily ailments, is far from being a shield against the shafts of disease. We have a vivid picture, in Hezekiah’s complaints, of the humiliating state both of body and mind to which sickness reduces us. While much importance should not be attached to what persons in sickness think of themselves, yet we may learn the desirableness of avoiding those dispositions and practices, while in health, which would furnish just and solid occasion for uneasiness in our duller hours. We may invite God to our sick chamber with confidence, when we have not driven Him away from us by impiety and neglect in our more joyous and prosperous seasons.
II. THE ANXIETIES OF A PIOUS MIND UNDER SICKNESS, AND THE GOOD EFFECTS OF PRAYER AND SUPPLICATION. The message of Isaiah to Hezekiah was indeed calculated to produce alarm and despondency as to his recovery. In this situation, his desire of life moved him to make the most earnest and passionate entreaties. The good men of that age felt a strong attachment to life, which was far more excusable in their case than in ours.
III. THE SPIRITUAL AND DIVINE MANIFESTATIONS WITH WHICH DELIVERANCE FROM SICKNESS MAY BE ACCOMPANIED IN THE CASE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD. The removal of the bodily ill was the least part of his deliverance; it was accompanied and followed with a sweet sense of the removal of guilt from his soul, and with the presence of the gladdening beams of the Divine favour. It is sometimes one end of God, in the case of the affliction of His people, to prepare them for such manifestations, and to prove the power of Divine principles in conferring a sublime superiority to all the impressions of the surrounding scene.
IV. THE INFLUENCE WHICH THE VISITATION OF SICKNESS, THE SUPPORTS UNDER IT, AND DELIVERANCE OUT OF IT, IN THE CASE OF GOOD MEN,
SHOULD HAVE UPON THEIR FUTURE CONDUCT. The beneficial effects of such visitation are too often confined to the hours of its endurance, or extended only to a short period after its termination. This arises from the influence of outward scenes and circumstances upon the mind, and the natural tendency of a change in the one to operate a similar change in the other. It is only to be prevented by a due resistance to such tendency, and a careful effort to preserve, by frequent meditation and review, the just discoveries made by us in our affliction, and the proper feelings then entertained, in reference to the character of human life, and the importance of religion. Probably the great cause of sinful relapses is to be found in a forgetfulness of our mercies. Application--
1. The subject may be useful to such as have not yet been afflicted. We see in the sufferings of others how precarious is the continuance of our comforts, and our vigour and health to enjoy them.
2. Such as have been afflicted in vain, may be furnished with a salutary remonstrance. Affliction is often amongst the last resources employed by infinite wisdom and mercy for our benefit.
3. Such as are labouring under the pressure of disease may, especially if Christians, learn how to turn it, while it lasts, to good account, as well as to gain a benefit from it for the future. There are many consoling and reconciling considerations. It is fraught with a benevolent design on the part of Him who permits or causes it. (J. Leifchild, D. D.)
Face to face with death
1. However death is feared and resisted, it is most by those who are in the midst of their days. The reasons for this are worth looking into.
2. Man’s most solemn words are uttered when he stands face to face with death; then, if ever, he forms a right estimate of life, and of preparation for dying.
3. Prayer is a real power. (W. Wheeler.)
The poem, or psalm, in which Hezekiah describes his experience, may be divided into two parts.
I. HOW DEATH LOOKED (Isaiah 38:10-15). There is a point in the sun’s daily climb of the heavens when it seems to stand still, a pause before descending the western slope. Hezekiah felt he had reached just such a meridian of his life. In the tranquillity, or noontide, of his days, he was to enter the gates of the grave. Loss of God’s presence, loss of human companionships and interests--this was what death meant for him. His age, his natural term of life, was to be carried away like a shepherd’s tent that had been struck--his life rolled up like a piece of cloth cut from the thrums of the weaver’s loom. The dreary night of his pain, when his very bones seemed broken, and he could only moan and mourn like some lonely, crying bird, how well he remembered it, what a bitter experience it was! His eyes failed with looking upward, but he did look upward; weighed down with pain and weakness, his soul still cried,. “Be Thou my surety.” He knew not what to say, because God had done it all. Never, through all the respite of years allotted to him, could he forget his bitterness of soul. The memory of it would always chasten him. Some of us have never known what it is to spend hours of pain and weakness, with death apparently near at hand, and, in the absence of this experience, the sick king’s account of his dreary night will be hard to understand. But anyone who has been in the shadowed valley will recognise the truthfulness of the picture, and the sincere piety of Hezekiah’s looking upward to God.
II. HOW RESTORED LIFE LOOKED (Isaiah 38:16-20). First of all, he is sensible of the preciousness of his chastisement. He had learned in those dark and terrible hours lessons never learned before. It was in deep experiences of need and of God’s present help given him then, that he had found the true life of his spirit. He had discovered God’s love to his soul, and obtained an assurance of forgiveness which was a joy unspeakable. Blessed is he who, looking up to God in the face of Jesus Christ, can say, “Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.” Whoever went back of God? Life for him is an opportunity to praise God, to make known His truth, to testify before all the Lord’s readiness to save. This story is a chapter out of an ancient biography, a story of a soul in close personal dealing with God. It reminds us that He is a very present help in trouble, and that none who turn to Him in trust and hope will ever be refused. (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)
I shall go to the gates of the grave
Views of the grave
It was doubtless from veneration for the dead, that the practice first arose of depositing their ashes around the temple where the living worship. That dust, which once was tenanted by an immortal spirit,--that dust, through which once the intelligence and the feelings of an immortal spirit shone,--becomes in itself hallowed to the fancy. Collecting it around the place which most we honour, we trust that we remove it beyond the reach of profane intrusion.
2. To the Christian there appears a peculiar propriety in this simple and affecting arrangement. The dust of the departed is doubly valuable in the Christian’s regard, who knows that “this mortal” is destined to “put on immortality.” In placing it near the temple of our God, we seem to express our humble confidence in the promise which He hath given; we seem to leave it under His own especial protection.
3. The practice which arose from reverence for the dead, is powerfully enforced by its usefulness to the living. If we would listen to the thought, there is in it eloquence irresistible, that around the place where we assemble to worship our God, the ashes of our fathers and of our brethren sleep. We act the part of fools when we banish from our minds any theme, uninviting though its aspect be, by which our spiritual welfare might he so essentially advanced. (A. Brunton, D. D.)
Appeals of the grave
1. Come hither, ye proud! Look around you on this scene of universal stillness, and show us the trace of those distinctions in which you glory. Tell us which is noble and which is vulgar dust l
2. Come hither, ye who value yourselves upon the graces of your outward form. Have you courage to meet the aspect here of that which late was lovely?
3. Come hither, ye votaries of wealth; and show us in this receptacle of human dust, what advantages have gone down to the grave with him who preceded you in your anxious labours. The riches of this world descend not into the grave. But there are treasures of which the value outlives the tomb.
4. Children of intemperance and folly, those who once were your associates in riot, are laid in the grave. Silent is now the wit that was to charm for ever; and quenched the smile that was never to fade! Are you prepared for a change like this?
5. Son of wisdom, and holiness, and piety, thine associates also are sleeping here.
6. Come hither, and stand by this new-formed grave. It is the grave of thine enemy. He cannot harm thee now. Thou mournest to think that the remembrance of injuries which he had done or suffered may have agonised his deathbed. Thou shudderest at the thought, either that he died execrating and abhorring thee, or suing for reconciliation and peace in vain; that the departing spirit may have gone hence, unforgiving or unforgiven. Is there, then, one to whom, at this moment, thou bearest enmity? “Go,” while yet the lesson is warm upon thy heart, “leave thy gift before the altar,” &c.
7. Reverence and attachment lead thee onward to the spot where the instructor of thy youth, the guide of thy childhood, lies. All the lessons of his wisdom rush upon thy remembrance, as thou standest by his grave. Improve the moment,--it is rich in usefulness.
8. The scene around may well rouse thee to self-examination. For, see, here is laid thine equal in age. He began with thee the career of life, gay and careless as thyself. The same with thine own were his pursuits. The same with thine own were his hopes. Seest thou that vacant space by his side? God only knows, how soon thou mayest be called to fill it. In this land of shadows one thing is certain,--it is death; “one thing is needful,”--it is an interest in Him who hath vanquished death and the grave. (A. Brunton, D. D.)
The gates of the grave
The region of the grave is bounded. God keeps the gates.
I. ALL MEN’S DREAD. Through--
2. Natural fear of the unknown.
3. Want of faith.
II. ALL MEN’S DESTINY.
2. Men may approach these gates and return, but once passed they are passed for ever.
3. They are the portals of endless joy or woe. (W. O. Lilley.)
I am deprived of the residue of my years
The shortening of human life
The words of the text naturally suggest this general observation: that God deprives many of the human race of the residue of their years.
I. CONSIDER WHEN GOD DOES THIS.
1. God deprives all those of the residue of their years whom He calls out of the world before they have reached the limits of life which are to be found in Scripture.
2. Whom He calls out of the world before they have reached the bounds of life fixed by Providence. Though the Scriptures limit life to seventy or eighty years, yet Providence oftens extends it to a longer period.
3. Who die before they have reached the bounds of life which are imposed by the laws of nature. Nature sets bounds to every kind of life in this world. All, therefore, who die by sickness, or accident, or violence, or any other cause than the course of nature, are really deprived of the residue of their days.
II. Inquire WHY GOD THUS SHORTENS THE LIVES OF MEN.
1. To teach the living that He is not dependent upon them in the least degree.
2. To teach mankind their constant and absolute dependence upon Himself.
3. To teach the living the necessity of being continually prepared for another life.
4. To teach the living the importance of faithfully improving life as long as they enjoy it.
5. God may sometimes cut short the days of the wicked to prevent their doing evil in time to come.
6. God may sometimes shorten the lives of His faithful servants to prevent their seeing and suffering public calamities.
1. If God does not always deprive men of the residue of their years, but allows some to reach the bounds of nature, then there is propriety in praying for the lives of the aged as well as of the young.
2. If God so often deprives men of the residue of their years, then it is extremely unreasonable and dangerous to flatter ourselves with the hopes of living a great while in the world.
3. We ought to beware of placing too much dependence upon the lives of others, as well as upon our own.
4. Long life is a great as well as distinguishing favour.
5. If God always has wise and good reasons for depriving men of the residue of their years, then it is as reasonable to submit to His providence in one instance of mortality as another. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The residue of years
Life has crises. Men often feel as if life were re-given. Wisdom is born in such hours. The residue of life is regarded with reverence. The residue of year
I. ARE, WITH US, UNCERTAIN.
II. SHOULD BE GUIDED BY THE EXPERIENCES OF PAST YEARS.
III. SHOULD BE MOST SERENE AND HAPPY.
IV. SHOULD BE MOST PIOUS AND FRUITFUL IN GOOD TO OTHERS. (W. O.Lilley.)
I said, I shall not see the Lord
HEZEKIAH’S DISTRESS AT THE THOUGHT OF NOT SEEING GOD. This manifested--
1. True affection towards God.
2. Fervent desires for the revelation of God’s glory.
3. Spiritual power to apprehend God.
II. HEZEKIAH’S DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE THOUGHT OF NOT SEEING GOD ON EARTH. He would see Him--
1. In deliverances wrought out for His people.
2. In Divine manifestations in the temple.
3. In Divine benediction upon himself and nation. Happy they who desire to see God. He may be seen in this land of death. In the true land of the living men ever behold Him face to face. (W. O. Lilley.)
I shall behold man no more with the inhabitants of the world
One, and only one probation, a benevolent arrangement
(with Luke 16:26):--There are two facts that give death profound solemnity.
1. It separates a man for ever from his connections in this world. Hezekiah felt this now. Job felt this. “When a few years are come,” &c. What living man has not been impressed with this idea! The old scene of his first impressions, anxious labours, tender friendships, and dear associations is left for ever. However trying this world may be, it contains very much that is dear to us. Here we felt the first sensations of life; here the first trains of thought arose; here we have received the elements of our character; here all our joys have been experienced, our trials endured, and our labours prosecuted. Here sleep the dust of our parents and our friends. To leave all this for ever is a sad thought.
2. It separates a man for ever from all probationary means of improvement. Abraham gave this idea to the rich man in the world of perdition: he assured him there was an impassable “gulf” fixed between him and all remedial means. After death character seems stereotyped. This is a more solemn fact than the other, though perhaps not so deeply and generally felt. To be cut off for ever, if we are wicked, from Bibles, sanctuaries, and all mediatorial influences and helps; to have an impassable gulf between all that is bright and fair in the universe and one’s self;--how solemn this! This fact, which is profoundly solemn, is neither cruel nor unjust, but on the contrary highly benevolent.
I. THERE IS MORE GOODNESS IN THIS ARRANGEMENT TO THE INDIVIDUAL HIMSELF. Three facts will illustrate this.
1. In case a man had a second probation, and it failed, his guilt and misery would be considerably enhanced by it.
(1) Punishment will be propertioned by the privileges and opportunities abused. “He that knoweth his Master’s will, and doeth it not,” &c. “If I had not spoken to them,” said Christ, “they had not had sin.” What is the guilt of a heathen compared with a man living in Christian lands?
(2) The privileges and opportunities connected with his first probation are such as to impose incalculable responsibility. “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy,” &c. What, then, would be the guilt of a man who had not only lived through a first probation, but a second?
2. The man who abused the first probation would be most likely to abuse the second. If a man pass through all remedial influences of the first probation nature, sacred literature, sanctuaries, the counsels and admonitions of the pious, the Gospel ministry--and not be saved, but hardened, by all, would there not be a certainty that, if he entered upon a second probation, the second would also fail?
(1) Because he would enter upon the second with hardened sensibilities. He did not so the first. We began our existence here with tender consciences.
(2) He would enter on the second with confirmed habits. H it be asked, May not some new influences be brought to bear upon the soul in the second probation that did not act upon him in the first?--We ask, What new influences are possible? We can only conceive of two kinds--the penal and the merciful. Will penal sufferings convert? And as to merciful influences--can there be any more merciful power brought to bear upon the soul than now? Can God give a more moving and mighty expression of His love than in sending His only-begotten Son?
3. Man’s knowledge of a second probation would tend to counteract upon his mind the saving influence of the first.
(1) It would strengthen that procrastinating principle in his nature which leads him now to postpone the question of his salvation.
(2) It would strengthen that presuming tendency of his nature which induces him to run the risk of the future. (Homilist.)
As a shepherd’s tent
The inconstancy of earthly life
He saith “a shepherd’s tent,” because that represents the inconstancy and uncertainty of our life, more than any other tent.
The soldier’s tent may stand pitched long in a place, as in sieges and the like; but shepherds change the place of their tent every day, because of the opportunity of fresh pasture for their cattle. (W. Day, M. A.)
As a shepherd s tent
I. MAN’S LOT HAS NO PERMANENCE.
II. IT IS EASILY REMOVED.
III. IT MAY BE SPEEDILY REMOVED.
IV. IT IS OFTEN REMOVED SUDDENLY.
V. IT IS REMOVED TO ANOTHER PLACE. (W. O. Lilley.)
I have out off like a weaver my life
The art of weaving
The art of weaving seems to have been coeval with the first dawn of civilisation. We do not know where or at what time it was invented; but we find that at an early age in the world’s history the Egyptians manifested great skill in it. The vestures of fine linen such as Joseph wore were the product of Egyptian looms, and the existing specimens of the mummy cloth of Egypt are said to compare favourably with the finest cambric of modern times. There are various incidental references to this art in the Scriptures. We are told that the staff of Goliath’s spear was like a weaver’s beam. Job says that his days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. And among the experiments which Delilah tried in ascertaining the secret of Samson’s strength, we find one that consisted in weaving the seven locks of his hair with the web of her loom. “She fastened it with the pin, and said unto him, The Philistines be upon thee, Samson; and he awaked out of his sleep, and plucked away the pin of the beam, and the web.” Here we have references to some of the parts of the loom as it exists in the present day, the beam, the shuttle, the pin to which the web was attached. Indeed, we learn on reliable authority that though the introduction of machinery has made some important changes in the loom as used by the ancients, yet the essential features of it remain unaltered. (W. V. Robinson, B. A.)
Man as a weaver
We need, therefore, but a slight acquaintance with the art of weaving in its present state to enable us to understand the meaning of our text. Let us suppose that a man is standing before his loom. The warp has been supplied to him by his master, and fixed to the weaver’s beam. The threads pass over the loom, and the weft is shot through by means of the shuttle. The web is then complete, and is rolled on to another beam. When the required length of cloth has been woven, the threads of the warp are cut, and if the master has no more work for the weaver, he is dismissed from his employ. (W. V. Robinson, B. A.)
The web of life
Life is like a web of which man is the weaver, and the threads may at any moment be cut by the master, and the weaver dismissed from the loom.
I. LIFE IS LIKE A WEB, OF WHICH GOD SUPPLIES THE MATERIALS, AND OF WHICH MAN IS THE WEAVER.
1. God supplies the warp of life.
(1) This consists partly of a man’s capacities and partly of a man’s circumstances. It is different in almost every case; but in each case it forms the material which lies at the basis of a man’s life. No two men are exactly alike. One man enters life with a strong physical constitution. Another, perhaps his brother, enters into life a cripple. One man inherits a strong intellect, which in his boyhood puts him at the top of his school, and in his later years makes him the leader of his fellows. Another is born with a slow, dull comprehension. One man is born with tastes and tendencies which will make him an artist or a poet; another with passions which will sink him into the criminal class if they are allowed to develop. One man is weak in character, veering like the weather-cock with every breath of public opinion. Another has a strong character. He is firm and persistent, and allows no difficulty to discourage or distress him. How very different is the warp of life in these cases!
(2) The warp of life comprises, moreover, a man’s early surroundings his parentage, his social position, his early education, his religious training. One men is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, another has the fiery liquid poured down his throat before he is many weeks old. One is surrounded by the sunshine of love and affluence; another enters life in the cold winds of adversity and cruel oppression. One man is born in a country village, and his early life is full of experiences of the external world in all its purity and beauty; another is born in a large town, amid the roar of traffic and the bustling excitement of city life. One is born in a land where the air is heavy with idolatry; another is surrounded with Christian influences. How different is the warp of life in all such cases! Now God supplies this; and it is not for any one of us to murmur at His arrangements. For this, at least, we know, that God requires of a man no more than he possesses.
2. The weft of life, as we conceive of it, consists of the desires and purposes and resolutions that we bring to bear upon our capacities and circumstances. There are some who weave with the coarse yarn of selfishness, who use their strong physical natures for the gratification of their bodily appetites, who allow their strong reasoning powers to lift them up in rebellion against God, who oppress and crush their weaker brethren with their firm wills and imperious natures. When a coarse thread is woven into a fine warp, the cloth is not good. Neither can that life be good which has a selfish purpose woven into the Divine plan. But there are others who weave with the fine yarn of Christian consecration, and the web of their lives cannot but be well pleasing in the sight of God. It is true that the weft of life is supplied to us as well as the warp, and yet each man possesses the power to choose the thread that he will weave into his life. It is ours to choose either the selfish purpose or the Christ-like purpose. Any weaver may lay aside the yarn that his master has supplied to him, and substitute for it an inferior yarn and work with that. And that is exactly what many are actually doing. On the one side, the Divine Spirit is prompting him to all that is noble and good; and on the other side are the spirits of darkness, who cannot compel one single man to choose the wrong, but who can, and do tempt him to it; and if a man, either through indifference or presumption, allows himself to be influenced by that which is evil, for the life that is thus marred he is accountable to God.
II. GOD KNOWS BEST OF ALL WHEN THE WEB OF LIFE IS REALLY FINISHED. The Greeks believed that the fates were spinning the web of human life, and that they determined when it should be cut off from the loom. Ours is a truer and a more comforting creed. It is no cruel fate but a loving Father that determines for us the length of life’s fabric.
1. We sometimes think that some lives are ended before they are completed. What means the broken column, so frequently to be seen in our cemeteries, but that some mourning friend thinks that one life, perhaps dearer than any other life, has been cut off before it is completed. But God knows best when a life is really finished. Every life is finished when God’s purpose in that life has been fulfilled. The life of Jesus only reached over thirty-three short years; but no one thinks of suggesting that it would have been better if He had lived to be sixty. His work was finished.
2. Again, are there not many who seem to us to have lived long after their work on earth was over? It may be that in the patient waiting of their lives, in the dim glory of their eventide, He has some threads for them to weave into the warp that He has supplied.
3. But after the fabric has been rolled up, it must be unrolled again. How few are there who can, without emotion, take a retrospect of their past life! To some it is a punishment greater than they can bear! And is there any man, however good, who can think of the past without regret? The memory of God’s goodness, indeed, may fill him with gratitude, and joy, and wonder; but the recollection of his share in life’s fabric must fill him with grief and shame. And this life must be Unrolled before the searching eye of the Great Master, in the fierce light that beats about His throne. “For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” How can we bear to present such imperfect and sin-stained lives to God? Let us take courage. For are there not some standing before the throne whose lives were no better than ours? How can they stand there? “They have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And we, too, can receive forgiveness and cleansing where they received it. The Great Master might well say that such clumsy and faithless weavers as we are should have no place in His service and in His home. But He will receive us for the sake of His dear Son. (W. V. Robinson, D. D.)
Two typical cases: Judas Iscariot and Paul
Judas Iscariot was a man of whose capacities we know little. We may infer, however, that he possessed some valuable gifts, or his brethren in the apostolate would never have assigned to him the important office of purse-bearer and almoner to the little band. His circumstances, we know, were unusually good. He was drawn, with the other apostles, to the feet of Jesus by the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth. For three years he accompanied our Lord in His journeys. He heard the discourses to which He gave utterance, and he lived under the influence of His character. This was the warp of his life. But what does he weave into it? Is it avarice, or is it vindictiveness, or is it a conceited idea that he can force the triumph of his Master, or is it bitter disappointment at the spiritual character of Christ’s kingdom, that forms the weft of his life? Whatever it is, it is a dark, coarse thread. Satan enters into him. He betrays his Master even with the kiss of loyalty and affection. And when he comes to look at the web that he has woven, he himself is so overwhelmed with grief and remorse, that he cuts himself off from the loom. “He went, and departed, and hanged himself.” Saul of Tarsus was a very different man; a man of weak physical constitution, but of strong intellect; a man of deep conscientiousness and rousing enthusiasm. Drought up in a comfortable home and trained in the Pharisaism of his day, he weaves into his early life a simply lurid thread of persecution of the Christians. Jesus meets him on the way to Damascus, and he gives himself up completely to the influences that are brought to bear upon him. How changed his life is! He has severe physical sufferings to endure; he has persecutions innumerable to face; but inwoven into all the threads of the Divine providence is the grand purpose of consecration to Christ’s service. Henceforth the motto of his life is, “To me to live is Christ.” Christ is the aim of all his labours, of all Iris sufferings, of all his successes. And now that that life is unrolled for us in the Scriptures it is acknowledged to be one of the noblest and best ever lived upon earth. (W. V. Robinson, D. D.)
The life of Jesus
But even that life pales before the resplendent glory that streams forth from the one perfect life upon earth, the life of Him who was at once the Son of Mary and the Son of God. Born in the stable of the inn at Bethlehem, bred in the humble home of Nazareth, pursuing the calling of a carpenter, He possessed little that men would covet. But that life was glorious, not because of its circumstances, but because of its high and holy purpose. “My Father’s business,” that was the aim that He set before Himself from the beginning; and that was the aim that He pursued to the close of His career. When at last the supreme moment has come, He can shout triumphantly, “It is finished.” He has glorified God on the earth, He has finished the work that was given Him to do. Like His own seamless robe, His life was of one piece throughout. And He lived for us, He died for us. Trusting in Him, following in His footsteps, our lives may, in some measure, be like His. Humbler they can scarcely be; but are there any that are so full of glory? (W. V. Robinson, D. D.)
Human life a weaving
I. IT IS WORTH WHILE LOOKING AT THE WORK ITSELF. Now what is this? The formation of personal character. There are two great elements which might well correspond with the weaver’s warp and woof. The first may represent the principles of scriptural trust in God; pardon, providence, hope, &c. These, like the weaver’s warp, are strong and firmly fixed. The second are our own dally deeds. Each is a thread, woven into the character; both are necessary in cloth making: so are faith and works, in character weaving. Now observe about this work what it is.
1. The weaver’s own. I do not mean that the materials, either before or after they are made up, belong to him, but the work itself. A thousand weavers may use the same wool in common, while the work of each will be the product of each individual workman. Now this is a solemn fact in character weaving. Every man is making, and must make, his own; nobody can make it for him, nor can God give it him.
2. It is a work of increasing progress. We have to choose, not whether the work shall go on, but only whether the work shall be good or bad.
3. It is a work of growing ease. It is difficult at first, but soon, and in proportion to the weaver’s assiduity, he becomes dexterous, and may sing all day at his loom; ay, he shall have plenty to sing about too! So it is with character weaving.
4. It is a work of changeful feeling. We may be full of joy or grief, gaiety or gloom, only let the work go on. The finest cloth is often woven while we Job 7:6). Poor Job! You little thought what was in your loom then! Every age admires that work of yours! Christian weaver, do not think too much of your frames and feelings.
II. IT IS WORTH WHILE LOOKING AT THE MATERIALS. These are the doctrines of truth, all the agencies of the Spirit, and particularly all the events of life, all the calls to self-denial, duty, trust and righteousness which our lot furnishes. Observe of them--
1. They are like the weaver’s wool, all supplied by the Master. And the Master gives that material which best suits the workman.
2. They are only materials after all. They are valuable for the cloth’s sake, rather than for themselves. The man that works the worst material best, shall have the best pay and praise, and vice versa. Always remember that the part you play in life’s drama is the choice of God, the manner of playing it alone is yours. These materials are abundant. The master never lacks them so that work should be short. Every workman has his hands full.
III. IT IS WORTH WHILE LOOKING AT THE END. “I have cut off,” &c. Observe--
1. The fabric lasts for ever. Cloth wears out, character does not.
2. The work is over at death. The loom must then stop for ever. No unpicking bad work, finished or unfinished, bad or good. The shuttle is still, and the shears cut off the cloth, and it is delivered up.
3. The Master inspects it. Here, reputation will be nothing; character, all. It will be held up to the sun, ἐιλικρίνεια.
4. The Master disposes of it according to its worth. In reviewing all this, think--
(1) What a mercy it is we are spared and furnished for this work!
(2) What a motive to begin the work early!
(3) How soon shall we have nothing but our work left! Wealth, poverty, health, sickness, &c., all will be left behind! (W. Wheeler.)
I did mourn as a dove
“I did mourn as a dove”
The possessions of the world are often the means of lightening life’s sorrows, and of increasing its enjoyments.
What experience teaches us in this respect the Word of God allows. Prosperity is recognised by it as a subject for gratitude. But that riches in themselves are insufficient to make us happy is undeniable. At all seasons the limitation of their power is obvious; but at no time does it appear more strikingly than when the king of terrors gives challenge to an earthly potentate, and he finds that “there is no discharge in that war.” The history connected with our text will furnish us with an instance.
I. THE CAUSES OF MOURNING. This image of mourning as a dove is not confined to this one passage (Isaiah 59:11; Ezekiel 7:16; Nahum 2:7). Now the plaintive mourning notes of the dove we will suppose to be descriptive of various classes of men of sorrow.
1. We will begin with those mourning from the same cause as the author of our text. It was pining sickness which wounded the monarch’s spirit, and the prospect which it presented to him of certain dissolution. If, while as a dove you mourn plaintively, your mourning be dove-like because it is meek and submissive, still your mourning will be real.
2. Another source of mourning is the untowardness of worldly circumstances
3. Other sources of sorrow are to be found in the coldness of former friends, the treachery of those whom you trusted, or persecution from those who should encourage and support.
4. Another common cause of mourning like a dove is the departure of endeared ones.
5. A further source of mourning is remembrance of iniquity.
II. THEIR REMEDIES OR RELIEFS.
1. To the afflicted in body there is an obvious consolation--the possibility of their cure. The ease before us is thus encouraging. Another support in bodily affliction is the conformity which it gives us to our Lord. Again, Jesus Christ hath “brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”
2. What, next, is our relief in case of the wreck of worldly circumstances? The possession of wealth is no sure criterion of God’s approval. If your earthly losses have brought you to reflection, and led you to a right judgment of worldly goods; if the changes and chances of this mortal life have induced you to set your affection on things above; if they have broken your proud spirit, brought you to Christ, and ensured you an interest in His “unsearchable riches,” then mourn not as a dove, but sing as a lark.
3. We touch next on the grief which springs from dishonour done to us by familiar friends. We account this a curse: God may turn it into a blessing. We were wont to trust in man; we loved the creature with too ardent an attachment. Henceforth we think more of that Friend “who sticketh closer than a brother”; “who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever”; concerning whom it is our privilege to exclaim, ‘ Whom have I in heaven but Thee? “&c. If the ill-treatment of which we complain consists in persecution for righteousness’ sake, our Lord’s words in the beatitude supply all necessary consolation: “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you,” &c. “As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.”
4. Separation from those we love was the fourth cause of mourning for which we were to seek for a relief. Though in lands remote, they tread the same earth. The rough ocean is kind to each of us: he bears on his bosom the swift messengers carrying the interchange of tokens that many waters cannot quench our love. The weeds of widowhood may be twined with flowers of cheerfulness; for “a defender of the widow is God in His holy habitation.” The orphan’s lamentation may be hushed; for God is “a Father of the fatherless.” God can give “a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters.” And is it a small thing that “the righteous are taken away from the evil to come”; that “they rest from their labours”; that they are “present with the Lord”?
5. The last source of mourning which we noticed was the remembrance of iniquity. Is the wound incurable? “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there?” (T. W. Thomson, M. A.)
Affliction the occasion of murmuring
“Like a crane,” &c.
I. AFFLICTIONS OFTEN LEAD TO RASH AND FOOLISH MURMURINGS. They often--
1. Obscure God’s goodness.
2. Lead us to forget past mercies.
3. Darken our future.
II. AFFLICTIONS LEADING TO RASH AND FOOLISH MURMURINGS EXPOSE US TO GREAT MORAL DANGERS. We may, then--
1. Wrongly interpret God’s providence.
2. Lose the benefit which God intended.
3. Dishonour Him.
4. Bring discredit upon our religious profession.
III. AFFLICTIONS HAVING LED TO RASH AND FOOLISH MURMURINGS, SUCH MURMURINGS SHOULD BE ACKNOWLEDGED. This will--
1. Show our sense of the evil of our conduct.
2. Tend to repair the injury we may have done.
3. Obtain pardon from God. (W. O. Lilley.)
O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me
The oppressed soul seeking Divine interposition
If language was ever uttered by man, which all men ought to adopt; if a petition was ever presented by man, which all men ought to present before the mercy-seat, it is this.
I. YOU ALL NEED SOME ONE TO UNDERTAKE FOR YOU. Some one to make your cause his own, and to assist you in performing that work on the performance of which your everlasting happiness depends. You need some one to undertake--
1. To support and comfort under the trials of life, and carry you safely through them.
2. To be your guide through life. You need a guide, a counsellor, who knows not only what is in man, but what every man will prove to be in future life. But if you need such a guide as it respects this world, how much more as it respects the world to come I
3. Still more do you need some one who will undertake to afford you effectual assistance in subduing your spiritual enemies, the enemies which oppose your salvation.
4. Most of all do you need some one who can and will undertake to plead your cause in heaven, and effect a reconciliation between you and Four justly offended God.
II. THERE IS NO ONE ON EARTH OR IN HEAVEN WHO IS BOTH ABLE AND WILLING TO UNDERTAKE FOR YOU, EXCEPT THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. (E. Payson, D. D.)
The Christian’s grand resource
There is scarcely any feeling more painful than that of desolation. The Scriptures frequently refer to it. Micah 7:1-2.) When this feeling first comes upon us, there is as it were a total prostration of strength. Consider--
I. THE CHRISTIAN UNDER TRIAL. The text is applicable--
1. To the young Christian just entering upon the duties of life.
2. To the young man entering upon his religious course.
3. To the Christian perplexed in the path of duty.
4. To the Christian under conviction of sin.
5. To the Christian in a state of grief for the loss of one near and dear to him.
6. To the Christian on his dying bed.
7. To the Christian as he stands before the Lord at His second advent.
II. THE CHRISTIAN’S RESOURCE. The world has many resources. The Christian has but one. But that one is of infinitely greater worth than all those possessed by an unconverted and ungodly world. (M. Villiers, M. A.)
The burdened soul’s relief
I. WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF YOUR OPPRESSION?
1. Is it some burden of sadness that has fallen upon you--some loss, or cross, or disappointment, that has shown you the fleeting uncertainty of all earthly treasures?
2. Is it some persecution of the ungodly?
3. Or do you stand perplexed by the foiling of some well-laid plan; or the unsuccessful issue of your efforts to remove the prejudices and enlighten the ignorance and improve the hearts of men?
4. Or do temptations beset you, almost too strong for flesh and blood to bear?
5. Is it not merely at the deceitfulness of your heart, but at its “desperate wickedness” that your heart sinks within you?
II. WILL YOU NOT GO ON TO SAY, “O LORD, UNDERTAKE FOR ME”?
1. How doth God undertake for us? Is it by removing from the sinner all temptation to sin? Is it by taking from the afflicted and mourner the immediate cause of his affliction, and restoring all things according to his shortsighted wish? No, it is by a far different process. He will suggest to his heart good resolutions, and holy impulses; and if he cherish these, the spirit of Jesus will afford him measures of special grace. And as to him that is bowed down with sorrow--it is not God’s way to reverse His sentence, and at once remove the cause. But He gives us such faith in Him, that we believe that “the thoughts which He thinketh towards us, are thoughts of peace, and not of evil.” And in proportion as faith makes herself heard, the voice of fretting dies away.
2. What ground of confidence we have that God will undertake for us.
(1) Have we not His own most sure promise?
(2) Have we not the experience of all the servants of the most High?
(3) But besides and beyond the Word of God and the experience of the saints--both of which the Israelites shared of old--we have the knowledge of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of all the fruits and consequences which grow out of that blessed doctrine. (D. A.Beaufort, M. A.)
The yearning for sympathy met in Christ
There is such a vast disproportion between a man and some of his own feelings--between the inner and the outer life of a man--that the wonder is not that we should sometimes feel the burden of existence, but that there should be any man who should not be always saying, “I am oppressed.”
I. THERE ARE FEW MINDS WHO DO NOT LOOK OUT FOR SYMPATHY. It is an instinct of our nature, that we must lean somewhere. Almost all error, all superstition, all worldliness, resolves at last into the feeling that a man must lean; but he is leaning on a wrong base. It is upon this great principle in the man’s breast that the Gospel lays hold and points it to Christ. It sets Him forth as the one great Undertaker for all His people’s wants.
II. WHAT ARE CHRIST’S UNDERTAKINGS FOR US?
1. He has undertaken to pay all our debts: they are very great.
2. He has undertaken that we shall never be alone. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.”
3. He has undertaken that you shall never be really overcome. “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
4. He has undertaken to place you on the sunny side of everything all life through; for “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
5. He has undertaken that you shall always have a place of refuge. “Come unto Me, all ye that labour,” &c.
6. He has undertaken that death shall be to you only a name, not a reality. “He that believeth on Me shall never die.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
“Undertake for me”
Hezekiah here represents his disease as a bailiff that had arrested him and was carrying him to the prison of the grave, and therefore prays that the Lord would bail him or rescue him out of his hands. (J. Gill, D. D.)
God needed in the dying hour
Ten days before the late Dean Burgon died he said, “Nothing but the Everlasting Arms can support me now.” (F. Harper, M. A.)
The cry of an oppressed spirit
Our individuality is strong in suffering. The ego rises to throw off the chains that bind it.
I. A CRY OF AN OPPRESSED SPIRIT. The human spirit is oppressed with--
4. Mysteries of life.
II. A CRY ADDRESSED TO THE TRUE HELPER.
1. God alone can undertake the cause of the soul.
2. He alone can bring true deliverance.
3. He will deliver those who seek Him.
4. His deliverances are eternal (W. O. Lilley.)
What shall I say?
A bewildered soul
Such an exclamation escaped from the lips of Joshua, and it was the language of bitter disappointment, for Israel fled before their enemies (Joshua 7:8). The same words were uttered by our adorable Lord when His soul was overwhelmed with grief in the prospect of His agonies and bloody sweat, His cross and sacrificial death (John 12:27). Here it is the language of one who was filled with perplexity by the dispensations of Divine Providence. Such is the case with us sometimes; our circumstances are so painful, so different from what we anticipated, that in bewilderment we exclaim, “What shall I say?” We must say--
1. That God’s dealings are very mysterious.
2. That the words of Jesus are still true, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.”
3. That some of God’s promises require strong faith to believe them.
4. That God will do just as He pleases with His own children.
5. That the trial of faith is often very severe, exceedingly painful.
6. That patience and perseverance are required under our trials.
7. That when Satan hinders, none but God can effectually help; therefore we must look to Him.
8. That however rough the road, the end will more than make up for its toils and trials, for the end shall be blessed. (James Smith.)
I shall go softly all my years
Past troubles remembered
The Revised Version has it: “I shall go softly all my years, because of the bitterness of my soul.” The marginal reading of the Revised Version is: “I shall go in solemn procession all my years because of the bitterness of my soul.” That “because of” means--since I hold in memory the bitterness of my soul. So that we may state the significance of our Scripture thus: I will walk henceforth in solemn, subdued, reverent way, remembering always and thankfully the bitterness out of which my soul has been delivered. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
Escape from death gives a new meaning, to life
Hereafter he should walk with the step and the mien of a conqueror; or with the carefulness of a worshipper who sees at the end of his course the throne of the Most High God, and makes all his life an ascent thither. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Outlook in affliction
I. A wise RESOLVE. Reckless ambition is folly. Our stage of action is polluted, insecure, and vanishing. We are weak and dying. To walk in humility, self-distrust, and holy fear is wisdom.
II. ITS CAUSE. Afflictions change our views of life. They change us. Wisdom is often born out of soul-bitterness. A severe affliction should be an epoch in a man’s life. It should pluck out his follies, and make his future a more tender, gentle, lovable thing. (W. O. Lilley.)
O Lord, by these things men live
Affliction as related to life
The conception and quality of life as affected by the discipline of any form of trial--that is the topic.
I. Take THE CONCEPTION OF LIFE AS A WHOLE, and see how that is modified or altered by experiences like those through which Hezekiah passed. They who have had no such critical experience in any form have never fully awakened to the difference which there is between mere existence and life. In sleep there is as real existence as when we are awake; but what a paltry thing life would be if it were to be a constant sleep! Yet there are those among us in whom, though their time may be busily occupied, and though their intellects may be keen and vigilant, the spirit slumbers. They are like the landowner on whose estate there is an undiscovered silver mine, who is no richer for his hidden wealth, and who cannot be said even to possess it. Nothing has come to reveal them to themselves, or to give them any vivid sense of the existence of God and their relationship to Him. Nothing has opened their eyes to the possibilities of life that are yet undeveloped in them. One day has been to them like another; and the unbroken monotony of their experience has fostered in them the expectation that things will always continue with them as they have always been. Thus they verify the psalmist’s words, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” But when something like that which came to Hezekiah comes to them, then there is a thorough, if also a rude, awakening, and they discover that they have yet to begin to live. One may easily see this exemplified in the votary of pleasure. Or take the case of him whose object in existence has been the accumulation of wealth.
II. Passing to THE QUALITY OF THE LIFE, we may see how that also is affected by such experiences of affliction. Here many features of character are evoked or developed by trial.
1. There is the element of strength, whether in its passive exercise as patient endurance, or in its active manifestation as persevering energy. The poet has caught the truth when he bids his readers “learn to suffer and be strong.” He who has known no affliction is easily worn out. The old sailor, who has been all but shipwrecked, is not dismayed by a summer squall. It is the same with life as a whole. You will find the strongest characters always among those who have been most sorely afflicted. We ought, then, to be reconciled to the afflictions by which alone it can be developed.
2. We can see that experiences like this of Hezekiah have a great influence in producing unselfishness in a man. When a man has been in the grip of the last enemy, and has recovered; or has been within a little of losing all he had, and has escaped, you can understand how such an experience sends him out of himself. It intensifies for him the idea of life as a stewardship for God, and he sees the folly of making all the streams of his effort run into himself. Howard’s life of benevolence was the outcome of a critical illness; and of multitudes more than of him it can be said that they sloughed off their selfishness in the crucible of trial.
3. But it is only a broadening out of this remark when I affirm that sympathy is born out of such experiences as those of Hezekiah. He who would be a helper must first be a sufferer. He who would be a saviour must somewhere and somehow have been upon a cross.
4. Experiences like Hezekiah’s have much to do with the usefulness of a man’s life. Usefulness is not a thing which one can command at will. It is, in most cases, the result of a discipline; and is possessed by those who, in a large degree, are unconscious that they are exercising it. It depends fully more on what a man is than on what he does, or, if it is due to what he does or says, that again is owing very much to what he is, and what he is now has been determined by the history through which he has been brought. You see that in the case of a physician. His experience goes far more to the making of him than his college training has done. It is so, also, in spiritual things. The helpfulness of another to us in the prosecution of the Christian life is determined more by his personal experience than by his intellectual pre-eminence. Here is the secret of the difference between one man and another in the matter of pulpit power. I must add one word of caution. It is not every affliction that works out such results; and whether any trial will do so or not depends entirely on the spirit in which it is borne. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Luther’s life enriched by trial
Luther was wont to say that his three great teachers were prayer, study, and trial; and any reader of his life can perceive that if he had been required in the early part of his career to face some of the dangers which menaced him at a later date he would have faltered in his course. But through the minor experience he gained strength for the severer ordeal; and so it came about that what would have appalled him at the outset made almost as little impression on him at the last as “the whistling of the idle wind that he regarded not.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Sympathy engendered by trouble
Those of us who have lost little children feel a prompting within us to speak a word of comfort to every parent who is passing through a similar experience. Indeed, it was in connection with an affliction of that sort that my attention was first drawn to this text. I had just a few weeks before buried a beloved daughter, the light of the household, and had gone to attend a meeting of Synod where an honoured minister, who had been through the same trial oftener than once before, came up to me and took me by the hand, and said to me, with a reference to my sorrow, “By these things men live.” That was all, but each successive year since then has given a new verification of his words, for oh! how often in the interval have I been enabled to comfort others with the comfort with which I have been comforted of God, and the efficacy of the consolation lay largely in the fact that it was offered by one who had proved its value for himself. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The life of the spirit
Whosoever is really alive, that is, has life in his spirit, the life of man and not a beast, the only life which is worthy to be called life, then that life is kept up in him in the same way that it was kept up in Hezekiah. Let us see, then, what things they were which gave Hezekiah’s spirit life.
1. Great joy, great honour, great success, wealth, health, prosperity, and pleasure? Not so!
2. Trouble upon trouble came on Hezekiah.
3. Death looked to him an ugly and an evil thing--as it is; the Lord’s last enemy. He conquered death by rising from the dead: but nevertheless we die. Hezekiah lived before the Lord Jesus came to bring life and immortality to light by rising from the dead; and, therefore, he dreaded it, because he knew not what would come after death. He prayed hard not to die.
4. What was the use of his sickness and his terror if, after all, his prayer was heard, and after the Lord had told him, “Thou shalt die, and not live”--that did not come to pass; but the very contrary happened? Of this use,at least; it taught him that the Lord God would hear the prayers of mortal men. Is not that worth going through any misery to learn? Hezekiah did not pray rightly. He thought himself a better man than he was. But he did pray. And then he found that the Lord was ready to save him; that what the Lord wished was not to kill him but to make him live more really and fully and wisely and manfully.
5. What Hezekiah saw but dimly we ought to see clearly. For the Gospel tells us that the same Lord who chastened and taught and then saved Hezekiah, was made flesh, that He might in His own person bear all our sickness and carry our infirmities; that He might understand all our temptations and be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He who made, He who lightens every man who comes into the world, He who gave you every right thought and wholesome feeling that you ever had in your lives--He counts your tears; He knows your sorrows; He is able and willing to save you to the uttermost. Therefore do not be afraid of your own afflictions. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
Spoil from the fight with death
Hope and joy returned with restored health, and we see (Isaiah 38:16-20) what Hezekiah brought back with him from his fight with death
1. A new peace.
3. A new sense of the dignity of life, and of the encompassing eternal realities.
4. A joyful sense of God’s personal love for him. (E. W.Shalders, B. A.)
Physical benefit may accrue from sickness
Strange as it may appear, it is no less true that life is often lengthened and health invigorated by a sharp illness. Like a ship put in dock for repairs, an illness or an accident lays a man aside for a time out of the reach of work and worry, and the rest of mind and body restores the balance of his exhausted energies. Typhus fever successfully treated often clarifies the whole system, just as a chimney is cleansed by setting it on fire; and a severe illness often acts as a solemn warning, leading men to consider their ways and their work, and to diminish the strain which is overtaxing the system, or to give up some vicious habit of self-indulgence which is laying the axe to the root of the tree. (W. Johnston, D. D.)
The uses of affliction
The allusion of our text is not to the life of the body, but to that which is far more important, the life of the soul. In what manner does severe sickness or affliction of any kind conduce, by the blessing of God, to the creation and development of our spiritual life?
I. AFFLICTION TEACHES US OUR ENTIRE DEPENDENCE UPON GOD.
II. AFFLICTION DISROBES US OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. Hezekiah yielded to the insidious promptings of self-righteousness and self-glorification. Affliction was the disrobing process through which he was called upon to pass, the school in which he must learn his unworthiness as well as his weakness. And in this disrobing of all self-righteousness there was the life of his spirit.
III. AFFLICTION BRINGS US TO REALISE AND ENJOY THE FULNESS OF CHRIST. When Hezekiah was awakened to a sense of his want of righteousness before God, he expected to go softly in the bitterness of his soul all the years of his life. But the self-righteous idea of innocence and excellence is no longer the broken spear on which to lean and pierce his hand. The Sun of Righteousness has arisen with healing in His wings; bitterness and disquietude pass away together, and Hezekiah is made to see what he had never seen so clearly before--that in love to his soul, the Lord, his God in covenant, had afflicted his body, had thus delivered his soul from the pit of corruption, and had cast all his sins behind His back.
IV. SANCTIFIED AFFLICTION STIMULATES US IN CHRISTIAN WORK. Hezekiah learned on the bed of sickness that there are but twelve hours in the day, that the night cometh when no man can work, and that the brief period of life must be diligently and devoutly improved. And it is when laid upon the bed of severe sickness, with time in the past and eternity in the near future, that we shall realise in all its solemnity the importance and responsibility of life, and resolve, if spared like Hezekiah yet a little longer to recover strength before we go hence to be no more, that our chief end shall be to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever. (W. Johnston, D. D.)
The life of the spirit
Hezekiah was a rich and prosperous king. Surrounded by the dignities of rank, the refinements of elegance, and the gratifications of voluptuousness, he, doubtless, viewed these as the very end and delight of his being, and wished for nothing, knew of nothing better or beyond them. No; very different was his character; very different were the things of which he spake. These words were not uttered in “the house of his armour,” but in the chamber of his sickness; not at the festive table of his royal banquets, but upon the couch of lassitude and pain. Let us endeavour, by a few examples, to verify his pensive contemplation; and this, that we may learn “so to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”
1. Take the case of a professed scoffer at religion. He is arrested, we will suppose, by the arm of Omnipotence, in his profligate course; he is thrown by a stronger hand than his own upon the couch of pain and dejection; he learns for the first time to tremble; we will suppose him humbled, converted. Sanctified affliction was the first step. This softened the stony ground: this prepared the heart for holy impressions. Will not such a one be ready to exclaim with Hezekiah, “By these things men live, and by these is the life of the spirit”?
2. Imagine a man careless and indifferent to religion, though not a hardened scoffer. He is too busy with the world to spend a thought upon his eternal safety. But God brings him low. In the silence and solitude of affliction he is forced to think. What cause will such a one have for ever to bless Him who wounds that He may heal, who kills that He may make alive!
3. Let us imagine an inconsistent backsliding Christian brought into deep affliction. He returns to Him whom he had forsaken.
4. Look at the Pharisee. God brings him within sight of death and eternity. He is unmasked to himself, and begins to exclaim, “What must I do to be saved?” What a blessing has affliction been to such a character!
5. The dejected Christian. How often has such a one had reason to exclaim of afflictions, that “by these things men live”! The season of weakness and distress is often that which God selects for the brightest manifestations of His love and tenderness. (Family Sermons.)
The restoration of belief
In the especial ease of Hezekiah, belief was restored by a great shock, which brought him into contact with reality. God appeared to him--not as to Adam, in the cool of the day, but as He came to Job, in the whirlwind and the eclipse--and Hezekiah knew that he had been living in a vain show. The answer of his soul was quick and sad: “By these things men live, O Lord.”
I. THE BLOW WHICH SOBERED HEZEKIAH WAS A COMMON ONE. It did nothing more than bring him face to face with death. The process whereby his dependence on God was restored was uncomplicated. But there are far worse shocks than this, and recovery from them into a Godlike life is long and dreadful. There are things which at first seem to annihilate belief, and change an indifferent or a happy nature into earnest, even savage bitterness. One of these is the advent of irrecoverable disease, protracted weakness, or protracted pain. God forgives our human anger then, but we speak roughly to Him at first. It is a dark anger, and may grow in intensity till faith and love are lost for this life; but it will not reach that point if we have some greatness of soul, if we are open to the touch of human love. One day the Gospel story in all its sweet simplicity attracts and softens the sufferer’s heart. He reads that Christ’s suffering in self-sacrifice brought redemption unto man. Surely, he seems to dream this is no isolated fact. I too, in my apparent uselessness, am at one with the Great Labourer: I bear with Christ my cross for men. This is not only the restoration of belief, it is the victory of life.
II. BUT THERE ARE MORE DREADFUL THINGS THAN LONG DISEASE. There is that shipwreck which comes of dishonoured love. Many things are terrible, but none is worse than this. In some there is no remedy but death, and far beyond the immanent tenderness of God. But there are many who recover, whom God leads oat of the desert into the still garden of an evening life of peace and usefulness and even joy. Lapse of time does part of the work. In the quietude of middle life we look back upon our early misery, and only remember the love we felt. Faith is restored, hope is renewed, when, like Christ, you can turn and say, Father, forgive him, forgive her, for they knew not what they did.
III. There have been and are many of us who are conscious that, as we have passed into the later period of life and mingled with the world, OUR EARLY FAITH HAS ALSO PASSED AWAY. We have lost belief because our past religion was borrowed too much from others. If we wish for perfection, and are not content to die and love no more, the restoration of belief may be attained by the personal labour of the soul. It is worth trying what one personal effort to bring ourselves into the relation of a child to a father, in all the naturalness and simplicity of that relation, will do towards restoring faith and renewing life with tenderness. (S. A. Brooke, D. D.)
Behold, for peace I had great bitterness
Hezekiah’s return of praise for his recovery
A SAD, HEAVY AFFLICTION. “Behold, for peace,” &c. The affliction is aggravated--
1. By a description of it in its own nature.
(1) In the quality of it--“bitterness.”
(2) In the quantity of it--“great bitterness.”
2. By opposition of the blessing which is removed--“peace”; a word that comprehends an temporal blessings, and more particularly is taken, in Holy Writ, for health--a blessing without which all other blessings have no relish in them.
3. By the surprise of it--“Behold!” as a strange thing.
4. And this further aggravated it, if we understand it, as we must in a spiritual sense--that, his sickness calling his sins to remembrance, and causing some distrust of God’s love, instead of that peace of conscience he had had heretofore, his spirit was now troubled and greatly embittered. And “a wounded spirit, who can bear?”
II. A MERCIFUL DELIVERANCE OUT OF THIS AFFLICTION. “Thou hast in love,” &c. The mercy of the deliverance wants not its heightening circumstances; as--
1. From the efficient cause. It was God delivered him.
2. From the motive or impulsive cause--“love.”
3. From the danger he was delivered out of, and that no ordinary one--“a pit”--“the pit of corruption,” even the grave.
III. A BLESSED IMPROVEMENT OF THIS MERCY. “For Thou hast cast,” &c. This is the crown of mercies, when temporals are thus accumulated with spirituals; this a recovery indeed, of the whole man, when health is improved unto salvation, and strength of body accompanied with pardon of sins. This is right “saving health.”
IV. A THANKFUL ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THIS IMPROVED MERCY. That is set forth--
1. By showing the impossibility for the dead to perform this duty.
2. And then showing, not the possibility only, but the probability, that the living will, i.e., such as Divine mercy continues in life, and especially such as are by that mercy preserved from imminent danger of death.
3. Exemplified in himself. “As I do this day.” (A. Littleton, D. D.)
The pains and pleasures attending religion
I. THE FELICTIOUS CONDITION OF THE GOOD HEZEKIAH IN THE POSSESSION OF PEACE. Shall I speak of him as a man enjoying health in his body; as a king blessed with prosperity and tranquillity through all his dominions? These are invaluable privileges. Rather let us consider him as a sinner whose, conscience has been sprinkled with the blood of Christ, by virtue of which he enjoys that peace which consists in a sweet sense of the Divine friendship.
II. ATTEND HEZEKIAH WHEN HIS PEACE IS FOLLOWED BY TROUBLE.
III. REFLECT ON THE LOVE OF GOD, DISPLAYED TOWARDS HEZEKIAH in lengthening out his life and pardoning all his sins. (John Rippon.)
The assurance of faith
I. THE DISTRESS Hezekiah was in before our Saviour spoke peace to him, and delivered him from his sins.
II. THE ASSURANCE he had of being pardoned and accepted by his Heavenly Father and saved; and how boldly he testifies that this must be the case with all the children of God.
III. THE CAUSE OF ALL, which he says was the love of Jehovah to him. (John Cennick.)
The purpose of God’s love
The purpose of God’s love is to draw us away from all pits, dejections, humiliations, prostrations, and to give us life, vigour, triumph, sense and guarantee of immortality. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Love’s medicines and miracles
I. HEALTHFUL BITTERNESS. You have it in the first sentence, which runs in Hebrew very nearly as follows: “Behold, to peace (or to health) my bitter bitterness.” This means--
1. That Hezekiah underwent a great, sad, and unexpected change. Let us never boast ourselves of to-morrow, for we know not what a day may bring forth.
2. Hezekiah’s condition was one of emphatic sorrow, for he says, “Behold, to peace, Marah, Marah--bitter, bitter.” Marah was a notable spot in the journeys of the children of Israel, and Hezekiah had come spiritually to a double Marah. Have you ever passed that way and drank of double bitterness--the wormwood and the gall? Some of us know what it means, for we have had at the same time a body racked with pain, and a soul full of heaviness. Perhaps the double Marah has come in another form: it is a time of severe trouble, and just then the friend in whom you trusted has forsaken you. Or, peradventure, you are in temporal difficulties, and at the same time in great spiritual straits. The flying fish is pursued by a fierce enemy in the sea, and when it flies into the air birds of prey are eager afar it; in like manner, both in temporal and spiritual things we are assailed. “Deep calleth unto deep.”
3. The meaning of our verse is not at all exhausted by this explanation; we find in it a better meaning by far. “Behold, to peace bitter bitterness”--that is to say the king’s double bitterness wrought his peace and health. Take the word in the sense of health first. Many a time when a man has been exceedingly ill the medicine which has met his case has been intensely disagreeable to the taste; but it has operated as a strengthening tonic, it has purged away the cause of the malady, and the man has recovered. Hezekiah bore witness that God had sanctified his bodily sickness and his mental sorrow to his spiritual health. While he lay with his face to the wall, he read a great deal upon that wall which he had seen nowhere else. The king’s bitterness of soul led him to repent of his wrongdoing, as he saw wherein he had sinned.
4. This bitter bitterness made Hezekiah see the need of his God more than ever he had seen it before.
II. LOVING DELIVERANCE. The original runs thus: “And Thou hast loved my soul from the pit of destruction.” Taken in its first sense, the king ascribes to the love of God his deliverance from death and the grave, and praises God for his restoration to the land of the living. But the words of inspired men frequently have a deeper significance than appears upon the surface, and indeed they often conceal an inner sense which perhaps they themselves did not perceive, and hence the king’s words are as dark sayings upon a harp full of meaning within meaning. At any rate, taking the language out of the mouth of Hezekiah, we will use it for expressing our own emotions, and give to it a wider sense if such be not the original range of its meaning. Let us notice three things.
1. The deed of grace: “Thou hast brought my soul from the pit of corruption.”
(1) From the pit of hell.
(2) Of sinfulness, as horrible a pit as hell itself; indeed, under some aspects it is the same thing, for sinfulness is hell, and to live under the power of sin is to be condemned.
(3) From the awful consciousness of wrath under which we once groaned.
2. The power which performed it. Love. Divine love is a catholicon, a universal medicine. No spiritual disease can resist its healing power.
3. The modus operandi of this love. “Thou hast embraced my soul out of the pit of corruption.” Yonder is the child in the pit, and the father, wishing to save it, goes down into the pit and embraces his beloved one, and so brings him up to life and safety again. After this manner dig Jesus save us. He embraced us by taking our nature, and so becoming one with us. All our lives He communes with us, and embraces us with arms of mighty love, and so uplifts us from the pit of corruption.
III. ABSOLUTE PARDON. “For Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.” This King Hezekiah mentions as the cause of his restored peace and health. Sin was the foreign element in his spiritual constitution, and as long as it was there it caused fret and worry and spiritual disease. Notice--
1. The burden. Sins.
2. The owner of this burden. “My sins.”
3. The comprehensiveness of the burden. “All my sins.” The Lord comes to deal with them. He casts them behind His back. Where can that be? It means annihilation, non-existence. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it
Miracles of love
“Thou hast loved my soul out of the pit of corruption” (margin).
I. We were in the beginning LOVED INTO GRACE.
1. The love of Christ to sinners was the topic which arrested our solemn attention to the Gospel.
2. We sat in the region of the shadow of death, and would have remained there had we not been loved into faith.
3. At the time when faith came into our hearts, there came with it the sister grace, namely, repentance.
II. We have been LOVED INTO GROWTH IN GRACE. The great motive power urging us onward has always been the self-same love of God. The Lord loves us out of love to sin. He loves us out of the pit of idolatry. There is another pit of corruption into which children of God sometimes fall, namely, that of sluggishness. The only effectual cure for a slumbering Christian is to let him have the love of Christ shed abroad in his heart. The same is true of that abominable pit of selfishness and self-esteem and pride and self-seeking, into which our feet so easily glide. The love of Christ is equally a cure for despondency and unbelief. Many a child of God can bear witness that the Lord has loved him out of his impatience.
III. The Lord will LOVE US OUT OF GRACE INTO GLORY. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Deliverance from destruction
I have heard a story of a man, who, travelling late and being in drink, rode over a narrow footbridge where there was a great, deep water underneath, that the least trip of the horse’s foot would have posted the rider to his long home. Next morning, when he came to himself, being asked which way he came, and brought to the place, the apprehension of his last night’s adventure did so astonish his sober thoughts, that he fell down dead in the very place at the sight of it. And when we look back upon the follies and vanities of our past lives, how can we but be justly startled, when almost every step we have trod has been upon the brink of destruction! (A. Littleton, D. D.)
I. THE PIT.
2. Nigh to every man.
3. Treacherous at its edge.
II. ONE CONSCIOUS OF DELIVERANCE FROM IT.
1. He attributes his deliverance to God.
2. That it was God’s love, and not his merit, that originated his deliverance.
3. That all may possess this consciousness of deliverance.
4. That unless the soul is delivered it will sink into this pit eternally. (W. O.Lilley.)
Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back
A sense of pardoned sin
I. A SENSE OF PARDON AS GIVEN BY GOD TO THE SINNER.
1. We are not to wait for this sense of pardon before we come to Christ.
2. This consciousness of pardon includes many things, although it is not alike comprehensive in all souls.
3. But, saith one, “How does this sense of pardon come?” It comes in different ways and forms. Many men receive their consciousness of pardon in an instant. With others it is of slower growth. This conviction is sometimes conveyed to us in the most extraordinary manner. I have known it brought home to the soul by some singular saying of a minister. At other times, some strange providence has been the singular means of giving joy and relief.
4. Permit me to dwell upon the joy which this sense of pardon creates. It is but taking God at His word, when the soul knows that as a necessary consequence of its faith it is saved. But, besides that, the Spirit beareth witness with our spirit, that we are born of God.
II. A SENSE OF FORGIVENESS ENJOYED BY MAN, NOT AS A SINNER, BUT AS A PARDONED CHILD. I have sometimes heard uninstructed Christians ask how it is that when a man is once pardoned he has nevertheless to ask every day that his sins may be forgiven. The difficulty lies in a forgetfulness of the relationship which Christians sustain to God. As a sinner I come to Christ and trust Him. God is then a Judge; He takes the great book of the court, strikes out my sins, and acquits me. At the same moment, out of His great love, He adopts me into His family. Now I stand in quite a different relationship to Him. I am not so much His subject as His child. He is no longer to me a Judge, but has become a Father. And now I have new laws, a new discipline, new treatment; now I have new obedience. I go and do wrong. What then? Does the Judge come and at once summon me before His throne? No! He is a Father, and that Father brings me up before His face, and frowns on me--nay, takes the rod and begins to scourge me. He never scourged me when He was a Judge. Then, He only threatened to use the axe. If I do that which is wrong, I am bound to go to Him as on a child’s knees, and say, “Our Father which art in heaven, forgive me these trespasses, as I forgive them that trespass against me.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The strangest story I ever remember to have read, with regard to peace given after a long season of despondency, is the case of Mrs. Honeywood. Living in puritanic times, she had been accustomed to hear the most thundering of its preachers. She became so thoroughly broken in peace with the consciousness of sin, that for, I think, some ten years, if not twenty years, the poor woman was given up to despair. It seemed that in this case, a kind of miracle must be wrought to give her peace of mind. One day, an eminent minister of Christ, conversing with her, told her there yet was hope. Grasping a Venice glass that stood on the table, made of the thinnest material that can be conceived, the woman dashed it down on the ground, and said--“I am lost, as sure as that glass is broken into a thousand pieces.” To her infinite surprise, the glass suffered no damage whatever, but remained without a crack. From that instant she believed that God had spoken to her. She opened her ears to hear the words of the minister, and peace poured into her spirit. (W. O.Lilley.)
Sins behind God’s back
The back of God! Where is that?
I. A MAN’S SINS. May be--
(1) They are his curse.
(2) He cannot east them away.
(3) He must own them for ever unless Divine mercy interpose.
II. THEIR DIVINE REMOVAL.
1. God alone has the right to east them away.
2. God alone can.
3. He removes them so as to see them no more for ever.
4. He casts all sin away that is repented of. (W. O. Lilley.)
For the grave cannot praise Thee
The praiseful life
Bacon says, “Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament, adversity is the blessing of the New.
” He would have been nearer the truth had he said, that temporal blessings were the promise of the Old Testament, spiritual blessings the promise of the New. The remark, however, suggests thoughts introductory to the consideration of our text from a Christian standpoint.
1. The Jews were for the most part influenced by the prospect of temporal rewards and punishments. Hezekiah in this place seems to have no thought of a future life, and to be moved only by the prospect of leaving this. There is a development in revelation, in this as in other matters.
2. When our Lord came, the germ of the doctrine of the future life, only dimly discernible to the spiritual mind, was developed.
I. THE DEAD CANNOT PRAISE GOD.
1. This is true of natural death. The hands once strong to labour are now nerveless and still, there is no “disquisition” in the eyes, and the heart is unmoved by the things of joy and grief that thrilled it in life.
2. It is true of spiritual death, of which natural is in the New Testament the constant type.
II. THE LIVING MUST PRAISE GOD.
1. The natural duty of praising God is recognised by Hezekiah; and it would be strange if it were not so, for we have a loathing of ingratitude from man to man.
(1) The pagans would shame us if we did not praise God; for they gave the first fruits of their corn and the best of the prey taken in hunting as offerings to their gods, and before a feast made libations to them.
(2) The Psalmist is an eminent example of a praiseful spirit.
2. But those who have been partakers of the spiritual resurrection can alone truly praise God, for they alone can fully realise all His bounty.
(1) God has designed all things to His praise, and looks for it in His people.
(2) We must thank Him for all things, for “the blessings of this life, but above all for His inestimable love in the redemption of the world.” Nay, for miseries as well as for mercies.
(3) A stimulus to praise will be found in the remembrance of God’s bounty. In the Greek mythology, Mnemosyne was the mother of the Muses; memory is the mother of praise.
3. But the most perfect praise will be in the spiritual body after the resurrection. (J. G. Pilkington, M. A.)
Hezekiah in prospect of death
Hezekiah was, in the full sense of the word, a good king. His piety is shown--
(1) In his conduct with reference to idolatry.
(2) In his conduct in the matter of the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. But there are two passages in his life which show the weak side of his character. One is his parading his treasures before the ambassadors of the king of Babylon; the other is his conduct in the matter of his severe illness.
I. The essence of the history is this, that IN THE PROSPECT OF DEATH HEZEKIAH’S STRENGTH OF MIND QUITE BROKE DOWN. He looks upon death as a thing to be dreaded and shunned; he speaks of it in a way in which no Christian who has learned the Lord’s prayer could ever venture or even wish to speak of it. Hezekiah knew that he must serve God while life lasted; he had manifestly no express revelation beyond, and therefore he looked upon the grave with dismay.
II. WE HAVE GREATER SPIRITUAL HELP THAN HEZEKIAH, and brighter light, and clearer grounds of hope, and it is incumbent on us to act, not like those who groped their way in the twilight of the old dispensation, but like those upon whom the brightness of the knowledge of the glory of God has shined in the face of Jesus Christ. (Bp. Harvey Goodwin, D. D.)
The living, the living, he shall praise Thee
The right life
The right life is a praise-giving life.
Such a life is--
I. THE MOST HONOURABLE.
II. THE MOST BENEFICIAL TO THE MAN HIMSELF.
III. THE MOST BENEFICIAL TO OTHERS. “The father to the children shall make known Thy truth.”
IV. THE CONSIDERATION OF THE SHORTNESS OF LIFE OUGHT TO INDUCE US TO SPEND OUR TIME IS PRAISING GOD. Hezekiah felt that the years given him to live on the earth would soon come to an end, hence the emphasis placed on “the living, the living.” (Homilist.)
The praise of the living
I. THE WORSHIPPER. “The living.”
II. THE OBJECT AND NATURE OF THE PRAISE RENDERED. The prolongation of life is a legitimate cause for Christian thanksgiving. It is only in our state as “the living” that we have an opportunity of uttering that which we may term practical and generative praise--a praise which induces others to join us in our work--a praise which begets praise, and tends to propagate itself, by God’s blessing, throughout the length and breadth of an ungrateful world. It is evident that Hezekiah referred to such praise as this; for he says, “The father to the children shall make known Thy truth.” (D. F.Jarman, B. A.)
The value and use of life
I. THE DUTY OF SERIOUSLY MEDITATING ON OUR BEING MERCIFULLY SPARED among the living. It is right and rational to rejoice in this prolongation of your life; but such rejoicing is useless, unless it be founded on a serious thought of the blessing received. To rejoice in being alive, for the sole selfish enjoyment which you hope to derive from life, is nothing better than the natural instinct of a mere animal.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF SUCH A BLESSING. There is nothing in creation more amazing than what is called life; a miracle, indeed, perpetually witnessed, and therefore generally overlooked; but curious to be contemplated, and most difficult to be comprehended in its various attendant circumstances.
1. As a mere object of curiosity, a mere piece of machinery, the lowest living creature is above the utmost reach of human intelligence.
2. But how much more important is life when considered as a means of enjoyment.
3. How much higher still does life rise in its interest and importance when considered in connection with an understanding mind.
4. Yet all this is the least of the matter; and if the life of man were nothing more than what we see of it here, wonderful as it is, it would be only as an empty show, or as a fleeting meteor, bursting on the view and gazed at for a moment, but gone for ever, even before it could be understood.
5. But this very fleeting nature of life imparts an additional value to its possession, when viewed in its true light, namely, as connected with an eternal state.
6. How much more exalted still does our idea of life become, when it is connected with salvation!
III. THE WAY IN WHICH YOU SHOULD EXPRESS THIS THANKFULNESS AND USE THIS BLESSING. “He shall praise Thee.”
1. Nothing can possibly be more clearly right and reasonable than this, that we are bound to live to the praise of that gracious Being by whose power and providence we do live.
2. This, indeed, is the great, the express end for which you were brought into the number of “the living”; the only occupation also m which you will find any solid happiness m life, namely, to praise or glorify God; to make His will the rule of your life, to make His glory the aim of your life.
3. But these words do evidently express something more than merely the duty of living to the praise of God, and of praising Him the more fervently the longer that He spares us among the living. They seem particularly to proclaim the importance of life on this account alone, that it affords us an opportunity of showing forth the praises of God. So the devout believer feels a relish in life, altogether distinct from his natural instincts or personal enjoyments; namely, in the power which it puts into his hands of praising the gracious Author of his spiritual privileges and eternal hopes. Nor is it enough to say, that he might still better praise God m the heavenly courts. There are calls for this praise more urgent, and opportunities of this praise more direct, even in this mortal scene, than in the eternal state; occasions for bearing your testimony to God’s perfections, which are not required in heaven above; occasions for exercising your great Christian graces of faith and charity, which are not afforded, and which cannot be afforded in a state of perfect holiness and felicity. (J. Brewster.)
The Jew valued the present life
The Jew, in all his thought and religion, showed a keen sense of the value of the present life. The very deficiencies in his religious conceptions seem to arise from this cause. The presence of God in this world seemed to obscure the future from his eyes, just as in later ages the bright vision of the future has thrown the present into the shade. But as the Jewish spirit became saddened by experience the sense of the presence of God in the world became weaker. The Jew did not relax his hold on practical righteousness, but the faith of childhood began to lose its simplicity. His thoughts took a wider range, and began to be directed to the future. The revelation of Christ completed the change for which other influences had helped to prepare the way; and the new faith stood opposed to the old, as the spiritual to the carnal. (W. W. Jackson, M. A.)
The importance of the present life
But has the central conception of early Jewish religion disappeared, or has it only been matured and purified? Is not human life, as we have experience of it here, in the present, with all its cares, and joys, and sorrows, still the great concern of religion? Does it not still afford us the best means of drawing Dear to God, and realising His presence? Does not Christ Himself teach us that our first business is in this life, when He prays to the Father that He should not take the disciples out of the world, but that He should keep them from the evil? (W. W. Jackson, M. A.)
The Christian view of life
1. The feeling which the Jew had entertained on the subject of death differs as widely as possible from that entertained by St. Paul. The change of sentiment had been consummated by Christ, who had “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.” The life of the Christian was thenceforth “hid with Christ in God.” The affections were thenceforth to be “set on things above.” The opposition between the things of the world and the things of God had been declared. But as soon as the Christian asked himself what was the means by which he could make this view his own, there could be only one reply. He must live after it. He must take the spirit of Christ into the world. But he could rise to the height of his duty here, only by keeping his eye fixed on the pattern in the heavens.
2. This conception of Christian life suggests reflections of two different kinds--
(1) If religion brings harmony and law into human life, then the life which aspires after the ideal of religion is the most complete.
(2) On the other hand, do we always fully accept the human revelation which the teaching of life itself offers to us? Do we recognise the divinity which resides in the pursuits and institutions of secular life? (W. W. Jackson, M. A.)
The peculiar mercy and business of life
I. THE MERCY OF LIFE. “The living, the living, he shall praise Thee,” &c.
II. WHEREIN THE PECULIAR MERCY OF IT CONSISTS.
1. Ask the carnal man where lies the mercy of life. And--
(1) If he is in prosperity, he reckons the mercy of life lies in that the living man may enjoy the pleasures of sense, mirth, and jollity, and may lay up wealth for him and his; all which stern death robs a man of. But there is not one word of this here.
(2) If he is in adversity, poverty, and sore sickness, he cannot see the mercy of life at all, but thinks they are well that are away, that are out of poverty and pain, and fie at ease in the dust. So crosses make him wish to be away, At best, he reckons it the mercy of life, that he is not where it may be he would be worse, namely, in hell. But there is not a word of all this either in the text.
2. Ask the renewed man in an ill frame of spirit, where lies the mercy of life. If he is in outward prosperity he will be ready to reckon it lies in the comforts of this life. If he is in adversity, the troubles of life are so great, that the mercy of it is small in his view; only heaven bulks in his eyes, and that as a place of rest from trouble. But there is nothing of this either in the text.
3. The decision is, the mercy of life lies in the business of life, to wit, being serviceable for God in the world. “The living, the living, he shall praise Thee,” &c. Which speaks a high esteem of God and His service, as men count it a favour to serve their prince; and an ardent love to Him, as men delight to serve the interests of those they dearly love. Now, the business of life for which it is desirable, is twofold.
(1) To praise or glorify God in the world.
(2) To propagate His name and praise: “The father to the children shall make known Thy truth.” It is the special business of life to endeavour that the name of God may bye and be glorified in the world when we are dead. Consider--
(a) What he has access to do for that end; namely, to praise God to the younger sort, that are likely to five after he is gone; especially to his own children.
(b) How he may do it, namely, by making Him known to them as an object worthy of their faith. “Shall make known Thy truth.” (T. Boston.)
I. WHAT PRAISING GOD IS. It is the acknowledging and declaring the glorious excellencies of God, as He has manifested Himself in His word and works, and imports
1. Belief of the Being of God.
2. The knowledge of God.
(1) Of who He is Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, one God.
(2) Of what He is.
(3) Of what He has done.
3. The love of God. Love is the mother of praise.
4. The admiration of God, which is love and esteem raised to a high pitch.
5. Expressing that love and admiration to Him. This is twofold--
(2) Real, by actions, though not accompanied with words.
II. WHAT ARE THE PECULIARITIES OF THE PRAISES OF THE LIVING.
1. They are the praises of the whole man, in soul and body too (1 Corinthians 6:20).
2. They are praises which may spread among the living (Colossians 3:16).
3. They are praises raised by the way to the heavenly kingdom.
4. They are praises of faith, not of sight.
5. They are praises to God amidst much dishonour done to Him. (T. Boston.)
1. God is the Author of thy life.
2. The Preserver of thy life.
3. The Giver of all thou hast, whereby thou mayest honour Him.
4. God puts opportunities in thine hand for honouring Him.
5. There are some who are deprived of those abilities or occasions ye have to honour God. The pagan world, &c.
6. Ye have forfeited by sin all your abilities, opportunities, and your very life. His patience has suffered us long, &c. Should not this engage us to live to His honour?
7. This was the design of the redemption purchased by Christ (Titus 2:14).
8. It is the design of the sanctification of the Spirit (1 Peter 2:9).
9. It is a lost life that is not lived to the honour of God. (T. Boston.)
Thanksgiving and thanksliving
Thanksgiving is good, but thanksliving is better. (M. Henry.)
A lady who had heard a great many prayers offered for sick people, in a large city church, said to her husband, “Do all the sick people who are prayed for in our church die?” “Why, no,” he answered, “of course not; but why do you ask?” “I supposed that they all died,” she said, “because I hardly ever heard of one who had got well enough to give thanks!” (J. N. Norton.)
The father to the children
What is it to propagate religion, God’s name and praise, to the rising generation? It implies--
1. The having religion ourselves.
2. The profession of religion.
3. A desire to continue and spread religion in the world.
4. Contributing our endeavours to bring others, and particularly the rising generation, to the knowledge and practice of religion. (T. Boston.)
“The father to the children”
1. Fathers of the State, to their political children (Isaiah 49:23).
2. Fathers in the Church, ministers, and other Church officers, to their ecclesiastical children.
3. Fathers of families, to their children, servants, &c.
4. Fathers in gifts or graces to those who are children in these respects in comparison of them (1 John 2:12-13).
5. Fathers in years to those who are children in respect of age to them 1 Timothy 5:1-2). (T. Boston.)
The obligation to propagate religion
1. Divine authority (Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 11:19).
2. Gratitude to God.
3. Justice to former generations, who have propagated religion to us.
4. Our own interest.
5. Charity to the rising generation. (T. Boston.)
Claims of children
Socrates once said, “Could I climb to the highest place in Athens, I would lift my voice and proclaim, Fellow-citizens, why do ye turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth, and take so little care of your children, to whom one day you must relinquish it all?” (Family Circle.)
Parental relationship a medium of Divine revelation
Revelations of God’s faithfulness are precious. They are the ground of human hope. Every life has some peculiar revelation of God’s truth in it. The parental relationship, with its tender solicitudes and loves, furnishes a means of transmission. This duty should be conscientiously performed--
I. THAT THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD MAY INCREASE FROM AGE TO AGE.
II. THAT THE GRATITUDE OF ONE GENERATION SHOULD GLORIFY GOD BY MINISTERING TO THE MORAL LIFE OF THE NEXT.
III. THAT THE GENERATION FOLLOWING MAY HAVE A SAVING KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, AND TRUST IN HIM. (W. O. Lilley.)
He shall recover
Christ in the sick room
The Holy Ghost shows us a king and ruler of men, a dweller in palaces, a possessor of all that money can obtain, a good man, a friend of God, laid low by disease like the poorest man in the kingdom.
1. This is the old story. After all there is nothing wonderful in this. The tabernacle in which our soul lives is a most frail and complicated machine. I do not wonder so much that we die as that we live so long.
2. But whence comes this liability to sickness, disease, and death? There is only one book that supplies an answer to this question. That book is the Bible, The fall of man at the beginning has brought sin into the world, and sin has brought with it the curse of sickness, suffering, and pain. Here lies one among many proofs that the Bible is given by inspiration of God. It accounts for many things which the Deist cannot explain.
II. Learn from this chapter that sickness is not an unmixed evil. Hezekiah received spiritual benefit from his illness. Sickness ought to do us good. And God sends it in order to do us good.
1. Sickness is meant to make us think, to remind us that we have an immortal soul; and that if this soul is not saved we had better never have been born.
2. Sickness is meant to teach us that there is a world beyond the grave, and that the world we now live in is only a training-place for another dwelling, where there will be no decay, no sorrow, no tears, no misery, and no sin.
3. Sickness is meant to make us look at our past lives honestly, fairly, and conscientiously.
4. Sickness is meant to make us see the emptiness of the world, and its utter inability to satisfy the highest and deepest wants of the soul.
5. Sickness is meant to send us to our Bibles.
6. Sickness is meant to make us pray.
7. Sickness is meant to make us repent and break off our sins.
8. Sickness is meant to draw us to Christ.
9. Sickness is meant to make us sympathising towards others. (Anon.)
The application of figs leaves it uncertain whether a boil (bubon) or a carbuncle (charbon) is to be supposed. Figs were a popular emolliens or maturans; they were used to hasten the rising of the swelling, and therefore the mattering-process. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?
Seeking a sign
Real religion is the same in every country and every age. Hence we have so much of the history and experience of the people of God recorded in the Scriptures of truth, that we may compare our experience with theirs. Let us take these words and consider them four ways--
I. AS THE LANGUAGE OF A MAN DESIROUS OF LIFE. There are persons who can talk lightly of death; but it is a solemn thing to die. What was the fortitude of Hume when dying, joking of Charon and his boat, but like “whistling aloud to keep his courage up”? But we have to observe that death is not always inviting even to a good man.
1. We live under a blessed dispensation; but, though the revelation of God’s will is complete, there are those who are not yet led into all its truths.
2. Sometimes a good man’s connections draw him back and attach him still to life. A minister may wish “to depart and be with Christ,” but he sees a congregation which hang upon his lips; a husband and father may be looking for that blessed hope, and rejoicing in it, but he knows that his death will make the wife a widow and the children fatherless. You talk of self-denial! Who is it that denies himself like that man who is assured of heaven, and yet is willing to forego the blessedness from year to year, who is willing to weep on and war on for the sake of usefulness to others?
3. A good man’s evidences of glory are not always clear; this will affect his experience.
4. There may be an event to which the believer may attach some importance, that has not taken place, and which may produce some hesitation in his mind. There was something of this kind, surely, in regard to David; he therefore pleaded for sparing mercy--“O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more seen.” Simeon, too, had the assurance that he should not see death till he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
5. There is also a constitutional timidity in some. If they are not afraid of death itself, they are afraid of dying. The very apostles wished to enter heaven, if possible, without being unclothed, and therefore said, “We that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life.” The fear of death is not sinful. Nature must abhor its own destruction, and if there be anything that can reconcile us to it, it must be supernatural.
II. AS THE LANGUAGE OF A MAN ATTACHED TO THE HOUSE OF GOD: for he does not inquire, “What is the sign that I shall ascend my throne?” or “that I shall give audience to ambassadors, or commands to generals? What is the sign that I shall head my army, or that I shall travel through my country?” No, but “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” What is it that attaches a good man so much to the house of God?
1. Perhaps ‘tis his birthplace: we refer to his second birth; and if you are not born twice before you die once, it would have been well if you had never been born at all.
2. It is a place of intercourse.
3. It is a place of instruction.
4. It is also a place of devotion. “My house shall be called the house of prayer.” If Hezekiah loved the house of God before, you may be sure he did not love it less now, having been detained so long from it by sickness. We commonly know best the worth of our mercies by the want of them. How pleasing is the morning after the darkness of the night! How alluring is the spring after the dreary winter! How health is sweetened after the bitterness of pain! and how is liberty endeared by the sufferings of bondage!
III. AS THE LANGUAGE OF A MAN CONCERNED TO SHOW HIS GRATITUDE FOR MERCIES RECEIVED. He wished this, not only for the enjoyment of a privilege, but for the performance of a duty. Having experienced delivering mercy, he knew he ought to praise God, by acknowledging His goodness publicly, and dedicating himself afresh to His glory. So did David Psalms 66:13, &c.). This is not always the case. There are many whose only concern when in affliction is to escape from it: whereas, a good man dreads the removal of it, unless it be sanctified, and the end of God be answered in bringing him nearer to Himself. A proper improvement of deliverance from sickness does not lie simply in the offering up of a single thanksgiving: it requires a great deal more than this, which will be mere formality and mockery in the sight of God, unless accompanied with real gratitude, and thankful views and feelings; and unless the actions and the life correspond therewith. Hezekiah had a sad falling off. “Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.”
IV. AS THE LANGUAGE OF A MAN WHOSE FAITH REQUIRES CONFIRMATION. “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” Why? Had he not been assured of this by good Isaiah? He ought to have been satisfied. He did not believe it, and he did believe it. Ah, Christians! you know how to explain such an experience as this. (W. Jay, M. A.)
Fear of dying
The excellent Dr. Conyers often said, “I am not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying; I am not afraid of the end, but of the passage.” He therefore often said in prayer, “O Lord, if it be Thy blessed will, let me die in Thy blessed service!” And his wish was granted, for he sank down in the church, and even in the pulpit. (W. Jay, M. A.)