Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
Keep silence before Me, O islands
The convocation of the nations
(whole chapter):--The conception of this passage is superb.
Jehovah is represented as summoning the earth, as far as the remote isles of the west, to determine once and for ever who is the true God: whether He, or the idols and oracles of which there were myriads worshipped and believed in by every nation under heaven. The test proposed is a very simple one. The gods of the nations were to predict events in the near future, or to show that they had had a clear understanding of the events of former days. On the other hand, the servant of Jehovah was prepared to show how fast-sealed prophecies, committed to the custody of his race, had been precisely verified in the event, and to utter minute predictions about Cyrus, “the one from the East,” which should be fulfilled before that generation had passed away. Not, as in Elijah’s case, would the appeal be made to the descending flame; but to the fitting of prophecy and historical fact. Immediately there is a great commotion, the isles see and fear, the ends of the earth tremble, they draw near and come to the judgment-seat. On their way thither each bids the other take courage. There is an industrious furbishing up of the dilapidated idols, and manufacturing of new ones. The carpenter encourages the goldsmith; and he that smooths with the hammer him that smites the anvil. They examine the soldering to see if it will stand, and drive great nails to render the idols steadfast. The universal desire is to make a strong set of gods who will be able to meet the Divine challenge--much as if a Roman Catholic priest were to regild and repaint the images of the saints on the time-worn altar of a fishing hamlet, in the hope of securing from them greater help in quelling the winter storms. Amidst the excitement of this vast convocation the idols are dumb. We can almost see them borne into the arena by their attendant priests, resplendent in gold and tinsel, flashing with jewels, bedizened in gorgeous apparel. They are set in a row, their acolytes swing high the censer, the monotonous drawl of their votaries arises in supplication. Silence is proclaimed that they may have an opportunity of pronouncing on the subject submitted to them; but they are speechless. Jehovah pronounces the verdict against which there can be no appeal, “Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought; an abomination is he that chooseth you” (Isaiah 41:24). As Jehovah looks, there is no one. When He asks of them, there is no counsellor that can answer a word. “Behold they are all vanity; their works are nought; their molten images are wind and confusion.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Heathen oracles and Scripture prophecy
History furnishes some interesting confirmations of this contrast between the predictions of heathen oracles and the clear prophecies of Old Testament Scripture, which were so literally and minutely realised. For instance, Herodotus tells us that when Croesus heard of the growing power of Cyrus, he was so alarmed for his kingdom, that he sent rich presents to the oracles at Delphi, Dodona, and elsewhere, asking what would be the outcome of his victorious march. That at Delphi gave this ambiguous reply, “That he would destroy a great empire,” but whether the empire would be that of Cyrus or of Croesus was left unexplained: thus, whichever way the event turned, the oracle could claim to have predicted it. This is a fair illustration of the manner in which the oracles answered the appeals made to them by men or nations when in the agony of fear. How striking a contrast the precise prediction of these pages which give us the name of the conqueror; the quarter from which he would fall upon Babylon; the marvellous series of successes that gave kings as dust to his sword, and as the driven stubble to his bow; his reverence towards God, his simplicity and integrity of purpose (Isaiah 41:2; Isaiah 14:3; Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 45:1). (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
In form the chapter is dramatic. Two great debates are imagined: the first (Isaiah 41:1-7) between Jehovah and the nations; the second (Isaiah 41:21-29) between Jehovah and the idols, the subject of both being the appearance of Cyrus. In the intervening passage (Isaiah 41:8-20) Jehovah encourages His servant Israel in view of this great crisis of history. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
A trial at law
Chapter 41. is loosely cast in the same form of a trial at law which we found in chapter 1. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
God’s response to Israel’s complaint
In reply to Israel’s complaint Isaiah 40:27) that his cause against the heathen oppressors is neglectedor dismissed by the Great Judge, God now summons the nations to His court of justice; and as Israel had just been assured that, if they would wait upon Jehovah, they would renew their strength and discern His wisdom, an interval is granted to the heathen and their gods, in which they too may renew their strength and have time to produce evidence of the powers of design and action possessed by their gods, and in virtue of which they claim the right to keep Israel in subjection. The solemn pause thus allowed--“Keep silence . . . then let them speak”--is filled (how bitter the irony!)by the nations employing their carpenters and goldsmiths m make a particularly good and strong set of gods, because there is a general alarm that the emergency is great. For it is already seen that the judgment goes against them by default: that these gods can show no plans, can do nothing good or bad; and that they and their worshippers have neither right nor power to break up the designs of Almighty wisdom. They have been trying to do this by those oppressions of Israel which were only permitted for a time, because they fell into and formed a part of God’s own plan. But Israel had from the first an appointed and chief place in that plan: He who is at once King of Israel and God of all the earth, has been maintaining His chosen people in their place, generation after generation, when He made Abraham His friend, and gave the blessing to his seed, and then He made the well yield springs of water under the rod of Moses; and now, though they are reduced to extremity of weakness and dismay, the Holy One of Israel bids them fear not, for He has taken upon Himself to be their Redeemer. (Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
If Jehovah is a party, who then is the presiding judge? This question is to be answered as in Isaiah 5:3. The decisive authority is reason, which must acknowledge the state of the case and the conclusions following therefrom. (P. Delitzsch, D. D.)
A fair trial
1. The cause of God and His kingdom is not afraid of s fair trial. If the case be but fairly stated it will be surely carried in favour of religion.
2. The enemies of God’s Church and His holy religion may safely be challenged to say and do their worst for the support of their unrighteous cause. (M. Henry.)
A characteristic word of the second half of Isaiah occurring twelve times. In the general usage of the Old Testament it denotes the islands and coastlands of the Mediterranean (comp the use of the singular by Isaiah in Isaiah 20:6). Etymologically, it probably means simply “habitable lands”; and this prophet uses it with great laxity, hardly distinguishing it from “lands” (Isaiah 42:15). (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Solemn pleadings for revival
We also who worship the Lord God have a controversy with Him. We have not seen His Church and His cause prospering in the world as we could desire; as yet heathenism is not put to the rout by Christianity, neither does the truth everywhere trample down error. We desire to reason with God about this, and He Himself instructs us how to prepare for this sacred debate. He bids us be silent; He bids us consider, and then draw near to Him with holy boldness and plead with Him, produce our cause and bring forth our strong reasons.
I. FIRST, THEN, LET US BE SILENT.
1. Before the controversy opens let us be silent with solemn awe, for we have to speak with the Lord God Almighty! Let us not open our mouths to impugn His wisdom, nor allow our hearts to question His love. We are going to make bold to speak with Him, but still He is the eternal God, and we are dust and ashes. It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, and if He chooses to conceal it, let it be concealed. Truly, God is good to Israel, and His mercy endureth for ever.
2. Our silence of awe should deepen into that of shame; for, though it is true that the cause of God has not prospered, whoso fault is this?
3. Go further than this, and keep the silence of consideration. This is a noisy age, and the Church of Christ herself is too noisy. We have very little silent worship, I fear. Let us be silent, now, for a minute, and consider what it is that we desire of the Lord. The conversion of thousands, the overthrow of error, the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom. Think in your minds what the blessings are which your soul pants after. Suppose they were to be now bestowed, are you ready? If thousands of converts were to be born unto this one Church, are you prepared to teach them and comfort them? You pray for grace--are you using the grace you have? You want to see more power--how about the power you have? Are you employing it? If a mighty wave of revival sweeps over London, are your hearts ready? Are your hands ready? Are your purses ready? If you reflect, you will see that God is able to give His Church the largest blessing, and to give it at any time. Keep silence and consider, and you will see that He can give the blessing by you or by me. Ask yourselves in the quiet of your spirits, what can we do to get the blessing? Are we doing that?
4. Then we shall pass on to the silence of attention. Keep silence that God may speak to you. We cannot expect Him to hear us if We will not hear Him.
5. If you have learned attention, be silent with submission.
II. In that silence LET US RENEW OUR STRENGTH. Noise wears us; silence feeds us, To run upon the Master’s errands is always well, but to sit at the Master’s feet is quite as necessary; or, like the angels which excel in strength, our power to do His commandments arises out of our hearkening to the voice of His Word. But how happens it that such silence renews our strength?
1. It does so by giving space for the strengthening word to come into the soul, and the energy of the Holy Spirit to be really felt.
2. We must be silent to renew our strength, by using silence for consideration as to who it is that we are dealing with. We are going to speak with God about the weakness of His Church, and the slowness of its progress. We are coming to plead now with One whose arm is not shortened, and whose ear is not heavy. Renew your strength as you think of Him. Hath not the Lord said concerning His beloved Son that He shall divide the spoil with the strong, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands? Shall it not be so? Think, too, that you are about to appeal to the Holy Spirit. What cannot the Spirit of God do?
3. In silence, too, let us renew our strength by remembering His promises. There are a thousand promises. Let us think of that, and however difficult the enterprise may be, and however dark our present prospects, we shall not dare to doubt when Jehovah has spoken and pledged His Word.
4. Our strength will be renewed next, if in silence we yield up to God all our own wisdom and strength.
5. Keep silence, then, ye saints, till ye have felt your folly and your weakness, and then renew your strength most gloriously by casting yourselves upon the strength of God.
III. Our text proceeds to add, “Then let them draw near.” You that know the Lord DRAW NEAR. You are silent, you have renewed your strength, now enjoy access with boldness. The condition in which to intercede for others is not that of distance from God, but that of great nearness to Him. Even thus did Abraham draw nigh when he pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah.
1. Let us remember how near we really are. We are one with Christ, and members of His body. How could we be nearer?
2. You are coming to a Father.
3. The desire in our heart for God’s glory and the extension of His Church, is a desire written there by the Holy Spirit.
4. What we ask, if we are about to plead with God concerning His kingdom, is according to His own mind.
5. Moreover, there is this further consideration; the Lord loves to be pleaded with. He might have given all the covenant blessings without prayer; wherefore does He compel us to use entreaties, unless it be that He loves to hear the voices of His children?
IV. I now come to the last point, which is, “LET US SPEAK.” Be silent, renew your strength, draw near, and then speak. What have we to say upon the matter which concerns us?
1. Let us first speak in the spirit of adoring gratitude. How sweet to think that there should be a Saviour at all. To think that there should be a heavenly kingdom set up, as it is set up; that it should have made such advances as it has made, and should still grow mightily!
2. Next, let us speak in humble expostulation.
3. Then turn to pleading.
4. Let us speak in the way of dedication.
5. Let us speak still in the way of confidence. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Silence and speech before God
God addresses men here by two designations, the one having reference to their remoteness and isolation, and the other to their unity. The series of injunctions begins with silence and ends with speech. Right silence before God, passing on through stirring up of energy and earnest confiding approach, issues m speech. We shall consider the beginning and the end of this series--silence before God and speech to God.
I. SILENCE BEFORE GOD. Shall we not be silent in the endeavour to realise that God is, and what He is? Would not this do more for us than any urging of ourselves or any kind of activity and noise whatever? And can anything have its proper effect on our soul without this? If we but realise with ourselves that we have to do with an Infinite One, that there is One Being of spotless perfection, almighty power, unchangeableness, boundless love, complete and earnest opposition to evil, what an effect this will produce on us! Unless we can bear to be silent and brood, the thought of God will not rise before us in fulness and splendour. But God speaks, and we must listen in silence. With what glad silence should we listen to the Divine voice. A single word of God must be worth more to us than all other words. When we read the Word of God we should say to ourselves, Hush! God is speaking. We should listen to it as a message conveying what we are to believe and embrace and ponder and do. We may spoil everything by letting the murmur of our own thoughts arise. Our silence in the presence of God will often take the form of thinking of ourselves. Thinking of self becomes sincere and profitable when it goes on consciously in God’s presence. The felt presence of God revives memory, prevents besetting self-deception, and turns the survey of the future from chaotic dreams into earnest outlook. Can any man make such a survey, however imperfectly, without shame? Shame makes him silent. He who knows the bitterness of being put to silence in the presence of God, will scarcely be without experience of the sweetness of silent satisfaction and rest. He will be led to see such a graciousness in God, such a benign healing aspect of His mercy, such a fulness in Christ, such a might of forgiveness, such a sublime oblivion, that he will feel for a while as if he had nothing more to ask. This satisfaction passes into expectation.
II. SPEECH TO GOD FOLLOWING UPON THE SILENCE. Silence before God in which such thoughts as these go on leads to a stirring of the soul, a forth-putting of endeavour, and a drawing near to God. Silence before God heaps a load on the heart which can only be thrown off by speaking to God. One thing after another brings fresh penitence, new discovery of sin, new sense of the greatness of God; new fears spring up, new resolutions gather, and all these weigh very heavily. And much more than freedom from pressure will be experienced. The convictions that gather in silence will be strengthened by speech. If they did not find expression they would begin to decay. In short, speaking to God of the things that have lain on the soul in its silence is a necessity at once for relief, for understanding, for intensity, for permanence, and for growth, It would be a wrong inference to draw from this passage that one ought not to speak to God without consciously going through these stages of the text. There may be true speaking to God which seems to break forth at once and immediately from the soul. It is not always a bad sign when we feel that we cannot speak, but must be silent before God. This state is not, indeed, to be prolonged. Nor must it be a dull, dead, distant silence, but one that has its own peculiar activities. Hasting to cut short the period of silence may enervate and chill. The silence may be more acceptable to God for the time than any words could be. We should expect times of silence before God--times in which speaking to God is not indeed absent, but in which silence is the dominating element. If it is a silence before God, it is a leaving of space for God to speak, and surely this is implied in communion. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The silence of reverence
The silence of reverence is the soil in which earnestness and energy grow. By this reverent silence resolution takes shape and gathers force. Men gird up their energies afresh when in solemn silence they have gone over the actualities and the possibilities of life. Then with purpose and intensity they come near to God. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The relief of speech after silence
You may have seen a reservoir of water which, by continuous rain, had become so full that it threatened to overflow all its banks or burst them--the rain through days and nights had been pouring on its broad bosom, and the brooks and rills from miles around had been hurrying their foaming tributes into it, till the ordinary small outlet is wholly unable to relieve the immense pressure, and the very edge of ruin is reached, when, lo! the great sluice is raised, and away rushes the pent-up flood in immense volume. There is relief and safety at once. So is it with the burdened soul on which silence before God has been laying load after load, pressing and crushing it with memories, convictions, fears, resolutions. Relief and freedom are gained by pouring out the soul in words before God. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
Conviction aided by both silence and speech
In silence there is the rooting of conviction, but in speaking to God its expansion and growth. When you have hyacinths in water glasses, you put them first in darkness for some weeks till the roots strike down into the water. You find that the roots have spread and filled the glass, but there is scarcely a sign of growth upward, the stalk remains undeveloped. Light is needed for that. So speech to God is needed to raise and expand the feelings that have been rooted in silence. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The righteous man from the East
The righteous man from the East
The question, whose appearance is predicted, has been always a subject of dispute.
Eusebius, Theodoret, and Procopius understand it as describing the triumphs of the true religion, or the Gospel, here called “righteousness.” Cyril and Jerome apply it to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, as the Righteous One, or the Lord our Righteousness. Cocceius stands alone in his application of the verso to the apostle Paul. The Jews make Abraham the subject of the passage, excepting Aben Ezra, who, with Vitringa and all the latest writers, understands it as a prophecy of Cyrus. The inappropriateness of the terms employed to our Saviour or the Gospel, to Abraham or Paul, is almost self-evident, and equally clear is its appropriateness to the case of Cyrus. The argument in favour of the latter application, drawn from the analogy of Isaiah 45:1; Isaiah 46:11, is less conclusive, because he is there expresslynamed. The truth appears to be that this is a more general intimation of a great eventful movement from the East, which is afterwards repeated with specific reference to Cyrus and his conquests. It might even be supposed without absurdity that there is here an allusion to the general progress of the human race, of conquest, civilisation, and religion from the East to the West. Umbreit supposes a specific reference to the course of the sun, from which the name of Cyrus was derived. (J. A. Alexander.)
Cyrus raised up by God
“Stirred up” the sense is “impelled into activity.” (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Cyrus from the East, yet from the North
“From the East”; Cyrus’ home, Susiania being to the east of Babylonia. “From the North” (Isaiah 41:25), alludes to the “Medes, who united with the Persians under Cyrus, and whose home was to the north or north-east of Babylonia. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Cyrus called in righteousness
(see R.V.):--Cyrus’ career being a furtherance of God’s righteous purpose for the government of the world. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Cyrus called to God’s foot
To call to one’s foot is a Hebrew idiom for calling to one’s service, or summoning to take a place among one’s followers. (J. A. Alexander.)
I the Lord, the first, and with the last
LOOK AT GOD IN HIS PRIMARY RELATION TO HIS CREATURE. Understand clearly that everything which is was first an idea in the mind of God. Thence, by a creative act, it came forth and took form and being. So God was first, long before all His works--as the mould is before the castings. Here is the truth and glory of predestination, that great argument of all comfort. It places God far away, beyond our little horizon, in advance of everything. Whatever is, is to fulfil its preordained purpose; each thing coming up and rising in its turn; everything a reflection of the eternal love, care, and wisdom which dwelt from everlasting in the mind of God.
II. “WITH THE LAST.” There are those who say, “This world is on the decline and growing worse.” Can it be, if He who was First is with the last--the same God yesterday, to-day, and for ever,the equal portion of all times? Is it not sufficient argument? The golden age cannot be over. From the fleeting and the changing, from the disappointing and the dying, I yearn to ask, “Where is the true?” Where is that which my soul wants, and for which my restless spirit has so long been craving, what shall satisfy my immortality? And the answer comes, as a whisper in the desert, louder and clearer from the solitude of my heart’s waste places, “I the Lord, the First, and with the last; I am He.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
They helped every one his neighbour.
Idolatry the subject of sarcasm:
The sarcasm consists in making the idolaters dependent upon idols which are themselves dependent upon common workmen and the most trivial mechanical operations for their form and their stability. Hence the particular enumeration of the different artificers employed in the manufacture of these deities. The last clause implies that the strength of the idol is not in itself, but in the nails that keep it in its place, or hold its parts together. (J. A. Alexander.)
Lessons from the idol-makers
Idolatry being threatened with an overthrow, their “craft” was endangered, and hence the earnestness and co-operation of these makers of idols. The text is suggestive.
I. It affords an illustration of THE WAY THE WICKED COMBINE IN THEIR FIGHT AGAINST THE RIGHT. Jeremiah gives us a picture of this combination in the family (Jeremiah 7:17-18). Isaiah, carrying it up higher, here shows how the different crafts cheer and help each other. Take the history of the world; follow the struggle between the powers of light and the powers of darkness, and you will find that this has always been the case. When Jesus Christ made His appearance upon the earth for the purpose of inaugurating the overthrow of paganism and planting His kingdom on its ruins, witness what varied and unhallowed combinations arrayed themselves against Him. See how the liquor-dealers are now banded together in that strong association, which has for its object the protection and perpetuity of their iniquitous traffic. And if certain questions are touched there are manifested some strange combinations.
II. We see the importance of UNANIMITY OF FEELING AND CONCERT OF ACTION IN CHURCH WORK.
1. This should be true in the individual Churches. The various ages, classes, and organisations of a Church ought to work for the same ends.
2. On the great leading questions there must be co-operation between the various denominations.
III. We have a suggestion as to THE MUTUAL DEPENDENCE OF MEN. Notice how many crafts the idols passed through before they were finished. Take any article in your possession, and a great many different persons and trades have contributed to its production. No profession or trade is independent of other professions and trades; no class is independent of other classes.
IV. We are reminded that OUR AIM IN LIFE SHOULD BE TO HELP THOSE WITH WHOM WE COME IN CONTACT. “They helped every one his neighbour.” Jesus Christ came into this world not to seek His own ease or profit or pleasure, but to help the needy sons of men. Have we caught anything of His spirit? There are many ways in which we can help.
1. Like these idolaters, we can do it by our words of cheer. We are too chary with our praise.
2. Help by our deeds. (J. W. Rogan.)
How much of mutuality there is in the teaching of the Bible! This is mutual encouragement, and applies to higher forms of service. The next verse reads, “But thou, Israel, art My servant.” To be a carpenter who works on wood is merely to do something outward, but “thou art My servant” introduces us into the moral sphere of action. Now encouragement is not flattery. You are not to forget the great ethical basis on which all our life must rest. It is not right to flatter. It is right to encourage, because there are always circumstances in human life that tend to depress, and there are specific temperamental constitutions that need a great deal of gladdening from without, for some are not easily inspired. I believe in encouragement all through. Many young people never play the piano well because their parents have not encouraged them. Sometimes we fail to encourage our servants.
I. ENCOURAGEMENT MUST BE LIVED AS WELL AS SPOKEN. We are to give courage through the possession of it. It will not do for those who are to inspire others to whimper over their troubles! If the general is beaten the army is often defeated.
II. ENCOURAGEMENT MUST BEGIN AT THE NEAREST POINT. “Everyone said to his neighbour.” The man next to me is to catch the influence. If I do not encourage him it is a poor compliment to encourage somebody in Spain or Jerusalem. It is of no use for me to write the foreign letter to my friend far away, if I do not encourage the charwoman who comes for a day’s work. All these splendid heroics of distance are mere romance. Your neighbour nigh you often needs encouragement, and God has placed you there to give it.
III. ENCOURAGEMENT MUST NOT BE MERELY SEASONAL. Because you do not know when a man wants you! It is to be the atmosphere of duty; you are to live in it. We need encouragement when things are bright with us to stimulate us to make a right and thankful use of our mercies. We need encouragement in adversity, for patience needs sustaining in long hours of pain, in mysteries we cannot fathom, in paths where we see no turning. You can encourage someone best of all when you can say, Thus and thus it has been with me.
IV. ENCOURAGEMENT MUST NOT BE WITHDRAWN BY FREQUENT FAILURES. Do not say, I will give it up, it is a bad job. As the R.V. says, “Despairing of no man.” What do you say? Am I to encourage the man who has broken so many vows? Yes. His next step may be on to the rock. Am I to be the one to bear upon my heart the responsibility of cheering those who never seem to cheer me? Yes. Your relation to me is not to affect my relation to you. Encourage the doubter, the erring, the deserter, as you would be encouraged yourself.
V. ENCOURAGEMENT MUST BE TRUE, BASED ON REASONS. No one can really encourage me unless he speaks on the ground of truth. For truth will not encourage me by hiding my symptoms and using soft, seductive words! Encourage one another, because the work in which we are engaged is the only immortal work of the ages, and to unite in Christian work is to lay hold of the “everlasting.” (W. M. Statham.)
Mutual help a law of nature
1. The commonwealth is not served till the different branches of industry merge their jealousies in goodwill.
2. The very composition of the earth we walk over offers a strong hint of this intention. You read it in the beautiful balancings of clouds and tides, the equations of astronomy, the adjustments of growth and climate, all the musical accord by which the Divine Spirit has attuned His creation to an everlasting anthem. Sky and water, vapour and vegetation, earth and sun are ever friendly and hospitable; they are perpetually running on some missionary errand on each other’s behalf.
3. Indeed, It is most interesting to see how liberally the Creator has given hints and illustrations of this social principle by His own arrangements, even in what we call the humbler departments of His creation. For society does not stand apart from nature, but interlinks its laws with hers. Very wonderful it is, and very beautiful, to see how God twines together, into a system of mutual benefits, the operations that different creatures carry on for their own advantage, thus revealing His intention that they should be fellow-helpers, even these dumb and soulless things. He scarcely lets any good end with the being that produced it, but carries it over into some wider usefulness. He pushes out the doings of each animal and person into results that help other animals and other persons. The silkworm, with no thought of a charity, spins for himself an elaborate and complicated coffin, to hold the chrysalis, till its resurrection with wings. But the strands of that delicate fabric, the ingenuity of man winds off into the material of his costliest and most durable vestures. Coral insects build their reefs with the slow toil of ages, not certainly as philanthropists, but simply by the instinct that bids living things provide a habitation. Yet they are all the time laying the foundations of islands that men will some time inhabit, when overpopulated continents shall send out their swarming colonies, and thus God “layeth the beams of His chambers in the waters.” The spider weaves a web, out in the air, for certain economical purposes of his own. But God bathes it overnight in drops of dew, and in the morning sun it hangs like a silver shield, with miniature rainbows for its quarterings, “a thing of beauty” at which children clap their hands with rapture, and which every beauty-loving passenger is the better for. The spider had no thought of being an artist; but the Creator made him one to shed delight unconsciously. Or else astronomy stretches one of those slender fibres across the glass in her telescope to mark the passage of a star, and the little insect under a clover leaf gives a measuring line to science to tell the august motions of the constellations of the sky.
4. So in another and higher grade of creation. When men forget to help each other, God overrules their plans, and makes them do it, to a certain extent, in despite of themselves. He is for ever defeating the plots of selfishness. He suffers no immunities to be strictly personal. It is the settled policy of Providence, so to speak, to break up monopolies. He regards always the good, not only of the greatest number, but of the whole. He allows no mortal to live for himself alone, however much disposed to. A capitalist, without the remotest intention of being a public benefactor perhaps, founds a factory, to enlarge his private fortune. But the enterprise calls into employment an army of labourers, and the wages forestall their starvation. A few men, in a corporation, as the ease may be, build a railway, for the sake of the dividends; but it becomes an immeasurable facility of travel and transportation, and while it enriches a few is a convenience to millions. (F. D. Huntington, D. D.)
So the carpenter encouraged the goldsmith
The hardships of working men
If men in bad work can encourage each other, should not men engaged in honest artisanship and mechanism speak words of good cheer?
1. Men see in their own work hardships and trials, while they recognise no hardships or trials in anybody else’s occupation. Every man’s burden is the heaviest, and every woman’s task is the hardest. We find people wanting to get other occupations and professions. Now, the beauty of our holy religion is that God looks down upon all the occupations and professions; and while I cannot understand your annoyances, and you cannot understand mine, God understands them all. I will speak this warning of the general hardships of the working classes. You may not belong to this class, but you are bound as Christian men and women to know their sorrows and sympathise with them, and as political economists to come to their rescue. You do a great wrong to the labouring classes if you hold them responsible for the work of the scoundrelly anarchists. You may do your duty toward your employes, but many do not, and the biggest business firm to-day is Grip, Gouge, Grind and Company. By what principle of justice is it that women in many of our cities get only two-thirds as much as men, and in many cases only half? Here is the gigantic injustice, that for work equally well, if not better, done woman receives far less compensation than man. Has toil frosted the colour of your cheeks? Has it taken all spontaneity from your laughter? Has it subtracted the spring from your step, and the lustre from your eye, until it has left you only half the man you were when you first put your hand on the hammer and your foot on the wheel? To-morrow in your place of toil, listen, and you will hear a voice above the hiss of the furnace, and the groan of the foundry, and the clatter of the shuttle--a voice not of machinery, nor of the task-master, but the voice of an all-sympathetic God, as He says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Let all men and women of toil remember that this work will soon be over. Have they not heard that there is a great holiday coming? Oh, that home, and no long walk to get to it! I wish they would put their head on this pillow stuffed with the down from the wing of all God’s promises. “There remains a rest for the people of God.”
2. Another great trial is privation of taste and sentiment. I do not know of anything much more painful than to have a fine taste for painting and sculpture and music and glorious sunsets and the expanse of the blue sky, and yet, not to be able to get the dollar for the oratorio, or to get a picture, or to buy one’s way into the country to look at the setting sun and at the bright heavens.
3. Then there are a great many who suffer not only in the privation of their tastes, but in the apprehension and the oppressive surroundings of life. (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)
Encouragements for working men
1. One of the greatest safeguards against evil is plenty to do. I see a pool of water in the country, and I say, “Thou slimy fetid thing, what does all this mean? Didn’t I see you playing with those shuttles and turning that grist-mill?” “Oh yes,” says the water, “I used to earn my living.” I say again, “Then what makes you look so sick? Why are you covered with this green scum? Why is your breath so vile?” “Oh,” says the water, “I have nothing to do. I am disgusted with shuttles and wheels. I am going to spend my whole lifetime here, and while yonder stream sings on its way down the mountain-side, here I am left to fester and die accursed of God because I have nothing to do!” Sin is an old pirate that bears down on vessels whose sails are flapping idly in the wind. The arrow of sin has hard work to puncture the leather of an old working-apron.
2. Another encouragement is the fact that their families are going to have the very best opportunity for development and usefulness. That may sound strange to you, but the children of fortune are very apt to turn out poorly. The son of the porter that kept the gate learns his trade, gets a robust physical constitution, achieves high moral culture, and stands in the front rank of Church and State.
3. Again, I offer as encouragement that you have so many opportunities of gaining information. The Countess of Anjou gave two hundred sheep for one volume. Jerome ruined himself financially by buying one copy of Origen. Oh, the contrast!
4. Your toils in this world are only intended to be a discipline by which you shall be prepared for heaven. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
A call to action
I propose to address myself--
I. TO THOSE WHO PROFESS THE FAITH OF CHRIST. Is there no work for you to do? Join some of the regiments; belong to the artillery, or the cavalry, or the infantry of the Church. Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion.
II. TO THOSE WHO PROFESS NOT TO BE CHRISTIANS.
1. There are some of you who say you are kept back by your worldly engagements. Will you let your store, your office, your shop, stand between you and heaven?
2. There is somebody who says: “I am afraid someone will laugh at me if I become a Christian.” Will you allow your soul to be caught in such a thin trap as human scorn? Can these people who laugh at your seriousness insure you for the future?
3. There may be young people who say, “We are too young yet. Wait a little while, after we have enjoyed the world more; and then we will become Christians.” I ask any young man if that is fair--to sit down at a banquet all your life long, and have everything you want, and then at the close, when you are utterly exhausted, say, “Lord Jesus, there are dregs in that cup; you may drink them. Lord Jesus, there are crumbs under that table; you may take them up”?
4. I heard some say, “I am too old.” If thou canst not do any more than tremble towards the Cross, if thou art too weak to-night to hold the staff, if all thy soul seems to be bowed down with sorrow, just stumble the way, and put thy withered arms around that Cross, and life, and joy, and pardon, and salvation will come to you.
5. I hear someone say, “Give me more time to think of this!” What is time? (T. DeWitt Talmage, D. D.)
A model Church
I. It is a scene of ACTIVITY. We all enjoy activity in the natural world. When the winter frosts have melted, and the streams gush down the mountain-side, and the trees begin to put out their livery of green, we enjoy it. Life is a scene of activity in the physical universe. So it is in the business world. So it is with intellectual activity. The long years of the Middle Ages have passed, and the darkness enveloping Europe lifts up. The printing-press is doing a work beyond that of the old feudal castle. Still more is it the case when there comes spiritual life in a church or in a parish; everybody feels happy.
II. It is a scene of CHEERFUL, COURAGEOUS TOIL. The carpenter encourages the goldsmith. Many people discourage. The carpenter is querulous, and he says, “Look here, Mr. Goldsmith, I think you had better do your work so.” “What do you know about goldsmithing?” says the other; “you are a carpenter; attend to your own business,” and thus angry words pass between them. It is so in our churches. “Singing,” says one; “what do you know about singing?” “You don’t preach quite right,” says one. “Would you like to try?” A sensible man says, “I cannot preach; I think my minister knows how to preach, and I will pray for him if he makes a mistake now and then.” He knows how to encourage him.
III. It is a scene of PROMPT INDUSTRY AND THOROUGH WORK. When a man gets a reputation for dilatoriness his fate is sealed. The model Church does thorough work, and does it promptly.
IV. THEY ARE ALL WORKING FOR ONE COMMON END. The Church has one end. This man attends to the singing; this man to the children; this man looks after the working men’s class; this man attends to outdoor relief; another visits the mothers; others attend to this, that, and the other, but they are all working for one end. The Church is a unity--a unity in spirit, in aim, in end. (E. P. Thwing.)
All at work
I. THEY WERE ALL AT WORK. Many of us like activity. In the intellectual world all is life and go. In the political world it is the same. “Rest and be thankful” belongs to other days. It should be just like that in the Church of Jesus Christ. Here, stagnation means death.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT WHICH THEY GAVE EACH OTHER. Men will work, and work well, when their efforts are appreciated. Even the dumb animals which have become the companion and worker for man seem to understand encouragement, and will, in many ways, show their appreciation of it.
III. THE QUALITY OF THEIR WORK. “It was fastened with nails, and could not be moved.” Work done under the circumstances of the text was sure to be good--do your work well. Do not catch the spirit of the age. This is the day of the jerry builder. Quantity is often considered rather than quality. Outward show is the order of the day. It is important for us all to remember that what we can do for God depends upon what we are before God. We can only teach what we know. (C. Leach, D. D.)
A society of encouragers
Societies already exist in multitude--societies religious, political, social, literary, etc; but there is room for another. It need not displace any existing ones that are worthy of continuance; it can fulfil its purpose by infusing into them all a new spirit--a spirit of brightness, of good cheer, and strengthening comradeship. Ipropose to call it “The Society of Encouragers.”
I. ITS BASIS IS LAID IN NEIGHBOURLINESS AND BROTHERLINESS. Does anyone ask, “Who is my neighbour?” Let him read again the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story neighbourliness stands for love, sympathy, kindness, help, and all those qualities that constitute practical religion. It bridges, at a leap, the chasm of national distinctions. My neighbour’s house may be near or far in situation, his rental may stand at £80 a year, and mine at £20. His walls may be adorned with the costliest pictures, and I may be indebted to the enterprising activity of tradesmen at Christmas-time for any adornment on mine; or the financial positions of each may be transposed, but we are neighbours. We live to help each other. Is there trouble anywhere? That is enough, my place is there; and when the hour of distress comes for me, I shall not be without a friend. But there is a deeper word still In the new society, we are brothers. “Every one said to his brother, Be of good cheer.” This strikes a yet tenderer chord. “Have we not all one Father?” This will settle the relations between capital and labour by uniting master and man in a common bond of reciprocal interest. Carry it to its furthest issue, and it will solve all questions of national and international strife by brining in the reign of “Peace on earth and goodwill to men.”
II. AS TO ITS RAISON D’ETRE.
1. The new society exists for kindly speech to one another. “Every one said to his brother, Be of good courage.” A word in season, how good it is! There is helpfulness and inspiration in kindly, encouraging speech. The ministry that never fails is the ministry of encouragement.
2. It exists for kindly speech of one another. In the new society we pledge ourselves to think and act towards the living as we do for those who have passed into the Great Silence. Many have died before their time for want of a Society of Encouragers. Sympathy is vain that is reserved for the eulogy of the dead or flower-wreaths for the coffin-lid. Expend it now.
3. The new society exists also for mutual effort. “They helped every one his neighbour.” The kindly word is valuable and precious, but it is better still when crystalised into action. What the world wants is the practical application of the religion of Jesus Christ, whose human life is summed up in the brief sentence: “Who went about doing good.”
4. The new society is a society of workers “The carpenter encouraged the goldsmith.” You can put your own trade or profession in. All may be included whose calling is honest, just, and pure. What is wanted is a sense of comradeship, and this the new society provides. The isolation is removed. We no longer work alone, but side by side, in the world’s great workshop.
III. THE UNITING BOND OF ALL IS LOVE. Love is the common bond that unites man to man, neighbour to neighbour, brother to brother, and all together to Him who is Love s primal fount and source. (A. Hancock.)
A traveller, standing outside Cologne Cathedral, expressed his admiration of its beauty. “Yes,” said a labourer, who was near; “it’s a fine building, and took us many a year to finish.” “Took you!” exclaimed the tourist; “why, what have you to do with it?” “I mixed the mortar, sir,” was the modest yet proud reply. (Home Magazine.)
But thou, Israel, art My servant
The servant of Jehovah
It is reasonable to seek the origin of the idea in the first passage in which the term occurs (Isaiah 41:8).
Here there can be no doubt as to what the term denotes. It denotes the Israelitish nation, treated, however, not as the mere aggregate of the members composing it, but as a unity, developing historically, and maintaining its continuity and essential character through successive generations. (S. R. Driver.)
The seed of Abraham, My friend
God blessing for the sake of another
God turns the eyes of Israel to the past. He reminds them that they are the children of His friend Abraham. You may find a man in distress, and may be tempted to turn away from him; but as he talks to you about himself and his antecedents, you find that he is the son of an old friend of yours. That alters the case. There is another motive operating on you now--the desire to be faithful to your friend. Israel was the seed of God’s friend Abraham. God would be faithful to them for His friend’s sake. “For Jesus Christ’s sake” is the highest expression and application of this principle. (J. A. Davies, B. D.)
The seed of Abraham
(with Matthew 3:9):--There is between these two passages an ascertainable relation. In the passage which we have read from the Book of Isaiah is exhibited the greatest element in the Israelitish national consciousness. Apparently these people never forgot their vocation as the children of Abraham. Sometimes they attributed more importance to it, sometimes less. When the nation was at its best they spiritualised the ideal; when it was at its worst they materialised it; but they never wholly ignored it. Here is a prophet speaking in a stern time with the purpose of heartening the people who were listening to him. See how he does it. In the chapter which precedes the one whence our text is taken the opening sentences are: “Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God,” etc. The last verse of the chapter is more beautiful still: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not faint.” We see the mood in which Isaiah speaks and the tenderness which is evident in his message. It is as though he would say to Israel: You have passed through a stern testing time, but you have not ceased to be the people of God. Indeed, the testing time was permitted because you are never to be anything else than the chosen ones, God’s Israel. You have Abraham for your father, and the covenant which God made with Abraham He will keep with you. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. ‘ In the light of this Old Testament consciousness let us now look at the passage which we have chosen from the New. Isaiah and John are both heralds; there is at least this similarity between them, that they both come as the bearers of good tidings concerning a better day. But they are different in this: while Isaiah speaks with the gorgeous magnificence of Oriental symbolism, and his message is one full of comfort and tenderness, the words of St. John are utterly unadorned; rugged and grim is the speech of this child of the desert. He comes less with a message of comfort than with one of rebuke; and yet, like Isaiah, he is the herald of a glorious day. But the people are not ready for his message nor for the blessing which he announces. And so his words to them are words of warning, especially, shall I say, to the Pharisees. The people and their leaders had been too much inclined to content themselves with making much of the tradition of the covenant of God with Abraham, and they thought comparatively, little of what was required from them in the keeping of it. “O generation of vipers! who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance.” The Pharisees were conspicuous for two particular vices; and may I say, in parenthesis, that Pharisees were by no means in their entirety pact men. There were many sincere men in their ranks, and yet Jesus, like John, had more difficulty with the Pharisees than with any other class in the community. Their chief sin was that of spiritual pride; but another was, they believed in the externals of religion rather than in change of heart. They insisted much upon their lineage: here we are the chosen people, the descendants of Abraham--would not God keep His word to us? What part or lot has the race of mankind in this which is a special privilege of Israel? John’s reply to them is this: “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.” Why should God trouble to show His favour to men like you, for you are very different from Abraham? God is able to raise up from these stones children unto Abraham. Shall we spend a little more time in discovering what John the Baptist means by saying, “God is able of the stones to raise up children unto Abraham”? I have heard an exegesis of this kind, and it is not a modern one only: “Oh, it is obvious that St. John meant that the hearts around him might be changed by his glorious message, that God would give to these men a heart of flesh in place of a heart of stone, and then they would be children of Abraham indeed.” Well, the inference is not unjustifiable, but I do not think it is correct. I believe that St. John meant exactly and literally what he said: “God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” To believe that he meant it literally adds force to the warning and the appeal. What he meant, then, was something like this: It is in the power of God to breathe the breath of life into these rocks of the desert, and they should become living souls; and if so it is conceivable they would be better men than you and worthier successors of Abraham, the friend of God. For who was, what was, this Abraham? If you turn to Hebrews 11:1-40. you will read a Christian description of the man and his character: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went,” etc. Momentous results followed that far-off choice. It was the dawning of a great hour in which Israel was born, and with Israel the Messiah, and with the Messiah the gospel under which you and I live our lives to-day. Here, then, is the Abraham of whose seed these Pharisees claimed to be. They had not his moral courage, nor his noble spirit; these were not of the kind who would have gone out in pursuit of a spiritual ideal. These were men who had hardened into insensibility, who by their lives denied the spiritual idea Abraham had bequeathed to them, and therefore the Baptist’s remonstrance was apt indeed. “Think not to say, we have Abraham to our father.” You are not of the spiritual lineage of Abraham; you would never dare for God; you are content with the grovelling things, your gaze is never lifted to the eternal. God could raise up another Abraham, yea, of these stones he could raise up children worthier than you. As an illustration of what the fiery, indomitable prophet of the desert meant, let me remind you of something, perhaps, that may have crossed your lips but yesterday. Looking upon the degenerate son of a noble sire, what was it you remarked to your companion? “His only recommendation is that he is his father’s son.” Any worthless profligate who soils a noble name and brings degradation upon the record of a noble race receives and deserves the reprobation of honest men. The question whether England is Israel is not worth discussing, believe me. If you could prove it to-morrow, some John the Baptist might rise and tell you you are out of the spiritual succession altogether. This is merely the negative side of the question. The seed of Abraham in spirit and in truth are those who hear the Word of God speaking within their own hearts, and rise and go forth and obey. Hear what Jesus has to say on this theme in John 8:39. If Jesus is correctly reported by one who at any rate knew Him well, as addressing the indignant Jews, He says: “I speak that which I have seen with My Father; and ye do that which ye have seen with your father. They answered and said unto Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill Me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham.” We can classify easily the men that are of the quality of Abraham. Did these pharisaic time-servers, these bigoted Jews, who were questioning Jesus with the object of destroying Him, really think that they stood in the succession of him who was the friend of God? Verily they did; but the consciousness of humanity since has put them right. An Ambrose, in the early years of Christianity, a rough soldier, is chosen by the people, who know him and his character, to be their bishop; and now as prelate of Milan it is the duty of this erstwhile soldier to turn from the church door the bloodstained emperor who had been his commander. He dare not do otherwise, for he is serving a greater than the emperor. Here speaks the seed of Abraham. And who knows? God knows, maybe, that in this church this morning there are some of the lineage of Abraham of whom the world will never hear. The rest of us, perhaps, in the gaze of heaven, may have to be put in another category--the category of those who have not dared for justice and right and truth. There is one more thought suggested in our second text. There is something contained in the very phrase “these stones,” which I think was not merely accidental. The prophet knew well what he meant: the stones are unpromising material Con version is a turning from sin and a turning towards God. Get firm hold of that fact. Feelings are an endowment which may or may not accompany it; but the man whose heart is right with holiness and truth, whose faith is turned that way, is of the seed of Abraham and the friend of God. I want you to recognise, what is the very truth, that Abraham had far less to guide him than you. He heard the same voice as you, but it had not told the world as much then as it has told it since. When you take up this Old Testament again and read of the wonders achieved by the heroes of old, remember that the voice that spake to them spake within their own hearts, and not without, just as it speaks now to you. This Abraham heard a voice, and he said he would obey it; he could trust it; he established his covenant with God, and it never failed him. How shall I know I am of the seed of Abraham? Is my face turned the way his was? How shall I know I belong to the Lord Christ? Here is my charter: “Whosoever shall do the will of God (even seek to do it), the same is My brother and sister and mother.” Jesus will never turn away from His own spiritual kindred. Yet there may be one more experience here to which I ought to speak. There is, perhaps, a man who says, “Ah yes; but I have made shipwreck of my career. Such lives as these may look back upon their life and say, ‘I have done the best I could with my manhood.’ But I have failed; my road is strewn with the dust and ashes of vain regrets. ‘The stones are the rubbish of the desert. They only serve to accentuate its desolation.’ Just so; I am the stones.” Well, I want you to hear a voice that I am fond of listening to--with deepest reverence be it spoken--One that spoke with authority;and I think you will agree with me it has power in it still:-- John 8:56 :“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Picture the astonishment of those Jews. “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast Thou seen Abraham?” Poor literalists! Abraham in his lonely desert vigil never saw Jesus; he had no foregleam of the day when Jesus should speak such words as these; but what he did have was the vision by which he saw the Sun of Righteousness arising in his own heart. That was Jesus’ day. The Abraham who spent his early days in a guilty household, in the midst of men who never thought of the unworthiness of serving God by lascivious rites and brutal deeds, one day said to himself, “This life has to be left behind.” So soon as he had seen that, he had seen Jesus’ day, and he rose up and went out to meet it. And that is just what we have to do. For the same voice that spake to Abraham is speaking to the world to-day, is speaking through Jesus: “Before Abraham was I am.” Children of Abraham, friends of Jesus, is not that voice speaking to you even now? (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
1. There is in Scripture a hidden truth which we gradually become acquainted with, and which we may not thoroughly know for years. God has attached certain names and titles to men in the Bible which seem to have some great hidden meaning, as showing what character God approves. There are certain men to whose characters He has attached a distinct approval which is most striking. Abraham is called “the friend of God”; David, “the man after God’s own heart”; St. John, “the beloved disciple.” There is some deep meaning in each of these titles not to be passed by casually.
2. The characters of Holy Scripture are so various that we are impressed with the view that the Old Testament is a volume of character, written to show the application of religious privileges to the varieties of men. Look at Abraham. What is our first feeling in thinking of him? that is, in what did his character seem peculiar? In faith and unworldliness. In what David’s? A tender love of God. In what St. John’s? Love. Now how do they assimilate essentially with each other? Who else was especially faithful? Not so strikingly, Jacob or Isaac or Solomon. Abraham’s faithfulness bore the great fruit of faithfulness, unworldliness. Samuel, Elijah, and Ezekiel were characters who seemed especially to have lived by faith, to have lived free of the world. How did Abraham differ from them? In having a tender disposition, a deeper well.spring of human feeling. He was a man of much strong and domestic affection, really attached to earthly ties, and mentioned in close connection with them throughout his history. The three characters, then, which are thus distinguished by especial names of God’s favour, all agree in this respect, a deep and tender love in their dispositions; yet prevented from so ruling them as to draw off their faith from God, which faith was shown by a life of freedom from the world.
3. Let this, then, be the lesson and comfort we draw, that however little we may be living a life of public usefulness, yet a retired one may be the life God has placed us in. (E. Monte.)
The friend of God
(with James 2:23):--Abraham was called the friendof God because he was so. The name does not occur in his life as given in the Book of Genesis, and it has been questioned whether it occurs anywhere else in Holy Scripture; for many have preferred to translate the word in Isaiah, and in 2 Chronicles 20:7, as “lover,” or “beloved,” rather than “friend.” However this may be, it is quite certain that among the Jewish people Abraham was frequently spoken of as “the friend of God.” At this present moment, among the Arabs and other Mohammedans, the name of Abraham is not often mentioned, but they speak of him as Khalil Allah, or the “friend of God,” or more briefly as of Khalil, “the friend.” Those tribes which boast of their descent from him through Ishmael, or through the sons of Keturah, greatly reverence the patriarch, and are wont to speak of him under the name which the Holy Spirit here ascribes to him. It is a noble title, not to be equalled by all the names of greatness which have been bestowed by princes, even if they should all meet in one. Patents of nobility are mere vanity when laid side by side with this transcendent honour. I think I hear you say, “Yes, it was indeed a high degree to which Abraham reached: so high that we cannot attain unto it.” Think not so. We also may be called friends of God (John 15:14).
I. A TITLE TO BE WONDERED AT.
1. Admire and adore the condescending God, who thus makes of a man, like ourselves, His friend. In this case the august Friend displays His pure love, since He has nothing to gain. Surely God does not need friends. How sweet it is to mingle the current of our life with that of some choice bosom friend! Can God have a friend? Friend ship cannot all be on one side. In this particular instance it is intended that we should know that while God was Abraham’s Friend, this was not all; but Abraham was God’s friend. He received and returned the friendship of God. Friendship creates a measure of equality between the persons concerned. I say not that absolute equality is at all necessary to friendship, for a great king may have a firm friend in one of the least of his subjects; but the tendency is towards an equalising of the two friends: the one comes down gladly, and the other rises up in sympathy. Friendship begets fellowship, and this bridges over the dividing gulf. We must keep our place, or we shall not be friends.
2. Note the singular excellence of Abraham. How could he have been God’s friend had not grace wrought wonderfully in him? Although a plain man, dwelling in tents, the father of the faithful is always a right royal personage. A calm dignity surrounds him, and the sons of Heth and the kings of Egypt feel its power. His character is well balanced.
3. Note some of the points in which this Divine friendship showed itself.
(1) The Lord often visited Abraham.
(2) Secrets were disclosed.
(3) Compacts were entered into. On certain grand occasions we read: “The Lord made a covenant with Abram.”
(4) This friendship resulted in the bestowal of innumerable benefits. The life of Abraham was rich with mercies.
(5) Since Abraham was God’s friend, God accepted his pleadings, and was moved by his influence.
(6) There was also between these friends a mutual love and delight. Abraham rejoiced in Jehovah! He was his shield, and his exceeding great reward, and the Lord Himself delighted to commune with Abraham. The serenity of the patriarch’s life was caused by his constant joy in God.
(7) This friendship was maintained with great constancy. The Lord never forsook Abraham: even when the patriarch erred, the Lord remembered and rescued him. He did not cast him off in old age. Constancy is also seen on the human side of this renowned friendship. Abraham did not turn aside to worship any false god.
(8) The Lord kept His friendship to Abraham by favouring his posterity. That is what our text,, tells us. The Lord styled rebellious” Israel, “the seed of Abraham, My friend.
II. THE TITLE VINDICATED. Abraham was the friend of God in a truthful sense. There was great propriety and fulness of meaning in the name as applied to him.
1. Abraham’s trust in God was implicit. He “staggered not at the promise through unbelief,” for he knew that what the Lord had promised He was able also to perform.
2. There was joined to this implicit trust a practical confidence as to the accomplishment of everything that God had promised.
3. Abraham’s obedience to God was unquestioning.
4. Abraham’s desire for God’s glory was uppermost at all times.
5. Abraham’s communion with God was constant.
III. Regard this name as THE TITLE TO BE SOUGHT AFTER. Oh, that we may get to ourselves this good degree, this diploma, “friend of God”!
1. You must be fully reconciled to Him.
2. We must exercise a mutual choice. The God who has chosen you must be chosen by you.
3. There must be a conformity of heart, and will, and design, and character to God.
4. There must be a continual intercourse. The friend of God must not spend a day without God, and he must undertake no work apart from his God.
5. If we are to be friends of God, we must be co partners with Him.
6. Friendship, if it exists, will breed mutual delight.
IV. THE TITLE TO BE UTILISED for practical purposes.
1. Here is a great encouragement to the people of God. See what possibilities lie before you!
2. Here is a solemn thought for those who would be friends of God. A man’s friend must show himself friendly, and behave with tender care for his friend. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Fear thou not; for I am with thee
“Fear thou not!”
THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH GOD ADDRESSES HIS PEOPLE. They are poor and needy. It is necessary that God should have room in which to work. Emptiness to receive Him; weakness to be empowered by Him. It is into the empty branch that the vine-sap pours; into the hollowed basin that the water flows; the weakness of the child gives scope for the man’s strength.
II. THE ASSURANCES THAT HE MAKES TO THEM. No height, however bare, nor depth, however profound, can separate us from His love.
III. THE DIVINE PROVISION FOR THEIR NEED. Life is not easy for any of us, if we regard the external conditions only: but directly we learn the Divine secret, rivers flow over bare heights in magnificent cascades; fountains arise in the rock-strewn sterile valleys; the wilderness becomes a pool (Isaiah 41:17-18). To the ordinary eye it is probable that there would appear no difference. Still the tiny garret, and the wasting illness; still the pining child; still the straitened circumstances--still the deferred hope. But the eye of faith beholds a paradise of beauty, murmuring brooks filling the air with melody, leafy trees spreading their shade. What makes the difference? What does faith see? How is she able to work such transformations?
1. Faith is conscious that God is there, and that His presence is the complement of every need. To her eye common desert bushes burn with His Shechinah
2. Faith recognises the reality of an eternal choice, that God has entered into a covenant which cannot be dissolved, and that His love and fidelity are bound to finish the work He has commenced.
3. Faith knows that there is a loving purpose running through every moment of trial, and that the Great Refiner has a meaning in every degree of heat to which the furnace is raised; and she anticipates the moment when she will see what God has foreseen all the time, and towards which He has been working.
4. Faith realises that others are learning from her experiences lessons which nothing else would teach them; and that glory is accruing to God in the highest, because men and angels see and know and consider and understand together that the hand of the Lord hath done this, and the Holy One of Israel hath created it (Isaiah 41:20). (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
No fear for God’s people
I. THE SPEAKER. The words derive all their importance from this. So many are our enemies, so mighty, so subtle, so malignant, so ceaseless in their attacks, that all finite beings would be powerless to help. We want Omniscience, Omnipotence, Omnipresence on our side. A patience, a compassion, a pity, a love that belongs only to God. We want One to help who embraces all being, all time, all eternity. We want even more than this. We want One who has engaged all these perfections on our behalf. We want even more than this: One who stands in the tenderest relation to us in all these. And such is the Speaker of these words.
II. THE PERSONS TO WHOM SPOKEN. Literally to His ancient people. But spiritually to all the people of God, the true descendants of Jacob, everywhere, in all ages. They need them in every stage of their journey, every moment of their lives, every step they take. They are strangers on the earth. The world is a strange place to them, and they are strangers in it. The path which their are treading was never trod by them before. The religion of the world is not theirs; its habits, amusements, principles, practice, are all foreign to them. It is a strange land, and hostile too, for there is much in it that opposes them. They are sailors on a stormy ocean, where sun and stars in many days appear not, and no small tempest lies on them. They are soldiers in a field of hard fighting; their enemies vastly out-number them, overmatch them, and besides this, in themselves they are but weak, yea, powerless, and, unless perpetually encouraged, timid.
III. THE WORDS THEMSELVES. “Fear not.” He says it more than seventy times in the Scripture. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Three times within the compass of a few verses, the exhortation, “Fear not,” is given.
I. THE EXHORTATION. “Fear not.” A great honour comes to anyone who is thus addressed by God. It shows that God cares for that person, and desires to live on terms of intimacy with him; for God binds His friends to Him by ties of love as well as reverence. True religion differs from false in this respect. How wonderful to hear God say to any man, “Fear not”; because all have reason to fear Him. Ever since Adam hid himself in the garden, fear has been characteristic of our attitude towards God. We sin against Him. He hates and punishes sin. Does it not look like mockery for us sinners to be told, “Fear not”? Terror often disappears as a fuller knowledge is gained of the object which caused it. Friday trembled all over on first meeting Robinson Crusoe; but soon his terror vanished. Much of our fear of God arises from ignorance; and will vanish when the light of the knowledge of God in Christ dawns on our souls.
II. THE GROUNDS ON WHICH THIS INJUNCTION IS BASED. Remember that God never gives His children a stone when they ask Him for bread. If He says, “Fear not,” He means it. Why “Fear not”? “I am with thee,” He assures Israel How tenderly God speaks to Israel in Isaiah 41:8-9. His voice is like that of a mother crooning to her child--Israel, whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham My friend, I have taken thee, and called thee, and chosen thee, and not cast thee away. God is nearer to us than He was to even the Old Testament saints. Immanuel means “God with us.”
III. THIS TEACHES US TO CLING TO CHRIST ALL THROUGH LIFE. Lord Chamberlain Leslie was once riding through a dangerous ford with the Queen of Scotland sitting behind, in the old fashion, and fastened to him by a belt. As she slipped backwards during the steep ascent, out of the river, the Lord Chamberlain shouted encouragingly, “Grip fast.” “Ay,” said Her Majesty, “gin the buckle baud” They landed safely, and to make security double sure in the future, two additional buckles were sewed on to the belt. God’s command to us regarding Christ is, “Grip fast.” The bond that binds a believing sinner to Him will never break. Why, then, should we fear? (D. A.Mackinnon, M. A.)
Encouragement not to fear
I. THE TEMPER OF SPIRIT that the Lord aims to reduce His people unto. “Fear not; be not dismayed.” Quietness, settledness, and undauntedness of spirit.
II. THE COURSE HE TAKES to reduce them to it. A proposal of motives and arguments of sufficient effect and prevalency to pull down vain fear out of the heart. (T. Crisp, D. D.)
Fear, and its remedy.
I. WHAT IT IS FOR A PERSON NOT TO FEAR, nor be dismayed. Fear is a very distracting, disturbing, confounding passion; it is a kind of besetting passion that makes men lose themselves, especially if it be in the extremity of fear; it ariseth from an apprehension of some unavoidable, insupportable evil growing upon a person, and occasioned either by some symptoms of that evil, or by some messenger or other relating it, or by some foresight of it in the eye. Now, as evil appears greater or lesser, and more or less tolerable, so the passion of fear is more or less in persons.
II. WHAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD SHOULD NOT FEAR. There is a threefold fear; a natural, a religious, and a turbulent fear. A natural fear is nothing else but such an affection as is in men by nature, that they cannot be freed from; such a fear was in Christ Himself, without sin. A religious fear is nothing but an awful reverence, whereby people keep a fit distance between the glorious majesty of God and the meanness of a creature. A turbulent fear is a fear of disquietness. Now all disquieting fear is that which the Lord endeavours to take off from His people.
1. The people of God need not be afraid of their sins. I do not say they must not be afraid to sin (Romans 8:1).
2. Neither ought we to fear the sins of others. They cannot do God’s people any hurt.
3. They that have God for their God must not be afraid of men.
III. WHAT THE FRUIT OF FEAR IS; or what prejudice or disadvantage fear and dismayedness bring along with them.
1. Fearfulness of spirit casts many slanders upon God. Upon His power, His faithfulness, His care and providence, the freeness of His grace, the efficacy of the sufferings of Christ.
2. As it respects God’s service.
(1) It is the cut-throat of believing.
(2) It is prejudicial to all religious duties: it is a damper to prayer.
It makes all duties merely selfish. Fear puts a man beside his wits, that while he is in such a passion, he is to seek for common ways of safety; so that, whereas men think that fear will help them to avoid danger, commonly, in amazement, you shall have people stand still, not able to stir to save themselves. Besides, this fear is such a torment, that commonly those evils so much feared, prove not so hurtful nor evil to a person as the present fears; and, besides this, it many times doth not only daunt the spirit of a man in himself, but proves very dangerous to others.
IV. GOD’S MOTIVES, by which He attempts to prevail over the spirits of His people, not to be afraid or dismayed, come what can or may. God is our God.
1. What is it for God to be our God? While you have all things else but this, you have the rays of the sun; while you have this, you have the sun itself in its brightness and lustre. “I am thy God,” is as much as to say, Thou hast a propriety in Me. God’s all-sufficiency reaches beyond all wants.
2. What a person hath in this. There are three particulars whereby specially you may observe what great treasure people have in having God.
(1) In regard of the quality of the treasure.
(2) In regard of the virtue of it. The quintessence of all virtues is in Him.
(3) In regard of the sovereignty, universality, and variety of help in it.
3. How it is so well with those that are the Lord’s. God, in giving Himself unto persons, gives Himself to be communicated unto them at sundry seasons, and in divers kinds and measures, and yet so that He will be the judge of the fitness of the time.
4. How He becomes their God, and upon what terms. The gift of Him is as cheap as it is rich. He never looks the creature should bring anything that he might procure it.
5. How He will be found of them. The way of finding out God efficiently to be our God, is the Spirit of the Lord. God makes Himself known passively to be the God of His people, by the word of His grace, and faith laying hold upon it revealed, and more subordinately in prayer, fasting, receiving of the Lord’s supper, and such ordinances, so far as they are mixed with faith. (T. Crisp, D. D.)
Many good people are full of fears. Bunyan says of Mr. Fearing, “He was a man that had the root of the matter in him, but he was one of the most troublesome pilgrims that I ever met with in all my days.” Many things may help us to conquer our fears.
I. IT IS WRONG TO FEAR. We are quite safe in God’s hands, and fear is really unbelief. It dishonours God.
II. IT PREVENTS US FROM DOING OUR DUTY. If a gardener is afraid to sow his seed he will have no flowers, or if the farmer is afraid to plough he will have no crop. If a boy is afraid it is of no use to try for the prize, he will not get it. Fear is ruinous to our work.
III. IT DISCOURAGES OTHERS (Numbers 13:31-33; Numbers 14:1). Fear kept the Israelites out of the promised land.
IV. IT IS UNNECESSARY. We are afraid because the dangers seem so great, or the work so hard, and ourselves so weal But we forget who is for us--more than all that can be against us.
1. God is with us.
2. God is our God. What a possession God is!
3. God will strengthen us as He did David and Samson.
4. He will hold us up by His right hand. Who then can lay us low? Away then with fear for ever. (R. Brewin.)
I. GOD’S PEOPLE PASS THROUGH ADVERSITY.
II. TRIBULATION STRENGTHENS GOD’S PEOPLE.
III. GOD IS WITH HIS PEOPLE IN THE DAY OF THEIR TROUBLE.
IV. A PERSONAL ENCOURAGEMENT. “I am with thee.”
1. Your fellow-men may ridicule you because you have become religious.
2. In your trade you may have to pass through much tribulation.
3. You may have felt much fear about making a profession of your faith.
4. Temporal calamity often visits the people of God.
5. There may be affliction and pain coming to you.
V. AN INVITATION TO SINNERS. You say this invitation is not in the text. Never mind, I must go over hedge and ditch to call the sinner to Jesus. (W. Birch.)
The missionary could not take with him a higher word of manifold comfort than is here contained.
I. THE COMMAND.
1. “Fear not, thou.” Fear throws a paralysis over the senses and faculties of man, so that flight and safety are more thought of than holding one’s ground, or making headway against the enemy.
2. “Be not dismayed.” If one have fear, he loses both courage and hope; and in this state no valuable work can be done. The soldiers of the first French Revolution Were destitute of fear, and by nothing dismayed; hence, all the armies of Europe prevailed not against them, until, in the terms of Carlyle, they had provoked all men, and the Gaelic fire had kindled another kind of fire--the Teutonic kind.
II. ITS GROUND.
1. “I am with thee.” God promised Moses that His presence should go with him; and without that, said Moses, send me not up.
2. “For I am thy God.” It is Jehovah that speaks, who created the universe and governs it still.
3. “I will strengthen thee.” God will renew not merely such strength as is natural to us, but a surplusage of strength for special service. In the strength of heavenly food and drink” Elijah “went forty days and forty nights.”
4. “Yea, I will help thee.” Joseph in Egypt, or Daniel in Babylon, would have been destroyed by their enemies, and would never have become prime ministers but for the Divine interposition.
5. “Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” The right hand is an emblem of power--here, of omnipotent power--so that the work of righteousness which you do shall never cease. Truth is omnipotent, and shall rule the eternal years.
III. ITS ENCOURAGEMENT.
1. If God be for us in mission work, who can be against us?
2. If He favour and command it, how can it ever cease? Deus vult, said Peter the Hermit, and for two centuries the Crusades flamed on high.
3. If truth and righteousness he eternal, how bold and hopeful ought the missionary to be! The Gospel is stronger than the strongest battalions. (Homiletic Review.)
The Christian’s fears and the Christian’s encouragement
I. THE CHRISTIAN’S FEARS. It may be asked why does the Christian fear? I answer, because of his knowledge. Do you say, “If this be so, then ignorance is bliss”? I answer, No. I do not say that our knowledge causes our danger, I only say it produces our fear. I may be in danger and not know it; but my ignorance does not diminish my danger; it rather increases it. See Captain Williams in the Atlantic. He is asleep in his cabin; maybe dreaming of wife, and home, and joys to come. He knows nothing of the rocks ahead on which, in a few moments, the vessel may dash, and where many a precious life will soon be gone for ever. If he were awake, there would be agony in his face instead of a smile; but there would be a chance of escape. His knowledge would produce fear, but might lead to safety. So with the sinner; he enters upon this year amidst smiles and songs, and little dreams that ere the next year comes he will be in eternity. If he were to awake there would be deep anxiety, but that anxiety might end in life and heaven. The Christian, however, is awake.
1. He knows that he is on trial for eternity.
2. That he is surrounded by enemies.
3. He knows himself: every day he lives he makes discoveries of his character that fill him with shame and sorrow. His constant acknowledgment is, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”
4. He knows that many a fellow-soldier has fallen.
II. THE CHRISTIAN’S ENCOURAGEMENT.
1. There is the assurance of God’s presence.
2. There are several exceeding great and precious promises. Conclusion--“To whom wilt thou flee for help? and where wilt thou leave thy glory?” Talk about destitution, there are none so destitute as those who have no God. (C. Garrett.)
There is no virtue more highly and widely esteemed than courage, and no vice more generally detested than cowardice. Courage makes heroes, and amongst the ancients, at least, heroes were second in rank to the gods. Amongst savage tribes it may almost be said that courage is the only virtue, for without it all other good qualities lose their value, and where it exists it covers a multitude of sins. This is also the virtue which children most admire. Jack the Giant Killer is a story of perennial interest to the children. Nor is hero-worship a thing unknown among older people.
I. THE NEED FOR COURAGE. Courage is the quality which enables one to resist. It is the power to say “No.”
II. THE NATURE OF COURAGE. Courage displays itself in many ways. It may be seen on the battlefield, and in the quiet endurance of difficulties in the home. It may be seen in maintaining unpopular opinions amid difficult or dangerous circumstances, or in meeting death with unblanched cheek. What is courage?
1. Courage is not blindness to danger. It is no virtue to be unconcerned in the presence of dangers, about which one is totally ignorant. The greatest courage often goes along with the keenest sense of danger. The young officer who was fighting by the side of an old veteran was surprised to find his face blanched with fear. The young man being reckless of danger himself, asked with considerable surprise, “You are not afraid, are you?” “I am afraid,” was the reply; “and if you were half as afraid as I am you would run.” Two of our Lord’s disciples once displayed the courage of ignorance. When Christ asked them if they were able to drink of the cup which He should drink, and be baptized with His baptism, they readily replied that they were able. They -were unconscious of the greatness of the task to which they were willing to pledge themselves.
2. Courage is a true estimate of dangers. “Knowledge is the antidote to fear.” “Courage is equality to the problem before us.” Socrates was condemned to drink the hemlock cup because he taught the youth of Athens noble truths about God, which were esteemed by the authorities as heresy. He might have won his life by a recantation, or an apology to his judges. He preferred death, when the executioner brought in the poison cup, the friends who were gathered round him wept, and Socrates alone was calm. He explained to them that he knew it was a dangerous thing to tell a lie; but that it might even be a blessing to die. At least he would not do what he knew to be evil, in preference to suffering what might possibly be evil, or what might even prove a blessing. The lie was the greater danger.
III. MOTIVES FOR COURAGE. The possession of such courage is to be coveted. How is it to be gained? what motive can be found sufficient to inspire one to such acts of bravery?
1. Pity for the oppressed.
2. Consciousness of companionship.
3. Knowledge that the cause is God’s. (R. C. Ford, M. A.)
Fear and dismay--an antidote
There is no doubt of the fact that we have all some fears, and that there are moments when we are dismayed, for life stands connected not only with to-day and man, but with God and eternity. The words of our text come to those who are faithful.
I. THE REASONS WHY SOME OF GOD’S PEOPLE HAVE OCCASION AT TIMES TO FEAR AND EVEN TO BE DISMAYED.
1. Our own nature is our enemy. In its depravity, in its ungodliness, the flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other.
2. Then there are these things that surround us, and those people who constitute the world around.
3. Then there is the great enemy. God often teaches us our inability. Is it not a solemn thing to stand in the midst of these enemies with that other world coming., and Christ to be the Judge? Is it not a solemn life when we think of all its responsibilities, if we are not found looking to the true source and finding the true power?
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT IN THE TEXT.
1. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God.” Do not imagine for a moment that it is your wants that bring to you this succour. The tendency with us all is always to make it our doing. Let us lay aside the thought that we have any power, and remember that from first to last it is all of grace. The first encouragement, then, is found in the Divine presence: “I am with thee.”
2. But there is yet a deeper depth. Sometimes the spirit of dismay comes over us. What will be the end? Cast away? What does the prophet tell us in regard to our covenant-keeping God? “Be not dismayed, for I am thy God.” Here is the most endearing relationship in the universe! There is not an angel in heaven but feels as he thinks of God that he is all safe. Now it is the same relationship between us and God; nay, it is a more sanctified one, for it is a relationship which exhibits the infinitude of His love, the unspeakableness of His mercy.
3. “I am thy God, I will strengthen thee.” One of the finest things that one finds after affliction is when the strength is returning and weakness is departing. There is a gladness and a gratitude in connection with such an experience as this which only those who have been afflicted can know. The downcast ones who are in the depths and ready to perish, ready to faint by the way, in that condition hear a voice; and what does it say to them? “I will strengthen thee.”
4. That is not all. “I will help thee.” Now this implies one step further. It implies that you and I have a burden, and as we are going through the world we are carrying it; but the burden is too heavy for us. We are tired; we are overloaded, and there is one Traveller by our side who can help us.
5. Then His support is effectual. “Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” There is no left-hand work with God; no sinister work; it is all right-hand work with Him. And then all that is with it and all that it introduces is righteousness. I know of no encouragement like this text if we properly appreciate it. (A. M. Brown, LL. D.)
God’s all-sufficiency a reason for fearlessness
God can be God and fearless, but we can scarcely be creatures and fearless. Still less is it likely that sinful creatures should be fearless. It is more than the Father looks for under the present mode of our existence. But when the fearful thing is coming down, or when the children see it looming in the distance and are frightened, and they catch the Father’s countenance, and see that He is not frightened, it wonderfully reassures the poor children to see a fearlessness on the Father’s face. Heaven is full of “Fear nots.” And if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, it will break out of your midnight, and up from your deepest valley too, that voice of the Father, the All-in-all.
I. The meaning of the word is that GOD IS OUR ALL-SUFFICIENCY, and not dis-related, but related to us.
II. CONSIDER THE USE THE CHILDREN SHOULD MAKE OF THIS SUFFICIENCY OF THEIR FATHER. See what liberties we take with God’s earth--We get stones wherever we like. They are not our stones. And we get gold wherever we like, and we get iron wherever we like, and we get coal wherever we can. I hope the day will come when, even without thought or intention, we shall, from the new nature of our being, take up God as easily as the blade of grass takes up atmosphere and light. Let us enter our home--enter and be comforted, as all helpless things are, to find their source ofsupply so near. And let us not leave our nest and then fret that our rest is gone, but abide encircled by the everlasting strength. (J. Pulsford.)
The sweet harp of consolation
We sometimes speak very lightly of doubts and fears; but such is not God’s estimate of them- Our Heavenly Father evidently considers them to be great evils, extremely mischievous to us, and exceedingly dishonourable to Himself, for He very frequently forbids our fears, and as often affords us the most potent remedies for them. “Fear not” is a frequent utterance of the Divine mouth. “I am with thee” is the fervent, soul-cheering argument to support it. Martin Luther used to say, that to comfort a desponding spirit is as difficult as to raise the dead; but, then, we have a God who both raises the dead from their graves and His people from their despair. Saul was subject to fits of deep despondency, but when David, the skilful harper, laid his hand among the obedient strings, the evil spirit departed, overcome by the subduing power of melody. My text is such a harp.
I. WE SHALL NOTE THE TIMES WHEN ITS SWEET STRAINS ARE MOST NEEDED. Occasions when comfort is needed are many; for some there be, who, like the willow, will only flourish in a soil which is always wet with consolation. If their mothers did not bear them with sorrow, like Jabez, they commenced very early on their own account to accumulate a heritage of woe. As John Bunyan would say, they need not be afraid of the Slough of Despond, for they carry a slough within their own hearts, and are never out of it, or it is never out of them. They are plants which flourish best in shady places, among the damps of sorrow. They delight most to dwell in the Valley of Humiliation; and when they are journeying through that peaceful vale, like Mr. Fearing, they could lie down and kiss the flowers, because the place is so suitable to their meek and lowly spirit. There is something sadly weak about this state of experience, though there is also much to admire: these are they whom the Master carries in His bosom, and doth gently lead. More or less, believers need consolation at all times, because their life is a very peculiar one.
1. Yet are there special occasions when the Comforter’s work is needed, and one of these certainly is when we are racked with much physical pain. Many bodily pains can be borne without affecting the mind, but there are others whose sharp fangs insinuate themselves into the marrow of our nature, boring their way most horribly through the brain and the spirit: for these much grace is wanted
2. When the trouble comes in another shape, namely, in our relative sorrows, borne personally by those dear to us.
3. When all the currents of providence run counter to us.
4. Some of us know what it is to hear this voice of God in the midst of unusual responsibilities, heavy labours, and great enterprises.
5. Did you ever stand, as a servant of God, alone in the midst of opposition? Have you heard the clamour of many, some saying this thing, and some the other--some saying, “He is a good man,” but others saying, “Nay, but he decieveth the people”? Did you never feel the delight of saying, “The best of all is, God is with us; and, in the name of God, instead of folding up the standard, we will set up our banners.” If you have ever passed through that ordeal, then have you needed the words, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God.” “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass?”
6. We shall want this word of comfort most of all when we go down the shelving banks of the black river.
7. After death, we read in this Word of great events, what shall happen to us; but we feebly comprehend the revelation. Solemnities shall follow which may well strike a man with awe as he thinks upon them. What about that future? Why, faith can look forward to it without a single tremor; she fears not, for she hears the voice of the everlasting God saying to her, “I am with thee.” Thus have I mentioned a few of the occasions in which this harp sounds most sweetly. All through life I may picture the saints as marching to its music, even as the children of Israel set forward to the notes of the silver trumpets.
II. We come to you, harp in hand, and pray you DISTINCTLY TO HEAR ITS NOTES. The sweetness of all the notes melt into each other, but now we shall touch each string severally and by itself, and if you have an educated ear you will hear that which will solace your souls. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee.” What does it mean?
1. “I am with thee in deepest sympathy.” When you suffer, you suffer not a new pang; Christ knew that pain long ago.
2. The Lord is with us in community of interests. That is to say, if the believer should fail, God himself would be dishonoured. Luther rejoiced greatly whenever he felt that he had brought God into his quarrel. “Well,” said he, “if it were I, Martin Luther, and the Pope of Rome who had to fight it out, I might well despair; but if it be the Pope against Martin Luther and Martin Luther’s God, then woe be unto Antichrist.” God is in the quarrel of the man who attacks error; God is in the quarrel of the man who is trying to do good, to reclaim his fellow-creatures from sin, and to establish the kingdom of Christ. Ay, and when you can quote a Divine promise, God is engaged in your affairs, because if He do not keep that promise, He is not true. It is with us as it is with the timid traveller in the Alps, who is attended by a faithful guide. He shivers as he passes under overhanging cliffs, or glides down shelving precipices, or climbs the slippery steeps of glaciers, but if his guide has linked himself with him he is reassured. The guide has said, “You are trembling, sir, but the way is safe; I have passed it many a time with many a traveller as weak as you are. But to reassure you and make you feel how safe you are, see here!” and he straps a rope round the traveller and round himself. “Now,” says he, “both of us or neither. We shall both get safely home or neither.”
3. The next string of the harp gives this sound, “I am with thee in providential aid.” In the old days of the post horses, there were always relays of swift horses ready to carry onward the king’s mails. It is wonderful how God has His relays of providential agents; how when He has done with one, there is always another just ready to take his place.
4. God is with us in secret sustaining power. He well knows how, if He do not interpose openly, to deliver us in trouble, to infuse strength into our sinking hearts. I have read of those who bathe in those baths of Germany which are much impregnated with iron, that they have felt after bathing as if they were made of iron, and were able in the heat of the sun to cast off the heat as though they were dressed in steel. Happy indeed are they who bathe in the bath of such a promise as this, “I am with thee!”
5. There is a way by which the Lord can be with His people, which is best of all, namely, by sensible manifestations of His presence, imparting joy and peace which surpass all understanding.
III. MEDITATE MUCH UPON THE SWEETNESS OF THOSE NOTES.
1. The comfort of my text excels all other comfort under heaven.
2. There is all the comfort here that heaven itself could afford. The Manx people have for their motto three legs, so that whichever way you throw them they are sure to stand; but as for the saints, it is impossible for them to be thrown down by misfortune, or even by the infernal powers. We shall stand, for God upholds us. Now divide the words, and view them separately. “I AM.” Know you what this meaneth? God is selfexistent, eternal, independent, sitting on no precarious throne, nor borrowing leave to be. It is no other than “JEHOVAH,” “JAH,” “I AM.” who has become the Friend of His people. Note the tense of it--not “I was,” not “I shall be,” but “I am.” We have yesterday, to-day, and for ever, the same great “I am.” “I am”--what? “I am with thee,” poor, feeble thing as thou art.
IV. Though I have spoken of my text as a harp yielding rarest music, yet IT NEEDS THAT THE EAR BE TUNED BEFORE ITS MUSIC CAN BE APPRECIATED. It is not every man that understands the delights of harmony, even in ordinary music. So there are tens of thousands of men who know nothing at all of what it is to have God with them. Yea, this would be their dread; they would be glad to escape from God if they could. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Fear and its antidote
To whom are these words spoken? We must not steal from God’s Scripture any more than from man’s treasury. They were spoken--
1. To God’s chosen ones (Isaiah 41:8).
2. To those whom God has called (Isaiah 41:9).
3. They are God’s servants, doing His will (Isaiah 41:8).
4. They are those whom He has not rejected from His service, in spite of the imperfections of which they are penitently conscious (Isaiah 41:9). To these every honey-dropping word of this text belongs.
I. A VERY COMMON DISEASE OF GOOD MEN--FEAR.
1. This disease came into man’s heart with sin (Genesis 3:8).
2. Fear continues in good men because sin continues in them.
3. Fear coming in by sin, and being sustained by sin, readily finds food upon which it may live.
4. If fear finds food within, it also readily finds food without. Poverty, sickness, etc.
5. In certain instances the habit of fearing has reached a monstrous growth.
6. Even the strongest of God’s servants are sometimes the subjects of fear 1 Kings 19:4).
II. GOD’S COMMAND AGAINST FEAR. “Fear thou not; be not dismayed.” That precept is absolute and unqualified; we are not to fear at all Why?
1. Because it is sinful. It almost always results from unbelief, the sin of sins.
2. It feeds sin.
3. It injures yourself.
4. It weakens the believer’s influence and so causes mischief to others.
III. THE PROMISES WHICH GOD GIVES TO PREVENT PEAR AND DISMAY.
1. Many a man fears because he is afraid of loneliness. You are not alone, because God is with you.
2. Men fear they may lose all they have in the world, and they know very well that if they lose their property they usually lose their friends. Your goods may go, but your God will not.
3. Fear sometimes arises from a sense of personal weakness. “I will strengthen thee.” God can, if He wills it, put Samson’s strength into an infant’s arm.
4. Some fear that friendly succour will fail. If the work on which we have set our hearts is God’s work, He will send to our aid all the succour we need.
5. Many a child of God is afflicted with a fear that he shall one day, in some unguarded moment, bring dishonour upon the Cross of Christ. This is a very natural, and in some respects a very proper fear. “I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
It was said of Simpson, the discoverer of chloroform, that his presence in a sick-room half cured his patients. Pain lost half its terror, and seemed to expect its dismission, once he stood by the sick. (J. A.Davies, B. D.)
A trinity of Divine forces
“Strengthen,” “help,” “uphold,” a trinity of Divine forces, a triple wall of Divine protection. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
A grand staircase
When the late Dr. William Anderson lay dying, his friend, Mr. Logan, read this passage to him, and the noble old man at once seized it, and looking at his friend, said with great emphasis, “What a grand staircase that is up which to go to God!” (C. Garrett.)
Security in God’s company
If Caesar could say to the fearful ferryman, in a terrible storm, “Be of good cheer; thou carriest Caesar, and therefore canst not miscarry,” how much more may he presume to be safe that hath God in his company! A child in the dark fears nothing while he hath his father by the hand. (J. Trapp.)
The protection of God’s presence
Zwingle, in spite of all the machinations of his enemies, went about unharmed. It was as though an unseen bodyguard encompassed him, and his enemies despaired of attaining their end. “God is with me,” he said; “and with Him on my side I fear my enemies as little as the crag fears the ocean’s foam.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
God a background
Dr. Dale of Birmingham, towards the close of his life, made the following entry in his diary: “Of course, when Sir Andrew Clark was sent for, and--and--came, I understood that my position was regarded as critical. I was too weak, however, to be much moved by it--too weak to find much direct consolation in the eternal springs of strength and joy. God was a kind of background to everything--hardly discerned, but there; this was all.” (Life of R. W. Dale.)
General Gordon’s faith
“I go as alone,” wrote General Gordon, as he started from Cairo to Khartoum, “with an infinite almighty God to direct and guide me, and I am so called to trust in Him, as to fear nothing, and, indeed, to feel sure of success.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
I will help thee
God’s “I wills”
I will, I will, I will. Oh, the rhetoric of God! Oh, the certainty of the promise! (J. Trapp.)
The best Helper
Two persons are spoken of here: “I” and “thee.” “I,” the person speaking, is our God and Saviour; and “thee,” the person spoken to, means everybody who needs His help and seeks it. There are four reasons why Jesus is the best Helper.
I. BECAUSE HE IS ALWAYS NEAR TO HELP. God is always near when people are in trouble. He always could help them if He saw it best. But sometimes He sees good reasons for not helping those who are in need.
II. BECAUSE HE IS ALWAYS ABLE TO HELP.
III. BECAUSE HE IS ALWAYS WILLING TO HELP. He may not always be willing to help us just at the time, or in the way we desire,--that may not be best; but in His own time and way He is always willing to help.
IV. BECAUSE HE IS ALWAYS KIND IN HELPING. There are some people who are willing and able to help others, and who do help them too, but it is done in a very rough manner. (R. Newton, D. D.)
I. WHO MAKES THE PROMISE? A promise is nothing to me unless I have good security that it will be kept. When a man makes a promise to me that he will do so and so, I value the promise according to his ability and disposition to make it good. If, now, you read from Isaiah 41:10, you will see who it is that promises help. It is a well-guaranteed promise. He who made you knows all about you. His knowledge of you is even more exact than is the watchmaker’s knowledge of the delicate machinery which he takes apart and puts together again.
II. HOW MUCH WE ALL NEED HELP. We begin to need it in many ways as soon as we are born, and we never cease to need it as long as we live. (J. W. Teal.)
A minister was one day bringing his books upstairs into another room, for he was going to have his study on the first floor, instead of downstairs, and his little boy wanted to help father carry some of the books. “Now,” said the father, “I knew he could not do it, but as he wanted to be doing something, to please him and to do him good by encouraging his industry, I told him he might take a book and carry it up.” So away he went, and picked out one of the biggest volumes--Caryl on Job or Poli Synopsis, I should think--and when he had climbed a step or two up the stairs, down he sat and began to cry. He could not manage to carry his big book any farther; he was disappointed and unhappy. How did the matter end? Why, the father had to go to the rescue, and carry both the great book and the little man. So, when the Lord gives us a work to do, we are glad to do it, but our strength is not equal to the work, and then we sit down and cry, and it comes to this, that our blessed Father carries the work and carries the little man too, and then it is all done and done gloriously. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
For I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand
The Christian’s help
IT IS A PERSONAL HELP. “I will help thee.” When the religious element was strongly felt amongst the Jews, they looked to the King eternal for guidance and protection; nothing but His counsel would satisfy them. Man seems to have the special intuition of a personal God, as if nothing but personal contact with Him could revive the latent powers. Truth in the abstract cannot touch the heart so as to cause an inner revolution. Truth must come from God as from a living Being.
II. THIS PERSONAL HELP WILL BE GIVEN ONLY IN THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The children of Israel had departed from the right way, and as long as they sought their own gratification they could not expect help from the God of their fathers. The way of righteousness is not the most pleasant at all times for flesh and blood, but it is always the safest.
III. IT IS THE MOST TENDER AND CONSTANT HELP WITHIN THE REACH OF MAN. The Jewish people were bruised by their terrible fall, they had but little strength left, they were almost hopeless of ever seeing their own country. The Lord knew their helplessness, so these words are full of the greatest kindness. The way of holiness, the way to heaven, is so strange to a person who has defiled himself with sin that but little progress could be made without a guide. So the Lord tenderly takes each traveller by the hand. (Homilist.)
The promised help
I. THE LORD GIVETH STRENGTH. What a precious truth is this, if believed in, to such a feeble creature as man. It is as a covenant God in Christ that the Lord comforts the believing soul with the promise, “I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand,” etc. The Lord “thy” God.
II. MAN NEEDS THE STRENGTH which the Lord promises, and which He alone can give. Man needs strength for obedience to God’s holy laws. Vain is the help or salvation of man, even far more in things spiritual and eternal than in our temporal concerns; so that those who trust in and pray to saints and angels, and expect salvation from them, will be overcome: they will not tread down their enemies, nor obtain the conqueror’s crown. (W. Firth, B. D.)
Courage, its source and its necessity
I. ITS SOURCE. “I will hold thy right hand.” The grasp of the hand is significant of close and present friendship, of the living nearness of the deliverer. And that sense of God’s presence, so near that our faith can touch His hand and hear the deep still music of His voice--realised as it may be in Christ, is the source of a courage which no danger can dispel, no suffering exhaust, and no death destroy. The clearest way of illustrating this will be to take the higher forms of courage among men, and observe what states of soul are most conducive to it.
1. Beginning with the courage of active resistance, we find its great element in the fixed survey of the means of conquest.
2. Passing on to the courage needful for passive endurance, we find that its great feature is self-surrender to the highest law of life. The Christian endures, because the law of his being has become resignation to the will of God.
II. ITS NECESSITY.
1. It requires courage to manifest the Christian character before men.
2. To maintain steadfast obedience to the will of God.
3. To hold fast to our highest aspirations. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
The repetitions of love
God repeats His love for, and His purpose concerning, Israel. Lacordaire said that love is always saying the same thing, yet never repeats itself. And though God repeats in both parts His love and purpose, yet it would be new all through to the Jew, sick with his sorrow and captivity; and the sum of the consolation is--“I am with thee. Fear not; rather rejoice.” No trial could or would befall the Jew but God would help him to bear it. (J. A. Davies, B. D.)
Held by God’s hand
A little lad in the hospital was asked if he could bear a severe operation. “Yes,” was his reply, “if father will hold my hand.” When we feel God’s hand holding us in times of trial, the touch gives us nerve and calm. (J. A. Davies, B. D.)
Fear not, thou worm Jacob
The first qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God’s work well, is a SENSE OF OUR OWN WEAKNESS. When God’s warrior marches forth to battle with plumed helmet, and with mail about his loins, strong in his own majesty--when he says, “I know that I shall conquer, my own right arm and my mighty sword shall get unto me the victory,” defeat is not far distant. God will not go forth with that man who goeth forth in his own strength. The text addresses us as worms. Now, the mere rationalist, the man who boasts of the dignity of human nature, will never subscribe his name to such a title as this. Not so, however, he who is wise and understandeth; he knows that he is a worm, and he knows it in this way--
1. By contemplation. Those who think, must think their pride down-if God is with them in their thinking. Lift up now your eyes, behold the heavens, the work of God’s fingers; and if ye be men of sense and your souls are attuned to the high music of the spheres, ye will say, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that Thou visitest him?”
2. Again, if you want to know your own nothingness, consider what you are in suffering.
3. Try some great labour for Christ.
II. THERE SHOULD BE TRUST IN THE PROMISED STRENGTH. There is no saying what man can do when God is with him. Put God into a man’s arm, and he may have only the jawbone of an ass to fight with, but he will lay the Philistines in heaps: put God into a man’s hand, and he may have a giant to deal with, and nothing but a sling and a stone, but he will lodge the stone in the giant’s brow before long; put God into a man’s eye, and he will flash defiance on kings and princes; put God into a man’s lip, and he will speak right honestly, though his death should be the wages of his speech.
III. WE MUST LABOUR TO GET RID, AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, OF FEAR. The prophet says, “Fear not”; thou art a worm, but do not fear; God will help thee; why shouldest thou fear?
1. Get rid of fear, because fear is painful.
2. Fear is weakening.
3. Fear dishonours God.
4. Doubt not the Lord, oh, Christian, for in so doing thou dost lower thyself. The more thou believest, the greater thou art; but the more thou doubtest, the less thou becomest. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Thou worm Jacob!”
I. JACOB WAS A WORM IN OTHER PEOPLE’S EYES. Is there not many a “worm” still under the same experience? I may be speaking to a clerk who gets laughed at by his fellow-clerks, with their master’s permission, because he is a Christian. I may be speaking to some one who is despised and scoffed at, and called a Sabbatarian, because he keeps the Sabbath day. Take comfort! He who is now thy Redeemer was treated as a worm. “I am a worm, and no man,” sang the Messianic psalmist.
II. JACOB WAS ALSO A WORM IN HIS OWN EYES, which is far more to the purpose. Look at the Jews drawing together into some little sanctuary on a Sabbath morning or evening, amid the scoffs of the Babylonians. Look at the aged patriarch when the doors are shut, opening the roll of the prophet Isaiah, and reading, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob.” “Ay, worms indeed:” the hearers would reply from the bottom of their hearts; “worms indeed!” We may writhe under men’s contempt; but there is no writhing like the writhing under a sense of personal sin. There is no nerve like the nerve that passes through the conscience. Job was perhaps the noblest man of his day; and yet we find him saying, “I have said to corruption, Thou art my father: to the worm, Thou art my mother and my sister.” None of you are so low as that! Our Lord called Himself a worm because He was treated as a worm; but Job uses the word in a very different sense; for Job knew he was a sinner, and it is almost an insult to a worm for a sinner to call himself by the name. The Septuagint has left out this word in the text. How that came about passes my comprehension. Were these proud translators of Alexandria too good for the Bible? Were they too high and holy to put in what Isaiah wrote? Coleridge says, “God’s Word is God’s Word to me, because it finds me.” Has it found us? Have we seen the sin and the misery of our own heart? Can we look back on that action we did yesterday, and say, “It was the action of a worm, and not of a man”?
III. JACOB WAS A WORM IN GOD’S EYES. “God,” says Calvin, “here seems to speak disrespectfully of His people”; but if you are to speak t? worms, you must speak in their language. Fine names would never suit Jacob in this case, and the Jacob-minded soul finds comfort in such words, knowing that they were used in love. “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, I will help thee.” “Thee” is an individualising, singularising word. The Lord places His finger upon the humble man’s heart, and says, “I will help thee. I, the Highest, will seek out the lowest, and let others, who think themselves better, help themselves.” “The Holy One of Israel”--blessed name! name He will never lay aside!--is the Portion, the Helper, the Friend of “worm Jacob.” Oh “worm Jacob,” it doth not yet appear what thou shalt be; but when He shall appear whose thou art, “thou shalt be like Him, for thou shalt see Him as He is. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
I. THE CHARACTER OF GOD’S PEOPLE.
1. The language employed refers to the Jews as the descendants of Jacob, afterwards called Israel.
2. The epithet which designates their character. “Worm.” This word describes a person--mean, weak, vile, and despised (Job 25:5-6). This epithet implies--
(1) Meanness. This meanness is frequently felt by Christians when they think of the grandeur and glory of God, as seen in His works and recorded in His Word (Psalms 8:3-4). When they think of their sins and imperfections (1 Corinthians 15:9). When they think of their duties, trials, their ignorance, and their tendency to the grave.
(2) Pollution. A worm is regarded as unclean. Its element is putrescence. Man is now degraded from his original dignity. Every Christian feels his tendency to pollution.
(3) Danger. A worm is frequently exposed to danger. Every foot is ready to crush it. The body of man is liable to casualties. And the precious soul of man is surrounded by danger.
(4) Weakness. A worm is not able to make resistance. What resistance can a sinner make to God?
II. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE SUBJECT TO FEAR. “Fear not, worm Jacob.” The Israelites in Babylon were sadly depressed in mind, fearing that God would be gracious no more. The people of God are subject to fear.
1. Their character, as represented by meanness, pollution, danger, and weakness, causes them to fear.
2. The multitude of their enemies causes fear
3. They fear Divine chastisements. These are needful, but “grievous” Hebrews 12:11).
4. They sometimes fear the tests and trials of the future.
5. They fear death.
III. THE EXHORTATION AND PROMISE. “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, I will help thee.” “Fear not!” Look from earthly resources to the mighty God of Jacob. Fear not thy foes. “He that is for thee is more than all that are against thee.” I will help thee, for--
1. I have chosen thee.
2. I have redeemed thee.
3. I have adopted thee.
4. I have the ability as well as the will. By all means.
5. I will help thee with the ministration of My angels, by the events of providence.
6. I will guide thee in all perplexities.
7. I will not only help, but will glorify thee. Thou art a worm here. I will change thy vile body when the dead shall be raised, even as the chrysalis becomes a beautiful being after its temporary sleep, (Homilist.)
Biblical illustrations from the animal kingdom
It is not unusual to find the Bible writers borrowing names from the animal kingdom end applying them to men. Isaiah does so again and again. Bold in his calling, ha stands beside Jehovah in the circle of the heavens, and sees men like grasshoppers. But among the grass and the grasshoppers he sees a people over whom Jehovah rules, and he calls them “sheep,” and the little people he calls “lambs.” And then he sees his sheep and his lambs changing into eagles and eaglets--“They shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Prophets, psalmists, apostles, all employ the same method, and draw their illustrations from the same source. There is fine education in the Bible I No wonder that John Bunyan wrote the finest style in the English language, getting his vocabulary between its boards! (A. Whyte, D. D.)
“Thou worm Jacob!:”
The worm here indicated is elsewhere referred to as being injurious to vineyards (Deuteronomy 28:39). It was the destroyer of Jonah’s gourd (John 4:7). It is said to be the coccus, a genus which includes the cochineal insect. Naturalists describe the coccus as living upon trees and plants, and as being very small. When collected in districts where these insects are cultivated for the dye which they yield, there are found to be about 70,000 of them in a pound. Two kinds of insect are designated “worm” in Isaiah 14:11. “The worm (mite of corruption) is spread under thee, and worms (cocci) cover thee.” This is also the case in Job 25:6. In the passage before us, then, the descendants of Jacob are compared with a creature that is despicable, because it is insignificant and noxious (Psalms 22:6). Orelli, explaining that “worm Jacob” denotes here smallness, weakness, and helplessness, seems to have presented to his mind some such insignificant creature as the coccus; but the commentators generally have thought rather of the familiar earthworm, which they regard as a symbol of debasement and affliction, after the manner of Glo’ster in King Lear, when he says of the supposed idiot beggar--
“I’ the last night’s storm I such a fellow saw,
Which made me think a man a worm.”
“God’s people,” says Henry, “are as ‘worms’ in humble thoughts of themselves, and in their enemies’ haughty thoughts of them: worms, but not vipers, or of the serpent’s seed.” Other writers use the expressions “despicable and trampled upon” (Lowth); “weak and despised,” and “trodden under foot” (Wordsworth); creature of the dust, prostrate and helpless” (Kay); “abject, weak, and wretched of thyself” (Diodati). We must turn to Micah 7:17 for a passage in which reference is expressly made to the earthworm. The comments supplied by Cornelius a Lapide show that expositors have not always been content to regard the epithet “worm Jacob” merely as a suggestion of lowliness and meanness. In the opinion of the more ancient among them it signifies, historically and typically, the Jews afflicted by the Assyrians, but antitypically the apostles and early Christians, turn ob paucitatem, turn ob contemptum et humilitatem. Allusion was made to Luke 12:32 and 1 Corinthians 4:9; while Ezekiel 28:11-12 was referred to as a parallel passage. Jerome is quoted as saying, Sicut vermis terram penetrat, ita sermo Apostolicus penetravit Gentium civitates, et ingressus est corda prius durissima. On Luke 12:32 Bengel comments, Grex est non numerissimus, si ad mundum comparetur; and by applying the thought thus expressed to the phrase under discussion we get a slight, but useful, addition to the suggestions made elsewhere. (F. Jarratt.)
And why does it say, “and thy Redeemer”? What was the use of appending the Redeemer’s name to this precious exhortation?
I. It was added FOR AMPLIFICATION. There are some preachers from whom you will never learn anything; not because they do not say much which is instructive, but because they just mention the instructive thought once, and immediately pass on to another thought, never expanding the second thought, but immediately passing on, almost without connection, to a third. Other preachers, on the other hand, follow a better method. Having given one idea, they endeavour to amplify it, so that their hearers, if they are not able to receive the idea in the abstract, at least are able to lay hold upon some of its points, when they come to the amplification of it. Now God, the great Author of the Book, the great Preacher of the truth by His prophets, when He would preach it, and when He would write it, so amplifies a fact, so extends a truth, and enlarges upon a doctrine. “I will help thee,” saith Jehovah-That means Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. “All! but,” said God, “My people will forget that, unless I amplify the thought, so I will even break it up; I will remind them of My Trinity. They understand My Unity; I will bid them recollect that there are Three in One, though these Three be One”; and He adds, “Thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” Jehovah--Redeemer--Holy One of Israel--three persons, all included, indeed, in the word Jehovah, but very likely to be forgotten unless they had been distinctly enumerated. Suffer your thoughts to enlarge upon the fact, that the promise contained in this verse, “Fear not, I will help thee,” is a promise from Three Divine Persons.
II. It is a SWEETENING OF THE PROMISE. All the promises are yea and amen in Christ Jesus; but when a promise mentions the name of the Redeemer, it imparts a peculiar blessedness to it. It is something like, if I may represent it by such a figure, the beautiful effect of certain decorations of stained glass. There are some persons whose eyes are so weak that the light seems to be injurious to them, especially the red rays of the sun, and a glass has been invented, which rejects the rays that are injurious, and allows only those to pass which are softened and modified to the weakness of the eye. It seems as if the Lord Jesus were some such a glass as this. The grace of God the Trinity, shining through the man Christ Jesus, becomes a mellow, soft light, so that mortal eye can bear it.
III. I think this is put in by way of CONFIRMATION. Read the promise, recollecting that it says, “Thy Redeemer”; and then, as you read it through, you will see how the word “Redeemer” seems to confirm it all. Now begin. “I will help thee”: lay, a stress on that word. If you read it so, there is one blow at your unbelief. “I will help thee,” saith the Redeemer. There is the Master’s handwriting; it is His own autograph, it is written by Himself; behold the bloody signature! It is stamped with His Cross. And now let us read the promise again, and lay the stress on the “will.” Oh, the “wills” and the “shalls”: they are the sweetest words in the Bible. When God says “I will,” there is something in it. And now we lay stress on another word: “I will help thee.” That is very little for Me to do, to help thee. Consider what I have done already. What! not help thee? Why, I bought thee with My blood. And now, just take the last word, “I will help thee.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The word “Redeemer” would suggest to a Hebrew reader the idea of a near kinsman (Leviticus 25:24-25), and of deliverance from bondage by the payment of a ransom. Its highest application occurs here and in Job 19:25. The reference to the Son of God, although it might not be perceptible of old, is now rendered necessary by the knowledge that this act, even under the old dispensation, is always referred to the same person of the Trinity. (J. A. Alexander.)
The Holy One thy Redeemer
Of the two names applied by Isaiah to the Saviour, which are nearly peculiar to him, Qudosh, or Holy One, is common to both sections of his book, while Goel, the Redeemer, though not confined to the second part, receives there its peculiar significance. Here it is that “the Holy One thy Redeemer,” becomes altogether merged in the Goel. (F. Sessions.)
A new sharp threshing instrument
Evil and good
THE FORMS OF GOOD AND EVIL. Evil is a mountain--a big thing occupying immense space, bounding the horizon and darkening the sun. Good often appears as small as a worm.
II. THE CONFLICT OF GOOD AND EVIL. The worm shall “thresh the mountain.” Worms in nature are mighty things; they build up islands fair as Eden. Good has made an attack upon evil, and it will thresh its “mountains and beat them small.” (Homilist.)
Worm Jacob threshing the mountains
I. WHAT THE CHURCH AND PEOPLE OF GOD ARE. They are named by Him who misnames none, “worm Jacob.” Their name from their nature is a worm; they are weak, despised creatures, ready to be crushed by the foot of every passerby: yet “worm Jacob,” believing, praying, wrestling worm as he was.
II. WHAT THEY SHALL CERTAINLY AND INFALLIBLY DO. “Thresh the mountains,” etc. Interpreters generally understand by the “mountains” the great and lofty potentares of the earth, setting themselves against the Church. And, no doubt, these were in the prophet’s view; but the view was not confined to them. God’s bringing down the Babylonian monarchy at their prayers, and the victories afterward of the Maccabees over their enemies, cannot reasonably be supposed to complete the intent of this prophecy. We must needs look to the kingdom of Christ for it, of which there is plainly an account (Isaiah 41:17-19). Compare Daniel 2:34-35. And we must carry on our view all along to the end of time (Revelation 2:26-27); the rather that it is the manner of the prophet to wrap up in one expression, temporal, spiritual, and eternal deliverance; the deliverance from Babylon, which was temporal, being the first and nearest in view, but not terminating it. Here then we may consider--
1. What “worm Jacob” has to encounter. “Mountains,” and “hills,” whose weight is sufficient to crush millions of him; difficulties quite disproportionable to his strength, as a mountain to that of a worm.
2. The success of this so very unequal match. The mountains shall not crush the worm; but the worm shall thresh the mountains, as one does a sheaf of corn with repeated strokes.
3. The degree and pitch of the worm’s success against those mountains. It shall beat them small, till they be like dust or chaff: so that they shall be blown away with the wind, and no vestige of them remain.
4. The insurance of this success of the worm. Who could insure it, but the mighty God? Jesus Christ, Jehovah, the most high God, and worm Jacob’s Kinsman-Redeemer, hath, by His word of promise, engaged His almighty power on the side of the worm against the mountains. Let not then the worm fear or doubt the success. (T. Boston.)
A mystery of grace
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE SUBJECT wherein this mystery of grace is carried on by Jesus Christ. It is in worm Jacob, denoting the Church in general, and every believer or true member thereof in particular. One would think, that one designed to be a thresher of the mountains should be a party of a signally great and swelling character, a hero, a giant, or if there were anything could carry the character higher: but, on the contrary, it is very low, surprisingly low, worm Jacob.
II. THE MYSTERY OF GRACE CARRIED ON IN THEM BY JESUS CHRIST.
1. An apparently hopeless encounter they are led to by Him. Worm Jacob threshing the mountains.
(1) The Lord lays in His people’s way mountains of difficulties quite above their strength; difficulties which they look to, as a worm to a mountain before it (2 Corinthians 1:8).
(2) They must not go about the mountains in their way, shifting the difficulties which the Lord calls them to; but they must make their way over them, threshing them down.
(3) Therefore worm Jacob falls a-threshing the mountains, combating the difficulties which the Lord lays in his way. There is a spirit in worm Jacob more daring and venturous than ever was in any unbelieving hero.
(4) They continue the combating of difficulties resolutely and patiently. Threshing is a continued action, consisting of repeated strokes.
(5) Worm Jacob has many mountains to thresh.
2. A surprising success; even as surprising as a worm’s threshing and beating the mountains small to dust, and threshing them away.
(1) Partial successes in their way, very surprising; surprising to others and to themselves.
(2) A total success at the end of their way, which will swallow them up in surprise and eternal wonder.
III. I SHALL ACCOUNT FOR THIS MYSTERY.
1. God has said it, and therefore it cannot fail.
2. The glory of His grace, which is the great design of the whole mystery of God, necessarily requires it.
3. By an unalterable decree, there must be a conformity betwixt the little worm and the great worm Jacob, the little one’s Kinsman-Redeemer. The great worm, the man Christ, “a worm and no man,” has encountered mountains, and threshed them away. Where are the four monarchies, the most towering mountains that ever set up their heads on the earth? The chief worm Jacob has threshed them away to chaff, which is away with the Daniel 2:35). The mountains stood before Him through the world, with all the fastness that human learning and the power of the sword could give; but by His few fishermen He threshed them away.
4. The little worm Jacob is-in reality but a member of the great one, Jesus Christ.
5. All the mountains that stand before worm Jacob are burnt mountains; so they are far easier to thresh than one would think. (T. Boston.)
God’s sharp threshing instrument
Three things this threshing instrument is shod with.
1. A word of command, calling to the work.
2. A word of promise, securing the success.
3. The use of means of Heaven s appointment for reaching the end. (T. Boston.)
“A sharp threshing instrument having teeth”
A people who shall leave their mark on the world. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
A threshing roller
“Behold, I have made thee a threshing-roller, a sharp one, new, with double edge.” (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
People hate the obscure animal, popularly said to play undertaker to all flesh, although as a matter of fact worms seldom burrow deeper than a few inches, except to go to sleep. Suddenly, however, the gentle sunbeam of genius has shone into the dark region where these despised beings dwell and work. Dr. Darwin has studied these among other neglected denizens of our common planet, and gives us the fruits of his investigations in a little volume bearing the title of Vegetable Mould and Earth-worms. At the touch of his transcendently patient intellect a new glory breaks over the degraded, writhing, offensive worm. Instead of being useless or even harmful, it turns out that we could never do without these humble creatures. They, and they alone, in their countless millions, and by their ceaseless hidden toil, have made the globe what it is, fit for agriculture and the residence of man. The bulk of the humus or vegetable mould of his fields everywhere is mainly of their manufacture, and goes perpetually through and through their organs to be fitted and perfected for fertility. The most assiduous and wealthy farmer does not lavish half as much nourishment upon his crops as the earth-worms, which in many parts of the British Isles make and bring to the surface of each acre of land ten tons or more of rich fine mould yearly. All things considered, Dr. Darwin inclines to rank the earth-worm higher in the scale of constructive agencies than the coral insect itself, though the last named rears islands, and ocean-kingdoms. It is the worm which, by perpetually consuming decayed leaves and small particles of soil, disintegrates and renews all the face of our earth. Their castings, hardly noticed, alter invisibly the contour of a whole country. Brought up from below, they make stones and rocks gradually sink, covering these by the collapse of their tiny burrows, so that the surface grows smooth for our use by their viewless help. Antiquarians owe to the earth-worm the preservation of almost every ancient pavement and foundation by the soft coat of mould with which they overlay these relics. They remove decaying leaves, facilitate the germination of seeds and the growth of plants, and create for us most of our wide, level, turf-covered expanses. Thus at one stroke our great natural philosopher has raised them to an honourable rank in the vast family of creation. (Public Opinion.)
When the poor and needy seek water
An image of God’s care
The thought of the caravans returning homewards through the thirsty desert suggests to the prophet an effective image symbolising the Divine care which will attend them: the ground at their side bursts into waterpools, and noble trees cast their shade about them! (Prof.
S. R. Driver, D. D.)
God’s promise to the poor and needy
I. By the “POOR AND NEEDY” are not meant those who are poor and needy in the things of this world; but in a spiritual point of view.
1. The life of the Christian may be compared to a barren wilderness, leading from this world to that which is to come; in their journey through this wilderness the Lord’s people often feel themselves to be “poor and needy” without the cheering presence of their God, destitute of the usual manifestations of His love and the consolations of His Spirit. Water is an emblem frequently employed in Scripture to represent Divine influences, which refresh, gladden, and cleanse the soul, as water does the body. The children of God are sometimes reduced to straits; they “seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst.” They realise the feeling of David whilst they are constrained to adopt his language in the Forty-second Psalm, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God,” etc.
2. But there is another sense in which the Lord’s people may be represented as “poor and needy, seeking water and finding none”; it is when they are anxiously desirous of larger measures of grace and knowledge, increasing holiness and spirituality of mind, more complete superiority to the world with the affections and lusts of the flesh, and a growing conformity to the precepts of the Gospel It is a striking feature in the character of every real Christian, that he is never satisfied with present attainments in religion. The real Christian will daily labour to abound yet more and more in the fair and beautiful “fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God.” Here is the difference between nominal Christianity and real Christianity.
II. THE CONSOLATORY PROMISE. The Lord assures His people that they shall not be disappointed in the objects of their desire: in their extremity of distress, and when they are almost without hope, the Lord will hear their cry. Prayer, which is the earnest expression of the desires of the heart, shall never be offered up in vain. Nothing is impossible with God; possessed of infinite power and infinite love, He can and will do for His people more than they ask or think. But further, He is represented as “the God of Israel.” The history of the saints in all ages will “bear testimony” to the truth of that Scripture, “He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might, He increaseth strength.” (C. Rawlings, B. A.)
Water for the needy
The first sense of this passage belongs to God’s ancient people, and was partially accomplished after their return from Babylon, partially when the kingdom of heaven was spiritually set up at Jerusalem, but was to be still more gloriously fulfilled hereafter. But a child of God claims all the promises.
I. THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD HERE GIVEN.
1. “Poor, and needy.” All creatures are poor compared with God--even the pure spirits, the highest angel, yea, archangels themselves. Especially must this be true of a fallen creature, yea, a restored creature.
2. “They seek water.” This spiritually sets forth the sacred influences of the Holy Spirit. They want refreshing views of God’s love, realising apprehensions of an interest in Christ, more of the real power of religion, more faith, more repentance, more love, more uprightness, more purity of heart, more humility, more true prayer, more gratitude and praise, more brokenness, more joy, more devotedness. They seek this water. Sometimes with great ardour, sometimes, alas! with little. In the means of grace they seek it, and it seems as if “there is none.” They strive, they fight, but they only find their own weakness, their enemies, darkness, and deadness in their souls.
3. “Their tongue faileth for thirst.” Few states are so disconsolate. It is vast discouragement. That this is a state into which the soul has brought itself through its own sin, I am led to conclude--
(1) By considering the state in which this promise finds the Jews, to whom it primarily belongs.
(2) By remembering the promise which sets forth God’s usual dealings Matthew 7:7-9).
(3) By retracing the history of one’s own experience. If this be so, beware of the steps which lead to this desolate region.
II. THE VAST ENCOURAGEMENT. my people are honestly, uprightly seeking Me. Out of Infinite love, Infinite wisdom, Infinite grace and mercy, I have delayed the answer. Their faith is small, their strength little, their souls discouraged. But I have not forgotten. “I, the Lord, will hear them.” The subject is one of unutterable sweetness and consolation to a true child of God. In few things, perhaps, are we more tried than in prayer. But the words of the text encourage not only persevering prayer, they do more. They encourage expecting prayer. Be not afraid of seasons of need. They are usually seasons of prayer, and these are our greatest seasons of happiness. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
God’s tenderness to the poor and needy
I. GOD HAS LEFT PECULIARLY TENDER AND GRACIOUS PROMISES TO THE POOR AND NEEDY. It is not the healthy and strong,child of the family around whom the father’s love is most closely entwined. Like as a father pitieth his children,” etc.
II. GOD HAS PLEDGED HIS ALMIGHTY POWER TO WORK MIRACLES, IF NECESSARY, TO SUPPLY THEIR NEED. “I will open rivers in high places,” etc. This would be reversing the order of nature. Rivers do not flow in high places; fountains do not spring in the depths of valleys. God simply says that, ere the poor and needy shall lack water, He will reverse the order of nature and turn the world upside down.
III. THE PROMISES ARE MADE ONLY TO THOSE WHO SEEK AND CRY UNTO GOD FOR HIS HELP. God’s unchanging tenderness does not make prayer unnecessary. There must be expectation, desire, and confidence. (Homiletic Review.)
The application is world-wide. Who is there to whom this description, more or less, does not apply--“The or and needy seek water--there is none--their tongue faileth for thirst”? Is it not the too faithful delineation of weary humanity? It is a commonplace saying, but its truthfulness redeems its triteness, that there is nothing in this world which can satisfy immortal longings. “Thirst again,” is the too frequent verdict after its sweetest fountains have been drained. Its best joys leave behind them aching voids, unfulfilled aspirations. After the thirst of its votaries has apparently been quenched at their favourite rills, of riches, honours, ambition, glory,--their name is the same as before, “Poor and needy”; their search is the same as ever, “They seek water”; the epitaph they write over every fresh grave of their hopes is the same, “There is none--their tongue faileth them for thirst.” And where, then, is that thirst to be quenched; where else are the wells of water to be had, “springing up into everlasting life,” but in the grace and promises of God as revealed in His blessed Word? And, like the waters seen by Ezekiel bursting from the threshold of the sanctuary, “Everything lives whither the river cometh.” (J. R.Macduff, D. D.)
Supply for the poor and needy
This double promise to the poor and needy stands in connection with other great promises which guarantee the gift of wonderful strength and blessing to God’s people. These promises seem to be such as the mightiest servant of God might well desire to have fulfilled in himself. Look, for instance, at the one in Isaiah 41:15-16. I think that the promise of our text specially comes in, not for you mountain-threshers,--not for you who are made so strong in the Lord, but for some who cannot as yet get a grip of that grand word of His. “When the poor and needy are not trying to thresh mountains, but are looking for that which is needful for the supply of their own personal wants,--seeking water; when they are in too low a condition to be able to rise to the dignity of service, but are just like poor Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness, seeking water; when they have fallen into such a sad and sorrowful state of heart that, instead of testifying to the goodness of God they cannot testify to anything, for “their tongue faileth for thirst”;--it is then, in their extremity, that the blessed promises shall come to them: “I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Wordless prayers heard in heaven
I. Here is POVERTY OF CONDITION. “Poor and needy.” This description applies to poverty of spiritual condition.
1. Most of us would take the position of great poverty as to anything like merit.
2. We have poverty as to anything like strength.
3. As to grace, many of the children of God are, to their shame, obliged to confess that they are poor and needy where they ought to be rich, and where they might be rich; poor in patience, in courage, in faith, in hope, in love, in private prayer, in public influence, poor in every way. There axe many of God’s children who seem scarcely to have a penny of spending-money, and they never appear to go to the King s treasury, and dip their hand in, and take out great handfuls of the precious gold of grace.
II. URGENCY OF NEED. “When the poor and needy seek”--what? Money? No; that is only to be poor and needy. Bread? Ay; that shows a harder poverty than merely being “poor and needy.” But it is not bread that these poor and needy ones are seeking, but “water.” Why, that is generally to be had for nothing,--a drink of water. It must be very hard times indeed when poor souls are in such a state that they axe longing for water, and seeking for it afar, as though there were none near at hand. Are any of you in such a condition, sighing after the living water? Though you have drunk of it before, you are still sighing for more of it, and feel as if you could not tell where to find it.
1. This is an urgent necessity, for it touches a vital point. A man can exist without money, he can live without garments, he could live longer without bread than without water.
2. Do I address one in whom this vital necessity has become an agonising thirst?
3. Further, there is an immediate necessity. When a man’s tongue faileth for thirst, and he seeks water, he wants it at once.
III. The third step down--and it is a very long one--is this, DISAPPOINTMENT OF HOPE. “There is none.”
1. “There is none” even where they have found it before. Have not some of you at times found it so in attending the means of grace?
2. It makes their case even more disappointing when they have, side by side with them, others who are seeking water, and finding it. Have you never been to the Lord’s table,--say, with your own wife,--and when she has been going home, she has said, “Oh, what a precious communion service! Was not the Lord manifestly among His people in the breaking of bread?”--and you have hardly liked to tell her that you have not seen the Lordeven in His own ordinance?
3. If you go to places where there is none of the living water, then you have only yourself to blame when you cannot find it.
IV. THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER. “And their tongue faileth for thirst.”
1. They cannot speak; they cannot tell their fellow-Christians about their trouble. They are ashamed to tell others what they feel If a hymn is given out, they feel as if they must not sing it. If there is a promise quoted, they feel as if they could not appropriate it, and sometimes the prayer of a joyous brother seems to shoot over their head,--they cannot attain to his experience.
2. If they were called upon to state their own feelings and convictions before the living God, it may be that they have become so mournful that they could not describe themselves. I think we have gone about as low as we can. Here is a man who, to begin with, is poor and needy. Here is a man who is wanting water, who has sought it, but who cannot find it. Here is a man whose tongue is so parched with thirst that he cannot now say a single word, he must sit down in sorrowful silence.
V. Yet, strange to say, now is the time that he learns that SALVATION IS OF GOD. “I the Lord will hear them.” What? Why, they cannot speak: “their tongue faileth for thirst.”
1. That brings me to this point, that God’s great object in bringing His people down so low as this, is to make them pray directly to Himself; that now they may not seek any water, but just cry to Him who is the Fountain of living waters; that now they may not tell their friends about their need, nor even tell it to themselves, but just, in the very silence of their soul, speak with God, for there is a kind of speech which is perfectly consistent with silence,--the speech of sorrow,--the exhibition of the wounds of misery,--the opening up of the brokenness of the heart,--the setting before God, not in eloquent descriptions, but in indescribable revelation, the intolerable want which lies within the soul. The text does not even say that they pray; because, sometimes, even prayer becomes a mechanical act, and we are apt to rely upon it for comfort, instead of upon our God.
2. The prayer which is hidden away in the text--for although there is no mention of prayer in it, yet it is hidden away there--is the prayer of inward thirst.
3. This is the prayer of one who despairs of all means.
4. This is the prayer of faintness.
5. Now comes the declaration of God. “I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” Is it not something that God hears you? I have frequently had to explain this word by speaking of the poor woman who was so pleased to see her minister. She was very poor, and so was her minister; what good, then, did he do her? Did he speak to her a very comforting word? No. The good man did not happen that day to be in much of a mood to do so, yet he did that sister a deal of good, she said. Why? Because he let her talk, and she just told out all her trouble, and he looked sympathetic, for that is how he felt, and that was just what she wanted. She wanted somebody who would listen to her. It is wonderfully condescending on God’s part to listen to us. Many of our complaints are only rubbish, yet He hears them patiently. Sometimes, when people begin groaning and grumbling, I wish I was down the next street; but God is so patient and long-suffering, that He hears all that His people say.
6. You know that you have only to get a hearing from God, and you know what the consequence will be when your Heavenly Father knoweth what things you have need of. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s faithfulness tested
The late Dr. Parsons, of York, had a tea-caddy which he inherited from his father, who was also a spiritual preacher. Its history was curious. A husband and father, reduced to abject poverty, set out on a Sabbath morning to drown himself, and so escape the agony of looking at starving wife and children. A crowd was entering the Tottenham Court Road Chapel, London, and the man somehow was drawn along with the crowd. Mr. Parsons preached from Isaiah 41:17, “When the poorand needy seek water,” etc. He appealed to his hearers needing temporal and spiritual blessings, “Have you put the God of Jacob to the test?” “No,” thought the desperate man, “I have not.” He went back, told his wife, joined in prayer, and all day seemingly in vain. But next morning temporary aid came, with directions as to work, which he found, did faithfully, and rose to comfort and notable prosperity. He offered a large gift to the good preacher, but it was declined. He sent the tea-caddy as a memento of his gratitude, which he felt could not be refused. (J. Hall, LL. D.)
I will open rivers in high places
God’s “I wills”
In this verso the Lord twice says, “I will”; and in that respect this verse is in harmony with the rest of the chapter.
When we come to the “I wills” of God, then we get among the precious things, the deep things, the things which minister comfort and strength to the people of God. We sometimes say “I will”; but it is in a feeble fashion compared with the way in which God says it. People say “‘Must’ is for the king.” So “I will” is for the King of kings. It is His prerogative to will
1. It is an “I will,” uttered with deliberation. James said, “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” We say, “I will” in a hurry, and then we take time to repent of it. We are under excitement, persuasion, or compulsion, and we say, “I will,” and we are very sorry afterwards, and perhaps we are so unfaithful as not to keep our word; but God never speaks under compulsion; He is almighty. God never speaks in a hurry; He has infinite leisure. Now, when a man speaks a thing prudently and wisely, you believe that he will carry it out, if he can. You may have much more confidence with regard to what the Lord says, for He has not spoken without due deliberation.
2. When God says, “I will,” His resolution is supported by omnipotence. You say, “I will,” but you cannot do what you have promised. That can never happen with God.
3. When God says, “I will,” it is sealed with immutability. We are always changing. Hence, we say to-day, “I will,” and we mean it; but to-morrow we wish that we had never said. “I will,” and the next day we say, “I will not.” But God never changes.
4. When God says, “I will,” it will be carried out in faithfulness. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Two “I wills” in Isaiah 41:1-29.
I propose to apply the text as a general promise to many things.
I. TO THE TRIALS OF SAINTS.
1. Their temporal trials. What though there is nothing at present, perhaps by to-morrow morning the Lord may have opened rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys.
2. The spiritual experience of believers. There are in our text four words relating to water. Everything had been dry before, and there was no water for the thirsty to drink. Now, here you have rivers, fountains, a pool, and springs of water. There is a difference in the four words. The first is “rivers.” There shall come directly from God a rush of mighty grace, like the streams of flowing rivers. There shall be “waters to swim in.” You shall have abundance where before you had nothing. The next word is “fountains,” which may be rendered “wells.” Wells are places to which people regularly go for water. They represent the means of grace. Perhaps you have been to the means of grace, and obtained no comfort. But, on a sudden, God appears, and opens wells in the midst of the valley. Now the service is all full of refreshment. There is a third word, “I will make the wilderness a pool of water.” Here you have the idea of overflowing abundance. God can give you so much joy that you will not know how to hold it all; you will have to let it be like a pool that overflows its banks. God can give you so much earnestness that you can hardly employ it all in the work that you have to do. He can give you so much nearness to Himself, that your heart shall scarcely be able to contain your delight. The fourth word is “springs.” It seems to indicate a perpetual freshness. Where there was a long-continued drought, there shall come perpetual freshness; always something new--new thoughts of Christ, new delights in holy service, new prospects of the world to come, new communion with God.
II. To the experience of converts.
1. Who were these people to whom the Lord spoke? They were people who were poor and needy. God will not do much for spiritually rich people; I mean you who say that you are rich in yourselves.
2. When will He do it? When they begin to seek Him. “When the poor and needy seek water.” Can you expect God to bless you if you do not seek Him?
3. But the time is noted further still. It is not only when they begin to seek, but when they begin silently to plead. “When their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them.” They could not speak. Yet says the Lord, “I will hear them.” A glib tongue is bad at praying. When a man prays in his heart, he is often like Moses, slow of speech
4. But the time mentioned is more sorrowful still; these people were in abject distress. “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none.” “My day of grace in past, says one. I wonder whoever told you that he! Ah, well,” says one, “I have gone to look for mercy, and there is none.” So you think. Now is the time for Divine interposition. When you seek water, and find none, God will open rivers for you.
5. The promise also relates to those who are in various positions. Some are in very high places. You run up to the very tops of the mountains, and you fancy God cannot reach you there, but He says, “I will open rivers in high places.” A river on the top of a mountain is a wonderful thing; but God can make it so. Others are ordinary sinners down in the valleys. “Well,” says the Lord, “I will open fountains in the midst of the valleys.” Yes, and to vary the promise still more the Lord says, “I will make the wilderness a pool of water.” Have you ever seen a large extent of flat country covered with sand and stones? God pictures you as being like that barren, dried-up land, and He says that He will turn you into a pool of water. In a word, no condition can be so bad but God can change it.
III. TO THE LABOURS OF WORKERS FOR GOD. God can soon change the condition of the plot of ground on which you are at work.
1. I may be speaking to one who says, “Mine is a very bad place to work in, for I cannot get the people to come and hear the Gospel; there seems to be no spirit of hearing.” Do not give up preaching; do not give up working, you who long for souls to be saved, for God can suddenly give a love for His house, and an eagerness to hear the Gospel.
2. Another says, “I get the people to hear, but there is no feeling.” When the old St. Paul’s Cathedral had to be taken down for the present one to be built, Sir Christopher Wren had to remove some massive walls that had stood for hundreds of years; so he had a battering-ram, with a great mass of people, working away to break down the walls. I think that for four-and-twenty hours they kept right on, and there seemed to be no sign of giving way, the walls were so well built, very different from our modem walls. The structure was like a rock, it could not be stirred; but the battering-ram kept on and on and on, blow after blow, stroke after stroke, and at last the whole mass began to quiver, like a jelly, and by and by over went the massive walls. You have only to keep on long enough, and the same thing will happen in your work. The first blows upon the wall were not wasted; they were preparing for the others, and getting the whole structure into a condition of disintegration; and when that was done, down it came, and great was the fall thereof.
3. “Well,” says one, “what we want in our place is for the ministry itself to be supplied.” If the minister himself is dry, what is to be done? Find fault with him, and leave him? No! if he is a man of God, pray for him, and never rest till the Lord makes the dry land springs of water.
4. But what is wanted, too, is the same blessing upon the helpers. What is the preacher to do, what is the Church to do, if the workers are half asleep? One sleepy Christian in a Church may do much mischief. In some businesses the whole thing is so arranged, that if one person goes to sleep, all the machinery goes wrong; and I believe that it is very much so in the Church of God.
5. Then we may look for a change throughout the whole congregation. Men and women will cry out, “What must we do to be saved?” There will be plenty of people to be talked to about their souls. We shall have no difficulty in increasing the Church, month by month, with such as shall be saved.
6. Then all the neighbour-hood will be transformed. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s abounding generosity
He does not measure His gifts of water by the pint and by the gallon; but here you have pools, and springs, and rivers. When He has given waters, He will give trees to grow by the waters. When God gives blessing, He makes other blessings to spring out of it. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
I will plant in the wilderness
The “cedar” grew on Mount Lebanon, and was of great height, and had extended branches, which afforded kindly shade.
The “shittah” tree is probably, as the R.V. renders it, the acacia. This was “a large tree, growing abundantly in Egypt and Arabia, and is the tree from which gum-arabic is obtained. It is covered with black thorns, and the wood is hard, and when old resembles ebony.” The “myrtle” rises eight or ten feet high, its characteristic being “a dense, full head.” It is thus convenient for shade.
The “off tree” is probably the olive tree. The “fir tree” usually denotes the cypress, an evergreen. This is also a tree whose wide-spread foliage would afford shade. The “pine” tree is perhaps the poplar (according to the Septuagint), or elm (according to the Vulgate), or a kind of hard oak (according to Gesenius). The “box” tree is probably some tall tree of the cedar kind, also affording shade. The chief common characteristic of these trees is that they afford welcome shade. In Western lands the intensity of the sun’s heat and rays is not felt; but in the East he is at his fiercest, and a shadow is a most grateful possession. A missionary from the South Seas said: “Oh, the shining of the sun! The one thing we wanted to hide from was the sun. Its glare was intolerable!” (J. A. Davies, B. D.)
The rejoicing wilderness
What meaneth this figurative picture of a vast oasis--a wen-watered grove of stately, fragrant shady trees? Observe, there are seven kinds of these mentioned; seven--the Hebrew symbol of abundance, diversity, perfection. The words may well be taken, therefore, to denote the plenitude of Divine grace vouchsafed in the hour of deepest perplexity and sorrow. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Divine grace adapted to human need
The beautiful part of the picture is, that God bestows grace varied in its manifestations; adapted in its wondrous diversity to meet the wants and necessities and trials of all His suffering people. He has sustaining grace for one, restraining grace for another; strengthening grace for one, sanctifying grace for another; comforting grace for one, dying grace for another. But all these “trees of God” are “full of sap,” from the lowly: “nabk” or mountain-thorn, to the “cedar of Lebanon which He hath planted.” Each tree may be taken as the type or emblem of a cluster of Bible promises. To the weak, there is the cedar in its strength; to the bereaved, there is the olive, with its ashen leaves, and yet with its “oil of joy” for the mourner; to the fainting and downcast, there is the tall pine and tapering cypress pointing upwards; to the wounded spirit, there is the balsam tree of Gilead and the fragrant myrtle; to the dying, there is the palm tree with its graceful fronds, according to the Eastern tradition, whispering in the ear the name of Jesus! And the further peculiarity of this promise is, that it is in the hour of sorest want and trial and perplexity that that grace is most abundant. It is in the depths of the arid desert, with hillocks of sand on all sides bounding the horizon,--in seasons of loneliest bereavement and uttermost sorrow,--that these palm and acacia and olive and myrtle groves, as if by the hand of an enchanter, rise up to view. It was “at the fourth watch of the night (when the darkness was deepest, and the hearts of the disciples were most despairing and desponding) that Jesus “cometh unto them walking upon the sea.” Man’s extremity is often God’s opportunity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The symbolism of trees
In the more figurative sense it intimates that the Lord God would raise up, for the benefit of His Church, men of distinguished eminence and usefulness, such as judges and generals, to afford them protection; rulers and governors, who should prove both ornamental and useful to them; and choice ministers of the Word, from whose doctrine they were to derive defence from evil, spiritual nourishment, and consolation. (R. Macculloch.)
Produce your cause
Heaven’s appeal to the reason of the sinner
The text implies--
THAT THE SINNER HAS SOME REASONS FOR THE EVIL COURSE HE PURSUES.
II. THAT THESE REASONS HE IS BOUND TO STATE BEFORE HIS MAKER. “Bring forth your reasons.” Why bring them forth?
1. The question of a sinful course of conduct is a public question. The sinner has no right to say that his conduct concerns no one but himself.
2. Because it is the only way of exposing their moral absurdity. They will scarcely bear to be stated. Bring them out and they will frighten you.
III. THAT HIS MAKER WILL GIVE THE STATEMENT OF THEM HIS ATTENTION.
1. His readiness to attend” to them shows that your conduct towards Him will not bear investigation.
2. His readiness to attend to them shows the existence of mediation. He does not attend to the reasons of the lost.
3. His readiness to attend to them shows His infinite condescension. (Homilist.)
God’s challenge to the sinner
These words are a challenge to such as serve not God. The study of this question may be a wise anticipation of the judgment day. Now we may search for our reasons; and if they be found to be unsound, we may put our conduct right; but when we stand before the judgment-seat of Christ it will be too late for repentance. To form a court now in which to hear this cause, it is only needful that we should remember that the great God can judge the very secrets of our hearts. The Judge of all the earth is upon His holy seat. Before Him we now stand. While the doom of each is not yet fixed, the voice of the Almighty is heard, “Produce your cause,” etc.
1. The great Searcher of hearts may come into the midst of such as are given to the love of present things, and say, “Produce your cause.” What such will bring forward is this: they are not persons addicted to any particular vice; they are amiable, kind, sincere; they live without strife with men; they live without hostility towards God. But they have great love for things as they are: they are powerfully influenced by things seen and temporal; they are contented with their earthly portion; and they seldom have any strong concern or desire about the things not seen and eternal. Their cause is that of listlessness about the things of the soul, of an unwillingness to admit what seem to be melancholy thoughts, as they cast a shadow over a fair scene of earthly comfort, with which they feel that they can remain content. It is that of the orderly members of society, towards whom our respect and our affection are so soon drawn. It seems almost unkind to wake up such out of their soft sleep. But God says, “Bring forth your strong reasons” to justify such a life. And reasons are given. It is so pleasant to be a peace, that we care not to be disturbed. Yes, if there were to be no sudden shock of death: if this loved world were to continue unchanged: if there were no cunning enemy plotting while the careless sleep: if there were no holy service to be done for God, no brotherly counsel to be given to man! But love of ease is no strong reason to justify a careless career, which is to end in unrest for ever. You may say, we are of the quieter sort; and may we not float in the eddies of life, without being hurried on by the current of evil? Why cannot our religion be of the passive order? But the answer comes at once, Are you so safe as you endeavour to think? Is there really the calm which your spirits in their drowsiness think there may be? There are, no doubt, beautiful Christian graces which bloom best in the shade. But do not such daily open their petals, and breathe out fragrance towards heaven? The cause of the careless, or the worldly-minded, of such as sit still in sloth as to spiritual concerns, will not stand in the judgment.
2. How much less will that other man prosper, whose cause may be thus produced. He is a man willing to admit that much may be said in favour of a religious life. Up to a certain point he is prepared to accept and to carry into effect the duties which rise because of a man’s relation to God who made him. But religion has been made to ask too much: is pressed too indiscriminately upon every period and transaction of life. The law of God cannot be observed, and therefore it ought to be powered, or adapted to the condition of modern thought and feeling. The man will not pretend to justify all he does. But his strong reasons are that it cannot be otherwise. He lives in a world where perfect obedience is not to be expected. Other men sin, and their sinning involves sin in him. He is made with passions which do and will take fire, when temptation finds its convenient seasons. He is ready to listen to advice how he may avoid the grossest sins; but he is not prepared to care about opinions concerning a holiness which he never hopes to reach. Behind these strong reasons men entrench themselves, and seem to keep the conscience untouched by the arrow from the Lord’s bow. The cause so produced wants one great feature; there is no real sorrow for sin. The blame of sin is skilfully shifted from the sinner to his God. “Why hast Thou made me thus?” is the complaint which such a man makes. It is considered a misfortune rather than a fault, that he has not obeyed the commandment of the Lord. How can God justify a man who thus blames his Maker! How can a man justify himself, when it shall be brought out against him that if he had hated sin it might have been forgiven, if he had resisted sin it might have been overcome in the strength and according to the grace which God gives. Such reasons to support a cause will be weak in the day of the Lord.
3. A man will say, My life is not right, my conscience is not quiet, my position is not safe; but what am I to do? The religion of many so disgusts me that I have no faith to follow them. The opinions vary so much among those who call themselves Christ’s servants that I am at a loss what to believe. My cause is bad: but which shall I accept as a better? And my reasons for remaining as I am are strong, from the difficulty as to whether I may not move and only sink lower. And such arguments satisfy a man for a time: they excuse, if they do not justify. But are they really sound? Is it true that there are no sincere followers of Jesus? Is it true that there are no saving truths which stand out as a rock, notwithstanding all that party spirit has done to hide it by party walls? Is Christ so covered that He cannot be found? I boldly assert that no such difficulties exist. There are, it may be, hypocrites everywhere. Sincere Christians are inconsistent and weak in many things; but salvation, God’s grace, Divine life in the soul, is a real thing. The sinner who searches for a perfect Church or a perfect Christian, and stands aloof from Christ because such things are not to be found, may have grounds for finding fault with his neighbour, but he has no strong reason by which to defend himself. Such a cause, so supported, must fall to the ground, when the truthful test of God’s own touch shall show what manner of cause it was.
4. But it is time to produce another cause: that of a man who holds the truth in unrighteousness; who is orthodox in creed and incorrect in life; who has the form of godliness, but denies the power thereof. It is the case of many to be found in the house of God on each Sabbath day: professors of Christ, but followers of the world, its vanities, or its sins. Such men bring no objections against the truth or service of God; but they do not savingly believe, they do not honestly serve. Religion with them is a thing without life. They have a horror of over-zeal. The reasonable man is earnest. He is calm and self-contained; but he has been strongly moved at the sight of sin, he has been deeply moved by the power of grace, and he cannot but give himself, body, soul, and spirit, to do his Lord’s will. He, too, can produce his cause and bring forth his strong reasons. Is it not reasonable that, when God works by the Holy Ghost upon a sinner’s soul, the effect should be felt and seen t Conclusion--The believer has his strong reasons. He says the time is short, and the work is great. He says sin is too terrible to be trifled with: salvation is too great a thing to be dealt with carelessly. The devil is in earnest--Jesus is in earnest--the wicked are in earnest; why should the Lord’s people hang back, as from a cause they doubt or a conflict about which they feel afraid? And these reasons have the solidity of truth and the power of truth. They commend themselves to a man’s judgment the more he weighs them well and the nearer he comes to the day of death. Let us all be warned. It is not a question about one man taking another man’s advice. It is a far higher matter than a triumph of believer over unbeliever. As those who would not part when the Lord comes,--as those who cannot envy each other a place in heaven, inlet us give diligence to make our calling and election sure.” (J. Richardson, M. A.)
One that bringeth good tidings
MINISTERS ARE DIVINELY ORDAINED. They come from God. “f will give.” The ministry is not one of the literary professions, nor a secular office. Colleges and seminaries do not make them.
II. THEY ARE A GIFT OF GOD’S GRACE. Neither the Church’s merit, wealth, or respectability has s claim to them, nor does a salary hire them, nor ordination commission them in the highest sense. They are a benefaction.
III. THE MINISTER’S CHIEF WORK IS TO BE THE BEARER OF GOOD TIDINGS. It does not exclude other things that accompany salvation, but the Gospel proclamation is to be his specific, constant, cheerful, enthusiastic, confident employment. In season, out of season, in pulpit and private, his heart and lips are to overflow with the “good tidings.” Because--
1. They are what men, all men, all men everywhere and always need, and need most imperatively.
2. The more the good tidings are preached the more open is the way for everything else connected with the pastor’s work, and the more effective all departments of his ministry.
3. It, and it alone, is the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation and sanctification. (Homiletic Review.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 41". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13