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Behold My Servant
Who is the “servant of Jehovah”?
The following are, in brief, the leading opinions which have been held:
(1) Hitzig’s, that the Jewish people in exile is referred to, as distinguished from the heathen;
(2) that of Paulus and Maurer, that the servant is the pious portion of the people;
(3) that of Gesenins, that the prophetic order is intended;
(4) that of Hofmann, combining (2) and (3), that it means Israel, the prophetic people, suffering on behalf of the heathen world;
(5) that of Oehler and Delitzsch, that “the conception of the servant of
Jehovah is, as it were, a pyramid, of which the base is the people of Israel as a whole, the central part Israel ‘according to the Spirit,’ and the summit, the person of the Mediator of salvation, who arises out of Israel.” (Prof. T. K. Cheyne, D. D.)
The Mediator is the centre
1. In the circle of the kingdom of promise--the second David.
2. In the circle of the people of salvation--the true Israel.
3. In the circle of humanity--the second Adam. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The servant of Jehovah
In the sublimest description of the servant I am unable to resist the impression that we have a presentiment of an individual, and venture to think that our general view of the servant ought to be ruled by those passages in which the enthusiasm of the author is at its height. “Servant of Jehovah” in these passages seems equivalent to “son of Jehovah” in Psalms 2:7 (“son” and “servant” being, in fact, nearly equivalent in the Old Testament), namely, the personal instrument of Israel’s regeneration, or, as we may say in the broader sense of the word, the Messiah. (Prof. T. K. Cheyne, D. D.)
Jehovah and Jehovah’s servant
This servant is brought before us with all the urgency with which Jehovah has presented Himself, and next to Jehovah He turns out to be the most important figure of the prophecy. Does the prophet insist that God is the only source and sufficiency of His people’s salvation? It is with equal emphasis that He introduces the servant as God’s indispensable agent in the work. Cyrus is also acknowledged as an elect instrument. But neither in closeness to God, nor in effect upon the world, is Cyrus to be compared for an instant to the servant. Cyrus is subservient and incidental But the servant is a character, to delineate whose immortal beauty and example the prophet devotes as much space as he does to Jehovah Himself. As he turns again and again to speak of God’s omnipotence and faithfulness and agonising love for His own, so with equal frequency and fondness does he linger on every feature of the servant’s conduct and aspect: His gentleness, His patience, His courage, His purity, His meekness: His daily wakefulness to God’s voice, the swiftness and brilliance of His speech for others, His silence under His own torments; His resorts--among the bruised, the prisoners, the forwandered of Israel, the weary, and them that sit in darkness, the far-off heathen; His warfare with the world, His face set like a flint; His unworldly beauty, which men call ugliness; His unnoticed presence in His own generation, yet the effect of His face upon kings; His habit of woe, a man of sorrows and acquainted with sickness; His sore stripes and bruises, His judicial murder, His felon’s grave; His exaltation and eternal glory--till we may reverently say that these pictures, by their vividness and charm, have drawn our eyes away from our prophet’s visions of God, and have caused the chapters in which they occur to be oftener read among us, and learned by heart, than the chapters in which God Himself is lifted up and adored. Jehovah and Jehovah’s servant--these are the two heroes of the drama. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The servant, first Israel as a whole, then Israel in part
Nothing could be more clear than this, that in the earlier years of the exile, the servant of Jehovah was Israel as a whole, Israel as a body politic Very soon the prophet has to make a distinction, and to sketch the servant as something less than the actual nation In modern history we have two familiar illustrations of this process of winnowing and idealising a people, in the light of their destiny. In a well-known passage in the “Areopagitica” Milton exclaims: “Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself and shaking her invincible locks; methinks I see her as an eagle renewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means.” In this passage the “nation” is no longer what Milton meant by the term in the earlier part of his treatise, where “England” stands simply for the outline of the whole English people; but the “nation” is the true genius of England realised in her enlightened and aspiring sons, and breaking away from the hindering and debasing members of the body politic. Or, recall Mazzini’s bitter experience. To no man was his Italy more really one than to this ardent son of hers, who loved every born Italian because he was an Italian, and counted none of the fragments of his unhappy country too petty or too corrupt to be included in the hope of her restoration. To Mazzini’s earliest imagination, it was the whole Italian seed who were ready for redemption, and would rise to achieve it at his summons. But when his summons came, how few responded, and after the first struggles how fewer still remained, Mazzini himself has told us with breaking heart. The real Italy was but a handful of born Italians; at times it seemed to shrink to the prophet alone. From such a core the conscience indeed spread again, till the entire people was delivered from tyranny and from schism, and now every peasant and burgher from the Alps to Sicily understands what Italy means, and is proud to be an Italian. But for a time Mazzini and his few comrades stood alone. It is a similar winnowing process through which we see our prophet’s thought pass with regard to Israel. Him, too, experience teaches, that “the many are called, but the few chosen.” Perhaps the first traces of distinction between the real servant and the whole nation are to be found in the programme of his mission (Isaiah 42:1-7). (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The ideal servant Jehovah
That mysterious form of the ideal servant of Jehovah, which seems, as we read, to shift and change its aspect, was to Israel what the “colossal man” of the idealist is to humanity at large (E. H.Plumptre, D. D.)
The servant of the Lord
The figure, as it first appears in this half of what are called Isaiah’s prophecies, evidently represents Israel as God intended it to be, chosen for His service and for the diffusion of His Name; the conviction gradually steals over the prophet that the nation cannot discharge these functions, but that the Israel within Israel, the devout core of the people, is the Servant of the Lord; and finally, the knowledge seems to have been breathed into him that not even “that holy seed” which “is the substance thereof” is adequate to do all that the Servant of the Lord is to do; and thus finally the figure changes into a Person, who can be and do all that Israel ought to have been and done, but was not, and did not. In other words, whether the prophet discerned it or no, the role of the Servant of the Lord is only fulfilled by Jesus Christ. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Cyrus and the Servant of Jehovah
His relation to Cyrus, before whose departure from connection with Israel’s fate the Servant does not appear as a person, is most interesting. Perhaps we may best convey it in a homely figure On the ship of Israel’s fortunes--as on every ship and on every voyage--the prophet sees two personages. One is the pilot through the shallows, Cyrus, who is dropped as soon as the shallows are past; and the other is the captain of the ship, who remains always identified with it--the servant. The captain does not come to the front till the pilot is gone; but, both alongside the pilot, and after the pilot has been dropped, there is every room for his office. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The ideal servant’s work
The chief aspects of the ideal servant’s work may be classed as follows:
1. He is to be the embodiment of a new covenant between Jehovah and His people, to restore the actual nation exiled at the time in Babylon, and to reestablish them in their own land (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:5-6; Isaiah 49:8).
2. But He has a mission not to Israel merely, but to the world: He is to teach the world true religion, and to be a “light of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 24:3; Isaiah 24:6; Isaiah 49:6).
3. He is to be a prophet, patient and faithful in the discharge of His work, in spite of the contumely and opposition which He may encounter Isaiah 50:4-9).
4. Being innocent Himself, He is to suffer and die for the sins of others Isaiah 53:4-9). (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The Trinity in unity
This is the language of the Eternal Father; but it contains a description of our blessed Lord and Saviour in His character, as the Redeemer of the world. Then the Spirit of God is represented as resting upon Christ, to qualify Him for that work of redemption; and thus in this one verse we have brought before us suggestions concerning the Father’s sovereign will, the Son’s willing obedience, and the Spirit’s fulness of grace manifested in the Person of the Son, and the setting Him apart for His real work.
I. THE SCRIPTURAL REVELATION CONCERNING THE TRINITY IN UNITY.
1. No one can doubt that Holy Scripture teaches the unity of God.
2. Yet Scripture speaks of this one God, this one Jehovah, Israel’s Lord, as revealing Himself in three distinct characters and relations, and only three.
3. Then Scripture attributes works and qualities to each of these three Persons which could not be attributed to them justly if each of them were not truly God.
4. Then Holy Scripture teaches, notwithstanding, that these Three Divine Persons, each spoken of as God, are yet one God, and this without any difference or inequality.
II. THE PRACTICAL VIEW OF THE TRINITY WHICH THIS PASSAGE CONTAINS. We gather from it that it is the will of the Eternal Jehovah that the glory of the Trinity should be specially manifested in connection with the Person and work of Christ. Observe the description of the Second Person in the blessed Trinity.
1. He is God’s Servant. How can the Second Person in the Trinity be spoken of as the Servant of the Eternal Father? The very expression denotes the manhood of Christ. He cannot be a Servant except by creation, and His body was created in order that He might sustain the position of Servant to the Eternal God. “A body,” we are told in the Epistle to the Hebrews, quoting from the Psalms, “hast Thou prepared Me . . . Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.” Here is the Son speaking to the Father. Then the expression God’s “Servant” denotes the humiliation of our blessed Lord Philippians 2:7). As God’s servant we have to consider Him in connection with His office, as well as with His humiliation and with His manhood. The office which He had to sustain was to bring sinful men back again to God.
2. Then He is God’s beloved--“Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth.”
3. The Man Christ Jesus has the Spirit of God--“I will put My Spirit upon Him,” that is, I will put it on Him as a garment. At the conception, and at His baptism and ordination to His work, this was specially manifested. Then Jesus had the Spirit for the special work which He had to perform as Mediator. There were three objects to be accomplished, if man was to have a suitable remedy. Man was ignorant of God’s will through sin: he needed, therefore, a prophet to teach him, not only what to do, but the actual doing of it, and Jesus was anointed to be that Prophet. Then man was rebellious, and he needed, therefore, a king who should rule over his inward passions, and subdue them, as well as over his outward enemies, and quell them: and therefore Jesus was anointed, that He might sustain the office of King. And man was in a sinful condition, under the curse of the broken law, and therefore he needed a priest to sacrifice for him, and to make intercession for him, and Jesus was that Priest, anointed with the Spirit of God, in order that He might make that satisfaction, and offer that sacrifice, and present that intercession through which sinners may be brought nigh unto God. Thus qualified, the Saviour will “bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” (W. Cadman, M. A.)
The servitude of Jesus
I. IN CHRIST, SERVICE AND FREEDOM WERE PERFECTLY COMBINED. He gave the service of being, the service of work, the service of suffering, the service of worship, the service of rest each to the very highest point of which that service is capable. But when He came, knowing as He did all to which He was coming, He came with these words upon His lips, “I delight to do it.”
II. CHRIST HAD MANY MASTERS, AND HE SERVED THEM ALL WITH PERFECT SERVICE.
1. There was His own high purpose, which had armed Him for His mission, and never by a hair’s-breadth did He ever swerve from that.
2. There was the law. The law had no right over Christ, and yet how He served the law, in every requirement, moral, political, ceremonial, to the smallest tittle.
3. There was death, that fearful master with his giant hand. Step by step, inch by inch, slowly, measuredly, He put Himself under its spell, He obeyed its mandate, and He owned its power.
4. To His Heavenly Father what a true Servant He was, not only in fulfilling all the Father’s will, but as He did it, in always tracing to Him all the power, and giving back to Him all the glory.
III. THERE IS A DEPTH OF BEAUTY AND POWER, OF LIBERTY AND HUMILIATION, OF ABANDONMENT AND LOVE, IN THAT WORD “SERVANT,” which none ever know who have not considered it as one of the titles of Jesus. But there is another name of Jesus, very dear to His people, “The Master.” To understand “the Master” you must yourself have felt “the Servant.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The dignity of service
He is not a man of clear and weighty judgment who sees nothing of honour even in the word “servant.” Ill times have befallen us if we attach to that word nothing but the idea of humiliation, lowness, valuelessness. That word must be restored to its right place in human intercourse. If any man proudly rise and say he is not servant, there is a retort, not of human invention, which might overwhelm any who are not swallowed up of self-conceit and self-idolatry. We do not know what it is to rule until we know what it is to serve. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s programme for the world
This programme is entrusted to the servant of the Lord, who is the Christ of the New Testament.
I. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN JEHOVAH AND HIS SERVANT. In all His life of ministry this Servant was assured of three things--
1. That He was chosen of God for the service to which He came.
2. That He dwelt deep in the love of God His Father.
3. That His life lay entirely within the will of God. He was chosen, beloved, approved. All this is possible to those who say, “I am the Lord’s.”
II. THE SERVANT’S DIVINE EQUIPMENT. “I have put My Spirit upon Him.”
III. THE MISSION OF THE SERVANT: ITS TEMPER AND METHOD. Christ came to reveal God, to restore all things to the pattern of the Divine mind, to make God’s judgment the standard of all life and conduct, so that the world should be governed by the principles of God’s righteousness. This is to be accomplished without noise or ostentation. This description of Christ’s character is remarkable for its omissions: it is a striking list of omissions. The Spirit works by a process of exclusion in revelation and sanctification, and in the restoration of righteousness in the world. (S. Chadwick.)
The ideal Israelite
Long before Christ appeared in the flesh, He had already appeared in the Spirit. The chapter carries us back to a time when the conception of a Saviour definitely began. Up to then there had been vague presentiments; after then there was a character prepared for the Jesus who was to come. So it is with all heroes, they are needed before they are born; they could not work their work unless they were needed and discerned; they have prophets to beget them as well as parents.
I. AN ACTUAL NAME APPLIED. The title of “God’s servant” is one that runs through all Oriental language. The Israelite people at large had failed,--the Jewish people, as reformed by Josiah, had failed,--it remained for God to justify His purpose by manifesting a “new model,” who should represent Him rightly to the Gentiles.
II. AN IDEAL DESCRIPTION GIVEN.
1. This genuine man of God must be a man of gentleness, and yet He should inherit the earth.
2. A method equally new would prevail in religion; there the true Missionary would proceed with tolerance; He would not thrust His revelation upon aliens, He would open their eyes to behold their own revelation; they also had lamps, dimly-burning, but still alight. God’s servant must not extinguish them, He must revive them.
3. But to be gentle in forwarding the right, tolerant in inculcating the true, tender in making allowance for the weak--all this belongs to consummate sympathy, and sympathy demands compensating qualities, for it has besetting defects. Converse with sensitive consciences is often enfeebling. Virtue goes out of us in the endeavour to impart strength, and the infection of fear overtakes the very physician. But our prophet has a strong intellect in view, a Helper who shall not be bruised by anything He has to bear.
4. There is about the perfect character the distinction of patience. He burns brightly in mind. He bears up bravely in heart, “until He have set judgment in the earth.” This true service has been fulfilled by the Carpenter of Nazareth--His qualities are on record; His spirit lasts. (B. H. Alford.)
Messiah and His work
I. THE CHARACTER AND SPIRIT OF THE MESSIAH.
II. THE WORK WITH WHICH, AS THE FATHER’S SERVANT, HE HAD BEEN ENTRUSTED.
III. THE WAY IN WHICH HE WAS TO EXECUTE IT. “He shall not fail,” etc. (Original Secession Magazine.)
The service of God and man
I. THE CONSCIENCE OF THE SERVICE. Before being a service of man, it is a service for God. “My servant.”
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF SERVICE. “Judgment for the nations shall He bring forth.” “According to truth shall He bring forth judgment.” He shall not flag nor break, till He set in the earth judgment.”
III. THE TEMPER OF SERVICE (Isaiah 42:2-3).
IV. THE POWER BEHIND SERVICE (Isaiah 42:5-6). (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
“Behold, My Servant!”
They are rare qualities which Jehovah calls us to behold in the elect Servant: a Divine modesty; a Divine humility; a Divine perseverance.
I. THE MODESTY OF THE BEST WORK. God is always at work in our world, leading the progress of suns, refreshing grass with dew, directing the flight of the morning beams. But all His work is done so quietly, so unobtrusively, with such reticence as to His personal agency, that many affirm there is no God at all. Thus was it with the work of Christ. He put His hand on the mouths of those who proclaimed His deity, or blazoned abroad His fame. This quality is God’s hall-mark upon the best work. His highest artists do not inscribe their names upon their pictures, nor introduce their portraits amongst their groups.
II. THE HUMILITY OF THE BEST WORK. He has put down the mighty from their seat, and exalted the humble and meek. And so was it with our Lord. He passed by Herod’s palace, and chose Bethlehem and its manger bed. He refused empires of the world, and took the way of the cross. He selected His apostles and disciples from the ranks of the poor. He revealed His choicest secrets to babes. He left the society of the Pharisee and Scribe, and expended Himself on bruised reeds and smoking flax, on dying thieves and fallen women, and the peasantry of Galilee.
III. DIVINE PERSEVERANCE. Though our Lord is principally concerned with the bruised and the dimly-burning wick, He is neither one nor the other (see R.V., marg.). He is neither discouraged nor does He fail. This, again, is the quality of the best work. That which emanates from the flesh is full of passion, fury, and impulse. It essays to deliver Israel by a spasm of force that lays an Egyptian dead in the sand; but it soon exhausts itself, and sinks back nerveless and spent. It is impossible too strongly to emphasise the necessity of relying in Christian work on the co-witness of the Spirit of God. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Purpose and method of the Redeemer
I. THE REDEEMER’S PURPOSE. “He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles”; “He shall bring forth judgment unto truth,” and He is to “set judgment in the earth.” The word “judgment,” as here used, has no better equivalent than righteousness, in the sense of that which is essentially right in heart and life, both toward God and man. This righteousness--rightness--in all the powers and operations of the soul, and in all its relations to God and the universe, is the master-need of mankind. The Redeemer has undertaken to meet this great need of the world. He came not to establish certain forms of theological thought and expression; not to set up certain ecclesiastical organisations and rituals--all these are of little worth, except in so far as they can be made the means to a vastly grander end. Jesus Christ came to establish essential righteousness in individual human souls, and so in the community and in the world. It is His grand purpose to enlighten the ignorance, to quicken the conscience, to energise the will, to purify the affections, and to exalt the aims of men, bringing them thus into harmony with God. He came to make every wrong right--to break the oppressor’s yoke, to banish cupidity and caste, ignorance and selfishness, and every form of sin. In the prosecution of this sublime purpose the Redeemer calls all His disciples into co-operation with Himself. In this they are to find the development of their own spiritual character, and by this the world is to be won for Christ.
II. THE REDEEMER’S METHOD. This is set before us by the prophet in a fourfold view--
1. As authorised. “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth; I have put My Spirit upon Him.” Here the Redeemer is represented as acting under the appointment and authorisation of the Eternal Father. Nor is it difficult to perceive why this is necessary. God, as the Sovereign, against whom man has offended, was alone competent to determine whether any mediation could be admitted between Himself and His rebellious creatures, and, if any, what the nature of that mediation should be. It is essential to any man’s faith in redemption that he should recognise it as of God from the beginning. The interposition of Christ is first of all, and more than all, the manifestation of the Father’s impartial and everlasting love for lost men. The Redeemer is God, the equal of the Father in glory, majesty, power, divinity, and eternity; but He is God manifest in the flesh. As it was necessary that the Redeemer should be authorised, so it was necessary that the authority under which He acted should be explicitly attested. It was thus attested. “Mine elect in whom My soul delighteth; I have put My Spirit upon Him” (Luke 4:14). This aspect of His mission was clearly understood by His apostles (Acts 4:27; Acts 10:38). At intervals during His ministry there came to Him Divine attestation; at its close He “was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead”: and having ascended to the Father He was constituted “Head over all things to the Church,” principlities and powers being made subject to Him, for it pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell.”
2. As unostentatious (Isaiah 42:2). Messiah’s mission was to be distinguished by no secular pomp, by no military glory. The Redeemer’s appearance was to be lowly, His operations silent and unobtrusive. The Saviour of men is great in gentleness. On this point prophecy is mysteriously impressive. History answers to prophecy. In the life of Jesus Christ there is a marvellous mingling of grandeur and humility. The same principle pervades the whole of His administration. There is marvellous grandeur, but there is deep lowliness. The Gospel has mysteriously subdued the hearts of men, forming into its own spirit tempers and habits the most alien from its nature.
3. As compassionate. “A bruised reed,” etc. Advancing to the realisation of His sublime purpose the Redeemer will not overlook the smallest acquisition; and His attention will be especially directed to those who are specially needy, weak, and helpless.
4. As persevering. “He shall not fail,” etc. He was not discouraged. He ploughed His way through all opposition from Bethlehem to Golgotha. The risen and exalted Redeemer is moving steadily on to His final and complete triumph. (R. R. Meredith, D. D.)
The Servant of Jehovah
I. THE CHARACTER HE SUSTAINS. “Behold, My Servant,” etc. In this capacity God sustained and protected Him. He is also set forth as the object of His special choice and affection. “Mine elect,” etc. He delighted in Him on account--
1. Of the close relationship that existed between them. Not merely was He Jehovah’s Servant, but His only-begotten Son.
2. The resemblance He bore to Him.
3. His having engaged to execute the Divine purposes.
II. THE WORK HE HAD TO ACCOMPLISH.
1. For this work He was endowed with every requisite qualification. “I have put My Spirit upon Him.”
2. The work assigned to Him was very extensive in its range. “He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.”
3. The character of His work is here intimated. He was to bring forth “judgment”; for the religion He would establish was to be pre-eminently distinguished truth and righteousness.
III. THE MANNER IN WHICH IT WAS TO BE EFFECTED.
1. The absence of all ostentation and clamour. It is invariably found that it is not the most noisy that do the most work.
2. He was to evince great tenderness and compassion. “A bruised reed,” etc. These words were verified in His conduct towards two classes--
(1) The humble penitent.
(2) His bitterest foes. This passage is thus applied by Matthew (chap. 12.).
3. Perseverance in the face of all difficulties and discouragements. He shall not fail nor be discouraged,” etc. (Anon.)
The coming Saviour
About these chapters, as a unit, a halo of Messianic brightness gathers, like the aureole with which painters surround the brow of Christ. In these verses (1-11) the prophet taught that--
I. THE COMING SAVIOUR WAS TO SET UP A KINGDOM WHICH SHOULD BE UNIVERSAL (Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:4; Isaiah 42:6). Those whom Isaiah addressed supposed that true religion was to reach the world, if at all, through the channels of Judaism; they thought the only way to heaven was through the ,portals of the Jewish Church. The prophet declares that the benefits of Christ s kingdom are to extend to Jew and Gentile alike. No distinctions of race or clime are to arrest its growth. No wonder that under the thrill of such a vision he shouts, “Sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise from the end of the earth!” It is sometimes said that the religious spirit of the Old Testament is narrow; that it makes God bestow His favours on the few, and not on the many. Can, however, a larger measure of grace be conceived than is here expressed?
II. CHRIST’S KINGDOM WAS TO BE EXTENDED BY PEACEFUL MEASURES (verses 2, 3). The prophet addressed those who thought religious conquest was to be achieved by force. Hitherto conflicts had marked the intercourse of God’s chosen people with the Gentiles. The Jews looked for their coming king to be warlike. How strangely, then, does Isaiah describe their conquering prince,--“He shall not cry,” i.e shout as He advances, “nor lift up,” i.e make demonstration of His power, “nor shall He cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: He shall bring forth judgment unto truth,” i.e truth shall be His victorious weapon. The element in Christianity to which our text refers makes that which is feeble among men powerful for Christ. It also makes it possible for all Christ’s servants to be efficient labourers. They become such by imbibing the spirit of the Master. Not all can publicly proclaim the Gospel, but every one can seek for the “same mind which was in Christ.”
III. CHRIST’S KINGDOM WAS TO REVEAL GOD’S SYMPATHY WITH MAN, ESPECIALLY IN HIS SUFFERING. (verse 7). The primary reference in these figures is undoubtedly to spiritual results. Eyes morally blind are to be opened, and captive souls emancipated from the prison-house of sin. It is, however, no less true that bodily and mental freedom are included in the blessings of Messiah’s reign. The Church is now the representative of the Divine sympathy for suffering; and she should not forget that, as of old, believers will be multiplied when it is seen that through her Christ now cares for bodies as well as souls.
IV. CHRIST’S KINGDOM WAS TO FILL THE EARTH WITH JOY (verses 10, 11). As lessons from our subject we learn--
1. Christians should labour in hope. Isaiah suggests one of the strongest proofs of our Lord’s divinity by affirming, “He shall not fail nor be discouraged until He have set judgment in the land.” When we learn of the Master we catch a hopeful spirit.
2. The results of serving Christ are permanent. (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
Silent spread of Christianity
This prophecy accords with fact. Gibbon, in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, has the following words describing the silent but rapid spread of Christianity: “While the Roman Empire was invaded by open violence or undermined by slow decay, a pure and humble religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men, grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant banner of the Cross on the ruins of the Capitol.” (Sermons by the Monday Club.)
The coming Saviour
I. OUR LORD’S CHARACTER AS PORTRAYED IN PROPHECY.
1. That our Lord should come as a servant (Isaiah 42:1).
(1) This was His own testimony when He came (Matthew 20:28; John 6:38).
(2) This is the testimony of the apostles (Philippians 2:6-8).
2. That our Lord was Divinely chosen for His work. “Mine elect” (1 Peter 2:6-7).
3. That our Lord should be endowed with the Holy Spirit. “I have put My Spirit upon Him” (Matthew 3:16-17; Luke 4:14; Luke 4:18-19; Hebrews 9:14; Hebrews 1:9).
4. That our Lord would institute a religion for the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:1). Such is the force of the word “judgment.”
5. That His Spirit would be most tender and gentle (Isaiah 42:2-3).
(1) This, surely, is a correct description of the historic Christ. His own testimony (Matthew 11:29). The testimony of His apostles Hebrews 7:26; Hebrews 12:2-3; 1 Peter 2:21-24).
(2) In this He gave His disciples an example.
6. That His courage would be equal to His gentleness (verse 4).
(1) It is not the noisy and boastful that are the most courageous and reliable.
(2) The deeper our conviction of the truthfulness of our cause the more patient and gentle may we be in its advocacy.
(3) The commission of Christ to His disciples proves His entire confidence in the success of His cause.
II. OUR LORD’S COMMISSION FORETOLD IN PROPHECY.
1. In its authority (verses 5, 9). The authority is the highest in respect to power and principle.
2. In its purpose (verse 7).
(1) Our Lord appropriates the terms of this commission to Himself Luke 4:17-19).
(2) This is the commission He fulfilled in His life.
III. BOTH THE CHARACTER AND COMMISSION OF CHRIST ARE JUST INCENTIVES TO THANKSGIVING TO GOD (verse 10).
1. All should praise God.
2. To praise God for Christ intelligently we must personally experience His saving power.
1. The study of prophecy is the imperative duty of every child of God.
2. The most inspiring portions of prophecy are those which centre in the person and work of our Lord Jesus.
3. No prophecy can be fully understood that is not interpreted in the light of Christ’s work. “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
4. Christianity is a religion for the whole race (verse 4).
5. The gentleness with which its advocates should be characterised and the beneficent designs of its mission must commend it, when rightly represented, to all nations, climes, and tongues.
6. Under no circumstances will our Lord justify His disciples in an advocacy of His Gospel in a spirit antagonistic to His own.
7. Let all disciples of Christ copy His life, spirit and love, and work for the gracious ends for which He lived and died! (Homiletic Review.)
The servant of Jehovah
This chapter exhibits to our view the servant of Jehovah, i.e the Messiah and His people, as a complex person, and as the messenger or representative of God among the nations.
1. His mode of operation is described as being not violent but peaceful (Isaiah 42:1-5).
2. The effects of His influence are represented as not natural but spiritual (Isaiah 42:6-9).
3. The power of God is pledged for His success, notwithstanding all appearances of inaction or indifference on His part (Isaiah 42:10-17). (J. A. Alexander.)
Mine elect in whom My soul delighteth
Christ delighted in by the Father
Christ Jesus was the elect of God, inasmuch as from all eternity infinite wisdom had chosen Him to execute the sovereign purposes of infinite mercy. We may pronounce that the Father delighted in His elect, because--
I. THE MEDIATION OF CHRIST MAGNIFIED EVERY DIVINE ATTRIBUTE.
II. IT ALSO MET EVERY HUMAN NECESSITY. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
He shall not cry
Jesus Christ not a controversialist
He is not a debater; He does not belong to the society of men who walk up and down in the open square, called the “street,” or agora, or the market-place, saying, Who will talk with Me to-day?
What shall we debate? My sword is ready, who will fence? He does not belong to the word gladiator; from that school He abstains. There were men who delighted in controversy in the open squares of the city. Such controversy took the place of modern literature, morning journals, and the means of publicity of every kind, open to modern society. Jesus Christ spoke whisperingly to hearts. Men had to incline their ear to hear Him. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Christ’s message self-evidential
What He brings is its own evidence, and needs no beating of drums. (Prof. F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Christ’s ministry unhysterical
To be “screamy,” to be “loud,” to “advertise one’s self,”--these modern expressions for vices that were ancient as well as modern, render the exact force of the verse. Such the servant of God will not be nor do. That God is with Him, holding Him fast (Isaiah 42:6), keeps Him calm and unhysterical; that He is but God s instrument keeps Him humble and quiet; and that His heart is in His work keeps Him from advertising Himself at its expense. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Christ unlike the prophets of Israel
This feature of the Servant’s activity can hardly have been suggested by the demeanour of the prophets of Israel; and for that reason the prophecy is all the more wonderful as a perception of the true condition of spiritual work. It reminds us of the “still small voice” in which Elijah was made to recognise the power of Jehovah. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The greatness and the gentleness of Christ
Jesus Christ has fulfilled this passage both in the spirit and in the letter.
I. THE GRANDEUR AND CERTAINTY OF HIS WORK. It could not be expressed in stronger or more graphic words. “He shall bring forth judgment or righteousness, according to truth. He shall not fail nor be broken till He have established judgment or righteousness in the earth, and the isles, or far-off lands, shall wait for His law or instruction.” This is the Old Testament conception of the Divine work, the setting up of a kingdom of righteousness in the world. In the New Testament it is called the kingdom of heaven, of which righteousness is still the great characteristic. The essence of the aim of the Gospel of Christ may be summed up, therefore, in two words--to win men over to be right and to do right. That which separates men from God and the kingdom of heaven is some kind of wrong in the inward nature--that which arrays itself against the Divine will, which is the Divine law. The self-will which tries, but tries in vain, to trample down the Divine will, which endeavours to have its own way in defiance of all right and justice; the insatiate thirst of the passions for indulgence which must be obtained at whatever cost to honour and conscience, and the readiness to sacrifice truth and honesty and purity in order to achieve what the world calls success,--these things are the essence of all unrighteousness and sin--the cancerous disease of our spiritual nature, which Christ, the Great Physician, came to exterminate and heal. In order to do what is right we must become, first of all, personally right; for Christ traced all conduct up to character. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit,” etc. He came to build up a society of such men and women, beginning with a small band of immediate personal disciples, whose affection to Himself should make them righteous, who should receive from Him the truths, the impulses, and principles which would enable them to carry the contagion of His Spirit to Greek, and Roman, and Jew, and make the cross on which He died the symbol of all goodness and all righteousness.
II. THE SPIRIT AND METHOD OF CHRIST’S WORK. “He shall not cry,” etc.
1. This is the Divine way of speaking to men, and instructing them in Divine truth. The strong wind can speak to the seas and mountains and forests; the earthquake can speak to Sodom and Gomorrah; the fire can speak to the raving prophets of Baal; but when He speaks to His servant He whispers in that still small voice which penetrates where the thunder would fail to be heard, to the deeps of Elijah’s spirit, where the heart and conscience sit enthroned in silence. The deepest affections ever speak thus. The mother speaks to her child in the softest, most subdued accents of speech, and those accents reach farther into the child’s heart than the loudest, harshest words of command could reach. When is the orator at the height of his greatest power? Not when he is loudest; not when he thunders forth invective and appeal in high-strung passion; but when the strength of emotion has subdued him, when the rich pathos of his feelings makes his voice tremulous and low; and he just breathes out the thought which you will never forget. This was Christ’s method of instruction during His earthly ministry. The Sermon on the Mount breathes a Divine calm throughout; there is not one spasmodic sentence in it.
2. And He did not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. When the woman who had been a sinner ventured after Him into the house of Simon the Pharisee, where He sat at meat, and began to wash His feet with her tears and to wipe them with the hair of her head, He accepted the service without one thought of spurning her from His presence, because it was the service of a broken, penitent heart. But there is a positive as well as a negative aspect of this truth. He will not merely not break the bruised reed, He will heal and restore it to soundness; He will not merely not quench the smoking flax, He will replenish the exhausted lamp with fresh oil, and make it burn brightly again. This life is hastening to its close with us, and we may have a keen consciousness that our souls are bruised and broken by sin, and we dread to die. What can we do? We can be assured that there is a Saviour who sympathises with us, and who has power to lift the load from our conscience, and restore the breaking, fearful heart; a Saviour who is not willing that you should die as you are, but can even now pour the oil of hope and trust into the lamp of your life. Some of us may have been bruised and almost worn out, not so much by the reproach of our sins, as by the experience of trouble and suffering. (C. Short, M. A.)
A bruised reed shall He not break
The bruised reed
The reed, or “calamus,” is a plant with hollow stem, which grew principally by the side of lakes or rivers.
Those who have been in Palestine are familiar with it in the tangled thickets which still line the shores of the ancient Merom and Genesis nesaret, or, above all, in the dense copse fringing the banks of the Jordan. The plant might well be taken as an emblem of whatever was weak, fragile, brittle. The foot of the wild beast that made its lair in the jungle, trampled it to pieces. Its slender stalk bent or snapped under the weight of the bird that sought to make it a perch. The wind and hail-storm shivered its delicate tubes, or laid them prostrate on the ground. “A reed shaken by the wind” was the metaphor employed by One whose eyes, in haunts most loved and frequented by Him, had ofttimes gazed on this significant emblem of human weakness and instability. Once broken, it was rendered of no use. Other stems which had been bent by the hurricane might, by careful nursing and tending, be recovered; but the reed, with its heavy culm, once shattered, became worthless. In a preceding chapter (36:6) it is spoken of as an emblem of tottering, fragile Egypt. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
A bruised reed
Say some an instrument was meant, and there was a rift in it, which spoiled the music. Jesus Christ said, We must repair this; something must be done with this reed; it was meant for music, and we must look at it with that end in view. He does not take it, saying, There is a rift in the lute, and the music is impossible; rend it and throw it away. He always looks to see if a man cannot be made somewhat better. Or “a bruised reed” may mean that wild beasts in rushing through to the water, or from the flood, have crushed the growing plants, so that they are bent, they no more stand upright; but Jesus Christ comes to heal them and to restore them. (J. Parker, D. D)
The bruised reed and She smoking flax
God has His strong ones in His Church--His oaks of Bashan and cedars of Lebanon; noble forest trees, spreading far and wide their branches of faith and love and holiness; those who are deeply rooted in the truth, able to wrestle with fierce tempests of unbelief, and to grapple with temptations in their sterner forms. But He has His weaklings and His saplings also--those that require to be tenderly shielded from the blast, and who are liable, from constitutional temperament, to become the prey of doubts and fears, to which the others are strangers. Sensitive in times of trial, irresolute in times of difficulty and danger, unstable in times of severe temptation; or it may be in perpetual disquietude and alarm about their spiritual safety. To such, the loving ways and dealings of the Saviour are unfolded. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Rudiments of religion in the heathen world
It is an interesting question whether these rudiments of religion are conceived as existing in the heathen world or in the breasts of individual Israelites. The former view is, no doubt, that to which the national interpretation of the servant most readily accommodates itself, and is also most in keeping with the scope of the passage as a whole. But in later sections a mission in and to Israel is undoubtedly assigned to the servant, and a reference to that here cannot be pronounced impossible. (Prof. J Skinner, D. D.)
The bruised reed
I. INSIGNIFICANCE ESCAPES NOT CHRIST’S ATTENTION. There is no insignificant life, nor insignificant incident of life. All is fraught with the importance of endless existence.
II. UNWORTHINESS FORFEITS NOT CHRIST’S REGARD. Nothing more worthless than a bruised reed. Yet He will not break it. As there is no trifle that escapes His notice, so there is no unworthiness that transcends His gracious regard. Where is the bruised reed that the Redeemer has ever broken? Is it the dying thief? Is it Mary Magdalene? Is it Saul of Tarsus?
III. UNPROFITABLENESS ABATES NOT CHRIST’S LOVE. Nothing more unprofitable than a bruised reed. The heart that yields no large return for all His care He loves and blesses still. The unprofitable bruised reed He will not break. (Homiletic Review.)
God’s negatives imply strong affirmations
As that negative assertion is the Hebrew way of conveying a strong affirmative, it is equivalent to saying that He will bind up the broken heart, that He will cement the splintered stem of the hanging bulrush, endowing it with new life and strength and vigour causing it to “spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses”; that He will pardon, pity, comfort, relieve. (J. R.Macduff, D. D.)
Fragrance from the bruised-soul
In the case of some aromatic plants, it is when bruised they give forth the sweetest fragrance. So, it is often the soul, crushed with a sense of sin, which sends forth the sweetest aroma of humility, gratitude, and love. “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
It is quite a relief to come across words of such gracious import as these, and to learn that there is One having to do with us, while immeasurably above us, in whose heart pity has a place, in whose eyes are tears as they look on our woes, whose touch is soft while strong, whose voice has no harshness in it when addressing the weak and failing--for we live in a cold, callous, cruel world, still darkened by the foulest crimes, where thousands are handled roughly and are driven into out-of-the-way places to die, unattended, unhelped, and unblessed, except, perhaps, by the angels of God. Read history: it is written largely in letters of blood. Read your newspaper, that mirror of the world’s daily life, and weep over fallen human nature as you do so. Read your scientific books, and you will find vivisection preached so far as animals are concerned, and “natural selection and the survival of the fittest” so far as the race is concerned. “Let the weak perish, let the afflicted be cut off,” says a pitiless science--thus following the ancient Spartans, who killed off their sickly and deformed offspring, and Plato, who favoured infanticide. These people would deliberately and in cold blood break the bruised reed and quench the smoking flax. Into such a world as this Christ comes, comes to teach us that God is love, that the strongest Being in the universe is the gentlest, that all life is precious, that even maimed humanity is worth saving, that the man who has been smitten by a mighty misfortune is to have the tenderest attention, that the man most in the mud is to be lifted out, so that his powers may unfold themselves in winsome and undecaying blossoms by the river of life. The slender bulrush,, with its sides crushed and dinted, its head hanging by a thread, stands for that large class who have been injured by evil of any kind, and to all these Jesus deals out an unwonted, unheard of, restorative tenderness.
I. SOME ARE BRUISED BY ANCESTRAL SINS. Our scientists now accept and emphasise the great Mosaic doctrine, “The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Me.” Many are seriously handicapped by hereditary taints. “The great men of the world are the forest kings of the social landscape; the rich are its olives, the clever are its orchids; the fashionable are its climbing roses; the merry are its purple vines; but here at the bottom, in the dirt, are the bruised reeds of humanity, the outcast, the forsaken, the ill-starred, the poverty-stricken, the weak, the wronged, the fallen.” To which did Jesus give His best, His primary attention? He won for Himself the name, “A friend of publicans and sinners.” When His disciples queried Him as to who was responsible for a man’s blindness, He refused to be drawn into a discussion of the law of heredity to satisfy their unfeeling curiosity. To Christ the blind man was something more than a scientific or theological problem--he was a brother whose blindness was an appeal for help, and He helped him by opening his eyes.
II. SOME ARE BRUISED BY PERSONAL SIN. There are many who realise that their lives are knocked out of their proper shape. How many of us have robbed, degraded, and damaged ourselves! God meant us to be temples, but we have desecrated the hallowed shrine. God meant us to be kings, but we have given our crowns away. God meant us to be priest, but we have made ourselves vile. God meant us to be His children, but we have wandered away and become Satan’s serfs. No one has injured us half as much as we have injured ourselves. What a contrast is Jesus even to the best of His followers in the treatment of self-injured men! Someone has said, “How surprising it seems that we find in Jesus no feeling of scorn for man.” Surprising? There was not a shade of a shadow of contempt in His nature, not even for the sorriest sons of Adam.
III. SOME ARE BRUISED BY THE SINS OF SOCIETY. Some are more sinned against than sinning. Society must be indicted as a great sinner. Full often it is thoughtless, careless, cruel, wicked. It has a don’t-care sort of mien. It cares nothing for others’ rights, feelings, happiness. Its maxim is, “Every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost.” Thus the reeds are trodden on, and there is small wonder that they have hard thoughts of man and God. Whatever our treatment of them, our Lord metes out to them a royal generosity, a most delicate consideration. When He was under Calvary’s shadow the soldiers put a reed into His right hand--they did it in mockery, but they knew not what they did. That reed was a sceptre, the symbol of the reign of gentleness. The bruised reed may be nothing to us--but to Him who knoweth all things it suggests music, beauty,usefulness. (J. Pearce.)
The weak Christian comforted
Nothing is more common than for the inspired writers to represent spiritual and Divine things by an allusion to those which are natural. Notice--
I. SOME OF THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE BELIEVER’S WEAKNESS.
1. He has knowledge, but it is as yet imperfect.
2. He has faith, but as yet it is comparatively powerless.
3. He has hope, but it is faint and feeble.
4. His joys are few and transient. But these characteristics of the Christian’s weakness are also the sources of his sorrow.
II. SOME OF THE PLEDGES OF THE BELIEVER’S SECURITY. “He will not break,” etc if faith be genuine, though but like the smallest grain of seed, He owns it; if hope be legitimate, though feeble, He owns it; if love be sincere, though languid, He owns it. The pledges of the believer’s security are many and great.
1. Weak believers, equally with the strong, stand in a Divine relation to God.
2. They are, equally with the strong, the purchased possession of the Redeemer.
3. The weak believer is, equally with the strong, supplied out of the inexhaustible store of Divine grace. (S. Bridge, M. A.)
The bruised reed
I. WHO ARE SET FORTH UNDER THE FIGURE OF A BRUISED REED? It is a description that well suits all believers, without exception. Some are comparatively stronger than others. How is this where all are so weak? Because they have a deeper, more deeply felt experience of weakness. They live more by faith, lean more on Jesus, are brought into deeper poverty of spirit, receive Him more fully. Those branches next the stem are always the strongest. But our text sets forth the weak believer, and one who is conscious of it. It is not only a reed, but a bruised reed. Perhaps heavy afflictions wound the believer, and temporal troubles become strong spiritual temptations. It is storm upon storm, tempest upon tempest, and the poor reed not only bends beneath it”, but is bruised beneath it. The world is unkind, friends are unkind, saints are unkind, and faith being weak, God seems unkind; and then the soul, full of suspicion, is unkind to itself, and suspects its own grace. What s bruising is this! Perhaps a deep sense of sin and inward corruption is added to this.
II. OUR LORD’S CONDUCT TO SUCH. He will not break this bruised reed.
1. His faithfulness will not permit it. These are of those whom the Father has entrusted to His love.
2. His holiness will not permit it. Here is a spark of His own kindling, a germ of His own planting, a new nature of His own creating, a child of God, one who loves Him--will He bruise such a one?
3. His tenderness will not permit it. Will a kind physician neglect his patient? Will a shepherd forget his wandering sheep? Will a mother dash her sick child to the earth?
1. Beware lest you make your feebleness an excuse. There is all fulness in Christ.
2. Beware lest you increase your feebleness. Sin enfeebles, neglects enfeeble, the world enfeebles; want of peace in the conscience enfeebles; living on anything but Christ enfeebles.
3. Admire that condescending Saviour who can stoop to this bruised reed.
4. Admire the compassion of the Saviour.
5. Still more admire Him who has supported, who has all grace to help.
6. Be contented to be ever weak in yourself. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The compassion of Christ
I. INQUIRE WHY THE PERSONS SPOKEN OF MAY BE COMPARED TO THE BRUISED REED AND SMOKING FLAX.
1. Both these objects have a mean appearance, and are deemed of little use: and low and humble Christians are much the same. Especially if in a declining state, they bring but little honour to their profession, and often afford matter for reproach.
2. The bruised reed has some strength, and the smoking flax some fire, though both in a small degree; so the Christian, though he has but a little strength, like the church at Philadelphia, yet he is still alive, and the light of Israel is not quenched.
3. Many are ready to break the bruised reed and quench the smoking flax. Great also are the oppositions and discouragements which weak believers meet with, and yet they are still preserved.
4. The bruised reed needs to be supported, and the smoking flax to be enkindled: so does the Christian need to be strengthened, and quickened afresh by Divine grace.
II. NOTICE WHAT IS IMPLIED IN CHRIST’S NOT BREAKING THE BRUISED REED, NOR QUENCHING THE SMOKING FLAX. Much more is implied than is expressed. The Lord will not put the weak believer to those trials which are disproportioned to his strength. He will not suffer him to be tempted above what he is able to bear; but will with the temptation also make a way for his escape. The following things are also implied.
1. That as Christ will not break the bruised reed, so neither will He suffer others to do it.
2. Instead of breaking the bruised reed, He will binD it up, and strengthen it; and will cherish the smoking flax till it break forth into a flame. He who notices the smallest sins to punish them, will also notice the weakest efforts of grace to encourage and reward them.
III. AN IMPROVEMENT OF THE SUBJECT.
1. Let weak Christians be encouraged from hence to commit themselves to Christ, and place an entire confidence in His faithfulness and compassion.
2. Let us imitate this part of our Lord’s conduct, and carry it towards others as He carries it towards us.
3. It becomes us to beware that we do not abuse the mercy of our Saviour, by supposing that we have weak grace, when, indeed, we have none; for it is real and not counterfeit piety to which He shows His tender regard. Nor yet by contenting ourselves with weak grace, though it is true.
4. If weak Christians shall not be neglected, much less the strong. (B. Beddome, M. A,)
The source of Christ’s perfect tenderness to sinners
The source of Christ’s perfect tenderness to sinners is none other than the Divine compassion. It was the love and pity of the Word made flesh.
1. It is plain that this gentle reception even of the greatest sinners implies that, where there is so much as a spark of life in the conscience, there is possibility of an entire conversion to God. Where there is room to hope anything, there is room to hope all things. Such is the mysterious nature of the human spirit, of its affections and will, such its energies and intensity, that it may at any time be so renewed by the Spirit of the new creation as to expel, with the most perfect rejection, all the powers, qualities, visions, and thoughts of evil.
2. Another great truth implied in our Lord’s conduct to sinners is, that the only sure way of fostering the beginning of repentance is to receive them with gentleness and compassion. On those in whom there is the faintest stirring of repentance the love of Christ falls with a soft but penetrating force. To receive sinners coldly, or with an averted eye, an estranged heart, and a hasty, unsparing tongue, will seldom fail to drive them into defiance or self-abandonment. A sinner that is out of hope is lost. Hope is the last thing left. If this be crushed the flax is extinct. Truth told without love is perilous in the measure in which it is true. There is in every sinner a great burden of misery, soreness, and alarm; but even these, instead of driving him to confession, make him shut himself up in a fevered and brooding fear. And it was in this peculiar wretchedness of sin that the gentleness of our Lord gave them courage and hope. It was a strange courage that came upon them; a boldness without trembling, yet an awe without alarm. What little motions of good were in them, what little stirrings of conscience, what faint remainder of better resolutions, what feeble gleams of all but extinguished light,--all seemed to revive, and to turn in sympathy towards some source of kindred nature, and to stretch itself out in hope to something long desired, with a dim unconscious love. It is an affinity of the spirit working in penitents with the Spirit of Christ that made them draw to Him. It was not only because of His infinite compassion as God that Christ so dealt with sinners; but because, knowing the nature of man, its strange depths and windings, its weakness and fears, He knew that this was the surest way of winning them to Himself. (H. E. Manning, D. D.)
The transforming tenderness of Jesus
He uses and loves and transfigures broken reeds. They become pens to write His truth. They become instruments of sweet music to sound forth His praise. They become pillars to support and adorn His Temple. They become swords and spears to rout His enemies; so that, as Mr. Lowell sings, “the bruised reed is amply tough to pierce the shield of error through.” And He loves and employs and fans into bright and glowing flame dimly burning wicks. They are changed into lamps that shine, into beacon-fires that warn, into torches that hand on His message to the generation following, into lighthouse rays and beams that guide storm-tossed sailors into the desired haven. (A. Sradlle, M. A.)
The long-suffering of Messiah
A passage setting forth the gentleness of the new Prince of Righteousness promised to Israel.
I. THE ANALOGIES OF HIS FORBEARANCE.
1. Few of nature’s forms are more lovely and symmetrical than the tall cane of the reed rising by the marsh or river edge. One of the elements of our pleasure as we look at it, is derived from our sense of its marvellous power of resisting the pressure of the wind or the dashing of the waves. It is one of the triumphs of nature’s architecture. Yet let but a rough stroke fall suddenly upon it, and all its glory is abased. Every passing wind only aggravates the injury. Of what good is it henceforth, but to be cut down and cast into the oven! Yet this, which we should esteem reasonable in the husbandman, is precisely what the Messiah does not do with respect to souls that have been similarly injured.
2. The other illustration of the prophet is from the home or the temple. The oil-lamp was one of the most common objects there. The wick fed by the oil is able to sustain a flame which, although feeble, is clear, and sufficient for the small chambers of the poor. The oil, however, is supposed to be exhausted, and the wick is sending forth a weak, smoky, disagreeable light, soon to subside into darkness. Would it not be better, one might ask, to put out such a light altogether than to endure its disagreeable stench, or, all unprepared, find ourselves plunged in darkness? These two images set before us suggestions of what would be reasonable actions on the part of man, when considering merely human ends.
These two things are--
1. Types of spiritual states.
2. Suggestions of judicial action.
II. THE ULTIMATE AIM OF HIS FORBEARANCE. “Until He bring forth judgment unto truth.” The gentleness of Christ without some such obvious explanation might appear moral indifference, or amiable eccentricity, or insane belief in the inherent goodness of men. This aim gives it an entirely new, a far nobler aspect.
1. To every man is given an opportunity of putting himself right with God. The force of circumstances will be counterbalanced so that the will and affections may work freely; inequalities, opposition, etc., will be neutralised or allowed for in so far as they affect conduct.
2. Judgment will be withheld until the career of man is complete. Good and evil alike will work themselves out. There is a tragic power of evolution latent in all sin. Righteousness, too, is as a seed.
3. The character of this judgment, therefore, will be final and absolute. (St. J. A. Frere, M. A.)
“A bruised reed” and “smoking flax”
The two metaphors are not altogether parallel. “A bruised reed” has suffered an injury which, however, is neither complete nor irreparable. “Smoking flax,” on the other hand--by which, of course, is meant flax used as a wick in an old-fashioned oil lamp--is partially lit. In the one a process has been begun which, if continued, ends in destruction; in the other a process has been begun which, if continued, ends in a bright flame. So the one metaphor may express the beginnings of evil which may still be averted, and the other the beginnings of incipient and incomplete good. If we keep that distinction in mind, the words of our text gain wonderfully in comprehensiveness. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The strong “servant of Jehovah”
It is to be noticed that in Isaiah 42:4 we have an echo of these metaphors. The word translated “fail” is the same as that rendered in the previous verse, “smoking,” or “dimly burning”; and the word “discouraged” is the same as that rendered in the previous verse, “bruised.” So then this “servant of the Lord,” Who is not to break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, is fitted for His work because He Himself has no share in the evils which He would heal, and none in the weaknesses which He would strengthen. His perfect manhood knows no flaws nor bruises; His complete goodness is capable of and needs no increase. Neither outward force nor inward weakness can hinder His power to heal and bless; therefore His work can never cease till it has attained its ultimate purpose. “He shall not fail nor be discouraged,” shall neither be broken by outward violence, nor shall the flame of His saving energy burn faint until He hath “set judgment in the earth,” and crowned His purposes with complete success. (A. Maclaren, D. D
Christ the arrester of begun evil, and the nourisher of incipient good
We have here set before us three significant representations of that Servant of the Lord, which may well commend Him to our confidence and our love.
I. AS THE RESTORER OF THE BRUISE THAT IT MAY NOT BE BROKEN. “He shall not break the bruised reed.” It is “bruised,” but the bruise is not irreparable. And so there are reeds bruised and “shaken by the wind,” but yet not broken. And the tender Christ comes with His gentle, wise, skilful surgery, to bind these up and to make them strong again. To whom does this text apply?
1. In a very solemn sense to all mankind. In all the dints and marks of sin are plainly seen. Our manhood has been crushed and battered out of its right shape, and has received awful wounds from that evil that has found entrance within us. But there emerges from the metaphor not only the solemn thought of the bruises by sin that all men bear, but the other blessed one, that there is no man so bruised as that he is broken. And Christ looks on all the tremendous bulk of a world’s sins with the confidence that He can move that mountain and cast it into the depths of the sea.
2. But then the words may be taken in a somewhat narrow sense, applying more directly to a class. “The broken and the contrite heart,” bruised and pulverised as it were by a sense of evil, may be typified for us by this bruised reed. And then there emerges the blessed hope that such a heart, wholesomely removed from its self-complacent fancy of soundness, shall certainly be healed and bound up by His tender hand. Wheresoever there is a touch of penitence there is present a restoring Christ.
3. The words may be looked at from yet another point of view, as representing the merciful dealing of the Master with the spirits which are beaten and bruised.
II. AS THE FOSTERER OF INCIPIENT AND IMPERFECT GOOD. “The dimly burning wick He shall not quench.” Who are represented by this “smoking flax”?
1. I am not contradicting what I have been saying, if I claim for this second metaphor as wide a universality as the former. There is no man out of hell but has in him something that wants but to be brought to sovereign power in his life in order to make him a light in the world. You have got consciences at the least; you have convictions, which if you followed them out would make Christians of you straight away. You have got aspirations after good, desires, some of you, after purity and nobleness of living, which only need to be raised to the height and the dominance in your lives which they ought to possess, in order to revolutionise your whole course. There is a spark in every man which, fanned and cared for, will change him from darkness into light. Fanned and cared for it can only be by a Divine power coming down upon it from without.
2. Then, in a narrower way, the words may be applied to a class. There are some of us who have a little spark, as we believe, of a Divine life, the faint beginnings of a Christian character. They say that where there is smoke there is fire. There is a deal more smoke than fire in the most of Christian people in this generation. And if it were not for such thoughts as this about that dear Christ that will not lay a hasty hand upon some little tremulous spark, and by one rash movement extinguish it for ever, there would be but little hope for a great many of us. Look at His life on earth; think how He bore with those blundering, foolish, selfish disciples of His. Remember how, when a man came to Him with a very imperfect goodness, the Evangelist tells us that Jesus, beholding him, loved him. And take out of these blessed stories this great hope, that howsoever small men “despise the day of small things,” the Greatest does not. How do you make “smoking flax” burn? You give it oil, you give it air, and you take away the charred portions. And Christ will give you, in your feebleness, the oil of His Spirit, that you may burn brightly as one of the candlesticks in His temple; and He will let air in, and take away the charred portions by the wise discipline of sorrow and trial sometimes in order that the smoking flax may become the shining light. The reason why so many Christian men’s Christian light is so fulinginous and dim is just that they keep away from Jesus Christ.
III. AS EXEMPT FROM HUMAN EVIL AND WEAKNESS, as the foundation of His restoring and fostering work. “He shall not burn dimly nor be broken till He hath set judgment in the earth.” There are no bruises in this reed. That is to say, Christ’s manhood is free from all scars and wounds of evil or of sin. There is no dimness in this light. That is to say, Christ’s character is perfect, His goodness needs no increase. There is no trace of effort in His holiness, no growth manifest in His God likeness, from the beginning to the end. There is no outward violence that can be brought to bear upon Him that shall stay Him in His purpose. There is no inward failure of strength that may lead us to fear that His work shall not be completed. And because of all these things, because of His perfect exemption from human infirmity, because in Him was no sin, He is manifested to take away our sins. (A. Maclaren, D. D)
The smoking flex shall He not quench
The smoking flax
I. A STATE OF GRACE IS SUPPOSED. The figure is that of a lamp. Such are believers (Matthew 5:15-16).
II. THE FEEBLENESS OF THAT STATE. “Smoking flax.” There is some light, yet but little, and that little seems all but ready to be extinguished. There is something of the light of God’s Word in the soul, a real spark of grace, but it seems little more than this. Some warmth of affection, but it acts feebly. Many causes conspire to produce this. Some have but the first spark. All things seem ready to put it out. Strong corruptions, fleshly passions, vanities of the world, evil companions, entire inexperience are all extinguishers. Others have little light in the school of self-knowledge--the danger of temptation, the evil of the heart, the worth of Jesus, the character of God. There is much of the smoke of vain confidence, fearlessness of consequences, tampering with things dangerous, and this very smoke obscures the light still more. Some are in great prosperity--the wick grows tall and all is dim. In some, the light is obscured by neglects with a certain degree of wilfulness in them. In some, by want of deep humbling and thorough repentance on account of sin. In some, by ceaseless engagement, that scarcely allows any real dealing with God. In some, the constant, undeviating habit of looking at themselves rather than Christ, living more by sense than faith. In short, we may dim the light by whatever grieves the Spirit.
III. THE CONDUCT OF OUR LORD WITH RESPECT TO IT. He shall not quench it. He will greatly exceed this. He will tend this smoking flax. The flax is His own, the light His own, the oil His own, all His heart is shown in all His actings here. He will dress it. True, He may cut down the wick--humble, lower, abase. He will increase the light. “He giveth more grace.” He will perfect it. Conclusion--
1. Perhaps there are some whose hopes of worldly happiness are like a dying taper, and, alas! they have little, if any other, hope. Such a beam was in the heart of poor Manasseh. Is it but the faintest, the feeblest, yet does it take thee poor and needy to the Saviour? Will He cast out? Never!
2. If the blessed Saviour does not despise, neither should we. (J. H.Evans, M. A.)
I. WHAT STATE THIS METAPHOR REPRESENTS.
1. A smoking flax represents a state in which there is a little good. The margin is “dimly burning flax.” It is burning; but it is burning very dimly. There is a spark of good within the heart.
2. You are like smoking flax, because your good is too little to be of much use to anybody. What could we do with a smoking flax if we had it here to-night, and the gas was all out?
3. Smoking flax, then, has a little fire, but it is so little that it is of small service, and, what is worse, it is so little that it is rather unpleasant.
4. Though the good of it is so little that it is of very little use to other people, and sometimes is very obnoxious, yet there is enough good in you to be dangerous in Satan’s esteem. He does not like to observe that there is yet a little fire in you, for he fears that it may become a flame.
II. WHEN ARE SOULS IN THAT STATE?
1. Some are in that state when they are newly saved--when the flax has just been lighted.
2. Sometimes a candle smokes, not because it is newly lit, but because it is almost extinguished. I speak to some Christians who have been alight with the fire of grace for many years, and yet they feel as if they were near the dark hour of extinction. But you shall not go out. The Lord will keep you alight with grace.
3. Sometimes the wick smokes when worldliness has damped it.
4. At times a wick burns low because a very strong wind has blown upon it. Many men and women are the subjects of very fierce temptations.
III. WHAT DOES JESUS DO WITH THOSE WHO ARE IN THIS STATE? He will not quench the smoking flax. What a world of mercy lies in that word!
1. He will not quench you by pronouncing legal judgment upon you.
2. He will not quench you by setting up a high experimental standard.
3. He will not judge you by a lofty standard of knowledge. The Lord has some of His children whose heads are in a very queer state; and if He first puts their hearts right He afterwards puts their heads right.
4. The Lord will not quench you by setting up a standard by which to measure your graces. It is not, “So much faith, and you are saved. So little faith, and you are lost.” If thou hast faith as a grain of mustard-seed it will save thee. Come along, you little ones,-you trembling ones! Jesus will not quench you. He will blow upon you with the soft breath of His love till the little spark will rise into a flame. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He shall not fail nor be discouraged
The hopefulness of Jesus Christ
Our God is the God of hope; and the Bible is the book of hope.
If we are to be true servants of God and disciples of Jesus Christ we must be partakers of this glowing hopefulness. To be discouraged is to fail. To hope is to be strong. The prayer of St. Paul for the Christians in Rome we need often offer for ourselves (Romans 15:13). This strong hope is essential to the successful worker. The good soldier of Jesus has for his helmet the hope of salvation. The Spirit of God comes to impart this gift. Hope grows strong as it feeds upon the promises. Of every one of us this word should be true--“He shall not fail nor be discouraged.” The hope of the world is in Jesus Christ. It is well to begin a little farther back, at Isaiah 41:28. Man cannot find within himself theremedy for the ills of humanity. But when all is black and hopeless, there is another “Behold.” The rosy morning fills the sky. “Behold My servant whom I uphold,” etc. The hope of God is in Him whom He hath appointed the Saviour of the world. And our hope is in beholding Him. Here is the unfailing spring of our hope. “He shall not fail, nor be discouraged.” Let us look at this hope of our Saviour. It is broad based, and its foundation is deep. The tower of His confidence stands four-square to all the winds of heaven and all the blasts of hell.
I. IT IS THE HOPE OF ONE WHO KNOWS THE NEEDS OF HUMANITY. There is a shallow hope that thinks it can heal men’s wounds by hiding them; or that they can banish ill by giving it some scientific name which quite satisfies everybody. But let the mind go on to think of the sin about us--the thousand shapes of ill that throng and crowd each life; the hidden sins; the sins of our great cities. He knows it all as none else can ever know it--He who was the naked conscience of the world, and upon whom was laid the iniquity of us all. Yet of Him it is written: “He shall not fail nor be discouraged.”
II. THIS IS THE HOPE OF ONE WHO HAS A MOST LOFTY IDEAL. There is a shallow hope that is easily able to fulfil itself by bringing down the ideal of life until it fits the case. If you would have men what they should be, it is easily done--bring down what they should be to the level of what they are. Love may afford to be blind, but the strength of hope is in its eyes. A hope that cannot see what is, and can only see what is not, is a false hope. Hope, true hope, must take the measure of what is, and the full measure of what should be. This is the hope of Jesus Christ.
III. THIS IS THE HOPE OF ONE WHO COMES INTO CONTACT WITH THE WORST SIDE OF THE WORST PEOPLE. A policeman said to me one day, “It is a very easy thing for you to have faith in folks, sir: but it is very hard for me.” “Why so, my friend?” I asked. “Well,” said he, “you see the best of folks and you see them at their best: you see them because they are good. But I see folks because they are bad. And when you see nothing but badness it is hard to have any faith in any goodness anywhere.” I sympathised deeply with that man and with thousands who are in like evil case. But this triumphant hope of Jesus Christ is the hope of One whose life and work is in relation to sin. He knows the force of adverse circumstances.
IV. THE HOPE OF JESUS CHRIST ARISES FROM HIS ESTIMATE OF MAN’S WORTH. Jesus Christ alone has made man worth more than gain or pleasure: and Jesus Christ alone can keep man so.
V. THE HOPE OF JESUS CHRIST IS SEEN IN HIS METHOD (Isaiah 41:2-3). Gentleness is the token of assured power. Bluster is commonly the mask of weakness and fear. Coercion, compulsion, are the methods of a baffled or a bewildered authority. Patient hopefulness, gentleness, brotherliness--these are the Divine methods of uplifting men.
VI. THE HOPEFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST IS ROOTED IN RIGHTEOUSNESS. “He shall set judgment in the earth, and the isles shall wait for His law.” There are those who have sought to remedy our social ills by pity without judgment and without law. Their gifts have pampered the transgressor and pauperised the poor. But the remedy of Jesus Christ is in “a new heart and a right spirit.” (M. G. Pearae.)
Is Christianity a failure?
We often hear it said that Christianity is a failure. As if foreseeing this state of mind, two thousand five hundred years ago the prophet sang these sweet notes, saying: “He shall not fail nor be discouraged.” The purpose of Christ is the conquest of this world, and in carrying out this great work He is not to fail or be discouraged until the system of truth which He teaches is everywhere understood; until the principles of all government shall be brought into harmony with His Word, and men everywhere shall understand and practise the great lessons of truth and holiness. The unversality of His kingdom is expressed m the phrase, “Till He hath set judgment in the earth”--in all the then known habitable globe; and, looking beyond to the unknown, or to the men but partly known, the expression is added, “And the isles shall wait for His law”--in other words, the progress of Christ’s kingdom should be continually onward until its principles should prevail over all the known kingdoms of the earth, and the undiscovered portions of it also should receive His law. The work which He proposes to do is a mighty work; and the phrase represents Him as waiting.
I. I am not surprised, however, that MEN ARE READY TO SAY THAT THIS PURPOSE MUST BE A FAILURE; for--
1. The aim is so great, the project so vast, that it seems to man impossible. There have been great kingdoms set up on this earth of ours. But there was never a kingdom which reached to its utmost bounds.
2. Men think Christianity must be a failure because the agencies seem inadequate.
3. Because it has not accomplished its work.
4. They tell us that Christianity is likely to be a failure because, they say, there is a conflict between science and religion.
II. NOW LET US LOOK AT THIS SUBJECT. It is one of the favourite expressions of these men that in the order of this world there shall be the “survival of the fittest”--that the weaker shall pass away, and the stronger shall remain. How, if we contrast Christianity with other forms of religion, where shall we find its failure? We may say to-day, simply as a fact, that it still remains, and, surpassing any other system in its strength and beauty, we shall see its survival over all.
1. Compare it with Paganism in its palmiest hours--the days of the philosophy of Greece and the power of Rome, when its temples shone with splendour, when its poets sang with grace, when sculpture and architecture gathered around it their forms of beauty; when it had its legends of mythology; when it had its men of strength and power to be as pillars for it. Scepticism then existed. But all the scepticism of Greece or Rome never closed one temple, never dethroned one of their imaginary deities. In the midst of scepticism popular faith went right on, and the temples had their devotees and worshippers. Judaism taught the knowledge of the one true God, yet it made no advances against idolatry. On the other hand, idolatry brought its terrible fruits into the midst of Judaism, and the people who had heard the voice of the living God turned and served idols. But what sceptical philosophy could not do, and what Judaism could not do, Christianity has accomplished. Men without earthly power, men persecuted, men in prison, men reproached, went telling the story of a living and dying and ascended Christ, and as they told this story, the temples became deserted and the idols fell, until to-day there is not a god worshipped on earth that was worshipped in the time of the philosophy and glory of Greece and Rome. Christianity is making inroads everywhere. Paganism has gone, Brahmanism is going, and Confucianism is going down. Christianity is just raising herself.
2. But you tell me there is infidelity! And what is infidelity? A negation--a something not a belief. It is a negation of system; it has no system. Where are its temples? Where are its schools? Where are its hospitals? Where were they ever? What did it ever try to do for man anywhere, or in any land, as an organised system? There have been men, strong men, learned men, wise men, who have been infidel; but they have never embodied their creed in an organisation; they have never worked together powerfully for the elevation of the race. I was in Berlin with the Evangelical Alliance. I went to Potsdam to the old palace of Frederick. There we were shown into a room where some of us held our consultations. This was the room where Voltaire studied and wrote part of his works, where he and Frederick deemed they were about to overthrow Christianity. And yet in that very hall we came to consult about the best means of spreading Christianity over the world. Voltaire said he lived in the “twilight of Christianity,” and so he did. But it was not, as he fancied, a twilight deepening into darkness, it was a twilight opening up into the brighter day; and the Sun of Righteousness shines now in spiritual beauty over our entire world.
3. But they tell us sometimes that the discoveries which are being made are unsettling the foundations of Christianity.
4. They tell us that Christianity has not done its work in the time it has run. I admit it. But what about it? These men want time for making this earth. They say it took millions of years. Won’t you give me as much time to cure this world and turn sinners into saints as you want to turn a monkey into a man? They demand ages for the one, but are not willing to give us time for the other. The times are full of promise. Christianity is growing stronger. (Bp. M. Simpson, D. D.)
The accomplishment of Christ’s purpose
I. THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST.
II. THE DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY.
III. THE ASSURED VICTORY OF CHRIST. (J. Fleming, B. D.)
A great work and an invincible patience
I. THE GODLIKE WORK WHICH THIS GREAT SERVANT OF JEHOVAH UNDERTAKES.
II. THE GODLIKE FAITH AND PATIENCE WITH WHICH HE PROSECUTES IT TO ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Christ’s vast redemptive undertaking
Here is a servant of God, before whose eye a future golden age is not a shadowy hope or vision, but a clearly defined reality; and who Himself undertakes to bring it to pass. He will set judgment in the earth. Is He beside Himself? Is He befooled by a benevolent imagination? Is He a visionary dreamer, without knowledge of Himself or of mankind? If ever there was a sound mind, a perfect mind, in a human body, it was that of Jesus Christ--His very enemies being judges. And yet, with full purpose of soul, and with clear consciousness of the difficulty of the task, He undertakes to set judgment in the earth. How vast the undertaking is--in its breadth covering all the nations of men, in its depth penetrating to the thoughts and innermost passions of the human soul, in its height rising to the claims of the Eternal God--may be learned from the prophet who ascribes it to Him. Isaiah had formed no superficial estimate of the wrongness of the world. Men were wrong utterly in their relations to one another; wrong utterly in their relation to God; and wrong utterly in themselves. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
The progress of Christianity slow but sure
This is our answer to those who examine us concerning this matter.
1. The slowness of the progress of Christianity, even if exaggerated in the statement of it, does not stagger our faith; for we see in it God’s own manner of working.
2. The progress, or rather, no progress, of the world’s own thinking in the highest regions of thought, during the period of the existence of Christianity, proves the world to be as dependent on the light of Christianity as it was eighteen hundred years ago.
3. While Christianity is as needful as ever, happily we have evidence that it is as mighty for good as ever. Nothing has yet occurred to shake our faith in Christ; and while our faith in Him remains unshaken, we shall confide in the prophetic oracle which assures us that He shall set judgment in the earth. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Christ’s work no failure
Previous verses at the close of chap. 41. indicate the utter failure of the hope of man from man. How often it is so in human history; man fails to find leadership and help in man! In expounding the text, I shall need to open up the whole passage. Follow me, therefore, and obey the first word of the chapter, which is, “Behold.”
1. We are commanded at all times to behold the Son of God. But specially in cloudy and dark days ought we to behold Him. When after having looked, and looked long, you see no man and no counsellor, then this precept has an emphatic force about it,” Behold My Servant, whom I uphold,” and, when all other saviours fail, look to the Saviour whom God has set up.
2. Our great comfort is that the Lord Jesus Christ is always to be beheld. Behold Him, and your fears and sorrows will fly away. The text leads us to consider what is the work which Jesus Christ has undertaken, in which He will not fail nor be discouraged. He has come to “set judgment in the earth,” and “the isles shall wait for His law.” The earth is to be delivered from misrule and sin, and men are to be submissive to His instruction and direction. Whatever He has undertaken, He will perform; whatever commission He has received, He will fulfil. “He shall not fail nor be discouraged” till all His work is done. I believe in the final perseverance of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I. LET THIS TRUTH BE CONSIDERED AND BELIEVED.
1. It is certainly a very marvellous enterprise which our Lord Jesus Christ has under taken. The salvation of a single soul involves a miracle. The salvation of myriads upon myriads of the human race: What shall I call it but a mountain of marvels? The problem staggers us. The systems of evil are colossal. The hold of evil on the race is terrible. Man is inveterately a sinner. By the use of an accursed logic he puts darkness for light and light for darkness, and thus stultifies his conscience, and hardens his heart. If, perchance, you convince his judgment, you have not won his affection, you have not carried his will, you have not subdued his mind. Nothing but Omnipotence itself can save a single soul. What must be that mighty power which shall cause nations to run unto the Lord!
2. The task is rendered the more severe because our Lord Jesus at this present works largely by a Church, which is a poor and faulty instrument for the accomplishment of His purpose. Let this battalion and the other waver as it may, He who holds the banner in the very centre of the fight will never be moved: He will hold the field against all comers.
3. Notice who He is that hath undertaken all this. “Behold My Servant, whom I uphold, mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth.” He who is thus spoken of will not fail nor be discouraged for--
(1) He is God’s own special Servant.
(2) Then God says of Him, “My servant, whom I uphold.” If God upholds Him, how can He fail? The text may be read, “Behold My Servant upon whom I lean,” and the picture is of a great Oriental monarch Who comes forth leaning upon a favourite lord, whom honours by placing him in that position, indicating thereby that he trusts his affairs with him, and regards him as his right-hand man, a very pillar of the State. We say it with reverence, God the Father leans on Jesus the Christ. He rests His honour and glory with the person of the incarnate God.
(3) Then the Scripture adds this very significant word, “Mine elect in whom My soul delighteth.” The chosen of God, the most choice one that God knows, shall He prove a failure? God said of the world, that it was very good; but we read not that His soul delighted in it: but, see, the very soul of the God-head is moved and filled with delight because of the Saviour, commissioned to redeem.
(4) Furthermore, our Lord is the abiding-place of the Holy Spirit. “I have put My Spirit upon Him.” He who is owned, honoured, trusted, sustained, loved, and anointed of God cannot but be successful.
(5) The success of Jesus is guaranteed by the decree of God. It is written, “He shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.” Oh, those blessed “shalls” and “wills”!
4. It may be that at times we fear that the Gospel is not prospering nor fulfilling the purpose for which God hath sent it. Possibly this may arise out of our Lord s way of working, which is so different from what our minds would choose. “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.” You are in an awful hurry, are you not? But He is never in haste. You would make a great stir and noise, but Jesus will not thus spread the Gospel. You would go out and fight all the enemies of truth, and set clamour against clamour, cry against cry; but “He shall not strive.” You would shout, and rage, and rave; but He shall not cry. You would advertise to the ends of the earth; but He shall not cause His voice to be heard in the street. When Mohammed commenced his enterprise he announced that Paradise was to be found beneath the shadow of swords, and numbers of brave men rushed to the battle; they swept everything before them, and stained continents with blood: they carried the name of Allah and Mohammed over Asia and Northern Africa, and seemed intent on conquering Europe: and yet the work done will not endure. The prophet and his caliphs did indeed strive, and cry, and cause their voices to be heard in the street: but Christ’s system is the very reverse of that. Behold His battle-axe and weapons of war! Truth Divinely strong, with no human force at the back of it but that of holiness and love; a Gospel full of gentleness and mercy to men, proclaimed not by the silver trumpets of kings, but by the plain voices of lowly men. The Kingdom comes by the Holy Spirit dropping like dew on human hearts, and fertilising them with a Divine life.
5. Note well the spirit in which He works. “A bruised reed,” etc. You cannot work in hot haste in this spirit. Gentleness makes good and sure speed, but it cannot endure rashness and heat. We know reformers who, if they had the power, would be like bulls in a china-shop; they would do a great deal in a very short time. But the world’s best Friend is not given to quench and bruise.
II. LET THIS TRUTH BE BELIEVED AND ENJOYED.
1. Enjoy it by recollecting that Jesus has finished the work for His people.
2. He will finish the work in His believing people.
3. He will finish His work by His people. If you have the Revised Version, the margin will give you some rather singular information. The text might be read thus: “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench: yet He shall not burn dimly nor be bruised.” Though He deals with bruised reeds and smoking flaxes, yet He Himself is not crushed, nor does His light become a mere glimmer.
4. The text has in it great comfort to those of you who are as yet outside of the Church of God. Read the sixth and seventh verses--“He shall not fail nor be discouraged,” till He has done, what?--the Divine will, and this is a part of it: “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.” Turn your sightless eyeballs this way. “Ah!” saith one, “but I am worse than that, I am shut up in prison.” Read the seventh verse again:--“To bring out the prisoners from the prison.” “Oh, but,” saith one, “in my case it is blindness and slavery united.” Listen, then! He has come to “bring them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The constancy and tenderness of Christ
I. THE OBSTACLES WHICH JESUS CHRIST MEETS IN HIS WORK OF KINDNESS TO MAN.
1. We may advert to these obstacles as they are general, as they attach to man under all circumstances.
2. But let us advert to the obstacles which any single human being presents to Christ when He comes forth in the power of His grace to seek and to save! Let any man look into his own heart, let him advert
(1) To the nature and bent of his inclinations.
(2) To his indisposedness to receive instruction.
(3) To the use which he makes of that instruction when received; and he will be at no loss to discover the difficulties which lie in the path of his Deliverer.
II. THE PATIENCE WITH WHICH HE ENCOUNTERS THOSE OBSTACLES.
III. THE VICTORY OVER THEM WITH WHICH HIS EFFORTS WILL ULTIMATELY BE CROWNED. (G. T. Noel, M. A.)
The setting of judgment in the earth
I. THE GREAT WORK WITH WHICH CHRIST, AS THE FATHER’S SERVANT, IS HERE DECLARED TO BE ENTRUSTED. It is the work of setting judgment in the earth, so that the isles shall wait for His law. As the Father’s Servant in the economy of redemption, Christ has been set King upon the holy hill of Zion, and constituted Head over all things for the Church which is His body.
1. What is it to set judgment in the earth? By “judgment” here and in the preceding verses, we are evidently to understand true religion--the faith of the Gospel--Christianity in its widest acceptation, as embodying the rule of Christ’s righteous administration--the grand regulating principles of all His administrative acts. And so to set judgment in the earth means to establish the Christian religion throughout the world. The term “law” in the latter clause of the text, while it has much the same meaning as judgment, may be viewed as denoting, in particular, God’s written Word, considered specially as a rule of life and duty. For this the “isles”--a poetical expression for the distant Gentile nations--“shall wait.” That is, either they shall wait with a vague unconscious longing until it come to them, they remaining in darkness and spiritual death till its blessed life-giving light dawn upon them; or, the meaning more probably is, when judgment is being set in the earth, the nations shall embrace it as the means of their enlightenment and regeneration, and shall wait on Christ as their King, to receive and submit to His law as the supreme rule of all their conduct. So in Matthew we find this clause paraphrased thus--“In His name shall the Gentiles trust.”
2. That there is most urgent need for this work of setting judgment in the earth, and bringing the isles to wait for Christ’s law being done, is what none will question who believe that God made man upright, but that he hath sought out many inventions. Men individually in their natural condition, and the nations of the earth in their national capacity, are in a state of open determined revolt against the Most High. But has nothing been done in the way of fulfilling this hope-inspiring prediction? Since these words were uttered, not a little has been effected in this direction. Most evident it is, however, that aa yet it is but the day of small things in this work.
3. And truly a stupendous task this is--a task which none but He on whose shoulder the government has been laid, and to whom it has been entrusted, could ever hope to effect--the task of setting judgment “in the earth”; not in one land or over one continent only, but in every land and among every people under heaven, whatever their condition and character.
4. Not less beneficent in its character is this work than stupendous in its nature. For it involves the present highest well-being of men as individuals, as families, as Churches, and as nations, as well as the future eternal welfare of untold myriads of precious souls. This mighty, beneficent, God-glorifying work of setting judgment in the earth includes--
(1) The world-wide diffusion of the Word of God and proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, and the needed opening up of the way for these.
(2) The believing acceptance of the saving truths of the Gospel by those who hear it.
(3) As the result of the universal diffusion of the Gospel, accompanied by the working of God’s Spirit upon men’s minds and hearts, there must come a world-wide profession of faith in Christ and subjection to His authority, along with practical godliness in the daily life.
(4) “And the isles shall wait for His law.” These words clearly teach us that the setting of judgment in the earth includes, or will issue in, the universal subjection of the nations to the law of Christ as the rule of their conduct. The Statute-books of the nations will be purged, and nothing but laws fully sanctioned by, and consistent with, the law of Christ shall find a place there. Regulated by Christ’s law in all their national transactions, the nations in which judgment is set, will, out of regard to the honour of their Divine Governor, be solicitous to choose and appoint as rulers only those who possess the character and qualifications which God’s Word prescribes.
II. THE MANNER AND SPIRIT IN WHICH THIS STUPENDOUS WORK IS TO BE CARRIED ON AND THE CERTAINTY OF ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. “He shall not fail nor be discouraged till He have set judgment in the earth.”
1. How is all this to be brought about? Not miraculously, but through human instrumentality, accompanied by the prospering blessing of God’s Spirit. As to the spirit in which this work was to be carried on by Him to whom it was entrusted, we learn something both from the text and the preceding context. But if this was the Messiah’s spirit, as it is His spirit still, it was not because He lacked strength or courage to assert Himself against His enemies. As He does not conquer by violence, but by gentleness, so He shall not be arrested and conquered by violent opposition. No foe that comes against Him, and no weapon formed against His cause and kingdom, shall ever prosper.
2. Notice the blessed certainty of the accomplishment of this great work, which the emphatic form of expression here employed holds out to us. “He shall not fail nor be discouraged.” And why shall He not fail? God has promised it and confirmed His promise with an oath, and what God has promised and sworn can never fail of accomplishment. All power has been given to Christ as Mediator for this very purpose. And He makes this cheering fact the foundation on which He rests the great commission to His Church. “All power is given unto Me--go ye therefore and disciple all nations.” For the accomplishment of this blessed work on earth the whole Church has been looking and longing, praying and labouring, are after age, ever since she was called into existence; and these longing anticipations--these fervent prayers--these earnest labours, the result of supernatural influence, shall not be in vain. Conclustion--
(1) This subject shows us what is the grand duty of the Christian Church as a whole, and in all her sections and members; it is just, as workers together with Christ, to labour zealously, unweariedly, in the noble enterprise of setting judgment in the earth.
(2) In carrying on her great mission in the world, the Church in all her parts and members should seek to be brought into fuller sympathy with her living Head and to drink more and more deeply into His spirit.
(3) Greater encouragement to take part in the on-carrying of this great work, and to persevere unweariedly and hopefully in it, in the face of all discouragement and opposition, we could not have, than what is here given us.
(4) Is it so that Christ shall not fail nor be discouraged? And are we enlisted under His banner and leadership? Then surely we ought not faint-heartedly to fail or be discouraged in holding fast the truth as it is in Him, and in exhibiting a testimony in its behalf.
(5) Nor should we fail or be discouraged in holding forth the Word of life to our benighted and perishing fellow-men, but should persevere and abound yet more and more, in our missionary efforts at home and abroad.
(6) He who as Lord of all is engaged in this mighty work of setting judgment in the earth, is also the Advocate with the Father, pleading His people s cause, and securing that their prayers shall be heard. (Original Secession Magazine.)
The Person and mission of our Lord
1. Christianity possesses the qualities which constitute it of right the universal religion.
2. Its author has undertaken to make it the universal religion in fact.
3. He will be ultimately completely successful, as prophecy clearly declares.
I. CHRISTIANITY HAS THE ELEMENTS OF TRUTH AND ADAPTATION IN SUCH PERFECTION AS TO BE SUFFICIENT FOR ALL RACES AND ALL TIMES. In making this claim it is not necessary to deny whatever of good may exist in other religions. If we contemplate the subject philosophically, judging of it by the wants of human nature, we reach the inevitable conclusion that it is fitted to be the universal religion. But we are here led to inquire: What is religion in its essential nature apart from all the forms in which it may incarnate itself? The universal religion, call it by what name you will, must give such a revelation of the Author and Ruler of all things, and of man’s relations to Him here and hereafter, as to render it certain that man can, despite sin and death, attain to everlasting blessedness.
1. Its sufficiency must be settled by practical tests. The life after death must be made so certain as to be the chief and abiding source of man’s present happiness, and motive in his greatest efforts and activities. This implies forgiveness of sin and victory over death, and also consciousness of obedience to God. This soul rest from bondage to the fear of death the universal religion must provide.
2. It must provide for responsible man at every stage of his development--in its movements from deepest ignorance to the highest possible attainments of which he is capable. It must go to the sheerest idolater, to the lowest peasant, to him who is highest in authority; must meet the wants of the most enlightened sage. It must be the chief stimulus of civilisation. Science cannot overthrow it, civilisation cannot dispense with it.
3. It must meet the wants of every race.
4. This universal religion must have the power to renew itself from time to time, to prevent its becoming an empty form- a dead letter. However we may account for it, there is a strange power in Christianity to renew itself m great reformations and revivals- to renew itself in individuals and in the race.
II. THE AUTHOR OF CHRISTIANITY HAS REVEALED IT AS HIS PURPOSE TO PUSH ITS CONQUESTS UNTIL IT SUPERSEDES ALL OTHER RELIGIONS. The living power by which this religion renews itself as perpetually as nature renews the face of the earth in every returning spring, the Messiah promised to pour out upon His disciples till all nations are instructed in His principles, and yield a hearty obedience to Him. The true conception of Christianity , therefore, is not that of a sage who proclaims a system, and, dying, leaves it to work its own way in a hostile world; but rather of One who has given His life to seal its truth, and, rising from the dead, comes back to His disciples to fill them with supernatural energy, that under His personal supervision they may go forward to its complete establishment. Thus the best test of the true Church is found in her members working along the line of this universal conquest. The Christian conquest is distinguished from any other which may bear a possible semblance to it, by the peculiar and subordinate sphere which all physical power in governmental relations must sustain to it.
III. In ancient times, when the warrior returned from battle with his trophies, he adorned with them the heathen temples. Under this imagery THE HOLY PROPHETS FORETELL THE GOOD TIME COMING WHEN ALL NATIONS WILL ADORN THE TEMPLE OF CHRIST with all the boundless resources of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures. (C. Graham.)
Christ’s final triumph
1. It seems not unreasonable to think that, since the plan of redemption has been from the beginning of the world the great object of the Divine dispensations, and since means so very striking and unusual have been employed in brining it forward, it will surely produce effects, even in this world, proportionable to the magnitude of the preparation.
2. But it will be said, if Christianity for so many ages has made little progress in the world, and if, even among its professing followers, its influence is far from being productive of universal holiness, what reason can we have for supposing that it will ever be otherwise?
3. Observe that the corruptions which have obscured the lustre of the Gospel, originally owing to the mixture of human speculations, were long fostered by a system of priestcraft, which, being once detected, is the less likely again to arise. Under that system men gradually acquired the power of shutting out from their brethren the pure sources of knowledge, and thus innumerable errors and prejudices were propagated, the effects of which have not wholly disappeared even in our own days. But the circumstances of the world are now so much improved, that it does not seem possible any such power will be ever again acquired, or at least retained for any considerable length of time. And further, there is in the mind of man so strong a thirst for knowledge, that some, according to their talents and opportunities, are always arising to search after it; and we may rest assured that this thirst for knowledge, aided by Christian zeal, will extend to the interesting truths of revelation, as well as to the various branches of human science.
4. But let it be granted that the Gospel, through the progress of inquiry, shall be restored even to its simplest form, and its excellence and truth clearly displayed; still, what reason have we to think that men’s lives will be universally influenced by it, since hitherto that has been so far from being the case, that, on the contrary, infidelity seems to have kept pace with the increase of knowledge? With respect to increasing infidelity, it is nothing more than might naturally be expected when, after a long period of ignorance, prejudice, and even imposture, men first begin to inquire and discuss. The evil is only temporary, and will cease with the causes which lead to it. Men will at length return from the extremes into which they run.
5. With respect to the influence which pure Christianity may be expected to have on its votaries, we observe--
(1) That a difference of circumstances may be expected to produce a difference of effects.
(2) The more the native beauty of the Gospel appears, men will be the more likely to embrace it with sincerity, and for its own sake.
(3) When Christianity is wholly disencumbered of the tenets and observances which obstruct its reforming power; when it is universally admitted to be a doctrine according to godliness; when the illusions by which men foster their negligence, and the pleas by which they lull asleep their consciences, are all given up; when the truth is clearly and fully understood, that without real, heartfelt holiness no man shall see God,--we may with safety conclude that then the moral and sanctifying spirit of the Gospel will acquire an influence far beyond anything we have yet seen.
6. It may perhaps be said that little hope can be entertained of so favourable a change on the hearts and lives of men, unless human nature be itself changed; since, in all past ages, mankind have been imperiously hurried away by the strength of their passions. But it is equally certain that these are not uncontrollable; since, though not wholly subdued, for that would be hurtful, they have been, at an earlier or later period of life, gradually brought under subjection by multitudes of good men in all ages. They are inflamed, besides, by example, and by the temptations which mankind throw in one another’s way; and surely it is conceivable that these are circumstances which may not only gradually cease to inflame, but may come at length, in the progress of improvement, rather to check the undue indulgence of our passions. Consider, moreover, the power of habits formed before the heart be yet hardened, or the feelings blunted; and is it not possible that to the instruction of the young a growing attention may be paid, and endeavours be more earnestly and universally employed to instil into them from their tenderest years the habits of piety and virtue? Were this supposition realised, it alone, independent of all other circumstances, would powerfully contribute to that universal diffusion of the influence of Christianity which we are taught to expect.
7. We may appeal to experience. We know what the Gospel can accomplish, from the example of many individuals. Should it be admitted that the effects now enumerated may very naturally arise at length within the limits of the Christian Church, it will follow, as a just conclusion, that the Gospel may then be expected to spread over all lands.
8. There is a further consideration, of very high importance. It is, that by means of prophecy, there is an evidence for the truth of the Gospel provided, which will accumulate as ages advance.
9. We may add that, the world being wholly under the administration of that Divine Being who watches over the interests of Christianity, the ordinary course of human events will doubtless concur with the progress of the Gospel, and both tend to the same point.
10. Practical observations.
(1) Next to heaven itself, there is not perhaps a more elevating subject of contemplation than the state of things which shall take place during the Messiah’s reign on earth.
(2) From what has been said, let us draw a confirmation of our faith. The present system of things will not be dissolved till the Gospel have wrought out its final triumph, and be preached for a witness to all nations.
(3) Since we know that righteousness and truth are finally to prevail, let it encourage us to promote that great object.
(4) The prophecies of Scripture are partly given, that they who believe may possess their souls in patience. (T. S. Hardie, D. D.)
The want of the world, and the way of supplying it
I. MORAL RECTITUDE IS THE GREAT WANT OF THE WORLD. We take the words “judgment” and “law” as expressing the same generic idea--rectitude; that is, a rightness in man in all the powers and operations of his soul, and in all his relations to God and the universe. This rectitude is his want of wants. The want of it involves the want of all other good.
1. Rectitude will put an end to all the painful feelings which afflict the individual soul. Conflict of passions--fear--jealousy--envy--ambition--remorse; these, and kindred feelings which torment the individual soul, will all disappear when rectitude is established.
2. Rectitude will put an end to all the social evils which afflict the state. Monopoly--injustice--oppression--cupidity--the source of poverty and feuds--would all go were rectitude established.
3. Rectitude would put an end to all religious evils which afflict the world. Rectitude is the panacea; it will heal all the evils. Well may the “isles wait” for it. Universal conscience is crying out for rectitude. The fact that they wait for it implies--
(1) That they have a deep belief in its existence.
(2) That they have a capacity to receive it.
(3) That they feel its necessity.
II. THERE IS A GLORIOUS BEING ENGAGED TO ESTABLISH RECTITUDE IN THE WORLD. “He shall not fail.” Who is He? The “Servant,” the “Elect” of Jehovah. Christ’s work is to establish rectitude. He died, and lives again, “to put away sin.”
1. His life gives the highest expression of rectitude.
2. His death gives the highest motives to rectitude.
3. His Spirit supplies the highest helps to rectitude.
III. THIS WORK OF ESTABLISHING RECTITUDE IS CARRIED ON WITH INVINCIBLE PERSEVERANCE. “He shall not fail,” etc. There are four things which cause men to fail and be discouraged in an enterprise--
1. The want, at the outset, of a full appreciation of all the difficulties that would arise in the working of it out to completion. But Christ saw the end from the beginning. All the arguments of infidelity, all the efforts of persecutors, all the opposition which prejudice, craft, and depravity would ever raise in any age, He foresaw, and was prepared to meet.
2. The want of a thorough sympathy with the undertaking. Men sometimes begin a work from certain motives--gain or fame, or it may be from benevolence-but with no hearty sympathy; and the consequence is that their little interest in it gradually decreases, until at last they give it up altogether; they “fail” and are “discouraged.” Will Christ never “fail or be discouraged “on this account? Never! His whole heart is in it. He has proved His interest in it by giving His life to promote it.
3. The want of a thorough acquiescence of the conscience in the undertaking. Men sometimes begin a work, and they find that it is not such that their conscience approves of. Though it may be lucrative--though it may lead them to fortune and fame--yet their conscience disapproves it; and by its constant rebukes they are forced to give it up. But Christ will never “fail nor be discouraged” on this account. It is a righteous enterprise; it is fulfilling the will of Heaven.
4. The want o f time to complete the undertaking. Men often begin a work to which they attach vast importance, and which meets the entire sympathies of their hearts and consciences, and fail in its accomplishment for the want of time. Death comes and breaks our purposes, and leaves our work undone. But Christ will never “fail nor be discouraged” on this account. He is alive to live for ever. Let us have faith in the work of establishing rectitude in the world. (Homilist.)
The isles shall wait for His law.
Isles or coasts. This word, denoting properly the isles and coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, is used in chaps,
40-46., representatively of distant regions of the earth, which are, moreover, in several of the passages personified by the prophet. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Islands have not been formed by chance; they are part of the wise and far-reaching design of Him who “weighed the mountains in scales,” and holds the ocean in “the hollow of His hands.” He made for a special purpose those little fragments of the earth, and shut them off from the great continents by the waters of the sea, and placed them exactly where they are. Many islands are the mountain-tops of old submerged lands; and what a wonderful change took place in the old climate and productions in consequence. Instead of snowy and stormy wastes, where only a meagre vegetation struggled for life, there sprang up a lovely paradise of calm blue skies and tropical luxuriance. Many islands have been formed by volcanic outbursts; and it is amazing what a vast number of islands have been created by the labours of soft, tiny creatures, hundreds of which a child’s tiny hands would squash, and surrounded with coral reefs which have stood out against the wildest waves of the ocean. Islands are of the most beautiful parts of the world; they have usually milder climates than continents, are less exposed to parching droughts; they have more frequent rain and dew; the sunshine, not so scorching, is tempered by sea breezes and silvery clouds; the vegetation also is of a softer kind; the leaves of the trees, instead of being hard and dry and much divided, as on continental areas, are broad and tender and delicate. Who has not heard of the summer isles where the breezes are fragrant with spices, and birds of the most gorgeous plumage flit through the groves of graceful palm trees? Lace-like waterfalls drip languidly from rocks. The dreams of the most ancient nations placed the heaven of bliss in fabled isles, where they exaggerated and idealised all the favourable conditions in the loveliest landscape with which they were familiar. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
The Divine separation of mankind
God has formed islands and separated them from the great lands, and richly furnished them for human habitation, in order that mankind by means of them might be broken up into smaller sections. On continents human beings have always been apt to corrupt each other. He separated mankind into distinct communities, placed them in different scenes and circumstances, and effectually kept them apart by means of tractless seas, and thus the passions of men were confined within the narrowest limits, and rendered comparatively innocuous. By this method of separation national character was also formed and educated; and the one type of human nature at the beginning developed itself into every possible modification by the force of different circumstances and experiences. If there were no individuality among nations mankind would make no progress, all human societies would lose the mental activity which distinguished them. For such serious and gracious purposes God separated mankind into different nations and races, and placed them amid varied scenes of nature and circumstances of life And into this Divine method of dealing with mankind the existence of islands fitted admirably as part of one wise and gracious scheme. God made use of islands as places in which infant races might receive the education and the discipline which should afterwards qualify them for enlarged intercourse with each other when the sea should cease to be an estranging barrier, and by improved methods of communication should be a marriage-ring uniting nations. It was on islands chiefly that those who greatly influenced their fellows were educated under God’s own eye, and in close communion with heaven. It was in islands chiefly that those great events began which ever and anon raised the human race from ignorance and vice to nobler aspirations and purer ideals. How much does the world owe to the isles of Greece, gilded with the eternal summer of human memory, where poetry and art and all that dignifies and blesses human life originated! How much does the world owe to the little islands of Great Britain and Ireland, which have colonised the largest portions of the globe, which have been the bulwark of political freedom and the channel of world-wide enterprise, and to whose hospitable shores the white wake of every ship is the fitting avenue of approach! (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Islands and the Gospel
But vast as has been the influence of islands in connection with the civilisation of the world, they have had still greater influence in connection with religion. Islands have been identified from the beginning with the progress of Christ’s kingdom; and there is not in all history a more romantic chapter than that which records the part which islands have played in diffusing the knowledge of Jesus Christ throughout the world. The men, outside the apostolic band, who were most influential in the spread of Christianity, were the natives of islands. Nazan, the ancient disciple, as he is called, who it is supposed took part in the first preaching of the Gospel throughout Galilee by the seventy disciples whom Christ sent out two by two, and whose lavish hospitality and great zeal in the service of the Church drew forth the love and admiration of all the brethren, was a native of the island of Cyprus. So also was Barnabas, to whom, after Paul, the early Church was more indebted than to any one else. It was to the birthplace of this remarkable man that the first missionary expedition of the Christian Church was sent. Several years before the mainland of Europe received the Gospel, Paul and Barnabas were consecrated by the Holy Spirit for the special purpose of evangelising the important island of Cyprus, which was the bridge of commercial intercourse between the Eastern and Western worlds. By the stepping-stones of this and other islands--of the Levant, of the Grecian Archipelago--Christianity proceeded on its westward march from the land where it was nurtured on the lap of Judaism to the conquest of the nations, in fulfilment of Christ’s own command to His disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” After the time of the apostles the early missionaries of Christianity to Europe sought refuge in the islands which lie off the coast of the Mediterranean, for there they could have the best security from the troubles of those rough ages. Near the shore of Cannes, in the south of France, there is a little island covered with ecclesiastic ruins called the island of St. HonorS, which is one of the most impressive spots in the world. It was by that island that the Christianity of Palestine and Egypt in the fifth century came to Western Europe independent of Rome. There St. Patrick was educated, who brought the Gospel to Ireland; from thence St. Columba brought it to Scotland, and we all know how Iona, the little island amid the clouds and mists of the wild Atlantic, formed the centre which drew to it, and from whence were dispersed, all the spiritual and intellectual forces of Christendom during its darkest ages. Besides Iona, Lindisfarne, or Holy Isle, off the coast of Northumberland, afforded retreat to St. Cuthbert and to his followers, from whence they preached the Gospel to the rude populations of the mainland. And Malta in the Middle Ages preserved the fife of religion burning brightly when it was all but extinguished in other places, and by the Knights Templars, who were stirred by a wonderful enthusiasm in the cause of Christ. It was to the East Indies that the first missions of the Roman Catholics were sent; and the Island of Ceylon was the point of vantage from whence South India was taken possession of for Christ. St. Francis Xavier, that most devoted of missionaries, carried the Christian faith to the island of Japan, and fevered and died on the island near Canton, from whence he attempted to attack the root of the mighty superstition of Buddhism in the jealously-guarded land of China, instead of merely lopping off branches. And, turning to other parts of the world, Captain Cook’s wonderful discoveries among the South Sea Islands created profound interest in the new types of humanity which they revealed, and led to the formation of the London Missionary Society. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Islands sunk in savagery, yet Christianised
It may be said that the inhabitants of remote islands, on account of their isolation from great centres of civilisation, have lost the highest capacities of the race, and have sunk to the lowest depths of savagery. Throughout the fair paradises of Polynesia, when first discovered, idolatry prevailed in its most grovelling form, degrading the nations, and tribal wars kept the people in a state of constant alarm; cannibalism cast a haunting shadow over many a lovely island, and threatened to exterminate the population. Who does not remember the brutal murder of Captain Cook on the scene of one of the grandest of his discoveries; and the martyrdom of Williams and Patterson amid circumstances of the utmost atrocity towards those to whom they had proved the truest friends? There is hardly a single island in the Pacific but has its bloody record of the slaughter of these devoted men who first came to them with the message of Divine peace. And yet nowhere else have the triumphs of the Cross been so remarkable as on the islands that witnessed these barbarous acts. The simplicity and pliability of disposition peculiar to insular races which have made them the easy slaves of cruel practices, have made them, on the other hand, more susceptible to the power of Divine grace. They were not hampered by the shackles of religious organisations which had grown up during ages, and which had extended their roots so far and deep that they could only be torn up at the risk of destroying the whole social fabric that rested upon them. They had no elaborate caste like India, no gigantic ritual like China, because of the almost insuperable barriers in the way. They were far less self-sufficient than those who inherited the ancient religious and social systems of the great continental areas; they were, like children, ready to be attracted by any novelty. And so in spite of their superstition and measureless depravity, like the publicans and sinners of our Lord’s time, they were ready to receive the kingdom of heaven, readier to receive the kingdom of heaven than the heathen of the continental lands when in God’s good providence, that kingdom of heaven came to them. The Sandwich Islands, where Williams was martyred, the Fiji Islands, notorious for their cannibalism, the islands of New Zealand, the abode of the most crafty and cruel savages, all were brought more or less under the influence of Christ. The history of the spread of Christianity in Japan and Madagascar, the courage and fortitude of the converts through years of relentless persecution, and the calmness with which they endured tortures from which death was a merciful relief, form one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of Christian missions. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Islands the cradles of new movements
Naturalists tell us that our earth from time to time has been exhausted by bearing countless generations of plants and animals; and has only recovered its fertilising materials under the baptism of the great waters, and become fit for bearing new life when the sea changed its bed. Continents are losing the elements which are necessary for building up the bone and brain of man by the streams and rivers that carry them away to the ocean; and islands, owing to the way in which they have been produced from the sea, are rich in such elements, and are therefore fitted to nourish and to maintain vigorous races. This is one reason why islands, more than continents, have been the cradles of new movements connected with the progress of man; and it may be, reasoning from this analogy, that if we in this old island impart to the young isles of the sea the knowledge of the law of Christ for which they are waiting, newer and more vigorous manifestations and developments of that law may be met in those islands than we have yet seen. Christianity may acquire a new impulse from the fresh force and enthusiasm of new races, and the things that have been latent in it may blossom and bear fruit in a new soil for the good of the world. It may be that the isles of the sea that now wait for the law of Christ, shall in turn communicate that law to the regions from which they originally derived it, and which, from their sloth and selfishness, have sunk into ignorance and darkness, just as the candlestick that was removed from places once bright with the light of the truth because of their carelessness, was set up in our heathen island long ago. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Thus saith God the Lord, He that created the heavens
The oneness of God in revelation and in nature
The first of the two verses is a description of God; the second is a declaration of His purposes.
What is the declaration which is introduced so impressively? It is often an idiom of prophetic speech, and especially of the style of Isaiah, when a declaration is to be made respecting the work of redemption, to give it the form of a direct address to the Messiah, and to declare to Him the thing which God was about to perform. Such is the idiom now before us. “I,” that is, “the God of nature” who had just been described,--“I, the Lord, have called Thee in righteousness”--that is, “I who created the heavens, have summoned Thee as the Redeemer of men, in execution of My righteous purpose.” “I will hold Thine hand, and will keep Thee”--that is, “I, the Former of the earth, will be faithful unto Thee.” “I will give Thee for a covenant of the people, and for a light of the Gentiles”--that is, “I, the Author of the souls of men, will give Thee as a pledge of My love, and the nations shall be redeemed.” The sentiment is that the God of nature is the God also of redemption. From the fact that the Author of nature and the God of revelation are one, we may infer--
I. THAT RELIGIOUS INVESTIGATION SHOULD BE CHARACTERISED BY THE SPIRIT OF DOCILE INQUIRY. If there be one thing which more than another vitiates the methods by which men form their religious opinions, it is the want of the humility of inquirers after truth; and yet, if there be one thing more firmly settled than another in the methods of science, it is that the docility of inquiry after truth is the only spirit becoming to scientific discovery. How often are we compelled to note the distinction, that in religion men feel at liberty to create their opinions; while in natural science, and in all that domain of truth which lies outside of the realm of conscience, they feel bound to seek for their opinions. In the one case we assume that we know, in the other we consent to be taught.
II. THE PRESUMPTION THAT IN A REVEALED THEOLOGY WILL BE FOUND A DEFINITE AND POSITIVE SYSTEM OF TRUTH. Side by side with Christian dogmatism there grows up a Christianised scepticism, within the range of scriptural thought. We must presume, especially, that when we open this revelation of God in language, we shall come upon certain verities which shall be patent, on the face of the record, to unperverted inquiry. We do not so much find them here, as that they find us. They are verities which unbiassed readers in all ages will read here, and will believe; verities which infidelity will always read here; and verities which it is as unphilo-sophical for a believer in the inspiration of the Bible to deny, as it is for any sane mind to refuse credence to the elementary facts of geology, or of anatomy. Moreover, we must presume that these Scriptures contain a theology, not only of robust material, and of graphic outline, but of such firmness of construction that it can be positively preached. It must be free from self-contradictions, as other sciences are, so that an athletic faith can use it. And we must look for a theology which, when it is thus preached, shall prove itself to be a power in the earth.
III. THE CERTAINTY THAT THE PACTS OF THESE TWO DEPARTMENTS OF GOD’S WORKING WILL NEVER CONTRADICT EACH OTHER.
IV. THAT WE SHOULD EXPECT TO FIND THE REVEALED GOVERNMENT OF GOD TO BE A SYSTEM CHARACTERISED BY SACREDNESS AND UNIFORMITY OF LAW. In the natural world we find no such thing as caprice. Why, then, should we not expect to find in a revelation respecting the moral world, a similar omnipresence and omnipotence of law? It would be instructive to pursue this analogy between law in the natural world and law in God’s moral government to certain other results. We might see--
1. How accordant with nature it is that the laws of religion cannot be violated with impunity.
2. How natural it is that fatal consequences in respect of religion should follow from apparently trifling disobedience of God’s commands.
3. The foundation which is laid in the nature of things for that law of God’s government by which sin often reaches over from the time when it is committed, and strikes its penalty in a remote experience of the sinner.
4. We might infer the credibility and the probability that the sins of one brief life on earth should pass on, beyond the grave, to reap their reward in eternity.
5. The naturalness of the faith that, if God has devised any remedial scheme to meet the emergency of sin, it must be one that shall honour delicately and rigidly the sacredness of law.
V. THAT WE HAVE REASON TO EXPECT THIS OCCURRENCE OF MYSTERIES IN A REVEALED THEOLOGY. The mysteries of theology always meet us before we have travelled far on any track of religious inquiry. But this is no anomaly peculiar to religious thought. Science in the world of matter is thwarted in all its investigations, sooner or later, by insolvable mysteries.
VI. A CONFIRMATION OF OUR FAITH IN THE CERTAINTY OF THIS WORLD’S CONVERSION TO CHRISTIANITY. We are too often unmindful that the creation of this world and the redemption of this world are, in a truthful sense, parallel acts of omnipotence. It is as certain that the one will occur as that the other has occurred; for the revelation of that which God will do in the one case is as worthy of trust as the history of that which He has done in the other. This luxuriance of metaphor which the kingdom of nature yields up to the portraiture of the kingdom of grace, springs from no fortuitous resemblances. Our God is one God; and therefore it is that a mind inspired to foresee the success of omnipotence in redemption, carries over into this moral kingdom its conceptions of the working of omnipotence in nature. The mountains, rivers, seas, flocks of Kedar, sun, moon, in which God has wrought, become, not only the emblems, but the pledges of the mighty works which He will do for man’s recovery. (A. Phelps, D. D.)
The analogy between God’s working in revelation and in nature
The analogy between these two departments of God’s working discloses some striking resemblances of method in the details of His work.
1. A resemblance between the Divine methods of working in nature and in grace is seen in the law common to both kingdoms, that great results ensue from feeble beginnings.
2. It is also a law of the two kingdoms of God’s working, that results are often for a long time suppressed from human view. Kepler said, when he published his system of astronomy, that the world had waited six thousand years for some one to read the heavens aright. The coal mines of Pennsylvania and the quarries of Quincy were forming before the garden of Eden existed. Who can tell us why the western continent lay for fifty-four centuries unknown to the dominant races of men? Our God is one God.
3. It is furthermore a law in the two kingdoms of God’s working, that results often come to human view suddenly and by seeming accident. The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. But have we not told our children of the falling apple, which was so instructive to the mind of Newton; and of the invention of the mariner’s compass by an unknown genius; and of the gold mines of California, which a labourer accidentally discovered in building a sawmill? Our God is one God.
4. It is a law of the two kingdoms of God’s working, that His work proceeds with great apparent waste. This work of the world’s conversion is a costly labour. But God’s plans have this evidence of their greatness, that they go on with that which to us appears like waste. The earth every year produces food sufficient for three times its burden of inhabitants. The sun wastes two-thirds of its beams on trackless waters and deserts. The stars are not put out, like your street lamps, when the traveller has no further need of them. Poets have sung of flowers that waste their sweetness. God works on a generous scale. Even of suffering He is not sparing in the laws of His providence. How much of apparently useless suffering is endured under the laws of disease! What a waste of life do we see everywhere in the death of the young! In this seeming prodigality of the Divine procedure, we see evidence that God has plans too deep for us to fathom. And these plans run under the two systems of nature and of grace alike. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
I the Lord have called thee in righteousness
God’s covenant with man
We are apt to understand that there are two covenants, respectively called the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.
1. Let us define what a covenant is. In its primary sense it signifies a mutual compact or agreement between two parties. The covenant is kept on the one side by those conditions being ratified in a full and faithful observance of them; on the other side by the conferment of the benefit upon the completion of the conditions.
2. When viewing God and man as the two parties between whom a covenant has been made, we perceive that there have been two covenants entered into; in each the benefit offered by the Father has been the same, viz., eternal life, but the terms or conditions are different.
(1) In the covenant of works, the condition to be accepted and ratified by man was single, that is, obedience to the moral law of God, which law contains within its sanctions not merely an obedience to any positive commands or implied wishes, but an inward heart-observance of a complete holiness, this complete holiness being in fact itself the law, and any deviation whatever from the prescription of a complete holiness being an infraction of the law, and consequently that flaw in the covenanted obedience on man’s part, which destroys the covenant altogether, and thus, annulling it, renders it nugatory.
(2) The conditions in the covenant of grace are twofold, repentance and faith, obedience to the law constituting no part of the terms on which God will confer the promised boon, though according to this, He will regulate the degrees of glory to be known and shared in and through the heavenly immortality. For the law of God has never been repealed, and never can be; neither does the covenant of grace at all make void the law, nay, as the apostle says, “it establishes it.”
3. An ordinary attention to the constitution of these two covenants will show us that there is between God and man, now (the “now” taking in the position and history of man from the fall, to the finished and ultimate recovery of redemption) but this one covenant of grace. Consider, and this partly by contrasting the two, in what this second or new covenant consists.
(1) It agrees with the first in this,
(a) that the ultimate object is the same, viz., everlasting life for man;
(b) that in God’s part of the contract the promise attached to it is the same.
(2) It differs from the other in these respects. That a third party is introduced--the Mediator Christ Jesus, the Son of God. That on man’s part the conditions are different, repentance and faith being in the stead of obedience.
4. See the vital importance of understanding the truth with respect to the two covenants. There are not two covenants. There never have been two co-existing covenants. When man broke the first, it was at an end. Morally speaking, it could not be re-instituted; because, the nature of man having become sinful, and this sinfulness a necessary entailment on all his children, it was rendered impossible for man to keep a covenant of works. And a covenant broken is no longer a covenant. God, then, in His mercy and love, instituted another covenant, the same as to intent, but differing in its conditions for man, prescribing conditions which he could observe, because of the new provision made in the Mediator Christ Jesus, by whom the law should be inviolably kept, and so a justifying righteousness procured, and by whom a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice should be made in the offering of His own spotless body for the sins of the whole world. See how this strikes at the root of all man’s pride and self-dependence, and attempts at working out a self-righteousness for his justification. See, too, the surpassing consideration of God for the pour, condemned helpless, sinner. See also the wondrous force of our text. It was to the dearly-beloved Son that God said, “I, the Lord, have called Thee in righteousness,” etc. Because on Him devolved the work of rescue, because He is the Mediator, because He will ensure the final victory, because in Him the new covenant was opened, in Him established, by Him maintained, Himself is called the covenant. To reject Him is to reject the covenant; to look anywhere else for salvation, to attempt any other way to God’s favour than by Him, to try any other terms than those of His Gospel, is to reject Him; and that is to reject the covenant of God and to enter into covenant with death. (R. H. Davies, B. A.)
The act of calling here implies--
3. Providential introduction to God’s service. (J. A. Alexander.)
Called in righteousness,
Called in righteousness, in accordance with a steadfast and consistent purpose. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
And give Thee for a covenant of the people.
“A covenant of the people,” a negotiator between God and the people. (J. A. Alexander.)
Israel a Mediator
Not only the Messiah, but the Israel of God was sent to be a mediator or connecting link between Jehovah and the nations. (J. A. Alexander.)
The new covenant of free grace
I. WHO IT IS THAT SPEAKS THIS GRACIOUS LANGUAGE. The Lord.
II. THE PERSON TO WHOM THIS GRACIOUS LANGUAGE IS DIRECTED AND SPOKEN. CHRIST.
III. WHAT HE SPEAKS UNTO CHRIST HERE, even gracious language in respect of us. “He will give Him for a covenant.”
IV. UNTO WHOM THE FATHER GIVES CHRIST FOR A COVENANT. “Unto the people, and unto the Gentiles”; that is, to Jews and to Gentiles, to all sorts of people.
V. THE END AND PURPOSE FOR WHICH THE FATHER GIVES HIM TO BE A COVENANT UNTO THE PEOPLE. “To open the blind eyes, to bring the prisoners out of prison.” (T. Crisp, D. D.)
Christ a covenant to open blind eyes
I. WHAT IT IS FOR CHRIST TO BE A COVENANT, OR, THE COVENANT.
II. WHAT IT IS FOR CHRIST TO BE GIVEN TO BE A COVENANT.
III. WHAT IT IS FOR CHRIST TO BE A COVENANT TO OPEN THE BLIND EYES.
IV. TO WHOM THIS CHRIST IS GIVEN TO BE A COVENANT. (T. Crisp, D. D.)
“A covenant of the people”
The idea must be something like this: the Divine ideal represented by the Servant of the Lord becomes the basis of a new national life, inasmuch as it expresses that for the sake of which Jehovah enters into a new covenant relation with His people. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
A word to go home on
The saintly Miss Frances Ridley Havergal literally lived and moved in the Word of God. It was her constant solace, delight, and inspiration. It is related of her that, on the last day of her life, she asked a friend to read to her the forty-second chapter of Isaiah. When the friend read the sixth verse, “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee,” Miss Havergal stopped her. “Called--held--kept--used,” she whispered. “Well, I will just go home on that.” And she did “go home on that,” as on a celestial chariot, and the home-going was a triumph, with an abundant entrance into the city of God. (Christian Budget)
To open the blind eyes
Opening blind eyes
What a grievous affliction is blindness! It was no frivolous boon which Christ, in the days of His sojourn on earth, thought proper to confer, when, in the external sense, He opened blind eyes.
In the paragraph of which the text is a part, Jehovah is describing the Messiah in His spiritual character and work; and, great as the marvel of removing natural blindness was, and great as similar miracles were which Christ performed, their principal value consisted in their being symbols and pledges of those spiritual operations which He could accomplish on the souls of men.
I. THE CALAMITY OF SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS WHICH HAS OVERTAKEN OUR RACE. You would very greatly aggravate the evil of natural blindness by dilating on the numerous and diversified beauties of nature, for the poor blind man sees none of these things! But how much greater is the calamity by which the soul is excluded from the sight of the glory of God! There is very high criminality connected with the origin of this spiritual blindness. The Divine displeasure never arises without a cause, or beyond the cause. What, then, must have been the cause which led to such a fatal condition? The incontestable and melancholy fact is, that man has sinned! As there was high criminality connected with the origin of this blindness, so there is high criminality connected with the continuance of it. If men, struck with this blindness, were to humble themselves on account of it, it would be some alleviation of the matter; but, generally, I find men taking advantage of their darkness, and receding further and further from God; and, indeed, many of them seem never to be so completely happy as when they have most effectually succeeded in banishing all thought of God. This spiritual blindness is so complete that it leads a man to pervert the very instruments which God has appointed for its removal. Take an observation of the state of mankind around us, and see whether or not it sustains this description.
II. THE GREAT ORDINANCE OF JEHOVAH FOR THE REMOVAL OF THIS CALAMITY. See what light Christ has thrown on the character of God! Consider the light which He has thrown on the providence around us. The difficulties of the virtuous, and the shouting success of the villainous, almost seemed, to conscientious men, to indicate very bad management on the part of God; and they have had recourse to a great many theories to explain it. Christ has thrown light on the afflictions which happen to the people of God. And on that immortality which is before us. And on the spiritualities which are required within us.
III. THE GRANDEUR OF THAT OPERATION OF THE SPIRIT BY WHICH THE REMOVAL OF THIS SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS IS EFFECTED. (J. E. Beaumont, M. D.)
New sight causes great joy
I do not wonder that, when a man gets this light into his soul, he should be overjoyed. A young woman had lived to the age of eighteen without seeing at all. Dr. Boyle watched the performance of an operation upon her, and he has described, as only a philosopher could describe, what took place. For some time they were afraid she would lose her reason, so overcome was she by the innumerable beauties which so suddenly burst in upon her. (J. E. Beaumont, M. D.)
A social saviour
This is the kind of man needed in all ages. We have critics enough, we have judges in great abundance, we have speculators more than can be overtaken by statistical genius; we want another kind of man, and we seek for him no better description than that which is outlined by the prophet. We want moral helpers, social saviours, personal healers and comforters. Shall we apply these words to the Lord Jesus Christ? They will fit the occasion exactly. In Him they would seem to secure their amplest and completest realisation. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Christianity opens eyes
Christianity opens eyes never closes them. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Victor Emmanuel, emancipator
We gladly survey the effectual operations of Jesus the Saviour, the true Victor Emmanuel, who comes to set men free from the bondage of their sins.
I. CONSIDER WHO IT IS THAT SENDS JESUS CHRIST TO ACCOMPLISH THE LIBERATION OF THE SONS OF MEN, because much will depend upon the Liberator’s credentials, the authority by which He is warranted, and the power by which He is hacked. We sing for joy of heart as we see that the Infinite God Himself commissioned the Lord Jesus to be the Deliverer of men; and He did this--
1. In His capacity as Creator (Isaiah 42:5).
2. He also describes Himself as the life-giver (Isaiah 42:5).
3. The faithful God. “I the Lord have called Thee in righteousness” (Isaiah 42:6) that is to say, the God who sends Christ the Saviour is not one who plays with words, and having given a promise to-day, retracts it to-morrow.
4. The everblessed sender of the Lord Jesus is omnipotent. “And will hold thine hand, and will keep Thee.” By which is meant that God will give to the Mediator all His power. Christ is the power of God.
II. THE SENT ONE HIMSELF.
1. Jesus is a chosen one. “Mine elect, in whom My soul delighteth” (Isaiah 42:1).
2. Jesus is anointed to this work. “I have put My Spirit upon Him.” The Holy Spirit is the greatest of all actors in the world of mind. He it is who can illuminate, persuade, and control the spirits of men.
3. The Redeemer is spoken of as being gentle and lowly of heart, which should commend Him much to every lowly and contrite spirit (Isaiah 42:3).
4. The Christ who has come to save the sons of men is persevering to the last degree (Isaiah 42:4).
III. THE WORK ITSELF. The Messiah’s work of grace is divided into three parts.
1. To open the blind eyes. Man’s understanding is perverted from the knowledge of God, from a true sense of sin, from a realisation of Divine justice, from a right estimate of salvation. The understanding, which is the eye of the soul, is darkened. But when the anointed Saviour comes, He removes the scales of our mental ophthalmia, and in the light of God we see light.
2. To bring out the prisoners from the prison. Habits of sin, like iron nets, surround the sinner, and he cannot escape their meshes. Faith in the Lord Jesus is the end of bondage and the dawn of freedom.
3. Bringing them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house. This we will refer to those who are truly emancipated, and yet by reason of despondency sit down in the dark dungeon.
IV. WHAT IS THE DESIGN OF GOD IN ALL THIS? “I am the Lord: that is My name: and My glory will I not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Stages of liberty
Men are in various stages of liberty. We are not all equally the free men of God. There are men even now who are under the disadvantage of prejudice. Even to-day superstition lives--chilling, fear-exciting, soul-depressing superstition. There are those who still live in the letter of the Word. (J. Parker, D. D.)
I am the Lord: that is My name
The name of a thing, provided it is a true and adequate one, denotes the essential nature of that thing.
When a chemist has discovered a new substance, he is, of course, compelled to invent a new name for it; and he seeks a term that will indicate its distinctive properties. When, for instance, that gas which illuminates our streets and dwellings was first discovered, it was supposed to be the constituent matter of heat, and the name “phlogiston” was given to it--a name that signifies inflammability. But when Cavendish afterwards more carefully analysed its nature and properties, and discovered that it enters very largely into the production of water, it received the name of hydrogen. In each of these instances the term was intended to denote the intrinsic nature and properties of the thing. That nomenclature which Adam originated at the express command of God, and which the pen of inspiration has recorded as a fact, though it has not specified it in detail, must have been pertinent and exhaustive. The names were the things, the natures, themselves. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
Plato (Cratylus, 390) represents Socrates as saying that “the right imposition of names is no easy matter, and belongs not to any and every body, but only to him who has an insight into the nature of things.” (G. T.Shedd, D. D.)
God has a name--not given to Him by Adam, or any finite creature, but self-uttered and self-imposed. The denomination which God prefers for Himself, the name which He chooses before all others as indicative of His nature, is I AM, or its equivalent, Jehovah. Whenever the word Jehovah is employed in the Old Testament as the proper name of God, it announces the same doctrine of His necessary existence that was taught to Moses when he was commanded to say to His people that I AM had sent him unto them. The English name for the Deity, our word God, indicates that He is “good”--making prominent a moral quality. The Greek and Latin world employed a term (θεος, deus) that lays emphasis upon that characteristic of the Deity whereby He orders and governs the universe. (This etymology is given by Herodotus, 2:52.) According to the Greek and Roman conception, God is the imperial Being who arranges and rules. But the Hebrew, divinely instructed upon this subject, chose a term which refers not to any particular attribute or quality, but to the very being and essence of God, and teaches the world that God must be--that He not only exists, but cannot logically be conceived of as non-existent. (G. T.Shedd, D. D.)
The glorification of God
The text leads us to raise the question, What is it to glorify God? It is implied in glorifying God--
I. THAT WE THINK OF HIM AND RECOGNISE HIS EXISTENCE. “The duty required in the first commandment,” says the Larger Catechism, “is to worship and glorify God, by thinking, meditating upon, and remembering Him.” No higher dishonour can be done to any being than to forget and ignore him. But this is the habitual attitude of man’s mind toward the Everlasting God. It does not relieve the matter to say that this is mere passive forgetfulness, and that there is no deliberate effort to do dishonour to God. This passive forgetfulness itself is the highest kind of indignity; and is so represented in the Scriptures. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and an the nations that forget God. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” This unthinking forgetfulness of the greatest and most glorious Being in the universe betokens an utter unconcern towards Him. Now, whoever would glorify God must begin by reversing an this. No man has made even a beginning in religion, until he has said, reverently, and feeling the truth of what he says: “Thou art Jehovah, the Great I AM; that is Thy name and Thy nature; and Thy glory Thou wilt not give to another, neither Thy praise to graven images.”
II. THAT WE THINK OF HIM AS THIS FIRST CAUSE AND LAST END OF ALL THINGS. Here, again, we can arrive at the truth by the way of contrast; by considering what is the common course of man’s thought and feeling. Man naturally thinks of himself as the chief cause, and the final end.
1. Whoever would glorify God must think of and recognise God as the First Cause of all things. If he possesses a strong intellect, or a cultivated taste, instead of attributing them to his own diligence in self-discipline and self cultivation, he must trace them back to the author of his intellectual constitution, who not only gave him all his original endowments, but has enabled him to be diligent in the use and discipline of them. If he possess great wealth, instead of saying in his heart, “My hand and brain have gotten me this,” he should acknowledge the Providence that has favoured his plans and enterprises, and without which his enterprises, like those of many men around him, would have gone awry, and utterly failed. Whatever be the earthly good which anyone holds in his possession, its ultimate origin and authorship must be carried back to the First Cause of all things. And this, too, must become the natural and easy action of the mind and heart, in order perfectly to glorify God.
2. It is implied in glorifying God, that we recognise Him as the last end of all things. Every being and thing must have a final end--a terminus. The mineral kingdom is made for the vegetable kingdom; the vegetable kingdom for the animal kingdom; the animal kingdom for man; and all of them together are made for God. Go through all the ranges of creation, from the molecule of matter to the seraphim, and if you ask for the final purpose of its creation, the reply is, the glory of the Maker. And this is reasonable. For God is the greatest and most important, if we may use the word in such a connection, of all beings. In the light of this doctrine we see--
(1) The need of the regeneration of the human soul.
(2) Why the individual Christian is imperfectly blessed of God. His service is imperfect. There is much worship of self in connection with his worship of God. How many of our prayers are vitiated by unbelief; but unbelief is a species of dishonour to God. It is impossible, in this condition of the soul, that we should experience the perfection of religious joy. “I am Jehovah,” saith God; “that is My name, and My glory will I not give to another.”
(3) This subject discloses the reason of languid vitality in the Church, and its slow growth in numbers and influence. The Christian life is in low tone, because the Church gives glory to another than God. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
The glorification of God
It is an objection of the sceptic, that this perpetual assertion in the Scriptures that God is the chief end of creation, and this perpetual demand that the creature glorify Him, is only a species of infinite egotism; that in making the whole unlimited universe subservient to Him and His purposes, the Deity is only exhibiting selfishness upon an immense scale. But this objection overlooks the fact that God is an infinitely greater and higher being than any or all of His creatures; and that from the very nature of the case the less must be subordinated to the greater. Is it egotism, when man employs in his service his ox or his ass? Is it selfishness, when the rose or the lily takes up into its own fabric and tissue the inanimate qualities of matter, and converts the dull and colourless elements of the clod into hues and odours, into beauty and bloom? There would be egotism in the procedure, if man were of no higher grade of existence than the ox or the ass. There would be selfishness, if the rose and the lily were upon the same level with the inanimate elements of matter. But the greater dignity in each instance justifies the use and the subordination. And so it is, only in an infinitely greater degree, in the case when the whole creation is subordinated and made to serve and glorify the Creator. The distance between man and his ox, between the lily and the particle of moisture which it imbibes, is appreciable. It is not infinite. But the distance between God and the highest of His archangels is beyond computation. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
The rights of God maintained
God is jealous of His honour. The first four commandments of the decalogue have special reference to His rights, and are couched in the most forcible and impressive terms. But, though these injunctions are reasonable, they have been repeatedly violated by all the nations of the earth. This declaration was made in connection with the mission of the Messiah. But the text is of vital interest to ourselves. It is not the idolater only that dis-honours God; but every impenitent sinner, and every unfaithful follower of Christ.
I. THE IMPORT OF GOD’S NAME. “Jehovah.” By this name God revealed Himself to Moses” (Exodus 6:3).
1. It means the Being that exists.
2. It implies that He is the Fountain of all being.
3. That He is also the Preserver of all being.
And the sublimest feature in His providence is that which was exhibited in the redemption of mankind. The name Jehovah leads us to this point. It implies that God is the Saviour of the world, and for this reason, above all others (since, for a sinful world there could have been no preservation without redemption), the great Preserver of the world. That this, too, is the import of the name, is evident from the attributes ascribed to God in connection with it, by Moses: “Jehovah, Jehovah God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” In Christ, the character of God as the merciful I AM, is clearly manifested (John 1:14.)
II. THE GLORY WHICH BELONGS TO HIM. The term “glory” is sometimes used in reference to the visible symbol of Jehovah’s presence--the Shechinah; at other times it denotes the manifestation of His power and wisdom in creation, and at other times again it is employed in a more general sense, to set forth the attributes and perfections of His character. But in the text the word is equivalent to honour, worship, adoration, or whatever else God lays claim to from His creatures’ hands, and hence the latter clause of the passage may be viewed, though with an intensity of meaning, as explanatory of the former. “My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images.” That is, that which belongs to Me as Jehovah, I delegate to no one. What, then, is the glory which belongs exclusively to God?
1. His is the glory of the creation of all things. He is the Fountain of being.
2. His is the glory of the world’s redemption.
3. His is the glory of the application of redemption to the case of each individual believer in Christ Jesus.
4. His is the glory of the advancement of mankind in knowledge, holiness, and peace.
III. HIS DETERMINATION TO MAINTAIN HIS RIGHTS. “I will not give My glory to another, neither My praise to graven images.” In this impressive declaration God speaks to men of every class, of every country, and of every age. This declaration may be viewed as corrective of--
1. The sin of idolatry.
2. The sin of pride.
3. The sin of unbelief. (Thornley Smith.)
The glory of God incommunicable
I. THE DIVINE SUPREMACY. “I am the Lord, that is My name.”
1. This assertion involves the idea of the Divine existence.
2. The assertion suggests the idea that He stands infinitely distinguished from all creatures in the manner or mode of His existence.
3. This language intimates dominion. He is related to nature, and He is related to nature necessarily and intimately, because nature is the production of His skill and power. We cannot think of God as the Creator, without being compelled to acknowledge His right and authority to legislate and govern.
4. This phrase is applicable to the Lord Jesus Christ. We have the most valid of all testimony in connection with the point, namely, the express and unqualified assertion of the Redeemer Himself, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Here we have the same terms employed, and employed in the same sense.
II. THE DIVINE PURPOSE. “My glory will I not give to another, nor My praise to graven images.”
1. He will not give His glory to nature. Nature exists, but only exists as an effect. In nature there is no originality.
2. He will not give His “praise to graven images.”
3. He will not give His glory to the Church.
(1) He does not give His glory to the ministers of the Church. They are only the stewards of the mysteries of His kingdom. They are but the messengers of the Churches. They are but stars, deriving all their light from the great orb of day.
(2) God, we are likewise assured, will not give His glory to ordinances. The sacraments, whatever may be the mystery and the sacredness associated with them, are but means. Conclusion--
1. Learn from this subject the value of the Bible. This is the only and the great source of all correct information and sound theology as to the essence and moral character of God.
2. You may gather from this text and subject, that Deity is propitiated, and “waits to be Gracious.”
3. You may fairly infer from the subject that such as have the great (J. Newton.)
Behold, the former things are come to pass
The philosophy of promise
One may observe, in reading Scripture, the general principle that God usually gives a promise of that which He means to bestow.
Before Christ came, the Father was continually speaking of His coming. Love meets man as a heralding fragrance before the actual bestowal of blessing. Why are covenant blessings the subject of promises?
I. IN ORDER TO DISPLAY GOD’S GRACE.
1. The freeness of His grace. The promise to which the text specially alludes is “to open the blind eyes,” etc. The blind referred to were not born in the days of Isaiah. God promises before we know our need or seek His face. There are many conditional promises in Scripture; but all God’s promises rest on an unconditioned covenant of grace (Romans 9:25).
2. The fulness of His grace. It is unmerited; Christ died for the ungodly.
3. The power of it. He will open the blind eyes, etc. God is great in nature, but greater in grace.
II. TO AROUSE OUR HOPES. Religious inquirers should find the promises of God unspeakably precious. There are promises enough in the Scriptures to stimulate hope in all. Christian believers even need to be told of what God will do, in order to encourage their hope.
III. TO EXERCISE OUR FAITH. God desires to exercise our confidence in Him.
IV. TO EXCITE OUR PRAYER. Prayer is sure to follow hope and faith. All God’s promises which are not fulfilled are meant to stimulate prayer.
V. TO FOSTER GRATITUDE AND ASSURANCE WHEN THE MERCY HAS BEEN RECEIVED. Man is made glad when he sees that God’s Word has not returned to Him void; then comes the inference, if He has done all this for me in the past, He will do as much for me in the future. In the next chapter the argument is, I will do, because I have done. This is the firm foundation of our hope,--our past experience of the faithfulness of God; and strong faith is God’s due. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Former things” and “new things”
“Former things,” i.e things formerly predicted. These predictions do not belong to the present prophet, but to others. The “new things” are the redemption of Israel from Babylon, and, through it, the revelation of the true God to all nations. (Prof. A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Sing unto the Lord a new song
“New things” and a “new song”
The “new things” become the impulse and matter of “a new song,” such as was never yet heard in the heathen world.
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Joy among the heathen
Reduced to ordinary prose style, it is a prediction that changes are to take place joyfully affecting the condition of the whole world. (J. A. Alexander.)
Let the inhabitants of the Rock sing
Christ the Christian’s Rock
SHOW IN WHAT RESPECT CHRIST MAY BE COMPARED TO A ROCK.
1. Christ is a Rock, in regard of His omnipotent power.
2. Christ is a Rock, in regard of that ineffable glory to which He is now exalted. Rocks may lie low and deep in the ground, but rise with artless grandeur and inimitable beauty, and their lofty heads divide the clouds.
3. Jesus Christ is a Rock in regard of His faithfulness, and the unchangeable nature of His perfections. Those storms and tempests which spread desolation, and bury whole islands and countries in ruins, remove not the rocks out of their place. But Jesus is firmer than they.
4. Christ is a Rock, in regard of His majesty and beauty.
II. SHOW HOW GOOD MEN MAY BE CALLED INHABITANTS OF THE ROCK
1. Because that is their dwelling-place.
2. They are inhabitants of the Rock, as that is the place of their nativity. All the inhabitants of this Rock are born in the image of the Son of God; a new and peculiar race.
3. They may be called inhabitants of the Rock, as they are a people who dwell on high. Their souls and all their nobler powers soar above the mean pursuits of this world.
4. They may be called inhabitants of the Rock, as they are to abide there for ever.
5. They are inhabitants of the Rock, as all their supplies come from Christ. From this doctrine we may learns
(1) The infinite wisdom of God in laying our help upon Christ.
(2) That the figurative expression of Christ, trader the notion of a rock, magnifieth the power of God on which our faith may rest.
(3) The wickedness and folly of all who oppose the Son of God.
(4) The folly and wickedness of those who build their hopes of eternal life upon any other foundation than Christ, the Rock.
(5) The great duty of all who hear the Gospel’s joyful sound, to fly to Christ, the Rock. (J. Johnston.)
Christ the Christian’s song
I. WHAT KIND OF A SONG IT IS WHICH THE SAINTS ARE CALLED TO SING. It is a song on redeeming love.
1. A new song. It proceeds from a new heart, which is animated with new mercies.
2. A spiritual song. It is unmingled with carnal joy, or that of the hypocrite, which is short and unfruitful of solid comfort. It is from above, and animates all the powers of the soul. It will never become obsolete, but afford endless pleasure to the redeemed.
3. A song of distinction. Every heart is not formed for such exalted praise. The feeble powers of nature, unassisted by Divine grace, cannot learn this new song.
4. A song of victory. The saints of God are clothed in white, an authentic emblem of their faith and victory.
5. A song upon a sacrifice.
6. An everlasting song. Not the joy of the hypocrite, soon kindled, and soon extinguished; the powers of the soul are enlarged, and rendered fit for those endless raptures of joy and praise.
II. THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THIS SONG.
1. Jesus Christ our Lord manifested in human nature.
2. The manifestation of Divine judgments. When the Judge of all the earth came down, and delivered His ancient Israel from Egyptian bondage, He routed Pharaoh and His hosts, by such signal judgments as spread His fame far and wide: “His name was great, and His praise glorious through the whole earth.” Moses and Israel sang, “The Lord hath triumphed gloriously, the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea.” When Rome, as ancient Babylon, fell to rise no more, the heavenly Church is brought in as a chorus, to praise God for His righteous judgments and faithfulness. This excellent hymn of praise, sung by the united voices of saints and angels, strongly represents to all Christians, and every Church on earth, what grateful sense they ought to have of the Divine faithfulness in their protection, and of His righteous judgments in punishing the persecutors of truth and religion.
3. The infinite worthiness of Christ the Lamb of God.
4. The believer’s union to the Divine Redeemer.
5. Communion with all the persons of Deity. That sincere believers in Christ enjoy such a communion, is most obvious from the sacred Scriptures. (J. Johnston.)
Safety in the rock
The hare, that trusteth to the swiftness of her legs, is at length overtaken and torn to pieces; when the coney, that flieth to the holes in the rocks, doth easily avoid the dogs that pursue her. (J. Trapp.)
The Lord shall go forth as a mighty man
Jehovah, the Warrior.
The Lord stirs Himself up to bring in the “new things.” (Prof. A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
I have long time holden My peace
The Divine thought and pain
Remember it is God who speaks these words of Himself, and then think of what they mean of unshareable thought and pain, of solitary yearning and effort.
But from the pain comes forth at last the power (Isaiah 42:15). (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The destruction of sinners sudden and inevitable
God long bears with the provocations of men, and therefore they imagine He pays no attention to their deeds; but they are deceived; the time of His forbearance is limited.
I. THE FORBEARANCE OF GOD. “I have long time holden My peace.” God, unlike man, is neither hasty, impetuous, nor resentful. Sinners cannot justly complain that God does not afford them time for repentance; God has long borne with the ingratitude and perverseness of sinful men; their crimes are numerous, their provocations great. This period of God’s forbearance and compassion is a season of grace and mercy.
II. THE DIVINE FORBEARANCE WILL NOT LAST FOR EVER. It will surely terminate, and then commences the awful, though long delayed, hour of vengeance. (S. Ramsey, M. A.)
I will destroy and devour at once
God terrible yet gracious
(with Isaiah 42:15-16):--The solemn practical truth of the text is that God can do the most terrible things and the most gentle; that power belongeth unto God and also mercy. Look at the doctrine of the text--
I. IN RELATION TO BAD MEN WHO PRIDE THEMSELVES UPON THEIR SUCCESS AND THEIR STRENGTH. The doctrine is that there is a power beyond man’s, and that nothing is held safely which is not held by consent of that Power. The so-called success of the bad man has yet to stand the strain of Divine trial. Though his strength be as a mountain, it shall be wasted; and the world shall see how poorly they build who build only for the light and quietness of summer. Remember, we are not stronger than our weakest point, and that true wisdom binds us to watch even the least gate that is insufficient or insecure.
II. AS AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO ALL MEN WHO WORK UNDER THE GUIDANCE OF GOD. God declares Himself gentle to those who truly need Him. He promises nothing to the self-sufficient; He promises much to the needy. The text shows the principle on which Divine help is given to men,--the principle of conscious need and of willingness to be guided. A trueapprehension of this doctrine will give us a new view of daily providences, namely, that men who are apparently most destitute may in reality be most richly enjoying the blessings of God. Clearly, we are not to judge human life by outward conditions. Blindness may not be merely so much defect, it may be but another condition of happiness. It is because we are blind that He will lead us. It is because we are weak that He will carry us. It is because we have nothing that He offers to give us all things. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God’s terribleness and gentleness
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. It is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men. Our God is a consuming fire--God is love. The combination of great power and great restraint, and, indeed, the combination of opposite qualities and uses generally, is well known in the ordinary arrangements of civilised life and the daily operation of the laws of nature. The measure of greatness is the measure of terribleness. What is constructiveness but the beneficent side of destructiveness? The fire that warms the chamber when properly regulated, will, if abused, reduce the proudest palaces to ashes. The river, which softens and refreshes the landscape, if allowed to escape its banks, may devastate the most fruitful fields. The engine, which is swiftly bearing the laughing child to his longed-for home, will, if mismanaged, occasion the most terrible havoc. The lightning, which may be caught and utilised by genius and skill, can burn the forest, and strike armies blind. We are familiar with such illustrations of united opposites, and our knowledge of them inspires our enterprise, and attempers with prudence the noble audacity of practical science . . . (J. Parker, D. D.)
True conceptions of God important in character-building
God is not to be described in parts; He is to be comprehended in the unity of His character. A child, describing the lightning might say, “It was beautiful, so bright, and swifter than any flying bird, and so quiet that I could not hear it as it passed through the air”; this would be true. A tree might say, “It was awful, it tore off branches that had been growing for a hundred years, it rent me in twain down to the very root, and no summer can ever recover me--I am left here to die”; this also would be true. So with Almighty God; He is terrible in power, making nothing of all that man counts strong, yet He will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. Men are bound to be as common-sense in their theology as they are in the ordinary works of life, and in building character they are to be at least as forethoughtful and sagacious as in building their houses of stone. How do we conduct our arrangements in building a house? Suppose that it were possible for a man never to have seen any season but summer, and suppose such a man called upon to advise in the erection of a building: you can imagine his procedure; everything is to be light, because he never heard a high wind; water-pipes may be exposed, for he never felt the severity of frost; the most flimsy roof will be sufficient, for he knows nothing of the great rains of winter and spring. Tell such a man that the winds will become stormy, that the rivers will be chilled into ice, that his windows will be blinded with snow, and that floods will beat upon his roof, and if he is a wise man he will say, “I must not build for one season, but for all seasons; I must not build for fine days, but for days that will be tempestuous; I must, as far as possible, prepare for the most inclement and trying weather.” That is simple common sense. Why be less sensible in building a character than in building a house? We build our bricks for severity as well as for sunshine, why build our characters with less care? If in summer we think about the frost, why not in prosperity have some thought for adversity? If in July we prepare for December, why not in the flattering hour of exultation think of the judgment that is at once infallible and irresistible? As he would be infinitely foolish who should build his house without thinking of the natural forces that will try its strength, so is he cursed with insanity who builds his character without thinking of the fire with which God will try every man’s work of what sort it is. (J. Parker, D. D.)
And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not
God leading the blind
The blind are they whom transgression and wickedness have robbed of power of spiritual insight.
The unknown ways in which Jehovah leads them are the ways of redemption, known to Him alone and now revealed in the fulness of times. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The unknown path
God would lead Israel by a way that had not yet been trodden; He would redeem her from Babylon, not as He delivered her from Egypt in the distant past, but by inclining towards her the heart of her captor.
I. THE UNKNOWN, UNTRODDEN PATH BEFORE US.
1. It is an unknown path which we are about to tread. Let the child or even the young man draw an outline of his anticipated career, and let that line he compared with the one which really marks his course; what a divergence will there be l
2. It is an untrodden path. As the second great Divine deliverance of Israel differed materially from the first, so God’s dealings with individual men differ with the several periods of their life.
II. THE GUIDANCE OF OUR GOD. “I will bring.” “I will lead.” There are two ways by which God leads His people.
1. By controlling their circumstances. God may preserve us from taking the wrong path by providentially blocking the way in which we might otherwise have walked; or, He may keep us from a false movement, or induce us to make the true one by bringing us unto the fellowship of some wise friend whose timely counsel either dissuades or determines us.
2. By influencing their minds. He is nearer to us than our nearest friends; and He can influence us more powerfully than the wisest and strongest of our teachers or guardians.
III. HIS DISPOSITION AND FREEDOM TO HELP US.
1. That God is disposed to help us, we need not doubt.
(1) His sovereignty over Israel would account for all His watchfulness over that people; and His Fatherhood of every human spirit will certainly ensure His Divine interest in each one of His children. And if this were an insufficient bond to constrain such condescending notice, we have but to remember that Jesus Christ is the Divine Saviour and Friend of every one of His people, most tenderly united to each of them by the strongest ties. The Good Shepherd cares, and cares much, for every sheep of His flock.
(2) Our Lord’s intimation of the Father’s care for all His creatures, and His own a fortiori argument therefrom (“Ye are of more value than many sparrows”) is convincing proof to all Christian minds that our God is “thinking upon” us, that He is mindful of our necessities, and is shaping our course from day to day.
2. That God is free to help us, we may also be assured. Nothing is more incredible than that the Father of spirits, the Saviour of souls, should, by the established order of nature which He has constructed, have to cut Himself off from His human family that, however earnestly they cried to Him, He would not be at liberty to respond to them. That He should not weaken our sense of the imperative claims of duty and diligence by too obviously and constantly interposing on our behalf, we can readily understand. It is but necessary that He should touch some link in the chain of causes which is out of our sight; thus, with unseen but unfettered hand, He works on our behalf.
IV. OUR DUTY AND OUR COMFORT.
1. Our duty is threefold.
(1) To become His children indeed, in the very fullest sense, by living faith in Jesus Christ.
(2) To live before God as His obedient children, that our service and submission may win His Fatherly delight and His parental longing to bless us.
(3) To ask for His constant guidance in daily prayer.
2. Our comfort is great indeed. God will be our guide. He will be our vanguard, and be our rereward (Isaiah 52:12). (The Thinker.)
God the Guide of His blind people
True wisdom will confirm the decision of Scripture, not only as to spiritual things but as to all things, when it says, “If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything,” i.e if he regard himself as perfect in knowledge, “he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” If we look to our own path in life, we find ourselves uninformed concerning that which lies before us. But the Word of God does not more explicitly reveal to us our ignorance and blindness, than it offers to us a great and infallible Guide. Let our minds be directed to the inquiry, whether or no this promise is verified in the experience of God’s people.
I. In answer to this question we first reply that such a guidance may be traced in the dealings of God with His children BY HIS PROVIDENCE. A historian of the Reformation has placed in the forefront of his immortal work this sentence respecting it: “This history takes as its guiding star the simple and pregnant truth that God is in history” (D’Aubigne). And that single sentence contains a world of important truth. The recorded history of the Jewish nation affords a beautiful illustration of the truth that God is active in all human affairs. And had God inspired another prophet to write the history of any other nation, yea, had God inspired a prophet to write your individual history, or my own, we should be astonished to see how busy the hand of God had been in its every stage and turn.
II. God leads His children by a way they know not IN THE DEALINGS OF HIS GRACE, e.g., the woman of Samaria; the assembly which stood before Peter on the Day of Pentecost; the blaspheming, persecuting Saul; the jailer at Philippi. God is characteristically a God who is found of them that sought Him not. The Divine methods for leading the believer to growth in grace are not less unexpected. Even on the believer’s deathbed is often and gloriously illustrated the teaching of our text. As the path by which God leads His people is, in its beginning, and in all its progress, so is it in its termination, one which they know not. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be.” (W. E. Schenck.)
1. In Scripture the word “blind” is used respecting the prejudiced and the proud. Their minds are perverted. The Pharisees could see no beauty in Christ, no excellence in His teaching, no evidence of Divine mission in His works. They were “blind leaders of the blind.” It is employed also to denote the characteristic dulness and stupidity of the Israelites, as a people, perpetually lapsing into idolatry, breaking off from God, unable to see the blessedness of the path of truth and righteousness.
2. But there is still another meaning that is important. The word may mean simple ignorance. It may describe one who cannot see the right path because there is a mist upon it, and he is perplexed on account of this. There may be tenderness in the word rather than anger; gentle purposes of love implied rather than condemnation or rebuke. This helps us to understand the passage. The way of providence and grace in the darkness and perplexity of life may be thus graphically and forcibly expressed.
I. We have the frequent MYSTERY of God in providence and grace. We know not, and cannot trace, the way of God. The material, the vegetable, the animal, worlds are full of what is inscrutable. Thus it is with the course of individual life. We pursue our path, not knowing what may arise. We go forth like Abraham, “not knowing whither we go.” Yet there is an eye that sees all, a mind that directs an, a hand that overrules all. We believe that every man lives in the Divine thought. Each has his separate course, duties, and responsibilities, from which he can no more escape than his shadow. Every one, like John, is called to fulfil this course. And God knows all. But to us, life has to discover itself as we go on, and often passages in it, and the end, look strange as compared with the beginning. We purpose one thing but God means another, e.g. Joseph, Elisha, Amos, Win. Carey, etc. So also as to grace. The leadings of God to fulfil His purposes are leadings of the blind. The methods He takes to enlighten the mind have infinite variety. While unconsciously men pursue a path they think their own, lo! it leads them within the circle of Divine influences which they never anticipated. Who would have thought that the vehement persecutor who stood by while the stones crashed down on Stephen, before he entered Damascus on his further errand of malice, would be met and subdued by all-conquering mercy? Who could have predicted that Lydia, of Thyatira, in pursuit of her business at Philippi, would find her heart opened to receive the truth, and be led to rejoice in far greater riches than the most prosperous trade could bring? What a surprise to Philemon that his runaway slave, who had played the thief, should be blessed under the apostle’s ministry at Rome! Little did Francis Xavier think, when he entered the college of St. Barbs a gay and haughty youth, that one whom he scorned and despised would be the means of his conversion, and that the text, “What shall it profit a man?” so frequently repeated, would be the arrow of the Almighty to his soul. Little did West, the sceptical lawyer, think, when he sat down to tear in pieces, as he purposed, the arguments that prove the resurrection of Christ, that he would end in owning their unanswerableness, and his own spirit should bow before God. As little did another conceive that in attempting to hold up in caricature and contempt the apostle Paul, the spiritual power and greatness he beheld should lead him to become a disciple too. Passing words, casual association, incidental events, have had wonderful spiritual results. Men have regretted circumstances that have yet been made instrumental to their conversion. A young man has wept to lose a situation, but unwittingly has been led to another, where Divine grace has made him a “new creature.” God works invisibly; His instrumentalities and agencies we often fall to recognise; but they are mighty to fulfil the counsels of His will, and thus “He brings the blind by a way they know not.”
II. The KINDNESS as well as mystery of the Divine method is taught us in this passage. Probably, at some time, occasion has prompted you to guide for a few steps a blind man. He has wished to cross the road, and there is peril; or, groping his way along, there is some object which, unless he avoids it, will cause injury. The human tenderness that is in you has led you to be kind and true. But if such a spirit animates an imperfect man, shall we not take the Scripture assurance that the spirit of kindness characterises the infinite God, whose name is announced as Love T
1. The Divine guidance is kind because it is wise. Our God is of infinite counsel He knows our nature, tendencies, capacities, impulses, the action and influence of everything upon us. There are mountain passes, we are told, before traversing which the guides blindfold the travellers. They could not endure to see the awful precipices on either side. So it may be in some of the paths of life there are perils, and God guidance is an enigma, because He is dealing with us thus.
2. God’s guidance is kind because it is patient. He bears with our disobedience and ingratitude, puts up with our manifold affronts and defiance, suffers long with our infirmities, and still exerts new influences that His gentleness may prevail.
3. God’s guidance is kind because it is supporting. You have sometimes in country walks approached a hill It has seemed to rise with special steepness, but you have advanced, and strength has been equal, refreshing air and pleasant scenery have cheered. You have threaded your way through some intricate route towards a house or village, and thought you would never find it; but a token here and a footstep there have encouraged, and your journey’s end has been gained. So up life’s hills of difficulty and along its tortuous paths, a Divine hand leads and a Divine voice cheers.
III. The FAITHFULNESS Of the Divine guidance. “Not forsake.” You have sometimes seen, perhaps, standing on the pavement or in a passage some little crying child. A careless mother has left it for a while, little thinking of distress or danger. Every sentiment of pity within you is moved, as in its sobs it cannot tell either its name or home. You may be reassured- The mother will return soon. But if it were indeed abandoned to cold and misery, in the driving storm and falling snow, no heart so hard but must be deeply compassionate. But this would be surpassed by the thought of a Christian, forsaken, if we could so conceive. A child of God deserted, with promises broken, blessings withdrawn, hopes disappointed, cast off in caprice and weariness--the woe of such an one would rise to the very height of distress. But this can never be. He has pledged His word, and with Moses we should exclaim, “What would become of Thy great name?” The universe in ruins would be an appalling wreck. But this could be nothing compared with the wreck of the Divine character. Dr. Whewell has said, “The whole earth from pole to pole, from centre to circumference, is employed in keeping a snowdrop in the position best suited for the promotion of its vegetable health.” Doth God provide for the flower; and shall He not guard His people? (G. Macmichael, B. A.)
The way in which God leads His people
Our object will be to show that, from the beginning to the end of their pilgrimage, God leads His people in a way, which previous to experience they know not.
I. The true nature of CONVICTION OF SIN is a thing of which the called of God have no distinct knowledge, prior to experience. There is, no doubt, a great diversity in the exercises and circumstances of souls under conviction. Before this they may have formed a conception of the feelings of a convinced sinner. They imagined that by some flash, like lightning, conviction of sin would be effected. Very, commonly the awakened person strives to produce conviction of the kind conceived, by bringing up to view the most frightful images. But if the convinced sinner could realise all the feelings of which he has conceived, and for which he longs and prays, the end of conviction would not be at all answered; for the end of conviction is to lead the sinner out of himself; to destroy all self-confidence and self-complacency. But if he could experience such feelings as he wishes, he would think well of himself, as being in the frame in which he ought to be. The views and feelings produced by the conviction of the Spirit, lead the soul to despair--to despair of ever saving itself. It is an unexpected thing, of which the blind could form no practical conception, that the nearer the sinner approaches towards deliverance, the further he recedes from hope and comfort, in his own apprehension. That is found true, therefore, in spiritual things, which has been noticed in natural things; that the darkest hour is that which immediately precedes the dawning of the day.
II. CONVERSION also turns out in experience to be a very different thing from what was anticipated. Awakened sinners, having heard of persons being translated from darkness to “the marvellous light” of the Gospel, and having, perhaps, heard or read of some remarkable conversions, expect to be brought through the new birth in a way perfectly similar to these extraordinary cases, which, however, are very imperfectly understood. They, therefore, endeavour to place them selves in the same circumstances as those in which others were when they found peace with God; and they continue to look and wait for some sudden and almost miraculous change. These expectations are never realised, and are always erroneous; for when this blessed change actually occurs, the light is commonly like that of the dawn; obscure at first, but shining more and more to the perfect day; and instead of the views being miraculous or strange, they appear to rise in the mind like other thoughts and feelings. The only marked difference is, not in the manner of the views, but in the spiritual beauty and glory of the objects contemplated. The soul, under the leadings of the Spirit, is often brought near to Christ, when it apprehended He was far off.
III. God leads His once blind but chosen people in the way which they know not, as it relates to THE MEANS AND PROGRESS OF THEIR SANCTIFICATION.
IV. Another thing in the dispensations of God to His people which, prior to experience, they never distinctly understood, and which cannot easily be explained, is His leaving them for a season to back slide; and then RECOVERING THEM by the exercise of the same sovereign grace which’ first brought them into the path of life.
V. Finally, the people of God are often CONDUCTED THROUGH THE “VALLEY AND SHADOW OF DEATH” in an unexpected manner. (A. Alexander, D. D.)
The blind travellers
The experience of the Jews and the experience of Christians are so closely analogous that the one is used in Scripture as a type of the other.
I. THE CONDITION DESCRIBED.
1. The blindness of the traveller. Is the figure too strong to describe our case? You can look upon the past, and memory will throw her clear light on salient points of the journey. But when you turn round and try to explore the future, you are struck blind, you can see nothing! You cannot tell how long the journey is going to be, or how short; what heights, what depths, you may have to cross, or where they are.
2. The strangeness of the way. “A way they knew not--paths they have not known.” You once drew out a map of the course you intended to pursue--will you lay beside it the map of the course you have pursued? What a difference between programme and performance! And so it will be in the future--“It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
3. The obstacles in the road. My text tells of “crooked things” and “crooked places”; how true to nature and experience!
II. THE CONSOLATION PRESENTED. Remember that it is addressed to God’s own people--in other words, to penitent sinners, to humble believers.
1. Here is a promise of the wisest guidance. Blind man, you don’t know the way--but God does!
2. Here is a promise of the mightiest help. “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked places straight.”
3. Here is a promise of the firmest faithfulness.
III. THERE IS ANOTHER JOURNEY TO BE MADE. This is the journey to heaven itself--that more glorious Canaan than any that the Jews sighed,, for in their captivity m” Babylon. But it” is” “the land that is very far off--and how shall we find the way? Now this is not so easy as some would have us suppose; for here, too, we are blind travellers-and the way is strange--and there are terrible obstacles in the road. It is a mercy when we discover our condition, and cease trying to guide ourselves; and cry, “Lord, we are blind--do Thou lead us! Lord, save us--or we perish!” What provision has been made for us in the mercy of God? Christ--Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Lay hold of Christ, blind traveller! and never for a moment relax your hold. Here is guidance, help, faithfulness, all-sufficient and unchanging. (F. Tucker, B. A.)
Guidance for the blind
I. THE CONDITION OF SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS. By the fall of our first parent, darkness hath come over the spirit of every man born into the world. In heathen nations and in heathen days, although there were some faint and feeble aspirings after truth, in the main men were in the depths of darkness. This is not merely the original condition of every man, but is in part the condition of the regenerate also. Yet there are things, unto which man, even at the most advanced of his earthly condition, cannot attain. It is not hard to point out some of the advantages that result from this state of concealment in which God keeps His people.
1. It tends to their humility.
2. It keeps them dependent.
3. This blindness belongs to the very nature of faith; without it, faith can have no existence.
4. Moreover, it tends to the comfort of God’s children. If all were laid open, then sorrow and sadness would come before their time.
II. THE PROMISE OF DIVINE DIRECTION. “I will make darkness light before them,” etc. Mainly God delivers information to His people in two ways.
1. He gives it by the written Word.
2. He has given us the volume of providence to be the commentary upon the volume of revelation. (S. Robins, M. A.)
I. SHOW THAT THE LORD’S WAYS ARE MYSTERIOUS. Of this we have many instances in His works, both of providence and grace.
1. Take, e.g., the case of Moses. Or, turn from the leaders to the people who were led.
2. But to turn from Scripture to individual experience. How mysterious God’s dealings with each one of ourselves, from our birth to the present day.
3. If we turn from God s works of providence without, to His work of grace within, how mysterious indeed are the ways of our God!
II. Though God’s ways are mysterious, HIS INTENTIONS ARE NEVERTHELESS MERCIFUL.
III. THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE HIS LOVE IS ABIDING. Conclusion--
1. If God’s ways are mysterious, be careful to avoid forming rash judgments respecting them; beware lest you speak of them unadvisedly with your lips.
2. Still further, if we know God’s intentions to be merciful, how safe are our ways in His hands!
3. If God’s love be abiding, should we not lie in His hands, as clay in the hands of the potter? Should we not seek to bring every thought unto the obedience of Christ? Should we not shelter ourselves under every trial in Him who is “a strong tower and house of defence”? (J. Lombard.)
The spiritual condition of man
I. THE SUBJECTS OF DIVINE GRACE.
II. THE OPERATIONS OF DIVINE GRACE. There are more paths than one. The path of repentance is followed by the path of faith in Jesus--faith in the truths of the Gospel--faith in the promises of God. There is another path, which, by nature, is “not known”--the path of obedience. They are led in the way of holiness.
III. THE EFFECTS OF DIVINE GRACE. “I Will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” Who can make darkness light before them but the Fountain, the Author, the Source of light and life and being, and all the blessings connected with life? (S. Drew, M. A.)
I. THE SPECIAL DEALINGS OF THE LORD WITH HIS PEOPLE. “I will bring the blind,” etc.
II. THE UNALTERABLE DECISION ON THEIR BEHALF. “And not forsake them.” (James Walls.)
Darkness made light
This text is a prophecy of the return of Israel from Babylon after their captivity. We find from the history of Ezra how the little remnant that set out from Babylon was brought safely to Jerusalem. Their way from Babylon was a striking picture of our way to the heavenly home that is promised to us.
I. MARK THE WAYS OF GOD AS MYSTERIOUS WAYS; that is, not understood by the light of nature, or of intellect.
1. God’s children by nature are blind (Ephesians 2:3; Psalms 13:3).
2. We cannot understand savingly a single truth of God’s Word by our own light, inquiry, teaching, application. We know not the nature of sin, nor God as a God of pardon, peace, and hope.
3. We continue blind until each step is unfolded to our view, and spiritual apprehension clears our way (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).
4. Blind also to the way God is really dealing with His children.
II. View GOD’S WAYS AS MERCIFUL LEADINGS. “I will make darkness light before them.” “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” All! Some clearly in sunshine. But how is it in trial, when He thwarts instead of indulges?. There may be times when we are unable to see what is the next step to take. Watch the Lord s time. Wait at the throne of grace. Don’t forget that trial is God’s appointed mercy. There is mercy in the end, if not in the beginning. By our not seeing our way we are taught to live by faith.
III. THE WISDOM OF HIS DEALINGS. “I will make crooked things straight,” etc. Solomon asks (Ecclesiastes 7:13) who can make the crooked straight? Why, none but God. Many of God’s ways in providence and in grace seem to us very crooked, but we must trust, and judge of them by the end. Job, Joseph, etc. Judge God in His own way and wait. Out of apparent confusion comes real order. Apparent severity shows itself to be real kindness.
IV. GOD’S DEALINGS ARE FAITHFUL. “These things will I do . . . and not forsake them.” Think of the character of Him who makes the promise. (C. Bridges.)
The blind befriended
I. TO WHOM THE PROMISE IS MADE.
II. THE PROMISE THAT IS MADE TO THEM. “I will bring,” etc.
1. God Himself will be the guide of His people when they feel their blindness. To lead blind men is not an office generally sought; it is not supposed to be attended with any great honour; but it is a very kindly office, and one which any Christian man may be right glad to render to his afflicted friend. But only think of God Himself coming and guiding the blind! He will not leave you to stumble and grope your way, nor will He bid you depend upon your fellow-Christian, who is as blind as yourself, but He will be your guide.
2. Being their guide, He will lead them in ways they never went before. Of course, when a blind man knows the way, he can almost go without the guide.
3. Although the way by which we go be a way that we know not, we shall be led safely in it; for it is not only said, “I will lead them,” but “I will bring them,” which is more. You may lead a man, but he may be unable to follow you.
III. WHAT SHALL COME OF IT? “I Will make darkness light,” etc.
1. If you are in the darkness of trouble, trust in God and the trouble will vanish. The trouble may remain, but it will no longer distress you.
2. There is a crook in every lot, but trust in God. He can make the most crooked thing that ever did happen suddenly turn out to be the very straightest thing that ever occurred for our welfare.
IV. WHAT WILL BE THE END OF IT? Your life will be strewn with mercies, fulfilled promises. “These things will I do unto them and not forsake them.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The blind led
I. OUR GLORIOUS LEADER “I will bring them,” the Lord says, “I will lead them.” In other places He tells us He has prepared a kingdom for us; here He tells us He will conduct us to it. But He does not accomplish this in His own person. In the beginning of this chapter, He introduces His dear Son to us as His servant, chosen by Him to bring to pass all His merciful designs concerning us. That dear Son therefore is become to us a Leader and Guide. “Behold, I have given Him” the Lord says elsewhere “for a witness to the people, a Leader and Commander to the people;” and St. Paul, when speaking of God as bringing His many sons unto glory, places immediately the Lord Jesus at their head, calling Him “the Captain of their salvation,” at once their Saviour, their Ruler, and their Guide. Here is another proof then that Christ’s appointed work was not ended when He had offered Himself for our sins. That was the beginning, rather than the end, of it.
II. THOSE WHOM THE LORD IS LEADING. “The blind.”
III. THE ROAD ALONG WHICH THE LORD IS LEADING US. He speaks of it--
1. As new to us.
2. As dark or mysterious.
IV. THE OCCASIONAL LIGHT AND RELIEF WHICH THE LORD PROMISES TO HIS PEOPLE IN THEIR WAY. “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” It is useless for us to attempt to do it. Nor must we look to our fellow-men to do it for us. Our help in this case, as in every other, cometh from the Lord.
V. A PROMISE OF PERMANENCY AND UNCHANGEABLENESS IN JEHOVAH’S LOVE TO THE PEOPLE HE IS GUIDING. “These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” The Lord speaks here like one who has fully made up His mind to do what He promises, knows He can do it, and is determined He will. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Safe walking for the blind
I. THE PERSONS HERE SPOKEN OF.
II. THE WAY, THE PATHS, IN WHICH THEY ARE FOUND.
III. THE BLESSED GUIDE THEY HAVE, AND WHAT HE DOES FOR THEM. The Eternal God trusts them not to cherubs nor seraphs; to angels nor archangels; to ministers nor men; He, trusts them not to themselves, but He is Himself their guide. It was He that brought them out of darkness; and it is He that keeps them out of darkness. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The leader of the blind
The sky is not more beautifully bespangled with stars than the Bible is filled with promises. How completely these promises have been fulfilled in all those who have reached Immanuel’s land! But, Christians, “you are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance which the Lord your God giveth you;” but thus far He has been your helper. What He has done for you is only a pledge of what He will do. Let us survey Him--
I. AS OUR LEADER.
II. AS OUR INTERPRETER. “I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.” This is clearly distinguished from the former. You may “lead the blind by a way that they know not, and in paths that they have not known,” while you may not explain to them, but only tell them to depend on you as a guide, while they are unconscious of anything except progress. But it is not so with God. God illumines all whom He guides. The knowledge He gives to His people is gradual; and we may observe four instances in which He makes “darkness light before them, and crooked things straight.”
1. As to doctrine.
2. As to experience. In regard to prayer they are sometimes perplexed. It is the same also with regard to joy. Milne, the ecclesiastical historian, said, “Had I been as destitute of comfort some years ago as I am now, I should have been exceedingly confounded; but I have learned not to live on lively frames, but on God’s own word. I know that He is faithful who hath promised.” So, also, in regard to assurance.
3. With regard to practical duties.
4. With regard to some of HIS providential duties. God’s way is sometimes in the sea, and His footsteps are not known. But sometimes the darkness is dispelled even now.
III. As His PEOPLE’S UNCHANGEABLE FRIEND. “These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” They deserve to be forsaken, and this they will acknowledge readily enough. They may think them selves forsaken, and we have instances of this upon record. But they may be forsaken., God Himself speaks of this in His Word. But observe the time: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee.” So it is in the apprehension of faith; so it is always very short when compared with eternity. Then Observe the manner, of His forsaking, them, for however we may explain this, it must be consistent with His assurance of not forsaking: “These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” There are three ways in which God may forsake His people, and yet the promise of the text may remain substantially the same--
1. In their outward condition. He can reduce them in their circumstances, bereave them of their dearest relations, remove their possession and enjoyments, and leave them bare and destitute. But all this is very compatible with His presence.
2. As to the enjoyment of spiritual comfort. “Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled.” But when these spiritual consolations are suspended, there are great searchings of heart, much that shows the Spirit of God to be with them; for this could not come from nature.
3. As to the exercise of grace, not the existence thereof. Here we may refer to good Hezekiah. God, in the midst of trouble and a fearful invasion, left him for a while to see what was in his heart. Peter for a season also was left to himself. Jesus said, “I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not”; but it did fail. It did as to its exercise, not as to its principle. (W. Jay, M. A.)
God conceals that He may guide
Away in the interior of Chins, I once climbed a precipice that was almost perpendicular, if indeed it did not overhang. Steps had been cut out for the feet in the sandstone, and stout iron chains had been pinned within a few inches of the steps to afford support to the hands. My face was turned towards the rock as I went up, and I never thought of the gulf that yawned beneath. When I came to descend, I found I could not accomplish it with my face turned towards empty space and my eye looking down into the dim abyss, and with no solid object in the field of view. I was mastered by an inveterate dizziness, and should have dropped, but for the timely assistance of a friend. I had to shut out the thought of the terrible abyss by turning my face to the rock, whilst my friend preceded me in the descent, and guided my feet into the successive stepping-places. Many of God’s mysteries are things that He has hidden from us to the glory of His pity and gentleness. He has to guide us over a great many of the perilous places of life in blindness. It would be death if the veil were taken away. He has to bring us down a great many fearsome descents with our face to the dead rock. If we could take in the whole position we should be overwhelmed. (T. G. Selby.)
Providence in the life of Cowper
Of all the writings of William Cowper, probably the hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way,” is best known. How Cowper came to write this hymn forms one of the most remarkable episodes of his eventful life. Cowper had one of his fits of melancholy, and ‘persuaded himself, so his biographers assert, that God wanted him to offer himself as a sacrifice. He decided to carry out this idea, and, hiring a post-chaise, drove to the river Ouse. The night was dark, and the coachman by some means or other mistook the way, and instead of arriving at the exact spot where Cowper had intended to drown himself, the poet found himself at his own door. On entering the house Cowper sat down and composed his most famous hymn. (Christian Budget.)
God blindfolds that He may lead
We are so timid and tender and unschooled that God has often to place the shadow of His hand across our vision, just as the Alpine guide will blindfold a nervous traveller, so that he may guide him unharmed across some terrific chasm. (T. G. Selby.)
A traveller in South Africa was anxious to go to a certain place which could only be reached by the aid of a Kaffir guide. Into his hands the traveller was compelled to commit his life, and he says: “It was not long before I saw that the old man was guiding me along some recognised path invisible to my eyes, but plainly designed to carry us round clumps of thorn and treacherous stones. Not a landmark could I see to indicate the turnings of the route, but our guide was never at a loss.” Only by implicit obedience did the traveller reach his goal. (Christian.)
I will make darkness light before them
Darkness, light; and crooked things straight
I. THE BELIEVER’S DARKNESS IS TURNED INTO LIGHT, AND THE CROOKS OF HIS LOT ARE STRAIGHTENED.
1. The frequent grim darkness.
(1) Much of it is of his own imagining. Many of our sorrows are purely homespun, and some minds are specially fertile in self-torture.
(2) Much existing darkness is exaggerated.
(3) Troubles disappear just when we expect them to become overwhelming.
(4) When the trial comes, God has a way of making His people’s trials cease Just as they reach their culminating point.
(5) Every trial was foreseen, and has been forestalled.
(6) However severe the trial, God has promised that as our days our strength shall be.
(7) Especially dwell upon the promise that the Lord will make your darkness light. How is it done? Sometimes by the sun of His providence. Often by the moon of Christian experience, which shines with borrowed light, but yet with sweet and tranquil brightness. Frequently by a sight of Jesus going before, and by hearing Him say, “Follow Me; fear not; for in all your afflictions I am afflicted.”
2. The crooks of the believer’s lot.
(1) One may lie in your poverty.
(2) Another in some very crooked calamity.
(3) If free from these, he has at least a crooked self. The others would matter little but for this. It may be you have crooked temptations-temptations to profanity, etc.
3. God will make all the crooked things straight.
(1) It may be that some are straight now; the making straight is only to make them seem so to us. Our crosses are our best estates.
(2) God can bend the crooked straight, and what will not bend He can break. The crooked character has been bent straight; the judgment of God has taken away the crook out of the household, so that the righteous might have peace. If He do not this, He will give power to overleap the difficulty 2 Samuel 22:30).
II. SOME WORDS TO THE SEEKER.
1. Some doctrines are dark to you. God makes all light to faith.
2. Perhaps your darkness rises from deep depression of mind. Faith must precede its dispersion.
3. Your crooked natural disposition God can make straight. Note--
(1) That which saves is not what is, but what will be.
(2) It is not what you can do, but what God can do.
(3) This work may not be yours at once, but it shall be soon.
III. TWO LESSONS TO BELIEVERS.
1. If God will thus make all your darkness light and all your crooked things straight, do not forestall your troubles.
2. Always believe in the power of prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God brings safely through
“How shall we pass through this trial, dear?” asked an anxious wife of her Christian husband at a time of great perplexity. “Ask me six months hence,” he replied, “how we have passed through it, and I will tell you.”
Hear, ye deaf
Thus the Lord expostulates with His ancient people, and thus He has reason to expostulate with us.
1. We are deaf, in a spiritual sense, when we do not attend to the Divine admonitions, or give earnest heed to the word of instruction; and we are blind, in the same sense, when we do not perceive the glory of the Gospel, and the force and beauty of Divine truth.
2. Before one step in the way of salvation can be taken, this hindrance must be removed. The eyes of the blind must be opened, and the ears of the deaf must be unstop, pad. Hence there is a call to the deaf to hear, and to the blind to look that they may see. This is like the command of our Saviour to the man with the withered hand, to stretch it forth, and implies that this deafness and blindness was their fault, as well as their misfortune. In dependence upon His promise they ought, therefore, to stir themselves up to the discharge of their duty.
3. That the nations who have not the light of the Gospel should want spiritual senses is no wonder; but that those who are, by profession, the “servants” of God, and His “messengers,” or those to whom His messengers are sent, and perfectly instructed, should be blind and deaf, is much to be lamented.
4. The sincere followers of Christ whose eyes and ears He has opened to attend to His saving instructions; who love the Gospel, and have been led by it to repentance, faith and newness of life; who do not habitually neglect, but rather prize the ordinances of religion, and the means of grace; even these may be charged with not exercising, as they ought, the spiritual senses which God has given them. (W. Richardson.)
The ear and the eye as symbols
With a bold freedom do the writers of both the Old and New Testaments fasten the attention upon the sense of hearing. Throughout, the ear is the symbol of obedience. As by its common use the sense is the medium of interpretation of sounds, whether of nature or of the articulate expression of fellow-men, so, by further reference and deeper analogy, it stands as the avenue through which Divine communications may pass to the soul,--it may be in a still small voice. One might suppose, considering the high esteem in which obedience is held in the sacred polity of Israel, considering that obedience is ever regarded in the Old Testament as the test of national and individual loyalty to Jehovah, that the metaphor of the ear would occur more frequently than that of any other sense. Yet it is not so. A glance at any serviceable concordance will show that it is from the eyesight that evangelist and apostle, as well as psalmist and prophet, are furnished with their most telling spiritual illustrations. The reason for this is plain. If the sacred penman made the sense of hearing his object-lesson, it could only be one. It could only help him to emphasise the single conception of the duty and blessing of learning to obey. With the eyesight the manifold character of the teaching answered exactly to the complex faculties of the organ of vision. A concordance, better still an intimate knowledge of Holy Scripture, suggests obedience as the primary lesson of the Old Testament. The metaphor of the “ear” when found in the New Testament is commonly discovered in a setting of some Old Testament passage. Another illustration is wanted, correspondent to the greater fulness of a fresh revelation; and this illustration, common indeed to both covenants, is eyesight. (B. Whitefoord.)
Look, ye blind
Intelligence and candour, receptiveness and perseverance, faith, hope and charity--such are some amongst the many lessons inculcated through and in the possession of sight. (B. Whitefoord.)
The open eye
The spiritual eye is not the victim of accident or senility, although its clearer powers of vision may often be marred by sin and hampered by indolence. The spiritual eye is an open eye, full of meaning and purpose, cleansed by the tears of penitence, lighted up by faith end love, The eye is open; but not of that pitiful kind that is recognised as vacant. It is bright with significance, clear in its aim, strenuous and persevering in its direction. It has certain characteristic ranges of vision, and these, so Scripture and experience alike teach, are threefold.
I. IT LOOKS INWARD. It contemplates the soul. The eye first marks the worst within, an evil so general, so potent, that the main feeling is one of despair. It may now see the best that lies also within. For here, in the human heart, it perceives the work of the Holy Spirit.
II. IT LOOKS OUTWARD. It looks upon the world--
1. Of nature.
2. Of humanity.
III. IT LOOKS UPWARD--Godward. Nor is the upward look of the soul to God merely a passing act of worship (Psalms 25:15), but the very foretaste of His favour and aid. It is only the heart which is pure of earthly aims and hopes that shall at last reach the perfect vision of God. (B. Whitefoord.)
Who is blind, but My Servant?
The Lord’s Servant blind and deaf
I. CHRIST’S BLINDNESS. How should it be said of the Servant and Messenger of the Lord that He was blind as none other? How should it be said of Him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, whose look struck like a sword? Are not all things naked and open to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do? Yes.
1. But as to the older expositors have pointed out, He was m a sense blind. They dwelt on the fact that His was the blindness that has no sense of difficulties. It is told of an officer attacking an almost impregnable fort that he was in great peril, and, was recalled by his chief. To disobey the recall was death if only he saw it. He was blind in one eye, and when told of the recall he turned the blind eye on the signal, and asked that the battle should continue. This is the blindness of Christ and His faithful. “Who art thou, O great mountain?” Christ indeed lifted His eyes to the hills, but not to these lower hills that block the way and close us in. He lifted His eyes to the everlasting mountains towering far above them, on whose summit the final feast of triumph is to be spread. Beyond the obstacles and thwartings that marked His earthly course He had a vision of the patience of God. He was blind to difficulty, even as His apostle was. None of these things moved Him. A king about to engage an army five times as large as his own, prayed to God that He would take away from him the sense of numbers. The sense of numbers, in the earthly manner, Christ never possessed. On that side He was blind.
2. But I speak specially of His blindness to much in life that we consider it legitimate to see. He was blind to the allurement of our ordinary ambitions. The desire for money never seemed to touch Him. “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth,” said He, and He kept His own precept. There is something suggestive in His request, “Show Me a penny.” Evidently He did not possess one, and when He died He left nothing behind Him but the garment for which they threw dice beneath the tree. Nor had He anything of the modern feeling, which is not all a sham, that those who can open new channels of commerce and industry, who can promote the peaceable intercourse of the world, are serving humanity. He was blind also, so far as we can tell, to that region which is the scene of the chief triumphs and apostasies of the heart--the rich and volcanic and often wasted region of passion. I think that Dora Greenwell’s remark is true, that the passion of love which forms the staple of imaginative literature is absolutely unknown to the New Testament. Then, let us think of the immense encroachment on human thought and interest that the subject of recreation has made. There is a legitimate place for recreation, but it did not enter into the Lord’s thought. His one way of resting was to go into a desert place, or to ascend a mountain and pray. Once more, the sphere of art and culture He seems to have left alone. He, the poet of the universe, was not interested in poetry. He glanced at the Divine glory of the lily, and said that it surpassed even the glory of Solomom But of the treasures and marvels of human art and imagination had nothing to say, and apparently nothing to think.
II. CHRIST’S DEAFNESS. But who said, “The Lord God hath opened Mine ears, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back I gave My back to the smiters,” and My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair”? It was He who heard so well the lightest whisper of God. “I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within My heart.” What response ever came so quickly as our Lord’s, “Lo, I come”? To be obedient means to listen, and He was a listener unto death. But how deaf He was sometimes; how deaf when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness; how deaf to His friends when they sought to alter His course; how deaf to Peter when he said, “This shall not be unto Thee”; how deaf when they tried to make Him a King by force; how deaf in the judgment-hall when they asked Him, “Whence art Thou? Hearest Thou not how many things they witness against Thee? “The incarnate Lord stood with locked lips before Pilate, and answered only with a boding, fateful silence to questions such as these. And how supremely deaf when they called to Him, “If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the Cross.” But in the same way He was deaf,, not only to counsels of evil, but to much that seemed legitimate. Here, also, it appears as if many pleasant voices that spoke to Him might have been heeded without sin, and to His happiness. His life might have been richer, easier, more solaced, but He made sharp choices and stern renunciations and swift decisions, and so the fulness of life was not for Him, and the allurement and appeal were vain. Remember, He was never deaf and never blind when a soul sought Him. (W. Robertson Nicoll, LL. D)
Faculty should be used
Christianity makes no account of somnambulists in the daytime. Christianity expects us to use our faculties. The Church is to be the most sagacious of all institutions. The Christian is to be the most statesmanlike of all men. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness’ sake
The broken law magnified
THE GREAT AND GLORIOUS PARTY HERE SPOKEN OF. “The Lord,” or, as in the original, “Jehovah,” the righteous Judge, the offended Lord and Lawgiver, to whose wrath all mankind are liable, through the breach of the first covenant.
II. SOMETHING ASSERTED CONCERNING HIM, which may arrest the attention of all mankind, and fill their hearts with joy, and their mouths with praises; that is, that He “is well pleased.”
III. THE CAUSE AND GROUND OF THIS SURPRISING DECLARATION. It is “for His righteousness’ sake”; not for the sake of any atonement, or satisfaction, that the sinner could make, for no man can by any means redeem his own or his brother’s soul, nor give unto God a ransom for it. The redemption of the soul is precious, and ceaseth for ever as to him; but it is “for His righteousness’ sake,” who finished transgression, and made an end of sin.
IV. THE REASON WHY THE LORD JEHOVAH SUSTAINS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE SURETY IN THE ROOM OF THE SINNER, or why He is so well pleased for His righteousness’ sake. He not only fulfilled the law, both in its precept and penalty, but He magnifies it, and makes it honourable; He adds a new lustre unto the law, through the dignity of His person who obeys it. (E. Erskine.)
The law magnified and made honourable
Doctrine: That Christ, as our glorious Surety, having magnified the law and made it honourable, the Lord Jehovah declares Himself to be well pleased for His righteousness’ sake. I shall--
I. SUGGEST A FEW THINGS CONCERNING THE LAW, AND HOW IT WAS DISPARAGED BY THE SIN OF MAN.
1. The law here principally intended is the moral law.
2. The moral law is nothing else but s transcript of the original holiness of God’s nature.
3. The law being a copy or emanation of God’s holiness, it must be dearer to Him than heaven and earth, or the whole frame of nature.
4. This law was given to our first parents under the form of a covenant; a promise of life being made to them, upon condition of their yielding a perfect obedience; and a threatening of death added, in case of disobedience.
5. Man being left to the freedom of his own will, through the flattering hisses of the old serpent, “did break the law of God.” and so forfeited his title to life by virtue of that covenant; and brought himself, and all his posterity, under the penalty of death temporal, spiritual, and eternal.
6. The law being violated by sin, the honour of the law, and the authority of God, the great Law, ver, are, as it were, laid in the dust, and trampled under foot, by the rebellious sinner.
7. The law being violated, and the Lawgiver affronted, the salvation of sinners by the law becomes utterly impossible, unless the honour of the law, and of the great Lawgiver, be repaired and restored somehow or other.
II. SPEAK OF THE GLORIOUS PERSON WHO UNDERTAKES THE REPARATION OF IT AS OUR SURETY.
1. He is His Father’s Servant (Isaiah 42:1).
2. His Father’s Elect (Isaiah 42:1; Psalms 89:19).
3. His Father’s Darling or Delight (Isaiah 42:1).
4. He is qualified by His Father for the work and service of redemption, by the anointing of the eternal Spirit (Isaiah 42:1).
5. He is one whose commission is very extensive; for we are told that He shall “bring forth judgment to the Gentiles.”
6. He was to be a meek and lowly Saviour (Isaiah 42:21.
7. He was to be very tender and compassionate towards His poor people, particularly the weaklings of His flock (Isaiah 42:3).
8. He would be victorious and successful in His work (Isaiah 42:3-4).
9. He would bear His Father’s commission, and be sustained in His work by the right hand of His power (Isaiah 42:6).
10. He is the free gift of God unto a lost world. “And give thee for a covenant of the people” (Isaiah 42:6).
11. He would be the light of the world, and particularly a light to the poor Gentiles, who had so long sat in th4 e regions and shadow of death (Isaiah 42:6-7).
12. He would loose the devil’s prisoners (Isaiah 42:7)
III. INQUIRE WHAT MAY BE IMPORTED IN THE EXPRESSION OF HIS MAGNIFYING THE LAW, AND MAKING IT HONOURABLE. It supposes--
1. That the law is broken, and thereby the greatest indignity done to it, and to Him who gave it.
2. That God, the great Lawgiver, stands upon reparation.
3. That man, who has broken the law, is utterly incapable to repair its honour, or to satisfy justice.
4. That God, the great Lawgiver, admits of the substitution of a Surety in the room of the sinner.
5. That Christ, as our Surety, actually put His neck under the yoke of the Divine law.
6. That the holy law is no loser by Christ’s substitution in our room; it has all that it demanded in order to its satisfaction.
7. That the holy law, instead of being a loser, gains an additional honour and glory by the righteousness of the Surety.
IV. HOW HE MAGNIFIES THE LAW, AND WHAT WAY HE TAKES TO MAKE IT HONOURABLE. The moral law comes under a twofold consideration: it may be considered as a covenant, and as a rule of life.
1. As a covenant, He magnifies it, and makes it honourable; and this He did by fulfilling all its demands.
2. Christ magnifies the law as a rule of life, and this He doth several ways.
(1) By writing a fair copy of obedience to it, in His own example, for the imitation of all His followers.
(2) By explaining it in its utmost extent, for” it is exceeding broad.”
(3) By establishing the obligation of it as a rule of obedience unto all His followers (Matthew 5:17; Romans 3:31).
(4) By writing it upon the heart of all His followers, by the finger of His eternal Spirit (Jeremiah 31:33).
(5) By enforcing obedience to the law, among all His followers, by stronger motives than the law itself, abstractly considered, could afford. “The love of Christ constraineth us.”
(6) By actuating them in their obedience to the law by His own Spirit Ezekiel 36:27).
V. GIVE THE REASONS OF THE DOCTRINE. Why is it that Christ doth magnify the law, and make it honourable?
1. From the regard He had to His Father’s honour and authority, affronted in the violation of the law.
2. Out of love that He bore to our salvation, which could not be accomplished without the penalty of the law had been endured, and the precept of it obeyed.
3. Because He was ordained of God from eternity for His work and service; He was set up for it by the decree and ordination of heaven, and He did always these things that pleased His Father.
4. Because He had given His engagement in the council of peace.
5. He magnified the law as a covenant, that “we might be freed from it,” in its covenant form and curse (Galatians 4:4; Romans 7:4).
6. He magnified the law, and made it honourable, as a covenant, that we may obey it as a rule, and serve the Lord without fear of the curse and condemnation, “in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives.”
7. To procure and confirm His own right of government as Mediator Romans 14:9).
8. That He might still the enemy and the avenger, and outshoot the devil in his own bow.
VI. MAKE SOME APPLICATION.
1. See hence the excellency of the law of God, and the sacred regard that God bears unto it.
2. See hence the evil of sin, and why Christ came to finish transgression, and make an end of it.
3. See hence the dreadful situation of every sinner that is out of Christ, destitute of His righteousness.
4. See hence the wonderful love of God to lost sinners, in sending His own Son to magnify the law, after we had broken it; and at the same time it discovers the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, though He be supreme Judge, King, and Lawgiver, yet was willing to be made “under the law,” and to obey it as a subject, that we might be delivered from law-vengeance, and have the righteousness of it fulfilled in us through Him.
5. See hence the ignorance and error of those who are prejudiced against the doctrine of Justification by faith, as if it were prejudicial to the holy law, or did any way derogate from its honour and authority.
6. See hence the error of those who assert that a justified believer is still liable to the curse or penal sanction of the law.
7. See the error and folly of those who go about to “establish their own righteousness” as the ground of their justification and acceptance, and “refuse to submit unto the righteousness of God.”
8. This doctrine lets us see the error of those who, though they will not absolutely reject the righteousness of Christ, yet will adventure to mingle something of their own with it.
9. See the error of those who deny Christ’s active obedience to the law to be any part of our justifying righteousness.
10. See hence how little reason even believers, who are justified before God, have to be proud of what they are come to. (E. Erskine.)
He will magnify the law, and make it honourable
The law magnified in man’s redemption
1. With respect to “law.” It is a word used in Scripture in two ways; and matters very important are said about it, both as it is a universal thing, and as it is a particular thing.
(1) By law as it is a universal thing, I mean the moral law, which cannot but exist wherever there is an intelligent creature upon earth. We cannot conceive of any creature existing anywhere having intelligence and moral feeling, of whom it is not the duty to love God with all the heart, and to love other beings as himself; and in that one thing we have the elements and rudiments of all possible morals. The law is more than advice--it has authority, and therefore has sanctions associated with it. We cannot conceive of any moral creatures who are not under it,--either in the perfection of their obedience and enjoying the blessedness which waits upon it, or as the victims of it and having administered to them its penalty, or (if there be such a thing) in an intermediate state, in which they are convicted as transgressors, and yet have the opportunity of escaping the penalty. And this last is altogether supernatural; the other two are what we call natural.
(2) What I mean by law as a limited thing is the ceremonial institutions which were given to a particular part of mankind and for a particular time. These have not their basis in the nature of things. They rest simply upon the Divine authority. As such they have an importance affixed to them in the reasonings and representations of Divine truth.
2. To “magnify the law and make it honourable” cannot mean that Messiah was to produce any change in it,--that what He did was to perfect the law itself. As to the moral law, there it is, necessarily resulting from the Divine perfections and government, a glorious and sublime thing, as incapable of improvement as the perfections of God; as changeless and permanent as God. So with respect to the ceremonial law, Christ did not in fact do anything to it in the way of enlarging it.
3. Another idea might be dwelt upon: that we cannot suppose that this means that there was to be any change effected in the conceptions of God about the law,--that the work of Christ was intended to affect the Divine mind in relation to the perceptions that it had of law. There, in the Divine intellect, lay the law in all its perfections and splendour; and we cannot conceive that the Divine mind needed any change in its conceptions of law, or that the law could be magnified and made more glorious in its estimation. We cannot conceive that God could have a more distinct perception with respect to it at one time than at another. And so with respect to the ceremonial law. It was a thing that resulted from the Divine mind, and in the Divine mind there were reasons for every appointment which He made.
4. So that we are led, by these simple and natural steps, to this idea: that this “magnifying the law and making it honourable” must signify the manner in which created minds were to be affected by it. Something (whatever it might be) was to be done by which there should be a certain impression with respect to law produced upon the minds of the intelligent universe. Something might be done that should (so to speak) give body and substance and visibility to God’s own conceptions about His law. These might be made manifest to the universe. God’s creatures might come to understand how He looked at it--the reverence and respect (if we may so speak) that He had for it. And that is what I think it means. That is what I think was done. And for this there was a necessity. And the Scripture teaches this in the plainest way, and puts it before us again and again
5. If sin had never entered into the universe, God’s law would always have been a sublime thing in the estimation of that universe. And if, when sin was admitted into the universe, permitted to enter, the penalties and sanctions of the law were carried out fully and literally, then law would always have been magnified; it would then also have been always a great and glorious thing. But if there is to be the fact, that there are violaters of the law, those that on just principles are exposed to the penalty, and yet there is to be, along with that, another fact--that they escape, that they are treated as if they were actually righteous and enter into the full enjoyment of the results of perfect obedience, then law so far seems to go for nothing. Therefore there was this necessity. It is required that something shall be done the moral effect of which upon the minds of God’s rational creatures, who are all under His government and are all ruled by Him, shall be equivalent to the impression which would have been produced by the literal carrying out of the principles of law itself. And that is just the thing which the work of Christ does. And by the effecting of that thing it is that this prophetic declaration is realised.
6. The conclusion of the matter, then, is--the manner in which this is done.
(1) We might dilate upon the manner in which the scope of Christ’s teaching always maintained the authority of the law.
(2) We might speak with respect to His own personal character.
(3) But all these are hut preliminary and preparatory to that one great act which I deem to be the consummation of Messiah’s work; in which the law was honoured and magnified by His propitiatory sacrifice; in which, in a certain sense, He stood forth bearing the penalty of the moral law, and in another sense manifesting the substance and casting a glory upon the ceremonial. “It became” God thus to act. As “the children were partakers of flesh and blood,” the Son of God took part of the same; that being manifested in our nature, and having thus a body prepared for Him, He might present Himself as the Lamb of God, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,” and that He might accomplish the great redemption act, which consisted in substitution, in the sacrifice upon the Cross for the sins of the world. There was a substitution in two senses; a substitution of person, and a substitution of suffering.
(4) The law is “magnified and made honourable” by Christ, inasmuch as His people are redeemed unto obedience. The Gospel as it is revealed here is a thing distinct from law, yet is not contrary to it, but consistent with it, illustrative of it, sustaining it, beautifying it, magnifying it. (T. Binney.)
Who among you will give ear to this?
I. THE TRUE CAUSE OF NATIONAL CALAMITIES IS HERE POINTED OUT--SIN. The public distresses of the men of Judah and Israel did not proceed from fate or fortune, but from the Supreme Lord of the universe, who, as the just punishment of their atrocious wickedness, delivered them into the hands of them who spoiled and deprived them of their possessions. Their most powerful enemies could not have treated them in the manner here described had not He who rules in the kingdoms of men given them as a prey on account of their aggravated and multiplied transgressions. Though the various events, prosperous and adverse, that happen to nations and individuals are brought about by the intervention of means and instruments, the hand of the Almighty ought never to be overlooked, but humbly acknowledged. “Is there any evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Afflictions are necessary to the government of the world in its present state; they check the progress of wickedness, and show the dreadful consequences of incurring the wrath of the Almighty.
II. THE JUST CONSEQUENCE OF TRANSGRESSION IS HERE DESCRIBED. “Therefore, because they would not walk in all His ways,” etc. The deplorable state of the Jewish nation at the time this prophecy was delivered, and in succeeding periods, is here graphically described. An awful instance of the Divine judgments!
III. THE ONLY METHOD TO ESCAPE DIVINE JUDGMENT IS HERE SUGGESTED. The prophet directs his discourse to the hypocritical and disobedient, who were averse to admit light into their minds, to admit conviction of their sin and danger. They were neither affected by the calamities which they felt, nor feared those with which they were threatened, though the storm was gathering thick around them. Of such people the Jewish nation were mostly composed at the time of the prophecy; and the prophet inquires, “Who among you will give ear to this, and hearken for the time to come?” (T. Lewis.)
It hath set him on fire round about
Playing with fire
Because of their unfaithfulness, God gave up His people to divers judgments, and yet the prophet has to deplore that Israel failed to recognise the hand of God in their tribulation; they would not understand and repent; although they were burned, yet they laid it not to heart.
I. THE DESTRUCTIVENESS OF SIN. “It hath set him on fire round about.” It was the purpose of God that Israel should dwell in safety in a rich and pleasant land. But the chosen people sinned against God, so He gave Jacob for a spoil and Israel to the robbers. Sometimes the plague wasted the land, sometimes the great army of locusts and caterpillars, at other times the land was devastated by fire and sword. In the text we behold invading armies overrunning the country, leaving it a smoking ruin. So sin has spoiled the world. Our nation, that might be so entirely rich and happy, is plagued with miseries; houses which might be paradises are hells; hearts which might be watered gardens are full of blackness. And there is nothing arbitrary in this retribution (Isaiah 1:31). The idolater is as tow, and his work is the spark which ignites the blaze of destruction. Oh, hesitate l you cannot break the law but it is as fire among the dry stubble, bringing with it an inevitable train of disasters and miseries.
II. THE INFATUATION OF SINNERS. “Yet he knew it not.” “Yet he laid it not to heart.” The proverb says, “The burnt child dreads the fire.” This is equally true of men in their business life. Let a man speculate in some concern or other that turns out badly, people say, “Ah! he has burnt his fingers.” Now, when a man has done that, beware how you approach him with your rosy prospectuses. He will show you his blisters, and send you away with scant courtesy. As the Orientals say, “He who has suffered from a firebrand is afraid of a firefly.” A victim is afraid of anything that bears the most distant likeness to that from which he suffered. This is rational. But men are not thus cautious in regard to the moral life. There they blind themselves, harden themselves, and when God’s judgments are let loose upon them they will not see, when they are burned they will not lay it to heart. What a striking illustration of this we have in Pharaoh! The history of Israel is an illustration, on a larger scale, of the same blindness and insensibility. How many times did their idolatry bring them into trouble! And yet they would not hear, they would not see, until wrath came upon them to the uttermost in the captivity of Babylon, in their overthrow by the Romans. How often do we ourselves fail to take to heart God’s sharp yet gracious warnings! How is it that, whilst we dread the fire which burns the skin, we do not fear the fire which sears the soul?
1. The fire which burns sears. The action of sin destroys sensibility, so do neglected judgments (Jeremiah 6:15). Let us lay to heart the first sense of shame, the first warning, the first rebuke! When a choice ornament is unhappily slightly fractured there is great and sincere distress; but the next accident is taken lightly, and only provokes the merry rejoinder, “Oh, it was cracked!” When a thing is stained or fractured, a spot or crack more or less after that seems of no great consequence.
2. The fire which burns seduces. If men once begin to lack sincerity, to disregard the still, small whisper of conscience, to trifle with the fine health of the pure and faithful soul, sin, despite all its implied agony, soon acquires an indescribable fascination--we suffer through it, and yet we cling to it. Illustration, the moth and the flame. So men are fascinated by the flame which consumes them. In the whole mystery of iniquity is nothing more mysterious than the way in which sin seems to master the reason of men, and to allure and charm them to ruin. So Israel was fascinated by idolatry; dreadfully plagued as they were for their lapses, they could not resist the glamour. So it is with men once committed to the hypnotic power of evil--they linger on the verge of death.
3. The fire which burns spares. Strange reason this, but it is a reason. There was an element of mercy in the judgments of Israel, and very mercy was misconstrued and turned into lasciviousness (Isaiah 1:5; Isaiah 1:7). Children playing with fire are sometimes only slightly injured, and then they make light of it, and repeat their trifling; and perhaps in the end they pay very dearly indeed. So it was with the Jews. They lost a bit of territory; they were compelled to pay tribute; some of them fell by the sword, or were carried into captivity; they were afflicted in measure, and they presumed. So it is still (Ecclesiastes 8:11). The law of retribution is ever working in human life; ever and anon it drops blazing warnings at our feet; and be sure the day of the Lord will come, when He will arise and judge the earth in righteousness, when wrath to the uttermost will come upon the obstinately disobedient. God’s “sparing mercies” appeal to you to sin no more. (W. L. Watkinson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 42". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13