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But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob
The true relation of Israel to Jehovah
The main subject of this chapter is the true relation of Israel to Jehovah, and its application in the way both of warning and encouragement.
The doctrine taught is that their segregation from the rest of men, as a peculiar people, was an act of sovereignty, independent of all merit in themselves, and not even intended for their benefit exclusively, but for the accomplishment of God’s gracious purposes respecting men in general. The inferences drawn from the fact are, that Israel would certainly escape the dangers which environed him, however imminent; and, on the other hand, that he must suffer for his unfaithfulness to God. In illustration of these truths the prophet introduces several historical allusions and specific prophecies, the most striking of the former having respect to the exodus from Egypt, and of the latter to the fall of Babylon. It is important to the just interpretation of the chapter that these parts of it should be seen in their true light and proportion as incidental illustrations, not as the main subject of the prophecy, which, as already stated, is the general relation between God and His ancient people, and His mode of dealing with them, not at one time, but at all times. (J. A. Alexander.)
The right of the Creator
1. In reviewing Providence, men do not go far enough back. The Lord Himself always takes a great sweep of time. Here is an instance in point. “But now, thus saith the Lord that created thee,. . . and He that formed thee.” No argument is built upon what happened an hour ago. Thus God will have us go back to creation day, to formation time, and take in all the childhood, all the youthhood, all the manhood, all the education and strife and discipline, all the attrition and all the harmony, all the week-days and all the Sabbath-days; and He would bid us watch the mystery of time, until it comes out in blossoming and fruitfulness and benediction. We should have no pain if we had the right line of review and pursued it, and comprehended it, in its continuity and entirety. There are many creations.
God is always creating life, and always forming it. There is an individual existence; there is a national organisation; there are birthdays of empires and birthdays of reform.
2. The Church must recognise its period of creation and formation. Jacob was not always a people; Israel was not always a significant name, a symbol in language; and individuals are gathered together into societies, and they are charged with the administration of the kingdom of Christ, and as such they must go back and remember their Creator, and adore their Maker, and serve their Saviour, and renew their inspiration where it was originated.
3. Right relations to God on the part of man should be realised. This appeal rises into climax, into convincing and triumphant words. I have “created thee”; that is the basal line--“formed thee,” given thee shape and relation; “redeemed thee,” paid for thee; “called thee By thy name,” like a friend or child: “thou art Mine.” Yet all this is in the Old Testament! Do we not fly from the Old Testament into the New, that we may have some sight of the tenderness of God? There is no need for such flight. There are tenderer words about God in the Old Testament than there are in the New.
4. This relation carries everything else along with it. After this there can be nothing but detail. “When thou passest,” etc. (Isaiah 43:2). (J. Parker, D. D.)
Absolute ownership. He who speaks is our Creator. He claims our attention also because He knows us. Fear is the apprehension of danger, both natural and moral. With regard to natural tear, some are more timid than others. But this is no index to the moral state of the heart. Nerves which are strong do not constitute faith; nerves which are weak do not indicate distrust in God. To remove the distrust which Israel felt, three guarantees are offered--
I. REDEMPTION. “For I have redeemed thee.” From whence came the idea of redemption? (Leviticus 25:25-34.) This is the figure used in the text and elsewhere to show that God has taken away the moral disabilities under which we had fallen through sin. The principle is not without analogy. When the golden grain is enslaved in the earth, the ray of light, the drop of water, and the warm breeze come to redeem their brother.
1. The right to redeem was vested in the next of kin, hence the necessity for the incarnation of the Son of God. The transaction was confined to the family of the brother who had waxen “poor.” No portion of the inheritance must ultimately go out of the family, for even if no one of the next of kin was able to redeem it, in the year of Jubilee a full restoration was made. Not only the inheritance must have remained in the family, but the redemption of it was restricted to the family, that it might ever appear of value to the members of the family as a sacred trust from God. This is the very estimate of human life which the Incarnation conveys: to redeem that life the redeemer must be one of the family. But the necessity appears, because the family of man must be impressed with the value of the inheritance which God hath given. The life of Jesus brings home to us the facts that human life is infinitely valuable, and that God has His hold upon it, although mortgaged to another. “All souls are Mine.” “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
2. To free the possession the ransom must be paid. The sovereignty of the gift did not free the inheritance from encumbrances contracted by the possessor. Justice demanded the redemption price. In the interest of rectitude and the influence of the moral law, Christ “gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity,” etc. As to the nature of the ransom, St. Peter says, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ.”
II. CALLED. “And called thee by thy name.” The reference here is either to a legal form of calling out the name of the mortgagor, with the declaration that henceforth his possession was free; or to the trumpet of the Jubilee, which was a direct call to every debtor to resume his liberty.
1. Personal salvation. When we are accosted by name the whole being is involved, with every interest concerned. God calls the sinner to repentance.
2. Personal realisation. The brother who had waxen poor knew he was free, because his name had been called that he might be assured of his freedom. The deed was handed over to him re.conveying the property into his name. Faith leads to the realising of forgiveness and peace.
III. REINSTATED. “Thou art Mine.” The idea is that by grace man is brought back to the peace and service of God.
1. The claim is universal. Wherever the new heart is, God claims it for His own.
2. The claim is absolute. We are no longer our own, but, having been bought with a price, we glorify God in body and mind.
3. We are now on trial, but there will be a final recognition. “They shall be Mine,” etc. (T. Davies, M. A.)
The Divine responsibility
1. Responsibility is not a word that can be limited to man. It must belong to those higher orders of created intelligence known to us as angels of various degrees. It must belong to the Eternal One Himself. It must be that He holds Himself responsible for the creation and its consequences. If responsibility belongs to the creature made in the image of God, it is inherited responsibility; it comes down from Him who made him.
2. Let us approach the subject cautiously. God’s revelation of Himself is intended to be a light to the mind and a joy to the heart. Everyone who knows anything of Scripture knows how gradual has been the revelation of God to the human race. Not till we reach the time of David do we get the word father as applied to Deity, and then only in a figurative sort of way. Isaiah prophesies that one of the signs of the Christian dispensation shall be that the name of God as revealed in Christ shall be “the Everlasting Father.” Men had known Deity as the Self-Existent God--the source of life. They had thought of Him as the God of providence, the Great Provider, who had them in His hands, and would care for them, and that is about the utmost practical view attained to in the Old Testament. In that wonderful book of Job, the epitomised life of the human race, we have the thought of an unrealised Redeemer,--but “My Father and your Father, My God and your God” is new Testament language, and post-resurrection speech at that.
3. This speech leads us to the thought of the Divine responsibility. It is not our invention but God’s revelation that, like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. We have a right, then, to say that at least the same measure of responsibility which belongs to a father for the nourishment, education, and development of his child belongs to the great Eternal Father for us all. We are not responsible for the laws which work in our own constitutions, for we did not create those laws. We are not responsible for anything which is out of our own power. I am not responsible for the original tendency to sinfulness which was in my nature when born into this world. Nor am I responsible for being born; nor for being born where I was born; nor for having just those parents which were mine; nor for being just so high and just so heavy; nor for having the temperament and disposition with which I was born.
4. I suppose that in the generations behind us there have lived people who verily persuaded themselves that they were responsible for the sin of Adam, that they were doomed because an ancestor of generations ago was a wilful sinner. Every man inherits tendencies from past generations. When the first of men wilfully disobeyed God, he started in himself a tendency which, if not resisted, would become a habit of wrong-doing--and that habit would be propagated into the next generation, and into the next, and so on. And that is what is meant by original sin--the tendency created by generations past to wrong--stamping its impress upon mind and heart, yea, upon the physical organism. It is so in the animal world. In the past, dogs have been trained to fold sheep, and the instruction has become a habit, and the habit has created a tendency in the next generation to do the same thing, and has become fixed--a second nature, as we say. And this law runs through all creation, even into the vegetable world. Now, He who made man is responsible for the original law by which tendencies to good and evil can be propagated from sire to son. The law is not evil; it is good. But good laws are often used for bad purposes. From a reservoir of pure water pipes are laid to every house in the city. Those pipes were laid for the conveyance of pure, wholesome water for the benefit of a large population. That was the original design and intention. But suppose that city should be besieged by a barbarian army--suppose the army should surround the reservoir and poison the waters, the very pipes which were laid for the conveyance of life would be conduits for the conveyance of death. But that was not their original design. And so our guilt does not extend to Deity. He is responsible for the beneficent law, not for the sin which has been transmitted along it. The very idea of intelligence involves freedom. Either there must be freedom, or there can be no intelligence and no morality.
5. We cannot conceive of an omniscient God, without admitting that He must have foreseen that the creature He made would abuse His liberty. Does the Divine responsibility extend to making such provision as would prevent it? Clearly not. We cannot conceive how it could be made, and yet leave man a free moral agent, not a machine. The Divine responsibility extends to the providing a means whereby not simply to develop an innocent man, but to save a guilty man from the spiritual consequences of his sin. From all the consequences he cannot be saved; from the fatal consequences he can. That God did anticipate the fall from innocence of His creature, and provide for meeting man in a fallen condition, is evident from one single expression, “the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.” Redemption was no afterthought. For our own convenience, it may be necessary at times to speak of justice, and at other times of mercy. But justice and mercy in God are never represented as in antagonism. They ever go hand-in-hand, like light and heat in the sunbeams. When God opened the eyes of the great apostle he saw this truth, that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” or, as it is more correctly, “superabounded,” abounded over and above. In this dispensation of things a lost man has not simply to reject God as a Creator, but God as a Redeemer--God in Christ--the God who has done all and everything possible to be done to nullify the fatal results of sin.
6. You remember the complimentary word uttered respecting Abraham: “I know him that he will command his children”; and in every father there is lodged the right to command--the duty to command. That weak tenderness which permits disobedience to go unrebuked and unpunished, is not Divine tenderness. It is the frailty of human irresoluteness. There is nothing of that in God. (R. Thomas, D. D.)
The vision of Isaiah contains a representation of the present and future state of Israel and Judah. And because some of his expressions might be interpreted as if all the twelve tribes should be utterly cast away, he frequently intersperses such consolations as this, to assure the people that if they were duly corrected and reformed by their captivity, God would bring them out of it, and raise them up again to be His Church and people.
I. To confirm them in the belief of such a restoration, He puts them in mind of SEVERAL ARGUMENTS AND REASONS to expect it.
1. He tells them that upon their repentance God had promised them such a restoration.
2. Isaiah calls upon the people to consider that this promise of salvation is made to them by that God “who created Jacob and formed Israel.” This, indeed, is a common topic of con solation to every pious man, that He who created him will have mercy on him, and is able, in all circumstances, to make good His promises, and preserve the work of His own hands. But it was very proper for this people, above all others, to make such inferences, because they had been in a peculiar manner created and formed of God.
3. They might conclude this from former redemptions which God had wrought for them. “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee.”
4. A fourth ground of Israel’s hope for God’s future mercies, were the gracious appellations which He had bestowed upon them. “I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.” He had changed their father Jacob’s name to Israel. He had named them His “holy nation,” His “peculiar people.”
5. A further argument to Israel to trust in God, were the deliverances which He had vouchsafed to some of them. “When thou goest (or hast gone) through the waters, they have not overflowed thee; and through the fire, it hath not kindled upon thee.”
II. The words are certainly a common topic of CONSOLATION TO ALL THE FAITHFUL SERVANTS OF GOD. So that, to find our own blessing in them, and to understand them as the voice of our own merciful Father, we have nothing else to do but to approve ourselves His obedient children; for He is no respecter of persons.
1. As God promised His people a restoration from their captivity, upon their true repentance and return to their duty, so will He rescue us from the slavery of sin and Satan, if we do in good earnest feel the oppression and misery of it, and would much rather be employed in doing God’s will, and keeping His commandments.
2. Was it an argument to Israel to trust in God, because He had created them and formed them in so special a manner as is before represented? The like consideration is equally comfortable to every member of the Church of Christ. For in Him we are born again.
3. All the redemptions which God vouchsafed to Israel are proofs to us of His infinite power and goodness, and figures of greater things which He will do for us.
4. If God’s gracious appellations of Israel assured them of His special regard for them, no less ground of rejoicing have we in the like assurance of His favour towards us.
5. In cases of extreme danger, particularly in perils of fire and water, God has shown Himself the same in the Christian u He was of old in the Jewish Church, a sufficient Helper to deliver out of such troubles. (W. Reading, M. A.)
The goodness of God to Israel
In the latter part of the preceding chapter we read of the sins, not of the obedience of Israel. After this, what might have been expected but that He would punish them still more severely, if not abandon them as incorrigible? In the text, however, He promises to magnify His mercy in doing them good. Consider--
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE PEOPLE HERE SPOKEN OF. It may be inferred from the names given to them in the text. They are addressed by the convertible names of “Jacob,” and “Israel.” His name Jacob was changed because he had wrestled with God for His blessing till he succeeded in obtaining it. Hence, then, we may learn the character of His spiritual children--they wrestle with God in prayer for His blessing till they prevail. But this general description of them includes several particulars. Consider--
1. What they do. They pray. And does not this at once distinguish them from thousands around them?
2. To whom are their prayers addressed? To the true God who is also their own God--the God of Israel. This also separates them from an immense number of the human race; for how many, alas, are there in the world who are totally mistaken as to the proper object of worship!
3. They pray to Him alone. There are not a few in the world who unite the worship of Jehovah with that of their own idols.
4. But what does Israel pray for? For God’s blessing. This implies that they feel their need of it, and, by consequence, that they differ essentially from all persons of a self-righteous and self-sufficient spirit.
5. How do they pray? In faith. They pray also fervently. They are not like many, cold, formal, and lifeless in prayer. They persevere, too, till they prevail. But were they always such characters? No; there was a time when they were as prayerless as others. Who, then, has made them to differ? God alone.
II. WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THEM IN TIME PAST; or what are the steps which He has taken to make them what they are. These steps are three--
1. He has created them. “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob,” etc. They are subjects of a creation to which all others are entire strangers. What renders this creation necessary is the corruption of our nature, which is total, since the Fall. It is a creation of good substituted for evil, a heart of flesh for a heart of stone, light for darkness, holiness for sin, faith for sense, life for death, happiness for misery. Every real Christian is the subject of it. It is ejected by the operation of the Holy Ghost. To God, therefore, belongs the whole glory of it.
2. He has redeemed them. “Fear not; for I have redeemed thee.”
3. He has called them by their names. “I have called thee by thy name.” And what does this imply?
(1) “That they are made partakers of the heavenly calling,” “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
(2) That God well knows His people.
(3) We know that when a mar of superior rank and dignity calls an inferior by his name, he is considered to treat him with uncommon marks of kindness and familiarity, and to confer upon him a peculiar honour. Such kindness and honour, then, does God bestow upon His people. He is not ashamed to be called their God, and to allow each of them, like Abraham, to be called the friend of God.
4. This, then, is what the Lord has done for Israel His people; and He therefore calls them His, saying, “Thou art Mine.” Has He not the most indisputable title to their persons and services?
III. WHAT HE PROMISES TO DO FOR THEM IN TIME TO COME, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,” etc.
1. To pass through fire and water appears to have been a proverbial expression for passing through various kinds of dangers, trials, and afflictions.
2. But why does God suffer His people to be thus afflicted? Because they are children whom He loves.
3. And do their tribulations answer the ends which He has in view? Yes; there is not one of His afflicted ones who has not had cause to say, sooner or later, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”
4. We are not, however, to suppose that afflictions of themselves ever bear these blessed fruits. Unblest and unsanctified, they have rather a contrary tendency, and produce very different effects. And were it not for the presence of God with His people, in the water and the fire, they would be injured and destroyed by them. But they need not fear; for faithful is He that hath promised.
5. Need I remind you how this promise has been verified, or how the presence of God has been with His people in every age of the Church?
(1) Look, first, at Israel after the flesh. See their afflictions in Egypt, and know their sorrows. Behold the bush burning with fire, and yet not consumed. God is in the midst of it. Follow them in their passage out of that house of bondage. God is with them in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night. Observe them again during their captivity in Babylon. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the servants of the Most High God, walked in the midst of the fire, and had no hurt. They had a fourth in their company, whom even Nebuchadnezzar could not help saying was like the Son of God.
(2) Look, next, into New Testament times, and even to later ages, and you will find additional evidence of the blessed truth before us. (D. Rees.)
The exhortation and promises of God to the afflicted
I. THE AFFLICTIONS TO WHICH THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE LIABLE.
1. The text intimates that they may be great. “Waters”: “rivers”; calamities which seem as deep and overwhelming as sweeping torrents, and as likely to destroy them.
2. Their troubles may be diversified. They may be in the waters to-day and may have deliverance, but to-morrow they may be called on to walk through “the fire” and “the flame”; to endure trials which are unexpected and strange, different in their nature from any they have yet experienced, and far more severe and biter.
3. The text implies also that these afflictions are certain. It speaks of them as things of course.
II. HOW SEASONABLE AND ENCOURAGING IS THE EXHORTATION.
1. There is a fear of afflictions which is a natural, and by no means sinful, feeling; a fear which leads us to avoid them, if the will of God will allow us to avoid them, and if not, to receive them with much thoughtfulness and prayer; to be aware of the dangers with which they are invariably accompanied, and of our utter inability in ourselves to escape or overcome them.
2. But there is a fear of another kind. It springs from unbelief, and is the cause of tour, touring, despondency, and wretchedness. It is a fear which tempts us to choose sin rather than affliction; which prevents us from praising God under our trials, and from trusting to Him to bring us out of them. Such a fear is as dishonourable to God as it is disquieting to ourselves, and He who values nothing so highly as His own honour and our happiness commands us to lay it aside. It might have been supposed that such an exhortation from such a Being would have been sufficient of itself to dispel the fears of those to whom it is addressed; but a compassionate God does not leave it to its own unaided authority.
III. He supports and strengthens it by TWO MOST GRACIOUS PROMISES.
1. He promises us His own presence with us in our trials. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.” His people are the objects of His special attention.
(1) We are not, however, to infer that the afflicted Christian is always aware of the companion with whom he is walking. He often imagines himself left alone in his trials.
(2) Neither are we to suppose that all the afflicted servants of the Lord have the same manifestations of His presence. Some do not need them so much as others. They have not the same temptations to withstand, nor the same burdens to bear, nor the same duties to perform. They are surrounded with more outward comforts, and consequently they less need those which are inward. Some also do not desire or seek the light of their Father’s countenance so earnestly as their brethren. They lean more on earthly friends and succours. He who is infinitely wise, always suits the nature and measure of His gracious manifestations to the necessities and, in one sense, to the characters of His people. He gives them what they need, and what they desire and seek.
2. There is the promise of preservation under all our calamities. What does preservation imply? It implies that our trials shall not injure us. Rivers are likely to overflow, and flames likely to burn, those who pass through them. Affliction is likely to injure, and would inevitably ruin us, if God were not near. It tempts us to rebel against the Divine providence and to distrust the Divine goodness; to be thankless, impatient, and repining. The mind, already weakened, perhaps, and bewildered by the pressure of adversity, is easily led to apprehend still greater troubles, and faints at the prospect. This, too, is the season when our great adversary is most to be dreaded. It is in the night that the wild beasts of the forest roar after their prey; and it is in the darkness of spiritual or temporal adversity that Satan directs against us his most violent assaults. The fact is that our spiritual interests are much more endangered by tribulation than our worldly prosperity. It is the soul which is most exposed, and which most needs preservation; and preservation is here promised to it. The Christian often enters the furnace cold-hearted, earthly-minded, and comfortless; he comes out of it peaceful, confiding, burning with love for his delivering God, and thirsting after the enjoyment of His presence.
IV. The Lord vouchsafes to add to His precious promises several reasons or ARGUMENTS TO ASSURE US OF THEIR FULFILMENT.
1. The first is drawn from the relation in which He stands to us as our Creator. “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel.” This language refers to our spiritual as well as to our natural existence. Here, then, is a solid ground of confidence. The Father of our spirits must be well acquainted with their infirmities and weakness. “He knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust.” Neither will He ever forsake the work of His own hands.
2. The Almighty draws another argument to enforce His exhortation, from the property which He has in His people, and the manner in which He acquired it. “Fear not,” He says, “for I have redeemed thee,” etc. We are His by creation, but He has also made us His by redemption. And what a mighty price did He pay for us! Will He then abandon that which He so much values, which cost Him so dear?
3. There is yet another reason assigned why we should cast away fear in the hour of tribulation--the covenant God has formed with His people ensures the fulfilment of His promises. “I am the Lord thy God,” He says, “the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour”; thus implying that He has entered into some engagement with His Israel; that He considers Himself bound to be with them in their troubles and distresses; that His own veracity, His own faithfulness, are at stake, and would be sacrificed if Israel were forsaken or injured. He thus connects His own honour with their safety. Lessons--
1. How rich in consolation is the Word of’God!
2. How essential to our happiness is a knowledge of our interest in the Divine promises!--to appropriate them to ourselves, and rejoice in them.
3. How full of confidence and praise ought they to be, who live in the enjoyment of the Divine presence in trouble!
4. How blind to their own interest are they who reject the Gospel of Christ! (C. Bradley, M. A.)
Love abounding, love complaining, love abiding
(with Isaiah 43:22-24; Isaiah 44:21-23):--
(1) Notice that these three texts are very much alike in this respect--that they are each addressed to God’s people under the names of Jacob and Israel.
(2) These texts are like each other, again, from their overflowing with love. I do not know where the Lord’s love is best seen, when He declares it and tells of what He has done and is doing for His people, or when He laments over their want of love in return, or when He promises to blot out their past sin, and invites them to return to Him and enjoy His restoring grace.
I. We have in our first text, LOVE ABOUDING.
1. Notice the time when that love is declared. The first verse begins, “But now, thus saith the Lord.” When was that? It was the very time when He was angry with the nation by reason of their great sins (Isaiah 42:25). It was a time, then, of special sin, and of amazing hardness of heart. When a man begins to burn, he generally feels and cries out; he must be far gone in deadly apathy when he is touched with fire and yet lays it not to heart. It was a time of love with God, though a time of carelessness with His people.
2. The Lord shows His abounding love by the sweetness of His consolations, “But now, thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not.” “Fear not” is a little word measured by space and letters; but it is an abyss of consolation if we remember who it is that saith it, and what a wide sweep the comfort takes. Fear hath torment, and the Lord would cast it out. You that are the people of God may be smarting, and crying, and sighing. But, oh the love of God to you. He hears your cries, and His compassions are moved towards you! Nothing touches Him like the groans of His children. There is a wonderful intensity of affection in this passage, spoken, as it is, by the great God to His people while they are under the rod which they so richly deserve.
3. The fulness of God’s love is to be seen in the way in which He dwells with evident satisfaction upon His past dealings with His people. When we love some favoured one, we like to think of all our love passages in years gone by; and the Lord so loves His people, that, even when they are under His chastening hand, He still delights to remember His former loving-kindnesses. We may forget the wonders of His grace, but He doth not forget. He “created,” “redeemed,” “called.” He dwells upon His possession of His people. “Thou art Mine.”
4. If you desire to see the overflowings of God’s love in another form, notice in the next verse how He declares what He means to do. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,” etc. His love casts its eye upon your future. He loves you too well to make your way to heaven free from adversity and tribulation, for these things work your lasting good. But He does promise you that the deepest waters shall not overflow you, and the fiercest torrents shall not drown you, for this one all-sufficient reason, that He will be with you.
5. The overflowings of Divine love are seen in the Lord’s avowing Himself still to be His people’s God: “I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.”
6. Though one would think He might have come to a close here, the Lord adds His valuation of His people, this was so high that He says, “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.” Pharaoh and his firstborn were nobodies as compared with Jacob’s seed. Further on in history, after Isaiah’s day, the Lord moved Cyrus to set Israel flee from Babylon, and then gave to the son of Cyrus a rich return for liberating the Jews; for He made Him conqueror of Egypt and of Ethiopia and of Seba. God will give more than the whole world to save His Church, seeing He gave His only begotten Son.
7. Then the Lord adds another note of great love. He says that He has thought so much of His people that He regarded them as honourable. “Since thou wast precious in My sight,” etc. He publishes His love, not only by His deeds, but by express words. What a wealth of grace is here!
8. Such is the Lord’s love, that even in the time when they were not acting as they should, but grieving Him, He stands to His love of them, and sets the same value on them as before: “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.” As if He said, “What I have done I will do again. My love is unalterable.”
II. Our second text is in the minor key, it is LOVE LAMENTING. “But thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob” (verse 22). Observe the contrast; for it runs all through, and may be seen in every sentence: I have called thee by thy name; but thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob. I have called thee Mine; but thou hast been weary of Me. I have redeemed thee with a matchless price; but thou hast bought Me no sweet cane with money.
1. Israel rendered little worship to God. May not the Lord of infinite mercy justly say to some of us, “But thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob”?
2. There has been little fellowship; for the Lord goes on to say, “Thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel.” Are we tired of our God? If not, how is it that we do not walk with Him from day to day?
3. We are moved by this passage to confess how little of spirituality has been found in the worship which we have rendered. “Thou hast not honoured Me with thy sacrifices.” When we have come to worship, in public and in private, we have not honoured the Lord by being intense therein. The heart has been cold, the mind wandering.
4. Again, the Lord mentions that His people have brought Him little sacrifice: “Thou hast not brought Me the small cattle,” etc. What small returns have we made! In the religion of Christ there is no taxation; everything is of love.
5. Once more, it is said that we have been very slack in our consideration of our God. The Lord says, “I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense; but thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins; thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities.” The Lord is thoughtful of us, but we are not thoughtful towards Him. If the Lord did not love us very much He would not care so much about our love towards Himself. It is the plaint of love. The Lord does not need our sweet canes nor our money. But when He chides us for withholding our love-tokens, it is because He values our love, and is grieved when it grows cold.
III. Our third text exhibits LOVE ABIDING.
1. Notice, in Isaiah 44:21, how the Lord still calls His people by the same name: “Remember these, O Jacob and Israel.” Still are the names of His elect like music in the ears of God. One would have feared that He would have dropped the “Israel,” that honourable name, which came of prevailing prayer, since they had not called upon Him. Why call him a prevailing prince who had grown weary of his God? But no, He harps upon the double title: He loves to think of His beloved as what they were, and what His grace made them. O heir of heaven, God loves you still!
2. Notice how the Lord claims His servants: “Thou art My servant: I have formed thee; thou art My servant.” He has not discharged us, though He has had cause enough for so doing. This should bind us to Him. This should quicken our pace in His service.
3. Then notice how the Lord assures us in the next line: “O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.” God cannot forget His chosen. You that have Bibles with margins will find that it is also written there, “O Israel, forget not Me.” The Lord longs to be remembered by us. Did not our loving Lord institute the Sacred Supper to prevent our forgetting Him?
4. Notice with delight the triumph of love, how still He pardons: “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud,” etc.
5. See how our text closes with the Lord’s own precept to be glad: “Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it,” etc. (Isaiah 44:23). Out of all dejection arise! There is more cause for gladness than for sorrow. What you have done should cause distress of heart; but what the Lord has done is cause for rapture. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
(with Isaiah 43:22-25):--There are many lights in which we can see sin; and our perception of sin very much depends upon the light in which we look at it. Sin is very terrible by the blaze of Sinai. It is an awful thing to see sin by the light of your dying day. More terrible still will it be to see it by the light of the judgment day. But of all the lights that ever fall upon sin, that which makes it “like itself appear” is that which falls upon it when it is set in the light of God’s countenance. To see sin by the light of God’s love, to read its awful character by the light of the Cross, is the way to see sin. I am going to speak mainly concerning God’s own people, and I want to set their sins in the light of God’s love to them. My object will be to set before you the contrast between God’s action towards His people and His people’s, usual action towards Him.”
I. The first contrast lies in THE CALL.
1. I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name” (Isaiah 43:1).
(1) God called us out of nothing. “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob” (Isaiah 43:1). Our creation is entirely due to God. An ungodly man can hardly bless God for having made him, for his end may be terrible. Blessed be God for our being, because it is followed by our well-being! Blessed be God for our first birth, because we have also experienced a second birth.
(2) Our Lord has done more than make us, for He has educated us; He has continued the fashioning of us. “He that formed thee, O Israel.” Israel is the “formed” Jacob; by God’s grace, Jacob grows into Israel. Let us think of all the sweet experiences of God’s forming and fashioning touch that we have had. Sometimes, it has been a rough stroke that was necessary for the moulding of our clay; only by affliction could we be made to assume the shape and pattern that the Lord had determined for us. At other times, it has been the touch of very soft fingers. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.”
(3) Think what wonderful,, dealings He has had, next, in consoling us, for the Lord goes., on to say, Fear not. Oh, how often He has cheered us up when our spirit was sinking!
(4) That is not all, for the Lord has also called us, and conversed with us, in the matter of redemption. “I have redeemed thee.”
(5) The Lord has given a special nomination. “I have called thee by thy name.”
(6) Then comes this blessed appropriation: “Thou art Mine.” This is the way that God talks to us.
2. Turn to the other side of the question, the neglected call on our part. “Thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob” (Isaiah 43:22). That may not mean that there has been literally no calling upon God on thy side, but it does mean that there has been too little of it. Let us put this matter to the test.
(1) What about our prayers? There is much less prayer than there ought to be.
(2) True as this is of our prayers, it is still more true of our praises.
(3) There are many, with whom God has dealt well, who do not venture to call upon Him for special help in His service. They keep plodding along the old roads, and mostly in the old ruts; but they do not dare to invoke the aid of the Lord for some novel form of service, some fresh enterprise upon which they can strike out for God.
(4) Sometimes in our trouble, we do not call upon God as we should.
II. Let us consider another contrast which is equally striking--that is, upon the matter of THE CONVERSE between the Lord and His people.
1. Notice, first, God’s side of it. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee,” etc. (Isaiah 43:2). Notice how God is with His people in strange places. Wherever they are, He will not leave them; He will go right through the waters with them. God also keeps close to His people in dangerous places, fatal places as they seem.
2. Now listen to your side of this matter of converse with God. “But thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel” (Isaiah 43:22).
(1) Has it not been so with regard to private prayer?
(2) With your reading of the Scriptures?
(3) Hearing the Word?
(4) Are there not some also whom God loves who get weary of their work?
III. Notice the contrast in THE SACRIFICE.
1. “I gave Egypt for thy ransom,” etc. (Isaiah 43:3).
(1) Here is God giving up everybody else for the sake of His people. Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba were great nations, but God did not choose the greatest. “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” etc.
(2) We may see another meaning in these words, for God has given for us His choicest gift. Christ is infinitely more precious than Egypt, and Ethiopia, and Seba, though they were lands of great abundance of wealth.
2. Now look at the other side. “Thou hast not brought Me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings” (Isaiah 43:23). I wonder how little some people really do give to God! I believe, in some cases, not as much as it costs them for the blacking of their boots. Then the Lord adds, “Thou hast bought Me no sweet cane with money.” Not even the smallest offering has been given to the Most High by some who profess to have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. How little is given by the most generous of us!
IV. I close with one snore contrast, which refers to THE HONOUR given by God, and the honour given to God.
1. God gives great honour to those whom He saves (Isaiah 43:4). I have known persons who, before their conversion, were unclean in their lives, and when they have been converted, they have joined a Christian Church, and in the society of God’s people they have become honourable. They have been taken into the fellowship of the saints just as if there had never been a fault in their lives; nobody has mentioned the past to them, it has been forgotten. This is the highest honour that God can put upon us, that He fixes His love upon us. “Thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.”
2. Have you honoured God? He says, “Neither hast thou honoured Me with thy sacrifices.” Have you honoured God by your lives? By your confidence in Him? By your patience? By defending His truth when it has been assailed? By speaking to poor sinners about Him? Are you trying every day to honour Him? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. A CHARGE GIVEN. “Fear not.” A godly fear the believer may have; but the cowardice of the world, which is loud to boast, and slow to act, and quick to doubt, he must never know. It becomes neither the dignity of his calling, nor the faithfulness of his God.
II. A REASON ASSIGNED. “Thou art Mine.” These words were spoken to Israel after the flesh, and to them they still remain a covenant of peace, sure and steadfast for ever; yet as the relations named--Creator, Redeemer, Saviour--are not peculiar to them, but are enjoyed in the same degree by every believing heart, we may take to ourselves a share in this animating promise. The certainty of the believer’s hope does not depend on our holding God, but on God’s holding us; not on our faithfulness to Him, but on His faithfulness to us.
III. A PROTECTION PROMISED. This does not consist in any absence of trial and danger; the expressions rather imply their presence, many in number and various in kind. The protection promised consists in the constant presence with the soul of its unseen but Almighty Saviour. (E. Garbett.)
I have called thee by thy name
Named and claimed
I. THE PERSON. “I--thee--thou--Mine.” How this sentence tingles with personality! If one person can call another person, those two persons are alike. Those two persons have a common life interest. Personality in God is substantially similar to personality in man.
II. THE NAME. Would it be an untrue fancy to suppose that we each have a name before God? When you look at your little sleeping child to-night, you will, perhaps, not only think of the name that everybody knows him by, but you will murmur over him some little special name that you have given him--you hardly know how, but that gives to you the very sense of theessence of the true life sleeping there. Remember that something just like that is in the heart of your God’s feeling for you. Science generalises, love particularises. Then, with this loving name, comes possession. There is a strange, yearning intensity in that language, “Thou art Mine.” The mystery and rapture of life are in that strange sense of possession which comes through love, as though the loved one had become a part of ourselves to be dissevered from us nevermore. “Thou art Mine,” says our God--Mine to carry, to nurture, to protect--My very own, never to part from Me for evermore.
III. THE CALL OF THE NAME. It would be very much to know that God even thought of us by our name in this personal and special way; but the text asserts that this power of God finds expression; that life is filled not only with a thought of us on the part of God, but with an expression of that thought; so that there is something vocalised, something articulate in life, which comes to us, if we can really understand that it is God calling us by this name we have.
1. The very first awakening feeling in childhood is a personal call. When you first really prayed as a little child and thought what you were doing, what a sense of individuality there was. You were yourself then, and nobody else. It was God speaking to you, and calling you by your name.
2. Then another period which comes, usually s little later, when God’s call is addressed to us, is in our first assumption of responsibility. I think some of the most solitary times a man ever has are when he has just assumed a serious responsibility. Now, in that solitude, if a man listens, he can hear his God calling to him, speaking his name right then and there. How tenderly, how warmly, how encouragingly! And the reason is, because God loves the thing that that responsibility will give you. He loves the thing that will make for you, and that is character; that is manhood.
3. Then, again, in a moment of danger, a man may hear God calling his name; because danger, like duty, particularises. Supposing we see a man in danger; we ask, Who is he? What is his name? And if the man does not realise the peril he is in, you call to him by the name that will cut through the air, and strike on his ear, and arouse his individual attention. Suppose moral danger comes and God sees the danger coming, and He calls out to you by that name He knows you by. If you could hear that call, would it not cause you to repel the evil? as though the Voice said, “I remember you; you are Mine. Your name is known to Me. I am your heavenly Friend, and I call on you now to do your duty, to repel the evil.”
4. He speaks our name when we are in trouble.
5. There are certain other experiences of life darker than duty or danger or sorrow. We name them by that strong, common monosyllable, sin. These moral experiences that cut into the soul within us--sin, the sting and stab of remorse, repentance, reformation--all are experiences of an arena in which God calls a man by his name. (A. J. Lyman, D. D.)
God’s claim on the soul
What a drama, what tragedy, life is! The world goes by, and, pointing to you, exclaims: “That man is mine. He has been forty years in my service. He has sold his soul to me. He is mine.” “Not so,” replies the heavenly Voice; “He is Mine. I knew him as a child. I have never lost sight of him.” Pleasure comes by, and claims you and says: “He is mine, that young man.” Dissipation comes by., and points to you with fascinating smile, and says: “That young man is mine. Let his mother give him up. Let the angels forget him. He has taken my cup in his hand; he has drunk of my poison. He is mine.” “No,” the heavenly Voice answers: “Not yet; not yet. I know him, and love him. I suffered to save him, and he is Mine. Mine by right of love, and Mine by right of pain.” That is the drama, that is the tragedy, that is going on! (A. J. Lyman, D. D.)
Israel called by name
To call by name includes the ideas of specific designation, public announcement, and solemn consecration to a certain work. (J. A. Alexander.)
“Thou art Mine”
Three little words, three little syllables; a child’s motto; words that might be printed by a little hand and sent as a message of love; words that might be engraved on a signet ring: yet words the whole meaning -of which the firmament has not space enough to hold the entire development. (J. Parker, D. D.)
When thou passest through the waters
Through water and fire.
I. Notice the frank and matter-of-course way in which your AFFLICTIONS AND TRIALS are mentioned. “The waters,” “the rivers,” “the fire,” “the flame”; it takes it for granted that you will meet with some or all of them before you have finished your course, and they are mentioned in a way, too, that will not suffer you to think lightly of them. “Waters,” many of them, and may be deep; “rivers,” rushing calamities that threaten to carry you away; “fire and flame!” hard words these, and I gather that your tribulations, Jacob, are great, various, and sure.
II. But the words, “When thou passest,”--“And when thou walkest,” clearly intimate that JACOB IS TRAVELLING, MOVING FROM ONE POINT TO ANOTHER. We may be quite sure that the “waters,” “rivers,” “fire,” “flame” we read of:here have reference only to such of them as are met with on Jacob’s proper track. If these perilous possibilities do not confront him on the way of duty; and if he makes a voluntary circumbendibus, to serve only his own pleasure, so that he confronts them; then, such waters and such fires are very likely to destroy him. Lot goes and settles down in Sodom; he had no more business there than has flour in a soot-bag; and the fire burnt him. The waters overflowed Jonah to some purpose; but that was because he went where he liked, and not where he ought.
III. Not only shall Jacob be safe in the flood, and brought through the fire; not only shall both flood and fire become vanquished perils living only in the victor’s memory, but THE PASSING THROUGH THEM SHALL DO GOOD TO JACOB! He shall be a nobler soul for being tossed by waves; he shall be a purer being for being tried by fire, and like the finely tempered steel which was first in the red-hot furnace, and was then plunged into the ice-cold cistern, and so became the keen, invincible blade: so the trial, afflictions, testings of the Christian do mould and temper and shape and brighten Jacob’s character, and ennoble after the Christly pattern his moral manhood, which is the glory of his immortal soul! Note two things to be remembered in the day of the flood and fire.
1. Thy God has promised to be ever at thy side.
2. This gracious God, who controls the waters and restrains the fires end conducts His people through them both, reveals Himself here as “the Lord that created thee, O Jacob; and He that formed thee, O Israel.” He made thee, O Jacob; then He knows thee, knows thy frame; remembereth that thou art dust,--will not put upon thee more than thou canst bear, neither will He forsake the work of His hands. He raised us from the ruins of the fall, made us temples for Himself to dwell in. Then He will never suffer the structures He has erected at so much care and cost to be thrown down by violence, swept away by turbulent waters, or devoured by the ruthless flame. “Thou art mine!” He says. It is the language of complacency and delight. Thou art mine! My property! My charge! My joy! My jewel! And I will guard My own! Surely with such a text as this to fall back upon, O thou redeemed one, thou wilt not doubt or fear. (J. J. Wray.)
I. THE PATHWAY THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD TREAD. Through waters, rivers, fires, and flames. “It is through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom.”
1. If I look at the temporalities first, the wilderness through which we pass is full of troubles. Thorns and thistles has it brought forth ever since the curse was pronounced upon it; and you can scarcely look into a circle of your acquaintance without finding sicknesses, sorrows, losses, cares, broils, contentions, all the fruits of sin, constantly presented to your view. Is not this, then, a tribulated path?
2. Mark, among the tribulations, the rigour of a fiery law.
3. In this unceasing warfare “the flesh hateth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.”
4. Look at the grand adversary of souls, and his fiery temptations. That is another fire to pass through--Satan’s suggestions.
II. THE UPHOLDING POWER. I will be with thee.” Good company at all events. Was He not with all the worthies recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, in their sharp conflicts, giving them all the victory? There are two views that may be taken of this precious promise. There is such a thing as God being with His people, and they not knowing it; and there is such a thing as their sensible enjoyment of it. There are two things to be considered. The immutable faithfulness of God has bound Him never to desert the objects of His love. But there have been many instances in which people have been groping in the dark; it has been a long while before they could find Him; and in many instances they have been ready to say, “My prayer is shut out”; and led to exclaim, “Hath God in anger shut up His tender mercies? Will His compassion fail?”
III. THE TERMINUS. Heavenly rest--not a wave of trouble shall roll across this peaceful breast. (J. Irons.)
God’s presence in crisis moments
It is surprising to note how the facts of this people’s history have impressed themselves upon the language and thought of Christendom.
I. THAT SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE IS THE SAME IN ALL AGES. These words were written by the prophet of the Exile, who could speak of himself and his comrades as passing through the waters. He shows in this way that he realises that the exiles are one in experience with their ancestors who passed through the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan. Though their circumstances were different, the variation in outward detail was insignificant. The same parts of their nature were tested, and the same virtues were disciplined. Thus this prophet becomes the link between us, who are the disciples of Christ, and the Israelites who crossed the Jordan.
II. THAT IN EVERY LIFE THERE ARE A FEW BRIEF BUT INTENSE TRIALS. There was the long and weary strain of desert life to be constantly borne. The passage of the sea and the river came but twice, and then lasted but a few hours, though the agony for the time was intense. They entered the sea in a night of awful storm, because the terror of their enemies was upon them. They entered the river in broad daylight in utter trust of God, knowing that only thus could the enjoyment of Canaan’s goodly land be theirs. One was a struggle of fear, the other the yielding of all to God in simple faith. In the Christian life peace only comes after this second struggle.
III. THAT LIFE BEFORE AND AFTER SUCH A CRISIS IS WHOLLY DIFFERENT. The Red Sea was the boundary line between bondage and freedom; the Jordan between wandering and rest, between hope and possession. It seems as though such struggles were the birth-throes of a new life. To pass on to a higher plane such struggle must be encountered. It was such a trial as God called upon Job to pass through.
IV. THAT ONE SUCH CRISIS IS DEATH. In the life of Christ it would appear that the temptation connected with His baptism was His Red Sea, just as St. Paul tells us that the sea was Israel’s baptism: “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” We know that this temptation was one of the crises of our Saviour’s life. Then the devil leaveth Him for a season, not to return with like power until he meets Him again at Gethsemane. This was Christ’s Jordan. Not until this was passed was His sorrow vanquished or His labour “finished.” When Christian reached this river he was dazed and despondent, and began to look this way and that to see if he could not escape the river. Truly, death is the last and not the least enemy.
V. THAT HUMAN FRIENDSHIP CAN AVAIL BUT LITTLE HERE. Friends may say, “I am with you” in sympathy; but they can render no help. Viewing the struggle, they may long to share it, but here they must leave their friends in the hands of God.
VI. THAT GOD IS WITH US IN ALL SUCH CRISIS MOMENTS. Hopeful’s comforting words did Christian little good. But he heard a voice say, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” Indeed, that is His name, Immanuel, God with us. And Christ has said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end.” If God has brought us through the sea, if He has commenced the good work within us, He will bring us through the Jordan, and thus complete what He has begun. In virtue of such a precious promise we need have no fear. (R. C. Ford, M. A.)
The floods and the flames
I. CONTEMPLATE THE SCENES THROUGH WHICH THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE CALLED TO PASS. No metaphor is more frequent in the Bible than that by which sudden calamities are represented by a deluge of waters (Psalms 42:7; Psalms 69:1; Psalms 96:2).
1. All must pass through--
(1) The waters of temptation (James 1:12).
(2) The waters of affliction, in circumstances, person, mind, family.
(3) The river of death. “How wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan?”
2. We are all familiar with affliction under the image of fire (Ps 1 Corinthians 3:13; Isaiah 48:10; 1 Peter 4:12). It is the tendency of fire to--
(1) Consume (Malachi 4:1). Affliction, like a fire, will tend to consume our corruptions, whilst we ourselves remain uninjured.
(2) Melt. All metals can be melted, and receive whatever stamp the artificer may impress.
(3) Try. Place any substance in the fire, and its nature and properties are made manifest. Thus Abraham was tried; Job (Job 23:10); Israel Deuteronomy 8:2); Hezekiah.
(4) Purify and refine (Isaiah 1:25; Malachi 3:2-3).
II. CONSIDER THE PROMISES MADE TO THE PEOPLE OF GOD WHEN PASSING THROUGH THESE SCENES.
1. The Divine presence. We naturally look for sympathy in the day of trouble (Job 6:14): Sometimes friends who are with us in sunshine forsake us in storm (Job 19:21; Acts 28:15, with 2 Timothy 4:16). But God will never forsake us.
2. Divine protection. “The rivers shall not overflow,” etc. (Joshua 1:9; Acts 23:11; Deuteronomy 33:25).
3. Divine deliverance. We are not always to be fording rivers, struggling with floods, or walking through fires. We are to leave them all behind. The rest of Canaan compensated for all the toils of the wilderness (Romans 8:18). (Clergyman’s Magazine.)
The godly in trouble
1. The godly have the best company in the worst places in which their lot is east. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.”
2. The godly have special help in their times of deepest trouble. “And through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”
3. The godly are the subjects of miracles of mercy in seasons of greatest distress. “When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
God’s people not exempt from trouble
If God has a favoured people whom He has chosen, upon whom His distinguishing grace has lighted to make them great and honourable, you would suppose that the verse would run thus: “Thou shalt not go through the waters, for I will be with thee to keep thee out of them; neither shalt thou pass through the rivers, for I have bridged them on thy behalf. Thou shalt never go through the fire, and therefore thou shalt not be burned; neither shall there be any fear that the flame shall kindle upon thee, for it shall not come near thee.” There is no such word of promise; it would be contrary to the whole tenor of the covenant, which ever speaks of a rod, and of the chosen passing under it. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Light on the billow’s crest
There is a story of a shipwreck which tells how the crew and passengers had to leave the broken vessel and take to the boats. The sea was rough, and great care in rowing and steering was necessary, in order to guard the heavily laden boats, not from the ordinary waves, which they rode over easily, but from the great cross seas. Night was approaching, and the hearts of all sank as they asked what they should do in the darkness when they would no longer be able to see these terrible waves. To their great joy, however, when it grew dark, they discovered that they were in phosphorescent waters, and that each dangerous wave rolled up crested with light which made it as clearly visible as if it were midday. So it is that life’s dreaded experiences when we meet them carry in themselves the light which takes away the peril and the terror. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
Comfort found in God
During the sixteen weeks in which Sir Bartle Frere was dying, though he was nearly always in great pain, not one murmur escaped him. Just at the end he said, “I have looked down into the great abyss, but God has never left me through it all.” “Name that Name when I am in pain,” he once said to his wife; “it calls me back.” (Quiver.)
A heartening presence
An exceedingly nervous man was once sentenced to twenty-four hours’ imprisonment in the dungeon of an old prison. Full of fear he sank to the floor. His brain throbbed as with fever, and mocking voices seemed to sound. He felt terror would drive him mad. Suddenly, overhead, he heard the prison chaplain’s voice calling his name. “Are you there?” he gasped. “Yes, and I am going to stay till you come out.” “God bless you,” he said; “I do not mind it at all now, with you there.” “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.” (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
In her last days Mrs. Booth, of the Salvation Army, sent this message to her friends,--it is a triumphant death-song: “The waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over. Do not be concerned about your dying. Only go on living well, and the dying will be all right.”
When thou walkest through the fire
Walking through the fire here is put for the severest form of trouble. You have, in the commencement of the verse, trouble described as passing through the water. This represents the overwhelming influence of trial, in which the soul is sometimes so covered that it becomes like a man sinking in the waves. “When thou goest through the rivers,”--those mountain torrents which with terrific force are often sufficient to carry a man away. This expresses the force of trouble, the power with which it sometimes lifts a man from the foothold of his stability, and carries him before it. “When thou passest through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.” But going through the fire expresses not so much the overwhelming character and the upsetting power of trouble as the actual consuming and destructive power of trouble and temptation. The metaphor is more vivid, not to say more terrific, than that which is employed in the first sentence, and yet, vivid and awful though it be, it is certainly not too strong a figure to be used as the emblem of the temptations and afflictions through which the Church and people of God have been called to pass.
I. THIS TERRIBLE PATHWAY. The sacramental host of God’s elect has never had an easy road along which to journey. I see the fields on fire, the prairie is in a blaze, the very heavens are like a furnace, and the clouds seem rather to be made of fire than water. Across that prairie lies the pathway to heaven, beneath that blazing sky the whole Church of God must make its perpetual journey. It started at the first in fire, and its very glory at the last shall take place in the midst of the fiery passing away of all things. When first there was a Church of God on earth, in the person of Abel, it was persecuted. Since that day, what tongue can tell the sufferings of the people of God! It hath fared well with the Church when she hath been persecuted, and her pathway hath been through fire. Her feet are shod with iron and brass. She ought not to tread on paths strewn with flowers; it is her proper place to suffer.
II. There is AN AWFUL DANGER. The promise of the text is based on a prophecy that follows it. The chapter tells us how God taught His people by terrible things in the past, and how He hath terrible lessons to teach them in the future. The Church has had very painful experience that persecution is a fire which does burn. How many ministers of Christ, when the day of tribulation came, forsook their flocks and fled. Again: I see iniquity raging on every side. Its flames are fanned by every wind of fashion- And fresh victims are being constantly drawn in. It spreads to every class. Not the palace nor the hovel is safe. We may give the alarm to you, young man, who are in the midst of ribald companions. I may cry “fire!” to you who are compelled to live in a house where you are perpetually tempted to evil. I may cry “fire!” to you who are marked each day, and have to bear the sneer of the ungodly,--“fire!” to you who are losing your property and suffering in the flesh, for many have perished thereby. We ought not to look upon our dangers with contempt; they are dangers, they are trials. We ought to look upon our temptations as fires.
III. Here is A DOUBLE INSURANCE. It strikes me that in the second clause we have the higher gradation of a climax. “Thou shalt not be burned,” to the destruction of thy life, nor even scorched to give thee the most superficial injury, for “the flames shall not kindle upon thee.” Juat as when the three holy children came out of the fiery furnace it is said, “Upon their bodies the fire had no power, nor was a hair of their head singed; neither were their coats changed, nor had the smell of fire passed on them”; so the text seems to me to teach that the Christian Church under all its trials has not been consumed; but more than that--it has not lost anything by its trials. Upon the entire Church, at the last, there shall not be even the smell of fire. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Fire harmful and harmless
When Jehovah was angry the fire burned Israel (Isaiah 42:25), but now with Jehovah on its side it is invulnerable in the severest trials. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
For I am the Lord thy God
Jehovah’s valuation of His people
THE LORD’S DECLARATION OF HIS OWN NAME. “I am Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” He gives His name thus to distinguish Himself from false gods. He also sets forth His name at large, for the comfort of His people. There is something in every name of God which may breed faith in our souls. I think He also does it to excite our wonder mad gratitude. Let us devoutly think of each of these names separately.
I. “Jehovah, thy God.” Jehovah, the glorious I AM, signifies self-existence. He borrows nothing from others; indeed, all live by His permit and power. He is as complete without His creatures as with them. Jehovah, again, is a name of immutability. “I AM THAT I AM” was His name to Moses. Furthermore, Jehovah means sovereignty. “Jehovah reigneth, let the people tremble.”
2. The Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. What a New Testament combination this is--“The Holy One, thy Saviour”! It reminds us of the words--“Just, and the justifier of him that believeth.” Here we have one so holy as to be separate from sinners and yet the Saviour of sinners. Since “the Holy One of Israel” is our Saviour, we are confident that He will save us from all sin. The glorious Lord, who here styles Himself “Jehovah thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour,” the Creator of all things, and their Preserver, is come very near to you. In the next verse He saith, “Since thou wast precious in My sight thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.” Mark, “I have loved thee.” It is not enough that He thinks kindly, and deals tenderly; but He loves! Remember also that this Holy Lord is working upon you still, that you may reflect His glory. “I have created him for My glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him” (verse 7). He has begun our new creation, He is carrying it on, and He is completing it.
II. THE LORD’S ESTIMATE OF HIS PEOPLE. Whatever we may think of the Israel of God, the Lord thinks more of it than words can express. “I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee.” When the Lord chose a nation to be the depository of His sacred oracles, He might have selected Egypt if He had willed to do so. Egypt was in the known world the oldest nation. Egypt contained the wisest and most civilised people of early times. Its very ruins are the wonder of the ages. Its records show an extraordinary progress in literature, architecture, and the arts and sciences. Egypt was also the most powerful of empires in the olden times. Before the banners of Assyria and, Babylon and Medo-Persia came to the front, the dragon of Egypt was a mighty ensign. Yet the Lord did not choose the sons of Ham, but passed by Egypt, Ethiopia, and Seba. The Lord chose the seed of Abraham, and the family of Jacob: He multiplied them, and instructed them, and made them to be His own peculiar people. In the course of history the claims of various countries came into collision with those of Israel, and Egypt proudly oppressed Israel. What did God do? Did He hesitate as to which of the two peoples should be preserved? No; the Lord brought out Israel, and turned His artillery upon Egypt. In the days of King Asa, the Ethiopians came up against Judah to the number of a million of men; but “they were destroyed before the Lord, and before His host”: thus was Ethiopia given for Israel. Cambyses conquered Egypt, and destroyed many of its cities, and never since has there been a native prince sitting upon the throne of Pharaoh. God gave to the King of Persia, Egypt and the neighbouring cities as the ransom price of His people. Thus the Lord did of old on the behalf of His literal Israel, and what does this fact say to us? It means this--God’s chosen are immeasurably precious in His sight. They are the centre of God’s design. God’s intent was to produce a race that should be honourable in His sight, and well-beloved of His soul. This design would be costly, even to Jehovah Himself. To carry out this purpose, men, having fallen, must be redeemed by blood. To carry out His Divine resolve He spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all. But even then men could not be saved unless the Holy Ghost should condescend to come and live in their bodies. Henceforth everything shall be sacrificed for us. God will give all that He has to save His beloved ones. He will make the whole o nature and providence subservient to the complete salvation of His chosen. Kings shall be born and buried; empires shall rise and fall; republics and systems shall come and go; and all shall be the scaffold for the building of the house of God, which is His Church. It is God’s grandest, highest purpose to gather together in one the whole company of His redeemed in Christ Jesus their Lord and to make them like their Head.
III. THE OUTCOME OF THIS.
1. If it be so, that the glorious God has really and of a truth loved us, His people, and valued us at a mighty price, then see how secure His people are!
2. Note, next, the honour which God puts upon them. God has put us poor sinners among His honourables. I know one who, in her unconverted state, had fallen into sad sin, and the remembrance thereof was painful; but the Lord removed the shame by laying home to her soul these gracious words, “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable.”
3. The certainty of the Lord’s gathering together all His people. “I will bring thy seed,” etc. (verses 5-7). If God has determined to glorify Himself by us and in us, let us be in accord with Him. What love we ought to bear to God! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I gave Egypt for thy ransom
God’s redemption of Israel
An amplification of the phrase, “I have redeemed thee” (Isaiah 43:1). (J. A. Alexander.)
Egypt, Ethiopia, Seba
“I give Egypt as thy ransom.” The meaning appears to be that Cyrus will be compensated for the emancipation of Israel by the conquest of these African nations which did not belong to the Babylonian Empire. As a matter of fact, the conquest of Egypt was effected by Cambyses, the son and successor of Cyrus, although it is said to have been contemplated by Cyrus himself (Herod. 1:153), and it is actually (though wrongly) attributed to him by Xenophon. (Prof J. Skinner, D. D.)
Genesis 10:7; Psalms 72:10; Isaiah 45:14) was, according to Josephus, Merge, the northern province of Ethiopia, lying between the Blue and the White Nile. (Prof J. Skinner, D. D.)
Since thou wast precious in My sight
Precious, honourable, loved
“Because thou art precious in My sight, art honourable, and I love thee”--three co-ordinate clauses.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
I. PRECIOUS IN GOD’S SIGHT IS MAN. This is a new view of life--not man’s natural feeling. Precious as to the farmer land is which has the possibility of development with digging and draining, and so on,--precious as satisfying not the mere craving for usefulness, but the love of a great heart.
II. WHEN ABLE TO RECOGNISE THIS PRECIOUSNESS IN GOD’S SIGHT WE BECOME HONOURABLE. Before we could recognise it we must be grafted into Christ by a true and living faith. This faith, then, makes us honourable. The honour of a Christian is in--
1. Righteous living.
2. Zeal for the Christian cause. The honour of Christ was to have “the heathen for His heritage.” Entering into this, the honour of Christians is to win souls; and their “crown of joy” in seeing many turning from following idols to the living God.
3. Having a conscience void of offence towards God and man.
III. THE SEAL OF GOD’S LOVE IS THE GREATEST COMFORT TO THE CHRISTIAN HEART.
IV. “I WILL GIVE MEN FOR THEE,” etc. Nation after nation went down into the darkness before the conquering sword of Israel. God’s pity, great as it is, spared not! So we have seen men who have lived; and when that tender, all-forgiving time came--when death laid his icy fingers upon his prey, conscience would not allow us to settle with the thought that in the great future all was well with them. If we cannot enter into God’s inscrutable purposes in this respect we may at least feel that these pass into the arms of death “for us,”--i.e., in the sense of being warnings to us. (H. Rose Rae.)
Precious, honourable, beloved
I. Believer, the first wonderful adjective of the text is applicable to thee; thou art “PRECIOUS.” Notice how that preciousness is enhanced beyond the superlative degree by the next words, “precious in My sight.” There are mock jewels now made which are so exactly like rubies, emeralds, and diamonds that even those who are connoisseurs of precious stones are deceived, and yet these imitations are not precious. They are not precious in the sight of the lapidary, who is able to put them to severer tests, for with him these mimicries are soon proved to be of little value. The degree of preciousness depends much upon the person who forms the judgment; and what estimate can be so accurate as that of God the infallible? What judgment can be so severely exacting as that of God the infinitely holy? This preciousness cannot arise from anything essentially and intrinsically precious in us by nature, for we confess freely that we are even as others in our natural estate. The quarry out of which we were hewn was no quarry of precious things, and the pit out of which we have been digged was no pit in which rare stones were glittering: we were taken from common clay, and out of the ordinary ruin of mankind; yet God saith we are precious, and the fact of our former degradation and fallen estate cannot gainsay the Divine declaration. How is this? It springs out of four consideration--
1. We are precious in the sight of God because of the memories which duster round each one of us. You are to God most precious, as the token and memorial of the death of the Well-beloved.
2. Things become precious sometimes on account of the workmanship exercised upon them. Many an article has been in itself intrinsically of small account, but so much art has been exercised upon it, so much real work thrown into it, that the value has been increased indefinitely. Now, the Christian is precious to God on account of the workmanship that has been spent upon him. In divers ways the Great Worker has wrought mightily in us, and continued perseveringly to pursue His purpose.
3. Certain articles are precious because of their peculiar fashion. This was the case with the Portland vase, which to any common observer seemed to be of very small value, but because of the extreme beauty of the design, the greatest potter of the age was ready to pay his thousands to possess it. We are precious in God’s sight, too, because of our fashion and form. We are to be made like unto Christ.
4. Things are precious often because of their relationship. The most precious thing a mother hath is her dear babe. Precious, therefore, in the sight of the Lord are His saints, because they are born in His household, by regeneration made to be His sons and daughters.
II. Every child of God is “HONOURABLE.” Every Christian is, in God’s sight, right honourable and excellent because the Lord in His discriminating grace has made him precious.
1. Every Christian is honourably born.
2. The Christian, moreover, is honourable in rank. God has been pleased to take us from the dunghill to set us among princes.
3. Right honourable in their service are the saints. I know of no service that can be more distinguished than the doing of good. Methinks the very angels before the throne might envy us poor men who are permitted to talk of Christ, even though it be to little children.
4. Christians are honourable also in privilege. It was accounted an eminent honour when a nobleman had the right to go in to his king whenever he willed to proffer a request. Approach to the royal throne was always, among Orientals, considered to be the highest token of regard. You are especially honoured, O ye saints, for ye are “a people near unto Him.”
5. And every child of God who is what he should be becomes through grace honour-able by his achievements, and this is in some respects the highest form of honour, to be honoured for what you have been enabled to do, to wear a coat of arms which you have fairly won in battle, and hatchments that are not merely attributed to you by the heraldic pencil, but which are due to you because of your victorious feats of arms. To conquer sin, this is no small achievement; to keep down through a long life the corruptions of the flesh, to contend against the world and the devil, these are no deeds of carpet knights. And what an achievement it will be when Satan shall be bruised beneath our feet, as he shall be shortly.
III. The last of these notable words is “BELOVED.” “I have loved thee.” God hath loved thee eternally. He has loved thee actively and effectually, given His Only-Begotten for thee--an unspeakable gift; given thee everything in Him--a boundless dower of love. He has loved thee pre-eminently, better than the angels, for unto which of them has He ever said, “Thou wast honourable, and I have loved thee”? He has loved thee unchangeably. He has loved thee immeasurably. These three things being put together, I want you, practically, as they are your own by faith, to make use of them in other senses. “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.”
1. My Saviour, dost thou say that? Why, those words Thou dost put into my mouth to give back to Thee. Thou also art precious in my sight. Is He not so--precious beyond compare? Therefore is He honourable in our esteem. Will you not honour Him? Shall it not be the continual strife of your soul to get Him renown? “Thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.” You have loved Him, but, oh, how little! Look not back, then, except with Penitence, but henceforth say: “Lord, Thou hast been honourable, I will love Thee. Forgive the past, kindle in my soul a fresh flame of grace.”
2. When you have so used those words turn them in another direction. Apply them next to every child of God. Let us never think of the children of God in any other way than as honouring them. Some of them are very poor, many of them illiterate, some of them not altogether in temper, action, or creed what we might desire them to be; but if they be bought with the blood of Christ they are honourable. The Lord declares them so, and let us not treat them dishonourably.
3. You might use these words in reference to unconverted men and women. There is a certain sense in which they are applicable to all of woman born, for they possess immortal souls. If that be the case, how honourable all men become as objects of our zeal! “Honour all men.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The value and rank of the believer
One of the worst mistakes we could make would be to judge our condition before God by our outward circumstances. Know ye not that the ungodly have their portion in this life? As for the people of God, they are often in great trials.
I. THE LORD COUNTS HIS PEOPLE TO BE PRECIOUS. A child of God is often far other than precious in the sight of others. “The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!” Child of God! thou art precious in God’s sight, and that is infinitely more than being precious to princes. You live in a little room alone, and few know you, and those who do know you do not think much of you; but the Lord says, “Thou art precious in My sight.” How can this be? Read the first verse. “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel.”
1. It is clear that we are precious to God because we are His creation. The first creation was marred upon the wheel by sin; it became a thing without honour, and came under the curse. But he that believes in Jesus has been created anew by the work of the Holy Ghost. God has in a very special sense created him.
2. He has gone beyond mere creation: having first created the clay, He has formed it. We are not half made or ill made in regeneration; we are formed as well as created. The Lord who has given us spiritual existence is daily giving us fashion and completeness.
3. But what next does He say? “I have redeemed thee.” We have been bought with precious blood.
4. Another blessing of grace is mentioned in the chapter, and that is that God has called us. “I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.” He called us, and we answered the call.
5. We have been ever since kept by His rich grace and preserved, and this also has endeared us to the Lord. Do you not think that if you are precious in Christ s sight, then everything that has to do with Him ought to be precious to you? Remember what Augustine said: he declared that he loved every man that had “aliquid Christi”--any thing of Christ--about him. Think once more. If you are precious in God’s sight, do not despise yourself so as to fall into the follies and vanities which please other men. Nobility has its obligations.
II. Being precious, He adds another epithet. “Since thou wast precious in My sight, THOU HAST BEEN HONOURABLE.” How many of God’s people were the reverse of honourable before they knew the Lord! Many a dishonourable thing they thought, and said, and did, and it is the dishonourable life that makes the dis-honourable man. Let a poor child of God tell out how he believes that he is honourable.
1. We are honourable by birth. Some are proud because they have been born of fathers who have been made baronets, or elevated to the peerage in years gone by; thus by birth they are honourable. Descended from the King of kings, each saint has a lineage before which the pedigrees of princes grow stale and mean.
2. Next, we become honourable by our possessions. Men pay honour to those who are immensely rich. “All things are yours.” What an estate is that which belongs to every heir of heaven, for we are “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ”; and thus we become indeed honourable.
3. And the child of God becomes honourable in rank. A child of God is a prince of the Divine line.
4. We then become ennobled by our relationship. Jesus is “the first-born among many brethren”; and we as the younger brethren are all honourable.
5. We are honourable by calling, for He “hath made us kings and priests unto our God”; and these among men are the most noteworthy of all callings.
6. By Divine grace we have become honourable by character, for the Lord has sanctified His people.
7. Theirs is an honour-able life; they live for an honourable purpose; they are quickened by an honourable spirit; they are wending their way through an honourable destiny on earth to glory and honour and immortality and life eternal. The lesson to be learned from it is, do not let any child of God be bashful, shamefaced, and cowardly in the presence of men of the world.
III. “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, AND I HAVE LOVED THEE.” The Lord has not only told you of His love in the secret of your soul, but He has publicly acted love to you. If God loves us so, shall we not love Him? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The child of God should live a dignified life
Lions will not be found stealing little bits of meat like cats, or feeding on carrion like dogs. It is not for eagles to hawk for flies; and it is not for children of God to stoop below the glorious level of their new birth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A great date
Date your birthdays from your regeneration; bury the old nature, and live in the new. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Therefore will I give men for thee
Peoples sacrificed for the Jews
“Mankind for thee, and peoples for thy life.” An the world for this little people? It is intelligible only because this little people are to be for all the world. “Ye are My witnesses that I am God. I will also give thee for a light to nations, to be My salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
I will bring thy seed from the east
Obligations of Christians to labour for the conversion of the Jews
This prophecy looks far beyond the deliverance of the Jews from their former captivity.
It evidently points to that great and glorious deliverance which still awaits them. A deliverance that will eclipse and infinitely outshine their former deliverances from Egypt and from Babylon. Apply the passage to the recall and conversion of the Jews.
I. OUR OBLIGATIONS, AS CHRISTIANS, TO ENGAGE IN THIS WORK.
1. Gratitude for the inestimable benefits which we have derived from them Romans 3:1-2; Romans 9:4-5).
2. As a reparation of the cruel wrongs and injuries which we have inflicted upon them. Every Christian country is deep in this guilt, and every Christian country requires a national expiation of it.
3. From an ardent desire to promote the glory of God.
II. OUR ENCOURAGEMENT TO PROCEED AND PERSEVERE IN IT. To some, the attempt to convert the Jews may appear visionary; to others, inexpedient; but they who are acquainted with their Bibles must know that it is not hopeless. We are encouraged to attempt this work--
1. From the testimony of prophecy.
2. From the very great attention which has already been excited among the Jews.
3. From the present signs of the times.
III. THE GLORIOUS CONSEQUENCES THAT WILL RESULT FROM THE CONVERSION OF THE JEWS.
1. To the world. It will be the commencement of a new and blessed era to all nations.
2. To the Church of God. The conversion of the Jews shall be the means of bringing in the whole fulness of the Gentiles.
(1) To God’s covenant with Abraham and with his seed you owe all that you are, and all that you hope to be.
(2) When Christ sent forth His apostles to preach the Gospel of the kingdom,” He particularly charged them to begin at Jerusalem.” (Earl Gibbee, D. D.)
I will say to the north, Give up
A double challenge
My intention is rather to utilise than to expound the text.
I. The first counsel is--GIVE UP.
1. With some of you it is imperative that you give up your prejudices. So have you mis-estimated true religion, that you have been accustomed to denounce it as cant, and to declaim the professors of it as hypocrites. Give up this blind bias, and give the Gospel a fair hearing. Should it turn out to be an imposture, you will at least be the better able to expose its fictions, after having studied its facts; but should it happen to be genuine and true, how ill will it be for you if you continue to despise it!
2. Give up in like manner your selfrighteousness.
3. Give up your sins. You cannot be saved from their consequence if you cling to their company.
4. Give up delays.
5. I might well say to some, give up quibbling. You have never yet come to the point with your own conscience. You have always been so deft at finding out knots and raising questions. What is the good of it? If you are never saved till you get every problem solved, you will never be saved at all. If a vessel were breaking in pieces on yonder shore, and the rocket apparatus had fired a rope into the middle of the vessel, would you not think the crew to be insane if they said to one another, “We do not understand how it is that the rocket apparatus manages this”? Oh but they just twist the rope round the mast, get a holdfast, and begin to swing themselves ashore.
6. Give up, you troubled ones; give up despondency; give up the thought that there is no hope; give up the suspicion that Jesus cannot forgive.
II. KEEP NOT BACK.
1. Keep not back from attending the means of grace.
2. When you do attend the house of the Lord, keep not back from a simple obedience of the Gospel.
3. When you have looked to Christ, keep not back from the mercyseat. You will begin to pray, perhaps, and find yourself stammering and trembling, but keep not back. Your old sins will half choke you in the recollection of them, but keep not back. If anybody saw you trying to pray they would say, “What you, you old wretch, you trying to pray!” Oh! but keep not back. ‘Tis mercy calls you; come and pray.
4. When you have really trusted in Christ, and have learned to pray, then Keep not back from coming forward and making a profession of your faith in Jesus. Be prompt, if you would be precise in serving the Lord. “I made haste,” said David, “and delayed not to keep Thy commandments.”
5. To those who are saved, and have avowed their conversion, let me say, Keep not back from the Lord’s service. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Bring My sons from far
The Church encouraged and exhorted
These words were spoken with the view of encouraging the Church: “Fear not; for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east,” etc. The Lord loves His Church, and He loves to see her full of courage and confidence. He intends that His cause and kingdom shall prosper in the world. God has leisure.
I. THE LORD HAS CHILDREN FAR AWAY. “Bring My sons from far, and My daughters from the ends of the earth”
1. Some are far away in the matter of locality. They are not dwelling where the Gospel is preached; some of them are where roads have not as yet been made, and the commerce of civilisation has not come.
2. He also has many sons and daughters who are far off in a worse sense than this; they are far off as to character, as opposed to God as darkness is to light.
3. There are some who are far off in another sense; it is not so much character that puts them far off from God, as their not being in the way of hearing the Gospel. The kingdom of God has come nigh to most of you. But there are great numbers of persons, even in our own land, who are not in the way of hearing the Gospel. It happens, sometimes, that the more unlikely ones are the first to be converted.
4. The Lord Jesus Christ saves by His grace some who are far off in their own apprehension. It is not really true that they have been more sinful than others, but they think they have. So you see that the Lord has children who are far off from Him in several senses. What does a father or a mother do when the son is a long way off? Why, they like to hear all they can about him; especially, they love to hear from him,--to get a letter or a message from their boy himself. Well, now, our Heavenly Father watches over all His poor wandering children.
II. THE LORD IS BRINGING HOME SOME OF THESE FAR-OFF ONES. In our text He gives this command, “Bring My sons from far.” To whom is this command spoken? I think we shall be right if we say that it is spoken much in the same way in which the Lord said, “Let there be light,” “and there was light.” His fiat did the deed. So God says, “Bring My sons from far,” and therefore we may be sure that they will be brought to Him.
1. Providence obeys this command. Everything that happens in the mysterious movements of Providence is operating for the bringing in of His chosen. The world is all scaffolding; the Church of Christ is the true building. The like is true on a small scale. All manner of afflictions that come to men are sent to touch their conscience, and to bring them back to God.
2. This seems to me to be a charge given to all God’s people, as well as to providence, “‘Bring My sons from far.’ You know Me; you love Me; so, look after My wandering children.”
3. But this command would be of no force unless my text were a fiat. In consistency with this command, the Holy Spirit goes forth, in ways known to Himself, and He brings God’s sons from far, and His daughters from the ends of the earth.
III. THIS IS SAID FOR THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF GOD’S CHURCH.
1. This command has a very intimate connection with Christ’s Church. Our text says, “Bring My sons and My daughters”; but the 5 th verse says, “I will bring thy seed.” Then, saved souls are the seed of the Church as well as the sons and daughters of God. God puts a wonderful honour upon human instrumentality.
2. The Church of Christ has a further interest in these far-off sons and daughters from the fact that not only are they her seed, but they are coming home to her. They will help to strengthen the true Church of God.
3. These far-off ones, who are being brought home, will greatly help us when they do come. Read the 7 th verse: “Even every one that is called by My name: for I have created him for My glory.” That is the kind of converts that we want, those who are created for God’s glory. “But,” say some of the older friends, “these young converts are so imprudent.” Bless them! The Lord increase their imprudence, for that is one of the grandest things in the world when it is sanctified. It was most imprudent, on the part of the Apostle Paul, to go into those cities where he was stoned, and dragged out, and left for dead. It was most imprudent of him to lose all his reputation and his standing among men simply that he might preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. “But, sir,” say the objectors, “these young people, who are coming into the Church, do not know much.” For the matter of that, we do not know much either, so we cannot keep them out on that ground. “But they have zeal without knowledge.” Yes, and it is quite possible to have knowledge without zeal. Both of those things are bad when alone; but if you have the knowledge, and they bring the zeal, you have only to trade with them a little in the way of barter to your mutual benefit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have created him for My glory
The glory of God the end of man’s creation and redemption
What am I?
For what purpose was I created? Am I answering the great end of my existence?--are questions which should be frequently proposed by every rational being.
I. THE GREAT END OF JEHOVAH IN THE CREATION OF MAN WAS THE MANIFESTATION OF HIS OWN GLORY. By the glory of God we understand the display of His Divine perfections.
II. IN THE SCHEME OF HUMAN REDEMPTION THE GLORY OF GOD IS AGAIN STRIKINGLY MANIFESTED. The glory of God appears--
1. In their redemption.
2. In the application of its blessings by the Holy Ghost--in the spiritual renovation of man.
3. In the endeared relation into which those who have been thus redeemed and sanctified are admitted. They are made the “sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty”; and their disposition and character correspond with their distinguished privileges.
III. THE GLORY OF GOD IS THE GREAT END WHICH ALL THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE TO SEEK TO PROMOTE.
1. By an increased acquaintance with the Divine perfections, as they are manifested in the work of creation and redemption, and as they are revealed in the Sacred Scriptures, and in the person and character of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. By a cordial reception of all that God has revealed and promised.
3. By cheerful obedience to His commands.
4. By active efforts in the service of God, and by an entire consecration of all we have to Him. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Ye are My witnesses--What is a witness?
--One who testifies--who gives evidence, unfolds, clears up, makes plain, and helps men toright decisions in cases of disputed claims, or where personal integrity is assailed. There are cases on record where such men have been thanked in complimentary terms by the judge, for the clear, firm, straightforward way in which they have given evidence; and it has been seen that but for that witness’s knowledge of the facts of the case, and the fearless manner in which he told the whole truth, as far as he knew, and nothing but the truth, there would hare been a miscarriage of justice. And so, on the other hand, record is supplied of the false swearing of witnesses, whereby the innocent have been condemned and the guilty have triumphed. Nay more, where the witness has been full of nervous fear, confusion, and hesitancy, and has given his evidence in such a feeble, limping, contradictory manner that his whole testimony has been discredited, and he has vitally injured the cause he professed to serve, so that his friends sincerely wished he had been at the Antipodes at the time instead of in the witness-box. A good witness is of immense value and importance. The term “witness” is a strong one, one of the strongest, and throbs with life and energy. Standing out for the truth; avowing, declaring firmly; unawed by fear, unmoved by flattery; inflexible to all blandishments; above all price; whom money cannot buy, and sophistry cannot disturb; who will tell the truth at any cost--these are some of the qualities of a good witness. (J. Higgins.)
The term “witnesses” is very large and full, and covers the entire ground of evidences. All things in heaven and earth are full of voices bearing witness for the living God. The whole universe, human history, governments, philosophy, science, art, and institutions, are witnessing for God. But God selects and addresses one class in the text. “Ye,” men of Israel, “are My witnesses.” These words suggest the high honour, as well as the great responsibility, of a Christian profession.
I. FOR WHOM DO YOU WITNESS? God.
1. A primary qualification of a true witness is, an intelligent faith in God. You are called upon to give evidence on behalf of another, but you know little of him, only by repute and inference, and your knowledge of the case in dispute is mainly circumstantial; then, you cannot give your evidence in that clear, ready, candid, and telling manner that a friend can who knows the man personally and closely, and who has the highest regard for his integrity and uprightness, and who is well acquainted also with the whole case down to its very minutia, and who has a clear, settled conviction that justice and right, to the fullest extent, are on the side of his friend. Such a man speaks from knowledge, as well as conviction; he testifies what he knows, and speaks what he has seen; and when the case is heard you feel that your witnessing, compared with his, is but as the drops to the ocean. So it is with the man who has only an intellectual, as compared with the man who has a practical knowledge of God; the latter can testify from personal acquaintance as well as unbounded faith.
2. Not only is faith needed to make you a successful witness, but your courage will be tested in this daily testifying. You are placed in a world whose temper and principles are hostile to sacred things, and while you witness for God, your whole life will be a constant testifying against the world’s customs, and an open conflict with what it accounts its best possessions; and if you will be a faithful and true witness you will often find yourself going right in the teeth of its tastes, affections, and lusts, and you will discover that the days of idolatry and martyrdom are not yet past, and that if you will faithfully give your evidence for the pure and true, you will need a hero’s courage and a martyr’s faith. You shall have your hours of rest and sweet communings that you may grow strong to do and suffer the Father’s will, but the law of the kingdom is that you must gather in order that you may scatter. The very things of which you are witnesses will show you what you may expect from men, and what they will demand from you in courage and faith. For what do you witness? God--His nature and claims; the Bible--its inspiration and authenticity; Christ--His atoning sacrifice for sin, etc. Will such testimonies as these win you thanks and praise from your fellows, or will they scatter roses along your path?
3. See the dignity of this witnessing. “My witnesses, saith the Lord.”
(1) You are God’s witnesses by Divine choice and appointment.
(2) By solemn obligation. Obligation is placed upon us by the very name we bear to go out and invite others to the feast. Having found the pearl of great price, shall we hoard it up and not tell others where a like precious gem may be found without impairing our own riches? “Freely ye have received, freely give.”
(3) By pledge and covenant. Have we not engaged to be His followers and to do His bidding?
II. THE MANNER OF THIS WITNESSING. How do men witness for God?
1. By the living voice.
2. By the eloquence of a holy life. This I take to be the most powerful testimony, and touches the greatest number of agents.
3. By active service in His cause; and by His cause I mean all and everything that in any way touches the true interests of the great human family. Then, how wide the field of labour and service, and how loud the call to the strong, the hardy, the daring. Witness for God, young men, by deeds of noble chivalry; emulate your sires. Witness for God, ye strong men in Israel, who stand to-day in the meridian of life, by faithfully devoting all the energy and force and fire of your being to His blessed service. Witness for God, ye fathers and mothers, as you sit in the pensive shades of evening, by recounting His faithfulness to you throughout your day; the recital will inspire higher hopes of nobler conquests in the younger soldiers of the Cross.
4. By patient resignation when called to suffer for the truth. The prophets, the apostles, the reformers, the Huguenots, the Covenanters, the men of the Mayflower, and some in our own country have stood bravely, and endured their sufferings nobly when the fierce tide of persecution set in against them. (C. H. spurgeon.)
Witnesses for Christ
I. TO BE WITNESS FOR CHRIST IS A SPECIAL DUTY OF ALL CHRISTIANS.
1. That is an unwarranted limitation which practically relegates oral witness-bearing to the ministry. The text was spoken to all Israel (Isaiah 43:2).
2. Christ and the Word of God claim the testimony of His people, humble and great; and the duty has been recognised and performed.
(1) The case of the apostles (Acts 1:8; Acts 1:22). The apostles’ acceptance and discharge of this duty (Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:20; Acts 4:33). In after years, when writing their epistles, they were still claiming to be witnesses (1 Peter 5:1; 1 John 1:2).
(2) The case of Paul. He was ordained to be a witness (Acts 22:15). He, therefore, made such witness-bearing the work of his life (Acts 26:22).
(3) The case of John the Baptist (John 1:7; John 1:15; John 1:32; John 5:33). This witness-bearing is the duty, not only of the great, but also of the humble.
(4) The woman of Samaria (John 4:39).
(5) The case of the fierce demoniac (Mark 5:19).
(6) The command to every one (Revelation 22:17).
3. A query, Have you been witnessing for the Lord?
II. EFFECTIVE WITNESS-BEARING.
1. It is essential for a witness to have some definite knowledge or experience, and to tell it.
(1) Previous, therefore, to testifying for Christ, there must be an experimental knowledge of His salvation.
(2) A witness must not only have an experience; he must tell it. He must tell it with the purpose of convincing by his testimony. This is not a difficult duty which can be performed only by the learned or the great or the wealthy, but one within the ability of every Christian, even the humblest. (Acts 4:13.) How easy it is to tell the things which have happened to us! How do men seem to delight in telling their experiences! Shall he alone, who is commanded to tell what “great things the Lord hath done for him,” say “I can’t,” or “I won’t,” or “I am ashamed”?
2. The value of such testimony to a fact.
(1) Naturally great and conclusive--more convincing than an argument, and the only way to reach many minds.
(2) Yet altogether dependent upon the character of the witness. In the courts, the question is, Is the witness a truthful character? Much more must the value of a Christian’s testimony depend upon his possessing a consistent, Christian character.
3. The help afforded by the Holy Ghost fur effective witness-bearing.
(1) He gives courage and boldness in testifying.
(2) He gives power and effectiveness.
(3) He gives corroborating testimony (John 15:26-27).
III. THE HUMILITY AND THE HONOUR OF A WITNESS-BEARER FOR THE LORD.
1. How humble an appointment must this have seemed to the disciples who, full of anticipations of the establishment by Christ of an earthly kingdom transcending in its glory the kingdom of Solomon, were questioning which “should be greatest.” Not to be a governor, or a judge, or treasurer, but simply a witness! Is this a position too humble for you? Do you look down upon it?
2. Yet what glory and honour belong to it! Into what company does it introduce us! Of Christ, the faithful and true witness; of the Holy Spirit, who shall testify of Christ; of the apostles, who were witnesses; and the martyrs. And in eternity shall those who confess Him here be confessed of Him. Those who suffer with Him for their testimony shall also reign with Him in His glory. (W. P. Swartz.)
I. SOME OF THE QUESTIONS UPON WHICH CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO GIVE EVIDENCE IN FAVOUR OF THEIR GOD. These questions are the most weighty which can be discussed.
1. One of the first is this, Is there such a thing now-a-days as a distinct interposition of God on behalf of man, in answer to believing prayer? The world ridicules the idea. Suppose I call Mr. George Muller, of Bristol. He would say, “Look at those three orphan houses, containing no less than one thousand one hundred and fifty orphan children, who are entirely supported by funds sent to me in answer to prayer. Look,” says he, “at this fact, that when the water was dried up in Bristol, and the waterworks were not able to serve sufficient to the people, I, with my more than a thousand children dependent upon me, never asked any man for a drop of water, but went on my knees before God, and a farmer, who was neither directly nor indirectly asked by me, called at my door the next hour and offered to bring us water; and when he ceased because his supplies were dried up, instead of telling anybody, I went to my God and told Him all about it, and another friend offered to let me fetch water from his brook,” Muller is no solitary specimen; we can each of us tell of like events in our own history.
2. There is a question, also, as to the ultimate results of present affliction. The world holds as a theory, that if there be a God, He is very often exceedingly unkind; that He is severe to the best of men, and that some men are the victims of a cruel fate; that they are greatly to be pitied, because they have to suffer much without compensating profit. Now, the Christian holds, first of all, that the woes of sinners are punishments, and are very different from the chastening sorrows of believers. Of these last he believes that all things work together for good to them that love God. What is your testimony with regard to this as a matter of experience? How have you found it? I must speak for myself, and say, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now have I kept Thy word.” “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” All of you, who have sounded the deeps of soul-trouble, and have enjoyed the presence of Jesus, can distinctly testify the same.
3. A third point very much in dispute is as to the joyfulness of a true believer’s life. The world’s theory is, that we are a very miserable set of people who take to religion from the necessity of a naturally melancholy disposition. What is your testimony, Christian? Well, we can say if we be melancholy, joyous people must be very joyful indeed. I saw a Baptist minister this week who was “passing rich on forty rounds a year”; owing no man anything. I told him I hoped he would not die with the secret, for I should like to learn the art of keeping house on forty pounds a year. But he said to me, when I smiled at his salary, You see before you the happiest man out of heaven”; and I know I did too, for his face showed that he meant what he said. True godliness is our natural element now that we have a new nature given us by the Spirit of God.
4. Another point in dispute refers to the moral tendencies of Christianity. There is a growing belief that the preaching of the doctrine of free grace has a tendency to make men think little of sin, and that especially the free invitations of the Gospel to the very vilest of sinners, and the declaration that whoso believeth in Jesus shall be saved, has a tendency to make men indulge in the worst of crimes. Our testimony is, and we speak positively here, that there can be nothing which exerts so sanctifying an influence upon the heart of man, as the doctrine of the love of God in Christ Jesus. And if ye seek proofs, look around. When do you hate sin most? At the foot of the Cross. When do you love holiness best? Is it not when you feel that God has blotted out your sins like a cloud? No truth can so subdue the human mind as the majesty of infinite love.
5. Again, it has been whispered--nay, it has been boasted--that the Christian religion has reached its prime, and though it had an influence upon the world at one time, it is now going down, and we want something a little more juvenile and vigorous to stir the world and produce noble deeds, Now is the time for true believers to vindicate the manliness and force of their faith. It is not true that Christianity has lost its power; and we must make this clear as noonday. The Gospel can nourish heroes as of old; it could furnish martyrs to-morrow, if martyrs were required to garnish Smithfield. There are still a host of facts to prove that the gospel has not lost its power over the minds of men.
6. It is our daily business to be witnesses for God on another question, as to whether or no faith in (he blood of Jesus Christ really can give calm and peace to the mind. Our hallowed peace must be proof of that.
7. The last testimony we shall probably bear will answer the question, whether Christ can help a man to die well or not. We will prove that when the time comes; but how many there have been among us whose names we venerate, who have died rejoicing in the love of Jesus.
II. SOME SUGGESTIONS AS TO THE MODE OF WITNESSING.
1. You must witness if you be a Christian. You may try to shirk it if you will, but you must witness, for you are sub poena: that is to say, you will suffer for it if you do not.
2. Every witness is required to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Speak the truth, but let your life be true as well as your words. Live so that you need not be afraid to have the shutters taken down, that men may look right through your actions. Tell out for God all the truth as it is in Jesus, and let your life proclaim the whole teaching of truth. Let it be nothing but the truth. I am afraid many Christians tell a great deal which is not true; their life is contrary to their words; and though they speak truth with their lips, they speak falsehoods with their hands. Suppose, for instance, I draw a miserable face, and say, “God’s people are a blessed people,” nobody believes me; and if I say “Yes, religion has a sanctifying influence upon its professors and possessors,” and put my hand into my neighbour’s pocket in any sort of way, who will believe my testimony? I may have spoken the truth, but I am also speaking something that is not the truth, and I am thus rendering my witness of very small effect.
3. When the witness is before the court, his direct evidence is always the best. Many professing Christians only give witness of what they have read in books; they have no vital, experimental acquaintance with the things of God. Second-hand Christianity is one of the worst things in the world.
4. A witness must take care not to damage his own case. How many professed witnesses for God make very telling witnesses the other way.
5. Every witness must expect to be cross-examined. “He that is first in his own cause,” says Solomon, “seemeth just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.” You know how a counsel takes a man and turns him inside out, and though he was one colour before, he looks quite another directly afterwards. Now you, as God’s witnesses, will be cross-examined. Watch, therefore, carefully watch. Temptation will be put in your way: the devil will cross-examine you. Yon say you love God; he will set carnal joys before you, and see whether you cannot be decoyed from your love to God. You said, you trusted in your heavenly Father; Providence will cross-examine you. A trial will dash upon you. How now? Can you trust Him? You said, religion was a joyous thing; a crushing misfortune will befall you. How now? Can you rejoice when the fig-tree does not blossom, and the flocks are cut off, and the cattle are dead? By this species of examination true men will be made manifest, but the deceiver win be detected. What cross-examinations did the martyrs go through! What fiery questions had they to answer!
III. THERE IS ANOTHER WITNESS BESIDE YOU. “Ye are My witnesses, and My Servant whom I have chosen.” Who is that? Why, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Witnesses for God are not solitary. When they seem alone, there is One with them whom Nebuchadnezzar saw in the fiery furnace with the three holy children. “The fourth is like unto the Son of God.” “Fear not,” Christ may well my to all His faithful witnesses, “I am with you, the faithful and true Witness.” Let us remark, concerning Christ’s life, that He witnessed the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Would you see God’s truth? Observe how Jesus Christ, in all His actions, with a sacred simplicity, with a transparent sincerity, writes His heart out in His every act. What testimony you have to God’s holiness in the life of Christ! In Him was no sin. What witness-bearing, too, there is in the life of Christ to Divine justice! Above all, read Christ’s witness to God’s love. The entire circumference of Divine excellence is contained in the life of Christ. You are to be witnesses for Christ, and Christ is to be a witness with you. If you want to know how to discharge your duty, look at Him. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The church a testimony for God to the world
I. IT HAS EVER BEEN A REPOSITORY OF THE SACRED DOCUMENTS--the sacred records of the existence of prophecies long before the events to which they relate, of which they can bring satisfactory evidence.
II. CHRISTIANS BY HABITUALLY MEETING TOGETHER FOR DIVINE WORSHIP, FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE ORDINANCES OF THE CHURCH AND THE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL, are perpetually presenting a witness for God:
III. THE INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIAN IS A “LIVING EPISTLE.” (T. Binney, D. D.)
The Christian’s all-out testimony for God
The individual believer, by mingling with the world day by day--without ever speaking a word about religion, it may be--by what he is, and by what he does, is bearing witness for God. By the holiness that marks the man’s life, others may learn something of the holiness of the God whom he serves; by his integrity, by his high appreciation of the great principles of eternal justice, he may learn something of the justice of God; by the benevolence of the man, by the mode and kind of that benevolence, by his yearning anxiety over the souls of men and the moral misery of the species, by the devotion of his abilities to the removal of these, by his benevolent attachment to those great institutions which are intended to diffuse the knowledge of God’s Word, men may learn something of that God who would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth; by his superiority to worldly motives and things, and mere sensual gratifications, by his living above the world, by enjoying a blessedness and placidity which worldly men can never penetrate, they may learn something of the spirituality of God, and the blessedness which God can communicate to those whom He makes His own. (T. Binney, D. D.)
“Ye are My witnesses!”--The special function of witness-bearing is not confined to the Jewish people; but, by the express words of the Lord, it is shared by the Church. The Church and the Holy Spirit together bear joint witness to the death, resurrection, and eternal life of the Divine man. This is also the function of the individual believer: not to argue and dispute, not to demonstrate and prove, not to perform the part of the advocate; but to live in direct contact with things which the Holy Ghost reveals to the pure and childlike nature. And then to come forth attesting that these things are so. Just as mathematical axioms have no need to be argued, but simply to be stated, and the statement is sufficient to establish them, because of the affinity between them and the construction of the human mind; so it is sufficient to bear witness to truth, amid systems of falsehood and error. And directly it is uttered, there is an assent in the conscience illumined by the Holy Spirit, which rises up and declares it to be the very truth of God. There are three points on which the Christian soul is called to give witness.
I. LET US WITNESS TO A LOVE THAT NEVER TIRES. At the close of the previous chapter we have a terrible picture of Israel as a people robbed and spoiled, snared in holes, and hid in prison-houses; upon whom God was pouring the fury of His anger. Then most unexpectedly God turns to them, and says, “Fear not! thou art Mine; thou hast been precious in My sight, and honourable and beloved.”
1. “Thou art Mine.” Our deepest emotions express themselves in the simplest words.
2. “Precious.” Preciousness is due to hardships undergone, purchase money and time expended, or pains of workmanship; and each of these three conditions has been marvellously exemplified in the dealings of thy God.
3. “Honourable.” Demean thyself as one whom God delights to honour. It ill becomes princes of the blood-royal to lie in the gutter.
4. “Beloved.” In the darkest hours of life, when thy feet have almost gone from under thee, and no sun, or moon, or stars appear, never doubt that God’s love is not less tenacious than that which suggested the epitaph on Kingsley’s tomb, “We love; we have loved; we will love.” To know all this, and to bear witness to it; to attest it in the teeth of adverse circumstances, of bitter taunts, and of utter desolation; to persist in the affirmation amid the cross-questioning of a cynical age; never to falter, never to listen to the suggestion of doubt; never to allow the expression of the face to suggest that God is hard in His dealings--this is the mission of the believer.
II. LET US WITNESS TO A PURPOSE THAT NEVER FALTERS. God does not say, “Think of what was done yesterday”; He goes back on the purposes of eternity; the deeds of Bethlehem and Calvary; the everlasting covenant; the whole trend of His dealings with us. Is it likely that a purpose reaching back into the blue azure of the past will be lightly dropped? It is our duty to bear witness to the far-reach of a purpose that moves in a slowly-ascending spiral to its end.
III. LET US WITNESS TO A DELIVERANCE THAT NEVER DISAPPOINTS. We might have expected the verse would run, “Thou shalt never pass through the waters, or through the river; thou shalt never have to walk through the fire!” But so far from this, it seems taken as a matter of course that there will be the waters and the fire; the overflowing floods of sorrow; the biting flame of sarcasm and hate. God’s people are not saved from trial, but in it. We must bear our testimony to this also, that we may clear the character of God from the aspersions of the ungodly. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Witnesses to God
The most High has many witnesses to Himself. His works. “That Thy name is great, Thy wondrous works declare.” Especially the heavens. They “declare the glory of God.” His providential care of men. “He left not Himself without witness, in that He “did good,” etc. The moral nature of men. “Their conscience also bearing witness,” etc. But His people are God’s conscious, voluntary, grateful, affectionate, and effective witnesses.
I. THE SUBSTANCE AND MATTER OF OUR WITNESS. To what are we to testify?
1. To man’s spiritual nature and destiny. Witness abounds to man’s bodily wants, in the arrangements for their supply; to his social nature, in the institutions of civilised life; to his intellectual being, in books, schools, and colleges; to his artistic faculties, in picture-galleries, museums, etc.; and alas I to his evil nature and habits, in the courts of law, the police and military forces, etc. It is the office of the Church in this world to testify that man has a nature capable of knowing, loving, and serving, his heavenly Father.
2. To God’s being and character.
3. To the Gospel of Christ. “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me,” said the Lord Jesus to His disciples, before His ascension. To Christ’s person, character, and doctrine, His people are bound to testify. They whom the Lord first commissioned, “with great power gave witness to the resurrection of Christ.” It is the privilege of Christians to tell of the provision made in Jesus for the restoration of men to the Divine favour and image.
II. THE MODE OF OUR WITNESS. How are God’s people to bear the witness required?
1. By speech.
2. By the silent testimony of the life. An unworldly and self-denying life, a gentle and compassionate spirit;--these are effective methods of witnessing to a selfish and sinful world.
III. THE CHARACTER OF OUR WITNESS.
1. Christians are competent witnesses, having a personal and experimental knowledge of that to which they testify.
2. They are truthful witnesses. Their power lies in their testifying to facts, not to fables, fictions, fancies.
3. They are consistent witnesses; there is no swerving from their evidence; and there is an instructive harmony between their testimony and the principles of their life.
4. They are bold and fearless witnesses. Religion is sometimes unfashionable or unpopular.
IV. THE SPHERE OF OUR WITNESS. To whom is this testimony to be borne?
1. Christians are called to be witnesses to one another; for mutual edification.
2. To nominal, but erring and lukewarm disciples, who need the powerful witness of a living Church.
3. To the unbelieving world. Here is the vast sphere of the Church’s labour.
1. Consider the high honour of the Christian’s calling.
2. Remember the responsibility attaching to this office “Freely ye have received, freely give.”
3. Let hearers of the Word receive and act upon the witness that is borne. What heavier condemnation can there be than that of those to whom it must be said,--“Ye receive not our witness!” (J. Radford Thomson, M. A.)
(with Acts 5:32, “We are witnesses”):--
I. THE WITNESS BORNE BY THE JEWS IS ONE OF THE MOST MARVELLOUS OF MIRACLES.
1. They stood out in the presence of the whole world; selected, chosen, taught, disciplined, serrate
2. They were the recipients of the traditions of God. To them was entrusted the sacred law, the symbolical representation of God’s attributes, and goodness.
3. They were the mediums of prophecy. Through them the Divine Will was heard speaking in accents of warning, mercy, and love.
II. THE GENTILE CHURCH WAS APPOINTED TO DEVELOP, CARRY ON, AND COMPLETE THE WORK BEGUN BY THE Jews. The work entrusted to them is of infinite importance.
1. The Church is God’s candlestick in the midst of our evil and dark world. It bestows the radiance of everlasting light on all around.
2. The Church is God’s sun, that warms the dead and cold hearts of men into life. National life would freeze into eternal death were it not for this agency.
3. The Church is the salt of the earth, keeping it from moral putrefaction. Society would rot without, this antiseptic influence. (Homilist.)
Granting that there is a Divine Being of whom we can at best Know exceedingly little, we have nothing to draw upon for our conceptions of Him but the best and highest of the phenomena of the universe within reach of our observation; and we have no language in which to express our conceptions but that which is more, or less anthropomorphic. And it is not only necessary to do this in order to satisfy our natural aspirations, but it is eminently becoming so to do. For it accords best with the demands of reason, and also with our instincts of piety and reverence. Anthropomorphic conceptions of God are not therefore necessarily false because they are anthropomorphic; nor are they necessarily false because they are very inadequate. They may be true as far as they go, and may be trusted provisionally till more light and wider experience enable us to relinquish them for truer conceptions. It is very important to this argument to keep continually before our minds the fact of man’s superiority and supremacy over the whole portion of the universe within human ken. With all its grandeur and glory and benignant power, we put the sun lower in the scale of being than the poor, flail man who owes his life and all its blessings to its heat and light. And why is this, if not because we have found no trace in the sun of consciousness or intellect; still less of affection and moral sense?
1. Man’s superiority over other animals is admitted to consist chiefly in the comparatively enormous preponderance of his reasoning faculties--which have at length given rise to articulate language, to literature and to abstract reasoning, to say nothing of the infinite variety and number of skilful inventions.
2. Man is also distinguished from the lower animals by the possession of a moral sense, which means not a mere category of things which he may, and of things which he may not, do, but a sense that he is bound to do what is believed to be right and because it is right, even though he may not personally benefit by it.
3. Man is distinguished by the capacity for an altogether nobler affection than that usually manifested by the other animals. It is true, they share with us the possession of sexual and parental and sometimes of social love, and under the influence of domestication are capable of the purest and most devoted friendships, both for man and for their fellow-creatures; but man is capable of the highest known form and degree of love, and has manifested heroic devotion for his fellow-man such as no animals have ever shown.
4. Man is by nature religious, and though he himself is the noblest being on earth, yet he persists in believing in some One infinitely higher than himself, to whom, in some yet undefinable way, he and all creatures owe their being, on whose bounty all things depend, whose will it is the main duty of life to discover and obey, and who is conscious of our heart’s reverence and love. That man pictures to himself a God proves one of two things; either that he is, in this particular, inferior or superior to the other animals. If there be a God, corresponding however imperfectly with man’s ideal, then it is a mark of superiority to have imagined one; but if there be no God, it is a mark of inferiority to have made such a frightful departure from the truth, to have committed such a blunder. So long as external nature was regarded as superior, it was natural and rational for man to conceive of the forms or forces of nature as deities. But when the superiority of man dawned upon the human mind, by reason of its own progress in knowledge and goodness, then the symbols of deity were no longer to be drawn from the outer world, but from man himself, his reason, his conscience, and his heart. Why? Because these were the highest forms of existence known to him. So it must be Anthropomorphism or Atheism. Make what provision he will mentally, make what concessions to his own conscious infirmity, make what margin of error for inevitable ignorance, his God must be like himself. So far like as to think, and to know and to be capable of communion and affection with those who seek His face. Only let us beware of rushing into the opposite error of supposing that the most perfect man that ever lived is good enough or great enough to be a perfect representation of God, who is as far above the “brightest and best of the sons of the morning” as the heavens are higher than the earth. There are grave difficulties in the moral government of the world; in fact, if this world be the end of existence for many living creatures, men included, there would be much to shock our moral sense and lead us to impute either imbecility or criminal injustice to the Author and Governor of the world. Now, we have two means of surmounting these difficulties, but only through Anthropomorphism.
(1) There is the conscience which believers in God regard as having a Divine authority--not to lay down specific rules for conduct, but to give supreme sanction to the claims of duty when perceived. We naturally attribute conscience, or a reverence for the right, to the Author and Lord of our consciences; and this is absolutely essential to our conception of God. This is one help to us in facing the moral difficulties of the world. It gives us time. It enables us to say, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
(2) The other help is that man in his best estate perceives the superiority of goodness over happiness, knows also by experience how many of the noblest blessings come to us disguised as pain and trouble and even sin; moreover, he knows full well that he would never, if he could help it, inflict any pain or injury upon any creature but for its own ultimate good, while he would put himself to the greatest pain in inflicting it upon others if he saw no other way of securing that final good. Now, piety and reverence enable us to project this goodness of heart into the ideal world, and to attribute to God the same inflexible devotion to the well-being of His creatures, and to be assured that God has resources of which we know nothing, whereby the inequalities and injustice of the present order will one day be fully justified by the end achieved. And when confronted by the reproach of Anthropomorphism, our only reply can be, “Do you think God can possibly be below the highest moral standard of His creatures? As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts.” (C. Voysey, M. A.)
Witnesses for God
“Ye,” men of Judah, people of Israel, “are My witnesses”--witnesses that I am, and witnesses of what I am. The nations round about you worship idols. All the world hath corrupted itself, and gone astray, and worships and serves the creatures more than the Creator. For more than a thousand years ye have been My witnesses. Such is the force and import of our text. But God has other witnesses likewise. “The invisible things of Him, even His eternal power and Godhead, are clearly seen, being revealed by the things which He hath made.” We call on you, young Englishman and Englishwoman, for your own souls’ sake, for your country’s sake, and for the world’s sake, to become witnesses for God. In order to which these three things are necessary--
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. If you would know Him you must study the Book in which He is revealed.
II. STRONG FAITH IN GOD AND IN HIS CHRIST. Moses could not have witnessed for God as he did, nor could Paul, nor Peter, without such faith. The morals and practices and spirit of our age render a deep and abiding faith essential to a stable and successful witnessing for God. Now, such faith you cannot have by merely wishing to have it, or by sighing after it. It is born of light, and nursed in light. To be of the highest, truest, strongest order, it must be both of the intellect and of the heart.
III. A WHOLE-HEARTED DECISION FOR GOD. “Be a whole man in everything,’” said Joseph John Gurney to his son,--“a whole man in the playground and a whole man in the schoolroom.” We must be whole men in our witnessing for God, not two-minded but one-minded, the conscience not divided from the will, and the will not divided from the conscience; the lips not divided from the heart, nor the heart from the lips, nor the hands from either. Vacillation and halfheartedness will make our testimony of none effect. There need be no roughness or ruggedness of character in order to all this; Jesus was very gentle. The Christian, full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, cannot be hid. (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Witnesses for God
I. TO HIS TRUTH. They know His truth; they have felt. His truth; they maintain His truth against all opposition. His Word is truth, as Jesus Himself declared; and all God’s people, in all ages, are witnesses to His truth. It is a remarkable fact, but it cannot be denied, that wherever the truth of Scripture hath taken hold of a man’s heart, in whatever part of the world he may live, he entertains concerning the Scripture the very same opinion that his brother or sister does in another part of the world. We all set to our seal, as we read this Book, that God is certainly true.
II. TO THE POWER OF HIS GRACE. You, as witnesses, say, Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will tell you what He hath done for my soul.”
III. TO THE EXERCISE OF HIS GRACIOUS PROVIDENCE. (W. Curling, M. A.)
God’s witnesses summoned to testify to the world
There is one important respect in which all objects in the universe, from the atom to the archangel, unite--all are “witnesses” for God. The visible reveals the Invisible.
I. THE CHURCH OF GOD IS SPECIALLY DESIGNED TO BE HIS WITNESS TO THE WORLD. The Jewish Church was designed for this; a local stationary witness. Look at its geographical position; it was central. Judaea was situated at the top of the Mediterranean, and, like the sun in the centre of the solar system, it was always in the sight of the nations. Zion, like the Pharos of the world, was always flinging its light over the gross darkness of heathenism. When the fulness of time was come the Christian Church was set up for the purpose of Christ its Founder. Jehovah said, “I have given him for a witness to the people.” He was the image of the invisible God. He selected men--His disciples--for the same purpose to be witnesses for God.
II. THE CHURCH IN EVERY AGE HAS PROSPERED OR DECLINED IN PROPORTION AS IT HAS FULFILLED THIS MISSION.
1. The period of its first and greatest activity was the season of its greatest prosperity. The banners of the Cross floated over the altars of idolatry, and caused it to triumph in every place.
2. The cessation of its activity was the cessation of its prosperity. Witness the dark ages under the influence of a corrupt Christianity, a Christianity heathenised by Rome.
3. Every return of the Church to its missionary activity has been Divinely blessed.
III. ITS MOTIVES AND ITS RESPONSIBILITY FOR FULFILLING ITS MISSION ARE GREATER NOW THAN EVER. The first witnesses for Christ required no higher motive for duty than the command of the risen Lord. He gave the command, and they went forth. But whilst there is the same necessity for witnessing now as then, the wants of the world are more urgent. The map of the world in the days of the disciples was only as a map of a province compared to that which lies open to us. Look at it. What a fearful expanse of darkness around, and that darkness how dense! What hideous enormities does it conceal! By a very slight effort of the imagination we can cause the hosts of evil to pass before us. First come the Jews out of all nations under heaven, each one with a “veil over his heart,” and stained with the blood of the Just One. Next, nominal Christians by myriads. Then comes the crescent of imposture, followed by Turkey and Persia. This reminds us of another inducement, the testimony of the Gospel is Divinely adapted to them. Each member of the Church should feel a solemn impression that he is a witness for God. In connection with this there should be a heart-unity between all witnesses, and a spirit of self-sacrificing liberality. (J. Harris, D. D.)
The witness of consistency
“Early in this year,” says a Canon of our Church, a recent traveller in India, “I stood by the side of one of our missionaries while he preached to a crowd of natives in one of the largest cities in our Indian Empire. I shall never forget the rapt attention with which he was listened to up to a certain point. But all at once the eyes that had been so keenly fixed upon him were withdrawn, and the men exchanged scornful smiles and murmurs, and shook their heads in doubt, and I inquired the cause of this sudden change of demeanour, and was told that the preacher had been describing the visible fruits of conversion to God. He had described the Christian as temperate, chaste, forgiving and forbearing, pure in heart and in life. But this was too much for his hearers. They saw Christians day by day, and their observations gave the lie to it, and they turned away from the preaching of the Word. “A native of high character and education” in “another city” said to the same clergyman, Let Christians only practise one-tenth of what they profess and India would soon be converted. What we want from you is not more Christianity, but more Christians.” (Church of England Pulpit.)
Practical witnessing for God
William Ewart Gladstone, while at Eton, attended a dinner at which an indecent toast was proposed. When all the others rose to drink it he turned his glass upside-down, and remained seated, burying his face in his hands.. Keith Falconer kept hung on the wall of his room at Harrow a roll of texts which told every one quietly, yet distinctly, on whose side he was. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
God’s witnesses often inconsistent
The world not only does not believe us, but does not believe that we ourselves believe what we say. I remember a very striking circumstance which a neighbouring minister mentioned to me in proof of this. There was in the town in which he preached a determined and avowed infidel, believing in neither Christianity nor God. He saw this man one Sunday evening in the place of worship. He was preaching on some of the great verities of the faith, and the duties resulting therefrom. As he was the next morning passing the door of the man, he was standing at it. He said: “I saw you at worship last night, and was rather surprised to see you there, because you don’t believe what I was saying” “No,” says he; “nor you either.” “Indeed! No. Why, if I were to believe the things you affirm to be true, which you set forth, and which are written in your books, I should not know how to contain myself; I should feel their importance so much that I should exhibit them wherever I went; I should not know how to hold in the enthusiasm which they would excite. But I don’t believe them, nor do you, or you would be very different people from what you are.” (T. Binney.)
The value of personal testimony
Many years ago now, before the Australian goldfields were opened, a party of experts were sent up the country to explore the district and report on the probability of gold being, found there. They made their survey, sent in their report, gave it as their opinion that gold would be found, that there were “auriferous strata,” etc., but somehow or other no one was greatly interested. Nobody disputed their conclusions, and nobody acted on them. But some time after, one market day, some shepherd lads came down to Melbourne from the bush with some lumps of yellow ore in their pockets. “Why,” said those to whom they showed it, “that’s gold! Where did you get it?” “Oh”! said they, “we got it up country; there’s plenty of it up our way.” Next morning there was a stampede--everyone that could raise a cart was off to the diggings. Now, my brother, you may not be able to preach, but does your life show that you have got the nuggets? (E. W. Moore.)
I, even I, am the Lord
THE OBJECT OF OUR WORSHIP. The heavenly majesty asserted by Himself. “I am the Lord.” A self-existent Being, contrasted with idols--dwelling in His own eternity, independent, everlastingly immutable, the eternal Jehovah. Mark how this glorious self-existent Being is subject to none, exists in Himself, the source of all being, and subject to no other beings. Shall we, for a moment, trifle in the presence of such a being? If I look a little further at this glorious self-existing Being, as revealed in “His” Word, I find “Him” manifesting “Himself” as sanctity itself inherent. Therefore, again and again, He says to Israel of old, I will be sanctified before all people; and again, “Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” Moreover, this glorious self-existent Being, this source of all being, and subject to none either in heaven or in earth, has made Himself known in the attribute of holiness by solemn oath. “I have sworn by My holiness that I will not lie unto David.” Moreover, if we pause to think of His glorious attributes, all of them are expressly supernatural, transcendently glorious, and Divine. Advance a step farther, to notice the veneration and adoration to be given to this glorious Being in His Trinity of Persons. The glorious self-existent Being is sovereign over all worlds.
II. THE EXCLUSIVE CLAIM TO THE PREROGATIVE OF BEING A SAVIOUR. “Besides Me there is no Saviour.” Some men make a Saviour of their priest. Some of their alms and their doings. Some will make a part Saviour of Christ, and a part saviour of their own doings and repentings and believings, and they lose both, and must be despised as neutralists. But “Beside Me,” the Eternal God the Lord, “there is no Saviour” It was the Father’s purpose of love that ordained salvation. Then, Christ, as a Saviour, received salvation to centre entirely in Himself. This salvation is by the Holy Ghost. Mark the unity of all the Divine Persons in this salvation, which is exclusive. There is no other Saviour, consequently no salvation but in our covenant God. (J. Irons.)
I will work, and who shall let it?
Salvation through judgment
The words (Isaiah 43:13) intimate that the salvation foretold comes in the way of judgment. Jehovah will effectually intervene; and when He does this, who can turn it back, so that it shall not be done? (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
A great work
I. THE WORKER AND THE WORK TO BE DONE. The worker is God Himself. He “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” And the work which He hath purposed with regard to the salvation of His people is to gather together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad. There are, however, subordinate workers whom God employs for this purpose--ministers of the Gospel, whose chief work lies in the endeavour to win souls to Christ, who are called labourers together with God--workers together with Him; and it is theirs to preach the Word, the substance of which Word is Christ--to invite sinners to Christ by showing His excellency and dignity as the Son of God, His tenderness and sympathy as the Son of man--by showing to sinners the perfection of His redeeming work. But as ministers are fellow-workers together with God by virtue of their office, so may private Christians be.
II. THE FIELD OF WORK. God’s field of labour is everywhere. His object is to gather His people together who are still lying in darkness and sin. For this glorious end He employs various means. His means are directed particularly to individuals.
III. THE CENTRE IN WHOM THE WORK IS COMPLETE. This, in one word, is Christ. It is the simple knowledge of a dependence upon Christ’s person by which God works out His purpose of salvation. But I should not be preaching to you the whole counsel of God if I omitted to put before you also the side of your responsibility. (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)
Behold, I will do a new thing
The future better than the past
How dear to the heart of the Israelites was the remembrance of the nation’s deliverance from Egypt and their journey to the Land of Promise! To those great events the religious teachers of the people continually turned for illustrations and proofs of God’s greatness and power and goodness and love.
From this well used and familiar store of imagery the figurative expressions of the text are derived. Dropping the figures put of sight for a moment, we may say this is a gracious promise of suitable help and supply, even under circumstances most difficult and precarious. It is intended as an encouragement to repentance and to renewed consecration to God. It is the old message that God will give to all who look to Him everything that is requisite for spiritual progress and success. In presence of every untried enterprise; on the threshold of every unknown experience; in the hearing of every Divine call, this promise floats as a banner before the soldier’s eye, and rings as the sound of a trumpet rings upon the soldier’s heart. (T. Stephenson.)
“A new thing”
1. This messenger of God proclaims, and he may be regarded as in this respect representing all God’s messengers of grace to the world, “Look not on the former things”--listen not now, in these moments of penitence and prayer, to those threatening voices which tell of an inexorable law of repetition, of the relentless working out of a foregone conclusion and appointed destiny--old things may pass away, all things may become new. “Behold, I will do a new thing!”
2. This “new thing,” in the instance before us, is compared with the opening of a path in the wilderness, and the supply of rivers of waters in the desert. The pathless wilderness of the future is before us--no foot has trodden it,--it is beset by unknown difficulties and unseen perils; but even their God will make a way, a road upon which His people shall travel in security and with unerring certainty to their appointed destination. And although the heat of the sun may beat fiercely down upon that path, drying up every particle of moisture and consuming all pleasant vegetation, so that it may seem most unlikely that life can be sustained in the journey across such an arid waste, God can and will provide all that is needed; and rivers of water, an abundant and continuous supply, shall be found there. Preparation and guidance! These are the ideas involved in the promise to make a path. Difficulty, peril, privation! These are the thoughts which associate themselves with the desert and the wilderness. (T. Stephenson.)
The new thing
This doing a new thing is the very achievement which many voices of high authority are assuring us, just now, is impossible with God. The power that carries on the universe, they tell us, never does a “new thing.” What seems to us the new is only the old revealing itself in an unexpected way. Continuity is the law that governs all things. It is the language of those whose symbol of deity is an interrogation mark, or the sign for an unknown quantity, or a fetter, as they may happen to prefer. It is a phase of thought by no means modern, although sometimes imagined to be such. It never found more telling expression anywhere than at the lips of one who flourished a thousand years before Christ, more or less, and who put it thus: “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done, and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new?” I suggest that we take up the ancient challenge. I will mention some of the ways in which Christ may be said to have broken in upon the monotony and uniformity of human life and thought with something new. He brought us--
I. A NEW LIKENESS OF GOD.
II. THE TRUTH ABOUT THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
III. A NEW HOPE. (W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
The beast of the field shall honour Me
Hope respecting the profanest persons
I have sometimes laid hold of this text, and have been comforted by it concerning the conversion of the very worst of men.
Some people say, “What is the good of going among blasphemers and profane persons with the Word of God?” Well, if the beast of the field, and the dragons, and the owls shall honour Him, we need never think of leaving any of the sons of men to perish. It is not what they are, but what God is, that should give us confidence concerning them. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
This people have I formed for Myself
The altering of God’s purpose
It is the burden of the Book of Deuteronomy that God chose the seed of Abraham to be a peculiar nation unto Himself above all peoples on the face of the earth.
Those two words “people” and “inheritance” are perpetually linked together in the Bible. Jehovah’s design is clearly declared in the significant Passage--“They shall show forth My praise.” By a long process of careful training it was His intention so to form the people that their history should turn men’s thoughts to the glory and beauty of His own nature, and elicit perpetual adoration and praise. On three separate occasions they thwarted Jehovah. They came nigh unto cursing instead of praising. They gave men false conceptions of His character. And on three separate occasions they had to learn the temporary suspension and postponement of His purpose.
1. In the wilderness they murmured against Him, and were sent back to wander in the waste for forty years.
2. After nineteen kings had ruled from David’s throne, they were exiled to Babylon for seventy years.
3. Since the rejection of the Beloved Son, they have been driven into all the world to be a by-word and a proverb. For years God’s purpose has been under arrest. It shall, no doubt, be ultimately fulfilled. This change of purpose on the part of God has been the opening of the door for us; and the words which were originally addressed to Israel are now applicable to ourselves. By the lips of the apostles Paul and Peter we are told that Jesus gave Himself for us, to redeem us and to purify us unto Himself, a people for His own possession; so that we are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that we may show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. We are what we are, that we may show forth God’s praises; but if we fail to realise His ideal, for us, too, there will be the inevitable postponement of His purpose.
I. THE PURPOSE OF GOD. “That they should show forth My praise.” We may promote God’s praise by suffering, as much as by active service in every life there are three regions. That of the light, where duty is clearly defined; that of the dark, where wrong is no less clearly marked; and a great borderland of twilight, where there is no certainty, where dividing lines are not distinct, and where each man must be fully persuaded for himself. It is here, however, that the temper of the soul is tested.
II. THE POSSIBLE THWARTING OF HIS PURPOSE. “Ye shall know the revoking of My promise” (Numbers 14:34, R.V., marg.). There is nothing more terrible in the history of a soul than to frustrate the Divine ideal in its creation and redemption, and to prevent God deriving from us that for which He saved us.
1. Prayerlessness (verse 22). Nothing is a surer gauge of our spiritual state than our prayers.
2. Neglect of little things (verse 23). The people were probably careful of the larger matters of Jewish ritual, but neglectful of the smaller details. None of us goes wrong at first in the breach of the great obligations of the law.
3. Lack of sweetness. “Thou hast bought Me no sweet cane” (verse 24). It is possible to do right things from a hard sense of legalism, in which the sweetness and lovableness of true religion are painfully wanting. Many are the instances of this change of purpose. David substituted for Saul; Solomon for Adonijah; the Church for the Hebrew people; Western for Eastern Christianity; the Moravians and Lollards for the established Churches of their time.
III. THE FULFILMENT OF GOD’S PURPOSE THROUGH OUR PAIN. God’s purpose cannot be ultimately set aside. So with Israel, and with each of us. But the cost, how enormous! (F. B. Meyer B. A.)
The chief end of man
1. God, who made all the lower creatures for some special use, assuredly did not make man, and endow him with those noble powers, without a grand distinctive design or end worthy of Himself and them.
2. This end cannot possibly be anything bounded by his transitory life.
3. The end for which chiefly we were made must needs be that which the Scriptures tell of: “This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise,”--even to know the ever-blessed God; to serve God; to honour, love God; to enjoy God; and to be everlastingly blessed in the knowledge, service, and enjoyment of Him.
(1) This end is a very high and noble one.
(2) A most reasonable and righteous end.
(3) A necessary and indispensable end,--as it is the end which God actually made us for; it is altogether indispensable that we follow and fulfil it, unless we are to live in a terrible conflict with our Maker, and so inevitably perish. For if God made us to serve and honour Him, and we do it not, then, to put it at the very lowest, we are useless and unprofitable on God’s earth; and we are accustomed to cast away from us things useless for the thing they were designed for. But then, most things of this world which are useless do not on that account require to be positively hurtful. But it is otherwise with us. If God made us to serve and honour Him, and we pay no regard to this end, then, necessarily, we dishonour God. If we serve not God, we must serve the devil. If we serve not the true God, we must serve false gods,--creatures of all kinds, to which we give the regard, affection, trust that are due to God, and so unavoidably fall under the sentence of the law of His moral government, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” But this volume has not come to us only to tell the end or use we were made for, but to tell also how we may fulfil it--ay, how we now, after having failed to live for the end, may yet know and serve and love and everlastingly enjoy God. The whole Bible may, as to this vital matter, be summed up in one grand word--Christ. (C. J. Brown, D. D.)
The delight of God in forming a people for Himself
In the good work of forming a people for Himself, God has been engaged from the beginning. The subjects of it have been more numerous in some periods than in others; but in every age He has created a seed to serve Him. And in future times--when He who sits on the throne shall “make all things new”--this people shall abound in number, and “flourish like grass of theearth.” And what a thought is this, that in us, if we be indeed new creatures, God delights.
I. The first ground of the Divine satisfaction in this people which I mention arises from THE NATURE OF THE WORK PERFORMED, the character of the effect produced. The effect produced by the forming power of God is--a people on whose immortal spirits His image is impressed, the chief features of which are--knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,--a people enlightened and guided by heavenly truth, sanctified and regulated by Divine love,--a people assimilated to God in understanding and heart, in purpose, in action, in blessedness. If a person be not the partaker of a Divine nature, the most amiable and eminent qualities which he may possess can ultimately contribute only to increase his capacities and his means of doing evil, and to render him pre-eminent in disgrace and in misery.
II. In forming a people for Himself, God gives AN ILLUSTRIOUS DISPLAY OF HIS GLORY. In no work has He communicated so much of Himself, has He given so luminous and extensive a display of His glory, as in that which we are now contemplating, viewed in its manifold relations. Advert to His sovereignty and His power, both which the text obviously suggests.
III. God delights in forming a people for Himself, because He thus GLORIFIES HIS SON. He bears testimony to the dignity of His person, to the worth of His sacrifice, to the efficacy of His mediation.
IV. GOD FORMS A PEOPLE FOR HIMSELF, THAT THEY MAY SHOW FORTH HIS PRAISE; and for this reason also He delights in them. He creates them anew in Christ, not merely that He may display His perfections in the production of so excellent an effect, but that they may contemplate and adore the excellencies which He thus manifests; not merely that they may be a mirror to reflect the splendour of His glory to others, but that they themselves may utter abundantly its praises. They praise Him with their hearts. They praise Him with their lips, by formal acts of devotion; by the celebration of His ordinances; by the public confession of His name; by commending His service to others; by ordering their speech in His fear, and to the use of edifying. And they praise Him with their lives, by avoiding what He forbids, by doing what He requires, by submitting to what He inflicts; and thus do homage to His authority, wisdom, and love.
V. God rejoiceth over this people, because HE DELIGHTS IN THEIR HAPPINESS. (J. Stark.)
Showing forth God’s praise
It has been said that the word translated “praise” is from the same root as “Hallel” in “Hallelujah,” and that it means, first, a clear and shining light; next, a sweet flute-like sound: from which we learn that the people of God are to reflect His glory until it shines from their lives, attracting others to it; and that they are to speak His praise in resonant and harmonious sounds that shall arrest and attract the listening ear. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
But thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob
Insincerity in religion
It is a common observation that there is very little sincerity in the world.
We are now concerned with insincerity of a deeper and more serious character,--insincerity in religion. I propose to offer some remarks which may serve to detect a mere formal profession of religion. The subject on which I shall chiefly remark is the habit and enjoyment of secret prayer.
I. MANY HAVE CONTINUED FOR A WHILE IN HABITS OF SECRET PRAYER, AND YET ARE ONLY FORMAL PROFESSORS.
II. MERE FORMAL PROFESSORS AFTER AWHILE LEAVE OFF PRAYER IN A GREAT DEGREE.
III. It is evident that these formal worshippers are utterly deceived in thinking they are converted: THIS WEARINESS IN PRAYER SHOWS THE CHANGE WAS NOT REAL. How are we to distinguish the feelings of a mere formalist from the presence of God’s renovating Spirit?
1. They have not the spirit of prayer. Theirs is not prayer suggested, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit.
2. Mere professors, being deficient in secret prayer, soon fall back again into their former sins and worldliness.
3. It is utterly impossible for you to be saved so long as you live in neglect of prayer.
(1) To neglect prayer is utterly inconsistent with the love of God, which is the element of true religion.
(2) Contrary to the fear of God. This is expressed by the opponents of Job. “Yea, thou castest off fear, and restrainest prayer before God.”
(3) Utterly at variance with that holiness without which no man shall see God.
(4) Allowed negligence of prayer cannot be reconciled with the hope of dwelling with God for ever.
We offer four motives for holy perseverance in prayer.
1. It is wholly necessary for your salvation. “If any man draw back, My soul hath no pleasure in him.”
2. Take heed to yourselves, and be exceedingly watchful, that you may persevere in this duty, and maintain the spirit of vigorous piety. Let us never seek to shelter ourselves under mere doctrines, such as, true saints shall persevere.
3. To urge you to perseverance in the duty of secret prayer, think how much you need the help of the Spirit of God.
4. The fourth motive for perseverance in fervent prayer is, the great advantages that result from it. (W. B. Mackenzie, B. A.)
A fast sermon
There are two distinct charges--
1. A neglect of prayer.
2. Growing weary of God.
The point is this: people are at a dangerous pass when they begin to neglect prayer. Eliphaz layeth it as a heavy charge upon Job (Job 15:4): “Surely thou restrainest prayer before God.” When conscience is clamorous, wants pressing, and yet men cannot find the heart to go to God, it is a sad case. So the heathen are described to be the families that call not upon His name (Jeremiah 10:25); that is, that do not acknowledge and worship Him. “The workers of iniquity,” of what religion soever they profess themselves to he, “they call not upon the Lord” (Psalms 14:4). The evil of this will appear if we consider--
I. WHY THE DUTY WAS APPOINTED.
1. It is a notable part of God’s worship, or a serious calling to mind His presence and attributes. To withdraw from prayer is to withdraw from God; and to be unwilling to pray is to be unwilling to draw nigh to God, or to have any serious thoughts of His being and attributes.
2. It is a profession of our dependence.
3. It is a duty wherein the mysteries of our most holy faith are reduced to practice. There are two great mysteries in the Christian religion--the doctrine of the Trinity, and the mediation of the Son of God.
4. One special end of prayer is to nourish communion and familiarity between God and us; for it is the converse of a loving soul with God, between whom there is a mutual complacency.
5. Prayer is required to preserve in us a sense of our duty, and to keep the heart in better frame.
6. To engage our affections to heavenly things.
7. To be a means of comfort and spiritual refreshing. The soul is disburdened of trouble by this kind of utterance.
II. THE CAUSES WHY MEN NEGLECT IT.
1. Atheism is at the root. When men neglect prayer, either they believe there is no God or no providence.
3. Coldness in religion and weariness of God.
4. Want of peace breeds loathness and backwardness, as David hung off Psalms 32:3) till he had recovered his peace.
5. Want of spiritual strength. He that hath lame joints cannot delight in exercise which is a pleasure to them that are strong. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel
Weary of God
Marvellous words! We are not surprised to find God saying to us, “Thou hast wearied Me”; but it is astonishing that God, to His own people, should complain, “Thou hast been weary of Me.” We are not astonished that the creature wearies of the creature, man of man, saint of saint. This is in the very nature of things; it arises from the limitation of the creature’s powers and resources: no creature can be to another what every creature wants. God in Christ alone can slake the thirst and meet the hunger of our needy souls, and it is worse than useless for men to try to take the place of God in their ministrations and relations to each other. And that God should stoop to say this is also marvellous. Many of you would be too proud to make this acknowledgment if you were placed in a similar position with respect to your fellow-creatures; but here is God reasoning with those whose hearts have wandered from Him, and saying, with all the fidelity of a father, and the pleading tenderness of a mother, “Thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel.” Many a parent may learn of God even in such matters as rebuke and chastisement. The power of rebuke is very intimately connected with the spirit in which it is administered; you may so rebuke a fault in a child as, by the very rebuking, to attach the child more strongly to yourself; or you may so rebuke as to increase the distance between your child and yourself, and at the same time to confirm him in his fault. Listen to God’s rebukes, and be “followers of God, as dear children.” The form in which this being weary of God showed itself was partly the restraint of prayer. “Thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel.” It is very likely that the form of prayer was kept up; yet God says, “Thou hast not called upon Me.” The day was when they had called upon God first, and upon God last. But now they restrained prayer, and they tried to carry their burdens by the independent strength (and their strength was weakness) of their own shoulders; or they tried to bear their sorrows with the sympathy and assistance which their fellow-creatures and their fellow-saints could administer. God noticed this conduct of His people, and He rebuked it. And not only in the restraint of prayer was this weariness manifested, but also in the neglect of sacrifice; in indifference towards the ordinances of God, and carelessness in the worship of God; in disregard to the will of God; and also in fretful discontent under the dispensations of God (Malachi 1:2.). The prophet here represents Israel as sent into captivity, and God as justifying His procedure on the ground of Israel s own spirit and conduct. It is a fault common to God’s saints.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS EVIL. We have already indicated it, but we may put it in another light. We may show it, for example, in contrast. This people, God says, “have I formed for myself; they shall show forth My praise.” He made us in His own image, that we might reflect Himself, and in the sight of which we might rejoice. And He made us in His own image, that we might reflect Him to each other and to other people; while, for the same object He redeems us. God, in redeeming us, forms us for Himself, that we should love Him; that we should trust Him; that we should honour Him, and that we should try to please and glorify Him. And we realise the work which our blessed Saviour has wrought for us, and which the Spirit of God is now working within us, when we are able to say, “I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.” Now, what is it to be weary of God? It is to desire to break the connection that exists between us and God. It is to be impatient of continued connection with Him; to be tired of calling upon Him; tired of thinking of Him; tired of trusting Him; tired of waiting for Him; tired of serving Him. I know not a better illustration than that which is supplied by the first part of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
II. ITS MANIFESTATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT.
1. This weariness is first shown by formality in Divine worship.
2. It then shows itself in the outward neglect of Divine requirements. Declension begins in the heart, and shows itself first in formality, and then the steps between formality and the outward neglect of Divine requirements are not very many.
3. Then follows, not looking to God for aid and succour. The man depends more upon himself than he ought to depend, or he looks more to his fellow-creatures than he had been accustomed to look.
III. WHAT IS THE OCCASION OF THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS WEARINESS? You will generally find one of the following things--disappointed hope, the endurance of affliction, or the prosperity of the wicked.
IV. ITS CAUSES. You must be aware of the distinction between an occasion and a cause. God’s dispensations towards Pharaoh, as we are told, hardened his heart. They were the occasions of this, but the cause was not in God; neither was the cause in the dispensation of God--the cause was in Pharaoh. Unless Pharaoh had possessed a hardened heart, those dispensations of Divine providence, instead of increasing this obduracy, would have produced a totally different state of soul. The same dispensations have done it, as in the case of Nineveh; when Nineveh was threatened, Nineveh repented. The cause is to be found either in the absence of love or in the feebleness of love.
V. THE BITTER FRUITS of this weariness. God sees it; and He cannot see it without feeling it. God is angry, and He corrects; and He corrects so as to make the chastisement answer to the sin. The man has, to a certain extent, withdrawn from God, and God withdraws from the man. He deprives the man of whatever influences are still tending to promote his peace and joy and rest. And, of course, if the heart be alive, if it be a quickened heart, this state is one of great misery, until the soul is restored to God. Where there is not life, you find that the case gets worse and worse, and that very frequently men fall from this weariness into scepticism, and into atheism.
VI. THE MEANS OF PREVENTION. Ejecting the first hard thoughts of God; not yielding for a moment to indolence in the service of God; comprehension (so far as we can comprehend) of the principles, and of the general plan of the Divine Government, so as not to be expecting here that which God has given us no reason to hope for here; following Christ implicitly in the conduct of the spirit towards God; and cherishing most sacredly the influences of the Holy Spirit.
VII. When you have fallen into this evil state, WHAT IS THE CURE?
1. Full confession of the weariness. Be willing to speak of it as God speaks of it; to see it as God sees it; and to condemn it as God condemns it. Call it weariness of your merciful Father--weariness of your best and kindest friend.
2. Admission of the Divine goodness in the correction by which you are made sensible of your weariness.
3. Return to a careful observance of God’s ordinances and precepts, the obtaining of pardon, and the assurance of forgiveness. While you are in doubt about pardon with reference to this sin, you will find yourselves keeping at a distance from God. This subject is suitable for self-examination. Are there any signs of this weariness of God in you? (S. Martin.)
Weary of God
To be weary of God is to be weary of His worship and service. It is as sad a character as can be given, either of persons or of a people, to say that they are weary of God.
I. THE NATURE OF THE EVIL. Weariness in the body noteth a deficiency of strength, no more mind to work; in the soul, a falling from God, and we have no mind to His service, which is either partial or total.
1. Partial. When the heart is more alienated from God than before, and all our respects to Him grow burdensome and grievous, and the heart begins to repine at everything we do for Him (Malachi 1:13; Amos 8:5).
2. Total when not only the power of religion is abated, but the very profession of it is cast off.
II. IT IS INCIDENT SOMETIMES TO PERSONS CONSIDERED IN THEIR SINGLE CAPACITY; SOMETIMES TO A PEOPLE CONSIDERED IN THEIR COMMUNITY.
1. To persons considered apart, and in their single capacity.
(1) Partly out of natural adverseness to God.
(2) Partly because of the fickleness of man.
2. It is incident to a people considered in their community.
(1) The Church of God in general.
(2) In every nation.
Usually religion is changed in a nation upon two grounds--
(a) Change of persons. When good old zealous men are gone the stage is shifted, and there cometh on a new scene of acts and actors; one generation passeth, and another cometh.
(b) Change of interests. When it is for their own interest to own God, men think they can never bind themselves fast enough to Him; but when the posture of interest is changed, God is laid aside, they grow weary of God; they deal treacherously with the Lord, and walk willingly after the commandment (Hosea 5:7; Hosea 5:11).
III. THE CAUSES WHY A PEOPLE GROW WEARY OF GOD. Besides those general causes, these may be added--
1. Want of love to God.
2. We are too much led by sense; and if we have not present satisfaction, we soon grow weary of religion.
3. It argueth too much love of the world, which by long importunity prevaileth with us to forsake God, and grow dead and cold in religion 2 Timothy 4:10).
4. It comes from indulgence to the ease of the flesh. As bodily weariness is most incident to the lazy, so is spiritual weariness to those who do not rouse up themselves.
5. Impatience of troubles, and the manifold discourage merits we meet with in the way to heaven.
IV. THE EFFECTS.
1. Boldness in sinning.
2. More coldness in duties of worship. Either it is omitted or performed perfunctorily, and in a careless, stupid manner.
3. Less care and study to please God.
V. What a sad state of soul it is appeareth--
1. By the heinousness of the sin.
(1) It is a horrible contempt of God, after trial, to fall off from God and return to our carnal pleasures and satisfactions again.
(2) It is a very senseless and unreasonable sin. God never gave you cause or occasion to grow weary of Him. He challengeth Israel: “O My people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against Me” (Micah 6:3).
(3) There is much ingratitude in it. He hath given much cause to the contrary.
2. The terribleness of the judgment.
(1) On nations.
(2) On Churches (Revelation 2:5).
(3) For particular persons, it layeth them open to God’s severe correction Hosea 5:15).
(4) For total defection. There is dreadful vengeance appointed for them that prefer the creature before God. (T. Manton, D. D.)
Thou hast not brought Me the small cattle
Failure in religious details
Failure in religious details may we not ask whether some emphasis may not be laid upon the designation “the small cattle”?
Do not many men fail in religious details? They are emphatic in their stupendous word-creed, but they do not bless some little child on the road to church, or bring some wandering soul to the Church home. We do certain great or conspicuous things, and we forget the small cattle, the little offerings and tributes. Every omission is noticed (Isaiah 43:24). Does God care for our sweet cane? Does He like to see us spending a trifle upon some cane stick that we may take it and offer it as if it were a flower? He hath no need of any service of the kind; yet it pleases Him that we should with some small piece of money buy sweet cane. Observe how He notes the omissions! This might be the very voice of Christ, who said to Simon the Pharisee, “I entered into thine house, thou gavest Me no water for My feet; but she hath washed My feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest Me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment.” What an eye is the eye of Omniscience! It notices every slip and flaw and omission. That would, indeed, be a miserable declaration to make if it stood alone; but it only leads to the fuller declaration that it notices every cup of cold water, every widow’s gift, every child’s service. God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God and His people a contrast
In one of those antithetical clauses, or “balances of words,” so frequent in Isaiah, He thus contrasts His own and His people’s doings (verse 23): “I have not burdened thee in exacting oblations; I have not wearied thee in demanding incense.”. . . “But thou hast burdened Me with thy sins; thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities” (verse 24). (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Thou hast bought Me no sweet cane
THE GROUND ON WHICH ISRAEL IS REPROACHED. Sweet cane, or calamus, is an aromatic reed which was an exotic in Palestine, and is chiefly to be found in India. The demand for sweet cane was great, because it formed an ingredient of the incense in most countries where incense was used. It was one of the things which could not be obtained by barter. The charge is, “You do not neglect the offices of religion, but you perform them carelessly; you do not withhold your offerings, but you do not offer of your best.” Bad is the best that man has to offer to God; but less than our best God will not accept.
II. WHEN DID THE KING ETERNAL, IMMORTAL, INVISIBLE, SERVE? When was God, the Omnipotent, wearied with our iniquities? When did the Judge of the earth blot out our sins? We, enlightened by the Gospel, can give an answer which Israel of old could not. We answer, “When the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” He came to serve, and when we think of Him, the God-man, serving under the law, is it possible for us to ask, in the spirit of the slave, How little can I render unto the Lord for all His benefits?--what is the least that He demands, the minimum of duty? The great principle is this, that we never offer unto the Lord what costs us nothing, or what involves no thought or trouble. He will not accept the refuse at our hands. And this principle we are to carry out in all that relates to our moral conduct and religious life. It is applicable to our private devotions as well as to our public services. It is implied in our Lord’s injunction, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. (W. F. Hook, D. D.)
I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions
Pardoning mercy made radiant
As in olden times jewellers were wont to set their most precious gems in casings of a very inferior nature--and that wisely, in order that the intrinsic lustre of the jewel might shine forth more brilliant from the contrast--so doth the Word of God delight to place the long-suffering mercy of our God in the settings of man’s iniquity and ingratitude, in order that the most lustrous jewel in God’s all-radiant diadem--even mercy--might glitter the more brilliantly from its immediate contact with the black foil spots of man’s sin.
(F. F.Goold, M. A.)
I. THE RECIPIENTS OF MERCY. Look at the 22 nd verse, and you will see--
1. That they were prayerless people.
2. They were despisers of religion. “Thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel.”
3. Thankless people. “Thou hast not brought Me the small cattle of thy burnt-offerings.”
4. A useless people. Neither hast thou filled Me with the fat, etc.
5. There are some who may be termed sanctuary sinners--sinners in Zion, and these are the worst of sinners.
6. We have here men who had wearied God: “Thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities.”
II. THE DEED OF MERCY. It is a deed of forgiveness.
1. A Divine forgiveness. “I, even I, am He.” Divine pardon is the only forgiveness possible; for no one can remit sin but God only.
2. Surprising forgiveness; for the text speaks as if God Himself were surprised that such sins should be remitted: “I, even I”; it is so surprising that it is repeated in this way, lest any of us should doubt it.
3. A present forgiveness.
4. A complete forgiveness. The bond is destroyed, and He will not demand payment again.
III. THE REASON FOR MERCY. Says one poor sinner, “Why should God forgive me? I am sure there is no reason why He should, for I have never done anything to deserve His mercy.” Hear what God says, “I am not about to forgive you for your own sake, but for My own sake.” “But, Lord, I shall not be thankful enough.” “I am not about to pardon you because of your gratitude, but for My name’s sake.” “But, Lord, if I am taken into Thy Church, I can do very little for Thy cause in future years, for I have spent my best days in the devil’s service; surely the impure dregs of my life cannot be sweet to Thee, O God.” “I will not engage to forgive you for your sake, but for My own; I do not want you,” says God; “I can do as well without you as with you. I forgive you, therefore, for My own sake.” Is there no hope for a guilty sinner here?
IV. THE PROMISE OF MERCY. “I will not remember thy sins.” Is it possible for God to forget? Not as to the absolute fact of the committal of the deed, but there are senses in which the expression is entirely accurate.
1. He will not exact punishment for them when we come before His judgment bar at last. The Christian will have many accusers. The devil will come and say, “That man is a great sinner.” Let all the demons of the pit clamour in God’s ear, and let them vehemently shout out a list of our sins, we may stand boldly forth at that great day and sing, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” The judge does not remember it, and who then shall punish?”
2. “I will not remember thy sins to suspect thee.” There is a father, and he has had a wayward son, who went away that he might live a life of profligacy; but after a while he comes home again in a state of penitence. The father says, “I will forgive thee.” But he says next day to his younger son, “There is business to be done at a distant town to-morrow, and here is the money for you to do it with.” He does not trust the returned prodigal with it. “I have trusted him before with money,” says the father to himself, “and he robbed me, and it makes me afraid to trust him again;” but our heavenly Father says, “I will not remember thy sins.” He not only forgives the past, but trusts His people with precious talents.
3. He will not remember in His distribution of the recompense of the reward. The earthly parent will kindly pass over the faults of the prodigal; but you know, when that father comes to die, and is about to make his will, the lawyer sitting by his side, he says, “I shall give so much to William, who always behaved well, and my other son he shall have so-and-so, and my daughter, she shall have so much; but there is that prodigal, I spent a large sum upon him when he was young, but he wasted what he received, and though I have taken him again into favour, and for the present be is going on well, still I think I must make a little difference between him and the others; I think it would not be fair--though I have forgiven him--to treat him precisely as the rest.” And so the lawyer puts him down for a few hundred pounds, while the others, perhaps, get their thousands. But God will not remember your sins like that; He gives all an inheritance. He will give heaven to the chief of sinners as well as the chief of saints. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Sin forgiven and forgotten
Free grace blots out our transgressions--
I. FROM GOD’S BOOK.
II. WITH GOD’S HAND.
III. FOR GOD’S SAKE.
IV. FROM GOD’S MEMORY. (H. G. Guinness.)
Because of texts like this, the early Church called Isaiah the Evangelical Prophet. What does “Evangelical” mean? A “good angel,” a “good messenger,” bringing good tidings of great joy. All who bring the good tidings from God to sinners are evangelical preachers. All the Bible prophets were evangelical, else they would not have been there. Moses himself was evangelical; even law in the Old Testament has evangelical issues, and Moses was a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.
I. THE NAME WHICH GOD GIVES HIMSELF. “I, even I, am He.” You do not find this style save in the Bible. This was God’s manner of speech. Baal could not say this, nor the gods of Egypt. God speaks to you as a man amongst men: “I have something to say to you.” When He singles you out, that is often the beginning of personal religion. God speaks to you and me personally; there is none save Jesus Christ between God and myself.
Whatever your name is, put it into this text, and lift up your soul in every sentence, making them petitions. Israel had grown weary of God, and had got broken and scattered. Are there not those who are weary of Sabbath services, and wish Monday had come to get back to business? They love entertainments and social gaieties; but tire of Sabbath preaching. Another of Israel’s sins is found in the context, “Thou hast bought Me no sweet cane with money.” Did God indeed care for sweet cane? If you go back to chapter 3. you will find a list of the ornaments and dresses, and what they spent their money upon. Read this and digest it. Bring your bank books and drink books and tobacco books; compare them with what you have contributed to the upholding of evangelical religion. Take your sins to God, and He will blot them out.
II. “FOR MINE OWN SAKE.” Not for thy sake; that rather takes a man down. It is all owing to grace. I quite agree to the terms. Pardon my preachings, my sermons, and take me in a pauper. How does that suit your views?--it suits me. In the New Testament we have it put for Jesus’ sake; it is the same thing at bottom.
III. “WILL NOT REMEMBER THY SINS.” How God forgets, I cannot tell. Isaiah says our sins will never again come up to mind, but I cannot imagine how I can forget my own sins. Some men say they have forgiven you; your offence is dead. It’s all past; but you see from the man’s eyes that it isn’t past, and other people know about it. Take some examples of Jesus’ way of forgiveness. You might have said, had you not known, that the first to meet Him after His resurrection would have been the Virgin, or the women of substance who ministered unto Him. But it was the Magdalene that was the first to gaze on His resurrection form! This was just like Himself. And if Judas had not fallen utterly, and gone to his own place, might he not have been chosen to preach the great coronation sermon of Jesus? Peter, the next great sinner, was chosen. Look how Jesus did: He gets the best service out of sinners, such as I. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
There is one thing that God always does with sin. He removes it out of His presence. God cannot dwell with sin. When He casts away the guilty soul into an unapproachable distance, and when He pardons a penitent soul, He is doing the same thing in both cases--removing sin.
I. THE AUTHOR OF FORGIVENESS. The expression, “I, even I,” is not a very unfrequent one in Scripture; but wherever it occurs--whether in reference to justice or mercy--it is the mark of the Almighty, at that moment taking to Himself, in some special degree, some sovereign prerogative. Here, the magnificent repetition of that Name, first given in the bush, was evidently intended to show one characteristic feature of God’s love. He forgives like a sovereign. All His attributes are brought to bear upon our peace.
II. THE NATURE OF FORGIVENESS.
1. As to time. The verb runs in the present tense--“blotteth out.”
2. As to degree. You could not read--Satan could not read--a trace where God’s obliterating hand has once passed.
3. As to continuance. The present swells out into the future. “Will not remember”
III. THE REASON OF FORGIVENESS. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
In the foregoing verses we have a heavy accusation drawn up against the Jews. But no severity follows hereupon; but, “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” The like parallel place we have concerning Ephraim Isaiah 57:17-18). Here is the prerogative of free grace: to infer pardon where the guilty themselves can infer only their own execution. It is the guise of mercy, to make strange and abrupt inferences from sin to pardon.
I. Here is THE PERSON that gives out the pardon, i.e., God. God seems more to triumph in the glory of His pardoning grace and mercy than He doth in any other of His attributes. “I, even I, am He.’ Such a stately preface must needs usher in somewhat wherein God’s honour is much advanced.
II. As for THE PARDON itself; that is expressed in two things: “blotteth out”; “will not remember.”
1. Blotting out implies
(1) That our transgressions are written down. Written they are in a twofold book--God’s remembrance; our own conscience.
(2) A legal discharge of the debt. A book that is once blotted and crossed stands void in law. “I will not remember thy sins.”
III. THE IMPULSIVE CAUSE, that moves God’s hand, as it were, to blot out our transgressions. “For Mine own sake.”
1. That is, because it is My pleasure.
2. Because of that great honour and glory that will accrue to My great name by it. (E. Hopkins, D. D.)
Remission of sin
1. Remission of sin is no act of ours, but an act of God’s only.
2. Remission of sin makes sin to be as if it had never been committed.
3. Upon remission of sin God no longer accounts of us as sinners, but as just and righteous.
4. Pardoning grace can as easily triumph in the remitting of great and many sins as of few and small sins. (E. Hopkins, D. D.)
The forgiveness of sins
That article in the Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” is too little thought of. Men flippantly declare that they believe in it when they are not conscious of any great sin of their own; but when his transgression is made apparent to a man, and his iniquity comes home to him, it is quite another matter. No stocks can hold a man so fast as his own guilty fears. With the desponding, I shall try to deal.
I. THERE IS FORGIVENESS.
1. This appears in the treatment of sinners by God, inasmuch as He spares their forfeited lives.
2. Why did God institute the ceremonial law, if there were no ways of pardoning transgression? The evident design of the whole Mosaic economy was to reveal to man the existence of mercy in the heart of God, and the effectual operation of that mercy in washing away sin.
3. If there is no forgiveness of sin, why has the Lord given to sinful men exhortations to repent?
4. There must be pardons in the hand of God, or why the institution of religious worship among us to this day?
5. Why did Christ institute the Christian ministry, and send forth His servants to proclaim His Gospel?
6. Why are we taught in that blessed model of prayer which our Saviour has left us to say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us”? It is evident that God means us to give a true absolution to all who have offended us. But then, He has linked with that forgiveness our prayer for mercy, teaching us to ask that He would forgive us as we forgive them. If, then, our forgiveness is real, so is His.
7. God has actually forgiven multitudes of sinners.
II. THIS FORGIVENESS IS TANTAMOUNT TO FORGETTING SIN. He wishes us to know that His pardon is so true and deep that it amounts to an absolute oblivion, a total forgetting of all the wrong-doing of the pardoned ones.
1. To speak popularly, a man lays up a thing in his mind; but when sin is forgiven it is not laid up in God’s mind.
2. In remembering, men also consider and meditate on things; but the Lord will not think over the sins of His people.
3. Sometimes you have almost forgotten a thing, but an event happens which recalls it so vividly that it seems as if it were perpetrated but yesterday. God will not recall the sin of the pardoned.
4. This not remembering means that God will never seek any further atonement. Under the old law there was remembrance of sins made every year on the day of atonement; but now the blessed One hath entered once for all within the veil, and hath put away sin for ever by the sacrifice of Himself, so that there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin.
5. When it is said that God forgets our sins, it signifies that He will never punish us for them; next, that He will never upbraid us with them.
6. What does it mean but this--that He will not treat us any the less generously on account of our having been great sinners? Look how the Lord takes some of the biggest sinners, and uses them for His glory.
III. FORGIVENESS IS TO BE HAD. How? Through the atoning blood. Come for it in God’s appointed way. “Repent.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The forgiveness of sins
I. THE SPEAKER. Whose voice thus proclaims obliteration of transgressions? A silver trumpet thus introduces the word: “Thus saith the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” “I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King.” Jehovah speaks from His high throne. If other lips had thus addressed offenders, the word might have been empty, vain, and even worse: it might have relieved no doubts, healed no wounds, diffused no peace. Sin is terrible, because it is an offence against God. “Who can forgive sins but God alone? To the Lord our God,” and to the Lord our God alone, “belong mercies and sorgivenesses.”
II. THE REPETITION. “I, even I, am He.” The Person who forgives twice shows Himself. This reduplication cannot be without strong cause, for there are no superfluous words from Divine lips. It is at once apparent that our God, in the riches of His grace, desires thus to awaken attention, to rivet thought, to banish apprehension, to deepen confidence, to inscribe the truth deeper on the heart. Hence the timidity of doubt assumes the aspect of impiety: incredulity becomes insult. This important view is powerfully established by the context. The preceding verses exhibit Jehovah arrayed in robes of majesty. As Creator He claims service from the creatures of His hands; He demands the due revenue of adoration: “This people have I formed for Myself: they shall show forth My praise.” The scene then changes; and He confronts them with appalling charges. In these, as in a mirror, the vileness of the human heart is seen. Worship is not rendered; prayer is withheld; communion is shunned. The charge is unanswerable. What can the issue be? Will patience cease to forbear? Will indignation blaze? The sentence follows. “I, even I, am He,” etc. What exquisite pathos: what marvellous grace! How Godlike: how unlike the utterance of man!
III. Thus the focal lustre of the word is reached--THE COMPLETENESS OF FORGIVENESS. God ordains forgiveness absolute, unrestricted, unfenced by boundaries, unconfined by barriers. “He blotteth out.” It is true that the word has different shades of meaning, according to its context; but its main purport is neither vague nor obscure. It generally places sins in the most formidable light as recorded debts. It displays them as written in the pages of a book of reckoning, rigidly, exactly,--without extenuation; and then leads to the fact that they are completely erased,--expunged--Not merely crossed, for then they might be read again, and subsequent demand be made; but so eradicated that no trace can be discerned. But the vexing thought may intrude, that memory will continually recall his many and mighty sins. He tremulously may reason, If I cannot forget, will not God remember too? Amid all tokens of Divine love, will not my mind revert to former scenes, and be downcast? I shall see, or think I see, amid heaven’s smiles, a reminder of my sinful course on earth. Let such thought be cast into oblivion’s lowest depths. It is unscriptural: it is derogatory to the glorious Gospel of free grace. Mark how the word contradicts it: “I will not remember thy sins” (Jeremiah 31:34). Let none say, How can this be? Let it not be objected, such mental process is contrary to all experience: it is alien to the properties of retentive thought. Let it be remembered that we are now dealing with God: His ways are not our ways.
IV. THE MOVING CAUSE. Man reaps eternal benefit; but the spring from which the blessing flows is high in heaven. Man and man’s deeds are universal provocation: in him there is no moving merit. If God did not originate forgiveness for the glory of His name, no sin could have been blotted out. But God’s glory is His final end; therefore He blots out transgressions “for His own sake.” Thus heaven shall re-echo with His praise, and eternity prolong the grateful hallelujah. (H. Law, M. A.)
The remarkable point is not merely that the absolution contained in the text is preceded and succeeded by verses of accusation, but that it breaks in upon the connection, and cleaves the sense right in the middle. The king’s messenger of mercy rides through the ranks of the men-at-arms in hot haste, sounding his silver bugle as he clears his way; he cannot linger, his message is too precious to be made to tarry. We may conclude that men know and prize Divine mercy most when they most feel the weight of their sins.
I. THE NATURE OF THE PARDON WHICH IS HERE SO GRACIOUSLY ANNOUNCED.
1. It is a pardon from God Himself, from Him who is offended. This is the more delightful because we know that only He could forgive. Inasmuch as the pardon comes from God, He alone it is who knows the full extent of sin.
2. The reason why it is given. “For Mine own sake.” The entire motive of God for forgiving sin lies within Himself. No man has his sins forgiven because they are little, for the smallest sin will ruin the soul, and every sin is great. Each sin has the essence of rebellion in it, and rebellion is a great evil before God. Again, no man’s sin is forgiven on the ground that his repentance is meritorious. By God’s grace, forgiven men are made to do better; but it is not the foresight of any betterness on their part which leads God to the forgiveness. That cannot be a motive, for if they do better their improvement is His work in them. The only motive which God has for pardoning sinners is one which lies within Himself: “for Mine own sake.” And what is that motive? The Lord knows all His motive, and it is not for us to measure it; but is it not first, that He may indulge His mercy? Mercy is the last exercised, but the most pleasing to Himself, of all His attributes. He has this motive, too, which is within Himself, that He may glorify His Son, who is one with Himself. What a comfort this is; for if, when looking into my soul, I cannot see any reason why God should save me, I need not look there, since the motive lies yonder, in His own gracious bosom.
3. It is noteworthy in this glorious text how complete and universal the pardon is. The Lord makes a clean sweep of the whole dreadful heap of our sins. Our sins of omission are all gone. Those are the sins which ruin men. At the last great day the Judge will say, “I was an hungred, and ye gave Me no meat,” etc. Those on the left hand were not condemned for what they did do, but for what they did not do. Then He mentions actual sins. “Thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins”; but He blots them out, transgressions and sins, both forms of evil. This m the very Icy and glory of Gospel absolution. The believer knows that his sins are not in the process of being pardoned, but are actually pardoned at this moment. The pardon is noteworthy on account of its being most effectual. It is described as blotting out. Blotting out is a very thorough way of settling a thing. If an account has been standing in the ledger a long time, and the pen is drawn through it, it remains no longer. And then mark the wonderful expression, “I will not remember thy sins.” Can God forget? Forgetting with God cannot be an infirmity, as it is with us. We forget because our memory fails, but God forgets in the blessed sense that He remembers rather the merit of His Son than our sins.
II. THE EFFECT OF THIS PARDON WHEREVER IT COMES WITH POWER TO THE SOUL. Timid persons have thought that the free pardon of sin would lead men to indulge in it. No doubt some are base enough to pervert it to that use, but there was never a soul that did really receive pardon from God who could find in that pardon any excuse for sin or any licence to continue longer in it; for all God’s people argue thus: “Shall we sin that grace may, abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” At first, mercy fills us with surprise; then, with holy regret. We feel, What, and is this the God I have been standing out against so long? It next creates in us fervent love. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Subdued by forgiveness
Many years ago in Russia a regiment of troops mutinied. They were at some distance from the capital, and were so furious that they murdered their officers, and resolved never resubmit to discipline; but the emperor, who was an exceedingly wise and sagacious man, no sooner heard of it than, all alone and unattended, he went into the barracks when the men were drawn up, and addressing them sternly, he said to them, “Soldiers, you have committed such offences against the law that every one of you deserves to be put to death. There is no hope of any mercy for one of you unless you lay down your arms immediately, and surrender at discretion to me, your emperor.” And they did it there and then, though the heads of their officers were lying at their feet. They threw down their” arms and surrendered, and he said at once, Men I pardon you; you be the bravest troops I ever had.” And they were, too. That is just what God says to the sinner. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The surprise of God’s mercy
If you have a dog at the table, and you throw him a scrap of meat, he swallows it directly; but if you were to set the whole joint down on the floor before him, he would turn away. He would feel that you could not mean to give a fine joint of meat to a dog. He would not think of touching it; at least, few dogs would. And it seemed to me as if the Lord could not have meant all the wonders of His love for such a dog as I was. I was ready to turn away from it through the greatness of it. But then I recollected that it would not do for God to be giving little mercy. He was too great a God to spend all His power in pardoning little sinners and granting little favours; and I came back to this--that if His grace was not too big for Him to give, I would not be such a fool as to refuse it because of its greatness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Put Me in remembrance
“Put Me in remembrance”
TAKE SOME GENERAL NOTICE OF THE COMMAND HERE GIVEN. This command, “Put Me in remembrance,” by no means supposes that God is unmindful of any promise, or ignorant of any case.
1. It is His pleasure to see a sinner reduced so low as to have nothing to rest upon, nothing to plead but the promise.
2. God will bring the sinner to such a frame as will render the blessing of pardon sweet when it comes.
3. The expression in the text evidences the strict connection which there is between the means and the end. It is grace which appears in the promises, and it is grace which convinces the soul of its need of those blessings that are contained in them. If you are led to see that these promises contain all your salvation and all your desire, and that all is dispensed freely, this will draw out the heart in prayer and supplication. Prayer opens a communication between God and the soul. “I will pardon”; “I will not remember thy sin”--that is the promise. “Put Me in remembrance” is the command. It is the privilege of a sin-burdened soul to remind God of His covenant engagements, to lay the promises of His grace before Him, to plead the merit of the Redeemer’s sacrifice, to set the creature’s misery and God’s mercy in opposition to each other, to compare our poverty with that fulness of grace which the Gospel reveals. Instead of waiting for qualifications in order to obtain mercy, we are to rest the whole weight of our argument upon the grace which shines in the promise, and which will be greatly honoured in the actual pardon of our guilty souls.
II. OBSERVE WHAT IT IS WHICH AN AWAKENED SOUL HATH TO REMIND GOD OF.
1. The soul reminds God of His grace, and argues from the freeness of it.
2. The firmness of His promises.
3. The concern of God’s glory in the pardon and salvation of sinners.
III. OPEN THE NATURE OF THE DECLARATION WHICH HE MAKES BEFORE THE THRONE OF MERCY. “Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.” Declaration in law is showing cause why judgment should not be executed. There must be a declaration of an adequate righteousness in order to our justification before God. Our guilt would sink us into the lowest depths of misery if God did not admit our plea through Jesus. We must also declare our hearty approbation of God’s method of dispensing these His favours. Inferences--
1. We see the reason why God will have the promises of His grace to be pleaded before the Throne; it is not to help His memory, but to exercise and encourage our faith.
2. How greatly are they to be pitied, who can remember any thing but that which it concerns them above all to attend to.
3. Have any of you pleaded the promises, cried for mercy and grace, and yet seemed to find no help? Be not discouraged, though the Lord wait, yet tarry for Him, He waiteth that He may be more abundantly gracious.
4. Consider what glories are reserved for that future world, when all the promises shall be completely fulfilled. (J. King, B. A.)
A great controversy
These words follow immediately on that beautiful declaration--“I, even I, am He,” etc. We shall find that our text has great significance when taken in connection with this most gracious saying.
1. We cannot but remark on the apparent strangeness, that there should be any appeal to reason or argument, where the matter involved is undoubtedly the great doctrine of atonement. Though there is no express statement of this doctrine, no one acquainted with the appointed mode of salvation, which has been the same in every dispensation, will question that the work of the Mediator is tacitly under stood whensoever there is a promise of the forgiveness of sin. If this be implied, how strange that God should no sooner have referred to the scheme of our redemption than He invites us to reason with Himself. Undoubtedly the scheme of our redemption is such as could never have been imagined, and such even as, when revealed, it rather becomes us reverently to receive than curiously to investigate. But, nevertheless, it is quite possible to err on the other side--to be as much afraid of allowing reason to intermeddle with the plan of redemption. There is all the difference between the being able to discover this plan and the being able, when discovered, to determine its excellence and fitness.
2. We should hold it to be as great a falsehood as could be alleged against the Gospel were it to be said, that it does not commend itself to man as exactly what he needs; so that, if he receive it, he must receive it on the strength of external testimony, and not at all on his consciousness of its meeting his necessities.
3. The text, following on a promise that sin shall be blotted out, may be said to invite us to a debate, and to propose, as the topic of debate, the salvation of sinners through the atonement made by Christ. It is God Himself who offers to plead on the other side, if we take that of the strangeness of the Gospel, its inexplicable character as addressed to beings so circumstanced as ourselves. How shall the argument be carried on, or by whom shall the discussion be opened? We will not attempt to give the precise pleading on both sides, but rather sum up the facts and statements of the controversy. We suppose man aware of his lost condition by nature, and penetrated with such a sense of the attributes of God as forbids his expecting that sin may go unpunished under such a government as the Divine. And if a man in this state were made acquainted with the Gospel of Christ, he would want nothing but evidence of the truth of this Gospel; he would find an additional evidence in the exactness with which it met his ascertained wants. There is therefore nothing to shrink from in the challenge of the text. A forgiveness, based on a propitiation, and followed by sanctification, is what God propounds as His scheme of redemption; and such a scheme He invites us to discuss with Him in person. What, then, have you to say? You lie under condemnation: how can you be pardoned when you have punishment to endure? The scheme lays the punishment on another. You are of a depraved nature, inclined to evil, and therefore unfit for communion with your maker: how can such as you enter the kingdom of heaven? The scheme provides for your thorough regeneration. If all the difficulties which reason can find in the way of redemption lie either in the necessities of man or the attributes of God, and if the scheme of redemption through Christ meet the first and yield the second, so that even reason herself can perceive that it satisfies every human want and compromises no Divine perfection, why should we not allow that, reason herself being judge, the Gospel is in every respect precisely such a communication as is suited to the case?
4. We have hitherto confined our attention to the fact that it is to an argument, or discussion, that we are invited by God, when He is about to lay before us, in a most simple but comprehensive form, His great scheme of delivering us through a propitiation for sin. But the concluding words of our text--“Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified “--seem to allow you, if you choose, to bring forward any excuse which you may have for not closing with the gracious proffer of salvation through Christ. We may, however, take another, and perhaps equally just, view of the controversy, which is indicated, though not laid open by our text. The verses which follow--“Thy first father hath sinned,” etc., would seem to imply that the Jews murmured at God’s dealings with them; for God is evidently vindicating Himself. Come all of you who think that you are in any way hardly dealt with by God, approach and plead your cause; it is the Almighty Himself who saith--“Declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.” You need not therefore hesitate to utter plainly all you think, and to make statement of your grievances. You urge, it may be, that your lot is one of trial and affliction; that troubles are multiplied beyond your power of endurance, temptations beyond your power of resistance; that, born as you are with corrupt tendencies, placed in a scene where there is everything to incite you to sin, you are summoned to duties which are manifestly too arduous, and threatened in the event of failure with punishments which are as manifestly excessive and severe. Well, keep nothing back; be as minute as you will in exposing the harshness of God’s dealings, whether individually with yourselves or generally with mankind; and then, having pleaded your own cause, listen to what the Almighty will say; it is He Himself who hath invited you into controversy, and therefore when you have urged all your grievances, be silent that God may be heard in reply. And I know what you expect to hear: you expect a defence as elaborate as the charge. But when you are hearkening for the copious apology and acute contradiction, lo, there is heard nothing but the beautiful promise--“I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” If you have anything to say after such a promise, say it; make what you can of your case. So that the promise is to be taken as a sufficient answer to all that can be urged. But what has such a promise to do with the matter? How does it end the controversy? Do ye ask? Or rather, does not this simple but most gracious announcement of arrangements for the complete rescue of humankind from all their misery and all their guilt make you feel ashamed of having urged any complaint, and aware that in place of murmurs you ought to utter only praises!
5. We wish to impress upon you one great lesson--that it is your business to obey God’s commands rather than to explain God’s dealings. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
A loving entreaty
Understand my text, however paradoxical it may seem, as being a genuine invitation on the part of a gracious God to the most provoking of men.
I. Our text appears as A HUMBLING CHALLENGE. God had punished Israel on account of sin. Israel was not penitent, but in self-righteousness judged that the Lord was harsh and severe. “Come, then,” says God, “come and plead your suit with Me. Put Me in remembrance of any virtues on your part which I may be supposed to have overlooked. If I have misjudged you, if you have not really been neglectful of My service and worship, let the matter be rectified. If really you have a righteousness of your own, put Me in remembrance of it.”
1. On looking back we find that the Lord had charged His people with neglect of prayer. “But thou hast not called upon Me, O Jacob.” This is the charge which we are compelled to bring against all unconverted men and women. Perhaps you offer a form of prayer; but that is nothing if your heart goes not with the words. This is rather to mock God than truly to call upon Him. But come now; if there be any mistake in this charge, disprove it!
2. Next, the Lord charged it upon Israel that they had not delighted in Him. “Thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel.” Can you deny this? If you can, you are invited to state your innocence before the Lord.
3. The Lord had also said that these people did not honour Him. “Thou hast not brought Me the small cattle of thy burnt offerings; neither hast thou honoured Me with thy sacrifices.” It may be you have presented no tokens of love to the Lord at all; or, on the other hand, you may have brought sacrifices, but you have not honoured God by them. You have given that you might be known to give, or because others did so, but not with the view of honouring God. Yet if it be so, if any unconverted man can say that whether he eats or drinks, or whatsoever he does, he seeks to do all to the glory of God, this ought to be known. It would be a new thing under the sun. In truth, it would prove that the man was converted, and had been renewed in the spirit of his mind by the grace of God. But it is not so.
4. Moreover, the Lord charged Israel that they did not love Him. “Thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins”--thou hast made Me a very slave with thy waywardness. “Thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities,”--God’s patience was tried to the utmost with their wanton wickedness. Is not this charge sadly true of many? If it be not so, you are now challenged to vindicate your characters. Do not set up a lying defence, but speak the truth.
6. The challenge before us is occupied not only with the ways of man, but with the ways of God; for the Lord here asserts of Himself, “I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense.” That is to say, God is no hard taskmaster. The commandments of God are essential justice; you could not improve upon them; no law could be more for our benefit than that which He has given us. If God has treated you like slaves, then say so, and state your grievance in solemn converse with God. When God forbids us anything, it is because He knows it would be for our harm; and when God commands us to do anything, it is because He knows that it is for our soul’s eternal good.
II. I hope you will be able to follow me while our penitence suggests AN AMENDED VERSION. Let us take the text as our consciousness of guilt desires to read it. There are certain things which God in great love invites us to bring before His memory. If you cannot take up His challenge, and prove your personal righteousness, let the charges stand, with your silence as an assent to them; and now plead with Him, and pat Him in remembrance of matters which may serve your turn, and lead to your forgiveness.
1. Put the Lord in remembrance of that glorious act of amnesty and oblivion which in sovereign grace He has proclaimed to the sons of men in the preceding verse. That done, proceed to put the Lord in remembrance of your sins. Make an open unreserved acknowledgment unto the Lord. Confess this also, that you have continued by your sins to go away from Him who invites you to return, and promises you a welcome reception.
2. When you have done this, if your spirit is much depressed, and your heart is driven to despair by a sense of your guilt, then put the Lord in remembrance of the extraordinary reason which He gives for pardoning sin: “I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake.” Say unto Him thus: “Lord, there is no reason in me why Thou shouldest spare me, but do it for Thine own sake--for Thy love’s sake, for Thy mercy’s sake.”
3. When you have gone as far as that in putting God in remembrance, I would advise you to plead the Lord’s purpose and intent revealed in Isaiah 43:21 : “This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise.” Say, “Lord, I am Thy poor creature. Thou hast made me; even my very body is fearfully and wonderfully made; and the mysterious thing which dwells within me which I call my soul, is also the creature of Thy power. Hast Thou not made me for Thyself? Wilt Thou not have a desire to the work of Thine own hands? Lord, come and bless me! Sinner as I am, and utterly undeserving, yet I am Thy creature; do not fling me upon the dunghill. If Thou wilt forgive me, Lord, might I not praise Thee?”
4. If that does not ease you, go a little further back in the chapter till you come to Isaiah 43:19 : “Behold, I will do a new thing,” etc. Plead that published declaration! Say, “Lord, Thou hast said ‘I will do a new thing’: it will indeed be a new thing if I am saved. I am driven to such self-abhorrence, that if ever I am saved I shall be a leading wonder among Thy miracles of grace.” It may be you can say--“Lord, I have been sighing and crying and groaning now by the month together, and I can find no peace. Oh, if Thou wilt but put a new song into my mouth, the dragons and the owls that saw me in my gloom shall open their eyes and be astonished, and honour the Lord God of Israel!” I know some who might say, “Lord, it will fill all the workshop with wonder if I shall rejoice in Jesus. All my friends and companions will wonder that I should become happy and holy through sovereign grace.”
III. Our text affords us some PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS. If the Lord says, “Put Me in remembrance,” then--
1. It is very clear that we ought to remember these things ourselves. Oh, you that are not saved, remember the years in which you have lived without prayer l What a wonder that you have been permitted to live at all! Remember, next, for your humbling, how weary you have been of God. Some I would urge to remember long years of neglect of God’s service, with all their niggardliness to the cause of God, all their want of love to God, all the many times in which they have hardened their hearts, stopped their ears, and refused the warnings and invitations of their Saviour.
2. It is time that we should now begin our pleading with God. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Thy first father hath sinned
Its history from the first is a tissue of sins.
“Thy first father sinned, and thy mediators have fallen away from Me.” By the first father, Hitzig, Knobel, and others understand Adam; but Adam is the progenitor of mankind, not of Israel specially, and Adam’s guilt is mankind’s guilt, not Israel’s. Either Abraham is meant (Hofmann, Stier, Hahn, and others), or Jacob-Israel (Ewald, Cheyne, yon Orelli), who has more to do with the sinful nature of the nation springing from him than Abraham (cf. Deuteronomy 26:5). The interpreters and mediators generally (2 Chronicles 32:31; Job 33:23) are the prophets and priests, standing between Jehovah and Israel, and mediating the intercourse of both in word and act; even these for the most part have proved unfaithful to God, falling a prey to ungodly magic and false worship. Thus Israel’s sin was as ancient as its origin; and the apostasy has broken out even among those who, by reason of their offices, should be the best and holiest. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Thy first father
To the unreflecting upon human nature it has not occurred that mankind might have been introduced to our world by other means than by being “born of a woman.” Every human being might have been a distinct creation. But the constitution given to the vegetable and to the animal kingdoms was given also to man; and as herbs and animals contain the seed of their own kind, and are propagated of each other, so man was made to be “fruitful, to multiply, and to replenish the earth.” Among other reasons for this constitution was the intention of securing (through the intimate and peculiar relationships it involves) a powerful influence of man upon man. Judging by the conjugal, paternal, and filial relationships, it is evident that God intended men to exert a considerable amount and a high kind of influence upon each other. But while the domestic bonds are the chief channels through which human influence is transmitted, there are other sources of power. Extraordinary talent, peculiar circumstances, great earnestness, and remarkable labours raise men to the guidance and control of their fellows. The position of the first man was in many respects singular. All other of the human kind have been born of each other. Even Eve was made out of man. Adam alone was created. Excepting Eve and Adam, every other human being has commenced existence an infant, and living, has passed from infancy through childhood and youth to manhood. And Adam was the first of human kind. Adam, moreover, according to the constitution given him, and by the fact of his creation, was the natural father of the human race. We shall treat the subject by discussing two questions.
I. WAS ADAM TO THE HUMAN FAMILY MORE THAN THEIR NATURAL PARENT? According to the historical and doctrinal statements of the Scriptures, Adam did sustain another and a more important relationship.
II. ADMITTING THAT ADAM WAS MORE THAN THE FIRST PARENT OF THE HUMAN FAMILY, WHAT WAS HE BESIDE? AND WHAT DID THIS RELATIONSHIP INVOLVE? As the first parent of the human race, and according to laws with which we are all familiar, Adam would exert a serious influence upon his whole posterity. But Adam was more than the first parent. He is called by the apostle Paul, “the figure of him that was to come”--literally, the type. Paul declared that Adam in his connection with mankind was the form, or the ensample, or the pattern of what Jesus Christ was to be to redeemed men; so that as Jesus Christ is the public representative and head of the saved of mankind, so Adam was the representative of the human race. What did the placing of Adam in this position involve?
1. By this arrangement the whole race is tried or proved by one man.
2. It pleased God to suspend upon the trial of one man the life and the death of the human race. Adam’s guilt must ever be his own--that cannot be another’s. Adam’s punishment must rest on his own head--that cannot be transferred to his posterity. But the results of Adam s conduct his posterity were to share. Awfully responsible was Adam s position! God’s reasons for the order of things are to us unsearchable. We may consider that the trial of a race in one man was more simple than the probation of every individual--we may see how (God foreknowing the apostasy of human nature) this mode of government admitted the immediate introduction of another and of a remedial dispensation--still, God’s ways in this dispensation are past finding out. The fact is declared; and the reason of this arrangement we must resolve into the sovereignty of God. One serious lesson fail not to learn--the extent of parental responsibility. Moral and intellectual and physical qualities are doubtless transmissible. Weakness and disease of body and evil dispositions of soul are conveyed from parent to child. Sow not, therefore, to the flesh. (S. Martin.)
Therefore I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary
“Then I profaned holy princes, and gave up Jacob to the ban, and Israel to revilings.
” “Holy princes” are the hierarchs (1 Chronicles 24:5), the highest spiritual authorities in distinction from the secular. Their profanation consisted in their being ruthlessly dragged into a foreign land, where their official work ceased of necessity. So the heads of religion fared, and the whole nation, bearing the honourable names of Jacob and Israel, fell victim to the cursing and revilings of heathen nations. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 43". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18