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Yet now hear, O Jacob, My servant
Why are the people of God called by the name of Jacob?
Have you never wondered why the people of God should be called by the name of the third of the ancient patriarchs in preference to the first two? We often, indeed, find them called the seed of Abraham, and we should easily understand what was meant if we read of the children of Isaac: but, as far as I remember, they are nowhere called simply Abraham or Isaac, whereas it is perfectly common to hear them called Jacob or Israel, the name of the third patriarch being directly transferred to his descendants. Not only so: this usage has passed over into the New Testament, and we still sometimes call the whole body of living Christians the Israel of God. This is a somewhat surprising circumstance; for of the three patriarchs the third is certainly not the favourite. Why, then, is it that the name of the third patriarch is attached to God’s people, as if he were more directly their progenitor than the other two? Is it because they are liker him than they are to Abraham or Isaac? Is the average Christian an imperfect, stumbling mortal, a compound of obvious vices and struggling virtues, as Jacob was? It would be harsh to say so. But we may come nearer the mark if we put this suggestion in a different form. Jacob was the progressive character among the patriarchs. His beginnings were ignoble, and the vices of his nature long clave to him; yet by degrees he surmounted them: he lived down the evil which was in him; and his end was that of one who, after many defeats, had at last obtained the victory. Abraham is a much grander figure than Jacob, but he has far less history. He may almost be said to be perfect from the first. If in him there was a slow development from small beginnings, we have no record of it. Isaac, again, was, as far as the records inform us, a back-going rather than a progressive character. The opening scenes of his history are beautiful and noble; but his character lacked back-bone, and we see him sinking into physical grossness and moral flaccidity. Jacob’s life, on the contrary, in spite of great defects to begin with and many faults by the way, was a developing and ascending one. This is shown by the names he bore: he was first Jacob and then Israel. And it may be to recommend such a life of progress that his names are given to God’s people. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Biography in three words:
1. This was the name of the natural man. After he had received his new name the very mention of the old one must have reminded him of the evil time when he was an unbrotherly brother and an unfilial son. It is true that, while he was still Jacob, he went through the experience of Bethel, where he saw the vision of the ladder reaching up to heaven. This is usually regarded as his conversion, but, if it was, he was afterwards a backslider, for his subsequent life in Padan-aram was far more guided by selfish cleverness than by the law of God. The name Jacob, in short, was a memorial of a youth of sin and of a manhood of worldliness. But is it not, thus understood, an appropriate name for the people of God? Is there not for them also a bad past to remember? It is well sometimes to go back to what we were, because the old habits may still spring up and trouble us; though we may now have received a new name, the old Jacob is in us still. Above all, we ought to go back on that old time, because it helps to magnify the grace which brought us out of it.
2. But there is another idea inseparably connected with the name of Jacob: it is that of Divine choice. In our text this is very prominent--“Israel, whom I have chosen, “Jesurun, whom I have chosen.” It is, indeed, connected with the other two names here, because these indicate that to which he was chosen. But he was the choice of God, in preference to Esau, while he was still Jacob. As He chose Jacob, while he was still Jacob, so He loved us while we were yet sinners.
1. The patriarch received a new name because he had become a new man. God does not trifle with such things. A change of name among, us may be a mere freak of caprice; but when God deliberately changed a man s name, it was an outward monument of an inward change. If it did not mean that the natural man, which the name Jacob designated, was entirely exterminated, it meant that it was so far overcome that the complexion of the life would henceforth be different. The reign of selfishness and worldliness was over, and a new spirit had entered in and taken possession If we ask how this came about, it may have been a slower and more complex process than we have any record of; for what appears a sudden spiritual change is often only the culmination of movements going on for a long time before. But what we are permitted to see clearly in the records of the patriarch’s life is the midnight scene on the bank of the Jabbok. It is far away, and it is evidently concealed under forms of speech which are now alien to us; but this at least is evident, that the patriarch was that night, if a homely phrase may be allowed, at cross grips with God. That night God was not to him vague and far-off, but intensely real and very near; and Jacob had transactions with Him face to face--ay, hand to hand. Is not this what the religion of many people lacks? To a certain extent they are religious. Yet somehow it never comes to close quarters between them and God. What they need is Christ, the reconciler.
2. But the new name of Israel denoted more than this. It was expressly said to him, as he received it, “As a prince hast thou had power with God and hast prevailed,” and this was what the name meant--the possession of power with God. Evidently a great crisis had come in Jacob’s experience, in which his will came into collision with the will Divine. But what an unequal struggle! The mysterious man had only to touch Jacob in the seat of his strength, and it yielded in a moment; the sinew shrank, and he could struggle no more. Yet in the moment when he appeared to be thoroughly beaten, it turned out that he had gained the victory and won the blessing. This is not so mysterious as it looks. It is repeated in every great spiritual crisis. It is through such experiences that men and women enter into the secret of the Lord, become mighty in prayer, are endowed with spiritual power, and if they do not receive new names on earth, yet obtain a stamp and a signature of character leaving no doubt that they have new names in heaven.
III. JESHURUN. There is no evidence that this name belonged to the third patriarch, though it may have done so. But there can be little doubt that, standing where it does, alongside of the other two, it was meant, like them, for a symbol of character. The root from which it appears to be derived means straight or upright, and this is its most probable meaning. This was precisely the development of character which the third patriarch needed, after he had received the new name of Israel. What happened the very next morning after the great midnight scene on which we have been looking? He went forth to meet his brother Esau; and this is the account of how he behaved: “Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold Esau came, and with him four hundred men;. . . and he bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.” Bowed himself--to the ground--seven times! This to his own brother! What was he bowing for? Whycould he not stand up straight on his feet and look his brother in the face? Read the whole account of the preparations and dispositions which he elaborated before meeting Esau, and of the sly, suspicious way in which he met and managed his rough but generous brother, and you will feel inclined to sneer: Is this the man who was called last night a prince who had power with God? There is far too much bowing and becking, twisting and turning. This man is not straight; he is not upright. It seems to me that sometimes in people who have had their Bethels and Hahanaims and Peniels, and can speak to you about experiences of struggle and emptying, and of being filled with the Holy Spirit, there is a defect of a similar kind. Although they have had dealings with God, and feel themselves on a footing of reconciliation with Him, they are not right in their dealings with men. There are few things which so injure the cause of religion in the world as these defects of men of God. On the contrary, how noble and God-honouring a sight it is when one who is a prince with God is acknowledged on earth also to be a princely man; and when one who has power with God has at the same time influence with men through his manliness, uprightness, and charity. Our text is a message of hope. It speaks of the possibilities of spiritual transformation and development. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
Jacob, Israel, Jeshurun:
I take these three names in their order as teaching us--
I. THE PATH OF TRANSFORMATION. Every “Jacob” may become a “righteous one” if he will tread Jacob’s road. We start with that first name of nature which, according to Esau’s bitter etymology of it, meant “a supplanter,”--not without some suggestions of craft and treachery in it. It is descriptive of the natural disposition of the patriarch, which was by no means attractive. All through his earlier career he does not look like the stuff of which heroes and saints are made. But in the mid-path of his life there came that hour of deep dejection and helplessness when, driven out of all dependence on self, and feeling round in his agony for something to lay hold upon, there came into this nightly solitude a vision of God. In conscious weakness, and in the confidence of self-despair, he wrestled with the mysterious Visitant in the only fashion in which He can be wrestled with. “He wept and made supplication to Him,” as one of the prophets puts it, and so he bore away the threefold gift-blessing from those mighty lips whose blessing is the communication, and not only the invocation of the mercy, a deeper knowledge of that Divine and mysterious Name, and for him self a new name. That new name implied a new direction given to his character. Hitherto he had wrestled with men whom he would supplant, for his own advantage, by craft and subtlety; henceforward he strove with God for higher blessings, which, in striving, he won. All the rest of his life was on a loftier plane. That is the outline of the only way in which, from out of the evil and the sinfulness of our natural disposition, any of us can be raised to the loftiness and purity of a righteous life. There must be a Peniel between the two halves of the character if there is to be transformation. How different that path is from the road which men are apt to take in working out their own self-improvement! How many forms of religion, and how many toiling souls in effect just reverse the process, and say practically--first make yourselves righteous, and then you will get communion with God. That is an endless and a hopeless task! This sequence, too, may very fairly be used to teach us the lesson that there is no kind of character so debased but that it may partake of the purifying and ennobling influence.
II. THE LAW FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. There are some religious people that seem to think that it is enough if only they can say: “Well! I have been to Jesus Christ, and I have got my past sins forgiven; I have been on the mountain and have held communion with God.” Now, the order of these names here points the lesson that the apex of the pyramid, the goal of the whole course, is--righteousness. God does not tell us His name merely in order that we may know His name, but in order that, knowing it, we may be smitten with the love of it, and so may come into the likeness of it. Take, then, these three names of my text as preaching, in antique guise, the same lesson that the very Apostle of affectionate contemplation uttered with such earnestness: “Little children! let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.”
III. THE MERCIFUL JUDGMENT WHICH GOD MAKES OF THE CHARACTER OF THEM THAT LOVE HIM. Jeshurun means “the righteous one.” How far beneath the ideal of the name these Jewish people fell we all know, and yet the name is applied to them. Although the realisation of the ideal has been so imperfect, the ideal is not destroyed. And so we Christian people find that the New Testament calls us “saints.” All wrong-doing is inconsistent with Christianity, but it is not for us to say that any wrong-doing is incompatible with it; and therefore for ourselves there is hope, and for our estimate of one another there is the lesson of charity, and for all Christian people there is a lesson--live up to your name. Noblesse oblige! Fulfil your ideal. Be what God calls you, and “press toward the mark for the prize.”
IV. THE UNION BETWEEN THE FOUNDER OF THE NATION AND THE NATION. The name of the patriarch passes to his descendants, the nation is called after him that begat it. In some sense it prolongs his life and spirit and character upon the earth. That is the old-world way of looking at the solidarity of a nation. There is a New Testament fact that goes even deeper than that. The names which Christ bears are given to Christ’s followers. Is He a King, is He a Priest? He makes us kings and priests. Is He anointed the Messiah? God “hath anointed us in Him.” Is He the light of the world? “Ye are the light of the world.” His life passeth into all that love Him in the measure of their trust and love. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The Church comforted and revived:
I. AN ADDRESS MOST GRACIOUS AND COMFORTING. “Yet now hear, O Jacob, My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen,” &c. The persons to whom these words were spoken are represented--
1. As the servants of God. How great the honour to be acknowledged as a servant of the King of kings!
2. As the people of His special choice.
3. As the objects of His wonderful interpositions. The words, “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb,” refer to them in their national character. The relationship He sustained to them, and the great things He had done for them, are employed as arguments to inspire them with confidence, and lead them to be of good courage.
II. A PROMISE EMINENTLY CHEERING. “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty,” &c. They are evidently spiritual blessings which are here promised, of which water is frequently employed as an emblem. In this passage we are reminded of the following particulars.
1. Their nature. In some places the cleansing property of water is intended. At other times its quality of quenching the thirst is set forth. But it is to be understood here in connection with its refreshing and fertilising influences.
2. Their value. We have but a faint conception of the importance of water, on account of its being so common with us. But, in those countries where it is scarce, its worth is very differently estimated.
3. Their seasonableness. When the soil is parched through long-continued drought, how welcome are the genial showers. And to the dry and barren soul, how cheering are the waters of life and salvation!
4. Their abundance. “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground.” Nor are they ample in quantity alone, but in their range they are most extensive. Besides embracing the people of God themselves, they also embrace their offspring.
III. A RESULT TRULY REFRESHING. “One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” We have here--
1. An important principle indicated. It is that God’s own people must be first revived before large accessions can be expected to the Church from without.
2. The blessed truth declared. (Anon.)
A promise for us, and for our children:
“Yet.” What an ominous word as to the past! What a cheering word as to the future! “Yet.” What black words are those which come before it! God’s people were represented as being in a sadly backsliding state. Consequently God gave them up ,to the curse and the reproach. It may be that such is our case, though we be God s people. “Yet,” says the text--though you have fallen into this state, do not despair; I love you; you are My chosen; yet will I return unto you in favour. Come then, if we have wandered never so far, let this word sound like the shepherd’s call to bring us back.
I. THE LORD COMFORTS HIS PEOPLE BY THE REMEMBRANCE OF WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THEM. Taking the text as our guide, let us notice--
1. The grace we have experienced in its practical effect. To make us God’s servants--“Yet now hear, O Jacob, My servant.” We may be unfaithful servants: we certainly are unprofitable odes, but, if not awfully deceived, we are His true servants. We were once the servants of sin and the slaves of our own passions, but He who made us free has now taken us into His own family and taught us obedience to His will.
2. This grace is peculiar, discriminating and distinguishing. “My chosen.”
3. Reflect again upon the ennobling influence of grace. The people are first called Jacob, but only in the next line they are styled Israel. You and I were but of the common order. If we had boasted of anything we should have been called Jacobs, supplanters, boasting beyond our line; but as Jacob at the brook Jabbok wrestled with the angel and prevailed, and gained the august title of prince--prevailing prince--even so has grace ennobled us!
4. The text conducts us onward to notice the creating and sustaining energy of that grace. “Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb.” Men might as well claim the honour of creation or resurrection as boast of commencing their own spiritual life.
5. This” grace has the characteristic, of intense,, affection in it. God gives to His people the title of Jeshurun, which means the righteous people,” according to some translators, but most interpreters are agreed that it is an affectionate title which God gives to His people. Perhaps it may be considered to be a diminutive of Israel. Just as fathers and mothers, when they have great affection for their children, will frequently give them an endearing name--shorten their usual name, or call them by a familiar title only used in the family--so, in calling Israel Jeshurun, the Lord setteth forth His near and dear love. God’s grace to us is not merely the mercy of the good Samaritan towards a poor stranger whom he finds wounded by the way, but it is the love of a mother to her sick child; the fondness of a husband towards a weeping wife; the tenderness of the head towards the wounded members.
II. WE ARE ENCOURAGED BY THE PROMISE OF WHAT GOD WILL DO. “Fear not; I will help thee.” You cannot pray as you desire--“I will help thee.” You feel unable to overcome sin--“I will help thee.” You are engaged in service too heavy for you--“I will help thee.” Then comes a promise, fuller in words and as rich in grace, “I will pour water on him that is thirsty.” You shall be refreshed; your desires shall be gratified. Water quickens sleeping vegetable life: your life shall be quickened by fresh grace. Water swells the buds and makes the fruits ripe: you shall have fructifying grace; you shall be made fruitful in the ways of God. Whatever good quality there is in Divine grace, you shall enjoy it to the full You shall be, as it were, drenched with it.
III. AS A VERY GREAT COMFORT TO HIS MOURNING PEOPLE, THE LORD NOW PROMISES A BLESSING UPON THEIR CHILDREN. They must get the blessing for themselves first. “I win pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground,”--that is first; and then afterwards--“I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed.” We must not expect to see our children blessed unless we ourselves grow in grace. It is often the inconsistency of parents which is the outward obstacle to the conversion of their children. But now, if we have had faith to receive much grace from God, here comes a blessed promise for our children--“I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed,” in which observe--
1. The need. To give a new heart and a right spirit is the work of the Holy Spirit, and of the Holy Spirit alone.
2. The source of the mercy which God will give. “My Spirit.”
3. The plenty of grace which God gives. “Pour”: not a little of it--but abundance.
4. The blessedness of all this. And My blessing upon thine offspring.” What a blessing it is to have our offspring saved! What a blessing to have our children enlisted in Christ’s army!
5. Notice the vigour with which these children shall grow. “They shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.” Close by the water’s edge the grass grows very green, and the willow is a well-known tree for speedily shooting forth its branches. Our farmers lop their willows often, but they very soon sprout again. The willow grows fast, and so do young Christians.
6. The manifestation of this in public. Not only are our children to have the Spirit of God in their inward parts, but they are to make a profession of it. One shall say, “I am the Lord’s,”--he shall come out boldly and avow himself on the Lord’s side; and another shall so ally himself to God’s Church that he “shall call himself by the name of Jacob”; and then another who can hardly speak quite so positively, but who means it quite as sincerely, “shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord”; and a fourth “shall surname himself by the name of Israel.” (C. H. Spurgeon)
The Spirit promised to the seed of Jacob:
The text contains one of those interesting passages in which the Holy Spirit is promised in the Old Testament. Consider--
I. THE PEOPLE TO WHOM THE PROMISE IS MADE.
II. THE PROMISE ITSELF.
III. THE EFFECTS ATTENDING ITS FULFILMENT. (D. Rees.)
Jesurun, or Jeshurun, is supposed to be derived from a word which literally means “straight” or “even.” The symbolic meaning is therefore upright or “righteous.” St. Jerome renders it “most upright.” In the Septuagint it is translated “most beloved,” a term of endearment. A German commentator gives it the quaint and familiar rendering of “gentleman,” or “one of gentlemanly or honourable mind” (Delitzseh),--a noble epithet alike for the individual or the nation. Taking it in connection with the only other two places in Scripture where the word is used, Isaiah, in employing it here, has probably reference to the primitive virtues which characterised the patriarchal ages--the faith and purity and rectitude of the old founders of the nation--those to whom Israel pointed with something of the same pride and glory as we do to our covenanting forefathers. (Deuteronomy 33:5; Deuteronomy 33:26-5.33.29.) (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty
God’s Spirit as water and floods
The double figure is expressive of copiousness, abundance, variety (both the “water” and the “floods”), the rain from heaven and the mountain torrents to refresh the parched land.
(J. R.Macduff, D. D.)
The Holy Spirit For both Jews and Gentiles:
If these expressions are intended to signify different classes of people, the former may denote, in a figurative sense, the Jews, who had not yet received the Holy Spirit in that plentiful measure which they earnestly desired, and, unsatisfied with present enjoyments, were ardently longing for further communications of Divine grace, and the salvation of the Lord. The latter may signify the Gentiles, who had not been favoured with Divine ordinances and Divine influences, whose condition had been exhibited in preceding passages of these prophecies as uncultivated and barren, resembling a wilderness. (R. Macculloch.)
A work of revival almost always begins with the children of God. God pours water first on “him that is thirsty,” and then on “the dry ground.” (R. M. M‘Cheyne.)
The influences of the Holy Spirit:
I. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS A DISTINCT AGENT IN THE SCHEME OF REDEMPTION.
II. THE PROMISE OF THE DIVINE SPIRIT TO SECURE THE GRAND PURPOSES OF REDEMPTION FORMS A PROMINENT AND INTERESTING PART OF REVELATION.
III. EVERY PERSON WHO BELIEVES THE GOSPEL RECEIVES THE DIVINE INFLUENCE WHICH IT PROMISES.
IV. THE HAPPINESS AND USEFULNESS OF BELIEVERS REQUIRE THEM TO SEEK A MOST COPIOUS EFFUSION OF THE INFLUENCES OF THE SPIRIT. The Spirit promotes the happiness of believers
1. By gradually advancing their sanctification.
2. By making them increasingly the objects of Divine complacency.
3. By preserving them from temptation, and habitually disposing them to seek communion with God.
V. EVERY BELIEVER HAS REASON TO EXPECT THAT THE INFLUENCES OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL RE MOST COPIOUSLY IMPARTED TO HIM.
VI. THERE IS AN APPOINTED ORDER OF MEANS WITH WHICH THE BESTOWMENT OF DIVINE INFLUENCE IS CONNECTED, and in the constant observance of which its most copious effusion should be sought.
VII. IF WE HAVE NOT THE INFLUENCES OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, OR IF WE DO NOT POSSESS THEM IN AN EMINENT DEGREE, WE ARE NOT MERELY UNFORTUNATE BUT GUILTY. (L. Forster.)
Water an emblem of the Holy Spirit:
1. Water is a blessing universally necessary.
2. A blessing universally diffused.
3. An abundant blessing.
4. A cheap blessing. (D. Rees.)
The Spirit acts through believers:
The Spirit must first show forth His virtue in us according to our faith before He can act upon our neighbours. He must be a Spirit of revealing truth in us before He can go forth from us to illuminate the world. He must be a Spirit of conviction in us, making us mindful of our errancies, before He can lead the world to penitence. He must be a Spirit of assurance in us before He can chase the fears and dry the tears of a mourning world. He must be a Spirit of holy, tender, undefiled charity in us before He can assimilate the world to Christ’s great law of love. And all these things the Spirit becomes to us through faith. Some districts are riverless, not because the rain never falls, but because the soil for a great depth down is so porous that the rainfall passes through it like a sieve. The district that cradles rivers must have a soil and underlying foundation that will hold the rain like a sponge. And the graces and virtues present in the character whose root-principle is unfeigned faith hold the benign influences of the Spirit as in hidden fountains and storehouses, so that the world may be blessed by the steadfast outflow. (T. G.Selby.)
The essential diffusiveness of spiritual religion:
These words remind us of the essential diffusiveness of the religion which has faith for its ruling principle and the presence of the Holy Ghost for its daily heritage. The scale according to which we receive the Spirit must not be that of our own personal necessities only or the demands of the passing opportunity. As the Spirit dwelt in Christ with inexhaustible spontaneity for the sake of the larger humanity He had come to bless, as well as for Himself, so must it be with us. However narrow the visible measurements of our life, if we receive the fulness of the Spirit we shall touch the entire world through those subtle and expansive forces which brood within us. We are sometimes humbled because our sphere of action seems so cramped and circumscribed. We long for wider fields. We should like to be the instruments of Divine activities which will affect continents and live through centuries. But into what a little space our aspiring natures seem to be shut up! There are Christians, excellent in character and rich in mental gifts, whose influence seems to go no further than the home, the shop, the office, a select coterie of friends. If the Spirit is in us, however, these mystic rivers will flow forth, and for the honour of Him whose name we trust the Spirit will see to it that our opportunities are imperial in their magnitude. We shall affect for good the fortunes of many lands, and our destiny shall be large and resplendent as our best aspirations. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred we will not let our influence take wings and pass through its appointed realms and latitudes. The panting springs can find no outlet, and the Spirit is restrained because those are so narrow who give to Him an earthly home. Our religious toleration, for instance, we carry to an extent that is simply sinful. We see men in process of being ruined, and, forsooth, we do not wish to interfere with their “religious convictions,” as we call them,--just as if any man’s convictions were worthy of respect when they do not keep him from sin! We think of ourselves as wells to which our neighbours may come if they wish; but the murmuring streams are forced back into the fountain-head, and wells become little better than cesspools. There must be an onward-pushing force in our religious life. (T. G.Selby.)
Vitalising power in Spirit filled men:
There are souls around us so arid, scorched, and desolate that it seems almost impossible to educe within them a single grace or morality. Races are to be found--at least such is the testimony of the white men who are anxious to supplant them--which lack the rudimentary aptitudes for virtue, humanity, religion. They have received a prodigious endowment of appetite, passion, blood-thirstiness from the beast-world below them; but the spirit-world above them seems to have failed to filter down into their lives a single principle of light, truth, tenderness. Even these may be vitalised with a new ethic and fitted for a higher destiny than that of the dust-heap. But it must be by the Spirit in Christ’s disciples. The trader who is a nominal Christian and a practical savage goes into their borders, and is an emissary of swift and complete destruction. They are touched by European commerce, and deteriorate and die off m swarms. They are forced into contact with Western civilisation, and they resent its restraints and perish from the lands of their forefathers. All these secondary influences are but as rivers of poison flowing through their borders, and a strange fate compels them to drink what they know to be the cup of death. The streams which can make this human desert, without a hint of verdure and land-marked with whitened bones, into a paradise, and keep it shaded with foliage, glorious with fruit, thick-set with holy homes and song-filled temples, must go out from the souls of men and women who have received the Holy Ghost. (T. G. Selby.)
Encouragement for parents and children:
In its relation to the Jews, there was a partial and very interesting fulfilment of this promise on the day of Pentecost, in the remarkable effusion of the Holy Spirit which then took place, and the blessed effects by which this was followed: but there is a still more striking and illustrious accomplishment to be realised, when, as the result of Divine influence, the Jews, as a nation and people, shall be brought back to God, and become incorporated with the Gentiles in that “one fold,” of which Christ shall be acknowledged the true and only Shepherd. As a promise pertaining to Gospel times, it is one in which we have a clear and direct interest. As to the particular design of the promise, the very terms in which it is expressed show that it is intended to refer, not perhaps exclusively, but still most emphatically, to the children and posterity of those who have themselves loved and feared God. Consider the promise,--
I. IN ITS APPLICATION TO CHRISTIAN PARENTS. It should be regarded--
1. As an encouragement to the faithful exercise of parental discipline and instruction.
2. As a warrant for believing application at the throne of grace.
3. As a satisfactory ground for hope and encouragement, even under the most unpromising appearances.
II. IN ITS APPLICATION TO THE DESCENDANTS, AND MORE ESPECIALLY THE CHILDREN OF PIOUS PARENTS.
1. This promise affords you no security, apart from your personal acceptance of Christ and submission to His authority.
2. This promise supplies you with the richest encouragement in seeking your salvation and an interest in the Divine favour.
3. This promise should encourage the pious descendants of godly ancestors to aim at more than ordinary eminence in their personal devotedness to God. The imagery of the text seems to imply that a special decision and fixedness of purpose may be expected: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s,” &c. It indicates, too, great vigour and rapidity of growth: they shall grow “as willows by the water-courses.”
4. This promise will leave you doubly without excuse, and greatly aggravate your guilt, if you persist in neglecting salvation. How pleasing to perceive that while the promise applies more especially to the posterity of believers, it does not exclude others! Not only will God give His Spirit and impart His blessing to the seed and offspring of His people, but He will pour water upon every one who is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground. (Essex Remembrancer.)
The Church and the children:
These “exceeding great and precious promises” are “unto us and our children.”
I. GOD’S PROMISE OF BLESSING UPON THE CHURCH.
1. Its import. Refers to the effusion of the Spirit.
2. Its participants. God’s ancient people--in a sadly backsliding state. How deeply they needed the effusion of the Spirit! Two facts prove this to be our great want.
(1) The low and languid piety of many.
(2) The comparatively small success of the various agencies for the conversion of souls.
3. Its abundance. God gives what He promises only in answer to prayer. His promise cannot fail. “I will.”
II. GOD’S PROMISE OF BLESSING UPON THE CHILDREN OF THE CHURCH.
1. Our children need the Holy Spirit. Religion is not hereditary. No natural goodness can supersede His work. Spiritual life is not natural life carried up to its highest point of attainment.
2. God promises to give the Spirit as abundantly to them as to us. Same terms used. And having received the Spirit, they are to grow in grace vigorously (Isaiah 44:4). The manifestation of this in public (Isaiah 44:5). (A. Tucker.)
Foremost among the judgments which followed Israel’s idolatries was the visitation of drought. Dwelling, as we do, under milder skies, and in a sea-girt isle, we enjoy copious supplies of fertilising rain. Yet, even in our own land, a sensible reduction of the rainfall in spring is followed by empty shocks in August. But in the sunny climes of Syria, if the half-yearly gift of rain failed, the effect was disastrous in the extreme. In the footsteps of famine marched dark-robed pestilence, and grim Death with his scythe of keenest edge. Nor was this all. Towns and hamlets, stripped of strong men, became an easy prey to the marauder. Successful raids paved the way for desolating war; and defeat, oppression, national ruin, came in swift procession. Hence, impiety, must have grown bold indeed, if the Hebrews did not earnestly ask for the ‘early and the latter rain.” Now if drought is so injurious in the fields of nature, is it not equally injurious in the Church?
I. A STATE OF BARRENNESS DESCRIBED. The ground is said to be “dry”--that is, in a parched and impenetrable condition. This is not its normal state: this is deadly to vegetable growth. For some reason the land has been deprived of dew and rain. No seed, however big with latent life, can break its rigid shell; much less spring up or prosper. With such homely imagery as this the prophet leads our thoughts from the outer world to the inner. There is a sense of need expressed. Here is a marked improvement. The soul is athirst; the insensibility is guns. The rigid hardness of winter is at an end.
II. A GENEROUS GIFT PROVIDED. A promise from God is as good as its performance.
1. The Source of the supply. It must come from above. The great folly to which all men are prone, is to seek the supply of their wants apart from God.
2. The suitableness of the means. What can be more suitable than showers of rain for a thirsty soil? Yet equally suitable is every gift of God to satisfy the wants of dependent man!
3. The copiousness of the gift. If showers will not suffice, there shall be floods.
4. The range of the promise. It shall not terminate with ourselves: it shall extend to our children--ay, to our children’s children!
III. ABUNDANT FERTILITY FORESEEN. There shall be a revival of life in the Church, as in the parched fields after a copious shower--as in nature, at the advent of spring.
1. Multiplicity of conversions is here predicted “They shall spring up as amongst the grass.”
2. Rapidity of growth shall be another feature of this era.
3. Constancy of verdure will be enjoyed. They shall be “as willows by the water-courses.” In the arid deserts of the East you will find here and there--conspicuous for their rarity--bright spots of luxuriant herbage, fruitfulpalms, flagrant flowers, in the midst of scorching sand. The secret is here,--that far down beneath the surface, a fount bubbles from the riven rock, which, watering the roots of trees and grass, produces beauty, shade, and fruit. So have we seen a man, placed in a very desert of privation--exposed to a scorching sun of trial--yet retaining all the freshness of his piety, and yielding fruits of wisdom, patience, hope. For the roots of his faith were nourished from a secret spring. (Dickerson Davies, M. A.)
A revival promise:
I. THE GREAT COVENANT BLESSING OF THE CHURCH The gift of the Holy Ghost. Whatever metaphor is used this is the meaning of it.
1. This blessing has been already given. We must never underrate the importance of the ascension of our Lord, and the gift of the Spirit which followed thereupon. He is permanently resident in the midst of the Church.
2. This blessing is the subject of a promise. A promise of God is the essence of truth, the soul of certainty, the voice of faithfulness, and the substance of blessing. What a right royal promise it is! We hear the double “I will, I will.”
3. This gift is a most needful blessing.
4. While we need the Spirit of God, His working is most effectual to supply all our needs when He does come upon us. In the East, you can generally tell where there is a stream or a river by the line of emerald which marks it. If you stood on a hill, you coma see certain lines of green, made up of grass, reeds, rushes, and occasional trees, which have sprung up along the water-courses. Nothing is required to make the land fertile but to water it. Even thus let the Spirit of God come upon any Church, and it is all that it needs to make it living and fruitful.
5. The promise is liberal and unstinted. “Pour floods.” I have seen in Italy the fields watered by the processes of irrigation: there are trenches made to run along the garden, and smaller gutters to carry the lesser streams to each bed, so that each plant gets its share of water; but the husbandman has to be very careful, for he has but little water in his tank, and only an allotted share of the public reservoir. No plant must have too much; no plot of ground must be drenched. How different is this from the methods of the Lord! He pours the water; He deluges the land.
6. This covenant blessing is peculiarly promised to a certain class of persons who are especially dear to us. “I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed,” &c.
II. THE GLORIOUS-RESULT OF THIS COVENANT BLESSING.
1. The upspringing of spiritual life. Wherever the Spirit of God comes, there will be life in the Church and in the ministry; life in prayer, in effort, in holiness, in brotherly love.
2. The next effect will be seen in the calling out of numerous converts by the Holy Spirit. “They shall spring up as among the grass, and as willows by the water-courses.” Who can count the blades of grass? The converts called out by the Spirit of God are vigorous and lively. The grass in the East springs up without any sowing, cultivating, or any other attention: it comes up of itself from the fruitful soil. There is the water, and there is the grass. So where the Spirit of God is with a Church there are sure to be conversions, it cannot be otherwise.
3. These conversions will come from all quarters. One shall say, another shall call, another shall subscribe. One comes from the wealthy, another from the poor, a third from nobody knows where. They shall come from all trades and occupations, from all churches and denominations.
4. These converted people shall be led to avow their faith. They shall not, like Nicodemus, come to Jesus by night.
III. THE CONDUCT SUITABLE IF WE OBTAIN THIS BLESSING.
1. We must confess how dry, how wilderness-like we are.
2. Let us cultivate prayer.
3. We must put forth our own personal effort. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Overflowing in usefulness to other:
Egypt has the river Nile all the year round, but as a fertilizing power the Nile is practically useless till it is in flood and overflowing its banks. Then it bestows the needed blessing upon every foot of land it touches. It is when we are filled with the Spirit to the point of overflowing that we become a power for good to others. (T. Waugh.)
If you go down to some of our Thames bridges, you will find the barges stuck fast in the mud, and you cannot stir them. It would be a very difficult thing to provide machinery with which to move them; all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could not do it. But wait till the tide comes in; now every black, heavy old barge “walks the waters like a thing of life.” Everything that can feat is movable as soon as the silver flood has returned. So, many of our Churches lie in the mud. Everything seems motionless, powerless; but when the Spirit of God comes in like a flood, all is altered. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed
God’s covenant with Christian parents
(with Acts 2:39):--Has God given to us any sure grounds to expect the conversion of the children of His people. Note--
I. THE RELATIONSHIP OF THE CHILDREN TO THE PARENTS, as it is laid down in Scripture. It is plain that when God becomes our God, He becomes the God of our children.
II. CHRISTIAN NURTURE furnishes us with another reason for expecting the salvation of our children. “Train up a child,” &c.
III. WE MAY FOUND OUR HOPES UPON GOD’S FAITHFULNESS AS A PRAYER-HEARING GOD. Let us not despair if the answer to prayer be long delayed. The Rev. Mr. Grimshaw, rector of Haworth, had but one son, and he did not follow his father’s footsteps. After his father’s death, he was heard to say, in his maudlin drunkenness, when riding, “This horse once carried a saint; now it carries a devil.” Yet, hopeless as this case seemed, he became a true penitent, and one of his deathbed sayings was, “How astonished my father will be to see me in heaven!” (Evangelical Advocate.)
Christian home environment:
There have been few of the great teachers of Christendom who have not derived their deepest convictions from the impressions made by their earliest domestic environment. (J. Stalker, D. D.)
The value of young life:
The nation of the future rests upon the cradles of to-day. The young life in any institution is that which repairs its defects, enlarges its usefulness, and stimulates its charities. The young life, in any family, is the influence which suns the path of age, invigorates exertion, and quickens the growth of the virtues. Where would the valour and vigour of the country be if deprived of the support of young life? Disraeli says that almost everything that is great has been done by youth; and the history of heroes is the history of youth. In the vegetable world the mission and influence of the young life is not less plain than powerful. According to Louis Figuier, the bud must be considered as a fundamental element in the plant, which, without it, would soon perish. It is the bud which year by year repairs the losses, supplies the flowers, the leaves, the branches which nave disappeared. Through its means the plant increases in growth. Through it its existence is prolonged. The bud is the true renovator of the vegetable world. Therefore these buds are everywhere--on the roots, the leaves, and sometimes even on the flowers, for Nature never loses sight of the phenomena essential to organic life--namely, the production of new beings. (Scientific Illustrations and Symbols.)
A Christian gentleman’s little son, just before he died, said to his father: “When I get to heaven, I shall go up to Jesus and say, ‘Jesus, I know You; my papa told me about You.’” (T. Champness.)
A Christian childhood:
Rev. F. B. Meyer was asked: “How did you find Christ?” This is his written reply: “I do not remember when first I became a Christian. The love of God came over me as the dawn over a summer sky; and it was only in after years that I realised what God had done for me in those early days. My mother and father were godly people. They expected me to be a Christian, and at my mother’s knee I said my morning and evening prayers. It is to their prayer and faith and unremitting care that I owe everything.”
God’s blessing on the offspring of His people
Speaking of the way in which his mother received him when he informed her that he had decided to leave the railway office and become a minister, the Rev. John M’Neill said: “Taking my face between her hands, she drew it close to her own and said, ‘John, I meant you for that before I ever saw your face.’ I knew then, what I had never guessed before, that I owe my conversion and my ministry to my mother’s prayer.” (Presbyterian.)
And they shall spring up as among the grass
Springing up as grass
R.., more accurately, omits “as”; but the text is unquestionably corrupt. There is no doubt that the LXX. preserves the true reading: “spring up as grass among the waters.” (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
As willows by the water-courses
Hebrews ‘arab, a tree growing on the banks of streams in Palestine, Egypt, and Babylon (Leviticus 23:40; Job 40:22; Psalms 137:2). It grows to a considerable size, and was found generally in groves. It has, indeed, been pointed out that the tree now called ’arab by the Arabs is not a willow but a species of poplar (Populus Euphratica)
As, however, this tree is confined to hot countries like those on the lower Euphrates, it seems more likely that the name was originally that of the willow, and that it was subsequently transferred to the poplar. The Arabic translation of the Bible renders the Hebrews ‘arab by saphsaph, which means “willow,” or, according to the Talmud, a species of the willow growing by brooks. (J. Macpherson, M. A.)
(Hebrews ‘arabim) are mentioned five times in the Bible, always associated with rivers or watercourses. The willow (Salix) is represented in Palestine by several species, though it is by no means a conspicuous tree in any part of the country. The weight of authority is decidedly in favour of the willow, which though not a conspicuous tree would be doubtless associated in the minds of the inhabitants with pleasurable feelings, as testifying to the presence of the much-prized water. (W. Houghton, M. A.)
Branches of the garab, which R. Kiepert brought with him, according to Wetzstein’s indication of the place, and which O. Kersten, the secretary of the Imperial German Consulate, sent to the Royal Herbarium at Berlin, show that the garab is the Oriental poplar, Populus Euphratica (Olivier), whose undergrowth may easily on superficial observation be confounded with willow bushes; but it is distinguished from the willow by its leaves, which, although small, are almost quite smooth-edged, and not saw-like. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The growth of the willow:
In the Duke of Bedford’s willow garden was a willow which grew in twenty years to the height of between 60 and 70 feet. Four feet from the ground it was 7 feet in circumference. A small cutting grew to the height of 25 feet in four years Fuller says. “In the isle of Ely where willows flourish, there is a proverb to this effect, The profit by willows will buy the owner a horse, before that by other trees will pay for the saddle.”
Willows by the water-courses
Every year we welcome the opening buds of the willow with their silky down, as among the first indications of approaching spring. The children delight to pluck off the shooting twigs, in their rambles in the meadows in search of early flowers. They call them palm branches, though they have little in common with the palm save that willow branches as well as palm branches were carried in the hand of the Jews on their great festival. There are many varieties of the willow, distributed over all parts of the globe, but they are most common in the temperate and sub-tropical regions, where they form a pleasing feature in the landscape, especially in the vicinity of ponds and rivers. The Jewish exiles in the watered plains of Babylon were painfully familiar with the willows, for on their branches they hung their silent harps and wept as they thought of far-away Zion (Psalms 137:1-19.137.9.). Yet the prophet who came to his countrymen with the cheering promise of Divine pardon and speedy restoration to their native land, found in these same willows a beautiful illustration of the happy change that would be produced and the blessings that would speedily follow their restoration to Divine favour and Fatherland.
1. The rapid and luxuriant growth of the willow is suggestive. A mere stake driven into the ground in the vicinity of water where there is plenty of moisture will take root and bud into leaf and branch in a remarkably short space of time. We are familiar with the immense crop of long and slender twigs that shoot up in the summer months and are yearly cut for basket-making in the osier beds by the banks of our rivers. A well-watered soil seems to be the one thing necessary to ensure the life and growth of the willow. In the winter the pollards stand out in the landscape, gaunt and desolate, like old and rotten sign-posts, and the osier beds look like a muddled mass of chopped root stumps. But in summer there is a perfect transformation from apparent death into new life, with graceful and luxuriant growth and greenness. Now, it is winter with men when they live apart from God and strangers to the blessings and comforts of the Gospel. But as soon as men are brought under the gracious influence of the Gospel of Christ, and come into touch with the “river of the water of life,” all things are changed in them and for them. And the beauty and the joy for us is that so much of this change comes quickly. Certainly, for some of the choicest experiences of the Divine life the Christian has to wait. But very many of the comforts and beauties of the Gospel come to the Christian speedily.
2. The willow is capable of service. The wood of the willow is not to be compared to that of the oak and the other slow-growing forest trees. And yet there is a special power and service in the willow which make its cultivation important and of commercial value. Indeed, no growth in nature is without this capacity for service when it falls into the hands of those who know how to use it. You know what power may be found in the delicate pore of such grasses as the flax and hemp when it is properly prepared and spun into cordage. And the slender twigs of the willow, though so rapid in their growth, are yet so tough and flexible that they are extensively used in basket-making, which is, perhaps, the oldest industry in the world. The wood of the larger kinds of willow also is so tough and durable as well as flexible that the ancients employed it in the making of shields for the soldier and warships for the sailor. While the steamer has largely superseded the sailing boat, the paddle-blades of steamers are still made of willow-wood, and if shields have been superseded, the cricket fields of the world still make a large demand upon the willow for the best bats. Even more surprising is it to find that the most suitable charcoal for making gunpowder is procured from the willow-wood, so that even the slender willow, the whip and plaything of the child, can become a powerful force in war. And as soon as men come under the influence of the Gospel of Christ they become serviceable as they never were before. Even the youngest Christians are powers for good in many ways in all our Churches. While there are some things for which we need the firmness, wisdom, and experience of years, we have almost endless capacity and readiness for service in the young Christians. (J. Menzies.)
One shall say, I am the Lord’s--
A public profession of religion
Those who become the subjects of special grace will choose to join the Church, and enter into covenant to walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.
I. DESCRIBE THE SUBJECTS OF SPECIAL GRACE.
II. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THEIR PROFESSING RELIGION.
III. WHY THE SUBJECTS OF SPECIAL GRACE CHOOSE TO JOIN THE CHURCH AND ENTER INTO COVENANT WITH GOD.
1. They love the commands of God.
2. They love the ordinances of God.
3. Their hearts are united to Christians.
4. They desire to promote the cause and interest of God in the world.
5. They desire to grow in grace.
6. They are so sensible of the deceitfulness of their own hearts, and their proneness to forget and forsake God, that they desire to bind themselves, by covenant vows and obligations, to be steadfast and unmovable in His service.
Those who have sincerely made a public profession of religion must rejoice to see any who appear to be the subjects of special grace, make a public profession of religion. Improvement--
1. If those who have become the subjects of special grace desire to make a public profession of religion, and to enter into covenant with God, then none who have really become subjects of special grace have any just excuse for neglecting to join the Church, and neglecting to bind themselves to love and obey God for ever.
2. If the subjects of special grace always desire to profess religion and partake of Divine ordinances, then so long as they neglect their duty they must necessarily feel unhappy.
3. While the subjects of special grace neglect to join the Church, they live in a very sinful manner. They greatly injure both themselves and religion.
4. It appears from what has been said that some who have long entertained a hope of being the subjects of special grace, must soon give up their hope if they continue to neglect joining the Church.
5. It highly concerns those who have entered into covenant with God, to be steadfast in His covenant, and persevere in universal obedience. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Converts, and their confession of faith:
This is to take place after the Lord has poured out His Spirit upon His people, and upon their offspring.
The mainspring of everything good and gracious is the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit of God comes, converts come too. If they do not come by the Spirit of God, they are not worth having. Converts will come forward to confess their faith.
I. THIS CONFESSION OF FAITH IS PERSONAL. “One shall say, I am the Lord’s,” &c. It is not a joint confession, but an individual one. It is “one” and “another” and “another.”
1. All confession of Christ must be personal; anything else is unreal and worthless. All religion that is true is personal.
2. This personal confession needs to be carefully attended to when there are many coming forward.
3. This individual confession of your faith in Christ is incumbent upon you very specially when there are few coming forward. I should say to myself, “If there is nobody in this village confessing Christ, then it is all the more urgent upon me that I should confess Him. If there are few added to the Church, then I will go that the Church may not be discouraged in its Christian efforts. I like to have around me those who feel, “It is no consideration with me whether there are many or few; I have to act as before God on my own account. If there be few who do right, that is all the more reason why I should do it.”
II. THIS CONFESSION IS VARIED.
1. One person speaks out for himself: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s.” That is a fine speech. If you, from your very soul, can say this in any company, and not be ashamed to say it before men, angels, or devils, God has taught you a noble piece of eloquence.
2. The next person mentioned in our text confessed his faith in a different way, for he called himself by the name of Jacob; that is to say, he took up his position with the people of God under their lowliest title. “There,” said he, “I am prepared to suffer affliction with the people of God, to be reproached when they are reproached, to be shunned when they are shunned, to be ridiculed when they are ridiculed. I belong to Jacob. He is an extra ordinary person, cut off from the rest of the world to be the Lord’s, and I go with him.”
3. But here is a third person, who makes his confession in a still different way: “Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” I do not know this person; sometimes, I think that he is a friend of mine, who is afraid to speak, but who likes to write. “I could not,” says one, “speak my confession of faith, but I could joyfully sit down and write it.” Yes, you are timid, and trembling, and slow of speech. Do not condemn yourself for that. Still, I am not sure that this is the person mentioned in the text. I seem to fancy that it is a stronger body, a man who is not content with saying it, but who writes it down in black and white, “I am the Lord’s.” That which is written remains; so he puts it down. This person who thus subscribed, or wrote with his hand, unto the Lord, also went the whole way towards God and His people at their best, for it is added that he surnamed himself by the name of Israel. There are some who give themselves up to the Church of God in a very complete and unreserved manner, resolving that all the privileges they can enjoy they will have, all the holiness they can ever attain to they will gain, and all the consecration that lies within the region of possibility they will strive after and secure.
III. THESE CONFESSIONS OF FAITH ARE ALL GRACIOUS. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“I am the Lord’s”:
1. “I am His” follows “My Beloved is mine.” You must have Christ before you say that you belong to Christ.
2. This is a very practical confession. If I am the Lord’s, then I must not give myself up to be the slave of another.
3. It will also be a high incentive to duty to say truly, “I am the Lord’s.” I must live for Him.
4. This confession has a sweet, comforting aspect.
5. This is my hope of safety and perfection. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord
Subscribing with the hand
In the day when the prophet Isaiah wrote his book, it was a custom for people to draw on their hand the name, likeness, or symbol of the person they loved or the master they served. It was often painted on the hand of a woman with an ink which could be rubbed off only with much trouble; but men punctured their skin with s needle, dropping in the ink at the same time, as is now frequently done by sailors; and occasionally the name or symbol was branded on their skin with a hot iron. In this way, a man would write on his hand, or on some other portion of his body, the name or likeness of the god he worshipped; the soldier would bear the name of his commander; the slave would have the name of his master; and we are informed that, in a subsequent age, the early Christians printed upon their hand or arm, and sometimes upon their breast, the name of Jesus and a likeness of the cross. Having this custom in mind, the prophet, writing as though God were speaking through him to His wearer people,--as, no doubt, was the case,--says, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on her own son? yea, she may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16). Had our text in English been written more in harmony with the original language, it would have read thus--“Another shall subscribe, or write, upon his hand, I belong to Jehovah!” (W. Birch.)
There are constant allusions to this in the classics. We know that devout worshippers dedicated themselves to the god they worshipped, and were stamped with a secret mark. Paul alludes to this when he says, “Henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”; as much as to say, “I am Christ’s: I have had His name branded upon me.” When he suffered from being scourged and beaten with rods, he called it bearing the marks of the Lord Jesus, and did as good as say, “Flog away, you will only engrave His name into my flesh, for I am Christ’s.” Now it would be a very superstitious and foolish thing for any man to be tattooed with the name of the Lord, or with a cross; but all that such an act meant in those who did it of old we ought to mean, namely, that we are for ever, and beyond recall, the property of Jesus. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
My object is to persuade you to subscribe your life to the Lord. You may answer, Who is the Lord? I reply--
1. He is the Creator.
2. He is the Father of your spirit.
3. If so, He is impressionable. He is grieved because of sin. Is not the Saviour’s broken heart a manifestation of the heart of our Heavenly Father?
4. He is your true Friend.
5. I call on you to subscribe your life unto the Lord, because of your everlasting welfare. (W. Birch.)
Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel
“I am the First, and I am the Last”
This affirmation of God’s existence appears more comprehensive than the similar one, made by Him to Moses, “I am that I am.
” It is true, when we say that He is by His own absolute will and power, we assert by implication all that belongs necessarily to the essence and character of the Almighty. We assert His eternity; for He who so exists could have had no beginning, and can have no end: we assert His creation of all other beings, and His sovereignty over them; for He who alone is from eternity, must have given existence to all things that are besides Himself; and, as the Author of all, in and for whom all exist, must be the sovereign Ruler and Disposer of all. Nevertheless the ampler form of expression, “I am the First and I am the Last,” implying comparison with and precedency to all other existences, would seem to convey-to- the mined more distinct notions of the eternity, the omnipotence, the creative will and beneficence, of that infinite Being “who is above all, and before all, and in all.” (R. Cattermole, B. D.)
The First and the Last
Bitter was the sorrow of the prophet who spoke these words when he saw his people turn away from Jehovah. Israel had been enlightened by the purest lights. Alone of all the nations of the ancient world, it possessed the knowledge of the One living and holy God. Yet these truths are forgotten; these privileges are rejected; this God is denied. Obedient to the idolatrous inspirations of the Semitic races whose vitiated blood runs through their veins, the Israelites turn towards Moloch, Baal, Astarte. Then the prophet argues, struggles, waxes indignant, implores; he shows the inanity of that idolatrous worship and the infamy of those hideous rites; he reminds Israel of the greatness of their origin and of their destiny; he calls up before their eyes the sacred figure of Jehovah; he tells his people, in the words which the Almighty Himself has put into his mouth, “Thus saith the Lord, the King of Israel, and His redeemer the Lord of Hosts; I am the First, and I am the Last; and beside Me there is no God.” This history is our own. A light more resplendent far than that which illumined Israel hath shone upon the Christian nations. What has all this availed us, and whither are marching the rising generations? Doubtless, the stone and wooden idols of the past cannot be set up again. But this gloomy fatality before which men would compel us to abdicate our reason, is it not an idol too?
I. “I AM THE FIRST.”
1. We find in this the affirmation of the fundamental doctrine of the supreme God, the Creator of all things. To-day men would teach us another Genesis of the world: the old doctrines of Epicurus are once more becoming current; we hear of eternal matter, of millions and millions of atoms which, by whirling about continually in space, have unconsciously and spontaneously invested themselves with a motion in accordance with the mathematical laws which they had themselves called into existence. We are told that out of a mechanical combination suddenly issued a living cell, and that, millions of centuries aiding, this life has become vegetative, then animal, then conscious, intellectual, and finally moral; we axe asked to acknowledge this ascending progression of matter which, from the inert molecule it was in the first instance, has become sensitive protoplasm, then has been transformed into the plant, which in its turn has become endowed with motion, then advancing one step further has turned into the hideous animal, creeping in the mire of the primitive marshes, to rise up at length in its conquered majesty and call itself Plato, Aristotle, Jesus Christ. And having thus accounted for the formation of things, men look with scornful pity upon those who still have recourse to the intervention of an all-creating God; their idea of the Divine Being may be expressed in the words of the learned Laplace to Napoleon the First. “I have had no need of this hypothesis.” In presence of this self-styled scientific Genesis, it is not only my faith which revolts, but my reason repeats, with the enthusiasm of a conviction firmer than ever, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”; for if there is m my reason an immovable principle, it is indeed this: that no effect can exist without a cause, that all which is in the effect must also be in the cause; that, consequently, matter can never have brought forth intelligence, chaos can never have given birth to harmony, for in nowise can the lesser ever have produced the greater. 2 This reminds us, further, that as God is the supreme Cause, He must also be the supreme End of all that exists, the centre of the thoughts and affections of all the beings He has created. All things, says St. Paul, are by Him and for Him. Every being has a destination, and the noblest destination of all beings is that which the Scriptures call the glory of God. You know what this ideal has become, and what sin has made of it.
3. This means, further, that God is at the basis of all that is done to raise and save humanity, to bring it back to the true life which it has lost by separating itself from Him. God is at work in the midst of mankind. It is in a region higher than that of science that we must seek the hidden sources of the river of life which brings regeneration, consolation, and eternal hope to the world. Whence come they then? They gush from the depths of the religious revelation which the God whom we serve has given to mankind. God the Creator is also God the Redeemer, and, in order of grace as in that of nature, He may truly say: “I am the First.” What has been accomplished in the world must also be accomplished in each individual being, and the redemption of humanity is nothing if it is not worked out in the innermost soul of those who are to reap its fruits.
II. “I AM THE LAST.” By this we must understand--
1. That God never abdicates, and that He shall ever remain the Supreme Master, when all the lords of a day shall have passed away after having made a little noise in the world.
2. That God remains the Supreme Judge, and that, consequently, the hour of justice shall certainly strike.
3. That God is the Supreme Refuge of every soul that calls upon Him, the only one which remains standing when all others have disappeared. (E. Bersier, D. D.)
As to this, the sublimest utterance of Scripture, we offer three preliminary remarks--
1. It is supported by the structure and order of nature. So far as the universe has come within the sweep of scientific observation and research, it appears as one complete whole. All its parts are beautifully harmonised; all its forces are nicely balanced.
2. It is in direct antagonism to certain prevalent opinions. It is opposed to atheism, which declares there is no God; to fetichism, the worship of any material object that a capricious superstition may select; to polytheism, which holds the plurality of gods; and to pantheism, which regards nature as identical with Deity, and thus destroys a Divine personality.
3. It is accepted as a fundamental truth in all evangelical churches. But our object is to consider the practical uses of Biblical monotheism.
I. IT REVEALS THE GREATNESS OF THE CREATOR. Survey this wondrous universe. Gaze upon the vast, and examine the minute in the clearest and broadest light of modem science, and what do you see--wisdom? Yes, manifold wisdom. Goodness? Yes, like an overflowing tide, overflowing all. Power? In rearing the stupendous fabrics, building up the mountains, pouring out the oceans, stretching out the heavens. Do you see wealth in all this? If you attach value to one acre of earth, what is the value of the globe? If there be but one God, how great must He be!
II. IT REVEALS THE DEFINITENESS OF MORAL OBLIGATION. Deep in the souls of all men is the sense of duty. My definition of virtue is this--“following a right rule from a right motive.” What is the rule? Clearly, if there be but one God, the will of that one God must be the rule. What is the motive? Clearly, if there be but one God, supreme love to that one God. Were there a plurality of gods there would be a difficulty to find out what virtue is; we should have to determine whose will to obey--the will of each, or some, or all. And we should also have to find out who of all the gods we should love the most.
III. IT REVEALS THE FITNESS OF RELIGION TO THE CONSTITUTION OF THE SOUL.
1. The human heart has a centralising tendency. Deep in our emotional nature is a craving for some one object on which to place entire confidence, and centre the deepest love.
2. The moral character of the soul depends upon its central object. By a law of our nature we become like that we most love. He who loves God becomes a partaker of the Divine nature.
3. The soul’s happiness is determined by the character of the object most loved. All experience shows that most of our happiness and misery comes out of our supreme love. All, in every age, who have loved the one God supremely have felt with the psalmist who said, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee?”
IV. IT REVEALS THE HUMAN BROTHERHOOD OF SOULS. “To us,” says Paul, “there is but one God, the Father of all things, and we in Him.”
V. IT REVEALS THE WONDERFUL IN MEDIATION. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son,” &c. Here is love passing knowledge.
1. What a disparity between Him who loves and them who are loved! What a disparity in natures! God, the Almighty, the All-wise, the Eternal. Man, the feeble, the ignorant, and the dying. What a disparity in character! God, the Essence and Fountain of all holiness. Man, vile and polluted with sin.
2. What a manifestation of the greatness of His love. Is this one God our one God? Have we no idols? (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Fear ye not
Boldness for God, and boldness in dealing with God, should form part of the Christian character; and the Word of God encourages this Christian boldness.
We are repeatedly exhorted to “fear not,” to “be of good courage.”
I. WHY ARE WE TO EXPECT THAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD WOULD BE LIKELY TO FEAR?
1. They have always been a persecuted people.
2. Many a man, before he is decided for God, finds out that, if he makes up his mind to enter into the service of the Lord, his worldly interest is nearly sure to suffer.
3. Others, again, know their personal interest for their worldly circumstances. They know, for instance, their birth, their wealth, their talent. Then perhaps they are called of God to think seriously about their eternal state; and the result is, that they feel in their own minds, “If I forsake all this outward display of means, and show that I do not value it as I have hitherto done, my influence amongst others will very greatly suffer.”
4. There is many a man, if he would serve the Lord, must make a sacrifice of many of his personal and worldly comforts.
5. Then, take the case of doctrines. There are many who imbibe from their earliest days the idea that religion is gloomy, that God is an object of terror, that death must be misery; they live in no thought of the Lord’s coming again in joy and happiness, and heaven itself, with its delights and its pleasures, is never really considered. Now, all these things frequently produce fear in our minds.
II. THE REASON WHY WE SHOULD NOT FEAR. The reason is, that the Lord thus argues with us: “Have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it?” That is, God challenges man to deny this fact, that He knows the end from the beginning, and has proved that He knows it by foretelling the end from the beginning. This is the manner in which God argues in other passages. (Isaiah 42:9). God knows the end; God foresees the means, and foreseeing the means He exercises control over those means--everything that happens therefore, great or small, is under the control of God, who “orders all things after the counsel of His own will,” and consequently we have nothing to fear, because we are in His hands who “doeth all things well.” This is the manner in which we find the argument used in Isaiah 51:12.
III. Having thus stated the Christian’s duty as well as his privilege--not to fear; and having seen what the reason is, that God has foretold all things, and therefore decreed and settled all things from the beginning, HE THEN CHALLENGES HIS PEOPLE in these words--“Ye are even My witnesses,” and therefore urges upon them, by the strongest possible personal appeal, to bear testimony to the fact that the Lord He is God, and our God too, for ever and for ever. (M. Villiers, M. A.)
They that make a graven image
The vanity of graven images
Substituting homely prose for glowing poetry we may, after a fashion, reduce the prophet’s thought to propositions like the following--
Neither the idol nor its god knows anything, while Jehovah knows all.
2. Neither the idol nor its god can do aught, while Jehovah is almighty.
3. Neither the idol nor its god is aught, while Jehovah is the living God, God of the entire universe, and a God of love,--in a word, the perfect Personality.
4. The worship of idols or their gods is degrading, while that of Jehovah exalts and saves the soul. (W. S. Ayres.)
The idolater’s jolly:
With a dash of pungent satire, Isaiah shows what a silly man he is. We have here the whole process of god-manufacture. The poor devotee selects a cedar, or a cypress, or an oak, which probably his own hands planted many years ago; and, having hewn it down, sets to work with line, and plane, and chisel, to fashion it into the resemblance of a human being. This being done, he places it in a shrine or temple, and falls down before it, and worships it. What becomes of the rest of the tree? Oh, with it he makes a blazing fire to warm himself, or to bake his bread! So that it is quite a chance which portion of the wood becomes a god, and which portion turns to ashes on the hearth; the same tree suffices to cook food for his hungry body, and to provide an object of adoration for his hungry soul. The man is an utter fool, only to be ridiculed and laughed at; and the prophet holds him up to the derision of all sensible men, as one whose head is surely turned, or who has fairly lost his wits. (J. T.Davidson, D. D.)
He planteth an ash
The planter and the rain
The civilised and cultivated tree is the joint product of human care and the earth’s fertility.
Let us study the picture and see how true it is to what the world contains.
1. We may ask ourselves how it is that any institution or established form of human living comes to be prevalent and dominant. A strong idea, of freedom, of justice, of mercy, enters into some strong man’s soul. It makes itself completely his. Then it will not be satisfied with him; it grows restless within him, and demands the world. Then he takes it out some day and plants it. With some vigorous, incisive word or deed he thrusts his live and fiery idea down deep into the fruitful soil of human life. Then human life takes up his idea and nourishes it. Wonderfully all the forces gather around it and give it their vitality. History bears witness that it has all been living by the power of that idea unknown, unguessed; philosophy says that in it lies the key of her hard problems; economy discovers that by it life may be made more thrifty and complete; poetry shows its nobleness; affection wreaths it with love; all the essential hopes and fears and needs of human nature come flocking to it; until at last you can no more conceive of human life without that idea than you can think with complacency of the landscape without the great tree which is as thoroughly a part of it as is the very ground itself. A free Church, a just court, a popular government--this is the way in which every institution comes to be. Here is the relation of the world’s few great creative men to the great mass and body of its life. Helpless Europe without Martin Luther. Helpless also Martin Luther without Europe. Here is the mutual need of great souls and the great world.
2. We have another illustration, even more striking, close at our hand, in the way in which character grows up in our personal nature. Where do our characters come from? It is easy sometimes to represent them as the result of strong influence which other men have had over us. It is easy at other times to think of them as if they made themselves, shaping themselves by mere internal fermentation into the result we see. But neither account tells the story by itself. When we question ourselves, not about character in general, but about special points and qualities of character, then we are sure that it was by some outer influence made our own, some seed of motive or example set into our lives and then taken possession of by those lives and filled with their vitality, developed into their owe type and kind of vice or virtue--it was thus that this, which is now so intimate that we call it not merely ours but ourselves, came into being. This is the reason of the perpetual identity along with the perpetual variety of goodness and badness. We are all good and bad alike; and yet every man is good and bad in a way all his own--in a way in which no other man has ever been bad or good since the world began,--just as all ash-trees are alike because they have all been planted from the same nurseries; and yet every ash-tree is different from every other because it has grown in its own soil and fed on its own rain: the society and the individuality of moral life.
3. The truth has its clearest illustration, it may be, in the way in which God has sent into the world the Gospel of His Son. Most sharp and clear and definite stands out in history the life and death of Jesus Christ. It was the entrance of a new, Divine force into the world. But what has been the story of that force once introduced? It has been subjected to the influences which have created the ordinary currents of human life. The characters and thoughts of men have told upon it. The Gospel has shared in the fortunes of the Christian world. It has followed in the track of conquering armies; it has been beaten back and hindered by the tempests of revolution and misrule; it has been tossed upon the waves of philosophical speculation; it has been made the plaything or the tool of politics; it has taken possession of countries and centuries only by taking possession of men through the natural affections of their human hearts; it has worked through institutions which it only helped to create. While it has helped to make the world, it has also at every moment been made by the world into something different from its own pure self. If you try to take either half of the truth by itself you get into the midst of puzzle and mistake. Think of the Gospel simply as an intrusion of Divine force kept apart from any mixture with the influences of the world, and it is impossible to understand the forms in which it has been allowed to present itself. Its weaknesses and its strength are alike unintelligible. Think of it as a mere development of human life, and you cannot conceive how it came to exist at all. But consider it in its completeness. Remember that it is a Divine force working through human conditions; let it be all one long incarnation, God manifest in the flesh--and then you see at once why it is so weak and why it is so strong; why it has not occupied the world with one lightning flash of power, and why it must at last, however slowly, accomplish its complete salvation.
4. Every Christian is a little Christendom; and the method of the entrance of the Gospel into the great world is repeated in the way in which the Gospel enters into every soul, which then it occupies and changes. Again, there is the special act of the implanting of the new life, and then there is the intrusting of the new-implanted life to the nature and its circumstances. The man was born again! Since then, long years have come and gone. What have they seen? The rain has nourished it--that long-sown seed! Nothing has happened since which has not touched that seed and helped or hindered its maturity. Still remember, it is His rain. The influences into whose influence the seed was given still were God’s. He took the child, and gave the friend, and sent you on the journey, and shaped the nature which bestowed on the Christian life its distinctive character.
5. May we not say that the principle itself includes the whole truth of the supernatural, and its relation to the natural? (Phillips Brooks, D. D)
He burneth part thereof in the fire.
Which is to far better purpose than the other part made into an idol, (J. Trapp.)
Aha, I am warm
This is an expression of that natural joy which will escape from one in some way or other, when from a comfortless apartment, or from a frosty street, or from some wintry office of obligation, he sees the shining of his own hearth. If it could be introduced thus with an exclamation in the land of Judea, that mild land, it should certainly be repeated in this stern climate with a deep feeling of relief and thankfulness. The household gods of ancient Italy were set up about the fireplace of each dwelling, as about a sacred spot, deserving to be surrounded with the images of a divine protection; and even now, all over the world, altar and hearth are but another phrase for home. “Who,” asks the psalmist, “can stand before His cold?” God sends it; and He has filled the earth with materials, and the mind of man with resources, to repel and overcome it. He is the same Sovereign Wisdom and Goodness in this as in every other part of His works. And yet we must confess that it is one of His unwelcome ministers; but, like all the rest of what we account so in the natural world, subservient to high purposes in the holy providence of the Lord. Let us turn to the various instrumentality by which its vigour is mitigated and its power for mischief broken. “I am warm,” says the speaker in the text. So would the ground say if it had a tongue, while it lies sheltered under the fleecy garments of dazzling whiteness, which the very cold has woven for it out of the dark mists. “I am warm,” say the beast and the bird of the frozen zone, as the one lies close in his furry coat or the locks of his long hair, and the other is not afraid to cleave the inexorable sky with his breast of down. “I am warm,” repeat the animals who are natives of our own temperate circle, as they take shelter in the hollow retreats which their industry has contrived, or make their way towards the more genial countries whither their instincts direct them. “I am warm,” say the lake and the stream, while they are armed with the polished breast-plate which has been forged for them, not among furnaces of glowing heat, but in the “magazines of the haft.” “I am warm,” says man; he who commands the inferior creatures, he who makes a path for himself even over the deep, he who compels into his bond-service the substances and the elements of the world. He cuts clown the trees, and makes them do him a kinder office by their blaze than they had done before by their shadow. And better than this; he opens the dark treasures with which a gracious providence has stored the lower parts of the earth, and he finds them more precious than the “vein for the silver,” than “the place of sapphires and dust of gold.” What are the feelings which the consideration of the cold and all its alleviating circumstances should impress upon the mind?
1. Thankfulness towards God. There is no small danger of losing sight of the Almighty Benefactor in partaking of His benefits. There is no small danger of even turning those very benefits into a sort of idols that we substitute in His place. This was precisely and literally the case with the person whom the prophet describes as speaking in the text. You are like him, who transform your interest into your religion; making a show of worship, when you are thinking only how to be warmed and fed. You, too, are like him who shape your faith and your convenience out of the same material; making the concerns of the soul but part and parcel with common necessities. We are all like him, so far as we turn our comforts into our divinities.
2. Sympathy with His suffering creatures. (N. L. Frothingham.)
The wisdom of God in the freezing of water:
I cannot omit calling your attention to a remarkable fact in the freezing of water, which has nothing to surpass it in the surprising wisdom of its ordination, even if it has any perfect parallel in the whole economy of nature. We know it to be a general law of material substances, that they expand with the heat and contract with the cold. The particles of water are subjected to this rule, like all other particles of matter. But if this were allowed to hold on throughout, giving way to no exception, do but reflect what would be the consequences. The drops at the surface, as they were successively congealed, would sink. The process of freezing would begin at the bottom. Layer after layer would thus be deposited, which no returning suns could penetrate to dissolve; and the most that the summer could do would be to wet the face of the flinty mass. The water-courses would be for ever stopped in their glad and wholesome flow; and many a broad river would scarcely float a boat upon its plashy shallows. And now what has been done to avert such a calamity? A new law has been instituted, in direct contravention of the old, to meet the exigency of the case. The water, precisely at the moment of congelation, breaks away into the line of an opposite decree. It expands and grows lighter. It refuses to descend. It rests fixed upon the top, an ornament and a defence. I know not how others may be affected by a view like this; but it seems to me to call for an adoring acknowledgment of that all-pervading design which thus supplies the wants of its creation by a special departure from its own method, as invariable in its action as the method itself. (N. L. Frothingham.)
And the residue thereof he maketh a god
The scene is one which we may describe as very childish indeed.
It belongs to the very earliest stage one might imagine of the thought of worship, The man who evidently lives under conditions by no means of the highest civilisation feels himself exposed to the natural inclemency of the weather, and to the pangs of hunger. He selects a tree, and because he needs food he breaks up the tree and kindles a fire and prepares his food. He then rejoices in the warmth of the fire that he has kindled, and he has satisfied two of the simple wants of nature. He has been hungry, and he has provided himself food. He is cold, and he has provided himself with warmth. But there is yet another instinct in his nature which demands satisfaction. He is conscious that he is a weak creature in the midst of a strange and wonderful world. Mysterious powers that he cannot fathom seem to float about his life, and to interpose their forces often to the derangement of his plans. And therefore, when he has satisfied those two simple physical wants, he takes the residue of the tree that he has cut down, and he makes it into a god. Thus it is that he satisfies three imperious desires and needs of his nature. Is it wholly untrue to say that there are many men who live after this fashion, that when they have supplied their own wants, when their body has been amply fed, when the conditions of their life have been cared for so that they are well provided with the warming comforts of life, then, out of the residue of their time, out of the residue of their money, out of the residue of their thought, they will, perchance, consecrate something to God? (Bp. W. B. Carpenter, D. D.)
Materials and principles of life:
There is one very common delusion which, if we will watch ourselves, we shall find that we are all of us more or less liable to. We confuse the materials of life with the principles which ought to govern life. The materials of life in this poor man’s case were very simple indeed. He is a man who can cut down a tree of the forest to make himself a habitation, and from the wood all round about him gathers what may be called the material of life, whether for the house or for the cooking of food, and these materials of life are such that you and I, looking back upon them from our refined and elevated position, say that they are very simple and very crude indeed; but he manipulates these materials after a certain principle. Given that we have different materials to deal with, and that ours is not the life of the forest and the dependence upon the forest, but that ours is the life of modern civilisation, with our railways and our telegraphs and our newspapers daily, with our opportunities of enjoyment in abundance, and with means of information in the multiplied books which are issued daily from the press. With all these things which constitute the material of our life, and with our occupations governed and guided by the principles of modern civilisation, it is possible that we may say--and we shall say truly--that the materials of life which we possess are far superior to the rude materials which belonged to that poor man’s life. But is the difference between one man and another to be judged by the materials which a man uses, or by the principles which he applies in the use of those materials? (Bp. W. B. Carpenter, D. D.)
Religion the all-comprising principle of life:
Is religion to be looked upon as a thing that you can separate? Or are you going to regard religion as a principle which is applicable to life, and applicable at every hour and in every place, and all through life? Was that old rhyme right that told us that the twenty-four hours of the day should be divided into eight hours for work, and eight for rest, and eight which are given to God; or was not that correction right of the man who said, “eight for toil, and eight for rest, and all for God”? Gounod had painted on his piano the head of the Christ, as if he would say, “Wherever I look before I compose, I look upon the head of the crucified Lord, and I know that the spirit of that Lord passes into me; and when I begin to compose my melodies, the music of His life penetrates my soul, and gives me the respiration. We should look into the face of God, understand the character of God, understand that He claims every human being as His son, and understand, therefore, that there is no bondage here, but that there is the freedom of the son, and the love of the son’s heart, and the desire of the son’s heart to advance the kingdom and the family of God. (Bp. B. W. Carpenter, D. D.)
He feedeth on ashes
Earth used as food
One of the most extraordinary examples of depraved or perverted appetite is the use of earth for food.
This propensity is not an occasional freak, but a common custom, and is found among so large a number and variety of tribes that it may be regarded as co-extensive with the human race. From time immemorial the Chinese have been in the habit of using various kinds of edible earth as substitutes for bread in times of scarcity; and their imperial annals have always religiously noticed the discovery of such bread-stones, or stone-meal, as they are called. On the western coast of Africa a yellowish kind of earth, called “caouac,” is so highly relished, and so constantly consumed by the negroes, that it has become to them a necessary of life. In the island of Java, and in various parts of the hill-country of India, a reddish earth is baked into cakes and sold in the village markets for food; while on the banks of the Orinoco, in South America, Humboldt mentions that the native Indians find a species of unctuous clay, which they knead into balls, and store up in heaps in their huts as a provision for the winter or rainy season. They are not compelled by famine to have recourse to this clay; for even when fish, game, and fruit are plentiful they still eat it after their food as a luxury. This practice of eating earth is not confined solely to the inhabitants of the Tropics. In the north of Norway and in Swedish Lapland a kind of white powdery earth, called mountain-meal, found under beds of decayed moss, is consumed in immense quantities every year. It is mixed by the people with their bread in times of scarcity; and even in Germany it has been frequently used as a means of allaying hunger. All these examples of the use of earth as food are so contrary to our experience that they might seem incredible were it not that they are thoroughly authenticated. Such an unnatural custom must, in the long run, prove injurious to the constitution of those who indulge in it, although it is wonderful how long it can be carried on by some individuals apparently with impunity. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Feeding on ashes:
In the spiritual world there are many who feed upon ashes. The prophet is speaking of the idolater.
I. WHO IS THE IDOLATER--who is the “he” that is said to feed on ashes? The prophet had a definite audience before him. He was prophesying to the children of Israel. Notwithstanding the purity and sublimity of their own monotheistic creed, and the awful threatenings and sanctions with which it was guarded, we can trace throughout their entire history, as a marked feature of their character, a propensity to blend a theoretical belief in the true God with an accommodating reverence to the idols of the heathen Pantheon. Except when under the immediate spell of some special revelation of Jehovah, they craved for some visible shape or outward sign of the divinity--a craving which was satisfied for a time by the erection of the tabernacle and temple, and the establishment of the worship connected with them, but which soon overleaped barriers thus imposed upon it, and sought for novel sensations in the tabernacle of Moloch and in the star of the god Remphan--figures which they made to worship them. The very priests and Levites, who were most concerned in keeping the worship of Jehovah pure, were the leaders of the various national apostasies. Isaiah deeply deplored this national fickleness and spiritual inconstancy. In the passage under consideration he seeks to overwhelm it with contempt. Were Isaiah addressing us in these days his ideas would be the same, though the form in which he would present them would be different. Material idolatry, in its literal import, has passed away among civilised nations. But the essence of the temptation remains the same. Human society is changed, but human nature is unchanged. The impulse which led to idolatry is therefore as strong at the present day as it was in the time of Isaiah; and images are set up and worshipped now as fantastic as any pagan fetich or joss. The New Testament form of the Second Commandment, “Be not conformed to this world,” requires to be frequently and urgently enforced. If I were to sum up all spiritual idolatry in these days in one form, I should call it worldliness, for everything else is but a phase of this. And this worldly conformity leads speedily, in most instances, to a low moral standard, and to a weak and corrupt form of religion, and produces the same humiliating results which flowed from the idolatry of ancient times.
II. WHAT IS IDOLATRY? It is a perverted spiritual appetite. In certain diseased states of the brain there is an unnatural craving for the most extraordinary and unwholesome substances. Men and women under such morbid influences have been known to eat cinders and sand with apparent relish, and even to prefer them to the richest dainties. In such cases it is not the appetite that is at fault. The controlling power of the brain, which chooses the proper food, is impaired, and this healthy appetite is set to work upon substances which are altogether unsuitable. In like manner idolatry arises from a natural craving of the soul, which was made for God, for His worship and enjoyment. It finds that it must go out of itself for the blessedness it needs. This spiritual appetite is a God-given instinct of our nature. It is the soul seeking its highest good. It is healthy and natural. But when, under the guidance and power of a deceived heart, it seeks its gratification in earthly things to the exclusion altogether of God, it affords a most melancholy example of a perverted spiritual appetite.
III. WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF IDOLATRY? How does idolatry affect the man guilty of it? There is a very striking and beautiful relation between the food of man and his digestive organs. He is omnivorous. He is the ruler of the world, and therefore the varied life of the world must throb in his veins. But all the varied food which she presents to him must be organic food. “Phosphorus literally flames in the brain, that thoughts may breathe and words may burn; lime gives solidity to the bones; the alkaline salts promote the oxidation and removal of the effete materials of the body. Common minerals--iron, sulphur, soda, potash, and others--circulate in the blood, or are garnered in the various tissues. But all these inorganic materials are furnished, not from the earth directly, but in the food; the various vegetable and animal products containing them in varying quantities.” Such being the law of man’s nutrition, it will be seen at once that if he feeds directly upon ashes, he is feeding upon substances that are altogether incongruous, and unfitted to nourish him. His organs cannot digest or assimilate ashes. And is not the analogy between spiritual and natural things here very clear? If man’s spiritual appetite can feed only on God, then if man seeks his portion only in the things of the world, what can you expect but spiritual indigestion and misery? It is true, indeed, that just as the body requires inorganic elements--salt, lime, and iron--as well as organic, for its proper nourishment, so man requires the things of the world as well as the things of faith for his spiritual welfare. But then we are to seek these temporal things, not directly from the world, but through the channel of communion with God. There are natures that, by a long course of feeding upon ashes, have become accustomed to this unnatural diet. Like the clay-eaters of South America, their digestive organs become assimilated to their food, and they are put to little inconvenience by it. We meet with persons who are satisfied with their portion in this world, who mind earthly things, and are contented with the nourishment for their souls which they find in them. But are such persons the truly great and noble ones of our race? How can an infinite hunger be appeased by a finite good? The soul wants organised food; food that has spiritual life in it; food that is redolent of the sunshine and permeated with the light of heaven; food that has drunk in all the impalpable virtues and forces of the things unseen and eternal; food that can gather up in itself these vitalising influences, and transfer them to us to glow within our veins and animate our nerves; and, instead of that, we get ashes out of which all the glow and the virtue have departed. Our sin will become our punishment; our idols our scourges. I have remarked that there are some who are satisfied with their worldly portion--who, though feeding upon clay, are not put to inconvenience by it. Such individuals, in the midst of their contentment, are in reality, if they only knew it, more to be pitied than those whose truer instincts are tortured by the unsuitable food by which they endeavour to appease their spiritual cravings. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Feeding on ashes
I. THE VAIN OBJECTS TO WHICH MAN DIRECTS HIS ENERGIES. “He feedeth on ashes.”
II. THE REASON OF THIS PERVERTED CHOICE. “A deceived heart hath turned him aside.” Sin, in its very nature, has a tendency to harden the heart. When it first begins to make advances, there is resistance offered to it. Conscience speaks, expostulates, reproaches; but sin gets the mastery. Conscience becomes by degrees blunted; the heart at length gets callous, that it cannot feel; the eye is altogether darkened, that it cannot see; the ear heavy, that it cannot hear the instruction of wisdom. Thus the heart is in due time thoroughly deceived. It rejoices in evil, instead of in good; it has an exclusive appetite for the bitter instead of the sweet. But there is a diseased state of the heart where the fatal results do not appear so manifest to the eye of man. When the world is keenly loved and followed, when self is worshipped, when God is not supreme in the affection, the root must be looked for in the heart. The heart is deceived. How dangerous is this state of heart! How much does it need of watchfulness in the case of every one of us, so that we may not be ensnared by it.
III. THE DANGER OF THIS STATE, AND THE DIFFICULTY OF ITS REMEDY. “He cannot deliver himself.” When the heart has been once beguiled by the deceitfulness of sin, and its affections have been riveted and firmly fixed upon earthly things, it is not in man to deliver himself. God, indeed, has provided means whereby those who have banished themselves from Him may be brought home to His fold. In Him there resides power to cut asunder the chain, however firmly it may bind us down to the earth.
IV. SOME PRACTICAL QUESTIONS FOR OUR EXAMINATION. “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)
I. WHAT THE SOUL PROPERLY REQUIRES. We cannot find food for the body in ourselves; we have to look for it in the animal or vegetable world. Our spiritual part--our intellect, conscience, affections--is every whit as dependent on extraneous supplies as our bodies are.
The deceived heart:
I propose to show--
II. HOW PERILOUSLY FAR SOME ARE FROM GIVING TO THEIR SOULS WHAT THEY REQUIRE. You see this magnificent provision; it is spread before your eyes. But the question is, are you feeding on it? Feeding implies taking it to yourself, appropriating it, masticating it with pleasure, receiving it into your digestion. It then becomes a part of you, and goes into your bones, your blood, your flesh, your marrow. We admit that you come to the feast, that you admire it, and that you intend to eat; but we cannot admit that you are feeding on it thus far. We cannot say you have the Word of God dwelling in you richly in all wisdom. (J. Bolton, B. A.)
A perverted appetite:
Two lessons were learnt by Israel in captivity--the all-sufficiency of God, and the absurdity of idols. It is on the latter of these that we are now to dwell. Why do men act with such inconceivable folly? The prophet knows nothing of the modern theory that men do not worship the stone or wood, but accept the effigy as a help to fixedness of thought and prayer; he would affirm that with the mass of men this is a fiction, and that the worship of the devotee stops short with what he can see and touch. The cause of idolatry lies deeper. “He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside,” &c.
I. THERE IS A HUNGER FOR THE DIVINE IN MAN.
1. It is universal.
2. It is significant. We can tell something of the composition of the human body by the materials which it needs for its sustenance. Similarly the true dignity of man betrays itself in the hunger which perpetually preys upon him. If man is only matter, if thought is only the movement of the grey matter of the brain, if there is no spirit and no beyond, how is it that the material world cannot supply the supreme good?
3. It is inevitable. The functions which food performs in our system are threefold. It is needed to replace the perpetual waste which is always wearing down the natural tissues; to maintain the temperature at some 98°; and to provide materials for growth. And each of these has a spiritual analogy. We need God, for the same three reasons as the body needs food.
(1) To replace the perpetual waste of our spiritual forces.
(2) For warmth and heat.
(3) For growth.
II. THIS APPETITE MAY BE PERVERTED. “He feedeth on ashes.” Men tamper with their natural appetite. But there is a close similarity in their treatment with that wonderful yearning after the unseen and eternal which is part of the very constitution of our being--a hunger after the ideal Food, the ideal Beauty, the ideal Truth, which may be resisted and ignored, but still claims satisfaction; and if it does not get it in God, it will seek it in the ashes of idolatry. Men worship idols yet. The man of the world worships money, rank, high office. The child of fashion worships in the temple of human opinion, and feeds on the ashes of human applause an appetite which was meant to satisfy itself on the “Well done!” of the Almighty. The student who questions or denies the Being of God, worships in the temple of learning; and feeds with the ashes of human opinion an appetite which was intended to be nourished by eternal truth. And in every case these substitutes for God, with which men try to satisfy themselves, are as incapable of satisfying the heart, as ashes of supporting the physical life.
III. THE TRUE BREAD.
1. It is the gift of God. “My Father giveth the true Bread from heaven.” God who made thee hunger for bread, made bread to grow for its appeasement. Other vegetables have their peculiar habitat. But the cornplant will make its home in every land, and grow on every soil. He has also provided beauty for our taste, truth for our thought, love for our heart; and has gathered all these and much more into His one Gift, Jesus Christ.
2. Nature yields her provision to man through death. So it is through death that Jesus has become the Food of men. We must assimilate our food. We must receive Jesus into our hearts by an act of spiritual apprehension. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
Feeding on ashes:
I shall speak of three classes of young men who are “feeding on ashes.”
I. Those who are giving themselves up to SENSUAL PLEASURE. There is no one on earth who has so much right to the pleasures of the world as the believer. I do not believe in asceticism. I do not believe in pious melancholy. But this innocent hilarity, which leaves no ill results behind, is good and healthful, and a very different thing from the emmaddening gaieties of the world.
II. I have a word to say to you who are setting up another idol for your worship. It is neither Venus nor Bacchus, but it is Plutus; it is WORLDLY SUBSTANCE; it is money. There is no sin in desiring to be rich, if your money comes to you honourably, and goes from you usefully. But what is all that, if that is all? Can you feed the immortal soul within you with bank cheques and good investments? Will all the gold in the Bank of England appease the hunger of your deathless spirit? No! But many seem to think it will. Such men are the most hopeless cases to deal with. I should be more sanguine of bringing to the feet of Jesus a poor bloated debauchee, than of doing any good to one of these hardened, wizened, shrivelled-up money-scrapers, who for twenty, thirty, or forty years have no other thought but this--to lay up gain.
III. There is a third class of men who are daily “feeding on ashes,” because “a deceived heart has turned them aside.” They have got hold of a lot of INFIDEL LITERATURE, and they are stuffing their souls with as weak and poisonous rubbish as it is possible to meet with. With the prophet, I invite you to something more palatable and nourishing; I bid you to a feast of “milk and honey”; “hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
Feeding on ashes:
Many to-day feed on the kind of ashes Isaiah has in mind.
1. False conceptions of God.
2. False conceptions of Christ.
3. False conceptions of religion.
4. False conceptions of the Church.
5. False conceptions of morality, life, and happiness.
1. Upon the true or false conception of God and His relations to men conduct depends. The Christian’s conception of God is revealed in the incarnation, life, and atonement of His Son. He only is a true Christian who obeys Christ’s words, imitates His life, and becomes conformed to His image. He must be our ideal.
2. Again, we ask how comes it that men thus feed on ashes? “A deceived heart hath turned him aside.” (J. B. Nies, Ph. D.)
Feeding on ashes:
To-day we are told by a hundred voices that all religion begins at the bottom, and slowly struggles up to the top. Isaiah says the very opposite. The pure form is the primitive; the secondary form is the gross, which is a corruption. They tell us, too, that all religion pursues a process of evolution, and gradually clears itself of its more imperfect and carnal elements. Isaiah says “He cannot deliver his soul,” and no religion ever worked itself up, unless under the impulse of a revelation from without. That is Isaiah’s philosophy of idolatry, and I expect it will be accepted as the true one some day.
I. A LIFE THAT SUBSTANTIALLY IGNORES GOD IS EMPTY OF ALL TRUE SATISFACTION. “He feedeth on ashes.” Very little imagination will realise the force of that picture. The gritty cinders will irritate the lips and tongue, will dry up the moisture of the mouth, will interfere with the breathing; and there will be no nourishment in a sackful of them. The underlying truth is this--God only is the food of a man’s soul. You pick up the skeleton of a bird upon a moor; and if you know anything about osteology, you will see in the very make of its breast-bone and its wing-bones the declaration that its destiny is to soar into the blue. And written on you, as distinctly as flight on the bird, or swimming on the fish, is this, that you are meant, by your very make, to soar up into the heights of the glory of God, and to plunge deep into the abysses of His infinite love and wisdom. What does your heart want? A perfect, changeless, all-powerful love. And what does your mind want? Reliable, guiding, inexhaustible yet accessible truth. And what does your will want? Commandments which have an authoritative ring in their very utterance, and which will serve for infallible guides for your lives. And what do our weak, sinful natures want? Something that shall free our consciences, and deliver us from the burden of our transgressions, and calm our fears, and quicken and warrant our lofty hopes. And what do men whoso nature is to live for ever want but something that shall go with them through all changes of condition? We want a person to be everything to us. No accumulation of things will satisfy a man. God has not so blundered in making the world that He has surrounded us with things that are all lies, but He has so made it that whosoever flies in the face of the gracious commandment which is also an invitation, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” has not only no security that the “other things” shall be “added unto” him, but has the certainty that though they were added to him, in degree beyond his dreams and highest hopes, they would avail nothing to satisfy the hunger of his heart.
II. A LIFE WHICH THUS IGNORES GOD IS TRAGICALLY UNAWARE OF ITS OWN EMPTINESS. “A deceived heart hath turned him aside.” That explains how the man comes to fancy that ashes are food. His whole nature is perverted, his vision distorted, his power of judgment marred. That explains, too, why men persist in this feeding on ashes after all experience. You will see a dog chasing a sparrow. It has chased hundreds before and never caught one. Yet, when the creature rises from the ground, away it goes after it once more, with eager yelp and rush, to meet the old experience. That is like what a great many of you are doing, and you have not the same excuse that the dog has. And that deceived heart, stronger than experience, is also stronger than conscience. How is it that this hallucination that you have fed full and been satisfied, when all the while your hunger has not been appeased, can continue to act on us? For the very plain reason that every one of us has in himself a higher and a lower self, a set of desires of the grosser, more earthly, and, using the word in its proper sense, worldly sort--that is to say, directed towards material things, and a higher set which look right up to God if they are allowed fair play. And of these two sets--which really are one at bottom, if a man would only see it--the lower gets the upper hand, and suppresses the higher and the nobler.And so in many a man and woman the longing for God is crushed out by the gross delights of sense.
III. A LIFE THUS IGNORING GOD NEEDS A POWER FROM WITHOUT TO SET IT FREE. “He cannot deliver his soul.” There is nothing more awful in life than the influence of habit. There is something more wanted than yourselves to break this chain. It is the Christ who is “the Bread of God that came down from heaven”; who can deliver any soul from the most obstinate and long continued grovelling amongst the transitory things of this limited world, and the superficial delights of sense and gratified bodily life; who can bring the forgiveness which is essential, the deliverance from the power of evil which is not less essential, and who can fill our hearts with Himself, the food of the world. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The deceived heart:
I. THERE ARE MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE ENTIRELY DECEIVED IN THEIR RELIGION.
1. The idolater.
2. The Romanist.
4. False professors.
II. ALTHOUGH THERE ARE MANY PERSONS THUS DECEIVED IN RELIGION, WE ARE NOT TO SUPPOSE THAT ANY OF THEM ARE REALLY CONTENTED IN HEART WITH THEIR RELIGION.
III. IT IS A STRANGE THING THAT ALL THESE PEOPLE SEEM VERY WELL CONTENTED WITH THEIR FALSE RELIGIONS.
IV. I WANT TO SPEAK TO THOSE WHO ARE PROFESSORS OF RELIGION BUT WHO DO NOT POSSESS IT. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The deceitfulness of the heart in embracing false confidences
The heart discovers its deceitfulness--
I. BY ITS STRONG PROPENSITY TO RECEIVE ANY ERROR MORE READILY THAN TRUTH.
II. BY ITS EXTREME RELUCTANCE TO THE ONLY WAY OF SALVATION, AND BY ITS VIOLENT PROPENSITY TO EVERY LYING REFUGE. More particularly we observe--
1. That multitudes betake themselves to the general mercy of God.
2. The heart often disposes one to look into itself for something good.
3. Others found their hope on resolutions of reformation.
4. Partial and outward reformation is the confidence of many.
5. Many confide in a bare profession of religion and observation of the form of duties.
6. Others deceive themselves into a reliance on their Church privileges.
7. Some confide in their gifts, or in their usefulness by means of them.
8. Some may trust to a work of the law, as if it were in itself saving.
9. This principle of deceit is discovered by the sinner’s endeavours to obtain justification by moral duties.
10. Many trust to their sincerity in religion. But what is this sincerity in which you make your boast before God? Do you not confide in it as the ground of your justification? If so, it must be the sincerity of a person who is not yet justified; that is, of one still under the curse of the law.
11. Another false confidence, which many fly to, is the observance of superstitious rites.
12. Some may rest on their sufferings in the cause of Christ.
13. Others may depend on a notional faith. Some are persuaded of the truth of the Gospel. But they prove that their faith is not Divine, because it is unfruitful.
14. The deceitfulness of the heart operates in others, by making them rest upon supposed attainments in holiness. There is a question the solution of which materially affects every one of us before God. If false professors may have so eminent attainments, and so remarkable a resemblance to true holiness, how may we distinguish between such attainments as are the fruit of the Spirit’s saving work and those which only flow from natural affections or from a common operation?
(1) These attainments, which are saving, have always a humbling tendency.
(2) Saving attainments are consistent with a godly jealousy.
(3) The fruit of solid Christian attainments is thankfulness to God.
(4) The Christian disclaims all his attainments with respect to justification.
(5) Saving attainments leave a lasting impression on the heart.
(6) The real believer loses not his confidence in God, even under severe afflictions.
(7) The real Christian does not wish to stop short in his attainments.
(8) The believer is equal, or at least consistent, in his attainments. While he makes progress in duty, in the exercise of grace, in liveliness and spirituality of affections, he at the same time advances in the mortification of sin.
(9) All true Christians have a real love to holiness, (J. Jamieson, M. A.)
Perverted spiritual appetites:
Drunkenness is a perverted spiritual appetite, a seeking in the creature what God alone can give, the longing of the soul for higher and purer happiness than the hard round of daily life and the weary sorrowful circle of the world can give. So, too, covetousness, if analysed in the same way, will be found to be a perverted spiritual appetite, a misdirected worship. Covetousness is identified in Scripture with idolatry: “Covetousness which is idolatry,” says St. Paul. “No covetous man, who is an idolater, hath an inheritance in the kingdom of God.” The love of money, as it has been well said, is the love of God run wild, the diseased action of a spiritual appetite, the aberration of a nature that was made for God. Wealth is the mystic shadow of God, which the soul is unconsciously groping after and craving for. It presents some faint features of resemblance to Him. It seems omnipotent, able to do all things; omnipresent, showing signs of itself everywhere; beneficent, supplying our present wants, providing for our future, procuring for us an endless variety of blessings, and giving us almost all that our hearts can desire. And because it presents these superficial resemblances to God, it becomes a religion to many, a worship loud in praise and aspiration as any that ever filled a church. And so is it with every form of idolatry of which man in these enlightened days can be guilty. It is the soul, in its restless pursuit of happiness, mistaking the true object of which it is in quest. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The peasant women of Styria are in the habit of constantly eating a certain quantity of arsenic, in order to enhance their personal charms. It imparts a beautiful bloom to the complexion, and gives a full and rounded appearance to the face and body. For years they persevere in this dangerous practice; but if they intermit it for a single day, they experience all the symptoms of arsenical poisoning. The complexion fades, the features become worn and haggard, and the body loses its plumpness and becomes angular and emaciated. Having once begun, therefore, to use this cosmetic, they must in self-defence go on, constantly increasing the dose in order to keep up the effect. At last the constitution is undermined; the limit of safety is overpassed; and the victim of foolish vanity perishes miserably in the very prime of life. And is it not so with those who feed upon the poison of the world’s idolatries? They may seem to thrive upon this insidious and dangerous diet, but all the time it is permanently impairing their spiritual health, and rendering them unfit for spiritual communion. The more they indulge in it, the more they must surrender themselves to it; and the jaded appetite is stimulated on to greater excesses, until at last every lingering vestige of spiritual vitality is destroyed, and the soul becomes a loathsome moral wreck, poisoned by its own food. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
There is such a thing as a wasting of the body from insufficient nutrition, even when the appetite is satisfied and the stomach content. A strange plant, called the nardoo, with clover-like leaves, closely allied to the fern tribe, grows in the deserts of Central Australia. A melancholy interest is connected with it, owing to the fact that its seeds formed for several months almost the sole food of the party of explorers who a few years ago crossed the continent. This nardoo satisfied their hunger; it produced a pleasant feeling of comfort and repletion. The natives were accustomed to eat it in the absence of their usual roots and fruits, not only without injury, but apparently with positive benefit to their health. And yet, day after day, Burke and Wills became weaker and more emaciated upon this diet. Their flesh wasted from their bones, their strength was reduced to an infant’s feebleness, and they could only crawl painfully a mile or two in a day. At last, when nearing the bourne of their hopes, the explorers perished one by one of starvation; a solitary survivor being found in the last extremity under a tree, where he had laid him down to die, by a party sent out in search of the missing expedition. When analysed, the nardoo bread was ascertained to be destitute of certain nutritious elements indispensable to the support of a European, though an Australian savage might for a while find it beneficial as an alternative. And thus it happened that these poor unfortunate Englishmen perished of starvation, even while feeding fully day by day upon food that seemed to satisfy their hunger. Now, is it not precisely so in the experience of those who are seeking and finding their portion in earthly things? They are contented with it, and yet their hunger is in reality unappeased. Their desires are crowned, and yet they are actually perishing of want. God gives them their request, but sends leanness to their souls. Is it not far more dreadful to perish by slow degrees of this spiritual atrophy, under the delusive belief that all is well, and therefore seeking no change of food, than to be tortured by the indigestion of feeding on ashes, if by this misery the poor victim can be urged to seek for food convenient for him? (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
“He feedeth on ashes”:
Is not the very term most significant? What are ashes? They are the last solid products of matter that has been used up--the relics that remain after all that is useful and nutritious has been consumed. You burn a piece of wood or a handful of corn, and its grosser particles fall to the ground, while all its ethereal parts--its carbon and hydrogen--mount to the skies and disappear. It is a sad thing to gaze upon the ashes of the commonest fire; for in them there is an image of utter death and ruin--of something that has been bright and beautiful, and is now but dull, cold, barren dust. And what are earthly, created things, upon which so many are feeding the hunger of their immortal souls, but ashes?
They were once bright and beautiful. God’s blessing was upon them, and they were very good. But sin has consumed all their goodness and beauty, has burned up all in them that was capable of ministering to the spiritual wants of men, and left nothing behind but dust and ashes. We can apply this truth to all the world, so far as it is made the portion of the soul. In a moral sense, the whole world, which was once capable of ministering to man’s spiritual wants, is now a mere heap of cinders. Its beauty has gone with its goodness, and its sufficing power with its holiness. It has become spiritually oxidised by combination with the all-devouring element of sin. The man that loves the world now feeds on ashes; not upon earth, for there is a degree of nourishment in soil, owing to the remains of former life, and the worm and the plant feed upon it; not upon clay, for the clay which the American-Indians eat is found to consist of microscopic plants with silicious envelopes, called diatoms, containing a small portion of organic matter sufficient to sustain existence;--no, but on dry, white, dusty ashes, utterly destitute of any nutritious element whatever, upon which no creature can live, and upon which almost no plant can grow--the refuse of everything that is good. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Some time ago, I read in the papers of a little boy who for months had been gathering up prune-stones, being fond of the kernel; so, wishing to prepare for himself a great treat, he laid up quite a large store: at last came the day of anticipated enjoyment; he ate them all, and, after hours of agony, died! So I have seen men who have given up their whole life to one aim, to amass wealth; preparing a banquet of enjoyment for the evening of their days; and, when they sat down to the feast, lo! on the table only ashes, ashes! (J. T. Davidson, D. D.)
A deceived heart hath turned him aside
The self-deception of most who affect to be infidels
1. Consider seriously, what was the real origin of your unbelief. A father’s house forsaken, and a father’s instructions soon to be forgotten, you entered on the world. Passions rose within you. Companions encouraged them; religion checked them. Your belief became irksome to your indulgence; and your faith descended to doubts. It was natural and necessary that it should do so, if you meant to continue in your sins.
2. You have had times, no doubt, when you thought your course somewhat wrong; and, partly sated with such enjoyments, had some idea of turning from them. What, then, was the obstacle? Was it the difficulty which you had in accounting for the truth of revelation? Was it not the voice of pleasure whispering, Will you then renounce the joys which were once so dear to you? Here was the fatal obstacle. Not in the difficulties of revelation, but in the timidity and weakness of the heart.
3. If this be not true, go one step farther. Many have met with calamity; a death unexpected among your friends, some great and sudden change of fortune, which showed you the uncertainty of human happiness. In these cases, what was your resource? Did you go to the tables, whither before you had gone for pleasure? Was it in the society of those who “make a mock at sin “that you expected the gleam of comfort in the hour of sorrow? Your heart will own that, when you were in heaviness, you could think upon God. But religion’s truth all the time remained the same. If, therefore, you doubted on it under the former situation, why not under the latter? Your heart deceived you. You did not disbelieve. You wished to do so; and passion blinded you. Affliction removed the veil from your heart.
4. But, living as we do in an age of boasted light, this reasoning will probably be considered as carried too far; and it will be urged by many a young man, that, although the passions may have had some influence in biassing his opinions, yet his doubts of the Gospel have arisen, in some measure, from his judgment. Let us, then, meet him on this ground. We expect, therefore, from you some striking argument that is to set aside at once the authority of ages and destroy the best hopes and resources of the human heart. And what do we find? A few common-place phrases and objections--doubts, not created by yourselves, but only received from others, and kept up by you, to preserve a kind of watchword of a party against believers.
5. But if you have not searched very deeply into these things yourself, they with whom you are in the habit of associating are adequate to give you sufficient religious instruction, and you have taken, you say, your creed chiefly from them. Let us, then, repair a moment to them. You profess yourselves general believers in a God, and possessed of some amiable virtues. How often in the assemblies of your friends and instructors is the name of God mentioned without irreverence? How seldom have you heard rigid virtue made the subject of discussion except to be ridiculed? Have you often heard beauty and innocence mentioned without some sentiment of an abandoned passion? (G. Mathew, M. A.)
Remember these, O Jacob and Israel
God’s Israel not forgotten
This verse, standing in connection with the following, is a call to Jacob and Israel to return to the Lord.
Many are the arguments used to induce them to do so.
1. “Remember these” idolaters, their follies, their wickednesses, their wretched and miserable condition, and forget not that you were guilty once as they are. It is well to retrace our past history, often to do it, to be reminded of what we once were in the days of our unregeneracy.
2. Miserable and sad as your present condition is, yet “I know thee by-name; thou art Mine, return unto Me.” Thou art still “Jacob,” still “Israel,” still “My servant.” Is there one who has been departing from the living God? Can anything be more touching than this call to thee? Surely it is like the look which Jesus gave Peter when he went out and wept bitterly.
3. “I have formed thee,” formed thee with new and spiritual workmanship, formed thee a vessel to honour, formed thee for My glory.
4. “Thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.” Thou hast forgotten Me, the mighty cost at which I redeemed thee. Thou hast forgotten the way by which I led thee in the wilderness, the miracles I wrought for thee, the manna with which I fed thee, the rock of which I made thee drink, the deliverances out of the hands of thine enemies; thou hast forgotten thy high calling, thy holy profession, thy truest happiness; but “thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.”
I. THE TRUE ISRAEL SOMETIMES THINK THEMSELVES FORGOTTEN OF GOD. Their utter insignificance and the deep consciousness of it lead to this. Sometimes dark and mysterious providences lead to this. Sometimes apparent delays in answers to prayer. What is the consequence? We loathe ourselves; instead of advancing we seem retrograding; instead of mounting we seem to be sinking. Here, too, sense takes too often the seat of judgment, and not only decides on what God is doing, but sometimes on God Himself; and is ready to cry out, “My God hath forgotten me.” There are seasons too, under a sense of unutterable vileness, when the soul responds to the solemn appeal (Isaiah 43:22-23.43.24), “Thou hast not calledupon Me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of Me, O Israel,” &c. There are times when a man seems as if he stood alone among his fellow-men, as if he were the very chief of sinners. I will mention one more case--when we have by some wilfulness in disobedience grieved the Holy Spirit.
II. THE PEOPLE OF GOD NEVER ARE FORGOTTEN BY HIM. Tender are the ties that bind us to one another; the tenderest, the closest, the most indestructible of all ties, friends, brothers, relations, parents, even a mother. It is the instance selected (Isaiah 49:15). There is no tie like this bywhich Jehovah binds Himself to His people. The ties that bind man to man, in their purest actings, are but the ties of human nature in its feebleness, its fickleness.
III. THE MANIFOLD PROOFS THAT GOD HAS CONDESCENDED TO GIVE, THAT HIS ISRAELS SHALL NOT BE FORGOTTEN. We too easily forget that the true basis of faith is the veracity of God. The believer too often acts, thinks, speaks, as if he did not believe God, though he mean not so. Were Jehovah to forget, He would violate every perfection of His nature. He sees all His in His Son; and when He forgets His Son, then and not till then will He forget His Israel. When Jesus forgets to intercede, when Jesus intercedes in vain, when God Himself changes, then will He forget. Look up then, ye Jacobs, ye Israels of God; let the past encourage you. What do thy reasonings say? What do thy humblings say? What thy upholdings in deep and heavy trouble? Thy special interpositions? Thy perseverance in the ways of God? (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
In the midst of idolaters this chapter speaks of a people who worship, love, serve God. Here is--
I. AN INVITATION. “Return unto Me.” This implies previous distance, wandering, unworthiness. “Return.”
1. How? The sinner says, I am bound, sin holds me chained, justly. God answers, I have redeemed thee, paid thy ransom, broken thy chains.
2. To whom? “Unto Me.” The sinner says, I am polluted, defiled. God answers, I have blotted out thy sins. Thou hast cleansing in the precious blood.
3. In what way? Not towards Me. Many are satisfied with appearance. But unto-into My very presence--to walk, dwell, commune with Me. All trace of former guilt gone.
II. A PRIVILEGE. “Thou art My servant.”
1. They serve Him. He fits them for this. “I have formed thee,” fitted by indwelling of the Spirit, giving new tastes, desires, &c. We are not made servants by serving; we are made servants that we may serve.
2. They serve acceptably, cheerfully, continually, purely. None are Christians who do not serve. Notice the repetition in text, also Isaiah 44:1,
2. God dwells lovingly on it.
3. They serve in hope. God’s servants have a gracious promise--“Thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.” Others may forget, be removed, but God never. We may be in trouble, persecution, danger, weariness, death, never forgotten.
III. A CAUTION. “Remember these.” God’s people rejoice, but with trembling: walk surely, but not securely (1 Corinthians 10:12). “Remember these”--the world, careless, backsliders, self-seekers, heathens. “Remember these”--
1. That you may be humbled (Titus 3:3).
2. That you may honour God before them (Matthew 5:16).
3. That you may do them good (Galatians 6:1). Are your sins blotted out? If so, serve God; “remember these.” If not, return. (Homilist.)
O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.--
God’s remembrance of Israel
I. If we turn to some of the evidences of this statement, we may first look to the history of Israel, and to that of ourselves in a PROVIDENTIAL ASPECT.
1. As regards the Israelites in their national and personal relations.
2. But the special evidence of the text lies in the heart of Christian experience.
3. The evidence of this Divine declaration may be further shown by a reference to the works of creation.
II. Consider some of the REASONS which may be assigned for this Divine utterance.
1. One reason is to be found in the fact of man’s redemption.
2. Another in the graciousness, in the love and mercy of the Divine purposes with regard to ourselves. (W. D. Horwood.)
“Forget thee, I will not”:
I. THE TITLE WHICH THE LORD GIVES TO HIS PEOPLE. “My servant.”
1. Notice what a practical title it is. It has to do with action and service; it has to do with the heart, but also with the hand, with the inner and with the outer life. There is no true Christian but the practical Christian. A servant is not always at work; but a servant is always a servant, and ever ready for work.
2. It is a personal title--“Thou.”
3. It is an exclusive title--“My servant. These other people are servants of Baal or Ashtaroth; but thou art My servant.” When a man has a servant, he expects him to serve him, and not to be in the employ of other people. God’s servants must serve God; not idols, not the world, not self, not sin, not Satan.
4. It is an honourable title. It must be so, for God uses the title in this verse twice over. “Thou art My servant: I have formed thee; thou art My servant.” To serve God, is truly to reign,
5. This is a title of acceptance. As God says, twice over, “Thou art My servant,” He means, “I accept thee as My servant; I own thee as such.” One reason why we are God’s servants is that He has forgiven us our trespasses (Isaiah 44:22).
II. THE PROMISE WHICH HE MAKES TO US. “Thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.” Men forget us. And they turn against us. Those for whom you do the most are often those who will be most unkind, and most bitter against you. But God says, “Thou shalt not be forgotten of Me.” What does this promise mean?
1. That God will never cease to love His servants.
2. That the Lord will never cease to think of His servants. The thoughts of God are wonderful. He can think of every individual saint as much as if there were no other saint in the universe.
III. SOME REASONS WHICH ASSURE US THAT GOD WILL NOT FORGET THOSE WHO ARE TRULY HIS SERVANTS.
1. The very best reason is that He says he will not forget us.
2. God cannot forget us, since He has made us. The former part of the verse says, “Thou art My servant: I have formed thee.” With His own fingers He has made us into vessels of mercy, so He cannot forget us.
3. He has blessed us; He has blessed us so much already that He cannot forget us now.
4. He has loved us so long already. Was there ever a time when the redeemed of the Lord were not written on the heart of Christ? He loved you before the first star began to dart its golden arrows through the darkness of space. Rest you then secure; love so ancient will never die out.
5. We have cost Him so much.
6. He is too good a Lord to cast us off. He is a wretch of a man who casts off an old servant simply because he is old. The Lord does not turn His old servants adrift; but says, “Even to your old age, I am He; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions
Sin blotted out
The meaning of the verse may be--He who offered his sacrifice aright, was as sure that the sin for which he offered it was blotted out, as that the smoke of the sacrifice was dispersed by the wind, and was no longer discernible.
(E. Thompson, D. D.)
Blotting out sin: a classical side-light:
“This decree made the danger then hanging over the city, pass away like a cloud.” (Demosthenes.)
Clouds and sins:
Clouds do good; but transgressions and sins never do good. They do no good to the body, no good to the soul, no good to the spirit, no good to our present condition, or to our future circumstances; and, in this respect, clouds are unlike sins. Yet there are points of resemblance between clouds and sins. Clouds veil the sun; and sins hide the loving face of God. Clouds hide the lofty firmament; and sins conceal heaven. Clouds contract the prospect; and sins prevent the sight of all coming good. Clouds drop down in rain; and sins fall in punishment. Clouds are beyond our control; and sins committed are entirely out of our power. Clouds are dispersible only by God; and sins God alone can drive away. This is the point of the analogy instituted in our text. (S. Martin.)
Not a cloud to be seen:
I. THE DIVINENESS OF FORGIVENESS. “I have blotted out,” &c. “I, even I.” All sin is against God. When you sin against each other you sin against God. And all punishment is in God’s hands; and the dispensation of pardon is His prerogative. Blessed be God for keeping it within His own power! Pardon is dispensed faithfully and wisely, for God is light. Pardon is dispensed graciously, for God is love. And pardon is given according to the Divine promise and covenant, for “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.”
II. THE COMPLETENESS OF PARDON. In the country which Isaiah knew, the clouds were entirely blotted out during four months of the year; so that it was an extraordinary thing from May to September, to see a cloud: and the clearness of the atmosphere enabled the prophet to appreciate this illustration to an extent impossible to us, who are so often under a leaden sky. Still, even here, we do know what it is to stand under a blue sky. In the morning, or in the evening, or late at night, we know what it is to stand under the cloudless heavens, and to say, “There is not a cloud to be seen.” And when God pardons a man there is not a sin to be seen. The sins of childhood, and youth, and maturity-the sins of every year, and day, and hour--are blotted out. The sins of the body, and the sins of the soul--the sins of the tongue, and of the hand, and of every member of the body--the sins of the thought, and of the imagination, and of desire, and ofaffection, and of volition, are all blotted out. The sins of the heart, and the sins of the home, the sins of the place of business, and the sins of the Church, and the sins committed against brothers and sisters, and kindred of every degree--against husband, and wife, and children, and neighbours, and friends, and the country, sins against the Saviour, and against the Holy Spirit, and against our Father in Heaven are blotted out. Sins wilful, sins careless, sins repeated, sins aggravated, are all blotted out. Not some sins, but all sins. The least are not overlooked; the worst are not reserved. Pardon is not the mitigation of punishment--it is not the passing by of some transgressions and the bringing forward of others--but an entire remission of future punishment. Sin is not behind following us; sin is not before preventing us; sin is not above falling upon us; sin is not on either hand hemming us in. Pardoned by God, our sins are gone; actually gone for ever.
III. THE ASSURANCE WHICH GOD GIVES THE PARDONED THAT THEY ARE FORGIVEN. God might forgive without telling us now that He has pardoned us. He might reserve the communication of this fact until the last great day. But He would have the forgiven know that they are pardoned. Now what profit is there in this? Knowledge of pardon is a particular knowledge of God. A man who is pardoned sees God in the dispensation of Divine forgiveness, as God is not to be seen elsewhere, or in any other dispensation. It is one thing to see God in the general provision He has made for the supply of our wants, and quite another thing for us to see God applying that provision to ourselves. A knowledge of pardon is a source of joy and peace. It is, moreover, a power awakening love. You remember the case of the woman who came to Christ, upon the occasion of the great banquet given to Him by one of the chief of the Pharisees. Then, the knowledge of pardon is a motive to the pursuit of holiness.
IV. THE KNOWLEDGE OF PARDON ENCOURAGES US TO BRING OTHERS TO GOD.
V. WHO ARE THE ASSURED?
1. Those who confess to Him their sins.
2. The confession is to be accompanied by the forsaking of sin.
3. There is no forsaking sin, without turning to God. (S. Martin.)
What man can and cannot do:
Man may divert the course of a river, and fill up the former bed; thus blotting out in certain places the river. Man may pare down portions of the hills; thus blotting out the hills. Man may raise the valley; thus blotting out the valley. Man may drain the lake, and sow it with seed, and raise crops upon the soil of the lake’s bed; thus blotting out the lake. Man may, to a small extent, alter the boundaries of the ocean; thus blotting out in some places even the sea. Man may tunnel the earth and make a highway where foot never trod. But man can neither bring clouds into the firmament, nor send them away. Moreover a man may blot out ignorance by teaching, and folly by instruction, and some bad habits by good training, and animal wants by the supply of temporal necessities, and captivity by release, and disease by healing; but no man can forgive sins. The dispensation of pardon is too precious, and too important, to be entrusted to men or to angels. (S. Martin.)
Pardon not entrusted to men or angels:
A man, if he were entrusted with the dispensation of forgiveness, might be sleeping, or journeying, or sick, or in various ways out of reach. A man might be angry, or morose, or occupied, or unloving, when the penitent was calling for forgiveness. And an angel might take a hypocrite for a true penitent, or a contrite one for a hypocrite; or he might hesitate to forgive some chief of sinners. God keeps the dispensation of forgiveness in His own kind hand. (S. Martin.)
Sin and forgiveness:
There is, at first sight, a little obscurity in this expression. Is the cloud intended to represent the sin, or is it the obscurity with which the sin is to be obliterated? Does the text liken transgressions to a cloud which is to be driven away, or the transgression to be covered and blotted out as if by a cloud? There is a difference in opinion with regard to the matter. But there is no reason for not taking the words literally as they stand, and looking upon sin as likened to a cloud.
I. THE FIGURE UNDER WHICH SIN IS REPRESENTED. “A cloud”; “a thick cloud.” It affords an apt illustration of human evil.
1. Clouds obscure the beauty of the earth. Sin obscures the prospects of the soul and shuts out the glories of the heavenly horizon! It blurs the outline of truth, it disturbs our views of life, of our fellow-creatures, of our own actions and the actions and motives of others, of the providence and dealings of God, of the true import of existence, of the future and the past. What is evil seems good; what is good seems evil; what is real seems false; and what is false appears true.
2. Clouds intercept the light of heaven. And what hides the full brightness of the face of God, who is the source of all spiritual light and warmth and joy, but sin? “Your iniquities have separated between Me and you.” Our sins have kept the revelation of full light and the manifestation of fullest love from vivifying and rejoicing our hearts. Not that even sin entirely obscures God’s mercy and love. The darkest cloud cannot altogether hide the light of day. The sun’s rays are so powerful that they penetrate even through the thickest mists. But what a contrast is the feeble light of a November day to that of the genial sunbeam in June! So not even sin can entirely hide the Divine influence of the love of God or prevent it from warming the earth. But how different is its manifestation to what it was amid the glories of Paradise!
3. Clouds cause inconvenience and discomfort. The traveller amid the mountain mists, with his garments soddened and weighted with the moisture, his breathing laboured and his movements hampered, is a fitting representative of the Christian journeying heavenwards amid the many hindrances which check his progress through the uncongenial atmosphere of this sinful world, saturated with the essence, as it were, of iniquity.
4. Clouds are about us everywhere.
(1) They overshadow every portion of the globe. Not in the same intensity, not always in the same place, not similar in appearance and density.
(2) Does not sin, like the clouds, everywhere compass the spiritual world? It varies, indeed, Some countries are more enlightened, and the clouds not being so dense, more is seen and felt of the light and warmth of the Sun of Righteousness. But there are other countries where mental and spiritual clouds dominate in various degrees of density, till we arrive at those places where the savage reigns supreme and no ray of the light of heaven ever penetrates.
(3) Are not the clouds a fitting image of sin in their deceptive beauty? There are occasions when evil shines resplendent with the borrowed glory of heaven. How many noble characters have, in the virtues reflected from Christianity, attracted for a time the admiration and rapture of an astonished and delighted world! For a time! For as soon as the reflection from above, which imparted glory to their characters, was gone, they sank: again into their native nature of darkness and gloom. And observe how much the reflection of Divine truth and heavenly law beautifies this world of ours, with all its sin! The philanthropy towards those who are weak and suffering, the courtesy towards the feeble, the hospitals which are provided, the many means which are adopted for exalting the race: all these are the glints of heavenly sunshine reflected upon the clouds of sin.
(4) We also see that the clouds resemble sin because of their unreality. There is nothing on which a man can trust or lean or hope. They are unsubstantial, empty, frail.
(5) They also are changing, fleeting, driven away by all kinds and by every breath of wind; never the same, unstable, assuming all sorts of guises in the presence of the light.
II. THE PROMISE WHICH IS HERE BESTOWED. Although the statement is put in the past--“I have blotted out”--yet it is really a future and a conditional declaration. The early part of this chapter is a description of awful impenitence and apostasy. In purpose, in intention, this is forgiven, but it is not a forgiveness independent of reformation. We have seen the sky when the summer sun has driven away the clouds. It is deep, unfathomable, ethereal, blue. The sun’s glory is undimmed. The whole of nature rejoices with unspeakable joy. The heart rebounds with lightness. Not a speck on the surface of the heaven casts a shadow on the earth. Such is the idea of a world without sin. All brightness and no clouds, all joy without a sorrow to dim its glory. And this is the spiritual gist of the promise which the great God has made to His believing people. It is an assurance so certain that it is spoken of as having actually taken place. And how will God blot out the sins of His people? By the same means as physically disperse the clouds of earth.
1. By the tempests of wrath. The tempest of God’s wrath, as it fell upon the head of Christ, sent a current of electric justice through the load of sin and rendered it possible for its power to be removed.
2. By the glorious shining of rays of warmth and light. It is the warmth of God’s infinite, eternal love that shall disperse the last trace of sin. That love shining from His throne shall drive all the consequences of evil from the heart, from the life. And with the clouds of sin shall go all other clouds--the clouds of suffering, of sorrow, of death. And when sin is driven away, that love shall shine in unceasing glory. It will not be limited to time, or place, or season, or circumstance. It will not come in diminished or lessened degrees, but it will be perfect, pure, and complete. Still, this is but a figure--an incomplete one, too--one which has its deficiencies. But God Himself gave it out. (J. J. S. Bird, B. A.)
Forgiveness: its blessings and its duties:
I. AN IMPORTANT DECLARATION. “I have blotted out,” &c.
II. A CORRESPONDING DUTY. “Return unto Me.”
III. AN ALL-CONSTRAINING MOTIVE. “I have redeemed thee.” (S. Bridge, M. A.)
Sin and grace:
I. THERE IS RECOGNISED THE EXISTENCE OF SIN.
II. THERE IS AFFIRMED THE EXISTENCE OF MERCY. (W. M.Punshon, LL. D.)
The features of the Divine character, and the blessings of salvation, which are to be manifested in God’s dealings with Israel in the latter days, are the very same as are now manifested in God’s dealings with all believers. We may consider the text, then, as an exhibition of God’s mercy, in which we are ourselves interested.
I. With reference to HIS MERCY.
1. The first words of the text denote an act of God’s gracious forgiveness. “I have blotted out thy transgressions and thy sins.” In the New Testament scriptures, this expression “blotting out” is connected with the atonement Colossians 2:14).
2. The language of pardoning mercy goes still farther. “As a thick cloud.” How is a thick cloud blotted out? When a debt is blotted out from a debt book, the blot remains. It is true there is no evidence against the sinner; the charge against him is at an end; but the remains of what was a debt are to be seen, and the very act of cancelling it shows that there was a debt. But when a cloud is blotted out, it is different. How is that cloud blotted out? Either by the wind dispersing it, or by the sun breaking through it and dispersing it; and when this is done, we say either that the storm is “blown over,” or that there is now a clear sky, and all that we can see, if we see anything, with regard to the threatening cloud, is now composed of those beautiful hues which are lighted up by the shining of a bright sun in a clear sky. Well, then, when God says that He will “blot out as a thick cloud our transgressions, and as a cloud our sin,” we are to understand that He undertakes to remove all traces of our transgressions and all remains of guilt from the conscience, so that the sinner thus pardoned may look up to God as a Father full of grace and love, and may approach Him with holy boldness, and without any particle of fear. Observe, then, what full forgiveness God assures us of in this language. “Thick clouds,” as well as ordinary clouds,--two expressions which must be taken in a figurative meaning, as including all kinds of sin--what we call “greater and lesser sins” alike--are what the Lord declares His purpose to do away with, and completely to remove from being a ground of fear to those who approach Him in the name of His dear Son.
3. Now, inasmuch as no one can disperse a thick cloud but the God who can send His bright sun to shine through it, so none hut that God who proclaims Himself a pardoning God and Saviour can say, so that the conscience of the sinner shall respond, “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.” And this is the forgiveness in which God delights--full, complete, and such as only He Himself can bestow.
II. But in order that this mercy may be ours, and that we may rejoice in it, IT IS NEEDFUL THAT WE SHOULD RIGHTLY RESPOND to that intimation of God’s grace. “I have blotted out thy transgressions. Return unto Me.”
1. It is the Redeemer who calls, because it says, “Return, for I have redeemed thee.”
2. How different to our natural expectation is this! The Redeemer crying after the sinner, instead of the sinner crying after the Redeemer.
3. Then observe how the language before us manifests the deep concern of God our Saviour. “Return to Me.” He would not speak in language like this, if it were not a matter of immense moment to the sinner to return.
4. There is another suggestion: for what purpose is this call of entreaty made? Not that the sinner may receive punishment. God calls thee, O careless one, not to be frowned upon, but smiled upon.
5. Then, after all this intimation of grace on the part of God, there can be no hope of lasting peace or a future glory, except as we return.
III. NOTICE THE LOVE IN THE ASSURANCE THAT HE GIVES ABOUT REDEMPTION. “Return, for I have redeemed thee.” What return do you make to the call of Him who assures of mercy and redemption, and who graciously says, Return? (W. Cadman, M. A.)
The cloud of sin and its dispersion:
I. A wonderful teaching as to the INMOST NATURE OF SIN. I refer especially to the two words for sin which are employed here. That translated transgression literally means “treachery” or “rebellion,” and that translated sin “missing a mark.” All iniquity is stamped with this damning characteristic, it is rebellion against a loving will, an infinite King, a tender Father. And all iniquity has this, by the merciful irony of Providence, associated with it, that it is a blunder as well as a crime.
II. THE PERMANENT RECORD OF SIN. “I have blotted out.” That points, of course, to something that has been written, and which it promises shall be erased. It may be, perhaps, the idea rather of a stain which is covered and removed, but that I think less probable than the other one, that the evil is written down somewhere. A book written; a permanent record of my evil doing. Where is it written? Where, rather, is it not written? Written on character, written to a very large extent even on circumstances, written above all in the calm, perfect memory of the all-judging God. The book is written by ourselves, moment by moment, and day by day. We write it with invisible ink, and it only needs to be held to the fire to flash up into legibility.
III. THE DARKENING POWER OF SIN. “I have blotted out as a thick cloud.” When the cloud draws its veil over the heavens, the sunshine and the blue are shut out from a man’s eye, and all the flowerets close; and when the heaven is veiled the birds cease to sing. So, like a misty veil drawn across the face of the heavens are man’s sins. Our only way of knowing God is by sympathy, by conformity.
IV. THE REMOVAL OF THE SIN. I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.” The erasure implies the making a clean sheet of the blurred page; the cancelling of the whole long formidable column of figures that expresses the debt. The blotting out as a cloud implies the disappearing of the misty vapour, as some thin fleecy film will do in the dry Eastern heavens, melting away as a man looks. So God, in His marvellous patience, shining on the upper side, as it were, of all the mists that wrap and darken our souls, thins these away by the process of self-communication, until they gather themselves up, routed and broken, and disappear, floating in thin fragments beneath the visual horizon. It is to no purpose to ask whether that means pardon or cleansing. It means both. Isaiah could proclaim: “I have blotted out thy transgressions,” because Isaiah could also proclaim: “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed.” Now, mark this, that this removal of sin, in all its aspects and powers, is regarded in my text as a past accomplished fact. It is not set forth as contingent upon the man’s return, but as the reason for his return. “I have redeemed thee, therefore come back to Me,” not “Come back to Me that I may redeem thee.” You have to take your portion of the great blessing by the simple act and exercise of faith in Jesus Christ. Then it becomes yours. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Sin as clouds
It is by no means an uncommon circumstance to find in the Bible the very same natural object employed as a symbol of very different and even opposite things. Thus, the lion is used as the emblem both of Christ and of the Prince of Darkness; fire is used as the emblem both of Divine purity and of human suffering; water is used as the emblem both of peace and of trouble; and the cloud is employed as an emblem both of good and evil. Here the Almighty Himself speaks of sin as a “cloud.” In order to guard against an abuse of the comparison, notice two striking points of dissimilarity.
(1) Clouds are objects of beauty.
(2) Clouds are sources of blessing. In what respect, then, is sin like a cloud?
I. He blotteth out sin as a cloud which OBSTRUCTS THE GENIAL INFLUENCES OF HEAVEN. It rolls like a thick cloud between God and the soul. It obstructs the rays of His love; it makes life gloomy and sad.
II. He blotteth out sins as a cloud which RISES FROM BENEATH. Whence come these clouds? Not from the celestial regions. They are exhalations from the earth. From noxious marshy lands and stagnant pools, as well as from restless seas they rise. So it is with sin. It is an exhalation from the depraved heart. The clouds that roll between the soul and its God are an aggregation of the noxious vapours that have risen from the heart.
III. He blotteth out sins as a cloud which EXISTS IN EVERY VARIETY OF FORM. Clouds are endless in their variety. It is so with sin. You have it in the fleeting thought, the transient feeling, the passing word; as well as in the deep plot, the cherished passions, the confirmed habits, the dark, dark life.
IV. He blotteth out sins as a cloud which is CHARGED WITH EVIL. Whilst clouds are sources of blessings to the world, they are often filled with elements of destruction. There are forged the thunderbolts that terrify; there are kindled the lightnings that consume; there are the floods that deluge. It is so with sin. The miseries of retribution are all nursed in it as storms in the cloud.
V. He blotteth out sins as a cloud WHICH NO FINITE INTELLIGENCE CAN DISPERSE. Who can dispel the smallest cloud from the face of the sky? No skill, no strength, can dispel one cloud. It is so with sin. No finite being can dispel it. No Church, priesthood, &c.
VI. He blotteth out sins as a cloud, which ONCE DISPERSED, IS GONE FOR EVER. Sins pardoned, like clouds dispersed, are lost for ever. “In those days, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for and there shall be none, and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found, for I will pardon them.”
VII. He blotteth out sins as a cloud, which WHEN DISSIPATED BENEFITS THE UNIVERSE. (Homilist.)
I. A DESCRIPTION OF SIN. Man’s transgressions are as a thick cloud.
1. In their number.
(1) The sins of the wicked--murders, revellings, debaucheries, and the like.
(2) The sins of the’ moral man--intellectual sins, worse than the animal--avarice, pride, ambition, unbelief.
(3) The sins of the good. The lives of the best of men may seem, to the natural eye, holy and good; but, seen under the microscope of God’s law, these are full of impurities.
2. Because they intervene between God and man.
3. Because they engloom the earth.
4. Because they contain the consequences which we dread. Out of the cloud the angry lightnings flash, and in the cloud the fury of the tempest sleeps.
II. A DESCRIPTION OF FORGIVENESS. “I have blotted out,” &c. You have witnessed the dispersion of a storm. This is a symbol of God’s forgiveness.
1. It is so because it is the work of God only. It is a transaction in which man has no share.
2. God’s forgiveness is a complete forgiveness.
3. May we not learn that all sin is overruled to our good? After the storm has gone over us, have we not found the atmosphere purified? Can we not see that the world is disciplined by the deluge of evils which pours forth from the clouds of sin?
4. This is a symbol of God’s forgiveness in respect to the gladness which succeeds the storm. The prophet represents the whole earth as awakening, after the dispersion of the storm, to exultant joy. “Sing, O ye heavens,” &c. Such is the joy of the world on account of God’s forgiveness.
III. A DESCRIPTION OF THE CONDUCT OF THE FORGIVEN. “Return unto Me,” &c. (H. M. Jackson.)
The bestowment of spiritual blessings is a warrant for the expectation of all needful temporal blessings. This passage is the foundation on which God causes His ancient people to rest. God’s forgiving love is the promise of all needful help and grace.
I. WE MAKE OUR OWN CLOUDS. As the natural clouds are formed by the vapours drawn up from the sea, so, in a degree, those clouds which darken our skies are the effects of our transgressions.
II. GOD MAKES OUR CLOUDS THE MINISTERS OF HIS MERCY. The natural clouds are the ministers of His mercy, the testimonies of His faithful care, of His loving thoughtfulness for the children of men. But how wonderful that the clouds of our sins should be the ministers of His mercy! The clouds lead us to appreciate the glorious sunlight.
III. GOD DISPERSES OUR CLOUDS BY THE INTERVENTION OF HIS REDEEMING LOVE AND POWER. Clouds move in obedience to nature’s laws; and the clouds of our sins cannot be blotted out in an arbitrary method. Not as a bad debt, not as chalked figures may be obliterated. God is a Father, but He is a moral Governor. Even He has only a right to blot out transgressions, because He has redeemed.
IV. GOD DISPERSES OUR CLOUDS IN ORDER THAT WE MAY STAND IN THE CLEAR SUNSHINE. When sin is blotted out, then the soul is started on a career of never-ending fruitfulness.
V. GOD MAKES THE DEPARTING CLOUDS HIS PATHETIC PREACHERS. “Return unto Me.” Every time we see the clouds sweeping across the heavens, let us listen to their still small voice. (W. Burrows, B. A.)
God’s abundant pardon:
In pardoning His people God freely forgives them all their sins of every description, flowing from corrupt propensities and evil habits, committed through ignorance, infirmity, temptation, or presumption. (R. Macculloch.)
I. HERE IS AN INTERPOSING AND DIVIDING MEDIUM: a cloud of sins. A vapour, says the Hebrew; and, then, a thick cloud. God’s people ought always to dwell in fellowship with their God. There ought to be nothing between the renewed heart and God to prevent joyful and hallowed fellowship; but it is not so. Sometimes a cloud comes between,--a cloud of sin; and, whenever that cloud of sin comes between us and God, it speedily chills us. Our delight in God is no longer manifest; we have little or no zeal in His service, or joy in His worship. Beneath that cloud, we feel like men who are frozen; and, at the same time, darkness comes over us. We get into such a sad state that we hardly know whether we are God’s people or not. Besides that, it threatens us. Remember, clouds are earthborn things. Yet, recollect that the sun is not affected by the clouds.
II. THE COMPLETE REMOVAL OF THIS BARRIER. “I have blotted out,” &c.
1. No known human power can remove the clouds. So it is with your darkness and doubts if you have fallen into sin.
2. But what a mercy it is that God can remove these clouds of sin.
3. When God drives away these clouds from us, though we may see other clouds, we shall never see those black ones any more. When the Lord takes away His people’s sins, they are gone, and gone for ever.
4. The glory of it is that the Lord has already done this great work of grace. “I have,” &c.
III. THE TENDER COMMAND. “‘Return unto Me.’ The great barrier that separated us, is removed; so let us not be divided from one another any longer.”
1. When He says, “Return,” He wants you to give up that which has grieved Him.
2. The Lord’s gracious invitation also means, “Come back, and love Me. See how I have loved you. I have already forgiven you your sin, you who are, indeed, My child, but whose faith has almost disappeared. Though you have provoked Me, I still love you. Will you not love Me? After such pleading, can you keep on in this cold-hearted state towards your God?
3. The Lord also means, “Return again to your old joys.”
IV. THE SACRED CLAIM WHICH BACKS UP THE GRACIOUS INVITATION. “I have redeemed thee.”
1. The meaning is this: “I have loved you so much that I redeemed you with the blood of My dear Son; and, having loved you so much in the ages past, I love you still. Come back to Me. I did not make a mistake when I first loved you, through which I shall have to change the object of My choice. I knew all about you from eternity,;, all that you ever would be or could be, I knew it; yet I loved you and bought you, &c.
2. You belong to Me. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Return unto Me
The freeness of the gospel scheme, and the universality of God’s love
I. THE FREENESS OF THE METHOD OF MAN’S ACCEPTANCE. “Return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee.” There can be no difficulty in proving that we are bought with a price; there can be no difficulty in showing that it was God Himself to whom the price was paid. But there is something of a difficulty in understanding how purchase can consist with gift; and how that which is dearly bought can be said to be freely bestowed. The difficulty is just what follows. Much is said in the Bible as to our deliverance being perfectly gratuitous; but if God bestows nothing that has not been paid for, what becomes of that gratuitous character of redemption? Certainly it would seem that purchase is so inconsistent with donation, that He of whom forgiveness is bought can lay but slight claim to a surprising liberality. Careful examination, however, will set this in a proper light. “Return unto Me; for I have redeemed thee,” is an assertion whose proof lies in the assurance that God is ready to receive the prodigal. A deliverance that has been bought for the world is more illustrative of God’s free grace than any other which would have required no satisfaction. For a plan of deliverance in every sense gratuitous is one of those absurd creations of the fancy which it would have been impossible to turn into reality. If it could not have been said to man, Thou art a redeemed thing, and a purchased thing, it must have been said, in opposition to our text, Thou shalt not return; thou shalt continue a ruined thing. It fell not within the power of Deity to grant what men call unconditional forgiveness. It is requiring God to undeify Himself--to cease to be the Just One, the Faithful One. The fact that we may return to the Father only because we are purchased by the blood of His Son, wondrously demonstrates the freeness of the grace. The death of the Son does not, after all, place the Father under the necessity of extending forgiveness to sinners; He need not have said, “Return,” even though we were redeemed. We are not merely debtors who have nothing to pay--we are criminals who have punishment to endure. If I were only a debtor, and Christ had discharged the debt, I cease to be a debtor, and God cannot, in justice, refuse to release me; but, if I were a criminal, I do not cease to be a criminal because another might have died in my room. Hence it is free grace, and nothing else, that grants me forgiveness.
II. THE EARNEST LONGING THAT GOD HAS THAT SINNERS SHOULD BE SAVED, DISCOVERED IN THE PATHOS OF THE ENTREATY. Men are bid to return because they are redeemed. There are, therefore, two conditions: they must have faith in the Redeemer, and they must have that repentance which includeth forsaking of sin: so precious are you in God’s sight that to return is to please God. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I have redeemed thee
“I have redeemed thee”
To redeem is “to buy back”; and our redemption is a buying us out of bondage. We are “sold under sin,” and God has bought us back with the precious blood of His well-beloved Son. If you will look at Leviticus 25:23, &c., you will find the law by which the land could be redeemed; or those persons who had waxen poor and sold themselves as bondmen--the law of redemption.
1. Christ is born in our midst that He may become a Kinsman, a Brother to us all, He comes bringing our ransom price. But he does not bid the angels bring the gold and pearls for our deliverance. He gives Himself a ransom for all. And now Jesus comes to us, our loving Brother, and He saith, “I have redeemed thee.”
2. Now do not let us serve sin any more. Jesus has bought us back from this hard master. He has bought for us the Father’s house too. He has put us in possession of heaven and all its joys. And thus from the bondage of sin and evil of our hearts, we can cry to the King for His help. Prayer is the white-winged bird that can bear our message right up to the Father’s house. And an answer shall come. (M. G. Pearse.)
Sing, O ye heavens
A song about redemption
The text is a magnificent call to heaven and earth to join in singing the glories of redemption.
I. IN WHAT PARTICULARS REDEMPTION CALLS FOR A SONG. Redemption calls for a song when we remember--
1. Its Author. “The Lord hath done it.” “The Lord hath redeemed Jacob.” Herein is indeed a marvel of grace, demanding the highest anthems ransomed lips can raise. What could man have been to Him? What shadow of an obligation was there on His part to put forth the slightest effort to save a single one? The Lord hath done it alone. With whom took He counsel in this matter? Who paid part-price with Him? Redemption is no work of the many; it is God’s own in plan and execution.
2. Its cost (1 Peter 1:18-60.1.19).
3. Its completeness. Christ hath so gloriously completed the work of redemption that nothing can possibly be added to it. Unlike the atonement made by the Aaronic priesthood, it lasts for ever.
4. Its comprehensiveness. It will take eternity to reveal all. If we are Christ’s, then have we been redeemed from the hand of Satan. From the guilt of sin. With the guilt, away goes the power of sin. We are also redeemed from the consequences of sin. From the power of death Hosea 13:14). Christ hath redeemed the bodies of His saints for the glories of the resurrection morn.
5. The chiefest cause for song is redemption “being” that in which God has been pleased to glorify Himself the most. “The Lord hath glorified Himself in Israel.” All the attributes of God are most gloriously to be seen in redemption work.
II. WHO THOSE ARE WHO SHOULD SING THE SONG.
1. Heaven! “Sing, O ye heavens,” and well you may, for redemption has shed a fresh lustre on your glories. The highest joy the angels can have, is that which arises from seeing their King glorified. Behold also the redeemed in heaven! Listen to their song, sweeter even than an angel’s, “Unto Him that loved us.” All heaven unites in this redemption song.
2. Let the ransomed on earth take their part. “Shout, ye lower parts of the earth.” Behold your serfdom gone--your bonds broken--your chains snapped--your sins forgiven--your heaven secured, and then sing.
3. Surely who that have loved ones that have been redeemed should join us in the song.
4. The trembling sinner has good cause to join his voice with ours. “The Lord hath done it.” If done, then there can be no necessity for any addition of thine. (A. G. Brown.)
Praise to God for redemption:
I. WHAT IS IMPORTED IN GOD’S REDEEMING JACOB.
1. That He pays a ransom for our souls.
2. That He rescues us from captivity.
3. That He takes vengeance on our enemies.
4. That He puts us in possession of our inheritance.
II. HOW GOD IS GLORIFIED, WHEN MAN IS REDEEMED.
1. His infinite wisdom was displayed.
2. His power was illustrated.
3. His grace was shown.
4. His truth was vindicated.
III. THE PRAISE WHICH OUGHT TO BE ASCRIBED UNTO GOD ON ACCOUNT OF REDEMPTION. The language of the text has a certain grandeur and beauty. Two things seem to be expressed in it.
1. Let every creature rejoice in the event.
2. Let all express their joy in every form.
“Sing,” “shout,” “break forth into singing.” Praise Him with the heart. Let “all that is within you bless His holy name.” Praise Him with the lips. “Speak of the glory of His kingdom, and talk of His power, to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts.” Praise Him with your life. “Ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” Praise Him in private. “Is anyone merry? Let him sing psalms.” Praise Him in public. “O sing unto the Lord a new song, and His praise in the congregation of the saints.” (E. Brown.)
The joy of redemption
There are three redemptions which may well make all hearts rejoice.
I. REDEMPTION BY BLOOD.
II. REDEMPTION BY POWER. Conversion and regeneration. What sort of people are those whom Christ saves? Some were the very worst of the worst. Think of what these souls are saved from, and of what they are saved to. Some are saved in the teeth of ten thousand obstacles.
III. REDEMPTION IN PERFECTION. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The song of songs:
I. LET US SURVEY THE SCENE. “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins.” So, going forth and returning to their God beneath that clear sky, from which the Sun of Righteousness shone down with beams of love, the forgiven people were filled with rejoicing, and by the mouth of the prophet they cried aloud, “Sing, O heaven, clouds veil thee no longer; shout, ye lower parts of the earth, which have been refreshed with fertilising showers; shout, O ye forest trees, whose every bough has been hung with diamond drops; for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel.” Thus the scenery of the text is helpful to the full understanding of it. Read the two verses together, and their beauty is seen. When did the joyous event take place which we are bidden to celebrate with song?
1. We may consider it as virtually accomplished in the eternal counsels of God, for our Lord is “the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.”
2. The clouds were actually removed when the atonement was presented.
3. The text also receives an actual fulfilment to each one of God’s people in the moment when the eye of faith is first turned to the crucified Saviour.
4. This also comes true not only at first, but frequently during the Christian life; for there are times when our unbelief makes new clouds, and threatens new storms.
5. The text will obtain its best fulfilment at the day of the Lord’s appearing,--that day around which our chief hopes must ever centre.
II. LET US CONTEMPLATE THE GLORIOUS SUBJECT FOR JOY. The great subject of joy is redemption--the redemption of God’s Israel.
1. This is a stupendous work.
2. Of redemption by price and by power we are bidden to sing, a redemption so pre-eminently desirable that we can never sufficiently value it.
3. The very centre and emphasis of the song seems to me to lie in this: “The Lord hath done it.” Whatever God does is the subject of joy to all pure beings.
4. It is sweet to reflect that redemption is an accomplished fact. It is not “The Lord will do it,” but “The Lord hath done it.”
5. We may lay peculiar force upon the word, the Lord hath “done” it, for He has finished the work.
6. A very important part of the song, however, lies in the fact that what God has done glorifies Himself.
III. LET US LISTEN TO THE SONG. The angels sing, for they have deep sympathy with the redemption of man; the redeemed in glory sing, for they have been the recipients of this mighty mercy; the material heavens themselves also ring with the sweet music, and every star takes up the refrain, and with sun and moon praise the Most High. Descending from heave, the song charms the lower earth, and the prophet calls upon materialism to share in the joy; mountains and valleys, forests and trees, are charged to join the song. Why should they not? This round earth of ours has been o’ershadowed by the curse through sin; she has yet to be unswathed of all the mists which iniquity has cast upon her (Romans 8:20-45.8.21).
IV. LET US JOIN IN THIS SONG. Consider how we sing this song. We sing it when by faith we see the grand truth that Jesus Christ took His people’s sin upon Him, and so redeemed them. You will be still better able to sing this if you every day realise the blessings of redemption and pardon, by drawing near to God, using the privilege of prayer, trusting the Lord for everything, enjoying sonship, and communing with your heavenly Father. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
I am the Lord that maketh all things
The Maker of heaven and earth
Our object is, not so much to discover from the creation the truth of the being and character of the Creator, as to see how the Christian belief in Him as Maker must influence us about the world He has made.
Trust Him as the Fatherly God, who is indeed Maker of heaven and earth, and what will follow?
I. SUCH A TRUST WILL ENSURE YOUR RIGHT ATTITUDE WITH REGARD TO SCIENCE.
1. It will free you from all alarm as to the contradictions between science and the Scripture.
2. But our Christian belief should not only take away all dread of science, it should inspire its earnest pursuit. For it is the study of the work of God; a solution of His problems. The stars gleam with the glory of God, the flowers are fragrant with His sweetness; so that astronomy and botany, as well as all the sciences, have been well called “sections of theology.”
II. SUCH A TRUST IN GOD AS THE MAKER OF HEAVEN AND EARTH QUALIFIES YOU FOR RIGHT USE AND ENJOYMENT OF NATURE. He who believes in the Creator with all his heart will be altogether a different man in trade or travel, in manufacture of the earth’s productions, search into her secrets, or enjoyment of her scenery, from the man who darkly doubts--not to say from the man who impiously denies. For such a belief excludes the Manichaean heresy, that matter is the creation of evil. It gives to man that vision and voice about nature that were vouchsafed to Peter when he was taught to call nothing “common or unclean.” He who has the spirit of Jesus Christ, who is reconciled by Him and taught by Him about God, will cherish Christ’s spirit about nature.
III. SUCH A TRUST IN GOD INSPIRES WITH HOPE ABOUT THE DESTINY OF CREATION. There is much that is saddening and bewildering in some of the aspects of creation. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain”. In the midst of such reflections, a great hope glows in the heart that believes in God as “the maker of heaven and earth.” For then He is not only seen as a Redeemer mercifully interposing to alleviate misfortune and to restore some from ruin; but He is known to be the utterly good God, whose goodness is “over all His works,” over creation as much as over redemption. He is a “faithful Creator.” He will care for His own; will bring it to the destiny for which He made it.
IV. SUCH A TRUST IN GOD IS COMPLETELY POSSIBLE THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST. Jesus has to do with nature, with us, and with God. He is “the Door” into nature. Connect all with Jesus, and we shall connect all with God. (U. R. Thomas, B. A.)
That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd
Cyrus, the Lord’s shepherd
Cyrus was the ideal king of the Persians and Greeks.
His is the only name that is mentioned with any detail, I believe, both in the Persian and in the Greek, and also in the Hebrew literature. We speak of the great heroes of the world as Alexander and Caesar and Napoleon. That list begins too late. We ought to begin instead with Cyrus, who was at first a prince of a small principality at the head of the Gulf of Oman. Later he conquered the Medes and Persians. Later Asia Minor, including Lydia, and at last he captured Babylon. In capturing Babylon he released from captivity the chosen people, and it is because of that fact that he is called in the Scriptures, and that he is known in history by the very unique title of the Lord’s shepherd. There is only one other person to whom that phrase has ever been applied, and it is a very singular fact that a heathen king, one entirely out of all line with the chosen people, one so far away from traditions, which we have been in the habit of calling sacred, holy, as if his name had been Confucius or Buddha, in the Scriptures should have been given exactly the same title that was given to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. (A. H. Bradforad, D. D.)
The unity of history:
We will observe a few facts in support of my contention that history is the record of a beneficent development.
1. The governments of the world. In the early time government was simply for a few; there was no monarchy but force; there was no place for love. In the present time, in the immortal words of our President,. “Government is of the people, by the people, for the people. The word which I best remember of any which I heard spoken in London was by Dr. Bevan, “Of old, government was for the few; to-day, government is for the many.” And that is what things have been moving towards as the years have been passing.
2. Take another illustration, and that from the realm of religion. We think of one God; but to those early Hebrews there were many gods. They were not those who believed simply in one God for all the world. They believed in Jehovah as the God able to subdue all the gods of the heathen. They had not reached, except in the person of a few of their leaders, the sublime altitude of modern times of one pervading and all-enduring Unity, one holy, spiritual, true, and loving God. What” was their worship?
3. We come to another illustration quite as familiar. We hear very much in our time concerning the social condition of the labouring people. The great dumb multitudes have found a voice; and every now and then, some man, ignorant of history, writes to say the rich were never so rich, and the poor never so poor; the condition of one class was never so luxurious, the condition of the other class was never so mean. He does not know what the condition of the masses was in the time when the pyramids were built, in the time when the Caesars ruled in Rome and doled out corn to the multitude. He has not read the history of Great Britain, or of France, or of any other nation of Europe, or on the face of the earth. The condition of the world is improving. In the old time the condition of the woman was that of a thing or an animal; she belonged to her husband. She is a woman now, the equal of her husband. In the old time the child was absolutely under the power of the father. If the child was an orphan he was put on the street. Now, to use the phrase of a contemporary writer, “If he hath no father and if he hath no mother, he becomes the child of the public.” What mean our charities? Conclusion--
(1) Providence is compelling progress and no individual can possibly prevent it.
(2) Not all are equally worthy of blessing, of commendation; although all may bear their part in bringing about the glorious consummation.
(3) Cyrus shows to us the sweep of the Divine purpose. God’s plan includes the nations and the ages. There is a place for Greece, for India, for China, for Rome, for Great Britain, there is a place for every nation as well as for Judah. There is a place for Napoleon, and Confucius, and Buddha, because there was a place for Cyrus.
(4) But the other One to whom that glorious name was applied, the Lord’s Shepherd, shows us what Cyrus does not show us, namely, the nature of that plan, revealing to us the nature of the One who made the plan. I look upon the face of Jesus Christ, and I see there is a person, and a sacrificial purpose, and a sacrifice which reaches even to the uttermost. (A. H. Bradford, D. D.)
Notables fulfilling God’s purpose
Rich princes shall do what poor prophets have foretold. (M. Henry.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 44". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent