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Thus saith the Lord to His anointed
The name of Cyrus is written Kuras in Babylonian cuneiform, Kurush in Old Persian.
Ctesias stated on the authority of Parysatis, the wife of the Persian king Ochus, that her younger son was named Cyrus from the sun, as the Persians called the sun Kupos (Epit. Phot. 80; Plut. Artax. 1)
. In Zend, however, the sun is hware, which could not take the form Kupos in Old Persian, though in modern Persian it is khur, khir, and kher. The classical writers have given extraordinary accounts of his birth and rise to power All these versions have been shown to be unhistorical by contemporaneous cuneiform inscriptions. The most important of these are
(1) a cylinder inscription of Nabonidus, the last king of the Babylonian Empire, from Abu Habba (Sippara);
(2) an annalistic tablet written shortly after the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus;
(3) a proclamation of Cyrus of the same date . . . The proclamation of Cyrus shows that he was not a Zoroastrian like Darius and Xerxes, but that as he claimed to be the successor of the Babylonian kings, so also he acknowledged the supremacy of Bel-Merodaeh the supreme Babylonian god. Hence the restoration of the Jewish exiles was not due to any sympathy with monotheism, but was part of a general policy. Experience had taught him the danger of allowing a disaffected population to exist in a country which might be invaded by an enemy; his own conquest of Babylonia had been assisted by the revolt of a part of its population; and he therefore reversed the policy of deportation and denationalisation which had been attempted by the Assyrian and Baby-Ionian kings. The exiles and the images of their gods were sent back to their old homes; only in the case of the Jews, who had no images, it was the sacred vessels of the temple which were restored. (Prof. A. H. Sayce, LL. D.)
Cyrus: his character
To Greek literature Cyrus was the prince pre-eminent,--set forth as the model for education in childhood, self-restraint in youth, just and powerful government in manhood. Most of what we read of him in Xenophon’s Cyclopaedia is, of course, romance; but the very fact that, like our own king Arthur, Cyrus was used as a mirror to flash great ideals down the ages, proves that there was with him native brilliance and width of surface as well as fortunate eminence of position. He owed much to the virtue of his race. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Cyrus, God’s tool
Cyrus is neither chosen for his character, nor said [in the Isaiah passages] to be endowed with one. But that he is there, and that he does so much, is due simply to this, that God had chosen him. What he is endowed with is force, push, swiftness, irresistibleness. He is, in short, not a character, but a tool; and God makes no apology for using him but this, that he has the qualities of a tool. Now, we cannot help being struck with the contrast of all this, the Hebrew view of Cyrus, with the well-known Greek view of him. To the Greeks he is first and foremost a character. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The victories of Cyrus
We have vividly described to us the victories of Cyrus; in his whirlwind career, subduing the nations before him, loosing the loins of kings (that whole troop of vassal empires enumerated by Xenophon), and opening before him the hundred brazen gates of Babylon (also minutely described by Herodotus, as guarding alike the approaches to the river and the temple of Belus), and cutting in sunder the bars of iron. The spoil amassed on that occasion was probably unexampled in the annals of war; for besides the enormous wealth of palatial Babylon itself, it included the fabulous riches of Croesus, king of Lydia, who brought waggon-load after waggon-load to lay at the feet of the conqueror. The aggregate was computed to be equivalent to upwards of a hundred and twenty-six millions of our money. Well, therefore, might the prophet here chronicle, among the predestined exploits of this mighty prince (Isaiah 45:3), “the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places.” (J. R.Macduff, D. D.)
Loosing the loins of kings
The monarchs of eastern nations were accustomed to wear girdles about their loins, which were considered as giving strength and firmness to their bodies; and, being richly decorated, served as badges of royal dignity. When, therefore, God declares that He would deprive them of their girdles and loose their loins, the expression imports that He would divest them of their power and majesty, and reduce them to a mean and contemptible condition. (R. Macculloch.)
Special Divine instrumentalities in the world’s renovation
1. For the enlargement of His Church, God often selects special instruments. In setting into motion a whole system of agencies this is almost uniformly the case. We recognise the fact all along the history of the Church. We see men raised up with peculiar gifts and clothed with peculiar powers to effect certain great works. The text gives us a remarkable illustration of this method of Divine procedure. In the bosom of the Church itself there are two still more remarkable examples of this law; the two men who bore the largest part in the inauguration and establishment of the chief dispensations. Moses and Paul were not indifferent characters; nor were their training and position like that of the multitude. They stand out boldly in history as men of peculiar natural gifts and attainments. Their early discipline exalted their intrinsic power; while their relation to the people among whom their work was to be performed, and to the science of the age in which they lived, imparted special qualifications for their great mission, it is not that the human is thus exalted above the Divine, but simply that the Divine uses that kind and measure of humanity which are best fitted to accomplish its purposes.
2. It is just as certain that the great Sovereign chooses particular nations to effect certain parts of His work in the final triumph of the Gospel, as that He chooses certain individuals for some special operation “This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth My praise.” His sovereignty reaches back of the immediate work. It chooses according to the character of the nation; it reaches to the antecedent training and the natural characteristics which combine to prepare the nation most fully for the work; nay, this sovereignty in its far-reaching wisdom has been busy all along the history of the people in so ordering the moulding influences under which characters and position are attained, that when the time comes for them to enter into His special work, they will be found all ripe for His purpose. This nation, to whom the passage before us refers, is a marked illustration of this thought. The Jew was designed to be the conservator of the Word of God. He was chosen for this purpose. The object was not propagation, but conservation. The race by nature and education had just those qualities which fitted it for this work. Its wonderful tenacity of impression, its power to hold what once had fairly been forced into it by Divine energy, like the rock hardened around the crystal, belongs to its nature, reveals itself after Providence had shattered the nation, in that granite character which, under the fire of eighteen centuries, remains unchanged. At every step of the progress of Christianity since, illustrations multiply of the truth that God forms nations to His work, and chooses them because of their fitness to accomplish certain parts of that work. The Greek with his high mental culture and his glorious language--fit instrument through which the Divine Word breathed His life-giving truth; the Roman sceptred in power over the whole realm of civilisation, and undesignedly constructing the great highway for the Church of Jesus; the German, with his innate freedom of spirit, nourishing the thoughtful souls whose lofty utterances awoke, whose wondrous power disenthralled a sleeping and captive Church. (S. W. Fisher, D. D.)
I will go before thee
God going before
Man must go.
Each man is accomplishing a journey, going through a process. The only question is, How? Man may go, either with God or without Him. Whether we go with God or without Him, we shall find crooked places.
I. We should regard the text as A WARNING. There are crooked places.
II. The text is also A PROMISE. “I will go before thee.” God does not say where He will straighten our path; He does not say how; the great thing for us to believe is that there is a special promise for us, and to wait in devout hope for its fulfilment. He who waits for God is not misspending his time. Such waiting is true living--such tarrying is the truest speed.
III. The text is also A PLAN. It is in the word “before” that I find the plan, and it is in that word “before” that I find the difficulty on the human side. God does not say, I will go alongside thee; we shall go step by step: He says, I will go before thee. Sometimes it may be a long way before us, so that we cannot see Him; and sometimes it may be just in front of us. But whether beyond, far away, or here close at hand, the great idea we have to live upon is that God goes before us.
1. Let us beware of regarding the text as a mere matter of course. There is an essential question of character to be settled. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.”
2. Let us beware of regarding this text as a licence for carelessness Let us not say, “If God goes before me, and makes all places straight why need I care?” To the good man all life is holy; there is no step of indifference; no subject that does not bring out his best desires. “The place whereon thou standest is holy ground” is the expression of every man who knows what it is to have God going before him. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Treasures of darkness
If we be Zion’s pilgrims, heavenward bound, we shall find the need of such promises, in their spiritual fulfilment, as God here gave to Cyrus.
I. GOD’S PRELIMINARY WORK in “going before His people, making for them crooked places straight, breaking in pieces gates of brass, and cutting in sunder bars of iron.”
1. The first promise lays a foundation for all the rest; “I will go before thee.” How great must those difficulties be which need God Himself to go before us in order to overcome them! Surely they must be insuperable by any human strength. If we are rightly taught, we shall feel a need for the Lord to go before us, not only now and then, but every step of the way, for unless led and guided by Him, we are sure to go astray. How strikingly was this the case with the children of Israel. You may apply this promise to a variety of things.
(1) It is applicable not only to spiritual, but to temporal trials and perplexities--to His going before us both in providence and grace.
(2). But the words apply to the manifestation of His holy and sacred will.
(3) It is especially in the removal of obstructions that the Lord fulfils this part of the promise.
2. “And make crooked things straight.” This promise springs out of the former, and is closely connected with it; for it is only by the Lord s going before that things really crooked can be straightened. But what is meant by crooked places, and whence come they?
(1) Some are inherently crooked, that is, it is in their very nature to be so. Thus crooked tempers, dispositions, desires, wills, lusts are in themselves inherently crooked, because being bent out of their original state by sin, they do not now lie level with God’s holy will and Word.
(2) But there are crooked places in the path of God’s family, which are not inherently crooked as being sinful in themselves, but are crooked as made so by the hand of God to us. Of this kind are afflictions in body and mind, poverty in circumstances, trials in the family, persecution from superiors or ungodly relatives, heavy losses in business, bereavement of children, and, in short, a vast variety of circumstances curved into their shape by the hand of God, and so made. “crooked things” to us. Now, the Lord has promised, to make “crooked things straight.” Taken in its fullest extent, the promise positively declares that from whatever source they come, or of whatsoever nature they be, the Lord will surely straighten them. By this He manifests His power, wisdom, and faithfulness. But how does He straighten them? In two ways, and this according to their nature. Sometimes by removing them out of the way; and sometimes by reconciling our minds to them.
3. But the Lord also promised Cyrus that He would, by going before him, break in pieces the gates of brass, &c. Cyrus longed to enter the city of Babylon; but when he took a survey of the only possible mode of entrance, he saw it firmly closed against him with gates of brass and iron. Can we not find something in our experience which corresponds to this feeling in Cyrus? There is a longing in the soul after a certain object. We press forward to obtain it, but what do we find in the road? Gates of brass and bars of iron. Look, for instance, at our very prayers. Are not the heavens sometimes brass over our heads, so that, as Jeremiah complains, “they cannot pass through”? Nay, is not your very heart itself sometimes a gate of brass, as hard, as stubborn, and as inflexible? So the justice, majesty, and holiness of God, when we view these dread perfections of Jehovah with a trembling eye under the guilt of sin, stand before the soul as so many gates of brass. The various enemies, too, which beset the soul; the hindrances and obstacles without and within that stand in the path; the opposition of sin, Satan, self, and the world against all that is good and godlike--may not all these be considered “gates of brass” barring out the wished-for access into the city?
4. But there are also “bars of iron.” These strengthen the gates of brass and prevent them from being broken down or burst open, the stronger and harder metal giving firmness and solidity to the softer and weaker one. An unbelieving heart; the secret infidelity of the carnal mind; guilt of conscience produced by a sense of our innumerable wanderings from the Lord; doubts and fears often springing out of our own want of consistency and devotedness; apprehensions of being altogether deceived, from finding so few marks of grace and so much neglect of watchfulness and prayer--all these may be mentioned as bars of iron strengthening the gates of brass. Now, can you break to pieces these gates of brass, or cut in sunder the bars of iron? Here, then, when so deeply wanted, comes in the promise, “I will break,” &c.
II. THE GIFTS WHICH THE LORD BESTOWS UPON THEM, when He has broken to pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron, here called “treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places.”
1. “Treasures of darkness.” But is not this a strange expression? How can there be darkness in the city of Salvation of which the Lord, the Lamb, is the eternal light? The expression does not mean that the treasures themselves are darkness, but that they were hidden in darkness till they were brought to light. The treasures of Belshazzar, like the Bank bullion, were buried in darkness till they were broken up and given to Cyrus. It is so in a spiritual sense. Are there not treasures in the Lord Jesus? Yet, all these are “treasures of darkness,” so far as they are hidden from our eyes and hearts, till we are brought by His special power into the city of Salvation.
2. But the Lord promised also to give to Cyrus “the hidden riches of secret places,” that is, literally, the riches of the city which were stored up in its secret places. But has not this, also a spiritual meaning? Yes. Many are “the hidden riches of secret places” with which the God of all grace enriches His believing family. Look, for instance, at the Word of God. But observe, how the promises are connected with “crooked places,” “brazen gates,” and “iron bars,” and the going before of the Lord to remove them out of the way. Without this previous work we should be ignorant to our dying day of “the treasures of darkness”; we should never see nor handle “the hidden riches of secret places.”
III. THE BLESSED EFFECTS PRODUCED by what the Lord thus does and thus gives--a spiritual and experimental knowledge, that “He who has called them by their name is the God of Israel.” Observe the expression, “I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name.” What an individuality it stamps on the person addressed! How it makes religion a personal thing! But what is produced by this special, individual, and personal calling? Knowledge. What knowledge? Spiritual, heartfelt, and experimental. Of what? “That the Lord who called them by name is the God of Israel.” It is as “the God of Israel” that He manifests mercy and grace; that He never leaves nor forsakes the objects of His choice; that He fulfils every promise, defeats every enemy, appears in every difficulty, richly pardons every sin, graciously heals every backsliding, and eventually lands them in eternal bliss. Now, perhaps, we can see why God’s people have so many gates of brass and bars of iron, so many trials and severe temptations. This is to bring them into personal acquaintance with God, the covenant God of Israel; to make religion a reality. (J. C. Philpot.)
And I will give thee the treasures of darkness
There is a whole library of sacred philosophy in the words of the Psalmist on the relation subsisting between God and His creatures.
“That Thou givest them, they gather. Thou openest Thine hand, they are filled with good.” Perhaps one is hardly ever reminded more strongly of this fellowship of Providence and industry than when passing through a district seamed and bored and blackened by the mining operations in search of the metals which yield the wealth of a country, or of the hardly less precious coal, by the aid of which the iron, the copper, or the silver is smelted into useful forms. The ore, it is beyond the miner s province to fashion; God makes it to him a free present; but the digging, and the hoisting, and the smelting, and the moulding, and the chasing, and the carving, and the coining into currency, these things God no more does for man than man, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth. Let us learn to be grateful without being indolent. Let us equally take care to be diligent without being proud. There is a high moral and spiritual mineralogy, wherein we may become rich, “not with corruptible things, such as silver and gold.” There are caverns of unimaginable wealth, every grain of which comes from God’s free bounty, but not one grain of which man can touch, except he do it “in the sweat of his brow.” Bring to the text not only faith in God’s promise, but strong hands and swift feet to do according to God’s commandment. We are now ready to follow on into the figure we have borrowed, and show how frequently God blesses His people, as He provides for the workers or the owners of mineral quarries, fetching “treasures” out of “darkness,” and “hidden riches” out of “secret places.”
I. St. Paul represents THE CHRISTIAN FAITH as a secret which is now for the first time discovered and made known, and the implication of the apostle, whenever he employs the term, is that the great blessing which prophecies and types had contained, but, containing, had concealed, was now in Christ Jesus brought out as into open daylight for all men to behold and possess. It has never been questioned that this truth was the real meaning of the rending of the veil in the Temple at the moment of our Lord’s giving up of the ghost. For three hours there had been suspended over Mount Calvary a thick curtain of darkness; but at the ninth hour that veil, like the other close by, was “rent” also “in twain, from the top to the bottom.” I find in that darkness the awful symbol of the misery, and the ignorance, and the confusion whereof the world itself had been the victim all through the ages preceding the Advent. But the very same fact which tore down the rich drapery in the building dispelled the dense blackness on the mountain, and declared the very same doctrine that “Christ Jesus was the Saviour of all men, and specially of them that believe.” Learn to ascribe your redemption to the clouds of-misery behind which your Surety laid down His life.
II. Somewhat in this way it would not, perhaps, be extravagant to represent any one of ourselves, at the crisis of his CONVERSION, as looking towards the Saviour much as one of those spectators literally did when the darkness was beginning to clear off from the crucifixion. When the veil is rent, and the power of faith scatters the clouds, and the soul peering through catches the first glimpse of a Saviour, the rapture of being forgiven has, so to speak, been quarried and hewn out of the black deep pit of conviction and remorse.
III. It will be far less difficult to show that all along the journey of the Christian he digs his BEST AND BRIGHTEST MERCIES out of thick, and often terrible, gloom. I find some of you shut up in the deep pit of constant bodily pain, or infirmity. I find others of you wandering through the pitch dark avenues of a recent family funeral. There is a time for the digging of the gold. That is yours now. And there is a time for the burnishing and the chasing, and the putting on of the gold. That is not yet come. There is a place, says Solomon, for the sapphires in the stones of the earth; but the men who take the sapphires first out of the stones need all their skill and practice to tell which is which, and you would not thank the miner for the jewellery just left as he gets it. You must allow a fair time for the lapidary or the goldsmith to take up the business where the rough black denizens of the pit leave off--and “no affliction for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless, afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them who are exercised thereby.” (H. Christopherson.)
Treasures of darkness
As Cyrus, as a deliverer, was but a type of the Messiah, this promise has been, and is being, fulfilled in Christ in His great triumph over the powers of darkness. These words present a special phase of His triumphs. The preceding words have already found striking fulfilment, “I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight,” &c. But to Christ God has also given the treasures of darkness and the hidden riches of secret places.
I. In one sense, THIS IS TYPICAL OF ALL GOD’S DISCLOSURES. Those things which men discover to-day are treasures which have been in darkness for countless generations, jewels which have been concealed in hidden places during millenniums.
II. This is supremely true of THE ADVENT AND REDEMPTIVE WORK OF CHRIST. Look at the manner of His coming. See the poverty which surrounded His birth. Look at the nature of His life--“Without a place to lay His head”; “a Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” He was, more-over, “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” There is nothing very bright in that record. When Christ, in the hour of utter loneliness, uttered that piercing cry, “My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?” and darkness covered earth and heaven, then out of that dense gloom He who in the beginning made light to shine out of darkness, made the most glorious light to shine; so that from the Cross to-day there streams the greatest revelation with which God has ever enriched our race. Again, how graciously true this is of Christ’s redemptive work in view of the spiritual darkness of the world which He came to save! What a revelation of the world’s night we find in the advent of our Lord. Until then men knew not how dark this world was. These words only gain their full significance in the story of Christ’s redemption When He came the world was hopeless and undone. It had exhausted its energies in its numberless attempts to save and ennoble itself, and down deep in recesses of darkness and iniquity were buried the brightest talents with which humanity had been enriched--so many glorious impulses and high capacities prostituted to the vilest uses, or paralysed in the dark and made utterly useless. Oh, the countless lost pieces of silver, and the priceless jewels which He has rescued since then from hopeless degradation and sin!
III. This is gloriously true in THE EXPERIENCE OF THOSE WHO ACCEPT CHRIST AS THEIR SAVIOUR.
1. Was not the first hour of our spiritual enlightenment and enrichment a fulfilment of the same Divine promise?
2. Then, again, you have had your doubts and fears. They were terrible to bear at the time; yet out of them you were at length permitted to snatch a new wealth of assurance and joy.
3. This is true also, in the life of every one who has accepted Christ, of that other experience which darkens our vision, namely, that of sorrow in its many and varied forms. It is in darkness, too, that we learn trustfulness and faith. (D. Davies.)
Treasures of darkness
We cannot hear of the “treasures of darkness” without finding our interest quickened. We seem suddenly made aware of treasures we had never dreamed of; and aware, too, that what we had deemed empty, and even repellent, may be made to yield up most surprising wealth, not that merely of a temporal, perishable kind, such as some would call “treasures,” but what the wisest and most spiritual men would call such, under the blessed teaching of the Master (Matthew 6:19).
1. It ought not to be difficult for us to believe that there are spiritual treasures that we have never even got a glimpse of yet. Christ spoke of treasure “hid in a field.” That surely must have been among the treasures of darkness. And the Apostle Paul, long after, spoke of the “unsearchable riches of Christ.” What he had himself freely taken from this store made him feel himself rich indeed; so rich, that he had not the least inclination for anything that the world could give. One of the saddest and most mournful of all things for us would be to settle down contentedly with the notion that God had no treasures to bestow but what we see all about us with the utterly inexperienced eye! To think the common experience of life, to think our own experience, the limit of all things, would be to make life a very poor thing indeed.
2. God must have infinite treasures and pleasures which He does not want to keep in darkness unused. That ought to be an axiom with us. If we should never dream of speaking of ourselves as spiritually rich, it cannot be because either God has nothing better to bestow, or that He grudges to bestow it.
3. We seem to believe readily enough that the future may reveal to us glories that we cannot forecast. But why be content to postpone to a future state the higher degrees of true blessedness? Why not possess some of the treasures now?
4. The phrase suggests to us that what we deem empty, void, and even repellent as darkness, may contain things unspeakably precious. We speak of the “night of sorrow.” But it only requires a very moderate faith in God to believe that He is too good and kind ever to let a single sensitive being pass through such trials as are the lot of not a few, unless it were that only so can they be prepared for, and put in possession of, choicer good. But there is a darkness far blacker than the night of affliction and sorrow. It is this awful gloom, this darkness that may be felt, which we all feel at times to involve the moral world. This is a world of tremendous mystery to the morally sensitive soul. Let a man ever come to see that a world which he cannot but feel to be evil to the core, is nevertheless the very best possible school for man in the early stage of his training for immortality; that this discipline of evil is absolutely essential for a while; that he would clearly be a poorer creature without it; that it is the conflict with evil which brings out some of the most precious qualities of the soul; that without evil, good itself could not be known; that God Himself could not be so gloriously revealed to the heart as He is through the occasion that every man’s sin affords; that the greatest proof that God is Love must have been for ever wanting, had He, by restraint and force, mechanically prevented the entrance of evil into the universe. Only let one--this one--little ray of light fall upon the darkness, and you will feel how priceless are the treasures of darkness!
5. But the darkness can be made to yield up treasures only to those who will listen for the voice Divine. To the upright there will arise light in darkness. It is only the children of light who can go into the darkness, and from it fetch out the hid treasures. “God is light: in Him is no darkness at all.” Christ is the Light of the World: whoso walketh with Him shall have the Light of Life. (H. H. Dobney.)
Did Cyrus acknowledge Jehovah?
The prophet apparently expects that Cyrus will come to acknowledge Jehovah as the true God and the author of his success. Whether this hope was actually realised is more than ever doubtful since the discovery of cuneiform inscriptions, in which Cyrus uses the language of crude polytheism. (Records of the Past.)
For Jacob My servant’s sake
Great men the servants of God
It appears from this prediction, taken in connection with its wonderful accomplishment, that God justly claims a sovereign right to make great men the instruments of executing His wise and benevolent designs.
God claims a supreme right to the services of great men, in almost every page of His Word. How often do we hear Him saying of this, of that, and of the other great character, He is My servant! How often do we meet with this sovereign language, My servant Moses; My servant Job; My servant Jacob; My servant Israel; My servant Isaiah; My servant Nebuchadnezzar! But He more fully displays this prerogative by publishing to the world what great men shall do, before they are brought into being. He claimed the services of Solomon, the wisest of men, and appointed the business of his life, before he was born (1 Chronicles 22:9-10). In the prediction concerning Nebuchadnezzar, God claimed a sovereign right to employ him as the minister of His vengeance, in punishing the people of His wrath. He asserted His absolute Divinity and sovereignty, in His prophetic address to Cyrus. And He displayed the same sovereign right to the powers and influence of great men, in His predictions of Alexander the Great, of Augustus Caesar, of John the Baptist, of Constantine the Great, of Mohammed, and of the Man of Sin.
1. He gives men their superior natural capacity for doing good.
2. He presides over their education, and gives them the means of improving their superior talents, and forming themselves for eminent usefulness.
3. God gives them the disposition, which they at any time have, to employ their superior abilities in promoting the happiness of mankind.
4. God gives great men the opportunity of employing all their power and influence in executing His wise and benevolent designs.
5. It is God who succeeds their exertions for the benefit of the world. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me
Cyrus girded by God
The contrast to “loose the loins of kings” (Isaiah 45:1).
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The girdings of Jehovah
I. GOD’S PLAN, AS IT AFFECTS SOCIETY.
1. It is comprehensive, sweeping from age to age, threading millenniums, building its structure from the dust of earth’s earliest age to the emergence of the new heavens and earth at the close of time. But it is minute and particular.
2. He works through individuals. The story of man is for the most part told in the biographies of men. It is through human instruments that God executes His beneficent purposes, His righteous judgments. Through Columbus, He draws aside the veil from the coast-line of America. Through a Watt and a Stephenson, He endows men with the co-operation of steam; through a Galvani and an Edison, with the ministry of electricity. Through a De Lesseps, He unites the waters of the eastern and western seas, and brings the Orient and Occident together. Through a Napoleon He shatters the temporal power of the Pope; and by a Wilberforce strikes the fetters from the slave. Men do not know the purpose of God in what they are doing.
3. God’s use of men does not interfere with their free action. This is clearly taught in more than one significant passage in Scripture--Joseph’s brethren. Herod, Pilate, and the religious leaders of the Jews, were swept before a cyclone of passion and jealousy; and it was with wicked hands that they crucified and slew the Lord of glory: but they were accomplishing the determinate counsel of God.
II. GOD’S PLAN, AS IT AFFECTS INDIVIDUALS. We are all conscious of an element in life that we cannot account for. Other men have started life under better auspices, and with larger advantages than we, but somehow they have dropped behind in the race, and are nowhere to be seen. Our health has never been robust, but we have had more working days in our lives than those who were the athletes of our school. We have been in perpetual peril, travelling incessantly, and never involved in a single accident; whilst others were shattered in their first journey from their doorstep. Why have we escaped, where so many have fallen? Why have we climbed to positions of usefulness and influence, which so many more capable ones have missed? Why has our reputation been maintained, when better men than ourselves have lest their footing and fallen beyond recovery? There is not one of us who cannot see points in the past where we had almost gone, and our footsteps had well-nigh slipped: precipices along the brink of which we went at nightfall, horrified in the morning to see how near our footprints had been to the edge. Repeatedly we have been within a hair-breadth of taking some fatal step. How strangely we were plucked out of that companionship! How marvellonsly we were saved from that marriage, from that investment, from embarking in that ship, travelling by that train, taking shares in that company! It is God who has girded us, though we did not know Him. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The girding of the Almighty
Christ Himself testifies to the girding of the Almighty when He says, “To this end was I born, and for this purpose came I into the world.” Abraham was girded for a particular work and mission, in what is otherwise denominated his call. Joseph, in Egypt, distinguishes the girding of God’s hand, when he comforts his guilty brothers in the assurance, “So it was not you that sent me hither, but God.” Moses and Samuel were even called by name, and set to their great life-work in the same manner. And what is Paul endeavouring in all the stress and pressure of his mighty apostle-ship, but to perform the work for which God’s Spirit girded him at his call, and to apprehend that for which he was apprehended of Christ Jesus? (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Every man’s life a plan of God
God has a definite life-plan for every human person, girding him, visibly or invisibly, for some exact thing, which it will be the true significance and glory of his life to have accomplished.
1. The Holy Scriptures not only show us explicitly that God has a definite purpose in the lives of men already great, but they show us how frequently, in the conditions of obscurity and depression, preparations of counsel are going on, by which the commonest offices are to become the necessary first chapter of a great and powerful history. David among the sheep; Elisha following after the plough; Nehemiah bearing the cup; Hannah, who can say nothing less common than that she is the wife of Elkanah and a woman of a sorrowful spirit,--who, that looks on these humble people, at their humble post of service, and discovers, at last, how dear a purpose God was cherishing in them, can be justified in thinking that God has no particular plan for him, because he is not signalised by any kind of distinction?
2. Besides, what do the Scriptures show us, but that God has a particular care for every man, a personal interest in him, and a sympathy with him and his trials, watching for the uses of his one talent as attentively and kindly, and approving him as heartily, in the right employment of it, as if He had given him ten; and what is the giving out of the talents itself, but an exhibition of the fact that God has a definite purpose, charge, and work for every man?
3. They also make it the privilege of every man to live in the secret guidance of God; which is plainly nugatory, unless there is some chosen work, or sphere, into which he may be guided.
4. God also professes in His Word to have purposes prearranged for all events; to govern by a plan which is from eternity even, and which, in some proper sense, comprehends everything. And what is this but another way of conceiving that God has a definite place and plan adjusted for every human being?
5. Turning now from the Scriptures to the works of God, how constantly are we met here by the fact, everywhere visible, that ends and uses are the regulative reasons of all existing things?
6. But there is a single but very important and even fearful qualification. Things all serve their uses, and never break out of their place. They have no power to do it. Not so with us. We are able, as free beings, to refuse the place and the duties God appoints; which, if we do, then we sink into something lower and less worthy of us. That highest and best condition for which God designed us is no more possible. And yet, as that was the best thing possible for us in the reach of God’s original counsel, so there is a place designed for us now, which is the next best possible. God calls us now to the best thing left, and will do so till all good possibility is narrowed down and spent. And then, when He cannot use us any more for our own good, He will use us for the good of others--an example of the misery and horrible desperation to which any soul must come, when all the good ends, and all the holy callings of God’s friendly and fatherly purpose are exhausted. Or it may be now that, remitting all other plans and purposes in our behalf, He will henceforth use us, wholly against our will, to be the demonstration of His justice and avenging power before the eyes of mankind; saying over us, as He did over Pharaoh in the day of His judgments, “Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Finding God’s life-plan
But the inquiry will be made, supposing all this to be true, how can we ever get hold of this life-plan God has made for us, or find our way into it?
1. Observe some negatives that are important, and must be avoided.
(1) You will never come into God’s plan if you study singularity; for if God has a design or plan for every man’s life, then it is exactly appropriate to his nature; and, as every man’s nature is singular and peculiar to himself,--as peculiar as his face or look,-then it follows that God will lead everyman into a singular, and peculiar life, without any study of singularity on his part.
(2) As little will he seek to copy the life of another. No man is ever called to be another.
(3) In this view, also, you are never to complain of your birth, your training, your employments, your hardships; never to fancy that you could be something if only you had a different lot and sphere assigned you. God understands His own plan, and He knows what you want, a great deal better than you do.
(4) Another mistake is that, while you surrender and renounce all thought of making up a plan, or choosing out a plan, for yourself, as one that you set by your own will, you also give up the hope or expectation that God will set you in any scheme of life, where the whole course of it will be known, or set down beforehand. If you go to Him to be guided, He will guide you; but He will not comfort your distrust, or half-trust of Him, by showing you the chart of all His purposes concerning you. He will only show you into a way where, if you go cheerfully and trustfully forward, He will show you on still further.
2. But we must not stop in negatives. How, then, or by what more positive directions can a man, who really desires to do it, come into the plan God lays for him, so as to live it and rationally believe that he does?
(1) Consider the character of God, and you will draw a large deduction from that; for all that God designs for you will be in harmony with His character. He is a being infinitely good, just, true. Therefore, you are to know that He cannot really seek anything contrary to this in you.
(2) Consider your relation to Him as a creature. All created wills have their natural centre and rest in God’s will.
(3) You have a conscience, which is given to be an interpreter of His will, and thus of your duty, and, in both, of what you are to become.
(4) God’s law and His written Word are guides to present duty, which, if faithfully accepted, will help to set you in accordance with the mind of God and the plan He has laid for you. “I am a stranger in the earth,” said one; “hide not Thy commandments from me”; knowing that God’s commandments would give him a clue to the true meaning and business of his life.
(5) Be an observer of providence. Study your trials, your talents, the world’s wants, and stand ready to serve God now, in whatever He brings to your hand.
(6) Consult your friends, and especially those who are most in the teaching of God.
(7) Go to God Himself, and ask for the calling of God; for, as certainly as He has a plan for you, He will somehow guide you into it. This is the proper work of His Spirit. Young man, or woman! this is the day of hope to you. All your best opportunities are still before you. And what shall I say to the older man, who is further on in his course and is still without
God in the world? The best end, the next best, and the next are gone, and nothing but the dregs of opportunity are left. And still Christ calls even you. There is a place still left for you; not the best and brightest, but a humble and good one. (H. Bushnell, D. D.)
Cyrus directed, equipped, and prospered by God, though not one of God’s enlightened worshippers
Idolatry in its grosser forms was unknown in Persia. The religion of Persia recognised one God, beneficent in character and work and purpose, revealed under the symbol of light. This one God, however, was not clothed with infinite attributes. His dominion was limited by the existence and activity of a rival spirit of evil, equally great and unbegotten with Himself. It was in this imperfect faith that the great and noble Cyrus was trained. Till after his contact with the Jews, he did not know God in His essential nature as spirit without symbol, supreme in His sovereignty, and infinite in the attributes that clothed Him. And yet in his temper there was a ready answerableness to the unseen touch of God’s hand, an unconscious obedience to sacred purposes he but dimly discerned, and a providential sanctification for the fulfilment of God’s counsels, in spite of his imperfect conceptions of God. (T. G. Selby.)
Ignorance that is inseparable from the circumstances in which men are cradled, ignorance that is entirely involuntary, does not disqualify men from being the instruments of God’s will, and receiving some of the most lustrous honours dispensed by His hand. (T. G. Selby.)
The worth of our several ministries
The worth of our several ministries cannot always be tested by the degree of knowledge that informs them. Some men, like the bees, do much of their work in the sunshine. They fulfil the tasks of life in the light of a clear illumination. For them the knowledge of God always precedes a vocation from God. There are men also who are like the coral insect, which works a fathom or two below the surface of the sea, and dies when the reef upon which it has laboured is just beginning to tower into the sunlight. (T. G.Selby.)
The characteristic distinction between inspiration and providential equipment
Providential equipment consists in being girded by a God who may be more or less unknown. Inspiration implies that God’s chosen agent has all his faculties filled with God’s presence as He girds. (T. G.Selby, D. D.)
The providence of the unknown
I. Is it not A REASONABLE AND A CONSISTENT THOUGHT, that the providential equipment, vocation, and sovereignty in a man’s life should transcend his knowledge of God and God’s purpose?
1. God may sometimes use a man who seems half a heathen, to remind His people that His providential sovereignty is larger than all finite thought. In the early days of the British rule in India, the old Mogul at Delhi, and the mediatised native sovereigns in other cities, were allowed independent rights within their own palace precincts. The British rule did not intrude there. Now and again half-clad slave girls and palace dependents, in terror for their lives, and wretches waled and trembling with recent chastisements, would escape the palace precincts and seek protection under the humane governments that had been planted in the surrounding cities. These spacious palaces were like little islands of the old despotisms, cruelties, and oppresssions bristling above the tide of constitutional right and privilege and liberty that was rising far and near. In God’s empire there are no spots of organised diabolism of that sort, that are separated from the control, direction, and over-rule of providential law. Alas! it is only too easy to find signs of individual and collective resistance to God’s law; but there are no indrawn spheres or reservations, dominated by pagan ignorance, from which His power, sovereignty, and prerogative are shut out. He rules where He is not worshipped, directs where He is not recognised, girds where He is not known.
2. In going beyond the circle of the elect nations to choose an instrument for the fulfilment of His counsels, God seems to remind us that the motive of His providential activity is altogether Divine. He uses the imperfectly taught Gentile, and puts upon him honour that might seem to belong to the Jew, to illustrate the sovereignty of His grace.
3. Partial ignorance of God may be an appointed condition for the test and development of faith. It is not only the virtuous heathen who is girded by an unrecognised Hand and made the agent in providential plans and purposes he cannot fathom. The distinction between Isaiah and Cyrus, between Cyrus and ourselves, is one of degree. On its intellectual side, at least, our religious knowledge is still imperfect, fragmentary, hesitating. God suffers it to be so, possibly that we may be the better disciplined in that humility which is the basis of faith. I have sometimes thought that so long as heathen darkness does not involve a gross and demoralising misrepresentation of God, but only a partial privation of knowledge, it offers the occasion for the exercise of a higher faith than that which is possible amidst the breaking twilights of Christian knowledge. The devout and pure-minded pagan, like Cyrus, who trusts his moral instincts without any adequate knowledge of their Divine origin, who with touching fidelity follows an unsyllabled vocation from heavens that have not yet opened themselves in revelation and definite testimony, who accepts an equipment from a Hand that has touched and guided him out of the darkness, is perhaps a more splendid example of faith than the man who manifests the same trust and loyalty and obedience in the midst of clearer intellectual conceptions of God. The puzzle of the long pagan centuries is not so painful and oppressive if we look at it from this standpoint.
II. EXAMPLES OF THIS PROVIDENTIAL GIRDING BY AN UNKNOWN GOD will readily occur to us that seem to conform to the type represented by Cyrus.
1. If we think of the men, the tradition of whose teaching and example is intertwined with all that is highest and best in the life of the nations outside the range of Christendom, we shall see that these men have been girded for their moral conquests and guided to their ascendencies over their fellow-men by the same unrecognised Hand that guided and girded this elect Persian. It is, perhaps, impossible to recall the name of a great and permanently honoured teacher in the past history of India, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece or Rome, whose influence rested upon an immoral doctrine or a contradiction of conscience. There must have been such leaders in the insignificant races that relapsed into cannibalism, scalp-hunting, and animal debasement. But no such names appear in the histories of the great civilised empires.
2. We must not judge the issues of the social and political movements of the present and past times by the measure of Divine knowledge they exhibit. Some of these movements, however little they seem to recognise God, are empowered by His mysterious hand, and minister to the accomplishment of His secret purpose. The dark despotisms enthroned over the ancient world annealed men into stable communities. And there are doubtless providential issues of the highest value in the democratic movements that are agitating Europe to-day, however reluctant those movements may be to recognise God.
3. Does not the fact that the theology of the modern scientist is sometimes very dim and defective tempt us to deny the Divine authority of his vocation and to discredit the providential issue in the special work he is called to do? Some of the schools of research and experiment and invention to which we are most deeply indebted are indifferent and even hostile to the claims of religion. And yet God calls the man of science to his work, vouchsafes the needful equipment for success, and guides all the far-off issues to which that work may tend.
4. And all this is true for ourselves. The knowledge possessed by those of us who know God best is, after all, infinitesimal in amount and degree. It is nothing in comparison with what remains to be known. It seems we can scarcely be the true servants of God and doing Divine work unless we have broader and brighter and more penetrating views of God’s nature. We are crushed by the inevitable secularisms of our life, and cannot believe that we are breathing the sacred atmosphere that encircles God’s priests and kings. It seems, at times, as though God, and providence, and supernatural vocation, and the high sanctions under which we seek to bring ourselves, were dreams. We are haunted by the thought that there is some subtle curse of ineradicable atheism cleaving to our inmost souls. In spite of the limit in our vision and the miserable failure in the spirit of our service, He is guiding us to beneficent conquests, and strengthening us to achieve holy emancipations, and fitting us for eternal honours. He was making us ready for service of some sort, when we knew far less about Him than we know to-day. And it is so still. And even after God seems to have been revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, how often do we find God becoming a hidden and an unknown God to us in His providential relations! At times it may seem rather as though some malignant demon were presiding over our lives, or at least sharing the sovereignty. But beyond the widest bound of our faith and knowledge there is providential guiding and girding and victory. And these words seem to suggest solemn comfort to us in view of the final conflict to which we shall all one day be brought. We shall enter the world to come as conquerors girded for our triumph by an unseen Hand. God’s elect servants sometimes die in circumstances that make thoughts of God impossible. Perhaps they are snatched away by unexpected accident. They leave life in a struggle that petrifies thought and feeling. In that solemn hour of darkness and humiliation and mental inaptitude, God, unknown and unrecognised, girds for the victory still. Let us not forget that, though the girding is often in darkness, the motive of this girding in shadows is the inbringing of the perfect life. (T. G. Selby.)
The light of God’s love seen in pagan darkness
It is when the sun is in eclipse that the astronomer is able to see the fountains of glowing hydrogen that rise out of the inner substance of the sun and project their splendour for thousands and tens of thousands of miles beyond its surface. The strange and superb spectacle is visible only on the margin that lies between the incandescent body and the sphere of less luminous space that surrounds it. And so there are sublime illustrations of God’s providential love and care that can be most nobly seen in contrast with pagan darkness. (T. G.Selby.)
Pagan teachers enlightened by God
Confucius was the instrument for keeping alive in China a morality that was almost as pure as the morality of the decalogue. He stamped out all traces of Moloch worship. He can be quoted with commanding effect against many of the cruelties and superstitions of the present day. Gautama Buddha taught a morality equally pure, and so emphasised the demerit of sin as to make his teaching the best available basis that can be found for the evangelical doctrine of the atonement. The well-considered and dispassionate and reverent scepticism of Socrates acted as a solvent of Greek superstition, and prepared the way for the thoughtful Christianity of Alexandria. Mohammed gave form and force to a system which, in spite of its excesses and fanaticisms, has been a useful protest against idolatry, and has gathered together into a simple civilisation and worship tribes that would otherwise have been incurably degraded by fetich worship. Now, are we to suppose that it was without any supreme direction or control that these famous teachers conspired together to support these high theories of life and conduct? They were not prophets, because they had not the light which brought into view the mysterious Person who guided, equipped, and succoured them. But they were providential instruments, instruments that in spite of their defective discernments were plastic to God’s controlling purpose. (T. G. Selby.)
God’s beneficent agency in the lives of those who ignore Him
“Man cannot exclude Me from his little universe; even though he deny My existence and denounce My claim I am still there. I water the garden of the atheist, and bring his flowers to summer bloom and his fruits to autumnal glory. Men deny Me, curse Me, flee from Me I am still round about them, and their life is more precious to Me than is their blasphemy detestable, and until the very last I will work for them and with them, and if they go to perdition it shall be through the very centre of, My heart’s tenderest grace.” “I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
A God-girded life
Who is that boy sitting on the steps there? He has a hat on that was made for any head but his own; and his coat, who made it? His mother, very likely--rough spun, not too well fitting. What is he waiting for? To get the job of sweeping the steps he sits on? Perhaps. Years pass by, and a portly man comes down those steps. Broad his face, a great round shining blessing, kindness in his eye, power in the uplifting of his hand. Who is he? That is the boy, grown now fully, physically, intellectually and socially. The boy and the man are both Horace Greeley, an editorial prince, a man whose writings no one among his countrymen can afford to decline to read. “I girded thee, I brought thee to those steps, I set thee down upon them, I appointed an angel to watch thee all the time: it was My way of nursing and caring for thee, and training thee.” He bringeth the blind by a way that they know not. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God in national life
Nations are not cards, with which politicians play at gambling: they may think they do, they may seem to do so, but the Lord reigneth. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The unknown influence of God
Cyrus is now proved to have been a polytheist. Yet even he was girded by the unknown God of heaven and earth. Let us consider this unknown influence of God.
I. IT SPRINGS FROM THE ALMIGHTY POWER OF GOD. God is not merely a passive object of worship. He exerts active influence. He did not only work in the past in creating the world. He is a living, active God now. Jesus said, “My Father worketh hitherto.” Perhaps the poorest definition of God ever framed is that of “A power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness.” Still, even this meagre description of Divinity recognises the fact of an active Divine influence is not limited by our confession of it, nor by our willingness to submit to it. It inspired the eye of the Greek artist and the tongue of the Greek orator as truly as those of a Christian Chrysostom and Fra Angelico.
II. IT IS DIRECTED BY THE INFINITE GOODNESS OF GOD. We circumscribe this goodness to a pale of grace and a day of grace; but it overflows our boundaries and breaks out, free as the air and broad as the sunlight. God does not wait to be called. He is the first to awaken His slumbering children. God thinks of the heathen, and gives strength to those who know Him not. Then no doubt if a Chinese Mandarin pronounces a just sentence, or a Hindu Pundit utters a true thought, or an African chief vindicates the rights of an oppressed tribe, the goodness of these heathen men is an outcome of God’s goodness to them. Let us take heart: there is more grace in the world than we know of.
III. IT AIMS AT THE EXECUTION OF THE WILL OF GOD. Cyrus is called God’s shepherd (Isaiah 44:28). So even Nebuchadnezzar, a man of a very different character, is called by God “My servant” (Jeremiah 43:10).
1. Some serve God when they think to oppose Him. As the gale that seems to be tearing the ship to pieces may be driving her the faster to her haven, so Satan, in Job, aiming at opposition to the right, occasioned the most glorious vindication of it. Persecutors often help the cause they hate.
2. Many, like Cyrus, serve God unconsciously. As the corn ministers to our sustenance unwittingly, and as science reveals the glory of God, even when the naturalists who pursue it are agnostics. Lessons--
(1) The unknown influence of God should lead to our knowing God. We have not to search the heavens for the unseen God. He is nigh us. Our own experience and the blessings of our own life should open our eyes to the goodness of God.
(2) This influence, once recognised, should lead us to trust God. If God girded Cyrus the heathen, will He not gird Israel His people?
(3) This influence should warn us against neglecting the recognition of God. We cannot escape from God. To do so would be our own undoing. But the hand which girds can ungird!
(4) This influence should prompt us to greater zeal in mission work. For God claims the heathen by His present influence on them. He has begun the work and will help His servants in it. It is sad that millions should be left in ignorance of the hand that girds them. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
I am the Lord, and there is none else
The beneficent sovereignty of God
The key-thought to all the intricacies of the whole of this passage is that God is the absolute Author of all that exists and the infinite Supreme Ruler of all events; and the implied, though not expressed inference from this claim is, that He is to be absolutely trusted in the matter and manner of Israel’s redemption from Babylon.
In the 7 th verse, the attitude which the prophet makes the Almighty assume is most absolute. Why summon Cyrus, a heathen prince? Why not one of their own nation, a prince of their own people? The answer to this implied objection is contained in Isaiah 45:9-11. “Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker,” &c. Will Israel be more wise than God who made him and the world and rules them in His own manner? The question in the 11 th verse means, “Will ye take the disposition of things out of My hands, and direct Me how I am to deal with My own chosen people?” The 12 th and 13 th verses are intended to cairn the anxieties of the exiles in reference to Cyrus. He who created all things had also raised up Cyrus, whose victorious career had awakened the fears of the exiles; but Jehovah had in righteousness summoned him to the work, and this was to be the guarantee that Cyrus would build up Jerusalem again, and set the captives free, and that without redemption of money. This whole passage may have its drift and meaning summed up in a single sentence. It is an appeal of God to His people to leave the whole management of their redemption in His hands, and to let His power, wisdom, and righteousness reassure their minds under any difficulties or fears that may trouble them. (C. Short, M. A.)
I form the light, and create darkness
Evil in the Old Testament
There is no thought in the Old Testament of reducing all evil, moral and physical, to a single principle.
Moral evil proceeds from the will of man, physical evil from the will of God, who sends it as the punishment of sin. The expression “create evil” implies nothing more than that. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Evil and God
Certainly evil as an act is not God’s immediate work, but the possibility of evil is, its self-punishment, and therefore the sense of guilt and the evil of punishment in the broadest sense. (F. Delitszch, D. D.)
God’s relation to evil
Soften it down as we will, it is a tremendous claim, a claim which plunges our thoughts into impenetrable mysteries, and suggests problems we cannot solve. And yet, it must also be admitted, that it meets and satisfies the cravings both of intellect and heart as no easier, no dualistic, theory does or can do. The universe is so obviously one that the intellect demands unity, and will be satisfied with nothing short of one Sovereign Lord, one Supreme Governor of the universe. And how can our hearts be at rest until we know and are sure that God rules over the kingdom of darkness as well as in the kingdom of light; that the evils which befall us are under His control no less than the blessings which enrich and gladden us; that wherever we wander, and through whatever sorrowful changes we pass, we are never for a single moment out of His hand? These mysteries will never become credible to us except as the mysteries of Energy, Life, Thought become credible to us, by patient and steadfast mental toil. On these terms, though on no other, the mystery here announced by Isaiah--that darkness as well as light, evil as well as good, are under the control of God, and must therefore be consistent both with His power and His goodness--will, I believe, become credible to us. And in considering this question it will be well for us to determine, first of all, what, and how much, of the evil that exists we ourselves can honestly attribute immediately to God our Maker.
1. For, obviously, much of the evil within and around us is of our own making.
2. Much has also been of our neighbours’ making We inherited, with much that was good, some evil bias from our fathers. We have often had to breathe an atmosphere charged with moral infections which sprang from the corrupt habits of the world around us. Our education was not good, or was not wholly good and wise. We have had to live and trade, to work and play, with men whose influence on us, if often beneficial, has also been often injurious. The laws, maxims, customs of the little world in which we have moved have done much to blunt and lower our moral tone, to encourage us in self-seeking or self-indulgence, to countenance us in yielding to our baser passions and desires. As we look back and think of all that we have lost and suffered, it is probable that we attribute far more of the evils which have fallen on us to men than to God.
3. Much that seems evil to us is not really evil, or is not necessarily evil, or is not altogether evil. Cyrus and his Persians had such evils as noxious plants and animals, excessive heat and cold, famine, drought, earthquake, storms, disease, and sudden death in their minds mainly when they spoke of the works of Ahriman, the eternal and malignant antagonist of God. But, as we know, these apparent ills are not necessarily ills at all, or they are the products of causes which work for good on the whole, or they carry with them compensations so large that the world would be the poorer for their loss. To take but a few illustrations. The storms, that wreck a few ships and destroy a few lives, clear and revivify the air of a whole continent, and carry new health to the millions in populous cities pent. The constant struggle for existence among plants and animals is a necessary condition of the evolution of their higher and more perfect species. To variations of heat and cold, and even to excessive variations, we owe the immense variety of the climates and conditions under which we live; and to these variations of climate the immense variety and abundance of the harvests by which the world is fed. Is adversity an evil? It is to the struggle with adversity that we owe many of out” highest virtues. And as we are driven to toil by the sting of want, and trained to courage by the assaults of adversity, so also we are moved to thought by the perplexities of life, and to trust and patience by its sorrows and losses and cares. We should not realise how much of good there is in our lives if the current of our days were never vexed by ill winds. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Evil: its origin, junction, and end
There is a hypothesis, a theory of the origin, and function, and end of evil suggested by Scripture which seems an eminently reasonable one; a theory which confirms the claim of God to be the Creator and Lord of evil, and disposes of that dualistic hypothesis which recognises two rival and opposed Powers at work in the world around us and in the mind of man.
1. When we contemplate the universe of which we form part, the first impression made on us is of its immense variety; but, as we continue to study it, the final and deepest impression it makes upon us is that, under this immense and beautiful variety, there lies an an-pervading unity. As it is with us, so it has been with the race at large. At first men were so profoundly impressed by the variety of the universe that they split it up into endless provinces, assigned to each its ruling spirit, and worshipped gods of heaven and of earth, gods of mountains and plains, of sea and land, of air and water, of rivers and springs, of fields and woods, trees and flowers, of hearth and home, of the individual, the clan, the nation, the empire. Yet even then there hung in the dark background of their thoughts some conviction of the underlying unity of the universe, as was proved by their conception of an inscrutable Destiny or Fate, to which gods and men were alike subject, and by which all the ages of time were controlled. This conviction grew and deepened as the world went spinning down the grooves of change, until now Science herself admits that, by a thousand different paths of investigation and thought, it is led to the conclusion that, if there be a God at all, there can be but one God; that, if the universe had a Maker, it could have had but one Maker; that if human life is under rule, there can be but one ruler over all. There may be one God,--that to Science is still an open question; but there cannot be more than one,--that question is closed, and Science herself stands to guard the way to it as with a sword in her hand. But if there be only one Supreme Lord, there cannot, of course, be any rival Power to His, any Power that introduces alien forces or works by other laws. There may be subordinate powers; and at times these may seem to oppose Him, to contend against Him. But one Power or Will is supreme; for, as the very word itself suggests, the universe is an unity,--a vast complex of many forces perhaps and many laws, but still a single and organised whole. In reverting to the Persian hypothesis of two antagonistic Powers, therefore, Mill sinned against the most settled conclusion of modern thought. Now, if we either believe in one supreme Creator and Lord, or, following Mill’s advice, lean to that conclusion as hard as we can, our next step is to conceive, as best we may, what this great first Cause, this creative and ruling Power, is like. Accordingly, we look around us to find that which is highest in the universe, sure that in that which is highest we shall find that which most resembles the Most High. And in the whole visible creation we find nothing so high as man, no force of so Divine a quality and temper as the will of man, when once that will is guided by wisdom and impelled by love. To him alone of all visible creatures is the strange power accorded of consciously and intentionally arresting or modifying the action of the great physical forces, of conquering Nature by obeying her, of changing her course by a skilfull application of her own laws. So that, even though the Bible did not assure us that man was made in the image of God, reason would compel us to conclude that, since the Creator of all things must include in Himself all the forces displayed in the work of His hands, and since we must see most of Him in the highest of His works, we must see most of Him in man, and in that which is highest in man,--namely, thought, will, affection. Reason has reached this conclusion in that ancient oracle: “Would you know God? Look within.”
2. Now we are prepared to take our next step, and ask: How evil came to be? and how, if God is responsible for it, we can reconcile it both with His perfect goodness and His perfect power?
(1) For the origin of evil we must go back to the creation of all things, and be content to use words which, though quite inadequate to the subject, may nevertheless convey true impressions of it. If the conception of God we have just framed be a true one, then there must have been a time when the Great Creative Spirit dwelt alone. And in that Divine solitude the question arose whether a creation, an universe, should be called into being, and of what kind it should be. Or, perhaps, we may rather say, that, just as the intelligent and creative spirit of man must work and act, so the creative Spirit of God urged Him to commence “the works of His hands.” However we may conceive or phrase it, let us suppose the physical universe determined upon as the stage on which active intelligences were to play their part; and then ask yourselves what is implied in the very nature of active intelligent creatures such as we are, and whether anything less than such creatures could satisfy the Maker and Lord of all. Would you have God surround Himself with a merely inanimate world, or tenant that world with mere automata, mere puppets, with no will of their own, capable, indeed, of reflecting His own glory back on Him, but incapable of a voluntary affection, a spontaneous and unforced obedience? Why, even you yourselves cannot gain full scope for your powers until you are surrounded, or surround yourselves, with beings capable of loving you freely, and obeying you with a cheerful and unforced accord, beings whose wills are their own and who yet make them yours. How much less, then, can you imagine that God should be content with a purely mechanical obedience, with anything short of a voluntary obedience and affection? But if you admit so much as this, consider, next, what is implied in the very nature of creatures such as these. If free to think truly, must they not be free to think untruly? if free to love, must they not be free not to love? if free to obey, must they not be free to disobey? The very creation of beings in themselves good involves the tremendous risk of their becoming evil. Nay, if we consider the matter a little more closely we shall find that there was more to be confronted than the mere risk of the introduction of evil. To me it seems a dead certainty, a certainty which must have been foreseen and provided for in the eternal counsels of the Almighty, that in the lapse of ages, with a vast hierarchy of creatures possessed of freewill, some among them would assert and prove their freedom by disobedience. How else could man, for instance, assure himself that he was free, that his will was in very deed his own? Are we not impatient of any law even by which we are bound, or suspect that we are bound, however good the law may be in itself? Free creatures, again, creatures with intelligence, will, passion, are active creatures: and there is something, as all observers are agreed, in the very nature of activity which blunts and weakens our sense of inferiority, dependence, accountability. The Bible affirms that what reason might have anticipated actually took place. It tells us that both in heaven and on earth the creatures God had made did thus fall away from Him, doing their own will instead of His, taking their own course instead of the course marked out and hedged in for them by His pure and kindly laws. And it moreover asserts, in full accordance with the teachings of philosophy and science, that, by their disobedience to the laws of their being and happiness, they jarred themselves into a false and sinister relation to the material universe; that, by introducing moral evil into the creation, they exposed themselves to those physical ills from which we suffer to this day. It must be obvious to every reflective mind that if the whole physical universe was created by the Word of God, if it is animated by His Spirit and ruled by His will, then as many as disobey that high will must put themselves out of harmony with all that obey it, must find the very forces which once worked for them turned against them. They are at war with the will which pervades and controls the universe: how, then, can the universe be at peace with them? If, then, we now repeat the question: In what sense may we reverently attribute evil to God? in what sense can we concede His claim to be responsible for evil as well as for good? our reply must be that, in creating beings capable of loving and serving Him of their own choice, He created the possibility of evil, ran the risk of its existence, and even knew beforehand that it would certainly enter in and mar the work of His hands.
(2) How, then, can we justify evil? how can we reconcile it at once with His perfect goodness and unbounded power? On our hypothesis we reconcile it with His power by the plain and obvious argument that even Omnipotence cannot at once create freewill and not create it; that, when once He has created it, even the Almighty cannot interfere with it without destroying it. But if we would reconcile the existence of evil with the goodness of God--and this is by far the more difficult achievement--we must take the whole theory of human life and destiny taught by the Bible, and not merely a part of it. As I read it, then, the Bible teaches what human reason had conjectured and hoped apart from the Bible,--that the lines of human life and destiny are to be produced beyond the grave, and wrought out to their final result in other worlds than this. (S. Cox, D. D.)
God’s love in relation to evil
The Bible goes on to teach us that, in His pity, the great Father of our spirits came down to us His sinful children, virtually saying to us: “I might much more reasonably attribute the evils from which you suffer to you than you to Me; for you owe them to your disobedience and self-will. But, see, I freely take them all on Myself. I claim to be responsible for them all. And since you cannot drive it away, I take away the sin of the world by a sacrifice so great and so far-reaching, by an atonement so potent, so Divine, that you can but apprehend it afar off, and must not hope to fathom its full virtue and extent. To brace you for your daily strife with evil, I foretell a final and complete victory over it; I promise you that in the end I will sweep the evil that harasses and afflicts you clean out of the universe it has marred and defiled. And, meantime, it shall have no power to hurt or harm you if you will but put your trust in Me. All that is painful in it, all the sting of it, I take on Myself. For you, if you will but meet it wisely and trustfully, it shall be nothing but a helpful discipline, a training in vigour, in holiness, in charity.” (S. Cox, D. D.)
Pain and death co-existent with animal life
There is the strongest indirect evidence, and not a little direct, that predacious animals have existed from a very early period in the world’s history. The struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest mean the suffering and the extinction of the weaker. Read the great stone book of nature, that truth is sculptured deep in its pages in no illegible hieroglyphics. Pain and death, then, if evils, must have been present in the world from the date when organic life, or at any rate animal life, began. The inorganic world being as it is, pain seems to be correlative with sensation, and death is but the end of each individual paragraph in the history; and if this came by either injury or violence, we cannot believe it at any rate to have been altogether painless. Nay, we may go further, and assert that unless we suppose the laws of Nature to have been wholly different from those which now prevail, we cannot understand how organised beings could live without at any rate occasional sensations of discomfort; they must have felt extremes of heat and cold; they must have known hunger and thirst; and what are these but minor degrees of pain? Perfection through suffering is a more general law of nature than we commonly think. At the same time, I fully believe that to the majority of living creatures life brings far more pleasure than pain; indeed, I think there is much reason to suppose that the acuteness with which the latter is felt, and the duration of its memory, is proportional to its possible disciplinary effect. (T. G. Bonney, D. Sc. , LL. D.)
A vast moral gulf is fixed between what are popularly held to be evils, things which have no deleterious effect on the spirit life, and those which are called evils in revelation; the things which are fatal ultimately to the spirit life. (T. G. Bonney, D. Sc. , LL. D.)
The real evils
The sins and wickedness of the world are the real evils, and it is to these that the works of the spirit are opposed. But these--sensuality, lust, selfishness, cruelty, injustice, oppression--whence are they? what are they? St. Paul calls these the works of the flesh, and the more we ponder his words the more far-reaching we shall usually find them. When we investigate these evils, we can trace them back till we find they originate in yielding to prompting of the nature which we have in common with the animal kingdom. A member of this does what the organism of sensation demands, and we do not designate the action as evil unless, either in earnest or in figurative speech, we attribute to the creature some kind of moral consciousness, to which the action is repugnant. The law of the animal would appear to be “gratify the various desires of the body.” The only limitation is “abstain from excess,” which seems more easily observed in its case perhaps because there is so little opportunity of revolt against laws of a straiter character. Man, as sharing the animal nature, is liable to a greater or less degree to each animal impulse, but as possessing another and a higher nature he is called upon to control these impulses, and if he do not obey this call, if he prefer to follow the lower nature, he fails to accomplish the purpose and attain the goal set before him, and thus his deeds are evil, his life is sinful. (T. G.Bonney, D. Sc. , LL. D.)
Evil in relation to good
In an order of things where choice exists and where there is a scheme of progress, evil is as inevitable an antithesis to good as a shadow is to light, because each time that the person either remains inactive where he should have obeyed the call of the higher law, or where, if two definite impulses are in conflict, he follows the lower, he does an evil act. Evil, then, in the present state of things is as necessary a correlative to good as decay is to growth, for good is obedience to the promptings of the spirit life, and evil is the refusal to submit to this, and consequent yielding to the animal. This view appears to me to be distinctly maintained by St. Paul in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, a passage universally regarded as very difficult, but one which I think becomes comparatively clear when considered in this light. In it the apostle depicts the conflict between the animal life and the spirit life. (T. G.Bonney, D. Sc. , LL. D.)
Evil, in this world, lies not so much in the deed as in the doer. (T. G.Bonney, D. Sc. , LL. D.)
The origin and prevalence of evil
I. THE QUANTITY OF EXISTING EVIL IS NOT SO GREAT AS, AT FIRST VIEW, IT MAY APPEAR TO BE.
1. By a wise appointment of Providence, scenes of distress are made to strike our minds more forcibly, and to awaken a far livelier fellow-feeling in our breasts than any species of felicity which we witness; and for this obvious reason, that distress stands in need of that active consolation and relief which our compassion will naturally prompt, while happiness is more independent of sympathy. Add to this, that misery, in consequence of the same occasion for the participation of social natures in its feelings, is much more clamorous, and therefore more noticed, than satisfaction. And the sum of evil has been still further exaggerated by writers who were aware that the tale of woe would find a chord more responsive to it in the human heart, than any which vibrates in unison with the voice of joy; as well as by many mistaken devotees, who have esteemed a gloomy discontent with the present life as essential to piety.
2. To any calm and unprejudiced observer, however, the latent, but multiplied, satisfactions of mankind will not fail to discover themselves; and he will learn to look up with confidence to that all-gracious Being, who, although He suffers, for wise ends, the existence of darkness and evil, creates more of light than of darkness, and more of peace than of evil. To nearly all natural evils, indeed, a compensation may be discovered. After all, however, it cannot be denied that the world contains much real distress.
II. ITS ORIGIN. Whatever evil afflicts the human race, is all, in one way or other, of their own procuring. God “doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.” When He first called the human race into existence, He designed them to be happy, and He made them so. “By one man’s disobedience sin came into the world,” and misery and death by sin. With respect to every species of evil, man may be pronounced the author of his own tribulation.
III. By the gracious interference of providence, IT TENDS TO A HAPPY ISSUE; to an issue which, to say the least of it, counterbalances the previous evil. Let us learn to improve our confidence in the Divine goodness; to redress, as far as lies within our capacity, the multiform evils that exist around us; and to convert to wise and beneficial purposes such of these evils as affect ourselves. (J. Grant, M. A.)
The mystery of evil
In the hour of pain, sickness, sorrow, death, our anguished nerves and bleeding hearts make us cry out, “Why should we be smitten? Whose hand has smitten us?” It is natural, as many of the heathen creeds show, to attribute our suffering to some wrathful or malignant power. Many of our neighbours so attribute it, either to an angry God, or to a malicious devil. The Bible unhesitatingly attributes it to God, but is careful to remind us that “the Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.” There are two points, a right view of which is essential to our getting at the truth of the matter.
1. Death itself is not an evil. Simply because it is as common and as natural to us as sleep, death is no more evil in itself than sleep. Continual birth makes continual death necessary, if there is to be any such thing as equal opportunities in the world. And what is death but a birth into another life? Even in the case of the wicked, whom it introduces to evil beyond, death is not in itself an evil, any more than the door is evil through which any wrong-doer passes to trial or to imprisonment. Dying is simply going through the door between two worlds.
2. Suffering is evil, but is worked by goodness to good ends. But, we ask, couldn’t the good ends have been accomplished without the evil of suffering? Well, put the question home. Could you have been made free from faults and follies without suffering? Experience, both of ourselves and others, answers, No. What the Bible affirms, in a certain point, of Jesus, must be much more broadly affirmed of every man-“perfect through suffering” only. The only conceivable way of dispensing with suffering is to dispense with imperfection. But a creation in which there is nothing imperfect, but everything is finished, is inconceivable. We cannot conceive what that state of things would be, in which there was not only no infancy and childhood, but no growth of anything; nothing to learn, because everything is known; and nothing to do, because everything is done. But it is staggering to think of the amount of suffering that this involves. Perhaps we may think that it might have been largely prevented, if God had provided better instruction, had had guide-boards set up to show the right way, and thorn-hedges to close up wrong ways. Well, has He not done so? Have we never known people to take the wrong way in spite of wise counsel, and to take it again and again in spite of bitter experience? What we have to admit, then, is that suffering, though evil in itself, is a means to good, and is an instrument in the hands of goodness. Our difficulty is, that while we see this to be true to a certain extent, we do not see it in every case. Nevertheless, it appears true, as far as we are able to trace the connection of cause and effect. What is the most reasonable conclusion from that? Simply this, that we should see the same if we were able to see further. The great mystery of the evil in God’s world requires for its solution a right answer to the supreme question, What is it that we are to be intent on as our first aim? Not happiness, surely. Happiness for the imperfect means content with imperfection. Perfection, rather than happiness, this is first; in order to this, suffering; then, in proportion to the perfection attained thereby, resulting blessedness. Nor is this a mere opinion. History, observation, and experience point that way. It was in the intuition of this great truth that one appointed to more hardship than is common to the lot of man bore his testimony to the ages thus: “Our light affliction, which is for the moment,” &c. (J. M. Whiton.)
Good out of evil
Here the familiar story of the Pilgrim Fathers of New England is in point. They arrived on the American coast in the most unseasonable time, at the setting in of winter. Their exposures and hardships consequently brought on a fatal sickness. Before their first corn was planted half of them had been buried. Seldom has a more pathetic tale been told than that of these poor, pious exiles
A screen of leafless branches
Betwixt them and the blast.
But had it better not have been so? Is heroism worth so little that there had better be no occasion made for it by the presence of great evils calling out all the strength of spirit that man is capable of? Who can tell how much that terrible suffering, met with such loftiness of spirit, has been worth to the world, in kindling the same unquenchable fire of heroism in multitudes of admiring beholders? (J. M. Whiton.)
Man and sin; the problem of moral evil
(with 1 John 3:4, R.V.):--The proper order in which to investigate our experience of the subject is to begin with the existence of moral evil, and from that standing-ground look out upon the larger question of cosmical evil.
I. THE PRESENCE OF MORAL EVIL IN HUMAN NATURE--THE SENSE OF SIN. By far the greatest amount of the suffering of life is owing to the depravity of human nature. If men were good and kind there would be little left to mourn over. Speaking generally, we may say that human experience of this great fact runs from the crude and selfish perception of the faults of other people up to the self-humiliation of the saint in whom the sense of sin is strongly developed. To take the lower ground first--there are some who are smarting under a sense of injury. It may be that life is altogether sadder than it once was, because of the heart-breaking conduct of some from whom a very different course of action might have been expected. To such as these the fact that human nature is vitiated, and that the world is made wretched in consequence, needs no complete demonstration. Or again, there may be some who remember with pain and regret certain of their own mistakes which have brought evil results in their train. Self-reproach, however, does not put things right again. It is not only that the mistakes are beyond recall, but that the character itself is intractable. No man who is true to himself can escape the necessity of self-blame. This self-blame may be perfunctory and imperfect, or it may be radical and strong. It may be only a form of self-pity, or it may be a deep experience of guilt. Let me state a few things about this sense of guilt. In the first place, we may recognise that it is not universal, though in some form or other it is one of the most general of experiences. Some of the great religions in the world are deficient in it: Confucianism. Confucius, like so many of the world’s prophets, died a disappointed man. He had aimed at something higher than the nature of his countrymen was prepared for. He had to put up with opposition, slander, persecution, and poverty. We might think that the problem of human sinfulness would have suggested itself to him, but we have no such indication in his teachings. In these there is an utter absence of any cognisance of sin as such. What is true of this religion is true of others. Their recognition of faultiness is not a recognition of sinfulness. Even in our own day, and amongst our circle of acquaintance, there are, no doubt, some who are without the sense of sin, and who evince no consciousness of the need of forgiveness. Men may be aware in a general way that things are not right in their own dispositions or in those of their fellows, and yet be strangers to the mood of contrition. Censoriousness and the sense of sin do not usually go together. We come to another and higher order of experience when we enter the ranks of those in whom perception of personal unworthiness is vivid. Especially has this been the case where the idea of a righteous God has been powerfully presented. It is within the circle of Christianity, however, that this conviction has been quickened and deepened to the greatest degree. It has been held that the sense of sin is a morbid development of religious life. We are not better, but worse, than we think we are. The mood of contrition is a note of awakening nobility. An accompaniment of the sense of sin is the depressing discovery of our helplessness to escape it. To conclude this first point, then, we may say that we are sadly aware of the presence of moral evil in human nature, and we are also aware that it “ought not to be.”
II. ATTEMPTS TO ACCOUNT FOR THE ORIGIN OF MORAL EVIL. That men should have been exercised in their minds about the presence of moral evil in the world is not to be wondered at, and it is instructive to notice some of the attempts that have been made to account for it. In stating certain of the theories which have been projected to explain human depravity, we may take them in the order of their relative importance.
1. Let us note that sin has often been held to be a delusion, that it is simply a form of mental experience, and no more real than a torturing dream. Culpability is only a fancy; no one is to blame for anything; and if the soul is to persist, and self-consciousness be continued in a higher state, man will then discover that all his agony and tears and self-reproach had no sterner cause than a little child’s dread of the dark. This explanation we can soon dismiss. Self-blame is no fancy. Sin is not something negative, it is positive--an enemy that we have to fight.
2. Further, right through human history a tendency is observable to account for the presence of moral evil by a dualistic theory of existence. Darkness has been represented as the foe of light, matter of spirit, and Satan of God. The variations of these dualistic theories are manifold. Platonists, Gnostics, Manichaeans are a great family who regarded matter as being in some degree independent of God, and imperfectly under His control. All these movements had something in common, and that something was the tendency to place matter in opposition to spirit, and regard evil as resident in matter. Thoroughgoing belief in such positions has, as a rule, run into the two extremes of asceticism and license. Although Plato’s dualism was a very different thing from the Gnostic heresies, the latter really sprang from it. It has sometimes been thought that Scripture lends some countenance to the theory here indicated. “The world,” for instance, is presented as antithetic to “the kingdom,” and “the flesh” as antithetic to “the spirit.” This is undoubtedly the case, but we must be warned against thinking that the New Testament writings should be construed to mean that evil has its seat in the flesh, and that the spirit only needs the liberation of death in order to be holy at a bound.
3. Positivism, and all allied modes of belief, effect a practical, though not theoretical, division of the universe. Humanity and the moral order are represented as an entity apart from the hard background of nature, and we are bidden to do our best to further the advance of everything that makes for human good without seeking sanctions in nature or the supernatural. It is curious to note that the advocates of this principle are usually the strongest in the assertion that the universe is one and indivisible. One power is observed to be at work within it, and not two powers pitted against each other.
4. This brings us to the consideration of the theory, which is Christian as well as non-Christian, that in the universe we have a personal dualism represented in the familiar names, God and Satan. We need not deny the existence of a personal captain of the host of evil, but we are not prepared to admit that there is room in the universe for a power whom God cannot overthrow. This is a cursory summary of theories which have occupied the attention of men from age to age. We may say of them all--
(1) They fail in that they limit the omnipotence of Deity.
(2) They fail in that they deny human responsibility.
(3) The truth common to all these theories appears to be, that good is only known by the background of evil, righteousness only achieved in opposition to unrighteousness.
5. Allied with, but independent of, the foregoing, is the Christian doctrine of the fall. It is remarkable that this doctrine is also extra-Christian. It has a place, for instance, in the old Teutonic mythology. The doctrine is also pre-Christian. It has a place in the Old Testament, though not a large place. It is within the field of Christianity, however, that the theory of a fall of the race from original purity has had its greatest vogue. About this Prof. Orr says: “I do not enter into the question of how we are to interpret Genesis
whether as history or allegory or myth, or, most probable of all, asold tradition clothed in Oriental allegorical dress; but the truth embodied in that narrative, namely, the fall of man from an original state of purity, I take to be vital to the Christian view.” Upon this point, however, science is in direct conflict with received theology, and in recent years the attempt to reconcile the doctrine of the fall with the accepted theory of evolution has been felt as a considerable difficulty. The way in which it has been sought to solve that difficulty may be illustrated from a sermon preached by a friend of my own. “The fact of the fall is simply in effect the statement of these biological facts in the spiritual region. It is that there came, at the beginning of human history, when man was physically complete, and had reached a stable equilibrium, where his moral and spiritual development was to begin,--there came, how we do not know, a backward step, and that backward step has been perpetuated in the history of the race because of the scientific fact of the solidarity of the race. What St. Paul would call the fall of man is simply the statement of a spiritual fact which has its precise analogy in the very doctrine of evolution that is supposed to contradict it.” The same preacher goes on to say that through the entrance of sin into the world, by man’s fault and in opposition to the purpose of God, there has come into the world, not the fact of death, for death was here before, but the horror of it of which humanity is conscious, and that the misery of humanity has only been alleviated by second creation, as it were--the entrance of Christ into the world and the proclamation of the good news of redemption. To these statements the one sweeping objection may be taken that if they presume the historicity of the story of Genesis and the theory of a fall in time, through man’s own fault and against the intention of God, they are in direct contradiction to the judgings of modern science, and no hypothesis about “a backward step” or “a new creation” can get over the difficulty. Our theology must be in harmony with the rest of our knowledge. We are on safer ground if we appeal once more to experience, and say that the fall ought not to be regarded as an historical event, but a psychological fact. In this connection we may observe that Jesus never says a word about an historical fall of the race. The parable of the Prodigal Son has been quoted as the analogue of the story in Genesis, but, on the face of it, it is meant to be interpreted psychologically rather than historically. In addition to this we must say that the theory of a fall in time is surrounded by other and graver difficulties, which lead us to a view of the character of God inconsistent with our Lord’s revelation of the nature of the Father. That God should have made man so that he was not only liable but certain to fall, and should then have visited the whole race with disastrous consequences, is altogether incomprehensible. But, further, it is unthinkable that unbiassed human nature would ever voluntarily choose evil. Speaking in all reverence, we may say that as it is unthinkable that God should fall, so is it unthinkable that man should fall, unless he were so made as to desire evil without knowing good. To sum up this point, therefore, we may say that the presence of moral evil cannot be accounted for either as a delusion, or by a dualistic theory of the universe, or even by a fall in time. The explanation must be sought elsewhere.
III. THE HYPOTHESIS THAT THE ORIGIN OF MORAL EVIL IS IN GOD. We come, then, to the consideration of a theory which, like the foregoing, is both Christian and non-Christian, namely, that moral evil has its origin in the good purpose of God. This has been held by some of the greatest of the teachers of the Christian Church, from Augustine to the Reformation Fathers. Even later Roman Catholic theology has lingered around it in the song, “O felix culpa” “which by so great a fall has secured, a greater, redemption. Evil is an experience necessary for the sake of good, and it must disappear when its work is done. For what is good? No man knows save by the struggle to realise it. Every man is conscious not only of the desire to choose evil, but of the obligation to choose good. To sin is to follow the lower in presence of the higher; it is yielding to that which is easy in opposition to that which is right. If evil within the disposition supplies the tendency, sin is in yielding to that tendency. This relieves no man of moral responsibility. Sin is real, and we are to blame for it, but we are not qualified to judge one another. God, and God only, can disentangle the threads of human motive, and estimate the amount of individual culpability. Without Christ there would be but a feeble light on this world problem. From what we know of Him we can look forward and upward. Primordial evil is the appointment of our God and Father, who shares in every experience of His children. Salvation is escape from sin; atonement escape from guilt; God provides both. There is no longer room for despair, but only for solemn gladness. “Let the wicked forsake his way,” &c. (R. J. Campbell, M. A.)
The Divine use of pain
I. DIVINE SOVEREIGNTY IN RELATION TO DISEASE AND PAIN. What the apostle wrote in the spirit of prophecy is confirmed by the page of history. “Of Him, and to Him, and through Him are all things; to whom be glory for ever.” We do not find it difficult to assent to this doctrine when all things go well with us. It is when He says: I create darkness, I create evil, that we feel it strange and shrink back from a full hearty assent. It has been suggested that this truth of the text was given as a correction of the old Eastern myth of two gods, one opposed to the other, and creating evil in opposition to the work of the good god. The modern form of this theory, and one which prevails in certain circles of Christian people, is that all disease and physical evil is by the work and machination of Satan. This is equally contrary to the teaching of the text and the whole of Scripture. These things perplex our thoughts and try our faith; but it only increases the perplexity and trial to attribute them to Satan. We are still in God’s hand.
II. THE USE THESE THINGS SERVE IN THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT. The question of the use which anything serves, which God in His providence sends or permits, must ever be asked with the humble consciousness that the thing may be too deep for us to understand. Yet God does not leave us without some knowledge of His will, and of the use which He makes off this suffering and pain.
1. For one thing is clear, pain and disease bade men to, respect Divine law.
2. This evil often leads to the fuller manifestation of His power. When the disciples asked concerning one born blind, “Who did sin, this man or his parents?” our Lord replies that the man had the misfortune “that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Not merely or chiefly the opening of the bodily eye, but the works of God to which our Lord referred were those changes and that spiritual enlightenment which came to the man through intercourse with Christ. So that the ignorant and poor blind beggar saw what the well-instructed and self-righteous Pharisee did not see, and could answer calmly the cavils of Christ’s opponents, and endure persecution for His sakes. These works of God have often been manifested through the instrumentality of fiery pain and disease. Days of sickness have been days when the wandering soul has heard the voice of the Good
Shepherd, and returned from its wanderings, and has learned to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”
3. Sometimes, also, pain and disease have been in God’s hand a protection against sin. The curb which physical weakness puts upon us may be the very check that is needed to keep us within the bounds of true moderation, beyond which the path is strewn thick with temptations frequent and great, so that escape were almost impossible.
4. In the same way these things are essential in the purifying process which is being now carried on.
5. Beside all this, the pain and sorrow which sometimes nearly overwhelm us, call out sympathy and compassion which unite men in this closest of bonds.
III. OUR DUTY in view of these truths.
1. There ought to be in connection with these things the distinct recognition of His hand, which should extend to the whole circumstances of the case. It is only a partial and untrue view that regards God’s hand in permitting suffering, and refuses to acknowledge His goodness in the alleviations and remedies which He provides, and the medical skill with which He endows men.
2. But most of all we need to cultivate tender sympathy for those who suffer, and as far as may be to help them by kindly patient service. (W. Page, B. A.)
Light and darkness in the universe
Interwoven with the texture of the revelation there is an element of mystery to prove and humble and solemnise. I shall not soon forget a visit I once paid in the dead of night to the Colosseum. The moon was just rising behind the gigantic walls. Its light was almost golden in depth and richness. The towering battlements cast shadows dense as a thundercloud. The vast circle of masonry was all but; filled with gloom and darkness. By and by the light of the rising moon fell in quivering bars through, the rents in the walls and the doorways in the galleries. At last the whole place looked like a colossal wheel with spokes of burnished metal divided off from each other by intervals of ebony. In that vast, fan-like figure, quivering light and unbroken shadow, cast by the piles of masonry, lay side by side with each other with an alternation that was almost mathematical. Was not that a figure of the universe? Dazzling light and impenetrable shadow, clear revelation and dim mystery, the comprehensible and the incomprehensible, things of God’s love lie side by side with each other, throughout the whole of the wonderful circle. “We know in part, and we prophesy in part.” (T. G. Selby.)
Sorrow a shadow of the Divine love
I remember on a glorious day of all but cloudless sunshine passing in view of a well-known line of bare and majestic downs, then basking in the full beams of noon. But on one face of the hill rested a mass of deep and gloomy shadow. On searching for its cause I at length discovered one little speck of cloud, bright as light, floating in the clear blue above. This it was which cast on the hillside that ample track of gloom. And what I saw was an image of Christian sorrow. Dark and cheerless often as it is, and unaccountably as it passes over our earthly path, in heaven its tokens shall be found, and it shall be known to have been but a shadow of this brightness whose name is Love. (Dean Alford.)
I make peace
God the Author of peace
The same power which placed the sun in the heavens, gives to the nations of the earth the light and comfort of peace; and He who made the night before the day, when darkness lay upon the face of the deep, creates the evil of war.
I. THE CAUSES OF WAR. Let but God leave men to themselves, and they fall into discord and anarchy, as the elements of the world would sink into confusion without His support, and return to their primitive chaos. As soon as two men appeared upon earth in a state of equality and competition, war arose between them, and the one slew the other.
1. No wonder there are wars without in the world, when there is an inward war in the mind of man; a restlessness of appetite which breaks out into acts of violence, and can never be satisfied.
2. But there is another principle in the world, which, if possible, is productive of more mischief than all the rest; this is, false religion. These are the principal causes of war on the part of man-
3. But war has another cause on the part of God. It is sent by Him for the punishment of sin, and has never failed to chastise and reduce a people when fallen into pride or disobedience.
II. THE EFFECTS OF WAR. The words of the text are remarkable; for here war, as opposed to peace, is called by the name of “evil”: and a dreadful evil it is, comprehending all the evils that are to be found in the world, whether we consider it as a sin or a punishment.
III. THE USE WE OUGHT TO MAKE OF THE BLESSINGS AND OPPORTUNITIES AFFORDED US BY A TIME OF PEACE. (W. Jones, M. A.)
I, the Lord, do all these things
The agency of God universal
I. IN WHAT THE AGENCY OF GOD CONSISTS. The agency of God consists in His will, His choice or volition. God is a perfectly free agent. God is a moral agent. He perfectly knows and loves moral good, and as perfectly knows and hates moral evil.
II. HIS AGENCY IS UNIVERSAL. God claims to be the universal agent.
1. God has made all things.
2. This further appears from His upholding all things. God did not and could not make any creature or object independent, and give it the power of self-preservation.
3. God must extend His agency to all created objects in the universe, because He has made all things for Himself. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Drop down, ye heavens
Salvation comes of man’s response to God
To the eye of the seer the earth lies open to heaven as a wide corn-land over which the clouds of heaven hang, the air breathes, and the sun sheds sheets of light.
Those clouds are big with righteousness, the special term used throughout this book of the faithfulness of Jehovah. At the call of prayer the skies pour down their precious treasure, and the earth opens every pore to receive the plentiful rain; presently every acre brings forth salvation, and righteousness springs up in the hearts of men, as their answer to the descent of the righteousness of God. It is the bridal of heaven and earth, a fulfilment of the prediction of the psalm: “Truth springeth out of the earth; and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.” The conception is one of surpassing beauty. The brooding of heaven; the response of earth. Deep calling unto deep. The nature of God originating and inspiring; the nature of man responding. And when the descending grace of God is thus received by the believing yearning heart of man, the result is salvation. As the margin of R.V. reads: “Let the skies be fruitful in salvation, and let the earth cause righteousness to spring up together.” The whole paragraph to the close of the chapter rings with salvation as its keynote. Does God hide Himself? He is the God of Israel, the Saviour. Are the makers of idols ashamed and confounded? Yet Israel is saved with an everlasting salvation. Are graven images held up to contempt? It is because they are gods that cannot save. Does God assert His unrivalled Deity? It is because He is a just God, and a Saviour. Are men bidden to look to Him, though they be far removed as the ends of the earth? It is that they may be saved. Primarily, no doubt, this salvation concerns the emancipation of the chosen people from the thraldom of Babylon, and their restoration to Jerusalem. “He shall build My city; he shall let My exiles go free, not for price nor reward, saith the Lord of hosts.” This deliverance, which is a type of the greater deliverance from the guilt and power of sin, was, in the fixed purpose of God, sure as the creation of the earth and man; guaranteed by the hands that stretched out the heavens, and by the word that commanded all their host. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Woe unto him that striveth with Ms Maker!--
Striving with God
The strong word “strive,” and the emphatic reassertion of the mission of Cyrus (Isaiah 45:13), as well as the connection with Isaiah 45:1-8, show that deliberate opposition to the Divine purpose, and not mere faint-hearted unbelief (as in Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 51:13), is here referredto.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Opposing the Divine purpose
Those who were primarily addressed were at variance with God their Creator on two accounts--
1. Because He permitted His people to be led captive by their enemies into a distant country, where they were oppressed.
2. Because, notwithstanding the servants of the Lord spoke much concerning their liberation, the event seemed altogether improbable, and beyond even the power of God to effect. (R. Macculloch.)
Contending with God
I. BY MURMURING AT HIS DISPENSATIONS.
II. BY RESISTING HIS AUTHORITY.
III. BY CONTEMNING HIS INSTRUCTIONS. (R. Macculloch.)
Striving with our Maker
If we duly consider the life of man since the fall, we shall find it to be one continued struggle. In the great and most momentous affair of religion, upon which our whole happiness depends, what a domestic war do we find within our own breasts! Happy are they who are successful in this spiritual conflict; and are so wise as vigorously to join forces with the Lord of hosts! But woe be to him who is of a party with the enemy, and “striveth with his Maker.”
I. We will consider WHAT IT IS TO STRIVE WITH OUR MAKER. In general it is to resist His will, and oppose ourselves to His government, to struggle against the dispensations of His providence.
II. THE EXTREME VILENESS AND FOLLY OF SO DOING.
I. In general, if the height of ingratitude be a vile thing, and if to oppose and contend with our best Friend, who is infinitely wiser than we are, and loves us better than we do ourselves, and whose power too is so irresistible, that after all our strugglings His pleasure shall be accomplished one way or other, if not to our happiness, as He at first intended, then to our ruin, since we are resolved to have it so,--if this be a foolish thing, then to “strive with our Maker” does imply all the folly and baseness that a man can possibly be guilty of.
2. But more particularly, to strive with our Maker is a most vile and foolish thing, as it signifies--
(1) Our denying obedience to His commands; for what can be more base than to refuse even our utmost services to that infinitely glorious and good Being who made us what we are!
(2) Our murmuring at His disposal of us, and restless discontent at the circumstances He thinks fit to place us in.
(3) Our being stubborn and refractory to the conduct of His Divine Spirit, and the guidance of His ministers, in things relating to His service and our own eternal salvation.
III. THE MISERABLE CONSEQUENCE of thus striving with our Maker. “Woe unto him.”
1. As it signifies disobedience to His commands. For who can imagine but that a Governor so wise, and so powerful, and so just as God is, will in due time assert His authority, and secure His laws and government from contempt, by the condign punishment of those who have been so hardy as to resist and rebel against Him, and made no account of the plainest and most express declarations of His will? And when the Almighty shall proceed to do justice, who can withstand Him, or hope to avoid the stroke, but must sink under the weight of it for ever!
2. Nor will our discontents and murmurings at the Divine disposals escape without due punishment. For suppose that God should be so far provoked by our repinings as to throw us off from His care and protection, and leave us to ourselves, and in His anger comply with our foolish desires, and give us what we are so fond of, and which He sees will be our ruin, how sadly sensible shall we then soon be of the vast difference between God’s government and our own!
3. And so for impatience under troubles and afflictions, suppose our outcries and strugglings and resistance should make God withhold His paternal chastisements, and suffer sin upon us without correction, and disregard us as desperate and incorrigible; what woe on earth could befall us greater than this?
4. What but the extremest of all woes can be expected from our rejecting those proposals of reconciliation to God, which are not only offered but pressed upon us daily by the ministers of Christ, and to which we are constantly moved by the workings of the Spirit of God within, upon our souls! (W. Bragge.)
The misery of contending with God
I. SPECIFY SOME INSTANCES IN WHICH THE SINNER MAY BE CONSIDERED AS STRIVING WITH GOD. I hardly think it worth while to mention atheism, which opposes His very being, and tries to banish Him from the world which He has made. Some, indeed, have supposed that a speculative atheist is an impossibility. How far God may give up a man “to strong delusion to believe a lie,” who has despised and rejected the advantages of revelation, it is not for us to determine,--but “if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” It is undeniable, however, that we have a multitude of practical atheists. That is, we have thousands who live precisely as they would do if they believed there was no God. They strive with Him--
1. By transgressing His holy and righteous law.
2. By opposing the Gospel.
3. By violating the dictates of conscience.
4. By refusing to resign themselves to the dispensations of His providence.
5. By the persecution of His people.
6. By trying to hinder the spread of His cause.
II. CONSIDER THE “WOE” WHICH HIS OPPOSITION NECESSARILY ENTAILS UPON HIM. This striving with God is--
1. A practice the most shameful and ungrateful. What would you think of a child who should strive with his father, reproach his character, counteract all his designs, and endeavour to injure his concerns? But such is your conduct towards God.
2. A practice the most unreasonable and absurd. For observe--in all the instances in which you oppose Him He is aiming to promote your good: His design is to make you wise, to make you holy, to make you happy; and the advantages of compliance will be all your own. Besides, can you do without Him? In life? In death?
3. Therefore nothing can be more injurious and ruinous. In striving with Him, you only resemble the wave that dashes against the rock, and is driven back in foam; or the ox that kicks against the goad, and only wounds himself; or the thorns and briers that should set themselves in battle array against the fire. To improve this awful subject let me ask--Whether you are for God or against Him? There is no neutrality here. We have been speaking of a striving with God which is unlawful and destructive--but there is a striving with Him which is allowable and necessary. It is by prayer and supplication. (W. Jay.)
The indelicacy of criticising God
(verse l 0):--That a child should so speak of father or mother is unthinkably unnatural and impious. And such are they who criticise God’s method of saving His people through Cyrus. (A. B.Davidson, D. D.)
Thus saith the Lord . . . Ask Me
Prayer and criticism
“Ask Me, but do not criticise Me.
” “Command Me” must mean “leave to My care.” (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Encouragement to pray from the names of God
“The Lord”--that is, God in His everlasting redemptive purpose; “the Holy One of Israel”--that is, the moral perfections of Israel’s God, as contrasted with the abominations perpetrated under the sanction of heathen religions; “his Maker”--suggesting the purpose which from the clay gathered in Abraham’s time from the highlands of Mesopotamia, was fashioning a fair vessel meet for His use. This threefold description of God introduces the august command which bade the people seek by prayer the fulfilment of the purpose on which the Divine heart was set. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Putting forth of` God’s power dependent on prayer
In launching an ironclad, the pressure of a baby’s finger is not infrequently required to put in operation the ponderous machinery by which the iron leviathan glides evenly and majestically on to the ocean wave. So, if we may dare to say it, all the purposes of God, and the providential machinery by which they were to be executed, stood in suspense until the chosen people had asked for the things which He had promised, and had even commanded Him concerning the work on which His heart was set. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Asking and commanding
I. PRAYER IS A NECESSARY LINK IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THE DIVINE PROMISES. “Ask Me of things to come.” Even to the Son, Jehovah says,” “Ask of Me, and I will give Thee the heathen,” &c. And to the chosen people, at the end of a paragraph beginning with “I will,” and unfolding the work which He is prepared to do, not for their sakes, but for His own--He says, “For this, moreover, will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” Our Lord is unremitting in the stress He lays on prayer, and pledges Himself to do only whatsoever is asked in His name.
1. Prayer is part of the system of co-operation between God and man which pervades nature and life.
2. Prayer, when genuine, indicates the presence of a disposition to which God can entrust His best gifts without injury to the recipient. To bless some men, apart from humility and submission, and weanedness of soul from creature aid, would only injure. And so, in His dear love, God withholds His choicest gifts until the heart is sore broken, and cries to Him. That cry is the blessed symptom of soul-health.
3. Prayer is also in its essence, when inspired by faith, an openness towards God, a receptiveness, a faculty of apprehending with open hand what He would impart. Let us pray--
(1) Unitedly. God would be inquired of by the “house” of Israel.
(2) Sympathetically. A prayer offered in the presence of others should receive their endorsement.
(3) Earnestly. The Divine gauge of the worth of prayer is its pressure on the heart of God.
(4) In the name of Jesus.
II. THE IMPERATIVE ACCENT IN FAITH. “Concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands, command ye Me.” Our Lord spoke in this tone when He said, “Father, I will.” Joshua used it when in the supreme moment of triumph he lifted up his spear towards the setting sun, and cried, “Sun, stand thou still!” Elijah used it when he shut the heavens for three years and six months, and again opened them. Luther used it when, kneeling by the dying Melanchthon, he forbade death to take his prey. It is a marvellous relationship into which God bids us enter. We are accustomed to obey Him. But with the single limitation that our biddings must concern His sons, and the work of His hands, and must be included in His word of promise, Jehovah says to us, His redeemed children in Jesus Christ, “Command ye Me!” The world is full of mighty forces which are labouring for our weal. How is it that these great natural forces--which are manifestations of the power of God--so absolutely obey man? Is it not because, since the days of Bacon, man has so diligently studied, and so absolutely obeyed, the conditions under which they work? “Obey the law of a force, and the force will obey you,” is almost an axiom in physics. So God gives the Holy Spirit to them that obey Him. All the resources of God dwell bodily in the risen and glorified Lord. Obey Him, and He pours such mighty energy into and through the spirit that men are amazed at the prodigality of its supply; resist or thwart Him, and He retires from the spirit, leaving it to struggle as best it may with its difficulties and trials. But after our greatest deeds of prayer and faith we shall ever lie low before God; as Elijah did, who, after calling fire from heaven, prostrated himself on the ground, with his face between his knees. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Counsel for God’s people in trouble
I. THE PEOPLE OF GOD IN CAPTIVITY ARE INVITED TO INQUIRE CONCERNING THE ISSUE OF THEIR TROUBLES (Isaiah 45:11). The Holy One of Israel, though He doth not allow them to strive with Him, yet encourageth them--
1. To consult His Word. “Ask Me of things to come.”
2. To seek unto Him by prayer. “Command ye Me.”
II. THEY ARE ENCOURAGED TO DEPEND ON THE POWER OF GOD WHEN THEY WERE BROUGHT VERY LOW, AND WERE UTTERLY INCAPABLE OF HELPING THEMSELVES (Isaiah 45:12).
III. THEY ARE PARTICULARLY TOLD WHAT GOD WOULD DO FOR THEM, THAT THEY MIGHT KNOW WHAT TO DEPEND UPON (Isaiah 45:13-14).
IV. THEY ARE TAUGHT TO TRUST GOD FURTHER THAN THEY CAN SEE HIM (Isaiah 45:15). (M. Henry.)
God’s abounding liberality
I am told that, in the olden times, on Christmas Day, it was the custom in country villages for the squire always to fill with good things whatever vessels the poor people brought up to the hall, that they might have a Christmas dinner. It was strange how big the basins grew year after year. Whenever the man came round with the crockery cart, every good housewife would look all over his stock to see if there was not a still larger basin. It was a rule that the squire’s servants should always fill the bowl, whatever size it was, and thus the bowls grew bigger and bigger. God will fill your bowl, however large it is! Get as big a bowl as you can; and when you bring it, if ever there comes a whisper in your ear, “Now you have presumed upon God’s benevolence, you have brought too big a bowl,” smile at yourself, and say, “This is as nothing to His overflowing fulness.” If I said, “O poor sea, poor sea, now thou wilt be drained dry, for they bring such big bowls to be filled with thy waters”; the sea, tossing its mighty billows far and wide, would laugh at my folly. Come, then, and bring your largest conceptions of God, and multiply them ten thousandfold, and believe in Him as this Book would make you believe in Him. Open thy mouth wide, and He will fill it. He bids you even to command Him. He says, “Ask Me of things to come concerning My sons, and concerning the work of My hands command ye Me.” That is a wonderful expression; rise to the sublimity of faith, and be daring with your God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I have made the earth
Nature and Scripture
(with Isaiah 45:22):--The study of Nature reveals a Creator.
This is the order: God, creation, fishes, animals, men, women, the human race, the culture of the soil, the building of cities, the navigation of the sea, and, in course of ages, the formation of society as we know it. But man as a moral agent required moral laws; having also a capacity for religion, he needed spiritual light. This made revelation from above necessary. Mankind have had both vocal and written messages from God.
Creation tells of His power, and the Scripture tells of His salvation--the two books together revealing His perfect glory.
I. A careful study of nature and man will bring vividly before you THE LAW OF DEPENDENCE. The man who would attempt to be independent of Nature would soon die of hunger and thirst, and the soul that is arrogant enough to deem itself independent of Christ will soon find that saying true, “He that hath not the Son of God, hath not life.”
II. In nature you see also THE LAW OF CULTIVATION. Every living thing needs cultivation, and is improved, beautified, and perpetuated by it. Man, the “living soul,” is under the same law. In a higher sense the soul of man is subject to this law of cultivation. The fruits and flowers found in a cultivated soul are faith, prayer, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity.
III. Nature conspicuously displays and relentlessly enforces THE LAW OF DEPRIVATION. In the great eaves of Kentucky there are dark waters where the light never comes. Eyeless fishes swim there. Their ancestors had eyes that could see; but their descendants, choosing to dwell in lightless waters, have only rims and specks in their heads v, here eyes might have been. Use well a sense, a faculty, a power, and you increase it; neglect it, and it will die. That is the law of Nature. Scripture teaches you the same lesson as to the spiritual world.
IV. Nature does also undoubtedly embrace THE LAW OF TERMINATION. “The grass withereth and the flower fadeth.” The bones of leviathan whiten the deep places of the sea. And what of man? To him also the law of termination applies. Shall nature, man, life as we know it, continue as they are for ever? No, for both Nature and Scripture proclaim the law of termination (2 Peter 3:10).
V. But both Scripture and Nature point us to another law--THAT OF CONTINUITY. And this eternal law of continuity will be in existence after the present world is left behind. Consider, then, these natural and spiritual truths. Let Nature teach you how great the Creator is: let Scripture teach you that His salvation and love and righteousness are for ever and ever. (G. W.M’Cree.)
Surely God is in thee
Jehovah Himself present in His Church
THE DIGNITY OF THE CHURCH. One cannot wonder that Solomon should have been overwhelmed with astonishment when Jehovah promised His presence in the temple that had just been erected for His worship and glory. But there is a nobler temple building for God--even that Church which is composed of living stones. It is to the presence of God therein that the text refers, and in vouch-sating His presence we may remark that Jehovah is--
1. Doing honour to His own truth.
2. Exalting His own Son.
3. Imparting His own graces.
II. THE CONSEQUENT SPIRITUALITY OF THE EXPERIENCE OF THE CHURCH. By no phrase could you more accurately describe the real Christian than by the text--“Surely God is in thee.” True religion is not an opinion merely of the understanding, nor external decorum merely of life, nor ecstatic raptures merely of affection. But it is nothing less than a union of our soul with God--a real participation of the Divine nature.
III. Our text, however, not only intimates the dignity of the Christian and the spirituality of his experience, but also THE HOLINESS OF HIS CONDUCT. And unless there be this there is nothing. (R. C. Dillon, D. D.)
Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself
The mystery of God’s ways
Isaiah’s mind is impressed with the fact that if God is “the God of Israel and the Saviour,” He does some things scarcely in apparent consistency with that character. How many times did He abandon His people Israel to their enemies! And how was He about to suffer them to be led captive into Babylon for a long threescore years and ten! And even when His ways to them were evidently merciful and kind, God’s acts of kindness came at times, under circumstances, in ways, by persons, that could not have been looked for; making His very mercies as surprising on the one hand as His judgments might have been on the other. “Verily, Thou art a God that hidest Thyself”--that hidest Thy counsels, Thy purposes, Thy mercies, Thy methods of operation.
2. A reflection of this sort might, with full as much justice, arise from a contemplation of the ways of God towards His spiritual Israel--a people to whom He is attached by still stronger ties than those which bound Him to Israel of old. Precious is His mercy; and yet how severe some of His dealings appear! And His mercies too!--how strangely they come; as though He would choose the unlikeliest of all circumstances, the darkest of all seasons, the most improbable of all means, for communicating them; as though He would make us have mercies when we expect trials, and find out of the darkest cloud there proceeds the brightest sunshine. And He works strange things--things not apparently congruous or reconcilable with His character of covenant friendship and love.
3. Nor is this any peculiarity at all, attaching itself to this part of the ways and administration of God. The same feature of the Divine conduct may be seen wherever else we look, whether at home or taking a wider circle.
(1) If we look at the works of nature there is the same thing. About one half the animal world prey upon the other half.
(2) Or look at man. Look at the body of man; made in marvellous wisdom, with a thousand adaptations for action; and yet this very body of man is seized upon by several thousand diseases, that inflame and torment, as though it were their domain and home. Look at the mind of man; made to be, adapted to be, a source of innumerable delights; and yet to what a vast extent it is the prey of ignorance, pride, anger, jealousy, rage, and impure and tormenting passions.
(3) Look at human society. You see social affections at play, and the various circumstances in which men are placed adapted and prepared for their most delightful exercise, so that even trying circumstances are fitted for calling into exercise the liveliest and happiest affections; but yet what is human society? You may call it Aceldama--a field of Mood; a sphere in which the weak are trampled upon by the strong; in which violence, fraud, rapine, gain, plunder, the sword, and all instruments of moral and physical mischief are brought to bear upon the destruction of the happiness and the life of men.
(4) And God s providence. God’s providence is to be taken to be a system of wise and holy and beneficent administration; and yet what is it, when you look at it? There are many appearances, indeed, of its being so; but many dark things in it that one cannot at all understand.
(5) Or if you contemplate the works of God in the state of this world--in the condition in which it becomes the theatre for the interposition of God in redemption, and affords scope for the great work of redeeming love through His dear Son--what a mystery is here! God made man upright--made a world for holiness, for happiness, for virtue, for religion; but into what a condition the world is come before it affords Him opportunity for redemption! Why, the whole world is contaminated; the world becomes a theatre of rebellion; and God, with all His love, is obliged to come forth with a curse, and reveal wrath from heaven against the universal impiety and injustice of men. Now, views of this sort are painful in two ways.
1. They give occasion to men of sceptical minds to think and to say hard things; they feed and nourish the enmity of their hearts against God.
2. They give occasion to many painful thoughts in the children of God. (J. H.Hinton, M. A.)
Relief in contemplating the mystery of God’s ways
There are considerations by which the painfulness of such views may be diminished and taken away.
I. TAKING THE CASE AT THE VERY WORST, IT IS NOTHING BUT A CASE OF DIFFICULTY. It is not that the ways of God are in any case such as yield demonstration of ill. It is admitted that these difficulties may, for aught that appears, admit of a wise and happy solution.
II. WE HAVE NO REASON AT ALL TO COMPLAIN OF THE DIFFICULTIES, THE KIND AND DEGREE OF MYSTERY, THAT NOW ATTACHES TO THE WAYS OF GOD, NOR ANY REASON TO EXPECT IT SHOULD BE OTHERWISE.
1. The mystery which attaches to the ways of God arises in part from physical, from natural causes. In fact, there is an impossibility of its being removed. And this arises out of the great diversity of knowledge and understanding that there is betwixt God and ourselves.
2. Then this mystery arises in part from the unfavourableness of our position even for making use of what faculties we have. We do not stand so in relation to God and His ways as to take the most clear and favourable view of them. We are looking upon the ways of God from the earth; let us wait till we get to a better position.
3. Then we have no reason to complain of this mystery, because God, as the Governor of the world, has a right to work in darkness. The Foreign
Secretary of the English Government works in mystery. How the world would laugh at him if he did not!--if he let all men, friends or foes, know what he was about! And is the Governor of all things to have no mysteries? “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing”; and that He can form designs and work them out, and defy the whole universe to penetrate them, or to know what He means to do till He sees fit to disclose His plan in all its completeness, and lay bare the beauty in the eyes of all--there is His glory as a Governor. And there is not any one of His friendly subjects that will ever complain of this.
4. The provision of God’s government, as respecting ourselves, has a probationary and disciplinary design.
III. THE WISDOM, HOLINESS, AND GOODNESS OF GOD ARE IN POINT OF FACT ESTABLISHED SO FIRMLY BY SOLID PROOFS AND ARGUMENTS THAT NOT ALL THE MYSTERY WHICH ATTACHES TO THE WAYS OF GOD AT PRESENT CAN EVER DISTURB THE TRUTH OF THEM.
IV. WHEN WE LOOK AT SUCH PARTS OF GOD’S WAYS AS ARE ALREADY FINISHED WE SEE THE MYSTERY DISAPPEAR FROM THEM; and however, if they had been looked at in their progress, they would have seemed very mysterious and difficult to be understood, when they are finished they appear wise and kind and good. For some parts of God s ways, though small comparatively, are finished. Look at the history of Joseph, for example, from the time when he provoked the jealousy of his brethren. Look at the case of Job; the apostle notices it in this way--“Ye have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy.” Now from one, judge all the ways of God.
V. THE MYSTERY WHICH NOW ATTACHES TO THE WAYS OF GOD MUST BE EFFECTUALLY AND COMPLETELY DONE AWAY HEREAFTER, because God Himself (if one may speak it reverently) stands as a candidate for the applause of the universe. He is working out His designs in the presence of beings whom He has made capable of understanding them in part; ourselves, for example, and the devils, and the angels in heaven. He is working out His designs in the presence of critical judges. Not that it is of any consequence to God, one may say, what we think of His ways; but yet, inasmuch as God has made us capable of appreciating His ways, and of deriving emotions from understanding them, there can be no question but that God means to stand well in the judgment of creatures whom He has thus made capable of judging. Practical improvement--
1. One may learn hence the infinite importance of a spirit of friendship with God.
(1) Because it is only in the spirit of a friend that His character can be justly viewed.
(2) Because of the very fact of the mystery of His ways. God’s ways to yourself will be mysterious; and how can you bear to be in the hands of a mysterious Being, a Being whose ways are mysterious, without being sure that He is your friend?
2. The friends of God should learn to trust Him with unshaken confidence. We have grounds for confidence--security that God’s character is all that it should be.
3. Let us anticipate with joy the world that is to come. The world to come will be the time (so to speak) for God’s turning towards us the tapestry which He is working. (J. H. Hinton, M. A.)
God hiding Himself
1. God hid Himself when He brought them into the trouble, hid Himself, and was wroth (Isaiah 57:17).
2. He hid Himself when He was bringing them out of the trouble Psalms 77:19). (M. Henry.)
The Lord a God that hideth Himself
When the Holy Scriptures represent the Lord to us, or describe any of the more splendid manifestations of Himself, we find united together the fire and the cloud, light and darkness. It is this union which Isaiah exhibits: “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.” The phrase denotes the incomprehensibility of Providence, the obscurity of God’s ways and dealings with the children of men.
I. GOD, THE SAVIOUR OF ISRAEL, IS A GOD THAT HIDETH HIMSELF. That His dispensations, though wise and merciful, are often mysterious--
1. Would be supposed by reason.
2. Is proved by experience.
II. THOUGH HE HIDETH HIMSELF HE IS ALWAYS THE SAVIOUR OF HIS PEOPLE. Though the dispensations of Providence towards them are inscrutable, they have a certain connection with their salvation. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
The hidden God
In all times and circumstances this tendency of God to hide Himself has been forced upon men. God hid Himself in the burning bush, in the cloud of glory that rested over the tabernacle. He shined forth from Mount Paran, and Sinai, and Seir, but no man beheld Him. Often were the tones of His voice heard, but no form was seen. Often was His glory made manifest, but His face concealed. Men like Enoch and Noah and Elijah walked with God and communed with Him; yet upon the Almighty they gazed not. Often did God speak to men in dreams and visions of the night, but none ever saw the face or distinguished the form of the Eternal. Moses could sing his grand song, but God must put into his mouth, “I will hide My face from them; I will see what their end shall be.” Job inquires--and how pathetic is the question on this man’s lips!--“Wherefore hidest Thou Thy face?” Even Isaiah, who enjoyed a clearer vision of God than most men, makes Him out to be the Great Mystery of all things, and yet says: “I will wait upon the Lord that hideth His face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for Him.” Truly “no man can see God”; no man can see anything that is really great. The invisible things are the greatest, and God is in them all. He is nearer to you than your hands and feet, and closer to you than your breathing; yet you cannot see Him. (G. FelixWilliams.)
God hiding Himself
I. NATURE is a house of concealment for God.
II. PROVIDENCE is also a house of concealment for God.
III. God was hidden IN JESUS CHRIST. (G. Felix Williams.)
God hidden from the sinner
There is a hiding of Himself mentioned in the Scripture--God’s spiritual withdrawal of Himself from our souls, which, far from being His voluntary purpose concerning us, is a dire misfortune which we entail upon ourselves,--a correcting punishment in all cases--a tremendous judgment in some. It is most important, therefore, that we should consider the different instances in which God may be said to be spiritually hidden from us, in order that we may learn how to avoid falling into so heavy a calamity, as well as how best to profit by it when God’s chastening hand so visits us.
1. God is often hidden from us in prayer.
2. He must be hidden from us whenever we presumptuously sin against Him.
3. He is also hidden when we feel a want of reliance on Him, and comfort in Him, under the ordinary trials and sufferings of the present life. (A. Gatty, M. A.)
The hidings of Deity
The inspired writers dwell frequently and earnestly on the inaccessible splendour that surrounds the Creator. “Clouds and darkness are round about Him”; “touching the Almighty, we cannot find Him out”; “He made darkness His secret place; His pavilion round about Him were dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies.” It was a cloud which conducted the wanderings of Israel; it was a cloud which filled the tabernacle of the Lord. The symbols of God’s greatness wear the robes of concealment, and He demands homage, not so much by what He has revealed as by what the revelation itself pronounces obscure. And it should be observed that all this proceeded not from unwillingness to disclose His brightness, but rather from the fact that since this brightness was Divine it could not be endured by human vision. To this He Himself referred when discoursing with Moses as His own friend. “Thou canst not see My face, for there shall no man see Me and live”; and although He “made all His goodness to pass before him,” as being that which the creatures of earth might behold and yet breathe, when the august train of His glory swept by, He hid His servant in the cleft of the rock, lest he should be withered to nothing by the unearthly blaze. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
God hiding Himself
If we pass from the days of ancient Israel to our own, it is to be remarked that we think much and speak much of the mysteries which undeniably exist in the nature of God, and in His operations whether in providence or in grace; but after all, it may be that we scarcely regard those mysteries in their most important point of view,--that we rather consider them as secrets which oppose our ingenuity thanas fields which yield a rich harvest of honour to the Creator and of advantage to ourselves. There is a likelihood of our not regarding these mysteries as necessary portions of the dealings between finite beings and the Infinite; as forced, so to speak, into God’s dispensations by His unmeasured superiority over the work of His own hands. Nay, we are well aware that many go even so far as to denounce and decry revelation altogether, just because it contains truths too big for human comprehension; forgetting or overlooking that, since it is probably essential to the very nature of God that He should hide Himself, their ground of rejection is virtually a ground of belief and acceptance. Thus our text seems to breathe the language of admiration and praise.
I. THAT OF GOD HIDING HIMSELF IN REGARD OF HIS OWN NATURE AND PROPERTIES. In real truth, we know nothing of God in Himself; we know Him only in His attributes, and His attributes only as written in His Word and His works. Let it only be remembered that we are a mystery to ourselves; that every object around us baffles our penetration; that there is not an insect, nor a leaf, nor an atom, which does not master us if we attempt to apprehend its nature and its growth, and we must admit that there is a presumption which outbraves language in expecting that we may ascertain what God is, and how God subsists. Even when God makes announcements of His nature, they are such as quite baffle our reason!
1. Look at the doctrine of the Trinity.
2. So soon as God has been addressed as a “God that hideth Himself” He is addressed as “the Saviour.” And we are free to own, in respect of the scheme of our salvation, that whilst everything is disclosed which has reference to ourselves, there is much hidden which has reference to God. We can form no adequate notion of the Incarnation: how the Godhead could tabernacle in flesh; how Divinity and humanity could coalesce to make a Mediator; how there could be a bearing of sin and yet freedom from sinfulness; the impossibility of being overcome by temptation, and yet such a capacity of being tempted as should ensure sympathy to ourselves. It lies beyond human power, at least with the present amount of revelation, to scan the wonders of the Person, and to unravel the intricacies of the work of redemption. “Verily Thou art a God that hideth Thyself” is what we are forced to exclaim even when contemplating God as “the God of Israel, the Saviour.” But in what tone should we make the exclamation? The points to which we have referred are not points which it concerns men accurately to understand, though it is at their own peril not to believe; and there is nothing by which God is so much honoured, and the soul so much advantaged, as by our taking Him at His word.
3. We observe in reference to the Bible, as before in reference to the Divine nature, that it is the sublimity which produces the obscurity.
4. And if God, when discovering Himself as the Saviour, hide much in regard of the mysteries of redemption, does He not also hide much of its individual application? How secretly the Holy Spirit enters into the heart of man!
II. THAT OF HIS HIDING HIMSELF IN REGARD OF HIS DEALINGS WITH HIS CREATURES.
1. God conceals much in the dispensations of His providence. He does not lay open the reasons of His appointments; He does not explain why prosperity should be allotted to one man and adversity to another.
2. God hides from His creatures the day of their death.
3. God has hidden muck from us with regard to a future state. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
God a mystery
God is a mystery, unsearchable, unfathomable, inscrutable. So am I; so is everything. In his poem, “Flower in the crannied wall,” Tennyson stored one of his profoundest thoughts: If I could explain God He would cease to be God. An infinite subject can never come within the limitations of a finite mind. It matters not whether we surround God with clouds and darkness, or “light inaccessible”--He is equally hidden by either. Since the prophet uttered the text, men have advanced no further into the sanctuary that veils from sight the Deity. Science has made many discoveries, solved many mysteries, but upon one subject sheds no light, and in the presence of God is “dumb with silence.”
I. GOD HIDES HIMSELF IN NATURE. “In Him we live and move and have our being,” yet where is He? Worlds move in their orbits and “stars in their courses,” because an unseen hand upholds and guides. The telescope brings distant worlds in view and reveals everywhere His presence and power, but no telescope is so powerful as to bring God within range of our vision. Study the origin of life, and with aid of the microscope gaze upon the simplest germs fresh from the hand of God, and that hand seems almost in sight, but; still He eludes our sight.
II. THE GOD OF PROVIDENCE HIDES HIMSELF. “Thy way is in the sea, and Thy footsteps are not known.” His providences stagger human reason, and His purposes and ways are past finding out (Psalms 73:1-28.). We look on the wrong side of the pattern, but God is behind the curtain. His hand holds the shuttle, His foot is on the treadle, He will weave the web of our life into a pattern beautiful and glorious according to His Divine design. History is the unfolding of His providence on a large scale, which “almost reveals, but does not quite conceal,” the finger that writes its records.
III. THE GOD OF GRACE HIDES BEHIND HIS PURPOSES OF GRACE. The analogy between nature and grace is very striking.
IV. WILL GOD HIDE HIMSELF IN HEAVEN ALSO; OR WILL HE COME FORTH TO VIEW IN THE LIGHT OF ETERNITY? “No man shall see Me and live” seems to imply a possibility after death. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” But do not the pure of earth see God in that sense? In a certain sense we will “see His face,” but in all probability He will even in eternity be a God that hideth Himself, in order that eternity may be a continual revelation more and more of His beauty and glory.
V. GOD HIDES HIMSELF, BUT NOT HIS MERCY. His love shines on every page of the Scriptures, and “His mercy is in the heavens,” above the brightness of the sun. Whatever else may be dark, the way of life is plain. (S. L. Morris, D. D.)
Mysteries in religion
Verily, God hideth Himself. I AS REGARDS HIS PERSONAL EXISTENCE.
II. AS REGARDS THE SOVEREIGNTY OF ALL HIS WORKS IN CREATION AND PROVIDENCE.
III. IN THE RICHES OF HIS ATONING LOVE IN JESUS CHRIST.
IV. IN THE ENERGY OF HIS SAVING POWER BY THE HOLY GHOST. (H. M‘Neile, M. A.)
God hides to reveal Himself
If the chapter is examined it will be seen that God’s hiding Himself is regarded but as a preparation of manifestation, and as a means of it. He hid Himself in employing Cyrus, but it was that He might be better known, that His control over men and nations might be recognised. We have then to consider the truth that God’s hiding of Himself is in order that He may be better known, and that His great end in all is that all the ends of the earth may look to Him and be saved.
I. THIS IS TRUE OF THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE.
1. Think of an infinite Being, a perfect and eternal One, and of dependent spirits created and sustained by Him. Should we not have expected that this great and glorious Being would make Himself known to His creatures in some direct, clear, unmistakable way? Instead of such a visible, unmistakable appearance of God we have only a vast expanse of matter. Matter everywhere; God nowhere to be seen. There are great forces moving around us; but they are not God. We cannot see a face. We believe, we feel, we know that behind all a great Will is working, but we cannot see or touch that Will. Matter in its dulness and insensibility hides God. Its crassness and opacity keep the thought of God out of our minds. We lose God in the multitudinousness of the forms He presents to us. Beauty and grandeur even enchain our souls. We are delighted with the picture, and never rise beyond.
2. Yet this matter, so often felt as a concealing of God, is truly a revealing, a manifestation of qualities in God which otherwise would have been hidden from us. How could God’s almighty power have been made plain to us except through matter? The variety, which may seem to hide God, reveals the inexhaustibleness of His resources. Minuteness reveals the greatness of His care. And though God remains hidden, the fact of His existence is made clear and certain to the practical reason of man. The marks of adaptation, purpose, and design are so multiplied, so direct and obvious in some cases, and so elaborate and complex in others, that conviction comes irresistibly on the general mind. The destruction and pain that are found in some parts of nature form a contrast needful to the setting off of the beneficence displayed in the enjoyment that abounds. Would not the beauty of the world be tame and unappreciated if it were confronted with no opposite? The very inexplicabeleness of some parts of the universe, their apparent contradiction to the goodness of God, are part of the lesson, and a most important part. They give us a sense of the mystery of God. They are the very things that waken up certain classes of minds. They serve, above all, to impress us with the thought that nature is no sufficient manifestation of God. They render necessary a lofty faith in God, and make welcome that higher revelation which is its nutriment.
II. IT IS TRUE OF LAW, which is found everywhere in the material universe, that while it seems to hide God it yet manifests Him in a higher way.
1. A system of law everywhere prevails. Each separate existence has its own law, and all are bound together by general laws. The thought of this all-pervading invariable law has something in it pleasing to the intellect of man. It even gives him delight to contemplate the unvarying order, and to trace regularity and harmony where at first there appeared only confusion. But the human heart does not take kindly to this idea of law. It feels as if it were imprisoned, and God put far away and deprived of power to help. It seems even, at times, as if God were put out of the universe, and scarcely even the name of Him left.
2. But it is a groundless alarm. The belief in law neither takes away God, nor deprives Him of His freedom and power to help. To show that God’s working is regular is not to make it less His working. Order is not force. The channel in which power operates is not the power. The existence of law, then, does not really hide God.. It reveals Him in a grand and elevating way. What lessons it teaches of the Divine love for order, of the unity of God’s mind, and His unchangeableness. What an impression it gives of the entire absence of caprice in His nature, and His absolute reliableness. How grandly it shows the subordination of all things, even the minutest, to one vast purpose.
III. IT IS TRUE OF THE MEANS AND AGENTS EMPLOYED BY GOD that in them He hides Himself and vet reveals Himself in a higher way.
1. God’s great channels of power in the moral world are two--truth and men. The truth of God is so perfectly adapted to its purpose that; it seems to be doing all the work. So also is it with the human agency that God employs. The influence of men appears to depend so entirely on the energy they put forth, upon their adaptation to particular classes of men, upon their intellectual and moral incisiveness, upon a certain shining through of conviction, and a contagiousness of nature, that it seems as if it were a thing wholly in the human sphere. God is thoroughly hidden behind man.
2. But look what a grand revelation of Himself God gives by this arrangement. What a regard He shows to the souls He has made in using such an array of truth upon them. It is one of the greatest displays of God that He condescends to win by truth, that He stoops to reason and plead. And what noble qualities God shows in using human agents as He does. Does He not show His desire to bring out of each creature all its capabilities, His desire to give to the children the highest possible honour, to make them dear and honourable to each other, by making them the channels of the very highest blessing?
IV. GOD HIDES HIMSELF BEHIND DELAY AND DISASTER, AND YET REVEALS HIMSELF THROUGH THESE IN A HIGHER WAY. It is an old cause of perplexity to men that one event happens to the evil and the-good, and that God’s work moves with such incredible slowness. And yet, in all this God is revealing Himself. He reveals His grand purpose and determination that men shall walk by faith. Would it be a benefit to men to be freed from the necessity of walking by faith? It would be stopping the channel between us and all God’s blessings. God makes the world so full of contradiction and disaster, makes it so incalculable and mysterious, just because He loves us and does not wish us to stray away from Himself. What wealth of consolation He spreads abroad in hearts through the occasion and opportunity of sorrow. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The Divine invisibility
We have in us from babyhood an irrepressible desire to know the unknown. The unknown is the awful. And so in heathen religions there is always some mysterious place into which only a high priest enters, some inner sanctuary veiled from mortal eyes where the Divine presence is more perceptible than elsewhere. Even Judaism had it and its veil of the temple was not rent in twain till Christ came. Sacerdotal churches maintain the idea till this day. Idolatry--what is it? What but the effort to make the invisible visible? When Jesus the Christ came into this world’s life, He came to answer the longing of the human heart after some such expression of Deity as should satisfy that desire to make the invisible visible. In our noblest moments it must seem to us that the demand for a full and perfect revelation of Deity is unreasonable, not to use the stronger word, absurd. Reasonable enough is the demand, let us know the heart of Deity. And so, while it is still true that the eternal One is a God that hideth Himself it is also true that the prayer of man’s heart, “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,” has been answered. But can we not see that the Divine invisibility has its uses in the development of this nature of ours?
1. One use is to train us to reverence.
2. God’s hiding of Himself is necessary to our freedom. Our great Teacher puts this thought, as is His wont, into the parable of an Eastern lord going into a far country and delivering his goods into the custody of his servants, that, in his absence, they may so use them as to increase them. In order to the development of every human life a certain amount of freedom is necessary. The over-awing sensible presence of God would completely destroy our freedom. It would paralyse our activities.
3. It is necessary to our perfectness of nature. But perfectness in man is not simply a matter of outward condition, it implies internal correspondence with an environment in itself perfect. In order to perfectness of inward condition there must be the ability of faith in a Power outside ourselves, and of faith in all around us, the ability of perpetual hope, the ability of undying love. And it is not possible, so far as we can see, to develop these virtues unless we have room for their growth. The invisibility of God is necessary to their growth. (R. Thomas, D. D.)
Withholding the law of revealing
I. SEE HOW CONTINUOUS HAS BEEN THIS LAW.
1. The records of the world before the flood, scanty as they are, show us that it was ever present in that earliest dispensation. Through that darkness we can see man under the dispensation of an incomplete revelation; God, ever present and yet ever hidden, and restraining His manifestation of Himself even as He gives it. What an expression it is, “God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt.” That looking on it, His revelation; that turning aside from it, His hiding of His face, because He could not endure its corruption and its violence.
2. After the flood it is still the same; as to the world at large most evidently so. How soon does the knowledge of God die out, even in the family of Noah! Then the Lord calls Abraham, and reveals Himself to that one chosen witness What a hiding of Himself, even in His revelation, does this imply. Even more remarkable yet is the presence of this law amongst those to whom the light was given. Marvellous communications of Himself were made by God to Abraham. When the three mysterious strangers stood suddenly before him as he sat in his tent-door in the heat of the day, how near he is to the knowledge of the Divine Trinity; and when the men vanish out of his sight, and he is left alone “before the Lord,” how is the Trinity gathered up again into the unity of the Godhead. So again, when the assurance of his own acceptance is vouchsafed to him as the lamp of God moves between the divided pieces of his sacrifice, a horror of great darkness falls upon the spirit of the favoured man. In the revelation of Himself God still hides Himself, even from the opened eye of Abraham. So it continues all along the line.
3. So it was throughout the whole prophetic dispensation. What growing light,--what remaining darkness meet us everywhere.
4. How plainly is the same feature to be traced in the personal ministry of Our Lord Himself! This is everywhere discernible in His conduct to the scribes and Pharisees, and even to the multitude. What else were those charges to one and another not to make known His miraculous works of healing; what else the wrapping up of His words in parables; that “seeing they might see and not perceive, and hearing they might hear and not understand”? And even with His own disciples He acted to a great degree on the same rule. How plainly do their words and acts convey to us the idea of men living under a sense of mystery which they could not fathom.
5. Is not the same law marked even upon the open revelation of the dispensation of the Spirit? God’s sovereignty and man’s free agency; the co-working of His almighty grace and our own personal responsibility; the infinite love and power of God, and the origin and being of evil; who can explain the co-existence of these wonders?
6. Nor is it otherwise, if from these unsolved difficulties of thought we turn to the direct appointments of the Church of Christ. Do not the blessed sacraments of the Gospel at once reveal and hide the Divine Presence?
7. Most signally, too, is this true as to God s dealings with individual souls in the Church of the redeemed.
8. We may trace it in the Church at large. Bright as is the light, where is it without the shadow following it?
II. ITS OBJECT. Here, then, is the dispensation. Why we are put under it the fewest words may safest tell Evidently it is of God’s love for us, and of His pity for our weakness. It is because we cannot now bear more; and that we may be led on to more.
III. ITS CONSEQUENCES. What especially we should learn from His having placed us under such a dispensation seems to be--
1. That if we would know Him we must follow hard after Him.
2. The need of reverence in seeking.
3. The true mode of treating these mysteries is neither to deny their existence nor to fear their presence, still less to let them minister to the production of doubt or unbelief, but to look at them as men look at the clouds which fleck the heavens; which, though for the time they hide the sun, yet do not make it the less present in the firmament, but which may themselves become so full of its light as to give back its radiance with a beauty which, if its burning brightness had not been broken by them into the infinity of light and shade, it could not have possessed. (Bp. S. Wilberforce, D. D.)
The knowledge of a triune God
In this short verse there is contained the description of God in two characters, as known and yet unknown, as revealed and yet a mystery, as showing and yet hiding Himself. This comprehensive idea of God had been gained from experience. The names “God of Israel” and “Saviour” embody the remembrance of the many occasions when He had shown Himself identified with the nation’s life and safety, as He had guided or protected them. And yet, running all through that same history had been the feature of unexpectedness and strangeness in His mode of working; so that at last the people felt that they knew Him and yet did not know Him. Each new proof of His power and presence only introduced a new point at which the mystery of His being and His ways was felt. Our experience cannot be said to be greatly different from the prophet’s. We go over the life of Christ, and each point of it is a revelation of our God; and then we complete our thoughts with an expression of God’s being full of hard thoughts and mystery.
1. Christ as the revelation of God leads to the doctrine of the Trinity. Happy shall we be if we can feel the unity of the two aspects of mystery and revelation as the prophet did, and join them, as he did, without any sense of hostility between them.
2. If men would only see that the doctrine of a Trinity has its first ground in the longing of God to get near to man, it would not so often be pronounced hard, cold, and useless. We should all see how to use it. When life and the world seemed cruel and disappointing, seemed to be discouraging us from any attempt to find God, then we would turn to our doctrine of God and, gathering re-assurance from the announcement that there is in the Godhead not only the power of sitting afar off in mysterious grandeur, but also the power of coming near to each one of us, and being one with us, we should take up our life again with new courage, and go back to the world with new confidence, feeling sure that God is in it, and is not beyond meeting us there.
3. Another characteristic of our search for God is, that we want Him to be like us in character and feeling. If He is not, we do not see how we can form any estimate of Him, and know Him at all. And yet that desire to have Him like us has led to such evil results that men often distrust it. It has so generally resulted in making a man’s God only an unnaturally magnified reflection of his own character that the pictures thus produced have been anything but attractive. They have so often had cruelty, hatred, and narrowness in them that men, rejecting such representations, have said, “We cannot know God, He is so different from us; He is a God that hideth Himself.
4. We turn again to that revealed picture of our God as it is given in the thought of a Trinity, and we find that it contains the very central idea of human life,--mutual feeling and relation. (A. Brooks, D. D.)
God hides Himself
It is supposed by some, that after Cyrus took possession of the city he was shown this prophecy, probably by Daniel, and he was so impressed with it that he resolved still further to fulfil it, by allowing the Jewish captives to return to their own land; and the way in which God would accomplish the work without openly appearing in it led the prophet to exclaim: “Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself,” &c. This sentiment is often expressed in God’s Word, and is still more frequently justified by His ways and works.
I. THE FACT HERE STATED, that God hides Himself. This is a fact that none will dispute; for--
1. He is unseen.
(1) In the works of nature. We do not see Him engaged in them as we see men engaged in what they do.
(2) In the dispensations of providence. The word “providence” means God, foreseeing, arranging, and controlling events that happen. We are often so staggered by what takes place, it is so contrary to what we expected, that we have no answer to the question, “Where is thy God?”
(3) In His spiritual operations. “The wind bloweth where it listeth,” &c. The Lord opened the heart of Lydia, but no one saw Him do it.
2. God hides Himself, in that He has not reavealed Himself to us in such a way as to render doubt and unbelief impossible. He has not left Himself without witnesses. God may be known by His works, not must be. God has revealed Himself in His Word. God Has revealed Himself in His Son. But the incarnation is a concealment of God, as well as a manifestation.
II. REASONS WHY GOD THUS HIDES HIMSELF. There must be some very sufficient reason for this conduct on the part of God. There is a very deep sense in which God hides Himself from us on account of our sins; that is, withdraws from us the sense of His spiritual presence and the tokens of His favour (Isaiah 59:2). But that is not the hiding to which the prophethere refers. He hides Himself because this is necessary for our moral probation and discipline. He was not always visible to our first parents in the garden; for when they heard His voice, after they sinned, they hid themselves. They would scarcely have eaten of the forbidden fruit while conscious that His eye was upon them. In like manner it is necessary for our probation that God should not be seen. He hides Himself--
1. To try our faith. Jesus said to Thomas, “Because thou hast seen thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.” Faith has reason and a sufficient revelation on which to rest; but if a man does not wish to retain the knowledge of God, he may find room for doubt and unbelief even in regions where the pure in heart see God.
2. To test our love. We must have a high and intelligent appreciation of the character of a being, and our love to him must have its roots deep down in our moral nature, if we are to continue to love him during a long absence, even though at one time we have seen him; but how high must be our appreciation of his character and work if we can say of him, “Whom having not seen, we love; in whom, though now we see Him not, yet believing, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” If we so love Christ when we do not see Him how shall we love Him when we see Him as He is!
3. To test the strength of our principles. A master wishes to know how his servant does when he is absent; a father wishes to know how his son Conducts himself when from home. If he hears that his son is as pure and upright and loving as he ever was when the eyes of his parents were upon him, it fills his heart with satisfaction and delight; so God wishes to know what we will do when we seem to be left to ourselves. It is then that our principles are tested. God hides Himself to see what we will do. He sees us, though we cannot see Him. No dispensation could be better than the one under which we live, to develop our principles and form our character; it is a dispensation of faith, not sight, in which we are being trained to do right because it is right, even though we cannot at the time see the consequences that will follow right or wrong.
4. To test our confidence in His arrangements, whether we will trust Him even when we cannot trace Him. There are many who think that they could bear the ills of life if they were sure that God appointed them, but their trials seem to come so entirely from human sources that it seems to them as though they were just left to be the victims of human caprice. But we must endure as seeing the invisible, and say of man as Jesus said to Pilate: “Thou couldest have no power against Me except it were given thee from above” (John 19:11).
5. In order that we may seek Him. We spare no pains in seeking that which we highly value, and God will be appreciated. He seeks us, but we must also seek Him. Lessons--
(1) This subject ought to rebuke ostentation when engaged in works of benevolence. God hides Himself even when He does good. How, then, ought we to hide ourselves even when doing good!
(2) This also rebukes those who hide their talents because they are few, and do nothing because they cannot do great things. They think that the little they can do will never be noticed or seen, and therefore they neglect to do it. We are to hide ourselves, but not our talents. We are to do the good we can, however small it be, and even though it should never be known that we did anything.
(3) The fact that God hides Himself is no excuse for our not knowing Him. He has never said, “Seek ye Me in vain.” He has said, “Seek ye My face,” and “They that seek Me shall find Me” (Isaiah 55:6-7). (A. Clark.)
But Israel shall be saved in the Lord
A forecast of the Messianic age
As is usual in the prophets, the perfect dispensation, or what is called the Messianic age, is conceived as issuing immediately from the historical crisis which is the subject of the prophecy--in this case, the deliverance from Babylon.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Israel saved in the Lord
I. THE GLORIOUS OBJECT. Everlasting salvation in the Lord.
1. Includes deliverance from ignorance, guilt, &c., and the possession of light, peace, &c.; and this state continued and increased for ever. It is grace consummated in eternal glory.
2. This salvation is “in the Lord”--the Lord Messiah.
(1) As a possession, purchased by His own blood, in whose right only we can obtain it.
(2) As an inheritance, kept in trust, and to be conveyed by Him to the appointed heirs of it.
(3) As in a grand exemplar, in His human nature, of the complete and final happiness of the saints (Romans 8:29; Philippians 3:21). It is in Him both as a beatific object and a perpetual medium, through which the blessed will see and enjoy God for ever.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE PERSONS TO WHOM EVERLASTING SALVATION IS PROMISED. “Israel.”
1. A name of great distinction in Scripture The Israelites, to whom everlasting salvation is promised, are such as are so in a spiritual sense.
2. True Israelites are such as have given their unfeigned consent to be God’s people, subjects, and servants; such as have “joined themselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant.”
3. True Israelites are such as live in an unreserved subjection to the laws and government of God and the Redeemer (Romans 7:22). Through faith in Christ they are vitally united to Him, and from Him receive those hourly supplies of grace that qualify men for every good word and work.
III. THE GROUNDS OF THE CERTAINTY OF THEIR SALVATION.
1. The possession Christ has taken of it in the name and nature of all true believers in Him (Hebrews 6:20; John 14:2-3).
2. Christ’s intercession, which He ever lives in heaven to make for them Hebrews 7:25).
3. His mighty power which is engaged for them (1 Peter 1:4-5).
4. God’s promise (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:17-18). (Sketches of Sermons.)
Saved in the Lord
That is, through Him (Romans 5:9). The elect of God dispersed over the earth shall be saved through the powerful operation of His glorious excellences, and in virtue of the perfect righteousness of the great Messiah. They shall be saved--
1. Through the love of God (John 3:16).
2. In His infinite wisdom, which He hath wonderfully displayed in devising and executing the astonishing plan of salvation.
3. Through His almighty power.
4. In His consummate righteousness; the rectitude of His nature, the equity of His providence, and the faithfulness of His promises, being clearly demonstrated by the accomplishment of this salvation. (R. Macculloch.)
Isaiah’s far-reaching glance
He foresaw the redemption of suffering Israel by the hand of Cyrus, but uses terms that it would be a misleading and inexcusable blunder to employ if they are intended to be restricted to those small bands of immigrants returning under Ezra and Nehemiah, whose descendants rejected the Christ, and went forth into the great and long-ending dispersion after the Romans had destroyed the rebuilt city. Standing once, at sunrise, on a lower height of the Himalayas--lower, though still 10,000 feet above the plains--we saw beneath us, stretching away into the blue distance, leagues upon leagues of rolling country clothed with evergreen forests of tree ferns, tree rhododendrons and magnolias, till the view was lost in cloudland. But, behold, even as we watched, the clouds broke and scattered, trooping away into the vault of heaven like hosts of white-robed angels. Between their ranks were revealed, one after another, the mighty flanks of Kinchinjunga and her sister mountains; then their snow-peaks and glaciers. Another few minutes, and the last cloud had vanished, and the glittering crest of Mount Everest, the loftiest summit in the world--we know not how many hundreds of miles afield--flashed upon the horizon. The lower and nearer landscape was not lost, it was there still, in all its beauty and verdure, but we had no longer any eyes for it because of the glory that exceeded. Something like that would have been the prospect unfolded to the “rapt Isaiah’s” spiritual eyesight, could he have understood all that was involved in his prophecies. He must have had at least a partial understanding of their meaning, for we read that “these things said Isaiah because he saw [Christ’s] glory, and he spake of Him.” Nevertheless, it is reserved for us to see most distinctly the full extent of the prophetic landscape, because from before our eyes even the remotest clouds that linger on the horizon have been lifted by the sun-rising of New Testament teaching. (F. Sessions.)
“World without end”
“To eternal eternities.” (F. Delitzsch.)
The expression does not occur again. (J Skinner.)
For thus saith the Lord that created the heavens.
How God reveals Himself
The main current of the section may be thus expressed--
I. GOD’S REVELATION OF HIMSELF IS OPEN AND TRUTHFUL. He has not spoken in secret; and He has not bid men seek Him in vain.
II. GOD’S REVELATION OF HIMSELF IS IN REFERENCE TO THE HIGHEST PRACTICAL OBJECTS. “Seek ye My face; look unto Me, and be ye saved; He is a just God and a Saviour.”
III. GOD’S REVELATION OF HIMSELF IS TO ISSUE IN THE SALVATION OF THE WHOLE EARTH. “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess to Him.” (C. Short, M. A.)
The reasonableness of God’s procedure
We have here the repetition of that deep, strong note which Isaiah himself so often sounded to the comfort of men in perplexity or despair, that God is at least reasonable, not working for nothing, nor beginning only to leave off, nor creating in order to destroy. The same God, says our prophet, who formed the earth in order to see it inhabited, must surely be believed to be consistent enough to carry to the end also His spiritual work among men. Our prophet’s idea of God’s righteousness, therefore, includes the idea of reasonableness; implies rational, as well as moral consistency, practical sense as well as good faith; the conscience of a reasonable plan, and, perhaps, also the power to carry it through. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
I have not spoken in secret
“In a dark place of the earth,”
“In a dark place of the earth,” is an expression used for the purpose of pointing out the contrast between the prophecies of Jehovah and the heathen cave, oracles and spirit-voices of the necromancers, which seemed to rise up from the interior of the earth.
(C. Short, M. A.)
God’s speech to men
Two thoughts branch off--
1. Prophecy, proceeding from Him is a thing of the light, no black art, essentially different from heathen divination.
2. The same love of Jehovah which is revealed already in creation, is also shown in His relation to Israel; He did not point Israel to Himself as chaos (“I said not to the seed of Jacob; seek Me as chaos!”), even as He did not create the earth a chaos (“He has not created it a chaos,” Isaiah 45:18). (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me in vain.
“Seek ye Me in vain,”
“Seek ye Me in vain,” literally, in waste, i.e where there are no ways or indications how He is to be found. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Comfort to seekers from what the Lord has not said
We might gain much solace by considering what God has not said. We have an assurance that God will answer prayer, because He hath not said unto the seed of Israel, Seek ye My face in vain. The proposition is this: that those who seek God, in God’s own appointed way, cannot, by any possibility seek Him in vain; that earnest, penitent, prayerful hearts, though they may be delayed for a time, can never be sent away with a final denial (Ro Matthew 7:8).
I. I SHALL PROVE THIS BY THE NEGATIVE, as our text has it.
1. Suppose that sincere prayer could be fruitless, then the question arises, Why are men exhorted to pray at all? Would it not be a piece of heartless tyranny if the Queen should wait upon a man in his condemned cell, and encourage him to petition her favour, nay, command him to do it, saying to him, be importunate, and you will prevail; and yet, all the while, should intend never to pardon the man, but had determined in her heart that his death-warrant should be signed and sealed, and that on the execution morning he should be launched into eternity? Would this be consistent with royal bounty--fit conduct for a gracious monarch? Can you for a moment suppose that God would bid you come to Him through Jesus Christ, and yet intend never to be gracious at the voice of your cry?
2. If prayer could be offered continuously, and God could be sought earnestly, but no mercy found, then he who prays would be worse off than he who does not pray, and supplications would be an ingenious invention for increasing the ills of mankind. For a man who does not pray has less woes than a man who does pray, if God be not the answerer of prayer. He who has been taught to pray has great desires and wants; his heart is an aching void which the world can never fill; but he that never prays has no longings and pinnings after God. If, then, a man may have these vehement longings, and yet God will never grant them, then assuredly the man who prays is in a worse position than he who prays not. How can this be?
3. If God do not hear prayer, since it is clear that in that case the praying man would be more wretched than the careless sinner, then it would follow that God would be the author of unnecessary misery. This is inconsistent with the character of God.
4. Should there still be some desponding ones, who think that God would invite them to pray and yet reject them, I would put it on another ground. Would men do so? Would you? Can God be less generous than men?
5. This is God’s memorial by which He is distinguished from the false gods Psalms 115:6; Psalms 65:2). One of the standing proofs of the Deity of Jehovah is, that He does answer the supplications of His people.
6. If God do not hear prayer what is the meaning of His promises?
7. What is the meaning of all the provisions which He has already made for hearing prayer? Why a mediator, an intercessor? &c.
8. If God hear not prayer, what Gospel have I to preach?
9. Where, then, were the believer’s hope?
10. What would they say in hell, if a soul could really seek the Lord and be refused? There are some who, when under conviction of sin, still cleave to this dark delusion, that God will not hear them. Therefore, I have tried, by blow after blow, to smite this fear dead.
II. THAT THE LORD DOES HEAR PRAYER MAY BE POSITIVELY SUBSTANTIATED.
1. For the Lord to hear prayer is consistent with His nature.
2. It is harmonious with all His past actions (Psalms 107:3). Conclusion--Try for yourself. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s praying people
1. The seed of Jacob are a praying people; it is the generation of them that seek Him (Psalms 24:6).
2. As He has invited them to seek Him, so He never denied their believing prayers, nor disappointed their believing expectations.
3. If He did not think fit to give them the particular thing they prayed for, yet He gave them that grace sufficient and that comfort and satisfaction of soul which was equivalent. (M. Henry.)
“I, the Lord, speak righteousness.” The word is used in its ethical sense of “trustworthiness,” or straightforwardness,--perfect correspondence between deeds and words. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
A Just God and a Saviour
The just God and the Saviour
To human apprehension, light and darkness are not more opposed than justice and mercy.
We cannot conceive how they possibly can meet together. But God’s ways are not our ways; He is “a just God,” leaving not the smallest possibility of escape for the smallest sin; and He is” a Saviour,” freely and completely pardoning the most atrocious sinner.
I. GOD IS A JUST GOD. The law of God is holy, and just, and good. It is man’s plain, reasonable, bounden duty to obey these commandments; and when he fails in the performance of that duty, it is a righteous thing on the part of God to punish him. Some, indeed, have objected to this principle, and have supported their objection by perverting the Scripture doctrine of original sin, alleging that, if man’s natural corruption render guilt inevitable, it is unjust in God to punish him for that guilt. To meet this objection in a plain practical manner, we would reply that, before any individual can reasonably plead this excuse in his own case, he must be able to prove that he has never been guilty of any transgression, except those only which were rendered inevitable by his original corruption; for the moment that he knowingly and wilfully breaks the law of God in any one instance, it becomes a righteous thing in the Lawgiver to inflict upon him the threatened punishment.
II. GOD IN CHRIST IS A JUST GOD AND A SAVIOUR Jesus Christ is an adequate substitute for the sinner. Every impediment to the most unbounded exercise of mercy being thus righteously removed, the invitation is given forth in all its blessed broadness and fulness unto all lands, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” (D. Dickson, D. D.)
The highest glory of the Divine character
I. These words present, in part at least, AN ASPECT OF APPALLING TERROR--“a just God.” It is necessary to attend to this with becoming reverenceand awe. Some deny it, or overlook it, regarding nothing but His mercy, and forgetting, that there could be no occasion for the exercise of mercy did not His justice consign guilty men to punishment.
1. The fallen angels who have been cast down from their first estate, and are reserved in chains of darkness to the judgment of the last day, are monuments of His avenging justice. Adam and his transgressing partner exiled from Paradise, and that paradise accursed for their sakes; the inhabitants of the world before the flood, with the exception of a single family, swept away into a watery grave by a single stroke; Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain overwhelmed by a torrent of liquid fire from the skies; Mount Sinai itself with its clouded summit and trembling base, its flashing lightnings, its rolling thunders, and trumpet voices, all bespeak the terrors of that inflexible justice which overlooks no sin of men or angels, and suffers no transgression against the eternal authority and sovereignty of God to go unpunished.
2. Consider further what proofs are afforded of the justice of God in His dispensations with the offending race of men. The lot of the progenitor has now become that of all his posterity; and man everywhere is a suffering and dying creature, because he is everywhere a sinner. Consider the awful calamities which have attended the human race, from the first generations to the present.
3. These proofs of Divine justice may be further strengthened and enlarged by considering the very method He has chosen for displaying His mercy. Is He not a just God? Let the agonies of His beloved Son declare--let the cross of Jesus stand as a witness.
II. THE DEEP AND GLORIOUS MYSTERY which, under another view, these words present. This glorious mystery consists in the union of these two characters in the one God of revelation--two characters which it appeared were hostile to each other--two characters which no other system ever did or ever could reconcile--and the difficulty of reconciling which has led some to deny the one, and some to deny the other. The mystery ties in the union of these two perfections of the Divine nature, justice and mercy--and in their united exercise towards the same sinful creatures. This the Gospel fully develops in the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son of God, in His substituted obedience, His voluntary submission, His vicarious sacrifice.
III. These words possess AN ASPECT OF DIVINE COMFORT FOR THE SOUL OF MAN.
1. The comfort depends on your reception of the salvation, which is essentially a salvation from sin, in all those respects in which it has affected our nature, whether by guilt, pollution, degradation, or separation from God.
2. This Divine comfort is open to all.
3. The comfort never fails--never fluctuates--will accompany through life, and abound even in death--when all other sources of comfort fail. (The Evangelist.)
A just God and a Saviour
I. The grand truth is manifestly this--that THERE IS IN GOD AN EVERLASTING HARMONY BETWEEN THE JUST AND THE MERCIFUL. He is just, not in opposition to salvation, but because He is a Saviour. He is a Saviour, not in opposition to justice, but because He is justice seeking to save.
1. Let us mark the ground on which Isaiah founded that mighty truth, the supreme and solitary sovereignty of God--“I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is none beside Me.” He had looked over the conflict of nations and the decay of empires, and seen one eternal God causing all to work His will. Realise that vision of God, and then the idea that He needs reconciling to Himself must instantly fall: for if God’s justice needs reconciling to His mercy, then we have two Gods, the just and the merciful; and it is no longer true that He is God, “beside whom there is none else.” Realise this, and the idea of the atonement which represents Christ as simply appeasing God the just and inducing Him to be merciful, passes away. God needs no reconciling to Himself: justice is in everlasting union with mercy.
2. Let us ask what is God’s justice, and what His salvation? and then we shall see how they are in perfect harmony. God’s justice is not merely the infliction of penalty; God’s salvation is not merely deliverance from penalty. It is true that He does execute penalty and award retribution. We see it in the stern laws of life by which one error brings down life-long sorrow; one true effort reaps, inevitably, its blessed reward. There is a just God over all, for men ever reap just what they sow. But justice in God is something far grander than the mere exercise of retribution; it is the love of eternal truth, purity, righteousness; and the penalties of untruth, impurity, unrighteousness, are the outflashings of that holy anger which is founded in His love of the right, the pure, and the true. In the same way, God s salvation is more than the mere deliverance from penalty. It is, at the same time, the deliverance from evil, salvation from the cruel lusts of wrong; from the bondage of unholy passions growing into the giant-life of eternity; from the deep degradation and horrible selfishness of sin. Here, then, we see how His justice and His salvation are in perfect harmony. His salvation is to free men from the penalties of justice by making them righteous, true, and holy in Christ.
3. Take now one step further. Take the two great revelations of law and mercy, and we shall see how the law is merciful and mercy holy.
(1) The law, the revelation of justice, came to lead men to God the Saviour.
(a) The sense of immortality. Man, feeling that life is bounded by the present, will never be freed from evil. But sin destroys the sense of immortality, confines him to the narrow circle of the earth, and dares him to look beyond. Under its influence man forgets the grandeur of his nature, sinks into a mere animal, and becomes the slave of material things. To awaken him there is no other voice so powerful as that of the law he cannot obey--a law majestic in purity, and thundering penalties on transgression. The Divine voice in the law speaks to him, making him feel that he is greater than material things--greater than his sinful idols. He asks: Why does it mark out me? And the awful Sinai of conscience awakens at that voice, and the man feels the sublimity of his nature; and there is the beginning of salvation.
(b) The sense of sin as a power in life. The voice of law shows him that in him is the power which the just God hates in holy anger. Cursing evil, it curses him. Thus law is the revelation of God the Saviour. Before its awful majesty and impossible claims man learns the weakness, and slavery, and horror of sin; and is prepared to accept the mercy that delivers him.
(2) Christ, the revelation of God the Saviour, came to glorify God the just. The righteousness of God never was so revealed as in the loving Saviour of the world. Mount Sinai is less terrible than the purity of the man of Nazareth. Men felt it as they said, “Depart from us for we are sinful.” Look now at His sufferings. Nothing could tear Him from them--nothing alter His course. Where is there a greater revelation of the righteousness of God? In the garden, the pure and holy One shudders at the contact with sin. Where can we see the awfulness of holiness so sublimely revealed as in that passion of woe? The just God was in the Saviour. Mark now the consummate power of Christ crucified; and what is it but a power rousing men to be holy as God is holy? Sin never was so slain as by Him whom sin slew. The law never was so attested as by Him who bore its penalty.
II. We infer TWO LESSONS from this great truth.
1. The necessity of Christian endeavour. We are justified at once; for the germ of a righteous manhood exists in the first act of faith. But the realisation of it is progressive. The Christian ideal is to be as Christ was, faithful, holy, and undefiled. Every day we have untruthfulness, selfishness, unbelief, to overcome.
2. The ground of Christian trust. Some men find security in the belief that they are delivered from the stern awards of justice. But we are not delivered from God’s purity, we are reconciled to it. In the justice of God lies our confidence now, for He will make us righteous and holy in Christ. And this gives us hope in the midst of life’s discipline, and explains much of its mystery. The object of His discipline is not to make us happy simply, but to train us into holiness, which is blessedness. There are men who trust in the infinite mercy of God, and feel that He will deliver them at last. Remember, that to remain in unbelief is to adopt the spirit which killed Christ. To refuse His salvation is to challenge the holy indignation of the Most High. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)
“Look unto Me!”
I. How GOD IS JUST. He will not deal unfairly with His creatures. He will not ascribe a single sin to them which they have not committed. He will not punish them beyond what their iniquities deserve.
II. HOW HE IS AT THE SAME TIME A SAVIOUR.
III. WHAT IS THE INVITATION WHICH HE ADDRESSES TO A RUINED WORLD. Mark--
1. To whom it is addressed. “All the ends of the earth.” How broad an invitation! Who is there who can say, “I am not called”?
2. What does He invite us all to do? “Look unto Me!” “Behold Me with the eye of faith, as ‘the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world!’ ‘Look unto Me’ as your refuge, your resource, your hope, your confidence your almighty, all-sufficient, only Saviour! ‘Look unto Me’ for life, for pardon, for righteousness, for peace on earth, for heavenly happiness hereafter! ‘Look unto Me,’ by looking off from every object of your carnal confidence, from every vain deceitful hope which you have invented for yourselves, and by placing your entire, unbounded trust in the merits of My Cross!”
3. And what spiritual benefit shall that look of faith procure to them? “Be ye saved.” Are there not those that look for mercy even though they look not unto Jesus? Consider seriously that expression, “There is none beside Me”--“A just God and a Saviour.” Ye that are looking unto Him for salvation! remember that, in the very act by which the Lord hath delivered you from death He hath shown you also His horror and His hatred of your sins. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Looking unto Jesus, the only Saviour
I. THE GRACIOUS INVITATION. Notice--
1. The benevolent Being by whom the invitation is given.
2. To whom it is addressed. Not to the Jews only, but also to the Gentiles: to every nation, and kindred, and tongue and people.
3. What is implied in the invitation.
(1) The state of those to whom it is addressed.
(2) That there is no obstacle whatever in the way of salvation.
4. What the invitation calls upon us to do in order to secure our salvation. “Look unto Me.” In our natural state we are all looking from Him; and even when we are convinced of our lost condition, how prone we are to look to anything rather than to Him for salvation--our repentance, our obedience, our duties, our morality, our usefulness! What then, is meant by looking to Him? It signifies the same thing with believing in Him.
II. THE POWERFUL REASONS BY WHICH THAT INVITATION IS ENFORCED.
1. He is God.
2. A just God.
3. A gracious God, for He is a Saviour.
4. The only God, and consequently the only Saviour. (D. Rees.)
Look unto Me
Turning to God
“Turn ye to Me and be saved.
” The first imperative exhorts, the second promises. Jehovah desires two things--
1. All men’s turning to Him.
2. Their blessedness by so doing. (P. Delitzch, D. D.)
The word does not correspond exactly to the English “look,” but denotes the act of turning round in order to look in a different direction. The text, therefore, bears a strong analogy to those in which the heathen, when enlightened, are described as turning from their idols unto God (1 Thessalonians 1:9; Acts 14:15; Acts 15:19). (J. A. Alexander.)
The ends of the earth
The expression accords with the Jewish notion, that their land was situated in the midst of the earth, and that the countries which lay most remote from them, whose circumstances formed a contrast to theirs, were the ends or extremities of the earth. (R. Macculloch.)
Sovereignty and salvation
It has ever been one of the objects of the great Jehovah to teach mankind that He is God, and beside Him there is none else.
I. HOW HAS GOD BEEN TEACHING THIS LESSON TO MANKIND?
1. He has taught it to false gods and to the idolaters who have bowed before them. How hath God poured con tempt on the ancient gods of the heathen! Where are they now?
2. Mark how God has taught truth to empires.
3. To monarchs. Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, &c.
4. To the wise men of this world.
5. “Surely,” says one, “the Church of God does not need to be taught this” Yes, she does! How did the church in Canaan forget it when they bowed before other gods: If God gives us a special mission, we generally begin to take some honour to ourselves.
II. SALVATION IS GOD’S GREATEST WORK, and in this He specially teaches us this lesson. Our text tells us how He teaches it.
1. By the person to whom He directs us. “Me.”
2. By the means He tells us to use. “Look.”
3. By the persons whom He calls to look. “All the ends of the earth.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Life for a look
The great sin of man, ever since he has fallen, has been that of idolatry. He is ever seeking to get away from God, who is real, but whom he cannot see, and to make for himself a god, which can only be an idol, but which pleases him because he can gaze upon it. And thus it comes to pass that, some with images of wood and stone, and others with carnal confidences and the like, put something else into the place which should be occupied by God alone; and they look to that something, and expect good from it, instead of looking for all good to God, and to Him alone. This looking to anything which usurps the place of God cannot but be most offensive to Him, and it must also be very disappointing to ourselves, for it is impossible for the false god to yield us any true comfort. Yet note the Lord s great patience even with those who are thus provoking Him by this idolatry of theirs.
I. FOR SALVATION OUT OF ANY TROUBLE, WE SHOULD LOOK TO GOD ALONE. There are some troubles in which men do look to God alone. I have known even the most profane men turn to God, after a fashion, in the hour of supreme peril. Now, if men will act thus by the compulsion of great calamity, is there not sound reason why you should, cheerfully and willingly, do the same, and resort to God in every trial, and difficulty, and dilemma? Is any trial too slight for you to bring in prayer before Him?
II. FOR ETERNAL SALVATION, WE MUST LOOK TO GOD ALONE.
1. Salvation is not to be found in any mere agent.
2. The great thing that thou needest to know, and look at, and rely upon, is the mercy of God.
3. Since God says, “Look unto Me,” let me ask you whether you are looking unto Him as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word?
4. Especially is it intended that we should look unto God as He reveals Himself in the person and work of His dear Son.
5. Settle this matter in your mind as an absolute certainty that, whoever and whatever you are, you may look to God in Christ, and be saved.
6. Let no feeling of thine beat thee off from looking to Christ. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Characteristics of salvation
I. It is a SIMPLE salvation-plain, clear, distinct, intelligible in its terms. It is, in this respect, unlike the false religions referred to in Isaiah 45:19, whose utterances, being involved in designed obscurity and ambiguity, are there represented as “spoken in secret, and in dark places of the earth.” Such were the dubious responses which came from the Delphic oracle, the Cave at Lebadea, the Cumean Sybil, the Eleusinian Ceres, the soothsayers and necromancers of Egypt, Phoenicia, and Persia. The salvation of the Gospel is so clear and perspicuous that “he who runs may read.”
II. It is a FREE salvation, uncumbered and unconditional in its offers. There is no costly, protracted, elaborate preparation or probation needed. No painful penances; no rites, no lastings, no lustrations, no priestly absolutions In Isaiah 45:13, God says of Cyrus (and He says the same in a nobler sense of a Greater than the earthly liberator), “He shall let go My captives, not for price nor reward.” This is not, indeed, after the manner of men, nor in accordance with that natural legality of spirit which loves to fetter itself with conditions and terms. If the prophet had bid the Syrian leper of old “do some great thing,” Naaman would have cordially assented; but he could not brook the trifling expedient of dipping himself in the river Jordan. HI. It is a RIGHTEOUS salvation (Isaiah 45:19; Isaiah 45:21). See Ro
3:26. It is a salvation which has been secured in accordance with theprinciples of everlasting truth and rectitude. Let us not, however, misinterpret the relation of justice to mercy, as if between these two Divine attributes there existed any antagonism,--as if they represented two conflicting principles (similar to the Magian), one of which had to be propitiated before the other could exercise its benignant will, or go forth on its benignant behests. Nay, they are in perfect harmony. Love can hold out her blissful sceptre only when standing by the throne of justice. In that glorious salvation, every attribute of the Divine nature has been magnified and made honourable.
IV. It is a SURE salvation. The rites of the heathen leave their votaries in uncertainty, groping in the dark. Their feelings and experiences are well described in Isaiah 3:16. In impressive and sublime contrast with this, Jehovah avows in Isaiah 3:23, “I have sworn by Myself: the word” or “truth” (Lowth) “is gone out of My mouth in righteousness”; and in Isaiah 3:19, “I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me in vain”; or Isaiah 3:17, “Ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded.” Truly the covenant of grace is a covenant “well ordered in all things, and sure.”
V. It is here further unfolded to us as the ONLY salvation (Isaiah 3:24). Bishop Lowth renders it, “Only to Jehovah belongeth salvation and power.” “Neither is there salvation in any other.”
VI. It is an ETERNAL salvation (Isaiah 3:17). (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Looking to Christ
Faith is one of the principal subjects of sacred Scripture, and is expressed in various forms: sometimes in plain terms, but more frequently in metaphors borrowed from earthly things, and particularly from the actions of the body.
I. EXPLAIN THE DUTY HERE EXPRESSED BY THE METAPHOR OF LOOKING. Observe in general, that a man’s looks often discover his condition and the frame of his mind. Hence we can understand a look of surprise and consternation, of sorrow and compassion, a look of joy, the look of a perishing supplicant, or of a needy, expecting dependant. If an agonising patient casts an eager look upon his physician, we understand it to be a silent petition for relief. Hence “looking to Christ implies those suitable dispositions and exercises of heart towards Him, which are expressed by the earnest and significant looks of persons in a distressed condition towards their deliverer.”
1. Looking to Christ implies a particular notice and distinct knowledge of Him.
2. An importunate eagerness for relief from Him (Psalms 25:15).
3. A wishful expectation of deliverance from Him (Psalms 69:3). It may be illustrated by the history of the lame beggar (Acts 3:4-5).
4. A humble dependence upon Him for salvation (2 Chronicles 20:12).
5. A universal cheerful submission to His authority (Psalms 123:1-2).
6. A hearty approbation of Him as a Saviour, and supreme affection to Him. Love is often expressed by looks.
7. Joy and gratitude for His delivering goodness.
II. URGE YOU TO LOOK TO HIM BY SEVERAL WEIGHTY CONSIDERATIONS. This is the great duty of saints and sinners, and consequently of every one in all ages and places, even to “the ends of the earth.”
1. It is salvation we are called upon to pursue.
2. It may be obtained upon the easiest terms, without any personal merit, viz., by a “look.”
3. It is Immanuel, the incarnate God, who commands and invites us to look.
4. He is the glorious and affecting Object to which we are to look.
5. Our looking shall not be in vain, for He is God, who engages to save those who look to Him.
6. It is vain to look elsewhere for salvation, and needless to fear His grace should be controlled by another; for He is God, so there is none else.
7. We, in particular, are invited, being especially meant by “the ends of the earth.” (S. Davies, M. A.)
The saving look
I. THAT ALL MANKIND ARE ENSLAVED TO SIN.
II. THAT THE UNIVERSAL DESIRE OF MANKIND IS FOR HAPPINESS.
III. THAT THE ONLY SOURCE OF REAL HAPPINESS IS TO BE FOUND IN GOD. “Look unto Me.” “I am God, and beside me,” &c.
IV. THAT THE SALVATION WHICH GOD HAS PROVIDED IS BOUNDLESS IN ITS PROVISIONS, AND UNLIMITED IN ITS EXTENT. “All the ends of the earth.”
V. THAT THE RECEPTION OF THIS BLESSING IS NEVERTHELESS CONDITIONAL. “Look unto Me,” &c. What does this imply?
1. An apprehension of the object presented.
2. Of the good it proposes to impart.
3. An earnest desire to obtain it.
4. A vigorous use of appointed means.
VI. THE GROUND OF ENCOURAGEMENT. “I am God”; and therefore, know that you need it--have prepared it for you--invite you to partake of it--promise to impart it--warn you of the consequences of refusing it.None other can save you. “Now is the accepted time,” &c. (R. Shepherd.)
Life by looking
Sin came by an unbelieving look. Eve saw that the tree was good for food and pleasant to the eyes. Distrusting God, she looked and plucked and ate. Salvation comes from a believing and trustful look. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved.” To those “who look for Him” will He appear with salvation.
I. AS SIN FIRST ENTERED, SO IT STILL ENTERS. It enters through the eye. He who first saw the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment lusted for them, went after them, took and hid them. Therefore it is wise to say “Look not upon the wine when it is red,” for temptations come through the eye. The Scriptures tell of those whose “eyes are full of sin” and cannot cease. This truth is realised in our own mournful experience. We look on injuries and brood over them. We contemplate objects of desire and lust after them. When it has conceived lust bringeth forth sin.
II. SALVATION COMES BY THE SAME EASY METHOD. “Look unto Me and be ye saved.”
1. This is a spiritual vision. Some regard that which we call spiritual as unreal and dreamy, whereas carnality is unreal, and spiritual things are, of all, the most actual.
2. It is an immediate vision. Of our physical functions sight is the most immediate. So faith is the most positive and assuring. You end a dispute by saying, but I saw it with my own eyes and so I know it. The believer is able to speak thus of Him whom he knows, for he has seen Him.
III. HOW ARE WE TO SEE CHRIST? In what respects?
1. As a Saviour.
2. As an Intercessor.
3. As King and Master.
IV. THERE ARE SPECIAL TIMES WHEN WE SHOULD LOOK EXCLUSIVELY TO CHRIST.
1. In all our acts of public worship.
2. In temptations. Are you injured? Nothing so cleanses the heart of stinging pain as this. Do unholy desires annoy? Here is the remedy.
3. In approaching weakness.
Though the outward man perishes, the inward man is renewed day by day. By looking the light will increase more and more to the perfect day. God has promised to show us the path of life. Evangelist asked the Pilgrim, “Seest thou yonder light?” “I think I do.” Evangelist by a long looking had acquired keen vision, and Pilgrim found his eyes opened as he looked. The way grew clearer, and you know the glorious end to which he came. His, weakness was perfected in his Leader’s strength. The subject before us has a twofold application.
1. For self-examination. In our worship have we been looking only to God whom we have professed to address? In hymn and prayer and preaching have our acts been merely formal and professional?
2. By way of invitation. The invitation is to all, even to “the ends of the earth.” (A. Whyte, D. D.)
These words show us that we have need to be saved. We have to be saved from enormous evils. But there is a great change that must take place in everyone before he can be saved. There is no salvation to an unregenerate man. Let me remind you what God intends when He says, “Look unto Me.”
1. He bids you look to Him for mercy, to save you gratuitously, without bringing to Him anything.
2. We should look to the Son of God, as well as to the Father--for His meritorious intercession--that we may be saved.
3. Look to God the Spirit, as well as to the Father and the Son. He who wrought mightily in the persecutor Saul, to make him an eminent trophy of grace and a large benefactor to his fellow-creatures, has no less power, condescension and goodness, to extend to you, and to give to you all the same principle, the same courage, and the same perseverance.
4. The same blessed duty rests on all of you who by the grace of God have looked to Him and lived. You are called to prosecute your journey heavenwards, from one degree of faith and grace and comfort and joy to another, till you reach your eternal home, every day looking to God that you may be saved.
5. But He never meant His servants to be selfish, as He is beneficent and good; and therefore let me bid you notice the extent of this invitation: “All the ends of the earth.” Then it is God’s will that Japan, and China, and India must look to Him and be saved, as well as we. At the time these words were uttered by the prophet, we were the ends of the world to them, as China, Japan, and Borneo are to us; yea, we were beyond the limits of the known world at that time. And we have heard the good news and believed. (B. W. Noel, M. A.)
I. The everlasting God, He who alone is God, declares Himself to be THE SOURCE OF SALVATION.
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE PLAN OF SALVATION. “All the ends of the earth.” Men of all tribes and kingdoms shall be made to feel the power of Almighty grace. The plan of salvation is adapted to every variety of circumstance. The monarch on the throne of vast empire--he is seated there in the sight of God a poor rebel, and he needs salvation. Or take the other extreme--the lowliest and obscurest of the children of men--he is a sinner before God, an immortal creature.
III. GOD’S SIMPLE COMMAND to the guilty and the lost, while announcing Himself as the Source of salvation, and while proclaiming its universality, is “Look unto Me.”
1. To look unto God, as the Source of salvation, implies knowledge of Him.
2. The exercise of faith.
3. Confidence in God.
4. We may give emphasis to the expression, “Unto Me.” God requires that you should look away from all other objects which would interfere with the entire yielding up of the whole soul to Him.
5. There should be in the mind of the believer a full assurance that He is able to save, and willing to save. (G. Fisk, LL. B.)
Salvation obtained only by looking unto Jesus
I. THE INVITATION, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth,” may be regarded as involving an offer of an invaluable blessing, a statement of the means by which the blessing is secured, and finally, an intimation of the extent of the offer made.
II. THE REASON WHY THAT INVITATION SHOULD BE COMPLIED WITH. “For I am God, and there is none else.” There are two ideas involved in this statement.
1. That Jesus is the true God, and therefore able to save.
2. That on Him only should we depend, for there is no other being in the universe who is able to rescue an immortal soul from eternal ruin.
We see from this subject--
1. The folly and danger of unbelief.
2. The habitual duty of all true Christians. It is to look unto Jesus at every stage of their spiritual history. (P. Grant.)
The Divine invitation
I. THE SPEAKER.
II. THE PERSONS ADDRESSED.
III. THE BLESSINGS PROMISED.
IV. THE MANNER OF OBTAINING THEM. (Bp. R. Bickersteth, D. D.)
Looking to Christ
I. If you look unto the Lord Jesus you will see GOD MANIFEST.
II. If you look to Jesus you will see LOVE INCARNATE--Divine love. According to the medium through which it shines, the same lamp can be made to give a radiance of a very different colour, a cheering or a gloomy light. In a sinful world like this, could you not easily imagine a vindictive incarnation and manifestation of the blessed God, which would have brought into the midst of our sinfulness the consuming fire of His holiness, which, thus coming in contact with our combustible corruption, would have turned our earth into an early perdition? But what was the actual fact? “The Word dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
III. Looking unto the Lord Jesus, there is yet another sight with which the earnest sinner is regaled, and that is RIGHTEOUS RECONCILIATION.
IV. Whosoever looks at Him long enough, simply enough, intently enough, will find in Him TRANSFUSED IMMORTALITY, life transmitted from that Saviour unto his own soul.
V. If you look to Jesus simply as God reveals Him in His Word, and as He is in Himself, you will see A LOVE-ATTRACTING AND A LIFE-ASSIMILATING SAVIOUR; a Saviour who, when he attracts your love, will assimilate your life to His. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Looking unto Jesus
In these words, we have the same sort of invitation that we find in the New Testament: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden”; “Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith”; “Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” Such texts as these contain the very secret of Christianity. They meet all our wants, they heal all our sorrows, they save our souls. Christianity consists in having to do with Christ, in having the love of Christ implanted in the soul, and then the spirit of Christ guiding and influencing us every moment of our earthly history.
I. AS TO THE PEOPLE WHO ARE ADDRESSED. “All the ends of the earth”--all men.
II. WHY ARE THEY TO LOOK? “And be saved.” Now, under the New Testament you and I are directed especially to Jesus Christ. He tells us that no man cometh unto the Father but by Him. Look upon this for your encouragement, what faith sees when she looks upon Jesus. She finds love in Jesus, pardon in Jesus, peace in Jesus, eternal happiness in Jesus. And this is so with God. He sees the sinner in Jesus, He is satisfied with His atoning work, and accepts the believing sinner for His sake.
III. HOW THEY ARE TO LOOK. The term “look” in the Word of God is ordinarily intended to mean “belief.” That we should look to the Lord Jesus expecting something, just as the lame man looked at Peter and John at the Beautiful gate of the temple, expecting to receive something of them.
1. If you can take this view of Christ, that He intends your salvation, then there will be a look of real sorrow for sin. We shall mourn for sin on the one hand, but rejoice in Christ Jesus on the other.
2. A look of acquiescence, of trust and confidence.
3. A look of prayer. (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)
The saving look
I. THE NATURE OF THE COMMAND, or what it is to look at the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The very idea of looking to the Saviour, implies a looking off ourselves, our idols, our sins, our righteousnesses, and our unrighteousnesses. It is to look off our duties, our prayers, our tears, our humiliations, our resolutions, and simply and singly to look to Christ for salvation.
2. To look at Christ for salvation implies a conscious need of salvation.
3. To look at Christ is to look at Him not only as the very Christ of God, but as the Son of God.
4. To look at Christ is to look to Him for a whole salvation.
II. THE NECESSITY OF THE PRECEPT. We have a natural disinclination to it; we naturally look at any other object. When in the world, and of the world, this is grossly the case. Our friends, our families, our prospects, profits, our pleasures, our sins, form our world. If we withdraw from its grossness, and are mingled Up with its more decent enjoyments, and add something of religion; its forms, its ceremonies, its worship, quite occupy us. Our little orbit of vision is full, quite full; we can look at nothing else. A mere hand before the eyes hides the sun. We think ourselves far better than many, far from being so vile as some; and even after the Holy Spirit has convinced us of sin, yet still what backwardness to look to Christ!
III. THE BLESSED EFFECT OF OBEYING THE PRECEPT. Salvation.
1. How wonderful is this salvation--that one real look at Christ has eternal life in it; that if the vilest sinner do but look at Him, he is saved even at the eleventh hour!
2. The longer thou livest, the more the Spirit will open the depravities of thy nature to thee. As He does this, pray that He may open the very grace and glories of Jesus to thee.
3. When, through the power of the Holy Spirit, this peace is established in thy conscience, through the precious blood of the Cross, seek its increase into the full assurance of hope, in all the ways of holy walking, still looking to Jesus for all the supplies of His grace and Spirit. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The extent of the Gospel call
I. AN OBJECT OF ATTRACTION. “Me”; the true God--the one Saviour, and none else but Me. But in what capacity is Christ exhibited in the Gospel?
1. As a Mediator.
2. As the Lord our righteousness.
3. As the Fountain to wash away sin.
4. As the sinner’s Life.
II. AN ACT CALLED FORTH. “Look unto Me,” or as some would understand the original, “Turn your face to Me from false idols.” This act implies--
3. Conversion. Every man has gone astray from God.
4. A waiting posture.
III. THE EXTENT OF THIS CALL. “All the ends of the earth.” This phrase imples--
1. That all men have gone astray from God.
2. That God is no respecter of persons.
3. That there is salvation in no other.
4. The sufficiency there is” m” Christ” to every returning, soul.
IV. THE BENEFITS inseparably connected with a looking to Jesus Christ. “And be saved”--not be made rich for threescore years and ten. No! “and be saved.” (T. Jones.)
Looking unto Christ
I. IN WHAT MANNER WE ARE TO LOOK TO CHRIST.
1. With an eye of faith. To direct our thoughts to Him in the same manner as to any other person, is not enough.
2. With eager desire of relief.
3. With gratitude and love.
4. As an example of righteousness whom it behoves us to follow.
5. As our Intercessor.
II. SOME CONSIDERATIONS TO ENFORCE THE DUTY.
1. Who is the glorious Object to which you are required to look? None other than the Son of God.
2. Who it is that requires you to look.
3. It is salvation for which we are to look.
4. The facility of the duty here enjoined.
5. The boundless extent of the invitation. (A. Ramsay, M. A.)
Looking within, looking around, and looking up
Let us hear the story of the Look--a story in three chapters.
I. Chapter the first. HOW HE LOOKED WITHIN. I do not know much about him, except this. How it came about, indeed, I know not. Whether it was some sermon that smote him; whether it was the death of some neighbour; whether it was some peril of his own; whether it was some sharp sickness that overtook him, I know not; but so it was. One day that man stopped and looked in at himself, and he said, “There is no mistake about it; I am wrong, I can see. I am all wrong, and I will just set to work, and I will make things right. I will turn over a new leaf.” And he set to work, and he began to tie up his sins with the strong cords of his resolutions and his good desires, and there he set them all of a row. This was never going to be indulged any more, and this should not, and the other should be denied. All went well for a day, and then something or other came across him, and snap went the cords, and up sprang one old sin. Snap went the cords, and another sprang at him. “There,” he said, “I knew that it was no good my trying,” and he just gave it up. Who is that? You. I think I see here a man who has turned over a new leaf. Here it is all white and clean without a blot. Ah, there is a blot now. Oh, there is another smudge; there is a mistake. If we cannot find a better way than turning over new leaves, we shall soon give it up in despair. Besides, if thou couldst do so, what would it do for thee? Here is a man who has got into low water, and he cannot make ends meet, and one day a friend steps in to advise him and finds him in a state of glee, and the man says, “I have got credit for this, and I have received this”; and there he is filling up the column of his receipts. “Why, what does this mean?” says the friend--“My dear fellow, you have forgotten the ‘brought forward.’ You have left out the ‘carried over.’” That dreadful “carried over!” That awful “brought forward!” What about the past? There it is, what can I do with it? We have not done with that chapter yet, for there is a second part of it. You say to me, “Yes; I can see that if I am ever going to be what I want to be, I must just come right up to God, and let Him do it.” But, dear friend, what ails thee? “Well, you see, I do not know. I have not got any faith. I have not got any repentance I have not got any earnestness. What is a man like I am to do?” Hast thou never learnt how to make thy hindrances into thy helps? Hast thou never learnt how to make thy very need thy claim upon thy God? I pray thee now, just as thou art, with all thy sense of want, lift up thine eyes. Why, the only thing that I know about repentance is what I feel in my heart when I see Jesus. I have never found any place of repentance except at the foot of the Cross. The only thing that I know about faith is what springs up in my heart when I look at Jesus. Faith does not come from looking within. Let thy whole soul say, “I will look unto Him, and be saved.”
II. Chapter the second. HOW HE LOOKED ROUND. You say, “There is to-morrow; people would notice the change, and I should not like to tell them that I had given myself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and how I was going to be His soldier and His servant; and there would be the sneer, and scorn, and ridicule, and one would perhaps try this temptation, and another would see whether I could bear the other, and I do not know that I could.” The Gospel is, that Christ comes right to me and takes my hand. He lives, and He comes to thee and me, and He saith, “Thou art setting forth to be My child and My servant, and I am never going to let thee be alone.” Now, wilt thou put thy hand in His? But we have not done with the second chapter quite yet. I can think of some one going a step farther and saying, “Well, I do look to Jesus, you know, and I am looking to Him, and I have been trying to look to Him, but somehow or other I cannot get on.” Why not? Well, it may be that you are looking around still. Some of you say to me, “Well, you see, I look to Him, but I cannot rejoice. I do not feel happy.” Well, I do not know that it says, “Feel happy.” It says, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved.” I think that we must let the Lord Jesus Christ take care of our feelings. All we have get to do is just to look to Him. But we look around at one man and another. Somebody says to me, “John Bunyan went for three months weeping and crying. I am a dry eyes; I cannot shed a tear.” Well, who wants you to shed a tear? What have you got to do with other people? We will look no more round.
III. Chapter the third. HOW HE LOOKED UP. You must look up. Will you? (M. GuyPearse.)
Would you be saved?
The object of salvation is to bring a man into harmonious communion with God.
I. ALL MEN NEED TO BE SAVED. We need to be saved--
1. From our propensity to wrong-doing.
2. We need also to be saved from our spirit of unrest.
3. From our weakness in being overcome by pain and trouble.
4. From our fear of death.
II. GOD DOES NOT FORCE ANY MAN TO BE SAVED AGAINST HIS WILL. In the occurrences of this life we may have to employ force sometimes to save the body of a fellow-creature against his will. But God cannot act so, because He is God, and would have men love Him. The only way God has of compelling us to follow Him is through the attraction of His love, as shown in Jesus Christ, who laid down His life on the Cross for love of us. Love is the strongest power in the universe, for God is Love.
III. THE POWER AND SIMPLICITY OF THE SALVATION OFFERED TO US.
1. Its power. Salvation does not exist anywhere except in God. We ministers are only like the boys with handbills inviting you in to buy salvation from our Master without money.
2. The simplicity of the salvation. It is to be had for a look; but it must be--
(1) A penitent look.
(2) A look of entreaty, the sort of look that a man has who is trying to save himself from drowning, and seeing you, calls to you for help.
(3) A look of hope.
(4) A look of faith.
IV. IT IS A UNIVERSAL INVITATION, embracing, “all the ends of the earth.” You know what the “ends” are. When a coat becomes frayed, or a shawl worn, the ends are of no use and you cut them off. The outcasts of men, of what use are they? This salvation is for the despised ones, for the very “ends” that the world throws away; and, better still, it is for you. (W. Birch.)
The Gospel simple, rich, universal
I. HERE IS THE SIMPLEST METHOD. “Look unto Me.” I give the highest praise to the man of science who can unify the manifold facts of the world, and to the philosopher who can reduce to order the strange and complex phenomena of the mind. How I should thank the God who expresses His will for me in a single word, and that word so easy and unencumbered.
II. HERE IS THE RICHEST BOON. “And be ye saved.” Salvation is a treasure unutterably and inconceivably great. If it begins with “no condemnation,” it ends with “no separation.” There is pardon in it, and holiness, and wisdom, and power; there is the blessed life here, and hereafter there is the life of “full and everlasting and passionless renown.”
III. HERE IS THE WIDEST OUTLOOK. “All the ends of the earth”--thus far the love of the Father and the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit travel and reach. There is nothing calculating, niggardly, arithmetical in God’s largesse and bounty. (A. Smellie, M. A.)
Look and be saved
I. A BLESSED INVITATION. “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”
1. The subject to which it refers is unspeakably momentous. The word “saved” is easily pronounced, but who can comprehend the fulness of its meaning?
2. The duty it enjoins for securing this great blessing is exceedingly simple. “Look unto Me.” Many are quite confounded at the simplicity of the Gospel terms of salvation.
3. The range of this invitation is unlimited. “All the ends of the earth.” The call is wide as the world.
4. The ground on which it rests is highly encouraging. “For I am God, and there is none else.” In a previous verse it is said, “They have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save.” The idols of the heathen are altogether impotent. But our God is able to save, and He alone is able. At the same time, something more than mere power is necessary, and that something is not wanting in Him to whom we are invited to look. He is “a just God and a Saviour.”
II. AN EMPHATIC PROCLAMATION. “I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return; that unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” In reference to this subjection two things are stated--
1. Its universality. In the time of Elijah, God had reserved unto Himself seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal; but here we have a period predicted when idols shall be utterly abolished.
2. Its certainty. “I have sworn by Myself.” These emphatic expressions denote that the purpose was made in the most solemn manner, and ratified in the most sacred form. It is a purpose, therefore, that will be infallibly executed. “From henceforth expecting.” says the apostle of the enthroned Redeemer, “till His enemies be made His footstool.” And has He not ample grounds for such an expectation? The desires even of the righteous shall be granted, their hope will not be disappointed; how certain, then, must be the fulfilment of the desires and hopes of Him whom the Father heareth always? Is it not said, “Ask of Me”? &c.
III. A WISE RESOLUTION. “Surely, shall one say,” &c. (Isaiah 45:24). The two blessings which are here referred to, are absolutely necessary to salvation, and all who are enlightened from above will be led to apply for them where alone they are to be found. It is here stated, “Surely shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength”: let each of us determine, by Divine aid, to be that one. It must be a personal resolution, as the surrender is a personal surrender. It is added, “Even to Him shall men come, i.e they will apply to Him for these blessings. On the other hand, He will be made known by terrible things in righteousness to those who refuse to seek His face, and continue to rebel against His authority. “All that are incensed against Him shall be ashamed.”
IV. AN IMPORTANT DECLARATION. “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” (Anon.)
The metaphor of looking
In the language of metaphor the mind has got an eye as well as the body. We say, “Look at this fact; look at this or that other historic personage; look at Luther; look at Julius Caesar; look at Abraham”; and we all understand what is meant when such language is employed. It is in some such a way that we are told to look at the Saviour. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Looking to God
While the moon looketh directly upon the sun, she is bright and beautiful; but if she once turn aside, and be left to herself, she loseth all her glory, and enjoys but only a shadow of light, which is her own. (J. Trapp.)
The contrite soul must look away from self
Passing through a graveyard with her parents, a little girl drew them after her to look at a beautiful stone figure of the Christ, with a face full of suffering and yet of tenderest pity, leaning upon a massive marble cross. As they paused to look, she held her head down and said in a low voice, “I can hardly lift up my eyes to look at Him, I have done so many wrong things.” It is just because we have done so many “wrong things” that we have need to lift up our eyes to look at Him. (Quiver.)
Some years ago I was asked by a workman to see a dying fellow-creature, as this man said in his peculiar way, to “pilot him to heaven.” I went, and found that the poor man was too far gone to speak. All he could do was to look. I did not know whether he could hear, for when I spoke he only looked at me. Wishing at least to show him the way of salvation, I took a picture from the wall, turned it, and then drew on it with my lead pencil the figure of the Cross with Jesus upon it. I held this picture before the man’s eyes, and then he looked at me in an expressive way, and tried to nod his head. Shortly after he died. (W. Birch.)
Looking up and lifted up
In Mrs. Fletcher’s biography she tells us of a convert who had a strange dream. He thought he was down a very steep well in the night, and, looking up, he saw a single star shining far above him, and it seemed to let down lines of silver light that took hold upon him and lifted him up. Then he looked down and began to go down. He looked up and began to go up, and he looked down again and began to go down; and he found that by simply keeping his eye on that star he rose out of the well, and his foot stood on the firm ground. A parable is in the dream. If you look down, you go down; if you look up, you go up. There must be first the looking up before there can be the lifting up. (J. S. Drummond.)
Surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength
Our righteousness and strength
It is important to us, in reading the Old Testament, and more particularly its prophetical portions, to take with us as our guide the well-known statement of the angel to the evangelist John: “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
” The preceding verse contains one of the most remarkable predictions concerning the kingdom of Christ in the Old Testament, and in this prediction the kingdom of Christ is described as becoming universal and permanent. After such a prediction as that, we might have expected to find the prophet speaking of numbers being brought to acknowledge and to bow the knee to Christ. Instead of that, however, he speaks of one--a single, isolated, unknown individual; and he introduces to us this solitary individual as if the state of his mind, the subjugation of his heart to Christ, were an indication of the complete fulfilment of the most glorious prophecies of the universality of Christ’s kingdom. In looking for the progress of the Redeemer’s kingdom, we are too much disposed to undervalue individual conversions. We may trace the progress of Christ’s kingdom in the subjugation of a single heart to the Saviour.
I. THE STATE OF THIS INDIVIDUAL’S MIND IN RELATION TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST. The term “righteousness” is one of those words in the Bible which it is of the first importance that you should thoroughly understand. It includes all that the Lord Jesus Christ has done and suffered for us. Mark three stages in the history of this man’s mind.
1. The first thing a man does when he is awakened to a sense of his need of some righteousness, is to try to find it in himself. But when once brought to see his own righteousness aright, he sees innumerable defects.
2. Look at the second step in this man’s history. We might have expected that the man would have received this righteousness with promptitude; but he sets himself as deliberately against the righteousness of God as against the law of God. Long will he struggle against the friendly hand that would lead him to the Cross of Christ; but when brought there, he will exclaim, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.”
3. Mark the third stage of the human mind in reference to the righteousness of Christ. This man appropriates it.
II. HIS STATE OF FEELING IN REFERENCE TO THE STRENGTH OF CHRIST. This latter word, “strength,” conveys an idea totally distinct from, and additional to, that suggested by the first. By the “righteousness” of Christ we always understand what the Lord Jesus has done for us; by the “strength” of Christ we always understand what the Lord has done in us; and it is the combination of these two that works out, in all its completeness, the salvation of an individual sinner. When he is first awakened to a sense of his own condition, he naturally tries to put forth his own strength, but he soon discovers that this is the wrong order. It is just in this way that the conviction is forced upon his mind that he has no strength in himself, but that there is strength for him in Christ. If you have sought Christ’s strength and are conscious that you possess it, you must arise with vigour in the strength of the new man; and then, and not till then, will you go forth free. Mark the connection between the strength of Christ and the righteousness of Christ. The righteousness of Christ is laid hold of first, the strength of Christ is appropriated next. “Unto Him shall men come.” That is the practical conclusion of the whole matter.
(1) You ought to come.
(2) You may come. (S. Luke.)
Five Divine declarations
God s power over mankind is exerted in a way of grace, although it is also true that His power is put forth in a way of judgment towards those who reject His mercy. I read, with delight, the expressions of my text as the decrees, and determinations, and promises, and declarations of the God of grace, who affirms that men shall say, “In the Lord have we righteousness and strength,” &c. There are five Divine declarations in the text.
I. THERE SHALL BE A PEOPLE WHO SHALL OWN THE TRUTH CONCERNING GOD. Our version says, “Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength”; but there are other readings which appear to be more accurate. “Men shall say, In the Lord is righteousness and strength,” would be quite as correct a rendering, or even more so. It means that there shall be a people who shall confess that in God there is righteousness and strength.
1. They shall see these to be His attributes.
2. They will see that all their righteousness and strength must be found in God.
3. They shall be prepared openly to avow it. “Surely shall one say,” &c.
II. Men will not only own the truth concerning God, but THEY WILL ACT UPON IT. “Even to Him shall men come.”
III. THOSE WHO DO COME SHALL BE ASHAMED OF THEIR FORMER OPPOSITION. “All that are incensed against Him shall be ashamed.”
1. There are some who are angry with God’s providence.
2. Some are incensed against God because of His law and its penalty,
3. Others are incensed against God because of the great plan of salvation.
4. Some are even incensed against the Saviour Himself.
IV. The fourth Divine declaration is, that THE LORD’S PEOPLE SHALL ALL BE JUSTIFIED. “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified.”
V. THOSE WHO COME TO CHRIST, AND ARE JUSTIFIED IN HIM, SHALL GLORY. What does the text mean when it says that they shall glory? Sometimes, when I have been preaching in Wales, or among Methodists, when I have set before them good, rich, Gospel truth, perhaps two or three have shouted, at the same time, “Glory!” And though it has not increased the solemnity of the service, it has added a good deal of vivacity to it. And, really, when we see what Divine grace has done for us, we often feel inclined to cry out, “Glory! Glory be to God!”
1. Have not many of you felt the glory in your soul, even if you have not uttered it with your mouth?
2. But the Lord’s true people will not keep that glory all to themselves. They shall so glory that they shall speak about it to others.
3. Those who truly know Christ will glory in Him alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Even to Him shall men come.
Men coming to Christ
The doctrinal truth, deduced from these words, is the certainty of men, as sinners, coming to Christ, and being saved in Him. It is but necessary to direct attention to the meaning and import of the terms, in the text, as seen in their connection with the context.
I. The word “HIM” viewed in its connection, points out several important particulars concerning Christ, His person, office, and work.
1. His person. The word “Him” refers to Jehovah, as its antecedent. Redemption is the work of Jehovah. Christ is Jehovah--our great God and Saviour. But Christ is man, too. This constitutes the glory of Christ’s person. He is a God-man.
2. His office The Mediator between God and man.
3. His work. The law is obeyed, magnified’ and made honourable, its penalty borne, infinite justice satisfied, and everlasting righteousness brought in.
II. They COME to Him. To come to Christ is to believe upon Him.
III. They SHALL come. The language expresses certainty. This certainty depends upon--
1. The purpose of God.
2. The work of Christ
3. The agency of the Holy Spirit.
IV. MEN shall come. No sinner who comes to Christ will be lost. Men do come to Christ and are saved.
1. They are justified.
3. Preserved. (J. I. Dunlop.)
In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified
The believer justified and glorying in the Redeemer
This passage is prophetic of the Messiah Isaiah 45:23 is quoted in Romans 14:11, and applied to Christ.
I. Let us then attend to the assertion that “IN THE LORD SHALL THE SEED OF ISRAEL BE JUSTIFIED.”
1. They are justified as it is through Him they obtain the forgiveness of their sins, and the acceptance of their persons in the sight of God.
2. As it is through Him they acquire a right to all the privileges of the children of God in a present and future state.
II. HOW WE OUGHT TO GLORY IN HIM BY WHOM WE ARE THUS JUSTIFIED.
1. By entertaining suitable affections towards our Divine Redeemer.
2. Those who glory in Christ must avow their regard to Him before the world, and particularly by a frequent and devout attendance on the ordinances of the Gospel.
3. We must glorify Him by an active and steady zeal to promote the interests of His kingdom.
4. The seed of Israel are to glorify Christ by their patience and constancy under all their afflictions, especially those that are endured for His sake. (A. Hunter, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 45". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12