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Listen, O isles, unto Me
A forecast of the universal religion
In the previous chapters we find very glorious things spoken of the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon.
But in this chapter we seem to commence a new departure, to rise to a higher strain, and to launch out into broader and grander predictions. A larger audience is invoked--“Listen, O isles, unto Me.” A greater than the prophet is the speaker--“The Lord hath called me from the womb,” &c. And the calling of the Gentiles to a share in the blessings of the greater redemption is clearly indicated. “I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be My salvation unto the end of the earth.” (D. Howell, B. D.)
The ideal servant of Jehovah
Here, not only does the language describe apparently the acts of an individual person, but the servant is expressly distinguished from the historic nation; and part of the servant’s office is to consist in the restoration of the historic nation, and (Isaiah 49:8) the re-allotment of its desolated land. At the same time, the servant is still in some sense “Israel”; for the term is directly applied to Him (Isaiah 49:3). . . Israel, from this point of view, is delineated by [the prophet] as an ideal personality, and projected upon the future as a figure displaying the most genuine characteristics of the nation, and realising them in action with an intensity and clearness of aim which the historic Israel had never even remotely attained. It is a great ideal creation which the prophet constructs, a transfigured reflection of the historic people, a figure conscious of the colossal task allotted to it, but impeded by no moral slackness, or other deficient y, from undertaking it. And so vividly is this wonderful creation a figure present to his imagination, that it exhibits all the concrete traits of an individual person. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The servant of Jehovah
The servant of Jehovah is the kernel of the kernel of Israel, Israel’s inmost centre, Israel’s highest head. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Who is this that speaks in the Hebrew tongue, and presumes to address the world as his audience? We had thought the Jew-speech too exclusive, too conservative, too intolerant of strangers, to care to make itself heard beyond the limits of Judaism. Whence this sudden interest in the great family of man? All! these are the words of the Messiah, the ideal Jew; speaking in the name of the elect race, and representing its genius, not as warped by human prejudice, but as God intended it to be. “He said unto me, Thou art My servant; Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” There can be no doubt that this is the true way of considering these noble words. They were expressly referred to Jesus Christ by His greatest apostle on one of the most memorable occasions in his career Acts 13:47). But, it may be asked, how can words, so evidently addressed to Israel, be appropriated, with equal truth, to Jesus Christ? It is sufficient to say that He was the epitome and personification of all that was-noblest and divinest in Judaism. When, in spite of all that they had suffered in their exile, they for a second time failed to realise or fulfil their great mission to the world; when under the reign of Pharisee and Scribe they settled down into a nation of legalists, casuists, and hair-splitting ritualists--He assumed the responsibilities which they had evaded, and fulfilled them by the Gospel He spoke and the Church He formed. In the mission of Jesus, the heart of Judaism unfolded itself. What He was and did, the whole nation ought to have been and done. As the white flower on the stalk, He revealed the essential nature of the root. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
A polished shaft
We are justified in referring this paragraph to the Lord Jesus, as the ideal Servant of God. And we may get some useful teaching as to the conditions of the loftiest and best service which, following His steps, we may render to His Father and our Father.
I. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE IDEAL SERVANT.
1. A holy motherhood. “The Lord hath called me from the womb.” The greatest and best of men have confessed their indebtedness to their mothers; and not a few have, without doubt, enshrined in their character, and wrought out in their life, inspirations which had thrilled their mothers’ natures from early girlhood. It is from their mothers that men get their souls. To make a man, God begins with his mother. Few of us realise the immense importance attaching to the education of girls.
2. Incisive speech. “He hath made My mouth like a sharp sword.” Speech is the most God-like faculty in man. Christ did not scruple to be called the word or speech of God. This regal faculty is God’s chosen organ for announcing and establishing His kingdom over the earth. Our mouth must be surrendered to God, that He may implant there the sharp two-edged sword that proceeds from His own lips (Revelation 1:16).
3. Seclusion. “In the shadow.” We must all go there sometimes. The photograph of God’s face can only be fixed in the dark chamber.
4. Freed from rust. “A polished shaft.” Weapons of war soon deteriorate. Rust can best be removed by sand-paper or the file. Similarly we must be kept bright and clean. For this purpose God uses the fret of daily life, the chafe of small annoyances, the wear and tear of irritating tempers and vexing circumstances.
II. APPARENT FAILURE (Isaiah 49:4). This heart-break seems inevitable to God’s most gifted and useful servants. It is in part the result of nervous overstrain, e.g. Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-21.). But in part it results from the expanding compassion of the soul. There are three ‘sources of consolation.
1. That failure will not forfeit the bright smile of the Master’s welcome nor the reward of His judgment-seat. He judges righteously; and rewards, not according to results, but to faithfulness.
2. The soul leans more heavily upon God. “My God is become My strength” (Isaiah 49:5).
3. We turn to prayer. How sweetly God refers to this, saying, “In an acceptable time have I answered thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee” (Isaiah 49:8). Thus God deals with us all. He is compelled to take us to the back side of the desert, where we sit face to face with the wreck of our fairest hopes. There He teaches us, as He only can, weaning us from creature-confidence, and taking pride from our hearts.
III. ULTIMATE SUCCESS. When Jesus died, failure seemed written across His lifework. But that very Cross, which man deemed His supreme disgrace and dethronement, has become the stepping-stone of universal dominion. Thus it may be with some. They are passing through times of barrenness, and disappointment, and suffering. But let them remember that the Lord is faithful (Isaiah 49:7). He will not suffer one word to fail, one seed to be lost, one effort to prove abortive, one life to be wasted. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
Service; call and qualifications
I. THE CALL TO THE SERVICE APPOINTED US OF GOD. “The Lord hath called me from the womb.”
1. To every human life that enters the world there is a special call, and a distinct sphere of duty. Jeremiah was called from his birth (Jeremiah 1:5), and so was St. Paul (Galatians 1:15). These are types, not exceptions. Their call teaches us that every human life is a real and distinct entity, a thing complete in itself, as much so to the eye of God as the grandest object in any sphere of created life. Behind all secondary causes there is a design and a purpose to each separate existence, which gives it a dignity, and makes it a necessity in the government of God. This truth is not one easy to realise. An individual is so insignificant a thing among the millions inhabiting the surface of this globe, while the globe itself is only as a grain of sand on the seashore beside countless other worlds, that it is with no mock modesty we ask, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that Thou so regardest him?” This is true, but it is none the less true that each individual life has a meaning and a mission in the plan and purpose of God; and to realise this is no unimportant element in fitness for service. Two opposite errors there are which have gone far to ruin countless human lives. One is the overestimating and the other the underestimating our importance as individuals.
2. The question naturally arises, how is the Divine call to be discerned? The natural predilections of a man may, to some extent, be taken as pointing the direction in which his sphere of action lies. There are, besides, his aptitudes, his special endowments. There is, also, the concurrent direction of circumstances. Nor should a light stress be laid on the opinions of those whose experience of life, and unbiassed judgment, qualify them to give sound advice. Nor again, should the conscious promptings of some power within us, compelling us to face, perhaps, an unwelcome prospect, be ignored. But at no crisis in life is humble, submissive, patient, trustful waiting upon God of greater importance than when we are responding, definitely and finally, to the call of circumstances, of inclinations, and of qualifications in the choice of life’s sphere of duty. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” And when the call comes, it is at our peril that we hesitate to obey it.
II. THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR IT (verse 2). This was emphatically true of our Lord Jesus Christ. When, in the fulness of time, He was revealed to the world, His own words were, “I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” Moreover, in the apocalyptic vision, the description given of His ascended and enthroned Majesty is that of one “out of whose mouth there went a sharp two-edged sword.” The same figure is also applied to the third person of the Holy Trinity, of whom it is said, that the “sword of the Spirit is the Word of God”--and never should it be forgotten, that Bible truth, in mind, and heart, and life, and at ready command for use, is pre-eminently the instrument of power for effective service. Now the sword is the symbol of authority, as well as of war, and is intended to vindicate the true as well as to slay the false. For this we need, not only a sword, but a sharp sword. There are great and vital interests to be vindicated, the interests of truth, and of humanity. We also need a sword, and a sharp sword, to cut down errors and abuses. But for effective service we need not only to be as sharp swords, but also as “polished shafts.” A polished shaft is a symbol of cultivated gifts, of trained endowments, and of aggressive power at its best. The call and the gifts come from God; while the response to that call, and the due cultivation and employment of the gifts depend upon man, and if he neglects to do his part, what can his life be but a disastrous failure? Definiteness of purpose is an essential condition of success in earthly affairs. Moreover, in all true service there must be the element of sacrifice--not merely the sacrifice of time, thought, pleasure, profit, preference,but, above all, of self. One more element in fitness for service must I mention, viz., that moral chivalry which goes by the name of disinterestedness. (D. Howell, B. D.)
And He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword
A sharp sword
God does not undo, in His relationship to us as Re-creator, the work which He has already performed as Creator. He does not strip us of our natural faculties, and endow us with others altogether distinct from these. Our natural faculties are in themselves neither good nor bad, but in every case are capable of development, either in the direction of good or of evil. When first the grace of God finds us, the powers of evil have more or less infected our nature, and most of our faculties (if not all of them) have exhibited a downward inclination; our members have become “instruments of unrighteousness,” the weapons which Satan has used to do his own fell work. It is upon these dishonoured faculties that God lays His hand when He enters and takes possession of the new-created soul. What He demands on our part is, that these members should be surrendered to Him, as they formerly were to the powers of darkness.
2. The prophet here speaks of one important faculty which exercises an influence for good or evil second to none that affects society--the tongue. The faculty of speech is one of the noblest endowments of humanity, distinguishing us, as it does, from all the lower animals, rendering social life possible, and binding humanity into one. How much of evil originates with the tongue! And yet what a mighty engine for good language may be! Surely God has put no small honour on human speech when He permits His own Son to be described as “the Word” of God.
3. How many of us have endeavoured to use our tongues in the service of God, and yet our efforts have been singularly weak and unsuccessful. Let us not be discouraged, but listen to this word of power: “I have made thy mouth a sharp sword”--sharp no longer for sarcasm and cutting scorn. The withering scoff, the poisoned slander, the bitter reproach, are no longer to proceed, like a sharp two-edged sword, from those consecrated lips of thine; but, if thou wouldst but believe it, a new power has been communicated, in virtue of which that very member, which was of old so keen-edged a weapon in the hands of the destroyer, is now to be equally sharp and pointed in the grasp of its Divine Master. But have we yet begun to be discontented with our want of sharpness? Are we ready to be used by God as a sharp sword? Have we counted the cost? Are we prepared for the consequences? If we are, our weakness matters not. God can use us. “Fear not, thou worm Jacob; I will make thee a sharp threshing instrument, having teeth, and thou shalt break in pieces the mountains.” How many of our well-meant efforts fail for want of teeth!
4. What is required in order to render us efficient instruments in the hands of God?
(1) Definiteness of purpose. The man whose mouth is a sharp sword will speak, not for speaking’s sake, nor to ease his conscience, but to reach the heart.
(2) Incisiveness of language. Our words need not be ungentle nor severe, and yet they may be pointed.
(4) One other characteristic will be embodied in the word “now.” The man who speaks for God will ever remember that “the King’s business requires haste.” “The Holy Ghost saith, To-day”; and he who speaks in the Spirit will speak as the Spirit. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
A sharp sword in God’s hand
Two young men were educated together in an American university. The one was possessed of very considerable talents, and subsequently became the popular minister of a large and fashionable congregation; the other was a man of humble abilities, but possessed by an ardent desire to win souls, and therefore ready to adapt his means to the attainment of this end. Years rolled on, and the popular preacher had occasion to pay a visit to the parish of his old acquaintance. After witnessing all that was going forward in connection with his friend’s congregation, he could no longer repress his astonishment. “I cannot understand how it is,” he said, “that everything in your district and congregation seems to flourish. Your church seems full of really converted souls. The number of your communicants is astonishing, and the amount of work that seems to be going on all round fills me with amazement. How can it be that I, preaching the same truth, yet see scarcely any definite result of my labours? I can scarcely point to any who have been turned from darkness to light as the result of my ministry.” After much conversation, his friend requested him to try an experiment. “Will you,” he said, “take one of my sermons (which in style and composition are by no means to be compared to your own), and deliver it to your own flock? Make it a matter of prayer beforehand that God will make use of it,” not only for their good, but as a lesson to you in your own ministry, if it is intended to be so. Then watch the results. He agreed to do so, and on returning to his flock, delivered with much feeling one of his friend’s fervid discourses. The effect was evident, and to him astonishing. It was clear that many in the congregation were deeply stirred by what they had been listening to. At the conclusion of the service he was sent for by a lady, whom he found remaining behind in the church, in a state of considerable agitation. “If,” she exclaimed, “my dear sir, what I have heard from you to-day is true, then I am all wrong!” “My dear madam,” he replied, with great consternation, “what is the matter? I hope I have said nothing that has hurt your feelings!” (W. Hay Aiken, M. A.)
The Word of God as a sword
1. Because it pierceth the very heart (Acts 2:37; Acts 7:54).
2. Because it separateth between virtue and vice, by teaching what is good and what is evil.
3. Because it cutteth off sin, by the threats which are therein contained against sinners, and by the promises which are thereby made to those who forsake sin.
4. Because it cuts off error and heresy by teaching the truth. (W. Day, M. A.)
In the shadow of His hand hath He hid Me
These words refer in the first place to Him who is the central figure of all prophecy, the coming Messiah. Perhaps they point to His pre-existent state, and denote the concealment of the Eternal Word before it was made flesh. Or the words may contain an allusion to certain aspects and experiences of Christ’s earthly history, and notably the first thirty years of it. What holds good with regard to the Master, holds good also with regard to the servants. As He was in this world, so are they. It is not so much the expression of a general and abiding relationship we have here, as of a special and occasional experience. Every believer lies locked in the closed hand of God, nor shall any pluck him out of it. But it is not of a hiding such as this that the text speaks. It is rather of what is temporary and repeated. What, then, are some of the ideas involved in the special figure of the text?
I. We have God’s love brought before us as an influence to PRESERVE AND PROTECT. And it preserves us in a special way, it protects us through a special process--by withdrawal. That, of course, is not always God’s plan. He has other ways of arranging in providence for the safety of His people, than by removing them from the sphere of their danger. When opposition threatens or temptation assails, He may keep men face to face with the foes that encompass, and seek to educate and to strengthen them by the process. At such times as these they are called to comport themselves as good soldiers of Christ. But at other times it is not incitement that the Christian needs, nor the strength that enables him to do and to dare. It is shelter, screening, quiet, and removal. And when such seasons are needed, they are given. And what a hand it is to retreat to! Think of all that the Scripture reveals to us of its power.
II. The text leads us to think of God’s care as a PREPARING influence. It trains, as well as protects. He quenches not the smoking flax; on the contrary, He fosters and fans it. And for this end He covers it with the shadow of His arched hand, till it brightens from a smouldering spark to a clear and steady flame. Sometimes these seasons of concealment take place at the beginning of a man’s life-work. Take Paul, the newly-converted. When the due time came, and study and seclusion, meditation and silence, had accomplished their work, the hand was unclosed, the shadow was withdrawn. God drew the shaft He had polished from its quiver, and Paul came forth from his retreat, ready to do and to speak, to suffer and to dare for the cause of Christ. And what happens at the outset of a believer’s life, happens often in its course; and many an active Christian life has been cleft in twain by the silence and the pause it imposes. There is a special illustration in the history of Luther. The man had attained the very climax of his immense activities. The nations had wakened from the sleep of ages at the thunder of his lips. Hither and thither he had been moving; here attacking, there defending, yonder restraining. And now every nerve was strung to tenseness by the strain, every faculty wrought to fever in the whirl. And what does God do with him? He suddenly bears him off out of view, takes him from pulpit and from councils, hushes and encloses him in the Wartburg, and leaves him there in imprisonment and isolation for a time. Had God no purpose in view, in thus plunging His servant into the darkness awhile--apart from the work that he loved so well? Assuredly He had. The Church of Christ was all the better of this temporary withdrawal of its one outstanding defender. It was reminded thereby that the cause was God’s and not man’s. And it was taught that the cause could go on, though the man who was its agent was removed. Luther himself was all the better of the discipline too. And when Luther emerged from the shadow, in God’s good time, to achieve and withstand, to struggle and to conquer, once more, he did so as a stronger, because a wiser and a calmer man. And a year’s or a month’s time spent in quiet waiting in the shadow of His hand, may do more to ripen the soul for its future existence with Himself than half-a-century of busy labour amidst the outward activities of life. The believer passes from the sphere of active work to the sphere of quiet waiting, that the discipline of service may be supplemented by the discipline of submission, and the God of peace be enabled through the training to sanctify him wholly. The shadow where the life disappears is only the shadow of the hand. And when the hand is unclosed on the other side death, the light it has covered will be found to be all the more steady and brilliant for the discipline, and shall shine in God’s holy place, as the stars in the firmament, for ever and for ever.
III. Pass from the protecting and preparing influences of God’s hand, to its CHASTENING. For you have the idea here not only of isolation, but of pressure; pressure and pain. It does not always lie gently round about us, this hand of God. There are times when it contracts more tightly, darkens more deeply, impinges more closely. And it does so in many ways--does so even when we are least ready to realise the source whence the pressure arises. If ever a Christian is tempted to think his trials come from another source than the wise and tender Fatherhood of God, it is when they shape themselves in the words and deeds of sinful men. Yet the shadow which they cast on the life is only the shadow of the hand, and the pain the experience gives us only its contracting pressure. And of other trials than these, it is still the same. There are complications of adversity at times so persistent and perplexing that they almost seem to argue the operation of some malignant fate. You are in dark places, But it is only the shadow of the hand. Lie quiet, and bear it as well as you can. And He who at present contracts His hand will in due time open it, and set you in a large room once more.
IV. The text speaks of the INDIVIDUALISING influence of God’s care. While I rest in the shadow of the hand, God of course has the whole of me; but there is another side to the relationship: I have the whole of God.
V. The text reminds us of the hand of God in its REMOVING influences. When lover and friend are put far away from us, and our acquaintance are hid in darkness, they are only removed by the same loving hand, and covered awhile in its shadow, but blessed and safe where they rest, awaiting the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body. And what of the body itself? (W. A. Gray.)
A polished shaft
A polished shaft
I. The prophet speaks of the servant of the Lord under the figure of A POLISHED SHAFT. There are not wanting some who, in their eagerness to deliver their souls, and to be faithful to their responsibilities, outstep the limits of Christian courtesy. They have their own blunt way of working for God, and they are disposed to flatter themselves that it is the best way, because it is most in accordance with their own natural dispositions; but the Lord seeks polished shafts for His quiver. No sword was ever so sharpened as were the words of Jesus; and yet how gentle He was, how considerate! But, you say, we have all our natural peculiarities, and we must continue to be what nature has made us. Not so, my dear brother. Thou art to be perfected by grace, not by nature. Cut a rough stick from a hedge: if it be tolerably straight, and a spike be stuck in the end of it, it may serve, on an emergency, in the place of an arrow at a short range. But every little notch, every distinguishing peculiarity, of that rough stick is an impediment to its flight. We need not fear for the skill of the Great Archer who keeps His saints in His quiver; but we must remember that when we assert our natural peculiarities of disposition, instead of surrendering ourselves to Him to be polished according to His will, the fault is ours, not His, if we miss the mark. We have no right to be content with doing the Lord’s work in a “rough and ready,” bungling, clumsy fashion, effecting perhaps a little good and a great deal of harm. “He that wins souls is wise”; he that seeks merely to relieve his own conscience can afford to do things in a blundering way. What does it matter to him, so long as it is done? But surely if the work is to produce its proper effect, we need much tact, much delicacy of feeling, much tenderness of sympathy; we need to learn when to hold our tongues, and when to speak. It is quite true that God may bless our very blunders when He sees they are committed with true sincerity of purpose, and arise rather from ignorance and bad taste than from wilful carelessness; but that does not warrant us in continuing to blunder, still less in regarding our blunders as almost meritorious, and reflecting self-complacently that it is “our way of working.” We shrink from the polishing process; but He who desires to see us so polished that we shall reflect His own glory, not exhibit our own peculiarities, will take care that the means for our polishing are forthcoming. It is by friction that the arrow is polished, and it is by friction that our idiosyncrasies are to be worn away. This friction is provided in different ways. Perhaps it will be supplied by failures and disappointments, until, like Gideon of old, we are ready to say, “If the Lord be with us, why is it thus with us?” Perhaps it will be supplied by the violent and bitter antagonism which our inconsiderate roughness and unwisdom has stirred in the hearts of those whom we seek to benefit. Sometimes it is provided in our common intercourse with others, not unfrequently in our intercourse with fellow-Christians. Possibly He may subject us to the severest discipline of trial before the work of polishing is complete; but polished in one way or another the shafts must be which He is to use for His own glory.
II. THE SHAFT IS POLISHED ONLY TO BE HIDDEN. It might seem that when once the process of polishing had been completed, the arrow would be a proper object for display, and here is a peril which even polished shafts are exposed to. There is so much of the beauty of the Lord impressed upon some of His servants, that men cannot withhold their admiration. Christians are lavish of their love, and there are hidden perils concealed under this favourable esteem. Sharpened and polished, how apt are we to display ourselves, even as the Assyrian axe of old “boasted against him who hewed there with.” “But,” says the great apostle (himself a polished and sharpened arrow), “we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord.” And so it is that the polished shaft has to be hidden. Your attention is not directed to the arrow while it is waiting to be used; it is concealed within the quiver.
The eye is not caught by it when it is in the hand; it is hidden under the shadow of the hand. Another moment, it rests on the bow; another moment, and it speeds to the mark. Neither in the quiver, nor in the hand, nor on the bow, nor in its flight, is the arrow conspicuous. The more swiftly it flies, the more invisible it is. Thus the archer wins all the applause, and the arrow is nothing; yet it is by the arrow that he has done his work. And while man is not attracted to the arrow, the great Archer Himself is. It is upon it that He bends His eye. It is to it that He gives the credit of the victory: “Thou art My servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Yes, there is a special joy in His heart when He can truly say of us, “Thou art My servant.” How near we are to His sacred Person when we are thus hidden in God’s hand, concealed in His quiver! And how much truer and deeper the joy of such service than the momentary excitement of human applause! And then the thought that it is possible for God to be glorified in us as the archer is glorified in the arrow, that the intelligences of heaven shall gaze down and admire the work that God hath wrought by instruments once so unpromising, and shall praise Him for it; that men on earth shall be constrained to admit that this is the finger of God, and to take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus; that the devils in hell shall recognise in our lives the presence of Omnipotence, and tremble as they see the mighty Archer draw us from the hiding-place within the quiver! “Hidden in God’s hand!” Hidden from the grasp of Satan. He fain would snatch us out of God’s keeping; but his hostile hand can never touch those who are concealed in God’s quiver. Hidden from the desecrating touch of the world to which we no longer belong. Hidden above all from ourselves--our morbid self-consciousness, our inflated self-esteem, our gloomy self-depression. (W. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The pride that apes humility
I remember once overhearing the remark from the lips of one whom long experience and keen observation had taught more of the subtlety of the human heart than most men ever discern: “Ah, my dear brother, the truth is that we are all full of self; only some of us have the good taste not to show it, and some have not.” The words may appear almost cynical, but a little reflection will show us how true they are. (W. HayAiken, M. A.)
A polished arrow
Mark Guy Pearse says that the crest for the Lord’s worker is “an arrow” polished and feathered, content to be in the quiver until the Master uses it; lying on the string for His unerring fingers to send it forth, then going strong, swift, sure, smiting through the heart of the King’s enemies, and with this for the motto, “I fly where I am sent.”
And said unto me, Thou art My servant
The service of man the manifestation of God’s highest glory
How numerous are God’s servants! All things in heaven and upon earth, all worlds, all elements, and all creatures are His servants, which obey His word, and declare His greatness and glory.
But of all God’s servants in this world man ranks highest, and through his service God is glorified in a sense that He could not be glorified through the service of any other creature. Israel was God’s servant in a pre-eminent sense, whether the word be taken to mean the nation as God’s chosen people or an individual as God’s messenger to do His will. But the ideal of God’s servant in this book was realised only in the Lord Jesus Christ. Man appears greatest when he serves, and there is no way to true greatness but through service. And God appears greatest when He condescends to serve. The Son of God looks more Divine on the Cross of His humiliation than on the throne of His glory, for on the Cross that which was deepest in His nature became visible. And it may be said that in every good man God becomes incarnate, and takes upon Himself the form of a servant, and by so doing bestows upon him the highest greatness. God says to every one of His faithful children, “Thou art My servant, in whom I will be glorified.” The way to glorify God is by serving man.
I. WHAT IS MEAT BY GOD’S GLORY? With glory we associate the ideas of purity, beauty, and sublimity; and God’s glory is the energetic expression of His holiness in all His works, in myriad different forms and ways.
II. THE SERVICE OF MAN AS THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD’S HIGHEST GLORY. Man has been created for the revelation of the highest glory of the Divine nature, and when he serves God faithfully, God breaks forth into glory in his character and work. This is the glory of His moral attributes, the glory of His love, mercy, compassion, and tenderness, which is infinitely greater than all the glory of the material universe. You can never learn the character of God from the facts of nature, any more than you can learn the character of the artist from his paintings, of the architect from the buildings he has planned, or of the builder from his work. In every gentle and kind word spoken to the affected, in every look of compassion, in every tear of sympathy, and in every deed of kindness, God breaks into glory that would make you tremble and adore if you were spiritual enough to see it. How the Divine glory shone in the life of the apostle Paul! In a dark age, when the superstition of the Papacy covered the land, God called Martin Luther, and said, “Thou art My servant, in whom I will be glorified.” And in Rowlands, Whitefield, Wesley, and others, God’s glory broke forth in a similar manner. In the only-begotten Son was revealed the glory of God as the Eternal Father (John 1:14). Before the same glory shines forth in us we must become something more than professed Christians, we must become Christ’s. (Z. Mather.)
Painters, poets, and musicians are God’s servants, and in their masterly ]productions the Divine glory bursts forth. Raphael was God’s servant, and m the Transfiguration God’s glory broke forth. Handel was God’s servant, and in his Messiah God’s glory broke forth. Milton was God’s servant, and in his Paradise Lost the Divine glory majestically broke forth. Statesmen, reformers, and philanthropists are also God’s servants, and He says to each one of them, “Thou art My servant, in whom I will be glorified.” But the shining of the Divine glory is not confined to the highly gifted, but breaks forth in those who faithfully serve God in obscure spheres of labour, unnoticed by the world. (W. Hay Aliken, M. A.)
The three-fold experience of Christ
I. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF A HIGH VOCATION. “He said unto Me, Thou art My servant,” &c. Just as the words, “Out of Egypt have I called My son,” never found their full significance until they were applied to God’s greater Son, so the name “Israel” was never fulfilled finally in Jacob, who first bore it, nor even in the nation that has borne it after him, but has found its ultimate fulfilment in Him who is pre-eminently a “Prince with God,” and our Prince, because He is our Saviour. We have, therefore, here a prediction of the consciousness of a high mission which possessed the Christ, and brought Him to this world of ours. Some of us will never forget the day when we were conscious for the first time of the inspiring fact that God had spoken to us, and through that experience of ours we may be able--as, indeed, the prophet through his experience was supremely able--tounderstand something of the ecstasy with which Christ, conscious of His glorious mission, came to this world of ours. It was that that Christ remembered throughout His life, and it was that which sustained Him throughout His personal ministry in the face of opposition and discouragement of every kind. He knew that He was doing His Father’s will, and it was this consciousness that found expression in the prayer which He uttered on the eve of His great passion, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” It was this assurance, too, that He sought to give to His disciples as the mainspring of all their heroism. “As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you.” “Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Scholars are divided here in opinion. Some say that this ought to be translated, “In whom I will burst forth into glory.” This is a translation that charms me. Jesus was indeed “the effulgence” of the Father’s glory--the shining forth of the light which had ever been the light, but which would have been largely invisible to man apart from the Incarnation. Then there is the other translation, “In whom I will beautify”--or “glorify”--“Myself.” In harmony with this Jesus exclaimed near the close of His life, “Father . . . glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee.” Did not the Son glorify the Father by the very outburst of light which distinguished His life among men?
II. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF APPARENT FAILURE. “I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought and in vain.” We trace this consciousness at times even in the Master in Gospel story. His disappointment in the face of human unbelief, His sorrow over human sinfulness and ingratitude, the apparent waste of the Divinest life that was ever lived among men in precept and example--these weighed heavily upon Him. In this respect, as in many others, He was touched with the feeling of our infirmity.
III. THE ASSURANCE OF FINAL VINDICATION. “Yet surely My judgment is with the Lord, and My recompense with My God.” In other words, He knows the motives which have prompted Me, and what led Me on step by step. Whether life be a failure or not, whether My self-sacrifice appear fruitless or not, He knows what is the root of all. Yea, I know more than that--I know not only that He will vindicate Me and the motives which prompted Me; but I also know that My work must find its reward; that all that is apparent failure is only apparent; that My toil must bring forth fruit--“Surely . . . My work is with My God” (or, according to the R.V., “My recompense is with My God”). Here again there is the double meaning, and therefore a special wealth of significance. The word denotes more than the “work,” and more than the “recompense.” It denotes the work and its result; all that the work meant: the toil of saving men, and the reward of seeing them saved. Thus the Christ Himself, amidst all the ignominy and anguish of the Cross and Passion, fell back upon the assurance of the Father’s final vindication. These, then, being pre-eminently the words of the world’s Redeemer, are surely an example and an inspiration to us to follow His example. (D. Davies.)
Then I said, I have laboured in vain
Christ in prophecy
These prophetic sayings go to Christ, not outside of and separate from man’s struggle, but in and through it.
As all true Christians are living over again, in an imperfect way, the details of Christ’s own experience, so were all true godly men, before His coming, feeling their way into it, being guided by Christ’s spirit, and having the throb of His life, which is the life of God, already palpitating in their bosoms. (J. Ker, D. D.)
The complaint for frustrated aims
These words bring before us a feeling that belongs to the human heart in all places and times--the complaint of man for frustrated aims. It is not easy to say in what distinct form it is present to the mind of the original speaker here. Sometimes he appears to express the feeling as his own personal experience--a man among his fellow-men--and sometimes he seems to personify the nation to which he belongs. Probably both are struggling together in his heart. The people of his race were selected by God for a great purpose--to hold up His name and knowledge pure and unsullied in the midst of the world’s defections. But the purpose is, for the while, an apparent failure. The world has corrupted those who should have purified it, and God’s judgment has fallen on their unfaithfulness till they are scattered among the heathen and ready to perish. It seems as if Israel’s history were labour in vain. For himself, the prophet thought that he had been chosen to bring back his people to the way of truth and righteousness. But the people have erred, the prophet has failed, and he speaks both for himself and for the best part of the nation, the true Israel of the Covenant. (J. Ker, D. D.)
I. SORROW FOR THE FAILURE OF LABOUR. In thinking of this we may go down to a still lower stage than that from which these words sprang in the heart of this man of God. The complaint is made by many who have never sympathised with his high aim or shared in his Divine work.
1. Take the first of the two great objects that call man to labour--the gratification of self. How few prizes are drawn for the many blanks! When some one spoke to Napoleon of his Italian campaign, and asked if that marvellous part of his career did not give him exquisite pleasure, he replied: “It did not give me one moment of peace. Life was only incessant strife and solicitude. The inevitable battle of the morrow might” annihilate all memory of the victory of to-day.” We may call to mind the saying of poor Keats when dying: “I have written my name in water”; nor would it probably have comforted him much more at that time to think he had engraved it in marble. Even affection and sympathy--how often are they not reciprocated, or returned with ingratitude, or felt to be not of the deep kind the heart had yearned for!
2. The second is God and the good of His world. The higher a man’s idea of what the condition of the world Should be--of what a reign of righteousness and happiness there might be if God had His due place--the more likely is he to be depressed at times by the view of things around him, and the slow way in which all our effort is bringing us to the goal.
II. SOME OF THE TEMPTATIONS TO WHICH THIS SORROW FOR THE FAILURE OF LABOUR IS SUBJECT.
1. Take first, again, that class of men who have set before them in life some personal object, and have been disappointed in it. The great temptation in such cases is to brood over and magnify their disappointment.
2. Then, as to those who have a higher aim in life than any mere personal one--who are truly seeking the glory of God and the good of their fellow-men--they have also their temptations under failure. We are so ready to judge of the plan of the world by our own little share in it, and to think all the war is lost when our small detachment suffers a check.
III. THE RESOURCE WE HAVE IN THE MIDST OF THIS SORROW FOR FAILURE. “Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” There are two things this speaker fixes upon, and they are a powerful stay if we can bring them as clearly and confidently to God as he did. “My judgment is with the Lord.” I can appeal to His decision for the character of my motive. It was, so far as I knew it, pure and true. “My work is with my God.” I can cast on His decision the result of my labour. I do not say that any mere man can do this with a perfect assurance that all is right with him, and that He who searches the hearts, and tries the reins, can absolve him as faultless; but I do say that there are men who, by the grace of God, can appeal to God Himself for the sincerity of their aim. Let us see how it should influence both the classes we have been considering.
1. Those men who have been seeking some personal object in life, and have failed in it, may learn much here. Let us take it for granted that there was nothing sinful in your aim, and that you did not wish for any good, inconsistent with the rights and the happiness of your fellow-creatures. It seems very hard to you that you should be denied what many of them enjoy, and you can scarcely help comparing your lot with theirs, with a sense of bitterness, at least of regret. Here is a more excellent way of it. Instead of putting your life beside theirs, refer yourself to God’s judgment. If you can put the case truly before the Judge and Controller of life, you may find something in your life to correct, and something also that will give comfort. May it not be that you have been making the aim of your life too narrow, even as it concerns your own welfare? You have been thinking, perhaps, of worldly position and acknowledgment, more than of the building up of your character in what is true and pure and godlike--more of your outward than of your inward and real life. These failures may be to teach you to begin again, and to aim at a wider basement and a higher top-stone--to take into your edifice the soul’s interests, and to let its front look Godward and heavenward. And you have been making, perhaps, the aim of your life too narrow as it concerns your fellow-men. You have made self too exclusive. If you come, after all the failures of life, in this submissive spirit to God for His judgment, He will give you not only means of correction, but comfort. Though you may have lost what you once reckoned the good of life, there is another and higher good still open to you, not merely hereafter, but here. God can teach you how to build on the ruins of former hopes--nay, He can show you how you may take the very stones of them that have fallen and lie scattered around, and may joint them into a new and most beautiful and enduring structure. You may never in this world have the keen thrill of joy your heart once panted for, but a conscious and deep peace will recompense its absence,--more satisfying and more abiding.
2. There is a resource here, also, for that nobler style of men, who have laboured for the cause of God and their fellow-creatures, and have failed to find the success they sought. It may seem strange at first sight that there should be such failures. Yet there are some things which make it not so strange, if we will but reflect. Are we sure that our motives are always as high as we ourselves fancy, and may not failure be meant to send us back to sift and purify them? Our very despondency may arise from our having looked too much to success and too little to duty. God must have standard-bearers who are ready to make a shroud of their colours, and how can they be known but in hours of defeat? And, though our motives are pure, is our work always wise? Are Christians to expect that carelessness and rashness will succeed, simply because of good intentions? After all, however, the great resource we have is to fall back on this appeal “My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” Man judges by success, God by simplicity of heart; and many an unnoticed effort and inarticulate prayer that never seemed to touch the conflict shall share in the full triumph of the victory. Those who have failed to find position or comfort, fame or sympathy in the world, may have One who can bear His share with you here, who chose this place in life, which you call loss, that He might be nearer you, and show you that life has greater things than all you have coveted. Those of you who complain that you have laboured for your fellow-men and God with small return, have One here who gave up infinitely higher things, and met from men a more cruel award. Let all be done under the cover and trusting in the strength of Him who alone “works all our works in us.” Let the sinful past come under this shadow to find forgiveness; the narrow and selfish life, to find a new and lofty aim; and all our fears and griefs and disappointments, to find comfort and hope in Him who entered the world to redeem it from fall and loss, and to make every true life succeed at last, even where it seemed to fail. (J. Ker, D. D.)
The glorification of civic life
Think of the worth and greatness of a human life in that elect society and holy city which is the servant of God. If the corporate consciousness of the city should become a judgment and recompense with God; if the sense of God and His holy presence should envelop the whole city in its power, and reach every man in it, even as the morning light comes into every home; if the city should awake with God; if, throughout the day, in the mind of the city, the thought of God should have its dwelling-place, and if in the government of the people the law of God should have its throne; if some awe of the Divine righteousness should pervade the business of the city, and some deep sense of Divine blessedness, like a fountain of life, should well up and abound in the happiness of the city, and some greatness of the Divine purpose should enlarge all the work of the city, and make the least faithfulness a service of God; if some peace of the Divine eternity should rest upon all life’s changes in the city, and the hope of some Divine event bend over every new-made grave, and the comfort of some Divine omnipresence fill as with an all-pervasive love every heart in the city that had been left in loneliness of grief;--if, in one word, a whole city should become, what Isaiah beheld in the far future, a city of God, a Messianic city, the elect servant of God,--think you that in that city “Sought out, a city not forsaken,” any humanlife could seem to be a life for nought, and its labour in vain?--a worthless thing to be trodden under foot, or only a moment’s flash of pleasure?--a life not to be prized and kept as a sacred, immortal trust? Would not every least life in a city of God, full of the consciousness of God, become a life of moral worth, a birth into an immortal consciousness, a part in some universal good, a fellowship with something celestial, an anticipation and a share in some eternal triumph and joy of life? (N. Smyth, D. D.)
The ineffectiveness of Christ’s personal ministry, a man-reveallng fact
Assuming that these words express Christ’s experience, they cannot be taken in an absolute sense. He laboured in vain, compared with what the kind and amount of agency employed were suited to effect. We shall look at this fact as revealing certain other facts in relation to human nature.
I. IT REVEALS MAN’S FREEDOM OF ACTION. We cannot conceive of a mightier moral energy being brought to bear upon mind than that which Jesus brought to bear upon the Jewish mind, and yet it was resisted. The Jews resisted moral omnipotence. He appealed in the most powerful way to three of the most influential principles in our nature.
1. Belief. If you want to influence men, you must take your stand upon their faiths. There were, especially, two faiths which Christ appealed to; the one instinctive, and the other attained. The former was, that miracles are the works of God; the latter, that their Scriptures predicted a Messiah. Christ appealed to these predictions.
2. Conscience. His character, doctrines, and precepts bore directly on the conscience.
3. Interest. He revealed the judgment-day, unfolded heaven, uncovered hell. Thus He assailed their souls; and yet they resisted. Do not say that man has no moral power; he has proved himself, by the comparative ineffectiveness of our Saviour’s labours, to have power to resist the mightiest moral influences of God.
II. IT REVEALS MAN’S PERVERSITY OF CHARACTER. The possession of the capacity to resist the highest moral influences is the gift of God. It is neither subject for blame nor praise, but for thankfulness to God. But the using of that capacity to oppose holy and Divine influences is our guilt and ruin. There were three perversities in the Jews that led to this resistance. 1: Perversity of judgment.
(1) Their judgments were sensuous. They “judged after the flesh,” In the Scriptures they read of a coming king, priest, conqueror; they identified that king with pageantry--that priest, with flowing robes and sacrifices--that conqueror, with mighty armies. When the true King, Priest, and Conqueror came, He had none of these, and they would not have Him.
(2) Their judgments were servile. The Scribes and Pharisees were their theological masters. They allowed them to manufacture their creed. Christ came and denounced their great leaders as heretics and hypocrites, and they waxed indignant. This sensuous, servile judgment in religion is ever an obstruction to the spread of truth.
2. Perversity of feeling. There were two perverse feelings, especially, that led them to reject Christ.
(1) An undue reverence for the antique. They loved the antiquity of Judaism. Men who tie themselves to precedents rather than principles, can never advance.
(2) An undue respect for worldly greatness. They thought a deal about worldly wealth and pomp; Christ had none.
3. Perversity of life. Josephus informs us that so corrupt was the Jewish nation in the time of Christ, that had not the Romans come and destroyed them, God would have rained fire from heaven, as of old, to consume them. These perversities of judgment, feeling, and life, have ever been impulses stimulating man to oppose Christianity.
III. IT REVEALS MAN’S EXCLUSIVE SUPPORT IN HIS HIGHEST LABOURS. The highest labour is that in which Christ was engaged. What was His support? Not adequate success; for He complains of not having it. Here it is, “Surely My judgment is with the Lord, and My work with My God.” Two supporting ideas are here involved--
1. That the cause in which we are engaged is the cause of God. “My work is with my God”
2. That the reward of our efforts is from God. “My judgment” (reward) “is with the Lord.” The good will he rewarded, not according to the success of their labours, but according to the purity of their motives, and the devotion of their power. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Apparent failure sometimes the truest success
1. This is just the language which we find at times forcing its way from the lips of most of those great men who have felt most conscious of having a mission from God. Those who have most deeply and radically influenced for good the minds of their generation have been usually distinguished by fits of profound melancholy; regret that they have ever entered on their heroic course; weariness at the opposition which they meet with; distrust of their own fitness for the task; doubts whether God has really commissioned them to act on His behalf. Why is this? It is because God’s results are for the most part secret. A man who sets a great example is hardly ever conscious of the effect which his example produces. If his plans are not carried out precisely in the way and to the end which he had originally contemplated, he persuades himself that they have been an utter failure, that no good can have arisen from them; whereas the truth is, and other persons see it, that the particular plans were from the outset worthless, in comparison with the exhibition of character by which the very attempt to execute them was accompanied.
2. The Cross of Christ is the true guide to the nature and value of real success. What a failure was the life of Christ, if we measure it by immediate results! No wonder that the Cross was to the Jews a sore stumbling-block, and to the cultivated Greeks utter foolishness, just as it would now appear to most of us. For even we, the heirs of eighteen centuries of faith in the Crucified One, seem hardly yet to have learned the lesson that the suffering, self-sacrifice, devotion to principles, and heedlessness of immediate consequences, are the indispensable foundations of all permanent success. (H. M. Butler, D. D.)
Comfort under self-depreciation
1. Some persons give themselves much unnecessary pain by underrating their real service in the world. The question of good-doing is one of great subtlety. The quiet worker is apt to envy the man who lives before society in a great breadth of self-demonstration. It is as if the dew should wish to be the pattering hail, or as if the soft breeze should disquiet itself because it cannot roar like a storm. We forget that whirlwind and earthquake, fire and cloud, tempest and silence, have all been God’s messengers; and it would be foolish of any of them to suppose that it had been of no use to the world.
2. The text shows the true comfort of those who mourn the littleness and emptiness of their lives. “My judgment is with the Lord,” &c. God knows our purposes, our opportunities, and our endeavours, and He will perfect that which concerneth us. The intention of the heart, which it was impracticable to realise, will be set down to our favour, as if we had accomplished it all. (Y. Parker, D. D.)
Each epoch has its special temptations and trials. For Christians of to-day, one of these maladies is discouragement.
Discouragement! not in that acute and passionate form which strikes us in the bitter and despairing complaints of the prophets and believers of other centuries. We suffer from a less violent ill, less dangerous in appearance, but dull, slow, and treacherous.
1. Many causes explain it to us. The human mind, in its progressive march, passes by turns through phases of assurance and disturbance.
(1) At an epoch when analysis is carried to excess, the vital powers of the soul become weak and are in danger of dying. One of the first fruits of this tendency in religious minds, will be languor. How can one love, act, and believe, when at each of its aspirations the soul finds planted before it a “perhaps”? If this spirit of analysis is destructive to individual enthusiasm, it acts in a still more enervating manner upon the collective life. Every one asserts his independence, his right to examine; and often the spirit of party alone replaces the unity which disappears.
(2) Our age has another character--it wants to be practical. A scorn scarcely dissembled confronts inquiries, which reach beyond the world of sense or of pure logic. The supernatural passes for mysticism, and this word, with many, is a condemnation without appeal. This tendency reacts on the Church. It is certain that the same utilitarianism is invading it.
(3) Add to these causes the influence of certain tendencies of spirit and temperament, causes entirely physical, which act in a mysterious but powerful manner on the moral state. Add to these that inclination which the most serious minds have to look on the sad side of human things. Add those tendencies which exist in all ages, but which, in the general condition I have described, develop with much more power and rapidity;--and you will comprehend why nothing is rarer in these days than that joyous, heroic, serene faith which characterised other ages.
2. In certain circles it is sought to escape from it by excesses of feverish zeal. The imagination is excited by the prospect of the immediate realisation of the promises of prophecy. These fictitious but intermittent flashes only terminate in changing this languor into incredulity. What must be done then? Build up your life on another foundation than that of your passing impressions; fix it upon the central, eternal truth which dominates over the fluctuations of opinions and beliefs; live in Jesus Christ; and upon the heights to which this communion lifts you, breathe the vivifying air which alone can give you strength. Then only can you oppose faith to sight, the eternal to the transitory, and thanksgiving to discouragement.
But this is to tell you that you must be, must (it may be) become again, Christians. Now this remedy is not to be reached in a single day.
3. In going to the bottom of things I discover two principal causes of the discouragement of the Christian. The first is the greatness of the task which God sets before him; the second is his inability to accomplish it.
(1) We are so constituted that every time the ideal of love and holiness to which the Gospel calls us is presented to us in its sublime beauty, our heart vibrates with a profound assent, and we feel that it is for this end that we were created. But when we must not only admire but act, then we measure with dismay the distance which separates us from it, and discouragement seizes us. It prescribes for us not only that love of our neighbours, which is after all only an enlarged selfishness, but charity, and, if need be, charity which goes even as far as sacrifice.
(2) The ill success of his labour is the second cause of the Christian’s discouragement. What Christians mourn the most deeply over the ill success of their efforts? They are almost always the most active and advanced Christians. It enters into God’s plan to conceal from us almost always the results of what we do for Him. Why does God will it? Doubtless, that faith may be exercised. God does not wish to be served by mercenaries. He often hides from His children the fruit of their labours, to the end that they may work for Him and not for themselves; He hides it from them in order that they may find in Him their recompense, and not in the result of their work, nor in the outward success which would take the place of His approbation, nor even in the progress of a sanctified life, for perfection apart from Him might become an idol It is also to humble us. How seldom is it that man can bear success, and not bend under its weight! He teaches them, moreover, gentleness and compassion. Success alone will never develop these. However, this fruit is only hidden; it will appear in due time. No one in serving the Lord has the right to say, “I have laboured in vain.” Even when the indifference of the world shall seem to conceal for ever your labours and your sacrifices, there will be left you the consolation of the prophet, “My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.” (E. Bersier.)
Ideal and realisation
Draw near to those giants of the spiritual order, those workmen of God who in different ages have been called Elijah, St. Paul, Chrysostom, St. Bernard, Luther, or Whitefield, and who confound you by the immense work which they have accomplished, you will hear them groan under the small results of their works. Elijah cries out to God: “Take away my life; I am not better than my fathers.” Isaiah pronounces the words of my text: “I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain.” St. Paul trembles in fear of having been a useless labourer; St. Bernard expresses in his last letters the painful feeling of having accomplished almost nothing. Calvin, dying, said to those who surrounded him: “All that I have done has been of no value. The wicked will gladly seize upon this word. But I repeat it, all that I have done has been of no value, and I am a miserable creature.” What must we conclude? That these men did nothing? No, but that, in the presence of the ideal which God has put in their heart, their work appeared to them almost lost. (E. Bersier.)
Labour in vain, yet, not in vain in the Lord
I. A LAMENTABLE COMPLAINT, wherein our Lord complaineth, that although He came to the house of Israel, where He published the Divine doctrine, wrought many miracles, and showed admirable holiness of life, yet for most part He had lost His labour. “I have laboured in vain,” &c.
II. A CONSOLATION of Himself upon this complaint, wherein He reareth up Himself with the consolations of God in the midst of all those oppositions that were made against Him, and all His lost labour. “My judgment is with the Lard, and My work with My God.”
III. A CONFIRMATION of this consolatory part, by three arguments--
1. From the assurance of His calling. “And now thus saith the Lord that formed Me from the womb to be His servant.”
2. From His own faithfulness. “Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord”; I do My duty faithfully.
3. From the faithfulness of God. “My God shall be My strength”: as if He had said, I know that God called Me to this office, and that I am faithful in it, and therefore He will assist and stand by Me, and reward Me. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Of Livingstone, on his last journey, his biographer, Dr. Blaikie, says: “During all past life he had been sowing his seed weeping, but so far was he from bringing Pack his sheaves rejoicing, that the longer he lived the more cause there seemed for his tears. In opening Africa, he had seemed to open it for brutal slave-traders, and, in the only instance in which he had yet brought to it the feet of men “beautiful” upon the mountains, publishing peace, disaster had befallen, and an incompetent leader had broken up the enterprise. After twenty-three years of labour, he wrote: By the failure of the Universities Mission, my work seems vain. No fruit likely to come from J. Moffat’s mission either. Have I not laboured in vain?’”
And now, saith the Lord
Paradoxes of prophecy
I would weigh with you two of those larger, and at the same time intense paradoxes of prophecy, which run throughout the prophetic word, and which Isaiah, in these wonderful words concentrates in one.
1. That He, who was foretold should Himself be the light and salvation of those who knew not God unto earth’s utmost bound, yet should fail as to those to whom He should first come, the prophet’s own nation, the people among whom alone, before He came, He was looked for, hoped for, believed in.
2. That He, whom to adore should be the glory of kings, before whose presence they should “arise” from their thrones and bow down before Him, should be first “despised of man, abhorred by the” Jewish “people,” be in the power of the rulers of this world, as a slave is in the power of his masters. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
And He said, It is a light thing that Thou shouldest be My servant
The evangelical prophet: his wide outlook
In the whole of this prophetical book there is not a single verse in which the character of the evangelical prophet is more conspicuous than it is here.
How must he have been transported beyond himself--how far must he have been raised not merely above the vulgar passions and prejudices, but above the noblest and purest aspirations of his contemporaries--how deeply must he have been permitted to enter not only into the secret purpose, but into the heavenly spirit of the Divine counsels, before he could have given utterance to such words as these! Try to realise in some measure the import, the power, the charm of those names--the names of Jacob, of Israel, in the mind of every faithful Israelite. Think how not only his human affections, but his deepest religious feelings, were centred in the prosperity of Zion and the peace of Jerusalem. Think of the grief and the longing, the prayers and the tears of the exiles in their captivity, when they remembered Zion. What joy could there be to such an one comparable for a moment to the joy of raising up the tribes of Jacob, and bringing back the preserved of Israel? And yet he was called upon by the voice of God to regard this as a light thing, and in comparison with what was it a light thing! What object was so far to transcend that which must have appeared in his eyes as the greatest of all? It was that he should be given as a light to the Gentiles, and that he should be the bearer of God’s salvation unto the ends of the earth. How doubly strange must such a commission have seemed to the prophet who received it! Like every child of Abraham, he had been wont to look down with mingled aversion and contempt on the mightiest and wisest of the nations. He had directed his bitterest sarcasm against their idols; he would have held himself defiled by sitting down at the board even of their nobles and princes. Yet now the honour and welfare of the Gentiles is to be set far above the deliverance and exaltation of the chosen people. He must break the bands of prejudice, and learn a new estimate of life. (Bp. Perowne, D. D.)
Missions to She heathen
I. I venture to say, looking at the diffusion of Divine truth and its attendant blessings which are shadowed forth in the words of the prophet, EVEN OUR NATIONAL GREATNESS AND GLORY IS A LIGHT THING. Consider what m the true test and measure of real glory. I am not now speaking of it as it appears in the sight of Him by whom the nations are counted as the small dust of the balance, and who taketh up the isles as a very little thing. I would have you look at it from a human but still manly and reasonable point of view as it appears in the estimate of strangers, in the eyes of posterity, in the pages of history, in your own sober judgment, when applied to other instances where you are not under the bias of personal feeling or national prejudice. Take the case of an individual. Would you seriously count it a glorious thing for a man to have amassed great wealth, to have risen to a high station, to have acquired extensive authority? Or, do you think it necessary to inquire what use he has made of these advantages, what traces he has left of his passage through the world? It is not a sufficient title to glory that our name, our race, our possessions, our power, our influence have been extended to the end of the earth, and that every quarter of the globe has yielded its tribute to our arms, our industry, and our commerce. There still remains the question, What use have we made of all our gifts and opportunities? What are the things we have carried with us abroad in exchange for those which we have brought home? What are the tokens and monuments of our presence in the land where we have settled and borne rule? The ampler our means, the greater our power, the more commanding our influence, the greater is our responsibility and the stricter the accounts which we must render at the bar both of Divine and of human judgment. It is the proper object of a Christian State to encourage all efforts for the extension of Christ’s kingdom, to place no obstacles in the way of that extension.
II. But how is it as regards the Church? There can be no question that THE SENDING FORTH OF THE GOSPEL BELONGS TO THE PROPER WORK OF THE CHURCH. It may truly be said, in a certain sense, that all the rest is a light thing in comparison with this. Let us suppose a Church pure, sound, and flourishing in all other respects. But if a Church thus favoured puts forth no expansive energies, if she is content merely with the enjoyment of her internal prosperity, then the fulness of these blessings only renders the deficiency in its outward action the more glaring and reprehensible. Whatever appearance there may be of health or vigour in a motionless Church, all such indications must be hollow and fallacious. Such a Church deceives herself, like that of Laodicea, saying, “I am rich, and increased in goods, and have need of nothing”; being, in truth, “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” And lukewarmness is the cause, at once, of the misery and the self-delusion. It was such a Church that received the warning, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” Is that too much to say of a Church which, so far as regards those who are without, is deaf and dumb and blind and palsied?--without an ear for her Lord’s commission, without a voice to proclaim His message, without an eye for those whom He came to seek and to save, without hand or foot to stir in His service--or rather, to speak more plainly, without faith to trust His Word, without hope to abide His time, without love to spend and to be spent for His cause. (Bp. Perowne, D. D.)
The missionary enterprise
1. To look at the question, even from a comparatively lower plane, is there not something elevating in the whole history of missionary enterprise? Is it not a good thing, an inspiring thing, to have lifted up before our eyes the noble examples of the men who have gone forth sacrificing their earthly prospects and encountering privation and suffering and the martyr death that they might preach among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ? They have gained no earthly reward; they have looked for none. They have reformed men sunk in the lowest depth of degradation, misery, and crime. They have exhibited the Christian graces of domestic purity and truth and love. They have, indeed, enriched the world; they have been the pioneers in civilisation. The splendid heroism of our missionary martyrs has given us a loftier conception of duty, and made our hearts throb with holier emotions, and put to shame the weakness, the cowardice, the selfishness of our lives. Surely on this ground alone we may say that the work of the Church at home is a light thing compared with the mission work of the Church abroad.
2. This mission work abroad gives us new impulses and new motives, because it is done in simple obedience to the command of our risen Lord, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature,” and a simple trust in His promise, “Lo, I am with you.”
3. This mission work is a greater work because of the grandeur and far-reaching compass of its conception, as putting no limits beyond those of the habitable globe to its aims; greater, because it is not bounded by the bounds of a parish or Church; greater, because it bears in its bosom the inspiring truth that the kingdom of God is one, and that all work for Christ is essentially one in its range, and power, and objects, however manifold it may be in the forms which it assumes, or in its application to the various phases of society, and the infinite diversity of the needs which it meets.
4. It is greater because, as all experience shows, it breathes a new life into all the work at home. It is a sovereign, antidote to that selfishness which is so often a canker in our work.
5. The missionary work of the Church is a greater work because of its regenerating power m the revival of the whole Church. No one can question this who has watched the development of missions and the relation of that development to the work of the Church at home. It must often have awakened our surprise that at the great Reformation which shattered the fetters of superstition and brought out a nation beloved of God into the glorious liberty of her children, and gave them the Word of life, no attempt was made to carry the precious treasure to the rest of the world. It may be that the work they had to do at home was the work to which God had called them, and that it so absorbed all their thoughts and interest, it left no room for anything else. There is no more striking instance of the reflex action of missionary efforts than this, that it has been made in God’s hand the instrument of a mighty revival in the Church at home. Compare it with that other revival which dates from Oxford some sixty years ago. The earlier Evangelical revival, striking as were its results in the awakening of souls, and turning men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, left out of sight the corporate unity of the Church. Its weakness was there. It was mighty in its spiritual intensity, but it forgot that Christ came not to convert individuals only, but to establish a Church. The Oxford Movement on the other hand dwelt too exclusively on this aspect of the truth. Ritual darkened the spiritual life. The work of God the Holy Ghost held a subordinate place in its teaching. The power of the Great Commission has gone forth. The Church is sending forth missions, and it is the reflex action of missions which is not only winning fresh victories for Christ abroad, but is breathing a new life into the Church at home. It does not despise sacraments or ordinances, but it puts them in their proper place. (Bp. Perowne, D. D.)
Redemption, an eternal purpose
A capable artist can find no worthier exercise for the highest order of powers, than in depicting the scene in the cabinet-council of some earthly monarch, at the moment when it is determined to risk the hazard of war, in offence or in defence, to unsheathe the sword, with the consciousness that the earthly fates of many kingdoms may hang upon the issue, and that the sword may not return to its scabbard until it be bathed red, and made drunk in the blood of myriads of slain. But in this august conference, it is not the fate of one or two kingdoms that is at stake, but of the world in all its extent, and in all its generations, and it may be, of far more than this world; for it seems probable, that, whilst Christ, in His coming into this world, laid not hold of the nature of angels to redeem them, all the intelligent creatures of God have had their condition and destiny modified by the incarnation, and life, and sufferings, and death, and resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. (T. Smith, D. D.)
The Gospel for all
I. THE FIRST CLAUSE DOES NOT SEEM TO US TO DECIDE, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE QUESTIONS THAT HAVE BEEN OFTEN PUT AS TO THE FUTURE DESTINY OF THE JEWS. The acceptance of the Gospel by the Jews as a nation, or by the great body of the people, were comparatively a small matter, if it were placed instead of the diffusion of the Gospel all over the world, and the gathering of the elect out of every people. The two are ever to be viewed as great and important parts of a greater and more important whole, and they are so joined together by the appointment of God, that the one could not be effected were the other neglected. The times of the fulness of the Gentiles are appointed to be the times of Israel’s gathering.
II. Although it seems to be represented as if God had made the offer of the Gospel to the Gentiles conditional upon its rejection by the Jews, this must certainly be understood as spoken after the manner of men, and NOT AS IF GOD HAD MADE THE EVANGELISATION OF THE WORLD DEPEND UPON A CONTINGENCY.
III. THE TERMS IN WHICH CHRIST’S OFFER TO THE GENTILES, AND THE DIFFUSION OF HIS GOSPEL AMONGST THEM, ARE DESCRIBED. He is to be “a light” and “salvation” to them. This implies their condition without Christ as one--
1. Of darkness.
2. Of perdition.
IV. THE ADAPTATION OF CHRIST’S GOSPEL TO REMEDY THE EVILS, AND SUPPLY THE WANTS OF THE GENTILE WORLD. The perfect catholicity of the Christian system is one of the grandest guarantees of its Divine origin. (T. Smith, D. D.)
God’s salvation a light to the Gentiles
The subject of this chapter is “Messiah God’s Light” to the ends of the earth (John 8:12)., In orderfully to enter into our text, we will illustrate its meaning by St. Paul s own Acts 26:18). Comparing both these passages, we find the design of God’s salvation to be that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs Ephesians 3:6).
I. THE PURPOSE OF GOD IN THIS SALVATION.
1. To make men to inherit the kingdom of God and home of the Redeemer.
2. To offer this glory to the Gentiles.
II. THE GROUND ON WHICH THIS SALVATION IS OFFERED. “My salvation,” or, as in Acts 26:18, “By faith that is in Me.”
1. The object of this faith. “In Me.” Jesus Himself.
2. The nature of this faith. Believing in His life and work; receiving for our own salvation His offer of mercy; trusting Him wholly.
III. THE NATURE OF THE SALVATION THUS OFFERED.
1. “To turn them from darkness to light,” i.e conversion.
2. Forgiveness of sins. (H. Linton, M. A.)
Israel God’s conduit-pipe
“That thou mayest be My salvation,” &c. That thou mayest be the conduit-pipe of My salvation to convey it to the end of the earth. (W. Day, M. A.)
Thus saith the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel
The Redeemer of Israel
Israel shall be raised from the deepest degradation to the highest honour.
The verse is remarkable as anticipating the main idea of Isaiah 52:13-15. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Christ’s future reign
I. THE DESCRIPTION GIVEN OF THE MESSIAH.
1. As despised, rejected, and contemned by men.
2. As abhorred by the Jewish nation.
3. As “a servant of rulers.” Though He was Ruler of all worlds, He voluntarily submitted Himself to human power, and yielded obedience to human rulers--the constituted authorities of His day. He conformed to the institutions of His country (Matthew 17:27; Matthew 26:52-53). He submitted to an unjust trial and verdict.
II. THE PURPOSE OF GOD RESPECTING THE MESSIAH’S REIGN.
1. He is chosen of God to accomplish the world’s salvation.
2. All shall bow to His sceptre. Kings shall see the fulfilment of the Divine promise, by which He is destined to be the Light of the nations, and they shall rise up with demonstrations of respect and reverence; they shall render Him honour as their Teacher and Redeemer. They shall do homage to the great King-Saviour.
3. God, in His faithfulness, will accomplish His gracious purpose.
1. What a glorious period is approaching!
2. What encouragement have all Christian workers! The success of our efforts is certain.
3. What is your relation to this great King-Saviour? (A. Tucker.)
Kings rendering homage to Jesus
Kings, being usually seated in the presence of others, are described as rising from their thrones; while princes and nobles, who usually stand in the presence of their sovereigns, are described as falling prostrate. (Hitzig.)
Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time
The world given to Christ
The prophet was looking forward to the Messiah and His times.
It was customary for some kings to grant to favoured ones whatever they requested (Psalms 2:8). God’s kingly Son is represented as having asked, and this is the answer
I. THE PROMISED UNIVERSAL DIFFUSION OF THE GOSPEL.
1. It was commenced in the apostolic age.
2. It has been continuing through the ages to the present hour.
3. It will be fully accomplished in “the fulness of time.” What reasons have we for believing this?
(1) The faithful and unerring promises of Jehovah.
(2) The adaptation of Christianity, above all other forms of religion, to be universal
(3) The present aspect of the world furnishes much reason to hope that the accomplishment of this promise is drawing nigh.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THOSE WHO SHALL EMBRACE IT (Isaiah 49:9-10). The promise includes--
1. Abundant provisions.
2. Careful protection.
3. Unerring guidance.
III. THE EXULTANT PRAISE WHICH SUCH GLORIOUS PROSPECTS SHOULD AWAKEN (Isaiah 49:13). We should raise this song--
1. Because of the glory which the fulfilment of this promise will bring to the triune Jehovah.
2. Because of the blessings the Gospel will bring to humanity. Conclusion--Has this Gospel come to you in saving power? (A. Tucker.)
I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people
Christ the covenant of His people
I. WHAT THIS COVENANT TOUCHING MAN’S REDEMPTION IS. A covenant, in the general acceptation of the word, is an agreement between two parties in any thing, or end, upon certain articles or conditions, which both freely consent to. “The covenant of grace,” or “of redemption,” is an eternal transaction between the Father and Christ; a consultation and agreement between these two glorious Persons, how man should be saved out of the ruins of the fall, in a way becoming God (Zechariah 6:13).
II. SUCH A COVENANT HATH PASSED BETWEEN THE FATHER AND THE SON BEFORE ALL WORLDS.
1. There were terms made, or work demanded of the Mediator.
(1) That Christ should take the name of His covenant-people upon Himself, and become their representing Head.
(2) That He should become man.
(3) In this body Christ was to fulfil God’s whole law.
(4) That Christ should seal all His obedience with His blood.
2. There were -promises given. Christ thus firmly and freely consenting, and binding Himself to perform these terms and conditions, the Father makes promises to Him.
(1) That He would fit Christ for His work (Isaiah 11:1-2;John 3:34).
(2) To assist Christ in His work (Psalms 89:21-22).
(3) To carry Christ safely and honourably through His work Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:4; Psalms 89:26).
(4) The Father promised Christ “a seed to serve Him”; and great glory after this His work was ended (Isaiah 53:10).
3. There were mutual trusts which the glorious parties reposed in each other.
III. WHO ARE THE PEOPLE FOR WHOM CHRIST WAS GIVEN AS A COVENANT.
1. Such as are brought to seek happiness and life purely upon the footing of this covenant.
2. The messenger of the covenant is their delight (Malachi 3:1).
3. Such as have the Spirit of the covenant in their hearts. Wherever the Spirit is given, He comes as a Spirit of grace and supplication. He is a Spirit of liberty. A Spirit of holiness.
IV. WHAT ARE THE BLESSINGS REDOUNDING TO THE PEOPLE BY THIS COVENANT?
1. Their calling is secured.
2. All grace is treasured up for them.
3. Fellowship and communion with God,
4. Eternal life is given (Titus 1:2).
V. USES BY WAY OF DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE.
1. Christ and His seed are comprehended in one and the same covenant.
2. That which is a covenant of grace to us, is a covenant of works to Christ.
3. We learn the meaning of those phrases wherein God is said to make “a covenant” with man.
4. We see the ground of the salvation of Old Testament saints. They were justified and saved upon the foot of this covenant.
5. The substance of the covenant was the same, under both testaments; only the dispensation of it varies. The covenant made with Abraham, Jacob, David, &c., was a covenant, not of works, but of grace.
6. Why Christ is called the “covenant” of His people. It is because He is all in all in this covenant. Practical uses--
(1) Admire the love and grace of this covenant.
(2) Look more at Christ in every covenant-blessing.
(3) This may be improved for the believer’s comfort, whatever his wants are; it is a sure covenant, an ordered covenant, a full covenant; Christ is thy covenant, therefore in all thy dangers, weaknesses, snares, thou art safe; in all thy wants thou art provided for; in all thy fears thou art prevented. (J. Hill.)
Christ in the covenant
We believe that our Saviour has very much to do with the covenant of eternal salvation. We have been accustomed to regard Him as the Mediator of the covenant, as the Surety of the covenant, and as the scope or substance of the covenant. I shall dwell on Christ as one great and glorious article of the covenant which God has given to His children.
I. Here is a GREAT POSSESSION--Jesus Christ by the covenant is the property of every believer.
1. Jesus Christ is ours in all His attributes. He has a double set of attributes, seeing that there are two natures joined in glorious union in one person. He has the attributes of very God, and He has the attributes of perfect man; and whatever these may be, they are each one of them the perpetual property of every believing child of God.
2. In all His offices. Is He a Prophet? He is thy Prophet. Is He a Priest? He is thy Priest. Is He a King? He is thy King. Is He a Redeemer? He is thy Redeemer. Is He an Advocate? He is thy Advocate. Is He a Forerunner? He is thy Forerunner. Is He a Surety of the covenant? He is thy Surety. In every name He bears, in every- crown He wears, in every vestment in which He is arrayed, He is the believer s own.
3. In every one of His works, whether they be works of suffering or of duty, they are the property of the believer. “Circumcised in Christ.” “Buried with Christ in baptism unto death.” I die in Christ. I am buried with Christ. We are “risen together with Christ.” He hath made us “sit together in heavenly places.”
4. In the person of Christ “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” “And of His fulness have we received, and grace for grace.” All the fulness of Christ to restrain thee, to preserve thee; all that fulness of power, of love, of purity, which is stored up in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, is thine.
5. The very life of Christ is the property of the believer. “Because I live ye shall live also.” “Ye are dead; and your life”--where is it? It is “hid with Christ in God.”
6. Best of all, the person of Jesus Christ is the property of the Christian.
II. FOR WHAT PURPOSE DOES GOD PUT CHRIST IN THE COVENANT?
1. In order to comfort every coming sinner.
2. To confirm the doubting saint.
3. Because there are many things there that would be nought without Him. His great redemption is in the covenant, but we have no redemption except through His blood. His righteousness is in the covenant, but I can have no righteousness apart from that which Christ has wrought out, and which is imputed to me by God. My eternal perfection is in the covenant, but the elect are only perfect in Christ. In fact, if you take Christ out of the covenant, you have just done the same as if you should break the string of a necklace; all the jewels, or beads, or corals, drop off and separate from each other.
4. Christ is in the covenant to be used.
III. Here is A PRECEPT, and what shall the precept be? Christ is ours; then be ye Christ’s. Show the world that you are His in practice. When tempted to sin, reply, “I cannot do this great wickedness, for I am one of Christ’s” When wealth is before thee to be won by sin, touch it not: say that thou art Christ’s. Are you exposed in the world to difficulties and dangers? Stand fast in the evil day, remembering that you are one of Christ’s. Are you in a field where much is to be done, and others are sitting down idly and lazily doing nothing? Go at your work, and when the sweat stands upon your brow and you are bidden to stay, say, “No, I cannot stop; I am one of Christ’s.” When the syren song of pleasure would tempt thee from the path of right, reply, “Hush your strains, O temptress; I am one of Christ’s.” When the cause of God needs thee, give thyself to it, for thou art Christ’s. And now, I must say one word to those who have never laid hold of the covenant. I sometimes hear it whispered that there are men who trust to the uncovenanted mercies of God. Let me solemnly assure you that there is now no such thing as uncovenanted mercy. Mayhap, poor, convinced sinner, thou darest not take hold of the covenant to-day. “I dare not come; I am so unworthy,” you say. Hear, then: my Master bids you come, and will you be afraid after that? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, go forth
Out of darkness into light
When Jesus comes to the soul, He delivers us from that direst of all bondages, fetches us out from that cruellest of all slaveries, the bondage of the spirit, the slavery of the heart.
Then we are told that, if there are any who are m a worse state than that of mere captivity, namely, in darkness as well as in bondage, the Lord Jesus Christ comes to them, and says, “Show yourselves; rise, and come out of the darkness; hide away no longer, come forth into the light, and enjoy it.”
I. I have to try to FIND OUT THE CHARACTERS mentioned in the text: “Them that are in darkness.”
1. They were not always in darkness. She was a bright young spirit once, after a fashion; and he,--I know him very well, seemed to be everything that mirth could make youth to be. But, on a sudden, there came a cloud in the sky, both to her and to him. It may be that a death happened in the family, or sickness came, or if it was neither of these things, at any rate, the mind suddenly grew strangely quiet, and a stillness came down upon the spirit, and with that stillness there fell a gloom over the whole being. What were those thoughts that brought such a sobering influence into the life? I can tell you about them from my own experience. I thought, “I have not lived as I ought to have lived. God made me, yet I have never truly served Him. He is my mother’s God, but I have forgotten Him; my father’s God, yet I have never sought Him. What shall I do? God must punish me,” &c. I seemed plastic as wax towards evil, yet hard as cast-iron or steel towards anything that was good. Then I grew sad in soul. I read my Bible a great deal, and the more I read it the more the darkness thickened about me, &c. This is the gateway into a joy that will be worth your having.
2. Besides this, a sense of sin has settled upon you.
3. The soul I am describing is in the dark, and the darkness settles down in conviction of sin. You have no hope.
4. You fear future and eternal night. It is to people in such a state that the Gospel of Christ is sent.
II. I am going to REPEAT THE EXHORTATION of the text: “Show yourselves.”
1. It means that you are running away from Divine justice, and that your wisest course will be to go and deliver yourself up. Do you not know that you are not really hidden? God sees you wherever you are; there is no hiding away from Him That is the very first thing for you to do; to submit yourself to God, to lie at His feet pleading for mercy.
2. The next way of showing yourselves is somewhat different: “Say to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves”; that is, you are very lonely, and you have been avoiding your best friends. Come out of your retirement. If you cannot speak to any mortal man, yet speak to the Immortal Man; go and tell out all your sorrow to the best of friends.
3. This passage may be applied to you who are sick, who are concealing your disease. I want every man who is troubled about the state of his heart, and every woman too, to come and show themselves to Christ, just as they are, in all their sire
4. The next thing you have to do is to show yourselves As healed ones, bound to confess Him who has cured them.
5. But I am going to carry the text a little farther yet. There are some young men, perhaps some young women also, who have been saved; they are no longer in the dark, and God has given them grace, and talents, yet still they are hiding themselves away. They are chosen ones loth to take their place of service. If the Lord has saved you, and if He is pleading for you in heaven, it is time you began to plead for Him on earth.
6. Our text applies also to persecuted ones who shall be owned and honoured of God. There will come a day when God’s people, who have long been in the dark through persecution, slander, and misrepresentation, shall hear the Lord speaking to them out of heaven, and saying, “Gather My saints together unto Me; those that nave made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” “Say to them that are in darkness, Show yourselves.” What a change will come for God’s poor despised people in that day!
7. These words also relate to dead ones called to resurrection. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
They shall feed in the ways
The returning captives
This is part of the prophet’s glowing description of the return of the captives, under the figure of a flock fed by a great shepherd. We have seen a flock of sheep driven along a road; some of them hastily trying to snatch a mouthful from the dusty grass by the wayside. Little can they get there; they have to wait until they reach some green pasture in which they can be folded. This flock shall “feed in the ways”; as they go they will find nourishment. That is not all; the top of the mountains is not the place where grass grows. There are bare, savage cliffs, from which every particle of soil has been washed by furious torrents, or the scanty vegetation has been burnt up by the fierce “sunbeams like swords.” There the wild deer and the ravens live, the sheep feed down in the valleys. But “their pasture shall be in all high places.” The literal rendering is even more emphatic: “Their pasture shall be in all bare heights” where a sudden verdure springs to feed them according to their need. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Feeding in the ways
Whilst this prophecy is originally intended simply to suggest the abundant supplies that were to be provided for the band of exiles as they came back from Babylon, there lie in it great and blessed principles which belong to the Christian pilgrimage, and the flock that follows Christ.
1. They who follow Him shall find in the dusty paths of common life, and in all the smallnesses and distractions of daily duty, nourishment for their spirits. Do you remember what Jesus said? “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.” We, too, may have the same meat to eat which the world knows not of. That is a great promise, and it is a great duty.
(1) It is a promise, the fulfilment of which is plainly guaranteed by the very nature of the case. Religion is meant to direct conduct, and the smallest affairs of life are to come under its imperial control, and the only way by which a man can get any good out of his Christianity is by living it.
(2) But this is a great duty as well as a great promise. How many of us Christian people have but little experience of getting nearer to God because of our daily occupations! Therefore we need times of special prayer and remoteness from daily work; and there will be very little realisation of the nourishing power of common duties unless there is familiar to us also the entrance into the “secret place of the Most High,” where He feeds His children on the bread of life.
2. Further, my text suggests that for those who follow the Lamb there shall be greenness and pasture on the bare heights. Strip that part of our text of its metaphor, and it just comes to the blessed old thought, that the times of sorrow are the times when a Christian may have the most of the presence and strength of God. “In the days of famine they shall be satisfied.” Our prophet puts the same thought, under a kindred though somewhat different metaphor, in another place in this book where he says: “I will open rivers in high places.” That is clean contrary to nature. The rivers do not run on the mountain-tops, but down in the low ground.
3. May I turn these latter words of our text a somewhat different way, attaching to them a meaning which does not belong to them, but by way of accommodation? If Christian people want to have the bread of God abundantly, they must climb. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
They shall not hunger nor thirst
Promise of Christ to His people
The people of God are represented as a flock of sheep travelling under the care of their good shepherd, in the heat of summer, through a barren and dry wilderness, towards a land of plenty, security, and everlasting rest.
Under such circumstances, what would this flock require? What might they expect from the hand of a faithful shepherd? There are doubtless three things which they would want and might look for--provision, protection, and refreshment. Such are the blessings promised by Christ in the text.
I. PROVISION. “They shall not hunger nor thirst.” Christ will furnish them with all things necessary both for life and godliness; that is, with a sufficiency of all temporal and spiritual blessings.
II. PROTECTION. “Neither shall the heat nor the sun smite them.” His people are exposed to the fire of persecution; but by His almighty power, by providential interpositions, He defeats the purposes, restrains the malice, and wards off the stroke of their persecutors. They are exposed, also, to the fiery darts of the wicked one; but here, again, the Lord protects His people.
III. REFRESHMENT. “Even by the springs of water shall He guide them.” Springs of water would be peculiarly refreshing in the sultry deserts, both as allaying the thirst of the flock, and as also furnishing on their banks fresh and verdant pasture, in which the sheep might repose and renew their wearied strength. Such and similar is the refreshment which Christ vouchsafes to His people. (E. Cooper.)
The love that will not let us go
This chapter is strewn with assurances to the chosen people on the eve of their return from Babylon. Jehovah’s voice takes on a tone of unusual tenderness, and speaks as He only can. Let us heed His successive assurances of comfort and compassion.
I. HE WILL LEAD WITH A SHEPHERD’S CARE.
II. HE WILL MAKE OBSTACLES SERVE HIS PURPOSE. “I will make all My mountains a way” (Isaiah 49:11). Mountains are prohibitory. The student of the geography of Palestine cannot fail to be impressed with the strong barricade of mountains with which God fenced in the Land of Promise on its southern frontier. Similarly, the mountains of Switzerland have sheltered liberty and those of Afghanistan have made conquest difficult to impossibility. There were great mountains between Israel and home, yet God does not say that He would remove them; but that they should form a pathway, as though contributing to the ease and speed of the return. “I will make all My mountains a way.” We all have mountains in our lives. There are people and things that threaten to bar our progress in the Divine life. Patience can only be acquired through just such trials as now seem unbearable. Submit thyself. Claim to be a par taker in the patience of Jesus. Meet thy trials in Him. Thus shall the mountains that stand between thee and thy promised land become thy way to it. Note the comprehensiveness of this promise. “I will make all My mountains a way.” The promise is in the future tense. When we come to the foot of the mountains we shall find the way.
III. GOD’S LOVE IS MORE THAN MOTHERHOOD (Isaiah 49:15). Many devout but misguided souls have placed the Virgin Mother on a level with God, and worship her, because they think that woman is more tender, more patient, more forgiving than man. “The love of woman” was David’s high-water-mark of love. And of woman’s love, none is so pure, so unselfish, so full of patient brooding pity, as a mother’s. Such love is God’s. Indeed it is a ray from His heart. Ira mother’s love is but the ray, what must His heart be! But there is sometimes a failure in motherhood. “They may forget.” But God can never so forget.
IV. GOD TREASURES THE THOUGHT OF HIS OWN (Isaiah 49:16). The Orientals had a custom of tattooing the name of beloved friends on the hand. That is the reference here. Thou art photographed where God must ever behold thee, on His hands, on His heart. Not on one hand only, but on both. Not tattooed or photographed, the marks of which might be obliterated and obscured; but graven. The graving tool was the spear, the nail, the cross. Glass will not give up its inscriptions, nor the onyx stone its seal, nor the cameo its profile; but sooner might they renounce their trust, than the hands of Christ. Not Zion’s ruins, but Zion’s “walls” were ever before Him. Our ideal self; what we are in Jesus; what we long to be in our best moments; what we will be when grace has perfected its work and we are comely in the comeliness He shall put upon us--this is the ineffaceable conception of us that is ever before God. What a contrast between Zion’s wail about being forsaken and forgotten, and God’s tender regard!
V. GOD’S LOVE IS STRONG ENOUGH TO CARRY OUT ITS PURPOSE (Isaiah 49:24). Such is the question of despondency, asked by Israel, from the heart of the mighty empire, in which she was a helpless captive But Jehovah had well calculated his resources (Isaiah 49:25).
VI. GOD’S LOVE WILL NOT PUT AWAY (Isaiah 50:1). (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
And I will make all My mountains a way
Since the world was, mountains have been the obstructors of ways, the natural frontiers between nations, the barriers that have kept people separate, disunited, and hostile.
And yet even in the natural sphere the fact of the existence of mountains has ever initiated the stimulus required to surmount them. The physical and moral strength of the race is possibly invigorated by the very opposition of mountains, and man, God’s vicegerent in the work of subduing the earth among all lands and among all peoples, has made the mountains a highway for commerce and travel and discovery, until at last the inspired utterance comes to be a motto in man’s re-creation. There is a fascination, a challenge to the imagination, in mountain scenery, through which He, who is always appealing to the Divine secret in man, makes His mountains a way to gaze into His face, to think into His heart, to hope into His promises. Those eternal up-pointing fingers challenge you against despondency. None but the soulless or the blind can be amongst the up-pointing fingers of the everlasting hills and not hear what the mountain saith; for it echoes the voice of the everlasting God, when to man’s poor heart He repeats His splendid promise, “I will make all My mountains a way.” Is there not in this inspired prophecy the Divine solution of a mystery, and the impregnable assurance of a victory? The greatest moral mountain in this perplexing world is the existence and permission of evil. The silence, the awful silence of God, the pitiable failures in the best lives, the crushing heart-sorrows, the beds of suffering, the new-made graves, the occasional irresistible questioning whether such a world as this can in truth be under the control of a Divine and omnipotent Ruler--these are the moral mountains that hem us in. Against them we hurl ourselves sometimes in vain; they hide from us the Fatherhood, they separate us from one another. But mark! God says, “My mountains.” I care not how black they seem, they are God’s mountains. It is a splendid step heavenward when you are first able to shake yourself free from the miserable pagan dualism which, in order to avoid a difficulty, ascribes half the creation to a good God, and half to some malignant demiurge whom the good God seems powerless to destroy. It is the Lord; let Him do as seemeth Him good. The mountain of moral evil cannot be insurmountable without denial of the truthfulness or obliteration of the omnipotence of our Father, who is greater than all; and when we tremble at the hideous misery in the world and the dread possibilities of evil with which we are only too familiar in our own hearts, it is well to hear the message, “Fear not, child of earth, only believe.” I think the very briefest analysis of human history will prove that what men call evil has ever been a stimulus of social action, material enterprise, aggressive discovery. Before Copernicus, people believed that the earth was the centre of the solar system, and they had to learn that the little speck of star-dust which they thought was the centre of the universe, was only one of the thousands of worlds going round the sun. People believed in geocentric motion when they should have believed in heliocentric” “motion. Similarly, conventional religion, sometimes very religious indeed, is in danger of being autocentric. I am here to save my own soul.” Well, it has to be converted into Theocentric. You have to see that God is the centre, that the purpose and will of God, as it has been revealed through Christ for the whole race, is that around which your little life is to revolve. (Canon Wilberforce.)
Behold, these shall come from far
Gathered from afar
Whatever bearing this prophecy may have had upon the time of Isaiah, or the time immediately after him, it has an important bearing on the time of the Messiah, and the course of His kingdom.
The sentiment is that the redeemed Church of Christ shall come from every part of the earth. This sentiment is in accordance with--
I. THE GENIUS OF THE GOSPEL.
II. THE SPIRIT OF PROPHECY.
III. THE COURSE OF EVENTS. Conclusion--
1. This subject recognises the brotherhood of man.
2. It imposes a stupendous obligation on the Church. (J. Rawlinson.)
The land of Sinim
The land of Sinim
As coming after the reference to the west, it is naturally looked for in the far east, and so has very generally been understood of the Chinese. The common designation of China among nations of South Asia outside of China is Tsin, and in the form of Sin this name had been introduced among the Arabians and Syrians. It is also observed that the Chinese dynasty of Tsin began to reign about B.C. 255. For ten centuries before Christ the Chinese had commercial relations with the west. (J. Macpherson, M. A.)
The land of Sinim
(the Sinites):--The last word is a hopeless enigma As the only proper name in the verse the writer must have had some special reason for mentioning it; and the only reason that can be plausibly imagined is that Sinim lay on the utmost limit of his geographical horizon. This would exclude two suggested identifications:
(1) the Canaanite Sinites of Genesis 10:17, and
(2) Sin (Pelusium), on the nearest border of Egypt. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me
The more than parental love of God
ZION’S BUILDING. “Zion” here signifies the true Church. Elsewhere she is called Jerusalem; and very frequently is she spoken of as a city or building.
1. If we inquire who is her builder, we find that there is but one who can properly be called by this name. The founder of the true Church is He by whom God made the worlds; therefore she is called “The city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14). The plan of Zion’sbuilding is older than the world itself. The Lord buildeth up Zion, and He alone. Whenever He uses any of us as His under-builders, He first makes us sensible of our own weakness; the excellency of the power is of Him, and not of us.
2. If we inquire concerning the foundation of the true Church, an apostle meets us with an answer: “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
3. If we consider the building itself, it consists of lively stones.
4. The “operations” of the great Master-builder are not uniform, but marked by “diversity.” Some stones are separated from their quarry, and brought off by a preparatory process, in a gradual and gentle manner. Others again, are shivered from their worldly holds, as by the explosion of rocks. If we closely inspect the building, we find the lively stones admirable for their unity, evenness, and mutual conformity.
II. ZION’S COMPLAINT. We have heard of Zion, the city and dwelling-place of our God: and that “the Lord loveth the gates of Zion” (Psalms 87:2). But how faithfully and ardently He loves her, she herself does not always consider. Why else that complaint which now comes under our notice? It is acknowledged that circumstances may arise, under which nothing may appear more just than this complaint of Zion.
III. GOD’S PROMISE. “Can a woman forget,” &c. (F. W.Krummacher, D. D.)
The complainings of Zion silenced
I. WHAT THERE IS IN OURSELVES TO MAKE US FEAR LEST GOD SHOULD FORSAKE US. Our very fears have often a great show of reason in them; though they may be excessive, they are not wholly unfounded. As--
1. When we recollect how often we have forgotten and forsaken Him.
2. When the aspect of providence is dark and mysterious.
3. When the mind appears to be bereft of its ordinary supports and consolations.
4. When a great and prevailing doubt obtains as to the safety of our state after all.
II. WHAT THERE IS IN GOD TO CONVINCE HIS CHURCH THAT HE NEVER WILL FORSAKE HER.
1. It is contrary to His nature--as contrary to His nature to forget and forsake His Church as it is contrary to the nature of a kind and tender mother to forget and forsake her child. Our Lord teaches us to reason from the less to the greater. “If ye, being evil, know how to give, how shall not your Father,” &c.
2. It is contrary to His promise. “Yet will I not forget thee.”
3. It is contrary to the character of His dispensations, for He never has forsaken His Church.
4. It is contrary to His people’s own sober expectations. For Zion does not in her heart believe her own prophetic forebodings. She still speaks of Him, not only as “the Lord” in one part of the verse, but as “my Lord” in the other--which she would never do, as a reasonable person, had she finally forgotten or forsaken God, or believed that God had finally forgotten and forsaken her. (S. Thodey.)
The saint’s final perseverance secured by the love of God
I. THERE ARE MANY THINGS THAT OFTEN CONDUCE TO SUSPICIONS ON THE PART OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD CONCERNING THE LORD’S GOODNESS.
1. Times of deep affliction; of dark and mysterious providences; days in which there is no light.
2. These are seasons oftentimes, in which, through our frailty, imperfection, sin, and sinfulness, the weakness of our faith and the strength of unbelief, the believer may be led to form some suspicions concerning the goodness of God.
3. Besides this, there may be periods of deep spiritual temptation.
4. Some laxity in the walk will oftentimes briny strength to a man’s suspicions here.
5. He may be in a state of spiritual captivity.
II. THE GREAT SECURITY THAT IS HERE PLACED BEFORE US. “Can a woman forget her sucking child,” &c. There cannot be a figure more tender, more comprehensive. It is the figure of a helpless babe: there is the tenderness of the tie; there is the helplessness of the child; and there is the very posture of the child; and they are all full of great and important truth; and yet according to those last words--“they may forget; yet will I not forget thee”--this is not enough. As though the Lord would say, If My love were not more than this, it would not be enough to secure thee.
III. GOD DOES GIVE PROOF THAT THIS TENDER LOVE DOES NOT FORGET. “They may forget; yet will I not forget thee.” He does not forget their persons. “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands.” They are borne upon the heart of the great High Priest. He forgets not the work of grace that is in them. He forgetteth not the trials of His saints. He forgetteth not the returns of His people He forgetteth not the walk of His saints. He forgetteth them not in death. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
A mournful complaint and satisfactory answer
What a difference is there between the judgment of God, and the judgment of men! We have a very striking instance of this in the passage before us.
I. A MOURNFUL COMPLAINT. “Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me,” He exercises no care over me; “and my Lord hath forgotten me,” He feels towards me no affection. Let us look into this. The wicked think too much of the goodness of God; they mistake the evidences of His general bounty for the evidences of His peculiar friendship. While they live regardless of His praise, they yet hope in His mercy, and persuade themselves that He will not be rigorous to mark what they have done. The very reverse of this is the disposition of all the subjects of Divine grace. They know that self-deception is tremendous; and therefore they are afraid of self-deception; and they often carry their solicitudes here beyond the point of duty, and in reading and in hearing they will apply to themselves what was intended only for others; for, as an old divine says, “There is no beating the dogs out without making the children cry.” Let us try to trace up this complaint to its source; and to see the wretchedness that conclusion must produce in the minds of all God’s people. There is a philosophical notion, which is of a semi-infidel character, which supposes that the providence of God is general, and not particular. He regards the whole, and therefore must regard the parts; for the whole is always made up of parts; and He does regard the most minute parts. It is a religious despondency that affects Christians. It is not the influence of infidelity, but it is the influence, first, of unbelief, or weakness of faith. It arises also from ignorance. It springs sometimes from the suspension of Divine manifestation We may also mention conflicting with the troubles of life. We remark once more, the delay of God in the accomplishment of prayer. But who can find language properly to describe the wretchedness that such a conclusion as this, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my God hath forgotten me,” must ever produce in the minds of the godly? The misery that the child of God feels from such a conclusion, may be accounted for by three things.
1. That he loves God.
2. He entirely relies upon Him.
3. He has enjoyed Him already. He has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and therefore prays, Evermore give us this bread.
II. THE SATISFACTORY ANSWER.
1. The improbability of the fear. This is metaphorically expressed: “Can a woman forget her sucking child,” &c. There are two supposable cases here. She may be bereft of reason, or not survive, and so not be able to remember it. She may be criminally, unnaturally, led to hide herself from her own flesh.
2. The certainty of the assurance, “Yet will I not forget thee.”
3. The all-sufficiency of the truth established, i.e the perpetual regard of God towards us.
1. Distresses and discouragements are not incompatible with religion.
2. How concerned God is, not only for His people’s safety, but for their comfort also.
3. Let His people fall in with His designs. Let them be humbled, and mourn over their ignorance, perverseness, impatience, and unbelief; that they have entertained such hard thoughts of God; that they have so often charged Him foolishly, and unrighteously, and unkindly.
4. Do not take the comfort belonging to a gracious state, unless you are the subjects of a gracious character. (W. Jay.)
Unworthy doubts of God
How common is this weakness of unbelief in man; how natural are these unworthy doubts of God to us. Nor is it difficult to perceive the sources from which this inability to trust in God’s goodness springs.
1. There is the guilt of which we are conscious in our own hearts; the sense of evil desert m ourselves.
2. Then there comes in the undeniable fact of suffering in himself and all around him, which apparently, at first sight, justifies this attitude of mind, and certainly confirms it.
3. We thus discover a third source from which distrust in God springs; the perversions which have been substituted for the pure Gospel by different branches of the Christian Church (J. N. Bennie, LL. B.)
Can a woman forget her sucking child?
1. As. Jehovah,, had just been announcing His” purposes of world-wide mercy--salvation “to the ends of the earth”--we may take these words, in the first instance, as the plaint of literal Israel: “The Lord has chosen the
Gentile, and in doing so, He has forgotten me. The wild olive has been grafted in; will not the natural olive be rejected?”
2. Or it may be taken as the wail of the Church universal, prompted in times of rebuke and blasphemy, defection and apostasy, cruelty and persecution, when blood is flowing and martyr-fires are lighted; or worse, when faith is weak, and love is waxing cold, and knees are bowing to Baal.
3. Or again, the utterance may be regarded as the exclamation of the individual soul, amid frowning providences and baffling dispensations. In all the three cases Jehovah’s reply is the same--the assurance of His inviolable, unchanging, everlasting love. This He enforces by two arguments.
I. THE MOTHER’S INSTINCTIVE FONDNESS FOR HER BABE.
II. THE GRAVER’S ART (Isaiah 49:16). (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Maternal love and tenderness
Maternal love and tenderness is the strongest and most enduring of instincts. It holds potent sway even in the brute creation, and among the lower tribes of animated being. We see it exemplified in the timid bird hovering with wailing cry over the threatened or despoiled nest, and, despite its feebleness and weakness, ready to give battle to the invader. We see it in the familiar scriptural emblem of the hen gathering her brood of chickens under her wings in threatening storm, or in the hour of danger. We see it in the bolder watch the mother of the eaglets keeps over her young in the eyry on cliff or mountain-side, as she disputes, with ruffled plumage, the assault of the plunderer. We see it in the proverbial fierceness of the “bear robbed of her whelps,” or in the maddened roar of the lioness bereaved of her cubs, as she lashes her sides with her tail, and makes mountain and forest “ring with the proclamation of her wrongs.” But it is the mother and her infant babe (the human parent) in whom this deep-seated instinct has its highest, truest illustration. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Maternal affection the moat appropriate image of Divine benevolence
I. MARK SOME STRIKING POINTS OF RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN THE COMPASSION OF A MOTHER AND THE COMPASSION OF GOD.
1. The first distinctive feature in the affection of a mother is, that it is coeval with the maternal character. It springs at once into existence, vigorous and perfect, and becomes henceforth a permanent and essential part of her constitution. Other affections are produced, and nourished by degrees. Love to parents, gratitude to benefactors, sympathy with the afflicted, and benevolence to our kind, are all, in a very considerable degree, the offspring of instruction and of association. But of maternal tenderness, it may be truly said that it is an instantaneous creation; the stamp of heaven, impressed upon a mother’s heart, and acting in all its vigour the moment she hears the cry of helplessness. Just, but fair, representations of that love of God, which is far above all similitude, as it passes all understanding! In implanting this affection in a mother’s bosom, He has furnished the best and most winning image of His own benignity; and by interweaving it in her constitution, He intends to show that His own love is not a feeling, adventitious or fluctuating; but an unchangeable attribute of His being--that predominating principle, of which His other attributes are nothing more than varied ramifications. A mother, however, is frail and fallible. She may forget even her sucking child. But God cannot forget to love.
2. The next quality distinctive in the love of a mother is that of all affections with which we are acquainted it is the purest in its source, and the most disinterested in its exercise. No created being can, in any way, be profitable unto God, for He is independent and unchangeable, both in nature and in happiness. All the life which He communicates; all the means of enjoyment which He spreads through creation; every faculty and every affection that ennobles and blesses the rational soul in its highest advances to perfection, springs from the exhaustless source of unmixed and unbounded benevolence.
3. The last quality I shall remark as peculiarly striking in the love of a mother is, that its exertions and sacrifices are not only disinterested, but, beyond every other example, patient and persevering. And as the love of a mother is not overcome by provocation, neither is it chilled by absence. Such is the almost unconquerable patience of a mother’s love. Still it may be conquered; and she may cease to have compassion. But God cannot forget His children- How beautifully do the temper and conduct of Jesus display the riches and the perseverance of Divine love! It is said of Him by an evangelist, “that having loved His own, He loved them to the end”: and the remark is verified by His whole life.
II. DRAW FROM THE SUBJECT SOME PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS. It is impossible not to advert to the design and uses of this wonderful affection, as indicating, in the most striking manner, the unbounded wisdom and benignity of Providence. If we had but this one evidence, it would be sufficient to convince a reflecting mind that a paternal care is exercised in the government of the world, and that the tender mercies of God are over all His works. Take away the strong instinctive feelings of a mother, and what becomes of the living creation? But whilst man, in common with other animals, owes to this instinctive feeling, the preservation, growth, and vigour of his body, he owes to it, what is still more important, the commencement of those moral affections which constitute, in their progressive development, the strength and the glory of his moral and social life. It is in the bosom of a mother that these affections are generated. Accustomed to look to that bosom for nourishment, protection, and pleasure, it raises thence its infant smiles; it catches answering smiles of complacency and joy; its heart begins to dilate with instinctive gladness; its sensations of delight are gradually modified into those of fondness and gratitude; and as it continues to mark the love of a mother, it learns from her the art of loving. Reflections--
1. As we owe everything to a mother, we should be as unwearied in paying the debt, as she was in the acts of tenderness by which it is contracted.
2. Let us learn to form just conceptions of the Divine nature, and of the great ends of the Divine government. (J. Lindsay, D. D.)
Better than a mother
Our subject is the superiority of an “utter” over an almost” impossibility.
I. ALMOST AN IMPOSSIBILITY. If it is not an impossibility for a woman to forget her sucking child, it is certainly next door to one, and the Lord could not have obtained any higher earthly illustration of His tenderness and love. In order to show it you will see the Lord has pressed into His service a variety of words, all serving to increase the beauty of the simile.
1. “Woman.” God who made the heart of woman as well as man, knows that there is a tenderness in her disposition exceeding that of man’s, and therefore He chooses the highest type to illustrate His sympathy.
2. It is not merely the tenderness of the woman, but the tenderness of the woman who is a “mother.” God not only employs the highest type, but the highest specimen of that type. Mother! What associations of loving tenderness are in the very name. The word touches a secret spring in the heart, and conjures back scenes of the past. It brings to view in the dim distance a sweet face that used to bend over our little cot at eventide, and impress a kiss upon our brow. It reminds of one who used to smile when we were happy, and weep when obliged to correct us. It calls to remembrance one who always seemed interested in our little tales of adventure, and never laughed at our little sorrows that seemed to us so large. It was her face we gazed last upon when we went away to school, and it was into her arms we first rushed when the holidays brought us home. It was thought of her that kept us in the house of business, and held us back from sin with unseen silken cords; and when those dark locks of hers became silvered with advancing age, we only thought an extra charm had crowned her brow. You forget not the love that was strong as death, and escaped from her dying lips in words you treasure to this day. Her name has still a magic power. There is one feature in a mother’s love that must be mentioned, as it constitutes the chiefest beauty of the type. Her love is not love drawn forth by prosperity or dispelled by adversity. She loves her son not because of what he has, but because of what he is.
3. There is yet one other delicate touch in the picture which gives to it the perfection of beauty. The tenderness described is not only that of a woman, or even that of a mother, but of a mother towards her “sucking child.” This crowns the description, and should drive away the last remnant of unbelief. I can imagine a mother sometimes forgetting her grownup son, who has long since attained the age of manhood, and is himself the head of a family. I can believe that the daughter, married into some other family and well provided for, is not always in the thoughts of her mother, but it is almost impossible to conceive the sucking child for a moment forgotten Its very life is dependent on the mother’s thoughtfulness, and its utter helplessness becomes its security. Yea, she could not forget it even if she desired; nature itself would become a sharp reminder, and her own pain would plead her infant’s cause. Behold, how God has strengthened His illustration by every possible means. Then comes the question, “Can she forget?” There is s moment’s pause, and the answer is heard, “She may.” Mothers may forget their sucking children, either literally, or by acting as if they did.
II. AN UTTER IMPOSSIBILITY. The true magnitude of an object can only be understood by comparison, and it is by contrast the mind grasps the reality. “God only knows the love of God.” Its height and depth, its length and breadth defy all measurement. “They may forget.” “Yet,” and it is this word that shoots aloft beyond all human sight, “will I not forget thee.”
1. His nature forbids it. “God is love.” Not “loving,” poor mortal can be that, but love itself.
2. His promises forbid it.
3. The travail of the Redeemer’s soul is alone sufficient argument, that they for whom it was endured shall be remembered.
4. His honour renders it an utter impossibility. (A. G. Brown.)
God’s love greater than a mother’s
I. A MOTHER’S LOVE FOR HER CHILD IS BUT A FRACTION DERIVED FROM GOD’S LOVE FOR MAN.
II. THE STRONGEST AFFECTION OF A MOTHER IS SUBJECT TO MUTATIONS.
1. The conduct of the mother may cool or even quench this spark within her. In some cases debauchery, intemperance, and vice have extinguished this sacred fire, and the parent has become unnatural and cruel to her offspring.
2. The conduct of the child may cool or even quench this spark within her. But the affection of the Eternal is subject to no such mutation. “Who, then, shall separate us from the love of God,” &c.
III. THE OBJECT OF THE MOTHER’S LOVE IS NOT SO NEAR TO HER AS THE OBJECT OF THE DIVINE AFFECTION.
1. The mother is not the owner of the child. His limbs, faculties, being, are not hers. But God is the absolute proprietor of man. “All souls are His.”
2. The mother is not the life of the child. Her life is distinct from that of her offspring. But God is the very life of man.
IV. THE FAILURE OF THE MOTHER’S AFFECTION TOWARDS HER OFFSPRING WOULD NOT BE SO TERRIBLE AS THE FAILURE OF GOD’S AFFECTION TOWARDS THE GOOD. If God forsakes a man, he is ruined inevitably, and for ever. (Homilist.)
A mother’s love
The following touching incident was related by the Rev. Norman Macleod, of Glasgow:--His father was preaching on the love of God, and to illustrate his subject, referred to a poor widow in Scotland, who, being distressed for rent, resolved to go, carrying her helpless babe with her, and borrow of a friend that lived ten miles from her home. The journey lay across a bleak mountain, and the day was rough and snowy. Soon after her departure, the neighbours felt it would be impossible for her to reach her destination, and feared that her very life was endangered by the snowstorm that was rapidly gaining in violence. Twelve strong men resolved to go in search; far away on the mountain they found the poor woman lying in the snow, sleeping the sleep of death. Where was the babe? In a sheltered nook in the rock, close by, warm and alive, because wrapped in the garments of which the mother had deprived herself. A mother’s love unchangeable:--As I was walking down our street the other day, I saw a woman, good and pure, refined and cultured, walking with a man whose face was red with drink, whose form and look bore marks of deepest dissipation. I stepped to her side, and said, “Woman, why are you with this man?” She little heeded me at first, as she supported his unsteady steps “Woman, why do you not hand him over to the police?” She drew herself up, and with a righteously indignant anger, mixed with pathos, said, “Sir! I am his mother.” (C. S. Macfarland, Ph. D.)
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands
God’s loving regard for His people
It is not only the name of Zion which is engraved on His hands, but her picture.
And it is not her picture as she lies in her present ruin and solitariness, but her restored and perfect state. “Thy walls are continually before Me.” (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
This is faith’s answer to all the ruin and haggard contradiction of outward fact. Reality is not what we see: reality is what God sees. What a thing is in His sight and to His purpose, that it really is, and that it shall ultimately appear to men’s eyes. To make us believe this is the greatest service the Divine can do for the human. It was the service Christ was always doing, and nothing showed His Divinity more. He took us men and He called us, unworthy as we were, His brethren, the sons of God. He took such an one as Simon, shifting and unstable, a quicksand of a man, and He said, “On this rock I will build My Church.” A man’s reality is not what he is in his own feelings, or what he is to the world’s eyes; but what he is to God’s love, to God’s yearning, and in God’s plan. If he believe that, so in the end shall he feel it, so in the end shall he show it to the eyes of the world. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The writing on God’s hands
These words are a singularly bold metaphor, drawn from the strange and half-savage custom, which lingers still among sailors and others, of having beloved names or other tokens of affection and remembrance indelibly inscribed on parts of the body. Sometimes worshippers had the marks of the god thus set on their flesh; here God writes on His hands the name of the city of His worshippers.
I. Here we have set forth for our strength and peace A DIVINE REMEMBRANCE, MORE TENDER THAN A MOTHER’S (Isaiah 49:15). When Israel came out of Egypt, the Passover was instituted as a memorial unto all generations, or as the same idea is otherwise expressed, “it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand.” Here God represents Himself as doing for Israel- what He had bid Israel do for Him. They were, as it were, to write the supreme act of deliverance in the Exodus upon their hands, that it might never be forgotten. He writes Zion on His hands for the same purpose. The text does not primarily refer to individuals, but to the community. But the recognition of that fact is not to be allowed to rob us of the preciousness of this text in its bearing on the individual. For God remembers the community, not as an abstraction or a generalised expression, but as the aggregate of all the individuals composing it. We think of “the Church,” and do not think of the thousands of men and women who make it up. We cannot discern the separate stars in the galaxy. But God’s eye resolves what to us is a nebula, and every single glittering point of light hangs rounded and separate in the heaven. There is no jostling nor confusion in the wide space of the heart of God. They that go before shall not hinder them that come after. That remembrance which each man may take for himself is infinitely tender, The echo of the music of the previous words still haunts the verse, and the remembrance promised in it is touched with more than a mother’s love. “I am poor and needy,” says the Psalmist, “yet the Lord thinketh upon me.” But do not let us forget that it was a very sinful Zion that God thus remembered.
II. THE DIVINE REMEMBRANCE GUIDES THE DIVINE ACTION. The palm of the hand is the seat of strength, of work; and so, if Zion’s name is written there, that means not only remembrance, but remembrance which is at the helm, as it were, which is moulding and directing all the work that is done by the hand that bears the name inscribed upon it. For His Church, as a whole, He does more amidst the affairs of nations. You remember the grand words of one of the psalms. “He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.” It is no fanatical reading of the history of earthly politics and kingdoms, if we recognise that one of the most prominent reasons for the Divine activities in moulding the kingdoms, setting up and casting down, is the advancement of the Kingdom of heaven and the building of the City of God. “I have graven thee on the palms of My hands,” and when the hands go to work, it is for the Zion whose likeness they bear. But the same thing applies to us individually. “All things work together”; they would not do so, unless there was one dominant will which turned the chaos into a cosmos. “All things work together for my good.”
III. THE DIVINE REMEMBRANCE WORKS ALL THINGS, TO REALISE A GREAT IDEAL END, AS YET UNREACHED. “Thy walls are continually before Me.” When this prophecy was uttered, the Israelites were in captivity, and the city was a wilderness; “the holy and beautiful house where the fathers praised Thee was burned with fire,” the walls were broken down; rubbish and solitude were there. Yet on the palms of God’s hands were inscribed the walls which were nowhere else! They were “before Him,” though Jerusalem was a ruin. It means that Divine remembrance sees “things that are not, as though they were.” In the midst of the imperfect reality of the present condition of the Church as a whole, and of us, its actual components, it sees the ideal, the perfect vision of the perfect future. So, the most radiant optimism is the only fitting attitude for Christian people in looking into the future, either of the Church as a whole, or of themselves as individual members of it. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God remembering His people
This figure suggests--
I. CONSTANT REMEMBRANCE. It is impossible not to observe that which is written on the hands. H writing were on the face, it would not be seen, on the breast it would not be observed. But the hands are always before us.
II. DEVOTED HELP. The hands are for work, and the Almighty wishes us to infer that His people are not only remembered, but helped.
III. PERMANENT CONSIDERATION. “I have graven thee.” Writing will wear off. That which is graven will and must remain.
IV. PAINFUL EFFORT. To engrave on the hands evidently refers to the process of engraving, which causes pain. Has God made no sacrifices for His people? Is not every redeemed soul written in crimson marks in the palm of the hands and the feet of the crucified Redeemer? (Homlist.)
A precious assurance
God’s promises are not exhausted by one fulfilment. They are manifold mercies, so that after you have opened one fold, and found out one signification, you may unfurl them still more and find another which shall be equally true, and then another, and another, and another, almost without end. I believe that the text belongs primarily to the seed of Israel; next, to the whole Church as a body; and then to every individual member.
I. I intend to CONSIDER OUR TEXT VERBALLY, pulling it to pieces word by word. Every single word deserves to be emphasised.
1. We will begin with the word, “Behold.” “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands.” “Behold” is a word of wonder; it is intended to excite admiration. Wherever you see it hung out in Scripture, it is like an ancient sign-board, signifying that there are rich wares within, or like the hands which solid readers have observed in the margin of the older Puritanic books, drawing attention to something particularly worthy of observation. Here, indeed, we have a theme for marvelling. “Behold” in our text is intended to attract particular attention. There is something here worthy of being studied.
2. We pass on now to the next word, “I.” The Divine Artist is none other than God Himself. Here we learn the lesson which Christ afterwards taught His disciples--“Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you.” No one can write upon the hand of God but God Himself. Neither our merits, prayers, repentance, nor faith, can write our names there. Nor did blind chance or mere necessity of fate inscribe our names; but the living hand of a living Father, unprompted by anything except the spontaneous love of His own heart. Then, again, if the Lord hath done it, there is no mistake about it. If some human hand had cut the memorial, the hieroglyphics might be at fault; but since perfect wisdom has combined with perfect love to make a memorial of the saints, then no error by any possibility can have occurred.
3. Take the next word, “have.” Not “I will,” nor yet “I am doing it”; it is a thing of the past, and how far hack in the past! Oh, the antiquity of this inscription! “From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God”; from everlasting to everlasting Thou art the same, and Thy people’s names are written on Thy hands! Yet, methinks, there may be a prophetic reference here to a later writing of the names, when Jesus Christ submitted His outstretched palms to those cruel graving-tools, the nails. Then was it surely, when the executioner with the hammer smote the tender hands of the loving Jesus, that He engraved our names upon the palms of His hands.
4. But the next word is “graven.” The Rev. John Anderson, of Helensburgh, told me that while travelling in the East he has frequently seen persons with the portraits of their friends upon their hands, so that wherever they went, as one in this country would carry the portrait of a friend in a brooch or a watch, they carry these likenesses printed on their palms. I said to him, “Surely they would wash out.” They might by degrees, he said, but they frequently had them pricked in with strong indelible ink, so that there, whilst the palm lasts, there lasts the memorial of the friend. Surely this is what the text refers to. I have graven thee in; I have not merely printed thee, stamped thee on the surface, but I have permanently cut thee into My hand with marks which never can be removed. That word “graven” sets forth the perpetuity of the inscription.
5. Shall we take that next word? “Thee.” It does not say, “thy name.” “Thee.” See the fulness of this! I have graven thy person, thine image, thy case, thy circumstances, thy sins, thy temptations, thy weaknesses, thy wants, thy works; I have graven everything about thee, all that concerns thee; I have put thee altogether there. It is not an outline sketch, you see; it is a full picture, as though the man himself were there. Darest thou dream that God forgets thee?
6. We have hitherto taken every word, but we must now take the next two or three. We are engraven, where? Upon His “hands.” We are not graven upon a seal, for a seal might be slipped from the finger and laid aside, but the hand itself can never be separated from the living God. It is not engraven on the huge rock, for a convulsion of nature might rend the rock with earthquake, or the fretting tooth of time might eat the inscription out; but our record is on His hand, where it must last, world without end. Not upon the back of His hands where it might be supposed that in days of strife and warfare the inscription might suffer damage, but there upon the palms of His hands where it shall be well protected. The tenderest part shall be made the place of the inscription; that to which He is most likely to look, that which His fingers of wisdom enclose, that by which He works His mighty wonders, shall be the unceasing remembrance, pledging Him never to forget His chosen. It does not say, “I have graven thee upon the palm of one hand,” but “I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands.” There are two memorials. His saints shall never be forgotten, for the inscription is put there upon the palm of this hand, the right hand of blessing, and upon the palm of that hand, the left hand of justice. I see Him with His right hand beckon me--“Come, ye blessed,” and He sees me in His hand; and on that side He says, “Depart, ye cursed,” but not to me, for He sees me in His hand, and cannot curse me. Oh, my soul, how charming this is, to know that His left hand is under Thy head, while His right hand doth embrace thee.
II. CONSIDER THE TEXT AS A WHOLE.
1. God’s remembrance of His people is constant. The hands, of course, are constantly in union with the body. In Solomon’s Song we read, “Set me as a seal upon thine arm.” Now this is a very close form of remembrance, for the seal is very seldom laid aside by the Eastern, who not being possessed with skill in the art of writing his name, requires’ his seal in order to affix his signature to a document; hence the seal is almost always worn, and in some cases is never laid aside. A seal, however, might be laid aside, but the hands never could be. It has been a custom, in the olden days especially, when men wished to remember a thing, to tie a cord about the hand, or a thread around the finger, by which memory would be assisted; but then the cord might be snapped or taken away, and so the matter forgotten, but the hand and that which is printed into it must be constant and perpetual. Oh, Christian, by night and by day God is always thinking of you.
2. This recollection on God’s part is practical. We are engraven upon His heart--this is to show His love; we are put upon His shoulders--this is to show that His strength is engaged for us; and also upon His hands, to show that the activity of our Lord will not be spared from us; He will work and show Himself strong for His people; He brings His omnipotent hands to effect our redemption. What would be the use of having a friend who would think of us, and then let his love end in thought? The faithfulness we want is that of one who will act in our defence. Do you see the drift of it? If He moulds a world between His palms, and then sends it wheeling in its orbit, it is between those palms which are stamped with the likeness of His sons and daughters, and so that new work shall minister to their god. If He divides a nation, it is always with the hand that bears the remembrance of Zion. Scripture itself tells us, “When He divided the nations, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” The great wheel of providence, when God makes it revolve, works for the good of His people.
3. This is an eternal remembrance.
4. This memorial how tender! We have heard of one, an eastern queen, who so loved her husband that she thought even to build a mausoleum to his memory was not enough. She had a strange way of proving her affection, for when her husband’s bones were burned she took the ashes and drank them day by day, that, as she said, her body might be her husband’s living sepulchre. It was a strange way of showing love, and there was a marvellous degree of strange, fanatical fondness in it. But what shall I say of this Divine sympathetic mode of showing remembrance, by cutting it into the palms she It appeareth to me as though the King had said, “Shall I carve My people upon precious stones? Shall I choose the ruby, the emerald, the topaz? No; for these all must melt in the last general conflagration. What then? Shall I write on tablets of gold or silver? No, for all these may canker and corrupt, and thieves may break through and steal. Shall I cut the memorial deep on brass? No, for time would fret it, and the letters would not long be legible. I will write on Myself, on My own hand, and then My people will know how tender I am, that I would sooner cut into My own flesh than forget them.”
5. This memorial is most surprising. Scripture, which is full of wonders, yet allows a “Behold” to be put before this verse--“Behold!”
6. It is also most consolatory. When God would meet Zion’s great doubt--“God hath forgotten me,” He cheers her with this--“I have graventhee upon the palms of My hands.” There is no sorrow to which our text is not an antidote.
III. And now we come to EXCITE YOU TO THE DUTY WHICH SUCH A TEXT SUGGESTS.
1. Is it not your duty to leave your cares behind you to-day?
2. If you must not have cares, you should not have those deep sorrows and despairs.
3. If this text is not yours, how your mouths ought to water after it. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Neither forsaken nor forgotten
I. THE FEAR EXPRESSED, which led to the utterance of our text (Isaiah 49:14).
1. This fear has been felt by very many.
2. It has some times been very plaintively expressed.
3. And some, too, are very obstinate while they are in that condition, for the passage contains a very unreasonable complaint. Read Isaiah 49:13, “Jehovah hath comforted His people,” &c. Yet, in the teeth of that double declaration Zion said, “Jehovah hath forsaken me,” &c.
4. I suppose Zion came to this conclusion because she was in banishment.
5. Yet I think that there is some measure of grace mingled with this fear. Lot me read you this passage straight on: “Jehovah hath comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted. But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” She did not say that till God had visited her. There is in your soul a longing after God. This is the work of His Holy Spirit! Besides, although the text is a word of complaint, it has also in it a word of faith: “my Lord.” Did you notice that? Zion calls Jehovah hers though she dreams that He has forsaken her. I do love to see you keep the grip of your faith even when it seems to be illogical. Hold on this assurance with a death-grip. If you cannot hold on with both hands, hold on with one; and if sometimes you can hold with neither hand, hold on with your teeth.
II. THE COMFORT BESTOWED. “I have graven thee,” &c. What is it that makes it so certain that God cannot forget His people?
1. God remembers His eternal love to His people, and His remembrance of them is constant because of that love. God’s suffering love secures His memory of us.
2. By the expression, “I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands,” God seems to say, “I have done so much for you that I can never forget you.”
3. When a memorial is engraven on a man’s hand, then it is connected with the man’s life.
III. AN INSPECTION INVITED. “Behold.”
IV. A RETURN SUGGESTED.
1. Does Christ remember us as I have tried to prove that He dose? Then let us remember Him. “This do ye in remembrance of Me.”
2. Let us not only remember Him at His table, but let us remember Him constantly. Let us, as it were, carry His name upon the palms of our hands.
3. Practically. We ought so to wear Christ on our hands that whatever we touch should be thereby Christianised.
4. Let the name of Christ, and your memory of it, become vital to you. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Lift up thine eyes round about--
Promises for the Church
THE PROMISED INCREASE OF THE CHURCH.
1. In number.
2. In honour.
3. In triumph.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT IT AFFORDS US FOR MISSIONARY EXERTIONS.
1. God is able to effect this great thing.
2. He has engaged to effect it.
3. The beginnings are already visible before our eyes. Application--
(1) Let our expectations of it be enlarged.
(2) Let our prayers for it be poured forth.
(3) Let our exertions be used. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The children which thou shalt have.
The Church a mother
I. THE CHURCH IS A MOTHER.
1. Because it is her privilege to bring forth into the world the spiritual children of the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. When these little ones are born, the Church’s business is to feed them.
3. It is her endeavour to train up her children.
4. She will be always ready to nurse her children when they become sick.
II. THE CHURCH IS SOMETIMES BEREAVED.
1. Some of her nominal children she loses by spiritual death. They are not really her children at all. They looked so much like hers that she could hardly tell them.
2. She loses many by death temporal
3. Sometimes by a trying providence.
III. THE CHURCH HAS SOMETIMES TO BE CARRIED AWAY CAPTIVE. How often has this happened to the Church of God in the olden times! The Church has been carried into foreign countries. Sometimes she has been cruelly persecuted. Often, too, the Church has been compelled to seek a refuge in foreign countries. Days of slumber have come over the Church, and days of heresy too.
IV. THE CHURCH HAS HAD A MARVELLOUS INCREASE AFTER ALL HER CAPTIVITIES, and all her bereavements have hitherto always worked for her good. Never has the Church lost her children without obtaining many more.
1. The first thing which astonishes the Church when she opens her eyes after her captivity is to notice the number of her children.
2. Also their character--“these.’’ (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THERE IS A DECREASE GOING ON IN THE CHURCH OF GOD ON EARTH. Zion is represented here as mourning for the children that she had lost. The Jewish Church in the olden times saw her sons and daughters slain with the sword, or carried away captive. Afterwards, she saw the great majority of the nation refusing Christ, and turning away from Him, and thus the Jewish Church was minished and brought very low. The same thing has happened in many other eases. We must naturally expect to see, in each separate Church of Jesus Christ, a certain process and measure of decrease.
1. Some are being drafted from us to supply the choirs of heaven with fresh minstrelsy.
2. Each separate Church will also have a measure of decrease through the removal of God’s servants from one place to another.
3. There is another source of decrease over which we must greatly grieve, and that is the backsliding of many professor.
4. The sifting process by which the chaff is removed from the wheat.
II. THERE IS AN INCREASE TO BE EXPECTED IN THE CHURCH OF GOD. There are new converts yet to come in, these children which Zion is to have, after she has lost the others.
1. These new converts are needful No Church can be healthy without the constant in fusion of fresh blood.
2. Therefore, she ought to have every preparation for their reception.
3. All who love the Lord should labour earnestly on their behalf.
4. When we are all pleading and labouring for an increase to the Church, it will come; and when it comes, it is probable that we shall be astonished at the number of those that come. “The children which thou shalt have,” &c.
5. The next thing that was a subject for astonishment to Zion was how those converts came to be born at all “Who hath begotten me these?”
6. But what Zion wondered at next was, how they had been nurtured, for she says, “Who hath brought up these?”
7. A further cause of wonder was, the sudden appearance of this great increase. Zion inquires, “These, where had they been?” Shall I tell you where they had been? Some of them had been in godly families with fathers and mothers praying for them. Some of them had been in the Sunday school, in crosses where brethren and sisters love their children, and never rest till they bring them to decision for Christ. They had been under the influence of Christian wives, Christian children, sometimes Christian brothers and sisters; and so, at last, the gracious influence took effect upon them, by the power of God’s Spirit, and out they came. There are great numbers still under those sacred influences, for they also are sure to come in due time, and say, “We are on the Lord’s side.” Then there were some others. “Where had they been?” They had long been listening to the Gospel, regularly sitting in their pews. But there were others about whom I might well ask, “These, where had they been?” On the Lord’s day, at home in their shirt-sleeves; on week-nights, at the theatre or the music-hall, finding enjoyment in the lowest form of amusement. “Where had they been?” Never troubling church or chapel; but God, in His providence, brought them for once to hear the Word, and, as one said to me, “I laid hold of something, and something laid hold of me, and I shall never part with it, for it will never part with me.” “These, where had they been?” I cannot tell you where they had all been; some had been at death’s dark door, buried in sorrow and in sin, in poverty and in vice.
III. ALL THINGS SHOULD ENCOURAGE THE CHURCH TO SEEK LARGER INCREASE.
1. There is the same power to convert ten thousand as there is to convert one.
2. We ought to be encouraged by the fact that the converts come in answer to prayer.
3. Further, since the converts come from all sorts of places, let us carry the Gospel into all sorts of places. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
And kings shall be thy nursing fathers
Princes and rulers should promote the will of God
PRINCES, OR RULERS, AS SUCH, ARE THE POSITIVE SERVANTS OF GOD, AND THEREFORE ARE BOUND TO PROMOTE, ABOVE ALL THINGS, THE INTERESTS OF HIS REVEALED WORD, AND THE HONOUR OF HIS NAME, IN THE WELFARE OF HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE. It must be a self-evident proposition, that all who are entrusted with the ruling authority are bound to promote the best interests of the people over whom they preside. But the question is, in what do the best interests of a people consist? Do they consist in the extension of territory; the multiplicity of resources; the advancement of the arts and sciences; of wealth and honour; business and trade? We deny the assertion. As our Lord speaks of a man, so we of a nation, prince, or ruler. What is either he or they profited if they gain the whole world and lose their own soul? Or what shall a man, or any number of men, give in exchange for their soul? The soul, then, in all its vast, interesting, immortal, and eternal concerns, is the chief business of man.
1. From whence does the kingly office, or ruling authority proceed? Does it proceed from the people? No. It proceeds from God.
2. We must not omit to notice the manner in which the Lord speaks of princes and rulers in His Word. They are always spoken of in reference to their accountability to Him, and as bound to the execution of His will, and the promotion of His glory.
3. It may be useful here to adduce what is the estimate of our own Church on this subject.
II. SUCH A DISCHARGE OR DISREGARD OF THIS OBLIGATION WILL ALWAYS YIELD A SURE TEST OF THEIR OWN STATE AND THE CHARACTER OF THEIR GOVERNMENT, AND WHERE IT PREVAILS IT WILL BE VISIBLE, MORE OR LESS, IN ALL THEIR WAYS AND WORKS. We are to judge of the character and condition of princes and rulers, as such, as we do of private individuals and professing Christians, as such, and of the character of their government as we do of the general tenor of a man’s life.
1. There will be deep humiliation before God, coupled with free and ingenuous confessions both of individual and national guilt (2 Samuel 7:1-29).
2. There will also be a desire to seek the guidance and acknowledge the hand of God in everything.
3. There will also be a fixed determination to banish all wicked men from their presence, and to exclude them from their councils.
4. There will be an anxiety to fill all the offices of the Church and State with men that fear the Lord, love the truth, and who will labour with heart and hand in the same cause for the advancement of true godliness. If the foregoing statements are based on the authority of Divine truth, the following deductions will ensue as some of their most obvious results
(1) It is not an easy office to be exalted to a throne, or to be entrusted with the affairs of a kingdom!
(2) How obvious is the connection between the Church and State! An established religion, nationally considered, is nothing more than that “form of godliness,” according to God’s revealed will, which is selected, supported, and maintained by the State, for the general benefit of all.
(3) How great is the guilt of ungodly princes and rulers, and how earnestly should we pray for them that God may bless and direct them in all His ways! (R. Shittier.)
They shall not be ashamed that wait for Me
Waiting upon God
I. WAITING UPON GOD signifies--
1. A patient expectation of the fulfilment of His Word, whether it be prophecy or promise.
2. A regular attention to the means of grace.
II. THE RESULT OF WAITING UPON GOD. Not disappointment and humiliation, but prayers answered, and hopes fulfilled.
1. The penitent.
2. The Christian relying upon the providential help of a covenant-keeping God.
3. The believer waiting for the accomplishment of God’s purpose in his sanctification.
4. The Christian waiting for the coming of Christ. (T. Blackley, M. A.)
This is the one word which the Divine wisdom often seems to utter in rebuke of human impatience. Man is eager, hurried, impatient, but God is never in haste. The Divine proceedings are slow--everywhere slow.
I. We see it in the realms of NATURE AND PROVIDENCE.
1. The history of the earth.
2. The movement of the seasons. The changes of day and night, &c., how slow, how gradual, how imperceptible!
3. The history of all life and growth.
II. REVEALED RELIGION includes much in harmony with these facts.
1. The long interval between the promise of a Saviour and His advent.
2. The manner of His coming (Luke 17:20).
3. The history of revealed religion since the advent.
4. The spiritual history of the individual believer.
5. The events which make up the story of a life. With regard to much in our history, we are expected to wait for the revelations of the world to come. (R. Vaughan, D. D.)
Shall the prey be taken from the mighty?
Deliverance from bondage and death
I. THE STATE OF FALLEN MAN IS ONE OF MISERY AND BONDAGE.
1. Misery because he is the prey of a mighty tyrant, the devil.
2. Bondage because he is the slave of a terrible master, death.
II. JESUS CAN SET US FREE, FOR HE HAS CONQUERED. Jesus has been the Great Emancipator of men. (T. Bates, M. A.)
“Shall the prey be taken from the mighty?”
I. WHO ARE “THE MIGHTY,” AND WHO ARE “THE PREY”? The immortal souls of men are the prey, and all the combined powers of darkness are” the mighty.”
II. HOW SHALL “THE PREY” BE TAKEN FROM “THE MIGHTY”? Nothing short of the almighty power of God is calculated to effect this great and important work. But God is almighty, and God is infinitely able and infinitely willing to rescue the helpless sons of men. Our Lord Jesus Christ is that great and glorious Being who gave, whilst here below, signal manifestations of His power to take “the prey” from “the mighty.”
III. A MOST DELIGHTFUL AND ENCOURAGING PROMISE. “I will contend with him who contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children.” At all times, in every season of trial and difficulty. Let the enemies of God learn an important lesson: “Woe to him that striveth with his Maker!” He will save His Church under all the trials and temptations, the dangers and difficulties of human life. Are the immortal souls of men “the prey”? and are the powers of darkness “the mighty”? What does the ungodly man think of this? (T. Freeman.)
The adversary and his defeat
I. THE WEAPONS AND RESOURCES OF THE ENEMY.
2. Imposture. Mohammedanism.
3. Papal superstition.
4. The despotic governments of the earth.
5. Crime in its varied forms.
6. A more liberal sort of religion which shall keep the opposition in countenance, and enable them to wield the name and institutions of Christianity against Christianity, sustained by such as live in pleasure, and will not bow the knee to Christ.
7. The corruption of the purity of revivals of religion.
8. The sword. Can such varied and mighty resistance to the truth be overcome? Can the earth be enlightened? Can the nations be disenthralled? Yes!
II. HOW SHALL EVENTS SO DESIRABLE BE ACCOMPLISHED?
1. By the judgments of heaven.
2. By the universal propagation of the Gospel.
3. By frequent and, at last, general revivals of religion.
4. By the special influence of the Holy Spirit.
5. By a new and unparalleled vigour of Christian enterprise. But what can be done? There must be in the Church of God--
(1) More faith.
(2) More intense love for Christ.
(3) More decided action.
(4) More courage.
(5) Efforts to increase the number and power of evangelical
(6) Special effort to secure to the rising generation an education free from the influence of bad example, and more decidedly evangelical.
(7) The vigour of charitable effort must be greatly increased.
(8) The jealousies of Christians must yield.
(9) We must guard against the dangers peculiar to a state of religious prosperity.
Conclusion--Will any take side against the cause of Christ? It will be a fearful experiment! (Lyman Beecher, D. D.)
The prey taken from the mighty
Apply the text--
I. LITERALLY--to Israel’s release from Babylon.
II. SPIRITUALLY--to man’s redemption by Christ.
III. EXPERIMENTALLY--to the Christian's deliverance from sin.
IV. PROSPECTIVELY--to the blessed resurrection from the dead promised to the people of God. (S. Thodey.)
And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh.
Here is a terrible picture of retributive justice. But the words represent a general principle, which is universal, in the punishment of sin. The sinner is his own avenger.
I. TAKE THE DRUNKARD. He is drinking the poison, but is he not at the same time drinking his own life, and consuming his own happiness and peace?
II. TAKE THE SPENDTHRIFT. He spends his money, but at the same time eats and drinks his existence, his fortune, his home, his happiness.
III. TAKE THE TYRANT. He who wins his throne with blood shall lose it in blood. No one who fights can be without foes, and if he has conquered them at first they will only await their opportunity and in turn conquer him. How few who have raised themselves by the sword have not died by the sword!
IV. TAKE THE OPPRESSORS OF THE CHRISTIAN. They think they injure God's people. How does God avenge His elect? By causing them to feed on their own selves--the bitterness of conscience, the remorse of evil doing. These are the portion of the oppressors. (Homilist.)
All flesh shall know that I, the Lord, am thy Saviour
An all-sufficient Deliverer
I. A WORLD-WIDE NEED.
II. AN ALL-SUFFICIENT DELIVERER. (J. Smith, D.D.)
The safety of the Church
1. God is the Protector of the Church, and no weapon formed against her shall prosper.
2. The Church’s enemies shall be distracted in their counsels, and left to anarchy and overthrow.
3. The Church shall rise resplendent from all her persecutions, and shall prosper ultimately, just in proportion to their efforts to destroy it. (A. Barnes, D.D)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 49". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter