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Hearken to Me
The thrice “Hearken”
These paragraphs are exceedingly dramatic.
We become conscious that we are approaching a revelation of unparalleled sublimity which shall be in Scripture what heart or brain or eye is in the human body. And as we consider the thrice “Hearken” of this paragraph, and the thrice “Awake” of the succeeding one, we realize that we are entering the presence-chamber of the profoundest mysteries of love and redemption. The people, notwithstanding the promises of deliverance from exile and the summons to depart, seemed unable to believe that they were destined to become again a great nation, or that Zion’s wastes would be repaired! Already the Servant of Jehovah had sought to answer their anxious questionings, and reassure them by announcing a love that would not let them go. And in these words He betakes Himself to the same strain. He prefaces His words by the thrice-repeated “Hearken,” addressed to those “that follow after righteousness” in the first verse; and to “those that know righteousness” in the seventh. These are always the stages in the development of character: they that follow presently possess.
I. THE LESSONS OF RETROSPECT. It was for her encouragement that Israel was primarily directed to this retrospect. Let us recount the steps of Abraham’s pruning, on which God lays stress in saying, “When he was but one, I called him.”
1. He stood alone. First, Terah died, after having started with him for the Land of Promise, emblem of those who in old age start on the pilgrimage of faith and hope, not too much tied by the conservatism of nature, or the traditions of the past. Then Lot dropped away, and went down to Sodom; and it must have been difficult for the old man, as he saw the retreating forms of his camp followers, to be wholly unmoved. Then Sarah’s scheme miscarried, and Hagar was thrust from his tents with her child. Lastly, his Isaac was laid upon the altar. By successive strokes the shadows grew deeper and darker; and he stood alone, face to face with God and His purpose. But the fire that burned in his heart rose higher, shone brighter, and has ignited myriads with its flame.
2. His faith was sorely tried.
3. His history is the type of God’s dealings with men. Not once nor twice in the record of the Church the cause of truth has been entrusted to a tiny handful of defenders, who have deemed it forlorn or lost. Sir Walter Scott’s picture of the apparently empty glen suddenly teeming with armed men at the sign of the chieftain has often had its counterpart in the great army which has arisen from the life, or words, or witness, of a single man. Art thou a cypher? but thou mayest have God in front of thee! Art thou but a narrow strait? yet the whole ocean of Godhead is waiting to pour through thee! The question is not what thou canst or canst not do, but what thou art willing for God to do.
II. THE IMPERISHABLENESS OF SPIRITUAL QUALITY. In the following verses there is a marvellous contrast between the material and the unmaterial, the temporal and the eternal. The gaze of the people is directed to the heavens above and the earth beneath. Those heavens seem stable enough. Yet they shall vanish like a puff of smoke borne down the wind. And as for the earth, it shall wax old. But amid the general wreck, spiritual qualities will remain imperishably the same. “My salvation shall be for ever, and My righteousness shall not be abolished.
1. This shall be for ever true of God. God will be the same in His feelings and dealings towards us amid the crash of matter and the wreck of worlds as He is to-day. The Jews took great comfort in the thought of God’s unchangeableness.
2. This shall be for ever true of man. When we partake of God’s righteousness and assimilate it, we acquire a permanence which defies time and change. What a lesson is given in these words of the relative value of things!
III. THE IMPOTENCE OF MAN. These exiled Jews hardly dared to hope that they would be able to break away from their foes. To us, as to the exiles in Babylon, the Divine word comes, “Fear ye not, neither be dismayed” (Isaiah 51:7). The paragraph closes with an application of the word used by the great Servant of Himself. “The moth shall eat them up,” we heard Him saying to Himself; “they shall all wax old as a garment” (chap. 50:9). But now we are bidden to apply those same expressions to ourselves (Isaiah 51:8). With these assurances behind us, we may face a world in arms. Men may try to wear out the saints, but they must fail. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
A bright light in deep shades
The remembrance of God’s mercy in the past is helpful to us in many ways. Isaiah was led by the Spirit of God to admonish the Israelites to look back that they might be cheered and encouraged in a time of gloom and sadness, and that they might be animated with fresh confidence in God’s power to bring them up again from their sad condition, as they thought of all that He had done for them in times past, when they were equally low, or when, peradventure, they were even in a worse plight than they were at present. It is a great thing for people to be encouraged.
I. WE SHALL EXPOUND THE TEXT IN ITS APPLICATION TO ISRAEL LITERALLY. They are bidden to look back to the origin of their nation, in order that they may be comforted. Abraham was the stock out of which the nation of Israel came. Moreover, the man was well stricken in years. As for his wife, she also, it is said, was barren; and yet from these two, who seemed the least likely of all flesh and blood, God was pleased to create a people countless as the stars. Abraham was not a man in a commanding position, with large armies at his feet, who could make a show in the world. He was a dweller in tents, a Bedouin sheik, wandering through the plains of Palestine, yet was he never injured; for God had sent forth a secret mandate, which fell, though they knew it not, upon men’s hearts. Now, the prophet turns to the Israelites, and says, “You say God can never restore us, we have been thinned out by innumerable invasions, the sword of war hath slain the tribes, Judah and Israel can never rise again. But are there not more left of you than there were at first? There were but two, Abraham and Sarah, that bare you, and yet God made you a people. Can He not make you a people again?” etc. The thoughts which would be awakened in the heart of a Jew by these reflections would be eminently consolatory. They ought to be consolatory to us now with regard to the Jewish people. We are encouraged from the very origin of Israel to hope that great things shall yet be done for her.
II. Our text may be used in reference to the CONDITION OF THE CHURCH OF GOD IN THE WORLD.
1. I know many of the people of God who scarcely dare look for brighter times, because they say the people of God are few. Was not the Church very small at the first? It could all be contained in one upper room. Has it not been very small many times since then? But did not the Lord strengthen
His Church in the apostolic times? And, in the dark ages, how very speedily did the time of the singing of birds come! God had but to speak by His servant Luther, and brave men came to His side, and right soon His Church sprang up.
2. But, is it possible, you say, while the Church of God in these days possesses so few men of influence? Did not inspiration say, “Not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty have been called, but God hath chosen the poor of this world”? Do ye suppose that God has changed His plans, or that men s hearts have changed their bias?
3. But alas, saith one, I see grave cause for sorrow, for in these days many have departed from the faith, and truth lies in the streets bespattered. There have been eras and epochs in which gross heresies spread a contagion through the entire Church.
4. Again, I hear the voice of lamentation, “It is not merely that error spreads in the land, but the Church is lukewarm in these times.” The Church has: been in a like listless state before, and out of that languid condition God has roused her up and brought her forth.
5. There is a complaint made by some, and I fear there is some truth in it, that we have not many valiant ministers now-a-days. But, for all that, there have been periods in the Church s history when she lacked for men of valour, and God has found them. Why should He not find them again?
III. OUR TEXT MAY BE VIEWED AS INSTRUCTIVE TO OURSELVES. Our experience, varies. It sometimes happens to men who are truly saved, that they fall from the, condition which they occupied when they were in their first love. Your present condition is not what your past one was, and yet the Lord visited you when in your lost estate. There is the same God to-day as there was when first you sought Him.
IV. OUR TEXT MAY BE FITTINGLY USED TO ENCOURAGE OUR HOPE FOR OTHERS. Do you say of some sinner, “I am afraid his is a hopeless case”? look unto the rock whence you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged. Remember again, that that poor sinner whose soul you are going to seek is where the best and brightest of the saints were. And, recollect, that that sinner you are going to speak with is, to-day, where those that are in heaven once were. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The benefit of reflection
It is the duty, and will be for the benefit of every true servant of God, occasionally to reflect, with due seriousness, on his own original state, on the rise and progress of religion in his own soul, and of the experience which he has thus individually had of the Divine power, goodness and mercy.
I. THE PERSONS HERE ADDRESSED. Those who “follow after righteousness” and “seek the Lord.” How exactly does this description accord to the true people of God under the Christian Church?
II. THE EXHORTATION ADDRESSED TO THEM. “Look unto the rock,” ete. The meaning is obvious, “Look back unto yourselves. Consider what you once were; in what a depth of misery you were originally sunk. Reflect on the natural hardness of your heart: on its insensibiliyt to spiritual things; on its dreadful alienation from God. See this state of things exemplified--
1. In your original conversion to God.
2. In your subsequent conduct towards God. Since the time in which you first knew Him in truth, and gave yourself up to serve Him in the gospel of His Son, what has been the state of your heart, of its affections, its tempers, and its dispositions? Have all these been uniformly such as this surrender and profession imply and require? Application: Whet lessons do these reflections teach.
1. Humility and-self-abasement.
2. Patience, contentment and resignation.
3. The necessity of a continual dependence on Divine grace to work in you both to will and to do.
4. Hope and encouragement.
But the subject admits also of another less exclusive application. It furnishes one lesson of general importance: for it teaches ,as how holy and practical in its tendency is true, evangelical religion. (E. Cooper.)
Seeking souls directed
All the invitations and exhortations of the Word of God for spiritual blessings are accompanied with a description of character.
I. THE WORSHIPPERS DESCRIBED.
1. These characters who follow after and seek after must be spiritually alive. It would be strange to talk of a corpse in a churchyard following after or seeking any favours at our hands. As strange would it be to talk of a post in the street following after us, and pursuing us for the same purpose.
2. There is a stirring in the living persons that begins to render them somewhat conspicuous. Wherever there is this stirring inquiry, this dissatisfaction with self, and a stirring to be right for eternity, there is life Divine.
3. Then, there must be sincerity. “Then shall ye find Me, when ye seek Me with your whole heart.”
4. We will go on to notice their eager following after righteousness. It must be a righteousness that will justify. A righteousness that will sanctify. A righteousness that will glorify. It is imperishable.
5. Follow on to the next description of character. “Ye that seek the Lord.’ Mark a few characteristics of these seekers. They seek Him privately. They seek Him in the place where His honour dwelleth. In His Word. Perseveringly. Seeking souls are well known in heaven, earth and hell.
II. THE EXHORTATION GIVEN. “Look unto the rock,” etc. (J. Irons.)
The Lord’s people
I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE LORD’S PEOPLE. They “follow after righteousness.” If you ask what righteousness is, I call upon you to behold Jesus! He is righteousness. The Lord’s people “follow after righteousness. They therefore follow Him. Far better for a man to strive to love Christ than to be trying to lay down certain rules of morality. They “follow after righteousness.” Does not this imply that they cannot find it in themselves? Some follow after righteousness in fear. Others with many slips. The Lord’s people follow after righteousness with humility. They follow after righteousness in love. Willingly. Perseveringly. I saw a steamer on the canal drawing after it three large boats. The steamer contained its own motive power, but had there been an engine and boiler in each of those boats they also would have gone on to Liverpool urged on by inward strength. Well, we follow after righteousness, not because Christ has placed some band between Himself and us, but because He has Himself entered our hearts. Christ is the living and moving power in our souls.
II. A KINDLY REMEMBRANCE. The Lord speaks very kindly to those who seek but have not yet found Him. Many are seeking the Lord without a light. Some may seek the Lord in unbelief. Some in a wrong way.
Somebody else replies, “Ah, sir, I have no spiritual life, such as I had once.” Well, who gave it to you in days gone by? The Lord. And will He not restore it again?
III. A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT.
1. Is your soul cast down? Well, remember what God has done for you. Did He not hew you from the rock of the world?
2. If God has hewn us from the rock we ought to hope for all humanity. (W. Birch.)
Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn
Looking to beginnings
1. Look back to beginnings; look along the line from the beginning to the sensations of to-day. A man should have his whole self before him in making his forecast of the future. His whole self should be a Bible, chaptered and versed, well numbered and properly displayed, having its Genesis, and running straight on through prophecy and tragedy, and music and Gospel, into mysterious Apocalypse. You have expurgated this life Bible, killed the promises and Psalms, and have only failures left.
2. Take in all your life: if God has made so much of you, He can make still more. The miracle is not in the great umbrageous tree; it is in that little green blade that pierces the earth and looks like a thing that means to pray. It is not the universe, but the molecule, that is a miracle to me. Looking back at what we were, it is easy to believe and yearn to be more.
3. If God has made so much of you, he can make as much of others. Therefore, do not contemn any man. God shows us in cathedrals what can be done with all stones; He shows us in gardens what can be made of all waste places. I do not read that there are two rocks out of which men are dug--one a very low and disreputable rock, and the other a very high and grand piece of masonry. We are all from the same rock and the same pit; we all have one Father, and we have all suffered the catastrophe of a common apostasy. Have pity upon those who are far behind.
4. Whence are ye hewn--digged; not whence ye hewed, digged yourselves. Are you well educated? It is because others made the way plain and smooth. Are you successful? It is the Lord thy God giveth thee power to get wealth. How much you owe father, mother! As we rise, the account grows, and if God do not forgive us we are lost. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Comparisons are odious; comparisons are highly profitable. They are odious if prompted by malice or meanness. A genius who had risen to a seat in the Commons was reminded by a shallow aristocrat in the lobby that he had formerly been his servant. “Well,” retorted the man of talent, “and did I not serve you well?” Such comparisons are hateful; but they may also prove beneficial as promoting due humility and appreciative thankfulness. Take the case of Paul, who, though an apostle of very exceptional ability, would remind himself that he was the chief of sinners. As though he had said, “Now, Paul, look unto the rock whence you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence you were digged. (W. J. Acomb.)
It is doubtless serviceable for each of us, however devoted and pure, to be now and then presented with a photograph of our former selves. We can thus see what we should have remained if grace had not refined us. We can measure our growth and development. We can certainly better understand the obligations arising from improved conditions.
I. THE RETROSPECT THAT WAS RECOMMENDED to this godly remnant of Israel. In all ages have existed those to whom God could thus appeal. Their characteristics are ever the same--viz, the endeavour to live righteously and the instinctive craving for a fuller knowledge of God. Such were here bidden to recall the period when their great father, Abraham, had been separated from heathen surroundings, led, and instructed by the Divine Spirit till worthy of the appellation, Friend of God. The nation had been a stone cut out of the mountain without hands and fashioned into something like beauty and grace. In regard to individual stones, it would appear that the work of the Divine statuary is threefold--
1. Detachment from the common mass of material. A stone has no ability to leap from its place. The quarryman must by pick and gunpowder and hammer set the granite free. There is grace at the outset, either in national or individual life. People need graciously saving. You have to be rescued, separated from the power of death, lifted from the sphere of human passion. To do this, various agencies are employed--some almost dynamic, others more gentle.
2. Moulding by religious education and attrition of association. Quarried stones need moulding, whether granite, limestone or freestone. Hammer and chisel must be applied. So, when detached must expect to submit to peculiar processes. Some stones necessitate great labour; others can easily be wrought to any form. Heaps of stones about and in every one an angel!--only the angel requires to be modelled out, chiselled out, filed out. We can’t see the angel; God can. None can be a holy person without pain. Salvation is not the deed of a moment, but is a gradual work, stage by stage, here a little and there a little.
3. Vivification of spiritual faculties by the Holy Ghost. Many of you have been extracted from the quarry and rough-hewn by Christian civilization; but you require the grandest thing of all, the breath of spiritual life. Like the child-delighting marionettes that are so skilfully moved by invisible machinery, but which have no appreciation of the part they play, you may be actuated by the forces of custom, or ambition, or fear, but remain dead to all sensations of a purely spiritual nature.
II. THE PURPOSES OF THE SUGGESTED RETROSPECTION. Judging from the context, the intention was--
1. To promote humility.
2. To stimulate hopefulness.
We instinctively argue, “If so much, why not more?” God has always some better thing in store for us. Have we not a sure word of prophecy which declares that Christ is able to present each one of us faultless before the throne? (W. J. Acomb.)
Characters: unhewn and hewn
Shakespeare is given to present abstract ideas in concrete forms to suit the ordinary obtuse Englishman. Thus we understand Caliban. This low-type creature stands before us destitute of moral sense; his strongest motive to action fear of punishment; he hates unreasonably the best of beings; he luxuriates in grossest vice; his brain so feeble that he kneels to a drunkard. Now the national poet has contrasted this brute-man with Prospero, the refined courtier, the gentle father, the magnanimous Duke of Milan, thus exhibiting the diverse effects of Christian culture and heathen neglect. In one you behold the rough, angular, unhewn block; in the other the exquisitely moulded statue. To assimilate them, what a complicated miracle would be requisite! This is the mission of our Lord and Redeemer. (W. J. Acomb.)
Nature and grace
It is good for those that are privileged by a new birth to consider what they were by their first birth; how they were conceived in iniquity and shapen in sin. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. How hard was that rock out of which we were hewn, unapt to receive impressions; and how dirty the hole of the pit out of which we were digged! The consideration hereof should fill us with low thoughts of ourselves, and high thoughts of Divine grace. (M. Henry.)
A humble origin: John Bunyan
“I was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father’s house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all families in the land. I never went to school to Aristotle or Plato, but was brought up in my father’s house in a very mean condition, among a company of poor countrymen. Nevertheless, I bless God that by this door He brought me into the world to partake of the grace and life that is by Christ in His Gospel.” This is the account given of himself and his origin by a man whose writings have for two centuries affected the spiritual opinions of the English race in every part of the world more powerfully than any book or books, except the Bible. (J. A. Froude.)
Look unto Abraham your father
Abraham, or the Christian’s rock
THE DEALINGS OF GOD WITH ABRAHAM.
1. God “called him alone.” How merciful this call! Our own call to renounce this world, and to seek a better, even a heavenly country, is to be traced, like Abraham’s, to the undeserved mercy of our heavenly Father.
2. The Lord “blessed” Abraham. And has He not “blessed” us? Has He not given to us many of the blessings of this life? And, what is much more than these, has He not redeemed us from sin and misery by Jesus Christ our Lord?
3. The Lord “increased” him. The worldly possessions of Abraham were many. But Abraham was increased further in his posterity. But his spiritual descendants are yet more numerous. So likewise is the faithful Christian, the spiritual child of Abraham, “increased;” not indeed, it may be, in this world’s riches and honours, but in spiritual wealth and dignity.
II. THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF ABRAHAM.
1. His faith. Let us look to Abraham as an example in this point of view.
2. His obedience. Let no one whose works contradict his profession of faith suppose himself to be a believer in God. (W.D. Johnston, M.A.)
That Sarah is mentioned chiefly for rhythmical effect may be inferred from the writer s now confining what he says to Abraham alone. (J.A. Alexander.)
Hearken and look; or, encouragement for believers
The second verse contains my actual text. It is the argument by which faith is led to look for the blessings promised in the third verse. It is habitual with some persons to spy out the dark side of every question or fact: they fix their eyes upon the “waste places,” and they study them till they know every ruin, and are familiar with the dragons and the owls. They sigh most dolorously that the former times were better than these, and that we have fallen upon most degenerate days. The habit of looking continually towards the widernesses is injurious because it greatly discourages; and anything that discourages an earnest worker is a serious, leakage for his strength. My text has near to it three times, “Hearken to Me. You have listened long enough to dreary suggestions from within, to gloomy prophecies from desponding friends, to the taunts of foes, and to the horrible whisperings of Satan: now hearken to Him who promises to make the wilderness like Eden, and the desert like the garden of the Lord. O ye whose eyes are quick to discover evil, there are other sights in the world besides waste places and deserts, and hence my text hath near to it twice over the exhortation, “Look”--“Look unto the rock whence ye, are hewn;” “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you; for there we may find comfort.
I. We shall first look towards Abraham that we may see in him THE ORIGINAL OF GOD’S ANCIENT PEOPLE.
1. The founder of God’s first people was called out of a heathen family. Abraham, the founder of the great system in which God was pleased to reveal Himself for so long a time, and to whose seed the oracles of God were committed, was a dweller in Ur of the Chaldees, the city of the moon-god. We cannot tell to what extent he was actually engrossed in the superstition of his fathers, but it is certain that the family was years afterwards tainted with idolatry; for in Jacob’s day the teraph was still venerated, and Rachel stole her father’s images. Abraham, therefore, was called out from the place of his birth, and from the household to which he belonged, that in a separated condition, as a worshipper of the one God, he might keep the truth alive in the world. Why, then, might not the Lord, if the cause of truth were this day reduced to its utmost extremity, again raise up a Church out of one man? “Ah,” you say, “but men are not called now, as Abraham was, by miraculous calls from heaven.” Where ordinary means are so plentiful wisdom resorts not to signs and wonders. The same Spirit who called Abraham by a supernatural voice can call others by the word of truth. “Ah,” say you, “but Abraham was naturally a man of noble mould.
Where do you find such a princely spirit as his?” I answer, Who made him? He that made him can make another like him.
2. Look again, and observe that Abraham was but one man. If we should ever be reduced, as we shall not be, to one man, yet by one man will God preserve His Church, and work out His great purposes. Think of the power for good or evil which may be enshrined in a single human life.
3. This one man was a lone man. He had no prestige of parentage, rank or title. The fulfilment of his calling rested on his loneliness; for he must get away from his kindred, and wander up and down with his flocks, even as the Church of God now does, dwelling in a strange land, and feeding her flock apart. “I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” If in the town or district where you live you seem to lose all your helpers; if they die one by one, and it seems as if nobody would be left to you, still persevere, for it is the lone man that God will bless.
4. He was a man who had to be stripped yet further. He must come away from his kindred and his father’s house, and must dwell in Palestine till the promised seed was born. But how long he waited for the expected heir! What a feast there was that Isaac was born, filling the house with laughter. But he must die! The grand old man is sure that even if he should actually slay his son at God’s command the promise would somehow be kept. Look, then, to Abraham your father, and say is he not the grandest human representative of the great Father God Himself, who in the fulness of time spared not His own Son, but freely delivered Him up for us all? If in all these trials Abraham was yet blessed, and God s purposes were accomplished in him, can we not believe that the same God can work by us also, despite our downcastings and humiliations! Here is the sum and substance of this first head of my discourse: in looking to the rock whence we are hewn, we have to see the Lord working the greatest results from apparently inadequate causes. This teaches us to cease from calculating means, possibilities and probabilities, for we have to deal with God, with whom all things are possible.
II. THE MAIN CHARACTERISTIC OF THIS CHOSEN MAN. The text says, “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you,” and it must mean--consider him and see what he was, that you may learn from him. His grand characteristic was his faith. Abraham’s faith was such that it led him to obedience. The man of faith is God’s man. Why? Because faith is the only faculty of our spirit which can grasp God’s ideal. Faith, too, has a great power of reception, and therein lies much of her adaptation to the Divine purpose. Then, again, faith always uses the strength that God gives her. Faith, too, can wait the Lord s time and place. God loveth faith and blesseth it, because it giveth Him all the glory.
III. OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THAT ONE MAN. “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.” Something, surely, is expected of the children of such a man as Abraham. Because we are the seed of Abraham, the apostle declares that the blessing of Abraham has come upon us also.” What is it? It is a covenant favour that belongs to all who are the servants of God by faith. Here is the substance of it: “Surely blessing, I will bless thee, and in multiplying, I will multiply thee.” The blessing is attended with multiplying. The blessing of the Church is the increase of the Church. The success of truth is the battle of the Lord, and the increase of His Church is according to HIS own promise; therefore in quietness we may possess our souls.
IV. OUR POSITION BEFORE ABRAHAM’S GOD. “Look to Abraham, but only as to the rook from which the Lord quarried His people:” your main thought must be Jehovah Himself. “I, I called him alone, and blessed him.” Let us joyfully recollect that the Lord our God has not changed, nay, not in one jot or tittle. “His arm is not shortened that He cannot save,” etc. The covenant of God has not changed. Read the covenant words, “In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven,” etc. But there is this also to be added, that this work which we desire the Lord to do is in some respects even less than that which He has done with Abraham. What ask we? Not that He should begin with one man to build up a nation, or create a Church? No, but that Zion being builded, He should comfort her, and cause her waste places to rejoice. What marvellous things hath God done on the face of the earth sines Abraham’s days!--the stupendous marvel of incarnation; the wondrous work of redemption, the highest, grandest, Divinest achievement of the Deity--all this is done; what may we not expect after this? You know more of God than Abraham could know. Trust Him, at least up to the level of the patriarch. How shall we forge an excuse if we do not? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For the Lord shall comfort Zion
THERE IS A LOW ESTATE, OF THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSAL CHURCH, AND OF PARTICULAR BRANCHES OF IT, AND LIKEWISE OF INDIVIDUAL MEMBERS.
II. THERE ARE GRACIOUS PROMISES OF REVIVAL, of restored fertility and productiveness.
III. THE MODE IT WHICH THESE BLESSED EFFECTS MAY BE LOOKED AND SOUGHT FOR. When the eye of faith is directed towards Christ, when we believe in Him as the Lord our righteousness, when the prayer of faith ascends to heaven, when the ear hearkens to the inspired Word, then we may expect that God will be gracious to His inheritance, and refresh it when it is weary. We may not look for the supplies of the Spirit of God unless we earnestly ask for them. (H. J. Hastings, M.A.)
The depression, prosperity and delight of the Church
Taking these words as the prophet’s statement with regard to the spiritual Church of God, under the appellation of Zion, we propose from these words to call attention--
I. TO THE DEPRESSION OF THE CHURCH.
1. This depression arises from the small number of those who belong to the Church.
2. The depression consists also in the want of spiritual vigour on the part of those who belong to the Church.
II. TO THE PROSPERITY OF THE CHURCH. Observe--
1. The source to which the prosperity of the Church is assigned. “For the Lord shall comfort Zion,” etc. Christianity is, emphatically, the ministration of the Spirit.
2. The nature of the prosperity by which the Church will be distinguished. What: is the precise import of this comforting of Zion, this comforting of her waste places, making her wilderness like the garden of Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord? Here you will observe, that a vast augmentation of the numbers of the Church must plainly be regarded as included. A great purification and refinement in the characters of those who do pertain to the Church will signalize those future days.
3. The means to be adopted by the true friends of the Church in order that the period of this predicted prosperity may arrive.
III. TO THE DELIGHT OF THE CHURCH. “Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.” This emotion may properly arise from contemplating--
1. The wonderful change which shall have been accomplished in the condition of the Church itself.
2. The connection between the prosperity of the Church and the glorification of God.
3. The connection between the prosperity of the Church and the happiness of mankind.
1. Our first anxiety, of course, must be, that you may individually belong to the Church of God yourselves.
2. What we next desire of you is, that you will labour in all the appointed means and instrumentalities by which the prosperity of the Church of God is to be secured. (J. Parsons.)
(1) The land of bliss is
(2) full of human beings
(3) in festive frame and active enjoyment. (E. Delitzsch, D.D.)
A cheerful prospect
I. HEAVENLY COMFORT PROMISED. This is a promise to God’s Church. The Church of God--captured as it has been by Christ from the world, chosen to be the palace where He dwells, builded together for a temple wherein He is worshipped--is frequently called “Zion.”
1. The object of this comfort. “The Lord will comfort Zion.” Well He may, for she is His chosen. “The Lord has chosen Zion.” He would have those upon whom His choice is fixed be glad and happy.
2. The Lord Himself is the Comforter. There are sorrows for which there is no solace within the reach of the creature; there is a ruin which it would baffle any mortal to retrieve. Happy for us that the Omnipotent comes to our aid.
3. How does the Lord propose to comfort Zion? If you read the verse through you will find it is by making her fertile. The true way to comfort the Church is to build her synagogues, restore the desolation of former times, to sow her fields, plant her vineyards, make her soil fruitful, call out the industry of her sons and daughters, and fill them with lively, ardent zeal.
4. The promise is given in words that contain an absolute pledge. He “shall” and He “will” are terms that admit of no equivocation.
II. THE MOURNFUL CASES FAVOURED. “He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord.”
1. Are there not to be found in the visible Church persons whose character is here vividly depicted?
(1) There are those who once were fruitful, hut are now comparable to wastes. I remember one Monday afternoon, when we had been waiting upon the Lord in prayer ever since seven o’clock in the morning, that there came a most remarkable wave of prayer over the assembly. And then two backsliders got up and prayed one aider the other. According to their own account, they had been very bad fellows indeed, and had sorely transgressed against God; but there they were, broken-hearted and fairly broken down. It was a sight to make angels rejoice as their tears flowed. Certainly their sobs and cries touched the hearts of all of us who were assembled. I thought to myself, “Then God is blessing us, for when backsliders come back it is a proof that God has visited His people.”
(2) Then a second department of the promise is, “He will make her wilderness like Eden.” I take the wilderness here to be a place of scanty vegetation. Oh, how many there are in the Church of God who are just like that! They are Christians, but sorry Christians they are.
(3) A third character is implied in the desert--the deserted places where no man dwells, where the traveller does not care to linger. How many professors of religion answer to this description of the soil! They are like deserts. You not only never did bring forth fruit, but you never concerned yourself to do so.
2. Ask ye now, what does the Lord say He will do for them? He says that He will make the wilderness like Eden. You know what Eden was. It was the garden of the earth in the days of primeval probity. So the Lord says that when He visits His Church He will make these poor backsliders, these immature Christians, these nominal professors, like Eden. Moreover, as if to strengthen the volume of His grace and of our hope, He says that He will make her desert like the garden of the Lord. He shall come to you and delight your heart and soul with His converse.
III. CERTAIN DESIRABLE RESULTS WHICH ARE PREDICTED. “Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” You notice the doubles. The parallelism of Hebrew poetry, perhaps, necessitated them. Still I remember how John Bunyan says that “all the flowers in God’s garden bloom double.” We are told of “manifold mercies,” that is, mercies which are folded up one in another, so that you may unwrap them and find a fresh mercy enclosed in every fold. Here we have “joy and gladness, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” The Lord multiplies His grace. Oh, what a delightful thing must a visitation from God be to His Church! Without God all she can do is to groan. Nay, she will not always do that. She sometimes indulges a foolish conceit, and says: “I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing.” After that will soon be heard the hooting of dragons and the cry of owls. Let God visit His Church, and there is sure to be thanksgiving and the voice of melody. This is the mark of a revived Church everywhere. New impetus is given to the service of song. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The garden of the Lord
The garden of God
(for children):--Here and elsewhere Holy Scripture pictures a gathering of the upright and holy as a garden, and Christly people, whether men or children, as the trees and plants and flowers in such a garden. In His garden--
I. GOD WILL HAVE NO WEEDS. This reminds us--
1. What a number of evils must be destroyed. Idleness, falsehood, cowardice, disobedience, etc., are weeds that must be plucked up and destroyed.
2. The ways by which evils are to be destroyed.
(1) Like weeds, they are to be plucked up and burnt. There must be no half measures in dealing with sin. We must get at the roots and then burn the whole.
(2) Like weeds, they must be cleared by better life taking their place. In New Zealand, where the hoe of the settlers failed to destroy the rank vegetation that had rooted there for centuries, they have successfully adopted the plan of planting among it our common English clover. And as it grows it actually is rooting out the formidable flax-weed with its fibrous leaves and strong woody roots. So truth, courage, love, will root out lying, cowardice, selfishness. We get rid of evil from hearts and lives by “the expulsive power of a new affection.”
II. THERE IS A GREAT VARIETY OF FLOWERS. Rich rose, stately tulip, “sweet lily of the valley, etc.
a thousand varieties all helping us to understand the famous preacher who said, Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into.” So there is great variety in the virtues; no monotony in Christian character. There are virtues that, like lofty trees and brilliant flowers, make heroes and martyrs. And there are others like flowers with tiny petals and delicate tints. St. Francis of Sales said, “How carefully we should cherish the little virtues which spring up at the foot of the Cross.” What are they? some one asked him. “Humility, meekness, kindness, simplicity, candour,” he replied.
III. HE HIMSELF HAS JOY. Over true souls He rejoices. The prophet says, God rejoices “over them with singing.” God seems to sing over those of whom He says, as of, David, “a man after God s own heart;” as of Daniel, “O man greatly beloved;” as of the Lord Jesus Christ, “My well-beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
IV. ALL THE BEAUTY OF ALL THE FLOWERS IS TO BE TRACED TO HIS CARE.
1. He is the Owner.
2. He is the Sower.
3. He is the Gardener--Christ called God the Husbandman.
4. He is the Source of all life and beauty. For He is Sun, and Wind: is as dew--and showers also. (U. R. Thomas, B.A.)
Hearken unto Me, My people
The absolute in human history
Time works mighty changes in human life.
Amidst the ceaseless whirl of mutation, is there nothing unchangeable? Is life made up entirely of volatile contingencies? Has it no absolute elements? Oh, for a rock in this ebbing sea, where we might stand secure as the wreck of years floats by! This Scripture responds to our questions, and meets our aspirations. The word “law” designates God’s revelation; “judgment” and “righteousness” are interchangeable terms, expressing the one idea--rectitude. The great truths, therefore, enfolded in this rich oriental garb, are that rectitude and salvation are the elements of God’s revelation; and that these elements are the absolute in human history.
I. THEY ARE FOR ALL LANDS--world-wide in their aspect--“a light of the people.” Man is, confessedly, a corrupt intelligence; and, in the nature of things, a knowledge of his state is essential to his improvement. Will he ever seek a remedy or ask for a refuge until he has felt the disease or descried the peril? Whence comes this discovery? Nothing less than a special revelation of rectitude can meet the case. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” Next comes the other element--“salvation.” Each of these two elements of our religion is equally necessary for man everywhere. The value, however, of each depends upon mutual connection; each is useless by itself.
II. THESE BLESSINGS ARE FOR ALL TIMES, AS WELL AS FOR ALL LANDS. “The heavens shall vanish away like smoke,” etc. These words suggest three solemn considerations--
1. That man is related to two distinct systems of things, the one involving the “heavens and the earth,” the other “righteousness and salvation”--the one material, the other spiritual. This twofold relation is a peculiarity of our history. The other tenants of the globe are related to the material as we are. But with the spiritual they appear to have no connection.
2. That one of the systems to which man is related is transient, the other is permanent.
3. That the permanent system should command man’s chief concern. Hear the sum of this address:--Beware of practical materialism. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Righteousness and salvation
I. THE CHARACTER OF THOSE SPECIALLY ADDRESSED. By comparing the first and the seventh with the fourth verse of the chapter, we find four leading features of their character set forth:
1. They are said to know righteousness.
2. To follow after righteousness.
3. To seek the Lord.
4. To have the law of God in their hearts.
II. THE ADDRESS ITSELF. It constitutes a sublime prophetic description of those spiritual blessings to be ripened by the advent of the Messiah. It foretells the setting up of that kingdom which cometh not by outward observation, but which is “righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost”--the publication of “that better covenant established on better promises.” Many topics of deep interest are suggested by this prophetic setting forth of the blessings and triumphs of the Gospel. The text fully asserts--
1. Their certainty.
2. Their perpetuity. (T. Page, M.A.)
An evangelical law
The “law” here meant (Isaiah 51:4) is that of Zion Isaiah 2:3), as distinguished from that of Sinai--the Gospel of redemption. (F. Delitzsch, D.D.)
My righteousness is near
God’s righteousness and salvation
The Gospel of Christ shall be preached and published to the world.
“A law shall proceed from Me” (Isaiah 51:4), an evangelical law, the law of Christ, the law of faith (Isaiah 2:3).
I. THIS SHALL BRING WITH IT RIGHTEOUSNESS AND SALVATION, shall open a ready way to the children of men how they may be justified and saved. It is called God s righteousness and salvation--
1. Because of His contriving and bringing it about.
2. It is a righteousness that He will accept for us, and accept us for.
3. And a righteousness which He will work in us.
4. It is the salvation of the Lord, for it ariseth from Him, and terminates in Him. Observe, there is no salvation without righteousness, and wherever there is the righteousness of God, there shall be His salvation.
II. THIS RIGHTEOUSNESS AND SALVATION SHALL VERY SHORTLY APPEAR. It is near, it is gone forth. It is near in time. It is near in place, not far to Romans 10:8).
III. THIS EVANGELICAL RIGHTEOUSNESS AND SALVATION SHALL NOT BE CONFINED TO THE JEWISH NATION, BUT SHALL BE EXTENDED TO THE GENTILES. (M. Henry.)
God’s arm shall judge the people that are impenitent, and yet on His arm shall others trust and be saved by it. (M. Henry.)
Lift up your eyes to the heavens.
The eternity of religion
From the thought of the universality of religion the prophet rises to that of its eternity, which is here expressed by a contrast of surprising boldness between the “things which are seen” and the “things which are not seen.” (Prof. J. Skinner, D.D.)
The present and the future
I. We have to speak to you of CREATED THINGS--the heavens above and the earth beneath--as temporal either in themselves, or in regard to us who “must die in like manner.” There may be much room for questioning whether there will be the actual annihilation of matter; whether even this earth is to be so destroyed that no vestige of it shall remain. We know that our bodies at least are not to be annihilated; but that having gone through certain processes, they are to be united to the soul, and remain in that re-union for ever. Without, however, supposing the actual annihilation of matter, we may speak of the universe as destined to be destroyed, seeing that the systems which are to succeed to the present will be wholly different, and wear all the traces of a new creation. Our text marks out a second way in which our connection with visible things--the heavens and the earth--may be brought to a close--“they that dwell therein shall die in like manner.”
II. A CONTRAST is drawn between God--His salvation and His righteousness--and the heavens and the earth. It seems the design of the passage to affix a general character to the objects of faith as distinguished from the objects of sense--the character of permanence and distinguished from that of decline. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
Man hath a muscle more than ordinary to draw up his eyes heavenward. (J. Trapp.)
The pershing and the stable
I. THE PERISHING NATURE OF ALL WORLDLY OBJECTS, PURSUITS, AND COMFORTS.
II. THE STABILITY OF THOSE WHICH THE GOSPEL PROPOSES. (W. Richardson.)
An eternal salvation
We must never expect any other way of salvation, any other covenant of peace, or rule of righteousness, but what we have in the Gospel, and what we have there shall continue to the end. (M. Henry.)
God’s everlasting salvation
There are brought before us in the text, three great varieties of existence, viz those of man, the earth, and the starry heavens; and contrasted with God’s salvation and righteousness.
I. GOD’S SALVATION IS INDEPENDENT OF, AND WILL OUTLIVE, EVERYTHING HUMAN. “When they that dwell therein shall die in like manner,” i.e., like the old earth itself. “My salvation shall be for ever.” Not only is the power of God unto salvation independent of its friends, but unconquerable by its foes.
II. THE GRASS WITHERETH, THE FLOWER FADETH; AND SO, TOO, WILL THE EARTH OUT OF WHICH THEY SPRING. It “shall wax old like a garment.” To the same intent speaks science. Will religion wax old too? When the aged planet’s voice is low and indistinct, will the truth of God also be less clear and defined? I trow not. The world, in its youth and beauty, was but a great symbol. The symbol is gone; the truth remains. The time may come when the resources of earth may be dried up; not so the resources of Heaven. There may be no sunshine to cheer the earth; there will be sunshine for the hearts of men;--no dew to refresh a thirsty earth; there will be life-giving dew for the soul of man.
III. OVER THE WHOLE EARTH BROODS THE MIGHTY LAW OF CHANGE. Everywhere there are births and dissolutions. Almost everything yields to its power. From the tiny flower, to the huge mountain; from the life of the insect that is born and dies in a day, to the life of men, of nations, of the whole world. The dominion of the changeable, however, is not confined to this world; it extends to all worlds. And why should it remain any longer when a grander universe has begun? The work of the old one is done. It came into being only to speak the great truths of God. It has done so; let it pass. Its bright suns, the centres of life and light, all spoke of one Eternal Sun from whom comes all life and all light. Let the changing, decaying systems of the old universe now disappear; their existence would be but a mockery beside the one everlasting system of righteousness. Let all that must pass away now pass. The watchword is, “For ever and ever,” for ever one system, one will, one obedience, one atmosphere of love. (D. Johnson, M.A.)
The eternity of God’s salvation
This is evidently one of those predictions having special reference to the introduction of the Gospel dispensation, with which this book is so thickly studded. We may regard Isaiah 51:4; Isaiah 5:1-30 as forming a kind of preface to Isaiah 51:6; and in that preface the clue is given m four ruling words, viz law, judgment, righteousness, and salvation.
1. The Gospel is a law--not written upon tables of stone, but upon the fleshly tables of the heart by the Spirit of the living God; it is a law of faith, and love, and obedience; it is the law by which God Will henceforth govern men. As the prophet in another place says “The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; He will save us.” His law is in order to His rule; and His rule is in order to the salvation of men.
2. The word “judgment” is here used in the sense of a body or code of laws, such as form the basis of the constitution of a kingdom. It must point to the body of Gospel truth which God is about to reveal to the world. The doctrines, precepts, promises, which centre upon the person and work, which together are bound up in the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, these form the basis, the foundation which God will “make settled” for a light to the people.
3. “My righteousness is near.” It is about, to be signally manifested, and in an unheard-of way, by the death of My only begotten Son. Therein am I about to be seen, just, and yet the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.
4. “My salvation is gone forth,” etc. The good news that men are to be saved by the free grace of God, is already published, and it shall awaken loving trust in Me wherever it is known. Then comes the climax upon this preface; the eternal endurance which is the destiny of this saving rule of the Almighty--“Lift up your eyes to the heavens,” etc. Three things here present themselves for our consideration--
I. THE DESTINY OF THE HEAVENS AND THE EARTH.
1. Let us think of their nature. They are an emanation from the mind of God.
2. The design of the creation.
(1) This is its immediate design--to subserve the well-being of man.
(2) But what is the ultimate design of the heavens and the earth? Like all else, to declare the glory of God. But upon this two remarks must be made--This declaration is by itself alone imperfect, as all material signs of truthmust be. The printed page may tell us many truths, but there are truths which the printed page of itself can never tell. Creation cannot declare to us all that we ought to know of God. There are apparent contradictions in nature: there is the genial sun, the gentle dew, the balmy wind; but there is also the fiery volcano, the awful earthquake, the furious hurricane. Creation cannot reconcile its own phenomena; its testimony is imperfect without some higher and concurrent light. The testimony of creation is too often rendered void or perverted through human sinfulness. Either men do not see God at all in nature, or they view Him with vision all awry.
(3) Carry your thoughts forward to the revealed destiny of the heavens and earth. They are to pass away utterly. “Seeing, then, that all these things shall be dissolved, etc.”
II. THE DESTINY OF THE MORTAL RACE OF MAN. “They that dwell therein shall die in like manner.” Man and the world date from the same origin, and are formed of the same material.
1. Let us consider the nature of the mortal race of man. It is simply a part of the visible material creation.
2. Think again of the design of our mortal race. It is pre-eminently to declare the glory of God. “I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” But this glory that excelleth God is to derive not so much from our bodily nature, for this is but the kind of glory that all His other works render to Him, an unconscious glory; as from our spiritual nature, from renovated wills, from purified affections, from a redeemed and sanctified nature.
3. We shall gain further light upon the purpose of God with regard to our earthly race, if we glance at the analogy between the individual life and that of the whole race. Each man among us is the miniature, the epitome of the history of the world. He is the microcosm; you trace in yourself imperfections of bodily and mental powers; you are conscious of the seeds of death within you; all connected with your present condition speaks plainly the lesson that you are in dissolving, uncertain, precarious, transitory condition. It is fitly described in the emblems of Scripture, a tent, not a fixed habitation, a lodging, not a final rest. Now, I say you may trace a close analogy to all this in the history of the whole race. The world grows old; there are wrinkles on its brow.
4. Then remember that this is the predicted destiny of our mortal race. All living men and all their sensuous surroundings shall be utterly swept away.
III. THE DESTINY OF GOD’S SAVING RULE.--“My salvation,” etc. By the saving rule of God we mean that rule which God has revealed in the Gospel, in conforming to which man enjoy salvation; the rule which demands repentance, implicit faith in the Mediator and obedience to the Holy Ghost. It is God s plan, or rule, or way of salvation, and it is founded upon the immutable attribute of His righteousness.
1. Look at its nature. The Gospel is the hill and perfect exhibition of the mind of God.
2. Look at its design. It is in order to the complete blessedness of our immortal spirits in earth and heaven--here and hereafter, and for ever and ever.
3. God s saving rule shall endure for ever and ever. Conclusion: The rule of God must either save and bless, and eternally exalt you, or it must crush and destroy you. (E. Johnson, B.A.)
I. A CHANGING, PASSING WORLD. “Lift up your eyes,” etc. God calls on us to interrupt for a short season our busy occupations, and to meditate on things seen and unseen, things temporal and things eternal.
1. The framework of creation is changing,--passing.
2. The riches, the comforts, the enjoyments of life are passing.
3. The cares, and anxieties, and sorrows of life are passing.
4. Life itself is passing.
II. AN UNCHANGING, ETERNAL SALVATION.
1. The blessing itself is salvation.
2. It has God for its author.
3. Eternity is its duration.
4. Sinners are the partakers of this blessing.
Which has your heart--your hopes? The love of both cannot dwell in the same breast, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (F. Storr, M.A.)
Hearken unto Me, ye that know righteousness
Christians encouraged against the fear of man
THE PERSONS ADDRESSED.
1. Those who “know righteousness.”
2. They have the law of God in their heart.
II. THE ADDRESS MADE TO THEM. “Hearken unto Me,” etc.
1. Let us remember who is the speaker of these words.
2. The address may be considered as containing an encouraging exhortation enforced by powerful arguments.
3. Consider by what powerful arguments this exhortation is enforced: They who now revile the people of God will quickly be brought to an end. If their malice be not extinguished, yet the means of gratifying it will be no more. They are mortals, and as such they must soon die.
4. On the other hand, “My righteousness (saith the Lord) shall be for ever, and My salvation from generation to generation.” In vain do ungodly men speak evil of His cause. It shall survive all their attacks; and shall increase, when they who reviled, or opposed it, shall be silent in darkness. In vain are His people reproached. They cannot be really injured by such attempts. (E. Cooper.)
The matter is not great which they say of us who must be worm’s meat shortly. (M. Henry.)
Futility of human opposition to the Gospel
Clouds darken the sun, but give no obstruction to its progress. (M. Henry.)
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord
The awaking of Zion
(with Isaiah 52:1 (a)):--Both these verses are, I think, to be regarded as spoken by one voice, that of the Servant of the Lord.
In the one, as Priest and Intercessor, He lifts the prayers of earth to heaven in His own holy hands--and in the other, as Messenger and Word of God, He brings the answer and command of heaven to earth on His own authoritative lips--thus setting forth the deep mystery of His person and double office as mediator between man and God. But even if we set aside that thought the correspondence and relation of the two passages remain the same. In any case they are intentionally parallel in form and connected in substance. The latter is the answer to the former. The cry of Zion is responded to by the call of God. The awaking of the arm of the Lord is followed by the awaking of the Church. He puts on strength in clothing us with His might, which becomes ours.
I. We have here a common principle underlying both the clauses, namely, THE OCCURRENCE IN THE CHURCH’S HISTORY OF SUCCESSIVE PERIODS OF ENERGY AND OF LANGUOR. It is freely admitted that such alternation is not the highest ideal of growth, either in the individual or in the community. Our Lord’s own parables set forth a more excellent way--the way of uninterrupted increase. So might our growth be, if the mysterious life in the seed met no checks. But, as a matter of fact, the Church has not thus grown. Rather, at the best, its emblem is to be looked for, not in corn but in the forest tree--the very rings in whose trunk tell of recurring seasons when the sap has risen at the call of spring, and sunk again before the frowns of winter. In our own hearts we have known such times. And we have seen a like palsy smite whole regions and ages of the Church of God. Where is the joyful buoyancy and expansive power with which the Gospel burst into the world? If, then, there be such recurring seasons of languor, they must either go on deepening till sleep becomes death, or they must be broken by a new outburst of vigorous life. And it is by such times that the Kingdom of Christ always has grown. Its history has been one of successive impulses gradually exhausted, as by friction and gravity, and mercifully repeated just at the moment when it was ceasing to advance and had begun to slide downwards.
II. THE TWOFOLD EXPLANATION OF THESE VARIATIONS. That bold metaphor of God sleeping and waking is often found in Scripture, and generally expresses the contrast between the long years of patient forbearance, during which evil things and evil men go on their rebellious road unchecked but by Love, and the dread moment when some throne of iniquity is smitten to the dust. Such is the original application of the expression here. But the contrast may fairly be widened beyond that specific form of it, and taken to express any apparent variations in the forth-putting of His power. We may, then, see here implied the cause of these alternations on its Divine side, and then, in the corresponding verse addressed to the Church, the cause on the human side.
1. As to the former. We have to distinguish between the power, and what Paul calls “the might of the power.” The one is final, constant, unchangeable. It does not necessarily follow that the other is. The rate of operation, so to speak, and the amount of energy actually brought into play may vary, though the force remains the same.
2. Our second text tells us that if God’s arm seems to slumber, and really does so, it is because Zion sleeps. He works through us; and we have the solemn and awful power of checking the might which would flow through us.
III. THE BEGINNING OF ALL AWAKING IS THE CHURCH’S EARNEST CRY TO GOD. It is with us as with infants, the first sign of whose awaking is a cry. For every such stirring of quickened religious life must needs have in it bitter penitence and pain at the discovery flashed upon us of the wretched deadness of our past. Nor is Zion s cry to God only the beginning and sign of all true awaking; it is also the condition and indispensable precursor of all perfecting of recovery from spiritual languor. Look at the passionate earnestness of it--and see to it that our drowsy prayers be like it. Look at the grand confidence with which it founds itself on the past, recounting the mighty deeds of ancient days, and looking back, not for despair, but for joyful confidence on the generations of old; and let our faint-hearted faith be quickened by the example, to expect great things of God.
IV. THE ANSWERING CALL FROM GOD TO ZION. Our truest prayers are but the echo of God’s promises. God’s best answers are the echo of our prayers. As in two mirrors set opposite to each other, the same image is repeated over and over again, the reflection of a reflection, so here, within the prayer, gleams an earlier promise, within the answer is mirrored the prayer. And in that reverberation, and giving back to us of our petition transformed into a command, we are not to see a dismissal of it as if we had misapprehended our true want. The very opposite interpretation is the true one. The prayer of Zion is heard and answered. God awakes, and clothes Himself with might. Then, as some warrior king, himself roused from sleep and girded with flashing steel, bids the clarion sound through the grey twilight to summon the prostrate ranks that lie round his tent, so the sign of God’s awaking and the first act of His conquering might is this trumpet call--“The night is far spent, the day is at hand”--“put off the works of darkness,” the night gear that was fit for slumber--“and put on the armour of light,” the mail of purity that gleams and glitters even in the dim dawn. Nor is it to be forgotten that this, like all God s commands, carries in its heart a promise. But the main point which I would insist on is the practical discipline which this Divine summons requires from us.
1. The chief means of quickened life and strength is deepened communion with Christ.
2. This summons calls us to the faithful use of the power which, on condition of that communion, we have. So, let us confidently look for times of blessing, penitently acknowledge that our own faithlessness has hindered the arm of the Lord, earnestly beseech Him to come in His rejoicing strength, and, drawing ever fresh power from constant communion with our dear Lord, use it to its last drop for Him. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The Church s cry and the Divine answer
(with Isaiah 52:1):--
I. THE CHURCH’S CALL ON GOD. “Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord.”
1. The figure used here is simple enough. The “arm” is a natural symbol of power, for it is through it that we execute our purpose. If it is benumbed, insensitive, and motionless, we say that it is asleep; but when it is stretched out for action it is awake. And what the prophet pleads for is that some display of Divine power might be granted, such as had once been seen in Egypt, when “Rahab” (the fierce and boastful power of heathenism) had been broken in pieces and “the dragon” (or rather the crocodile, the recognized symbol of Egypt) had been sorely wounded. Now, the uses to which we put our arm may, any of them, suggest the actions to which we would summon our God in earnest prayer. The arm of the warrior bears the shield which protects his own body and those of weak and wounded friends lying at his feet; and we want such overshadowing protection against the fiery darts of the wicked. The arm is naturally outstretched to point the way to one who is ignorant and bewildered, and when we are perplexed as to doctrine or duty, we find it is not a vain thing to pray: “Teach me Thy way, O Lord.” What is needed now, as of old, is the realization and the manifestation of the presence of God in the Person of Christ, His Son; so that now there may come about a true revival of religion, a living, unshakable belief that God is amongst His people of a truth. If only He reveals Himself in and through His Church, sin will be conquered and the world redeemed.
2. The necessity for this prayer arises from the fact that the work which lies before us as Christian Churches cannot be done by human power.
II. GOD’S CALL UPON THE CHURCH. “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion,” etc.. God never does for His people what they can do for themselves.
1. The Church is called upon to arouse from slumber--and whether it is the result of despondency, or of indolence, sleep must be shaken off.
2. The Church is also to endue herself with strength, to resume courage, and renew effort with a fresh sense of her responsibility.
3. But let us be thankful that there is room in God’s heart for quieter service. They who fail to put on strength, can at least put on the. “beautiful garments” of holiness; and although these should endue the most active worker, they can transform into a saintly witness the solitary sufferer.
4. The Church is summoned here to consecrate herself anew to God. She is represented as a female captive in degrading servitude, whose hour of deliverance has come, and who is to shake herself free from the bands which have held her, and rejoice in new found liberty. It is not only sin which holds the Church in bondage, but sometimes formalism and ceremonialism, and we must beware, lest, with our love for order, we become thereby crippled and hindered. Let us be ready to make any change of mode or organization, to cast off any prejudices, if they prevent successful whole-hearted service for our God, and let us regard this as a time for renewed consecration to Him, to whom we owe ourselves, our time, our all. (A. Rowland, LL. B.)
The arm of the Lord invoked
I. EXPLAIN WHAT IT IS TO WHICH THE INVOCATION IS ADDRESSED. “O arm of the Lord.”
II. THE OBJECTS WHICH THIS INVOCATION INVOLVES. “Awake, awake,” etc. It is an earnest application on the part of the prophet, that God would come forth as He had done in former periods. We may refer to a number of great events, of which the people of old could scarcely form an idea. We remember what God did in the fulness of time when He sent His Son into the world to restore mankind. We remember what He did on the hill of Calvary. We remember what He did when He “raised Him up from the dead, and set Him on His own right hand, and gave Him to be head over all things to the Church.” We remember what He did on the Pentecostal day, when He sent down His Holy Spirit. After allusion has thus been made to the former displays of the Divine power, there is an evident contrast as to what was the state of things in the prophet’s day. There seemed to be a suspension of this energy; the heritage of God was wasted, His truth was insulted, His worship was slighted, His requirements were contemned. And what is it we want? We want His power to accompany the preaching of the Word. It must be remembered that there is no manifestation of the Divine power so glorious as that which is seen in the extension of the Gospel, and its power on the souls of men.
III. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS WE HAVE TO BELIEVE THE INVOCATION SHALL BE FULFILLED.
1. Consider the care of God over the Church in past ages of the world.
2. From the character of God as the hearer and answerer of prayer.
3. From the nature of the promises recorded in the sacred pages. (J. Parsons.)
Prayer for national prosperity, and for the revival of religion, inseparably connected
I. THE IMPORT OF THIS PRAYER. “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!” In general such a petition as this suggests to us that our prayers for Divine interposition and deliverance from public calamities should be supremely directed to the glory of God. A just regard to the glory of God in our prayers implies the two following things:
1. That we expect deliverance from God alone, desire that it may be attended with such circumstances as His hand and power may be seen in it, and are willing to acknowledge Him as the supreme and only Author of it.
2. We ought also to pray for a dispensation of His grace and mercy that a revival of religion may accompany temporal relief.
(1) We have no warrant to ask the last of these without the first.
(2) We have no reason to expect that it will be separately bestowed.
(3) If it should, in any degree, it would not he a blessing but a curse.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAYER. “Awake as in the ancient days, as in the generations of old,” etc. The prophet animates his faith, and encourages his own dependence, and that of others, upon the promises of God, by celebrating the greatness of His power, as manifested in former memorable deliverances granted to His chosen people. Consider the effect of such a view upon the mind, and its influence in prayer.
1. It satisfies us of the power of God, and His ability to save.
2. The same view serves to ascertain us of the mercy of God, and His readiness to help us in distress.
III. APPLY THE TRUTHS on this subject to our own present situation as to public affairs. Let us remember that we serve an unchangeable God. (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
Christ the arm of God
Christ is here called the arm of the Lord. The arm of the Lord means God in action. The grand purposes of redemption, conceived in eternity, were dead thought, if lawful so to speak, in the mind of God, until they were revealed in Christ, the executor of the thoughts of the Godhead. Christ was ever called the Logos, the expression of Divinity. When the hand is spoken of in the Bible, it means the exact working of God in nature, providence and grace. The arm is that which sends the hand into action. “The outstretched arm” is the far-reaching power of God. By the right hand or arm of God we are to understand a more special and dazzling display of God’s power. In all instances the hand or arm of God means Christ. The prophet appeals to the past, “Awake, as in the ancient days,” etc. In the context he looks to the future and catches glimpses of the glory of the Advent, and he cries, It is the arm of God! The text is an invocation for Christ to come in the Advent. This arm of God is the revelation--
I. OF GOD’S GLORY.
II. OF HIS SAVING POWER. It is an arm that can reach everywhere. There is no height so high or depth so deep as to be beyond its reach to save.
III. A UNIVERSAL REVELATION OF GOD. It means the revealing of God in creation, in providence, in redemption, in the family in the closet, in the soul, in death, at the judgment, in eternity, where it will secure the eternal triumph of those whose faith will then merge into sight. Conclusion:
1. What are your relations to this arm of God? Has it been to you only an object of wonder as the bow in the clouds, or has it been an arm bared to the shoulder, entwined about you, filled with a vitality which it imparted to you as it defended and lifted you?
2. Have you thought what this arm hath wrought for you? How it suffered itself to De shorn of its strength that you might be strong!
3. Have you not thought of the final triumph of that arm? (N. Schenck, D.D.)
Thy strength! my strength
(with Isaiah 52:1):--
1. Everything seemed to have gone against the exile. Life had no longer for him a programme, but only a retrospect; no longer a radiant hope, but only a fading reminiscence; no longer an alluring vision, but only a distinguished history. Here he lay in captivity; the songs of Zion had fled from his lips, and his mouth was filled with wailing and complaint. “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” “Where is He that brought us up out of the sea with the Shepherd of His flock? Where is He that put His Holy Spirit within us?” And now and again the exile half-turned himself in angry, hopeless cry, “Oh, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens, that Thou,, wouldst come down!” And again he relapsed into the low and cheerlees moan: “My Lord hath forgotten me.” And yet again he pierced the heaven with his searching supplication: “Awake, awake, put on Thy strength, O arm of the Lord, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.
2. What will be the Lord’s reply to the cry of the exile? Here it is: “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion!” The Divine response is a sharp retort. “It is not thy God who sleepeth! It is thou thyself who art wrapt about in a sluggish and consuming indolence! Thou art crying out for more strength; but what of the strength thou hast? Thy trumpet is silent, and thine armour is rusting upon the walls! Thou art like a vagrant asking for help, when thou hast a full purse hidden between the covers of an idle bed! Thou art pleading for reinforcements, and thy soldiers are on the couch! Thy prayer is the supplication of a man who is not doing his best! Clothe thyself in thy present powers, consecrate thine all to the purpose of thy prayer, and stand forth in battle array.” I need not say that there is nothing in the Lord s response which disparages the ministry of prayer. It does, however, tend to put prayer in its right place, and to give a true apprehension of its purpose and ministry. Prayer is not a talisman, to be used as an easy substitute for our activity and vigilance. Prayer is a ministry in which our own powers can be quickened into more vigorous and healthy service. God has given us certain endowments. Certain talents are part of our original equipment. We are possessed of powers of judgment, of initiative, of sympathy; and the primary implication of all successful prayer is that these powers are willingly placed upon the altar of sacrifice. Any prayer is idle when these powers are indolent. We too frequently pray to be carried like logs, and it is the Lord’s will that we should contend like men! The principle is this--our “strength” must back our supplications. Is the backing always present?
(1) Take the matter of our personal salvation. Every one is conscious how immature he is in the Divine life we know how dim is our spiritual discernment. We know how few and infrequent are our brilliant conquests, and how many and common are our shameful defeats. And again and again we supplicate the Almighty: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!” Is it possible that the response of the Lord, may be the retort of the olden days: “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion”? We are so prone to divide the old psalmist’s counsel, and to pay heed to one part and to ignore the other. “Bring unto the Lord glory!” And so we do! We bring our glorias, our doxologies, our hymns, and our anthems, and we do well, but it is a maimed and lifeless offering if, with the glory, we do not bring our strength. “Bring unto the Lord glory and strength!” It is in this lacking of strength in our personal religion that we are so woefully deficient. We need to bring to our religion more strength of common-sense--more inventiveness, more fertility of ideas, more purpose, more steady and methodical persistence. And we need to bring a more commanding strength of will. So many of us would like to be saints without becoming soldiers, and the desire can never be attained. Let me tell you a story. Two little “girls” in the same class, one at the top and, the other at the bottom. The one at the bottom consults the one at the top. “How is it that you are always at the top of the class?” “Oh, I ask Jesus to help me!” “Then I will do the same,” said the undistinguished member, and she forthwith put the counsel into practice. Next day their relative positions were unaltered, one at the top, and the other at the bottom. The consultation is renewed. “I thought you said that Jesus would help me, and here I am at the bottom again!” “Well, so He will, but how long did you work?” “Oh, I never opened a book!”
(2) Take the matter of the salvation of the home. We have interceded for our little ones at the throne of grace. Are we putting our “strength” into the salvation of the home? I do not know a better pattern of a home than Charles Kingsley’s, but he brought his strength to its creation. It was a home whose moral atmosphere was like the air on Alpine heights, home in which, in all perplexities, the only referendum was the Lord Himself, a home all of whose ministries were clothed in grace and beauty. I shall never forget hearing a long conversation between two men, one of whom had inquired of the other the size of his family. “I have ten,” he said. “What a responsibility!” replied the other. To which there came at once the glad response: “And what a privilege, for they are all workers on the side of God.”
(3) There is the matter of social redemption. How often have we prayed for the city: “Awake, awake, lint on strength, O arm of the Lord!” And still, I think, there comes the Divine retort, “Put on thy strength, O Zion!” We abuse the privilege of prayer when we make it a minister of personal evasion and neglect. That is my message. There is no true prayer without a full consecration. (J. H. Jowett, M.A.)
Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return
The return of the light of morning after the darkness of the night; of a fine summer after a cold and cheerless winter; of health and strength after a season of sickness and pain, is refreshing and delightful, and demands the gratitude of the heart.
The deliverance of a nation from temporal slavery or subjection has often kindled a fire in the breast of the patriot, the painter, the poet and the historian; but what are all earthly blessings when compared with those which are spiritual and eternal? (New Irish Pulpit.)
The present and future joy of the redeemed of the Lord
There is the greatest harmony throughout the whole Bible, and its glowing descriptions of future events have always some relation to the spiritualizing effects of the Gospel of Christ.
1. Who can with such propriety be called the redeemed of the Lord, as they whom He has delivered from the power as well as penalty of sin?
2. Who again can with such propriety be ca]led the redeemed of the Lord, as they whom He ransoms from that all-conquering foe, who puts all things under his feet?
3. But must the soul lie insensible with the body until this general redemption? Must ages pass before the redeemed of the Lord enjoy a foretaste of their redemption? No! “To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”
4. But are there not some considerations, to be taken by us into account on this subject? Is there not some blessing--a blessing beyond all other blessings, which makes these a matter of everlasting joy to the redeemed of the Lord? In bringing many sons to glory Jesus has been made perfect through sufferings; He has made reconciliation for sin. (W. M. Harte.)
The joy of the ransomed
No New Testament utterance could be more beautiful than this picturing of the return of the redeemed of the Lord to Zion.
1. It points, at the outset, to the grounds of their confidence and joy. They are ransomed travellers: they have found the “righteousness” and the “salvation” spoken of at the commencement of the chapter. They go, on their pilgrim way exulting in Him whose arm “hath wounded the dragon”--the “Man of God’s right hand,” who in His cross and passion hath“destroyed him that had the power of death, that is the devil, and delivered them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” They are more than conquerors through Him that loved them.
2. They are further here truthfully represented, even in the course of their journey through the wilderness, as filled “with peace and joy in believing,” “abounding in hope.” The Christian is a joyful man. Though it be a wilderness he treads, and though sorrow and mourning are also depicted as tracking his footsteps, yet he has elements of tranquil happiness within him which make the song, not the tear, the appropriate exponent of his thoughts and emotions. It were strange, indeed, were it otherwise. At peace with God; sin forgiven; the heart changed; the affections elevated; grace moulding, sustaining, quickening, sanctifying; and, rising above all, the assured hope of glory hereafter.
3. The words, too, seem to tell of an ever-augmenting joy. As the portals of glory draw nearer, the song,, deepens in melody and strength. They come to. Zion “with singing;” then “everlasting joy is on their head. Then, they obtain a new anointing of “gladness;” and finally “sorrow and mourning”--these two companions of the wilderness-rise on their sombre, gloomy wings, and speed away for ever! (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Journey and song
I. A REDEEMED PEOPLE.
II. THE REDEEMED OF THE LORD AS TRAVELLERS.
III. THE REDEEMED OF THE LORD AS SINGERS. (J. M. Blackie, LL.B.)
I, even I, am He that comforteth you
Divine comfort is strength
They prayed for the operations of His power (Isaiah 51:9); He answers them with the consolations of His grace, which may well be accepted as an equivalent.
Our true Comforter
I. THE LORD COMFORTS ALL WHO TRUST HIM, BY REVEALING HIS RELATIONSHIP. It is a delight to know that if the Almighty be a king, He is seated on a throne of grace, to which every man is at liberty to: come; but it is a much more comforting consolation to know that the Lord does not wish to be known to us as our king; it is His desire for us to approach Him as our Father. If you gather the record of all the good and lovable fathers who have ever existed, and can imagine them welded into one being, you will have some idea of our Heavenly Father.
II. THE LORD COMFORTS US, BY HIS CONTINUAL PRESENCE. Have you thought what it means, in prayer, when you close your eyes?
III. THE LORD COMFORTS US, BY PROVING HIS EXTRAORDINARY LOVE. Perhaps you may have sinned grievously, and, though you have repented, and are struggling bravely, the unfeeling world may point its finger of scorn; but do not despair. Listen to the voice of your Heavenly Father, “I, even I, am He that comforteth you I”
IV. THE LORD COMFORTS US, BY SHOWING THAT HE GOVERNS ALL THINGS. Fear hath torment, and it is the parent of all our cares and anxieties. (W. Birch.)
Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man?--
The comparative fear of God and man
I. There are TWO PARTIES here spoken of--man that shall die, “the son of man that shall be made as grass;” and “the Lord our Maker, that stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth.” It appears to be a main object of the Scriptures, elsewhere as in the text, to set in the most vivid contrast with each other the meanness, the emptiness, the nothingness of man; and the all-sufficiency, the majesty, and the glory of God.
II. In the common intercourse of the world, THE FORMER OF THESE PARTIES, RATHER THAN THE LATTER, IS PRACTICALLY THE OBJECT OF
REVERENCE, RESPECT AND FEAR. Indeed, the whole system of society seems founded on the principle that human sanctions are above Divine.
III. THE MEANING OF THAT EMPHATIC QUESTION WITH WHICH THESE WORDS COMMENCE, “WHO ART THOU?”
1. The inquiry seems to have been primarily addressed to those whose prevailing fear of man was the result rather of weakness under trying circumstances, than of carnal blindness and depravity of heart. It seems intended for the encouragement of God’s people when threatened with dangers, and particularly when harassed by the terrors which cruel enemies inspire.
2. But in another sense, and with far different emphasis, does it apply to those who, in the genuine spirit of the world, and with the full agreement of the will, pay that homage to man which the deliberately refuse to God. Well may it be said to such, in a tone of mingled indignation and surprise, “Who art thou?” (H. Woodward, M.A.)
Fear of man removed by reflecting upon God
If, being children of God, by faith in Jesus Christ, we duly reflected on our “high calling,” and wisely valued our privileges, we should certainly neither stand so much in awe of one another, nor be so guilty as we are of forgetfulness of the Almighty.
I. “WHO ART THOU?” The question was put to Israel, with reference, not to what they were in themselves--in dependence upon their own strength or holiness; for they were weak and miserable offenders, suffering the punishment of their offences; conquered, and carried into exile by heathen enemies; friendless and hopeless: but it referred to Jehovah s choice of them as a peculiar people, to their experience of the Divine protection, and their covenanted right in the Divine promises. And, without reference to God, and His salvation, what can be the answer of any human being to the question, “Who, or what art thou?”--nothing, and less than nothing; a vapour, that is exhaled and is not; an atom, that perishes and is forgotten; a sinful and miserable being, the child of perdition, “at his best estate altogether vanity.” It is not so, however, that God sees us. He beholds all things here below in His blessed Son. Redemption enables every believer to return a lofty answer to the inquiry, “Who art thou?”
II. If such be a correct draught of the reply which the faithful Christian can make to the question, “Who art thou?” THE UNFITNESS, THE IMPROPRIETY OF HIS YIELDING TO THE FEAR OF MAN IS MANIFEST.
1. It saps the vital strength of the Christian character, in undermining our faith. I cannot truly believe in God, as He has revealed Himself, and yet stoop to this fear.
2. It leads men to vain ,and unworthy expedients--to trust in the “arm of flesh” and in “refuges of lies.”
3. Carnal fear is the very worst form of that unreasonable care and anxiety, against the encroachments of which our Lord cautions, us.
4. “But,” asks the prophet, “who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid? Art not thou--thou, the child of God--of so high a dignity, of a strain and lineage so glorious, that thou oughtest not to be suspected of so degrading a passion as ignoble fear?
III. ALWAYS CONNECTED WITH FEAR OF MAN, IS FORGETFULNESS OF ALMIGHTY GOD. (R. Cattermole, B.D.)
God more to be feared than man
That of two evils the greatest is most to be feared, is a self-evident principle, which, as soon as it is proposed, commands our assent; that he who can inflict a greater evil “IS” more to be dreaded than he who can inflict only a less, is an immediate consequence of that self-evident principle; that the Lord our Maker, who hath stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundations of the earth, is armed with greater power, and can inflict greater and more durable evils than “man who shall die, and the son of man who shall be made as grass,” is more forcibly expressed than if it were in direct terms declared in the expostulation of the text: that man therefore is not to be feared, and that God is; or that man is not to be feared in comparison with God; not equally to be feared with Him; not at all to be feared, when the fear of man would betray us to do things inconsistent with the fear of God, and such as would argue us to have forgotten “the Lord our Maker,” is a truth as clearly, plainly and fully demonstrable as any proposition in mathematics.
I. It is certain mater of fact, that IN THE CONDUCT OF OUR LIVES WE ARE MORE AWED BY THE FEAR OF MAN THAN WE ARE BY THE FEAR OF GOD. This is proved from experience and observation. As evident as it is, that men commit those sins in secret which they dare not commit openly; that they take more care to appear religious than really to be religious; that in a licentious age they are afraid to own themselves to be under the influences of religion; that they commit greater sins to hide less; that they choose rather obstinately to persist in an error, than to own they were in the wrong; that they choose rather to break the laws of God than to be out of fashion; that they are time-servers, and play fast and loose with their principles, in order to secure or to promote their interest; that they “make shipwreck of their faith” when storms arise, and fall away in times of persecution; so evident is it, that in the conduct of their lives they are more swayed by the fear of men than they are by the fear of God.
II. INQUIRE HOW THIS COMES TO PASS.
1. As to the case of habitual, profligate, daring sinners, their conduct in this matter is easily accounted for. By a constant, uninterrupted course of sinning they have worn out all sense of religion, all notions of God, all apprehensions of a future state, and a judgment to come.
2. Every disciple of Christ is not so great a proficient in the doctrine of the Cross, as to reach up to that fulness of stature in Christ to which St. Paul was arrived, when he could, without arrogance, declare his undaunted courage and resolution of mind in that magnanimous, but sincere, profession, which we find him making, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” etc.
3. If persecution is proved to be so strong a temptation, and the faith of the generality of Christians is so weak, it is no great matter of surprise, that men should often yield to the violence of such pressing trials, and should be overawed into sinful compliances, by the fear of those evils, which, though they bear no proportion to the wrath of God, that shall be revealed in the last day, are yet strong enough to betray the succours which reason and religion offer.
4. But still what account can be given why men venture the loss of their immortal souls, to avoid evils of a much less magnitude; such as are shame, disrepute, the displeasure of superiors, the dislike of equals, or even sometimes the disapprobation of inferiors? The best account I am able to give of such extravagant and unjustifiable conduct is this: the sins to which men are drawn by such slight temptations are not usually of that heinous kind, as those are to which they are tempted by the terrors of greater evils; as the temptation is mush weaker, me the aims to which they are tempted are much lighter: though therefore they cannot plead the violence of the temptation, yet they are apt to hope, that the sins into which they are so easily betrayed, being not of the deepest die, will the sooner be blotted out.
III. SHOW THE EXTREME FOLLY AND UNREASONABLENESS OF IT. By the order of nature our passions ought to be under the government of reason; by the laws of God they ought to be subject to the rules of religion. Our reason tells us, that the greatest evils are most to be feared; our religion teaches us, that the evils to come are exceedingly greater than any we can feel at present: both reason, therefore, and religion agree to condemn the avoiding lesser evils, by running into greater, which we always so, when out of fear to offend men we presume to sin against God.
IV. GIVE SOME RULES HOW WE MAY CONQUER THIS VICIOUS AND IMMODERATE FEAR OF MAN.
1. We fear men more than God, because the evils threatened by men are apprehended to be nearer than those threatened by God. To weaken the force of this motive to the fear of men, we should consider that this apprehension of ours may be false; for though the sentence of God against evil works is not always executed speedily, yet the judgments of God do sometimes seize upon the sinner, even in the very act of sinning. But allowing them to be as yet far removed, and to advance with the slowest pace, yet the disproportion which they bear to the sorest evils men can inflict, is so great, that if we view them together, the “treasures of wrath which are laid up against the day of wrath” cannot appear light and inconsiderable, notwithstanding their present distance. But to take away all danger of our being imposed upon by viewing them as far remote, we ought in our thoughts to bring them nearer to us.
2. It will be further expedient for us to strengthen our good resolutions by considering those supports which we may expect from God, if we bravely bear up against those trials by which our virtue is, at any time, assaulted. The same power of God which will be manifested in our punishment, if we give way to the vicious fear of men, will exert itself in our assistance, that we may effectually overcome it. Having, therefore, these threats and promises of the Lord, let us act like men who are endued with reason, and like Christians who are strong in faith. (Bp. Smalridge.)
Foolish and impious fears
I. THE ABSURDITY OF THOSE FEARS. It is a disparagement to us to give way to them. In the original the pronoun is feminine, “Who art thou, O woman;” unworthy the name of a man, such a weak and womanish thing is it to give way to perplexing fears. It is absurd--
1. To be in such a dread of a dying man.
2. To fear “continually every day” (Isaiah 51:13); to put ourselves upon a constant rack, so as never to be easy, nor have any enjoyment of ourselves. Now and then a danger may be imminent and threatening, and it may be prudence to fear it; but to be always in a toss, to tremble at the shaking of every leaf, is to make ourselves all our lifetime subject to bondage, and to bring upon ourselves that sore judgment which is threatened Deuteronomy 28:66-67).
3. To fear beyond what there is cause for. Thou art afraid of “the fury of the oppressor.” It is true there is an oppressor, and he is furious. He designs, it may be, when he has an opportunity, to do thee mischief, and it will be thy wisdom, therefore, to stand upon thy guard; but thou art afraid of him “as if he were ready to destroy,” as if he were just now going to cut thy throat and there were no possibility of preventing, it. A. timorous spirit is thus apt to make the worst of everything, and sometimes God is pleased presently to show us the folly of it. “Where is the fury of the oppressor?” It is gone in an instant, and the danger is over ere thou art aware. His heart is turned, or his hands are tied.
II. THE IMPIETY OF THOSE FEARS. Thou “forgettest the Lord, thy Maker,” etc. Our inordinate fearing of man is an implicit forgetting of God. (M. Henry.)
And forgettest the Lord thy Maker
God the Creator
What is it to create the heavens and the earth?
Who has seen the process of creation? I see a man shape a piece of iron or of wood into a useful instrument, and the process seems simple enough. But here I see the hand that works and the material on which it works. But that is not creation--creation out of nothing. I see no hand shaping the trees and hills; I never see something rising out of nothing. I can watch the growth of a flower, as I can the building of a house. And I know that in the former case, as in the latter, there is some force in activity. But force is not God. Behind that force God is still hidden, and the mysterious question remains, Who is He! More mysterious still when I have to reflect that millions of flowers an the world over are being formed, and that a similar force is in operation through all the worlds of boundless space. And everywhere behind this force God is. God is my Maker too. I eat and drink, I live and grow, and feel the energy of life. And that, too, is God. So near to me--so immeasurably distant; and yet nowhere visible. How, then, shall I think of Him, and answer to my heart the question, Who is God? (S. Edger, B.A.)
And I have put My words in thy mouth
The seed-corn of a new world
The words in their mouth are the seed-corn of a new world in the midst of the old.
(F. Delitzsch, D.D.)
Commissioned, endowed, preserved
Like the first creation, the new is a gradual process, advancing from age to age.
I. IN THIS WORK GOD EMPLOYS HIS SERVANTS. When it is said, “That I may plant,” etc., it is obvious that it is through Israel the work is to be 1 Corinthians 3:9).
II. FOR THIS WORK GOD ARMS HIS SERVANTS. “I have put My words in thy mouth.”
III. FOR THIS WORK AND IN IT GOD PRESERVES HIS SERVANTS. “I have covered thee,” etc. (W. Guthrie, M.A.)
Awake, awake, stand up, O Jerusalem
Brighter time for exiled Israel:
Jerusalem is pictured as a woman, prostrate through misfortune, lying helplessly as though drunken, on the roadside, her sons unable to guide or assist her: but she is to stand up; the past is now solemnly reversed.
; and the cup of “reeling” which she has drunk is to be given to them that afflicted her (Isaiah 51:17-23). (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
A call to abandon despair
It is a call to awake, not so much out of the sleep of sin (though that also is necessary, in order to their being ready for deliverance), as out of the stupor of despair. (M. Henry.)
The cup of trembling.
The cup of trembling
Such a cup is sooner or later placed in all our hands. Some may ask us, indeed, if Christianity is not a religion of joy? Yes! But it is not a religion of hilarity. The Christian life is the reproduction of the Master’s image in the world! And as He was the Man of Sorrows, so beneath all there will be tribulation in our hearts, even when we share the legacy of the Master’s joy! The cup must be taken. The red wine is poured out by the good hand, and the child with bowed knee and bruised heart says, “Even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in Thy sight.” Good in the sight which sees the end from the beginning, which culminates in the ultimate issues of glory and reward.
I. THE CONSTITUTION OF THE PRESENT LIFE CREATES A SPIRIT OF TREMBLING. We are in a world of instability and uncertainty. Tremendous possibilities are involved in our daily lives. Health is so soon undermined. Disaster so suddenly comes. This life needs indeed a Brother and a Saviour. There must be with the Christian an element of sobriety in all human joys.
II. THE ALL-SURROUNDING PRESENCE OF TEMPTATION CREATES A SPIRIT OF TREMBLING. Vain self-confidence is contemptible.
III. THE LAW OF DEPENDENCE ON OTHERS CREATES A SPIRIT OF TREMBLING.
1. Illness comes, and we are dependent on the wisdom of the physician and the watchfulness of the nurse; great risk comes, and we are dependent on the command of the captain and the sobriety of the crew; or we need the safety of the wisest jurisprudence, and we are dependent on the carefulness of the lawyer and the skill of the counsel.
2. Or we have to take care of others. Wives and children who may presently be alone in the world--alone where there is such eager competition and self-concern, such neglect of the weakest and the neediest; and we must leave our simple savings to directors or to others who may mismanage our affairs, or to trustees who may be false to their trust. And who shall say that this is not to many anxious parents a “cup of trembling”!
3. Then we are citizens--men who have vast interest in all that appertains to the life and honour of the fatherland; and all these, representatively, we have to leave in the hands of men, who may through pride or ambition risk the nation s highest weal.
4. Then we are living souls, dependent on the great law of moral influence around us to a much greater extent than we think. And we cannot altogether escape from the contagion of the fashion of this present world.
IV. THE NEAR APPROACH OF THE GREAT ACCOUNT CREATES A SPIRIT OF TREMBLING. Have you ever thought how nearness affects you? Disease in a near city--in your city--m your street--next door to your house!
Have you ever thought how even the judgment of earth, as it comes nearer and nearer, affects the indifference of the criminal? But I am supposing that we are Christians. We have an account to render of life’s stewardship. Into each of our hands God has placed the cup of personality, responsibility and accountability; and now, after a long time, “the Lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them.” This is no mere figure of speech.
V. THE SEASON OF SUBMISSION TO THE DIVINE WILL CREATES A SPIRIT OF TREMBLING. We can in no sense ever feel this as Christ our Lord and Master did. But though in this He stands alone, His whole earthly history was a spectacle of submission. Every man must bear his own burden, must drink his own cup. But Christ’s comfort is ours! With trembling heart we seek the quiet pavilion of our Father. Better anything than a God-emptied life. Christ our Brother and Saviour alone can succour us in hours of submission. (W. M. Statham.)
Thus saith thy Lord
God our Advocate
How can God be both judge and advocate?
Maybe Isaiah would have said, “I see it not clearly myself yet.” But the riddle is all explained when you bear in mind the distinction of the persons in the Godhead. He pleads His people’s cause for them by the Son, and in them by the Holy Ghost. This wonderful title, “God that pleadeth the cause of His people,” has been already vindicated in the history of Israel. But what is it God pleads? We may go very much astray unless we emphasize that word “cause.” It is not, He pleadeth the whims of His people. Everything that I may want or like God is not going to provide. That word “cause” means the strife, the battle, the controversy. The Church of God is just the expression of a great conflict that has been going on for ages. I want to show you how Jesus has pleaded the cause of His people, and He has done it in different courts.
I. He pleaded the cause of His people first in the COURT OF JUDGMENT that was situated at Golgotha. As to proving men innocent, that is impossible; they are guilty and condemned and yet Christ steps forward and says, “I will plead their cause.” And He stood in my place and yours, and pleaded our cause: but pleading our cause took Him to the Cross and into the tomb.
II. Having pleaded my cause in the court of judgment, He now pleads my cause IN THE COURT OF LAW AND JUSTICE. It is not enough for a soul to be free from sin; that is the negative side. How can any man enter heaven apart from righteousness? I will suppose for a moment that this difficulty is raised in court. Yes, the past sin is atoned for; but where is the man’s righteousness? I say, “Oh, my Lord, Thou who didst plead for me just now, plead again!” and I hear Him say, “I lived the life of perfect righteousness, I obeyed the law in every jot and tittle, I had Thy word hidden in My heart.” And the answer comes, “The plea is perfect: sinner, thou art not only forgiven, thou art justified; thy God hath pleaded thy cause.”
III. Jesus now pleads my cause IN HEAVEN ITSELF. If I am a saint, I am sure to pray, but being an earthly saint I am sure to pray very badly; being a believer, I am sure to sing, but having an earthly nature I am sure there are many low grovelling notes. How are my prayers to enter heaven? how are my prayers to be accepted? He who pleaded my cause on Golgotha, and He who pleaded my cause in the court of law, He now as High Priest pleads my cause before the golden altar.
IV. And Jesus has not yet concluded His pleading work. Personally I am looking for a day that is yet to dawn when JESUS WILL PERFECTLY PLEAD ON BEHALF OF HIS PEOPLE THAT THEY MAY RECEIVE ALL THE RIGHTS OF REDEMPTION.
V. I have only dealt thus far with the Father and the Son, but it is the whole Trinity that pleads the cause of His people, and therefore our final point is this, that whilst Jesus has pleaded for me at Golgotha and does plead for me yonder in the court of Heaven, THE HOLY GHOST IS PLEADING MY CAUSE WITHIN. (A. G. Brown.)
The Advocate on high
How majestic are these appellations; and if we mark the variation of the appearance of the word “Lord,” it opens to our view at once a fund of information and comfort which would be lost if that were overlooked. The first time the word is used, thy “Lord,” the translators have given it to us in small letters, simply signifying a sovereign ruler and governor. The second time they have given it in capital letters, which method they adopted to distinguish the word “Jehovah” from the word “Adonai,” or Lord. When the word “Jehovah” presents itself to our view, we are at once filled with a consciousness of the presence of a self-existent Being, giving being to all, deriving being from none, with all worlds at His command, and all creatures under His sway. And then to have the sovereign governor, the self-existent Deity, presented to our view in His covenant character as “thy God,” is peculiarly sweet. There is a sevenfold preciousness in this introduction which Jehovah gives of Himself to the notice of His people, and that, too, under circumstances particularly affecting; because what the Lord was about to say to them was just called for by the exigencies in which they were placed.
I. THE APPELLATIONS that are employed. “Thy Lord;” “THE LORD;” “thy God.”
II. OUR CLAIM TO AN INTEREST IN THEM, as warranted by Scripture. I will refer to the infinite perfections of the Deity to be claimed by the poor worm of the earth. What, I allowed to claim Omniscience, Omnipotence to watch over me, Omnipresence to be my company, Immutability to be my security, eternity the open prospect for me! What, I view all the perfections and attributes of the Deity, such as His justice, His holiness, His truth, His mercy, His faithfulness, everlastingly pledged for my salvation? This is something solid. What is requisite to prove the claim? You will find substantial proof nowhere but in spiritual life imparted to the soul.
III. THE TRANSACTION REFERRED TO. “That pleadeth the cause of His people.”
1. Let us first glance at the Divine, the sacred office assumed, as stated the text, “If any man sin we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” That glorious Advocate is wise, faithful, condescending, affectionate.
2. The extraordinary nature of the cause of God’s people.
(1) There are three points in the pleading of the cause that must be kept in view. God pleads thy cause. Precious Advocate!
(2) Moreover, He hath to plead for His people among the heathen; and this is implied in the text. When the people of Israel old transgressed by idolatries and superstitions, by departures from God, and mingling with the heathen, Jehovah sent them into captivity, allowed their enemies to break in upon them, and to desolate their city and temple. And the heathen mocked them. “Where now is your God? Where is the God you serve? Do you think the King of glory can regard such beings as you?” But Jehovah pleads His own cause, and vindicates His own honour among the heathen.
(3) But there is a worse feature relative to the cause, and that is rebellion in the heart of His own people.
3. The legal process. The only great mark of the legal process is for God’s holiness to be vindicated. Then the process must be by exacting or by surety; and it must be by His life of obedience and His death of ignominy. If the legal process be pleading with the guilty, ruined sinner, there are two or three things I shall name.
(1) He is apprehended.
(2) He is accused.
(3) He is acquitted. Acquitted, but He is condemned first. (J. Irons.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 51". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent