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The essential elements of a Church’s strength
THE CONSTITUTIONAL ELEMENTS OF STRENGTH. I use the word constitution in a legitimate sense, as including both the creed and the polity of a Church.
1. The creed. As a man’s life is the outcome of what he believes, or does not believe, precisely so is the Church’s. But is not the Bible the acknowledged creed of all the Churches? No; no more than the stars are astronomy, or the flowers botany. The Bible is the source of the creed of all, but it is the creed of none, for the simple reason that the Bible, like every other writing, must be construed; and on many points it cannot be construed in the same way by all.
2. The government. Hers also that which is true of man is true of the Church. An army is stronger than a mob.
II. ADMINISTRATIVE ELEMENTS. But a Church is not only obliged to have certain constitutional and other laws, it is also obliged to administer them for the twofold purpose--
1. Of protecting itself against corruption and disintegration.
2. In order that it may efficiently fulfil its mission of witnessing for Christ, whereunto it was Divinely called.
III. SPIRITUAL ELEMENTS OF STRENGTH.
1. Peace. There must be battles with the common enemy, but no battles with itself.
5. The Holy Spirit. (R. V. Foster, D.D.)
God’s call to a sleeping Church
1. This chapter is a trumpet-call to holiness. Jerusalem is called the holy city, and yet the passage is full of her sins. She was holy in the intention of God. So we are called not to be famous or wealthy but to be holy.
2. Her condition was characterized by--
(1) Unhallowed intercourse with the world (Isaiah 52:1). The uncircumcised and unclean in her midst.
(2) Slavish subserviency to the world (Isaiah 51:23). The moment the world sees Christians turning to it for pleasure or patronage, It becomes a very tyrant, over them.
(3) Utter helplessness and impotence. The figure of a “wild bull in a net” means strength reduced to helplessness by little things. Satan forged fetters of persecutions in early days, now he tries the “net business.” Many Christians are worthless because caught in a net of little compromises with the world and with conscience. The “fainting” (verse 20) points to the helplessness of the Christian Church in the presence of the moral and social evils of the day.
(4) They were asleep to it all.
3. The man who called “Awake” to Zion, had previously cried “Awake” to Isaiah 51:9).
4. To be awakened is not enough. If we go no further we shall go back either into indifference, or into rebellion, or into despair. The call is “put on thy strength, put on thy beautiful garments.” Garments of praise, cloth of zeal, beautiful covering of humility. In this the Christian must be always arrayed, for we are children of a King, and God wants us always to appear in Court dress. (C. Inwood.)
Awake, O Zion
“O Zion!” This is a case in which a place is named for the inhabitants. Leaving what is local and temporary and particular in the reference of these words, we proceed to consider them as addressed by the redeeming God to His Church now, and as calling upon.Christians to arouse themselves and revive, to bestir themselves, and to rise into a state of intelligent and Godlike activity. These words assume the presence of life in the people addressed. Those called to awake are not dead, but they sleep; and they sleep, so far as inactivity is concerned, as though they were dead.
I. CERTAIN OBJECTS OF VISION ARE IMPORTANT TO THE CHURCH OF GOD, and that these may be kept in view, God saith, “Awake awake!” Among the objects which we need to see are things behind us; and things before us; such things as are presented by sacred history and by inspired promise and prophecy. But the objects which I would now emphatically name, are ever-existent and ever-present spiritual objects--God our one Father, the Son of God our only Saviour, and the Comforter, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son--especially the Son of God, as the brightness of the Father’s glory, and as the propitiation which God has set forth. The things we need to see are the wondrous things contained in God’s Word, things of God and of man, things which accompany salvation, things of angels and of devils, things of Christ, things of the world around us and above us and beneath us. The Church of God maybe awake to lower and inferior things, and may be asleep to these highest things, or, if not asleep, but half awake, so that men seem like trees walking.
II. CERTAIN SOURCES OF SUPPLY AND FOUNTAINS OF PLEASURE AND MEANS OF HELP ARE IMPORTANT TO THE CHURCH OF GOD, and that these may be possessed and enjoyed and used, God saith, “Awake, awake!”
III. THERE IS GOOD AND GODLY WORK TO BE DONE BY ZION, therefore God saith, “Awake, awake.” Zion is like a nursing mother, with her heart full of cares and her hands full of work. Zion is a worshipper, and she has the incense of prayer and the sacrifices of thanksgiving to provide and to offer; Zion is an intercessor, and it is expected that in ceaseless prayer she will keep no silence, nor give the hearer of prayer rest; Zion is an almoner, and it is expected that having freely received she will freely give; Zion is a servant of the most high God, and she is bound to do all that her hands find to do with all her might. Her work is so various that Zion is as a husbandman, and as a builder, and as a vine-dresser. For work and service Zion is Divinely endowed, taught of God that she may teach godliness, consoled by God that she may comfort others, guided by God that she may lift up her voice with strength, and cry to the bewildered and the lost, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” There are two objects in the sphere of our present thought, toward which the Church of God requires to be faithful and therefore wakeful.
1. Her own endowments.
2. Her opportunities.
IV. THERE ARE BATTLES WHICH ZION IS CALLED TO FIGHT, AND VICTORIES TO BE WON WHICH ZION ALONE CAN WIN; therefore God bids Zion awake. Having interpreted the voice, let us note some of its features and characteristics--
1. The voice that would awaken us is Divine. It is the voice of a Ruler to His subjects, of a Master to His servants, of a Parent to His sons, of a Redeemer to His Redeemed.
2. The voice that would awaken us is powerful and full of majesty, a voice therefore that stirs, and that strengthens while it stirs him who listens to it.
S. The voice that would awaken us has in it a tone of reproach. It seems tosay, “What! Zion asleep! Zion, already and recently quickened from the death of sin? Zion, who can see God, and the things that are eternal? Zion, who can possess the exceeding riches of God’s grace? Zion, who can handle as her own the things which angels desire to look into? Zion asleep in the day of her work, and in the hour of her conflict?”
4. Yet this is a gracious voice. It is a voice that woos and wins while it stimulates and arouses.
5. The voice that cries, “Awake, awake,” is the voice of Zion’s God. There are degrees of wakefulness; and regarding the text as calling us to the most complete open-eyedness and watchfulness, let us arouse ourselves at God’s bidding. (S. Martin.)
The Church asleep
Look at this solemn fact--the Church of the living God asleep! Here are they who have been quickened from the death of sin into newness of life, and who have been called to walk with the living God, asleep. The people who are summoned to work in the field of the world, and to labour in the vineyard of the kingdom of heaven, asleep. The only people who can reasonably be expected to be awake and wide-awake, are asleep. Asleep, not in healthful, seasonable, necessary slumber, but asleep in the slumber of the sluggard, or the sleep of the drunkard, or the torpor of one smitten by atrophy or by apoplexy, or of one in a fatal swoon. (S. Martin.)
What sends the Church to sleep?
The intoxicating draught of some sinful carnal pleasure, or the opiate of some false doctrine, or the quietude of sinful inertness, or the darkness of cherished ignorance, or the monotony of formality, or the syren music of false teaching, hath sent Zion to sleep. (S. Martin.)
The sleeping Church
Thus sleeping, Zion doth not sympathize with the circumstances by which she is surrounded, she does not see the objects within range of her vision, she does not feel the influences which are moving and working around her, she does not meet the claims made for exertion, she does not enjoy her mercies, or take possession of her lawful inheritance. (S. Martin.)
The Church: its strength and its weakness
I. The text is a forcible reminder of the fact that THE CHURCH OF GOD, IN ALL AGES, MAY HAVE ITS TIMES OF WEAKNESS AS WELL AS ITS TIMES OF POWER. When the Church first went forth from Jerusalem, a little flock, scattered hither and thither by the storm of persecution, it was a time of power. It was then but an infant of days, but it sprang into a giant of strength. It was a day of power when the Church of Christ, as Paul Richter has said, “lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the stream of centuries out of its channel. But a thousand years roll on, and a time of weakness follows this era of power. The giant sleeps; his strength is put off; he reposes amidst the scarlet trappings and gilded blazonry of the Papacy, and seems to have wilted into a senile imbecility. But again there came a time of power when, on the morning of the Reformation, the Church heard the cry, “Awake, awake!” and, springing up with renewed youth, it put on its strength. There was a time of weakness when the chill of formalism followed in the track of the Reformation, and the Church sank into the coma of a widespread paralysis; again, when a disguised Romanism riveted her fetters; and still again when the Socinian apostasy spread its blight over Great Britain. But then came times of power when the Church arose in quickened majesty to smite the tyrant with the broken fetters which had eaten into its own soul; and still again, times of wondrous spiritual revival, when the call sounded by Wesley and Whitefield, like the voice of the prophet in the valley of vision, seemed to awake the dead. Why these periods of weakness? The principle is plain: Divine power and human strength must work together, each in its appropriate sphere. As the terror of the iron chariots of the enemy paralyzed the strength of Judah, so that, the human part being wanting, the victory was lost; so, in the Church, if any cause supervenes to weaken, or render ineffective, the strength which God expects us to put forth, He will not depart from His plan, or interpose to save us from the results of our own weakness, or to hide us from the scorn and derision of the world.
II. WHAT IS THE STRENGTH OF THE CHURCH, AND WHEN IS IT PUT OFF? In other words, what causes may supervene to weaken or render it ineffective?
1. The first element of power is the Gospel, the Word, the truth of God. If the truth of God is the instrument of power, and the human part of the work is simply its manifestation, then the strength of the Church must be weakened whenever the Gospel is subordinated to human themes.
2. Let us pass to the second element of the Church s power--the ministry. The Church is a giant; the Gospel is the instrument of his work--the weapon of his warfare. But what wields the weapon? The giant’s arm--this is the ministry. It is not an original power inherent in itself, but adelegated power. This is the power that, beginning at Jerusalem, went forth upon its mission of conquest--that made the heathen cry: “These men that have turned the world upside down are come hither also!”
(1) The ministry, as an arm of power, may be withered by a perfunctory education.
(2) The ministry may be ineffective from misdirected effort.
(3) The ministry must be a source of weakness instead of power to the Church, if it is not in sympathy with the hearts of the people, and the souls of perishing men.
3. The third and principal element of the Church’s power is the Holy Ghost. Since, then, the Spirit s power is the strength of the Church, the want of the Spirit is the weakness of the Church. If the Church is not an effective, aggressive power in the world, it is because it puts off or puts away the strength of the Spirit. This is done when we subordinate the Divine Spirit to human agency; when, by organization or by human eloquence, or by methods and appliances, or by running the Church on business principles, we seek to effect that which it is the special office of the Spirit to accomplish. It is greatly to be feared that we put away the strength of the Spirit when the Church--the whole Church, the ministry and the people, fail to realize our profound and absolute dependence upon the power of the Spirit for success in all work.
III. Let us listen to GOD’S CALL TO THE CHURCH TO PUT ON AND TO PUT FORTH HER STRENGTH. How shall we put on this strength? Power with God, in its first element, is the sense of our own weakness. How, then, shall we put on strength?
1. On our knees.
2. Let us put on the strength of the Word, as the apostle did, when he shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God.
3. Let us put on the strength of the ministry, as Paul did when he went forth in the fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of peace.
4. Let us put on the strength of the Spirit, as the early Church did when it was endued with power from on high. Then shall our work be “mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds.” (W. M. Paxton, D. D.)
Let us take the central paragraph first (Isaiah 51:17). There Jerusalem is addressed as stupefied by some intoxicating potion. But her drunkenness is not of wine, nor of strong drink; she has drunk at the hand of the Lord “the cup of His fury.” Such imagery is often used by the prophets, of the cup of God’s wrath drunk down by those on whom it descends, and inflicting on them the insensibility and stupefaction with which we are but too familiar as the effect of excessive drinking. The whole city has succumbed under the spell. Her sons have fainted, and lie strewn in all the streets, like antelopes snared in the hunters’ nets, from which their struggles have failed to extricate them. Amid such circumstances, the servant of Jehovah is introduced, crying, “Awake, awake! stand up, O Jerusalem, which hast drunk at the hand of the Lord the cup of His fury.” There are other soporifics than the wrath of God: the air of the enchanted ground; the laudanum of evil companionship; the drugs of worldly pleasure, of absorption in business, of carnal security. The army of the Lord is too apt to put off the armour of light, and resign itself to heavy slumbers, till the clarion voice warns it that it is high time to awake.
I. ZION S APPEAL TO GOD. “Awake, awake! put on strength, O arm of the Lord.”
1. The first symptom of awaking is a cry. It is so with a child. It is so with the soul. When Saul of Tarsus was converted, the heavenly watchers said, “Behold, he prayeth.” It is so with the Church.
2. The cry in this case was founded on a mistake. If there are variations in our inner life, it is because our rate of reception differs from time to time. It is not God who sleeps, but we. It is not for God to awake, but for us. It is not necessary for the Divine arm to gird on strength, but for the human to take that which is within its easy reach.
3. The cry is short and earnest. Earnestness is good, even though at first it may be in a wrong direction.
4. The best basis for our cry is memory of the past. “Art thou not it that cut Rahab (i.e., Egypt)
in pieces, that pierced the dragon” (i.e., of the Nile)
? It is well to quote past experiences as arguments for faith.
5. The arm of God is strong (Isaiah 51:13).
6. The arm of God is far-reaching. However low we sink, underneath are the everlasting arms.
7. The arm of God is tender (Isaiah 51:12).
II. THE APPEAL TO ZION. It is blessed to be awaked out of sleep. Life is passing by so rapidly; the radiant glory of the Saviour may be missed unless we are on the alert, or we may fail to give Him the sympathy He needs, and an angel will be summoned to do our work. Besides, the world needs the help of men who give no sleep to their eyes nor slumber to their eyelids, but are always eager to help it in its need. Being awake, we shall discover two sets of attire awaiting us. The first is strength, the other beauty; and each has its counterpart in the New Testament (Ephesians 6:1-24; Colossians 3:1-25). Put on the whole armour of God. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ--His temper, spirit, and character.
1. We must put on our beautiful garments. We cannot weave these. We are not able to spin such a cocoon out of our own nature, nor are we required to do so. They are all prepared for us in Jesus; we have only to put them on, by putting Him on. This can only be done when the heart is at leisure.
2. We must put on strength. We are not bidden to purchase strength, or generate it by our resolutions, prayers, and agonizings: but to “put it on.” It is already prepared, and only awaits appropriation.
3. We must expect to be delivered from the dominion of sin. Babylon had been bidden to descend from her throne and sit in the dust; Jerusalem is commanded to arise from the dust and sit on her throne. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
A call to exertion
I. THE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH JUSTIFY THIS APPEAL.
1. It is obvious that the passage assumes the possession of sufficient strength for accomplishing the end designed. As to effectual agency, all things are of God. With respect to our own province, that of instrumental action--our strength is ample, though the conversion of the world be the object of it. But wherein does our strength for the reconciliation of the world consist? Strength, in all cases, is the possession of adapted and sufficient means. Now the means of converting a sinner is the truth of the Gospel. Is Divine truth adapted and sufficient to this end? To this point inspired testimony is most direct and express. Matters of fact bring us to the same point. If any attempt should be made to evade the argument, by referring to the necessity of Divine influence, we reply that Divine influence is undoubtedly necessary to give the Gospel success. But it is also necessary to give success to the use of means in every other case. If there be in our hands adapted and sufficient means for bringing about the universal triumphs of the Gospel, there is manifest justice in the stirring appeal by which we are roused into action. “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion!” Persons who would reply to such a call, “What is the use of telling me to labour?--it is God who must do everything,” would merely subject themselves to a severe reproof, and a direct charge of making their pretended want of power a pretext for their love of sloth.
2. The text assumes the existence of inadequate exertion. It is appropriate only to a state of comparative indolence and slumber. The language calls not for a partial, but for an entire employment of our resources. “Put on thy strength.” The meaning cannot be less than this: The scenes which are in prospect will require your utmost efforts; the victory will be quite as much as you will be able to win; put into requisition, therefore, all your powers, and exert your whole strength.
II. THE TOPICS BY WHICH THIS CALL MAY BE ENFORCED.
1. Notice the interesting character of the object to be attained. The end contemplated in the text was personally and directly interesting to the parties addressed. Zion was called to exert herself for her own triumphs. It was for their restoration to the land of their fathers that the slumbering exiles were summoned to awake. We also should remember that the triumphs of Christianity are our triumphs, and the increase of the Church is our enlargement. Are we willing that the Church should continue to be small and despised, or do we really wish to see her arrayed in celestial beauty, and the joy of the whole earth? The interests of Zion are identified with those of a guilty and perishing world. The advancement of Zion is identified with the glory of her Lord.
2. The proximity of the most blessed results. Triumphs, and even our ultimate triumphs are at hand. The prospect of success is one of the most natural stimulants to exertion.
3. The necessity of exertion in order to the expected results.
4. The actual suspension of the issue upon our obedience. It suggests the animating sentiment, that the final glories of the Church are waiting for her awaking, and for that alone. (J. H. Hinton, M.A.)
The Church’s duty towards the world
In Isaiah 52:9, of the former chapter, the Church prays God to interfere on her behalf, to exert His omnipotent arm. In the seventeenth verse He calls upon the Church to do something to gain this object. And in my text, which is connected with, that exhortation, He repeats it: “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion,” etc. If then, we would have the arm of the Lord with us in anything we do for His cause, we must do more than pray.
I. THE SPIRIT WHICH GOD ENJOINS HIS CHURCH TO EVINCE. The language of the text is metaphorical, and highly poetical; but it inculcates upon us, that we put on--
1. A spirit of wakefulness. Wakefulness is opposed to indifference and sloth.
2. A spirit of agression. “Put on thy strength, O Zion.” For what purpose? Certainly to oppose her foes; to make aggressions on the territory of the master spirit of evil. And what is the Church’s “strength,” which she is to put on! It consists in a large measure of Divine influences. The Church’s “strength” consists in spiritual wisdom and spiritual courage. The “strength” of the Church consists in the cheerful assurance of God’s love to us individually--in having it “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” And it consists in daily communion with God. Come with me back to Pentecostal days, and see how the Church acted when thus equipped. She “put on her strength,” anal went forth in a spirit of aggression.
3. A spirit of piety. “Put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.”
(1) What are the “beautiful garments” of the Church? Let the prophet expound his own language (Isaiah 61:10). These they are to “put on,” as on marriage days, as on holy-days, as on days of rejoicing.
(2) As garments are for dignity and beauty, so the Church is only beautiful when thus clothed. They are for defence and protection also, and in them as in a movable garrison we go about, resisting the inclemency of the weather; and these guard us against the curses of God’s law, and all the evils resulting from our misery and wretchedness; They distinguish between the sexes, and denote the station, and so the Church s garments distinguish her from the world.
(3) The Church puts on these garments, when she applies to Christ by faith and exhibits the fruits of His salvation in her life and conduct. Our Lord so interprets it: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, which have not defiled their garment.” And when holiness and faith meet in the character, how beautiful is it, and how fit for action!
II. THE EFFECTS WHICH WILL NECESSARILY AND CERTAINLY RESULT IF THE CHURCH OBEYS THE INJUNCTION OF HER LORD.
1. The conversion of souls. “There shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised and the unclean;” metaphors descriptive of pollution arising from an unconverted state. Unregenerate souls shall not be found within her borders. This has been the result everywhere.
2. The union of the ministers of the Gospel. “Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing.
3. The renovation of the world (Isaiah 52:10). (J. Sherman.)
The Church’s strength
Strength is that which resides in a man, but is not exhibited save in so far as it is exercised and produces results. His garments, on the other hand, are visible to those who look at him; they constitute his outward appearance. So that this text refers both to the inward powers and capabilities of Christ’s Church, and to the visible aspect which it presents to the world. Zion has strength. The Church has sufficient means and power at its disposal to effect the purposes for which the Lord founded it. Those purposes are various in form, but perhaps they may be all summed up in the phrase--to impart to men the knowledge of their Saviour.
I. Let me mention one or two THINGS WHICH ARE GOOD AND USEFUL FOR THEIR PROPER WORK, BUT OF WHICH IT CANNOT BE SAID THAT ZION’S STRENGTH LIES IN THEM.
1. The recognition of religion by the State and its establishment by law. We find, as a matter of history, that in many cases when the favour of the governing powers has been most decided, the efficacy of the Church in converting sinners and spreading the Gospel has been feeble and languid; while, on the other hand, some of Zion’s most energetic and successful efforts have been made without any support at all from the secular authority, and even in spite of its opposition.
2. An active ministry. There are two aspects of this activity--by activity I understand diligence in preaching, in visiting the sick, in holding services, and so on. If the clergy are active because the people are zealous, then it is altogether well: it is a mark of strength. But if the clergy are active because no one else is, then it is a mark of weakness.
3. The multiplication of religious societies and other machinery. They are good, useful, necessary things. But they are too often made the excuse for serving God by proxy. The strength of the Church lies in the zeal for Christ of its individual members.
II. “Put on the garments of thy dignity,” continues the prophet, “O Jerusalem, the Holy City.” THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE OF THE CHURCH OUGHT TO BE SUCH AS TO COMMAND THE ADMIRATION EVEN OF THOSE WHO DO NOT BELONG TO IT. We may instance--
1. The garment of righteousness. The people of God ought to present unmistakably the aspect of a righteous people.
2. The garment of unity. It must be confessed that the servants of God do not present to the world the aspect of a united people. It is not simply difference of opinion that separates them: but there are slanders, mutual recriminations, misrepresentations of motives and conduct, suspicions, jealousies, party-spirit in all its hideous forms, combining to rend and ruin the beautiful garment of brotherhood in which Jerusalem ought to be clad.
3. The garment of worship. The Church ought to appear before all men as a city wherein the Lord is worshipped, where He receives the honour due unto His name. The true beauty of holiness is the sincere devotion of the people, and the natural result of such devotion, viz a really united offering of prayer and praise ascending to the throne of the heavenly grace. (J. C. Rust, M.A.)
Relapses in the history of the Church
Only two or three centuries after the death of the last of the apostles, history informs us, Christians were scarcely distinguishable from pagans. The golden-tongued and spiritually-minded Chrysostom would go home on Sundays from his pulpit in Antioch in Syria only to weep bitterly over the indifference of the Church and its defection from its first love. One has only to glance at the history of the Church during the Middle Ages to see that, through all those dark centuries, the Church was about as dark as the world, and but little less corrupt. The common people universally were forbidden to read the Bible, and would not have been able to read it had they been permitted to do so. Popes and cardinals, archbishops and bishops and all the lower orders of clergy had but little more hesitancy in committing murder, and all the sins in the decalogue, than they had in attending mass. The Savonarolas who stood up here and there and preached a better morality and a purer Gospel may be counted on the fingers of one hand. And the Church manifested its gratitude to them by burning them at the stake. (R. V. Foster, D.D.)
The Church tenacious of its life
The Church, by reason of the heavenly element in it, like a tree of the forest--tenacious of its life; when the old trunk dies a fresh twig springs from its roots; and when this decays another fresh twig aprils up in its turn. So Luther and his collaborators, by the grace of God, evoked from the dead Church of the Middle Ages a fresh and vigorous Protestantism. So Wesley and his co-workers evoked from the deadness of the later Anglicanism a still fresh and vigorous Methodism. The Presbyterian Church of John Knox also grew old, and has had its athletic offshoots. “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion”--and Zion after the awakening is never the Zion of the pro-awakening. (R. V. Foster, D. D.)
Is the injunction obsolete? By no means. And the Church-catholic to-day is in the set of obeying it. Let us notice two or three significant indications--
1. Never in any period of the world’s history has the Bible been more universally and intensely studied than it is now. And the study of it is far, very far, from being prevailingly hostile.
2. As another indication of this fact I quote the old saying, “In union there is strength;” especially is it true when other essential elements of strength are not wanting. In this day there is a visible tendency towards union.
3. Another indication is the rapid progress in mission work. (R. V. Foster, D. D.)
Put on thy strength, O Zion
What is the strength of Zion? The strength of any community is primarily in the individuals who constitute it; so that the strength of the Church of God is, not entirely, but first of all, in the separate members of that body. The strength of Zion is also the power of every religious principle. It is the power of faith and hope and love; the power of patience and perseverance and courage and meekness. There is strength in all life, and Zion lives with the rich and full and eternal life of God within her. Knowledge is power, and the Church of the living God has the highest kind of knowledge. A settled faith is power, and Zion has a fixed and positive belief. Confidence and trust are power, and the Church of God relies upon God. Hope is power, and the hope of the Church is as an anchor sure and steadfast. Love is power, and godly charity never faileth. Patience, perseverance and courage are powers, before which obstacles yield and dangers flee away, and the Church of God is trained to be patient and steadfast and brave. The strength of Zion is the power of certain agencies and influences. The Church has power in her testimony to truth, in her intercession before God, and in her character as the leaven of society and the salt of the nations. Union is strength where alliance is wise and entire; where heart sympathizes with heart and hand joins in hand. We proceed to state reasons why God should thus speak to His Church.
I. GOD BIDS ZION PUT ON HER STRENGTH FOR SELF-MANIFESTATION. Not for self-magnification. Self-magnification is disloyal, traitorous and impious; self-manifestation is a plain duty (Matthew 5:16). The Church of God can walk and work and endure; then why appear impotent and helpless? Strong winds make themselves heard. Strong sunshine makes itself felt. Strong life shows itself, whether in the animal or vegetable kingdom. And the Church, to be heard and seen and felt and known, must be strong.
II. GOD BIDS ZION PUT ON HER STRENGTH THAT HE MAY BE GLORIFIED. A redeemed man is a new creation and a Divine workmanship. A congregation of believing men, and the whole visible Church, are of God s founding. Ye are God’s husbandry; ye are God s building. Now if the husbandry appear as the field of the slothful, and as the vineyard of the man void of understanding; if it be all grown over with thorns, and nettles cover the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof be broken down; if the building appear to be defective in foundation, imperfect in construction, and framed together with bad material--the name of God, instead of being honoured, will be blasphemed (1 Peter 2:9-10; Isaiah 43:21).
III. GOD REQUIRES ZION TO PUT OUT HER STRENGTH FOR THE SAKE OF HER OWN WELL-BEING. If the powers of the Church be inactive, they will decline. The staff faith, if never used, will decay, etc.
IV. ZION IS REQUIRED TO PUT ON HER STRENGTH IN ORDER TO MEET THE CLAIMS OF A SINFUL AND SUFFERING WORLD.
V. GOD DIRECTS ZION TO PUT ON HER STRENGTH BECAUSE STRENGTH HAS BEEN GIVEN HER TO PUT ON.
VI. IS NOT THIS PUTTING ON OF STRENGTH AS ESSENTIAL TO ZION’S PEACE AND JOY AS TO HER OUTWARD PROSPERITY? (S. Martin.)
Thy strength of Zion
Thy strength of Zion is the strength of human nature. It is masculine energy, feminine susceptibility, the vivacity of childhood, the buoyancy of youth, and the force of maturity. It is the power of body, soul and spirit, it is intellectual power, emotional force, and moral strength. It is the strength of regenerated humanity, therefore spiritual and religious power; the strength of man redeemed unto God, and as redeemed, allied to God, dwelt in by God, and made strong by union with God. The strength of Zion is the strength of all that redeemed humanity is, and of all that is within human nature when regenerated and sanctified by the grace of God. (S. Martin.)
Strength put on by being put out
If a man put out his strength, he puts on strength, he appears clothed with strength as with a garment. Virgil furnishes us with an illustration: AEneas visits Drepanum in Sicily, and them by various games celebrates the anniversary of his father’s death. The combatants with the cestus are described. Dares first shows his face with strength prodigious, and rears himself amid loud murmurs from the spectators. He uplifts his lofty head, presents his broad shoulders, brandishes his arms and beats the air with his fists. And Entellus accepted his challenge, flung from his shoulders his vest, bared his huge limbs, his big bones and sinewy arms, and stood forth of mighty frame in the middle of the field. Forthwith each on his tiptoes stood erect, and undaunted raised his arms aloft in the air. Dares and Entellus, as they put out strength, put on strength. A working-man and a trained athlete, when asleep or otherwise in repose, appear clothed with weakness. All the muscles are relaxed, and the limbs are motionless and apparently powerless, as the parts of a marble statue. But when the athlete is engaged in some bodily exercise, or the working-man is handling his tools and lifting his materials, his appearance is that of one arrayed with power. As he puts out strength he puts on strength, nor can he put it out without putting it on. Adapting the expression of the idea to common utterance, we may read our text, “Put out thy strength, O Zion.” (S. Martin.)
Injunctions to be strong
My text harmonizes with words frequently addressed to Zion and to her sons (1 Kings 2:2; Isaiah 35:4; Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 40:31; Haggai 2:4; Zechariah 8:9-13; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 2:1). (S. Martin.)
God’s call to be strong
It is interesting to observe by how many voices God speaks as in our text. By the smarting of the conscience when the strength is withheld, and by the glowing of the conscience when the strength is consecrated; by the breadth of love which God’s law requires, and by the depth of privilege which the Gospel provides; by the correction administered when we are inactive and inert, and by the blessedness experienced when we abound in the work of the Lord, God is continually saying, “Put on thy strength, O Zion.” (S. Martin.)
Some elements of Church strength
1. Soundness in doctrine.
2. Purity of life among the members of the Church.
3. Thoroughness of organization for Church work.
4. Faithfulness in individual effort to do good.
5. Regularity of attendance upon the services of the Church.
6. Pecuniary liberality.
7. Unity among the members.
8. A prayerful spirit.
9. An abiding faith in the presence of God with the Church. Where these are to be found the Church will be strong. (D. Winters.)
The elements of the Church’s strength
I. THE GREATNESS OF HER AIMS. Great aims enthused great souls, and the Church proposed the conquest of the world for Christ.
II. THE MATCHLESS POWER OF CHRISTIAN TRUTH, which may be illustrated by the distinctively Christian doctrines of our moral ruin, redemption through a Divine-human Saviour, the possibility of a regenerate life, and the blessedness of an immortal hope.
III. But these doctrines needed a voice; hence another element of the Church’s strength is A WITNESSING MEMBERSHIP. All Christians may witness for the truth by the testimony of the lips, and also by the silent but potent ministry of the life.
IV. Another mighty force in the service of the Church is A CO-OPERATIVE PROVIDENCE.
V. THE ENDOWMENT OF THE HOLY GHOST. (Bp. W. X. Winde.)
The supreme point of energy
Men can rouse themselves to action. We cannot live continuously in ecstasy; we must live under ourselves, so to speak, or life will become a pain and a failure. We are, however, to have periods of special effort, hours of rapture, times of inspiration and sense of mightiness beyond all that is ordinary. There is more power in man than he may be aware of, and he should inquire what objects and pursuits are worthy of his enthusiastic devotion. Drive a horse from home, and in the course of the day he will show weariness which you may regard as a sign of utter exhaustion; but turn his head homeward, and see what a change takes place! How willingly he runs! How swiftly! He has “put on his strength”! Work for a person who is not a favourite, and the hands soon tire: every effort is a weariness to the flesh, every thought wears the mind; on the other hand, serve a person who is beloved, etc. Undertake any engagement which does not excite the interest of the heart, and how soon it becomes irksome. The mother waits upon her sick child, and wonders how she can endure so much. The mystery is in the love. We are strong when we work in the direction of our will. Where the will is right, the strength will assert itself. The question is not one of muscle but of purpose. What objects, then, are worthy of “all our strength, all our mind, and all our heart”? We may get at the answer negatively as well as positively.
I. NO OBJECT WHICH BEARS UPON THIS WORLD ONLY IS WORTHY OF THE SUPREME ENERGY OF MAN. Even in secular affairs we work by laws of proportion and adaptation. If a man employed a steam-engine to draw a cork, we should justly accuse him of wasting power. If a man spent his days and nights in carving cherry-stones, we should say he was wasting his life. We have a common saving--“the game is not worth the candle”--showing that in common affairs we do recognize the law of proportion, and the law that results do determine the value of processes. If, then, in the lower, how much more in the higher! Think of a being like man spending his lifetime in writing his name in the dust! There is a success which is not worth securing. Suppose a man should get all the money he can possibly accumulate; all the fame; all the luxury--what does it amount to?
II. SPIRITUAL OBJECTS ARE ALONE WORTHY OF THE SUPREME ENERGY OF MAN. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” etc.
1. They are akin to his own nature.
2. They touch every point of his being.
3. They prepare him for the solemnity and service of the future. Boundless are the prospects of the spiritual thinker! His library, the universe! His companions, the angels! His Teacher, God! In view of such prospects, how time dwindles, and how earth passes as a wreath of smoke! The spiritual thinker is independent of all the influences which make up the small world of the materialist--his citizenship is in heaven.
III. THE FACT THAT SPIRITUAL OBJECTS ALONE ARE WORTHY OF THE SUPREME ENERGY OF MAN SHOULD IMPEL TO DECISIVE ACTION. Put on thy strength--
1. For the time is short.
2. For the enemy is on the alert.
3. For the Master is worthy. The text addresses a call to the Church. The call is to activity. He who gives the call will give the grace. The Church is not to be feeble and tottering; it is to be strong, valiant, heroic. He who can do without the help of the strongest is graciously pleased to accept the service of the meanest. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Effort gives strength
I. PUT ON STRENGTH BY WAKEFULNESS. A slumbering life results in moral death.
II. PUT ON STRENGTH BY ACTIVITY. Activity imparts physical strength. We have only to look, at the compact and knotted lump of muscle on the blacksmith s forearm. The rower s chest is expanded by his exertions. The practised wrestler grips with an ironlike grasp the limbs of his opponent. Even a Samson is divested of his prowess by lolling in the lap of a Delilah. We put on intellectual strength by keeping the brain forces constantly moving. But most of all the moral and spiritual nature is strengthened by exercise. Great is the power of habit. It is a kind of second nature, and is the grand resultant of repeated acts.
III. PUT ON STRENGTH BY DEVELOPMENT. Art thou but a bruised reed, put on thy strength! Hast thou but one talent, put it out to usury. Moral and spiritual strength may be developed to the latest hour of a Methuselah’s life, and eternity will be but an ampler sphere for the enlargement of the soul’s vast powers.
IV. PUT ON STRENGTH BY JOYFULNESS. Joy begets strength, and strength increases joy.
V. PUT ON STRENGTH BY HOPEFULNESS. The despairing are weak; but the hopeful are strong. I will endeavour, is the inspiring language of the hopeful. The Church may well be hopeful, for God’s promise is given for her encouragement.
VI. PUT ON STRENGTH BY UNITED PRAYER. The Church’s prosperous times are the praying times. The praying man is the strong man. (W. Burrows, B.A.)
Strength increased by use
A lady was watching a potter at his work, whose one foot was kept with “never-slackening speed turning at swift wheel round,” while the other rested patiently on the ground. When the lady said to him, in a sympathizing tone, “How tired your foot must be!” the man raised his eyes and said, “No, ma’am; it isn’t the foot that works that’s tired; it’s the foot that stands. That s it.” If you want to keep your strength, use it; if you want to get tired, do nothing. (Christian Budget.)
The danger of inaction
A magnet is sometimes seen in a chemist’s laboratory, suspended against a wall, and loaded heavily with weights. We ask the reason, and the scientist replies, “The magnet was losing power, because it had not been used for some time. I am restoring its force by giving it something to do.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
Shake thyself from the dust
Sin as dust
It is very often what we call little sins which mar the beauty of the Church.
They are like dust. Dust comes imperceptibly, it settles down so silently, that not an insect hears it fall; it is caused by our ordinary avocations and not by exceptional events; and if neglected long, becomes thicker and thicker, till all that is fair and beautiful is lost. “Shake thyself from the dust,” etc. (A. Rowland, LL.B.)
“Arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem”
Rather, Arise, sit up, O Jerusalem. When Vespasian had subdued Judaea money was stamped with a woman sitting in the dust, with this inscription, “Judaea subacta.” (J. Trapp.)
For thus saith the Lord, Ye have mold yourselves for nought
Sold for nought; redeemed without price
“Ye have sold yourselves for nought.
” You got nothing by it, nor did
I. God considers that when they by sin had sold themselves, He Himself, who had the prior, nay, the sole title to them, did not increase His wealth by the price (Psalms 44:12). They did not so much as pay their debts to Him with it. The Babylonians gave Him no thanks for them, but rather reproached and blasphemed His name upon that account; and therefore they, having so long had you for nothing, shall at last restore you for nothing; you shall be redeemed without price, as was promised (chap. 45:13). (M. Henry.)
Selling oneself for nought
It appears to have been no unusual thing amongst the ancient Jews for a man who was sunk in debt and difficulties, and reduced to the extreme of poverty, to sell himself, or to be sold by his creditors, as a bondsman for a certain term of years. There seems to be an allusion to this circumstance in the text before us. In its strict and primary sense it relates peculiarly to the nation of the Jews, who by a long course of wicked and rebellious conduct had sold themselves, as it were, into the hands of their enemies; that is to say, their wickedness had been the immediate cause of their being delivered up by God into the hands of the Babylonians, who had reduced them into abject slavery. And they are said to have sold themselves “for nought,” inasmuch as there was nothing in the fruits and consequences of their sin to compensate for the miserable state into which it had reduced them. (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Redeemed without money
Did the Lord perform His word? Yes; for, after they had remained in their bondage during the time God had appointed it to last, He stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, a heathen king, to set them free. And on what terms? Captive exiles commonly pay dear for their deliverance. But what sum did Cyrus ask when he gave the Jews their liberty? Nothing whatsoever. He literally sent them home without the smallest recompense; without requiring or expecting anything at their hands. “They were redeemed without money.” (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Accusation and promise
A redemption, far more precious than the temporal redemption of Israel from their Babylonish bondage, is to be considered as here hinted at.
I. THE AWFUL ACCUSATION. It is twofold.
1. That we have sold ourselves. The figure here employed is used in other passages,of Scripture, to express the conduct of the sinner in abandoning himself to Satan s service. Thus of Ahab it is said, “he did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord;” and of the people whom he governed, “they sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke Him to anger.” St. Paul adopts a similar expression, in reference to himself, “The law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.” In all these places the idea under which the conduct of sinners is described is that of a man selling himself for a slave. And under this guilt we are every one of us included.
2. That we have sold ourselves “for nought.”
(1) Look at the inducements of our sins--at the motives which led us to commit them. O how lightly and how cheaply have we yielded ourselves up to Satan’s service! He has not needed, as in our Lords case, to promise all “the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them;” he has not needed to tempt us with large offers or golden baits.
(2) Look again to the consequences of our sins. There have been many times, no doubt, when we have committed sin in expectation of some great advantage to be gained by it. But what has been the price? Bitter disappointment, pain, grief, anguish, and in the end, everlasting death. Such have been the only fruits which men have ever gathered from their sins.
II. THE MOST GRACIOUS PROMISE OR PROPOSAL. “Ye shall be redeemed,” etc. “As freely as you have given yourselves up to ruin, so freely am I ready to deliver you from that ruin.” Considered in this light, in what a striking manner does my text present to us the riches of God’s grace towards a ruined world! But to comprehend this matter more distinctly, look at the Cross of Jesus! (A. Roberts, M. A.)
The whole world is an emporium; buying and selling are going on everywhere. The text refers to the sale of self.
I. It is the most COMMON SALE in the emporium of the world. What do I mean by self? Not the body, not the mere bundle of intellectual faculties, but the conscience, the moral ego, the “inner man,” that which works the faculties and which will live when the body is dust. Now, men are selling this manhood for a variety of things.
1. For pleasure. The voluptuary and the debauchee have sold it, and it is gone far into the mud of sensuality.
2. For wealth. The worldling has sold it, and it is gone into the miserly grub.
3. For fame. The aspirant for worldly honours and distinctions has sold it, and it is lost in the rolling current of fashion.
II. It is the most FOOLISH SALE in the emporium of the world. “Sold yourselves for nought.” The man who has sold it far pleasure, what has he got? “Nought.” What is sensual pleasure but the pleasure of animals at best? and this wears out as animal life decays. “Desire faileth.” The man who has sold it for wealth, what has he got? That which will soon “take wings and fly away.” “What shall it profit a man?” etc. The man who has sold it for fame, what has he got? That which, if aromatic to-day, may be a stench to-morrow, and never at any time self-satisfying. Charles Lamb had fame, and what did he say? “I walk up and down, thinking I am happy, but knowing I am not.”
III. It is the most UNRIGHTEOUS SALE in the emporium of the world. No man has a right to sell his soul. “All souls are Mine,” saith God. Reason says you have no right to sell your soul; you are not self-produced nor self-sustained. Conscience says you have no right to sell your soul; as you barter it away, it groans damnation at you. God made the soul to investigate His works, adore His character and serve His will. (Homilist.)
Man unregenerate and regenerate
I. WHAT IS THE CONDITION OF MANKIND WHEN UNREGENERATE? In a state of sin, the text hath represented us as selling ourselves for nought; where each word is emphatical, and carries a peculiar sting in it.
1. We take upon us to drive a bargain where we have no propriety in what we expose to sale. What the prophet here charges us with exposing to sale is ourselves; and this, in other words, implies our souls, with all the interest which they have elsewhere depending upon our behaviour. Now in these our propriety is strictly and truly derivative and borrowed; it was God who made us, and not we ourselves; and every faculty and every power wherewith He hath entrusted us are employed injuriously whenever they run counter to His will and pleasure.
2. Let us consider what we are doing when we are selling ourselves. Our souls which were made to be immortal are the things we are bartering in this foolish bargain. And when once we have parted with them, what would we not give in exchange for them, to have them again, and save them?
3. The folly is yet farther aggravated by the consideration whhereupon we are induced to this wretched bargain. For the text hath charged us with “selling ourselves for nought.”
II. WHAT WHEN REGENERATE? What Christ hath done for us in the affair of our redemption, by cancelling the handwriting which lay against us, was on His part free grace and bounty. Our redemption being conditional, proceed we to consider the terms whereunto it is limited.
1. Repentance from dead works.
3. A sincere obedience will naturally follow. (N. Marshall, D.D.)
The sinner’s ruin and recovery
I. THE SOLEMN STATEMENT.
II. A JOYFUL PROMISE. “And ye shall be redeemed without money.”
1. This redemption could not be effected by human means.
2. Nor is this redemption provided by the law which the sinner has transgressed.
3. It must be effected in a way that will secure the honour of the Divine law, as well as the salvation of the sinner. There is redemption by price, and redemption by power, and each is suited to our state.
4. The redemption of man was effected by Christ at a great price. “Ye shall be redeemed without money.” As the misery to which the sinner was exposed was infinite, so his deliverance required infinite means.
5. The effect of these sufferings is our redemption from captivity, and deliverance from the curse of the law. By faith, therefore, in the sacrifice of the Saviour deliverance is to be obtained. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
Ye shall be redeemed without money
The cheapness of moral redemption
Redemptions, social, commercial, and political, are generally very costly things. Millions of lives have been sacrificed, and untold treasures of gold expended in order to redeem from temporal bondage. But true moral redemption--the redemption of the soul from error to truth, from selfishness to benevolence, from the devil to God--is cheap. “Without money.”
I. THE MEANS OF MORAL REDEMPTION COST NOTHING.
1. You have Christ for nothing, He has given Himself.
2. You have the Bible for nothing.
3. You have the Spirit for nothing. No man can excuse himself for his moral bondage on the ground that he is too poor to obtain the means of redemption.
II. THE LABOUR INVOLVES NO SACRIFICE. Every moral bondsman must labour if he would be free, there is no moral emancipation irrespective of individual effort. Each captive must strike some hearty strokes ere his chains can be broken. But in this work there is no effort involving secular sacrifice. It need not prevent a man pursuing his ordinary avocations. He can be working out his freedom as well, if not better, when cultivating his farm, plying his handicraft, pursuing his merchandise, as alone in his chamber on his knees.
III. THE STRUGGLES CONDUCE TO TEMPORAL PROSPERITY (Mt 1 Timothy 4:8). (Homilist.)
My name continually every day is blasphemed.
God pitiful, yet indignant
1. The captives are so dispirited that they cannot praise Him; but, instead of that, they are continually howling, which grieves Him, and moves His pity.
2. The natives are so insolent that they will not praise Him; but, instead of that, they are continually blaspheming, which affronts Him and moves His anger. (M. Henry.)
I. ITS NATURE.
II. ITS GUILT.
III. ITS AWFUL PREVALENCE.
IV. ITS CERTAIN PUNISHMENT. (J. Lyre, D. D.)
Blaspheming God’s name
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE NAME OF THE LORD? His perfections, titles, etc.
II. THE VARIOUS WAYS IN WHICH IT IS BLASPHEMED.
1. By denying His existence (Psalms 10:4; Psalms 14:1; Psalms 53:1).
2. By denying His sovereignty (Job 21:14-15; Exodus 5:2).
3. By denying His truth (Genesis 3:4; Isaiah 36:15; 2 Peter 3:3-4).
4. By denying His power (2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 18:30; 2 Kings 18:32-35; Psalms 78:19-20).
5. By denying His omnipotence and omniscience (Job 22:13-14; Psalms 10:11; Psalms 73:11; Psalms 94:7; Isaiah 29:15; Ezekiel 8:12).
6. By accusing Him of injustice (Jeremiah 12:1; Ezekiel 18:25; Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:15).
7. By murmuring against His dispensations (Isaiah 45:9; Exodus 14:11-12).
8. By false swearing, oaths and curses, etc.
III. THE EXCUSES USUALLY MADE FOR IT. Ignorance, custom, example, surprise, passion, confirmation of what is said, meaning no harm, inconsistencies of professors, etc. (2 Samuel 12:14; Ezekiel 36:20; Romans 2:24; 2 Peter 2:2).
IV. THE EVIL CONSEQUENCES OF IT. Destroys the little remains of the fear of God. Leads to the disobedience of all His commands. Sets a horrid example to others, especially to the young.
V. THE POWERFUL ARGUMENTS AGAINST IT. The Lord is our glorious and lawful Sovereign, who sees and hears all things. He is a holy and jealous God, before whose bar we must appear, He is fully able to punish, and has assured us that He will (2Ki 19:22; 2 Kings 19:28, Isaiah 37:23; Isaiah 37:36-38;Ezekiel 20:27; Ezekiel 20:33; Ezekiel 35:12-14). (A. Tucker.)
How beautiful upon the mountains
Messengers of redemption
Messengers coming over the mountains announce to Jerusalem the people’s redemption from Babylon, and the advent of Jehovah’s eternal kingdom.
(A. B. Davidson, D.D.)
The exclamation does not refer to the pretty sound of their footsteps, but their feet are as if they were winged, because it is a joyful message which they bring. (F. Delitzsch, D.D.)
The Gospel of the swift-footed messengers
The Gospel of the swift-footed messengers is the Gospel of the kingdom of God which is at hand. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Good tidings of good
I. THE PRIMARY MEANING. The passage is supposed to refer to the sending forth the heralds of the conquering Persian to proclaim liberty to the Jews that groaned under captivity in Babylon (Ezra 1:2-3.) In order fully to understand the joy and gladness which such a proclamation as this must necessarily bring to the poor Jew mourning in captivity, we must have some conception of their condition, and the feelings that swelled in their hearts during that period of degradation and suffering. Of this, some idea may be formed from the lamentations of Jeremiah, which speak the language of the believing Israelite, mourning over the fall of Zion; and again, in Psalms 137:1-9, we find the captive Jews describing their bitter sorrows. Even as the prophet Isaiah foretold, this deliverance came to the people of God, great and sudden; but God had promised, and He surely brought it to pass. In vain the might and power of Babylon interposed; the dominion and empire of Babylon fell for ever, even in one hour, because the day for the redemption of Israel was fully come.
II. This passage has A SECONDARY FULFILMENT far more glorious and extensive, in the sending forth those who shall preach good tidings of salvation to all the ends of the earth; and the message thus conveyed has an analogy with that proclaimed by the heralds of Cyrus; for it bears to man--fallen and degraded, the captive of sin, fast bound in slavish chains--the tidings of deliverance. The blowing of the trumpet of the Gospel tells of restoration to the forfeited inheritance. It proclaims a full and yet the only mode of deliverance to enslaved man; the only mode of reconciliation with an offended God. The state, then, of the multitude of the heathen should excite our earnest attention, and rouse our warmest sympathies.
III. THE MODE WHICH GOD HAS BEEN PLEASED TO APPOINT FOR MAKING THE JOYFUL SOUND KNOWN TO MAN. The preaching of the Word of God by his fellow man. The message must be received by faith.
IV. THE CHARACTER OF THE PREACHER SHOULD CORRESPOND WITH HIS MESSAGE, that he should show forth in his life and conversation, that the glorious tidings he was commissioned to convey to others had been received by himself. Pray that the feet of the missionaries in foreign lands may be beautiful in holiness and love.
V. THE AUTHORITY ON WHICH THIS PROCLAMATION IS MADE. It was the conqueror of Babylon, the victorious Persian, that gave liberty to the captive Jew; it is the Conqueror of death and hell, the risen and triumphant Saviour, who gave commandment that the Gospel should be proclaimed to all people. (C. Caulfield, M.A.)
The annunciation of peace
1. The tidings of the deliverance from Babylon were joyful. But the prophet sees more joyful tidings than these, and a mightier deliverance from a more terrible bondage than even that of Babylon.
2. It is not said, “How lovely are the messengers! but “How beautiful are their feet!” Not what they are in themselves, but what they bring, as sent from God, and running in obedience to Him, is here presented to the view.
3. Observe how the message is dwelt upon! as if it was so full of everything joyful and good that words fail to express it. It is “good tidings,” “peace,” “good tidings-of good,” “salvation.” What a mine is there here for him who has eyes to see, a mind to understand, a soul to love, and a heart to overflow with gratitude!
4. Observe how the message ends. It is a glorious note of jubilee. It is a veritable shout of joy. It is a summing up in very deed of the glorious news. It is a pledge of peace and of salvation with which the good news is concluded: “Thy God reigneth.” (R. W. Close, M.A.)
The peace of the Gospel
1. The rich blessing, to which the text refers in such emphatic language, is conveyed in that single, but comprehensive word, “Peace.”
2. To whom, then, is the word of this salvation sent? To whom is the minister of the Gospel commissioned to preach the message of peace? The very mission implies the existence of previous enmity. With whom has God this controversy? Who stand in need of so free an amnesty? Where are the objects of His unmerited grace?
3. Whose heart should not burn within him at the thoughts of his privilege in being employed on such a ministration of love?
4. Let me add one word on the responsibility of those to whom the message of reconciliation is sent. (C. R. Sumner, D.D.)
I. THE STATE IMPLIED in the words before us is to be collected from the view of their primary meaning. They originally refer to the Jews captive in Babylon, banished from their country, and deprived of the ordinances of Divine worship, under the displeasure of the Almighty, and oppressed by a haughty and idolatrous enemy. But this is only a faint emblem of that spiritual captivity in which mankind are naturally involved, and from which the Son of God came to deliver us.
II. IN WHAT MANNER IS THIS GRACIOUS DISPENSATION DESCRIBED? As the proclamation of good tidings, as the message of reconciliation and peace, as the publication of deliverance and salvation.
III. We are now, in some measure, prepared to enter into the spirit of THE EXCLAMATION and to participate in the joyful reception of the message which it announces. Practical remarks:
1. The true nature of the Gospel. It is not, as some would represent it, a mere system of morality. It comprises this, but infinitely more. It contains, first and principally, the offer of parson to the guilty, of deliverance to the oppressed, of salvation to the lost.
2. If such, however, be the nature of the Gospel, how highly should we value it, and how anxious should we be to profit by it!
3. While we rejoice in the good tidings which have been proclaimed to ourselves, let us pray that the multitudes of our fellow-creatures, to whom they have not yet been announced, may speedily hear the same delightful sound; and may exult in the joyful message of the Gospel, until “all flesh” shall at length “see the salvation of God,” and “the whole earth be filled with His glory!” (Hugh Pearson, D.D.)
The best news
When bad news is abroad, this is good news; and when good news is abroad, this is the best news: that Zion’s God reigns. (M. Henry.)
The joy of the Christian ministry
I. THE MINISTER OF CHRIST IS HELD IN COMMUNION WITH THE GREATEST REALITIES IN THE UNIVERSE. The Hebrew prophets were strenuous men, living in the coils of battle, wrestling with great serpents, struggling up bare cliffs, and giving their lives for the ransom of the people; but we cannot doubt that they were happy men as well, because of the intellectual and spiritual glories in which their lives were set, and, their cheering and inspiring comradeship with the wonderful words of God. The “Hymn to the Sun” and the “Sermon to the Birds” of St. Francis of Assisi bear witness to a soul that was enriched, ennobled, purified, simplified, magnified, and made to ripple with gladness and to sing the songs of victory and peace because of perpetual communion with the high and holy thoughts of its heavenly Father. The artist whose soul is seeing visions of the great creations of Raphael and Angelo, the general on the eve of a campaign for the emancipation of a people, the philanthropist pouring out his tears upon the miseries and sins of the world, will sleep on planks and find them soft as down, will eat coarse food and get good blood out of it, and so far forget themselves in their sublime consecrations and so populate with their holiest passions the thought-world and spirit-world within them as to realize Hawthorne’s parable of “the Great Stone Face,” and grow into the image of the mountain on which their gaze is fixed. So it is with the preacher, and more so. He is surrounded by an imperial guard of holiest inspirations.
II. THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY IS BOUND TO WIN.
III. THE CHRISTIAN MINISTRY HAS THE BULK OF GOOD MEN IN THE WORLD BEHIND IT, CHEERING IT ON. (W. J. McKittrick, D.D.)
The missionary theme
Dr. Judson when at home on a visit, addressed a large meeting, his theme being “The Preciousness of Christ,” and sat down, deeply affected. On his way home a friend said to him, “The people are much disappointed; they wonder you did not talk of something else.” “Why, what did they want?” said the missionary. “I presented to the best of my ability the most interesting subject in the world.” “But,” said the man, “they have heard that before; they wanted something new from a man who has just come from the antipodes.” “Then,” said the great man, kindling, “I am glad to have it to say that a man from the antipodes had nothing better to tell them than the wondrous story of the dying love of Christ.” (The Wellspring.)
Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice
The return from exile
From the glowing periods of this paragraph we can reconstruct the picture of the return from exile, as it presented itself to the seer.
It was notably the return of the Lord to Zion (Isaiah 52:8, R.V.). The stately procession moves slowly and fearlessly. It is not the escape of a band of fugitive slaves, dreading pursuit and recapture: “Ye shall not go out in haste, neither shall ye go by flight.” Before it speed the messengers, appearing on the sky-line of the mountains of Zion, with good tidings of good, publishing peace, and publishing salvation. The main body is composed of white-robed priests, bearing with reverent care the holy vessels, which Nebuchadnezzar carried from the temple, which Belshazzar introduced with mockery into his feast, but which Cyrus restored. Their number and weight are carefully specified, 5, 400 in all (Ezra 1:7-11). As the procession emerges from its four months of wilderness march on the mountains which were about Jerusalem, her watchmen, who had long waited for the happy moment, lift up their voice; with the voice together do they sing. They see eye to eye. And the waste places of Jerusalem, with their charred wood and scorched stones, break forth into joy and sing together. The valleys and hills become vocal, constituting an orchestra of praise; and the nations of the world are depicted as coming to behold, and acknowledge that the Lord had made bare His holy arm. But they do not see--what is hidden from all but anointed eyes--that the Lord goes before His people, and comes behind as their rearward; so that their difficulties are surmounted by Him before they reach them, and no foe can attack them from behind. The literal fulfilment of this splendid prevision is described in the Book of Ezra. There we find the story of the return of a little band of Jews, 1,700 only in number. They halted at the River Ahava, the last station before they entered the desert, for three days, to put themselves with fasting and prayer into God’s hand. They had no experience of desert marching. Their caravan was rendered unwieldy by the number of women and children in it. They had to thread a district infested by wild bands of robbers. But they scorned to ask for an escort of soldiers and horsemen to protect them, so sure were they that their God went before them to open up the way, and came behind to defend against attack. In the midst of the march were priests and Levites, with their sacred charge of which Ezra had said, “Watch and keep them, until ye weigh them in the chambers of the house of the Lord.” (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
Expectation and accomplishment
In several respects there seems a falling short between the radiant expectations of the prophet, and the actual accomplishment in the story of Ezra: but we must remember that it is the business of the historian to record the facts, rather than the emotions that coloured them, as the warm colours of the sun colour the hard, grey rocks. And is it not always so, that through our want of faith and obedience we come short of the fulness of blessing which our God has prepared for us? (F. B.Meyer, B. A. )
Eye to eye
“Eye to eye do they behold the Lord’ s return to Zion.” “Eye to eye” is face to face with the event. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Eye to eye
The expression plainly intimates the clear and satisfying manifestations of the presence and glory of Jehovah to be enjoyed by His servants at the period wherein the foundations of the Messiah’s kingdom were to be laid. (R. Macculloch.)
Break forth into joy
The return of the Jewish nation
CONSIDER CERTAIN CHANGES WHICH SHALL HAVE TAKEN PLACE AMONG THE GENTILES OF CHRISTENDOM, AT, OR ABOUT, THE ESTABLISHMENT OF
THE JEWISH NATION IN THEIR OWN LAND (Matthew 13:24-30). The signal destruction of all false, hypocritical, unbelieving professors of religion, here called “the children of the wicked one” or “the tares;” and, secondly, the gathering in of the elect members of Christ’s mystical body, or the gathering of “the wheat into the barn.”
II. THE BLESSING WHICH THE JEWISH NATION WILL PROVE TO ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE EARTH. It appears that the plan and purpose of God, as revealed in His Word, is, after having finished the dispensation of the Gentiles as He finished the dispensation of the Jews, and having “concluded all in unbelief,” the period will then arrive when, according to the language of Paul, “He will have mercy upon all.”
III. THE NATURE AND DURATION OF THIS BLESSING.
1. As to the nature of the blessing. This is nothing more nor less than a true and saving conversion, terminating in salvation. Not a bringing of them back to the state in which Adam was before his fall; not a grafting them into the mystical body of Christ; but a true, a sound conversion from all that is evil, and the full enjoyment of God s great salvation.
2. As to the duration of this blessing. With reference to converted individuals the effect will be eternal: but there will be a limit to this state of things as to the nations of the earth. (H. McNeile, M. A.)
Matter for joy and praise
Those that share in mercies ought to join in praises. Here is matter for joy and praise.
I. GOD’S PEOPLE WILL HAVE THE COMFORT OF THIS SALVATION; and what is the matter of our rejoicing ought to be the matter of our thanksgiving.
II. GOD WILL HAVE THE GLORY OF IT (Isaiah 52:10).
III. ALL THE WORLD WILL HAVE THE BENEFIT OF IT. “All the ends of the earth,” etc. (M. Henry.)
The Lord hath made bare His holy arm
God’s arm made bare
When the heroes of old prepared for the fight they put on their armour; but when God prepares for battle He makes bare His arm.
Man has to look two ways--to his own defence, as well as to the offence of his enemy; God hath but one direction in which to cast His eye--the overthrow of His foeman; and He disregards all measures of defence, and scorns all armour. He “makes bare” His arm in the sight of all the people. When men would do their work in earnest, too, they sometimes strip themselves, like that warrior of old, who, when he went to battle with the Turks, would never fight them except with the bare arm. “Such things as they,” said he, “I need not fear; they have more reason to fear my bare arm than I their scimitar.” Men feel that they are prepared for a work when they have cast away their cumbrous garments. And so the prophet represents the Lord as laying aside for awhile the garments of His dignity, and making bare His arm, that He may do His work in earnest, and accomplish His purpose for the establishment of His Church. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The great revival
I. THE CAUSE OF A TRUE REVIVAL. The Holy Spirit. While this is the only actual cause, yet there are instrumental causes; and the main instrumental cause of a great revival must be the bold, faithful, fearless preaching of the truth as it is in Jesus. Added to this, there must be the earnest prayers of the Church.
II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF A REVIVAL OF RELIGION. The minister begins to be warmed. The members of the Church grow more serious. Family duties are better attended to; the home circle is brought under better culture. There is an inquirers’ meeting held. The revival of the Church then touches the rest of society.
III. A CAUTION. “Let all things be done decently, and in order.” Distinguish between man and man. While, during a revival of religion, a very large number of people will be really converted, there will be a very considerable portion who will be merely excited with animal excitement, and whose conversion will not he genuine. Take care, ye that are officers in the Church, when ye see the people stirred up, that ye exercise still a holy caution, lest the Church become lowered in its standard of piety by the admission of persons not truly saved.
IV. With these words of caution, I shall now STIR YOU UP TO SEEK OF GOD A GREAT REVIVAL OF RELIGION throughout the length and breadth of this land. The Lord God hath sent us a blessing. One blessing is the earnest of many. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God
Tidings of salvation to the ends of the earth
I. THE SALVATION OF GOD. “Salvation” carries our meditations direct unto the names and the offices of Him, of whom it hath been said, “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” And in this connection the whole scheme of mercy and eternal life bursts at once upon our view.
1. It is a great salvation.
2. An everlasting salvation.
3. A complete salvations.
4. A salvation all of God and of grace.
II. THE CERTAINTY OF THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THIS PROMISE, as an encouragement to us to do our duty. If “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God,” an imperious necessity is laid upon us to favour every opportunity which offers of sending the report of this salvation to all parts of the earth. The truth of the promise, and the certainty of its accomplishment, might be argued--
1. From the Divine purposes taken in connection with the first promise.
2. From the settlement with Abraham respecting the coming of his promised seed.
3. From the style of the prophets, and the expectations which they excite.
4. From the progress of Christianity through the world, in defiance of all the opposition which has been combined against it. (W. Taylor.)
A peremptory, yet encouraging call
Thus peremptorily were the Jewish exiles called home. Nearly three generations had fled since their fathers had been forcibly settled on the plains of Shinar; but during that period the temporal lot of the Jews had been gradually bettering. Time had healed many wounds, a milder administration had weakened the memory of many sorrows. In “the strange land,” strange no longer, homes had been gathered, wealth accumulated, honours won. The land of their fathers was far away, was personally known to few, and lay on the other side of a pathless wilderness. To men so circumstanced, the call to depart was far from welcome. Many ties must be severed if that call were obeyed; many sacrifices made, much travail endured. The present good seemed far better than the future. Besides, who did not know, at least by report, something of the perils of that barren waste over which their march must be made? Who could ensure them, during the progress of that march, against serious harm and loss? Who could demonstrate the certain gain to the majority of exchanging Babylon for Jerusalem, the level land of Shinar for the hill country of Judah? Thus, excuses for remaining sprung readily to their lips; difficulties in obeying the summons grew palpably before their eyes. It was an unwelcome demand, and therefore seemed impossible.
2. But if the prophet s call were peremptory, it was not unsupported by arguments of the weightiest kind. However difficult, the separation must be made, the departure undertaken; but there need be no hurry in their flight, as when Israel went forth from Egypt. The preparation might be deliberate and careful, but one end must be kept steadily in view--return to Palestine. Make all just allowances, meet all just claims, settle all needful matters of business; but still, Prepare to depart. Be ready to leave behind all taint of idolatry. And yet, Take heart, ye fearful ones, and be of good courage. The desert may be trackless, but God shall lead you. The perils of the journey may be numerous, but God shall defend you. The nomadic tribes may harass your hindmost companies, but God shall be your rearward. Such is the interpretation of the original purpose of the prophet s stirring words. (J. J. Goadby.)
Let us take these words as helping to illustrate some of the broader features of spiritual progress.
I. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS DEMANDS SEPARATION AND SACRIFICE. What are some of these things from which we must separate ourselves, even at the cost of sacrifice, if spiritual progress is to be made?
1. It is no uncommon thing to find an easy contentment with the truth already attained. The conceit begotten of little knowledge is a fatal bar to progress. The voice of truth may call loudly at our door, “Depart ye; go ye out from thence;” but to heed that voice sacrifice is inevitable. There is no other method of attaining large spiritual advantage than the destruction of our ignorant self-complacency.
2. Spiritual progress largely depends upon the renunciation of the idea of the present perfection of our character. Many would start back at the notion of laying to claim “being already perfect” who virtually live as though it were the first article of their belief. They merely dream over the possibility of improvement. In some cases the error is traceable to the mistakes committed at the very beginning of their spiritual life. Conversion is made “the be-all and the end-all” of their religion. Life seems to travel upward until it reaches that point, and to travel downward ever afterward.
3. But them is another form in which error crops out in older men. For example, when all the inspiration of life is drawn from the past, not with a view of further advancement, but rather as an apology for present repose. “Our best inspiration is not gained from what is behind, but from what is before, and what is above.”
4. Still further, no spiritual progress is possible unless we are willing to give up our personal indolence.
II. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS TOLERATES NO DELAY BUT THAT WHICH IS SPENT IN PREPARATION. It would have been a strange perversion of the prophet’s words if the Jews had regarded the assurance that “they should not go out with haste, neither by flight,” as teaching that they were to protract their preparations indefinitely, protract them so as ultimately to relinquish their journey. They rather encourage them, while not neglecting the judicious settlement of their affairs, to make suitable provision for their march across the wilderness. There need be neither bustle nor confusion, since their exodus will not be either sudden or stealthy. It is Cyrus who reigns, not Pharaoh. But still, it is a journey for which they are to prepare, not a lengthened residence in Babylon. The bearing of all this, as an illustration of spiritual progress, it is not very difficult to see. The delay which is spent in preparation is progress. This may spring, for example, from a careful acquisition of Divine truth. The same thing holds good in regard to character. We cannot force maturity, but we can prepare for it; and all such preparation hastens the desired consummation. Before the Jew reached the land of promise, every stage between Babylon and Jerusalem had to be faithfully traversed. There are stages, also, in the development of character, no one of which can be omitted without subsequent loss. Seasons of suffering of enforced idleness, of dark and apparently irreparable bereavement, are some of the necessary elements out of which real character is born. The time consumed by such discipline is not delay, but progress. All systems, therefore, which attempt to force maturity are as delusive as they are mischievous. Christian work furnishes another illustration of the same general truth. Bracing ourselves up for present duty, and mastering it, is the best qualification for future success.
III. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IS UNDER DIVINE DIRECTION. “The Lord will go before you.” Here was encouragement for the timid Jew. As a general leads his army, and a shepherd his flock, so will Jehovah “go before” the returning exile. Nay more: He shall lead them as a conqueror and a king. But observe more particularly--
1. God has a perfect knowledge of our journey.
2. God is ever near. Whatever the stage, and whatever the necessities of the march, He was nigh at hand, even to the ancient Jew. Much closer has He now come to us, He is Immanuel. Here, then, is most powerful stimulus to the flagging Christian.
3. He never leads us where He has not Himself already been. Are we severely tested? “He was tempted in all points like as we are.” Are we finding that maturity can only come through travail of soul? “He was made perfect through sufferings.” He asks us to undertake no difficult service without first showing us His own obedience. When, therefore, murmurs arise within us, and rebellious feelings agitate and disturb, let this be the sufficient check of them all--“It is enough for the disciple to be as his Master.”
4. He is ever before us. We have One in advance of us who knows the possibilities of our nature; and while never overtaxing us, He expects no relaxation of our effort. Let us, therefore, forget the things that are behind, and reach forth unto those that are before, “looking unto Jesus, the Leader and Perfecter of our faith.”
IV. SPIRITUAL PROGRESS IS ASSURED OF DIVINE PROTECTION. “The God of Israel shall be your rereward.” The “rereward” is the hindmost part of the army, where the reserves are stationed. By this arrangement various important ends are served. For one thing, the stragglers who drop out of the line during a long and toilsome march are effectually gathered up and saved. For another, the army is better prepared to meet unexpected attack by being able rapidly to change its front. “The God of Israel shall be your rereward.” Here was the pledge of security for their march across that desert which swarmed, as it swarms now, with scores of robber tribes who have this in common, that they are all equally agile, all equally thirsty for plunder, and all equally unscrupulous. Here, also, lies our truest security in spiritual progress. “The God of Israel is our rereward.”
1. There will, therefore, be no surprises which we are not able to meet, no sudden attack from which He will not prove a sufficient Defender. Our sharpest vigilance will not always serve us; and while sweeping the horizon in one direction, our present danger may approach from another.
2. Then protection is afforded against permanent relapse. If we look forward, our Defender is there. If we look backward, behold, He is there.
3. Then there is a reserve of power and of available help which no saint has ever fully tested. (J. J. Goadby.)
The march through, the desert-world to the city of God
We may learn some of those qualities which should characterize us in this march.
I. THERE SHOULD BE PERPETUAL EXODUS. In all lives there are Babylons, which have no claim on the redeemed of Jehovah. We may have entered them, not without qualms of conscience; but, as time has passed, our reluctance has been overcome. A comradeship has grown up between us and one from whose language and ways we once shrank in horror. An amusement now fascinates us, which we regarded with suspicion and conscientious scruple. A habit of life dominates us from which we once shrank as from infection. A method of winning money now engrosses us; but we can well remember how difficult it was to coax conscience to engage in it. These are Babylons, which cast their fatal spell aver the soul, and against which the voice of God urgently proteste: “Depart ye, depart ye! go ye out from thence.” When stepping out from Babylon to an unwonted freedom, we naturally shrink back before the desert march, the sandy wastes, the ruined remnants of happier days. But we shall receive more than we renounce.
II. IT SHOULD BE WITHOUT HASTE. “Ye shall not go out in haste.” There are many English proverbs which sum up the observation of former days and tell how foolish it is to be in a hurry. But, outside of God, there is small chance of obeying these wise maxims. The age is so feverish. No great picture was ever painted in a hurry. No great book was ever written against time. No great discovery was ever granted to the student who could not watch in Nature’s antechamber for the gentle opening of her door. The greatest naturalist of our time devoted eight whole years almost entirely to barnacles. Well might John Foster long for the power of touching mankind with the spell of “Be quiet, be quiet.” In this our Lord is our best exemplar. This hastelessness was possible to Israel so long as the people believed that God was ordering, preceding, and following their march.
III. WE MUST BE AT PEACE ABOUT THE WAY. In early life our path seems clearly defined. We must follow the steps of others, depend on their maxims, act on their advice. It is only when the years grow upon us that this sense of “waylessness,” as it has been termed, oppresses us. So the exiles must have felt when they left Ahava and started on the desert march. At such times the lips of Christ answer, “I am the Way.” His temper, His way of looking at things, His will, resolves all perplexities. All this was set forth in the figure before us. “The Lord will go before yon.” When the people came out of Egypt, Jehovah preceded the march in the Shechinah cloud that moved softly above the ark. There was nothing of this sort when Ezra led the first detachment of exiles to Zion; but, though unseen, the Divine Leader was equally in the forefront of the march. Thus it is also in daily experience. Jesus is ever going before us in every call to duty, every prompting to self-sacrifice, every summons to comfort, help and save.
IV. WE MUST BE PURE. “Touch no unclean thing. Be ye clean,” etc. Those vessels were very precious. The enumeration is made with minute accuracy Ezra 8:26). But they were above all things holy unto the Lord. Thus they passed across the desert, holy men bearing the holy vessels. Through this world, unseen by mortal eye, a procession is passing, treading its way across continents of time. It bears holy vessels. Testimony to God’s truth, the affirmation of things unseen and eternal, the announcement of the facts of redemption--such are our sacred charge. What manner of persons ought we not to be, to whom so high a ministry is entrusted! Before that procession we are told that waste places would break forth into song. It is a fair conception, as though their feet changed the aspect of the territories through which they passed. What was desert when they came to it, was paradise as they left it! What were ruins, became walls! Where there had been hostility, suspicion and misunderstanding, there came concord and peace, the watchmen seeing eye to eye. This is a true portraiture of the influence of the religion of Jesus over the hearts and lives of men. But let us never forget the importance of prayer, as a necessary link in the achieving of these marvels. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
We have here, under highly metaphorical forms, the grand ideal of the Christian life.
I. We have it set forth as A MARCH OF WARRIOR PRIESTS. Note that phrase, “Ye that bear the vessels of the Lord.” The returning exiles as a whole are so addressed, but the significance of the expression, and the precise metaphor which it is meant to convey, may be questionable. The word rendered “vessels” is a wide expression, meaning any kind of equipment, and in other places of the Old Testament the phrase rendered is translated “armour-bearers.” Such an image would be quite congruous with the context here, in which warlike figures abound. And if so, the picture would be that of an army on the march, each man carrying some of the weapons of the great Captain and Leader. But perhaps the other explanation is more likely, which regards “the vessels of the Lord”as being an allusion to the sacrificial and other implements of worship, which, in the first Exodus, the Levites carried on the march. And if that be the meaning, then the figure here is that of a company of priests. I venture to throw the two ideas together, and to say that we may here find an ideal of the Christian community as being a great company of warrior priests on the march, guarding a sacred deposit which has been committed to their charge.
1. Look, then, at that combination in the true Christian character of the two apparently opposite ideas of warrior and priest. It suggests that all the life is to be conflict, and that all the conflict is to be worship. It suggests, too, that the warfare is worship, that the office of the priest and of the warrior are one and the same thing, and both consist in their mediating between man and God, bringing God in His Gospel to men, and bringing men through their faith to God. The combination suggests, likewise, how, in the true Christian character, there ought ever to be blended, in strange harmony, the virtues of the soldier and the qualities of the priest; compassion for the ignorant and them that are out of the way with courage; meekness with strength; a quiet placable heart, hating strife, joined to a spirit that cheerily fronts every danger and is eager for the conflict, in which evil is the foe and God the helper.
2. Note, further, that in this phrase we have the old, old metaphor of life as a march, but so modified as to lose all its melancholy and weariness and to turn into an elevating hope.
3. Again, this metaphor suggests that this company of marching, priests have in charge a sacred, deposit. Paul speaks of the “glorious Gospel which was committed to my trust.” And, in like manner, to us Christians is given the charge of God’s great weapons of warfare, with which He contends with the wickedness of the world--viz, that great message of salvation through, and in, the Cross of Jesus Christ. And there are committed to us, further, to guard sedulously, and to keep bright and untarnished and undiminished in weight and worth, the precious treasures of the Christian life of communion with Him. And we may give another application to the figure and think of the solemn trust which is put into our hands, in the gift of our own selves, which we ourselves can either waste, and stain, and lose, or can guard and polish into vessels meet for the Master’s use. Gathering, then, these ideas together, we take this as the ideal of the Christian community--a company of priests on the march, with a sacred deposit committed to their trust.
II. THE SEPARATION THAT BEFITS THE MARCHING COMPANY. “Depart ye, depart ye! go ye out from thence,” etc. In the historical fulfilment of my text, separation from Babylon was the preliminary of the march. Our task is not so simple; our separation from Babylon must be the constant accompaniment of our march. The order in the midst of which we live is not organized-on the fundamental laws of Christ’s kingdom. And wheresoever there are men that seek to order their lives as Christ would have them to be ordered, the first necessity for them is, “Come out from amongst them, and be ye separate.” This separation will not only be the result of union with Jesus Christ, but it is the condition of all progress in our union with Him. They that are to travel far and fast have to travel light. Many a caravan has broken down in African exploration for no other reason than because it was too well provided with equipments, and so collapsed of its own,, weight. Therefore, our prophet, in the context, says, “Touch no unclean thing.” There is one of the differences between the new Exodus and the old. When Israel came out of Egypt they spoiled the Egyptians, and came away laden with gold and jewels; but it is dangerous work bringing anything away from Babylon with us. Its treasure has to be left if we would march close behind our Lord and Master. We must touch “no unclean thing,” because our hands are to be filled with the “vessels of the Lord.” It is man’s world that we have to leave, but the loftiest sanctity requires no abstention from anything that God has ordained.
III. THE PURITY WHICH BECOMES THE BEARERS OF THE VESSELS OF THE LORD. “Be ye clean.” The priest’s hands must be pure, which figure, being translated, is, transparent purity of conduct and character is demanded from all Christian men who profess to carry God’s sacred deposit. You cannot carry it unless your hands are clean, for all the gifts that God gives us glide from our grasp if our hands be stained. Monkish legends tell of sacred pictures and vessels which, when an impure touch was laid upon them, refused to be lifted from the place, and grew there, as rooted, in spite of all efforts to move them. Whosoever seeks to hold the gifts of God in His Gospel in dirty hands will fail miserably, in the attempt; and all the joy and peace of communion, the assurance of God’s love, and the calm hope of immortal life, will vanish as a soap bubble, grasped by a child, turns into a drop of foul water on its palm, if we try to hold them in foul hands. And, further, remember no priestly service and no successful warfare for Jesus Christ is possible, except on the same condition. One sin, as well as one sinner, destroys much good, and a little inconsistency on the part of us professing Christians neutralizes all the efforts that we may ever try to put forth for Him.
IV. THE LEISURELY CONFIDENCE WHICH SHOULD MARK THE MARCH THAT IS GUARDED BY GOD. “Ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight,” etc. This is partly an analogy and partly a contrast with the story of the first Exodus. The unusual word translated “with haste” is employed in the Pentateuch to describe the hurry and bustle, not altogether due to the urgency of the Egyptians, but partly also due to the terror of Israel with which that first flight was conducted. And, says my text, in this new coming out of bondage there shall be no need for tremor or perturbation, lending wings to any man’s feet; but, with quiet deliberation, like that with which Peter was brought out of his dungeon, because God knew that He could bring him out safely, the new Exodus shall be carried on. “He that believeth shall not make haste.” There is a very good reason why we need not be in any haste due to alarm. For, as in the first Exodus, the guiding pillar led the march, and sometimes, when there were foes behind, as at the Red Sea, shifted its place to the rear, so “the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rereward.” (A Maclaren, D.D.)
All the life for God
I have seen in a shop window, “The bulk of our goods are of English manufacture.” Not the bulk only, but all our life must be given over to God. (E. E. Marsh.)
For ye shall not go out with haste
Seemly and unseemly haste
They were to go with a diligent haste, not to lose time nor linger as Lot in Sodom; but they were not to go with a diffident, distrustful haste, as if they were afraid of being pursued, as when they came out of Egypt, or of having the orders for their release recalled and countermanded.
The Lord shall go before you
No beaten rout of fugitives, but a band of kingly conquerors, robed and crowned, will assemble in heaven.
I. THE ESSENTIALLY SYMBOLIC CHARACTER OF THE CAPTIVITIES AND DELIVERANCES OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE. The history of Israel is the Divine key to the history of man. Through all the confusion of human society, its wars, its movements, its industries, its woes, that history, rightly read, will guide us. There is no crisis, no confusion, no sad experience of society, of which we have not the pattern and the explanation in the Word of God. The history of their captivities is the history of man’s captivity. There were two great captivities and two great deliverances. The people were born in the one captivity--it was the dark accident of nature; the other they earned by sin. These represent our natural bondage, and the self-earned serfdom of the soul. There is one Deliverer and one deliverance from both. The method of His deliverance was the same out of both captivities; a glorious manifestation of the might of the redeeming arm of God. But at first sight there is a contrast here as well as a likeness. Taking a superficial view of the Exodus, we should say that they did go out with haste and go forth by flight; and this visible contrast was before the prophet’s mind when he wrote the words of our text (Deuteronomy 16:3; Exodus 12:31-39). But from Babylon they went forth in orderly array, with the king’s good-will, by his royal command (Ezra 1:1-11). Yet under the surface the grand features were identical. In neither case did they steal away. They went because God would have them go; the Angel of His presence guided them, and His shattering judgments were on all who sought to withstand their march to their promised land. If the contrast occurred to the prophet as he wrote the first clause, surely the likeness stands out in the last, “The Lord shall go before you, and the God of Israel shall be your rereward” Exodus 13:21-22; Exodus 14:19-20).
II. WE HAVE THE IMAGE HERE OF THE GREAT DELIVERANCE WHICH IS FREELY OFFERED IN THE GOSPEL, wrought for us by His redeeming hand who “rules in righteousness, mighty to save.”
1. The reason of our protracted discipline. God will not have us “Go out with haste, nor go forth by flight.” I dare say there are few Christians of any earnestness who do not look back to some past season in their experience, and say, Would God that I had then been taken home. The soul was then full of a Divine serenity, with the clear heaven of God’s love above it, and a clear assurance that the Rock was beneath it. It seemed to be attuned to heavenly fellowship. But it had been a young and immature deliverance, had God caught you then in the first freshness of your joy and hope to His home in heaven; not by the short, straight way, but by the long, weary, desert path God led His pilgrims; a band of trained veterans they entered at length into Canaan; able to hold it, and to hold to the national unity, through the stormy, struggling ages in which, but for their desert nurture and discipline, they must have been shattered to fragments, and lost to history for ever. It is this experience which at sore cost of pain God is laying up within us.
2. The Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rereward. The Lord has gone before us. It is this which makes our progress a triumph. He has gone before us
(1) In bearing to the uttermost the penalty of sin.
(2) In breaking the power of evil (John 14:27; John 16:33).
(3) In the way of the wilderness, through life’s protracted discipline, to Hebrews 5:7-9). And the God of Israel shall be your rereward. He shall gather up the stragglers of the host. This promise seems to run parallel with Isaiah 40:10-11. It shall be no crush or throng in whichthe weak ones shall be down-trodden, and the halting left hopelessly in the rear. The Lord has special tenderness for the timid, the trembling, the fainting; He is behind them to guard them from every pursuing foe. If you have faith but as a grain of mustard seed, fear not. (J. B. Brown, B.A.)
For the Lord will go before you
The vanguard and rereward of the Church
The Church of Christ is continually represented under the figure of an army; yet its Captain is the Prince of Peace; its object is the establishment of peace, and its soldiers are men of a peaceful disposition. Nevertheless, the Church on earth has, and until the second advent must be, the Church militant, the Church armed, the Church warring, the Church conquering. It is in the very order of things that so it must be. Truth could not be truth in this world if it were not a warring thing. How comforting is this text to the believer who recognizes himself as a soldier, and the whole Church as an army! The Church has its vanguard: “Jehovah will go before you.” The Church is also in danger behind; enemies may attack her m her hinder part, and the God of Israel shall be her rereward.”
I. Consider THE WHOLE CHURCH OF GOD AS AN ARMY. Remember that a large part of the army are standing this day upon the hills of glory; having overcome and triumphed. As for the rear, it stretches far into the future; some portions are as yet uncreated. Now, cast your eyes forward to the front of the great army of God’s elect, and you see this great truth coming up with great brilliance before you: “Jehovah shall go before you.” Is not this true? Have you never heard of the eternal counsel and the everlasting covenant? Did that not go before the Church?. Has Jehovah not gone before His Church in act and deed? Perilous has been the journey of the Church from the day when first it left Paradise even until now. Why need I go through all the pages of the history of the Church of God in the days of the old dispensation? Hath it not been true from the days of John the Baptist until now? How can ye account for the glorious triumphs of the Church if ye deny the fact that God has gone before her! God had gone beforehand with his Church, and provided stores of grace for stores of trouble, shelter and mercy for tempests and persecution, abundance of strength for a superfluity of trial. “And the God of Israel shall be the rereward.” The original Hebrew is, “God of Israel shall gather you up.” Armies in the time of war diminish by reason of stragglers, some of whom desert, and others of whom are overcome by fatigue; but the army of God is “gathered up;” none desert from it if they be real soldiers of the Cross, and none drop down upon the road. The Church of Christ has been frequently attacked in the rear. It often happens that the enemy, tired of opposing the onward march by open persecution, attempts to malign the Church concerning something that has either been taught, or revealed, or done in past ages. Now, the God of Israel is our rereward. I am never at trouble about the attacks of infidels or heretics, however vigorously they may assault the doctrines of the Gospel. If they look to be resisted by mere reason, they look in vain. If they must attack the rear let them fight with Jehovah Himself. But I am thinking that perhaps the later trials of the Church may represent the rereward. There are to come, perhaps, to the Church, fiercer persecutions than she has ever known. But however fierce those troubles shall be, God, who has gone before His Church in olden times, will gather up the rear, and she who has been Ecclesia victrix--the Church, the conqueror, will still be the same, and her rear shall constitute at last a part of the Church triumphant, even as already glorified. Can you now conceive the last great day when Jehovah, the rereward, shall gather up His people?
II. AS IT RESPECTS US, AS INDIVIDUAL BELIEVERS. Two troubles present themselves, the future and the past. Remember, you are not a child of chance.
1. Stop and realize the idea that God has gone before, mapping the way.
(1) God has gone before you in the decree of His predestination.
(2) In the actual preparations of His providence.
(3) In the incarnation of Christ. As to our future troubles Jesus Christ has borne them all before. As for temptation, He “has been tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” As for trials and sorrows, He has felt all we can possibly feel, and infinitely more. As for our difficulties, Christ has trodden the road before. We may rest quite sure that we shall not go anywhere where Christ has not gone.
(4) There is this reflection also, that, inasmuch as Christ has gone before us, He has done something in that going before, for He has conquered every foe that lies in his way.
2. I hear one say, “The future seldom troubles me; it is the past--what I have done and what I have not done--the years that are gone--how I have sinned, and how I have not served my Master as I ought. The God of Israel shall be your rereward. Notice the different titles. The first is “Jehovah”--“Jehovah will go before you.” That is the I AM, full of omniscience and omnipotence. The second is “God of Israel,” that is to say, the God of the Covenant. We want the God of the Covenant behind, because it is not in the capacity of the I AM, the omnipotent, that we require Him. Let me always think, that I have God behind me as well as before me. Let not the memories of the past, though they cause me grief, cause me despair. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God our Guard and Guide
I. THE GOOD MAN’S PATH IS BESET WITH PERIL.
1. There are perils that come up from behind. The deadliest foes are those that attack us in the rear. The traveller may be overtaken by pestilence and death, that lay all unsuspected in the very places he passed in laughter and in song. Man never gets away from his past.
(1) Perils come upon us from the mistakes of the past. Mistakes may be innocent enough, but unfortunately for us, Nature punishes blunders as though they were crimes. Fire burns just the same, whether it be kindled innocently or of malice. Water drowns irrespective of the way people get in. Accident or crime, it is all the same to Nature. An indiscretion may ruin your health, bring your business to the dust, and wreck the peace of your home, just aa surely as deliberate sin. Sheer inexperience is responsible for many a disaster. And every blunder of to-day sends forward an enemy to imperil the life of to-morrow. Further complications arise from the fact that much of our life is bound up with the lives of others. The follies as well as the sins of the fathers are visited to the third or fourth generation.
(2) Perils come upon us from the sins of the past. “It’s the eleventh commandment I’m most afraid of,” hiccoughed a drunken man to an evangelist one day. “And what is that? asked the seeker of souls. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” And if sheer mistakes survive and pursue, how much more our sins. There is no greater delusion than to imagine that sin can be committed, covered up, forgotten, and done with. Sin breeds. And its progeny slays the transgressor. The sowing of wild oats is followed by the inevitable harvest. An evil deed once done can never be undone: not even by the grace of God. And in it there may lurk an enemy that years after may rise up and strike his deadly weapon in your back. Old age may find you full of the sins of your youth. Sins long left behind may live on in your memory. Man never forgets, A chance word, an unconscious look, an innocent gesture may strike a slumbering chord, and the whole scene lives as vividly as ever. Neither remorse nor repentance can blot out the horrid thing from before your eyes. It will startle you in the very holy of holies, and disturb your very communion with God. If unpardoned it will fill your old age with terror, and your dying moments with the horrors of hell. The most terrible temptations lurk in the memory of past transgression, even after the sin is forsaken and forgiven. I have known a saint turned eighty lament with tears that, while he was forgetting the hymns which had been his delight for sixty years, the lewd songs of his teens came back upon him with overwhelming vividness and force. He couldn’t pray, but some rollicking, filthy chorus would insist on being sung. It is from behind that the devil strikes home, and strikes hard. Look at the consequences of sin if you would realize the terrible forces that come up from behind. The devil persuaded you there would be no consequences. It was a passing pleasure. You were all right in the morning, and thought it was all over. It is never over. That was only the beginning. Drink, gambling, lust, passion, and greed, have followed stealthily for years, and sprung upon men unawares. The terrible results of sin may pursue you in your body. A man who never but once went into the house of the woman of whom Solomon says such terrible things, for nearly half a century went through the world crooked and in pain. The most awful thing I know that can come to a man out of his past, is to see his own sin working ruin in the soul of another. What a host follows hard after us! All the way is crowded with malignant and vicious enemies that seek to destroy us. And nearly all, if not every one of them, our own creation. They are the offspring of our folly, our sin, our shame.
2. There are perils ahead. Happily no man can see very far ahead.
II. THE GOOD MAN’S PATH IS ALSO BESET WITH GOD. The Lord is in the rear to protect, and in the van to guide.
1. God stands between us and our past.
(1) To forgive its sin.
(2) To cut off our retreat. The old Egyptian life had a strange fascination over the delivered people. The backsliding tendency is in us all. But the Rearguard is between us and Egypt. He will prevent our retreat, and by a sharp command urge us forward to the land of grapes. We need to be saved from ourselves, and He will so completely deliver us that the last longing for Egypt shall die, and all our desire shall be for the Canaan of perfect love.
(3) To de-fend against its assaults. Our worst enemies are at our backs, where we are most helpless The devil strikes from behind. But be not afraid, God is in the rear.
(4) To make our enemies His slaves. The forces of hell as well as the hosts of heaven are under His control.
2. God goes before us in all the way of the future. We don’t know the way, but He does--every inch of it. For he prepared and appointed it. And more than that. He has trodden and tested it before our feet touch it. He knows. That is enough. He leads. I follow. We tread the same path. We share the same road. Why should I fear? He goes before us in all our service for Him. Philip found the eunuch already prepared for his message. And Ananias found Saul waiting to receive his ministrations. So as we go to our service we shall find the Lord has been there before us preparing our way. The Divine movement is always forward. God is behind, but He never turns back. He goes before, and the whole host moves forward. Our only safety is in progress. (S. Chadwick.)
Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently
The humiliation and exaltation of Christ
THE STATE OF CHRIST’S HUMILIATION. “As many were astonied at Thee,” etc.
1. Consider His outward or bodily sufferings.
2. His inward sorrows, the agonies of His mind, have no parallel.
II. OUR SAVIOUR’S EXALTATION. Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently, etc. The exaltation of Christ may be considered under four particulars.
1. His resurrection from the dead.
2. His ascension into heaven.
3. His glorification at the Father’s right hand.
4. His coming again to judgment.
1. What hath been said on the subject of the Redeemer s sufferings, should excite all our gratitude and love to Him, who readily entered upon, and went through, all this scene of sorrow for our sake.
2. Let this excite us to greater zeal and diligence in His service; as the best expression of our gratitude and love.
3. The consideration of Christ’s love and sufferings for us should inspire us with the firmest fortitude and fidelity, in defending His cause and the honour of His Gospel against all opposition, and in suffering for it.
4. Under every affliction of life let us turn our eyes to our suffering Redeemer, as a perfect pattern of patience.
5. Let us triumph in the faith and views of a triumphant Saviour. (A. Mason, M.A.)
The sure triumph of the crucified One
I. THE CHARACTER OF OUR LORD’S DEALINGS. He is called “My Servant,” a title as honourable as it is condescending, and it is said that He deals prudently. He who took upon Him the form of a servant acts as a wise servant in everything; and indeed it could not be otherwise, for “in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
1. This prudence was manifest in the days of His flesh, from His childhood among the doctors in the temple on to His confession before Pontius Pilate. Our Lord was enthusiastic; but that enthusiasm never carried Him into rashness. Our Saviour was full of love, and that love made Him frank and open-hearted; but for all that He was ,ever prudent, and “committed Himself unto no man, for He knew what was in man.” Too many who aspire to be leaders of the people study policy, craft and diplomacy. The Friend of sinners had not a fraction of that about Him; and yet He was wiser than if diplomacy had been His study from His youth up.
2. He who on earth became obedient unto death has now gone into the glory, but He is still over the house of God, conducting its affairs; He deals prudently still. Our fears lead us to judge that the affairs of Christ’s kingdom are going amiss, but we may rest assured that all is well, for the Lord hath put all things under the feet of Jesus. All along through the history of the Church the dealings of the Lord Jesus with His people have been very remarkable. The wisdom in them is often deep, and only discoverable by those who seek it out, and yet frequently it sparkles upon the surface like gold in certain lands across the sea. Note how the Lord has made His Church learn truth by degrees, and purified her first of one error and then of another. The wise physician tolerates disease until it shall have reached the point at which he can grapple with it, so as to eradicate it from the system, so has the good Lord allowed some ills to fester in the midst of His Church, that He may ultimately exterminate them. Study the pages of ecclesiastical history, and you will see how Jesus Christ has dealt wisely in the raising up of fitting men for all times. I could not suppose a better man for Luther’s age than Luther, yet Luther alone would have been very incomplete for the full service needed had it not been for Calvin, whose calm intellect was the complement of Luther’s fiery soul.
3. Another translation of the passage is, “My Servant shall have prosperous success.” Let us append that meaning to the other. Prosperity will grow out of our Lord prudent dealings.
4. In consequence of this the Lord shall he exalted and extolled.
II. THE STUMBLING-BLOCK IN THE WAY OF OUR LORD. It is His Cross, which to Jew and Greek is ever a hindrance. As if the prophet saw Him in vision, he cries out, “As many were astonied at Thee,” etc.
1. He has risen from the grave and gone into His glory, but the offence of the Cross has not ceased, for upon His Gospel there remains the image of His marred visage, and therefore men despise it. The preaching of the Cross is foolishness to many.
2. The practical part of the Gospel is equally a stumbling-block to ungodly men, for when men inquire what they must do to be saved, they are told that they must receive the Gospel as little children, that they must repent of sin, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Very humbling precepts for human self-sufficiency! And after they are saved, if they inquire what they should do, the precepts are not those which commend themselves to proud human nature--for they are such as these--“Be ye kindly affectioned one to another,” “forbearing one another and forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” To the world which loves conquerors, and blasts of trumpets, and chaplets of laurel, this kind of teaching has a marred visage, and an uncomely form.
3. Then, what seems even more humbling, the Lord Jesus Christ in His prudent dealing sends this Gospel among us by men who are neither great nor noble, nor even among the wise of this world.
4. Worse still, if worse can be, the people who become converted and follow the Saviour are generally of the poorer sort, and lightly esteemed.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE REMOVAL OF THIS STUMBLING-BLOCK and the spread of Christ’s kingdom. As His face was marred, so surely “shall He sprinkle many nations;” by which we understand, first, that the doctrines of the Gospel are to fall in a copious shower over all lands. This sprinkling we must interpret according to the Mosaic ceremonies. There was a sprinkling with blood, to set forth pardon of sin, and a sprinkling with water to set forth purification from the power of sin. The influence of His grace and the power of His work shall be extended not over the common people only, but over their leaders and rulers. “The kings shall shut their mouths at Him;” they shall have no word to say against Him; they shall be so subdued by the majesty of His power that they shall silently pay Him reverence, and prostrate themselves before His throne.
IV. THE MANNER OF ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT. How will it come to pass? Will there be a new machinery? Will the world be converted, and the kings be made to shut their mouths by some new mode of operation? I do not think so. Will the saints take the sword one day? No, the way which has been from the beginning of the dispensation will last to its close. It pleases God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
1. According to this passage, these kings and nations are first of all to hear. “Faith coming by hearing.” If they are to hear, we must preach and teach, so that our clear line of duty is to go on spreading the Gospel.
2. These people appear not only to have heard, but to have seen. “That which had not been told them shall they see.” This seeing is not with their bodily eyes but by the perceptions of their minds. Faith comes by the soul perceiving what the Gospel means.
3. After they had seen, it appears from the text that they considered. “That which they had not heard shall they consider.” This is how men are saved: they hear the Gospel, they catch the meaning of it, and then they consider it. When they had seen and considered silently, they accepted the Lord as their Lord, for they shut their mouths at Him; they ceased from all opposition; they quietly resigned their wills, and paid allegiance to the great King of kings. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The character and work of the Messiah
I. THE INTRODUCTION OF CHRISTIANITY INTO THE WORLD, BY THE MYSTERIOUS SUFFERINGS OF ITS DIVINE FOUNDER. “Behold, My Servant!” The “astonishment of many” evidently refers to the inconsistency apparent between the high pretensions and the depressed condition of this Servant of God. In truth, the plan of Christianity, with its introduction into the world, is far above the calculations of human sagacity.
II. THE DECLARATION OF THE PROPHET WITH REGARD TO THE UNIVERSAL DIFFUSION OF THE RELIGION OF CHRIST ON THE EARTH. “My Servant shall deal prudently. He shall be exalted, and extolled, and be very high.”
1. The expression, “He shall deal prudently,” is, in the margin, translated, “He shall prosper;” and thus the whole clause is declarative of the same truth--the triumph and success of the Son of God. If many were astonished at His humiliation, a far greater number shall be astonished at His exaltation.
2. This grand and glorious achievement He effected by means that came not within the range of mortal discernment. It was by death that He conquered death. It was by a perfect obedience in action and in suffering, that He became the second Adam--the spiritual Head of a new and happier race. He planted His religion in the earth, opposed by hostile scorn and relentless malice and despotic power. The cause of Christ achieved its victories by its own inherent power. Its adherents were, indeed, strong; but it was in faith, and purity, and charity. Thus the Servant of God prospered, and was extolled, and became very high.
3. But His reign on the earth is yet very limited, and His conquests incomplete.
III. WHAT WE MAY GATHER FROM THIS PROPHETIC ACCOUNT RESPECTING THE PROCESS BY WHICH THE KINGDOM OF THE MESSIAH SHALL THUS BE FULLY AND FINALLY ESTABLISHED. “As many were astonied at Thee: so shall He sprinkle many nations; the kings,” etc. We are led to infer--
1. That there shall be a wide dispersion of Divine knowledge over heathen and Mohammedan nations; for men cannot see or consider that which is not first presented to their notice.
2. The nations shall fix their anxious attention on the truths declared to them.
3. Impressed with holy awe, they shall assume the attitude of abasement and submission. I apprehend that the expression, the “kings shall shut their mouths at Him,” implies the submission of whole nations, here represented by kings; for, as the reception of Christianity on the part of the rulers of a country requires the overthrow of every system of religious polity previously established, such a reception publicly made, implies, more or less, the submission of the mass of the people.
4. He shall forgive their iniquities and sanctify their hearts. “He shall sprinkle many nations;” that is, in allusion to the aspersions under the law, by which the people were sanctified, the Son of God shall apply to the souls of regenerated multitudes the blood of His great atonement, and the sacred influences of His Holy Spirit. Then, “a nation shall be born in a day.” (G. T. Noel, M. A.)
A threefold view of the Person and work of Jesus Christ
1. HIS WORK BELOW. He is called the “Servant” of the Lord. “As many were astonied at Thee,” etc. The disciples saw Him on the Cross; they gazed on Him with amazement, and scarcely recovered themselves by the third day. The women who followed Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, stood afar off, and smote their breasts as they killed Him; and the thousands of men whom He had healed and cured, looked with astonishment at the ignominious termination of such a life. Even the elements seemed to join in the universal consternation; the sun refused to shine, and hid himself in darkness; the light of the moon was clouded.
II. THINK OF HIM SITTING IN GLORY UPON HIS THRONE. “He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.”
1. He shall be exalted. This relates to His authority and power. Verily, a name is written in His vesture and on His thigh, and that name is “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
2. He shall be extolled. It has been the delight of every apostle, of every evangelist, of every missionary, of every minister, of every Christian, to extol Him; and when we have done our best, it is our grief and shame and humility that we cannot extol Him more.
3. “He shall be very high,” or, if you prefer the language of the apostle, “In all things He shall have the pre-eminence.”
III. The works of mercy which the Saviour is accomplishing IN HIS EXALTED STATE. He sets forth His Gospel according to His promise. “He shall sprinkle many nations.” This denotes the office of Christ. “The kings shall stop their mouths at Him. This text is best explained by quoting, a passage in which Job, speaking of himself as the chief magistrate, says, “When I went out to the gate through the city, when I prepared my seat in the street! the young men saw me,” etc. (Job 29:7-10). Such was the respect for the dignity of this man of God, that in his presence the nobles and the elders spake not, but imposed silence on their lips; so shall it be with the potentates and monarchs of the earth in the presence of Him “who is greater than all.” (J. Stratten.)
The face of Christ
Our Lord Jesus Christ bore from of old the name of “Wonderful,” and the word seems all too poor to set forth His marvellous person and character. It is an astonishing thing that there should have been a Christ at all; the Incarnation is the miracle of miracles; that He who is the Infinite should become an infant.
I. HE WAS A GREAT WONDER IN HIS GRIEFS.
II. HE WAS A GREAT WONDER IN HIS GLORY. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high
The Saviour’s exaltation
We obtain the following series of thoughts, “He will rise, He will be still more exalted, He will stand high.” The three verbs thus signify beginning, progress and result, or the climax of the exaltation. (F. Delitzsch, D.D.)
As many were astonied at Thee
The abasement of Christ and its consequences
THE UNEQUALLED ABASEMENT AND SORROW OF THE MESSIAH. Unequalled--
1. Because of the previous dignity from which He descended.
2. If we trace the various stages of His humiliation. Was He born? It was of no opulent parents. As He grew up he became the object of envy. When He sprang into youth, it was not to sway a sceptre or to govern millions, but to work with His reputed father. As He went on in His course He was exposed to the scoffs and malice of Jews and Gentiles, etc. Eye the Saviour’s sufferings in what light you please, and you will find His sufferings were various as well as intense. He suffered as a man; from want--from fatigue--from poverty--from the crown of thorns placed onHis head, etc. He suffered civilly, as a member of society. An insurrectionist and a murderer was preferred before Him. He suffered spiritually--from the thick volleys of fiery darts which were showered at Him, and from the hidings of His Father’s countenance. And observe the associations which were likely to aggravate His sufferings. “They all forsook Him and fled.”
3. Our Saviour’s sufferings and woes derived additional poignancy and exquisiteness from the very character which He bare. “Many were astonied at Thee.” The spectators were so, who smote upon their breasts, and returned, after having seen these things. Devils were astonished, when they saw how all the shafts of their malice recoiled. Angels were astonished as they ministered unto Him. So He is still a wonder unto many; and if He be not so to us, it is because of our criminal insensibility and indifference.
II. THE MOMENTOUS CONSEQUENCES BY WHICH HIS SUFFERINGS AND SORROWS WERE TO BE FOLLOWED. “So shall He sprinkle many nations.” There is a direct reference to the various aspersions and ablutions under the law of Moses. These were of three kinds--
1. An aspersion of the blood of atonement once a year.
2. An aspersion of water on the unclean person, called the water of separation, by which a person was separated to a holy purpose.
3. An aspersion both of water and of blood on the leper, by which he was pronounced clean, and needed no longer to remain without the camp.
Combine these ideas, and they will give the two grand designs of our Saviour’s death--a propitiation, and a purification. And recollect that these two great and important ends of our Saviour’s death must always be associated. Here we see their superiority over the legal aspersions. (J. Clayton, ,M.A.)
A twofold wonder
I. THE ASTONISHMENT PRODUCED BY OUR SAVIOUR’S HUMILIATION.
1. “Many were astonied at Thee”--astonished, doubtless, at the disappointment of their expectations. They had looked for a second Joshua, who should march at their head, and lead them forth from victory to victory till all their enemies should have fallen beneath their feet. They had expected another son of Jesse, who should make the name of Israel terrible to surrounding nations. And when they saw the world’s Redeemer, and found Him possessed of none of those external attributes which they deemed essential to His character, they were offended at Him, and their astonishment was that of indignation and bitter disappointment. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?”
2. But our text goes on to describe some special causes of this astonishment. “His visage was so marred, more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men.” Whilst further on the prophet adds, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” I do not believe that such expressions as these are intended to represent the person of the Saviour as naturally defective in comeliness or dignity, though they have been oftentimes so understood, for we may reasonably conclude that the form which God gave His own Son was one of the best and the most perfect, and that the features of His countenance were as expressive as human features could be of intelligence, of dignity, and of love. Yet there was a marvellous mixture of meekness with this intelligence, of abasement with this dignity, and of sorrow with this love. Never was there a countenance which so beamed with holiness; yet never was there one so deeply furrowed with the lines the curse had made. Unrepenting sinners, like the Jews of old, are to this day astonished “without” being benefited at the sight, of the Redeemer’s sufferings.
II. The text says, alluding to the ceremonial law, He shall sprinkle many nations,” etc. We here perceive THE DIFFERENCE OF EFFECT produced by that astonishment which flows from contempt, and that which is produced by reverential regard for an object of infinite worth and dignity. The first opens the lips, and the latter seals them. The first accumulates epithets of scorn. But very different shall be the result of that wonder which shall fill the breast when the Saviour begins to give convincing proof of the greatness, and universality of His triumph.. “Kings shall then shut their mouths at Him.” “Seeing the progress of His kingdom,” says Vitrings, “they shall revoke their edicts against it, and thus shut their mouths at Him.” The wonder shall then become too great for expression. Again, “That which had not been told them shall they see.” The general ignorance which prevails amongst men, even the most noble and the most educated, on religious subjects, is oftentimes most astounding. To cleanse the heart, to sanctify the soul, there is no power but of God; and so, whenever a sinner is converted from the error of his ways, he is brought to acknowledge, “this is the Lord’s doing.” But the true accomplishment of the prediction before us requires greater things than these. There shall be a time when high and low, rich and poor, kings and subjects, shall all stand in amazement at the triumphs of the Cross of Christ. “What they had not heard shall they consider.” They shall lay to heart those things which shall arrest their attention. It will not be enough for them to be mere spectators of the Saviour’s triumph; they shall become deeply interested in it; all their thoughts, affections, efforts, shall tend towards it. (S. Bridge, M.A.)
Christ’s endurance and success
I. THE SAVIOUR’S ENDURANCE.
II. THE SAVIOUR’S SUCCESS. (S. Bridge, M. A.)
His visage was so marred more than any man
The marred face
I. CHRIST’S FACE BEING SO BEAUTIFUL WAS EASILY MARRED. The perfect beauty of God was the reflected loveliness of Christ. Perfection is easily blemished; the more beautiful anything is, the more easily it is injured.
II. CHRIST’S FACE WAS AN INDEX OF HIS LIFE AND WORK. His face told the story of His inner life. This was the chief reason for the loveliness of Jesus’ face. His heart was full of pure, white thoughts, and consequently rays of beauty shot out through His gentle eyes. There burned within Him the light of tranquillity, which found expression in His calm, peaceful countenance. All the grandest virtues of this life could be seen in Jesus’ face. And yet this beauty was marred, the light from His inner light suffered a black eclipse.
His face was also an index of His work. When you see a man in the street you can often tell whether he is student, artist or working-man. The employment makes a certain impression upon the face. Christ s employment must have told upon His countenance. In His compassion for souls “He sighed deeply in spirit,” “He groaned and was troubled.” Words such as these convey some idea of the wear and tear Jesus had to endure.
III. THERE ARE SPECIAL INSTANCES GIVEN OF THE MARRING OF HIS FACE. At the grave of Lazarus, when the sisters were lamenting for their dead brother, Christ joined in the sorrow and wept, His face being stained with tears. On the brow of Olivet as He stood looking at the beloved city He began to weep, and in the garden of Gethsemane as the sweat dropped from Him in drops like blood, He fell on His face and prayed; in the judgment-hall when standing in the presence of His accusers, we read, “And some began to spit on Him and to cover His face, and to buffet Him, and to say unto Him, Prophesy, and the servants did strike Him with the palms of their hands.” They degraded Jesus as much as possible, directing their blows and insults to His face; such treatment would tell heavily upon His appearance.
IV. THERE MUST HAVE BEEN SOMETHING ATTRACTIVE IN THE FACE OF JESUS. The average man could see no beauty in Jesus; still, the children were attracted by Him, and children as a rule are either repelled or won by a look. It was by a look that Jesus won Peter from a state of backsliding. In conclusion, we like to think of God as having a face the same as that of Jesus. Scientists talk of “an essence,” “a great first cause,” “something in the abstract,” but with such definitions we wander and cannot understand God. By faith, as Dr. Saphir says, “we see the face of our dear God and seek Him as a friend” or, like one of old, we say, “Thy face, Lord, will I seek.” We look forward to one day seeing the face of Jesus. (W. K. Bryce.)
So shall He sprinkle many nation
Sprinkling the nations
“Sprinkle;” possibly “startle,” cause to rise up in wonder and reverence.
The nations were familiar with the afflictions and abjectness of the Servant; suddenly, and without intimation of it, they see His elevation and stand up in reverential silence, before Him. (A.B. Davidson, D.D.)
The peculiar doctrines of Christianity the subject of ancient prophecy
I. THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THIS PROPHECY IN GENERAL. This prophecy hath been in part already accomplished, in the diffusive spread of the Gospel throughout the world: many nations whereof have been plentifully sprinkled with its Divine doctrines, and made nominal Christians; and many individuals in those nations been made real converts, by virtue of that “blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel.”
II. SOME OF THOSE PECULIAR DOCTRINES OF CHRISTIANITY WHICH WE MAY SUPPOSE TO BE HERE REFEREED TO, most of which were in a great measure, and some of them altogether, unknown to the world, before the Messiah came.
1. The doctrine of man’s apostacy, and the way wherein moral evil made its first entrance into the world.
2. The method of man’s recovery from the miseries of his apostate state, by the mediation and redemption of Christ.
3. The renovation of our natures by the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit.
4. The doctrine of the ever-blessed Trinity.
5. The incarnation of the Son of God.
6. The doctrine of grace.
7. The gracious and effectual operations of the Holy Spirit on the heart of man.
8. The resurrection of the body.
9. Several particular circumstances relating to the final judgment are the peculiar discoveries of the Christian revelation, that Christ will be the Judge, etc.
10. The undoubted certainty of a future state of rewards and punishments. (A. Mason, M.A.)
The risen Christ winning the nations
Bishop George Augustus Selwyn was a splendid type of the muscular Christian. As a missionary he was a mighty force, and as a friend he was universally beloved. An incident in his career as Missionary Bishop of New Zealand well shows what manner of man he was. Governor Grey and Bishop Selwyn were out together on a walking expedition, and it was Easter Sunday. “Christ has risen!” Selwyn reverently welcomed the day, and his companion joined, “He has risen indeed!” They were communing in that spirit when a bundle of letters was brought into the tent. One to Selwyn the news of the death of Siapo, a Loyalty Islander, who had become a Christian under his teaching, and who was being educated with other natives at his seminary in Auckland. The Bishop, overcome with grief, burst into tears; then he broke some moments of silence with the words, “Why, you have not shed a single tear! “No,” said the Governor, “I have been so wrapped in thought that I could not weep. I have been thinking of the prophecy that men of every race were to be assembled in the kingdom of heaven. I have tried to imagine the wonder and joy prevailing there at the coming of Siapo, the first Christian of his race. He would be glad evidence that another people of the world had been added to the teaching of Christ.” “Yes, yes,” said Selwyn, drying his tears, “that is the true idea to entertain, and I shall not weep any more.” (Christian Age.)
The kings shall shut their mouths at Him
The wondrous monarchy
I. THE UNIQUE SPECTACLE WHICH CHRIST PRESENTS. All that is great in this spectacle gathers round what this Servant is to be and do. We observe five distinguishing features--
1. Wondrous wisdom. “My Servant shall deal prudently.” Jesus was filled with the spirit of Wisdom and understanding; with a keen and piercing glance He saw men through and through. But it was not only in confounding His enemies that His superhuman wisdom was shown; it was also in the means He used for establishing that kingdom which He came to found. Means on which the world would have relied He forbade and abjured. Means never tried before were the only ones He would use. He would have no sword employed either to defend Himself, or to, extend His sway, but equipped His warriors only with “power from on high” !
2. Wondrous sorrow (Isaiah 52:14). He was “a man of sorrows “
3. Wondrous elevation. “He shall arise, and be lifted up, and be glorified exceedingly.” These words exactly indicate the resurrection, the ascension and the exaltation to mediatorial glory.
4. Wondrous redeeming efficacy. “So shall He sprinkle many nations.” As His sorrow was intense, so shall His redeeming power be large, as if the one were a recompense for the other. There were (among others) two kinds of sprinkling enjoined by the Mosaic law, to either or to both of which a reference may be intended here. The sprinkling of blood, being towards and on the mercy-seat, was God-wards; the sprinkling of water, as on the Levite or leper, was on the person, manwards. So the work of Christ has this double aspect. The blood-shedding was God’s own atoning act in Him, for us; the cleansing grace is God’s purifying act, through Him, in us.
5. Wondrous uniting power. “So shall He sprinkle many nations.” He would absolve and sanctify, not the Jew only, but also the Greek, “and thus abolish the wall of partition between Israel and the heathen, and gather into one holy Church with Israel, those who had hitherto been pronounced unclean. How vividly is the fulfilment of this portrayed in Acts 10:1-48.
II. WHAT IS THERE HERE THAT SHOULD LEAD KINGS, IN PARTICULAR, TO DO THIS? Is it that though kings and princes know all that earth has to give of luxury and splendour, they see here a pomp that outshines all beside? That may be so, but we think the mason lies deeper still. It is evidently on account of something before unknown that they are to “shut their mouths,” for the text goes on to say, “That which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they consider. Around what do the thoughts and associations of kings gather? Do they not gather round the sceptre, crown and empire? Do they not naturally weigh in the balance one monarchy against another? Surely. Well, here is such a monarchy as earth had never known before, and one that will ever stand absolutely alone.
1. In this monarchy alone right and might are entirely equal.
2. This monarchy is based on the King s own self-sacrifice.
3. How did He set up this kingdom? A few poor fishermen undertook to instruct and convert the world. The success was prodigious.
4. This monarchy was based on the King’s own priesthood.
5. The power of love is the only power that gathers men round the Cross
6. This monarchy was inaugurated by the issue of a royal pardon offered to the worst of sinners, “beginning at Jerusalem.”
7. This is a monarchy that, uniting men under its sceptre, creating a new power of love towards itself, creates also a new power of love for man towards man, as well as of man for Jesus; and, strange as it may seem, in gathering men of every tribe and tongue under its sceptre, it makes them forget their diversity, and brings them to feel their oneness in one common God and Father; and by the pulse-beat of a common life in all the nations, solves the long-vexed problem of the unity of the human race! Nor is this all.
8. Everywhere the one force which holds together the subjects of this Monarch is love!--not fear, not constraint, but love. Is there nothing in such a monarchy as this to give a clue to the meaning of the expression, “Kings shall shut their mouths at Him”? The expression evidently denotes the effect which the report or the sight of such a monarchy should produce upon them. Some take it as meaning that they should shut their mouths in silent fear. Others, that they should withdraw the edicts against Christianity. We rather, with Mr. Urwick, take it as indicating “the awe-inspiring power” of Christ. There may be yet a deeper meaning in the expression, “shall shut their mouths”--a meaning which applies only to Christian kings, and not to them simply as kings, but rather as Christians in common with others. The words may indicate the silence induced by deep emotion. (J. Culross, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 52". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24