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Sing, O barren
Jerusalem: barren, then fruitful
The direct address refers to Jerusalem, which resembled Sarah in her early barrenness and later fruitfulness Isaiah 51:1-3).
(F. Delitzsch, D.D.)
The relation between Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17
From Calvin to Ewald and Dillman, critics have all felt a close connection between Isaiah 52:13 -
53. and chap. 54. “After having spoken of the death of Christ, ‘ saysCalvin, “the prophet passed on with good reason to the Church: that we may feel more deeply in ourselves what is the value and efficiency of His death.” Similar in substance, if not in language, is the opinion of the latest critics, who understand that in chap. 54. the prophet intends to picture that full redemption which the Servant’s work, culminating in chap. 53., could alone effect. Two keywords of chap. 53. had been “a seed” and “many.” It is “the seed” and the “many” whom chap. 54. reveals. (Prof. G.A. Smith, D.D.)
The two chapters deal with the same subject from two distinct standpoints. Whatever view be held as to the Servant’s personality, there is no doubt that His exaltation implies the restoration of Israel, and that His work is the indispensable condition of that restoration being accomplished. Thus while chap. 53. describes the inward process of conversion by which the nation is made righteous, chap. 54. describes the outward deliverance which is the result; and the impression is probably correct that the glowing hopes here uttered are sustained in the last resort by the contemplation of the Servant s mission as described in chap. 53. (Prof. J. Skinner, D.D.)
Isaiah 54:1-17 is peculiarly a missionary chapter. After the death and resurrection of the Saviour has been foretold, the great results that would follow thereon are appropriately described. In Isaiah 54:1-3, she that was “barren” (whether a reference is made to the Jews on their return from captivity, or to the Gentiles to whom the Gospel began to go forth on the day of Pentecost, or to the enlargement of the true Church by the gathering in of souls from Jews and Gentiles alike) is exhorted to rejoice in the increase of her offspring. God’s mercy in gathering this Church and bestowing upon her His favour is described (Isaiah 54:4-10); the attractiveness of this Church follows (Isaiah 54:11-12); and lastly (Isaiah 54:13-17) her establishment in righteousness and her permanence are set forth. (W. H. Barlow, B.D.)
The Church of the future:
The prophecy of this chapter follows naturally on, and is a continuation of, that in the fifty-third. The former foretells “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” The latter speaks of the Church, the foundations of which the Saviour died to lay, the superstructure of which He lives to build.
I. WE HAVE A PICTURE OF THE CHURCH IN HER SADNESS. The figures used by the prophet, while easy enough to apply generally, present some points of difficulty when we attempt the detail.
1. At the first glance of the opening verses of the chapter we see that the figures are drawn from the very closest tie that nature knows, even that of the marriage relationship. This figure, so frequently used in the Old Testament, is based on a profound truth. The truth on which it is based is this: that as both male and female are incomplete without each other, so the happiness of God is incomplete without the love of the creature whom He has made to love Him, and the happiness of man is incomplete without an object above him in which his love can rest. Such a figure served a holy educating purpose to Israel, and ought still to do so to us. In one direction it shows us how holy and tender is the relationship between man and God, and how loving is the heart of God towards man; in another direction it lifts up the sacred tie of marriage into a higher and Diviner light, and lets us see it in the light of the Divine idea, as not only a union of bodies but also of spirits, in a tie which can never be broken without a rupture of the laws of God!
2. Another truth lying at the foundation of the chapter is this, that the Church, in God’s eye, is seen at a glance, through all the vicissitudes of her chequered career, till her completion in the fulness of time. That Church, chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world, in Him is one. He sees that Church passing, through gloom to glory! And truly, sad enough is the picture of the Church s sorrow which is presented here. She is like one whose husband has forsaken her. She is barren, desolate, rejected, contemned; and is consequently sad, afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted. The chief question is, at what period was God s Church like this, and what Church was ever in such gloom?
(1) The Hebrew Church was primarily intended. Her bondage in Egypt was “the shame of her youth, her captivity in Babylon was” the reproach of her widowhood.”
(2) The figures would apply, to some extent, to that idea!, Gentile Church which the Saviour saw in vision when He said, “Other sheep I have, etc., including all those in the east and west and north and south who were yearning after God, but to whom the Lord had not yet revealed His love, and who were not yet brought to rest in the Infinite heart of God.
(3) The description will apply also to the whole Church of God now: which, during the transition period through which we are now passing, while the great problem of sin and its treatment is being worked out, is often in shade, often mourning the paucity of those who join her ranks, often the object of the world s ridicule and scorn!
(4) The passage will befit also the individual believer, in whose chequered experience of sorrow, temptation and care all the varied phases of the troubles of the Church are presented in miniature.
II. WE HAVE A SECOND PICTURE AS BRIGHT AS THE FIRST IS DARK. The second is given on account of the gloom of the first, for the special purpose of cheering the saints of God, throughout the period of shade. In the picture given with this view, an entirely different set of figures is made use of; even such as belong to the erection of a building. And there are, scattered throughout this chapter, no fewer than nine main features which go to make up the outline of this beauty and glory which, in spite of present gloom, the prophet sees far ahead. Regarding the Church of the future, then, under the figure of a building, let us observe--
1. God Himself is the Founder of it. The foundation is Jesus Christ.
2. Men from every nation under heaven will gather within it. “The God of the whole earth shall He be called.” The restrictions of the past shall be done away.
3. Righteousness shall he its basis (Isaiah 54:14).
4. Close and endearing relationship with God will be its privilege (Isaiah 54:5). “Thy Maker is thine Husband.” He who formed by the hand of His power, will make Himself known to you in the tenderest love.
5. Light will be its heritage. “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord” (Isaiah 54:13).
6. Peace will be its possession. “Great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isaiah 54:13).
7. Beauty will be its adornment. “Behold I will set thy stones in stibium” (Isaiah 54:11). Stibium was a peculiar dye with which the Hebrew women tinged the eyelashes, in order that, being surrounded with this tinge, the beauty of the eye might flash forth more brightly. So the stones with which this building of God was to be erected, were to be set, as it were, in cement of so rich a dye as to set forth their lustre in richer beauty. And thy battlements of rubies, thy gates of flashing gems, and all thy borders of precious stones.” Thus the mineral world is made to yield its meed of illustration; its choicest gems are used as symbolic of the glory and beauty of the Church. Why? Because all beauty and glory of jasper, amethyst, ruby, sapphire, and pearl, when so set that their radiance gleams out most brilliantly, are but a reflection of that higher spiritual beauty of Him who created all.
8. Divine protection will be its safeguard (Isaiah 54:14-15). “Thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee. Behold, they (thine enemies) shall surely gather together, but not by Me (not by My consent): whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake” (rather, shall fall upon thee). “Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall he broken.” Adverse weapons shall be blunted. Adverse tongues shall be condemned--both by the force of powerful argument, and by the mightier demonstration of a holy life (Isaiah 54:16). “I have created the waster to destroy,” the same power which builds the Church, has created all her foes; hence the inference is inevitable, God will not suffer those who arc opposed to Him to use their power so as to destroy that part of His work which He values most.
9. Perpetuity shall be its everlasting law (Isaiah 54:7-10). This is expressed in various forms of antithesis. Everything is wrapped up in this ninefold glory! (C. Clemance, D.D.)
“Sing, O barren!”
In the previous chapters we have heard the exiles summoned to leave Babylon, and beheld the Divine Servant becoming the Sin-bearer for them and the world. Here our attention ,is startlingly recalled to the desolate city of Jerusalem. “Barren;” “Forsaken; “Desolate”--such are the terms applied to her by One who cannot err. And they arecorroborated by the testimony of a contemporary (Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 2:3; Nehemiah 2:13-17). But how is this? Have we not learnt that the Mediator has put away sin at the cost to Himself of wounds and bruises, stripes and death? Is that redemption complete which fails to grapple with all the results and consequences of wrong-doing? This opens up a great subject, and one that touches us all. Though our sin is forgiven, yet certain consequences remain, of which that ruined city is a type. We cannot undo the past; God Himself cannot undo it. It can never be as though it had never been. The seventy years of captivity, the shame, the sorrow, the anguish to God, the forfeited opportunities, attended by a multitude of hypocrites, and her courts were crowded with formalists, but the genuine children of Israel were sadly few; and when the Lord, the Husband of the Church, Himself arrived, the Church was in no happy condition. After that the Lords had been lain in the grave and risen again and ascended and left the Church, then were the days of refreshing, and the times of the visitation of the Spirit. At all seasons when the Church has been desolate and has become barren, God has appeared to her.
II. I now intend to use the text in reference to ANY ONE CHURCH.
1. There are some separate Churches which are in a very sad condition, and may most truly be said to be barren and desolate.
2. Brethren will ask me what is their present duty as members of such Churches? Your duty is very plain Labour to be conscious of the sad barrenness of the Church to which you belong: Spread the case before Jehovah, and be sure that you look away from everything that you yourself can do to Him, and to him alone. But mind you do not pray without proving the sincerity of your prayers by action.
III. THE POOR HELPLESS SINNER HAS HIS CASE WELL DESCRIBED BY THE PROPHET AS BARREN AND DESOLATE. “Barren! ah, that I am. I have not one meritorious fruit that I can bring before God.” You are desolate, too; no one can comfort you. Your barrenness is barrenness for ever if left to itself, and your desolation is utter and helpless unless some one intervene. May I ask you to look at the chapter which precedes my text? Jesus has taken the sinner’s sin upon Himself, and made a complete atonement; therefore, “Sing, O barren!” The mighty Redeemer has come out of His dwelling-place, and has fought the enemy, and won the victory. “Sing, O barren!”
IV. Does not this text belong to THE DEPRESSED BELIEVES? You and I, though we have brought forth some fruit unto the, Lord Jesus, yet sometimes feel very barren. What are we to do? “Sing, O barren, etc. But what can I sing about? I cannot sing about the present; I cannot even sing concerning the past. Yet I can sing of Jesus Christ. What is my barrenness. It is the platform for Divine power. What is my desolation? It is the black setting for the sapphire of His everlasting love.
V. Our text ought to have a special voice to THOSE CHRISTIANS WHO HAVE NOT BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN DOING GOOD. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Gentile Church a joyful mother
I. THE CHILDLESS MOURNER. The passage is the present heritage of the Gentile Church. Gentiledom was for a long time without a spiritual child. Now she may sing over a multitudinous family of true Christians. Addressed to the Jews as a prophecy--showing, in their sadness and depression, that though matters looked so dark for the cause of God now, yet there was a bright and blessed hope. Cheers them, not so much by showing grounds of present rejoicing, but by providing a telescope by which they might behold “the good time coming.” We may here note--
1. One great use of prophecy. It can cheer when things immediately around cause depression.
(1) To a sad Church the minister should speak much of unfulfilled prophecy.
(2) The Christian, in the “present distress should do the same for himself 2 Peter 1:19).
2. The imagery. It rings poetic changes on the idea of childlessness. Expressive imagery to Jewish women, who so longed for children, in hope of Messiah.
(1) Such should be the Church’s longing. Her prayer should be, “Give me children, or I die!” Bad sign when a Church seems content to be barren or to have no spiritual increase.
(2)When she remains without new births (or conversions), she should mourn. Contemplate the once barrenness of Christendom. Its comparative barrenness in vast tracts now, even in Christian England!
II. THE REJOICING MOTHER. Gentiledom for ages “unmarried”--“desolate.” When Christ came, He “called her by name,” and espoused her. Then how rapidly a family was brought forth. In Pentecostal times, what “multitudes were added to the Lord” (Acts 6:7; Acts 16:5). What joy this caused! (Acts 2:46-47, etc.)
1. The great subject of the verse, the joy of the Church in multitudes of conversions. This joy of the Lord is her strength (Nehemiah 8:10). She is then encouraged to labour with fresh zeal and hope in works of evangelization. Therefore “new births should be, as it were, registered; the successes of the Gospel should be published to evoke this healthful joy hence the reflex benefits of missionary gatherings.
2. Reasons for such joy. Not only because souls are saved, but because--
(1) Increase is a sign that God’s power is with His Church.
(2) It confirms our own faith. The more they are who believe what we believe, the more confident we must feel in the truth of our faith.
(3) It makes heaven appear attractive by the “sympathy of numbers.” We may use the text as a test How far are we in sympathy with the Church in joy over conversions to God? (R. Glover, M. A.)
Enlarge the place of thy tent.
An enlarged Church
The Jewish nation, after its return from captivity, never attained so remarkable a degree of prosperity and power as fully to answer all the terms of this prophecy. It is true that they became a very numerous people; so that from forty-two thousand, the number of those that went out of Babylon, they had increased to nearly three millions at the time of our Saviour’s death; but they can hardly be said, in respect of territorial limits, to have broken “forth on the right hand and on the left,” nor to have “inherited the Gentiles.” We must therefore look for another interpretation of the prophecy; and we can be in no doubt as to its application to the Church of God. (C. J. Blomfield, D. D.)
Jew and Gentile in one Church
“He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied,” are words of comfort interposed amidst forebodings of suffering and woe; and the mode of their accomplishment is more clearly pointed out by an image drawn from the habits of pastoral life, familiar to the people of eastern countries, where the nomad chief, as his family, and cattle, and goods increase, finds it necessary to “enlarge the place of” his “tent, and” to “stretch forth the curtains of” his “habitation.” Under this image is represented the gradual increase of the Church, from the moment when, to human eyes, it appeared to have been crushed by the disgrace and death of its Founder, to the time when the “fulness of the Gentiles” shall have “come in,” and God’s ancient people shall be brought back to the same fold with them, and all “the kingdoms of this world” shall “become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ.” (C. J. Blomfield, D. D.)
According to the prophet the relation of God to His people is a relation that assures enlargement of beneficence on every hand. God and His Church are not locked up together, in some secret place, enjoying spiritual luxuries, whilst all the world is dying of starvation. If we could find such a hint in the Scripture we should burn the book. The Scripture is all for enlargement. The feast cannot be increased; but if it were needful to increase the space within which the guests are to be accommodated God would thrust back the horizon, rather than any man should starve for want of room to sit down in. If any messenger shall return, saying, “Yet there is room,” God would send that messenger out again to compel the hungering and homeless to come that they might enjoy a Father’s gracious bounty. So we find in the opening verses of this chapter--enlargement. (Dr. Parker, D. D.)
William Carey and missions
William Carey’s sermon on this text, preached at Nottingham, marked an epoch in the history of Christianity, for it aroused the Church of Christ to a sense of its responsibility for the conversion of the heathen and the evangelization of the world. The interest awakened by that sermon led to the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society, and to the ushering in of the Evanglistic era, which has already brought a great revenue of glory to Christ, and priceless blessings to every branch of His Church. From this remarkable text Carey deduced and enforced two important practical principles, which were afterwards embodied in the motto of the Baptist Mission--“Attempt great things for God.” “Enlarge,” “stretch forth,” “lengthen,” “strengthen.” “Expect great things from God (Isaiah 54:4). If Carey had done nothing but shape this formula for evangelistic work, he would have achieved much for the cause he loved so dearly. It is easily remembered. Rather, it is not easily forgotten. (J. T.McGaw, D. D.)
The enlargement of the Church
The tent is the simplest and most primitive form of the human habitation. Wherever a pole can be found, with cords or strips of leather, a little bark or cloth or canvas or skin, a tent can be set up--as easily struck as pitched, and almost as easily enlarged; for when the growing necessities of a family demand larger shelter and room, all you have to do is to get a little longer pole, a little thicker cords, a little more bark or skin or canvas, and you can stretch forth the curtains of your habitation to accommodate the needs of the growing family. And so this is made the type of the enlargement of the canopy of the Church over her growing family of children. “Thou shalt burst forth,” as the Hebrew is--the grand old Hebrew--“Thou shalt burst forth on the right and on the left.” A symmetrical growth in this direction and that direction alike; not like a family that has a one-sided development--she is going to gather her children from east and west and north and south, and every clime and every tongue and every people; and because her family is to come from all quarters of the earth, her canopy must stretch to every quarter of the earth to cover her increasing family. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
“Lengthen” and “strengthen”
What is the duty of the Church in these days? “Lengthen” and “strengthen.” The word “lengthen” suggests extensity; the word “strengthen” suggests intensity, and there is always danger in extensive movement that is not accompanied by intensive movement. You are lengthening your cords, but if you do not strengthen your stakes what will happen? Your lengthening your cords will be a disaster to you and the tent itself.
1. How shall we lengthen cords? By sending out our organizations in every direction--a cord here to Europe, another cord to Asia, another to Africa, and another to the islands of the sea. Towards the North Pole and the South Pole; in every direction, from the great centres of Christendom, let your missionary organizations reach! With the enterprise that has dash and push in it let these cords be carried to the ends of the earth, until the network of missions overspreads the whole family of man! And, if we are going to have this lengthened cord you must add your own length to it. As, when we rescue a man from a burning building, and the ladder will not reach those that are in peril, the fireman stands on the top rung of the ladder and adds his own length, over which men and women climb down into safety, so if you are going to have this organization reach over the world in a spirit of hallowed enterprise till the canopy is co-extensive with the family of man, your length has got to be added to the cord. You have read of the self-sacrifice of the Carthaginian maidens when they cut off their raven ringlets that they might be braided into bowstrings for Hannibal’s archers; or of the Tyrian maidens when they sacrificed their golden hair for cordage for the Tyrian navy. The cords of enterprise by which this Gospel is to be carried to the ends of the earth are woven out of the very fibres of human hearts! You cannot make them with money, and you cannot make them with commercial interests, and you cannot make them with public enthusiasm. They are woven on the loom of personal consecration in the secret place with God.
2. We must not only have lengthened cords, but strengthened stakes. If there is one weak stake on the circumference of a tent, and it pulls out or is broken, then it puts a greater stress on the other tent-pegs round it, and one by one they are loosened or pulled out, until the whole tent collapses. What does that mean? It means that any Church on the circumference of Christian effort that does not plant itself firmly to hold up the cord of organization is responsible for the collapse of Christian missions. And it means that any man or woman or child in the Church of God, among God’s professed believing children, that does not become a stake down deep into the ground and holding on, is responsible for any disaster that comes to the whole work of Christ by lack of personal co-operation. (A. T.Pierson, D. D.)
Strengthening the stakes
How are you going to strengthen the stakes?
1. By faith in Almighty God. This is His work.
2. By the power of believing prayer. A beloved Japanese convert and trainer of native teachers said with his dying breath, “Advance on your knees.”
3. By a firm confidence in this Gospel as the Gospel of Christ, and that this Word is the Word of God.
4. We must have sanctified giving.
5. Holy living. Stanley says that he owes to the months he spent with Livingstone the transformation of his character; and yet Livingstone never said a word to him about his soul’s salvation. (A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
The Church’s duty and encouragements
I. THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH.
II. HER ENCOURAGEMENTS. (A. W. Brown, M. A.)
I. THE MAGNITUDE AND SUPREME IMPORTANCE OF OUR OBJECT. The conversion of the world. We know that the conversion of the world is not our work, but God’s. But we also know that the Lord works with suitable instruments, and that the degree of our success may be influenced by our devotedness, and the skill with which we adapt our efforts to our end. The conversion of the world! Who can realize what that means? I think of one soul living and dying in rebellion against God--of its possibilities for misery and for mischief--how much it may itself endure, how much injury it may inflict, how much grief occasion, throughout God’s holy universe? I think of that soul as converted! of the blessedness it may experience, the beneficent influence it may exert, the joy its conversion will diffuse throughout the ranks of sinless intelligences. Of the sublime satisfaction with which He will regard it, who for its sake endured the Cross and despised the shame, when it becomes a jewel in His crown, a trophy of His saving love and power, fruit of His soul’s travail. Then I extend the thought to the countless myriads of the human race whom that soul represents, and of whom the same thing may be predicated. The thought is to me absolutely overpowering. “Oh, the magnitude--the momentous importance of the object at which we aim! Oh, the miserable smallness of the means we use for such a purpose.
III. THE VASTNESS OR THE FIELD NOW OPEN TO US; With more force than at any previous period of the world’s history we can say if missions, “The field is the world.”
III. THE FACILITIES WE NOW HAVE FOR CARRYING ON OUR WORK. The Lord in His high providence has furnished the Church with most favourable opportunities of conducting her great enterprise in all parts of the earth.
IV. THE MISERABLE CONDITION AND URGENT CLAIMS OF THE HEATHEN.
V. THE DIVINE INTEREST IN THIS GREAT ENTERPRISE.
VI. THE OBLIGATIONS UNDER WHICH WE ARE LAID BECAUSE OF THE FAVOURS WE HAVE RECEIVED. Forgiven rebels as we are, our forgiveness having been procured for us by the sufferings and death of our Lord, and granted to us as the gift of His grace; redeemed by His blood as we are from the destruction which was pending over us; admitted as we are to all the privileges of loyal and obedient subjects, free access into the Divine presence, not only permission, but encouragement to make known to God the desire of our hearts, with the assurance that He hears us always; born as we are of the Spirit into the Divine family, made children and heirs of God, entitled to call God Father; delivered as we are from the fear of hell, and animated by the hope of a glorious immortality; indebted as we are to the influence of the Gospel even for those temporal blessings which are so conducive to our comfort and enjoyment during the present life, and in respect of which we can truly say, “The lines have fallen to us in pleasant places, and we have a goodly heritage;” honoured by God in being called as we are to share in His great work of winning the world to Himself, by which He shows how completely He has forgiven us, and what confidence He places in us; assured, too, that “they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever”--is not ours confessedly a position of unspeakable privilege? What are we doing? Compare our actions with our object and our obligations. (W. Landels, D. D.)
Arguments for missions
1. Christ owns the whole world.
2. The Gospel of Christ is adapted to all men.
3. Our Lord’s commission to the apostles contemplates a universal kingdom. (J. T. McGaw, D. D.)
1. This great utterance fell from the lips of a man who had newly seen God, and caught thereby an original conception of His redemptive work for the world through captive and desolate Israel. No one can miss the meaning of this joyous outburst. It is an evangel. Sursum corda, he cries. Do not give way to repining though you are lonely and heartsore as a childless woman.
Say not “my tent is destroyed and all my tent-pins are plucked up: my children are gone away and there is none to spread out my tent any more, or to set up my tent-curtains” (Jeremiah 10:20). Get up and make your tent-.pins strong: lengthen your cords and fasten your plugs. Be not content with a little space. Roominess and magnificence befit your prospects. Your expulsion will be your expansion, your desolation your increase, your captivity your exaltation. The area covered by your race shall be larger than of yore. The prophet could speak that word of hope and endeavour because he had received his new vision of God. Insight was the warrant for utterance. He knew the meaning of the Exile through his purer conception of the character and purposes of Jehovah. He saw the supreme and universal sovereignty of God; the universal brotherhood of man; the essential spirituality of the Hebrew religion, that it could and would exist without a temple and without a priest, without an altar and without a land, without anything save the soul and God; that it was to cease to be a local religion and become universal, and instead of remaining a national luxury would become an aggressive missionary and world-caving agency. He looked along the highways of the future, and saw the approach of the delivering God, and cried, “Behold your God! Man has a fatal and pathetic facility both for losing himself and his best treasures. Apostolic Christianity went everywhere preaching the Word. It was essentially aggressive. It placed itself by the side of the ancient religions of Greece and Rome, always absorbent of their good, but finally replacing them by its richer ideas and stronger spiritual impulses. The fires of the Christ-given passion to save all men burnt on, although alas l with diminishing intensity, for more than two centuries. The Reformation itself had little or no missionary passion, and the desponding leader said, with unfathomable sadness--a fore-gleam of the agony and pity that stirred the Churches at a later date: “Asia and Africa have no Gospel; another hundred years and all will be over. God’s Word will disappear for want of any to preach it. Surely not, O prophet of God! The Word of the Lord endureth for ever. When the night is darkest, then up leap the stars. The living God is always at work. An astronomer gazed so long on the sun that he could see nothing else. The image was burned into him. For years before May 81, 1792, the vision of God as the God of Missions had arrested, held, moulded, and swayed the soul of Carey. Isaiah repeats Micah, Luther repeats the psalmist, Carey repeats the prophet, and so the Word of the Lord has flee course and is multiplied.
2. It is a revealing fact that, though Carey gained his messagefrom the words of prophecy, he expressed it in the simple and characteristic language of the closing years of the eighteenth century--the century of the expansion of England and of the great evangelical revival. “Expect great things,” said he that he that he voiced the thought of his generation; expect them from God”--in that he expressed the knowledge and insight of men taught by the Spirit.
3. George Sand reminds us: “It is the heart that governs the world; it is feeling that performs the real miracles of history.” Carey’s persistent determination that the Church should evangelize the world was fed by what Vinet calls “the passion for souls.” His perception of evil was acute. His sense of sin strong. His reliance on Christ unhesitatingly entire. He scarcely seems to have had a thought apart from Christ and His salvation. And yet at the root of all, and over all, and through all was a self-consuming love of men, of all men, and of “heathen” men most of all; and therefore forgetting himself this one thing he did, he founded modern missions by the gift of himself, out and out, in serving and suffering so that he might save men. Ah! it is here we fail. “We do not love men for their own sake or for God’s sake. We need to change our style; it is cramped and fettered. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
Spare not, lengthen thy cords and strongthen thy stakes
Happy influence of foreign missions on the Church
The whole passage refers to the conversion of the heathen; and furnishes the important suggestion, that there is no system of means so well calculated to give expansion and stability to the Church of Christ as foreign missionary operation. There are several reasons which are supposed by many to favour the opinion, that Christian exertion is less productive among pagan nations than at home.
1. There are preliminary barriers which oppose the efforts of the missionary, and which do not exist in Christian lands. The most important are strange languages, and strong prejudices. There is also the systematic and stubborn opposition which the Gospel meets from the established forms of civil government and pagan superstition. Further, there is the risk and waste of life which foreign missionary labour involves. This, however, is but one view of the subject. There are arguments which favour the opposite opinion--that the direct results of Gospel efforts are greater in pagan than in Christian lands. Among the reasons for such an opinion, is that one which induces almost all ministers of the sanctuary to exchange the sphere of their labour at home; and which would, if they were consistent with their principles, send great numbers of them abroad. The souls to be saved are much more numerous--much more needy. Another reason is, the means of usefulness are both more various and extensively operative. A further reason is the activity of native converts.
2. We believe that foreign missions are the best means of lengthening the cords and strengthening the stakes of the Church, because they establish and promote an action and reaction between themselves and the Churches, which is most powerful and advantageous to both parties. This may be demonstrated by several facts.
I. MISSIONARY LABOUR INCREASES THE PIETY AND ENERGY OF THE CHURCHES. The missionary spirit includes among its essential endowments, faith, prayer, self-denial, deadness to the world, charity, beneficence, heavenly-mindedness, a willingness to submit to sufferings and hazards, and a supreme regard for the glory of God.
1. There is the stimulus of example, than which nothing is more influential. Hold up to the Churches those with whom they are under equal obligations, but who have far exceeded them in the “work of faith, and labour of love, and you bring a motive to bear upon them which piety cannot resist.
2. It operates through sympathy. Our work, our aim, our strongest desires, our highest honour, our dearest interests, our eternal recompense are the same.
3. There is the duty and blessedness of necessary co-operation.
4. It diverts the mind from those unimportant points of doctrinal difference, and metaphysical distinction and abstruse speculation, which squander the time and pervert the talents, and ruin the souls of thousands.
5. It operates, too, through the influence of its own greatness. It expands the mind, liberalizes the soul, elevates the aim; arouses faculties and feelings which nothing else could have addressed; and produces effects and results which no other object could command.
II. MISSIONARY OPERATIONS NOT ONLY INCREASE THE PIETY AND ENERGY OF THE CHURCHES, BUT GREATLY ASSIST IN SUPPLYING THEIR DOMESTIC
DESTITUTION. Many a converted youth has had his attention directed to the ministry through the reading of missionary journals. When we speak of the vigour which missionary exertions throw into our domestic institutions, we refer to a very natural operation. That man who has courage to attempt a great enterprise, despises the difficulties of a small one. The energy produced by the one, overlooks all the appalling trifles of the other.
III. THE CHURCH, THROUGH MISSIONARY EFFORTS, PLACES HERSELF IN THE BEST, AND, INDEED, IN THE ONLY POSITION FOR RECEIVING THE MOST ABUNDANT SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS.
1. These efforts have a direct tendency to remove the most serious obstructions to piety and efficiency. Where the work of evangelizing the world is carried on with energy, it indicates and produces self-denial and liberality. We need not stop to show that nothing is more repugnant to eminent holiness, or usefulness, than a selfish parsimonious spirit. It is abhorrent in the eyes of a holy God (Isaiah 57:17).
2. They secure to us those promises which are connected with enlarged exertions (Proverbs 11:25; Isaiah 58:10-11).
IV. IT MUST ENCOURAGE AND ENABLE THE CHURCH STILL MORE TO EXTEND HER LIMITS, AND THUS TO RETURN TO THE HEATHEN WORLD THE FULL INFLUENCE OF HER IMPROVED CONDITION. Application This subject teaches, that lengthening the cords of the Church is strengthening her stakes. (D. Abeel.)
Fear not; for thou shalt net be ashamed
Here, as in many other cases, shame includes the disappointment of the hopes, hut with specific reference to previous misconduct (Job 6:20).
The first clause declares that the Church has nocause for despondency, the second disposes of the causes which might seem to be suggested by her history. The essential meaning is, thy former experience of My displeasure. (J. A. Alexander.)
Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth
Shall I remember my sins in heaven?
In looking forward to heaven, two questions have stirred the minds and hearts of most Christians: Shall I remember my sins in heaven?” and “If I remember my sins in heaven, will not the recollection mar my joy, and interfere with my blessedness?” These
questions are not idle. They originate with that consciousness of depravity which is the first step towards our personal salvation, and they recur in connection with the dispensation of Divine mercy. Our condition prompts the inquiry, and the reply will reveal to us the unsearchable riches of Divine grace. The questions resolve themselves into this: Will the dispensation of Divine mercy, when it has done its work, blot out all the mischievous consequences of sin? The text guides our reply. There was a people taken up by God when in circumstances of great degradation. They are brought into the closest connection with Him--into such a connection as that the conjugal union is the best possible representation of it.. God is faithful to this people, but they are faithless to Him. He institutes means to bring them back to Himself, and He does bring them back. Then, speaking of their restoration, He says, “Fear not, for thou shalt not be ashamed, ‘ etc. In the realization of their restoration, they shall (in a certain sense) forget their apostacy. We declare our belief that, in heaven, you will not so remember your sins as to have your happiness interfered with by the recollection, and that whatever remembrance you have of the apostacy and depravity, will rather be the occasion of increasing your blessedness and joy, than of interfering with the one, or of marring the other. The remembrance of sin did exist under the Levitical dispensation; but in the dispensation of Christ there is nothing at all analogous to the annually recurring day of atonement Hebrews 10:17). So far as our intercourse with God and the cherishing of bright prospects are concerned there is to be a complete forgetfulness of sin. With respect to heaven, we put before you two remarks.
I. THERE IS A RECOLLECTION INEVITABLE. The identity of passions will involve an identity of consciousness. What are the recollections which are inevitable?
1. “I was a sinner.”
2. “I was restored to God by such means and under such influences.”
II. THERE IS A REMEMBRANCE OF SINS IMPOSSIBLE. There is one suggestion that seems of importance here. It is that by and by memory will not be the faculty chiefly exercised and put forth. When is it that we live most in the past? It is when we are sad. In heaven there will be no sadness, no solitude, no fear, no carefulness. Memory, therefore, will not be goaded as now. Memory will then have an inferior place. Observation and penetration will be the chief mental exercises of heaven. A man will be surrounded by objects of intense interest, all connected with God. The commanding recollection of sin will therefore be impossible. The remembrance of sin in heaven will always be connected with the consciousness that sin has been blotted out. This will awaken thankfulness; and joy, with gratitude, will flow through the soul as a large and mighty river. Nothing in God’s conduct in heaven will put sin forward. Then, within yourselves there will be complete and conscious holiness. Look at another fact. You may have had companions here in iniquity, but you will have no unsaved companions in sin with you there. You may recognize persons with whom you trod the broad road, but you will there recognize them as redeemed beings; and, just as in your own case, the commanding thought is not sin but forgiveness, so with them the commanding association will be the wonderfulness of their redemption; not the depth of their apostacy and the length of their wanderings; so that their presence, instead of forcing upon you a remembrance of guilt, will only magnify before your eye and your heart the unsearchable riches of God’s grace and mercy. You will be employed by and by. Your employment will be all-absorbing, and it will be constant. Why should we talk to you about this? If you have a secret idea, or rather an impression, that there must be some limitation to God’s mercy, that it will not secure all this blotting out, what is the consequence? The effect is to limit your application to this pro-vision--you do not take full advantage of the riches of God’s mercy. (S. Martin.)
God’s gift of forgetfulness
To many religious people the burden of the past is the heaviest of their lives. No difficulties and trials of the present can match it for bitterness. They look forward calmly and hopefully to whatever the years may bring. Even the valley of the shadow has little terror for them, believing as they do that they will be shepherded through that to the eternal fold. And yet they are often weighted by a sore burden of the past; they are hag-ridden by shadows of dead days. Sometimes it is the very greatness and success and joy of the past which induce this constant recollection. But the burden of the past, which is more in keeping with the thought of our text, is not the recollection of some joy or success, but of some failure, some sorrow, some loss, some sin, some shame. And to some who live ever under the shadow of this memory it would mean new life to them if the promise came to them with the meaning it had in the prophet’s lips, “Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.” Of course, there is a certain sense in which we cannot forget, and are not meant to forget. Experience has its lessons to teach. All religion begins with repentance, and the appeal to repentance is an appeal to memory. But the promise of our text is a tacit condemnation of the sentimental brooding on the past, whatever that past may be, which weakens the present life, which keeps a man from gathering up the fragments of his life that remain, keeps him from doing his duty calmly, and giving himself to whatsoever things are true and pure and lovely and of good report. If we believe in the eternal love of God we must not let any pale ghost of the past, spectral figures of the night, chill our blood and keep us from our pilgrimage. 1)o not fear that this Christian doctrine of the forgiveness of sin will make sin easy; it is the only thing that can make sin impossible--the light that drives out the darkness, the love of God that fills the heart and leaves no room for evil, not even for evil memory. (Hugh Black, M. A.)
A blessed forgetfulness
“The reproach of thy widowhood” clearly refers to the period of the exile when Zion regarded herself as cast off by Jehovah. The sense of “the shame of thy youth ‘ is less obvious. Since the conception has some affinities with the striking allegory in Ezekiel 16:1-63., it is probable that the reference goes back to the origin of the nation Ezekiel 16:4-8), the reference being rather to the Egyptian oppression. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Forgetting the shame of youth
A man who had lived for many years the Christian life, told me how there was a place in a street in Edinburgh which was associated with a sin. Every time in his early life he passed it, it brought back again the keen remorse and shame. It seemed to stain his life afresh whenever he saw the very place. But when he came to God and gave his heart and life to Christ, the first time he passed that place afterwards his soul was filled by a great transport of joy that all that was done, that it was no longer part of his life, that God had forgiven and forgotten and cast it behind His back. And he entered, for a moment at least in foretaste, into the perfect joy of soul, and he forgot the shame of his youth and remembered the reproach no more. (Hugh Black, M. A.)
For thy Maker is thine Husband
The Lord people’s husband
CONSIDER SOME THINGS WHICH ARE IMPLIED IN THIS RELATION WHEREIN CHRIST STANDS TO HIS PEOPLE, THAT NATURALLY TEND TO ENCOURAGE THEIR FAITH AND JOY IN HIM.
1. This relation intimates that nearness and union which there is between Christ and His Church. Among men the marriage union is the nearest and most strict of any that can possibly be. And because there is no higher allusion whereby to express the union of believers to Christ, the Holy Ghost useth this to give us the more lively apprehension of this admirable privilege (Ephesians 5:30); 1 Corinthians 6:17).
2. In this relation is implied the greatest love and tenderest affection.
3. The utmost care of and concern for those who are espoused.
4. The utmost pity and sympathy.
5. The having all convenient supplies which are in the power of a tender husband to give.
6. The relation of a husband gives his spouse a right to have with him everything that is properly his.
II. SHOW THE GROUND OR REASON WHICH HIS PEOPLE HAVE TO DEPEND UPON HIS ANSWERING TO THEM ALL THAT IS THUS INCLUDED UNDER THIS RELATION OF A HUSBAND.
III. MAKE PROPER IMPROVEMENT OF THE WHOLE.
1. This affords us an admirable instance of the riches of Divine grace, and the wonderful condescension of the Son of God, that He should demean Himself in such a manner as not to be ashamed of being styled a husband to such sinful worms as the best of His people are.
2. If it be the happiness of all God’s people that their Maker is their Husband; how much does it stand us in stead to examine whether we are of this number?
3. Does Christ stand in this relation to His people? This may administer matter of great comfort and joy to them at all times, and under all circumstances.
4. If believers are Christ’s spouse, how heinous and aggravated must their wilful trangressions be?
5. From the relation believers stand in to Christ we learn that the most ardent affection is due to Him from all His chosen.
6. This also teaches us how highly it concerns every Christian to pay a just regard to all the ordinances of our glorious Redeemer, and to take great satisfaction in yielding obedience to Him therein. How pleasant is it to a loving and an affectionate wife to wait in those paths in which her kind and absent spouse had appointed to meet her.
7. This relation Christ stands in to His people calls for their cheerful dependence upon Him. (E. Walker.)
The Divine Husband
I. THE DOCTRINE THESE WORDS CONTAIN.
1. “Husband” means house-band--the head and band of the family. Hence the word denotes unison, community of interests, and special affection.
2. We learn that the Maker of all things, who fainteth not, condescends to bear to His creatures the closest and most sacred relationship. In Hosea 2:19-20, He says--I will betroth thee unto Me for ever. And the Christian in reply says, My Beloved is mine and I am His. The parallel is carried on in the New Testament (Matthew 9:14-15). St. Paul refers to it-”Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church.”
3. Observe that in the original the word is in the plural--“Thy Makers are thy Husband,” evidently alluding to the Trinity. We learn, then, that the love of the Father, the atonement of the Son, and the comfort of the Holy Ghost, all pertain to saving, blessing, and comforting those who love God.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THE TRUTHS TO OURSELVES.
1. The wonderful sympathy of our God. He feels for our woes. We see a picture of widowhood, orphanage, a woman bereaved, forsaken in spirit. What volumes of suffering are depicted in the words mourning, solitude, and woe! So with orphanage, want of protection, and love. To them our Redeemer speaks, and Christ repeats the promises, for He says to His disciples, “I will not leave you orphans.” The Divine Being cannot see His children suffer. He will be their Husband, Friend, and Protector.
2. The wonderful efficacy of our God’s assistance. He will be the Husband of His people. This indicates nearness of relationship. It also indicates His right to help. The husband is the natural protector, stay, and support of his wife. It is he who makes all things conduce to the safety and happiness of his household.
3. The wonderful efficiency of our God’s protection. “Thy Maker is Thy Husband.” It is as if He said, He who is able to create thee is also able to preserve. And, oh, what is implied in that word “Maker!” What power, what skill, what marvellous foresight! And all is concentrated also in human preservation. Here is a word to the bereaved, the sorrowing, the tried, the longing. Here is a fulness for him that craves for sympathy and yearns for love. Here is blessedness for him that desires peace and protection. (Homilist.)
Christ the Husband of His Church
I. THE DIGNIFIED CHARACTER OF THE BRIDEGROOM.
1. His creating power. “Thy Maker.”
2. His glorious sway. “The Lord of hosts is His name.”
3. His redeeming love. “Thy Redeemer.”
4. His spotless holiness. “The Holy One of Israel.’
5. His universal dominion. “The God of the whole earth.”
II. THE INTERESTING NATURE OF THE UNION.
1. Its qualities.
(1) It is gracious in its origin.
(2) Powerful in its accomplishment.
(3) Spiritual in its nature.
(4) Permanent in its duration.
2. Its privileges.
3. Its terms.
(1) Undivided affection.
(2) Mutual consent.
1. I hail those who are married to the Lord.
2. I would address such as are wedded to sin. What profit? etc. (E. Temple.)
God as Husband
If I marry the Merchant, the old Puritans said in their quaint and homely fashion, all His wares shall be mine.
The God of the whole earth
The mission of the Jewish nation
A candle does not belong to the candlestick that holds it, but to every one in the room where it shines; and the knowledge of God, the preciousness of the Divine revelation, does not belong to the nation in which it is first and most clearly disclosed. They hold it as a torch; but it is that all may have the benefit of its shining. (H. W.Beecher.)
The God of the whole earth
If God is the God of the whole earth, He must be the God of the whole earth just as it is; and I remark that while believers in the true God were tribal and national, the natural mistake which was made, and which should put us on our guard lest we fall into it again in substance, was that of supposing that God was in a special manner the God of a particular class. So let us not forget that if He is the God of the whole earth He is the God of all those physical conditions under which men are born. He is the God of those laws of descent which make the character of the parent go down to the children through many generations. He is the God of those decrees by which the drunkard’s children inherit the drunkard’s proclivities; by which deceit propagates deceit; by which honour breeds honour; by which motives brought to bear upon parents have an effect on the welfare of their children reaching down to the depths of futurity. He is the God of the climate in which every person lives--of that climate which drives the Esquimaux under ground during most of the months of the year, and that climate which brings the swarthy African all the year into the open air, without clothes and without a swelling. If He is the God of all the earth, then He is the God that establishes those laws which determine the occupations of men, and their characters, in a large degree. He is the God of the physical globe, in this sense: that whatever affects men by its nature, by its unconscious and continuous influence upon them, is of His ordination. Being the God of the whole earth, He is the God of the mountains and of the valleys; of the winter and of the summer; of industry and of commerce; of all the arrangements of life by which men are influenced. Men’s places of abode, and their nature, are largely determined by their circumstances; and these circumstances are God’s decrees. (H. W.Beecher.)
An unchristian patriotism
God is the God of all nations. The Bible says that He is the God of all the earth, and I suppose there are people enough in other nations besides our own to occupy a considerable part of His sympathy and heart and attention. Well, patriotism is a good thing, but when patriotism is the influence that separates us from the other nations of the earth, it is a very narrow, mean thing, it is only another name for selfishness. (H. W. Beecher.)
All nations and all classes belong to God
All nations and all classes belong to God, the superior and the inferior; the men of knowledge belong to God’s sympathy and care, the men of virtue, the men of great acquisitions, the men of great capacity to acquire, the active, the popular, the administrative, the successful men; they are all the Lord’s because they are men. And the poor, and the lower classes, the lowest, the very slaves are all God’s. I have sometimes, thought that He reveals, more of Himself to them than He does to their superiors. In other words, their utter helplessness, the necessity of leaning upon something to support them in their weakness, has brought them into such moods of mind, that God has shown some elements and attributes of His character to them, to true Christian slave mothers and fathers, that other men have not had. There are things that happen among them that look as much like miracles as those in the Gospels. There are things that happen among them that look almost as if God had opened the heavens and had personally spoken to them. It agrees with the exhibition of the sympathy of God, to give ourselves to the lower rather than to the higher, because they need it most. (H. W. Beecher.)
God’s four-fold relationship
There are four great names by which Almighty God is most commonly called in Christendom--Creator, King, Judge, Father. The first and last, Creator and Father, are probably absolute and literal descriptions of Him; there is no other Creator but He, and all parentage but shadows the great fact of His Fatherhood. The other two names, King and Judge, are figurative and illustrative only. But all four are revealed names; authorized names; names given by God Himself to the yearning, importunate inquiries of men who, like wrestling Jacob, cry to Him, “Tell me I pray Thee, Thy name.” We must know God by more than His names if we are in any true sense to know Him; we must realize His presence; be quickened by His life; the presence everywhere revealed; the life everywhere felt. Yet on a consideration of each of His names we may find some interpretation of what is meant by the declaration that He is “the God of the whole earth.”
I. He is the God as being the Creator of the whole earth. The earth would not have come into existence, and would not be to-day, but for the will, the power, the goodness of God. In the architecture of the whole earth there is God’s design; in the structure there is God’s might; in both there is God’s love.
II. He is the God as being the King of the whole earth. Kingship is often a very conventional conception; royalty often a very conventional idea. Back of it all, in essential reality, is intended, not pomp and splendour, not rank and arbitrary authority, but genuine supremacy, the supremacy that must govern, that ought to control, and the glory that is inherent in such supremacy. We do not find much help to understanding the government of God in the kings and queens whose empire is but as an inch, whose reign n hour. Christ’s kingship, and not Caesar’s, nor Alexander’s, nor Solomon’s, nor Pharaoh’s, is the true specimen of monarchy, of Divine sovereignty. He is Lord of a moral dominion, King of a spiritual empire, and yet, when He willed it, His sceptre controlled material nature, multiplying the handful of loaves and fishes into a sudden harvest by a touch, and calming the tempestuous winds and waves by a word.
III. He is the God as being the JUDGE of the whole earth. A world in which there is iniquity demands a Judge. Nay, the necessities of God’s own righteous nature compel Him to be a Judge. The whole earth’s God must be a universal Judge; between nations like France and Madagascar, between man and man, and between man and law, the God of all must be the supreme Judge. Unerring in His all-pervading knowledge, righteous in His infinite inspiration, infallible in His verdicts, “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
IV. He is the God as being the FATHER of the whole earth. The heart of humanity cries, “Show us the Father and it sufficeth us,” and Jesus, by the words of His lips and by the works of His hands--yet more exceedingly by His Cross, by His character, and by His Spirit is ever revealing the Father. (U. R. Thomas, B. A.)
For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken
God is love
None of those who came before the Lord Jesus ventured to define God as love.
But it does not follow, as we sometimes assume, that the holy men who were moved by the Holy Ghost before Christ came into the world did not know and teach the fatherly and redeeming love of God. They could not be so familiar with that love as we are; but that they recognized it, and insisted on it with rare force and pathos, that they did all that mere words could do to convince and persuade men of it, no candid student of the Old Testament will deny, although when they were most profoundly moved by it we can still detect in their language a certain accent of almost incredulous surprise. Isaiah, for example, as he utters these pathetic phrases of my text, can hardly believe for joy and wonder. Again and again he is compelled to remind himself that it is God who is speaking in him and through him. The tender phrases which, were they not so tender, might run on with even flow, are again and again broken with such words as “saith thy God,” or “saith the Lord thy Redeemer,” or “saith the Lord that hath compassion on thee.” Do you wonder that Isaiah, who knew God so well, found it hard to believe in a love so tender and true, and so feared that his hearers would find it quite impossible to believe Ah, but consider who and what they were on whom he was told that God had set His heart, and all the treasures of His love and compassion I God had lavished on them every possible means of grace, insomuch that He both could, and did, appeal to them whether there was even one single thing He could have done for him which He had not done. Yet, despite His singular and boundless grace, they had sunk to the level, and below the level, of the heathen around them. Was it likely that God should love them? Consider, too, how stern and dreadful was the burden which Isaiah had been commissioned to denounce upon them. And God had been as good as His word. Assyrian and Chaldean armies had swept the land of its inhabitants; their cities were burned with fire, and the once fertile and wealthy land turned into a desert. All who were left of the people were carried away captive, and left to weep for seventy years over their unstrung harps as they sat by the waters of Babylon. It was to these sinful, miserable captives and exiles that the prophet was moved to proclaim the tender and inalienable love of God! The words authenticate themselves. None but God could have spoken them. No man would have dared to conceive of God--no man, untaught of Heaven, ever has conceived of God, as yearning with love for the human race; and still less could any man have invented the tender, melting, beseeching phrases in which Isaiah has clothed that conception. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The wonderful love of God
Mark what the words do convey. God is speaking to men who had persistently sinned against all the influences of His love and grace, to men who were being consumed by the inevitable results of their transgressions. And He tells these poor miserable creatures that they are as dear to Him as the bride to her husband; that, though their offences against Him have been so many and so deep, He cannot tear His love for them out of His heart. Nay, as if this were not enough, He goes on to say that, though the blame is none of His, He is willing to take all the blame of their offences on Himself. Instead of reproaching them for their sins against HIS love, He compares them to a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, to a young and tender bride whose husband has despised and disgraced her, refusing to live with her and sending her away from his tent. It is He who has abandoned her, not she who has abandoned Him. It is He who has been hard and stern, not she who has been wilful and gone astray. But He never meant to be hard and stern. It was only for a brief moment that He left her, and in a momentary flush of anger. If she will return to Him, and give Him another chance, He will welcome her with “great mercies” and comfort her with an “everlasting kindness.” How shall He persuade her to return, to trust in Him? how convince her that He will be angry with her no more? He calls heaven and earth to witness to His truth, His fidelity, His deathless and unchanging love. He can appeal to His covenant with her, with Israel. She may think that that has been broken both by Him and by herself. But there was one of His covenants that had never been broken, an unconditional covenant, the covenant with Noah, which did not depend on men and their obedience, which depended only on God and on His faithfulness to His word. Henceforth His covenant with her shall be as the “waters of Noah;” He will no more fall in His love to her than He will suffer the earth to be wasted by another flood. He will never forsake her, even though she should forsake Him; never be wroth with her, nor rebuke her, even though she should still be wilful and provoke Him to anger. Nay, more; as if even this great promise were not enough, He casts about for another and a still more reassuring figure, and goes on to say: The mountains were planted and the hills stood firm before the Deluge swept over the earth; even the waters of Noah could not wash them away, nor as much as make them quake. And His love shall henceforth be firm and unchanging as the mountains and hills; nay, more firm and unchanging. The mountains may remove and the hills may quake; but His lovingkindness shall never remove, His covenant of peace shall never quake. Even all this, wonderful and incredible as it is, is not enough. There is the sigh of an infinite compassion and truth in the exclamation, “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, not comforted! “ There is an unbounded and Divine generosity in the promise to the bride, to the woman, that, if she will only come back to Him, her very palace shall be built of rare gems; and in the promise to the mother, than which no promise could be more dear to a mother’s heart, “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord, and great shall be the peace of thy children.” Is that a fable of man’s invention? Can it be? Would any man have dared to give it as a statement of the facts, or possible facts of human life? (S. Cox, D. D.)
For a small moment have I forsaken thee
This is a word of blessed comfort from One who is able to give it.
I. TEMPORARY AFFLICTION. Observe--
1. Its Author. “I have forsaken.” All trial comes from the hand of God Himself. Means may be employed, but He works through and by the means.
2. Its method. “Forsaken.” The greatest sorrow of Christ was that He was forsaken of God. The terror of hell will be that it is a God-forsaken world.
3. Its duration. “A small moment.” It is nothing in comparison to time, less than nothing in the face of eternity. Affliction may endure for a moment.
II. PERMANENT CONSOLATION. Here is--
1. The joy of reunion. How blessed the meeting of friends, separated, it may be, by a quarrel, or a sin.
2. The joy of of forgiveness. “With great, mercies”. etc. The past will be overlooked, the future guaranteed. All this will be undertaken by God. As He sends the trials so He sends the mercies. (Homilist.)
The believer for a small moment forsaken, but with great mercies gathered
I. What is the view here given us of God’s MANIFESTED DISPLEASURE towards the individual mentioned in the text? “For a small moment have I forsaken thee.” God’s forsaking His people cannot be at all in sovereignty, but must always be in justice; the very next verse tells us, in fact, that it was “in wrath”--that it was on account of sin. As to the manifestation of displeasure, God speaks here of His “forsaking” us.
1. He is sometimes said to forsake His people, when He leaves them under temporal affliction. This was very frequently the meaning of such words in reference to God’s ancient people, the Jews.
2. Sometimes this phrase is used, we apprehend, when there seems to be an obstruction of access to the Throne of Grace--when our approach to it seems barred and obstructed.
3. Sometimes the phrase is used in reference to the spiritual declension of God’s people.
II. THE GENTLENESS AND LIGHTNESS OF HIS MANIFESTED DISPLEASURE are likewise referred to: “For a small moment.” Now, putting these two words together--“small moment”--and connecting likewise, this” verse with” the succeeding verse, we may understand, that both the degree and the duration of the punishment are referred to in the text. For a small moment”--a moment of smallness, or of lightness; and again, “In a little wrath I hidMy face from thee for a moment.” This will appear to us more particularly, if we place in comparison with those afflictions to which we have referred certain other circumstances.
1. For instance, only compare the afflictions which you have endured with your deserts.
2. Then compare your sufferings with your mercies.
3. Compare your sufferings with those of others.
4. Compare your sufferings with those of Jesus.
5. Think of your present sufferings compared with everlasting torment.
III. Let us turn to the declaration of God respecting the mercy which He has in reserve for his people--HIS GRACIOUS DESIGN TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE. “With great mercies will I gather thee.” This gathering, as it has reference to the Church of God, will be seen to have several meanings.
1. As to individuals, it may very fairly express the design of God to gather to Himself those that are far from Him by wicked works.
2. Then, “I will gather” you to the possession and enjoyment of all the privileges of My people--this, of course, must be included--to the fellowship of the saints.
3. Perhaps this may be very fairly applied to God’s gathering His saints to Himself by death.
4. There will be the final gathering, the universal gathering at His second coming.
IV. “WITH GREAT MERCIES,” He says, “will I gather thee.” God, then, is telling His people what are His intentions, and is showing them what are His dispositions to them, in association with these great designs. Let us apply the phrase--
1. To the originating mercy.
2. To the procuring cause.
3. To the efficient cause--the operation of the Spirit.
4. To the providential course of means which God employs.
5. To the nature of the blessings which God has vouchsafed to you, and which He will vouchsafe to you. (J. Griffin.)
The beneficence of apparent alienation
Sometimes it is needful to be forsaken for the moment that we may be properly gathered. We have seen some loving one teaching a child to walk; the arms were taken away from the child, but not far. The child could never be taught to walk if the arms were round about it; it must be left for a little moment, but the protection must be always near. Alienation does not always mean penalty, it sometimes means education. Alienation may mean penalty, and then the arms are in very deed a long way off--indeed, they may be lifted up to smite the transgressor, the wanderer whose heart has gone astray, having loved lies and darkness rather than truth. (J. Griffin.)
Spiritual depression may have physical causes
A good many supposed alienations are merely the result of physical causes. If our physical nature were better understood our spiritual depressions would be a great deal less thought of. Many a man suffers from melancholy who supposes that God has forsaken him, simply because he has inherited a constitution that has been vitiated, or because he has tampered with the laws and ordinances of nature, or because he is undergoing a process which may be absolutely necessary for his purification and strengthening. Do not suppose that God is moved by moods and-whims as we are, that he favours a child to-day, and rebukes the child to-morrow, without any reason or sense of justice. (J. Griffin.)
In a little wrath I hid My face from thee
God’s face hidden
To say God hath cast me off because He hath hid His face is a fallacy fetched out of the devil’s topics.
When the sun is eclipsed, foolish people may think it will never recover light, but wise men know it will. During the eclipse, though the earth wanteth the light of the sun for a time, yet not the influence thereof. (J. Trapp.)
God’s little wrath and God’s great wrath
This precious passage is the property of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We might not have ventured to say this if it were not for the last verse of the chapter, which assures us that it is so. “This is the heritage.”
I. What the Lord calls His “LITTLE WRATH.” Let us speak of it and its modifications.
1. Our view of that wrath, and God’s view of it may very greatly differ. To a child of God in a right state even the most modified form of Divine anger is very painful. This pain of heart is a very proper feeling, but it may be perverted by unbelief into the occasion of sin. We may conclude from the chastening rod that the Lord is about to destroy us, though he has plainly said, “Fury is not in Me.” This dark estimate of our affairs is not Gods view of them. It is but a partial departure under which the saint is suffering; the small moment will soon be over. I will now call your attention to two or three things which should greatly modify the view we take of the hidings of God’s face.
(1) As to time; the time during which our God withdraws Himself is very short: “for a moment,” He says; but He puts it less than that, “For a small moment.” Think of how long He has loved us, even from before the foundation of the world! The time in which He hides His face is very short compared with that. Think of how long He will love us: when all this universe shall have subsided into its native nothingness, He will love us for ever! The time during which He chastens us is, compared with that, a very small moment. Think of how long we deserved to have been in hell, to lie for ever beneath His indignation: the little moment in which His heavy hand is upon us is indeed as nothing compared with the eternal misery which our sins have merited. When you come forth from the hiding of His face into the light again, this gloom will seem to have been but a small moment.
(2) The recompense which is promised. “With great mercies will I gather thee.’” The Lord will make up to you all your losses, your crosses, and your chastisements. God’s dealings with us never seem to be so merciful as after a time of trial. The bitterness makes the sweet the sweeter, and the sorrow makes the joy more abounding. The text does not say that God will give us mercy after He has for awhile left us; the word is in the plural, “mercies,” multitudes of mercies. Nay, it does not merely say “mercies,” but “great mercies,” for they are all the greater because we so greatly need them, are plunged in such great distress for want of them, and filled with so many great fears as to our future estate. The Lord not only promises us these great favours, but promises that He Himself will bring them. They are not to be sent to us by angels or by external providences. “With great mercies will I gather thee.”
(3) The wrath is in itself little.
2. The expression of His little, anger is not after all so extremely severe, for what does it say? “I hid My face. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of, them from the earth, but our text does not say, “I turned My face against thee, but only, “I hid My face from thee.” This is painful, but still there is this sweet reflection--why does He hide His face? It is because the sight of it would be pleasant to us. It is a face of love; for if it were a face of anger He would not need to hide it from His erring child. If it were an angry face, and He wished to chasten us, He would unveil it; therefore, we may be sure that He covers it because it is so bright with everlasting love that if it could be seen no chastisement would be felt by us.
3. Observe, too, for we must not leave out a word here, that this little wrath is perfectly consistent with everlasting love. “In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee.” The Lord is filled with everlasting kindness at the very time when He is making the promise, for if you promise a person that you will love him you do love him already; love alone could prompt a promise such as that which I have read. You have no right to infer from the greatness of your griefs that God is ceasing to love you, or that He loves you less.
II. THE GREAT WRATH OF GOD AND OUR SECURITY AGAINST IT. Our security against it is this: “This is as the waters of Noah unto Me: for as I have sworn, etc. Until God drowns the whole world again, He can never let out His great wrath against His people.
1. My text suggests that we have ample security that the wrath of God will never break out against us, for it has broken out against us once. The waters of Noah did go over the earth once, but never twice, Now, the wrath of God can never break forth against His redeemed, because it has already broken forth against them. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect,? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died.” Is not that answer enough for all the charges of hell?
2. The text gives us next the oath of God as our security. “As I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth,” etc. It is always a solemn occasion when Jehovah lifts His hand to heaven and swears. Then is a matter confirmed indeed when it is secured by the oath of God.
3. Next, we have before us the fact that the Lord has guaranteed our security by a covenant. “Neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed.”
4. What blessed illustrations of our security are added in the further declaration of the Lord’s mind and will The Lord looks on the mountains and the hills, and declares that these and all things visible will pass away, for time’s grandest birth shall perish when eternity resumes its sway. The mountains and the hills may represent the most stable of earthly hopes and confidences: these all must fail us when most we need them. The Lord Himself assures us of this, and therefore does not at all guarantee to us any security in the things which are seen, nor any peace that can be drawn from the creature; our consolation lies elsewhere. “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith Jehovah, the Pitier. Under no conceivable circumstances shall the covenant fail; the Lord who made it cannot change, Jesus who sealed it cannot die, the love which dictated it cannot cease, the power which executes it cannot decay, and the truth which guarantees it cannot be questioned. As for you who have no portion in Divine realities, what do you possess that is worth having? (C. H.Spurgeon)
For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me
The Lord no more wroth with His people
WHAT MEN HAVE MOST TO FEAR. All men who are unsaved ought, with fear and trembling, to dread the wrath of God--the wrath present, and the wrath to come. The text speaks of the Lord’s being wroth, as of an evil to be feared. Man has cause to be afraid of “the rebuke of God”--that stern rebuke of the Holy One which is the prelude to the lifting-up of His unsheathed sword, and the destruction of His adversaries.
1. Gods wrath is matter for fear, because to be in union with God is necessary to the happiness of the creature.
2. This wrath of God is to be feared all the more because there is no escaping from it. A man who is under the wrath of a monarch can escape to another kingdom; a man who has incurred the anger of the most mighty enemy can find, somewhere in this great world, a nook wherein he can conceal himself from his relentless pursuer. But he that has exposed himself to the wrath of God cannot save himself from the Almighty hand.
3. There is this also to be dreaded in the wrath of God, that there is no cure for it. Nothing can possibly give a man ease or safety when the rebuke of God has gone forth against him. He may be surrounded with temporal comforts, but his riches will only mock his inner poverty. Friends may utter words of cheer, but miserable comforters shall they all be. Instead of the mercies of this life becoming any comfort to him, when a man has the wrath of God resting upon him, it is written, “I will curse all your blessings.”
4. The rebuke of God, if we live and die impenitent, is one against which we cannot harden ourselves. We cannot gather strength to endure when God strikes at the heart and dries up the spirit.
5. Remember the overwhelming fact that the wrath of God does not end with death.
II. WHAT THE SAINTS NEED NEVER FEAR. Dreadful as it is, and more than sufficient to overwhelm the spirit with dismay, a fear of the wrath of God need never disturb the believer’s heart. God has sworn that He will never be wroth with His people. He does not say that He will never be so angry with their sins as to chasten them sharply; for anger with our sins is love to us. He does not say that He will not be so angry as to punish us; although there would be great mercy even in that; but He goes much further, and says that He will never be so wroth with His people as even to rebuke them. “What! say you, “then doth not God rebuke His people?” Ah, verily, that He doth, and chasten them too! but those rebukes and those chastisements-are in love, and not in wrath. The text before us is to be read thus: “I will not be wroth with thee so as to rebuke thee in indignation.” There shall never be so much as a word of wrath from the lips of God, touching any one of His servants whose righteousness is of Him.
1. This, to make us sure of it, is first of all confirmed by an oath. We ought to believe God’s bare word: we are bound to accept His promise as certainty itself; but who will dare to doubt the oath of the Eternal?
2. As if further to illustrate the certainty of this, He is pleased to draw a parallel between His present covenant oath and that which He made in the days of Noah with the second great father of the human race.
(1) The covenant made with Noah was a covenant of pure grace. This covenant is paralleled by the covenant in your ease.
(2) The first covenant with Noah was made after a sacrifice. The same reason so works with God that He will not be wroth with you, nor rebuke you.
(3) That covenant which God made with Noah was openly propounded in the ears of the whole race. Noah and his sons heard it, and we have all heard it. Now, when a man makes a promise, if it is in private he is bound by it, and his honour is engaged thereto; but when his solemn promise becomes public, he stakes his character among men upon the fulfilment of his word. Now, since the Lord has made public this gracious word--“I will not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee, does He not intend to do as He has said?
(4) God never has broken the covenant which He made with Noah. If the Lord be so faithful to one covenant, why should we imagine, even in our worst moments, that He will be unfaithful to His other word which He has spoken concerning our souls?
3. If this be the ease, that God will not be wroth with us, nor rebuke us, then the greatest fear that can ever fall upon us is gone, and it is time that all our lesser fears were gone with it. For instance, there is
(1) the fear of man. When we clearly understand that God is not wroth with us, we feel raised above the rage of mortals.
(2) So, too, we need not fear the devil. If God will not be wroth with me, nor rebuke me, why should I fear though all hell’s legions should march against, me? If God will never be wroth with us, nor rebuke us, we need not fear any of the chastisements which His may lay upon us. There is a vast difference between a blow that is given in anger and a pat that is given in love.
(4) How this alters the look of death. If death be a punishment to a believer, then death wears gloomy colours; but if death itself has changed its character, Show delightful is this!
(5) After death shall come the judgment, and in that last great day the Lord will not be wroth with His people; if the reading out of all His people’s sins before an assembled world must imply a rebuke, then it shall not be done, for He will not rebuke them. So then, what should we fear? What indeed? The Lord grant us to be afraid of being afraid!
Conclusion: If it be so, that God has sworn that He will not be wroth with us, then--
(1) Believe it.
(3) Be resigned.
(4) Impart. If you have learned this love in your own heart, then tell it out to others. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For the mountains shall depart
Mountains stable, yet crumbling
Those who have been reared and nurtured among the everlasting hills always look upon them as old friends.
To them there is in mountain, valley and glen a peace reposing in the bosom of strength that soothes the heart to rest. Jean Paul says “that the great hills are like great men--the first to catch and the last to lose the light; and he might further say that, like great men, they afford kindliest shelter in their mighty bosoms to the weary and heart-sore. While the idea of stability is connected with the everlasting hills, science, with stern truthfulness, alarms that they are gradually crumbling away. They say that the Alleghanies, in their prime were three thousand feet higher than human eyes have ever seen them. There was a time when the igneous forces possessed the advantage, and island and continent and alp rose triumphant over the sea. But for thousands of years the energies of fire have been wasting, and earthquake and fire have been smitten with the palsy of age. River and stream are filching soil from mountain and plain and restoring it again to the sea. Defiant granite, which baffled the lightnings that rent Sinai, and frowned upon the flood that drowned the world, shall yet be brought down by the continuous pelting of rain and the insidious sapping of frost. (A. Macfarlane.)
The unchangeable duration of God’s kindness and covenant
I. THE CHANGEABLE STATE AND FRAME OF THIS WORLD, which shall issue in its final dissolution. “The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed.” In opposition hereunto we have--
II. THE UNCHANGEABLE DURATION OF GOD’S KINDNESS TO, AND COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLE. “But My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenants of My peace be removed.”
III. THE CONFIRMATION AND REASON OF THIS, as contained in the words, “saith the Lord, that hath mercy on thee.” (J. Guyse. D. D.)
The enduring in the universe
I. THE GOOD MAN’S EXISTENCE IS MORE DURABLE THAN THE MOUNTAINS. This is here implied. The people here addressed are supposed to live after the mountains have departed. The fact that a man is more durable than the mountains gives consistency to our life--and grandeur.
II. GOD’S KINDNESS IS MORE DURABLE THAN THE MOUNTAINS. “My kindness shall not depart from thee.” God’s kindness is more durable even than man. Though man will never have an end, he had a beginning. God’s kindness never had a beginning, and will never have an end. Kindness is the very essence of the Eternal, the root of all existence, the primal font of all blessedness in all worlds.
1. His kindness will continue notwithstanding the sins of humanity.
2. His kindness continues notwithstanding the sufferings of humanity. In fact, His kindness is expressed in human suffering. Does not the loving father often show more love to his child in correcting him for his offences than in gratifying his desires? There is kindness in the judgments that befall men. The most terrible judgments are but God’s mercy weeding the world of its evils.
III. THE UNION BETWEEN BOTH WILL BE MORE DURABLE THAN THE MOUNTAINS. “My kindness shall not depart from thee.” These “words were addressed to His own people, and not to men in general; and the idea is, that His kindness will continue for ever in connection with the truly good. God’s kindness is indissolubly associated with the good. St. Paul challenges the universe to effect a separation. “Who shall separate from the love of Christ?” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Fears and their antidote
When God called the Jewish captives to go forth to their own land, they began to be full of fears about the future. They mused over possible or imaginary difficulties. They groaned under prospective burdens. How should they get across the wilderness? From whence should they receive their supplies? Who would protect them from the roving bands of robbers? And even if they should really live through all the perils of the wilderness, and get safe again into Palestine, how would they find the country? Would it be desolate and waste, or cultivated and attractive? Would it be free from enemies, or full of foes T Who was then to be their shield and buckler, their strong tower, their rock of defence to save them? It was this temper of mind which the prophet was commissioned by Jehovah to remove. Why, said the fervid son of Amos, are you so fearful? Think of God’s momentary anger, and eternal mercy (verses 7, 8). Think of the covenant which God made to the preacher of righteousness (verse 9). Think of the most stable and enduring things of which you know: not of fortresses--they can be demolished, and not one stone be left upon another that is not thrown down; nor yet of temples, though they rear their heads and smite the stars, like the temple of Bolus in the city which has so long been your home. Think, not of those, but of the everlasting mountains. What so secure, so deep-rooted, so enduring? Yet, “the mountains shall depart, etc. (verse 10).
I. THE TEMPER OF THE JEWISH CAPTIVES IS ALSO THE TEMPER OF MANY GODLY MEN IN OUR DAY. The words of the prophet are words which they also need to hear, to be reassured and to recover their confidence and hope.
1. We have fears about matters purely secular.
2. There are fears which spring from matters as purely spiritual.
3. Fears also arise from temptations. These temptations are very many and very subtle.
4. There are foes to face, other foes than Satan, but who may be prompted by his evil counsels. What will be our condition in relation to them? There are foes in our own heart, foes in our own house, foes in our daily toil and our rest. Shall we be able to meet and overcome them?
5. Perhaps, with a very large number of devout and godly men, the greatest source of fear is the possibility of the coming on of an hour of darkness.
6. In numberless other instances, the fear originates through a morbid apprehension of death, a hatred of it that is far more Pagan than Christian, a shrinking back from the thought of dissolution, and all that dissolution carries with it.
II. LET US NOW LOOK, NOT AT THE FEARS, BUT AT THEIR TRUE ANTIDOTE. “For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed,” etc.
1. Here is the declaration of the perpetual providence of God.
2. Another antidote to fear is given in the Divine pledge of peace. “The covenant of My peace shall not be broken. When the sacred writers speak of God’s covenant, it is at once apparent that they are describing the things of heaven in the language of earth. But when the word is used as in the case before us, it stands for a Divine pledge or promise. Remember, still further, that “peace” was a word which, in the estimation of the Jew, carried with it every possible earthly advantage. It meant more than the cessation of hostility. It meant, opportunity for business; success in commercial ventures; home-life, home-joys, to which the ancient Hebrew was so partial; quiet, love, happiness. The blessings which Jehovah promised to the Jews were manifold; but all those blessings were summed up in this one expressive word--peace. So also to us, in the later economy. God’s pledge to us is--“peace,” putting the still larger Christian meaning into that word. But when God promises that the covenant of His peace shall not be broken, He expects us to fulfil our part of the covenant. He gives no assurance of peace, if we swerve from Him.
3. The Divine assurance of mercy is another antidote to fear. “The Lord, who hath mercy on thee.” Mercy was the basis of all God’s treatment of the ancient Jews. Mercy is still the foundation of God’s dealings with us. (J. J.Goadby.)
The unchangeableness of God’s covenant the saint’s security
I. AN ACCOUNT GIVEN OF A COVENANT, which is ascribed to God, and said to be a covenant of peace.
II. THE SPRING AND SOURCE OF THIS COVENANT. “Kindness and mercy.”
III. A MOST SOLEMN ASSURANCE OF THE STABILITY, PERPETUITY, AND UNCHANGEABLENESS OF IT. “It shall not depart nor be removed.”
IV. THE AMPLIFICATION OR FARTHER ILLUSTRATION OF THIS SECURITY. “This is as the waters of Noah unto Me, and though the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed,” etc. (S. Wilson.)
My kindness shall not depart from thee
There is something very suggestive in that word “kindness.” Kindness is originally that which is felt and shown to one’s kind or kin. Kind is “kinned;” so that, according to the primitive signification of the word, kindness grows out of natural relationship. And this is really the basis of God’s kindness. Men are His children: and the relation of parent and child implies kindness. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
The kindness of God
The word kindness as applied to Deity is a very comprehensive term. It embraces the attributes of love and mercy in all their manifestations and numerous relations, and may be understood to be one with pity, compassion, sympathy, and tenderness.
I. The kindness of Deity is UNCHANGEABLE. It is contrasted with the mutability of earthly objects--even with the mightiest and the most endurable--“The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed.”
II. The kindness of God is UNIVERSAL, while in some cases it is SPECIAL.
III. The PERPETUITY of this kindness. “It shall not depart from thee. The kindness of Deity has its law. It may be granted, or it may be withdrawn, conditionally; and the law of kindness acts in union with the law of justice. (W. D.Horwood.)
The covenant of My peace
God’s peace-giving covenant
“The covenant of My peace” does not give the sense as fully as “My covenant of peace;” i.e. My peace-giving covenant. (J. A. Alexander.)
The blessings and stability of the covenant of grace
I. A VIEW OF THE PARTIES CONCERNED IN MAKING THIS COVENANT.
II. A VIEW OF THE BLESSINGS CONTAINED IN IT.
III. A VIEW OF THE STABILITY AND CERTAINTY OF THIS COVENANT, WITH ALL ITS BLESSINGS AND BENEFITS, TO EVERY TRUE BELIEVER. (J. Kidd, D. D.)
The covenant of God’s peace
1. It proceeds from Him as the God of peace.
2. In this way He hath formed between Himself and His people the most intimate, endearing connection, ratified by the Mediator, who is our peace.
3. All the blessings requisite to their peace and felicity are therein bestowed. (R. Macculloch.)
O thou afflicted
The city of God
The reference is still to Jerusalem.
In the former paragraph, she was addressed as a barren wife; here as destined to arise from her encumbering ruins, and become the joy of the whole earth. Of course, the primary reference is to that actual rebuilding which took place under the direction of Nehemiah. But there is a further and more spiritual meaning. These words must refer to that city of God which is ever arising amid the ruins of all other structures. Watched by the ever-attentive eye of the great Architect, wrought by unseen hands, tested by the constant application of the line of truth and the plummet of righteousness, and emerging slowly from heaps of rubbish into strength and beauty. A description is given of the pricelessness of the structure, the privileges of the inhabitants, and the safety which is assured by the Word of God; and let us not hesitate to appropriate this blessed vision. It is put clearly within our reach by the assurance with which the chapter closes, that this is the heritage of all the servants of the Lord. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
God’s promise to the afflicted Church
I. THE LOW AND AFFLICTED STATE OF THE CHURCH.
1. She is deeply distressed; and the language of Divine compassion towards her is, “Oh thou afflicted!” Piety exempts from future wrath, but not from present trouble. Saints have their afflictions in common with others.
2. The Church of God is also described as being “tossed with tempests,” like a ship driven from her anchors, carried to and fro by the boisterous waves, and ready every moment to be swallowed up. A storm at sea also well represents the terrors of an awakened conscience, and the agonies of a mind in deep distress; when awful providences are joined with inward darkness, so that one trouble excites and sharpens another.
3. The Church is afflicted, “and not comforted.” Sometimes light arises out of darkness, and God comforts His people in all their tribulations: but here every species of relief is withheld.
II. THE COMPASSION OF GOD TOWARDS HIS AFFLICTED PEOPLE, AND THE PROMISE MADE FOR THEIR RELIEF. “Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours,” etc. This is as if the Lord had said, I will turn thy sorrow into joy, thy tears into triumphs.
1. The Church is here represented as a building, whether as a common dwelling or a temple is immaterial. The materials are various. Some are placed in a more conspicuous situation than others; but all are useful and necessary, in different degrees. The various parts of the edifice require to be united, in order to form an entire structure; a confused heap of materials, scattered and unconnected, afford no idea of a building. A temple is designed for worship, and a house for habitation; the Church of God is designed for both.
2. The several parts of this building are next described; the stones that are to be laid, and also the foundations. None but spiritual materials, none but living stones are fit to make a part of this building. The foundation of this building is Christ Jesus. All true believers are united to Him, and rest their eternal all upon Him, as a building rests upon its foundation.
3. We have a promise of future felicity, and glory to the Church. “I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and thy foundations with sapphires.” These expressions may imply--
(1) The Church’s worth and excellency.
(2) Its comeliness and beauty.
(3) Its firmness and stability. The precious stones and the sapphires, with which this building is to be erected, are durable as well as beautiful, and expressive of the perpetuity of the Gospel Church.
(4) Its future glory. The Church shall indeed be raised to a greater degree of glory in this world; but she shall be transcendently and eternally glorious in the world to come. The future glory of the Church, as predicted by the prophet, is similar to that of the New Jerusalem, which the apostle saw descending from God out of heaven. Let then the afflicted Church, and individual believers, bless God for such a promise! Let them exercise faith and patience, and wait its full accomplishment. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The city of God
I. THE PRICELESSNESS OF THE STRUCTURE. What an enumeration of precious stones! Let us consider what jewels are. A jewel is a bit of ordinary earth which has passed through an extraordinary experience. Then there is a special fitness in this address to the afflicted people of God.
I. Foundations of sapphire. Underneath our live, underpinning the history of the world of men, the one ultimate fact for us all is the love of God. They are stable. They are fair.
2. Windows of agates. Agates are varieties of quartz, and bear evidently in their texture the mark of fire. Indeed, they are always found in the igneous rocks, from which they drop out when such rocks decompose under the action of water and air. The agate is partially transparent; not opaque, as flint; not transparent, as rock-crystal--it admits light, tempering it as it passes. God makes windows of agates; He takes our sorrows and makes them windows through which we may gaze into the unseen. In sorrow we see the unsatisfying nature of the world, and the reality of the unseen; we learn to appreciate the tenderness and delicacy of human love; we have insight into the meaning of God’s providences; we behold the value and truth of Scripture.
3. Gates of carbuncles. There is a good deal of uncertainty as to the precise stone indicated by the Hebrew word rendered “carbuncle.” It seems better, therefore, to take the suggestion of the duplicate vision in the Apocalypse, and to think of gates of pearl. The pearl is said to result from the infliction of a wound in the oyster, which leads it to throw out the precious fluid that congeals into a pearl. If so, every pearl on the neck of beauty is the lasting memento of a stab of pain. At any rate, each pearl commemorates the hazard of human life in the diver’s descent into the ocean depths. It is true of life; all our outgoings into wider ministry, nobler life, greater responsibility of blessedness, are due to the precious action of sorrow, self-sacrifice, and pain. There is no gate into the life, which is life indeed, which has not cost us dear.
II. THE PRIVILEGES OF THE CHILDREN OF THE CITY.
1. They shall be all taught of God. It is a deep and helpful thought that God has opened a school in this dark world, and has Himself undertaken to act as Schoolmaster. It is the Father who teaches. “He knows our frame,” etc. To be taught of God is to be led by His own hand into a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of redemption.
2. “Great shall be the peace of thy children.” We have first peace with God, through faith in the blood and righteousness of Christ; then the peace of God, which here is called “great,” and elsewhere “that passeth understanding.” Some parts of the ocean laugh the sounding-line to scorn. You may let out 1,000, 2,000, even 6,000 fathoms, and still the plumb falls clear. So it is when God’s peace, driven from all the world, comes to fold its wings of rest in the heart. It is better than joy, which falters and fluctuates; better than the ecstacy which may have its reactions. And these two rest on each other. The more you know God, the more peace you have; because you find Him more worthy of your trust.
III. THEIR SAFETY. The waster fulfils a useful function: the knife that cuts away the dead wood; the fire that eats out the alloy; the winnowing fan that rids the wheat of the chaff; the east wind tearing through the forest; the frost crumbling up the soil; the vast army of animals that devour and destroy. “I have created the waster to destroy.” This is the strong Hebrew way of saying that God permits, and overrules, and brings out good by means of the evil that had seemed destructive of all good. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
Zion’s foundations, windows, gates, and borders
I. THE STATE, CHARACTER, AND CONDITION OF THE SUFFERING CHURCH OF GOD. “O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted.” Every one of these expressions is pregnant with heavenly meaning.
1. “O thou afflicted.” Affliction is one of the marks that God stamps upon His people.
2. “Tossed with tempest.” Some are tossed with a tempest of doubts and fears; others with a tempest of lusts and corruptions; others with a tempest of rebellion and fretfulness; others with a storm of guilt and despondency; others with gloomy forebodings and dismal apprehensions. Thus are they driven from their course, their sun and stars all obscured; no clear evidences, no bright manifestations; darkness above and a raging sea beneath; breakers ahead, and no harbour in sight.
3. But the Lord adds another word, “not comforted”--that is, not comforted by, not capable of comfort from, man. This I look upon as a very decisive mark of a work of grace upon the soul. God has received the Church’s comfort in His own hands; from His lips alone can consolation be spoken into her soul.
II. THE BLESSED CLUSTER OF GOSPEL PROMISES THAT GOD MAKES TO HIS SUFFERING CHURCH. “ Behold,” He says, as though He would draw her special attention to the work that He was about to perform. “ I will lay thy stones with fair colours.” The Lord here seems to take the figure of a building; or rather of a temple, for His people are compared to a temple.
His work upon their soul He compares to the work of an architect, or a builder who lays stone upon stone until he puts on the top-stone with shoutings of grace, grace, unto it.
1. The first promise that He makes relative to this building of mercy is--“I will lay her stones with fair colours.” This seems to be general description of the work of God in rearing up the spiritual building before Ha fair colouring. But in the words, “ I will lay thy stones with fair colours,” there seems to be a reference also to the cement in which the stones are laid, as well as to the stones themselves. What is this cement? Is it not blood and love?
2. But the Lord goes on to particularize His work. He speaks of her “foundations,” her “windows,” her “gates,” and “borders,” and He tells us how they are all severally formed and made. Beginning at the beginning, He describes the material and laying of her foundations--”I will lay thy foundations with sapphires.” Before we can stand firmly in to things of God, we must have a good foundation, something solid for our faith, our hope, our love, our all to rest upon. But what is a sapphire? A precious stone, the distinguishing feature of which is its peculiar clear and beautiful colour--a heavenly blue. I would not press the figure too closely, but may it not fitly represent from its nature and colour a special gift from heaven? What a mercy for you if your faith has such a sapphire for its foundation; when you do not rest upon the bare letter of God’s word, but upon the testimony of God laid into your soul.
3. But the Lord also adds--“and I will make thy windows of agates.” What is a window for? Chiefly to admit light and air, and also to give us a prospect of the scenery without. But the windows are of “agate.” Glass in those days was not used for windows; it was known for various other purposes; for it has been lately found in Nineveh, as well as in the tombs of Egypt; but its use for windows is of comparatively modern date. But why are they made of agate? Though not as clear as glass, it is what is called semi-transparent, that is, sufficiently transparent to admit a considerable amount of light. The sun shining through a window of agate might lose a portion of its brightness, but not much of its light. Upon Zion in her time-state the Sun of Righteousness does not shine in all his brightness. The windows of agate whilst she is in the flesh temper his rays. Her prospects, too, are not fully bright and clear. We have not those clear views which the saints have in glory where they see Jesus face to face.
4. But the Lord speaks also of Zion’s “gates.” These gates are to give admission to the temple which He is rearing for His own habitation. But of what material are the gates? These, too, like the foundations and windows, are of precious stones. “And thy gates of carbuncles.” Now we must not be too fanciful in our interpretation of God’s word; yet, doubtless, the Spirit of God chose these jewels with some peculiar meaning. The carbuncle is of a blood-red colour. And why should the Lord have chosen that Zion’s gates should be of this peculiar colour? May we not believe that there is some mystic allusion here to the blood of the Lamb? But what are gates for? Entrance and exit. Zion has her gates of exit and entrance. She has her gates of access to God, entrance into the presence of the Most High. And who has opened the door, or rather who has not only opened it, and made it, but Himself is it? “I am the door,” saith Jesus; and was not the door opened through His rent flesh? (Hebrews 10:19-20). But gates not only give admission but exit. Not only do prayers, supplications and tears, rise up with acceptance through the gates of carbuncle, and thus enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth, but promises also, tokens, testimonies and visits come down. And as every prayer, to be a prayer, is breathed through the gate of carbuncle, through the blood of the Lamb, so every answer, that is an answer, comes down through the same consecrated channel.
5. But the Lord also speaks of Zion’s borders. He tells us He will make “all her borders of pleasant stones.” There shall be nothing common about her. No architect pays the same attention to the courts and outbuildings that he pays to the mansion itself. If the mansion be of stone these may be of brick. Not so with God, Zion’s Divine Architect. Zion’s very borders, courts, outbuildings, are all of the same material with the mansion itself. Thus God’s providential dealings, which often form the outward setting of His inward mercies, are of pleasant stones. But for whom are these mercies? The meritorious? the diligent? the industrious? We read not so. “O thou afflicted,” etc. What 1 are all these mercies for such as they? They are the only persons who will prize them, or glorify God for them. (J. C. Philpot.)
Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours
The decorations of Nature
Nature’s temple is not a hueless, monotonous structure like the pyramids of Egypt. It is richly decorated. It is overlaid with chaste and beautiful ornamentation. Every stone is painted with fair colours, accurately toned, and in perfect keeping. Not a rock that peers above the surface of the earth but is clothed with the rainbow tints of moss and lichen, and wreathed with the graceful tenderness of fern and wild-flower. Every mountain is clothed with the variegated verdure of forest and pasture, blending gradually upwards into the sober grey of crag, and the silvery whiteness of snow, and the quiet blue of the cloud-flecked sky. And when the living hues of plants are absent, there is compensation in the rich colours of the rocks, or in the bright reflections of the heavens. The brilliant crimson of Sinai’s granite and sandstone cliffs makes up for their naked sterility; and if the mountain ranges of northern Europe are destitute of the emerald verdure of the Alps, they are covered instead with purple light as with a robe, and gather out of the sky at sunrise and twilight hues softer than the plumage of a dove, and more radiant than the petals of rose and violet. Even works of human art are decorated by nature with a picturesque glory of colour and light, in harmony with her own landscapes. The castle or the abbey, left untenanted, falls into ruin; but Nature--whose profound peace succeeds all strife of man, and whose passive permanency mocks his fast-perishing creeds--steps in to claim her reversion; and wherever her soft finger touches, there new beauties spring up and shame the artist’s proudest triumphs. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The adornments of grace
As Nature deals with the materials of her framework, so the Divine Artificer deals with the living materials of His spiritual temple. Every stone that is fit to be built into the walls of His holy habitation is richly sculptured and decorated. He leaves none in the meanness and vileness of their natural state. He digs them out of the fearful pit and the miry clay that they may be chiselled and polished, so as to be ornaments of the structure in which they stand. He makes the Sun of righteousness to shine upon the dark vapour-cloud of their nature, and thus paints it with the rainbow hues of grace. Black in themselves, He makes them comely in the reflected light of His love. From the moment that the favour of God is restored to them, they are wakened to a new existence and a better principle. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Stones with fair colours
I. WHAT ARE THE FAIR COLOURS WITH WHICH THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER IS ADORNED?
1. Humility is one of the most conspicuous of them. It is the soft purple hue of the lowly violet, hid among its leaves, and known only by its fragrance; of the fruit when it is ripest; of the hills when most saturated with sunset light, and most like Heaven. It is the ornament which, in the sight of God, is of great price; it is the secret of true refinement and distinction in the eyes of men; it is the glory of the inner man renewed in sanctified self-denial and self-forgetfulness. By nothing is the genuine believer distinguished from the mere formalist and hypocrite more than by his humility.
2. Patience. It is the tender green of the grass, which, through summer’s heat and winter’s frost, remains unchanged, which may be trampled under foot and injured in every way, and yet retains its vitality unimpaired.
3. Benevolence. It is the quiet blue of the sky, which shines upon the just and the unjust, which sends down rain and dew upon the evil and the good. This is the virtue which counteracts the natural selfishness of the heart, and takes us out of ourselves. It is by the uniform and enlarged exercise of it that the disciples of the Lord are distinguished from the people of the world, who are ever intent only upon their own interests and pleasures. It is by their benevolence that they are assimilated to the Universal Giver, whose tender mercies are over all His works, and are never exhausted--to the compassionate Saviour, who though He was rich yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might become rich, and whose meat and drink on earth was to go about continually doing good--to the holy angels, whose happiness is increased by seeing sinners repenting on earth, and by being sent forth to minister to the heirs of salvation.
4. Zeal. It is the ruby hue of the blood which circulates through the veins, and animates the whole body with life and vigour. It is the crimson heat which energizes or melts everything it, and pervades all with its own glow. It stimulates to the performance of every duty, infuses life into every experience, fervour into all devotion, spirit into all work, and overcomes difficulty as fire overcomes every resisting object.
5. Moderation or temperance. It is the golden mean between two extremes--the safe though narrow path between opposite evils that come veryclose to each other. It is the soul’s centre of gravity.
6. All these and other graces are summed up in charity. As every lovely hue is light, so every lovely grace is love. This is the rainbow which gathers up and harmonizes all other qualities, and bends its Divine beauty over the whole life of the Christian. It is the genus of which all the Christian virtues are the species. Patience is the attitude of love, zeal is the energy of love, humility is the upset of love, benevolence is the acting of love.
II. WHAT ARE THE PROPERTIES OF THESE FAIR COLOURS?
1. They should be harmonious. They should be developed proportionally, so that each, instead of detracting from, may add lustre to the other. Though the graces are possessed by the believer in various degrees of perfection, yet in every person some one or other is predominant, becomes so conspicuous as to colour the rest, and give the whole character its prevailing hue. The New Jerusalem above will be a glorious city, because there shall be gathered together, in varied but harmonious splendour, the brightness of the diamond, the ruddy flame of the topaz,, the deep green of the emerald, the shining gold of the jasper, the milk-white filminess of the onyx, the heavenly blue of the sapphire, the lovely violet of the amethyst, the burning changes of the opal, and the soft beauty of the pearl!
2. The fair colours with which God lays the stones of His spiritual temple are not superficial. There is no plating, or enamelling, or veneering. Grace works from within outwards, renews the heart, and thus transforms the life.
III. HOW ARE THESE FAIR COLOURS PRODUCED? God is their author. It is He who says, “I will lay thy stones with fair colours.” They are not the spontaneous products of our own corrupt nature, nor even the forced growths of our own careful cultivation. The beauties of holiness are no mere fancy-sketch, no original picture. They are a copy of the Great Master. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The co-operation of providence and grace
The work of the Spirit is aided by God’s providential dealings without. It is to the “afflicted, tempest-tossed, and not comforted,’ that God says, “Behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours.” I have seen a literal fulfilment of these words in Nature. It is a remarkable circumstance that the most brilliant colours of plants are to be seen on the highest mountains, in spots that are most exposed to the wildest weather. The brightest lichens and mosses, the loveliest gems of wild flowers, abound far up on the bleak storm-scalped peak. One of the richest displays of organic colouring I have ever beheld was near the summit of Mont Chenelettaz, a hill about 10,000 feet high, immediately above the great St. Bernard Hospice. The whole face of an extensive rock was covered with a most vivid yellow lichen, which shone in the sunshine like the golden battlement of an enchanted castle. There, in that lofty region, amid the most frowning desolation, exposed to the fiercest tempests of the sky, this lichen exhibited a glory of colour such as it never shows in the sheltered valley. I have two specimens of the same lichen before me, one from the great St. Bernard, and the other from the wall of a Scottish castle deeply embosomed among sycamore trees; and the difference in point of form and colouring between them is most striking. The specimen nurtured amid the wild storms of the mountain-peak is of a lovely primrose hue, and is smooth in texture and complete in outline; while the specimen nurtured amid the soft airs and the delicate showers of the lowland valley is of a dim rusty hue, and is scurfy in texture and broken in outline. And is it not so with the Christian who is afflicted, tempest-tossed, and not comforted? Till the storms and vicissitudes of God’s providence beat upon him again and again, his character appears marred and clouded by selfish and worldly influences. But trials clear away the obscurity, perfect the outlines of his disposition, and give brightness and beauty to his piety. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The world unfavourable to beauty of Christian character
But though the trials of life are well fitted to bring out the fair colours of the Christian character, there is a sense in which the world may be said to be unfavourable to them. Its climate is not like the glowing air and the clear sunny sky of Egypt or Italy, which embalm architectural remains in imperishable beauty, and present the temples erected ages ago as sharply-defined in their sculpture, and as fresh and undimmed in their colouring as if built only yesterday. Iris like our own misty climate. It is difficult to preserve the beauty of holiness in a world lying in wickedness, to keep the garments unspotted from the flesh. The fair colours of grace require to be constantly renewed, polished, brightened. But as Christians, another Will than your own has begun to work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. And your holiness will surely spread in spite of every opposition over your whole nature and life, transforming you in the renewing of your mind, preserving you from the pollutions of the world, and preparing you for being presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The beautifying power of Divine grace
These fair colours of grace are within reach of all. In nature there is hardly a stone that is not capable of crystallizing into something purer and brighter than its normal state. Coal, by a slightly different arrangement of its particles, is capable of becoming the radiant diamond. The slag cast out from the furnace as useless waste, forms into globular masses of radiating crystals. From tar and pitch the loveliest colours are now manufactured. The very mud on the road, trampled under foot as the type of all impurity, can be changed by chemical art into metals and gems of surpassing beauty. And so the most unpromising materials, from the most worthless moral rubbish that men east out and despise, may be converted by the Divine alchemy into the gold of the sanctuary, and made jewels fit for the mediatorial crown of the Redeemer. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Antimony was the costly black mineral powder with which the Eastern women painted their eyelids to throw up the lustre of their eyes. The dark cement in which the gems of the walls, gates, battlements, and even the foundations of the City were to be set, and which was to enhance their brilliance, was to be composed of this costly pigment. (S. Cox, D. D.)
And lay thy foundations with sapphires
Foundations of sapphires
By the sea-shore we find samples of many of the rocks which form the crust of the earth. The commonest specimen among them has something to commend it either in colour or in form. It is assuredly not of worthless and unsightly materials that the hidden parts of the earth are constructed. Unlike man’s work, which is carefully elaborated only where the eye is intended to see it, God’s work is the same throughout. Not only is beauty lavished upon the superstructure--upon the grass, and the flowers, and the trees, that are to meet the gaze--but the very foundations are composed of onyx stones and stones to be set, glistering stones and of divers colours, and all manner of precious stones, and marble stones in abundance. A similar principle appears throughout the spiritual creation, of which the scheme of nature is only the visible picture. In the moral works of God as well as in the natural, beauty is combined with utility--grace with strength. He lays the foundations of the general Christian Church, and of the individual Christian character, with sapphires. Those hidden principles and motives upon which the grand superstructure of faith and charity is guilt, are not only strong and steadfast, but beautiful. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
The sapphire is one of the brightest and most valuable of those mysterious unfading flowers of the inner earth which we call jewels. Born of darkness, stranger to the light, it yet holds in its core of focussed rays the blue of heaven. Gentians, violets, forget-me-nots, calm lakes and summer skies, glacier-depths and living springs, have their passing and perishing loveliness enshrined and concentrated in its heart of rock. There is one variety, of a singularly soft pure azure, which has the power of retaining its lovely memory of heaven, even by candlelight, when an ordinary sapphire looks black. It is sometimes found in masses of considerable size, and may therefore appropriately be spoken of in connection with foundations. It formed the pavement, like the body of heaven in its clearness, under the feet of the God of Israel, as seen by the elders in Exodus; and the throne of glory which appeared to Ezekiel in vision resembled a sapphire stone. It was the fifth precious stone in the breastplate of the Jewish high-priest, and had the name of Simeon engraved upon it; and the second foundation of the New Jerusalem is a sapphire. The minute account in Exodus and Revelation, of this and other jewels that adorned the sacerdotal apparel and the walls of the heavenly city, indicates the symbolic reverence attached to their use by the Jews. And this belief in their mystic qualities passed from India and Persia to Greece and Rome, and after playing a considerable part in the Gnostic systems of Alexandria, became finally transferred to the Christian Church, as we find Bishop Marboeuf of Rennes, in the eleventh century, versifying their talismanic influences in his curious “Lapidarium.” Even St. Jerome praises the sapphire for its use in conciliating to its wearer the favour of princes, quelling his enemies, dispersing sorceries, setting free the captive, and even assuaging the wrath of God himself. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
Blue is an exceedingly lovely colour. It is quiet and subdued, attracting without dazzling the eye, suggestive of peace and repose. It is the most universally distributed of all hues. It forms the pleasing background of nature, on which the more brilliant colours of tree and flower and field come forth to arrest our attention, not only by their own beauty, but also by the force of contrast. We see it in the boundless expanse of the sky which bends over and idealizes our dull cold earth, and forms, with its varied changes, a part of the landscape, not the mere empty space that surrounds it. We see it in the distant hills, that assume on the horizon the azure colour of the sky, from sympathy of beauty and peace. We see it in the far-stretching ocean that covers three-fourths of the surface of the globe; in the lake, the river, and the stream, the mirrors which reflect and spiritualize the changeable beauty of earth and heaven. We see it in the blue-bell that rings out the pensive requiem of nature’s mutability on quiet autumn eves; and in the human eye, the most wonderful of God’s works, which reflects the world without and the world within--which is at once useful as an organ of vision, and beautiful as a spiritual and expressive window of the soul And as in the temple of nature, from the viewless air to the ethereal lustre of childhood’s innocent eye, the hue of the sapphire predominates, so in the tabernacle and temple of old it was pre-eminent, being always mentioned in connection with gold in the enumeration of the sacred furniture. As the gold was emblematic of the glory and majesty of God, so the blue combined with it, in the sacred appointments of the tabernacle, might be aptly employed to represent His love and grace. Such an interpretation would be in strict accordance with the symbolism of nearly all nations, among whom blue has always been associated with ideas of love. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
We may therefore understand the sapphire foundations of the Christian life which God lays, to be, in general terms, the love of God in Christ; His general love in providence, and His particular and surpassing love in redemption. It is on this beautiful and serene background that all the great manifestations of grace given to mankind are displayed. The temple of Solomon was built on the rocky foundation of Mount Moriah, a place consecrated to the work of redemption, from the time when Abraham offered there the ram which the Lord had provided, instead of his son Isaac, and the destroying angel sheathed there, by the threshing-floor of Araunah, the sword of judgment, on account of David’s sacrifice. And so the spiritual temple is also built upon the work of redemption as its sapphire foundation. What beautiful emblems of Christ’s love are the two grandest objects of nature--sapphire sea and sapphire sky! The boundless extent of heaven’s blue field cannot be measured even by the astronomer, so the length and breadth, and height and depth of the love of Christ surpass all knowledge. Or, to take the sea as the comparison, the sea touches the shore along one narrow line, and all the beauty and fertility of that shore are owing to its life-giving dews and rains;, but it stretches away from the shore, beyond the horizon, into regions which man’s eye has never seen, and the further it recedes, the deeper and the bluer its waters become. And so the love of Christ touches us along the whole line of our life, imparts all the beauty and fruitfulness to that life, but it stretches away from the point of contact into the unsearchable riches of Christ, the measureless fulness of the Godhead--that ocean of inconceivable, incommunicable love which no plummet can sound, or eye of angel or saint ever scan. The Hebrew word sappir, translated sapphire in our version, is derived from the same root as the words that signify a book, writing, or engraving; and according to the Talmud, the two tables of stone, on which the Law was written on Sinai, were formed of sapphires. Blessed be God, it is not on the sapphire foundations of the Law that we are now to build our trust. The obedience that can rest on these foundations must be perfect in every jot and tittle, and perpetual, without cessation or suspense, without question or doubt, from the beginning to the end of life. But such an obedience we cannot rear. Christ’s finished work is now our sapphire foundation. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
‘‘I will lay thy foundations with sapphires:”
The structure of our faith is four-square, like that of the temple of old. The chief corner-stone which binds the whole together is the redemption-love of Christ; but connected with it as a foundation for the believer’s stability and hope, is--
1. The covenant of grace, embracing every blessing from the first moment of incipient peace in the soul to the consummation of that peace in heaven, extending in its administration to the most minute particulars, making ample provision for every evil that can possibly happen to us, and securing calmness in the prospect and in the hour of death.
2. The revealed truth of God is another sapphire foundation connected with the precious corner-stone.
3. The experience of the believer is yet another sapphire foundation. The objective revelation of the Gospel has been followed by the subjective operation of the Spirit. The outward teaching of inspiration has become an inward Divine illumination. The doctrine has become a living power whose strength has been tried and proved; the Divine announcement has passed into the form of a human experience; the creed is no mere formula of speech, no mystic incantation, but “corresponds with needs of his soul, which he has probed to the bottom in the hour of difficulty.” In short, Christ proclaimed by Old Testament types and prophecies, revealed in the Gospels, preached in the Apostolic Acts and Epistles, has become Christ formed in the soul the hope of glory. The sapphire is one of the most precious jewels; ranking next to the diamond in value. It is precious for its own beauty and rarity, and precious on account of the labour revolved in obtaining it. And who can estimate the preciousness of the sapphire foundations of our faith, the work of redemption which cost the humiliation, suffering, and death of the Son of God to accomplish; and the experience of the truth in the soul wrought out through much sorrow, through doubts, and fears, and terrible struggles? The sapphire is also one of the purest of the precious stones. The ancient meteoric stone called the Kaaba, built into the sacred mosque at Mecca, and still pressed with devotion by the lips of every pilgrim, may be taken to represent in its blackness and earthliness, the Mohammedan religion. But the foundation of Christianity is a pure transparent sapphire. It has no flaws, no dross, no earthy ingredients. These foundations are steadfast and enduring. They are not composed of perishable materials--not even of rocks that weather and crumble away--but of sapphires, next to the diamond the hardest of the precious stones. Jewels, as a class, are the most lasting of all earthly objects--the most beautiful as well as the most imperishable form in which matter appears. They are therefore expressive types of stability and permanence. The sapphire foundations of the Christian life are everlasting. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
And I will make thy windows of agates
Agates are precious stones, partially transparent and uncrystallized.
They are mere varieties of quartz, variously coloured by admixtures of different earths; although the neutral tints arc the most frequent. They generally occur in rounded nodules, or in veins in igneous rocks, dropping out when such rocks decompose by the action of the elements, and being washed down to the places where they are found by mountain streams. They seem to be the product of elements fused by fire; and in this respect they carry out most faithfully the analogy between the condition of the Church and the nature of the promise, “o thou afflicted, tempest-tossed, and not comforted, behold, I will make thy windows of agates.” Out of those fiery trials precious media of spiritual vision will be constructed for it. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
I. Looking at the emblem in this light, we may suppose windows of agates to mean windows of FAITH. Agates are neither transparent as rock crystal, nor opaque as flint; so neither is faith dim as sense, nor bright as heavenly vision. Many things in creation, providence, and redemption are inscrutable to us; and the wider the circle of light spreads around us, the wider does the dark line of our ignorance extend also and touch it at every point. Gazing through these windows we behold things which we see nowhere else. We obtain such a realizing view of God’s presence, such an evidence of His perfections, as elevates and spiritualizes our minds, while, at the same time, it humbles us low by the contrast of our own imperfections and unworthiness. We behold His glory as in a glass, and are changed into the same image, saturated with the reflected light of His holiness, permeated with: the warmth the purity of His love. The “altogether lovely One looketh forth at these windows, showing Himself through the lattice in all the beauty of His person, the perfection of His righteousness, and the sufficiency of His grace. We have a satisfying and transforming view of His person, His atonement, His intercession, His example, His commands and promises, His government and kingdom, as revealed in the Gospel; so that we can enjoy His own prophetic benediction, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” From these upper windows of the soul we obtain the widest view of the horizon around us, and see glorious glimpses of the land that is very far off. Looking down from that elevation, how small and insignificant do the things that appeared great from their own level appear; how unworthy of the thought we bestowed upon them, or the anxiety with which we regarded them. On these western windows of the soul, too, the departing sun shines with concentrated radiance when all the rest of the horizon is wrapped in twilight gloom. It is from thence that another and a brighter world is discerned opening upon our view, while this world is sinking in shadow.
II. We may regard these windows as WINDOWS OF FEELING. By this it is meant, not that God will smite the smitten, afflict the afflicted, but that He will make those afflictions which the Church already experiences windows of agates--mediums of communication between the soul and the unseen world--means of deeper insight into, and richer experiences of spiritual things. The afflicted Christian is the only one who has just views of life, It takes a long and painful discipline to correct our early impressions, and show us things in their true aspects and relations. Through the dim windows of affliction how changed is the aspect of the world, how cold, and grey, and desolate; all its radiant glow departed; all its beauteous hues reduced to one dull leaden sadness. The tears of sorrow are like spiritual lenses, showing us the world in its true character as a poor, empty, unsatisfying inheritance. One glimpse through the agate windows of sickness, bereavement, or adversity will impress us more with the vanity of the world’s portion, and of a life of sense, than all that the most pensive poetry ever sang, or the most cynical philosophy ever taught. “I will make thy windows of agates;” not bright and transparent, for our weak eyes, dimmed with pain and weeping, cannot bear the strong sunshine; not dark and opaque, for the soul climbing up and straining to look out and see the light behind the cloud--the beauty beyond the shadow--and baffled in its efforts--would fall back upon itself morbid and despairing. They are windows of agates--neither transparent nor opaque--but mercifully tempered by Him who best knows the requirements of each individual case, and who in all our afflictions is afflicted.
III. We may suppose agate windows to be WINDOWS OF SPIRITUAL CHARACTER. In admiring a piece of beautiful scenery, we find nothing in it except what we ourselves brought to it. Nature wears the colour of the spirit; and her charms are reflections of charms within ourselves. It is so also in moral things. To the pure all things are pure; while the polluted heart finds impurity in the most innocent things. So also in the spiritual world. Its objects become real, tangible, true, worthy of love, and capable of influencing us, only so far as we ourselves are spiritualized. There is no window so clear as holiness of character, spirituality of mind, purity of heart, singleness of aim. Agate windows are most expressive symbols of our spiritual character. The purest agates are only semi-pellucid: while the great majority of specimens are clouded with dim spots, and streaked with dark lines. And so the purest spiritual character in this world is imperfect. The essential transparency remains, but objects seen through it are dim, distorted, and discoloured. Our indistinct and imperfect views of God, of providence, of the scheme of grace, of the eternal realities and transcendent glories of a perfect state--are owing to the imperfection of our own spiritual character, and the imperfect affinity of our hearts for what is best and purest. These windows of agates are of great practical importance. The principal use and design of ordinary windows in a dwelling is to admit light into the rooms, so that the inmates may see to perform their various household duties. And so, the use of these windows of agates, whether they be windows of faith, of feeling, or of spiritual character, is to let the light of heaven shine in upon our life, that we may discharge our various duties as members of the household of faith. We are not to sit all day long with folded hands at these windows, looking out listlessly or sadly, in mere religious reverie, or in despondent abstraction. The light which we gel through them is given to us to work. The light of heaven itself is given for usefulness as well as for beauty. It warms and fertilizes the earth, and ripens the corn. So let the light which streams in upon us through these windows of agates--costly light obtained from faith tried in the furnace; lambent light gleaming from painful afflictions, from the decays of nature; sparkling light struck from sore struggles with sin and self; light coloured by the experience through which it has passed; let that light warm, and quicken, and ripen our souls. (H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
“Thy windows of agates:”
Rather, as R.V., “pinnacles.” The word is derived from that for “sun,” and appears to denote those parts of the building which glitter in the sun’s rays. Compare the Arab “minaret, used primarily of a lantern or lighthouse. “Agates” (Ezekiel 27:16), “sparkling stone, perhaps “rubies’ (R.V.). (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The clarified vision
The Hebrew word here for window is unusual (shemashoth), and this is the only instance of its translation by “window.” It means “an opening for the sun.” It implies the admission into the house of more than ordinary reflected daylight--the sun streams through it. The agate (kadbod) is a glass-clear stone. The writer uses it evidently more because of its clarity than because of its preciousness. As a clear way for the sun, the agate window suggests the desirability of keeping the soul’s windows transparently clear.
I. THAN GOD, THE SOUL’S SUN, MAY SHINE IN WITHOUT IMPEDIMENT.
1. The Bible may be the agate window. Through it God shines in on man’s mind and spirit.
2. This, similarly, should be the office of religious teaching, as in creed and sermon. How important to keep the media of truth transparent.
II. THAT THE SOUL, LOOKING OUT, MAY SEE ACCURATELY. Bad glass, steam, or stain on a window confuses outlines. A fly in the telescope may twist the observer’s astronomy. All our views of life’s landscapes greatly depend on the window through which we look out. Sin stains it. Cynicism discolours it. The sun can shine through a hide or a thin shutter. But the soul can look out only through the clear window. God sees us, shines on us, when we do not see Him. Salvation depends not on His seeing us, but on our seeing Him.
III. THAT OUR LIGHT MAY SHINE OUT TO OTHERS. Some one wandering in the darkness may see the light that shines from our life, and be guided to safety. (Homiletic Review.)
Thy gates of carbuncles
This precious stone is found in the East Indies, in colour is an intense scarlet, and held up between your eye and the sun it is a burning coal. The poet puts it into rhythm as he writes--“Like to the burning coal whence comes its name; Among the Greeks as Anthrax known to fame.” God sets it high up in Bible crystallography. He cuts it with a Divine chisel, shapes it with a precise geometry, and kindles its fire into an almost supernatural flame of beauty. Its law of symmetry, its law of zones, its law of parallelism, something to excite the amazement of the scientist, chime the cantos of the poet, and arouse the adoration of the Christian. No one but the infinite God could fashion a carbuncle as large as your thumb-nail, and as if to make all ages appreciate this precious stone He ordered it set in the first row of the high-priest’s breast-plate in olden time and higher up than the onyx and the emerald and the diamond, and in Ezekiel’s prophecies concerning the splendours of the Tyrian court, the carbuncle is mentioned, the brilliancies of the walls and of the tessellated floors suggested by the Bible sentence, “Thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire!” (T. D. W. Talmage, D. D.)
Gates of carbuncles
In my text it is not a solitary specimen that I hand you, as the keeper of a museum might take down from the shelf a precious stone and allow you to examine it. Nor is it the panel of a door that you might stand and study for its unique carvings or bronzed traceries, but there is a whole gate of it lifted before our admiring and astounded vision, ay! two gates of it: ay! many gates of it: “I will make thy gates of carbuncles.” What gates Gates of the-Church. Gates of anything worth possessing. Gates of successful enterprise. Gates of salvation. Gates of national achievement. Isaiah, who wrote this text, wrote also all that about Christ “as the lamb to the slaughter,” and spoke of Christ as saying, “I have trodden the winepress alone,” and wrote, “Who is this that cometh from Eden, with dyed garments from Bozrah. And do you think that Isaiah in my text merely happened to represent the gates, as red gates, as carmine gates, as gates of carbuncle? No. He means that it is through atonement, through blood-red struggle, through agonies we get into anything worth getting into. Heaven’s gates may well be made of pearl, a bright, pellucid, cheerful crystallization, because all the struggles are over and there is beyond those gates nothing but raptures and cantata and triumphal procession and everlasting holiday and kiss of reunion, and so the twelve gates are twelve pearls, and could De nothing else than pearls. But Christ hung the gates of pardon in His own blood, and the marks of eight fingers and two thumbs are on each gate, and as He lifted the gate it leaned against His forehead and took from it a crimson impress, and all those gates are deeply dyed, and Isaiah was right when he spoke of those gates as gates of carbuncle. (T. D. W. Talmage, D. D.)
Gate of carbuncle before gate of pearl
Mark well and underscore with heavy dashes of the pen the order of the gates. Gate of carbuncle before gate of pearl. Isaiah the Prince saw the one gate centuries before St. John the Exile saw the other. The one you must push open. The other stands open. Gate of a Saviour’s atonement before the gate of Divine pardon. Gate of poverty before gate of affluence. Gate of earthly trial before gate of heavenly satisfaction. Through much tribulation you enter the kingdom of God if you ever enter it at all. (T. D. W. Talmage, D. D.)
And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord
Disciples of Jehovah
The expression is probably suggested by what the Servant of Jehovah says of Himself in Isaiah 50:4; the idea being that the citizens of the New Jerusalem shall be the spiritual seed of the Servant.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Inward illumination the spiritual glory of the Church
The outward glory of the city (Isaiah 54:11-12) is but the sense-representation of the spiritual glory of t-he Church that dwells therein (Isaiah 54:13). (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The school of the highest culture
I. THE NATURE OF THIS CULTURE. True culture is threefold--physical, intellectual, and moral. Our text relates to the highest form, and implies all the rest. It is complete culture, the development of the whole man.
1. The text presupposes man’s ignorance. Man needs teaching, the imparting of truth.
(1) There is man’s ignorance of self.
(2) Of duty.
(3) Of God.
(4) Of destiny.
2. The statement of the text implies the Divine intention. It is not God’s will that man remain in ignorance.
3. The statement of the text announces the Divine plan. “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.”
(1) The student--“Thy children.”
(2) The Teacher--“The Lord.” He is an omniscient Teacher, knowing the truths to be taught, and the temperament and disposition of the students. He is a patient Teacher. He is an omnipresent Teacher.
(3) The subjects taught. Language (Zephaniah 3:9). The language of faith, of prayer, of love. Mathematics (Mar 8:36; 2 Peter 1:5; Acts 12:24; Isaiah 53:12; Philippians 3:8). Political science. The kingdom of God. Our citizenship is in Heaven: citizens of the commonwealth of Israel. Natural and spiritual science. Of Origins John 1:1-3). Of preservation (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). Of the Divine (John 17:3). Of the human (Genesis 1:26). God, man, sin, salvation, duty and destiny are all studied.
(4) The methods of teaching. The “Word” method (.John 5:39; 2 Timothy 3:15). The object method (Psalms 19:1-6). The Holy Spirit method (John 16:13). The conscience method (Romans 2:15). The corrective method (Proverbs ill 12).
II. THE GREAT RESULT. “And great shall be the peace of thy children.”
1. This teaching shall result in enlightenment. Culture means light.
2. In elevation. All true culture leads that way.
3. In spiritual strength (Hebrews 5:12-14).
4. In peace. There is a threefold peace, peace with God, peace with conscience, peace with fellow-men. This school appeals for students. Will you enter The condition of entrance is given in John 1:11-12. The completion of a life course in this school develops the soul for promotion to the University of the New Jerusalem. Every graduate receives the degree of “Sinner saved, and then begins the higher course in the University where boundless prospects and boundless possibilities lie before the student. What other school offers attractions such as these? (W. C. Kantner, D. D.)
The teaching unction and common knowledge
1. In the writings of all the apostles, as well as in the anticipations of evangelical prophets, this place of the Spirit as instructor and guide of the elect individual is ungrudgingiy recognized. James speaks of a wisdom that comes to every believing suppliant direct from the Father of lights. Paul speaks of an enlightenment and revelation that are gifts of the Spirit, and says that “no man can call Jesus Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” And John speaks of “the anointing of the Holy one through which all doubts may be resolved, and the lowly disciple made safe against current sophistry and error. Peter asserts that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. Such testimony coming from leading and honoured apostles has a peculiar emphasis and impressiveness about it. The best barrier against heresy which could be raised up was that which consisted in the common knowledge possessed by all who had received the Spirit, and none of the apostles shows the slightest jealousy of the growing insight of their converts. They were quite content that the Church official should be abased and even superseded, so that the work of the teaching Spirit should be magnified.
2. The spirit of man has been degraded by evil, warped by prejudice and mistaken training, distracted and torn in opposite directions by the fickle and contradictory movements of a flesh inflated with egotisms and bubbling self-sufficiencies. It must undergo some radical transformation before it can become the test of what is true. One might as well call in a boiler-riveter organically deaf with the din of his occupation to settle conflicting criticisms respecting a quarter tone in music, or some spirit-drinker with burnt-up tongue and palate to do the work of an accomplished tea-taster, as appeal subtle spiritual questions to such a court as that. It is only after the Spirit has come to possess the nature of a man, and to make the undefiled conscience rule the life, that the nature can become in any sense a test of religious truth. The heart of man must be disengaged from its old embarrassments and distractions, redeemed from the bias of its passion and wilfulness, chastened into docility and meekness and humility, quickened, purified, exalted, before it can discern. It is this specific anointing with the Spirit which confers upon the conscience its new prerogative as a competent judge of truth. (T. G. Selby.)
Truth developed in the life by the action of the Spirit of God
When a strip of wood or forest has been destroyed by fire, it will sometimes happen that new and better species of trees grow up and take the place of those which have been burned. The seed had been long buried within the ground, but all to no purpose, because it was forestalled and overshadowed by the growths which first got possession of the soil. The earlier species were like feudal lords, who had seized the land and monopolized all the mists and the dews and the rains that came to moisten the sunburnt earth. But in their downfall hidden and worthier seeds had a chance of light and life and dominion. And is it not thus with human nature? The seed of every truth is within us, although there may often be little outward sign of that significant fact. The proud growths of the flesh overshadow, stifle, and choke down the inner growths of the conscience and the moral life. But at last the Spirit of God comes to us like a consuming fire, and then the superficial growths of passion and prejudice are burnt away, and seeds of sublime truth that had been slumbering from the time of man’s creation in the image of God flower out into strange life, splendour, and fruitfulness. (T. G. Selby.)
The Holy Spirit in relation to the Bible, the Church and thy religious teacher
If we accept this idea of the common knowledge possessed by believers in Christ who receive the promised Spirit, what will be our attitude towards the Bible, the Church, the Christian teacher, and all those forms of religious authority so jealously upheld in the past? Does not this idea of common knowledge introduce a competing authority, and bid fair to prove a solvent of ecclesiastical rule and prerogative, and produce a new confusion of tongues? The Churches of the Reformation rightly make the Bible a test of faith, and bring all teaching to the tribunal of its impartial balances. The New Testament is mainly a statement of historical facts from the lips or pens of eye-witnesses, to which there can be no addition by subsequent revelation. In so far as it is a statement of the doctrinal interpretations identified with those facts, it furnishes a permanent record of what was taught by the Spirit to the first generation of believers, and of what was approved and attested in their own experiences by those representatives of the early Churches who received the component parts of the New Testament into the canon. It gives absolutely trustworthy notes of the work of the Spirit in saving and instructing and sanctifying men. The unchanging Spirit is not likely to contradict Himself now, and teach divergent doctrines to a docile recipient of His ministries; and the Church whose members are inwardly led to the acceptance of the truths which accord with the original standards of the Bible proves itself so far a recipient of the same inspiration. The Bible is the seal by which we are to measure our own inspiration and spiritual insight; but it will not do our seeing for us, and each man must perceive for himself and acquire by the use of his spiritual senses this common knowledge.
2. But some tell us that the Church is the assay-house of religious thought, and that all statements of doctrine must be weighed in the scale of ecclesiastical balances. What have the early councils said? What does the congregation of cardinals or the House of Convocation say to-day? Our reply is that the spiritual discernment of the rulers of a Church must be tested by the scale or standard presented in the Bible and handed down from those who were themselves both personal followers of Christ and the first recipients of Pentecostal gifts. A Church may fall and grope in darkness as woefully as an individual, and then its authority ceases. The mere shell of a Church corporation cannot possibly be a centre of authority, for its directing personnel is ever changing, and if it be found in conflict with the primitive revelations of the Spirit, the very sanctity of the Church is lost and its right to teach forfeited.
3. It is sometimes argued that the teacher duly certified by the Christian Church is a specialist, and that we must give ourselves implicitly into his hands, just as we give ourselves into the hands of any other professional man who has the technical Knowledge we lack. Well, we may recognize that within certain limits he who has not yet received the Spirit must be indebted for such second-hand knowledge as he possesses to the Church and its ministries. But, after all, there is no specialism in connection with the truths which concern the daily life and experience of believers. All specialism is in non-essentials, and the cry for the specialist not only reflects on the impartiality of the Spirit, and implies that His illumination is particular rather than universal, but assumes that religion is a thing of intermittent rites and functions rather than a daily life in which the humblest is schooled to knowledge and insight. (T. G. Selby.)
Religious education the safeguard of the nation
There are three radical defects in the theory of a secular education.
I. IT IGNORES THE EXISTENCE AND THE FUNCTIONS OF CONSCIENCE. Whatever conscience may be, all agree that it is that which is educable. That it is a moral something in man, that may be trained to be in him a monitor and a guide--something that will respond to every voice of truth and of justice. While it is true that some well-informed or enlightened consciences may go astray, yet the rule is, that, as is the conscience so is the virtue of the individual. What are the prime factors in an educated conscience?
1. Belief in a personal God--the Author and Creator of the human mind--He who is, in Himself, the supreme reason of virtue.
2. Reverence for God’s laws.
3. The dread of the Divine displeasure. By what force would you deter man from vice and crime? By the displeasure of good citizens? But that displeasure is the creation of a religious education. By the beneficence of public morals? But that beneficence is written all over the constitution of nature, whose author is God. Without this recognition of a personal God--whose laws are to be revered, whose displeasure is to be dreaded--without such an educated conscience there can be no authority, as there can be no standard, either for private or public virtue.
II. IT OVERLOOKS THE FACT THAT SECULAR EDUCATION CONTAINS NO ELEMENT TO PURIFY AND REFORM. Science enlightens, but it cannot renew and elevate human nature which is depraved in principle and sinful in practice. Knowledge is power; but it is a power for good or evil, according to the controlling motives.
III. IT OVERLOOKS THE FACTS THAT THE STABILITY OF OUR GOVERNMENT IS IN THE MORAL CONVICTIONS OF THE PEOPLE. (J. P. Newman, D. D.)
Great shall be the peace of thy children
The great peace of God’s pupils
“Thy children”--whose? To answer this question is to get at the true key to the whole of this part of the prophecy. The words were spoken to the exiled Jews in Babylon, but were plainly meant to cover more than their needs. They are words which picture and promise the condition which should one day embrace the whole earth.
I. They are men who have got over the great difficulty in all teaching; THEY ARE WILLING TO LEARN. They are eager. They come cheerfully to that which has grown to be a pleasure. They are on the outlook for knowledge. Now, if any man is really on the outlook for knowledge he will be sure to get it; perhaps not all at once, but little by little. There has already been some progress made in learning where this is the temper of the pupil. How much, only those various and manifold testings of their knowledge which come up in every man’s life, can really reveal.
II. If this be the character of the learners, WHAT SHALL WE SAY OF THE TEACHER? The pupil learns what is the character of the Teacher in the lessons he gives. The lessons He gives are according to the wants and capacities of His pupils. And if only we will, we may learn this about the Teacher, from the lessons He gives us, how great is His interest in each of us; how accurate His knowledge of us; how constant His regard for us; how completely fitted His wise treatment; how full His whole conduct is of care and love; how, in a word, God is as loving as He is wise, as tender as He is strong, and as constant in His affection towards us as He is persistent in bringing the same lesson before our eye, until we have learnt it by heart. Again; the pupil learns what is the character of the Teacher from the bearing of the Teacher toward him after He has given him his lessons. Does He turn away and leave the pupil to himself? Does He set the task, and then vanish out of sight? Does He leave the lesson with the pupil, and the pupil with the lesson, and make no further sign? We know that, in regard to God, this is not so. It is true, that when God wishes us to work out some great lesson of our life, He withdraws from us, as it were, that we may put forth all our strength, that we may grapple with it, and, if we can, master it. But it is also true that God never leaves His pupils altogether. His eye is still resting upon them when they think Him a great way off. His very presence is with them when they think that they are utterly alone. And when He sees that the right moment has come He speaks the cheery word; He parts asunder the thick storm cloud, and lets the light of His countenance shine upon us and illumine our path. Nay, still more; how many hard and soul-searching questions has God helped us to spell out; how frequently the guiding and sustaining hand has been over our own, when, with painfulness and much sorrow, we have been trying to write out in our lives some fair copy of a simple command! Even after the lesson is given, how patient God is, how ready to help, how gentle, how loving, how merciful. The pupil also learns what the Teacher is, from the great example of His own lessons which He, the Teacher, shows Himself.
III. WHAT WILL COME OF THE PUPIL’S LEARNING THESE LESSONS. He may not learn any one of them thoroughly. He may feel, in regard to much of his knowledge of God, for example, that it needs revision, correction, enlargement. He may be conscious that some of the most elemental truths in Divine wisdom have to be learned and relearned. There does, however, come a result from all his application which will be all the more pronounced when the education itself is perfected. And what is this result? “Great peace.”
1. The peace comes after she learning, not before. The peace is after the victory, not before the battle.
2. Another thing is also to be noted: this “great peace” does not come to us by mastering every lesson at once, however hard and difficult it may be, but in patiently resting in Him who has sent it. (J. J. Goadby.)
The Gospel of the children
In every age the children were included in the promise and in the Church.
I. THE PERIOD.
1. It is impressible. The photographer’s plate is very sensitive. When he removes the covering which keeps off the light from the sun, the image of the object directly opposite is instantaneously impressed on the plate. So is the child’s mind. Whatever is the object of its observation--good or bad--the image is made. What care should be taken lest that sensitive plateshould be exposed to that which is sinful!
2. It expands its impressions. When any one cuts the initials of his name on the bark of a young tree, as the tree grows so the letters will become larger. The child receives impressions to grow with its being.
3. It is a period when correction is possible. Evil impressions may cling to a child, but we can stop their influence by admonition and warning.
II. THE LEARNING. Instruction is the birthright of every child; national prosperity depends on the early training of its families. Spiritual instruction is the best gift that parents can give to their children. The prophet saw a vision in this chapter which was far removed from his own time--the Gospel period. Let us look at the adaptation.
1. It is the Gospel of childhood. Some look on the Gospel as only comprehensible by men of mature age. This is an error. The child can learn the alphabet of the language, although it cannot pronounce its long words. Timothy from a child knew the Scriptures.
2. It is the Gospel of growth. The story of Bethlehem grows into a fact. Accounts of miraculous cures, which only appear to a child wonderful, become the evidences of divinity. The great fact of the Crucifixion, which only creates pity in a child’s heart, grows to the importance of life itself. The prayer repeated by infant lips becomes the “fervent prayer of the righteous man.’
3. It is the Gospel of maturity. Generally the things of childhood are unfit for youth, and those of youth are unsuitable for manhood; but the Gospel expands, and is abreast of every experience.
III. THE BLESSING. It will be a great peace. This is the fruit of Divine instruction.
1. God’s Word brings peace to the heart. The child as well as the man needs that peace.
2. God’s Word brings peace to the home.
3. Peace in death. The tranquil spirit which the child knew sixty years before is the sheet-anchor which stays the soul in every trying hour. We appeal to the children and say that if they are to be taught of the Lord, they must be willing to learn. Then we further urge the children to obedience and prayer in respect of their teachers. (J. Daveis, M. A.)
I. DIVINE TEACHING.
1. We all need Divine teaching.
2. We are all by nature opposed to it.
3. Divine teaching is promised.
II. ITS EFFECT. Peace, great peace. Learn--
1. Our relationship to God. “The children of Zion” are also children of God.
2. Our rightful privileges. Spiritual instruction and abiding peace. (C. Clayton, M. A.)
Behold, they shall surely gather together
The adversaries of the Church defeated
The unwearied mischievous attempts of the adversaries of God’s people in the world, as they are made without God, so they shall end in shame to themselves.
I. THE ADVERSARIES OF GOD’S PEOPLE WILL BE UNWEARIEDLY ATTEMPTING MISCHIEF AGAINST THEM. “They shall surely gather together. This is sure upon various grounds.
1. He who foreknows all their thoughts, inclinations and purposed from everlasting hath foretold it.
2. So long as there are any of the children of the devil out of hell, he will be inspiring them with malice against the Church of God on earth.
3. The very defeats and disappointments which the enemies of the Church receive make them renew their attempts with greater violence and fury. They are not the more disheartened, but the more exasperated.
4. The fearful expectation of future vengeance is a spur to their diligent use of all the present opportunities of sinning.
II. THESE ATTEMPTS ARE WITHOUT GOD. “Not by Me.”
1. The Church’s enemies can neither do nor contrive the doing of anything absolutely without God. No creature can subsist, no faculty can perform any of its operations, if Providence did not concur. All the plots which are formed beneath prove vain and fruitless unless there be permission given from above.
2. The enemies of the Church can do nothing effectually but as God really employs them to be the instruments of HIS just displeasure (Hab Psalms 17:13-14; Isaiah 10:5; Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 13:5).
3. The attempts of enemies against God’s people are, notwithstanding, without His approbation.
4. The attempts of enemies, when they have most success, are without God’s truly favourable presence.
5. The attempts of enemies at the time which the prophet here refers to will be without God’s assistance, and consequently without success.
III. THESE ATTEMPTS WILL ISSUE IN RUIN TO THEMSELVES. “Whosoever shall gather together,” etc.
1. The greatest attempt which was ever made by the devil against the Church, in the Person of Christ Himself, became the means of subverting his own kingdom.
2. The standing of the Church’s enemies is the most precarious and uncertain thing.
3. All that they have, or can have, to support and defend them, will not be sufficient when their appointed destruction comes (Isaiah 31:3).
4. The enemies of the Church are raised up for this purpose that God may honour himself upon them.
5. The greatest of enemies that the Church of God ever yet had have fallen, though once as likely to stand as any now or hereafter can be.
6. The present enemies of the Church have indeed begun to fall, which is a hopeful token that they shall surely fall.
IV. WHY SHALL THE ATTEMPTS OF THE ENEMIES OF GOD’S PEOPLE END THUS IN THEIR OWN RUIN? “For thy sake.”
1. Some read the words, They shall fall “before thee,” that thou mayest see it.
2. “For thy sake” cannot mean for thy merit, but for thy benefit.
3. “ For thy sake “ may mean, for the kindness and care which I bear to thee.
1. Security and distrust are sinful extremes and both to be avoided.
2. A people dear to God and peculiarly interested in Him, are in a far more blessed condition than all the earth besides.
3. The greatest danger which God’s people are or can be in, is when they engage God against them by sin, and provoke Him to favour their adversaries.
4. The obstructions of mercy are on our part, not on God’s.
5. The memorials of past mercies are to be preserved for our support in future difficulties. (T. Cruso.)
Behold, I have created the smith
Hope for the Church in the sovereignty of God
The general meaning evidently is, that God can certainly redeem His pledge, because all instruments and agents are alike at His disposal and under His control.
(J. A. Alexander.)
The Church’s fears silenced
The idea is that the Church has been saying, Where is that awful man the smith? The Lord says in reply, You see that smith? The Church answers, Yes, too well. The Lord retorts, I made him, I hold him within the bend of My fingers, and one quiver, and there is no more smith to be seen. But the Church says, He is blowing his bellows. The Lord says, I made those bellows. The Church says, See what a fire he is kindling! The Lord says, He got the coals from My mines, and I could shut down that mining shaft so that he could never get another cinder. As for all these little tyrants and enemies and mockers and jibers and sceptics and infidels and others, have no fear of them; if any of them have any sincerity the reward shall not be withheld, and that sincerity may turn by-and-by to intelligence and to faith, but in so far as they mock and sneer and contemn have no fear of them; they are creatures, not creators; the smith is only a mechanic of a low degree or high; he is not Divine, he is most human. But, saith the Church, yet there is a weapon formed against me. The Lord says, So there may be, but it has no edge, and it has no handle; and if any man were foolish enough to take it up to strike with, it would curl up in his hand. But, Lord, there are tongues that rise against me in judgment, fluent tongues, yea eloquent tongues, and it is not in my power to answer their wordy arguments or to follow the tortuous train of their reasoning. And the Lord replies, Let them talk; they will soon exhaust their vocabulary. Never interrupt a man who has a bad cause. He trusts to interruption. He thinks the interruption may create for him an opportunity of abandoning the main line of his impeachment. The way to answer a foolish and unjust accuser is to listen to him in silence. (J. Parker, D. D.)
No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper
GLANCE AT THE WEAPONS WHICH HAVE BEEN USED AGAINST THE CHURCH COLLECTIVELY.
1. The first weapon that we notice is an old one--Infidelity. Nothing can be more palpable than this--humanity refuses to be infidel.
2. Behold another of these hostile implements is the weapon of persecution. A weak weapon, nevertheless.
II. AS REGARDS THE CHURCH INDIVIDUALLY “NO WEAPON THAT IS FORMED AGAINST IT SHALL PROSPER.”
1. The weapon of slander shall not prosper.
2. The weapon of doubt.
3. The weapon of death. (T. R. Stevenson.)
The godly man’s heritage
I. THE ARMOURY OF SATAN. The enemy of souls is likened by our Lord to “a strong man armed;” He commands principalities and powers; skilled in hostilities, He has different modes of attack; He employs a great variety of weapons.
1. Persecution. And yet, when we estimate the results of persecution, we have to confess it has not prospered. It has been mightily restrained, and its remains have been turned to the praise of God. It has purified the Church, and given new impetus to the truth. Sometimes it has united the despised forces of Zion, so that their strength has been greatly increased.
2. Temptation. With this weapon the archer sorely wounded our first parents, and he has ever since too successfully hurled it against their progeny. But it does not prosper; it strips us of self-confidence, eradicates pride, drives us for safety to the Hiding Place, and presses upon us the constant necessity for that shield of faith which “quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked.” You cannot afford to despise temptations; but you need not despair under them while you call in the aid engaged to you.
3. False teaching. Clothed as an angel of light, the tempter first instilled error into the mind of Eve, before he could produce disobedience. It is no light affliction to have the mind’s view of Divine truth perverted. Various, however, as are the shades of false teaching, they do not prosper--they flourish for a time like grass upon the housetops, but they fill no man’s bosom with harvest sheaves. The “Word of God outlives them all. Each of those weapons was directed with fullest force against the Son of God.
II. THE WORLDLY MAN’S MALICE. “Every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn.” The slightest whisper of suspicion is greedily sought after, if it cast but a shadow on the character of any saint, and it, is repeated till it grows to calumnious dimensions, and eateth as doth a canker. The worst manifestation of this malignant plague is that which makes its appearance within the Church: when those who should be the guardians become the assailants of a brother’s character, and prejudice and suspicion displace confidence and charity. In the ease of the true Christian, integrity of life will disappoint all the aspersions of the wicked.
III. THE GODLY MAN’S VINDICATION. “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.” What an inheritance it is! It comprises all the blessings contained in God’s Word; and the fulfilment of all His gracious, promises. (W. G. Lewis.)
The Christian’s heritage
I. THE CHRISTIAN’S EXPERIENCE.
1. Weapons are formed against him. No Christian need expect aught else. As Israel’s experience in the wilderness, so the Christian’s in the world.
2. Tongues rise against him. From the days of Cain it has been so, and will be so to the end. So they treated the Lord, and so they will treat His disciples.
II. THY CHRISTIAN’S SECURITY.
1. No weapon shall prosper. The Christian’s enemies may be mighty, malignant, crafty, constant; but more mighty, more wise, more watchful, more indefatigable and loving is his protector.
2. Every tongue he shall condemn.
(1) He shall do it himself by well-doing (1 Peter 2:15).
(2) God shall do it for him.
(3) It shall be done sufficiently on earth (Psalms 37:6).
(4) Perfectly in eternity (Job 19:25).
See also Zechariah 3:1-10. Let Christians see to it that they so live that men speaking evil of them shall do it falsely, and God shall fully vindicate them. Who has this security? and in answer see--
III. THE CHRISTIAN’S CHARACTER. “The servants of the Lord.” This security is described as--
IV. THY CHRISTIANS HERITAGE; and this description may teach us--
1. That while the Christian is a servant, he is also a son and heir.
2. That his security is a thing not of merit, but of inheritance. It is a legacy secured to him by the death of Christ. It is the Father’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom.
3. We may be sure that a heritage from God is a certain possession. He is “without variableness or shadow of turning.”
V. THE CHRISTIAN’S TITLE. Perhaps this last clause had been better translated uniformly with previous one: “And this is their righteousness (justification) from Me. But taking it as we have It, we may interpret it as teaching us
1. That the Christian’s justification is of God. It is the righteousness which is of God by faith.
2. That the Christian’s sanctification is of God. It is He who worketh in him “to will and to do of God’s good pleasure.”
3. That boasting is excluded. “What hast thou that thou hast not received?”
4. That security is perfect; for if God justify, who can condemn Romans 8:34)? and if God sanctify, He will “perfect that which concerneth” us. This clause thus explains as well as ratifies the promise, and, farther, it tells us how we may secure this promise for ourselves. Righteousness we have not by nature, righteousness we cannot attain of ourselves--but righteousness we may receive from God. (D. Jamison, B. A.)
Their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord
Justification through imputed righteousness
In these words, which are spoken of all true believers, more particularly, we may observe--
I. THE FOUNDATION OF THEIR ACCEPTANCE WITH GOD, AND OF ALL THE GLORIOUS PRIVILEGES THAT THEY ENJOY OR ARE ENTITLED TO. It is “a righteousness;” such a righteousness as answers all the demands of the Divine law, a righteousness with which God is well pleased.
II. HOW BELIEVERS BECOME POSSESSED OF THIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, They have it not of themselves. It is not a righteousness wrought out by them or inherent in them, but a righteousness which they have of God. God, in the person of the Father, devised and provided it; God, in the person of the Son, wrought it out for them. It is also through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to believe the report of the Gospel, and receive Christ exhibited and freely offered to them in it, that they come to be actually possessed of this righteousness.
III. THE INTEREST THAT BELIEVERS HAVE IN THAT RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH IS THE GROUND OF THEIR JUSTIFICATION. It is called “their righteousness.” Though it is not theirs originally or subjectively, it is theirs really. It is theirs by the free gift of God.
IV. THE CERTAINTY OF THE GREAT AND IMPORTANT TRUTH ASSERTED IN THE TEXT, namely, that the righteousness of believers, or that righteousness by which they are justified, and on which their title to everlasting life and all the blessings of salvation is wholly founded, is a righteousness which they have not of themselves, but of God, or by His free gift and gracious imputation. This is what Jehovah Himself declares and attests in the plainest manner: “Their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.” (D. Wilson.)
The excellent properties and qualities of that righteousness by which believers are justified
1. A perfect righteousness.
2. A Divine righteousness.
3. A justice-satisfying righteousness.
4. A law-magnifying righteousness.
5. A God-glorifying righteousness.
6. A righteousness that is freely given to the unworthy and the guilty.
7. An everlasting righteousness. (D. Wilson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 54". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany