Thursday, June 8th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Biblical Illustrator The Biblical Illustrator
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 55". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ isaiah-55.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 55". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
- Henry's Complete
- Clarke Commentary
- Bridgeway Bible Commentary
- Coffman's Commentaries
- Barnes' Notes
- Bullinger's Companion Notes
- Calvin's Commentary
- Bell's Commentary
- College Press
- Smith's Commentary
- Dummelow on the Bible
- Constable's Expository Notes
- Ellicott's Commentary
- Expositor's Dictionary
- Meyer's Commentary
- Gaebelein's Annotated
- Morgan's Exposition
- Gill's Exposition
- Everett's Study Notes
- Geneva Study Bible
- Haydock's Catholic Commentary
- Commentary Critical
- Commentary Critical Unabridged
- Gray's Concise Commentary
- Sutcliffe's Commentary
- Trapp's Commentary
- Kretzmann's Commentary
- Lange's Commentary
- Wells of Living Water
- MacLaren's Expositions
- Henry's Complete
- Henry's Concise
- Poole's Annotations
- Pett's Commentary
- Peake's Commentary
- Preacher's Homiletical
- Poor Man's Commentary
- Benson's Commentary
- Sermon Bible Commentary
- Horae Homileticae
- Spurgeon's Verse Expositions
- The Biblical Illustrator
- Coke's Commentary
- The Expositor's Bible Commentary
- The Pulpit Commentaries
- Treasury of Scripture Knowledge
- Wesley's Notes
- Whedon's Commentary
- Keil & Delitzsch
- Ironside's Notes
- Philpot's Commentary
- Layman's Bible Commentary
- Restoration Commentary
- Utley Commentary
He, every one that thirsteth
The cries of the water-carriers
Public messages [Isaiah] would, as a matter of course, deliver publicly in the frequented streets and bazaars, and in khans, and in the temple area, frequently using the common cries of the forerunners of the nobles, the morning call of the temple watchmen, who had been waiting to proclaim the striking of the sun’s first rays upon the pinnacles, the groans of the sabbals (or burden-bearers), the tumult of the buyers and sellers, and the sing-song invitation of the water-carriers, and purveyors of wine and cooling drinks, as his texts,--just such cries and invitations as one may hear to-day in Cairo, Jerusalem, or Damascus.
Standing at a street corner he hears a voice, “All ye that arc thirsty, buy my cooling waters, and refresh your hearts,” and he forthwith bursts out with his own competitive cry, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” etc. (F. Sessions.)
Water, wine and milk
Hitzig, Hendewerk and Knobel understand water, wine and milk as the rich material enjoyments which the exiles have in prospect on returning to their fatherland, whereas they are now paying tribute in Babylon, and rendering personal service to their masters without deriving any benefit therefrom. But the prophet knows of a water even higher than natural water (Isaiah 44:3; cf. Isaiah 41:17), and a higher than the natural wine (Isaiah 25:6); he knows of an eating and drinking surpassing mere material enjoyment (Isaiah 65:13). As shown by the very fact that water is placed first, water, wine and milk are not the products of the Holy Land, but figures of spiritual revival, refreshing and nourishment (1 Peter 2:2, τὸ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα). (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
God eager for sinners
God would have the attention of sinners; He calls for it. Are not sinners eager for God? Oh, no. It is God who is eager for sinners; and so He calleth Ho! Men pass by with their ears full of the world’s tumult; and God calleth, again and again, “Ho! ho!” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The Gospel first addressed to human necessity
A great appeal is addressed to those who are athirst. Thus the Lord accommodates His ministry to human necessity. When men are thirsting for water He does not offer them sublime visions of the future, or stately ideas concerning the economies and dominions of time. He would say to men, Let us, in the first place, supply your need; until your thirst is quenched your mind cannot be at rest; until your bodily necessities are supplied your imagination will be unable to exercise itself in high thoughts. The promises of God are addressed to our necessities for more than merely temporary reasons. There is a whole philosophy of government in such appeals. Only at certain points can we profess to understand God, and those points touch our need, our pain, our immediate desire; when we are quite sure that God gives us water for our bodily thirst we may begin at least to feel that there is a possibility that He may not neglect the more burning thirst of the soul. God approaches the spirit through the body. The God who grows corn for our hunger may also have bread for our spirits cry of weakness. (J. Parker, D. D.)
It is “ Come--come.” That is the most familiar word in the Bible! It seems to be a favourite word. The word “Come” occurs six hundred and forty two times in the Bible. It is “Come to the supper;” Come to the waters” “The Spirit and the Bride say, Come.” Through all sorrows, through all trials: through all nights of darkness, through all calamities, through all temptations, it rings out, “Come! Come!, Come!” I remember, when I was a boy in the country, being envious of the old sexton who used to lay hold of the bell-rope, and start the bell that shook the meeting-house, calling the people for miles around to prayer. The poorest man, trudging along the turnpike-road, knew that the bell called him just as much as it called the rich farmer riding behind his prancing and capering pair. And so this Gospel bell calls to palaces and to huts, to robes and to rags, saying, “Whosoever will, let him come.” When the sexton had struck one stroke, why did he not wind up the rope and stop? The people had all heard it. But no; he kept on ringing, until, besweated and exhausted, he sat down. When he began to ring there were none present. When he concluded ringing, the roads were full of waggons, and the church door was thronged with people who had come to worship God. And so we must keep on ringing this Gospel bell. Though, perhaps, few may now come, we will keep on ringing, until, after a while, men shall come as clouds, and as “doves to their windows.” (T. De Flirt Talmage, D. D.)
In a man spiritually athirst there are seven qualities answerable to those in a man naturally athirst.
2. Exquisite sense--a painful sense.
3. Peculiar cares and thoughts. All a man’s thoughts, in such a condition, are for water to cool and refresh him (Acts 2:37,
4. Impatience (Exodus 17:3).
5. Vehemeney of desire.
6. Diligent endeavour.
7. Constant languishing. Delay doth but increase the thirst the more. Nothing will put an end to spiritual thirst but Jesus Christ. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
The Jews in exile prosperous yet thirsting
Who are these thirsty souls, panting for a satisfaction which they have not yet found? They are the people of the hill country, now exiled to the plains. They have been bereft of the companionable apocalypse of the heights, and they are now immured in the unsuggestive monotony of the plains. I do not think you will find a single helpful figure in the entire Bible borrowed from the plains. The plains lie prone as a speechless sphinx. The hill country is full of voices, loud in their intimations, prodigal in revelations. Its phenomena are the messengers of the infinite. There towers the rugged height, firm and immovable, standing sure and steadfast through the fickle and varied years. What is its suggestion? “ Thy righteousness is like the great mountains.” Yonder come the treasure-laden clouds, driving in from the great deep. They unburden their wealth upon the shoulders of Carmel, clothing it with a garment of rare and luxuriant beauty. What is their significance? “Thy mercy reached even unto the clouds.” Here, on these bare, basaltic heights the tired and heated traveller rests in the cool and healing shadow of a friendly rock. What is the speech of the shadow “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” In the hill country all things are but the vestures and vehicles of larger things of spiritual import. The light, soft wind that stirs and breathes in the dawn--it is God who rides upon a cherub, yea, who “flies upon the wings of the wind.” The gentle, mollifying rain falling upon the parched, bruised, broken stems of grass: “He shall come down like rain-upon the mown grass.” The end of the drought; the unsealing of the springs among the hills; the gladsome sound of the river as it laughs and dances down the bare and rocky gorge: what is its significance? “Thou shalt make them drink of the river of Thy pleasures. ‘ It was an expressive, voiceful, suggestive land. Its features interpreted the face and character of God. Land and people were in communion, and their intercourse concerned the nearness and the favour and the providence of the Lord of hosts. But now the land and the people are divorced. The people are borne away into captivity. They leave the hill-country, so rich in interpreting speech, and they pass into the speechless monotony of the plains. Their environment is dumb. Their dwelling-place is no longer a sacrament: it is common, insignificant, speechless. They have passed from nature to art, and from art to artifice. They have left the shepherd and have met the merchant. They have left the work of the labourers in pastures and dressers of vineyards for a swift and feverish civilization. Now, take the people of the bracing, speaking, hill country, and immure them in this sweltering and superficial plain. In all the crowded interests by which they are engirt there is nothing suggestive of God. There was grandeur, but the grandeur had no voice. It was grandeur without revelation, and grandeur without revelation is never creative of awe. Where there is no awe, men step with flippant tread. The exile felt the glamour, felt the power of the grandeur, but in the glamour and grandeur forgot his God. His vision was more and more horizontal, and less and less vertical. Ambition waxed feverish, and aspiration waxed faint. The spirit of the conqueror infected the captive. The babble of Babylon entered into Israel. Success was enthroned in place of holiness, and the soul bowed down and worshipped it. The exile embraced the world, and shut out the infinite. Now, what was the issue of that Y The exile made money. His body revelled in conditions of ease. His carnal appetites delighted themselves in fatness. He climbed into positions of eminence and power. What else? “In the fulness of his sufficiency he was in straits.’ The body luxuriated; the soul languished. He drenched the body with comforts; but he couldn’t appease its tenant. “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up, eat, drink, and be merry! And still the soul cried out, “I thirst,” and disturbed him like an unquiet ghost, he spent money and more money, but was never able to buy the appropriate bread. He plunged into increased labours, but his labours reaped only that “which satisfied not.” The body toiled, the brain schemed, the eyes coveted, and still the soul cried out, “I thirst. Now, when there sits in the soul a hungry unrest and a feverish thirst, life will drop into faintness, weariness and despair. All things become stale, flat, and unprofitable. We “spend our money for that which is not bread, and we labour for that which satisfieth not.’ “All is vanity and vexation of spirit.” (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The true imperialism
Has this no pertinency for our own day? Acquisition and expansion are the primary notes of modern life. And is there no thirst, no disquietude of spirit? Our novels and our poetry are full of the drooping leaf. Behind the droop there is the thirst. The literature only reflects the people. Business circles never abounded as they do to-day in faint and weary men. They get and spend, and spend and get, but through it all persists the inward thirst. England is thirsting for life. What we need is the infinitely gracious ministry of the Eternal Son of God. “He, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.”
I. There is to be THE DISCIPLINE OF THE EAR. There is to be a determined, resolute effort to listen to God. When I turn over the pages of the New Testament, and the Old Testament as well, I am greatly surprised at the emphasis with which is given the injunction to hear. “ Hear, ye deaf. Every page sends out the cry of the herald--Hearken, listen, incline your ear. It is wonderful how often the Master repeated the injunction, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” That is not a kind of mild, kindly counsel, but an urgent, strenuous appeal to men and women in imminent peril. As though they were disinclined, or did it lazily and easily. He seems to say, Put work into hearing, make it a business, put some intenseness into it. The voices of the world are so clamorous, so fascinating, so easily enticing, that you are in great danger of being allured unless you set yourself resolutely to attend to God. “Hearken diligently unto Me;” put work into listening to Me, in the Parliament, in the Council House, on the Exchange, in the shop and the warehouse, and in the pulpit. There are many clamorous voices around you, those of Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, Mr. Pliable, Mr. Time-Server, Mr. Love-of-the-World. Then pull yourself together, says the Master and the prophet; engage yourself with such intenseness amidst all the bustling clamour, that you may catch the upward calling of your God.
II. The discipline of the ear is accompanied by THE DISCIPLINE OF THE HEART. Listen and then yield. “Let the wicked forsake his way (and then something infinitely harder), “and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” I find it a comparatively easy thing to forsake a way; but I find it almost insuperably difficult to forsake a thought. Hear the Highest and then uncompromisingly obey. You say impossible! Idleness creates the impossible, says Robert South. I think perhaps one of the great needs of our time in personal and national life, is that some nation should resolutely address itself to listen to the voice of God, and when she has resolutely listened and confidently heard, then to resolutely and deliberately attempt the impossible. Let her begin by forsaking her own wicked ways. Let her hearken diligently to the Divine voice and then definitely and unwaveringly follow in pursuit, even though the way lead apparently to an impassable height. Let her return to the Lord, and let there be no longer a democracy, an aristocracy, a plutocracy, but a Theocracy willing gladly to be counselled by Jehovah.
III. “WHAT IS THE ISSUE OF THIS OBEDIENCE? Suppose the thirsty nation oppressed, turned herself to listen to Jehovah and began to interpret the voice Divine, and suppose she addressed herself with all the majesty of Divine power to the pursuit of the ideal discerned, what would happen? The issue of-such a demeanour is portrayed for us with wonderful prodigality in the chapter.
1. There is the assured promise of fuller life. “Hear, and your soul shall live.” Hitherto life had been a thin existence, a mere surface glittering, a superficial movement. Now there shall be vitality, awakening and stirring in undreamed-of depths. Life shall be no longer confined to the channels of the appetites; life shall no longer be a mere matter of senses and sensations confined to the outer courts and corridors of the life, but you shall begin to live in the innermost self. The unused shall be aroused and exercised;, the unevolved shall be unpacked; benumbed instincts shall be liberated; buried powers of discernment shall come trooping from the grave; new intelligence shall be born, and the sea of iniquity shall ebb, and the sea shall give up its dead. Life shall be no longer scant and scrimpy. You shall delight yourself, not in leanness but in fatness, every tissue of yourself shall be fed, and the outer life shall bear all manner of fruit, and the leaves of the tree shall be for the healing of the nations.
2. Mark the succession, and we get an exceedingly pregnant suggestion. We have got a nation listening, we have got a nation doing, we have got a nation now living, with its powers evolved, and in active exercise. What next? “Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not.” What is that’? It means that a true and glorified national life is to be followed by a true and glorified imperialism. “Nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God.’ That is the true imperialism--empire by moral and spiritual sovereignty, allurement of dominion by the fascinating radiance of a pure and satisfied life. “Gentiles shall come to the light, and kings to the brightness of the rising.” It is empire not merely by the aid of Maxim guns, but by great heartening: Gospels proclaimed by a great redeemed, glorified people. This is to be the shining goal of true national ambition. The mission of the great people, according to this chapter, is to be this: We are to be witnesses to the people, leaders and commanders of the people, witnesses ceaselessly reiterating the truths of the heartening Gospel, proving in the power of our own redemption our fitness to be leaders of the people, going out as path-finders amongst the benighted peoples. “They shall be called” (I want no more glorious title for the country) “the restorer of paths to dwell in.”
3. Now, mark further the issue. A true imperialism, I will not say is to be succeeded, but is to be accompanied by a splendid magnanimity. When the nation has hearkened diligently unto God, and follows determinedly in the pursuit of His will, all little-mindedness has to pass away in the great spacious ambitions. The pure and the exalted people are to share the spacious thought of God, and this I take to be the meaning of the word, “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” “What are Thy thoughts like?” “As the heavens are higher than the earth. God’s thoughts are lofty, spacious, broad; so our thoughts must be comprehensive, full of an all-inclusive sympathy which vibrates to the interest of each, as though each contained the welfare of the other. The truly imperial people are to share this largeness of idea and ideal and all inclusive sympathy. All parochial peddling and sterile individualism shall yield to a pregnant altruism, and mean patriotism is to be supplanted by a generous fructifying cosmopolitanism. The annexation of territory will be regarded as infinitely inferior to the salvation of the world. Influence shall not be measured by mileage, but by magnanimity. Empire will not be computed by so many leagues of earth, but by the multitude of redeemed and liberated souls. And the outskirts of sovereignty will not be contained by bristling guns, but “They shall call her walls salvation and her gates praise.”
4. We have an exalted, glorified empire, and according to this prophet, there is to be nothing wavering or uncertain about the moral empire of such a people. For them a help-giving ministry,, will be inevitable. “As the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, etc. The rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, the bringers of the spring time; and the nation truly imperial, and filled with the living Spirit of the living God, shall be the spring-time maker amongst the children of men, and the creator of gladness and music and song. The prophet himself bursts into song: “The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” That is to be the ministry of the nation. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree.” The thorn with the sharp-piercing, pain-giving spikes: instead of that shall come up the fir tree--from which were made the musical instruments, and especially the framework of the harp; “instead of the thorn, the pain-making thing, shall come up the fir tree,” the music-making thing; the glorified people shall move among the scattered peoples, and shall exercise the beautiful ministry of changing the creators of pain into the makers of melody and praise. “Instead of the briar,” with its bitter, poisonous sting, “shall come up the myrtle tree, with its glossy leaves, and white flowers and grateful perfume. The redeemed and consecrated nation shall exult in a missionary enterprise which shall change the poisonous enmities and jealousies of the people into the perfume of sweet and gracious sentiments, and the chastened delights of a holy and blameless life. Is not this an ambition worthy of the English people of our own day? (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The gracious invitation
I. THE INVITATION ITSELF.
1. The universality of the offer.
2. The freeness of the gift. “He that hath no money ‘--he that is in spiritual bankruptcy.
3. The fulness of the blessings which this salvation contains. They are represented by the three terms, water, wine and milk.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENTS TO ACCEPT THE INVITATION. These are manifold and various.
1. There is, the contrast between the blessings offered and those for which men are now so laboriously toiling.
2. The character of Him through whom the blessings are to be obtained.
3. The present nearness of God to us and His abundant willingness to pardon.
4. The fact that God’s “ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts.” He pardons like a God.
5. God’s Word “shall not return unto Him void. There is profound encouragement in the thought that back of these agencies of the Gospel, which seem so weak as compared with those powers of depravity in the soul with which they must contend, lies the changeless purpose of Him who “worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.”
6. The profound interest felt by all holy beings everywhere in the salvation of the sinner. That profound sympathy with man in his efforts for salvation which our Lord so beautifully represents by the joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth, the inspired prophet; here represents by the joy of inanimate nature over this return of the sinner to Him who is the Fountain of life.
7. The beneficent results of the acceptance of this invitation. “Instead of the thorn,” etc. Divine grace works a complete transformation in the heart into which it comes. It roots out the thorns and briars of selfishness, of pride, of avarice, of unbelief and every hurtful lust. It implants in their room all the graces that adorn the Christian character. (T. D.Witherspoon, D. D.)
Gospel invitation without restriction
Man may erect his barriers around that fountain, God erects none. It is not, Come by laboured preparation--by penance and fasting, by pilgrimage and mortification, It is not, “Come”--but you must come by dogma and rubric, by sect and shibboleth.Neither is it, “Come”--but you must come with some golden or jewelled bucket to fetch up the water; you must come like Naaman of old, laden with, costly offerings, talents of silver and gold, and changes of raiment. But, “Come, just as you are, without money and without price;” without distinction, whether natural or spiritual, of class or rank or caste, birth or blood or pedigree. “Come,” though you may have but an earthen pitcher to draw with; “come,” though you can only lave up the water in the rough palm of your hands. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
“Come to the waters”
The Lord even thirsteth to be thirsted after. (J. Trapp.)
Man’s misery and God’s call
I. SIN IS MISERY, FAILURE, KEEN AND URGENT WANT. Isaiah draws a picture which Orientals would appreciate far more vividly than we, whose utmost pain from thirst only means that on some holiday excursion we have felt the heat inconvenient, and have not; happened immediately upon a fountain. He speaks, not of one thirsty man, but of a number, evidently a caravan of travellers. No one who heard him would fail to think of the burnt and sandy plains, a little to the south, on which sometimes a whole company of travellers might wander from their way, and exhaust their provisions, and grow feeble and gaunt and desperate. The hot breeze whirls the burning sand around them. The simoom wind wails in the distance. Phantom waters gleam with a cruel mockery on this side or that. Their own fever creates illusions which distract them. The skeletons of others, lost like themselves, glare upon them. Their steps are feeble, and their tongues cleave to their mouths, when suddenly all that they could not find finds them, and a glad voice calls, “He, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters! This fountain is deep enough for all, and here, in our tents, is Oriental hospitality besides; buy and eat, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Our own countrymen, exploring the deserts of Australia even now, would understand it well. Many a brave man has sunk down there and died.. One band of early explorers survived to tell how in their extremity they climbed a hill and saw below them a rolling water, right into which with one consent; they rushed, and eagerly drank, only to find that it was salt as brine. O mockery, like the mockery of earthly pleasure when the heart is athirst!
II. GOD CALLS THE DISAPPOINTED, the fevered, the men and women who have found the world desolate and dry; whose very wishes give them not their wish, who succeed perhaps, and are all the more unhappy because they know that success also is vanity; whose affection prospers, only to teach them that, after all, there are depths in every heart which resound to no human voice. You may not as yet feel any more than this burning, secret want; but this is enough, if only it leads you to the fountain. Does not the very word “come” imply the leaving of something, as well as approach to something else? And this purchasing is not entirely defined in the words, “Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” for much more than sin must be surrendered. St. Paul tells us of the price he himself paid when, having reckoned up his advantages, and how, as touching the righteousness that is by the law, he was blameless, he adds, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ,” etc. Yes, for Christ. For it is He who interprets this verse of Himself, though it is plainly spoken of Jehovah. He, on the great day of the feast, stood and cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink.” Here, then, is the one test of earnestness: Will you, at the bidding of your God, renounce what has failed to quench your thirst, for the sake of the waters of life? (G.A. Chadwick, D.D.)
The great proclamation
I. TO WHOM THIS OFFER IS MAKE. It is to every one thirsty and penniless. That is a melancholy combination, to be needing something infinitely, and to have not a farthing to get it with. But that is the condition in which we all stand, in regard of the highest and best things.
1. “Every one that thirsteth.” That means desire. But it means need also. And what is every man but a great bundle of yearnings and necessities? There are thirsts which infallibly point to their true objects. If a man is hungry, he knows that it is food that he wants. We have social instincts; we need love; we need friendship; we need somebody to lean upon; we thirst for some breast to rest our heads upon, for hands to clasp ours; and we know where the creatures and the objects are that will satisfy these desires. And there are higher thirsts of the spirit, and a man knows where and how to gratify the impulse that drives him to seek aider some forms of knowledge and wisdom. But besides all these there come in a whole set of other thirsts that do not in themselves carry the intimation of the place where they can be slaked. And so you get men restless, dissatisfied, feeling that there is something wanting, yet not knowing what. You remember the old story in the “Arabian Nights,” of the man who had a grand palace, and lived in it quite contentedly, until somebody told him that he needed a roc’s egg hanging from the roof to make it complete, and he did not know where to get that, and was miserable accordingly. We build our houses, we fancy that we are satisfied; and then there comes the stinging thought that it is not all complete yet, and we go groping in the dark, to find out what it is. Do you know what it is that you want? It is God! Nothing else, nothing less. There are dormant thirsts. It is no proof of superiority that a savage has fewer wants than you and I have, for the want is the open mouth into which supply comes. And it is no proof that you have not, deep in your nature, desires which unless they are awakened and settled, you will never be blessed, that these desires are all unconscious to yourselves. And yet there are no desires--that is to say, consciousness of necessities--so dormant but that their being ungratified makes a man restless. You do not want forgiveness, but you will never be happy till you get it. You do not want to be good and true and holy men, but you will never be blessed till you are. You do not want God, but you will be restless till you find Him.
2. “And he that hath no money.” Who has any? Notice that the persons represented in our text as penniless are, in the next verse, remonstrated with for spending “money.” So then the penniless man had some pence away in some corner of his pocket which he could spend. He had the money that would buy shams, “that which is not bread,” but he had no money for the true thing. Which, being translated out of parable into fact, is simply this, that our efforts may win, and do win, for us the lower satisfactions which meet the transitory and superficial necessities, but that no effort of ours can secure for us the loftier blessings which slake the diviner thirsts of immortal souls.
II. IN WHAT IT CONSISTS. They tell an old story about the rejoicings at the coronation of some great king, when there was set up in the market-place a triple fountain, from each of whose three lips flowed a different kind of rare liquor which any man who chose to bring a pitcher might fill from, at his choice. Notice my text, “come ye to the waters”. . . “buy wine and milk. The great fountain is set up in the market-place of the world, and every man may come; and whichever of this glorious trinity of effluents he needs most, there his lip ,may glue itself and there it may drink, be it “water that refreshes, or “wine that gladdens, or “milk” that nourishes. They are all contained in this one great gift that flows out from the deep heart of God to the thirsty lips of parched humanity. And what does that mean? We may say salvation; or we may use many other words to define the nature of the gifts. I venture to take a shorter one, and say, it means Christ. He is the all-sufficient supply of every thirst of every human soul.
III. HOW DO WE GET THE GIFTS? The paradox of’ my text needs little explanation. “Buy without money and without price.’ The contradiction on the surface is but intended to make emphatic this blessed truth theft the only conditions are a sense of need and a willingness to take--nothing else and nothing more. (A. Mallard, D. D.)
Men know what bodily hunger is, some have felt it to an agony, but there is a soul hunger far more distressing than this. It is depicted on the countenances of those whose bodies fare sumptuously every day. Men also know what bodily thirst is. But there is a soul thirst infinitely worse than that which was ever felt by the most parched of Oriental travellers. That all unregenerate souls are thirsting, with more or less intensity, for that which they have not, will neither be debated nor denied. Christianity is a provision for such, and as a provision it is marked by three things.
I. IT IS EFFICACIOUS. It is “water.” The Gospel is to the thirsty soul what the cool refreshing stream is to a thirsty body. It satisfies--
1. The guilty conscience,
2. The longing heart,
3. The worshipping spirit of man. All who have truly received the Gospel give this testimony.
II. IT IS GRATUITOUS. “Without money and without price.” Water is one of the freest things in the world. It is a ubiquitous element; it not only floats in the cloud, descends in the showers, and rolls in the rivers, but bubbles up at our feet and oozes out in all the things around us.
III. IT IS UNRESTRICTED. “Ho, every one that thirsteth.” The Gospel is not for any type of mind, any class of character, any condition of society, any tribe of men. Like the light of heaven, it is for all. (Homilist.)
The spiritual appetite and its gratification
I. The spiritual appetite.
1. It results from the constitution of our nature. We cannot go deeper than nature. We cannot go behind or beyond it, for nature is what has been born (Latin natura), born out of God’s thought by God’s power. When we speak of nature we must pass in thought from her to her parent God, and find a sufficient answer to all questions and difficulties by saying: “God has so willed it, therefore it is as it is.” All the strong basal instincts of human nature must be traced back to the make of our moral being as it was planned by almighty wisdom, and wrought by infinite power. We hunger and thirst, because our physical nature has been so created that it must needs go out of itself for its supplies of nutriment. Similarly, God made our souls for Himself. Deep within us, lie has put necessities and desires, that crave for satisfaction from the Unseen, Eterual, and Divine.
2. It produces pain. There are many sources of pain; but perhaps primarily God has instituted it to compel us to take measures for our health and salvation. The pain of hunger and thirst in designed to force us to take food, without which the body would become exhausted and die. So, in the moral sphere, we should be thankful when we are discontented with ourselves, when in self-abhorrence we cry out for God’s unsullied righteousness, when we go about smitten with infinite unrest.
3. It is universal. As we have never met man or woman incapable of hunger or thirst, so there is no human soul which is not capable of possessing God, and does not need Him for a complete life. Often the spiritual appetite is dormant. The invalid, who has long suffered under the pressure of a wasting illness, may have no appetite, but at any moment it may awake. Thus with the hunger of the soul for God.
II. THE NURTURE OF SPIRITUAL APPETITE.
III. THE CERTAIN GRATIFICATION OF THIS APPETITE. God never sends mouths, the old proverb says, but He sends with them the food to fill them. Young lions never seek that which His hand does not open to give. The fish, and the fly at which it snatches; the bird, and the berries on the hawthorn bush; the babe, and the milk stored in its mother’s breast, are perfectly adapted to each other. Whatever you and I have longed for in our best and holiest moments may have its consummation and bliss, because God has prepared for our perfect satisfaction. (Lira of Faith.)
A gracious invitation
I. THE STATE OF THE PERSONS ADDRESSED. II. THE NATURE OF THE PROVISION PREPARED.
III. THE FORCE OF THE INVITATION OFFERED. What is it to corals? coming signifies believing. Observe how this invitation is reiterated. It corrals in with a shout; then it is plainly stated--then it is repeated--and a third time it is urged.
1. Let the extent of the call induce you to come.
2. Let the freeness of the supply induce you to come.
3. Let the sufficiency of the provision induce you to come.
4. Let the impossibility of finding redemption elsewhere induce you to come.
1. Some of you have heard in a spirit of levity.
2. Some in a spirit of neglect.
3. Some in a spirit of doubt and despondency. (J. Parsons.)
Water for the thirsty
I. WHAT THESE WATERS ARE WHICH ARE PROVIDED FOR THIRSTY SINNERS.
II. EVERY THIRSTY SINNER MAY AND OUGHT TO COME TO THEM. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
True satisfaction in Christ
There are eight things which thirsty sinners should set together.
1. All their sins and Christ’s merits.
2. All their distresses and Christ’s compassions,
3. All their wants and Christ’s fulness.
4. All their unworthiness and Christ’s fresness.
5. Their desires and Christ’s invitations.
6. Their thirstings and the promises of Christ.
7. Their own weakness and Christ’s strength.
8. Satan’s objections and Christ’s answers. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
The best bargain
Dr. Faustus was very dear to legend in the Middle Ages. He burned with desire to drink his fill of all the pleasures of this life; but he could not gain them by his own unaided skill. He therefore made a contract with Satan. It was drawn out in the most lawyer-like style, and Faustus signed it with his own blood. It was stipulated that during the next twenty years he should have the run of all earth’s pleasures, and then his soul and body were to be given over to Satan. He began with the sweets of knowledge, but soon he forsook them in disgust, and plunged into the fiercer and coarser excitements of the senses. Amid many horrors the body and soul of Faustus were seized by Satan just as the clock struck twelve at night on the last day of the specified period. These legends hold some of the most solemn secrets of life. They teach that every man has a soul to dispose of; that men, like the fallen angels, may ruin themselves with their eyes open; and that the greatest transactions of the soul may be likened to buying and bargaining.
I. WHEN I BUY, I DESIRE. And I desire what I must fetch from without. Were I entirely self-supporting, had I everything I, need “within myself,” as the saying is, I should never go to any market. Isaiah’s words for “buy” means to buy provisions. Lost in the desert, parched by thirst, gnawed by hunger, duped by the mirage, ready to perish--that is the standing biblical picture of a sinful man when he realizes his soul’s needs. It is he who is urged to come to the waters, and to buy wine and milk. “But I have no heart, no desire for these things: what am I to do?” That is the great trouble; indifference or downright indolence of soul the most common obstacle. But God’s appeal is, “Come now, and let us reason together.” He sets forth the alternatives as to a reasonable being. Water, wine, milk, good, fatness, life, covenant-mercy--all these are freely offered instead of starvation and death. How unreasonable you must be if anything on earth can keep you from what you know to be your highest good!
II. WHEN I BUY, I CHOOSE The essence of a bargain is an act of choice. Choose I the Bible keeps that word ever ringing in our ears. And so does profane literature. Hercules, the greatest hero of heathendom, was made by his deliberate choice of virtue and rejection of vice. Pythagoras put this great truth into one of the most popular of object-lessons. He compared life to the letter y. The parting of the ways is symbolized by the two limbs of the letter. A man must go forward; and he must go left or right; he must walk in the way of evil or in the way of good. This choosing is the biggest thing you can do in this world. When I buy I consent to the price. Buying is simply avowed consent in action. “Come buy . . . without money and without price.” By this double phrase the prophet assails the deep-seated self-righteousness of the heat. And he assails it wit’s its own favourite ideas and phrases. You will buy. Well, then, let him buy who has no money, and let him buy without money and without price. Buying has a legal suggestion; but buying without money more than neutralizes every such suggestion. The most capacious mind, the liveliest imagination, could not suggest a more effective way of setting forth the utter freeness of Gods grace.
III. WHAT I BUY, I OWN. The Gospel is here staten in the language of the market-place, so that all may perfectly understand it. All just laws and our moral instincts make me the undoubted possessor of that which I have fairly bought and paid for. It is my very own. This buying is all you need. The goods are yours in offer; and they are yours in full possession n you accept them.
IV. WHAT I BUY, I USE. Unused milk and flesh are of no value to me. The bread of life, which Christ is and offers, is ours only in so far as we appropriate and assimilate it. “Buy and eat. The buying is useless without the eating. Eating is the most vital, personal, and experimental thing in the world. The bread eaten becomes part and parcel of myself. (Monthly Visitor.)
The proclamation and expostulation of mercy
I. THE PROCLAMATION OF MERCY.
1. The blessings offered.
(1) “Waters.” Men need cleansing and refreshing. The word is “waters,” not water. Some waters are good for domestic purposes only, others for medicinal purposes, and others again for purposes of cleansing. Thus, the water that may be suitable for one purpose may be unsuitable for other purposes. Not so the blessings of the Gospel; not so Christ, who is the Gospel. He meets all the needs of the soul. He pleases the imagination, satisfies the affections, calms the conscience, purifies the heart.
(2) “Wine.” Christ is like wine, in that He gladdens the heart. He is unlike wine in this--while we may have too much wine, we can never have too much of Christ.
(3) “Milk.” Milk is nourishing food; milk is natural food. A taste for milk is possibly the only taste we have by nature. All our other likings are more or less acquired. But, we refuse Christ, because what we popularly can a state of nature, is not a state of nature. To live naturally we must feed naturally. He only, so lives who feeds on Christ.
2. The terms propounded.
(1) We must “thirst” for Christ. We shall be blessed as soon as we wish to be. We are welcome to Christ when He is welcome to us.
(2) We must come to Christ.
II. THE GLORIOUS RESULTS which accrue from compliance with these conditions. Men are invited to buy, etc., so, of those who comply it may be said--
1. They “buy” soul-food, i.e they appropriate as verily their own the blessings purchased by Christ.
2. They “eat,” i.e they have experimental knowledge of Christianity.
3. Their soul “delights itself in fatness.” The more of Christ men have, the more they desire
III. THE LORD’S GRACIOUS EXPOSTULATION. It is an appeal to their reason and their experience. God knows what man is, and what he feels. It is as if God had said: “I know your case entirely; you are toiling for happiness and toiling in vain, and you know it. You are always pursuing some ideal good, with which, when you get it, you are satiated. Why go on thus, when peace and rest may be had? The argument used by God teaches that sin is--
1. Costly. “Wherefore do ye spend money, etc. Sin is costly.”--
(1) A pecuniary sense.
(2) A mental sense.
(3) A moral sense.
(4) A spiritual sense. It costs money, health, mental quiet, character, heaven.
(1) Men labour to accomplish their evil purposes.
(2) Men labour to conceal their evil deeds, etc.
3. Unsatisfying. (J. S. Swan.)
Invitation; expostulation; entreaty
I. AN EVANGELICAL INVITATION. “Come ye.”
1. The persons invited.
2. The matter of the invitation. Jesus Christ is an only good, and He is an universal good. “Waters; bread; milk; wine.”
3. The manner of the invitation.
(1) Earnest. “Ho!”
(2) Serious. “Come, come, come; buy, buy.”
(3) General. “Every one.”
(4) Gracious. “Buy wine and milk, without money and without price.”
There is much good to be had, and at a very easy rate. Jesus Christ, and the things of Christ, are above price and without price.
II. A COMPLAINING EXPOSTULATION. “Wherefore,” etc. Here we have charged on sinners--
1. Their neglect.
2. Their folly.
III. A RENEWED SOLICITATION OR ENTREATY. How patient is God, even to sinners who neglect the offers of His grace! This renewed entreaty is--
1. Very vehement. “Hearken diligently; incline your ears; hear.”
2. Very persuasive.
3. Very satisfactory. “I will make an everlasting covenant with you,” etc.
“I will give My bond for it; all this shall be as surely made good as the mercies which I performed to My servant, David.” (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Food a supreme need
What does the hungry man want? Money? Not at all. Fame? No. Good clothes? Not a bit. He wants food. What does the thirsty man want? Reputation? Bonds and stocks? No! He wants water. When we are dead in earnest, and want the bread of heaven and the water of life, we shall not stop till we get them. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
He that hath no money; come ye, buy, and sat
Buying without money
We have before us the figure of a merchant selling his wares, and crying like a chapman in the market, “He!” To attract attention he calls aloud, “Come! Come! Come!” three several times; and he adds to this the cry of “Buy! Buy!” Shall the Great King thus liken Himself to a trader in the market earnest to dispose of his goods? It is even so, and I therefore call upon you to admire the mercy of the Lord. In the fifty-third and fifty-fourth chapters this Divine Merchantman has been spreading out His wares. What treasures they are!
I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE BUYER. It is the portrait of a poor, penniless, broken-down creature reduced to the extremity of want: “He that hath no money. Of course, by this is meant the man who literally has no money. Having nothing, you may yet possess all things. But we understand the reference of the text to be mainly spiritual, and so the portrait here is that of a man who has no spiritual money, no gold of goodness, no silver of sanctity.
1. His fancied stock of natural innocence is spent.
2. He thought that he had accumulated some little savings of good works; but his imaginary righteousness turns out to be counterfeit.
3. He is in a still worse plight, for he is also too poor to get anything; the procuring power is gone, for he has “no money “ that is to say, nothing wherewith he can procure those good things which are necessary to salvation and eternal life.
4. Moreover, his stock with which to trade is gone. Money makes money, and he that has a little to begin with may soon have more; but this man, having no stock to start with, cannot hope to be rich towards God in and by himself. No money!
(1) Then, he cannot pay his old debts. His sins rise up before him, but he cannot make amends for them.
(2) Moreover, he cannot meet his present expenses.
(3) He cannot face the future.
(4) The only hope for a man who has no money must he outside himself.
II. THE SELECTION OF THE BUYER. It is a strange choice, and it leads to a singular invitation, “He that hath no money; come, buy, and eat.” What is the reason?
1. These need mercy most.
2. This character is chosen because he is such a one as will exhibit in his own person the power of Divine grace.
3. The Lord Jesus delights to make evident the freeness of His grace.
4. He is the kind of man that will listen. A wretched sinner jumps at mercy like a hungry fish leaping at the bait.
5. Such an empty, penniless soul, when he does get mercy, will prize it and praise it. He that has been shut up in the dark for years values the light of the sun. He that has been a prisoner for months, how happy he is when the prison doors are opened, and he is at liberty again! Let a man once get Christ, who has bitterly known and felt his need of Him, and he will prize Him beyond all things.
III. THE INVITATION. The man who has no money is to come, buy, and eat. It looks odd to tell a penniless man to come and buy, does it not? and yet what other word could be used? Come and buy, has a meaning of its own not to be otherwise expressed. In buying there are three or four stages.
1. Desiring to have the thing which is exhibited.
2. This means next, to agree to terms.
3. When the terms are carried out, the buyer appropriates the goods to himself.
4. But the text says, “Buy, and eat, as much as to say, make it yours in the most complete sense. If a man buys a loaf of bread it is his: but if he eats it, then all the lawyers in the world cannot dispute him out of it--he has it by a possession which is not only nine points of the law, but all the law. Christ fed upon IS ours beyond all question.
IV. By way of ASSURANCE, to show that this is all real and true, and no make-believe.
1. It is not God’s way to mock men. He hath Himself declared, “ I said not unto the seed of Jacob, seek ye My face in vain.”
2. God is under no necessity to sell His benefits. He is not impoverished: He is so rich that none can add anything to His wealth.
3. There is no adequate price that we could bring to God for His mercy.
4. Remember that Jesus must be meant for sinners, for if sinners had not existed there never would have been a saviour.
5. It must be true that God will give these blessings to men who have no merits, and will bestow them as gifts, because Jesus Himself is a gift.
6. Beside that, Christ is all.
7. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is blessedly free from all clogging conditions, because all supposed conditions are supplied in Christ Jesus. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Gospel blessings to be bought
You may have seen persons in a shop who, when they have been shown almost all the contents of the shop,--when article after article has been brought down from the shelves for their inspection, have at last, to the no small disappointment of the shopkeeper, gone out without buying anything. And we who have the Gospel wares to dispose of, are subject to like disappointments. We also have customers who, when they have looked at, and turned over, so to speak, again and again, the goods which we offer them, as though they would make an offer for them, content themselves with the looking at them, hear and listen to the Gospel, that you would think they were going to embrace it, yet go out of Church, ah! and out of the world, without embracing it. (W. Cleaves, M. A.)
Buyers will show that they possess
It will be seen whether we have been indeed buyers, or like those who content themselves with looking at what is to be sold without buying. If a man has been buying clothes, for instance, he will be seen wearing the clothes; if he has been buying cattle, he will stock his land with the cattle; if he has been buying provisions, his table will be supplied with the provisions; if he has been buying furniture, his house will be furnished with it; and if we have been buying of Christ, the heart and mind will be furnished, we shall be clothed, we shall be adorned with what Christ has for those who buy of Him. (W. Cleaves, M. A.)
The fulness of Christ offered to the needy sinner
1. In Christ there is very good fare to be had for poor sinners.
2. The enjoyment of it is limited by their coming to Christ and buying of Him.
3. Upon their coming to Christ all that good doth certainly come to them. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Willingness to buy of Christ
He that is willing to buy--
1. Will go to the market.
2. Doth like the wares which are to be bought.
3. Will come up to the price at which they are to be bought.
4. Will watch the time, and take the time of buying.
5. Is willing to sell that he may compass the things he is very desirous to buy (Genesis 47:17-19; Matthew 13:44).
There are three “alls” which a poor sinner is willing to sell that he may have Christ.
(1) All his sinful lusts and his former sinful courses of life.
(2) All his worldly estimations and advantages (Hebrews 11:24-26).
(3) All his serf. His serf-wisdom, his serf-will, his serf-righteousness, his self-sufficiencies and his serf-confidence, his self-seekings and his self-advantages (Philippians 3:8). (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Buying of Christ
You may know that you have indeed bought of Christ by something in yourselves.
1. Your hearts will be much endeared to Christ for what He hath sold unto you.
2. You will spend what you have bought of Christ, upon Christ.
3. You will so like the bargain that Christ shall have your custom as long as you live.
4. You will not sell what you have bought. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Driving a trade with Christ
There are seven arguments to persuade poor sinners to come and buy of Christ.
I. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE WARES.
II. THE NECESSITY OF THE PURCHASE.
III. THE GOODNESS OF THE SELLER.
IV. THE EASINESS OF THE PRICE.
V. THE OPPORTUNITY OF THE MARKET.
VI. THE BENEFIT OF THE BARGAIN.
VII. THE LOSS BY NEGLECT.( O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
The benefit of trading with Christ
By buying of Christ you gain--
1. Losses. It is no gain to lose a soul, yet it is an exceeding gain for a soul to lose some things--the dominion of sin, the love of sin, a condemning conscience, our corrupt vices, etc.
2. Yourselves. We never come to enjoy ourselves until we come to enjoy Christ.
3. Your own souls--they are safe and secured for ever.
4. All. All the purchase of Christ, all the good of all the offers of Christ, all the fruits of the Spirit of Christ, all the promises of God in Christ, all the revealings of the ordinances of Christ, all the immunities and privileges of Christ, all the hopes by Christ. You gain all the good which concerns soul and body in this life, and all the good which concerns them in the life to come. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Those who have bought of Christ are--
I. THE WISEST MERCHANTS.
II. THE SUREST POSSESSORS. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
“Buy and eat:”
It is a virtue here to be a holy glutton. (J. Trapp.)
Yea, come, buy wins and milk
Wine and milk
As water, on account of its commonness and abundance, is often apt to be despised, the prophet farther speaks of the blessings of salvation under the symbols of wine and milk. (R. Jones, M. A.)
A free salvation
I. I have to preach WINE AND MILK. The Gospel is like wine which makes us glad. Let a man truly know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and he will be a happy man, and the deeper he drinks into the spirit of Christ, the more happy will he become. The Gospel is like milk too, for there is everything in it that you want, Do you want something to bear you up in trouble? It is in the Gospel--“a very present help in time of trouble.” Do you need something to nerve you for duty? There is grace all-sufficient for everything that God calls you to undergo or to accomplish. Do you need something to light up the eye of your hope? There are joy-flashes in the Gospel that may make your eye flash back again the immortal fires of bliss. Do you want something to make you stand steadfast in the midst of temptation? In the Gospel there is that that can make you immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. The Gospel was evidently meant for manhood; it is adapted to it in its every part. There is knowledge for the head; there is love for the heart; there is guidance for the foot. And I think there is another meaning in the two words “wine and milk.” Wine is a rich thing, something that requires much time to manufacture. There has to be vintage and fermentation and preservation before wine can come to its full flavour. The Gospel is like that; it is an extraordinary thing for feast days; it gives a man power to use a vintage of thought, a fermentation of action, and a preservation of experience, till a man’s piety comes forth like the sparkling wine that makes the heart leap with gladness. But milk is an ordinary thing; you get it every day, anywhere. So is it with the Gospel: it is a thing for every day.
II. Having thus exhibited the article, my next business is to BRING THE BIDDERS UP TO THE AUCTION BOX AND SELL IT. My difficulty is to bring you down to my price. Here comes some one up to the sacred desk, transformed for the moment into an auction-box, and he cries, “I want to buy.” What will you give for it? He holds out his hands, and he has such a handful; he has to lift up his very lap with more, for he can hardly hold all his good works. He has Ave-Marius and Paternosters without number, and all kinds of crossings with holy water, and bendings of the knee, and prostrations before the altar, and reverence of the host, and attending at the mass, and so on. And so, Sir Romanist, you are coming to get salvation are you? and you have brought all this with you lava sorry for thee, but thou must go away from the box with all thy performances, for it is without money and without price, and until thou art prepared to come empty-handed thou canst never have it. Then another comes up and says, “I am glad you have served the Romanist like, that” I hate the Church of Rome; I am a true Protestant, and desire to be saved. What have you brought, sir? “Oh I have brought no Ave-Marias, no Paternosters. But I say the collect every Sunday; I am very attentive to my prayers. I got to church almost as soon as the doors are open,” or “I go to chapel three times on the Sabbath and I attend the prayer-meetings; and beside that, I pay everybody twenty shillings in the pound; I would not like to hurt anybody; I am always liberal, and assist the poor when! can. I may make a little slip just now and then. Still, if I am mot saved I do not know who will be. I am as good as my neighbours, and I think I certainly ought to be saved, for I have very few sins, and what few there are do not hurt other people; they hurt me more than any one else. Besides, they are mere trifles.” I will send you away; there is no salvation for you, for it is “without money and without price;” and as long as you bring these fine good works of yours, you cannot have it. Mark, I do not find any fault with them, they are good enough in their place, but they won’t do here, but they won’t do at the judgment bar of God. Suppose I see a man building a house, and he were fool enough to lay the foundation with chimney-pots. If I should say, “My dear man, I do not like these chimney-pots to be put into the foundation, ‘ you would not say I found fault with the chimney-pots, but that I found fault with the man for putting them in the wrong place. So with good works and ceremonies; they will not do for a foundation. The foundation must be built of more solid stuff. But see another man. He is a long way off, and he says, “Sir, I am afraid to come; I could not come and make a bid for the salvation. Sir, I’ve got no larnin’, I’m no scholard, I can’t read a book, I wish I could. My children go to Sunday-school; I wish there was such a thing in my time; I can’t read, and it’s no use my hoping to go to heaven. I goes to church sometimes, but oh dear I it’s no good; the man uses such long words I can’t understand ‘em, and I goes to chapel sometimes, but I can’t make it out.” It wants no scholarship to go to heaven. Now, I see a man come up to the stall, and he says, “Well, I will have salvation, sir; I have made in my will provisions for the building of a church or two, and a few almshouses; I always devote a part of my substance to the cause of God; I always receive the poor, and such-like; I have a pretty good share of money, and I take care not to hoard it up; I am generous and liberal. Won’t that carry me to heaven?” Well, I like you very much, and I wish there were more of your sort. But if you bring these things as your hope of heaven, I must undeceive you. You cannot buy heaven with gold. Why, they pave the streets up there with it. Wealth makes distinction on earth, but no distinction at the Cross of Christ. You must all come alike to the footstool of Jesus, or else not come at all. I knew a minister who told me he was once sent for to the dying bed of a woman who was very well to do in the world, and she said, “Mr. Baxter, do you think when I get to heaven Betsy my servant will be there?” “Well,” he said, “I don’t know much about you, but Betsy will be there; for if I know any one who is a pious girl, it is she.” “Well,” said the lady, “don’t you think there will be a little distinction? for I never could find it in my heart to sit down with a girl of that sort; she has no taste, no education, and I could not endure it. I think there ought to be a little difference.” “Ah I you need not trouble yourself, madam,” he said, “there will be a great distinction between you and Betsy, if you die in the temper in which you now are; but the distinction will be on the wrong side; for you see her in Abraham’s bosom, but you yourself will be cast out. As long as you have such pride in your heart, yon can never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The highway is as much for the poor man as the rich man; so is the kingdom of heaven--“without money and without price.”
III. I have to use A FEW ARGUMENTS with you.
1. I would speak to you who never think about these things at all.
2. I have now the pleasing task of addressing men of another character. You do feel your need of a Saviour. Remember, Christ died for you. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The desire to bring something to Christ
I dare say in this congregation I have a hundred different phases of this singular fatuity of man--the desire to bring something to Christ. “Oh, ‘ says one, “I would come to Christ, but I have been too great a sinner.’ Self again, sir, your being a great sinner has nothing to do with that. Christ is a great Saviour, and however great your sin, His mercy is greater than that. He invites you simply as a sinner. Another says, “Ah, but I do not feel it enough.” Self again. He does not ask yon about your feelings; He simply says, “Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” “But, sir, I cannot pray.” Self again. You are not to be saved by your prayers; you are to be saved by Christ, and your business is simply to look to Christ; tie will help you to pray afterwards. But, says another, “if I felt as So-and-so did. Self again. “Yes,” you say, “I think He would receive anybody but me.” Please, who gave you any leave to think at all in the matter? Does He not say, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in nowise cast out”? Give up thinking, and believe. Are your thoughts as God’s thoughts, “But,” says one, “I have sought Him, but I have not found Him.” Can you truly say that you have come to Christ with nothing in your hand, and have looked alone to Him, and yet He has cast you away T Do you dare to say that? No: if God’s Word be true, and you are true, you cannot say that. If you will come down to this prince,” and take Christ for nothing, just as He is, “without, money and without price,” you shall not find Him a hard Master. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
“Without money and without price
I. THE SURPRISING NATURE OF THIS FACT, for it is very surprising to mankind to hear that salvation is “without money and without price.” It is so surprising to them that the plainest terms cannot make them understand it; and, though you tell them a thousand times a day, yet they persist in thinking that you mean some thing else. Why is it when man does see it he is surprised at it?
1. Because of man’s relation to God, and his wrong judgment of Him. Man thinks that God is a hard master.
2. No doubt, also, the condition of man under the fall makes it more difficult for him to comprehend that the gifts of God are “without money and without price,” for he finds that he is doomed to toil for almost everything he needs.
3. Again man recollects the general rule of men towards each other, for in this world what is to be had for nothing except that which is worth nothing?
4. Another matter helps man into this difficulty, namely, his natural pride. He does not like to be a pauper before God.
5. Once more, all religions that ever have been in the world of man’s making teach that the gifts of God are to be purchased or merited. Though I have thus shown grounds for our surprise, yet if men would think a little they might not be quite so unbelievingly amazed as they are; for, after all, the best blessings we have come to us freely. What price have you paid for your lives? and yet they are very precious. What price do you pay for the air you breathe? What price does a man pay for the sunlight? Life and air and light come to us “without money and without price.” And our faculties, too--who pays for eyesight? The ear which hears the song of the bird at dawn, what price is given for it? The senses are freely bestowed on us by God, and so is the sleep which rests them. It is clear then that some of the best blessings we possess come to us by the way of free gift; and come to the undeserving, too, for the dew shall sparkle to-morrow upon the grass in the miser’s field, and the rain shall fall in due season upon the rising corn of the wretch who blasphemes his God.
II. THE NECESSITY OF THE FACT mentioned in our text.
1. From the character of the Donor. It is God that gives. Would you have Him sell His pardons?
2. Because of the value of the boon. As one has well said, “it is without price because it is priceless.”
3. From the extremity of human destitution. The blessings of grace must be given “without money and without price,” for we have no money or price to bring.
III. THE SALUTARY INFLUENCE. OF THIS FACT. If it be “without money and without price,” what then?
1. That enables us to preach the gospel to every creature.
2. This fact has the salutary effect of excluding all pride. If it be “without money and without price,” you rich people have not a halfpennyworth of advantage above the poorest of the poor in this matter.
3. It forbids despair.
4. It inspires with gratitude, and that gratitude becomes the basis of holiness.
5. It engenders in the soul the generous virtues. The man who is saved for nothing feels first with regard to his fellow-men that he must deal lovingly with them. Has God forgiven me? Then I can freely forgive those who have trespassed against me. He longs to see others saved, and therefore he lays himself out to bring them to Jesus Christ. If he had bought his salvation I dare say he might be proud of it, and wish to keep it to himself Then the free gifts of grace, working by the power and energy of the Holy Spirit, create in us the generous virtues towards God.
6. I cannot think of anything that will make more devout worshippers in heaven than this. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Linger not, loiter not, frame not excuse, strain not courtesy, hang not off by sinful bashfulness: it is good manners to fall to your meat. (J. Trapp.)
“Without money and without price"
1. This gracious way of a sinner’s full enjoyment of Christ stands not in opposition to praying, attendance upon the ministry of the “Word, or believing.
2. This is to be understood in an opposition to the price and value of our works. You can lay down nothing that hath merit or recompense in it; that hath answerable value, or any value in it. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Christ’s gracious terms
All that poor sinners need may be bought of Christ upon gracious terms. Six things demonstrate it.
1. The sinner’s insufficiency.
2. His unworthiness.
3. The inconsistency of any other way of trading with Christ Romans 4:4; Romans 11:6).
4. The invaluableness of the commodities.
5. The quality of the contract. “Ask.” “Believe.”
6. The work of the Seller.
(1) He is to find all that poor sinners need.
(2) Upon His own proper costs and charge.
(3) He is to give all to them. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Trying to buy salvation
Mr. Webb-Peploe tells of a wealthy man whom he had never known to give five farthings a year in charity, who sent for him once when ill with paralysis. The man said to the minister, “I am afraid [ may die. I have sent for you that I may do what is right before God; I want to go to heaven, and I want you to take a hundred pounds for the poor.” The man of God looked the sinner straight in the face and said, “Do you think you are going to buy your soul’s way to glory with a dirty hundred pounds? Give your money where you like, I will not touch it.” That was bitter medicine, but some diseases require sharp treatment. The man lived, and learned that salvation is not to be bought with money. (Christian Budget.)
Without money and without price
Roland Hill was once preaching at a fair within earshot of the rival gongs of the vagrant merchantmen. Pointing to them, he said, “They and I are both offering goods for sale. But their difficulty is to get you up to their price; my difficulty is to get you down to mine. I offer you goods without money and without price. (Christian Budget.)
Too valuable to be bought
Zeuxis gave his pictures to his native city for nothing, because they were too good to be bought with gold. To offer money for them was to undervalue them. Can I buy pardon with anything I can call mine? (Christian Budget.)
No coinage can buy spiritual good
A man lands in a far country with English shillings in his pocket, but he finds that no coins go there but thalers, or francs, or dollars, or the like; and his money is only current in his own land, and he has got to get it changed before he can make his purchases. So with a pocketful of it he may as well be penniless. And, in like fashion, you and I, with all our strenuous efforts, which we are bound to make and which there is joy in making, after these lower things that correspond to our efforts, find that we have no coinage that will buy the good things of the kingdom of heaven, without which we faint and die. (A. Maclaran, D. D.)
Wherefore do ye spend money
In the first clause there is reference to the primitive custom of weighing instead of counting money, from which have arisen several of the most familiar denominations, such as the Hebrew “shekel,” the Greek “talent,” the French “livre,” and the English “pound.
” The essential idea is that of paying. (J. A. Alexander.)
The folly of man as a worker
I. HERE IS THE RECOGNITION OF THE FACT THAT MAN IS A VOLUNTARY WORKER. “The appeal implies that he is” free both in the expenditure of his “money and the prosecution of his “labour.’ Every part of the universe, works, but man only is a free worker. He works, not as material bodies work, by an outward force, nor as brutes, by blind impulses, but by his own deliberate purpose,--by choice and plan. There are at least four, considerations which bind, with indissoluble bonds, our faith to the doctrine of man’s voluntary action.
1. It is not impossible for the Almighty to create a being that shall be wholly free in action.
2. There is an antecedent probability that He would create such a being. A creature endowed with this independency of action would of all creatures be most like Himself, most fitted to show forth His glory. And as He created the universe for the manifestation of Himself, would it not be probable that, having the power to do would it now look to you,” says the philosophic Saxon, King Alfred, “if there were any very powerful king, and he had no freemen in all his kingdom, but that all were slaves?” “Then,” said I, “it would be thought by me neither right not reasonable if men that were in a servile condition only, should attend upon him.” “Then,” quoth he, “it would be more unnatural if God, in all His kingdom, had no free creature under his power.” Therefore,. He made two rational creatures, free angels and men, and gave them the great gift of freedom.
3. The mental constitution of man seems to provide for this freedom of action. Man is so formed that he always acts from purpose.
4. The consciousness of universal man attests the fact of human freedom.
II. HERE IS THE RECOGNITION OF THE FACT THAT MAN AS A VOLUNTARY WORKER SHOULD AIM AT THE ATTAINMENT OF MORALLY STRENGTHENING AND SATISFYING GOOD. What is the moral bread? Ask first what is the strength of the soul,--the moral stamina? Godliness. Where is the “bread” which both strengthens and satisfies the soul? Christ says, “I am the Bread of life.”
III. HERE IS THE RECOGNITION OF THE FACT THAT MAN, AS A VOLUNTARY WORKER, FREQUENTLY MISAPPLIES HIS POWER. He spends his “money” for that which is not “bread,” and his labour for that which “satisfieth not.” What is it to expend your property and labour in vain?
1. To strive after power as the chief end is to do so.
2. To strive after wealth as the chief end is to do so.
3. To strive after knowledge as the chief end is to do so. Neither scientific ideas, nor poetic creations, nor artistic embellishments are bread.
4. To strive after happiness as the chief end, is to do so. From this subject we may infer--
(1) The immense amount of waste human labour that is constantly going on in the world.
(2) The well-being of man consists not in the form of his labour, but in the principle that inspires and controls it.
(3) The exquisite fitness of Christianity to man’s condition. (Homilist.)
Folly and Wisdom
I. A FOOLISH COURSE TO BE AVOIDED,
II. A WISE METHOD TO BE PURSUED. (R. W. Pritchard, Ph. D.)
God’s provision for man’s need
What is man’s way of meeting this great need? Spending money and labour for that which does not satisfy; in other words, using every means he can command, save the only right and true means, to satisfy the cravings of his immortal nature; a course that will prove fatal to his deathless interests if persisted in. But God meets him and--
I. CHALLENGES THIS FATAL ERROR. “Wherefore do ye spend money,” etc. The “wherefore” of the text implies three things on the part of God,--benign condescension; surprise; and gentle chiding. True life is impossible where the bread of life is not eaten.
1. Observation proves this.
2. Experience sustains the same truth.
3. History illustrates the same fact.
4. The Bible affirms the same doctrine.
II. MEN WHO SEEK THESE THINGS AS THE HIGHEST GOOD ARE IN A STATE OF CONSTANT HUNGER AND UNREST. It is not bread, it does not “satisfy.”
III. GOD’S PLAN OF MEETING THE SOUL’S TRUE WANTS. Three terms are used of similar import, and that are of first importance to us, if we would put ourselves into harmony with the plan of God in relation to our good, “Hearken,” “hear,” and “incline your ear.” These terms imply humility, docility and reverent attention.
1. God credits man with the capacity to receive and obey His communications.
2. God speaks to man, revealing His will, unfolding His way of meeting the deepest needs of our nature.
3. These Divine communications relate to our highest good. “Eat ye that which is good.”
4. These provisions are richly abundant. “Let your soul delight itself in fatness.” “Delight’ and “fatness ‘ are two very prolific words and supply the fancy with almost boundless range.
5. There is life through obedience to the Divine plan. “Hear, and your soul shall live.”
6. The blessings God offers are lasting as they are excellent. “I will make an everlasting covenant with you,” etc. “An everlasting covenant” points to God’s unchangeableness, and to His being ever ready to redeem all the pledges of His love and mercy. What should be the soul’s attitude towards God while He makes these rich communications? “Hearken diligently,” “Incline your ear,” “Come unto him.” How striking the order! The attention is first arrested, then absorbed, then the soul draws near to’ God with profound interest in the revelation, ready to take the offered grace. (J. Higgins.)
The false and true in pleasure
I. THE FALSE.
1. The false is expensive. All false pleasure is sought from one or other of the following sources--sensual gratification, secular wealth, or popular fame--each very expensive. They cost what is infinitely more precious than gold--time, energy, moral peace, mental independency, and frequently health.
2. The false is not sustaining: it is not “bread.” Were it obtained, it would not strengthen. It does not give mental strength: sensuality enervates the intellect. The love of gain makes man a tactician, not a thinker. The breath of mammon is poison to a free intellect, and the love of fame fills the mind with the unhealthy sentiment of vanity; nor does it give spiritual strength--strength to resist temptation--to bear trials--to help humanity--toserve God--to face death. It destroys this.
3. The false is not satisfactory. “ Satisfieth not.”
II. THE TRUE.
1. True pleasure consists in spiritual communications from God. “Hearken diligently unto Me,” etc. Three things are implied in this language:--
(1) That God has made spiritual communications to man. This is a fact. They are the substance of the Bible.
(2) That man has a capacity to appreciate these communications. A wonderful argument this for the native dignity of the soul.
(3) That to appreciate these communications requires the most diligent study. The Bible is a difficult book, challenging the concentration of intellectual power.
2. That the pleasure thus derived is of the highest conceivable description
(1) Essentially excellent--“good.”
(2) Abundantly sufficient--“delights itself in fatness.”
(3) Spiritually quickening--“your soul shall live.”
3. That the continuation of this, the highest pleasure, is guaranteed by the solemn assurance of God. “And I will make an everlasting covenant with you.’ Here is a pledge of its perpetuity. If a promise is not fulfilled, it must be for one of three reasons: either that the author was insincere when it was made, or that he subsequently changed his mind, or lacked the necessary power to redeem the pledge. Neither of these suppositions is admissible; therefore, this true pleasure is everlasting. (Homilist.)
Food for the soul
1. Everything that has life must have food.
2. Man has the nature and wants of an animal. He also has a higher nature that takes hold of truth and God. He has, therefore, to care for a double life.
3. The text means that we put much into one side of life, hoping vainly for an equivalent of happiness on the other. The soul must have other food.
4. For this want there is a kind of borderland provision in Church forms But religion cannot tarry in this borderland.
5. So we rise to the truth that the soups life is in God. (H. W. Thomas, D. D.)
Foolish neglect and fruitless labour
1. All the good that Christ doth offer, and all the gracious terms upon which He doth offer are sometimes slighted and refused by sinners.
2. Sinners are earnestly labouring and trading for vain and unprofitable things, when the great things of Christ are offered to them.
3. All the cost which men lay out, and all the pains which men do take for salvation from anything besides Christ, or in any other way than Christ’s way, are utterly fruitless. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
The folly of pursuing that which does not satisfy
I. ALL OTHER THINGS BESIDES THOSE WHICH CHRIST DOTH OFFER, ARE VAIN AND UNPROFITABLE.
II. SINNERS DO LABORIOUSLY PURSUE THEM, when yet Christ doth offer unto them the chiefest good for their souls.
III. WHY SINNERS DO THIS.
IV. THE EXTREME FOLLY OF THIS. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
The Hebrew term, “for that which is not bread,” reads more correctly, “for that which is no-bread.” It means that for which men spend their energies is “no-bread,” it is the negative of bread; it is the very opposite of bread. It is that which not only does not alleviate our hunger, but makes us more hungry! It does not fill our emptiness, but makes us more empty than ever. Not only does it fail to satisfy, but it makes us more dissatisfied! Just as salt water not only fails to quench the thirst, but aggravates it. (A. S. Gumbart.)
Hearken diligently unto Me
Hearkening and eating
Two thoughts are brought to our attention, as indicating the steps by which we bring ourselves into that blessed experience in which we may be conscious of having received the gift of God.
1. We must listen diligently. “Hearken diligently unto Me.’ That is, hearken with intense desire and eagerness. In the third verse God says: “Incline your ear, and come unto Me.’ This word “incline” is a strong word; it carries with it the idea of stretching the neck, as one anxiously, eagerly listening, or as a, hound in pursuing game.
2. The second thing is, Eat. “ Eat ye that which is good.” (A. S. Gumbart.)
God’s call should be heeded
There are six arguments which I would make use of to persuade you to embrace this counsel.
1. Christ offers you the best things--better things than the world can afford you.
2. Christ offers unto you the things that are best for you.
3. You may have these earthly things upon better terms if you could close with the things which Christ doth offer.
4. Christ alone is a portion, infinitely better than all the world alone.
5. You will lose Christ, and all these things of the world too, by neglecting Christ, and preferring before Him these things of the world.
6. You cannot drive both these trades together. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
There are five things which that word doth denote.
1. A taking into our ears sounds, words, messages, reports, spoken unto us.
2. Sometimes to hear is the same with to understand.
3. Sometimes the same with to believe.
4. Sometimes to regard and approve.
5. Sometimes to obey, to follow what is said. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Diligent hearkening to Christ
I. WHAT THIS DILIGENT HEARKENING TO CHRIST DOTH CONTAIN. In it He diligently hearkens to Christ.
1. Who doth carefully and regardfully observe Christ in His gracious offers.
2. Who seriously considers all the gracious offers of Christ.
3. Who judges highly of the offers of Christ.
4. Who obeys the voice of Christ.
II. HOW IT MAY APPEAR THAT JESUS CHRIST IS EARNEST AND IMPORTUNATE WITH SINNERS, diligently to hearken unto Him.
1. By the gradations of His dealings with sinners.
(1) He opens and proclaims the way of life and happiness to them John 14:6).
(2) He presents this salvation to them (Acts 13:26).
(3) He encourages them to come from the certainty of allgood, from the graciousness of His own terms “Come, and buy without money, and from the acceptance of their persons (John 6:37).
(4) He entreats them to hearken unto Him (2 Corinthians 5:20).
(5) He commands them authoritatively to obey His voice (1 John 3:23).
(6) He allures them with all sorts of promises.
(7) He shows them the greatness and inevitableness of their danger, if they refuse to hearken (John 8:24; Hebrews 2:3).
(8) He expressly threatens a peremptory damnation, if sinners will not hearken (Mark 16:16).
(9) He furnishes ambassadors with all sorts of gifts, to enable them to deal, and treat, and woo, and work on sinners to hearken.
(10) He is content to pass by all the days of ignorance.
(11) He lets a light into their minds which shows them a personal and absolute need of Himself.
(12) He disproves, confutes and shames all the carnal arguments of sinners.
(13) He affects the hearts and wills of sinners by many strivings of His Spirit.
(14) He rouses the drowsy, careless sinner by outward special afflictions.
(15) He breaks up the consciences of sinners, so that the terms of God fall on them.
(16) He cuts off all their confidence in this distressed condition, so that no course shall ease or quiet or help.
(17) He takes the opportunity, and, in this broken condition, sends messengers of hope and mercy to the sinner (Acts 9:10-11).
(18) He answers all the fears and doubts of sinners, both in respect of Himself (1 John 2:1; Revelation 3:20); and in respect of themselves--assuring them that neither the multitude of former sins nor abundance of present wants shall hinder mercy and salvation, if they will hearken and come.
(19) He advances instances how sinners have fared by hearkening and coming to Him, e.g the jailor, Mary Magdalene, Saul of Tarsus 1 Timothy 1:16).
(20) If none of these prevail with sinners to hearken, then doth Christ take His utter farewell of them with sighs and tears Luke 19:41-42).
2. By the qualities of His voice. It is--
(1) a plain voice, easy to be understood.
(2) A high voice (John 7:37).
(3) Long and patient (Romans 10:21).
(4) In season and out of season.
(5) Quick. To the ear, thence to the mind, thence to the conscience.
(7) Very pressing.
III. WHAT JESUS CHRIST IS SO IMPORTUNATE WITH SINNERS TO HEARKEN UNTO HIM. There are reasons for this:
1. In respect of sinners.
(1) Because of their dulness and slowness.
(2) Because sinners are careless.
(3) Because they are very unteachable.
(4) Because they are backward to hearken, and accept His gracious offers.
(5) Because they are very perverse and desperate (Zechariah 7:11-12; Acts 7:51).
2. In respect of Christ Himself.
(1) Because He is Christ, full of compassion.
(2) Because He knows the condition of our souls:
(a) their worth,
(b) their lost condition,
(c) the wrath which will certainly befall disobedient souls,
(d) wherein real happiness lies,
(e) the difficulty of gaining souls,
(f) what power Satan hath with our souls. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
Eat ye that which is good
Feeding on the Word
I. Here is FOOD Eat ye that which is good.”
1. How is it presented to us? Freely. There was a word about buying; but that was soon covered up with, “Buy without money and without price.’ While it is thus presented freely as to any labour with which to procure it, it is also presented freely as to its quality, its highest quality. You are not permitted to drink freely of water, and then to purchase wine. The richest dainties of God’s house are as free as the bread He gives to hungry souls. The only limitation is no limitation at all: “ Ho, every one that thirsteth!”
2. What is this food?
(1) The Word of God.
(2) Better still, the incarnate Word of God.
(3) The grace of God.
3. What is the nature of this food? It is in every sense of the word “good.” It is satisfying. It is pure; no harm can ever come by eating it. This heavenly food is good for you at any time, good for you living, good for you dying. All other foods that men seek after are unsubstantial; they can surfeit, but they cannot satisfy; they can cloy, but they cannot content; but the food that has come down from heaven, if a man does but take it into himself, shall be the best food he ever ate. Moreover, this food is described here as being fatness. “ Let thy soul delight itself in fatness.” Within the Word of God, there are certain choicer truths; in Christ, there are certain choicer joys; in grace, there are certain choicer experiences than men at first realize.
II. Here is FEEDING. One of the most important words in our text is that little word “eat.” Food is of no use until it is eaten. You ought not to need any instruction on this point. We take a great many orphans into the Orphanage, and some of them are very ignorant, and we have to teach them a great many things; but we have no class for teaching them to eat. If men were hungry, they would know how to eat, if they had the bread. It is because men are not really hungry on account of sin that they come and ask us, “What do you mean by the eating?” Yet it may be that some are sincere in asking the question, so I will answer it.
1. To eat is to believe.
2. To eat is chiefly to appropriate.
3. The full process of eating includes digestion. How do I digest the Word of God? When I meditate upon it.
4. Feeding also means trusting yourself wholly to Christ.
III. WELCOME. What does the Lord say? “Eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
1. Here is no stint. It is not said, “Here is a pair of scales; here is a plate; here is a knife. The law allows so many ounces of meat to you, just so much, and you must not have half-an-ounce over. Nothing of the kind. You are just taken to the table, and the exhortation is, “Eat to your heart’s content.”
2. As there is no stint, so there is no reserve. It is not said, “ Now you may eat those two things; but you must not touch that nice fat morsel over there; that is for the particular favourite, not for you.” No, when God invites you to His table, you may have anything there is on the table.
3. So, too, there is no end to the feast. “ Keep on delighting yourself in fatness. You will never use it all up.” I read of a country once, though I hardly believed the description of it; for it was said that the grass grew faster than the cows could eat it. Well, there is a country that I know of, where the grass grows faster than the sheep can eat it. You may eat all you will out of the Divine Word; but you will find that there is more left than you have taken; and it seems as if there were more after you had taken it, as if the grass grew deeper as you fed more ravenously upon it.,
1. There is no peril in holy joy, in delighting yourself in God’s Word, and delighting yourself in Christ.
2. There will be no idleness or selfishness produced by this fat feeding.
3. May you also attain a sense of holy security!
4. Then, may you come into a state of perfect rest!
5. May you also come into a state of complete resignation to the will of God!
6. May you be filled with a happy expectancy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The soul’s best food
I. THE REASON FOR THE EXHORTATION IN OUR TEXT: “Eat ye that which” is good and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
1. The exceeding bountifulness of God in Christ Jesus. The invitation here given IS in accordance with the character of the God who gives it.
2. The abundant provision that He has made for the supply of our needs. If any of you prepared a feast, it would be very grievous to you if your friends did not eat what you had provided. It is the very heart of God speaking in these words, and it is the provision of God’s grace claiming to be consumed.
God’s love pleading that what He has provided so bountifully should not be lost or wasted.
3. The Divine desire for fellowship. Almost always, when fellowship is spoken of in relation to God, expressions which concern eating are used. Fellowship begins, as it were, at the passover, at the eating of the lamb. In the tabernacle in the wilderness, the offerings were not all burnt upon the altar; many of them were partaken of by both the offerer and the priest, and by God as represented by the devouring flame. So, when Jesus instituted that blessed memorial supper, “He said to His disciples, concerning the bread, “Take,. eat;” and, concerning the cup, “Drink ye all of it.” When, in the Revelation, He said to the angel of the church in Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock.” you know how He goes on to say, “If any man hear My voice, and open, the door, I will come-in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me. This appears to be God’s favourite image to express fellowship.
4. Our exceeding great necessities. You must eat, so “eat ye that which is good.” Your soul needs the best food, so “let your soul delight itself in fatness,” in the fat and dainty morsels which the great God, who understands us even better than we understand ourselves, has so bountifully provided for us.
5. Our extreme foolishness. What a stupid animal man must be to need to be told to eat, and be urged to eat that which is good! The little lamb, in the meadow, has scarcely come into the world before it finds out where its mother’s milk is, and very soon it begins to crop the tender herbage, and to find food for itself. Most creatures, by what we call instinct, discover their own natural food; but here is man, so foolish, so mad, so much more wild than the wild ass’s colt, that he needs to be told to eat, spiritually. One part of human foolishness lies in the fact that we so often seek that which is not good for us, so that the Lord has to say to us, “Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?” Man is described in Scripture as feeding upon ashes. It is not only that we are willing to eat that which is evil, but that we are unwilling to eat that which is good. Many persons will hear that which is good, and will even assent to our declaration that it is good; yet they do not eat it. What is spiritual eating? It is the inward reception of the truth of God into the soul. To hear the truth is, as it were, to see the bread. To think upon the truth is, as it were, to cut the bread, and put it on the plate. But this will never nourish any man; he must take the bread into his inward parts, and digest and assimilate it. There is this folly even about God’s own children, that they do not eat that, which is good according to the lavish, inexhaustible fulness provided by God. Let your soul delight itself in fatness. How very few minutes in a day most of us spend in feeding our souls I
6. Our fears. There is many a child of God, who longs for spiritual food, but he is afraid that he would be guilty of presumption if he ate it; so, when there is a very fat piece that is just going into his mouth, he says, “No, that cannot be for me,” and he draws back from it. Just look at the text: “Let your soul delight itself in fatness.”
II. THE BENEFITS OF OBEYING THE COMMAND OF THE TEXT.
1. The pleasure of it. “Let your soul delight itself in fatness.
2. The great preserving power of good spiritual food. It helps to keep us out of temptation.
3. Spiritual food comforts mourners. The analogy of this will be found in Nehemiah 8:9-10. It was of this that Mary sang, “He hath filled the hungry with good things.”
4. It revives the fainting ones.
5. Spiritual eating is also a great strength for service.
6. It fits us to feed others. Ezekiel had to go and speak to the house of Israel in the name of the Lord; do you remember his preparation for that task,--the college to which he went? He saw a hand, which held a roll of a book, and a voice said to him, “Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.” He cannel; preach till he has eaten the roll. I believe that, in the courts of law, young men have to eat themselves into the profession; beside all other qualifications, they must eat a certain number of dinners before they can be fully certificated. It is a strange regulation with regard to earthly courts, hut it is a right and proper thing in the courts of heaven.
7. It is the best mode of fellowship. Feed on the Word of God; especially feed on the Incarnate Word; otherwise, you cannot possibly enter into true spiritual fellowship with God.
8. Feeding upon the Word is the best way of promoting praise. You know how the 103 rd Psalm begins: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Then, a little further on, the psalmist says, “Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” A hungry soul cannot sing well; the soul that best sings the praises of God is the one that has delighted itself with the fatness of the Divine provision. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Fatness” in the Scriptures is used to denote the richest food (Genesis 27:28-39; Job 36:16; Psalms 65:11), and hence is an emblem of the rich and abundant blessings resulting from the favour of God (Psalms 36:8; Psalms 63:5). (A. Barnes, D. D.)
The path of life
Professor George Adam Smith talks about what he considers the greatest pathos of our life on earth--it is the fact that so many million souls are unconsciously starving right within reach of the food they need. They have only to stretch out their hands and take the bread of life, but their hands are glued to their sides.
An unsuitable diet
Some German women have fallen into the habit of “naschen,” i.e of nibbling comfits and cakes all day long. They carry “cornets “ of bon-bons in their pockets, and nibble at them continually. No one wonders that they suffer greatly from disordered digestions, and become sallow, and irritable, and old before their time. And does not plain common-sense teach us that, when people feed their souls upon a diet of novels, or of gossip, or of frivolities of every kind, they must necessarily suffer from languor of spiritual life, debility of spiritual digestion, failure of vitality, and a creeping moral paralysis. (Mrs. H. W. Smith.)
Incline your ear
To incline your ear and hearken diligently unto God is to follow the Divine teachings as to the aims and methods of life.
And God has a thousand voices for those who will hearken.
1. The voice of experience is His, and experience is loud and emphatic in assuring us that “if we live after the flesh we shall die; but if we, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body we shall live.”
2. The voice in the heart and conscience is His, and if you will listen in the silence of the mind you will hear the sweet parental accents speaking to your deepest filial affection, and saying, “My son, give Me thine heart.”
3. And the voice of inspiration is His, speaking through those who have seen most deeply into the Divine meaning of life, and the conclusion of the whole matter with them has been, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
4. And the voice of Christ” is the voice of God, and.” “Jesus stood and cried,, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. (C. Short, M. A.)
“Incline your ear"
Hold it near the mouth of the gracious Speaker. Be willing to hear what God has to say. Take out that wool of prefudice that has prevented you from hearkening to God’s voice.(C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Divine call and promise
The institution of public worship derives a peculiar value from its tendency to dispose men to the voice of God
I. THE GRACIOUS PROPOSAL ON THE PART OF GOD. “I will make an everlasting covenant with you,” etc. The covenant here proposed is a covenant of promise, that is, a covenant in which God promises to bestow freely upon His creatures a variety of the greatest and most necessary blessings. Two things here call for our attention--
1. The extent here specified of the engagements of the covenant. “The sure mercies of David.” This covenant was first discovered to Adam, more fully to Abraham, still more so to David, who was an eminent type of Christ.
Now Christ, the spiritual David, is come; what these sure mercies are, we know more fully. But they are “sure mercied,” which lead to:
2. The ground of dependence. The covenant is founded upon the goodness of God. Think of the fidelity of His promises; of His ability; of the pledge He has given us. “He that spared not His own Son,” etc. Think of the great cloud of witnesses who all testify to the Divine character, and speak the mercies to them without exception. Sure in the effects they produce. Sure in all changes. These never fail. Sure in another state of existence, for it is an everlasting covenant administered by an Eternal Being.
II. THE MEANS OF OUR SECURING THESE SURE MERCIES OF DAVID. “Incline your car, and come unto Me.”
1. The Person speaking ought to induce attention. It is the Lord, our Maker, Preserver, Redeemer.
2. The interest we have in the subject ought to induce attention.
3. Our attention must lead us to God. “Incline your ear, and come unto Me.
4. The amazing issues which depend on our obedience should lead us at once to obey. “Hear, and your soul shall live.” (J. Bolton, B. A.)
God’s own Gospel call
This very memorable chapter may be called God’s own Gospel sermon.
I. TWO SAVING PRECEPTS, which are pressed upon you. These are of simple character.
1. “Incline your ear.” This is placed in another form, “Hearken diligently unto Me; hear, and your soul shall live. You have ears to hear w t therefore-hear. Consider and think upon eternal things. Think about Divine matters as God sets them before you. This attention, this hearkening, must be hearty, honest, continual, earnest and believing.
2. The second precept grows out of the first: “Come unto Me. “How can I come to God?’ saith one.
1. Come, at least, by thinking much of Him.
2. Come, by your desires.
3. Come, by confession of sin.
4. Come, in humble, believing prayer. These are the two precepts--“Hear” and “Come.” They are neither exacting norunreasonable.
II. To encourage you, and come to my second head, which deals with SAVING PROMISES. Here are two promises corresponding to the two precepts--
1. “Your soul shall live.”
2. “I will make an everlasting covenant with you.”
(1) Observe, how He promises condescending intercourse. It is in the Hebrew, “I will cut a covenant. Covenants were made by cutting a victim in two, and they who made a covenant passed between the two halves of the sacrifice to make the covenant sure. The Lord, in effect, says, “Poor, wretched sinner, you that have not a penny to buy water with, if you will come to Me, I will enter into a sacred agreement and covenant with you.
(2) God is ready to enter into a binding contract with you.
(3) God will thus enter into an unending alliance with you.
(4) We liken what He gives to the sinner to what He did to David (2 Samuel 23:5). The covenant is all in Christ.
III. Urge the Lord’s own SAVING PLEAS.
1. God Himself speaks to you.
2. Your day of mercy is not ended (Isaiah 55:6).
3. He is ready and willing to forgive the whole of your past offences (Isaiah 55:7).
4. Then comes in the great persuasive of the magnanimity of God (Isaiah 55:8-9).
5. Hear how the Lord pleads the power of His Gospel (Isaiah 55:10-11). Hearken to God’s voice, and let it enter your heart; then it will quicken and save you as surely as the sun and the rain water the earth.
6. The Lord persuades men to come to Him by telling them of the joy they will obtain in coming (Isaiah 55:12).
7. He calls you to Him by the effectual nature of His work (Isaiah 55:13). (C. H.Spurgeon.)
God’s call to the needy and sinful
I. AN INVITATION, addressed to us by Jehovah Himself, to hearken diligently unto Him, to incline our ear, and to come to Him. There is something peculiarly touching in the invitations of the Word of God, which, if men would but pause and reflect, could not fail to make an impression upon their hearts. “Hearken diligently unto Me,” God says; “incline your ear. He would take you, as it were, each one separately by himself, and reason and counsel with you. The matters of which He would treat with you are too important to be handled in a crowd, too sacred to be discussed amid the noise and bustle of worldly avocations. The Lord will have sinners “come” to Him; He will have all distance annihilated between your souls and Him; He will have you brought into the closest relationship and communion with Himself; He will have you not only within hearing of His voice, but in His very embrace.
II. THE REASONS FOR OUR CLOSING WITH THIS INVITATION are two, and each of them is very weighty.
1. You will be vast gainers if you follow the leadings of the Divine Spirit, and go into conference with God, and embrace His terms. Your soul shall delight itself in fatness. Your soul shall live.”
2. To refuse the offer is to lose the soul. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Salvation through the ear
God hath ordained--as it were to cross the devil--that as death entered into the world through the car, by our first parents listening to that old man-slayer, so should life enter into the soul by the same door. (J. Trapp.)
Hear, and your soul shall live
The highest life
Life is more than mere existence; it is the natural, healthful, and joyous activity of every part of the being. It is eternal life. (Christian Age.)
The way to life
I. THE MESSAGE IMPLIED. When we are commanded to “hear,” it is supposed that something is spoken: there is a voice which, in one way or other, addresses us. This is none else than the voice of Jehovah, the God of truth, the God of love, the God of all patience and consolation. He speaks to us in His good Word.
II. THE REGARD WHICH THIS MESSAGE DEMANDS. “Hear.” There can be no impropriety in understanding this literally; and, in this view, it condemns such as do not hear the Gospel when it is brought to them, and they have the opportunity of hearing it. It also reproves such as only occasionally hear the Gospel But more is meant by hearing, in the text, than your presence in the place where the Gospel is preached.
1. Hear with attention. Thus the expression is varied, both in this and the preceding verse: “Hearken diligently unto Me; incline your ear,” as persons peculiarly and closely attentive. Some marks of inattention, under the sound of the Gospel, are obvious enough. But we cannot always judge of attention by outward appearances. Then, will you hear with attention, when you arc deeply convinced of the truth of what you hear; when you feel its vast importance; when you are thoroughly satisfied that the word of the Gospel is indeed the Word of God.
2. Hear with affection. It is a great thing to love the Gospel. When the Gospel is heard affectionately, there is an earnest concern to enjoy its invaluable blessings: prejudice falls before it; there is a growing conformity to it.
3. Hear with believing application.
4. Hear with obedient compliance. This, indeed, is nearly allied to what has last been mentioned, yet it includes something farther. Thus it is said, “Incline your ear, and come unto Me” not only believe that these blessings of salvation are adapted to your state, and ready for your reception, but apply to Him who has them to bestow. He is “the Author of eternal salvation;” to whom? “to all them that obey Him.’
5. Hear with humble prayer.
III. THE ADVANTAGE PROMISED. “Your soul shall live.” Several things are here observable.
1. It is a personal advantage. Many advantages are relative and distant. Persons may attend to various means with a view to the good of others. But this advantage is personally your own.
2. It is a spiritual advantage. Your “soul.” To benefit the body is something; to preserve its life, to maintain and to improve its health, are objects of real moment; but they sink into nothing compared with what relates to the soul.
3. It is a great advantage. “Your soul shall live.” We all have some idea what life is, and we know how highly it is valued. This advantage must be of peculiar magnitude, as the soul is unspeakably more excellent than the body, and as eternity is of infinitely higher moment than the fleeting shadow of time. The life of the soul! What does it denote? What does it include? The commencement of the life of the soul is in regeneration.
4. It is a sure advantage. Application:
1. The message of the Gospel is brought to you.
2. What is the regard which you are giving to this message?
3. What is your experience of this advantage? (T. Kidd.)
Life in Christ
I. WHAT LIFE THAT IS WHICH A SOUL SHALL HAVE BY COMING TO CHRIST.
II. HOW IT MAY BE DEMONSTRATED THAT THE SOUL SHALL LIVE THAT HEARS AND COMES TO CHRIST. (O. Sedgwick, B. D.)
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you
The covenant with Israel
Nothing is required on the part of Israel but hearing and coming and taking; through these, it becomes pervaded by new life, and Jehovah presents it with an everlasting covenant, namely, the unchangeable mercies of David. (E. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Twelve covenant mercies
I. SAVING KNOWLEDGE (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
II. GOD’S LAW WRITTEN IN THE HEART (Jeremiah 31:33).
III. FREE PARDON (end of Jeremiah 31:34).
IV. RECONCILIATION (Jeremiah 32:38).
V. TRUE GODLINESS (Jeremiah 31:39).
VI. CONTINUANCE IN GRACE (Jeremiah 31:40).
VII. CLEANSING (Ezekiel 36:25).
VIII. RENEWAL OF NATURE (Jeremiah 31:26).
IX. HOLY CONVERSATION (Jeremiah 31:27).
X. HAPPY SELF-LOATHING (Jeremiah 31:31).
XI. COMMUNION WITH GOD (Ezekiel 37:26-28).
XII. NEEDFUL CHASTISEMENT (Psalms 89:30). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
We should hear much less of the doubts and fears of Christians about their own acceptance, if they would think more of God and His act, His call, His promise and His covenant, than of their own unworthiness, which, indeed, is frankly assumed throughout. (G. A.Chadwick, D. D.)
The sure mercies of David
“The sure mercies of David:”
“The sure mercies of David:” i.e the mercies (loving-kindnesses) irrevocably promised to David and his house (comp. 2 Samuel 23:5; Psalms 18:50; Psalms 89:28; Psalms 89:4), and the great promise to which all these passages point (2 Samuel 7:8-16). The comparison of the everlasting covenant to these Davidic “mercies” cannot mean simply that the one is as sure as the other. It is identity rather than comparison that is implied, the idea being that the contents of the covenant are the same as the mercies promised to David, and that it will be the fulfilment of the hopes that clustered round the Davidic dynasty. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
“The sure mercies of David”
What is this “everlasting covenant”? What are these “sure mercies of David”? Two sorts of authors deserve to be heard on this article, though on different accounts, the first for their ignorance and prejudice, the last for their knowledge and impartiality. The first are the Jews, who, in spite of their obstinate blindness, cannot help owning that these words promise the advent of the Messiah. Rabbi David Kimchi gives this exposition of the words: “‘The sure mercies of David,’ that is, the Messiah, whom Ezekiel calls David, They shall dwell in the land that I have given them, they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever; and My servant David shall be their prince for ever.” The other authors, whom we ought to hear for their impartial knowledge, are the inspired writers, and particularly St. Paul, whose comment on this passage, which he gave at Antioch in Pisidia, determines its meaning. There, the apostle, having attested the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, affirms that the prophets had foretold that event; and, among other passages, which he alleged in proof of what he had advanced, quotes this, “I will give you the sure mercies of David” (Acts 13:34). (J. Saurin.)
“The sure mercies of David”
The Gospel is the exhibition and the bestowment of all these blessings which were promised to David, as the type of Christ, and His forefathers according to the flesh. Those blessings are indeed unspeakably valuable; in them is the charter of our hope, and the record of our salvation. And this consideration above all adds value to them--they are c, sure.”
1. Sure, as respects the fountain from which they are derived, the love and compassion of the holy and eternal one.
2. Sure, as respects the intention of Him who proposes them to us.
3. Sure, because of the price at which they are offered. (H. J. Hastings, M. A.)
Behold I have given Him for a Witness to the people
Witness; Leader; Commander
Most modern authorities hold that the person spoken of in Isaiah 55:4. is the historical David, and that Isaiah 55:4-5 institute a parallel between the position he occupied in the heathen world of his time and that which Israel shall occupy in the future; the thought expressed, therefore, is that the Messianic hope is transferred from the dynasty to the nation. The view is thus succinctly stated by Driver: “As David became ruler of subject nations (2 Samuel 8:1-18.), a knowledge of his religion, however imperfect, spread among them; thus he was a ‘witness’ to them. This position of David is idealized Psalms 18:43 (‘Thou makest me a head of nations; a people whom I have not known shall serve me’); and the position, as thus idealized, is here enlarged, and extended in a spiritual sense to Israel (Isaiah 18:5).”
2. Others think that the reference in Isaiah 18:4 is to the future Messianic king (who is called David in Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23 f.), so that the two verses represent under two aspects the future greatness of Israel.
3. An intermediate position is taken by some, viz that Isaiah 18:4 goes back to the promise made to David, but regards it as one destined to be fulfilled in the person of his Son, the Messiah. It is very difficult to decide between these conflicting explanations. The third view seems on the whole the best; the original covenant guarantees an endless dominion to the family of David, and after the restoration this will assume a spiritual character and expand into universal empire in the reign of the Messiah. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Christ a witness to the people
One who stood forth to bear solemn testimony in regard to God--to His law, and claims, and plans; and One who was therefore designated to be the Instructor, Guide, and Teacher of men. (A Barnes, D. D.)
Christ the Father’s Witness
I. THE QUALIFICATIONS WHICH WERE REQUISITE. A witness is one who gives evidence, even at the expense of life. This has been so generally received as its meaning, that the original word “martyr” has been transferred to our own language, without any material alteration of its signification--not that every person who is willing to lay down his life, is therefore a true witness, but he cannot be a true witness without it. There are many qualifications requisite beside this, and we shall now examine how far they were possessed by the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. He must have been an eye-witness of the things He related. He came to bear testimony to things of which the world at large were entirely ignorant, and concerning which He could derive no information, except by being intimately conversant with them. But He who “came for a Witness, to bear witness unto the truth,” could say, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world.” “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.”
2. But He might have possessed this and every other qualification without the willingness to communicate what He knew as an eyewitness. And herein is manifested the exceeding love of the three Persons in the Trinity, towards man. The Father sets Him forth as His gift to sinners--“Behold I have given Him.” The Son, when before His unjust judge, declares, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. And He was anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power for this particular work.
3. It is also required in a witness that He declare the whole troth, and nothing but the truth. In Revelation 1:5 we read--“Jesus Christ is the faithful Witness;” and in the third chapter He calls Himself “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness.” Hence it follows that His testimony must contain all needful truth: that natural religion is not sufficient--that as it is a testimony, it can be received only by faith, and no prerequisites are placed by God in the way of a sinner coming to Him. That whilst this testimony is before the mind, it does work effectually in all those who believe, i.e receive it on testimony; and that, as it came from God, it is the imperative duty of all who hear, to believe it, and that God is just in condemning those who believe not.
II. WHAT THAT TRUTH WAS TO WHICH HE BORE TESTIMONY. “I am come,” says He, “a light into the world, that whosoever followeth Me should not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” By this He means to say, that all the world was lying in darkness and the shadow of death, “alienated from the life of God by the ignorance that was in them, because of the blindness of their hearts;” and it was to strike at the root of every false religion, and every garbled form of His own, that He puts Himself forth as the only Witness, who, from His perfect acquaintance with what He spoke, was qualified to teach those truths which mankind had so perverted.
1. The Lord Jesus Christ came to restore the true knowledge of God, and this He did by testifying, in the first place, to the character of the Father, that “God is love.”
2. Having thus borne testimony to the Father, He proceeds to bear testimony to Himself. Of Himself He testified that He was the promised Messiah, and that, though man, He was also God.
3. The Lord Jesus likewise was a Witness in declaring that it was the belief of His word, received as a testimony, which should bring salvation.
4. We shall now examine what He says of Himself as being a King, and consequently having a kingdom in the world. Whether He has a kingdom or not in the world is a question we are competent to decide by our own observation of the characters we meet with in our passage through life. But if we can see no signs of it, we must suspend our judgments till we see what the end will be. If He has already established, it will be an additional proof that He is a faithful and true Witness. Now when examined by Pilate, the question was expressly put by him to Jesus, “Art thou a king then?” to which in the most unequivocal manner He replied, “Thou sayest that I am a king.” The nature of that kingdom He had as expressly borne testimony,, to--“My kingdom is not of this world; now is My kingdom not from hence.But He bore testimony to this fact not only on His trial before Pilate (though this is called the good confession, because he immediately after sealed it with His blood), but in the whole of His public ministry.
III. THE WITNESS OF THE SPIRIT. While Christ was in the world He bore witness to the truth, but when He went hence to the Father, the Spirit was commissioned to lead into all truth those whom He left behind, and they, by His inspiration, have committed it to writing. The Holy Scriptures are, therefore, the testimony of Christ, as it has been witnessed to us by the Spirit. Of this testimony, the whole world are ignorant by nature, and as soon as it is made known to them, the pride and carnal enmity of the unrenewed mind rises in opposition to it. This opposition to the truth of God, it is the especial province of the Spirit of God to overcome, and the way in which He effects this, is by taking of things, i.e the testimony of Christ, and showing them to us, and this He does in such a manner as commends to us, as most lovely, what we before thought most hateful. Many of the children of God are led into and kept in a state of doubt as to their acceptance with God, from thinking that the only witness which the Spirit bears is to the life and conversation, forgetting that these evidences can only flow from the primary witness which He bears to the testimony of Christ. This consideration will also show what it is so important to remember, the connection between soundness and clearness of doctrinal truth with consistency of life. (R. Jessop, M. A.)
Christ as a Witness
Christ as a Witness is--
I. MOST GLORIOUSLY COMMUNICATIVE. Some witnesses are so ignorant that they have but little to say, and others, though better informed, have but little to communicate of importance. What does Christ testify?
1. Of God.
2. Of man.
(1) Man’s spiritual existence.
(2) Moral depravity.
(3) Imminent danger.
(4) Future retribution.
3. Of duty. He lived duty.
4. Of man’s restoration.
II. MOST UNQUESTIONABLY CREDIBLE. Witnesses are often incredible from two reasons.
1. Their ignorance. They are found to be so imperfectly acquainted with the circumstances of the case to which they testify, that their evidence is either received with suspicion, or rejected as worthless. But is Christ incredible on this ground? No. HIS knowledge is infinite. He knows all about everything of which He testifies. He knows God, man, the universe.
2. Untruthfulness. Many are placed in the witness-box who, though they have a competent intelligence, have no inviolable attachment to truth. Their prevarication destroys the worth of their evidence. Infinitely removed is Christ from this. He is the Truth. Truth is dearer to Him than life. False witnesses abound; but here is One on whose testimony we may and ought to repose with unbounded trust. (Homilist)
Christ given, as a Witness
I. THE PECULIAR FITNESS, OR QUALIFICATIONS, OF JESUS, TO ACT AS A WITNESS FOR GOD TO THE PEOPLE.
1. Jesus was singularly qualified to act as a Witness to the people, because of His being acquainted with the whole counsel of God: whilst His own mind as the Son was in perfect accordance with that of His Father.
2. Jesus was specially qualified to act as a Witness, because of His necessary freedom from all temptation to suppress or mistake any part of the truth. He was from time to time knowingly putting Himself into situations, and bearing, testimony to such views, as were prejudicial to His safety, and endangering His life.
3. Jesus was specially qualified to be a Witness for God to the people, because of His alliance with both in His nature, together with His zeal for God’s glory and the good of men In matters where ordinary witness-bearing is required, the interests of at least two parties are generally concerned, and, in so far, it augurs favourably for the ends of justice, that persons acting as witnesses in the case feel something like equal interest in both.
II. THE MODE OF HIS ACTING IN DISCHARGING THE DUTIES OF HIS OFFICE AS A WITNESS.
1. He witnessed to the effect of confirming that portion of the Scriptures which God had previously given to the Church, as a revelation of His will. That portion is contained in the Old Testament exclusively, such as known to us, and therefore shutting out all Jewish Apocryphas, Talmuds, or Mishnas. To none of these mere human productions did the Lord Jesus ever testify, but in the course of His public teaching He witnessed again and again to the authenticity of the sacred Scriptures, in quoting from them certain, things written concerning Himself by the inspiration of the Almighty.
2. Christ was also a Witness for God to the people, not only in testifying to what had already been written, but in farther adding to the revelation of Heaven. This revelation includes the whole of the New Testament, for this has been added to the Old by the Great Witness of whom we now speak, as an it contains He either delivered orally in the course of His personal ministry, or by the apostles, whose several epistles were written by His inspiration.
3. Jesus was still farther a Witness for God to the people, in the miracles He wrought, and in the holy exemplary life which He led. The many marvellous things He did afforded abundant proof that He came from God, and that consequently His doctrines were true. As God-man He witnessed in the flesh to His own holy law, and in that hath set us aa example that we should follow His steps.
4. Jesus, in acting as a Witness for God to the people, sealed and ratified His testimony in His cruel and ignominious death. (J. Allan.)
Christ’s triple character
There is no Gospel apart from our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, it is not at all wonderful that, after the glorious Gospel invitations, expostulations, and exhortations of the first three verses of this chapter, we should come, in the fourth verse, to these words: “‘Behold, I have given Him.’ I have talked to you about waters, and about wine and milk, and about bread, and about fatness; but, ‘behold, I have given Him,’ for He is all these,--water, wine, milk, bread, fatness. I have spoken to you about ‘an everlasting covenant even the sure mercies of David;’ but I mean Him, for He is the great Surety of the covenant, and I have given Him for a covenant of the people.” We cannot do without a personal Christ. The first word in our text, “Behold,’ reminds us that this is a theme for wonder. A part of the wonder concerning Christ consists in the fact that His Father has given Him to the people. Not to you, O kings and princes;--not to you, a few aristocrats picked here and there; but, “I have givenHim for a witness to the people.” He is the people’s Christ, the people’s Leader, the people’s Friend, the people’s King. And the wonder increases when you recollect that the word translated “people” might be just as accurately rendered “nations.” No doubt, the Lord’s intention here is to refer to the Gentiles:--not to the chosen people, Israel, alone; but even to us, “sinners of the Gentiles,” who were outside the favoured family of the Jews.
I. Let us, with believing eye, SEE OUR LORD IN THREE CHARACTERS OR RELATIONSHIPS.
1. Our blessed Lord is a Witness for the Father,--a Witness concerning the Father. We should never have known what God was like if it had not been that “the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” If, indeed, I do see God in Christ, what a blessed God He is to me! For who would not love Jesus! Nor is Christ merely the Witness concerning God’s character, but also concerning God’s bearing towards us. How does God feel with regard to His rebellious creatures! He also came to be witness of another matter, namely, that God has set up a kingdom among the sons of men. There is no way of entrance into the kingdom of Divine grace except by regeneration; and Jesus Christ is the Witness of that great truth. Whatever Christ has taught concerning any truth which has to do with our salvation, is His witness upon that point; and if we want to know the truth about anything, we must go to Christ to learn it.
2. The second office of Christ, mentioned in the text, is that, of a Leader to His own people. The word “leader might be rendered “the foremost; and, truly, Christ is the foremost of all His people,--the standard-bearer among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely. In the Church of God, Jesus Christ is the Leader, because His life is the perfect example of practical holiness. First, He is God’s witness revealing to us the truth; then, next, He is our Example, working out the practical part of that revelation in His own life.
3. The third character our Lord bears, according to our text, is that of Commander. There may be many meanings given to that title, but it seems to me that it must relate mainly to those of His people who are not yet saved. To them, He is a Commander; to them He issues laws as a law- giver, for such is also the sense of the term. But I think there is more, in this title of Christ, than the mere fact of His making the law, and bidding us publish it abroad in His name. He is also a Commander because He has power to enforce His proclamations. He calls a nation that knew Him not, and then they learn to know Him.
II. THE THREE EXCELLENCES OF CHRIST IN CONNECTION WITH THESE THREE OFFICES.
1. Is Christ a Witness? Then He is a true Witness. There are no falsehoods or mistakes in the witness which Christ bears.
2. If our Lord be a Leader, he has, in that capacity, the quality of holiness. You may safely follow wherever He leads you.
3. If He be a Commander, you see in Him Divine power. It is no use having a commander-in-chief who issues proclamations, but who has neither wit nor wisdom in the day of battle.
III. THESE RELATIONSHIPS AND EXCELLENCES DEMAND FROM US THREE DUTIES.
1. Is Christ a true Witness? Then, believe Him.
2. If He be a Leader, and holiness is the mark of His Leadership, then, let us imitate Him.
3. Then, if He be a Commander, what does He require of us? Obedience.
IV. THERE ARE THREE BENEFITS WHICH WILL BE SECURED BY THE PERFORMANCE OF THESE DUTIES.
1. If you do believe Christ, “the faithful and true Witness,” then you have certainty as to what you believe.
2. Then, if Jesus Christ be our Example, and we imitate Him, the next benefit we obtain is safety.
3. If Christ be our Commander, and He hath all power, and we obey Him, then victory is sure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The greatest Gift in time or eternity
I. A DIVINE GIFT.
1. The Father has given His Son.
2. The Son consented to be given.
3. We have the purpose of this Gift avowed. “For a Witness,” etc.
4. The persons thus favoured. “The people.”
II. A DIVINE PROMISE made to this Leader and Commander.
1. To call those whom He does not know (Isaiah 55:5). That must be a strange nation which Christ does not know. There will be people at the last to whom Christ will say, “I never knew you;” and there arc such people now, whom Christ has never known in this sense. He never spoke with them, He never heard their voice in prayer, He never knew them by mutual acquaintance. And there are nations of this kind of people.
2. Christ is to make run those who do not know Him. People who did not know anything about Christ, and who did not want to know about Him, shall on a sudden hear of Him, and they shall run to Him. I have often noticed that, when such people do come to Christ, they always run to Him.
3. Here is a Divine promise to exert a singular motive power. “Because of the Lord thy God,” etc, A glorified Christ makes men run to Him.
III. A DIVINE EXHORTATION. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A Leader and Commander to the people
Our glorified Leader
1. He was typified in David. He has been constituted Prince. His name is made great. His throne shall be for ever. His kingdom shall be made sure. For a great while to come His house shall stand. His name shall be continued as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in Him. All nations shall call Him happy (Psalms 72:1-20.). The type was spoilt by David’s infidelity and sin. But, even though this was so, on God’s side there was no vacillation, no swerving from His purpose. His mercies were sure. Much more in the case of Jesus Christ, the eternal purpose cannot miscarry.
2. This title is applied to Christ after His resurrection. Four times only in the New Testament is Christ called Leader or Prince, and always in resurrection. (Acts 3:14-15; Acts 5:31; Hebrews 2:9-10; Hebrews 12:2.) However translated, whether by “Author,” “Prince,” “Captain,” or “Leader,” it is the same Greek word, and is applied to Christ as risen.
3. The original meaning of the word is very interesting. Etymologically, it means the first of a file of men, and therefore their leader and commanding officer. This conception, therefore, is presented to our mind, that our Lord is the first of a long procession of souls whom He is leading up from the grave, with its darkness and corruption, through the steeps of air, past principalities and powers, to the very throne of God. He is the First-born from the dead, and therefore Ruler of the kings of the earth. He first, by the resurrection from the dead, has obtained the right to proclaim light to the Gentiles. If this thought of Christ being the first of a long procession is carried out, in respect to the passages mentioned above, it yields great results.
(1) He leads the dead out of death into life.
(2) He leads the vanquished into the victory of the heavenlies.
(3) He leads sufferers through suffering to the perfection, which is only possible as the effect of grievous pain, sanctified through the grace of the Holy Ghost.
(4) He leads also the ranks of believers. (Hebrews 11:1-40; Hebrews 12:2.)
(5) These conclusions suggested by the New Testament are substantiated and confirmed by the expression used here. “Thou shalt call a nation that Thou knowest not.” To whom can this refer, save to the Gentiles, who were once far off? “Nations that knew not Thee, shall run unto Thee.” Of whom can this be true, save of that vast ingathering suggested to our Lord by the Greeks who came to Him before He died, and concerning whom He said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me”? (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Christ given as a Leader
He is peculiarly fitted to be a Leader and Commander--
I. BECAUSE HE IS INVESTED WITH FULL POWERS AND AUTHORITY TO ACT ACCORDING TO HIS PLEASURE.
II. BECAUSE OF HIS KNOWING ALL THE DIFFICULTIES THEY HAVE TO ENCOUNTER IN THEIR SOJOURNING AND WARRING CONDITION.
III. BECAUSE OF POSSESSING FULL ABILITY TO INFLUENCE, IN ANY MANNER HE SEES FIT, THE HEARTS OF ALL MEN.
IV. BECAUSE OF THE EXAMPLE HE GAVE IN HIS PERSONAL CONFLICTS WITH HIS ENEMIES, OF WISDOM, FAITHFULNESS, AND COURAGE.
V. BECAUSE OF POSSESSING FULL ABILITY TO REWARD EVERY FAITHFUL FOLLOWER. Who, then, would not wish to fight under the banners of such a Commander? It is no dubious cause, but one that always ends in glory. (J. Allan.)
The people’s Leader
I. GOD HAS APPOINTED JESUS CHRIST TO LEAD US IN THE WAY OF TRUTH.
II. GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS CHRIST TO BE OUR LEADER IN THE PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. Jesus leads us by showing that God gives us power to walk in the path of righteousness.
2. In following Jesus in the path of righteousness we must employ self-effort. God gives power, but it is requisite for us to use it. Without earnest self-effort, righteousness is impossible. Notice the crawling worm, how it wriggles and struggles to escape from its old self, and how it is rewarded with wings to fly from flower to flower in the garden. Hear the wee bird pecking itself out from its shell.
III. GOD HAS GIVEN CHRIST TO BE OUR LEADER TO THE CALVARY OF SELF-SURRENDER. The inner chamber of the heart is required for the indwelling of God. If the inner man be true, temptation has but little power over us.
IV. JESUS CHRIST HAS BEEN GIVEN TO BE OUR LEADER IN THE WARFARE OF HOLINESS.
V. GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS TO BE OUR LEADER IN THE WRESTLINGS OF PRAYER. Remember that our Leader spent whole nights in prayer to God.
VI. GOD HAS GIVEN JESUS FOR OUR LEADER IN THE INVINCIBILITY OF FAITH.
1. Let us copy His faith in the loving care of our Father.
2. Let those who are teachers of others follow our Leader in His faith in the power of the Gospel.
3. With our Leader, let us have faith that our paths are Divinely directed.
VII. GOD HAS GIVEN CHRIST TO BE OUR LEADER IN THE CONFIDENCE OF HOPE.
VIII. GOD HAS GIVEN CHRIST TO BE OUR LEADER IN THE CAMPAIGN OF LOVE. Wishing well is a good thing, but doing is better. Jesus Christ is our Leader in loving words and active deeds. (W. Birch.)
The grand Chieftain
Assuming that these words apply to Christ, they present Him in a capacity with which the world has ever associated its loftiest ideas of heroism, glory and renown. In many other places Christ is spoken of as an illustrious Chieftain (Joshua 5:13; Joshua 5:15,; Isaiah 63:1 - Hebrews 2:10; Revelation 19:11-16). He is the Captain of the Lords hosts. His relation of Commander to His people suggests to us certain ideas concerning the Church.
I. THE CONFLICT OF THE CHURCH. The state of the good here is not a state of conquest but of battle.
1. The enemies are principles, not persons. Error, corruptions, impiety, immorality, wrong in all its forms.
2. The inspiration is benevolent, not selfish. None of the selfish passions, ambition, avarice, revenge, fire the heart and nerve the arm of the true Church in battle. It is pure benevolence, that benevolence which seeketh not its own, which bears each other’s burdens.
3. The weapons are spiritual, not carnal. Not civil taw, worldly policy, but truth, example, love: we persuade men. Moral suasion, founded on truth, instinct with love, backed by example, is the grand weapon.
II. THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH. All the members of the true Church are as one united army, in one campaign, under one Commander.
1. They unite in the aims of their Commander. All loyal armies are of one mind as to aim, and that aim is the purpose of their chieftain. His aim is to establish judgment, rectitude on the earth, and every member of the true Church has this one master-aim.
2. They unite in the direction of their Commander. His will is their law.
3. They unite in the spirit of their Commander. Every commander seeks to give his master-passion to his army. It is only as he succeeds it can be true to him. The Church of Christ is united by the spirit of Christ, that spirit permeates, centralizes and controls all.
III. THE SUBORDINATION OF THE CHURCH. The subordination of the Church to Christ is--
2. Cordial. It is not so in the martial life of men. Many a soldier is forced, contrary to the wishes of his heart, to subordination to the will of his commander. All the instincts of his manhood often recoil at it. Not so with those under the command of Christ.
3. Permanent human commanders die while the campaign is being accomplished, and soldiers recover their independent wills and become their own masters. Not so with the soldiers of Christ.
IV. THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH
1. Your Commander is all wise. He knows the number, the resources, the stratagems of your antagonists. Nothing in the future will take Him by surprise.
2. Your Commander is all-mighty. There are no difficulties He cannot overcome; no exigencies that He cannot supply
3. Your Commander is all-generous.
4. Christ is a Commander who leads all His soldiers to glory. He makes them kings and priests unto God. Conclusion: Let the battle of our life be a battle fought under this banner. Let this love inspire us to brave deeds. It is said of Trajan that he won the heart of his army because he tore up his robe to bind up the wounds of a soldier who had been stricken down in the field. Let the memory of Christ’s unparalleled love win our highest sympathies and undivided powers. (Homilist.)
Behold, Thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not
We cannot tell what picture was in Isaiah’s mind and hovering before his eyes. We do not know just what degree of visible sovereignty he hoped to see Jerusalem attain--but the essential idea is clear enough. He believes that all people were to turn to the Hebrews because the Hebrews were especially God’s people, because the nations would all feel that the God whom they all must have had been made known with the completest clearness and purity among the Jews. How clearly that prophecy has been fulfilled all subsequent history can tell. The Hebrew Book, the Hebrew men, have been the magnets which have drawn the world’s devotion. Into the midst of Judaism was set the incarnation of the Godhead, which, shining out from thence, has been the light which has enlightened every man. The Bible is the very epitome of Judaism, and the Bible is the centre more and more completely of the world’s devotion. “Nations that know not thee shall run unto thee.” What words like those could prophesy the scenes which have come in these modern days--Englishmen, Italians, Germans, Americans seeking the law of inspiration of their life in the old Hebrew Bible, turning those venerable pages to learn how they ought to live, drinking at the fountain of the ideas of Israel the strength and cleansing which their own modern life demanded. We abase the Jew, sometimes we sneer at him and despise him--but we live upon the thoughts which he has thought, and the visions which he saw of God make the very sunshine of our life. (Bp. Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
The helpfulness of spirituality
There is a certain sort of man who is among his fellow-men what Israel was among the nations. Other men are richer, other men are mightier than he. Often their riches and their might seem to crowd upon him, as Assyria and Egypt crowded upon Judea, and leave him no chance to breathe; but in the long run he is the king of life. Men turn to him in their deepest moments and with their deepest needs. He helps men very different from, very much greater than, himself. To become such a man is the truest and worthiest ambition of a human soul. To be content to live without being such a man in some degree shows a pusillanimous and feeble nature. (Bp. Phillips Brooks,. D. D.)
The spiritual man
‘What is it to be a spiritual man and to live spiritually? A spiritual man is a man who deals with the spirits and the souls of things, and lives for them. Here are two money-making men. One of them values his money for the comfortable uses he can put it to; the other is not satisfied until he has got at the heart of riches, and absorbed his wealth into his character, and made himself by it a richer nature and a fuller man. Here are two religious men. One of them rejoices in religion for the good it does. He says that it secures order in this world, and saves suffering in the world to come. Another man feeds his heart on the very substance of religion itself. To commune with God, and love Him and obey Him, is the very life of life. Spirituality is not an attainment, an acquisition of the nature; it is a quality of the nature. It is not a thing to be; it is a way of being everything. It must be very sweet and strong when this Judea-consciousness really takes possession of a man and fills him. It is not pride or conceit. It is something far sacreder than that. But into his ears there comes a message from God: “I have appointed you to help your brethren. I have taught you to see the soul of things. I have filled you with the mystery of living, the awfulness of the soul.” “Behold, thou shalt call a nation which thou knowest not, and nations which know not thee shall run unto thee, because of the Lord thy God!” If in any way God is making you a Judea--if He is using you for one of His gathering and distributing points of spiritual life, be satisfied. There is no nobler work which anybody in this world can do than that. To know God so that other souls may know Him from us; to be in any way a deepener and enlightener of the lives of our brethren--what is there for a man to thank God for like that? Do we question that question for a moment! Then look at Jesus! See how in Him you have the very pattern and perfection of that life. Jesus was among men what Judea was among the nations. The other exhortation is for Assyria and Egypt-for men of worldly ways and hard, unyielding natures. If you do not feel the power of Judaism, you ought to be very much afraid about yourself. If a spiritual life can be lived right by your side, and you receive from it no rebuke or invitation, then beware! That is a terrible condition. The spring wind calls to the rock, and it has no green answer to send back. God calls to you by His voice in an enlightened soul, and you are dead. (Bp. Phillips Brooks, D. D.)
He hath glorified thee
I shall invite your attention to the declaration of my text--
I. AS IT RELATES TO THE HEADSHIP OF CHRIST OVER HIS CHURCH AND OVER ALL THINGS FOR HIS CHURCH. Look at the solemn position in which our Lord stood to be glorified, relative to His headship; that the headship of authority, of influence, of life, all should be concentrated in Him; that in the Church there should positively be no authority, no life, no Divine influence but what we have in Christ our Head; that His headship over the Church being that of authority, holds all worlds in abeyance, all enemies in subjection, all circumstances under His control, all souls at His command, all servants at His bidding, all ordinances and privileges for His bestowing; and it is by His authority alone that they are communicated. The centurion of old seemed to be conscious of this authority when he wanted Him to come and heal his servant. “Lord, trouble not Thyself,” said he, “for I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof.” Whether it is for the breaking of a sinner’s heart, comforting the mourner’s soul, or loosening of legal bonds, it requires but His word, and it is done.
II. AS IT RELATES TO THE ECONOMY OF GRACE, in which He is pre-eminently glorified. This economy of salvation is complete, perfect and infallible.
III. AS IT RELATES TO THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF HIS LIFE AND DEATH, in all which He manifested forth His glory, as it is written of Him. If God has glorified Jesus thus, how shall I glorify Him? The most effectual way in which a poor sinner can glorify Christ, is by trusting to Him, and leaving everything with Him.
IV. AS IT RELATES TO THE DIGNITY OF HIS THRONE, UPON WHICH HE IS NOW GLORIFIED WITHIN THE VEIL. The prophet Daniel had a vision of this, when he was directed to speak of the different kingdoms that should be set up. This exactly accords with the language of the apostle, who, speaking of this glorious kingdom of Christ, says, “that it is at the right hand of the Father in the heavens,” “far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” Christ, in His dignity and glorification, upholds the national glory of Zion; the national glory of His redeemed kingdom. (J. Irons.)
The glorified Christ
“He hath glorified Thee.”
1. By raising Thee triumphant from the dead.
2. By exalting Thee to the right hand of the Majesty on high.
3. By committing into Thy hands all power in heaven and on earth. (R. Macculloch.)
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found
The Lord to be sought
Notice how it reads: “Seek the Lord.
” It don’t say seek happiness; it don’t say seek peace; it don’t say seek joy. A good many people seek after joy, after peace, after happiness. I cannot find any place in the Bible where we are told to seek for peace or joy. If you have the Spirit, you will have the fruit of the Spirit; and you won’t have the fruit without the Spirit itself. You might as well look for an apple or an orange without a tree. You get a good tree and you have good fruit. Therefore, what we want is to seek the Lord Himself, and if I have Christ formed in me, the hope of glory, I will have peace, and joy, and rest. (D. L. Moody.)
I. THE ABSOLUTE NECESSITY FOR SEEKING THE LORD. Man by nature is estranged from God; knows not his Creator; is c, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel;” cut off from God, who is “not in all his thoughts.” As such, he is--
1. Helpless. “He hath nothing in himself whereby he may help himself.” “Dead in trespasses and sins.
2. Hopeless. “Without God and without hope in the world.” Cannot look forward into the future with cheering expectations.
3. Unhappy. “Poor and miserable, and blind and naked.” “No peace, saith my God, to the wicked.”
II. THE CERTAINTY OF FINDING HIM.
1. He does not ask of us impossibilities. He is a reasonable God, and never gives a command without giving also the power to perform 2:2. His promises are sure. “If ye seek Me, I will be found of you.” “Seek and ye shall find.” He never saith, “Seek ye My face in vain.’
III. THE FITTEST TIME TO SEEK HIM.
1. NOW. “New is the accepted time; now the day of salvation.” “To-day if ye will hear His voice.” No promise is made of to-morrow.
IV. THE CONSEQUENT BLESSINGS.
1. Pardon of Sin. “I will pardon all their iniquities.”
2. A new heart. “A new heart will I give you.”
3. Adoption into His family. “Heirs of God.”
4. Restoration to His favour. “knew creature.” “Made nigh by blood of Christ.”
5. Love to God and man. “Love of God shed abroad in the heart.”
6. Life everlasting. “He that believeth hath everlasting life.” (F. G. Davis.)
The lost Lord
1. To “seek the Lord while He may be found” implies, among other things, this, that the Lord is lost by and to those thus called to seek Him. We speak of a lost sinner; we may with equal truth speak of a lost Lord. The lost sinner and the lost Lord are correlative. The sinner is lost, because he has lost the Lord. The Lord’s finding the sinner, is the sinner’s finding the Lord. It is not that the Lord has ceased to be, to govern the world, to support His creatures. His providence indeed is exercised (Acts 17:27-28) that men should seek the Lord if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him. Nor is He far from every one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being. But the Lord is lost in this sense, that He is practically lost as Father, Friend and Portion, God and Guide, not recognized and accepted as Lord, by sinful men.
2. Apart from redeeming grace, the sinner is hopelessly lost to God, because God is hopelessly lost to the sinner. The evidences of this loss are many and various. The providential rule of God over men is carried on that they “might seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him.” The whole scheme of grace rests upon, as it was rendered necessary by, men’s loss of God. It is not merely God’s plan for seeking lost men, but God’s plan for coming near to men and being found of them.
3. If we look at men themselves, it is evident that, to all that have not found Him in His appointed way of grace, the Lord is lost. Witness the conscious or unconscious expression of this loss, in manifold ways and forms; in men’s corrupt, miserable condition, their restlessness and aimlessness, their hunt for substitutes of the lost Lord, their self-righteousness, their strange discontents, until they seek and find the Lord. Is not the Lord lost out of men’s hearts, creating by His absence a void there which only Himself can fill; out of men’s consciences, so that the fear of man has more authority and power with them than the fear of God; out of men’s minds, so that God is rarely, if ever, in all their thoughts, or is misunderstood and misinterpreted, and spiritual things cannot be discerned or welcomed; and finally, out of their lives, so that men can live and love without Him, can live to themselves, can live as though there were no God?
4. This is the greatest loss of all. What more has a man, if he has lost the Lord, and has not again found Him, in a world where the Lord is needed so much, where nothing else can make good the loss, and where yet the lost Lord may be found? How welcome to men should be the voice from heaven that tells them that the lost Lord has come near, and may be found, and how and where and when. (Alex. Warrack, M. A.)
If Adam and Eve were somewhat ignorant, as we suppose them to have been, of God’s omniscience, no wonder that they attempted to escape HIS notice. Their interest appeared to lie, not in seeking the Lord, but in fleeing from Him. Why so? Ignorant as yet of a mercy which was about for the first time to be revealed, they knew Him only as a God of justice and of truth. But what makes it your plain as well as highest interest to seek the Lord, is that you know that He is very pitiful and of great mercy.
I. CONSIDER WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY SEEKING THE LORD. The sense in which this is to be taken is explained by the succeeding verses, “Let,” etc. It is as a God, who will have mercy on the worst, and abundantly pardon the wickedest, that we are to seek the Lord--seeking Him without an hour’s delay. We may, as man has often done, stand at a human bar” conscious of our innocence. We may refuse to put in a plea for mercy; boldly declaring that we want nothing more, and will accept of nothing less, than impartial justice. At God’s tribunal, however, it is very different. There, simple justice were sure damnation. It is as just and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus, that we are to seek the Lord; and all the blessings which in that gracious character He has, and He promises, to bestow.
II. INQUIRE WHEN THESE THINGS ARE TO BE OBTAINED.
1. The Lord, as bestowing the pardon of sin and salvation of the soul, is to be found in this world, not in another.
2. The Lord is not to be found on a deathbed.
3. The Lord is more likely to be found now than at any future time. We can foretell neither what, nor where we shall be to-morrow. Sin is like the descent of a hill, where every step we take increases the difficulty of our return. Sin is like a river in its course; the longer it runs, it wears a deeper channel, and the farther from the fountain, it swells in volume and acquires a greater strength. Sin is like a tree in its progress; the longer it grows, it spreads its roots the wider; grows taller; grows thicker; till the sapling which once an infant’s arm could bend, raises its head aloft, defiant of the storm. Sin in its habits becomes stronger every day--the heart grows harder; the conscience grows duller; the distance between God and the soul grows greater; and, like a rock hurled from the mountain’s top, the farther we descend, we go down, and down, and down, with greater and greater rapidity. How easy, for example, is it to touch the conscience of childhood; but how difficult to break in on the torpor of a hoary head!
III. THE SHORTNESS AND UNCERTAINTY OF LIFE ARE STRONG REASONS FORESEEKING PARDON AND SALVATION NOW. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
How much depends upon timing things, as to advantage, and usefulness, and necessity l In this view, how important is opportunity. (W. Jay.)
Importance of seeking God at the present moment
Let us consider these words--
I. AS AN INJUNCTION TO DUTY. This seeking of God is to be considered, not only as initial, but as repeated and constant.
II. AS AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO HOPE. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found.” We have the very same thought in the thirty-second Psalm, where it is said, “For this shall every one that in godly pray unto Thee in a tune when Thou mayest be found.” “We are saved by hope.” And what a foundation is laid for this confidence! What a foundation is laid in the Word of the Gospel. What a foundation is laid in His invitations. How encouraging is all this! If possibility will sometimes move people, and if probability will commonly move them, how much more will actual certainty influence them; especially when the prize is nothing less than the possession of God--the God of an grace and of glory!
III. AS A SECURITY FROM PRESUMPTION. Though God is to be found, He is not always to be found. (W. Jay.)
The times and places for seeking God
1. The mercy-seat, the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. In the Gospel. What is the Gospel? Just the tones of the voice of Jesus Christ, prolonged and perpetuated in the language of man.
3. In the preaching of His word.
4. At the communion-table.
1. In time as opposed to eternity.
2. On the Sabbath.
3. In the season of affliction.
4. in an emphatic sense, seek God now, for “now is the accepted time,” etc. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
The God-seeking work, and God-seeking season
Implied in the text is the appalling fact that man has lost the Lord, the true sovereign and God of his being. But there is another fact which is yet more appalling, that man is unconscious of the terrible catastrophe which has befallen him. But God does not abandon the lost one to his fate. He reminds him of his forfeited state and place; He urges him to return to the home which he has left, and regain the royalty which he has lost, and become one with the God from whom he has alienated himself.
I. THE GOD-SEEKING WORK. “Seek the Lord.” But the Scriptures represent God as seeking man: this being the case, is it not strange to urge man to seek God? The fact that He seeks us is the ground and reason why we should seek Him. The call of God to us, and His search for us, is our greatest encouragement in seeking Him; for it is a pledge that our calling and seeking will not be fruitless. The text, in the words “seek’ and “cell,” indicates the method by which we should “seek-the Lord.” We must return to Him b humble, penitential prayer Seek--Him by the guidance of His word: under the inspiration of His Spirit: through the mediation of His Son. Prove the sincerity of your search by endeavouring to comply with His will. “Let the wicked forsake,” etc. This is the most urgent duty of sinful man. We can be truly blessed only union with God.
II. THE GOD-SEEKING SEASON.
1. There is a season when the Lord may be found--a time when He is near. He may be found when we feel Him near to us. There are times of spiritual awakening and revival, when we feel the presence and power of God; then may He be found. Them are occasions when we hear His voice,: and feel His influence in the events of life; then may He be found. There are seasons when by the preaching of His word He awakens earnest thought, carries conviction to the conscience, and inspires the heart with noble desires; then may He be found. Now may He be found.
2. There will come a season when the Lord may not be found--a time when He will not be near. Locally, He will be near to all beings everywhere and for ever; but, if any one persist in neglecting merciful calls and gracious offers, there will come a time when such an one will hear no kindly voice from Him, will feel no saving influence from Him. There came such a time in the life of King Saul; and the lost man cried in agony,--“God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams.” By your own interest, I urge you to seek Him at once. By the solicitude of God for your well-being. (W. Jones.)
I. THE OBJECT, whom we must seek.
1. God hath made Himself an Object to be sought.
2. He is the sole and adequate Object of our desires.
II. THE ACT; what it is to seek Him.
III. THE TIME; when we must seek the Lord. “While He may be found.” There is no time to seek Him but now. For--
1. It is the greatest folly in the world thus to play with danger, to seek death first in the errors of our life, and then, when we have run our course, and death is ready to devour us, to look faintly back upon life. The later we seek, the less able we shall be to seek; the further we stray, the less willing to return.
2. It is dangerous in respect of God Himself, whose call we regard not, whose counsels we reject, whose patience we daily with, whose judgments we slight, and so tread that mercy under our feet which should save us, and will not seek Him yet, because we presume that, though we grieve His Spirit, though we resist His Spirit, though we blaspheme His Spirit, yet, after all these scorns and contempts, He will yet sue unto us, and offer
Himself, and be found at any time in which we shall think convenient to seek Him. (A. Farindon, B. D.)
The delay of conversion
I. WE SHALL ENDEAVOUR TO PROVE FROM OUR OWN CONSTITUTION, THAT IT IS DIFFICULT, NOT TO SAY IMPOSSIBLE, TO BE CONVERTED AFTER HAVING WASTED LIFE IN VICE. It is clear that we carry in our own breasts principles which render conversion difficult, and I may add, impossible, if deferred to a certain period. To comprehend this, form in your mind an adequate idea of conversion, and fully admit, that the soul, in order to possess this state of grace, must acquire two essential dispositions; it must be illuminated; it must be sanctified.
1. You cannot become regenerate unless you know the truths of religion. Now, every period of life is not alike proper for disposing the body to this happy temperature, which leaves the soul at liberty for reflection and thought. If we defer the acquisition of religious knowledge till age has chilled the blood, obscured the understanding, enfeebled the memory, and confirmed prejudice and obstinacy, it is almost impossible to be in a situation to acquire that information without which our religion can neither be agreeable to God, afford us solid consolation in affliction, nor motive sufficient against temptation.
2. The soul not only loses with time the facility of discerning error from truth, but after having for a considerable time habituated itself to converse solely with sensible objects, it is almost impossible to attach it to any other. In order to conversion, we must have a radical and habitual love to God. This principle being allowed, all that we have to say against the delay of conversion becomes self-established. The whole question is reduced to this; if at the extremity of life, if in a short and fleeting moment, you can acquire this habit of Divine love, then we will preach no more against delay. But if time, labour, and will, are required to form this genuine source of love to God, you should frankly acknowledge the folly of postponing so important a work for a single moment. This being allowed, we shall establish, on two principles, all that we have to advance upon this subject.
(1) We cannot acquire any habit without performing the correspondent actions.
(2) When a habit is once rooted, it becomes difficult or impossible to correct it, in proportion as it is confirmed. Habits of the mind are formed as habits of the body; the former become as incorrigible as the latter. As, then, in the acquisition of a corporeal habit, we must perform the correspondent actions, so in forming the habits of religion, of love, humility, patience, charity, we must habituate ourselves to the duties of patience, humility and love. Further, we must not only engage in the offices of piety to form the habit, but they must be frequent; just as we repeat acts of vice to form a vicious habit. We make a rapid progress in the career of vice. But the habits of holiness are directly opposed to our constitution. When we wish to become converts, we assume a double task; we must demolish, we must build. Such is the only way by which we can expect the establishment of grace in the heart; it is by unremitting labour, by perseverance in duty, and by perpetual vigilance. Now, who does not perceive the folly of those who procrastinate their conversion? who imagine that a word from a minister, a prospect of death, a sudden resolution, can instantaneously produce perfection of virtue?
II. WE SHALL DEMONSTRATE THAT REVELATION PERFECTLY ACCORDS WITH NATURE ON THIS HEAD; and that whatever the Bible has taught concerning the efficiency of grace, the supernatural aids of the Spirit, and the extent of mercy, favours, in no respect, the delay of conversion.
1. The first proofs of which people avail themselves, to excuse their negligence and delay, and the first arguments of defence, which they draw from the Scriptures, in order to oppose us, are taken from the aids of the Spirit, promised in the new covenant. To this objection we must reply. We shall manifest its absurdity--
(1) By the ministry God has established in the Church.
(2) By the efforts He requires us to make, previously to our presuming that we have received the Holy Spirit--
(3) By the manner in which He requires us to co-operate with the Spirit, when we have received Him.
(4) By the punishments He has denounced against those who resist His work.
(5) By the conclusions which the Scripture itself deduces from our natural weakness, and from the necessity of grace.
2. The notion of the mercy of God is a second source of illusion. “God is merciful,” say they, “the covenant He has established with man is a covenant of grace. A general amnesty is granted to every sinner. Hence, though our conversion be defective, God will receive our dying breath, and yield to our tears. What, then, should deter us from giving free scope to our passions, and deferring the rigorous duties of conversion, till we are nothing worth for the world?” Detestable sophism l Here is the highest stage of corruption, the supreme degree of ingratitude.
III. WE SHALL ENDEAVOUR TO CONFIRM THE DOCTRINES OF REASON AND REVELATION BY DAILY OBSERVATIONS ON THOSE WHO DEFER THE CHANGE.
1. You may oppose to us two classes of examples. In the first class, you may arrange those instantaneous conversions which grace has effectuated in a moment by a single stroke; and which apparently destroy what we have advanced on the force of habits, and on the economy of the Holy Spirit. In the second class, you will put those other sinners who, after the perpetration of enormous crimes, have obtained remission by a sigh, by a wish, by a few tears; and afford presumptive hopes, that to whatever excess we may carry our crimes, we shall never exceed the terms of mercy, or obstruct reception at the throne of grace. Consider that many of these conversions are not only out of the common course of religion, but also that they could not have been effectuated by lees than miraculous powers. Consider that, among all those sinners, there was not one in the situation of a Christian who delays conversion to the close of life. Consider that you are enlightened with meridian lustre, which they had scarcely seen. Consider that you are pressed with a thousand motives unknown to them. Consider that they continued, for the most part, but a short time in sin; but you have wasted life in folly. Consider that they possessed distinguished virtues, which rendered them dear to God; but you have nothing to offer Him but dissipation or indolence. Consider that they were distinguished by repentance, which afforded constant proof of their sincerity whereas it is still doubtful whether you shall ever be converted, and you go the way to make it impossible. See, then, whether your arguments are just, and whether your hopes are properly founded.
2. Hitherto we have examined the cases of those sinners who apparently contradict our principles; let us briefly review those by which they are confirmed. Let us 1)rove that the long-suffering of God has its limits; and that in order to find Him propitious, we must “seek Him while He may be found, and call upon Him while He is near.” Three distinguished classes of examples confirm these illustrious truths.
(1) Public catastrophes.
(2) Obdurate sinners.
(3) Dying men. Happy are they who are cautioned by the calamities of others! (J. Saurin.)
Scripture blessings conditional
The blessings promised in the Scriptures are always, more or less, conditional.
1. Here is a condition of time. “While He may be found.” “While He is near.”
2. Then, there are conditions on the part of men. The wicked is to forsake his way, etc. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The best time to seek the Lord
These verses (6, 7) are vitally connected. We must not overlook the fact that while salvation is offered to all, there is a time when it can be best sought; and, because of the moral barriers which maturity in sin makes, can be more easily obtained. The text teaches us--
I. THAT THE LORD IS SPECIALLY NEAR TO SOME.
1. To the young. It is not mere poetry, but a literal fact, that “Heaven lies about us in our infancy.” The soul then is--
(2) More tender.
(3) Less rebellious.
2. To those who are convinced of sin and are conscious of their need of Him The distance between the soul and God is not a physical, but a moral one. God cannot come near to the soul that clings to its guilt with a culpable pertinacity. But when that pertinacity gives way to penitence He draws near and presents a pardon, and then the hand of faith has only to be stretched out to receive it.
II. THAT THOSE TO WHOM THE LORD IS THUS NEAR MAY EASILY FIND HIM NOW, BUT MAY FIND HIM ONLY WITH DIFFICULTY IN AFTER YEARS, OR MAY NOT FIND HIM AT ALL. Childhood and youthhood, how soon they are succeeded by manhood, and, unless there be early and immediate reformation, by maturity in selfishness and sin 1 Convictions, deep, fervent, strong, how soon they are consumed by contact with the world, unless they are immediately turned to good account! Delay will bring--
1. More difficulty.
2. More danger.
III. THAT THERE IS HOPE FOR THE OLDEST AND MOST HARDENED SINNERS WHO HAVE ALLOWED THEIR BEST TIME FOR SEEKING THE LORD TO PASS. Salvation is offered them; but there are conditions which “they will find it difficult to comply with.”
1. The casting off of evil habits. Let the wicked forsake his way.”
2. The abandonment of impious iniquitous, thoughts. “And the unrighteous man his thoughts.”
3. The sub’-mission and surrender of the soul to God. “And let him return unto the Lord.’” Are you prepared to comply with these conditions, hard, rigorous, only because your sins have made them so? If so, you are offered--
(1) Mercy sufficient, comprehensive, to cover your sins.
(2) Multiplied pardon to cancel, your multiplied transgressions and crimes.
Conclusion: Do not defer your soul’s safety until--
(1) To-morrow. Christ may not be “near” then; may not be found though you “call.”
(2) Your dying hour. You may be delirious, or so surprised or so stultified by your affliction as to be “disinclined to seek.” (E. D. Solomon.)
In these words there is both exhortation and promise: There is exhibited--
I. SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE DONE.
II. SOMETHING THAT MAY BE ENJOYED. (Principal Morison, D. D.)
Duty and privilege
I. DUTY is inculcated on the one hand.
II. BLESSING is held out to view on the other. (Principal Morison, D. D.)
The lost Lord
God is near us in His works. But, in startling contrast to this evident nearness of God in His works, comes the injunction of our Scriptures--Seek ye the Lord. Why? Because ye have lost Him.
I. CONSIDER TWO OR THREE EVIDENCES OF THIS STARTLING FACT.
1. Here is a company of persons. It is the time for pleasant talk and the happy methods by which men give the hours wing. What wide circle the conversation sweeps. And yet through all the company there is a severe proscription of one subject. There is a certain rule of breeding or taste or custom to which all defer. Suppose, for a moment, that one should break the rule and begin to talk of God in a reverent way, would not all feel that a dissonant chord was struck? Would not talk about God be very apt to be voted out, even in such a rightfully glad company? Is it not a quick, true test of the way they feel about Him? They have no sense of a blessed intimacy with Him.
2. Behold, also, the fact of a lost Lord in the universal feeling that, while it is natural for a man to love certain earthly objects--his children, for example--it is somehow not natural for a man to love God as he feels all the time he ought.
3. See, too, a further evidence of the fact in the attitude of the conscience toward Him. Man cannot get out of himself the conviction that the condition of soul which God intended for him is that of a sweet intimacy with Himself. And yet, like the cherubim at the gates of Eden with the flaming swords flashing every way, conscience stands preventing entrance into such condition. Man is consciously a criminal at the bar of the inviolable law; and standing there speechless and helpless, God is the most fearful being in the universe to the man. And yet, never with his Lord thus lost can man be at peace.
II. A METHOD OF SEARCH FOR THE LOST LORD.
1. “Let the wicked forsake,” etc.
2. “Let him return,” etc. Repentance is double-sided. Not only must the man forsake, he must return.
III. THE SURE RESULT OF SUCH RIGID SEARCH--the Lord will have mercy and will abundantly pardon.
IV. THE TIME FOR SUCH RIGID SEARCH FOR THE LOST LORD--“While He may be found.” That time is now, because refusal to seek God forces one into the firmer habit of hostility to Him. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
God unknown, yet known
1. If you mentally retire a few steps from it, and look at it reflectively and from a general point of view, you will find in the passage this notable paradox; that it invites you to seek a God who yet cannot be found, to know a God who yet cannot be known. For where should we seek God if not in His “ways;” or how shall we know Him, except by coming to know His thoughts! And yet, while we are urgently invited to seek Him, we are expressly told that them is the widest disparity between His thoughts and our thoughts, between His ways and our ways. Now this strange paradox opens up to us what is, and is likely to remain, the great religious question of the time. Whether there is a religion at all, whether there is any revelation of the will of God, nay, whether there is any God to speak to us and to reveal His will; and, if there is, whether we know or can know anything about Him. In its higher modern form, atheism does not so much deny the existence of God as declare that, if there be a God it is impossible to demonstrate His existence, impossible to have any true knowledge of Him and of His will; impossible, therefore, to have any real fellowship with Him. If the atheism of to-day erect any altar at all--and some of its representatives are men of a profoundly religious temperament, and must have some form of worship--the only altar they will consent to erect is one which, like that at Athens, bears the inscription, “To an unknown God.” If He does exist, they are sure that He cannot be what men have for the most part taken Him to be, nor like what even the best men are; sure that, being infinite and eternal, all virtues, all moral qualities and graces, must take a very different form in Him to that which they take in us. Their assumption, together with their calm and reasoned assertion that Science yields no proof of His existence, have bred some doubt even in the bosom of the Church itself. What we think of the sun does not much matter to the sun and cannot possibly alter its nature or put an end to its existence. And what men think of God does not and cannot change Him. Science says, or some of her disciples say for her: “In the whole range of visible and observed phenomena we find no proof of God.” What then? If men will go to the visible for the invisible, to phenomena for realities, how can they hope to find what they seek? They might as well go to the sand of the desert for water, or to the troubled sea for a solid foundation. The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. And yet does it not everywhere affirm, what Science and Philosophy are proclaiming as a discovery of their own, that God is past finding out; that He is unsearchable, neither to be discovered nor comprehended by man’s feeble powers? The Scriptures, then, do proclaim God to be unknowable, above our reach, in a great variety of forms; they declare that as the heavens are high above the earth, so high are His ways above our ways, and His thoughts above our thoughts. So that modem scepticism, original as it takes itself to be, is simply announcing, as its last discovery, what the apostles and prophets found out centuries on centuries ago.
2. But you will naturally ask: “Does not the Bible teach us something more than this? something more than that God cannot be found out by dint of intellectual research?” Yes! Admitting God to be unknowable, it yet affirms that He may be known. We cannot find Him out to perfection, but He sufficiently, and most truly, reveals Himself to us in His works, in His Word, in His Son. God’s thoughts and ways, we are told, are as high above ours as the heavens above the earth. But the heavens, high as they are, are yet known to us; and, though known, are yet unknown. We none of us know all that the heavens contain and reveal, nor all the laws which are at work upon and within them. But though “heaven” be so imperfectly known to us, does any sane man doubt that there is a heaven, or that it holds within it the sun, moon, and stars? Does any sane man doubt that we know something of the mechanical and chemical structure of the heavenly bodies, of the laws by which their movements are governed and controlled, of the mode in which they affect us, and the world in which we live, and the other worlds related to them? Unknown to us, and even unknowable, not to be found out to perfection, we nevertheless know them--know at least enough of the heavens to be sure that they exist, and to guide us in all the practical purposes of life. And it is precisely in the same sense that God is both known to us, and unknown. We have not learned, we cannot learn, all that He is, all that He does, or all the reasons which determine the several aspects and movements of His providence: but we may know, we do know and are sure, that He is, and that He rules over all. No doubt we know Him, in part, by our reason. It is not to reason alone, nor to reason mainly, that the Bible appeals. The Bible nowhere deals with God as a problem to be demonstrated, nor professes to give a complete or a philosophical view of His Being and the qualities of His Being. It shows us a more excellent way of finding Him. It affirms that as we ourselves grow in righteousness we shall come to know Him who is righteous; that as we grow in purity we shall see Him who is pure; that as we grow in love we shall become one with Him who is love. “Blessed are he pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And is that not the way in which we come to know all persons, and especially good persons? The child does not know his father perfectly: but need he doubt that he has a father? The child can never know the goodness of a good father until he becomes good himself and a father: but need we, therefore, doubt whether his father be a good man? And may not we in like manner know that God is; do we not know that He is, although we are but children in understanding? If you have once come to know God for yourselves in this most natural yet Divine way, you will cleave to Him, and to your faith in Him, though the heavens should fall and time should be no more. Your feet are on the rock, and the everlasting arms are about you for evermore. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The incredible mercy of God
If there be some who find it hard to believe that there is a God, there are others who find it equally hard to believe that He is good, so good that He can forgive all sins, even theirs. Look at these verses again, then, and mark their ruling intention. The prophet had been commissioned to carry a message to the captive Jews who sat by the waters of Babylon and wept when they remembered Zion. The message was that, heinous as their iniquity had been, their iniquity was pardoned. But sinful men, especially when they are suffering the bitter punishment of their sins, are apt to be hopeless men. As nothing is possible to doubt and despair, as above all the energy of active moral exertion is impossible, God sets Himself to remove the natural incredulity and hopelessness of the men He was about to save. That His mercy is incredible, He admits; but He affirms that it is only incredible in the sense of being incredibly larger and better than they imagine it to be. They might have found it impossible to forgive those who had sinned against them as they had sinned against Him. “But,” pleads God, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” It is a mercy which does not condone men’s sins, but a mercy which saves them from their sins, which calls upon them and compels them to abandon their “wicked ways” and their “unrighteous thoughts.” No mercy short of this would be true mercy. To make men happy in their sins is impossible, as impossible as to make them good in their sins. For sin is misery; sin is a bondage to an alien and malignant power which every free spirit must resent and abhor. And even if this ignoble miracle were possible, if a man could be made happy while violating the very law of his being, who that is capable of reflection, of virtue, of goodness, would care to have such a miracle wrought upon him? To be happy in sin he must cease to be himself, cease to be a man. The mercy of God, viewed as saving men from evil thoughts and ways--which is the only true mercy--is simply incredible: so the prophet affirms, so we profess to think and believe. But do we really believe it Do we act as if we did? Many hardly believe that they have sins which need a great act of Divine forgiveness. Many more do not know that, in order to forgive, God must punish their sins. When the punishment comes, they take it as proving that He has not forgiven them, as proving the severity, the anger of God, not His mercy. In our turn, indeed, we all doubt the mercy of God when we most need to believe in it, distrust it when we most need to cast ourselves upon it. Any profound consciousness of sin is apt to make that mercy incredible to us. In our cooler moments it may help us to remember that the very punishments that wait on sin, since they wait on it by a constant and invariable law, are designed for our good. All natural and universal laws must subserve our welfare, if the world and human life be ruled by God; and, among others, the law which metes out to every man the due reward of his iniquities. In part we can even see how this law contributes to our welfare. It makes us terribly aware that we have sinned--a fact we are very slow to realize. We must expect to be convinced ofthe compassion of God, not so much by having the kindness of His laws demonstrated to us, as by listening to the men whom we believe to have had the largest experience of His ways and to enjoy the profoundest sympathy with HIS thoughts. Just as we come to know the righteous God by becoming righteous, so we may hope to learn more of Him from the men whose righteousness is far more eminent and conspicuous than our own. Just as we come to know the mercy of God by becoming merciful, so we may hope to acquaint ourselves more fully with Him by listening to men far more merciful and gracious than ourselves. Such a man, a teacher such as this, now stands before us in the prophet who penned these words. (S. Cox, D. D.)
A fatal delusion
If Satan ever smiles, it is surely when he sees the transgressor lay the flattering unction to his soul that he may take the devil’s opiates, and take his own time for waking. (Anon.)
The peril of neglect
God hath promised pardon to the penitent, but He hath not promised to-morrow to the negligent. (Ambrose.)
Missing the tide
Ian Maclaren writes of being at the seaside and of watching the fishing-boats as they returned in the evening. “They used to wait outside till the tide rose high enough for them to enter the harbour. One night a boat missed the entrance. The men were careless, or they did not tack properly. The others were all inside. A feeling of pity for that boat came over me just as if it had been a living creature. I rose at night to look out of the window. There it was--it had missed the tide. Men and women, the greatest tide that runs is the tide that carries us into the kingdom of God. The most splendid effort of wisdom within a man’s power is to seize the tide when it is at its flow.”
I remember one day as I went through the woods near Mount Hermon School, I heard bees, and asked what it meant. “Oh,” said one of the men, “they are after the honey-dew.” “What is that?” I asked. He gave me a chestnut leaf, and told me to put my tongue to it. I did so, and the taste was as sweet as honey. Upon inquiry I found that all up and down the Connecticut valley what they call “honey-dew” had fallen, so that there must have been altogether hundreds of tons of honey-dew in this region. Where it came from I don’t know. It sometimes seems as if the honey-dew of Heaven has fallen for us, and if any one has not tasted its sweetness it is his own fault. (D. L. Moody.)
“Call ye upon Him while He is near"
In one sense God is always near us, but there is another kind of nearness. We may live in the same house with persons, and yet in sympathy, in mutual understanding and helpfulness, we may be as far away as if a Chinese wall was built between us. We cannot help them because we cannot get near them. So at times God is nearer to us than at others; we feel His presence; the heart is receptive. Then, of all times, we should seek the Lord. (Christian Age.)
Delay inseeking God
Seek God whilst thou canst not see Him; for when thou seest Him, thou canst not find Him. Seek Him by hope, and thou shalt find Him by faith. In the day of grace He is invisible, but near; in the Day of Judgment He is visible, but far off. (Gregory.)
The present all-important
Under each clock in a certain paint factory is hung a neat glass sign, reading, “Do It Now.” It is the motto of the company, and serves to remind the employes that the present is the all-important time. (Sunday School Chronicle.)
The merciful God near, yet unrecognized
There is a story of a prodigal who came back from the far country and could not find his father’s house. He wandered on and on, and at last, in the gathering night, sank down, heart-sick and faint, on the steps of a little cottage. Without knowing it, he was on his own father’s door-step. Inside sat the aged father and mother, their hearts hungering for their long-lost boy. Outside, bowed and crushed and longing for love and for home, lay the weary, homesick son-on the very threshold of home, but not knowing it. So near to the gates of Heaven is every human soul that is penitent, weary of sin, longing for Divine mercy and love. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
Let the wicked forsake his way
The way of return to God and its encouragements
Here there are apparently two things expressed--a negative and a positive, two lines of conduct expressed--a forsaking one way of living and the adoption of another, but in reality the two things are but one. They are two in thought and expression, but only one in conduct. The forsaking the wicked way and the wicked thought is no other than the returning with all our heart to God. You cannot separate them. If I were to say to a man going out to his day’s work. “ Now, do not go to the public-house this evening when you have done work, but return straight home to your wife and children,” you will see that the two pieces of advice resolve themselves into one, and he would have only to go straight home from work to fulfil both duties. And so we can forsake no evil way or evil thought but by beginning to walk in the right way and cherishing the right thought.
2. There are two methods of forsaking evil ways and evil thoughts. The one by means of self-denial and self-repression when a man’s conscience arrests him and sternly forbids him to continue any longer in his evil way of life, and he makes a strong resolve that he will root out the passion or the habit that has hitherto mastered him. Then a tremendous struggle begins between the spirit and the flesh, and by the force of sheer will he holds down the rebellious appetite. The sense of duty gives him strength for a time, but, alas I the tension of the will is too strained to last, and a rebound comes, and he says, “ I cannot maintain the strife any longer. I must yield.” The other method begins at a different point. Instead of fighting the evil in pitched battles, he seeks to conquer by diverting the mind into a different channel of activity, and awakening within himself a different order of sentiments and affections.
3. You observe that the wicked is not only to forsake his way, but his thoughts also, so that the regeneration is to extend not only to the outward ways, but to the very inward thoughts of the mind, indicating how thorough and universal the change is to be. Now consider how firmly established men are in evil ways and evil thoughts, and how they delight in them, and how completely they are surrendered to their power. They do not want to change, and they do not believe they are capable of it. They say human nature is human nature, and that it is Utopian to expect men to give up ways of living common to all the world and to all the ages; and so they go on beating the everlasting round of human ways and human sin, till at length life becomes weary, and they die, and go we know not where. But there are some who are seized at intervals with better thoughts and nobler desires, who see before them a good in life after which they make Convulsive snatches.
4. I want to point out to any who are lamenting their failures, who have tried to conquer themselves, but have sunk back defeated, what is the Divine method as pointed out in the Bible--both in the Old and in the New Testament. It is what I have called the positive method--not the direct, but the indirect and successful. Here it is called, Seeking the Lord while He may be found, calling upon. Him while He is near, and a returning unto the Lord. Christ calls it a coming unto Him in our weariness, believing on Him so as to come into everlasting life. It is faith, the surrender of ourselves to Him, to His goodness, to His love, to His Spirit, and example, and will. (C. Short, M. A.)
The wicked, whose name, in the Hebrew language, is derived from a word that signifies to be unquiet. This designation will agree with the turbulent dispositions for which people of this character are often remarkable. Unquiet is their name, and unquietness is with them. They cannot cease from sin, which renders them unstable and fluctuating, and ofttimes uneasy to themselves and troublesome to society. In contempt of God and His authority, they are restless and assiduous in the practice of iniquity. (R. Macculloch.)
I. THE CONVERSION OF A SINNER is expressed in three degrees.
1. In the forsaking of wicked ways.
2. In the forsaking of evil thoughts.
3. In returning again to the Lord.
II. THE CONDITION WHEREIN HE STANDS WHO HATH DONE ALL THIS is no state of merit, but of mercy; no, not so much as a little merit, but even abundant mercy. (J. Mode.)
An offer of mercy
I. THE COUNSEL: which is to amendment of life.
1. The act of aversion.
(1) For his,, course.. “Let the wicked forsake his” way.”
(2) As it reaches to a man’s mind. The unrighteous man his thoughts.” The law of God does reach to our thoughts for ordering and regulating them. The thoughts of men are the proper issue and emanation of their souls, and so for that reason more especially to be rectified in them. The thoughts are such as whereto the Gospel and ministry of the Word does especially extend itself (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Corinthians 10:5). God Himself is a searcher and trier of the thoughts and inward man.
2. The act of conversion. “Let him return unto the Lord.” This is the nature of true repentance--it is a turning from sin to God.
II. THE PROMISE or argument to enforce this counsel and invitation. That is taken from God’s readiness to the forgiveness of sin upon that condition. (T. Horton, D. D.)
These evil thoughts which are to be forsaken may be ranked into three sorts.
1. As to matter of opinion. Take a man in his natural condition, and he has many strange conceits in his head, whilst he so remains (Romans 1:21).
(1) The thoughts of sin--when a man is converted he forsakes these. In his natural condition, he many times makes nothing of sin. “Fools make a mock of sin.”
(2) So, also, his thoughts of grace, and godliness and godly men.
(3) So again, for his thoughts of God Himself, he must forsake these and think otherwise of Him.
2. As to matter of contemplation, he must forsake his thoughts here also. Take a carnal man, and where are all his thoughts? What is that which his mind does most run on? Why, upon the world, and the things of the world.
3. As to matter of contrivance and design. Wicked men, as they are full of vain meditations, so they are commonly full of sinful devices. And they are still laying a train for future wickedness in themselves--“making provisions for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.” (T. Horton, D. D.)
Divine counsels to the wicked
I. THE COUNSELLOR. The Father of the wicked is here speaking to the wicked. He who speaks knows every wicked man. He who speaks hates evil. He who speaks hath power to destroy the wicked in hell. He desireth not the death of one transgressor, but rather that he should turn unto Him and live. It is the redeeming God who is here addressing the wicked man.
II. HIS COUNSEL. “Let the wicked forsake,” etc. We have ways in common; but we have ways that are individual and peculiar to ourselves. Every man has his way of thinking, and reasoning, and imagining, and feeling, and willing, and acting. Now, “the wicked setteth himself in a way that is not good,” and God says, “Get out of it, forsake it.” This advice is based upon the following facts. The way of the wicked and the thoughts of the unrighteous are absolutely wrong. They are injurious--injurious to the wicked man himself, Further, repentance now is possible; for the Son of the Father now speaking to the wicked man, is exalted to give repentance and remission of sins. Further, God Himself seeks it. This advice requires--
1. Self-inspection. It asks the wicked man to look at his way. It says to him, Look back--it has been a rough way, sometimes covered, it is true, with bright green grass, and with soft enticing moss; but the flints have come through it all, and have made the feet often bleed: so that if the wicked man will look back, he will find blood-marks on his way, an evidence that the way of transgressors is hard. The wicked man is not only to look at his way, but the unrighteous man at his thoughts. He is to consider his purposes.
2. The admission of truth as to the character of the way, and as to the nature of the thoughts. It is quite possible that a wicked man looking back, and seeing his path to be hard, will try to forget it. God says, admit the truth.
3. The resistance of an inclination to go on.
4. Submission to the conviction that the way is evil, and the abandonment of every unrighteous purpose, with actual departure from the path of open and actual transgression. It is just possible that in the midst of a multitude of transgressions, there is one master sin; and that master sin, it may be, the key-stone of all your transgressions. Take that away, and your habits of sinning are broken up. This advice requires appeal to God for mercy, and for help and reconciliation.
III. THE COUNSELLED. If you take a Concordance and look through it at the word “wicked,” I think you will be astonished to find how often the winked are recognized in Holy Scripture, and men often talk about the wicked. But God and men do not always mean the same thing. Men unduly limit the application of this word. They call the immoral wicked, and only the immoral. Now hear what the Lord says in describing a wicked man. “God is not in all his thoughts;” so that he is a wicked man who does not recognize God in God’s own world.
IV. THE PROMISE OR ASSURANCE BY WHICH THIS ADVICE IS SANCTIONED AND SUSTAINED. It is like the promise made to faith; you must believe in order to realize the promise. It is like the promise made to repentance: you must repent in order to realize the promise. The promise is conditional; and yet, mark, it is sure. The promise is made, further, to characters. There is, therefore, an indefiniteness about it which may well encourage you. It is not necessary I should go into your wickedness, or that I should at all define or describe your thoughts. (S. Martin.)
The need and nature of conversion
This is not a merely legal demand; it is a Gospel demand, found in the centre of a Gospel chapter in the writings of the most evangelical of all the prophets.
I. THE NECESSITY OF CONVERSION. “ Right about face!” is the marching order for every sinner.
1. This will be at once evident when I ask, How would it be consistent with the holiness of God for Him to put aside our past sin, and then to allow us to go on sinning as we did before?
2. Neither is there a single case in fact, nor one emblem in parable, that would lead any man to hope that he could keep his sins, and yet be saved.
3. Besides, our common-sense tells us that it would be highly dangerous to society if men were to be pardoned, and yet were not to be renewed in character and lira.
4. Moreover, it would be a serious injury to the man himself, I have come to the conclusion that the very worst form of character is produced in the man who, for some reason or other, thinks himself to be a favourite of Heaven, and yet continues to indulge in sin.
II. THE NATURE OF THIS CONVERSION. How is it described here?
1. It deals with the life. “Let the wicked forsake his way.” It is “his way” that he is to forsake; that is his natural way, the way in which he says he was brought up, the way that his natural affections, and propensities, and passions lead him. He must forsake this way, even though it is the way in which he has walked these thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, or even eighty years; he will have to get out of this way, however much he may delight in it. “I will tell you what I will do,” says one; “I will still keep to my old way, but I will not travel quite so rapidly in it. I will not live such a fast life as I have done.” I tell thee that thou must forsake that old way, of thine altogether if thou wouldst be saved. “That is pretty strong language, says some one. Do you think so? I shall have to use still stronger expressions presently, for the next point concerning the nature of this repentance is that--
2. It deals with the man’s thoughts. In thought, is often the very essence of sin. A deed might in itself be colourless; but the motive for doing it--the thought at the back of it--puts the venom, and virus, and guilt into the deed. As that is the case, what sort of thoughts must the unrighteous man give up? He must give up a great many fine opinions of which he is very proud; his opinion about God, for instance. To the ungodly man it is often quite a treat to sit down, and think of what he calls the jolly days of his youth, when he sowed his wild oats. We must also forsake our thoughts in the sense of turning from all purposes of evil. That, indeed, is the main meaning of the Hebrew word used here: “Let the unrighteous man forsake his purposes.” You say that you will do this or that, without any thought of whether God would have it so or not. Possibly it is your purpose, as you express it, “to have your fling.” You have come up from the country, young man, you are pleased that you have got away from your mother’s apron strings, and now you are going to have your own way. Forsake all such thoughts, I implore you.
3. The text further says, “and let him return unto the Lord,- so that this conversion deals with the sinner in his relation to God. He who would find mercy must return to God to obtain it.
(1) You must begin to think about God.
(2) Then you must yield to Him, give up your will to His will; and, doing that, you must pray to Him, cry to Him for mercy; and then you must trust Him. Especially, you must accept His way of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
III. THE GOSPEL OF THIS CONVERSION. Possibly somebody says, “You have been preaching to us the law, sir.” No, I have not. The law says nothing about repentance. The law curses you from the very first moment when you have broken it. That gracious message, Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,” is not the utterance of law, but of the Gospel.
1. The Gospel of it lies in the fact that God has promised that He will abundantly pardon those who turn from their evil ways.
2. Not only does God bid men turn to Him, but He enables them to turn to Him; so the Gospel of this passage is, that God the Holy Ghost is freely given to sinners to turn them, first in their hearts, and then in their lives.
3. Jesus Christ Himself came into the world on purpose that this Divine Spirit might be given in connection with the exercise, by men, of faith in Him.
4. God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to offer a full and complete atonement for sin. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
From desert to garden
This verse leaves nothing unsaid that needs to be said to the inquiring soul. In simple and orderly declaration, it lays before us the whole fact of human responsibility and Divine promise concerning man’s salvation. We shall best understand our text by seeing its relation to the context. This chapter is a perfect prophetic message in itself. Intimately related to that which has preceded it, vitally connected with that which is to follow, it may yet be taken as one direct utterance of the prophet of God to people living under certain conditions of life. The chapter presents a remarkable and-striking contrast. The conditions described in the first part are utterly different from those described in the last. The figures made use of are different. Mark the condition of life to which the prophet was addressing himself. “Every one that thirsteth,” “he that hath no money,” “ye spend money for that which is not bread,” “your labour for that which satisfieth not,” “a people who are thirsty, and hungry, and hard-working, and never satisfied. Towards the close of the chapter, different conditions are described:--“Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace” (verses 12, 13). You see the contrast. In the one case you have the desert, in the other the garden; in the one, hot, restless, dissatisfied life; in the other, joy, peace, singing. In each the language is figurative, but figurative of a very positive condition of life. But how can I get from the desert into the garden? Half-way through this chapter, by a coincidence of arrangement, in the central verse, is the gateway through which a man may leave the desert and get into the garden. “Let the wicked forsake his way,” etc. In this verse I have the perfect laying out of the plan of salvation. In an analysis of the verse I discover the philosophy of salvation, and in the structure of the verse I find the simple programme of salvation. There are two parts to this verse.
I. SOMETHING FOR MAN TO DO. Here are three things the prophet declares to be necessary. They are not three, but one; each merges into the other, and it is only as the final one is obeyed that the former ones are obeyed; and yet let us take them in their sequence.
1. “Let the wicked forsake his way.”
2. “The unrighteous man his thoughts.
3. “Let him return unto the Lord.” As a matter of fact, the prophet here is beginning in the outer reaches of life, passing to the inner circle, until he comes to the central fact of man’s nature. We will begin in this outer court.
The Hebrew word translated “way” at this point means a beaten track, the way along which a man habitually walks; and it is used figuratively in Hebrew writings of the general set and direction of a man’s life, and the prophet says that the first thing a man has to do if he is to come back into the garden is to leave his way, the outward set, and direction of his life. Then he comes to another word, “Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts,” and the Hebrew word here means literally a web, figuratively a plan, a conception, an ideal. So that the prophet now has come to something deeper than the outward set of a man’s life. He is to give that up by giving up his inward conception of life. And how is a man to give up his outward way and the inward conception, and why is a man to give up his outward way, and his inward conception? He is to give it up by returning, to the Lord, and he is to give it up because it is not the Lord’s way and the Lord’s thought. Notice what immediately follows this seventh verse. In the Authorized Version, at verse 8, there is a paragraph mark that we need to dispense with. The paragraph mark is put in to indicate the fact that the prophet there begins a new subject. As a matter of fact, he does nothing of the sort; he goes right on with the same subject. Here we are touching the fundamental question of sin. When the prophet calls a man to forsake his way, it is not that he asks him to give up drinking, or thieving, or lying, or impurity. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one to his own way.” That is the essence of sin. The essential trouble is not that a man drinks, or swears; it is that he has elected to go his own way, instead of God’s way. The underlying root sin of humanity is rebellion against the government of God. That sin may manifest itself in vulgar forms, against which we sign pledges; or it may manifest itself in the cultured and refined paganism that attempts to live without prayer and without worship. I will tell you, in the name of God, what is the trouble in your life! It is godless, that is the trouble. I will tell you why you are in the desert. You have turned your back upon God. I will tell you why you are never satisfied with water or bread. It is because you have left the place of intimate and first-hand relationship to God. Do you want to get from the desert, back to God? Forsake your way; take His. Give up your thought; take His. “But,” says some man in his pride, “why should I give up my way, and take God’s way? And why should I give up my thought, and take God’s thought?” Go right on, and see what the prophet says (verse 8). God’s thought for you is the thought of Heaven. Yours is the thought of earth. God thinks infinitely more of you than you think of yourself. Yours is a degraded estimate of your own life. Will you say, “Yes, that true, I will return to the Lord.”
Then I know immediately your face is set toward God’s high conception, toward God’s great highway, the next consciousness will be that of your sin, the wasted years will come sweeping back upon you like an avalanche. If, indeed, thou art at this wicket gate, and thy face is set back toward, God then hear the evangel, “He will” have mercy. He will abundantly pardon.
II. SOMETHING THAT GOD WILL DO. You are to do what He tells you, and He will do what He promises. You arc to obey; that is repentance. You are to trust Him; that is faith. That is the whole programme of salvation. (G. C. Morgan, D. D.)
The way to pardon
I. A VIVID PORTRAIT.
1. It introduces the man of evil deeds.
2. We have likewise the portrait of the man of unholy purposes. What a mirror the text holds up to society!
II. AN EARLIEST EXHORTATION.
1. “Let the wicked forsake,” etc. The sinner is required to forsake, to abandon his sin.
2. “Let him return unto the Lord.” The sinner lives abnormally, unnaturally. He is a prodigal away from home, a wandering sheep beyond the protection of the fold, a lost piece of silver. Hence religion is a return to God, to first relations, to natural courses of behaviour. Sinners are like wandering stars escaped from their orbit. Conversion restores them to their proper place in the onward sweep of the Divine purpose. The text is a disclosure of the nature of true repentance and of saving faith.
III. AN EXCEEDING GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISE.
1. “And He will have mercy upon him.” Mercy is God’s wealth. “Rich in mercy.”
2. “Abundantly pardon.” What music is in these words! (Homiletic Review.)
In the exhortation to repentance in Isaiah 55:7, both sides of the μετάνοια find expression--the forsaking of sinful selfishness, and return to the God of salvation. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
I. THE OBLIGATIONS TO AN EARLY REPENTANCE.
II. THE TRUE NATURE OF REPENTANCE. (J. Taylor, LL. D.)
The surrender of the thoughts
Another thing we have to give up, and which is harder, I think, than giving up the will and the way, is our thoughts. Most men have their thoughts about the way in which they are to be saved. Because God does not con vert them in the way they have planned, or think He should, they think they cannot be saved. Man thinks he can repent when he is sick and about to die. He thinks that is better than repenting in early life; and some go further and say, “I think a man can repeat after death; I think there will be another chance if he misses his chance in this life.” And another class says, “I think we are all going to be saved; the pure with the impure are all going to be swept into the Kingdom of God.” That is man’s thought; but that is not God’s thought. Man thinks he can be saved by works. God’s thoughts are altogether different. It is to him that worketh not, but believeth. After a man is born into the Kingdom of God, he ought to show his faith by works; but we do not work for salvation. Others think that you must be saved by ordinances. Ordinances are all right in their place; but when you come to put ordinances in the place of salvation, that is a great mistake. Some people say, “I should like very much to get rid of my sins, and if I could get rid of them I would come to Christ. Here a great many fall into a pit. If we could get rid of our sins, we should not want a Saviour. It is because we cannot get rid of our sins that we need to come to Christ. (D. L. Moody.)
The moral disparity between man’s thoughts and ways, and God’s thoughts and ways, an argument for a moral change on man’s part
I. GOD HAS ENDOWED MAN WITH CAPACITIES TO ACT IN SOME MEASURE LIKE HIMSELF, INASMUCH AS BOTH HAVE THEIR “THOUGHTS AND WAYS.”
1. God has His thoughts--thoughts about Himself--the universe; about all actualities and possibilities. Some of His thoughts have been embodied and their forms destroyed, centuries ago Some are now embodied in creation, In historical events, in redemption, etc. Some are yet to be embodied in new universes, etc. And some will never take form. There is an infinite ocean of thought in the Divine mind that has never yet taken form, and never will.
2. God has His ways. He has settled methods of action. He has a method of creating, governing, destroying, and saving. Hence science and art, which imply settled methods.
3. Man has his thoughts. He is full of thought, of some sort or other; he thinks by a necessity of his nature; his power to think is the glory of his nature.
4. Man too has his ways. He has his methods of doing things.
II. BETWEEN THE THOUGHTS AND WAYS OF WICKED AND UNRIGHTEOUS MEN AND THOSE OF GOD THERE IS AN IMMENSE MORAL DISPARITY. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” etc. We say moral disparity, for natural disparity must exist by an eternal necessity. We may mention two points of moral difference. One in relation to being in general, and the other in relation to enemies.
1. As to the former, God’s thoughts and ways are concerned for the general happiness, those of wicked men for personal ends.
2. As to the latter, God’s thoughts are concerned for the pardon of the offender, those of the wicked for punishment.
(1) God graciously offers pardon to the offender. Do the wicked do so?
(2) God graciously offers pardon to offenders much beneath Him. Do the wicked do so?
(3) God graciously offers pardon to offenders who have repeatedly rejected His overtures. Do the wicked do so?
(4) God graciously offers pardon through a wonderful sacrifice--His Son. Would the wicked do so?
III. THE MORAL DISPARITY BETWEEN THE THOUGHTS AND WAYS OF WICKED MEN AND THOSE OF GOD RENDERS A CHANGE ON THE PART OF THE FORMER URGENTLY NECESSARY. “ Let the wicked,” etc. Why? Because
“My thoughts,” etc. Two thoughts are implied here, and will show the strength of this reason.
1. A moral disparity of thought and way between the creature and the Creator is eternally incompatible with the creature’s well-being. God’s thoughts and ways are the resistless forces of the universe. He who thinks and acts contrary battles against every wind and wave of being and the mighty Spirit in all. He must be crushed.
2. The removal of this disparity will never take place by any change on God’s part. The words imply this, and it is a great truth. God cannot change, and there is no need for Him to change. Here, then, is the argument; if a moral disparity exists, and if the removal is essential to our well-being, and if God cannot change, “let the wicked,” etc.
IV. THIS GREAT CHANGE ON THE PART OF THE WICKED IS ENCOURAGED BY THE ASSURANCE THAT GOD WILL MERCIFULLY DEAL WITH HIM ON HIS RETURN. “He will have mercy on him;” “He will abundantly pardon.” (Homilist.)
God’s ways and man’s ways
I. WHY, IN SO FAR AS GOD’S NATURE DIFFERS FROM MAN’S, HE MAY BE SUPPOSED LESS LIKELY TO FORGIVE.
1. God knows us more thoroughly than any human being; He knows the worst of us, and He knows the great hidden element of character which is only occasionally betrayed.
2. Ha knows the motives, and knows that there are bad motives even for good actions.
3. He judges our sins by an infinitely higher standard than man’s.
II. WHY GOD IS, JUST BECAUSE OF THAT DIFFERENCE, INFINITELY MORE LIKELY TO FORGIVE.
1. Among men the best and purest are not the severest censors and judges, for human goodness is the more merciful in proportion as it approaches nearer to perfection.
2. In God there is no fictional irascibility or resentment. Christ’s life on earth was the story of a long, silent, immovable patience, of absolute lifelong superiority to personal feeling.
3. Although to justice or righteousness it is some satisfaction that a bad man should be miserable, yet it is another nobler and sweeter satisfaction that he should become a good man. (J. Caird, D. D.)
Pardon for the penitent
We find in the text,--
I. AN EXHORTATION TO REPENTANCE. Here, in few words, we are given plainly to understand in what genuine repentance consists.
II. THE PROMISE OF PARDON ANNEXED TO THE EXHORTATION. If the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and return unto the Lord, He will have mercy upon him, and will abundantly pardon him. Repentance is here enjoined as a prerequisite to pardon. And do not other passages of Scripture speak the same language? We must not, however suppose that there, is anything meritorious, in our repentance. It possesses no virtue or efficacy to expiate our guilt. It Is our bounden duty, but it makes no compensation for past failures; no atonement for past transgressions. It is itself the gift of God, who has exalted His beloved Son to be a Prince and a Saviour, in order to bestow it on the rebellious. It can therefore deserve nothing. Nevertheless, it is to the penitent alone that God extends His pardoning mercy. Why? It would be enough to answer, that such is the good pleasure of His will; but we can also add, that the penitent alone is qualified to receive and appreciate the blessing. But it may be asked, How can God be favour-able to the sinner? For an answer we must turn to the Gospel of His grace, which alone informs us how He can be a just God and yet a Saviour.
III. AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO LAY HOLD OF THE PROMISE. What answer do you make?
1. Some one, perhaps, in the brokenness of his heart may reply, “Yes, I must believe that God is indeed merciful and gracious. I perceive also that He can, in the Son of His love, be a just God and a Saviour. But, alas! my sins have been so numerous that, though He may forgive others, I cannot persuade myself He will extend pardon to me.” But what saith God? “My thoughts are not your thoughts. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
2. “ But,” says another, “my sins have been not only numerous, but highly aggravated.” If you had sinned so often and so heinously against your fellow-creatures, you might well despair of forgiveness. It is too much, alas I our way to retaliate evil for evil. But “your ways are not My ways,” etc.
3. I seem to hear a third in anguish of spirit exclaiming, “I am one of those awful characters known in Scripture by the name of backsliders.” The words here translated “abundantly pardon,” are rendered on the margin “multiply to pardon.” The Lord will pardon, not once only, but again, and again, and again. Conclusion: It is painful to think that any one should be so wicked, and so lost to every grateful feeling, as to pervert such a subject. Yet it is a fact that many are guilty of so doing. There are two characters especially who come under this charge. One of them is the hardened and impenitent transgressor, who takes encouragement to proceed in his sinful career from the consideration that God is merciful, and will not fail to pardon him at the last.
2. The other is the antinomian professor of religion, who professes to know God, but in works denies Him, and endeavours to lull conscience to rest by extolling His sovereign and superabounding grace. The grace of God was never meant to embolden us in a course of transgression; nor does it ever produce this effect on those who know it in truth. (D. Rees.)
Refuge in God’s mercy
There is a story of a man who dreams he is out in an open field in a fierce, driving storm. He is wildly seeking a refuge. He sees one gate over which “Holiness is written. There seems to be shelter inside, and he knocks. The door in opened by one in white garments, but none, save the holy, can be admitted; and he is not holy. So he hurries on to seek shelter elsewhere. He sees another and tries that, but “Truth” is inscribed above it, and he is not fit to enter, He hastens on to a third, which is the palace of Justice; but armed sentinels keep the door, and only the righteous can be received. At last, when he is almost in despair, he sees a light shining some distance away and hastens toward it. The door stands wide open, and beautiful angels meet him with welcomes of joy. It is the house of Mercy, and he is taken in and finds refuge from the storm and is hospitably entertained. None of us can ever find a refuge at any door, save at the door of Mercy. But here the vilest sinner can find eternal shelter; and not mere cold shelter only, for God’s mercy is tender. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
He will abundantly pardon
Pardoning mercy abundant
I. THE ABUNDANCE OF GOD’S PARDONING MERCY IS EVINCED BY THE REMOVAL OF THE OBSTACLES TO ITS EXERCISE. It was not by annihilating--by scattering our iniquities in the regions of oblivion with no evidenceof the Divine abhorrence--that the way is open for their remission But God laid upon His Son the iniquities of us all.
II. THE ABUNDANCE OF GOD’S PARDONING MERCY MAY BE ARGUED FROM HIS BENEVOLENCE. The goodness of God--i.e. His whole character--is intent on the promotion of the greatest good. When this end demands the punishment of sin, this goodness dictates it, and in this consists what we call justice. When this end is the pardon of the sinner, the same goodness dictates it, and in this consists mercy.
III. THE ABUNDANCE OF GOD’S PARDONING MERCY MAY BE EVINCED FROM THE RICHES OF HIS FORBEARANCE AND LONGSUFFERING. Consider--
1. The objects of the Divine forbearance; a world, our whole species in rebellion.
2. Its design; their repentance and salvation with eternal glory.
3. Its circumstances; how easy for Omnipotence to break the thread that holds us over the pit, and yet He spares us--He spares sinners, while He regards them with all the abhorrence that is due to sin--He spares them, while He can glorify Himself in their instant and eternal destruction--He spares them, when in the midst of great and repeated provocations, when, from the very patience of God, they derive only hardihood in rebellion--He spares them that He may use every possible means for their conversion and salvation. He comes to them in His Word and in His providence; by the chastisements and the bounties of His hand; by every moment’s preservation; in the counsels and prayers and example of the pious; in visible displays of His eternal power and Godhead; by the heralds of the Cross, who warn them night and day with tears; in the opened gates of heaven, and the uncovered mouth of the pit; in full displays of the beauty and glory and sufficiency of an incarnate Saviour. Why these efforts to bring to repentance, if He has no mercy for the penitent? (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
The certainty of their finding pardon was the tempting bait with which this ancient fisher of souls endeavoured to “catch men.”
I. GOD DOES ABUNDANTLY PARDON. We will turn that truth over and over, and see it in many lights.
1. The pardon of God may well be abundant, for it wells up from an infinite fountain; “mercy, which endureth for ever.”
2. The objects to which this pardon has been extended are abundant too. Well is it said, “He will abundantly pardon,” for God has already pardoned sinners more numerous than can be estimated by human arithmetic.
3. His pardon is abundant when we consider the abundance of the sins which the love of God blots out.
(1) Sins of thought--rebellious thoughts, proud thoughts, blasphemous thoughts, atheistical thoughts, covetous thoughts, lustful thoughts, impatient thoughts, cruel thoughts, false thoughts, thoughts of ill memory, and dreams of an unholy future; what swarms are there l Moreover, the omission of thoughts which should have been, such as thoughts of repentance, gratitude, reverence, faith, and the like, these are equally numerous: with the double list my roll is written within and without with a hideous catalogue. As the gnats which swarm the air at eventide, so numerous are the transgressions of the mind.
(2) Sins of word. What words have vexed the pure and holy ear of God! Words against Himself, against His Son, against His law and Gospel, against our neighbour, against everything that is good and true! Words proud and hectoring, words defiant and obstinate, words untruthful, words lascivious, words of vanity, and words of wilful unbelief.
(3) Sins of deed, which in very truth are but the fruits which grow out of sins of thought.
(4) Perhaps the sins we do not know are more numerous than the sins we are conscious of. Conscience may not be properly enlightened, and hence many a thing may not seem to be sinful which really is so; but God’s clear eye perceiveth everything that is obnoxious to His holy law. Innumerable sins are forgiven by one word from the lips of Divine love.
4. We can see the truth of this in the abundant sin of those sins which are pardoned. Did you ever find a spider’s nest just when the young spiders have all come to life, it is a city of spiders; now, such is any one sin, it is a colony of iniquities, a living mass of offence. In addition to there being many sins in one sin, I want you to remember how much virus of sin we sometimes manage to stow await in a sin. A man has done wrong and smarted for it, yet he does the very same thing again wilfully, against his own conscience and against the warning he has received. A man will sometimes acknowledge what a fool he has been, and yet play the fool again. Some men sin for no motive whatever--for mere wantonness of sin.
5. The Lord “abundantly pardons,” when we consider the abundant means of pardon which he has been ever pleased to provide for sinners.
6. The abundant ease of the terms of pardon. “Let the wicked forsake,” etc., that is all! No man can expect to be forgiven if he goes on with his sin.
7. The abundance of this pardon may be seen in the fulness of it.
8. He doth “abundantly pardon,” because of the abundant blessings which attend that pardon.
II. THE INFERENCES WHICH FLOW OUT OF ABUNDANT PARDON.
1. There is no room for anybody to despair.
2. There is a loud call to every one who has not repented to do so; for who would be so base as to offend so good, so kind a Lord?
3. If there is anybody in this house the text especially calls, it is the biggest sinner here; because there cannot be abundant pardon where there is not abundant sin.
4. For such a forgiving God we ought in return to have great love. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Mohammedism or Christi-unity
I have heard men say, often, Why is it Jesus Christ has so few disciples? The Gospel has been preached for 1,800 years, and yet Mohammed has more disciples than Jesus Christ. The question is very easily answered. A man can be a follower of Mohammed, and not give up his sin. He may be a follower of Confucius without giving up his sin; and the reason Jesus Christ has so few disciples is that men are not willing to part with their sin. If men could only get into the Kingdom of God without giving up anything, they would push into it by the thousand. (D. L. Moody.)
When I was preaching in Yorkshire at some mission services, a collier came to me at the close of one of the services, and said to me, “I would like to be a Christian, but I cannot receive what you have said to-night.” I said, “My brother, why not?” He said, “I would give anything to believe that God would forgive my sin; but I cannot believe He will just forgive it if I turn to Him. It is too cheap.” I looked at him, and I said, “My dear friend, have you been to work to-day?” “Yes.” “Where have you been working?” He looked at me slightly astonished, and said, “I was down in the pit, as usual.’ “How did you get home?” “Oh, I walked home along the road.’ “But how did you get out of the pit? “The way I always do. I got into the cage, and I was pulled up to the top.” “How much did you pay to come out of the pit?” He looked at me astonished, and said, “Pay? Of course, I don’t pay anything.” I said to him, “Were you not afraid to trust yourself in that cage? Was it not too cheap?” “Oh, no,’ he said. “It was cheap for me, but it cost the company a lot of money to sink that shaft.” And without another word the truth of that admission broke upon him, the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and he saw if he could have salvation without money and without price, it had cost the Infinite God a great price to sink that shaft and rescue lost men. (G. Campbell Morgan, D. D.)
For My thoughts are not your thoughts
The thought of God! Who can fathom it?
Astronomers tell us of stars in the sky at such infinite distances that their light, shooting through space at the inconceivable rate of 185,000 miles a second, would require 3,500 years to reach this earth. And vet God’s thought placed them thus far away in space, arranged the laws that govern them, not unlikely has set whirling around them planets like our own, peopled with sentiment and responsible beings like ourselves. To such distance reach the thoughts of God with the same clearness and wisdom as on this little globe. Shall not these thoughts, piercing the sublime avenues of infinite space, find a way whereby we may be saved? (Monday Club Sermons.)
The thoughts of God
We can form some conception of them through the works of His hand, whether in nature, providence, or redemption. The psalmist describes them as permanent in their endurance; as surpassing the reckoning of human arithmetic; and as being a fathomless deep. It is told of Kepler that, one night, after hours spent in observing the motions of the heavenly bodies, he exclaimed, “I have been thinking over again the earliest thoughts of God.” But there are earlier thoughts than those impresssd on nature. The love that led to the choice of man in Christ, and will culminate in the glory, is older far. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
God a thinker
“I think, therefore I am, was the formula in which the great mind of Descartes found peace. We may reverently adapt it, and say, “God thinks, therefore God is;” and the proof that He thinks is the great universe around us bearing, everywhere the marks of a designing hand. The quality of any mind is determined by its product. The rare quality of the mind of Shakespeare found expression in “Hamlet’’ and “Macbeth,” that of Milton in “Paradise Lost,” and that of Tennyson in the “Idylls of the King.” Stephenson demonstrated the wonderful mechanical power of his brain in the production of the steam engine, and Edison has shown what he thinks by inventing the telephone and phonograph. You stand and gaze with reverential awe at St. Paul’s, with its lofty dome, its magnificent portico, its beautiful windows. What is it? A church. Yes, a church in the heart of the busiest city in the world; a constant witness to the hurrying, bargain-making crowd, that man does not live by bread alone. It is a fine building--a veritable poem in stone--begrimed by the smutty fingers of oldFather Time, but strangely weird and solemn, as I have seen it bathed in the moonlight, with the mighty city sleeping around it, silent and still, or at least as still as London ever is. It is one of the peep-holes through which London gets a view of Heaven. But it is something more. It is the visualized thought of a great man; mute witness to the fact that mind is the great thing in the world. Sir Christopher Wren thought cathedrals, they were on his brain, he saw them before a single stone was laid, and then he selected one and put it on paper and said to the builder, “Now go to work. Put this thought of mine in stone, and let it stand there in the midst of the city; so that all men may see the kind of thing my brain is capable of producing. So this world, so full of wondrous forms and lovely colours, is but the outward expression of the thought of God. (S. Herren.)
Man, like God, a thinker
1. The power of thought is one point in which man is made in the image of God. Other animated creatures which are put in subjection to the thinking, intelligent creature man, have no fellowship with God in thought; into His world of pure spirit they cannot enter. When men do not think, and especially when they do not think of the highest and most important matters, they degrade themselves from the true position and occupation of immortal minds.
2. In the text we have two persons thinking; and as the result--man’s thoughts and God’s thoughts. God’s thinkings are declared by Himself to be exceedingly above mans, and yet if ever man is to dwell with God, he must think as God thinks. “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” What, then, can I do to rise to Him? Think as much as I please, thinking only sets me on my feet, and so far does me service, but it still leaves me on the earth, and God is yonder far above me, and my thoughts can no more attain unto Him than an infant can touch the stars with his finger. Still it is a comfort to me if I am sincerely thoughtful after God, that He is thinking about me, for if my thoughts cannot bear me up to Him, His thoughts can bring Him down to me, and when He has established a connection between the heaven which is above me and the earth which is beneath Himself, then I, laying hold on His thoughts, and believing what He has thought out for his, shall be drawn up to His elevation, and I shall come to think His thoughts, and so to be in communion with the Most High. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God forgiving sin
At first, men have very low ideas of sin. But when the Holy Spirit begins to deal with them, sin grows to be an intolerable burden, a fearsome thing. While the thought of sin becomes clear, the thought of pardon is not, at first, so clear. Sin is great, and for that reason the sinner thinks it cannot be pardoned, as if he measured the Lord by his sin. In our text God in condescension helps the sinner to believe in pardon by elevating his idea of God. Because God is infinitely superior to man, He can abundantly pardon.
I. YOUR OWN THOUGHTS JUDGE PARDON TO BE IMPOSSIBLE.
1. To some it seems impossible that there can be forgiveness for them, because of some special, secret, gross, and grievous sin. Most persons, when they remember their past lives, seen certain spot blacker than the rest.
2. To others the difficulty of pardon seems to lie not so much in some special offence, as in the number of their sins, and the long continuance of them.
3. Others have been grievously oppressed with the idea that they could not be pardoned because of the wilfulness of what they have done. Certainly, this is a very grievous evil. Wilfulness is the very damnableness of sin.
4. “Sir, says one, “I sinned with a great falseness and treachery of heart; for I was baptized and joined a Church.”
5. I hear one say, “There is” about my, sin this peculiar heinousness, that,, I have injured myself and others by my sin.”
6. Perhaps one may even say, But, sir, my sin was of this kind, that I dishonoured God: I denied the Deity of Christ.”
II. GOD’S THOUGHTS OF OTHER THINGS ARE FAR ABOVE YOURS. It is quite certain that the best thoughts--the most logical thoughts, the most original thoughts, the most correct thoughts you have ever had--are not worthy to be compared with God’s thoughts. Look in nature. The things you see in nature were, at first, thoughts in God’s mind, and He embodied them. Did you ever think such thoughts as God has thought in creation? God’s thoughts in providence--how wonderfully they are above ours I You read history, and everything seems to be a tangle. Yet, before you have read through the chapter, you see in it all a plan and a method. It has ever been so in your own mind as to the future. Read the prophecies, and see what is yet to be.
III. HIS THOUGHTS ABOUT PARDON ARE ABOVE YOURS.
1. Are you not slow to forgive? “He delighteth in mercy.”
2. You come to an end of your forgiveness before long. But God goes on to seventy times seventy times--on, and on, and on, and never comes to the end of pardoning mercy so long as a soul cries to Him for forgiveness.
3. Some things you find it hard to forgive. God does far more in the way of pardon than we ask or even think.
4. I am afraid I must say of some of you that you forgive, but you do not forget. God promises to forget our iniquities. “I will cast all their sins behind My back.” “I will cast their iniquities into the depths of the sea. They shall not be remembered against them any more for ever.”
5. We forgive, and yet feel some returns of anger. “I have blotted out,” says He, “thy transgressions.” Once blotted out, they arc done with for ever.
6. I do not slander you when I say that you are not very eager to pardon, and proposes to make peace with him.
7. Do you think that any of us would suffer much for the sake of being able to forgive another? Should there be a very serious difficulty in the way, so that you cannot rightly forgive without some atonement being made, would you make the atonement yourself?
IV. GODS THOUGHTS ARE ABOVE YOURS IN ALL THINGS WHICH CONCERN HIS GRACE. See the first verse as to the freeness of His grace. Your thought is that you can get nothing without paying for: God’s thoughts are, “Come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. But you think that if God were to save you He would perform it in a second-rate style. Not He! He will have no niggard salvations. If He supplies His people, it shall be most richly and freely. Listen to this. “Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. It is not amp of the water, or a ernst of the bread, or a drop of the milk; but when Christ invites poor sinners to come, He invites them to a high festival. You that are the guiltiest may come to Christ, and be among the happiest and the best of His saints. Nobody would ever imagine that a sinner could ever enter into covenant with God--that God should strike hands with guilty men, and, pledge Himself to grace. Listen to this: “Incline your ear, and come unto Me, etc. (Isaiah 55:3). I remember a man, shut up in prison, under a long sentence, and he was so violent that he was put into a solitary cell. The chaplain had done all he could as to bringing him to repentance; but one day he read to him this verse, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” The man said, “I never heard of such a thing. Can God make a covenant with such a wretch as I am? Sir,” said he, “it will break my heart;” and it did break his heart and he became a new man in Christ Jesus under the power of that amazing thought, that God would enter into covenant with such a wretch as he was. In Isaiah 55:5 Christ is said to call a people so ignorant that they did not know Him. This is to be His glory, that He is to call them by His grace. It is not one of your thoughts, but one of the thoughts of God, that He will glorify Christ in the saving of great sinners. “Ah, well!” says one, “I will go home, and cry to God for mercy. That is your thought. Listen to God’s thought. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.” Ah! still you think, “How can I be pardoned?” Listen to this, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts,” etc. Read the rest of the chapter, and say to yourself, over each verse, “This was not my thought; this, was not my way.” End all your doubts with the last verse,” instead of the thorn, etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Greatness of God
Until we believe in the greatness of God, not only in action, but in thought, we shall misunderstand our Bibles, the world in which we live, and ourselves. We use such words as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, infinite, but how little we grasp their meaning! They are but the poor, etymological husks in which we try to thrust that which no words can express. There are some things that you cannot describe,, you can only feel. Language is too poor, too clumsy a medium to express God’s best, or biggest things, much less to describe Him. It is like the colours with which the artist tries to reproduce the glory of a sunset. It is not a reproduction; at best, it is but a far-off resemblance. You look up on a cloudless day and there is not one speck, not one bit of white cloud against the vast expanse of undimmed azure, and yet feel, but cannot describe the infinity of space. Let that feeling of infiniteness rest upon you, soak into your mind, for it is good for man, the creature of a day, the heir of eternity, to linger amongst great expanses, and to learn that his geography is but a petty science, and his astronomy, with its measurements of millions of miles, does but nibble at the edge of the great universe of God. Thus you will preserve a reverent spirit, keep alive the faculties of wonder and admiration, and it is to be hoped be saved from the positive assertion of little narrow dogmas which have been adopted by certain sections of the Church, and declared with as much assurance, and fought for with as much bitterness as though an angel from heaven had proclaimed them every morning since the creation. (S. Horton.)
God’s thoughts higher than man’s
Theology ought to be the science of God and Divine things. Often it is systematized misrepresentations of Divine things. It is not the revelation of God’s greatness, but of man’s littleness; it starts with theories, instead of facts. Our text is God’s appeal against human misrepresentation. There is always a danger of putting our own limitations of thoughts and speech upon the Almighty, and of making our thinking and doing the measure of His. Have we not all met with the man who sees nothing in the Church but bricks and timber, in its devotions only so many needful exercises to be got through as speedily as possible, and in the great redemption plain nothing but convenient fire escape from the miseries of hell, and in God only a High Commissioner of Police? It is Vastly important that, as far as it is possible, we should get right ideas of God, for our whole character and conduct will he coloured by our thoughts of Him. And though it must ever be that our thoughts are as much beneath His thoughts as the earth is beneath the heavens, yet if He reveal Himself to us, as He is always willing to do to the humble soul, we shall at least be saved from rhea mental caricatures of Him that have darkened many a life, and been the fruitful soil in which unbelief has found its foothold.
1. The setting of the text takes us at once to the central doctrine of the Christian faith. The verse before it proclaims the pardon of God for the sinner, who, repenting of his sins, returns to the Lord. How can a sinless God forgive a sinful man, and yet maintain the majesty of His own law? And there rises before our eyes at once the form of a cross, and on it One, who, struggling in the death agony, exclaims, “It is finished.” All the wonder and mystery of the ages gathers round that cross. If you can explain that you can explain all. Was it possible for sin to take upon itself a deeper shade of guilt than the sin of the people of Judah in Isaiah’s time? Crimson-hued and scarlet-dyed, what could even God do with such sinners as these? Sweep them away with the strength of His right arm. Yea, and all heaven and all earth would approve the justice of the sentence. But He can do something else. He can forgive them. At first we revolt at the very idea. Forgiveness for them! And then once more we hear the voice which says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” “I will never forgive him” is the language of the man who has been wronged. But God says, “I will give My best and dearest if I may but win the wrong-doer to love that which is good. I will save him by showing him what love can do.” Do you know it is the hardest thing in the world to persuade men to believe that God loves them with a love like that? There is a good deal of truth in the sarcasm of a scoffing French writer “that man has made God in his own image.”
2. Let us apply our text to the many problems that gather round our life, to those many difficulties behind which as yet we can see no meaning. Life for many is a prolonged agony. It is a burden, a pain, a puzzle to which we have not yet the key. Behind the pain, and the tears, and the smart, God is, and His plan for us is the best possible plan. He is but a poor shallow fool who says, I will accept nothing that I cannot understand. As a matter of fact he is always accepting what he does not understand. Does he understand sleep? Does he understand Why a seed grows? why a child thinks? why men die? And yet there are many men who reject the idea of a personal God because they cannot understand His works and ways. They declare life to be without purpose, and an aimless consciousness between two eternities. To all such our text is a rebuke. Faith is a bird of stronger wing than reason. Two texts are sufficient for me. Upon them I stake all for time and for eternity. “God is very great.” “God is love.” Socrates has put our belief once and for all into a convenient formula, “What God is I know not; what He is not I know.” God is not, cannot be cruel. God is not, cannot be pitiless. God is not, cannot be making useless experiments at our expense. Without that faith, how could we face the hopeless poverty, the misery of our slums? Oh! wearied heart, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. When faith falters, when the sun goes out in darkness, when the storm beats loud and fierce, when over a coffin-lid hope drops its head and weeps, wait for God. Give Him time to discover Himself. It is at the midnight hour that Christ walks on the tempest-lashed sea. Hush all your questionings and wait; simply wait. Is that easy? No; it is the hardest thing of all to do; but wait, only wait. What we cannot know--what it would not be wise for us to know now--we shall know hereafter. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
God’s thoughts and ways
I. SPECIFY SOME INSTANCES IN WHICH THIS DECLARATION IS STRIKINGLY ILLUSTRATED.
1. In His production of the most stupendous results from insignificant causes. Nature abounds with illustrations. Providence is still more abundant. Consequences the most stupendous, involving the destinies of individuals, of families, of empires, have arisen out of causes which we deem insignificant. But the most abundant proofs are derived from the history of the Gospel. Our Lord has suggested this view of the subject in His own illustrations--“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard-seed,” and so on. And this is an illustration of the rise and progress of Messiah’s Gospel. Who, and what was the Founder of the Gospel--as to His human appearance?
2. In the accomplishment of the most glorious designs by the weakest and most insignificant instruments. Who were the first propagators of the
Gospel? In what school were they educated? With what armour did they go forth to the war?
3. In the sovereign exercises of His grace, in connection with its freedom and fulness.
II. ASSIGN SOME REASONS FOR THIS.
1. His knowledge is more extensive than our information.
2. His judgment is more accurate than our decisions.
3. His purposes and plans are uninfluenced by our prejudices and passions.
4. It is His determination to humble pride, and His fixed resolution that no creature should glory in His presence.
III. LEARN LESSONS OF HUMILITY, GRATITUDE, AND CONFIDENCE. (T. Raffles, D. D.)
The word “thought” is used here objectively. It expresses a result and not a process.
I. ILLUSTRATION. Here we need only contrast the human with the Divine style of thinking. Observe some particulars:--
1. Creation. The visible creation that surrounds us on every side and spreads away into immensity beyond us, is only an embodied thought of the infinite, uncreated Intelligence. Tell me if it be at all like one of man’s thoughts. Equip man with omnipotence, and set him to create a universe--and would it resemble the universe as it is? By no means!
(1) Man’s universe would be absolutely consolidated. Into one immense continent would all these world-islands be cast, and all tribes and types of life inhabit it as a common dwelling! His agonizing regret this day is that he cannot fling the line of a mighty telegraph from star to star, and thus, even in face of the immutable ordinances of heaven, gather these isolated islands of life into one vast virtual consolidation!
(2) A universe projected by man would be motionless and steadfast. We build our homes, not on the waters, that they may be locomotive, but on the shore, that they may be fixed. But God’s universe is in everlasting motion. Or, descending from the survey of a universe of worlds to consider the economy of a single world, even with greater force shall we feel the same truth. Such a world as this no wise man would have created. He would have filled up the ocean with plough-ground, and sloped the mountains gently for vineyards, and covered with rich verdure the sands of the wilderness. And the waters would have brought forth after their kind only beautiful things, and every creature moving in the forests would have been musical and fair; and the sky would have been without cloud on its rich blue, and the year without winter or storm in its long summer of loveliness.
2. Providence. And whether we regard the entire economy of providence as a stupendous whole, or each successive development in its separation, the same truth will be manifest. Man certainly would have ordered the whole thing differently. Instead of those mysterious periods of slowly ascending, he would have rounded earth into beauty at first as a home for immortals, and breathed Divine life into man made in God’s image. Place at the head of human affairs an omnipotent philanthropist, and how soon would every dark thing be swept from a groaning creation. How the captive would leap from his chain, and the conqueror lay off his mail, and the cries of violence cease, and the rod of the oppressor be broken! How these dark places of cruelty would be irradiated with heavenly light, and Christianity, borne as on angel-wings, circle the round world!
1. Our first remark is addressed to this very class who reject the Bible because to their finitude it seems either unwise or incomprehensible. The poor erring creature of an hour, who cannot build a hovel that will not leak, nor weave a perfect garment to cover him, he--wonderful man that he is--would lift his thoughts into brotherhood with God’s thoughts, and adjust the complicate sublimities of revelation by the square and the line of his insignificant faculties! Why, the sceptic should begin further back and earlier with his scepticism, as his arguments lie as strongly against creation and providence.
2. Within our own time a new philosophy hath invaded the Church of Christ, with its watchwords “spiritual insight,” and “the moral reason,’ and “intuitional capacity,” setting itself to overthrow the indispensable condition of all true piety--the entire, unquestioning, adoring submission alike of life, and conscience, and intellect unto God. And while the Church receives not this philosophy formally--for this were openly to deny the faith--yet, under its insidious and malign influence, there has come to pass a setting up within Zion of our own intellectual and moral judgments as critic and arbiter of the great doctrines of revelation. Doctrines that are profound or mysterious, if not openly rejected, are at least modified to square with our philosophy. And the positive declarations of God are lowered to the comprehension of our natural reason. We are as yet learners in God’s school-room, not advisers in His council-chamber! We shall understand things better by and by, when eternity flings its full light on the page of our scholarship! But until then humility is the apt temper of a learner. And faith, not comprehension, the great law of the scholarship! Till then ours must be the submission of an infantile mind to an infinite Intelligence--the trust of a short-sighted child in an all-seeing Father.
3. But the thought under consideration applies as well to the phenomena of Christianity as to its facts. Take, for example, its gradual increase and development. The characteristic of the age is impatience of anything but a demonstrative and headlong progress. Tell me where, either in creation or providence, God thus hurries to conclusions? So far from discouragements in this slow progress of Christianity, we have therein only fuller proof of its Divine orion, nobler prophecy of its ultimate consummation.
4. There is a still more consoling application of this truth to things unseen and eternal--immortality. The grand characteristic and charm of the eternal world is its utter unlikeness to the temporal and earthly. (C. Wadsworth.)
God’s ways and man’s ways
There is nothing, perhaps, in which God’s thoughts and ways are more seen to be “higher” than man’s than in the matter of salvation; and it is in renouncing his own ways, and yielding to God’s, that the main difficulty of salvation on man’s part lies. Because there is nothing more simple than the plan of salvation--substitution.
I. God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts IN THE MATTER OF PARDON. This is proclaimed freely, without any condition on man’s part in the way of satisfaction to God’s holy and broken law. Salvation is represented in Scripture as something which God Himself has achieved. God has “delivered man from going down into the pit; He has found a ransom;” and therefore, in every point of view, this salvation is perfect and complete. It is, further, proclaimed to sinners as a gift which they cannot earn or deserve, but which they are entreated to accent as a gift on account of what Christ has done (Romans 15:23). Men are called on to believe it instantly, to receive it and enjoy it at once, as the gift of God’s love in Christ Jesus. Now, to this the world objects, because such a plan of salvation knocks down man’s pride, and leaves him in the position of a rebellious sinner dependent wholly on God’s grace and mercy. To escape, therefore, from such an ignominious admission, some go on to argue that by this view God’s law is dishonoured, sin is treated as if of no consequence, and the pardoned sinner is left without any obligation to obey God. But is this true?
II. Gods “thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways,” IN. THE. WAY IN WHICH PEACE AND JOY FOLLOW ON BELIEVING THE GOSPEL. This is proclaimed in Scripture as instant (Romans 5:1). But the world objects to this, and calls it presumption; and if they hear of a notorious sinner being converted, and entering into peace, they immediately set him down as a hypocrite. The question is not whether they are hypocrites, but whether a man who believes the Gospel, and is full of joy and peace in consequence, is a hypocrite. Whatever the world says on the subject, Scripture does not so represent him. We must take care and not conclude that where there is no peace there is no faith. This would be as wrong as to conclude that where there is not perfect health there is no life.
III. There is still another point in which “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways,” namely, HIS LONGSUFFERING. In preaching, I have no limit to make in the Gospel. If you say, “This surely is abusing the goodness of God,” I reply, “God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are our ways His ways.” (J. W. Reeve, M. A.)
The very act of thinking implies imperfection. But it is a way of picturing the Divine nature by a comparison with man. Man thinks, reasons, and so arrives at certain results. These he calls thoughts or conclusions. It is not so with God. He has no need to arrive at conclusions by any mental process. He knows everything. It is difficult to find any English word wherewith to express the idea intended. The word “feelings might partly do so--method of action as the result of “feelings”--“dealings.” It is really the whole of the Divine nature. “My nature is not as your nature, nor My ways of action as your ways of action.” The grand idea is a consciousness of the vast difference which exists between ourselves and God, and to certain practical inferences to be devolved therefrom. These are--
I. THAT WE ARE NOT TO JUDGE OF GOD BY OUR OWN FEELINGS. How can we for one moment put ourselves in the place of the great and mighty King of kings
1. Consider our ignorance compared with His perfect knowledge--our weakness corn pared with His almighty power--our short life compared with His eternity of existence, All these things point out the folly of setting ourselves to judge of the Divine acts or the Divine method of providence, by the methods which we would pursue. And yet people say, or think if they do not say, in so many words, that they could carry on the world far more wisely than God.
2. Consider our sin in comparison with God’s holiness. Sin prevents all feeling, all right, all truth. It has changed all men’s views with respect to propriety or justice. And yet there are men who would dispute the justice of the Almighty’s dealings with men.
II. THAT WE ARE NOT TO JUDGE OF OUR OWN POSITION BY OUR OWN THOUGHTS. The ways of every man are right in his own eyes. We think we are acting for the best when we are acting for the worst. We think we arc serving God when we are bribing the devil. We think we are setting an example of all virtue to our neighbours, when all the while we are nought but hypocrites. We are not to judge of our position of holiness by our own thoughts. What a criteria of judgment are human thoughts! They go astray from the beginning, they are altogether depraved. How can we estimate our own advancement by them? Woe be to those who do, for they will only court destruction. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. Some are nearer the kingdom of heaven than they suppose, while others are further off.
III. THAT WE ARE NOT TO JUDGE OF ANY OF THE MYSTERIES OF THE FUTURE BY OUR OWN THOUGHTS. The world has a way of either perverting revelation, or inventing new theories from its own imagination. (Homilist.)
Disparity of thoughts, Divine and human
I. GOD AND MAN DIFFER IN THEIR THOUGHTS REGARDING LIFE--the meaning of our present existence, as we live in this world day by day. Man’s general conception is that he has been sent into this world endowed with certain powers of body and mind that he may get on, and rise commercially, socially, and in those things which are hemmed in by things seen and temporal. As men are thus employed God looks down upon them with the tender eye of a mother and the pitying heart of a father, and says to His erring children, “Why do ye spend your time and destroy your immortal powers in such a vain pursuit? You have mistaken the meaning of your present life, and the reason I sent you into the world. My thoughts concerning it are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways. Your life was given that you might grow in wisdom, experience, and Divine likeness in character, and the earth is a school in which you are to be trained, educated for highest worship and noblest service.”
II. GOD AND MAN DIFFER IN THEIR THOUGHTS REGARDING DIFFICULTIES AND SORROWS. The human and natural way of looking at these things is to view them as unmitigated evils, and that either God knows and cares nothing about those who endure them, or that they are manifestations of His ill-will and judicial anger. These are not the thoughts of God. As seen in the light of heaven they are either the result of the violation of the law of love, of selfishness and sin, or are educative agencies to make the soul strong, tender, and true.
III. GOD AND MAN DIFFER IN THEIR THOUGHTS REGARDING THE TREATMENT OF ENEMIES. Hatred has been met by hatred; scorn has been answered by scorn; and for evil rendered evil has been repaid in full measure, pressed down and running over. Far otherwise has it been with God. Regarding treatment of enemies, God says, My thoughts, are not your thoughts, and My ways are not your ways. Ye would render evil for evil, hate for hate, blow for blow. I love Mine enemies, I seek to bless the greatest sinner, I cause My sun to shine on the unjust, and unthankful, and am ready to take all prodigals into My forgiving embrace.’ This has been God’s action from the first man till now.
IV. GOD AND MAN DIFFER IN THEIR THOUGHTS REGARDING DEATH. Men’s thoughts on the matter are full of sadness, and they beget a melancholy most difficult to bear. But God understands life and He understands death, and if we are filled with His thoughts and walk in His ways, the supposed enemy that seems to be a fiend and the destroyer of our existence shall appear in the glorious position of being the condition of a higher, purer, fuller life, that shall never cease to be, and like the echoes of the soul “shall grow for ever and for ever.’ (W. Adamson, D. D.)
The mystery and the glory of redemption
The whole Bible is but an expansion of one utterance of the Eternal, “I am Jehovah.” Hence the revelation must be incomplete, for a God who could fully reveal Himself to His creatures would be no God; and it must also be astonishing and amazing, for a professed record of any part of God’s thoughts and ways that did not land in mystery and tend to wonder, would be self-condemned, and proved to be neither true nor Divine.
I. God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts, in regard to THE NEED OF REDEMPTION. The lessons of Scripture, while leaving the entrance of evil in its awful mystery, assist our faith by showing that our misgivings in regard to God, which thence arise, are groundless, and also that, however strange, yet as a matter of fact, evil can be overruled for good.
II. God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts, in regard to THE PURPOSE OF REDEMPTION. Man, as we learn from Scripture--the only source whence we can expect to know it--is not the only being who has fallen; but man is the only being who is redeemed. There arc those who profess not to believe in Scripture, but who arraign this supposed procedure as unfair and unequal; and there are those also who accept Scripture, and yet reject its apparently clear testimony as to the exclusion of fallen angels from mercy. Both classes of objectors go upon the same principle that God cannot justly punish with a final sentence of rejection those who have sinned against Him, no matter how aggravated their offences may be; but that in some way having given them being, He is bound to make that being ultimately good and happy. But this runs counter to the whole Bible doctrine of grace; for on this footing, redemption is a clear debt; and whether it be fallen angel or fallen man God is not entitled to withhold it. Men may stand in their views either upon justice or upon grace; but they are not entitled to stand upon both.
III. God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts,, in regard to THE PLAN OF REDEMPTION. How utterly unlike to any means of man’s devising are those which God has chosen for the recovery of His lost creatures to His favour and image! All the opposition to evangelical religion with which we are surrounded, and which incessantly repeats, “Give us a Christianity that is rational! Give us a Christianity that we can believe! Give us a Christianity that meets, as everything else is doing, the advancement of the age!--what does it amount to but this, “Give us a Christianity without God! Give us a Christianity without that element of grandeur, of mystery, of overwhelming superiority to man’s thoughts and ways, which compels awe and humbles pride t ‘ We accept the demand, come from what quarter it may, as an, involuntary homage to the superhuman glory of the faith we stand by.
IV. God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts, in regard to THE PROGRESS OF REDEMPTION. Redemption has a history; and this of all others the most difficult to scan, not only as it lies in the Bible, but in uninspired records. It has been said, “Interpret the Bible as any other book;” but though there is a certain truth in this, if we take it roundly it ultimately means, “ Interpret God as you interpret man.” You cannot even interpret Church history as you interpret any other history. It is in a sense which belongs to no other history, the story of a battle not yet fought out, of a campaign not yet ended; and there are combatants at work beyond the range of human observation, and a supreme celestial leader, whose point of survey none can share. I shall illustrate this union of mystery and greatness in regard to three features in the progress of redemption.
1. The rate of its progress.
2. The instruments of its progress.
3. The hindrances to its progress.
Man would have thought that hindrances would have speedily been removed, or that if they were suffered to remain or to return, they would have proved un-mingled evils to the Church. But God, on the other hand, we can now so far see, by giving the victory slowly, trains the faith and courage of successive generations, and by permitting old enemies to return, or new ones to spring up, shows the un-exhausted and inexhaustible energy of His Gospel, to face and put down every hostile power.
V. It is only necessary to add a few words in regard to THE LIMITS OF REDEMPTION. Here also God’s ways are not as our ways, nor His thoughts as our thoughts. And hence the real and painful difficulty, which has always been felt in regard to the Gospel, and perhaps never more openly expressed than in our own day. “Why should not all men, as God wishes, “be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”? Why should redemption, in the case of the human family, have any limits at all? Can we aspire to take in all God’s view of what a tremendous evil, like sin, and especially the rejection of the Son of God, may demand? (J. Cairns, D. D.)
I. THE THOUGHTS OF GOD ARE ETERNAL AND IMMUTABLE; THE THOUGHTS OF MEN ARE TEMPORAL AND CHANGEABLE. Reflections on things older and less, changeable than ourselves arc the best guides to the unknown height-s of the Father’s wisdom. They lead us some distance, but only to show us the way. These mountains were long seated on their rocky seats ore the plan of the pyramids of Egypt was conceived in the heart of man. These rivers had flown majestically in their channels for thousands of years before man made his aqueducts to entice them from their course. The revolving sun poured its ceaseless floods of light on the universe myriads of ages before the scientist made the first telescope. Astronomy tells us that the worlds which occupy distant locations in space have swept silently through their trackless regions for periods of indefinite duration. Geology unfolds the rocky leaves of the earth’s crust, and deciphers hieroglyphics which roll us backward beyond animal and vegetable life to primeval rocks whose age no historian can compute. Thus we are furnished with materials to write a grand history of by-gone generations, stretching into the past beyond our comprehension. This history is the A B C of the eternal. The fact that the thoughts of God are eternal, fixes His immutable counsel and purpose. The redemption of fallen man is a thought without beginning, and is not subject to any variation. This is the rock on which we build our Christian faith. Through the varying scenes of life there runs the one purpose of God in Christ Jesus to save our souls and reconstruct human society.
II. THE THOUGHTS OF GOD ARE PRIMARY CAUSES, WHILE OURS ARE MERE IMPRESSIONS.
1. The heavens and the earth are manifestations, not only of power and wisdom, but of mind.
2. No less evident is it that the revelation of Himself as the Saviour of man through human consciousness is the product of His thoughts.
(1) God’s thoughts in the Gospel are greater than man’s thoughts. So great are some of them that they are above human comprehension (Romans 11:33).
(2) God’s thoughts are better than man’s thoughts. The whole of the chapter is a declaration of sovereign mercy. The offender is called to repentance, and offered a free pardon. Human wisdom would ask, How can this be? How shall moral government stand without punitive justice. Can God be just if He justify the repentant sinner? There is but one answer: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Mercy is inexplicable except in its operations.
III. GOD’S METHODS ARE INSCRUTABLE, LIKE UNTO HIS THOUGHTS; BUT MEN’S WAYS ARE CROOKED AND PERVERSE. The Scriptural meaning of the word “way” is the character with which actions are stamped. Actions reveal the thoughts and motives of the actor. They are a reflex of himself. The ways of God are His thoughts in operation. “Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known.” These words echo those of an older book, or, at least, they are the echo of the wisdom of the ancients--“By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens; His hand hath formed the crooked serpent. Lo, these are parts of His ways: but how little a portion is heard of Him? but the thunder of His power who can understand?” “Great and marvellous arc Thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints. Fix your minds on the way of His goodness and mercy unto us. Think of the wonderful display of wisdom in the redemption of mankind. Jesus has appeared to remove our offences by the sacrifice of Himself. This great manifestation of eternal thought is the banquet at which the intelligences of heaven will sit, world without end.
IV. THE THOUGHTS AND WAYS OF GOD ARE BEFORE US FOR CORRECTION AND IMITATION.
V. THE THOUGHTS OF GOD ARE WITH US AS OUR INHERITANCE. He who has passed through the process of examining the casket to the possession of its contents, can say, “How precious also are Thy thoughts, O God I how great is the sum of them.” (T. Davies, M. A.)
The incomprehensibility of the mercy of God
“Lo, these are parts of His ways, but how little a portion is heard of Him! “ This is one of the most sententious sayings of Job, and it expresseth, in a very emphatic manner, the works of God what this holy man said of the wonders of nature, we, with much more reason, say of the wonders of grace. Collect all that pagan philosophers have taught of the goodness of the Supreme Being. To the opinions of philosophers join the declarations of the prophets. Add the discoveries of the evangelists and apostles. To the whole join your own experience; your ideas to their ideas, your meditations to their meditations, and then believe that ye are only floating on the surface of the goodness of God, that His love hath dimensions, a “breadth, and length, and depth, and height,” “ which the human mind can never attain”: and, upon the brink of this ocean, say, “Lo, these are only parts of His ways, and how little a portion is heard of Him l Three things are necessary to explain the text.
I. THE MEANING MUST BE RESTRAINED. It is certain, that, in many respects, God’s ways are our ways, and His thoughts our thoughts. I mean, that there are many cases in which we may assure ourselves that God thinks so and so, and will observe such or such a conduct. To contrast the supreme grandeur of the Creator with the insignificance of the creature; to persuade mankind that the great Supreme is too lofty to concern Himself with us, that our conduct is entirely indifferent to Him; that it signifies nothing to Him whether we be just or unjust, humane or cruel, happy or miserable: to say in these senses, that “God’s ways are not our ways,” that “His thoughts are not our thoughts,” these are the arms that infidelity hath sometimes employed with success, and against the attacks of which we would guard you. For these reasons, the meaning of the text must be restrained, or it will totally subvert religion and morality. The exercise of my reasoning powers produceth in me some incontestable notions of God, and, from these notions immediately follow some sure consequences, which become the immovable basis of my faith in His Word, of my submission to His will, and of my confidence in His promises. These notions, and these consequences compose the body of natural religion. Let it be granted that God is, in many respects, quite incomprehensible, that we can obtain only a small degree of knowledge of this infinite Object, yet it will not follow that the notions which reason gives us of Him are less just, or, that the consequences, which immediately follow these notions, are less sure. If reason affords us some adequate notions of God, if some necessary consequences follow these notions, for a much stronger reason we may derive some adequate notions of God, and some sure consequences, from revelation.
II. THE OBJECT MUST BE DETERMINED. The prophet’s expressions would have been true, had they been applied to all the attributes of God; however, they are applied here only to one of them, that is, to His goodness. Wherein do the thoughts of God differ from ours Z In God there are treasures of mercy, the depth of which no finite mind ten fathom. In Him goodness is as inconceivable as all His other attributes. In God, a sinner, who seems to have carried his sin to its utmost extravagance, and to have exhausted all the treasures of Divine grace, shall still find, if he “return unto the Lord,” and cast himself at the foot of Him who “abundantly pardoneth,” a goodness, a compassion, a love that he could not have imagined to find.
III. THE PROOFS MUST BE PRODUCED.
(1) The means by which God conciliated His justice with HIS love.
(2) His patience with those who abuse this means.
(3) His intimate union with those who fall in with the design of His patience.
Let us address the text to the gloomy mind of a melancholy person, who, having failed in the courage necessary to resist temptations, fails again in that which is necessary to bear the thought of having fallen into them. What madness possesseth thy melancholy mind? The Holy Spirit assures thee that “though thy sins be as scarlet” He will make them “white as snow;” that “though they be red like crimson” He will make them “as wool;” and dost thou think that thy sins are too aggravated to be pardoned in this manner? The Holy Spirit gives thee a long list of the most execrable names in nature; a list of idolaters, murderers, extortioners, adulterers, persecutors, highway robbers, and blasphemers, who obtained mercy when they sought it: and art thou obstinately bent on excluding thyself from the number of those sinners to whom mercy is promised; and because thou dost not believe it attainable, dost thou obstinately refuse to ask for it? The Holy Spirit hath lifted up a Cross, and on that Cross a Redeemer, who is “able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him;” and who Himself saith to all sinners, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And dost thou flee from this Cross, and rather choose to sink under the weight of thy sins than to disburden them on a Redeemer who is willing to bear them? But, passing all these, let us return to the text. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” etc. This is sufficient to refute the whole system of a despairing mind. (J. Saurin.)
God’s ways and man’s
These words are grand poetry and noble theology, but they are meant practically and in fiery earnestness. The “for” at the beginning of each clause points us back to the previous statement, and both of the verses of our text are in different ways its foundation. So we have here two things to consider in reference to the relation between the Divine purposes and acts and man’s purposes and acts.
I. THE ANTAGONISM, AND THE INDICTMENT AND EXHORTATION THAT ARE BASED UPON THAT.
1. Notice the remarkable order and alternation of pronouns in the first verse. “My thoughts are not your thoughts,” saith the Lord. The things that God thinks and purposes are not the things that man thinks and purposes, and therefore, because the thoughts are different, the outcomes of them in deeds are divergent. God’s “ways” are His acts, the manner and course of His working considered as a path on which He moves, and on which, in some sense, we can also journey. Our “ways”--our manner of life--are not parallel with His, as they should be. But that opposition is expressed with a remarkable variation. Observe the change of pronouns in the two clauses. First, “My thoughts are not your thoughts”--you have not taken My truth into your minds, nor My purposes into your wills; you do not think God’s thoughts. Therefore--“your ways (instead of “my”, as we should have expected, to keep the regularity of the parallelism) are not My ways--I repudiate and abjure your conduct and condemn it utterly. Now, of course, in this charge of man’s unlikeness to God there is no contradiction of, nor reference to, man’s natural constitution, in which there are, at one and the same time, the likeness of the child with the parent and the unlikeness between the creature and the Creator. If our thoughts were not like God’s thoughts we should know nothing about Him. If our thoughts were not like God’s thoughts we should have no standard for life or thinking. Righteousness and beauty and truth and goodness are the same things in heaven and earth, and alike in God and man. We are made after His image, poor creatures though we be. But that very necessary and natural likeness between God and man makes more solemnly sinful the voluntary unlikeness which we have brought upon ourselves. Mark how wonderfully, in the simple language of my text, deep truths about this sin of ours is conveyed. Notice its growth and order. You begin with a heart and mind that does not take in God’s thoughts, truths, purposes, desires, and the alienated will and the darkened understanding and the conscience which has closed itself against His imperative voice all issue afterwards in conduct which He cannot accept as in any way corresponding with His. First, the thought unreceptive of God’s thought, and then the ways contrary to God’s ways.
2. Notice the profound truth here in regard to the essential and deepest evil of all our evil. “Your thoughts;” “your ways.” Self-dependence and self-confidence are the master-devils of humanity. And the root of all sin lies in these two strong, simple words, “Your thoughts not Mine; your ways not Mine.”
3. Notice, too, how there are suggested the misery and retribution of this unlikeness. “If you will not make My thoughts your thoughts, I shall not take your ways as My ways; I will leave you to them. You will be filled with the fruit of your own devices. The question rises in many a heart, “How am I to forsake these paths on which my feet have so long walked? And if I do, what about all the years behind me, full of wild wonderings and thoughts, in all of which God was not?” The second verse of our text meets that despairing question.
II. THE ANALOGY BUT SUPERIORITY, AND THE EXHORTATION AND HOPE THAT ARE BUILT UPON THAT. This clause begins with God’s ways, from which alone men can reach the knowledge of His thoughts. The first follows the order of God’s knowledge of man; the second, that of man’s knowledge of God.
1. God’s way of dealing with sin is lifted up above all human example. There is such a thing as pardoning mercy amongst men. It is a faint analogy of, as it is an offshoot from the Divine pardon, but all the forgivingness of the most placable and long-suffering and gladly pardoning of men is but as earth to heaven compared with the greatness of His.
2. Again, God’s way of dealing with sin surpasses all our thought. All religion has been pressed with this problem, how to harmonize the perfect rectitude of the Divine nature and the solemn claims of law with forgiveness. We have Jesus Christ. The mystery of forgiveness is solved, in so far as it is capable of solution, in Him and in Him alone.
3. We are taught here that God’s way of dealing with sin is the very highest point of His self-revelation. If we want to see up into the highest heavens of God’s character, we must go down into the depths of the consciousness of our own sin, and learn first how unlike our ways and thoughts are to God, ere we can understand how high above us, and yet beneficently arching over us, are His ways and thoughts to us. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
God’s thoughts and ways far above ours
I. THERE IS REBUKE ADMINISTERED. The Lord says, “Forsake your way, for it is not My way; leave your thoughts, for they are not My thoughts.” The rebuke is enveloped in love, and made into a sugar-coated pill; the sweet promise of abundant pardon conceals the reproof. Let us take the rebuke, and notice--
1. The fault of man’s thoughts. “My thoughts are not your thoughts.”
(1) As between each other, God’s thoughts are not man’s, though they ought to be. God’s thoughts are love, pity, tenderness; ours are forgetfulness, ingratitude, and hard-heartedness.
(2) Your thoughts as to your conduct are not God’s thoughts. He considers that the creatures He has made should obey Him, but you judge that it matters not what a man does towards his Maker so long as he is just towards his fellow-men.
(3) God’s thoughts, again, as to the life which a man needs in order to salvation are very different from man’s thoughts. In this chapter He says, “Hear, and your soul shall live.” He reckons, then, that man is dead till he has heard the word of God in his soul. Man reckons that he is alive enough.
(4) God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, again, in reference to the truth. Man thinks himself so wise and good that he does not like God’s thoughts concerning himself, his fall, his,guilt, and his danger.
(5) In the matter of salvation God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, for God thinketh that man has so sinned that he must be condemned except a substitute be found. Man thinks not so. God sets before him pardon freely presented through the precious blood: man thinks to buy it by his devotions, or to win it by his merits.
2. The text advances to say that man’s ways are not like God’s. Our ways are the outward actions which spring out of our thoughts. God’s ways are ways of holiness and purity. God hath never done anything unjust to His creatures or unrighteous to Himself. But our ways are not so; they are full of error, marred with evil, polluted with impurity. By nature we love that which we ought to hate. Two cannot walk together in heaven except they be of one mind; so that our ways and God’s ways must be made to be alike in character. Now, it is not possible for us to conceive of God’s making His thoughts to be like our thoughts. What then? We must rise to Him.
3. I ask you to consider the difficulty of this. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways.” How are we to be lifted up from earth to heaven? The word that answers the question is that matchless syllable, “grace.” God in Christ Jesus, by His almighty grace, must raise us up together with Christ.
II. WE HAVE REPENTANCE ENCOURAGED. “Let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts.” It is clear that there is a connecting link between the abundance of pardon and the lofty character of God, and that men are encouraged to forsake their ways and thoughts by the hope of pardon derived from the greatness of the Divine thoughts and ways.
1. Do not stand back because you cannot understand God. It is not needful that you should comprehend His ways and thoughts.
2. Neither start back because you cannot find a parallel to the grace which God declares that He will display towards you.
3. According to our text, whatever your ways towards God shall be in the future, He will exceed them. And as to your thoughts--can you think of how He will receive you?
III. EXPECTATION EXCITED. This time the link is forward instead of backward. “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither.”! You are to expect that the Lord’s word will be unfailing to you.
2. Next that you are returning to a God whose ways are so much above your ways, and His thoughts so much above your thoughts, that your heart shall be filled with joy--“ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace.” God will not merely break off your chains and say in cold accents, “You are free;’ but He will release you amid the music of the spheres.
3. Next to this, all your surroundings shall minister to your gladness. “The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing” etc. The mountain which you feared shall break forth into song, and the forest at which you trembled shall become an orchestra in which every tree shall clap its hands for joy.
4. And then, there shall happen to you wonderful transformations. Evil habits shall be withered and holy principles nourished.
5. This mercy is to endure for ever. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Man’s thoughts and God’s thoughts
I. Compare your thoughts of THE POSSIBILITY OF PARDON with God’s thoughts about it. You naturally form your ideas of God’s ways from what you conceive would be yours if you were in His position.
1. I take you on that ground, and we will suppose that some wicked person has very grossly injured you and that the question of your forgiving him is now mooted. We will suppose you to be of a generous, frank, forgiving disposition, and in a calm and judicious state of mind. You are ready to act most leniently, but still the case in hand is no trifle and requires consideration. After well pondering the matter, you feel bound to say, “I could forgive this person, but his offence is of a peculiarly grievous kind. With the most sincere, desire to pass over it, I feel that I must not, but must let the law take its course.” There have been many occasions when persons aggrieved have thus spoken, and when no reasonable person could have blamed them. Such, O awakened sinner, is your case as before the Lord, and if He should think of you as one man would think of another, you must own Him to be just. You have offended God in the very tenderest point; you have denied His right to you, though you are His creature. Though you have been a pensioner upon His bounty, you have constantly insisted upon it that you were your own master, and had a right to do just as you pleased. You have thus invaded crown rights of the King of kings, and committed treason against His sovereignty: worst of all, you have committed sin against His only begotten and most dear son, the Lord Jesus. If it were your case, you could not forgive; but be astonished as you hear that your thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and His ways of forgiveness are as high above your ways as the heavens are above the earth.
2. It is supposable that when you are weighing the case of an offender you decide upon it thus: “I could forgive him, bad as the sin is, if I thought he had fallen into it from inadvertence or carelessness, or if I supposed that he was moved by some great hope of gain for himself, but the offence was intentional, malicious, and wanton, and therefore I cannot remit it.” Naturally you transfer these thoughts of yours to the Lord of heaven, and you say, “He will never pardon me, for I have trespassed wilfully. I have sinned without excuse.” Such language as this befits a penitent’s tongue; men cannot forgive their fellows when they perceive wanton malice in their crimes, “but God can forgive” you.
3. You will in some cases also be obliged to say, I could very readily have overlooked this fault, but it has been repeated. Such to the full, is your case, O troubled sinner, with regard to God. Though you hardly dare to think of forgiveness, God can not only think of it, but bestow it.
4. I can conceive a person greatly injured saying, “I would overlook all these injuries which have been hurled against me, but I cannot see any reason why I should have been the particular object of this man’s spite; it has been quite undeserved on my part, and unprovoked. That would be a very excellent reason in a court of justice for insisting on the punishment of an offender. Listen to the voice of the good God whom you have injured Isaiah 1:2-3). What is the sequel to this very just but sad complaint?Isaiah 1:18).
5. “Yes,” says an offended person, “I might overlook the fault if I thought the man were wholly humbled now; but you seethe asks me to pardon, but he has not a sufficient sense of his guilt.” Troubled sinner, this is very much your case. You are somewhat broken down, but you must confess that your heart is hard still, compared with what it ought to be. But, God says, “I will take away the heart of stone, and I will give them a heart of flesh.”
6. “Still,” exclaims the aggrieved party, “I think the man ought to make me some compensation.” This principle is very properly recognized in courts of justice. Now, poor sinner, you feel that you cannot bring any compensation. But our loving God does not ask you for any compensation; He says, “Only return unto Me.” Sin is freely forgiven for Jesus’ sake.
7. Naturally, many a just-minded person would say, “If I were most gracious, yet I could not find it in my heart freely to forgive when I see the consequences always-before my eyes. Suppose that somebody had wantonly” injured your child; suppose he had broken one of your child’s limbs, for instance; I think I hear you say, “I could forgive him, but look at my poor limping child.” But sinner! God sees before Him daily tokens of what you have done! You can never unwrith the past, nor restore the lost one. All that accursed past of sin must live on. If you light the fire, it will burn on to the lowest hell. God may forgive your incendiarism, but the fire itself still continues. With all the consequences of your sin before Him, He forgives you freely if you rest on Jesus.
8. Furthermore, I can conceive a case in which the offended party can fairly say, “I do feel from my” heart fully prepared to forget this offence against me, but it was public, and therefore highly, “obnoxious, and injurious.” Trembling “sinner,” you also may well think, Surely God wall never forgive me, for against Him only have I sinned, and done this evil in His sight. I sinned in the face of the sun. I sinned unblushingly, and gloried in my shame. Rejoice, poor mourner, that this is no reason why the Lord should not forgive you, for as high as the heavens arc above the earth so high are His thoughts above your thoughts.
9. I can imagine it possible that an offended one might add, by way of clenching all his arguments against pardon, “My forgiveness he has already despised. I have put myself to great expense in order to subdue his hatred, and yet he has stood out against me. How can reason and justice expect me to do any more? I might, perhaps, answer, No; neither of them can well expect more of you; but what we cannot expect of you, the guilty sinner may yet expect of God.
II. Contrast your thoughts about THE PLAN OF PARDON with God’s thoughts. If you have advanced far enough to believe that God can pardon, and have to this extent laid hold upon God’s thoughts, it is well; but still another of your own thoughts drags you down, for you have a wrong idea of the way of pardon.
1. I will suppose that there are persons who ignorantly say, “If it be true that the Lord will pardon sin, let Him do it outright; let Him just take the pen and mark through all my transgressions, and have done with them. He has but to say, ‘ I forgive thee, and there is an end of it. But God’s thoughts are not your thoughts in this case. You have evidently become so impure in heart as to look upon sin as a trifle; but the Judge of all the earth is of another mind. The great Rules cannot suffer sin to go unpunished.
2. Others have a notion that God may, perhaps, forgive them by putting them through a course of affliction. It is still a superstitious notion lingering in England, that poor persons are the special objects of Divine favour, and that hard work and poverty, and especially a long lingering sickness, are a means of putting away sin; for persons so afflicted have had so much misery in this life that they do not deserve to suffer more. But your thoughts on this matter are not God’s thoughts. You may be as poor as Lazarus, but never lie in Abraham’s bosom; yon may endure as many sufferings here as fell to the lot of Job, and yet may go from Job’s dunghill to hell. Cast out any idea that these sufferings or privations of yours can make atonement for sin
3. A more current idea still is, that God will pur away the past and give men a new start, and that if they go on well for the future, then in their dying hour God will speak pardon. But there is nothing of that kind in the Word of God.
4. There is a very current supposition, however, that God pardons sin in this way: that He says, “Well, now, I forgive you the past. My law was a little too severe for you, but I will try, you again under a more lenient rule. Do as well as you can, and I will save you. But God does nothing of the kind! The forgiveness which is given to a sinner reaches to the sins which are yet to be committed as well as to the sins which he has already done. Christ stood for you, and therefore God is severely just while He is bountifully merciful to you. In the next place, when God forgives you He does it unconditionally.
III. THE PRESENT POSSESSION OF THIS PARDON.
1. There is an idea in the mind of many that the plan of just trusting in Christ, and being pardoned on the spot, is too simple to be safe. It is a well-known fact that the simplest remedies are the most potent and safe; and, certainly, the simplest rules in mechanics are just those upon which the greatest engineers construct their most wonderful erections. Do not despise the Gospel because it is simple.
2. I think I hear you say, “It is too good to be true.” But it is just like our God.
3. I think I hear your heart say, “It seems to me to be a plan too swift to be sure.” This is no human nostrum, this is a Divine prescription.
4. Believe and live!” Have done with thyself, and begin with Christ. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord
The great contrast
Nature, Providence and Grace abound in eloquent illustrations of the text.
I. OBSERVE NATURE.
1. God’s works are characteristic. They manifest His character. Man’s do not. We cannot tell infallibly what a fellow-creature is by remarking what he does. A garment is made for you. Are you able, as you look at it, to discover what the maker is? A carpenter constructs a box, table or chair; but nothing in its manufacture informs the spectator of the workman’s holiness or sinfulness. It is even so with books. The productions of the pen sometimes oppose the deeds of the life. But God’s works show us Himself. The purity and power, the mercy and majesty of Jehovah, are all displayed in creation.
2. God’s works will bear the most minute examination. In yonder gallery of art is a painting. Stand from it at a certain distance and you are struck with its beauty. Look at it closely and it becomes a mere confusion of colours. But ascend a hill. Gaze at the landscape. Here it is a Divine picture. The fields are emerald with grass, golden and white with prolific wild-flowers. Beheld afar off, the scene is glorious. Come down the hill, however. Go into the meadow. Pluck one of the flowers, and gaze at it minutely; gather a blade of grass, and subject it to a most scrutinizing examination. It will bear it. It is as beautiful as ever. A piece of lace which looks delicate and fine to the naked eye becomes coarse and clumsy under a microscope. Not so the wing of a fly or a moth. Magnify the finest needle ever made, and it immediately looks rude and rough; but magnify the sting of a, bee a million of times, and its surface is still smooth and unvarying.
3. Gods works are inexhaustible in attractiveness. We never tire of nature. Human achievements are limited in the interest which they yield.
II. STUDY PROVIDENCE. How opposed to men’s expectations have been many of God’s dealings. Placed in His position they would ]lave done the very opposite of what He was pleased to accomplish. E.g. Israel when brought out of Egypt; Joshua and Jericho; Gideon and the Midianites; Naaman and his leprosy. “Man proposes, God disposes.” We form our plans; He frequently leaves them where they are, and never allows them to crystallize into action. Brains are racked and hearts made anxious touching divers schemes and sundry intentions, when, lo! He who has the disposing of the lot quietly ignores them, and leads us into an altogether different path from that which we expected. I once visited the house of a friend. While waiting for admission my attention was arrested by a trivial but suggestive object. Beside the door an evergreen had been planted It was drooping and dying. Close to it, however, was a wild flower. Dropped by a passing bird, or cast there on the wings of the wind, some seed had taken root. It flourished and grew strong. Nor is it otherwise with human events. Schemes which we set, water, and watch, disappoint us and fail, while God gives to something very different vigour and life.
III. CONSIDER GRACE. In His” spiritual dealings with us, Neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord.
1. God loves all. We do not. Large-hearted philanthropists, whose affection takes in the whole race, are exceptional.
2. God makes allowance for our difficulties. Physical infirmities commonly awaken pity. We take them into account when we judge. Would that we carried out the same rule a little further! Not seldom when we Judge of our fellows morally and spiritually, we lose sight of the difficulties which they have to encounter. If we remembered their peculiar trials and temptations, we should speak a little less harshly of them. God makes full and large allowance for our difficulties. He sees and appreciates the obstacles with which we grapple. “He remembereth that we are dust.
3. God helps us through our difficulties. Adversity is a severe ordeal. Tried thereby, many friendships are found wanting. Fair weather and smooth sailing on life’s sea will win fellow-voyagers, but clouds and breakers few will share with us. How different is it with God; “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee”--not even in trial. Nay, He is nearer to us then than ever. He not only makes allowance for our difficulties, but helps us through them. Two children were once overheard talking about the Good Shepherd. “What does He do?” said one. “He feeds the sheep, and drives away the wild beasts,” was the reply. “But,” rejoined the first, “He does more for the sheep; He carries them up hill.”
4. God is very forgiving. Man is not: he is slow to pardon (verse 7). (T. R.Stevenson.)
God’s long-suffering surpasses man’s
An evangelist was conducting special services in a Yorkshire village and urged his Gospel-hardened audience to immediate decision. As he pictured the longsuffering of God his face beamed with holy excitement. Then, falling on his knees, he cried, “Lord, Lord, how stubborn they are! If I had been Thee, I’d a had ‘em all in hell long since.”
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,--
The near and heavenly horizons
THE HEAVENS ARE SO FAR ABOVE THE EARTH, AND THEREFORE SO PURE. By nature, the trend of our thinkings and activities is downward, earthly, sensual, devilish. Hence the awful disparity between the ways and thoughts of God and ours. It is impossible, therefore, for the natural man to understand God, or, to please God. It is impossible, also, for the natural man to live with God for ever, unless the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.
II. SO FOR, AND THEREFORE SO ABUNDANT. This is the thought which the apostle expands in one of the most glowing passages on the page of revelation (Romans 5:12-21). His point is, that whatever was done by sin, and through sin, must be paralleled and outdone by the grace of God. There is no parallel between our forgiveness and God’s. When God forgives, He ceases to remember; He blots out iniquities as a cloud, and sins as a thick cloud; He does not treat us simply as pardoned criminals, but takes us to His heart as beloved sons, He transforms the sad consequences of our sins into blessings, instead of the thorn comes up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar the myrtle-tree. This surely is as much above man’s notions of forgiveness as the heavens are high above the earth
III. SO FAR, AND THEREFORE SO BENEFICENT. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The transcendent elevation of God
It is a wonderful and beautiful turn which the prophet here gives to the thought of the transcendent elevation of God. The heavens are the very type of the unattainable; and to say that they are “higher than the earth”, seems, at first sight, to be but to say, No man hath ascended into the heavens,’ and you sinful men must grovel here down upon your plain, whilst they are far above, out of your reach. But the heavens bend. They are an arch, and not a straight line. They touch the horizon; and there come from them the sweet influences of sunshine and of rain, of dew and of blessing, which bring fertility. So they are not only far and unattainable, but friendly and beneficent, and communicative of good. Like them in true analogy, but yet infinite superiority to the best and noblest in man, is the boundless mercy of our pardoning God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
For as the rain cometh down
Rain snow, symbolic of the Word of God
The fitness of the symbolism is apparent even to the most casual observer.
1. Snow and rain are characterized by gentleness which merges into force. One drop of rain falls upon my hand, and I crush it, and it is not; but when the drop is multiplied, and the great storm sweeps along the valley, it is almost resistless in its onrush. One feathery flake of snow falls through the atmosphere; I touch it, and it passes and is lost, its crystal beauty gone for ever at the rudeness of my human hand; but let that flake be multiplied and the falling snow will take hold of the thundering locomotive, clog its wheels, cheek its progress, bury it beneath its soft and noiseless whiteness.
2. Rain and snow are characterized by helplessness which grows into beneficence. We ask: What can this drop of rain do for man? What can this flake of snow do for humanity? And yet we know that when we pass from the individual drop to the great rain, that in falling makes the earth laugh back in harvest, and crowns the labour of the hands of men. There is no more exquisite word in all Scripture about Nature than that simple and sublime passage, “He giveth His snow like wool.” Like a warm mantle, it wraps the earth in winter-time, and keeps it, itself of the nature of cold, from the penetration of intenser cold. And so we find that rain and snow, helpless as they seem, are the very messengers of beneficence to men.
3. Rain and snow come to us characterized by unfruitfulness, yet generating fruitfulness, wherever they fall. (G. Campbell Morgan, D. D.)
The Word of God
Let us take this symbolism of the prophet and consider it exactly as he has stated it--
I. AS TO THE SIMILARITIES SUGGESTED. Let me first tabulate the phrase that we are to consider in this verse: “Cometh from heaven, returneth not thither; watereth the earth, making it bring forth, and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.”
1. Man has nothing to do with the coming of the rain and the snow. In the midst of that wonderful questioning of Job by God occur these two inquiries: “Hast thou entered into the treasuries of the snow?” which, being translated, from poetry into prose, means, “Do you understand the snow. Do you know from whence it comes. Can you analyze the mystery of its crystallization and deposit? Then, “Hath the rain a father?” Are you able to generate it, to produce it? The Word of God is a message from God to man which no man was able to find out for himself. It is never a philosophy formulated by human wisdom; it is always a revelation made. The supreme quality of the Word of God is that however men may occupy their time in discussing thee methods by which we have come into possession of these documents, there is stamped upon every page of it the sign manual of Jehovah, great unveilings of His nature, great revelations of the deepest secrets of human life, great illumination of the problems that confront men by Divine revelation. It is the gift of God and not the contrivance of man.
2. But it “returneth not thither.” The snow and the rain pour themselves out on the face of the earth, they melt and pass, and within a very few hours of the great rainfall which has sweetened everything in its coming the roads are dusty again, and we say, “How soon the rain has passed. ‘ So after the snow has once come under the influence of the sun it is gone. Judged by first appearances, it seems as though this gift of heaven had been poured upon earth to be spoiled, contaminated, wasted. So the Word of God. The Word of God has been given to men in figure and symbol, in prophecy and song, and at last in the Person of Jesus, and since He came, in exposition and explanation, for centuries; and, how perpetually it seems to us, as we watch the openings of the decades, and even of the centuries, as though this great outpouring of Divine revelation was lost, falling upon man but to be spoiled.
3. But it “watereth the earth.” Take this dust as it lies upon the highway and over the furrowed field, and within the dust is the making of everything that is beautiful and fruitful. But the dust does not laugh in flowers; it is capable and incapable. Lying within it are all the forces of life. All the mysterious magnificence of your personality on the physical side lies within the dust at your feet, and all flowers that bloom lie there in potentiality. As the rain and snow water the earth, which is at once characterized by capacity and yet unable to fulfil the possibilities that lie sleeping within its own being, it makes all Nature laugh with new beauty. So also the Word of God comes to men in whose nature are the potentialities but not the realizations. The Word of God falls upon the centuries, upon society, upon individuals, and we thought it touched them but to be spoiled and soiled and pass, but we watched and we found that by its falling the soil became productive. There is in every human being the capacity for Deity. There arc in every human life the potentialities of the highest and the noblest and the best.
4. The prophet now adds a further truth concerning these elements in the statement, “making it bring forth.” After the rain and the snow the dull russet ground becomes beautiful with emerald and opal and ruby and diamond, and you know that when God’s rain and snow touch the dust it makes the dust bring forth. So with the Word of God. The Word of God makes the dormant forces in man move to fulfilment. All men that have ever realized the possibilities of their own life have done so in response to some part of the Word of God, to the Word spoken, to the Word written, to the Word lived.
5. Yet another word that I have taken separately, because I think it really is separate. It is a stronger word than the former--“maketh it bring forth, and bud.” I feel inclined to use here the literal Hebrew word, “and sprout.” That is to say, the rain and the snow not merely touch the dust into generation, but come again in the grass, the flowers, the fruitage. And the Word of God has come from Him to touch the failure of human life, and it has been returning to Him laughing with the harvest of ransomed souls. The Word was incarnate in the Christ supremely, and in a less and different degree, but nevertheless as truly, God’s Word has been re-incarnate in human lives in all the passing centuries.
6. Yet that is not all. “That it may give seed to the sower.” What is this harvest for? You say for the sustenance of human life. That is not the first thing. Bread to the eater is a secondary thing. Bread to the eater is provision for the toiler that he may continue his sowing and reap his harvests; but the first tiling is that, in the new form in which the rain and snow return to God, there is always found the potentiality of propagation waiting for new showers and new transmutations and new harvests. So with the Word of God. The Word of God taking hold of human life, changing it, becoming incarnate in it, communicates propagative power; it makes a centre from which the seed may be scattered still further afield, and from one life re-made and sanctified by the Word of God there must go forth the seed that will affect yet other fields, and stretch out into great lines of blessed harvest.
7. “And bread to the eater.” The man that ploughed and sowed and reaped feeds. The Word of God is also the bread of life to the toiler.
II. AS TO THE GREAT PRINCIPLES REVEALED. The symbolism of this great prophetic Word teaches--
1. That the Word of God is purposeful. The Word of Cedis not given to be possessed; it is given that it may possess.
2. That the Word of God is powerful. It shall not return to Him void. And why not? Because it never comes void from Him. Every word of God thrills with fruitfulness. If we but know how to receive it and how to respond, then it shall return to Him not void, but fruitful, in lives changed, re-moulded, re-fashioned, sanctified.
3. That the Word of God is prosperous. The word “accomplish” means it does something, it makes something, it realizes something; and the Hebrew word “prosper” literally means it “pushes forward.” It is a great dynamic force.
III. AS TO THE RESPONSIBILITIES ENTAILED. Rain and snow might fall upon the earth a long time and there be no harvest unless the earth is prepared. The rain and snow may fall in all their prodigal munificence and magnificence upon the earth, and there will be no harvest unless the seed is sown. And rain and snow may fall and make the earth laugh with harvest, if the earth be ready and the seed be sown, and yet men get no benefit unless the bread be eaten. Here, then, are three things at least that I would say: The earth must be prepared; “take heed how ye hear.” The seed must be sown; “preach the Word.” The bread must be eaten; “let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
The laws of grace as effectual as the laws of nature
I. THE LAWS OF NATURE ARE EFFECTUAL. “For as the rain,” etc.
1. Rain and snow are heaven sent agents.
2. They effectually answer their purpose.
3. Their beneficent results.
(1) Earthly beauty. “Maketh it bring forth and bud.’
(2) Husbandman supplied. “Giveth seed to the sower.”
(3) The citizen fed. “Bread to the eater.”
(4) Processes always repeated.
II. THE LAWS OF CHRISTIANITY ARE AS EFFECTUAL AS THE LAWS OF NATURE. “So shall My Word be,” etc.
1. The Divine origin of Christianity. My Word. Out of My mouth.
2. Christianity will not be defeated. Shall not return unto Me void.”
3. Christianity will ultimately accomplish God’s will and pleasure. “Shall accomplish that which I please.”
4. Christianity shall produce its Divinely intended results. “Shall prosper in the thing whereto! sent it.”
5. As in nature, the process slow but certain. (W. Unsworth.)
Divine grace and human responsibility
1. Repeatedly has one come across good people making out, to their own satisfaction and comfort, that the non-return of God’s Word to Him void just means that, when it does not soften and save it hardens, convicts, and condemns a man. And they think that dire result is the accomplishment of God’s pleasure--is prosperity in the thing whereto He has sent His Word. It is true, of course, that where God’s Word toes mot save, it condemns. But this is not the truth of these two verses. There is to reference in them to God’s sovereignty as bent upon getting something or other out f the work of His Word; or to alternative purposes of His in sending it; or to some unknown, mysterious will of His that is served by the apparent or actual failure of His revealed will; or, indeed, to any judicial, punitive purpose or after-thought of his that comes into operation when His first and gracious purpose proves abortive he verses contain no warning to impenitent sinners, but an encouragement to doubting believers in front of promises, like those in this, chapter, which seem almost too good to be true. They do not set forth God’s sovereign purpose in sending His Word as other than a sovereignly gracious purpose, and always gracious. They give a definite assurance, enforced and illustrated by “the rain and the snow in heaven,” of God’s kindness, of His power to make good His gracious Word, of faithfulness to His beneficent promises. The similitude of the fertilizing, fruit producing snow and rain, and the statement of Isaiah 55:12-13, forbid other than a gracious purpose in God’s sending His Word. When, therefore, it is asserted that His Word shall not return to Him void, all that is meant is that this gracious purpose shall be affected, by His Word, before it goes back to Him. It does not tail. There is no lack of life, virtue, or grace in it. As regards its saving purpose, it never does return to Him void.
2. But how? Now, here we come to the true causes of the failure of God’s Word to produce its legitimate and Divinely intended results, where it happens to fail. Just as the rain and the snow may, in some cases and under some conditions, very exceptional and mostly incidental, become a curse and not a blessing, so may God’s Word fail to save men and only harden and condemn them. Men may be condemned in spite of Christ’s coming to save the world. Men may bring upon themselves the wrath to which God did not appoint them. If so, it is in every case because God’s purpose was resisted or thwarted; or the conditions of its fulfilment dependent on men were not complied with. The failure is not owing to Gods pleasure that it should occur. It is an indirect consequence of His purpose, for which men alone are responsible. For, in the ease of the rain and snow, God’s purpose is realized only as men comply with the fitting and necessary conditions of using these aright. The rain and snow from heaven must be met by suitable conditions on earth by man’s contribution of active preparation, careful husbandry, and seasonable watchfulness and diligence. Rain will not make sea-sand fertile. Rain will not make seed grow even in rich soil where no seed is sown, or where the seed, if sown, may be choked by weeds. There will be no seed sown, or And so one can to the sower who sows none; no bread to the cater who eats none see that where God’s Word fails to effect His purpose of grace, it is simply and solely from causes for which man is responsible. It does not work mechanically, by lifeless necessity, regardless of man’s freedom and man’s contribution to its success. God’s Word fails, wherever it does fail, just because men do not comply with the simple, ordinary, commonplace, but essential conditions of spiritual husbandry. (A. Warrack, M. A.)
The efficacy of the Divine Word
The thoughts of God have been shown to be high above men’s thoughts. Now He indicates that His words, what ever may appear to the contrary, are efficacious with a like Divine efficacy.
1. It is to be received as an encouragement. It is not given as an explanation or justification for the want of results. It is meant to give new heart to the messenger who fancies his words are falling fruitless and all his efforts proving vain before the inert, immovable mass of sin and evil in the world. Most who have essayed to be messengers of God have been conscious of the sense of failure at times, and this thought would be fitted to buoy them up.
2. It declares the fact that God’s Word is never altogether a failure. It may seem to our eyes to be producing no result. It works secretly but certainly. The law of its working is the law of working with all seeds, at first slow and secret and unseen. Who does not believe that, although unseen, the seed is still duly germinating? Even the words of Christ did not prove uniformly successful with His hearers, but in the end how like the seed, has been their great and ever-increasing influence!
3. It gives the correct idea of preaching. Preaching should be the uttering of a word of God. It rebukes the notion that preaching in the sense of speaking our words about God is useful or effectual. This is what the scribes and Pharisees did. This is what happens always in the age of cold dogmatism, when men do not forthtell what they have felt of God in their own souls, but substitute explanations, traditions, and views about the truth that make it powerless.
4. It tells us of the never-failing benefit of public worship. Men say that such and such preachers are not worth hearing. But this reminds us that in every service there is the Word of God declared. Even if prayers be slovenly, praises be harsh, and sermons be dull, and the occupant of pulpit unworthy, yet we have a sure word of prophecy to rest upon, “ It shall not return to Me void.” (J. Robertson.)
The law of growth
I. THE UNIFORM ACTION OF LAW. “The rain returneth not thither,” void, without having effected the purpose for which it came. How is it that farmers are willing to put forth the labour of a whole year in order that they may have a gathering in at harvest-time? How is it that during the winter, and the spring, and the summer, they labour so hopefully, and wait so patiently! Because they know that the principles on which God carries on the processes of the material world are uniform and constant. So we conclude it is in the domain of spirit. There is uniform action of law. Notice this fact--
1. In our own nature. Effects always follow causes in our life; actions always produce effects.
2. In relation to God. This is but one expression of the truth that He is faithful.
(1) His purposes will surely be fulfilled. His ways are not as our ways.
(2) His Word is powerful; it cannot be void.
(3) His promises are sure.
II. THE COMBINATION OF FORCES. The harvest which whitens the fields has not been produced by the action of one cause or process only. There have been mechanical action, physical action, chemical action, vital action. The germ of life in the seed has been stimulated by heat, quickened by rain, fed by minerals, tended by man. Many unlikely things, too, have contributed to the result. The long, cold winter caused the land to lie dead; but that was a necessary preparation for the activity of spring. Storms and tempests beat upon the ground, snows in winter covered it as with a pall; but these were necessary in their place and at their time. The changes in the atmosphere, the variations in the temperature, the rest and coolness of night after the heat and glare of day, all helped to swell the grain, to draw forth the blade, to fill the ear. The processes of nature arc carried on by the combination of numberless causes, many of thence small and perhaps insignificant in themselves; and by the intermingling of various laws in almost infinite variety. So in our inner lives we find this fact, that many causes combine to produce results. Life is made up of an infinite combination of forces.
1. God has bestowed upon us many gifts. To one He has given quickness of perception; to another, clearness of reasoning powers; to another, strength of will; to another, power of invention; and so on. But these are not the only gifts He has bestowed upon each: and it is not by the use alone of one particular power that life is to be carried on. It is by the due combination of all. So in spiritual things, it is not by faith, alone, or by hope alone, or by love alone, or by endurance alone, or by reading God’s Word alone, or attending the means of grace alone, that our souls are to grow, that our characters are to be moulded. And sometimes the things which go to the moulding of our characters seem to us strange: the snows of winter sorrows settle round our hearts; the storms of difficulty and trial beat down upon us. We do not see how these can be necessary. But God sees, and He combines all causes, that He may lead to the best result.
2. So also it is with temptation. Hardly any sin is presented to us, or presents itself to us, in its naked reality. It comes clothed often in garments, if not of seeming righteousness, at least of negative purity. No temptation comes isolated; but mixed motives move us. We are, as it were, not so much in danger of being overwhelmed in a river, as of being beaten upon by successive drops of rain.
3. The possibility of usefulness comes to us not in one great offer, but a constant succession of small opportunities.
III. EFFECTS ARE SLOWLY ATTAINED TO. Not all at once, not in a few moments, do the operations of nature effect their results. So it is in the working of life. There are no sudden effects.
1. Growth in grace should be our daily aim.
2. Growth in knowledge, too, is our privilege, not only of outward things, of the mysteries of creation, of the history of the past or the work of the present; but of God’s Word.
3. Growth in strength may also be ours. The muscle that is used grows stronger by use. The spirit that exerts itself in the things of God, by God’s blessing gains strength therein. (J. S. Shields, D. D.)
Analogy of the natural and the spiritual
I. THE ANALOGY OF NATURE TEACHES US THAT WHEN GOD CREATES A NEED IN HIS CREATURES, HE MAKES ARRANGEMENTS TO SUPPLY THAT NEED. “Bread to the eater.” Our bodies are so constituted as to need food. He who has so made them, has also arranged that the food shall be supplied. What about the soul’s needs? God has so created it that it needs a food which the “constitution and course of nature” cannot give. It looks beyond the natural, and craves for the supernatural. We long for knowledge of things spiritual; for guidance and comfort in daily life; for a hope beyond the grave; for a sphere less trammelled by limitations and temptations. We feel, even the most careless, that sin is a burden which weakens and defiles and condemns. Has the great Architect and Designer made no provision for such wants as these? Yes. As it is in His workings in creation, so in the spiritual sphere: “So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth. God’s Word he sent forth to give the knowledge of Himself. It tells of the living Bread which alone can satisfy the soul’s need. It comes direct from God Himself. Written down by man, it is applied to the heart by God the Holy Spirit. Notice, therefore--
1. Its absolute truth. It is not a series of speculations, or philosophizings, or aspirations; guesses of good or wise men, which may or may not be perfectly accurate. It is the Word of truth.
2. Its binding authority. It is the Word of a King.
3. Its unchanging, faithfulness. It is ever reliable. Its promises, are always “yea and amen in. Christ Jesus.” They are bank notes for which there is always a reserve of gold in the treasuries of heaven.
4. Its unutterable blessing. It tells of full comfort for the sorrowing; perfect rest for the weary; abiding peace for the distressed. Never grateful showers fell with greater refreshment on the parched and thirsty fields than the dew of God’s Word on the weary and longing hearts of men. How important that we should receive that Word, obey its commands, rest on its promises, take heed to its warnings!
II. THE ANALOGY OF NATURE TEACHES US THAT WE MAY CO-OPERATE WITH GOD IN THE WORK OF ENLIGHTENING MANKIND. The harvest-fields supply not only bread to the eater, but “seed to the sower.” The grain is not merely food--it is seed. Each contains the embryo of a plant. Placed in proper environment at the right time, that little life will cause movement amongst its surroundings, will weave a shoot, a blade, and an ear full of corn. Next year’s harvest will not be gained by a direct creation of God, but by a due use of the grain of this. This in-gathering contains the promise and power of future crops; it not only will satisfy present needs, but it has an expansive, and extensive, and far-reaching possibility. So it is in the kingdom of grace.
1. The Christian’s life should be extensive as well as intensive. He receives, not only that he may gain benefit, but that he may help others.
2. The effects of truth are germinant as well as satisfying.
3. The rule of work prevails in the spiritual as well as the natural harvest-fields. Because the grain is seed, the work of the husbandman becomes possible. If the life were not there, the labour of the year would be in vain. Because the grain is seed, the work of the husbandman is obligatory. It is God’s rule that part of this harvest should be used for the next. It is God’s command that man should co-operate in this great plan. It is also man’s interest to do so. The produce of the ground is the fundamental and dominating source of wealth. So it is in spiritual things. Think of the possibilities of the Christian life. Think of the obligatory nature of Christian service. We may even speak of the analogy of our own interest. (J. S. Shields, D. D.)
The rain and, the Word
The Gospel is compared to rain and snow
I. IN ITS ORIGIN. From heaven. All truth is Divine.
II. IN ITS OPERATION. “Watereth the earth.” The Gospel changes the human heart and promotes and nourishes all that is good.
III. IN ITS BENEFITS. “That it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater.” The Gospel gives instruction, comfort, and strength to men, and brings forth a harvest of fruit for God.
IV. IN ITS FINAL RESULTS. “It shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Homilist.)
These words suggest several ideas concerning Christianity.
I. VARIETY. It is compared to the rain and the snow.
1. How varied in form. The rain comes down softly and gently, and sometimes in torrents; and the snow, too, has a variety of form.
2. How varied in distribution! How much falls on oceans, how much on sands and desert wastes and rocks, as well as on fertile soils! It is so with Christianity. As the Word of God, its forms are varied, it comes in history, poetry, philosophy, precept, example, menaces, and promises. How varied in distribution! It falls on every class of mankind, the literate and the illiterate, the hardened, the tender, the rich, the poor, etc.
II. PRECIOUSNESS. How inestimably valuable the rain and snow to nature. How precious Christianity! It is the “water of life,” etc.
III. DIVINITY. “The rain cometh down and the snow from heaven.” It is manifestly from above. So is Christianity. “It is,” says God, “My Word that goeth forth out of My mouth.” The Divinity of Christianity is clear from its congruity with the facts of universal history, the soul’s a priori notions of a God, the spiritual intuitions and longings of mankind, and the deep moral wants of the world. It is, indeed, the Word of God.
IV. INEVITABLENESS. It shall not return unto Me void.” Not a drop of rain or a flake of snow is wasted. It may be swallowed up in the desert, but it is not lost. Every drop has a mission, and its mission will be fulfilled.
1. God in giving Christianity to the world had a purpose.
2. That purpose will be inevitably accomplished. If God has made a promise to the world and that purpose is not accomplished, it must be for one of three reasons: either--
(1) He was insincere when He made it; or
(2) He subsequently changed His mind; or
(3) difficulties arose in the future, that baffled Him, which He never anticipated. All these are inadmissible, so that His Word shall not return unto Him void. (Homilist.)
The errand of the Word
Upon what errand has God sent forth His Word? “Ten thousand thousand are its tongues,” and yet its work is one. It publishes “salvation” with all its tongues. For if it speak to the mourner, it would save him from the wasting effects of his grief; and if it speak to the wanderer, it would save him from the further loss of his time, and the final loss of himself, in the wrong paths on which he has entered: and if it speak to the busy, it would save them from spending labour on that which satisfieth not. This is the lesson He would have sink into the heart of dull unbelieving man as the rain does into the earth, that the heavenly errands of Nature are not more sure of success than the heavenly errands of Grace; that the God of husbandry is even more the God of the husbandman; that, if water nourishes the earth, much more truth nourishes the soul: that if God’s bidding is done by the winds that carry about the clouds to water the world, so also is it done--as surely, and in a higher way--by the Spirit that brings and dispenses to us the words of holy instruction and comfort. (T. T. Lynch.)
The return of God’s Word
I. THE CERTAINTY. The great purpose of God cannot fail.
II. THE MANNER. But, then, we read of messengers who went to the husbandmen that kept God’s vineyard, and returned to Him empty-handed. “Why have ye not brought the fruit of the vineyard?” “There was no fruit, Lord, to bring. They have wasted the hours of labour, or consumed Thy fruit in their own revels.” This is quite according to God’s will--that men should be free to taste and try what manner of god folly is, what manner of reward sin can offer. God’s messengers go once, twice, seven times. And, if needed, the Word goes forth to banish the husbandmen from the vineyard. The Word returns to God in many ways. It yields, by its operation, proofs that His charge against men is true; it yields fruits of patience in the souls of those who carry for God the rejected message; it produces, by the results of its rejection, the acknowledgment that it ought to have been accepted, and the disposition to accept it if it be again offered. If His word of mercy, on which men might rely, is not received by them, then His word of punishment, for which the rejected word has opened the way, goes forth into act; and this, by its action, may in turn prepare the way for another word of mercy, which is ready to go forth on its errand. So God’s Word is always fruitful, however unfruitful we may be.
III. THE MEASURE. In one sense all God’s words are effective; that is to say, none shall be without its use, none without service rendered in illustration of His power and character. But some possible effects may not result, others coming in their stead; the conversion of a sinner,, for instance, may not now result, but, in its place, there may be a display of God’s forbearance toward him. And so a hundredfold may not now be the measure of success, but only sixtyfold or thirty. In measure, as in manner, God’s always powerful Word returns to Him variously.
IV. THE TIME. Our time is short, and God’s time long. Therefore many of the returns His Word shall make Him, returns in the abundance and glory of which we too are interested, are of necessity, and most wisely, delayed. (T. T. Lynch.)
The Word of God likened to rain
I. IN REGARD TO ITS ORIGIN.
II. FROM ITS ADAPTATION TO THE END WHICH IT IS INTENDED TO SERVE. The rain that descends from above softens and subdues the stubborn clod; it furnishes food for the whole vegetable kingdom, and thus also for the animal kingdom; it mollifies and warms the atmosphere--and as it is the means of dissipating those clouds of cold that intercept the genial rays of the sun, it is no less necessary for the progress and perfection of vegetation than the sun in all his glory. One of the finest objects in nature is the appearance which the earth presents after having been saturated with rain, when warmed and invigorated by the rays of the sun; and accordingly the Messiah is thus represented, “He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by the clear shining after the rain.” The Word of God is no less fitted for all those purposes of enlightening, convincing, converting, and comforting for which it is sent.
III. WITH REGARD TO THE MANNER OF ITS OPERATION. The falling of the rain from the clouds in small drops is a remarkable instance of the wisdom of Him who is perfect in knowledge. When, at any time, as in the case of storms, it descends in torrents, this truth appears to us more obvious, as then, instead of refreshing the vegetable tribes, it carries desolation in its train. Such, in general, is the manner in which the Word operates upon the heart of man. The Spirit of God worketh where, and when, and how He pleaseth, by the Word generally, yet not always--sometimes by alarming dispensations of providence, and sometimes by the voice of conscience speaking within us. The Word of God is the great means which He employs for the salvation of sinners; the rain is the great means which He employs for the fructifying the earth: in the ordinary course of providence, the one acts in a gradual imperceptible manner; in the ordinary course of His grace, this is the way in which the other operates.
IV. THE WORD IS LIKENED TO RAIN IS THIS RESPECT--“It watereth the earth, and maketh it to bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater. The great benefits that flow to the people of God from the Word, are set forth under the figures of bread to the cater, and seed to the sower; or, in other words, present support and future provision.
V. THE WORD MAY BE LIKENED TO RAIN, WITH REGARD TO THE CERTAINTY OF ITS PRODUCING THE INTENDED EFFECT.
VI. THE WORD MAY BE LIKENED TO RAIN, INASMUCH AS ITS EFFICACY DEPENDS ENTIRELY UPON THE DIVINE BLESSING.
VII. THE WORD MAY RE LIKENED TO RAIN, INASMUCH AS WHILE THE EFFICACY IN BOTH CASES DEPENDS UPON THE BLESSING OF GOD, IN NEITHER CASE IS THIS BLESSING TO BE EXPECTED TO THE EXCLUSION OF OUR ENDEAVOURS. (C. Adie, D. D.)
The certain success of evangelistic labour
We argue the certainty of success in evangelistic labour.
I. FROM THE NATURE OF DIVINE TRUTH. There is something in the quality and characteristics of the doctrine which we are commanded to preach to every creature, that promises and prophesies a triumph. The Word of God is both living and quickening. This is implied in the figure which the prophet Isaiah employs in the text. This is the declaration of God Himself, who understands the intrinsic nature of His own revelation; and by it teaches us that there is no greater adaptedness in moisture to fructify the ground, and germinate a corn of wheat, than there is in Biblical doctrine to renew and convert a human soul. For the truth which the evangelist scatters upon the printed page, or teaches from his own lips, is superhuman. In this fact, there is great encouragement to diligence and perseverance, upon the part of every disciple of Christ, to proclaim Divine truth in every form and manner possible. Revealed truth is immortal. It can never perish. Not only is Divine truth immortal in its nature, but it can never be expelled from the mind. Teach a child or a man, for example, the true Biblical doctrine of sin; fix it in his mind that God abhors wickedness, and will punish it everlastingly, and you have imparted something to him which he can never get rid of. And on the other side of revelation, all this is equally true. The peace-speaking promises of mercy, the doctrine of the Divine pity, of the forgiveness of sins and the preparation for eternal life--all this portion of Divine truth when once imparted is never again expelled. Even if, owing to the inveteracy of vice, or the torpidity of the conscience, or the obstinacy of the proud heart, the soul goes into the presence of God unforgiven, still the truths of the Gospel will be a portion of the soul’s knowledge through all eternity; the evidence of what it might have secured, and the index of what it has lost.
II. FROM THE FACT THAT GOD FEELS A SPECIAL INTEREST IN HIS OWN WORD. The Scriptures warrant us in asserting that God is more profoundly concerned for the success of that body of truth which He has revealed to mankind in the Scriptures, than for the spread and influence of all other ideas and truths whatsoever. This is the only species of truth which He personally watches over, and accompanies with a Divine influence. The “wisdom of this world” is “foolishness” with Him. “My Word,” says God, “shall not return unto Me void; but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. Here is personal interest, and personal supervision. You may proclaim all your days your own ideas, or those of your fellow-men, but you will say with Grotius, at the close of a long and industrious career which had by no means been exclusively devoted to humanistic learning, “I have spent my life in laboriously doing nothing.”
III. FROM THE ACTUAL INSTANCES OF SUCCESS FURNISHED BY THE ANNALS OF SUCH LABOUR. Christianity must be from God, argued Justin Martyr and Tertullian, “because it makes the voluptuous man chaste, the avaricious man liberal, the man of cursing a man of prayer, the implacable enemy a forgiving friend, converts wrath into gentleness, debauchery into temperance, and vice of manifold form into manifold virtue.” The fruits evince the reality, and the quality of the tree. We find what we may call the realism of Christianity in the evangelizing operations of the Church. The power of Biblical truth even when not proclaimed by the voice of the evangelist is continually receiving demonstration from this same source. The records of Bible and Tract Societies are full of instances in which the bare text of Scripture led to the conversion of a human soul. There is no surer evidence that the truths of the Gospel are destined to prevail, than the fact that they do prevail. From the subject as thus discussed, we infer the duty of great courage, and confidence, in the work of evangelizing men. (G. T.Shedd, D. D.)
So shall My Word be
Finality of the Divine purpose
TRUTH IN ITS MISSION. “It shall accomplish that which I please,” etc.
1. We may take our first illustration of this mission from the spirit and contents of the truth itself. It; is “the Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Nature is the Word of His power. The Bible is the Word of His mouth. That belongs to the few who have the key or can find it: this is in language vernacular to the race. These two records are equally true in what they teach; but their teaching is in different dialects. Nature is a system of material facts: the “Word is a revelation of supernatural thought. One is a manifestation of being: the other is a declaration of will. The one appeals to the senses and thence to the reason, making science: the other is a voice from within the veil, speaking to the consciousness of faith, creating a religion. Hence, while the teaching of the two records is equally Divine and true, their methods of teaching are essentially distinct. That something is at the back of all the complex and orderly working of nature, accounting for and actuating it, which itself is not nature, is patent to all who think. What that something is, is nowhere apparent. We see only phenomena. But “ the entrance of Thy Word giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple.” The one grand secret that has put the Bible down into the heart of man and made it the most precious, as it is the most potent, of his treasures, is this directness and power of its witness.
2. Then, there is the regeneration the truth is intended to effect. “It is the power of God unto salvation.” It “effectually worketh.” There is a method in this regenerating process. First of all, life is to be infused into dead souls. In the prospective history of humanity as that contemplates a state of future perfected being, we have a still further insight into this mission of truth. Paul, when affirming the scope of his own ministry, enunciates this thought: “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” The one type after which this perfection is to be constructed is “Christ Jesus.” There is this final result. “That we may present every man perfect in Christ”--man in his nationalities, in his generations, in his separate individualities, to the end of the ages, perfected by the truth. This is its mission.
II. THE OBSTRUCTIONS THE TRUTH HAS TO ENCOUNTER. “It shall not return void,” etc. On the magnitude of the conflict depends the greatness and glory of its victory. There are obstructions arising from the nature of the truth itself, and from the disposition of man.
1. Truth is a holy thing; it can fraternize only with what is kindred to its own spirit: man is not a holy being. Hence antagonism. “Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” In the natural world, there are ten thousand things which we cannot see with the naked eye: they can be reached only by an extra-natural sense. So it is in the kingdom of God. “They are spiritually discerned.”
2. Truth is dogmatic in its teaching. It speaks “as one having authority.” It has little consideration for the whims or passions of men. It postulates rather than argues its positions. Against this lofty dogmatism of inspired truth man lifts up his heel of proud contempt.
3. It was said by a distinguished sceptic of the eighteenth century, that if the solution of one of Euclid’s problems could be shown to war against the selfishness or the pride of the human heart, there would not be wanting men to contradict it. A startling concession, and yet a conceivable fact. Euclid’s problems do not touch our moral nature. They provoke no suspicion. It is otherwise with the truth. It reveals what we are shy of discovering. It affirms what we dislike to believe, and therefore wish to doubt. It asks what we are unwilling to yield. It puts in a plea for all rights which place themselves on the side of God; and so makes confession of our wrong-doing a first step in our becoming right with God.
III. UNDER THESE DIFFICULTIES, TRUTH HAS ITS ENCOURAGEMENTS. “As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven--so shall My Word be.” Here are grounds of confidence.
1. There is the relation truth sustains to a purpose.
2. There is the connection of truth with a suitable agency. And this directness of supernatural agency carries over the truth from its relation to a purpose into the efficiency of an act. When the telegraph sends its message through the air or under the sea, there is something more than electricity at work. There is a mind, a personal intelligence, from whose directive will that electricity gets its action. So in the efficiency of truth. It supposes a power not in the truth, not in man, but in God; a power which, however inscrutably to us, works after its own methods--going down to the conscience, and up to the intellect, conquering prejudice, and silencing doubt, and turning men “from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God.”
3. There is confidence in the end which this Word is to accomplish. “It shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” What is that thing? There is the promise of the Father: “Ask of Me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”
This is already done in purpose, but not in effect. There is the advent of the Spirit. There is the glory of the Church. There is the millennium of man. There is the triumph of the Cross. God’s time-plan sweeps through our human centuries, making a day out of a thousand years, and a thousand years into a day.
4. There is the calm, dignified attitude of truth in view of opposition. “It shall not return unto Me void; it shall accomplish that which I please; it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Shall it? Then the Divine and the human plans are manifestly in collision. Men say it shall not prosper. “It shall prosper.” Then the fears of the timid and the calm determination of the Divine mind are not in harmony. “It shall accomplish that which I please.” Then the machinations of the adversary must be defeated. “It shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” Then man universally shall receive and know and obey the truth; for to man singly, and to man as a race, “is the Word of this salvation sent.” (J. Burton.)
The efficiency of God’s Word
The rain and the snow are sapped into the earth, and then incorporated in the grain, resulting in seed to the sower and bread to the eater. Similarly, the published Word, being assimilated into the human mind, fashions thought, moulds character, regenerates life; and therefore it does not return void to its Author. And even though it should be humanly rejected, it still would not return void; individual hearing creates individual responsibility, and hence leaves no one in the same place. The horizon of hope being unbrightened, the reverse side of despair casts up sooner or later. The operations of the Word are partly visible and partly invisible. Finite creatures observe the former; it wants Omniscience to penetrate the latter. For this reason God only can determine what His Word is really doing. Let us then consider--
I. THE WORD IN ITS PECULIAR REVERSES. These are more apparent than real. The Word of God has sometimes carried His forces up to the heights of actual and visible victory; and at other times they have been allowed to fall back as if into shades of retreat, peradventure beneath bowers of sanctified calm. But retreat does not stand for surrender, though it may appear so to the unspiritual mind. Things are not necessarily what they seem; there are under-currents, silent influences, which demonstrate themselves, in some instances, only after a time. Denominations, associations, Churches, missions, and individual Christians have been known to get down to a low spiritual level; and yet, as if out of the ruins of a once flourishing past, great waves of revival have risen up and borne them into celestial altitudes, where they have gone on their way rejoicing.
II. THE WORD IN ITS ACTUAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS. “It shall accomplish that which I please.” We are here confronted with the Word under four divisions--Promise, Law, Prophecy, Gospel. The outstanding promise of the Abrahamic period that Christ should arise from the seed of Abraham became an accomplished fact when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The law, with its manifold observances, also saw its end and accomplishment in Christ. Prophecy, although it covers a wide range, has waited long enough to see itself come true for the most part; it shall wait a little longer, and then it will see itself worked out in full. Through this treble word--Promise, Law, Prophecy--God was pleased to accomplish what may be summed up as the prelude to a spiritual kingdom. Then there is the further word, the Gospel, which outlines the principles on which the spiritual kingdom is founded and worked. The Gospel is our charter; through it God accomplishes that which pleases Him even now--namely, the salvation of sinners. How far the Gospel has wrought towards the fulfilling of God’s saving purpose up to the present, no one can tell but Himself.
III. THE WORD IN ITS DISTINCTIVE AIM. “It shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” What is that thing? To bring mankind to a knowledge of His will. Whoever has felt the power of the Word within his own soul is himself an illustration of its efficacy. Also, whatever spiritual advancement accrues to believers through perusing the Word, in them likewise it may be said to prosper. But above all, when the mansions of glory are possessed, God may then point to that great multitude which no man can number, and say, “These are they that have come out of great tribulation.” They will be His witness that His Word had prospered in the thing whereto tie sent it. Considering the verse as a whole, it gives out an explicit promise. It contains a fourfold “shall.” What scope for the exercise of faith! (H. Edwards.)
Spring-time in nature and grace
I. DOWN COMING. “As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven.” Our spring begins with April showers alternating with rough winds. So it is spiritually; the down-coming of the Word of God is to our hearts like the falling of the rain from heaven. Concerning this clown-coming, I may say--
1. It is usually unpleasant. We are accustomed to speak of rainy weather, and especially of snowy weather, as “bad ‘“ weather. When we spiritually begin to live, it is usually rough weather, and we are apt to think it is bad weather. Drip, drip, drip, fall showers of repentance. Snowflake after snowflake falls, and buries all our hopes; our joys arc covered, as with a winding-sheet.
2. It differs very much in its method, for rain and snow do not always come down in the same way. Sometimes the rain falls very gently, we can hardly tell whether it is rain or not. Our Scotch friends would call it “a mist.” At another time, the rain, like Jehu the son of Nhnshi, drives furiously. So, there are some to whom God’s Word comes very softly. There are others to whom it comes very terribly.
3. It differs also in time and in quantity. One shower is quickly over, and another lasts all day and all night. The snow may in one season fall heavily for a few hours only; at another time, a week of snow may be experienced. So, the work of Divine grace, when it begins in the soul, is not very manifestly the same in different persons. Some of us were for years subject to the operations of God’s Spirit, and endured much pain and sorrow before we found peace in believing. Others find Christ in a few minutes, and leap out of darkness into light by a single spring.
4. It is always a blessing, and never a curse. If the rain should pour down very heavily, and continue to fall until we might be led to think that the very heavens would weep themselves away, yet, it never can produce a flood that would drown the world, for yonder in the heavens is the bow of the covenant. These rains must mean blessing. And if the snow should fall never so deep, yet not even by snow will God destroy the earth any more than by a flood. So, when God’s grace comes streaming into the heart, it may produce deep conviction, it may sweep away the refuges of lies, it may cover up and bury beneath its fall every carnal hope; but it cannot be a flood to destroy you. There shall yet come a change of weather for you, and your soul shall live.
II. THE ABIDING. “It returneth not thither, but watereth the earth.” So is it spiritually; when God’s grace falls from heaven, it comes to stay.
1. When God sends His grace from heaven, you may know it by this sign, that it soaks into your soul.
2. It fertilizes it, it makes the soul bring forth and bud. The metaphor of my text cannot set forth the whole truth, for this Word of God, which is the rain, is also the seed. What should we think of clouds that rained down the seeds? The Word of God is the incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever; and whenever that seed is sown, God’s Word comes soaking into the soul, making the soul to live.
3. It works in the man whatsoever God pleases, all His Divine purpose. “It shall accomplish,’ etc.
III. THE RESULTS of the down-coming and the abiding. What happens?
1. It makes the earth to bring forth and bud. There is nothing more beautiful than the rosebud; it is more charming by far than the full-blown rose; and the buds of all manner of flowers have a singular charm about them. But when the grace of God has come into a young man’s heart, we very soon see his buds; he has gracious purposes, holy resolves, the beginnings of prayer; he has the makings of a man of God about him.
2. If you are what the Lord would have you to be, you will not long be content with buds. If you serve the Lord, and the Lord continues to visit you with showers of blessing, you will soon bring forth seed for the sower. You yourself will become useful to others; your experience, your knowledge, your service, will become the seed of good for other people.
3. Grace also makes us produce bread for the eater. If you consecrate yourselves to Christ, and come under the saturating influence of the Divine Word, you do not know how many lips you may feed, nor how many your word may convert to Christ.
4. The result of Divine grace upon the heart is very singular, so that I can hardly bring it under the metaphor of rain and snow, for it works a transformation. When rain falls on a plot of ground, if it is covered with weeds, it makes the weeds grow; but in the spiritual realm, the rain that comes down from heaven itself sows the ground with good seed. What is more singular, where it falls, it transforms the ground, and the plants that come under its influence change their nature. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree.” When the grace of God comes into the soul, it takes the obnoxious things in us, and transmutes them into blessings.
IV. THE REJOICING. The music of the year is full in spring-time.
1. In spring-time, one cause of happiness is new life. We have come into a new life; the Holy Ghost has breathed upon us.
2. Another source of joy in spring-time is to be found in our happy surroundings. It is beginning to be warm; we hope soon to be able to sit out of doors in the sunshine. And is it not so with us spiritually? We are no longer in bondage and fear. Reconciled through the blood of Jesus Christ, we joy in God.
3. Spring-time is peculiarly pleasant because of its large promise. We are thinking of the hay harvest and of the fruit of the field. We are reckoning upon luscious grapes, and upon the various fruits which faith sees to be hidden within the blossoms. But may not our hopes be disappointed if we reckon upon earthly fruits? But you and I have come, by grace, into a land of hope most sure and steadfast. We have hopes grounded on God’s Word, and they shall never be disappointed.
4. In spring-time there always seems to me to be a peculiar sense of Divine power and Divine presence throughout all nature. It is as if Nature had swooned awhile, arid lay in her cold fit through the winter; but now she has been awakened, her Lord has looked her in the face, and charmed her back to life again. Some say that there is no God. We have had dealings with God, personal dealings with Him, as when the sun, though it be ninety-five millions of miles away, has commerce with the earth, and the bulbs that sleep beneath the black mould begin to swell and upheave, and by and by the yellow cup is held up to be filled with the light of the sun. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
God’s Word productive of good
A distributor gave a tract to a young man, accompanying it with some words expressive of a serious and affectionate desire for his salvation. The young man, upon the departure of the missionary, threw the pages into the fire; but as they curled up in the flame, his eye caught the words: “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” As these words turned to ashes in the fire, they turned to firs in his mind. He found no rest, until he found it in the blood of atonement. This was an actual occurrence. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
For ye shall go out with joy
The reversals of pardoning mercy
The wealth of God’s abundant pardon is here set forth in metaphors which the least imaginative can understand.
Not only were the exiles forgiven, their warfare accomplished, their iniquity pardoned; but they would be restored to the land of their fathers--“Ye shall go out . . . ye shall be led forth . . . ” Not only were they to be restored; but their return was to be one long triumphal march. Nature herself would celebrate it with joyful demonstration; mountains and hills would break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field would clap their hands. But even this was not all. One of the necessary results of the depopulation of the land of Israel was the deterioration of the soil. Vast tracts had passed out of cultivation; the terraces, reared on the slopes of the hills with so much care, had become heaps of stones; where corn had waved in the rustling breeze, or luscious fruits had ripened in the autumn sunshine, there was the sad fulfilment of the prediction, “They shall smite upon their breasts for the pleasant fields,,, for the fruitful vine. Upon the land of My people shall come up thorns and briars (Isaiah 32:12-13).But this, too, was to be reversed. Literally and metaphorically, there was to be a complete reversal of the results of former sins and backslidings. (F. B.Meyer, B. A.)
God’s dealings with the soul in grace
To the Jew in Isaiah’s time this promise doubtless bore reference to three things: the return from the seventy years’ captivity; their ultimate restoration, first to their own land, and then to Christ; and God’s way of dealing with each individual’s own soul. To us it stands only in the last reference; to us the words are simply spiritual.
I. THE GOING GUY appears to relate to that great moral exodus when a man emerges from a state of nature into a state of grace, from bondage to liberty, from darkness to light, from the world to Christ, This is indeed to be with joy.
II. THE BEING LED FORTH denotes the further experiences of the Christian,--God’s conduct of him by the way; his future courses, and especially themanner in which he is brought out at last--out of this life into a better; and all this is to be “with peace.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
What is joy?
1. Novelty of perception. It is a wonderfully new feeling when a soul first tastes the promises and grasps its own interest in Christ.
2. Keenness of perception. Keen is the first sense of sin to a penitent, and keen is the first sense of pardon to a believer. In that early dawn the soul’s atmosphere is so clear that every object stands out in its distinctness.
3. Sweetness of perception. Sweeter are those perceptions than they are keen. Are they not the touches of the Holy Ghost They are all about beautiful things--saints and angels, a holy heaven, and a perfect Jesus. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
“And be led forth with peace:”
As we go on in the spiritual life the sense of sin grows deeper and deeper; and a deep sense of weakness, nothingness, and guilt, combining with a fuller sense of pardon and love, makes joy peace. To a mind led and taught of God all the changes and chances of life lend themselves to peace. A great affliction is a deep fountain of peace; the very agitation hushes, and it makes all troubles afterwards so very small. Another and another promise fulfilled every day is always enlarging the rock underneath our feet. Another and another answer to prayer is always strengthening the arguments for the future. Another and another new drop of the knowledge of Christ is always swelling the tide, till the “peace flows like a river,” because we see the “righteousness of Christ” as the waves of the sea. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The effect produced by the Gospel
I. AN EFFECT THE MOST JOYFUL. Joy to whom?
1. To themselves. “The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head. Lord Chesterfield said, “I hope I shall never be what they call converted, for I should be the most miserable man upon earth; not considering that this change would have produced a change in his taste, and that he would have been able to relish things which he disliked before. He to talk of religion making him miserable! Why, does he not, in one of his letters, tell us that he had always been wretched--that he had always found the world a cheat--and that he was now leaving it, not because he was reconciled to it, but because he was compelled; and that, since time had become his enemy, he was endeavouring to sleep away the remainder of it in a carriage? Bolingbroke, too, said, “I now find in my affliction that my philosophy fails me. But the Christian’s religion does not fail him in the day of trouble.”
2. To their fellow-Christians. There is no room for envy here, for there is enough for others as well as for yourselves, and enough for all.
3. To their pious friends, connections and relations. They had given them many a pang before.
4. Joy to ministers. When they observe the success of their labours, they resemble the husbandman, who, after his ploughing, manuring and sowing, goes forth and sees, first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear.
5. Joy to the angels.
6. Joy to the Mediator.
7. Joy to God Himself. “The pleasure of the Lord,” says Isaiah, “shall prosper in his hand.” “The Lord thy Go-d in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing.”
II. AN EFFECT THE MOST TRANSFORMING. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree,” etc.
III. AN EFFECT THE MOST HONOURABLE TO GOD. It shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign, that shall not be cut off.” (W. Jay.)
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree
The word for briar (sirpad) is unknown. LXX. renders Κόνυζα (fleabane). All that can be said is that some desert plant is meant. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The Lord’s name and memorial
These words are a poetical description of great moral changes which the Gospel works wherever it comes. At the same time they are not solely poetical, for wherever the spiritual change comes the physical change is almost sure to follow. As men are elevated the earth yields her increase more largely. Look at the field of the sluggard, and the garden of the industrious! Look over the wild wastes of Africa, and then see the fertility of the same soil when tilled by the missionary’s converts! The surest way to benefit men in their outward circumstances is to bless them spiritually.
I. THE EFFECTIVE AGENCY here spoken off I do not find in this fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah that the cause of the spiritual miracles of my text is a gospel of forms and ceremonies. Nor do I find here a gospel of dogmas and orthodoxies, of rigid creeds, and infallible statements. But I learn a Gospel of quite another sort, more Divine, more glorious by far.
1. A Gospel revealing Divine provision for man’s necessity, and earnestly inviting man to partake of it (verse 1).
2. This Gospel is as free as the air, for do we not read over and over again, “Buy without money and without price,” and are not those invited to come who have-no money?
3. It is a Gospel of hearing and not of doing. “Hearken diligently.” “Incline your ear.” “Hear and your soul shall live.” Death came to us first through the eye, but salvation comes through the ear.
4. Running your eye down the chapter you will notice that the great means God makes use of for turning deserts into gardens is the Gospel founded on a covenant, a covenant made with David’s Lord and Son. “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure, mercies of David.”
5. Isaiah describes” a Gospel whose success is guaranteed. “Thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not. But you may call often, and men will not come; in this case, however, they shall come. “Nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee.” “For as the rain cometh down, and the snow,” etc.
6. The Gospel which Isaiah speaks of is full of grace and encouragement (verses 6-9).
II. THE BENEFICIAL RESULTS OF THE GOSPEL. The change depicted in this verse is very radical, for a little observation will convince you that it is a change in the soil. The verse does not say, Instead of the thorn God shall plant the fir tree. No but as the thorn coming up naturally by itself indicates such-and-such a condition of soil, so fir trees shall spring up by themselves spontaneously, indicating an altogether radical change in the earth beneath. When God encloseth a heart that has laid common, does He cut down the thorns and the briars, and then plant fir trees? No l but He so changes the soil that from the ground itself there spontaneously starts up the fir tree and the myrtle. This is a miracle which man cannot accomplish, a marvel which only the grace of God can work, and which gives to God His highest glory. Note the poetic metaphor which describes the outward change.
1. A thorn Is the conspicuous emblem of the curse. Upon many ungodly men there is very evidently the curse, while upon all it really rests. The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked.
2. A thorn is a fruitless thing. Look at it, and see how barren it is. God gets neither prayer nor praise from the ungodly man.
3. A thorn, too, is a repulsive thing--there is nothing inviting about it; nobody would choose to make it a pillow or a companion. Some Christless persons are naturally amiable; but many and many a man, especially when sin has come to a head with him, is a thorn-hedge, a churl, a,n unsympathizing, selfish being.
4. Again, the thorn is a rending thing, offending, noxious. So has it been with ungodly men, when unrestrained by grace. Like Saul of Tarsus, they breathe out vengeance against God and His people.
5. As for the metaphor of the briar used in the text, it was always the emblem of desolation. The briar came up on the desolate walls of Babylon and Nineveh; the briar covered the land of Israel, when the inhabitants were carried away captive. In how many human hearts where the Gospel has not come is there desolation, sadness, despair?
6. The briar, too, is a thing that cumbers the ground; it occupies the place of the palm or of the fig; and so ungodly men cumber the ground; they do no good; they occupy spheres in which others might have served God; they are altogether wasters, they rob God, they bring Him no revenue of glory.
7. The briar is soon to be cut down, and when cut down no use can be made of it; it is burnt; it is put away. Such is the future history of the unconverted man.
III. THE GLORIOUS ISSUE. “It shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” Jehovah might, if He willed, have taken other names; He might have selected other works of His hands to be the ensigns of His glory, but He has chosen the results of the Gospel to be His proudest honours; He has, if I may use such a term, staked His eternal majesty upon the effects of Gospel grace. With the heathen their gods took names from what were thought to be their most glorious work. We read of Jove, the thunderer, because they imagined that he launched the bolt from his hand. They spoke of the fardarting Apollo--the rays of light flashing from the sun. They talked of the cruel Juno in the wars of Troy. If Jehovah, the one only true God, had chosen, He might have been “Jehovah, the Thunderer;” we might have read of the far-darting God; we might have had Him constantly portrayed in Scripture as the terrible and avenging Lord; but He hath not chosen such a name; He hath not been pleased to select anything that is terrible as His peculiar glory, but that which is full of melting mercy and tender pity. The Lord has acted wisely, as He always does, in selecting such a matter as this to be His name, to be a display of Himself, because it is everlasting. Let this encourage Christians. If it is God’s glory to save man, expect to have them saved and go to work to save them. To you who are unconverted! How this ought to encourage you to come to God in Christ Jesus! Is it to His glory to save you? Then He will do it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The effects of the Gospel
I. THE CHARACTER OF THE TRANSFORMATION. “Instead of the thorn,” etc.
1. Naturally, there is no difference between men as to their state.
2. Grace makes a difference.
II. THE RELATION OF THIS TRANSFORMATION TO GOD. “And it shall be to the Lord for a name,” etc.
1. It is supposed that this work is the work of God. And it is, and must be so; and the very quality of the effect shows its origin and Author.
2. This is to be to Him for “a name, that is a praise; and therefore you will find both words used together in another passage. They shall be to me for a name and a praise.” And the latter is explanatory of the former.
3. It “shall be to the Lord,” not only for “a name,” but for “a sign.” A sign is a manifestation, a token. Now the conversion of souls to God is a kind of moral miracle; it is a striking display on the part of God towards man.
4. Observe the duration of this. “An everlasting sign.” (W. Jay.)
This is the predicted result of the things that are described and promised in the former part of the chapter.
I. THE NECESSARY GROWTH. The human soul will grow. It will put forth from its soil and substance natural and moral products of some kind. There may be thorn and briar, or there may be fir tree and myrtle tree, but there will be something. There are no responsible human souls absolutely barren. There seems to be a certain amount of force in the human soul--a certain amount of what may be called organic vitality, which will be out into forms and habits, speech and behaviour, character and life; and you cannot keep it down, do what you will.
II. THE FIRST CROP IS THE THORN AND BRIAR. These are indigenous to the soil; the things that will appear if nothing is done. Our state is so depraved that evil principles, affections and habits will take priority of anything good that may be left in us. Our views of sin will affect our views of almost everything else.
III. THERE IS A SECOND CROP. These trees are taken, apparently, AS EMBLEMS OF THE BETTER LIFE, ON ACCOUNT OF THEIR GREAT BEAUTY AND USEFULNESS. We find the fir tree very often used by the sacred writers, with the cedar. Thus--“The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters are fir.” Hiram sent to Solomon, saying, “I will do all thou desirest concerning timber of cedar, and concerning timber of fir.” “Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon.” Indeed, some think that the tree here mentioned, called the fir tree, was the cedar, and some think it was the cypress. Probably the word is generic, and has reference to trees of that kind. Trees, like the cypress and cedar, were grand to the sight and refreshing to the traveller who stood under their shadow; and the wood of them was so hard and excellent that it was much used for the building of temples, for ships, for musical instruments, for lances to be used in war, and even for statues, on account of its great durability. We see the idea here suggested. What is strong, useful, beautiful, takes the place of what is prickly, useless, wasteful. A change like that in a landscape would be an emblem of what takes place in a human soul and life, when a natural man becomes a spiritual man. In a well-tilled Gospel field we should not see much of a thorn and briar from the very first. In family gardens they should not be suffered to grow--at least, every endeavour should be made to prevent it, and to rear the fir tree and the myrtle tree, and to draw out unto them the strength which otherwise will certainly go to nourish the hurtful and wasteful things. It is to be feared that some Christians, parents and others, have radically erroneous conceptions on this point. They hold the doctrine of natural depravity shelteringly, almost lovingly, the same almost as if they held it to be their duty to draw out that depravity in order to prove it. Certainly these thorns and briars will grow up if we let them, but instead of them let us have the fir tree and the myrtle tree so early and so fully that we shall never see the former at all.
IV. THE PERPETUAL BEAUTY. That must be beautiful and good which the Lord takes for a name, and regarding which He says, “Let Me be known by it.” It is so even now. When God speaks of Himself He does not point to His name up amid the stars--systems and fields of wide illimitable space. He does not speak of earthquakes and violence; of majestic clouds, and stormy seas. He points to His new-born children--who bear His image, who reflect His glory-whose souls enshrine His awful name--who are set for ever to be the praise of the glory of His grace, “for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” The Gospel even in this world is an indestructible thing. It is erecting signs of its power far more enduring than the pictures of the learned and the statues of the brave. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Good latent in the heart
A gentleman who has had long experience of life in America, and who has watched the forests of Canada, told me that when they cut down there the natural growth--the thorns and the briars--the wild birch, that is not good for much--the maple, and other suchtrees--there do not grow up again the same trees that were cut down. Strange to say, the fir tree springs up all over the ground. It is as if the seeds of the fir were held there latent, waiting the opportunity, and no sooner is the opportunity given than they spring up and grow. Is not that an emblem of grace, the seeds of which may have been sown in the heart long ago by early instruction, by impressions made in former years, or by more recent impressions of a religious kind? Is not that an indication of how these seeds will spring up at once if you but lay the axe to the root of these other trees, and bring them to the ground? (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
The transformation of God’s grace
“An everlasting sign!” That surely indicates that sacred lessons are hidden under this prediction, which arc of permanent interest and importance. Let us seek them in the light of other Scriptures. “Unto Adam He said, Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee. “And the soldiers plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head. “There was given me a thorn in the flesh Concerning this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.”
I. THE THORNS AND BRIARS OF LIFE. In many cases we reap what others have sown; in some we sow for ourselves; in others we suffer from our neglect. We have failed to use our opportunities; and therefore crops of rank growth cover the acres of the past, and thistledown hovers in clouds, threatening the future.
1. Ill-health is surely one. For some, the excesses of their ancestors--for others, their own--have sown the furrows with the seeds of bitter harvests, which they have no alternative than to reap. Dyspepsia, cancer, the slow progress of paralysis along the spinal cord, nervous weakness and depression--these are some of the many ills to which our flesh is heir, and they are thorns indeed. Paul’s thorn was probably ophthalmia.
2. Bad children are another. Did David not mean this when he said that his house was not so with God; and that the ungodly, like thorns, must be thrust away with the armed hand? When the daughters make unfortunate marriages, and sons spread their sails to every gale of passion, there are thorns and briars enough to make misery in the best-appointed and most richly furnished homes.
3. Strong predispositions and tendencies towards evil may be classed among the thorns. To be of a jealous or envious temperament; fall on dull and irresponsive ears--this is to be beset with thorns and briars, as though all the goodness of a field should go to waste in weeds.
4. Compulsory association with uncongenial companions in the workshop or the home.
5. Difficulties that bar our progress, like hedges of prickly thorns in some tangled forest, may be included in this enumeration. Competition in commercial life makes thorny the path of many a man of business. Perplexities and worries, annoyances and vexations, fret us almost beyond endurance. Each life has experiences like these. Surely, we argue, we could live nobler and more useful lives, if only we were free. “Not so” says the Lord. “I cannot take away the thorn--it is the only means of royalty For thee; but I will give thee My all-sufficient grace.”
II. ROYALTY THROUGH THORNS. It is very remarkable that the sign of the curse became, on the brow of Christ, the insignia of royalty. The lesson is obvious--that He has transformed the curse into a blessing; that He has discovered the secret of compelling it to yield royalty. There was some dim hint of this in the words of the primaeval curse on the ground, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake; thorns also and thistles it shall bring forth unto thee.” What can this mean, except that there was an ulterior design in this infliction on the material world? It is not very clear what is implied in this sentence on the ground. Almost certainly there were thorns and thistles before Adam’s sin brought a blight on God’s fair world; but probably from that moment they became more prolific, or the conditions that had been unfavourable to their growth became more favourable, or malign hands were permitted to scatter their seeds afar. But, however, it befell, there can be no doubt that God’s purpose was wholly benevolent. Cursed is the ground for thy sake; that is, out of the obduracy of the soil, and its tendency to breed thorns and thistles, will come to thee the best and highest blessing. Surely this has been verified. Where has man attained his noblest development? In lands where kindly Nature has been most prodigal of her good gifts? where the soil has only needed scratching to yield a bountiful return? where life has been free from care, as that of bees among the limes? No! not there. By the bountiful provision of all they needed for their sustenance and comfort, Nature has enervated her children, men have become inert and sensual, ease-loving and muscleless. But where the soil has been unkindly, the climate inhospitable, the struggle for existence hard, the presence of the thorn ever menacing the cultivated patch, and threatening to invade garden or field; where every endeavour has been required to wring subsistence from the unwilling ground--there man has arisen to his full height, and put forth all his glorious strength of brain and sinew. Probably this is what is meant in the thorn-crown on the brow of Christ. It teaches that man can only attain his true royalty by meeting, enduring and overcoming these elements in life which forebode only disaster and loss. What a magnificent conception this gives of the possibilities of sorrow! In proportion as we patiently submit ourselves to our Father’s appointment, we come to see the reasonableness and beneficence of His design, and find ourselves adopting the thistle as our badge; we discover that it has been the means of unfolding and perfecting our character, of giving royalty and dignity to our demeanour, and making us kings by right of conquest, as well as by right of birth.
III. THE TRANSFORMATIONS OF GRACE. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree; and instead of the briar the myrtle tree.” “My grace is sufficient for thee; for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” “I will, therefore, glory in My infirmities.
1. God gives us new views of dark things. What we thought was punishment, turns out to be the chastening of a Father’s love. The thorns change to myrtles when God shows His reasons.
2. God makes our sorrow and losses occasions for giving more grace. There are two ways of helping the soul bent double under some crushing burden. It may be removed; or additional strength, equal to its weight, may be inbreathed. The latter is God’s choice way of dealing with His children. And if we were wise, we should not pray for the extraction of the thorn, but claim the greater grace.
3. The grace of God actually transforms awkward and evil dispositions, both in ourselves and others. Softness becomes meekness; cowardice gentleness; impulsiveness enthusiasm; meanness thrift; niggardliness generosity; cruelty consideration for others; irritability and vehemence patience and longsuffering. God did not destroy the Roman Catholic pulpits at the Reformation--He did better, He filled them with Gospel-preachers. Similarly, He does not destroy any of our natural characteristics, when He brings us to Himself; He only eliminates the evil and develops the good. The thorns of passion and temper are replaced by fir trees, and the briars by myrtles.
4. When the discipline has done its work, it is removed. These glowing predictions were partially fulfilled in the restoration of Israel under Ezra and Nehemiah; and no doubt they would have been more fully realized if there had been more perfect faith in the Divine promises. These glowing words, however, shall be perfectly fulfilled in those coming days when Israel shall turn to the land from all lands whither her people have been scattered. Their conversion, the apostle tells us, shall inaugurate the times of refreshing, of which the prophets have spoken from the beginning of the world. (F. B. Meyer, M.A.)
An everlasting sign
A token and sign of Gospel redemption
1. The redemption of the Jews out of Babylon shall be a ratification of those promises that relate to Gospel times.
2. It shall be a representation of the blessings promised, and a type and figure of them.
(1) Gospel grace will set those at liberty that were in bondage to sin and Satan. They shall go out, and be led forth. Christ shall make them free.
(2) It will fill those with joy that were melancholy (Psalms 14:7).
(3) It will make a great change in men’s characters.
(4) In all this God shall be glorified. (M. Henry.)