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These files are public domain.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 61". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ isaiah-61.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 61". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
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The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me
The Speaker; probably the Servant of Jonah
Who is the speaker here?
The Targum prefaces the passage with the words, “The prophet says,” and, except a few, all modern expositors make the author of this book of consolation to be the speaker who, after having (in chap. 55.) let the Church behold the summit of her glory, now, with grateful look directed to Jehovah and rejoicing in spirit, extols his grand commission. But this view is objectionable, for the following reasons--
1. Nowhere has the prophet yet spoken of himself as such in lengthy utterances, but rather (except in the closing words, “saith my God, in Isaiah 57:21) everywhere studiously kept himself in the background.
2. On the other hand, whenever another than Jehovah began to speak, and made reference to the work of his calling and his experiences connected therewith (as in Isaiah 49:1 ff; Isaiah 50:4 ff.) it was in such eases this self-same Servant of Jehovah of whom and to whom Jehovah speaks (see Isaiah 42:1 ff; Isaiah 52:13 on to end of 53.).
3. All that the person here speaking says of himself is again met with in the picture of the one unique Servant of Jehovah; he has been endowed with the Spirit of Jehovah (Isaiah 42:1); Jehovah has sent him, and with him sent His Spirit (Isaiah 48:16); he has a tongue that has been taught ofGod, to assist with words him who is wearied (Isaiah 50:4); those whoare almost despairing and destroyed he goes to spare and save, preserving the broken reed and expiring wick (Isaiah 42:3); “to open blind eyes, to lead prisoners out of the prison, those who are sitting in darkness out of the house of confinement,--this is what, above all, he has to do in word and deed for his people (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:9).
4. After the prophet has represented the Servant of Jehovah, of whom he prophesies, as speaking in such dramatic directness (as in Isaiah 49:1 ff; Isaiah 50:4 ff., and also 48:16 b.), one could not expect that he would now place himself in the foreground and claim for himself official attributes which he has set down as characteristic features in the picture of the predicted One, who (as Vitringa well says) not merely proclaims but dispenses the new and great gifts of God. For these reasons we (with Nagelsbach, Cheyne, Driver and Orelli) consider that the Servant of Jehovah is the speaker here. (F. Delitzch, D. D.)
The speaker: probably the prophet himself
The speaker is not introduced by name. Therefore he may be the prophet himself, or he may be the Servant. The present expositor, while feeling that the evidence is not conclusive against either of these . . . inclines to think that there is, on the whole, less objection to its being the prophet who speaks than to its being the Servant. But it is not a very important question which is intended, for the Servant was representative of prophecy; and if it be the prophet who speaks here, he also speaks with the conscience of the whole function and aim of the prophetic order. That Jesus Christ fulfilled this programme does not decide the question one way or the other; for a prophet so representative was as much the antetype and foreshadowing of Christ as the Servant Himself was. On the whole, then, we must be content to feel about this passage, what we must have already felt about many others in our prophecy, that the writer is more anxious to place before us the whole range and ideal of the prophetic gift than to make clear in whom this ideal is realized; and for the rest Jesus of Nazareth so plainly fulfilled it, that it becomes, indeed, a very minor question to ask whom the writer may have intended as its first application. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The lofty mission and its great results are not too lofty or great for our prophet, for Jeremiah received his orifice in terms as large. That the prophet has not yet spoken at such length in his own person is no reason why he should not do so now, especially as this is an occasion on which he sums up and enforces the whole range of prophecy. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The Spirit in the Son of man
The fact that Christ’s earthly life became effectual through the ministry of the Holy Spirit within Him, and not alone through the inherent virtue and power He brought with Him from His pre-existent state, has become one of the commonplaces of theology; and yet how little do we realize its true import, and cultivate that humility and dependence of soul which would distinguish us if the great truth were ever in view! In spite of our formal adhesion to this doctrine, it seems still strange to us that one whom we think of as holy and Divine should be indebted at every stage of His earthly life to that inward mystic ministry which is so necessary to us because of our sinfulness. We speak of the Holy Ghost as a Deliverer from inbred corruption, and are ready to assume, quite unwarrantably, that where there is no corruption in the nature, the stimulating forces and fervours of His benign indwelling are needless. We are accustomed to look upon this ministry, which perpetuates in our souls the saving work of the Lord Jesus, as though it were a special antidote to human depravity only. For the Spirit to abide moment by moment with Jesus Christ, and work in His humanity, seems like painting the lily, gilding fine gold, and bleaching the untrampled snow. But that is a mistaken view. When the universal Church shall have been built up and consecrated to its high uses, it be “by the Spirit that God will dwell in the temple. And the temple of Christ’s sacred flesh needed this same indwelling presence. The great Sanctifier blends the essential forces of His personality into this Divinest type of goodness, to show that goodness in even the only begotten Son is not self-originated. In the less mature stages of Christ’s expanding humanity implicit and docile dependence on this inward leading was the test of His entire acceptability to the Father. (T. G. Selby.)
The Spirit a compensation for the self-emptying of Jesus
The Spirit seems to have been given to compensate for that renunciation of power involved in the mystery of the incarnation, and as an earnest of its coming restitution. The wonderful works accomplished by the Son of Man took their rise, not so much in the superhuman qualities of His personality as in the power of that Spirit with which He was anointed. Although there is no clearly developed doctrine of the Spirit in the older portions of the Old Testament writings, Isaiah at least in his day was made to see that the Messianic works of healing and deliverance and redemption would flow out of that anointing by the Spirit which would single out the elect Servant of the Lord from His fellows. And Peter enforces the same thought in the household of Cornelius, declaring how that “God anointed Jesus with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil.” His own experiences in the Pentecost had taught Peter the secret of his Master’s power. Perhaps the discovery had come to him through his own recent mastery over the pride and boastfulness of his nature, and may have helped to confirm him in his new habits of childlike trust upon another. In the days of his self-sufficiency it would have been quite impossible for Peter to believe that He who had been supernaturally revealed as the very Son of God, and glorified by a strange transfiguration splendour that seemed to make Him the fellow of the Most High, should need to achieve His mighty, works by leaning upon another. Could Peter have been told that his Master’s marvellous gifts were held upon this tenure, he might have looked upon it as an affront to the Divine dignity of his hero, and have exclaimed, as about the death of shame, “Be it far from Thee, Lord.” Sometimes Christ’s miracles are quoted as proofs of His Divine nature. They are certainly proofs of His Divine authority, but they illustrate the energies of this attending Spirit rather than the attributes of Christ’s own proper personality. Christ cast out devils and opened prison doors and raised the dead, but it was by the power of the Holy Ghost alone. The tempter once tried to induce Him to work in His own strength, in the power of His inherent Godhead, so that He might undo and reverse the self-renouncing humility of His own incarnation, but in vain. All He did was in loyalty to this inward Guide who made known to Him the will of the Father and gave Him power for His appointed tasks. Fools that we are, we attempt much in our own strength, but the Son in His humiliation received back His infinite forces of life and dominion only through this Divine messenger from the Father. (T. G.Selby.)
A faithful Gospel ministry
I. THE ANOINTING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL GOSPEL MINISTRY. So it was in Christ’s ministry.
II. THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF ALL FAITHFUL PREACHING.
1. A faithful minister preaches good tidings to all distressed consciences.
2. A faithful pastor comforts mourners in Zion.
3. A faithful watchman preaches a free Saviour to all the world. (R. M.McCheyne.)
A trite ministry
I. THE TRUE MINISTRY IS ALWAYS INSPIRED AND DIRECTED BY THE HOLY GHOST. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
II. THE TRUE MINISTRY IS ANIMATED BY THE SUBLIMEST BENEVOLENCE. If you read the statement given by the prophet, you will find throughout a tone of kindliness, benevolence, sympathy, gentleness, pity, for all human sorrow. Therein may be known the true ministry of the Gospel.
III. THE TRUE MINISTRY, WHETHER PUBLIC OR PRIVATE, NEVER SHRINKS FROM ITS MORE AWFUL FUNCTIONS. Observe this sentence in the midst of the declarations of the text: “To proclaim the day of vengeance of our God.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
To preach good tidings unto the meek
Jesus a Preacher of good tidings to the meek
I. THE WORK ITSELF IN WHICH THE SON OF GOD WAS EMPLOYED, and to which He was called. “To preach good tidings.”
II. THE SPECIAL OBJECT OF THIS PART OF THE WORK. “The meek.” In the parallel place, it reads “poor,” and the one explains the other. By the meek here is meant the poor in spirit, those who, as being convinced by the law, have seen themselves to be poor, that they have nothing in which they could stand before God as righteous, but look on themselves as wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. And it is remarkable that our Saviour’s Sermon on the Mount begins with good tidings to such persons (Matthew 5:3). Our Lord preached to all who heard Him promiscuously these good tidings, but in effect they were not good to any but to the poor in spirit among them. (T. Boston.)
Jesus and the meek
I. CONSIDER THIS MEEKNESS AND POVERTY, AND SHOW WHO ARE THESE MEEK POOR ONES. This meekness comprehends in it--
1. A pressing sense of utter emptiness in one’s self (Romans 7:18).
2. A pressing sense of sinfulness.
3. A pressing sense of misery by sin. Like the prodigal, they see themselves ready to perish with hunger. Debt is a heavy burden to an honest heart, and filthiness to one that desires to be clean. Their poverty presses them down.
4. A sense of utter inability to help one’s self. They find the sting in their conscience, but cannot draw it out; guilt is a burden, but they cannot throw it off; lusts are strong and uneasy, but they are not able to master them; and this presses them sore.
5. A sense of the absolute need of a Saviour, and of help from heaven.
6. A sense as to utter unworthiness of the Lord’s help; they see nothing which they have to recommend them to the Lord’s help.
7. An earnest desire as to the supply of soul-wants (Matthew 5:6).
8. A hearty contentment in submitting to any method of help which the Lord prescribes.
II. EXPLAIN THE GOOD TIDINGS OF THE GOSPEL, AND SHOW THAT THEY ARE GOOD AND WELCOME TIDINGS TO SUCH PERSONS.
1. Gospel tidings are tidings of a complete salvation.
2. These tidings relate to a redemption, to a ransom paid (Galatians 3:13).
3. To an indemnity, a pardon to criminals who will come to Jesus (Acts 13:38-39).
4. To a glorious Physician of souls, who never fails to cure HIS patients.
5. These tidings are the tidings of a feast (Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 55:2; Psalms 22:26).
6. These tidings relate to a treasure (2 Corinthians 4:7).
7. To a marriage, a most happy match for poor sinners (Hosea 2:19-20).
8. To a glorious victory (Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 3:21).
9. To a most desirable peace (Ephesians 2:14).
III. SHOW HOW THIS GREAT WORK OF PREACHING IS, AND HATH BEEN, PERFORMED BY CHRIST.
1. He performed this work under the Old Testament dispensation,
(1) Personally, by Himself in paradise (Genesis 3:15).
(2) By His ambassador, in HIS name, the prophets, and ordinary teachers.
(3) By His written Word.
2. He preached, and preaches, under the New Testament dispensation.
(1) By His own personal preaching in the days of His flesh, when He went about among the Jews, preaching to them as the Minister of the circumcision (Romans 15:8).
(2) By inspiring His apostles to preach and write the doctrines of salvation contained in the New Testament, on whom He poured out His Spirit, and by their writings, they being dead, yet speak to us from Him and by Him.
(3) By raising up and continuing always a Gospel ministry in the Church Ephesians 4:11-13; Matthew 28:20). (T. Boston.)
To bind up the broken-hearted
Jesus binds up the broken-hearted
I. INQUIRE WHAT IS THAT BROKENNESS OF HEART WHICH IS HERE MEANT. The broken-heartedness is of two kinds.
1. Natural, arising from natural and carnal causes merely, which worketh 2 Corinthians 7:10). Many who arc very whole-hearted in respect of sin, complain that their hearts and spirits are broken by their crosses, afflictions, and ill-usage which they meet with in the world. Thus Ahab, Haman, and Nabal, their hearts were broken with their respective crosses.
2. Religious, which arises from religious causes, namely, sin and its consequences. There is a twofold religious breaking of heart.
(1) A mere legal one (Jeremiah 23:29). When the heart is broken by the mere force of the law, it is broken as a rock in pieces by a hammer, each part remaining hard and rocky still. This breaks the heart for sin, but not from it.
(2) An evangelical one, when not only the law does its part, but the Gospel also breaks the sinner’s heart (Zechariah 12:10).
II. INQUIRE WHAT IT IS IN AND ABOUT SIN WHICH BREAKS THE MAN’S HEART, WHO IS THUS EVANGELICALLY BROKEN-HEARTED. There is--
1. The guilt of sin, by which he is bound over to the wrath of God.
2. The domineering power of sin, or its tyranny, by which he is led captive to 2:3. The contrariety which is in sin to the holy nature and law of God.
4. The indwelling of sin, and, its cleaving so close to a person that he cannot shake it off (Romans 7:24).
5. Sin’s mixing itself with all he does, even with his best duties Romans 7:21).
6. Frequent backslidings (Jeremiah 31:18).
7. Desertions, hiding of the Lord’s face, and interruptions of the soul’s communion with God (Isaiah 54:6; Lamentations 3:18; Lamentations 3:44).
8. A Christian’s sinfulness, with the bitter fruits springing from his sin Romans 7:19).
III. SHOW WHAT SORT OF A HEART A BROKEN HEART IS.
1. It is a contrite or bruised heart (Psalms 51:17). Not only broken in pieces like a rock, but broken to powder, and so fit to receive any impression. The heart is now kindly broken and bruised betwixt the upper and nether mill-stones; the upper mill-stone of the law, a sense of God’s wrath against sin; and the nether millstone of the Gospel, of Divine love, mercy, and favour, manifested in word and providences.
2. An aching heart (Acts 2:37).
3. A shameful heart (Ezra 9:6; Psalms 40:12).
4. A tender heart (Ezekiel 36:26).
5. A rent heart (Joel 2:13).
6. A pliable heart.
7. A humble heart (Isaiah 57:15).
IV. SHOW HOW THE LORD CHRIST BINDS UP AND HEALS THE BROKEN-HEARTED. The great Physician uses two sorts of bands for a broken heart: He binds them up with inner and with outward bands.
1. With inner bands, which go nearest the sore, the pained broken heart. And these are two.
(1) The Spirit of adoption.
(2) Faith in Christ (the band of the covenant), which He works in the heart by His Spirit. Faith is a healing band, for it knits the soul.
2. Outward bands. There are also two.
(1) His own word, especially the promises of the Gospel.
(2) His own seals of the covenant (Acts 2:38). (T. Boston.)
Jesus and the broken-hearted
I. THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF BROKEN HEARTS--THE NATURAL AND THE SPIRITUAL. They may be united. Often they are divided. Every broken heart becomes the subject of Jesus’ care, and is dear to Him, if for no other reason in the world but for this--because it is unhappy.
II. CHRIST WAS HIMSELF WELL TRAINED IN THE SCHOOL OF SUFFERING HEARTS, THAT HE MIGHT LEARN TO BIND THE MOURNERS. All which goes to break men’s hearts He felt. No wonder, then, that the bindings are what they are.
2. Very wise.
3. Sure and thorough.
There is no such thing as a half-cure in that treatment. No heart which has not known a breaking knows, indeed, what strength is. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
A broken heart
Many things are valuable when whole, which, being broken, are little worth; but it is otherwise with the human heart. (R. Macculloch.)
To proclaim liberty to the captives
Jesus proclaims liberty to the captives
I. MEN’S NATURAL STATE. A state of captivity. They are captives to Satan 2 Timothy 2:26).
II. CHRIST’S WORK WITH RESPECT TO THEM. To proclaim liberty to them. (T. Boston.)
Liberty for Satan’s captives
I. SINNERS IN THEIR UNREGENERATE STATE ARE SATAN’S CAPTIVES.
II. JESUS CHRIST, WITH THE EXPRESS CONSENT OF HIS FATHER, HAS ISSUED HIS ROYAL PROCLAMATION OF LIBERTY TO SATAN’S CAPTIVES. (R. Macculloch.)
The sinner’s captivity
The properties of it. It is--
1. A spiritual captivity, a captivity of the soul.
2. Universal. It extends to all the powers and faculties of the soul, the inner marl.
3. A hard and sore captivity.
4. A perpetual captivity. This conqueror will never quit his captives, unless they be taken from him by Almighty power.
5. A voluntary captivity, and thus the more hopeless. Though they were taken in war, and born captives, yet now he is their master by their own consent and choice, while they choose to serve the devil, and cannot be brought to give themselves to the Lord. It is a bewitching captivity. (R. Macculloch.)
The Gospel proclamation
1. It is a jubilee proclamation (Leviticus 25:10).
2. It is a conqueror’s proclamation to captives. Satan warred against mankind, he carried them all captive into his own kingdom; and there was none to deliver out of his hand. But King Jesus had engaged him, routed all his forces, overturned his kingdom, and taken the kingdom to Himself Colossians 2:15; 1 John 3:8). And now being settled on His throne, His royal proclamation is issued, that Satan’s captives may again return into the kingdom of God. (R. Macculloch.)
Liberty to the captive.
Our Lord Himself directs us to consider Him as speaking in these words.
I. THE DEPLORABLE OBJECTS HE REGARDS. Captives. This slavery--
1. So universal as to our species.
2. Dreadful in its operations upon the individual. Voluntary, and submitted to as though it were a blessing rather than a curse.
4. Diversified as to the degree of its influence and the manner of its operations.
5. Cruel in its present effects and inconceivably more wretched in its final results. Men are guilty as well as enslaved.
II. THE GRACIOUS DESIGN OF THE OFFICE WHICH HE SUSTAINS. To effect deliverance for the captives. To this He is consecrated by the Spirit of the Lord.
1. By Him the claims of justice are perfectly satisfied.
2. Christ dissolves or breaks the power which leads us captive.
3. He induces the captive to accept deliverance when it is offered to him.
4. He renders their deliverance permanent, and prevents them from being again entangled in the yoke of bondage.
III. THE CORRESPONDING MANNER IN WHICH HIS GRACIOUS DESIGN IS TO BE MADE KNOWN. By proclamation.
1. It indicates that His office and its design are to be made universally known.
2. It is intended to excite universal attention--to create the most deep and lively interest. It is a proclamation which at once demands and deserves attention.
3. It shows that deliverance is to be effected in a way perfectly consistent with the freedom of human agency.
4. It is in such a way as to secure the glory of their deliverance to Him who thus proclaims it. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Jesus the Liberator
It is a blessed name of Jesus, and as true as it is blessed--the Liberator. We can scarcely conceive anything grander, or more delightful, than to be always going about making everything free. To this end, Christ first liberated Himself.
1. As in Him there was no sin, He never indeed could know the worst of all bondage--the bondage of the spirit to the flesh. But He did know the restraints of fear; He did feel the harassing of indecision; He did experience the irksomeness of the sense of a body too narrow for the largeness of His soul; and He did go through the contractions of all that is material, and the mortifying conventionalities of life--for He was hungry, thirsty, weary, sad, and the sport of fools. From all this Christ freed Himself--distinctly, progressively, He freed Himself. Step by step, He led captivity captive. He made for Himself a spiritual body which, in its own nature, and by the law of its being, soared at once beyond the trammels of humanity. Therefore He is the Liberator, because He was once Himself the Prisoner.
2. And all Christ did, and all Christ was, upon this earth--His whole mission--was essentially either to teach or to give liberty. His preaching was, for the most part, to change the constraint of law into the largeness of love. Every word He said, in private or in public, proved expansion.
3. When Christ burst through all the tombs--the moral tombs and the physical tombs in which we all lay buried--and when He went out into life and glory, He was not Himself alone--He was at that moment the covenanted Head of a mystical body, and all that body rose with Him. If so be you have union with Christ, you are risen; bondage is past; you are free. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The opening of the prison to them that are bound
Sinners worse than captives
1. They are also prisoners. Every captive is not a prisoner, but all natural men, being Satan’s captives, are held prisoners.
2. They are prisoners in chains, bound in the prison.
3. They are blinded too in their prison (compare Luke 4:18). It was a custom much used in the Eastern nations to put out the eyes of some of their prisoners, adding this misery to their imprisonment. So the Philistines did with Samson (Judges 16:21); and. Nebuchadnezzar with Zedekiah2Ki 25:7). This, in a spiritual sense, is the case of all prisoners in their natural state. (T. Boston.)
Causes of sinners’ imprisonment
1. As debtors to Divine justice.
2. As malefactors condemned in law (John 3:18). (T. Boston.)
1. The band of prejudices.
2. Of ill company.
3. Of earthly-mindedness.
4. Of unbelief.
5. Of slothfulness.
6. Of delays (Acts 24:25).
7. Of delusion (Isaiah 44:20; Revelation 3:17).
8. Of divers lusts (2 Timothy 3:6). (T. Boston.)
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord
The year of Jubilee
It may be profitable to trace out the analogies between the year of jubilee which rejoiced the hearts of Israel, and that more comprehensive era of which it was broadly typical, and which was to bring gladness to all peoples unto the end of the dispensation, when the loving ministry of God is finished.
1. The Jewish jubilee commenced at the close of the day of atonement. Is not this a very true type of the way in which spiritual blessings are exclusively introduced to mankind? There can be no jubilee for us, a race of lost and guilty rebels taken in arms, traitors convicted of treason, unless an all-prevalent atonement had previously purchased our pardon.
2. There was rest from exhausting labour. By a providential arrangement similar to that which secured a double supply of manna on the sixth day, the land had unusual fertility in the sixth year, so that in the seventh, which was the ordinary, and in the fiftieth, which was the special sabbatical year, there was a suspension of the common duties of husbandry. Both the land and labourers had rest, and yet the supply did not fail, for there was plenty in every barn, and there was gladness in every heart. And, in a spiritual sense, is not rest for the weary just what our spirits so fervently require--just what the Gospel has been itself inspired to provide
3. The next blessing pertaining to the year of jubilee was the restoration of alienated property. When a man, through misfortune or extravagance, had contracted liabilities that were beyond his means, and had sold his possessions to discharge them, if he were not himself able to redeem them, and if none of his kindred were at once wealthy and willing, these possessions remained as the property of the creditor until the year of jubilee, and then it was provided by the law that they should return to him who had parted from them for a season. We, the whole race of us, had a bright inheritance once--God’s favour, God’s fellowship, God’s image, all were ours by birth--but, alas! we alienated it by sin. We are not ourselves able to redeem it. But, through infinite compassion, this our inheritance has not been suffered to pass out of the family. Christ our kinsman, our elder brother, has paid down the price, and has rescued this our heritage from the fangs of the harpies who would fain have usurped it for their own. We had sold our birthright as a common thing, but it has been redeemed, and it is offered to us without a price by a love that is surely without parallel. The acceptable year did dawn upon the world indeed when it witnessed the birth of the Messiah, and that sun, like that of Gideon, stood still at His bidding, and hasted not to go down until now.
4. Another blessing which is mentioned in the history is the restoration of freedom. It seems to have been a custom among the Hebrews, as among other Eastern nations, for a debtor who had become hopelessly involved to sell himself to his creditors, in order that by his personal service he might discharge the debt that he was otherwise unable to pay. Of course, it was provided that for the amelioration of his condition, and for its termination in the year of jubilee, the man was not to be a slave, but a hired servant and a soldier, and he was to remain until the year of jubilee, and then he and his children should all go out and return unto their possession. All sinners are in bondage, bound with the chain of their sins, led captive by the devil at his will. How I delight to proclaim it in your hearing, “The year of jubilee is come.” If the Son make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (W. M. Punshon.)
No light without a shadow
There is a tremendous alternative before men--acceptation or vengeance. When we speak of vengeance in this connection, and as a Divine act, it must be understood not in a malignant and revengeful sense, but in a judicial. It must be regarded as an act of eternal justice. We propose to interrogate Nature and ask her what she has to tell us of this alternative. We would greatly prefer to present Christ as the light of the world, but we know of no light without a shadow. Observe, however, the terms in which the light and the shadow are expressed in the prophet’s language. It is the “year” of acceptation, and only the “day” of vengeance. This is a very natural description. The light always attracts us most: we scarcely think of the shadow. The idea of hell is in accordance with the laws of nature, and cannot be eliminated from thought.
I. ANTITHESES BELONG TO THE FUNDAMENTAL NATURE OF THINGS; HENCE, ARE TO BE FOUND EVEN IN FINALITIES. All positive things involve a corresponding negative; and are comprehensible only by contrast with their negative. If you paint a picture all white, you have nothing but a white washed canvas and no picture; it is only by contrast between lights and shadows that you can give it expression and form. What is there in the world that has not its corresponding negative? If there is light there is also darkness; if there is height there is also depth; if there is joy there is also sorrow; if there is perfection there is also deformity; if there is beauty there is also ugliness; if there is upward there is also downward; if there is heat there is also cold; if there is good tilers is also bad; if there is reward there is also punishment; if there is heaven there is also hell.
II. ALTERNATIVES ARE NECESSARY TO MORAL BEINGS. A moral being is one who has power of choice; and there can be no choice except as between alternatives. Our whole life is a choosing between alternatives. It would then, indeed, be singular if this choice was only possible in matters of secondary importance, but eliminated from matters of the highest importance. If there is no alternative over against heaven, then heaven is not a matter of choice; if not matter of choice, then it must be arbitrarily conferred, and, there being no alternative, it must of necessity be conferred arbitrarily upon good and bad alike.
III. THE LAW OF CONSEQUENCES REVEALS A HELL. Who can compute the consequences of an act? It may be but momentary, yet consequences of the most momentous character are entailed upon the world.
IV. THE LAW OF GROWTH REVEALS A HELL. Growth is of two kinds: by assimilation of things without, and by development from within: the first, scientific people call by involution; the second, by evolution. Sin grows, and grows by this double process. It assimilates with itself the elements of evil around it. This is the law of its existence, which forecloses any prospect of remedy from within. Moreover, sin grows by evolution. Sin propagates, and it propagates nothing but itself. Hence it cannot become extinct. It must propagate itself in the soul for ever unless some external power shall eliminate it. It cannot outgrow itself. The soul, therefore, which is identified with sin, must partake of this eternal process. That there is an external remedy we will confess: but we can readily perceive that the growing processes of sin must more and more repel this remedy. The history of a sinning soul, then, unfolds an ever-diminishing hope of reclamation.
V. THE EVIDENT TENDENCY OF CHARACTER TO ASSUME STABILITY IS INDICATIVE OF A HELL. This final stability is what we call second nature--the outcome and ultimate form of the plastic powers of the soul. Hence the welfare of the creature demands a limited probation. Man’s happiness demands that he should be able to work towards an assured future: but the laws which facilitate stability in goodness must also facilitate stability in evil. Hence it will be seen why it is that the ambassadors of God are for ever proclaiming: “Now is the day of salvation,” and warning you to “seek the Lord while He may be found.” Hence it is we are telling you that the fittest time for giving yourselves to God is in your youth.
VI. CONCLUSION. Nature has told us there is a hell. Thus nature is a school-master to bring us to Christ. (Southern Pulpit.)
Proclamation of acceptance and vengeance
Notice well the expression, “to proclaim, because a proclamation is the message of a king, and where the word of a king is there is power. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world to announce the will of the King of kings. Nor let it be forgotten that a proclamation must be treated with profound respect, not merely by receiving attention to its contents, but by gaining obedience to its demands. There are three points in the proclamation worthy of our best attention.
I. JESUS PROCLAIMS THE ACCEPTABLE YEAR OF THE LORD. There can be very little question that this relates to the jubilee year. The reason for all the jubilee blessings was found in the Lord.
II. THE DAY OF VENGEANCE OF OUR GOD.
1. Whenever there is a day of mercy to those who believe, it is always a day of responsibility to those who reject it, and if they continue in that state it is a day of increased wrath to unbelievers.
2. Another meaning of the text comes out in the fact that there is appointed a day of vengeance for all the enemies of Christ, and this will happen in that bright future day for which we are looking.
3. However, I consider that the chief meaning of the text lies in this--that “the day of vengeance of our God” was that day when He made all the trangressions of His people to meet upon the head of our great Surety.
Look at the instructive type by which this truth was taught to Israel of old. The year of jubilee began with the day of atonement.
4. The day of vengeance, then, is intimately connected with the year of acceptance; and mark, they must be so connected experimentally in the heart of all God’s people by the teaching of the Holy Ghost, for whenever Christ comes to make us live, the law comes first to kill us.
III. THE COMFORT FOR MOURNERS DERIVABLE FROM BOTH THESE THINGS. “To comfort all that mourn.” Oh, ye mourners, what joy is here, joy because this is the year of acceptance, and in the year of acceptance, or jubilee, men were set free and their lands were restored without money. No man ever paid a penny of redemption money on the jubilee morning: every man was free simply because jubilee was proclaimed: no merit was demanded, no demur was offered, no delay allowed, no dispute permitted. Jubilee came, and the bondman was free. And now, to-day, whosoever believeth in Jesus is saved, pardoned, freed, without money, without merit, without preparation, simply because believeth. An equal joy-note rings out from the other sentence concerning the day of vengeance. I f the day of vengeance took place when our Lord died, then it is over. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Preaching God’s judgment on sin
A member of the congregation, at the close of a sermon that lasted for an hour, and had been preached amid a stillness most painful, nothing heard but the tones of the preacher, and during the pauses the ticking of the clock--a sermon on the sad and awful issues of a sinful life, and the glory and the joy of a life lived in Christ--and, if Dr. Dale intends to preach like that I shall not come and hear him, for I cannot stand it; it goes through me.” I spoke to Dr. Dale afterwards about the stillness and said it was simply awful. “Ah! yes, he said; “but it was more awful to me; it is hard to preach like that, but it must be done.” (Gee. Barber, in Dr. Dale’s Life.)
To comfort all that mourn
Some seek to comfort by telling us that sorrow is wrong. They say that we should be brave and not allow our feelings to become so deep. It is true there may be excessive grief, and so grief may become sinful. But to say that we must not sorrow is to try to induce us to outrage our nature and to deprive us of one of the most effectual means whereby God educates and purifies. Christ is not come to deliver us from suffering, but to enable us to derive good from the suffering. How does Christ “comfort all that mourn”?
I. BY HIMSELF BECOMING THE SUFFERER FOR US, TO TAKE AWAY SIN. Christ bore the curse of it for us, and in doing this He removed the root of our mourning.
II. BY HIS SYMPATHY. He feels with us and for us, and by oneness with us in sorrow gives us comfort. Sympathy means suffering along with another. Job spoke of it when he said, “Did I not weep for him that was in trouble? was not my soul grieved for the poor?”
III. By showing us THE ORIGIN AND PURPOSE OF SUFFERING. Nowhere except in God’s revelation in Christ do we learn how and why affliction and sorrow come upon us. Our Lord Jesus Christ explains all. And His explanation goes down to the very root of the matter. Suffering is necessary in order that we enter into the fulness of God’s love in the gift of His Son. He who has received Christ as his Saviour is instructed, sanctified, made more meet for the Master’s use, becomes more heavenly minded, by means of all the affliction through which his Heavenly Father causes him to pass. To suffer in Christ is to live more deeply. “Love and sorrow are the two conditions of a profound life.”
IV. BY ASSURING THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT THEY SHALL BE EVERLASTINGLY WITH HIM TO BEHOLD HIS GLORY. We learn--
1. That the comfort Christ imparts is effectual. It is not limited or partial. See how fully this is set forth in the passage with which the text is connected. What variety of imagery is used to picture to us the fulness and perfection of the remedy Christ brings for human guilt and misery. The healing He effects is for our whole nature, for heart, mind and conscience. He completely redeems and blesses.
2. The comfort Christ gives is enduring. It is no momentary or temporary assuaging of grief. It will never fail, it will increase in its influence and power.
3. The comfort Christ bestows is offered to all and is adapted to all. “To comfort all that mourn.” “All ye that labour,” etc. Whatever burden, whatever sorrow, there is in Him comfort for all. (G. W.Humphreys, B. A.)
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion
Mourners in Zion
Mourners in Zion may mean either those that mourn for Zion (Isaiah 66:10) or those that mourn in her.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D.D.)
Mourners in Zion
I. THE CHARACTER OF THOSE PERSONS WHO HAVE A PRESENT INTEREST IN THE MEDIATION OF CHRIST. Such as “mourn in Zion.” They differ from others--
1. In respect of the spring or principle of their mourning. They mourn, as others do, in a natural way, for what is contrary to their natures and is considered hurtful to them. But they likewise mourn for what is most agreeable to their nature, in its present corrupt state. The corruption of their nature is itself a principal cause of their mourning, and therefore can proceed from no principle inherent in corrupt nature. It is the fruit of “the Spirit of grace and of supplication.”
2. In respect of the object for whom they mourn. Self is always the reigning principle with unrenewed men. The inhabitant of Zion mourns also for himself, and while actuated by a principle of self-preservation it must be so: But he mourns also--
(1) For his brethren.; for every fellow-creature whom he sees in misery; even for his enemies if any owl befall them.
(2) For Zion, for the Church of God.
(3) For Christ. They have a believing view of their own sin as laid upon Christ; therefore they consider every sin they have committed as a mortal wound given to Him.
3. In respect of the subject of their grief, or the thing for which they mourn.
(1) For sin as well as for suffering.
(2) For the filthiness as well as the guilt of sin.
(3) For the sin of their nature as well as of their life.
(4) For sins against Christ and the Gospel, as well as against God and the law.
(5) For the sins of others as well as for their own.
4. In respect of the fruits and effects of their sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10-11).
(1) Whereas the sorrow of the world excites men to take methods of their own devising to still the clamours of conscience, the mourning here intended leads to that remedy which God Himself hath provided.
(2) Whereas the sorrow of the world worketh death, crucifies the false hopes the man had entertained of safety in the way of sin, and, when rising to excess, tends to drive him to despair, the Christian mourning is a happy means of his being begotten again to a lively hope.
(3) The sorrow of the world inflames the person’s enmity against God, but the Christian’s mourning stirs him up to embrace the offers of reconciliation with God. Being accompanied with hatred of sin, it serves to increase his love to God, His holy law and His service.
(4) In a word, that sorrow for sin that may be found in an unrenewed man leaves him as it found him. Godly sorrow, on the contrary, worketh “repentance, not to be repented of” The person convinced of the evil and folly of sin, and encouraged by a heart-affecting view of the mercy of God in Christ, turns from sin with loathing of it turns to God with full purpose of heart, and from that time forth persists in a constant endeavour to walk with Him in all the ways of new obedience.
II. THE CONDITION THAT THESE PERSONS ARE IN, FOR THE MOST PART, WHILE IN THE WORLD. They are covered with “ashes”; employed in “mourning”; and under the prevailing influence of “the spirit of heaviness.”
1. They are subject to all the ordinary miseries of this life, in common with other men.
2. They are affected to a great depth of sorrow by many things which are no affliction to the rest of mankind. They are affected with spiritual as well as temporal evils; sin, the hiding of God’s face, the low state of the Church, the divisions among Church members, spiritual judgments, etc.
3. They are subject to many causes of mourning that either fall not upon others or befall them only in a small degree. They live in a foreign land while others consider themselves as at home. They run, and agonize, and strain themselves, in the race that is set before them, while others sit still and are at ease.
4. They are often subject to groundless discouragements through the prevalence of temptation and unbelief.
III. THE HAPPY CONDITION TO WHICH THESE MOURNERS SHALL BE BROUGHT. “Beauty for ashes,” etc.
1. Even while the causes of their mourning continue, they are supported, encouraged, and comforted in such a manner as to afford them a happiness superior to what others enjoy in their best times.
2. They shall be completely, though gradually, delivered from all their mourning, and from all the causes of it.
3. They shall, at length, enjoy all that positive happiness which their natures are capable of.
4. They shall, at last, be fully sensible of all the happiness of their condition, and shall express their sense of it in songs of eternal praise.
IV. THE MANNER IN WHICH CHRIST WILL BRING ABOUT THIS HAPPY CHANGE.
1. He is commissioned to appoint these things for them. The word signifies to ordain by a judicial sentence. Christ, as King in Zion, is invested with the highest authority: God has committed to Him all judgment.
2. He is sent to give unto them what He has thus appointed for them. (J. Young.)
Beauty for ashes
“A crest,” any insignia or ornament for the head. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Beauty for ashes
I. The well-known fable of the Phoenix is one that has been often truthfully enacted on our earth. Successive platforms of creation, with all their varied life and loveliness, have been reduced to ruin, and out of the wreck new life and beauty have emerged. The earth has reached its present perfection of form through repeated geological fires. The fair Eden, in the midst of which the history of the human race begins, was developed from the ashes of previous less lovely Edens. The soil of the earth is composed of the ashes of substances that have been oxidized, burned by the slow, soft caresses of the very air that breathed upon them--and whose gentle smile gave them colour and form. The building of the world was a process of burning, and its foundations were undoubtedly laid in flames. Its crust was originally like a burnt cinder. The rocks and the earths, the sands and the clays, the very seas themselves are, as it were, the ashes of a long-continued and universal conflagration. But during the long geological periods, by the silent agency of vegetable life working in unison with the sunshine, the work of the fire has been partially undone, and a considerable amount of combustible matter has been slowly rescued from the wreck of the first conflagration. Whatever now exists on the earth unburnt is owing to the wonderful co-operation of plant life and solar light. These two forces have given to us all the beauty which now spreads over the ashes of the world. Nay, the very ashes of the earth themselves contribute in the most marvellous manner to its beauty. How much does the scenery of our world owe to its picturesque rocks, and sandy deserts, and lonely seas, which, as we have seen, are but the ashes of the primeval fire! What wonderful beauty God has brought out of water! It is strange to think of water being the ashes of a conflagration--the snow on the mountain-top, the foam of the waterfall, the cloud of glory in the heavens, the dewdrop in the eye of the daisy. Without the intervention of vegetable life at all, God has thus directly, from the objects themselves, given beauty for ashes. He might have made these ashes of our globe as repulsive to the sight as the blackened relics of forest and plain, over which the prairie fire has swept, while, at the same time, they might have subserved all their ends and uses. But He has, instead, clothed them with incomparable majesty and loveliness, so that they minister most richly to our admiration and enjoyment; and some of the noblest conceptions of the human mind have been borrowed from their varied chambers of imagery.
2. Like the old processes of nature are the new ones that take place still. Out of the ashes of the local conflagration that has reduced the fields and forests to one uniform blackened waste comes forth the beauty of greener fields and forests of species unknown there before. Very strikingly is this seen on the dry hill-sides of the Sierra Nevada, covered with dense scrub which is often swept by fire. All the trees in the groves of pine that grow on these hill-sides, however unequal in size, are of the same age, and the cones which they produce are persistent, and never discharge their seeds until the tree or the branch to which they belong dies. Consequently, when one of the groves is destroyed by fire, the burning of the trees causes the scales of the cones to open, and the seed which they contain is scattered profusely upon the ground; and on the bare, blackened site of the old grove a young, green plantation of similar pines springs forth. This curious adaptation explains the remarkable circumstance that all the trees of the grove are of the same age. In an equally remarkable way the fires in the Australian bush, which are so destructive to the forests of that country, are made the very means of reproducing the vegetation.
3. Another illustration of the principle may be derived from volcanic regions. No scenes of earth are lovelier than those which are subjected to the frequent destructive action of volcanoes. The Bay of Naples is confessedly one of those spots in which scenic beauty has culminated. And yet this second Eden is the creation of volcanic fires. No soil is so fertile as crumbling lava and volcanic ashes. The destroyer of the fields and gardens is thus the renovator The ashes of the burning that has devastated homestead and vineyard reappear in the delicate clusters of the grape, and the vivid verdure of the vine-leaves which embower a new home of happiness on the site.
4. And--a case of extremes meeting--frost has the same effect as fire. No meadows are greener, no corn-fields more luxuriant, than those which spread over the soft that has been formed by the attrition of ancient glaciers. The cedars of Lebanon grow On the moraines left behind by ice-streams that had sculptured the mountains into their present shape; and over the ranges of the Sierra Nevada, the coniferous forests, the noblest and most beautiful on earth, are spread in long, curving bands, braided together into lace-like patterns of charming variety--an arrangement determined by the course of ancient glaciers, upon whose moraines all the forests of the Nevada are growing, and whose varied distribution over curves and ridges and high rolling plateaus, the trees have faithfully followed. Elsewhere throughout the world pine-woods usually grow, not on soil produced by the slow weathering of the atmosphere, but by the direct mechanical action of glaciers, which crushed and ground it from the solid rocks of mountain ranges, and in their slow recession at the end of the glacial period, left it spread out in beds available for tree-growth.
5. Is there not beauty for ashes, when the starchy matter which gives the grey colour to the lichen is changed by the winter rains into chlorophyl, and the dry, lifeless, parchment-like substance becomes a bright green pliable rosette, as remarkable for the elegance of its form as for the vividness of its colour? Does not the corn of wheat, when God, as Ezekiel strikingly says, “calls” for it and increases it, develop out of the grey ashes that wrap round and preserve the embers of its life, the long spears of bright verdure which pierce through: the dark wintry soil up to the sunshine and the blue air of heaven? All the beauty, of the green fields and woods, springing from the root, or the seed, or the weed, in produced from the ashes of previous vegetation. Some plants are found only where something has been burnt. Farmers say that wood ashes will cause the dormant white clover to spring up; and fields treated in this manner will suddenly be transfigured with the fragrant bloom. A lovely little moss, whose seed-vessels, by the twisting and untwisting of their stems, indicate the changes of the weather like a barometer, grows on moors and in woods in spots where fires have been; and it covers with its bright green verdure the sites of buildings, marking with its soft, delicate cushions where the hearthstone had been. From its fondness for growing in such places, it is known in France by the familiar name of La Charbonniere. After the great London fire, a species of mustard grew up on every side, covering with its yellow blossoms the charred ruins and the recently exposed soil strewn with ashes; and, as if to show some curious affinity between the conflagration of cities and the mustard tribe, after the more recent burning of Moscow, another species of the same family made its appearance among the ruins, and is still to be met with in the neighbourhood of that city. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Beauty for ashes: Judaism
Out of the ashes of the burnt-offering all the beauty of the Hebrew faith emanated. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Beauty for ashes: the atonement
How expressive was this type of the atoning death of the Son of God! The Victim in His case too was reduced to ashes. We see as clearly on the cross on which was stretched His lifeless body, that the work of atonement was finished, and that a complete satisfaction had been made to God for human sin, as the priest saw in the ashes on the altar how entirely the sacrifice had met with the Divine approval and acceptance. As the ashes were laid beside the altar for a while, so the body of Jesus remained upon the cross some time after death, exposed to the idle and mocking gaze of the multitude, but most precious in the sight of Him whose law He had magnified and made honourable by His obedience unto death. As the ashes, further, were placed on the east side of the altar, because from that quarter the bright light of the morning sun arose--a natural symbolism common to nearly all religions, Christians, Mohammedans, and Pagans alike turning to the east in prayer, and laying their dead and building their sacred shrines in that direction--so the Sun of Righteousness rose from that point of the compass, and cast back the light of the glory of the resurrection upon all the incidents and circumstances of His death. The radiance of the rising sun shone on the ashes beside the Jewish altar, making it manifest that the lamb had been entirely consumed; the sun rose upon the morning of the Sabbath after Christ’s crucifixion upon a cross from which the slain Lamb of God had been taken away, and upon a sepulchre nigh at hand, wherein had lain the body of Him who was the end of the law for righteousness. And, lastly, as the Jewish priests carried the ashes of the sacrifice without the camp into a clean place, so the body of Jesus was laid outside the city of Jerusalem in a new sepulchre wherein no man had ever before been laid. His grave was in a garden which was close to Golgotha, where He was crucified. Truly God gave great beauty for ashes in that garden sepulchre! (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Beauty for ashes: sin and grave
To the sinner who repents and believes in this great atoning Sacrifice, God gives beauty for ashes. Sin is an infringement of God’s law of order, through which alone all the brightness and variety of life can be evolved. It disintegrates, decomposes, reduces to ashes. Its great characteristic is its wearisome sameness and monotony, a dreary movement without variety from iniquity to iniquity. It is a defacement and destruction passing over the soul and life of man, like an earthquake over a city, overthrowing into one common heap of similar ruins all the fair variety of its architecture; or like a fire through a forest, reducing all the multitudinous life and variety of vegetation to the same uniform dreary level of black cinders and grey ashes, on which no dew falls, and oh which the sun itself shines with a ghastly and mocking smile. Out of this melancholy wreck the grace of God constructs the fresh and infinite variety of blessedness which belongs to the converted soul. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Perfect through suffering
To the sorrowful God gives beauty for ashes. Sorrow and suffering play a gracious part in the moral economy of the world. They are all the furnace in which our evil nature is reduced to ashes. We are laid with the great Sufferer of our race upon the altar and sham the fellowship of His sufferings, and like Him are made perfect through suffering. On the most awful battlefields of life grow the greenest pastures of peace; on the fierce lava streams that have desolated the heart, bloom the sweetest virtues and flourish the peaceable fruits of righteousness. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Beauty for ashes: death and eternal life
The ashes of the dead speak of the greatest humiliation, the uttermost loss, highest hopes extinguished, and noblest ideas perished. The gifts and gains of our civilization have made human life more precious than of old; the results of science, showing through what long stages and by what wonderful processes it has reached its present perfection, have greatly exalted the conception of its importance; the revelation of Divine grace has made known to us that, for its sake, the Son of God Himself died, and what unspeakable issues hang upon it; and the experience of every heart that deeply loves, confirms the truth that in this human life love is by far the greatest and most blessed thing, “the most Divine flower that Nature, in the long course of her evolutions, has evoked.” And here, in the ashes of the dead, it has all come to an end. Other wastes may be repaired. Every spring, the earth rises in fresh loveliness from the baptism of the autumnal fire. But what shall repair the waste of human death? To the pagan all was hopeless! Even the Hebrew faith itself could scarcely imagine that any conscious beauty could ever come from such ashes; and its helpless cry ascended up to the pitiless heaven, “Wilt Thou show wonders to the dead?” And, in our days, cruel science comes and employs all its strength in ruthlessly rolling a great stone to the mouth of the sepulchre. But the Christian religion assures us that for the ashes of our dead we shall yet have immortal beauty. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Beauty for ashes
I. WHO GIVES THIS WORD? It comes from Him who said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me;” “He hath sent Me to bind up the broken.hearted.” Now, in a subordinate sense, Christian ministers have the Spirit of God resting upon them, and they are sent to bind up the broken-hearted; but they can only do so in the name of Jesus, and in strength given from Him. This word is not spoken by them, nor by prophets or apostles either, but by the great Lord and Master of apostles and prophets, and ministers, even by Jesus Christ Himself. If He declares that He will comfort us, then we may rest assured we shall be comforted! The stars in His right hand may fail to penetrate the darkness, but the rising of the Sun of Righteousness effectually scatters the gloom. If the Consolation of Israel Himself comes forth for the uplifting of His downcast people, then their doubts and tears may well fly apace, since His presence is light and peace. But who is this anointed One who comes to comfort mourners?
1. He is described in the preface to the text as a preacher. Remember what kind of preacher Jesus was. “Never man spake like this Man.” He was a son of consolation indeed. It was said of Him, “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench.”
2. In addition to His being a preacher, He is described as a physician. “He hath sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted.” Some hearts want more than words. The wounds are deep, they are not flesh cuts, but horrible gashes which lay bare the bone, and threaten ere long to kill unless they be skilfully closed. It is, therefore, a great joy to know that the generous Friend who, in the text, promises to deal with the sorrowing, is fully competent to meet the most frightful cases. Jehovah Rophi is the name of Jesus of Nazareth. “By His stripes we are healed.”
3. As if this were not enough, our gracious Helper is next described as a liberator. “He hath sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” There were many downcast persons in Israel in the olden times--persons who had become bankrupt, and, therefore, had lost their estates, and had even sunk yet further into debt, till they were obliged to sell their children into slavery, and to become themselves bondsmen. But the fiftieth year came round, and never was there heard music so sweet in all Judea’s land as when the silver trumpet was taken down on the jubilee morn, and a loud shrill blast was blown in every city, and hamlet, and village, in all Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba. It meant: “Israelite, thou art free. If thou hast sold thyself, go forth without money, for the year of jubilee has come.” Jesus has come with a similar message.
4. As if this were not all, one other matter is mentioned concerning our Lord, and He is pictured as being sent as the herald of good tidings of all sorts to us the sons of men. “To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Behold in the person of the incarnate God the sure pledge of Divine benevolence. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,” etc.
II. TO WHOM IS THIS WORD SPOKEN? To those who mourn in Zion. They are in Zion; they are the Lord’s people, but they mourn. To mourn is not always a mark of grace. Nature mourns. Fallen human nature will have to mourn for ever, except grace shall change it. But the mourning here meant is a mourning of gracious souls. It assumes various shapes.
1. It begins in most hearts with lamentation over past sin.
2. True hearts also sorrow over their present imperfections.
3. The Christian mourner laments, also, because he cannot be more continuously in communion with God. A native of sunny Italy deplores the absence of heaven’s bright blue, when made to dwell in this land of the fleecy clouds; and he who has dwelt in unclouded fellowship with the Lord bemoans his hard lot, if even for awhile he beholds not that face which is as the sun shining in its strength.
4. The real Christian mourns, again, because he cannot be more useful.
5. Moreover, like his Lord, he mourns for others. He mourns in Zion because of the deadness of the Christian Church, its divisions, its errors, its carelessness towards the souls of sinners. But he mourns most of all for the unconverted.
III. WHAT IS THAT WHICH IS SPOKEN in the text to those that mourn? Come, mourning souls, who mourn in the way described: there is comfort appointed for you, and there is also comfort given to you. It is the prerogative of King Jesus both to appoint and to give. Observe the change Christ promises to work for His mourners.
1. Here is beauty given for ashes. In the Hebrew there is a ring in the words which cannot be conveyed in the English. The ashes that men put upon their head in the East in the time of sorrow made a grim tiara for the brow of the mourner; the Lord promises to put all these ashes away, and to substitute for them a glorious head-dress--a diadem of beauty. Or, if we run away from the words, and take the inner sense, we may look at it thus:--mourning makes the face wan and emaciated, and so takes away thebeauty; but Jesus promises that He will so come and reveal joy to the sorrowing soul that the face shall fill up again: the eyes that were dull and cloudy shaft sparkle again, and the countenance, yea, and the whole person, shall be once more radiant with the beauty which sorrow had so grievously marred.
2. Then, it is added, “He will give the oil of joy for mourning. Here we have first beauty, and then unction. The Orientals used rich perfumed oils on their persons--used them largely and lavishly in times of great joy. Now, the Holy Spirit comes upon those who believe in Jesus, and gives them an anointing of perfume, most precious, more sweet and costly than the nard of Araby. “We have an unction from the Holy One.
3. Then, it is added, to give still greater fulness to the cheering promise, that the Lord will give “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.’ The man is first made beautiful, next he has the anointing, then afterwards he is arrayed in robes of splendour. “The garment of praise,” what a dress is this! When a man wraps himself about, as it were, with psalmody, and lives for ever a chorister, singing not with equal voice, but with the same earnest heart as they do who day and night keep up the never-ending hymn before the throne of the infinite! AM, what a life is his, what a man is he!
4. Notice what will be the result of this appointment, “That they might be called trees of righteousness,” etc. The original is like “oaks of righteousness,” that is, they shall become strong, firmly rooted, covered with verdure; they shall be like a well-watered tree for pleasantness. But the very pith of the text lies “,m, a little word to which you must look. “Ye shall be called trees of righteousness. There are many mourning saints who are trees of righteousness, but nobody calls them so; they are so desponding that they give a doubtful idea to others. Observers ask, “Is this a Christian?” But, O mourners I if Jesus visits you, and gives you the oil of joy, men shall call you “trees of righteousness,” they shall see grace in you. I know some Christian people who, wherever they go, are attractive advertisements of the Gospel. Nobody could be with them for half-an-hour without saying, Whence do they gain this calm, this peace, this tranquillity, this holy delight and joy?” Many have been attracted to the Cross of Christ by the holy pleasantness and cheerful conversation of those whom Christ has visited with the abundance of His love.
5. The result of all this goes further, “They shall be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord,” that is to say, where there is joy imparted, and unction given from the Holy Spirit, instead of despondency, men will say, “It is God’s work, it is a tree that God has planted, it could not grow like that if anybody else had planted it; this man is a man of God’s making, his joy is a joy of God’s giving.”
6. Another word remains, “That He might be glorified.” That is the great result we drive at, and that is the object even of God Himself, “that He might be glorified.” For when men see the cheerful Christian, and perceive that this is God’s work, then they own the power of God. Meanwhile, the saints, comforted by your example, praise and bless God, and all the Church lifts up a song to the Most High. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
There is a beautiful thing which comes out more distinctly if we follow the Revised Version, and read it as “to give unto them a garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. There we have two contrasted pictures suggested, one of a mourner with grey ashes strewed upon his dishevelled locks, and his spirit clothed in gloom like a black robe; and to him there comes One who, with gentle hand, smoothes the ashes out of his hair, trains a garland round his brow, anoints his head with oil, and, stripping off the trappings of woe, casts about him a bright robe fit for a guest at a festival. That is the miracle that Jesus Christ can do for every one, and is ready to do for us, if we will let Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. JESUS CHRIST IS THE JOY-BRINGER TO MEN BECAUSE HE IS THE REDEEMER OF MEN. In the original application of my text to the deliverance from captivity, this gift of joy, and change of sorrow into gladness, was no independent and second bestowment, but was simply the issue of the one that preceded it, viz the gift of liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. The gladness was a gladness that welled up in the heart of the captives set free, and coming out from the gloom of the Babylonian dungeon into the sunshine of God’s favour, with their faces set towards Zion “with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads.” You have only to keep firm hold of this connection between these two thoughts to come to the crown and centre-point of this great prophecy, as far as it applies to us, and that is that it is Christ as the Emancipator, Christ as He who brings us out of the prison and bondage of the tyranny of sin, who is the great Joy-giver. For there is no real, deep, fundamental and impregnable gladness possible to a man until his relations to God have been rectified, and until, with the consciousness of forgiveness and the Divine love nestling warm at his heart, he has turned himself away from his dread and his sin, and has recognized in his Father God “the gladness of his joy.” There are many: us who feel that life is sufficiently comfortable without any kind of reference to God at all. But about all that kind of surface joy, the old words are true, “even in laughter the heart is sorrowful,” and hosts of us are satisfied with joys which Jesus has no part in brining, simply because our truest self has never once awakened. When it does you will find out “that no one can bring real joy who does not take away guilt and sin.
II. JESUS CHRIST TRANSFORMS SORROW BECAUSE HE TRANSFORMS THE MOURNER. All that this Joy-bringer and Transmuter of grief into its opposite is represented as doing, is on the man who feels the sorrow. In regard to the ordinary sorrows of life, He affects these not so much by an operation upon our circumstances as by an operation upon ourselves, and transforms sorrow and brings gladness, because He transforms the man that endures it. The landscape remains the same, the difference is the colour of the glass through which we look at it. How does He do it?
1. By giving to the man sources of joy, if he will use them, altogether independent of external circumstances. “Although the fig-tree shall not blossom,” etc. The paradox of the Christian life is “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.
2. There is another way by which for us, if we will use our privileges, the sorrows of life may be transmuted, because we, contemplating them, have come to a changed understanding of their meaning. We shall never understand life if we class its diverse events simply under the two opposite categories of good--evil; prosperity--adversity; gains-losses; fulfilled expectations--disappointed hopes. Put them all together under one class--discipline and education; means for growth; means for Christlikeness. When we have found out, what it takes a long while for us to learn, that the lancet and the bandage are for the same purpose, and that opposite weathers conspire to the same end, that of the harvest, the sting is out of the sorrow, the poison is wiped off the arrow.
3. Here we may suggest a third way by which a transformation wrought upon ourselves transforms the aspect of our sorrows, and that is that possessing independent sources of joy, and having come to learn the educational aspect of all adversity, we thereby are brought by Jesus Christ Himself to the position of submission. That is the most potent talisman to transform mourning into praise. An accepted grief is a conquered grief; a conquered grief will very soon be a comforted grief; and a comforted grief is a joy.
III. JESUS GIVES JOY AFTER SORROW. Jesus Christ, even here and now, gives these blessed results of our sorrows, if they are taken to the right place, and borne in the right fashion. For it is they “that mourn in Zion that He thus blesses. There are some of us, I fear, whose only resource in trouble is to fling ourselves into some work, or some dissipation. And there are some of us whose only resource for deliverance from our sorrows is that, after the wound has bled all it can, it stops bleeding, and that grief simply dies by lapse of time, and for want of fuel. An affliction wasted is the worst of all waste. But if we carry our grief into the sanctuary, then, here and now, it will change its aspect, and be a solemn joy. I say nothing about the ultimate result, where every sorrow rightly borne shall be represented in the future life by some stage in grace or glory, where every tear shall be crystallized, if I might so say, into a flashing diamond, which flings off the reflection of the Divine light, where “there shall be no sorrow nor sighing, nor any more pain,” for the former things are passed away. When the lesson has been learnt, God burns the rod. But there is another sadder transformation of joy into its opposite. I saw a few days ago, on a hill-top, a black circle among the grass and heather. There had been a bonfire there on Coronation night, and it had all died down, and that was the end--a hideous ring of scorched barrenness amidst the verdure. Take care that your gladnesses do not die down like that, but that they are pure, and being pure are undying. Separation from Christ makes joy shallow, and makes it certain that at last, instead of a garland, shall be ashes on the head, and that, instead of a festal robe, the spirit shall be wrapped in a garment of heaviness. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Trees of Righteousness
Trees of righteousness
Notice some points of comparison which this figure suggests when used to represent the redeemed.
I. THEY ARE TREES. This indicates--
1. That they have life. They are not inanimate objects.
2. That they have dependent life. They are planted in the ground- Their fertility depends on the soil. Those planted in Christ shall be fruitful.
3. That they have a life of growth. Spiritual life is a development.
II. THEY ARE GOODLY TREES. “Trees of righteousness.” Not poisonous or useless objects. The object of trees is--
1. To afford shelter. They shade from the heat and the storm.
2. To adorn the world. They are the beauty of earth, its crown and delight.
3. To give fruit. They are the profit and sustenance of the sower. Trees of righteousness are all this in the spiritual world. (Homilist.)
Trees of righteousness
The imagery in the text, taken from trees, is very frequently used in the Bible (Psalms 1:3; Psalms 92:12; Jeremiah 17:8;Hosea 14:5-7; John 15:1-27.; Revelation 22:2).
I. IN WHAT RESPECT DO TREES REPRESENT CHRISTIANS II. Trees contribute largely to keep the atmosphere pure and healthful. When human beings, and indeed all animals, breathe out, there is given off a gas which is injurious and destructive to animal life. But this deleterious air is needful to the life and growth of plants; so trees and vegetation eagerly appropriate the air which is hurtful to us. At the same time the leaves of trees give off oxygen, which tends to purify the air, and render it fit for us to breathe. When the air around us has passed through an extent of leaf surface it is pure and invigorating There is a moral atmosphere, and the presence of Christian people in that moral atmosphere contributes to make it pure.
2. Trees supply many articles which are most useful in commerce--such as food, clothing, medicine. These things, as products in which men trade, tend to the enrichment and general benefit of society. Trees yield timber, with which our houses are built and our furniture is made. Palms yield edible fruits, and a great quantity of oil. And so, like these trees, true Christians contribute in many ways to benefit society at large. Look around on our own country, and notice the immense number of charitable institutions, etc. To what do they owe their existence? Unquestionably to the power of Christian love.
3. Trees are objects of great beauty. Scripture and poetry recognize the beauty of trees, and every one who has any eye to enjoy the charm of the country will readily admit that trees are objects of indescribable beauty. So there is a beauty, a charm, in the graces of Christian character as seen in purity of life, a loving, self-denying spirit which lays out its powers for the good of others (1 Corinthians 13:4-8; Philippians 4:8).
4. Trees are endowed with great strength. There are grand old oaks which have stood for more than a thousand years. A friend told me that an engineer in his employ saw a cedar in Algiers which must have been more than two thousand years old. A writer in the Times gives the following calculation as to the age of the Mammoth pine of California. He says, “A friend has sent me two specimens of the wood of the Wellingtonea gigantea. Of the timber sent there are two pieces: one a specimen of the older, or heart-wood; the other a specimen of the more recent, or sap-wood.” He then goes into a careful and elaborate calculation as to the age of the tree, and on the lowest estimate, he makes out that the tree was five thousand five hundred and forty-four years old. This long duration suggests how many storms and dangers the grand old tree has had to weather. So true Christians are possessed of great strength. Think of the many temptations, the many severe trials, through which such believers have had to pass!
II. THE PLANTING OF THESE TREES. They are not self-planted. They are not of man’s planting. “The planting of the Lord.”
1. Their nature in its fruit-bearing power and in its beauty and strength is given to them by the Lord. How did they become “trees of righteousness?” Not by any serf-originated choice or act of their own. The Gentiles are spoken of by Paul as being “cut out of the wild olive tree, which is wild by nature, and grafted contrary to nature into the good olive tree.” Here the scion of the wild olive is represented as grafted on the stock of the productive oil-bearing one; and they are called on to remember that they derive their life and nourishment from the root of the stock, which, being holy, makes the branches holy (Romans 11:16; Romans 11:18). All their life and sufficiency are from Christ alone.
2. The culture, as well as the nature, of these trees is of the Lord. “My Father is the Husbandman.” “Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit He taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”
III. THE GREAT DESIGN AND END OF OUR BEING MADE TREES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. “That He might be glorified.”
1. The glory of the Lord and our spiritual welfare go together. The beauty of the flower, the fruitfulness Of the tree, are the glory of the gardener.
2. The glory of the Lord is the highest end which any created being can serve. This was the grand end Christ kept before Himself, and accomplished: “I have glorified Thee on the earth.” This in the deepest desire of every saint in his holiest moments: “that God in all things maybe glorified.” (G. W. Humphreys, B. A.)
Trees of righteousness
The passage takes in the whole family of God. Observe--
I. WHY THEY ARE CALLED TREES OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
1. A tree is the beauty of the landscape. The Church of God is the beauty of the world.
2. A tree is remarkable for its strength. And there is that in the believer that gives one the conviction of strength. Where is his strength? He is united to Christ--“Rooted in Him.”
3. A tree is fruitful (Philippians 1:9-11; John 15:5).
II. THEY ARE DESCRIBED AS “THE PLANTING OF THE LORD.” There are some trees that are not of His planting, and yet they seem for a time to be good trees. There is a good deal of outward acquaintance with Divine things, a good deal of outward change; yet, after all, it is not a tree of the Lord’s right hand planting. It is a solemn truth--“Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” It may look well for a time; it may be fair and promising to the outward eye; but not being rooted in Christ, not bringing forth fruit, it shall be destroyed. But these are trees of “the Lord’s planting.” He chose them for His own. And with His own hand He transplants them out of the “waste howling wilderness, and plants them in His own garden. All the “trees of righteousness” are transplants. The end for which the Lord did it was that they might be,” trees of righteousness.’
III. THE GREAT END. “That He might be glorified. It shall be His Glory when they exhibit the beauty of a consistent profession. He shall be glorified especially by their fruitfulness. Concluding remarks: If you are trees of the Lord, do not be surprised if He should take His knife. You must be exposed to storms. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Trees of righteousness
I. HEN AS TREES.
1. As all trees have roots, so have all men. These roots are the principles which lie at the foundation of their character. These principles perform the same functions in the moral organism of a man as the root does in the material organism of a tree. The peculiar business of a tree-root is to collect the necessary food for sustaining the living body of the tree; and for this purpose it seems to be endowed with a kind of instinct which enables it to attract only those substances which correspond to the nature of the tree and will contribute to its growth, and to repel those which are different and would accordingly prove hurtful. Similarly, the principles which underlie human character are virtually the food-finders and life-sustainers of the soul, groping about among the scenes and circumstances and events by which they are surrounded, for such moral or immoral entertainment as is demanded by the nature of the being with which they are connected.
2. As all trees grow by assimilation from within, so do all men. You cannot build a tree, as you can build a house or construct a ship, by mechanical additions from without. The tree must build itself, by a delicate machinery of its own. In the same way does human nature grow by assimilation from within.
3. As all trees put forth leaves, so do all men. They put forth the leaves of an outward profession, not necessarily in words, but tacitly in external behaviour. A man without a profession is an impossibility. If there be vitality in a tree the annual approach of spring will make it bud and put forth tender sprouts; and so if there be vitality in a soul it will as surely clothe itself in a garment of speech and action. And as the leaves assume a shape and tint corresponding to the nature of the tree, so do the words and deeds of men contract a character from their souls.
4. As all trees produce fruit of some kind or other, so do all men. There is an endless variety among the fruits of the earth, but there are no trees that have not fruit of some kind; and there are no souls that are not continually producing fruit, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.
II. SAINTS AS TREES.
1. The saints as trees differ from the rest of men as to the kind of fruit they produce. They are “trees of righteousness, lit oaks of righteousness, a phrase susceptible of different renderings, though the obvious one is perhaps as good as any, “oaks that bear the fruits of righteousness.” Saints are instruments of holy service “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” They produce good works by the very same necessity as an oak bears acorns--a necessity of nature. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” etc.
2. Saints as trees differ from the rest of men as to the special training or culture they receive. They are “the planting of the Lord.” Other trees grow wild on the open common of an unprotected and sin-accursed world, enjoying no other culture than the laws of nature and the winds and rains of heaven are able to impart; but these have been uprooted from the sterile soil in which they grew and planted in the garden of the Church--uprooted by the skilful hand of the Great Husbandman of souls, and planted beside the gentle streams of grace that proceed from the throne of God, in some quiet and secluded corner, where they are carefully trained and tended.
3. Saints as trees differ from the rest of men as to the ultimate end for which they grow. Other trees have no end to serve beyond bearing their appropriate fruits, but these have a special view to the honour and reputation of the Husbandman who planted them; being “the planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.” So does Christ say of saints, “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” (W. Jones.)
Tongues in trees
1. One thing which strikes us in connection with trees is their very small beginnings, e.g the oak. The trees of righteousness are small in their beginnings. Faith, as exercised at first, is only as a grain of mustard seed. Grace, as first experienced in the heart, is a very tender plant. Look at Paul, and Wesley, and Whitefield, and many others, who illustrate the perfection that is attainable here. And see what perfection these trees of righteousness may attain hereafter.
2. Trees are slow and progressive in their growth. The concentric circles that may be seen within certain kinds of trees, have come there by the annual addition of one; and in full-grown ones there may be counted as many as a hundred or more. Hence an idea may be gathered of the gradualness of development in tree life. The trees of righteousness are often similarly slow and progressive in their growth. We should not be discouraged because we do not reach perfection at once. Walking is a favourite Scriptural mode of describing the progress of a godly life. The believer is represented first as a babe, then as passing through a state of youthhood, and then as having reached the maturity of manhood in Christ Jesus.
3. Great varieties distinguish trees. Among the well-known kinds are the strong and kinglike oak, the lofty and aspiring pine, the graceful and lovely beech, the timid and trembling aspen, the unsocial thorn, the dependent ivy, and many others. There are equally great varieties within the sphere of religious life. Moses’ nature was equable, Elijah’s stern, and inflexible, Isaiah’s buoyant, Jeremiah’s plaintive, Peter’s impulsive, and John’s amiable. And what varieties are met with in the sphere of modern religious life! We may be reminded, in relation to this fact, that we should not trouble ourselves because we are not like somebody else.
4. Observe in trees a dependence on external conditions for their growth and development. In all the stages of vegetable life the influences of the soil and of the atmosphere are necessary to a full and healthy growth. The trees of righteousness require certain outward conditions for their growth and development. Their spiritual vitality is not self-originated and underived. We should therefore not neglect communion with Him who is “the fountain of life and of grace,” by the means which are intended to secure us these benefits.
5. Notice also the different effects upon trees of the sun’s powerful influence at certain seasons of the year, and of the diminution of that influence at other seasons. When the sun comes forth “as a bridegroom from his chamber,” and “rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race,” as he does in the vernal season of the year, how beautifully the trees begin to exhibit signs of returning life! How they put forth shoots! How they cover themselves with foliage! And how, by and by, they are laden with fruits! But when his influence is partially withdrawn or modified, as in the autumnal season, how quickly there appear the tints which are sure signs of decay. God’s people are similarly affected by the Sun of Righteousness. When they enjoy His radiant and genial beams, as they never fail to do when they do not interpose their own unbelief, how admirable is the effect! But when the Sun of Righteousness withdraws Himself, or hides His face from His people through their unfaithfulness, then there ensues a period of decay, and even death.
6. Trees arc useful. This is not merely the case with such trees as provide us with delicious fruit, or furnish us with materials for the manufacture of articles of clothing, or supply us with certain medicines, or yield us timber for the construction of our dwellings, it is the ease with all trees. A writer, who is an authority, tells us, “Every tree in nature makes itself felt in the good it does the air.” The trees of righteousness arc useful. This is the case with all. We may not have the commanding abilities of some, nor occupy the positions of influence of others; but all who are living truly Christian lives, however hidden from public gaze, are helping to purify the moral atmosphere of society, and of the world. And this is usefulness that receives Divine approval. (J. A. Rimmer.)
The forests and orchards of God
I. THE SUGGESTIVE DESCRIPTION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD’S PEOPLE AND OF THEIR RELATION TO HIM. “Trees.”
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS CHARACTER IS TO BECOME THE POSSESSION OF MEN. “The planting of the Lord.” God is His own gardener, and those who would know the blessedness of being “God’s husbandry” are to be in all things submitted to God’s hand.
1. God chooses the position in which His trees are to be planted.
2. He hides the roots in life-giving soil.
3. He visits our life with the renewing power of His own life. “As the rain cometh down and watereth the earth and maketh it bring forth and bud,” so is the operation of the Holy Spirit upon the inner life of those who “ask the Father” that it may be so.
III. THE GREAT PURPOSE WHICH THIS CHARACTER IS TO SERVE. “That He might be glorified.” Christians are called to increase the honour of the Divine name.
1. In the spiritual condition of their” own life. Trees of righteousness must exhibit, the beauty, and symmetry of a rightly-formed and healthily-developed spiritual life..
2. This character has to be shown as the most truly living thing the world contains.. If you erect a building and fill it with industrious or noisy people, and by the side, of it plant a few elm trees, you will find that “life’s little day ebbs out” from within the house, that even the building crumbles towards decay, and that the trees, living and increasing in force of life, will run their roots beneath and through the foundations until they have warped the whole structure and brought it to its overthrow. One has standing room for its lifeless form on the earth, the other lives, and therefore overcomes. And the Christian has to show the world that though it may erect the sturdiest structures out of itself, there is a mightier presence in the character of godliness which by roots of living union gathers its power from Christ, and which will overthrow resistance and establish itself with the calm irresistibleness of eternal life planted and watched over by the almighty and unchangeable God.
3. Trees of righteousness must cause men to taste the fruit of righteousness and to live under its shadow. We all love shadow. None would like to be deprived of its beauty or of its refreshment. And even to think afar off of some fruit-trees is to experience real pleasure. Oh! for the spirit of Christ to dwell in us so richly that to have our society would be like walking beneath thickly overhanging trees in the noontide heat, or roaming at will in a well watered garden, and would cause men to give ungrudging testimony that Christian character was earth’s true similitude of heaven. (W. H. Jackson.)
“Trees of righteousness
Keeping to the natural figure under which the thing of God in man are described, these must be trees of beauty and symmetry, developed equally on all sides, with timber, twig, and foliage answering to the ideal in a mind which knows what a perfect tree would be. (W. H. Jackson.)
And they shall build the old wastes
Building the old wastes
There are many wastes in the world, and there are all sorts of them.
But of all sad and melancholy waste places, there is none so melancholy, so terrible, so desperate as a waste soul--a soul in which there is no sense of right and wrong in the tribunal of conscience; a soul where there is no distinct, manly, nobly inspiring purpose for spending and occupying life; a soul in which the mind is not instructed or Fed with useful knowledge, but which lies fallow; a soul where the heart is a cage of unclean birds.
I. As to THE METHODS of building up these waste places. Let us honestly confess that there are many of them, and none of them to be despised; and each is to be put in its proper order, and none can be dispensed with--one comes first, another second, and another third. There are in this earth of ours whole nations which may be called waste places.
1. The first thing to be done with the waste place of a great nation is to bring civilization into it; then the soil of the heart is prepared for better things to come.
2. Then many of our missionaries have to form a language: there are many words missing in the people’s dialect, without which they could not understand the truths of the Gospel. Then when a man is educated, he finds his imagination filled with new ideas; he feels he has taken his place in the great society of mankind, and is ready to listen to the truths which a little while before he trampled under his feet.
3. Another great means of building waste places is commerce and trade.
4. Good government is necessary. No man can receive the greatest and loftiest truths when they are living in a constant state of danger.
5. Preach the Gospel of Christ.
II. THE INSTRUMENTS. Whom does God use to build up the waste places?
1. His Sou is the great Builder (Luke 4:18, etc.).
2. Then as His representative, and, so to speak, in His place, His minister, His ambassador, His mouthpiece, HIS witness, the Church of God. Her great mission is to preach the Word of God, and administer the sacraments of Christ. Then there are other ways. The Church must try to enter into all the needs, and difficulties, and wants of those to whom she ministers. (A. W.Thorold, D. D.)
Social needs: religious duties
Our work is a work of restoration. This message is infinitely varied in its tone. If we are indeed to build the “old wastes,” we must see what has made them wastes; and we shall find that there have been three great enemies that have done this--disease and ignorance and sin.
I. We must bring a message of good news to THE BODY. We must recognize its needs--its need of pure air, and wholesome food, and healthy homes; and, also, its craving, especially in the days of youth, for leisure and amusement, and even excitement. We must meet these cravings, not with the forbidding frown of the Puritan, as though they were in themselves sinful, nor yet with the easy-going smile of the good-natured Epicurean, as though they were the all in all of human happiness, but with sympathy and good sense and forethought, in the belief that they represent one part of the Father’s will for His human children.
II. We must to the full recognize the rights of THE MIND. A Gospel that has no message of good news to the intellect of man is but a mutilated Gospel. Literature, art, science, music, have not, indeed, the last word to say on man’s relation to God, but they have a mighty and a lovely word to say; and it ought to be the joy of all Christ’s truest ministers, lay and clerical, to help in conveying such words to the ear and to the heart even of the poorest and dullest. Public libraries and museums, cheap concerts and cheap magazines, arc among the truest weapons of those who would in our day destroy the works of the devil.
III. Chiefly must we come face to face with sin, not only with a message against sin; we must have a message of good tidings also to HUMAN SOULS. And when I say “good tidings,” I do not necessarily mean agreeable and attractive tidings. When Jesus said, “Repent ye and believe the Gospel,” the call to repent, though hardly attractive, was in itself a Gospel. We cannot build the waste places in England, in morals and social customs, in ways of thinking and talking and feeling, unless we very plainly denounce what is unchristian in contemporary life. The message of the Gospel is not only a soothing message of forgiveness to the sinner who is troubled in mind, nor a tender message of companionship to the lonely and the bereaved, nor a consoling message of eventual justice to the wronged and the overborne. But there is also the voice which convinces the world of sin, the voice which says to society, irrespective of class, to rich as well as to poor, to poor as well as to rich: “In this and that you are wholly wrong; you are wrong in your expenditure of time, wrong in your expenditure of money, wrong in your estimate of the true prizes of life, wrong in your worship of comfort, wrong in your class isolation; wrong, many of you, in your very conception of religion.” We have, if we are indeed witnesses of our Master, a message of good tidings to all alike, to all classes, to the rich and to the poor, to the highly cultivated and-to the ignorant. (H. M. Butler, D. D.)
I. THE ANTIQUITIES THAT ARE LAID WASTE.
1. Vital godliness.
2. Apostolic doctrine. The sovereignty of God, substitution, sanctity, etc.
3. Loyalty to Jesus.
4. The unity of the Spirit.
II. THE PROMISE OF THE SPECIAL REVIVALS THAT TO TAKE PLACE. “They shall build,” etc. (J. Irons.)
But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord
Israel’s priesthood among the nations
The meaning is simply that in relation to the Gentiles, Israel shall enjoy a position of priesthood analogous to the relation between priests and laymen.
It was Israel’s calling to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), and in the latter days this destiny will be fulfilled in their mediatorial relation to the outer world. Although prophecy in general accords a position of supremacy to Israelites in the future kingdom of God, the distinction is, perhaps, nowhere so definitely formulated as here. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
New Testament privileges expressed in Old Testament phraseology
Regarding the position assigned to the Hebrew nation after it has become the teacher of other peoples and the leader of their worship, as here declared, we can form no conception that will harmonize with the spirit of New Testament liberty and the abolition of all dividing-walls between the nations,--the prophet predicts New Testament matters in Old Testament fashion. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
God’s priesthood v man’s priestcraft
When Christ came, all earthly priesthoods were abolished, and of all members of His kingdom it was to be said, “Ye shall be named the priests of the Lord.”
I. HOW IS THE OFFICE OF THE PRIESTHOOD ENTERED? Aaron and his sons are the types of Christ’s high priesthood and the priesthood of all believers. The Holy Ghost has most clearly taught by this type the order of entrance into spiritual priesthood.
1. The priests become so by virtue of their union with the high priest (Exodus 28:1). And the call of Christ unto His high priesthood also includes the call of all His sons into their spiritual priesthood.
2. In the consecration of Aaron’s sons to the priesthood there was also blood sprinkling. Christ’s high priesthood rests on an accomplished sacrifice. What does my priesthood rest on? On blood, too.
3. The anointing gives the qualification for priesthood (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27).
4. The qualification of garments (Exodus 28:4; Exodus 28:40).
II. THE PRIVILEGES AND DUTIES APPERTAINING TO THIS PRIESTHOOD.
1. To offer up spiritual sacrifices (1 Peter 2:5). Our bodies (Romans 12:1); our prayers; our praise; our intercessions.
2. It was the priest’s duty and privilege to maintain the service of the sanctuary. Every believer, being a priest, has equal right with every other believer to engage in maintaining the service of the sanctuary. (A. G. Brown.)
Everlasting joy shall be unto them
The everlasting joy
We pore with intense earnestness over the words which picture the joys of the future.
Everlasting joy. What are its springs?
I. THE INWARD HARMONY, THE PERFECT ORDER OF THE BEING, THE CONCERT OF EVERY FACULTY AND FORCE IN THE FULFILMENT OF THE WILL OF GOD. That is the peace of God--the perfect peace. The redeemed man is the governed man; the man who has re-found the King who can evoke his loyal passions, and control and direct his manifold powers. This rule, the rule of his true King, has been lost to him through sin. This supreme, complete control of his being heaven will restore. An unsphered planet could be won back to the harmony of its sister planets only by the attraction of their common sun. The King has appeared and claimed His own. We know little of heaven’s occupations, the aspect of its homes, the modes of its speech, the forms of its life. We know only that the God-man is there, and reigns. He whom we can love with intensest passion, and serve with exulting joy, will meet us on its threshold, will sweep the flood of His attractions round every limb and organ of our being, and thrill us in one intense moment with the sense that we are one, that we are blessed.
II. THE FULL VISION OF THE GLORY OF GOD IN THE CREATION, the beholding of all that God has meant, and sin has marred, in the constitution of the worlds.
III. THE COMMUNION OF THE BLESSED--the joy of fellowship when the struggle and toil are ended for ever--the companionship of the elect and beloved--intercourse with the elder spirits who are before the throne. (J. R. Brown, B. A.)
And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles
A blessed seed
The children of these persons themselves, that are now the blessed of the Lord, or their successors in profession, the Church’s seed, shall be “accounted to the Lord for a generation” (Psalms 22:30).
1. They shall signalize themselves, and make their neighbours to take notice of them. They shall distinguish themselves by the gravity, seriousness, humility, and cheerfulness of their conversation, especially by that brotherly love by which all men shall know them to be Christ’s disciples; and they thus distinguishing themselves, God shall dignify them by making then the blessings of their age, and instruments of His glory; and by giving to remarkable tokens of His favour, which shall make them eminent, and go them respect from all about them.
2. God shall have the glory of this, for eve:.” one shall attribute it to the blessing of God. (M. Henry.)
The life-testimony of the Christian missionary
The glorious fulfilment of this promise in its original and proper sense may be seen already in the influence exerted by the eloquent example of the missionary on the most ignorant and corrupted heathen, without waiting for the future restoration of the Jews to the land of their fathers. (J. A. Alexander.)
The seed which the Lord hath blessed
The blessed seed
I. THERE IS A SEED OR RACE WHICH THE LORD HATH BLESSED. Elsewhere it is described as “the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). But it is neither co-extensive with, nor confined to, the descendants of Jacob (Romans 9:6 - Galatians 3:28; Galatians 4:28; Ephesians 3:6; Philippians 3:3). This seed God hath blessed abundantly.
1. With peace.
2. With purity.
3. With strength.
4. With hope.
5. With joy.
6. With that which is the source of the peace and hope and joy--an assurance of HIS love.
II. THERE ARE OUTWARD SIGNS BY WHICH THOSE WHO BELONG TO THE SEED WHICH THE LORD HATH BLESSED MAY BE INFALLIBLY KNOWN. God has distinguished HIS ancient people by certain physical characteristics which have survived through many generations and have proved indestructible by all changes of climate and condition, so that wherever any of them are found we may say with confidence, these are the children of Abraham. And there are certain marks by which all who belong to God’s spiritual Israel are as clearly marked off from their fellow-men. Such as--
1. Love for Christ.
3. Consistency. (J. Harris, M. A.)
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord
The garments of salvation
Here is a GLAD RESOLVE. “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God.
1. Where there is a will there is generally a way, and sad though you be, something is gained if you will resolve to rejoice.
2. It is always “in the Lord” that we must rejoice. Friends are dying, helps are failing, hopes are being blasted. Rejoice in the Lord.
3. I further admire this resolve because we are by it determining to rejoice “greatly” in the Lord. If He is worth rejoicing in at all, He is worth rejoicing in greatly.
4. We are bidden to rejoice as to our inmost souls. “My soul” shall be joyful in my God. Soul-joy is the soul of joy, and there is no other joy worth the having.
5. The joy is in a personal God. “My soul shall be joyful in my God.” I think the secret lies just there. It is one thing to rejoice in God, the God of nature, the God of providence, or, for that matter, the God of grace; but it is quite another thing to rejoice in “my God.”
II. There are RIGHT GOOD REASONS, the best of reasons, for this glad resolve. “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.”
1. “He hath” done it. We may well say “I will,” if we can already say “He hath.” It is because “He hath” that we will.
2. “He hath clothed me.”
3. “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation.” This is an effectual way of saying, “He hath saved me.”
(1) He has made us holy.
(2) We ought also to wear the garment of humility.
(3) Nor are Christians properly attired till they are clad with zeal as with a cloak.
(4) May we not reckon also among the garments of salvatin that “garment of praise” of which we have read in the third verse?
(5) But chief of all the garments of salvation is the one that is here specially named, “He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness.” But for this we could not know the others; this is both first and last of all. Whose righteousness? Not our own, but HIS. How, then, does it become ours? Just as a garment becomes ours. We put it on, we wear it, we bear it; it envelopes us. Believers are “accepted in the Beloved.”
(6) These garments of salvation are in our text associated with wedding robes. “As a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with jewels,” just so the Lord has clothed us with garments of salvation, i.e. He has married us. The Church is His spouse.
(7) There is a reference here also, though it does not appear in our version, to the decking of the priest. The margin reads, “As a bridegroom decketh as a priest,” and I believe the Revised Version refers to the garland or tiara that the priest wears when sacrificing. It is gloriously true that we are made both kings and priests unto God. If these robes are festal and bridal, they are sacerdotal too.
(8) The closing verse of the chapter, though it seems to introduce another metaphor, is very closely allied to our text, “As the earth bringeth forth her bud,” etc. It looks as if what the Lord did for His people is comparable not merely to the arraying of the bride, or the decking of the priest, but to the arraying of this our earth, which at time of spring puts on its beautiful array, its garments of salvation, from whose new-sprung flowers the fresh incense rises, as if a garlanded priest were offering sacrifice to God. (T. Spurgeon.)
He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation
Dressed for eternity
I. THE SACRED DRESS. “The garments of salvation.”
1. Garments are used as a covering. Is a garment for the body more needed than one for the soul? Which of us could stand in the presence of an angel without sinking to the ground in very shame? I draw your attention to the glory of God’s garments of salvation--they completely cover all your iniquity and blot out all your sin.
2. A garment is used to beautify, to adorn. The garment of salvation is an adornment, for it reveals God in you to your neighbours. What can be more beautiful than a man or woman or child who tries to bless another! That is the life of the angels; the life of God--ministering unto others.
3. Garments are used also as a sign one’s condition or occupation. Monarchs, priests, judges, and officers of state wear robes to indicate their real or implied superiority. Shakespere says, “the apparel oft proclaims the man.” You can generally tell something about a man’s character and calling from his clothing. The world judges of Christian people by the garments of their conduct.
II. THE GIVER OF THE GARMENTS.
III. THE PERSONAL APPROPRIATING. “He hath clothed me.” Where is salvation? In Christ, and Christ is in and for us. (W. Birch.)
For as the earth bringeth forth her bud
God’s Word as seed
The Word in the mouth of the servant of Jehovah is the seed out of which great things are developed before all the world.
The ground and soil of this development is mankind, the garden enclosed in it is the Church, and the great things themselves are righteousness as the present inner nature of His Church, and renown as its present outward manifestation. The impulsive force of the seed is Jehovah, but the bearer of the seed is the Servant of Jehovah, and the fact that it is possible to scatter the seed of a future so full of grace and glory is the ground of His festive rejoicing. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Certainty in redemption as in nature
As surely as the seed germinates in the earth, so surely will Jehovah bring to pass the great redemption here promised through the self-fulfilling power of His Word (cf. Isaiah 55:10; Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 58:8). (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The springing forth of righteousness
It is a great act that God performs before our eyes during the spring and summer.
I. It is a MANIFESTATION that we see. A mystery hidden during the winter months is being revealed. As Nature hides and then reveals, “So the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth.”
1. It is a great manifestation of power that we see. We more readily associate God’s power with vast convulsions; but this is the continuously working and gentle power of the Most High. Mark the consummate case with which all is done. Yet not a sheath is split, not a flower starts from the earth, but it is moved to do so by some power.
2. Is not this putting forth of leaves a great manifestation of mind? Suppose we discard the word “design ‘ and accept the word “adaptation,” do we escape from the suggestion of mental action? It is not possible to describe the facts as they appear to us without using language that implies adjustment by means of mind.
3. It is something more than mind that is manifested in the beauty of nature. Beauty is only visible to reason, indeed to the higher kind of reason. Your horse sees nothing of the beauty of the landscape; your dog despises your flowers. The images of all these things are reflected on their eyes as on yours, but they produce no emotion. So that in nature, it seems, special provision is made for the peculiar gratification of the higher mind of man. Surely it must be reason that thus addresses itself to reason, and if reason, then benevolence.
II. The prophet sees in this THE PARABLE OF ANOTHER MANIFESTATION--a great moral and spiritual manifestation. “So the Lord God,” etc. It is pathetic that he should maintain this faith through the “winter of his discontent.” All spiritual influences are treasured up, and there is a conservation of spiritual force as of natural. But the preparation is long, as the winter that precedes the spring. How great the joy of knowing that we may help to provide or strengthen the forces of the world’s true vernal hour.
III. Remember that WE SHALL BE MANIFESTED (2 Corinthians 5:10). Forces arc gathering within us. When we “awake, may our surprise, even in respect to ourselves, be like that with which we look upon the new heavens and the new earth! (A. H. Vine.)
The reign of righteousness
I. THE GOSPEL IS THE DISPENSATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The love it reveals is a just love; the love it requires is a just love. It is a righteous system on two accounts.
1. It defends the rights of man. It takes nothing from him but his sin.
(1) Every man has a right over his own person. God has given him a body, and over its senses and members he has a sovereign right; and if he does not by the use, or rather by the abuse of this right, sin against the laws, order, and welfare of society, no one but God has any authority to take it away. But, alas! man is often robbed of his original right. There are two systems in the world, which, without shame or apology, perpetuate and sanction the guilty act; slavery and religious persecution. Now the Gospel detects, condemns, and in proportion to its progress destroys, these dark and direful systems.
(2) Man has a right over his property. The Gospel, by prohibiting fraud, theft, robbery, and every form of dishonesty, defends this right. It teaches men to be righteous in the acquisition, the enjoyment, and the disposal of wealth.
(3) Man has a right over his mind. And it is the mind, after all, that gives value to man. But it is injured, enslaved by ignorance, error and the world. For there is a slavery darker and deeper than that which tortures the flesh. A mind in chains is the greatest injustice and the greatest distress in the universe. It is painful to think how little real advantage the souls of men have derived from civilization, and its attendant blessings. There is nothing on earth that can give purity, freedom, righteousness, and comfort to the soul, except the truth and spirit of Christ. “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
2. The Gospel also reveals a righteousness which God has provided for man as a guilty and lost sinner. It shows that God can save transgressors without transgressing Himself the eternal laws and the general interests of His government. To show this is its peculiar use. The chief object of the Gospel is not to prove that there is love in God, but to show the nature and extent of that love. Natural religion preaches the benevolence of God; revealed religion preaches the justice of His benevolence. The creation proves the existence of God’s perfections; the cross of Christ harmonizes them.
II. THE SPIRIT OF GOD ALONE CAN RENDER THIS SYSTEM OPERATIVE AND EFFICIENT IN THE WORLD. “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” The process by which this is to be accomplished is figuratively described in the text: “As the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,” so the Lord God will make the Gospel effectual to the salvation of men. The process is Divine, vivifying, progressive, and beautiful. (Caleb Morris.)
I. THE ONCOMING OF SPRING TEACHES THAT THERE IS A GOD. There is an invisible Creator, a reflection of whose thoughts and a product of whose power are all these magic spring wonders.
II. Another lesson which spring particularly teaches is that THERE ARE ALLOTTED SEASONS FOR CERTAIN TASKS. Our Saviour thus on several occasions speaks of “times and seasons” ordained by God. And the Psalmist refers to this same arrangement when he says,: “The Lord appointeth the moon for seasons, the sun knoweth his going down. In nature, therefore, spring holds an ordered place. As summer is for ripening and autumn for reaping, so is this season for planting. It is the season for beginnings, the time for casting in the seed. Just such an order there is in the vineyard of grace. There is a spring-time of the Gospel, when all the conditions are favourable to making secure our eternal interests. Let every one heed this period. For it is most critical. It is his accepted time; it it his day of salvation. Ordinarily, the spring season is your youth. But in some cases it, doubtless owing to unfavourable early circumstances, comes later.
III. ANOTHER LESSON OF SPRING WE LEARN ALONE FROM INSPIRATION. It is that taught by the prophet in the text: “For as the earth bringeth forth her bud,” etc. That is, as Christians look upon nature putting on her flowery spring attire, and as they see a universal bursting forth of life, activity and joy, they are to behold in this a sign and a pledge of the progress, triumph and universal prevalence of the kingdom of God.
IV. SPRING, MOREOVER, TEACHES THE DIVINE ORIGIN AND POWER OF BEAUTY. Does it not fulfil that Scripture which says “He hath made everything beautiful in his time”? And we learn therefrom that beauty is Divine. That we live not for blind utility and stern necessities alone.
V. SPRING IS AN EMBLEM OF IMMORTALITY. This rejuvenation coming out of the icy tomb of winter shows us that Nature does not die--she only sleeps. Emerson puts this argument thus: “The soul does not age with the body. On the borders of the grave the wise man looks forward with equal elasticity of mind and hope. For it is the nature of intelligent beings to be for ever new to life.” (J. B. Remensnyder, D. D.)
The teaching is that there is a spiritual spring-time appointed of God, and it will surely come. As certainly as spring comes to the earth physically, so surely will it come to the Church spiritually.
I. CONTEMPLATE THIS TRUTH IN REFERENCE TO THE BROAD FIELD OF THE WORLD. Let our meditations range through history and into prophecy.
1. This leads us to expect that there may be in God’s work, and in our work for God, a period of unrequited labour. The analogy between the processes of nature and God’s work in the Church holds good not only as to the revivals of spring, but as to the depressing incidents of winter. We must not always reckon to see nations converted the moment the Gospel is preached to them, and especially where new ground has been broken up James 5:7). While the seed is under the ground a thousand adversaries present themselves, all apparently in array against its ever rising from the earth. When we survey the condition of affairs apart from faith in God, it may even seem to us that, our cause is hopeless.
2. Our text excites the hope of a sacred spring-time. God’s Gospel cannot perish. That which is sown in the garden springs up because there is vitality in it. Even so the truth of God is an incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever. Life in garden seeds may be destroyed; under certain influences the life-germ may perish, but the living truth of God is immortal and unconquerable (1 Peter 1:24-25). But seed springs up, not only because of its own vitality, but because of its surrounding circumstances. So we may rest assured that Godwill make all things propitious in His providence to the growth of His own truth. But the corn comes not up out of the earth because it is vital, or because of its surroundings merely, for, as we believe, there is the actual power of God at work throughout nature. And it is because God is at work in His Gospel--mysteriously at work, it is true, but certainly at work, for the Spirit of the living God which was given at Pentecost has never gone back to heaven--that we expect the Gospel to flourish. If at any time our mind should grow desponding concerning the progress of the Gospel, it ought to encourage us to remember that the Gospel will conquer, not because it looks as if it would, but because God has declared and decreed that it shall do so. The disheartening circumstances of the winter may have been, all of them, promotive of the success of the spring. Remember what sowing has already gone before. Christ sowed the earth with His own self. Remember, too, who is the Husbandman of this field. Moreover, there is the Spirit Himself, as well as the Father and the Son, and He has designed to dwell in the midst of the Church.
II. CONTEMPLATE THIS TRUTH IN REFERENCE TO THE GARDEN COMMITTED TO YOUR OWN PERSONAL CULTURE. As God’s people you have all something to do for Him; I want you to do it in the best possible manner; but you will not do so unless you are of good heart. Be not impatient with regard to the result of what you are doing. Exercise faith as to results.
III. CONTEMPLATE THIS SAME TRUTH IN REFERENCE TO THE BELIEVER’S SPIRITUAL STATE. Do you not sometimes fall into a wintry condition? There are times when we feel as if we had no life at all. In such times as these we cannot make any change in ourselves. What we cannot do, God can do. Spring comes from yonder sun, and so must our revival in religion, and our restored joy and peace, come from God.
IV. CONTEMPLATE ALL THIS IN REFERENCE TO THOSE WHO ARE NEWLY AWAKENED. Those very desires of yours show that there is some good seed sown in you. It is winter-time with you; may that winter do you good. Your only hope of anything better than what you arc passing through lies in Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)