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Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens
Prayer for Divine manifestation
This is nothing less than A PRAYER THAT GOD WOULD MANIFEST HIMSELF AS A JUDGE--yes, and as a Destroyer. Isaiah craved for a man who should deliver men from the oppressions of the world’s tyranny, from the storms which are raised by the passions of peoples and rulers, from the weariness and exhaustion which follows when they have accomplished their projects with great labour, and nothing comes out of them. He longed that the true man should appear, who would thoroughly manifest the ways ann purposes of the true God, who would remove the thick veil which had intercepted His light from reaching His creatures, who would make them know that He was present with them, that He was ruling and judging them. To long, then, for a Man who should be a hiding-place from the tempest and a covert from the storm or heat was the very same thing as to long that God would rend the heavens and come down.
II. THERE IS A NATURAL HEART IN ALL OF US WHICH IS AVERSE FROM THIS PRAYER. And there is a natural religion which adapts itself to these cravings of ours, and supplies them with a language. To keep God at a distance from men is the end which it proposes to itself; to convert all persons who perform its offices, all prayers and dogmas, into barriers more or less secure against His appearing, and His vengeance, is its art. This religion expresses all different feelings of men, in different conditions of disease. It does not express the one common feeling of men, to be raised out of their diseases, to be made whole. The universal prayer--the prayer that goes up from the whole heart of humanity--is this of Isaiah.
III. THE PROPHET HAD BEEN DISCIPLINED TO UNDERSTAND THAT MAN DOES NOT REQUIRE TO BE PROTECTED AGAINST GOD, but that God should protect him against himself, and should raise him out of the slavery which he invents for himself. Thus did he learn to rejoice, even while he trembled, at the convulsions in the outward world, or in human society. Thus did he understand that by all such signs God was avenging the cause of the poor, of those who had no helper, was shaking kings on their thrones, was surprising the hypocrites. Thus was Isaiah made into the evangelical prophet, the witness that unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, who can be a covert from the tempest, because He is both the Son of man and the Son of God; because God appearing in Him does indeed rend the heavens and come down. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The hearts cry
Here is a voice, resonant, magnificent, full of heart-chords, that says, Break up the scheme of nature and rebuild it, only thou Heart of things come to us? We catch our best selves in our best reality when we are thus impassioned. The zoologist or physiologist tells us that animals can only move when they are warm; they can only move in proportion as the sun is in them. It is the sun that makes the bird fly, it is the sun that made the little serpent leap up into your way and flash into the woods like a glare of light in darkness. We move by the sun. So, in a higher sense, in the larger, richer realms of education and culture and growth, we are moved by inspiration, not by information. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Irresistible Divine manifestation
Jehovah is to descend with such irresistible force as fire exerts on brushwood and water, kindling the one, making the other boil, in order by such a display of power to impress His name (revealing itself judicially, therefore, “in fire,” Isaiah 30:27; Isaiah 66:15) on HIS adversaries, and that,(idolatrous) nations may tremble before Him (cf. Psalms 68:2 f.). (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
When Thou didst terrible things
A standing phrase for the marvels of the Exodus, the type of the great final deliverance (Deuteronomy 10:21; 2Sa Psalms 106:22).
(Prof. T. K. Cheyne, D. D.)
Isaiah pleads with God to return to His chosen people, and restore their former peace and prosperity. He makes use of the past as an argument for the future, and recites the wonderful acts of God in days gone by as an encouragement to expect that He would do the like again. If it were not that God is unchangeable, no inference could be drawn from His past behaviour toward us; but inasmuch as He is immutably the same, we may safely infer that what He has done He will de again.
I. Let us meditate upon the fact that THE DIVINE PRESENCE IS THE ONE HOPE OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD. The prophet shows that he believed this, for he commences the chapter by a most ardent cry to God that He would come into the midst of His people. A little before this (Isaiah 63:15) he had prayed, “Look down from heaven;” but it is the characteristic of true prayer that it grows as it proceeds: he begins by asking God to look down; but he gathers intensity of desire and confidence of faith, and here he cries, “Come down.” So eager is he that God should come, and come at once, that he speaks to Him as though addressing a warrior who lingered in his tent while a battle was raging, who would be so eager to rush to the help of his friends that he would not stay to remove the canvas or to lift the curtain, but would rend a way for himself through the canopy to come at once to the deliverance of those who called him to the rescue. It was through the open heavens that Christ went in where He now stands to plead for us, and by that open heaven the sacred Spirit descended to rest upon the Church. The impetuous character of the simile here used shows that the prophet looked upon the Divine visitation as the one thing needful for Israel. Is not this the prayer of every true heart that knows the need of the Church and the need of the age. We do not so much require more ministers, or more eloquent teachers, but more of the sacred presence. We do not want wealth in the Church, or magnificent buildings, but we crave above all things that the living God will refresh His people. The desire of the prophet in the present instance is abundantly justified by the history of God’s people in all times: for when the tribes were in Egypt what could set them free from the iron bondage?--what but the presence of God? So was it when their marchings were through the lone wilderness. The favour of God is the hope of all HIS people. First, we see this in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world must have perished if God had not come down to it in the person of His dear Son. So, too, when the Lord Jesus comes to us by His Spirit our hope begins. And our hope of the perfection of our salvation still lies in the coming of Christ to us. Until our Lord’s glorious advent, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church is our only dependence for success in air that we attempt. The presence of God is essential to each one of us if we are to be saved.
II. WHEN THE LORD COMES HIS PRESENCE CREATES GREAT SURPRISES. “When Thou didst terrible things that we looked not for, Thou earnest down.” It has always been so. Even the most expectant among men have found their expectations far exceeded; while those who have been depressed, and have prophesied things, have been altogether taken aback to see the goodness of the Lord. How is it that we continue to be surprised at what God does? First, because our largest conceptions of God fall short of the truth. Besides, our experience of God is very brief. We have lived as yet only for a span, or a hand’s breadth. Besides that, our faith is shamefully weak, and does not look out for great things. Surprising mercies tend to rouse our gratitude. How much God is glorified by His people when He does things they looked not for. Their neighbours are surprised,
III. THE PRESENCE OF GOD DISSOLVES DIFFICULTIES. “The mountains flowed down at Thy presence.” Israel had enemies which were strong and powerful, nations and kings towered above them like great mountains, but whenever God came to help them the kingdoms dissolved, the people were conquered, and the mountains and hills were laid low. At this present time great systems of error oppose the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church only needs the Divine presence in the midst of her, and all the systems of error will flow down at His feet like glaciers which dissolve in the summer sun. Many hearts arc hard as granite rocks; you may pray for them, talk to them, preach to them, but all in vain. What is required is the presence of God, and then hearts of stone are turned to flesh. Within our own selves also we may see mountains of difficulty, but if we go to Christ, and so obtain God’s help, every mountain shall sink and every rock melt.
IV. WE MAY EXPECT TO SEE THE SAME RESULTS FROM THE DIVINE PRESENCE TO-DAY, and to-morrow, and as long as we live. God is the same. There are things to be done yet by God which will astonish us beyond measure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Yet since the beginning of the world men have not heard
God absolutely alone in His graciousness
“From of old men have not heard, nor perceived, nor has eye seen a God beside Thee, who acted for him that waits for Him.
” (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
There is perhaps, nothing more likely to withhold us from a diligent process of self-examination as to our position in reference to heaven, or to induce a sort of belief that such self-examination may safely be spared, because we have not sufficient material for conducting it, than the convenient supposition of the incomprehensibleness of heaven, and our utter incompetence with our present set of faculties to the understanding what heaven is. The words of our text are those which St. Paul quotes, when he says--“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” And there are no words more frequently or more unhesitatingly quoted than these, as if it were heaven which the writer had in view. This is only an instance of popular misapplication of Scripture. The words may, indeed, be accommodated to heaven; but as used, whether by Isaiah or St. Paul, they have nothing whatever to do with heaven; and it is nothing but by that common habit of detaching a text from the context, and thus suiting it to our own purpose without concern as to the drift of the writer, that the words are in every one’s mouth whensoever discourse turns on the invisible world.
I. CONSIDER WHAT IS THE TRUE IMPORT AND MEANING OF THE PASSAGE, whether as it occurs in the writings of Isaiah, or those of St. Paul. The chapter in which our text occurs contains an earnest prayer for the manifestation of God’s power, and this prayer is generally considered as that of the first converts from among the dispersed Jews, when the nation of Israel shall be about to be reunited in the Church. It is a devout and most importunate call for some such mighty interference as had been vouchsafed to Israel in earlier days, when God made “bare His holy arm, and wrought wondrously on behalf of His people.” Those words are a declaration that when God shall interfere, as we yet believe that He will, on behalf of His ancient people, gathering them from their dispersion, engrafting them into His Church, and reinstating them in the land from which they have so long been exiled, there will be such exhibitions of His greatness, and goodness, and awfulness, as shall immeasurably surpass the expectations even of those who, most diligent in remembering the marvels of old, have also been most patient in awaiting the fulfilment of the long-cherished promise. Without going more at length into an examination of the prayer recorded by Isaiah, we may safely say that it is not to heaven that the suppliants refer when they use the language “Eye hath not seen,” etc. And if, as used by the prophet, the words do not refer to heaven, do they as thus used by the apostle? (1 Corinthians 2:1-46.2.16). You can hardly fail to perceive, if you look attentively at the context, that it is the Gospel of which St. Paul speaks--the plan of salvation through Christ, and Him crucified. And it is to this Gospel that he applies the words which are so commonly quoted, as though he spake of heaven. What are his next words?
“But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit.” So, then, you see the mysteriousness of which St. Paul speaks was at an end.
II. We wish to suppose that the words were used of heaven, and to EXAMINE WHETHER EVEN THEN THEY WOULD AT ALL WARRANT MEN IN NOT ENDEAVOURING TO ASCERTAIN THEIR FITNESS FOR THE “INHERITANCE OF THE SAINTS.” We believe of heaven, that its joys far transcend our highest imaginations, and are only imperfectly, if at all, to be apprehended by our present senses and feelings, w e are not afraid to say of heaven--“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath laid up for the righteous,” but do the words prove that we can know nothing about heaven? Then, what mean the words which so immediately follow--“But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit”! Heaven is a mystery to the natural man. Its joys are such as lie beyond his comprehension; so that if described to him, they do not come home to his understanding. Its occupations are such that, when mentioned, they appear to him as if they must be burdens, so devoid are they of the elements for which he possesses any relish or taste. It is not, however, thus with the spiritual man. Unto him there hath come a revelation of the happiness of heaven, seeing that he has whisperings even now of that holiness which is happiness, and therefore can understand, and will be taught to feel that happiness is to be “holy even as God is holy. We tell you of heaven as of that whereof there hath been made a revelation to every believer in the felt agreement between what is told him of happiness hereafter, and what is experienced by him of happiness here. And it is just one of the worst delusions to which any man can make himself a prey to suppose that he may have a place prepared for him in heaven, and yet be without proof that he is himself being prepared for that place. Heaven is not so much a place as it is a character; neither is hell so much a place as it is a character. You may already decide whether you are in possession of the tastes without which you could not enjoy heaven, without which you could not find it heaven, even if through some strange distribution you were admitted amongst its inmates. Submit yourselves to the Spirit; obey His impulses; follow His suggestions; cherish His presence; dread His absence. And thus may you become gradually fitted for that blessed abode which “Eye hath not seen,” but which, nevertheless, may be so unfolded to those who are so growing in grace, that they can already,, drink of that river which proceedeth “from the throne of God, and of the Lamb, and already join in the anthem of the redeemed. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
Thou meetest him that rejoiceth
The godly man
THE GODLY MAN’S CONDUCT.
1. He worketh righteousness. He does not confine himself to any department of action, it may be manual, commercial, literary, scientific, professional; but in all he “worketh righteousness.” He is right in all; rectitude, and not expediency, is his law.
2. He is happy in his work. He “rejoiceth and worketh.” A man that worketh righteousness is sure to be happy; his affections will be harmonious, his conscience will smile on him, his God will bless him. There is no happiness, “but in work; and there is no happiness in work that is not the work of Thy ways.” God has His ways and His methods of action, and they are manifold. He remembers God in His ways in nature, in the government of man, in the dispensations of redeeming grace.
II. THE GODLY MAN’S COMPANION. “Thou (i.e. God) meetest him that rejoiceth.” Such men have meetings with God.
1. Conscious meetings. All men meet with God, but they, are unconscious of it. The good man knows it; he can say, “God is in this place.
2. Loving meetings. He meets him as the father met the prodigal son on his return, overflowing with love and joy.
3. Preparatory meetings. He meets them to prepare them for a meeting with Him that shall be uninterupted, beatific, and eternal. Conclusion: What a noble life is the life of godliness! Godliness is “profitable unto all things, etc. (Homilist.)
How to meet God
In these ancient words, in very different phraseology indeed, we see a strikingly accurate and full anticipation of the very central teaching of Paul and his brother apostles, as to the way by which God and man come into union with one another. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth”--that joy is to be manifested by “ working righteousness,” but the joywhich is the parent of righteousness is the child of something else--“those that remember Thee in Thy ways.” If we ponder these words, and carefully mark their relation to each other, we may discern, as it were, a great staircase with three flights in it, and at the top God’s face.
I. WE HAVE TO BEGIN WITH THE LAST CLAUSE OF OUR TEXT. “Thou meetest him . . . that remembers Thee in Thy ways.” The first stage on the road which will bring any man into, and keep any man in, contact with God, and loving fellowship- with Him, is the contemplation of His character, as it is made known to us by His acts. God, like man, is known by His “fruits.” You cannot get at a clear conception of God by speculation, or by thinking about Him or about what He is in Himself. Lay hold of the clue of His acts, and it leads you straight into His heart. But the act of acts, in which the whole Godhead concurs, in which all its depths and preciousness are concentrated, like wine in a golden cup, is the incarnation and life and death of Jesus Christ our Lord. But note that word “Remember,” for it suggests the warning that such contemplation of the ways of the Lord will not be realized by us without effort. There are so many things within us to draw us away; the duties and joys and sorrows of life so insist upon having a place in our hearts and thoughts, that assuredly, unless by resolute effort, frequently repeated, we clear a space in this crowded and chattering marketplace of life, where we can stand and gaze on the white summits far beyond the bustling crowd, we shall never see them, though they are visible from every place. Unless you try to remember, you will certainly forget.
II. THE SECOND FLIGHT OF THIS GREAT STAIRCASE IS POINTED OUT IN THE FIRST CLAUSE OF MY TEXT, “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth.” That meditative remembrance of the ways of God will be the parent of holy joy which will bring God near to our heart. Alas, it is too often the very opposite of true that men’s joys are such as to bring God to them. The excitement and often the impure elements that mingle with what the world calls “joy” are such as to shut Him out from us. But there is a gladness which comes from the contemplation of Him as He is, and as He is known by His “ways” to be, which brings us very near to God, and God very near to us. I think that we have largely lost the very thought that gladness is a plain Christian duty, to be striven after in the appropriate manner which my text suggests, and certainly to be secured if we seek it in the right way.
III. THE THIRD STAGE IS WORKING RIGHTEOUSNESS BECAUSE OF SUCH JOY. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth, and”--because he does--“worketh righteousness.” Every master knows how much more work can be got out of a servant that works with a cheery heart than out of one that is driven reluctantly to his task. You remember our Lord’s parable where He traces idleness to fear: “I knew thee that thou wast an austere man, gathering where thou didst not strew, and I was afraid, and I went and hid thy talent.” No work was got out of that servant because “there was no joy in him. The opposite state of mind--diligence in righteous work, inspired by gladness which in its turn is inspired by the remembrance of God’s ways--is the mark of a true servant of God. And the gladness which is wholesome and blessed, and is “joy in the Lord, will manifest itself by efflorescing into all holiness and all loftiness and largeness of obedience.
IV. WE HAVE THE LANDING-PLACE TO WHICH THE STAIR LEADS. God comes to such a man. He meets him indeed at all the stages, for there is a blessed communion with God that springs immediately from remembering Him in His ways, and a still more blessed one that springs from rejoicing in His felt friendship and Fatherhood, and a yet more blessed one that comes from practical righteousness. For if there is anything that breaks our communion with God, it is that there linger in our lives evils which make it impossible for God and us to come close together. Remember if there is the practice of evil there cannot be the sunshine of the presence of God. But remember, too, that the commonest, homeliest, smallest, most secular tasks may become the very highest steps of the staircase that brings us into His presence. Conclusion: There are two kinds of meeting God. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness,” and that is blessed, as when Christ met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. There is another kind of meeting with God. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness,” and that is blessed, as when Christ met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. There is another kind of meeting with God. “Who, making war, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Behold, Thou art wroth
An obscure passage
Text obscure. Possibly, “Behold Thou wast wroth, and we sinned; Thy wrath was for ever, and we became transgressors.” The general idea is that, through God’s wrath long continued, the people have sunk ever deeper into sin (cf. Isaiah 57:17; Isaiah 63:17; Koran, 27:4). (A. B.Davidson, D. D.)
Behold, Thou, Thou wast entered, and we stood as sinners; already we have long been in this state; and shall we be saved?” (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
But we are all as an unclean thing
“And we are all become as one unclean”--in a ceremonial sense, like the leper.
(Prof. Skinner, D. D.)
Lamentations of Isaiah
You have read some of the lamentations of Jeremiah; here is one of the lamentations of Isaiah. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Church’s complaint and confidence
I. A HUMBLE CONFESSION OF SIN.
1. Of the sins of their nature, of their persons themselves. “We are all as an unclean thing.”
2. Of the sins of actions. “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.”
3. Of the sin of non-proficiency, of obscuration, and senselessness, that notwithstanding the corrections of God, they were little the better. “There is none that calleth upon Thy name, or that stirs up himself to take hold of Thee.’
II. A HUMBLE COMPLAINT OF THE MISERABLE ESTATE THEY WERE IN BY THEIR SINS. “We all fade as a leaf,” etc.
III. A HUMBLE SUPPLICATION AND DEPRECATION TO GOD (Isaiah 64:8, etc.). (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
A comprehensive confession
This brief prayer is a combination of many types. Natural analogies are piled upon each other. The confession consists of six several but consecutive and closely connected parts. There is much meaning in each separate ingredient of this confession considered by itself, and more in the relations and union of the whole.
I. THE TAINT OF SIN, that from the springs of humanity has poisoned all its streams. “We are all as an unclean thing.” When who has been convinced by the Spirit takes words and turns to God, he begins at the heart, as the spring whence the many unclean streams of thoughts and words and deeds flow out in the daily life. This simplicity is a mark of truth.
II. THE WORTHLESSNESS AND POSITIVE LOATHSOMENESS OF ALL THE EFFORTS WHICH A SINFUL MAN CAN MAKE TO SET HIMSELF AT FIRST RIGHT WITH GOD. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Most naturally this ingredient of the confession comes next in order. He looked first to his sins, and told what he thought of them; he next looks to his righteousness.
III. THE FRAILTY, UNCERTAINTY, AND SHORTNESS OF HUMAN LIFE. “We all do fade as a leaf.”
IV. THE POWER AND SUCCESS OF INTERNAL CORRUPTION IN HURRYING THE MAN INTO ACTUAL SIN. “Our” iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” It is a mark Of true repentance when the penitent lays all the blame upon himself
V. THE INABILITY AND UNWILLINGNESS OF THESE HELPLESS SINNERS, AS THEY ARE DRIFTING DOWN THE STREAM OF SIN TOWARDS THE GULF OF PERDITION, TO LIFT THEMSELVES UP AND TAKE HOLD ON GOD. “There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee.”
VI. GOD’S METHOD OF DEALING WITH SUCH UP CASE. “Thou hast hid Thy face from us.” The Holy One hides His face from His creatures while they live in sin. “And hast consumed us because of our iniquities.” I prefer to take this clause in its most literal sense, as it is given in the margin--“Thou hast melted us by the hand of our iniquities.” God melts the hardest sinners, and He employs their own sins to make the flinty hearts flow down. If this melting take effect in the day of grace, it is repentance unto life. But if the sinful are not so melted in the day of grace, they will be melted when that day is done. Their own sins on their own heads will be at least a material part of the doom of the lost in the great Day. After having looked to the text, we shall look at that which touches it, before and behind. The gem is the chief object of attraction, but its setting may be both beautiful and precious. The word that touches it on the one side (end of Isaiah 64:5) is, “We shall be saved;” the word that touches it on the other side (beginning of Isaiah 64:8) is, “But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father. It is not by chance that this great deep confession lies between these two words--is held up and held out in these two tender, loving hands. “We are saved by hope,” not by terror. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
The banefulness of sin
I. SIN IS A DEFILING POWER. “We are all as an unclean thing.” Sin makes the soul as unlovely as a man in filth. The soul ought not to be unclean.
The stain of sin does not belong to it, it is separable from it. Once the soul had no stain.
II. SIN IS AN IMPOVERISHING POWER. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Moral character is indeed the garment of the soul, the garment which it weaves out of its thoughts, emotions, purposes, and actual deeds. This garment ought to be one beautiful whole, and clean also. But through sin it is all in “rags.” There is no unity, no wholeness, no completeness. It is all in tatters, and filthy tatters too. Sin indeed makes the soul ugly and hateful. How unlovely is every aspect of sin.
III. SIN IS A WITHERING POWER. “We all do fade as a leaf.” Sin blasts the hopes, pollutes the loves, curtails the liberty, dims the vision, deadens the conscience, and enfeebles all the faculties and powers of the soul.,
IV. SIN IS A VIOLENT POWER. “Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Homilist.)
A sight of self
I. I HAVE TO DESCRIBE THE VIEW WHICH EVERY TRULY GRACIOUS SOUL WILL TAKE OF HIMSELF.
1. Every gracious soul who is truly enlightened by the Spirit has a clear sense of the root of all his guiltiness. He knows the plague of his own heart, and cries, “We are all as an unclean thing. He discovers that not merely his outward acts, but his very person is essentially sinful in the sight of God.
2. The spiritually enlightened man then perceives that all his actions are evil. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” If our righteousnesses are so bad, what must our unrighteousnesses be?
3. The enlightened heart into which the candle of the Lord hath shone, is led to see the failure and futility of all its resolutions to be better. “We all do fade as a leaf.” Our best professions, hopes, resolutions, and pretensions--all of them fade like shadows, dreams, and fancies of the brain.
4. But the truly awakened soul knows a fourth thing, namely, that he is not in himself able to stand against the invasions of temptation, for the text has put it--“Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. When men find that their vows wither, yet they will still hang to their hopes, and to their moralities; but some strong temptation comes unexpectedly upon them just at the moment when their mind is susceptible of its power, and where are they? The temptation comes like a howling north wind at an unexpected moment, and where is your man now? Unable to resist, carried away by the very vice which he thought he had renounced.
5. Those souls upon whom God’s sunlight had once shone are also painfully aware of their own natural weakness and slothfulness in prayer. “There is none that calleth upon Thy name,’ etc.
6. That soul which has once perceived itself in the black colours of its iniquity, has discovered that through sin it has lost all the favour and love of God which might have come if it had been without sin, for so saith the text, “For Thou hast hid Thy face from us, etc it is no thing to play with that hiding of God’s face. When the prophet says, “Thou hast consumed us, it is a dreadful word.
II. There is a danger I must warn you of, and that is--DO NOT BE CONTENT WITH THE MERE KNOWLEDGE THAT IT IS SO. You must not merely know that you are lost, but you must feel it. Do not be content with simply feeling that it is so, but mourn before God that it is so, and hate yourself that it is so. Do not look upon it as being a misfortune, but as being your own wilful sin, and look upon yourselves, therefore, as being sinners, condemned already, not only for all this, but condemned because you believe not on Christ, for that after all is the crowning condemnation. And when you really feel your sinfulness, and mourn it, do not stop here; never give yourself any rest till you know that you are delivered from it.
III. THE TEXT SEEMS TO SUGGEST SOME PLEAS. Poor troubled soul, I am afraid thou canst not use the first one mentioned in the text--“Thou art my Father! “ I am half afraid you have not faith enough for that, but if you have, what a prevailing plea it is! “My Father, I have sinned, but I am Thy son, though not worthy to be so called; my Father, by a father’s love forgive, forgive Thine erring one; by the bowels of Thy compassion have mercy upon me! “ You who have backslidden can plead this, for you know your adoption. But if that should be too hard for you, take the next plea. Say, “Lord, I am the clay and Thou the potter; I am helpless like the clay which cannot fashion itself; I am worthless like the clay that is of no value; I am filthy, Lord, like clay! I am only worthy to be trodden under foot, but Thou art the potter, and potters can make fine things even of clay. Here I am, Lord; I put myself into Thy hand. I am nothing; make me what Thou wouldst have me to be.’ Will not that plea suffice? But hark thee, sinner. There is a sweeter plea than any in the verse before us, for this is an Old Testament text; but I must take thee to the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the plea that never fails. It is this, “Lord, it is written that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; if there was never a sinner in the world but one, that sinner I am. I trust myself in His hands to save me.” It is done, it is done. You are saved; you are “accepted in the Beloved.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Confession of sin
1. The greatest and noblest souls, striving after the loftiest and divinest aims, have been most sensible of fault and failure in their lives, and have in their confessions borne hardest upon the weakness and sinfulness of human nature. Not when men are sunk in depths of vice and sensuality; but when they are struggling upwards to difficult, impossible heights of virtue and nobleness, are they seized with the “strong crying and tears” which pours itself forth in such language as this, in David’s fifty-first psalm, in Paul’s “I am the chief of sinners.” It is not the utter depravity of human nature, but rather a rare goodness and nobleness which expresses itself in the language of confession, of which this is a specimen.
2. Read it thus, and it is true and simple. Apparently when the prophet wrote these words his countrymen had just returned from captivity, and were again established at Jerusalem--Jerusalem laid waste, and its crown and ornament, “the holy and beautiful house of God,” trampled in the dust. Something had been learned by the captives in their long and miserable exile. There was a lesson taught them now by their desolate homes and overturned altars. But still, to an earnest and far-seeing mind, there was manifest the need of a much wider and deeper religious reformation than had yet been accomplished. Before the nation could be again what it once was, it had much to learn and much to unlearn. It was a superficial and partial work which adversity had yet done in the way of curing the evils which had brought adversity in their train. With painful certainty and distinctness this was evident to the prophet. His soul was burdened to think of it, and he burst out, in his grief, with the confession as for himself and his country--“We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
3. It is easy to imagine a prophetic mind of our own country and our own time using similar language to express similar feelings. We have a great deal to be proud of as a nation. Much that is British is great and noble. On the surface of things we appear to be a very religious, as well as an industrious and prosperous people. Our Protestant institutions are, no doubt, many of them admirable. But can you imagine any very sincere, penetrating, religious mind, one impressed little by material prosperity and sensitive to moral and spiritual conditions, looking beneath the surface of our national life, contemplating all the dishonesty in trade and manufactures, the corruption of morals among the rich, the low intelligence, superstition, vile tastes of the mob, the religious cant and conventionality, the bitter rivalry of sects, which exist along with our Protestant institutions, and not be forced to say--“We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away ‘--we are not a great and glorious people; “we all do fade as a leaf”? As the language of confession--confession being the act not of the vile, but of the noble--we read thislanguage, and the application of it to national life is plain.
4. In this light it is no less easy to apply it to individual life and conduct. Strive to be true and good after the example of Christ, and it will be easy, perhaps, to satisfy both the world and the Church that you are successful in the endeavour; but if your aim is really to live Christ’s life you will not so easily satisfy yourself--you will only at the best succeed far enough to be conscious of immeasurable failure. Compared with the good you ought to win, any good to which you attain will appear to you miserable failure. Thus, this language in its own light is easily seen to be true. In any other light it is false. He that doeth righteousness is righteous. I know that right things may be done from wrong motives, and with inferior views, and I know that they are not then of the same quality or value as if they were done from right impulses and with the highest aims. I know, too, that if a man breaks one of the commandments he is in a sense guilty of all, and cannot set himself up as a perfect man, or as a more deserving man than another who has broken all the ten. But then right is right, and wrong is wrong, be it in saint or sinner, and nothing can make these two opposites change places, or have the same character or issues. Wrong is eternally to be feared and hated; right is eternally to be loved and sought after. Suppose you know you are wrong in much, if there is anything in which you are right, do not consider that to be filthy rags--die rather than surrender it to force or fraud. It was not to render our righteousness superfluous, or to certify that any of our righteousness is worthless, that Christ lived and died; it was to make us truly righteous, to bind us in a new covenant with God our Father, to be the servants only of righteousness. (J. Service, D. D.)
All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags
“Rags” is a word that applies to worn and torn bits of cloth; when used otherwise to designate apparel, contempt is implied. The word employed by Isaiah has no such import. It is the same word that describes part of what Abraham’s steward presented to Rebekah--“jewels of silver and jewels of gold and raiment.” Are we to imagine that rags have any similarity to the gold and silver jewels, or are likely to be among the gifts offered in the name of a wealthy sheik to a gentle lady whose favour is sought as the bride of the son of promise? Besides, when a Hebrew meant “rags” he had a word for it A proverb tells how drowsiness shall clothe one with rags; and here the word is very different from Isaiah’s. Hence it is well that the revisers put “garment” instead of “rags” in the prophet’s phrase, which may thereby become less striking and splenetic, but is certainly truer to the prophet’s thought. It is not for translators to inject their own feelings into their author’s words. Equally erroneous is the adjective “filthy,” or even “polluted,” as the revisers have it. It is, of course, admissible, and may be elegant to construe a governed noun as an adjective, as is the case here; but the adjective should be a congruous one at least Isaiah’s governed word has no reference whatever to filth. Had the expression been Zechariah s, where he speaks, with more force than courtesy, of Joshua’s “dungy robes ‘ no fault could be found with filthy as a rendering; for there is no question that either Joshua’s robes are represented as literally smeared with filth, or else the prophet held them in as great disgust as if it had been so, just as Paul scorned even his privileges as “dung” compared with the blessings he enjoyed in Christ. If Isaiah had expressed the like scorn, it would have been fair so to put it; but as the translators had to add the contempt, it is plain they imported into their original what was not there. The word chosen by Isaiah denotes something over and above. Proof is something beyond one’s bare word; and an ornament is something over and above what is plain. Our word, then, means proof, evidence, or witness, and also display or ornament. Besides, being plural, it has special emphasis. The literal rendering, then, is “a garment of testimonies, or of infallible proof;” or “a garment of ornaments, or of great display.” To suggest adjectives for the governed nouns, the translation comes to be “an evidential article of clothing,” or “a showy dress.” The first of the these interpretations was adopted by Aquila, a very old and apparently well-skilled translator, who improved upon the Septuagint. He gives “marturion” as the Greek equivalent; and on this Jerome has a note in which he observes, “This is testimoniorum,” which means “of testimonies,” and then goes on to refer to the Deuteronomic enactment concerning the scandal raised by a husband accusing his wife on the score of impurity before marriage. In such a case, a cloth smeared with blood, as it came from the injured woman’s person, was a sufficient proof of pre-nuptial purity as well as of the consummation of matrimony. Looked at in this light. Isaiah’s phrase has great capacity of suggestiveness. Our good deeds attest our “inward and hidden intercourse with the Lord, and prove that with Him only in all purity we have had to do, But there is a stain even on our purest thoughts and deeds. Our second interpretation, however, yields” the better sense. It takes into account,, the previous clause; and, in the light of it, both clauses are thus paraphrased: We are all like an unclean woman, and all our righteous acts like her showy attire.” The meaning is simple and clear. Outward show takes the place of inward reality. Perhaps their loathing of the strumpet’s airs begot contempt in the translators’ hearts for anything that is describable in those terms. Their rendering reminds us of Zephaniah’s indignant description of degenerate prophets: “Her prophets are debauched wretches--cloaks!” This corresponds with the old Scottish definition of a formal clergy--“toom tabards,” that is, empty gowns, all cloak and nothing inside. The life is taken out of Zephaniah’s fierce protest when it is smoothed down to “light and deceitful persons,” as in the ordinary version. When David invites Israel’s daughters to weep for Saul, he reminds them of the fashions of Saul’s period, “with delights,” referring to the modiste’s art with a fine appreciation of a woman’s weakness for finery; and the word is akin to Isaiah’s “clothing of dazzling display.” Here is “devotion’s every grace, except the heart.” The prophet seeks more heart and clean. (H. Rose Rae.)
We all do fade as a leaf
The lesson of the leaf
As Christ drew a lesson from the lily, so may we from the leaf. Yet the words of the prophet, “We all do fade as a leaf,’ may lead our thoughts in a different way from his. These words were originally spoken in lamentation over the wrecked glory of the temple and city of David, as devastated by Nebuchadnezzar with fire and sword. No fitter similitude of the sad change could the mourning prophet find than the faded leaf. Those dilapidated walls, those fire-scarred ruins of Jerusalem and Zion, brought to his mind the magnificent creations of the shepherd king and his illustrious son, only as the crushed and blackened leaf recalls the image of the glorious crown of spring. But to us the lessons of the fading leaf become spiritually instructive, as we bring to bear the light which science has afforded us respecting the nature and the uses of its short life, the meaning of its fading, and the real significance of its death. We learn that the reality is different from the seeming, both as regards the life of the leaf and its death. We find a-nobler meaning in the life of the leaf, and that imparts a nobler meaning to its death. And the lesson thus derived brings us consolation and strengthening as we apply it to some of the sadder experiences of mortal life. (J. M. Whiton, D. D.)
Usefulness of the leaf
For the tree itself, says the botanist, the leaf is both stomach and lungs.
1. A single elm has been computed to possess in one summer five acres of leaves; each leaf a wonderful tissue of nerves and pores and cells and veins. In these countless cells, invisible to the unassisted eye, the sunlight enables the living plant to do its work. In these cells the mineral matter ascending from the roots dissolved in the sap, and the gaseous matter drunk in through the pores from the air, are mingled, and converted by the chemistry of the sunbeam into food for the tree. This then is carried by the leaf-veins into the twigs, adown the branches and the trunk, and is deposited under the bark in a ring of woody fibre. Another portion also goes to form the nutritious fruit and another the reproductive seed. Thus the frail leaf, gay, beautiful, musical as it is, is yet ever at God’s work, providing man with material for the necessities, comforts and luxuries of his life. Most true, in creation as well as in redemption, is the apostle’s saying, that “God hath chosen the weak things of the world, and things which are despised hath God chosen.”
2. But this is not all of the useful duty to which God has chosen the fair and short-lived leaf. The gas which the leaf-cell sucks from the air, and helps to change into fibre, is poisonous to animal life, and must not accumulate in the atmosphere. The same office that the coral insect performs for the sea, to keep the great fountain of waters pure, the leaf performs for that aerial ocean from whose pure tides we drink our life. A mark of dignity has the Creator bestowed on all useful labour, however humble, by giving the glory of the forest, and the beauty of the many-coloured coralline gardens beneath the waves, to organisms that discharge for Him the duty of scavengers! The carbonic acid gas produced by all our fires, and by the myriads of breathing creatures, is absorbed from the air by the leaf through its countless pores. In the leaf-cells, this noxious element is decomposed; part is worked up into food for the tree, and the residue, containing all that is fit for animals to breathe again, is given back to the vital air. Measure, if it were possible, by cubic feet of wood, all the trees upon the globe. Forty-five per cent of the whole mass is the solidified poison of the atmosphere, extracted by the subtle chemistry of the leaf. How grandly beneficent is its humble life?
3. The leaf draws water from the ground through the thousands of tubes in its stem--eight hundred barrels, says a scientist, from every leaf-covered acre every twenty-four hours. This it gives out to the atmosphere in the form of invisible vapour, to be condensed into clouds and fall in showers--the very water which, were it not for the leaf, would either escape infreshets or filter through the ground to the caverns below. Thus the leaf works to bring upon the earth the early and the latter rain.
4. And now comes on its change. It is a change that comes most naturally and honourably as the leaf fulfils its beneficent tasks. It is in and by its useful work that the leaf changes from the pulpy thing it was in May to a thing of firmer texture. And so we learn to look upon it rather as a ripening than a decaying, when, as its work draws near the end, it begins to borrow less from earth and more from heaven. The splendours of October, surpassing the tenderness of May, and the sober dignity of August, fitly crown the close of a life that has been so useful. (J. M. Whiton, D. D.)
Life and death
Let us now take up the truth taught us by the leaf into the higher regions of the experience of the soul. There, too, the reality may be other than the seeming. There, too, to rectify our view of life will be to rectify our view of death. What is the life of the leaf? The child replies: To dance in the sun, to play with the breeze, to listen idly to the song of birds. What, then, is its death! The loss of all for which it lived, faded beauty, a broken form, hurled from a proud and peaceful height into the mire of the street, a dishonoured and pitiable wreck. Nay, what is the life of the leaf? The teacher tells the child: To nourish the stock that bore it; to prepare abundant supplies for the life and the labours of man; the fuel that warms, the fruit that feeds, the roof that shelters, the vehicles of commerce by land and sea, that draw the nations into one, the sanctuaries vocal with a nobler praise than that which is warbled through the forest arches. It is to cleanse and vivify the vital air, and thus preserve in healthy vigour the blood of man and beast. It is to send the rain upon the pastures, that feed the cattle on a thousand hills, and on the cornfields that nourish the great family of mankind. What, then, is its death? It is the fulfilment of the good end it lives for, a growing hard and brown in beneficent work, a ripening through constant usefulness into the many-coloured tints of splendid autumn, a putting on of the God-given decorations of ennobled labour; it is a settling into an honoured grave all purpled like a king; it is a resigning of an outworn form to that Providence which treasures up each particle of faithful dust to enter into fresh forms of life and beauty in coming springs. How plainly we see here that different ideas of the purpose of the life lead to different ideas of what the death really is. If we would transform our thought of death, we must transform our thought of life. (J. M.Whiton, D. D.)
Lessons from the leaves
Three applications of the prophet’s language--
I. TO MAN, AS HE IS A SINNER. Man’s condition through sin is the primary idea. “Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
1. The fading leaves are separated from the source of their life and growth and beauty. They are no longer in vital union with the root of the tree. They may hang for a while, but are sure speedily to fall. Any passing gust may carry them away. The soul of man through sin has, lost spiritual with God, the source of its true life, and has become faded and shrivelled through the separation.
2. The fading leaves yield no response to, receive no benefit from, the natural influences that act upon them for their life and growth. The prophet says of Israel, “There is none that calleth upon Thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee.”
3. The fading leaves, as they fall from the tree, are out of their true sphere, and exposed to all degrading forces. The prophet has in his mind leaves that had faded unnaturally, and that should still have lived in greenness and beauty upon the tree. Lying on the ground, trampled down by man and beast, when they should have been waving high like a warrior’s plume. Man through sin has fallen from his true sphere. He is the sport of evil passions, subject to all degrading and hurtful forces. The emblem of his condition is a faded, fallen leaf, whirled about by the winds, trampled down and tossed about by man and beast.
4. The fading leaves are practically useless and worthless. They are of no value to the tree, nor yet to man. A sinner is one who renders no true and intelligent service to his God, and brings no real benefit to the great tree of humanity.
II. TO MAN, AS HE MORTAL. In man, as in nature, the same law of decay is acting.
III. TO MAN, AS HE IS A CHRISTIAN BELIEVER. Reversing the picture, and excluding the prophet’s application, there is hope and consolation spoken by the fading leaves.
1. The fading ]eaves have fulfilled the purpose of their being and life. The Christian, whether he fade soon or late, has not lived in vain.
2. The fading leaves are clothed with the richest and most varied colours. The Christian, us life is closing, often shines with a spiritual richness and lustre never seen before.
3. The fading leaves tell of the infinite skill and care of the Creator. Wonderful is the interest God takes in His people. “Not one faileth to the ground without your Father.”
4. The fading leaves do not perish. They come back in other forms, and serve other uses. The Christian can take higher and surer ground. He shall live again, live the being he now is, live never again to fade. (Homiletic Magazine.)
I. LEAVES FADE GRADUALLY. The whole foliage of a tree does not fade and pass away at one time. Some leaves droop and wither even in spring, when the rest of the foliage is in its brightest and most luxuriant beauty. Some are torn away in summer, while green and full of sap, by sudden and violent storms. The great majority fade and fall in autumn; while a few cling to the branches all through the cold and desolation of winter, and are at last pushed off by the unfolding buds of the following spring. And is it not so with every generation? Decay and death everywhere and always reign. But all do not fade at the same time. Sonic die in the spring of life; some are cut off’ suddenly, by accidents and fatal diseases, in ripe manhood; some fade naturally in the autumn of old age. A few survive their generation, like the last red leaves that rustle mournfully in the winter wind on the topmost bough of the tree. Friend after friend departs, family after family disappears, until the mournful record shall be written of us as it was written of the Hebrews of old--“And Joseph died, and all his brethren, and all that generation.”
II. LEAVES FADE SILENTLY. All the processes of nature are silent and secret. It is God’s glory to conceal a matter. And so silently do we all fade.
III. LEAVES FADE DIFFERENTLY. The autumnal foliage is very varied. No two species of trees exhibit the same appearance. And are there not similar differences in the way in which men fade and die? In the hey-day of life and happiness they may seem all alike, uniformly fair and attractive. But when death comes, it shows the true character of each. Its approach makes some men gloomy and sombre. It invests them with a dark and repulsive aspect. It clothes them with despair. But how widely different is the dying of the Christian! The idea of death to them has nothing death-like in it.
IV. LEAVES FADE CHARACTERISTICALLY. The foliage that is gloomiest in its unfolding, is most unsightly in its decay; and the leaves that have the richest and tenderest shade of green in April, have the most brilliant rainbow hues in October. The leaf of the sad and sullen ash is the last to kindle its bud, and the first to wither and fall; and its colour, always sombre, becomes blackened and disfigured in decay. The leaf of the linden tree, on the contrary, is beautiful from first to last; softly green in spring; fragrant in summer with delicate frankincense, and musical with the hum of bees, revelling in the honey-dew bloom; and gorgeous as a sunset-cloud in autumn. And so is it with man. “He dies as he lives. A life of godliness ends in a saintly death; and a career of worldliness and sin terminates in impenitence and despair. And as the fading itself is characteristic, so also are the results of the fading. The leaves of some trees when they fall, leave no trace what ever behind. The scar left by their removal heals immediately; and on the smooth, naked bark of the bough, in winter, there is no mark to indicate that it was once covered with foliage. There are other trees, however, on which the scars are permanent. Many of the characteristic markings on the stems of palm-trees and tree-ferns are due to the permanence of these scars, when their leaves have decayed and dropped off. And is not the lesson of analogy here very clear and impressive? How many there are who fade and drop off from the tree of humanity, and leave no trace of their existence behind. Others there are, large-minded and large-hearted men, who live not for themselves, but for the glory of God and the good of their fellow-creatures; these when they fade and drop off the tree of life, leave behind them an impression which time will only make deeper.
V. LEAVES FADE PREPAREDLY. No leaf falls from the tree--unless wrenched off suddenly and unexpectedly in early growth by external violence--without making due preparation re its departure. Before the slightest discoloration is seen upon it, there is a secret adequate provision made by nature for the inevitable hour of its passing away. Side by side with it, even in its summer beauty and luxuriance, it carries the memorial at once of its death and of a new birth. It bears the young bud that is to usurp its place in its bosom, and nourishes it with its own expiring life. This law of the vegetable kingdom is one that knows no exception. No leaf drops till a new one is prepared to take its place; no flower perishes till its house is made ready and filled with seeds. Alas, how different is it in human economy! Provision for the future is with man not the law, but the exception, of his conduct. Should we not imitate the example of the leaf in which the process of preparation for the future keeps pace with the process of decay? (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
I. THIS LEAF TEACHES US THE GOSPEL OF SERVICE. It has lived, it has had its day. It falls to perish by the wayside, but it has not lived in vain. When that leaf breathes it takes up carbon and exhales oxygen. When we breathe we take in oxygen. You could not live without the leaf. It keeps the atmosphere pure. It prevents it from becoming poisonous. You are indebted to the leaf for your life. But you say, “That, after all, is but a selfish life; the leaf takes up what it requires, and it throws off what it does not require. Where is your gospel of service in that?” Yes; but it does something else; while feeding itself, it also feeds the tree upon which it grows. It is making the timber as well as satisfying its own needs. Without leaves we should have no wood for our houses, our furniture, or our fires. They die, leaving others to carry on their uncompleted work, but they always build firm, and straight and beautiful. So this little preacher says to us, “Live for great purposes, build for the future. You are but one unit in the great mass of living, toiling men, but remember that you can do a work for the generations to come. Leave the world fairer, and better, and stronger, and sweeter because you have lived. Men die, but man remains. You will go as your fathers have gone before you, but Society will remain behind.” And then there is such a thing as service continuing after death. “Dead and done with is not true of a leaf, much less of a man. The scientist tells us how by its decay the leaf is changed into vegetable mould, indispensable for the life of other leaves. Thus the decay of vegetation prepares the way for a new vegetation, and death prepares for life. So also is not a man done with when he is dead. There are many who rule from their graves.
II. THIS LEAF ALSO PREACHES TO MEN THE GOSPEL OF A TRIUMPHANT DEATH. How beautiful Nature is, even in decay i Like an Indian warrior chief, she gathers around her her finery in order to meet death. So the gospel that the leaf has to teach us is a hopeful and a bright one. It is the lesson of triumphant death. After this life, another. “How are the dead raised, and with what manner of body do they come?” is an old question. Where will the leaves of next spring come from T Is it a more wonderful thing to clothe the living soul with a new body than to clothe the apparently dead tree with a new and beautiful foliage? (S. Horton.)
I. THE LEAF FADES SURELY. If there is one thing more absolutely and infallibly certain than another, it is that we all die (Genesis 3:19; Hebrews 9:27). We die at every age.
II. THE LEAF FADES SOON. Some kinds of leaves last longer than others; but, as a class, their natural life is a single summer. There is prodigality in this. If economy of life were aimed at, the leaf might last much longer than it does. So might the May-fly. So might man.
1. What a testimony to the wealth of creative energy!
2. What an argument in favour of economizing time!
3. What a spur to the life of watchfulness!
III. THE LEAF FADES WHEN THE ENDS OF ITS EXISTENCE HAVE BEEN SERVED. “None of us liveth to himself;” nor could we if we would.
IV. WHEN THE LEAF FALLS IT PROVIDES MATERIALS FOR THE FOLIAGE OF ANOTHER YEAR. The fall of a leaf and its decay are not the end of it or of its work. There is something still for it to do, and which it never could do till then. Decaying leaven are the earth’s great fertilizers. The thing we do is immortal whatever its moral quality. The father, the mother, live again in children moulded by their influence. Of all responsibilities there is none so terrible as this. We are contributing, by our life, a poison or a honey drop to the life-cup of posterity. (J. Edgar Henry, M. A.)
The frailty of man
I. LET US ENDEAVOUR. TO DISCOVER WHAT IS IMPLIED IN THE DESCRIPTION OF DEATH GIVEN US IN THESE WORDS.
1. We fade, like the leaves, soon.
3. The approaches of death may be lovely. The woods are never more beautiful than during the brief period of autumnal change. So our time of decay may be more beautiful than our summer time of health and activity, and “nothing in our life become us like the leaving of it.” The hoary head becomes a crown of glory,--the patience of’ the Christian vanquishing the temptations to petulance and repining that affliction presents,--the hope of the believer shining clear and steady when he knows that he must soon depart,--are things that often give to the approaches of death more interest and loveliness than life has enjoyed.
4. “We all do fade as u leaf” in point of certainty.
5. How wide is the empire of death, and how many he has brought into his dark dominions; in every track the leaves are falling, and no favoured portion of the country escapes the general desolation. How many autumns has death had among men since first his reign began! Our fathers, where are they? Where are those hordes of painted barbarians, whose savage courage stayed so long the progress of the Roman legions? Where are those who erected in our land those ancient piles that were dedicated to the worship of God amid the darkness of the Middle Ages Where are those who led the devotions there, and those who joined in them? Where are they who but a hundred years ago ploughed the fields that you now cultivate, listened to the Gospel that is now proclaimed to us, and walked in the paths that we are accustomed to tread? They are gone, and we arc going fast.
II. THE PRACTICAL USE THAT SHOULD BE MADE OF THE TRUTH BROUGHT BEFORE US IN THE TEXT. The great lesson we should learn is to make ready for our fading time. But there are various circumstances that go far to account for this very common, almost universal forgetfulness of death. First, one cause may be that we see little of the sick and dying. In the next place, death has no periods corresponding to the general fall of the leaf. Again, when we are in the enjoyment of good health, we feel nothing death-like about us. Then our worldly employments accustom our minds to a different train of thinking from that more serious one which brings death to our view, and tend to turn our thoughts from it. But the chief cause of the forgetfulness of death is to be found in the systematic attempt that is made by most men to banish the remembrance of it from their minds. (W. Jackson.)
We natural frailty and moral instability of man
This affecting declaration of the prophet may be considered with reference--
I. TO THE NATURAL VIGOUR OF MAN.
II. TO THE MORAL BEAUTY OF MAN. That goodness which natural conscience, enlightened by the words of revelation, produces; that goodness which is the effect of imitation, and the offspring of moral rather than pious principles; and of conviction rather than conversion; is fading as the frailest leaf of the frailest plant, and transient as the morning cloud and the early dew. Let it be exposed to the wintry blasts of adversity, or to the scorching sun of persecution; place it in the cold atmosphere of the world; and let the chilling influence of the world’s indifference be felt by it--and what appearance does it assume? It is fading as a leaf. If your goodness fades as a leaf, have you not much need of being born of that incorruptible seed which liveth and abideth for ever? But even then you will feel yourselves subject to a measure of the same instability and decay. For the words of the text and the whole passage in which they are found seem to be a description, not of careless sinners without grace, but of the people of God, in all the declensions to which they are liable in their best estate. (M. Jackson.)
I. OF THE ABIDING SUPERINTENDENCE OF GOD. “Leaves have their time to fall.” They do not come and go at haphazard. They have lived, and now they fade and die, subject to His laws who sweetly ordereth all that is. The orderly return of the seasons tells how this is no haphazard world. God keeps His hand on all forces, material and spiritual.
The falling leaves speak to us--
II. OF FULFILLED PURPOSE. Just as neither their rise nor fall, their springing nor fading was accidental, so their life is not a vague, aimless thing. There was design in their creation, and as they silently sink to the earth they speak to us of a life’s work done. What have they done?
1. They have given added charm and beauty to the world. Here is a mission we may all well covet to fill, and which we may all fill. Whatever our position in life, however poor or lowly, we may so be and live that this shall be morally a fairer world because we are in it.
2. By their shade and shelter they have rendered valuable service to man and beast. So many around us arc weary under the burden and heat of life’s day. Many a struggling man, and many a frail, lonely, overwrought woman knows all too well what this life-weariness means. Let the mission of the leaves be ours.
3. They have played an important part in purifying the atmosphere. They say to us, “So live that when you fade and fall like us you may have done your part to make the world purer.”
III. OF LIFE’S CLOSE. (R. M. Spoor.)
And how often does a leaf fade sooner than it falls! And is it not so with man? If spared, how soon does he begin to discover infirmities! But to enable us to judge properly in this case, and to vindicate the Divine perfections and providence, let us remember--
1. That this state of frailty and vanity was not the original state of man, but the consequence of transgression.
2. That it is not his only state. There is another life to which the present is introductory, and in connection with which it should always be considered.
3. The vanity and brevity of the present life, if wisely improved, is advantageous with regard to the future. It furnishes us with no inconsiderable proof of a world to come.
4. This frail life, too, is continually guarded by a wise and tender Providence. Reflections: If life be like a fading leaf, let us regard it accordingly. Let it prevent despair. If life be short, thy troubles cannot, O Christian, be long. Let us also repress fear. It is little the most powerful can do, and before they strike they may fall. (W. Jay.)
“Hints of failing health”
In the preface to his “Data of Ethics,” Mr. Herbert Spencer says (1879) that he has been led to deviate from his original plan and publish this volume rather than go on with his general system of philosophy. Why? Because “hints of failing health” remind him that he may not be able to finish the entire work, and he therefore wishes to make sure of the most important part. Oh that men would act on this principle as regards the salvation of their souls! (T. R. Stevenson.)
“We all fade as a leaf”
1. He means, first, in regard of ceremonial performances that were without vigour and spirit of true devotion. There was no spirit in their legal performances. They were dead, empty things. Therefore when judgment came they were as leaves. So an idle, careless hearer, when judgment comes, all is as leaves.
2. So it is true in regard of mortality, the vanity of health and strength. We all as a leaf fade away when God’s judgments come to nip us. Men are as leaves; as the leaves now in autumn fall, and there is a new generation in the spring.
3. For all idle performances, that have not a foundation in substantial piety, they are all as leaves. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
“As the leaf”
I. LIKE THE FOLIAGE, WE FADE GRADUALLY. Little by little. Pain by pain. Less steady of limb. Sight not so clear. Ear not so alert. After awhile we take a staff. Then, after much resistance we come to spectacles. Instead of bounding into a vehicle, we are willing to be helped in. At last the octogenarian falls.
II. LIKE THE LEAF WE FADE, TO MAKE ROOM FOR OTHERS. Next year’s forests will be as grandly foliaged as this. So, when we go others take our spheres. Do not be disturbed as you see good and great men die. When God takes one man away, He has another right back of him.
III. AS WITH THE LEAVES WE FADE AND FALL AMID MYRIADS OF OTHERS.
IV. AS WITH VARIETY OF APPEARANCE THE LEAVES DEPART, SO DO WE. You have noticed that some trees, at the first touch of frost, lose their beauty. So death smites many. There is no beauty in their departure. One sharp frost of sickness, or one blast of the cold waters and they are gone. No tinge of hope. No prophecy of heaven. Their spring was all abloom with bright prospects; their summer thick foliaged with opportunities; but October came and their glory went. But, thank God, that is not the way people always die. Tell me, on what day of all the year the leaves of the woodbine are as bright as they are to-day? So Christian character is never so attractive as in the dying hour. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
But although spiritual decay may be the literal application of these words, they truly express the universal law of our mortal life.
I. THE LEAF FADES BY A NECESSARY LAW. There is no power that can keep the foliage on the tree. So we must decay. Man may and does dread death; he may and does seek to prolong life; but he cannot by any invention or art counteract that resistless law of decay that has swept all past generations to the dust, and that is day after day, and hour after hour, working out his dissolution.
II. THE LEAF FADES BY A GRADUAL PROCESS. So it is with life. In infancy, childhood, manhood, as well as old age, the fading process goes on. The gradualness of decay is a blessing. It allows time to prepare for the future. It prevents a stand-still in the machinery of the world’s work.
III. THE LEAF FADES INTO ITS PRIMITIVE ELEMENTS. It is only organized dust. It falls and to dust it returns. So it is with man. These bodies will in a few years be trodden on by the beast or borne away by the winds. What a great variety there is in the foliage of nature. Some leaves are larger and decked in more lovely hues than others. Some grow in a richer soil, and are breathed on by more salubrious winds than others. But let a few weeks pass away and all these distinctions will be lost, all will be dust. It is ever so in society. We see there great variety. Some are in wealth, some in poverty; some in velvet, some in fustian; some in beauty, some in deformity; some in the pomp of power, and some in the misery of oppression. But let a few years pass round, and our princes and peasants, sovereigns and subjects, despots and serfs, masters and menials will be dust.
IV. THE LEAF FADES AS PREPARATORY TO A NEW LIFE. The leaf falls, but its place is soon supplied. It falls, in fact, because the new life, rising from the root, has pushed it off. So with us. We die, but others will step into our place, and the world will go on. The race will carry on its governments, its commerce, its literature, its religion, without our help. It may require our death, make our very death serve its interests. Let us, then, not be proud of our position.
V. THE LEAF FADES AS A PROGRESSIVE STAGE OF LIFE. The tree from which the leaf fell is not dead. It threw off the sere leaf to put on another and lovelier garment. As the vitality of the tree continues when the leaf falls, the life of man will remain when the body dies. And like the tree, that life will dress itself in another garb. I would call your attention to four states of mind existing in relation to this fact, one of which must be yours--
1. Unreasoning indifference. “Oh that men were wise that they would consider their latter end!”
2. Intellectual stoicism. There are some who look at death as the end of existence. It must be done, by reasoning down reason into folly, mind into matter, God into nature. How few can do this; and when they do it, have they rest?
3. Terrible foreboding.
4. Christian composure. Which of these states of mind in relation to our approaching mortality is the rational one? I need not ask which is the happiest one; that is obvious. (Homilist.)
Fading and changing
(with 1 Corinthians 15:51):--We know how many signs and symptoms there are in life which suggest the truthfulness of the figure. You cannot take a hill now as once you could. It makes your breathing v, burden, and the slightest incline wearies and tires you out. It all means the fading leafs Your eyes are giving you trouble. The glasses that served you ten years ago are of little use to you now. It is the fading leaf! You very frequently have to ask your friends to repeat their words. You are inclined to think it is because they mumble and murmur their speech. Nay, it is the fading leaf! There is your memory. Lately it has begun to play tricks with you, a thing it has never done before. It is the fading leaf! All these are signs, common signs, that the prime has been reached, that the leaf has begun to fade. “We all do fade as a leaf!” Such is the Old Testament conception of life--a fading leaf. Is it a complete conception, or is it only partial and fragmentary? It is the conception of the Old Testament, is it the conception of the New? So far I have only given you one half of my text. Now let me give you the other half. I have taken it from Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians: “We shall all be changed.” Now put the two conceptions side by side. “We all do fade as a leaf; “We shall all be changed.” The Old Testament prophet looked upon men and women who were beginning to feel the weaknesses and infirmities of age, and he said, “They are beginning to fade.” The New Testament prophet looked upon men and women becoming burdened with similar weaknesses, and he ,s, aid, “They are beginning to change.” “Fading” is the Old Testament word; changing is the word of the New; and in the two words you will find the characteristic differences in the two conceptions. One looks at the body; the other looks at the soul. Here is a flower-bud, in its early stages encased in its wondrous sheath of green. After a while the sheath begins to open, to turn back, to droop and to die. Isaiah looks at the drooping sheath, and says, “Fading.” Paul looks at the unfolding flower, and says, “Changing.” One looks at the body which can fade; the other looks at the soul, the unfolding life, which can change but never fade. One looks at the vesture, the other looks at the man. Now we know which is the Christian standpoint. Christianity warns us again and again not to confuse the man’s body with the man, but always to distinguish between them, and to make the distinction a vital and influential article of our faith. When some, one has passed away, the inquiry is often made by one friend of another, When are they going to bury him? Bury him? Never! He cannot be buried! He is not here to be buried; he is risen! Bury him? No, you bury it; you bury his body, you bury that which has faded; you cannot bury the man. “Well, why not make that distinction as real in speech, as it ought to be real in faith? I am told that “Mr. So-and-So is in a decline. What do you mean? Do you mean that the man’s body is declining, or the man? Immediately you reply, “The man’s body.’ Then why not keep the distinction to the front, that when little children hear you speak, they may catch one of the cardinal doctrines of your faith. The New Testament always keeps the two distinct. It speaks of the body, the flesh, as a house; it speaks of the spirit, the soul, as its tenant. The same distinction is made by another figure. The New Testament describes my body as a robe. Look at that. Here are outer garments of cotton and wool. Then there is another garment of flesh. And then there is the soul, the man, the woman! That is the Christian conception--the flesh is the garment, it is not the man! Tell your children that growing old and infirm just means that the flesh garment is getting worse for wear, and that the soul is preparing for itself another garment that will never wear out, a spiritual garment, a garment of immortality and light! Tell them that death just means that the spirit has dropped its old clothes, its robe of flesh, and has clothed itself with the garment that is from heaven. This is a beautiful conception, this apostolic conception of change. It takes our eyes away from the temporal and fixes them upon the eternal. It takes the emphasis away from the fading body and fixes it upon the changing spirit. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. IN THE MUTE ORGANS OF THE FADED LEAVES IS A TENDER WARNING. God turns every hill-side and meadow into an allegory. The tiny little monarch grappled with life, captured the forces of nature, and vigorously ministered all summer. But feebleness is creeping over it, it grows weary, its lustre is fading, nerves waxing weak. It rustles, it trembles in the gentle zephyr, and the, falls. “As the flowers of the field, so man floursheth.” How tenderly God begins to warn us of the coming king of terrors. Each leaf carries its own secrets, giving no premonition which shall first fade. So tender is God’s mighty providence I No harsh voice calls out, Set throe house in order, for thou shalt die and not live. The messenger comes in a little rheum, a periodic pain, a little exhaustion of breath, fainting moments, the love of ease, the failing of memory, and little changes in the disposition. God hides the grim visage of fatality under shadows. But the angel of death is absolutely there.
II. ON THE LEAF TWO FORCES ARE EVER AT WORK: THE VITALIZING OR ORGANIZING, AND THE DISSOLVING OR DECAYING. The coal-beds of the earth tell the story of the battles of these powers contending for the supremacy. There are the generations of the faded and fallen, metamorphosed, petrified, stratified. There are some leaves whose very luxury causes them to decay. This is one of the mysteries of life among men. The brilliant geniuses endowed with courage to inspire, intelligence to enlighten, and sensibility to refine, being first misunderstood and then misrepresented, contradicted, or embittered by neglect, their very richness of soul and fatness of mind cause them to sicken under the pale hand of languor. There are some gorgeous leaves which carry in themselves the beauty of the blossom and leaf together. They die early. There is the young scholar, gorgeous in intellect, prematurely ripening. His youth is adorned with loveliness. Of the wealth of his graces we have but the prophecy in the bud. He has a face like a cherub, and God sends His angel to pluck it while it is unsullied by the scorching sun or the chills of autumn. At the other extreme is gorgeous old age.
III. There is a process of--injecting colour into the fibres of plants to make them bright or sombre, as one may wish. Thus affected, THE LEAVES FADE DIFFERENTLY. There in also a method of inoculating the life of man. To the character can be given the bright tints of pleasure as of those who delight in goodness. When the heart is inoculated with the graces of Christ the perspective of the character is determined, the somber shades of despondency are transfigured. Some leaves are flabby and develop a gloomy, morbid colour. They wither and decay as unsightly things. Except for the grace of God, men born in a murky moral atmosphere gather cloudiness and opacity as they grow older and perish in gloom. Some leaves are beautiful from first to last. Like Samuel, they are dedicated from birth to a whole life in the ministry of goodness. Such is many a Christian life. The innocency of youth is beautified b a gracious spirit. Middle life comes on in the strength of a righteous character.
IV. LEAVES IN FADING DEVELOP SPECIFIC CHARACTERISTICS. Each species has its peculiar tints. This represents the racial types of men in the development of their spiritual or mental traits. When they come to fade and to die the individual trends of character come forth in colours widely differing. The fatalism of the Chinaman is joyless and fearless, a dogged indifference. The pantheism of the Brahmin brings its devotee to sink into a gradual sleep, a dull withering. The Mohammedan, whose heaven is sensual, has spasms of fearful passion. The Catholic, who has been taught that ceremonies save him, in dying eagerly longs for a priest, a cross, or extreme unction. The agnostic comes to his end glowing in the white heat of apprehension. The true Christian has the face of one going home. Again, family groups have their differentiation. On a given tree, all the leaves are fashioned after a common type in colour, form, and texture. But as they grow they acquire individual oddities. Even so, one family of people, nurtured by the sap of a common civilization, develop the most striking idiosyncrasies.
V. THERE IS NO DISGRACE IN FADING. Grey hairs area crown of glory when they are anointed with goodness. If we have made good use of the sunshine, if the fruit of our labour hangs in clusters on the vine, if in God’s vineyard we have faithfully ministered, then the fading tints are our laurels. The fading shows two powers. The spirit that animates the form is preparing the old trunk for dissolution. Yet while it unties the twisted cords of earthly life it lifts up the affections, dislodging the corruptible from the incorruptible, the mortal from the immortal, and spiritualizes the mind. In one case the man goes on walking with God until the fire of the flesh dies out, and the spirit is left aglowing. In the other, passions may burn the soul into a cinder. Richness in fading leaves is not an accident. It depends on sunshine, atmosphere and soil. The beauty of age is the fruit of right character. It is the result of effort.
VI. The leaf fades, falls, and becomes buried. But IN THE CORE OF THE RIPE LEAF WHILE PULSATING IN THE SUNLIGHT, A JOYOUS YET MYSTERIOUS SOMETHING PASSES THROUGH THE STEM TO THE TWIG UPON THE STURDY BOUGH. It leaves there a scar, the sign of the leafs immortality, a nucleus of the new life to bud in the resurrection of the spring. Among leaves are four degrees of future life. The first but lightly marks the place of its departure, a mere trace as of a tear on a cheek not washed. Inward life swells the branch and its memory is blotted out. The second class leaves a scar which is not effaced, but no active life will come out of its grave. The third will raise a little knoll and stamp its epitaph indelibly as by a signet. No luxury of growth or biting frost can remove it. These little monuments are the geometric scales on the bark of the palm and the fern. The fourth class not only scar the tree, but leave behind the conditions of a new germ which will bud and become a new branch. Here is a perfect emblem of four classes of men. The first is the class who live only to themselves. The second class are generous, liberal-hearted, and full of noble deeds. They have a memory in their own times, but die with those who had personal knowledge of them. The third class send down their roots into the soil of future generations. They in-web their deeds in the fibre of history. They build institutions of charity, bequeath to posterity resources which will develop a better manhood. They are a sort of lepidodendron leaves. Their scale-marks are fixed. The fourth class inspire new buds. They are the great thinkers. Out of them come new branches of civilization. But some leaves have a small eternity. Thousands of years ago they built great forests and bogs. They faded and fell. Earthquake catastrophes buried them, and their graves are the coal-beds. To-day they have a resurrection. The sun-power caught by the leaves millions of years ago, to-day warms our homes, lights our streets, and creates thousands of industries for the elevation of man. (T. Parry, D. D.)
The evanescence of human life
Let us follow the suggestions which our text furnishes upon--
I. THE CAUSES OF HUMAN DECAY. Why should not man, and everything connected with him, be immortal?
1. His present state seems to support a date to its existence. He is a member of a mortal world, and its entire economy seems to suppose and inexorably to work out his mortality. Everything announces its own dissolution. The granite rock, which you would look upon as indestructible, at length gives way, and crumbling down, forms the very soil you till. So, too, in the vegetable world, whether among the frosts of the polar regions, or amid the unvarying warmth of tropical climes. Thus, also, is it in the animal kingdom. Here, everything is limited in its capabilities of life and growth.
2. Life has its friction which tasks its powers and wears them out.
3. Then, with the friction of a life of toil comes often the severe discipline of a life of care, vexation and disappointed hopes.
4. But more common and trying than even this is the discipline of pain to which life on earth is subject.
5. But there is still one more waster of life on earth. Sinful pleasure sets its saddest seal upon the swollen or wasted, the scarred and the disgraced form that comes under its blighting touch. ‘Tis sad to see the beautiful plant, which you have nurtured with care, struck with frost before its time; but how much more saddening to see the human form disfigured even in the days of its south and strength by sinful excesses!
II. THE CERTAINTY OF HUMAN DECAY. How certainly our life on earth fades and decays, we may learn from the variety and the constant action of those causes of decay which we have now noticed. The law of nature under which we live is an inexorable law; and this law works out our decay.
III. THE RESULTS OF THIS UNCEASING, THIS INEVITABLE PROCESS.
1. Human beauty decays.
2. Human activity flags.
3. Human strength fails.
4. The human intellect fails. The intellect we believe immortal; yet it is true that in this world that intellect is dependent upon physical organs for its successful exertions, and still more so for the manifestation of its power. All old men arc obliged to show, if not confess, that they can no longer think and plan as they could in the days of their strength.
5. Human affections feel and show this withering process.
6. One other step only is yet to be taken in this journey of decay. That leaf, which for days has been turning pale, clinging still, though tremblingly, to its hold on life, at last falls, not only faded, but dead. And so, too, is it to be with us. (E. B. Huntington.)
A leaf exposed to a thousand dangers
Insects gnaw it off, the beasts of the field may devour it, winds may scatter it, or it may be shaken down with the fruit. And, between the diseases and accidents to which human nature is liable, comparatively few attain old age. The Jews formerly reckoned up nine hundred and three diseases, but accidents are absolutely innumerable. A vapour may cause death, our houses may bury us in their ruins, our food may poison us. (W. Jay.)
The beauty of fading life
It is under the approaches of the autumnal chill and frost that Faith puts on her beautiful apparel; Hope, her queenly robes; Love, her wedding garment, as the heavenly Bridegroom’s steps draw near. The richest manifestations of character; the communings that can never be forgotten; the heroic forms of devotion and submission; the outgoings of affection too intense for utterance, overflowing from the faltering tongue on eye and lip and brow,--these belong to the chamber of illness and the bed of death. (A. P. Peabody.)
Our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away
Sin a cruel tyrant
When God leaves us in the hand of our sins, He leaves us in a cruel hand. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
And there is none that calleth upon Thy name
There is a confession of neglected privilege and duty. “There is none that calleth upon Thy name.”
2. There is a definition of true and saving religion. “That stirreth himself up to take hold of Thee.” This latter is the most striking and important, for it shows what a man must do in order to approach God, the act requiring exertion and activity. Multitudes of so-called Christians live on without the semblance of devotion, while with many more this worship is a mere matter of form.
I. WHAT ARE THE CAUSES? There are many things which operate to make a man neglect God.
1. Devotion to the world. No man can serve two masters, and he who loves the world cannot consistently love God.
2. Selfish indulgence. There are many who do not, strictly speaking, love the world, who nevertheless so pamper their bodies with temporal comforts that they sink down into a dreamy sloth.
3. Want of desire. Deadness of soul makes a man sluggish. If we keep out of the sunshine, we cannot feel its warmth. If men hide from God, they can neither desire nor love Him.
II. WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES? A terrible roll-call of iniquity and sin. Evil rolls on like the waves of the troubled sea. Prayer-less souls are marching on to perdition; Satan triumphs over the ungodly world; God is dishonoured; angels weep.
III. WHAT IS THE REMEDY? Such reflections ought--
1. To arouse us to new efforts in prayer.
2. To excite us to greater personal efforts. We can all do something. Many can do much.
3. To awaken us to indirect work. We can send others to preach and to labour.
4. To see that we ourselves are not among those who fail to take hold, and that our personal example is not hindering the progress of the truth. (Homilist.)
Neglect of prayer
This chapter may be considered as an act of humiliation and confession by the prophet, in behalf of the Jews, similar to that in the ninth chapter of Daniel. In the text he aggravates their other crimes by that of hypocrisy, for he does not mean by the expression that none called upon or prayed to God at all, but that they did not do it spiritually, heartily, fervently. The last clause in the sentence explains (as is common in the prophetic writings) the former. “None calleth upon Thy name;” that is, “None stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee.”
I. PRAYER, PROPERLY SO CALLED, CONSISTS IN CERTAIN EXERCISES OF THE MIND.
1. Attention to our wants. Without this, prayer is vain babbling. Our wants arise from our sinful conduct--our unholy nature--powerful opposition--daily circumstances in our experience. Our state ought to be asdiligently attended to as the most assiduous tradesman attends to his business--as the humane physician attends to the symptoms of disease in his patient.
2. Regard to God as the Being who alone can relieve us.
3. Strong and fervent desire.
4. Affiance in God.
5. Humble and patient expectation.
II. HOWEVER FREQUENTLY OR FORCIBLY WE PRAY, IF OUR PRAYERS ARE SEPARATE AND DISTINCT FROM THESE EXERCISES, WE SHALL BE REGARDED BY GOD AS THOUGH WE NEVER PRAYED AT ALL--THAT IS, WE SHALL DERIVE NO BENEFIT FROM OUR SERVICES.
1. This will appear from the ancient Jews, who drew near to God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.
2. That prayer must be distinguished hi right dispositions of the mind, is evident from the very design of prayer Consider its parts--Adoration; thanksgiving; confession: Intercession. The whole of this duty is designed to promote piety, by working certain holy dispositions in our hearts, by the help and blessing of God. Will not these remarks account for the barrenness of mere professors? Christians, stir up the gift of God that is within you. (J. Walker, D. D.)
Universal forgetfulness of God
Universal forgetfulness of God was the consequence of self-incurred abandonment by God. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The dully of taking hold of God
I. IT IMPLIES TO TAKE HOLD OF GOD IN THE EXERCISE OF SAVING FAITH. Expressions almost the same occur in this sense in two other parts of Isaiah Isaiah 27:5; Isaiah 56:6). To take hold of God, to take hold of His strength, to take hold of His covenant, to join ourselves to Him, all imply the one act of a sinner taking hold of Christ, or of God in Christ in the exercise of saving faith. But this first and essential exercise of saving faith is not what is principally referred to in our text. There is, then--
II. A further exercise implied in taking hold of God, one which true believers alone can engage in, and one in which they may be very deficient. This exercise is alluded to by the apostle Paul, in Philippians 3:12, where he Bays of himself, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. The Greek word translated “apprehend,” corresponds, with the Hebrew word in our text translated “take hold of.” Therefore, we Infer, that the second exercise implied in taking hold of God, is TO APPREHEND HIS MORAL IMAGE. Those who are engaged in this exercise are blessings to the world and to the Church, and are objects of complacency to God.
III. The third great exercise implied in taking hold of God is WRESTLING, IMPORTUNATE, PLEADING PRAYER. It is not every kind even of acceptable prayer that deserves the name of taking hold of God. Five ways may be mentioned in which a soul, through pleading prayer, taketh hold of God.
1. By taking hold of or pleading His perfections. God call do nothing contrary to His perfections. All His actings are the immediate result of them. But it pleaseth Him that His saints should plead His perfections, and, as it were, take hold of them in holy, humble, fervent importunity.
2. By pleading His relations to His people as Father, Creator, Preserver and Redeemer.
3. By pleading His promises, declarations and engagements.
4. By pleading His past dealings. Thou hast begun a good work in my soul; carry it on. Thou hast delivered Thy Church and people of old; do it now. Thou hast shamed and confounded Thine enemies, when their pride and their might were at the highest; shame and confound them now. Thou hast planted a vine in our land; look down from heaven; revive and quicken this Thy vine.
5. By acquiescing in the sovereignty, and looking to the unsearchable mercies of God. Conclusion: How lofty an exercise of soul it is to take hold of God. How marvellous the thought, a worm of the dust to influence the thoughts and operations of the Almighty God! It is a work too mighty for the feeble powers of man. No creature ever did or could accomplish it, except so far as strengthened by the Spirit. (W. Mackenzie.)
Lethargy in prayer
I. WE HAVE A STRIKING DEFINITION OF TRUE PRAYER. It is a taking hold of God, in no material sense, but by a spiritual apprehension so real and vivid that we seem to touch the Angel of the Covenant and say, with realizing perception of His Presence: “We will not let Thee go, except Thou bless us.’ This definition greatly helps us--
1. When, for instance, men insist that prayer is only acceptable as it arises from special fanes, we can reply that the hand of faith may feel after, find, and grasp the hand of God in the press of the busy street, the woodland glade, and the sequestered chamber. Since God is everywhere we may take hold of Him anywhere.
2. Again, when men tell us that prayers must be uttered in words of solemn grandeur and rhythm, we may remind them that prayer is a taking hold of God, and that it may exist in its intensest, truest form when not a word is uttered.
3. When, again, men suggest that priestly intervention is necessary to present our supplications, let us find refuge in this definition; for surely God will as much allow Himself to be grasped by the ungloved hand of the labourer, as by the dimpled hand of the little child. We need none to instruct us how to take hold; and each can best take hold for his own preservation. The intervention of a third person is indeed a source of weakness when it comes between us and the gracious Hand which reaches down to draw us out of many and deep waters.
II. THE GRIEVOUS COMPLAINT. “There is none that stirreth up himself to take hold of Thee.” Why this fatal lethargy?
1. In the case of some, it no doubt arises from the stupefying effect of worldliness and self-indulgence. If the unwary traveller sits down to rest in the forest or the cave, where gases lie heavily on the ground, they may so invade his sense and benumb his mind that he will be presently unable to arouse himself to further exertion. This is the state of the opium-eater and the drunkard, of all who, like Tennyson’s Lotus-eaters, come under the fatal spell of the narcotic. And is there not a mephitic poison issuing always from worldly amusements and society?
2. In the case of others, lethargy in prayer arises from a mistaken idea of the privilege of the child of God. They say that God is so wise and good, that it is a mistake and a sin to seek to impose our will on Him; that it is enough to take what He sends, and to bear what He imposes, without attempting to interfere by the urging of our desires. But there is nothing of this in the teachings of our Saviour. He perpetually says, Ask, seek, knock. He evidently would have us regard prayer as a means of obtaining blessings which otherwise we would altogether miss.
3. Others yield to this lethargy because they have intellectual difficulties in respect to prayer. They point to the majestic reign of law, the unbroken chain of cause and effect, the unalterable plan of the Divine procedure. How can God rule the realm (and prayer is one of these) may be used to cancel and overcome those of the lower. Besides, is it not enough that Jesus prayed, and so unmistakably taught His disciples to do the same?
4. Yet others, again, do not stir themselves up to pray, because they say that they have prayed so long in vain. Prayer, they say, is so irregular and uncertain. There is no counting on it. Why, then, they argue, should they waste time and energy on that which is as likely to disappoint as to help them This latter difficulty is possibly the most common of all, and does more than any other to relax men’s energy in prayer. It in of the utmost importance, therefore, to insist that prayer has a law as constant and unchangeable as gravitation, and if we do not succeed, it is because we are ourselves to blame. Nay, more, if we seldom obtain answers to our prayers, we must examine carefully into the cause; because, almost certainly, there is some flaw or fault in our own character, by reason of which our prayers are as missives lost in the post, or ships that have gone down at sea.
III. THE LAMENT OVER THIS LETHARGY IN PRAYER.
1. It is very dangerous. The first step in spiritual declension is almost invariably in the closet. The whole stress of Satanic temptation is to induce us to relax our prayerfulness; and perhaps there is no time when we need to pray more than when this fatal disinclination begins to creep over us.
2. It is very sinful. Is it not wrong to reject the advances of our God, and refuse to comply with His commands to pray? This surely is a dishonour, a slight, a crime.
3. It is very strange. It must be the wonder of the angels, as they look on our tired and perplexed faces, amid our complicated cares, that we are so slack in our approaches to the strongest, wisest, gentlest Being in the universe, and are so reluctant to stir ourselves up to take hold of God. (Ills of Faith.)
I. CERTAIN TRUTHS WHICH THIS LAMENTATION IMPLIES.
1. That God was ready to receive them graciously.
2. That man is prone to be slow of heart to seek unto God.
3. That man may oppose that slowness of heart--may stir himself up to take hold on God. Such was the view of Joshua when he said, “Incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23). This truth wasregarded by the Lord Himself when He proclaimed, “Incline your ear,” etc. Isaiah 55:8). With a view to this, man may stir up--
(1) The memory.
(2) The imagination.
(3) The reason.
(4) The will.
II. THE LAMENTATION ITSELF. Of it we may emphatically say (Ezekiel 19:14), This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation.” Why?
1. On account of present loss. They “forsake their own mercies,” wrong their own selves as to present good.
2. On account of the uncertainty of life on earth.
3. On account of the force of habit (Jeremiah 13:23). Through the force of habit conscience may become so seared and the heart so hardened that the likelihood may rapidly lessen of the deteriorated mind ever stilting itself up to take hold on God. Let not the peculiarly encouraging character of the kind call be overlooked--“Let him take hold of My strength.” (J. Elliot.)
No man to pray
(with Isaiah 62:1):--The general condition of the nation was deplorable enough (Isaiah 64:6). But there was one vein of sadness lying deeper than the sadness which filled the prophet’s heart because of the condition of the people generally; he knew not of any man who was ,wounded and oppressed and driven to prayer as his only refuge, and as the peoples only hope,, by this grievous state of things. One man may be a Church’s, a city’s, a nation’s saviour. Indifference to all interests but our own is a powerful narcotic which may put a Church or a nation to sleep. Perfect is the picture of this luxurious, cynical indifference drawn by the prophet Amos (Amos 6:1-30.6.6). This very indifference to things not directly our own, to things not reckoned our own according to conventional standards, is again and again spoken of in Scripture as a cause of great astonishment to God; as if there was something too selfish, too cruel, too unbrotherly in it to be believed; as if men could not be so careless of what was good and right. “The Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no judgment, and He saw there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor. He says, And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold. He says again, “The People of the land have used oppression,”, etc. (Ezekiel 22:29-26.22.30). And here it should be--distinctly observed that the taking an interest In things beyond the narrow limits of our own personal affairs is an interest full of tender concern, of self-abnegation, of brotherly love. Many a harsh man can look over his own boundary walls to grumble and find fault; but it was not the want of that of which Isaiah complained. Many can sit in judgment and condemn; but it was not judgment of that kind, that he wanted. He did not want any one bitterly to point out the Church’s faults, heartlessly to mock at her nakedness and poverty, self-righteously to cry shame upon her sir--he wanted a man to pray for her. When there was no man who could or would shake off his selfish indolence to pray for the Church, the prophet himself said, “For Zion’s sake I will not hold my peace,” etc. Then, as if he were confident of success, and saw the fruits of his prayers, and tears, and toils, he says, “And the Gentiles shall see Thy righteousness, and all kings Thy glory,” etc. (Isaiah 62:2-23.62.4). Howdifferent this attitude towards the Church to the cold selfishness which stands aloof altogether, or comes from its seclusion only to complain, and, by disturbance, to make bad worse! How different from the worldliness which is content for the Church also to be worldly; for her glory to be hidden by carnal pleasures and carnal things! How different from the mere denominational fervour--the fervour for church or chapel, which is satisfied with outside show and with prosperity that can be measured, and cares little or nothing for the growth of faith, hope and love, for the baptism of the Holy Ghost, and for the salvation of souls ] For Isaiah is bent upon seeing a Church whose righteousness should go forth as brightness, whose salvation should go forth as a burning lamp; on whose glory the Gentiles and kings should look; which should be named by a new name by the mouth of the Lord Himself, a name indicating the delightful change that has passed over her, and the new relation in which she stands to God and man. And surely it is worth any Christian’s while to take up any good cause, in this sympathetic way; to identify himself with it; to become responsible for it before God and man and his own conscience. To do so is to follow the example of all the noblest and holiest of our race, it is to follow the example of “ Him who, though He was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we, through His poverty, might be rich, identifying Himself in the most absolute manner with our nature and our condition, until He redeemed us from all our sins, and raised us to sit at His right hand in His kingdom. (J. P. Gladstone.)
Taking hold upon God
The prophet reveals the very essence and soul of prayer. It is a stirring up of one’s self to take hold of God. The very soul of devotion lies in realizing the Divine presence, in dealing with God as a real person, in firm confidence in His faithfulness,--in a word, in “taking hold of Him.” Men do not take hold of a shadow, they cannot grasp the unsubstantial fabric of a dream. Taking hold implies something real which we grasp; and there is wanted to make” prayer truthful and acceptable with God the grip and grasp of a tenacious faith, which believes the fact that God is, and that He is the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Taking hold implies a reverent familiarity with the Lord, by which we use a holy force to win a blessing from His hand. Laying hold upon God is not the act of a dead man, neither is it the deed of one who is destitute of spiritual perception; it is the act of one who is quickened and kept alive by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Men will do anything sooner than stir up themselves to take hold of God: they will build churches, and rear altars, and say masses and perform pilgrimages, and a thousand other things, but they do not want God, and will not have Him. It is great condescension on the Lord’s part that He should permit it to be so, but so it is, and when He bares His right arm to smite you your safety lies in grasping that very hand which apparently is lifted for your destruction.
I. The first form of taking hold, that which is intended in the text, is that in which THE AWAKENED SINNER TAKES HOLD UPON GOD.
II. We very greatly need to have among us many THOROUGH BELIEVERS WHO TAKE HOLD UPON GOD BY FIDELITY TO HIM. I have seen applied to Calvin the motto, “He took fast hold.” If ever a man did take fast hold on invisible things, it was that famous reformer. What he grasped he held with force of clear conviction, intelligent apprehension, and devout reverence. Such a man opens his Bible and resolves to find out what God’s will is, and be judges for himself, for he knows that he will have to render a personal account. Such a man sets himself to extend the kingdom of Christ, impelled by inward zeal. Having obtained a solid fulcrum of assured knowledge, he now begins to use his lever and work upon others. He knows that he cannot be placed where God is not, and therefore he feels that his best Friend is always near. He is a man that calleth upon God, not merely in prayer, but by confessing His name, and owning His cause; and he stirs up himself to take hold upon God in the doing of all these things.
III. We take a step further in advance when we mention a third form of this taking hold of God: We need a development in the form of THE WRESTLING PLEADER. The expression is borrowed from Jacob at the brook of Jabbok. A man who can take hold of God in prayer will be of the utmost value to the Church.
IV. The fourth point is THE TAKING HOLD OF GOD BY THE STRENGTHENED BELIEVER: the man who has got beyond doubts and fears, and grasped the eternal verities. No question now as to whether there is a God or no: he knows Him, speaks with Him, walks with Him, He is quite sure about God’s keeping His promises, he dares not doubt that, for he has had too many proofs already of the faithfulness of God for him to distrust Him. Now, see how steadily that man moves about: trial does not bow him down, he expected it, and he expects to be delivered out of it. If you rush in upon him with the most terrible information it does not distress him, for “he is not afraid of evil tidings; his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Delivered unto iniquity
For “hast consumed,” read “hast delivered us into the hand of our iniquities.” Their sin has been allowed by God to breed deeper sin. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Melted into the hands of iniquity
We may suppose with Rosenmuller that the phrase strictly means, Thou dost melt us into the hand of our iniquities, i.e subject us to them, make us unable to resist them, and passively submissive to their power. (J. A. Alexander.)
But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father
God our King-Father
(“Our Lord, Thou art our Father” with “the Lord is our King,” Isaiah 33:22).
That conviction of a living God, as distinguished from the lifeless one, which is all that many have, made up of a mere bundle of catechetical doctrines, will create a demand for many other convictions besides. For, mark what question presses, so soon as God has been revealed to the soul; it is the deeply self-interested one, In what relation, or relations, does this almighty and glorious One stand to the individual’s self? The answer given by our two texts, and much of the Scripture besides, is, that He is related to each of us both as a Father and a King. Now, not only is there no contrariety betwixt the ideas of these two relations; but, properly, there is no sentiment in the one which the other does not contain in some degree. Nevertheless, the idea of a Father contains more prominently the sentiment of bountiful and tender cherishing; when that of a King contains more prominently that of regulation and control; and it is not till we have combined them that we can form an adequate conception of the relation in which He stands to us. (W. Anderson, LL. D.)
Our King-Father or Father-King the memorial of God
Some may say they are identical; nor would I deny, with much warmth, they are. But when the better mode of impressing the heart is the subject of inquiry, not a little depends, I am persuaded, on the order in which the two ideas of the complex relation are presented.
1. Even metaphysically He is first our Father and then our King: the idea of the Divine paternity is the principal one, and that of the royalty the subordinate and qualifying one: He begets us as children before He rules us as subjects.
2. But, whatever may be the state of the question metaphysically, there can be no doubt that, in respect of practical and salutary effect on the heart, the assigning of the place of primary consideration to the relation of Father has a decided advantage. When men ask you, Who is God? let your reply be, He is our Father. And when they say, Is He not your King also? let your reply again be, He is; but first our Father, and more our Father than anything else. Even a heathen could say, as an apostle has approvingly told us, “We are also His offspring.” Although, in respect of our corporeal frames, we are in the predicament of the inferior animals; yet in respect of the nobler part of our constitutions--the immortal soul--in virtue of which, especially, we bear the Divine image, that has been communicated to us directly, by the breath of the Almighty (Ecclesiastes 12:7).
3. The thought is both solemnizing and animating; let us improve it to the ends of having our sense of responsibility deepened for filial reverence and obedience--for upholding the honour of God’s family, by the purity, the elevation, and dignity of our characters--and, also, for our treatment of all mankind as being of a Divine parentage.
4. But it is especially in respect of confidence in His loving-kindness, that I call at present for improvement of the meditation. (W. Anderson, LL. D.)
God the Father-King in redemption
1. Who is so ignorant as not to know that cold parental displeasure and warm parental affection arc frequently found co-existent; and who cannot easily conceive the truth of the following case? I knew a father who, after having long remonstrated in vain with a profligate son--from abhorrence of the sight and hearing of his abominations and profanities, and from respect to his own and family’s peace and honour, turned him out of his house, and would not acknowledge him when he met him on the street. All the time he wept and prayed for him in secret, and gave directions to a friend to take care that his wretched boy should never suffer from want. Is the paternity of the human father more tender and amiable than that of the Divine? Hear how He himself vindicates His parental character: “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” etc. (Hosea 11:8).
2. And yet hitherto I have not, properly, announced one syllable of the tidings of the Gospel. Nature and reason might have sufficed for conducting us all the length we have gone. We need other guidance for proceeding further. I stopped short in my simple story about that young man. What became of him? Well, he repented; returned to his father’s door, with humble confessions, and earnest promises of future well-doing; was taken in; and great was the joy that night throughout that dwelling. Now observe, that though the parallel does not terminate here, when tracing the analogy of the recovery of an outcast from the family of’ God, yet both lines receive the accession of new elements. On the part of God, there is the accession of the element of His royal character: and on the part of the sinner, the accession of the element of faith in a Mediator. The explanation is most important: it contains the secret of our salvation. Mark, therefore, that God does not re-admit the prodigal to His family, as an earthly father does, merely on account of his repentance; because, beside being a Father, He is a King. Consider, then, how this additional relationship of royalty is produced, and how it affects the Divine procedure. An earthly father’s administration of his family is a matter of privacy. Public interests are not concerned in it; and he may do with his own what pleases his humour. He may open his door and re-admit the prodigal, even without any repentance or confession, if he choose. But God’s family being the Public--the universal Public of created, moral intelligence; though this does not affect the personal love of the administrator, yet does it materially affect the mode of the administration. The family of children has enlarged into a kingdom of subjects; and though it be a Father’s heart, it must be a King’s policy by which the administration is conducted. David’s parental heart said, Spare the young man Absalom; his royal policy commissioned the army to fight him down as a rebel
3. What, then, is the state of our parallel now? It was sufficient for the re-admission of the prodigal into the earthly father’s house that he should be penitent. But the order of all good government of a kingdom is, that the violation of the laws shall be visited with penal suffering, before there be a restoration to the privileges of citizenship. Behold the mystery of our redemption! And see the advantage of our having assumed the paternity of God as His primary and most characteristic relationship. It is this paternity which, humanly speaking, goes in quest of means for saving us; and returns, exclaiming in triumph, “Save from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom.” When we commence with the royal relationship, and make that the primary characteristic, there is danger that God may appear as being but coldly passive in the work of our salvation. But when we commence with the paternity of God, we more easily discover Him warmly active in the work of our salvation; with all a Father’s self-interested love devising and executing its scheme. Having found the means of ransom in the substitutionary death of His Son incarnated, He brings it to us, that we may carry it away for presentation at the tribunal of His government.
4. This representation will explain, as clearly as any other, the nature, the necessity, and the efficacy of faith. As being that principle which gives credit to the Divine testimony, it lays hold of the sacrifice which God’s paternal mercy has provided, and pleads with His royal justice that it be accepted as compensation for our transgressions. Mark the necessity of such faith. The gift which God has made of Christ to “sinners of mankind” universally is not the gift of pardon, but of the means of pardon, to be used to that end; and used by the sinner himself: for it would be unholy government to pardon a rebel, whatever might be the amplitude of satisfaction proffered on his behalf by another, if he himself despised or made light of the transaction.
5. Observe, now, a second time, the advantage of giving the paternal relation of God the first place in our meditation on His character. In virtue of this, the proclamation of the Gospel is not so much the proclamation of a King, declaring that no man shall be saved except through faith in that sacrifice; as it is the earnest entreaty of a Father that His children should believe, so as to be saved; when His paternal love shall enjoy them in their recovery to His home; yea, enjoy them. It is much for a child to enjoy his parent; but it is more for a parent to enjoy his child, as an object on which he may lavish his affection; and with all the yearnings of His paternity does God beseech the sinner to afford Him this Divine satisfaction.
6. Having explained the doctrine of God’s paternal love, I now call for its correlative duty, filial confidence on the part of His children.
7. When this first principle of ]parental honour, confidence in God, is secured, the honouring of Him, which consists in obedience, follows naturally and necessarily. (W. Anderson, LL. D.)
We are the clay and Thou our Potter
Clay and Potter
The nearest parallel to this application of the common image of clay and potter is, perhaps, Job 10:9. It is the plea of thecreature against seeming unreasonableness on the part of the Creator. Can the Potter allow the work on which He has lavished His utmost skill and care to be broken in pieces? (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Lessons from a pottery
Many years ago it was my privilege to visit the porcelain works at Worcester, and there I learned most of what I know about the potter and his art. We were first taken into a large showroom, where there were displayed the finished products of the potter’s skill and labour. Here we were glad to spend some time in looking upon the beauty and loveliness which the potter had created. In thinking upon what was exhibited there, what can be learned about the potter and his art with a view to understanding the work and grace of our heavenly Father as our Potter? There were two things that deeply impressed me. The first was the almost unlimited variety secured by the potter in his workmanship. There were not two pieces exactly alike. Everywhere you perceived the mind of the potter on the stretch, seeking to attain all possible variety of form, design and ornamentation. I said to myself. “Well, there is one thing very clear about the earthly potter--he has determined that in his work there shall be an utmost absence of repetition, monotony, similarity. By infinite variety he reveals his skill and the fruitfulness of his mind.” If God is our Potter, are we to think of Him in this respect as like unto the earthly potter? Go to His work in Nature. How much of monotony is there in any department of God’s creation? What does that mean for us? It means a very great deal for Christian life. As a young Christian, I had a way of greatly admiring other people. If I saw any person of decided and beautiful Christian character, my heart was impressed. But the mistake was that I also wanted to be like them! And if I saw any one doing a particular work for God I wanted to do something similar. This longing to be like other people became a great curse and hindrance. Then God had pity upon me, and showed me the mistake of it all, and said to me: “I do not want to make you like anybody else in the universe; I want to make you something different from everybody else;” and He graciously persuaded me to give myself up to Him, to let Him make me the one thing He wished to see me. No greater deliverance ever came into my life than that. Do not try to be like anybody. Do not be one of a set. It would be a thousand pities to go to heaven, and for the angels to say: “We have seen this sort before!” It will not be Christ’s fault if that should happen in your case. There is something that God wants to make each one of us that shaft reveal His glory in a way that nobody else does. The second thing to be noted about the work of the potter is this: His whole aim is to make of the clay, not a vessel for its own use, but a vessel for the joy and service of others. Let us realize that Christ is in our lives to turn them outward! When we had spent some time in the showroom, our guide bade us follow him. He at once led us through a door out into the works. What a change! We were now amid the noise and splash and dirt. First of all he directed our attention to a shelf, on which were some half-dozen lumps of what might be described as glass and chalk and clay. As a matter of fact, they were different kinds of clay. “All you have just seen inside there has been made out of such materials.” Who had bridged the gulf between the shapeless clay and the beautiful vessel? The potter--that is what he is for. “We are the clay”--the thing of possibility only. The Lord is the Potter; and He can take the clay, and by His skill and power and grace, make it into a thing of joy and beauty for evermore. But our guide soon led us on, and we saw something of the processes of the potter’s art. One of the first things he did with the clay was to put it into a mill, where it was ground for a week, ground until it was so fine that it would pass through silk with hundreds of meshes to the square inch. If the clay could have thought, how puzzled it would have been! It would have said: “There was something of me once, but I am coming to nothing now. I caught a glimpse through that open door of all those lovely vessels and vases, and I thought the potter was going to make me into one such as they; but here it is only grind! grind! grind! What does it all mean?” Experiences very much like that come to the soul that has surrendered itself to God. The methods and processes of the heavenly Potter are at times very perplexing, and in no discerned relation to the desired end. Be quite sure that God understands His own work! Trust Him. The next thing that struck me was the large use which the potter made of fire. I cannot tell you how many times the porcelain was put into the fire before it was finished. But there was this remarkable thing: it was never put into the fire unshielded. It was always enclosed in a strong outer vessel, closely sealed, so that the fire did its work, and yet no hurt came to the porcelain. Into the fire of trial and suffering God, our Potter, puts us all; but He never puts us in unshielded. When this white porcelain had been taken through a great many processes, it was put into the hands of skilful artists, whose work it was to adorn it with the glory of colour and design with which we are all familiar. When the porcelain left the hands of the artist, the finger of a child could have brushed away all that he had painted upon it. But our guide explained that the porcelain would go into the fire, and that the fire would open its “pores, and take in the colouring, so that what the painter had put on it would become part of the very vessel itself. That illustrated to me this great truth, that we never become better people by merely knowing more. New truth in the mind is like the colouring upon the porcelain, and some failure of memory may remove it. But God’s way is, when we have got a new truth, to lead us into some trial, some fire, that will make that truth part of our very manhood. Lastly, we were taken into another room, and there the artists were all busy working with a black fluid, which they were putting on the beautiful, pure, white porcelain. I said to our guide, “What are they doing here? Apparently they were disfiguring the porcelain. His answer was: “They are putting on the gilt! When the porcelain goes into the fire, this black that you see upon it now will be transformed into Gilt.” There are times when God seems to be disfiguring the lives of his people. What is He doing? Putting on the gilt. (G. C. Moore.)
Be not wroth very sore, O Lord
God’s wrath deprecated
THE EVIL DEPRECATED. God’s anger.
II. THE TERMS IN WHICH IT IS DEPRECATED.
1. Imply the justice of God’s procedure.
2. Beseech a limitation of its severity.
III. THE PLEA BY WHICH IT IS DEPRECATED.
3. Founded on God’s covenant relation to His people. (Homiletic Commentary.)
Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burned up with fire
The burnt temple
HERE IS PATHETIC LAMENTATION.
1. The children of Israel regarded the temple as their own house. They spoke of it as God’s house. But because it was God’s it was their own, for they were God’s; and all that particularly belonged to Him had a special interest for them, and they had a special claim in it.
2. This temple was sacred in the people’s eyes. The prophet calls it, “our holy house.” It was really so.
3. The Jews, exiled abroad, thought of yonder ruined house where their fathers praised the Lord. There is no attachment stronger than that which exists between men and women, sons and daughters of Christian fathers and mothers, who are worshipping in the place where their predecessors worshipped.
4. All their pleasant things were laid waste.
II. HERE IS AFFECTIONATE EXPOSTULATION. “Wilt Thou refrain Thyself?” etc. The plain English of it is, “Canst Thou bear to see this, Lord? Does it not affect Thee as it does us? Hast Thou no sighs, no groans, no tears? And if Thou hast, wilt Thou not pluck Thy hand from out Thy bosom and help us? Wilt Thou not open Thy lips and speak a word of peace? We cannot bear Thy silence, Lord. Wilt Thou hold Thy peace, and afflict us very sore? (T. Spurgeon.)
All our pleasant things are laid waste
Religious thing, pleasant things
The ordinances of religion are, to the Israel of God, “pleasant things.”
I. WHAT ARE THEY?
1. In the number of their pleasant things, they include the sanctuary. To them the temple is not a ]prison, a place of confinement and correct!on; but the house of their heavenly Father, their “holy and beautiful house; beautiful because holy.
2. In the number of their “pleasant things they include Sabbaths. To many, indeed, God’s holy day is uninviting, and even irksome. But the Christian “calls the Sabbath a delight, and considers the holy of the Lord honourable.” To him it is a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; a weekly jubilee: and, wearied with the toils, and follies, and vexations of the world, he hails a day of seclusion from it.
3. Are not the Scriptures some of their “pleasant things”?
4. This too will apply to the preaching of the Word.
5. They find it a pleasant thing to approach God in prayer, and to “come before His presence with singing”--a pleasant thing to surround His table, and to refresh their minds with the memorials of a Saviour’s dying love--to be in the circle of pious friends, and hear from their lips “what God has done for their souls.
II. HOW THEY BECOME SO POWERFULLY ATTRACTIVE. For it is certain they are not so universally: by numbers they are not only neglected, but despised. Whence, then, do real Christians find them so pleasing?
1. There is in them a suitableness to their dispositions. Thus we know music charms those who have an ear for it. Money is a pleasant thing to the covetous; honour to the ambitious; scandal to the slanderous. In all these instances there is something that meets the taste; and that which gratifies always delights. So it is here. The pleasure of the Christian does not depend upon persuasion--but inclination.
2. experience is another source of this pleasure.
3. Continual need also renders them pleasant things.
III. REVIEW WHAT WE HAVE SAID--and learn--
1. To justify religion from the reproaches of the world. The world pretends that the services which religion demands of us are all slavery and gloom. But if you are willing to enter in, “let no man’s heart fail him.”
2. Let us try ourselves by this rule. A man may want assurance and still be in a state of safety: but if he be habitually a stranger to pleasure in Divine things, and can pass through all the services of religion as a mere formalist, it is an awful proof that “he has no part nor lot in the matter; his heart is not right in the sight of God.” A number of speculative opinions, cold ceremonies, cheap moralities, in which the affections have no share, can never be a substitute for real devotion.
3. What an affliction do Christians sustain when they are deprived of their” pleasant things”! This may be done in two ways.
(1) By the removal of these privileges from them. Thus persecution has sometimes forbidden them to assemble together, and has silenced their preachers, destroyed their sanctuaries, and banished all religious ordinances from a neighbourhood. God sometimes inflicts His judgments upon a place for neglect and abuse of Gospel privileges.
(2) By removing Christians from these privileges. Thus business may call them away from a favoured situation, accidents or sickness may detain them prisoners from the courts of the Lord.
4. Let us be very thankful that these “pleasant things” are within our reach--that we have been so long favoured with them--that we have them in so rich an abundance--that we have liberty to partake of them--and strength to go forth and enjoy them.
5. Let us raise our thoughts and desires after the “pleasant things of heaven.” Philip. Henry often, said, when he had finished the delightful exercises of the Sabbath, Well, if this be not the way to heaven, I know not what is.” These are introductory to the glory that shall be revealed: they are foretastes to endear it, and earnests to insure it. (W. Jay.)
Wilt Thou refrain Thyself for these things, O Lord?
Self-restraint and silence, as applied to God
Self-restraint and silence, as applied to God are common figures for inaction and apparent indifference to the interests, and especially the sufferings, of His people. (J. A. Alexander.)
Jehovah’s mercy cannot violently restrain itself longer; it must burst forth, like Joseph’s tears in the recognition scene (Genesis 45:1). (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 64". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent