Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne
The eternal blessedness of the true Israel; the doom of the apostates
This chapter continues the antithesis that runs through chap.
65., carrying it onward to its eschatological issues. The connection of ideas is frequently extremely difficult to trace, and no two cities are agreed as to where the different sections begin and end. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
Hitzig thinks (and with him Knobel, Hendewerk) that the author here begins quite abruptly to oppose the purpose of building a temple to Jehovah; the builders are those who meditated remaining behind in Chaldea, and wished also to have a temple, as the Jews in Egypt, at a later time, built one in Leontopolis. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The offerings of the impenitent offensive to God
The address, directed to the entire body ready to return, says without distinction that Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth, needs no house made by men’s hands; then in the entire body distinguishes between the penitent and those alienated from God, rejects all worship and offering at the hand of the latter, and threatens them with just retribution. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The inward and spiritual preferred by God to the outward and material
[These great words] are a declaration, spoken probably in view of the approaching restoration of the temple (which, in itself, the prophet entirely approves, Isaiah 44:28, and expects, Isaiah 56:7; Isaiah 55:7; Isaiah 62:9),reminding the Jews of the truth which a visible temple might readily lead them to forget, that no earthly habitation could be really adequate to Jehovah’s majesty, and that Jehovah’s regard was not to be won by the magnificence of a material temple, but by humility and the devotion of the heart. How needful the warning was history shows. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 7:1-15) argues at length against those who pointed, with a proud sense of assurance, to the massive pile of buildings that crowned the height of Zion, heedless of the moral duties which loyalty to the King, whose residence it was, implied. And at a yet more critical moment in their history, attachment to the temple, as such, was one of the causes which incapacitated the Jews from appropriating the more spiritual teaching of Christ: the charge brought against Stephen (Acts 6:13-14)is that he ceased not “to speak words against this holy place and the law;” and, the argument of Stephen’s defence (Acts 7:1-60.) is just to show that in the past God’s favour had not been limited to the period during which the temple of Zion existed. Here, then, the prophet seizes the occasion to insist upon the necessity of a spiritual service, passing on (verses 3-5) to denounce, in particular, certain superstitious usages which had apparently, at the time, infected the worship of Jehovah. (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The inwardness of religion
1. The tendency to make religion consist in external actions, apart from the inward dispositions which should accompany them, is very common. The reason for this is discovered from the fact that outward actions are easier than inward. It is easier, for instance, to become outwardly poor than to become poor in spirit; easier to adore with the body than to worship with the soul. The tendency is observable in all dispensations. For instance, whatever other differences there may have been between the sacrifices of Cain and Abel, we are expressly told that it was “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice ‘ (Hebrews 11:4). The outward act was linked with the right inward disposition. So, again, in the time of the Levitical Law, the tendency often manifested itself to put ceremonial above moral obligations (Psalms 1:1-6.). And Isaiah, in his first chapter (verses 11-18), shows how an outward service, without the putting away of evil, is an abomination to God. In the same way our Lord condemned the Pharisees Matthew 15:8).
2. This closing prophecy of Isaiah seems to contain a warning against formalism. It is not that the outward is unimportant, for this would be to run from one extreme to the other, but that the outward will not avail. The return of Israel from captivity will be followed by the building of a new temple, as the event has shown; and the warning of the text is twofold--one, to remind the Israelites that Jehovah had no need of a temple; the other, to impress them with a truth they were very apt to forget, that religion must be a matter of the heart.
I. A REVELATION OF GOD. “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.”
1. These words, or the substance of them, are again and again repeated in Holy Scripture (1 Kings 8:27; Matthew 5:34; Acts 7:49). Repetitions in the Bible show the importance of a truth, or our difficulty in remembering it.
2. What is the truth? That God is incomprehensible. He is everywhere and cannot be localized (Jeremiah 23:24). There is nowhere where Cod’s power and essence and presence do not reach. He knows no limit of space or time, of knowledge or love.
II. THE REFERENCE TO THE EXTERNAL TEMPLE. “Where is the house that ye build unto Me?”
1. These words are not intended to deter Israel from building a material temple when they had returned to their own land. The prophet would be contradicting himself (Isaiah 56:5-7; Isaiah 60:7); and he would be running counter to the solemn injunctions of other prophets, such as Haggai and Zechariah, who were in part raised up by God to further the work of building the temple. What the words are intended to rebuke is the falseness of the ideas that God requires a temple, and that His presence can be restricted to its walls. God does not need a temple, but we do. In heaven there will be no necessity for any temple (Revelation 21:22), where the glory of God and of the Lamb floods with its radiance the whole place.
2. Here the church, with its sacred objects and associations, appeals to us and excites our devotion; here in the sacred place there is a distinct promise to prayer; here God acts upon us, and we upon God, through prescribed ordinances; here He promises to be present in some especial manner; here we act upon one another, and kindle fervour, and therefore must not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together” in the house of Hebrews 10:25).
III. BUT THE TEXT ALLUDES TO THE INTERNAL TEMPLE--THE DISPOSITIONS OF THE SOUL OF THE WORSHIPPER, WHICH ATTRACT THE FAVOUR OF GOD. “To this man will I look,. . . who is poor,. . . contrite, and who trembleth at My word.”
1. Poor, not merely outwardly, but poor in spirit (Psalms 138:6). The man who at all realizes the Divine majesty will have a sense of his own nothingness.
2. Of a contrite spirit. A perception” of the Divine holiness brings self-humiliation by force of contrast (Job 42:6).
3. “Trembleth at My word. Fear is ever an element of the spirit of worship. A sense of the Divine justice and judgments fills the soul with awe in approaching God. The Word or revelation of God is received, not in the spirit of criticism, but with reverence and godly fear.
1. The remembrance of the all-pervading presence of God should be a deterrent from evil, and an incentive to good.
2. The obligation of regularity in attendance at Divine worship ought to be insisted upon, both as a recognition of God and our relations with Him, and for the sake of the subjective effects on human character.
3. But outward worship is of no avail without inward. There are tests, in the text, of the presence of the spirit of worship--lowliness, contrition, and awe, as products of the realization of God’s presence and perfections. (The Thinker.)
God’s elevation and condescension
1. The subject of remark--God Himself. “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne, the earth is My footstool.” The attention is turned simply to God--His grandeur, His magnificence, His immensity, His omnipresence. He abides in heaven, He puts the earth under His feet.
2. The manner in which the remark about God is conducted, is that of a kind of contrast betwixt Him and men. “Where is the house that ye build unto Me, and where is the place of My rest?” God is unlike man. He challenges any comparison. “The heaven, even the heaven of heavens, cannot contain Him. Ancient kings aimed often to Impress their subjects with an idea of their magnificence, and surrounded themselves with a solemn and salutary awe, by rearing palaces of the most imposing splendour and magnificence. They wished to overawe the multitude. On this ground, God Himself, seems to have ordered the unequalled grandeur of the ancient temple. But in doing it, He took care that its dazzling beauty and stateliness should only be an aid, a stepping-stone, to assist the imagination in its upward reach towards the grandeur of God. In the prayer of the dedication, Solomon’s devotion soars infinitely above the temple.
Here, the majesty of God, and the littleness of man, stand side by side. After mentioning the earth and the heaven, God says, “All these things hath My hand made.”
3. But yet, lest dread should too much terrify the worshipper, or a high and just idea of God’s infinite majesty lead the humble into the error of supposing that such an august Being would not regard such an insignificant creature as man, he adds, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word.” A turn of thought well worthy of our admiration. A contrite sinner has nothing to fear from God. His very majesty need not terrify him. Indeed, His majesty constitutes the very ground for his encouragement. It can condescend. Just as much does the King of kings and Lord of lords glorify Himself, when He consoles, by the whisperings of His Spirit, the poorest and most unworthy sinner that ever felt the pangs of a bruised heart, as when He thunders in the heavens as the most High, and gives His voice, hail-stones and coals of fire. With this idea, sinners should-approach Him and meditate His grandeur. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
The magnificence of God
I. THE STYLE OF THE TEXT. God speaks of Himself. “The heaven is My throne, the earth is My footstool.” This style of religious address is especially common in the Scriptures (Psalms 137:1-9.; Job 11:7-8; Job 26:6-14; Isaiah 40:1-31.). These passages all speak of God in a style which we cannot attempt to analyze. Their aim appears to be twofold.
1. To lead us to make the idea of God Himself the leading idea in religion.
2. To have this idea, which we are to entertain about God, an idea of the utmost grandeur, of the most amazing magnificence, and solemn sublimity.
II. THE DESIGN IN VIEW CANNOT EASILY BE MISTAKEN. They would give us just ideas of God. The impression they aim to make is simply this, that God is incomparably and inconceivably above us--an infinite and awful mystery!
III. THE NECESSITY OF THIS MAY EXIST OH DIFFERENT GROUNDS.
1. Our littleness. In the nature of the case, there can be no comparison betwixt man and God. All is contrast--an infinite contrast.
2. Our sinfulness. Sin never exists aside from the mind’s losing a just impression of the Deity; and wherever it exists, there is a tendency to cleave to low and unworthy ideas of Him.
3. Our materiality, the connection of our minds with material and gross bodies. This connection renders it difficult for us to soar beyond matter. We are in danger of introducing the imperfections of our existence into our religion, even into our ideas of God. Consequently, when God speaks to us of Himself, He speaks in a manner designed to guard us from error. He says to us, “The heaven is,My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house ye build unto Me? We are limited to the world. We cannot get foothold anywhere else. We are circumscribed within very narrow limits. But God asks, “Where is the place of My rest?” He would elevate our conceptions of Him beyond matter, out of the reach of its bounds.
4. The nature of God. Man is only a creature. He owes his existence to a cause without him. That cause still rules him. That cause allows him to know but little, and often drops the veil of an impenetrable darkness before his eyes just at the point, the very point, where he is most desirous to look further, and it drops the veil there, in order to do him the twofold office of convincing him of the grandeur of God and his own littleness, and of compelling him, under the influence of those convictions, to turn back to a light which concerns him more than the darkness beyond the veil can, to a light where are wrapped up the duties and interests of his immortal soul. God would repress his curiosity, and make him use his conscience. Therefore, He makes darkness preach to him.
1. Let us be admonished to approach the study of religion with a solemnity of mind which belongs to it. It is the study of God. The voice comes from the burning bush, “Draw not nigh hither, put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the ground whereon thou standest is holy ground.’ How unlike all other subjects is religion! How differently we should approach it!
2. This mode in which God teaches us--this grandeur and magnificence which belong to Him--ought to remove a very common difficulty from our minds, and prepare us to receive in faith, those deep and dark doctrines, whose mystery is so apt to stagger us. What can we expect?
3. Since God is so vast a being, how deep should be our humility!
4. How deep should be our homage.!
5. The greatness of God should gauge the depth of our repentance. Our sin is against Him.
6. The greatness of God should invite our faith. “ If God be for us, who can be against us?”
7. The magnificence of God should be a motive to our service. He is able to turn our smallest services to an infinite account.
8. The greatness of God ought to encourage the timid. Because He is great, His regard reaches to every one of your annoyances. Your enemies cannot hurt you.
9. The grandeur of God ought to rebuke our reliance upon creatures. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
What God does not, and what He does, regard
I. WHAT THE LORD DOES NOT REGARD. He speaks quite slightingly of this great building. But is it not said elsewhere that “the Lord loved the courts of Zion”? Did He not expressly tell King Solomon when his temple was completed, “Mine eyes and Mine heart shall be on it perpetually”? He did; but in what sense are we to understand those words? Not that He delighted in the grandeur of the house, but in as much of spiritual worship as was rendered there. The temple itself was no otherwise well pleasing to Him than as it was raised in obedience to His orders, and as it served, in its fashion and its furniture, for “an example and a shadow of heavenly things;” but the Lord “loved the gates of Zion” because the prayers of Zion were presented there. He points out to us two things--His throne, and His footstool! and then He leaves it to ourselves to say whether any building man can raise to Him can be considerable in His eyes.
II. Hear from the Lord’s own lips THE DESCRIPTION OF THE MAN WHO DRAWS HIS EYE. “To this man,” etc.
1. The sort of character described.
2. What does the Lord mean when He saith, “To this man will I look? He evidently means, “To this man will I look with an eye of notice and regard.” The Lord’s favourable look, be it remembered, is quite another thing from man’s; there is help, and comfort, and support conveyed by it Isaiah 57:15). The Lord but looked on Gideon, and Gideon, weak before, was wonderfully strengthened ( 6:14). (A. Roberts, M. A.)
God’s greater glory
Here are described two phases of the Divine greatness, one material, and the other moral; the superiority of the latter being clearly implied.
I. THE MATERIAL GREATNESS OF GOD. “Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.” Here God represents Himself as a mighty potentate, leaving us to infer the measure of His kingly glory and the extent of His dominion from these two things--His throne and His footstool. Thus the glory of the whole is indicated by the glory of the part.
1. The throne. We must note carefully the full extent and purport of the figure, “The heaven is My throne. It is not that the heaven is the place of His throne, but that the heaven is itself the throne. The conception, bold as it is, strikingly agrees with another figure used by inspiration to set forth the transcendent majesty of God, “Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee.” The figure is a bold one. The human imagination, daring as its flights often are, could never have conceived it. It is purely a Divine conception, and the text is careful to say so, “Thus saith the Lord.”
2. His footstool. “The earth. ‘ We know very little of the heaven. We know a great deal about the earth. Men have taken its dimensions, explored its resources, and discovered its glories. Yet this magnificent object is but His footstool. The footstool is the humblest article of furniture in the household; so needless is it deemed that thousands of houses dispense with it altogether. Others easily convert the thing nearest to hand into a footstool, as occasion may require. Nevertheless, some have expended no little skill and expense upon the construction even of footstools. There is preserved as a relic in Windsor Castle such an article, once belonging to the renowned Hindoo prince, Tippoo Sahib. It is in the form of a bear’s head, carved in ivory, with a tongue of gold, teeth of crystal, and its eyes a pair of rubies. This article is adjudged worth £10,000. It is after all but a footstool. If Tippoo Sahib’s footstool were so magnificent, what must have been the splendour of his throne! Yet, were all the thrones of the world collected together into one vast pile, they would form but a heap of rubbish as compared with God’s footstool.
II. THE TEXT PRESENTS US WITH ANOTHER PHASE OF HIS GLORY--THE MORAL, WHICH IS ALSO HIS GREATER GLORY. “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word.” What a contrast we have presented to us here. God, the Mighty Potentate, from the height of His heavenly throne, looking down with yearning, compassionate regard upon such objects as are here described, the very dust of His footstool. There is a moral grandeur in this far transcending the power of language to describe. In order to appreciate fully the beauty and glory of this act, we must notice particularly the characters which are its special objects. They are described as those who are “poor” and are “of a contrite spirit,” and that “tremble at His word.” These several expressions do not describe one and the same condition. They indicate three distinct and progressive stages of spiritual experience.
1. Destitution. “Poor.” It is not physical poverty that is meant, for the wealthiest, those who abound most in worldly possessions, are equally with the most destitute in the condition here indicated by the term “poor. It describes a spiritual condition--the spiritual poverty into which all men are reduced through sin--the wretched, the miserable, the oppressed of sin and guilt--the poor in the sense of being without hope, destitute of true peace and happiness.
2. The second stage indicated is one of conviction--the misery becoming a felt fact. “ And of a contrite spirit.” In these words we have indicated that condition of the mind when the all-crushing fact of its poverty and wretchedness has come home with overwhelming conviction.
3. The third stage is one of hope. “Trembleth at My word.” God, out of the infinite depth of His compassion, hath spoken to this poor, wretched, sin-convicted creature, and the word spoken is a word of hope. The “trembling” at the word does not mean regarding it with fear, terror, or dismay, but solemnly, feelingly, and trustingly. It is the trembling of gratitude and of an awakened hope--an exquisite thrill of gratitude piercing the whole soul, causing it to vibrate with responsive joy to the message of hope. This wonderful condescension of God in relation to sinful men is His greater glory, it redounds to His honour far more than His conversion of the heavens into His throne and of the earth into His footstool. (A. J. Parry.)
Worship and ritual
The desire for Divine communion has ever been strong in man. This desire was originated by God Himself. If not from God, whence could it come? We have no right to suppose it to be self-originated. That finite man should conceive an infinite Deity is an incredible supposition, for, to use the words of Pascal, “the infinite God is infinitely inconceivable.” The manner in which God has thus revealed Himself in response to the passionate desire which He originated in man is a study fraught with a singular interest. He made Himself known to our first parents in Eden’s garden, and in our first Scriptures we have several examples recorded of revelations made by Him after the banishment to the fathers of our race. By tradition these revelations were spread throughout the earth, and so we find the earliest religious faiths of our world abounding in sublime truths. But He specially revealed Himself to a chosen people. Israel lived under the very shadow of Jehovah, for God dwelt in that temple ann specially manifested His presence in it. But that presence did not restrain the people from rebellion. When not open followers of the idolatries of the surrounding nations, they left worship for ritual and forsook God for observances, and so made that temple to be at once their glory and their shame. It was at such time as this that the words of our text were uttered. Thus are we taught that Divine worship is not material, but spiritual, and that the habitation of God is not the building, but the soul.
I. THE NATURE OF THE BEING WHOM WE WORSHIP. Our text brings before as His omnipresence. He is in heaven, and He is on earth. We have a revelation also of the Divine omnipotence. Not only is He in heaven, not’ only is He on earth, but He has a throne. Of course the one includes the other. If He be the omnipresent One, He is also the omnipotent One. That which is Infinite must be Absolute. We, however, distinguish, so as to obtain clearer conceptions. We are in danger of supposing that amidst all this vastness we can be but of little consequence. But mind is greater than matter, and such ideas immediately vanish when we remember that the vastest material substance can never outweigh a holy thought, a feeling of devotion, a thrill of love. The man who can tell the motions of the stars is greater than the stars. And thus looking at the question, what shall we say of that man in whom God dwells? He who lives in a palace is greater than the palace, no matter how gorgeous it may be; and in the presence of a holy man the whole material creation is dwarfed into nothingness.
II. THE NATURE OF THAT WORSHIP WHICH THIS GREAT GOD REQUIRES. It must be something more than outward. Of all ceremonialism the Jewish was the most gorgeous. It was also of Divine appointing. The temple was built according to Divine plan and under Divine direction. The services were divinely commanded. The priests belonged to a Divinely set apart; tribe. Tokens of the Divine presence were given. But although this ceremonial was thus gorgeous, and of Divine appointment, yet God rejected it so soon as it lost its spiritual significance. All true religion begins in poverty of spirit. There must be a sense of natural defect and a consciousness of our own inability either to atone for the past or to deliver in the future. And with this poverty of spirit there must be contriteness. The heart needs to be broken before it can be bound up. (Allan Rees.)
A transcendent existence and a transcendent doctrine
I. AN EXISTENCE THAT STANDS IN CONTRAST WITH ALL THAT IS CREATED.
1. Here is an omnipresent Existence. One whose throne is heaven, whose footstool is earth, and to whom all places are alike. One who fills heaven and earth, not merely with His influence, but with His actual presence, as much at all times in one point of space as in another. The incommensurable One, not only everywhere, as the pantheists teach, as a substance, but everywhere as a Personality, free, conscious, active. All created existences are limited by the laws of space, and those that occupy the largest space are mere specks in immensity. Concerning the stupendous fact of God’s Omnipresence, observe--
2. Here is a creative Existence. “For all those things hath Mine hand made,” etc. Because He made all, He owns all. Creatorship implies Eternity, Sovereignty, Almightiness, and Proprietorship.
II. A DOCTRINE THAT TRANSCENDS HUMAN DISCOVERY. “To this man will I look,” etc. The doctrine is this,--that this Infinite Being, who is everywhere, who created the universe and owns it, feels a profound interest in the individual man whose soul is in a humble, contrite, and reverent state. Could reason ever have discovered such a truth as this? Never. Although this doctrine transcends reason it does not contradict it. (Homilist.)
Living temples for the living God
I. GOD’S REJECTION OF ALL MATERIAL TEMPLES. There was a time when it could be said that there was a house of God on earth. That was a time of symbols, when as yet the Church of God was in her childhood. She was being taught her A B C, reading her picture-book, for she could not as yet read the Word of God, as it were in letters. She had need to have pictures put before her, patterns of the heavenly things. Even then, the enlightened amongst the Jews knew well that God did not dwell between curtains, and that it was not possible that He could be encompassed in the most holy place within the veil It was only a symbol of His presence. But the time of symbols is now passed altogether. In that moment when the Saviour bowed His head, and said “It is finished! “ the veil of the temple was rent in twain, so that the mysteries were laid open. So, one reason why God saith He dwelleth not in temples made with hands, is, because He would have us know that the symbolical worship is ended and the reign of the spiritual worship inaugurated at this day (John 4:21; John 4:23). But our text gives,from God’s own mouth, reasons why there can be no house at the present time in which God can dwell; and, indeed, there never was any house of the kind in reality--only in symbol For, say now, where is the place to build God a house? In heaven? It is only His throne, not His house! On earth? What, on His footstool? Will ye put it where He shall put His foot upon it and crush it? Fly through infinite space, and ye shall not find in any place that God is not there. Time cannot contain Him, though it range along its millenniums! Space cannot hold Him, for He that made all things greater than all the things that He has made. Yea, all the things that are do not encompass Him. But then, the Lord seems to put it,--What kind of a house (supposing we had a site on which to erect it) would we build God? Sons of men of what material would ye make a dwelling-place for the Eternal and the Pure? Would ye build of alabaster? The heavens are not clean in His sight, and He charged His angels with folly! Would ye build of gold? Behold, the streets of His metropolitan city are paved therewith, not indeed the dusky gold of earth, but transparent gold, like unto clear glass. And what were gold to Deity? Find diamonds, as massive as the stones whereof Solomon built his house on Zion, and then lay on rubies and jaspers - pile up a house, all of which shall be most precious. What were that to Him? God is a Spirit. He disdaineth your materialism. And yet men think, forsooth, when they have put up their Gothic or their Grecian structures, “This is God’s house.” And then the Lord shows that the earth and the heavens themselves, which may be compared to a temple, are the works of His hand. How often I have felt as if I were compassed with the solemn grandeur of a temple, in the midst of the pine forest, or on the heathery hill, or out at night with the bright stars looking down through the deep heavens, or listening to the thunder, peal on peal, or gazing at the lightning as it lit up the sky! Then one feels as if he were in the temple of God! Afar out on the blue sea, where the ship is rocking up and clown on the waves foam--then it seems as if you were somewhere near to God--amidst the sublimities of nature. But what then? All these objects of nature He has made, and they are not a house for Him.
II. GOD’S CHOICE OF SPIRITUAL TEMPLES. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word.”
III. THOSE THAT ARE OF THIS CHARACTER SECURE A GREAT BLESSING. God says He will “look” to them. That means several things.
5. Benediction. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The greatness and condescension of God
That is an excellent answer which was given by a poor man to a sceptic who attempted to ridicule his faith. The scoffer said, “Pray, sir, is your God a great God or a little God? The poor man replied, “Sir, my God is so great that the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; and yet He condescends to be so little, that He dwells in broken and contrite hearts. Oh, the greatness of God, and the condescension of God! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
To this man will I look
God’s regard for the humble
THE CHARACTER MENTIONED.
II. JEHOVAH’S ATTENTION TO SUCH AN ONE. (H. Davis.)
Religious affections attended with humility
Those that are destitute of true humility have no true religion. It is the object of the Gospel to produce this effect in the heart.
I. LEGAL HUMILITY. This attends the natural workings of the conscience, and the perception of God’s greatness, power and terrible majesty. It has in it no virtue; but yet it may be useful as a means to produce what is gracious.
II. EVANGELICAL HUMILITY. This arises from a “sense of the transcendent beauty of Divine things in their moral quality, and a sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness and odiousness, with an answerable frame of mind.
1. It is the chief part in the doctrine of the Christian duty of self-denial.
2. Many hypocrites profess great humility and are loud in declaring their vileness. Yet, if a minister were to use, as Edwards suggests, the same language to them in private, and should signify that he feared they were very low and weak Christians, they would feel themselves highly injured, and ever after cherish a deep-rooted prejudice against that minister.
3. It is flee from the spirit of pride in one’s own righteousness, goodness and the like. Some think themselves very humble and make a boast of it. This is spiritual pride.
III. SOME APPLICATIONS.
1. True humility is fundamental to the Christian life.
2. It is a bad sign to think we are better Christians than others.
3. If we think “none are so bad as I, ‘ then have a care lest you think yourself better than others on this account.
4. Have a care also of self-conceit, lest you think too highly of your humility.
5. Let us think meanly of our attainments in religion and in humility.
6. Blessed are the poor in spirit. (Homiletic Review.)
The contrite heart
1. Such a spirit is the very essence of the religion of Christ.
2. There is no surer test of the genuineness of one’s religious experience.
3. The exceeding value of this spirit in God’s sight, and the imperative duty of cultivating it, are too much lost sight of in this age of the world. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
Poor and contrite spirits the objects of Divine favour
I. THE POOR MAN. This does not principally refer to those that are poor in this world: for though it be very common that “the poor of this world are chosen to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom,” yet this is not an universal rule. The “poor” here signifies such as Christ characterizes more fully by “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). And this character implies the following ingredients.
II. CONTRITION OF SPIRIT. The word “contrite” signifies one that is beaten or bruised with hard blows, or a heavy burden. And it belongs to the mourning penitent whose heart is broken and wounded for sin. Sin is an intolerable burden that crushes and bruises him, and he feels himself pained and sore under it.
III. Consider the remaining character of the happy man to whom the Lord will look: “HIM THAT TREMBLETH AT MY WORD.” This character implies a tender sense of the great things of the Word, and a heart easily impressed with them as the most important realities. This was remarkably exemplified in the tender-hearted Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:19-28). The threatenings of the Word do not appear vain terms, nor great swelling words of vanity, but the most tremendous realities. Such an one cannot bear up under them, but would tremble, and fall, and die away, if not relieved by some happy promise of deliverance. (S. Davies, M. A.)
God’s look towards the humble
1. He looks upon you with acceptance.
2. He looks to you so as to take particular notice of you. He sees all the workings of your hearts towards Him.
3. He looks to you so as to look after you, as we do after the sick and Psalms 84:11). (S. Davies, M. A.)
Humility essential to success in prayer
The “Times” once, in recording petitions presented to the House of Lords, mentioned one which was rejected on account of an omission--the word “humble” was left out. How many petitions to a higher tribunal must be rejected for lack of humility in the hearts of those presenting them! (Free Methodist.)
The humility of Godliness
In the evening of the morning that Gordon, when in Palestine, received a telegram from England, asking him to undertake a mission which he had all his life longed to undertake, he was found outside the city wall, kneeling in prayer. When remonstrated with on account of the place being dangerous from Arabs, he replied, “The telegrams from England this morning filled me with such elation, I felt I might get into trouble by being proud, and I thought I would just get upon my horse and go away by myself and humble myself before God.” (Sunday School Chronicle.)
And trembleth at My word
Trembling at the word of the Lord
I. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE THAT TREMBLE AT GOD’S WORD.
1. Who they are not.
2. Who they are.
II. WHY DO THEY TREMBLE!,
1. Because of His exceeding majesty.
2. Because of the searching power of God’s Word.
3. They tremble at the word when it is in the form of threatening.
4. They tremble with fear lest they should break God’s law.
5. They tremble lest they should miss the promises when they are spread out before them. We hear of some who “could not enter in because of unbelief;” and we are taken with trembling lest we should be like them.
III. WHAT DOES GOD COMPARE THEM TO? To a temple (Isaiah 66:1-2). He prefers us to the temple; and, further, He prefers us even to the great temple of the universe, not made with human hands, which He Himself sets so much above the house that Solomon built. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Trembling at God’s Word
What meaneth this trembling? It does not mean a slavish fear. They that tremble at God’s Word at the first may do so, because the word threatens them with death. But afterwards as they advance, and become familiar with the God of love, and enter into the secret of His covenant, they tremble for a very different reason. They tremble because they have a holy reverence of God, and consequently of that Word in which resides so much of the power and majesty of the Most High. (Ibid.)
Trembling at God’s Word
It was our privilege once to witness a very curious experiment by a scientific lecturer on the effects of musical sounds. The lecturer showed a disc of thin glass, delicately poised on a suitable apparatus. On this disc was spread a thin layer of very rink dust. A musical note was sounded underneath the disc, and the waves of sound caused the glass to vibrate, which again caused the fine dust on its surface to tremble and form itself into every conceivable shape of exquisite beauty, much after the manner of frost on the window pane. Thus, we presume, it is with the “poor” of the text, the dust of God’s footstool. The musical note of hope will cause them to vibrate and tremble and throb into the various forms of reverence, hope, joy, and gratitude. It implies precisely a similar attitude to that manifested on the memorable day of Pentecost. Here we have the multitude as “the dust of the balance,” and Peter, the Gospel experimentalist, sounding the musical note of Gospel hope, and behold! how the dust trembles and vibrates into such forms of spiritual beauty as faith and hope and gratitude and obedience. (A. J. Parry.)
He that killeth an ox
Worship and wickedness
Our prophet affirms, that the sacrifices offered by the wicked and hypocritical among the Jews, being attended with enormous crimes and profane rites, and not presented with pure hearts, according to the Divine appointment, were an abomination to the Lord.
They intermixed impious ceremonies and odious superstitions with the sacrifices which they offered to the Most High. (R. Macculloch.)
The first part of the verse runs literally thus: “The slaughterer of the ox, a slayer of a man; the sacrificer of the sheep, a breaker of a dog’s neck; the offerer of an oblation, swine’s blood; the maker of a memorial of incense, one that blesseth vanity (i.e an idol);” four legitimate sacrificial acts being bracketed with four detestable idolatrous rites. The first member of each pair is probably to be taken as subject, the second as predicate, of a sentence. But this leaves open a choice between two interpretations.
1. That the legal sacrificial action is as hateful in the sight of God as the idolatrous rite, so long as it is performed by unspiritual worshippers.
2. That he who does the first series of actions does also the second, i.e combines the service of Jehovah with the most hateful idolatries. It is extremely difficult to decide which is the true sense. The words “as if” in
E.V. are, of course, supplied by the translators, but the rendering is aperfectly fair one. The one fact that favours the second explanation is that the latter part of the verse speaks of those who “delight in their abominations. Unless there be a complete break in the middle of the verse, which is unlikely, this would seem to imply that the abominations enumerated were actually practised by certain persons, who at the same time claimed to be worshippers of Jehovah (cf Isaiah 66:17, Isaiah 65:3-5; Isaiah 57:3-9). (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
I regard Vitringa’s exposition as the most exact, profound and satisfactory. He agrees with Gesenius in making the text the general doctrine that sacrifice is hateful in the sight of God if offered in a wicked spirit, but with a special reference to those who still adhered to the old sacrifices after the great Sacrifice for sin was come and had been offered once for all. Thus understood, this verse extends to sacrifices that which the foregoing verse said of the temple, after the change of dispensation. (J. A. Alexander.)
As if he slew a man
The reference may be either to murder merely or to human sacrifice; most probably the latter, since every other member of the sentence expresses a religious act. That human sacrifice was actually perpetrated by those spoken of may be safely inferred from Isaiah 57:5.(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
“As if he cut off (breaketh) a dog’s neck”
This sacrifice . . . seems . . . to be alluded to as a Punic rite in Justin 18. I. 10, where we read that Darius sent a message to the Carthaginians forbidding them to sacrifice human victims and to eat the flesh of dogs. In the connection a religious meal must be understood. (W. Robertson Smith.)
I. ITS FEATURES.
II. ITS OFFENSIVENESS TO GOD.
III. ITS UTTER WORTHLESSNESS. (Homiletic Commentary.)
I also will choose their delusions
Sin and penalty
THE OFFENCE. Impenitence, aggravated transgression, wilful contempt.
II. THE PUNISHMENT. Delusion, fear, ruin. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
Hear the word of the Lord
A godly minority
From the majority of the whole body, godless and heathen in character, the prophet now turns to the minority, who tremble with reverence when they hear God’s word.
Let them hear how Jehovah will help them against their persecutors. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Hatred of the godly
They who hate them are their own brethren and, what aggravates the sin still more, Jehovah’s name is the ground (cf. Luke 21:12) on which they are hated by them. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
“Let the Lord be glorified”
“Be glorified” means, Show His glory. They speak in incredulous mockery. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
I. THE DISTINGUISHING CHARACTER OF ACCEPTABLE WORSHIPPERS. They “tremble at His word.” This fear arises from--
1. Their tender love and reverence for the Author of the Word.
2. A settled delight in the holiness of that Word.
3. Produced alike by the terror of the threatenings and the sweetness of the promises.
II. THE SPIRITUAL REGARD WHICH GOD PAYS TO THEM.
1. He looks upon them.
2. He dwells with them.
3. He vindicates their cause from the rebuke of enemies.
4. He brings them for ever to dwell with Him. (S. Thodey.)
A voice of noise from the city
Social degeneracy, national apostasy, and the voice of God
It is well for us to look around upon the things that are done in the midst of us as a people; well, because we must give no connivance at evil thinking or teaching or doing; well, because we must be careful about ourselves; well, because we must be truthful towards our neighbours; well, because we must be faithful toward our God.
This text suggests three different voices which thoughtful men should hear: “A voice of noise from the city,” etc. In other words, our ear must listen to the state of society and the state of religion amongst us, and then consider what the Lord has to say concerning both.
1. What is the voice which comes from the city, from the secular pursuits, the social habits, the business transactions, the political doings of men? There is a voice of noise, as of men that laugh, as of men that strive, as of men that boast. Luxury, with all its attendant evils, has come up as a cry from all our land, into the ears of earnest and anxious men, who know how foolish it is to be “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” It has carried with it a hasting to be rich; and out of that has grown a covetousness, a cold system of reckless speculation, a hard system of indifference, to the ruin of many for the enrichment of a few, which have made our age and our country a by-word amongst men. What awful accounts of utter contempt for human sufferings! What sad chronicles of entire forgetfulness of human wrongs have become the familiar subjects of every-day knowledge amongst us! These are crying evils in our days; the voice of noises from the city, symptoms of our social life, of which all true patriots ought to be blushingly ashamed. Yet, over the moanings of the oppressed, and the sorrows of the forsaken, the roar still rises. I ask every pious parent to keep a jealous and watchful eye upon the children growing in their simplicity at home, and to protect them against the strange fascination which has come over the land. I call upon all true servants of Christ to come out and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing. The Lord’s people should be often with their God, seeking protection against the prevailing current of evil in men’s hearts, minds, and ways. Expect no sympathy, because everything seems to say that faithful men must suffer for their faithfulness in the evil day. Fall back upon the right, the true, the good, the pure; fall back upon the oath and covenant and power and promise of God; but make no compromise with Satan.
2. But the prophet heard a voice out of the temple, and so may we. The luxury of the nation has had its influence upon the nation’s faith. Men who will not shape their conduct by God’s law will soon find means of accommodating their creed to their conduct. The pure Gospel is too plain-spoken for the consciences of men who desire to quarrel with God rather than with themselves. What is the voice from the temple in this our day? The great feature is a real indifference, not an avowed unbelief, not a bold blasphemy, not a studied contempt, not an entire ignoring of religious things, but a real indifference. There is an evil spirit abroad which takes to itself the blessed name of charity. It has always an excuse for evil, but it has little patience with truth. It has no strong convictions and no real love. There is a voice to be heard from the temple which may well make thoughtful people tremble. Men are falling again to their old and mischievous work of tampering with God’s Word. Multitudes, it is to be feared, have lost their reverence, if not their faith.
3. This brings me to the third voice, which the prophet heard in the days of Israel’s decline and fall: “A voice of the Lord that rendereth recompence to His enemies.” In the written Word we have warning about evil time. (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1.) The voice of God is against all such evil 2 Timothy 4:1-4). “The voice of Him that rendereth recompense unto His enemies is, Woe unto you.” What, then, should God’s servants do?
The voice from the city suggests that they must make their healthy influence felt in social life by a solemn and sacred protest against things which frivolize, secularize, materialize men’s minds and ways. The voice from the temple suggests that all who love the pure Gospel truth must search it out so as to boldly set it forth, stand by it, speak for it, identify themselves with its honour, its advance, its defence. And the voice of the avenging God suggests that all who know Him should humble themselves before Him, and plead with Him that He would have mercy. (J. Richardson, M.A.)
Before she travailed, she brought forth
The new Israel
The predictive message of our prophet is now so far advanced that the future promised is at the door; the Church of the future is already like a child ripe for birth, and about to separate from the womb of Zion hitherto barren.
The God, who has already prepared everything so far, will suddenly make Zion a mother; a man-child, i.e a whole nation after Jehovah’s heart, will suddenly lie in her lap; and this new-born Israel, not the corrupt mass, will build Jehovah a Temple. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The birth of the Gentile Church
It is perfectly sufficient to understand the parturition as a figure for the whole eventful crisis of the change of dispensations, and the consequent change in the condition of the Church. This indestructible ideal person, when she might have seemed to be reduced to nothing by the defection of the natural Israel, is vastly and suddenly augmented by the introduction of the Gentiles, a succession of events which is here most appropriately represented as the birth of a male child without the pains of child-birth. (J. A. Alexander.)
The birth of the Christian Church
The children born to Christ were so numerous, and so suddenly and easily produced, that they were rather like the dew from the morning’s womb than like the son from the mother’s womb (Psalm Exodus 3:1-22). (M. Henry.)
Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day?
The acceleration of God’s movements
We are taught that in these latter days God is to shorten normal processes, accelerate events, and so “make a short work in righteousness.”
I. THE TRUTH OF GOD HAS WEIGHT, THEREFORE MOMENTUM.
II. THIS INHERENT MOMENTUM INCREASES WITH THE PROGRESS OF GOD’S TRUTH, IN HARMONY WITH THE NATURAL LAW OF FORCES.
III. GOD IS BEGINNING TO GIVE IT NOW AN ADDED CELERITY. (E. W.Thwing, M. D.)
As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children
Travailing for souls
I. THERE MUST BE TRAVAIL BEFORE THERE WILL BE SPIRITUAL BIRTH.
1. Let me, first, establish this fact from history. Before there has fallen a great benediction upon God’s people, it has been preceded by great searchings of heart. Israel was so oppressed in Egypt, that it would have been very easy, and almost a natural thing for the people to become so utterly crushed in spirit as to submit to be hereditary bondslaves, making the best they could of their miserable lot: but God would not have it so; He meant to bring them out “with a high hand and an outstretched arm.” Before, however, He began to work He made them begin to cry. Let us take a long leap in history to the days of David. The era of the son of Jesse was evidently a time of religious revival. But David was the subject of spiritual throes and pangs of the most intense kind. What petitions he poured forth that God would visit Zion, and make the vine which He had planted to flourish once again. Now, David was only the mouth of hundreds of others, who with equal fervency cried unto God that the blessing might rest upon His people. Remember also the days of Josiah, the king. The book of the law was found neglected in the temple, and when it was brought before the king, he rent his clothes, for he saw that the nation had revolted, and that wrath must come upon it to the uttermost. The young king’s heart, which was tender, for he feared God, was ready to break with anguish to think of the misery that would come upon his people on account of their sins. Then there came a glorious reformation, which purged the land of idols, and caused the passover to be observed as never before. Travail of heart among the godly produced the delightful change. It was the same with the work of Nehemiah. In the early dawn of Christian history, there was a preparation of the Church before it received an increase. The like living zeal and vehement desire have always been perceptible in the Church of God before any season of refreshing. Think not that Luther was the only man that wrought the Reformation. There were hundreds who sighed and cried in secret. And this, while true on the large scale, is true also in every individual case. As a rule, those who bring souls to Christ are those who first of all have felt an agony of desire that souls should be saved. This is imaged to us in our Master’s character. His ministering servants who have been most useful have always been eagerly desirous to be so.
2. The reasons for it. Why is it that there must be this anxiety before desirable results are gained? It might suffice us to say that God has so appointed it. It is the order of nature. The child is not born into the world without the sorrows of the mother, nor is the bread which sustains life procured from the earth without toil. As it is in the natural, so is it in the spiritual; there shall not come the blessing we seek, without first of all the earnest yearning for it. It is so even in ordinary business. We say, “No sweat no sweet,” “No pains no gains,” “No mill no meal.” But better still, He has ordained this for our good. Every grace within the man is educated and increased by his travail for souls. Besides, the zeal that God excites within us is often the means of effecting the purpose which we desire. The Holy Ghost usually breaks hard hearts by tender hearts. Besides, the travail qualifies for the proper taking care of the offspring. Who is so fit to encourage a new-born believer as the man who first anguished before the Lord for his conversion? The Church that never travailed, should God send her a hundred converts, would be unfit to train them. Once more, there is it eat benefit in the law which makes travail necessary to spiritual birth, because It secures all the glory to God. Your longing that others should be saved, and your vehemence of spirit, shall secure to God all the glory of His own work.
3. Notice how this travail shows itself. Usually when God intends greatly to bless a Church, it will begin in this way: Two or three persons in it are distressed at the low state of affairs, and become troubled even to anguish. Perhaps they do not speak to one another, or know of their common grief, but they begin to pray with flaming desire and untiring importunity. The passion to see the Church revived rules them. They suffer great heaviness and continual sorrow in heart for perishing sinners; they travail in birth for souls. By degrees the individuals are drawn together by sacred affinity, and the prayer-meetings become very different. Meanwhile, not with the preacher only will be the blessing, but with his hearers who love the Lord. One will be trying a plan for getting in the young people: another will be looking after the strangers in the aisles, who come only now and then. One brother will make a vehement attempt to preach the Gospel at t e corner of the street; another will open a room down a dark court; another will visit lodging-houses and hospitals: all sorts of holy plans will be invented, and zeal will break out in many directions. All this will be spontaneous, nothing will be forced.
II. THE RESULT IS OFTEN VERY SURPRISING.
1. Frequently for rapidity. “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” During the ten years which ended in 1870 such wondrous changes were wrought throughout the world that no prophet would have been believed had he foretold them. Reforms have been accomplished in England, in the United States, in Germany, in Spain, in Italy, which, according to ordinary reckoning, would have occupied at least one hundred years.
2. For the greatness of it. It is said, “Shall a nation be born at once?” for as soon as ever Zion was in distress about her children, tens of thousands came and built up Jerusalem, and re-established the fallen state. So in answer to prayer, God does not only give speedy blessings, but great blessings. There were fervent prayers in that upper room “before the day of Pentecost had fully come, and what a great answer it was when, after Peter’s sermon, some three thousand were ready to confess their faith in Christ, and to be baptized.
III. THIS TRAVAIL AND ITS RESULT ARE ABUNDANTLY DESIRABLE. There is no hope for China, for the world, for our own city, while the Church is lethargic. It is through the Church the blessing is bestowed. Besides this, when a Church is not serving God, mischief is brewing within herself. The Church must either bring forth children unto God, or die of consumption: she has no alternative but that. A Church must either be fruitful or rot, and of all things a rotting Church is the most offensive. And then, worst of all, God is not glorified.
IV. THE WOE WHICH WILL SURELY COME TO THOSE WHO HINDER THE TRAVAIL OF THE CHURCH, and so prevent the bringing forth of her children. An earnest spirit cannot complete its exhortations to zeal without pronouncing a denunciation upon the indifferent. What said the heroine of old who had gone forth against the enemies of Israel, when she remembered coward spirits? “Curse ye, Meroz, saith the angel of the Lord, curse ye bitterly the inhabitants thereof; because they came not to the help of the Lord, against the mighty.” Some such curse will assuredly come upon every professing Christian who is backward in helping the Church in the day of her soul’s travail. Who are they that hinder her Every worldly Christian hinders the progress of the Gospel. They are also guilty who distract the mind of the Church from the subject in hand. Above all, we shall be hindering the travail of the Church if we do not share in it. Many Church-members think that if they do nothing wrong, and make no trouble, then they are all right. Not at all.
V. I shall close with A WORD OF BLESSING. There shall come a great blessing to any who feel the soul travail that brings souls to God. Your own heart will be watered. Moreover, will it not be a joy to feel that you have done what you could? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her
A dirge for the down-grade, and a song for faith
A mourner is always an interesting person.
The highest style of mourner is one whose griefs are neither selfish nor grovelling. He who bears spiritual sorrow on account of others is of a nobler order than the man who laments his personal woes. The most excellent style of mourner is the mourner in Zion, the mourner for Zion, the mourner with Zion.
I. WHO ARE THOSE THAT MOURN WITH JERUSALEM? Those that love the Church of God, and desire her prosperity; and when they do not see that prosperity, are depressed in spirit.
1. nothing can make the heart of the people of God more heavy than to think that the Gospel glory of the Church is declining.
2. Another cause of mourning is when we see the holiness of the visible Church beclouded.
3. Moreover, we see her sacred ardour is cooling.
4. There is grave cause of mourning in Zion because the services of God’s house are neglected.
5. Another very grave cause for mourning to all true Christians is the multitude of sinners that remain unsaved.
II. WE MAY YET REJOICE WITH JERUSALEM.
1. When we remember that God has not changed, either in nature or in love to His people, or in the purpose of His grace.
2. We may expect the Lord to appear. “He shall appear to your joy, etc. (Isaiah 66:5.)
3. When the Lord shall put on strength, then shall His Church be aroused.
4. Then shall the Church have many converts.
5. Then shall she nourish them well.
6. At such times there is an abundant degree of peace and joy in all believing hearts (Isaiah 66:12).
7. God will raise up men fitted to do His work (Isaiah 66:21).
III. WHY SHOULD WE PERSONALLY BE OF THE NUMBER THAT’ MOURN WITH THE CHURCH, AND THAT REJOICE WITH HER?
1. There is our own sin and ruin to mourn over.
2. We might wisely become mourners when we think of our own want of zeal.
3. May we not add to this our own failures in the matter of holiness?
4. We have all a great concern in this matter, and we ought, therefore, to join with the Church in all her griefs. If the ministry of our pastors be not successful, we shall lose by its want of power. If the Gospel is not preached our souls will not be fed. Suppose the Gospel is not preached with saving power, then we shall have our children unconverted, and they will not be our joy and crown. There cannot be a deficiency in the pulpit without its bringing mischief to our households. We are members of one body, and if any part of the body suffers, every other part of the body will have to suffer too. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For thus saith the Lord, Behold I will extend peace to her like a river
The Church in peace and prosperity
The members of the Church can then revel in peace and wealth, like a child on its mother’s breast; the world belongs entirely to the Church, for the Church belongs entirely to God.
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The peace of the river
The illustrations which Grace borrows from Nature are strikingly appropriate. The history of this appropriateness is that Nature and Grace proceed from one and the same Hand, are children of one and the same Parent. You have in the text two objects compared and put side by side--the peace of God’s Church and a river. The quietness of a river is perhaps the most obvious ground of the comparison. The peace of God’s Church resembles a river--
I. IN ITS SOURCE. The source of a river is hidden. It wells up from the fountains of the great deep beneath the earth. And even the spot where it first rises is often inaccessible, being situated in the heart of tangled brushwood, or beneath the perilous vault of an ice-cave. The source of peace to God’s children is God Himself. And God is a God who hides Himself--a God who is apprehended only by those into whose hearts the light of the glorious Gospel has shined. And the spot, too, whence the peace of God’s children takes its rise lies not open to the scrutiny of man’s eye, or the passage of man’s footstep. That spot is the heart, the inmost spirit. Accordingly, men can see that peace only in its effects. And there is yet another sense in which the source of the Christian peace is hidden. The events, the great historical facts, which lie at the root of it--the means by which God ministers it--are by-gone and accomplished. The great central facts of the death and resurrection of Jesus are now, if I may say so, buried and out of sight, and centuries are piled upon them, like rocks and icebergs on the soot where some mighty river takes its rise. But these events, nevertheless, are God’s instruments, whereby He exerts a mighty influence on many a heart even at the present day.
II. IN THE METHOD OF ITS NOURISHMENT. It is true that rivers are fed perpetually by their springs. But an external nourishment is also supplied to them by occasional rains and land floods. The river of the Christian’s peace--I do not say flows from, but is augmented by contrition. Strangeparadox this, that what seems to destroy peace should promote it! But so it is.
III. IN ITS COURSE.
1. A river in its course is quietly progressive. Its quietness is not the quietness of stagnation, but of advancement. The Christian’s peace is a peace of progress in grace. It is not a peace which leaves him where it found him, but a peace which bears him on silently towards the bosom of his God.
2. It is exceeding deep. And the peace of God is said to “pass all understanding.” This may be understood in two ways. The nature and character of this peace is unintelligible to those who have not tasted it, and by those who have tasted it its depth is unfathomable.
3. It is fertilizing and enriching. The country smiles with plenty along its banks. It is also the great medium of commerce and traffic, whereby men are made rich and their estate and substance is increased. It is a means of communication for those who live on its margin with the ocean and with one another. The peace of God is at the root of all holy fruitfulness. Many people accept the truth that “the fruit of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever,” while they discard the truth--equally important and Scriptural--that peace is the root, as well as the fruit of righteousness, and that the Lord Jesus Christ promises to give rest to the weary and heavy laden, before they can and in order that they may, submit themselves to His yoke. At the root of the Christian’s love is peace--at the root of his joy is peace--at the root of his long-suffering, gentleness and goodness is peace--at the root of his meekness and temperance is peace. Peace it is which, like the broad bosom of a fair river, quietly undulates along and ministers nourishment to the roots of all these graces, nor is it possible that the leaf of any of them should be green, were the streams of this river diverted another way. This peace is enriching as well as fertilizing, because it opens into the ocean; it is the medium of communicating with God and with the saints of God. It is on the broad bosom of this peace--even because it is through Jesus Christ alone that our prayers float towards our heavenly Father. And I need not tell you what a peculiarly rich traffic is the traffic with heaven. Then, again, this peace of God is enriching, in that it is a medium of communication between us and those who have obtained like precious faith with ourselves. It is a pleasant river, on whose margin both I and my brother dwell--and which conveys from me to him sympathies, and prayers, and outgoings of the heart, and brings back the same from him to me. And when my prayers and missives are sent forth on their way towards heaven, my brother’s meet and join them--and both perform the voyage side by side--and no sooner shall both return than he shall send me notice of the treasure he hath acquired, and demand on his part an account of mine. Such is in a figure that doctrine which we profess, when we say/’ I believe in the communion of saints.”
4. It is clean and cleansing. And we need not to be told that the peace of God’s Church is a clean and holy (because a living) peace--clear as crystal and perfectly alien from all defilement. The slightest allowed filthiness of flesh or spirit is abhorrent to the nature of this peace. “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” And as this peace is clean, so also it makes clean. As soon as it enters into the conscience, it cleanses it:5. It bears burdens. Barges and ships of many tons’ weight float on its bosom down to the ocean. It is one of the most delightful characteristics of the Christian’s peace that its buoyancy supports many and grievous burdens. Into God’s bosom they are carried in the exercise of confession and faithful repentance; in His breast they must be lodged, if we desire them to be finally obliterated and annulled. But surely, if it were not for His peace within, we could neither have courage to lodge them there, nor strength to support the burden of them ourselves.
IV. AT ITS MOUTH It expands. For the last few miles of its progress, the distance between its banks becomes wider, till at length it pours itself with a full flood into the ocean. So it is as a matter of fact in the Christian’s experience. The peace of the true believer is enlarged as he draws near to the heavenly goal, and accordingly the country of his soul is more abundantly fertilized. Who shall say how wide its flood may not extend, when it pours itself into His bosom in eternity, from whom it issued forth in time? (Dean Goulburn, D. C. L.)
As one whom his mother comforteth
Isaiah’s figure of motherhood
(verses 7-13):--The prophet reawakens the figure, that is ever nearest his heart, of motherhood--children suckled, borne and cradled in the lap of their mother fill all his view; nay, finer still, the grown man coming back with wounds and weariness upon him to be comforted of his mother.
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
The exiles’ horns in Jerusalem
Israel then will be like a man returned from foreign soft, escaped from captivity, full of sad remembrances, whose echoes, however, completely vanish in the mother-arms of Divine love in Jerusalem, the beloved home that was the home of their thoughts even on foreign soil. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The Motherhood of God
God is Creator, Preserver, Father, but something more.
I. A good mother has a wonderful fund of SYMPATHY so has God.
II. Motherhood is wonderful in its CONSTANCY so is God.
III. Motherhood is GRIEVED OVER SIN So is God.
IV. A mother’s love is often REDEMPTIVE God’s love is redemptive ten thousand times more. (D. J. Rounsefell.)
Divine comfort most endearing and efficient
God will comfort His people--
1. With all the affection and solicitude of a mother. See the mother how she loves, strives, labours, suffers, and sacrifices for her child.
2. With all the long-suffering and forbearance of a mother.
3. With all the forgiveness and consolation of a mother. How ready to forgive her erring, wandering child--and ready to console in trouble.
4. With all the instruction and correction of a mother. God teaches in various ways, and whom He loveth He chasteneth.
5. With all the constancy of a moter. (Helps for the Pulpit.)
I. THE CONSOLATION PROMISED. “I will comfort you.” It is the character of Divine promises that they apply to real cases they meet the condition and circumstances of man. Are we ignorant? “I will instruct thee.” Are we weak? “I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee.” Are we in danger? “I will deliver thee.” Are we disconsolate? “I will comfort you.” The discouragements of life are many, trials are various: the fears to which we are subject, and the sins which easily beset us, who can number? These all impair our comfort, and have a natural tendency to sink us in despondency. But the Gospel provides a cordial.
1. This consolation is Divine in its origin. It springs not from creatures, not from earthly good, or from carnal gratifications. The Most High claims the prerogative as His own.
2. It is rational in its nature; not consolation visionary and enthusiastic, but intelligent, consistent with reason as well as according to faith.
3. Free in its bestowment.
4. It is select in its subjects. All are not partakers of heavenly consolation, for all are not qualified to enjoy it. Penitence of disposition is requisite: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. ‘ Earnest desire also is implied; for who can be supposed to possess Divine comfort who are indifferent about it, who are living without prayer, or whose petitions are languid and lifeless? “Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Holy- watchfulness is likewise supposed; for whoever is careless and slothful must be deceived if he imagine himself to be comforted of the Lord. The Holy Spirit is “the Comforter,” but “grieve” Him not; otherwise He with draws His influence, and all is darkness or delusion.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH CONSOLATION IS AFFORDED. “as one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” A stranger may administer comfort, but it is in a distant way; a friend may console us, and this with kindness; a father also, with tenderness still more impressive; but none comforts like a mother.
1. The affection of a mother is warm; she loves her child, loves it as part of herself.
2. The care of a mother is indulgent.
3. The condescension and self-denial of a mother are not small.
4. The assiduity of a mother is unwearied.
III. THE MEANS BY WHICH CONSOLATION IS ENJOYED, “Ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” The pious Jews were comforted when in Babylon, and during their dispersion among the nations; but their comfort in such circumstances was attended with much affliction: it was when returned to Jerusalem, when resettled in their own country, and among their own people, that their enjoyment rose the highest, and was most regular. This teaches--
1. The importance of separation from an ensnaring world.
2. The propriety of regular attendance on religious worship. It was a high privilege to dwell in Jerusalem, because of attendance on religious worship.
3. The duty of Church-membership. Jerusalem was not only the scat of Divine worship, but an emblem of the Christian Church, and they who constitute this Church are particularly authorized to plead the promise of the text, “You shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
4. It suggests the worth of a right spirit in attending Christian ordinances. The form of godliness is nothing. (Anon.)
The Motherhood of God
Readers of such writers as Theodore Parker, Frances Power Cobbe, and Chunder Sen must often have been struck with the frequency with which these theists address invocations or prayers to God as the Father and Mother of our spirits. Why should they not? There are surely as valid reasons for our thinking and speaking of God as our Perfect Mother as there are for claiming Him as the Perfect Father of us all.
1. Even if there were no hint or smile to this effect in the Scriptures we should still find it necessary to predicate it of God in order to perfect our conceptions of Him. What these conceptions are will best be understood by a disclosure of their basis. To our thinking, the ultimate source of our knowledge of God is the intuitions of the human heart. The instincts, the qualities, the affections in human nature (though these are at a very great remove from those in God) are the truest indications and interpretations to us of what God is; if the revelation recorded in the Bible be the light (as it undoubtedly is), these things in us are the eye to which that light appeals and by which we see; in fact, if we cannot argue from our own spiritual natures up to God’s, then, all metaphysical reasoning and the Christian Scriptures notwithstanding, we have no reliable knowledge of God, faith is presumptuous, worship delusive, and the ground of personal responsibility crumbles away- from under our feet. Further, a philosophical interpretation of the person of the Christ, as well as the Scriptural declaration that man is made in the image of God, warrants the assertion that in a very true sense one of the worthiest conceptions of the Divine nature is that of a fully-developed, completely perfected, human nature. On this ground we believe we are justified in regarding God as our Father; or, to put conversely what this implies, we do right in assuming the fatherly elements in men to be the best index or guarantee of what God is. But whilst the Fatherhood of God is the perfection of our human nature, so far as man is concerned, it is not the crown of our humanity in its totality, that is to say, so far as human nature includes womanhood as well as manhood. God, in the very nature of the case, must gather up in Himself all the essential qualities of the mother no less than of the father. That this is so, is in a measure evidenced by the facts of our human experience. Take, for example, the evidence deducible from the case of a family where the children have been deprived of either parent, say the mother; in this instance, not only do the boys lose the beneficial effect of the softening and refining atmosphere of their mothers presence, but the girls also, however wise and fond their father may be, become prudish and unnaturally grave. In like manner, if the children are left fatherless, both sons and daughters suffer from the loss of their father’s sobering, restraining influence, while the daughters especially miss the strengthening force derivable from acquaintance with his life and character. Yes, that child only is rightly trained and fully educated who has had the good fortune to know both the gentler sway of a mother’s and the severer rule of a father’s nature. We see, then, that in actual life only that parentage is normally complete which is the blending of the two complementing sides, the fatherly and the motherly. And since of necessity the ideal in heaven cannot be less perfect than the actual on earth, and since, moreover, God is the source whence all the phases of our humanity have sprung, we may reverently address God in our prayers as being both the Perfect Father and Mother in whom we confide.
2. Nor is this idea of the Divine Motherhood as unserviceable as at first sight it may seem. It may be urged as affording one practical way of escape from the beautiful but blinding web, so to say, which the thoughts of many are busily weaving. It not unfrequently occurs that men, whose scientific tastes or pursuits change rather than destroy their hold on religion, find their thoughts of nature, life, and God taking a purely pantheistic colouring. To highly imaginative minds, to devout poetic temperaments, this habit of deifying everything is not a little fascinating. If God be thought of as He who is nature itself, then the more sensuous sides of our being will be appealed to and quickened, we grant, as will our intellectual needs in many respects be met and fostered. But the deep hunger and thirst of our more human natures will be unappeased, the more spiritual and practical cravings of our personal life will be slighted and wronged. For how little will such a pantheistic faith, beautiful as it is, and true in part though it be, serve and console the heart when it is beset with agonizing doubt or disheartened by the strength and shame of its sin, or well-nigh crushed by a fatalistic sense of the hard, merciless rule of the inevitable! Nature in some of her moods is anything but pitiful. Besides, what does a religion of this kind avail for those who have not been endowed with a lively imagination, or with poetic insight, or with mental vigour; what will or can it mean to those whose ideas and impressions of life are chiefly toned and tempered by poverty or pain or thankless toil, or misery or crime? With such an abstract God as this, we shall feel ourselves before long like to one wearied, oppressed with all the recherche elegance of a palace, and yearning for the real and simple comfort of a home. See now the remedy the truth under discussion affords. Let it be granted that God is the stun total of all the beauty and order, and music and life of the universe, but then surely He is more than this. He is the source and crown of all the human affections that have scattered themselves like so many sun’s rays throughout the fatherhoods and motherhoods, and childhoods and friendships of the world. These intensely real elements in our,, experience must have a living background m” God from whom all things issue. He that made the ear, shall He not hear; He that made the eye shall He not see J” and shall not He who bestowed on us so personal and potent a divinity as our mother, “the holiest thing on earth,” be Himself equally personal and motherly? (J. T. Stannard.)
I. A DIRE NECESSITY. Comfort.
II. A DEPLORABLE INCAPACITY.
We are helpless as babes.
III. AN ABSOLUTE IGNORANCE. A babe does not know its griefs. It can only realize a sense of discomfort. Its complaints are often unmeaning, foolish, needless. In this way many of us live and die.
IV. A CONSIDERATE COMFORTER. What a charm there is in the mother’s voice! So in the Divine voice of the Holy Spirit He comforts--
1. With the solicitude of a mother. How a mother loves, strives, labours, and sacrifices for her child.
2. With the forgiveness and consolation of a mother.
3. With the instruction and correction of a mother. A good and wise mother will instruct and correct.
4. With the constancy of a mother (Isaiah 49:14-15). God loves to the end.
V. AN IMPORTANT MEANS. “Ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” The promise is not without limitations. This expression means that the consolations of God come to those who are in His Church, who are in Christ Jesus. This is the place for us to rest in.
1. It is the place which He has appointed.
2. The place where He delights to dwell.
3. The place where His spirit is poured out.
4. The place where, by our own acts of devotion and hearing, we derive peace and rest. (Homilist.)
The Divine Motherhood
Is not the highest use of human relationships to reveal God? Are not the genuine king, judge, friend, father, so many mirrors in which the Divine character is, in some degree, reflected? And if this be true of all other human relationships, especially of those most natural and elemental, is it not emphatically thus in the unique, peerless one of mother Indeed, since there is need of all human relationships combined to reveal God, it is most clear that this one cannot be omitted. And if even idolaters have ever fell they must select the best material at their command to adumbrate the deity they worship, we may surely lay our hands on this highest thing we call motherhood, to illustrate something of the attributes and the ways of “our own God.” His love transcends all motherhood. It is a relationship marked by--
I. CLOSEST INTIMACY. The child’s life, especially at its beginning, is a part of its mother’s life. Supported by maternal sustenance, watched by maternal wisdom, embosomed in maternal love, the child has more from its mother, and owes, more to her, than science can analyze or poetry,, describe. Thus intimate is Gods relationship to us. “We are His offspring.
II. INTENSE INDIVIDUALISM. In two aspects there is an individualizing element and habit in motherhood that is on the very surface of the relationship, and that yet is one of its profoundest realities.
1. The mother individualizes her child. So both the Old and New Testament revelation, and indeed all His dealings with us, discover how individual all men arc to God.
2. Then, the child individualizes its mother. “Our own God.”
III. UNWEARIEDNESS OF CARE. The devotion of a mother is not that of hours, but of days--not of days only, but of nights also. It is not exhausted when its object has passed through infancy, but is active and anxious over its youth; yearns fondly, even when it can accomplish little, over its manhood or womanhood; lives and reigns in the heart till the mother herself dies; and--who can tell?--perhaps may still watch and guide and bless from the world of spirits. All human history gives emphasis to the question, “Can a woman forget her child?” Others may degrade and desecrate the meaning of the word “love,” by saying profanely, “I loved once.” The mothers of the world are the monuments of the perpetuity--one had almost said, of the eternity--of love. Yet the highest authority says, they may forget, yet will not God.
IV. SACRIFICIALNESS OF LOVE. Probably all true love is sacrificial. Anyway, it is beyond contradiction that a mothers love is. Conclusion:
1. Lessons for parents.
2. Remonstrance with sinners. The most heinous sins are sins against love. All transgression against this God of Divine motherliness, is such sin. It is folly to rebel against the God of all wisdom; the rebellion will ultimately he thwarted. It is madness to rebel against the God of all power He must reign till His enemies be made His footstool. But it is darkest sin to rebel against “the God of all comfort.” (U. R. Thomas, B. A.)
God comforting as a mother
1. God comforts like the ideal mother. The only perfect mother is in the mind and heart of God. And He comforts as that image might be expected to comfort and would be capable of comforting.
2. God comforts as the mothers comforted of whom the prophet spoke. No mother is perfect, but every true and good mother is a great consoler. God comforts.
(7) Effectually. (S. Martin.)
God our Mother
The Bible is a warm letter of affection from a parent to a child; and yet there are many who see chiefly the severer passages. As there may be fifty or sixty nights of gentle dew in one summer, that will not cause as much remark as one hailstorm of half-an-hour; so there are those who are more struck by those passages of the Bible that announce the indignation of God than by those that announce His affection.
1. God has a mother simplicity of instruction. A father does not know how to teach a child the A B C. Men are not skilful in the primary department. But a mother has so much patience that she will tell a child for the hundredth time the difference between F and G and between I and J. She thus teaches the child, and has no awkwardness of condescension in so doing. So God, our Mother, stoops down to our infantile minds. God has been teaching some of us thirty years, and some sixty years, one word of one syllable, and we do not know it yet--f-a-i-t-h, faith. When we come to that word, we stumble, we halt, we lose our place, we pronounce it wrong. Still, God’s patience is not exhausted. God, our Mother, puts us in the school of prosperity, and the letters are in sunshine, and we cannot spell them. God puts us in the school of adversity, and the letters are black, and we cannot spell them. If God were merely a king, He would punish us. If He were simply a father, He would whip us. But God is a mother, and so we are borne with and helped all the way through. A mother teaches her child chiefly by pictures. God, our Mother, teaches us almost everything by pictures. Is the Divine goodness to be set forth? How does God teach us? By an autumnal picture. The barns are full. The wheat-stacks are rounded. The orchards are dropping the ripe pippins into the lap of the farmer. Does God, our Mother, want to set forth what a foolish thing it is to go away from the right, and how glad Divine mercy is to take back the wanderer? How is it to be done? By a picture.
2. God has a mother’s favouritism. A father sometimes shows a sort of favouritism. Here is a boy--strong, well, of high forehead and quick intellect. The father says, “I will take that boy into my firm yet; or, “I will give him the very best possible education. There are instances where, for the culture of the one boy,, all the others have been robbed. A sad favouritism; but that is not the mother’s favourite. I will tell you her favourite. There is a child who, at two years of age, had a fall. He has never got over it. The scarlet fever muffled his hearing. He is not what he once was. The children of the family all know that he is the favourite. So he ought to be; for if there is any one in the world who needs sympathy more than another, it is an invalid child. Weary on the first mile of life’s journey; carrying an aching head, a weak side, an irritated lung. So the mother ought to make him a favourite. God loves us all; but there is one weak, and sick, and sore, and wounded, and suffering, and faint. That is the one who lies nearest and more perpetually on the great,, loving heart of God. There is not such a watcher as God.
3. God has a mother’s capacity for attending to little hurts. The father is shocked at the broken bone of the child, or at the sickness that sets the cradle on fire with fever, but it takes the mother to sympathize with all the little ailments and little bruises of the child. If the child has a splinter in its hand, it wants the mother to take it out, and not the father. So with God our Mother: all our annoyances are important enough to look at and sympathize with.
4. God has a mother’s patience for the erring. If one does wrong, first his associates in life cast him off; if he goes on in the wrong way, his business partner cuts him off; if he goes on, his best friends cast him off. But after all others have cast him off, where does he go? Who holds no grudge, and forgives the last time as well as the first? Who sits by the murderer’s counsel all through the long trial? Who tarries the longest at the windows of a culprit’s cell? Who, when all others think ill of a man, keeps on thinking well of him? It is his mother.
5. God has a mother’s, way of putting a child to sleep. You know there is no cradle-song like a mother s. The time will come when we will be wanting to be put to sleep. Then we want God to soothe us, to hush us to sleep. (T. De W. Talmage, D. D.)
God’s motherly comfort
A mother comforts--
1. By her presence. It is always to her children a benediction--a comfort.
2. By her love. Of a mother’s love the child becomes deeply conscious as she strokes gently his fevered brow, or lifts upon him the light of her loving eyes.
3. By her food. She knows their needs and their tastes, and she gives nourishing and satisfying food.
4. By her words. There are three different kinds of experience common to men in this life which seem to require the presence of our mothers, and in each of these God has promised to be near us.
1. When troubles come.
2. When we are sick.
3. When death is nigh. (Christian Age.)
God both Father and Mother
Broadly we may state the contrast of these relations in two well-known and exceeding precious Old Testament sayings “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust.” “As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” The father pities, the mother comforts, her children. The father in his strength stoops in gracious kindliness to succour them in their need; the mother holds them in a warm, eager embrace to comfort them in their pain. So we come to speak amongst ourselves of the father’s hand, but always of the mother’s arms. The father leads by the hand; the mother soothes and carries in her arms. Jesus did both. He was in His own person the perfect revelation at once of the Father-God and the Mother-God. He took God’s little ones up into His arms, laid His hands upon them, and blessed them--blessed them with the double blessing of hand and arms. We find it easy to speak of the Almighty Father, but we are conscious of a dissonance of thought in saying the Almighty Mother. Almightiness is not an attribute of motherhood. But “everlastingness is; and the “everlasting arms are the arms of the Mother-God. There is, therefore, the rare insight of truth as well as rich beauty and pathos in Isaiah’s imagery, “As one whom his mother comforteth.” The glorious prophecies of evangelical blessedness which Isaiah proclaimed had reached their close. The final results to faithful and unfaithful of the revelation of the grace of God mingle in the last two chapters. As we read especially Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 66:10-13, we feel that this figure of theMotherhood of God touches the climax of the writing. The prophet’s swift imagery halts here. It has no farther flight. The evolution of a mother is the vanishing-point in nature and art, where human comfort melts away into the infinite comfort of the Divine. (F. Platt.)
The Mother-God in Scripture
The Mother-God in Scripture several great Oriental scholars believe that in the earliest times the Semitic religions had a goddess, but no god. The matriarchal state of society came before the patriarchal. Whatever historic value this opinion may have, there can be little doubt, to a careful reader, that much of the Old Testament imagery and poetry, which seek to cheer the hearts of men with promises of Divine comfort, can be best realized as we read into them the idea of the Motherhood of God. There is a New Testament reference to those wilderness ways in which the children of God were led in ancient days which at least suggests a lingering recognition of this idea. The margin of Acts 13:18 reads--and the reading has considerable support: “About the time of forty years He bore or fed them as a nurse beareth or feedeth her child.” Much more definite, however, is Deuteronomy 32:11 : “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her,wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him.’ We scarcely need to remind ourselves that it is the mother-eagle that fluttereth over her young, and beareth them in safety on her broad pinions whither she will. A similar fidelity to nature should always be borne in mind that we may interpret the inner meaning of the well-known psalms of comfort, which tell us of a hiding-place and a refuge beneath the shadow of God’s wings, or under the covering of His feathers (Psalms 18:8; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 61:4; Psalms 91:1-4). It is of course the mother-bird that gathers her brood under her wings, and hides them in warmth and safety beneath her fluffy feathers. Nor can we ever forget that when our Lord was leaving the great city of human sorrow He had yearned in vain to comfort, when He strove in His anguish of weeping to leave some picture in the mind of her people of the infinite wealth of the Divine tenderness of comfort to which they had been blind, the passion of the great mother-soul within Him could find no more perfect imagery than that familiar to them and their fathers in the psalmists of Israel: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not! All nature is plaintive with an instinctive mother-cry, from the bleating cry of the lost lamb to the lonely cry of the lost child of the Mother-God. And instinct should count for something in interpreting the God whose children we are. The lad dying of fever in some rude, rough shanty at the gold diggings, or tossing in thirst in the hospital of a far-off foreign port, cries in his delirium for his mother. It is his deepest instinct. It wasalways his mother’s touch which brought coolness to his brow, and his mother’s voice that had a witchery of comfort in its whisper in the old village home. And in that other sickness of the mind, in the soul’s day of fever and fret, it is a true spiritual instinct we obey as our lonely or wearied spirits cry aloud for the arms of the Mother-God. (F. Platt.)
Paul’s conception of the Motherhood of God
There are glimpses here and there in the writings of St. Paul, revealed by subtle delicacies of speech, which more than suggest that the Motherhood of God was a flitting presence of grace and tenderness in his thought. We recall how when he wrote to the Thessalonian Church, he turned for a time from ministering the needed tonic of rebuke to the sweeter ministry of the comfort of hope. Our version reads: “Them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” St. Paul wrote: “Them also which have been laid to sleep by Jesus will God bring with Him.” “Laid to sleep by Jesus.” There is a picture in the words--a homely and familiar one. The day is done. The tiny feet of children, which all day long have pattered to and fro within the home, are tired. As the darkness falls their prattle grows drowsy. Then they are hushed to sleep in the mother’s arms, and laid in their cradle-bed until morning. We see it all. We are God’s children of an older growth. While it is called day we spend our strength in toils and journeyings. As the shadows lengthen we grow aweary. It is time to rest. In the arms of the Mother-God, who stoops over us in the Saviour’s condescending ways, we arc put to sleep, and laid in stillness to rest “until the day break, and the shadows flee away.” Perhaps even more literally than we thought, our dead “die into the arms of God.” (F. Platt.)
The Motherhood of God
There are old lessons of the love of God we may learn in a fresh light as we interpret them through the thought of the Motherhood of God.
1. The intensity of the Divine self-sacrifice grows keener through it. All love gives itself, but its climax of self-renunciation is motherhood.
2. The sense of the inalienableness of the Divine love is deepened also by the thought of the Motherhood of God. Does a mother’s love ever die?
When every other love expires, it lives its secret life. Its patience is infinite. A mother may forget. Her motherhood may prove false. But it is not likely. It is the most unnatural thing in nature. It is as if the sun should rise in the west, and set in the east. A lioness will fight to the death for her whelps, and the she-bear for her cubs. It is the first and last instinct creation knows. But let nature have denied herself, let her have given the lie to her primal instincts, let the stars have gone backward in their courses, and all the settled order of the universe have returned to chaos, yet even then, saith the Lord, will I not forget thee
3. Possibly also the Divine yearning over the wayward and prodigal may find a fresh setting in the idea of the Motherhood of God. When a father’s love does not easily forgive, because his sense of justice and order and true discipline in the family, of which he is the responsible governor, are hindrances, the mother’s love deviseth prevailing persuasions, and intercedes with tears. And in unknown depths of a common love of the prodigal the justice and the mercy somehow meet and are reconciled. Evangelical theologians arc ever conscious of two elements in the character of God, whose nature and whose name is Love. The law of righteousness and the ministry of mercy are always present. And the problem of their reconciliation is the problem so much profound and noble thought has striven to solve in the doctrine of atonement. They arc both true. The Lord our God is one God; but He is Father-God and Mother-God. We wonder at times whether the prodigal son of our Lord’s parable had a mother. It is not difficult to suggest reasons why, in an Oriental country, where the position of woman is so different from her place in our own, the father’s love should wisely be Christ’s type of the Divine. But there is a fragment of further meaning hidden in the story for these who remember that the prodigal may not have been motherless. Certain it is that, if his father climbed to the house-top to gaze expectant in the direction of the far country, his mother crept into her chamber alone to pray. As the father commands, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him,” the mother’s eyes are homes of silent tears. And who shall say that the rejoicing of the home-coming was not tenderer in the mother’s heart, and that tender joy the last balm of healing to the prodigal son? (Ibid.)
The craving for the feminine in God
The Rev. John Watson (In Maclaren)--he told me the story himself--was once in a Roman Catholic church in Italy. Before the altar to the Virgin knelt a woman, her lips moving devoutly- in prayer, her eyes alight with wondering worship and love. As she was making her way to the door, after ending her devotion, Dr. Watson asked her in Italian some question about the points of interest in the building. The woman seemed pleased to find an English visitor (or perhaps I should say a Scot) who could converse in her own language, and the two fell to chatting about the scenery and show-places of the neighbourhood. By and by the conversation turned upon the differences between the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions, especially in regard to the fact that Protestants do not address prayers to the Virgin. “Don t you ever pray to the Mother of God?” she asked. “No,” said Dr. Watson, very gently, “for it seems to me that all you find which is holy and helpful and adorable in the character of that most revered and beautiful of women--all that, and infinitely more, I find in her Divine Son.” “Yes, sir,” shesaid,, wistfully. “I understand that for you, but you see you are a man, and you don t know how a woman needs a woman to pray to.” “And although I should be the last man in the world ever to become a Roman Catholic,” said Dr. Watson, when telling the story, “you’ll believe me when I assure you that I hadn’t the heart to add another word.” (Coulson Kernahan.)
“As one whom his mother comforteth”
At a summer resort a clergyman and a lady sat on the piazza of the hotel. The lady’s heart was heavily burdened, and she talked of her sorrows to the aged minister, who tried to lead her in her hour of need to the Great Comforter. His efforts seemed to be in vain; the lady had heard all her life of the promise that if a tired soul casts its burden on the Lord it will be sustained, no matter how heavy that burden may be, but she seemed to lack the faith to thus cast herself upon the Lord. A half-hour afterward a severe thunderstorm came up in the western sky. With the first flash of lightning the mother jumped out Of her chair and ran up and down the piazza, exclaiming: “Where is Freddie? Where is Freddie? He is so terribly frightened in a thunderstorm I don’t know what he will do without me.” In a few moments afterward her boy came running up the walk, almost breathless, and his face plainly showing the great fear that was in his heart. “Oh, mother,” he exclaimed, “I was so frightened, I ran just as fast as ever I could to get to you.” The mother sat down and took the frightened child into her arms. She allayed his fear and quieted him, until his head rested calmly on her loving heart. The good clergyman stepped up gently, and, putting his hand on the mother’s shoulder, he whispered: “As one Whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.” “I understand it now,” she replied, as she looked up with tearful face. “I will throw myself into His arms as a little child, and remember His promise. I never felt the depth of Divine love as shown in that promise before.” (Susan T. Perry.)
A mother’s self-sacrificing love
In the buried city of Pompeii, that was destroyed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, I was shown a place where had been found the remains of a lady and her three children. She had tried to gather two of her little ones in her arms, and the babe was hid on her breast in the folds of her robe. And when the scorching dust came down, every one fled; but the mother could not leave her children, and she died with them. A mother would give her own life to save her child. The Lord is as a mother. He did die to save you! And He now lives to comfort you as a mother comforteth her child. (W. Birch.)
The hand of the Lord shall be known toward His servants
The Lord’s hand revealed
SOME OF THE WAYS THE HAND OF THE LORD MAKES ITSELF KNOWN TOWARDS HIS SERVANTS.
1. In the character they bear.
2. In the work they do.
3. In the sufferings they endure.
4. In all the triumphs of their faith and patience.
II. THE CONDITION OF THIS VISIBLE DISPLAY OF GOD’S POWER. Simply to let it operate upon us and through us. We can, and often do, prevent His hand from being known. There must be humble recptiveness, believing prayer.
III. THE EFFECTS OF THIS MANIFESTATION OF THE LORD’S HAND.
1. It encourages the Lord’s servants.
2. It rebukes the unbelief of the ungodly. Conclusion: Unconverted sinner I the Lord desires to show forth the power of His grace in you. Will you not allow Him to work upon you this miracle of His saving power? (W. Guthrie, M. A.)
It shall some, that I will gather all nations and tongues.
The conversion of the world
I. FUTURE PROSPECTS OF PROVIDENCE RESPECTING THE GLORIOUS WORK OF THE CONVERSION OF THE WORLD TO CHRIST.
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH IT SHALL BE ACCOMPLISHED.
III. THE EXTENT TO WHICH IT SHALL REACH.
IV. THE HOLY AND BLESSED EFFECTS WHICH SHALL BE PRODUCED BY IT. (J. Snodgrass, D. D.)
The Gospel to be preached to the uncivilized
No regard seems here to be paid to that favourite maxim with many, that the Gospel can only be successfully preached to a people already in a civilized state. It is certain that the first preaching of the Gospel to the nations of the world was not conducted upon any such narrow principle. On the contrary, it is mentioned by some of the early apologists for Christianity, as one of its honourable achievements, that it has turned even the most cruel and barbarous people into mildness and docility. If any intimation is given, in prophecy, upon this point, it seems rather to reverse the above-mentioned maxim. Were Pul and Lud, and Tubal and Tarshish, civilized countries in the days of this prophet T yet God is represented as sending messengers to them, to declare His glory among the Gentiles. Is there a more unfavourable manner of life for receiving instruction than that of a people wandering about, without any fixed residence? or is there any state of society more base than that of men living in eaves and rocks of the earth? yet the glad tidings of the Gospel will make the villages, or clustered tents, of Kedar to rejoice, and the inhabitants of the rock to sing. (J. Snodgrass, D. D.)
And I will set a sign among them
THE MANNER IN WHICH THE NATIONS WERE TO BE GATHERED INTO THE CHURCH OF GOD.
II. THE INSTRUMENTS TO RE EMPLOYED IN EFFECTING THIS GREAT WORK. (R. Macculloch.)
Tarshish . . . Javan
That is, to far Spain, and the distances of Africa, towards the Black Sea, and to Greece, a full round of the compass. (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
“The isles afar off”
Coastlands (Isaiah 40:15). This distinctionbetween the nearer nations who have experienced something of the greatness of Jehovah through contact with His people Israel, and the remoter nations who have not heard His name, orginates with the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 38:1). But while the distinction is common to the two prophets, the development of the idea is strikingly different. In Ezekiel Gog’s Ignorance of Jehovah tempts him to an act of sacrilege on the land of Israel which is avenged by the annihilation of him and his host. The spirit of this passage is more evangelical. Jehovah sends missionaries from the nearer nations to those who have not heard His fame nor seen His glory; and the report carries conviction to their minds, so that they restore the Israelites exiled amongst them, as an offering to the Lord. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
And they shall declare My glory among the Gentiles
I. THE STATE OF THE HEATHEN WHO KNOW NOT GOD.
1. Their present state. They know nothing of the God of love. The weary and heavy-laden among them never heard Christ’s “Come unto Me. The sorrowful among them never heard His “Blessed are they that mourn.” They know nothing of the Paraclete, the Comforter, the Strengthener, although their need as urgent aa ours, of comfort and of strength. They do not know what prayer is. They do but send up deprecations to demons. They, as we, are bereaved of dear ones; but the grand music of those words, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,”- never hushed the discords of their wailing, nor lifted the darkness of their silent despair.
2. Their future. All is to them wrapt in gloom impenetrable.
II. OUR RESPONSIBILITY. Imagine the plague once more devastating our cities. Suppose you knew of an infallible remedy. Then suppose utter indifference on your part in imparting it. What a monster you would be! No one really loves the Lord Jesus who is not zealous to make others love Him. If you do love Him, and are anxious to make others love Him, what are you doing for the spread of His kingdom?
III. WHAT CAN WE DO? We can pray for the full coming of Christ’s kingdom, for the sending more labourers into the harvest. We can provoke others to pray. We can try to realize this truth, that our Lord makes the evangelization of the world to depend, in we know not what degree, upon faithful, earnest prayer. (J. R. Vernon, M. A.)
And I will also take of them for priests and for Levites
Taken for priests and for Levites
Those taken to be priests and Levites might be the Gentiles who bring back the dispersed of Israel, or the restored Israelites themselves.
The latter is the more probable meaning. (A. B.Davidson, D. D.)
“From them” refers to the converted heathen, by whom the Israelites were brought back to their home. (F. Delitzsch,. D.D.)
Incorporated in Jehovah’s priestly Church (Isaiah 61:6), the heathen are not now excluded even from priestly and Levitical service in the temple. (F. Delitzsch,. D.D.)
A new order of priests and Levites
Under the Gospel dispensation God will select both out of Jews and Gentiles a chosen people, who shall stand before Him spiritually as the priests and the Levites stood before him typically. The connection leads us to see that not only a great promise but likewise a great privilege is herein implied. It is that we shall be priests and Levites. Now, the priests or Levites were persons set apart to be God’s peculiar property. Being thus set apart they lived only for Divine service. Further, they enjoyed the privilege of drawing near to God--nearer than the rest of people in that typical dispensation. In like manner there is a people to be found on earth at this day whom God has chosen to draw near unto Him. But priests and Levites had two works to do. They were engaged to do something towards God for men, and so they offered the sacrifices that were brought to the door of the tabernacle, whether according to the general ordinances, or to any special vows. Spiritually minded, they much engaged in intercession for the rest of Israel. So there is a people to be found this day who offer unto God acceptable prayer and praise, and in answer to their prayer, unnumbered blessings come down upon the sons of men. Another,part of their office consisted in speaking for God to the people: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge.” As for the Levites, they were as ushers in the schools and tutors in the families of Israel. Amongst the Levites were found those scribes who became the instructors of the people, the copyists of the law, and the expounders of its statutes and ordinances; ministers who opened up to the people, as Ezra did, the knotty points of the old covenant, and expounded the Word. So, not all of us in the same degree, but all of us in a measure, are to be teachers of God’s revealed truth, even as He has taught us. The great point is this. It seems to be mentioned here as a matter of surprise that God should take any of the persons here mentioned--of the sinful, backsliding, transgressing Jews, or of the blinded, dark, benighted, heathen Gentiles--and make them to be priests and Levites before Him. That is parallel to the fact that God does take some of the most unlikely persons, who seem to be the most unsuitable of all, and make these to be His faithful and honoured servants among the sons of men.
I. THE FACT. According to the text, men have nothing to do with the selection; for it is said, “I will also take of them”--not, “their parents shall bring them up to it;” not, “those who shall be looked out as the most fit and proper men on account of some natural bent and bias, or gift and talent,” but, “I will take.” God’s priesthood in the world is a priesthood of’ His own choosing, of His own setting apart, of His own anointing. “He hath made us kings and priests unto God. ‘ In their case, it appears that whatever was unfit in their character has been overcome by Divine grace. If God takes them for Levites, He makes them Levites; if He chooses them for priests, He makes them priests.
II. THE REASON OF THE FACT. Does not He do this to display His infinite mercy? And His power? And His sovereignty? Does He not thereby secure to Himself the most loving service? Another reason why the Lord takes the vilest of men to make them the saintliest is, that He might openly triumph over Satan. And do not you think this is done very much for the encouragement of the Church of God?
III. WHAT IS THE LESSON FROM THIS? Remember what state you were in before God’s grace took you in hand. Then consider what you are called to be; you are made priests and Levites. Then ask yourself what you would soon become if His grace were to depart from you. And what humility this vocation of God should produce! However high we may be raised, we must remember whence the honour cometh. And since He hath taken us for priests and for Levites, let us do every office heartily as unto the Lord. Let us serve Him with great thankfulness and joy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
For as the new heavens and the new earth
The perpetuity of the true Israel
The bulk of the heathen world and also of Israel perish, but Israel’s name and seed, i.. Israel as a nation with the same ancestors and an independent name, remains for ever (cf. Jeremiah 31:35 f.; 33:20-26), as the new heaven and the new earth. And just because Israel’s calling in regard to the heathen world is now fulfilled and all things are made new, the old fencing off of Israel from the heathen now comes to an end; and what qualifies for priestly and Levitical service in God’s temple is no longer mere natural descent, but inner nobility The prophet thus represents to himself the Church of the future on a new earth and under a new heaven; but he is unable to represent the eternal in the form of eternity; he represents it to himself merely as an unending continuation of temporal history (Isaiah 66:23). (F. Delitzch, D. D.)
A figure of the spiritual
The thought of Isaiah 56:7 is here (verse 23) expressed by a figure, which, understood literally, involves a physical impossibility; but the prophet cannot altogether emancipate himself from the forms of the Jewish economy, and clothes a spiritual truth in a garb which in strictness is too narrow for it (cf. Zechariah 14:16-19). (Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
The stability of the Christian Church
(with Isaiah 60:20-21):--The Christian Church is not the conqueror of the Jewish polity, but the heir and successor. The new covenant has been developed out of the old. There was no break when Christ came, but a fulfilment and a completion. And so the promises were handed down in the Christian line, among which these from the latter part of Isaiah, relating to the “stability’ of the ancient Church, are not the least remarkable. They declare that God is an “everlasting” light to His people, that their permanence is like the permanence of the creation of God. (T. D. Woolsey.)
The Christian Church not a human institution
The permanence of the Christian Church in the world, if it be a fact, is unlike all facts of history. Everything human decays and passes away. All institutions, forms of government, civilizations, have their day and decline. No one doubts that the old religions of India and its castes are doomed to perish. We cannot, therefore, be assured from history that Christianity may not perish also. Still when you look at its origin, its power of growth, its vitality, when everything around was dead; its changes of form joined to unchangeableness of principle; its power to correct evils within its pale; its predominance among the influences that act on mankind; its universal character, and its consciousness--so to speak--that the world is its own, you cannot feel it to be otherwise than quite probable that it is to be man’s guide to the end of time. (T. D. Woolsey.)
The history of the Church augurs its permanence
Though history is not prophecy, though it cannot with authority predict the universal and final sway of Christ’s Gospel and of Christian institutions, it reveals, at the least, a working power, a tenacity of life, a hopefulness, a benevolent energy which are not inconsistent with stability and with continuance until the end of time. (T. D. Woolsey.)
The stability of the Christian Church
I. WE SHALL LOOK AT SEVERAL CAUSES TO WHICH IT IS NOT DUE: but to which, on a superficial view, it might be ascribed.
1. It is not owing to strength borrowed from governments, the Church grew without help from the government; it grew also in spite of long efforts of the government to destroy it.
2. For is the stability of the Church due to the stability of its forms of discipline and order. These have passed through a great variety of changes, from the times of the nascent Church, when there was little of established order, down through the ages of hierarchy, to our times, when the Church thrives in a great variety of forms, and with varied theories of government.
3. Nor yet is the stability of the Church owing to the stability of theological systems. It grew, it almost reigned, before any received dogmatic statements of its sacred truth were current. It has outlived theories and expositions innumerable, and indeed nothing connected with Christianity has been more changing than the scientific arrangements of its truths.
4. Nor can the stability of the Church be explained by saying that it got the control of opinion and kept thought in leading strings, so that when science was emancipated, new conditions full of danger to the Church began. It arose in spite of a reigning heathen opinion and philosophy, which it overthrew and put another in the place. It has in its healthiest state favoured all knowledge in the confidence of being itself together with every other true thing from God.
5. Nor can the stability of the Church be attributed to the condescending patronage of large-minded men, who saw in its justice and humanity a help for the world to be found nowhere else, but yet did not believe in it themselves.
II. TO WHAT, THEN, IS THE STABILITY OF THE CHURCH DUE? To this question it is no sufficient answer that the Holy Spirit is ever in and with the Church. For the Spirit’s office is to act on men according to the laws of character by Divine realities. It is due--
1. To this: that the Gospel, on which the Church is built, works out some of the great problems which lie on the heart of man, in a way to give lasting peace and satisfaction to the soul. I refer to practical rather than to intellectual problems, although even the restless questionings of the mind either meet with an answer from the Divine oracles, or are carried up into a higher realm of truth. The power inherent in Christianity itself, as a way of reconciling God and man, and of raising man above sin by great truths and great hopes, is a real and permanent power. It is suited to all natures and capacities, to all races and times.
2. To those permanent features of the Gospel, which bind men together in a brotherhood pervaded by the spirit of love and fellowship.
3. To its self-reforming capacity. The human and the Divine have ever mingled and will ever mingle in the historical progress of Christianity, as they mingle in the development of a Christian life. There are unavoidable sources of corruption in the revolutions of society, in the growth of wealth, in the love of self-gratification, in the increase of worldly comforts. There are other sources in the ignorance of untrained Christians, in the ambition of the clergy and their love of dominion, in the rewards offered within the Church to the aspiring, in formalism, in a dead orthodoxy. At the lowest ebb of Christian life and knowledge there remain within the reach of the Church the sources of a better spiritual state, so that it can reform itself as it has done more than once.
4. The stability of the Church is ensured by the stability of Christ. “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever.” Doubt is of to day, but He is of all time. He is a permanent possession for the soul. He does not wear out in a lifetime. He is the permanent possession of the Church in all its ages and changes He does not wear out while there are men to long for redemption. (T. D. Woolsey.)
And they shall go forth
Those that transgressed or “rebelled” against the Lord are the obstinate idolaters referred to in chaps, 65.
, 66. Their carcasses lie’s spectacle to all who come up to worship at Jerusalem, subject to never-ending corruption and never-ending burning. According to the prophet’s conception, the scene takes place on the earth, in me vicinity of Jerusalem, probably in the Valley of Hinnom, but the language may have suggested a punishment by everlasting fire in the world to come. (A. B.Davidson, D. D.)
This verse is the basis of the later Jewish conception of Gehenna as the place of everlasting punishment (see Salmond’s “Christian Doctrine of Immortality”). Gehenna is the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom (Valley of Hinnom), the place where, of old, human sacrifices were offered to Moloch, and for this reason desecrated by King Josiah (2 Kings 23:10). Afterwards it became a receptacle for filth and refuse, and Rabbinical tradition asserts that it was the custom to cast out unclean corpses there, to be burned or to undergo decomposition. This is, in all probability, the scene which had imprinted itself on the imagination of the writer, and which was afterwards projected into the unseen world as an image of endless retribution. The Talmudic theology locates the mouth of hell in the Valley of Hinnom. (Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
The eternal imaged by the temporal
The prophet blends temporal and eternal This world and the next coalesce to his view. (F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
Hell is of both worlds, so that in the same essential sense, although in different degree, it may be said both of him who is still living but accursed, and of him who perished centuries ago, that his worm dieth not and his fire is not quenched. (J. A. Alexander.)
Doom following unfaithfulness and transgression
1. It is a terrible ending, but it is the same as upon the same floor Christ set to His teaching--the Gospel net cast wide, but only to draw in both good and bad upon a beach of judgment; the wedding feast thrown open and men compelled to come in, but among them a heart whom grace so great could not awe even to decency; Christ’s Gospel preached, His example evident, and Himself owned as Lord, and nevertheless some whom neither the hearing nor the seeing nor the owning with their lips did lift to unselfishness or stir to pity-. Therefore He who had cried, “Come all unto Me,” was compelled to close by saying to many, “Depart.”
2. It is a terrible ending: but one only too conceivable. For though God is love, man is free--free to turn from that love; free to be as though he had never felt it; free to put away from himself the highest, clearest, most urgent grace that God can show. But to do this is the judgment.
3. “Lord, are there few that be saved?” The Lord did not answer the question but by bidding the questioner take heed to himself “Strive to enter in at the strait gate,” (Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
I. THE WICKEDNESS OF THE WICKED. II. ITS PUNISHMENT. Certain. Terrible. Without alleviation or hope.
III. THE PERPETUATION OF ITS MORAL LESSONS. (J. Lyth, D. D.)
The goodness and severity of God
The public reading of the synagogue repeats once more after Isaiah 66:24, on account of its terrible import, the encouraging words of Isaiah 66:23 “in order to conclude with words of comfort.”(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Isaiah 66". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany