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The prophet, for the comfort of the believing Gentiles, prophesieth the amplitude of the church, their safety, their certain deliverance out of affliction, their fair edification, and their sure preservation.
Before Christ 719.
THE great mystery of the obedience and passion of the Messiah having been set forth, the fruits, effects, and consequences of that obedience and passion, with respect to the church, are here related for the comfort of true believers; God himself, therefore, whom we left speaking at the end of the last section but one, chap. 51: addresses the church of the true sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah, whom he considers as barren, afflicted, deprived of her husband, desolate, and promises, under an elegant figure, a great increase and amplification of her state. The third section, contained in the present chapter, may be divided into two apostrophes; the first contains a promise of the church's remarkable fruitfulness and amplification; where we have first the promise itself, proposed under a two-fold figure, of a woman long barren becoming extremely fruitful, Isa 54:1 and of the enlargement of a tent, capable to hold this increased offspring, Isaiah 54:2-3. Secondly, The foundation of the promise, the union of Jehovah as a husband with the church; Isaiah 54:4-6. The first apostrophe contains another promise of the constant love of God toward faithful believers; which is explained, Isa 54:7-8 and is illustrated from the covenant with Noah, Isaiah 54:9-10. The second apostrophe contains the promises of the Son of God to the same church; first, of beauty, splendor, and singular ornament, figuratively proposed, Isaiah 54:11-12. Secondly, of immediate dependence upon, and illumination by God, Isaiah 54:13. Thirdly, of true and internal peace;—middle of Isaiah 54:13. And fourthly, of defence against every hostile attempt, tending to its destruction: to which is added an elegant conclusion, the seal of these promises: Isaiah 54:14-17.
Isaiah 54:1. Sing, O barren— We have often had occasion to observe, that the covenant between God and his people is represented in Scripture under that of marriage. See the notes on Solomon's Song, and chap. Isa 50:1 of our prophet. If there were any doubt of the application of this chapter to the church of believers under the new oeconomy, according to the analysis, St. Paul's application in Gal 4:27 would be wholly sufficient to determine it.
Isaiah 54:2-3. Enlarge the place of thy tent— The same figure and idea recur; chap. Isa 33:20 which, together with the following references, will sufficiently explain the present passage: chap. Isaiah 43:5; Isa 43:7 Isa 44:5 Isaiah 49:12; Isaiah 49:20.
Isaiah 54:5. For thy Maker is thine husband— See Jeremiah 3:20. In the original the verse may be divided into a stanza of four lines; for it is undoubtedly poetry, in which the first and third, and the second and fourth, are to be connected together. This will make the sense run thus: For thy Maker is thine husband, and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel: the Lord of Hosts is his name; the God of the whole earth shall he be called. See Bishop Lowth.
Isaiah 54:6. For the Lord, &c.— For as a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, the Lord calls thee against as a wife of youth, after she had been despised, saith thy God.
Isaiah 54:7. For a small moment, &c.— The contrast, or antithesis, used in this and the following verse, illustrates in the most pathetic manner the mercy and affection of God toward his servants in general. Vitringa is of opinion, that the little time of dereliction here spoken of, refers to the yoke of the law, and the legal principles with which the first believers were incumbered, before they were entirely emancipated into the liberty of the Gospel.
Isaiah 54:9-10. For this is as the waters of Noah— To confirm the promise above given, a beautiful emblem taken from the deluge is here set forth; for, as God then swore that the waters should no more cover the earth, to destroy the human race, in like manner he assures his church that no persecutions or afflictions should so come upon it in this world, as to overwhelm and utterly destroy it; which also he corroborates by a new emblem in the 10th verse, taken from the mountains and hills. The last clause of the 9th verse may be rendered, So have I sworn that I will not foam out upon thee, or overflow thee in wrath, nor be harsh with thee.
Isaiah 54:11-12. O, thou afflicted, &c.— O, thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, void of comfort; behold, I range thy stones in paint, and found thee upon sapphires: Isaiah 54:12. And I make thy turrets of rubies, and thy gates of carbuncles, and the whole circuit of thy walls of precious stones. The Almighty preserver and protector of the church, here, in elegantly figurative terms, proceeds to assure her of his care towards her, as well in adorning and furnishing her with every spiritual gift, as in defending her against her enemies. The general meaning of the prophesy is, that God would render his church most beautiful, splendid, and pleasant to the spiritual eye, such as is a city to the natural eye, composed of precious, shining, red, and beautiful stones. The true ornaments of the church, and of its members, are those internal virtues and graces which render it so lovely in the sight of its great Redeemer. The reader will find this emblem of our prophet finely illustrated by St. John in his description of the new Jerusalem; where all will be pure, excellent, and holy, and whence every thing defiling and abominable will be for ever excluded. See Revelation 21:0. If in this prophesy the gospel-church, in its first institution, be alluded to, we must understand that church as it exists in the sacred writings, while there can be no doubt that a future and more glorious state of the church is referred to in this remarkable prophesy. See Vitringa.
Isaiah 54:15-17. Behold, &c.— The meaning of Isa 54:15 is this: "It shall come to pass, that enemies shall gather themselves together against, and oppose the church, but their endeavours shall become fruitless, and they shall fall." God, by his providence, would so order it, (as it follows in the next verse,) that whatever enemies should rise up against the church, should not be able to do it any hurt, as rising up without his appointment against a church protected; for, behold, says he, I have created the smith, &c. Isa 54:16-17 which words contain the seal of the consolation. The state of the Christian church does not exclude enemies either within or without; nay, it is the lot of believers to enter into the kingdom of heaven through much tribulation: and it is a saying of our Lord, In the world ye shall have tribulation;—but, he subjoins, be of good courage, I have overcome the world. He therefore teaches here, that no power, no opposition, should prevail against this church; that no affliction should happen to it without his very peculiar providence; that all the enemies of it were subject to his providence; and that while, according to the order of his providence, he suffers these enemies of his people to beat out their sanguinary counsels for the destruction of the church, and to rage against it, he himself at the same time provides the means by which they shall perish. In fine, that no one shall, by words or deeds, maliciously oppose the church, but he shall be covered with shame, and in the end condemned. Compare chap. Isaiah 45:7. It was a remarkable saying of Luther, founded upon these and the like promises, that, "though all the devils in hell should roar against him, yet should his doctrine, founded on the truth of the Gospel, continue for ever." See Vitringa. The meaning of the last clause, sealing up these splendid promises, is, "these good things above promised are the lot or inheritance promised to the church, which true believers possess rightly and by covenant, through the merit of their Surety and Redeemer."
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Jerusalem, during her captivity, like a widow bereaved of her children, lamented her sad desolations; but when God restored her palaces, they were quickly repeopled, and they soon, under the divine blessing, increased exceedingly. But this prophesy more particularly relates to the Gospel church, and the quotation which the apostle makes, Galatians 4:0 is the sure key for the interpretation of it. We have here,
1. The low estate of the church, signified by a barren woman, or one desolate, bereft of husband and children; which may fitly represent her state when Christ came into the world, and till the day of Pentecost, when the Gentile nations were in great darkness; and among the Jews very few received the Gospel that he preached unto them: but this whole prophesy has particular reference to the reign of antichrist and to the glory of the latter days.
2. The joy arising from the glorious increase which should be made to the church by the preaching of the apostles, and in future times. More are the children of the desolate, the Gentiles, than the children of the married wife, in which relation the Jewish church had stood, and few of them, comparatively, believed. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations; the visible church of old being reduced within so small a compass, but now, by the accession of the Gentile converts, it spreads on every side; therefore, spare not; lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; where the same image, of a tent, to which the church is compared before, is continued, and the ministers are especially called upon to spare no labour or pains, but to spread abroad the Gospel, and confirm the disciples, that they may grow stronger in faith, as they grow more numerous; and God promises to bless their labours abundantly. Note; (1.) It is matter of great joy to every true member of Christ, to see his kingdom flourish, and his Gospel preached. (2.) They who enjoy fewer means and ordinances, are yet often seen to exceed others in their growth in grace who profess much greater privileges. (3.) It will be the labour of every faithful soul, to lengthen the cords, and strengthen the stakes, to spread the knowledge of Christ, and build up each other on their most holy faith.
3. The Lord encourages his church against all fear and shame. Unlikely as such a work appeared, she may trust God's promise, and wait confidently the accomplishment. For thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, &c. when her members were few, and none of the wise and noble embraced the Gospel; but quickly the scene was changed, when the Roman empire became Christian, and men of all ranks embraced the religion of Jesus.
4. The blessed author of this happy change is Christ, the Maker and husband of his church; for in these glorious and endeared relations he stands, able to the uttermost to protect and preserve her, as the Lord of Hosts; faithful to his promises, as the Holy One of Israel; and having universal dominion, as the God of the whole earth. Note; (1.) There is an union between Christ and believing souls nearer than that between husband and wife: they indeed are one body, but he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit with him. (2.) If our Maker be our husband, then we are deeply bound in love and duty to approve our fidelity to him. (3.) Our Redeemer is mighty; and the more firmly we trust him, the more surely we shall stand.
2nd, We have comfort promised to the disconsolate church of God.
1. She is represented by a woman forsaken of her husband, either dead, or divorced by him and grieved at parting; and as a wife of youth refused, which made the separation more painful. And this may regard the state of the church, when, at the beginning, Christ was taken away by death, and the disciples were so disconsolate: or it describes the distress which ensued on the first publishing of the Gospel, when so many of the preachers and professors were cut off by the sword of persecution, which is signified by the little wrath, boiling wrath, as the word means, when God's face was hid, and for a small moment he seemed to forsake his people. Note; (1.) Whatever we feel of chastisement, we must own it little in comparison of what we have deserved. (2.) We must not be discouraged under present afflictions, however sharp; they are but for a moment; a little faith and patience will bring us through them.
2. God promises a gracious return of mercy. With great mercies will I gather thee, from the dispersion during the persecutions, as was fulfilled in the days of Constantine, when the profession of Christianity was established peaceably throughout the Roman empire; and will soon be abundantly more so, yea, With everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer; all his dispensations, however dark for a season they may appear, are perfectly consistent with his love toward faithful souls. Note; (1.) It is purely of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, and not for any desert in us. (2.) Our present sufferings, however severe, are, comparatively with what we deserve, light and momentary; but they will be succeeded to every faithful soul by a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.
3rdly, Glorious things are spoken of thee, O thou city of God! We have,
1. The church in distress. O thou afflicted, with persecutions without, and heretical teachers within: or, O thou indigent! for of the poor the church ever chiefly consisted; and tossed with tempest, as a feeble bark, ready to be swallowed up in the stormy billows; and not comforted; no kind friend to support, no magistrate to protect her from oppression, as was the case under the pagan emperors, and is still under the papal tyranny; but God will be his faithful people's everlasting friend. Therefore,
2. He engages to raise up his church, a glorious church, and set it above the enmity of every foe.
[1.] He will raise it up a glorious church. The foundations, pavement, windows, gates, shall be of the most precious jewels, emblematical of Christ, and the gifts and graces of his Spirit, which should be abundantly dispensed; compared with which, all the splendour of this world's brightest gems vanishes, as the stars before the rising sun. Particularly, 1. Divine wisdom shall be plentifully dispensed: All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; not only by the word and the ministry, but by the illumination of the Spirit of Truth, who shall lead them into all truths opening their understandings, and giving them that experimental knowledge of Jesus and his limitation, which no other teacher can communicate to the soul. 2. Abundance of peace shall be diffused. Great shall be the peace of thy children; internal peace of conscience from a sense of God's love, external peace and harmony among believers, when, loving each other out of a pure heart fervently, all contentions and disputes shall be for ever banished. 3. In righteousness shalt thou be established; in the doctrine of justification through the infinite merit of Jesus; and in the practice of holiness, the blessed fruit and effect of it, which is the great ornament and support of the church, and without which it must quickly decay.
[2.] No foe shall be able to prevail against her; God will defend her, 1. From all fear and terror. Thou shalt be far from oppression, for thou shalt nor fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near thee. However great the fury and threatening of the oppressors, God will not only restrain their violence, but keep the minds of his people in perfect peace, while stayed upon him; and a great mercy it is to be delivered from the power of tormenting fear. 2. Every attempt made against them should end in the destruction of their enemies. Behold, they shall surely gather together: the enmity of Satan and the world is implacable against the saints, and they will seek to trouble their repose: but not by me; as they have God against them, their designs must prove abortive. Whosoever shall gather together against thee, shall fall for thy sake; be they never so mighty or numerous, they rush only on their own ruin; God in love to his people will cast them down. 3. As all the power which wicked men possess comes from God, he can, whenever he pleases, restrain the exercise of it. If the smith forges the military weapons, or the waster employs them to destroy, they are both the creatures of God, raised up by his providence, and subject to his over-ruling power; and therefore, whatever desolations they are permitted to work in the earth, they shall be restrained from hurting God's people. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; all the secret contrivances, as well as the avowed opposition against God's church, shall be disappointed. 4. Every accusation shall be refuted, to the confusion of the accuser. Every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment, either seeking to calumniate and blacken their character, to misrepresent them to the civil magistrate, to claim authority over their consciences, or to lay to their charge their sins at God's bar, for which, according to the law, they must be cast and punished, thou shalt condemn, having a full answer to every accusation. Through the great Atonement God is satisfied; and by well-doing, the malicious insinuation of foolish men will be put to silence, and God, at least in the great day, will make our righteousness appear as the light, condemn the enemy and avenger, and give a verdict for his faithful people against every accuser.
Lastly, all these invaluable privileges are the heritage of the servants of the Lord. Not only here do they enjoy a part in present grace and protection, but look for an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away; and, cleaving perseveringly to Christ their living Head in the way of holiness, their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord; they will acknowledge the whole as the free gift of God; and God will vindicate their cause and character, and give them the reward of the purchased possession, which their divine and glorious Saviour hath obtained for them.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 54". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25