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ISAIAH'S SONG OF PRAISE ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD'S KINGDOM. AS in Isaiah 12:1-6, after describing the first setting up of Christ's kingdom and the call of the Gentiles, the prophet broke out into song, through joy at the tidings he was commissioned to announce, so now, having proclaimed the final establishment of the same kingdom in the heavenly Zion, he is again carried away by the sense of exultant gladness into a fresh Lobgesang, which he utters in his own person—not, as the former one, in the person of the Church. His song divides itself into three sections:
(1) Isaiah 12:1-5, a thanksgiving for deliverance;
(2) Isa 12:6 -8, a commemoration of blessings granted; and
(3) verses 9-12, exultation in the security obtained.
Thou art my God; I will exalt thee (comp. Exodus 15:2 and Psalms 118:28). To Isaiah the "Song of Moses" seems to have been a pattern thanksgiving, from which he delighted to draw his phrases when he was bent on formally singing praise to God. Compare the following: Exodus 15:2 with Isaiah 12:2, "He is become my salvation;" the same with Isaiah 25:1, "He is my God; I will exalt him;" Exodus 15:6 with Isaiah 13:16, "Hath dashed in pieces;" Exodus 15:7 with Isaiah 47:14, "Consumed them as stubble;" Exodus 15:11 with Isaiah 46:5, "Who is like," etc.? the same with Isaiah 25:1, "Doing wonders;" Exodus 15:16 with Isaiah 8:13, "Fear and dread;" Exodus 15:18 with Isaiah 24:23, "The Lord shall reign." Wonderful things; thy counsels of old are, etc.; rather, thou hast wrought wonders, counsels of old, faithfulness and truth. The wonders for which God is praised were decreed in his counsels from all eternity; their accomplishment shows forth God's "faithfulness" and "truth."
Thou hast made of a city an heap. No particular city is pointed at. The prophet has in his mind the fate of all those cities which have been enemies of Jehovah and persecutors of the saints upon earth. A defended city; i.e. "a fenced, or fortified, city." A palace of strangers. As the "city" of this passage is not an individual city, so the "palace" is not an individual palace. All the palaces of those who were "strangers" to God and his covenant have ceased to be—they are whelmed in the general destruction (see Isaiah 24:20). They will never rise again out of their ruins.
Therefore shall the strong people glorify thee; rather, strong peoples. God's judgments on the nations specially hostile to him would cause some among the heathen peoples to range themselves on his side. Perhaps Persia is mainly intended (see Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1, etc.; and comp. Ezra 1:1-4; Ezra 6:3-12, etc.). The city of the terrible nations; rather, cities of terrible nations. Though the noun is singular, the verb is plural, showing that the word "city" is again used distributively.
The poor … the needy. The "poor and needy" are especially the afflicted saints, whom the ungodly of the earth have so long injured and oppressed. God is ever a "Strength" and "Refuge" to such (comp. Isaiah 14:30; Isaiah 29:19; and see also Psalms 72:12-14). A Refuge from the storm (comp. Isaiah 4:6; and the Psalms passim). A Shadow from the heat. The idea is a little enlarged in Isaiah 32:2. Its germ is, perhaps, to be found in Psalms 121:5, Psalms 121:6. No writer accumulates striking images with such force and beauty as Isaiah. Primarily, the entire imagery has reference to what God will have done for his people when the final consummation arrives. Secondarily, a precious encouragement is held out to all who are undergoing their earthly trial and probation, who are taught where to look for a sure refuge in time of trouble.
Thou shalt bring down. The past foreshadows the future. What God had done in "bringing down" the enemies of his saints, he would do again and again. He could as easily bring to naught the clamorous uprising of heathen nations (strangers) against his people, as temper the sun's heat by the interposition of a thick cloud. The branch; rather, the song (comp. Isaiah 24:16; Job 35:10; Psalms 95:2; Psalms 119:51). The exultant chant of triumph which the ungodly are sure to raise as they deem their victory over the people of God complete, will be stopped in mid-career, and "brought low," or reduced to silence, by the crushing overthrow predicted in Isaiah 24:1-23.
The blessings of the final state are now touched upon, as a special subject for thanksgiving. They are not enumerated; but a certain number are set forth, as specimens from which we may form a conception of the general condition of the "saved." These are:
(1) a heavenly feast, in which they will all participate (Isaiah 25:6);
(2) a removal of the "veil," or "covering," which is in this life over all things, causing men to have an indistinct vision, and an erroneous estimate of their value;
(3) the abolition of death, which will no longer hang over them as a thing to be feared; and
(4) the cessation of tears, or the entire freedom of the saved from all sorrow.
In this mountain; i.e. the heavenly Zion—the "mountain of the Lord's house" (Isaiah 2:2; comp. Isaiah 24:23). Unto all people; rather, unto all peoples. There is no restriction of salvation to any particular race or nation—"Jew, Greek, barbarian, Scythian, bond, free" (Colossians 3:11), are equally invited, and some of each come in (comp. Daniel 7:14; Matthew 8:11; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9). The Church of the redeemed contains men and women of all "nations and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues." A feast of fat things. It follows from many passages of Holy Scripture that there is something in the final beatitude of man which is best represented to us in our present condition by the image of a "feast"—something very different, no doubt, from the festive joy of which our Teutonic ancestors hoped to partake in the halls of Odin, but yet figured to us most fitly and appropriately by terms ordinarily used to describe earthly feasting. Our Lord tells of a "marriage supper," to which he will invite his friends (Matthew 22:2-12); and the scene of the "marriage supper of the Lamb, "according to St. John in the Revelation" (Revelation 19:7-9), is heaven. There man, it would seem, will partake of a sacrificial feast with his glorified Lord (Matthew 26:29)—will eat the "heavenly manna," which is "angels' food" (Psalms 78:25), and drink a spiritual drink which may be called "the fruit of the vine," deriving from this "eating" and "drinking" life and joy and strength. It has been already observed, in the Commentary upon Exodus, that the sacrificial meal on Sinai, whereto the seventy elders were admitted (Exodus 24:9-11), prefigured this heavenly feasting, and throws a certain light upon it. All gross and carnal ideas must, of course, be subtracted from the conception of the heavenly festivity; but it seems to be true to say that our author, and also St. John and our Lord himself, imply that in the world to come there will be a feast, at which God will be the Host, and all men, priests and laity alike, his guests, and receive from him the choicest and most exquisite gifts—gifts which will make them supremely happy. A feast of wines on the lees. 'Wine which remained on its Ices, and was not poured off them into another vessel, was considered to be of especial strength (see Jeremiah 48:11). Its defect was a want of clearness. The wine of the heavenly banquet is to be at once strong and perfectly clear or "well refined."
He will destroy … the face of the covering. According to some, the "covering cast ever all people" is death, and the second clause of the verse is a mere repetition of the first. But, though the heads of criminals were covered when they were led to execution (Esther 7:8), yet death itself is never elsewhere called a "covering." May not the prophet have in view that "veil" or "covering" of misconception and prejudice, whereof St. Paul speaks as lying "on the hearts of the Jewish nation," and preventing them from discerning the true sense of Scripture (2 Corinthians 3:15)? Certainly one of the great curses of humanity while here is its inability to see things as they really are—its colored, distorted, prejudiced, views of life and death, of this world and the next, of self-interest, duty, happiness. This "veil" is certainly to be done away; for "now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now we know in part, but then shall we know even as we are known" (2 Corinthians 13:12).
He will swallow up death in victory; rather, he will abolish death forever. Hosea, a contemporary, was inspired to write! "Will ransom Israel from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction" (Hosea 13:14); but otherwise this was the first announcement that death was to disappear and to cease to be a possibility. It was an enormous advance on the dim and vague conceptions of a future life hitherto current (Job 19:25, Job 19:27; Psalms 17:15) to have such an announcement made as this. Hitherto men had been "through fear of death all their life subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15). Now they were taught that, in the resurrection-life, there would be no tear, no possibility of death. The joyous outburst of the apostle, when he quotes the present passage (2 Corinthians 15:54), is the natural thanksgiving song of reassured humanity, on recognizing its final deliverance from the unspeakable terror of death and annihilation. The Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces. A recent commentator asks, "What place is left for tears?" But surely death is not the only cause of human mourning. Our own sins, the sins and sufferings of our dear ones, are the main provocatives of our tears. When it is promised, as here and in Revelation 7:17 and Revelation 21:4, that "there shall be no more pain, neither sorrow nor crying," the revelation is made that there shall be no more sin; for where sin is, sorrow must be. The rebuke of his people shall he take away. It will be among the lesser satisfactions of the final condition of the saved that they are no longer subject to reproach. In this life they have to endure continually reproach, rebuke, contumely (Psalms 74:10; Psalms 89:50, Psalms 89:51, etc.). In the resurrection-life they will be exempt from any such annoyance. The Lord hath spoken it. God's word has gone forth. There can be no retractation. The blessings promised are certain to be obtained.
After thanksgiving for deliverance in the past, and commemoration of blessings in the present, confidence is expressed in the future.
(1) The redeemed declare their joy that they have "waited for God," trusted in him, and looked to him for salvation. They feel that they "have their reward."
(2) The prophet declares his conviction that the enemies of God's elect are henceforth powerless. They are personified under the name of "Moab," and regarded as still animated by sentiments of hostility; but their absolute impotency for working evil is insisted on (Isaiah 25:11, Isaiah 25:12).
It shall be said; literally, one shall say; i.e. the redeemed generally shall thus express themselves. We have waited for him. During all the weary time of their oppression and persecution, the godly remnant (Isaiah 24:13-15) was "waiting fur the Lord," i.e. trusting in him, expecting him to arise and scatter his enemies, won-daring that he endured so long the "contradiction of sinners against himself" (Hebrews 12:3), but content to abide his determination of the fitting season for coming forward as their Avenger, and now quite satisfied that he has avenged them in his own good time and in his own good way. We will be glad and rejoice (comp. Psalms 118:24 and So Psalms 1:4).
In this mountain shall the hand of the Lord rest. The protecting hand of God will ever be stretched out over the spiritual Zion—the Church of the Redeemed—to defend it and keep it safe throughout eternity. Moab shall be trodden down. Various reasons have been given for the selection of Moab to represent the enemies of the redeemed. Perhaps, as the Moabites were, on the whole, the bitterest of all the adversaries of the Jews (see 2 Kings 24:2; Ezekiel 25:8-11), they are regarded as the fittest representatives of the human adversaries of God. For the dung-hill; rather, in the water of a dung-pit. The image is, perhaps, selected with conscious reference to Psalms 83:1-18; where the psalmist prays that the "children of Lot" and their helpers may become "as the dung of the earth" (Psalms 83:10).
He shall spread forth his hands … as he that swimmeth. Moab will endeavor to save himself from sinking in the water of the dung-pit; but in vain. God will bring down his pride, or abase his haughtiness, together with all the plots and snares that he contrives. A continued plotting of the enemies of God against his Church seems to be assumed, even after the Church is established in the spiritual Zion under the direct protection and rule of Jehovah.
The fortress of the high fort … shall he bring down, etc.; rather, hath he bowed down, laid low, brought down to earth. The past mercies of God in abasing the pride of the Church's foes, rather than any further mercies of the same kind, seem to be here spoken of. Mr. Cheyne suggests that the verse is out of place.
The place of thanksgiving in the religious life.
It is generally agreed by Christians that the religious life embraces a considerable number of separate duties of a strictly religious character. Among these the first place is ordinarily assigned to prayer; the second to reading of the Scriptures; the third, perhaps, to meditation; and so forth. But it is not always, or indeed very often, that a distinct position, or a very prominent position, is assigned to praise and thanksgiving. Prayer is apt to be made the staple of our religious exercises, thanksgiving to be huddled off into a comer. Yet, if we will consider the matter, we shall find that, on all grounds, thanksgiving is entitled to at least an equal place in our regards with prayer.
I. THANKSGIVING IS POINTED OUT BY NATURE AS A DUTY NO LESS THAN PRAYER. It is as the Giver of benefits that man seems first to have recognized God. Worship began with altars and sacrifices (Genesis 4:3-5), which were primarily thank offerings. One of the earliest forms of religion was sun-worship, and the reason for selecting the sun as the object of religious regard was the manifest fact that from the sun man derives so many and such great blessings. Geolatry was another very early form of worship, and took its rise from the feeling that the earth was a nursing mother, comprehending in herself a manifold variety of beneficent influences. The very name "God" is probably a modification of the root gut, or "good," and was given to the Supreme Being by our Anglo-Saxon forefathers, in recognition of his goodness in bestowing upon us so many benefits. The first religious utterances seem to have taken the shape of hymns rather than prayers (Genesis 14:19, Genesis 14:20; Exodus 15:1-18); and hymns or psalms form the most antique portions of all rituals.
II. THANKSGIVING IS, EQUALLY WITH PRAYER, ENJOINED ON MEN AS A DUTY IN SCRIPTURE. If prayer is required in such phrases as, "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17); "I will that all men pray everywhere" (1 Timothy 2:8); "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint" (Luke 18:1); "Pray one for another" (James 5:16); thanksgiving is as frequently and as positively enjoined in passages like the following: "Give thanks always for all things" (Ephesians 5:20); "I exhort that … giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:1); "Offer sacrifices of praises, giving thanks' (Hebrews 13:15); "With thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Philippians 4:6).
III. THANKSGIVING IS, EQUALLY WITH PRAYER, SET BEFORE US BY THE CHURCH AS A DUTY. The ritual of the Jewish Church was almost entirely one of praise. The Book of Psalms is the Israelite's 'Manual of Devotion.' Our own Church declares the objects for which we assemble in public worship to be
(1) "to render thanks for the great benefits which we have received at God's hands;"
(2) "to set forth his most worthy praise;"
(3) "to hear his most Holy Word;" and
(4) "to ask those things which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul"—assigning to thanksgiving and praise the foremost place. The Eucharistic service is that in which Christian worship culminates, and that service is, by its very name, a service of praise. The embodiment of the entire Psalter in our Prayer-book is a strong evidence of the importance which our Church assigns to praise.
IV. PRAISE IS, IN ITS NATURE, A HIGHER RELIGIOUS EXERCISE THAN PRAYER. In prayer we approach God for our own sakes, desiring something of him. In praise we have no selfish object, but desire simply to honor God by setting forth his admirable qualities and declaring the reasons that we have for loving and adoring him. Praise is the enduring attitude of angels, who have (comparatively speaking) no occasion for prayer. Prayer implies imperfection, want, need, defect of nature. Praise is appropriate when all wants are satisfied, when the nature is no longer defective, when no need is felt. Thus prayer belongs to the probation period of man's existence; but praise will ring on through the vaults of heaven for all eternity. The cry in the heavenly Jerusalem will ever be, "Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy Name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest" (Revelation 15:3, Revelation 15:4).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Hymn of praise to Jehovah.
I. THE PERSONAL APPROPRIATION OF GOD. This is one of the great marks of personal, spiritual religion. Other nations have known their gods as leaders in war, protectors of hearth and home; it was reserved for Israel and for Christianity to think of the High and Holy One as tenanting the heart and soul of the believer. Jehovah is not only "my father's God,"—this would be merely traditional religion; but "my God," "my Salvation,"—this is personal religion
. This is seen in his counsels and in the execution of them.
1. His far-reaching counsels. God's thoughts are not extempore inspirations, accidental—"happy," as we say, springing up in no fixed order or method; they originated "long ago" (Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26). To God nothing is sudden or unforeseen; though to us it may seem" the unexpected always happens." All things were ordained by him before the foundation of the world (Acts 15:18). "All the wonders which happen contrary to the expectation of men are the result of that regular order which God maintains in governing the world, arranging all things from the beginning to the end. Now, since we do not understand these secret decrees, and our powers of understanding cannot rise so high, our attention must therefore be directed to the manifestation of them; for they are concealed from us, and exceed our comprehension, till the Lord reveal them by his Word, in which he accommodates himself to our weakness; for his decree is unsearchable" (Calvin).
2. The faithful realization of them in history. The imperial city, the city of Israel's oppressors (Isaiah 24:10), is destroyed. It has become a ruinous heap of stones; and the palace of the barbarians will never again rise out of those ruins. It is symbolic in its fate of heathen pride and power and superstition, and all that exalts itself against the true God and the true religion.
III. THE EFFECT OF HIS JUDGMENTS ON THE HEATHEN. They will honor the mighty God of Israel. They will be converted from rudeness and wildness to meekness and lowly reverence. The former oppressors will bow in fear before him. "They are affrighted, and give glory to the God of heaven" (Revelation 11:13). For in great crises, in days of judgment, the nature of Jehovah and his rule is made manifest to men. The calm, unbroken smile of the summer day does not so reveal God to us in his power and beneficence as the thunder and the lightning, followed by the refreshing rain. Revolutions awaken the slumbering consciences of the nation; and God is revealed, not only by the objects and institutions he overthrows, but by those which are protected and fostered in the midst of and by the very means of change. He is seen to have been, in the magnificent imagery of the prophet, "a fortress to the weak, a fortress to the poor in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat" (cf. Isaiah 30:3; Isaiah 4:6; Isaiah 32:2; Isaiah 16:3). As he can quell the fiery heat by bringing up a shady thicket of clouds, (Jeremiah 4:29, Exodus 19:9 Psalms 18:12), or say to the proud waves of the sea, "Thus far, and no further!" so did he dispel the thundering hordes of the assailants of his people. So in later times did he meet the "blast of threats and slaughter" (Acts 9:1) from the mouth of an arch-persecutor, and turn, by his mighty and merciful self-manifestation, that arch-persecutor into an arch-apostle. And to the infant Church he became what is described in Psalms 18:4. Behind the providence which "frowns," the "smiling face" is ever hidden.
IV. THE ULTIMATE CONSUMMATION. In this mountain of Zion, where the prophet dwells, the seat of the Divine presence, a feast of fat things, with wines on the lees well strained, will be made for all peoples. They will be incorporated into the kingdom of Jehovah; many having come from east and west, and north and south, to sit down in the kingdom of God. The feast is symbolic of all spiritual and temporal blessings, as it is in the parables of our Savior. It is symbolic of satisfaction: "The meek shall eat and be satisfied" (Psalms 22:26). The allusion may be to the thank or peace offering: "I will satiate the soul of the priests with fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness" (Jeremiah 31:14; cf. Le Jeremiah 7:31). The meal which followed the sacrifice was a joyous and festive occasion. It was expected by the Jews that the glorious Messianic time would be ushered in by a great feast; and of this, doubtless, the guest at the dinner-table of the Pharisee was thinking when he exclaimed, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" As the feast, so the age, of the Messiah is to be unending. And in one great burst of universal joy, death and sorrow are to be swallowed up. Death is signified by the covering or veil cast over all nations, or web woven over them. The covered head is a sign of mourning in antiquity in general; it will be withdrawn (Psalms 21:10; Psalms 55:10). Darkness and oblivion are associated with death; this will greatly give way before the light of Jehovah. The bondage to the fear of death will be broken, death itself will be abolished, and life and immortality be brought to light (2 Timothy 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:54). The promise belongs to the Jewish nation (Hosea 13:14), and to all its believing members. All sorrow is more or less rooted in the associations of death; this too shall cease, and Jehovah shall wipe away all tears from off all faces. The reproaches so long leveled at the people in their worldwide dispersion shall be taken away. No more will the taunt be leveled at them, "Where is now your God?" (Psalms 79:10). Sin will be eradicated, which has had its fruit in tears, in shame, and in death. "The new Jerusalem is Jehovah's throne, but the whole earth is Jehovah's glorious kingdom. The prophet is here looking from just the same point of view as Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:18, and John in the last page of the Apocalypse" (Delitzsch). The last point in the distant perspective on which the eye rests is the epoch known as" the day of redemption," the restoration of all things, when the old and corrupt order shall finally give place to the new, the confusions of time cease in the harmonies of the eternal world (see Luke 21:28; Acts 3:21; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 4:30). A great poet, Burns, said that he could never read this passage without tears. It does, indeed, touch the depth of the heart, as it strikes the full tones of the eternal evangel. For here we have the gospel in the universality of its message ("good tidings of great joy to all people")—the fullness of its power to satisfy and to comfort, in the all-hopeful perspective of the future it opens up. "Let us, then, direct all our hope and expectation to this point, and let us not doubt that the Lord will fulfill all these things in us when we have finished our course. If we now sow in tears, we shall reap in joy. The reproaches of men will procure for us one day the highest glory. Having obtained here the beginning of this happiness and glory, by being adopted by God and beginning to bear the image of Christ, let us firmly and resolutely await the completion of it at the last day" (Calvin).—J.
Song of the redeemed.
I. THE STATE OF THE CHOSEN PEOPLE. They will be in the joyous realization of long-awaited blessings. A brief strain from their hymn is given—
"Lo! here is our God!
For him we have waited that he should save us;
This is Jehovah, for whom we have waited;
Let us exult and rejoice in his salvation!"
As "a sorrow's crown of sorrow is remembering happier things," so the crown of joy is the recollection of past miseries in the hour of deliverance. And how it intensifies joy—the sense of having waited, of having ploughed and sown, watched and wept, with a view to the "far-off interest of tears!" And finally, to see and know that in this mingled experience one hand has been at work, one will has been guiding, one mercy mixing the ingredients of life's cup! "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself!" yea, but verily, also, thou art a God that dost in due time disclose thyself to reward the patience and faith of thy chosen, and to pour confusion on thy foes! On the sacred mountain the hand of Jehovah will rest, to protect his people, to judge his foes. Beautiful image! As a symbol of protection, cf. Ezra 7:6, Ezra 7:28; Ezra 8:18, Ezra 8:22, Ezra 8:31; Nehemiah 2:8.
II. THE DOOM OF THE HEATHEN. Noah seems to stand for the heathen in general. Moab, as the proud foe of Israel (2 Kings 24:2; Ezekiel 28:8-11), shall be trampled down, swamped, and contend like a swimmer for his life. But his pride will be abased; his strong walls be cut down, even to the dust. So that hand, which is outspread beneficently, like the canopy of the broad sky, to protect and bless the chosen, may be clenched in threat and for vengeance upon the wicked. There are two senses in which that hand may "rest" upon us—lightly, as the father's hand rests on the head of a beloved child, to express affection, approval, and the promise of aid; or heavily, to punish, to overwhelm, to "turn our moisture into the drought of summer." To listen to the voice, to submit to the hand of the Eternal,—this is the expression of genuine piety. To writhe and struggle and resist the pressure of that hand, to turn a deaf ear to that voice,—this is the expression of hardness of heart and impiety, bringing certain punishment in its turn. "Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts!"—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Christ's conquest of death.
"He will swallow up death in victory." Here the fullness of Isaiah's evangelical prophecy begins to break forth. In the fourth verse he has described Jehovah as "a Strength to the poor, a Strength to the needy in his distress, a Refuge from the storm, a Shadow from the heat;" and all this, he says, God has been. Human history will endorse the record. But he will be more to men than all this! Death, that dogs men's footsteps and darkens even their days with fear; death, that breaks in upon all dreams of perfect friendship and permanent joy; death, which, as invisible monarch, holds empire in so many breasts;—death itself shall be destroyed.
I. THE VICTORY CAME. It was not then. But the prophecy was fulfilled. Death had to bring its sacred spoils and to lay them at the feet of Christ during his earthly ministry. And when men wondered at his mighty power, Christ said, "Marvel not at this, for all … that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth."
II. THE VICTORY WAS COMPLETE. Death was swallowed up in victory. No province was left undisturbed. No delay intervened. No conflict occurred. Death knew its own Lord and King, and gave back at once its spoils. Thus we understand the words, "He led captivity captive." The very powers that once had held empire over men he now despoiled. And as in the Roman processions, the princes who once had spoiled others were now led captive at the chariot-wheels of a greater victor than themselves, so death was led captive at the chariot-wheels of Christ.
III. THE VICTORY WAS PERMANENT. "Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." Now that Christ has risen from the dead, he has become the Firstfruits of all that sleep. The triumph of the Savior over the grave was designed to give great rest and gladness of heart. "And the Lord God will wipe away tears from Off all faces." It is immortal life that not only gives preciousness to friendship, but that gives relief from overwhelming tribulation. We sorrow, indeed, still; the hot rain of tears falls from the aching brain; but we sorrow not as those without hope. We comfort our hearts with these words of Jesus: "Let not your hearts be troubled …. In my Father's house are many mansions."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Rejoicing in God.
Such words as these could only come from an enlightened mind. They would have been impossible to a heathen sage. The gods of the nations were beings in whom no right-minded man could rejoice at all, and their character could not have been painted in these colors. But the God of Isaiah, our God, is One for whom "praise may be continually on the lips" of the wise and pure. Our souls can "delight themselves in God;" for—
I. HIS ABIDING FAITHFULNESS. "His counsels of old are faithfulness and truth" (verse 1). "The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations." What he has purposed and promised is sure of fulfillment. The lapse of time, the passing of centuries, makes not the faintest difference in the certainty. Heaven and earth may pass, but his promise never (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8). We may lean all the weight of our hope on his Divine Word, and we shall find that we are resting on the immovable rock.
II. HIS PERFECT RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Verses 2, 5.) The powerful empire-city might boast of its antiquity, its defenses, its soldiery, but its iniquity should receive its desert—it should be humbled to the very dust; it should be a heap, a ruin, a desert. The righteousness of God will assuredly be vindicated in time. God must not be judged as if a few decades were much in his measurement. Only wait his time, and when the cup of human guilt is full, the arm of Divine retribution will deal its stroke. Then shall the shoutings of impious arrogancy be silenced; it shall be dumb with shame (verse 5).
III. HIS DIVINE COMPASSION. (Verse 4.) When the raging tempest of human persecution threatens to overtake and destroy the humble and the helpless, then the pitiful One will appear on their behalf. A Strength to the poor and the needy, a Shadow from the heat, will he prove to be; as the saving cloud shelters from the scorching heat (verse 5), so will Divine interposition deliver from the consuming fires of human wrath. And this gracious pity is not an unusual or occasional feeling in his heart—it is his constant attitude, it is his abiding spirit. In every age and in every land he regards the poor and the needy, the suffering and the down-trodden, with a peculiar kindness; he is always ready to shelter them in the pavilion of his power. Therefore:
1. Let the guilty fear. (Verse 3.) What God has done in holy retribution he is prepared to do again, and will do again if heedlessness lead to impenitence, and impenitence to greater and more arrogant rebellion.
2. Let the oppressed hope. The destruction of the strong city of sin is the relief and the rescue of the holy. Not only the "strong people," but the obedient and humble people—the people of God—will "glorify" his Name (verse 3).
3. Let the redeemed praise God for his righteous judgment and his merciful deliverances. "I will praise thee." Not only those delivered from power and bondage of the human enemy, but those who have been ransomed and redeemed from the tyranny and the slavery of sin.
4. Let every man claim a direct personal interest in God. By approaching to him, by communion with him, by reconciliation to him, by joyful engagement in his service, let each one of us claim the right to say with holy exultation, "O Lord, thou art my God."—C.
Divine provision for the human soul.
In the vegetable and animal kingdoms God has made full and rich provision for all the wants and cravings of our body—for its revival, its nourishment, its strength, its enjoyment. In the gospel of his grace he has granted us the most ample and generous provision for our spiritual nature. In Christ Jesus, in "the truth as it is in him," and in his holy service, we have all we need for—
I. OUR SPIRITUAL REVIVAL. Food, especially wine, is given to revive as well as to nourish. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish" (Proverbs 31:6). Many a human life has been saved by the restoring cup administered with a wise hand. The wine of heavenly truth is for a revival indeed. From him who is the "true Vine" (John 15:1) comes that reanimating virtue which calls from spiritual death the soul that was about to perish in its sin.
II. NOURISHMENT. Food is, above all things, for sustenance. We partake of the kind and welcome growths of the garden and the field that the waste of our system may be repaired, and that life may be preserved in its fullness and integrity. Without constant refreshment from "the Word of the truth of the gospel," if we did not sit down daily to the table which God has spread for us in his heavenly wisdom, our souls would soon fade and fail and die. As we eat of the "Bread of life," as we drink of "the river that makes glad the city of God," we find our life sustained; we "live unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
III. STRENGTH. "A feast of fat things full of marrow." That which is ample, not only to sustain life, but to augment its force. "Of wines on the lees"—wines that have acquired, and will presumably impart, strength. In Jesus Christ is everything to confer spiritual vigor, manliness, power. Communion with him, the study of his life and character, active service in his cause, the direct communications which proceed from his upholding, energizing Spirit,—all these minister to spiritual strength; they are all open to every disciple, so that the Christian teacher has a right to say, imperatively, to the disciple, "Be strong in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:10).
IV. JOY. Wine and gladness are closely associated in Scripture (see Psalms 4:7; Psalms 104:18). Feasting and joy are also intimately connected. The provision which is made in the feast of the gospel is one that gives a purer, truer, more manly, more lasting joy; for it is the joy of the soul, and it is a joy in God.
V. ADAPTATION. The wine of this feast was to be strong for those who wanted strength—"on the lees;" it was also to be "well refined" for those who wanted the coarse flavor removed and desired purity as well as power (see Jeremiah 48:11). The same Divine truth, delivered from the same lips, contained within the same covers, has force, for those who need to be mightily wrought upon, and refinement for those whose moral perceptions are clear and whose spiritual taste is fine and cultured. There is everything on the table of our Lord to meet the varied cravings of these hearts of ours.
1. This is a feast which we are not at liberty to decline; for "the Lord of hosts has made it"—has prepared it with exceeding care and at great cost.
2. It is open to every hungering soul. It is made "unto all people." It is free to all. "He, every one that thirsteth," etc.—C.
Anything interposed between the eye and the object of vision may be called a veil; designed for the purpose of convenience or of modesty, the veil has often been the cause of unsightliness and inconvenience—it has been abused almost as much as it has been used. In Scripture the word has a moral significance, indicating something which intercepts the truth, and blinds the soul to the will of God and to its own duty and interest.
I. THE EXISTENCE OF SPIRITUAL VEILS. They are those of:
1. Credulity. Often the mind freely accepts all kinds of irrational, superstitious errors, which coat and cover the truth of God, rendering it invisible beneath a mass of error.
2. Prejudice. Men who act as did the Jews in our Lord's time, determining beforehand and judging irrespective of the evidence before their eyes, making up their minds in advance of any facts or reasons which have to be alleged, are sure to miss their way. They cannot see through the veil of prejudice.
3. Intellectual pride: unwillingness to believe anything which our finite faculties cannot comprehend; practical forgetfulness that the heavenly Father must have many more truths that we can only very dimly discern to reveal to his children, than earthly fathers have to make intelligible to their sons.
4. Worldliness: allowing the interests, occupations, gratifications, of this world to assume a magnitude and importance to which they have no claim; and allowing the conventional maxims of society to pass current as heavenly truth, when they are only too often misleading and even deadly errors.
5. Passion. The false glare of passion hides from many souls the truth which otherwise they would see and by which they' would live.
II. THEIR REMOVAL God "will destroy … the veil that is spread over all the nations."
1. It is a blessed fact, in the far future, which God will establish. By means he is now employing, and perhaps by ways and methods of which we may have no conception now, he will bring it to pass; the day will come when the nations shall walk in the light of the Lord; both Jew (2 Corinthians 3:16) and Gentile (Isaiah 60:3).
2. We may contribute our share toward this happy issue: there are mental errors and spiritual delusions which we can help to expose, both by enlightening words and convincing action.
3. We are bound to make every effort to put away whatever veil may be over our own eyes. Unconscious spiritual blindness is sin (see John 9:41). It may be in part a man's misfortune, but it is partly his fault. There may be that which palliates it, but nothing will excuse it. We must betake ourselves to God (Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24).—C.
Isaiah 25:8, Isaiah 25:9
The evening of expectation.
Of this passage we may look at—
I. ITS PRIMARY HISTORICAL APPLICATION. (See Exposition.)
II. ITS APPLICATION TO THE CHURCH OF CHRIST. The Church of Christ is "the Israel of God," and we may expect much of the language first used in reference to the Jewish nation to be appropriate to it and even intended for its service. Like ancient Israel, the Church has found itself in great humiliation and distress, and has been in sore need of Divine comfort in its dark days. At many stages in its history the Church has felt itself oppressed with heavy burdens, beset with serious difficulties, threatened with great calamities; and then the blessed promise of deliverance has dawned, and its heart has been elated, and such words of joyful praise as these in the text have been upon its lips. Even when there are no signs of the coming of Christ in delivering and reviving power, the Church may "take heart of grace" if it be
(1) faithful in word and in deed to its Master's charge;
(2) prayerfully and patiently expectant, waiting on him in reverent confidence; mindful of the fact that our ways are not always his ways, nor our chosen times his times.
This holy and rightful attitude will turn the night of sorrow into the evening of expectation; and in due time will come the morning of deliverance; this will include
(1) the removal of reproach—"The rebuke of his people will he take away;"
(2) the cessation of spiritual distress—he "will wipe away tears," etc; the tears of a Christ-like sympathy and regret (see Psalms 119:136; Jeremiah 9:1; Luke 19:41);
(3) a joyous participation in the exaltation of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom—"Rejoice in his salvation."
III. ITS APPLICATION TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. Our Christian life presents various aspects according to the path by which our Lord leads us home. The life of some may be characterized as that of abounding privilege, of others as that of multiplied mercies, of others as that of honorable and useful activity; in these cases the heavenly kingdom may appear to be a continued though an exalted experience in another sphere. But in other instances human life is one of unflagging toil, or of unceasing struggle, or of oppressive care, or of crushing sorrow: the night for which weeping endures (Psalms 30:5) is all but lifelong. It is in such cases as these that we are "saved by hope." Hope is the morning star which is a blessed promise of an eternal day. It turns the night of weary trouble into the evening of holy expectation; it puts a song of joy even into the lips of suffering; it calmly but eagerly "prevents" the approaching morning; it anticipates the hour when the tears of sorrow will be wiped away from eyes that will weep no more forever, when every burden will fall from every heavy-laden shoulder, when the heart will be "exceeding glad" in the joy of God's great salvation. Let the children of affliction comfort themselves with these words of the prophet; but let them
(1) be well assured that they are the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ, and that their title is good to the heavenly heritage;
(2) wait patiently for Christ's appearing. If they would say, "We will be glad … in his salvation," they must be able to say, "We have waited for him."—C.
The supreme victory.
"He will swallow up death in victory." The terms of the text are not satisfied by anything less than the gospel of the grace of God; that, and that alone, can be truly said to swallow up death. It is only Jesus Christ who can be said to have "abolished death" (2 Timothy 1:10). This is the supreme victory. Great conquests have been gained in other fields: in geographical research—discovery of America, penetration of Africa, etc.; in the useful arts—printing, telegraphy, steam-power, etc.; in mathematical science; in historical exploration, etc. These things, and such things as these, have conferred dignity on our nature and. enlargement on our life. But there is one victory compared with which even these are small—the triumph over death. Death has been thought of and written about everywhere as the great conqueror, before whose prevailing arm all human forces go down vanquished to the dust. It has been acknowledged to be the master of our humanity. But in the gospel of Jesus Christ death is defied, is met face to face, is overcome, is so utterly subdued and routed that we can truly say that it is "swallowed up in victory." In Christ there is a double defeat of its power; for in him is—
I. ABUNDANT SPIRITUAL LIFE HERE. Sin has led man down to moral and spiritual death; they that live apart from God are "dead while they live," for they move on toward the grave, missing all those things which give nobility, excellency, beauty, real and lasting joy to human life. But to know God in Christ Jesus is life (John 17:3). And whoso enters into all the fullness of the life which is in Christ has that life "more abundantly" (John 10:10). Spiritual death is lost in largeness and fullness of spiritual life—life in God, with God, for God; it is swallowed up in victory.
II. IMMORTAL LIFE IN THE HEAVENLY WORLD. Here we have the significance of the words of the text. Other faiths beside that of Jesus Christ have included a promise of life in the future; but the hopes they have held out have been uncertain, vague, illusory; the life they have promised has been shadowy, unreal, unattractive. Their disciples must have felt that in its contest with death the faith has met its match, and, if it has not been actually worsted, it has failed to triumph. In the gospel of Christ we have a decided and delightful contrast to this. There the victory is complete. We pass away, indeed, from earth, from its scenes, its engagements, its friendships, its joys; but we pass into a state and a world where everything is immeasurably better than the present.
1. We are unclothed in body, but we are clothed upon with a house which is from heaven (2 Corinthians 5:4).
2. The ignorance of earthly twilight we exchange for the full knowledge of the celestial day (1 Corinthians 13:12).
3. From the broken delights and the fatiguing toils of time we pass to the tearless happiness and to the untiring activities of eternity.
4. The sorrowful separations of the present will make more blessed the union where we "clasp inseparable hands" in unfading friendship.
5. The apparent absence of the heavenly Father will be lost in the conscious nearness which will make us to dwell continually in his holy presence, God with us and we with him forever. Death will be "swallowed up in victory."
(1) It will be long before we shall meet with a faith which will offer us greater things than these.
(2) How sad, how foolish, how guilty, to remain spiritually, and therefore essentially, apart from him in the knowledge and service of whom stands eternal life!—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Personal rights in God.
"O Lord, thou art my God." The difference between the "man" and the "godly man" may be seen in this. The man says, "O Lord, thou art God;" but the godly man says, "O Lord, thou art my God." The difference is the matter of conscious personal relation; it is a question of "appropriation." At first sight it might seem to detract from the august majesty of the Divine Being that any single individual should call him "mine." But, whatever we may make of it, the fact must be admitted that, while God's revelation to man in nature is to man as a whole—to man as a race the revelation of God to man in a book, and in a person, is a constant encouragement to him to recognize and come into the joy of personal relations. This point may be variously illustrated.
I. THE EARLIEST REVELATION OF GOD TO THE RACE AS MORAL BEINGS PERMITTED PERSON RELATIONS. This is shown in God's trusting Adam and Eve; also in his holding the communion of friendship with them, "walking in the garden;" and much may be made of the assertion in Luke's genealogy, "the son of Adam, which was the son of God" (Luke 3:38).
II. THE PATRIARCHS LIVED IN THE JOY OF PERSONAL RELATIONS WITH GOD. Illustrated in Abraham's familiarity in intercession for Sodom; indicated in the fact of covenant; and proved in the distinctness with which God is spoken of as the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."
III. THE DELIVERANCES AND REDEMPTIONS OF THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL SHOW AN IMMEDIATE AND PERSONAL INTEREST IN THEM ON THE PART OF GOD. One instance is suggestive of many. On the further shores of the Red Sea Moses lint a song of thanksgiving into the mouths of the people, and this is its opening verse: "The Lord is my Strength and Song, and he is become my Salvation: he is my God."
IV. WHEN PERSONAL GODLINESS FINDS EXPRESSION WE SEE THE SIGNS OF THE PERSONAL APPROPRIATION. (See Psalms 118:28; Psalms 145:1.)
V. THE FULL REVELATION OF GOD TO MAN IN CHRIST JESUS IS PERMISSION AND INVITATION TO COME INTO PERSONAL RELATIONS. That is the revelation of God as a Father, a word which involves our individual rights in him as his sons. That is the revelation of a salvation which restores broken relations and renews our rights in God. But it is precisely in this appropriation of God that men are so often hindered. Many can admit that "Jesus died for the sins of the world," and "God loved the world;" but there is no life, no joy, no right sense of relation, until we can say, "God loves me, even me; and Jesus died for me, even me." R.T.
The true reading of the Divine dealings.
"Thou has, done wonderful things, even counsels of old, in faithfulness and truth" (Revised Version). When we can read aright, the Divine plan and workings in the olden times are not merely wonderful, causing surprise at the Divine wisdom and power; the great thing about them is seen to be their goodness, adaptation, mercifulness, and truth to promise and pledge. This is the result of a true reading of history, and ninny of us have found this to follow our right and worthy reading of our own lives, and of God's ways with us. Now we can say, "Not one good thing hath failed us of all that the Lord our God hath promised." "All the operations of providence are according to God's eternal counsels (and those faithfulness and truth itself), all consonant to his attributes, consistent with one another, and sure to be accomplished in their season."
I. WE OFTEN. MISTAKE GOD'S PURPOSE WHILE IT IS BEING WROUGHT OUT. As we might mistake any work in progress. Because we do not know the mind of the Worker; because his ways are other than our ways; because he uses strange agents and agencies; and because he purposely holds from our view his meaning, so that he may encourage patience, waiting, and trust.
"Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain."
Illustrate by the apparent confusion in the ground where a cathedral is being erected; and show how great a mistake we should make about God's purpose in Joseph or David, if we took only isolated parts and incidents of their lives for study. We often mistake God's meaning when we try to read only parts of our own lives.
II. WE SHALL NOT MISTAKE GOD'S PURPOSE WHEN WE SEE IT IN ITS ISSUES. That is true. God's end always explains and justifies his means. But then the end is not yet; it is often away in the future, out of our vision. And we want some indication of God now. All we can have is the vindication, given over and over again, in history. We have "seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy." And we have good argument and well-grounded faith that God's counsels are always "faithfulness and truth."
III. WE NEED NEVER MISTAKE GOD'S DEALINGS OR GOD'S PURPOSE IF WE WILL READ THEM IN THE LIGHT OF WHAT WE KNOW OF GOD HIMSELF. Life for us all may be full of puzzling firings, but we can always say, "We know God." It must be right, it must be wise, it must be good, it must be for the absolute best, since he has done it, who, being love, must be "making all things work together for good." True reading is reading in the light of what we know God to be.—R.T.
God our Shadow.
"For thou hast been … a Shadow from the heat." The prophet sees, in God's mercifulness to his people, a reason why the nations around, the masses of the people, should fear him. We man understand why the word "fear" is employed. God's deliverings and defendings of his people involve judgments on the great kingdoms that were oppressing Israel; and judgments are striking and impressive to masses of people, who must act upon fear rather than upon love, or even upon a sense of duty, for they are like children who are only learning the superior power of moral motives, and meanwhile must be subject to force, and put into right ways. The figures in this verse are very forcible. The "storm" is in the original a "storm which overthrows a wall," or a storm so violent that it sweeps down walls before it (Matthew Arnold). In Eastern countries the value of a shade from the blazing sunshine is well understood; anti Thomson tells of a terrible boated day when he escaped from the burning highway into a dark vaulted room at the lower Beth-heron, and realized what Isaiah pictured. Another traveler says, "About midday, when the heat was very oppressive, a small cloud, scarcely observable by the eye, passed over the disc of the burning sun. Immediately the intense heat abated, a gentle breeze sprang up, and we felt refreshed." As a figure for God this may be variously applied and illustrated. We suggest three lines of illustration.
I. GOD IN HISTORY HAS OFTEN PROVED A SHADOW. Points may be obtained from such reviews of history as are given in Psalms 105:1-45.; Psalms 106:0.; Psalms 107:0. The key-note is, "Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses."
II. GOD NEEDS TO BE A SHADOW IN OUR TIMES OF PROSPERITY. For then all that is good and great in us is in grave danger of being burned up in the blazing heat. Few of us can stand long in the sun of prosperity. Woe unto us when all men speak well of us! and woe unto us when all things go well with us! It is most gracious in God that he flings his shadow across, and gives us times of quietness and peace; bumbling times they must be, when self is put down from his boastful place.
III. GOD IS SURE TO BE A SHADOW IN OUR TIMES OF ADVERSITY. So David found, and when new trouble came he could say, "I flee unto thee to hide me." Our earthly anxieties come in part from circumstances, in part from enemies, and in part from our own evil selves. It may be shown that, for each kind of trouble, the only true shelter is in God. Close with this idea—where the shadow is, God, who throws it, must be near; then, if we keep well within the shadow, we must be close to God, and so quiet and safe.—R.T.
Jehovah's feast after reconciliation.
The picture in this text is based upon the familiar custom in Judaism of associating a sacrificial feast with a thank offering or peace offering. Such feasts were highly festive and joyous occasions. As an instance of the custom, reference may be made to the scene of the anointing of King Saul. Samuel made a feast, after sacrifice, to which some thirty persons were bidden (1 Samuel 9:19, 1 Samuel 9:22). "According to the Mosaic Law, the fat pieces of the victim were to be devoted to Jehovah immediately by burning, and the next best piece, the breast, mediately by giving it to his servants the priests;" the rest was a foundation for a feast in which the offerers shared. The "wines on the lees" are those kept long, that have become old and mellowed. "Full of marrow" indicates superior quality. The first reference may be to the joy of the returned captives when God permitted a revival of Jerusalem; but the full reference must be to the spiritual provisions of Messianic times. For "feasts" as the figure for spiritual blessings, gospel provisions, comp. Psalms 22:26-29; Isaiah 55:1-5; Matthew 8:11; Matthew 25:1; Luke 13:28, Luke 13:29; Luke 14:15-24. Keeping to the idea of feast after sacrifice sealing the reconciliation, and working that idea out in relation to Christian times, we note—
I. GOD GIVES COMMUNION WHEN HE GIVES RECONCILIATION. The feast was designed to assure the worshippers that all separations and enmities were done away, and God was now in gracious and comfortable relations with them. In the East restored friendship is sealed by eating together. It will at once be seen how this constancy of Divine communion with renewed souls is sealed in the symbolic meal of our sacramental Supper. That feast keeps up the assurance of God's comfortable relations with us. We are the restored and accepted ones to whom God gives his friendship.
II. GOD IS CONCERNED ABOUT HIS FUTURE RELATIONS WITH HIS REDEEMED ONES. It is important to correct a sentiment which very seriously imperils right Christian living, but seldom gets shape in actual words. It is assumed that God is supremely anxious for our salvation, our "conversion" as we call it, but indifferent to what we are and do, if only we are saved. This modern modification of Antinomian error is met by the fact that God makes a feast for the redeemed, providing for them after redemption. God is the food for the soul's life, and that life he quickens.
III. GOD WANTS JOY TO CHARACTERIZE THOSE CONTINUOUS RELATIONS. Therefore is the festive figure chosen. "The joy of the Lord is our strength." The redeemed of the Lord ought to march "with singing unto Zion." Depressions may come, but they may not abide. Our Christian life should be a glad feasting on the abundance God provides.—R.T.
Triumph over death.
There is a first reference here to the restoration of Judah from its death-state of captivity, and to the wiping away of the tears the captives shed when they hung their harps upon the willows. But we cannot forget that St. Paul and St. John have put the richest Christian meanings into these beautiful and pathetic words (1Co 4:1-21 :54; Revelation 7:17; Revelation 21:4). And life for a nation out of the death-state of captivity may well be taken as a type of the sublime resurrection of humanity from the grasp of physical death. Our triumph over death is assured; and foretaste of it is given in the conquest of the Lord Jesus over the grave. He is our Conqueror of death, and in him the prophecy of this text will have its large and blessed fulfillment. We read the prophecy in the light of Christ and of his work. And Scripture teaches us to regard the resurrection of Christ as a final conquest of death for us (Acts 2:24;1 Corinthians 4:21, 55, 56; Eph 4:8; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14; Revelation 1:18).
I. CHRIST IS THE CONQUEROR OF DEATH ITSELF. It was not the design of Christ to destroy death altogether, and withdraw its commission to the human race. He left it still to bite, but plucked away its sting, the venom of its hopelessness, and the bitterness of its connection with human sin. We shall die, though Christ has conquered death; but death is now only the messenger that calls us home—he is no longer the jailer that drags us to our doom. Dissolution, or translation, such as we have hints of in the cases of Enoch and Elijah, may be the Divine idea for unfallen created beings; but certainly death, as we know it, with all its attendant circumstances of evil, is the immediate result of human sin. Change of state, and change of worlds, may be death in an abstract sense; but death in fear, and amid sufferings, and under disease, and involving agonizing separations, and terrible with the black shadows of an unknown future; this death—and this is the death with which we have to do—is the penalty of transgression. "The sting of death is sin." Lord Bacon, in his essay on death, almost makes too much of the material accompaniments of it, and under estimates the moral feeling in relation to it. He says, "Groans, and convulsions, and a discolored face, and friends weeping, and blacks, and obsequies, and the like, show death terrible There is no passion in the mind of man so weak, but it mates and masters the fear of death; and therefore death is no such terrible enemy when a man hath so many attendants about him that can win the combat for him. Revenge triumphs over death; love slights it; honor aspireth to it; grief fleeth to it; and lear preoccupieth it." But this is only true for certain individuals, and under various pressures of excitement. To most of us, and especially to those who are thoughtful, and oppressed with the burdens of humanity, death has aspects of great bitterness. Then in what sense can we think of Christ as the present Conqueror of death? The answer is this—He has conquered the death-dread in us, both concerning ourselves and concerning those who are dear to us. He has "delivered those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." And he has conquered it by fixing its connections with the body alone, and severing it, once and forever, from all relation to the renewed and redeemed soul. "He that liveth and believeth on me shall never die." In Christ death is compelled to take rank with disease and pain, as the servants of God. Its masterfulness is destroyed; its dart lies broken on the ground.
II. THE CONQUEROR OF DEATH OUGHT TO RULE IN ITS STEAD. In Christ life rules, hope rules, goodness rules, eternity rules. Man may despairingly look upon his partially raised schemes, and say, "Alas! I shall die." But the Christian man builds on bravely and hopefully. He knows that beneath all the outward show he is raising a structure of character on which death has no power, and he says, "I shall never die." The difference that is made by our letting death rule our thoughts and hopes and endeavors, and letting Christ rule them, may be illustrated by the change wrought in the land of Persia, when Zoroaster proclaimed that Ormuzd, the Good, was the real ruler of humanity. When Zoroaster came, the religious instincts of the people were debased, the divinity worshipped was malevolent, the moral tone was low, the social habits were vicious, the land of Iran was overgrown with thorns and weeds; men were idle, negligent, like the surfeited inhabitants of Sodom, given up to sensuality; they thought of their divine ruler as evil, malicious, cruel; they had the crushing, despairing, disheartening sentiments which always follow the belief that death, the representative of evil, rules. Zoroaster brought back the old and lost truth that God rules—not evil, not death. Evil is subject to God. The good God is the God of life, and life is mightier than death; of light, and light triumphs over darkness. Ormuzd was the god of production, and if they would sow and plant and weed, they would be sure to win, under his benediction, a glorious triumph over waste and barrenness and death. We are not yet free as we should be from the notion that death still reigns. We have not yet opened our hearts fully to the glorious truth that Jesus, the conqueror of death, now reigns. Above everything else our age wants to yield its allegiance to Christ, ruling in morals, in education, in literature, in science, in politics, in commerce, and in society; triumphing now over all the forms of evil that death can symbolize.—R.T.
Waiting on God.
"This is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us." Waiting on God. Waiting for God. Waiting on when all is dark. Waiting still, when commotions and troubles surround us. Bidding us wait for him, a way of the Lord's dealing with us. Making it hard to wait, a sign of God's severer dealing with us. And wafting sanctified to our soul-culture. These are subjects very suggestive to Christian meditation.
I. WAITING CIRCUMSTANCES. It was a waiting-time for the godly in Judah when Isaiah wrote. In their own country, luxury and profligacy were plainly bearing the country on to some terrible doom. In the nations around them the cup of iniquity was getting full, and overwhelming judgments were falling on one after another. Every man who believed in the covenant was put into silence and waiting. The scenes around him he could not reason out. Precisely what God would do with his people he could not know. All about him was painful mystery; he could only wait, keeping firm hold of the truth, faithfulness, and love of God while he waited. When circumstances are against us, the best thing we can do is to wait.
"Wait thou his time, so shall thy night
Soon end in joyous day."
The history of God's ancient people is a series of waiting circumstances. Through a long Egyptian bondage they were called to wait for the day of their deliverance. Surrounded with perils, they stood at the shores of the Red Sea, and were bidden to wait for the salvation of God. Crowded in the plain before the Mount of Sinai, the people failed to wait in patience until Moses reappeared. For forty years they wandered, waiting for admission to their promised land. In their first siege they must wait until God's signal for the falling walls. At last they must hang their harps on the willows, in the stranger's land, waiting the completion of their seventy years of judgment. And even today, among us, Israel stands in waiting circumstances—waiting while her land lies fallow; waiting while the times of the Gentiles are being fulfilled. While the story of that people Israel remains upon the records, all may know that God does a part of his work of grace in men, by placing them in waiting circumstances. What is true of the nation is true of her heroic sons and daughters: e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Simeon, and a host of others had to wait, and often wait long, for the fulfillment of their hopes. So we are still placed in waiting circumstances. There are often times when we can do nothing—we can only sit at the window, like the sailor's wife when the storm-wrack fills the sky, and the sea makes its moan almost to heart-breaking. Times when we are put aside from busy life. Times when our way seemed to be walled up, no door would open, no sign of the guiding hand appeared; we could only wait. But this is true, the circumstances are God's arrangement, and the waiting does God's work. Life itself is one great waiting-time. The earth itself is but in waiting circumstances (Romans 8:22).
II. WAITING ATTITUDES.
1. The attitude of prayer, using that word in its large sense of openness of soul to God; the outlooking, up-looking of the soul to God; the humble sense of self; the silent and the spoken cry for the light and help of God. The union of prayer with waiting lifts it from the mere dull and stricken submission of the slave, into the pleasant waiting of the child, who, being sure of the Father's love, keeps looking for the Father's time. Waiting work never becomes weary work, or bitter work, until we cease to pray.
2. The attitude of expectancy. Waiting ought to become watching, in strong faith and assured hope; watching like that of David, when he could sing out his confidence and say, "Yet the Lord will command his loving-kindness in the daytime." Such a spirit the captives in Babylon might cherish. Flinging open their windows westward, as they knelt, they might see the temple arise, the streets of the holy city fill with busy people, and the walls encircle a delivered and independent nation; and with such expectations it could not be hard to wait, for God's time to bless is never more than a "little way off."
3. The attitude of keeping on in the ways of righteousness, whether we find them pay or not pay. Doing right, even if it does seem to bring suffering. Purposing that our mouth shall not transgress. If, while we wait, we faint in spirit, let us take good care never to faint from righteousness.
III. WAITING CONSOLATIONS. We may be quite sure that God is in the waiting. Nearer than ever to us in the hours of delay. If the waiting is God's, if it belongs to the mysterious ways of the Divine love, then even waiting-times are blessed. They are even a gracious agency for the culture of our souls; and oftentimes better things are done for us in the waiting than in the suffering times. The great lessons of the perfect trust are learned in the waiting hours; and "patience gets her perfect work."—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 25". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter