THE TRIPLE JUDGMENT ON THE POWERS OF DARKNESS. The crowning judgment of all is now briefly described. "In that day"—the day of God's vengeance—when all his other enemies have been put down, Jehovah shall finally visit with his sword three mighty foes, which are described under three figures—the first as "Leviathan, the swift serpent;" the second as "Leviathan, the crooked serpent; "and the third as "the dragon that is in the sea." It has been usual to see in these three monsters three kingdoms inimical to God—either Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt; or Assyria, Egypt, and Tyre; or Media, Persia, and Egypt. But this diversity of interpretation shows that there is no particular fitness in the emblems to symbolize any special kingdoms or world-powers, while the imagery itself and the law of climax alike point to something higher than world-powers being intended. "Leviathan," in Job 3:8, where the word first occurs, represents a supra-mundane power—probably "the dragon, the enemy of light, who in old Eastern traditions is conceived as ready to swallow up sun and moon, and plunge creation in original chaos or darkness"; and the "dragon" is a customary emblem of Satan himself (Psalms 91:13; Isaiah 51:9; Revelation 12:7, Revelation 12:9), the prince of darkness. The triple vengeance here is parallel to the triple punishment, in the apocalyptic vision (Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10), of "the devil," "the beast," and "the false prophet," who have been termed by commentators "the three great enemies of God's kingdom".
The Lord with his sore and great and strong sword. The "sword" of Jehovah is first heard of in the Pentateuch, where it is called" glittering" (Deuteronomy 32:41). It is spoken of by David (Psalms 7:12), and frequently by Isaiah (see Isaiah 31:8; Isaiah 34:5, Isaiah 34:6; Isaiah 46:1-13 :16). Mr. Cheyne supposes the idea to have been taken from the Baby-Ionian mythology, and seems to think it half material. But it is merely on a par with other anthrepomorphisms. The word rendered "sore" probably means "well-tempered," "keen." Leviathan. Etymologically, the term "Leviathan" appears to mean "that which is coiled" or "twisted," whence it would seem to have been primarily applied, as in the present verse, to serpents. In Job 41:1-34, however, it manifestly designates the crocodile, while in Psalms 104:26 it must be used of some kind of cetacean. Thus its most appropriate English rendering would be "monster." The piercing serpent; rather, the fleet, or fugitive serpent. It is a general characteristic of the snake tribe to glide away and hide themselves when disturbed. Even leviathan that crooked serpent; rather, and also leviathan that crooked serpent. It is quite clear that two distinct foes of God are pointed at—one characterized as "fleet," the other as "tortuous." And he shall slay the dragon. Here is mention of a third enemy, probably Satan himself (see the introductory paragraph to this section).
GOD'S CARE FOR HIS VINEYARD. This piece may be called a companion picture to Isaiah 5:1-7, or a joy-song to be set over against that dirge. In both the figure of the vineyard is employed to express the people of God, and God is "the Lord of the vineyard." But whereas, on the former occasion, all was wrath and fury, menace and judgment, here all is mercy and loving-kindness, protection and promise. The difference is, no doubt, not with God, "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17), but with the vineyard, which is either not the same, or, if the same, then differently circumstanced. The vineyard of Isaiah 5:1-30. is beyond all doubt the Jewish Church in the time of Isaiah, or in the times shortly after. The vineyard of the present place is either the Christian Church, or the Jewish Church reformed and purified by suffering. It is not the Church triumphant in heaven, since there are still "briars and thorns" in it, and there are still those belonging to it who have to "make their peace with God." The prophet has come back from his investigations of the remote future and the supra-mundane sphere to something which belongs to earth, and perhaps not to a very distant period. His second "song of the vineyard" may well comfort the Church through all her earthly struggles.
Sing ye unto her. Our translators have, strangely enough, inverted the order of the two clauses, which stand thus in the Hebrew: "A vineyard of red wine; sing ye unto it, "or "sing ye of it." The "vineyard of red wine" is one that produces abundance of rich fruit.
I the Lord do keep it; or, guard it (comp. Isaiah 26:3; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8; Psalms 121:5). Vineyards were considered to require special watching, since they were liable to damage both from thieves and foxes (So Isaiah 2:15). It was usual to build towers in them, from which a watch could be kept (Isaiah 5:2; Matthew 21:33). I will water it every moment (compare the threat in Isaiah 5:6, "I will command my clouds that they rain no rain upon it"). The Church needs and receives "the continual dew of God's blessing."
Fury is not in me; i.e. "I am not now angered against my vineyard, as on the former occasion (Isaiah 5:1-30 :47); or at any rate my anger now is not fury." (Isaiah frequently ascribes "fury" to God, as in Isaiah 34:2; Isaiah 42:25; Isaiah 51:17, Isaiah 51:20, Isaiah 51:22; Isaiah 58:1-14 :18; Isaiah 63:3, Isaiah 63:5, Isaiah 63:6; Isaiah 66:15.) Who would set the briars and thorns against me in battle? The "briars and thorns" are apparently unrighteous members of the Church, who have fallen below their privileges. God asks, "Who will set the briars and thorns in array against me?" in a tone of contempt. "Who will dare to do battle against me with such weak material?" And then he adds a forecast of the result in such a case: "I would move forward; I would burn them all together" (comp. Isaiah 10:17).
Or let him take hold of my strength. There is another alternative. If the "thorns and the briars" are not prepared to contend in battle against God, let them adopt a different course. Let them "lay hold of God's strength," place themselves under his protection, and make their appeal to him, and see if they cannot "make their peace with him." A truly evangelical invitation! The enemies of God are entreated to cease from striving against him, and are taught that the door of repentance is still open to them. God is willing to be reconciled even to his enemies. Let them make peace with him, make peace with him. The reiteration constitutes an appeal of extreme earnestness and tenderness, which none could reject but the utterly impenitent.
He shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root; rather, in the days to come Jacob shall strike root. Jacob, lately the vineyard, is now compared to a single vine, which becomes strong by striking its roots deep into the soil, and then, as a consequence, blossoms and buds, and fills the face of the world with fruit. So the Israel of God, firmly rooted in the soil of God's favor, would blossom with graces of all kinds, and bring forth the abundant fruit of good works.
THE COMING JUDGMENT UPON JUDAH A CHASTISEMENT IN WHICH MERCY IS BLENDED WITH JUSTICE. A coming judgment upon Judah has been one of the main subjects of Isaiah's prophecy from the beginning. It has been included in the catalogue of "burdens" (see Isaiah 22:1-25.). It will have to be one of the prophet's main subjects to the end of his "book." Hence he may at any time recur to it, as he does now, without special reason or excuse. In this place the special aspect under which the judgment presents itself to him is that of its merciful character,
While noting this, he feels, however, bound to note also, that the judgment is, while it lasts, severe (verses 10, 11).
Hath he smitten him; etc.? i.e. "Has God smitten Judah, as he '(God) smote Judah's smiters?" Judah's chief smiters were Assyria and Babylon. The judgments upon them would be more severe than that upon Judah. They would be destroyed; Judah would be taken captive, and restored. Them that are slain by him; rather, them that slew him (so Lowth, Ewald, Knobel, and Mr. Cheyne). But, to obtain this meaning, the pointing of the present text must be altered. The law of parallelism seems, however, to require the alteration.
Our translators have entirely mistaken the meaning of this verse. The proper rendering is, In measure, when thou puttest her away, thou wilt contend with her; he sighed with his keen breath in the day of the east wind. "In measure" means "with forbearance and moderation"—the punishment being carefully adjusted to the degree of the offence. God was about to "put Judah away"—to banish her into a far country; but still he would refrain himself—he would "not suffer his whole displeasure to arise," or give her over wholly to destruction. In the day of the east wind, or of the national catastrophe, when his breath was fierce and hard against his people, he would "sigh" at the needful chastisement. As Dr. Kay well says, "Amid the rough and stern severity which he breathed into the tempest, there was an undertone of sadness and grief."
By this; i.e. "by the punishment inflicted." God accepts punishment as an expiation of sin; and this punishment of Judah was especially intended to be expiatory, and to remove at once his guilt, and the evil temper which had led him into sin. Its fruit would be a revulsion from idolatry, which would show itself in a fierce determination to destroy all idolatrous emblems and implements, altars, groves, images, and the like. This spirit was strongly shown in the Maccabee period (see 1 Macc. 5:44, 68; 10:84; 13:47, etc.). He maketh all the stones of the altar as chalkstones. A calcining of the stones into lime is probably intended. It was usual to subject the idolatrous objects to the action of fire, and then to stamp them into powder (2 Kings 23:4, 2 Kings 23:6, 2 Kings 23:11, 2 Kings 23:12, 2 Kings 23:15, etc.). The groves and images.
Yet the defensed city shall be desolate. Though her punishment is in mercy, as a chastisement which is to purge away her sin, yet Jerusalem shall for a time be desolate, void, without inhabitant, left like a wilderness. Forsaken; or, put away; the same word that is used in Isaiah 27:8 of Jerusalem. There shall the calf feed. A familiar image of desolation (comp. Isaiah 5:17; Isaiah 17:2; Isaiah 32:14, etc.).
When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off. By a sudden introduction of metaphor, the city becomes a tree, the prophet's thought going back, perhaps, to Isaiah 27:6. "Withered boughs" are indications of internal rottenness, and must be "broken off" to give the tree a chance of recovery. Samaria may be viewed as such a "bough," if the "tree" be taken as "the Israel of God" in the wider sense. Otherwise, we must suppose a threat against individual Judaeans. The women come. Weak women are strong enough to break off dead branches; they fall at a touch, and "their end is to be burned" (Hebrews 6:8). For it is a people of no understanding. It was folly, madness, to turn away from Jehovah, and go after other gods. Only through having "no understanding" could Israel have been so foolish (comp. Deuteronomy 32:28; 2 Kings 17:15; Jeremiah 4:22). He that made them … he that formed them (comp. Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:7). God "hateth nothing that he has made" (Collect for Ash Wednesday). He made all men, but he "made" and "formed" Israel with exceptional care, and exceptional care leads on to exceptional love. Will not have mercy … will show them no favor; i.e. "will not spare." No contradiction of Isaiah 27:7, Isaiah 27:8 is intended. God will have "measure" and "mercy" in his punishment of Israel, but will not so have mercy as not to punish severely.
Isaiah 27:12, Isaiah 27:13
JUDAH PROMISED RESTORATION. The general practice of Isaiah is to append to gloomy prophecies words of encouragement He does this even when heathen nations are denounced (Isaiah 18:7; Isaiah 19:18-25; Isaiah 23:17, Isaiah 23:18); and still more when he is predicting judgments upon Israel (Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 6:13; Isaiah 10:20-34; Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 29:18-24, etc.). The encouragement in this place is a promise of return after dispersion, and of re-establishment on the "holy mount at Jerusalem" (verse 19).
The Lord shall beat off; i.e. "gather in his harvest." The metaphor is taken either from the beating of olive trees to obtain the berries (see Isaiah 17:6), or from the beating out of the grain by a threshing-flail ( 6:11; Ruth 2:17; and below. Isaiah 28:27). Perhaps the best translation would be, The Lord shall thresh. From the channel of the river; rather, from the strong stream of the river. As usual, "the river" (hannahar) is the Euphrates (comp. Genesis 31:21; Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 24:2, Joshua 24:3, Joshua 24:14, Joshua 24:15, etc.). Its "strong stream," or "flood," is contrasted with the scant thread of water which was alone to be found in the "Torrens AEgypti." The stream of Egypt (nachal Mizraim) is generally allowed to be the modern Wady el Arish, which was appointed to be the southern boundary of the Holy Land (Numbers 34:5; 1 Kings 8:65). The Lord would collect within these limits all that were of Israel. He would also, as appears from the next verse, subsequently overstep the limits.
The great trumpet shall be blown; rather, a great trumpet (comp. Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). This imagery, and the return of the Israelites from Egypt and Assyria, point rather to the final gathering of Israel into the Church triumphant than to the return from the Babylonian captivity. Egypt and Assyria were certainly not the countries from which they came chiefly at that time. But they are the countries from which they will chiefly come when Jehovah "sets his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people" (Isaiah 11:11). The outcasts (comp. Isaiah 11:12).
Spiritual wickedness in high places powerless to resist God.
As Isaiah was, somehow or other, brought into contact with the dualistic doctrine of the Zoro-astrians (Isaiah 45:5-7), it was important that he should bear witness to the impotency of the powers of evil when they matched themselves against Jehovah. The Zoroastrians taught that there were two great principles, one of good, and the other of evil, whom they called respectively Ahura-mazda and Angro-mainyus, who were both of them uncreated and independent one of the other, and between whom there had been from all eternity, and always would be, a bitter contest and rivalry, each seeking to injure, baffle, and in every possible way annoy and thwart the other. Both principles were real persons, possessed of will, intelligence, power, consciousness, and other personal qualities. The struggle between them was constant and well-balanced, with certainly no marked preponderance of the good over the evil. Whatever good thing Ahura-mazda had created from the beginning of time, Angro-mainyus had corrupted and ruined it. Moral and physical evils were alike at his disposal. He could blast the earth with barrenness, or make it produce thorns, thistles, and poisonous plants; his were the earthquake, the storm, the plague of hail, the thunderbolt; he could cause disease and death, sweep off a nation's flocks and herds by murrain, or depopulate a continent by pestilence; ferocious wild beasts, serpents, toads, mice, hornets, mosquitoes, were his creation; he had invented and introduced into the world the sins of witchcraft, murder, unbelief, cannibalism; he excited wars and tumults, continually stirred up the bad against the good, and labored by every possible expedient to make vice triumph over virtue. Ahura-mazda could exercise no control over him; the utmost that he could do was to keep a perpetual watch upon his rival, and seek to baffle and defeat him. This he was not always able to; despite his best endeavors, Angro-mainyus was not infrequently victorious. It was probably to meet this doctrine, and prevent its having weight with his disciples, that Isaiah taught so explicitly the nothingness of the highest powers of evil in any contest with the Almighty. He had already stated that, at the end of the world, God would visit and punish "the host of the high ones that were on high," as well as the kings of the earth upon the earth (Isaiah 24:21). He now presents evil in a threefold personal form of the highest awfulness and grandeur, and declares its conquest in this threefold form by Jehovah. God is to "punish" the two leviathans with his sword, and actually to "slay the dragon." This might seem to go beyond the statements of the Revelation of St. John (Revelation 20:10); but it is probably to be understood, in the same sense, of a living death. The triumph is at any rate complete, final, unmistakable. Evil can do nothing against good, but is wholly overcome by it.
The means whereby God purifies and perfects his Church.
Despite human weakness and human perversity, God will build up and establish a faithful Church—he will "purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). It is for his honor that this should be so, and he is strong enough to effect it. His "strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). We are shown here some, at any rate, of the chief means whereby he effects his purpose. Most prominent of all is—
I. HIS PERPETUAL WATCHFUL GUARDIANSHIP. "I the Lord do keep it." "I will keep it night and day." Incessant watchful care, never slacking, never wearied, the fruit of abounding infinite love,—this is the first thing. The Lord "keeps the city." The Lord is his Church's "Keeper," so that "the sun shall not burn it by day, neither the moon by night;" so that the thief shall not enter in, nor the fox spoil; so that the hatred and wiles of Satan shall be of no avail; so that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The Lord's care is unceasing—"he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalms 121:4). The Lord's care is effectual—"he keepeth his mercy forever" (Psalms 89:28).
II. HIS CONSTANT REFRESHING GRACE. "I will water it every moment." Not only day by day and hour by hour, but momently, does his grace descend on his Church, strengthening it, reviving it, refreshing it. His Holy Spirit teaches men's hearts continually with a doctrine that "distils as the dew" (Deuteronomy 32:2), softens them with an influence that "drops as the rain." He gives "grace for grace;" leads on "from strength to strength;" converts, upholds, confirms, sustains, each weak and wavering soul; cleanses, purifies, infuses light, and strength, and sweetness, and every other virtue into each heart that will admit them; thus constituting and "presenting to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing … holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27).
III. HIS KEEN PURGING FIRES. "The briars and thorns … will I burn together." The Church, while on earth, will always have imperfections, weak brethren, unworthy members, faults, ay, sins, even in the best. It is among the greatest of God's mercies to the Church that he does not overlook these, but is keenly alive to them—yea, "sets men's secret sins in the light of his countenance" (Psalms 90:8). For when these things are noted, there is a hope that they may be remedied. God is ever purging his Church. He "turns his hand upon it, and purely purges away its dross and taketh away all its tin" (Isaiah 1:25). By pain and suffering, by chastisements of various kinds, by sickness, and disappointment, and ill success, and loss of those dear to them, he leads men to conviction of sin, and hatred of it, and aversion from it, and contrition, and amendment. Where these fail, there is the final remedy, which saves the Church, when the individual will not be saved—the remedy of excision, when the dead branch is broken off, and "cast into the fire, and burned" (John 15:6). But in thousands of cases the purging is effectual, the keen fire does its work, and purifies without destroying. The soul that was in danger turns to God, and "takes hold of his strength," and "makes its peace with him," and both the Church and the individual gain.
Isaiah 27:7, Isaiah 27:8
The moderation of God's chastisements.
All God's doings are "with measure." At the creation he "weighed the hills in a balance" (Isaiah 40:12), "made a weight for the winds," and" weighed the waters by measure" (Job 28:25). He sets one thing against another, "looks to the end of the earth," and "seeth under the whole heaven" (Job 28:24). There is nothing hasty, rash, or inconsiderate in his doings. He is a law to himself; and the perfect harmony of his own nature necessarily produces the result that order and measure pervade all that he accomplishes. "Measure," as Hooker says, "is that which perfecteth all things, because everything is for some end, neither can that thing be available to any end which is not proportionable thereunto, and to proportion as well excesses as defects are opposite" ('Eccl. Pol.,' 5:55, § 2). God's chastisements have for their end the recovery of those whom he chastises, and would not be effectual for this end unless they were carefully apportioned and adjusted' to the particular case. Chastisements unduly light would have no restraining or educational force; they would be contemned, despised, and would harden those whom they were intended to influence for good. On the other hand, over-severe chastisements would crush and ruin. They would "quench the smoking flax" and "break the bruised reed" (Matthew 12:20), so rendering recovery impossible. Thus measure is needed in chastisements; and those which God inflicts are measured with most marvelous exactitude. He metes out to all the exact cross, difficulty, suffering, which is suited to bring them to him. He afflicts them always more lightly than they deserve. "In measure he contends with them," apportioning their day to their strength, and their temptations to their ability to bear them.
The Israel of God gathered in and garnered one by one.
While Scripture often speaks broadly of the call and conversion of nations, it yet, to an attentive reader, is continually proclaiming the fact that salvation is an individual matter. No privileges of birth or covenant, of Church-membership or Church-position, assure any one who has come to years of discretion that he is among the saved, or can make up for the want of personal fitness, personal faith, personal sincerity. God is very careful, and very choice, when he "makes up his jewels" (Malachi 3:17). His eye is not only over all, but each. He tests them "one by one." He says to each, "My son, give me thy heart" (Proverbs 23:26). He requires of each conversion to him, trust in him, the earnest wish to please him. "One by one," as they become fit for it, he gathers them in, adds them to his crown, causes them to join the "innumerable company" of his elect—"the spirits of just men made defect" (Hebrews 12:22, Hebrews 12:23). This consideration should make men careful to assure themselves;
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
In that day.
We have here a general picture of the events which precede the condition of the inauguration of a new era.
I. THE FIGHT WITH THE MONSTER OR MONSTERS. We cannot enter into the subject of this symbolism, in reference to which, in the absence of definite information, so much of fanciful interpretation has gathered. We cannot refer the serpent or the dragon to the storm-cloud, or lightning, as some have done; nor historically to Egypt and Assyria. Something much deeper seems to be meant, as in the legends of the combat of Apollo, the greatest god of the Greeks, with the Python at Delphi. The dragon is symbolic, in ancient thought generally, of the power of death, of the under-world, into which humanity in its sinfulness and weakness is prone to fall. Jehovah will overcome this fiendish power; such seems to be the meaning of the prophecy.
II. RESTORATION OF ISRAEL TO FAVOR. Here the prophecy passes into song. The Church appears under the favorite image of the vineyard. Jehovah is its Keeper, who waters and watches it by night and by day. His feelings are those of pure love, and his wrath is reserved for those who would injure the sacred enclosure. Were such thorns and thistles before him, he would set them on fire. These are figures of the enemies of the Church (see 2 Samuel 23:6, 2 Samuel 23:7). Yet if ever these yield themselves, they may find mercy. "A truly evangelical belief that God is willing to be reconciled, even to his enemies. Its presence has given the prophecy a spiritual superiority over the other prophetic descriptions of the judgment upon the hostile nations, e.g. Isaiah 66:16. Even according to Isaiah 19:22, Egypt must be first smitten in order that it may be healed" (Cheyne). As the proverb says, "The Name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10). So here the meaning is, "Let the unrighteous man take sanctuary with Jehovah, and become by penitence and obedience a servant of his." And the elect nation will take root, and throw its sheltering foliage over the nations—a tree of healing (Revelation 22:2); and the blessings of salvation shall be diffused over the world (cf. Isaiah 37:31; Hosea 14:6). The union of Jew and Gentile seems foreshadowed, and the removal of the distinction between them. Salvation was of them and for the world (John 4:22; Ephesians 2:14).
III. THE MITIGATION OF DIVINE CHASTISEMENTS. The punishment of the people has not been so severe as that of their enemies. There was and ever is "measure" in the afflictions of God; they do not exceed the bounds of justice nor the limits of man's enduring power. "He never smites with both hands;" he sifts, but does not destroy. (For the threshing-floor, cf. Isaiah 21:10.) He was wroth, but not without love; has banished, but not put an end to, his people. And now, as ever, he would "reason together" with them, and proclaim the terms upon which he will mercifully accept their repentance as an atonement for guilt. They must destroy the emblems of idolatry, and put an utter end to it; and thus, purged from its filth, be prepared for salvation. Punishment will cease when sin ceases, but not before. And when the sin is honestly put away, it may ever be said to the sinner, "Do as the heavens have done, forget your evil; with them, forgive yourself."
IV. THE FATE OF THE WORLD'S METROPOLIS. For it seems better so to understand the allusion than to Jerusalem. Its fortifications will be razed, its population be dismissed, and the cattle will browse upon the deserted scene. In contrast to the magnificent parks and gardens of the great cities, there will be but stunted bushes, affording firewood to the poor women who come to pick it up (Cheyne). Others, however, understand the prophecy to refer to Jerusalem itself. The reason assigned for the doom is ignorance, as so often in Scripture—guilty ignorance. As the "beginning of wisdom 'is not prudence, policy, science, or philosophy, but the "fear of God," so irreverence and contempt of Divine laws, leading to sensuality and vice, are identical with ignorance and folly. "Such ignorance does not excuse men or lessen the guilt of their wickedness; for they who sin are conscious of their sinfulness, though they are blinded by their lust. Wickedness and ignorance are therefore closely connected, but the connection is of such a nature that ignorance proceeds from the sinful disposition of the mind" (Calvin). Oh "to be wise and to understand" (Deuteronomy 32:29)! How dark and dreadful the ignorance which seems to shut out the favor and compassion of the all-compassionate God!
V. ORACLE OF COMFORT. The hand that smites and brings low is also the hand that raises up; it scatters in judgment, but recalls and gathers together again in mercy. From the great river of Assyria to that of Egypt the children of Israel will be gathered one by one. A great trumpet, signaling the Divine interposition, will be blown (cf. Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 11:12; Matthew 24:31), and the scattered abroad will be seen throning to the holy mount in Jerusalem. Thus again there rises upon us that glorious vision of a united and redeemed Church, gathered out of all nations, for which change and suffering, conflict and sifting, prepare. All Christian prayer, activity, waiting, and watching point toward the coming of the Christ, the Deliverer, to the spiritual Zion, to turn away ungodliness and to found the new and enduring empire of righteousness.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." Then there are hurtful powers and hurtful people in the world. The Word itself lets light in upon the condition of humanity. There are hidden invisible foes; and there is need for One who can discern and defeat them.
I. THE EYE THAT SEES. This is all-important. For we are blind to our worst enemies. Evil puts on the garb of good. And evil hides itself. The serpent is coiled up at the bottom of the cup. The adder lurks in the grass. By the river-side the alligator lurks; his skin the very color of the stones. God's eye can search all. His vision sweeps all space. His vigilance never sleeps. "He that keepeth thee will not slumber."
II. THE HEART THAT LOVES. This is our truest defense. It is affection that keeps alive this vigilance. There is no eye like the eye of love. We know this in a measure from our observation of the human spheres. How quick a mother's eye is to detect first departures from the holy and the true—first dalliances with evil! The tutor is not so sure a guardian as the parent. All Divine revelation tells us that God is love. Why warn, rebuke, exhort? Why send the prophet to the guilty cities, and the only begotten Son, the Savior, to the lost race? This is the explanation of all: "God so loved the world."
III. THE GUARDIANSHIP THAT IS COMPLETE. Lest "any." That includes all the' forms and forces of evil. We may be awake to special dangers, just as we pay honor to special virtues. There are dangers which are so pronounced, where the penalties are so marked, that our consciousness is awake to the dread results. But when we remember the vast and varied sources of peril, we rejoice to know that there may be immunity from all disaster. "Deliver us from evil" is the prayer taught us by the Savior; and God will hear that prayer, for "thine is the power."
IV. THE WATCHFULNESS THAT NEVER SLEEPS. "By night and by day." In the darkness and in the night. For the darkness is no darkness to God. As Sentinel he never sleeps. Our watch-fires die out, and the beasts of the forest break into the camp in the silent hours of darkness. We cannot "keep." But the soul is too precious to be left to finite watchfulness. The Tower of London contains no jeweled crowns so rich in value as the nature that contains the pearl of great price. The temple of Jerusalem had costly vessels and sacred altars; but the temple of the soul has in it the true Shechinah. This is God's promise. This is his own testimony to himself; and it is g promise to wear as an amulet on the heart in such a world as this.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
God's treatment of the rebellious and the righteous.
Amid the different and difficult interpretations and the numerous and dubious applications given to these verses, we may discern some truths respecting God's treatment of human character.
I. HIS TREATMENT OF THE WICKED.
1. The sharpness of his instruments. He punishes with "a sore and great and strong sword" (Isaiah 27:1) He "whets his glitter-nag sword (Deuteronomy 32:41). Out of the mouth of the Son of God "goeth a sharp sword" (Revelation 19:15). The various miseries, visitations, calamities, which come to us as the sad consequences of sin are God's sword—pain, sickness, separation, bereavement, famine, war, death, etc.; sore and sharp and strong are these.
2. The thoroughness of his judgments. It is not only that the blows he sends are severe, but his judgments are continued and are multiplied till all their punitive or corrective work is done. He will "go through the briars and thorns" which are spoiling his vineyard, and will burn them together (Isaiah 27:4). "The defended city shall be desolate," so abandoned of man that the calf shall feed there and lie down and browse upon the branches, and these shall be so withered that the women shall come and "set them on fire" (Isaiah 27:10, Isaiah 27:11). When headstrong and rebellious men defy the power and despise the Word of God, they find that they are contending with One whose correction is not confined to one or two blows. God pursues such men with his holy and righteous punishment, until the briars are consumed, until the city is desolate, until the haughty heart is humbled to the very dust.
3. The opening which he offers them. "Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me," etc. (Isaiah 27:5). The most rebellious may return unto him: Ahab may humble his heart, Manasseh may repent, Saul the persecutor may become his most active servant, taking hold of his Divine magnanimity, which is the strength of the Divine character.
II. HIS TREATMENT OF THE RIGHTEOUS.
1. The care which he takes of them. He turns the neglected wilderness into a cultivated vineyard (verse 2); he, the Lord, does keep it night and day; he waters it every moment; he guards it against the despoiling enemy (verse 3). God distinguishes his people by granting them peculiar privileges; he expends on them his watchful love; he guards them against their spiritual adversaries: they have to bless him for attention, for enrichment, for defense.
2. The fact that he moderates his corrections of them. (Verses 7, 8.) He does not visit them with the severity he shows toward those who are defiant of his will; there is measure, limitation, in the day when the "east wind" of his chastisement is made to blow. God restrains his hand when it is his own children whom he is correcting (Psalms 103:8-10).
3. The parental purpose of his chastisement. (Verse 9.) It is that iniquity may be purged, that the dark consequences and the evil stain of sin may be "taken away," that the degrading idolatries of the heart as well as of the life may be demolished; it is that those whom he loves may be cleansed from their impurities and may be his children indeed, not only enjoying his favor and dwelling beneath his roof, but bearing his likeness and fulfilling his will.
4. The prosperity which he promises them. (Verse 6.) The prosperity which is inward, in "taking root," in laying hold of the regard and the affections of men; that also which is outward, in blossom and bud and widespread fruit, in commanding the honor and enjoying the blessings of the world.—C.
Taking hold of God's strength.
How can man take hold of God's strength? The answer depends on the kind of strength which God is putting forth; and his strength is manifold. He is strong—
I. IN WISDOM, and the effectuating power which results therefrom. It is in virtue of his wisdom that the elements of nature have their various attributes, and the processes of nature their constant laws—that seeds sprout, and shrubs and trees bear flower and fruit; that living bodies grow, and minds advance, and souls mature. We take hold of God's strength of wisdom when we do our human, instrumental part in these his workings—when we plough and sow and weed; when we observe and study; when we use the privileges of devotion.
II. IN MAGNANIMITY. God is strong indeed in this grace. Provoked by everything in man that is fitted to arouse his anger, he has withheld his retributive hand (Psalms 103:10). He has not sentenced us to eternal exile; he has continued his loving-kindnesses even to the most obdurate and rebellious (Matthew 5:45). He has shown himself willing to receive again the sons and daughters that have wandered farthest away from his home. We take hold of this his strength when we avail ourselves of his merciful overtures, and hasten in penitence and faith to his feet.
III. IN COMPASSION. God is strong in pity. "Like as a father pitieth his children, so he pitieth," etc. His commiseration, his tenderness, his parental responsiveness to our various sorrows, is quick, is immediate, is perfect; there is great strength of loving sympathy in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15). We take hold of his strength when, in our dark days, in our heavier sorrows, we unburden our hearts to him, realize the fullness of his compassion, make our earnest, confident appeal for his sympathy and succor.
IV. IN UPHOLDING POWER. In such a world as this with all its allurements and its dangers, with such a nature as is ours with all its frailty, there is required great power to preserve us in our integrity and to build us up on the foundation of our faith. But God is able to do this; he is able to "make us stand" (Romans 14:4), to "keep us from falling, and present us faultless," etc. (Jude 1:24). We take hold of his strength when we act with such obedience and wisdom that we place ourselves in the path where that power is acting—the path of reflection, of moral safety, of Christian fellowship, of worship, of holy activity.
V. IN TRANSFORMING POWER. It is impossible for us to make even Divine truth effectual to the regeneration of a sinful soul. But God is mightier than we; the things which are impossible to us are possible to him (Matthew 19:26). His strength is not unequal even to the softening of the hard heart, the bending of the proud and stubborn will, even of the hardest and haughtiest of souls. We take hold of this his strength when we faithfully plead with our fellow-men that they should return to God, and when we earnestly plead with God that he should put into exercise that renewing and transforming energy.—C.
Isaiah 27:12, Isaiah 27:13
The return of God's absent ones.
In the relation of God to his people in exile, as depicted in these two verses, we may find a picture of the relation in which he stands to all his absent children.
I. THE BREADTH OF HIS KINGDOM: the broad fields of the husbandman, in which he might "beat off" fruit, from the far river in the East to the far river in the West—from end to end of the known earth. God's rights and claims extend to all peoples, to all classes, to men of every character and every temperament and every tongue, to both sexes; his empire, like his commandment, is "exceeding broad." He looks everywhere for fruit to be beaten off, to be gathered in, at the time of harvest.
II. THE NEED OF HIS INTERPOSITION. This fruit which God is seeking is spiritual; it is the reverence, the love, the worship, the obedience, of his own children. But these his sons and daughters are:
1. Afar off. They are outcasts, a long way from home. It is not geographical, but moral and spiritual distance which has to be deplored. They are in the "strange land" of doubt, of denial, of disobedience, of indifference and forgetfulness, of utter unlikeness to the heavenly Father.
2. Or they are at the point of extinction. "Ready to perish." Those who have not "bowed the knee to Baal, "who have not been fascinated and won by ruinous seductions, are a mere remnant, and even their life, like Elijah's, is at stake. Everything cries for God's merciful interposition.'
III. HIS SUMMONS TO RETURN. The "great trumpet" is being blown; its notes are sounding far and wide. "The voice of Jesus sounds o'er land and sea," saying, "Return unto thy Rest;" "Come unto me, all ye that labor." From the "far country" of sin, of folly, of selfishness, of unrest, the summons calls all human hearts to leave behind them their sin, their misery, their bondage, and to cast themselves at the feet of the Divine Father, and beg to be taken back into that holy service which is perfect freedom.
IV. HIS DISTINGUISHING KINDNESS. "Ye shall be gathered one by one." God does not content himself with issuing a general proclamation which each man may interpret and apply. He comes to every human soul himself. In the Person, and by the direct influence, of his Holy Spirit, he makes his appeal to the individual heart and conscience. He says, "Come thou, my child." "Return thou, my daughter." "My son, give me thy heart."
V. THE GATHERING-PLACE OF HIS RETURNED ONES. "Ye shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem." All they who return unto God
Isaiah 27:2, Isaiah 27:3
The vine is a familiar Bible figure for the pious individual; and the vineyard, or cluster of vines, an equally familiar figure of the Church. Several things make the figure specially suitable. The vine is a beautiful plant; it is dependent, and cannot be its best when standing alone; it brings forth rich and abundant fruit; it needs constant and careful tending; its wood is useless for any other purpose than carrying the sap that flows through it; and it is exposed to peril from changing atmospheres and outward foes. To this last point of comparison these verses direct us. For the others such passages may be consulted as Psalms 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7. We note that vineyard-keeping includes—
I. TENDING. This is called to mind by the very strong assurance, "I will water it every moment," which is evidently meant to impress on us the constancy, the care, the gracious wisdom, the prompt helpfulness, of the Divine dealings with the Church. To our minds it has a somewhat exaggerated sound, but that is only because we have no associations with a parched, hilly, hot, and almost rainless country, such as Pales-fine or Egypt. Constant and abundant irrigation is the essential condition of vegetable life in such lands, and to it the science and practical skill of the people are devoted. Channels are made in which the water may run to the vineyards, and much of the gardener's skill is devoted to this regular and efficient watering. The Eastern idea of a fruitful tree is one "planted by the rivers of water;" "its leaf shall not wither." They who are thus careful about the watering of their vines will be sure to do everything else for them that is necessary for their well-being. They will gather out the stones, enrich the soil, clean the blue, prune luxurious growths, guide the trailing branches, and thin the crowded bunches. And so does the Lord of that vineyard, the Church, meet her needs at every point. That he should "water it every moment" suggests that his supreme care is for the renewal of her vitality, and assures us of his further care of all the forms and expressions of that vitality. We may be sure, in New Testament language, that with "his dear Son, God will freely give us all things." He will feed, he will correct, he will encourage, he will check. Whatsoever is needful for the wise tending of the Church, we may fully trust him that he will do, for he is a Master-gardener. In following out this thought, precise practical applications may be made to the conditions and necessities of the particular Church addressed.
II. WATCHING. "Lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." Van Lennep tells us that "vineyards which are at a distance from a village require a constant watch and guard during the fruit season, or they are completely devoured by the jackals." Some of the very earliest Egyptian paintings are vivid-hued representations of trellised and festooned "vines," while, peering through the bough-twisted fences, is seen the sharp and mobile nose of the "fox," stealthily stealing towards his favorite repast. It is usual to dig a ditch all round the vineyard, into which stone posts are driven, branches are twisted in and out of these posts, and, as wild plants and briars soon grow up among them, a thick and solid fence or hedge is made. But the bus-bandman is obliged from time to time to examine all parts of the hedge, and close up any gap or breach made by the foxes, jackals, badgers, hares, hedgehogs, and perhaps even wild bears which, by trampling, destroy more than they eat. A frail shed raised on poles a good height is prepared for the defense of the vineyard, in it a watcher remains day and night while the fruit is ripening. From his elevated position he can see all over the vineyard, and arrangement is sometimes made for his signaling to the neighboring village in case of emergency. He is provided with weapons suitable for dealing with the precise foes which he may have to encounter. These points will suggest the gracious forms in which God has ever defended his ancient Church. Historical illustrations may be given. What he has ever been, that he still is; and the individual Christian, as well as the Christian Church, may rest secure in his keeping. No foes can come nigh us that he will not see. None can prove stronger in attack than he in defense. Sometimes the Christian may, in his despairings, say after over-worn David, "I shall now Perish one day by the hand of Saul;" but, with God's watching and keeping, he shall no more perish than David did. The Church, overestimating the force of evil at any given time, may cry that it "is in danger." It is always an untrustful cry, raised when men fail to look to the "Watcher in the booth," who keeps the vineyard night and day. "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." "As the mountains are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his People from henceforth even forever."—R.T.
Making peace with God.
The Rev. T.Toiler gives a very striking illustration of the figure used in this verse. He says, "I think I can convey the meaning of this passage so that every one may understand it, by what has taken place within my own family. One of my little children had committed a fault, for which I thought it my duty to chastise him. I called him to me, explained to him the evil of what he had done, and told him how grieved I was that I must punish him for it. He heard me in silence, and then rushed into my arms and burst into tears. I would sooner have cut off my arm than have then struck him for his fault; he had taken hold of my strength, and he had made peace with me." God, with whom sinful man is at war, alone can make peace; but he can, and he will. "We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." The text is suggestive of what would be understood as a "simple gospel sermon," and the main lines may be as follows:—
I. PEACE IS BROKEN BETWEEN MAN AND GOD. Right and comfortable relations depend on man's submission and obedience. Self-will and rebelliousness break up those relations. Man is God's child; peace depends on obedience. Man is God's servant; peace depends on doing the Master's will. The essence of sin is willfulness.
II. GOD IS ABLE TO RESTORE THE BROKEN PEACE. He may be able as a matter of sovereignty; but it is more interesting to us to know that he is able through a scheme of peace-making which he has himself devised and carried out in the Person of his Son. "His own arm has brought salvation." Such aspects of the great atoning work may be here dwelt upon as most commend themselves to the preacher.
III. GOD ACTUALLY OFFERS RESTORATION OF THE BROKEN PEACE. He asks us to "lay hold of his strength;" he invites us to "come and reason with him;" he even grieves, over our hesitancy, saying, Why Will ye die, O house of Israel? why will ye die? God hath offered to us—given to us—"eternal life, and this life is in his Son."
IV. THEY MUST BE RIGHT-HEARTED WHO SEEK TO MAKE PEACE WITH GOD. What is included in right-heartedness?
2. Sense of sin.
4. Sign of earnestness in putting away sin.
5. Forsaking of self-trusts.
6. Fervent desire.
7. Whole-heartedness of purpose.
"Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye seek for me with your whole heart."—R.T.
The world-mission of Israel.
Just as "no man liveth unto himself," but every man liveth for the circle in which he is set, so no nation liveth unto itself—it liveth for the world of nations in its time, and for all the ages. This universal truth is illustrated for us in the case of prominent, or elect, or selected nations. Egypt keeps alive the sense of mystery for the world, the claims of the unknown. Chaldea pleads in all the world for the claims of human observation, for the basis-principle of science. Greece keeps up today its mission to the world, and preaches to us the claims of the "beautiful," the basis of all art, all ideal creations. Rome declares to the world the supreme importance of wise and stable government for the ordering of society. And Israel has its voice in every land and every age, pleading for the foundation-principles of religion, which are the unity and spirituality of God. Israel is a tree whose branches overspread the earth; these are its leaves, and these leaves are for the healing of the nations that are diseased and dying of idolatries and sensuousness. As we think of Israel after the flesh, we should remember that we are the true Israel, the spiritual Israel, who hold fast and testify for the old Mosaic truths, "God is One" and "God is a Spirit." The world-mission of Israel is—
I. To PRESERVE THE WORLD'S TRUTH. That is, "In the beginning God." This truth was given to man as man. It is man's birthright. When man became mentally and emotionally biased by yielding to self-will and sin, this first truth was imperiled. If man, as God created him, had thought, he would only have thought of God, one God. When sinful man thinks, he runs along one or other of two lines—he either conceives of two gods, one presiding over pleasant things, and the other over disasters; or else he thinks of many gods, each one occupying a more or less limited sphere. So "monotheism" was put in peril, and had to be preserved through all the ages during which God left man to a free experiment of that self-willedness which he had chosen. In his infinite wisdom God preserved the essential and foundation-truths of religion for long ages in a direct Adamic line, giving to men length of life sufficient to permit of tradition covering the long generations up to the Flood. After the Flood, God preserved the world's truth in the one Abrahamic family; and when that family grew into a nation, he made it, in a very solemn way, the depositary of the world's truth, and set it in a central land, where it might be but slightly influenced by the notions of surrounding nations. "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there in circumcision? Much every way, chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God." It is true that Israel did not prove faithful to its duty of preserving the world's truth; but after the chastisement of the Babylonian exile (and to that the prophet is referring in our text) they never fell into idolatry, and they exist to-day, scattered everywhere, but holding fast their trust of monotheistic truth.
II. To EXHIBIT THE WORKING OF THAT TRUTH. "Example is better than precept." The world might fairly ask to see a national life raised on the foundation of belief in one unseen, spiritual God. Israel is that nation. It is in many respects a striking example. It failed only when it shifted from its foundation. A glance at the old world, which grouped round the eastern end of the Mediterranean, will show how central "little Palestine" was, so as to be in view of all the nations, as a "city set on a hill." The practical applications of this part of the subject are that we hold the trust of these truths, and of the yet further revelations that have been given; and the question of supreme interest to all around us is—Do they make us better men and women? Are others won to accept our truths because of the illustrations which we find for them in our lives and relations? Do we "walk worthy of our calling?"
III. To WITNESS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD FOR THAT TRUTH. The presence of a Jew anywhere is a plea for belief in one God. The exaggerated stubbornness with which Jews plead for this truth prevents their being willing to receive the further revelation concerning the one God, that he has been manifest in the flesh. We who are the spiritual Jews have it as our work to proclaim "God in Christ reconciling the world unto himself" to all the nations. Jews have but half a mission now; but the time is coming when their veil shall be taken away; they shall see in Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God, and join with us in going out through all the world, and preaching the old truth and the new gospel to every creature.—R.T.
Judgments and chastisements.
These verses set forth two modes of apprehending the afflictions and sorrows of life, and help us in estimating the distinction between the modes. We may say that it sets forth God's ways with the enemies of Israel, and God's ways with Israel.
I. THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN JUDGMENTS AND CHASTISEMENTS. In a sense we may say that judgments are ends in themselves, and chastisements are means to a higher end. Then has God two ways of dealing with men? Thoughtlessly, and misled by appearances, many of us answer, "Yes," and suppose that we can account for some difficult and perplexing things by the help of this supposition. But this answer will not bear the test of either patient thought or Holy Scripture. Thought says, "God is One; truth and right are one; men are one; and, if there be two principles of dealing with the same creatures, both cannot be right." What God does may to us look different; it must really be the same, for the "God of the whole earth shall he be called." Scripture assures us of the Divine unchangeableness. It says, "One event happeneth to the righteous and to the wicked." It expresses the conviction that the "Judge of all the earth will do right." It bids us see that God makes his "sun to rise on the evil and on the good." There is no modification of ordinary natural conditions for the sake of the elect few. Health, accident, disease, death, affect alike the righteous and the wicked. Then comes in another question—Can all judgments be regarded as remedial in their design and tendency? There is a disposition toward the general acceptance of this theory nowadays; in dealing with crime, the reformation of the criminal is put in a first place. We may venture to say that God's final end is always recovery. But he works over indefinitely long periods; and his immediate ends—necessary as stages—may not always be remedial. As a part of the work towards securing the final end, God may stamp by suffering the quality of sin; he may demonstrate his indignations, as in the case of Babylon. It may even be necessary to make us fear lest the consequences of sin may prove irremediable; and this may explain such things as everlasting punishment, the sin against the Holy Ghost that bath never forgiveness, and the day of grace that may be lost. Whether Divine dealings be judgment or chastisement may depend on three things:
II. THE PURPOSE OF JUDGMENT APPREHENDED AS CHASTISEMENT. (Isaiah 27:9.) Apprehended as only judgment, our mind is overborne by our calamity. Apprehended as chastisement, the mind is started with new and trustful thoughts. The trouble may at first crush, but soon we learn to accept it calmly. That we are under fatherly chastisements puts the deepest solemnity into life and into sin; it helps us to lift our hearts away from the present and the seen to the future and the unseen. All deaths become gates of life when this sunlight streams on them. Prophecy then keeps before us this cheering fact—all anxieties and sufferings are fatherly. Their "fruit is to take away our sin." And as we so little know the subtleties of our sin, we need not wonder that we cannot understand either the subtleties or the severities necessary for taking it away. Our wonder ought to be that "refining fires," so graciously tempered for us, are made to accomplish so great a cleansing.—R.T.
Repentance proved in deeds.
The first clause may be translated thus: "On these terms shall the guilt of Jacob be purged." There must be the signs of reformation—the actual destruction of idols and all idol-associations, as the proof and manifestation of the declared heart-surrender of idolatry. The child's verse is correct theology and practical godliness—
"Repentance is to leave
The sins we loved before;
And show that we in earnest grieve,
By doing so no more."
The very "stones of the altar" must be as "chalkstones that are beaten in sunder" if Jacob would make plain its repentance of its idolatries, and come to receive Divine forgiveness. Illustrations may be taken from the practical reformations on which Hezekiah and Josiah insisted as the outward signs of the national repentance. From this verse deal with the constant temptation to rest in mere sentiment, and impress the demand which God ever makes for proof in act of the repentance, or the faith, or the humility, or the zeal, that may be possessed. As our Savior expressed the same point in another of its connections, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
I. GOOD SENTIMENTS ARE GOOD BEGINNINGS. Therefore in preachings and teachings appeal is properly made to feeling; effort is made to arouse emotions and to persuade. By the way of the heart access can often be gained to a man; and Scripture provides material for emotional appeals. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." To move feeling, and to awaken good sentiment, is at least to make a breach in the walls. It is a beginning, and there is hope of what may be further accomplished when such a beginning is made. But we should be alive to the constant disposition of men to rest in sentiment. There is a subtle pleasure in feeling deeply. We easily get a kind of satisfaction in our good sentiments; and so Scripture roughly shakes down the satisfaction by calling such things "refuges of lies," or staffs that pierce the hand that leans on them.
II. GOOD SENTIMENTS MAY SOON FADE. They always do when they remain as sentiments, and do not become motives to action. Our minds are constantly passing on to fresh things, and the older ones grow dim in the distance. If things are to keep up their interest, we must put continuous thought to them, and make them bear on daily conduct. We weep over a pathetic story-book, but in a little while all is forgotten as a dream when one awaketh. It would be a most humbling sight for us all if God were to show us the great heap of beautiful sentiments we once had and enjoyed.
III. GOOD SENTIMENTS HAVE NO VOICE THAT GOD CAN HEED. If we offer such things to him, he will entirely withdraw and hide himself within a cloud, and wait and see how long the good sentiment will last. Penitence that is only a sensational sigh or tear he will not regard. It means nothing. It is but a passing ripple on a pool. Why should he turn aside to notice that? This thought will unfold into a practical dealing with the danger of forced emotions in revivalistic services; or the straining of religious feeling in children and young people. Mere emotion is too light a thing to ascend as prayer to the throne of God.
IV. GOOD SENTIMENTS MUST SPEAK TO GOD THROUGH DEEDS. YOU say you repent. But the supreme question is—What has your repentance made you do? You repent of that sin: then have you put it away? You repent of that wrong to your neighbor: then have you, as far as possible, put the wrong right? You repent of your idolatry: then have you broken up your idol-altars? Corresponding actions, "works meet for repentance,"—these are the terms of "purging;" this is the "fruit to take away all the sin."—R.T.
Restorations prove Divine forgiveness.
This is the answering truth to that dwelt on above, in the homily on Isaiah 27:9; God in his dealings with man never stops with sentiment. We know that he forgives us, because with the forgiveness he grants us restoration to his favor. Israel had grievously offended Jehovah by his unfaithfulness. Divine indignations had put the offending child away. But the child learned the lessons of judgment. The child came, penitent and humble, seeking forgiveness; and the Lord heard, granted the forgiveness, and sealed it in a gracious restoration. This is the vision of that great restoring-day. "They shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem." Our Lord presented this truth in his exquisite picture of the prodigal son. The father forgives the penitent, and we might say, "That is enough; such a son can expect no more and deserves no more; forgiven, let him go away where he will." But love cannot stop at such limitations; it cannot be content until it can restore: it wants to seal its forgiveness; it would make it the fullest blessing possible; so the forgiven son is in his old place at the home-table; nay, he is even decked in the joy-robe, and made the occasion of a feast. He knows he is forgiven, for he is restored. In nothing do God's ways appear to be higher than man's ways than in this—God can restore when he forgives, and man halts at the restoring work; he is seldom grand enough for that. We cannot restore our criminals even when they are penitent. We cannot put back into her place in society the "woman a sinner," who bathes the feet of Jesus with penitential tears. The apostle makes an almost overwhelming demand on us when he says, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness." How souls yearn for this sealing of forgiveness is seen in David's prayer, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." The subject may be treated under two divisions.
I. DIVINE RESTORATION ASSURED IN EXAMPLES AND PROMISES. These assure us that it is God's way of dealing, and so they become a persuasion to hope even in our penitence, and in our prayer for forgiveness.
II. DIVINE RESTORATION REALIZED IN ACTUAL CIRCUMSTANCES. Not always outward circumstances; only so far as these may have been affected by the sin. Always in inward circumstances of mind and feeling.—R.T.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 27". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany