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PART III. ISAIAH'S LATER PROPHECIES (CH. 40-66.).
SECTION I. THE PEOPLE OF GOD COMFORTED IN TRIBULATION (Isaiah 40:1-31.).
THE Assyrian struggle is over. The prophet has accepted into the depths of his spirit God's announcement that the true spoiler, "the rod of his anger, and the staff of his indignation," is not Assyria, but Babylon. He has accepted the sentence that his people is to go into captivity. Into this future of his nation he throws himself with a faith, a fervour, and a power of realization, which are all his own. "The familiar scenes and faces, among which he has hitherto lived and laboured, have grown dim and disappeared. All sounds and voices of the present are hushed, and move him no more. The present has died out of the horizon of his soul's vision … The voices in his cars are those of men unborn, and he lives a second life among events and persons, sins and suffering, and fears and hopes, photographed sometimes with the minutest accuracy on the sensitive and sympathetic medium of his own spirit; and he becomes the denouncer of the special sins of a distant generation, and the spokesman of the faith and hope and passionate yearning of an exiled nation, the descendants of men living, when he wrote, in the profound peace of a renewed prosperity". The primary idea which occurs to him is that of "comfort." He will "comfort his people" in their affliction, so far as in him lies; and he will do this by preaching
(1) the recovery of Israel from sin by faith and waiting upon God; and
(2) their recovery from the bondage to Babylon, which was the consequence of sin. In the present chapter it is the former topic especially which he urges.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. The key-note is struck at once. With that iteration which is his favourite mode of emphasizing what is important (see the comment on Isaiah 38:11), the prophet declares that he and his brethren have a direct mission from God to "comfort" Israel. Note the encouragement contained in the expressions, "my people," and "your God." Israel is not cast off, even when most deeply afflicted.
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; literally, speak ye to the heart of Jerusalem. Address her inmost feelings, her very spirit and soul. Her warfare is accomplished … is pardoned … hath received. These perfects can only be viewed as "perfects of prophetic certainty." According to every theory of the authorship of Isaiah 40-46, they were written before the close of the Captivity, when Israel's warfare was not yet accomplished, her iniquity not yet fully pardoned. Isaiah, however, sees all as already accomplished in the Divine counsels, and so announces it to the people. Israel's warfare, her long term of hard service (comp. Job 7:1), will assuredly come to an end; she will thoroughly turn to God, and then her iniquity will be pardoned, she will be considered to have suffered enough. Double. "It was the ordinary rule under the Law that 'for all manner of trespass' a man condemned by the judges should pay double" (Kay; comp. Exodus 22:9). Heathen legislators adopted the same rule for certain offences (Arist, 'Eth. Nic.,' 3.5, § 8). It is not here intended to assert that the law of Divine judgment is to exact double; but only to assure Israel that, having been amply punished, she need fear no further vengeance (comp. Isaiah 61:7).
The voice of him that crieth; rather, the voice of one that crieth. A voice sounds in the prophet's ear, crying to repentance. For God to come down on earth, for his glory to be revealed in any signal way, by the restoration of a nation, or the revelation of himself in Christ, or the final establishment of his kingdom, the "way" must be first "prepared" for him. The hearts of the disobedient must be turned to the wisdom of the just. In the wilderness; either, "the wilderness of this world" (Kay), or "the wilderness separating Babylonia from Palestine" (Delitzsch), in a part of which John the Baptist afterwards preached. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. The "way of the Lord" is "the way of holiness" (Isaiah 35:8). There is one only mode of "preparing" it—the mode adopted by John Baptist (Matthew 3:2-12), the mode pointed out by the angel who announced him (Luke 1:17), the mode insisted on in the Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent. The voice enjoins on the prophets of the captive nation to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming manifestation of God.
Every valley shall be exalted, etc.; rather, let every valley be exalted. The prophets are to see that the poor and lowly are raised up; the proud and self-righteous depressed; the crooked and dishonest induced to change their ways for those of simplicity and integrity; the rude, rough, and harsh rendered courteous and mild. "In general, the meaning is that Israel is to [be made] take care that the God who is coming to deliver it shall find it in such an inward and outward state as befits his … purpose".
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Then, when the preparation is complete, there shall be a revelation of the glory and might of Jehovah. The nature of the revelation is for the present shrouded in darkness; but it is a revelation which is not confined to Israel. All flesh shall see it together. It shall draw to it the attention of the human race at large. While the restoration of Israel to Palestine is the primary fulfilment of the prophecy, that restoration clearly does not exhaust its meaning, which points on to the restoration of all mankind to God's favour in Christ by the ἐπιφάνεια of his advent in the flesh, which has drown, or will draw, the eyes of "all flesh." For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. A repetition of the emphatic clause wherewith Isaiah had terminated the third section of his first prophecy (Isaiah 1:20). It occurs again in Isaiah 58:14. No other writer uses the expression.
The voice said, Cry; rather, a voice of else that sayeth, Cry. It is a second voice, distinct from that of Isaiah 40:3, that now reaches the prophet's ear—a voice responded to by another. The speakers seem to be angels, who contrast the perishable nature of man with the enduringness and unchangingness of God. The point of their discourse is that "the Word of the Lord endureth for ever" (Isaiah 40:8), and therefore the preceding promises (Isaiah 40:2, Isaiah 40:5) are sure. And he said; rather, and one said. A second voice answered the first, and asked what the proclamation was to be. In reply its terms were given. All flesh is grass (comp. Isaiah 37:27; and see also Job 5:25; Psalms 90:5; Psalms 92:7; Psalms 103:15). The goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. So Ephraim was compared in Isaiah 28:1 to "a fading flower." The similitude is found also in Job 14:2 and in Psalms 103:15. Homer approaches the idea in his well-known simile, Οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοιήδε καὶ ἀνδρῶν ('Iliad,' 6:146).
The flower fadeth: because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it. When the hot winds, which God sends, blow in spring-time, the flowers fade; when a destroying breath from him (see Isaiah 30:33) passes over the generations of men, they perish. Surely the people is grass. Either a mere repetition of "all flesh is grass" (Isaiah 40:6) with an asseveration, or an intimation that "the people" of Israel is not exempt from the lot of mankind in general, but shares it.
The Word of our God shall stand for ever. Amid all human frailty, shiftingness, changefulness, there is one thing that endures, and stroll endure—God's Word (see the comment on the first part of Isaiah 40:6). In the sureness of God's promises is Israel's exceeding comfort.
The time of Israel's restoration has drawn nigh. The preparation has been made. The voice calling to preparation is silent. The promises are now on the verge of receiving their accomplishment. It is fitting that some one should announce the fact to the nation. Isaiah calls on the company of prophets living at the time to do so (verse 9). They are to take up a commanding position, to speak with a loud voice, and to proclaim the good tidings to Zion, to Jerusalem, and to the cities of Judah (comp. Isaiah 44:26). The terms of the proclamation are then given (verses 10, 11).
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, etc.; rather, as in the margin, O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion (so the LXX; Gesenius, Rosenmuller, Maurer, Hitzig, Knobel, and Kay). Get thee up into the high mountain; rather, into a high mountain. Choose an elevated spot from which to make proclamation. O Jerusalem, that bringest, etc.; again, as in the margin, O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem. The repetition, with a slight change, is quite in the manner of Isaiah. The cities of Judah. These would be in rains, no less than Jerusalem herself (see Isa 46:1-13 :26; Isaiah 64:10).
The Lord God; literally, the Lord Jehovah. With strong hand; or, with strength. His arm shall rule for him. Kay translates, "His arm shall get him rule;" i.e. the manifestation, which he shall make of his power, shall cause his kingdom to be extended far and wide upon the earth. "The Lord's arm," "the Lord's hand," are favourite expressions of Isaiah's (Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 10:4; Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 31:3; Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 53:1; Isaiah 62:3, etc.). His reward is with him, and his work before him; rather, his wage is with him, and his recompense before him—a case of synonymous parallelism. The phrase is repeated in Isaiah 62:11. Mr. Cheyne understands "the reward which God gives to his faithful ones" to be meant. But perhaps it is better to understand, with Dr. Kay, that in the "little flock" which he restores to Palestine God finds his own reward and recompense—the compensation for all his care and trouble.
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd. The similitude is a favourite one with the psalmists (Psalms 77:20; Psalms 78:52; Psalms 80:1), and occurs again later on in Isaiah (Isaiah 49:9, Isaiah 49:10). Its beauty and sweetness have been widely recognized. He shall gather the lambs; collect them, i.e; when they have strayed from the flock. Shall gently lead those that are with young; rather, those that give suck (comp. Genesis 33:3, where the same word is used). Ewes that are suckling their lambs require specially tender treatment.
THE MIGHT AND GREATNESS OF GOD CONTRASTED WITH THE WEAKNESS OF MAN AND THE FUTILITY OF IDOLS. If captive Israel is to be induced to turn' to God, and so hasten the time of its restoration to his favour and to its own land, it must be by rising to a worthy conception of the nature and attributes of the Almighty. The prophet, therefore, in the remainder of this chapter, paints in glorious language the power and greatness, dud at the same time the mercy, of God, contrasting him with man (Isaiah 40:15-17, Isaiah 40:23, Isaiah 40:28-31), with idols (Isaiah 40:19, Isaiah 40:20), and with the framework of material things (Isaiah 40:21, Isaiah 40:22, Isaiah 40:26), and showing his infinite superiority to each and all. In contrasting him with man, he takes occasion to bring into prominence his goodness and loving-kindness to man, to whom he imparts a portion of his own might and strength (Isaiah 40:29-31 ).
Who hath measured the waters? (comp. Proverbs 30:4 and Job 38:4-6). The might of God is especially shown in creation, which Isaiah assumes to be God's work. How infinitely above man must he be, who arranged in such perfection, "by measure and number and weight" (Wis. 11:20), the earth, the waters, and the heavens, so proportioning each to each as to produce that admirable order and regularity which the intelligent observer cannot but note in the material universe as among its chief characteristics! In the hollow of his hand. The anthropomorphism is strong, no doubt, but softened by the preceding mention (in verse 10) of God's "arm," and by the comparison of God to a shepherd (in verse 11). Isaiah's exalted notion of God renders him fearless with regard to anthropomorphism. And meted out heaven with the span; rather, with a span (comp. Isaiah 48:13, "My right hand hath spanned the heavens"). And comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure; literally, in a tierce. The measure intended is probably the seah, which was the third part of an ephah, and held about three gallons. The seah was "the ordinary measure for household purposes." In scales … in a balance. The peles, here translated "scales," is probably the steelyard, while the mozenaim is "the balance" or "pair of scales" ordinarily used for weighing. God metes out all things with measures, scales, and balances of his own, which are proportioned to his greatness.
Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord? Mr. Cheyne remarks, that "in Isaiah there is a marked tendency to hypostatize the Spirit;" and the remark is undoubtedly a just one (see Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 34:16; Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 61:1, etc.). In the present place, perhaps, the introduction of "the Spirit of the Lord" arises out of the remembrance of the part in creation which is assigned to the Spirit in Genesis 1:2. He "moved," or "brooded," upon the face of the waters, and thence began the change, or series of changes, by which order was produced out of confusion. The Spirit of the Lord "directed," or regulated, these changes; but who, Isaiah asks, "directed," or regulated, the Spirit itself? Can it be supposed that he too had a director over him? Isaiah does not seriously doubt on this point, or "leave it an open question." He makes his inquiry by way of a reductio ad absurdum. Is it not absurd to suppose that he had a director or a counsellor? He does not—here, at any rate—so far "hypostatize the Spirit" as to view him as a Person distinct from the Person of God the Father, working under him, and carrying out his will. Or being his counsellor hath taught him? "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth" (Proverbs 3:19); but he was his own counsellor. He had no adviser external to himself. The wisdom which wrought with him was his own wisdom, an essential part of the Divine essence. The evangelical prophet approaches those mysteries of God's nature which the gospel brought to light, but cannot penetrate them.
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket. "From nature," as Mr. Cheyne says, "we pass to history." If God is so great, so apart and by himself in relation to the material universe, what is he in relation to man? What are nations, compared to him, but "as a drop from a bucket," which drips from it, and is of no account? What are they, hut as the small dust of the balance, which lies on it but does not disturb its equilibrium? They are absolutely "as nothing" (Isaiah 40:17)—vanity and emptiness, He taketh up the isles as a very little thing; literally, he taketh up islands, or perhaps lands generally. As he weighs mountains and hills in his balance (Isaiah 40:15), so he can take up in his own hands "lands," or "countries" (Cheyne), with all their inhabitants, and do with them as seemeth him good. They are no burden to him.
Lebanon is not sufficient to burn. Man may think that he must be of some account, since God has required of him sacrifice and burnt offering, from which he may suppose God to derive some satisfaction. But, the prophet says, even if man were to burn all Lebanon as firewood on God's altar, and offer there all the (clean) beasts of the entire tract, still God would be put under no obligation. Man would even then have paid less than his debt.
All nations; rather, all the nations; i.e. all the nations of the earth put together. In Isaiah 40:15 single "nations" had been declared to be of no account; now the same is said of all the nations of the earth collectively. They are accounted of God as 'ephes, nothingness, and tohu, chaos or confusion.
Is more the complement of what precedes than the introduction to what follows (comp. Isaiah 40:25). If God be all that has been said of him in Isaiah 40:12-17, must he not be wholly unique and incomparable? Then, out of this, the thought arises of the strange, the poor, the mean "likenesses" of God, which men have in their folly set up in various times and places. It has been said that Israel in captivity did not need to be warned against idolatry, of the inclination to which the Captivity is supposed at once to have cured them. But there is no evidence of this. Rather, considering the few that returned, and the many that remained behind (Joseph; 'Ant Jud.,' 11.1), we may conclude that a large number adopted the customs, religion, and general mode of life of their masters.'
The workman melteth a graven image; rather, the workman casteth an image (comp. Isaiah 41:7; Isaiah 44:9-17; Isaiah 46:6, Isaiah 46:7). Israel's tendency to idolatry has been touched on in the earlier prophecies once or twice (Isaiah 2:8, Isaiah 2:20; Isaiah 31:7); but in the later chapters idolatry is assailed with a frequency, a pungency, and a vigour that are new, and that imply a change, either in the prophet's circumstances or in his standpoint. Perhaps it is enough to suppose that, placing himself ideally among the captives, Isaiah sees that the Babylonian idolatry will be, or at any rate may be, a snare to them, and provides an antidote against the subtle poison. The special antidote which he employs is ridicule, and the first ground of his ridicule is the genesis or formation of an image. It is made by man himself, out of known material substances. Either a figure is cast in some inferior metal, and then coated with gold and finished with the graving tool, or a mere block of wood is taken and cut into shape. Can it be supposed that such things are "likenesses" of God, or that he is comparable to them? Casteth silver chains; as ornaments to be worn by the images, which were often dressed (see Thucyd; Isaiah 2:13; Baruch 6:9-12).
He that is so impoverished, etc.; rather, he that can only make a poor offering, i.e. that cannot spend much on religion. Chooseth a tree; rather, chooseth wood—goes to the carpenter, and selects a good sound block of wood, out of which his idol shall be made. After this he has to find a skilful workman, who will carve his image for him and set it up, so that it shall not shake. As Delitzsch observes, "The thing carries its own satire" in the mere plain description of it. Is such a thing comparable to God?
Have ye not known? Hitherto the prophet has restrained himself, and confined himself to quiet sarcasm. Now he bursts out. Is there any one so insensate, so devoid of natural reason and understanding, as not to know what has been known to all from the beginning—yea, from the foundations of the earth—by "the light that is in them," viz. that God is something wholly different from this?—that he is such a One as the prophet proceeds to describe in Isaiah 40:22-24, alike above nature and above man, Lord of heaven and earth, and absolute Disposer of the fates of all men? Hath it not been told you? If ye have not known the nature of God by the light of nature, has it not come down to you by tradition? Have not your fathers told it you? Has it not been handed on by sire to son from the very foundation of the earth? The appeal is to men generally, not especially to Israel. Have ye not understood, etc.? Some omit the preposition after "understood," and render the passage thus: "Have ye not understood the foundations of the earth?" i.e. how it was founded, or created—that its creation was God's sole act? (so the LXX; the Vulgate, Gesenius, Hitzig, Delitzsch, Knobel, Kay; but Ewald, Henderson, Weir, and Mr. Cheyne prefer the rendering of the Authorized Version).
It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth; rather, above the vault of the earth; above the vault of sky which seems to arch over the earth. As grasshoppers; i.e. minute, scarcely visible (comp. Numbers 13:33). That stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain. So in Psalms 104:2, only that here the "curtain" is represented as one of thin gauze. The idea is common to Isaiah with Job (Job 9:8), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:12; Jeremiah 51:15), and Zechariah (Zechariah 12:1), and is a favourite one in these later chapters (comp. Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12; Isaiah 51:13). As a tent (comp. Psalms 19:4, where God is said to have set in the heavens a "tabernacle"—'ohel, the word used here—for the sun).
The princes … the judges; rather, princes, judges. The entire class of such is meant, not any special individuals (comp. Psalms 107:40; Job 12:19-21). As vanity; or, as chaos—the same word that is used in Isaiah 40:17.
They shall not be planted … shall not be sown … shall not take root. The verbs are all of them in the past tense. Translate, have not been planted,… sown, etc. The meaning is that princes and judges of the earth are not fixed in their places, have no firm root in the soil, are easily overturned. Even if the case were different, a breath from the Almighty would, as a matter of course, dry them up (see Isaiah 40:7) and blow them away. As stubble (comp. Isaiah 5:24; Psalms 83:13).
To whom then, etc.? This is a summary, to conclude the section (Isaiah 40:19-24), as Isaiah 40:18 concludes the preceding one. If God is paramount over idols (Isaiah 40:19, Isaiah 40:20) and over nature (Isaiah 40:22) and over humanity (Isaiah 40:23, Isaiah 40:24), to whom can he be likened? Is he not altogether unique and incomparable? Saith the Holy One (comp. Isaiah 57:15). Isaiah's special designation of God, at once pregnant and almost peculiar (see the comment on Isaiah 1:4), is "the Holy One of Israel." This is, here and in Isaiah 57:15, abbreviated.
Lift up your eyes, etc. Once more an appeal is made to creation, as proving God's greatness. "Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these (heavens), bringing out their host (i.e. the stars) by number, or in their full number (Cheyne), and calling them all by names" (comp. Psalms 147:4, Psalms 147:5, "He telleth the number of the stars, and calleth them all by their names," which, however, is probably later than Isaiah). Omnipotence alone could have created the starry host. Omniscience is required to know their number and their names. The Israelites are supposed to have "learned that the constellations had names, in Babylon" (Cheyne, ad loc.); but a special name for each star, which the Babylonians did not give, seems to be here intended. Not one faileth; i.e. "not one star neglects to attend the muster when God marshals the host." The stars are viewed as his army.
O Jacob … O Israel (For this pleonastic combination, so characteristic of Isaiah, see Isaiah 9:8; Isaiah 10:21, Isaiah 10:22; Isaiah 14:1; Isaiah 27:6; Isaiah 29:23, in the earlier chapters; and Isaiah 41:8; Isaiah 42:24; Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:22, Isaiah 43:28; Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 44:5, Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 45:4; Isaiah 46:3; Isaiah 49:5, Isaiah 49:6, etc; in the later ones.) Why sayest thou … My way is hid? The prophet has gone back to the time when Israel is suffering all the calamities of the Captivity, instead of being on the point of emerging from it, as in Isaiah 40:9-11, and he now hears the complaints of the exiles, who think that God has forsaken them—that he does not see their "way" of life, or regard their sufferings. My judgment. Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne translate "my right," and understand the "right" of Israel to be independent of its oppressors.
Hast thou not known? Complaining Israel is bidden to stay itself upon God, as
(2) the Creator;
and is then further consoled by the promise that God will give them strength to endure; support them, refresh them, and, as it were, renew the youth of the nation (Isaiah 40:29, Isaiah 40:31). Creator of the ends of the earth; i.e. "Creator even of the remotest ends," and therefore of the whole earth. Fainteth not (comp. Psalms 121:3, Psalms 121:4). If God were for a moment to "faint" or "be weary," to "slumber" or "sleep," the whole fabric of nature would fail and disappear, universal chaos would set in, all moral order would cease—probably all existence, except his own, sink into nothingness. God is wholly free from whatsoever is weak or defective in man. No searching (see Job 5:9; Job 9:10; Job 11:7; Psalms 147:5; Ecclesiastes 3:11). God's ways being unsearchable, his servants must trust him to accomplish their deliverance in his own good time.
He giveth power to the faint. So far is he from being "faint" himself, that he has superabundant energy to impart to any that are faint among his servants.
Shall faint … shall fall; rather, should even the youths faint and be weary, and should the young men utterly fall, yet they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, etc. The two clauses of Isaiah 40:30 are "concessive."
They shall mount up with wings as eagles (comp. Psalms 103:5 : and, for the use of the eagle as a metaphor for strength, see Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11).
Isaiah 40:1, Isaiah 40:2
Comfort after trouble.
God "has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth;" it is no satisfaction to him to punish. As soon as ever those whom he is forced to punish will submit to the chastening rod in a proper spirit, and allow the staff of the Divine indignation to have its due effect upon them, God is ready to comfort. God the Holy Ghost is the One True Comforter. He and he alone can pour balm into the heart, quiet the conscience, enable the stricken soul to feel that it is once more at one with God. A few words may be said on
(1) the conditions of comfort;
(2) the methods of comfort; and
(3) the proper results of comfort.
I. THE CONDITIONS OF COMFORT. As trouble comes upon us to punish sin, the first condition of our receiving comfort is that sin be put away. The next is that we implore God's pardon for our past transgressions, and acknowledge the justice of his chastisement. The third is that we pray to him of his great goodness to remit his anger, and speak comfort to our souls, and pour his peace into our hearts. If we neglect any of these conditions, we have no right to expect that God will bless us with the great blessing of his comforting grace, which is not, like the rain and sunshine, an ordinary blessing of his providence, but is a special boon reserved for those who have prepared themselves to receive it.
II. THE METHODS OF COMFORT. God sometimes comforts us through the instrumentality of our fellow-men. Job's friends were "miserable comforters, all of them" (Job 16:2); but it is not always so with the afflicted. The kind sympathy of friends, the wise counsel of spiritual guides, is often blessed by God to the relief and solace of those who are in trouble. "Comfort ye, comfort ye my people," was his address to the prophets of Israel (verse 1); and we may be assured that his Spirit went with the month of his prophets, and made the comfort which they strove to We effectual. Again, sometimes he comforts us by his Word. Many a time has the despairing soul found peace and joy in the promises of the gospel, which are indeed potent to raise up hope in the most despondent, and to comfort the most unhappy. But frequently—perhaps we may say mostly—God gives his comfort himself, without intermediary. The stricken soul strays itself' upon him, leans on him, makes its moan to him; and he "comes to it," and with his blessed presence puts an end to the soul's trouble, dispels the darkness, drives away despair and fear, infuses hope, breathes peace, imparts comfort (see Psalms 71:2; Isaiah 51:3; Isa 66:13; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 2Co 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:17, etc.).
III. THE RESULTS OF COMFORT. The immediate result of comfort is peace and happiness. The soul comforted by God is at least contented, blissful. The further results should be
(1) gratitude for the great mercy and loving-kindness showed to us;
(2) perseverance in well-doing, the fruit and necessary result of gratitude, the chief means which creatures have of showing forth their thankfulness to God for any and every mercy vouchsafed to them;
(3) praise and thanksgiving, the natural utterance of the mouth, when the heart is really touched with gratitude, and sensible of God's goodness. As David says, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the Name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord … in the presence of all his people … I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the Name of the Lord" (Psalms 116:12-17).
God's promises sure.
With Isaiah it is enough that "the month of the Lord has spoken" a thing (Isaiah 1:20; Isaiah 40:5). "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19). What he has promised, he will perform; what he has said, he will do, in the sense in which he said it. It is true, his promises are of two kinds
(1) unconditional, and
(2) conditional; and, though both kinds are sure, they are not sure in the same way.
I. GOD'S UNCONDITIONAL PROMISES ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN OF ACCOMPLISHMENT. God has promised that he will never again destroy mankind by a flood (Genesis 9:11). He has pledged himself that "while the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease" (Genesis 8:22). By his Son he has declared that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church" (Matthew 16:18), that he will send his Son to earth a second time to judge the quick and dead (Matthew 25:31-45), and that then the wicked "shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal" (Matthew 25:46). These are unconditional promises, and are absolutely certain of fulfilment. Nothing can come in their way. God's veracity is pledged to them, and, as he is true, he must and will bring them to pass.
II. GOD'S CONDITIONAL PROMISES ARE CERTAIN OF ACCOMPLISHMENT, IF THE CONDITION REFULFILLED. The bulk of God's promises to mankind are "covenant promises," and, by the nature of a "covenant promise," they depend on a condition or conditions which have to be fulfilled. The promises to the Israelites that they should possess Canaan, to David that his seed should sit upon his throne, and to captive Israel that it should be restored, were of this nature. So are all promises of temporal and spiritual blessings to individuals. Even where the condition is not expressed, it is understood. A single example will suffice to show the nature of this kind of promise. A covenant was made with David to establish his seed for ever, and set up his throne to all generations (Psalms 89:3, Psalms 89:4). This covenant was to stand fast, so long as his children walked in his ways. If, however, they forsook God's Law, and walked not in his judgments; if they broke his statutes, and kept not his commandments, then their transgressions were to be visited with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. The Anointed of the Lord was to be cut off and abhorred; the covenant with him was to be made void, and his crown to be cast to the ground (Psalms 89:30-39). In these cases God's part of the covenant remains sure; it is man's which is uncertain. If man fails, then God is, by his very faithfulness, bound to mark his sense of the failure by non-fulfilment of the promises which were made conditional on a certain course of human action. Unless man fails, God's promises remain firm. No one can pretend to point out any case m which the covenant has been observed by man, and God's part in it has been that of a defaulter.
God the Shepherd of his people.
This favourite image is "full of figures and analogies of loving-kindness. It is almost sacramental in its depth and power." To exhaust its meaning is impossible; to draw out all that it implies is hopeless; even to make it the subject of comment may seem almost impertinent. Still, in an exegetical work, some comment must be made upon a passage at once so characteristic and so powerful; some attempt at exposition must be attached to the declaration of a truth so precious. Six things would seem, then, to be especially involved in the declaration.
I. GOD LOVES HIS FLOCK. Love is at the root of even an earthly shepherd's care for his flock, if he is a true shepherd, and not a mercenary hireling. Without love, there may be care, but it will not be tender care; there may be guardianship, but it will not be incessant, unwearied, jealous guardianship. The heavenly Shepherd loves the sheep of his flock with a deep, true, patient, and abounding love, surpassing far the utmost affection whereof man is capable, surpassing even the utmost conception that man can form of love. His flock is his own creation, his own reflected image, his own purchased possession. His desire is toward it (So Isaiah 7:10). He loves it with a love which "many waters cannot quench, neither can the floods drown" (So Isaiah 8:7).
II. GOD CARES FOR HIS FLOCK. It is God's care for his flock on which Isaiah especially insists both in verse 11 and Isaiah 49:9, Isaiah 49:10. He "gathers the lambs with his arm, carries them in his bosom, and gently leads those that suckle their young." He gives them "pastures in all high places," suffers "neither the heat nor sun to smite them, and leads them by the springs of water." The most tender care, the most solicitous vigilance, is implied in all that is told us of his treatment of his flock, so that we may well say, that "all love, care, providence, devotion, watchfulness, that is in earth or in heaven, in the ministry of men or of angels, is but a reflection and participation of that which is thus seen to be in him" (Manning).
III. GOD GUIDES HIS FLOCK. The Oriental shepherd goes in front of his sheep; and so God is represented as going (Psalms 78:52; Isaiah 49:10; John 10:3). He points out to them the way wherein they should walk, and leads them in it. By the inner light of conscience, "which lighteth every man that cometh into the world," and by the outward light of revelation, which shines on many, he directs their paths. By the secret motions and influences of his Spirit he keeps them, for the most part, in the right way, and suffers them not to depart from it.
IV. GOD GUARDS HIS FLOCK. God's flock has enemies as powerful and as dangerous as the flock of any earthly shepherd. Many a wolf in sheep's clothing seeks to devour it; one lion, at any rate, is ever walking round the fold, longing and hoping for prey. But God is always on the watch against these enemies, baffling their attacks, defecting their designs, causing them to fall into their own snares. True, he cannot effectually guard all, if they will not listen to him, will not obey his commands, will rush madly into danger. But he is a sure Defence to such as "hear his voice" and follow h-is directions. No wolf can snatch his faithful ones out of his hand; no lion can hurt them, nor any roaring beast. God guards them night and day. "He that keepeth Israel slumbers not nor sleeps."
V. GOD FEEDS HIS FLOCK. God is said to "lead his flock into green pastures" (Psalms 23:2), to "feed them in a good pasture, a fat pasture" (Ezekiel 34:14). Our Lord declares himself" the Bread of life" (John 6:48)—the "living Bread which came down from heaven," whereof "if any man eat, he shall live for ever" (John 6:51). God feeds his flock upon his Word, upon his faithful promises, upon himself received sacramentally. He feeds them himself, and he commands the shepherds under him, with emphatic iteration, to feed them (John 21:15-17). He gives them "angels' food" to be the sustentation and support of their souls; "bread of immortality" to be their life here and hereafter; precious manna, far beyond that which he gave to his people in the wilderness, sweet at once and satisfying. "Lord, evermore give us this bread" (John 6:34).
VI. GOD SEEKS AND SAVES THE WANDERERS OF HIS FLOCK. Isaiah tells us that God "gathers the lambs with his arm" (verse 11). Our Lord, describing the good human shepherd, tells us that if he have an hundred sheep, and lose one of them, he straightway "leaves the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and goes after that which is lost, until he find it; and when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing' (Luke 15:4, Luke 15:5). The Son of man came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Matthew 18:11). The sheep of God's flock perpetually "go astray," turn from the right way, wander into strange paths, seek pastures that are not good; if God were not perpetually checking their inclination to stray, seeking them, recalling them, "gathering" them, bringing them back to him, there would soon be no flock left. "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way." If the "chief Shepherd" (1 Peter 5:4), "the great Shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20), had not cared for us and sought us and brought us home, we had been lost indeed; but now, through his great mercy, we are "returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls" (1 Peter 2:25).
Isaiah 40:12, Isaiah 40:22, Isaiah 40:26
God in creation.
Creation tells of God in many ways. "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork: day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge" (Psalms 19:1, Psalms 19:2). "The invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead" (Romans 1:20). Here we have noted especially—
I. GOD'S MARVELLOUSNESS IN CREATION.
1. The very act of creation is the most marvellous of all marvels. For what is creation but the production of something out of nothing?—a seeming contradiction, at any rate a strange paradox. Isaiah affects strongly the use of the word bara (Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 40:26; Isaiah 41:20; Isaiah 45:8, Isaiah 45:12, Isaiah 45:18, etc.), which, if not confined to the sense of "producing out of nothing," at any rate includes that sense (Gesenius, 'Lex. Hebrews,' ad voc.).
2. And the marvellousness of creation is enhanced by the vastness of creation: sun, moon, planets, stars; the incalculable distances of space—the nebulae, either unformed stars, or infinitely distant solar systems like that of which our system forms a part; the Milky Way, or outer edge of our own system, set so thick with stars that they seem to form a continuous girdle of light.
3. The perfect order of creation: all things weighed out and measured by God's hand in set proportions one to another; all keeping their appointed courses without collision or confusion; observing their respective times and seasons; displaying an infinite variety, which, however, is all ordered and regulated.
4. And by the unity of creation: all of it from one hand, from one mind, working without assistance, without counsel (verses 13, 14), from its own inexhaustible stores of wisdom and knowledge; and all of it subject to that one mind and obeying its every behest (verse 26).
II. GOD'S GOODNESS IN CREATION. God does not leave his creation alone, to stand or fall by its own inherent strength. Every part of it is upheld by him, maintained in existence by him, enabled by him to perform the task which he has set it. The "way" of no part of his creation is "hid from him" (verse 27). Each star is known by name, and the starry hosts are marshalled "by number," and led forth in their stately march, so that "not one faileth" (verse 26). So with his moral creatures. They too are upheld; "power" and "strength" are given to them continually (verse 29); he who sustains them is "never faint, never weary;" a way is contrived for them by which they may "renew their strength" (verse 31). Doubtless there is this difference. Material things are absolutely upheld, and prevented from failing; God's moral creation is not absolutely upheld. It is given a sufficiency of help (2 Corinthians 12:9), but is not compelled to accept the gift. If man wills to perish, he must perish. Though God's grace is "sufficient for him," he can reject that grace—he can thwart the will of God, who "wouldeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Were it otherwise, he would be a machine, and not a moral being.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The prophet's commission.
He is to unfold a theme of consolation, which runs through the whole of the book, introduced by this chapter. He speaks to the prophets: "Ye prophets, prophesy consolation concerning my people" (Targum of Jonathan); or, "O priests, speak to the heart of Jerusalem," according to the LXX. The former is probably correct. The prophets were numerous both in Isaiah's time (Isaiah 3:1; Isaiah 29:10, Isaiah 29:20) and during the Babylonian exile (Jeremiah 29:1). Jehovah is now reconciled to his erring people, and calls them no longer by names expressive of rejection or contempt (as in Hosea 1:9; Isaiah 6:9), but as my people. "Israel, my people, and I their God," is the great word on which both Judaism and Christianity rest. Now the prophets are to "speak to the heart of Jerusalem." It is to be in a voice clear and distinct and penetrating. "Heart," in Hebrew use, is a comprehensive word; it stands for" intelligence, conscience, feeling," in one (cf. Genesis 34:3; Genesis 50:21, where the Hebrew is, "to their hearts"). Perhaps chiefly the latter here. The vocation of the prophet is now especially to comfort and encourage. And so ever with the preacher. We may compare with these words the scene in the synagogue at Nazareth. Christ announces himself as the Bearer of consolation to the heart of his people, to the heart of mankind, especially to the poor and the distressed and dejected. And surely the burden of every ministry may well be the "Christ of consolation."
I. THE MESSAGE TO JERUSALEM.
1. "Her warfare is fulfilled." "Warfare" standing for "enforced hardships." The metaphor "very suggestive of the peculiar troubles of military service in ancient times:" "Hath not man a warfare [hard service] on the earth?" (Job 7:1). The idea of an appointed time of service enters into the word—the discharge of a duty for which a man has been enlisted, or solemnly engaged, as that of the Levites in the tabernacle (Numbers 4:23; Numbers 8:24, Numbers 8:25). Life as a period of enforced service. It means for most of us, perhaps for all of us, toil, danger, suffering. From this enlistment the only discharge is by death (Job 14:14; Daniel 10:1). Our times are in the hand of God. A period is fixed to all suffering and trial. It may calm the apprehension of calamity in the most susceptible heart to see how quick a bound has been set to the utmost infliction of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which no enemy can follow us. "Let them rave; thou art quiet in thy grave."
2. "Her guilt is paid off." For punishment is viewed as the payment of a debt, and so as the satisfaction of the demands of Divine justice. In the Law, the sword and dispersion among the heathen are threatened against the disobedient and the unreformed; but never does Jehovah forget the covenant between him and the people; he is ever ready to suspend punishment when they suspend sin. Here the people are represented "as having suffered what God had appointed them—endured the natural punishment he saw to be necessary. They had served out the long term he had appointed. Now he is satisfied, has pleasure in releasing them and restoring them to their own land." Happy that moment in the personal life when the soul can be assured that suffering has done its work, and that it may be self-forgiven, because God-forgiven.
"At the last, do as the heavens have done:
Forget your evil; with them, forgive yourself."
3. "'She hath received double for all her sins.' The expression seems to denote what is amply sufficient (cf. Jeremiah 17:18; Revelation 18:6)" (Cheyne); "As much as God judged to be sufficient" (Grotius); "Double to be received for large and abundant" (Calvin). The great law of compensation running through life, we must believe, is exact in its operation. God makes no mistakes in his reckonings. Suffering may continue long after sin has been forgiven. If the memory of guilt be still poignant, if the consequences of sin seem still "ever before us," it is as if God were saying, "Not enough hast thou suffered yet to know how precious is the peace of forgiveness." And when that blessed sense of forgiveness steals into the soul, it is the symptom that the hand of God is removed, that the cup of sorrow has been drained, that the medicine has done its work. The justice of our God will exact sufficient from us in the way of suffering; his clemency and mercy will never add a superfluous stroke from the scourge; rather he will stop short of the full exaction—thirty-nine rather than the full forty stripes.
II. THE MYSTERIOUS CALL. From what is to be believed of Jehovah, we pass to what is to be done for Jehovah. So ever does faith push on to practice. The internal act of the mind realizes itself and is made perfect in the external act of the life.
1. Mysteriously a voice bids the listening heart prepare for Jehovah. It is a "non-Divine, yet supernatural voice." The poetic effect is heightened by the mystery (cf. Isaiah 51:9; Isaiah 52:1; Isaiah 57:14; Isaiah 62:10). Similar voices are spoken of in the Book of Revelation (Revelation 1:10, Revelation 1:12; Revelation 4:1; Revelation 10:4, Revelation 10:8). There are times when the breath of coming change is felt stirring, and voices are heard calling to men to welcome it in and to help it on. Whence come they? Who knows? A spiritual world is all about us. It has music, and words; but while "this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close us in, we cannot hear." But at times they pierce through our sensuality and break up our lethargic indolence. "Clear ye Jehovah's way in the desert." The Divine monarch is about to make a progress. Let the heart of the nation be as a highway for their God (Psalms 84:5). So the Gospels understand the cry. From another point of view, the way of Jehovah through the desert is symbolic of his people's destinies. Babylon, as the scene of captivity, reminds us of the scene of captivity of yore in Egypt. When the temple was destroyed and Israel went forth, it was as if Jehovah had departed—perhaps to his sacred seat in the north, where Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:4) sees the cherubic chariot. His coming back is the people's coming back under his leadership. The imagery of clearing the way may be illustrated from the practice of Oriental princes. Diodorus tells of Semiramis that, in her march to Ecbatana, she had precipices digged down, and hollows filled up, so as to leave an everlasting memorial of herself—the "road of Semiramis' (cf. Baruch 5:7). Then the glory of Jehovah, eclipsed or hidden through his people's suffering and exile, will shine forth in its splendour, and all mankind shall look on.
2. Again the voice is heard saying, "Call!" And the prophet answers, "What shall I call?" The burden of the cry is the frailty of man, and the eternity of the truth. Homer compares the race of man to the successive generations of the leaves of the wood; the prophet to the grass and the flowers (of. Psalms 90:5, Psalms 90:6). Israel and Assyria are both politically extinct, and Babylon is hurrying to its end. The thought is suggested, though not expressed, that if Israel is to rise again from its ashes, it can only be by abstaining from all attempts at secular aggrandizement. The new Israel will be, in all the circumstances of its growth, supernatural. And what is true of one people is true of all. Princes, nobles, and monarchs, armies and magistrates, are feeble like grass and will soon pass away. On the one hand, they would not be able to accomplish what was needed for the deliverance of the people; on the other, their oppressors had no power to continue their bondage, since they were like grass and must pass away. But Jehovah had all power, and was ever-enduring, and able to fulfil all his promises, especially those concerning Israel (Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 45:19; Isaiah 52:6; Isaiah 63:1; Jeremiah 44:28, Jeremiah 44:29). And the healing results are to be known by all mankind.
III. THE INSPIRING VISION—The prophet is carried away in spirit to Palestine, and sees the fulfilment of the promise drawing near. He personifies Zion and Jerusalem, and calls upon them to lift up their voices and announce to the cities of Judah the approach of God. Perhaps he idealizes the city, or is thinking of the city out of sight—the spiritual commonwealth of which the earthly and visible one was the type. Lo! he comes! the God and Leader of the people returning to the city, the temple, the land. He will come in his might; the arm is the very symbol of his almightiness; and it rules "for him," i.e. for the peculiar people, the people of his possession. He comes to recompense his friends and to execute vengeance on his foes. The ruler of a people is fitly imaged as a shepherd, and they as his flock. And now he has sought and found his sheep again, and will once more lead them to green pastures (Jeremiah 31:10; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 34:11-16), and, as a good shepherd, will not overdrive the suckling ewes (Genesis 33:13). In the Syrian plains the frequent removal to fresh pastures is very destructive to the young, and shepherds may now be seen in the Orient carrying, on such occasions, the lambs in their bosoms. We need, by any means in our power, travel, and observation, to realize strongly the grave responsibility, the constant anxiety, the patient and unwearied tendance, connected with the shepherd's life in the East. Compare such a life with that of the hunter, who, from watching, pursuing, outwitting wild beasts, comes to partake of their fierce and cunning nature. The life of the shepherd draws upon the fund of love and tenderness in his heart; it is a humanizing life, full of a fine education; elevating by means of condescension. Then how rich a symbol is the pastoral character of the nature of the redeeming God! And how do the numerous passages in the New Testament, in which Jesus is so described, start into life and beauty, when these things are considered (John 10:1-42.; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 1 Peter 5:4)! There is an ineffable union of might with tenderness in the character of the Redeemer-God, which should in some sort be reflected in the pastoral character of Christ's servants (John 16:15-17).—J.
I. HIS POWER OVER NATURE. The boldest imagery to express this thought: the "hollow of his hand;" his "span;" his "tierce," a small measure; his scales, with which he weighs the volumes of sea and laud, and measures the vast extent of heaven without an effort,—as we use the hand to weigh or to span! Far from taking offence at such figures, we feel them to be truthful, appropriate, sublime. The Creator is infinitely superior to his world. Vastness of space may overwhelm our imagination, but not his. His thought holds with ease the universe as a whole and in all its parts. "Thou hast ordered all things by measure and number and weight" (Wis. 11:20). Vain the "materialistic" dreams of students occupied too much with the physical and the phenomenal. The physical is the expression of the intellectual; the phenomenal but the "appearance' of the real; the creation, the "garb we see God by." How much truer to what a spiritual religion teaches us is this view than that which would direct our wonder and our worship to the mere splendours of the material world, rather than to the great creative and informing spirit of the world! Isaiah, contemptuously speaking of the sea as held in God's hand, as one might hold a drop of water, is a better poet than Byron, who apostrophizes the sea as a living being.
II. THE ORIGINALITY OF HIS MIND. A theological difficulty is supposed to be alluded to. "Who hath regulated the mind of Jehovah? Was he himself absolutely free? May not Omnipotence itself be subject to conditions? May there not be an equal or superior power to whose counsels he must defer?" (Cheyne). Distinctly the prophet, without arguing the question, denies the truth of such an hypothesis. By the Spirit of God we mean the mind of God, which is
"The life and light of all this wondrous world we see."
The world is not "dead matter," but the creation of that intelligence, the vast poem, inspired by Divine thoughts that breathe and burn. Love is the last ground of all things, and conscience and intelligence are its ministers. God's Being is simple, unique, absolutely original. In a like sense to that which we say the works of a great poet are his unassisted productions, does the prophet say the world is the work of God. "Contrast the Babylonian myth of a joint action of Bel and the gods in the creation of man; and the Iranian of co-creatorship of Ormuzd and the Amshaspands;" or the crude cosmogonic notions of the Greeks. All parts of the world, all habitable lands and nations, are dependent on him, derived from his will, subject to his power. How, then, can earth's noblest products add anything to his riches, or further illustrate the glory of One to whom they already belong? The poverty of Judah in wood may be contrasted with the rich forests of Lebanon; but even Lebanon could not yield enough for his honour, if that honour is to be measured by the extent of the offerings. The nations, and all that is great and imposing in their life, are nought in his eyes; chaos may designate them in this contemptuous view. In short, he is incomparable. No illustration, analogy, similitude, ever thrown forth from the poet-soul and imagination in mankind, as no picture of painter, image of sculptor, will here avail. Nay, there must be moments when the very forms of thought into which everything must be thrown that we may see it at all, and even last of all, the richest and purest musical harmonies, must be set aside as inadequate.
"All are too mean to speak his worth,
Too mean to set our Maker forth."
Nothing can surpass the simplicity and the sublimity of this view of God. Nothing less lofty will satisfy our intelligence or meet the yearnings of our heart. The idolatry we are so ready to lavish upon the finite object is the poor caricature of that immense delight which God demands we should enjoy in the thought of him, and which we cannot be satisfied until we have attained.—J.
A strong tone of irony and ridicule runs through the description; and nothing could better illustrate by contrast that sublime faith which has just been presented to our view.
I. THE IMAGE CONTRASTED WITH JEHOVAH. All our thought is composed of images, but what a descent from that image in the mind and solely there on which we have been dwelling, to yonder thing of metal, which the craftsman casts, and the goldsmith overlays with gold, and for which he forges chains of silver! Let art be honoured; let artists strive their best to give distinctness to thoughts that must otherwise wander in the vague. But if the concrete thing be thrust into the place of that spiritual reality it can but faintly suggest, it becomes an object of scorn instead of admiration. Have the great traditions of our fathers ended in this? What has that thing of your poor manufacture to do with the great scheme of things?
II. THE ETERNAL REVELATION. The prophet is astonished that men are blind and deaf to that eternal truth which has been announced from the beginning of the creation—the speech poured out from day to day, the declarations of every starry night. The works of God are the shadows of himself. "The whole system of the world is but a standing copy and representation of the Divine goodness, writing little images of itself upon every the least portion of this great body." "The night itself cannot conceal the glories of the heaven; but the moon and stars, those lesser lights, then show forth their lesser beauties. While the labourer ties down for his rest, the astronomer sits up and watches for his pleasure." When men were talking atheism around Napoleon on the passage to Africa, the great man exclaimed, pointing to the starry sky, "It is all very well for you to talk, gentlemen; but who made all that?" Again the prophet rises to that conception of the sublimity of Jehovah and the insignificance of man's power in contrast with him, which may be called contrast in Hebrew thought. A series of "admiring exclamations" follows. Jehovah sits above the circle that over-arches the earth (Job 22:14; Proverbs 8:27); and men seem as insignificant insects in comparison (cf. Numbers 13:33). His vast hand has spread out the heavens like a curtain of fine cloth; they resemble a habitable tent—also an idea frequent in Hebrew poetry (Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12; Isaiah 51:13; Job 9:8; Zechariah 12:1). Thus the dimensions of nature suggest the majesty and infinitude of God. So the revolutions of the nations suggest the sovereignty and spiritual might of God. Men of weight are by him brought to nothing, and the judges of the earth become as worthless chaos. A magnificent city, with the tombs of departed and the palaces of living kings, is an imposing monument of human passion and human intelligence. Nineveh and Babylon "seemed planted for eternity, firmly rooted in the soil; but to the prophets, regarding them from the point of view of the future, they seemed as though they had never been." Prefound faith in the Eternal fills the mind with contempt for the gloria mundi, which seems to be withering in the very hour it most proudly flourishes. The prophet falls back upon the thought of the holy and incomparable One, who marshals the starry hosts, who is Lord of the physical universe and of the world of man's spirits. We need to rest our thought upon the infinite power of God. Weak ourselves, we need to lean upon that which is strong and enduring. And here we are liable to many illusions—the illusion of the permanence of physical systems, the illusion of the permanence of human customs and institutions. God can cause the heavens to be shrivelled like a scroll, can efface the cities of the nation as if they were so many rubbish-heaps from the face of the earth. He and the soul alone abide.—J.
I. THE COMPLAINT OF THE PEOPLE. They feel themselves, or are tempted to feel themselves, forsaken of God. Their "way" seems to be hidden from him. The "way" is a figure for the course and condition of life. And is it not said in the first Psalm, "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous"? There are times when this cannot be realized. The truth of a providence over the national and the personal life—what more consoling? "Thou art with me;" "Thou God seest me:" what might is there hot, in such thoughts to "warn, to comfort, to command"? There are other moods, and thoughts of another complexion. We suffer, and God seems indifferent. There is a sense of the injustice of the world, and God does not defend us. "Our right has been let slip by our God." He has living oracles for others, nut for us. We gaze into his words; luminous to others, they radiate not their meaning upon us. Who and what is that God in whom we have been taught to believe? A name, and nothing more? These are, indeed, dark moments. "Passed and passed my turn is," says a modern poet, in describing the "fears and scruples" of the drooping and despondent soul. The worst is that the weakness which is subjective, in ourselves, we are tempted to throw out of ourselves—to project on God. He must be growing weary and faint, and something less than God. This mood the prophet meets (cf. Isaiah 49:14; Job 27:2).
II. THE REPLY OF THE PROPHET.
1. He appeals to their intelligence. "Hast thou not perceived?" Look away from self and its restriction within the bonds of present distress; look at others who are expatiating on the "large places" of Jehovah's goodness. Look at the silent heavens with their "goings on;" the march of the seasons; the recurrence of seed-time and harvest; consider the breath which stirs the souls of men to progress in wisdom, culture, peace, civilization. Contemplate as a whole and in its parts the marvellous mechanism of the human world. Divert thy thoughts from the little self-world to the immense universe. Listen as well as look—to the immemorial tradition; to the oracles that have lived and cannot die; to the deep voice of prophets and the music of psalmists; to the simple accents of the babes and sucklings. One immense harmony starts upon the ear and the heart; the loving and eternal God its central theme. "Oh, my brothers, God exists; believing love will relieve us of a load of care." Intelligence and conscience combine with the sacred unbroken traditions of the race, to assure us that he is what he was and where he was.
2. The attributes of Jehovah. An everlasting God. Mortality means fickleness and caprice. His Name means constancy, faithfulness. His covenants are irreversible. In the English Testament of the Jews, that grand Name, "the Eternal," is preserved. He is "Creator of the ends of the earth;" i.e. of the "whole earth from end to end." Babylonia, then, the seat of the exile, is not beyond Jehovah's empire, as if he were only "the god of the hills of Palestine" (Cheyne). Creation infers providence. If God made the world, he governs it too. Men are dependent on him, and in their dependence is safety and bliss. He has no human infirmities: faints not, nor is weary. He works for his world both day and night (Genesis 1:5, etc.; Exodus 13:21; 1 Kings 8:29; Psalms 121:4). His unfathomable intelligence. (Cf. Job 5:9; Job 9:10; cf. Isa 34:1-17 :24; 36:26.) Therefore there was a "wise purpose" in all this present procedure of providence, so dark as it seemed. We look upon the wavering ripples on the surface of the river; but the sunbeam strikes upon them with directness and certainty. And "God's hand is as steady as his eye." His self-communication. "Man's weakness, waiting upon God, its end can never miss." For he is self-imparting; and if there be a void in us, it is that he may fill it; a weakness in us, that his strength may be seen consummate in it. "Unto the powerless he maketh strength to abound."
3. The wisdom of waiting. Waiting! How much is included in that word! Faith, and hope, and endurance, and strength. Take the most vivid image of strength: the youth in his athletic vigour—the agile wrestler, the nimble runner. Is he strong? Nay, he shall stumble, while the stationary, waiting one "gathers fresh force." He seems to be on the wane, to be losing the dew and brightness of his youth. 'Tis but the moulting of the old eagle of fable—he will put forth fresh feathers. With "ages on his plumes," i.e. will still be travelling on. These waiters ate the stayers in the race. They may appear as stationary as earth itself; they roll on by the same momentum, they are the agents of the same force. Exertion without God: what more impotent? impotence touched by God's breath, God's hand: what can it not do? "Wait, I say, on the Lord."—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Isaiah 40:1, Isaiah 40:2
"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem." Here, after prophetic revelation of danger and warning against the Nemesis of sin, we come upon the evangel of love. For God delights not in denunciation or death. All his universe testifies that he loves life, that he "has no pleasure in the death of the wicked."
I. HERE IS REITERATION. "Comfort ye, comfort ye." It is an inspiration of earnestness in conveying the heavenly message. For God is the God of comfort. Not comfort in sin, but comfort to all who seek to be delivered from it. This is like the "Verily, verily." It gives emphasis to hope. For love deals not in cold aphorisms, but repeats itself, that the heart may be sure of the message. To convince of sin is not enough. To expose evil may be the work of the moral dramatist. To scorn it may be the work of the satirist. But God is more than a Judge; he is a Saviour. The Son of man came (as his great work), "not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved."
II. HERE IS REST. "Her warfare is accomplished." The weapons to be put into the hands of the faithful suffice to secure victory, and therefore the warfare is spoken of as accomplished. Looking forward to the Redeemer's days, Isaiah reminds us that his sacrifice is to be complete, as we read in Hebrews, "Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Thus Christ spake of his own death, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." This is the spirit of the New Testament. "Iniquity is pardoned." All who believe have full and free remission of sins. And the warfare within them must end in holy conquest—every rebel flag on every province of the nature will be hauled down, and every worldly enemy will be laid low. "This is the victory which overcometh the world, even our faith."
III. HERE IS DEPENDENCE. We receive double from "the Lord's hand." This is the theme of all the true Churches of Christ. Whether we express our gratitude for redemption in the words of Lyte or Watts, Keble or Doddridge, Faber or Wesley, it is still the same, and antedates the great Church worship of heaven: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us kern our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God,… be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."—W.M.S.
The golden age.
"Every valley shall be exalted," etc. Everything depends upon how we view the future, whether with the horoscope of history or prophecy. History says the old evils return—war, strife, wrong, selfishness. Then the heart sinks, and inspiration to duty is weakened. But when we go with the prophet to the mountain-tops, we see—
I. PATHS OF PREPARATION. "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." There are the ruins of the old military roads of the Caesars, but the Caesars are gone. There the Ptolemies of olden time made incursions, but their sway is past. But the highways of commerce, the freer intercourse of peoples; the more humanizing influences of equity in law, and reformation in punishment, the kindly workings of pity and charity to the neglected and forgotten;—all these are preparation-paths for the great King who is to reign in righteousness. Not alone through the royal gates of olden prophecies, but through the triumphal arches of redeeming ideas and influences which he has set at work, the Messiah shall come.
II. OBSTACLES REMOVED. "Every valley," etc. This is but a figurative way of stating that no hindrance can affect the onward march of the Redeemer. In Eastern countries the things described here were obstacles sufficient to hinder Solomon in his Eastern journeys. There were limits to his progress when he left his grand basilica to visit his wide domains. Not so will it be with One greater than Solomon.
III. GLORY REVEALED. It is hidden now. Men are dazzled with false glory, with meretricious ideas of empire, and they see no beauty in Christ that they should desire him. But one day—as the aesthetic student realizes in time what is true art, as the musician understands the majesty of Beethoven—the moral nature of men being quickened and renewed by the Spirit, they shall see the glory of the Lord and the excellency of our God. Not some here and there, but man everywhere; "all flesh shall see it together." What a vision! and what a day of jubilee! We need cherish no doubt about it. The vision is not imagination. The grand climacteric result is not predicated from a mere study of the triumph of the strongest forces. God has pledged his own word: "For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."—W.M.S.
Isaiah 40:7, Isaiah 40:8
"The grass withereth," etc. The soul of man is immortal, and the Word that is to feed it is immortal too.
I. THE DECAY OF NATURE. "The grass withereth"—that which feeds the dying race of creatures upon earth. "The flower fadeth"—that which regales the physical senses of man. Each generation learns this great lesson, and it is interwoven into poem and song in every literature.
II. THE SYMBOLISM OF NATURE. These pictures of decay are to teach us how frail is the earthly life of man: "He cometh up and is cut down like a flower" "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower thereof." So that his best life, his soul, will demand the greater care; that must be rooted in the everlasting. The inspiring of the human is a pensive enough consideration at times; we can only be comforted by the faith which, uniting us with Christ, enables us to say, "Though the outward man perishes, the inward man is renewed day by day."
III. THE ETERNITY OF TRUTH. "The Word of our God shall stand for ever." It is blessed to be able to say "our God," because that implies not only reconciliation, but interest in his kingdom, and that kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. There is the written Word, and that lives and is translated into almost every language and dialect on the earth. There is that Word as it lives and breathes in the regenerated hearts and histories of the saints of God. There is the eternal Word himself, the Logos, the Lord Christ, the Inspirer of all truth in all the ages, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Lord God Almighty.—W.M.S.
"His reward is with him." There is a glory to be revealed. There is a day of the manifestation of the sons of God—a day of august solemnity, when the King shall say, "Come, ye blessed." But the Christian dispensation is not fairly represented when its rewards and punishments are declared to be future only. These words speak of a present reward.
I. CHRIST JESUS HAD HIS REWARD HERE. SO says the prophet, speaking here of Christ. And the apostle says, "For the joy set before him he endured the cross;" and Jesus gives this legacy to his disciples: "My joy." We are apt to think of Jesus only as the "Man of sorrows." And so our artists have painted him. In their pictures there is often no light of triumph in his eye ] How he went about doing good! What a reward it was, every day to comfort the mourner and to heal the broken-hearted! Think of all that Jesus said in the synagogue of Nazareth—that he came to do, and you will understand that beneath this sorrow and suffering there was a still deeper joy. His reward was with him. So it was, even on the cross, strange as that may appear. Still the prophet says," When thou shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed,… the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied."
II. CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE ENDORSES THIS TRUTH. The Christian's reward is with him. True duty is not discharged for the sake of reward. Men in this world never get happiness by seeking for it alone. It must come, not as an end, but as an accompaniment of duty. Besides, we should be open to the criticism that the gospel appealed to selfishness if we invited men and women to become Christians for the sake of heaven. No; we invite them to take up their cross and follow him, and therein they will find their reward. Strange as it may seem, they too will find blessedness where they least expected it in doing the will of God; and then heaven will come as the culmination and perfection of sacrificial and spiritual life.—W.M.S.
Weakness made strong.
"He giveth power to the faint," etc. The pilgrim to Zion is often weary. Lassitude and faintness steal over the soul, and energy is gone. At such seasons we cannot recover ourselves. No effort of will can give tone to the spirit and zeal to the activities.
I. FAINTNESS RELIEVED. Our principles have not changed; nor have our ideals. To live for Christ is still our aim. But somehow the heart, which is the centre of the life, beats feebly. God has varied ways of relieving our weakness and restoring our strength. But whatever the instrumentality, it is God that does it, God's Spirit that fills it. Blessed hours are those when the heavenly breath revives the soul; when the graces lift up their faded heads like dew-bathed flowers; when courage revives, and the soul rejoices in God.
II. STRENGTH INCREASED. "To them that have no might." Further than this we cannot go. And it should comfort those who regard their experiences of feebleness as indications that they are not the children of God, that such a state is recognized in Holy Scripture as possible to us. "No might." Patience gone. Endurance gone. Perseverance gone. It is almost like moral paralysis. But it is not, indeed, so. The nerve is weakened, but not snapped. Divine communication can and will come, even to the most enfeebled and dejected. While we say "no might," there is a little strength, or it could not be "increased.' And this increase is often very slow and imperceptible. When we are physically feeble, we cannot measure progress as we inhale the air of sea or mountain; only steadily does the tide of health, like the ocean tide, return. But it does come, if we wait upon God; for God is faithful who hath promised. It is all of him.—W.M.S.
"Even the youths shall faint," ere. Then faintness is not a matter of age. Exhausted power may belong to youth. We are to learn that natural spirits are not enough for this great campaign. Health and energy will do much for the earthly soldier, and for the young mountaineer on the Swiss Alps. But it is otherwise here. From beginning to end of the Divine life we shall faint and fail unless God be with us to inspire and strengthen us.
I. YOUNG EXPERIENCES. It is perhaps well that we should learn the great lesson early, so that we may never think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. There are doubtless joyful experiences in our first love to Christ; but Bunyan was right when he placed the Slough of Despond so near the starting-place. We soon meet with disappointments and disheartenments. We are soon face to face with temptations which well-nigh overcome us. The Philistines make us afraid.
II. FALLEN FORTUNES. Not in houses or estates, but in hearts and lives. We fall—utterly tall. So that there may be no excuse, no palliation, no pretence that it was only a stumble; we cannot gaily pick ourselves up and go on our way as though nothing had happened. We are told of our utter failure. But to fall, even. is not to be lost. We may be maimed, bruised, broken, but God can lift us up. "Rejoice not over me, O mine enemy, for when I fall I shall arise." This is the victor-song of souls that trust not in themselves, but in him who is able to make all grace abound unto them. Never let the fallen, whether it be in faith, or creed, or character, be treated as lost.—W.M.S.
Renewal of strength.
"They that wait upon the Lord." Here we have revealed to us the secret of the soul's renewed energy. It is open to all. We are thus "changed men," for the Hebrew word here, "to renew," means "to change." Experiences like these alter alike character and countenance. God restores unto us the joy of his anointed.
I. A DIVINE PROMISE. Written in the book of inspiration? Yes; and embodied in the experience of a great multitude of souls. So attest the men of old, like Daniel and Nehemiah, who had each religious work to do in pagan courts. And s; also must we. No philosophy of prayer may be possible to us, save that best of all philosophies, the philosophy of experience. And this we cannot set aside. As the Bible is its own best evidence concerning its inspiration, so is prayer its own best argument. They that wait upon the Lord, in every age, whether in the patriarchy, the theocracy, or the Christian age, have renewed their strength.
II. A TRIPLE EXPERIENCE. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles." True, there is a higher realm into which as we rise we are surprised that the cares and worries of this lower world should have such power to harass and overcome us. We do see light in God's light. The nearer we get to Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, the more we feel this light and heat. "They shall run, and not be weary." Progress is made. Elasticity of heart is felt. We renew the youth of our souls. "They shall walk, and not faint" For we cannot always be in the enjoyment of swift progress. We have hills to climb and waters to ford, and what we call the commonplaces of life to attend to. Still, there is room for heroism here, and for gracious communion with God and contentment with his will. To walk and not faint is sometimes more difficult than to run and not be weary.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Isaiah 40:1, Isaiah 40:2
Pardon and penalty.
Israel is to be comforted by her teachers and pastors, because the time of her exile, which is the period of the Divine sentence, has nearly expired, and the hour of her redemption is consequently nigh. If we ask what ground of comfort we find here for the Christian Church, or for the chastened human soul, we have to reply—
I. THAT COMFORT IS NOT TO BE FOUND IN THE SUPPOSED LENIENCY OF GOD. No thought can be more perilously false than the imagination that God is too great to concern himself with our misdeeds, or too "good" to take offence with our shortcoming. Scripture, providence, and a sound philosophy alike protest against that ruinous doctrine. Sin is clearly a most serious thing, a heinous and terrible departure in the sight of God. Let no man comfort his soul with the hope that "le ben Dieu" will overlook his life of impiety or his various acts of iniquity. God does, indeed, pardon sin on man's penitence and faith; but even then pardon does not absolutely exclude penalty. We may not press into our service here the word "pardoned" (Isaiah 40:2), as it may perhaps there signify expiated; but elsewhere the redemption of Israel is treated as an act of Divine mercy. Yet here we have judgment and mercy blended. The guilty nation is not to be restored until "her warfare" (the time of her service) has been "accomplished," until she has received at the Lord's hand "double" (full and ample chastisement) for all her sins. And the fact is, as we find in our daily experience, that when God now pardons and restores, he lets his reconciled children feel the effects of their past folly and sin. The consequences of a vicious youth go far on into even Christian manhood. The penalties of an unwise and irreverent fatherhood follow the parent to the very foot of the grave. God's mercy does not immediately arrest the tide of suffering and sorrow which flows from a long course of wrong-doing. The man "bears his penalty until his warfare" (his time of servitude) "is accomplished;" and that is often a long time, covering many years, extending over whole periods of human life.
II. THAT COMFORT IS TO BE FOUND IN THE FACT OF A REAL RESTORATION to the love and favour of God. In a very true sense, when a man repents and seeks the Divine mercy in Christ Jesus, he is one of God's "people" (Isaiah 40:1); God is his God, as he was not before (Isaiah 40:1). And the ills that he now suffers lose their stern aspect; penalty becomes discipline—it is no longer the sentence of the Judge, it is the correction of the Father.
III. THAT COMFORT IS TO BE FOUND IN THE RELEASE OF DEATH and the free(loin of the heavenly country. When the end of life's hard service comes, and the note of the soul's return shall be sounded, then shall there be a glorious deliverance from evil, and entrance on the highest good.—C.
Human preparation for the Divine advent.
We shall find, with very little seeking, a threefold application for these words:
(1) a primary one in the restoration of the Jews to Jerusalem;
(2) an historical and human one in the advent of our Lord and the founding of his kingdom;
(3) a future one in the restoration of the race to the likeness and the favour of God. The keystone of the passage we find in the fifth verse; it is the idea of the manifestation of God's glory, which all mankind is to witness. We have, then—
I. THE MANIFESTED GLORY OF GOD. This was to be displayed and has been shown in two illustrations which are now historical.
1. The faithfulness and the power of Jehovah in the accomplishment of his people's redemption from exile.
2. A more striking instance of Divine faithfulness, wisdom, and power, in the giving of the gospel of his grace, in preparing the nations of the earth for its reception, in its actual initiation and inauguration, and in its early and widespread diffusion among men.
II. THE GLORY WHICH WAITS TO RE REVEALED. Christ has come, and we celebrate his advent with joy and gratitude. But it is also and equally true that he is coming. He is still "the Coming One." Across the arid wastes of indifference, and over mountains of opposition and gulfs of apparent impossibility, he is coming, and in time we shall see him—the present, reigning, triumphant Lord. It is a glorious spiritual advance he is to make, and presence he is to confer, and power he is to exert; but it will be none the less glorious or gracious for its spirituality. That, indeed, will immeasurably enhance its worth, for it will be the grander, the truer, the more lasting achievement.
III. THE STRENGTH OF OUR ASSURANCE CONCERNING IT. "All flesh shall see it: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." There may be many indications that Jesus Christ will one day secure a glorious victory over the disbelief, the vice, the superstition, the selfishness, the indifference of the world; but the strongest assurance we can take to our striving, yearning, sometimes wondering and doubting hearts is that "the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it:" "I, if I be lifted up," etc.
IV. OUR CONTRIBUTION TOWARDS ITS COMING. "Prepare ye the way," etc.; "make straight a highway," etc. The Christian Church has to ask itself the urgent, practical question, what it can do to quicken the coming of its Lord in his redeeming and regenerating power. And it may find its answer here.
1. Fill up the gulfs of unbelief; let not lack of faith on the part of Christian men hinder the putting forth of Divine power (Matthew 13:58).
2. Remove the hills of inconsistency; let not profession and exhortation be neutralized by immoralities in life, by wide departures from the will and Word of God.
3. Take up the stones of blemish; make a patient effort to cast aside lesser evils which, if not serious obstacles, do yet trouble and impede.
4. Lay down a highway by prayer and zeal.—C.
The passing and the abiding.
We are so little affected by that with which we are most familiar, that we need to hear a voice crying in our ear and reminding us of what we well know to be true. To nothing is this more applicable than the transitory nature of our human life and our earthly interests. We want to be told—
I. THAT HUMAN LIFE IS CONTINUALLY PASSING. We do well to walk in the city of the dead, and let the gravestones, with their names and dates, speak to us with simple eloquence of the passage of human life. We are wise when we take some measures to recall to our thought and write on the tablet of our souls the fact which care and pleasure are so industriously trying to conceal, that, when a few more years have come and gone, we shall be numbered with the dead, and that the objects and the incidents which are everything to us now will be nothing to us soon. It is a real gain to us, in wisdom, to be reminded that we are but passengers to the unseen world, and that every step we take leaves us less of the journey to be pursued. Human life is like a flower of the field, a little while ascending to its perfection, and then a little while descending to its doom.
II. THAT ITS EXCELLENCY RAPIDLY DISAPPEARS. "All the goodliness" of human life disappears still more quickly than life itself. The most exquisite things are the most evanescent; the fairest are the frailest. The beauty, the strength, the glory of human life,—these last but a very little while; they appear above the surface and put forth their blossom; then comes the killing frost, and they perish.
III. THAT THE TRUTH OF GOD IS EVERLASTING.
1. Enlightening truth. All that he has told us of himself and of ourselves, of our nature, character, destiny, way of return, etc.
2. Commanding and inviting truth. He still says imperatively, "Return unto me;" invitingly, "Come unto me."
3. Comforting truth. It will never cease to be a sustaining and mitigating fact that "God is our Refuge and Strength," that he chastens us; not for his pleasure, but for our profit, that we may be made "partakers of his holiness."
4. Warning truth. It is as certain now, as it was in the earliest era, that "the soul that sinneth, it shall die."
5. Hope-giving truth. From generation to generation it shall be, as it has been, declared that "whosoever believeth in him hath everlasting life.—C.
Isaiah 40:9, Isaiah 40:10
God: his presence, power, and grace.
Such good tidings are to be brought to Zion that the language used is that of exultation; the messenger is to stand upon a high mountain, to lift up his voice with strength, to proclaim so that every one, far and near, shall hear. The message to be delivered is the presence of Jehovah, his everlasting power, his grace in bringing a large reward in his bountiful hand. The primary reference is obvious (see previous homilies); the secondary one is to Messiah's kingdom, and the glory which is yet to be revealed. The most striking applications are to—
I. GOD'S PRESENCE IN JESUS CHRIST HIS SON. Then, when "God was manifest in the flesh," when "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us," the "Brightness of the Father's glory, and the express Image of his Person," might these words be most appropriately used, "Behold your God." Then One was present who
(1) while he had in his nature and his character all Divine attributes (Divine knowledge, power, truth, purity, love, etc.),
(2) was visible to the human eye, audible to the human ear, accessible to the human race; then he that was "above all" was "with us" all, the Immanuel.
II. GOD'S POWER IN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF HIS KINGDOM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. No doubt it seemed to the Jews a very glorious illustration of Divine power to overcome all the obstacles that stood in the way of their return from exile—to guide them into and establish them in the land of their fathers. But it is an incalculably greater instance of Divine power to overcome all the hindrances in the way of a spiritual redemption of the race, and to secure that glorious issue. This is that which the ruling and overruling arm of the Almighty is now accomplishing. Well might such a work be published with farthest-reaching voice from the highest mountain! God is doing that with which no victories that human monarchs ever won will for one small moment compare. He is triumphing over the prejudices, the superstitions, the vices, the selfishness, the individual and the organized iniquities of the world; and on the ruins of sin and wrong he is rearing the mighty and majestic edifice of universal righteousness and peace.
III. GOD'S GRACE IN CONFERRING IMMORTAL GLORY. "His reward is with him." God comes to us in the gospel with a very large reward. On them who seek for honour and glory in his appointed way, he confers "eternal life;" that is to say,
(1) life of the very highest kind—life that is spiritual and Divine, spent in his near presence and in his holy service; and
(2) life that never fails, but evermore enlarges—life that does not, as dues our mortal existence, ascend and then descend till the end is reached, but that continually and eternally ascends, enlarging and expanding as the centuries pass away. Well is it for these, and wise is it of them, to rejoice in his manifested presence, to take a sympathetic and active share in the outworking of his great accomplishment, to have for their chief hope a share in that heavenly heritage.—C.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Of no one can these words be used with such exquisite appropriateness as of that "great Shepherd," that "good Shepherd" of the sheep, whom we call Lord and Master. They express—
I. HIS PRACTICAL KINDNESS. "He shall feed his flock like a shepherd." He will be to them, in all kindly service, what the shepherd is to his sheep.
1. He provides with all-nourishing truth.
2. He leads in the paths of righteousness.
3. He defends from spiritual perils.
II. HIS TENDERNESS. "He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom." He is tender in his treatment of:
1. The young. They may well sing, "Jesus, tender Shepherd, hear me," etc. He who so graciously received the little children, who took them up in his arms and blessed them (Mark 10:1-52.) will regard with truest tenderness the children of his people now.
2. The sick and suffering. As tenderly as the pitiful mother waits upon her sick child, will he sympathize with those of his disciples who are afflicted in body.
3. The sorrowful. He is the "High Priest touched with a feeling of our infirmities," holding and healing with delicate hand the wounded and suffering spirit.
III. HIS CONSIDERATENESS. "And shall gently lead those that are with young." He will suit his step to the pace of those who have to fall behind. No hard iron measure has he in his hand; he requires of us only according to the strength we have. The shorter and slenderer service of the unprivileged, of the burdened, of the feeble, of the "little ones" of his flock is quite as acceptable to the considerate and patient Saviour as the longer and larger service of the privileged and the strong.—C.
The greatness of God and the littleness of man.
These most eloquent words, so impressive as they stand that it seems undesirable to touch them in the way of analyzing them, may speak to us of—
I. THE IMMEASURABLE GREATNESS OF GOD.
1. His Divine majesty. All that is most vast and powerful in the universe—the sea, the heavens, the land, the mountains, etc.—is small and slight indeed when compared with him; his surroundings, his possessions, all bespeak his unapproachable majesty.
2. His Divine power. Such is his boundless strength that he can hold up the waters in the hollow of his hand, can "take up the isles as a very little thing." What cannot he accomplish to whom this is easy?
3. His Divine knowledge. Power rests on knowledge; God is able to do all things because he knows all things. He can tell what is the measure of "the dust of the earth." He cannot be taught anything by any being, for all knowledge is his already (Isaiah 40:13,Isaiah 40:14); greatest things and least, the weight of the mountains, the number of the grains of dust, etc; are known to him.
4. His Divine wisdom. "Who hath taught him in the path of judgment?' (Isaiah 40:14). Perfect wisdom, the secret of right action, of the direction of greatest affairs, of prevision and provision, of ruling and overruling, is at his command. His wisdom is incapable of increase; it is absolutely complete.
II. HUMAN LITTLENESS. "The nations are as a drop of a bucket" (Isaiah 40:15). We note, as corresponding with God's greatness:
1. Our insignificance. We may find ourselves mean and humble enough when compared with our fellow-men; most certainly we do when we bring ourselves, our circumstances, our authority, into comparison with him.
2. Our impotence. How very little can the strongest and most influential men effect! how much less those whose lives are spent in lowly spheres!
3. Our ignorance. We want men to direct our spirit, to counsel us, to teach us knowledge. There are few men from whom we have not something to learn. We need to be acquiring knowledge, not in the time specially devoted to study, but all day long and all life through.
4. Our foolishness. We do not know how to conduct our own affairs wisely, and are continually making larger or smaller mistakes: how much more so in our conduct of other men's affairs! Therefore we do well:
(1) To retain truest and deepest reverence of spirit; filial confidence and joy in God must always be made consistent with profoundest adoration.
(2) To accept without question the truth he has revealed to us in his Word.
(3) To trust his guidance in the direction of our lives, however dark and inexplicable some passages may seem.
(4) To work on cheerfully and hopefully, though a successful issue appear exceedingly remote.—C.
The hopelessness and the simplicity of Divine service.
"Lebanon is not sufficient to burn," etc.; "Not one faileth." If we were asked whether it was a very difficult or a very simple thing to serve the Lord, we should say, "It is both the one and the other; everything depends upon the way and the spirit in which we proceed." We learn—
I. THAT MERE QUANTITY OF SERVICE IS VAIN AND FUTILE. "Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor will [all] the beasts thereof suffice for a burnt offering," if the acceptable element in worship be absent. Great hecatombs are heathenish things; they are based on the essentially false idea that God can be enriched by human gifts—"as though he needed anything," as though, "if he were hungry, he would tell us." And all ideas as to quantity in service are erroneous. It is not by "thousands of rams or tens of thousands of rivers of oil," that he is to be placated. It is a hopeless and impossible task which so many set themselves to accomplish—to please and serve the living God by a multitude of services, of celebrations, of privations, of prayers ("much speaking"), of acts of outward benevolence. As all Lebanon with all its beasts would not be sufficient for one acceptable sacrifice, taken of itself and of themselves, so millions of Masses and multitudes of charities, and innumerable acts of service, whether good or bad in themselves, would take a man no nearer to the favour of God and the kingdom of heaven, if there were not present something apart from these things and of more intrinsic excellence than they. Without this last, service is either formal, or superstitious, or selfish; in any case it is worthless.
II. THAT THE SMALLEST SERVICE RIGHTLY RENDERED IS EFFECTUAL WITH GOD. Not one of the vast army of the heavenly hosts fails to take its place and exert its influence and do its appointed work in the vast plans of the Creator. Every smallest star gives its light, and helps to keep everything in the sidereal universe in equipoise and in orderly movement. Not one faileth. So may this be true in the great army of Divine worshippers and of Christian workers. With a reverent and a loving spirit, the service of God is the simplest thing in the world.
1. The ejaculation of a moment is an effectual prayer.
2. The gift of two mites is a liberal offering.
3. The cup of cold water will by no means lose its reward.
4. The simple sentence of encouragement to the tired traveller along the road of life, or of comfort to the wounded soldier in the battle of life, or of good cheer to the baffled workman in the Master's vineyard, is eloquent in the ear of the Lord of love.
5. The household duty conscientiously and devoutly discharged will be owned and blessed by him who observes and rewards the "bond and free."
6. The simplest act of magnanimity, rendered in the interchange of our homeliest relations, by which a brother, or sister, or neighbour is frankly forgiven the hard word, or the inconsiderate silence, or the unloving deed, weighs in the scales of him who was the first to say, "Love your enemies." Every soldier among the rank-and-file can serve the Divine Captain. With love in the heart there is no need of Lebanon and its beasts for an altar or a sacrifice. Not one need fail to do, day by day, hour after hour, act after act, that which is well pleasing in the eyes of him "with whom we have to do," whose good. pleasure with us is the gladness of our heart and the music of our life.—C.
The degradation of the Divine.
The holy indignation of the prophet is aroused as he sees the Godhead so pitifully presented to the mind, so shamefully represented to the eyes of men. He has in view the power and majesty of the Supreme One, and places in contrast the creatures of human imagination, the fabrications of the human hand. We have the degradation of the Divine—
I. AS IT APPEARED TO THE HEBREW PROPHET. He beheld:
1. The power and the majesty of God, shown in
(1) his immeasurable exaltation above all his creatures (Isaiah 40:22);
(2) the perfect ease with which he formed the most wonderful objects in creation (Isaiah 40:22);
(3) the absolute control he exercises over the mightiest of the children of men (Isaiah 40:23, Isaiah 40:24);
(4) the knowledge and wisdom he displays in ordering the physical universe (Isaiah 40:26).
2. The utter folly of the heathen in their way of presenting Deity to their minds; attempting to fashion an image which should bear no resemblance to the Lord (Isaiah 40:18-20), as if anything that the hand of man can fashion could bear the smallest resemblance to, or be in any way fitted to suggest the idea of, the Majesty of heaven; the practical and the common issue of such idolatry being the actual acceptance of the graven image as constituting the very object of worship. We may regard the degradation of the Divine—
II. AS IT APPEARS TO US IN OUR OWN TIME.
1. We have the true thought of God, as revealed to us by Jesus Christ—that of a Divine Father conferring on us our being and our powers, visiting us with constant loving-kindnesses, divinely interested in our highest well-being, interposing to restore us to his love and his likeness, giving his own Son to redeem us and his own Spirit to renew us, disciplining us with fatherly care, and rejoicing in our filial affection and obedience with parental joy.
2. We have the degraded thought of God which men still entertain.
(1) The fetish of the heathen world: a being, ordinarily represented by an idol, whose malignant hostility is deprecated and averted by gifts and self-inflicted penalties.
(2) The fiction of the philosopher: an impersonal power, an abstraction or generalization, an ideal humanity, etc.—something in which a few trained intellects may rest, but which no human heart can trust or love, and no human soul strive to resemble.
(3) The god of the ungodly: no being accepted by the mind but banished by the heart, unrecognized by the conscience, neglected in the life. This last is the guiltiest degradation of the Divine; for "this is the condemnation, that light is come," etc; and "He that knoweth his Lord's will and doeth it not shall be beaten with many stripes."—C.
The distinguishing love of God.
"He calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might "for that he is strong in power." The infinitude of God is no argument at all against his observance of the individual and the minute; rightly regarded, it is a strong inference in favour of it. Because he is infinite in wisdom he compasses all that is most vast and extensive; and for the same reason, "by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power"—he has a perfect mastery over all the particulars of his creation. He not only summons the mighty armies of the skies and marshals the whole host of heaven, but he is familiar with each separate star: "He calleth them all by names." This individual attention applies to:
1. The inanimate creation (text).
2. The sentient, unintelligent creation: "Not a sparrow falls to the ground" etc.; and this fact constitutes a strong reason for forbearing from cruelty towards every living creature, and for treating all the members of the animal world with constant kindness.
3. The whole human world. Even if this doctrine were not true in other realms, it certainly must be in this. As we could not think and feel as we wish to do of the human father who failed to distinguish his children from each other, so also could we not reverence and love the heavenly Father if he failed to distinguish us. But he does not fail; "he mils us all by names;" he is the true and good Shepherd, who "calls his own sheep by name." Each one of us is:
(1) The object of his Divine thought and care. Every child of man can say, "The Lord thinketh on me."
(2) The object of his parental yearning. Away in the far country, each prodigal may be sure that there is a wronged, waiting, expectant Father, who is grieved concerning him, and who earnestly remembers him still.
(3) The object of his redeeming and self-sacrificing love. "He loved me, and gave himself for me," we can all say, after the apostle.
(4) The object of his disciplinary dealing. "Whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son," etc.
(5) The object of his desire that we should share his work and his glory. To each of his disciples he says, "Follow thou me; Go [thou], and work in my vineyard.'—C.
Isaiah 40:27, Isaiah 40:28
The impiety of impatience.
God rebukes Israel for its impatience under trial. It ought to have "remembered the years of the right hand of the Most High;" it ought to have considered that its Divine Sovereign was one whose faithfulness did not depend on a few passing years, that the action or the inaction of "the everlasting God" was not open to the criticism which condemns the short-lived policy of frail and dying men. The rebuke is full of practical truth applicable to ourselves.
I. OUR DISPOSITION TO DOUBT THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. Whatever our creed may be, and however unexceptionable our views as to the attributes and actions of God, we find ourselves strongly tempted to indulge the fretful, distrustful spirit shown by the children of Israel; we are apt to think that God has "forgotten to be gracious" to us, that he has "passed us by," that our wrongs and sufferings are disregarded by him just as if they were actually hidden from his eyes. This, whether we are suffering from,
(1) continued persecution, inflicted by a political power or by individual men; or
(2) protracted difficulties, social, or domestic, or financial, from which we have been anxiously striving to escape, but from which there seems no way of extrication; or
(3) unrelieved illness—pain, weakness, disease, decay, unrelieved either by recovery or wished-for death; or
(4) unsuccessful seeking after God, alter the peace and joy of his salvation, after the blessedness of conscious friendship with Jesus Christ; or
(5) unprofitable labour in the field of Christian work.
II. THE IMPIETY OF SUCH COMPLAINT. It arises not from a pardonable ignorance, but from a culpable forgetfulness, an inexcusable disregard of the nature of the God whom we serve. We ought to remember:
1. That God does not measure time by our chronometry; with the "everlasting God" one day is as a thousand years, etc. He is not slack as we count slackness; length and shortness of time are not the same thing to him that they are to us.
2. That it is impossible for him to be unmindful of our necessities or our sorrows. He "faints not, neither is weary." What might possibly prove troublesome to men will not be wearisome to God. He does not withdraw his notice of his children's needs for one small moment.
3. That we cannot enter into his reasons for delay or his methods of interposition. "There is no searching of his understanding." For anything we know, an earlier interposition even by a single day would be a precipitancy that would do us harm; and for anything we can tell, God may have already started means of deliverance whose ultimate outworking will realize our hearts desire. Wherefore let us banish dissatisfaction and distrust as ungodly, and cultivate a devout trust in the Lord, who will make good the kindest word "on which he has caused us to hope."—C.
The need and the gift of spiritual power.
What Israel wanted in captivity the Church of Christ now needs in its present situation, surrounded by an unsympathizing or even hostile world. It lacks power to do that which it was created to accomplish. Potentially, it has within itself all that is required to complete the great work of regeneration which its Divine Master began; in simple fact and in sad reality, it has failed to discharge its function. Every Church should be a great power for good in the country, in the neighbourhood in which it is planted; every Christian man should be a real power for piety and virtue in the circle in which he moves. We ought to have power to "witness a good profession for Jesus Christ," power to live an elevating, influential life, power to execute a useful and abiding work for cur Lord. Can we say that this is the case with our Churches, with ourselves? Must we not regretfully admit that it is not so? We note—
I. THE PREVALENCE OF HUMAN WEAKNESS. Probably the "faint, and those who had no might," among the exiled Israelites were the dispirited, the dissatisfied, the despairing—those who had lost hope in God and had no expectation of ever seeing again the land of their fathers. So with the Israel of God; the faint and the weak include:
1. Joyless souls, who have no gladness in God, and no happiness in his service, who walk even in the "path of life" with no brightness in their countenance and no elasticity in their step. But they include also:
2. Half-hearted souls, whose devotedness to Christ is seriously defective, who cannot say, "With my whole heart have I served thee," who seem to think that a very large amount of selfishness is consistent with loyalty to the Lord, and who are often falling "out of rank" when they should be walking on in the march or actively engaged in the battle.
3. Faint-hearted souls, who have no courage to attempt anything for their Master and their fellow-men, and who consequently allow their life to pass on and away without achieving anything in the field of sacred usefulness.
4. Souls open to temptation; those who have gained such an imperfect control over themselves that they lie exposed to the gusts of temptation, and their best friends are continually solicitous lest they should dishonour themselves and the Name they bear.
II. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF HUMAN STRENGTH. There were those in Israel from whom, in the natural course of things, strength, vigour, fortitude, might have been expected. But in vain: "Even the youths shall faint," etc. There are those in the Church of Christ whose physical constitution, or whose natural temperament, or whose intellectual capacity or acquisition might give them the appearance of strength; it would not be expected of them that they would become "weary," still less that they would "utterly fall." But no reliance can be placed on such natural supports, such unspiritual resources. These souls are not strong in the deeper sense in which the Church needs strength. They are subject to the inroads of pride; they are liable to fall under the assaults of passion; they are tempted to withhold from God the glory which is due to his holy Name; they may do nothing to commend the Divine Saviour himself and his glorious gospel to the hearts of men; and, "not gathering with" Christ, they only "scatter abroad" the seeds of error and of wrong.
III. THE GIFT OF DIVINE POWER. "He giveth power … he increaseth strength." God has access to our human souls—direct and immediate access. He can "lay his hand upon us," and touch the secret springs of our nature, calling forth all that is best and worthiest, "strengthening us with strength in our soul." He can communicate to us so much of "the exceeding greatness of his power" that we can, through him and in him, become strong indeed; can attain to strength of:
1. Resistance; so that we shall be able to stand in the evil hour of temptation.
2. Endurance; that we can be calm, peaceful, acquiescent, even under the severest and the most lasting trials.
3. Steadfast piety; that we become "living epistles of Christ," etc.
4. Sacred joy.
5. Faithful utterance.
6. Perseverance in every good work. God gives us of the refreshing, renewing, invigorating influences of his Holy Spirit, and we run without weariness, we walk without tainting.
IV. THE CONDITION ON WHICH IT IS CONFERRED. This includes
(1) a patient waiting for the exercise of God's power on our behalf; and also
(2) an earnest appeal to him in believing prayer that he would fulfil his word. The truly reverent spirit will devoutly seek the Divine blessing, and confidently look for its bestowal. To expect without seeking is presumption; to seek without expecting is unbelief; to do the one and not to leave the other undone is obedience and faith in happy union.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The comfort of God's restored favour.
The question of the authorship of the latter half of Isaiah resolves itself into a discussion of its claim to be prophetical. If it is descriptive, it must have been written by some "great unknown." If it is prophetical, and a vision of historical events covering long centuries, but grouped for effective representation, then it may have been written by Isaiah, and it fittingly completes a work which, revealing Divine judgments, also reveals "mercy rejoicing over judgment." Isaiah seems to be among the wearied, burdened, disheartened exiles in Babylon, towards the close of the Captivity. They are "hanging their harps on the willows," and refusing to sing. They have waited so long, that it seems quite plain "God has forgotten to be gracious." To them Isaiah has a message from God. He is to "comfort them;" and this is to be the comforting—God's time of judgment is almost over, God's restoring mercies are close at hand. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20). "Having, in Isaiah 39:6, Isaiah 39:7, predicted the Captivity, Isaiah, with a view to console his nation, delivers the prophetic discoveries which, in perspective vision, he obtained of the remarkable interposition of Divine providence for their deliverance." We notice that the comfortable and comforting message is to give assurance of three things.
I. WARFARE ENDED. The warfare meant is that struggle to bear and keep heart which had been so trying all through the long years of captivity. Or it may mean God's warfare with their idolatry and iniquity, the Captivity being regarded as God's fighting with the national sins, in order to destroy them and root them out. There can be no comfort, no rest, for us until sin is resisted and mastered. Heaven is only a rest-time, because, then and there, the people are all holy. We must keep the warfare so long as we keep the sin. The discipline will be ended, the pressure of our military service, only when the victory of righteousness is won.
II. GUILT PAID OFF. This seems to be the idea of the original, which we have as, "her iniquity is pardoned." Reference is rather to the penalty of iniquity being effectively removed. There can be no comfort while we are compelled to look this way and that, asking, "Where shall iniquity be laid?" On Israel it lay as a burden of so many years of national humiliation and captivity. To us the mystery of the "Sin-bearer" has been revealed; and we know that God has "laid on him the iniquity of as all." This knowledge is comfort indeed.
III. FAVOUR AT THE DOUBLE. The sentence is variously explained. Some refer it to the sufficiency of the sufferings endured. Others think it suggests abundance of restored grace and favour. Treated meditatively, we may take the "double" to suggest the temporal restorations under Cyrus and the spiritual restoration under Messiah. When God restores, he does it in such a gracious, fall, superabounding way, as to be an infinite consolation and joy to us. The comfort unspeakable is God's restored smile.—R.T.
Needed preparations for Christ.
"Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord." The figure used by the prophet is one whose forte could only be fully apprehended in that country to which he belonged. Until recent years there were no roads, at least no roads on which vehicles might be drawn; only such paths, often very rough, and steep, and dangerous, as would be made by the passing to and fro of cattle and of men. But a few years ago, when Ibrahim Pasha proposed to visit certain places in Lebanon, the emirs and skeikhs sent forth messengers to all the people on the way the pasha was coming, with a proclamation very similar to this of Isaiah, commanding them that they should gather out the stones, make straight the crooked places, level the rough places, and so prepare the way for his grand cavalcade to march through. Applying this figure to Messianic times, we note that the world wanted Christ, but it was not prepared for him when he came; and it is still true of many human hearts—they do really want Christ, but they are not prepared for him in his spiritual comings.
I. THE WORLD WANTED CHRIST. There is no word which so exactly describes the condition of the world when Christ appeared as the term darkness. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." When God created man, or, let us say, set him forth as the Head of his creation, he put light within him, and was light unto him. But when man sinned by exalting self-will, God took his light away, and left humanity to work out the problem of life in the power of its own self-will. That problem may be stated thus: Man is satisfied with himself, with the light that is in him: then can he find his own way to God and righteousness? Can he answer for himself this question, "How shall man be just with God?" You cannot understand the history of Israel, or of the ancient world, save in the light which this representation throws upon them. Each nation took its own way in trying to solve the problem. Egyptians, and Persians, and Syrians, and Grecians, and Romans, all were working at it. But man, by himself, has always failed to discover any satisfactory solution. The light he had faded. Twilight passed into night; night grew blacker and darker; the stars were hidden by low overhanging clouds; and it was the gloom of moral midnight over all the earth when Messiah came. But the heathen, in their debasing idolatries, were conscious of bondage, and looked for a Deliverer. The Jews, though corrupted with formalism, held passionately to their hope of Messiah. The sins of the world wanted Christ. The woes of the world wanted Christ. The minds and hearts of men wanted Christ, though they could not put into shape of words their inarticulate longings. Humanity had its watchmen at every point of advantage, and again and again the question was eagerly asked, "Watchman, what of the night? watchman, what of the night?" It is interesting to notice that, whilst Christ was a babe, and as yet no shame had gathered about him, all humanity offered homage to him by its representatives, and bade him welcome to the world that so greatly needed him. Shepherds, representing the whole Jewish people, followed the angelic sign, and welcomed the Messiah-Child. Eastern Magi, star-directed, representing the whole heathen world, offered him their gold and frankincense and myrrh. And Simeon and Anna. representing the spirituals the religious classes, hailed him with the joy of believing and loving hearts.
II. THE WORLD WAS NOT HEADY FOR CHRIST. They had made no room for him. The inn was full. He must find a place for himself, where he could—some strange place, out in the stable, in the manger. And there was no better room for him in men's hearts. Only let the story of his life unfold a little. Only let his hands begin to do deeds of charity; only let his lips speak words of spiritual conviction; only let him point out the follies and sins of the age; only let him show that his mission was to the poor, the sorrowing, and the sinning; only let the purity of his perfect life, like a Divine light, reveal the corruption of his times;—and then he is the "despised and rejected of men;" then they hurry him forth out of the synagogue to throw him over the hanging rock; then they lead him forth, bearing his cross, and crucify him between two thieves. How is this? Why does the world want Christ, and yet, when he comes, he finds men so unprepared that they reject instead of receive him? The answer is a very simple one, but a very painful one. Men get to love sin for its own sake. They dislike, indeed, the penalties attached to it; they tremble at the consequences of it; but they love the sin and cherish it. They would gladly enough have welcomed a Saviour who would break off those chains of bondage to Rome, which had been fixed on them as a judgment for their national sins; but they did not want to part with their national pride and exclusiveness. They would gladly have welcomed a Christ who could burn up the great book of death, which so surely treasured up for them "wrath against the day of wrath;" but they did not want to give up the sins that led to spiritual death—the hypocrisy, the sensuality, the multiplied forms of moral evil, which they loved and sought. Therefore who can wonder that, when Christ came as a Saviour from sin, men were not prepared for him—men refused such a Christ? It is evident that the world, in its unpreparedness, needed the intense, arousing, almost terrible, preaching of John the Baptist. The work given to John was to try and alter the views of men in respect of Messiah. He preached "Repent;" change your minds; get another view of sin; see the essential evil and hatefulness of it. To all who came he spoke directly and plainly of the particular sins they loved; he demanded the giving up and putting away of individual and social sins as the necessary preparation for Messiah's coming. This, then, is the one wrong thing—sin loved for its own sake. This was the mountain that must be levelled, this the crooked place that must be made straight, this the rough place that must be made plain, before the glory of the Saviour from sin "could be revealed, and all flesh see the salvation of our God."
III. WHAT WAS TRUE OF THE WORLD IS TRUE OF US. Our souls want Christ. It is sad, indeed, to be sinners, living without God, and without hope in the world. We have often felt that all was not right with us; dark shadows hung all around us, and all before us. We have looked and longed for the light. When we have thought of God and sin and the future we have cried out, "Oh that I knew where I could find him! I would come even unto his seat." Sin in us wants Christ the Saviour. Conscious separateness from God wants Christ the Reconciler. Ignorance wants Christ the Teacher. And Christ wants us. Then why is the old fact of the time of his first coming repeated among us to-day? They wanted him, but were offended at him, and cast him out; cruel hands smote him, fierce nails pierced him, scorn howled around him, and a violent death freed him from a world that was not prepared to greet him. The reason for our rejecting him is the same as theirs. We, too, are unwilling to give up our sins for Christ. We want a Saviour from punishment, from consequences, from fears, from death, from hell; but not a Saviour from sin, from self-confidence, from pride, from independence of God, from our rebelliousness, our lustings, and our self-indulgences. We want a Saviour who will give us a secure title to future bliss; but not one who will take the stony heart away, and give us a heart of flesh; not a Saviour who can deliver us from the very love of sinning, and "create in us a clean heart." Is, then, your path full of the stones, the crooked ways, the rough places, of loved sins? remember that Christ is a Saviour from sin. He is named Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. He will not save you at all unless you are heartily willing that he should save you from your evil self, from your loved iniquities.—R.T.
Christ, as the Lord's Glory.
The glory of God is his forgiving and redeeming. And it is this glory that was dimly revealed in the raising up of Cyrus to deliver Israel from the bondage of Babylon, and brightly revealed in "raising up his Son Jesus, to bless men, by turning them from their iniquities." It may be shown that God, as the great Spirit, never can be seen or known by any creature, because all creatures are put under limitations of the senses. No creature can apprehend "essences;" he is limited to "accidents." Nobody has seen the sun; it is the glory, the shining, the ray, of the sun that reveals it to us. So "no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." Christ is the "Image" of God, which we can see; the "Word" of God, which we can hear; the "Glory" of God, making a holy warmth about us, which we can feel. He is "the Brightness of the Father's glory, the express Image of his Person." His revelation is made that we might know the true God, and in the knowledge find "eternal life." This view appears to be, in a very special manner, commended and enforced by the Apostle John, in his Gospel; and from this Gospel illustrations may be taken.
I. GOD REVEALED IN JOHN'S PROLOGUE. Explain the figure of the "Word," as meaning the medium, or agency, by which God communicates his thought to men's minds. It is, as it were, God translated for man's apprehension. But the "Word" is a Person, and John says, "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father."
II. GOD REVEALED AT CANA. Putting forth miraculous power to provide for man's need, Christ showed God's constant care of men, and led men's thoughts to the mystery of God that was in him, for John says, "This beginning of miracles did Jesus … and manifested forth his glory."
III. GOD REVEALED AT LAZARUS'S GRAVE. Pleading with Martha, our Lord spake thus: "Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?"
IV. GOD REVEALED IN THE VOICE FROM HEAVEN. In a moment of sore trouble, Jesus exclaimed," Father, glorify thy Name;" as if he felt that his supreme work was to show the Father forth. "And there came a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (John 12:28).
V. GOD REVEALED AT THE SUPPER-TABLE. When Judas left the table, and the beginning of the end had evidently come, Jesus said, in a meditative, but most revealing way, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him" (John 13:31; see also John 14:13).
VI. GOD REVEALED IN THE HIGH-PRIESTLY PRAYER. This is our Lord's supreme desire: "Father, glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee." And this is his sublimest thought, as he looks back over his brief life: "I have glorified thee on the earth." Christ is the Glory that reveals God for us, "who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that our faith and hope might be in God."—R.T.
The transitory and the permanent.
This passage is brought to our minds, in the early summer-time, by the sight and the smell of the fields. One day they shine with the glory of the golden flowers, and, in a little while, the flowers are fallen, the grass is withered, and we are freshly impressed with the mutability of all earthly things. Man changes; God is the "same, yesterday, and to-day, and for ever" Man removes; God abides, and his dwelling-place is as the everlasting hills. Man dies; God lives for ever and ever. From changing, passing, transitory earth, we may look upward to God, saying, "He liveth, and blessed be my Rock." Of this double truth our text is one of the most poetic and eloquent expressions. The figure is sufficiently impressive to us, who see the swathes lying in the path of the mower; but it is full of force and suggestion in the East, where sudden blasts of scorching wind burn up the vegetation in an hour, and change freshness and flowers into barrenness and death. The Word of God endures for ever. It cannot be likened to anything on which rests the earthly stamp. It is not even like the giant trees, which grow on while the grass and the flowers of a hundred passing summers flourish and fade beneath them; for at last even the trees fail to respond to the wakening spring-breath, and the great trunks crumble down to dust, and pass away. It is not even like the mighty hills, which, towering high over us, seem to have their foundations in the very centre of the earth, and to outlast the generations; for they too are wearing down, and shall one day change and pass. It is not like the vast firmament, which keeps, through summer and winter, its broad expanse of blue, though clouds all blackness and clouds silver-tinged sweep in ever-varying shapes across it; for at last even "the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up."
I. THE TRANSITORINESS OF ALL EARTHLY THINGS. All nature echoes the message of the grass. The winter snow falls lightly, and lies in its white purity—mystic, wonderful—over all the land; but too soon it soils, and browns, and sinks, and passes all away. The spring flowers that come, responsive to the low sunshine and the gentle breath, are so fragile, they stay with us only such a little while, and then they pass away. The summer blossoms multiply and stand thick over the ground, and they seem strong, with their deep rich colouring; and yet they too wither and droop and pass away. The autumn fruits cluster on the tree branches, and grow big, and win their soft rich bloom of ripeness; but they too are plucked in due season, and pass away. The gay dress of varied leafage is soon stripped off with the wild winds; one or two trembling leaves cling long to the outmost boughs; but, by-and-by, even they fall and pass away. Down every channel of the hillsides are borne the crumblings washed from the everlasting hills, as we call them, that yet are passing away. And man—does he differ from the things in the midst of which he is set? Nay; he is but flesh. "He fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not." It is even true of man's work. All the glory, all the goodliness, of man's genius and enterprise and effort—it is all as the "flower of the field." Man's strength, and wisdom, and riches, and learning, and beauty, and science, and art, all are subject to decay; the "moth and the rust eat into them, and the thief steals them away." It is even true of the very forms and modes in which one man strives to bless and help another. The forms are not the principal things; they are but the temporary human stamp; and God may remove or change them to make us feel our entire dependence on him.
II. THE PERMANENCE OF ALL. DIVINE THINGS. More especially of all Divine revelations and declarations, for these are properly gathered up in the term, the "Word of God." Everything that speaks to our souls of God is a revelation to us. It may be a touch of nature. It may be only a pure white flower. It may be the pale gold and green of a late sunset. It may be the snowy crest of an Alpine mountain, lying soft and pure against the summer's deep blue sky. It may be the weird mist of the gloaming creeping over the landscape. It may be the glimpse "down some woodland vale, of the many-twinkling sea." It may be the thunder-voice of God echoing among the hills, or it may be the voice of some fellow-man, translating into human words for us the mysteries of Divine truth and love revealed to him for our sakes. Howsoever the Word of God may come into our souls, it is true for ever. All things that our souls hear and feel and know are Divine, are permanent, eternal things. When God speaks to our souls by his providence, the message is permanent. The revelation of redemption is permanent. Everything that pleads in us for duty is eternal, because it bears on the culture of character. All God's comfortings abide with us. And when God kindles hope, it is hope that cannot disappoint, that will never make ashamed. ]n Dr. Bushnell's life is the following passage, found pencilled by him on a stray sheet of paper. Referring to the time of his infancy, when he "came out in this rough battle with winds, winters, and wickedness," he says, "My God and my good mother both heard the cry, and went to the task of strengthening me, and comforting me together, and were able ere long to get a smile upon my face Long years ago she vanished; but God stays by me still, embraces me in my grey hairs as tenderly and carefully as she did in my infancy, and gives to me, as my joy and the principal glory of my life, that he lets me know him, and helps me with real confidence to call him my Father."—R.T.
God, in Christ, shepherding,
Or doing shepherd's work. Here also the first glance seems to be at Cyrus, who, in Isaiah 44:28, is called God's shepherd; but the after-glance rests on him who could say, "I am the good Shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." "The change in the fortunes of the Jews is compared by the prophet to a shepherd's seeking his lost sheep, and feeding them again in green pastures" (comp. Jeremiah 31:10; Jeremiah 50:19; Ezekiel 34:11-16). No doubt the figure in the prophet's mind was that of a flock taken such a long and wearying journey as that from Babylon to Canaan, emblem of the pilgrim-path along which the good Shepherd leads the flock of his Church. The important distinctions between Eastern and Western shepherding should be carefully pointed out. Eastern associations alone provide effective figures. Van Lennep says, "One of the pleasantest sights to be witnessed under the clear and brilliant sky of Western. Asia is a flock of snow-white sheep scattered over the surface of a fine green meadow; the lambs skipping and gamboling in frolic; the shepherd sitting on the soft turf, playing with his flute, and his shaggy dog by his side, keeping watch in all directions." An Eastern traveller tells of seeing precisely what Isaiah so poetically describes. "One shepherd led his flock, by a zigzag path, up the almost perpendicular bank of the glen. Behind it two young lambs trotted gaily along at the feet of their mother. At first they frisked about, and jumped lightly from stone to stone; but soon they began to fall behind. The poor little things cried piteously when the path became steeper and the rocks higher, and the flock more and more distant. The mother cried too, running back and forth—now lingering behind, now hasting on before, as if to wile them upwards. It was in vain. The ascent was too much for their feeble limbs. They stopped trembling on the shelving cliff, and cried; the mother stopped and cried by their side. I thought they would certainly be lost; and I saw the great eagles that soared in circles round the cliffs far overhead, sweeping lower and lower, as if about to pounce upon their prey. But no! The plaintive cries of distress had already reached the ear of the good shepherd. Mounting a rock, he looked down, and saw the helpless little ones. A minute more, and he was standing by them. Then taking them up in his arms, he put them—one on each side—in his bosom, in the ample folds of his coat, which was bound round the waist by a girdle." Christ's care of his flock includes—
I. RULE. This is the proper idea of "feeding" them. In the East feeding involves daily guiding the flock to its pastures and watering. So it includes the entire control and direction of daily life. Sheep are the most helpless of creatures, and wholly dependent on the wisdom and kindness of the shepherd. "His arm rules for him?' He restrains the wayward, corrects the erring, guides and provides for all. And we are as helpless as sheep, and as truly need to be ruled and provided for. From this we may unfold the authority of the Lord Jesus, and his direct control of our life and ways. Happy the flock that is willing to follow the good Shepherd's lead!
II. GENTLE CONSIDERATENESS. Daniel Quorm is made by the Rev. M. Guy Pearse to express this very quaintly and cleverly. "'But that be not all, though it be a good deal,' Daniel went on again). 'He carries them in his bosom—in his bosom. You know the man who had a hundred sheep, and lost one of them, went after it, and laid it on his shoulders—on his shoulders. When an old sheep goes astray—one of us old 'uns—the good Shepherd has his watch-dog to fetch us back again. He sends a snappish sorrow to bite us, or a sharp-toothed loss to shake us up a bit, and to drive us out of the ditch into which we had wandered. And the shepherd lays the runaway on his shoulders. It wasn't a very comfortable position, held on by the legs, with his head danglin' down. That be the way the Lord carries old sheep when we go astray. But the lambs he carries in his bosom. The shoulder is not for them, but the bosom. There they lie, with his arms folded about them—there, where his kind eye can keep its glance upon them. In his bosom, where they can feel the great full heart beatin' in its love, where he can hear the first mutter o' their fear, and they can catch the gentlest whisper of his lovin' care. He carries the lambs in his bosom. Keep close to him—lie down in his arms, an' you're safe enough.'" Of this we may be quite sure, Christ takes particular care of those that most need it; of lambs, those that cannot help themselves—young children, young converts, weak believers, sorrowful spirits.
III. SELF-DENYING HELPFULNESS. We must never think that the wise, gracious, faithful shepherding of Jesus costs him no pain, no anxiety, no self-sacrifice. This is as much the suggestion of the shepherd-figure as the previous ideas of rule and gentleness; but it is not so often dwelt on or realized. He who rolls over us the "tribulum" of discipline and trouble, to separate the chaff from the wheat, finds the rolling to be hard and trying work. Our Shepherd suffers in his care for the sheep, and it keeps our hearts tender to be reminded of his sufferings for us. Illustrating this, we may recall the Eastern shepherd, who, especially in the early months of the year, "has much to endure. Snow falls and frosts set in, which kill many of the lambs, although he seeks to save all he can by carrying them under his cloak, and 'in his bosom.' This period tries his own powers of endurance, for it is the rainy season. He cuts small branches of trees, and lays them in a pile, to avoid the consequences of standing in the wet. The only sleep he can secure is by lying on such a pile of branches or fagots, enveloped in his heavy cloak, or crouching in a sitting posture, with its stiff heavy folds set up over him like a tent." We often think of our good Shepherd's care, but too seldom we remember, lovingly and thankfully, how much it costs him.—R.T.
Wanted, a likeness for God.
"What similitude can ye place beside him?" This and similar appeals in the later portion of Isaiah bear directly upon the idolatries with which Israel was surrounded in Babylon, and exerted a most important influence on the delivery of Israel, once and for ever, from idolatrous sentiments and sympathies. Isaiah's plea is, "How should the image-deities of idolatrous Babylon be compared to the almighty and unsearchable God of Israel?" The incomparableness and uniqueness of God are in the prophet's mind; and his plea may be compared with the argument of the Apostle Paul at Athens (Acts 17:29, "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device"). The Babylonian gods were also the gods of Assyria, and they were, for the most part, of Accadian or pre-Semitic origin. "The Babylonian lived in perpetual dread of the evil spirits which thronged about him; almost every moment had its religious ceremony, almost every action its religious complement. In Babylon we find the remains of scarcely any great buildings except temples." During the Captivity, God's people were closely associated with a most elaborate idolatrous system, and the appeal is therefore most effective. "Look around you. Notice all the forms in which deity is represented. See all the thought-figures of God which men can fashion, and say, is there any one of them to which you can liken your God?" We may let the appeal take its widest forms.
I. CAN YOU FIND A LIKENESS FOR GOD IN HIS CREATION? His works are a revelation of himself, but no one of them is a picture of his form. They are no more like him than the machine which a man makes is like the man. The machine reveals the man, tells us of his skill, his thought, his patience. And so God's handiwork reveals the attributes of God; but if men try to find a likeness for God in the material creation, they will do, as the Egyptians did—begin with the sun and end with the slimy reptiles of the Nile-banks.
II. CAN YOU FIND A LIKENESS FOR GOD IN MAN'S CREATIONS? They may vary, from the mere upright block rudely carved to represent a face, to the splendid Jupiter fashioned by the highest genius of the Greek. Art may paint exquisitely; but no brush, no chisel, no graving tool, in civilized or uncivilized lands, ever fashioned anything worthy to be likened to God. Illustrate from the unsatisfactoriness of the best faces of the manifested God Christ Jesus; and by the painfulness of all attempts to paint God the Father.
III. CAN YOU FIND A LIKENESS FOR GOD IN MAN'S MENTAL CREATIONS? For he thinks figures of God, when he does not make statues. Philosophy has its conceptions, and now men say law is such a name as may henceforth stand for God. But the images of men's thoughts are no better than the idols of men's hands. Thus we are brought to face the question—How can God be known? The answer is this—He cannot be known in himself; but he can be known in his relations to us, and that is the knowledge wherein is "eternal life."—R.T.
Darkness breeding doubt.
Here is a question which is full of surprise. "How, then, can Jacob and Israel be faint-hearted, or despair of their restoration, when this unmatchable, all-powerful, unwearying God is their God?" Yet there is almost an excuse for their doubtings and depressions in their national circumstances. They had been so long in the power of their enemies, and their outlook was so utterly dark and hopeless, that they concluded they were quite overlooked by the God of their fathers. And we cannot wonder at this, for circumstances, private and national, can make darkness for us under which it is easy enough for doubts to breed. We think of some.
I. OVER-STUDY. There is a fixed limit of brain-power. We dare not go beyond it. And the usual penalty of overdoing is a darkness which nourishes depressions, needless fears, doubts, mistrusts, and even despair that inspires suicide. It is needful that we should, in these days, be warned of an insidious form of evil. Educational forcings of children make darkness brood over whole lives. Pressure in manhood, under ambitions or necessities, bring black clouds to shut the sunshine out of many a life; and much of the scepticism of our time is no more than the diseased questionings of overwrought brains. Truth only appears to quiet minds.
II. DISAPPOINTMENT. When our way is closed up, our schemes fail, or our friends prove unworthy, the darkness broods over us, and we easily say, "There is no truth or trust anywhere;" and we fling our doubtings against the very throne of God. This was the secret of the faintings of Israel. They were disappointed. Again and again great national changes raised high hopes, and again and again the darkness fell, and seemed to shut them in. Then the bitter cry arose, "God hath forgotten to be gracious."
III. A SCEPTICAL ATMOSPHERE. One man breathes out his suspicions, another his questionings; this man attacks the things most surely believed among us; and another man writes a book to shift the old foundations, and make the great Christian house tumble about our ears; and the very air is charged with an electricity of unbelief, which all must breathe, and few have spiritual health enough to resist. Such are the times in which we now live. It is easier to doubt God than to trust him.
IV. ILLNESS AND FRAILTY. The class of diseases characteristic of highly civilized times of society is precisely that which relates to the nerves, and has for its symptoms lowness of spirits, distorted vision, gloomy fears, and melancholia. Many and many a poor burdened body cries out, "God has forgotten to be gracious," and it is only a body-cry; the heart holds fast its trust. Whensoever the doubting comes, the remedy is the same: the psalmist expresses it, "I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High."—R.T.
He who has power alone can give it.
"He giveth power to the faint." "The final verses of this chapter are remarkable for the frequent occurrence of 'fainteth' and 'is weary.' They come in every sentence, and if we note their use we shall get the essence of the hope and consolation which the prophet was anointed to pour into the wounds of his own people, and of every heavy-laden soul since then. Notice how, first, the prophet points to the unwearied God; and then his eyes drop from heaven to the clouded, saddened earth, where there are the faint and the weak, and the strong becoming faint, and the youths fading and becoming weak with age. Then he hinds together these two opposites—the unwearied God and the fainting man—in the grand thought that he is the giving God, who bestows all his power on the weary. And see how, finally, he rises to the blessed conception of the wearied man becoming like the unwearied God. 'They shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint'" (Maclaren).
I. A MAN MUST GIVE WHAT HE POSSESSES. He only truly enjoys it by giving it. The miser who holds is miserable. To have anything is simply blessed because we can share it, we can give it. This is more true than we think it, in all the best relations of life, even under our present depraved conditions. Ideally it is the only noble conception of life. Mothers only care for possession because it brings power, to give. Thinkers only acquire truth for the joy of imparting. We are permitted to think that this is true of God. He has no joy in possession. His joy is giving. He is always spending and working; and the gift of his Son is only the sublimest instance of what he is always doing—giving away his possessions.
II. A MAN CAN ONLY GIVE WHAT HE POSSESSES. We seek out each man for the skill he possesses. This man can give us healing, that one comforting, and this one teaching. Each has his own possession, and each can help us in his own way. No one man can do all things for us; and we are foolish indeed if we expect of a man what he has no power to give.
III. WHAT GOD HAS IS THE FULL, ABUNDANT SUPPLY OF ALL OUR WANTS. "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." In the passage now before us the provision of God for us is gathered up into the significant word "strength." Paul's great want is also our great want—the great want of every man the world over, in whom a trace of the Divine image is left. It is power—"power to perform that which is good;" some spiritual force to act on our souls, and make us more than conquerors over self and sin. And that is within Goal's ability. To bestow it is the purpose of his good will. "Giving power to the faint" is his Divinest work.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 40". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter