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The present chapter, which terminates the second section of Isaiah's later prophecies, consists of a long address by God to his people, partly in the way of complaint, partly of combined premise and exhortation. The address is divided into three portions, each commencing with a call on Israel to pay attention:
"Hear ye this," etc.; Isaiah 48:12-15, "Hearken unto me," etc.; Isaiah 48:16-22, "Come ye near unto me, hear ye this," etc.
THE FIRST ADDRESS consists mainly of expostulation and complaint. Israel has not called on God "in truth and righteousness" (Isaiah 48:1). They have had "necks of iron" and "brows of brass" (Isaiah 48:4). God has given them prophecies of different kinds (Isaiah 48:3-7); yet they have neither "heard" nor "known;" they have "dealt treacherously" and been "transgressors from the womb" (Isaiah 48:8). God might justly have "cut them off" for their rebellion, but he has "deferred his anger," and "refrained" himself—not, however, for Israel's sake, but for his own honour.
Jacob … Israel (camp. Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:22; Isaiah 44:1, etc.). "Jacob" is the natural and secular designation; "Israel" is a spiritual or covenant name (Cheyne). Both terms being appropriate to the ten tribes no less than to the two, and the present address being intended especially for the Jewish captives, a further designation is appended—which are come forth out of the waters of Judah. Which swear by the Name of the Lord. Swearing "by the Name of the Lord" is an evidence of true religion, to a certain extent (Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20). It indicates that there has been, at any rate, no open apostasy. Still, it does not necessarily prove more than this; and, in the present case, it scarcely showed anything beyond mere outward formal conformity. The bulk of the captives "swore by the Name of Jehovah, and made mention of the God of Israel" (camp. Joshua 23:7), but did so not in truth, nor in righteousness; i.e. "without their state of mind or mode of action corresponding to their confession, so as to prove that it was sincerely and seriously meant" (Delitzsch). The condition of the majority of the exiles was that expressed in the words, "This people honoureth me with their lips, but in their hearts are far from me" (Matthew 15:8).
For they call themselves of the holy city. It is an indication of their real want of truth and righteousness, that they lay such stress upon what is so entirely outward and formal, as the fact of their belonging to" the holy city," Jerusalem. Compare the boast of the Jews in our Lord's time, "We be Abraham's seed" (John 8:33). Stay themselves upon the God of Israel. Not resting upon him in real faith and true humble dependence, as those Israelites who are mentioned in Isaiah 10:20. but trusting to the facts that they were "Israel," and that God was "the God of Israel," and therefore bound to protect them. God reminds them that, if he is "the God of Israel," he is also "the Lord of hosts"—a term, as Dr. Kay notes, especially connected with the holiness of God.
I have declared the former things from the beginning (comp. Isaiah 41:26; Isaiah 43:9, Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 44:7, Isaiah 44:8, etc.). "Former things" are here contrasted with the "new things" of Isaiah 48:6. Two cycles of prophecy seem to be intended—one of comparatively ancient date, the other quite fresh—both equally showing forth the power of God and his infinite superiority to the idols. It is difficult to determine what the two cycles of prophecy are. Delitzsch suggests that "the former things are the events experienced by the people from the very earliest times down to the times of Cyrus," while "the new things embrace the redemption of Israel from Babylon, the glorification of the people in the midst of a world of nations converted to the God of Israel, and the creation of a new heaven and a new earth." Dr. Kay thinks that the "former things" are those mentioned in the prophecies concerning Babylon generally, the "new things those about to be announced in Isaiah 49-56. I did them suddenly; rather, suddenly I wrought.
I knew that thou art obstinate; literally, hard, or stiff—the adjective used in the phrase translated in our version "stiff-necked." The idea is still more forcibly expressed in the following clause—thy neck is an iron sinew; or rather, a band of iron, as stiff as if it were made-of the hardest metal. And thy brow brass. The exact simile here used does not occur elsewhere in Scripture. It seems to be the origin of our expressions, "brazen,… brazen-faced," "to brazen a thing out." The forehead may be hardened for a good or for a bad purpose; in obstinacy or in a determination to resist evil (comp. Isaiah 1:7 and Ezekiel 3:8 with Jeremiah 5:3; Ezekiel 3:7; Zechariah 7:12). Here the hardening is evil, marking defiance and self-will.
I have even from the beginning declared it (comp. Isaiah 48:3). The declaration here made is that God rendered his prophecies more than ordinarily marvellous on account of Israel's obstinacy, not punishing them for it, lint seeking graciously and lovingly to overcome it by adding to the weight of the evidence to which he would fain hare had it yield. Had his prophecies been less astonishing, had they in a less degree transcended ordinary human experience, Israel might conceivably have ascribed them and the accomplishment of them to the false gods. As it was, this was barely possible. Mine idol … my molten image. It has been already observed (see the comment on Isaiah 40:18) that there was a strong tendency to idolatry among the Jews, not only before, but during the Captivity. Ezekiel says that those among whom he lived were "polluted after the manner of their fathers, and committed whoredom after their abominations; made their sons pass through the fire, and polluted themselves with all their idols" (Ezekiel 20:30, Ezekiel 20:31); nay, went so far as to declare boldly, "We will be as the heathen, as the inhabitants of the countries, to serve wood and stone" (Ezekiel 20:32). The "prevailing tendency," as Delitzsch remarks, was "to combine the worship of Jehovah with heathenism, or else to exchange the former altogether for the latter." We cannot conclude anything concerning the mass of the community from the character of those who returned. Those who returned were the sincere worshippers of Jehovah—the irreligious did not care to return. It is always to be borne in mind that it was "the great mass even of Judah," no less than of Israel, that "remained behind" (Delitzsch); and these "became absorbed into the heathen, to whom they became more and more assimilated'' (ibid.). Hath commanded them; i.e. "hath caused them (the events) to take place" (comp. Psalms 33:9).
Thou hast heard, see all this; rather, thou didst hear, (now) see it all, i.e. see all the prophecies now fulfilled, which thou heardest in days gone by. Will ye not declare it? Will ye not for very shame make known generally the accordance between the prophecies and the events, which you cannot fail to see? Will ye not become "my witnesses" (Isaiah 43:10), and turn away from your idols? I have showed thee; rather, I show thee; i.e. "I am about to show thee from this time new things, even hidden things, which thou knowest not"—things belonging to the new cycle of prophecy, not previously announced, but reserved for the present crisis (see the comment on Isaiah 48:3). On the whole, the language used seems most consonant with the view of Dr. Kay, that the "new things" are those about to be revealed in the next section of the prophecy (Isaiah 49-53), things belonging to the coming of Christ, and the "new creation" which it will be the great object of his coming to bring about.
They are created now. The revelation to man of what has lain secret in God's counsels from all eternity is a sort of creation. As Nagelbach well says, it converts the λόγος ἐνδιάθετος into a λόγος προφορικός and therefore is one step towards actual accomplishment. The mystery of "the Servant of the Lord," and of atonement and salvation through him, had hitherto been hid away—"hid in God" (Ephesians 3:9), and was now for the first time to be made known to such as had "eyes to see" and "cars to hear" by the teaching of the evangelical prophet. Even before the day when thou heardest them not; rather, and before to-day thou heardest them not. Whatever shadows of evangelic truth are discernible in the Law and in the earlier psalms, they did not constitute a revelation of the way of salvation at all comparable to that contained in Isaiah's later chapters. Lest thou shouldest say, Behold, I knew them. If the "new things" of Isaiah's prophecy had been revealed many centuries before, they would not have impressed the Jews of Isaiah's time, or even of the Captivity period, as they did by having been reserved to a comparatively late date. They would have seemed to most of them an old and trite story.
Thou heardest not … thou knewest not. Again we seem to hear the voice of complaint, as in Isaiah 48:1, Isaiah 48:2, Isaiah 48:4. Israel had not "ears to hear" to any purpose such highly spiritual truths as those of the coming section. They had not profited by what was taught concerning Christ in the Law and the Psalms. From that time that thine ear was not opened; rather, from that time thine ear hath not been open. "From that time" means "from of old," or "from the beginning."
For my Name's sake will I defer mine anger. Israel's insincerity (Isaiah 48:1), obstinacy (Isaiah 48:4), addiction to idols (Isaiah 48:5), blindness (Isaiah 48:8), and general resistance to God's will (Isaiah 48:8), could not but have provoked God's "anger." He will, however, "defer" it, "refrain" himself, not "cut Israel off, for his Name's sake." God, having selected one nation out of all the nations of the earth to be his "peculiar people" (Deuteronomy 14:2), and having declared this, and supported his people by miracles in their struggles with the other nations and peoples, was, so to speak, committed to protect and defend Israel "for his Name's sake," lest his Name should be blasphemed among the Gentiles (see Exodus 32:12; Numbers 14:13; Deuteronomy 9:28; Psa 129:1-8 :10; Psalms 106:8, etc.). He was also bound by the promises which he had made; and. still more, by the position which Israel occupied in his scheme of salvation, to allow the nation still to exist, and therefore to condone its iniquities and restrain his anger. But the dregs of the cup of vengeance were poured out at last.
I have refined thee, but not with silver; rather, but not as silver (Cheyne). or, but not in the manner of silver (Delitzsch); i.e. not with the severity with which silver is refined (see Psalms 12:6). I have chosen thee; rather, I have tested thee. The furnace of affliction is here the Babylonian captivity. The object of the Captivity was to "test" and "refine," or purify God's people to a certain extent—not with extreme severity, but in such sort as to fit them to "bear his Name before the Gentiles" for another five hundred years.
How should my Name be polluted? i.e. how should I allow of its pollution or desecration (see the comment on Isaiah 48:9)? I will not give my glory unto another (comp. Isaiah 42:8). God would have ceded his glory to some god of the nations, had he under existing circumstances forsaken Israel.
THE SECOND ADDRESS. The tone of complaint is now dropped. Israel is invited to reflect seriously on the chief points urged in the preceding chapters.
(1) Their near relation to Jehovah (Isaiah 48:12);
(2) Jehovah's eternity and omnipotence (Isaiah 48:12, Isaiah 48:13);
(3) the superiority of Jehovah to the gods of the nations, as shown by his prophetic power (Isaiah 48:14); and
(4) the near approach of deliverance by Cyrus (Isaiah 48:14, Isaiah 48:15).
O Jacob and Israel (comp. Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 43:1, Isaiah 43:22; Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 44:21; Isaiah 46:3; Isaiah 48:1). The figure is used which rhetoricians call hendiadys. The two names designate one and the same object. My called. "Called" and "chosen" from of old, out of all the nations of the earth (comp. Isaiah 41:9; Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 44:2, etc.); therefore bound to "hear" and to attend. Still more bound, considering who it is by whom they have been called—I AM HE—i.e. "I am the absolute and eternally unchangeable One, the Alpha and Omega of all history" (Delitzsch). The first, and also the Last, "from whom and to whom are all things" (Romans 11:36).
Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth (comp. Isaiah 40:12, Isaiah 40:22, Isaiah 40:26, Isaiah 40:28; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12, Isaiah 45:18). As the Maker of heaven and earth, God is entitled to the attention and obedience of all the dwellers in heaven and earth. My right hand hath spanned the heavens; i.e. measured them, as with a span (Isaiah 41:12) fixed their limits and dimensions. When I call unto them, they stand up together (comp. Isaiah 40:26). Heaven and earth, and all things that are in them, except man, are prompt to perform God's will, and rise up at once at his call to show their readiness. The metaphor is drawn from the conduct of intelligent agents.
All ye, assemble yourselves. "Once more the nations are challenged to say which of their deities has foretold the work that the Lord has willed to perform on Babylon" (Kay) (see above, Isaiah 43:9). If none has done so, will not Israel see and acknowledge the superiority of Jehovah to such blind deities? The Lord hath loved him. It had not been previously declared in so many words that Jehovah "loved" Cyrus; but it had been sufficiently indicated by the way in which he was spoken of in Isaiah 44:28 and Isaiah 45:1-5. God "loves" all who "in an honest and good heart" seek according to their lights to do his will and serve him faithfully. Nebuchadnezzar is called his "servant" (Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 27:6; Ezekiel 29:18, Ezekiel 29:20), Cyrus (in Isaiah 45:1) his "anointed." It is but going one step further to call the latter his "loved one." He will do his pleasure; i.e. "God's pleasure," not his own (see Isaiah 44:28). His arm shall be on the Chaldeans. The Hebrew is very harsh, and perhaps requires emendation; but the meaning can scarcely be other than that expressed in our version.
I have called him (comp. Isaiah 46:11, "Calling a ravenous bird from the east"). Cyrus is represented as raised up by God, "called" by him, and commissioned by him "to do all his pleasure." God has brought him on his way, and made that way prosperous. According to the account of Herodotus, Cyrus received no check of any kind until the last expedition, in which he lost his life. His "prosperity" was beyond that of almost any other commander.
THE THIRD ADDRESS. Israel is reminded of God's merciful teaching and leading in the past (Isaiah 48:16, Isaiah 48:17); expostulated with on their disobedience (Isaiah 48:18, Isaiah 48:19); exhorted to go forth boldly and joyfully from Babylon (Isaiah 48:20, Isaiah 48:21); and finally warned that God's blessings—even such a blessing as deliverance—are no blessings to any but the righteous (Isaiah 48:22).
I have not spoken in secret from the beginning. God, "from the beginning," i.e. from his first dealings with Israel, had raised up a succession of prophets, who had declared his will, not "in secret," or ambiguously, but openly and plainly, so that all who heard might understand (comp. Isaiah 45:19, and see the comment ad loc.). From the time that it was, there am I; i.e. "from the time that the earth was, there (in the succession of my prophetic messengers) was I." It was I who spake by their mouth, and thus announced my will publicly. And now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me. Dr. Kay supposes that "one Divine Personage is here sent by another"—the Second Person of the Holy Trinity by the First and by the Third; but it is against the analogy of faith that the Third Person should send the Second. Probably Mr. Cheyne is right in suggesting that "here a fresh speaker is introduced," and also right in his supposition that the fresh speaker is "the prophet himself," who tells us that he is now carrying on the goodly succession which has been "from the beginning," and is sent to deliver his message by God (the Father) and his (Holy) Spirit. On the tendency of Isaiah to "hypostatize" the Spirit of God, see the comment on Isaiah 40:13; and compare Mr. Cheyne's note on the same passage.
The Lord … which teacheth thee to profit. God's teachings are all directed to the "profit" of those to whom they are addressed; and, if received in a proper spirit, actually "profit" them more than anything else can do. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable" (2 Timothy 3:16). Very profitable also are the teachings of God's providence, which chasten men, warn men, and tend to keep men in the right path.
Oh that thou hadst hearkened! (comp. Psalms 81:13-16, "Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries," etc.) Some render, "Oh that thou wouldst hearken!" etc; on the analogy of Isaiah 64:1; but unnecessarily. Dr. Kay says that God "upbraideth not," referring to James 1:5. But he may expostulate. What is it but expostulation, when our Lord says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Matthew 23:27, Matthew 23:28)? To look back on the past, and see what we have missed, is a good lesson for the future. Then had thy peace been as a river; literally, as the river (i.e. the Euphrates), abounding, overflowing, continuous. Thy righteousness. Not "thy prosperity" (Cheyne), but "thy good deeds." If Israel had clung to God, then God's blessing would have been poured upon them, and have enabled them to bring forth abundant fruits of righteousness. As the waves of the sea; i.e. innumerable and unceasing.
Thy seed also had been as the sand. Israel, at the close of the Captivity, was "a remnant" (Isaiah 37:31), a "very small remnant" (Isaiah 1:9); the ten tribes were for the most part absorbed into the heathen among whom they had been scattered; the two tribes had dwindled in number through the hardships of the Captivity, and were scarcely more than a "handful." Less than fifty thousand returned with Zerubbabel (Ezra 2:64); less than two thousand males with Ezra (Ezra 8:2-20). Had Israel not been disobedient, the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would have been literally fulfilled, and the descendants of Abraham would have been millions upon millions, instead of being one or two hundred thousand. The offspring of thy bowels like the gravel thereof; rather, like the grains thereof; i.e. the grains of the sand. His name; i.e. "Israel's name." Should not have been cut off. Israel's name had not been wholly "cut off" or "destroyed." But it had been approximately "cut off." Israel was no more a people, but only a horde of slaves. The restoration to Palestine was a resurrection—the re-creation of a nation which, humanly speaking, had ceased to be.
Go ye forth of Babylon. A sudden transition from expostulation to exhortation. It might have seemed that no exhortation would be needed; that, as soon as the prison-doors were set open, there would be a general rush to escape. But, when the time came, it was not so. Those only availed themselves of the edict of Cyrus "whose spirit God had raised to go up and build his house" (Ezra 1:5). The wealthier classes, Josephus tells us ('Ant. Jud.,' Isaiah 11:1), remained. The very poor, it is probable, could not leave. Motives of various kinds detained others. The result was that probably a larger number elected to continue in the country than to return to Palestine. Hence the exhortation to "go forth from Babylon and flee from the Chaldeans" was far from being superfluous. Flee ye from the Chaldeans. Not "flee before them" (see Isaiah 52:12), as enemies to be feared; but quit them hastily, as corrupters to be avoided. With a voice of singing; rather, with a voice of shouting (Delitzsch), or with a ridging cry (Cheyne). The cry was to reach even to the end of the earth. All the nations were to be informed of the great event, in which they might not feel, but in which they were, deeply interested—the deliverance of Israel out of Babylon, which was "the prelude of, and a preparation for, the world's redemption" (Kay).
They thirsted not (comp. Isaiah 43:19, and the comment ad loc). The literal meaning is not to be altogether excluded. We have no historical account of the journey made by the bulk of the exiles who returned with Zerubbabel; but they must almost certainly have experienced difficulties with respect to water; and it is quite possible that a miraculous supply was vouchsafed to them. Most commentators, however, are content to explain both this and the earlier passage as merely "symbolical." The Israelites—they say—had spiritual refreshment on their homeward journey, by God's goodness, constantly.
There is no peace, etc. This warning phrase occurs again, "in the manner of a refrain" (Cheyne), at the close of what most commentators regard as the second section of this portion of Isaiah's work (Isaiah 57:21). The third section closes with a still more solemn warning (Isaiah 66:24).
Swearing by the Name of God.
Our Lord's injunction to his disciples is "Swear not at all;" and in a community where all were true Christians, swearing would be superfluous, and the injunction might be carried out to the letter. But in imperfect conditions of society, such as the old covenant contemplated, and such as alone exist under the new, "swearing by the Name of God" cannot be dispensed with. Life and property would be greatly endangered were courts of justice to decide causes on the unsworn evidence of witnesses, the majority of whom might have a very slight regard for truth. "Swearing by the Name of God" is thus lawful—
I. WHEN A WITNESS IS CALLED UPON TO DO SO IN A COURT OF JUSTICE. The Christian Church in all its branches has always allowed and approved of oaths being taken in courts of justice. Only a few sectaries have from time to time so strained our Lord's words as to consider them prohibitive of oaths of this kind. Such persons "have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2). It is clear from the context that our Lord's injunction was levelled, not against judicial oaths, but against the habit of strengthening asseverations by oaths in familiar discourse (Matthew 5:34-37). And he himself, when adjured, or put upon his oath, did not rebuke the man by whom he was adjured, but gave an answer to his questioner, though previously he had refused to give one (Matthew 26:63, Matthew 26:64).
II. WHEN THE CIVIL GOVERNOR CALLS UPON US FOR AN OATH OF ALLEGIANCE, OR THE LIKE. The practice of Christian countries in this respect has varied; but where oaths of allegiance are required there would seem to be no reasonable ground for objecting to them. The state is entitled to assure itself of the good will and fidelity of the citizens; and, unless it can be sufficiently assured by a mere affirmation, would seem to be entitled to the better security of an oath.
III. WHEN IN ANY VERY SERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES A VERY SOLEMN ASSURANCE IS REQUISITE, Bandits have captured two friends. One of them is allowed to leave the bandits' stronghold in order to obtain the ransom for both, but is required to swear that in any case he will return, otherwise both will be put to a lingering death. There would seem to be no sufficient grounds for refusing to make oath in such a case. The bandits will not accept a promise. The oath is a concession to their incredulity. It is given solemnly, seriously, almost judicially; since those who tender it possess, under the circumstances, the power of life and death. It cannot be thought the injunction "Swear not at all," was given with reference to such a case any more than with reference to oaths in courts of justice.
The great end is to avoid light swearing, unnecessary swearing, profane swearing. Let these forms of swearing be carefully eschewed, and a Christian man's conscience need not be greatly exercised in respect of the oaths which he is called upon to take as witness, as subject, as friend, as husband, as citizen.
God the First and the Last.
It is readily intelligible, though not by finite minds conceivable, that "God is the First." Something must have existed from all eternity, or nothing could ever have existed. The first existence must either have been matter or spirit, or both. But it could not have been matter alone, since matter could never have produced spirit; and it was not matter and spirit, since the "things that are seen were not made of things that do appear" (Hebrews 11:3). It was therefore spirit alone; and that primeval Spirit which existed apart from matter, and apart from any created spirit, was God. Thus "God is the First"—the First Cause—before all things—the Origin of all things—"Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things, both visible and invisible." But how is he "the Last"? Eternal life is promised to all created beings who do not fall from their first sinless estate, and also to all who, having fallen, repent and amend, turning to God, and putting their whole trust in the atonement of Christ. They will live on eternally in his eternal glory. Actually, then, God will not ever be in the future a single solitary Being, as he once was, but will always be a King and Governor of innumerable hosts of happy spirits, created by himself. Actually he will never be "the Last." But potentially he is "the Last." He could, if he so pleased, destroy with a word all that he has ever created, and be once more alone, without a second. And further, all things are "to him" and "for him"—they exist for his sake; he is their Aim and Object; their sole, final τέλος
The separate personality and Divine authority of the Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, like most of the other great and mysterious doctrines of true religion, was gradually revealed to mankind. In one sense we may call it an exclusively Christian doctrine; but in another we must assign it an antiquity far higher than that of the Christian era. God, in his several revelations to mankind, gradually paved the way for its acceptance. In the revelations which he made to Noah and Abraham (Genesis 9:6, Genesis 9:16; Genesis 17:7, Genesis 17:8), God announced himself as Elohim—a word of plural form. In the revelation which he caused to be put forth by his servant Moses, he distinguished between" God" (Elohim) and "the Spirit of God" (ruakh Elohim) which moved, or brooded, upon the face of the primeval chaos (Genesis 1:2). By David he made it known that there was a "God, whose "throne was for ever and ever," whom "God, even his God, would anoint with the oil of gladness above his fellows" (Psalms 45:6, Psalms 45:7; comp. Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:9). To the same great saint he revealed it that his Holy Spirit could be given to man and taken from him (Psalms 51:11). Isaiah, in the present passage, proclaims that he is sent "by the Lord Jehovah".
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Lessons from the past to the future.
Those addressed are the people "named from Israel and sprung from Judah's spring;" who swear by Jehovah's Name and render homage to Israel's God—not, alas! so sincerely as they should. Still, they have learned to find their true reliance in Zion and in Jahveh. Let them, then, hear the exhortation of Jehovah.
I. THE ORACLE OF THE PAST. Jehovah has in former times predicted events by the mouth of his prophets which came to pass. Those predictions were disbelieved; the fulfilment was delayed; and yet suddenly the ideal was translated into fact; and the unexpected had come to pass. In general, history is the oracle of the Eternal. An empire founded on force or fraud cannot stand; the kingdom which subsists by righteousness and for righteousness carries with it vitality and enduring dominion. It was said by a great statesman, "The unexpected always happens." And in truth the purposes of God are not seldom known by their fulfilment in sudden and surprising events. He thinks long, but acts promptly. As in Northern climates, the winter of human discontent breaks as if by magic into spring. Such experiences should tend to subdue the obstinacy of incredulity. God knew that the Israelites were prone to unbelief and hardness of heart, and therefore had plied them with so many proofs of his providence. George Herbert mentions, "Bibles laid open, millions of surprises," among the means which God employs to bring the soul to himself. The "iron sinew and the brow of brass" are significant of the state of mind which he had to encounter in the people. "Some are so obstinately bad and confirmed in their vice, that judgments and afflictions are but thrown away upon them; and God's shooting at them is but shooting at a mark, which indeed receives the arrow, but does not at all feel it."
II. NEW PREDICTIONS. Again, things hidden from human penetration shall be made known by the Divine oracles. The events could no more be anticipated than could an act of creation from the operation of natural causes. And so the taking of Babylon by Cyrus, and the deliverance of the exiles from bondage, could be known by no human foresight or sagacity. But "their ears were not open." They were infidel and rebellious at heart. The open ear means the affected heart, the awakened understanding, the cherishing memory, the steady, fruitful perseverance in action. If there be defect of these, the soul is no better than if it had not heard at all. Nay, it may be worse (cf. John 5:25; John 6:45; Acts 2:37).
III. THE GREAT DIVINE MOTIVE. Not because the people have deserved it will Jehovah act thus, but for his honour's sake, because he is not yet known among the Gentiles. And it is through Israel that his purposes to the heathen must be carried out. Yet this people had not been found pure metal after their trial in the furnace of affliction. They were wicked, sinful, and unbelieving. It is his glory, then, in the spread of true religion and justice in the earth, that is the principle and the end of the procedure of Jehovah. As he can swear by no higher, so he can work for no more majestic object, than himself. But he must have instruments, he must have men, however imperfect, to work out his purposes. "God's glory is the motto inscribed upon every created being; and wheresoever God reads, he owns this superscription. It is all the creature has, under God's hand and seal, to show for its life. Wherever we are, we are not our own, but his. All men are by nature servants to the interest of his glory."—J.
The new revelation.
The verses contain a summary of the contents of Isaiah 40-47. God is the First and the Last—the sole Creator. Prophecy is an evidence of his claims; and so is the mission of Cyrus.
I. THE REVELATION CONCERNING GOD. First Jacob and Israel, the chosen people, are called to listen. Jehovah is the Alpha and the Omega of the universe. The First Cause and Reason of things; he gave the first impulse to their course, the goal of which will still be himself. Before the earth and the heavens were, his was the creative hand, guided by the creative mind. Then the idolatrous nations are summoned to assemble, and challenged to produce a power of prophecy to rival that of Jehovah.
II. CONCERNING CYRUS. "He whom Jehovah hath loved," to whom he hath spoken, whom he hath called, shall have a prosperous career, performing the Divine pleasure on Babylon and on Chaldea. In verse 20 the prophet sees the destruction of Babylon as an accomplished fact. Thence let a ringing cry go forth to the end of the earth! Jehovah hath redeemed the people! Already they have drunk of the refreshing waters in the desert. And that peace, which is the sum of all blessings, and which can never be the portion of the ungodly, is theirs.
III. APPEAL TO CONSCIENCE AND EXPERIENCE. Let the chosen people draw neat. and commune with their God. From the first he has spoken to them, not in dark and ambiguous oracles, but in words of clearness and unmistakable purport. And now he is to speak again by the mouth of his present servant, and to crown his revelations by the greatest of them all. And what of Israel? Doubly tender is the reproach and the expostulation. Why have the people not walked in the straight way in which he would have led them? He is their "Teacher to their profit;" why have they chosen what is unprofitable? and followed after the "not-profitable" gods (Jeremiah 2:11; cf. Micah 6:8; Psalms 23:3)? He would lead them in the straight path, but Israel has forced him, as it were, to lead them by the circuitous path of affliction. The appeal to experience turns upon this point—the profitableness of godliness, which has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. "Deep down in human nature lies the idea of a covenant between the worshipper and his god. In return for external service, the god gives help and protection. The prophets, with a generous freedom, retain so much of this theory as matches with the truths revealed to them. Jehovah's protection is still conditional, but the conditions extend to the inner as well as the outer man" (Cheyne). Obedience alone brings peace and prosperity. If men had but hearkened to God, their peace would have been as the great volume of the Euphrates, and their blessedness, reflecting the favour of Jehovah, as the multitudinous waves of the sea; its posterity as the sand of the sea, or as the fishes that swarm in its waters. Its name would have been imperishable. It is, then, the "hearing ear" and the "perceiving heart" which above all are needed as conditions of true temporal and spiritual well-being. To hear so as to be pricked in heart; to hear so as to follow and prosecute the things we hear;—this alone is to hear in the Scripture sense. And here we are reminded of the need of the Holy Spirit's influence, without which we may see and never perceive, and hear and never understand. There must be an aptness between the object and the faculty. Things sensible must be known by sense; things mental by the mind; and things spiritual by some principle infused into the soul from above. "Two sit together and hear the same sermon. One finds a hidden spiritual virtue in the Word, by which he lives and grows and thrives. Another finds no such virtue in it; perhaps it pleases his reason, and there is an end. This proceeds from the want of the spiritual, perceiving heart. Why is it that a man is so affected with music that all his passions are moved by it, while brutes are not at all pleased? Because there is in man a principle of reason concurring with his sense, which discovers the sweetness and harmony of the sounds that bare sense is not able to discern." And so of the things of God. Open thou mine eyes and mine ears; let my noblest faculties be ever in communion with the noblest, my spiritual nature be awakened by the Spirit, and again respond to his influence!—this should be our prayer. We will hearken unto and obey him who hath the words of eternal life: this should be our resolve.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The revealing truth.
"I knew that thou art obstinate." We blame this in a child. We sometimes falsely call it firmness in a man. This is a mistake. Firmness is only in a Moral sense such, when it is infused by faith, governed by reason, approved by conscience, and consecrated to some noble and godlike end.
I. HERE IS A REVELATION OF HUMAN POWER. Man can stand out against God. This is marvellous, but it is at the basis of all moral freedom and responsibility. The original Hebrew means "hard"—so hard that the tenderest revelations of Divine love cannot melt the heart; so hard that the spectacle of the ruin and misery which rebellion everywhere brings does not create repentance and "returning."
II. HERE IS A REVELATION OF DIVINE KNOWLEDGE. "I knew." Man cannot see his brother's inner countenance. God can. "Thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass." Let not man say that any law of necessity has compelled his defiant course. Let him not say that it has been demanded of him by the idols of fashion and custom. "Before it came to pass I showed it thee, lest thou shouldest say, Mine idol hath done them, and my graven image, and my molten image, hath commanded them." God knows that the soul has stood out against all Divine warnings, invitations, rebukes, and interpositions. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself!"—W.M.S.
"Hidden things." The earth is full of latent forces, These are concealed. Take beat, for instance: how it hides in the secret places more stealthily than the panther! Take electricity: here it is quite close to us—within us; and what a masterful power it is!—how it can rend the rock and lay low the lofty palaces! These are beneficent forces, though, and do their work well, for the security, health, and comfort of man. There are hidden forces that are baneful. The latent seeds of disease lie hidden behind that pearly skin—that pure and radiant complexion. And when we have to speak of sin, what a latent force that is hidden in the breast of a child!—concealing itself under the cloak of outward respectability in manhood, and by its manifestations here and there like the volcano, telling us what depths of evil there are in the human heart, which only Christ and his cross can overcome. Men understand much, but they do not understand themselves.
I. WE HAVE HIDDEN FORCES OF JOY IN US. In a human sense it is so. Look at those children, all eager for their own little possession, their own way; they know not now what love will do: how for that bright little maiden yonder, presently, in a few brief years, one human heart will give up time and thought, and all that earnest love can give! What a force! but hidden yet. So in marriage; that young wife cannot be informed, or instructed, or inspired by others to feel what maternal love is; but when the cry is heard, and a child is born into the world, the latent instinct leaps into life in the heart, and she knows for the first time what that slumbering force really is. So rare are in our souls hidden forces. We have latent faculties of faith in us which the Holy Ghost can call forth, whereby we walk in a new world of wonder and hope and joy in God. We have latent faculties of energy in us which, once awakened, will make us emulate the earnest of every age; and when religion sets a man to work, he finds that there is a joy in service which he was unconscious of before; he discerns that, whilst by love he serves others, he is also with each service opening up new joy-fountains in his own heart.
II. WE HAVE HIDDEN FORCES OF PAIN IN US. We know not what they are, it may be, at present; but we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we shall be a surprise unto ourselves in this respect also.
1. There is the sorrow that hides in love. We know not the measure of love save by loss! Then we know. We are tempted to think in our youth that our older friends are too pensive sometimes, too little open to the all-gladdening influences around them. Alas! we know not the bread they eat. There are forces of memory in their hearts that we cannot see.
2. There is the sorrow that hides in sin. It is so bright-presenced at first, so fascinating, so attractive; speaks in such dulcet tones; no memory at work yet; no consciousness of shame yet; no sense yet of the disturbance that sin works in God's beautifully ordered universe. To-morrow the serpent that hides at the bottom of the cup will have stung!
3. The sorrow that hides in wrong or neglect in relation to others. While they were with us here we did not feel it so much; but now! Oh, the curtain that hides! the silence in which there is no voice! the quivering heart that puts out the untouched hand! Eternal Father, we were not what we wished, or all we wished, to them. But they are gone, and the place which knew them once shall know them no more. Death is not a tidal river; its waters never return.
III. WE HAVE HIDDEN FORCES OF EVIL IN US. Power to sin! Forces which temptation may set fire to, as a spark to the tow! We see this illustrated in nature. The officer who played with his beautiful glossy pair of cub-tigers did not understand his danger till they tasted blood as they licked a little cut in his hand; and then came the surly growl, and with the officer a sword for them or death for himself. We see this in the history of the disciples. How ignorant they were of their own hearts! What latent scepticism in Thomas! what cowardice beneath Peter's enthusiasm! what pride in those who wanted chief places in Christ's kingdom! Ah! yes; but they recovered from their folly. But think of Judas; think of Demas; think of Hymenaeus and Philetus. We see this in the warnings of our Saviour. "Watch and pray." Yes; Mark you, Christ does not say, "Watch and pray in youth," or "in manhood." He says it to us all. He knows the potency of evil, and that there are temptable places in our nature even unto the end. For instance, "When every other passion is old, covetousness is young," says the proverb. We must be on our guard till the last hour. Then will come release and victory.
IV. WE HAVE HIDDEN FORCES OF IMMORTALITY WITHIN US. Christ revealed these. He "brought life and immortality to light by the gospel." All men do not equally feel these; but there is a "power of the world to come," which more or less affects everybody. When outward life pleases, and we have vivacities of friendship, extensive and elaborate functions of duty to fulfil; when we are absorbed in the outward life;—we do not always feel the great beatings of the pulses of immortality within us. But in silent meditative hours there comes over us all the consciousness alike of sin and immortality. "How abject, how august, is man!" The great conservative power of religion is the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Let that be ignored or denied, and materialism will make very rapid strides.
1. The sense of immortality alters our estimate of the world. Makes us feel the "tent-like" character of our homes. "We have here no continuing city, but we seek one to come." We knew that there remaineth a rest, and that affliction is but for a moment.
2. The sense of immortality alters our estimate of friendship. We long, even in that, to lay hold of the everlasting, to link our love with the immortal years—to feel that it is of such a character as to survive in glory. Hidden the force may be, but it is real, and the strongest of all the bulwarks against atheism and materialism. When Christ speaks we feel that he spake with authority. Men trembled before a vision of themselves so searching and severe. Not only the "hidden things "of darkness, however, did he reveal; the bright diamond of the mind flashed forth its beauty in the light of his all-revealing words. "Honour all men," says St. Peter. A beautiful commandment, for the gospel has shown the hidden glory behind the veil of the meanest life. "For I have shown thee hidden things" may therefore suggest to us the reverence which we ought to entertain for the soul. Sin is not a subject for mere scorn; it is a subject for deepest sorrow. "When Jesus came near the city, he beheld it, and wept over it." Something more magnificent than the marble temple filled his vision; he wept over souls where the altar was overthrown and the love of God cast out. Let preachers, teachers, authors, workers in the field of the Lord, realize once more the Divine grandeur of their work. The sublimest creation of this universe is hidden in the heart of man: "God made man in his own image."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Things worth heeding concerning God and man.
"Hear ye this:" this is something well worth the earnest attention of men; their truest worth and their lasting interests are bound up in the knowledge and regard of it.
I. MAN'S CRIMINAL INCONSISTENCY WITH HIMSELF. (Isaiah 48:1, Isaiah 48:2.) Men may go very far in conduct which is quite at variance with "the spirit which is in them:" they may say or do one thing, and be the very opposite. One might think that though this were so in their dealings with one another, it would never be true in their attitude toward the heart-searching God. Yet in nothing is there more insincerity, more hypocrisy, than in religion. Men "swear by the Name of the Lord … but not in truth." To pretend before God, to affect a piety which is not felt, is not only useless and worthless; it is in the last degree offensive and perilous (see Matthew 23:1-39.).
II. MAN'S HARDENING OF HIMSELF. (Isaiah 48:4.) Men are obstinate, or hard (marginal reading): they harden their heart before God and against him, so that their neck is "an iron sinew, their brow brass."
1. They will not be what God requires that they should become—his children, his servants, his friends, his followers.
2. They will not do what he charges them to do—will not work righteousness, justice, equity; will not refrain from impurity, from intemperance, from dishonesty, etc.
3. They will not hear what he summons them to heed; they turn a deaf ear to his entreaties and his warnings (Proverbs 1:1-33.). They go so far in obduracy, in hardness, that, though they know that their Divine Father, their gracious Saviour, is speaking to them, they close their souls to his message of truth and love.
III. GOD'S EVIDENCE CONCERNING HIMSELF. (Isaiah 48:3, Isaiah 48:5-8.) God adduces proof from his foreknowledge and revelation that he is unquestionably the true and living God—that One in whom and in whom alone they should put their trust. It is not only by such proof as this, but by many evidences, that God establishes his claims upon us. He "leaves not himself without witness;" he abundantly confirms his truth: the material universe, with its beauty, its bounty, its order, its magnificence; the spiritual nature of man, including his conscience; the life, the works, the truth of Jesus Christ; the character and design of the gospel of peace and righteousness; its glorious achievements, etc.
IV. GOD'S REASONS IN HIMSELF. (Isaiah 48:9.)
1. Ample reasons for Divine beneficence are to be found in the Divine nature—that God is what he is accounts for all the grace and mercy which abound in the earth.
2. In the interests of the universe God must act so that his children shall revere and praise him. Otherwise the most disastrous disbelief would prevail.—C.
Isaiah 48:10, Isaiah 48:11
The Divine aim in human affliction.
I. THAT THE AFFLICTIONS OF THE RIGHTEOUS ARE OF GOD'S SENDING. To the unrighteous they wear the aspect of inflictions, but to the servants of God they are chastisements or refining processes; either way, they are regarded as events which come in consequence of, or (at the least) in accordance with, the ordination of God (see Isaiah 45:7; Amos 3:6). Jesus Christ has taught us that the smallest incident cannot happen without Divine permission; much less (as he wishes us to infer)any serious trial to the people of God (Luke 12:6).
II. THAT THE DIVINE AIM IS DOUBLY BENEFICENT.
1. Our refinement. "I have refined thee." God refines its by passing us through the furnace of affliction, and he does this not for his advantage—"not for silver "—but for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness (see Hebrews 12:10). By the distresses of the soul the dross of worldliness, of selfishness, of trust in temporal securities or in human alliances, of sensuous indulgence, is purged away, and the pure gold of piety and purity is left. Our heavenly Father resorts to this refining process in one of two cases.
(1) When he sees us falling under the power of temptation, and finds our Christian character becoming alloyed with error and evil.
(2) When he wants agents of the highest kind for the noblest work on earth or in heaven, and knows that no abundance of privilege will purify and perfect as will the refining discipline of his own hand. It is a real and important feature of the Divine beneficence that in parental chastisement God is seeking:
2. His exaltation in the minds of men. "For mine own sake will I do it: for how should my Name be polluted," etc.? It is to the interest of his creation, in the very highest degree, that God's Name should be exalted, that the glory which is his due should not be paid to another. For:
(1) False worship shows a constant tendency to decline in the worthiness of its objects. When men abandon the service of the living God, and "go alter Baal," they pursue a downward course; they go from the high to the less high, from the low to the lower, from the lower to the lowest; until they worship devils.
(2) The character of the Deity men adore is always reflected in that of its devotees: as is the god so is the idolater. We have the highest interest in rendering our homage to the righteous Father of all, and any discipline that weans us from any kind of idolatry renders us priceless service. If God regards the well-being of his creation, he cannot give his glory to another.
III. THAT WE MUST ACTIVELY CO-OPERATE WITH HIM, OR HIS PURPOSE, WILL BE DEFEATED. (See 2 Corinthians 7:10.)—C.
Human freedom and Divine regret.
In these fervent and eloquent words of the prophet we learn—
I. THAT GOD DESIGNS GOOD AND EVEN GREAT THINGS FOR THE OBEDIENT. If Israel had only been obedient to the Divine commandment, it would have rejoiced in:
1. Abounding prosperity. Its peace (prosperity) would have been "as a river," flowing on continuously, without break, night and day, generation after generation. Victory in war and fruitfulness in the field would have been their happy heritage (see Psalms 81:13-16). This is the offer which Christ makes to his obedient disciples. Not that prosperity always comes to the Christian disciple in the shape of "increase of corn and wine;" but it does come in one form if not in another—often in the shape of indwelling peace and overflowing joy when the home is of the humblest and the lot of the hardest kind.
2. Advancing rectitude. Its righteousness would have been "as the waves of the sea," coming on and coming in with steady, irresistible flow. Righteousness is an incomparably greater blessing than prosperity: To be a "righteous nation" is to be vastly more than a triumphant or wealthy nation. Christ promises to those who are the true subjects of his kingdom that their blest heritage shall be "righteousness as well as peace and joy in the Holy Ghost;" spiritual rectitude; the heart in its true and loyal attitude towards God, towards man, towards truth and life.
3. Abiding influence. (Isaiah 48:19.)
II. THAT WE ARE LEFT FEARFULLY FREE TO THWART HIS GRACIOUS PURPOSE. Jehovah laments that Israel had forfeited its heritage, had used its freedom to disobey, had cut itself off from his generous design (Isaiah 48:18). What God would gladly have bestowed, the foolish nation had resolved to refuse. Such power of choice has the Creator given to his creature, man. And what fearful use has man made of this his freedom! It is not Israel alone that has elected to forego splendid opportunities. What might not Rome have been, and Egypt, and those European lands to which the knowledge of the gospel has been carried! It is not too late to ask—What may not England be? The record of her history is not yet complete; her sands are not yet run; her gate of opportunity is not yet closed. She may yet rise to the height of her privilege, as she may yet sink grievously and fatally beneath it. With the same solemn and awful; freedom every individual soul is invested by its Creator. Every one of us is at liberty to thwart his gracious purpose if we choose; at liberty also to realize it, in all its glorious fulness, if we will.
III. THAT OUR DISOBEDIENCE AND DISINHERITANCE ARE A SOURCE OF DIVINE REGRET. Do we not hear an undertone of deep sorrow in this lament? Our heavenly Father, our Divine Friend, regards the sad abuse of our freedom with a sorrow which is all his own. The human parent who has been deeply disappointed in the character and career of his beloved child is likely to have the truest insight into the grief of God when he witnesses our rejection of his truth and grace. But as "God only knows the love of God," so he only knows the depth and fulness of his grief.
IV. THAT WE MAY RECOVER ALL IF WE LISTEN WHEN GOD SPEAKS AGAIN. The Holy One is our Redeemer: he "teaches us to profit;" he "leads us in the way," etc. (Isaiah 48:17). He comes in holy discipline, in fatherly correction, to call us from our folly, to save us from our sin. If we will only know the profitableness of his redeeming truth, we may be restored and reinstated; we may yet wear the robe and the ring of sonship, and sit down at the Father's board.—C.
Peace: appearance and reality.
"There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked." We may look at—
I. THE ANTECEDENT LIKELIHOOD that there would be none. For the wicked are:
1. In rebellion against the Lord of all righteousness and power; i.e. against one who is bound to visit sin with penalty and who is able to do so.
2. In an element of disturbance and disorder. They are in a wrong and false position; they are in a sphere which is unnatural and unlawful; they stand where storms may be anticipated, where calms are things to be surprised at and suspected.
II. THE DELUSIVE APPEARANCE of peace in the case of the unrighteous. It is continually happening that ungodly men, that unbelieving men, that even vicious men, spend lives of domestic comfort, prosper in the calling in which they are engaged, are untroubled in their conscience for considerable periods of time, die without great alarm or even serious apprehension. It often appears as if there were peace to the wicked. These facts, however, are consistent with—
III. THE ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that guilt and peace are never found together. It is not only true:
1. That crime is almost always attended with a haunting dread of exposure and penalty.
2. That vice and irreligion are commonly associated with a sense of guilt and with the rebukings of conscience. But it is also true:
3. That no guilty soul can possibly have that in his heart which deserves the name of peace. He may have insensibility or false security; but these are not peace. Peace is the blessed calm which belongs to a consciousness of rectitude before God; it is the possession of those alone who are right with God, and who believe that they are so. No hardihood, no delusion, can confer this. A man who is living apart from God, unreconciled to him, unaccepted by him, must be destitute of the peace of God-of the peace which Christ gives to his own.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Isaiah 48:1, Isaiah 48:2
The offence of insincerity.
"Not in truth, nor in righteousness." The prophet mentions the usual outward marks of the true Israelite; but, in the case of those whom he addressed, these were mere formalities, they were disconnected from a personal and living faith in God. These people said they were Jews, but they were not. Their professions could not stand the examinations of the Heart-searcher. To the good man—and how much more to the great and holy God!—insincerity is absolutely offensive; we have scarcely even pity for the man who has no reality of life and feeling to match his professions, whose words do not represent his heart. Unspeakably painful to the prophet must have been the condition of the many Jews in his day, and in his pleading the ideal attributes of Israel are pressed in contrast with their actual state of hypocrisy and unrighteousness. "How high their profession soared! what a fair show they made in the flesh! and how far they went towards heaven! what a good livery they wore! and what a good face they put upon a very bad heart!" (Matthew Henry). On the subjects of insincerity and hypocrisy there is much familiar teaching, which needs constant repetition. We only suggest two points.
I. INSINCERITY IS SOMETIMES A DRIFT. We get into it, and it becomes a confirmed condition we scarcely know how; we are not conscious of having exercised any will in the matter. With some there is a great idea of "keeping up appearances," and the effort to do this tends to nourish insincere habits and ways. And sometimes we are carried into expressions of religious feeling and experience that are quite beyond us, by surroundings of religious excitement; and the pleasure of the insincere fascinates us. We drift into this evil by the use of sensational hymns, and by listening to ecstatic religious experiences; and there is no graver danger besetting the Church of our day than this tendency to nourish the insincere in the expressions of religious life. God's reproaches fall on many who think themselves very holy, but whose professions are not really matched by heart and life.
II. INSINCERITY IS SOMETIMES A SCHEME. Then it is a shame and disgrace, and brings us under the overwhelming judgments of God. Illustrate by Judas Iscariot. For selfish ends men determine to keep up before the world all the appearances of piety, when they know that the life of piety has died out of their souls. Christ's sternest words were spoken to conscious and purposed hypocrites, those "whited sepulchres, fall of dead men's bones." In view, then, of the danger of drifting into insincerity, and of the sin of scheming to be insincere, every good man will watch and strive and pray against the evil, lest, in some subtle form, it should assail and overcome him.—R.T.
The figures used are the stiff, unbending neck, that will yield to no persuasions; and the hard brow that can resist, as does the brow of the butting animal. The point which may be variously illustrated and enforced is that such obstinacy is a result of previous conduct. The obstinacy that is only a stubbornness of natural disposition can be dealt with efficiently by educational methods. The obstinacy which results from prolonged moral conditions is well-nigh irremediable, and brings a man under crushing Divine judgments.
I. THE BEGINNING OF MORAL OBSTINACY IS A LOSS OF SPIRITUAL SENSIBILITY. The proper attitude before God is one of openness, humility, and self-distrust. The renewed soul is delicately sensitive to every expression of the Divine will, and to everything that is in harmony with the Divine mind. And the maintaining of that sensitiveness is absolutely essential to the keeping of right relations with God. Piety is closely akin to meekness and gentleness. It loves to obey, to follow, to be led. We have no will but God's will for us. To lose this "sensibility" is grave danger. It is to step on a slippery slide. Therefore should we "keep our heart with all diligence," and be most jealous over those various spiritual influences that help to make our hearts more tender.
II. SUCH LOST SENSIBILITY MAY BE RECOVERED. At least in the earlier stages of it. But our peril lies precisely in this, that it is a very subtle form of spiritual disease, and, like some forms of bodily disease, it does not plainly show itself until it has gained strength, and gripped us with a firm hold. Our best sign of the presence of the evil is fading pleasure in Christian worship and devotion. We are in danger if we have lost the joy out of our religious duties and associations; and we should seek at once for the recovery of tone and fervour.
III. SUCH LOST SENSIBILITY MAY PASS INTO SELF-RELIANCE. It certainly will if earnest efforts toward recovery are not made. The man who feels he is getting to be alone will try to stand alone. He who looses the hand that steadied him will try to walk steadily by himself. He who refuses to humble himself and recover his lost place will puff himself up with pride and vain confidences.
IV. SUCH SELF-RELIANCE IS IN DANGER OF BECOMING HOPELESS OBSTINACY. The man who persists in forcing his own way finds that ever fresh strength must be put into the forcing, until, like Pharaoh of old, he becomes hardened to resist even God's judgments.—R.T.
God's supreme motive.
"For my Name's sake I defer mine anger, and for my praise I am temperate towards thee, not to cut thee off" (Cheyne's translation). It may seem strange that God did not utterly destroy the Jews as a nation, in his just indignation at their unfaithfulness, hypocrisy, and rebellion. God here explains the supreme reason which led him to deal so considerately with them. He was under covenant engagements with them. His Name and honour were pledged to the maintenance of the covenant. Overwhelming severities would have produced wrong impressions concerning God among the nations around. His Name would be dishonoured in their view. And it was of the utmost importance that this should not be, because, in good time, these heathen were to become subjects of the one Divine King. Junius very truly says, "Even legal punishments lose all appearance of justice when too strictly inflicted on men compelled by the last extremity of distress to incur them." (For God's Name, see Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7.) For a New Testament plea, drawn from the jealousy for the honour of the Divine Name, recall the sentence, "Though we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself." It may be shown that—
I. GOD IS SEVERE, FOR THE SAKE OF HIS HONOUR. That he may not be blasphemed, and represented as indifferent to the obedience offered to his commandments. "Behold the severity of God," which should be a theme of admiration, and a bulwark of confidence to us.
II. GOD IS PATIENT, FOR THE SAKE OF HIS HONOUR. In order that he might reveal himself as the Good, and win confidence. "Behold the goodness of God," into which we may run and find shelter. See the Name of God as revealed to Moses. The most marvellous triumphs over human self-willedness are won by patient mercy, Divine long-suffering. Forbearance and enduring love are some of the sweetest things in the Divine Name.
A more subtle course of thought is indicated by the following two divisions.
I. GOD IS ANXIOUS THAT MEN SHOULD HONOUR HIS NAME. And this anxiety he cherishes for their sakes. It is supremely important that men should have high thoughts of God.
II. GOD IS ANXIOUS TO BE FOUND TRUE TO HIS OWN NAME. And this anxiety he cherishes for his own sake; for his rest involves the sense of being true to himself.—R.T.
The refining power of affliction.
The likeness of Divine dealings to the refining of metals by fire is somewhat frequent in Scripture. In this passage there is a qualification which is peculiar. God's message, through his prophet, is, "Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver." There was evidently something unusual about the treatment of silver, and we get some idea as to what it was from an expression of the psalmist (Psalms 12:6), "The words of the Lord are pure words" as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." In the case of silver great severity and many repetitions were necessary. Had God treated Israel with the severity due to its iniquity, it must have been cut off. He therefore reined in, restrained, qualified his auger, and corrected them only "in measure." "God would refine them, but not so thoroughly as men refine their silver, which they continue in the furnace till all the dross is separated from it; if God should take that course with them, they would be always in the furnace, for they are all dross, and, as such, might justly be put away, as reprobate silver. He therefore takes them as they are, refined in part only, and not thoroughly." "The art of smelting ore, which must have been known to the Israelites from the time of their sojourning in Egypt, but had, probably, been brought into fresh prominence through intercourse with the Phoenicians and with Sheba, is here used as an illustration. Wonderful as is the separation of the pure metal from the dross with which it has mingled, there is something yet more wonderful in the Divine discipline which purifies the good that lies hid, like a grain of gold, even in rough and common natures, and frees it from all admixture of evil" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Dr. Guthrie says, "It is rough work that polishes. Look at the pebbles on the shore! Far inland, where some arm of the sea thrusts itself deep into the besom of the land, and, expanding into a salt loeb, lies girdled by the mountains, sheltered from the storms that agitate the deep, the pebbles on the beach are rough, not beautiful, angular, not rounded. It is where long white lines of breakers roar, and the rattling shingle is rolled about the strand, that its pebbles are rounded and polished. As in nature, as in the arts, so in grace; it is rough treatment that gives souls as well as stones their lustre; the more the diamond is cut, the brighter it sparkles; and in what seems hard dealing their God has no end in view but to perfect his people's graces. Our Father, and the kindest of fathers, he afflicts not willingly; he sends tribulations, but hear St. Paul tell their purpose: '"Tribulation worketh patience, patience experience, experience hope.'"
I. GOD'S PURPOSE CONCERNING HIS PEOPLE. This may be expressed in the word "redemption," which means much more than rescue from peril. It means deliverance from all evil, and more especially from the evil within. The full idea of God's purpose is best realized through the purpose concerning her child of a saintly mother. She seeks her child's redemption. She would have him delivered from his various evils, and established in goodness. That supreme purpose gives point and tone to all her dealings with him, and relations to him. As high as God is above the best of mothers, so much higher is God's purpose concerning us than hers concerning her child. He would have us whiter than snow, whitened so as no earth-fuller can whiten.
II. GOD'S DEALINGS IN WORKING OUT HIS PURPOSE.
1. His supreme aim is kept in view in his ordinary everyday dealings. This we do not adequately keep in mind. We see God in the few great things, but not in the thousandfold little things. And yet the preciousness of life in God's lead lies in our confidence that he is working by small and continuing influences, making all work for good.
2. His purpose is wrought through all dealings that are of a satisfactory character. We easily miss observing this. God is in all the good things that please us. He works in and through our joys—through human love, through beauty, grace, wisdom, society, friendship, success; and makes the pleasant things of life become man's severest testing.
3. His purpose is further accomplished through disciplinary dealings. This is so familiar a topic that its illustration may be left to the preacher.
III. GOD's AGENTS THROUGH WHOM HE WORKS HIS HOLY WILL. They may be things or they may be persons. The point is that they can be presented under the figure of fire, and their influence can be indicated by the action of fire. This may be opened out by showing
(1) that fire causes suffering;
(2) fire separates;
(3) fire finds out what is worthless;
(4) fire cleanses;
(5) fire is a continuing force;
(6) fire can take different degrees of force.
God's agents may be
Any one, anything, into which God can put a refining force. Each one of us may be one of God's refining forces, for those with whom we have to do; and at the same time, each one of us is under the refining influence of others for our own purifying.
IV. GOD'S QUALIFICATIONS IN THE PROCESS OF HIS WORK. This is the point more especially presented in the text. God does not treat Israel in the severe way in which silver is treated by the refiner. He knows his metal; he knows what each can bear. He never suffers us to be tested above that we are able to bear. He damps down the fires when they blaze too high. He never goes beyond our strength. Because we have this conviction so settled into our souls, therefore we can let God undertake for us; refining in his own ways, and securing at last his own pure image in the cleared metal.—R.T.
The blessings of obedience.
"O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments! then had thy peace been as a river, and thy righteousness as the waves of the sea." What might have been! How often we reproach ourselves with thinking over the "might have beens"! How searching it is to find God helping us regretfully to realize what might have been (comp. Psalms 81:13-16)! "Peace" and "righteousness" here both stand as terms to express "prosperity," that best of prosperities which comes as the manifestation of Jehovah's righteousness or fidelity to his promises. The figures used may be thus explained: if they had been faithful to their covenants their national prosperity would have followed on, age after age, like the ceaseless current, day and night, of a noble river. If they had been obedient, they would have mastered all forms of difficulty and opposition with a resistless power like that which belongs to the waves of the sea. The time of exile in Babylon was a sad break in the national prosperity. There would have been no occasion for it if Israel had been faithful and obedient J.A. Alexander says, "Nothing could well be more appropriate at the close of this division of the prophecies than such an affecting statement of the truth, so frequently propounded in didactic form already, that Israel, although the chosen people of Jehovah, and as such secure from total ruin, was and was to be a sufferer, not from any want of faithfulness or care on God's part, but as the necessary fruit of its own imperfections and corruptions." Two of the blessings that always follow on obedience are indicated here—they are permanence and power.
I. PERMANENCE AS A RESULT OF OBEDIENCE. This is one of the most marked impressions made on sensitive minds by the sight of the full-flowing river, especially in Eastern lands, where it is, in such a marked way, contrasted with the mountain wadies that are sometimes dry and at other times roaring with flood. The river flows on for ever. Men come and go. Cities rise and fall into decay on its banks. Commerce now uses and now neglects it. Dynasties last their little while. The river flowed on ages ago just as it flows now; it will flow still, when we have "had our little day and cease to be." So nothing can occur to stop the current of true prosperity in the obedient. "Patient continuance in well-doing" involves continued conditions of well-being. "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever."
II. POWER AS A RESULT OF OBEDIENCE. The steady advance of the tide is an impressive illustration of quiet, persistent power. The rush of the wind-driven wave is the illustration of majestic masterful power. He that does the will of God overcomes himself; and he who overcomes himself need never fear that he will meet a mightier foe.—R.T.
Christ's peace and righteousness.
Illustrating the meditative and spiritualizing method of treating prophetic Scripture, the following outline, after R. M. McCheyne, is given.
I. THEIR PEACE WOULD HAVE BEEN AS A RIVER.
1. It has a source. It begins at the fountain of Christ's blood.
2. It is fed from above. Rains and showers feed the rivers. The shower of grace feeds the rivers of peace.
3. It has inundations, as the Nile. An awakening providence often makes it overflow. Afflictions and the consolations under them always, if the sufferings are the sufferings of Christ. Sacramental times also; hence the desirableness of frequency in the administration of the Lord's Supper.
4. It gets broader and broader to the sea. Illustrate by such a river as the Tay. "The path of the just is like the shining light"
5. It is fertilizing. It conveys nourishment. Egypt owes all its fertility to the Nile. The peace of Christ makes every grace grow. Holiness always grows out of a peaceful breast.
II. THEIR RIGHTEOUSNESS WOULD HAVE BEEN AS THE WAVES OF THE SEA. The righteousness of Christ is compared to the waves of the sea, because:
1. It covers over the highest sins.
2. It covers again and again.
3. It is infinite righteousness.
You cannot count the waves of the sea. Application. God wants men to be saved. God sometimes pleads with men to be saved for his own pleasure; it would be pleasant to him; it would make him glad, as in the parable of the lost sheep. Sometimes he pleads for his own glory (Jeremiah 13:16; Malachi 2:1). But here it is for the happiness of sinners themselves (Psalms 81:13). And he pleads with men, because unwilling that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).—R.T.
The unrest of the wicked.
"There is no peace, saith Jehovah, to the ungodly." There may be what the world calls success and prosperity, without peace. Peace is an inward state and condition. It is not a matter of circumstance, but of mood. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee." It is not a specially sent threatening, that there shall be no peace to the wicked; it is the permanently appointed Divine arrangement. By the constitution of things there can be no peace to the wicked—"no peace with God, or their own consciences, no real good, whatever is pretended to." It may be urged that the ungodly have no inward peace, because—
I. OF THE DISSATISFACTION WHICH WICKEDNESS BRINGS. Bad men cannot rest in their badness, cannot regard it with pleasure. They want to get away from it to something else. A new excitement alone can clear away the thought of old sins. That is the saddest thing for the wilful and wayward man—he can never be happy in his wrong-doing. Excited he may be, never restful.
II. OF THE SMITINGS WHICH CONSCIENCE GIVES. For though a man may gag and stifle Conscience, she will find her way to speak. The one thing absolutely impossible to the most wilful man is the silencing of Conscience. She has a way of waking up, and looking daggers when we think she is dead. If a man will force his own way against God, he must take into account that, as long as he lives, he shall have no peace; for he shall fight daily against his own conscience. It will lie down with him; it will go forth with him.
III. OF THE FEARS WHICH WICKEDNESS SUGGESTS. There are always consequences to actions. Every act is a cause. Every result is appropriate to its cause. Sow to the flesh, and you must reap corruption. The bad man fears
(1) the circumstances which his wilfulness may create;
(2) the enmities which his wilfulness may excite;
(3) the future in which all the power may—nay, must—lie in the hands of the God he insults. Wherever the ungodly man walks he can know no real peace; "fears are in the way."
IV. OF THE DISTURBANCES OF THE DIVINE ORDER WHICH HIS SELF-WILL OCCASIONS. There is a Divine order; and it involves the very highest well-being—up to its capacity—of every creature, great and small. That order is based upon man's obedient and submissive harmony with God's will. This the wicked man refuses, and so this order the wicked man breaks. Alas! spoiling the peace, not for himself alone, but for all with whom he has to do. The everlasting peace will come when we are "all righteous," and not a moment before.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 48". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30