SECTION III. THE MISSION OF THE SERVANT OF THE LORD (CH. 49-53).
The connection of the present section is especially with Isaiah 42:1-7, where the mission of the Servant of Jehovah was first announced. That mission was there described with extreme brevity. It has now to be fully set forth, for the instruction, consolation, and comfort of all Israel, which is represented as sunk in despondency, deeming itself forgotten of God and forsaken by him (Isaiah 42:13, Isaiah 42:14). In the present chapter Jehovah's attestation of his Servant's mission is set forth (Isaiah 42:1-12), and Zion is comforted in her despondency (Isaiah 42:13 -26).
JEHOVAH'S ATTESTATION OF HIS SERVANT'S MISSION. Jehovah called his Servant from the womb; mentioned him by name; made his mouth a sharp sword; held him in his hand; caused him to be a polished weapon; appointed him his Servant; assured him of a right and a recompense; appointed him, not only to restore and recover Israel, but to be a Light to the Gentiles, and to give salvation to the ends of the world (Isaiah 49:1-6); chose him (Isaiah 49:7); will help him (Isaiah 49:8); through him will both deliver the captive everywhere (Isaiah 49:9), and cause joy to break out in every part of heaven and earth (Isaiah 49:11-13). It is quite impossible that these things can be said of aught but a person, or of any person other than him in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed (Genesis 22:18).
Listen, O isles (comp. Isaiah 41:1; Isaiah 42:1, Isaiah 42:4, Isaiah 42:6). Since the beginning of Isaiah 43:1-28. Israel alone has been addressed. Now that the mission of the Servant of Jehovah is to be treated of, all the world must be summoned to hear, for all the world is directly interested. Ye people; rather, ye peoples, or ye nations. The Lord hath called me from the womb. Isaiah could not have said this of himself, for his "call" took place when he was of mature age. But Christ was designated for his office from the womb (Luke 1:31-33). He was also still "in the womb of his mother" when the name of Jesus was given to him (Matthew 1:21, Luke 1:31).
He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that "the Word of God" generally "is … sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow" (Hebrews 4:12). Christian experience testifies that tiffs keen, searching, cutting power attaches in an especial way to the sayings of Jesus, which pierce the heart as no other words can do, and rankle in the soul, which is quite unable to forget them. The imagery recurs in the Revelation of St. John (John 1:16; John 2:12, John 2:16; John 19:15, John 19:21). In the shadow of his hand hath he hid me. Either keeping him safe from the malice of his enemies, or reserving him until, "in the fulness of time," it would be fitting to reveal him to the world. And made me a polished shaft, A weapon even keener than a sword, smoothed and polished, so as to make it pierce the deeper, and kept hid in God's quiver until the time came when it could be launched with most effect against the hearts of ungodly men.
Thou art my Servant, O Israel. That the literal "Israel," is not intended appears plainly from Isaiah 49:5. The Servant himself is addressed as "Israel," because he "would stand as a new federal head to the nation" (Kay), which would be summed up in him, and also because he would be, in a truer sense than any other, an "Israel," or "Prince with God." In whom I will be glorified (comp. John 13:31, "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him"). He who is "the Brightness of the Father's glory" sets forth that glory before men, and causes them to glorify him, both with their tongues and in their lives.
Then I said, I have laboured in vain; rather, and I, for my part, had said. The Servant had momentarily desponded, seeing the small results of all his efforts to reclaim Israel, and had felt a natural human regret at so much labour apparently expended in vain; but his despondency had been soon checked by the thought that God would not suffer any "labour of love" to be wholly in vain, but would give it the recompense which it merited. The verse brings strongly out the true humanity of the "Servant," who feels as men naturally feel, but restrains himself, and does not allow his feelings to carry him away. Compare with this despondency the grief exhibited by our Lord on two occasions (Matthew 23:37; John 11:35), and the depression which extorted from him the memorable words, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" (Matthew 27:46). My work; rather, my reward, or my recompense.
And now, saith the Lord, etc.; rather, and now the Lord hath said—he that formed me from the womb to be a Servant to him, that I might bring back Jacob to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him; for I shall be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God is become my Strength—he hath said—It is a light thing, etc. The whole of Isaiah 49:5, after the words, "and now the Lord hath said," is parenthetic. (On the service which our Lord continually rendered, while on earth, to the Father, see Luke 2:49; Luke 4:43; John 4:34; John 6:38; John 17:4.) The Revelation of St. John shows that in heaven he is still engaged in carrying out his Father's behests. Though Israel be not gathered. This reading, as Mr. Cheyne remarks, "entirely spoils the symmetry of the verse." The practice of writing fresh copies of the Scripture from dictation is answerable for the double reading of לֹא and לוֹ both here and in other places. Yet shall I be glorious. The "Servant" would receive glory even by such a partial conversion of the Jews as took place through his ministry. It is never to be forgotten that all the original twelve apostles were Jews, that Matthias was a Jew, that Paul and Barnabas were Jews, and that the original Church was a Church of Jews (Acts 2:41-47). All that was truly spiritual in Judaism flowed into the Church of Christ, as into its natural home, and the Jewish element in the Church, if not numerically great, was yet the predominant and formative element.
It is a light thing. God rewards his servants according to their works. He is supremely just. He was not content that even Nebuchadnezzar should be insufficiently rewarded for the service that he rendered against Tyre (Ezekiel 29:18), and he therefore gave him Egypt in addition as his recompense (Ezekiel 29:20). It would have been "a light thing"—"too light a thing" (Kay, Cheyne)—to have rewarded the labours of Jesus with the conversion of the Jews only. God therefore gave him as his recompense the gathering in of the Gentiles also, and made him a means of salvation even to the uttermost ends of the earth. The preserved of Israel; i.e. the "remnant" that had not perished through previous judgments. I will also give thee for a Light to the Gentiles (comp. Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 34:1; Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 55:5, etc.). Greeks ἕλληνες were brought into contact with our Lord himself shortly before his crucifixion (John 12:20). He wrought a miracle for a Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:25-30). His apostles, after a little time, understood that the gospel was for the world at large, and declared that in Christ there was no difference between Jew and Greek, nay! between Jew and barbarian. Christ had died for all—had come to be a Light to all, would have all come into his Church and obtain salvation through union with him. That thou mayest be my Salvation. Christ is called "Salvation," as the Bearer of salvation—he through whom alone can any man be saved (Acts 4:12). So he is called "Peace" (Micah 5:5), as the Giver of peace.
His Holy One; i.e. "the Holy One of Israel." To him whom man despiseth; literally, who is despised of souls. This is the first place in the prophecies of Isaiah where this note of the Messiah is brought forward. It is found earlier in the Psalms, as especially in Psalms 22:6, et seq; "I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people;" and later on it is expanded into a chapter (Psalms 53:1-6.). Whom the nation abhorreth; rather, whom mankind abhorreth. The term used is goi, which points to the Gentiles rather than to the Jews. Mankind at large dislikes a "Holy One," since he is a perpetual reproach to it (see Isaiah 30:11; and comp. Plut; 'Republ.,' 7.2, ad fin.). It is not the Jews only who exclaim in such a case, "Away with him! away with him!" (John 19:15). There is such an antagonism between sin and holiness, that the ungodly everywhere and in all ages detest the godly and virtuous. A servant of rulers; or, a slave of despots; treated as a slave, i.e. by such irresponsible rulers as Herod (Luke 23:11) and Pontius Pilate (John 19:1, John 19:16). The "King of kings" bowed himself to a slave's death. Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship (comp. Psalms 72:10, Psalms 72:11; Isaiah 52:15; Isaiah 50:3, Isaiah 50:10,Isaiah 50:11, etc.). According to a tradition—which, however, cannot be traced back to any very ancient source—the Magi who came to worship our Lord at Bethlehem were "kings." The prophecy is, however, to be regarded as having its main fulfilment in the coming to Christ of so many kings and princes, since his ascension into heaven (comp Psalms 22:23). And the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee; rather, the Holy One of Israel, that hath chosen thee. Kings will rise from their thrones, and prostrate themselves before Messiah, convinced that Jehovah is faithful in the performance of his promises, and has chosen the Son of Mary to be the Redeemer so long announced as about to appear on earth.
In an acceptable time; literally, in a time of good pleasure; i.e. the time fixed by my good pleasure from the creation of the world. Heard thee … helped thee. The Father "heard" and "helped" the only begotten Son through the whole period of his earthly ministry (Luke 2:40, Luke 2:52; John 3:2; John 8:28; John 12:28; John 14:10, etc.). I will give thee for a Covenant of the people (comp. Isaiah 42:6, and the comment, ad loc.). To establish the earth; rather, as in Isaiah 49:6, to raise up the earth, to lift it out of its existing condition of meanness and degradation. To cause to inherit the desolate heritages; i.e. to cause the desolate heritages of the earth—the places devoid of trite religion—to be possessed, and as it were "inherited," by those who would introduce into them the true knowledge of God. As Israel inherited Canaan (Deuteronomy 3:28; Joshua 1:6), so would Christian nations inherit many "desolate heritages," where ignorance and sin prevailed, with the result that light would penetrate into the dark regions, and, ultimately, all flesh see the salvation of God.
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth, "The prisoners" here are not the captives in Babylon, but the servants of sin throughout the world. Christ would say to them, "Go forth." He would summon them by his messengers to repent,and be converted, and quit the service of sin, and "go forths" from the kingdom of darkness, and "show themselves" as lights of the world (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15), walking "as children of the light" (Ephesians 5:8). It is a narrow exegesis which confines the prophet's forecast to the mere return of the exiles to Palestine, and their re-settlement on their ancestral estates. They shall feed in the ways, etc. The returning "prisoners" are now represented as a flock of sheep (comp. Isaiah 40:11), whom the good Shepherd will "lead" and "guide" by ways in which they will find sufficient pasture, which shall not fail them even when they pass over bare "hill-tops" (see John 10:11-16; John 21:15-17).
They shall not hunger nor thirst (cf. John 4:14; John 6:35). God's grace is sufficient for his faithful ones. They are content with the sustenance which he awards them, and neither "hunger" nor "thirst." Neither shall the heat nor sun smite them; rather, neither shall the glowing sand nor the sun smite them (see Isaiah 35:7). To those who walk at noonday over the "glowing sand" of the desert, the heat which "smites them" seems to come as much from below as from above, the white ground reflecting the sun's rays with a force almost equal to that wherewith the rays themselves beat down upon them from the sky. The Lord's faithful ones, in their passage through the wilderness of life, shall be free Item these fearful trials. "The sun shall not smite them by day, neither the moon by night" (Psalms 121:6) He that hath mercy on them; or, that hath compassion on them—that sympathizes with their sufferings, and pities them in their trials (comp. Isaiah 49:13 and Isaiah 49:15). Shall lead them (comp. Psalms 23:2; Isaiah 40:11). The Oriental shepherd for the most part goes before his flock.
I will make all my mountains a way. No obstacles shall prevent the return of the wanderers. Mountains shall he as roads, and as highways lifted up.
These shall come from far. The nations shall flow in from all sides to the Redeemer's kingdom (Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 11:10; Isaiah 60:1-5, etc.). They shall come from the north and from the west; literally, from the north and from the sea, which generally means "the west," but which, in one enumeration of the points of the compass (Psalms 107:3), is certainly "the south." They shall also come from the land of Sinim by which most recent interpreters understand China. But it is highly improbable that an ethnic name which was not known to the Greeks till the time of Ptolemy should have recoiled Palestine by b.c. 700. And if "the sea" means "the south" in the preceding clause, the Sinim may be these of Phoenicia (Genesis 10:17), who were among the furthest inhabitants of Asia towards the west. In any case, the reference is, not to the dispersed Jews, but to the remote Gentiles, who would pass from all quarters lute the kingdom of the Redeemer.
ZION COMFORTED IN HER DESPONDENCY. While the future is thus glorious, both for the "Servant of the Lord" and for his people Israel, the present is gloom and misery. Zion—not here the city, but the people of God—desponds and says, "Jehovah has forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me" (Isaiah 49:14). This burst of grief, though arising from weakness of faith, is forgiven by the compassion of God, and "afflicted" Israel is "comforted" and consoled through the remainder of the chapter (Isaiah 49:15-26).
Sing, O heavens (comp. Isaiah 44:23). Heaven and earth are called upon to rejoice and "break forth into singing"
O mountains The majesty of mountains seems to have deeply impressed Isaiah. Throughout his writings they are continually introduced as the grandest of the works of God (comp. Isaiah 2:2, Isaiah 2:14; Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 22:5; Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 34:3; Isaiah 37:24; Isaiah 40:4, Isaiah 40:9, Isaiah 40:12; Isaiah 41:15; Isaiah 42:11, Isaiah 42:15, etc.). He expects them to be especially ready to sympathize with man. Such a feeling would be natural to one accustomed to the hill-country of Palestine and the lofty heights of Hermon and Lebanon, but could scarcely have been developed in an exile of the time of Cyrus, born and brought up in the dead level of Babylonia. Hath comforted … will have mercy. Both verbs designate the same action, which is really future, but in God's counsels is already accomplished. The perfect is thus, once more, that of prophetic certitude.
But Zion said. "Zion" is here the "daughter of Zion," or the people of Israel, as in Isaiah 51:16. The meaning is a rare one. The Lord hath forsaken me (comp. Isaiah 40:27). It is not surprising that Israel—even faithful Israel—sometimes desponded, or perhaps despaired, during the long and weary time of the Captivity. Even the "Servant of the Lord" knew moments of despondency (see above, Isaiah 51:4, with the comment).
Can a woman forget?.… yea, they may forget. In the siege of Samaria by Benhadad, King of Syria, a mother, we are told (2 Kings 6:28, 2 Kings 6:29), boiled her son for food. In the last siege of Jerusalem similar horrors are reported (Joseph; 'Bell. Jud.,' 6.3, 4). Mothers have even been known in England who have forced their tender and innocent daughters to commit deadly sin. Yet will I not forget, The love of God surpasses that of either father or mother. "When my father and my mother forsake me," says David, "then the Lord will take me up" (Psalms 27:10). "God is love" (1 John 4:8) in his very essence; and his infinite love is deeper, tenderer, truer, than finite love can ever be. Still, that which is nearest to it upon earth is, doubtless, the love of a mother for her children (see Isaiah 66:13).
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands. The prophet has passed here from the living Zion, Isabel, to their material home, Jerusalem. The metaphor which he uses is no doubt drawn from the practice, common both in ancient and in modern days, of burning or puncturing figures and other mementos upon the hand, the arm, or some other part of the body, and then rendering the figures indelible by rubbing in henna, indigo, gunpowder, or some other coloured substance. Pilgrims in the East have almost always such marks put upon them when they have accomplished their pilgrimage. English sailors are fond of them, and few are without some such mark on their breast or limbs. The meaning here is that God has the thought of Zion as constantly present with him as if her image were indelibly marked on the palms of his hands. (On the anthropomorphic representation of God as having "arms" and "hands," see the comment on Isaiah 40:10.) Thy walls. It is the city, Zion, the emblem of the people, that can alone be "graven" or "portrayed." This city has, of course, walls. God bears them in mind perpetually, since he is about to cause them to be built up (Nehemiah 3:1-32, Nehemiah 4:1-23.).
Thy children shall make haste; i.e. "thy exiled children shall hasten, when the appointed time comes, to return to Zion, and rebuild its temple and towers and walls." At the same time, thy destroyers and they that have made thee waste, who are regarded as still carrying on their devastations, shall leave thee and go forth of thee.
Lift up thine eyes round about and behold (comp. Isaiah 50:4, where the same phrase occurs in connection with the conversion of the Gentiles). All these gather themselves together (comp. Isaiah 49:12). Thou shalt surely clothe thee with them all, as with an ornament (comp. Zechariah 9:16). The restored Church, receiving adhesions from the nations on all sides, will be like a bride who puts on her ornaments, and is thereby made glorious to look upon (Isaiah 61:10, ad fin.). The entire Church, not any one part, is designated as the "Bride" of Christ in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:29, Ephesians 5:32; Revelation 21:2, Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:17).
The land of thy destruction; or, of thy overthrow—i.e, where thou wert overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar—shall even now be too narrow, etc. This must not be understood literally. Palestine, after the return from the Captivity, was at no time over-populated; and when the conversion of the Gentiles took place it caused no influx of fresh settlers into the Holy Land. The object of the prophet is simply to mark the vast growth of the Church, which would necessarily spread itself far beyond the limits of Palestine, and would ultimately require the whole earth for its habitation.
The children which thou shalt have, after thou hast lost the other; literally, the children of thy bereavement; i.e. the Gentiles who shall replace those many faithless Israelites who refused to return when Cyrus issued his edict, and became lost to the Church of God. The place is too strait for me (see the comment on Isaiah 49:19).
Who hath begotten me these? The Jewish Church is astounded at the influx of the Gentiles, and asks, "Where did they come from? Who has made them my children? Who has trained them?" That they are not her natural children she is sure, since she knows that she has been for a long time "bereaved and unfruitful" (Cheyne)—a captive, and a "wanderer" (Kay). It is certain that the Jewish Church did not at first altogether welcome the incoming of the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-3; Acts 15:1-11; Galatians 2:11-14, etc.). But the guidance of the Holy Spirit surmounted the difficulty (Acts 15:28).
I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles. The new children—the new converts—are to come from the Gentiles; the fresh "sons" and "daughters" will be carried by the nations in their arms, and by the peoples upon their shoulders. It is usual to expound this and parallel passages (Isaiah 60:4; Isaiah 66:20) of the return of the Jews to their own land by favour of the Gentiles, either when the decree of Cyrus went forth, or at some still future period. But perhaps the children intended are foster-children, actual Gentiles, whom their parents will bring to baptism. In the Assyrian sculptures, mothers are constantly represented as carrying their children upon their shoulders.
Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; or, thy foster-fathers … thy foster-mothers. Kings and queens (sultanas) shall put themselves at the disposal of the Church, to nourish and cherish such of the Church's children as may be entrusted to their care. They shall bow down. They shall not seek to lord it over the Church, but shall acknowledge in the officers of the Church a spiritual authority superior to their own, before which they shall "bow down," as Theodosius did. They shall even be willing, when they are conscious of guilt, to "lick the dust" under the Church's feet, or subject themselves to deep humiliation, that they may be restored. They shall not be ashamed that wait for me. Such as wait patiently and trust in the fulfilment of all these gracious promises shall escape shame, for the promises will assuredly be fulfilled.
Shall the prey be taken, etc.? The incredulous among the exiles thought it well-nigh impossible that Babylon should be forced to disgorge her prey—the captives whose labours were so valuable to her. Babylon was mighty. By the laws of war she had a rightful claim to her captives. How was she to be induced or compelled to give them up?
The captives of the mighty shall be taken away. The answer to the questions of Isaiah 49:24 is that, if Babylon is mighty, God is mightier. God will "take away" the captives, and "save" his "children."
I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh (comp. Isaiah 9:20). Civil disunion is intended, which will break the power of Babylon, and render her an easy prey to the Persians. The recently discovered inscriptions clearly show that this was the case. Nabonidus had alienated the affections of his subjects by changes in the religion of the country, and during the course of the war with Cyrus, many Babylonian tribes went over to the invaders, and fought against their own countrymen. The mighty One of Jacob (see the comment on Isaiah 1:24).
The lowest humiliation and the highest glory meet in Christ.
The Messiah was to be "glorious in the eyes of the Lord" (Isaiah 49:5); God was to be "his Strength;" "kings" were to "see him and arise; ' "princes also" were to "worship" (Isaiah 49:7); he was to "raise up the earth;" to "cause to inherit the desolate heritages" (Isaiah 49:8); he was to loose the prisoners (Isaiah 49:9), to "restore Israel" (Isaiah 49:6), and to carry salvation to the ends of the world (Isaiah 49:6); yet, at the same time, he was to be "despised of men, an object of abhorrence to the nations, a servant [or, 'slave'] of rulers" (Isaiah 49:7). That such opposites should meet in one person must have seemed, anterior to the event, most improbable; yet the prophet utters no "uncertain sound." He proclaims alike, with the greatest distinctness, both the glory (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:7; Isaiah 42:1-8; Isaiah 49:1-6) and the humiliation (Isaiah 49:7; Isaiah 53:2-12), both the exaltation and the depression, of the Redeemer. And the event justified him, in both respects alike.
I. CHRIST'S EXTREME HUMILIATION. Christ "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:7, Philippians 2:8). Note the chief points of the humiliation. Being "in the form of God" and "equal with God," he consented
The steps of the humiliation were progressive. First it was negative rather than positive, while he worked as a "carpenter" in his reputed father's shop. Then it received aggravation, when he became a homeless wanderer, was "rejected of men," bidden to "depart out of their coasts," threatened with stoning, declared to "have a devil," "hated," plotted against. Finally, it culminated in that night and day of agony when one disciple betrayed him, and the rest forsook him and fled, and he was led before three tribunals, mocked, buffeted, crowned with thorns, smitten with a reed, scourged judicially, nailed to the cross, flouted, railed on, finally buried out of men's sight, as though all was indeed "finished" with him, and the earth would hear no more of One who had lived an outcast's life, and died the death of a malefactor!
II. CHRIST'S EXALTATION AND GLORY. "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a Name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-12). Note the chief points of the exaltation. No sooner is he dead than he descends to Hades, "preaches to the spirits in prison," and deprives hell of its prey; then rises, "loosens the bonds of death, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it," cheers his "little flock" with his presence for forty days, ascends to heaven, and sits at God's right hand, King of kings and Lord of lords for evermore. On earth he has "a Name above every name." The Roman empire bows down to him; the barbarians are in great part converted; more and more nations flow into his kingdom; and at the present day three hundred millions of men, more than a fourth part of the world's inhabitants, nominally at any rate, confess him for their Master and Lord. In heaven the angels worship him; he sits upon the great white throne, and before him are the four and twenty elders, and the host of angels, and the ten thousand thousand saints, and the song is sung, "Salvation unto our Gad which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb;" and all the angels stand about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fall on their face before the throne, and worship him, saying, "Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen" (Revelation 7:9-12).
The love of God for his Church.
The love of God for his Church is no doubt something mysterious, inscrutable, as are all the Divine attributes; but it is so pointedly set before us in many places, both of the Old and the New Testaments, that it must certainly be intended we should meditate upon it. We may with reverence consider it
I. IN ITS ORIGIN. God's love for his Church would seem to originate in the fondness with which all intelligent beings regard the work of their own hands; that on which they have spent toil, time, labour, thought, care. God in creating the world had, primarily, his Church in view; he made all material things for the sake of man; and he made mankind with a view to his Church. He was moved to the creation of the world by a desire to have for all eternity a body of pure, good, happy, intelligent worshippers dwelling with him in heaven. He began by making man "in his own image" (Genesis 1:27), with a moral nature, free-will, consciousness, personality, memory. He knew that, with these gifts, man would fall; but he determined from the first that out of fallen humanity he would raise up a certain number—as many as would allow him—save them, purify them, make them his "peculiar people" (Deuteronomy 14:2), his Church. In idea, we may say that God loved his Church before he had created it; for, knowing what it would be, he loved it by anticipation, recognizing in it the best, and so the dearest to him, of all his works. Such was his love for his Church in its origin. We have now to consider it—
II. IN ITS ACTION. As a means of obtaining that Church triumphant in heaven which he desired, God saw good to create a Church militant on earth, which should be its shadow and representative, and to make that Church the peculiar object of his care. For this Church he showed his love by unwearied, ceaseless watchfulness, by supernatural interpositions from time to time, by patient endurance of provocations, by occasional chastisements, by warnings, by providential guidance, by direct teaching from Sinai, by indirect instruction through a long series of inspired prophets and seers. Never forgetting, never forsaking Israel, he delivered them out of Egypt, led them through the wilderness, gave them Canaan, subdued the nations before them, saved them from the power of Assyria, brought them forth out of Babylon, sustained and supported them, until, in the fulness of time, he gave the strongest possible evidence of his love by sending forth his Son to die for his Church, and by his death to infuse into it fresh life, and transform it from a national into a world-wide society, from the Church of the Jews into the "holy Catholic Church"—the Church of all nations. And this Church he has built upon a rock; he has promised to be with it always; he has declared that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. This Church he "nourisheth and cherisheth" (Ephesians 5:29), guiding it with his Spirit, sanctifying and cleansing it (Ephesians 5:26), protecting it from its secret foes, delivering it from its avowed enemies. The Church of Christ for nearly nineteen hundred years has triumphed over all attempts to crush it and destroy it, not by its own strength, but through the love and care of the Almighty. The action of God's love for his Church is thus, in the first place, to keep it in being; in the second, to purify and perfect it. It only remains to consider this precious love—
III. IN ITS RESULTS. The present results are:
1. That there is a witness for God in almost every land—a witness which testifies unceasingly to the existence, power, and goodness of the Almighty; to the free offer of redemption through his Son, and to the free gift of sanctification through his Spirit.
2. There is a body which preaches holiness of life, even if it very imperfectly practises it.
3. There is a community which witnesses to the spirituality of man, to free-will, moral responsibility, the absolute and eternal difference of right from wrong, a future life, and judgment to come.
4. There is a body which hands on religion from age to age as a real living thing; a power seen in its fruits; a transforming, energizing power; not a philosophy, but a life. In the future the great result will be—that which the Revelation of St. John indicates—the eternal existence in heaven of a Church triumphant; "a multitude which no man can number," consisting "of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues," who will "stand before the throne of God, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands," praising him and ready to do his pleasure for ever (Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:10).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Jehovah and his Servant.
The Servant of Jehovah is wearied with the obstinacy of the Israelites, and turns to the lands afar off, that he may unfold to them his high mission and its purport. The offer of salvation is to be extended to the heathen world.
I. HIS CALL. From his very birth he has been destined as a missionary to the heathen world (cf. Isaiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15; Luke 1:31). The emphasis is on the fact. He was not self-called, and there was no presumption on his part. There is all the difference in the world between calling one's self missionary, or apostle, or minister, and feeling that "God has made mention of one's name."
II. HIS ENDOWMENT. His mouth has been made a sharp sword; a vehicle for that Word which is elsewhere compared to a sharp and two-edged sword, to pierce the conscience, to overcome the proud and the stubborn (cf. Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 51:16; Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 19:15. See also, for the pungency of eloquence, Ecclesiastes 12:11). It is a lesson: pointless speech is no speech for the minister of God. We do not speak to "gain time," but to gain hearts. In some respects we may be compared to marksmen. In Gentile poets the like figures occur of the sword or the arrow.
"His powerful speech Pierced the heater's soul, and left behind,
Deep in his bosom, its keen point infixt.
Say through what paths of liquid air
Our arrows shall we throw?"
And so with the apostolic preaching. They told the world in plain terms "that he who believed should be saved, and that he who believed not should be damned." "This was the dialect which pierced the conscience, and made the hearers cry out, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' It tickled not the ear, but sank into the heart; and when men came from such sermons, they never commended the preacher for his taking voice or gesture, for the fineness of such a simile or the quaintness of such a sentence, but spoke like men conquered with the overpowering force of truth." The Servant of God is also compared to a "polished shaft" (cf. Jeremiah 51:11). His words penetrate easily, because natural, familiar, and not above the capacity of the hearer. "Nothing is more preposterous than for those who profess to aim at men's hearts to shoot over their heads" (South).
III. HIS DEARNESS TO GOD. This polished shaft is covered in the quiver of God. The Almighty takes care of his tools, as every good workman does. Through Israel as his instrument, he designs to manifest his glory. "His Servant will become the Head of a regenerated and expanded Israel, which Jehovah will hold forth to the universe as his fairest prize" (Cheyne). This sense of being related to God and his purposes is the source of the purest consolation. It is true the Servant of God is tempted to despondency, as in the typical case of Elijah in the wilderness. The "flesh is weak." On the other hand, just when he is weak, then is the Servant of God strong. The cry of seeming despair in Psalms 22:1 is absorbed in the jubilant exultation of the singer at the close, in the prospect of the extension of the kingdom (cf. Matthew 27:46). So here, after the melancholy outburst, "I have laboured in vain," etc; the Servant of Jehovah "gives the lie to all delusive appearances," assured that his recompense is with God. The Servant of God has his rights founded on the nature of God himself and on his covenant. The missionary of the great King has a right to be protected, and to expect submission to his message. "The mention of recompense shows that 'Servant' here has a special meaning of its own. A slave can have no recompense" (Cheyne). He will have a" portion among the great" (Isaiah 53:10,Isaiah 53:12). And what is the great "recompense of the reward"? The noblest that can be thought of—to "bring back Jacob," to "gather Israel," and still more, to be the Light of the nations, to be the Instrument of Jehovah's salvation unto the earth's end. It is natural, it is noble, it is Christian, to have respect to such a recompense. The quality of life's rewards is the main throe to be considered. There can be no contradiction between the doctrines of grace and the hopes of reward, if that reward be conceived as, first and last. consisting in the favour, the friendship, the enployment of the righteous and merciful Governor of the world.
IV. GLIMPSES OF THE GREAT REWARD. Already faith, revived in the breast of Jehovah's Servant, is encouraged by large views of the future.
1. His promised honours. He is now heartily despised by man; but the "God of Israel," the Redeemer and Avenger, saith that he stroll in his future fortunes be the Representative of Israel's glories. He is now under the sway of great despots, heathen lords. The time shall come when kings shall rise up to do him homage, and princes shall-bow down before him; for behind him is Jehovah himself, the faithful Covenant-keeper, who has chosen, and therefore will support his Servant.
2. His mediatorial office. When the season of Providence has come, the Servant shall not only be helped and saved, but shall become the Source of salvation to others (cf. Psalms 22:23-27). He shall raise up the ruined land; he shall assign to the different families the heritages belonging to them; he shall say to the captive Jews, "Go forth!" and they shall return, like a well-shepherded flock, finding pasture everywhere on the way. They shall not be afflicted by the burning sun nor by the illusive mirage. Led by refreshing springs, and finding a highway through the mountains, they shall come from all quarters to the wished-for end of their pilgrimage. The description may be taken as an allegory of life's pilgrimage.—J.
I. THE TEMPTATION. "Jehovah hath forsaken me, and the Lord hath forgotten me." The temptation is to ascribe the cause of feeling in our own mind to a Being outside us; forgetting that "'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus." It does not follow, because our hearts are dry, that the fountain of comfort is sealed. It does not follow, because we feel ourselves lonely, that the good God has deserted us; nor, because we do not realize the Divine presence, that God has forgotten us. But the mind naturally leans on signs and symbols and outward manifestations. The act of faith—so simple to speak about—the "walk by faith, not by sight," is really most difficult. There are times when even the noblest of mankind are unequal to such an effort. Reason will hardly meet the case. "He that despairs," it has been said, "limits an infinite Power to a finite apprehension, and measures Providence by his own little contracted model." True; and the truth is not consoling. The sense and assurance of love alone can console.
II. DESPONDENCY MET. Not by censure, not by argument, but by the assurance of uninterrupted and undying love. It is a Divine love; surpassing, therefore, the noblest manifestations of human love—that of father or moth, or. A woman may, like a Lady Macbeth, allow some mightier passion to get the better even of maternal love. But there is no mightier passion in the heart of God than the love to his children. Human memory is infirm; but God cannot forget. The picture of Israel is graven on the palms of his hands. "It is indelible, like the sacred marks of devotees. Jehovah inverts the usual order. A worshipper needs a consecrating mark to remind him of his relation to God. Zion's God, though not needing such reminder, has condescended to grave Jerusalem on the palms of his hands. The objects of human interest are changing; God concentrates his thought on his people. "Thy walls are ever before me." The visible city was indeed destroyed, but God had his eye upon the preservation of the spiritual building for eternity. "Dost thou think that that is the city of which I said, 'I engraved thee on the palms of my hands'? Nay; that building is not now built in the midst of you. It is that which shall be revealed in my presence; it was prepared from the time when I meditated to produce a Paradise, and I showed it to Adam before he sinned; when he cast away my command, it was removed from him. And now, lo! it hath been kept by me, even as Paradise." Men's thoughts decline to the material; God is concerned with the ideal and eternal. And in this truth lies profound encouragement. Forms decay, institutions come down with a mighty crash; the building of the ages is ever going on. And it must go on by means of the labours of Zion's children. The desolate city will yet be clothed with ornaments like a lonely bride; and she who has been as a desolate widow will have a family too numerous to be contained within present narrow bounds.
III. UNFAILING HOPE IN JEHOVAH. At his bidding, and with the hearty aid of the Gentiles, the exiles shall return to their own houses, as the foster-father carries the child in the bosom of his garment. The custom is Oriental (see on 2 Kings 10:1-36). The meaning is that the princes of the Gentiles shall favour and respect Israel. Some fulfilment may be seen in the conduct of the Persian kings, of Alexander and his successors towards the Jews; another kind of fulfilment in the patronage of the Church by Constantine. But the full accomplishment of the prediction remains for the future. But incredulity breaks in. "Can the tyrant be made to disgorge his prey?" This shall take place. Jehovah shall appear in battle-might, as Avenger and Hero of Jacob, and the foes shall be put to shame. Jehovah—those that hope in him shall not be ashamed. The strain that began with the mutterings of despondency ends in the triumph of confidence and exultation. Hope in the Eternal—this must be our sure stay in the times of the nation's, the Church's, the individual's need. Our conduct cannot rise higher than our hopes, no more than the water in the pipe can rise higher than the spring-head. He who lives by the hopes of the present and passing world, acts and suffers with a strength that is less than might be his. Nothing in this world can support us against trials which threaten the loss of our worldly all. We can only be borne up by something mightier and greater than this world, not to be found in it, but in the Eternal himself.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
A mistaken estimate.
"Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain." Oft-repeated words. Human ignorance, surveying the fields, says, "No harvests; or at best no harvests accordant with the toil and tears of the sowing." What folly! As if we could see beneath the soil the slumbering seed waiting to spring forth; or the seeds that have been carried as by the birds of the heavens to far-away acres.
I. THE SORROWFUL WORKERS. The words have pain in them. "I have laboured in vain." No man likes to feel that. These are not the tears of indolence, but the sorrows of the toiler. We can sympathize with them; for we have all at seasons felt thus. But the words are:
1. Mistaken in their main idea. Who knows what success is, or where success is? "In vain?" Sometimes the largest harvests grow above the sower's grave.
2. Mistaken in their central object. "I said." Yes; but who are you? God is the Judge. Let no man make the attempt to enter the Divine observatory.
II. THE SAVING CLAUSE. "Yet!" Here comes wisdom after mistake. "Surely my judgment is with the Lord."
1. This quickens inspiration to duty.
2. This sanctifies the sorrow of disappointment.
3. This keeps alive the hope of reward.
What a beautiful sentence!—"My work is with my God" It is in good hands.—W.M.S.
A Light to the Gentiles.
"It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my Servant, etc." How distinctly this prophesies concerning Christ!—
I. IN RELATION TO THE TRUE GLORY OF HIS KINGDOM. Not to exalt Jacob, or to preserve Israel, but to be a Light to the Gentiles.
II. IN RELATION TO THE HISTORY OF HIS MINISTRY. Why did the Jewish nation despise and crucify the Redeemer? It would have been a light thing to serve in such a cause as that which ministered to their glory by restoring their prestige and preeminence; but it was "heavy as the cross" to save the world.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The claim, the confession, and the consolation of the Servant of God.
We may treat this passage either historically or practically. We look at it—
I. IN ITS REFERENCE TO JESUS CHRIST. He was, indeed, an Israel, a Prince with God, as never Jacob was. He was truly a Servant of Jehovah, doing his work as never prophet or nation did before. These words are most appropriate on his lips.
1. He claimed the attention of mankind. He said, in other words and ways, "Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far." He said that "every one that was of the truth" would hear his words; that he would draw all men unto him. He summoned the weary hearts of men everywhere to come and find rest in him and in his service; he offered himself to mankind as the Light of the world, as the Bread of life, etc. He had the most penetrating truth to utter (Isaiah 49:2; see John 6:63).
2. He compressed a temporary, outward failure. He had to acknowledge that the men of social standing and of ecclesiastical position did not believe in him; that many of his disciples fell away from him in the time of difficulty and trial; that he was left "alone."
3. He found great consolation in God.
II. IN ITS APPLICATION TO OURSELVES.
1. We, as true teachers, make our claim. We confidently believe that we have something to say which is worth the world's attention; which is fitted to penetrate, like a sharp sword, the thoughts, the purposes, the convictions, of mankind; which will give light to the understanding, peace to the conscience, nobility to the character, brightness and beauty to the life, of all who will listen and learn.
2. We have to make our confession of defeat—to acknowledge, often, that we have "laboured in vain'" (see Isaiah 53:1). The truth we preach, or teach, or print, does not penetrate; it is like the seed which falls on stony ground—it yields no fruit. Even the influence of our lives, and even the pleadings of our soul with God in earnest prayer, sometimes seem to be unavailing.
3. We find our consolation in God. In the conviction that he has called us to do the work in which we are occupied; that he is surrounding us with his Divine protection and inspiring us by his upholding Spirit; that God will grant increase to our toil in the distant if not in the near future; that he will bestow on us a full reward when the hour of blessed recompense arrives.—C.
The greater mission.
The main point of this passage is that far greater triumphs should await the Redeemer of Israel than any recovery of the scattered tribes; he was to be a Light to the whole Gentile world—to be "for salvation to the uttermost part of the earth." The fact that a true but small mission opens out into one that is very much larger, widening and deepening as it proceeds, is one that has many illustrations—
I. IN THE WORK OF THE LORD HIMSELF. As he "grew in wisdom," he found that "his Father's business" involved more than appeared to him when he was twelve years old. There was a time when he instructed his disciples to "go not into any way of the Gentiles:" and when he said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:6; Matthew 15:24). But later on, he not only recognized for himself that his work was to be wide as humanity and to embrace those furthest away from truth and from God, but he commanded his disciples to "baptize all nations," to "go unto all the world," etc. Under his holy hand his great mission grew, and it became that one which, for the vastness of its proportions and the beneficence of its aim, leaves every human enterprise immeasurably behind.
II. IN THE WORK OF THE APOSTLES OF OUR LORD. James and John, when they were asked by their Master whether they could drink of his cup, answered with sure confidence, "We can;" but they little knew what were the contents of that cup; they little imagined how great, how stupendous, was the task which their Lord would leave in their hands.
III. IN THE WORK OF INDIVIDUAL REFORMERS. At different times men have addressed themselves to some work of necessary reformation. They supposed that they could measure the extent of their task; but they found that as they proceeded it enlarged, and what they first attempted proved to be "a light thing" in comparison with all that they ultimately accomplished. Witness the work of Luther, Knox, Cranmer, Wesley, etc.
IV. IN THE WORK OF EACH CHRISTIAN CHURCH. A Christian Church, when first planted, is most anxious to establish and consolidate itself—to grow in numbers and in reputation and in strength. But before long it awakes to the truth that it has a greater mission to effect than this; it is called into being to exert a powerful influence for good on all the surrounding neighbourhood—to communicate spiritual health and eternal life to all human souls that can be reached and blessed. To establish itself is "a light thing" in comparison with this high and holy function.
1. The entrance on this greater mission should be in the spirit of pure devotion. We should feel that we are God's servants (verse 5), called to do his work.
2. It should be carried on and completed in God's strength. "My God shall be my Strength."—C.
The kingdom of Christ: a missionary sermon.
In an elevated strain, full of high hope and touched with the pure joy of anticipation, the prophet writes of Messiah's kingdom. He calls our attention to—
I. ITS MOST STRIKING CHARACTERISTICS.
1. Spiritual restoration. "To establish the earth," or rather to restore the land, and to bring about the repossession by their true owners of the "desolate heritages." In the kingdom of Christ humanity, that had "lain waste" and had produced all kinds of noxious and ugly growths, should be recultivated, bear its own true feints of peace and righteousness, and be a land restored.
2. Spiritual freedom. To the prisoners of sin, of folly, and of vice, the commanding word will be addressed, "Go forth" (Isaiah 49:9); and they will walk in the atmosphere of sacred freedom.
3. Abundance of truth. The disciples of Christ are "the children of light;" they walk in the light of his holy truth (Isaiah 49:9).
4. The sheltering and providing power of the sovereign Saviour. The present Lord shall satisfy their hungering hearts, shall slake their spirits' thirst, shall shelter them from the heats of strong temptation, shall supply them with all-sufficient grace for their recurring need (Isaiah 49:10). All its swings are in him and he is near to minister to all their wants.
II. THE OPENNESS OF THE WAY TO ITS FULL ESTABLISHMENT. (Isaiah 49:11, Isaiah 49:12.) In the arrangements of Divine providence, when Jesus Christ came and introduced his gospel to the world, there were ready three things that were wanted to carry it over the world.
1. A missionary people—supplied by the Jewish nation, in whom were all the elements of moral worth and religious enthusiasm.
2. A suitable language—supplied by the Greeks.
3. A highway to distant lands—supplied by Roman roads and Roman laws. And the new faith, which seemed certain to perish as soon as it was born, grew and spread on every hand. It was as if the very obstructions were "away." Difficulties disappeared; a "great door and effectual was opened." And in our time the way is being further opened. Exploration, human science, international treaties, even war itself, is levelling the separating hills and bridging the dividing gulfs; and even into the very heart of China (Sinim?) the missionary is penetrating with the truth of Christ.
III. ITS ACCEPTABLE HOUR. The era in which we live is one in which the Father of all is disposed to bless and save. It is "a day of salvation." The atoning work is wrought; the Divine Spirit is ready to regenerate and renew; the Word of truth and grace is multiplied; great is the company of the preachers.; the Churches of Christ are fast awaking to a sense of their obligation and their opportunity. It is a time to pray, to work, and to look for God's favouring presence and redeeming power.—C.
Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 49:16
God thinking upon us.
No language could be stronger than that which is here employed to assure us of God's remembrance of us. We are thankful for the fulness and force of the promise; for there are at least—
I. THREE TEMPTATIONS TO THINK OTHERWISE. There is:
1. A consciousness of our littleness. Thinking of the smallness of this earth as one little planet among the Whole stellar universe; of the insignificance of any nation, group, or family of mankind; of the infinitesimal character of the individual,—we are apt to suppose that each one of us is, in the matter of intrinsic worth, undeserving of God's regard. This is very shallow reasoning; but it is not uncommon, nor is it without influence among men.
2. A sense of our sin. It is natural enough that we should conclude that our guilt in God's sight has so "separated between us and him" that he banishes us from his thought, as a human father who has been grievously wronged by his son dismisses him from his mind.
3. An appearance off desertion. When trial comes upon trial, when all the waves and billows of affliction go over our soul, when all things seem to be against us as they seemed of old to Jacob, it is not surprising if we look up despondently, or even despairingly, to heaven and say, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious?" "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" There may come times to us, as to others, when we shall seem abandoned by men, and at length deserted of God—the darkest,. bitterest, saddest hour of our life, even as it was of his (Matthew 27:26).
II. THE STRONG DIVINE REASSURANCE. The tone of the text is as pathetic as its argument is convincing. The appeal is made to the tenderest human affection—that of motherly love. God says to us, "Though your love for one another may fail, even where the tie is the tenderest and strongest, yet my remembrance of you shall not fail." Human attachments do not suffice to indicate the fulness of Divine fidelity; that surpasses anything which our experience will illustrate. He further grants us the assurance that he is as one who has taken the most effective measures to secure the necessary mindfulness; he has, so to speak, made indelible impressions where he cannot fail to see them. He goes as far as language can go to implant in our minds the conviction that, however our logical understanding may argue, however appearances may be against it, we are never out of his mind; he always has us in his heart. The extremity will never come in which we may not say, "I am poor and needy, but the Lord thinketh upon me."—C.
Isaiah 49:23, Isaiah 49:25
The fear which may be fearless, etc.
We have two conditions indicated in these two texts which present us with a perfect contrast. We have—
I. THE FEAR WHICH MAY BE FEARLESS. "They shall not be ashamed that wait for me," or "that hope in me." Reverent trust in the living God, in the Divine Friend of man, has nothing to fear. It may be seriously threatened, but it is secure. Sickness may come, adversity may assail, friends may forsake, bereavement may afflict, death may cast its shadows; but a confiding trust in the love and the faithfulness of God will never be put to shame. It will retain its calmness under all; it will triumph over all.
II. THE HOPE WHICH MUST BE HOPELESS. "I will contend with him that contendeth with thee." He who fights against the people, the truth, the cause of God, is fighting against the Almighty One himself. However promising outward appearances may be, he is foredoomed to utter and disastrous failure: his hope is hopeless.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Fitness for God's service.
The general idea of this section of Isaiah's prophecies needs to be borne in mind. In it "Israel himself, in all his contradictory characteristics, becomes the engrossing subject of the prophet's meditations. His restoration, still future, but indubitable, is celebrated in Isaiah 50:1-11. by an ode somewhat similar to that on the fall of Babylon in the preceding part. But the nearer the great event arrives, and the more the prophet realizes the ideal Israel of the future, the more he is depressed by the low spiritual condition of the actual Israel. Strange to say, this combination of apparently inconsistent data—the splendour of the future and the misery of the present—supplies the material for a specimen of dramatic description surpassing anything in the rest of the Old Testament" (Cheyne). By the "servant of Jehovah" we may understand those sent forth by God as the prophets and teachers of each age, bearing Divine messages of warning and of duty. These are personified, as it were, in the one great Divine Teacher, the Messiah. It was one of the most important features of the ministry in every age that it should convict of sin; therefore the work of the mouth is likened to that of a "sharp sword" (comp. Hebrews 4:12, "The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,… and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart"). Pindar employs the metaphor of the arrow in application to powerful eloquence. And the metaphor of a sword and an arrow, both in the best state of preparation, aptly sets forth the penetrating and subduing efficacy of the gospel. This one feature of fitness for doing God's work in the world—the eloquent, persuasive, convincing tongue—may introduce to us the general subject of "fitness for God's service."
I. IT LIES IN ENDOWMENT. The true servant of God is a gifted man—one to whom special powers have been committed, which powers indicate his work, and make him responsible for the doing of it. The proper idea of a Christian ministry is the separation to the work of preaching and teaching of all those who are evidently divinely endowed for preaching and teaching work. The right of a man to do any particular kind of work in the world is simply the right which comes from the divinely given capacity for doing it. If God made us painters, we must paint; if he made us poets, we must shape beautiful thoughts in verse; if he made us preachers, we must preach. Canon Liddon eloquently describes the endowed teacher. "Picture to yourselves a teacher who is not merely under the official obligation to say something, but who is morally convinced that he has something to say. Imagine one who believes alike in the truth of his message, and in the reality of his mission to deliver it. Let this teacher be tender, yet searching; let him win the hearts of men by his kindly humanity, while he probes, ay, to the quick, their moral sores. Let him pursue and expose the latent evil of the human heart through all the mazes of its unrivalled deceitfulness, without sullying his own purity, and without forfeiting his strong belief in the present capacity of every human being for goodness Clearly, such a teacher must be a moral power;" a "sharp sword." One thing greatly needed in our day is quickness to recognize Divine endowments in men, and brotherly aid to all endowed men in the due exercise of their gifts.
II. IT LIES IN THE DIVINE CALL. For the fact of possessing power is not, standing alone, authority for its being put forth and exercised. There must be the inward Divine call, which may or may not be heard through the voice of outward circumstances. This is the lesson taught by the records of the prophets—Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, etc. They were endowed, but they did not act until they were called. The distinction is expressed, poetically, in Psalms 39:3, "While I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue." Illustrate from apostles, who were endowed with the Holy Ghost, symbolized in tongues of fire; but who were also sent ones. It is one thing to be able to speak, it is quite another to be called to speak.
III. IT LIES IN RESPONSIVE GOOD WILL. A man may actually deliver God's message unwillingly and grumblingly, as Jonah did, but it is clear that this cannot be regarded as fit service. Only when we say, "Lord, just what thou wouldst have me do is exactly what I desire to do," can we be regarded as servants indeed. This does not say that our good will towards what is God's will for us involves no effort, no conflict with sell The way of earthly prosperity may be the way of our own will; and the way of lifelong disability may be the way of doing God's will and work. Many a man has given up every earthly prospect to preach Christ to his fellow-men. And he is no fit preacher who does not preach with good will—preach from the heart. He should preach because he must; he should preach because he wishes to.
IV. IT LIES IN CULTURE OF GIFT. This is the human element in the fitness, which is as truly essential as the Divine clement, the natural endowment. We cannot give the gift, but we can train it into efficiency. It has to be prepared for the work of a particular age, and for the demands of a particular sphere. The sword has to be furbished and sharpened. The "gift" has to use instruments; it must gain skill in the use of instruments. The culture properly takes two forms.
1. Self-culture, the whole responsibility of which lies on the would-be minister.
2. Culture by agencies, which can be secured by those who recognize in the would-be minister the Divine "gift." Let the endowed and cultured man wait on God, and of this we are sure—he will find both his place and his work.—R.T.
Mistaken ideas of success.
None of us can properly understand or estimate our life-work. We do not know what it was designed to do, nor where it properly fits. Picturing the ideal "Servant of the Lord," Isaiah represents him as disheartened with the issues of his testimony and labour. The Messiah seemed to be "all day long stretching forth his hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people." Mistakes about the success of work are quite common to God's servants. David thought it was no good to try any longer, and exclaimed, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul." Elijah moaned in his weariness and grief, "I am not better [more successful] than my fathers;" and Jonah, fainting in the sun beside the withered gourd, "It is better for me to die than to live. To him the Nineveh-mission appeared as an utter and disgraceful failure. We must leave God to estimate our successes. "The day" shall declare it. We must wait for the "day of God."
I. MAN IS REQUIRED TO WORK WITHOUT CONSIDERATION OF RESULTS. And that is reasonable,
II. MAN MAY BE CULTURED THROUGH HIS DISTRESS AT RESULTS. One point only is suggested. Seeming failure reveals the self-seeking which had been in his work. And it is the best of culture to get true knowledge of ourselves. The man who aims for results really works for himself—for his own praise. We must just work as God's servants, satisfied to do work that can stand his inspection; and none of us will find it easy to draw in our minds from results, and concentrate them on work.
III. MAN MAY BE SURE OF THE DIVINE ACCEPTANCE OF GOOD WORK. And that is an all-satisfying result. It is only man's poor view that makes results into the standard that tests the value of the work. The best work may produce little, but it is "best work" nevertheless. Many a minister has failed in his sphere. At least, so the world says. But its foolish estimate does not matter. Was it good work? God's judgment is of the work.—R.T.
The great commission.
St. Paul uses this verse in his address to the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:47). "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken unto you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, (saying,) I have set thee to be a Light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth." The truth illustrated is that no man can have exclusive privileges; everything he has belongs to the whole race—it is the property of everybody. This can be illustrated in prominent cases. Aristotle's philosophic thoughts belong to the race. Raphael's paintings are the inspiration of the race. Homer's poetry is revelation for the race. Handel's music is song-praise for the race. The truth is true in the smallest things. Whatsoever any one of us has he has for others, he has for all, he has for "whosoever will." Our text declares this to be true of the Jewish race—as indeed of all races. Israel seemed to have some peculiar privileges. It had them for others. They could not be exclusive. Through Israel all men were to be saved. Their sound was to go out even to the ends of the earth. There could be no keeping to a limited sphere even the privilege of the Messiah being born into the Jewish race. Let him but grow to his manhood, and he will say, "Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring" (John 10:16). Getting practical application for this searching truth, we note—
I. MAN HAS INFLUENCE WITHIN THE RANGE OF HIS OWN PURPOSES. We may make our life-spheres. We may decide what we will do, and where we will do it. We may propose to limit ourselves to a certain number whom we will endeavour to aid and bless. Our energy can do much, and we often speak of men's influence as limited. And it is so far true that every man has a first circle—a sphere immediately round him; and it is well that it should have his best work.
II. MAN HAS INFLUENCE BEYOND ANY PURPOSES OF HIS OWN. You may break the scent-bottle to purify a room, but the fragrance will fill the house. Jesus came to the Jews, but his salvation has gone forth to the ends of the earth. We may live for a home, but the glory of gracious character fills a street. We may preach to a congregation, but strangers may hear, and from us carry inspiring words to the distant colonies. Every one of us may truly say, "Humanity is my congregation; the world is my sphere."
III. A MAN'S LARGER INFLUENCE DEPENDS ON THE CHARACTER SHOWN IN THE SMALLER SPHERE. Especially on his "individuality." By just that in which a man differs from other men, his sphere of influence is the whole world.—R.T.
The acceptable time.
Called also a "day of salvation." There can be no doubt that by this expression is meant the period of the new dispensation, at the commencement of which the Messiah appeared, to effect the work of human redemption, and during which the blessings of that redemption are being communicated to mankind. We may say it is the period in which God had reconciled the world unto himself; in which sinful men can come to God, and deal with him in respect of their sins, through an appointed Mediator. "All our happiness results from the Son's interest in the Father, and the prevalency of his intercession, that he always heard him. And this makes the gospel-time an acceptable time, welcome to us, because we are accepted of God, and reconciled and recommended to him" (Matthew Henry). Our Lord used this expression in his remarkable Messianic sermon at Nazareth, declaring that he had. come to proclaim the "acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 14:19), probably taking his figure from the joyousness of the Jewish year of jubilee. From this passage, what is understood as a "simple gospel sermon" may be preached.
I. THERE MAY BE HINDRANCES TO DIVINE ACCEPTANCE. Get right apprehensions of God, and it will be understood that, under some circumstances, he cannot accept—he must reject, he must frown, he must be against man. Acceptance, to be any moral good to us, must be based on righteousness. We do not care for acceptance unless we are quite sure that God is right in accepting. Illustrate this in connection with the three prominent figures we use for God.
1. King. Certainly a king cannot always accept his subjects.
2. Moral Governor. A very intangible figure. But the addition of the word "moral" shows clearly that conditions are involved.
3. Father. True lathers must sometimes hold off their sons.
II. THE HINDRANCES MAY BE SUCH AS WE PUT IN THE WAY. It is easy to say the hindrances are our sins; it is much more searching to say they are the sinfulness of which our sins are the expression. It would be easy to forgive sins, if our sinfulness were put away. And Christ's mission brought to us an "acceptable time," because it bore upon getting away both the sinfulness and the sin.
III. THE HINDRANCES MAY BE SUCH AS GOD MUST PUT IN THE WAY. This the preacher must deal with according to the notions he has of God's Law and God's righteousness. He has demands; acceptance must be hindered until they are reasonably met.
IV. WHEN GOD AND MAN AGREE TO PUT THE HINDRANCES AWAY, THE ACCEPTABLE TIME HAS COME. Man must put away his sinfulness in penitence. God will put away his claims in mercy; and righteousness and peace can kiss each other. Christ bears mediatorial relations both to God and man.—R.T.
The ideal state.
The return journey of the exiles is here compared to that of a well-tended flock, which has no temptation to roam, for every need is supplied and every possible danger is averted from them. Prophetic figures can never be read aright unless we carefully distinguish between the pictured ideals of poets and prophets, and their realization in actual life. The actual never comes up to the ideal. The ideal is the best possible under the best of circumstances; the actual is the best possible under circumstances that come far short of the best possible. Ideals have their mission in keeping up our standards, and making us "aim high." Utopias are never found, but the world everywhere is the better because some of the human race have conceived Utopias, and presented their conceptions to their fellows. The absence of all elements of evil from the ideal state is figured by the removal of all sources of physical distress. This applies to the prophetic descriptions in the passage before us, and to the pictures of the heavenly given us in the Book of Revelation, "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat." The points which may be profitably treated are these two.
I. DISABILITIES ARE NEEDED WHILE MORAL CULTURE HAS TO BE CARRIED ON. If any proof were required of that fallen and deteriorated condition of man which is a matter of universal experience and conviction and really requires no proof, it would be found in the fact that man now will only learn his best moral lessons through suffering. We so readily think of suffering as arranged in the sovereign will of God; it is a sovereign necessity in meeting man's fallen condition. Why will we not learn without these disabilities? It is clear that we do not, and we will not. It is evident that we are biassed towards wrong, towards self-willedness. Bodily pain, life-distresses, are necessary to the culture of moral creatures who have become enslaved to self-will.,Sorrow is graciously linked with sin, lest sin should come to be loved.
II. DISABILITIES MAY BE REMOVED WHEN MORAL CHARACTER IS ESTABLISHED. When men are all holy, then their surroundings may be all beautiful. There is no smiting heat, no chilling cold, no lack of food, no biting hunger, no raging thirst, no wearing pain, no blinding tears, no separating sea, no remorseless death, in heaven, because all who dwell there are established in goodness, and so there is no mission for disabilities to accomplish; their "occupation's gone." And just so far as we win goodness on earth we rise above all our disabilities, heaven is begun below; as with everything, so with love, "perfect love casteth out fear."—R.T.
What God has to complain of in every age is our "little faith." "He cannot do many mighty works among us because of our unbelief." The reproach here is of the great proportion of the Jewish people, who had become utterly despondent under their long captivity, and even began to complain, not to God, that would be right, but of God, which was wrong, saying, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me." Consider—
I. THE HUMAN REASONABLENESS OF DOUBT. Days went on for those captives, the days made years, the years passed by the score, and with the utmost straining not one gleam of light could be seen in the nation's sky. Indeed, the political conditions and combinations made the hope of return more vain than ever. From the human point of view it was time indeed to doubt. "See how deplorable the case of God's people may be sometimes, such that they may seem to be forsaken and forgotten of their God; and at such times their temptations may be alarmingly violent. Weak believers, in their despondency, are ready to say, "God has forsaken his Church, and forgotten the sorrows of his people'" (Matthew Henry). This text is "not an expression of absolute unbelief; it is the pain of seemingly unreturned affection, which borrows the language of scepticism. The highest act of faith is to see God with the heart when all outward tokens of his presence are removed. There are times when even the noblest of mankind are unequal to such an effort" (Cheyne). So long as we are dependent on the senses, and our knowledge is strictly limited, for disciplinary purposes, so long there is a good sense in which it is reasonable for us to doubt.
II. THE DIVINE UNREASONABLENESS OF DOUBT. Knowing what he is, and what he is purposing and doing, man's doubt must always seem unreasonable to God; and his one response to every doubter is, "Cannot you trust me?" It is the love of God, the unchangeable love of God, which puts our best-grounded doubts and fears to shame. Exactly this is pressed on the attention of despondent Israel by God's comparing himself to a mother whose child is daily feeding on her own life. Such mothers have a most sacrificing, passionate love for their children, and no intenser simile could have been found. "Thou art more than mother dear;" then how can we doubt? Why not rest in the love, and be at peace? Illustrating the strength of mother-love, Lander says he frequently met, during his journey in Africa, with mothers who carried about their persons little wooden images of their deceased infants, to whose lips they presented a portion of food whenever they partook of it themselves, and nothing could induce them to part with these inanimate memorials.—R.T.
The closeness of the Divine interest.
The idea of the passage is that the plan of Jerusalem remained in God's sight, though the Chaldeans had devastated it, and even broken down its walls. It could all be built again, after the plan in the Divine mind. Thus impressively it is suggested that nothing, no sort of outward circumstance or calamity, can remove us from God's thought and care. His supreme care is for us, and that abides through all conceivable changes of condition and circumstance. "It was the custom among the Hebrews and other Eastern nations to trace upon the palms of the hands the outlines of any object of affection or admiration. By this means the traveller always had before him a visible memorial of the city or place he had visited. The sketch, although necessarily imperfect, was nevertheless indelible, as it was produced by puncturing the skin with a sharp instrument, and introducing into the punctures a peculiar dye, very much in the same manner in which a sailor prints on his arm the figure of an anchor or the initials of his own name. From the indestructible nature of the sketch the process might be called a species of engraving." Dean Plumptre says, "The words point to the almost universal practice of tattooing. A man thus ' engraved' the name of his god, or the outlines of his home, or the face of her he loved, upon his hands or arms. So, by a boldly anthropomorphic figure, Jehovah had 'graven' Jerusalem on his hands. He could not act without being reminded of her." Roberts says that "he never saw or heard of things being engraved on the palms of the hands. The palms are, however, believed to have written on them the fate of the individual, and from this, it is common to say, in reference to men or things, they are written on the palms of his hands." The assurance given in this figurative form may be opened in two directions.
I. ALWAYS IN SIGHT, TO BE CARED FOR. This is true of friends who truly love one another—of husband and wife, of parent and children. They may not be always in bodily sight; they are always in thought, which is soul-sight. Of God it is said, "He careth for you." We are always in his thought. Round us, wherever we may be, are the "everlasting arms."
II. ALWAYS IN SIGHT, TO BE WORKED FOR. This is quite an additional idea. Others may care for us, who have nothing to do for us or can do nothing. God's care is an active care, finding due expression in tendings, watchings, providings, and arrangings. He keeps us before him, in order that he may do for us exceeding abundantly more than we ask or think.—R.T.
No shame in waiting for God.
"For they shall not be ashamed that wait for me." Those who wait for him, in a dependence upon his promise and a resignation to his will, shall not be made ashamed of their hope. Quaintly stating the reasons for God's withholding his blessings from us awhile, Thomas Brookes says, "God oftentimes delays, that his people may come to him with greater strength and importunity. He puts them off, that they may put on with more life and vigour. God seems to be cold, that he may make us the more hot; he seems to be slack, that he may make us the more earnest; he seems to be backward, that he may make us the more forward in pressing upon him." The particular shame here referred to is that which comes from disappointment of expectations and hopes.
"The hope that's built upon his word
Can ne'er be overthrown."
The line of thought suggested is this: Find the various sources whence comes our disappointment with men, and show, in each case, that they cannot possibly apply to God.
I. MEN PROMISE MORE THAN THEY CAN PERFORM. Often they do this in
Such people are not thoroughly true; and we learn by experience never to trust their promises. We give them credit for meaning well, and then forget what they said. God's promises are strictly true to his intentions and his power.
II. MEN PROMISE WHAT THEY NEVER INTEND TO PERFORM. A man who had just parted from a female friend was overheard to say, "I told her more in a minute than she will find come true in a twelvemonth." Men intentionally deceive, and then we cannot but be ashamed and disappointed in them. Of this we may be quite sure—God intends to fulfil everything he promises. "Hath he said, and shall he not do it?" "If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself."
III. MEN PROMISE WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES NEVER ALLOW THEM TO PERFORM. With the best intentions, and the best ability at the time of promising, men cannot anticipate the changes of life, and may disappoint us through force of circumstances. But he who sees the end from the beginning makes his promises in view of every possible contingency; and
"His very word of grace is strong
As that which built the skies;
The voice that moves the stars along
Speaks all the promises"'
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 49". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany