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FURTHER ADDRESS OF THE PROPHET TO JERUSALEM. Zion is exhorted to rise from the dust, throw off her bonds, and assert her freedom (Isaiah 52:1, Isaiah 52:2). God will deliver her from this third captivity for his Name's sake, which her oppressors blaspheme (Isaiah 52:3-6).
Awake, awake; put on thy strength (comp. Isaiah 51:9). God can help those only who help themselves. The "arm of the Lord" having been called upon to "put on strength" in order to help Zion, Zion is now exhorted to do her part, and put on her own strength. Nor is she to stop there; she is further to rut on her beautiful garments—to array herself in the glorious robes which befit her as a royal and a holy city, and show herself once more a queen, instead of being content to remain grovelling as a captive (Isaiah 51:20, Isaiah 51:21). Henceforth there shall no more come into thee the uncircumcised. Foreigners shall no more visit Jerusalem to injure her or exult over her misfortunes (comp. Joel 3:17). When the influx of the Gentiles comes (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6, Isaiah 49:22, etc.), it will be one of Gentiles who are "circumcised in heart and lips," and no longer "unclean" (Acts 10:15).
Shake thyself from the dust (compare the opposite command given to Babylon, "Come down, sit in the dust" Isaiah 47:1). Zion was to arise, shake from her all trace of the dust in which she had been so long lying, and then calmly seat herself upon a seat of dignity. Loose thyself from the bands of thy neck. The Hebrew text has. "The bands of thy neck are unloosened;" i.e. I have caused thy chains to fall from thee—thou hast only to "rise," and thou wilt find thyself free. Captives in ancient times were often fastened together by a thong or chain passed round their necks. Daughter of Zion. The prophet passes, by an easy transition, from the city to the nation, which continues to be the object of address in the remainder of the discourse.
Ye have sold yourselves for nought; rather, for nought were ye sold. God received nothing when he allowed his people to become the slaves of the Babylonians. He took no price for them (see Isaiah 50:1), and therefore is free to claim them back without payment (comp. Isaiah 45:13). He has but to say the word; and he is about to say it.
My people went down … into Egypt … the Assyrian oppressed them. Israel had experienced three captivities. They "went down" voluntarily into Egypt, on invitation, to sojourn, and were there cruelly and unjustly reduced to a servile condition (Exodus 1:13, Exodus 1:14). They (or a great part of them) were violently carried into captivity by the Assyrian kings, Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:29), Sargon (2 Kings 17:6), and Sennacherib, who, without cause, grievously "oppressed" them. Now they are suffering under a third captivity in Babylonia. What is to be the Divine action under these circumstances?
What have I here? rather, what have I to do here? i.e. what is the task before me—the work that I have to perform? There are three principal considerations by which the answer to this question has to be determined.
(1) The Babylonians have obtained possession of the Israelites without purchase—for nought;
(2) they use their authority harshly and brutally; and
(3) they continually blaspheme the Name of Jehovah. All three are grounds for bringing the captivity to an end, and coming forward with the cry of a deliverer, "Here I am." Make them to howl; rather, howl; i.e. insult over the captives with shouts and yells of triumph. The prophet is speaking of the Babylonian oppressors, not of the native "rulers," who exercised a certain amount of authority over the captives (see Delitzsch and Cheyne). My Name … is blasphemed. Cruel taskmasters vexed the captives by insulting their God.
Therefore. Because of the "howling" and the "blasphemy." My people shall know my Name; i.e. "my people shall know by practical experience that I am all that my name of El or Elohim—'the Strong,' ' the Powerful'—implies." They shall know in that day. The "day" when God would come to their help and deliver them from their oppressors—when they would call upon him, and he would manifest himself (Isaiah 58:9), responding to their appeal as distinctly as though he said, "Here I am."
A VISION OF THE DAY OF DELIVERANCE. The prophet sees the messenger come bounding over the mountains of Judaea, to bring the news to Jerusalem that her deliverance is come (Isaiah 52:7). The angelic watchers sing with joy (Isaiah 52:8). The prophet calls upon the waste places of Jerusalem to do the same, and dwells on the greatness of the mercy wrought (Isaiah 52:9, Isaiah 52:10). Finally, he exhorts the exiles to avail themselves of the permission to quit Babylon, and prophesies that they will go forth in peace, without hurry, under the guidance and protection of God (Isaiah 52:11, Isaiah 52:12).
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! (comp. Nahum 1:15, which is almost a repetition of the passage). The primary meaning is undoubtedly that assigned to the words in the introductory paragraph; but this does not hinder there being also a secondary meaning, viz. the Messianic one of Romans 10:15. Jerusalem's deliverance is a type of the redemption of the world by Christ. That saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! So long as Israel was in captivity, and Jerusalem in ruins, God's earthly sovereignty (1 Samuel 12:12) was in abeyance. The moment that the Jews were set free and allowed to return and to rebuild their city, his. sovereignty was re-established.
Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; literally, The voice of thy watchers. They have lifted up the voice; they sing (or, shout joyfully, Kay) together. The "watchmen" are regarded by some as the prophets of the Captivity-time (Delitzsch), by others—as the faithful who "waited for the redemption of Israel" (Kay); but are considered by the best critics (Cheyne, Alexander) to be "supersensible beings," or, in other words, angels, who "watch" over the fortunes of Israel, and sympathize with their weal and woe (see Daniel 4:13, Daniel 4:17, Daniel 4:23, etc.). These "watchers" now "sing" or "shout" with joy. They shall see eye to eye (compare the "face to face" of Numbers 14:14; Deuteronomy 34:10). The "watchers" would watch closely God's dealings with his Church, and would see them as clearly as a man sees his friend when he leeks into his face. When the Lord shall bring again Zion. It is, perhaps, best to translate, with Houbigant and Mr. Cheyne, "When the Lord shall return to Zion." The prophet sees God as the Leader of his people, not merely by his providence bringing them back, but "returning" at their head (camp. Isaiah 52:12).
Ye waste places of Jerusalem (comp. Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 49:19; Isaiah 64:10, Isaiah 64:11). The city had not been wholly destroyed. Only the temple, the royal palace, and the houses of the nobles had been "burnt with fire" (2 Kings 25:9; 2 Chronicles 36:19). The poorer houses had been left. Even these, however, must in the space of fifty years have for the most part fallen into decay. The ruins are now called upon to join in the general chorus of rejoicing, as they rise from their ashes. Hath comforted … hath redeemed. Perfects of prophetic certitude.
The nations … the ends of the earth. It may well add to the general joy that the work wrought for Israel is not "a thing done in a corner," but one on which the eyes of the" nations" have been turned. and to which the attention of" the ends of the earth" has been called (comp. Isaiah 41:5). The holy arm of Jehovah, made bare for battle, has been seen far and wide. The world has stood to gaze at the contest between Persia and Babylon.
Go ye out from thence; i.e. "from Babylon"—the standpoint of the prophet in the present chapter being Jerusalem. When the time came, earnest exhortations to depart would be found not superfluous, for there would be an indisposition on the part of some to quit their possessions, and of others to affront the perils of the way. Touch no unclean thing. Bring with you none of the Babylonian idols, none of the Babylonian charms, spells, and the like (see the comment on Isaiah 47:9). Be ye clean; rather, purify yourselves. The departing captives generally are called upon to avoid polluting themselves with the unclean things of Babylon; but for those who bear the vessels of the Lord this negative purity is insufficient. They are for-really to purify themselves (2 Chronicles 29:34) before undertaking their sacred office. By "the vessels of the Lord" we must understand those which Nebuchadnezzar carried off from the temple (2 Kings 25:14-16; Daniel 1:2), and which, on the return of the Jews from captivity, were restored by Cyrus (Ezra 1:7-11) and Artaxerxes (Ezra 8:25-34).
With haste … by flight. As at the going forth from Egypt (Exodus 12:33; Exodus 16:5). Then they were "thrust out;" now there would be no need of hurry. They would have the free permission of their sovereign to depart at their own time, and might proceed with calm deliberateness. God would go before them, as he did on that former occasion (Exodus 13:21), though not now visibly; and he would also defend them from attacks by the way, being at once their Guide and their Rereward, or Rearguard.
PRELUDE TO THE "GREAT PASSIONAL." It is generally allowed by modern commentators that this passage is more closely connected with what follows it than with what precedes. Some would detach it altogether from Isaiah 52:1-15. and attach it to Isaiah 53:1-12. But this is not necessary. The passage has a completeness in itself. It is a connecting link. The exaltation of Israel, the collective "Servant of the Lord" (Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 44:21), brings to the prophet's mind the exaltation of the individual "Servant" (Isaiah 42:1-7; Isaiah 43:10; Isaiah 49:1-12), through which alone the full exaltation of Israel is possible. He is bound to complete his account of the individual "Servant" by telling of his exaltation, and of the road which led to it. This is done in Isaiah 53:1-12; in what has been called the "Great Passional." But the "Great Passional" needs a "prelude," an "introduction,'' if only as indicative' of its greatness. And this prelude we have here, in these three verses, which briefly note
(1) the fact of the exaltation;
(2) the depth of the humiliation preceding it; and
(3) the far-extending blessedness which shall result to the world from both.
My Servant shall deal prudently; rather, shall deal wisely; i.e. shall so act throughout his mission as to secure it the most complete success. "Wisdom is justified of her children," and of none so entirely justified as of him "in whom were all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hid away" (Colossians 2:3). Exalted and extolled; or, high and lifted up—the same expressions as are used of the Almighty in Isaiah 6:1 and Isaiah 57:15. Even there, however, seems to the prophet ,rot enough; so he adds, "and exalted exceedingly" (comp. Isaiah 53:10-12 and Philippians 2:6-9).
As many were astonied at thee. The world was "astonied" to see, in One come to deliver it, no outward show of grandeur or magnificence, no special beauty or "comeliness" (Isaiah 53:2), but a Presence unattractive to the mass of men at all times, and in the end so cruelly marred and disfigured as to retain scarcely any resemblance to the ordinary form and face of man. The prophet, as Delitzsch says, sits at the foot of the cross on Calvary, and sees the Redeemer as he hung upon the accursed tree, after he had been buffeted, and crowned with thorns, and smitten, and scourged, and crucified, when his face was covered with bruises and with gore, and his frame and features distorted with agony.
So shall he sprinkle many nations. The Septuagint has, "So shall many nations marvel at him;" and this translation is followed by Gesenius and Ewald. Mr. Cheyne thinks that the present Hebrew text is corrupt, and suggests that a verb was used antithetical to the "astonied" of Isaiah 52:14, expressing "joyful surprise." It is certainly hard to see how the idea of "sprinkling," even if it can mean "purifying," comes in here. Kings shall shut their mouths at him; rather, because of him. In reverential awe of his surpassing greatness (comp. Micah 7:16). That which had not been told them shall they see. They will learn the facts of Christ's humiliation, sufferings, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven—events that it had never entered into the heart of man to conceive, and of which, therefore, no tongue had ever spoken.
Isaiah 52:1, Isaiah 52:2
God helps those who help themselves.
It is a law of God's providence to require of men, as conditional to his assisting them, some corresponding effort. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7). He is always ready to give; but he will have men stretch out their hand to receive. For the careless and the apathetic, he will—perhaps we might say, he can—do nothing. Thus he calls men into his Church, but they must arise and obey the call; he offers them grace, but they must use the means of grace; he is willing to grant them eternal life, but upon this life they must "lay hold" (1 Timothy 6:12). When he delivered his people out of Egypt, he required them to "rise up, and go forth," and make long and toilsome marches through a dreary wilderness; and only after forty years of effort did he bring them to Canaan. So, too, when he would deliver them from Babylon, those only were delivered who braced themselves for a great exertion, left all that they had, affronted peril (Ezra 8:31), undertook the difficult and wearisome journey (Isaiah 43:19) from Chaldea to Palestine. The reason would seem to be that God, in all his dealings with man, is disciplining him and training him, eliciting the good that is in him, and causing it to acquire strength by active exercise, thus fitting him for a higher state of existence than the present, and leading him onward toward the perfection which he designed him to reach.
The special need of purity in them that bear the vessels of the Lord.
It is the duty of all to avoid impurity, to "touch no unclean thing," to "perfect holiness in the fear of God." But a special purity is required of those who, by holding any sacred office, are brought nearer to God than others, and as it were serve continually in his presence. Hence the numerous directions in the Jewish Law with respect to the priests—their consecration, their ablutions, their vestments, their sin offerings, and the like (Le Isa 8:2 -35; Isa 9:1 -24). Hence, moreover, such injunctions as the following: "Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou [Aaron], nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean" (Le Isaiah 10:9, Isaiah 10:10). "They [the priests] shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh. They shall be holy unto their God, and not profane the Name of their God: for the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and the bread of their God they do offer: therefore, shall they be holy" (Le Isaiah 21:5, Isaiah 21:6). "He that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the annointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes; neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother; neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the crown of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the Lord. And he shall take a wife in her virginity" (Le Isaiah 21:10-13). Everything approaching to uncleanness is to be carefully eschewed by such as minister in holy things; they are to be under a law more strict than that which binds ordinary men; they are to avoid everything at which weak brethren might take exception—to shrink from even the shadow of an impure stain. Many things are harmless in the ordinary layman which are not harmless in the clergyman, who is especially bound to "walk warily," to be a pattern to the flock, to abstain from even the appearance of evil, to "let not his good be evil spoken of" (Romans 14:16).
The wisdom of Messiah's life upon earth.
Perhaps nothing shows more clearly the perfect "wisdom" of our Lord's life upon earth than the fact that, among all his detractors, not one has been able to point out any unwisdom in any part of it. Almost all men do unwise things, things which they regret to have done, things which do them harm, which injure instead of promoting the objects that they have in view. But our Lord's whole course was guided by the most perfect wisdom (Isaiah 11:2). Wisely he conformed in all respects to the Jewish Law, though he was above the Law. Wisely he led, not the ascetic life, but the life of ordinary humanity. Wisely he chose his disciples among those who were poor and ignorant and powerless, so that it might be evident they did not convert the nations by their natural gifts, but by wielding a supernatural influence. Wisely he declined to be made an earthly king, so that ambition cannot be laid to his charge. Wisely he submitted himself to the powers that be, that neither revolutionist nor anarchist might be able to make a shelter of his example. Wisely he covered himself with a cloud, hid up his glory, did his great miracles comparatively in secret (John 7:4), let the knowledge of his true Divinity steal upon men by degrees. The wisdom wherewith he executed his mission is seen in the success of that mission. How quickly did the "little flock" grow into a Church to be counted by thousands (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4), and the thousands become tens of thousands, and the tens of thousands increase into millions, until the whole Roman empire was converted, and the "kingdoms of the world became the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ" (Revelation 6:15)! And what but infinite wisdom could have inspired a teaching which should attract both Jew and Gentile, both civilized man and barbarian, both haughty noble and down-trodden slave; which should, moreover, suit alike the requirements of both ancient and modern times, and be as much valued in the nineteenth century after its publication as in the first? By the wisdom'' science falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20)—of Greece and Rome "the world knew not God" (1 Corinthians 1:21); by the wisdom, the true wisdom, of Christ the whole civilized and much of the barbarian world now knows God. The result is the effect of that "prudent dealing," or true wisdom in act and word, which Jesus Christ, the "Servant of Jehovah," showed forth during the three and thirty years of his life upon this earth.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The redemption of Jerusalem.
I. THE SUMMONS. It comes from the Divine representatives. She had been called upon to arise and to stand up, and now she is to put on her strength and her robes. "Strength returns to Zion when the arm of Jehovah is mighty within her." It is useless to counterfeit the semblance of strength which does not exist. Nor is strength merely a matter of the will; but there ever is a secret fund of strength in the hearts of those who know that God has not forsaken them. In a sense, hope comes to those who rouse themselves from dejection, and "power to him that power exerts." The highest success promised is to human endeavour, and is not to be enjoyed without human endeavour. The beautiful garments are to be put on in preparation for the era of moral beauty and holiness. There is a true symbolism in dress. There is a garb appropriate to mourning and woe; another attire becomes the spirit of gladness and expectation. And there is, so to speak, a dress of the soul—a habit of the mind which expresses the hope of better things even amidst darkness and disappointment. As there were robes, figuratively speaking, which became a holy and priestly city; as there were seemly robes for Aaron the priest;—even so for him who looks upon himself as a "king and priest unto God," there is a suitable bearing and character, determined by the sense of the high destiny in store. "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." So high a destiny is in store for Jerusalem; no more are the unclean to enter her sacred precincts (cf. Joel 3:17), but only the worshippers of the true God. Typically, the promise points to future times, when the Church of God shall be pure as when, in the great world-harvest, the tares shall be gathered out, and the wheat be gathered into the eternal garner. Let, then, Jerusalem shake herself from the dust—from that posture which expresses mourning and humiliation (Job 2:13), and take a lofty and honourable place. "Ascend thy lofty seat!" (Louth). "Arise and sit erect" (Noyes). "Rise, sit upon the throne of thy glory" (Chaldee). She is to shake the chains from her limbs, for her captivity is drawing to an end. Has she been sold? Nay; Jehovah has received naught for her. "It is not a sale, but only a temporary transfer." He can receive them back and renew his covenant with them. "You shall be redeemed." There was to be a remarkable proof of the power and sovereignty of God. For usually slaves and captives are not given up without a ransom. That they may expect this to be done, Jehovah reminds them of what has been done. He who had delivered from Egypt could deliver also from Babylon. And the like applies to the sufferings under Sargon, and Sennacherib, and Tiglath-Pileser. And now what was fitting for him to do in the case of the third great captivity, that of Babylon? He has come down to see and consider. And the result is that he "must return to Jerusalem, else his gracious purposes will be frustrated. But in its present state he cannot do so; therefore Jerusalem must arise from its humiliation." In their pride and contumely, the Babylonians both oppress the people and blaspheme the Name of their God. Another reason, then, for his interposition. Therefore—for all these reasons—the people shall know his Name, shall experience what it is to have a God whose Name is Jehovah; as in the days of deliverance from Egypt. He is One who, in answer to the people's cry, responds, "Here am I!" Thus the leading thought remains, that Israel is Jehovah's people, and he is their God. "Enclosed by God from amidst all other nations, to be the seat of his worship, and the great conservatory of all the sacred oracles and means of salvation. The Gentiles might be ca]led God's own, as a man calls his hall or his parlour his own, which yet others pass through and make use of; but the Jews were so as a man accounts his closet or his cabinet his own—that is, by a peculiar incommunicable destination of it to his own use." And again, "The whole work of man's redemption carries in it the marks, not only of mercy, but of mercy acting by an unaccountable sovereignty. He gives the world to know that his own will is the reason of his proceedings. If the sun is pleased to shine upon a turf, and to gild a dunghill, when perhaps he looks not into the chamber of a prince, we cannot accuse him of partiality. The short but significant saving, 'May I not do what I will with mine own?' being a full and solid answer to all such objections" (South).
II. VISIONS OF REDEMPTION. "The prophet passes into an ecstasy. What he sees with the inner eye he expresses pictorially. He has told us already of the ideal Zion ascending a high mountain, and acting as herald of the Divine Deliverer. Now he varies the picture. It is Zion to whom the herald is seen to come—bounding over the mountains" (Cheyne). The feet give a greeting before the mouth utters it (Stier). The soul of prophet and of poet delights in the mountains; they give forth in visible form the sublimity with which his soul is charged (cf. Ezekiel 6:1). The mountains speak of the eternity of God; upon them the epiphany of the Deliverer may in a sense be expected, as they silently speak of his righteousness, of a constancy which is not to be moved. How welcome the messenger who tells of the fall of a city of the oppressors (Nahum 1:15), such as Nineveh! How still more welcome he who comes to bear tidings from the spiritual world to the spirits of men (Romans 10:15; Ephesians 6:15)! The proclaimer of peace is at hand, and "peace" is another word for "salvation." But there can be neither peace nor salvation in this distracted world, except under a strong government—the government of the King of kings. :Now the tidings are that "God has resumed the crown which he had laid aside." "Thy God has become King!" Celestial watchers are heard, lifting up their voices with a ringing cry, as they from their high seat behold the return of Jehovah to Zion. They "note every advance of the kingdom of God, seeing it eye to eye, as a man looks into the face of his friend; so near are the two worlds of sight and of faith" (Cheyne). The return of Jehovah to Zion means the return of spiritual power and joy and freedom. All earthly relations melt away into the spiritual realities. The real banishment is the separation of the soul from God; the true return from exile is when the soul can say, "God exists; God is near—is for me." Bondage is in ourselves; redemption and comfort are when we realize again that there is another—a "Not-ourselves that makes for righteousness," an Eternal Love, in short, in the sense of which all limitation must be forgotten. Jehovah has bared his holy arm for action in the face of all the nations; and the whole world has seen the salvation of God. Then, in prospect of such a redemption, what should be the conduct of the faithful? They must refuse to touch the unclean thing; they must be purified and become pure. They must regard themselves as armour-bearers of Jehovah, since he, as a man of war, is going forth to fight the battles of his people, and to establish his kingdom in the earth. The king, upon solemn occasions, had with him a troop of armour-bearers (1 Kings 14:28). And so must he, to whom the shields of the whole earth belong (Ps 47:10), be followed by his band of faithful warriors. And not again in hurrying fearfulness, as in the days of the exode from Egypt, but rather with the calm and solemn march of troops who are marching to assured victory are they. to go forth from Babylon. The application was made by St. Paul, and ever may be made, to Christians (2 Corinthians 6:17, 2 Corinthians 6:18). Babylon is a type of the world; the necessity of "coming out" from that Babylon is the necessity of the disciples of Jesus separating themselves from the evil that is in the world. So in Revelation 18:4 Babylon stands for the evil course of the present world—the spirit of pride and impurity and persecution. If, instead of armour-bearers, the rendering "bearers of the vessels of Jehovah" be preferred, then the allusion will be to the priests and Levites (Numbers 1:50; Numbers 4:15). Upon such officials the obligation to be holy rests. Whether in war, or in the peaceful service of tabernacle or temple, the principle is the same. Men set apart to such service are bound to illustrate their office by an apartness of manners and of life. A select calling implies a select spirit. It has not been "finely touched" except to "fine issues." There may be an allusion in the "vessels" to Ezra 1:7, Ezra 1:8, or the facts there mentioned. How marked is that "boundless exhilaration" which belongs to these prophecies of restored Jerusalem! "Much good poetry is profoundly melancholy; now the life of the people is such that in literature they require joy. If ever that 'good time coming,' for which they long, was presented with energy and magnificence, it is in these chapters; it is impossible to read them without catching its glow. And they present it truly and with the true conditions. It is easy to misconceive it on a first view, easy to misconceive its apparent condition; but the more these chapters sink into the mind and are apprehended, the more manifest is the connection with universal history, the key they offer to it, the truth of the ideal they propose for it" (Matthew Arnold).—J.
Verse 13-Isaiah 53:3
The Servant of Jehovah: his wondrous career.
"Behold!" A new and remarkable object calls for attention. It is the "Servant of Jehovah." He has been humiliated and rejected, but he is on his way to exaltation and honour.
I. HIS FELICITOUS WISDOM. There enters into the idea of the word here used prosperity and good success, as in Joshua 1:8; Jeremiah 10:21. For wisdom, the devout wisdom, the wisdom of duty in obedience to the Divine commands, alone can bring that good success. Compare what is said of the Righteous Branch in Jeremiah 23:5; and see also for the word, 2 Kings 18:7; Proverbs 17:8. Some render the words "shall be intelligent; ' others, "shall be prosperous." The description applies to any who are endued with the Divine Spirit for practical ends.
II. HIS EXALTATION. There is a heaping up of verbs denoting exaltation—he shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly. The highest pitch of honour, the loftiest possible rank, shall be his, and that in view of the universe. The right hand of God—the subjection of angels and authorities and powers, and every name that is named—are similar images (Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:9; 1 Peter 3:22). If the Servant be not the Messiah, at least very similar language is used of him (Psalms 89:27). The exaltation bears a direct relation to the previous humiliation. The last would become first; the most despised would yet become the most honoured. Having volunteered for the lowest place on behalf of man's good, he would be exalted by the Divine hand to the highest possible. Once men were stupefied as they looked on his disfigured form, hardly bearing the semblance of a man. So did Job's friends stand aghast as they beheld him from a distance in his misery. But there shall be a magnificent contrast. Kings shall yet be dumb for admiration in his presence—owning his superior dignity (Job 29:9; Job 40:4). They will be eye-witnesses of things which had been previously inconceivable (cf. also Micah 8:16; Psa 147:1-20 :42; Job 5:16).
III. REVELATION IN THIS CONTRAST. The popular heart has everywhere delighted in such contrasts, between princely greatness and lowly guise or disguise. So the Greek Odysseus, on his return, is seen sitting lowly amidst the ashes of his hearth. And the Indians (Lyall, 'Asiatic Studies') relish in the highest degree such representations. We not only love surprise, but we feel that it is a Divine method to work by surprise. "Power keeps quite another road than the turnpikes of choice and will, namely, the subterranean and invisible tunnels and channels of life. Life is a series of surprises. God delights to hide from us the past and the future. 'You will not remember,' he seems to say, 'and you will not expect.' Every man is an impossibility until he is born, everything impossible until we see a success. The ardours of piety agree at last with the coldest scepticism, that nothing is of ourselves or our works—that all is of God. There is nothing at last in success or failure, but more or less of vital force supplied from the Eternal. The results of life are uncalculated and incalculable" (Emerson).
IV. HUMAN INCREDULITY ABASHED. HOW few believed the prophecies concerning the Servant! How few had eyes to see "such supramundane sights, when nothing on earth seemed to suggest them"! to discern the arm of Jehovah, that mysterious Divine Power, in its secret working! They were blinded by the evidence of the senses. He was as a slight and insignificant plant—but a shoot or sucker from the root brought up out of Egypt. Without that winning grace or imposing majesty that might have been expected, he failed to captivate men's hearts. He seemed isolated, sad sick, and men fled from his presence as it he had been a leper. But the result shows how little Providence reeks of our poor logic of appearances, our connections of cause and effect. Life is not so plain a business as it appears. "Presently comes a day, with its angel-whisperings, which discomfits the conclusions of nations and of years!" We boast of our common sense and experience; yet there is a Divine element ever at work to defeat our calculations and to astound us with its operations. The lesson is to be ever waiting and expecting—ever looking up for manifestations of that Divine wisdom which hides to reveal itself, that Divine power which is energizing unspent when all our resources are at an end, that Divine beauty which lurks beneath the dimmest forms and the meanest disguises.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"How beautiful upon the mountains," etc.! Not so with the warrior. His garments are dyed in blood; his track is over desolated cornfields and ruined vineyards. Look at the footsteps of the servants of God.
I. THE MESSENGERS. They are not self-inspired or self-commissioned. They are sent of God. From Jerusalem the apostles are to go forth; over her all-surrounding mountains they go to tell the story of the angels' song, the Messiah's ministry, and the redeeming cross. How beautiful!—to publish peace!
1. Peace between man and man.
2. Peace between God and man.
3. Peace between nation and nation.
4. Peace in a man's own soul.
II. THE MESSAGE. "Good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation." Blessed word! But how often narrowed and marred through human interpretation!
1. We are saved from ourselves. And this salvation is going on within us day by day, as we grow in grace.
2. We are saved from guilt. As we can only be by an atonement where the offering is without spot.
3. We are saved from all that is inimical in the evil that is without us. For the Saviour knows our enemies, is stronger than our enemies, and will subdue them under his feet. "Thy God reigneth," and, mystery of mysteries, the cross is his sceptre. "I, if I be lifted up; will draw all men unto me."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The strength of the Church.
The Zion of Old Testament Scripture is the Christian Church of the New. We have here, therefore, a commanding summons to clothe ourselves, as Churches of Christ, with the strength which is especially our own: "Put on thy strength, O Zion."
I. IS WHAT THE STRENGTH OF THE CHURCH CONSISTS. Not, as we are too apt to imagine, in wealth, in territory, in buildings, in material defences of any kind: all this is the strength of the world, but not of the Church. Its strength is in:
1. Steadfastness in truth and holiness. The reed by the river-side, shaken with every ripple of the water, bent with every breath of the breeze, is the type of weakness; the massive granite rock, against which the waves of centuries have dashed, but which remains unmoved from base to summit, is the type of strength. Jesus Christ wants his Church to be strong, in that it stands fast
(1) in the truth (Ephesians 4:14; 1 Corinthians 16:3; Philippians 1:27):
(2) in spiritual freedom (Galatians 5:1);
(3) in holiness.
The very success of the Church has occasioned danger here. There is much less of gross iniquity in modem society than in past times. The distinction between the people of God and the enemies of his truth is not so apparent. The spirit of worldliness does not show itself in such malignant forms. Evil, by "losing all its grossness," has lost half its hideousness, and is therefore more seductive and successful than it was. The Church needs to be peculiarly strong in holiness to repel the insidious attacks of our day on its purity.
2. Fruitfulness. The strength of the fruit-bearing tree is in bearing much and good fruit. Herein is God glorified in us, as a Church, that we "bear much fruit." What fruits does a strong Church bear? Those of pure and gentle thoughts, of kind and generous feelings, of true and helpful words, of upright and honourable deeds, of acceptable and spiritual worship.
3. Usefulness. The strongest object we know of is the sun; and its strength is found in radiating life-giving light and heat, century after century: it is the strength of ceaseless, unmeasurable beneficence. To this strength Christ is calling his people. They are to be clothed with and to exercise this benign and blessed power; they are to be distributing on every hand, to instruct the ignorant, to comfort the sorrowful, to guide the perplexed, to reclaim the fallen, to bring into the kingdom of God them that are afar off.
II. THE WAY TO SECURE IT. Physical strength cannot, indeed, be assumed at will; but it can be attained by a sick man arousing himself from his lethargy, sloth, and folly, and adopting the measures which minister to bodily well-being. Let the spiritually feeble:
1. Take due spiritual nourishment. The Bread of life, the Water of life, invigorating privileges, are within our reach.
2. Take due spiritual exercise. To him that hath is given, and the man who labours imperfectly at first will gain strength and skill as he puts out his power; every effort to do good is so much strength gained for future usefulness as well as so much power put forth in present activity.
3. Seek the inspiring influences which come from God: "They that wait on him shall renew their strength."—C.
The beauty of the Church.
We are more apt to thank God for the bounty than for the beauty of the earth; but if one is the more necessary, the other is the higher gift of the two; if the one satisfies the cravings of the body, the other ministers to the hunger and the thirst of the soul. With what lavish hand has God supplied it! What colour, what variety, what elegance, what symmetry, what loveliness, and what grandeur on the surface of the earth, in hill and mountain, in sea and sky! And if we appreciate the beauty of his handiwork, does not he delight in the beauty of our service? does not he say to us, "Put on thy beautiful garments"? What are the beautiful garments of the Church of Christ; what is it that makes it attractive and comely in his pure sight?
I. SPIRITUALITY IN ITS WORSHIP. It is better to worship God in a beautiful structure than in a barn; in skilful, artistic song than with unregulated voice; in becoming language than in distracted exclamations. It is better, because
(1) we ought to give to a Divine Saviour the very best we can bring, and therefore our taste and culture rather than our crudeness and our vulgarity; and because
(2) we should seek to attract by excellency to the house of the Lord, and not repel by unsightliness and discord. But this is not the beauty for which Christ looks: the beauty of the Church's worship is in its genuineness, its spirituality, its inward and intrinsic worth (see Psalms 50:14; John 4:23, John 4:24; Hebrews 13:15). The reverent thought, the hallowed feeling, the solemn vow, the consecrated spirit, the song which comes from a grateful heart, the attitude of earnest docility that longs to learn that it may hasten to obey,—these are the beautiful garments of devotion.
II. EXCELLENCY OF LIFE. A good profession is a good thing, but integrity of character and blamelessness of life is a better thing. The uprightness which would rather suffer than sin; the faithfulness that keeps the unremunerative engagement; the purity that repels the ugly thought as well as the filthy word and the foul action; the truthfulness which prefers to offend man rather than to grieve the Spirit of God; the generosity which loses all sight of self in the needs and cries of weakness or sorrow;—these are the beautiful garments in which the Divine Lord would see his servants clothed.
III. DEVOTEDNESS OF LABOUR. Much more, in quantity, is now done in Christ's name than heretofore. But whether the life of the Church is so much the fairer in its Master's view depends chiefly on the spirit of its service. If our work in the sanctuary, or the Sunday school, or the committee-room, or the cottage, be perfunctory, constrained, tinged or it may be coloured with self-seeking, unspiritual, there is but little beauty in it in the sight of the Pure One. We should aim to make our whole life beautiful in the sight of our Saviour; let obedience be prompt and cheerful, the discharge of duty conscientious and thorough; let submission be ready and unrepining, liberality generous and hearty, courtesy cordial and graceful, etc. So shall we be arrayed in beautiful garments.—C.
The dignity of the Church. Jerusalem was to arise from the dust of humiliation,
and to sit down "with dignity and composure" on a seat of honour, taking her true position among the nations of the earth. The Church of Christ is called to rise from any undignified position into which she may have fallen, and to assume One that is in keeping with her origin and her estate. But the question is, in what the dignity of the Church consists. It is clear that dignity has various applications, according to its subject. The dignity of a sovereign is in one thing; that of a scholar is in another thing; that, again, of a servant is something quite different. It is not found in any particular deportment or in any especial surroundings. The Church that seeks to secure its dignity by attaching to itself those external honours or trappings which worldly kingdoms demand for the maintenance of their honour completely mistakes its position. To be truly dignified is to act in a way that is worthy of our origin and in harmony with our position. The true dignity of the Church is realized by its acting in a way that becomes the offspring of Christ, and that is suited to an institution which exists to illustrate his truth and to extend his reign. It consults its dignity and commends itself to the honour of the wise when—
I. IT MAKES ITS APPEAL TO THE HUMAN JUDGMENT, and not to superstitious fears.
II. IT RELIES ON THE ATTACHMENT OF ITS FRIENDS for the necessities of its existence.
III. IT REFUSES TO COUNT IMPOSSIBLE THAT WHICH ITS MASTER CHARGES IT TO ACCOMPLISH, viz. the subjection of the whole world to his sway.
IV. IT LISTENS WITHOUT ALARM TO THE PREDICTIONS OF ITS FOES, and goes calmly and energetically on its way of holy service.—C.
The liberty of the Church.
"Loose thyself from the bands of thy neck, O captive daughter of Zion."
I. THE RIGHT OF THE CHURCH TO LIBERTY. The sight of the daughter of Zion in chains was very pitiable in the prophet's eye. How much more grievous the spectacle of a Christian Church in bondage, enslaved and oppressed! The Christian Church, being composed of those who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and being called into existence for the purpose of extending a spiritual kingdom amongst men, cannot possibly submit itself to the rule of the world without abdicating its functions and forfeiting its essential privileges. It has a native, Christ-given right to decide upon its own constitution, to choose its own officers, to worship God according to its own convictions, to act freely upon the world in disseminating its principles. It is oppressed and (more or less) enslaved when authority presumes to dictate, or when rank or wealth claims to direct, in these high, and spiritual matters.
II. THE LIMITATIONS OF ITS FREEDOM. The Church is not free to "do what it likes" in all these matters; that is licence, not liberty. Its freedom is limited by the will, and defined by the word, of its Divine Lord. Under all circumstances, it is bound to consider what Christ would have it do. Beyond his will it may not move.
III. ITS ATTITUDE UNDER OPPRESSION.
1. A patient submission to the absolutely inevitable. In early Christian times, and under the domination of tyrannical powers since then, the Church has had to accept such share of liberty as was allowed, patiently and devoutly waiting for an extension.
2. A calm, brave assertion of its duty to its Lord; often under censure, hardship, cruel suffering.
3. A seizure of the earliest opportunity to enter upon its right. "Loose thyself," God says to his people. When the bonds can be broken, break them; when the door can be opened, unbar it; when the way is clear to holy liberty, take it without hesitation or delay.
IV. ITS EXULTATION IN THE HOUR OF RELEASE. (Isaiah 52:7-10). The prophet foresees the liberation of Israel, and breaks out into a strain of surpassing eloquence and joy. Probably the escape from bondage to freedom is calculated to excite the keenest transports of delight of which the human heart is capable. So has it been in many hundreds of instances of individual release, and so it has been in cases of national and of ecclesiastical deliverance. Speech and song have been far too feeble to utter the rapture of the hour. At such a time the best forms which abounding and overwhelming joy can take are:
1. Gratitude to God, showing itself in praise. It is the Lord whose providence opens the way, whose arm strikes off the shackles (see Isaiah 52:3, Isaiah 52:6, Isaiah 52:10).
2. Recognition of the fact that liberty is useless, and even dangerous, unless it is well employed, and a consequent determination to spend the acquired freedom in holy service.—C.
Isaiah 52:11, Isaiah 52:12
We may regard the departure and journey of the Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem as pictorial of our departure from the "far country" of sin for the heavenly Zion. Thus considered, we are taught—
I. THAT ENTRANCE ON THE NEW PATH SHOULD BE AN ACT OF OBEDIENCE AS WELL AS WISDOM. It was an eminently wise thing on the part of the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. Whatever interests, pecuniary or social, they may have formed in exile, their true heritage was in the land of their fathers; the politic in their policy remained, but the wise in their wisdom left. This, however, was not the only or the main inducement. They were called to return as an act of obedience. The Lord their God summoned them. It was a Divine voice that arid, "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence." Our true interest demands that we should leave "the City of Destruction" and seek "another which is an heavenly." Only a false prudence detains; wisdom, deep and true, urges to depart. But this is not the only consideration. God our Divine Father, Jesus Christ our righteous Lord, commands us. tie calls us to leave the kingdom of unrighteousness and to enter the path of holy service. To linger is to be guiltily disobedient; to set forth is to do the will of God.
II. THAT ENTRANCE ON CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE SHOULD BE AN ACT OF DELIBERATE CONVICTION. "Ye shall not go out with haste." There should, indeed, be no delay; but, on the other hand, there should be no hurry. More than once Jesus Christ checked the advances of disciples who were acting on impulse rather than conviction (Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 14:28-33). Do not take the greatest step which can possibly be taken without earnest thought, deep deliberation, repeated prayer.
III. THAT CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE, ESPECIALLY THE DIRECT SERVICE OF GOD, SHOULD BE CHARACTERIZED BY PURITY. "Touch no unclean thing;… be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." The Israelites were not to soil their hands with any forbidden or ill-acquired treasures; and the Levites were to take peculiar care that their hands were clean, for they would bear the sacred vessels of the temple. All Christian men must see to it that their hearts are uncorrupted and their hands undefiled by the many evils which are in the world. Anything like covetousness, envy, unchastity, intemperance, vindictiveness, makes service unworthy, and Divine worship unacceptable. By watchfulness and prayer let the ministers of Christ, more especially, cleanse their hearts and their hands.
IV. THAT THE GUARDIANSHIP OF GOD MAY BE COUNTED UPON ALL THE WAY. "The Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward;" i.e. there shall be a complete defence from danger; though enemies should threaten you before and behind, you shall find an ample security in God. We find ourselves assailed by spiritual perils coming from opposite quarters: we are tempted by fanaticism on the one side and by indifference on the other; by pietism and secularism; by presumption and distrust; by undue asceticism and laxity; by superstition and scepticism; but if we are obedient and reverent in spirit, our God will be a shield against every foe.—C.
The wisdom of suffering service.
The fact that these and the following verses refer to the Messiah is no reason why we should not find in them practical lessons for the guidance of our own life, the culture of our own character. For Christ came, not only to do for us a work which we could not possibly do ourselves, but also to be the Exemplar whom we are to follow in the paths of righteousness and peace.
I. OUR FIRST CARE SHOULD BE TO SERVE. He who is the Anointed of the Lord, the Highest among the highest, is spoken of as "my Servant." And from the beginning to the end of his course he thought and spoke of himself as of One that "was sent," that was charged to do an appointed work. The spiritual greatness he manifested was in giving himself up to the service of mankind. "I am among you as he that serveth." We should count it not our dishonour but our honour that we live to serve. We act worthily of him from whom we came, and of that One who was the very Son of man, when we spend our faculties in humble, holy service. We miss the end of our being and take the lowest rank that can be taken when we fail to serve God and our kind. We commit the greatest wrong and we make the supreme mistake.
II. AS SERVANTS WE MUST BE WILLING TO SUFFER. A good soldier endures hardship and runs great risks. A good servant of God will be prepared to do the same. Jesus Christ went on to the work before him by surrendering himself to the blows and buffetings that awaited him. He endured enough sorrow to change his countenance; he went through trials enough to leave a deep mark upon his outer manhood. He did not stop to inquire how many or how grievous were the afflictions in store for him. The only thing he asked about was the Father's will and the world's necessity. If we are true servants of our Saviour and of mankind, this will be our spirit too.
III. SUFFERING SERVICE WILL BE FOLLOWED BY BLESSED EXALTATION. According to the severity of the suffering was the greatness of the exaltation with the holy Servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 52:14, Isaiah 52:15). To the depth of his humiliation answered the height of his uplifting, to the gloom of the darkened path on earth the glory of the heavenly home. So shall it be with us: if we suffer with our Lord we shall reign with him; and as we suffer so shall we reign. The deeper we go beneath the waves of sacrificial suffering the higher shall we rise in the celestial kingdom. Herein is heavenly wisdom. Had Jesus Christ elected to take the crown which was offered him at the outset (see Matthew 4:8), he might have gained some glories without the shame through which he passed. But he would have forfeited the "many crowns" he now wears and will for ever wear. But God's Servant "dealt prudently," i.e. chose wisely and not with superficial, short-sighted policy; and now he is "exalted and extolled and made very high." Let it be our wisdom, after him, to choose suffering service, looking for the large and the long, though it be the far, reward of reigning in glory by the side and in the service of our Saviour.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Isaiah 52:1, Isaiah 52:2
The restored castaway.
"Arise, and sit down … O captive daughter of Zion." "The verses are a poetical description of the liberation of a female captive from degrading slavery, and it is designed to represent the complete emancipation of the Church from tyranny and persecution." The call is peculiar as judged by Western associations, but quite natural in view of Eastern habits. The female is pictured as crouching on the ground, huddled in the dust, in the depressed and miserable attitude of the slave. She is called to "arise," shake off the dust of her degradation, put on beautiful garments, and sit down like a lady. Jerusalem, or Zion, as it is called, is regarded as a "castaway," given over for a time, by God, into the power of the Babylonians. Now her restoring-time has come. She is to put on again the garments of beauty, which belonged to her as the priestly queen of cities. Jowett puts the point of these verses in the following sentences: "The captive daughter of Zion, brought down to the dust of suffering and oppression, is commanded to arise and shake herself from that dust; and then, with grace, and dignity, and composure, and security, to sit down; to take, as it were, again her seat and rank amid the company of the nations of the earth, which had before afflicted her and trampled her to the earth." Dealing with the truths suggested in their applications to us, we consider—
I. GOD IS THE STERN EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. We lose much by not carefully discriminating the kinds of things that are gathered up into the word "affliction." Disasters and failures—the various forms of trouble that come in our outward sphere of relations—give us, and are intended to give us, quite other ideas of God than we get from bodily pains or bereavements. To see God in a captivity, a slavery, a business ruin, is an altogether harder thing than to see God in a disease or a family anxiety. The danger of Israel while in Babylon was that it might wrongly regard God's stern dealing, and, helplessly, hopelessly grovel in the dust of despair. And still there is the grave danger of our responding by hardness, stubbornness, self-willedness, when God's ways with us seem stern. But the stern may be the precise expression of perfect love finding adaptations and adjustments. A distinction may be helpfully made between God's work of softening and God's work of humbling. We may see the softening work illustrated in Job or in Hezekiah. We may see the humbling work illustrated in Manasseh, who must be dragged off into captivity, and feel the bitterness of the prison-house; or in Israel as a corrupt, self-willed nation, which must feel what it was for the Babylonian "iron to eat into its soul."
II. GOD LIMITING THE STERN EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. As a rule, such Divine dealings are not greatly prolonged. It is, indeed, in the very nature of them that they should not be long continued. They are like punishment by whipping, which is soon over and clone with. Relatively to the life of a nation, seventy years of captivity is only a "little while." And in a later verse of this prophecy we find God exactly expressing how limited his stern experiences had been: "In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment." And the expression of the apostle most strictly applies to this class of Divine dealings: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment." If we come, then, into God's stern hands, they are our Father's hands, and love will strictly limit the stern dealings to the "needs be;" and this great confidence may quiet our souls and give peace, even while we suffer, or endure, or struggle.
III. GOD RESTORING FROM THE STERN EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. Zion is restored; Jerusalem is rebuilt; Manasseh comes back to his throne; Job's latter end is brighter than his beginning. Justice is God's strange work, mercy is his delight. Above everything else he is the Redeemer, the Restorer, finding ever more joy in restoring than we can find in being restored. It is as if he were glad with infinite gladness when he can take the cloud away, and let his smile break through again upon us. What seem to us extravagant, ecstatic pictures of the restored glory of the Jewish nation, are really intended to impress on us what a joy God finds in his redeemings. This is expressed for us in the assurance of the Lord Jesus, that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that rcpenteth." And so far as we are really good, and like God, we find singular pleasure in putting things straight again, in reconciliations, in helping others to recover themselves and start afresh.
IV. MAN RESPONDING GLADLY TO THE NEW JOY OF GOD'S RESTORATIONS. To this God calls in our text. It is as if he had said, "I am glad; now be you glad." There could be restorings, accept them at once, and lovingly and thankfully. Rise up out of all those depressions and despairings of captivity. Shake the very dust of the old troubles off. Dress in festal robes. Sing joy-songs. Realize your swiftly coming honours. "Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh." Sit down in stately, royal style, as if the promise were possession, and you entered on it when God gave his assurances. How sadly we fail in hesitating about the acceptance of what God gives!—R.T.
A priceless redemption.
"Ye shall be redeemed without money." This truth is more fully stated in Isaiah 55:1. Here we only note two senses in which God's redemption of Israel from the captivity of Babylon, and of us from the captivity of sin, may be called a priceless redemption.
I. BECAUSE ITS VALUE IS BEYOND ANY PRICE MAN CAN FIND. A man may hear of a "pearl of great price," and be willing to sell all else that he may have in order to get possession of it. But redemption is a pearl of such price that no man's all could suffice for its purchase. Illustrate what returning to a regenerate Jerusalem was for the captives. And what had they by which they could buy such a national restoration? What relation would it bear to the matter if they put all their wealth together? And we are not redeemed from sin with "corruptible things, such as silver and gold," so that we could recompense him who gave the silver and gold for us, by giving him our silver and gold; "but with the precious blood of Christ," the value of which no human scales can measure, and which no human wealth could buy. The price of our redemption is "beyond all measure of so much." Compare the poetical estimate of the value of "wisdom," in Job 28:12-19.
II. BECAUSE IT IS GIVEN WITHOUT ASKING ANY PRICE AT ALL. We could not pay the price. We should not have it at a price, if we could pay. It cannot be bought. Illustrate how men put a fictitious price on things which they do not wish to sell; and how they refuse to name any price at all when they are determined that the thing shall be a free gift. So God's redemption is priceless, for he does not want to sell. Nay, it is priceless, for it can only be received as a gift. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." How strange that this very "pricelessness" should be our greatest stumbling-block! We have a saying that "only nothing worth can be got for nothing;" and we find ourselves applying it to God's free gift of salvation. To illustrate this very human weakness, a man bought the entire stock of a herring-vendor, and sent him round a district of poor people, to cry, "Herrings for nothing!" and give them away. He was laughed to scorn, and not one person was found willing to receive. It is hard to believe that a priceless redemption is offered to us "without money and without price."—R.T.
Knowing God's Name.
By that is meant finding out for ourselves all that is involved in his Name; proving for ourselves what he can and will do, even for us. The prophet has recalled to mind the deliverance from Egypt, and is full of the revelation which was then made, to Moses, of God's Name. Elsewhere it has been shown that God's Name is twofold.
1. An incommunicable name—a bare assertion of existence, "Jehovah, I am."
2. A relational name, that sets us upon observing what God has done and does. "The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." Now we gain illustration from another incident in the Mosaic history. Moses, in one of the sternest experiences of his life, asked for the infinite comforting of being shown the Lord's glory; and this was the Divine response, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the Name of the Lord before thee." Evidently the adequate impression of God's goodness is "knowing God's Name." And the special point of goodness dwelt on in our text is the goodness that restores us from the consequences of our own follies and sins.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S NAME THAT COMES BY REVELATION. This is mainly a head knowledge, and does not, of necessity, influence the spirit or the conduct.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S NAME THAT COMES THROUGH THE EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS.
1. As recorded in the Word.
2. As met with in life.
This is helpful, but it is secondary knowledge. And the response we make to it is goodness upon other people's persuasion, and is only likely to last so long as the persuasion lasts. Like the parasite, we are ,good just as long as we have somebody else's life to drink of.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S NAME THAT COMES THROUGH OUR OWN EXPERIENCES. We never really know God until we know him for ourselves, by our own soul-sight and soul-touch. This is well expressed by the saint of old, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." In the text God assures his people that his restoring mercies shall be a personal revelation of himself to them; and, knowing him, they shall know the full joy of full trust.—R.T.
The message glorifying the messengers.
Immediate reference is to the heralds who go on in advance of the returning exiles to proclaim to Jerusalem that "the time to favour her, yea, the set time has come." And to those who send the heralds, as well as to those who receive them, they seem beautiful for the sake of their message. And this is the only worthy reason for glorying in the ministers of Christ—we love them "for their work's sake" (see St. Paul's use of this verse in relation to the first preachers of the gospel, in Romans 10:15). In the poetical style of the East, the watchmen are represented as standing upon their watch-tower, or post of observation, and stretching their vision to the utmost point of the horizon, as if in eager expectation of a news-bearing messenger. On a sudden the wished-for object appears in sight, on the summit of the distant mountain, speeding his rapid way to the city, while the watchmen, anticipating the tenor of his tidings, burst forth in a shout of gratulation and triumph. The imagery strikingly represents the expectant attitude and heedful vigilance of the believing part of the teachers and pastors of the nation of Israel on the eve of the Messiah's manifestation. Illustrating the precise point indicated in the heading of this homily, we note—
I. THE SNARE OF A MINISTER IS SETTING HIMSELF BEFORE HIS MESSAGE. Even an apostle felt the power of this temptation, and, having overcome it, he says, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." The snare is felt especially when there is pride of intellect; a notion of remarkable individuality; the conceit of genius; a rhetorical delivery; or a popular, attractive power. We are sometimes obliged, with grieved hearts, to acknowledge that, in those to whom we listen, there is "more of the man than the message." The messenger may stand in front of the King. All workers for Christ need to deal watchfully with themselves, lest they be overcome of this fault, and find the people forgetting themselves in the flattery of the herald. Popular preachers are in sore need of great grace. Self-conceit takes strangely subtle forms when it enters in and dwells with God's ministers.
II. THE JOY OF A MINISTER WHEN HE CAN LOSE HIMSELF IN THE GLORY OF HIS MESSAGE. Compare Samuel Rutherford's exclamation, "God is my witness, that your salvation would be two salvations for me, and your heaven two heavens for me." Our Lord Jesus Christ ever stood back, and let his Father speak to men through him; and we shall never know the joy of our work until we also can stand back—right back—and let Christ speak to men through us.—R.T.
The world taught through God's dealings with his people.
In every age God's elect people are set in the world's eye; God's ways with them are revelations of himself to all onlookers. The world is educated, elevated, by means of its elect nations, just as the social range, the Church sentiment, the doctrinal beliefs, and the family life are raised and toned by God's elect sons and daughters. In this sense "no man liveth unto himself;" no national experience is limited to the nation; God's salvations of some are intended to be, and are adapted to be, in varied senses, salvations for all. "The Lord makes bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations." The figure of "making bare the arm" is explained by the Eastern custom of wearing long and loose robes, and by the ancient custom of hand-to-hand conflict. "The warrior, preparing for action, throws off his mantle, tucks up the sleeve of his tunic, and leaves his outstretched arm free." The prophet is thinking of the way in which news of the crossing of the Red Sea spread abroad among the nations then in Canaan, carrying great impressions of the august and awful power of Jehovah, the God of the Jews. In a similar but smaller way, the return from Babylon was noised abroad among the nations, carrying impressions of God's faithfulness to his promise. And so with the salvation in Christ Jesus, which was but suggested and foreshadowed by all the previous deliverances; it was for the whole world, though it found its first sphere in the Jewish nation. "Beginning at Jerusalem," of it this must be thought and said—
"Salvation! let the echo fly
The spacious earth around."
This topic is suited for a missionary sermon, and familiar truths may be set under the following headings.
I. NEWS OF SALVATION IN CHRIST DESERVE TO BE KNOWN. It is the "great salvation," the "common salvation," the "only salvation;" for there is "none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we can be saved." It is a full salvation and a free salvation.
II. NEWS OF SALVATION IN CHRIST WILL SURELY BE KNOWN. Whether we are pleased to aid the spreading or not. The word is running very swiftly. Like the sunshine, its light "is going out into all the world." Illustrate the spreading of the gospel, and its ameliorating and ennobling influences.
III. WE MAY HAVE THE JOY OF MAKING THAT SALVATION KNOWN. Show in what practical ways, and plead for direct personal interest in all missionary work.—R.T.
Cleanness a condition of service.
"Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." The expression recalls the importance attached in the Jewish economy to the preparation of the priests and Levites for solemn tabernacle engagements. They were required to "sanctify themselves" before undertaking any ritual service, because the impression of the holiness of the work must rest on them, and be made through them upon the people. So when the captives were about to return to their own land, as monuments of Divine restorings and salvations, due impressions must be made of the holiness God demanded of all who served him, and the responsibility lay especially on the Levites of making this impression. They may be taken as types of air those who are now engaged in Christ's service—to whom he has committed any trusts. The question is sometimes discussed, in view of the notion of apostolical succession, whether a man who is morally bad can officially communicate Divine grace. We do not venture an opinion on such a question, but we do say that, to right feeling men and women, the connection between personal wickedness and pious work is offensive and distressing. Our souls revolt from the association of the two things, and respond to the demand of the text for personal purity in all who attempt to do God's work in the world. Two things may be dwelt on.
I. CLEANNESS AS HARMONY WITH OUR WORK. We seek for harmony everywhere. In arranging colours of dress or fittings of house. In the relation of man's profession and his conduct; between a man's work and the spirit in which he does it. Broken harmony is unpleasing to us. Clean work calls for clean hands. Now, God's work, whatever form it takes, is holy work; and we never undertake it aright, save as due impressions of its holiness rest upon us. God himself is most holy. His gospel most holy. Immortal souls, as objects of his redeeming love, most holy. The Word that brings healing and life most holy. And, therefore, everybody who comes into relation with these Divine persons and things ought to be toned in harmony with them. Open how this presses on us the importance of spiritual culture.
II. CLEANNESS AS FITNESS FOR OUR WORK, AND POWER IN DOING IT. It is, in fact, our endowment. We often think of holiness as quality, but we need to discern that it is power, and our best power; the feather that wings our arrow; the nerve-force that gives energy to our blow; the mesmeric influence before which even stem, hard souls must yield. The pure do the best work in the world for God. Saintly souls are almost almighty.—R.T.
Surprise at the appearance of God's Servant.
Whatever may be the immediate and historical reference of this term "servant," of this we may feel quite sure—the full reference must be to Messiah, and to the Lord Jesus Christ as Messiah. Now, it is certainly singular that no trustworthy traces of the appearance of our Lord have come down to us. Everybody may imagine for himself what were the features and expression of his Divine Master; and it is better that our free imaginations should have no limitations to the representation of any artistic genius. We remember in an exhibition observing a number of paintings of the thorn-crowned head. The faces of our Lord precisely differed according as the artist was Spanish, Italian, or English, or had made the uncertain attempt of creating a face of Jewish type. All that Scripture asserts is that, so far as face and form were concerned, there was nothing arresting about Christ; you might have passed him by as a common man. It is even suggested that, as with his servant Paul, men might have rudely said that his "bodily presence was contemptible." Dean Plumptre remarks, "These words (of Isaiah 52:14) conflict strangely with the type of pure and holy beauty with which Christian art has made us familiar as its ideal of the Son of man. It has to be noted, however, that the earlier forms of that art, prior to the time of Constantine, and, in some cases, later, represented the Christ as worn, emaciated, with hardly any touch of earthly comeliness; and that it is at least possible that the beauty may have been of expression rather than of feature or complexion"
I. WHAT MESSIAH WAS—IN FACT. In no way striking. Not aristocratic-looking, or handsome, or big. Just a man, simple, undistinguished-looking. Dekker, one of our early English poets, says—
"The best of men that e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer,
A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit,
The first true gentleman that ever breathed."
II. WHAT MESSIAH WAS—CONTRARY TO EXPECTATION. Jewish hopes fashion a hero-king, a patriot like Judas Maccabaeus, a restorer of David's line of kings. Instead, he was a simple Man, who lived a life; a Sufferer who bore a burden of peculiar sorrows; a Man who seemed to end his life in failure and shame.
III. WHY WAS MESSIAH THUS DIFFERENT TO ALL EXPECTATION OF HIM? Because men are so enslaved to the literal, the temporal, the earthly. There was nothing in the Man to attract, because God would have us feel the attractions of the Divine Saviour.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 52". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30