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SECTION IV.—A RENEWAL OF PROMISES TO ISRAEL, COMBINED WITH EXHORTATION (CH. 54-56:8).
A PROMISE TO ISRAEL OF GREAT INCREASE, AND OF GOD'S PERSISTENT PROTECTION. There is no close connection between this chapter and the last, or even between this section and the preceding. Isaiah 54:1-5 take up the thought of Isaiah 49:19-21, and expand it. Israel is assured of a great enlargement of her numbers, and bidden to rejoice thereat. She is then further comforted with a promise that she shall never be forsaken (Isaiah 49:6-10).
Sing, O barren. Israel in captivity is addressed as "barren," because, in the time of suffering, her numbers rather diminished than increased. Still, she is bidden to "sing" on account of the prospect that is opening upon her. She that is now desolate and solitary will soon have more children than she formerly had, when she was a married wife, enjoying the fellowship of Jehovah, her Husband (Isaiah 54:5). The "children" spoken of are in part those who gathered themselves together in Jerusalem and the adjacent territory after the issue of the decree of Cyrus (1 Chronicles 9:2-34; Ezra 2:1-65; Ezra 8:1-20; Nehemiah 7:6-72; Nehemiah 11:3-36), but mainly such as flocked in from the Gentiles, both before and after Christ's coming (see Isaiah 54:3).
Enlarge the place of thy tent (comp. Isaiah 33:20 and Jeremiah 10:20). The memory of the old nomadic life caused the "tent" to be the symbol and representative of the dwelling-place. Israel will have so many more children that her "tent" will need enlarging. The curtains; i.e. the tent-cloth (comp. Exodus 26:1-37 and Exodus 36:1-38; where the word used occurs repeatedly). Thy cords … thy stakes (comp. Exodus 35:18; Exodus 39:40, etc.). The ropes and tent-pegs, which kept the tent-cloth in place, are intended. The enlargement of the tent would make longer ropes and larger pegs necessary.
For thou shalt break forth; or, thou shalt increase (see Genesis 30:30, Genesis 30:43; Exodus 1:12). An overflow, like that of the bursting out of water, is pointed at. On the right hand and on the left; i.e. "on all sides" (comp. Genesis 28:14). Thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles. The Christian Church is viewed as a continuation of the Jewish Church; and the conversion of nation after nation to the gospel is regarded as the extension of Jewish dominion over fresh lands. The cities of these lands—desolate hitherto, i.e. without godly inhabitants—will under these circumstances come to be inhabited; i.e. will be peopled by faithful men.
Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth; rather, of thy maidenhood; i.e. of the time when thou wert a maiden, before by the covenant of Sinai Jehowth became thy Husband (Isaiah 54:5). The "shame" of this period was 'the Egyptian bondage. Israel's later condition would be such that the very recollection of this bondage would fade away and cease. The reproach of thy widowhood. Israel became a "widow" when Jehovah withdrew his presence from her, when the Shechinah disappeared from the temple, and the temple itself was destroyed, and Jerusalem was a desolation, and the people captives in a far land. The special "reproach of her widowhood" was the Babylonian captivity, with the sins that had brought it about. This too would be forgotten in the good time to come, amid the glories of the Messianic kingdom.
For thy Maker is thine Husband; rather, for thy Husband is thy Maker. The verse is exegetical of the terms, "married with" in Isaiah 54:1, and "widowhood" in Isaiah 54:4. "I," says the prophet, "have called thee married and widowed, thereby yoking thee to a husband, for thou hast a Husband, namely, thy Maker." (The Hebrew has both words in the plural, to accord with the following Elohim.) This relationship of God to his Church is often asserted by the prophets (Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 31:32; Hosea 2:19; So Hosea 1:4, etc.), and lies at the root of the oft-recurring metaphor by which idolatry is called "lewdness," "adultery," or "playing the whore." Thy Redeemer the Holy One; rather, thy Redeemer is the Holy One. (On the title itself, see the comment on Isaiah 1:4.) The God of the whole earth (comp. Psalms 24:1; Psalms 47:2, Psalms 47:7; Psa 133:1-3 :18, etc.). Materially, he was always this. Now, from this time, he will be "God of the whole earth" morally; not God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles (see Romans 3:29).
For the Lord hath called thee; i.e. recalled thee to himself—summoned thee to return, and once more resume the office of a wife. As a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit; i.e. as one whom her husband has cast off, and whose spirit is grieved by the repudiation. No doubt a large number of the captives had the same spirit of penitence as Daniel (Daniel 9:5-19). A wife of youth. One wooed and won in youth, therefore more dearly loved, more regretfully repudiated, more joyfully restored when seen to be penitent. When thou wast refused; rather, when she has been cast off. Jehovah takes back Israel into the old relationship, as a man takes back "the wife of his youth," when she has been for a long time "cast off."
Isaiah 54:7, Isaiah 54:8
For a small moment have I forsaken thee. The sixty or seventy years of the Captivity were but as a moment of time compared with the long ages during which God had tenderly watched over and protected his Church, and, still more, compared with the eternity during which he was now about to show himself her constant Guardian and Protector. There had been a little wrath; or rather, one burst of wrath; and then Mercy had resumed her sway. The face hid for a moment had been allowed once more to shine upon the afflicted people; and the momentary indignation would be followed by, and swallowed up in, ever-lasting kindness.
This is as the waters of Noah unto me. The existing calamity—Israel submerged in the flood of Babylonian captivity-is as it were a repetition of the calamity of the Deluge in God's eyes. Its object is to purify his Church, as the object of the Flood was to purify the world. A righteous household survived in the one case; a righteous remnant would go forth in the other. And as God bound himself in Noah's time not to repeat the calamity of the Deluge, so now he binds himself not again to submerge his Church in a captivity like the Babylonian. It has been said that the promise was not kept, since the Jewish Church was, in a.d. 70, carried captive by the Romans. But the prophet views the Jewish Church as continued in the Christian, into which all its better and more spiritual members passed at the first preaching of the gospel; and the promise here made is thus parallel to that of our Lord, "Upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Much as the Christian Church has suffered from the world, it has never been in like cases with the Jewish Church in Babylon, and, as God is faithful, never will be reduced to such extremity. As I have sworn; i.e. "pledged myself." It does not appear from Genesis 8:20-22 or Genesis 9:8-17 that God actually bound himself by oath. So have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. That is to say, not to the same extent, not so as to visit her with the same punishment.
The mountains shall depart … but my kindness shall not depart (comp. Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away"). Everything material may fail, depart, perish; but God's promises remain firm and secure for ever. The covenant of my peace; or, my covenant of peace—any promise which God makes to his creatures for their advantage (comp. Numbers 25:12; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26; Malachi 2:5). Here there is a special allusion to the promise just made and confirmed by oath (Isaiah 54:9).
THE GLORY OF THE NEW JERUSALEM, AND THE HAPPINESS OF ITS INHABITANTS. Hitherto Israel has been addressed; now the direct object of address is Jerusalem. The eye of the prophet passes, however, with a glance, from the actual present to the far-distant future, and sees the Zion of God in her heavenly setting, all bedecked with precious stones, as she was seen by the exile of Patmos more than seven centuries later (Revelation 21:16-21). After briefly describing the heavenly city, he passes to her inhabitants, and promises them peace, protection, and righteousness.
O thou afflicted (comp. Isaiah 49:14-17). Jerusalem is seen as she was during the Captivity—"afflicted" by God's hand, vexed with all his storms, and not yet comforted (Comp. Isaiah 64:10, Isaiah 64:11). Then a fresh vision obliterates the mournful sight. I will lay thy stones with fair colours; literally, I will lay thy stones in antimony; i.e. I will give them a setting and adornment like that which beautiful women were in the habit of giving to their eyes when they wished to attract admiration (see 2 Kings 9:30). Puk, or antimony, was used to stain both the upper and the under eyelid, in order to increase the apparent lustre of the eye, and so impart to it greater beauty. The passage is not to be understood as implying that coloured marbles were ever really set in antimony. And lay thy foundations with sapphires; or, make thy foundations of sapphires. In Revelation the first foundation is "jasper," the second "sapphire" (Revelation 21:19). Sapphire was the foundation on which the throne of God appeared to be set, when it was seen by Moses, Aaron, and the seventy elders (Exodus 24:10). The throne itself had the appearance of sapphire, as seen by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:26; Ezekiel 10:1). Sapphire is the hue of heaven.
I will make thy windows of agates. Most moderns translate, "I will make thy battlements," or "thy pinnacles of rubies." The exact meaning is very doubtful. Thy gates of carbuncles. In the Revelation of St. John the gates are each of them composed of one pearl (Revelation 21:21)—the pearl betokening purity, the carbuncle the glow of devotional feeling. We must not expect consistency in descriptions which are entirely allegorical. All thy borders of pleasant stones; or, all thy boundaries. An enclosing wall seems to be meant (comp. Revelation 21:17).
All thy children shall be taught of the Lord (comp. Isaiah 44:3; Jeremiah 31:33, Jeremiah 31:34; Ezekiel 11:19; Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17, Acts 2:18, etc.). Christians are all of them "taught of God" (John 6:45; 1 Thessalonians 4:9). The "anointing," which they have from the Holy Ghost, "teaches them, and is truth, and is no lie" (1 John 2:27), and causes them to "know all things" (1 John 2:20). And great shall be the peace of thy children. Messiah was to be "the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6). His birth heralded the coming of "peace on earth" (Luke 2:14). So far forth as men are true Christians, does peace reign in the conscience and show itself in the life. Externally there may be persecution, tumult, wars, fightings; but internally, in each heart, there will be a "peace that passes all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). God "keeps in perfect peace" those" whose minds are stayed on him" (Isaiah 26:3).
In righteousness shalt thou be established; rather, through righteousness. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked" (Isaiah 48:22); and conversely, where righteousness abounds, peace prevails, and the nation "is established." Thou shalt be far from oppression; rather, be thou far from anxiety (Delitzsch). Thou shalt not fear; rather, thou needest not fear. There is no danger—nothing to be afraid of. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:9). So long as thou art "established through righteousness," there shall no harm happen unto thee.
Behold, they shall surely gather together, etc.; rather, behold, should they gather themselves together; i.e. should enemies collect and threaten thee with harm, be assured that the attack is not by me—not my doing—and that, therefore, it will come to nought. All those who gather together against thee shall fall—i.e. stumble and be overthrown—through striking against thee. The rendering of the Authorized Version, "for thy sake," is quite indefensible.
Behold, I have created, etc. The Church is encouraged to fear no danger by being reminded that all power to do hurt is from God. Whether it be the smith that forges a weapon, or the waster that destroys and lays waste whole countries, or any other worker of woe to man, all are equally brought into being, and sustained in life, by God. None can do a hurt that God does not allow. The smith that bloweth the coals. In ancient times the smith worked his metal into shape by the help of a blow-pipe, which he blew himself (see Rosellini, 'Monumenti Civili,' pl. 51, fig 4, and pl. 52, fig. 4). For his work; or, for its work: i.e. destruction. The waster; i.e. the conquering king, such as Tiglath-Pileser, Sargon, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus.
No weapon … every tongue. Whether weapons are used against Israel, or whether she is attacked, as in Sennacherib's time, by "the tongue that speaketh proud things" (Isaiah 36:4-20; Isaiah 37:10-13), the result will he the same. She will triumph over her enemies, and condemn them or put them to shame. Her security is her righteousness, which she derives from Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 45:24, Isaiah 45:25).
The relation of the Church to God that of a wife to her husband.
The analogy set forth by the prophet in the first six verses of this chapter is one to which equal prominence is given in the Old Testament and the New. It forms the basis of one entire book of the Old Scriptures—the Canticles, or Song of Solomon. It pervades the whole teaching of the prophets, which declares apostasy from God to be "adultery" (Isaiah 57:3-5; Jeremiah 3:9; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 13:27; Jeremiah 23:10-14; Ezekiel 16:32-36; Ezekiel 23:37; Hosea 3:1; Hosea 4:12-14, etc.). It is asserted repeatedly with the utmost plainness (verse 5; Jeremiah 3:14; Jeremiah 31:32; Hosea 2:16-20). In the New Testament, it is hinted at in the Gospels (Matthew 25:1-10), taught plainly in the Epistles (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-32), and made part of the imagery of the Revelation of St. John (John 21:2, John 21:9; 22:17). The only difference is that, in the Old Testament, the "husband" is, vaguely, Jehovah or God; in the New he is, definitely, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ. The relationship involves, on the part of God:
1. Love. "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church" (Ephesians 5:25).
2. Tender guardianship and care. "The Lord nourisheth and cherisheth the Church" (Ephesians 5:29).
3. Exertion of a purifying and elevating influence. Christ "loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27).
4. Everlasting kindness—kindness that "shall not depart," or be withdrawn, for ever (Isaiah 54:8,Isaiah 54:10).
On the part of the Church there are involved corresponding duties; as:
1. Love (1 John 4:16-21).
2. Reverence (Ephesians 5:33).
3. Subjection. "As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:24).
4. Never-ending fidelity. The desire of the Church should be towards her Lord, as his is towards her (So John 7:10), incessantly.
Man's righteousness is of God.
Whatever there is in man of goodness, virtue, sound or right feeling, high aspiration, spiritual strength, comes to him from the Almighty, from whence descends "every good gift and every perfect gift" (James 1:17). Original righteousness was from God (Genesis 1:27, Genesis 1:31). When man fell, and "corrupted his way," recovery was impossible, unless God both devised a method by which it should be possible, and also superintended the working of his own method, and at each step made it effectual. The righteousness of the servants of God is a double righteousness, imputed and infused; but both come equally from the perfectly "righteous Servant" (Isaiah 53:11), who alone "justifies many."
I. IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS IS OF GOD. Imputed righteousness is the righteousness of God; for it is the righteousness of Christ, who is God. Christ is made to us" wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30). The righteousness which is properly his, and which is a perfect righteousness, is, through our mystic union with him, imputed to us, as if it were ours, and so becomes ours, and justifies us. It is also "of God," since it is imputed to us by God. God the Father condescends to look upon us as so bound up in his Son that he passes on to us the merits of his Son, and, as it were, makes them ours.
II. INFUSED RIGHTEOUSNESS IS OF GOD. Infused righteousness is the work of the Holy Spirit, who "sanctifies us, and all the elect people of God." It admits of infinite degrees, and in this life is always imperfect. The true Christian is always making progress in it, adding grace to grace, going on from strength to strength, perfecting holiness in the tear of God. But every step is made by God's help. Without him man can do nothing. Every virtue that we have is also a grace—a grace from the Divine point of view, a virtue from the human; with struggle and effort acquired by man, yet given to him by God. Imputed righteousness is that which justifies us; infused righteousness is that which sanctifies us. The one is a gift to us; the other is a gift in us. But both alike are the gift of God (see Romans 3:21-26; Romans 5:15-19; 1Co 4:7; 1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 5:22, Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 5:9, etc.).
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The future of the Church.
"The person addressed is the ideal Zion, who is practically identical with the ideal or spiritual Israel."
I. HER FRUITFULNESS. Nothing to an Israelitish mind can suggest more forcibly the idea of desolation and sorrow in a nation or spiritual community than the childless woman. Historically, the restored exiles may be referred to; physically and to some extent spiritually Israelites, but, while on a foreign soil, and unbaptized with the Spirit, their union was not complete. In a wider spiritual application, the Church of God, in the Old Testament, confined within the narrow limits of the Jewish nation, and still more so in respect to the very small number of true believers, and which seemed sometimes deserted of God her Husband (Lowth). The conversion of the Gentiles is the accession of a vast progeny to the spiritual Israel—a vast extension of the Church of God (Isaiah 49:20-22).
II. HER ENLARGEMENT. The figure of a tent is employed. The canopy or coverings of the tent are to be widened, its cords lengthened, and the tent-pins made strong. The wandering is to be exchanged for the permanent habitation (For the image cf. Jeremiah 10:20.) The boundaries of the Church are to be enlarged to accommodate the vast accession from the pagan world. On all hands she is to break forth, even as it had been promised to Jacob (Genesis 28:14), to take possession of the nations, and inhabit desolate cities. The period of reproach, figured by maidenhood or widowhood, is to come to an end.
III. HER INTIMATE RELATION TO GOD.
1. He is Maker and Goel, Mediator and Redeemer, of her family rights. (For the Christian application, see Ephesians 2:19, "Fellow-citizens of the saints, and members of the family of God.") As the nearest kinsman is bound to interpose for the defence of members of his family, so the Almighty is bound to avenge and succour his chosen. In his Name, Jehovah of hosts, is found a further guarantee of his saving mercy for the future. It means that he is God of the whole earth, that his glory fills the creation. (For the application to the Christian Church, see Romans 3:29, "God of the Gentiles also.")
2. The relation of marriage in its Divine application points to an indissoluble and eternal union. The Church may appear in times of distress as "an outcast and downcast woman," divorced from her God. But "even many an earthly husband cannot bear to see the misery of his divorced wife, and therefore at length recalls her: how much more, then, Jehovah!" In a "gush of wrath" it was that his face was hidden from her. In everlasting kindness he will have mercy; the sea being contrasted with the momentary outburst, or "gush" of displeasure. "Never shall this dispensation of wrath be repeated, no more than that of Noah's floods. Mountains are symbolic of the unchangeableness of the Eternal (cf. Psalms 36:6; Psalms 65:6). They seem to be the solid pillars and foundations of the earth. They may totter; but the loving-kindness of God must be like himself, eternal. The covenant of peace, which has been ratified between him and his people, will abide amidst all vicissitudes of nature and of history. The love of the Eternal is, then, the first and last secret of all things. At the basis of the universe lies law, and law itself is the expression of love. Law wears to us often a stern face; it is the expression of wrath. But a holy wrath is itself the expression of a loving heart. He who has made the world cannot hate it. He who is the Author of the soul is its affianced Spouse and self-constituted Protector. Language and imagination labour in vain with so immense a conception as that of the Divine love. It must follow from this that the Church, as a spiritual and mystical community, must be safe through all the change of time.
IV. THE FUTURE GLORY OF THE CHURCH. She appears under the figure of a city, the new Jerusalem. Her brilliant stones will be set in a beautifying cement. Her battlements will be of rubies, her gates of carbuncles, her outer walls of precious stones. Yet this will only be the outward manifestation of an inward and spiritual glory. The people will be disciples of Jehovah (cf. Numbers 11:29; Joel 2:23, Joel 2:29), that is, in effect, prophets, filled with utterance as with inspiration. Her constitution will rest upon a sound, because a moral basis—on righteousness, on fidelity to her covenant with God. Not being built, like the cities of the heathen, of fraud and rapine, oppression and destruction will be far from her thoughts. She will enjoy security. Should any foe presume to molest her, he will stumble—he will be like a blind traveller who falls headlong over an obstacle. For all the agencies which work either a people's weal or woe are in the hands of the Eternal. He is the Creator of the smith, and so mediately of the destroying weapon he forges. So the great Oriental kings are his tools. But no weapon turned against Israel shall succeed in its aim; and every abusing tongue shall be pronounced guilty in the day of judgment. Such is the spiritual inheritance of the servants of Jehovah, such their justification at his hands. "It is not gold and the triumph of battle. It is not the laurel won in fields of blood. The inheritance is the protection of God in all times of trouble; his friendship in all periods of activity; complete victory in all the contests with error and false systems of religion; and prevention when foes rise up in any form and seek to destroy the Church, and to blot out its existence and its name." "God defend the right!" has been an ancient prayer in times of anxiety and conflict. He does defend the right and the righteous at all times, the prophet declares.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"My kindness shall not depart from thee." Much kindness does. It is fervid, but fickle, and is too often conditioned by mood and temper and circumstance. Moreover, it may depart through lack of power and opportunity.
I. THE SAVIOR'S KINDNESS IS TRUE KINDNESS. He knows what kindness is. We too often mistake favour and indulgence for kindness. God is often kindest when he is most severe.
II. THE SAVIOUR'S KINDNESS IS MANIFESTED KINDNESS. It costs him something. Much kindness evaporates in sentiment and speech. It does not impinge on the ease and the comfort of our friends. Jesus Christ said, "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!" and, "although he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor." His kindness was tested:
1. By the treatment he received.
2. By the nature that suffered. So deep in feeling; so infinite in its capacity for enduring sorrow.
3. By the sacrifice he offered.
4. By the permanence of his work, as "Head over all things to the Church." Then let the faint-hearted rest on the promise, "It shall not depart."—W.M.S.
The eternal constancy: a meditation on change.
"My kindness shall not depart from thee." How much does depart in this world! There are departed sorrows, departed joys, departed friends; and in one sense, concerning life and joy and duty, the world is full of graves. But we have an unchanging Lord, Jesus Christ, "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." "My kindness!" Is there not a comfort in the very emphasis? For much kindness does depart. Fervent, but evanescent, it has its little day, and then vanishes away. "We are such stuff as dreams are made of." The nobility of our nature fails before the strains of littleness in character of others and distance of place and time. The eternal constancy is beautiful. Mark the connection of thought. The mountains may depart, Galilee's lake may embosom the surrounding hills, but the great Father's love is immutable and eternal. To take to heart these words would be to dispel our darkest fears. A faith strong enough to grasp this will light up every forest, and overcome every foe. There are strange mysteries of suffering in this world. Sorrow has many synonyms in human speech answering to the many phases of human experience. There are agonies of endurance, breaches of trust, sighings of solitude, sadnesses of disappointment, wailings of bereavement. To-day there are disciples terrified in the storm, Rachels mourning for their departed, Peters dropping scalding tears over denials of the Lord. Can it be wondered at that in such a world, amid such human trials and such spiritual experiences, kindness—the Divine kindness—should be so precious a thing? Let us recall the multitude of God's mercies; let us remember his hand in the glacier-passes of temptation, and the nights of tribulation. The strings of our human harps must sweep forth the music of love. There has been no change in Christ.
1. THE SURPRISE. Think of what we are! Fickle, irresolute, ungrateful, unfaithful. Our God is a God of insight. He searcheth the heart. He sees not only conduct, but character. No disguise can cloak from him. And what secrets there are in these hearts of ours! There are mirrors there which flash hack, even to ourselves, the hidden things of darkness. Yet he loves us still! The previous chapter says, "All we like sheep have gone astray." Yet it is the stray lambs the Saviour seeks, and the poor prodigal wanderer the Father loves! The strongest ties we know of are in our human relationships; they are images of the Divine love. Only an artificial theology has made the rectoral character of God override the paternal. Think you that on some wild Christmas, amid home's most festive scenes, with the children and the children's children about him, that father, whose hair is whiter than the winter snow, can forget the prodigal? With the ruddy fire-glow around him, and the yule logs piled high, his mind wanders over the bleak and barren moorland of the outside world; and one faint knock at the portal, one weary step, one quivering lip, brings more music to his heart than the tabret and the dance. He knows all about the squandered wealth, the profligate life, the reckless pilgrimage of vanity. But his kindness cannot depart from him, for he is a father still. I claim for God the very amplest application of that analogy. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ,… we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." "In Christ's stead!" What words! Many evil things the Church has done—Roman, Anglican, and Puritan—would look strange enough if Christ's gentle image had been thought upon, and men had inscribed above it, "We are Christ's!" God gave such tension and tenderness to the human heart to make our fatherhood a parable of his own! "If we knew all!" Thus even we who love him, who have been reconciled to him, say sometimes in our darker moods. Does God know all? Then could he be kind to us still. We have served other gods. We have been faithless stewards. We have been at heart callous and cold. Yet to us comes this message of the eternal constancy: "My kindness shall not depart from thee."
II. THE CONTRAST. Think of what human nature is. We make retrospect concerning ourselves. We do not depreciate humanity when we say that kindness is an uncertain thing. We do not charge it upon others to the exclusion of ourselves. We are all unstable as water. We find how difficult it is to be unselfish. And no kindness can be perpetual without that. There are occasions when kindness is lacking in us; when a feeble witticism has wounded a friend; when a cruel sarcasm has bruised a brother's sensibilities; when a personal enjoyment has inflicted deprivation on others. Kindness is easy when its manifestations are costless. Nay, it cannot be dignified with the name; for it ministers to our own pride and satisfaction. But we cannot conceal the fact that courtesy, compassion, and care do fail, and, in one word, "love" is absent. I am not speaking of the false kindness of the deceiver, or the tender mercies of the gay, or the heartless mannerism which feigns affection. This is devils' work, and fills the sinner's night of death with spectres worse than the genius of Dante ever described or Dore ever designed. I am speaking of the common fact of instability in human feeling, inconstancy in human love. Explainable, indeed, sometimes by the detection of selfishness, superficiality, or unworthiness, as we think, in others, but manifest, in some measure, in us all. Now, the Divine Saviour is the ideal of all unselfishness. He gave himself. He humbled himself. He became obedient unto death—even the death of the cross—for us. While we were yet enemies, he died for us. And this was no solitary embodiment of his nature. It was a revelation of what his eternal nature is. Take, then, a review of yourself; take a review of society—and forget not all the revelations you have had of blessed contrast in God, whose kindness has not departed from you.
III. THE REVIEW. Think of what the past time says. Life has been full of mercy to us all. Homes have been revisited, friends have been restored, love has been consummated, new homes have been set up, accident has been averted, health has been restored, deliverance has been vouchsafed, affliction has been sanctified, and religious faith has in some cases been renewed and restored. Most wonderful of all is this. We have lived through seasons in which subtle temptations have had their enchanter's wand broken, and difficulties in our Christian faith have been removed. True, indeed, it is that to some these words would mean nothing—would, perhaps, raise a smile of condescending pity for those of us who still believe in a God at all. Some there are who wonder at the worship which rises above "the stream of tendency," or the laws of evolution, to the Fountain of Life and Power which fills the universe with life and joy; and to others the words would sound like the bitter irony of fate. Kindness! when the fig tree has withered, and there is slender produce in the vine? for some have not yet learned that Providence has higher ends than to weave purple robes and to grow costly fruits. What blessedness there is to most of us in the continuous belief in a personal God and Father—in a hand that rules, a voice that speaks, and a heart that loves! Truly it sufficeth us to show us the Father; for, try as men may, they can never create an impersonal religion. Greece raised her altars to Pity and Fame, and the abstract virtues; but the testimony of history was the total neglect of them all. The human heart can worship a Divine heart only—must seek after a God, even if he be "the Unknown God." Certainly, also, we cannot worship, adore, praise, and glorify any embodied idea of humanity—the positivists cannot make a beautiful image of that. No; its shame, its vice, its corruption, its evil, remain; the statue may have gold in it, but it has iron and clay as well. The Lord revealed in the Bible is our God and Father to-day! "My soul thirsteth for God, the living God;" "Unto thee, O Lord, will I sing;" "Great is the Lord, and of great power, and his understanding is infinite." We retain our prayer, "Our Father which art in heaven." We retain our pathway of approach. "Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life." We retain our altar of love, the one Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Looking back, then, and taking a review of life preserved and life sustained, of friends given or restored, of love cemented and consecrated, of faith purified and elevated, must not our seal be set afresh to the truth of the words, "My kindness shall not depart from thee"?
IV. THE PROSPECT. Think what the future will bring. The coming days. These are the most constant theme of our meditation. We project ourselves into life's to-morrow. We never live wholly for the present time. We are all artists in this wise, colouring our picture by means of our faith or our experience. We are sometimes morbid, and doubt whether good times will come to us again, forgetful of the past seasons of trouble which gave place in time to the brighter morrow. Alas! we too often say, "Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercy?" Kindness departed! That is our earthly and our spiritual dread. But the bow in the cloud is God's silent prophecy. And there is a bow in every cloud, if we will but gaze upon the heaven of mercy above us. To-morrow is coming, but on its wings mercy and love will also come. God will still show forth his loving-kindness in the morning. The throne of God is not to be covered with the crape of a departed majesty. We believe in "the Eternal. From everlasting to everlasting thou art God." God is the Good! His sceptre is no iron mace of authority, but he is the Father of our spirits, and the God of our salvation. What will to-morrow bring? The seed-time and the harvest. The summer sky and the song of the reaper. The release of the ice-bound fountain and the beauty and fragrance of a thousand fields. To-morrow there is to be more and more departure of ignorance and wrong, of desolation and darkness. The light is to shine more and more unto the perfect day; for Christ must reign. Every season of life will have its kindness. If father and mother forsake us in childhood, the Lord will take us up. If widowhood comes, Christ will be the Husband of the widow. Frosty, but kindly, as Shakespeare says, will old age be itself, when the evening comes, and death too will be kind when it comes, taking down the tabernacle with a quiet hand, and gently hushing us into the calm sleep of the child whose morning is heaven. Let us get rid, then, of the habit of dark foreboding, for thereby we deprive ourselves of the music of to-day. We all sometimes think of Divine mercy as though its meridian had passed, and as though God's grace was setting over the plains of life. We have an ever-living Saviour, an indwelling Spirit, the blessing of spiritual sonship, the foretaste of the sweet vineyards of Canaan, and a fountain ever open for sin and uncleanness. Let us seek to make God's kindness in its constancy the image of our own. Love is the law of heaven; the angels are all ministering spirits. When poor Hagar, with haggard eyes and dishevelled hair, was in the wilderness, it was an angel-hand which led her to the well. When Gideon was threshing his wheat, his face pictures forth the great sorrow of his people, and we hear him saying, "O my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?" And an angel's voice then reassures him with the promise, "Surely I will be with thee." When the ship is driven helplessly through the storm, an angel-voice says to the apostle, "Fear not, Paul!" Yes; there is a sympathy and a constant kindness in the angelic ministry. And we are to be ministering spirits too. A part of our nature, constituted as it is to live in others, would be shorn of its blessedness if we could not also be ministers of kindness. Onward, then, my brethren, with these words on your banner. The light which falls on the letters of gold will attract the eyes of others, as you show them what a religious faith can do in renewing the life of the world. Faith in God our Saviour will change the countenance, strengthen even the physical nerves, and make us better companions and brighter friends. Like a talisman, these words will keep you from the dread which has darkened man's earthly life in every age. You will bear them aloft on your banner, not as rejoicing in a God who loves and cares for you alone; but you will say to the world, "Let our people be your people, and our God your God." Yield your hearts to him. "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." You will fear no evil, for the Lord is with you! There. will be manna in the wilderness; the Jordan itself will be dry; the warder will throw wide the open gates at your home-going, and the Saviour will give you the welcome rest. These words are those of the faithful and true. "My kindness shall not depart from thee."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Enlargement and consolidation.
"Spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes." Applying these words to the Church of Christ in its attitude of holy expectation, and its sacred duty under all circumstances, but particularly in the time of growth, we learn of it—
I. THAT IT SHOULD CONSTANTLY BE ANTICIPATING ENLARGEMENT. The challenge comes from its Lord, "Spare not, lengthen thy cords;" i.e. take the attitude and the action of those who are looking for increase, for the incoming of those who are outside. The Church of Christ is well warranted in doing this; for it has:
1. Ample scope in a vast unredeemed world beyond its borders; souls that are capable of brotherhood, of sonship, of heirship.
2. All the materials it wants for successful enterprise, in authority to work and win, in truth perfectly fitted to the deepest wants of the human heart, in the potency of Christian love and zeal.
3. Divine promise that its labour shall not be in vain.
II. THAT IT SHOULD CONTINUALLY BE ENGAGED IN CONSOLIDATION. AS a multitude of armed men do not make an army, so a number of people with Christian words on their lips and Christian ordinances in their practice do not make a Christian Church after Christ's ideal. The accession of numbers is not everything; it may prove to be very little; before now, in certain cases, it has proved to be "less than nothing and vanity." The Church must "strengthen its stakes" as well as "lengthen its cords." It must not spare its strength in providing for permanence and stability as well as increase. It must aim at, and must pray and labour for:
1. The intelligent acceptance of the truth of Christ in its integrity.
2. Spirituality in worship.
3. Consistency of conduct and consequent illustration of a large part of Christ's will in its daily life.
4. Order and discipline in its regular action.—C.
The prevailing thought here is the prevalence of God's goodness over his severity. For a small moment he had forsaken, but with great mercies he would comfort his people. Against the "little wrath" in which his face was hidden there was to be set the "everlasting kindness" with which he would redeem them. The largely preponderant, completely outweighing, superabounding goodness of the Lord is manifest on every side. We see it—
I. IN THE NATURAL WORLD. There is a great deal of misery beneath the sky. How could it be otherwise when there is so much of cruelty and sin? But if we look long at all that happens as the direct result of God's handiwork, we shall find that "mercy triumphs over wrath," good over ill. There is a large and blessed preponderance of light over darkness, of pleasure over pain, of joy over sorrow, of hope over despair, of confidence over distrust, of fertility over barrenness, of plenty over poverty, of society over solitude, of life over death. But for the disturbing and destructive element of sin, this would obviously be the case in a very much larger degree than it is now.
II. IN THE CHURCH OF GOD. The Church of God has been represented at different times by different communities. At one time by the suffering community in Egypt; at another, by the Church in the wilderness; at another, by the distracted society under the judges; at another, by the triumphant nation under David and Solomon; at another, by Israel in exile; at another, by the returned and rejoicing people of God who had. come home from captivity. It is now represented by the Churches of Christ scattered over many lands, and forming apparently many distinct religious bodies. Sometimes God has lifted upon his people the light of his countenance, and they have rejoiced in his manifested favour; at other times he has withdrawn his face, and made his people to feel the weight of his chastening hand. But upon the whole it has been found, and in the end it will be found, that his manifestations of mercy and grace have triumphed greatly over those of wrath and penalty. There were times in the history of the Jewish Church when its light nearly went out in the surrounding darkness, but it did not expire; by the Divine hand it was guarded and fed, and has now become, under other conditions, a glorious sun, giving light and heat to all the nations. Mountains and hills, in the shape of kingdoms and powers, have departed and been removed; but God's kindness to his Church will not depart, nor will his faithfulness fail. With everlasting kindness will God be merciful to the Church which bears the name, and teaches the truth, and extends the kingdom, of his Son.
III. IN THE CAREER OF HIS FAITHFUL SERVANTS. There is no uniform course which the life of piety is found to take; it takes almost every variety of ways. Sometimes it lies much in the sunshine and but little in the shadow; and sometimes it is shaded nearly the whole way through. And how many kinds of shadow fall on the good man's path! It is the apparent withdrawal of God's favour from his soul; or it is the false charge which takes away his fair fame; or it is overwhelming loss involving others as well as himself in struggle or even in penury; or it is early separation from those most dearly beloved. There is "the hiding of God's face;" the hour comes when nothing but the Master's words will utter the feelings of the heart, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" But all this is temporary; nay, everything being counted, it is but momentary. God has in reserve infinite resources which, afterwards if not now, yonder if not here, will make up a thousandfold for all that he sends of trial and suffering. Let the faithful soul build on the immovable rock of God's integrity. Mountains may melt and hills may flee away, the foundations of the solid earth may be broken up, but God's kindness cannot depart, because his Word cannot fail; that is the one absolutely and eternally impossible thing.—C.
The prize of life, and its pursuit.
"All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children." We gather from this text—
I. THE TRUE PRIZE OF LIFE. What is that thing which is most worth having, most worth the thought of our minds, the strenuous striving of our soul, the labour of our hands? Nations, communities, individual men, have given different replies. One has said case, another wealth, another pleasure, another power, another glory. The inspired Hebrew said peace. The blessing he invoked on those he loved, and that which he lauded in speech and song, was peace. And he was right. Peace is the indispensable, the immeasurably precious thing.
1. It is a profound blessing. It goes down to the depth of our compound nature; it is the excellent result of complete rightness—rightness of heart with God, rightness of life with man.
2. It is a lasting thing. Other prizes may be snatched away by untoward circumstances, or their worth dims and lessens with the passing years, or even (with some of them) with the fleeting days. But this abides; prosperity does not injure it, adversity does not remove it, age does not diminish its excellency.
3. It is the condition of holy usefulness. We can serve our race in higher and greater things without the other prizes of life, but not without this. Not until our hearts have found rest in God's truth and in himself can we be and say and do that which will guide the feet of our fellow-men into and along the paths of righteousness and wisdom.
II. THE ONE WAY OF WINNING IT. The children of Zion would have great peace, inasmuch as they would be "taught of the Lord." :Nothing else will give to the human heart the peace which it craves.
1. Comfortable circumstances will not ensure it. These circumstances cannot be generally commanded, and, if they could, there would still be a craving of the soul which no comforts or successes of any earthly kind would satisfy.
2. Philosophy is not equal to the task. Stoicism tried its hand, and with some of its disciples there was the appearance of success; but it has no power to minister to the necessities of the multitudes of mankind, to the ordinary human heart, to men and women as we meet and know them every day. To the common, questioning, thirsting human heart it is a fountain without water, a name without the power behind it.
3. A Divine Saviour alone can supply the need. He only who brings everlasting truth to our mind, the sympathy and love of an unfailing friendship to the heart, spiritual excellence to the soul, meaning and worth to human life, a hope bright with immortal glory to the closing hour,—he only is entitled to say, "Come unto me … I will give you rest." "My peace I give unto you." Great peace—peace that passeth understanding, and that outliveth mortal life, have they who learn of him and take his yoke upon them.—C.
The heritage of faithful service.
From the beginning to the end of the Scriptures the service of God is represented as the only wise course for men to take. All paths of disobedience are spoken of as ways of folly as well as of sin. It is godliness that has the promise of all things, here and hereafter. The heritage of the holy is very variously defined, the most remarkable definition being that given by our Lord in reply to Peter. In the text we have it presented to us as a continual victory. No weapon formed against the righteous shall prosper, and every accusation shall be silenced. God will justify them. The faithful service of Christ is marked by victory over—
I. SUCCESS IN OUTWARD LIFE. Few weapons are so powerful as this in the hand of the enemy. Many are they who, in their folly, have allowed their prosperity to destroy them (Proverbs 1:32). The sense of power, the enjoyment of popularity, the command of comforts, the continuance of success in the chosen vocation,—these things prove too much for many souls. Under their influence men swerve from the straight line of simplicity of life, humility of spirit, purity of heart, integrity of character.
II. ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES. These are often found to be victorious over men, triumphing over their faith in God, their gratitude, and their submission; leading down to sullenness and moroseness of spirit; in some cases conducting to unbelief and impiety.
III. PRIVATION OF PRIVILEGE. When it is a man's fortune to be separated from the community and to lead a life of comparative loneliness, he is cast much on his own resources. He misses the encouragement and inspiration which come from social worship and collective piety. Without the aid and influence of these, he is in danger of fainting and falling in his Christian course.
IV. EXPOSURE TO CORRUPT COMPANIONSHIP. This is often a matter of necessity and not of choice. The best may have to submit to it, and the peril of spiritual injury from it is very great.
V. THE FORCE OF A SURROUNDING SCEPTICISM. A force which either vigorously assaults the main fortress of the faith or sedulously and stealthily undermines the wails—a great and growing peril.
It is promised to the servants of the Lord that they shall triumph over these various enemies. "No weapon that is formed," etc. But while
(1) God's promise may well cheer his servants, helping them to pursue their troubled path, and to do their difficult or dangerous work with alacrity and hope; it is well that
(2) his conditions should be remembered. There is no absolute, unconditional guarantee; the careless, the disobedient, the negligent servant will be, nay, he is, defeated by the enemy; he yields and falls. But let a man be a faithful servant, studious of Christ's will and daily seeking his Holy Spirit's aid, and he will find that his Divine Lord will "always cause him to triumph;" he will know "the exceeding greatness of his power" to uphold and to perfect. Meantime, to those who are observers,
(3) God's sustaining grace will prove the sign and seal of his Divine favour. "This is their righteousness [justification] of me."—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
The figure employed is taken from tent-life, and it is used in a similar way by Jeremiah. "My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken: my children are gone forth of me, and they are not: there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains ' (Jeremiah 10:20). "The Orientals have two kinds of tents—the one larger, and the other smaller; but both constructed much in the same way. They are sustained by poles, more or fewer in number, according to the size of the tent, but the tallest is always in the midst, while the others suspend the covering round the sides. This covering is made of a stuff woven from wool and camel's hair; it hangs down like a curtain over the side poles, and is fastened by cords to wooden pegs, which are firmly driven into the ground. Other cords, fastened at one end to the top of the poles, and at the other to pegs or stakes, keep the tent steady, and secure it against the violence of storms. As the family increases, it is proportionally enlarged, and requires the cords to be longer and the stakes to be stronger in proportion. One cause of depression, at the time of the return, was that so few of the Israelites responded to the Divine call, and it seemed hopeless work to attempt to revive the old glories of Jerusalem with such a feeble company. The divinely comforting assurances of the text are designed to revive hope and renew confidence. "The little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation." And the promise was fulfilled. Those that first came out of Babylon were but forty-two thousand (Ezra 2:64), about a fifteenth part of their number when they came out of Egypt; many came dropping to them afterwards, but we may suppose that to be the greatest number that ever came in a body; and yet, above five hundred years after, a little before their destruction by the Romans, a calculation was made by the number of the Paschal lambs, and the lowest computation by that rule (allowing only ten to a lamb, whereas there might be twenty) made the nation to be nearly three millions. Further reference may be found to the enlargement of the Christian Church after Pentecost, and especially after the martyrdom of Stephen, and the scattering of the disciples which followed upon that sad event. The general topic suggested for consideration is the duty of cheerfully following on, when God opens before us wider and larger spheres of influence and usefulness, and the following points may be illustrated.
I. IT IS WRONG TO FORCE OURSELVES INTO ENLARGEMENTS BEFORE GOD CALLS. II. IT IS WRONG TO HOLD BACK WHEN GOD DOES CALL.
III. LARGER SPHERES, AND WIDER INFLUENCE, ARE GOD'S SIGNS OF ACCEPTANCE AND APPROVAL OF THE WORK WHICH WE HAVE DONE.
IV. THOSE WHO ENTER ON ENLARGED SPHERES NEED TO BE THEMSELVES ENLARGED.—R.T.
The husband-figure for God.
"For thy Maker is thine Husband" (comp. Hosea 2:16), "And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me, Ishi [my Husband], and shalt call me no more, Baali [my Lord]"). The figure Isaiah uses is that of the Goel, or next of kin, and this very suggestive and beautiful illustration may be taken from the story of Ruth and Boaz. Boaz was a "next of kin," and on him rested the formal duty of recovering Ruth's property, if the nearest kinsman failed to do his duty. But all formal relations were swallowed up in the tender love that knit Boaz and Ruth together as husband and wife.
I. THE CLAIMS OF GOD EXPRESSED IN THIS HUSBAND-FIGURE. The points to illustrate and enforce are two.
1. Claims come out of the love which brings us into such a relationship. Love-claims are altogether the most searching and the most sacred. The wife is bound with cords of love. In view of this relation we lose all sternness from the commands and requirements of God; love glorifies them.
2. Claims come out of the honour which such a relationship brings us. We must "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called."
II. THE PROVIDINGS OF GOD ASSURED BY THE HUSBAND-FIGURE. The wife is in the care of her husband, and because of his care she is free from care. He provides for the supply of all need. Apply the figure to the anxieties of the Church in exile, when required to set out on the long journey to Palestine, and enter upon unknown scenes, that would surely be full of toil and worry and danger. Infinite comfort came from the assurance that they were not as lone and friendless women, in view of the perplexities and anxieties of life. They had one who would shield them and keep them. "Their Maker was their Husband." The two figures for God, Father and Husband, still are for us full of gracious assurances. Helpless children have a Father; lonely women have a Husband—"the Lord of hosts is his Name."
III. THE PERSUADINGS OF GOD MADE THROUGH THE HUSBAND-FIGURE. The relation is a constant impulse to active duty. In the text it is a persuasion to energy in undertaking the journey, and impulse to the work of rebuilding the ruined city. It was persuasion to a bright and joyous acceptance of the Divine will, and a full belief in the largeness of the Divine restorations. Eastern sentiments concerning the protection and honour of having a husband put a keenness and fulness into this figure which we can hardly reach. What is evident to us is that God will put himself into any relation which may call out from us perfect trust in him.—R.T.
God-worshippers outside Judaism.
"The God of the whole earth shall he be called." To our fathers the world seemed but small; to us it is great, and its bounds are ever enlarging. In olden times the few travellers came back with marvellous stories of griffins and dragons and mermaids, at which ignorant crowds gaped, but at which we can afford to smile. Now almost every part of the earth is searched again and again, and distant lands have become almost as familiar to us as our own. Men still chafe, indeed, because the vast northern seas will not yield the last mysteries which they conceal, though even the secret of the North Pole seems to be almost reached. How greatly our thoughts about God's world differ from the thoughts of our fathers! How greatly the thoughts of our own manhood and age differ from the thoughts of our youth! We find it difficult to realize to ourselves some of the opinions of our forefathers, and to fit them into the Word of God, as we read it. This especially refers to their opinions about humanity as a whole, and about the destiny of the race. England, "encompassed by the inviolate sea," is in danger of being as exclusive as was Palestine, hemmed in by the mountains, the desert, and the sea; and unless we watch ourselves, and resist the evil tendency, there may grow up in us a pride as unlovely as that which marked the privileged Jew, and made him brand all other nations as heathen, who were wholly excluded from Jehovah's love and care. The later Jewish prophets plead earnestly against that proud exclusiveness that led the people to think themselves the favoured of the Lord, and so to despise others. Prophets taught the people to look abroad, and see that God is working, both by his mercies and by his judgments, in all those nations around them which they called "heathen." The prophets, in effect, speak thus: "It is quite true that you are set in the midst of the world to be a witness and a blessing to surrounding nations; but it is equally true that those nations are set about you to be example and impulse and warning to you. God is dealing with them for their sakes and for yours, just as truly as he is dealing with you for your sake and for theirs." That there might be no ground whatever for the exclusive appropriation of God by the Jews, God says, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance" The nature of God's relation to the entire race is the foundation of religious truth. All our religious ideas are toned by the view we take of this relation. Men but feebly grasp the notion of one only God, supreme in and over all things. They can much more readily grasp the conception of many gods, each one supreme in his own limited department. When God gives a particular revelation to one nation, that nation is tempted to say, "God is specially our God. He belongs to us, and to nobody else." So St. Paul's appeal needs to be heard again and again, "Is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also of the Gentiles?" No doubt we shall all agree that there is but one Creator, and that he who made all provides for all. tie is interested in all humanity; "his tender mercies are over all his works." But what a singular distinction has grown up in our minds! We have come to think that this one God is interested in the physical well-being of the million heathen, graciously watching over life, and health, and food, and pleasures, and relationships, but not really concerned for their moral and spiritual well-being. We do not find ourselves unutterably distressed, as we should be, with the thought, which is in many of our minds, that the million heathen brothers are outside the pale of God's revelation, and eternally lost. But surely, if God made men moral beings; if there is, in the wildest savage, the sense of right and wrong;—then God bears saving relations to the moral life of man everywhere. He must see and reward the man everywhere who offers him worship, as he apprehends him who struggles for the good as he knows it. He must see and punish the man everywhere who yields to the evil which he knows to be evil. So St. Paul thought, breaking free from the exclusive bondages of his Judaism. And so St. Paul teaches us to think. We must not venture to sweep all the vast mass of humanity, outside Christianity, into some terrible under-world of woe. There is but one God for them and for us. Everywhere he is Light, and he is Love—Light and Love in his response to every poor heathen soul as truly as to us Christians. No matter what may be the name by which the heathen seeker may call the great Spirit—be it Tangaroa, or Morimo, or Tsikuap, or Varuna, or Brahma—he seeks the One, the Living, the Source of all. And he may gain the answering smile of the one God's acceptance. St. Paul is very plain and very firm in his statement: "When the Gentiles, which have not the Law, do by nature the things contained in the Law, these, having not the Law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and. their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another." We may wisely try to break clown this tendency to limit the operations of God's grace just to ourselves. Mission work is breaking it down, by wakening our sympathy with seeking souls. The study of comparative religions is breaking it down, by showing us, hidden deep in heathen religions, penitence, confession, humility, love, faith, consecration, prayer, hope, virtue, and submission. Everywhere we find yearning hearts, the sense of sin, the prayer for pardon, the dependence of faith, the cry after God, who is "God of the whole earth."—R.T.
Lessons from Noah's times.
In the ancient time God was wroth with mankind, when he "looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth." Then in Divine judgment he swept the earth clean with a flood of great waters. But in wrath he remembered mercy: a restoring-day came, and in that day God was pleased to enter into covenant with the race, and make solemn pledge and promise that never again should "all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, nor should there any more be a flood to destroy the earth." Isaiah saw a parallel to this in the Divine dealings with the idolatrous kingdom of Israel. It had become so utterly corrupt that ordinary forms of chastisement would not suffice; overwhelming judgments were demanded. The Divine wrath found expression in the destruction of the nation, and the bitterness of the Babylonish captivity. But mercy limited judgment; a restoring-time came, and brought with it new covenant assurances and promises: "My loving-kindness from thee shall not remove, neither shall the covenant of my peace totter, saith he that hath compassion on thee, Jehovah." In this we are to see exhibited in history—earlier and later—the methods of Divine dealing which may apply also to us.
I. OUR SINS MAY AROUSE THE DIVINE INDIGNATION. Scripture impresses on us that in God is always responsive feeling towards sin. In this we may find foreshadowings of the fatherly relations of God toward us. He must never be thought of as merely concerned with wrong-doing because of its disturbing Divine order, as a king or a judge would be. Sin always bears a personal relation to God. It is disobedience, it is insult, it is unfaithfulness. He feels it as fathers feel the wrong-doing of their children.
II. DIVINE WRATH MAY STILL FIND EXTREME JUDGMENTS. Such as are represented in the Flood or in the Captivity. Such as are suggested by the stern necessity fathers sometimes know; they must shut the home-door against hardened prodigal sons. In the spiritual life there are times when God must "cover himself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through."
III. DIVINE MERCY ALWAYS WAITS TO PUT LIMIT ON THE JUDGMENT. That "mercy" makes the worst judgments to be but corrections. And that "mercy" watches for the moment when the correcting work is done, and restorings can be granted.
IV. WHEN GOD RESTORES HE DOES IT WITH SUCH ABUNDANT COMFORTING AND ASSURANCE AS DISPELS ALL THE REMEMBRANCE OF THE JUDGMENT-TIME. illustrate from the tender language of the context. See also the warmth of parental feeling when the prodigal son came back home.—R.T.
Divine favour reaching to the children.
"And all thy children shall be disciples of Jehovah; and great shall be the peace of thy children." This is probably the passage quoted by our Lord, as recorded in John 6:45, "It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God." The point on which Isaiah dwells is that the Divine favour shall not be limited to the generation that was actually restored; it would abide from generation to generation, and the guarantee for this would be found in the Divine care and training of the children in preparation for their responsibilities and privileges when their turn of manhood came. It is not precisely known in what ways the religious education of the children of the returned exiles was arranged, but the system of regular synagogue instruction was developed soon after. It is full of suggestion, for those who work among children now, that God should find the hope of stability for the restored nation in discipling its children. And that work is, in part, the work of the home; and, in part, the work of the Church.
I. THE DIVINE FAVOUR REACHES THE CHILDREN THROUGH GOOD HOMES. Through good-charactered parents and wisely ordered family life. Good character has its foundation in faith in God; its superstructure is all virtue, including reverence, obedience, uprightness, patience, and holy persistency in that which is good. Character is the supreme power, but it finds its best expressions through the family rule. Parents must, by due punishments and rewards, repress the evil and encourage the good. No Divine favour resting on our lives should kindle greater thankfulness than that shown in providing for us pious fathers and mothers, and gracious home influence.
II. THE DIVINE FAVOUR REACHES THE CHILDREN THROUGH THE CHURCH. The conditions of modern civilized life put the religious education of thousands of children altogether into the hands of Christ's Church. Multitudes of parents cannot, or will not, train their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But in all such cases the Church can do a noble supplemental work. We may see the special Divine favour resting on our age, and the best security for the permanence and nobility of our nation, in the wide spreading and vigorous improvement of our Sunday schools. The "peace "' assured to the children is a term designed to include all sorts of good. We cannot be wrong in thinking that the better tone of society and family life in our day is the direct result of our increased concern for the moral and religious culture of the nation's children.—R.T.
The secret of stability.
"Through righteousness shalt thou be established." J.A. Alexander paraphrases thus: "When once established by the exercise of righteousness on my part and your own, you may put far off all dread of oppression, for you have no cause to fear it, and of destruction, for it shall not come nigh you" (comp. Isaiah 32:16, Isaiah 32:17). It is not assumed that the restored Jerusalem would have no enemies, only that they would have no commission from God to destroy, as the Assyrians and Babylonians had. There are two sides of righteousness regarded as the ground of the Church's, or the Christian's, stability and security.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS AS THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. This is clearly in the thought of the prophet, for he has been giving large promises from God, and naturally reminds of the righteousness, or faithfulness, of God as the assurance that he will keep his word. The same ground of confidence is presented by the apostle. "Though we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself." God's righteousness is our security, because it guarantees that he never promises
(1) more than he intends to perform;
(2) more than he can perform; and
(3) more than he will perform.
"Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men," for there is no basis of "righteousness" in their promises. Trust God utterly, for he is "righteous."
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS AS THE OBEDIENCE AND HOLINESS OF MAN. We might have preserved the covenant-figure, and said the "faithfulness" of man. Righteous keeping of covenant was the one condition of stability for the Jewish nation; but this was an illustration of the truth that good is, in its nature as arranged by God, of necessity permanent. It has no element of weakness or decay in it. There are no foes that can overcome it. "What can harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" Restored Jerusalem must learn the old lesson, "The reformation of manners, the restoration of purity, the due administration of public justice, and the prevailing of honesty and fair dealing among men, are the strength and stability of any Church or state. The kingdom of God, set up by the gospel of Christ, is not meat and drink, but it is righteousness and peace, holiness and love." Of the workers of righteousness it may always be said, "They that do such things shall never be moved."—R.T.
The Divine control of evil forces.
"I have created the waster to destroy." This is an assurance which we, with our theological notions of the sphere of Satan, find it very difficult to realize. We cannot associate God directly with the forces that work evil Even if we get so far as to say that God permits evil, and overrules it for good, we cannot see that he actually sends the evil and arranges the evil, which is as truly his angel, his messenger, as any form of good is. Perhaps the conception was less difficult to a Jew than to us, because he had better notions of the Divine unity than we can gain. The "waster" here is a comprehensive term for the great conquering kings of Assyria and Babylonia, at whose hands Israel had so grievously suffered. Isaiah declares that God raised them up; God sent them forth; God gave them their work. He assures the new Jerusalem that it is quite safe, for God does not intend to send against them any such "wasters;" and they may dismiss for ever from their thoughts that any other being exists who can send "wasters" forth. Matthew Arnold says, "Destroyers and destruction are God's work; they reach those only whom he means to reach, and he does not mean them to reach Israel."
I. GOD SENDS TO US ALL THE EVIL THAT COMES TO US. We must never rest with second causes, nor talk of circumstances as if they were under no wise control. We must see God in calamity, and enmity, and temptation, and everything to which we can attach the name evil. Evil indeed is, oftentimes, no more than good which we cannot understand. The supreme control of God over all that man calls evil is figured for us in Satan, as the angel of calamity, appearing, to give account of his work, among the sons of God (see Job 1:2.).
II. GOD WARDS OFF ALL THE EVIL THAT MIGHT COME TO US. For there is a sense in which, as free-willed creatures, we are bringing evil upon ourselves; and others, as free-willed creatures, in some limited sense, may contemplate doing evil to us. Therefore have we, in verse 17, the further assurance, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee for the judgment shalt thou show to be guilty." It is with God, and God alone, to send into our lives, or to withhold from us, both the evil and the good.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 54". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25