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AN EXHORTATION TO SPIRITUALITY AND REPENTANCE. The prophet passes from the ideal to the actual, from the glorious future to the unsatisfactory present. The people are not ripe for the blessings of the Messianic kingdom—they do not sufficiently value them. Hence a tender exhortation is addressed to them by God himself, inviting them to become more spiritually minded (Isaiah 55:1-3), and fresh promises are held out to the obedient (Isaiah 55:3-5). The disobedient are then somewhat sternly exhorted to turn from their evil ways and repent (Isaiah 55:6, Isaiah 55:7).
Ho, every one that thirsteth! Though the mass are gross and carnally minded, there will ever be some who have higher aspirations—who hunger and thirst after righteousness" (Matthew 5:6), and desire spiritual blessings. These are invited, first of all, to come and partake of the good things provided for them in Messiah's kingdom. Come ye to the waters (on the spiritual symbolism of water, see the homiletics on Isaiah 44:3, Isaiah 44:4). Here the "peace" and "righteousness" of the Messianic kingdom (Isaiah 54:13, Isaiah 54:14) are especially intended. Our Lord's cry on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:7) is clearly an echo of this. Wine and milk. These are not symbols of temporal blessings, as many have thought. "Wine, water, and milk are," as Delitzsch says, "figurative representations of spiritual revival, re-creation, and nourishment." Without money and without price. God's spiritual gifts are freely given to men; they cannot be purchased. Being in their own nature "more precious than rubies," their value transcends human means of payment. They cannot even be earned by man's best works; for man's best works are comprised in his duty to God, and have, therefore, no purchasing power. God may choose to reward them; but if he does it is of his free grace.
Wherefore do ye spend money? literally, wherefore do ye weigh silver?-silver being the ordinary currency, and money transactions, in default of a coinage, being by weight (cf. Genesis 23:16; Zechariah 11:12). For that which is not bread; i.e. "for that which has no real value—which cannot sustain you, which will do you no good." The affections of the great mass of the Israelites were set on worldly things, on enriching themselves—adding field to field, and house to house (Isaiah 5:8). They did not care for spiritual blessings, much less "hunger and thirst" after them. That which satisfieth not. Worldly things can never satisfy the heart, not even the heart of the worldly. "What fruit had ye then in those things," says St. Paul, "whereof ye are now ashamed?" (Romans 6:21). Hearken diligently unto me; rather, hearken, oh, hearken unto me. The phrase is one of earnest exhortation. It implies the strong disinclination of Israel to listen, and seeks to overcome it (compare the opening words of the next verse). Let your soul delight itself in fatness (comp. Psalms 36:8; Psalms 63:5; and Isaiah 25:6). The spiritual blessings of the Messianic kingdom are richer dainties than any that this world has to offer. The soul that obtains them "delights" in them, and is satisfied with them (Psalms 17:15).
Come unto me (comp. Isaiah 55:1, "Come ye to the waters"). God dispenses the waters (see Isaiah 44:3). I will make an everlasting covenant with you. That the "everlasting covenant" once made between God and man had been broken by man, and by Israel especially, is a part of the teaching contained in the earlier portion of Isaiah (Isaiah 24:5). We find the same asserted in the prophecies of his contemporary, Hosea (Hosea 6:7). It would naturally follow from this that, unless God gave up man altogether, he would enter into a new covenant with him. Accordingly, this new covenant is announced, both in Hosea (Hosea 2:18-20) and in the later chapters of Isaiah, repeatedly (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:8; Isaiah 54:10; Isaiah 4:3; Isaiah 56:4, Isaiah 56:6; Isa 54:1-17 :21; Isaiah 61:8). Having been thus set before the nation, it is further enlarged upon by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Jeremiah 32:40; Jeremiah 11:5) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:60-62; Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 37:26-28). Almost all commentators allow that the Christian covenant is intended—that "new covenant" (Hebrews 9:15) under which man obtains pardon and salvation through the Mediatorship of Christ. Even the sure mercies of David. The "sure mercies of David" are the loving and merciful promises which God made to him. These included the promise that the Messiah should come of his seed, and sit on his throne, and establish an everlasting kingdom (Psalms 89:2-5, Psalms 89:19-37), and triumph over death and hell (Psalms 16:9, Psalms 16:10), and give peace and happiness to Israel (Psalms 132:15-18). The promises made to David, rightly understood, involve all the essential points of the Christian covenant.
Behold, I have given him for a witness. By ordinary rules of grammar, the pronoun "him" should refer to David; and so the passage is understood by Gesenius, Maurer, Hitzig, Ewald, Knobel, Delitzsch, and Mr. Cheyne. But, as Isaiah frequently sets aside ordinary grammatical rules, and as the position to the person here spoken of seems too high for the historical David, a large number of commentators, including Vitringa, Michaelis, Dathe, Rosenmuller, Umbreit, and Dr. Kay, consider that the Messiah is intended. It is certainly difficult to see how the historical David could be, at this time and in the future, a "leader and commander to the peoples" who were about to flock into the Messianic kingdom. A witness … a leader and commander. Christ was all these. He "came to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37), and "before Pilate witnessed a good confession" (1 Timothy 6:13). He "feeds and leads" his people (Revelation 7:17), and is the "Commander" under whose banner they serve (2 Timothy 2:3, 2 Timothy 2:4). What he is to his people, he is also of the "peoples" generally; for they have been called into his kingdom, People … people; rather, peoples.
Thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not (comp. Psalms 18:43). The object of address in this verse appears to be the Messiah. He, at his coming, will "call" into his kingdom "a nation," or rather, "people," with whom he has had no covenant hitherto; and they will readily and gladly obey the call. Thus God's kingdom will be enlarged, and Israel's glory will be increased, Because of the Lord … for he hath glorified thee. The great cause of the attraction will be the "glory" which God the Father has bestowed upon his Son, by raising him from the dead, and exalting him to a seat at his right hand in heaven (Acts 2:32-35; Acts 3:13-15).
Seek ye the Lord. Again the strain changes. The people are once more addressed, but in a tone of reproach. Israel must "seek the Lord" without delay, or the opportunity will be past; God will have withdrawn himself from them. He "will not alway be chiding, neither keepeth he his anger for ever" (Psalms 103:9).
Let the wicked forsake his way; i.e. his mode of life. A general promise of forgiveness of sin upon repentance and amendment of life was first given to Israel through Solomon (2 Chronicles 7:14). The doctrine is largely preached by the prophets; but is nowhere more distinctly and emphatically laid down than in this place. God's will is to "multiply pardon," if man will only turn to him.
A FRESH ASSURANCE or DELIVERANCE FROM BABYLON. Man can scarcely conceive of the deliverance which God designs; but God's thoughts are not as man's (Isaiah 55:8, Isaiah 55:9). God's word, once pronounced, is potent to effect its purpose (Isaiah 55:10, Isaiah 55:11). Deliverance from Babylon, having been promised, will take place, and will be accompanied by all manner of spiritual blessings (Isaiah 55:12, Isaiah 55:13).
Isaiah 55:8, Isaiah 55:9
My thoughts are not your thoughts. Though man is made in God's image (Genesis 1:27), yet the nature of God in every way infinitely transcends that of man. Both the thoughts and the acts of God surpass man's understanding. Men find it hard to pardon those who have offended them; God can pardon, and "pardon abundantly.'' Men cannot conceive of coming changes, when they pass certain limits. God knows assuredly what changes are approaching, since they are his doing.
As the rain … and the snow. The rain and the snow are God's ministers (Psalms 148:8), and go forth from him, just as his word does. They have an appointed work to do, and do not return to him, whose ministers they are, until they have done it. It is best to translate, with Delitzsch and Mr. Cheyne, "As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, except it hath watered the earth," etc. The writer is, apparently, aware, as the writer of Ecclesiastes is, that the water which falls from heaven in the shape of rain does return thither again in the shape of vapour (see Ecclesiastes 1:7).
So shall my word be. God's word is creative. With the utterance the result is achieved. Hence the sublime passage, which even heathenism could admire (Longin; 'De Sublim.,' § 9), "And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). Hence, too, the more general statement, "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth" (Psalms 33:6; comp. Psalms 148:5). But it shall accomplish; rather, unless it has accomplished. There is a mixture of two constructions, "It shall not return void," and "It shall not return unless it has accomplished," etc. It shall prosper. Every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God has a prosperous course. It is endued with life from God, and (as Delitzsch says) "runs like a swift messenger through nature and the world of man, there to melt the ice, as it were, and here to heal and to save; and it does not return from its course till it has given effect to the will of the Sender. "The special "word" which the prophet has here in mind is the promise, so frequently given, of deliverance from Babylon and return in peace and joy to Palestine. But he carries his teaching beyond the immediate occasion, for the benefit of the people of God in all ages.
Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace (comp. Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 40:9-11; Isaiah 43:3-6, Isaiah 43:19-21, etc.). A strong contrast is frequently drawn between the exodus from Babylon and that from Egypt. On the former occasion all was hurry, alarm, disquiet, danger. The later exodus will be accompanied with "peace" and "joy" (see Isaiah 51:9-16, etc.). (For the fulfilment, see Ezra 1:1-11; Ezra 2:1-70, and Ezra 7:1-28; Ezra 8:1-36.) The mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing. All nature shall rejoice at your deliverance, especially the noblest and the grandest parts of nature—"the mountains and the hills." Isaiah's admiration of mountains continually reveals itself throughout the work (Isaiah 5:25; Isaiah 13:2, Isaiah 13:4; Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 22:5; Isaiah 30:17, Isaiah 30:25; Isaiah 34:3; Isaiah 40:4, Isaiah 40:9, Isaiah 40:12; Isaiah 42:11, Isaiah 42:15, etc.). It is quite in his manner to speak of nature as bursting forth into singing (Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 49:13). All the trees of the field shall clap their hands. The metaphor is not found elsewhere in Isaiah, but appears in Psalms 98:8.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree. "Briars and thorns" were to overgrow the unfruitful vineyard, according to Isaiah 5:6; and to cover the land of God's people, according to Isaiah 32:13. This would be literally the case to a large extent, while the land was allowed to lie waste. The literal meaning is not, however, the whole meaning, or even the main meaning, here. "Briars and thorns" represent a general state of wretchedness and sin. The "fir" and "myrtle" represent a happy external condition of life, in which men "do righteously." It shall be to the Lord for a name. This "regenerated creation" will show forth the glory of God to mankind at large, and "get him a name" among them (comp. Isaiah 63:12; Jeremiah 13:11). For an everlasting sign. It will also he to God himself an enduring sign of the covenant of peace which he has made with his people, not to hide his face from them any more, but to have mercy on them "with everlasting kindness" (Isaiah 54:7-10).
The earthly objects of desire do not satisfy; the heavenly objects not only satisfy, but delight.
Man is so constituted as to desire a great variety of objects, often with extreme eagerness, but rarely to find in these objects, when they are attained, the satisfaction for which he looked. "Man never is, but always to be, blest," says one of our poets; and the fact is so nearly universal, that some tell us it is the pursuit of an object, not its attainment that gives us pleasure. Manifestly, the child's objects do not satisfy the boy, or the boy's the man; nor do the man's objects at his entrance on the struggle of life generally appear very desirable as he nears the close. Most men's history is a long series of disappointments. The boy desires freedom from restraint, and to have his time at his own disposal; but no sooner does he obtain his wish than time hangs heavy on his hands, and he does not know what to do with it. The best-loved amusement, does not please for long—the pleasures of eating and drinking pall; drunkenness and excess are found to have attached to them an overplus of painful sensations; the praise of men, distinction, fame, when they have been enjoyed for a short time, appear worthless; wealth, comfort, ease, equally fail to satisfy. Men labour, as a general rule, during the greater part of their lives," for that which satisfieth not." Only a fortunate few learn early to set their affections on objects of a different character. Heavenly objects are satisfying. He that drinks of that water of life which Christ supplies, thirsts no more (John 4:14). The heavenly things do not pass away—they remain. The water that Christ gives us becomes, in us, "a well of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). God's favourable regard, God's peace, God's blessing, are eternally objects of desire, and their possession is happiness. He who has them needs nothing more, desires nothing more, finds them sufficient for him. Nor is his state one of mere passive acquiescence—his "soul is delighted with fatness" (Isaiah 55:2). He "enters into the joy of his Lord" (Matthew 25:21).
The vital force of the Word of God.
There is a strange force in every utterance of God. In the account of creation given in Genesis we find, not only light, but all the other portions of the universe which it pleased God to make, created by an utterance—a word (see Genesis 1:6, Genesis 1:9, Genesis 1:11,Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:20, Genesis 1:24, Genesis 1:26). God said, "Let there be," and at once there was. "He commanded, and they were created" (Psalms 148:5). So the Son of God, when upon earth, gave life with a word (John 11:43, John 11:44), and destroyed it with a word (Matthew 21:19); with a word cast out devils, healed diseases (Matthew 12:13), calmed the tempest (Mark 4:39), caused his enemies to "fall to the ground" (John 18:6). Isaiah, in the present place, declares three things of God's Word.
I. GOD'S WORD DOES NOT RETURN TO HIM VOID. His Word accomplishes itself. It is "sent forth," whether upon earth or in the heavenly sphere; and in either case "runneth very swiftly" (Psalms 147:15). In no case does it "return to him void." It has always an object, an end; and it would contradict the omnipotence of God that that end should be in no way advanced by a means which God made use of in order to advance it.
II. GOD'S WORD ACCOMPLISHES THAT WHICH GOD PLEASES THAT IT SHOULD ACCOMPLISH. God's Word often does not accomplish all that we might have expected from it. His offer of salvation freely to all does not effect universal salvation. His call of individuals is disobeyed by numbers of those who hear it. Yet always his Word accomplishes something; and that "something" is what he designed it to accomplish. He "knows the end from the beginning," and is not disappointed, even when the results are most scanty.
III. GOD'S WORD, IN EVERY CASE, PROSPERS IN RESPECT OF THE END WHERETO HE SENDS IT. Every work that God takes in hand "prospers" more or less. The end aimed at is often quite other from that which we should have imagined; and what seems to us failure is only failure from our point of view, not from the Divine standpoint. God cannot fail to accomplish any end that he really proposes to himself. Every word that proceeds from his mouth has an end, but that end is known only to him; and it may often be that he alone knows of its accomplishment. Its accomplishment is always, with respect to the intention, full, complete, such as satisfies him.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The Messianic blessings.
I. THE INVITATION. "Ho!" A cry arousing attention (Isaiah 1:4) or expressing pity (Isaiah 17:12).
1. It is addressed to thirsty ones. The figure occurs in Isaiah 44:3 also. What more powerful figure can there be for desire, and for the pain of unsatisfied desire? It is especially Oriental. It brings up the image of the hot, sandy waste, and by contrast that of the cool, bubbling fountain. Hunger and thirst are the "eldest of the passions," and it may be added, in a sense, the youngest; for age cannot still them, nor constant satisfaction take off their edge. They are daily, they are recurrent, they are the expression of life itself. Hence they may well symbolize the ardent desire for salvation (cf. John 7:37; Psalms 42:2; Psalms 63:1; Psalms 143:6). And what can better represent salvation than water—the well that springs up into everlasting life? Waters, floods, overflowing streams, or copious showers, are often used to denote abundant blessings from God, especially blessings under the rule of the Messiah (Isaiah 35:6; Isaiah 43:20; Isaiah 44:3).
2. It is addressed to each and all. The invitation is bounded only by the thirst—the felt need. Not the rich, the noble, the great; not the select and the few; but those who partake of a common want, and are capable of a common satisfaction. "It proves that provision has been made for all. Can God invite to a salvation which has not been provided? Can he ask a man to partake of a banquet which has no existence? Can he ask a man to drink of waters when there are none? Can he tantalize the hopes and mock the miseries of men by inviting them to enter a heaven where they would be unwelcome, or to dwell in mansions which have never been provided?". It is addressed especially to the poor. "No man can excuse himself for not being a Christian because he is poor; no man who is rich can boast that he has bought salvation."
II. THE BLESSINGS DESCRIBED. "Buy." The word is properly used of grain. "Its use here shows that the food referred to can be called equally well 'bread' or 'wine and milk,' i.e. it belongs to the supernatural order of things" (Cheyne). And the buying is to be understood spiritually. The blessings are only to be obtained for "that which is not money and not a price." It is faith, or the hearing of the inner ear (Isaiah 44:3), which is meant. In the wine we may find a symbol of gladness (Judges 9:13; 2 Samuel 13:28; Psalms 104:15). The blessings of salvation cheer men amidst their sorrows; and one of the firstfruits of the Spirit is joy. Milk, again, is the symbol of nourishment (Deuteronomy 32:14; Judges 4:1; Judges 5:25; John 7:22; 1 Corinthians 9:7). It is joined with "wine" and with "honey" in So 4:11; Isaiah 5:1. These blessings are rich and satisfying as compared with the pleasures of the world. The latter may be emphatically described as not-bread—less satisfying. Happiness is our being's aim. But men seek it in erroneous ways. Bread is the support of life, and stands as the symbol of all that conduces to support life in the spiritual sense. "In ambition, vanity, and vice, men are as disappointed as he who should spend his money and procure nothing that would sustain life." Men toil for that which defeats their aim, because it does not satisfy. The blossom of pleasure "goes up as dust;" the fruits are those of the Dead Sea, "turning to ashes on the lips." The desire of the human soul is as insatiable as the grave. Where is the man who has been satisfied with ambition? Alexander wept on the throne of the world, and Charles V. came down from the throne to private life, because he had not found royalty to satisfy the soul. In one respect we are all like Alexander—our happiness is disproportioned to our appetites. Nature seems scanty, and, though we have never so much, we still long for something or other more. But to those who hearken to God, there is promised a perfect luxuriation (Isaiah 66:11) in good things. "Fatness" stands for the richest food (Genesis 27:28-39; Job 36:16; Psalms 65:11), and hence for the abundance of blessing flowing from the favour of God (Psalms 36:9; Psalms 63:5). "Man seems as boundless in his desires as God in his Being: and therefore nothing but God can satisfy him." All else is "love lost"—is part of "the great lie or cheat that overspreads the world."
III. THE EVERLASTING COVENANT. Mention of it is made seven times in Isaiah. The idea of the original covenant, broken by Israel and renewed by Jehovah, is specially characteristic of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Jeremiah 32:40; Jeremiah 50:5). The loving-kindnesses shown to David by Jehovah are meant (cf. Isaiah 63:7; Psalms 89:49; Psalms 107:43; Lamentations 3:22). "David is probably to be understood in a representative sense; he is radiant with the reflected light and spirituality of the Messianic age." These loving-kindnesses are "unfailing" (Psalms 89:28). For Jehovah's word cannot be broken, and the reward of piety extends to the latest posterity (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 20:6). David is termed a "witness to the people," apparently in the same representative sense. God, then, binds himself by solemn promises to be their God, their Protector, and their Friend. The promise was not to be revoked, was to remain in force for ever; and he would be their God to all eternity. Let them, then, hear, and their soul shall live. Religion is life (John 6:33; John 5:40; John 8:13; John 20:31; Romans 5:17, Romans 5:18; Romans 6:4; Romans 8:6; 1 John 5:12; Revelation 2:7-10). Hearing is the means whereby the soul is enlivened (John 6:45; John 5:25; Acts 2:37; Matthew 13:1-58).—J.
Exhortations and assurance.
I. EXHORTATIONS. "Seek ye Jehovah." This is the beginning of a religious life—to seek for God, to inquire for his ways (Deuteronomy 4:29; Job 5:8; Job 8:5; Psalms 9:10; Psalms 14:2; Psalms 27:8). "While he may be found" (Psalms 32:6)—"in a time of finding." For a bitter "day" will come, when woe to his foes (Isaiah 65:6, Isaiah 65:7)! It is hinted that a time will come when the offer will be withdrawn. "If a man will not do so simple a thing as seek for mercy, as ask for pardon, he ought to perish. The universe will approve the condemnation of such a man." "Who knows what a day may bring forth, and what may be the dangers of an hour's delay? This is most sure, that every particular repeated act of sin sets us one advance nearer to hell. Who can tell, while we go on our audacious course of sin, but God may swear in his wrath against us, and register our names in the black rolls of damnation? And then our condition is sealed and determined for ever." "Call upon him;" i.e. implore his mercy (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13). How easy the terms of salvation! how just the condemnation of the sinner who calls not on God, first for pardon, then for a share in the promises (Jeremiah 29:12-14)! God (according to the manner of man's thoughts) seems to be nearer at some times than at others to men. Some special influences are brought to bear; some facilities of salvation. "He comes near to us in the preaching of his Word, when it is borne home with power to the conscience; in his providence, when he strikes down a friend, and comes into the very circle where we move, or the very dwelling where we abide; when he lays his hand upon us in sickness. And he is near to us by day and by night; in a revival of religion, or when a pious friend pleads with us, God is near to us then, and is calling us to his favour. These are favourable times for salvation—times which, if unimproved, return no more." "Let the ungodly forsake his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts." To seek Jehovah must involve the renouncing of all other gods; the calling upon him, the cessation of prayer in heathen temples; and, with this, all the "thoughts," the habits and feelings, of impure heathen life. It is to renounce corruption and destruction for blessedness and peace, which are contained in the thoughts of Jehovah (Psalms 36:5, Psalms 36:6; Jeremiah 29:11). "He has plans for accomplishing his purposes which are different from ours, and he secures our welfare by schemes that cross our own. He disappoints our hopes, foils our expectations, crosses our designs, removes our property or our friends, and thwarts our purposes in life. He leads us in a path we had not intended, and secures our ultimate happiness in modes which we should not have thought of, and which are contrary to all our designs and desires."
II. ASSURANCE OF FUTURE FELICITY.
1. The certainty. God's purposes fulfil themselves. They are as certain as the law of gravitation, as the falling of rain and snow. In poetic religious thought these elements of nature are his angels (cf. Psalms 148:8; Psalms 102:4). They fulfil his purpose in inanimate nature; so shall his Word fulfil his purpose in the moral world—it shall not return empty, nor until it has done its work. (On truth compared to rain or dew, see Deuteronomy 32:2; Psa 72:6; 2 Samuel 23:4; Isaiah 5:6.)
2. Its glory and joy. The exode from Babylon is not only meant, but the glorious condition of Israel after the return. It is compared to the transition from the wilderness (the misery of the exile), with its monotonous dwarf shrubs, to a park of beautiful trees (Isaiah 41:18, Isaiah 41:19), in the midst of which Israel is to walk "in solemn troops and sweet societies" (so in Isaiah 35:9).
3. The sympathy of nature. (For similar views, see Isaiah 14:8; Isaiah 35:1, Isaiah 35:2, Isaiah 35:10; Isaiah 42:10, Isaiah 42:11; Isaiah 44:23. So in Virgil, 'Ecl.,' 5:62; and in Oriental poetry generally.) When the god Rama was going to the desert, it was said to him, "The trees will watch for you; they will say, 'He is come! he is come!' and the white flowers will clap their hands. The leaves as they shake will say, 'Come! come!' and the thorny places will be changed into gardens of flowers." A change will be produced in the moral condition of the world, as great as if the useless thorn should be succeeded by beautiful and useful trees. It is of the very soul of poetry that it hints and presages spiritual events which cannot be made clear to the senses nor certain to the understanding.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The soul's thirst satisfied.
"Ho, every one that thirsteth!" This is a Divine invitation, and as such shows us the nature of God, which is in itself a healing and a satisfying nature, finding expression in the incarnation and redemption of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. THE AWAKENING SOUL. "Thirsteth." When the soul is quickened and feels new life, then is consciousness of need—need of God. New thirsts are sometimes awakened in human nature—thirsts for love and friendship; and in the intellectual nature, thirsts for knowledge and mental light. This is the highest thirst—soul-thirst—which God by his Spirit alone can satisfy.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITY or THE SOUL. "Come ye." We must seek for friendship, seek for knowledge, and so we must be searchers after God. Finding Christ, we must also follow him, and come to the waters of forgiveness, of purity, and of immortal blessedness.
III. THE CHARITY OF GOD. "God is love." Amazing, free, boundless love. Having made provision for our salvation, God says, "All things are now ready; come." The marriage-banquet is open to us all. The spread table is God's own table, and we are to be receivers of his fulness of grace, "without money and without price."—W.M.S.
"Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?" This is man's great misery, that he has the "deceived heart ' which leads him to false investments.
I. SOUL-SATISFACTION. The soul is made for God, and there is no bread that will satisfy man but God himself. "I am the living Bread," says Christ. Bread of fortune, bread of gold, bread of aesthetic beauty, bread of worldly honour,—these only satisfy the outward man, and leave "the hidden man of the heart" hungry and starven. Yet men spend their money—that is, their time, strength, enthusiasm, and energy—on sham bread.
II. SOUL-ATTENTION. "Hearken diligently unto me." For God has spoken—in nature, in conscience, by the prophets and by his own Son, the express Image of his Person.
1. God, who made the soul, knows all its mysterious depths and needs.
2. God, who redeemed the soul, knows that without pardon man knows no peace, and without life in God he knows no blessedness. The "delights" of a godly man attest the change in his nature—he "joys in God, by whom he has received the atonement."—W.M.S.
Man's true glory.
"The Holy One of Israel, he hath glorified thee." We need to fill the word "glory," which often has such false renderings, with its true and ancient meaning.
I. TRUE RELIGION GLORIFIES MAN. He cannot he really glorified by titles or splendours of fame, but only by beauty and majesty of being. God says, "I will make a man as the gold of Ophir." Man is only truly glorified as he fulfils the great end of his being, which is to be in his moral nature like God.
II. THE HOLY ONE ACCOMPLISHES THIS. Christ took our manhood up into God. He redeemed body, soul, and spirit; so that all parts of our complex nature might be complete in all the will of God.
1. Christ glorified the body. He became man, not taking the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham. Thus he shows us how to live a heavenly life in an earthly citizenship. False philosophies of religions had, in the East, put—as the Manichaeans did-disdain on the body.
2. Christ glorified man's estate. He lived in humble estate, and showed that the poorest framework might enclose a Divine picture of character.
3. Christ glorified the soul. He lifted man as man above all grandeur of mere outward estate and honour, and propounded this great question, "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own life?" That life was to be supreme in grandeur as a God-like life. "And the glory which thou gavest me," said our Saviour, "I have given them."—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The provision which cannot be purchased.
In a country like our own we hardly know what thirst means. Few Englishmen have suffered from intense thirst. A man must live or travel in other latitudes to be exposed to this evil. But judging from the accounts of those who have suffered, we conclude that it is almost, if not absolutely, the severest and most intolerable sensation to which "flesh is heir." It may very well be taken as a picture of—
I. THE UNSATISFIED CRAVING OF THE HUMAN SOUL. The hunger and thirst of the human heart must necessarily be more serious by far than the cravings of the body; for they are the longing, the yearning, the keen and imperious demand of our higher and truer self. Man thirsts after God. Spite of all the downward tendencies, the earthward inclinations, the sensuous leanings of our human nature, it remains true that there is a profound, ineradicable crying of our soul after the living God (see Psalms 42:1; Psalms 63:1).
1. The intelligence of man thirsts for the ultimate Cause of all things.
2. The immortal spirit which man (not has, but) is, thirsts for the satisfying joy which is only found in his fellowship and his service.
3. The guilty heart of man thirsts for a thorough reconciliation with him. Man knows that he has sinned, that he is condemned, that his guilt stands as an impassable barrier between him and his God, and he earnestly longs to be forgiven and restored, so that he may again lift up his face to his Divine Father in filial confidence and joy. But he asks—How? "How shall man be just with God?" (Job 9:2). "Wherewith shall we come before the Lord?" (Micah 6:6, Micah 6:7). Beneath all the louder cries that fill the air, deep in the soul of man is the demand—What shall we do that we may live before God and with him? There can be no final rest in our heart until this question has been answered in our experience.
II. THE PRECIOUS PROVISION WHICH IS OFFERED US. In the truth which God has revealed in his Word, and more particularly in that Son of God who is himself the great Revelation of the Father, we have that which satisfies our spiritual need.
1. It is that which slakes our spiritual thirst. "Come ye to the waters." Water relieves and removes thirst as nothing else will. The forgiveness, the restoration, the reinstatement which is in Jesus Christ perfectly satisfies the intense craving of the soul. It brings a surpassing, transcendent peace.
2. It is that which nourishes the soul in all spiritual strength. "Buy … milk."
3. It is that which gladdens it with true and abiding joy. "Buy wine."
III. THE PRICELESSNESS OF THIS DIVINE PROVISION. The prophet may indeed say, "Buy;" for these provisions are worth all the wealth that the most opulent can offer. But he has to add, "without money and without price;" for these blessings cannot be earned or purchased by us. God cannot sell his love, his mercy, his restoration of erring children. He does not meet us on the ground on which a creditor meets his debtors. He is, indeed, a Divine Creditor; we owe him ten thousand talents of reverence and gratitude and service we have never paid. But he does not demand of us some pence in the pound before he certifies that we are free. We frankly confess that we have nothing to pay, and he "frankly forgives us all" (Luke 7:42). God offers us his redeeming love, everlasting life, as the gift of his grace—a glorious gift, freely offered on his part, and to be gladly accepted on ours. He necessarily imposes conditions; but these are open to every soul, and none need reject them; they are the turning away of our hearts from sin, and the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Divine Saviour and Lord.—C.
Isaiah 55:2, Isaiah 55:3
It has often been remarked of the criminal population that, if they would only give to honest and honourable pursuits the same patient attention, the same untiring energy, the same keen ingenuity, which they now devote to illegal schemes, they would soon rise to competence and honour. Perhaps the essence of this great mistake may be found in those who are very far removed from the criminal class; there are many in all vocations and positions of life who are wasting their strength on that which is unprofitable, who might be effecting great things for others or for themselves if they would only "labour for that which satisfies." This principle will apply to—
I. THE STUDY OF THE BIBLE. What immense pains were taken by the scribes of our Lord's time in mastering the minute points of Old Testament Scripture! It ended in a barren and guilty formalism which called down the severest condemnations that came from the lips of Christ. If they had only spent their strength on gaining the heavenly wisdom with which those sacred pages are enriched, they would have been much better men, and would have received the Messiah in a very different spirit. We, too, may expend a vast amount of unprofitable labour on the Scriptures, trying to secure their sanction for our fancies or foibles, and leave untouched their springs of truth and power and life.
II. THE WORK IN THE MASTER'S VINEYARD. We shall certainly not include in wasted strength or unsatisfying labour the energy spent in laying, the foundation, although the workman may not live to see the walls of the building use; this may be the most honourable, remunerative, profoundly satisfying work of a man's life: this, indeed, was the work of the Saviour of mankind. But we shall include:
1. Labour which is merely superficial, which the wind of changing circumstance soon "driveth away."
2. The deliverance of one-sided truth—a statement of doctrine which is so partial as to be practically false. This must issue in disappointment; it is building of "wood, hay, and stubble," which will be burned.
3. Irreverent activity, on which the blessing of God is not sought, and on which, consequently, it does not descend.
III. THE PURSUIT OF PERSONAL WELL-BEING.
1. All men seek happiness; they give freely of their various resources to obtain it—money, strength, ingenuity, patience; they endure hardship and even suffering in order to secure it.
2. A very large proportion of mankind is bitterly disappointed. What promised to be bread turns out to be chaff; what looked like satisfaction in the distance proves to be weariness and heartache in experience.
3. The disappointment is due to one fundamental mistake—they adopt a false method. They risk everything on some one object—wealth, fame, power, pleasure, friendship—which either eludes their grasp or proves unsatisfying and vain. They should become the active servants of God, listening when he speaks, accepting what he offers, going whither he directs. In the earnest, faithful service of a Divine Saviour is happiness of the truest kind—blessedness, well-being, life; the pure, lasting satisfaction of the soul.—C.
The leadership of Christ.
These words, primarily applicable to David, are true of that Son of David whose course was to be so different, but whose work was to be so much deeper and greater than that of the King of Israel. David was a man who showed himself possessed of all the essential qualities of a great leader of men. He had the power of attaching them to his own person with a strong affection; he shared their hardships and their perils; he impressed on them his own principles and habits; he lifted them up with his own elevation. In these respects, but with a depth and fulness to which the earthly monarch can lay no claim at all, Jesus Christ is the great "Leader to the people" of God.
I. HE ATTACHES US TO HIMSELF. The devotion of his soldiers to Napoleon Bonaparte was extraordinary; but that great commander, with all his egotism, acknowledged that this was nothing compared with the devotion of Christian men to the Person of Jesus Christ. The pity with which he pitied us in our low estate, the tender interest with which he has sought and rescued us, the shame and the sorrow which he bore for us, the death he died for us, the patient love with which he has been loving us,—all this will well account for the fact that, as no king, or general, or statesman has ever done before, Jesus Christ has shown himself the Leader of men by attaching them to his Person with a passionate and unwavering devotion.
II. HE HAS SHARED OUR HARDSHIPS AND OUR SUFFERINGS. He does not bid us go the way he went not himself.
"He leads us through no darker rooms
Than he went through before."
He asks us to drink of his cup, but it is only to taste that bitter draught which he himself drained even to the dregs. Whether it be bodily pain or spiritual distress; whether it be suffering, or poverty, or loneliness, or disappointment, or desertion, or shame, or death,—Christ has himself endured darker and sadder trials than any he calls us to encounter.
III. HE CONSTRAINS US TO LIVE HIS OWN LIFE. He not only demands of us that our minds shall be possessed with his own principles, and that our lives shall illustrate them, but he has the power of constraining us to think as he thought, to feel as he felt, to do as he did, to be what he was. If this purpose of his is not accomplished or is not being wrought in us, then are we not his "disciples indeed."
IV. HE SHARES WITH US HIS OWN EXALTATION. If we bear his cross, we shall sit down with him on his throne. To us all he says, "I appoint unto you a kingdom." If we suffer with him, we shall reign with him.—C.
God's especial nearness.
It is one of the familiar Scripture truths, open even to the little child, that God is always near to us; and that there is no time we can think of when he may not be found by the humble, believing heart. But there are times when he is comparatively near, and when, if we are wise, we shall go to him in the spirit of full self-surrender, shall enter the kingdom of his grace, and secure his everlasting favour.
I. THE PERIOD OF YOUTH; when the mind is open, the conscience tender, the soul responsive.
II. THE DAY OF VISITATION; when the stricken and wounded heart wants a Divine Healer, and can find none but in him who binds up the broken heart and heals its wounds.
III. THE TIME SPECIAL PRIVILEGE; when we listen to the minister, read the book, have fellowship with the friend whose true and earnest voice has an unusual power to penetrate to the secret places of our soul.
IV. THE HOUR OF DIRECT DIVINE CONTACT; when God lays his hand upon us, touches the springs of our sacred thought, reveals to us our sinfulness and our need, awakens us to the seriousness of our life and the nearness of eternity, and calls us to return unto himself. Wise is it beyond all earthly wisdom then to hearken and obey, to seek the Lord while he may be found, to call upon him while he is near; foolish is it beyond all other folly to turn a deaf ear or to show a disobedient spirit then; for God may never again come so near to our souls—may never again be so readily found by our human spirits; the distance between us and our Saviour may be continually enlarging, until some great gulf of sin or hard-heartedness separate us from his side and from his service evermore.—C.
Distance, return, welcome.
Few more gracious words than these can be found in Scripture: they are of those which the world would not willingly let die; whole libraries could be better spared from human literature than this single verse. We may express the thoughts it offers to us by four simple propositions.
I. SIN MEANS SEPARATION—the separation of the soul from its Creator. The distance we can calculate in miles or in degrees is nothing to that which divides one spirit from another; it is nothing to that which separates the erring, guilty soul of man from the Holy Spirit of the living God. We may be in the same room with another of our race or even of our family, and yet feel further apart than if many leagues of ocean came between us. We are always near to him who is everywhere, and yet our ingratitude, our unworthiness, our guilt, may compel us to feel terribly far off from him.
II. REPENTANCE MEANS RETURN—the abandonment by the sinful soul of its evil way, and its return to the righteous God whom it has forsaken. It signifies much more than a change of creed and of profession; or than a passing emotion of sorrow, however violent the feeling may be; or than an alteration in outward habit. It signifies:
1. The aversion of the heart from the thought and love of evil. "Let the unrighteous man forsake his [evil] thoughts."
2. The consequent change of the habit of life. "Let the wicked forsake his way."
3. The return of the soul to God. The man who has neglected, forsaken, disregarded, and disobeyed God, coming back in penitent thought and with the language of confession on his lips to the Father from whom he has wandered.
III. THE WAY BACK IS OPEN. Can the sinner be forgiven? Is the way clear? Are there not insuperable obstacles in the way—grievous transgressions of Law, accumulated guilt, darkening and deepening iniquity? How can all this be removed from the path of reconciliation? The answer is m the gospel statement: "Through this Man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins." "He is the Propitiation for … the sins of the whole world."
IV. THE WELCOME HOME IS SURE. There is an assurance, here as elsewhere, which is "doubly sure." The mercy of God is not only enough for our necessities, it is far more than enough. It is not only a lake, it is a deep and wide sea; it is not merely a hill, it is an overtowering mountain; there are not only riches, there are exceeding riches, unsearchable riches of grace; on the repentant and believing sinner God will not only have mercy, he will abundantly pardon him; the returning prodigal will not merely be taken in when he arrives; the Father will run to meet him. and lavish upon him all possible proofs of his parental love.—C.
Isaiah 55:8, Isaiah 55:9
The human and the Divine.
Man was made in the image of God, and once bore his likeness; then his spirit was like that of the Spirit of God. Under the debasing influences of sin he has become utterly unlike his Maker, and, instead of being compared with him, he is placed in sad and painful contrast with his heavenly Father. "My thoughts are not your thoughts," etc.
I. THE SPIRIT OF THE HUMAN.
1. The spirit of man is selfish. Not that he is incapable of generosity, but the prevailing and penetrating spirit which runs through his acts and his institutions is that of self-love, self-interest. What will it profit me? What shall I gain by it? How will it affect my interests? These are the questions which come up from the depths of the human heart, and are perpetually recurring.
2. The spirit of man. is vindictive. Men hate their enemies; they wish ill to those who have in any way done them an injury. Men are secretly if not openly glad when any harm happens to those who have successfully opposed them, or to those who have outstripped them in the race, or to those whose material interests clash with theirs, or to those who have rebuked and shamed them, or to those whom they have wronged and thus made their enemies. Their thoughts are vindictive and malignant, and their ways answer to their thoughts. By pronounced hostility, or by artful intrigue, or by a criminal silence and inaction, they further the end for which they look,—the discomfiture of their fellows.
II. THE SPIRIT OF THE DIVINE.
1. The Spirit of God is beneficent. God lives to bless—to communicate life, love, beauty, joy, throughout his universe. That Son of man who "came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" perfectly represented the Spirit of the Father, who occupies his eternity and expends his omniscience in doing good to all his creation.
2. The Spirit of God is magnanimous. God delights not to give pain or to send sorrow to those who have offended him; that is his "strange work." He delights to pardon. He "abundantly pardons." He receives back and reinstates his penitent children with abounding joy. His mercy, his grace, is inexhaustible ― it is an overarching sky with no horizon-line; it is a sea without a bottom or a shore.
III. THE DIVINE OFFER. So great, so surpassing, so all-sufficient, is the magnanimity of God that we may east ourselves on his mercy with the utmost confidence. "Iniquities may prevail against us," but the pardoning grace of God will prevail against them.
IV. THE HUMAN ASPIRATION. Jesus Christ summons us to rise from the level of the human to the height of the Divine; to breathe his spirit of forgiveness, to live his life of love, to move on the noble and lofty plane of a sustained magnanimity, "that we may be the children of our Father who is in heaven;" that we may "be perfect as he is perfect."—C.
The fruitfulness of sacred truth.
It may be said that the rain and the snow do, in fact, return to the heavens whence they came, drawn up by the sun as it shines on sea and lake, on stream and river, everywhere. But not until they have done the work for which they came, not until they have "accomplished that which God pleases," until they have prospered in the purpose for which he sent them; not until they have fertilized the soil, and made it bring forth its precious fruits. The vast amount of rainfall which the earth receives during every year renders incalculable service before it returns to the skies. So also does all the outpouring of Divine truth on the mind and heart of men. There may be times when the human spokesman may question this—when he may have grave misgivings as to its utility, when it may seem unprofitable and vain. But we have the strong assurance that God's Word "shall not return unto him void"—that the issue shall be one in which all surrounding nature may well take its part with jubilant acclaim (Isaiah 55:12, Isaiah 55:13). The excellency of sacred truth will be seen if we regard—
I. OUR CONDITION IN ITS ABSENCE.
1. The unproductiveness of the human mind when thus untaught; the sad fact that men who are capable of the loftiest conceptions, the most ennobleing convictions, the most elevating feelings and aspirations, live and die without cherishing any one of these, in blank and dreary ignorance.
2. The noxious growths which flourish: the errors, the superstitions, the dark and foul imaginations. which defile the mind in which they spring up, and those also on whom these are acting.
II. THE BENIGNANT POWER WHICH ST EXERTS.
1. The outward transformations it works—great and happy reformations in the conduct, the career, the condition of individual men, of families, and of nations.
2. The inward blessedness it confers—peace, freedom, purity, love, joy, hope.
III. ITS OCCASIONAL, APPARENT FRUITLESSNESS. Even as the rain and the snow often fall on rock and sand and sea without seeming to produce any beneficent result, so does the truth of God, as preached, or taught, or printed, often seem to be unavailing; and there is discouragement, despondency, even despair, in the heart of the Christian worker. But we look at,—
IV. ITS ACTUAL EFFICACY.
1. There is much of actual efficacy which we can discover—of incidental result, bringing strength and sanctity to those whose benefit is not sought; of indirect result; of ultimate result, being "found after many days."
2. There is more which we take on trust. God has ways of using material things which long escaped our notice, and doubtless many ways which still elude our observation. Has he not ways of using our spiritual efforts, of turning them to account, so that one day we shall find that his own Word never returns to him void—that it always prospers in the thing whereto it is sent? "He that goeth forth weeping … shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him."—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Man's need and God's provision.
This well-known and much-used verse is the model of gospel invitations. "Ho!" as to persons at a distance; beyond the pale, according to Jewish thought. "Wine," that cheers; "water," that refreshes; "milk," that nourishes. "Buy without money" impresses the worth, as well as the freeness, of the thing obtained.
I. THE CRY OF SOULS IS SO VARIED, THEY NEED LARGE AND COMPREHENSIVE INVITATIONS. So various, so large, so intense, so immediate, so urgent.
1. Think of the cry of creation to God, rising day and night for precise blessings, from the world of vegetable and animal life.
2. Then think of the cry of man's bodily nature. How complex are its demands if it is to be kept in vigour! But souls are altogether more wonderful, more mysterious, than bodies, and body-needs do but suggest and illustrate soul-needs. What is the cry of all souls? What is the cry of some souls? It is impossible to press the cries of souls into any one mould. There is difference between men's cry and women's cry; between the cry of the shallow and of the thoughtful; between the cry of the educated and uneducated; between the cry of the moral and the profligate. And yet there is one word in which the deep want of all men everywhere can be expressed—they want God, though so many do not know his Name, or cannot articulate it. If we carefully distinguish the cries of men, we may say,
(1) some cry for light amid the dark perplexities of our time;
(2) some for guidance amid difficulties;
(3) some for earnestness amid frivolities;
(4) some for pardon under pressure of the sense of sin;
(5) some for truth amid the allurements of error; and
(6) some for rest from the weariness of toil and failure; and
(7) some for comfort under woes that press heavily.
What a cry that must be which enters into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth!
IX. NONE BUT GOD CAN MAKE INVITATIONS LARGE ENOUGH AND VARIED ENOUGH, TO MEET THE CRIES. The cry for happiness is too big for the world to meet; the cry for truth is beyond all the skill of science to satisfy. "The fountains of this earth are dried, and I am thirsty still."
1. Human conscience cries for pardon. In Christ is proclaimed "forgiveness of sins."
2. Human affection cries for love. It may spend its uttermost and best on Christ, and be fully satisfied with his response.
3. Human intellect cries for truth. Jesus, by his Spirit, leads into a]! truth.
4. Human will cries for a supreme authority. And Christ is Lord. For every want we can translate into a cry, Christ is the Supply. For every want we can feel, but cannot translate into a cry, Christ is still the infinitely adapted and all-satisfying Supply.—R.T.
The thirst of the soul quenched.
Compare the assurances and invitations of Christ, in John 4:13, John 4:14; John 6:35; John 7:37, John 7:38. It is singular to note that the prophet chose a form of speech very common in the East. In Jerusalem the shopkeepers cry to the passers-by, "Ho, every one that hath money, let him come and buy!" "Ho, such a one, come and buy!" They indeed expect to get full value, though they offer for nothing. God intends a free and sovereign gift.
I. THIRST. A figure for unresting desire, setting us upon pursuit and effort. Thirsting differs from hungering in this—the hungering man will quietly lie down and die; the thirsting man will spend himself in mad strivings. Illustrate from desert scenes. So thirsting is the more impressive figure of a man's condition. Everybody is eagerly wanting something. Of this there are both painful and pleasing signs. Illustrate how this thirst takes special religious forms at special times, as in opening youth, seasons of sickness, scenes of revival, death of first friend, as in cases of Luther and Norman Macleod. This restless soul-thirsting is
(1) man's suffering;
(2) man's glory;
(3) man's hope.
He may satisfy the thirsting, but it would be a sign of soul-death simply to lose it. The thirst of the soul is ever for one satisfaction—it is thirst for God.
II. THIRSTING AGAIN. This is the result of all attempts to quench the thirst of the soul by anything earth can offer. There are lines upon which temporary supplies seem to come. Man offers "cups of cold water."
1. Thirst quenched for a time in worldly pleasure. Illustrate from the familiar picture, 'The Pursuit of Pleasure.' There never were such strivings for sense-gratification as there are now. Life makes a loud noise to drown the soul's cries.
2. Thirst quenched for a time in the externalities of religion. Satiated with pleasure, men sometimes turn to religion. Illustrate from experience of Ignatius Loyola. Also see confidence in holy wells and shrines. There is a fascination at first in ceremonial religion, but it soon pails. You can soon empty these cups, and then there is nothing for your thirsty soul when you come again.
III. THIRSTING NEVERMORE. Christ does not destroy the thirsting, but sets us down close beside the living spring. And all the bitterness is gone, if the supply is close beside us, and we may drink when we please. Apply to the soul's love. The love of Christ is the satisfying response. To the soul's trust. The work of Christ is the satisfying response. To the soul's ideal. The Person of Christ is the satisfying response. To the soul's anxiety about the future. The promises of Christ are the satisfying response. The soul that has Christ has an upspringing well beside him; he lives close near to the waters of life.—R.T.
Vain expenditure on things.
Comp. Isaiah 44:20, "He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside." A very striking illustration of unsatisfying food is given by the Rev. H. Macmillan. "A strange plant, called the nardoo, grows in the deserts of Lento, Australia. Its seeds formed for months together almost the sole food of the party of explorers who, a few years ago, crossed the continent. When analyzed, the nardoo bread was ascertained to be destitute of certain nutritious elements indispensable to the support of a European, though an Australian savage might, for a while, find it beneficial as an alterative. And thus it happened that these poor, unfortunate Englishmen perished of starvation, even while feeding fully day by day upon food that served to satisfy their hunger." An old author, date 1600, says, "It is a thing that the Emperor Caligula is laughed at in all stories. There was a mighty navy provided, well manned and victualled, and every one expected that the whole country of Greece should have been invaded; and so it might have been; but the emperor had another design in hand, and employed his soldiers to gather a quantity of cockleshells and pebble-stones, and so returned home again. Just such another voyage doth almost every man make here in this world, were the particulars but truly cast up." J.A. Alexander makes an important distinction. "Observe, too, that he does not seek to remedy the evils which arise from perverted and unsatisfied desire, by the extinction of the appetite itself—of that immortal, inextinguishable craving, which can only cease by annihilation or by full fruition. This, indeed, is a distinctive mark of true religion, as opposed to other systems. Since the evils under which the human race is groaning may be clearly traced to the inordinate indulgence of desires after happiness, under the influence of 'strong delusions' as to that which can afford it, we are not to wonder that when unassisted reason undertakes to do away with the effect, it should attempt the extirpation of the cause; and you will find, accordingly, that every system of religion or philosophy, distinct from Christianity, either indulges, under some disguise, that perversion of man's natural desire after happiness which makes him wretched, or affects to cure it by destroying the desire itself." "While one voice cries to the. bewildered sinner, 'Cease to hunger, cease to thirst;' and another from an opposite direction bids him 'Eat and drink; for to-morrow we die;' the voice of God and of the gospel is, 'Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not?'"
I. SOUL-HUNGER CAN NEVER BE SATISFIED WITH THINGS. It is easy to confuse the soul's hunger with the bodily cry for pleasure, the mental cry for knowledge, the society cry for place and wealth, or the aesthetic cry for the beautiful. Men readily enough mistake their own longings, their own unrest. There is much that we have not, and we think the craving is to get what others enjoy. Men need to have translated for them their own restlessness and desire. Augustine does it. "Man was made for God, and can find no rest till he finds rest in him." The hymn does it—
"My heart is pained, nor can it be
At rest till it finds rest in thee."
Things can never rest and satisfy souls. Angels cannot feed on man's broad. Things can satisfy some things in man—his taste, his passions, his sentiments—but not the man himself. They who have had the most of the good in things that this world can command have complained most deeply of the yawning and yearning of their unsatisfied souls. "If a man ask a fish, will ye give him a stone?" If a man wants love, what good is it to give him gold, or fame, or pleasure? The gains and honours and so-called "good" of this world are not only brief in their duration, but unsuited, in their very nature, even while they last, to satisfy the wants of an immortal spirit.
II. SOUL-HUNGER CAN ONLY BE SATISFIED IN A PERSON. Therefore Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." On Christ, as the Gift of God to us, our souls may "eat, and live for ever." There is in verse 4 a first allusion to King David, but a further final allusion to Jesus. "He that hath the Son hath life." The points which may be illustrated and impressed are suggested in the following paragraph: "The prophet, speaking in the name of God, after calling men to come to him, to hear him that their souls may live, annexes to this gracious invitation the specific promises of a sure salvation—a salvation not contingent or fortuitous, but one provided by a gracious constitution on the part of God himself; a salvation promised and confirmed by oath; a covenant of mercy, eternal in its origin and everlasting in its stipulations, comprehending in its wonderful provisions the essential requisite of an atonement, a priest and sacrifice, an all-sufficient Saviour; not a Saviour whose performance of his office should be partial, or contingent, or uncertain from the change of person, but the one, the only Saviour—the same 'yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,' the Son of God, the Son of man, the Son of David." Soul-rest in the living personal Saviour finds expression in the familiar verse
"I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a Resting-place,
And he has made me glad."
The time for seeking after God.
Compare "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." "To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." After showing the need for seeking after God, and the duty of seeking, dwell on the appropriate time for the seeking, unfolding and illustrating two points.
I. THE TIME FOR SEEKING IS NOT FIXED BY OUR CONVENIENCE. Yet men constantly act as if it were. They assume that they can find God when they please. But such an idea proves that they neither know themselves nor God.
1. They do not know themselves; for a man is not at all sure of feeling the desire when he thinks he will and arranges to. If a man plays with his deeper emotions, and puts off responding to them until some unknown time, he has no security that the feelings will return. If a man resists good inclinations, he will find that he cannot get them when he would.
2. And they do not know God; for he can never permit man to play with his offers of mercy and willingness to accept. Rejected gifts, neglected gilts, cannot he still pressed on acceptance. It is inconceivable that God can ever wait on man's convenience. We must take advantage of God's time for seekers, for he can never recognize times that seekers are pleased to arrange for themselves.
II. THE TIME FOR SEEKING IS FIXED BY GOD'S INVITATIONS. It must be; for the gift is an absolutely sovereign and free gift, and the Giver must be allowed to find his own time and way. If salvation were a matter of purchase, we might expect it to be dependent on our good will. It is wholly a matter of grace, and so absolutely dependent on God s good will. Our Lord even said, "No man cometh unto me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him." The general invitations of God stand in his Word; the precise and special invitations to individuals, in which we find our golden opportunities of salvation, are, in the text, called times when "God may be found," or when God is propitious towards us; and times when "God is near," or gives an impressive sense of his nearness. Such times may appear to us as
(1) providences,—circumstances that arouse, awaken, humble us; or as
(2) persuasions,—such as come through appeals of ministers, or the atmosphere of revival-times. Anything, everything, that brings to us the sense of God's nearness is an appropriate thing to set us hopefully seeking after salvation, eternal life, and heart-rest in God.—R.T.
Man's preparations for receiving God's pardon.
Two things have to be clearly recognized, and harmoniously set together.
1. God's pardon and favour are absolutely free and priceless; they are sovereign gifts, based on no condition, won by no payment, responsive to no merit in us. He saves us purely for his "own Name's sake."
2. And yet there are conditions which those who receive the grace are reasonably required to be in, if they are to be recipients, and make right use of the grace received. These conditions are absolutely necessary, and yet there are in no sense at all any merit, or price, on which the grace is obtained. The harmonizing of the two things is not difficult. When we bestow a gift we look for a proper recipiency in those who receive. It would be to waste our gifts to bestow them where there was no preparedness to use them rightly. In this verse the preparation takes a threefold form.
I. THERE MUST BE THE PUTTING AWAY OF ALL WRONG-DOING. It would be insult for a child to ask pardon of a father while he kept on doing the disobedient thing that grieved his father. Sincerity of desire for pardon is shown in separating ourselves from the sin. Sense of the evil of the act is indicated in resolutely putting it away. This is the first thing God looks for in all who seek him. Kept sin, always and everywhere, keeps off the "grace."
II. THERE MUST BE A CLEANSING OF THOUGHT AND HEART. The love of sinning must go, and the act of sinning must cease. In the view of God, sin is not merely some positive act done. The Heart-searcher knows that the act was but the expression of evil thought, biassed will, selfish purpose. And so a man is not ready for forgiveness until his thought is changed, and exactly that changed thought is what we put into the word "repentance." Reformation of life and repentance of heart must go together to make the proper recipient attitude.
III. THERE MUST BE A POSITIVE TURNING TOWARDS GOD. The difference between evangelical repentance and worldly remorse is that repentance draws us toward God in hope, and remorse drives us from God in despair. It is distinctly expected that man will make positive efforts; and therefore we find the plea, "Come, and let us return unto the Lord." Bishop Wordsworth says, "In proclaiming God's loving promises, and the free offers of Divine grace, the prophet does not forget man's duties both in will and work." H. Ward Beecher gives the following illustration: "Every day, from my window, I see the gulls making circuits and beating against the north wind. Now they mount high above the masts of the vessels in the stream, and then suddenly drop to the water's edge, seeking to find some eddy unobstructed by the steady-blowing blast; till at length, abandoning their efforts, they turn and fly with the wind; and then how like a gleam of light do their white wings flash down the bay, faster than the eye can follow! So, when we cease to resist God's influences, and, turning towards him, our thought and feelings are upborne by the breath of the Spirit, how do they make such swift heavenward flight as no words can overtake!" When these three preparations indicate to God a readiness to receive his grace, then will that grace overflow, and he will "abundantly pardon."—R.T.
Isaiah 55:8, Isaiah 55:9
God is like yet unlike man.
We are made in his image. We are called to be "perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect." The hope of the future is that we "shall be like him." And yet we must keep up the conviction that we are but faint copies of him, and be is altogether better than we, the Infinite that is ever high above us, at once our inspiration and our despair. Apply God's unlikeness to us especially in the matter of redemption.
I. GOD CAN FORGIVE. This man finds it hard to do.
II. GOD CAN RESTORE. This man cannot do.
III. GOD CAN BLESS, HOPING FOR NOTHING IN RETURN. Man never very certainly succeeds in doing anything save for pay (see Acts 8:20).
IV. GOD CAN ABSOLUTELY KEEP HIS WORD OF PROMISE. Man is ever swift to promise, slow to perform. "The point of the comparison, in Isaiah 55:11, is that the predominance of fertility in the natural world, in spite of partial or apparent failures, is the pledge of a like triumph, in the long run, of the purposes of God for man's good over resistance. It does not exclude the partial, or even total, failure of many; it asserts that the saved are more than the lost." The betterness of God is the ground of our admiration, trust, and love; it is the incitement of a perpetual imitation. Perfection, for those who know God, is to be like God.—R.T.
Isaiah 55:10, Isaiah 55:11
Change and permanence in God's Word.
Dr. George Dana Boardman sees, in these verses, an unconscious anticipation of two great doctrines of modem science—the doctrine of convertibility of energies, or correlation of forces; and the doctrine of conservation of energy, or indestructibility of force. "We are now taught that heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, etc; are modes of motion, and, as such, mutually interchangeable. And we are also taught that there is no evidence of any atom of matter having ever been annihilated. Disintegration is not annihilation."
I. GOD'S WORD IS CAPABLE OF ENDLESS TRANSFORMATIONS. God's truth, coming down like rain or snow from heaven, does not return to him void, but is transfigured into Christian character. Truth, like force, undergoes metamorphosis. For instance, the motion of enterprise glides into the heat of enthusiasm; the heat of enthusiasm into the light of influence; the light of influence into the magnetism of love, and so on. The history of Christianity itself, what is it but the history of the grace of God metamorphosed into various virtues?
II. GOD'S WORD IS INDESTRUCTIBLE. "What though rain falls on barren ledges? Not a drop is lost; for the rain trickles down into rills, the rills grow into brooks, the brooks swell into rivers, the rivers broaden into the sea, and the sea forms the international exchange of the world's commodities. What though snow mantles desolate deserts? Not a flake is a failure; for the snow melts, percolates the sands, feeds unseen springs, re-emerges as the bearded wheat of autumn." We may hopefully engage in the teaching and preaching of God's Word; for not one lesson can be really lost.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 55". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28