Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ isaiah-59.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 59". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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A GENERAL REBUKE OF ISRAEL FOR ITS MANIFOLD SINS, The command given to the prophet in Isaiah 58:1 to "show God's people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins "—partly executed in Isaiah 58:4-7 and Isaiah 58:13—is now further carried out by a scathing denunciation of various forms of wickedness, more or less prevalent in Israel, the effect of which has been to separate between Israel and God, to "shorten God's hand" and "make his ears heavy." The passage has many analogies with Isaiah 1:2-23.
The Lord's hand is not shortened; i.e. God is not less able to help than of old; his "hand" has lost none of its power. That he does not help is owing to the iniquities of his people, which have separated between him and them (Isaiah 59:2). It is the same fact which has made his ear heavy. He cannot hear prayers that are not sincere—not from the heart.
Have separated; literally, have been separating. The force of the form used is continuous, and implies that Israel had now for a long time been heaping up a barrier between itself and Jehovah. Your sins have hid his face; literally, your sins have caused his face to be hidden from you, i.e. "have made him avert it."
Your hands are defiled with blood (comp. Isaiah 1:15, Isaiah 1:21). (On the "innocent blood" shed by the Jews of the later Judaean kingdom, see 2 Kings 21:6, 2 Kings 21:16; 2Ki 24:4; 2 Kings 25:25; 2 Chronicles 24:21; 2Ch 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6; 2 Chronicles 36:16, etc.) It consisted in
(1) sacrifices of children to Moloch;
(2) persecution of prophets; and
(3) judicial murders, either actual (like that of Naboth, in Israel) or virtual, i.e. such perversion of justice as produced general poverty and misery, and tended to shorten men's lives (see the comment on Isaiah 1:15). Your lips have spoken lies (comp. Isaiah 32:7). The wicked oppressors "devised wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words."
None calleth for justice; rather, none preferreth his suit in justice (so Lowth, Gesenius, Ewald, Knobel, and Mr. Cheyne). "No one," that is, "who engaged in a suit, limited himself to just pleas and honest courses in his prosecution of it." Nor any pleadeth for truth; rather, none pleadeth in truthfulness. They trust in vanity; literally, in chaos; i.e. "in a mass of false and vain statements." The whole basis of the dealings between man and man was unsound, corrupt, chaotic. Where truth and plain dealing are set aside, all shortly becomes ruin and confusion. They conceive mischief, etc. (comp. Psalms 7:14).
They hatch cockatrice' eggs. (On the cockatrice, see the comment upon Isaiah 11:8.) The meaning here is that the people gave themselves to brooding on and hatching purposes which were as pernicious and destructive as the eggs of venomous serpents. And weave the spider's web; i.e. "their purposes were as flimsy and unsubstantial as the web of the spider." He that eateth, etc. If a man partake of their plans, he becomes morally as bad as they, and is smitten with spiritual death. If an attempt be made to "crush" and destroy their plans, the only result is the premature birth of a viper.
Their webs shall not become garments. The unsubstantial fabrics which they weave shall not serve them in any way as garments, or be of any real value or utility. Their devices shall not take objective shape in such sort as to afford them "cover" or protection. Their works are works of iniquity; rather, works of nothingness, works that make a mere pretence of being works at all, and are in reality mere shams, impotent and delusive. And the act of violence is in their hands; rather, and it is an act of violence that is in their hands. Violence creates nothing. At the best, it destroys.
Their feet run to evil. It is, however, only too true that they have a power to work evil. They cannot construct, their devices fall through, their "spinning" is to no purpose; but they can, in a rough and blind way, do enormous mischief. "Their feet run to evil"—rush to it at full speed—brook no delay, but hurry on into act. It is an easy thing to shed innocent blood; and those who are conscious of constructive impotence are very apt to seek compensation by doing destructive work, which at least shows that they have a power of some kind. Hence "Reigns of Terror" when revolutions are at the last gasp. The strong expressions with respect to shedding innocent blood, used here and in 2 Kings 21:16 and 2 Kings 24:4, seem to imply something like a massacre of the more godly Israelites by the ungodly in Manasseh's time. Wasting and destruction (compare the "destruction and misery" of Romans 3:16, which is a quotation of the present passage).
The way of peace they know not. They have no desire for "peace," and neither "seek" it nor "ensue" it (1 Peter 3:11). Peace can only be obtained through righteousness (Isaiah 32:17). There is no judgment in their goings; rather, no justice—no recognition of other men's rights, no endeavour to observe right in their own acts and proceedings (comp. Isaiah 59:4; and see also Isaiah 1:17, Isaiah 1:21, Isaiah 1:23; Isaiah 3:14, Isaiah 3:15, etc.). They have made them crooked paths (comp. Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 10:9; Proverbs 28:6). The way that leadeth to life is straight. They have wandered from it, and made for themselves "crooked" paths, which can only lead to destruction. In such paths there neither is nor can be "peace."
ISRAEL HUMBLY CONFESSES ITS SIN'S TO GOD. Isaiah, anxious to bring the people to confession and amendment, makes humble confession in their name, joining himself with them, as if he had been a participator in their iniquities.
Therefore—i.e. on account of these sins—is judgment far from us; i.e. "does God refrain from judging our enemies." Neither doth justice—i.e. the righting of the wrongs which we suffer at the hands of the heathen—overtake us. We are left by God unavenged, and our enemies are left unpunished on account of our many transgressions. We wait for light. We look for a bright dawn to succeed the night of our trouble; but we wait in vain—the obscurity continues.
We grope for the wall; rather, we grope along the wall (comp. Deuteronomy 28:29; and for the "blindness that had happened unto Israel" see above, Isaiah 29:10, Isaiah 29:18; Isaiah 35:5; Isaiah 42:16, etc.). We stumble at noonday. It was not that light was really wanting, but they had no eyes to behold it. We are in desolate places; rather, in dark places (Vulgate, Rodiger, Kay, Knobel). The word occurs only in this place, and is of doubtful signification.
We roar all like bears; rather, we growl. The verb is used commonly of the "roaring" of the sea (Isaiah 17:12; Isaiah 51:15; Jeremiah 6:23; Jer 31:1-40 :45; Jeremiah 50:42; Jeremiah 51:55); but is applied also to the noise made by a dog (Psalms 59:6, Psalms 59:14). Here it represents the deep murmur of discontent, which alternates with the mournful tones of Israel's despondency—the latter being compared to the melancholy cooing of the dove (see Isaiah 38:14). We look for judgment, but there is none, etc. The same complaint as in Isaiah 59:9, clause 1.
Our transgressions are multiplied before thee; i.e. they are very numerous; and they come "before God," so as to attract his attention and call for his animadversion. Our sins testify against us; i.e. "rise up against us as witnesses, whose evidence we cannot disprove, and have not even the face to dispute." Our transgressions are with us—i.e. "constantly haunt us"—and as for our iniquities, we know them; i.e. we are aware of them, we acknowledge them, we have them continually in our memories. It is one of the most certain phenomena of consciousness that grievous sins, deadly sins, haunt the mind, and cannot in this life be wiped out from the memory.
An enumeration of special sins. First, sins of the heart. Transgressing and lying against the Lord; or rather, treason and unfaithfulness to Jehovah (Cheyne); followed by departing away from God, or the secret act of apostasy. Next, sins of the tongue: Speaking oppression and revolt; or, oppression and wrong—the "wrong," probably, of false accusation (comp. Deuteronomy 19:16); and, lastly, conceiving and uttering · words of falsehood generally.
Judgment is turned away backward. In conclusion, the crying sin of perversion of justice is admitted with much amplification.
(1) Right judgment is exactly inverted—the innocent are condemned, the guilty acquitted.
(2) Justice standeth afar off—too far off to be able to hear those who make appeal to it.
(3) Truth is fallen in the street; i.e. false witness prevails over true in the courts of justice.
(4) Equity cannot enter—is not admitted inside the courts, but waits without.
Yea, truth faileth. Truth itself is altogether gone, is missing, not forthcoming. "Tetras Astraea reliquit." This is the worst of all. For truth is the basis of the social fabric, the groundwork of all morality. Once let there be no regard for truth in a state, no discredit attaching to lying, and all virtue is undermined, all soundness is vanished—nothing remains but "wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores" (Isaiah 1:6). He that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey. Evil-doers prosper. The man who "eschews evil," and declines to employ (as others do) the weapons of fraud and violence, simply gives himself over as a prey to those who are less scrupulous than himself.
A PROMISE OF DELIVERANCE. TO OPPRESSED ISRAEL. The godly in Israel were suffering a double oppression:
(1) at the hand of their ungodly brethren;
(2) at the hand of the heathen.
The prophet promises a deliverance from both. The deliverance will be followed by the establishment of Messiah's kingdom, which will continue for ever.
And the Lord saw it. The division of the verses here requires alteration. The opening clause of Isaiah 59:15 belongs to what precedes; the second clause to what follows. "The Lord saw" that condition of things in Israel which is described in Isaiah 59:3-15; and it displeased him; literally, it was evil in his eyes, especially in that there was no judgment. Justice was not done between man and man; no one thought of pronouncing just judgments. The circumstances were such as to invite a Divine interposition.
He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor; i.e. God looked for some champion of the oppressed to arise; it was to be expected under the circumstances. But, alas! "there was no man." None stood up to resist the unrighteous and protect the innocent; much less did any stand up to deliver Israel from its heathen adversaries. When it is said that God "wondered" at no champion appearing, we must understand the expression as an anthropomorphism· Therefore his arm brought salvation unto him. As them was no human champion, it became necessary that God should arise in his own Person, and show himself. "His arm" and "his righteousness" were enough; no human aid was needed, or could have added anything to the resistless strength of his might (comp. Isaiah 63:5).
He put on righteousness as a breastplate. The Isaiah anthropomorphism is far less gross than the Homeric. The gods in Homer put on actual armour, and take sword and shield. Jehovah arms himself for the battle in a way that is manifestly metaphoric. He puts on a "Divine panoply"—righteousness as his breastplate, salvation as his helmet, vengeance for garments, and zeal, or jealousy, for a cloak. He takes no offensive weapons—"the out-breathing of his Spirit (verse 19) is enough" (Kay).
According to their deeds; rather, according to their deserts (comp. Psalms 28:4, ad fin.). He will repay. The ordinary future here, and in the remainder of the prophecy, replaces the "perfect of prophetic certitude," which has been employed in Isaiah 59:16, Isaiah 59:17. Fury to his adversaries, recompense to his enemies. God's "adversaries" are those of his own household—his people, the ungodly Israelites; his "enemies" are the heathen that oppress his people (comp. Isaiah 1:24, which is very similar). To the islands; i.e. the maritime lands, which, under Assyria, and afterwards under Babylon, took part in the oppression of his people.
So shall they fear; rather, and they shall fear. The result of the triumphant exhibition of God's might will be a conversion of the Gentiles, who will flock in both from the west—the quarter of "the islands"—and from the east, to do reverence to the name and to the glory of the Lord. When the enemy shall come in (rather, come on) like a flood; literally, like the river; i.e. the Euphrates (comp. Isaiah 8:7, "The Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the King of Assyria and all his glory," etc.). When this shall be the case, then the Spirit of the Lord—hypostasized or nearly so—shall lift up a standard against him (comp. Isaiah 10:18; Zechariah 9:16), and easily vanquish him. The metaphor of "lifting a standard" for making an armed resistance is common in Isaiah (Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 13:2; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 31:9, etc.).
And the Redeemer shall come to Zion; rather, and there shall come a Redeemer for Zion, and for those who turn, etc. When the "adversaries "and the "enemies" shall have been punished, repentant Israel shall be saved by the coming of Messiah. As usual, the prophet does not note, or perhaps see, intervals of time, but blends events of various periods into one glorious vision of triumphant deliverance, redemption, and prolonged spiritual life in the Redeemer's kingdom.
As for me; literally, and I. The prophet begins with one construction, and then checks himself, and introduces another. This is my covenant (comp. Jeremiah 31:31-34; and see the comment on Isaiah 53:3). The new covenant involved the giving of God's Spirit to his people (Joel 2:28); and this Spirit, it is here promised, shall not depart from God's people while time endures. The Spirit will be accompanied with certain "words" which will be put into the Church's mouth; and these words will remain unchanged and pass on from mouth to mouth, age after age, for ever. The "words" intended are probably those of the entire Bible—"all God's revelations'' (Cheyne)—which the Church will maintain as inspired truth through all ages. Upon thee; i.e. upon Israel. The change of number and person ("with them … upon thee") is not unusual in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 33:2; Isaiah 49:5; Isaiah 62:11, Isaiah 62:12, etc.).
The unsatisfactoriness of sinful courses.
"What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye now are ashamed?" asks the apostle of those whom he had converted from a life of sin to a life of righteousness (Romans 6:21). What good did the life of sin seem to do you? Of course, if the life of sin had no pleasures at all to offer, it would have no attractiveness, and would not be led by any. But what, after all, are the attractions, compared with the counterbalancing disadvantages?
I. THE PLEASURES OF SIN ARE SLIGHT, EVEN WHILE THEY LAST, No doubt there is a gratification in the satisfaction of every desire, in the venting of every passion, in the full indulgence of every lust and appetite. There is a pleasure also in the mere indulgence of self-will, the setting aside of every restraint, and the determination to be free and do exactly what we choose. But put all these things together; and to what do they amount? What is their value? Is the game worth the candle? Are not the pleasures themselves always mixed with pains, which detract from them? Do they not generally involve as their consequences worse pains, so that mere selfishness should make us decide to decline the pleasures? Does not conscience offer a continual protest against the life of sin? and is not that protest painful—often severely painful? Again, are not those who lead a life of sin, even while they lead it, always more or less ashamed of it? And is not that shame a very bitter feeling? Is not the disapproval of the life by friends and relatives, especially the nearest, who should be the dearest, a very substantial set-off against any balance of pleasure that might otherwise remain? Do the wicked ever "know peace"? Can they ever calmly review their lives, and derive from the review any feeling of satisfaction? Can they even boast in all their life of a moment's perfect restfulness, content, calm, quiet, sense of ease?
II. THE PLEASURES OF SIN ARE FLEETING; THEY DIE OUT AS TIME GOES ON. The great pleasure-seekers have always acknowledged that the end of all indulgence is satiety. The cry of the sensualist is for "a new pleasure;" but the cry is vain. New pleasures are not forthcoming. Sensualists tread the same weary round over and over again, with' less of satisfaction each time it is traversed, and with a growing feeling that they are slaves, compelled to grind perpetually on the same futile treadmill. Almost every passion dies out after a time. If any one remains, it is avarice, which reduces its victim to the most miserable condition possible.
III. THE PLEASURES OF SIN SEPARATE FROM GOD. If God is, as even the heathen acknowledged, the supreme good; and if man's highest good is, as some of them also allowed, communion with him,—then anything whatsoever that separates from him is weighted with a disadvantage which must necessarily overbalance all possible good that it can possess. Were the pleasures of sin ten thousand times greater than they are, and were they absolutely permanent, instead of being, as they are, fleeting and evanescent, the single fact, here mentioned by Isaiah (verse 2), that they erect a barrier between man and God, should render them utterly unsatisfactory to a reasonable being. To be cut off from God is to be cut off from the source of all joy and peace and happiness; it is to be shut out from light, to lose contact with the Life which sustains all other life, and to be left to our own miserable selves for the remainder of our existence. Nothing could possibly be a compensation to man for such losses.
Isaiah 59:14, Isaiah 59:15
Truth the foundation of morality.
Surprise is sometimes expressed at there being no distinct prohibition of all lying in the ten commandments. "False witness" alone is forbidden. But the reason may be that truth is assumed as too fundamentally necessary for any one to suppose that it could possibly be dispensed with. Similarly, piety is assumed as a duty in the commandments, where men are not bidden to worship God, but warned against worshipping more than one God, and against worshipping him in an improper way. Truth throughout Scripture appears as a quality assumed to be possessed by men, rather than as a virtue which they are to be exhorted to "put on." It lies, in fact, at the root of all real goodness.
I. TRUTH LIES AT THE ROOT OF JUSTICE. The administration of justice consists primarily in a series of efforts to find out the truth. There is always a question before the court, and the first question is one of fact, "Has the thing charged been done or no?" What is the truth of the matter? When this has been decided, if decided on the affirmative side, then a second question arises, "What is the degree of the guilt?" It is essential for the judge to have the most earnest desire to discover the truth, and the highest power of eliciting the truth. Nor is this all. To every one concerned in a cause—whether prosecutor, defendant, witness, counsel, or attorney—the sole object ought to be the discovery of the truth. The importance of veracity in the witnesses is universally admitted; but veracity is really incumbent on all concerned. A prisoner who knows himself guilty would do best to confess his guilt. It is no real benefit to him to be acquitted unless he is innocent. Truth ought to govern all the utterances of counsel, who are not entitled to make any suggestions but such as they think may be true. Chicanery, quibbles, special pleading, are unworthy of those who take part in the administration of justice and exercise what is really a sacred function. The first requisite of all those who bear part in the solemn work of "doing justice" is that they should be "men of truth" (Exodus 18:21).
II. TRUTH LIES AT THE ROOT OF KINDNESS. The desire to be kind is independent of truth; but the moment that the desire has to pass into action, considerations of truth come in. Am I prompted to praise a person? But if I praise him when he is deserving of blame, I am doing him the greatest unkindness. If I even overpraise him when he deserves praise, I am doing him an unkindness to a certain extent—an unkindness and a wrong. I am helping him to content himself with a low standard of goodness. Again, suppose that I am prompted to relieve a person who appears to me poor and distressed. To decide aright whether I ought to relieve him at all, and, if so, to what extent, I require a true knowledge of his circumstances. I do him an injury if I allow him to impose upon me. I do him an injury if I repress efforts that he would otherwise have made to help himself. In all the kindly acts that we seek to do to others there is always room for, and generally much need of, careful consideration of facts, discovery of the exactly true state of the case, before we allow ourselves to follow our impulses. Otherwise we may make great blunders, and, while striving to be kind, be guilty of many an unkindness.
III. TRUTH LIES AT THE ROOT OF PIETY. Piety is a feeling of love and reverence towards some being, or beings, whom we feel to be superior to ourselves, and believe to afford us help and protection. It is impossible to say that many of the heathen, many even of the grossest idolaters, were not, in a certain sense, pious. But for piety to attain its full proportions, and to be the virtue that it was intended to be, it needs to rest upon a basis of truth. We need to have true conceptions of the nature of that which is the object of our love and reverence. Until we conceive of that "eternal something outside us that makes for righteousness" as One, as a Person, as the Creator of all things, as omnipotent, as omniscient, as beneficent, and as perfectly good, we cannot have the feelings towards him that we ought to have, or worship him acceptably. True piety is the worship of the true God. The votaries of false religions possess only a semblance of piety—a dwarfed and cramped, sometimes a distorted, imitation of it.
Isaiah 59:20, Isaiah 59:21
The Church indefectible.
The Church of God, being a body of men and women, each one of whom is weak, fallible, and liable to fall from the truth, ay, even to apostasy, must, by the nature of things, be of itself and in itself detectible. A weakness which attaches to all the individuals of a body must attach to the body which those individuals make up. The Church, therefore, is not, per se, indefectible. If indefectible in fact, it can only be so by the will of God, and can only be by us known to be so if God had declared to us his will. But this has been done—
I. GOD DECLARED BY THE PSALMISTS AND THE PROPHETS THAT HE WOULD SET UP ON EARTH AN IMPERISHABLE KINGDOM, CITY, OR COMMUNITY OF MEN. A promise to this effect was first given to David. God said to him, by the mouth of :Nathan, "I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever" (2 Samuel 7:12, 2 Samuel 7:13); and again, "Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Samuel 7:16). Hence David himself spake of "the city of the Lord of hosts, which God would establish for ever" (Psalms 48:8). And Ethan the Ezrahite spoke of the promise as a "covenant" to which God had "sworn:" "His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established for ever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven" (Psalms 89:34-37). Isaiah's declarations as to a coming kingdom are to the same effect. "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever" (Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah 9:7). And the declaration of the present chapter: "My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed … from henceforth and for ever."
II. God ATTACHED THESE PROMISES, THROUGH THE DECLARATIONS OF HIS SON, TO THE PARTICULAR COMMUNITY WHICH HE CALLED HIS CHURCH. "Thou art Peter," said our blessed Lord, "and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18); "Go,… teach all nations," our Lord said again, "and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:19, Matthew 28:20). The apostles are confident, therefore, that the Church will always continue. St. Paul, in his directions concerning the Eucharist, declares that, through their partaking of it, Christians "do show the Lord's death till he come" (1 Corinthians 11:26). And he speaks of the members of the Church who are living at the last day as "caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17). St. John traces the fortunes of the Church from his own time to the consummation of all things, and finds a remnant of faithful ones upon the earth to the last, who give testimony for Jesus (Revelation 2:21.). Christians are therefore justified in believing that the Church of Christ is practically, if not ideally, indefectible—that in point of fact, it will never fail, but will continue to the end of the world Christ's great witness upon earth, testifying to his Godhead, to his redeeming love, and to the sufficiency of his one sacrifice.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The separation of the soul from God.
Why in the hour of need is there no deliverance? Why are prayers for aid unanswered? A theory might obtain, or an objection might be raised, that Divine power was not sufficient, that the Divine sensibility was dulled. And yet this cannot be. The simplest knowledge of what God is must contradict an assumption so foolish. There must be another explanation; and that, the conscience says, is to be found on the human side of the relation.
I. THE CHANNEL OF DIVINE COMMUNICATION CLOSED. Only to the upright does Jehovah show himself upright, only pure to the pure. There is a state of the soul in which men see God, because his face is therein reflected; but those addressed have long been "belying their professions by their acts, and thus precluding an answer to their prayers" (Isaiah 58:2-4). The face is "the self-manifesting side of the Divine nature" (cf. Isaiah 63:9;Isaiah 1:12; Isaiah 40:10). Where that is not given, there must be darkness in the mind, and bitterness in the heart.
II. SINFUL OBSTACLES TO BE BEHOVED. The defilement of the hands. With the guilt of blood. But probably this stands, by a strong figure, for sin in general. The lips are lying, and the tongue depraved. Here the organs of the body, ministers of the mind, express and set forth the state of the latter. There is a certain correspondence between cleanliness of the person and truthfulness and honesty of the soul. And it is just this which is wanting. Society is resting on a foundation of chaos. Men weave their schemes, vain and brittle as spiders' webs, or hatch policies pernicious as the eggs of basilisks. They tread with swiftness the paths of mischief; their thoughts are full of hate and destruction. They ignore the way of peace and the track of justice, and follow crooked paths of their own (Proverbs 10:9; Proverbs 28:18; Proverbs 2:15). It is a picture of extreme social demoralization.
III. PENITENCE AND CONFESSION OF SINS. The prophet speaks in the name of the people. And here all the true elements of repentance and confession may be found.
1. The connection of sin with Divine disfavour. The first thing is to see that the curse does not "causeless come;" the next to fix upon the true cause. It is not because of want of will or want of power in God (Isaiah 59:12). They were entitled to expect his help, according to the covenant, but not apart from conditions on their side to be fulfilled. If, then, the judicial interference of Jehovah on their behalf was not witnessed, the cause must lie in the breach of those conditions—in "our sins."
2. Human darkness and bewilderment without God. "Jehovah shall be thy Light and thy Salvation." That light withdrawn,—what can there be groping and stumbling in the thick darkness? (Deuteronomy 28:29). How extreme the contrast of the "way which Jehovah knows," of the "path of the just, shining to the perfect day;" and the "knowing not whither he goeth," the "staggering as at noonday," the groping and stumbling of the man God-abandoned and left to himself.
3. Human sorrow and despair without God. Compared to the growling or moaning of beast or bird. Men long to have their own will and way, and find that to be "lords of themselves" is a "heritage of woe." Sooner or later they must find that their passionate autonomy means "rebellion" before God and in their own consciousness. And peace cannot be where they know that they are thus "kicking against the goads." The passage strongly shows how a violated conscience must be a tormenting conscience. God will not let us sin and forget. "As for our iniquities, we know them."
4. Human shame and self-contempt without God. It is contempt that "pierces through the shell of the tortoise;" above all, one's own contempt. The worst is when we look into the mirror held up, not by hand of enemy or critic, but by our own, and see the lineaments of the traitor, the expression of the infidel at heart, the base attitude of the deserter and backslider from the Holy One, the downcast mien of the convicted liar. There has been no truth, no rectitude, no justice. These, as fair spirits, have been banished from a polluted earth. And if one would live an innocent life, he is but game for any rude spoiler. In all this there is the deepest sense of the evil of sin, and of the need of humiliation. It is felt that humiliation cannot remove the evil, unless it first remove the sin. Misery is the natural effect of iniquity; and he that seeks to rid himself of the one before he is freed from the other would hinder the stream before he has stopped the fountain. "'Rend your hearts, and not your garments." If the heart be not torn off from sin, to rend only the garment further provokes God, and makes the breach wider. There is no religious duty attains its end, but when it weakens our sin." True fasting draws down, as here seen, the pity and invites the help of the Almighty.—J.
Jehovah as Champion of the people.
I. HE IS THE INTERESTED SPECTATOR OF HUMAN AFFAIRS. He "considers in his dwelling-place" (Isaiah 18:4). He "causes his ear to hear"—to judge the fatherless and oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress (Psalms 10:18). He is not like the gods of the Epicureans, "sitting apart, careless of mankind." He is a God who can feel pleasure in goodness and the good, displeasure in the prevalence of wrong and injustice. To doubt it is to doubt of the existence of God himself.
II. HE TAKES UPON HIMSELF THE CAUSE OF THE OPPRESSED. He saw that there was "no man," no champion, and was "stupefied," or in "consternation" (cf. Jeremiah 14:9), that none was at baud to interpose in battle on behalf of his own. He therefore armed himself with sword and bow, with coat of mail and helmet, and the garments of zeal and vengeance. A great world-struggle is coming on, in which he will inflict retribution upon his foes.
III. THE REVERENCE OF THE NATIONS FOR HIM. The Gentiles who are spared are imagined as hastening from their distant abodes in tremulous anxiety to meet Jehovah. His Name (cf. Deuteronomy 28:58; Micah 6:9; Nehemiah 1:11; Psalms 86:11; Psalms 102:15) shall be universally feared. His advance will be like that of a rushing stream, driven by the might of the wind, and so as a Goel he will come to Zion, and to all the obedient—those that have "turned from rebellion." The effect of his coming will be the turning of men from their sins, and only to such regenerate ones will he come.
IV. HIS COVENANT. He makes solemn promises to men conditional on their compliance with his terms. To the repentant his Spirit will be imparted, as a continuous gift. His words, or revelations, shall be in their mouth, therefore in their minds and hearts, for ever—flowing on, a holy stream of tradition, from generation to generation (cf. Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 5:29; Psalms 89:24-36; Jeremiah 32:39, Jeremiah 32:40). The majority of religious people are descendants of those who were the friends of God. A large proportion of American piety has descended from the Pilgrim Fathers. Barnes says "I am acquainted with the descendants of John Rogers, the first martyr in Queen Mary's reign, of the tenth and eleventh generations. With a single exception, the eldest son in the family has been a clergyman—some of them eminently distinguished for learning and piety."—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The Divine ability.
"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save." We note here something that awakens surprise. Behold!" Let Israel know where her help lies. There has been wrong looking, viz. to self.
I. GOD STILL WORKS IN THE WORLD. It is "his hand." He "formed" us, and he "redeems" us.
II. WE MAY MAKE MISTAKES CONCERNING HUMAN HISTORY. His "hand is not shortened." It can always reach to every length, and raise from every depth. The future must be, therefore, in ourselves.
III. SALVATION IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE ON EARTH.
1. In all forms of sin.
2. In all degrees of sin.
3. In all depths of distress and despair, human as well as spiritual.—W.M.S.
Attention from God.
"Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." Here is the secret. We can resist God's arm. Until the "iniquities" be confessed, deplored, and forsaken, there can be no salvation. God is ready to forgive; but are we ready to be forgiven? God has provided a Saviour; but it may be true of us, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." Man is not a heart only; he is a will. And here lies our condemnation, not that we are not sometimes ashamed and even sorry, but that we will not repent, return, and believe.
I. THE TERM GIVEN TO SIN. "Iniquities;" that is, "inequities." Read the fourth verse, "None calleth for justice;" and the sixth verse, "The act of violence is in their hands." Unless we are willing to forgive and love and do justice to our brother, it is idle to talk about turning to God. Such religion is a sentiment, not a salvation. Then there are "inequities" in relation to God. We have been:
1. Unjust to his government.
2. We have robbed him of ourselves.
3. We have aided the forces of rebellion.
4. We have, in one word, done iniquity.
II. THE DISTANCE CREATED BY SIN. The separation is moral. He is near to us—close, indeed, to us as the air we breathe. But we are at opposite poles of the moral universe.
1. Separated in nature. We are not renewed in his image.
2. Separated in purpose. Our will is set against his will. All separations are painful. We see them in the family and in the nation. Wars and feuds abound on every side. So' we are alienated from the life of God. Christ, and he alone, can break down the middle wall of partition, and through faith in him we may be reconciled by one Spirit unto the Father.—W.M.S.
Salvation, not in man.
"And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor." It seemed a dark hour for the world. Evidently a dead nation cannot arise of itself, any more than a dead man. It is a time of wonderment. Great men often arise for great occasions; but there is no man, that is, no mere man, equal to this occasion. But—
I. "GOD IS HIS OWN INTERPRETER." He makes plain his own mysteries alike in providence and in redemption. There is silence everywhere, that he himself may be heard, There is no other hand, that his own may be made bare before the nations.
II. GOD IS THE WORLD'S ONLY SAVIOUR AND INTERCESSOR. in the Person of his Son, he fulfils all the evangelic strains of Isaiah. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself."
1. It is still wonderful. "Lo! I come to do thy will, O God!" "Behold the Lamb of God!" Angels cannot see into the depths of such a mystery as this.
2. It is true as wonderful. "His arm brought salvation." Look and see. Christianity can be tested as a history as well as a prophecy. When we see that dark degraded Roman world, with its lust and licence, its cruelties and pageantries, its very worship turned to aids to vice, and then read, "Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified," we exclaim, "What hath God wrought?"—W.M.S.
The successful standard.
"When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him." The standard is highly prized in war. On it are engraven the names of special victories and the fields of old renowned. It is the last disgrace to lose the standard, and in many a foray and fierce campaign men have fallen in heaps around the standard-bearer. Think—
I. OF THE VICTORIES ENGRAVEN ON THE STANDARD OF THE LORD. Of truth over error; righteousness over injustice; purity over lust; God over mammon.
II. OF THE SPECIAL SEASONS IN WHICH INIQUITY COMES IN LIKE A FLOOD. Times such as those of the profligate Stuarts, when the sabbath was desecrated and debasing plays were acted. Times when the pride of priestcraft and power drove out the faithful from the land. Times when the Bible itself was put under a ban, and the flood-gates of evil were left open. Nothing then withstood, and nothing will ever withstand, the tides of sin, but the Word of God. Utility, expediency, propriety,—these are but thin "withes" that the giant snaps; these are but gossamer gates through which the torrent roars. Nothing is strong but the Spirit of the Lord working in us and with us.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Isaiah 59:1, Isaiah 59:2
The true and the false account of Divine inactivity.
How comes it to pass that the people of the Lord are in such distress? How do we account for the fact that the cause of Christ makes such slow progress or even shows symptoms of decline and failure? Where is the Lord God of Israel? Is the Spirit of God present in the midst of the Churches?
I. THE APPARENTLY INEXHAUSTIBLE FORCES AT OUR COMMAND. For our resources we have:
1. The fulness of Divine pity. The ear of God is open to the cry of destitution, of pain, of sorrow, of spiritual yearning. His heart of tenderness is touched by the miseries and necessities of his children.
2. The almightiness of Divine power. The "right hand of the Lord" is on all the springs and forces of the universe; he can compel all things to serve him, to minister to his people and to establish his kingdom.
3. The perfectness of Divine wisdom. Who shall measure "the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God"?
II. THE POVERTY OF SPIRITUAL RESULTS. In how many instances have we occasion to be profoundly discontented with the condition of things, spiritually considered! It is so in regard to:
1. Individual character. Considering the resources at command, men do not make the progress in spiritual growth, in moral attainment, or in excellency of behaviour, which might be expected of them; they remain where they were, or move backward and forward, making no substantial progress toward "the mark [goal] which is set before them."
2. Christian Churches. Taking into account the number of privileges which are theirs, and the variety of opportunities which are within reach, there is a very considerable proportion of Churches compelled to acknowledge retrogression rather than advancement, defeat rather than success.
3. Missionary operations. After all that has been done through the centuries, by all societies of Christian men, how much land "remains to be possessed"!
III. THE FALSE AND THE TRUE ACCOUNT OF THE MATTER. It is not Divine negligence that explains our position. It is not that God's hand is shortened or that his ear is heavy; it is not that his power is diminished or that his pity has failed in the very smallest degree. He abideth faithful and omnipotent. We are not straitened in him, but in ourselves. It is sin that has come between our praying lip and his hearing ear between our pressing need and his opened hand.
1. Refusal of his righteousness makes our prayer ineffectual, his interposition impossible. If we "regard iniquity in our heart, he will not hear us;" i.e. if we decline to enter his service, if we "will not have him to reign" over us, if we stubbornly and haughtily reject the salvation which he offers us in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3), we take an attitude in which we have no right to expect any answer to our petitions. The first thing, the only right and acceptable thing, for one that has not yet returned to God in self-surrender, is to "arise and go to the Father" in penitent submission; then he may call, and the Lord will answer.
2. Special sins may prove a stumbling-block; some are specified in the following verses—cruel violence, falsehood, litigiousness. We are expressly told in the later revelation that some particular sins are absolutely inconsistent with personal piety, and therefore with the efficacy of prayer—impurity (Ephesians 5:5); strife (Galatians 5:20); drunkenness; lying (Revelation 21:8).
3. The absence of essential Christian graces will account for the nonintervention of God on behalf of a Christian Church: of unity (Psalms 133:3); of faith (Hebrews 11:6; Matthew 13:58); of zeal (Revelation 2:4; Revelation 3:15, Revelation 3:16); of fidelity to the truth (Revelation 2:14). The true account of our failure is not in Divine indifference, but in human shortcoming.—C.
Webs that will not make garments.
It is the virtue of a garment that it covers. The ideas of covering and of atoning were very closely allied in Hebrew thought. The prophet intimates that there were webs of their own spinning which would never hide their sin from the sight of God. Such are there now. We look at—
I. THE SOUL'S SUPREME NECESSITY. The presence of sin is the sternest of all facts; the mark which it has made on our manhood is by far the deepest and darkest of any; all others are mere touches, mere scratches in comparison. This is true of the individual as well as of the community. The thing that we have done, more serious and of greater consequence than any other, is that we have sinned against the Lord and come beneath his condemnation. What we most urgently want is a covering for our soul. Our naked and guilty soul imperatively and sorely needs that under which it may appear before God without shame and shrinking, and take its place, in this world or in any other, among the pure, the holy, the righteous. The question is—What is that garment which will cover the sinful human soul?
II. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF THE PROVISION WHICH SOME MEN ARE MAKING. Many are providing for themselves that which is utterly inadequate; they are spinning webs—poor, thin, gossamer productions—which "will not become garments" available for this purpose. There is:
1. The web of Christian profession. Some find comfort and complacency of soul in the fact that they are acknowledged members of a Church, ancient, or catholic, or established, or scriptural. Desirable, in many ways, as is an avowal of attachment to Christ, it is not a thing in which to put any trust; a man may be a member of the most scriptural Church, and yet be destitute of that which is vital and essential. "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly," etc. Christian profession is a poor thing for a soul to hide in; it is no true refuge for the human heart; it is a "web that will not make a garment."
2. The web of ceremony and ordinance. Many have an undefined but strong confidence in having passed through Christian ceremonies (Baptism and the Lord's Supper), or in having been constant in attendance on Divine worship, or in having taken on their lips apostolic and evangelical language; but to trust in these things as garments of salvation is to put "confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:1): they may exist without any faith or love prompting and vitalizing them.
3. The web of correct behaviour—abstinence from impurity, inebriety, untruthfulness, trickery, profanity. This is altogether and in every way desirable, and it may be eminently praiseworthy from a human standpoint; but it will not atone for the supreme omission—the failure to respond to a heavenly Father's love, to subject the will to the will of the Creator, to dedicate the life to the service of God. It, too, is a web that will not make a garment with which to cover a sinful soul.
III. THE ONE GARMENT TEAT SUFFICES. What did Christ mean by that "wedding garment" without which the guest might not sit down to the marriage-feast (Matthew 22:11)? May it not have been the abounding mercy of God unto eternal life, received through faith in a Divine Saviour (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1; Philippians 3:7-9)? Men will be just with God, their sins wilt be covered and hidden for evermore, when, in the spirit of penitence and faith, they accept the Saviour of mankind as the Lord in whom they hide and to whom they yield themselves in glad surrender.—C.
Isaiah 59:9, Isaiah 59:10
The goal of guilt.
A course of conduct or a principle of action is rightly judged by the issue to which it tends. All is well that ends well, and all is ill that ends ill. If we look far enough and deep enough in our estimate of consequences, we shall always find that the goal of guilt is wretchedness and ruin. It ends in—
I. A SENSE OF WRONG. The nation feels that "judgment and justice" are lacking and the enemy is triumphant; the individual feels that he is injured, that his rights are withheld from him, and he goes on his way dispirited and complaining.
II. DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT. "We wait for light, and behold obscurity," etc. Men who seek not their refuge and their portion in God and in his service are always subject to a profound dissatisfaction. Life does not yield the good they crave. They look for success, and behold failure; for joy, and behold weariness, heartache, ennui; for sweet communion, and behold isolation and loneliness; for laughter, and behold disgust.
III. AGGRAVATED BLINDNESS. "We grope … like the blind … we stumble at noonday," etc. It is one of the saddest consequences of sin that the power of spiritual perception continually lessens; the "eyesight" of the soul becomes weaker and weaker. Great truths are less clearly apprehended. Confusion takes the place of distinctness, until at length good is mistaken for evil, and evil for good: "the light that is in us becomes darkness;" the very organ of spiritual understanding misleads us. And the aggravating circumstance is that this failure of the soul's sight takes place "at noonday," when others are walking and rejoicing in the light of the Lord.
IV. DEATHFULNESS. "In desolate places [or perhaps rather, 'in luxuriant fields,'] we are as the dead." The thought of Christ and of his apostles is that to live in selfishness, in ungodly pleasure, is death in life. To exist apart from God; to be severed from him in thought and feeling, in speech and act; to be utterly regardless of his will and then defiantly antagonistic to his cause;—this is death indeed, and it is consummated in the death which is eternal.—C.
Human hopelessness and Divine redemption.
This vivid picture of the nation's demoralization, and of its incapacity to produce a citizen who could regenerate and reform, may appropriately suggest—
I. THE HOPELESS CONDITION OF THE HUMAN RACE UNDER THE LONG TYRANNY OF SIN. Man had fallen so far that there was not the smallest prospect of redemption from anything he could originate. The all-seeing eye of God rested on "no man, no intercessor." Reformer there might be, but Redeemer there was none. No human arm could uplift a sin-slain and fallen race from its degradation and ruin. Hence came—
II. THE REDEEMING POWER OF ALMIGHTY GOD. "It displeased the Lord;" the iniquity of the world pained, grieved, distressed, his pure and pitiful heart. And his compassion found fitting utterance in redemption. "His arm brought salvation." The redemption of the world by Jesus Christ was indeed a work wrought; it was a putting forth of Divine power; it was the mighty act of God's righteous "arm." The work of the strong brute is to carry great weights, of the human giant to deal mighty blows, of the trained intellect to solve subtle problems or make intricate calculations; but the work of the holy and merciful Spirit of God is by self-sacrifice to redeem and to restore. Here is the exercise of the truest, noblest, most beneficent power. In comparison with this all other power is weakness itself.
III. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE DIVINE REDEEMER.
1. A sense of perfect rectitude. "His righteousness, it sustained him." It was much, it was everything to the aspersed and incriminated Saviour to know that he was absolutely right in the sight of the holy Father.
2. Compassion. "The helmet of salvation."
3. Holy indignation. "He put on the garments of vengeance." Hatred of sin is quite as indispensable to a Saviour as pity for its victim (vide Matthew 23:1-39.).
4. Consecration. "Clad with zeal as a cloak;" with that utter and entire devotedness which led him to drink quite up that bitter cup which the Father placed in his hands.—C.
The hope of the rued.
Wherein shall we find the true hope of the human race? It would be but a sorry prospect if man had nothing better to build upon than the results of physical science, or political economy, or mental and moral philosophy. These are helpful handmaids, but they have shown themselves inefficient regenerators of mankind. We build our hope ultimately on—
I. THE FULFILMENT OF THE DIVINE PROMISE. God has "covenanted" or promised to do great things for us. Our hope is in him: it was in his Divine pity, unpledged, unexpressed. It is in his promise to befriend, to illumine, to renew. The world went utterly wrong, and in the greatness of his compassion he interposed with a marvellous redemption. The Church became utterly corrupt, and in the fulness o[ his faithfulness he did not desert it, but cleansed and raised it.
II. THE PLANTING OF DIVINE TRUTH. We may have a good hope for mankind if "God's words are in the mouth" of men. Not enactments on the statute-book, nor institutions in society, nor the sword in the magistrate's hand, but God's truth in the mind, is the source of strength, the criterion of advancement, and the condition of security. When God's thoughts are precious (Psalms 139:17), and God's words are loved, the people are in the way of wisdom and of life.
III. THE OUTPOURING OF HIS SPIRIT. "My Spirit is upon thee." The indwelling, illuminating, transforming Spirit will make all holy truth effectual and mighty.
IV. THE TRANSMISSION OF GODLINESS FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION. "Nor out of the mouth of thy seed," etc. The "promise is to us and to our children." Far more than to evangelistic efforts or missionary labours do we look to the upgrowing in godly homes of a devout and holy generation. The future of the world is in the hands of Christian fathers and mothers! Let them be what they should be, and their sons and daughters will strengthen the cause of God and fulfil the hope of mankind.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Misconceptions of the Divine delay.
This is a plea with the murmurers, who doubtingly asked—Where are the signs of the fulfilment of these great Divine promises? Things looked black and hopeless right up to the time of Cyrus. The Lord appeared to be delaying his coming, and it was easy for unbelievers to say that God delayed because "his hand was too short to deliver, and his ear too heavy to hear" Keble renders the text thus—
"Wake, arm Divine! awake,
Eye of the only Wise!
Now for thy glory's sake,
Saviour and God, arise,
And may thine ear, that sealed seems,
In pity mark our mournful themes!
"Thus in her lonely hour
Thy Church is fain to cry
As if thy love and power
Were vanish'd from her sky;
Yet God is there, and at his side
He triumphs who for sinners died."
It may suffice to answer the murmurers who remind us of the Divine delayings, and would have us misunderstand them, and join them in doubtings of the Divine power or the Divine good will, that there are high and gracious ends served by this particular method of Divine dealing. These things at least we can see—
I. IT INCREASES OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD. It teaches us that we have not just to "ask and have," but "ask and have" in accordance with God's will, in dependence on God's wisdom, and in agreement with God's time and way. We should never learn that, if we were not sometimes made to wait. We teach our children to trust us by making them wait until we think best.
II. IT ENHANCES THE VALUE OF THE EXPECTED BLESSING. What we wait long for becomes increasingly valuable in our eyes. What is obtained easily and at once is sure to be under-estimated. The value of a gift very constantly depends on the moral preparation of those who receive it; and delay is a cultivator of moral preparation.
III. IT PRODUCES A MORE EARNEST WATCHFULNESS AND MORE BELIEVING PRAYERFULNESS FOR THE DESIRED BLESSING. It does, if we regard the delay aright. It does not, if we persist in misconceiving the purpose of the delay. Then delay will weary us, and we shall leave off to watch and be sober. Delay may be borne wisely and cheerfully when we recognize it as only the hush, the stillness, the breathlessness that ushers in the glorious showers of Divine awakening and Divine comforting.—R.T.
Sin-clouds between us and God.
In a former homily it has been shown how, in judgment, and in order to awaken us to a sense of our sin, God may pass a cloud across between us and him, hiding from us his smiling face, and leaving us in the dark and the chill. Now we see how, in our heedlessness and wilfulness, we may put clouds, even little clouds, into our own sky, and hide his face. The reference of the text is to the doubting ones, the unfaithful ones, in Babylon, who let their own sinfulness spoil their vision, and either hide God from them or distort their view of him. The prophet reminds them that they had put the clouds, and in reminding them thus he calls on them to put the clouds away. These are our two divisions.
I. MEN PUT THE SIN-CLOUDS BETWEEN THEM AND GOD.
1. They may be very small clouds, yet suffice to hide. Often a cloud no bigger than a hand will keep the light and warmth from us. Illustration: David Rittenhouse, of Pennsylvania, was a great astronomer. He was skilful in measuring the size of planets, and determining the position of the stars. But he found that, such was the distance of the stars, a silk thread stretched across the glass of his telescope would entirely cover a star; and, moreover, that a silk fibre, however small, placed upon the same glass, would cover so much of the heavens that the star, if a small one and near the pole, would remain obscured behind that silk fibre several seconds. So small faults, secret sins, little doubtings, can become effective fibres, dark clouds, obscuring veils, that hide the "face." "Little foxes spoil the grapes." The psalmist puts a passion of holy feeling into his prayer, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
2. They may be very big clouds, and mean long hiding and deep misery for us under the darkness, and in the chill. Illustrate from David's open and shameless iniquity. It was right that "his bones should wax old through his roaring all the day long," while the black storm-clouds of passion, and its consequences, hid away his God. We cannot negligently sin, and hope to keep the smile; if we openly and wilfully sin we shall not even care to keep the smile, but we shall gladly put our clouds across, and hide the "face."
II. MEN MUST PUT AWAY THE SIN-CLOUDS THAT ARE BETWEEN THEM AND GOD. And there is only one way of doing this. Men must put away the sins that make the clouds. God will not burst through such clouds. He will not dispel such clouds, until men turn from their iniquities, their big or little sins; but then he will breathe on the cloud, as the hot Eastern sun breathes on the clouds of morning, and they shall fade away from the sky, and we shall see the face, and live in that heaven which is the "shining of the face upon us."—R.T.
Sin in thoughts.
"Their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity."
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF A MAN'S THOUGHTS. A man is as his thoughts. This is the fact and truth on which we may dwell. Any one who would truly judge his fellow-mart must know his secrets and judge his thoughts. Therefore man's judgment of his fellowman is always imperfect and uncertain. God alone can judge perfectly, because he is the "Discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." There is an impression resting on the minds of many religious persons that they have no control over the suggestions that are made to their minds, and no responsibility for the contents of their thoughts, only for the cherishing of the thought and dwelling upon it, and letting it take shape in action; or, as the Apostle James puts it, only when "lust is allowed to conceive, and bring forth sin." This, however, is true only within very narrow limits, and it is altogether healthier for us to accept a large measure of responsibility, even for the contents of our minds; for only then shall we be likely to watch over what goes in as over what goes out. The importance that attaches to our thoughts may be seen:
1. In our observation of men. We misjudge because we cannot read thoughts.
2. In the experiences of friendship. We trust our friend more than outsiders can do, because, in some measure, we do know his thoughts.
3. In view of the heart-searching claims of God, who desires "truth in the inward parts." Sin does not consist in mere act; it really lies at the back of the action—in the thought, the intention, and the motive that inspire it.
4. In consideration of the work of Divine redemption; which is really a heart-regeneration, a purifying of the very springs of thought and feeling. It seeks out the fountains and cleanses them.
II. THE CONTROL A MAN MAY HAVE OVER HIS THOUGHTS.
1. He has control over the materials of thought. Thought is really the comparison, selection, and association of the actual contents of our minds, under the guidance of our wills. All that has impressed us during our lives, by the eye, the ear, or the feeling, has passed into our mental treasury. Then we may take some care as to what goes in. We need not go into scenes or read books which will leave behind bad impressions.
2. We have control over the processes of thought. We can deliberately choose to think about evil things; we can start such thoughts, we can dwell on them, we can follow them on their foul way, we can collect from our associations things that match them. And, in a similar way, we can dwell upon and encourage the good. If our will is a renewed and sanctified will, then we shall find it may gain presidency over our thoughts, so that we may choose and follow only that which is good.—R.T.
Isaiah 59:15, Isaiah 59:16
Salvation by God through man.
This text contains, in part, the confession of social iniquity. "Truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil is accounted mad. There is no judgment"—that is, no social righteousness, no sense of the "right" manifestly ruling in the common relations of life. God looked down upon this degenerate and hopeless condition. He knew how far the evil spread, until the whole people was corrupted, and there was no man able to plead against the prevailing evil; no days-man to stand up for righteousness and truth; no intercessor to check the on-coming judgments, and plead for their withdrawal—none such as Moses, or as Aaron, or as Phinehas. As no human intercessor could be found among the exiles, God himself wrought salvation; "his arm brought salvation unto him." The point suggested is this: Social and moral evils, being but inadequately dealt with by man, demand Divine intervention; but the Divine operations for redemption from evil are committed to men, as agents, to apply and carry out.
I. MAN CANNOT SAVE MAN. In every age the experiment has been tried. In every form of the trial it has proved a failure. There have been a great variety of religions in the world; they were all just this—man trying to save man. Great teachers and reformers have appeared—they were men trying to save man. There have been philosophical, and moral, and educational, and scientific, and ceremonial, and artistic systems, but no one of them was ever anything more than this—man trying to save man. The issue of nineteenth-century humanity schemes will exactly repeat the old story; it has been proved, over and over again, until we wonder that any one should be foolish enough to try a fresh experiment, that man cannot save man.
II. GOD ALONE CAN SAVE MAN. This is stating the truth again, with an important addition. It is entirely a question between man saving himself, and God saving him. There is no third party to the question. And God can save man. He has always been ridding out man's extremity, and making it his gracious opportunity; ever saving tribes, saving cities, saving societies, saving families, saving individuals. God, the Redeemer, is the name for God that is blazoned on the history of every age and clime. "God can save man" is the great truth written in the large record of the whole human race. Spared for four thousand years that he might try to save himself, man ]earned at last to put away the schemes in which he had trusted, and then, when the fulness of the times had come, God sent forth his Son, and called his name Jesus Immanuel, because he was to be in the world, "God himself saving men from their sins."
III. GOD ONLY SAVES MAN BY MAN. One of the most difficult truths for which to get men's acceptance is the truth that man's salvation is a moral miracle, for the accomplishment of which man is made the agent. God's salvation for moral beings is not a display of august force, as is his correction of disorder in his world of created things; it is the exertion of moral power upon them through moral influences and moral agents. The great deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage was manifestly God's redemption, altogether God's; and yet even in that case God only saved man by man. He found an instrument and agent by whom to carry out his purposes. The man Moses is prominent throughout the whole scene, and yet he never stands before God; he is only the agent. Illustrate further by the salvation from Babylon. In that case too a man was found. Cyrus was the Divine agent. The law is working in all the society around us. God is in the midst of men, saving still. But he is only saving men through human agencies. Social and moral evils cannot lie mastered by merely human forces, since man cannot, of himself, reach those deeper religious evils that lie at the root of the social ones. God is saving men. This is the glory of our present-day life, with all its seeming failures and oppressive burdens and amazing self-will. He is saving men, and we are to be his witnesses, co-workers together with him. As we preach Christ to men, we have no power to save men; but as we lift Christ up in sight of men, we become God's agents, and through our words of faith and persuasion God moves and sways careless hearts, and wins sinners unto himself. This is our honour, our trust, our sacred burden. God would save this country, but he will only save it by us—by the Christian people in it. We must prophesy and preach to these dry bones, and then only will the breath of Heaven give them life. We must spend the strength of our manhood in giving, preaching, visiting, pleading, and then only will the ends of the land see the salvation of the Lord.—R.T.
The standard of the Spirit.
Cheyne's translation is, "For he shall come like a rushing stream, which the breath of Jehovah driveth." The prophet regards the impending deliverance of the Jews as an act in the great drama of the world-judgment. Henderson translates, "The breath of Jehovah shall raise a standard against him;" and he treats the passage as prophetic of the resistance offered to the evil schemes of the enemies of the gospel. Probably the historical figure in the mind of the prophet, which gave the form to his expression, was the check given to Sennacherib, in his schemes against Jerusalem, by the plague-breath of Jehovah, which destroyed his host. Cheyne's translation is supported by the Revised Version, and the person referred to appears to be Cyrus, the deliverer, regarded as urged to his work by Jehovah. These two historical references suggest different ways of applying the figure.
I. THE FIGURE OF JEHOVAH'S BREATH. The same Hebrew word means "breath," "wind," "spirit." Distinguish between the anthropomorphic figures of the Lord's hand or arm, and the anthropopathie figures of the Lord's "anger" or "repentance." Distinguish between the "arm" or "hand," which indicates God's active working in the sphere of things, and his "breath," as his secret working on the springs of life and motive. Sometime God works openly, and all can see his doings. But even more frequently he silently works at the heart of things, and only men of faith can trace his doings.
II. THE FIGURE OF THE BREATH AS A RESISTANCE. Take the allusion to Sennacherib as illustration. Show how in life we constantly meet with difficulties that seem insoluble, and enemies that cannot be overcome. And yet presently the difficulties go out of the way, and the enemies can proceed no further. There are no evident reasons for these things, in any circumstances that we can observe. All that we can say is, "The Spirit of the Lord has lifted up a standard against them." Further illustrate from the way in which the plans of the Apostle Paul and his companions were blocked. "They assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not." We seldom feel as we ought how graciously God helps us by shutting doors which we fain would enter.
III. THE FIGURE OF THE BREATH AS AN IMPULSE. Take the allusion to Cyrus; and further illustrate from the impulse given to Philip to go and join the eunuch of Queen Candace. Open souls are ready and willing to be moved by the indwelling breath or spirit. Such open souls surely prove what it is to be led into all truth, strengthened for all duty, and sanctified through all fellowships.—R.T.
The recipient of this covenant is the spiritual Israel. The old Jewish covenant is to provide figures that may help us to understand the spiritual covenant which we make with God and God makes with us, through Jesus Christ, the covenant-Negotiator. Here God's side of covenant-pledge is that he will always be the inner life and inspiration of his people. And it is assumed that his people's covenant-pledge is that they hold themselves as fully consecrated unto him, and in all holy and earnest activities seek to serve him.
I. THE NEW COVENANT ON GOD'S SIDE. Compare the pledge in the older Jewish covenant—preservation of bodily life, with all that this might demand of providing, guiding, and preserving—everything needed for the life that now is. In the new covenant the pledge is of preservation of that Divine life, spiritual life, which in us has been divinely quickened, with all that this higher life may demand of sustenance, guidance, protection, and inspiration. God will be sure to supply all the needs of our soul-life, and put his Spirit in us and keep his Spirit with us, to be the life of our life, our security, our guarantee, our sanctification. Cramer says, "Does the Spirit of God remain? then also does his Word; does the Word remain? then preachers also remain; do preachers remain? then also hearers do; do hearers remain? then also remain believers; and therefore the Christian Church remains also." Too seldom do we take the comforting and strengthening assurance that our God is actually under pledge to us to carry on to its completion the work of grace in us which he has begun. "Though we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself." Matthew Henry says, "In the Redeemer there was a new covenant made with us, a covenant of promises; and this is the great and comprehensive promise of that covenant, that God will give and continue his Word and Spirit to his Church and people throughout all generations." Dean Plumptre says, "The new covenant is to involve the gift of the Spirit, that writes the law of God inwardly in the heart, as distinct from the Law, which is thought of as outside the conscience, doing its work as an accuser and a judge."
II. THE NEW COVENANT ON MAN'S SIDE. Find what is the spiritual counterpart of the old Jewish covenant-conditions on man's side. Then he pledged loyalty to Jehovah, strict and prompt obedience to the will of Jehovah. The answering spiritual pledge may be found in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."—R.T.