SECTION VIII.—SOLILOQUY OF THE SERVANT OF THE LORD, WHO PROMISES GLORY AND PROSPERITY TO JERUSALEM
(Isaiah 61:1-11; Isaiah 62:1-12.).
THE MISSION OF THE SERVANT OF THE LORD. The words of our Lord in Luke 4:21, "This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears," preclude the application of this passage to any other than the Lord himself. It is simply astonishing that some Christian commentators (Ewald, Hitzig, Knobel) have not seen the force of this argument, but, with the Jews, imagine the prophet to be speaking of his own ministry. It is contrary to the entire spirit of Isaiah's writings so to glorify himself, and specially unsuitable that, after having brought forward with such emphasis the Person of "the Servant" (Isaiah 42:1-8; Isaiah 49:1-12; Isaiah 1:4-9; Isaiah 52:13-15; Isaiah 53:1-12), he should proceed to take his place, and to "ascribe to himself those very same official attributes which he has already set forth as characteristic features in his portrait of the predicted One" (Delitzsch). Hence most recent commentators, whatever their school of thought, have acquiesced in the patristic interpretation, which regarded the Servant of Jehovah as here speaking of himself.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; literally, the Spirit of the Lord Jehovah (Adonai Jehovah) is upon me. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and one manuscript omit adonai. In the original announcement of "the Servant" it was stated that God had "put his Spirit upon him" (Isaiah 42:1). The sanctification of our Lord's human nature by the Holy Spirit is very explicitly taught in the Gospels. The Lord hath anointed me. The "anointing" of Jesus was that sanctification of his human nature by the Holy Spirit, which commenced in the womb of the blessed Virgin (Luke 1:35), which continued as he grew to manhood (Luke 2:40, Luke 2:52), which was openly manifested at his baptism, and never ceased till he took his body and soul with him into heaven. Of this spiritual anointing, all material unction, whether under the Law (Le Isaiah 8:10-12, 30; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13; 1 Kings 1:39; 1 Kings 19:15,1 Kings 19:16, etc.) or under the gospel (Mark 6:13; James 5:14), was symbolical or typical. To preach good tidings (comp. Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 41:27; Isaiah 52:7; and Nahum 1:15). Unto the meek (see Matthew 5:5; Matthew 11:29; and comp. Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 29:19). To bind up the broken-hearted. "Binding up" is an ordinary expression in Isaiah's writings for "healing" (see Isaiah 1:6; Isaiah 3:7; Isaiah 30:26). To proclaim liberty to the captives. This was one of the special offices of "the Servant" (see Isaiah 42:7). The "captivity'' intended is doubtless that of sin. And the opening of the prison to them that are bound. St. Luke, following the Septuagint, has, "and recovering of sight to the blind." It is thought by some that the original Hebrew text has been corrupted. Others regard the Septuagint rendering as a paraphrase.
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. An "acceptable year," or "year of acceptance," is a space of time during which God would be pleased to accept such as repented and turned to him. It is, of course, not intended to limit the space to a "year." The space is rather the term of our sojourn here below. The day of vengeance. The "day" of vengeance is contrasted with the "year" of acceptance, to indicate God's long-suffering and patience towards sinners (comp. Isaiah 34:8; and see also Exodus 20:5, Exodus 20:6). To comfort all that mourn; i.e. all who "sorrow after a godly sort" (2 Corinthians 7:11)—all who mourn their transgressions and shortcomings, their "sins, negligences, and ignorances," with a hearty desire to be rid of them, and to serve God truly in the future.
To appoint … to give. The latter expression is a correction of the former, which was not wide enough. Messiah is sent to give to the godly mourners
GOD'S PURPOSE OF DEALING GRACIOUSLY WITH ISRAEL. Having proclaimed the objects of his own mission, "the Servant" proceeds to declare God's gracious purposes towards Israel. Taking the Captivity period for his standpoint, he promises, first, the restoration of the cities of Judah (Isaiah 61:4), and then a flourishing time in which Jews and Gentiles shall dwell together in one community peacefully and gloriously, Israel having a certain pre-eminence (Isaiah 61:5-9).
They shall build the old wastes. (On the "waste" condition, not of Jerusalem only, but of the cities of Judith generally, see Isaiah 44:26; Isaiah 49:8, Isaiah 49:19; Isaiah 64:10, Isaiah 64:11, etc.) The first step in the recovery of Israel from the misery of the Captivity would be a return to Palestine, and a general restoration of the ruined towns. It was a ruin of "many generations," having commenced, probably, with the invasion of Pharaoh-Necho in b.c. 608, and being continued till the edict of Cyrus.
Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks (comp. Isaiah 14:1, Isaiah 14:2; Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 60:10). The Gentiles who join themselves with the Jews, and form with them one community, are constantly represented in the writings of Isaiah as occupying a subordinate position. In the New Testament, Jew and Gentile are put upon a par. Is the explanation that Isaiah assumes that the Jews generally will accept the gospel, and therefore, to some extent, retain their privileges in the new community, whereas, in fact, they rejected the gospel, and so lost their natural position (see Romans 11:7-20)? Or does Isaiah look onward to a later date? And is there to be a restoration of "Israel according to the flesh" upon their conversion, and a reinstatement of them in a position of privilege? Such a condition of things seems glanced at in Romans 11:23-29, and in Revelation 7:4-9; Revelation 14:1. The sons of the alien shall be your ploughmen and your vinedressers. Not so much compelled, like the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:21-27), to perform menial offices, as undertaking them voluntarily out of good will.
But ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord. By the covenant made at Sinai, Israel was to be "a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). Had they risen to the height of their calling when our Lord and his disciples offered them salvation before offering it to the Gentiles, they might have "been in the midst of the heathen who had entered into the congregation of Jehovah and become the people of God, what the Aaronites farmerly were in the midst of Israel itself" (Delitzsch). Will they ever now obtain this position? Ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles (comp. Isaiah 60:5-9 and Isaiah 60:16). The Gentiles, when they came in, would freely offer to the Church of their substance.
For your shame ye shall have double. Instead of the shame and confusion of face which were the portion of Israel during the Captivity (see Isaiah 51:7, Isaiah 51:23; Isaiah 54:4; Daniel 9:7, Daniel 9:8, etc.), they should after their restoration to Palestine "have double" their former glory and double their former territory. An increase of territory had been already prophesied (Isaiah 49:18-21)—an increase which, however, was not so much an extension of the bounds of Palestine as a spread of the Church over the whole earth (comp. Zechariah 9:12). For confusion; rather, as for disgrace. So far from feeling disgraced, they will rejoice, or exult, in their portion; i.e. in the territory assigned them. It will be ample; and their life in it will be one of everlasting joy. The speaker passes on in his thought to the time of the "new heavens and the new earth," which he regards as continuous with that of Israel's return.
For I the Lord love judgment. Either "the Servant" here identifies himself with Jehovah, or he cites a declaration of Jehovah which he has authority to announce. Jehovah will restore the Israelites to their land because he "loves judgment" (equivalent to "justice") and hates injustice. The Babylonian conquest, though a judgment sent by him, is, so far as the Babylonians are concerned, a wrong and a "robbery." I hate robbery for burnt offering; rather, I hate robbery with wickedness (comp. Job 5:16; Psalms 58:3; Psalms 64:7; 92:16). The transplantation of nations was a gross abuse of the rights of conquest. I will direct their work in truth; rather, I will give them their recompense faithfully. As they have been wronged, they shall be righted; they shall be faithfully and exactly compensated for what they have suffered. Nay, more—over and above this, God will give them the blessing of an "everlasting covenant" (comp. Isaiah 55:3).
Their seed shall be known; or, shall be illustrious (Lowth), renowned (Cheyne). A halo of renown still, in the eyes of many, attaches to Jewish descent. Among the people; rather, among the peoples. The seed which the Lord hath blessed; rather, a seed. The blessing has passed in the main to "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16).
Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 61:11
JERUSALEM ACCEPTS THE PROMISES, AND GLORIES IN JEHOVAH. So the Targum and Rosenmuller. Others think that "the Servant" is still speaking, or that Isaiah speaks in the name of the people. To us the exposition of the Targum appears the most satisfactory. It is in the manner of Isaiah suddenly to introduce a new speaker.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord (comp. Habakkuk 3:18). The promises made were such as naturally to call forth on the part of Israel the most heartfelt joy and rejoicing—including, as they did, restoration, rule over the Gentiles, a universal priesthood, a wide territory, "everlasting joy," a high renown, and an "everlasting covenant. He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation (comp. Isaiah 59:17 and Isaiah 61:3). The metaphor occurs also in the Psalms (Psalms 71:6; Psalms 109:18). God clothes Israel with "righteousness" derived from himself (Isaiah 54:17, ad fin.), and then with its natural consequence—"salvation." The result is to make Israel as a bridegroom who decketh himself with a priestly crown, and as a bride who adornoth herself with her jewels. That bridegrooms ordinarily wore crowns appears from the Mishna.
As the garden; rather, as a garden. The Hebrew is without the article. Righteousness and praise. The essential result of righteousness is "salvation" (see verse 20); its accidental result is "praise" or "renown." Men cannot but recognize the benefits which flow to themselves from goodness in others; and a perfectly righteous nation would attract to itself universal praise (comp. Zephaniah 3:20, "I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord ").
The purposes of Messiah's mission.
We are not to suppose that the prophet unfolds to us in the present passage the whole purpose of God in sending his Son into the world. Such logical exactness is alien to the spirit of prophecy, and especially unsuited to the rhetorical tone which everywhere characterizes Isaiah. Still, as the subject is one of transcendent interest, and as our Lord himself cites the passage as descriptive of his mission, it may be useful to note how many, and what purposes, it sets before us as included in the counsels of the Father, and intended to be realized by Christ's coming. They seem to be some nine or ten.
I. THE PREACHING OF GOOD TIDINGS. Christ "came not into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). The angels who announced his birth intimated that it was a subject for joy and rejoicing—"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14). His forerunner declared it to be the object of his coming, "that all flesh should see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6). He himself came with "gracious words" (Luke 4:22), and called men into his kingdom. Hence from a very early date his message to man was known as the gospel, i.e. "the good tidings." What could be better tidings than the announcement of free pardon on repentance, of salvation, of atonement, of deliverance from sin, of a Comforter to support, and sustain, and cleanse the heart, and give men peace and joy in believing? Man, lost without him, was by him sought and saved, and brought out of darkness and misery into light and happiness.
II. THE HEALING OF THE BROKEN-HEARTED. By "the broken-hearted" seem to be meant, not so much those whom misfortune and calamity have afflicted and reduced to despondency, as those who are deeply grieved on account of their sins. Among the objects of Christ's coming was the healing, or restoring to health, of such persons. He "healed the broken in heart, and bound up their wounds" (Psalms 147:3). He made atonement for their sins, and thus secured them forgiveness; he assured them of God's mercy and readiness to pardon; he bade them "come to him," and promised to "give them rest" (Matthew 11:28). Through his actions and his teaching all the contrite in all ages have their wounds bound up; are strengthened, sustained, and comforted; obtain, even in this life, a "peace that passeth all understanding."
III. THE GIVING OF LIBERTY TO THE CAPTIVES. "The captives" are the servants of sin—the unfortunates whom Satan has made his prisoners, and compels to labour in his service. Christ came to "proclaim" to them "liberty," to make them an offer of release. "Christ Jesus," St. Paul tells us, "came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). He himself declared, "I came not to call,he righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matthew 9:18). It is one of his greatest glories that he delivers men "from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). He offers to do this for all; but unless his offer is accepted he can do nothing. Men must not only be sinners, but must pass into the class of repentant sinners, before he can aid them. Then, however, his aid is effectual. All the bonds of sin may be struck off; the service of Satan may be renounced and quitted; and the captives have only thenceforth to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free" (Galatians 5:1).
IV. THE GIVING OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND. (See Luke 4:18.) Our Lord, when-on earth, gave recovery of sight, in the most literal sense, to several persons who were literally blind. But this is scarcely the "giving of sight" which was one of the main purposes of his coming. He came to open the eyes of men's understandings, to give them spiritual intelligence and spiritual insight, to enable them to discern between right and wrong, between good and evil. Men at the time were so far gone from original righteousness, that they were to a large extent blind to moral distinctions—"put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter, darkness for light, and light for darkness' (Isaiah 5:20), were "vain in their imaginations,and had "their foolish hearts darkened (Romans 1:21). Christ dispelled this spiritual darkness. He taught a pure and broad morality, which re-established moral distinctions in the general conscience, and at the same time, through his Spirit, he gave to each individual Christian an inward light, which man did not possess before, by which he might direct his paths.
V. THE PROCLAIMING OF A TIME OF ACCEPTANCE. Christ proclaimed a "time of acceptance" in various ways. To the Jews generally the three years of his ministry formed "the acceptable time," during which, if they had received him (John 1:11), they would have maintained their position as a nation, and have held pre-eminence in the Church of Christ. To individuals who heard him the "time of acceptance" was that between such hearing and a hardening of the heart consequent on the rejection of his gracious message. To mankind at large the "time of acceptance" is the time of their sojourn here below, during which it is always possible for them to repent and turn to him, unless perchance they have been guilty of the "sin against the Holy Ghost." Such sin is probably still possible; but it may be hoped that few have committed it, and that the apostle's declaration, which he made to all his converts (2 Corinthians 6:2), may still be repeated to professing Christians generally, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation."
VI. THE PROCLAIMING OF A DAY OF VENGEANCE. It was among the purposes of our Lord's coming that he should "proclaim a day of vengeance."
1. To the nation of the Jews, which by rejecting him caused its own rejection from the position assigned it under the first covenant, and was delivered up for punishment to the Romans. This he did by a number of remarkable prophecies (e.g. the following: Matthew 21:40-43; Matthew 24:4-28; Luke 13:34, 85; Luke 21:20-22), which announced that Jerusalem was to be destroyed, and that there was to be "great wrath upon the people" (Luke 21:23).
2. To the enemies of God universally. The general day of vengeance upon God's enemies is that "last day," which our Lord announced so often, when he "will come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead" (see Matthew 7:22, Matthew 7:23; Matthew 24:29-31; Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 26:64, etc.). Then all his enemies will be "put under his feet." Then will be fulfilled the apocalyptic vision, "I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:12-15).
VII. THE COMFORTING OF MOURNERS. It was indicative of the tenderness of Jesus, that in his life on earth he had ever such great compassion for mourners. In his sermon on the mount he assigned to them the second Beatitude, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Thrice only in his ministry does he seem to have come across actual death, and then each time he had such pity on those who mourned their dead, that he worked miracles on their behalf, and comforted them by raising their lost ones to life again (Mark 5:22-42; Luke 7:12-15; John 11:32-44). After his resurrection, he hastened to comfort the women who mourned him, by special appearances to them. These, however, were but samples of his power and of his good will. Through the long ages that have elapsed since he founded his Church, mourners have ever found in him a true and potent Comforter. Through him it is that Christians "sorrow not as they that have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13); through him that they have resignation, and are able to say, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the Name of the Lord;" through him that they look to receive their dead again raised to life (Hebrews 11:35), and to be joined with them in a land where there is no parting.
VIII. THE CROWNING OF THE SAINTS IN BLISS. "Henceforth," said St. Paul, as he approached the end of his life, "there is laid. up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:8). We shall receive, says St. James, "the crown of life" (James 1:12). "When the chief Shepherd shall appear," says St. Peter, "ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:4). Such crowns were seen by the beloved disciple as worn by the elders in the heaven]y region (Revelation 4:4), and were promised to all who should remain "faithful unto death" (Revelation 2:10) by him that is "Faithful and True" (Revelation 19:11). A part of the intention of Christ's mission was to purify to himself a people to whom such crowns might without unfitness be awarded in his heavenly kingdom. The term "crown" is, no doubt, a metaphor; but it signifies some definite and positive degree of glory, having a substantial value, and forming a proper object of the Christian's desire.
IX. THE ANNOINTING THEM WITH THE OIL OF JOY. Christ himself was to be "anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows" (Psalms 45:7). His mission on earth was, in part, to extend the blessing of this anointing to his disciples. The "oil of gladness," whatever else it may mean, cannot but primarily symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is called by St. John an "unction from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20), and which was, in fact, the unction wherewith Christ himself was anointed (see the comment on verse 1). To give the Holy Spirit to Christians was a very main object of his coming. The Spirit was essential to the sanctification of Christians; and he must "send the Spirit," and he could not send him until he himself was first "glorified" (John 7:39; John 16:7). St. Luke tells us how soon after his ascension the Spirit was given (Acts 2:4-33); and our Lord promised that, after he once came, he would abide with the Church "for ever" (John 14:16). Of all the immediate consequences of our Lord's mission the gift of the Spirit was perhaps the most precious, embracing as it did regeneration, sanctification, comfort, strength, gladness.
X. THE CAUSING THEM TO BE CALLED, AND THEREFORE TO BE, RIGHTEOUS. All the other objects had this final end in view. The good tidings were preached, and the brokenhearted healed, and the captives set free, and the dull of sight given moral discernment, and the acceptable time proclaimed, and the day of vengeance threatened, and the mourners comforted, and the crowns of glory promised, and the Holy Spirit given, in order that "oaks of righteousness" might be planted in the garden of the Lord—that men might burst the bonds of sin, and become righteous, "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). Christ "gave himself for us," says St. Paul, "that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). This was the principal object of our Lord's coming—to "save men from their sins." Other objects were rather means to cuds. This was the great end. Christianity is a success just so far forth as it weans man from sin, and creates and maintains in the world a "company of faithful men," who deserve to "be called oaks of righteousness," who persistently and determinately "eschew evil and do good," who lead holy lives, who "shine like lights in the world," "adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things" (Titus 2:10).
Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 61:11
Rejoicing in the Lord.
"Rejoice in the Lord alway," says the apostle: "and again I say, Rejoice" (Philippians 4:4). It reflects shame on Christians that their religion should appear, so much as it does, to those without as a religion of gloom and melancholy. In Scripture true religion wears a wholly different aspect. Faithful Israel rejoices constantly in the Lord, is perpetually joyful in its God. The Book of Psalms is one almost continuous jubilation. The worship of David, of Solomon, of Hezekiah, of the Old Testament saints generally, is a glad worship (2 Samuel 6:12; 1 Chronicles 29:9-22; 2 Chronicles 5:2-13; 2 Chronicles 29:20-36; 2 Chronicles 30:21-26, etc.). In the Gospels we find Christ's coming on earth the immediate occasion of canticles of praise (Luke 1:46-55, Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:14, Luke 2:29-32). The apostolic practice is delivered to us in the following words: "They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people" (Acts 2:46, Acts 2:47). And such gladness and rejoicing will certainly appear to be reasonable, if we consider—
I. THE CAUSES THAT CHRISTIANS HAVE FOR SUCH REJOICING.
1. In the past. The whole scheme of redemption is a thing to be joyful and thankful for, including as it does atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation, renewal of the Divine image in man, revelation of saving truth, assisting grace, etc. The bringing them within the scheme, so as to make its blessings theirs, is a ground for special thankfulness and joy, since the privilege has been granted to them without being deserved by any merit of their own, and has not been taken from them despite their subsequent demerits. The granting of a written revelation, and the preservation of that precious deposit in purity, is another special ground for rejoicing; as also is the institution and continuation of the Church to the present day as an organized corporate body.
2. In the present. Christians have abundant ground for rejoicing in God's goodness to them individually—in his providential care of them, in the patience and long-suffering which he has shown towards their shortcomings, in their enjoyment of Christian privileges, and in the many other temporal and spiritual blessings vouchsafed to them.
3. In the future. They have an imperishable hope, a confident expectation of eternal life through the merits of Christ, an assurance of an inheritance that is "incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for them" (1 Peter 1:4).
II. THE RESULTS THAT NATURALLY FLOW FROM SUCH REJOICING.
1. Such rejoicing is good for Christians themselves. It makes them realize their blessings and their privileges, and take as it were a firmer hold on them. It helps them to make light of the small trials and hindrances that more or less beset every one, and that, if dwelt upon exclusively, may be magnified until they assume very undue proportions. It actually increases the feeling of joy, and so the feeling of happiness, for every active principle within us is strengthened by being exercised.
2. Such rejoicing has a beneficial effect on others. It attracts them to Christianity in the same degree that a gloomy presentation of the Christian religion repels them. It wakes responsive echoes in their hearts. It stirs up latent and undefined longings in their souls. It leads sometimes to inquiry and conversion.
3. Such rejoicing is, further, for the glory of God. God wills that his saints should praise him and rejoice in him. Such rejoicing sets forth his power and his goodness. It is a proclamation to angels and to men that "the Lord is good, and that his mercy endureth for ever" (Psalms 136:1). It is borne through the empyrean, and enters into the courts of heaven, and wakes angelic sympathies and intensifies angelic devotions. It is an offering of a sweet savour to God.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Message of grace to Zion.
I. THE ANOINTING OF THE MESSENGER. Under the Law, the priests were anointed (Exodus 29:7; Le 7:36), and also the kings (1 Samuel 9:16; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13). It was the sign of appointment to a high office or commission from God. Hence, by a figure, it is applied to the appointment of Elisha to the prophetic office (1 Kings 19:16), and to the designation of Cyrus as the instrument of the purpose of Jehovah. Similarly, in 1 John 2:20, the use is figurative. The idea is that of consecrated dedication (cf. Psalms 45:7; Hebrews 1:9).
II. THE PURPOSE OF THE ANOINTING.
1. That he may evangelize, or preach the gospel. To whom? To those who need good tidings—the afflicted, the distressed and needy, the poor (Luke 4:18), or those borne down by long captivity or other calamity (cf. Matthew 11:5).
2. To bind up the broken-hearted. In temporal or spiritual reference, "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds" (Psalms 147:3). And this by the proclamation of liberty. The sound of the words would remind of the great "year of jubilee" (Le 25:10; cf. Ezekiel 46:17; Jeremiah 34:8). If nothing is said in the law of jubilee about the release of prisoners or the remission of debts, all the associations of the time led to its being spoken of as a symbol of manumission, emancipation, and so of universal joy.
3. To proclaim a time of grace and of retribution. A "year" of mercy, a "day" only of vengeance. Punishment descends to the third and fourth generation, but mercy to the thousandth (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 20:6; cf. Deuteronomy 7:9). But the coming or deliverance must ever mean also the coming in destruction (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).
4. To comfort mourners. Especially those of Zion. But an application of evangelical promises must be equally larger with human need, human receptivity, human willingness, human power to receive, i.e. faith. Upon such the "coronet" is to be placed instead of ashes; the associations of the wedding (1 John 2:10) are to replace those of the funeral (2 Samuel 13:19), the nuptial song the former lamentation. Instead of the failing spirit," described under the image of a wick burning out, or of dimness, or faintness (Isaiah 42:3; 1 Samuel 3:2; Le 13:39), there will be the "mantle of renown." In the Orient, especially, the apparel expresses the mood of the mind. See an illustration in 10:3, 10:4 : she "put on her garments of gladness, wherewith she was clad during the life of Manasses her husband."
5. To produce a vigorous and beautiful life. Men shall call them "oaks of righteousness, the plantation of Jehovah for showing himself glorious" (cf. on the simile, Psalms 92:12-14, "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," etc.; Psalms 1:3; Jeremiah 17:8). A mystic plantation under the care of the Divine Gardener (cf. Matthew 15:13). The exiles will return, will "build up the ruins of antiquity, and raise up the desolations of the forefathers, and renew the ruined cities. As ruins suggest all the pathos of the decay of families and nations, so does the act of rebuilding remind of that ever-recreative energy which lies in the religious heart of mankind, and which breaks forth afresh after every epoch of calamity. Strangers are to feed their flocks, aliens are to be their ploughmen and vinedressers, and all classes are to partake in the Messianic blessings. The people of Israel themselves will be called the "priests of Jehovah." For the priests, as a class only, represented the idea of Israel, as a nation consecrated to the service of the Eternal, destined to perform a holy ministry to the rest of mankind. Men will take hold of the skirts of the Jew (Zechariah 8:23). There will be compensation, double compensation, in the possession of the land in increased fertility and. with enlarged boundaries.
III. THE CONFIRMATION OF JEHOVAH.
1. The principle of justice and compensation. He "hates things torn away unjustly," and will compensate his people for their past sufferings. How grand and all-consoling that truth of compensation! "All things are moral. That soul which within us is a sentiment, outside of us is a law. We feel its inspiration; yonder in history we can see its fatal strength." "It is in the world, and the world was made by it. Justice is not postponed. A perfect equity adjusts its balance in all parts of life. The dice of God are always loaded. Every secret is told, every crime is punished, every virtue rewarded, every wrong redressed, in silence and certainty. What we call retribution is the universal necessity by which the whole appears wherever a part appears" (Emerson).
2. The everlasting covenant. (Isaiah 55:3.) Part of the condition of that covenant is the securing of an illustrious position for Israel among the nations; to be "known" is to be honoured, as in Psalms 67:2; Psalms 76:1; Psalms 79:10. The time shall come in a larger sense, when the friends of the lowly and despised Nazarene shall be regarded as the favoured of the Lord; instead of being persecuted and despised, the whole earth shall regard them with confidence and esteem. Providence throws a veil of obscurity over its deepest designs, and the seed of glorious futures lies slumbering in the rough husk until the appointed time for its germination and growth.—J.
Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 61:11
Spiritual joy in the Eternal.
We may regard the city as the speaker, and the city may typify the Church.
I. HER CLOTHING. As garments are for protection and ornament, so it may stand as a figure of a community arrayed in the strength and righteousness of Jehovah. And so the Church still sings—
"Jesus, thy robe of righteousness
My beauty is, my glorious dress."
There is an allusion to the dress of the bridegroom and of the priest; for at one time the bridegroom wore a crown, and the priest wore a mitre, with the plate or crown of gold in front of it (Exodus 29:6). Such portions of the dress mark out the wearer in his sacred character and in his solemn functions. They are not for mere ornament. The Church, the saints in general, are designated as a" royal priesthood," to offer praise and prayer continually.
II. NATURE'S PARABLE OF SPIRITUAL JOY. (cf. Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:19; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 55:10, Isaiah 55:11; Isaiah 58:11.) The joy with which we see the earth becoming all "one emerald" with the new verdure of spring; the burgeoning of the trees, the disclosure of the rudiments of future leaves and flowers, is in a sense prophetic of some analogous process in the spiritual world. For self-fulfilling is the power of the Divine Word. And even when the aspect of Church and state is most dark and depressing, life is stirring, seeds of better development are germinating, and events are being set in motion which shall stir men up to praise Israel and the God of Israel.—J.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
The coming Saviour.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me," etc. These words are specially memorable as being those which the Saviour read in the synagogue at Nazareth. We have had it described to us "with its pillared portico of Grecian architecture, with its scats on one side for the men; on the other, behind a lattice, are seated the women, shrouded in their long veils." When the lesson from the Pentateuch was over, Jesus ascended the steps of the desk, and the chazzan, or clerk, "drew aside the silk curtain of the painted ark, which contained the sacred manuscripts," and from the roll of the Prophet Isaiah, either read the lesson for the day, or chose the portion himself. We can scarcely read these words here without thinking of him there, the whole congregation standing up to listen to him. The words contain—
I. THE MESSIANIC GRANDEUR OF CHRIST. Anointed of the Father. No mere prophet or teacher, but the Holy One of Israel. This prophecy, written some seven hundred years before, and thus attested by the Saviour as written concerning himself, gives Divine testimony to the ancient inspiration.
II. THE MESSIANIC WORK OF CHRIST.
1. It was a proclamation. "Good tidings." Think of the iron power of Rome; the selfishness of the rich; the pride of the patrician; the helplessness of the slave; the hopelessness of the philosopher. Christ came to the meek, not the mighty.
2. It was a consolation. "To bind up the brokenhearted." To heal by the touch of his sympathy, and to save by the power of his cross.
3. It was a deliverance. "To proclaim liberty to the captives," etc. Sin had woven its silken cords into iron bands. Men were slaves of lust and habit. The prison was opened; and the fetters which they could not shake off Christ struck from their souls.—W.M.S.
Comfort and cheer.
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion," etc. There is a triple exchange spoken of in these words, which ought to quicken thought.
I. CHARACTER. "Beauty for ashes." The penitent is uplifted from the dust. Instead of standing before God in sad confession, with all the stains of sin upon his heart and the liturgy of woe upon his lips, he has new life. The beauty of the Lord is given to him—there is transformation.
II. EMOTION. "The oil of joy for mourning." No longer looking at the dark side of personal history and personal prospect. The very countenance is anointed with fresh oil—a type of what has taken place within the man. Because you cannot force joy, nor can yon pretend it. Nature sets herself against all forgeries. Such joy as a godly man experiences can only come from the good treasure of his heart.
III. EXPRESSION. "The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness." The outward life is all so different. As God is said to clothe himself with light as with a garment, so the Easterns understood the garment of light to be the expression of the man himself, even as we now look to the habiliments of the mourner as testifying to his grief. The spirit of heaviness is distressing. It is not a thankful spirit, nor a hopeful spirit, nor an inspiring spirit. But the garment of praise is like the melody of the temple choir; like the music of the river; like the "lark that sings at heaven's gate." "Awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will awake right early."—W.M.S.
"They shall build the old wastes." All waste is wicked. It is so in war. Even taken at its lowest estimate, think of the ruin of glorious temples, and exquisite sculptures, and works of art,—all ground to dust, as Mr. Ruskin says, by mere human rage. Florence, and many of the Southern cities, have been the war-fields of Europe. What waste! There genius toiled; there multitudes, in sweat of brow, built the aqueduct and decorated the capitol; and there, from time to time, the rude hand of the despoiler has come. History has made record of victories and glorified conquerors, and some minstrel has caught the infection and sung the lay of the wasters. What a satire on man! Why smile at the child who builds houses for the sea to smite down? Man builds, and then with the waves of maddened war-lust dashes to pieces his own best works. So it is. The history of Europe has been, in this sense, a history of waste, and instead of the glorious works of Phidias to gaze upon, we have broken arms, fractured columns. In devastated districts we dig for relics. This is only the material side of the waste of war. I say all waste is wicked. And I have to speak of human hearts and lives. Much more precious these than sculptured column or lofty fane. Yes; do not let us forget that the words of Christ refer to life present as well as life to come. "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own life?"
I. ALL LIVES WERE DESIGNED TO HAVE A DIVINE IDEAL IN THEM. We cannot understand the "why" of creation at all apart from that. "Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions'' (Ecclesiastes 7:29). They have, in fact, invented many ideals for themselves, and have wasted in these inventions the fine God-created faculties of their souls. If the end is missed all is missed. If the column does not stand erect and uphold the building, it is nothing to me that you decorate it when on the ground. That is not its place, its use; it is a pillar or nothing. So man was made in this highest end to glorify God; and his life is blighted—if it is rich in cultivation, elevated in taste, artistic in style, comprehensive in erudition, useful in applied mechanics—if he does not glorify God. Our Saviour said, "My meat and my drink is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work."
1. Lives are blighted, if certain seasons of spring and seed-time, which cannot return, pass idly by. Men may be saved; for the precious blood of Christ can cleanse from all sin, even in old age. But they cannot bear the fruit of a spiritual manhood, or of a Christian childhood.
2. Lives are blighted, if not filled with the power of immortality. However noble and glorious they may appear, their fruits wither; there is no deep soil; the roots do not strike into the eternal life.
3. Lives are blighted, if not influential as good soil to be used for harvests. Man does not live for the mere enjoyment and admiration of spiritual beauty in hours of meditation. There must be fruit in the tree for others to gather. It is disappointing in the autumn to lift the leaves and find no rich bloom of purple fruit, "Abide in me." "So," says Christ, "shall ye bear much fruit."
II. ALL WASTING OF LIFE IS TRACEABLE. What to? Well, you can trace the blight to something in the atmosphere, something at the root, or some confinement from the free breath of heaven. So you can trace human waste and moral waste.
1. Sometimes it comes from absence of faith. There has been energy or heroic determination to conquer evil, to pursue the good, but this has been mere doing, not being; men need faith to win Christ; to have him in them, the Hope of glory. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered."
2. Sometimes it comes from absence of love. It is love that makes the other graces grow and bring forth fruit. Love is warmth and life when inspired by Christ. Let me say also that I wanted to speak of lives in a human sense blighted, and there are some such. Why? Because love is absent; they are treated coldly, contemptuously, cruelly; the fire of love, at first damped, has now died out in their hearts; they know, they feel it is. Mated to coarseness and rudeness, with the first thin superficial refinement and tenderness all worn away, they find life worse than a blank—it is a bitter, bitter bondage to the selfishness and tyranny of others. Poor heart! God help thee wherever thou art. Love can bear much and hope on. But when love's ashes are white, life is blighted indeed.
3. Sometimes it comes from indifference. Let it alone. That is enough. Leave religion to take care of itself. Then, like the best garden, it soon becomes desolate.
III. WASTED LIVES ARE REPARABLE ONLY BY REDEMPTION. In the body there is a kind of self-healing after sickness. Not so with the soul; that requires a Divine Physician.
1. Christ does more than forgive. He renews and restores. Perhaps you desire now that God should restore unto you the joy of salvation. You are sad about your own fruitlessness. So little peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Then, just as spring—sweet spring—comes in time, and the tender herb appears, and Nature puts on her new garment of beauty, rejoicing to have her incense-cup filled again by the hand of the Most High, so you desire that new graces should spring forth. Christ can make you abound with life through the abundant grace which he is waiting to bestow.
2. Christ does wore than teach. He will live in you. The fruit is not yours, but Christ's. He is the Vine, we are the branches. A closer union with him is what we need. If we seek to be grafted into the true Vine, then, and then only, shall we bring forth fruit in our season. Christ is sometimes tailed the great Teacher. So he is! All his teaching is that of the infinite mind. "In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." What, then, is his first teaching? Believe on me! Then we become one with him, and our character has life in it.
3. Christ does more even than commence this life. He completes it. He carries it on to perfection. So that we, sinful and weak as we are, are made perfect in every good work. Waste, then, is not to be mourned over only; it is to be restored. The satirist speaks scornfully of evil when seen and lived out. The optimist says all is the best possible in the best of worlds, could we but understand all. The Christian says, "No; evil is here, and evil is not of God." And then by the aid of the Holy Ghost he seeks to have the old man crucified with Christ, and to live unto God. May renewal come to us all! May blight and waste give place to life and fruit!—W.M.S.
Fulness of joy.
"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God." This does not certainly seem like the ease with the anchorite and the ascetic and the hermit. A religion that fails in the direction of felicity would seem to lose claim, at all events, to be considered a true ideal of the gospel. Mediaevalism rejoiced in pictures of the saints, who could not fairly be said to have an aureole, of gladness about their heads.
I. THERE ARE GREAT REASONS FOR REJOICING.
1. God has forgiven and forgotten our sin. He has blotted it out of his book of remembrance. "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation."
2. God has made us one with himself. The highest pleasures are those of fellowship with mind. To know the author is more than to read the book; to know the heart of a beautiful nature is to discover a greater world than Columbus did. What, then, is it to walk as Enoch did with God, and to know him whom to know is life eternal! Here we have introduced the relation of bride and bridegroom—so condescending is the love of Christ.
II. THERE ARE GREAT DEPTHS OF REJOICING. "My soul." Joy may be superficial. It is idle to deny the fact that there are pleasures which have their root in the passions, or in the imagination, or in the accumulative faculty. But all these joys have their reactions, their limitations, their exhaustions. But spiritual joy is connected with the soul, and as such it is
At God's right hand there are pleasures for evermore.—W.M.S.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Isaiah 61:1, Isaiah 61:2
The beneficent mission.
These words are undeniably Messianic; that is their secondary, if not their primary, import. Of the mission of Christ they remind us—
I. THAT JESUS CHRIST WAS SENT OF GOD. Our Lord not only stated but insisted that he came forth from God. He constantly took up the position here asserted, "the Lord hath anointed me" (John 4:34; John 5:19, John 5:30; John 8:28; John 9:4; John 12:49).
II. THAT HE WAS FILLED WITH THE STRAIT OF GOD. "The Spirit of the Lord God" was upon him, and dwelt in him as in no other child of man. God gave not the Spirit "by measure" unto him (John 3:34; John 14:10, etc.).
III. THAT HE WAS CHARGED WITH A MISSION OF DIVINE BENEFICENCE. "Anointed to preach good tidings." Well might the human world have expected that a special messenger from heaven would come with ill tidings on his lips; would come to announce wrath, penalty, destruction; would pass through town and village with such a "burden" as that of Jonah to the thousands of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4). But the coming of Christ was the advent of grace; he came to promise peace, to publish salvation. The thoughts and ways of the Supreme are not as ours; they are immeasurably magnanimous.
IV. THAT THE BENEFICENCE OF CHRIST WAS SPIRITUAL AND PROFOUND. He came to effect something more and better than the overthrow of a tyrannical government and the establishment of an earthly kingdom, than the removal of abounding poverty and the supply of material prosperity, than the introduction of any visible and transient good. He came:
1. To confer spiritual freedom on those who were in bondage. "To proclaim liberty to the captives;" to open the prison-doors and emancipate human souls from the thraldom of sin, of vice, of error, of folly, and to lead them into the glorious liberty of the children of God—the liberty of truth and righteousness.
2. To convey comfort to the sorrowful. "To bind up the broken-hearted:" to comfort all that mourn. He came to furnish us with those facts and principles which can light up the dark shadows of deepest affliction with rays of peace and hope. (See next homily.)
V. THAT EVEN THE LIGHT OF DIVINE BENEFICENCE CASTS A SHADOW OF CONDEMNATION. The day of deliverance to the righteous is a "day of vengeance" or retribution to the guilty. The brightest light of truth must fling the darkest shadow of responsibility and condemnation. The corner-stone of salvation to the penitent and believing must prove a stumbling-block to the impenitent and the unbelieving.—C.
Christ our Comforter.
We think of our Lord as of our Divine Friend; and there is no way in which any one can show himself so true a friend as in the time of trouble. Well says the old adage, "A friend in need is a friend indeed."
I. OUR URGENT NEED OF HIS DIVINE SUCCOUR. "Them that mourn in Zion." In virtue of his relation to us as our Saviour, Jesus Christ delivers,s from the power and bondage of sin, and so from the remorse which attends its presence and constitutes a principal part of its penalty. But there are other things from which he does not profess to save his people in this world; these are suffering and sorrow. His very best disciples may inherit a bodily constitution which has in it the seeds of feebleness and pain, and which may develop these evils in their acutest form; or they may be the victims of some terrible accident or of human cruelty; or they may be called on to pass through trying straits, or to bear hitter disappointment, or to endure grievous losses and long-continued loneliness. There is no mark on the lintel of their doors to tell the angel of sorrow to pass by. He enters every home; he has a message for every heart, and the children of the kingdom hear his voice, and feel the touch of his hand, even as do the citizens of the worldly kingdom.
II. THE SUFFICIENCY OF OUR SAVIOUR'S SUCCOUR. Christ saves us in suffering and sorrow, though he does not here deliver us from it. Such is the transforming power of his mighty touch, that he converts it into another thing; under his hand it changes its aspect and is something else; the disfiguring ashes become a diadem of beauty; instead of the signs of mourning there is seen the anointing with the oil of joy; divested of the spirit of heaviness, the soul is clothed in the blessed garment of praise. The power of the wonderful Worker (Isaiah 9:6) has transfigured everything—has turned the curse into a blessing. And how?
1. By a sense of his gracious presence. The sorrowing spirit rejoices to feel that its Lord is near—is nearer than closest relative, than dearest friend.
2. By a consciousness of his tender pity. The known and felt compassion, the assured sympathy of the Lord of love, fills the heart with peace.
3. By the direct, sustaining influences of his Holy Spirit.
4. By the assurance that he is seeking our highest good; that things are not happening by accident or mistake; that the gracious and wise Lord of all hearts and lives is working out an issue, dark and afar off, perhaps, but kind and good, righteous and beneficent; that he is planting and nourishing "trees of righteousness," and that these can only be grown with drenching rains and searching winds as well as with sweet sunshine and balmy airs.
5. By the promise of unshadowed blessedness a little further on.—C.
Privilege, reputation, hope.
We have here—
I. AN OPEN PRIVILEGE to be eagerly employed. "Ye shall be named the Priests of the Lord." Under the Law the priesthood was limited to one family of one tribe; the rest of the nation had rights and duties outside and inferior. There stand, indeed, the ancient words, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests," but this promise finds no complete fulfilment in the history of Israel. It is realized only in the kingdom of Christ. Under him the whole community is a "holy priesthood," a "royal priesthood." Christ "has made us (all) kings and priests unto God." It is open to every one of us to draw nigh unto God in closest spiritual communion; to intercede with him in earnest, believing prayer; to present unto him "spiritual sacrifices" of obedience, of resignation, of consecration. The way is open now into the holiest of all, and they please God most who approach him most frequently, and offer to him most continually the sacrifice which comes from clean hands and a pure and loving heart.
II. AN ENVIABLE REPUTATION to be greatly coveted. "Men shall call you the Ministers [servants] of our God." What is it that we would have men say about us? By what do we most desire to be distinguished and remembered? By our bodily strength or muscular skill? By our intellectual powers? By our possessions? These things "profit a little;" they "have their reward" in momentary satisfaction, in pleasure that lives awhile and dies. But they are not significant of the best and worthiest, of that which endures amid the wreck and passage of the things which perish. The one reputation worth possessing is that of being a true "servant of God." It is worth while doing much and endeavouring much, if need be, that the thing which our contemporaries shall associate with our name, and by which those who survive us shall distinguish us from others, is our faithful and devoted service of the Divine Master. So let us live that the first thought which will arise in men's minds concerning us is that we are servants of our God.
III. AN INVALUABLE HOPE to be devoutly cherished. "All that see them [their offspring] shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed." What are our deepest solicitudes concerning our children? That they will rise, will be enriched, will be honoured of men? These might prove curses rather than blessings. The wise parent will hope, will live and strive, will pray that his children may be such in spirit, in character, in behaviour, that all who see them will feel about them that the blessing of God is in their heart and upon their head.—C.
Isaiah 61:10, Isaiah 61:11
I. OUR CAPACITY OF EXULTATION. Our human spirit is capable of great emotion. Our feeling may sink to great depths of sorrow, or may rise to great heights of joy. We have no language which will express the degrees of spiritual distress and agony which are possible to the stricken and despairing, or which will measure the degrees of joy and ecstasy possible to the blessed and the victorious.
II. OUR TEMPTATION in this matter. The warning of the prophet of the Lord (Jeremiah 9:24) proves that in other lands and other times than ours the wise (learned) man has been tempted to glory in his wisdom, the rich man in his wealth, the mighty man in his power and prowess. But such glorification is our weakness and our folly; it is not built on truth; it conducts to complacency; it ends in disappointment, if not in shame.
III. OUR WISDOM. This is to rejoice in God, to ';glory in this, that we understand and know him," and are ranked among his people. We cannot go too far in our delight in him.
1. His character provides a source of spiritual satisfaction absolutely inexhaustible. We say everything in one word as to his sufficiency when we say that he is "our God."
2. He has done greatest things for us. He has
3. He stands pledged to accomplish that in which we shall greatly triumph (Isaiah 61:11). As the well-cultivated garden has in it living forces which will show themselves in fairest flowers and richest fruits, so has the Lord our God in himself all the wisdom, grace, and power which will be manifest in righteousness and praise, springing forth in the sight of all the nations.—C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Messiah's mission, to the troubled.
Those more especially addressed by Messiah are called the "meek," the "broken-hearted," the "captives," and the "bound." It at once comes to mind that precisely such persons were addressed in the sermon on the mount: and it may be remarked, as distinguishing Christ from all ordinary human teachers, who have their own personal gain and success to consider, that he never sought out the great, the rich, or the learned, but gave his best to the heart-sore, the body-smitten, and the life-humbled. Our Lord makes a very striking reference to this passage in his sermon at Nazareth (Luke 4:18). Before entering on the proper subject of this homily, it may be well to note that the only credentials which our Lord cared to present were the manifest signs and proofs that the Spirit of God was upon him. And what better credentials would any true-hearted man wish to offer.'? Material figures of moral conditions may be found in the depressed, afflicted, almost despairing state of the captives in Babylon.
I. MESSIAH'S MISSION TO THE MEEK. This term is used in several senses in Scripture. Sometimes it stands for the humble, who think lowly things concerning themselves. Sometimes it stands for the disinterested, who are willing to give up their own things for the sake of others. Here it stands for crushed and hopeless ones, who have lost all spirit, and think there is no light, no cheer, in this life for them. The battle with sin sometimes leaves men hard, and then it is of little use to bring "good tidings." But sometimes it makes men meek, sort, impressible, and to them Messiah comes with "good tidings:" for them is born a Saviour.
II. MESSIAH'S MISSION TO THE BROKEN-HEARTED. This term best expresses the state of conviction and penitence. It is the sign of that supreme grief which a man knows when he sees himself as he is, and as God regards him. To such a man Messiah comes with the message of a free and full forgiveness, which is a binding up, a healing; the joy of acceptance and welcome of love.
III. MESSIAH'S MISSION TO THE CAPTIVES. Those between whose circumstances and whose souls there is constant conflict. Sin gets power to enslave through the body. "Whoso committeth sin is the slave of' sin." Messiah comes to energize souls for victory over enslaving bodies and enslaving circumstances. Giving life to souls, he gives liberty. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."
IV. MESSIAH'S MISSION TO THE BOUND. The moral suggestion is of those who are mastered by old evil habits, easily besetting sins. These become the distress of souls that have been forgiven and accepted. And Messiah comes to give "more grace," so that they may "resist unto blood, striving against sin." So Messiah meets all our gravest human troubles. He is Burden-bearer and Burden-lifter.—R.T.
The year of acceptance and the day of vengeance.
Very striking is the frequency with which this, and other prophets, set together the two sides of Messiah's work. Deliverance of those who trust him goes together with judgment on those who reject him. In a most impressive way the Old Testament canon closes with this dual aspect of Divine dealings, "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble But unto you that fear my Name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in his wings" (Malachi 4:1, Malachi 4:2). And the New Testament opens with the prophetic exclamation of Simeon, as he held the infant Saviour in his arms, "This Child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel." Some make a distinction between the long year of acceptance and the short day of vengeance. No doubt the first reference of the text is to the Divine indignation against those faithless or selfish Jews who would not respond to the Lord's call to return to their ancient land. So it may stand for the Divine indignation against those who are "condemned already, because they have not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God." This subject is so frequently and variously treated, that we here confine ourselves to two points.
I. ACCEPTANCE FOLLOWS FORGIVENESS. Messiah proclaims acceptance because he brings forgiveness. It is of the utmost importance that there should be no uncertain sound as to the necessity for "forgiveness." Vague sentiments prevail concerning the Divine acceptance; and there is a notion that all we can need is a sort of educating into goodness. Man, every man, needs to be forgiven. No man can be accepted until he is forgiven. This may lead to a full consideration of that work of Messiah which bears on the ensuring of forgiveness. It is a mediatorial work, which has relations of propitiation towards God and relations of conviction towards man. The acceptancetime is proclaimed to guilty rebels who lay down their arms and ask for mercy.
II. REJECTION FOLLOWS THE HARDNESS THAT WILL NOT SEEK FORGIVENESS. That is the "day of vengeance of our God." If put into a word, that word may be this—they are left to their fate. If put into a figure, it may be this—they are outside the lighted halls, in the "outer darkness." If fashioned in human images, the offended king must put to death those who rebelliously refuse to touch his offered golden sceptre. There is a mystery of profound and awful meaning in the expression, "the wrath of the Lamb."—R.T.
God glorified in the joyous and the beautiful.
"A garland for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness … that he might be glorified." The figures used arc drawn from Eastern customs and sentiments. The afflicted clothe themselves in sackcloth, sit in ashes, and throw dust on their heads. In gladness and feast-time men crown themselves with garlands or wreaths. In sickness men do not use oil at toilet; when restored to health they resume the oil which "makes the face to shine." Festal days call forth bright-coloured garments; troublous seasons find men crouched on the ground heedless of the robes that cover them. But God is not honoured with ashes; he wants garlands. Nor is he honoured with neglected toilets; he wants the oil of joy. He asks for songs by the way from all who are journeying to Zion. His call ever is, "Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh."
I. GOD'S MESSIAH FINDS MEN SAD. And they had abundant reason for being sad. Illustrate from the state of the Jewish nation when deliverance from captivity came; also from the state of the world when Jesus the Saviour came. "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." Dr. Kane and His shipwrecked crew might well be sad when, in the polar regions, they never saw the sun for one hundred and forty long and weary days. Those out of Christ have good reason to be sad. It is even a hopeful sign that they are. Philosophers and scientific teachers who do not "like to retain God in their thoughts" are always sad—affectingly, impressively sad. The saddest hook ever written is John Stuart Mill's autobiography.
II. GOD'S MESSIAH MAKES MEN GLAD. Jesus Christ cannot do with people who, in moral senses, stay in the ashes, neglect their toilet, and keep up miserable groans. He wants to get a song into men's set, is—even praise unto a redeeming God—which shall compel them to put garlands and festal garments on, and make their faces shine. We cannot keep Jesus and sadness both with us, any more than the world can keep both sunshine and mists. This homily should be used for pleading against a long-faced, dreary religion, and in behalf of the smiles and song that should characterize all who know the grace in Christ Jesus unto life eternal.
"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 world's priests and preachers.
"Men shall call you the Ministers of our God." Dean Plumptre says of this verse, "This had been the original ideal of the nation's life (Exodus 19:6), forfeited for a time through the sins of the people (Exodus 28:1), to be fulfilled at last in the citizens of the New Jerusalem". Matthew Arnold says, "The Jews, a nation of God's servants appointed to initiate the rest of the world into his service, are to give themselves to this sacred and priestly labour, while the rest of the world do their secular labour for them." Matthew Henry says, "All believers are made to our God kings and priests; and they ought to conduct themselves as such in their devotions, and in their whole conversation, with 'holiness to the Lord' written upon their foreheads, that men may call them the "priests of the Lord.'" We learn from this passage what are the views we may rightly take of our "priests and preachers."
I. THEY BELONG TO OUR GOD. Importance attaches to the personal appropriation indicated in the expression" our God." Only those who are themselves in right relations with God will ever put ministers into their right place, or keep them in their right place. A man who does not know God for himself will want his minister to become a priest, and do too much for him. The man who, in covenant relations, can say "my God," will thankfully accept, and wisely use, all that God's servants can do for him.
II. THEY MINISTER FOR OUR GOD. And they can do nothing but minister. They are, like their Lord and Master Jesus Christ, among us "as he that serveth." "We preach Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." Ministers bring to us messages from God, but we must never let them stand before God. There is peril for our souls whenever officiating priest or popular preacher takes all our attention, and keeps us from direct dealing with God. We must never let even apostles have "dominion over our faith;" they are only "helpers of our joy." Very possibly some of our souls are hindered from attaining the best in Christian life, because our outlook is stopped by the figure of a man, and we cannot see God.
III. THEY SERVE US IN THE NAME OF OUR GOD. Emphasis is put on the word "us." It is peculiar to all faithful and wise ministers that they have a "passion for souls," the "enthusiasm of humanity:" and are ever seeking to gain adaptation to us. Some men are more interested in truth than in persons; but the real priests and preachers and pastors of our God follow after the great apostle and say, "We seek not yours, but you." ― R.T.
"All that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed." "Let the children of godly parents live in such a manner that they may be known to be such, that all who observe them may see in them the fruits of a good education, and an answer to the prayers that were put up for them." "Easterns value highly the retention of blessings through succeeding generations." Abraham, as the first father of the race, may be taken as the type of all fathers and mothers. Then the course of thought may be this—
I. THE PIOUS PATERNAL CHARACTER. As seen in Abraham, it includes:
1. Reverence. A due sense of the "unseen" is the secret of the sense of duty which lies at the basis of all real authority.
2. Uprightness. Which gives a certain firmness, almost sternness, which ensures a blended fear and confidence.
3. Obedience. A man's own response to his sonship with God is the secret of his power to command the obedience of his children.
II. THE SECURITY PATERNAL CHARACTER AFFORDS THAT FAMILIES WILL BE RULED. There is a strange idea entertained, that there is no strong rule in fatherhood. But every home must have its laws. The mightiest men of earth are not the giants with the big fists. The Davids of intellectual, moral, and emotional force are grander than all Sauls who stand heads above their fellows. The highest power of influence attends on character. Put a man of good character anywhere, and he proves to be a king; he rules. There is a natural authority belonging to parentage. This is not enough. It can he kept into the manhood of the children only as parents gain the higher power of moral character.
III. THE RESULT OF GOOD RULING IS THAT THE CHILDREN TURN OUT WELL. How we dream over the future of our children! We may leave it all with God, if we are culturing ourselves into Christ-likeness, and watchfully anxious that this our Christ-likeness should shine well on them. But what do we mean by "our children turning out well'? Does that mean "proving talented," "marrying prudently," "winning business successes? Or do we mean keeping well in the ways of the Lord, whatever may be their circumstances, and whatever may be their relations?
IV. THROUGH GOOD PARENTS AND GOOD FAMILIES GOD'S PURPOSES IN THE WORLD ARE ACCOMPLISHED. Compare Dr. Horace Bushnell's very striking expression, "The out-populating of the Christian stock." As are the families so will be the nation. We trust in virtuous homes, well-ruled families, godly fathers, and pious mothers. Blessed indeed are those children who grow up constrained to goodness by the example, influence, and authority of godly parents!—R.T.
Joy in the Divine adornings.
Richard Weaver gives an effective and pleasing illustration. "A lady once took me into her garden, and I found there beds filled with all kinds of beautiful flowers; but at the end of the garden I came to the edge of a steep precipice, and as I stood looking down at the great black rock beneath, I thought what a dreadful place that would be to fall down. ' Come with me,' said the lady, 'and I will show you something beautiful.' She led me round to the foot of the rock and desired me to look up, and when I did I could see no rock, it was completely covered with beautiful white roses. Oh, thought I, that is just a picture of a poor sinner; he is a black, unsightly thing like that rock, but the 'Rose of Sharon' comes and covers him; and when God looks, he cannot see the sinner, for between is Christ, and he covers him with the spotless robe of his own righteousness."
I. CHRIST'S GIFT OF ADORNMENTS. Urge that a sinner, even a saved sinner, cannot be called beautiful, and cannot be fit for a place at the feast. Fetch the poor beggar in from the street, give him free invitation, and let him respond to it with all his heart; and still he will want something before he can sit down with the guests. It is something he cannot win, something he cannot buy, something of the king's own, which the king himself must give. It is a royal robe from the king's treasure. It is robe and ornaments and jewels, as the bridegroom's gift. So in the New Testament we are bidden to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ," and the graces of Christian character are treated as a Divine investiture. They who have such adornings will be sure to try and be worthy of them, and so graces given and graces sought for will graciously blend.
II. CHRIST'S JOY IN THOSE WHOM HE HAS ADORNED. Figured in the joy of a bride-groom over the bride when beautiful with garments and jewels which he has himself provided, and every one of which is an expression of personal affection. The joy of every faithful pastor is found in those whom he has led to rest in God. "Ye are our glory and our joy." The joy of Jesus, the Saviour and Bridegroom, is found in the multitude whom no man can number, arrayed in white garments, his gift, because they are white-souled at last, through his grace.—R.T.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 61". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany