corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.09.22
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 1

 

 

Verse 1

THE PROPHET OF THE LORD

Isa . The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

I. The nature of the prophet's endowment: a "vision" into the very heart of things, a power of distinguishing between the seeming and the real.

II. The sadness and the joy of the prophet's life: sadness arising from his "vision" of human sin (Isa ); joy arising from his "vision" of the wondrousness of the Divine mercy (Isa 1:18).

Application.—

1. In these latter days the prophetic endowment, to a greater or lesser extent, is possessed by all God's people (1Jn ).

3. This great endowment must be used not merely for the detection and exposure of human sin, lest we become cynical and inhuman, but also for the discovery of the abounding evidence of the Divine compassion (as in Isa ), that we may be brought into more perfect sympathy with Him who hates sin but desires and seeks to save the sinner.


Verse 2

PROPHECY THE VOICE OF GOD

Isa . The Lord hath spoken.

Thus at the very outset of this book Divine authority is claimed for the utterances contained in it. Three views may be taken of the writings of the Hebrew prophets.

1. They are the writings of men who knew they were uttering that which is false when they claimed to be messengers of the Most High.

2. They are the writings of enthusiasts who mistook the ecstasies of their excited imaginations for Divine inspirations.

3. They are the writings of holy men who were inspired by the Holy Ghost.

Against the first of these views is to be set the fact that the whole influence of the prophets was exerted on behalf of national righteousness and individual virtue; that for these things they suffered; that for these things some of them died. Is it credible that men who so sought to promote such ends would begin and continue their mission with a blasphemous lie?

Against the second is to be set the fact that many of their predictions have been fulfilled—fulfilled after intervals, so long, and with such minute accuracy, that sceptics have sought to account for such fulfilments by asserting that the prophecies were written subsequently to the events to which they refer; an assertion which the most competent scholars repel even with contempt.

There remains then only the third view; and in support of it may be urged—in addition to the conclusive fact just named—such considerations as these:

1. That their conceptions of God and of human duty are such as to satisfy the loftiest demands of the most enlightened reason and the best instructed conscience. Give examples (Isa ; Isa 58:3-7, &c.)

2. That their conceptions of God and of human duty have not been surpassed by those of the sublimest poets or the ablest philosophers of any subsequent age.

3. That their sublime conceptions of God and of human duty, which still stand as the Alps or Himalaya of human thought, were given to the world in an age when, with the exception only of the prophets and those who accepted their teaching, the whole human race was given over to the most debasing idolatries and superstitions.

4. That the Hebrew prophets stood out in regard to these conceptions not only distinct from the men of their own age, but from the men of their own nation, from whom they had only words of rebuke, and against whose most cherished convictions and steadfast tendencies they set themselves in resolute opposition. Give examples (Isa ; Isa 66:1-2, &c.) If due weight be given to these considerations, we shall see that there is no escape from the conclusion that the Hebrew prophets owed their conceptions of God and duty to God Himself. They spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

If this be so, then—

1. We should earnestly study the prophetic utterances. How mentally as well as morally debased is the man who is not alert and concerned to hear and understand what "the LORD hath spoken"!

2. Such of their utterances as are predictive should kindle within us confident and joyful hopes. They are the promises of Him who cannot lie, and who has ample power to perform.

3. To those which are preceptive we should give prompt, comprehensive, and careful obedience. To withhold such obedience, is to array against ourselves omnipotent power; to yield it, is to secure for ourselves eternal rewards (Isa ).


Verse 2-3

AN APPEAL AND AN ARGUMENT

Isa . Hear, O heavens; and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider.

I. The unnaturalness of sin. The heavens and the earth obey the laws to which they have been subjected; the very beasts are faithful to their instincts; it is only man who fails in duty and goes astray.

II. The baseness of ingratitude: as displayed—

Some are such brutes, that, like swine, their nose is nailed to the trough in which they feed; they have not the use of their understanding so far as to lift their eye to heaven, and say, "There dwells that God that provides this for me, that God by whom I live."—Gurnall.

You would count it a sad spectacle to behold a man in a lethargy, with his senses and reason so blasted by his disease that he knows not his nearest friends, and takes no notice of those that tend him, or bring his daily food to him. How many such senseless wretches are at this day lying upon God's hands! He ministers daily to their necessities, but they take no notice of His care and goodness.—Gurnall, 1617-1679.

The frozen snake in the fable stingeth him that refreshed it. Thus is it with all unthankful men: God ladeth them daily with benefits and blessings, and they load Him with sins and trespasses.—Stapleton, 1535-1598.

Some are such brutes, that, like swine, their nose is nailed to the trough in which they feed; they have not the use of their understanding so far as to lift their eye to heaven, and say, "There dwells that God that provides this for me, that God by whom I live."—Gurnall.

You would count it a sad spectacle to behold a man in a lethargy, with his senses and reason so blasted by his disease that he knows not his nearest friends, and takes no notice of those that tend him, or bring his daily food to him. How many such senseless wretches are at this day lying upon God's hands! He ministers daily to their necessities, but they take no notice of His care and goodness.—Gurnall, 1617-1679.

The frozen snake in the fable stingeth him that refreshed it. Thus is it with all unthankful men: God ladeth them daily with benefits and blessings, and they load Him with sins and trespasses.—Stapleton, 1535-1598.

Some are such brutes, that, like swine, their nose is nailed to the trough in which they feed; they have not the use of their understanding so far as to lift their eye to heaven, and say, "There dwells that God that provides this for me, that God by whom I live."—Gurnall.

You would count it a sad spectacle to behold a man in a lethargy, with his senses and reason so blasted by his disease that he knows not his nearest friends, and takes no notice of those that tend him, or bring his daily food to him. How many such senseless wretches are at this day lying upon God's hands! He ministers daily to their necessities, but they take no notice of His care and goodness.—Gurnall, 1617-1679.

The frozen snake in the fable stingeth him that refreshed it. Thus is it with all unthankful men: God ladeth them daily with benefits and blessings, and they load Him with sins and trespasses.—Stapleton, 1535-1598.

To have a thankless child.—Shakespeare.

Ingratitude is treason to mankind.

Thomson.

He that's ungrateful has no guilt but one;

All other crimes may pass for virtues in him.

Young.

III. The reasonableness of God's claim to our obedience and love.

2. To all parental duties He has been faithful.

The savage born, the wildly rude,

When soothed by Mercy's hand, will give

Some faint response of gratitude.

But man!—oh! blush, ye lordly race!—

Shrink back, and question thy proud heart!

Dost thou not lack that thankful grace

Which ever forms the soul's best part?

Wilt thou not take the blessings given,

The priceless boon of ruddy health,

The sleep unbroken, peace unriven,

The cup of joy, the mine of wealth?

Wilt thou not take them all, and yet

Walk from the cradle to the grave

Enjoying, boasting, and forget

To think upon the God that gave?

Thou'lt even kneel to blood-stained kings,

Nor fear to have thy serfdom known;

Thy knee will bend for bauble things,

Yet fail to seek its Maker's throne.

Eliza Cook.

IV. Privilege is the measure of responsibility and the aggravation of guilt. The point of the condemnation in these verses does not lie in the contrast between the conduct of animals and men, but in the contrast between the conduct of animals and that of God's people. "Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider!" This is the wonder and the monstrosity. That privilege is the measure of responsibility and the aggravation of guilt, is a very familiar truth; a truth often forgotten; and yet absolutely certain and tremendously important (Luk ; Heb 6:7-8). What need we have to lay it to heart!

GOD'S INDICTMENT AGAINST ISRAEL

Isa . Hear, O heavens, &c.

God sometimes speaks to man abruptly; when this is done, the truth expressed demands the most profound attention. In our text the heavens and the earth are suddenly called to attend to what is about to be said; God is charging the human race with fearful wrongs; the matter at issue is between creature and Creator, child and Parent. Our attention is called to—

I. The Fatherhood of God. "I have nourished," &c. Divine paternity is a truth which runs through the whole Bible, here and there shining out with resplendent lustre, as in our text. The fatherhood of God was manifested towards Israel—

1. In supply. As it affected the Jewish nation this declaration (I have nourished, &c.) pressed with tremendous force. Their supplies were marked by miracle, at least all the time they were in the wilderness; and the utterance has weight to-day. All nature is made to minister to man's necessities.

2. In guardianship. "Brought up children." This should have been sufficient to strike the ear as a thunderclap, seeing how far they had strayed from Him. Out of a mean, despised, and enslaved people He had developed a wealthy, mighty nation; and His guardianship reaches to all to-day.

3. In defence. The early history of these people was one unbroken chain of Divine interpositions. From the first day Moses stood before the king, until they were fully established in Palestine, God's arm was stretched out to defend them. The blood on the door-post, their sea-path, and the sea-grave of the Egyptians, together with the hovering cloud in the wilderness, all speak of strong defence; and still there are evidences of defence in the life of every man.

II. The wickedness of man. Men are universally the same; as the father so is the son, as the Jew so is the Gentile; and hence in this chapter we have a true picture of the whole human family. Let us mark some of the many features of guilt:

1. Degeneracy. God bears with weaknesses and infirmities, but wilful backsliding He abhors. The Jews were evil-doers; they went away from God and all that was good. It is the wilful sinning of men that now grieves Him.

3. Defiance. They rebelled against God. Fear ceased to check them, and hatred led them to bold, defiant deeds. The day was to them as the night, and oppression and murder were but small sins to be indulged in. So it is with many to-day; they have no shame, remorse, or compunction for sin, openly defying the living God.

His careful feeder, and acknowledge too;

The generous spaniel loves his master's eye,

And licks his fingers though no meat be by:

But man, ungrateful man, that's born and bred

By Heaven's immediate power; maintained and fed

By His providing hand; observed, attended,

By His indulgent grace; preserved, defended,

By His prevailing arm; this man, I say,

Is more ungrateful, more obdure than they.

Man, O most ungrateful man, can ever

Enjoy Thy gift, but never mind the Giver;

And like the swine, though pampered with enough,

His eyes are never higher than the trough.

Francis Quarles.

III. The purpose of Divine chastisement. No true parent finds any pleasure in chastising his children, and any pain inflicted without pure motives would be an evil. God corrects—

2. To show the consequences of sin. Men profess to be practical, and wish to be practically dealt with; hence they say, "Words are not enough; there must be blows." The transgressor must feel as well as hear, or he will run mad. God has always taught men that His laws are more than mere word-rules; there is force in them, and he that breaks them must suffer.

As the child, fearing nothing, is so fond of his play that he strays and wanders from his mother, not so much as thinking of her; but if he be scared or frighted with the sight or apprehension of some apparent or approaching danger, presently runs to her, casts himself into her arms, and cries out to be saved and shielded by her: so we, securely enjoying the childish sports of worldly prosperity, do so fondly dote on them that we scarce think of our Heavenly Father; but when perils and dangers approach, and are ready to seize upon us, then we flee to Him, and cast ourselves into the arms of His protection and providence, crying and calling to Him by earnest prayer for help and deliverance in this our extremity and distress.—Downame, 1644.


Verse 3

ADDITIONAL OUTLINES

INSTINCT FOLLOWED—REASON DISREGARDED

Isa . The ox knoweth his owner, &c.

"We are wise." So spake the Greek of old in the pride of his intellectual powers, and so speak many in our own day who have imbibed the spirit of the Greek. Reason is a wonderful faculty, and there have not been wanting, in any age of the world, those who have felt elated by their successful exercise of it. It can look before and after, deriving experience from the past and suggesting provision against the future. It can explore the hidden secrets of Nature and render the world of matter subservient to man; it can turn in upon itself and speculate upon its own processes; nay, it can teach us something of the existence and attributes of the Most High. Such being the triumphs of reason, it can hardly be matter of wonder that the wise men of this world plume themselves on the attainment of those triumphs.

The vainglorying of men, however, whatever form it may assume, is abomination in the sight of God. In the scheme of salvation which God has devised there is no room for boasting either of our moral or intellectual endowments: "It is excluded." That scheme is essentially humbling in its character; it is so constructed as to shut out pride at every cranny where it could possibly insinuate itself; it is such as to stop every mouth and bring in all the world guilty before God. And not only guilty, but blind also. He will have all the world convicted in the court of Conscience of folly, no less than of sin. In order to bring His people to this conviction, he expostulates with them in many passages of His Word on the vainglorious boasts they were in the habit of uttering, shows their utter emptiness, and exhibits the inconsistency of man's moral conduct with his pretensions to wisdom and enlightenment (cf. Jer ).

Our text implies two things—

1. That the relation subsisting between the brute creation and man is in some measure similar to that which subsists between man and God; and,

2. That the acknowledgment made by dumb animals of their relation to mankind strangely contrasts with the natural man's refusal of acknowledgment to God.

I. We are to compare the relations subsisting between an inferior and a superior creature with those subsisting between a superior and the Creator. Note, though these relations may be susceptible of comparison, and may be used to lift up our minds to apprehension of the truth, there is an insufficiency in the lower relation to type out the higher. The distance between man and the inferior creatures, if great, is measurable; whereas the distance between finite man and the Infinite God is incalculable.

The dumb creature recognises the master whose property it is: "The ox knoweth his owner." What constitutes man's right of ownership in the ox? Simply the fact that he bought it. He did not create it. If he supports its life, it is only by providing it with a due supply of food, not by ministering to it momentarily the breath which it draws, nor by regulating the springs of its animal economy. That is the sum of his ownership. But what constitutes God's right of ownership in us, His intelligent and rational creatures?

1. We are the work of His hands. Creation constitutes a property in all our faculties and a claim to our services which no creature hath or can have in another.

2. Our property is most entire, our claim of right most indisputable, in those things which, having been once deprived of them by fraud or violence, we have subsequently paid a price to recover. The flocks and herds in the possession of civilised European settlers in uncivilised countries are often swept away by a barbarous horde of native freebooters. Imagine, then, a case in which, it being impossible to bring the offenders to justice (by reason of their numbers and strength), the owners of the cattle should effect a ransom of their property by laying down a sum equivalent to its value. Is it not thenceforth theirs by a double claim—the claim of original ownership and the claim of subsequent ransom? Such is the claim which God has over us. That claim, grounded originally upon the fact of creation, has been confirmed, enlarged, extended a thousand fold by the fact of redemption (1Co ; 1Pe 1:18-19).

"And I laid meat unto them." By those who avail themeelves of their services, the cattle are supplied with provender. God not only called us into being, but maintains us in being. He it is who gives us our daily bread, and spreads our board with food convenient for us; for food, for health, for continuance of life our dependence upon Him is absolute. By means of these and similar mercies it is that God establishes a claim to the gratitude and devotedness even of those among His rational creatures who have most deeply buried themselves in the things of time and sense, and whose hearts seem to be stirred by no breath of spiritual aspiration, and troubled by no prospect of eternity.—Goulburn.

Observe, also, that it is not the brute creation in a savage state whose relations towards man are here drawn into comparison with the relations of man towards God. To illustrate his argument the inspired writer has chosen instances from the domestic animals, who share man's daily toils, live as his dependants, and are familiarised by long habit with their master's abode and ways of life. In drawing out the contrast, he does not mention mankind generally, but "Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." It were in some measure excusable that the heathens should refuse acknowledgment to the living God, whom they know not. But what shall we urge in extenuation of the indifference of "Israel," who from his very infancy has been of the household of God, domesticated by the hearth of the Universal Parent, and furnished with every means of access to His presence?

II. A contrast is drawn between the acknowledgment made by dumb animals of their relation to their owners and Israel's refusal of acknowledgment to his God.

The cattle "know" or recognise the voice of their owner; his call they heed, in his steps they follow; irrational creatures though they be, they are not insensible to their benefactor's fond caress. What a cutting reproof of the insensibility of God's people!

1. They recognise not God in His warnings, whether they be addressed to them as individuals or to the nation of which they are members. Afflictions arrest them not in their career of vanity and sin. Judgments stir them not out of their lethargy of indifference. They hear not, see not, God in them.

2. They do not acknowledge God in His mercies. God's blessings of Nature and Providence are accepted by them as a matter of course. If regarded at all, they are traced no higher than to secondary causes. The continual experience of them renders them not one whit more submissive to the yoke of God's service. As to the higher blessings of forgiveness and grace, they feel no need of them, and evince no gratitude for them.

Want of consideration is the root and reason of this strange insensibility. It is not that "Israel" lacks the faculty of apprehending God, but he will not be at pains to exercise that faculty. It is not that he lacks a speculative knowledge of the truths now set forth, but that he does not lay to heart that knowledge, nor allow it its due weight.—E. M. Goulburn, D.C.L.: Sermons, pp. 153-181.


Verse 4

INIQUITY A BURDEN

Isa . A people laden with iniquity.

A very instructive description: "A people laden with iniquity." The conception is that of a nation that has gone on adding sin to sin, as a man gathering sticks in the forest adds fagot to fagot, until he staggers beneath the load; that which was eagerly sought after becomes an oppressive burden. How true this is! There are many national burdens; despotism, an incapable government, excessive taxation, &c., but the worst and most oppressive of all is a nation's iniquities.

The iniquities of a nation constitute a burden that impede it—

1. In its pursuit of material prosperity. With what desperate intensity this English nation toils! and for what end? Chiefly that it may accumulate wealth. How greatly it is impeded in this pursuit by its costly government! But how much more by its costly vices! On strong drink alone this nation expends a larger sum than the whole amount both of imperial and local taxation—more than one hundred millions annually! Other vices that are nameless, how much they cost, and what a hindrance they are to the nation in its pursuit of wealth!

2. In its pursuit of social happiness. What a crushing burden of sorrow the nation's iniquities impose upon it!

3. In its pursuit of moral and intellectual improvement. According to a monkish legend, the church of St. Brannock's, in Braunton, Devon, could not be erected on its original site, because as fast as the builders reared up the walls by day, by night the stones were carried away by invisible hands. A like contest goes on in our own land. The nation's virtues are toiling to elevate the national character morally and intellectually, using as their instruments the school, the church, the press; but as fast as the virtues build, the vices pull down. In all these respects the nation's iniquities constitute its heaviest burden.

Consequently,

1. To give a legal sanction to vices, or to connive at what promotes them, for the sake of certain additions to the national revenues, is suicidal folly of the grossest kind.

2. Those are the truest national benefactors who do most to abate the national iniquities. The palm for truest patriotism must be awarded, not to "active politicians," but to faithful preachers, Sunday-school teachers, temperance reformers, &c.

That which is true of nations is true also of individuals; the heaviest burdens which men can take upon themselves are vices. Vices lay upon men a burden—

2. Of discredit.

3. Of sorrow, clouding all the present.

4. Of fear, darkening all the future.

There is this terrific feature about the burden of iniquity—there is none so hard to be got rid of. It is hard to inspire a nation or a man with the desire to get rid of it. How nations and men hug their vices, notwithstanding the miseries they entail! It is still harder to accomplish the desire! Society is full of men who stagger and groan under this burden, from which they strive in vain to free themselves. In them the fable of Sinbad, unable to rid himself of the old man whom he has taken upon his shoulders, has a melancholy realisation. These men feel themselves to be helpless, and their case would indeed be hopeless were it not that God has laid help for us on One who is mighty to save. Cry to Him, ye burdened ones, and obtain release!

TRANSMITTED DEPRAVITY

Isa . A seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters.

Transmitted depravity is—

I. A doctrine of Scripture.

1. God will not fail to make allowance for it in dealing with us.

2. We should make allowance for it in judging our fellow-men. Our censures should be mingled with compassion.

4. In the education of our children, we should be especially solicitous to check and prevent the development of the faults we have transmitted to them, that so, though they are "a seed of evil-doers," they may not themselves be "corrupters."

I know multitudes of families in which the moral element is hereditary; and it is not surprising that the children of those families are moral. Moral qualities are as transmissible as mental traits or physical traits. The same principle applies to every part of the human constitution. And where families have been from generation to generation God-fearing, passion-restraining, truth-telling, and conscience-obeying, the chances are ninety-nine in every hundred in favour of the children.—Beecher.

Original or birth sin is not merely a doctrine in religion, it is a fact in man's world acknowledged by all, whether religious or not. Let a man be providing for an unborn child: in case of distribution of worldly property, he will take care to bind him by conditions and covenants which shall guard against his fraudulently helping himself to that which he is to hold for or to apportion to another. He never saw that child; he does not know but that child may be the most pure and perfect of men; but he knows it will not be safe to put temptation in his way, because he knows he will be born in sin, and liable to sin, and sure to commit sin.—Alford, 1810-1871.

FORSAKING THE LORD

Isa . They have forsaken the Lord.

The astronomer tells us, that, because they move in a resisting medium, which perhaps in a million of years destroys the millionth part of their velocity, the heavenly bodies will at length cease from their mighty march. May not, then, the theologian assure us that little roughnesses in the way, each retarding us, though in an imperceptible degree, will eventually destroy the onward movement, however vigorous and direct it may at one time have seemed? Would to God that we could persuade you of the peril of little offences! We are not half as much afraid of your hurting the head against a rock, as of your hurting the foot against a stone. There is a sort of continued attrition, resulting from our necessary intercourse with the world, which of itself deadens the movements of the soul; there is, moreover, a continued temptation to yield in little points, under the notion of conciliating; to indulge in little things, to forego little strictnesses, to omit little duties; and all with the idea that what looks so light cannot be of real moment. And by these littles, thousands, tens of thousands, perish If they do not come actually and openly to a stand, they stumble and stumble on, getting more and more careless, nearer and nearer to indifference, lowering the Christian standards, suffering religion to be peeled away by inches, persuading themselves that they can spare without injury such inconsiderable bits, and not perceiving that in stripping the bark they stop the sap.—Melvill.

I. This conduct is surprising. Is it not most surprising that men should forsake the great God, their Creator and Benefactor? He is all-powerful. He is all-wise. He is all-loving. The soul cannot have a better helper in difficulty, or a truer and wiser friend in sorrow. From the Godward aspect of the case nothing is more surprising than that man should forsake God; but from the manward aspect of things this is not surprising, for man is carnal, and the carnal mind is enmity against God. Satan draws the soul from God. It chases a phantom into the great darkness, and finds in the end that it has wandered from the Infinite Being.

II. This conduct is criminal. We should esteem it criminal to forsake a parent, to forsake a benefactor, to forsake a master. But this offence is small compared with that of the soul when it wanders from the Lord. It exhibits insubordination. It rejects the Supreme Moral Ruler of the universe. It exhibits ingratitude. It forsakes its Redeemer. It exhibits folly, for away from Christ the soul cannot obtain true rest.

III. This conduct is inexcusable. The soul can give no true reason, or valid excuse, for such unholy conduct. The Lord has dealt bountifully with it, and therefore it has no ground of complaint. He is attractive in character. He is winning in disposition. He is kindly in the discipline of life. He gives holy influences to draw the soul to Himself. Hence man has no excuse for forsaking God.

IV. This conduct is common. The world of humanity has forsaken God. One by one souls are returning, and are being welcomed to Christ and to heaven. Many agencies are at work for the return of souls to the heavenly kingdom. Let us seek to make them efficient. Let us pray that they may be successful. Have you forsaken God?—J. S. Exell.


Verse 5

MORAL OBDURACY

Isa . Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more.

I. The danger of despising the Divine chastisements. Heedlessness destroys the very power of taking heed.

Trust not in any unsanctified afflictions, as if these could permanently and really change the condition of your heart. I have seen the characters of the writing which the flames had turned into a film of buoyant coal; I have seen the thread which has been passed through the fire retain, in its cold grey ashes, the twist it had got in spinning; I have found every shivered splinter of the flint as hard as the unbroken stone: and let trials come, in providence, sharp as the fire and ponderous as the crushing hammer, unless a gracious God send along with these something else than these, bruised, broken, bleeding as thy heart may be, its nature remains the same.—Guthrie.

NEEDLESS STRIPES

Isa . Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more.

The surgeon must cut away the rotten and dead flesh, that the whole body be not poisoned, and so perish; even so doth God sometimes plague our bodies grievously, that our souls may be preserved and healed. How deep soever God thrusteth His iron into our flesh, He doeth it only to heal us; and if it be so that He kill us, then will He bring us to the right life. The physician employeth one poison to drive out another; even so God in correcting us useth the devil and wicked people, but yet all to do us good.—Wermullerus, 1551.

But a more gracious meaning may be contained in them; they may be the first note of that tender divine invitation which is fully expressed in Isa . For mark, God begins here to reason with men,—bids them look at themselves, their situation, the fatal folly of sinning when sin brings its own sure punishment. What need of these disasters? Note: the first aim of the gospel is to make the sinner understand that sin and its torments are alike of his own seeking; repentance cannot come until he feels this.

These words may then be regarded as implying—

I. That there is no inherent necessity that sinners should continue to be stricken.

2. There is no reason in the nature of man. As man is not impelled by any inherent necessity to sin, but in every sin acts by deliberate choice, so neither is he compelled to repeat his transgressions. Even when he has done wrong, his consciousness testifies that he might have done right, and it is precisely on this account that his conscience condemns him!

II. That a way of avoiding the merited punishment is open. We know what that way is. The prophet saw it afar off, and rejoiced (Isa ; Isa 53:5-6). "Why should ye be stricken any more," when Christ has been stricken for you? The way of reconciliation is open: avail yourselves of it with penitence, with thankful joy!—But if men despise the offered grace, let them know that when the doom from which they would not be delivered comes crashing down upon them, they will neither have nor merit any pity. Even the Angel of Mercy will answer them, "Ye have destroyed yourselves!"—W. Baxendale.


Verses 5-8

TOTAL DEPRAVITY

Isa . The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.

By these powerful figures the prophet sets forth the moral corruption and the impending calamities of the people to whom he ministered. [Note that in Isa , the prophet speaks as if the future were already present; so clear and vivid is his view of it.]

I. A whole nation may become morally corrupt. Vice may defile and degrade all classes of society.

II. The natural tendency of national corruption is not to abate, but to spread and increase. Vices are "putrefying sores." As in the body physical a disease or wound in one member may poison the whole body, so in the body politic the vice of any one class tends to spread through all society.—These two considerations should lead us—

1. To pray constantly and earnestly far our country. "Christian England" left to itself, and unrestrained by divine grace and mercy, would soon become as Sodom and Gomorrah.

2. Not to be selfishly indifferent to the sins of the classes of society to which we do not happen to belong. This were as foolish as it would be for a man to give no heed to the fact that his neighbour's house was on fire, in forgetfulness of the other fact that fire spreads; or as if in the body the head were indifferent to the fact that the foot had received a poisoned wound.

3. To put forth earnest efforts for the repression of public vices. Mere passive reprobation of them will be of no avail. Nor can we reasonably hope that time will abate and lessen them. No; these "sores" are "putrefying;" and if the body politic is ever to be restored to moral health, they must be "closed, bound up, and mollified with ointment." In some cases this "ointment" must be moral suasion, in other cases legal coercion. This principle is already recognised in regard to cockfighting, the sale of indecent books and pictures, &c.

1. Disclose man's need of a redemptive power external to himself. Our moral corruption is not like one of those minor diseases which are best left to "nature;" it is like a cancer or a malignant fever—if it is left to run its course, it will kill us. There is in us no vis medicatrix capable of overcoming and expelling it. If we are to be restored to moral soundness, it must be by a Power external to us.

2. Should lead us to accept with gratitude the proffered help of the Great Healer. We all need His help. Without it we shall grow worse day by day. His help will avail for us, however desperate may be our case; as it was in the days of His flesh physically, so is it now morally and spiritually (Mat ; Mat 14:36).

IV. Moral depravity brings on physical misery. The desolation set forth in Isa , was the natural consequence of the depravity denounced in Isa 1:5-6. By an everlasting and most righteous decree a bad character and a bad condition are linked together, and can be only for a very little while disassociated. This is true both of nations and individuals. Sin inevitably leads to sorrow. Of this fact we have ten thousand evidences in this present world. Hence also the realm of unrelieved wickedness is the realm of unmitigated woe. Were men always reasonable beings, the fearfulness and the certainty of the consequences of sin would be sufficient and prevailing arguments for repentance and amendment of life. Let them prevail with us (Eze 18:30; Eze 18:21).


Verse 9

GOD'S RELUCTANCE TO PUNISH

Isa . Except the Lord of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

God had humbled His people because of their transgressions, but He had not utterly destroyed them, as He might have done in strict justice. This reminds us—

1. That the punishments that befall wicked men in this world frequently fall short of their deserts.

These facts should lead us—

1. To adore the divine benignity. How worthy of our love and worship is this God who is no mere vindictive avenger of broken law, but a loving Father who chastens us, not for His pleasure, but for our profit!


Verse 10

THE SUMMONS TO JERUSALEM

Isa . Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

The prophet being about to make a still more terrible announcement, puts forth a renewed call for attention. It is well worthy of our study. We find in it—

I. A STARTLING DESCRIPTION. "Rulers of Sodom, … people of Gomorrah." What an astonishing declaration is this, that Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jerusalem are synonymous terms! It reminds us—

(1) In habitual self-indulgence. Self-indulgence may vary in its forms, but in its essential nature it is ever the same. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had pandered to the lusts of the body, the inhabitants of Jerusalem to the lusts of the mind (see Isa ; Isa 1:23; Isa 3:16, &c.)

3. That God describes men according to their essential character. He does not take men according to their own estimates of their character and conduct, and ticket them accordingly. His description of men is often precisely the opposite of that which they would give of themselves, and even of what men would give of them. His neighbours as well as himself would doubtless have described the prosperous farmer (Luk ) as a shrewd and wise man, but God pronounced him to be a fool. So here, these men who prided themselves that they were rulers of Jerusalem, the holy city, were declared to be "rulers of Sodom," the vilest of cities. Are we quite sure that God describes us as we have been accustomed to describe ourselves?

This duty of examining and proving supposes that there is some sure standard, which if we go by, we are sure not to be deceived. Now that rule is the Word of God. But as in matters of doctrine men have left the Scripture, the sure rule, and taken up antiquity, universality, tradition, and the like for their pride, and by this means have fallen into the ditch; so in matters of godliness, when we should try ourselves according to the characters and signs that the Scripture deciphers, we take up principles in the world, the applause of others, the conversation of most in the world. And thus it is with us as men in an hospital, because every one is either wounded or lame, or some way diseased, therefore none are offensive to each other.—Burgess.

Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men's lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust.—Leighton, 1611-1684.

Many are set upon excess of ceremonies, because they are defective in the vital parts, and should have no religion if they had not this. All sober Christians are friends to outward decency and order; but it is the empty self-deceiver that is most for the unwarrantable inventions of man, and useth the worship of God but as a masque or puppet-show, where there are great doings with little life, and to little purpose. The chastest woman will wash her face; but it is the harlot, or wanton, or deformed, that will paint it. The soberest and the comeliest will avoid a nasty or ridiculous habit, which may make them seem uncomely where they are not; but a curious dress and excessive care doth signify a crooked or deformed body, or a filthy skin, or, which is worst, an empty soul, that hath need of such a covering. Consciousness of such greater want doth cause them to seek those poor supplies. The gaudiness of men's religion is not the best sign that it is sincere. Simplicity is the ordinary attendant of sincerity. It hath long been a proverb, "The more ceremony, the less substance; and the more compliment, the more craft."—Baxter, 1615-1691.


Verse 11

TRUE AND FALSE RELIGION

Isa ; Isa 1:16-17. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.… Wash you, make you clear; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

What was the business of the ancient prophet? Not merely to predict events. His chief work was to make men realise vividly the presence of God. Religions, in order to their permanence, require system. But religious systems, with their creeds, forms, and ceremonies, have an inevitable tendency to coldness and deadness. The prophet was sent to counteract this tendency. It was his mission to restore to great words their great meanings, to cause moral principles to reassert themselves as the lords of conscience and of will—in a word, to prophesy on the dry bones of a decaying religion until there came upon them flesh and sinew, and there passed into them the breath of spiritual life. Such a mission was that of Isaiah. In his time religion was in a state of petrifaction, nay, rather of putrefaction. From this fact his prophetic message takes its keynote. It begins with an invective that reminds us of John the Baptist.

What was the condition of things that provoked his indignation? Not a lack of religious observances; there was a redundancy of them. That which caused a righteous anger to burn within him vehemently was their perversion of the sacrificial system in which they gloried, their dissociation of it from the moral law, to which God intended it to be only a supplement. It was given to teach men the hatefulness and the terrible consequences of sin, and the duty of consecration to God; but they separated it from the moral law, and allowed all its spiritual meaning to drop out of it. Instead of using it as a help to morality, they were making it the substitute for morality. Coming up red-handed from their murders, and reeking with their foul vices, they stood up before God, claiming His favour; for were they not sacrificing to Him, yea, in accordance with the regulations Himself had given? No wonder that a man with veracity in him and a love of righteousness should pour out upon such men and such offerings the whole wrath of his nature.

From this exposition take the following practical lessons—

1. All forms of religion have a tendency to lose their original purity and freshness. As a stream, clear at its fountain-head, but turbid before it reaches the sea; as our planet, which physicists say was flung off at first from the sun a glowing mass of light and heat, has been cooling down ever since; so is it with religions and churches. As a rule, their history has been one of gathering accretions and of diminishing purity and power in proportion to their distance from their fountain-head. So was it with Judaism. So has it been with Christianity. Contrast Christianity as we have it in St. Paul's epistles, all aglow with fervour and love, and that of the time of Leo X., with its professed head and most of his court professed infidels, and the officials of the Church selling indulgences to sin for money! Luther lit the fire again; but Protestantism has had its illustrations of the same law. Witness the state of things in this country in the last century. In view of this fact let the Church pray for prophetic spirits who shall in each generation rekindle the dying fires; and, apart from the influence of specially-gifted men, let each Church betake itself continually to the Fountain-head of spiritual life.

2. False religiousness is worse than none at all. Isaiah says, not simply that such observances are of no avail with God, but that they are abominations to Him. We can see the reason. Such a religion as that which Isaiah denounced works harm to the individual and to the cause of godliness generally; to the individual, by inspiring him with a vain confidence; to the cause of godliness, by furnishing points for the shafts of ridicule, by which faith is killed in many hearts. It would be difficult to say who are the greatest promoters of infidelity—professed atheists or hypocritical religionists.

3. It is a perilous thing to overlook the connection between impression and practice in religion. In Isa , the prophet shows us what the true nexus between them is. "Your ceremonies and observances will do you no good unless you practise the morality, the judgment, mercy, and love to which they point." Our power of receiving impressions is under a directly opposite law from our power of practice. The former steadily decreases by exercise, the latter as steadily increases. This is so in religion, as well as in other things. The impression produced upon the Jews by the sacrifices would decrease as they were repeated, unless by them they were led to practical righteousness, and their whole system would in time become utterly powerless as a moral incentive; just as, if a man is for a few mornings wilfully deaf to an alarum in his bedroom, it presently loses its power even to waken him. The same law will operate with us. The preaching of the gospel is intended to produce impression, and that again to lead to practice. If the latter does not follow at once, the chances are all against its ever following, because the impressions will become feebler with each repetition. A fact this for all hearers to ponder.

4. Religious observances and machinery of all kinds have their end in the development of character. This was so in Isaiah's time. It is so now. If their religious observances were not leading them to "cease to do evil," and to "learn to do well," but were hindering them from doing so, it were better for them to give them up. So our creeds, organisations, ministers, &c., are of use only as related to character. They are the scaffolding, character is the building; they are the tools, that the work. If no building is going on, this parade of scaffolding is an imposture, and had better be swept away.—J. Brierley, B.A.


Verse 13

THE POSSIBILITIES OF PUBLIC WORSHIP

Isa . It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.

I. Public worship is a thing of Divine appointment. A considerable part of the earlier books of Scripture is occupied with injunctions to observe it, and with directions for its conduct. All the best men of ancient times made public worship part of the business of their lives. David, Josiah, Hezekiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah made great sacrifices that it might be duly honoured. Our Lord Himself, who set aside the traditions of men, was careful to observe this Divine ordinance; besides attending the great feasts, He attended the synagogue every Sabbath-day (Luk ). The apostles and early Christians were in this respect His true followers (Act 2:46; Act 3:1). And we are expressly warned against neglect of it (Heb 10:24-25).

II. Public worship may be a means of communion with God. It was this possibility that induced men to build the Temple, that there might be a recognised place of meeting, not only with each other, but with God. There God did often meet with them (Psa ; Psa 27:4, &c.) The Temple now is wherever devout men are assembled for worship, and God, in the person of His Son, has expressly promised to be in their midst (Mat 18:20).

These are some of the possibilities of public worship; but they are not the only ones. The reverse of all this may be true. The worship may be observed and offered without any real regard to the Divine will and pleasure; it may separate God and men still more widely; it may be a curse to those who partake in it, and it may be a grievous offence to the Holy One of Israel.

Let us recall some of the things in connection with public worship which are apt to satisfy men. They are such as these: a crowded assembly; sweet singing; a noble liturgy; an eloquent sermon; a large collection. When these things are combined in any service, we are apt to felicitate ourselves exceedingly. But upon that very service God may look with unqualified condemnation. The crowd may have assembled for reasons very far removed from a desire to worship God; the singing may have been merely an artistic performance; the liturgy may have been made up of prayers such as that which a newspaper described as "the most eloquent ever addressed to a Boston audience;" the sermon may have had for its supreme object the glorification of the preacher; the contributors to the collection may have been moved merely by a desire to place the name of their congregation at the head of the subscription-list published in the newspapers on the following day. The whole thing may have been of the earth, earthy, and this may have been God's verdict concerning it, "It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting."

What, then, are the elements in worship essential to its acceptance with God?

3. That it be the expression of love—love singing in the hymns, breathing in the prayers, awakening "godly sorrow" for the sins of the past, leading to sincere and resolute dedication of the whole being to God for the future. Where these principles animate the worshippers, they will be governed by them also in daily life; their whole life will be a service and sacrifice well-pleasing in the sight of God, and what are called their "acts of worship" will not be artificial flowers stuck on to dead and rotting branches for their adornment, but sweet, natural blossoms, upon which God will smile, and which He will pronounce "very good."

I have sometimes had the misfortune to sit in concerts where persons would chatter and giggle and laugh during the performance of the profoundest passages of the symphonies of the great artists; and I never fail to think, at such times, "I ask to know neither you, nor your father and mother, nor your name: I know what you are, by the way you conduct yourself here—by the want of sympathy and appreciation which you evince respecting what is passing around you." We could hardly help striking a man who should stand looking upon Niagara Falls without exhibiting emotions of awe and admiration. If we were to see a man walk through galleries of genius, totally unimpressed by what he saw, we should say to ourselves, "Let us be rid of such an unsusceptible creature as that."

Now I ask you to pass upon yourselves the same judgment. What do you suppose angels, that have trembled and quivered with ecstatic joy in the presence of God, think when they see how indifferent you are to the Divine love and goodness in which you are perpetually bathed, and by which you are blessed and sustained every moment of your lives? How can they do otherwise than accuse you of monstrous ingratitude and moral insensibility, which betoken guilt as well as danger?—Beecher.


Verse 14

GOD OPPRESSED

Isa . Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.

It is the Almighty who here speaks, and His speech is a protest to men who imagined that by their worship they would conciliate and please Him. Their worship He rejects: it was polluted by the pollution of those who offered it. Instead of cleansing them, as they vainly dreamed, they had defiled it. It is the Almighty who speaks, and in what terms of intensity of pain! He speaks as one who has long been burdened by a load that has at length become intolerable. Strictly speaking, it is of worship offered to Him by ungodly men that He here expresses His abhorrence; but it is not conceivable—it is contrary to repeated declarations of His Word to suppose—that this is the only form of human transgression that is grievous to Him; and therefore we may fairly widen our contemplation, and consider—

I. God's sensibility to human sin. God is unchangeable; with Him there is no fickleness or caprice (Jas ); this is one of the glories of His nature. But how strangely have philosophers and theologians interpreted this sublime declaration! They have presented us with a deity impassive as the stars, which shine with equal splendour upon the display of great virtues and the perpetration of hideous crimes, calm, serene, undisturbed by anything that takes place on earth. Not such is the God of the Bible. He thrills with intensest emotions of delight or of disapprobation, of joy or of sorrow (Jer 9:24; Nah 1:6; Zep 3:17; Gen 3:6). Let philosophers call these "anthropomorphic representations" if they will, but words have no meaning if such declarations do not teach that God is stirred by emotions which are determined by the character and conduct of men. He is no cast-iron deity: He is "the living God." Sin is hateful to Him, because

2. It is a defiance of His authority. Every sinner is a rebel against the authority of the King of kings; and that king would be unworthy of his crown who could see his authority defied without feeling any emotion of displeasure, or without taking steps to vindicate his authority. It was precisely this selfish and pusillanimous weakness that made our Stephen despised and hated by his subjects. With God there is long-suffering and tender mercy, but there is no weakness. Sin is more than a defiance of God's authority; it is—

5. It is often a wrong inflicted on those whom He loves. Few men sin without wronging others as well as themselves. Now with what anger do we burn when we detect our children defrauding and oppressing each other! But between the sputtering of a lucifer-match and the glowing fires of a volcano, there is not so much disparity as between the anger which the spectacle of sins against brotherhood kindles in us and that which it rouses in God (Jer ). To form any adequate conception of the offensiveness of sin to God, we must remember that these considerations do not operate singly, but operate in combination to make it hateful to Him. How marvellous, then, is His endurance of it! Consider, then—

God hates sin, because it destroys what He loves. He could live high and lifted up above all noise of man's groaning, all smoke of his torment; but His nature is to come down after man—to grope for him amid all the dark pollutions of sin, and, if possible, to rescue and cleanse him.

God hates sin very much, as mothers hate wild beasts. One day a woman stood washing beside a stream. She was in a wild frontier country, and the woods were all around. Her little, only child was playing about near her. By and by she missed the infant's prattle, and, looking about, she called its name. There was no answer. Alarmed, the mother ran to the house, but her babe was not there. In wild distress the poor woman now fled to search the woods, and there she found her child. But it was only its little body that she clasped to her heart. A wolf had seized her treasure, and when, at last, she rescued it from those bloody fangs, its spirit had gone. Oh, how that mother hated wolves? And do you know that this is the very figure Christ uses to show what feeling He has towards the sin that is seeking to devour His children!—Beecher.

It makes a difference to God how we act. His happiness is affected by the conduct of His children; for His heart is the heart of a father. If, when my child sins, a pang goes through my own soul, and I fly to rescue him from further iniquity, it is because God struck into my breast a little spark of what in Him is infinite.—Beecher.

It is the same everywhere. When you employ men in your affairs, yon know that there is a distinction between a disregard of the rules of business, and a personal disagreement with yourself. You know that when a man offends against you, his wrong is more heinous and provoking than when he offends against your rules or laws. We know that a child may violate the laws of morality as they are established by the Word of God and by the consent of the community; that he may violate the civil law of the land in which he dwells; that he may violate the rules and regulations of a well-ordered family; and yet, though all these courses of conduct are grievous wrongs which shock the parent, not be as culpable as when he treads on the feeling of the parent. There are exigencies in which the child flies, as it were, in the heart of the father and mother, and does not so much violate their command as their living feeling; and we all know that this is regarded as more intolerable and more flagrant than simply setting aside and forgetting or transgressing a law. In other words, it is possible to break a statute; that is one kind of transgression. It is possible, also, to sin by directly infringing upon the heart and the feeling; that is another kind of transgression, and one that is considered more stinging, more intolerable, and more unforgivable than any other.

Now God and His law are one, in the sense in which we approach Him as moral beings—one in such a sense that when we offend against His moral law, we offend against His own personal feeling. He is not a magistrate for whom a system has been framed, and to the administration of which He comes under a sense of justice. He is a universal Father, administering according to His own instincts, His own tastes, His own affections, His own feelings, among His children. God's law is God's self, pervading the universe, and our transgression is a personal affront of God Himself. Just as when your taste, or your love, or your conscience, is violated by the direct act of another person against yourself, the offence is greater than if any exterior canon were broken; so it is when we violate the divine commands.

This conception of God should quicken every moral sensibility, and make a life of sin painful and distasteful to us. It is one thing to sin against a government, and another thing to sin against a being. There are a great many children that will sin against the family arrangements, who would not sin against their mother. There is many a child to whom the mother says, "My dear child, yon know your father has made a law in this family, that such and such things shall not be done, and you know you have broken that law three or four times; now, for my sake, avoid breaking it again." The child feels, when the mother interposes herself, that there is something that touches him which did not when it was only a law of the family that he was setting aside.

Now, God puts Himself in just that position, and the motive of obedience and righteousness is this: that God is the tenderest, the most patient, the gentlest, and the dearest friend that we have; that He knows everything within and without; and that though we are sinful and wicked, He, in His infinite compassion and mercy, forgives us, and says, "Do not sin against me, nor against mine."—Beecher.

When a man defrauds you in weight, he sins against you, not against the scales, which are only the instruments of determining true and false weight. When men sin, it is against God, and not against His law, which is but the indicator of right and wrong. You care little for sins against God's law. It has no blood in its veins, no sensibility. Now, every sin that you commit is personal to God, and not merely an infraction of His laws. It is casting javelins and arrows of base desire into His loving bosom. I think no truth can be discovered which would be so powerful upon the moral sense of men, as that which should disclose to them that sinning is always a personal offence against a personal God. Law without is only an echo of God's heart-beat within.—Beecher.

II. God's patience with human sin. He speaks here of being "troubled" by the worship of ungodly men; it is a burden of which He is "weary." Why, then, does He bear it for a moment? Why, then, does He not give quick vent to the indignation that burns within Him, and consume His troublers with swift destruction? He bears with us—

2. That He may set us an example of self-restraint. It is because He is Himself so slow to anger, that He is able to warn us against vindictiveness. God does not only lay upon us precepts of excellence: He Himself embodies them.

3. That He may place the righteousness of His judgments beyond dispute. A space of grace and forbearance seems necessary to enable onlookers to perceive that the awful doom which at length will come upon sinners is fully deserved, and is perfectly consistent with His own mercifulness. If "Wisdom" had not "called," reproved, counselled, "stretched out her hands" in entreaty, the stern words in which she announces the awful and irrevocable doom of her despisers would shock us (Pro ; Pro 1:32).

4. That a moral probation may be rendered possible. If punishment always instantly and obviously followed transgression, the world would be ruled by terror so overwhelming that free agency would be destroyed, and virtue consequently rendered impossible. For such reasons as these, God bears with sinners, and "sentence against an evil work" is not executed speedily.

III. God's protest against human sin. God suffers under human sin, but He does not suffer in silence: He vehemently protests against it. Two reasons should lead us to heed this protest:—

1. Gratitude. He might have sent vengeance without warning. His protests and threatenings are proofs of His love. All that is noblest and best in us should lead us to give instant and thankful heed when God appeals to us, and says, "Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate!" (Jer ). But if sin has so debased your nature that higher considerations such as this cannot move you, then I appeal—

In countries where earthquakes happen, a dead silence always goes before the earthquake. Nature seems hushed into an awful stillness, as if she were holding her breath at the thought of the coming disaster. The air hangs heavily; not a breath fans the leaves; the birds make no music; there is no hum of insects; there is no ripple of streams; and this while whole houses, and even cities sometimes, are hanging on the brink of ruin. So it is with God's silence,—it will be followed, when it seems deepest, by the earthquake of His judgments. And so the holy Apostle writes to the Thessalonians: "When they shall say, Peace and safety" (from the fact of God's being so still and so dumb), "then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape."—Goulburn.


Verse 15

WORTHLESS HUSKS

Isa . And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear.

The Jews had been likened unto the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (Isa ). As such, they are summoned to listen to a series of declarations of which this is the sum, that worship without holiness is a solemn mockery. Confining ourselves to our text only, we may see that it teaches us—

I. The worthlessness of ritualism without spontaneity. "When ye spread forth your hands," &c.

2. Ritualism may be the expression of earnest spiritual life, and a help thereto. It may be the outcome of sincere feeling and deep piety—such was the ritual which David and his devout companions devised and elaborated for the service of the Temple. It was costly and magnificent beyond even that which is observed in St. Peter's at Rome; but as practised by them it was as spiritual as the baldest service that has ever been conducted in the barest conventicle. A splendid ritual may be acceptable to the Most High, and the followers of George Fox must not imagine that they are the only persons who worship God "in spirit and in truth."

3. But ritualism may be, and often is, only a form. It may mean only an exhibition of millinery, a scrupulous observance of a prescribed series of postures and genuflexions. It may be, according to a too suggestive phrase, merely a service "performed." In this case God passes it by with contempt. To all engaged in such histrionic performances He says, "When ye spread forth your hands," &c. Supplication without desire will never draw down the Divine benediction.

Forms are necessary to religion as the means of its manifestation. As the invisible God manifests His nature—His power, wisdom, and goodness, in visible material forms, in the bright orbs of heaven, in the everlasting hills, in the broad earth with its fruits and flowers, and in all the living things which He has made,—so the invisible soul of man reveals its convictions and feelings in the outward acts which it performs. As there could be no knowledge of God without the visible forms in which He reveals Himself, so there could be no knowledge of the religion which exists in the soul of man without the outward forms in which it expresses itself. A form is the flag, the banner, the symbol of an inward life; it is to a religious belief what the body is to the soul; as the soul would be utterly unknown without the body, so religion would be unknown without its forms, a light hidden under a bushel, and not set up in a candlestick that it may give light to all that are in the house.

Forms are necessary not only to the manifestation of religion, but to its nourishment and continued existence. A religion which expressed itself in no outward word or act would soon die out of the soul altogether. The attempt to embody truth and feeling, to express it in words and actions, is necessary to give it the character of living principle in the soul: in this respect forms are like the healthy exercise which at once expresses and increases the vigorous life of the body, or they may be compared to the leaves of a tree, which not only proceed from its inward life, but catch the vitalising influences of the light, the rain and the atmosphere, and convey them down to the root.

What, then, is that formalism which is everywhere in the Scripture, and especially in the discourses of our Lord, described as an offence and an abomination in the sight of God? I answer, formalism is the substitution of the outward rite in the place of the inner spirit and life of the soul; it is the green leaf which still hangs upon the dead branch which has been lopped off.—David Loxton.

II. The worthlessness of prayer without purity of heart. "When ye make many prayers, I will not hear."

1. Prayer is a necessity of the Christian life. A consciousness of weakness and want, and a profound conviction of God's power and willingness to succour him, prompts the Christian to make "many prayers." And each supplication so inspired finds its way to the throne and heart of God. To hear and answer the prayers of His children is one of our Heavenly Father's joys (Isa ).

2. But prayer, like ritualism, instead of being the expression of a realised need, may be only an empty form. The supplications that are offered may be uttered merely by rote, with as little feeling as a child recites the multiplication-table; or they may be devices by which deluded men seek to propitiate that God whom they are offending by their conduct every day,—mere lip-homage, which they imagine He will accept in condonation of their habitual disregard of His will. In either case, their "many prayers" are worthless husks which He rejects with disdain.

If we would have our worship accepted of God, there must be—

1. Scriptural conceptions of His character. These will prevent us from mocking Him by merely formal prayers or praises.

2. A solemn realisation of His presence. How often this is lacking in those who take part in the service of the sanctuary, and even in those who conduct them! But God is not throned in some distant heaven, to which our prayers struggle up we know not how: He is HERE! We shall never be nearer to Him than we are to-day!

You think you serve God by coming to church; but if you refuse to let the Word convert you, how should God be pleased with such a service as this? It is as if you should tell your servant what you have for him to do, and because he hath given you the hearing, he thinks he should have his wages, though he do nothing of that which you set him to do. Were not this an unreasonable servant? Or would you give him according to his expectation? It is a strange thing that men should think that God will save them for dissembling with Him; and save them for abusing His name and ordinances. Every time you hear, or pray, or praise God, or receive the sacrament, while you deny God your heart and remain unconverted, you do but despise Him and show more of your rebellion than your obedience. Would you take him for a good tenant that at every rent-day would duly wait on you, and put off his hat to you, but bring you never a penny of rent? Or would you take him for a good debtor that brings you nothing but an empty purse, and expects you should take that for payment? God biddeth you come to church and hear the Word; and so you do, and so far you do well; but withal, He chargeth you to suffer the Word to work upon you hearts, and to take it home and consider of it, and obey it, and cast away your former courses, and give your hearts and lives to Him; and this yon will not do. And you think that He will accept of your service!—Baxter, 1615-1691.

REASONS FOR THE REJECTION OF PRAYER

Isa . When ye make many prayers, I will not hear.

God has characterised Himself as "the Hearer of prayer;" and it is the great consolation of His people that they cannot seek His face in vain. But here He declares that He will not hear the prayers of Israel, however many. This solemn and momentous declaration may well lead us to inquire why prayer is, in many instances, rejected. Prayer, to be heard, must be both right and real. If it possess neither of these characteristics, or only one of them—if it is neither right nor real, or is right without being real, or real without being right—it cannot fail to be rejected.

I often say my prayers,

But do I ever pray,

And do the wishes of my heart

Go with the words I say?

I may as well kneel down

And worship gods of stone,

As offer to the living God

A prayer of words alone,

For words without the heart

The Lord will never hear;

Nor will He to those lips attend

Whose prayers are not sincere.

John Burton.

II. Prayer may be real without being right. A man may really acknowledge mercies received, and petition for more; and yet neither the acknowledgment nor the petition may be regarded by God. The acknowledgment and the petition have reference to mere earthly desires already gratified or yet to be gratified. He thanks God that his "lusts have had the food which they craved;" he prays that they may never want it. Pride, vanity, the love of ease, pleasures, and worldly respectability are "lusts" on which he has hitherto "consumed," and on which he intends still to "consume," the good things which God has given, or may yet give him. The secret soul of all his supplications is not any zeal for the glory of God, but selfishness. His prayers are of the earth, earthy. The spiritual blessings which God holds out in His right hand he passes by in contemptuous neglect, and clamours for the natural blessings which are in God's left hand.

III. Both the faults of prayer above referred to are often found in one and the same individual, and the guilt of both accumulated on one and the same head.

Let it not be inferred from what has been said that we lay an interdict on natural blessings, and forbid the seeking of them in prayer. Our Saviour has given us authority to ask for daily bread, and this fully warrants the conclusion that natural blessings, as well as spiritual, may and ought to form a subject of prayer. We ought to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," and then ask Him to fulfil His promise of "adding unto us all other things."—R. Nesbit, Discourses, pp. 308-319.

A STARTLING CHARGE

Isa . Your hands are full of blood.

Such is the reason which God assigns for turning a deaf ear to the prayers of His ancient people: the hands they lifted up to Him in supplication were blood-stained. It was as if Cain, red with the murder of Abel, had lifted up his hands in prayer to God for blessing. By this startling charge we are reminded—

I. That between the estimates formed by God and men as to what takes place in the sanctuary there is often an infinite disparity. Behold the court of the temple filled, apparently, with devout worshippers, who lift up their hands to heaven in earnest supplication,—what a pleasing sight! But God looks down, and says, "Those hands are full of blood." The same contrast is repeated in another form (Isa ). Other contrasts: Eli sees what he thinks to be a drunken woman; God sees a humble suppliant (1Sa 1:12-13). Men see an eminently religious man praying in the sanctuary; God sees a man prostituting prayer into a means of self-glorification (Luk 18:11-12). Men see a foul wretch whose presence in the sanctuary is a pollution; God sees a broken hearted penitent, and hastens to bless him (Luk 18:13-14). So it is in our sanctuaries to-day.

II. That God holds us responsible for the ultimate consequences of our actions. The men who thronged the temple in Isaiah's time, and whose prayers God rejected, were not bandits and murderers in the ordinary and coarse fashion by which men are brought to the scaffold. Yet the charge brought against them was true. For there are other ways of murdering men than by acts of violence of which human law takes note. By grievous oppression millions of men have been brought to an untimely grave. If a man destroys another by slow poison, is he not as truly a murderer as another who kills his victim by means of prussic acid? In God's sight oppression is murder; and of oppression in its worst forms the Jews had been guilty (Isa ; Isa 3:14-15, &c.) It is in accordance with this declaration that opprobrium is heaped upon Jeroboam as the man "who made Israel to sin" (2Ki 10:29); and that we are so sternly warned against leading others into transgression (Mat 18:6, &c.) This fact—

1. Casts some light on the doctrine of future punishment. The results of the evil actions of men go on eternally propagating themselves, and it is therefore not unjust that the punishment of those actions should be eternal also.

2. Should cause us to halt when we are tempted to acts of unkindness and oppression. Unwillingly we may thereby become murderers.

3. Should lead us to be most watchful as to the example we set before others. If we hold our false lights by which they are caused to make shipwreck "concerning faith" and character, God will hold us responsible for the disaster (Rom , &c.)

III. That sin is naturally indelible. These Jews came into the sanctuary with hands carefully cleansed, but yet in God's sight they were "full of blood."

1. The stains of sin cannot be washed out by time. Time obliterates much, but it does not obliterate guilt. Men are apt to be troubled in conscience about recent sins, but to be at ease concerning those committed many years previously. But this is a mistake. Lapse of time makes no difference to God; the inscriptions in His books of record never fade. Hence the wisdom of David's prayer (Psa ).

2. The stain of sin cannot be washed out by worship. That it might be so was the vain dream of the Jews, as it is of millions to-day. But worship itself is an offence when it is offered by ungodly men; so far from diminishing their guilt, it increases it (Pro , &c.)

4. The stain of sin cannot be washed out even by reformation of conduct and character. Men speak of "turning over a new leaf," and when they have done what this phrase implies, they are apt to be at peace. But this also is a mistake. They forget that the old, evil leaf remains, and that for what is inscribed thereon God will call them to account. As there is a "godly sorrow" and a "worldly sorrow," so there is a religious and an irreligious reformation of conduct. The former is the result of evangelical repentance, and is of exceeding worth (Eze ); the latter is a mere act of prudence, and is of no moral account. In one way, and in one way only, can the stain of guilt be effaced from the human soul (1Jn 1:7-9).

"Not the labours of my hands

Can fulfil Thy law's demands.

Could my zeal no respite know

Could my tears for ever flow,

All for sin could not atone:

THOU must save, and THOU alone."


Verse 16

MORAL ABLUTION

Isa . Wash you, make you clean.

But "God works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure." By His Holy Spirit He strives in every human soul, awakening desires after a better and purer life. By His long-suffering, by messages from His Word, by the monitions of His providence, He strives to lead us to repentance. But we must repent. As while the earth cannot bear fruit unless the sun shine upon it, it is still the part of the earth to he fertile; so while we cannot repent unless God aid us, it is our part to turn from evil. Repentance cannot he exercised for us; it must be exercised by us.

God commands you to repent, just as to the apostles, when five thousand hungry men, besides women and children, surrounded them, and their whole store was five loaves and two fishes, Christ said, "Give ye them to eat." The task is as much beyond your unaided power as that was above theirs; but address yourself to it as they did, in obedience to the Divine behest, and you will receive power from on high to accomplish not only it, but other tasks higher yet.

I. Why must we cleanse ourselves from evil?

1. Because sin renders us offensive to God. It is in itself repulsive to Him, just as immodesty in all its forms and in every degree is repulsive to a virtuous woman (Hab ).

2. Because it is destructive to ourselves. In physical matters dirt and disease are inseparable, and so they are in spiritual. Moral pollution leads to moral decay. Sin is a leprosy that eats away all the finer faculties of the soul.

3. Because it renders us dangerous to our fellow-men. In the measure that we are corrupt, we shall corrupt others. There is a terrible contagiousness in iniquity (Pro ; Rev 18:4). A sinner is a walking pestilence. And

4. The special lesson of our text in its connection—Because otherwise access to the throne of grace will be closed against us. If it be not so with us now, yet there will come a season when it will be supremely important to us that God should hear our prayers (a time of great trouble, or the hour of death), and how awful will be our condition if God should then turn a deaf ear to us! But this is the doom of obdurate sinners (Isa ; Jer 11:14, &c.)

II. How may we cleanse ourselves from evil?

3. By humble but resolute endeavours to copy the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

5. By making the Word of God the only and absolute rule of our life (Psa ). These are the means by which we may attain to moral purity in the future. Cleansing from the guilt of sin in the past is bestowed freely on all who believe in Jesus (1Jn 1:7-9). Yea, the guilt of a man whose hands are literally "full of blood" may thus be washed away; e.g., Saul, the persecutor and murderer of the saints (Act 22:4; Act 22:16; 1Ti 1:16).

The first true sign of spiritual life, prayer is also the means of maintaining it. Man can as well live physically without breathing, as spiritually without praying. There is a class of animals—the cetaceous, neither fish nor seafowl, that inhabit the deep. It is their home; they never leave it for the shore; yet, though swimming beneath its waves and sounding its darkest depths, they have ever and anon to rise to the surface that they may breathe the air. Without that these monarchs of the deep could not exist in the dense element in which they live, and move, and have their being. And something like what is imposed on them by a physical necessity, the Christian has to do by a spiritual one. It is by ever and anon ascending up to God, by rising through prayer into a loftier, purer region for supplies of Divine grace, that he maintains his spiritual life. Prevent these animals from rising to the surface, and they die for want of breath; prevent him from rising to God, and he dies for want of prayer. "Give me children," cried Rachel, "or else I die." Let me breathe, says a man gasping, or else I die. Let me pray, says the Christian, or else I die.—Guthrie.

III. When may we cleanse ourselves from evil? NOW! this very hour the task ought to be begun.

2. Now, because God's commands brook no delay. (Psa ).

3. Now! because now though God may be willing to-day to grant you "repentance unto life," by your delay you may so provoke Him to anger that to-morrow repentance may be denied you.

Vice, as it groweth in age, so it improveth in stature and strength; from a puny child it soon waxeth a lusty stripling, then riseth to be a sturdy man, and after awhile becometh a massy giant, whom we shall scarce dare to encounter, whom we shall be very hardly able to vanquish; especially seeing that as it groweth taller and stouter, so we shall dwindle and prove more impotent, for it feedeth upon our vitals, and thriveth by our decay; it waxeth mighty by stripping us of our best forces, by enfeebling our reason, by perverting our will, by corrupting our temper, by debasing our courage, by seducing all our appetites and passions to a treacherous compliance with itself: every day our mind groweth more blind, our will more resty, our spirit more faint, our passions more headstrong and untamable; the power and empire of sin do strangely by degrees encroach, and continually get ground upon us, till it hath quite subdued and enthralled us. First we learn to bear it; then we come to like it; by and by we contract a friendship with it; then we dote upon it; at last we become enslaved to it in a bondage, which we shall hardly be able, or willing, to shake off; when not only our necks are fitted to the yoke, our hands are manacled, and our feet shackled thereby, but our heads and hearts do conspire in a base submission thereto, when vice hath made such impression on us, when this pernicious weed hath taken so deep root in our mind, will, and affection, it will demand an extremely toilsome labour to extirpate it.—Barrow, 1630-1677.

Repentance is entirely in God's disposal. This grace is in the soul from God, as light is in the air from the sun, by continual emanation; so that God may shut or open His hands, contract or diffuse, set forth or suspend the influence of it as He pleases. And if God gives not repenting grace, there will be a hard heart and a dry eye, maugre all the poor frustraneous endeavours of nature. A piece of brass may as easily melt, or a flint bewater itself, as the heart of man, by any innate power of its own, resolve itself into a penitential humiliation. If God does not, by an immediate blow of His omnipotence, strike the rock, these waters will never gush out. The Spirit blows where it listeth, and if that blows not, these showers can never fall.

And now, if the matter stands so, how does the impenitent sinner know but that God, being provoked by his present impenitence, may irreversibly propose within Himself to seal up these fountains, and shut him up under hardness of heart and reprobation of sense? And then farewell all thoughts of repentance for ever.—South, 1633-1716.

A PLAIN COMMAND

Isa . Cease to do evil.

One of the pretexts by which wicked men endeavour to excuse their neglect of religion is, that many of the doctrines of the Bible are mysterious. They are so necessarily, and that they are so is one proof that the Bible is from God. But however mysterious the doctrines of Scripture may be, its precepts are plain enough. How plain is the command of our text! No man can even pretend that he does not understand it. If he does not obey it, he will not be able to plead that it is beyond his comprehension. We have—

I. A universal requirement. Certain of the precepts of Scripture concern only certain classes of individuals (sovereigns, subjects, husbands, wives, &c.), but this command concerns us all. Your name is written above it, and it is a message for you.

What should I instance in that, whereof not Scripture, not books, but the whole world, is full—the inevitable sequences of sin and punishment? Neither can it be otherwise. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" saith Abraham. Right, is to give every one his due: wages is due to work; now "the wages of sin is death:" So then, it stands upon no less ground than very necessary and essential justice to God, that where wickedness hath led the way, there punishment must follow.—Hall, 1574-1656.

Ships, when the tide rises and sets strongly in any direction, sometimes turn and seem as if they would go out upon it. But they only head that way, and move from side to side, swaying and swinging without moving on at all. There seems to be nothing to hinder them from sailing and floating out to sea; but there is something. Down under the water a great anchor lies buried in the mud. The ship cannot escape. The anchor holds her. And thus are men holden by the cords of their own sins. They go about trying to discover some way to be forgiven, and yet keep good friends with the devil that is in them.—Beecher.

If we would realise the full force of the term "hatred of evil," as it ought to exist in all, as it would exist in a perfectly righteous man, we shall do well to consider how sensitive we are to natural evil in its every form to pain and suffering and misfortune. How delicately is the physical frame of man constructed, and how keenly is the slightest derangement in any part of it felt! A little mote in the eye, hardly discernible by the eye of another, the swelling of a small gland, the deposit of a small grain of sand, what agonies may these slight causes inflict! That fine filament of nerves of feeling spread like a wonderful network of gossamer over the whole surface of the body, how exquisitely susceptible is it! A trifling burn, or scald, or incision, how does it cause the member affected to be drawn back suddenly, and the patient to cry out! Now there can be no question that if man were in a perfectly moral state, moral evil would affect his mind as sensibly and in as lively a manner—would, in short, be as much of an affliction to him, as pain is to his physical frame. He would shrink and snatch himself away, as sin came near to his consciousness; the first entrance of it into his imagination would wound and arouse his moral sensibilities, and make him positively unhappy.—Goulburn.

IV. An imperative requirement. This is not a counsel, which we are at liberty to accept or reject; it is a command, which we disobey at our peril; a command of One who has full power to make His authority respected.


Verse 16-17

TRUE AND FALSE RELIGION

Isa ; Isa 1:16-17. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats.… Wash you, make you clear; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

What was the business of the ancient prophet? Not merely to predict events. His chief work was to make men realise vividly the presence of God. Religions, in order to their permanence, require system. But religious systems, with their creeds, forms, and ceremonies, have an inevitable tendency to coldness and deadness. The prophet was sent to counteract this tendency. It was his mission to restore to great words their great meanings, to cause moral principles to reassert themselves as the lords of conscience and of will—in a word, to prophesy on the dry bones of a decaying religion until there came upon them flesh and sinew, and there passed into them the breath of spiritual life. Such a mission was that of Isaiah. In his time religion was in a state of petrifaction, nay, rather of putrefaction. From this fact his prophetic message takes its keynote. It begins with an invective that reminds us of John the Baptist.

What was the condition of things that provoked his indignation? Not a lack of religious observances; there was a redundancy of them. That which caused a righteous anger to burn within him vehemently was their perversion of the sacrificial system in which they gloried, their dissociation of it from the moral law, to which God intended it to be only a supplement. It was given to teach men the hatefulness and the terrible consequences of sin, and the duty of consecration to God; but they separated it from the moral law, and allowed all its spiritual meaning to drop out of it. Instead of using it as a help to morality, they were making it the substitute for morality. Coming up red-handed from their murders, and reeking with their foul vices, they stood up before God, claiming His favour; for were they not sacrificing to Him, yea, in accordance with the regulations Himself had given? No wonder that a man with veracity in him and a love of righteousness should pour out upon such men and such offerings the whole wrath of his nature.

From this exposition take the following practical lessons—

1. All forms of religion have a tendency to lose their original purity and freshness. As a stream, clear at its fountain-head, but turbid before it reaches the sea; as our planet, which physicists say was flung off at first from the sun a glowing mass of light and heat, has been cooling down ever since; so is it with religions and churches. As a rule, their history has been one of gathering accretions and of diminishing purity and power in proportion to their distance from their fountain-head. So was it with Judaism. So has it been with Christianity. Contrast Christianity as we have it in St. Paul's epistles, all aglow with fervour and love, and that of the time of Leo X., with its professed head and most of his court professed infidels, and the officials of the Church selling indulgences to sin for money! Luther lit the fire again; but Protestantism has had its illustrations of the same law. Witness the state of things in this country in the last century. In view of this fact let the Church pray for prophetic spirits who shall in each generation rekindle the dying fires; and, apart from the influence of specially-gifted men, let each Church betake itself continually to the Fountain-head of spiritual life.

2. False religiousness is worse than none at all. Isaiah says, not simply that such observances are of no avail with God, but that they are abominations to Him. We can see the reason. Such a religion as that which Isaiah denounced works harm to the individual and to the cause of godliness generally; to the individual, by inspiring him with a vain confidence; to the cause of godliness, by furnishing points for the shafts of ridicule, by which faith is killed in many hearts. It would be difficult to say who are the greatest promoters of infidelity—professed atheists or hypocritical religionists.

3. It is a perilous thing to overlook the connection between impression and practice in religion. In Isa , the prophet shows us what the true nexus between them is. "Your ceremonies and observances will do you no good unless you practise the morality, the judgment, mercy, and love to which they point." Our power of receiving impressions is under a directly opposite law from our power of practice. The former steadily decreases by exercise, the latter as steadily increases. This is so in religion, as well as in other things. The impression produced upon the Jews by the sacrifices would decrease as they were repeated, unless by them they were led to practical righteousness, and their whole system would in time become utterly powerless as a moral incentive; just as, if a man is for a few mornings wilfully deaf to an alarum in his bedroom, it presently loses its power even to waken him. The same law will operate with us. The preaching of the gospel is intended to produce impression, and that again to lead to practice. If the latter does not follow at once, the chances are all against its ever following, because the impressions will become feebler with each repetition. A fact this for all hearers to ponder.

4. Religious observances and machinery of all kinds have their end in the development of character. This was so in Isaiah's time. It is so now. If their religious observances were not leading them to "cease to do evil," and to "learn to do well," but were hindering them from doing so, it were better for them to give them up. So our creeds, organisations, ministers, &c., are of use only as related to character. They are the scaffolding, character is the building; they are the tools, that the work. If no building is going on, this parade of scaffolding is an imposture, and had better be swept away.—J. Brierley, B.A.


Verse 17

THE GREAT TASK

Isa . Learn to do well.

III. In learning to do well, we need both inspiration and help. We have both: the inspiration in the example of our Lord (Act ; Heb 12:2); the help in the gracious assistance of the Holy Ghost (Rom 8:26). Therefore, difficult as the task is, we may address ourselves to it with good hope of success.—William Jones.

THE NOBLEST ART

Isa . Learn to do well.

I. To do well is a thing that requires to be learned.

Who starts up a finished Christian? The very best men come from their graves, like Lazarus, "bound with grave-clothes"—not like Jesus, who left the death-dress behind Him; and, alas! in their remaining corruptions all carry some of these cerements about with them, nor drop them but at the gate of heaven.—Guthrie.

II. To do well is a thing that may be learned. Not all persons, however earnest their desires or persevering their efforts, can become poets, painters, statesmen, orators. But to do well is an art in which all regenerate persons may become proficient, some with greater ease than others, but to none is the task impossible. There is no vice which a regenerate man may not lay aside, no excellence to which he may not attain.

III. To do well is a thing that must be learned. It is an imperative demand which God makes upon all His people. We cannot satisfy it by "ceasing to do evil." It is not enough for the "branches" of the True Vine not to bring forth "wild grapes;" they must bear fruit—much fruit—to the glory of the Husbandman (Joh ). Not only must Christ's followers be "blameless," they must be conspicuous for excellence. "Let your light so SHINE before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." These truths being settled in our minds, let us ask ourselves.

IV. How this noblest of arts may be acquired.

2. By becoming imbued with the principles by which the great masters in this art were animated. Mere mechanical imitation is always a poor thing, and often a grotesque and pitiable thing; because circumstances are continually varying. What kind of an English home would the most exact reproduction of the most beautiful of all classic villas be? The architect who forgot that the climate of England is not that of Rome or Athens would be accounted a fool. Yet many professed imitators of Christ have fallen into a similar mistake: they have imitated merely the outward circumstances of His life, and have forgotten that the essential thing is to have "the mind that was in Christ." When we have that, all else will follow as a matter of course. Now the great principle which governed Christ and His noblest disciples was love—love to God and man: a docile love, which did not seek to please God in its way, but in His way, and evermore searched the Scriptures to discover upon what things God looks with delight.

3. By patient and persevering endeavours to embody in our practice the truths we have thus discovered. Only by such endeavours can the mastery in any art be won.

4. By fidelity in little things. The master's ease is reached only by the student's painstaking—by his careful endeavour to be right in each individual note, line, shade, stroke, word. It is thus, and thus only, that the habit of doing well is gained.

V. Let us remember certain things for our encouragement.

2. In no other art does progress bring so much happiness: the testimony of a good conscience; consciousness of the approval of God; a pleasant retrospect; brightening hopes.

3. In no other art does proficiency ensure such rich rewards. Proficiency in any other art can but win for us the honours and joys of earth; proficiency in this will secure for us the honours and joys of heaven. It is one great doctrine of Scripture, that we are saved through our faith: it is another, that we are rewarded according to our works.

THE OPPRESSED AND THEIR RELIEF

Isa . Relieve the oppressed.

Religion means sympathy with man in his oppressed condition. The truth alone can give men freedom.

I. The oppressed.

1. There are those oppressed by sinful habits. Many men are their own tyrants. They build their own prison, make their own fetters, and whip themselves. Their oppression is the consequence of their sin. Such are to be relieved, however little they may appear to desire or deserve it, by the compassion of the good.

2. There are those oppressed by commercial difficulty. There are many men whose commercial life is one continuous struggle to get on, and to provide things honest in the sight of the world. They have small capital. Fortune seems against them. They are active, but they do not succeed. Such ought to be relieved by the generous consideration of the good.

3. There are those oppressed by domestic misfortune. The wife has lost her husband. The children have buried their parents. They are out alone in the wide world. They are liable to the thoughtless but stern oppression of men. Such must be relieved by the good.

4. There are those oppressed by religious bigotry. There are many great souls who are larger than a sect, oppressed by the conventionally orthodox. They are driven from their pulpits. They are excommunicated from their synagogue. They need the relief of true sympathy.

II. Their relief.

2. By intelligent advocacy. The cause of the oppressed should be advocated where it is likely to be redressed. Politics can be employed in no higher ministry than in seeking the relief of the oppressed.

3. By practical help. Sympathy must not be substituted for personal and self-denying help. Words are well; smiles are welcome; but personal help is the most effective to the removal of oppression.—J. S. Exell.

GOD'S IDEAL OF GOODNESS

Isa . Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.

This verse is more correctly translated thus—"Learn to do well; seek judgment, restrain the oppressor, right the fatherless, maintain the cause of the widow,"—or, "Learn to do good; seek out judgment, redress wrong, judge the fatherless, befriend the widow."

The form of these admonitions was determined by the sins of which the rulers of Jerusalem had been guilty. By them the course of justice had been perverted (Isa ; Mic 3:11, &c.); wrongs had been left unredressed, and oppressors unrestrained; the orphans and the widows, having neither money to bribe nor power to overawe the corrupt judges, had sought in vain for justice,—such judges as our Lord has depicted in His parable (Luk 18:2) were common. The four specific admonitions of this verse are a divinely-inspired exposition of the general admonition with which it commences. So regarded, we find in it God's ideal of goodness. The command is given, "Learn to do well." Yes, but what is meant by learning to do well? "To do well," says the prophet, is "to seek out judgment, to restrain the oppressor, to judge the fatherless, to befriend the widow."

This Divine ideal of goodness is in startling opposition to certain standards of excellence widely accepted both in the Church and in the world. It, is in opposition

(2) to the idea that a man who confines himself to the cultivation of personal virtues is a true follower of Christ. In all our Churches there are multitudes of persons whose "religion" is a purely selfish consideration. They have been taught that certain excellences are necessary to qualify them for admission to heaven, and to the cultivation of these excellences they address themselves assiduously, merely that they may secure their own eternal well-being. But such persons fail to observe that the mind that was in Christ was not a spirit of self-seeking but of self-sacrifice. It is in opposition

For men to think to excuse themselves that they do no hurt, wrong neither man, woman, or child, and are not, as the Pharisee said, as the publicans, who generally were oppressors, is but a vain, foolish thing. The idle servant might have said, "Lord, I did no harm with my talent; I did not lay it out in rioting and drunkenness, or any way to Thy dishonour; I only hid it, and did not improve it,"—yet this was enough to condemn him. Can we call ground good ground for bearing no weeds, if it never bring forth good corn? Or do we count that servant a good servant who doth not wrong his master in his estate by purloining or wasting it, if he live idle all day, and neglect the business his master appoints him?—Swinnock, 1673.

APPLICATION.—

3. A godlike life can never be a life of ease. How many members of our churches have incurred Christ's woe! (Luk ). Prudent men, they have been careful never to "meddle" in affairs of their neighbours; they have never identified themselves with any revolutionary movements; against wrongs which have not troubled themselves they have never uttered words of flaming indignation! And yet they imagine themselves to be followers of Him who spoke of "the cross" which each of His disciples would have to carry. What He meant by this saying is a mystery to them. But let them begin to endeavour to "learn to do well" in the manner pointed out in the text, and this saying of His will be a mystery to them no longer. The world will very soon hate them even as it hated Him. But this is one of the surest signs that we are His (Joh 15:18-19).


Verse 18

GOD'S GRACIOUS INVITATION TO SINNERS

Isa . Come now, and. let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

It is scarcely possible to conceive of a more interesting and delightful exhibition of the love and mercy of God than is presented to us in these words; unless they had been found in the volume of eternal truth, we might have justly doubted their veracity. For the speaker is Jehovah, a Being infinitely happy and glorious in Himself. He needs not, on His own account, the return of the sinner to Himself. Besides, He is the offended party. How marvellous, then, that He should stoop to ask reconciliation with poor wretched man, the rebel and traitor against heaven. Notice—

I. The characters addressed. Not such as excel in moral excellency, but the vilest and most degraded of sinners. How apt we are to think that such are past reclamation. Yet it is to these that the invitation of our text is addressed—those whose sins are as scarlet and crimson. This description includes—

1. Those whose sins are glaring and manifest. In the heart of men there is much evil that man or angel never sees. External circumstances act in the moral world as the shore to the ocean, limiting and bounding its waters. The control thus exerted upon men is well for them, for society, and for the Church. But numbers cast it off, sin in open day, and glory in their shame. Their sins are as scarlet or as crimson.

2. Those whose iniquities are specially productive of much evil and misery—ringleaders in sin; ridiculers of piety, who labour to throng the road to hell; ungodly masters; ungodly heads of households, &c.

4. Backsliders, who by their fall have hardened others in iniquity, and caused them to scoff at religion.

5. Aged transgressors.

II. The invitation presented. "Come and let us reason," &c. He wishes to have your state and condition tested by reason. He gives you opportunities of self-defence; he is willing to hear all your motives, arguments, &c. Now, will you come to God, and reason with Him? What will you say?

1. You cannot plead ignorance. You have seen the evil of your way, and yet have chosen it.

2. You cannot plead necessity. The Jews of old declared that they were not free agents, and that they could not help committing the sins of which they were guilty (Jer ). This is the grossest self-deception. It cannot be the will of God that you should do evil (1Th 4:3; Jas 1:13; 1Pe 1:16). To attribute our sins to Him is the most outrageous impiety. You have sinned freely; it has been your own act and choice.

3. You must plead guilty. Cast yourself on the mercy of God, pleading guilty, you shall not be condemned, if—

4. You plead the merits of Christ. He is "the propitiation for our sin." Here is your hope, your plea. In availing yourself of this plea, all that God requires is repentance and faith.

III. The gracious promise.—Jabez Burns, D.D., Pulpit Cyclopœdia, iii. 161-165.

CLEANSING FOR THE VILEST

Isa . Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

We are informed by the Rabbins that the high priest bound a scarlet fillet round the neck of the scapegoat, and that when the priest confessed his own sins and the sins of the people, the fillet became white if the atonement was accepted by God, but that if it was not accepted, the fillet remained scarlet still. The Rabbins further say that the goat was led about twelve furlongs out of Jerusalem, where it was thrown down a precipice, and was mangled to atoms by the fall. In case of the sacrifice being received by Heaven, a scarlet ribbon which hung at the door of the temple changed from scarlet to pure white. They affirm that it is to this changing of the fillet and ribbon from scarlet to white that Isaiah refers in our text. While we regard these as fictions, and not as facts, they serve to illustrate the nature and greatness of the change spoken of in it.

I. Scarlet and crimson represent sins of excessive and glaring notoriety.

1. The soul has been steeped in the dyeing element.

2. It has carried away as much of the dyeing quality as it can hold. It is twice dipped in the dye-vat.

3. The sins glare and arrest the eye like scarlet in the sun. As the uniform of the British soldier is most conspicuous, so these sins glare in the eye

(1) of society

(2) of conscience,

(3) of Divine justice.

II. Scarlet and crimson symbolise the fast and permanent hold of these sins upon the soul.

1. The sins are not a stain but a dye.

2. The sins are not superficial: they have penetrated into the fabric, every thread of which has been dyed. The faculties are the threads: the whole man the web.

3. The sins are not typified by any dye, but by scarlet and crimson, which are as permanent as the fabric they colour. They resist sun, dew, rain, the wash.

COMFORT FOR THE DESPONDING

Isa . Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Some are kept in a desponding state—

I. By the views they entertain of the sovereignty of God and the doctrine of election. But—

1. The election of God, whatever it is, is an election unto life, and not unto destruction. It should therefore be a source of encouragement, not discouragement: it should awaken hope and joy, rather than despondency.

3. The thing you are required to believe in order to salvation is not your election, but God's truth.

II. By the views they take of certain isolated passages of Scripture (Mat ; Heb 12:17; Pro 1:24-31). Not one of these passages, rightly understood, need quench your hope. Where there is one obscure passage that seems to make against you, there is a hundred which plainly and positively tell you that if you turn you shall live, if you believe you shall be saved.

III. By an apprehension that their repentance has not been deep enough. But—

2. It is not the depth of your feelings that is your warrant to come to Christ.

3. Your penitential feelings will not be likely to be increased by staying away from Christ.

SIN AND GRACE

Isa . Come now, and let us reason together, smith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

The representation of the work of grace promised by God as a change from red to white is founded upon the symbolism of colours, quite as much as when the saints in the Revelation (Isa ) are described as clothed in white raiment, whilst the clothing of Babylon is purple and scarlet (Isa 17:4). Red is the colour of fire, and therefore of life: the blood is red because life is a fiery process. For this reason the heifer, from which the ashes of purification were obtained for those who had been defiled through contact with the dead, was to be red; and the sprinkling-bush, with which the unclean were sprinkled, was to be tied around with a band of scarlet wool. But red, as contrasted with white, the colour of light (Mat 17:2), is the colour of selfish, covetous, passionate life, which is self-seeking in its nature, which goes out of itself only to destroy, and drives about with wild tempestuous violence: it is therefore the colour of wrath and sin. It is generally supposed that Isaiah speaks of red as the colour of sin, because sin ends in murder; and this is not really wrong, though it is too restricted. Sin is called red, inasmuch as it is a burning heat which consumes a man, and when it breaks forth consumes his fellow-man as well. According to the biblical view, throughout, sin stands in the same relation to what is well-pleasing to God, and wrath in the same relation to love or grace, as fire to light; and therefore as red to white, or black to white, for red and black are colours which border upon one another. In the Song of Solomon (Isa 7:5), the black locks of Shulamith are described as being "like purple," and Homer applies the same epithet to the dark waves of the sea. But the ground of this relation lies deeper still. Red is the colour of fire, which flashes out of darkness and returns to it again; whereas white, without any admixture of darkness, represents the pure, absolute triumph of light. It is a deeply significant symbol of the act of justification. Jehovah offers to Israel an actio forensis, out of which it shall come forth justified by grace, although it has merited death on account of its sins. The righteousness, white as snow and wool, with which Israel comes forth, is a gift conferred upon it out of pure compassion, without being conditional upon any legal performance whatever.—Delitsch, Commentary on Isaiah, vol. i. pp. 98, 99.

A subordinate point in the imagery is, that scarlet and crimson were the firmest of dyes, least capable of being washed out.—Dr. Kay.

I. THE WONDERS OF DIVINE CONDESCENSION.

1. How marvellous that God should condescend to "reason" with sinful men! Not thus do human governments deal with rebels against their authority. The stern proclamation goes forth, "Submit, or die." To admit helpless rebels to a conference on equal terms (such as "reasoning" implies) is an idea that never occurs to earthly sovereigns; but (Isa )—

2. How marvellous that God should invite sinful men to reason with Him, with a view to reconciliation with them! The result of such an investigation of their conduct could only be their condemnation; but this is not God's ultimate design. He does not desire to humiliate sinners, but to bring them to repentance and confession, in order that it may be possible for Him to pardon them. According to human standards, it would have been a great thing had God been willing to be reconciled to those who have offended Him so grievously; but how astonishing is this, that He, the offended party, should seek to reconcile the offenders to Himself. (2Co ; Joh 3:19).

II. THE POSSIBILITIES OF HUMAN SIN. "Though your sins be as scarlet … though they be red like crimson." Sins that take complete possession of a man, and that are conspicuous to the public eye, may be described as crimson and scarlet sins. How common such sins are! What a spectacle the human race must present to angelic eyes! Scarlet and crimson sins are more common than we are apt to suppose, because responsibility is in proportion to privilege. In proportion to the sinner's light is the sinner's guilt. Consequently that which is a trivial fault in one man may be a crimson sin in another. When an offence is contrary to a man's whole training, though it may be a small matter in the sight of man, it may be as scarlet and crimson sin in the sight of God. In these possibilities of human sin we have—

2. A reason for universal humiliation and prayer. Just because our privileges have been so great, God may put a very different estimate upon our transgressions than we are disposed to do. Therefore let us humbly seek pardon for the past, and preventing grace for the future (Psa ).

2. An encouragement for those who are striving after moral purity. Many who try to live a Christian life grow discouraged. There are discouragements that come from without: the constant recurrence of temptation, the unfavourable spiritual atmosphere in which they live, the glaring inconsistencies of some of the professing Christians by whom they are surrounded, the low tone of the spiritual life of those whose conduct is not so open to censure. Still sorer discouragements come from within: the faults that will not be shaken off; the evil tendencies that will manifest themselves; the evil thoughts that will keep welling up from the fountain of the heart, revealing its intense depravity. These things are carefully hidden from men, but God knows them, and the believer knows them, and because of them is apt to grow discouraged. It seems to him that he can never be "made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." But God has declared that he shall be: God has undertaken to perfect him in purity. "Be of good courage, all ye that hope in the Lord." God is able to make all grace abound toward you, and He is faithful to all His promises. See what He has promised in our text. He has already fulfilled this promise in innumerable cases (Rev ), and He will fulfil it in yours. Be not discouraged because your moral progress is so slow. How long does the sun shine on the fruit seemingly in vain! All the summer the peach remains hard as a stone. But the sun is not shining in vain. Some week in the autumn this is seen. All at once it softens and becomes ripe; not as the result of that one week's sun, but of all the sunlight and warmth of the preceding weeks. The chestnut opens in a night; but for months the opening process is going on. In a moment many chemicals seem to crystallise, but the process of crystallisation goes on long before it becomes apparent. So there is a ripening, a crystallising, a cleansing process going on in the heart of the believer: though we see it not now, Yet we shall have ample proof of it by and by. In this matter walk by faith, not by sight. Be of good courage! We shall yet be "white as snow."

Ask why the fisher stands all night with his angle in the river; he will tell you, because he delights in the sport. Well, you know now the reason why God stands so long waiting on sinners, months, years, preaching to them; it is that He may be gracious in pardoning them, and in that act delight Himself. Princes very often pardon traitors to please others more than themselves, or else it would never be done; but God doth it chiefly to delight and gladden His own merciful heart. Hence the business Christ came about (which was no other but to reconcile sinners to God) is called "the pleasure of the Lord" (Isa ).—Gurnall, 1617-1679.

Many people get a wrong idea of God by thinking of Him as infinite only in justice and power; but infinite applies to the feelings of God as much as to the stretch of His right hand. There is nothing in His nature which is not measureless. Many think God sits brooding in heaven, as storms brood in summer skies, full of bolts and rain, and believe that they must come to Him under the covert of some apology, or beneath some umbrellaed excuse, lest the clouds should break, and the tempest overwhelm them. But when men repent towards God, they go not to storms, but to serene and tranquil skies, and to a Father who waits to receive them with all tenderness and delicacy and love. His eye is not dark with vengeance, nor His heart turbulent with wrath; and to repent towards His justice and vindictiveness must always be from a lower motive than to repent towards His generosity and love. When you wish to please God, treat Him as one who feels sorry for sinners; treat Him as one who longs to help those who need help; go to Him confidingly. No matter how bad you are—the worse the better. Old Martin Luther said, "I bless God for my sins." He would never have had such a sense of the pardoning mercy of God if he had not himself been sinful. By as much as you are wicked, God is glorious in restoring you to purity. Let Him do for you those things which are the most generous and magnanimous, and that will please Him best. He is a Being whose feelings and affections move on such vast lines of latitude and longitude, that the more you presume upon His goodness, and cast yourself before Him saying, "I need a miracle of grace and mercy," the better He is pleased.

Now I beseech you to kindle up a thought of what your mother would do if you were a sinful, heart-broken, discouraged man, but repentant, saying, "I have trod the thorny way of life, and learned its mischief, can you, mother, help me to begin anew?" What mother would cast away such a son? What father would not receive a son on such terms? And if earthly parents can lift themselves up into feelings of holy sympathy for a repentant child, what must be the feelings of God when His children come to Him for help to break away from sin, and to lead lives of rectitude? Read the 15th chapter of Luke, and find out what God's feelings are; and then say, "I will arise, and go to my Father."—Beecher.

He is rich in mercy, abundant in goodness and truth. Thy sins are like a spark of fire that falls into the ocean, it is quenched presently; so are all thy sins in the ocean of God's mercy. There is not more water in the sea than there is mercy in God.—Manton, 1620-1667.

Why dost thou not believe in God's mercy? Is it thy sins discourage? God's mercy can pardon great sins, nay, because they are great (Psa ). The sea covers great rocks as well as lesser sands.—Watson, 1696.

Like some black rock that heaves itself above the surface of a sunlit sea, and the wave runs dashing over it, and the spray, as it falls down its sides, is all rainbowed and lightened, and there comes beauty into the mighty grimness of the black thing; so a man's transgressions rear themselves up, and God's great love comes sweeping itself against them and over them, makes out of the sin an occasion for the flashing more brightly of the beauty of His mercy, and turns the life of the pardoned penitent into a life of which even the sin is not pain to remember.—Maclaren.

SELF-SCRUTINY IN GOD'S PRESENCE

Isa . Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

The outflow of holy displeasure contained in the earlier portions of this chapter would prepare us to expect an everlasting reprobacy of the rebellious and unfaithful Church, but it is strangely followed by the most yearning and melting entreaty ever addressed by the Most High to the creatures of His footstool.

I. The text represents God as saying to the trangressors of His law, "Come, and let us reason together." The first lesson to be learned, consequently, is the duty of examining our moral character and conduct along with God. When a responsible being has made a wrong use of his powers, nothing is more reasonable than that he should call himself to account for this abuse. Nothing, certainly, is more necessary. There can be no amendment for the future until the past has been cared for. But that this examination may be both thorough and profitable, it must be made in company with the Searcher of hearts. For there are always two beings who are concerned with sin: the being who commits it, and the Being against whom it is committed. Whenever therefore, an examination is made into the nature of moral evil as it exists in the individual heart, both parties concerned should share in the examination. Such a joint examination as this produces a very keen and clear sense of the evil and guilt of sin. Conscience, indeed, makes cowards of us all, but when the eye of God is felt to be upon us, it smites us to the ground.

1. When the soul is shut up along with the Holy One of Israel, there are great searchings of heart. Man is honest and anxious at such a time. His usual thoughtlessness and torpidity upon the subject of religion leave him, and he becomes a serious and deeply-interested creature.

II. The second lesson taught in the text is, that there is forgiveness with God. If mercy were not a manifested attribute of God, all self-examination, and especially all this conjoint Divine scrutiny, would be a pure torment and a pure gratuity. We have the amplest assurance in the whole written revelation of God, but nowhere else, that "there is forgiveness with Him, that He may be feared." The text is an exceedingly explicit assertion of this great truth. The very same Being who invites us to reason with Him and canvass the subject of our criminality, in the very same breath, if we may so speak, assures us that He will forgive all that is found in this examination. And upon such terms cannot the criminal well afford to examine into his crime? The Divine pity outruns and exceeds the crime. Paradoxical as it may appear, self-examination, when joined with a distinct recognition of the Divine character, and a conscious sense of God's scrutiny, is the surest means of producing in a guilty mind a firm conviction that God is merciful, and is the swiftest way of finding Him to be so. Abhorrent as iniquity is to the pure mind of God, it is nevertheless a fact that that sinner who goes directly into this Dread Presence with all his sins upon his head, in order to know them, to be condemned and crushed by them, and to confess them, is the one who soonest returns with peace and hope in his soul. For he discovers that God is as cordial and sincere in His offer to forgive as He is in His threat to punish; and having, to his sorrow, felt the reality and power of the Divine anger, he now, to his joy, feels the equal reality and power of the Divine love. And this is the one great lesson which every man must learn, or perish for ever.

From these two lessons of our text we deduce the following practical directions—

1. In all states of religious anxiety we should betake ourselves instantly and directly to God; there is no other refuge for the human soul but God in Christ. Are we sinners, and in fear for the final result of our life? Though it may seem like running into fire, we must, nevertheless, betake ourselves first and immediately to that Being who hates and punishes sin (1Ch ).

2. In all our religious anxiety we should make a full and plain statement of everything to God. Even when the story is one of shame and remorse, we find it to be mental relief, patiently, and without any reservation or palliation, to expose the whole, not only to our own eye, but to that of our Judge. For to this very thing have we been invited. This is precisely the "reasoning together" which God proposes to us. God has not offered clemency to a sinful world with the expectation or desire that there be, on the part of those to whom it is offered, such a stinted and meagre confession, such a glozing over and diminution of sin, as to make that clemency appear a very small matter. He well knows the depth and the immensity of the sin which He proposes to pardon, and has made provision accordingly. In the phrase of Luther, it is no painted sinner who is to be forgiven, and it is no painted Saviour who is offered. The transgression is deep and real, and the atonement is deep and real. The crime cannot be exaggerated, neither can the expiation. He, therefore, who makes the plainest and most childlike statement of himself to God, acts most in accordance with the mind and will and gospel of God. If man can only be hearty, full, and unreserved in confession, he will find God to be hearty, full, and unreserved in absolution.—W. G. T. Shedd, D.D., The American Pulpit of the Day, vol. i. pp. 829-842.


Verse 19

SINNERS SELF-DESTROYED

Isa . If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Delitsch translates—"If ye then shall willingly hear, ye shall eat the good of the land; if ye shall obstinately rebel, ye shall be eaten by the sword: for the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it."

Strachey translates—"If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall feed on the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall feed on you," which brings out one of the contrasts of the verse still more clearly. "The promise of eating, i.e., of the full enjoyment of domestic blessings, and therefore of settled, peaceful rest at home, is placed in contrast with the curse of being eaten with the sword."—Delitsch.

Note the close connection between these verses and Isa . God condescends to invite rebels to a conference with Himself, He is willing to grant them the fullest forgiveness; but it is on the condition of future obedience. On this condition He is prepared to do more than forgive them,—He will enrich them with all needful blessings, of which peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of the earth is here named as a symbol; but if they will not listen to His invitation, accept His gracious offer, and yield the obedience He righteously demands, then the vengeance they have deserved will come upon them. They have the matter entirely in their own hands; it rests with them to determine whether their future shall be one of happiness or misery. Thus we are led to the great doctrine of these verses, that sinners are self-destroyed.

This is a doctrine frequently insisted on in Scripture (Eze ; 2Sa 14:14; Hos 13:9; 2Pe 3:9). It is true in a twofold sense.

2. They suffer voluntarily. They do not merely expose themselves to the penalty of sin, they take it upon them voluntarily. God offers to remit it, on condition of their repentance, but they reject the proffered boon; like a suicide who repels the surgeon who would close his bleeding wounds.

In this fact that sinners thus destroy themselves we have—

I. A terrible illustration of the depth of human depravity. Sinners not only hate God so much as to break His laws, but so much as to harden themselves against His love, and to reject His mercy.

II. A sufficient vindication of the severities of the Divine justice.

1. No sinner in hell will be able to reproach God for his misery.

2. We who contemplate the awful fact that human souls are suffering in hell have no right to reproach God for their sufferings. These sufferers deliberately turned their backs upon God and heaven, and went of their own accord to perdition.

Application.—

1. Before you to-day blessing and cursing, life and death are set: choose ye which ye will.

2. "If ye be willing" God will open to you all the treasures of His grace. But not otherwise! He will compel no man to accept His mercy.

THE CERTAINTY OF THE DESTRUCTION OF THE IMPENITENT

Isa . If ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

Let a man look steadily at the sun for a few moments, and for a long time afterwards he will see nothing else; whithersoever he turns, he will behold the sun. Some men have looked at God's wondrous mercy so exclusively, that they can see in Him and His Word nothing but mercy, and they doubt, and teach others to doubt, whether God will fulfil His threatenings against sin. Let such persons consider these three facts.—

I. That God's justice requires that He should execute His threatenings against iniquity. He Himself would commit a frightful injustice, and would be the most active promoter and abettor of evil in the universe, if He were to treat all men alike. His mere delay to take vengeance upon transgressors gives rise to some of the most perplexing of moral problems (Ecc ; Psa 73:1-9, &c.), and if He were; never to do so, the whole universe would be driven into atheism. This is the tendency even of His merciful delays (Psa 10:11; Psa 73:11, &c.)

II. That God's truth requires that He should execute His threatenings against iniquity. "The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," and shall He not fulfil His Word? So settled is the conviction of the human mind that He must do so, that it has been found one of the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. How God can be truthful, and yet pardon the sinner, it has transcended the human mind to conceive. The atonement of Christ is the practical solution of this mystery.

Application.—

1. True reverence for God will lead us to accept with equal implicitness all the disclosures which He has been pleased to give of His character. He will be to us neither a God all mercy nor a God all justice. In Him both these high qualities are found in equal perfection: they are not opponents, but allies. Each is always in absolute harmony with the other.

2. True reverence for God will lead us to tremble in view of His threatenings, as well as to rejoice in view of His promises.

3. It is with the God of the Bible, and not with the God of our own sentimental fancies, that we shall have to deal with at the last.

His voice of terror is like the scream of the mother-bird when the hawk is in the sky. She alarms her brood, that they may run and hide beneath her feathers; and as I believe that God had left that mother dumb unless He had given her wings to cover them, I am sure that He, who is very "pitiful," and has no pleasure in any creature's pain, had never turned our eyes to the horrible gulf unless for the voice that cries, "Deliver from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom."

We had never heard of sin had there been no Saviour. We had never heard of hell had there been no heaven. "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." And never had Bible light flashed before the eyes of the sleeping felon, to wake him from his happy dream, but that he might see the smiling form of Mercy, and hear her as she says, with finger pointing the way, "Behold I have set before thee an open door."—Guthrie.


Verse 21

AN ILLUSTRIOUS INHABITANT

Isa . Righteousness lodged in it.

I. A High Commendation. Righteousness lodged in the city—not merely visited it as a passing guest, but dwelt in it as a permanent abode [Alexander and Kay—"had its home there"]. No greater praise could be spoken of any city, nor can be uttered of any man.

1. Let us do what we can to make our city worthy of this high commendation. Much can be done in this direction by the combined, resolute, and persevering efforts of good men.

2. Let us try to deserve it individually. This may involve many sacrifices, but they will be more than compensated. Righteousness is a royal guest, ennobling and enriching those with whom she dwells, and peace, prosperity, and joy invariably follow in her train.

II. A mournful condemnation. Righteousness lodged in the city; lodged, not lodges! That noble and Divine inhabitant is departed. The palace in which she dwelt is in ruins.

1. Of how many cities may this mournful declaration be made! The cities in which Christianity achieved some of its first and noblest triumphs are now Mohammedan and semi-heathen. They did not hold fast the truth, and now they are given over to error. We boast that this is a Christian land, but its relapse into practical heathenism is not impossible. In every action there is a constant gravitation towards evil, which can only be resisted and overcome by constant effort and earnest prayer. Let the churches of this land lay this solemn fact to heart.

2. Of how many men may this declaration be made! How many even of the openly vicious and criminal were once respectable members of society—yea, even honoured members of churches! They were men "subject to like passions as we are;" and in what they are we have solemn warnings as to what we may become. Let those who are most exalted, not in privileges only, but in moral excellence, also watch and pray, lest sin enter even their hearts, and expel that Divine guest whose presence secures so many blessings and warrants so many hopes.


Verses 21-23

MORAL DECLENSION

I. Moral declensions may take place in the best of men. "The faithful city—silver—wine—princes," the very best things depraved.

II. There are no limits to the moral declensions that may take place in the best of men. "The faithful city is become an harlot," &c. We have here an argument—

1. For universal humility (1Co ; Gal 6:1).

2. For universal watchfulness (Mar ).

3. For universal prayer (Psa ; Psa 139:23-24).


Verse 22

THE POSSIBLE DEGENERACY OF VALUABLE THINGS

Isa . Thy silver is become dross.

There are many valuable and good things in the world that through varied causes are rendered comparatively useless. They once were silver, but now they are dross.

IV. The silver of thy talents has become dross because of indolence. Silver is bright when kept in use. Talents are valuable when active. The mind has talents of thought and wisdom. The heart has talents of sympathy and love. The hand has talents of help. The mouth has talents of blessing. Take care that thy silver does not become as dross.—J. S. Exell.


Verse 24

A TERRIBLE RESOLVE

Isa . Therefore thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies.

Concerning many men, we may offer Christ's prayer, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." They sin in ignorance, or rather without thought of their character and relation to God, and of the doom which they are bringing upon themselves. There may be such persons before me now. Acting, then, the part of a true and faithful friend, I warn you—

II. That God feels Himself injured, oppressed, and as it were hemmed in by your iniquities. Note this most suggestive phrase, "I will ease me of mine adversaries," and see outline on Isa . God's laws are His territories, and by your transgressions you invade them. Your sins are trespasses. God feels towards you as the French feel towards the Germans who have taken possession of and settled down in Alsace and Lorraine; you put upon God an indignity which He cannot and will not bear.

Application.—Nowconsider—

1. That this is not the resolve of some feeble being destitute of resources for the accomplishment of his purposes. He who thus solemnly warns you is "the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel."

2. Whether you have resources that will enable you to cope with this adversary whose indignation you have aroused (Luk ). If not, consider—


Verses 24-27

THE PURPOSE OF PUNISHMENT

Isa . Therefore thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: and I will turn mine hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterwards thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, The faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.

The denunciation of the iniquity of Jerusalem (Isa ) is followed by a solemn announcement of God's determination to punish it.

I. God will certainly punish sin. "Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies." See preceding outline, and that on Isa .

II. In punishing sin God is not moved by any vindictive purpose. True, He speaks here of taking vengeance upon His enemies, but these words coming from the lips of Jehovah must not be interpreted as we should have to interpret them if they came from the lips of a Ghengis Khan or a Tippoo Saib. We must remember that this is the utterance of the Mighty One of Israel, who is infinitely uplifted above every unholy passion. Whatever misconstruction this phrase, taken alone, might be open to, is entirely obviated by the declarations which follow it, which teach us—

III. That God's aim even in the severest chastisements is the reformation of the offenders, and their restoration to true blessedness. For what purpose will He turn His hand upon Jerusalem? Not that He may destroy her, but that He may purify her, as silver is purified in the furnace; and through this painful process she is caused to pass, that she may be restored to her former dignity and blessedness. It is for these purposes that God chastises nations and individuals to-day.

Application.—

1. Those who are living sinful lives may certainly expect severe judgments. Sin and sorrow are inseparably linked, and God is solemnly pledged not to "clear" the guilty.

This we may rest satisfied of, that whensoever God's hand is upon us, we must either yield a voluntary, or be forced to a violent, submission. If our stubbornness is such that we will not bend, it is certain that our weakness is also such that we must needs break. If God's message will not win upon Pharaoh, His plagues shall compel him; and therefore, when He sent Moses to him, He put a rod into his hand, as well as a word into his mouth. When God fully purposes to afflict a man, he is like a bird in a net, the more he strives and flutters, the more he is entangled; for the Supreme Judge of all things is resolved to go through with His great work of judgment, and to make all obstinate, sturdy sinners know, that He has power to constrain where His goodness will not persuade.—South, 1633-1716.


Verse 26

THE DIVINE IDEA OF REDEMPTION

Isa . And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, The faithful city.

We have here the promise of a redemption which God would accomplish for Jerusalem, and from the terms of the promise, especially taken in connection with the preceding statements (Isa ), we may learn what God's idea of redemption is: it is to purge away all that debases and to restore all that is lost. In other words, redemption consists in restoration to the Divine ideal. Such was the redemption which God promised to accomplish for Jerusalem: such is the redemption which He offers to accomplish for us. Here we have—

I. A correction of a common error. Most men, when they hear of redemption, think of it merely as salvation from suffering, rescue from the peril of hell. This is a consequence of redemption, but redemption consists in the cleansing of our nature from all defilement, and in our restoration to the Divine ideal of humanity (Col ; Eph 4:24; Eph 4:13). God is going to do something grander for us than save us from hell. He is going to make us "meet" for heaven (1Jn 3:2). It would be truer to say that God's idea of redemption is "salvation by suffering," than to say that it is "salvation from suffering." The figure used in the text is expressive of the keenest suffering—"I will purely purge away thy dross." But dross is purged away by fire! Suffering is one of the instruments which God most frequently uses to save men from sin.

II. A model for preachers. Guided by a Divine inspiration, the prophet does not speak of happiness, but of purity and righteousness; he names these as the great favours which God was about to bestow upon His people. So should preachers to-day strive to make men understand that these are the greatest blessings which God can confer upon man. All other blessings spring from them; as all social blessings are secured to a community when its "judges" are righteous and its "counsellors" fear God. Let preachers do their utmost to make it plain to the men of this generation, that just as if we have the sun we shall have light and heat, so if they have purity, they shall have peace; if they attain to holiness, they shall attain to a nobler and completer happiness than those who long for happiness merely ever dream of.

I. He is saved from fear, the haunting dread of failure which oppresses those whose supreme desire is merely to be saved from hell.

II. He has a sustaining hope, based upon the sure promises of God's Word (1Pe ).

III. He has a present and growing joy, such as can come only from self-conquest and moral progress. The joy of "the just," that is, of the men whose steadfast aim is righteousness, is like "the path of the just" (Pro ).

SOCIAL REGENERATION

Isa . And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, The faithful city.

We have in the contest a picture of a dismantled city, a disorganised community; and here God tells us that He will undertake the work of its reconstruction.

I. All the arrangements of society are absolutely in God's hands. "I will restore," &c. No man can overturn, or build up, but by His permission. On Him all projects of national, social, or ecclesiastical reconstruction depend for their success. That on which He smiles flourishes; that on which He frowns withers away. Let reformers and reconstructors of society remember and recognise this great fact, that God rules on earth as in heaven.

II. All interruptions of social order are under the control of God. Revolutions occur not by chance, not by the will of man, but by the will of God. They occur only when, and continue only as long as He pleases. By Him judges and counsellors are swept away, and by Him they are restored. No nation is so broken that it cannot be uplifted by Him to power and glory, "as at the first."

IV. The great name will follow the true regeneration. "Afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, the faithful city." Not first the exalted title, but the illustrative character; not first the splendid renown but the glorious achievement!—Joseph Parker, D.D.


Verse 27-28

THE TWOFOLD EFFECT OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS

Isa . Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness: and the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

The diverse effects of Divine judgments is a matter well worthy of our study.

I. One effect of those judgments by which God manifests His righteous indignation against sin is to redeem His people from their transgressions. A prolonged period of peace and prosperity such as the Jews enjoyed under Uzziah is always perilous to the vital religion of a nation. Formalism is apt to prevail. The lines of demarcation between the Church and the world are apt to be effaced; "Zion" is apt to become merged in "Jerusalem." In love to His people, God is therefore compelled to send upon their nation great calamities. These lead to searchings of heart, and reformations of conduct and character. Men learn again to wait upon God, and reverently to regard His will (Isa ). The Church shines once more with the glory of spiritual conformity to God, and the result is that she is increased by converts from the world: to these also the season of judgment is also the season of redemption. But,

II. Another effect of God's judgments is to harden the obdurate. His chastisements lead some men to further acts of rebellion against Him (Isa ). Like Pharaoh, they harden themselves more and more as God sends plague after plague upon them (Exo 8:19; Exo 8:32, &c.) Hence seasons of public calamity (such as that of the plague in London, &c.) have always been seasons of public crime. Transgressors madly dare Omnipotence to a trial of strength, and the result is their utter destruction.

Our subject as thus unfolded gives rise to the following practical reflections—

2. We should not regard judgments that come upon our nation or ourselves merely as calamities: they may be God's angels sent in truest mercy, and they bring with them to the people of God great moral and spiritual compensations.

4. In the season of judgment we really have only one alternative before us—to turn or burn. No stoutness of heart will enable us to resist God's consuming wrath against iniquity (Mal ).

FORSAKING THE LORD

Isa . They that forsake the Lord shall be consumed.

I. The guilt of forsaking the service of the Lord.

1. Man is bound by the law of his nature to obey that Almighty Being by whom he was made an intelligent and immortal creature. Every discovery which reason opens to him of the transcendant perfections of the Lord of the universe urges the duty of offering to this great and glorious Being the homage of his heart and life. Every day's preservation increases his obligation to serve his gracious Preserver.

2. Many in forsaking the Lord violate their own express and solemn engagements (Heb ).

II. The folly of forsaking, &c. If we do so, we shall

(1) incur the reproaches of our own mind;

(2) forfeit the esteem and confidence of all good men;

(3) forfeit the favour and incur the wrath of God. And for what are all those tremendous sacrifices made? For "the pleasures of sin," which are but "for a season"!

III. The danger of forsaking, &c.—"shall be consumed." The threatened doom is

(1) awful;

(2) certain.—J. H. Hobart, D.D., Posthumous Works, ii 220-229.


Verses 28-31

THE DOOM OF THE APOSTATES

I. Idolatry is still the sin of our race. It is not confined to "heathen" lands. There is need in this land for a proclamation of the first commandment. For what is idolatry in its essence? It is loving and trusting some being or thing more than God. Every man's God is what he lives for. Hence the declaration that "covetousness is idolatry; it is one form of the widespread sin.

II. The confidence of men in their idols is still limitless and exultant. Every idolater is persuaded that that which he lives for is worth living for; this is the conviction of the miser, the ambitious man, &c.

III. The time is at hand when the falsity of this confidence shall be exposed. There are coming upon those who cherish it calamities amid which they will seek in vain for comfort from their "idols." How often this is verified in daily life! In the withered, desolate condition of those who have forsaken the Lord how awfully is their folly demonstrated!

IV. Yea, there is a day appointing in which all idolaters and their idols shall be consumed together. In the day of judgment the worshippers of Dagon, of Astarte, of Baal, and of Brahm will not be the only persons on whom utter destruction shall come: those who have made gold their confidence, &c., shall be burned up, together with their "gods." The objects of their trust shall be as powerless as is "tow" to resist flame, and they themselves shall be but as "sparks," swept away by the blast of the Divine indignation.

Application.—

1. The day of judgment is a great reality; it is no mere dream of theologians, it is A TREMENDOUS FACT with which we shall soon be brought face to face.

2. This fact should govern us in selecting the object of our supreme love and trust.

4. It should make us earnest in our endeavours to reclaim them from their apostasy while the day of Divine long-suffering and mercy still continues.

What reason have we to envy the wicked in their riches and prosperity? If a man be standing firmly on a river's bank, and sees another gliding gaily but inevitably down to a tremendous precipice below, shall he be envious of the pleasant sail that intervenes before the dread catastrophe? Shall he stand and envy him, and wish to exchange places with him? Oh no, but let him rather cry aloud, and warn him of his danger. Let him hasten to the rescue; throw out his arms with right good-will, and if it may be, save a soul from death.—Nason.


Verse 31

THE TOW AND THE SPARK

Isa . And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

For the phrases "and the maker of it," the margin reads, "and his work." So Alexander and Henderson. This reading renders the passage intelligible in meaning and terrible in import. It then in simple, vivid manner sets forth the reciprocal influence of the sinner and his sin. The man in committing sin degrades and enfeebles himself, and then the sin he has committed reacts upon his degraded and enfeebled nature to kindle in it the fire of its corruption. It is worth observing that these terrible words of warning are not levelled

(1) against low and vile people. The term "strong" precludes that opinion. They are spoken against those who have been, or are still, esteemed, exalted, and powerful,—presumably against the princes, the judges, the counsellors of the nation (Isa ). Nor are they spoken

(2) against the avowedly irreligious. The people addressed performed a multitude of sacrifices (Isa ), were punctilious in their attendance on the house of God, &c. (Isa 1:12-14), were full of apparent devotion (Isa 1:15). Nor

(3) do they refer to the grosser forms of sin. These would of course come under the same condemnation. But spiritual sins, though more refined to our perception, are more fatal even than sensual sins. It is pre-eminently a spiritual sin in root, however sensual in fruit, that is here arrived at. It is all summed up in the one evil, "forsaking the Lord" (Isa ). It is important to bear these considerations in mind if we would obtain personal and profitable application of these words. Consider—

I. The radical change sin works in the constitution of the sinner. Sin is lawlessness, an outbreak of self-will (1Jn ). It is conscious wrongdoing (Jas 4:17). And sin, the prophet says in effect, has a disintegrating, deteriorating, degrading influence upon the man's nature who yields to it. "The strong shall be as tow." Tow is the coarse, broken part of flax or hemp—waste, refuse. Used here in contrast to that which is strong. Used also as pattern of what is inflammable.

1. Sin lowers the tone and tenor of our nature. Man's nature is originally a very high nature. "A little lower than the angels" (Psa ); a little lower than Divinity (see Alexander and Thrupp in loc.) Originally a king with all highest forms of existence grouped around his throne (Psa 8:6-8). He falls by sin. How low? To level of beasts that perish? (Psa 49:20). Lower than that (Isa 1:3). To level of trees and shrubs? Lower than that. See, that heap of coarse and tangled refuse was a plant once, a living thing. Now it is cut down, dried, dead; choicest parts gone, wasted! "Tow"—that is the symbol of the sinful man. The height from which he has fallen measures the degradation incurred. To that which is by nature "tow," it is no degradation to be as "tow." But for that which is "strong" to become as "tow"—for the highest of God's creations to become as the lowest—this is disgraceful, dreadful.

The power of temptation is in proportion to the nature of the soul tempted. A thoughtless miner takes an uncovered light into the mine: where there is but little gas, there is but a wavering and flickering of a transient flame,—hardly flame, indeed; but where there is an accumulation of gas, the uncovered light occasions an explosion which shivers the rocks and brings swift destruction upon all who are in the mine. In both cases it was the same mine, the same miner, but the condition of the air was different. So is it with the fiery darts of the wicked one; they are shot into all human hearts, and just in proportion to the materials, so to speak, which are to be found there, will be the success or failure of the enemy.—Dr Parker.

Every commission of sin imprints upon the soul further disposition and proneness to sin; as the second, third, and fourth degrees of heat are more easily introduced than the first. Every one is both a preparative and a step to the next. Drinking both quenches the present thirst and provokes it for the future. When the soul is beaten from its first station, and the mounds and earthworks of virtue are once broken down, it becomes quite another thing from what it was before. In one single eating of the forbidden fruit, when the act is gone, yet the relish remains; and the remembrance of the first is an easy allurement to the second. One visit is enough to begin an acquaintance; and this point is gained by it, that when the visitant comes again, he is no more a stranger.—South, 1633-1716.

II. The way in which the sinner and his sin co-operate for their common destruction. We all know the influence of coming into contact with the instruments, the companions, the locality even, of a former sin. They stir up in us the memories, the emotions, the impulse to the same transgression. So the sinner goes about the world setting new snares for his feet at every turn as he sins. The relation of sin to the sinner and to his sinful deed is like that of a lamp placed between two mirrors, which reflect and re-reflect the light, till both the mirrors seem full of lamps. Sin is ever multiplying itself between the sinner and his sinful deed. And the issue is irremediable ruin. "They shall both burn together, and none shall quench them." And the moral is, that if we would keep out of hell, we must keep out of sin.—W. Roberts, B.A.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 1:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-1.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology