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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 28

 

 

Verses 1-4

ENGLAND'S CRYING SIN

Ephraim one of the most important of the tribes. It occupied some of the richest land, about the middle of Palestine. When the ten tribes formed a separate kingdom, Ephraim was the principal tribe in it. Hence the new kingdom was sometimes called Ephraim. Its capital Samaria, here called "the crown of pride." It was a position of great natural strength. Its situation exceedingly beautiful. The sides of the hill on which it was built sloped down to rich valleys, covered with beautiful flowers and fruit-bearing trees. "Glorious beauty." "Fat valleys." No wonder the people were proud of it. When this prophecy was written, it was at the height of its pride. But it was doomed. The glorious beauty was a fading flower. The crown of pride was to be trodden under feet. Samaria was a delicious morsel for the invader, plucked and eaten as soon as seen. Shalmanezer, with the Assyrian host, invaded, overcame, carried the people away, never to return. Unlike Judah in this respect. An unsolved problem to this day, where are the ten tribes? do they still exist, or are they entirely extinct?

It was because of sin. The story of Samaria's idolatry. To tamper with idolatry was to renounce allegiance to Jehovah. But that was not all. Serious moral obliquities came in the wake of idolatry. Among these was intemperance. Had become a crying sin. Was helping to drag the nation down to ruin. "Woe to the crown of pride," &c.

Here is a warning to England. England's crying sin is Samaria's crying sin. God forbid that England should persist in it, so as to bring on herself Samaria's doom! Mark—

I. ITS SINFULNESS. It was treated as sin in the case of Samaria. It is still a sin, as well as a vice and a crime. Keep to the text in pointing out its sinfulness. Drunkards described as "them that are overcome with wine." Not a trifling thing to be overcome. The drunkard allows a thing he loves to overcome him and rob him of that for the safe keeping of which he is responsible to God. He is under obligation to keep himself for God, and he betrays his trust. What is overcome?

1. Reason. A great trust. Bound to use it to the best of our ability; therefore to keep it in efficient working order so far as it lies in our power. If you lent a man a tool, or a machine, you would require him to keep it from injury. But strong drink contends with and overcomes reason. You attach no importance to opinions expressed or reasonings attempted by a drunken man. His reason has been overcome by his own consent. He could not have been overcome if he had refused to play with the enemy.

2. Conscience. Is not conscience a sacred trust? Sentry at the door of character. Shall the sentry be drugged when the enemy is near? Does not intemperance stupefy the conscience? Many a man who once would have dreaded a sin more than a blow has become regardless of sin, regardless of God. Not only does intoxication deaden the sense of its own criminality; it lowers the moral tone as to everything else. The moral nature becomes enfeebled. Any other temptation more likely to succeed. By little and little comes over the soul a tendency to make light of every kind of sin. Communion with God is broken off. Prayer is a dull and comfortless exercise when the excitement of intemperance has become attractive. The religious nature becomes dead or maudlin under the influence of drunkenness. Alas! that men should undermine and disable their noblest faculty! (H. E. I., 4498).

3. Physical strength. Are not our bodies also entrusted to us to keep safely for the uses the Maker intends? If the suicide who takes his own life by a single stroke rushes into the presence of his judge uncalled, must not the man who by negligence, folly, or vice, shortens his life, answer for it in the same way? But the drunkard does this by being overcome with wine.

II. ITS PENALTY. There was a worm at the root of the glorious beauty, and fruitfulness, and pride of Ephraim; and therefore it was a fading flower. The worm was their sinfulness. The drunkard may say that he is prosperous to-day; but the worm is at the root.

1. Look at the consequences to himself. The deteriorated character, lowered tastes, lowered company of many a well-educated and splendid young man, and many a beautiful promising boy. The social degradation. "Trodden down." Avoided and despised by former associates. The ruined circumstances. Gradually downwards, and finally at the depth of poverty. The Lost Eternity. "No inheritance."

2. Look at the consequences to his family. Wife unhappy. Children uneducated and untrained. Home impoverished and desolate. There is a skeleton in that house.

3. Look at the consequences to society. Drunkards usually seek society. Their example influences others.

How to cure? How to prevent?

1. Legislation. Can the legislature do nothing more than it has done? What of Sunday closing? What of music saloons? What of limitation of the hours? What of diminishing the number of houses? What of abolition of the traffic?

2. Abstinence. Urge it on drunkards as their only chance of recovery. On the young as their best security. On Christians as the most effective protest and influential example.

3. Religion. Realise the sinfulness of intemperance. Let the grace of God reign over thoughts, appetites, habits.—J. Rawlinson.


Verse 5-6

THE BELIEVER'S DIGNITY AND POWER

Isa . In that day shall the LORD of Hosts be for a crown, &c.

This sustaining assurance stands in striking antithesis to the solemn threatenings and humbling charges which precede and follow it. It rises like some stately palace amid the ruins of man's humbled pride and broken hopes. This voice comes from heaven in the very hour of earth's desolation and decay. The prominent figure on the prophet's canvas is very unlike the objects grouped around it. On the one side you look into a lovely valley, in the centre of which, on a commanding height, stands Samaria, the capital of the "Ten Tribes," "the crown of pride," "the glorious beauty." But that proud crown is soon to be cast to the ground; that "glorious beauty" is but as a garland of fading flowers; that luxuriant valley, whose very "fatness" was made the minister of sensual indulgence, will soon be over-swept by the desolating march of the Assyrian invader; that gaudy splendour, the boast of Ephraim's drunkards, is as short-lived as the wreaths which the revellers bind around their brows. The worm of intemperance is gnawing at the root of "the fading flower," and overhead the storm is gathering that will blight its beauty. Turn now to the other side of the central figure, where the kingdom of Judah is introduced (Isa ). Jerusalem as well as Samaria has her troops of reckless inebriates and her scenes of disgusting intoxication; though her punishment is not so near as that of the northern kingdom, here, too, are seen the marks of sure decline. On both sides, then, the prophet's picture is gloomy and portentous—the earth a scene of drunken revelry, and the black sky streaked with the lightnings of divine wrath. But out of this sombre background of sottish intemperance and overhanging judgment, of falling crowns and fading wreaths, rises the luminous figure of our text. "In that day" of vanishing glory "shall the Lord of Hosts," &c. In the fulness of its wealth this promise belongs to us; the Lord of Hosts has become to us "a crown of glory."

I. THE BELIEVER'S DIGNITY. Let us not tone down the grandeur of the promise. Christ is the crown with which the believer is invested. He is an heir of God, a partaker of the divine nature. Let us see what is implied in this representation, bearing in mind the crown to which it stands in contrast.

1. It is a crown of honour without insecurity. Man is like a discrowned and exiled king (Lam ). But God has taken means to restore him to his lost dignity (1Co 1:30). The crown of original righteousness which sin had torn from our brows and trampled in the dust has been replaced by the righteousness of Christ. How complete and glorious is His work in our behalf, to what dignity does He raise us! This crown cannot be placed on our head without inspiring us with a sense of honour, a feeling of recovered power, of joy and hope and security. There may be a crowned head without a kingly heart. A young prince may mount the throne incapable of discharging its duties, or, perhaps, trembling lest his new dignity should make him a mark for the bullet of the assassin; but the Christian's honour cometh from God, and, along with the restored kingship, kingly qualities are imparted, so that no man can take his crown.

2. This is a crown in which we may boast without pride. Samaria was a crown of pride to the Ephraimites, and because they gloried in it, it was soon to be overturned. But while this crown of carnal confidence was thus to be swept away, God becomes to His people a more glorious crown in which they might boast without pride. When anything short of God is made our confidence it fosters vainglory, but with God as our crown all self-sufficiency is excluded.

3. It is a crown of joy without degradation. As it does not foster pride, so neither does it allow its wearer to descend to low indulgence. Reference is probably made to the wreath of flowers worn by drunken revellers on festive occasions. Under the plea of festive mirth they wallowed in the mire of sensuality. How soon their garlands would fall in disorder from their heads, or fall with their heads as they lay in senseless intoxication. The believer's "diadem of beauty" points to purity and self-control (Psa ).

4. It is an unfading crown. This point in the contrast is equally obvious. And is not "the fading flower" an emblem of all our earthly joys?

"All that sweet was made, but to be lost when sweetest."

This world's fairest chaplets will soon wither on our brows; its honours, possessions, and hopes are evanescent; but the Lord will be our everlasting crown, our God will be our eternal glory (H. E. I., 4975-4989).

II. THE BELIEVER'S POWER.

In Isa we have all the elements of personal power, social well-being, and national greatness (Act 1:8; Eph 5:18). The indwelling Spirit confers three benefits. I. A clear head. "A spirit of judgment." Solomon asked this blessing. It does not fall to many of us to sit on the bench, but what is good for the judge is a precious gift for all. When the Spirit pours His light upon the mind, the eyes of our understanding are enlightened. A clear intellect, a sound mind, an unwarped, unprejudiced judgment, is needed in all walks of life. How appropriate is this part of the promise! How could justice be rightly administered in such a state of society as that described by the prophet? If there is one thing that saps the morals, and muddles the understanding, it is intemperance. Men in positions of responsibility need all their wits about them.

2. A brave heart is promised "to them who turn the tide of battle to the gate." The soldier as well as the judge is to participate in the gifts of God's Spirit. We have a spiritual warfare to wage (Eph ), and we are pledged to conquer the world for Christ. Beware lest we render ourselves unfit for military service by luxurious habits, and sinful indulgence. The drunkards of Ephraim could do nothing to oppose the invaders of their country. We need the Spirit to fire our hearts with courage and enterprise. Without His influence we shall prove poltroons.

3. A strong arm. Self-denial is a source of moral courage and of spiritual strength. Far from us be the dissoluteness which enfeebles our powers, both of mind and body.

Such, then, are the contents of this precious promise. Oh, that we were all invested with this crown of holiness, dignity, and beauty. How many are content with the gilded coronets and fading chaplets of the world. You remember the scene in the "Pilgrim's Progress," part ii., which has been made the subject of a painting by Sir Noel Paton—the man raking straw while one held a glittering crown over his head. Make Christ your boast. The crown of pride shall be hurled to the ground, the garlanded revellers shall sink in their own corruption, the honours which men so eagerly seek are as a fading flower, but this crown shall sparkle for ever on the believer's head (Dan ; Psa 90:17).—William Guthrie, M.A.

God had said He would discrown Ephraim, remove his beauty, and stain his pride. This was done when Samaria was overthrown by the Assyrians. "In that day" He would do to the "residue of His people"—apparently the kingdom of Judah—what is said in our present text. It was done in the reign of Hezekiah, when the true worship was re-established, reformation effected, and the nation defended against its enemies.

The text may be regarded, however, as a description of the splendour of the regenerated world.

I. THE PERSONS INTERESTED.

"The residue of His people: him that sitteth in judgment: and them that turn the battle to the gate." All classes. Brave defenders; governors and administrators of justice, and the great mass of the people. Hence we observe that the blessing of the Gospel is needed by and suited to every class and every man. If there be a man anywhere who does not need it, it is either because—

(1), he has no soul to save; or

(2), he has not sinned; or

(3), he is sufficient in himself to remove sin and its consequences from himself. But none of these can be said of any man.

II. THE BLESSING PROMISED.

It consists in that which the Lord will be to the regenerated world.

1. Honour. Men mistake the things that constitute the true honour and dignity of human nature. Sounding titles; enormous wealth; personal beauty; commanding intellect; undisputed power. They are all insufficient and insecure, like fading flowers. God is the true crown of glory to man. When the soul returns from its wanderings to God and is re-united to Him through Christ, the crown is placed upon his head (Jer ).

2. Wisdom. Both in barbarous and civilised countries, man without the Gospel is ignorant of the character of God, and of the way to approach Him (1Co ). He gropes about in the darkness, if he desire to find Him at all. But Christ is made of God to us "wisdom," as well as "righteousness, sanctification, and redemption." In Him the divine character is clearly seen in the fulness, harmony, and glory of its attributes. In Him also we learn how man can be reconciled to God, and the way to eternal life.

3. Strength. Not physical, nor intellectual power, however valuable in the regions proper to them. But moral power; the power of the human will; the most important power of all. This alone possesses the terrible capacity of resisting the Almighty. The most powerful animals act as they have been created to act. All mechanical forces act according to their laws. But man, possessed of will, is possessed of a power that can either defy or obey the authority of Omnipotence. When the Gospel comes to the human heart, it constrains the will into a mighty force for good. God and man combine to overthrow the empire of evil in the heart and in the world. "The Lord of hosts is for strength to them that turn the battle to the gate."

III. THE TIME INDICATED.

"In that day." Christ came "in the fulness of time." There are reasons and circumstances specially favourable to the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. There is a time in the purpose of Jehovah when all nations shall walk in the light. We may mark the circumstances which are usually indicative of the further spread of the Gospel.

1. When there is a time of special revival, reformation, and earnestness in the Church. As in time of Hezekiah.

2. When God stirs up His people to exert themselves for the world's salvation, it is a sign that the world's salvation is coming on apace. "When God enters the chamber, and awakes His children, and bids them rise, it is a sign that the morning has come."

3. When the church longs, waits, prays for the success of the work, the time is likely to have come. "As soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children." Let the Church of Christ really desire, believe in, pray for the world's conversion, and God will open the windows of heaven and pour down the blessing. Have you been sufficiently interested in the world's salvation? As individuals? Are we sufficiently interested in our own?—J. Rawlinson.


Verse 9-10

EARLY RELIGIOUS TRAINING

(Sunday School Anniversary Sermon.)

Isa . Whom shall He teach knowledge? &c.

Whether we regard these verses as the language of the drunkards of Ephraim, deriding the Lord's messengers for the plainness and urgency of their unwelcome instructions, or as the language of the prophet himself affirming interrogatively the spiritual ignorance and imbecility of the people, with their prophets and priests, they suggest the importance of earnestly instructing the young in the knowledge of our relations to God and eternity. We may turn to them more hopefully than to the old. Youth is the time for learning. In the first ten years of life are laid the foundations of the social and religious character which every man carries to the grave. Therefore we should not leave them to be laid haphazard, but should do our utmost to bring it to pass that they shall be such that on them can be built the structure of a holy life. To accomplish this we must instruct them in the revealed will of God.

1. The youth learns nothing good until he is taught. Though wise to do evil, to do good he has no knowledge.

2. The young mind is susceptible of deep and enduring impressions (H. E. I., 775, 776, 786).

3. Scriptural knowledge is not only of surpassing value, but is more easily imparted to the young than most of that human knowledge for which the opening powers are often severely taxed. If difficulties arise from immaturity and levity of mind, they are more than balanced by freedom from the prejudices of age, and the perplexing cares of life; by their docility and instinctive desire to penetrate the unknown; by the eagerness with which they seize upon the explanations of facts in nature and providence, or on similitudes and allegories; and by their unsuspecting confidence in the ability of their appointed teachers. Their natural aversion to God is but partially developed, and waits the coming of riper years to mature its strong resistance to the Divine claims.

4. The weightiest obligations rest on parents to give their children religious instruction (H. E. I., 803-806). When parents are unable to do so personally, through defect of ability, or the urgency of paramount duties, it is their privilege to do so through the kind offices of others.

5. A failure in the discharge of parental obligations to children imposes on others who fear God the duty of teaching them knowledge. They are immortal; for them Christ died. Of the fulness and glory of the results of a faithful performance of this duty no adequate conception can be formed by us on this side of heaven.—R. S. Storrs, D.D.: American National Preacher, xix. 121-141.

THE POWER OF LITTLES

Isa . Here a little and there a little.

The application of this text is first of all to the impressions produced by the Word of God and the efficacy of constant religious instruction. But it is in this same way, by little and little, that all great and lasting impressions are made and the mightiest results accomplished.

I. The processes of nature.—Mighty and sudden changes are not the rule, but gradual and prepared ones. The seasons, the months, day into night, night into day—how gradual and imperceptible the transitions. The germination of seed, &c.

II. The formation of character.—Little by little every man's character is formed (H. E. I., 709-711, 1836-1851) or spoiled (H. E. I., 4521-4523, 4720-4725). All the steps, successively, that lead either to heaven or hell are small, one by one, except in great crimes, and even then there has been a gradual preparation for them (H. E. I., 428, 429). So conversion, that great change of the soul, is prepared for imperceptibly (H. E. I., 1462). From minute and commonplace thoughts, words, actions, results character for eternity!

III. Christian service.—Called not to acts of heroism, but to a faithful discharge of commonplace duties (H. E. I., 4149).

IV. Christian work.—It is by little and little that, in such a world as this, we must do the greater part of the good that we ever accomplish (H. E. I., 1725).

V. The training of children.—Heavenly habits are to be formed in them by the influence upon them of daily, familiar, minute, but ever-recurring examples set before them (H. E. I., 777-779, 790, 802).

VI. Preparation for heaven.—Try to gain a little for God, a little for heaven, a little more of grace every day. Do this in little things and you will accomplish great things. Here a little and there a little will carry you on from step to step, from grace to glory (H. E. I., 2512, 2537).—G. B. Cheever, D.D.: American National Preacher, xxvi. 145-152.


Verse 12

REJECTERS OF THE GOSPEL ADMONISHED

Isa . To whom He said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.

Isaiah was one of the most eloquent of preachers, yet he could not win the ears and hearts of those to whom he spoke. He spoke more of Jesus Christ than all the rest of the prophets, yet the message of love was treated as though it were an idle tale. His doc trine was clear as the daylight, yet men would not see it (chap. Isa ). It was not the fault of the preacher that Israel rejected his warnings: all the fault lay with that disobedient and gainsaying nation. The people to whom he spoke so earnestly were drunken in a double sense:—

1. They were overcome with wine (Isa ). How is it likely that the truth shall enter an ear which has been rendered deaf by this degrading vice? How is the Word of God likely to operate upon a conscience that has been drenched and drowned by strong drink? Flee from this destroyer before your bands are made strong and you are hopelessly fettered by the habit.

2. They were also intoxicated with pride. Their country was fruitful, and its chief city, Samaria, stood on the hill-top, like a diadem of beauty crowning the land, and they delighted in it. Among them were many champions whose strength sufficed to turn the battle to the gate, therefore they hoped to resist every invader, and so their hearts were lifted up. Moreover, they said, "We are an intelligent people; we are men of cultured intellect, instructed scribes, and we do not need persons like Isaiah to weary us with their ding-dong of ‘precept upon precept, line upon line,' as if we were mere children at school. Besides, we are good enough. Do we not worship our God under the form of the golden calves in Dan and Bethel? Do we not respect the sacrifices and the holy days?" So spoke the more religious of them, while the rest gloried in their shame. Being intoxicated with pride, it was not likely that they would hear the message of the prophet who bade them turn from their evil ways. Pride is the devil's drag-net, in which he taketh more fishes than in any other, except procrastination.

The two forms of drunkenness are equally destructive. Whether body or soul be intoxicated, mischief will surely come of it. Let us not get drunk with pride because we are not drunkards; for if we are so vain and foolish, we shall as certainly perish by pride as we should have done by drink.

I. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE GOSPEL as it is set forth in the passage before us. This Scripture does not allude to the Gospel primarily, but to the message which Isaiah had to deliver, which was in part the command of the law and in part the promise of grace: but the same rule holds good of all the words of the Lord; and indeed any excellence which was found in the prophet's message is found yet more abundantly in the fuller testimony of the Gospel in Christ Jesus.

1. The excellence of that Gospel lies, first, in its object. For

(1.) It is a revelation of rest. Christ's ambassadors are sent to proclaim to you that which shall give you ease, peace, quiet, rest. It is true we have to begin with certain truths that disturb and distress; but our object is to dig out the foundation into which may be laid the stones of restfulness. The object of the Gospel is not to make men anxious, but to calm their anxieties; not to fill them with endless controversy, but to lead them into all truth. The Gospel gives rest of conscience, by the complete forgiveness of sin through the atoning blood of Christ; rest of heart, by supplying an object for the affections worthy of their love; and rest of intellect, by teaching it certainties which can be accepted without question. Our message does not consist of things guessed at by wit, nor evolved out of man's inner consciousness by study, nor developed by argument through human reason; but it treats of revealed certainties, absolutely and infallibly true, upon which the understanding may rest itself as thoroughly as a building rests upon a foundation of rock. The Word of the Lord comes to give believing men rest about the present by telling them that God ordereth all things for their good; and as for the future, it brightens all coming time and eternity with promises. The man who will hear the Gospel message, and receive it into his soul, shall know the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, and shall keep his heart and mind by Jesus Christ.

(2.) It is the cause of rest. "This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest." The Gospel of our salvation is not only a command to rest, but it brings the gift of rest within itself. Let the Gospel be admitted into the heart, and it will create a profound calm, hushing all the tumult and strife of conscience, removing all apprehensions of Divine wrath, stilling all rebellion against the supreme Will, and so working in the spirit by the energy of the Holy Ghost a deep and blessed peace.

(3.) This rest is especially meant for the weary. "This is the rest where with ye may cause the weary to rest." Oh, ye that are weary with the round of worldly pleasure, worn with ambition, fretted with disappointment, embittered by the faithlessness of those you trusted in, come and confide in Jesus and be at rest. Here is the rest, here is the refreshing. Jesus expressly puts it: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Despondent and despairing, condemned, and in your own conscience cast out to the gates of hell, yet look to Jesus and rest shall be yours.

(4.) In addition to bringing us rest, the message of mercy points us to a refreshing. "This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing." If the rested one should grow weary again, the Good Shepherd will give him refreshing; if he wanders, the Lord will restore him; if he grows faint, He will revive him; yea, He has begun His gracious work of renewing, and He will continue it by renewing the heart from day to day, blending the will with His own, and making the whole man more and more to rejoice in Him.

Now, note with peculiar joy that Isaiah did not come to these people to talk about rest in dubious terms, and say, "There is no doubt a rest to be found somewhere in that goodness of God of which it is reasonable to conjecture." No; he puts his finger right down on the truth, and he says, "This is the rest, and this is the refreshing." Even so we at this day, when we come to you with a message from God, come with definite teaching; we proclaim in the name of God that whosoever believeth in Christ Jesus hath everlasting life: this is the rest, and this is the refreshing.

Nor did he preach a rest of a selfish character. They say we teach men to get peace and rest for themselves, and make themselves comfortable, whatever becomes of others. They know better, and they forge these falsehoods because their heart is false. Are we not always bidding men look out from themselves, and love others even as Christ has loved them? We abhor the idea that personal safety is the consummation of a religious man's desires, for we believe that the life of grace is the death of selfishness. This is one of the glories of the Gospel, that "this is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest." Get rest yourself, and you will soon cause other weary minds to rest. That secret something which your own heart possesses shall enable you to communicate good cheer to many a weary heart, and hope to many a desponding mind.

2. The other excellence of the Gospel of which I shall speak at this time lies in its manner.

(1.) It comes with authority. The Gospel does not pretend to be a speculative scheme or a theory of philosophy which will suit the nineteenth century, but will be exploded in the twentieth. No; it comes to men as a message from God, and he that speaks it aright does not speak it as a thinker uttering his own thoughts; but he utters what he has learned, and acts as God's tongue, repeating what he finds in God's Word by the power of God's Spirit.

2. It was delivered with great simplicity. Isaiah came with it "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little." It is the glory of the Gospel that it is so plain. If it were so profound that we must take a degree at a university before we could comprehend it, what a miserable Gospel it would be for mocking the world with! But it is divinely sublime in its simplicity, and hence the common people hear it gladly. As the verse seems to imply, it is fitted for those who are weaned from the breast; those who are little more than babes may yet drink in this unadulterated milk of the Word. Many a little child has comprehended the salvation of Jesus Christ sufficiently to rejoice in it. I bless God for a simple Gospel, for it suits me, and thousands of others whose minds cannot boast of greatness or genius. It equally suits men of intellect, and it is only quarrelled with by pretenders. A man who really has a capacious mind is usually childlike, and, like Sir Isaac Newton, is glad to sit at Jesu's feet. Great minds love the simple Gospel of God, for they find rest in it from all the worry and the weariness of questions and of doubts.

3. It is taught us by degrees. It is not forced home upon men's minds all at once, but it comes "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little." God does not flash the everlasting daylight on weak eyes in one blaze of glory, but there is at first a dim dawn, and the soft incoming of a tender light for tender eyes, and so by degrees we see.

4. The Gospel is repeated. If we do see it at once, it comes again to us, for it is "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little." From morning to morning, from Sunday to Sunday, by book after book, by text after text, by spiritual impression after spiritual impression, the Divine gentleness makes us wise unto salvation.

5. It is brought home to us in ways suitable to our capacity. It is told to us, as it were, with stammering lips (see Isa ), just as mothers teach their little children in a language all their own. In much of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, God condescends to lay aside His own speech and talk the language of men. He bows to us and tells us His mind in types and ordinances, which are a sort of child-language fitted for our capacity. If you do not understand the Word of God, it is not because He does not put it plainly, but because of the blindness of your heart and the besotted condition of your spirit. Take heed that you are not drunken with the wine of pride, but be willing to learn; for God Himself hath not darkened counsel by mysterious words, but He has put His mind before you as plainly as the sun in the heavens. "Precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little."

II. THE OBJECTIONS WHICH ARE TAKEN TO THE GOSPEL.

1. They are most wanton. Men object to that which promises them rest! Above all the things in the world this is what our troubled spirits need. Oh, the intense folly of men, that when the Gospel sets rest before them they will not hear it, but turn upon their heel. There is no system of doctrine under heaven that can give quiet to the conscience of men, quiet that is worth having, except the Gospel; and there are thousands of us who bear witness that we live in the daily enjoyment of peace through believing in Jesus, and yet our honest report is not believed; nay, they will not hear the truth.

2. Objections against the Gospel are wilful, even as it is here said, "This is the refreshing, yet they would not hear." When men say they cannot believe the Gospel, ask them whether they will patiently hear it in all its simplicity. No, they say, they do not want to hear it. The Gospel is so difficult to believe; so they say. Will they come and hear it preached in its fulness? Will they read the Gospels for themselves carefully? Oh, no; they cannot take the trouble. Just so. But a man who does not want to be convinced must not blame anybody if he remains in error, nor wonder that objections swarm in his mind.

3. Such objections are wicked, because they are rebellion against God and an insult to His truth and mercy. If this Gospel be of God, I am bound to receive it: I have no right to cavil at it, nor raise questions, philosophical or otherwise. It is mine just to say, "Does God say this and that? Then it is true, and I yield to it. Does the Lord thus set before me a way of salvation? I will run in it with delight."

4. These people raised objections that were the outgrowth of their pride. They objected to the simplicity of Isaiah's preaching. They said, "Who is he? You should not go to hear him; he talks to us as if we were children. Besides, it is the same thing over and over again. You may go when you like, he is always harping on the same string." Have you not heard folks say in these days concerning a true Gospel preacher, that he is always preaching about sovereign grace, or the blood of Christ, or crying out, "Believe, believe, and you shall be saved"? They sneer and say, "It is the old ditty over and over again." The passage translated "precept upon precept, line upon line," was uttered in ridicule, and sounded like a ding-dong rhyme with which they mocked Isaiah. The words were intended to caricature the preacher; though they do not suggest the idea when translated, they do suggest it readily enough in the Hebrew. There are people now living who, when the Gospel is plainly and simply preached, exclaim, "We want progressive thought; we want"—they do not quite know what they do want. Too many wish for a map to heaven so mysteriously drawn that they may be excused from following it. Multitudes prefer the Gospel shrouded in a mist; they love to see the wisdom of man shut out the wisdom of God. This was the style of objection current in Isaiah's day, and it is fashionable still.

III. THE DIVINE REQUITAL OF THESE OBJECTORS.

1. The Lord threatens them with the loss of that which they despised. He has sent them a message of rest and they will not have it, and therefore in the 20th verse He warns them that they shall have no rest henceforth: "For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it." All those who wilfully reject the Gospel and take up with philosophies and speculations will be rewarded with inward discontent. Ask the preachers of that kind of doctrine whether they themselves have found an anchorage, and as a rule they will answer, "No, no; we are in pursuit of truth; we are hunting after it, but we have not reached it yet." They are never likely to reach it, for they are on the wrong track. The Gospel was made to rest conscience, soul, heart, will, memory, hope, fear, yea, the entire man; but when men laugh at all fixity of belief, how can they be rested? This is the condemnation of the unbeliever, that he shall never find a settlement, but, like the wandering Jew, shall roam for ever. Leave the Cross, and you have left the hinge of all things, and neglected the one sure corner-stone and fixed foundation, and henceforth you shall be as a rolling thing before the whirlwind.

2. They shall be punished by a gradual hardening of heart. They said that Isaiah's message was "precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little," and justice answers them, "Even so it shall be to you a thing despised and ridiculed, so that you will go farther away from it; you will fall backward and be broken, and snared and taken" (Isa .) A fall backward is the worst kind of fall. If a man falls forward, he may somewhat save himself and rise again; but if he falls backward, he falls with all his weight and is helpless. Those who stumble at Christ, the sure foundation-stone, shall be broken. When opposers hope to retrieve their position, they find themselves snared by their habits, entangled in the net of the great fowler, and taken by the destroyer. This downward course is followed full often by those who begin cavilling at a simple Gospel; they cavil more and more, and become its open enemies to their eternal ruin.

3. This is to be followed by a growing inability to understand. "For with stammering lips and another tongue will He speak to this people." Since they would not hear plain speech, God will make simplicity itself to seem like stammering to them. Men that cannot endure simple language shall at last become unable to understand it. If men will not understand, they shall not understand. A man may shut his eyes so long that he cannot open them. In India many devotees have held up their arms so long that they can never take them down again. Beware lest an utter imbecility of heart come upon those of you who refuse the Gospel.

Lastly, this warning is given to those who object to the Gospel, that whatever refuge they choose for themselves shall utterly fail them. Thus saith the Lord, "Judgment will I also lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place." Down come the great hailstones dashing everything to shivers, the threatenings of God's Word breaking to pieces all the false and flattering hopes of the ungodly. Then comes the active wrath of God like an over whelming flood to sweep away everything on which the sinner stood, and he, in his obstinate unbelief, is carried away as with a flood into that utter destruction, that everlasting misery, which God has declared shall be the lot of all those who refuse the living Christ.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1593.


Verse 16

THE SURE FOUNDATION

I. Who this foundation is. II. Where this foundation is laid. III. The Author of this foundation. IV. The character of this foundation. V. The safety of those who build upon it.—R. Bingham, M.A.: Sermons, p. 202.

I. God's foundation for the eternal salvation of sinners. II. Its properties and excellences. III. The blessedness of those who build on it.—W. Hancock, B.D.: Sermons, pp. 1-16.

The person and salvation of Jesus Christ are frequently spoken of under the image here presented, the most obvious and expressive image of security, that of a foundation. Our Saviour expressly appropriates to Himself (Psa ). The same architectural idea appears in Eph 2:20; 1Pe 2:4-8.

I. The grand object which God proposed to Himself in all His dispensations to man, viz., the laying of a foundation on which the hope of a repenting sinner might rest, with regard to God and Eternity. We trace this object,

1. In the primal promise (Gen ).

2. In the mysterious rite of sacrifice divinely appointed from the beginning to prefigure "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world."

3. In the whole system of the Mosaic law, "the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ."

4. More and more distinctly announced in the Psalms and Prophecies. The foundation proclaimed by Jehovah in the text is the chief end of all He has done and revealed to mankind; the central point in which all the lines of His providence and His word meet and terminate. Nature supplies the scene, providence the scaffolding, revelation the plan, of that mighty spiritual edifice of which this is the foundation.

II. This foundation was needed. None will dispute this point. So sensible are men that they need a foundation for hope towards God, that every one is disposed to lay his own. Every one feels that without some restitution made to a holy God sin cannot be pardoned nor the sinner saved. The question is, How shall a proper foundation be laid? where shall an adequate restitution be found? The most important question in the universe to be answered, and at the same time the most difficult! (1Sa ). Only three kinds of restitution on the part of man are imaginable—penitence, good works, voluntary sufferings; but none of these, nor all put together, can be deemed satisfactory in the case before us.

1. Penitence is no foundation of the soul before God; the most sorrowful remembrance of sin cannot repair it (H. E. I., 4225-4228).

2. Neither are good works, to which the same insufficiency attaches; they are always required, and therefore can never possess a superfluity or redundancy of merit (H. E. I., 375, 1950). And this applies to the best works; but what are ours in the sight of God?

3. The only remaining kind of restitution is by voluntary sufferings: this, by its very definition, is absurd and vain, for if any sufferings are required they become part of our duty; but to invent penances of our own is no part of our duty, and must be contradictory rather than satisfactory to the Divine law. Penitence, good works, voluntary sufferings, may be methods of procuring for us the priestly absolution of a poor sinful man like ourselves; but they will not secure for us the Divine acceptance.

III. Observe, it is in the midst of the false foundations, the "baseless fabrics" of sinners, that God in our text introduces His own, the only true and solid foundation. All who build their hope on any other will be compelled at last to say, "We have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood we have hid ourselves." See 1Co . The wonderful way in which this stone was laid; how a person of the Godhead assumed our human nature, He who was in the form of God took the form of a servant, He became "Jehovah our righteousness." See 2Co 5:19. He who laid the foundation of the heavens and the earth alone could lay this foundation in Zion!

The excellent qualities of this foundation. It is represented—

1. As "a tried stone:" a foundation which has resisted the strongest attempts to shake it,—that has stood the trial of unnumbered enemies and friends. It has been proved in the fiery trial of Divine justice, and the sins of the whole world have tried its strength to sustain an overwhelming weight. The storms of persecution have raged against it in vain, still it stands uninjured (Heb )! In every respect "a tried stone;" tried by God, by Satan, by man; tried in life, in death, in eternity; tried by all the saints in all their trials; and never tried in vain!

2. As "a corner-stone." The corner-stone unites both sides of an edifice; and St. Paul represents Christ as Him in whom the whole building, fitly compacted, rises a spiritual habitation of God (Eph ).

3. As "precious;" precious in respect to the Saviour's Person as the only begotten Son of God; in respect to His sacrifice; a foundation composed not of corruptible things (1Pe ).

4. As "a sure foundation:" not an imaginary one like every other, but one real and substantial! In the Hebrew the word is reduplicated for the greater emphasis, "A foundation, a foundation!" Not a transitory but an eternal one. We are dying men; we sojourn in a world of vanity and death; what we want is a "sure foundation." Behold in Christ this grand desideratum!

V. The happiness of him who rests on this foundation. "He that believeth shall not make haste;" he shall not be thrown into disquietude and agitation of spirit. Never has the strength of this foundation been so well appreciated as when it was most tried, most needed. When our flesh and our heart fail, then is the time to find in God the rock of our heart, in Christ the foundation of our soul!

CONCLUSION.—But then we must possess the character defined in the text; "he that believeth," is he that amidst the wreck of nature shall be saved on this foundation. We must see to it that we have that faith which is known by its fruits, which keeps the commandments, purifies the heart, works by love, overcomes the world, resists the devil, rejoices in Christ.—Robert Hall: Fifty Sermons, pp. 68-86.

I. God's foundation for the stability of His Church. 1. This foundation was planned in the eternal counsels of Jehovah (1Pe ; Luk 11:50; Rev 13:8).

2. This foundation was actually laid in the incarnation and sufferings of Jesus Christ (2Co ; Gal 3:13; 1Pe 2:22).

3. This foundation is proclaimed in the preaching of the Gospel (Luk ; Act 13:38-39).

II. The peculiar qualities by which this foundation is distinguished.

1. It is a stone, denoting strength.

2. It is a living stone. Possessing life in Himself, He is able to communicate it (Joh ; Joh 5:26; Rom 8:2).

3. A tried stone. The Father tried it, earth tried it, hell tried it.

4. A precious corner-stone. Corner-stones are generally placed for three purposes, for (a.) union; for (b.) beauty; for (c.) direction or example.

5. A sure foundation.

III. The safety and blessedness of all those who depend upon this foundation.—J. Sherman: British Pulpit, ii. 185-193.

Whatever subordinate reference there may be in these words to the Jews, the principal reference is to the Messiah. For this view we have apostolic authority. St. Paul says: "As it is written." Where? In our text. "Whosoever believeth in Him shall not be ashamed." And St. Peter quotes from Isaiah the same text.

I. THE EMBLEM OF THE LORD JESUS. "A stone." Whether we consider Him "a stone" for solidity, or for strength, or for duration, He is all these; for whatever changes may take place among men, with Him "there is no variableness nor shadow of turning." Peter calls Him—

1. A "living stone," meaning that He has life in Himself, that He procures and dispenses it to others. So Paul (Col ).

2. He is a tried stone. Everything in regard to Him was tried in the days of His flesh: His wisdom, His meekness, His love.

3. He is a precious stone. Precious to God the Father, to angels, to Christians. (1Pe .)

4. A precious corner-stone. The corner-stone stands to unite. He unites in His person deity and manhood. We see in Him united the Old and New Testament dispensations. He unites Jews and Gentiles (Eph ).

II. His destination. "Behold I lay in Zion," &c.

1. Who lays this foundation? GOD.

2. Where does He lay this foundation? "In Zion." Jesus was a Jew, of the family of David. To the woman at the well He said, "Salvation is of the Jews." See Psa ; and Isa 2:2-3; Isa 25:6.

III. How well He answers the purpose and end. "A sure foundation." He is a sure foundation for all. Myriads have trusted in Him, and to the whole world it may be said (Isa ).

IV. The blessedness of those who make use of it. "He that believeth shall not make haste." This declaration is not opposed to diligence; no, for "the King's business requireth haste." No (Psa ). But—

1. To impatience (see chap. Isa ), "Blessed are they that wait on Him."

2. To confusion. Terror will overwhelm the godless (Rev ). But believers (1Jn 2:28).

V. Observe the ushering in of the whole scene. "Behold." Angels pause before the great work of redemption, and "desire to look unto these things." "Herein is His love made manifest." Behold He "hath commended His love, that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us." Be not of those who "Behold and wonder and perish;" but let the command inspire you with gratitude, admiration, obedience, and zeal. "Hear, and your souls shall live."—William Jay: Sunday Evening Discourses, pp. 18-25.

I. The prominent idea of the text. Christ a foundation-stone.

1. The Builder is Jehovah Himself. He drew the plan of the spiritual building, determined the materials of which it should be constructed, the stone on which it should rest, and then with His own hand laid that foundation.

2. The Site of the building was "Zion." This is generally explained as referring to the Church. But is not the Church the building? Is there not an incongruity in saying, I lay in the Church a foundation-stone on which the Church is to be built? Is there any reason why the passage might not be understood literally as referring to Jerusalem? Is there not a very appropriate sense in which it was true that the foundation on which the Church rests was laid in Jerusalem? Was it not there that the Son of God offered up Himself as a sacrifice, and made atonement for man? Was it not there that the Holy Spirit descended and gave effect to the finished work of redemption? Was it not there the gospel was first preached by the apostles? And was not all this in accordance with the pre-arrangements of God's plan? As Zechariah's fountain was to be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and as Ezekiel's waters were to flow forth from the temple, so Isaiah's foundation-stone was laid in Jerusalem.

3. The building to be reared on this stone was to be composed of Christian men of all ages and all nations. They are being collected now; they will all as lively stones be gathered in, fitly framed together, and built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone.

II. The qualities attributed to this foundation-stone.

1. A tried stone.

2. A precious corner-stone. How shall we estimate its worth? By its intrinsic value? Precious beyond all price. By its scarceness? No other stone like it in the universe. By the importance of the service it renders in the building? Precious to the Builder, to the holy angels, to the redeemed before the throne, to believers on earth.

3. A sure foundation. Firm, solid, safe.

1. Shall not make haste, or be in haste.

2. Shall not be put to shame (Rom ; Rom 10:11, &c.)

CONCLUSION.—If not on the foundation, get on it. If on it, keep on it. Be not content to build on it yourself, but try to induce others to do so.—John Corbin.

I. Sinful, dying man needs a foundation on which he may securely rest his immortal hopes. Every man who studies his own nature and destiny as immortal and accountable instinctively feels that he needs something to give him support under the trials of life, and peace and hope as he is about to enter upon the invisible world. This feeling may exert no decisive influence over his conduct; it may be counteracted by other influences; but it is in him; and he cannot get rid of it.

II. Such a foundation is laid for him in Zion. This foundation is our Lord Jesus Christ (1Pe ). It is described

(1) as a stone, indicating the solidity and durableness of that on which we are invited to rest our immortal interests. In rearing a building of any importance, we deem it essential that the foundation be laid in the most enduring materials. How much more should we look for this when we build for eternity!

(3) a precious stone. How precious none can know but such as have made trial of it in their times of need—the sinner, burdened with a sense of guilt, and sinking in despair; the believer, rejoicing in hope, and looking forward to heaven as his eternal home; the dying Christian, as he closes his eyes on this world, in joyful hope of another and a better; the redeemed in glory, as they cast their crowns at His feet. Ask them what they think of Christ.

4. As a corner-stone. The principal weight of an edifice rests on the corners; and hence, in building, the largest and firmest blocks are selected and placed there as best adapted to unite and support the whole structure. This is the idea intended to be expressed when Christ is spoken of as a corner-stone. It is He who, by His truth, His grace, and His spirit, converts and sustains the whole living temple (Eph ).

III. It is the duty and privilege of all to build their hopes on this foundation without delay.

Joel Hawes, D.D.: Sermons, pp. 307-317.

OUR TRUST AND OUR TEST

Isa . A tried stone.

This phrase may be more literally rendered "a stone of proof," and so rendered admits of two interpretations. The commonly received opinion, that it means a stone which has been tried and found sufficient is probably correct, and is more in harmony with the context; but Calvin understands by it a stone which was to be the test or standard of comparison for others. However this may be, we have inspired authority for saying that the stone is no other than our Lord Jesus Christ (1Pe ); and we may profitably consider Him in these two aspects, as our Trust and our Test.

I. HE IS OUR TRUST, because He has been tried. "Tried in the days of His humanity by all the vehemence of temptations, and the weight of afflictions, yet, like gold from the furnace, rendered more shining and illustrious by the fiery scrutiny."—(Hervey.)

[For further amplifications, see the other outlines on this text].

II. HE IS OUR TEST. In Him we have the true touchstone of character. All men naturally divide themselves into good or bad, saved or lost, by their acceptance or rejection of Him. By this touch-stone strange discoveries have been made in every age. The Pharisees and Scribes had a high character for piety until this trying stone was applied to them, and then it appeared what they were—the most inveterate enemies of God on earth. The reception which men gave to Jesus Christ is the grand criterion of their character, as Simeon predicted, (Luk ). This is the supreme test by which God is trying you, and by which your eternal destiny will be determined.—Samuel Davies, A.M.: Sermons, ii. 29-33.

A TESTED SAVIOUR

Isa . A tried stone.

This is perhaps an allusion to the custom of builders who are about to lay the foundation for some massive structure. Before they raise the edifice they test the character of the substratum on which they think of building. Is not our blessed Lord in every way a tried, a tested, an approved Saviour! I. Did not the Father try Him and find Him faithful in every way?—in His willingness, His obedience, His love? II. Did not Satan try Him and find Him upright? Tried by temptations addressed to His natural appetite, to pride, and to ambition. III. Was He not tried by wicked and unbelieving men? By Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians in His own day, and by sceptics in ours. IV. By the afflicted, the poor, the destitute in His own day and ours? and in each case only to bring out more clearly the marvellousness of His resources. V. By the contrite and broken-hearted? VI. By believers in every generation? And what has been their unanimous testimony? Is it not that they found Him more than equal to all their wants and able to do for them all that they could ask or think? Could so many millions of witnesses, in other respects trustworthy, be mistaken on this point? VII. HAVE YOU TRIED HIM?—R. Bingham, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 208-215.


Verse 17

FALSE REFUGES

Isa . And the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies.

Numerous are the stratagems of Satan to ruin souls. In some he effects this by hurrying them on in the broad way of open transgression; in others, by rendering them the victims of some peculiar constitutional sin—pride, avarice, &c.; in others, by inciting a spirit of disbelief of the truth (Psa ); in others, by inducing inattention to the things of the soul. But our text leads us to contemplate the false refuges to which he causes others to betake themselves.

I. Sinners often feel the necessity of a refuge. This arises sometimes from—

1. An internal sense of guilt. Unless in cases of utter obduracy, transgression and remorse are ever wedded together. Even Pagans have felt these workings of conscience, these pangs of guilty torture. Under these, men sigh for peace, long for rest, and earnestly desire a refuge.

2. The calamitous events of life. Sudden adversity, domestic bereavement, visiting the open grave of some friend, bodily indisposition, mental disquietude, &c.

3. The supposed nearness of death. Men who mock at religion in health, quail at the approach of death. Voltaire trembled in a storm, anxious then to have deliverance, to obtain a refuge.

4. Under the alarming influence of the preached word. When the truth has flashed across the mind and startled the conscience. Thus Felix, and thus thousands. How lamentable that these impressions and convictions are often so fleeting; but still more so, when the convicted sinner flees to sources of false security.

II. Sinners frequently betake themselves to refuges of lies. Of these notice—

1. Partial reformation of life. Giving up the grosser sins of which they have been guilty, intemperance, profanity, fraud, &c. When the whole body is diseased, the amputation of one member is fruitless.

2. A general regard to Christian morality, to the outward acts of obedience, and the decencies of society.

3. An outward profession of religion. Punctual regard to public worship, a proper regard to ordinances, a name among the people of God.

4. A prominent and public sectarian spirit. Rigid adherence to party, sect, and creed; violent anathematising all others; great ardour in the public events of the Church to which they belong. "Come, see my zeal," &c.

5. Distinguished generosity. Liberality to the poor, works of beneficence, co-operation with the compassionate and benevolent. All these things are good in their legitimate sphere and extent, but they are all often only refuges of lies; they may engage a man's anxious attention, while the root of the matter has yet no place in his heart (1Co ; Mat 7:22-23).

6. A still more commonly frequent refuge of lies: a general reliance on the mercy of God. A kind of self-confident persuasion that God is good, that He will not punish, an indefinite resting on His clemency, forgetting His righteousness, purity, truth, &c.

III. Such refuges of lies will be ultimately swept away. They will be so—

1. In a dying hour. Then the mental vision often becomes peculiarly acute, the moral sense keen and distinct, and the honesty of the spirit throws off the tinsel mask, which is now manifestly worse than useless. How poor and worthless is self-righteousness, in all its possible extent, to a spirit just stepping into the presence of the holy God. A queen of England, although professing to be "Defender of the Faith," and having bishops at her control, felt this, and died in circumstances of unutterable alarm.

2. In the morning of the resurrection. Then all classes and distinctions will be reduced to two. None but the righteous will have a part in the first resurrection. Others will rise with shame, confusion, and horror to everlasting contempt.

3. In the decisions of the judgment. God will judge all men in righteousness. The wicked and the righteous will be separated (Mat ); no pretence, disguise, plea, stratagem, importunity, or effort, will avail. All refuges of lies will be swept away.

APPLICATION.—

1. Warn against these destructive schemes and wiles of Satan.

2. Exhibit the one only refuge, Jesus Christ, who delivers from the wrath to come.

3. Urge instant faith in Him. "Count all things but loss," &c. All who believe in him are secure for both worlds. To this Refuge let all repair, earnestly, and now.—Jabez Burns, D.D.: Pulpit Cyclopædia, iii. 153-156.


Verse 18

FALSE REFUGES

Isa . Your covenant with death shall be disannulled.

Like the sinners spoken of in this chapter, most sinful men say in effect, "We have made a covenant with death," &c. (Isa ).

I. That he may escape the dreaded consequences of sin, the troubled sinner seeks a refuge. He flees—

1. From the voice of reason. The presence of a reasoning power in man is incompatible with the practice of sin. This is seen in the fact that when sinners can be brought to think, they at once admit themselves to be wrong. The moment a man commences to think about sin, that moment he becomes aware that it will not bear thinking about. It is because a sinful life is an unthinking life that God's invitations to sinners are invitations to reason (chap. Isa ; Psa 50:22).

2. From an accusing conscience. The authority of conscience is supreme, and no man can sin without feeling its sting. To escape remorse, which is conscience at work, men seek a refuge.

3. From an offended God. Sin is offensive to God's holiness; for being pure, He must hate impurity. Because sinners are conscious that they have rendered themselves obnoxious to God, they seek a refuge.

4. From a broken law. In obedience to law there is safety, right, and happiness; while in disregarding law there is nothing but disaster. And from the consequences of the broken law—the broken law of God written on the heart, proclaimed in Nature, revealed in the Bible—the sinner tries to hide.

5. From an endless future. This more than anything else terrifies sinners and drives them to seek shelter.

II. Sinners, blindly infatuated, seek a refuge in wrong objects. They make a covenant with death and an agreement with hell. The terms "death" and "hell" stand for the whole class of false securities in which men seek shelter by making a covenant and agreement with them.

1. Unbelief is one of the more modern refuges of sin. When men can blot out of the universe the idea of God, quench the sense of moral responsibility, remove the belief in immortality, persuade themselves that there is no other world, that death is an eternal sleep, that heaven is only an air-castle, and hell a mere chimera, they may then indulge in evil to their hearts' content.

2. Superstition is another. Not in open unbelief, but under the cover of a false religion others seek to shelter. Unable to shake off belief in God and in a spiritual world, they search for some system which will at once allow a profession of religion and a practice of wickedness. Nor are such systems wanting, nor are they without disciples. Romanism offers indulgences for gold and pardons for pence, and thus provides a refuge for the stronger in pocket than in brain.

3. Annihilation is another. According to some, such is the awfulness of the thought of extinction of being, that men revolt from it. Establish it that when sinners die they cease to live, and what better refuge for sin is possible, and what other is needed? Sinful men will soon say, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."

4. Excess is another. When the previous ones have failed to give comfort, the sinner rushes madly into excess. The drunkard seeks in increased intemperance to drown the sorrow his indulgence has occasioned.

5. Indifference is the last. This is the only comfort some men can find in their career of evil. But indifference is impossible without a denial of human responsibility. Sad indeed must the condition of human nature be when brought to this.

III. The refuges so confidently trusted in are utterly insecure.

1. Because they are incompatible with the real need of man. Only that can be conducive to man's safety which meets man's need. No human need is met by infidelity, or by superstition, or by annihilation, or by indulgence, or by indifference. Any one of these, tested by this argument drawn from human necessities, will be found a refuge of lies.

2. Because they are at variance with human instincts. Instinctively men believe in a Divine existence, in moral accountability, and in immortality.

3. Because they contradict human experience. They have all been tried, and as often as they have been tried they have been found false.

4. Because they are opposed to the teaching of revelation, both natural and Biblical. Nature proclaims loudly against all sin-sought refuges. The teaching of Nature and the Bible is that man is incompetent to provide for his own security, and that God only, in the exercise of His Divine prerogative, can provide for sinners the security they need.

IV. By Divine appointment the refuges so madly sought shall be totally destroyed. "Your covenant with death shall be disannulled."

1. By consequence of their inherent character. They are "refuges of lies," and necessarily all refuges built on lies must perish.

2. By necessity of strict justice. "Judgment will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet" (Isa ).

3. By the exertion of Almighty power. "And the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place."

CONCLUSION.—God has mercifully provided a true refuge. He only cuts off the false that He may exhibit the true. "Behold, I lay in Sion for a foundation a stone," &c. (Isa ).—William Brooks: Study and the Pulpit, New Series, vol. 1 pp. 413-416.


Verse 20

THE SHORT BED AND THE NARROW COVERING

Isa . For the bed is shorter, &c.

Of all the striking images made use of in this chapter, none was so likely to catch the ear, and impress itself on the memory, and become a seed of useful reflection, as that embodied in this proverbial saying. Epigrams have done much to guide popular movements. Lord Bacon speaks of them as "the edge-tools which cut and penetrate the knots of business and affairs." The adage before us is homely, but forcible and expressive. To a fastidious taste and a false refinement it may appear undignified; but where one has to deal with reckless folly and obstinacy, he selects what best serves his purpose of exposing it. Lifted out of the occasions which gave them birth, these pithy and sententious sayings admit of manifold applications. They refute error, and make truth visible.

I. Apply this aphorism to the shifts of diplomacy. This is the use which the prophet makes of it. No words could better expose the folly of the Egyptian alliance. The "scornful" politicians of Jerusalem "had not only secured themselves by a treaty with that personification of death and hell, the Assyrian, but they had outwitted him; for what chance could a mere barbarian soldier have against the deep-laid policy of an old, long-civilised state? They were in communication with Egypt and Ethiopia, and at the proper time would bring the armies of Tirhakeh to free them from the power of Sennacherib." This was the plausible but imprudent and deceitful scheme which the prophet denounced; and all such measures will in due time land their short-sighted and dishonest authors in the short bed with the narrow covering.

II. Apply it to the dishonesties of trade and the reckless extravagances of living. The rash speculator and the careless spendthrift will soon find out its truth. If they do not live within their means, and regulate dress and diet according to their income, they will soon find themselves in the short bed, vainly seeking warmth and comfort under a scanty covering. How much society has suffered from reckless speculation! Many a promising youth has foolishly squandered his means, and has grown so enormously in his luxurious habits, that he has no room to stretch himself on the short bed of his income. Visions of sequestration disturb his repose; pinching poverty hinders his comfort.

III. The same imprudent miscalculation is seen in the plans of worldly-minded men. Their purpose is to make a fortune, and then retire to enjoy it. They imagine that thus they shall have constructed an ample bed with abundant covering, in which they may comfortably spend the evening of life's day. But they have made their bed without measuring its occupant at his full height. Providing for the body, but neglecting the soul, they are cribbed and confined within the narrow boundaries of time, and it will be well for them if they discover their mistake when the chill frosts of old age seize upon their uncovered limbs.

IV. Apply it to the expedients by which men seek spiritual rest. There are many short beds on which they seek repose, and narrow coverings in which they try to wrap themselves. What apologies do they find for their sin!—how earnestly they work out a righteousness of their own in which to find shelter, forgetting that "all have sinned and come short," and "the one thing" they lack is a fatal defect! They will soon shiver with cold under this insufficient covering. Nothing but the saving work of Christ can answer man's need as a sinful creature. Here is both room and warmth (Mat ). As the fond mother lays her child to sleep, so will He provide for our comfort (Isa 66:13). The word "hap" is dear to a Scotch ear, expressing "the care with which the bedclothes are laid upon the little forms, and carefully tucked in about the round sleeping cheeks." Seek rest in Christ. He will support you in sickness and soothe you in pain; and when laid down on your last bed, rejoicing in the fulness and all-sufficiency of His grace, you will fall asleep in Him. A common proverb runs, "He has made his bed, and now he must lie on it," sometimes harshly used, yet expressing a solemn truth (Gal 6:7; Isa 50:11).—William Guthrie, M.A.

An end is proposed to be accomplished; the first consideration will be the suitability and sufficiency of means. The kingdom of Judah was trusting in inadequate defences against the Assyrians, whose approach was feared. False gods. Words of false prophets. Alliance with Egypt. Warned against all these. True defence in faithful adherence to God as covenant God. If they continued to look elsewhere they would find themselves in the position of a man in a bed too short for him, or with a covering too narrow to wrap himself. Instead of comfort and rest, weariness, discomfort, unrest. The bed does not answer its end. It is inadequate.

This thought is capable of another application. Men's religious beliefs and practices may be inadequate. A religion for man must be true in itself, be evidenced as true, be adapted to and sufficient for his religious necessities, capacities, and susceptibilities. Otherwise, it is inadequate.

Point out the inadequacy of some religious ideas that are in vogue.

I. Scepticism is inadequate. There is not only the unbelief that denies the truth of Christianity, but the more subtle unbelief which refuses to affirm while it does not exactly deny. It says we know nothing, and may act on the assumption that there is nothing—as to God, Christ, a future state. Now we might show that there is sufficient evidence, but at present only show that this theory is not adequate to the demands of human nature. It is a fair inference from the almost universal experience of mankind that the doctrines of God, conscience, responsibility, prayer, a future state of existence, are congenial to human nature. Education does not account for them, although it may give them shape. Without them human nature is short of something which it needs. It is adapted to them. Without them its deepest needs are inadequately supplied.

The religion of the Bible supplies the need of man in all these respects. It reveals the Divine Being and character. It tells of a Father on whom, in his helplessness, man may call. It guides his conscience so that it may fitly guide him. It acquaints us with the nature of the life to come.

II. Self-righteousness is inadequate. There are necessities which did not exist in man's original constitution, self-created necessities. The state of sinfulness is a second nature, super-induced on the original nature. Overlooking this, many imagine the Divine favour can be won and the religious life prosecuted by obedience to God and kindness to man. They proceed on the supposition that it is only necessary to continue such a course from any given commencement. If the sinful part is recognised, it is assumed that it will be condoned in consideration of the new service. It is assumed that the long-standing debt of former sin will be gradually paid by goodness in excess of ordinary demands, or that God, in some unknown way, will remit it.

This bed is too short. This covering too narrow. The religion for a fallen creature must deal seriously with the state of sin, guilt, condemnation. The question meets you at the outset, if every farthing of your present income is absolutely required to meet your barest necessities, how can you out of it pay back debts? Does not the law require a perfect obedience? Do you at present render more than it requires? Do you ever, with your best endeavour, come up to the law?

It is hopelessly inadequate. The religion for man must provide a free forgiveness; one also honourable to God. It is not in our power. It is in God. And He has made such a provision. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that provision. His obedience, death, righteousness. Freely given without works to the believing sinner. This is the only adequate ground. This bed is long enough. This covering wide enough.

III. Ceremonialism is inadequate. Human nature is impure. It needs cleansing as well as pardon. Some imagine this is accomplished by sacramental grace, through baptism, which is supposed to regenerate; and the mysterious influence of the consecrated bread and wine. All this is inadequate. No outward rite can effect an inward and spiritual change. There must be a new nature. There must be a love of holiness and a living growth into holiness. There must be a new birth. There must be the conviction of sinfulness; the acceptance of Christ; the surrender to the authority of Christ. For this the Gospel provision is adequate. There is the word of God which proclaims the mercy and offers the inducement. There is the Holy Spirit which changes the heart.

Be not satisfied with inadequate religion. Remember the solemn importance of possessing an adequate religion.—J. Rawlinson.


Verse 22

IRRELIGIOUS MOCKERY

Isa . Now, therefore, be ye not mockers, lest your bands be made strong.

The sense of the ludicrous is excited by words, ideas, images, or objects in which unexpected resemblances are seen in things previously considered incongruous, or in which incongruity is perceived where complete resemblance was supposed. The perception of the ludicrous varies. Where it exists in connection with the ability to convey the ludicrous idea in language, it is called wit. It is one of God's gifts. There is no reason why it should not be exercised. The evil is in untimeliness and excess. It is dispiriting and sad to be with people who always and only see the dismal side of everything. It is equally pitiable to observe people who are ever in search of something laughable. The latter is a present-day danger. We have publications whose aim is to present the ludicrous side of everything. The popular taste encourages such writing. Even grand themes are not exempt from this kind of treatment. Some mock deliberately that they may injure; others thoughtlessly for the amusement of the moment. Of all wit it is the most gratuitous, the easiest, the most mischievous and dangerous.

I. THE OBJECTS BY WHICH IT IS EXCITED.

Religious persons; their peculiarities, especially their foibles. Christian ministers as to their style and manner. In their impatience of the warnings addressed to them by the prophet, the people of Judah mocked his teaching as characterised by the repetition that is only suitable to children (9-13). Some find food for mockery in the doctrines of the Gospel. Others in its demand of holiness (Pro ). Others in the observances of worship. Others find the language of Scripture the most convenient point to their jests.

II. THE MOTIVES IN WHICH IT ORIGINATES.

Many do it from mere inconsiderateness. It is sometimes indulged in from the wish to please. Mockery of religious persons and things is so palatable to many that there is great temptation to it. More frequently it originates in the rooted hostility of the carnal mind against all earnest religion. Mockery is the most annoying form of attack; it is most keenly felt; it is most difficult to answer. It serves the purpose when argument fails. One grinning Voltaire may do more execution than many reasoning Humes. Many a time since the days of Nehemiah have Sanballat and his Samaritans mocked the builders of the wall of Jerusalem.

III. THE DANGERS WHICH IT INVOLVES.

1. To those who hear it. They become less susceptible of religious impression. If the head of a family habitually refer to religious persons and subjects in a mocking and disrespectful manner, his children will probably grow up with a dislike of religion.

2. To those who indulge in it. They lose their own respect for religion, if they had any, by associating it with ideas of a low and ludicrous nature. They lose the elevating mental influence of having their minds in earnest contact with its grand truths. They lose the spiritual improvement which might have been the result of such contact.

3. And the warning of the text points to direct punishment. The "consumption determined." It points to the bands of captivity which would be more strong because of their unbelieving mockery. The mocker is preparing strong bands of distress for his conscience, if the day should ever come when he is awakened to a sense of sin and an earnest desire for salvation. How bitterly will he repent the injury his levities did to his own mind and the mind of others. Still more saddening is the thought that the mocker is likely so to harden his heart into insensibility to serious impression, that even on the bed of death, and with the solemnities of eternity before him, it will be impossible to awaken serious concern.

Follow the mocking soul to the bar of God where it must answer for its mockeries, and for all the state of mind which rendered it possible to mock. There will be no mockery in hell!

Do not brave these bands. Young men, do not sit in the seat of the scorner. Do not be among the mockers. Let the mocker hear the solemn warning of the text, and repent and seek mercy through the cross, and relinquish his folly.—J. Rawlinson.


Verse 24-25

THE PARABLE OF THE HUSBANDMAN

Means adapted to the end must be used if any end is to be accomplished. The physician knows this. So does the general. So does the manufacturer. So does the farmer. He is not always ploughing. Nor always sowing. Nor always threshing. Nor does he treat every kind of produce in the same way. And God employs various methods in dealing with men. He aims to turn them from evil, and He adapts His methods. The teaching of the text may be applied to the divine dealing with men generally.

I. God intended to open a way of salvation. Man needs salvation because he is a sinner. Can conceive a state of things in which he would not need it, as of one who needs no physician. If he had continued holy and obedient. But that is not his case. He is a sinner, characterised by impurity, and exposed to perdition.—Now God, in His pitying love, would save us. How shall He proceed? Shall He, by His arbitrary will, sweep away the facts? Such a procedure would be entirely inconsistent with the existence of moral government and the rectitude of the divine character.

1. One part of the case to be dealt with was the condemned state of man under the divine law. Forgiveness could not righteously be given without some satisfaction. Man could not make it. God in Christ, in His whole personality and work, has made the satisfaction. The method adopted is exactly adapted to the nature of the case.

2. But the other part of the case was also to be dealt with. Sinfulness is deep-seated in man's nature. He loves it. Until he is changed, he is not even inclined to sue for mercy, still less to escape from sin. The Lord Jesus Christ was sent to turn us from our iniquities. How does He do this?

(1.) By moral motive. The law was inadequate. He introduces a new motive. Not only the mercy, but the fact that it has been procured at such a cost, that the love was equal to such a sacrifice. It appeals directly to the heart, as well as to the judgment, for a condemnation of sin.

(2.) By spiritual influence. The influence of the Holy Spirit strives with those to whom the gospel is preached, with a view to the overcoming their indifference, reluctance, and sin.—The method is adapted, in both its sides, to the end in view. It only requires the sinner's consent. Hence—

II. God intended the way of salvation to be made known to men. If consent to it and faith in it is requisite to participation of its blessings, it must be understood—

1. The information might have been imparted in a separate revelation by the Holy Spirit to every man. Would supersede all evidence, and all exercise of human faculty. Would not be adapted to man as a reasonable being.

2. Angelic ministry might have been employed. Open to similar objection. Would have made miracle the rule instead of the exception. It would have changed the order of nature.

3. The method adopted is the simple arrangement that those who are acquainted with it, believe it, consent to it, make the gospel known. A method exactly adapted to the nature of the case. According to the constitution of human nature, the Gospel thus approaches it for the purpose of gaining the understanding, the heart, and the will. Bear in mind the power of sympathy between human beings. He who has received a truth desires to impart it. He who has experienced the salvation pities those who need it as he did. He who speaks from his own experience speaks with tenderness, and earnestness, and influence. The sick heed the recommendation of a physician by those whom he has cured. On this principle of adaptation the Lord Jesus instituted the living ministry of apostles, evangelists, pastors, parents, all Christians. He inspired some to put on permanent record the truth as He revealed it, as a standard of appeal. They are to study it. They are to use the same principle of adaptation. There is youth, age, different measure of instruction, different classes, spheres, circumstances.

III. God intended to train those whom He saved. Believers are already saved, because pardoned and sanctified. But they require training into riper holiness, greater usefulness, greater fitness for the future heaven. Therefore the Saviour instituted such means as are adapted to secure these ends. Church fellowship, public worship, pastoral teaching, Christian habits of watchfulness, thoughtfulness, prayer. All these are adapted to the training of the spiritual plant.

Are you in sympathy with God's end? In yourselves? In the world? Then adapt yourselves to its realisation.—J. Rawlinson.

In these verses there are three kinds of seed mentioned; fitches, cummin, and corn. The fitches and cummin were small seeds like the caraway or chickpea. When these smaller herbs had to be threshed, this was done by hand; but when the corn had to be threshed, that was thrown on the floor, and men would fasten horses or oxen to a cart with iron-dented wheels; that cart would be drawn round the threshing-floor, and so the work would be accomplished. And so the idea expressed is different kinds of threshing for different products.

I. We must all go through some kind of threshing process. The fact that you are devoting your life to honourable and noble purposes will not win you any escape. Wilber-force, the Christian Emancipator, was in his day derisively called "Doctor Cantwell." Thomas Babington Macaulay, the advocate of all that was good long before he became the most conspicuous historian of his day, was caricatured in one of the Quarterly Reviews as "Bubble-tongue Macaulay." Norman M‘Leod, the great friend of the Scotch poor, was industriously maligned in all quarters. All the small wits of London took after John Wesley, the father of Methodism. If such men could not escape the maligning of the world, neither can you expect to get rid of the sharp, keen stroke of the tribulum. All who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution.

II. It is no compliment to us if we escape great trial. There are men who suppose they are the Lord's favourites, simply because their barns are full, and their bank account is flush, and there are no funerals in the house. It may be because they are fitches and cummin, while down at the end of the lane, the poor widow may be the Lord's corn. You are little pounded, because you are little worth, and she bruised and ground, because she is the best part of the harvest. By carefulness of the threshing, you may always conclude the value of the grain. (H. E. I., 189-196, 3692-3695).

III. God proportions our trials to what we can bear. The rod for the cummin, the staff for the fitches, the iron wheel for the corn. (H. E. I, 179-188, 3674-3695).

IV. God continues trials until we let go. As soon as the farmer sees that the straw has let go the grain, he stops the threshing. We hold on to this world with its pleasures, riches, and emoluments, as though for ever. God comes along with some threshing trouble, and beats us loose. Oh, let go! Depend upon it that God will keep upon you the staff, or the rod, or the iron wheel until you do let go.

V. Christian sorrow is going to have a sure terminus. "Bread corn is bruised, because He will not be ever threshing it." So much of us as is wheat will be separated from so much of us as is chaff, and there will be no more need of pounding. "He will not ever be threshing it." Blessed be God for that! (Rev ).—T. De Witt Talmage, D.D.


Verse 29

A FEAST FOR FAITH

Isa . This also cometh forth from the Lord of Hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.

The sentiment of the text is that the art, and science, and skill of man are the gifts of God. The prophet instances only agriculture, but the same principle applies to all the arts and manufactures, and in a higher degree still to those sublimer sciences which elevate the human mind, and make us acquainted with the majestic and mysterious powers of nature. The drift of the writer of the text is this, if God thus instructs man in wisdom, how wise must He be Himself! If the mere rays which come from Him convey to us so much light that we are perfectly astonished at what man can do, what must be the infinite wisdom in counsel and the excellence of working which are to be discovered in God Himself! There are two things which shall occupy our attention. The first is, the vision of God which the text presents to us; and the second is, the lesson which such a vision is calculated to teach us.

I. The vision of God which is presented to us in the text. The great principle of the text is that God has a plan, and that this plan is wonderful in itself, and is found to be excellent when it is carried out. This is illustrated

(1.) in nature. All creation is full of traces of design. "He weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance." Nothing was made without the most accurate calculation. The stars seem cast about on the floor of heaven as men might fling at random gold-dust from their hands; yet there is not a single star whose place might be altered without mischief to the whole arrangement. In the meanest animal and minutest insect there are the most admirable contrivances to suit its habits and make its condition happy. And apparent irregularity is only undiscovered order.

2. From providence. The great providential operations of God are all the results of His foredetermined purpose and decree. All through human history every lover of the Lord will see that the awful wheels of Providence have worked with excellent regularity. Empires have fallen, but the truth has risen. Dynasties have perished, but immortal principles have conquered.

3. Your own personal experience of that providence goes to prove this with equal clearness. How often have you seen that God overrules all things for your good! (H. E. I. 4015-4022).

4. The wonderful planning of the excellent Worker is seen in the great economy of Redemption. How marvellous that God, the Mighty Maker, should appear in human flesh and become a man, that so fallen, sinful, miserable man might be lifted up and become the Son of God! When I see this great sight these words of Isaiah's ring with a bell-like music in my ears, "He is wonderful in counsel."

5. Then turning from Redemption itself, look at the Gospel. That Gospel is just the reverse of what human wisdom would advise. It is not "do and live," but "believe and live."

6. Then I might speak of God's plan and God's work in inward experience. The experience of every Christian is in some respects different from that of another, but it is always the result of God's plan.

7. Another illustration will be found in the use of instrumentality. It is a wonderful design of God to use one man in the conversion of another. The one is benefited while the other is blessed.

8. The grandest illustration of all will be when, at last, God's counsels shall be perfectly fulfilled. Man shall burst forth into one mighty song, "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!"

II. Some of the lessons from it.—

1. To the unconverted: seeing His counsel is so wondrous, I would to God you would agree to it!

2. To the people of God: I want you to agree to this in your own particular case.

3. Brother workers, let us have a well-formed plan, and let it be God's plan.

4. When we know God's plan we must remember to carry it out.

5. When you are resolved to carry out God's plan, joyfully expect singular assistance.—C. H. Spurgeon.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 28:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-28.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 27th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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