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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 3

 

 

Verses 1-3

THE DEATH OF STATESMEN

(Funeral Sermon for the Right Hon. George Canning.)

Isa ; Isa 3:3. For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah … the counsellor, … and the eloquent orator.

By the death of a great statesman at the head of a government, we are reminded.—

I. Of the weight of government in a fallen world. It is a burden that has crushed many, and has brought them to an untimely grave.

II. Of the weakness of the shoulders of mortal men. The government of a single country, especially in troublous times, has proved a burden too great for the courage and the endurance of the strongest of men.

III. Of the uncertainty of all human affairs. Often does the statesman think of the uncertainty of arriving at the object of his ambition, but seldom of the uncertainty of his remaining there, except when he recollects how many are struggling to replace him. Little does he think of another foe, who lurks behind, and who in some unexpected moment will hush his eloquent tongue, and turn his fertile brain to dust.

IV. Of our absolute dependence on the Supreme Governor. We are apt to think that it is on the profound counsellor and mighty orator that the nation's welfare depends, and to think little of Him who made them what they are, to be employed as He pleases, laid aside when He pleases, and replaced if He pleases, by others as richly endowed.

The innumerable caravan, that moves

To that mysterious realm where each shall take

His chamber in the silent halls of death,

Thou go not like the quarry slave at night

Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustained and soothed

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave

Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.—Bryant.

NATIONAL GREATNESS

Isa . For, behold, &c.

I. The elements of national greatness are intellectual and moral, rather than material. A nation may have "the staff of bread" and "the stay of water," but lacking the persons enumerated in Isa , it cannot be a great nation. While, therefore, it is reasonable to put forth efforts to increase the material resources of the nation, we should be more concerned to improve the producers than the produce.

II. For the supply and continuance of these supreme elements of national greatness, we are absolutely dependent upon God. Well to remember that for all material blessings we are absolutely dependent upon Him. The moral value of a bad harvest is often great; it reminds us that, do what the most skilful agriculturists may, it is "God that giveth the increase." Not less dependent are we upon Him for the men without whom no nation can be great. Wise statesmen, skilful inventors, eloquent orators, &c., are very special gifts of God; such men cannot be manufactured.

III. These essential elements of national greatness God will take away from those nations that are regardless of His goodness and defiant of His authority (Isa ; Isa 3:8). National sins bring on national judgments. No national judgment is more severe or prolific of disasters than the removal or denial of great leaders.

IV. Not only can God abase the greatest nation, but He can reduce it to depths of humiliation which beforehand it would have regarded as inconceivable. See through what stages of national sorrow and shame the prophet declared that Israel should be led.

(1.) The diminution of its material resources and the removal of all its leaders of society (Isa ).

(2.) The government entrusted to weak and childish rulers (Isa ).

(3.) Social anarchy (Isa ).

(4.) Social degradation so extreme, that men are solicited to rule merely because they have a little wealth (Isa ).

(5.) The last stage of national degradation—its supreme places of authority have become so contemptible and perilous that no one can be induced to fill them (Isa ).

These considerations concern us individually. The nation is but an aggregate of individuals; and what they are, it is. Hence it behoves us—

1. To strive after personal holiness. This seems a very small remedy for national evils. But it is only by each man adopting it that the nation can be made religious. If each drop in the ocean could eliminate the salt with which it is charged, the ocean would become fresh. Besides, by our example we may stimulate others to personal reforms, and they again others.

2. To entreat God to deal with us as a nation in the way of mercy, and not of judgment (Psa ). There is a mighty power in intercessory prayer.

3. Diligently to promote all moral and social reforms. We must labour as well as pray. A Christian man will assist in all political reforms, because it is the will of God that righteousness should prevail in all things. But much more interested will he be in all movements and institutions having for their end the intellectual and moral advancement of the people: the school, the temperance society, better dwellings for the working classes, the diffusion of a pure literature, &c.

4. To put forth constant efforts to bring and keep our fellow-countrymen under the influence of the Gospel. Of all regenerative and conservative influences the Gospel is the most active and powerful. A nation composed entirely of genuine Christians would be at once the most happy, prosperous, and powerful the world has ever seen. The direct and short way to exalt Great Britain is to strive to lead all our countrymen to the knowledge and service of Christ. This is a work, not for ministers only, but for the whole Church. There would be more happy Christians if there were more working Christians. It is not the running brooks, but the standing pools, that become stagnant.


Verse 9

SHAMELESS SINNERS

Isa . They declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not.

Extremes are generally detestable: equatorial heat, arctic cold; the speaker whom we must strain to hear, the orator who roars, &c. So in morals: foolhardy rashness, cowardice; prodigality, penuriousness; hypocrites, and such shameless sinners as are spoken of here. Such persons are even more detestable than hypocrites; these at least pay this homage to virtue, that they array themselves in her outer garments. Desperate and vain is the endeavour to cloak iniquity, yet even this is better than the effrontery which leads some to flaunt it in open day. How surprising is such effrontery! When we consider what sin is—a thing horribly degrading to man as well as insufferably offensive to God—we should have expected beforehand that men would have been as anxious to hide their vices, as they are to conceal any loathsome disease with which they may be afflicted. But it is not so. There are tens of thousands of sinners as devoid of shame as were those who dwelt in Sodom; nay, they glory in their shame. Consider—

I. THE CAUSES OF SHAMELESSNESS IN SIN.

1. Ignorance. There are many so uninstructed in moral and spiritual things; they have grown up surrounded by such evil examples, that they have no consciousness of the foulness of their vices, any more than a peasant has of the ungracefulness of his manners. This cause operates among the lower classes to an extent scarcely conceivable by the cultured and refined.

2. Habit. Many an open and shameless sinner, at the outset of his career, when he was first betrayed into transgression, was ashamed almost to walk through the street, and imagined that every one whom he met had heard of, and despised him for, his offence. But the offence was repeated; it became a habit; and in proportion as it has done so, has the offender's sense of shame died out of him. He thinks as little of it as a soldier does of his uniform, which when it was first put on caused him to think that all eyes were fixed upon him.

3. A desire to silence conscience. The effrontery is often assumed, just as the rustic traveller when near a churchyard whistles, not because he is courageous, but to keep his courage up. Conscience reproaches and warns, and the sinner seeks to silence it by greater desperation in wickedness.

5. Infidelity. The sinner has succeeded at last in persuading himself that what he wishes were true is true, and that there is no God, and, consequently, no day of judgment and no hell. As soon as men have cast off fear of God, it is easy for them to cast off fear of man. The ordinary fruit of infidelity is vice. What but prudence is left to restrain the infidel from partaking in the pleasures of sin? And how weak prudence is in any real contest with passion!

II. THE CONSEQUENCES OF SHAMELESSNESS IN SIN.

This is declared by the prophet to be woe—woe of peculiar intensity and awfulnes. "Woe unto their soul!" &c. They stand in peril of the severest chastisements of the Divine justice—

1. Because shamelessness in sin is an aggravation of sin. It is felt to be so in the home, in the nation. Disloyalty is an evil thing, but to break forth into open rebellion, and to take the field against the monarch, is worse.

2. Because shamelessness in sin adds to the contagiousness of sin. One reason why sin is so hateful in the sight of God is because it renders every sinner a moral pestilence. Corrupt, he corrupts others (Ecc ). But of shameless sinners this is especially true.

1. They lead many to imitate them in their wickedness. In every community these shameless sinners are ringleaders in vice and recruiting-sergeants for the devil.

2. They confirm many in wickedness. Many are "halting between two opinions," and these shameless offenders, by their example, and often by their persuasions, supply that which is needed to bring these irresolute ones to a decision for a life of iniquity. Thus they are soul-murderers as well as soul-suicides. Justice, therefore, demands that their punishment shall be especially severe. Their doom will probably be as manifest as their guilt.

APPLICATION.

1. Let those who have been thus shameless in sin humble themselves before Almighty God. Even for them to-day there is mercy (Isa ; Isa 1:18). Let no sinner be deterred from seeking mercy by the greatness of his sins (Ezr 9:6, with Psa 108:4, and Rom 5:20). Yet let no sinner presume further to transgress because God is so merciful. There is an awful warning in the gracious invitation (Isa 55:6).

2. As ignorance is one main cause of shamelessness in sin, let Sunday-school teachers recognise the importance of the task in which they are engaged. Though they may not be able to point to individual conversions as the result of their efforts, they are not labouring in vain; by them the moral sense of the community is being raised. Evil as are our days, the testimony is conclusive that the former days were not better, but worse.

3. As habit is another main cause of shamelessness in sin, let the young be anxiously on their guard against the formation of evil habits. But habits grow from acts. A single action is consequently more important than it seems. There are certain actions which have in themselves a special decisiveness of influence. When a young man has once entered a bar parlour, he has entered upon the high way to drunkenness; he may not reach it, but he is on the high way to it. Another most decisive step towards shamelessness in sin is taken when a young person who has been trained under Christian influence joins a Sunday excursion. It is by this gate that millions have entered that path of open transgression, along which they have hastened to perdition.

4. Let the people of God be very careful to leave shameless sinners without excuse. It is by the inconsistencies of professing Christians that such persons endeavour to shield themselves from censure and to silence their consciences. Hence Eph ; Col 4:5; 1Th 5:22.


Verse 10-11

CHEERING WORDS AND SOLEMN WARNINGS

Isa . Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat of the fruit of their own doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him.

Into these two orders, the righteous and the wicked, the Bible is accustomed to divide the whole population of the globe.—A crimson line runs between the righteous and the wicked, the line of atoning sacrifice: faith crosses that line, but nothing else can. There can be no righteousness where there is no faith.—This distinction is so sharp and definite, that no man can dwell in a borderland between the two conditions. A clear line of demarcation exists between life and death, and such a division is fixed by God between the righteous and the wicked. There are no monstrous nondescripts, who are neither sinners nor saints. This text ought, therefore, to lead to great searching of heart.

I. The well-being of the righteous.

1. It is a great fact that it is well with the righteous. It is well with him always: in prosperity, which is a time of peril; in persecution, which is hard to bear; in childhood, manhood, and old age; in time, and throughout eternity.

2. We are assured of this fact on Divine authority. Reason might assure us of it, but it is better to have it under the hand and seal of omniscience. If thou canst not see it, let God's word stand thee instead of sight.

3. It is the will of God that His people should know this great fact. He would have his saints happy, and therefore He says to His prophets, "Say ye," &c.

4. With God's people it is emphatically "well." When GOD says it is "well" with a man, it must be well indeed.

5. There are many obvious reasons why it is well with the righteous.

(1.) His greatest trouble is past. His greatest trouble was the guilt of sin.

(2.) His next greatest trouble is doomed. The dominion of sin over him shall speedily come to an end.

(3.) His best things are safe. His treasures are in heaven.

(4.) His worst things work only for his good.

(5.) He is well fed, for he feeds upon Christ; well clad, for he wears the imputed righteousness of Christ; well housed, for he dwells in God who has been the dwelling-place of His people in all generations; well married, for his soul is knit in bonds of marriage union to Christ; well provided for, for the Lord is his Shepherd.

(6.) God has put within him many graces, that help to make things well; faith, which laughs at difficulties; love, which accepts them; patience, which endures them; hope, which expects a rest to come.

(7.) Day by day, God the Holy Ghost visits him with fresh life and power.

(8.) He has a bank that never breaks—the glorious "throne of grace;" and he has only to apply on bended knee to get what he will.

(9.) He has ever near him a most sweet Companion, whose loving converse is so delightful that the roughest roads grow smooth, and the darkest nights glow with brightness.

(10.) He has an arm to lean upon that is never weary, never feeble, never withdrawn.

(11.) He is favoured with a perpetual Comforter, who pours wine and oil into every wound, and brings to his remembrance the things which Christ has spoken. It is well with the righteous in life, well when he comes to die, and well after death.

6. The blessedness of the righteous rests upon a solid ground. The text says, "they shall eat the fruit of their doings." Those are the only terms upon which the old covenant can promise that it shall be well with us; but this is not the ground upon which you and I stand under the gospel dispensation. Absolutely to eat the fruit of our doings would be even to us, if judgment were brought to the line and righteousness to the plummet, a very dreadful thing. Yet there is a limited sense in which the righteous man will do this. "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat," &c., is good gospel language; and when the Master shall say, "Inasmuch as ye did this unto one of the least of these my people, ye did it unto me," the reward will not be of debt, but still it will be a reward, and the righteous will eat the fruit of his doings. I prefer, however, to remark, that there is One whose doings for us is the ground of our dependence, and we shall eat of the fruit of His doings.

1. He is out of joint with all the world. Ordinary creatures are obedient to God, but he has set himself in opposition to the whole current of creation.

2. He has an enemy who is omnipotent.

3. His joys all hang on a thread. Let life's thread be cut, and where are his merriments?

4. After these joys are over, he has no more to come.

5. Of all the comforts and hopes of the righteous, he is utterly destitute.—C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, vol. xiii. 13-24.

Suppose a man were in prison, committed for some great offence, and condemned to die under the displeasure of his prince or state, and his servant should come to him, saying, "Sir, be of good comfort; your wife is well at home; you have very sweet children, an excellent crop of corn; your neighbours love you dearly; your sheep and cattle thrive, and all your houses are in good repair." Would he not answer that servant, "What is all this, so long as I am condemned to die"? Thus is it with every wicked man. He is under the displeasure of the great God, a condemned man, and God is angry with him every day; and if his heart were open to be sensible of it, he would say, "You tell me of my friends, and goods, and name, and trade; but what is all this, so long as I am a condemned person, and God is angry with me every day I rise?"—Bridge, 1600-1670.

Who would think, now, that sees how quietly the multitude of the ungodly live, that they must very shortly lie roaring in everlasting flames? They lie down, and rise, and sleep as quietly; they eat and drink as quietly; they go about their work as cheerfully; they talk as pleasantly, as if nothing ailed them, or as if they were as far out of danger as an obedient believer. Like a man that hath the falling sickness, you would little think, while he is labouring as strongly and talking as heartily as another man, how he will presently fall down, lie gasping and foaming, and beating his breast in torment! so it is with these men. They are as free from the fears of hell as others, as free from any vexing sorrows, not so much as troubled with any cares of the state of their souls, nor with any sad and serious thoughts of what shall become of them in another world; yea, and for the most part, they have less doubts and disquiet of mind, than those who shall be saved. Oh, happy men, if they could be always thus; and if this peace would prove a lasting peace! But, alas, there is the misery! it will not. They are now in their own element, as the fish in the water; but little knows that silly creature when he is most fearlessly and delightfully swallowing down the bait, how suddenly he shall be snatched out, and lie dead upon the bank; and as little think these careless sinners what a change is near. The sheep or ox is driven quietly to the slaughter, because he knows not whither he goes; if he knew it were to his death, you could not drive him so easily. How contented is the swine when the butcher's knife is shaving his throat, little thinking that it is to prepare for his death! Why, it is even so with these sensual, careless men; they fear the mischief least, when it is nearest to them, because they see it not!—Baxter, 1615-1691.

THE GREAT LAW OF RECOMPENSE

Isa . Say ye to the righteous, &c.

This is the testimony of conscience; conscience testifies that that which is here predicted ought to take place—that the condition and circumstances of men ought to be conformed to their character. This is the testimony of reason: in its clearest, calmest, strongest hours, it endorses this testimony of the conscience. This is the declaration of Almighty God: He here promises that He will do that which conscience and reason agree that He ought to do. Thus we have here a conclusive concurrence of testimony, and the truths announced in our text should be recorded in our memory as absolutely certain.

These declarations remind us of two things.

I. That we are living now in a season of probation. These messages are much needed, because we are surrounded by much that is perplexing. Here and now fidelity to conscience often entails much loss, sorrow, and suffering. Many of the wicked are prosperous and triumphant. Iniquity pays. Moreover, the sufferings of the righteous and the successes of the wicked are often lifelong. This contrast between what ought to be and what is, has been a source of moral disquietude in all ages (Psalms 73, &c). Yet it is absolutely necessary. Without this moral obscurity there could not have been any moral probation. There is no temptation in prussic acid, because its deadly qualities are indisputable, and because they operate instantaneously. If all sins had their penalties as clearly and closely tied to them, vice would be impossible. And so would virtue! Obedience to the Divine will would then be, not an act of choice, but the result of an irresistible moral compulsion, and it would have in it no morally educational influence, and nothing to render it acceptable to God. Not by chance, then, not by mistake, not as the result of a harsh and unloving decree, but as the result of ordinances of the highest wisdom and grace, we are now living in a season of moral probation. But,

II. We are hastening on to a season of rectifications and rewards. Conscience and reason attest that there ought to be such a season, and the Scriptures assure us that there shall be (Ecc ; Rom 2:6-10, &c.)

The great facts of which our text reminds us,

1. Should give calmness and steadiness to our faith. We should not be greatly moved either by the distresses of the righteous or the triumphs of the wicked. These are most transient. The longest life is really a most inconsiderable episode in our being. This is but the beginning of our voyage; what matters it whether we clear out of port in a storm or amid bright sunshine? What will happen to us on mid-ocean is the only thing worthy of our concern.

2. They should govern us in the decisions we have continually to make in life, between courses that are right, but involve present suffering, and those which are pleasant, but wrong. The sick man who refuses to undergo the present pain which will assure him of future health, and prefers the transient ease which will presently give place to intolerable agony, is insane. Let us not imitate him in his folly. But if the rewards of every man's hands shall be given him, how shall any man be saved? This is precisely the difficulty which the Gospel was designed to meet. It is precisely because no man can be saved on his own merits that Christ came into the world, and died for every man, and now offers redemption to every man. This offer is made to YOU. For Christ's sake, the sins of the righteous shall be forgiven them; and for His sake likewise, they shall be rewarded according to their works (Mat ; Mat 16:27; Heb 6:10, &c.) Between the doctrine of justification by faith and the doctrine of good works there is the most perfect harmony.

THE CURSE OF A WEAK GOVERNMENT

Isa . As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them.

"Children," "women," are not to be taken literally. In interpreting the second of these figures, we must remember the status of women in ancient times in the East.

I. A weak government is a curse.

1. By such a government the affairs of a nation are mismanaged, its resources squandered, and its great possibilities unrealised.

2. A weak government always becomes in the end an oppressive government. By it the national burdens are caused to press most heavily on those least able to bear them.

3. Under such a government, privileged classes and monopolies multiply and grow strong, to the hurt of the nation at large.

4. Worst of all, and as the source of countless evils, government itself comes to be despised, and the national respect for law destroyed. In short, under a weak government a nation makes rapid progress towards anarchy.

II. The curse of a weak government is not long in overtaking a nation that gives itself up to luxury and loses its regard for moral considerations.

1. It is only by such a nation that such a government would be tolerated.

2. By such a nation such a government is likely to be for a time most popular (Jer ).

The cures for political evils are not political but moral. Political remedies will but modify the symptoms. Political evils are really due to moral causes, and can only be removed by moral reformations. Hence, while good men will never neglect their political duties (no good man will neglect any duty), they will be especially in earnest to uplift the nation morally, and therefore will do their utmost to strengthen those agencies which have this for their aim—the church, the school, and those societies which exist for the diffusion of the Scriptures and of religious liberty Wherever the Bible becomes the book of the people, oppression by "children" becomes impossible, and the government of "women" is set aside.


Verse 12

BLIND LEADERS

This is at once a lament and a condemnation—a lament over the misfortunes of those who are misguided, a condemnation of their folly and wickedness in permitting themselves to be led astray.

I. Men need to be led.

1. This is our need as individuals. Every day we need an answer to the questions, What ought I to do? Which way should I go In the journey of life, we continually come to crossings at which we are conscious of our need of guidance.

2. Guidance is still more necessary for men collectively. What shall be the belief of a community? What its action? Like the apostolic band (Joh ), communities remain idle, undecided, until the born leader says, "I go a-fishing," and instantly they say to him, "We also go with thee." Men are naturally gregarious; like a flock of sheep they crowd and inconvenience each other, not knowing which way to turn, until one bolder than the rest breaks away from the flock, and then instantly the flock begins to follow him.

II. As a rule men are misled. Boldness and wisdom do not always go together. Not seldom the courage which prompts men to become the leaders of others, and which goes so far to command the assent of others, is a compound of self-conceit and ignorance. Men are always prone to trust in the self-confident: they will believe the boastful quack rather than the diffident philosopher. Hence in all ages men have been caused to err—the blind have been led by the blind. How true this is to-day in political matters, in social, in commercial, in religious! [Give instances.] On every hand, in all these realms of thought and action, there are those who can only rightly be described as leaders who cause the people to err. Yea, all men carry within them two leaders, in whom they are disposed implicitly to trust, but by whom in the majority of instances they are misled—reason and conscience. How absolute is the confidence placed in these guides, and how seldom it is justified!

III. To be misled is one of the most terrible of evils.

1. It involves the loss of all the good to which right leadership would have conducted men.

2. It involves disappointment, shame, sorrow, and often irretrievable ruin.

3. It plunges men into painful perplexities, so that even when they have begun to suspect that the path they are pursuing is erroneous, they know not how to discover the true one; it seems to them to be "destroyed;" they search for it in vain. They are like travellers who, in the darkness following Will-of-the-Wisp, have strayed from the highway into a morass: to stand still is impossible, and yet to step in any direction, may plunge them into worse perils (Mat ). How criminal is the conduct of those who betray their fellow-men into misery such as this!

In view of these facts,

1. We should not entrust ourselves to the first guide who offers himself to us. Let us examine the credentials of those who ask us to trust ourselves to their care (Mat ; 1Jn 4:1-3; Isa 8:20).

(1) in God's Word, and

(2) in God's Spirit (Pro ). The man who follows these guides will be led always in the paths of righteousness and peace.

Conscience, as an expression of the law or will and mind of God, is not now to be implicitly depended on. It is not infallible. What was true to its office in Eden, has been deranged and shattered by the fall; and now lies, as I have seen a sun-dial in the neglected garden of an old, desolate ruin, thrown down from its pedestal, prostrate on the ground, and covered by tall, rank weeds. So far from being since that fatal event an infallible directory of duty, conscience has often lent its sanction to the grossest errors, and prompted to the greatest crimes. Did not Saul of Tarsus, for instance, hale men and women to prison; compel them to blaspheme; and imbrue his hands in saintly blood, while conscience approved the deed—he judging the while that he did God service? What wild and profane imaginations has it accepted as the oracles of God? and as if fiends had taken possession of a God-deserted shrine, have not the foulest crimes, as well as the most shocking cruelties, been perpetrated in its name? Read the Book of Martyrs, read the sufferings of our forefathers; and, under the cowl of a shaven monk, or the trappings of a haughty Churchman, you shall see conscience persecuting the saints of God, and dragging even tender women and children to the bloody scaffold or the burning stake. With eyes swimming in tears, or flashing fire, we close the painful record, to apply to Conscience the words addressed to Liberty by the French heroine, when, passing its statue, she rose in the cart that bore her to the guillotine, and throwing up her arms, exclaimed, "O Liberty, what crimes have been done in thy name!" And what crimes in thine, O Conscience! deeds from which even humanity shrinks; against which religion lifts her loudest protest; and which furnish the best explanation of these awful words, "If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!"

So far as doctrines and duties are concerned, not conscience, but the revealed Word of God, is our one, only sure and safe directory.—Guthrie.


Verses 13-15

THE PLEADER AND THE JUDGE

Isa . The Lord standeth up to plead, &c.

I. THE PLEADER WHO HERE PRESENTS HIMSELF. Note

1. His majesty. The ancient idea of an advocate was that of a venerable person who would be heard for his own sake, and who would therefore be able to secure for the cause of his clients an attention that would not otherwise he accorded to it. The ideal of a pleader was that of a person noble in birth and blameless in character. To a considerable extent this ideal has been preserved in our English courts of law. A barrister must be a gentleman (at least in this sense, that he has never earned his bread by manual labour), and of good repute as a man of honour. Certain barristers have established such a reputation, not only for ability and learning, but also for character, and are always listened to with respect; happy therefore is the suitor who is able to secure their advocacy. But this Pleader—how august and venerable is He! How infatuated are those who do not stand prepared to listen carefully and respectfully to whatever He may advance!

2. His benevolence. The ancient idea of a pleader was again that of a person who undertook to advocate the cause of another out of a sense of justice and compassion. Advocacy was esteemed too sacred a thing to be purchased with money. In the course of time the practice sprang up of rewarding the exertions of an advocate by an honorarium; but the distinction that still exists between a barrister and an attorney, shows us what the ancient idea of the advocate was. In God this idea is perfectly fulfilled. Without fee or reward, out of pure compassion and justice, He has become "counsel" for the poor and oppressed. Of this fact there is abundant evidence in Scripture, and surely it should kindle within us admiration and love. We justly venerate Howard, Clarkson, Wilberforce—shall we not still more greatly honour God, who stoops to regard them that are of low degree, and becomes the advocate of those who have no other friend?

3. His earnestness. The advocate is supposed to make the cause of his client for the time being his own. Often the supposition is realised in a remarkable degree. But in God it is perfectly realised. The oppressed for whom He pleads He speaks of, not merely as "these people," but as "my people." In all their afflictions He is afflicted. However frequently men may forget it, He remembers that He is the Father of all mankind, and the wrongs of His children He feels to be His wrongs; the feebler they are, the less able they are to defend themselves, the more do their wrongs wound Him, and provoke Him to anger—This is the Advocate who stands up to plead for the oppressed. Will the oppressors be so infatuated as to turn a deaf ear to His pleading? Let those who are tempted to do so pause, and consider

II. THAT HE WHO NOW PLEADS BEFORE THEM WILL BE THEIR JUDGE. An astonishing reversal of circumstances is about to take place: the Advocate is about to ascend the judicial bench, and those before whom He pleads are to stand at His bar. He has announced beforehand the principles upon which then He will proceed.

2. He will pronounce mere indifference to want and suffering a crime (Mat ).

3. Those who have inflicted suffering He will judge upon the strict rule of retribution, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Jas ).

Nor cruelty nor mercy change her mind.

When some escape for that which others die,

Mercy to those, to these is cruelty:

A fine and slender net the spider weaves:

Which little and slight animals receives;

And if she catch a summer bee or fly,

They with a piteous groan and murmur die;

But if a wasp or hornet she entrap,

They tear her cords, like Sampson, and escape;

So, like a fly, the poor offender dies;

But like the wasp, the rich escapes and flies.

Sir John Denham.

In the corrupted currents of this world,

Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice,

And oft 'tis seen, the wicked prize itself

Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above:

There is no shuffling, there the action lies

In its nature; and we ourselves compell'd,

Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults,

To give in evidence.

Shakespeare.

By these truths let us be guided in our use of whatever power over others that may have been entrusted to us. Let us hear God proclaiming that the poor are His people, and let us so comport ourselves towards them, that in the end we may come to know the fulness of the meaning of the Master's declaration, that "blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."


Verse 15

OPPRESSION OF THE POOR

Isa . What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts.

That infidelity should progress among the labouring classes is one of the most surprising and unreasonable things imaginable. For there is no book so emphatically on the side of the poor as is the Bible. Were the Bible obeyed, the miseries of the poor would vanish. The truth, however, is, that the Bible has suffered from its professed friends. The upper classes who have patronised it have not put its precepts into practice, and the victims of their greed and oppression have foolishly accepted their conduct as an exposition of the teaching of the book which they have professed to venerate. Hence the wrongs which the poor have suffered have prepared them to listen to the blasphemies and to accept the sophisms of infidel lecturers. The employer of labour who oppresses his men during the six days of the week, and goes to church twice on the Sunday, is more dangerous to society than a score of Tom Paines or Bradlaughs. Hence also it is the duty of God's "prophets" in all ages to confront such men with the question of our text.

I. Oppression of the poor is one of the most common of all sins. It has been practised in all ages, in all countries, by all classes, in most varied forms. "Poor" is a relative term. Masters have oppressed their servants, debtors their creditors, officers their soldiers, kings their subjects, people their pastors. The oppression has often been so terrible that the oppressed have sought refuge in suicide.

"Man's cruelty to man

Makes countless thousands mourn."

II. Oppression of the poor is one of the most hateful of all sins.

1. It is a misuse of strength. Strength is given to men that they may be helpful to each other; but the oppressor uses his strength as if he were a tiger or a wolf; as if he were a wrecker who drowns the shipwrecked mariner whom he ought to rescue.

2. It is a cowardly and shameful advantage that is taken of human weakness. To lead a blind man into a quagmire or over a precipice would be thought a shameful act, even by the most degraded villains. But in what respect would it differ in principle from oppression of the poor? The weak and needy, by reason of their feebleness and poverty, have a claim upon our pity and help; to oppress them is to outrage the primary laws of conscience. Yet how often it is done!

III. Oppression of the poor is among those sins which are certain to be most terribly punished. The oppressor proceeds on the idea, that the man whom he oppresses has no friends to succour and avenge him. What a mistake! All the oppressed have a friend and avenger in GOD. Shall oppression go unrequited? Nay, verily! For,

1. It is an offence against God's laws. He has distinctly commanded us to love our neighbour as ourselves, and how manifold are the applications of this great commandment!

Judge from your own feelings how God, with His infinite sensibility, must feel when He sees men rising up against their fellow-men; performing gross deeds of cruelty on every hand, waging wars that cause blood to flow throughout the globe; when, in short, He sees them devastating society by every infernal mischief that their ingenuity can invent.—Beecher.

What shall become of the oppressor? No creature in heaven or earth shall testify his innocency. But the sighs, cries, and groans of undone parents, of beggared widows and orphans, shall witness the contrary. All his money, like hempseed, is sowed with curses; and every obligation is written on earth with ink and blood, and in hell with blood and fire.—Adams, 1653.

APPLICATION.

1. A due consideration of our text would deter men from the sin here denounced. The question which God now addresses to oppressors He will, with a slight difference, put to them again—when they shall he gathered at His bar! "What meant ye that ye did beat my people to pieces, and did grind the faces of the poor?" Bethink you, O ye oppressors, what will ye answer then? Will it be, "Lord, we thought Thou wert too great to take any notice of what men did on earth"? or, "Lord, we oppressed them because they were weak, and we saw we could make a good profit out of their defencelessness"? Do these excuses seem to you too flimsy to be seriously suggested? Consider, then, what more valid vindication will be at your command in that day. In that day you will stand "speechless!"

2. A remembrance of the prevalence of the crime denounced in our text will give soundness and vigour to our theology. The demand of our day is for "a God all mercy." Men are endeavouring to cover up hell with the rose-leaves of a spurious benevolence. But a remembrance of the wrongs that are done upon earth, the frightful cruelties that are every day perpetrated, will convince us that hell is a moral necessity. "A God all mercy" would be not only "a God unkind," but a God unjust, a God worthy only of the pity and contempt of his creatures.

3. A due consideration of the manner in which God intervenes on behalf of the wronged and defenceless, will inspire all noble minds with veneration and admiration for His character. Jehovah is no Brahma, throned in eternal calm, and indifferent to the sins and sufferings of mankind; He is a Father, prompt to feel and to avenge the wrongs of His children. Let us resolve to be like Him. Let us not only avoid oppression in all its forms; let us be swift to sympathise with and to succour the oppressed.


Verse 16-17

HAUGHTINESS

Isa . Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, … therefore the Lord will smite.

A terrible doom is here denounced against the Jewish women, not because they were vicious, but because they were haughty. Haughtiness is found also in men, though in them its manifestations are somewhat different. It is therefore a question of universal interest. In what respects is haughtiness sinful?

I. The sinfulness of haughtiness is manifest in view of what it is. Webster defines it as "pride mingled with some degree of contempt for others; arrogance." It is a compound iniquity, and as such is doubly offensive. In the chemical world two deadly ingredients may neutralise each other's noxious qualities, and form a harmless and useful article: e.g., water, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen; common salt, a compound of chlorine and sodium. But it is never so in the moral world: combinations of iniquities are always especially offensive. How then must God look upon haughtiness, which is made up of two sins most emphatically denounced in His Word!

II. The sinfulness of haughtiness is manifest in view of its sources. Clearly it springs—

1. From a forgetfulness of our dependence upon God. Of what is it that we are so proud that we cannot conceal our pride? It is of gifts which we have received from God (1Co ), and for the continued possession of which we are absolutely dependent on His will. Some are haughty because of what they are—beautiful, talented, &c.; others because of what they have—rank, money, &c.; others because of what they have done—on the field of battle, in art, literature, &c. But personal excellences, amplitude of possessions, or great success, should produce in us not self-exaltation, but gratitude to God. To be ungrateful is to be base; and as haughtiness is one of the flowers that spring from ingratitude, that evil root which has for its seed forgetfulness of our dependence upon God, it is base and hateful too.

2. From a forgetfulness of the purposes for which God has so richly endowed us. God endows and helps men, not for their own gratification, but that they may more effectually help others. This great law runs through the whole universe. The sun is filled with light, in order that it may be a light; the violet with perfume, in order that it may diffuse its perfume. So is it with ourselves. In proportion to our gifts we are stewards for God, and were intended to be channels of blessing: great gifts, therefore, should not cause us to swell with foolish arrogance, but should weigh us down with a solemn sense of our responsibility.

3. From a forgetfulness of our relation to our fellow-men. God is our Father, and all men are our brethren, but we forget this, and so we behave ourselves towards many as if they were made of an inferior clay. In a household, the children who have sight look not with scorn, but with compassion, on a sister who is blind; and if we remembered that all men are our brethren, our perception of their shortcomings as compared with ourselves would excite, not our pride, but our pity.

III. The sinfulness of haughtiness is manifest in view of its emphatic discord with the example of Christ. Every sin may be condemned on this ground, yet haughtiness is in an especial manner in flagrant contradiction to that embodiment and manifestation of excellence which we have in the character of our Lord. In His dealings with men, even the lowest and most degraded, who can detect one trace of arrogance? Notice especially, that while He never called attention to His temperance, His truthfulness, His prayerfulness, &c., He did point out meekness as the feature by which He was especially distinguished, and by which His followers were to resemble Him, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart."

1. We may see now why haughtiness, which we are so accustomed to treat as a trivial thing, is so emphatically condemned in God's Word.

3. While haughtiness may be natural in the children of this world, it is a grave and alarming inconsistency in the professed followers of Jesus.


Verses 16-26

FEMALE PRIDE AND LUXURY

Isa , Isa 4:1. Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, &c.

We have here a terrible denunciation of female pride and luxury. Consider—

I. ITS COMMONNESS. In almost every age and country there have been women such as are here described.

II. ITS CAUSES. There must be powerful causes to produce such a wide-spread effect. Like all things that are wrong, these evil things—the pride and luxury of so many women—are due to perversions of things that are right,—mainly, to certain things which are among the differentia of the female sex, such as—

1. A keener love of beauty than is common among men. The love of many women for soft textures and bright colours is as innocent, and free from all trace of personal vanity, as is the love of children for flowers.

2. A stronger yearning for admiration than is common among men. There are vain men, always on the outlook for indications of admiration, and they are simply contemptible. But it is an instinct of the true woman-nature to desire to be loved, and to value highly all things that tend to win love.

3. A recognition of the gifts of personal beauty. As a rule, women have more to be proud of in this respect than have men. If a woman is fair, she is simply a hypocrite if she pretends not to know it. Then there come in,

4. Rivalry, which in itself is a right thing, but becomes a harmful thing when women set themselves to out-dress each other.

5. Timidity, one of the graces of the female character, but that often leads to great evils. Few men have the courage to be singular, and fewer women sufficient self-reliance not to follow the fashion. But the pride and luxury of women is largely due also to the folly of men:—

(1.) Most men esteem and reward clothes more than character. Men are taken by such things as are mentioned in our text, and the fisher is not much to be blamed for adapting the bait to the taste of the fish.

(2.) Even of those men who condemn female luxury in the abstract, few have the courage to banish it from their own homes.

(3.) The lips of many men are sealed on this question by their own vices. They have their indulgences, and one of the prices which they pay for peace in their pursuit is silence as to this indulgence on the part of their wives and daughters. There is an unexpressed but wicked compromise on this matter.

III. ITS CONSEQUENCES.

1. The intellectual degradation of woman, the concentration of nearly all her thoughts on the question of dress.

2. The moral debasement of many women. For the means of gratifying their craving for luxury and display, how many have sold their virtue!

3. The destruction of that female influence which should always be exerted, and when exerted, is so powerful in aid of moral nobility. Sensual grossness in men is at once a cause and consequence of licentious vanity in women.

4. Commercial frauds, to which men resort to provide the means for the maintenance of the luxury of their homes.

THE DESOLATING AND DISORGANISING POWER OF WAR

This verse gives us a vivid picture of the desolating and disorganising power of war. The 25th and 26th verses of the previous chapter say "Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn, and she being desolate shall sit on the ground." This righteous chastisement has come. So often have the men been called into the field, so exterminating has been the carnage, as that now few men remain. The natural proportion of the sexes is disturbed. This disorganisation invades woman's nature. Her natural modesty departs. With violent importunity seven women press marriage on one man. They will be no expense to him; they will earn their own food and raiment, if he will only give them his name in marriage. The writer of this outline has recently travelled in a land [Mexico] whose revolutions during the last fifty years have been so frequent as that he found parts of the country where the prophet's words are true to-day. The men have been killed in battle. In some districts there are seven women to one man.

I. The tendency of sin is to produce war and to degrade women. The apostle James has described the genesis of war (Isa ). Nations are but the aggregate of individuals. If the lusts of selfishness, greed, malice, &c., nestle like vipers in the hearts of individual men, they will be manifest in the nation.

1. Sin deteriorates man's intellectual faculties. In its present unpurified condition, the human intellect is not inventive enough to discover those commercial relationships which will eventually bind in bonds of amity the nations of the world together.

2. Sin intensifies human selfishness. One of the most desolating wars of modern times originated in that gross selfishness which was too blind to see that it was a sin to hold property in man.

3. Sin intensifies human greed. "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark," is a despised threat. Again and again has war originated in greed of territory and lust of plunder.

4. Sin intensifies human ambition. In the heart of all great conquerors, from Nimrod to Napoleon, has lain the lust of unholy ambition. Their motto has ever been "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."

5. Side by side with these lusts of selfishness, greed, ambition, &c, there has been a lack of justice and mercy. No mind having these latter sentiments healthily developed could "cry havock and let slip the dogs of war." When the leaders of nations learn "to do justly and love mercy," wars will be less common.

6. With war have come numerous evils to woman. The text describes some of them. Others come to the surface every day. Her husband has been forced from her side, or her sons have died on the battlefield; very bitter have been woman's sorrows,—"Yea, a sword hath pierced through her own soul also." And always where soldiers are multiplied in a land, and taken away from useful employment, women have been polluted and degraded. War and womanly degradation are inseparable evils.

II. It is the tendency of Christianity to produce peace and elevate woman.

1. To produce peace in its loftiest and widest sense Christ came into the world. The prophet Isaiah predicted Him as the Prince of Peace (Isa ). At His birth angels sang, "Peace on earth, good-will to man" (Luk 2:14).

2. By His atoning work He has laid the foundation of peace between man and God, and consequently between man and man.

3. The direct influence of Christ's religion is to restrain and destroy those evil propensities out of which wars originate—lust of greed, ambition, malice, &c. What is in the individual comes out in the community. As individuals and nations become truly Christian and form the majority, wars will cease.

4. Prophecy speaks of a time coming when the principles of Christianity shall be in the ascendant, and then men shall beat their swords into ploughshares, &c., &c. (chap. Isa ).

5. As the gospel of peace advances in a land woman's condition is always elevated. The Christian man honours woman as no other man does. As he grows into the stature of Christ, woman's lot is always happier. Compare woman's status in pagan, Mohammedan, and barbarous lands, with her status in Christendom.

III. Hence while the Gospel claims as its advocate every Christian man, it has special claims on the service of every pious woman.—Every good man is called upon to spread the blessings of Christianity as widely as possible. But there are some evils whose removal appeals specially to pious women. Every good woman should throw her influence into the aggregate of the peace spirit, as against that war spirit which in certain stages of civilisation seems so natural to man. All women should join together to make up an army of peace promoters, outnumbering the men of the sword. To relieve their sisters from sorrow and save them from degradation, should be the aim of all good women.—William Parkes.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 3:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-3.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Thursday, May 28th, 2020
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