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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 46

 

 

Verse 1-2

THE DIFFICULTY OF DELIVERING THE DELUDED FROM THEIR DELUSIONS

Isa . Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, &c.

I want to fix your attention on the point where this prophecy stops. In vision Isaiah sees the gods whom the mightiest nations had long worshipped manifestly enfeebled, unable to protect, not merely their worshippers, but also the costly images in and through which they had been worshipped. These, which had been reverently carried in solemn procession by their priests, he sees ignominiously included among the spoils of the conqueror, and packed in common with other spoil on his beasts of burden. The idols to which prayers and sacrifices had been offered, in the hope of thereby securing deliverance from the invader, he beholds carried away into a foreign land. And all that he saw in vision literally occurred. Doubtless he saw much more than this, but he says nothing more. He does not add, "And those that worshipped these captured idols worshipped them no more; they acknowledge that Jehovah is the only living and true God, and Him only do they serve." This he does not say, because he knew the idolaters would go on worshipping such images as those their own hands had made, and to which they had in vain offered prayers for deliverance. How strange that men should be guilty of such folly under such circumstances! But the folly has not been of rare occurrence. It is not yet a thing of the past. E.g., Her Majesty's Hindoo subjects worshipping the very same gods whose help their fathers sought in vain when the power of Great Britain was being exerted for their subjugation.

What an extraordinary fact! What other fact is there behind it? For behind every extraordinary fact there is an explanatory fact. This, that it is a supremely difficult thing to deliver the deluded from their delusions.

I. Of this fact the history of idolaters is not the only illustration; there are others in almost every realm of human thought and action.

1. The political realm, e.g., the delusion that "protection" is a good thing for a nation.

2. The social realm. How long it took to convince even a Christian people that slavery is an evil, a crime which Scripture condemns! In like manner, how difficult it is to deliver even intelligent Christian people from the delusion that strong drink used in "moderation" is a good thing, notwithstanding

(1.) that they admit that to those who use it immoderately it is an evil thing;

(2.) that it has been scientifically placed beyond dispute that alcohol is neither food nor fuel; that used in any degree it unnaturally and undesirably increases the work of the heart; and that there is no medical benefit that can be secured by it which cannot be secured by other drugs to which no such moral peril belongs;

(3.) that more moral as well as material evil is caused by its use than by any other destructive force at work in society. In spite of the clear demonstration of all these things, many intelligent and religious people go on using alcohol without compunction of conscience!

3. The scientific realm, e.g., the delusion that vaccination is an evil.

4. The ecclesiastical realm, e.g., the delusion that connection between Church and State is necessarily a blessing to both, or that disestablishment would necessarily be mischievous.

5. The religious realm, e.g., the delusion that Romanism is not a vast unscriptural and superstitious scheme. Its hold upon the Irish; upon many educated English people. Or the delusion that happiness of heart and peace of soul can be found in any other path than that of humble and earnest service of God—in the pursuit of wealth, or rank, or fame, or amusement. Or the delusion that those blessings can be secured by diligence in religious ceremonialism and stern asceticism. Look where we will upon our fellow-men, we see parallels to that which struck us with surprise when we first looked upon idolaters who continued to worship idols the inability of which to help them had been placed beyond doubt.

II. In view of this fact, what are the duties that press upon us?

1. Honest personal examination of our own beliefs and practices (1Th ).

2. The maintenance of hope for the future of the great human family to which we belong. The fact we have been thinking about must not be allowed to smite us with despair. Difficult as it is to deliver the deluded from their delusions, one by one the delusions do lose their hold upon them—e.g., idolatry to a large extent, witchcraft, slavery; and in the future truth will achieve still greater triumphs (chap. Isa ).

3. Consequently, it is the duty of those to whom any truth has been revealed to go on declaring it, in spite of the seemingly hopeless stupidity of most of those whom they address. By their faithful proclamation of it, they do really, however imperceptibly, further the dispersal of the mists and fogs in which the minds of their fellow-men are enshrouded, and hasten on the day when the unclouded light of truth shall shine upon all men. In that proclamation let us do our part!


Verse 4

GOD'S PROMISE TO HIS AGED SERVANTS

Isa . And even to your old age I am He, &c.

The design of this chapter is to caution the Israelites against the idolatry of the Babylonians, and to prevent their fears of any mischief which idol-gods could do. For this purpose, Isaiah describes the desolation Cyrus should bring upon Babylon, and foretells that he should carry captive their gods, who would be insufficient to help either their worshippers or themselves. And then God calls upon His people to consider whether He was such a god as these (Isa ). He reminds them of what He had already done for them in their formation and their support; that He had shown all the care and tenderness of a parent to them; and assures them that He would continue His care of them. But our text may have been particularly designed to comfort God's aged servants, who should live till near or quite to the end of the captivity; those whose eyes saw the ruin of the first and the dedication of the second temple (Ezr 3:12). To comfort and animate their hearts who expected to die in a strange land, and were greatly distressed at the remembrance of Zion, God encourages them still to hope in Him. To God's ancient saints to-day we may lawfully apply the same promise.

I. GOD'S PROMISE TO HIS AGED SAINTS.

1. God promises to support them under their burdens, and carry them through their difficulties. "I will carry you." The word signifies to sustain any pressure, or bear any burden. It intimates God's readiness to help them, when they seem likely to be overborne and pressed down. How many are the burdens of old age from without! From the world, which still hangs too much about them. Sometimes their circumstances are such, that they cannot get rid of its cares and hurries. Their fellow-creatures are often a burden to them. Those with whom they are obliged to have dealings are apt to take advantage of their decays to deceive them. Some in whom they place confidence disappoint them. Some from whom they have good reason to expect assistance, ungratefully forsake them. This is the most grievous burden, and would be too heavy for them to bear, were it not that "the eternal God is their refuge, and underneath them are His everlasting arms." Nay, events that in the vigour of life would have given them little concern now hang as a heavy weight upon them (Ecc ). Every little thing is ready to overset them, but God will carry them by supporting their spirits, and putting strength into them, so that they shall not faint and sink (Deu 33:25).

2. He will comfort them under all their infirmities and sorrows. "I will bear." The word sometimes signifies, as the former did, to support and sustain; but more frequently, to exalt or elevate. It may denote lifting up the soul in joy or comfort; and so it may be considered as an advance upon the former thought. The aged need the fulfilment of this promise. The infirmities of nature come upon them apace; the senses grow weak; the active powers decay: they need the help of others almost as much as they did in their infancy. Often the faculties of the soul languish. Their relish for company, business, and pleasure is gone (2Sa ; P. D. 103, 113). Nay, they find their thoughts confused, their affection for divine things flags, and they cannot serve God with such fixedness of heart, such warmth of zeal and love as they have done. What they hear and read quickly slips away; and their minds are no longer easily impressed with divine truths. In these melancholy circumstances, God will bear and lift up their souls. He sometimes in a most wonderful manner strengthens the powers of the mind. Under the infirmities of nature, He will afford them the consolations of religion; elevate their minds above the trifles of earth and sense; strengthen their faith in His promises; and enlighten the eyes of their understandings, to see the glorious inheritance of the saints, and their own title to and qualification for it (2Co 4:16).

3. God will deliver them out of all their fears and tribulations. "Even I will carry you, and will deliver you." Many of God's aged servants, through the languor of their spirits or weakness of their faith, are continually distressed with anxious fears of poverty, of increasing afflictions, of the temptations peculiar to old age, of apostacy in their last days, of death. But the Lord will deliver them from all their fears, will strengthen their hearts, and will make them desire to depart and be with Christ (H. E. I,. 322, 1602, 1642, 1643). And at length He will give them an everlasting release from everything painful and distressing (H. E. I. 1629).

II. REASONS WHY THEY SHOULD CONFIDE IN THIS PROMISE.

1. He is your Maker. "I have made," saith He, "and I will bear." GOD formed your bodies and souls. Why, but to communicate happiness to you, that you might serve Him on earth and be for ever with Him? He who freely gave you your life, will surely grant you every needful good (Mat ). God made you: must He not therefore be a very wise Being? Must He not know all your needs, distresses, and fears? God made you: must He not therefore be a very powerful Being? Is there any evil so great that He cannot deliver you from it, any good so valuable that He cannot confer it upon you? (Isa 26:4).

2. He hath been careful of you and kind to you hitherto. This is intimated in the text, which is a promise of continued care and favour; and it is plainly expressed in the preceding verse. Have you not reason to acknowledge, with aged Jacob, that the God of your fathers has fed you "all your life long" to this day, and redeemed you from evil? What stronger argument can there be to encourage your faith in His promises, than your long experience of His goodness? To distrust Him will be peculiarly unreasonable, and highly ungrateful. Holy men of old thought it a very substantial reason to exercise faith in God, that they had long experienced His care (Psa ; 2Ti 4:18). Hath God carried you sixty or seventy years, and will He cease His care and withdraw His kindness? How unreasonable such a conclusion! God hath been an old friend to you, a tried friend, and you may be assured He will never leave nor forsake you; especially when you consider—

3. He is an unchangeable God. "I am He"—an expressive word elsewhere rendered "the same" (Psa ). "I am He that I was of old to the saints in former generations, and will continue the same through every succeeding age, and not like the idols of the heathen, that were made yesterday, and are destroyed to-morrow." This renders God the proper object of our trust. Creatures change, but He is the same. When men grow old they often find that their friends forsake them; their old acquaintance look shy on them; their children sometimes turn their backs upon them; the world is almost weary of them, and wisheth them gone. But their God remains the same powerful, wise, and gracious Being, whose affection for His aged servants does not lessen. It was a remarkable saying of Cardinal Wolsey, at the close of his life, "If I had served my God as long and as faithfully as I have served my prince, He would not have cast me off in my old age." The unchangeableness of God adds the strongest security to His promises and covenant, and is a sufficient encouragement to His people to hope in Him, whatever changes and alterations there may be in the world about them (Psa 89:34; Psa 48:14).

III. CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS.

1. How unreasonable and unbecoming is it for aged saints to sink under their burdens and infirmities! Be they ever so many and great, you have the promise of God to depend upon, that He "will bear, and carry, and deliver" you. We have seen that it is a sure promise. Therefore, instead of fretting and complaining in the midst of trial, plead it, and it will be fulfilled to you.

2. Aged saints are under great obligations to God, and should be faithful unto death. To Him you are under innumerable obligations as your creator, preserver, and benefactor. Therefore proceed vigorously in His service, and let not your infirmities be made an excuse for negligence and sloth (P. D. 2598). Labour to maintain the seriousness and spirituality of your devotions. Let your hoary heads never be spotted with any sin. If God gives you ability for active services, abound in them, for death is at hand. If you cannot do this, adorn and recommend religion by patience and resignation to His will, and by quietly waiting for His salvation. Glorify Him by calm faith in the final hour. I heartily wish your souls and mine may then be in the same frame as that of a pious Scotch minister, who, being asked by a friend during his last illness whether he thought himself dying, answered, "Really, friend, I care not whether I am or not; for if I die, I shall be with God, and if I live, He will be with me."

3. Young persons should choose God as the guide of their youth, if they desire that He should be the support and comfort of their age. If this great choice is not made in youth, it probably never will be made (H. E. I, 1457, 1458).—Job Orton, S. T. P: Practical Works, vol. i. pp. 373-382.

These words were addressed to God's ancient people in view of the time when Babylon would be brought to ruin. Bel and Nebo, its gods, would be carried away, unable to defend themselves. In contrast to them Jehovah, who had, like a mother, carried His people, would continue to carry them, through all the duration of their existence. To the end it would be as it had been from the beginning (Deu ). The words were spoken to the nation, but they contain a truth equally precious to every individual; and in this view we will consider them. We will notice

I. THE APPREHENSIONS THEY CONTEMPLATE. They are those incident to old age and its prospect. While no one can be certain that he will reach old age, no reflecting man can fail to think sometimes of the possibility that he may. At such times we remember several things, as that it is a period

1. When a man's pecuniary resources are likely to be diminished. Where an inheritance has been derived from ancestors, and where successful commercial enterprise has realised wealth, it is not so. Where it is possible to provide for old age, it is dutiful. But in the majority of cases, it is impossible. The family swallows up all. The decline of power to perform customary work means diminished income. This is the case of the labouring poor, and of many widows. Yet old age is the period of life when there is diminished ability to endure privation. The elasticity of youth rises above a change of circumstances; old age sinks under it. There is then a tendency also to greater anxiety about worldly comfort and sufficiency.

2. When friendship is less available than in youth. If poverty comes with it, it is too often found that "the world forsakes whom fortune leaves." Most of the friends of earlier days have gone whence there is no return; and there is neither equal disposition nor opportunity to make new ones. The old man feels himself becoming less important to the community. In private life he often becomes less capable of affording happiness. He may be garrulous; but it is about things not of present interest. Thus he is in danger of sinking into neglect; perhaps he is too sensitive, and fancies himself neglected and forsaken when it is not really the case.

3. When the physical powers fall into decay. It is not necessarily so with the intellectual and spiritual powers, which are often most vigorous in advanced life. But the body is like a house, it falls into ruin after a number of years. Its powers decline. Its capacity for action lessens. The enjoyment of existence departs.

4. It is the period nearest to the hour of death. True, death is also near the young; only to them he does not show himself so plainly. But he cannot be far from the old. Death stands before them; a dark enemy who must be faced; a dread moment when, amidst unknown suffering, all that has made life interesting must be left behind.

These gloomy anticipations crowd upon the contemplation of old age. Happy is it for those who in full faith can pray: "Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth." To God the words of our text direct us. Notice

II. THE ANTIDOTE THEY ADMINISTER. "Even to your old age I am He: and even to hoar hairs will I carry you." They encouraged the exiled Jews to put their trust in the Lord. They may encourage us in the like manner in spite of the presence or the gloomy prospect of old age. He will be our God. He will lead and carry us through life to old age; and in old age will relieve the darkness by the brightness of His presence, the sufficiency of His power, and the tenderness of His love. The text reminds us of

1. His permanent existence. "To your old age I am He." His life runs through all ages and generations. The care of earthly parents gradually dies away as their children reach maturity. Parents usually die before their children. Should they survive until their children become old, they are themselves cast on the care of their children. However great his solicitude, no parent can guarantee that his own life will continue as long as his children need his care. But our heavenly Father will continue to exist through our lives and beyond. He can undertake the charge of His children to the end of their lives.

2. His enduring ability. "I will carry.… I will bear." The help rendered by any man may be discontinued from loss of ability. Human promises must be conditional on the continuance of ability. But God's ability suffers no diminution. You cannot survive His power to help.

3. His unchanging purpose. God says, "I will." It is a purpose formed in infinite wisdom. It will be executed with unfailing faithfulness. He will not change His mind as men sometimes do. The purpose is formed in the tenderness of unchanging love. Who can measure the duration of the mother's love for the child she has carried in her womb? Long as life lasts, it is in her deepest heart. Even though he go astray, and others cast him off, the mother will not give him up. This is the love with which the Lord here says He follows His children, notwithstanding their numerous follies and faults (Isa ). May we not regard this declaration as a sufficient antidote to the apprehensions we are apt to entertain in prospect of the various anxieties and inconveniences of advancing years?

You who are advanced in life can bear testimony to the Lord's faithful love, which has attended all your days. Have we not heard the aged speak in terms of satisfaction and thankfulness, notwithstanding the trials they have experienced in their life journey? (Psa ; Psa 71:15). See that you honour God to the end by trusting yourselves to His disposal.

You who are young, make the Lord your confidence from your earliest days. Friends, health, business capacity, opportunities may fail. Lean on One who is independent of changes. Make Him your friend. Say to-day, "My Father, Thou shalt be the guide of my youth."—J. Rawlinson.

The words "I am He" mean "I am still the same: I will not alter. My love will not grow cold, my care for you will still continue." The God of our youth and manhood will be the God of our old age, losing none of the tenderness with which He has guided us through previous stages. What a consoling promise! Though originally made to Israel, and applied to them in a national sense, each believer can make it his own (2Co ); and it is good for us, not only to rest on such a promise as we pass into the future, but to mark its fulfilment in our past experience, and in the experience of others who at life's close have borne testimony to the continued goodness, the sustaining power, the unfailing faithfulness of Him whom they trusted and served.

I. THE PERIOD OVER WHICH GOD'S CARE EXTENDS.—"Even to your old age," "to hoar hairs." God engages to be our life-long Friend. He will tend us all the way from infancy to old age, and then He will not forsake us. This golden thread of divine care runs through the whole web of our life, brightening its most sombre colours.

God engages,

1. To be our Friend to old age. Some of us may think we can dispense with His help on the way to old age, though when we reach it, with enfeebled powers and diminished comforts, we may be glad to have recourse to His help. But God's promise is larger than our poor thoughts. He takes us up in His supporting arms as soon as we draw our first breath, and never leaves us, if we do not leave Him, until we have drawn our last.

2. To be our Friend in old age. Having conducted us to this period, He will not cast us off (Psa ; Psa 71:18). Old age is often a time of feebleness and neglect, with few friendships and enjoyments, but with His presence and support we may be peaceful, serene, useful in it. Instead of being repulsive, as we often see it, it may be beautiful, attractive, and honourable in us (Lev 19:32; Pro 16:31). It is pitiable to see an old man who has missed the object of life. "To pass out of the world in the world's debt; to have consumed much and produced nothing; to have sat down at the feast and gone away without paying his reckoning, is not, to put it in the mildest way, a satisfactory transaction" (Earl of Derby). Such a spectacle is not uncommon; but, even then, a change may come. "God can put a fresh kernel into an old and worn-out husk." The sun of God's favour may shine on the declining days of a life spent in the darkness of unbelief, but such a case does not fall within the scope of this promise. Only those whom God has guided to old age can count with certainty on His support and blessing in old age. Many an aged saint can testify to the continued goodness of God. Is old age a second childhood? God is a tender parent, unwearied in His attention. Is it a time of diminished comforts? One great comfort is still left, all the more soothing when others are gone. Is the old man lonely, like the last leaf which the storm has left clinging to the tree? The life-long Friend still remains, "when other helpers fail and comforts flee." And the result is that the aged believer is often a "grand old man" still bringing forth fruit, counselling others from his ripe experience, cheered by happy memories and glowing hopes, not frowning on the happiness of others, contented, trustful, loving, kind.

"On he moves to meet his latter end,

Angels around befriending virtue's friend:

Sinks to the grave with unperceived decay,

While resignation gently slopes the way.

And, all his prospects brightening to the last,

His heaven commences ere the world be past."

—Goldsmith.

II. THE NATURE OF THE CARE WHICH GOD EXERCISES OVER US, expressed in the words "carry," "bear," "deliver," which stand in contrast to what is said (Isa ) of the idol-gods of the Chaldeans. Idolaters carry their gods, but our God carries us. Images are borne about in procession, or are packed up and laid on beasts of burden—a withering exposure of the folly of idol-worship (Isa 46:7). The same may be said of creature confidences. Earthly possessions, instead of a help, often become a burden and a snare. Trust in man is often met by faithlessness. Sinful pleasure proves a clog and a hindrance. Unable to support or deliver, these gods become burdens, drags, encumbrances which must be supported.

But these words express the character of God's care for us. He is both father and mother to us (Psa ; Isa 66:13; Psa 27:10). Expressive and tender though the image is, it does not fully exhibit His affection. Not only does He nurse us in infancy and childhood, but even to old age (Psa 48:14).

What deliverances, too, He works for us, from accident and sickness, from the burden of sin and the onset of temptation! How marvellous have been His patience with us and His providential care! He will preserve us in old age, and deliver us from death. To the Christian pilgrim old age will be a Beulah land whence he can descry the shining glories of the heavenly city.

III. THE ARGUMENT BY WHICH GOD ENCOURAGES US TO EXPECT HIS CONTINUED CARE. "I have made, and I will bear." As the Creator of our bodies and the Father of our spirits, God acknowledges His obligation to guide and care for us. Does an earthly father love his child, and shall not the Universal Parent care for the children whom His hand hath formed? The argument becomes stronger when addressed to those whom God has created anew in Christ (Psa ; Psa 138:8; Php 1:6). Behold, then, how gracious is our God! Not only does He assure us of His tender support all through life, but He also condescends to give us a strong reason for counting upon it.

In conclusion—

1. On this promise God rests His claim to our undivided trust. If He engages to do all this, ought we not to give Him the entire confidence of our hearts, abandoning every refuge of lies? There is everything to invite our firm reliance (2Ti ; 2Ti 4:18).

2. There is a call here for gratitude. God has brought some of you well on in your journey to old age, and will you not acknowledge His goodness? and you who have reached old age, are you not thankful for the mercies of the past?

3. The subject inspires us with hope. At whatever stage we stand in the pilgrimage of life, here is a voice of encouragement.—William Guthrie, M.A.

Old age most wish to attain, but those who reach it are generally disposed to complain about it. Very various are the circumstances and feelings in this period of life, but, with all who attain it, it is the time when their "strength faileth;" and with numbers it is a time of gloom and sadness, of labour and sorrow. Caleb could say, "Now, lo! I am fourscore," &c. But how few can adopt this language!

I. Old age has its peculiar afflictions.

1. Physical deterioration (Ecc , &c.)

2. It is usually embittered by the recollection of many distressing bereavements.

3. How utterly forsaken and destitute are some of the aged!

4. Poverty is a frequent accompaniment of old age.—Such a termination of human life, when viewed apart from religion, is cheerless and melancholy. Religion, the best companion of our youth, is the only effectual support of the aged.

II. Old age has its peculiar duties. The foundation must be laid in those great principles of religion, "repentance towards God, and faith," &c. Until then you cannot possess a Christian character, nor can you experience the supports and consolations connected with it. Have you repented, &c.? If you have received the remission of sins, &c., let your mind be directed to those duties which arise from the peculiarity of your present circumstances.

1. Daily familiarise yourself to the thought of your approaching end.

2. Endeavour in the midst of your trials to cultivate a thankful disposition.

3. Guard against the temptations incident to your condition.

4. Earnestly seek after an increasing meetness for future and eternal glory.

III. Old age, when connected with piety, admits of many consolations. Consider—

1. That there is nothing peculiar in the afflictions which you endure, or which need prevent the enjoyment of internal peace and comfort.

2. If old age has its afflictions, it has also its immunities. If the circle of your enjoyment is contracted, you have less to ensnare your affections, and draw you away from God, &c.

3. You have the promise of effectual support and of complete deliverance.

4. The nearness of salvation should reconcile you to affliction and death.

5. How blessed is your condition contrasted with that of the aged transgressor!—T. H. Walker: Companion for the Afflicted, pp. 309-335.

THE GOD OF THE AGED

Isa . Even to your old age I am He, &c.

I. The doctrine of the text I hold to be the constancy of God's love, its perpetuity, and its unchangeable nature. God declares that He is not simply the God of the young saint or the middle-aged saint, but that He is the God of the saints in all their ages from the cradle to the tomb. "Even to old age I am He;" or, as Lowth beautifully and more properly translates it, "Even to old age I am the same, and even to hoary hairs will I carry you."

1. That God Himself is unchanged when we come to old age, surely I have no need to prove. Abundant testimonies of Scripture declare Him to be immutable. If we need proofs, we might look even abroad on nature, and we should from nature guess that God would not change during the short period of our mortal life.

Had God changed, we should need—

(1.) A new Bible. But the Bible which the child readeth is the Bible of the grey head.

(2.) A new form of worship.

That God is still unchanged, we learn from the sweet experience of all the saints. They testify that the God of their youth is the God of their later years. They put their trust in Him because they have not yet marked a single alteration in Him.

2. Not only is God the same in His nature, He is the same in His dealings; He will carry, deliver, and bear us the same as He used to do. God's promises are not made to ages, but to people, to persons, and to men.

II. Consider the time of old age as a special period, needing manifestations of the constancy of divine love.

1. Old age is a time of peculiar memory. In fact, it is the age of memory. What a peculiar memory the old man has! How many joys he can remember, &c. And yet, looking back upon all, he can say, "Even to old age He is the same," &c. How frequently has he been forced to exclaim, "Though friends have departed, yet there is a Friend who sticketh closer than a brother; on Him I still trust, and to Him I still commit my soul."

2. Of peculiar hope. The old saint hath few hopes of the future in this world; they are gathered up into a small space; and he can tell you, in a few words, what constitutes all his expectation and desire. But he has one hope, and that is the very same which he had when he first trusted in Christ; it is a hope of an inheritance that is "undefiled, that fadeth not away," &c.

3. Of peculiar solicitude. An old man is not anxious about many things, as we are, for he hath not so many things for which to concern himself. But

(1.) he hath more solicitude about his bodily frame. He fears every now and then that the pitcher will be "broken at the cistern;" for "the noise of the grinders is low." But in this peculiar solicitude you have another proof of divine faithfulness; for now that you have little pleasure in the flesh, do you not find that God is just the same; and that, though the days are come when you can say, "I have no pleasure in them," yet the days are not come when you can say, "I have no pleasure in Him?"

(2.) There is another solicitude—a failure of mind. They forget much which they would wish to remember; but still they find that their God is just the same; that His goodness does not depend on their memory; that the sweetness of His grace does not depend upon their palate.

(3.) The chief solicitude of old age is death. Young men may die soon. Old men must die. His one solicitude now is, to examine himself whether he is in the faith. But God's faithfulness is the same; for if he be nearer death, he has the sweet satisfaction that he is nearer heaven; and if he has more need to examine himself than ever, he has also more evidence whereby to examine himself.

4. Of peculiar blessedness. The old man has a good experience to talk about. He has peculiar fellowship with Christ. There are peculiar communings, openings of the gates of paradise, visions of glory, just as you come near to it. The nearer you get to the bright light of the celestial city, the clearer shall be the air. But all this only proves that Christ is the same; because, when there are fewer earthly joys, He gives more spiritual ones.

5. Of peculiar duties.

(1.) Testimony. I remember hearing the late Mr. Jay. I fancy that if I had heard the sermon preached by a young man, I should not have thought so much of it; but there appeared such a depth in it because it came from an old man, standing on the borders of the grave; it was like an echo of the past, coming to me, to let me hear my God's faithfulness, that I might trust for the future. Testimony is the duty of old men and women; they should labour whenever they can to bear testimony to God's faithfulness, and to declare that now also, when they are old and grey-headed, their God forsakes them not.

(2.) Comforting the young believer. No one is more qualified than kind-hearted old men to convert the young; when the young Christian comes to them, they say, "Do not fear: I have gone through the waters, and they have not overflown me," &c.

(3.) Warning. The warnings of the old have great effect; and it is their peculiar work to guide the imprudent, and warn the unwary.

APPLICATION.—

1. What a precious thought, young men and women, is contained in this text! Here is a safe investment. A rock may be dissolved, and if I build a house on that it may be destroyed; but if I build on Christ, my happiness is secure for ever. How blessed it is to begin in the early morning to love and serve God! The best old Christians are those who were once young Christians.

2. You middleaged men are plunged in the midst of business, and you are sometimes supposing what will become of you in your old age. But is there no promise of God to you that you suppose about to-morrows? Middle-aged man, give thy present years to Him.

3. Venerable fathers in the faith, and mothers in Israel, take these words for your joy. Do not let the young people catch you indulging in melancholy, but go about cheerful and happy, and they will think how blessed it is to be a Christian, for so will you prove to them—to a demonstration, that even to old age God is with you, and that when your strength faileth He is still your preservation.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 81-82.

"Even to your old age, I am He." That is, "I am the same; I remain unchangeable, with the same tenderness, affection, and care." The proper study of man is God. Though apart from a divine revelation we may acquire some knowledge of His character and perfections, His full-orbed character is only to be found in the revelation He has been pleased to make of Himself in His Word. All things, &c., change; but God is ever the same. "I am He, the same yesterday," &c.

I. THE IMMUTABILITY OF GOD. He is subject to no change whatever in His manner of being, His perfections, purposes, promises, or threatenings. Whatever He was millions of ages before the worlds were made, He is now; and what He is now, He will be for ever. That He is thus unchangeable is clear from—

1. Reason;

2. Nature;

3. Moral government;

4. The repeated and explicit declarations of Holy Scripture (H. E. I. 2254, 2256, 2324, 2341).

II. SOME OF THE PRACTICAL LESSONS WHICH THIS DOCTRINE TEACHES.

1. It furnishes encouragement to prayer. The Atheist makes another use of this doctrine, and infers from it that it must be in vain to pray, because our petitions can produce no change in the divine mind. But this inference is as repugnant to sound reasoning as it is to the precepts of the Bible, and the spirit of piety (H. E. I. 2255, 3750-3753). If the Lord were fickle like earthly monarchs, then, indeed, it would be vain to pray, for He might grant a petition one day, and deny it another, or He might change His purposes and plans altogether. But if a prince promised to confer some great benefit upon a certain condition, and you knew his promise to be unchangeable, what man in the world would think of saying, "It is no use to seek the benefit, because it depends upon the fulfilment of a prescribed condition?"

3. It should stimulate us to seek freedom from all fickleness—a steadiness of principle, purpose, action (Psa ; Psa 108:1).

4. It infallibly secures the punishment of the finally impenitent. Every threatening as well as every promise must be fulfilled.

"Faithful in Thy promises,

And in Thy threatenings too."

—Alfred Tucker.

THE LORD'S CARE OF HIS PEOPLE

Isa . And even to your old age, &c.

What a consolatory declaration—sufficient to silence all our fears, and to afford us quietness and peace for ever.

I. THE OBJECTS OF THE DIVINE CARE.

1. The whole creation. God is ever present and ever active, and all the operations of nature are the manifestations of His living care (Psa ; Mat 10:29; Luk 12:24, &c.)

2. More especially man—made in His image, formed for eternal existence, and endowed with capacities of eternal enjoyment. Even those who are unthankful and evil (Mat ).

3. In a yet more special sense His own believing people (1Ti ). These He calls His "beloved," &c. None are overlooked or neglected. Remember your individual interest in the special care of your Heavenly Father.

II. THE DISTINGUISHING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE DIVINE CARE.

1. It is most tender. "I will carry you, and I will bear." Surpasses the tenderness of a fond mother for her helpless infant (chap. Isa ).

2. Active and effectual. "I will deliver." He will accomplish that which concerneth us (chap. Isa ). His care is not an idle sentiment, but an operative principle, and being connected with almighty power, cannot exert itself in vain, but accomplishes with infinite ease all its purposes. Human care is often inefficient, for want of power, but with God to will is to perform, &c.

3. Unwearied. "Even to your old age," &c. Surpasses that of the most tender parent, which naturally dies away as the child reaches manhood. God's people are always the objects of His tender solicitude. Age does not make them less dependent, and experience only teaches them more and more their need of His sustaining grace. Human care is variable according to our changing circumstances and situations, but God's care is constant under all circumstances: affliction, temptation, &c.

III. THE GROUNDS AND ASSURANCES OF THE DIVINE CARE.

1. The relations He sustains to us. He is our

(1.) Creator. "I have made you," and (chap. Isa ). Whatever motive induced Him to create us, still induces Him to care for us.

(2.) Proprietor. He cares for His own lawful possession.

(3.) Father. He cares for us with infinitely more concern than the very best earthly father.

(4.) Redeemer (chap. Isa , &c.) The former arguments apply with double force. What greater proof can there be of His care? The cross is its measure.

2. The teaching and promises of His Word (Psa ; 2Sa 23:5; Isa 49:15; Heb 6:17-18, &c.)

3. The experience of His people (Deu ). Could we ask those who inhabit the celestial mansions, ‘doth God care for His people?' they would all reply, with loud and grateful rapture, ‘He doth care for His people,' &c. Those who are now on the way to heaven can testify to God's loving care. This is the most obvious and impressive evidence.

CONCLUSION.—

1. The wonderful condescension of God (Psa ).

2. The obligations that rest upon us to love and serve Him who thus cares for us.

"Though waves and storms go o'er my head;

Though strength and health and friends be gone;

Though joys be withered all and dead;

Though every comfort be withdrawn—

On this my steadfast soul relies,

Father, Thy mercy never dies."

The cadences of those beautiful words, borne on the still summer air, found an echo in that stricken soul. She rose from her reverie of sadness, wiped away the falling tears, and looking not toward the silent tomb where bodies were crumbling to dust, but to the spirit-land whither her loved ones had gone, she said, with a faith she had never before known: "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him."

THE HUMAN CRY AND THE DIVINE RESPONSE

Psa . Now also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not.

Isa . Even to your old age, I am He; and even to your hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.

I. THE CRY OF THE AGED SAINT IN TIME OF DISTRESS (Psa ).

1. Aged saints are sometimes in distress. The Psalmist was, and others often are. Secular embarrassment, personal or family affliction, spiritual trials, &c.

2. Such distress has a tendency to weaken their confidence in God. To be God-forsaken implies utter loneliness, helplessness, friendlessness, hopelessness, agony.

II. THE RESPONSE OF THE COVENANT-KEEPING GOD (Isa ). This promise to Israel is especially applicable to every aged Israelite.

1. The purport of this gracious promise.—God's perpetual presence with His people (Heb ). He will never abandon them to the caprice or malice of their enemies, or leave them to be the sport of circumstances. He will ever succour them under their trials. The promise guarantees God's constant presence. To direct by His wisdom; to protect by His power; to comfort, strengthen, and sustain by His Spirit; to supply all need by His all-sufficiency; to support in death by His rod and staff (Psa 23:4).

2. The security of this glorious promise.

(1.) The character of God—Almighty, Faithful, &c.

(2.) The mediation of Christ. "If God forgets His people, He must forget His own Son who stands continually before Him as a lamb newly slain, pleading, "Father, remember my people."

(3.) The promises of His Word. "I will." Tried and proved in the experience of His people.

Learn: Contentment with the allotments of providence. Confidence in God (Heb ). Courage in view of death (Psa 23:4).—Alfred Tucker.

OLD AGE TRANSFORMED

Isa . And even to your old age, &c.

I. Long life is promised as a blessing (Exo , &c.) Desired by most men, yet shrunk from by many of these in their meditative hours. Why? Because they see that to most people old age means—

1. Diminished strength of body and of mind.

2. Physical infirmities and pains.

3. Increased needs, and yet diminished resources.

4. Increasing incapacity for enjoying the pleasures that remain to them (2Sa ).

5. The children who were their joy then causes of anxiety and sorrow (Genesis 42; Lev ; 2Sa 15:30; 2Sa 18:33).

6. Solitude continually increasing.

7. Exclusion from the services of the sanctuary (Psa ).

8. Diminished capability for usefulness.

9. A feeling that those round about them would be glad to get rid of them.—In a word, TIME AGAINST THEM, more and more! So it may be with us, if we reach it.

II. How are we to strip old age of these terrors, and transform it into a pleasant evening of life?

1. A life of usefulness will go far towards it. But it is not safe to trust to this exclusively and too confidently. Men are ungrateful. They are also mortal. The generation we can now serve is passing away, and that which will then be round about us may know nothing of us.

2. A life of financial success will not accomplish it. The wealthy aged are apt to be haunted and irritated by consideration.

3. God only can enable us to accomplish it. It can be done only by laying hold of the promise of the text.—What a great promise this is? In it God engages to be our friend—

(1.) until we have grown old; and

(2.) when we have grown old.—Its fulfilment means the securing for us—

(1.) The circumstances most needful for our true welfare.

(2.) All the inward dispositions that will make us conquerors over our circumstances.

(3.) The happiness that comes from ability to glorify God—in a different way, but as really as now.—This is a great promise, but God can fulfil it (Jer ). And He will do it. Note the facts of which we are reminded, in order to help us to trust in Him.

(1.) He made us, and having done this will not be likely to forget us, as children do the top they have made with great eagerness and glee.

(2.) He has cared for us ever since He did make us: "Borne by Me from the birth, carried by Me from the womb!" And in His friendship there is no fickleness (Jas ).

Make the friendship of God now (H. E. I. 1457, 1458, 4246). Never let it go. So if old age is reached by you, you will find that you have indeed solved the problem of transforming it into a season of true blessedness.

THE CHRISTIAN'S OLD AGE

Isa . And even to your old age, &c.

A life devoted to the service of God is a treasure of bliss, as abundant as the wants of the soul, as enduring as its immortality. The aged Christian must be happy,

I. In contemplation of his past conduct and influence. While there is here and there a page of sorrow in his history, it is contemplated as a whole with gladness. It contains the record of long years of allegiance and service—of many a purpose which had its origin in a love that embraced both God and man; of many a scheme of usefulness, &c. Happy the man!

II. In the contemplation of the blessings which have marked his history. Blessings both of providence and grace.

III. In the contemplation of his life's history, because of the lessons it has served to teach. Life is a school, and experience is a teacher. He has learned by a thousand proofs that "all things work together for good," &c.

IV. In the continued possession of his life's chief good. Not so is it with the ungodly. But that which the godly man chose many years ago as the chief portion of his soul, is still the light and joy of his being. Even amid the infirmities of age, his cup of happiness must be full.

"Age is not all decay; it is the ripening, the swelling of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husk."—G. Macdonald.

V. In the near prospect of realising his life's brightest hopes. Not so the aged transgressor. To the Christian the brightest and happiest period in his history.

Aged disciple of Jesus! be profoundly grateful.—J. Guernsey: The American National Preacher.

THE ALL-SUFFICIENCY OF GOD

(Sermon to the Young.)

Isa . And even to your old age I am He, &c.

This is one of the promises of God. A minister in the last century collected all the promises of Scripture, and published them in a book by themselves, so that the Christian might consult them at all times and in all states. A wise thing to do.

The promise of the text will show you, if you live to be old, how God will be your friend in that needful time, if you put yourself in the way of the promise. "What do you mean by putting ourselves in the way of the promise?" This. If you are children of God through Jesus Christ, all His promises are your inheritance and estate. His promises are made to His friends; His threats to His enemies. If a man forgets God, and disobeys Him all his lifetime, it would be foolish to suppose that God intended His promises for him; it would be encouraging him in his sin, and others who are like him. Let us proceed with the text by way of question and answer.

I. What has God done for us already? He tells us, "I have made you." He seems to mention it with pleasure, then let me think of it with gratitude. Is my body fearfully and wonderfully made? Have I not an intellectual part, which distinguishes me from the brute creation? Have I not a soul which shall never die? You are paying attention, but it is not your bodies which are doing this. The inhabitant within peeps out at the windows of your body, sees and hears, is collecting knowledge on which it may live and be happy when the house of the body totters with age, and is crumbling into dust. The Psalmist says, "He has made me and fashioned me;" He has made me what is called a man. But there is a higher sense of the expression, "I have made." Has He made you a new man? (2Co ). Have you had a second birth? (Joh 3:3). This second creation far exceeds the first; it is the best of God's works,—the creation of a Christian out of a mere man.

II. What will God do for us in future? He says, "I will bear, I will carry, I will deliver you." This implies weakness and inability in us, support and assistance from Him. Did you ever see a little child hanging upon its mother's gown, crying to be carried, and the cry answered with a kind word and many a kiss? It is thus God bears and carries His children in their journey, when fatigued with trials.—God delivers us in trouble. A state of trouble is a state of trial. It is mentioned to the honour of Job in his great affliction, that in all this he sinned not, nor charged God foolishly. God delivers us also by trouble (Psa ).

III. How long will God bear, carry, and deliver us? To old age and hoary hairs. The Scripture calls age the needful time, and the evil days, when the heart shall say, "I have no pleasure in them." Then we are naturally deprived of many who took an early interest in our welfare. Where are the father, the mother, the friends, whose counsels guided our youth? They are gone, and we must soon follow them. Then, in our loneliness, we shall need the friendship of God. If you would have it then, you must seek it now, in your childhood, and live in it in your youth and your manhood. Cardinal Wolsey, the Minister of Henry VIII., was deserted and disgraced by the king in his old age. In the agony of his mind the Cardinal exclaimed, "Had I but served my God with half the zeal I have served my king, He would not have forsaken me in my old age." Serve God now, in the place of your service; and if you live to be old, He will perform to you the promise of the text; even to hoary hairs He will carry you, He will deliver you.—George Clark, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 415-423.

LESSONS OF THE CLOSE OF THE YEAR

Isa . Even to your old age, &c.

The end of the year brings home to us the fact that we are getting older.

I. Acknowledge the fact of advancing age. Not, if you can help it, in casting off the duties you owe to the world and the Church. Not by getting hard, gloomy, uninterested. Still, with a heart as young as ever, and even younger, look the fact of advancing age in the face. It is cowardly and unwise to blindfold yourself before a fact, however unpleasant it may be.

II. Provide for advancing age. Men do so in many respects. They insure, &c. These are well, but they are externals. Now, old age is driven more and more in upon itself. Clearly, then, the mind and heart and conscience should be prepared. It is well to have pleasant guests in the house, when we must stay almost wholly within doors.

III. Ask all proffered comforters and guides if they will stay by you in old age. "Even to," &c. There is no use for a pilot who will not conduct you to port; of a guide who will leave you at the most critical part of your journey. Business, pleasure, &c., do not meet that essential condition. God does, and He alone. He "made, and will bear." He redeemed, and will lead to perfect rest and joy.

IV. To those who are already old. Remember that old age is near the confines of another world. Prepare!—The Homiletical Library, vol. i. p. 319.


Verses 5-10

GOD INCOMPARABLE

Isa . To whom then will ye liken Me? &c.

I. THE DOCTRINE TAUGHT BY THE PROPHET. Evidently that God is incomparable. He is so—

1. In the splendour of His perfections. He is self-existent, omnipotent, &c. (Exo ; Psa 83:18; P. D. 1502, 1508). "Who by searching," &c.

"This awful God is ours,

Our Father and our Love,

He will send down His heavenly powers,

To carry us above."—Watts.

2. In the universality of His dominion. "Created beings have only a limited and confined sway, but God's kingdom ‘ruleth over all.'"

3. In the transcendence of His beneficence. He is "abundant in goodness and truth" to all, even to the unthankful and evil (Mat ), but His believing people are the special objects of His munificent grace (1Ti 4:10). They have "a peace that passeth all understanding" (Php 4:7); a "joy unspeakable," &c. (1Pe 1:8); a hope blooming with "immortality and eternal life" (Rom 15:13); and the glory reserved for them is so great that "it doth not yet appear" (1Jn 3:2).

II. THE SENTIMENTS IT SHOULD INCITE IN US.

1. The deepest reverence for God (Psa ). Where this does not prevail, there is no true worship.

2. The profoundest attachment to God (Psa ).

3. The sublimest confidence in God (Psa ). He is infinitely worthy of our confidence.—Alfred Tucker.

THE CHARACTER AND SINFULNESS OF IDOLATRY

Isa . To whom will ye liken Me? &c.

Its prevalence has been common to every age and to every people.

I. THE CHARACTER OF IDOLATRY.

1. It is the greatest dishonour that can be put upon God. It is the open denial of His supreme authority and exclusive claim on the worship of His creatures. It is the utterance of a falsehood against all His attributes. The number of the gods worshipped is a lie against His unity; their corporal character is a lie against His pure spirituality, &c.

2. It is connected with all that is debasing to the mind and character of its votaries. This debasement is its natural effect. Its worship is vicious. Its system of human sacrifice—degradation of woman and the sacred institution of marriage—infanticide. Hence idolaters are degraded in intellect, polluted in heart, miserable in life.

II. THE SINFULNESS OF IDOLATRY. This appears—

1. In God's hatred of it. His perfections require Him to hate it. His language concerning it, and His conduct towards those who commit it, as recorded in His word, exhibit the detestation in which it is held in the divine mind (Jer ; Jer 16:18; Eze 8:6; 2Ch 15:8; Eze 16:26; 1Pe 4:3). His hatred of it appears in His prohibition of it (Exo 20:3, &c), and in the threatened punishments connected with it (Deu 7:2-5, &c.)

2. In God's earnest and repeated entreaties to the Jews not to commit it (Jer , &c.) These entreaties are the expressions of—

(1.) His regard to His own glory. He is jealous of His honour.

(2.) His compassionate desire for the welfare of those to whom He speaks. He does not look with unconcern upon them.

CONCLUSION.—These considerations furnish the strongest motives to missionary enterprise and zeal.—J. Johnston, M.A.: Sermons, pp. 336-360.

THE TWO-FOLD REVELATION OF GOD

(For Trinity Sunday.)

Isa . I am God, and there is none else, &c.

Between the Old and New Testaments there is essential doctrinal agreement. The older revelation prepared the way for the newer, while the newer is the fulness of the older. The New Testament writers assume the Divine inspiration and authority of the Old. They refer to institutions, incidents, and historical characters in the Old as illustrating, confirming, or enforcing their own instructions.

The Jew and the Infidel would possess an immense advantage, if the two parts of Scripture were in essential disagreement. If they made opposite representations of the Divine character, both could not be true. The Supreme would not contradict Himself about Himself. In the literature of the day we sometimes meet with references to the God of the Jews as different from the God of the Christians; so that it is worth while to show that they are one and the same (H. E. I. 633-635).

The Divine existence is assumed. When a sovereign makes a treaty with a distant nation, he does not, in any part of it, announce his own existence. It is already known. "The invisible things of Him from the creation are clearly seen—even His eternal power and Godhead."

But nature cannot teach everything we desire to know respecting God. It leaves us longing for further information which it cannot supply. Divine revelation supplies it. God has condescended in His Word to reveal Himself. What may be gathered from the two parts of Scripture respecting the Divine nature?

I. THE DIVINE UNITY. When revelation has been absent, men have glided into polytheism and idolatry. To the numerous effects of Divine power they have assigned separate divinities. Finding themselves ignorant and sensuous, they have persuaded themselves that worship can be best maintained by representations of these divinities in wood, stone, silver, and gold. Hence the testimony of Judaism to the unity and spirituality of the Divine nature (Deu ; Isa 44:6). By the first preachers of the Gospel these points were emphasised in opposition to the polytheism and idolatry of the Greek and Roman world. They demanded that men should turn from dumb idols to serve the living and true God.

And yet it is a unity that is consistent with the idea of Trinity. It is in accordance with the idea of Old Testament Scripture to prepare the way for the fuller revelation of truth in the New, rather than complete the revelation. The names of the Divine Being are put in the plural number although associated with singular verbs. The determination to bring the human race into existence is announced in the plural form: "Let Us make man." The wonderful and mysterious Angel of the Covenant appears on several special occasions. In many passages the phrase, "the Spirit of the Lord," occurs as descriptive of attributes, qualities, and acts which belong to a Divine Person. In Isa the three persons of the Godhead seem to be mentioned. In the New Testament, while there is a similar distinctness of testimony to the Divine unity, there are still clearer intimations of the Divine Trinity. The Father is spoken of as God; so is the Son; so is the Holy Spirit. There is the formula of baptism. There is the Apostolic benediction. There is the place of each in the economy of redemption (H. E. I. 4816-4821).

II. THE DIVINE HOLINESS. We find the same teaching in both Testaments respecting this. Essentially separated from evil, He hates it, and delights only in what is pure. Old Testament presentations of this great fact (Lev ; Isa 6:3, &c.; H. E. I. 2275). Thus the New Testament, representing the Divine redemption as intended to restore its subjects to the pristine image of God, exhorts Christians to seek after holiness (1Pe 1:15-16; Eph 4:24). In the moral and providential government of man, He proceeds on the principle of law, righteousness, judgment (Deu 32:4). Thus the New Testament points out to believers that their bodies, being delivered from sin, are made "the instruments of righteousness." The Judgment Day is "a day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." The awful death of the Son of God on Calvary has its mystery explained by reference to God's righteousness (Rom 3:24-25).

III. THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. His purposes are unchangeable as His nature. They are formed with perfect intelligence of all they involve. They stretch through all time and eternity. They are firm as the everlasting hills. "I am the Lord; I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." The history of the Jewish and the establishment of the Christian Church is an illustration of God's unswerving faithfulness to the purpose He has formed.

IV. THE DIVINE LOVE. His disposition is to show kindness. Both Testaments are full of this. Nature is filled with arrangements for the well-being of His creatures. Remember, it is goodness to a world of sinners. It is goodness that has deepened into pitying love, and has provided forgiving mercy at the extremest cost. What does the Old Testament say? (Exo .) What says the New? (Rom 5:8; Joh 3:16.)

The two parts of Divine revelation agree respecting the Divine nature. We may learn hence—

1. The value of the written word. The continuity of Scripture is an important element. The fringes of Deity may be seen by the mere student of nature, but the inner glory can only be known to the student of revelation. Fearful to think of being in the hands of One of whose disposition you are ignorant. Without the Bible you could know nothing satisfactorily nor certainly of God. Prize and study it, that God may grow into your thoughts.

2. The importance of sympathy with God. How do you stand affected toward this great and glorious Being? Do you approve of Him, i.e., of His revealed character? Do you love Him? Is it a pleasant thing to think of and hold communion with Him? Do you thank and trust Him?

3. The blessedness of an interest in God. Through sin, He may become the condemning Judge. But His present attitude is that of the redeeming God. His counsel stood through the ages, and it was His pleasure to send His Son in the fulness of time. If you accept Christ, you are reconciled to Him; you have all spiritual blessings and full salvation.—J. Rawlinson.

THE SEVEN SLEEPERS OR, THE USES OF KNOWLEDGE OF THE PAST

Isa . Remember the former things of old, &c.

There is a legend of the early Christianity, whose ready acceptance within a few years of its origin is not less remarkable than its wide diffusion through every country from the Ganges to the Thames. In the middle of the fifth century, the resident proprietor of an estate near Ephesus was in want of building-stone. His fields sloped up the side of a mountain, in which he directed his slaves to open a quarry. In obeying his orders they found a spacious cavern, whose mouth was blocked up with masses of rock artificially piled. On removing these, they were startled by a dog suddenly leaping up from the interior. Venturing farther in, to a spot on which the sunshine, no longer excluded, directly fell, they discovered, just turning as from sleep, and dazzled with the light, seven young men, of dress and aspect so strange that the slaves were terrified, and fled. The slumberers, on rising, found themselves ready for a meal; and the cave being open, one of them set out for the city to buy food. On his way through the familiar country (for he was a native of Ephesus) a thousand surprises struck him.… Before his errand is quite forgot, he enters a bread-shop to make his purchase; offers the silver coin of Decius in payment; when the baker, whose astonishment was already manifest enough, can restrain his suspicions no longer, but arrests his customer as the owner of unlawful treasure, and hurries him before the city court. There he tells his tale: that with his Christian companions he had taken refuge in the cave from the horrors of the Decian persecution; had been pursued thither, and built in for a cruel death; had fallen asleep till wakened by the returning sun; and crept back into the town to procure support for life in their retreat. And there too, in reply, he hears a part of the history which he cannot tell: that Decius had been dethroned by death nearly two centuries ago, and Paganism by the truth full one. It is added, that the young man conducted certain persons to the cave; and that the seven sleepers, having given their parting blessing to those present, sank in the silence of natural death.

For the purpose of experiment, fable is as good as fact. The citizens and the sleepers were awestruck at each other; yet no one had been conscious of anything awful in himself. The sleepers were proofs that the old, dead times were once alive. Would not the men, returning to their homes, be conscious of understanding life anew? Would they not look down upon their children, and up at the portraits of their ancestors, with a perception from which a cloud had cleared away? Would the nearness of God, spoken of by the prophets, appear any more as idle words? No; the revelation of a reality in the past, would produce the feeling of an unreality in the present. Whence would spring an influence like this? The essence of it is simply this: The Past stood up in the face of the Present, and spake with it: and they found each other out: and each learned, that he beheld the other with true eye, and himself with false. The lesson is not set beyond our reach. Our ties with other days are not broken. The legendary youths are but the impersonations of history. The story is a parable of the relation between historical perception and religous faith.

The great end of religion is to distinguish in our existence its essential spirit from its casual forms. This its great end is its great difficulty. Experience mixes the two, and arranges nothing according to its worth. The dress that clothes the body, and the body that clothes the soul, appear always together, and tempt us to exaggerate the trivial and depreciate the great. That which a man has, and that which he is, move about together and become confounded with each other. It is the business of faith to see all things in their intrinsic value. Time is apt to take away a truth for each one that he gives. Insight often tarries with the child. It is an abuse of the blessings of experience, that it stupefies us with its benumbing touch. The great use of custom is to teach us what to expect; this is the true school for the active, working will. But for the thoughtful, wondering affections, a higher discipline is needed. Only by baffled anticipation do we learn to revere what is above us. In shaking off the heavy dreams of custom, religion receives the greatest aid from history. Religion strips the costume from the life that is: history restores the costume to the life that was; and thus may we see where the mere dress ends and the true life begins. The habit of realising the past is essential to that of idealising the present.

II. A more direct influence of knowledge upon faith intensifies it. Time, like space, cannot be appreciated by merely looking into it; we need objects for the one, events for the other. And for the ends of faith, they must be moral vicissitudes, the deeply-coloured incidents of human life; or the vastness we see we shall not love; we shall traverse the infinite, and never worship. The two states,—that in the picture of history, and that on the map of faith,—recede almost equally from our immediate experience: and the conception of the one is a sensible help to the realisation of the other. And when we invoke this aid to faith, we give it an ally, not, as might seem, accessible to learning only, but singularly open to the resources of ordinary men. Records of human affairs are supplied in the sacred writings, from which we learn the lessons of Providence. There is no grander agent than the Bible in this world. It is a discipline of priceless value; and from the extension of it, according to opportunity, whosoever is vigilant to keep a living faith will draw ever-fresh stores; and that He may better dwell in heart with Him "who declareth the end from the beginning," "will remember the former things of old."—James Martineau; Endeavours, pp. 475-486.

THE SCOPE AND THE STABILITY OF GOD'S PLAN

Isa . My counsel shall stand.

I. God has a purpose or plan in regard to human affairs (H. E. I. 4015-4023; P. D. 2894). If He had not, He could not predict future events, since a contingent event cannot be foreknown and predicted; that is, it cannot be foretold that an event shall certainly occur in one way, when, by the very supposition of its being contingent, it may happen either that way, or some other way, or not at all.

II. God's plan will not be frustrated. He has power enough to secure the execution of His designs, and He will exert that power in order that all His plans may be accomplished.

III. These facts should fill His people with great joy. For,

1. if there were no Divine plan in relation to human things, the mind could find no rest—everything would have the appearance of chaos, and the mind must be filled with doubts and distractions. But our anxieties vanish in regard to the apparent irregularities and disorders of the universe, when we feel that all things are under the direction of an Infinite mind, and will be made to further His great designs (H. E. I. 4024-4030; P. D. 2906).

2. If His plans were not accomplished, there would be occasion of equal doubt and dismay. If there was any power that could defeat the purposes of God; if there were any stubbornness of matter, or any inflexible perverseness in the nature of mind; if there were any unexpected and unforeseen extraneous causes that could interpose to thwart His plans, then the mind must be full of agitation and distress. But the moment that it can fasten on the conviction that God has formed a plan that embraces all things, and that all things which occur will in some way be made tributary to that plan, the mind can be calm in resignation to His holy will (P. D. 2898).—Albert Barnes, D.D.

I. THE DIVINE COUNSELS.

It is impossible for us to receive, as we do from the word of God, authentic information that there are counsels in the Divine mind as to our world, and all that dwell therein, without perceiving how much its revelations rise above the low conceptions of the wisest men of heathen antiquity, and of all who in our own day prefer their darkness and doubt to the light and certainty of heavenly truth. For—

1. We know that God, who made all things, does concern Himself with our world; that He has not left it to itself, as they thought necessary for His honour; that His regards are not confined to what men call great; that even individuals are noticed by Him (Psa ; Psa 33:18-19, &c.)

2. This interposition is one of counsel,—of deliberation and wise purpose. It is not the intervention of a blind power; not of an intelligence which some have fancied to be bound by what they have called a fixed and determinate plan; but one of counsel; that which possesses infinite resources, &c. Of this, all nature is a standing indication, but still more clearly and impressively, the divine government.

3. God's counsels are supreme and uncontrollable. This it is which gives to good men so entire and joyful a confidence (Pro ). There is a frequent contest of counsel between His creature and God. But they are weak, because they are bounded as to extent, and time, and power.

II. THE STABILITY OF THE DIVINE COUNSELS. Illustrated by—

1. Ancient instances of the fulfilment of delayed purposes—Abraham, the promise of Canaan to his seed, expiration of Judah's captivity, Daniel, the first promise of the seed of the woman.

2. The steadfastness of His holy law—the same in all ages and dispensations.

3. The constant connection of painful fear and misery with sin.

4. The established order of human salvation—as of old, so now. And God will never change it.

5. The uniform experience of good men. Take the effects of prayer—as of old, so now.

CONCLUSION.—What encouragement we thus have to trust God, not only for ourselves, but also as to His Church and the world! (Psa ). R. Watson: Works, vol. iii. pp. 298-305.

THE PLEASURE OF GOD

Isa . And I will do all My pleasure.

To most men this assertion is exceedingly distasteful. It shows that God has His purposes, and that they will all be accomplished. Men are willing that God should reign in heaven, but they are infinitely unwilling that He should do His pleasure with them. The fierce cry that comes up from the rebel heart is, "Let me manage my own concerns—let not this God have rule over me!" Notwithstanding this opposition of men, God still reigns. And He will rule in all ages and in all worlds. He will do all His pleasure. This sentiment is proved—

I. By the testimony of Scripture (Ecc ; Dan 4:35; Isa 14:24, &c.) Surely, if there is a doctrine in the Bible, prominent as the sun in the heavens, it is God's sovereignty as a ruler.

II. By the grand characteristics of God. He is the only self-existent being in the universe. He is everywhere present. Not only can He plan in accordance with infinite wisdom, mercy, and justice, but He has omnipotent power to execute these purposes. He knew from eternity what would come to pass. In reference to the future there is neither ignorance nor doubt. We must either deny His foreknowledge, or admit that His plans are fixed, and that He "will do," &c. Not that He taketh pleasure in the sins of men—His soul abhorreth them. He made man free to choose. He knew that he would choose evil as well as good; and, for reasons satisfactory to His own mind, He determined to allow it (H. E. I. 2275-2282).

III. By the history of God's universe.

1. The history of the fallen angels shows it. When they sinned, God banished them from heaven. This was the just punishment of rebellion. It was the act of a sovereign; for when man rebelled against the same God, and the same punishment was threatened, a voice was heard in heaven, "I have found a ransom."

2. The history of nations shows it. Those nations most prospered, most arrogant, and most likely to trample down the weak, have toppled over. They have become a wonder and a warning to the nations of the earth, while God has strengthened the weak and established the feeble. How prominent has been the intervention of God in the birth, infancy, and growth of our own nation! He made us and kept us a Christian nation.

3. The history of each man proves it. How many things in that history are beyond man's control!—his birth, &c. All these different persons have within them a consciousness of right and wrong. They are free to learn and to choose. If they do wickedly, they will be punished in accordance with the light which they may have. And yet, how stupendous is the difference! And God has allowed it. Let not man complain of God's sovereignty, but rather praise Him, that He has made you to differ from those who have been given up to poverty, superstition, degradation, and crime.

(1.) The plans of men depend for success upon the pleasure of God. No man can control events that are future; for these results may depend upon a thousand incidents that can neither be seen nor avoided. Man may possess the most consummate wisdom, &c., and yet he may fail. Like Pharaoh, Absalom, and Haman, evil men everywhere are doomed to disappointment.

(3.) The pleasure of God will be accomplished in the death of His creatures. How strangely and unexpectedly do men die! But the time and the way are settled by the pleasure of God.

CONCLUSION.—Do you object to the will of God? You cannot prevent it, and why resist it? Is it not His pleasure to do you good? Resistance is futile and fiendish. Yield.—W. Newell, D.D.: The American National Preacher, vol. vii. pp. 135-142.

The dominant facts in this chapter are these—that God had determined to deliver His ancient people from their bondage in Babylon, and that He was strong enough to carry out this purpose. To us even the mention of His strength seems unnecessary; but those to whom the deliverance was promised needed to be assured of the power of Jehovah to carry out His purpose. Humanly speaking, their deliverance seemed impossible. How would a similar promise seem now to the few Poles included in the German empire? God always meets the needs of His people, and therefore the whole chapter is so constructed as to produce faith in its climax: "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure;" and then there is added a symbolical explanation of the manner in which the Divine purpose would be accomplished (Isa ).

History tells us that these Divine promises were literally fulfilled. Cyrus, carrying out his own plans, unconsciously accomplished the plan of God with regard to Israel. Remembering what God is, this does not surprise us. Read historically, this declaration gives us no trouble whatever, but pleases us; but if we enlarge its reference, and read it prophetically, it causes us much perplexity. Two things tend to perplex us—

1. God has promised to accomplish great things in the future for this human race of ours (Isa ; Isa 11:9, &c.)

2. In the condition of the human race now, there are many things which we find it difficult to believe can be in accordance with God's pleasure. E.g., in the Ten Commandments He has shown that certain things are pleasing and other things displeasing to Him; but in the conduct of men His pleasure in regard to all these things is set at nought. In the New Testament we are told that it is not His will that any should perish, but that all should come to knowledge of the truth; but the majority of the human race live and die ignorant of the salvation which His Son purchased for them at so great a cost. Remembering these things, there springs up in our minds a difficulty which shapes itself thus: If God could not order things according to His pleasure now, what guarantee have we that He will be able to order things according to His pleasure hereafter? A great assumption here!

Another consideration seems at first somewhat to relieve the difficulty, viz., that nothing could exist were it not God's pleasure that it should exist, for nothing could exist without His permission. But afterwards it appears to increase the difficulty, for what awful things He permits!

Along this line we do not find that which dispels the mystery; no morning-sun dispersal of the mists that have lain all night along the valley. But we do find that which calms and strengthens us even when the mystery is full in our view. For the mystery has been permitted. By God, who is more than infinite in wisdom and irresistible in power; He is also absolute in righteousness and perfect in love. This, through faith, we are sure of. Therefore we are sure of another thing—that the pleasure which gave the permission that puzzles us was wise, righteous, merciful. Our faith goes beyond the old declaration concerning the mystery of evil, that it is a necessary result of the choice God made in the alternative that lay before Him—that of being content with the creation of a material universe, or of adding to it a moral universe, with all its tremendous evil possibilities. He was pleased to choose the latter, we believe also, because He foresaw that the blessings ultimately thus secured would infinitely transcend the evils that might temporarily result from it. Therefore it was a good pleasure.

In this faith we are confirmed by the clear teaching of His Word that it is His custom to regard the results of a process or of an act more than the process or result itself. This is clearly brought out in what we are told—

1. As to the purpose of His dealings with His children. He often subjects them to purposes involving great pain, but the result is more than a compensation for all the pain (Heb ).

2. As to His dealings with His Son. "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him." What an amazing declaration! What woe was involved in the "bruising!" It pleased Him, because He did not look only at the hours during which Jesus hung upon the cross.—In like manner, He was pleased to make the choice out of which woes so terrible have sprung, because He looked at the ultimate result, and saw that it would justify the choice. It will do more than that!

At length, moreover, it will be seen that His pleasure was good, not only us it concerned the great family to which we belong, but also as it concerned each individual in that family. There is yet to be such disclosures concerning God's complete dealings with such cases as are referred to in the preceding outline, as will show us that God's providence is not like Turner's paintings—pleasant when looked at only in the mass.

We are sure, then, that the pleasure of the Lord is always a good pleasure; and 2, that it will be found to be a victorious pleasure. It will be found that it is not in vain that in Him omnipotence is allied to wisdom, righteousness, and love. This will be seen, 1, in regard to the redemptive work now in progress in each of His children (Jude ).

2. In regard to the redemptive work now being carried on in the world by Christ (chap. Isa ). The results will be a glorious fulfilment of a preceding prophecy (chap. Isa 45:23-25).

Out of all this there should be practical outcomes.

1. As Christian men we should be valiant in our personal struggle against temptation (Rom ).

2. As Christian workers we should be always diligent and hopeful, knowing that however hard our work may be, the success of that work is certain (1Co ).

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-46.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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