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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 50

 

 

Verses 1-4

SINFUL ISRAEL SELF-RUINED

Isa . Thus saith the Lord, Where is the hill, &c.

Those who have professed to be the people of God, and yet seem to be severely dealt with, are apt to complain of God, and to lay the fault upon Him, as if He had severely dealt with them. But, in answer to their murmurings, we have here—bill.

I. A CHALLENGE TO PRODUCE ANY EVIDENCE THAT THE QUARREL BEGAN ON GOD'S SIDE (Isa ). They could not say that He had done them any wrong, or had acted arbitrarily.

1. He had been a Husband to them; and husbands were then allowed to put away their wives upon any little disgust (Deu ; Mat 19:7). But they could not say that God had dealt so with them; true, they were now separated from Him, but whose fault was that? What evidence could they produce that He had dealt with them capriciously?

2. He had been a Father to them; and fathers had then a power to sell their children for slaves to their creditors; and they were then sold to the Babylonians, as they were afterwards to the Romans; but did God sell them for payment of His debts? When God chastens His children, it is neither for His pleasure nor His profit (Heb ).

II. A CHARGE THAT THEY WERE THEMSELVES THE AUTHORS OF THEIR RUIN. "Behold, for your iniquities," &c.

III. A CONFIRMATION OF THIS CHALLENGE AND THIS CHARGE (Isa ).

1. It was plain that it was their own fault that they were cast off, for God came and offered them His helping hand, either to prevent their trouble, or to deliver them out of it, but they slighted Him and all the tenders of His grace (Isa ; Mat 21:34; Jer 35:15). He called to them to leave their sins, and so prevent their own ruin; but there was no man, or next to none, that complied with the messages He sent them: and it was for this that they were sold and put away (2Ch 36:16-17). Last of all, He sent unto them His Son, who would have gathered Jerusalem's children together, but they would not; and for that transgression it was that they were put away, and their house left desolate (Mat 21:41; Mat 23:37-38; Luk 19:41-42). When God calls men to happiness, and they will not answer, they are justly left to be miserable.

2. It was plain that it was not owing to any lack of power in God that they were led into the misery of captivity and remained in it, for He is almighty. They lacked faith in Him, and so that power was not exerted on their behalf. So it is with sinners still.—Matthew Henry; Commentary, in loco.

I. A picture of the sinner's miserable condition! separated from God—sold under sin. II. The occasion of it: not the will of God—but his own love of sin—and his consequent disregard of God's offers of deliverance from sin and sorrow.—J. Lyth, D.D.: The Homiletical Treasury: Isaiah, p. 69.

THE TEACHER OF THE WEARY

Isa . Behold, at my vebuke I dry up the sea, &c.

For the young, this is fresh, beautiful, sunlit life; to the old, it is often what Talleyrand found it, who in the journal of his eighty-third year, wrote "Life is a long fatigue." The first cry of a soul when Divinely wakened to its true condition is after a Teacher, who in a way suited to its weakness will teach it secrets suited to its wants. Such a Teacher has been found for us all, and the "words in season that He speaks are the ‘words of eternal life.'" Listen to this Teacher, for He is speaking to us now. He speaks in the style of God. Beginning, "Thus saith the Lord" (Isa ), He at once announces His Divinity. He then goes on to speak of Himself as a man (Isa 50:5-6). These words, therefore, could have been spoken alone by the Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. They place before our thoughts—

I. HIS DIVINE POWER AND GLORY.

II. HIS HUMAN LIFE AND EDUCATION.

The Lord not only became a man, but assumed humanity in its humblest form; an apostle says, "He emptied Himself." Gradually, it seems (Luk ; Luk 2:52), the Divine Spirit, like a mysterious Voice, woke up within Him the consciousness of what He was, and of what He had come on earth to fulfil; morning by morning (Isa 50:4) the Voice was ever wakening Him to a higher consciousness and more awful knowledge; nor was His equipment complete until He uttered His last cry from the cross (H. E. I. 858-863).

III. THE MEDIATORIAL TEACHING FOR WHICH HE HAD BEEN THUS PREPARED.

1. It is personal. If His own personal teaching had not been in view, there would have been no need for all this personal preparation. "The Lord hath given Me the tongue of the learned," &c. The education of a human soul is not to be entrusted to any created being. A million messengers may bring us wisdom, but Christ is the Personal Agent who employs them all. "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man."

2. It is suitable; "that I should know how to speak a word in season." Suitable to our weariness

(1.) while we are yet in a state of unregeneracy. Christ knows how to speak to such so as to kindle sympathy and waken response; He knows how to speak a word that gives life, the only "word in season" to men "dead in trespasses and sins."

(2.) When we are sinking under the burden of guilt. The law of God demands a perfect obedience; you are unable to meet that demand. All the while Christ was on earth, He was learning how to take that burden from you (Heb ).

(3.) When we are fainting under the burden of care. When you are ready to learn, Christ is ready to teach (Psa ). To cast your burden upon the Lord is to cast yourself upon Him—yourself, with all you carry.

(4.) When we are burdened under the intellectual mysteries of theology. Such difficulties form an essential part of the Christian discipline of many. Those who feel them are tempted, on the one hand, to rest in the authority of human reason, and, on the other, in the authority of the Church. But, who can teach us so surely the things that relate to Christ, as Christ Himself? Christ, wise in His speech, and wise in His silence, may not give us all the knowledge we wish for, but He will give us all we need.

(5.) When we are under the burden of mortal infirmity. "The faint old man sits down by the wayside a-weary." At first he thought within himself—

‘I am a useless hull,'tis time I sunk;

I am in all men's ways, I trouble them,

I am a trouble to myself."

But Christ has spoken to his soul, and dispersed those sad imaginations, by the power of thoughts that renew his inward strength (Isa ). There sits a man who was once an active thinker; but he has just tried to read one of his own books, and could not understand it. When other teachers have gone their way, Christ comes, and says, "Learn of Me" (Mat 11:28-30).

3. It is minutely direct and particular. The Good Shepherd "calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out;" "the Master is come, and calleth for thee."

"Thou art as much His care as if beside

Nor man nor angel lived in all the earth;

The sunbeams pour alike their glorious tide

To light a world, or wake an insect's birth:

They shine and shine with unexhausted store;

Thou art thy Saviour's darling—seek no more."

Solomon calls wisdom a "tree of life;" and the heavenly Teacher's wisdom is like the mystical tree of life, bearing "twelve manner of fruits, and yielding her fruit every month." You can never go to that tree out of season; you can never go to it seeking fruit and finding none; for as one has said, "you carry with you the season, and make it the season of the tree."—C. Stanford, D.D., Symbols of Christ, pp. 146-172.

He who speaks is the second person of the ever blessed Trinity; He speaks in that character of a Mediator which He had covenanted from all eternity to bear, and which required that in "the fulness of time" He should be made flesh, and dwell among men. This is the explanation of the mystery that He who in one verse speaks as God (Isa ), in the next describes Himself as a learner. How the man Christ Jesus became informed of the nature and obligations of the mediatorial office is a profound mystery; all that we are told is, that it was gradually (Luk 2:52; H. E. I. 858-863), so that morning by morning something new was told, till at last the whole task of labour, ignominy, and death, lay spread before the view of the Surety of our race. But though we may not be able to penetrate the mystery of the process, the result was that our Lord entered upon His mission possessing "the tongue of the learned." Not according to any anticipation that the "learned" men of the world would have favoured, if this prediction had been made known to them. His was the profounder and more important knowledge of the human heart; and therefore He was able to do what all their wisdom and science would never have enabled them to accomplish, He knew how to speak words in season to the weary. He has been the great Comforter of our race. Millions burdened by sin and sorrow have been helped and strengthened by Him.

In this respect His ministers should strive to be like Him. Intellectual culture they are not to disregard, but their supreme ambition should be to attain to such a knowledge of the heart, in all its varying experiences, and of the adaptation of God's truth thereto, that they also may know how to speak words in season to the weary—right words at the right time.—Henry Melvill, B.D: Sermons Preached on Public Occasions, pp. 125-147.

The text is a word for the weary from One in whose sympathy the human heart finds its refreshment and strength. In the work of cheering weary hearts, Christ excels immeasurably all others. God, who gave to Moses the tongue of terror, and to Isaiah the tongue of a fellow-sufferer with God's people, has given to Christ, in a singular and incomparable sense, the tongue of one who has drunk our cup, navigated all the seas of our experience, and become one with us in all that pertains to human suffering and conflict. Christ has the tongue of experience. Robertson strains language when he speaks of the "human heart of God." But we may speak of the human sympathy of "the man Christ Jesus"—the "Son of God." His human heart has experienced human woes—toil, weariness, disappointment, sorrow, and curse. He was made in all things like His brethren, to assure us of God's sympathy. Not that God knows our suffering the more familiarly, or sympathises with us the more tenderly, because He has experienced them in our nature. His omniscience marks the quiver of each heart-pang. His sympathy is as abounding and deep as the ocean, for "God is love." But we cannot conceive adequately of the sympathy of an abstract First Cause. Roman Catholics are right when they tell us that we can only realise God's acquaintance and sympathy with human sorrow as we look at a human fellow-sufferer possessing the most susceptible of tender human hearts. Their error is in pointing us to the Virgin Mother instead of the Incarnate Son. Because Christ has the tongue of experience, therefore His sympathy is the more effective. Apply these thoughts to—

1. Physical sufferings. Christ's experience of hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, &c. (Isa ). Christ has imparted a new meaning to all God's assurances in the Old Testament, and given existence and force to all the consolations of the New, since they all are God's, and God is Christ. Listen to the tongue of experience as it becomes the tongue of sympathy (Psa 103:13; 2Co 4:17; Heb 2:10; Heb 2:14).

2. Temptations. Some say that since Christ could not have yielded, therefore He had no true experience of conflict with evil. But can you say, that because the steadfast Christian is so full of Christ that he cannot allow himself to sin, therefore he has no true experience of conflict? In point of fact, the victor knows the cost of withstanding temptation far more than he who is vanquished by it (Heb ; Heb 2:18). Christ has fought His way to victory all along our path, and the way of holiness is crimson with His blood. Read the answers given by Christ (Matthew 4), and remember that He learnt to speak them in a conflict severer far than yours, that you may hear them clear and sure above the din and clangour of your sharpest contests with self and sin (H. E. I. 866-871).

3. The derision of the world. Many times was He reviled and scorned; while in John's Gospel we read of six most determined attempts on the part of His foes to do their worst. Realise all the sympathy which Christ conveys when He tells us that we suffer these things "for His name's sake."

4. The treachery of friends. Christ's experience of the desertion of His disciples, and the betrayal of Judas. Let all deceived hearts dwell restfully upon the assurance (Heb ).

5. The impenitence of sinners. The praying father or mother, weary of the son's or daughter's impenitence. Christ wept over Jerusalem, and then went down into the city to die for her. His heart still melts with tenderness.

6. Bereavement (John 11) In weeping with them, He has wept with us. In raising Himself, He has shown all mourners that He will raise again the dead (Joh ). A word in season for you.

7. Divine sovereignty. How many perplexed brains and weary hearts there are by reason of the mystery of God's dealings! It seems strange that God's Son should be called upon to experience this perplexity and weariness, till we hear Him cry, "If it be possible," & c., and, "O my God! my God! why hast Thou forsaken me?" But His experience only makes God's word the more assuring, that the Providence that upholds the sparrow, counts our hairs, and attends our every step, will order all things well (Rom ).

The value of the text is not so much that Christ suffered this or that, as that He suffered so deeply (Heb ; Heb 2:18). The thoroughness of Christ's experience (Isa 50:5). No sun ever rose upon His daily path, but it revealed some fresh experience of human toil, conflict, trial, or sorrow. So it is with us. But every sun that rises on our daily path, lights it with a fadeless ray, revealing, parallel with our life, the experience of Him who has tabernacled in our flesh, and who speaks to our hearts in the fulfilment of a ministry of sympathy, in which He has no rival.

CONCLUSION.—Those who go in the way which they light up for themselves can only have sorrow and darkness (Isa ). But those whose way is lit up by His love, who obey and follow, trust and love Him, as sheep their shepherd, shall have no darkness, but their sorrow shall flee away and God Himself shall comfort and refresh them.—David Arundell Hay.

GOD'S REBUKE OF UNBELIEF, AND CHALLENGE TO FAITH

Isa . Is My hand shortened at all that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver?

It was not because God was unable to deliver them, that His ancient people had been led away as captives, but solely on account of their sins (Isa , &c.) But He wished them to realise the fact that notwithstanding their sins, in virtue of His possession of unlimited power He could easily fulfil His promises of deliverance. We, too, need to realise more distinctly this fundamental truth—God's almighty and unchangeable power. Know it we do, but we often do not realise it. We often act as though we really believed that the Lord's power had diminished. Our text rebukes our unbelief, and challenges our faith. It may be used—

There are many things which men have done that seemed impossible at the first. The power of mechanical or chemical forces, directed by scientific intelligence, exceeds by far the bounds of ordinary belief; but when we pass from this sphere into that upper realm where the Almighty rules and presides, surely nothing is beyond the reach of His almighty hand!

Hence, in estimating possibilities or probabilities of success in any course, it is for us to inquire first of all, What is the will of God concerning the matter? Does He undertake the cause? Is He upon the side of its success? Are we doing His will rather than our own? If the work we undertake is His work, and if He has appointed us to do it, we may move on in all the calmness of a living faith, without one doubt or fear, knowing that He "who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" can give us victory. The thing which God wishes to be done can be done, and, if we will be workers with Him, shall be done, for neither men nor devils can restrain the arm of our wonder-working God. Let us, then, have courage, and banish fear. Let us work the works of God, confident that our labour will not be fruitless, and that our victory is assured by Him before the fight begins.—A. T.

II. TO COMFORT THE PEOPLE OF GOD.

1. In seasons of providential trial. Such seasons are common. But God has engaged to support or deliver His people whatever may be the nature of the trial through which they are passing. He is equal to every emergency. Rely upon the promises of God. He has sustained, comforted, and delivered, and He will. Faith argues from the past to the present and the future (1Sa ; Psa 63:7; 2Co 1:8-10; 2Ti 4:17-18). "Walk on the waters of trial by a living faith, and you shall find them solid as marble beneath your feet. Hang upon the simple power and providence of God, and you shall never be confounded."

2. In seasons of doubt and fear in relation to their final salvation. God's people are sometimes doubtful and desponding respecting their eternal safety. When they contemplate the difficulties and dangers, the temptations and the snares that beset their path, heaven seems to be an uncertain inheritance, and they are ready to conclude they shall never reach its happiness and glory. Opposed to them stands the power of Satan; the allurements of the world, the forces of evil within, the cares and afflictions of life, &c. But we have promises and examples that are calculated to dissipate every doubt and to banish every fear that we shall not eventually triumph. Abraham, Job, David, Paul, &c. Divine grace has been, and still is, all-sufficient (H. E. I. 1066, 2363-2377).

III. TO ENCOURAGE THE ANXIOUS INQUIRER. Though desirous to be saved, many are full of doubts and difficulties and questionings. There is nothing that appears so difficult to a convinced sinner as his own salvation. But the question is not whether you can save yourself, but whether GOD can save you. You know He can. Every moral difficulty has been removed by His infinite love in the gift of His Son, &c. True, you have broken the divine law, &c., but Christ has honoured and fulfilled it, as your substitute and representative, &c. Therefore the forgiveness of sin is consonant with God's righteousness as well as His mercy (Rom ). Nor can there be any effectual opposition made by Satan to the sinner's rescue. He is mighty, but Christ is almighty—"Able to save to the uttermost, &c."—Alfred Tucker.

THE POWER OF GOD

Isa . Behold, at my rebuke I dry up the sea, &c.

There are other declarations of like purport in the prophecies of Isaiah (Isa ; Isa 51:15; Isa 63:11-13). They speak to us of Divine power. The mighty works referred to could not be performed by any false god. The deliverance of God's ancient people from Egypt was attended with such amazing miracles, and with such a sudden destruction of their foes, that none but an Almighty Being could have performed it.

I. Let us attempt with reverent humility to form some conception of the nature of God's power (H. E. I. 2269-2274).

1. The power of God is that ability or strength, whereby He can do whatever He pleases—whatever His infinite wisdom directs, and the perfect purity of His will resolves (Isa ; Psa 115:3). It is almost superfluous to say that the Almighty cannot do anything which implies or involves a contradiction, nor anything repugnant to His own perfections, either in relation to Himself or to His creatures, &c.

2. The power of God gives activity to all the other perfections of His nature. "God hath a powerful wisdom to attain His ends without interruption, a powerful mercy to remove our misery, a powerful justice to punish offenders, a powerful truth to perform all His promises."

3. This power is originally and essentially in His nature—underived. "Power belongeth to God." "He is the Source, Centre, Assemblage of all the might that is; containing in Himself the unfathomable depths of Omnipotence, as of Being."

4. It follows that the power of God is infinite. Nothing can be too difficult for the Divine power to effect (Gen ). A power which cannot be opposed (Dan 4:35).

II. Let us view with reverent astonishment the manifestations of God's power.

1. In creation. "Examine individuals, systems, worlds beyond worlds, scattered in boundless profusion through the wide realm of space. They sprang forth at His voice, and they are sustained by the hand of God. All are ‘vouchers of Omnipotence!'" (Gen ; Psa 8:3-4; Isa 42:5; Isa 42:8, &c.) Pythagoras called those fools, who denied the power of God.

2. In the government of the world.

(1.) In natural government, or preservation. God is the great Father of the universe, to nourish as well as create it (Psa ). He keeps all the strings of nature in tune, &c.

(2.) In moral government—restraining the malice of Satan and the wickedness of man, &c.

(3.) In His gracious government—delivering His Church, effecting His great and glorious purposes by the simplest means, &c.

3. In the miracles recorded in the Scriptures, and in suspending or reversing the usual laws of nature on special occasions. These are the hidings of God's power. Submissive nature yields and obeys (Psa ).

4. In the work of our redemption by Jesus Christ. Our Saviour is called "the power of God." His incarnation, miracles, resurrection, &c.; the publication of redemption by such feeble instruments; the wonderful success of their ministry.

5. In the conviction and conversion of sinners, the perseverance of His people amidst all the temptations and afflictions to which they are exposed.

III. Let us consider with prayerful concern the practical lessons which this subject teaches.

1. The fear of God (Jer , &c.) If God be against us, it matters not who they be that are for us. "Fear Him," therefore, "who hath power to cast into hell." "On this ground, as well as on the ground of His other perfections, we should bow before Him with lowly reverence, and while we tremble to place ourselves in an attitude of antagonism to Him, we should seek His favour, protection, and blessing." Confidence in God amid all the conflicts and afflictions of this probationary state. All needful assistance and comfort, &c., will be vouchsafed (2Co 9:8; Eph 3:20).

2. The assurance that all His plans and purposes will be finally accomplished (Psa ).

"Engraved as in eternal brass,

The mighty promise shines;

Nor can the powers of darkness rase

Those everlasting lines," &c.

—Alfred Tucker.

THE APPEAL OF ALMIGHTY POWER

Isa . Wherefore, when I came, was there no man? &c.

Review the circumstances under which this appeal was addressed to sinful Israel of old. The principles of Divine truth and religion the same under all dispensations.

I. The Lord comes and calls sinners to repentance, but they do not regard Him.

1. He does this in manifold ways.

(1.) By the voice of conscience. Representative of the supreme law—inward monitor, &c., ever urging the abandonment of the sinful and the adoption of the true and pure, &c.

(2.) By the events of Providence. The whole system of Providence is in operation for none other than religious ends and purposes. Mercies are sent to allure, judgments to alarm (H. E. I 56-59, 66-70).

(3.) By His Word. The Bible is God speaking to man, &c. Everywhere it calls to repentance, &c.

(4.) By His ministers. He speaks to man, by man. Samuel thought it was only the voice of Eli that called him, but it was God's voice. The true minister is God's ambassador (2Co ).

(5.) By His Son. "His servant"—the Saviour, so often introduced in these prophecies with dramatic directness, as speaking in His own name (Mat ; Joh 1:10-11; Act 3:13; Heb 1:1).

(6.) By His Spirit. Speaking to the ear of the inner man by the ministries of friendship, or the incidents and intercourse of common life; by sickness, &c., stirring up an unwonted anxiety about the things which belong' to our peace. Though He has been treated so shamefully, He still speaks, strives, pleads, &c.

2. But sinners do not regard Him. As of old, they heed not the Divine calls, they slight His gracious offers, they reject the messages sent, &c., as unworthy their regard, &c.

II. The Lord gives astonishing proof of His ability and willingness to save, yet sinners do not believe it, and trust in Him. "Behold, at my rebuke," &c. He who by His mere threatening word has dried up the sea, and turned rivers into a hard and barren soil, so that the fishes putrefy for want of water, and eclipsed the lights of heaven, can with infinite ease come with a gospel of deliverance from sin and punishment. He can perform stupendous miracles of grace—save sinners to the very "uttermost." No limit can be set to His omnipotent grace.

Yet sinners will not believe it. Like a condemned criminal who will not believe even when he sees the Queen's pardon. If sinners will not believe God's Gospel, how can they be saved? We may as well expect a man to be fed by bread that he will not eat, or to be cured by medicine that he will not take, as expect a man to be saved by a Gospel that he will not believe.

Or they neglect it. Like the old miser who is so busy with his ledgers and gold bags that he does not heed the alarm of fire, and therefore perishes. So with the worldling. We tell them of danger and of salvation, but they are so busy, &c., they just leave the matter alone—they neglect it.

Or they despise it. Like a poor but proud man who despises relief when offered, because he must go and receive it as a gift. If sinners could take their little, petty, paltry doings and buy God's salvation, they would have it, but because they must have it as a gift, they will not receive it.

III. The Lord justly complains that He is thus disregarded and doubted. "Wherefore," &c.? Not the language of anger, but sorrowful lament, wounded friendship, grieved love, &c. As a faithful father, &c. A just complaint. Such conduct is manifestly unreasonable, shamefully ungrateful, exceedingly sinful, imminently dangerous, &c. (Pro ). It keeps back the blessings which God is ready to confer. It is highly dishonouring to God. It disputes the Divine Word, rejects the clearest evidence, limits the Omnipotent One, &c. Think of this. Hear and obey the Divine call. "Repent and believe the Gospel." If you reject it, the responsibility rests upon you, and you must give account to God.—Alfred Tucker.

THE SOLAR ECLIPSE

Isa . I clothe the heavens with blackness, &c.

If there be sermons in stones, there must be a great sermon in the sun; and if there be books in the running brooks, no doubt there is many a huge volume to be found in a sun suffering eclipse. All things teach us, if we have but a mind to learn. Let us see whether this may not lead us into a train of thought which may, under God's blessing, be something far better to us than the seeing of an eclipse.

I. Eclipses of every kind are part of God's way of governing the world. In olden times the ignorant people in England were frightened at an eclipse; they could not understand what it meant. They were quite sure that there was about to be a war, or a famine, or a terrible fire, &c. So it still is in the East. By many an eclipse is looked upon as something contrary to the general law of nature. But eclipses are as much a part of nature's laws as the regular sunshine; an eclipse is a necessary consequence of the natural motion of the moon and the earth around the sun, &c. Other eclipses happen in God's providence and in God's grace. Here, as in nature, an eclipse is part of God's plan, and is in fact involved in it.

1. Let me invite your attention to providence at large. How many times have we seen providence itself eclipsed with regard to the whole race. God sends a flood, famine, war, plague, &c. It is just the same with you in your own private concerns. When you were rejoicing in the brightness of your light, on a sudden a mid-day midnight has fallen upon you; to your horror and dismay you are made to say, "Whence does all this evil some upon me? Is this also sent of God?" Most assuredly it is. Your penury, sickness, bereavement, contempt, all these things are as much ordained for you, and settled in the path of providence, as your wealth, comfort, and joy. Think not that God has changed. It involves no change of the sun when an eclipse overshadows it. Troubles must come; afflictions must befall; it must needs be that for a season ye should be in heaviness through manifold temptations.

2. Eclipses also occur in grace. Man was originally pure and holy; that is what God's grace will make him at last. Some of you are in the eclipse to-day. I hear you crying, "O that it were with me as in months past," &c. You are apt to say, "Is this a part of God's plan with me? Can this be the way in which God would bring me to heaven?" Yes, it is even so. In God's great plan of grace to the world, it is just the same. Sometimes we see a mighty reformation worked in the Church. God raises up men who lead the van of the armies of Jehovah. A few more years and these reformers are dead, and their mantle has not fallen upon any, &c. Think not that eclipses of our holy religion, or the failure of great men in the midst of us, or the decline of piety, is at all apart from God's plan; it is involved in it, and as God's great purpose, moving in the circle, to bring forth another gracious purpose on earth must be accomplished, so an eclipse must necessarily follow, being involved in God's very way of governing the world in His grace.

II. Everything that God does has a design. When God creates light or darkness He has a reason for it. He does not always tell us His reason. We call Him a sovereign God, because sometimes He acts from reasons which are beyond our knowledge, but He is never an unreasoning God. I cannot tell you what is God's design in eclipsing the sun; I do not know of what use it is to the world. It may be, &c. However, we are not left in any darkness about other kinds of eclipses; we are quite certain that providential eclipses, and gracious eclipses, have both of them their reasons. When God sends a providential eclipse He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men for nought. It is to draw our attention to Himself. Doubtless, we should entirely forget God, if it were not for some of those eclipses which now and then happen. Sometimes troublous times tend to prepare the world for something better afterwards. War is an awful thing; but, I doubt not, it purges the moral atmosphere, just as a hurricane sweeps away a pestilence. It is a fearful thing to hear of famine or plague; but each of these things has some effect upon the human race. And evil generally goes to make room for a greater good. God has sent thee providential trouble. He has a gracious design in it. Many men are brought to Christ by trouble. Eclipses of grace have also their end and design. Why has God hidden His face from you? It is that you may begin to search yourself, and say, "Show me wherefore Thou contendest with me" (H. E. I. 1644-1648). God's people are afflicted in order that they may not go astray (H. E. I. 66-70, 190-194).

III. As all things that God has created, whether they be light or whether they be dark, have a sermon for us, no doubt there are some sermons to be found in this eclipse. What is it that hides the sun from us during an eclipse? It is the moon. She has borrowed all her light from the sun month after month; she would be a black blot if the sun did not shine upon her, and now she goes before his face, and prevents his light from shining upon us. Do you know anything at all like that in your own history? Have you not a great many comforts which you enjoy upon earth that are just like the moon? They borrow all their light from the sun, &c. Oh, how ungrateful we are when we let our comforts get before our God! No wonder that we get an eclipse then.

1. Let the Christian recollect another sermon. The sun is always the same, and God is unchangeable.

"My soul through many changes goes,

His love no variation knows."

2. A total eclipse is one of the most terrific and grand sights that ever will be seen. If on a sudden the sun should set in tenfold darkness, and never should rise again, what a horrid world this would be! And then the thought strikes me—Are not there some men, and are there not some here, who will one day have a total eclipse of all their comforts? What ever eclipse happens to a Christian, it is never a total eclipse: there is always a crescent of love and mercy to shine upon him. But mark thee, sinner, when thou comest to die, bright though thy joys be now, and fair thy prospects, thou wilt suffer a total eclipse. Can you guess what the Saviour meant, when He said "outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth?" Hear me while I tell thee the way of salvation.—C. H. Spurgeon: The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 183.

HUMAN WEARINESS: THE VARIETY OF ITS SOURCES, AND THE ONE SOURCE OF RELIEF FROM IT

Isa . The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.

There are many causes of weariness and sadness; as many as there are sources of cheerfulness and vigour in body and mind.

1. Wounded affections. When the seat of our pleasant emotions and sweet affections becomes filled with bitterness, we cannot wonder that exhaustion of energy should ensue, and the strong man be bowed down! Few who have advanced far in life, but have been thus attacked in the tenderest part of their being; and the power of resistance decreases as youth is left behind. Many, most dear, have vanished from the scene; former friends have perhaps lifted up the heel against us. We do not know, until the blow comes, how heavily we have been leaning on the staff of friendly sympathy. But amidst all our heart-troubles, the voice of the Saviour—deeply learned in the sorrows of humanity—is heard saying, "Rest!" "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest." The words are words of authority, and of comfort because of their authority.

2. Disappointment of our desires. All are furnished with larger appetites than they have ability or opportunity for satisfying them. Pleasure! Money! Power! Reputation! Desire outruns our slow and pausing faculties. And this is a great cause of fatigue; we cannot keep up with ourselves, one part of our nature lags behind another. Again, the goal of our desire is ever receding. What an interesting picture does Ecclesiastes give of this universal experience! But in this mood, too, we are met by the Divine Saviour; for Christ would fill the soul with the only object of desire that cannot disappear in its grasp; with the Eternal Himself.

3. Vacancy of mind and the sense of monotony. "Nature abhors a vacuum;" the mind cannot endure its own emptiness. Imagine us left alone in a depeopled world, shut up in a room walled with reflecting glass, where nothing but our own image should meet us at every turn,—the very thought is unendurable; and something like this occurs when we fail to obtain diversion from self. But it is Christ's message to tell us of a new self which it is the will of God to impart to us; a new heart in which it will please God to dwell, and with which He can hold fellowship; the soul comes to rest on an Eternal Power that is not ourselves, yet intimately related to us.

4. The load of a guilty conscience. It may be difficult to forgive another; it is more difficult to forgive oneself. How profoundly Christ meets this guilty dejection of the human heart! The power which He claimed on earth to forgive sins is continued, in a declarative sense, in His Church, and sin-laden souls may be warned that in disbelieving the Gospel of forgiveness they tacitly reject Christ's authority; in believing it they rely on the promises of One to whom all things are given by the Father, and they are at rest

5. Earnest thought and noble endeavour. Not only the bad use of mind and life, but their right and loyal use, brings its own peculiar experience of suffering. Preachers, philanthropists, strenuous labourers in every good cause, exhaust their energies in ministering to others' need; and after exhibiting pictures of cheerfulness and animation in public, sink, when alone, into occasional collapse. Instructive examples of such reaction are given in Bible story, e.g., Elijah. In the finest minds, a fretfulness and dissatisfaction with results may be found, where onlookers see a noble success. But to them, as to all weary ones, Christ, who "suffered in the flesh," says, "I will give you rest;" and to all who trust Him, He gives the rest and re-invigoration they need.—G. Johnson, M.A., Christian World Pulpit, vol. xv. pp. 264-266.

"Oh, comfort to the dreary!"

THE GOSPEL A WORD IN SEASON TO THE WEARY

Isa . The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.

Our blessed Lord is here represented as speaking of His own office and ministry. How gracious was that office! How full of condescending pity and love to man was that ministry! (Joh ; Luk 4:18-19.) In our text we have a true account of the tendency of the Gospel. It brings rest and refreshment to those who are seeking rest in the world, but whose hopes must end in disappointment.

I. THE ACTUAL STATE AND WANTS OF MANKIND. On every hand are evidences of the fact that this is a weary world. On our race sin has laid many burdens of care and sorrow. Our fellow-men sorely need to be cheered and strengthened.

II. THE SUITABLENESS OF THE GOSPEL TO THE EXISTING STATE AND CIRCUMSTANCES OF MANKIND. It has "a word in season,"

1. For those who are weary in the service of sin.

2. For those who are weary under the painful consciousness of their guilt in the sight of God.

3. For those who are weary in striving against sin.

4. For those who are weary under the burden of temporal suffering.

5. For those who are weary under the growing infirmities and inconveniences of old age.

1. Lay hold of its great and precious promises.

2. Pray for all Christ's ministers, that they, like their Master, may be taught how to speak words of cheer and comfort. This is one of the most valuable forms of the learning which it is possible for them to possess.—James Ford, A.M.: Twelve Sermons, pp. 1-22.

Men need religion as they need bells for the common purposes of human life. The forms of old and effete infidelity, as well as the more subtle and pseudo-scientific scepticism of the present age, all fail just where Christianity eminently succeeds—in adaptation to the common wants of men. The opponents of the Gospel, who marshalled their forces a century ago, made no attempt to supply its place as a religion which met the every-day wants of men. They mined the foundations of the building; they thundered at the doors; they battered its walls; but they never tried to erect a better system in its place. That attempt was left to later ages. It was for Rénan and Strauss to try to substitute for Christianity another theory of religion, and to meet the demand which the mother of Hume made of her son, "Give me something to lean on in the place of the faith you have undermined."

But our modern theorists find that it is one thing to destroy, another to build up. Does infidelity give anything on which men can fall back for comfort and support amid the common troubles of life, &c.? Does it speak in sweet accents of a rest that remaineth when weariness insupportable creeps over mind and body? We claim for Christianity that it does this very thing. It meets the every-day wants of those who embrace it. It condescends to notice the every-day weariness of tried and troubled souls. It is a Gospel that speaks to the worn and exhausted spirit. The voice like a bell chiming along the ages is, "The Lord God hath given me," &c.

I. THE SPECIAL CLASS TO WHOM THE GOSPEL IS ADDRESSED. Is not amazement awakened when this text tells us that the Gospel is sent to be a message of comfort to the weary? For this Gospel was the fruit of the tears, and blood, and agony of the dear Son of God. Does it not seem a strangely costly sacrifice, when God's dear Son drinks to its dregs the cup of condemnation, that He may speak comfort to him that is weary? The weary are everywhere upon this earth of ours. All feel a sense of oppressive fatigue. The consciousness of exhaustion is a thing so common, of such almost universal experience, that it seems one of the lesser ills of life, and beneath the notice of the Gospel. But Christ came to give men a religion which should meet their common wants, their everyday necessities. And hence it is a message to the weary, whatever the cause of their weariness be.

1. Toil. Or

2. Trial. Or

II. THE INSTRUMENT WHICH GOD EMPLOYS TO RELIEVE THE SOUL THAT IS WEARY.

"A man of words "is a term of contempt. We tell people that "deeds, not words," are our test of character. But what a momentous significance for evil or for good one word may have! On yonder hill, outside the walls of Bethany, in the midst of an astonished group, Lazarus stands a living man, though his grave-clothes are still upon him. The dead body on which corruption's work had begun is thrilled with a new life. One word did that. So, when Christ promises salvation, and comfort, and rest to the weary, it is a word through which the priceless blessing comes. The unquestionable meaning of the text is, that the instrument which God uses to give relief to the weary is Christ's word, Christ's Gospel, the message of His love for sinners.

It must be spoken in season. There are, in human experience, chances that exist but for one moment. They come and go like a flash. So are there crises in the history of every human soul. There are times when the heart seems poised upon a pinnacle. Now a breath may turn it one way or the other; and then a word spoken is a word in season. Bereavement, &c. And for that blessed work our Lord gives you "the tongue of the learned." But no man ever acquired the fruits of ripened knowledge—the harvest of wise words that speak comfort to the weary—without sowing the seed and watching over it with care. He must be learned, not in books of theology and libraries of religious instruction, but learned in the results of a personal experience.—Bishop Cheney: The Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii. pp. 79-82.


Verses 4-9

OUR SAVIOUR'S QUALIFICATIONS FOR THE SUCCESSFUL ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HIS WORK

Isa . The Lord hath given me the tongue, &c.

We suppose the prophet Isaiah to say something of himself in these verses, engaging and encouraging himself to go on in his work as a prophet, notwithstanding the many hardships he met with, not doubting that God would stand by him, and strengthen him; but, like David, he speaks of himself as a type of Christ. Through Isaiah it is Christ who speaks to us; and as we hearken to and reflect on His words, we note three characteristics in Him which qualify Him for and secure the success He anticipates.

I. HE WAS, AND IS, AN ACCEPTABLE PREACHER (Isa ). He was this because—

1. God had given Him "the tongue of the learned." God, who made man's mouth, gave to Moses the tongue of the learned, to speak for the terror and conviction of Pharaoh (Exo ). He gave to Christ the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season for the comfort of those that are weary under the burden of sin (Mat 11:28). What a beautiful and precious feature was this in the ministry of our Lord! See what is now the best learning of a minister—to know how to comfort troubled consciences, and to speak patiently, properly, and plainly to the various cases of poor souls. Christ was able to do this because—

2. God had also, or previously, given Him "the ear of the learned"—the ability to receive instruction. Prophets have as much need of this as of the tongue of the learned, for they must deliver what they are taught, and no other (Eze ). Christ Himself received, that He might give. None must undertake to be teachers, who have not first been learners (Mat 13:52). Nor is it enough to hear; we must "hear as the learned," hear with all our faculties awake, hear as those who would learn by what we hear, hear and remember.

II. HE WAS, AND IS, A PATIENT SUFFERER (Isa ). One would have thought that He who was commissioned and qualified to speak comfort to the weary would have met with no difficulty in His work, but universal acceptance; it was, however, quite otherwise. He had both hard work and hard usage to undergo; and here He tells us with what undaunted constancy He went through with it. We have no reason to question but that the prophet Isaiah went on resolutely in the work to which God had called him, though we read not of his undergoing any such hardships as are here (it may be figuratively) described; but we are sure that this prediction was literally fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Note—

1. His ready obedience to the call addressed to Him (Isa ; Psa 40:6-7).

2. His patient endurance of all the suffering His obedience to the call involved (Isa ). All this Christ underwent for us, and voluntarily, to convince us of His willingness to save us. How much He still undergoes, to what indignities He still submits, in His efforts to save man!

III. HE WAS, AND IS, A COURAGEOUS CHAMPION (Isa ). All that in these verses was true of Isaiah is still more true of our Saviour. Observe—

1. The secret sources of His courage. They are two.

(1.) He was assured of Divine support. "The Lord God will help me."

(2.) Of this He was assured, because He was assured also of Divine approval. "He is near that justifieth me."

2. The results of His courage.

(1.) He was confident of success in His undertaking. "I shall not be confounded.… I shall not be ashamed." Note, work for God is work we should not be ashamed of; and hope in God is hope we shall not be ashamed of.

(2.) He could bid defiance to all opposers and opposition. "God will help me: therefore have I set my face like a flint." He had no fear of the slanders of His foes: "He is near that justifieth me." Nor of their swords. "Who will contend with me?" &c.

(3.) He could foresee that He and His righteous cause would outlive all opposition. It was His foes who should pass away: "Lo, they all shall wax old like a garment; the moth shall eat them up"—a little thing will serve secretly and insensibly to destroy them.

CONCLUSION.—

1. These qualities being in Christ, let us not doubt that absolute and universal victory is before Him (H. E. I. 979).

2. These qualities were in all the world's noblest reformers and benefactors.

3. These qualities must be in us, if we are to do any great work for God and our fellow-men. From Christ Himself let us seek them.—Matthew Henry: Commentary, in loco.


Verse 6

OUR SAVIOUR'S SUBMISSION TO SHAME AND SUFFERING

Isa . I gave my back to the smiters, &c.

It was for us that our Lord thus submitted to shame and suffering. May a spirit of tenderness, and thankfulness, and love, be given to us while we remember what He endured on our behalf!

I. OUR LORD'S HUMILIATION WAS VOLUNTARY.

He gave Himself up freely to suffer, the just for the unjust. And while He was upon earth, in pursuance of His designs, He never was at the mercy of His foes (Mat ). His sufferings were the unavoidable result of His voluntary determination to save us. And they were all foreseen. For the accomplishment of two great purposes, He cheerfully gave His back to the smiters, and His cheeks to them that pulled off the hair. These were the glory of God, and the salvation of sinners.

"Father, how wide Thy glory shines!"

"Jesus, and can it ever be?"

II. OUR LORD'S HUMILIATION WAS EXTREME.

In the apprehensions of men, insults are aggravated in proportion to the disparity between the person who receives and who offers them. A blow from an equal is an offence, but would be still more deeply resented from an inferior. But if a subject, a servant, a slave, should presume to strike a king, it would be justly deemed an enormous crime. But Jesus, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, whom all the angels of God worship, made Himself so entirely of no reputation, that the basest of the people were not afraid to make Him the object of their derision, and to express their hatred in the most contemptuous manner.

1. They spat upon Him (Mat ; Mat 27:30). Great as an insult of this kind would be deemed amongst us, it was considered as still greater, according to the customs prevalent in Eastern countries. There, to spit even in the presence of a person, though it were only on the ground, conveyed the idea of disdain and abhorrence. But the lowest of the people spat in the face—not of an Alexander or a Cæsar—but of THE SON OF GOD!

2. They buffeted Him on the face, and when He meekly offered His cheek to their blows, they plucked off the hair. The beard was in the East accounted honourable (2Sa ). With savage violence they tore off the hair of His beard; while He, like a sheep before the shearers, was dumb, and quietly yielded Himself up to their outrages.

3. His back they tore with scourges, as was foretold by the psalmist (Psa ). The Jewish Council condemned Him to death for blasphemy, because He said He was the Son of God. Stoning was the punishment prescribed by the law of Moses, in such cases (Lev 14:16). But this death was not sufficiently lingering and tormenting to gratify their malice. To glut their insatiable cruelty, they were therefore willing to own their subjection to the Roman power to be so absolute, that it was not lawful for them to put any one to death (Joh 17:26), according to their own judicial law; and thus wilfully, though unwillingly, they fulfilled the prophecies: they preferred the punishment which the Romans appropriated to slaves who were guilty of flagitious crimes, and therefore insisted that He should be crucified. According to the Roman custom, those who were crucified were previously scourged. It was not unfrequent for the sufferers to expire under the severity and torture of scourging. And we may be certain that Jesus experienced no lenity from their merciless hands. The ploughers ploughed His back. But more and greater tortures were before Him. He was engaged to make a full atonement for human sin by His sufferings; and as He had power over His own life, He would not dismiss His spirit until He could say, "It is finished!"

"Behold the Man!" Behold the Son of God mocked, blindfolded, spit upon, and scourged!

1. Shall we continue in sin, after we know what it cost Him to expiate our sins? God forbid! (H. E. I. 4589, 4590.)

2. Shall we refuse to suffer shame for His sake, and be intimidated by the frowns or contempt of men from avowing our attachment to Him? We are, indeed, capable of this baseness and ingratitude. But if He is pleased to strengthen us by the power of His Spirit, we will account such disgrace our glory. In this, as in all things, let our Lord be our exemplar. Let us neither court the smiles of men, nor shrink at the thought of their displeasure. Let it be our constant aim to glorify God. This is the secret of Christian heroism. True magnanimity is evidenced by the real importance of the end it proposes, and by the steadiness with which it pursues the proper means of attaining that end; undisturbed by difficulty, danger, or pain, and equally indifferent to the applause or the scorn of incompetent judges. How gloriously did it shine forth in our Saviour! In this let us strive to follow Him!—John Newton: Works, pp. 706-709.

Messiah's sufferings and supports. I. His sufferings.

1. They were great and various.

2. He willingly undertook to sustain them all (H. E. I. 913). II. His supports.

1. Assurance of effectual succour (Isa ).

2. Assurance of a triumphant issue (Isa ).

Contemplate the holy sufferer—

1. As the predicted Saviour of the world.

2. As the great pattern of all holy obedience.—Charles Simeon, M.A.

Of whom speaketh the prophet this? Of himself or of some other? It is quite certain that Isaiah here wrote concerning the Lord Jesus Christ (Luk ). Of whom else could you conceive the prophet to have spoken if you read the whole chapter? (Luk 23:11.) Pilate, the governor, gave Him up to the cruel process of scourging. Behold your King! Turn hither all your eyes and hearts, and look upon the despised and rejected of men! The sight demands adoration.

I. Gaze upon your despised and rejected Lord as THE REPRESENTATIVE OF GOD. In Him God came into the world, making a special visitation to Jerusalem and the Jewish people, but at the same time coming very near to all mankind. He came to and called the people whom He had favoured so long, and whom He was intent to favour still (Isa ).

1. When our Lord came into this world as the representative of God, He came with all His divine power about Him. He fed the hungry, &c. He did equal marvels to those which were wrought in Egypt when the arm of the Lord was made bare in the eyes of all the people. He did the works of His Father, and those works bare witness of Him that He was come in His Father's name.

2. But when God thus came among men He was unacknowledged (Isa ). A few, taught by the Spirit of God, discerned Him and rejoiced; but they were so very few that we may say of the whole generation that they knew Him not.

3. Yet our Lord, when He came into the world, was admirably adapted to be the representative of God, not only because He was God Himself, but because as man His whole human nature was consecrated to the work, and in Him was neither flaw nor spot. His course and conduct were most conciliatory, for He went among the people, and ate with publicans and sinners; so gentle was He that He took little children in His arms, and blessed them; for this, if for nothing else, they ought to have welcomed Him right heartily, and rejoiced at the sight of Him. This is especially the sin of those who have heard the Gospel and yet reject the Saviour, for in their case the Lord has come to them in the most gracious form, and yet they have refused Him. This is in reality a scorning and despising of the Lord God, and is well set forth by the insults which were poured upon the Lord Jesus.

II. See the Lord Jesus as THE SUBSTITUTE FOR HIS PEOPLE. When He suffered thus, it was not on His own account, nor purely for the sake of His Father; but He was "wounded for our transgressions," &c. There has risen up a modern idea which I cannot too much reprobate, that Christ made no atonement for our sin except upon the cross: whereas in this passage we are taught as plainly as possible that by His bruising and stripes, as well as by His death, we are healed. Never divide between the life and the death of Christ. How could He have died, if He had not lived? How could He suffer except while He lived? Death is not suffering, but the end of it. Guard also against the evil notion that you have nothing to do with the righteousness of Christ, for He could not have made an atonement by His blood, if He had not been perfect in His life. He could not have been acceptable, if He had not first been proven to be holy, harmless, and undefiled. The victim must be spotless, or it cannot be presented for sacrifice. Draw no nice lines and raise no quibbling questions, but look at your Lord as He is, and bow before Him. Jesus took upon Himself our sin, and being found bearing that sin, He had to be treated as sin should be treated. All this was voluntary. "He gave His back to the smiters." They did not seize and compel Him, or, if they did, yet they could not have done it without His consent. That Christ should stand in our stead by force were a little thing, even had it been possible; but that He should stand there of His own free will, and that being there He should willingly be treated with derision, this is grace indeed. Here is matter for our faith to rest upon.

III. See the Lord Jesus Christ as THE SERVANT OF GOD. He took upon Himself the form of a servant when He was made in the likeness of man. This is to be the guide of our life.

1. As a servant, Christ was personally prepared for service. He was thirty years and more here below, learning obedience in His Father's house, and the after years were spent in learning obedience by the things which He suffered.

2. Our text assures us that this service knew no reserve in its consecration. We generally draw back somewhere. Our blessed Master was willing to be scoffed at by the lewdest and the lowest of men. Such patience should be yours as servants of God.

3. Beside, there was an obedient delight in the will of the Father. How could He delight in suffering and shame? These things were even more repugnant to His sensitive nature than they can be to us; and yet, "For the joy," &c.

4. There was no flinching in Him. Notice all the while the confidence and quiet of His spirit? He almost seems to say, "You may spit upon me, but you cannot find fault with me," &c.

IV. AS THE COMFORTER OF HIS PEOPLE.

1. Our blessed Lord is well qualified to speak a word in season to him that is weary, because He Himself is lowly, and meek, and so accessible to us.

2. Beside, He is full of sympathy.

3. Then there is His example. "I gave my back," &c. Cannot you do the like? &c. He was calm amid it all. Never was there a patience like to His. This is your copy.

4. Our Saviour's triumph is meant to be a stimulus and encouragement. "Consider Him that endured," &c. (Heb ). Though once abased and despised, now He sitteth at the right hand of God, and reigns over all things; and the day is coming when every knee shall bow before Him, &c. Be like Him, then, ye who bear His name; trust Him, and live for Him, and you shall reign with Him in glory for ever.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1486.


Verse 10-11

DARKNESS EXPERIENCED, DARKNESS THREATENED

Q. 1. "Who is there among you that feareth Jehovah?" A. "Let him hearken unto the voice of His Servant."

Q. 2. "Who that walketh in darkness and hath no light?" A. "Let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and lean himself[prop himself] upon his God."

Now, a man awakened to a sense of his sin and misery, may have a dread of Jehovah, and tremble at His Word; and what should such a person do? Why, he should hear what God's Servant saith: "Come unto me, all ye who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." There may be a sincere penitent walking in darkness, having no light of salvation; for this is the case with all when they first begin to turn to God. What should such do? They should trust, believe on, the Lord Jesus, who died for them, and lean upon His all-sufficient merit for the light of salvation, which God has promised. Thus acting they will soon have a sure trust and confidence that God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven them their sin; and thus they shall have the light of life.—Adam Clarike, LL.D., F.A.S.

This representation of the text by this admirable commentator is here reproduced, in order that preachers may be warned against repeating it. Lowth's treatment of the text, on which it is founded, has been repudiated by all our most eminent scholars, with the exception of Matthew Arnold. Kay and Cheyne agree with Delitzsch in ending the question with the second clause: "Who is there among you that feareth Jehovah, that hearkeneth to the voice of His servant? He that walketh in darkness, and hath no light, let him trust in the Name of Jehovah, and rely upon his God (Cheyne).

Plumtre's comment on Isa is excellent:—"The words grow at once out of the prophet's own experience and that of the ideal Servant (Isa 50:6). All true servants know what it is to feel as if the light for which they looked had for a time failed them, to utter a prayer like Ajax, ‘Give light, and let us die' (Hom. Il. xvii: 647). The Servant felt it when He uttered the cry, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?' (Mat 27:46). For such an one there were the words of counsel, ‘Trust, in spite of the darkness.' ( β) So the cry of the forsaken Servant was followed by the word, ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit' (Luk 23:46)."

I. A MYSTERIOUS DISPENSATION DESCRIBED. A good and holy man sinking in despondency and dejection—walking in darkness and having no light. Mysterious, according to the ordinary estimate we form of what is right and fit. "No wonder," you say, "that this should be the doom of the openly ungodly, of the close hypocrite, of the presumptuous Antinomian, or even, perhaps, of the newly-awakened convert; but how strange that it should be the case with the most approved of God's people—those who fear the Lord, and obey the voice of His servant!" Yet so it has often been. A horror of great darkness fell upon Abraham. Job said, "My soul chooseth strangling rather than life." Paul complained of the messenger of Satan. Our Lord Himself said, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"—Let me specify some causes of this despondency; I cannot specify all.

1. When the course of God's Providence towards His Church is perplexed and clouded. This was the case here. The captives were overwhelmed with their calamities (Isa ; Isa 50:1-3).—When God does not interpose for His church or themselves as they expected, and comes not forward in the path they had marked out for Him, they seem like prisoners in a dungeon without a lamp; or like midnight travellers in the wood and the thicket without a star (Job 23:8; Psa 77:7-9).—Again, when their own lot is privation and suffering; when long-continued affliction of body and mind is permitted; when hope after hope is disappointed, and plan after plan is broken; when the interests of others are involved in your own, and a succession of trials takes place each darker and more painful than before, then this sorrow and dejection is felt (Lam 3:1, &c.)

2. When, in conjunction with outward trials, there is a sense of sin upon the conscience, unaccompanied with adequate views of the power and grace of Christ to save. I lay great stress on this. A sense of sin is the heaviest part of the believer's burden: and it is the natural and proper tendency of affliction to bring sin to remembrance. Much of this darkness and depression may be intended to embitter sin; to arouse the recollection of past offences and neglects before conversion, or since (Job ; Psa 27:7; 1Co 15:9; Eze 16:43; Eze 16:63). Of some sins of ungodly men, God says, "As I live, this iniquity shall not be purged away from you till ye die;" and there are provocations in His own people which He long remembers. The Jews said, "There was an ounce of the golden calf in all the afflictions Israel suffered." For instance, after signal enjoyments of God's love, or particular mercies of God's providence, if a man be negligent and inconsistent in his walk, it seems to carry an unkindness with it that shall not be forgotten. How suggestive the remark on the misconduct of Solomon: "God was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the Lord, who had appeared to him twice!" All sins under or after special mercies will meet at one time or other with special rebukes. Nothing more distresses a believer than the remembrance in darkness of abused light, in desertion of neglected love.—Then, the processes of sanctification are always incomplete. If not open sins, there may be secret departures from God: pride, bitterness, sins of the spirit.—Suppose these recollections to occur without adequate views of the power and grace of Christ, or without a consciousness of deep and often renewed repentance, dejection will occur.

4. When their religious state is after all doubtful. For the pardon may have passed the great seal of heaven, and yet the indictment be suffered to run on in the Court of Conscience. Real Christians have not at all times equal confidence in the integrity of their religious profession (H. E. I. 311-314, 323, 335-339). If you doubt the reality of your conversion, be it far from me to say the doubt is unfounded; carry the apprehension to Him who alone is able to relieve it.

II. A SAFE DIRECTION GIVEN. "Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."

1. Wait in the exercise of earnest, fervent, persevering prayer. Go to God as the man who had not a loaf of bread in the house went to his friend at midnight. Beware of the delusion of waiting passively for some strange manifestation. The blessing is to those who actively seek, not who remain passively content. "Blessed is the man that waiteth at the posts of my doors," not who lies down at the threshold like a drunkard, asleep. In the act of seeking God, we find. In flying for refuge, we meet the promise of strong consolation. As they went, the lepers were cleansed.

2. Strenuously abide by known duty. Resist all temptations to employ doubtful means to extricate yourself from calamity (H. E. I. 169-176). Still fear, still obey. Take care that speculative difficulties be not increased by moral causes.

3. Frequently review past experiences of God's mercy, enjoyed by yourself or others. In seeking the grace you want, do not deny the grace you have (H. E. I. 330-334). This is to bear false witness, not against your neighbour, but against yourself and God. "If the Lord were pleased to kill," &c. (Jud .) Gain the benefit of the darkness (H. E. I. 1649-1654).

4. Revolve in your mind the great and distinguishing consolations of the bright economy in which you live. The grace and righteousness of Christ. The teaching and unction of the Holy Spirit. Not in vain is He revealed as a Comforter.

III. A FEARFUL CONTRAST BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS AT THEIR WORST AND THE WICKED AT THEIR BEST. The wicked ironically counselled to walk by the light of their own fire. Antithesis between the light of God and the light of men. The faithful were to be delivered from captivity into light and liberty. But the wicked kindle a fire of their own, and are without God. Isa is not a first warning to repent, but a warning that destruction, darkness, endless sorrow, are about to descend upon them.—Samuel Thodey.

II. They should then honestly examine themselves (H. E. I. 4446-4464).

III. If as the result of that examination they see that "the fear of the Lord" is the governing principle of their hearts, they should walk on in the path of duty submissively and hopefully. The God whom they trust will keep them in the midst of the darkness, and in His own time, which is always the best, will lead them forth into light.

SPIRITUAL DARKNESS

Isa . Who is there among you that feareth Jehovah, that hearkeneth to the voice of His servant? He that walketh in darkness and hath no light, let him trust in the name of Jehovah, and rely upon his God.

Mic . When I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me.

These utterances make it clear that spiritual darkness occurred at times in the experience of the prophets of the Lord. His people now must not be surprised if it befalls them, nor should they then be dismayed.

I. DARKNESS AS A FACT OF CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE, AND THE CHRISTIAN'S PROPER EXERCISE UNDER IT.

In the natural world it is not always light; the sun goes down and darkness spreads, &c. So in higher life. The spiritual heavens are not always bright.

1. It may be the light of faith that is darkened. Spiritual realities are withdrawn into shadow. There is a God to rule over all and love all, but where is He? There is a Christ to die for all, but where is the cross? The cloud has fallen even on Calvary. What is the man to do? Do! He is to believe. Faith is not wholly gone. Both texts call on its exercise. The light exercises sense. It is the darkness that exercises faith.

2. It may be the light of God's face that is felt to be withdrawn. The soul feels deserted and is in dismay—for God's favour is its life. The resource against this feeling of abandonment is God's character and word, and the gift of His Son (chap. Isa ; Job 13:15).

3. Darkness may come in the form of the fading away of some Christian hope—personal hopes, or hopes for the kingdom of God (H. E. I. 323). With the sun of hope gone down behind the sky, what are we to do? Remember

(1.) This setting of hope is not for ever. It precedes a glorious dawn. God is the God of hope. He often lets hope wane that it may gather strength.

(2.) Though the sun of hope has set for ever on earth, earth is not all.

It may be remarked here that this dark experience gives a striking demonstration that God only is man's comforter (2Co ). The spiritual helper of the man who sits in darkness feels he may as well throw his words on the dead wall; and the sufferer whom he would help is ready to say of all human helpers whatever, "miserable comforters," &c.

II. DARKNESS AS A MEANS OF SPIRITUAL DISCOVERY.

Perhaps the best explanation of this darkness, and it is a vindication too, is found in the results which it works. In nature the darkness of night lets us see what we cannot see when the sun is shining. The unnumbered worlds of God are not seen under the effulgence of noonday. It is the same with spiritual night in the soul, or may be the man of God may then get great enlargement of spiritual information and understanding—under the dim starlight of darkened faith and hope may more truly descry the positions, relations, and magnitudes of Divine realities. His experience improves and enlarges his knowledge of God's ways and of himself to begin with, and from that beginning a great deepening and widening of his spiritual education may be effected. And by and by he shall come forth into the light with treasures of wisdom and knowledge far greater than if the cloud had never overshadowed him. There are worlds we are told which, having two suns in their heavens, are perpetually in the light. What can the inhabitants of these worlds know of the universe, if their sunlight is of a nature like ours? So with those whose spiritual heaven is always bright. They can on that account perhaps see not so near to the throne of God. In heaven it is always light, but the light there is not the light of the sun. The help of darkness is no longer needed there.

There need be no mystery why all this is so. The man who sits in darkness is by the pressure of his position made a more diligent searcher into Divine things. The mind that feels the darkness spreading immediately around, is made to seek the light that is far away. When a man is always in the light he may be too easily satisfied with the light he has. Darkness brings alarm. It quickens. It shows how easily all our satisfactions may be gone (H. E. I. 117-121).

III. DARKNESS AS A DISCIPLINE OF THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.

It may secure for it some of its best graces—the mildest, the most mellowed, the most hallowed. There are plants that grow best in a dim light. Amongst those Christian graces that take deeper root in the dark are—

1. Humility. It is not when the windows of heaven are open that the child of God feels himself a broken cistern, and looks up and says, "All my well-springs," &c. More readily does he do this when the windows of heaven are shut and there is no rain.

2. Trustfulness.

3. Self-surrender.

IN CONCLUSION:—Ye servants of God who sit in darkness, beware of two things—impatience and sullen indifference. Don't fret as if God did not heed your grief. Don't be callous as if He were not dealing with you. Pray for the light, but will not your prayers be heard the sooner and the enlargement you seek be sent the more speedily, if you long less for the deliverance than for the full benefit of the chastening?—J. Wardrop, D.D.: Homiletical Quarterly, vol. v. pp. 32-34.

GOD'S MESSAGE TO THE DESPONDING

Isa . Who is among you that feareth the Lord? &c.

It is not, then, a thing unheard of or impossible, that a child of God should "walk in darkness and have no light." And when the sadness of such an experience comes upon the saint, it will not be always safe to say that it is the shadow of some special sin. It may not be with him as it was with David when he cried, "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation," after committing the great transgressions which stain his name; nor, as it was with Elijah, when running from the post of duty, "under the juniper tree" he wailed, "O Lord, take away my life now!" The case described in the text is different from these. It is that of one who even at the moment "feareth the Lord, and obeyeth the voice of His Servant," while yet he is bending under the weight of spiritual despondency.

Many would say flippantly that a Christian must be very feeble indeed if he is ever in such a state; and some, cruelly, that he who permits himself thus to lie "in heaviness" cannot be a Christian at all. But all such unqualified assertions spring out of a shallow philosophy and a superficial experience. Our salvation depends on Christ, and not on our emotions regarding it. Hence, they who roundly affirm that if a man be walking in darkness, and finding no light, he cannot be a Christian, are making salvation depend, not on God's work for a man and in time, but simply and entirely on his own emotions. Moreover, they forget some of the best-known passages in the history even of the most eminent saints (Psalms 42; 1Pe ).

But while despondency furnishes no valid reason for calling the genuineness of one's religion in question, it is very far from being a comfortable thing in itself. He should be encouraged to get out of it as soon as possible; for it puts everything about him into shadow. For his own happiness, and for the good of others, it is in every way desirable that he should be brought out of the darkness into the light.

It may contribute to this result if we consider—

I. THE CAUSES OUT OF WHICH DESPONDENCY MAY SPRING.

1. Natural temperament. However it may come, whether through heredity, or on the principle of special characteristics being given directly by God to every man, it is the fact that each of us is born with a certain predisposition to joy or sadness, to irascibility or patience, to quickness of action or deliberateness of conduct. And it is also true, that while conversion may Christianise that temperament, it does not change it.

There are some men to whom, Christianity apart, it comes as natural to be joyful as it does to the lark to sing. And there are others, alas! whose disposition inclines them always to look on the darker side of things. In the former case there is no merit in the gladness, just as in the latter there is no blame in the sadness. We are often shamefully unjust in our estimates of our fellows; we don't know what is restrained, we only know what comes out. And the same thing holds in this matter of despondency. But Christ knows. And He will not be unjust like men: He will give you honour in proportion to your effort to get above it.

2. Disease. The connection between the soul and the body is intimate and mysterious; they act and react upon each other. Lowness of spirits is very often the result of some imprudence in diet, or some local disturbance. Not all spiritual depressions can be resolved into the consequences of physical states; but in all ordinary cases the sound body is necessary to the sound mind. A Christian physiologist might render great service to many desponding spirits by preparing a work which should treat of the effects of different diseases on religious experience.

See the relief which this affords. It removes from religion the responsibility for the depression of such a man as Cowper; while on the other hand it removes from Christianity the reproach for the hypocrisy of men who, on seeming deathbeds are saints, but get well again to transgress afresh; for there, too, the exhilaration was owing to the peculiar character of the malady. When we can trace our despondency to such a cause, it will cease to be a thorn to us. One, while he lay dying, had Psalms 77 read to him, and when he heard Isa , "And I said, This is my infirmity," he broke in with the words, "That's my liver. My soul and body so act one upon the other. With the liver wrong, the mind gets clouded, and I feel as though God had swept me out of His house as useless; but after He has taken so much trouble to mould the vessel, He will not throw it aside." The sufferer recognised the spiritual effect of the disease.

3. Trial. One affliction will not usually becloud the horizon; but when a whole series comes in succession, the effect is terrible. First, it may be, comes sickness; and we are getting round when business difficulties overwhelm us; then, these are scarcely arranged before bereavement comes. For years, it may be, we are like the sailor who for weeks is seeking to round a stormy cape, and still the same weariful headland frowns drearily on him. The same effect may be produced by the mere monotony of our labour, without any special affliction.

"Love adds anxiety to toil,

And sameness doubles cares;

While one unbroken chain of work

The flagging temper wears."

Mothers and housekeepers know what is meant by the assertion that "sameness doubles cares;" and it is when such a burden is lying most heavily upon the heart that the words of the text come to us with their soothing influence.

4. Mental perplexity. The spirit of inquiry and bold independent criticism is abroad in our age. The sacred things of our faith are assailed. When your children, now young men, are wrestling their way through the peculiar mental difficulties of this age, do not upbraid nor blame them, but help them by entering into their difficulties, and removing, if you can every stumbling-block from their path. And let those who are thus walking in darkness take to themselves the comfort of the text, and walk on in the full assurance that there is light beyond.

II. THE COUNSELS TO THE DESPONDING GIVEN OR SUGGESTED BY THIS TEXT.

1. The oppressed spirit must keep on fearing the Lord and obeying the voice of His servant. Whatever happens, these must not be given up. Nothing whatever can furnish any proper reason for ceasing to practise them; while, on the other hand, the neglect of them will only deepen the darkness already over you. The tunnel may be long, but it will come to an end at last, if only you will go through it. Whatever you feel, let no evil be wrought by you, but keep steadily in the path of rectitude. Amid all doubts you must accept some things as certain; hold by these, then, and act up to them, so will you prove that you are a docile learner, and put yourself into a position where you will catch the first glimpses of returning light. Only by acting up to the level of our present convictions can we rise to higher things. Sometimes an evil life has led to a shipwreck of the faith; but always a good character clarifies the spiritual conception (Joh ). Keep your conduct abreast of your conscience, and very soon your conscience will be illumined by the radiance of God.

2. Keep on trusting God. What a blessed privilege it is to be permitted to do that! When we cannot see, it is an unspeakable blessing to have some hand to cling to; and when that hand is God's, it is all right. But let us take the full comfort of this saying, "Let him trust in the name of the Lord." What is that name? It is "Jehovah, God, merciful and gracious; long-suffering; forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty." Therefore I need not despair about my guilt, for there is forgiveness with Him. It is Jehovah Tsidkenu—the Lord our righteousness. Therefore we may in Him have "boldness in the day of judgment." It is Jehovah Ropheka—the Lord that healeth thee. Therefore I may bring all my spiritual maladies to Him for cure. It is Jehovah Jireh—the Lord will provide. Therefore He will give me that which is needful. It is Jehovah Nissi—the Lord my banner; and in it I may see the symbol of His protection. It is Jehovah Shalom—the Lord of peace; and so, beneath His sheltering wing, I may be for ever at rest.

3. Fail not to note the deep meaning of that word "stay." It does not bid you only take a momentary grasp of God's hand, it encourages you to lean your whole weight upon Him, and to do that continuously. Acquaint yourself with God through Jesus Christ, so shall you know that there is something better even in the Christian's despondency than there is in the unbeliever's joy.—W. M. Taylor, D.D.: Limitations, &c., pp. 312-326.

This text is applicable to believers under all circumstances of trouble. The Lord is always the same; and faith must not wait until trouble is removed, but stay upon Him, lean upon Him when trouble is deepest. We have

I. A SKETCH OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER.

"Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of His servant?" Those terms contain the universal elements of Christian character as an inward affection and in outward manifestation.

1. As an inward affection. The soul has been made alive to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Man possesses a capacity of affection which can fix on God as its object. But fallen man is alienated from Him; dead to Him. God's regenerating grace quickens into life that capacity of affection; so that there is the loving, childlike fear of God the heavenly Father, instead of the previous indifference to Him.

2. As an outward manifestation. It is characteristic of Christians that they obey the voice of Christ. When He called them to repent and believe in Him, they obeyed. And, however imperfectly, they endeavour in their daily walk to obey Him. His revealed will is the accepted rule of their lives. He is their Master, their King.

II. A GLIMPSE OF CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE.

"That walketh in darkness, and hath no light." This is not the normal experience of believers. They are "children of light, and of the day." God has called them "out of darkness into His marvellous light" (2Co ). The light, revealing pardon, acceptance, sanctification, future glory, causes us to walk in calmness and conscious security. Yet it may not shine with uniform clearness. The sun in the heavens is sometimes obscured by passing clouds; but it is shining, all the same. The normal day has the sun shining so that we see clearly the objects around us, and are able to pursue our avocations without interruption

Again, while these seasons of darkness are variations from the usual experience of believers, some are visited by them more than others. The causes are also various. Some spiritual, some physical No Christian's experience must be made the measure, in all respects, of another's. When you have mentioned a few things, you have exhausted the essential things of the spiritual life; and even these are experienced variously according to the constitution of the different minds. Some are exercised with dark experiences, from which others are exempted. Luther seemed at times to himself to fight with Satan as a personal power, living, visible, audible. John Bunyan describes similar experience in the story of his life in the book entitled "Grace Abounding." The reflex of that experience is in his description of the Pilgrim in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

Let no one be deterred from entering the Christian course under the apprehension that he must have an experience like this. Nor let any one afflict himself with the idea that he is not a Christian because he has had no such experience. Few natures are so strong and intense as to be capable of it. God dealt with Luther and Bunyan according to their natures, and thus prepared them for the great work they had to do. And with most, even after seasons of conflict and victory, there is danger of reaction in the direction of spiritual darkness. Unbelief may represent the difficulties of the way. Despairing fears and presumptuous hopes alike may draw you from the narrow path. Thoughts, passions, words of evil which you have repented and which you hate, may struggle for indulgence and expression against the resistance of your better nature. It is one of the most terrible facts about sin, that, even though repented and forsaken, old sins so imbed themselves in the nature that their expulsion is the work of time and of many a struggle. Traps and perils lie on every hand, with their opportunities and inducements to the indulgence of sin. If backsliding of the heart has not preceded its commission, its commission may compel backsliding of the heart.

And as there may be spiritual darkness in the soul, there may be the darkness of uncertainty as to the way of God's providence. There may be bereavement, sickness, disappointment, loss, a state of things with regard to worldly affairs pregnant with anxiety, through which no way can be seen. Your heart is heavy. You fear the worst.

III. A REMINDER OF CHRISTIAN PRIVILEGE.

"Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God." It is the Christian's privilege to trust in God at all times. Observe, you are not to wait until the darkness has cleared away and then trust; but to trust now, in the darkness. For this is always possible, inasmuch as He in whom we trust is ever the same, notwithstanding any danger that may occur in us or in our circumstances.

Be instant in prayer. When enveloped in darkness you can keep hold of your Father's hand. He will guide and help. He has promised to keep the feet of His saints. Cry to Him out of the darkness. Trust Him. Prayer is the believing cry of the heart that is satisfied that, however dark and dreary the way, He is leading us by a right way to a city of habitation. So long as He is there, what can we fear?

Be careful as to your walk. Knowing the perils of darkness, you cannot afford to be careless in your conduct. The path is narrow and difficult to find. You may miss it and fall on either side.

You are not alone in the darkness of sorrow. Christ has been there before you. He will be with you. Prayer shall be heard. Faith shall be honoured. The light of God's countenance shall be lifted upon you. The day shall dawn and the shadows flee away.—J. Rawlinson.

I. The godly man's character.

1. He feareth the Lord.

2. He obeys the divine commands.

II. The godly man's trouble. "Walketh in darkness, and hath no light." Providential darkness.

III. The godly man's best course in trouble. "Let him trust," &c.—I. E. Page.

ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE DEVOTED AND OBEDIENT

Isa . Who is among you that feareth the Lord, &c.

Through the whole economy of grace comfort is connected with the active and faithful performance of duty. This fact has not been generally recognised. Hence the perversion of the text; and hence the low state of religious enjoyment in the Church. Indolent and inconsistent professors appear not to understand the reason why they are left to walk in darkness. Instead of ascribing it to their neglect of duty, to their sins, they resolve it into "human imperfection," "moral necessity," "divine sovereignty," "an expedient to try their faith," or "to make them humble;"—anything, in short, but the true cause. They say "it is the common experience of Christians to walk in darkness sometimes, and we cannot expect to be always on the mount;" and thus they satisfy themselves, without the present exercise of right feelings towards God or their fellowmen, and without a disposition to do their duty. They are serving, not God, but themselves; they are devoted to this world; its objects and pursuits engross their thoughts; while they are doing little or nothing for that Saviour who laboured and died for sinners. It is unreasonable, nay, presumptuous for such persons to expect or hope that God will lift up the light of His countenance upon them.—Walton.

Specimen cases to which our text might also be profitably applied.

1. Any case like that of Joseph, while lying under the reproach of a crime which he never committed, and which he abhorred. We know what a great trial it was to his pure mind, how he stayed upon God, and what was the happy result.

2. The situation of David during the lifetime of Saul. God had promised that he should be king over His people; and yet he was obliged to fly for his life, to wander among the mountains, and to hide himself in dens and caves of the earth. Thus he was walking in darkness as to any prospect of relief, except from a Divine interposition. But walking in darkness in this sense was perfectly consistent with the most vigorous exercise of gracious affections, and with the fullest assurance of Divine favour; and judging by his psalms composed during this period, we can have no doubt of the spirituality of his mind, or of his confidence in God. While he feared the Lord and obeyed His voice, he was authorised to trust in Him for the full accomplishment of His promises; and doing so, he was finally delivered from all his enemies, and raised to the throne of Israel. From this result, we see that it was not necessary for him to use any unlawful means, either for self-preservation, or for the attainment of the object which had been promised him. It was only necessary that he should trust in the Lord and obey His voice. And this is the Christian's duty and privilege in circumstances of the greatest trial (H. E. I. 155-165, 169-177).

3. The case of the Church at the present day, when looking at the moral condition of the world in connection with the prophecies. The conversion of the world is predicted in the Bible with as much certainty as was the deliverance of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity; and the obstacles which oppose the accomplishment of this prediction are far greater than those that darkened the prospects of the captive Jews. The disparity between Jonathan and his armourbearer and the army of the Philistines was not so great as that which exists between the army of Christ now in the field and the hundreds of millions who fill the ranks of the enemy. Therefore the Church may be said to be walking in darkness with respect to the conversion of the world; she does not see how the immense obstacles are to be removed. But clear predictions have been given that the world shall be converted, and in Him who made them the Church should trust, obeying His voice by diligently employing all the means He has already entrusted to her, assured that He will as certainly verify these predictions, as He did those which related to the restoration of Israel from the captivity of Babylon (H. E. I. 1161, 1162).—William C. Walton, A.M.: American National Preacher, vol. .

I. THE ESSENTIAL FEATURES IN A GODLY MAN'S CHARACTER.

1. Feareth the Lord. An intelligent and an affectionate principle—the fear of the affectionate child and loyal subject.

2. Obeyeth the voice of His servant. Great test of godly sincerity.

II. THE SUPPOSED CONDITION OF THE GODLY MAN.

1. This is not the ordinary condition of the Christian. He is a child of the light, &c. He has the light of the divine

(1) knowledge in his understanding,

(2) truth in his judgment,

(3) hope in his soul,

(4) joy in his experience,

(5) holiness in his life. He is not of the night nor of darkness.

2. Yet this is sometimes the condition of the best of saints. It is the result of

(1.) Providential trials.

(2.) Nervous depression.

III. THE REMEDY WHICH THE TEXT PRESCRIBES.

1. The name of God must be our trust. It cannot alter, change, deceive.

2. The soul must be stayed upon God. We are apt to stay the soul on other things—friends, means, experience, frames, and feelings. God in His relationship to us as our God, must be the basis of our confidence and hope. Trust in His wisdom, power, grace, love—His promise never to forsake.—J. Burns, D.D.

COUNSEL AND COMFORT FOR THE AFFLICTED

Isa . Who is among you that feareth the Lord, &c.

God's government of man as a moral agent presents many evident marks of wisdom and design; yet it is everywhere so replete with enigmas, that the best and wisest of men have often found themselves involved in the deepest perplexity. We know that providence superintends and controls all events, that all the Divine proceedings are the result of unerring wisdom and unbounded goodness, and that God invariably connects His own glory with the happiness of His creatures; but when we attempt to apply these general principles to many particular cases, we find ourselves baffled and confounded. We know not why it was that evil was permitted to enter into the world, &c. With respect to individual cases, we know not why the young are often cut off in the flower and vigour of their days, &c. Such are some of the difficulties which present themselves when we attempt to investigate the ways of God.

I. Reason, however, if duly exercised, will suggest a variety of causes why they assume this mysterious character, and why we ought to suppress in ourselves the workings of unbelief, dissatisfaction, and despondency (H. E. I. 4031-4056; P. D. 1432, 1435-1437, 1441, 2268, 2537, 2538, 2895, 2896, 2902).

1. Much of the mystery which pervades the dispensations of providence arises from the feeble and limited character of our comprehension.

2. As the general principles of the Divine conduct are thus placed beyond our apprehension, so are the occasional motives of His dispensations; those motives which arise from His perfect acquaintance with the characters of men, and His accurate perception of their real wants and true interests.

3. The moral defection of our nature renders us incapable of discerning the ways of providence.

4. Much of the obscurity of providence arises from the unwillingness of men to censure themselves. For often those things which confound them are only the natural consequences of their own misconduct.

5. We also err by judging prematurely. In any complicated work of human art it is found necessary to be acquainted with the whole design, in order to judge of the fitness of the parts. In a scheme so complex as that which Divine providence is pursuing, where all the parts refer to one another, and where what is seen is often subordinate to what is invisible, how is it possible but our judgment must often be erroneous?

II. At present man is thus incapable of exploring the mysteries of providence. Instead of lamenting our ignorance and incapacity, let us consider how it may be improved; what duties it suggests, and what wise ends it was intended by providence to promote. It should teach us—

1. Submission. How unreasonable, how ungrateful to repine, when we know that infinite wisdom and goodness have the management of all our concerns. There is an end, a design, in every movement of providence, and that design will ultimately be found every way worthy of God.

2. Patience. It cautions us against being too precipitate in our decisions, or too anxious to know until it is God's pleasure to reveal. We are not doomed to perpetual ignorance and uncertainty (H. E. I. 154, 3675-3706).

3. It furnishes a stimulus to duty and perseverance. Let no one say,—Since I am surrounded with darkness, as there are nothing but difficulties, I shall therefore sit down and leave it all, &c. Such a conclusion would be equally unwise and prejudicial. On the contrary, if there be an all-wise providence, what an argument is this for the exercise of faith, patience, hope, prayer, and perseverance. The darkness which surrounds us is intended both to call forth our inquiries and to enforce our dependence on the gracious aid of the Almighty.

4. It should inspire a desire of Heaven.

5. It should induce gratitude for the clear revelation which God has made known of the things that belong to our peace. He has thrown an air of obscurity over a thousand things, but not over the means of attaining light and salvation; here all is day. He hath clearly taught us what we must do to be saved, &c. Apply, therefore, your heart and conscience to the plain, undeniable declarations of revelation. What is revealed is of far more importance to you than what is not revealed. God has withheld the less and given us the greater. There is no knowledge of any kind that will bear a comparison with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. You are called upon, by believing on Him, to lay hold on eternal life; have you done this?—J. H. Walker: Companion for the Afflicted, second edition, pp. 249-270.

SPARKS OF OUR OWN KINDLING

Isa . Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, &c.

There is no more intelligible image, none more interwoven into the texture of thought and phraseology, than that by which Light is made to express joy and felicity, while Darkness, and other kindred terms, are used to denote discomfort and misery. The inspired writers sanction and adopt it (Psa ; Est 8:16; Psa 88:6; Isa 59:11).

Happiness is the reality of which light is the symbol; and the Gospel teaches us that its chief ingredients are peace with God, and communion with Him. Nothing more is needed to constitute a truly happy man, than that the avenues of intercourse between God and the soul, which have been obstructed and blocked by sin, should once more be reopened—a work which can be effected only by the reconciliation of God to man by the work of the Son, and of man to God by the work of the Holy Spirit. Into the enjoyment of this true happiness we must enter now, if we are ever to know it. The bliss of saints in a state of glory is not (as to its chief elements) different in kind from that of saints in a state of grace. The happiness of the gracious soul is the germ—that of the glorified soul is the bright and perfumed flower, expanded out of the germ by the agencies of genial climate and bright sunshine. The pursuit of happiness is natural to us as men, but we seek it in wrong directions, and again and again we are disappointed in our search; like the meteor, which the ignorant traveller mistakes for a light, and follows across the marsh, happiness, just when we seem to have secured it, escapes from our grasp: another tempting resource offers itself, promises as fairly, excites apprehensions as bright as the preceding, and shortly afterwards ends in disappointment as distressing. In our text, the many fictitious sources from which men seek to derive happiness are compared to a fire kindled, and sparks struck out, by way of relieving the darkness of the night. It is, of course, implied in the metaphor, that true happiness, the real and adequate complement of man's nature, resembles the divinely created and golden sunlight.

I. This comparison does not lead us to deny that pleasure and gratification of a certain kind are derivable from worldly sources. Just as man can relieve himself in great measure from the discomfort and inconvenience of natural darkness by kindling a fire and surrounding himself with sparks, so can he alleviate, to a certain extent, the instinctive sense of disquietude and dissatisfaction, so irksome to him at intervals of leisure, by the various enjoyments which life has to offer. It is a mistake to deny this, in the interests of religion. In artificial pleasures, in displays of personal skill, in gratification of sensual appetite, or in the researches of natural curiosity, many find that excitement which, for the time being, dissipates the thought of their uneasiness. Indeed, even as some fires of man's kindling shed around them a more dazzling lustre, and a richer, redder glow than the sunlight itself, so some of the qualifications of time and sense glisten more brightly, and blaze more brilliantly, than the peace and pleasantness experienced in wisdom's ways.

II. But connected with all earthly pleasures, there are drawbacks.

1. Those gratifications are the taper lights, by whose bright shining the moths of this world are attracted, and in whose radiance they flutter,—lights which gleam brightly for a moment, but will fade and die down before the sobering dawn of Eternity (H. E. I. 4975-4989, P. D. 2730).

2. At the beginning of the festival, Satan and the World set forth the good wine, and, when men have well drunk, "that which is worse" (Luk ; Luk 15:16).

4. Unsatisfactoriness inheres in their very nature, inasmuch as they are all (more or less) artificial. They are miserable substitutes which man has set up to stand him in stead of that true happiness which is congenial to his nature and adapted to his wants. During the sun's absence, he can replace its light by the sorry substitute of torch and taper; but the glare which these shed around is not like the genial, cheering light of the sun itself. It exercises no quickening influence on vegetable life,—its clear shining brings not out the bloom and perfume of the flower, nor the verdure of the tender grass, nor sends a thrill of joy through the whole realm of nature. So, though out of the abundant materials constituting God's universe, man can construct for himself varied sources of pleasure and luxury, these amount, after all, only to a light that is rather dazzling than comforting,—a light whose cold unfructifying ray reaches only to the surface of the soul—penetrates not to the depths of his conscience, nor to the moving springs of his character!

5. The enjoyment derived from worldly sources is fitful. The glow of a kindled fire is not equable. It casts a flickering and uncertain light, now mouldering beneath the fuel which feeds it, now bursting forth into bright and vivid flashes. Thus it presents us with a lively emblem of worldly joy, which is subject to repeated alternations of revival and decay, and whose high pitch can be sustained only for a short time. Anon it bursts into ecstasy, and having blazed a while with peculiar brilliancy, sinks again, as suddenly as it broke forth, into despondency and depression of spirits (Ecc ). Not so the peace and pleasantness derived from walking with God. If it be not a light so dazzling as that which is sometimes shed abroad by the kindled firebrands of worldly joys, it is at least subject to no such variations of lustre. It pervades the soul, as the sunlight pervades the world, with a serene and equable ray,—diffusing a genial and comfortable temperature through the whole spiritual system.

7. But perhaps the chief drawback of the worldling's so-called happiness is that it is accompanied by so much anxiety—that it is subject to frequent intrusions from alarm, whenever a glimpse of the future breaks in upon the mind. Possibly this feature of it, too, is symbolised in the prophetic imagery here employed to denote it. It is in the night time, when the kindled fire glows upon the hearth, and man pursues his employments by the light of the torch or taper, that apprehensions visit his mind, and phantom forms are conjured up that scare the ignorant and the superstitious. Forebodings more terrible still intrude upon the worldling,—phantoms and presages of judgment to come flit across the darkness of his mind. He wishes they were equally groundless with the fears of the superstitious; but he knows they are not so, and that knowledge mars his merriment!

As you would avoid the thorns of self-recrimination and alarm with which the deathbed of those who have their portion in this life is so thickly set, be persuaded, while yet it is within your reach, to seek that true happiness which shall stand you in stead when you are driven out of all creature resources, and when heart and flesh faileth.—E. M. Goulburn, D.C.L.: Sermons, pp. 428-454.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TRUE AND FALSE CONVERSION

Isa . Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, &c.

I. The natural state of man is a state of pure selfishness, i.e., the unconverted have no Gospel benevolence. Selfishness is regarding one's own happiness supremely, and seeking one's own good because it is his own. He who is selfish places his own happiness above other interests of greater value; such as the glory of God and the good of the universe. That mankind, before conversion, are in this state, is evident from many considerations.

II. In a converted state, the character is that of benevolence. Benevolence is loving the happiness of others, or rather, choosing the happiness of others. Benevolence is a compound word, that properly signifies good-willing. This is God's state of mind. We are told that God is love; that is, He is benevolent. Benevolence comprises His whole character.

III. True conversion is a change from a state of supreme selfishness to benevolence. It is a change in the end of pursuit, and not a mere change in the means of attaining the end. A man may change his means, and yet have the same end, his own happiness. He may do good for the sake of the temporal benefit. Now, every one can see that there is no virtue in this. It is the design that gives character to the act, not the means employed to effect the design. The true and the false convert differ in this.

IV. Some things in which true saints and deceived persons may agree, and some things in which they differ.

1. They may agree in leading a strictly moral life. The difference is in their motives.

2. They may be equally prayerful, so far as the form of praying is concerned. The difference is in their motives.

3. They may be equally zealous in religion. One may have great zeal, because he sincerely desires and loves to promote religion, for its own sake. The other may show equal zeal, for the sake of having his own salvation more assured, and because he is afraid of going to hell if he does not work for the Lord, or to quiet his conscience, and not because he loves religion for its own sake.

4. They may be equally conscientious in the discharge of duty; the true convert because he loves to do duty, and the other because he dare not neglect it.

5. Both may pay equal regard to what is right; the true convert because he loves what is right, and the other because he knows he cannot be saved unless he does right.

6. They may agree in their desires in many respects, but with different motives.

7. They may agree in their resolutions, but with different motives.

8. They may also agree in their designs. They may both really design to glorify God. One chooses it as an end, the other as a means to promote a selfish end.

9. They may agree in their affection towards many objects:—the Bible, God, Christ, Christians; but with different motives.

10. So they may both rejoice in the same things.

11. Both may mourn and feel distressed at the low state in the Church. 12. Both may love to attend religious meetings.

13. Both may find pleasure in the duties of the closet.

14. They may both love the doctrines of grace.

15. They may both love the precepts of God's law.

16. They may be equally liberal in giving to benevolent societies.

17. They may be equally self-denying in many things.

18. They may both be willing to suffer martyrdom. In all these cases, the motives of one class are directly against the other. The difference lies in the choice of different ends. One chooses his own interest, the other chooses God's interest as his chief end.

Here is the proper place to answer an inquiry, which is often made: "If these two classes of persons may be alike in so many particulars, how are we to know our own real character, or to tell to which class we belong? I answer—

1. If we are truly benevolent it will appear in our daily transactions.

2. If you are disinterested in religion, religious duties will not be a task to you.

3. If selfishness is the prevailing character of your religion, it will take sometimes one form and sometimes another.

4. If you are selfish, your enjoyment in religion will depend mainly on the strength of your hopes of heaven, and not on the exercise of your affections.

5. If you are selfish in your religion, your enjoyments will be chiefly from anticipation. The true saint already enjoys the peace of God, and heaven has begun in his soul.

6. Another difference is, that the deceived person has only a purpose of obedience, and the other has a preference of obedience.

7. The true convert and the deceived person also differ in their faith. The true saint has a confidence in the general character of God, that leads him to unqualified submission to God. The other has only a partial faith, and only a partial submission.

8. If your religion is selfish, you will rejoice particularly in the conversion of sinners, where your own agency is concerned in it, but will have very little satisfaction in it, where it is through the agency of others (H. E. I. 327-334).

V. Answers to some objections made against this view of the subject. Objection

1. Am I not to have any regard to my own happiness? Answer. It is right to regard your own happiness according to its relative value. And again, you will, in fact, promote your own happiness, precisely in proportion as you leave it out of view.

Objection

2. Did not Christ regard the joy set before Him? And did not Moses also have respect unto the recompense of reward? And does not the Bible say, we love God because He first loved us? Answer

(1.) It is true that Christ despised the shame and endured the cross, and had regard to the joy set before Him. Not His own salvation, &c. Answer

(2.) So Moses had respect to the recompense of reward. But was that his own comfort? Far from it. The recompense of reward was the salvation of Israel. What did he say? "If Thou wilt forgive their sin," &c. Answer

(3.) Where it is said, "We love Him because He first loved us," the language plainly bears two interpretations; either that His love to us has provided the way for our return and the influence that brought us to love Him, or that we love Him for His favour shown to ourselves. That the latter is not the meaning is evident, because Jesus Christ has so expressly reprobated this principle in His Sermon on the Mount: "If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? Do not the publicans the same?" If we love God, not for His character, but for His favours to us, Jesus Christ has written us reprobate.

Objection

3. Does not the Bible offer happiness as the reward of virtue? Answer. The Bible speaks of happiness as the result of virtue, but nowhere declares virtue to consist in the pursuit of one's own happiness, &c.

Objection

4. God aims at our happiness, and shall we be more benevolent than God? &c. Answer. This objection is specious, but futile and rotten. God is benevolent to others. And to be like Him we must aim at, that is, delight in His happiness and glory, according to their real value.

Objection

5. Do not the inspired writers say, "Repent, and believe the Gospel, and you shall be saved?" Answer. They say, The penitent shall be saved, but it must be disinterested repentance and submission.

Objection

6. Does not the Gospel hold out pardon as a motive to submission? Answer. That depends on the sense in which you use the term motive.

CONCLUSION.—

1. We see, from this subject, why it is that professors of religion have such different views of the nature of the Gospel.

2. We see why some people are so much more anxious to convert sinners, than to see the Church sanctified and God glorified by the good works of His people.—C. G. Finney: Lectures to Professing Christians," pp. 133-145.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 50:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-50.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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