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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Isaiah 51

 

 

Verse 1

THE DUTY AND THE BENEFITS OF RETROSPECTION

Isa . Hearken unto me, ye that follow after righteousness, &c.

These words were addressed to the pious remnant of true believers among the Jews. They were in an afflicted and discouraged state, and needed appropriate direction and support. What help does the prophet give them? He bids them candidly and closely compare past things with present circumstances, and thus see whether there was not ground for consolation and encouragement; for this is the meaning and object of the figurative exhortation in the text. Were they grieved and discouraged at the depressed condition of the Church? Let them call to mind how small its beginnings had been, how unpromising its commencement; the Lord "called Abraham alone," as a single individual, and yet had so blessed and increased him, that out of this "rock" the whole nation and Church of Israel had been produced. He who had done so much for Israel, could He not do more? Reflections of this nature would tend to instruct and comfort them under existing circumstances; would point out their duty, and minister consolation.

From this counsel addressed to the Jews, I infer that in like manner it is the duty, and will be for the benefit of every true servant of God, occasionally to reflect on his own, original state, on the rise and progress of religion in his own soul, and on the experience which he has thus individually had of the Divine power, goodness, and mercy. Such retrospection will tend to the increase of many graces in his soul:—

1. Humility. It will not be possible for him to think of what he was, without feelings of self-abasement; without a check being given to that unholy pride which is so apt to spring up in every breast.

2. Contentment. No man who remembers from what a pit of corruption he was taken by Divine grace will complain that a more elevated, conspicuous, and honourable position in the Church has not been allotted him. If he has been made so much as "a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord," he will give thanks.

3. Lowly dependence on Divine help. A survey of his spiritual history will lead him to say with the apostle (1Co ), and to feel how much he needs the same Divine help to enable him to "hold the beginning of confidence steadfast unto the end."

4. Courage. When he remembers how God has helped him in all his troubles, and delivered him in all his temptations, and ministered to all his necessities, he will dismiss all fears as to the future, and will say with wisdom, what the ungodly say in their folly, "To-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant" "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be" (Ecc ).—Edward Cooper: Practical and Familiar Sermons, vol. iv. 327-346.

These words were intended to encourage God's ancient people in their expectations of deliverance from the calamities that had befallen them on account of their sins. They are addressed to the pious portion of the people. They introduce the prophecy which is continued to chap. Isa . The prophet begins by meeting the fear that the difficulties in the way of so great a deliverance were too formidable. He refers to the origin of the nation, and bids the people mark how much greater difficulties had been overcome. Abraham had been called out of Ur of the Chaldees, to be the founder of their race. Sarah was old and unlikely to have a child. Yet a son was born to them, and in the course of time the promise of a numerous posterity was fulfilled (Isa 51:2). And if there are difficulties now in the way; if their iniquity is enormous, and if the power of Babylon is overwhelming, He who overcame the former difficulties can overcome these.

The words of the text are applicable still. Here is

I. A DESCRIPTION OF GOD'S PEOPLE.

"Ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord." Two objects of pursuit are pointed out: the "Lord" and "righteousness." They represent the character of the persons described, and their relation to God. These are the two things comprehended in all earnest religion. They suppose

1. Appreciation. He who is earnest in religion has compared a happy relation to God, and the possession of the righteousness that distinguishes His people, with the world and sin. He has found the world worthless. He cannot be happy in sin. He finds that his happiness needs deliverance from it, and a conscious interest in God as his Father and his Friend.

2. Effort. Therefore he "seeks the Lord," he "follows after righteousness." How does he do this? He whose mind is set on the attainment of an end that commends itself as valuable to him, pursues it by all suitable means. If it is the student seeking knowledge, the sick man seeking health, the ambitious man seeking position, or the business man seeking money, he spares no effort until his end be gained. And he who earnestly desires the possession of spiritual blessings will make every suitable effort. He will consult the Scriptures, frequent the ministry of the Gospel, labour for the removal of obstacles, pray for divine acceptance, comply with the divine command to repent and believe.

3. Progression. "Follow." "Seek." As this is a permanent description, it supposes that however much of God and His righteousness may be obtained as the result of effort, the point is never reached at which further possession of spiritual blessing and further discovery of God are impossible and needless. There is room for a growing attainment to the end of life. Christians desire advancement on to perfection. They are directed to "grow in grace," to "press toward the mark."

II. A DIRECTION TO GOD'S PEOPLE.

"Look unto the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged."

1. What is involved in this remembrance? Great as they had become—a people built into a magnificent palace—they lay in the rude quarry until the Divine Workman digged them out. At that time none could foresee what they would become. And we are now Christians; but we were not always such. This spiritual habitation of God once lay in the cold rock of fallen, ruined nature. We should remember the sins we at that time committed, the evil propensities and habits we indulged, which were the special barriers in the way of our conversion. We should remember evil surroundings—such as companionships, business influences, exposure to temptation, which increased the difficulty. We should remember that we are what we are, not by the development of good principles always strong in our nature, but by the conversion of our nature, which was accomplished by nothing less than the power of God.

2. What advantage is this remembrance?

(1.) It preserves and deepens humility. Persons who have rapidly risen in the world sometimes assume airs which constrain observers to say that they have forgotten what they once were. A celebrated minister, who in early life had been a working stonemason, is said to have kept in his study, through a long life, the tools with which he had worked, so that he could look at them whenever he was unduly lifted up. The apostle Paul looked back to what he was previous to his conversion (1Ti ). God might have left us to ourselves to wander farther from Him. But for the grace of God we might have been to-day as bad as the worst men we know. Those have not right views of the degrading evil of sin who can boast of their former exploits in sin, or so speak of them as to excite the mirth of the listener. If we had committed a great crime against human society and law, we should never think or speak of it without shame.

(2.) It magnifies the grace of God. The work by which we passed from darkness into light was the work of the Divine Spirit. Every regenerated soul has been an object of Divine thought from eternity. The beautiful stone you pick up on the shore has been rolled and polished by the waters in the course of ages. Geologic changes that brought the earth to its present form are interesting to the student because of their high antiquity. But their age is as nothing to Him whose goings forth have been of old from everlasting. Pieces of rock are found which, when split open, display the very slant of the rain-drop which fell on the sandstone of a primval period. But what if one were to find, on such a stone, an inscription referring back to thoughts of love concerning him which were entertained in that distant past? Those thoughts were entertained. They have been carried into effect. Let your thankful song arise.

(3.) It encourages Christian faith and hope. There are difficulties, temptations, weaknesses between us and the great future that is promised. But Israel was encouraged to trust by looking back on the way God had led them and their fathers. See what He has done for you, and believe in the preservation, the resurrection, the heaven. And thus encourage others as well as yourselves. "In me first." Encourage coming sinners.

Are you hewn? or still in the quarry? Resist not Him who would dig you out.—J. Rawlinson.

Introduction, see preceding outlines.

I. THE CHARACTERS ADDRESSED.

1. Followers of righteousness. That is righteousness of character, obtained in justification (Rom ). Righteousness of nature, received in regeneration (1Jn 3:9). Righteousness of practice, displayed in the acts and exercises of an obedient life (1Jn 3:7). Those who have been justified and regenerated, follow after righteousness—prayerfully, diligently, and progressively.

2. They that seek the Lord. This is sometimes put for the commencement of religion, and sometimes for the sum of it. The latter sense is the meaning of the text. Their desires are after God. His face and favour they constantly prize and seek. They seek—

(1.) The blessing of God in prayer.

(2.) The presence of God in ordinances.

(3.) The smile of God in duties.

(4.) The aid of God in difficulties.

(5.) The approbation of God in all things.

II. THE DUTIES ENJOINED.

1. Attention. "Hearken unto me." God is our Sovereign, and He claims our subjection and attention; we are to hearken to all His laws and precepts. He is our Redeemer; and we are to hearken to all the statements of His grace and mercy. He is our Friend; and we are to hearken to all His advice and counsel. We are to hearken to Him as He addresses us through His works, providences, word, servants, and especially through His Son and Spirit. We are to hearken to Him on all subjects and at all times—humbly, affectionately, cheerfully.

2. Retrospection. "Look to the rock," &c. Observe—

(1.) Our original state. A part of the common "rock" of depravity—hard, cold, inflexible. In the "hole of the pit" (Psa ). Pit of depravity and defilement, misery, imminent peril, utter human helplessness.

(2.) Our present state. Hewn from the rock. Digged out of the pit. God saw, and pitied, and saved us. By His word and Spirit He made us soft and tender; and He exalted us, justified us, &c. How great, total, blessed the change!

(3.) Our present duty is to "look unto the rock," &c. We should look, and be humble, grateful, obedient, useful, watchful, that we are not again entangled in that yoke of bondage.

Application. The sinfulness, misery, and danger of mankind by nature. The goodness of God, and the efficiency of His grace. The grateful remembrance of His mercy, which His people should cultivate.—Four Hundred Sketches and Skeletons, 6th ed., vol. ii pp. 187-189.

A BRIGHT LIGHT IN DEEP SHADES

Isa . Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord; look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged.

The Israelites were commanded to remember all the way which the Lord their God had led them in the wilderness. The remembrance of God's mercy in the past will often prove bracing to our souls. Should we become rich and increased in goods spiritually, it will humble us and keep us in our right place, if we remember that once we were naked, and poor, and miserable. It will also excite our thankfulness. God's people are always happy when they are grateful. We should be ten times more full of bliss if we were proportionately more full of thankfulness. We bury God's mercies, and then sigh for His comforts.

In this particular instance Isaiah was led by the Spirit of God to admonish the Israelites to look back, that they might be cheered in a time of gloom and sadness, and animated with fresh confidence in God's power to bring them up again from their sad condition, as they thought of all that He had done for them when they were even in a worse plight.

I. THE TEXT IN ITS APPLICATION TO ISRAEL LITERALLY. They are bidden to look back to the origin of their nation, in order that they may be comforted.

Abraham was the stock out of which the nation of Israel came. He was only one man. "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you, for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." From these two, who seemed the least likely of all flesh and blood, God was pleased to create a people countless as the stars. You say, "God can never restore us; we have been thinned out by innumerable invasions; the sword of war hath slain the tribes; Judah and Israel can never rise again." But are there not more left of you than there were at first? There were but two, Abraham and Sarah that bare you, and yet God made you a people. Can He not make you a people again? You are not lower now than you were then. You say that you are in poverty; true, but these your progenitors were not great on the earth. You say that you have no strength, that the men of valour have ceased, and that you are not skilful in the use of arms. Be it so, neither were your first ancestors expert in war; they were but few and feeble in the land, yet God preserved them, wrought great deliverances for them, and brought the country to great strength and power; and cannot He who did this for them do the same again for you, now that He promises to visit you and to restore you?

The thoughts which would be awakened in the heart of a Jew by these reflections would be eminently consolatory. They ought to be consolatory to us now with regard to the Jewish people. We are encouraged, from the very origin of Israel, to hope that great things shall yet be done for her.

II. OUR TEXT MAY BE USED IN REFERENCE TO THE CONDITION OF THE CHURCH. Let us look back to the rock whence we were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence Christ's Church was digged. We shall see great encouragement under present discouragements if we do so.

Many of the people of God scarcely dare look for brighter times, because they say the people of God are few. Nominal professors abound, but vital godliness, say they, where shall we find it? Hope in thy God! Was not the Church very small at first? It could all be contained in one upper room. But did not the Lord strengthen His Church in the apostolic times? How speedily did the 120 grow to 3000! How soon the 3000 multiplied a hundredfold! How soon all nations felt the growing power of the Church! And, in the dark ages, God had but to speak by His servant Luther, and brave men came to his side, and right soon His Church sprang up. Look back, then, if discouraged with the fewness of God's people, to the rock whence the Church was hewn.

"But is it possible," you say, "while the Church of God in these days possesses so few men of influence?" Was it not said that it should be so of old? Did not inspiration say, "Not many great men after the flesh, not many mighty have been called, but God hath chosen the poor of this world"? Do ye suppose that God has changed His plans, or that men's hearts have changed their bias? It will be so to the end of the chapter.

"But alas!" saith one, "I see grave cause for sorrow, for in these days many have departed from the faith, and truth lies in the streets bespattered." It is even so. The times are dark and ominous, and thick clouds are gathering; but for all this there is no room for fear. Put not thine hand upon the ark of the Lord, like Uzzah, for God will preserve it; it is safe in His keeping. There have been eras and epochs in which gross heresies spread a contagion through the entire Church. The period at which Arianism was so prominent comes at once to our recollection. That Christ was merely a man was almost the universal belief of Christendom. Only a few faithful ones maintained His Godhead at all hazards. But, today, where is Arianism? It has gone among the moles and the bats; the few that held the truth survived the deadly epidemic, and won the victory after all. In the dark ages Romanism was not only predominant, but it seemed to be and it really was all but universal; yet by the bright shining of His revealed word, did not God soon chase away the dense shades of ignorance and superstition? So will it be again.

Again, some brother cries, "It is not merely that error spreads in the land, but the Church is lukewarm in these times." The indictment is true. Still I see no cause for our being dispirited. The Church has been in a like listless state before, and out of that languid condition God has roused her up and brought her forth.

III. OUR TEXT MAY BE VIEWED AS INSTRUCTIVE TO OURSELVES. To some of God's people there come hours of terrible despondency (Isa ). Let them, then, remember the pit of corruption out of which they were dug. The same merciful and almighty power is ready to enable them to keep to the paths of righteousness, and to chase away the darkness that distresses them. Let them look back to what God has done for them, and then they will learn to look forward with hope.

IV. OUR TEXT MAY BE FITTINGLY USED TO ENCOURAGE OUR HOPE FOR OTHERS. Suffer not your thoughts about the character of any man you are trying to save to damp your ardour. Do not say, "I am afraid his is a hopeless case." Look unto the rock whence you were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence you were digged. The same grace that sufficed for you will suffice for him. Therefore, work on!—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1050.


Verse 2-3

A SIGHT FOR DESPONDING CHRISTIAN WORKERS

(Missionary Sermon.)

Isa . Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah, &c.

It is habitual with some persons to spy out the dark side of every question or fact; they fix their eyes upon the "waste places," and they study them till they know every ruin, and are familiar with the dragons and the owls. They sigh most dolorously that the former times were better than these, and that we have fallen upon most degenerate days. This habit is injurious, because it greatly discourages; and anything that discourages an earnest worker is a serious leakage for his strength. Depressing views often afford an apology for indifference and inaction. The smallest peg suffices to hang an excuse upon when we are anxious to escape from the stern service of faith. It is therefore a dreadful thing when the Church begins to be discouraged, and means must be used to stay the evil. Such means we would use this day. Lo, we lift the standard of the Divine purpose. Remember, ye that are cast down, that there are other voices besides those of the bittern and owl from the "waste places." Hearken to Him who promises to make the wilderness like Eden, and the desert like the garden of the Lord. Gaze no longer at the thirsty land and the burning sky; turn your eye where the finger of the Lord points by His word. "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you;" for there we may find comfort.

I. THE ORIGINAL OF GOD'S ANCIENT PEOPLE.

1. The founder of God's first people was called out of a heathen family (Jos ). He was a dweller in Ur of the Chaldees, the city of the moon-god; and was called out from the place of his birth, and from the household to which he belonged, that in a separated condition, as a worshipper of the one God, he might keep the truth alive in the world. Why, then, might not the Lord, if the cause of truth were this day reduced to its utmost extremity, again raise up a church out of one man? He could call out another Abraham, and bless him and increase him, and achieve the whole of His eternal purposes, if all of us should sleep in the dust, and the visibly organised Church of to-day should pass away as the snow of winter at the advent of spring. Is anything too hard for the Lord? Let us never dream that the God of Abraham is short of means for calling out chosen men to build up His Church. Surely Christian people should never doubt His power to raise up lights in dark places, when we remember that the greatest preacher of the gospel, namely, the apostle Paul, was drafted into the army of Christ from the ranks of its direst foes. As Luther came from among the monks, so out of Rome, yea, from the Vatican itself, can God, if He wills, call another Luther. Take this, then, for encouragement, ye who tremble for the ark of God; He can build up a spiritual house for Himself out of dark quarries, and find cedars for His temple in forests untraversed by the feet of missionaries.

2. Abraham was but one man. The Lord has, as a rule, wrought more nobly by one man than by bands and corporations of men. He in whose seed all nations are blessed was but one. "I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." Nor is this a solitary instance. When the earth was utterly corrupt God conserved the race by a solitary preacher of righteousness, who prepared an ark for the saving of his house. One Joseph saved whole nations from famine, and one Moses brought out a race from bondage. Who was there to keep Israel right when Moses fell on sleep but the one man Joshua? What were the prosperous times in the era of the Judges but days when one man was to the front as a leader? One man, standing like a figure at the head of many ciphers, soon headed victorious thousands, through faith in God. The Philistines had triumphed over the land if the one lad had not brought back Goliath's head, and if the one man had not again and again smitten the uncircumcised in the name of the Lord. Beloved, if we should ever be reduced, as we shall not be, to one man, yet by one man will God preserve His Church, and work out His great purposes. We may rightly measure quantities in reference to many things, but with others it is absurd. It would be ridiculous to measure the power of fire by the quantity which burns on your hearth. Give us fit materials and a single match, and you shall see what fire can do. Ye carry fire, ye servants of God, fire which fell at Pentecost; ye work with a heaven-sent force of boundless energy. Why, therefore, should you despair? If all the lights in the world were put out except a solitary lamp, there is enough fire in one wick to kindle all the lamps in the universe.

3. This one man was a lone man. He had not only to do the work of God, but he had nobody to help him. "I called him alone." True, he was attended by Lot, costing his noble uncle more trouble than he ever brought him profit. How little did he maintain or adorn the righteousness which, nevertheless, had saved him: true type of many a feeble professor in these days. Abraham was not backed by any society when he crossed the Euphrates and afterwards traversed the desert to sojourn in Canaan as a pilgrim and a stranger. If ever man was fairly cut adrift and cast upon the Lord, it was the great father of the faithful. He certainly found no patronage in his onward course save the all-sufficient patronage of the Lord his God. He had no prestige of parentage, rank, or title. He was in the fullest sense a lone man, unsupported by any of those outward distinctions which enable some men to do more than others.

The fulfilment of his calling rested on his loneliness. When he was alone God blessed Abraham,—"I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." My brother, if in the town or district where you live you seem to lose all your helpers; if they die one by one, and it seems as if nobody would be left to you; if even the prayer meeting fails for want of earnest, pleading men, still persevere, for it is the lone man that God will bless. You are learning sympathy with that lone Man in Gethsemane, with that lone Man upon the cross, who there vanquished all our foes. "I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him." Grasp that, ye that dwell remote from human sympathy. Oh that our missionaries abroad my feel the rich comfort of this fact! for they full often, like lone sentinels, keep watch with eyes that long to see a friend. They are separated from intercourse with brethren, they miss the friendships which tend to comfort and confirm, but it is God that calls them alone, and He will bless them and increase them.

Here is the sum and substance of this first head of my discourse: in looking to the rock whence we are hewn, we see the Lord working the greatest results from apparently inadequate causes. This teaches us to cease from calculating means, possibilities, and probabilities, for we have to deal with God, with whom all things are possible. Almighty God can assuredly do whatever He says He will do. If all the things that are have been spoken into existence by God alone, by His mere word, can He not yet build up His Church, even if on her earthly side there should seem to be no material with which to raise her walls?

II. THE MAIN CHARACTERISTIC OF THIS CHOSEN MAN. The text says, "Look," &c.; and it must mean,—consider him, and see what he was, that you may learn from him. His grand characteristic was his faith. Here is his epitaph:—"Abraham believed God." That was a mainspring of all his acts, the glory of his life. The men that God will work by, whatever else they have not, must have faith in God. Though it is to be desired that the believer should have every mental and moral qualification, yet it is astounding how, if there be real faith, a multitude of imperfections are swallowed up, and the man is still a power. I would mention Samson as an extreme case. Morally the feeblest of men, and the least fitted to be a judge in Israel; but oh, what faith! And what wonders it achieved!

Abraham's faith was such that it led him to obedience. He was called to go out, and he went, not knowing whither he went. It led him to perseverance; for once in God's way he did not leave it, but still abode a sojourner with God. It led him to expectancy; he looked for the promised seed, and not only for an Isaac but for the Messiah. So clear was the vision of his expectancy that before his eyes Christ was set forth, visibly.

The like faith also dwelt in the breast of Sarah; and as we are told in the text to look to Sarah as well as Abraham, let us not fail to do so. The faith of Sarah was not little when she left home with her husband; forsaking her kith and kin from love to God, and to him whom she called "lord." Nor did the trial of her faith end with the moving; she had to take up with tent life and all its inconveniences. Certain people look upon faith as a fine, airy, sentimental thing with which to roam among the stars, anticipate millenniums, and enjoy yourself in lofty contemplation. I believe far more in a faith which, whether it eats or drinks, does all to the glory of God; faith which like Sarah dwells in the tent and works there; faith which is cheerful over a scanty meal and drives away the fear of want; faith which can come down in life from the mansion to the cottage, if providence so decrees. From Abraham's comfortable home at Ur to his gipsy wanderings in Palestine the change must have been great, but Abraham may not have felt it one half as much as Sarah, for men can rough it and live out of doors, but the housewife knows all about it, and great was her faith that she never raised a question about the propriety of her husband's course of life: and though she laughed when she was told that she should bear a son, yet remember that in the eleventh of Hebrews it is written—"Through faith also Sarah herself received strength." She was the mother of Isaac, not in the power of the flesh, but the energy of faith; therefore look at her, as the text bids you.

Mark well this fact—that the characteristic of the person whom God will bless is that he believes and acts upon his belief. Why is this? Because faith is the only faculty of our spirit which can grasp God's ideal. The ideas of God are as high above us as the heavens are above the earth: and therefore it is not by any fancied vastness of our feeble minds that we can ever rise into fellowship with God. There is a capacity about faith for grasping Divine promises and purposes, a width, a breadth, a height, a depth, which can hold the infinite truth as no other power can do. Love alone can rival it, for it embraces the infinite God Himself. With the far-reaching plans and promises of God faith alone is fit to deal; carnal reason is altogether out of the lists.

Faith, too, has a great power of reception, and therein lies much of her adaptation to the Divine purpose. Self-confidence, courage, resolution, cool reasoning, whatever else they are good at, are bad at humbly receiving. Those vessels which are full already are of no use as receivers; but faith presents her emptiness to God, and opens her mouth that God may fill it.

Again, faith always uses the strength that God gives her. Pride would vapour with it, and doubt would evaporate it; but faith is practical, and economically uses the talent entrusted to her.

Faith, too, can wait the Lord's time and place. When faith is weak, men are in a dreadful hurry. "He that believeth shall not make haste": that is to say, he shall not be ashamed or confounded by present trials so as to rush upon unbelieving actions. Faith leaves times and seasons with God, to whom they belong.

God loveth faith and blesseth it too, because it giveth Him all the glory. You do not believe God, if you boast of what you are doing: least of all do you believe, if you pride yourself in your faith; for faith is not mistrustful of her God but of herself. Faith looks to God to keep her alive as well as to fulfil the promise that He has made to her.

This, then, is the kind of faith which was characteristic of Abraham, and the question is, Have we got it? Have we so much of it that God can largely bless us? The comfort is that, if we have it not, the author of faith can give it to us, and if we have it in scant measure He can increase it.

You who do not believe that missions will succeed; you who readily become discouraged and discourage others; I beg you go home and seek more faith. We cannot go down to the battle with such soldiers as you; you do but encumber the host. The men that lapped are the only ones that Gideon will take to war. Send the fearful ones to the rear and let them take care of the baggage, so that when the battle is won they may have a share of the spoil, according to David's law. For actual service and warfare we must have men of faith. Cromwell found that when his men came dressed in all sorts of suits and colours they were apt to injure one another in the mle, and so he put them all in uniform. The uniform of the Prince Immanuel is faith: no man may call himself a soldier of the Cross who hath it not.

III. God effected His purpose, and raised up a chosen nation out of one man, whose chief characteristic was his faith: now notice OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THAT ONE MAN. There is a relation between us and Abraham: "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Something, surely, is expected of the children of such a man as Abraham. Great mountains are often succeeded by low valleys. Perhaps that is the case with you; but it should not be so. The natural seed were cut off because they had no faith: let not those who are grafted in, think to do without it. It is by faith that you are a son at all. You disprove your pedigree, if you stagger at God's promises.

Because we are the seed of Abraham, the apostle declares that the blessing of Abraham has come upon us also. Friends and labourers in our Missionary Society, grasp the blessing of Abraham! Here is the substance of it—"Surely blessing, I will bless thee; and in multiplying, I will multiply thee." That is the grand old covenant promise, and it belongs to the Church. The blessing of the Church is the increase of the Church. The two go together.

We long to be multiplied—and we shall be, if we have faith in our God. The success of truth is the battle of the Lord, and the increase of His Church is according to His own promise; therefore in quietness we may possess our souls.

IV. CONSIDER OUR POSITION BEFORE ABRAHAM'S GOD. Do not let anything that I have said about Abraham for a moment take your mind off from the Lord Himself, because the pith of it all lies here—"I called him alone." Look to Abraham, but only as to the rock from which the Lord quarried His people: your main thought must be Jehovah Himself. Look unto the everlasting God who doeth great wonders, and stay yourselves upon Him.

Joyfully recollect that the Lord our God has not changed. This God of Abraham is still almighty, and still in the midst of the covenanted ones. Our behaviour towards Him, therefore, should resemble that of Abraham; we must never dishonour the Lord by unbelief. Doubt everything but God. This the everlasting decree which none can change—Christ must reign; He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied; the kings of the earth must bow before Him. Do not doubt it, for God has sworn by His own life that all flesh shall see His glory. Here is the grand argument for strong faith.

The covenant of God has not changed. Read the covenant words, and write them upon the door-posts of your Mission House, "In blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." This is the covenant with the spiritual seed of Abraham, and it has never been revoked. We read it now in clearer light, and understand better the fulness of its provisions. Therefore let us cry, "Remember Thy word unto Thy servant upon which Thou hast caused me to hope."

You know more of God than Abraham could know; I beseech you then, trust Him, at least up to the level of the patriarch. How shall we forge an excuse, if we do not? What can excuse us if we distrust so glorious a God. Let us then act in daily life as those who do believe Him. Some people have a faith which is for show, a Sunday faith, faith that cannot bear the wear and tear of everyday life; varnished and gilded, but with no pure metal in it. The faith of Abraham could lead strings of camels and flocks of sheep away from Haran to Canaan. His was the faith which could drive the tent-pin into a foreign soil, or roll up the canvas and seek another unknown halting-place. In the Lord's work of evangelising the world you must have a downright, practical faith; not a faith that will sing when the organ begins to play, and then be so busy fumbling the hymn paper as to forget the collection: not the faith of those who boast of Carey, and Marshman, and Knibb, but whose own names never appear in the subscription list for a single shilling: not a faith which sings—

"Fly abroad, thou mighty Gospel,"

but never lends a bit of down to make a feather for its wings.

"The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." If you doubt it, dissolve your Missionary Society, and do not pretend to do a work in which you have no faith; but if you believe in the triumph of God's work, and that you are called to it, behave worthily to so divine an enterprise.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1596.

SARAH AND HER DAUGHTERS

(A Sermon for Christian Households.)

Isa . "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you."

1Pe . "Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement."

1. What a happy circumstance it is when a godly, gracious man has an equally godly and gracious wife! It is ill when there is a radical difference between husband and wife,—when one fears God, and the other has no regard to Him. What a pain it is to a Christian woman to be yoked with an unbelieving husband. The same must be the case of a husband who has an ungodly wife. However much God may bless him in all other respects, there seems to be a great miss there, as if a part of the sun were eclipsed,—that a part of life which should be all light is left in thick darkness! Oh, let those of us who have the happiness of being joined together in the Lord, thank and bless God every time they remember each other. Abraham had cause to praise God for Sarah, and Sarah was grateful for Abraham. I have not the slightest doubt that Sarah's character owed its excellence very much to Abraham: I should not wonder, however, if we discover, when all things are revealed, that Abraham owed as much to Sarah. Our first text bids us, "Look to Sarah," and we do look on her, and we thank God if we, like Abraham, are favoured with holy consorts, whose amiable tempers and loving characters tend to make us better servants of God.

2. God does not forget the lesser lights. Abraham shines like a star of the first magnitude, and we do not at first sight observe that other star, with light so bright and pure, shining with milder radiance but with kindred lustre, close at his side. The light of Mamre, which is known under the name of Abraham, resolves itself into a double star when we apply the telescope of reflection and observation. To the common eye Abraham is the sole character, and ordinary people overlook his faithful spouse, but God does not overlook. Our God never omits the good who are obscure. He who treasures the names of His apostles, notes also the women that followed in His train. He who marks the brave confessors and the bold preachers of the gospel, also remembers those helpers who labour quietly in the gospel in places of retirement into which the hawk's eye of history seldom pries. Let, therefore, those who count themselves to be of the tribe of Benjamin, to be little in Israel, never be discouraged on that account; for the Lord is too great to despise the little ones.

It would be well for us to imitate God in this: great men are often not good examples. I am sorry when, because men have been clever and successful, they are held up to imitation, though their motives and morals have been questionable. Learn not from the great but from the good: be not dazzled by success, but follow the safer light of truth and right. Some of the choicest virtues are not so much seen in the great as in the quiet, obscure life. Many a Christian woman manifests a glory of character that is to be found in no public man. I am sure that many a flower that is "born to blush unseen," and, as we think, to "waste its fragrance on the desert air," is fairer than the beauties which reign in the conservatory, and are the admiration of all. God has ways of producing very choice things on a small scale. As rare pearls and precious stones are never great masses of rock, but always lie within a narrow compass, so full often the fairest and richest virtues are to be found in the humblest individuals. Do not, therefore, always be studying Abraham, the greater character. Does not the text say, "Look unto Abraham, your father, and unto Sarah that bare you?" You have not learned the full lesson of patriarchal life until you have been in the tent with Sarah, as well as among the flocks with her husband.

3. Faith reveals itself in various ways. Faith in Noah makes him a shipbuilder; in Abraham it makes him a pilgrim and a stranger. Faith has many ways of working, and it works according to the condition and position of the person in whom it dwells. Sarah does not become Abraham, nor does Abraham become Sarah. Faith in Isaac does not make him the same royal man as Abraham: he is always tame and gentle rather than great and noble; he comes in like a valley between the two great hills of Abraham and Jacob. God does not by His grace lift us out of our place. A man is made gentle, but he is not made a fool. A woman is made brave, but grace never made her masterful and domineering. Sarah is beautified with the virtues that adorn a woman, while Abraham is adorned with all the excellences which are becoming in a godly man. According as the virtue is required, so is it produced. If Abraham walk before God and is perfect; if he smite the kings that have carried Lot captive, if he does such deeds of prowess as become a man; the selfsame faith makes Sarah walk before God in her perfectness, and she performs the actions which become her womanhood, and she too is written among the worthies of faith who magnified the Lord.

II. We are led by our second text to look at the fruit of faith in Sarah. There were two fruits of faith in Sarah,—she did well, and she was not afraid with any amazement.

1. It is said of her that she did well, "whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well."

She did well,

1. As a wife. She was all her husband could desire, and when, at the age of one hundred and twenty-seven years, she at last fell on sleep, it is said that Abraham not only mourned for her, but the old man wept for her most true and genuine tears of sorrow.

2. As a hostess. It was her duty, as her husband was given to hospitality, to be willing to entertain his guests; and the one instance recorded is, no doubt, the representation of her common mode of procedure. She was always ready to lay herself out to perform that which was one of the highest duties of a God-fearing household in those primitive times.

3. As a mother. We are sure she did, because we find that her son Isaac was so excellent a man; and you may say what you will, but in the hand of God the mother forms the boy's character.

4. As a believer, and that is no mean point. As a believer, when Abraham was called to separate himself from his kindred, Sarah went with him. She would adopt the separated life too, and the same caravan which travelled across the desert with Abraham for its master had Sarah for its mistress. She continued with him, believing in God with perseverance. She believed God's promise with all her heart, for though she laughed once, because when the promise neared its realisation it overwhelmed her; it was but a slip for the moment, for it is written by the apostle in the eleventh of Hebrews, "Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised." It was not by nature, but by faith, that Isaac was born.

Oh that all professing Christian people had a faith that showed itself in doing well! Sarah had this testimony from the Lord, that she did well; and her daughters ye are, all of you who believe, if ye do well. Be no discredit to your queenly mother.

5. She proved her faith by a second evidence,—she was "not afraid with any amazement." She was calm and quiet, and was not put in fear by any terror. There were several occasions in which she might have been much disquieted and put about. The first was in the breaking-up of her house life. When they had to cross the Euphrates and get right away into a land which she knew nothing of; this must have been a sterner trial still. But it mattered not to her, she felt safe with her husband's God, and calmly journeyed on.

Then, though we do not hear much about her, we know that all those years she had to live in a tent. A very trying life for a housewife. Remember, they were dwelling in tents as pilgrims and strangers, not for one day, or two, not for a few days in a year, but for scores of years at a stretch.

Besides, the tribes around them were all of other religions and of other tastes and ways, and they would have slain Abraham and killed the whole company, if it had not been for a sort of fear that fell upon them, by which Jehovah seemed to say to them, "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." But if she had not been a believing woman, she must have often been afraid with great amazement.

Then there was a special time when Abraham put on his harness and went to war. She is under no distress that her husband has gone, and all the herdsmen and servants round about the tents all gone, so that she is left alone with her women-servants. No; she sits at home as a queen, and fears no robbers, calmly confident in her God.

Then there came, a little after, that great trial of faith which must have touched Sarah, though its full force fell on Abraham. She observed the sudden disappearance of her husband, her son, and his servant. For a week nearly there was no Abraham and no Isaac. One would have thought she would have wandered about, crying, "Where is my husband, and where is my son?" But not so. She calmly waited, and said within herself, "If he has gone, he has gone upon some necessary errand, and he will be under God's protection; and God who promised to bless him and to bless his seed will not suffer any evil to harm him." So she rested quietly, when others would have been in dire dismay. We hear so little said about Sarah that I am obliged to picture what I feel she must have been, because human nature is so like itself, and the effect of events upon us is very like the effect which would have been produced upon the mind of Sarah.

Now, this is a point in which Christian women, and, for the matter of that, Christian men also, should seek to imitate Sarah.

What is this virtue? It is a calm, quiet trusting in God. It is freedom from fear, such as described in another place in these words: "He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord." It is composure of mind, freedom from anxiety, the absence of fretfulness, and clean deliverance from alarm; so that, whatever happens, trepidation does not seize upon the spirit, but the heart keeps on at its own quiet pace, delighting itself in a faithful God. This is the virtue which is worth a king's ransom, and Sarah had it.

Who are to exercise this virtue? We are all to do so; but the text is specially directed to the sisterhood, because some of them are rather excitable, a little hysterical, and apt to be fearfully depressed and utterly carried away.

When is this virtue to be exercised by us? At all times. To keep up an equable frame of mind is a thing to aim at, even as the gardener desires an even temperature for his choice flowers. But this virtue especially serves in time of trouble, when a very serious trial threatens us. Then remember Sarah, "whose daughters ye are if ye are not afraid with any amazement."

What is the excellence of this virtue?

(1.) It is due to God that we should not be afraid with any amazement. Such a God as we have ought to be trusted. Under the shadow of such a wing, fear becomes a sin.

(2.) It is most impressive to men. I do not think anything is more likely to impress the ungodly than the quiet peace of mind of a Christian in danger or near to death. If we can be happy then, our friends will ask, "What makes them so calm?"

(3.) It is most useful to ourselves; for he who can be calm in time of trouble will be most likely to make his way through it. Napoleon's victories were to a large extent due to the serenity of that masterly warrior; and, depend upon it, it is so with you Christian people: you will win, if you can wait. Calmness of mind is the mother of prudence and discretion; it gives the firm foothold which is needful for the warrior when he is about to deal a victorious blow.

"How can we obtain it?"

(1.) It is an outgrowth of faith, and you will have it in proportion as you have faith. Have faith in God, and you will not be afraid with any amazement.

(2.) This holy calm comes, also, from walking with God. No spot is so serene as the secret place of the tabernacles of the Most High. Commune with God, and you will forget fear.—C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1633.

THE DEPRESSION, PROSPERITY, AND DELIGHT OF THE CHURCH

Isa . For the Lord shall comfort Zion, &c.

The doctrine that there is a Divine superintendence over the affairs and interests of man, is one on which every pious mind must fix a devout attention. This principle is especially interesting and important as it regards the Church—that spiritual body chosen by God, in order that, by its spiritual conformity and devotedness to Him, it may show forth His glory and praise.

There have been, and are, many circumstances which, did we regard them only in their immediate aspect, would encourage the complaint that "Zion is forgotten and forsaken." But along with her present circumstances, we ought to observe the predictions given by the Almighty with regard to her final destiny. Of those predictions the words of the text may furnish a striking instance, and will allow an extended illustration. Attention is here invited to—

I. THE DEPRESSION OF THE CHURCH.

This is presented under the expressions: "the waste places of Zion," "wilderness," and a "desert." In what did it consist? It arose from;

1. The small number of those who belonged to it lived only two centuries. Elijah, who was nearly contemporary with Isaiah, could discover absolutely none who adhered to the public worship of Jehovah (1Ki ). These were the circumstances that called forth the lamentation of Isaiah (Isa 64:6-7). And in these days we are met by deep depression, arising from the fewness of those that believe. Even nominal Christianity has a limited area, and God's true Zion is in a very small minority. After the lapse of many ages, the confession is painfully true, "We are for God, but the whole world lieth in wickedness." she number of additions made to God's people are few and trivial, when compared with the means employed. "The bones are very many, and lo! they are very dry."

2. A want of spiritual vigour on the part of those who belong to the Church. This is equally characteristic of the time in which our lot is cast. In many instances, the power of the truth over the passions and the life is so slender, that we can scarcely discern the form.

II. THE PROSPERITY OF THE CHURCH.

"For the Lord shall comfort Zion," &c. It is hard for us, living in a temperate climate, and generally cultivated country, to feel the full force of the prophet's metaphors. These in the text, and others (Isa ; Isa 41:17; Isa 41:20), open to us future periods in the history of the Church of God, when the causes of her depression being removed, she shall enjoy true prosperity. While there have been visits of mercy in times past, the grand time is still future. When it will arrive, we know not (Act 1:7). But in regard to the general truth, we rest upon the authority of the word of God. Observe—

1. The source to which the prosperity of the Church is assigned. "The Lord shall comfort Zion." There is a regular and uninterrupted affirmation of this grand principle in prophecy (Isa ; Isa 9:7; Isa 44:2-5; Zec 4:6-7). In this dispensation we are called upon to remember that Christianity is emphatically "the ministration of the Spirit" (Joh 3:5; Rom 8:9; 1Co 12:3; 1Co 3:5-7). There must be the outpouring of the Spirit of God, or evil will still hold its wide tyranny.

2. The nature of that prosperity by which the Church will be distinguished.

(1.) The increase of numbers will be incalculable (Isa ; Isa 60:3-8).

(2.) A great purification and refinement of the character of those who shall pertain to the Church will signalise those future days. The former prosperity would be imperfect without the latter.

3. The means to be adopted by the true friends of the Church, in order that the period of this predicted prosperity may arrive.

(1.) The preaching and teaching of the gospel (Rom ).

(2.) United and importunate prayer for the influences of the Spirit of God (Isa ; Eze 36:37; Mat 7:7-8).

III. THE DELIGHT OF THE CHURCH.

"Joy and gladness shall be found therein," &c. (Isa ). This emotion may properly arise from contemplating,

1. The wonderful change which shall have been accomplished in the condition of the Church itself. She was depressed; now she is exalted, and sits enthroned as the representative of the Almighty, and of His power to rescue and to redeem.

2. The connection between the prosperity of the Church and the glorification of God. God is glorified by the conversion of every individual sinner; how much more, then, when a nation shall be born in a day, and when the whole earth shall be a Carmel!

3. The connection between the prosperity of the Church and the happiness of mankind (Isa ).

CONCLUSION: Do you belong to the Church of God? If so; then labour in all the appointed means of instrumentality, which by the prosperity of the Church is to be secured.—James Parsons: The Pulpit, vol. xviii. pp. 181-191.


Verse 3

COMFORT IN TROUBLE

Isa ; Isa 51:12, and Isa 52:9. For the Lord shall comfort Zion, &c.

The prophecy is addressed to those who are striving after the right kind of life and seeking Jehovah, and not turning from Him to make earthly things and themselves the object of their pursuits; for such only are in a condition by faith to regard that as possible, which seems impossible to human understanding, because the very opposite is lying before the eye of the senses (Delitzsch).

I. The people of God often stand in urgent need of Divine comfort. They not only have their full share of the sorrows which are common to humanity, but they have troubles to which the people of the world are strangers. Hence we are told that "many are the afflictions of the righteous," &c. The Saviour prepared His people for this: "In the world," &c., "Whosoever will be my disciple," &c The people of God have to fight every inch of their way to heaven: "These are they," &c. Their chief sorrows spring from sources unknown to and incomprehensible by the world. They are soul sorrows, having their origin in the vivid views which they have of the evil of sin, and of their own individual guilt in the sight of God, &c. Sometimes they fear that after all they shall never reach the celestial Canaan. Therefore they have the need of all the comfort which can be given them on the way to heaven. (See pp. 2, 4, 386; cf. Rom ; Gal 5:17; Gal 4:29; Rom 8:36; 2Co 4:8-14; 2Ti 3:12; Psa 88:18; Pro 17:1; Isa 38:14-15; 2Ti 4:10; 2Ti 4:16; Psa 51:5-8; 2Co 7:5.)

II. It is God's will that His people should to comforted amid all their tribulations. "See how God resolves to comfort His people: ‘I, even I, will do it.' He had ordered His ministers to do it (Isa ), but because they cannot reach the heart, He takes the work into His own hands. See how He glories in it; He takes it among the titles of His honour to be "the God that comforteth them that are cast down;" He delights in being so (M. Henry). Because He would have His people happy. His people should remember this, and cultivate the spirit of Christian cheerfulness, because,

1. Uncomfortable Christians often dishonour the Lord.

2. Uncomfortable Christians cannot be as diligent as they ought to be in the duties of religion. Working out their own salvation. Working for God in seeking to save others (Psa ; P. D. 450-453).

III. The bestowment of Divine comfort inspires them with grateful and exultant joy (Isa ; Isa 52:9). "Where there is joy and gladness to their satisfaction, it is fit there should be thanksgiving to God's honour; for whatever is the matter of their rejoicing, ought to be the matter of their thanksgiving, and the returns of God's favour ought to be celebrated with the voice of melody; which will be the more melodious when God gives songs in the night, songs in the desert" (M. Henry).

There may be elevated joy in the midst of deep affliction (Rom ; Php 3:1; Php 4:4, &c.) Eleven of the thirteen epistles of Paul begin with exclamations of praise and thanksgiving (2Co 1:3-4). Take to praising God under all circumstances, and thus you will lift your soul right out of your sorrow, and taste the pleasures of immortality. "In everything give thanks." Let this be your constant occupation. He well deserves our warmest praise.

CONCLUSION:

1. The duty and privilege of believers to seek Divine comfort. God has given us express assurances that it is His purpose that His people should have ample and unceasing comfort amid all their sorrows and sufferings (Isa ; Isa 51:3; Isa 51:12; Php 3:1; Php 4:4). Most ungracious on our part not readily and gladly to receive the comfort so provided. To refuse to be comforted, is to be guilty of a frustration of the merciful purposes of God towards us.

2. The duty and privilege of comforted believers to comfort others. God comforts you, that you may comfort others—that He may use you as comforters. Experimental knowledge helps us to speak with authority and power—fits us to be able and ready comforters. What we have received we must give (2Co ).—Alfred Tucker.

God will give His people, I. Consolation. II. Fruitfulness. III. Gladness—J. E. Page.

PARADISE RESTORED

Isa . For the Lord shall comfort Zion, &c.

The Church is a garden planted by the Lord, luxuriant in beauty and fruitfulness, and filled with happy occupants. The promise is as yet only in process of fulfilment; and that we may look more clearly into the future, we are called to look into the past. Eden was the garden of the Lord, the primeval paradise, the place of consummate beauty and happiness, ere sin had blighted its joys and stained its purity. To make Zion like Eden is to bring back the vanished glories of that happy place. To the extent that this is accomplished, the Church is—

I. A PLACE OF DIVINE COMFORT AND FELLOWSHIP. No sooner do we press in by faith, through Christ, the door, than we enjoy the comforts of Divine love, and are admitted to heavenly fellowships (Heb ). Did Adam hear the voice of the Lord God? Here the intercourse is renewed. Life conducts through an Eden radiant with the Divine presence. What a change since the day when the Lord drove forth the man from Eden! That door has been again unbarred, and Christ has secured for us a welcome into a fairer paradise than that then was lost. The Church is "a habitation of God." Enter, then, and you will enjoy this rich comfort and lofty fellowship. So long as you stand outside, you cannot know the beauties of the garden; you cannot survey its landscapes, nor breathe its perfumes. God has not disowned and forsaken this fallen world: it is not, as we might have expected, desolated by His wrath: we can still find an Eden in it—a garden of God's presence and favour.

II. A PLACE OF HELPFUL SOCIAL LIFE. Such was the life of the first pair, and such would have been the life of their children, but for the entrance of sin. Alas, how that fact has altered the course of human history! What jarring discords in our domestic and social life! But if the Church is to be as Eden, human society will be regenerated: the love, peace, and helpful companionship that were found in the garden of the Lord will be restored, when this promise is accomplished to the full. The Church will yet leaven society with her principles of brotherly love and mutual help. The world around is like a wilderness, where the wild plants of nature grow in rank profusion. But God has engaged to reclaim Zion's waste places. This garden is ever extending its walls, and will do so till the whole earth becomes an Eden.

III. A PLACE OF JOY. "Joy and gladness shall be found therein." No jarring strife shall mar its harmony: love to God and to each other shall reign among the happy inmates of the restored Paradise. We naturally think of a garden as a place of joy. Surrounded by all that is fair and peaceful, the mind depressed by trial is relieved by the cheerful notes of the birds, the luxuriance of the foliage, and the forms and hues of the flowers. The Church of Christ is such a garden, in which we taste joys unknown by the world. "The fruit of the Spirit is joy,"—the joy of sin forgiven and heaven secured,—the joy of communion with Christ, and assurance of His love—the joy of mutual endearment and mutual service. What joy can surpass that which is the heritage of all who dwell within this happy inclosure?

IV. A SCENE OF WORSHIP. There shall be found therein "thanksgiving and the voice of melody." What a delightful exercise is that of praise! What a happy garden, ever jubilant with sacred song!

These, then, are the features of this garden of the Church. Not on earth can we behold them in all their perfection. The earthly paradise, reopened to us by Christ, will soon become the heavenly paradise (Rev ; Rev 22:1-2). May we all at last become inmates of the Eden above, the paradise of beauty and splendour, the abode of love and joy and worship unending!—William Guthrie, M.A.


Verse 6

THE IMMUTABILITY OF THE SALVATION AND RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD

Isa . Lift up your eyes to the heavens, &c.

There is no reason why we should not read these words in their positive and natural signification. Similar predictions (Isa ; Psa 102:26; 2Pe 3:10). These predictions are confirmed by the reasoning of the latest science; also by the analogy of everyday experience, which go to show that, though the laws of the universe may be uniform, the material existences are in constant flux.

The description is not given to excite feelings of dismay, but to enhance our confidence in the immutability of the salvation and righteousness of God. We must first consider the one fact, that we may the better trust and enjoy the other.

I. THE WORLD PASSES.

We are called "to lift up our eyes" and to "look." The heavens and the earth have great lessons to teach us. Nature is God's prophetess. The spiritual man will see not only interesting geological facts, but also "Sermons in Stones." Nature is speaking to us by its progress towards dissolution.

1. Astronomy points towards dissolution. The earth is slowly cooling, and if the present process continues, it must be ultimately reduced to the lifeless condition of the moon. Meanwhile, the moon is gradually approaching the earth, and must ultimately fall into it. The same cause—the check given to centrifugal motion by friction with the universal ether—must fling the earth into the sun, and possibly bring all the stars together.

2. Geology points towards dissolution. It shows that successive orders of life have risen and spread and perished. And there is every reason to believe that, as it was in the beginning, so it will be to the end.

3. History points towards dissolution. Kingdoms have their day—and then their night. "Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, where are they?" Institutions perish. Fashions change.

4. Common observation points towards dissolution. Science may prolong life, and ameliorate its conditions; but it has done nothing towards stopping the natural "funeral marches to the grave." As life's shadows lengthen, and old comrades drop out of the ranks, men feel more sadly the unutterable changefulness of earthly things. Facts of such personal importance speak loudly to us to look for better, more enduring grounds of confidence.

II. THE SALVATION AND RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD ENDURE FOR EVER.

1. They endure in Him. The immutable laws of nature are just reflections of the eternal constancy of God. He must be changeless because He is perfect; "He is not a man that He should err." Immaculate and passionless, He can have no need to repent.

(1.) His salvation endures for ever. Much that we love and trust passes away. We are ready to despair of all light and hope. But no! one thing endures. To the poor, dark, sin-stained, fallen soul, beggared of all earthly joy, and buried in grief and shame, one grand hope is left. Christ is still standing knocking at the door of the heart: salvation is still possible; for "He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him."

(2.) God's righteousness will not be abolished. He can never connive at sin. There would be no hope for us if it were not that here the righteousness and sacrifice of Christ meet our need.

2. The salvation and righteousness of God endure in us.

(1.) The salvation shall be for ever. Christ gives to us no temporary deliverance, but eternal salvation. There is one "friend that sticketh closer than a brother," and one haven that is safe in the wildest tempest. But the salvation endures on condition that we remain faithful.

(2.) The righteousness shall not be abolished. That is the one permanent possession to be sought for. Wealth, health, pleasure, friends, knowledge, the earth itself, and the very heavens pass away; he who has any of them for his heritage will be finally bankrupt; he who lives righteously in God's righteousness, shares the immortality of that righteousness.

TWO PRACTICAL LESSONS:

1. Trust in God alone.

"Change and decay in all around I see,

O Thou that changest not, abide with me."

2. Fear no earthly evil.

(1.) Fear not the power of present foes. This power is doomed; with the glory of the world, its cruelty, its injustice, its wrong will perish.

(2.) Fear not the loss of present blessings. To part with them will be a pain. But if we have God, and His salvation and righteousness, the best treasures are left.—W. F. Adeney, M.A.: Clerical World, vol. i. pp. 254-255.

The design of this chapter is to comfort the people of God under the persecution of their enemies, and the various evils of their present warfare. The ground of consolation insisted on in the text, is the perpetuity of God's mercy and faithfulness towards His people, which shall be manifested in accomplishing their salvation, protecting them from the assaults of their enemies, carrying them safely through all the chances and changes of this mortal life, and crowning them at length with victory and honour. And while they are led to expect this glorious end of their troubles and fears, they are assured that everything else that now appears so splendid and desirable shall perish like a vain shadow. "Lift up your eyes."

In treating upon these words, I shall endeavour to show the perishing nature of all worldly objects, pursuits, and comforts, and the stability of those which the Gospel proposes, and to which the attention of all true Christians is directed.—W. Richardson, Sermons, vol. i. pp. 377, 378.

We are here called to contrast the fading and short-lived glory of all things earthly, with the enduring character of those hopes and consolations revealed in the Gospel.

II. Contrast with all this the undecaying character of the blessings of salvation. "My salvation shall be for ever." The Gospel comes not under this law of mutability. It partakes of the unchangeableness and immortality of its Author, and addresses itself to the changeless and incorruptible part of man.

1. It exhibits a permanent standard of truth—truth of doctrine, truth of morals. Truth is everlasting. Therefore, if we have evidence of the truth of the Gospel, we have evidence of its everlasting character. Errors are nothing. They are deceptions, and must pass away. They are the clouds of the mind, and however gilded and painted they may be by chance rays of truth, they change while we gaze upon them, and shall be swept away by the wind of heaven. But truth is the steady light of heaven. This truth survived the test of experiment. It has been found suited to men of all sorts and in all conditions. It is bound up essentially with the moral condition of man; and, therefore, it can never become obsolete. While man is man, he must know that he is a sinner—that he needs a Saviour—that he cannot secure his own happiness, but must find it in communion with higher beings in higher worlds. What the Gospel has been, it is. Had it failed to reveal pardon, to secure peace, to reconcile to God, to point the way to heaven, it would have been a vanity, and it would have died out like other vanities long ago. But it answers these ends. It is the only system that does so. It abides the test of experiment. It is felt and acknowledged to be Divine (H. E. I. 1138, 1139, 1142-1148, 2421-2427).

2. It presents a perpetual source of comfort. Comfort under the changes and the frowns of the world—under the sense of guilt—under the temptations of Satan—under the loss of friends—under the fear of death.

3. It reveals and communicates an undecaying principle of life. By it life and immortality are brought to light. It conveys life; it is regenerative; it gives the life of grace, as well as reveals and leads to the life of glory.

Consequently,

1. The Gospel demands your most serious attention. This is demanded by the subject of its message; and by the majesty of its Author, who here says, "Hearken to me!"

2. It solicits your cordial acceptance. "The isles shall wait for Me, and on Mine arm shall they trust."

3. It leaves no alternative between obedience and ruin (Isa ).—Samuel Thodey.

God's unchangeable purposes cannot fail. Such is the thought with which Isaiah animates the people of God, discouraged by the taunts of those who thought that the promises of Jehovah would not be fulfilled. All changes but the Eternal God.

I. The majestic heavens over our heads are subject to the law of change. True, these great changes baffle our powers. The life of man is too short to mark great changes in that which seems the least subject to this law, the heavens above us. Yet science teaches us that vast changes are going on in the very life of our system, the sun. And one day the heavens will pass away with a great noise and be rolled up as a scroll.

II. The earth is subject to the law of change. The scientific facts by which this is proved are most abundant—

"There rolls the deep where grew the tree;

O earth! what changes hast thou seen!

There, where the long street rolls, hath been

The stillness of the central sea."

III. Man, made in the image of God, is not exempt from the operation of this law. The highest and noblest work of God, the most perfect of nature's works, passes away, dissolved into a few gases and a small amount of earthy substances. "One generation passeth away and another cometh." But amid this universal change one thing abides; it is the purpose of the everlasting God.

IV. The salvation and the righteousness of God abide unchanged. The kingdom of God waxes not old. It is subject to no decay.

1. The salvation that God has provided for man is available throughout all generations.

2. The righteousness which led to its provision is the guarantee of its continuance. When the character of God changes and is subject to decay, then His salvation shall not be for ever. The salvation and the righteousness of God are manifested in Christ. The Epiphany will be everlasting because He is an everlasting Saviour—eternally "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."—The Homiletical Library, vol. ii. p. 71.

I. The destiny of the heavens and the earth. II. The destiny of man. III. The destiny of God's saving rule.—E. Johnson, B.A.


Verse 9

A CALL TO MORAL HEROISM

Isa . Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, &c.

A beautiful description of God's people. They know righteousness. His law is in their hand.

I. The people of God must expect to be assailed by reproaches and revilings. There is a perpetual antagonism between the Church and the world. Their spirit and aims are diametrically opposed. Light is not more opposed to darkness, truth to falsehood, love to hatred, the bitterness of gall to the sweetness of the honeycomb, than the spirit of the world is to the spirit engendered by real religion. Hence the violent hatred and opposition that have been maintained towards the righteous from age to age. You see it in individual cases. Cain hated Abel, and slew him. Haman hated Mordecai, and sought his destruction, &c. Thus it has been with communities. The heathen nations—Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, Babylon—persecuted the Jewish Church, and hated it in proportion as it was holy. The degenerate Jews abhorred the Christian Church. Not content with putting its Founder to death, they sought to destroy His servants. Live Christians are still objects of aversion to the world. For several reasons they are exposed to reproach and revilings:—

1. Because of the doctrines they believe. These embrace all that is peculiar and fundamental in the Gospel. Infidels mock at those who hold them as the victims of a miserable deception.

2. Because of the profession they make as Christ's followers. Their obedience to His command to confess them before men is reviled as pride and vain glory; their exclusive adherence to the truths He has taught them, as bigotry; their earnestness in propagating them, as fanaticism.

3. The influence they exert. It renders the men of the world uncomfortable; and so they rail at the Christian's separation from the world as austerity; his attachment to Christian ordinances as superstition.

II. Of the reproaches and revilings by which God's people are assailed they are not to be afraid. By our text they are summoned to the exercise of moral courage. They are to show that courage is an essential element of Christian character (H. E. I. 1042-1045).

1. "Fear ye not," for yours is a just cause.

2. "Fear ye not," for God will strengthen you. Whatever the nature or amount of opposition you are called to endure, God will uphold you (H. E. I. 3667, 3668).

3. "Fear ye not," for in meeting undeserved reproach you will have an inward approbation of conscience.

4. "Fear ye not," for the endurance of such reproach will assimilate you to the tried and good. Think of the prophets, the apostles, the martyrs. Think, above all, of your Saviour.

5. "Fear ye not," for such endurance will be rewarded in the final day. Then it will be seen that the power of the revilers, like the revilers themselves, was evanescent, while the salvation, of which those who have the courage to endure reproach are made partakers, shall endure for ever.—George Smith, D.D.

A PRAYER FOR THE FORTH-PUTTING OF DIVINE POWER

Isa . Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.

The simplest exercise in which man can engage is also the sublimist. It is the exercise of prayer. Human helplessness may cast itself on Divine Omnipotence. Nothing is too insignificant to interest the Heavenly Father (H. E. I. 3756). There is ample instruction in His Word as to things respecting which petitions may be addressed to Him. Whatever He has there promised to His Church, may be included in her prayers. This idea animates the text. The prophecy proclaims the deliverance of the captive people, and then the triumphs of the Gospel in the latter days. Under the influence of these cheering announcements, God's people are represented as breaking forth in the earnest entreaty of the text. It is the Church's continual cry. We ask that the power of God's Spirit may be exerted for the accomplishment of the great things He has taught us to expect. And such prayer is justified by several considerations.

I. BY THE FACT THAT THE EXERCISE OF THE POWER OF GOD'S SPIRIT IS NECESSARY.

As the deliverance from Babylon could only be effected by Divine power, so can only the spiritual deliverance of the world from the dominion of sin. It requires the removal of impediments, the opening of fields of labour, and the provision of suitable instruments for the work. In the case of the individual, it requires a change of heart, because of the depravity that characterises all mankind. When you remember the resisting power of the human will, and that its natural inclinations are adverse to the Divine supremacy, you will not deem the metaphors of Scripture, such as the new birth and the quickening of the dead, too strong to represent the change that must occur within the heart. It is a change to which nothing less than Divine power is equal (H. E. I. 4106-4113).

II. BY THE FACT THAT THAT POWER HAS BEEN EXERCISED.

"As in the ancient days, in the generations of old" (Isa ). The wonders of Egypt and the Red Sea, which the Jews never wearied of reciting, could be pleaded when seeking new interpositions of the Divine hand. We can plead the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, when asking for an enlarged manifestation of the Spirit's work; because that which occurred then was not a transaction complete in itself, but rather the beginning of a work. The resources of the Gospel under the ministry of Paul and others can be pleaded, when it came to the people "in power and the Holy Ghost." There are instances in the history of modern missions equally significant. Times of revival of religion may be pleaded similarly. Perhaps our own experience as Christian labourers supplies us with ground of encouragement to intercede for a repetition and continuance of the usefulness with which we have been favoured.

III. BY THE FACT THAT IT IS PROMISED.

1. Let us establish the fact. The prophecy connected with the text, which emboldened its petition, involves the exertion of whatever power is necessary to its fulfilment. In this light all prophecies may be read. Therefore the prophecies which foretell the glory of the Church, when the Gentiles and the Jews shall be converted, imply such exertion of Divine power, as well as the full provision of all other means and influences tributory to the results predicted. How long shall the spectacle of moral desolation presented by the present state of the world continue? The answer is given in chap. Isa . Who is to accomplish that great work within the soul which is represented by an operation within the body which no surgery can ever perform? Answer: Eze 36:26. Jesus promised to baptize His Church with the Holy Ghost and fire. The dispensation of the Gospel is the ministration of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is in the Church and with the Church, and under the requisite conditions may be so to a much larger extent than has hitherto been experienced. The first fruits have been gathered. They are the promise of the harvest.

2. Let us see how the fact bears on the offering of prayer for the Spirit. If every promise is a warrant and directory of prayer, then, even were there nothing directly on the subject in the Bible, this would fall under that principle; it would become the duty of the Church to pray for it. But there is a constant reiteration of the truth that the power of God's Spirit must be sought in prayer (Isa , &c.) After the great promise of the Spirit in Ezekiel, you have this statement: "I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them." "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." The parable of the friend at midnight. The argument from the readiness of parents to give good things to their children. During the ten days of waiting for the power of the Holy Ghost, the disciples met daily for prayer. And then the Spirit came. Is not the history of the Church filled with illustrations of the truth that religion has flourished and extended largely as the Church has valued and sought the power of the Spirit?

Pray for the Spirit, therefore, to come on yourselves, on the Church, on the world. What will be the effect? More good accomplished. Personal influence deepened. Your own soul quickened.—J. Rawlinson.

This language is both natural and figurative. What more natural than that the Church, in times of trial, suffering, and yet expectation, should look upwards, and seek deliverance from Him who is "mighty to save?" The way in which the petition is urged is in no sense artificial, the "arm" of the Lord is invoked as the symbol of a powerful interposition.

I. A FACT: The Lord has a mighty arm. The Scriptures lend no countenance to the childish notion that the Creator is indifferent to His own handiwork, that He withdraws from all interference with the creation, with His intelligent subjects. Often mentioning the "right arm" of Jehovah, they presume that He is not only almighty, but accustomed to assert His authority and exercise His power.

II. A MEMORY: The Lord has been wont to interpose on behalf of His people. It was characteristic of the religion of the Hebrews that it was indissolubly connected with their national history. Their songs of praise recorded the signal interventions of Omnipotence on behalf of their forefathers; their prayers pleaded memorable instances of compassionate and effective interferences for their safety. They based their pious hopes, not only upon their convictions as to God's attributes, but upon their recollections, and their national records of God's doings. "We have heard with our ears … what great things Thou didst," &c. It is well thus to recall the proofs of God's power and pity which have in the past abounded towards mankind, and especially to base all our hopes and petitions upon His memorable redemption of mankind effected by Jesus Christ.

III. A PRAYER: Awake, awake! This does not suppose that God is indifferent to His people's need and sore distress. But it presumes that the exercise of Divine mercy, and helpfulness, and protection, is, by His wisdom, made contingent upon our readiness to receive what the Lord is ever ready to bestow. He will be inquired of by His people. He is not like Baal, of whom the prophet Elijah tauntingly said, "Peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked." The sleepless eye of God is ever upon His people's circumstances; the sleepless heart of God is ever conscious and sensitive with regard to His people's needs. But He will answer those who honour Him. Call upon Him in the day of trouble and He will deliver. It is not faithlessness, but faith, that cries, "Awake, awake, O arm of the Lord, put on strength!"—The Homilectical Library, vol. ii. p. 69.

I. The arm of God is almighty. II. Prayer can move it. III. It is our privilege in every emergency to cry, "Awake," &c. IV. There have been given to us great encouragements to believe that this appeal will not be made in vain: God's care of His Church in past times; His unchangeableness; the promises recorded.—J. Lyth, D.D.: Homiletical Treasury, Part I. p. 70.

THE CRY OF THE CHURCH, AND ITS LORD'S RESPONSE

Isa . Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.


Verse 11

THE GLAD HOME-GOING

The words of the text, fulfilled in the history of the return from captivity, are in our case awaiting the richer, fuller interpretation of death.

I. THOSE WHO ARE DESTINED TO THIS GLORIOUS HOME-GOING. "The redeemed of the Lord."

The expression is one which grows out of the Levitical law, and means one set free by the payment of a price. The precise signification of the word is that of substitution. A man redeemed his first-born by substituting an animal for him. The first-born were also freed by the substitution of a special offering of equal value, made for all classes. The sons of Levi rendered substituted service for all the tribes. These were types and shadows of another Substitute, who, bearing the sins of many, guiltless but treated as guilty, should deliver from the curse and power of sin.

The deliverance of humanity from wilfulness and its woes was costly to Almighty love. This law of substitution, and painful substitution, runs through all human history. You find it everywhere (H. E. I. 393-395.) We must live for others and die for others. God has placed Himself under the same law. "He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." By crucifixion of His own love; by self-sacrifice; by pain, and pang, and death, He breaks the bonds of moral slavery, condemns sin in the flesh, works a hatred of it which insures its extermination. What law could not do, God, sending His own Son in the flesh, did. The ransom was Himself. The redeemed compose "the Church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood." Men who by faith have appropriated and rest upon this great wonder of suffering love, are placed in a new condition by means of it. The Redeemer is a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. The old Church was redeemed through Him. Nations unborn are included in the gracious purpose. The children, called to His embrace, share the benefit of His loving substitution, are numbered among the redeemed. Our loved ones who have tasted death, swell the gathering crowd of immortals redeemed. Bought with a price, faithful unto death, they escaped its sting and destructive energy, and are now triumphant, rejoicing spirits,—"the redeemed of the Lord."

II. THEIR DESTINATION. "They shall return and come to Zion."

After the woes and privations of the Captivity, a prosperous Church state was to be restored. Zion was the place of Divine, manifested grace. God recorded His name there. The Shekinah cloud rested there. There He met the people, and conferred the boons of His salvation.

The earthly Zion was a type of the heavenly. Two ideas are here suggested—nearness to God and holy association.

1. The redeemed on high are brought into nearer fellowship with God. There are easily conceivable visible manifestations of glory far beyond what are now possible. Emancipated from dependence upon sense, there will be a vast increase of spiritual capacity, and a corresponding enlargement of the means and opportunities of knowledge. Their acquaintance with the purposes and character of God, their feeling of His love, and grace, and tenderness, will be immeasurably greater and more intense than any known on earth. There is an infinite variety of Divine manifestations throughout the universe. There can be no dull uniformity in that higher life. No veil hides the eternal brightness. The beatific vision is face to face. The communications of the Divine mind are constant and familiar; the tokens of Divine grace are never withdrawn; the pledges of Divine fidelity are received and enjoyed without restriction. God is manifested in His highest glory, and humanity reaches its highest exaltation. Now in part—then, as also we are known.

2. The coming to Zion is expressive of personal association and fellowship. The return from the Captivity was that of a multitude. The words recall the joyous going up and assembling of the tribes to observe the solemn rites of their religion, and to enjoy social intercourse with each other. The heavenly state knows no loneliness. Every spirit forms one of a blissful company. Heaven is a social state. Lost loves are found, and broken relations are united, and interrupted fellowships are resumed. The mutual recognition of the faithful departed is one of the beliefs which nature suggests, and revelation implies and authenticates (P. D. 2926-2928). It does not so much rest upon single texts, as it is the keynote of the melody, and the uniting principle of the harmony of many. Every description implies it—every pictured scene discloses it. Love abides through death. Memory abides through death. We shall find what we have lost, and know we have found it. As the years pass how rich heaven becomes! Those who are there forbid the thought of it as a strange place (H. E. I. 470, 2739). It is our home—our Father's house.

III. THEIR NEW CONDITIONS AND CIRCUMSTANCES. "Everlasting joy," &c.

During the Captivity there were sore longings for freedom and home. The captives wept when they remembered Zion. They could not sing the Lord's song in a strange land. Here all that is reversed. Inappeasable desire is gone. Heaven will contain much we have never imagined (H. E. I. 2714-2727).

There is, then, no loss in death. We are saved by hope. The future of the redeemed is assured by the Redeemer. Life is theirs. Death is theirs. Heaven is theirs. They shall go no more out for ever!—W. Hope Davison: The Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii. pp. 25-27.

I. THE CHARACTER OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING HOME TO HEAVEN.

"The redeemed of the Lord."

1. They were once captives. Of Satan (2Ti ). Slaves to their own depraved affections and desires—"sold under sin" (Rom 7:23). Prisoners to the Divine law—owing a debt which they could not discharge, and exposed to the righteous penalty.

2. They could not redeem themselves. The price was too great for such insolvents to pay, &c. (see on Isa ).

3. It was the work of an Almighty Saviour to ransom the captives. He alone could pay the price, and deliver them from the grasp of Satan and the thraldom of sin, &c. He is emphatically called the "Redeemer," and His people "the redeemed" (Eph ; Col 1:14; 1Co 6:19).

4. They are redeemed to be the Lord's people. They are no longer slaves, but the Lord's freemen—His property, servants, children, &c.; redeemed that they may share in the privileges and joys of the sons of God (Rom ).

II. THE NATURE OF THEIR JOURNEY.

1. They are journeying heavenward. "Shall return and come to Zion." Zion was the type of the heavenly city—one of its names (Heb ; Rev 14:1; Psa 65:1; Psa 84:7). Heaven the place of perfect worship, fellowship, &c. The object of the Christian pilgrims' highest hope, around which their best affections centre, &c. Can never be fully at rest till they reach their Father's home on high, and repose on His paternal bosom.

2. They are journeying heavenward in dependence upon God. They feel themselves weak, &c., but they rely upon the promised strength, &c. In Christ they have perfect strength, for perfect weakness. The homeward journey may be trying; they may have to tread on thorns, to shiver in the keen winds, &c.; but notwithstanding all, they advance under the benediction of heaven. God in all the Omnipotence of His might is with them, and therefore, "through winds and stormy seas," "they shall return to Zion."

3. They journey joyfully. "They come to Zion with singing. As the ransomed captives would return from Babylon, and as travellers commonly do now in the East; as a bird got loose out of a cage. They gratefully sing the praises of their great Deliverer and Conductor; they confidently sing of His loving care, &c.; of their glorious prospects, and of their ultimate triumph, "and find it nearer while they sing."

III. THE BLISSFUL TERMINATION OF THE JOURNEY.

1. They shall finish their course with triumphant joy. "Everlasting joy," &c. They reach home with difficulty (1Pe ), but certainly. Enemies conquered—beatific vision—exalted society, &c. What a blissful termination! What are other journeys compared with this? What sources of joy and gladness are here!

2. They shall receive an incorruptible crown. "Songs and everlasting joy upon their heads." This may refer to the custom of wearing a wreath or chaplet of flowers in times of festivity, as is often done now, and as was commonly done among the ancients in triumphal processions.

3. They shall be eternally exempt from all that creates pain and uneasiness. "Sorrow and sighing shall flee away." It must be so in the heavenly home (Rev ). No sigh was ever heaved there, no head ever ached there, &c. "In this world of changes it is a short step from joy to sorrow, but in that world sorrow and mourning shall flee away, never to return or come in view again." Eternal health, wealth, purity, security, happiness, light, &c. "Eternal life!" Life in its highest forms and manifestations. Life with Christ—eternal and ineffable, ever developing in all perfection of strength, and beauty, and joy!

CONCLUSION:

1. The value of Christianity. No other religion can furnish such consolation amid human woes; and no other religion is, therefore, adapted to humanity. We are under infinite obligations to Christ, for from Him we derive all our present and future bliss. Let the prospect of such a home hearten us under the trials and difficulties of life. Press nobly on with assured confidence and eager desire.

2. The heavenly home belongs to "the redeemed of the Lord." But there are some of you who are the bond-slaves of Satan, &c. "Repent and believe the Gospel" of freedom. Come to Christ, trust Him for emancipation from the thraldom of sin and Satan, and then let your ransomed life be one of praise and devotion to your great Deliverer.—Alfred Tucker.


Verse 12-13

FEAR OF GOD AND MAN

Isa . I, even I, am He that comforteth you, &c.

I. THE TWO PARTIES SET OVER AGAINST EACH OTHER, "Man that shall die," &c.; and "the Lord thy Maker, that hath stretched forth the heavens," &c. It is a main object of the Scriptures to set in the most vivid contrast the meanness, emptiness, nothingness of man; and the all-sufficiency, the majesty, and the glory of God (Isa ; Job 4:13-19; Job 14:1-2; Psa 39:5; Isa 40:6-7; Jas 4:14). In striking contrast with man's nothingness, the Scriptures set forth the majesty of God's glory (Gen 1:1-3; Psa 113:5-6; 1Ch 29:11; Job 38:4-11; Job 38:16-17; Job 38:34-35; Psa 18:6-15). Not even the language of inspiration could measure the boundless interval which lies between finite and infinite, the creature and the Creator, sinful mortals and a holy God.

II. MAN, RATHER THAN GOD, IS PRACTICALLY THE OBJECT OF REVERENCE, RESPECT, AND FEAR. The whole system of society seems founded on the principle that human sanctions are above Divine. To keep society in order, it is necessary, even where the Lord hath spoken with the most awful sanctions He can employ, that the law of the land should interpose with its more effectual and prevailing influence.

Look at some instances in which these two authorities do not act conjointly. Debts to man are paid; what we owe to God gives us little uneasiness, perhaps none. In courts of justice there is watchful vigilance to observe the rules laid down, in every minute punctilio; it is forgotten that the King of kings is present wherever we turn our eyes. The presence of God, though admitted in a way, produces not half the controlling influence that the presence even of the most insignificant of their fellow-mortals would do. "It is a shame," says the apostle, "even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret;" and yet these secrets are all known to God. The eye of God no more interrupts sinful pleasure than does the notice of infancy or the stupid stare of one of the inferior animals. But, speaking generally, the fear of man, or in other words, the law of public opinion, is the great regulator of life. Other passions are submissive to the master-passion—the fear of man. The profane swearer masters his tongue in refined society. The Sabbath is kept out of regard to man. Debts of common honesty are lightly regarded; debts of honour are binding. The case is too clear to need more proofs. Of by far the greater portion of society it may be affirmed, that "all their works they do to be seen of men." To an extent, of which they are not themselves aware, the law of opinion, and not the law of God, is their rule of life. The Bible comes to them filtered through man's opinion, only the filtering is not a purifying process.

III. THE EMPHATIC QUESTION, "WHO ART THOU?"

The inquiry seems to have been first addressed to those whose prevailing fear of man was the result, rather of weakness under trying circumstances, than of carnal blindness and depravity of heart; it seems intended for the encouragement of God's people when threatened with dangers, and particularly when harassed by the terrors which cruel enemies inspire; "I, even I, am He that comforteth you;" then come the words before us, followed by the pathetic expressions, "And hast feared continually," &c. "And where is the fury of the oppressor?" As much as to say, "O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" To such the text brings reassurance and encouragement.

But with far different emphasis does it apply to those who, in the genuine spirit of the world, pay that homage to man which they refuse to God. The tone is that of indignation and surprise, "Who art thou?" What reasonable intelligence can fear him who can only kill the body, rather than the dread Being who holds the keys of death and hell? It can only be accounted for in one way, viz., that the senses, which can alone take cognizance of God, are closed. But such judicial blindness is no cloak for this sin, since man brings it on himself (Rom ). To us, favoured above God's ancient people, with what redoubled force does this voice of expostulation speak! Well may God apply to us such affecting words as are contained in Scripture (Isa 5:4).

CONCLUSION: "Who art thou," that "worships and serves the creature more than the Creator"? Can man "arise and save thee in the time of thy trouble"? Can the world "pluck from memory a rooted sorrow"? Can it lighten the darkness of a dying hour? O then, "cease from man, whose breath is in his nostrils!"—H. Woodward, M.A.: Church of England Magazine, vol. xxii. pp. 56-61.

The fear spoken of is misplaced fear; hence fear that weakens and leads astray, and makes unfaithful to God, as well as makes the child of God miserable.

I. SOME OF THE CAUSES OF GROUNDLESS AND DISPROPORTIONATE FEAR.

1. Our over-estimating of temporal interests. Even supposing men do their worst, and the furnace of worldly trouble be heated to its utmost, "who art thou," whose interests are so high, and wide-spreading, and enduring, that thou shouldest be greatly cast down? Will the wealthy man lose his sleep, and become miserable, because he has lost sixpence in the street? Not if his mind is sound. If he does, he is diseased; and our souls are diseased if our whole horizon is darkened by mere worldly loss and trouble.

2. Our turning of our eyes wholly to the seen, and shutting them to the unseen. God is invisible; "man" and worldly difficulties are visible, prominent to the eyes of sense. We must walk by faith and not by sight, if we are to walk calmly and nobly. Faith is the evidence of things not seen. If we allow the visible and sensible to tyrannise over us, they will scourge us more cruelly than Egyptian taskmasters did their slaves. "Lord, increase our faith," and we shall be able to sing, "God is a present help in trouble."

3. Unbelief in God's fatherly interest in us. "Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man," &c. Thou dost not realise or remember who thou art. A child of God, redeemed by Christ, the very hairs of thy head numbered.

II. SOME THOUGHTS WHICH INSPIRE AND KEEP UP COURAGE.

1. Man and all created powers are weak; God is omnipotent. "God stretched forth the foundations," &c. Man is feeble as the grass. Greater is He that is for you than all that can be against you.

2. Man and all created powers are short-lived; God is eternal. Opposed to thee is "a man that shall die;" on thy side are the everlasting arms. Make the eternal God thy refuge, and thou wilt not fear them that can kill the body, and have nothing more that they can do.

3. The Lord is "thy Maker." There is endless hope in that thought. He that has made knows our frame, and will have mercy on the works of His hands.

4. He has intimate individual knowledge of thee and sympathy with thee. The prophet passes from the plural of the context into the singular in the text. "Thou," "Thy." Our relations with God are individual. He holds each of us by the hand.

5. He values thee far above the material earth and heaven. He that made and maintains them will not forget His child, that can look in His face, and know, and trust, and love Him. Whether would the mother make surest of saving her jewels or her child in a shipwreck? He has proved His incomparable love to thee in Christ.—The Homiletical Library, vol. ii. p. 71.

THE MORTALITY AND FRAILTY OF MAN

Isa . Man that shall die, and the son of man which shall be made as grass.

David, when musing upon the sublime scenery which the heavens presented, proposed a question of vast importance: "What is man?" Man is a wonderful being. "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." What the psalmist uttered, modern science has more fully established. "It is impossible to contemplate this admirable and beautiful temple of the deathless spirit without awakened wonder. It is one of the finest pieces of mechanism which can possibly be contemplated." He is an intelligent being. As such he is nature's king—the world's monarch. What majestic powers he possesses! (P. D. 2376, 2380, 2381, 2400.) He is a spiritual being. "That must be a spiritual being which is conscious that it exists, and yet cannot be divided into parts. Having a spiritual nature, man is capable of constant thought, perpetual improvement in knowledge, of enjoying union with the Deity, a continual increase of happiness, and everlasting life. These give him a superiority over the brute creation, and render him morally responsible for all his ways." He is a guilty and depraved being (Rom ; Rom 3:12-18). He is also a mortal and a frail being, and these are the facts presented for our consideration in the text.

1. In the frailty of our nature. "How fragile is the grass! a breath, an atom, a touch, will kill it. So with man. We are not like the cedars of Lebanon, or the oaks of Bashan." Like the springing grass, we shall soon pass away. What is human life? A mere temporary state of existence (Job ; Psa 90:10; Psa 144:4; 1Pe 1:17). A short and uncertain duration of being (Job 14:1; Job 16:22; Jas 4:14). What is your life?

"This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth

The tender leaves of hope, to-morrow blossoms,

And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;

The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,

And—when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

His greatness is a-ripening—nips his root,

And then he falls."

"A flower that does with opening dawn arise,

And flourishing the day, at evening dies;

A winged eastern blast, just skimming o'er

The ocean's brow, and sinking on the shore;

A fire, whose flames through crackling stubble fly;

A meteor, shooting from the summer sky;

A bowl, adown the bending mountain rolled;

A bubble breaking—and a fable told;

A noontide shadow, and a midnight dream;

Are emblems which, semblance apt, proclaim

Our earthly course."—Prior.

2. In the uncertainty of our lives. In all seasons the blade dies. Every moment some grass withers. Every second some man dies—either the infant, the youth, or the aged. But we know not the day or the hour.

CONCLUSION.—What effect ought these truths to produce? They should lead,

1. To the diligent improvement of human life. The great business of life is to know and serve God (1Ch ; 1Co 6:19-20; 1Ti 4:8; Php 3:8; Ecc 12:13). Can anything be more important, more rational, more excellent? To seek and secure the salvation of your soul. What a work to be accomplished! and all during this short, this uncertain life! Be diligent.

2. To constant readiness for death (H. E. I. 1562-1566; P. D. 730, 734).—Alfred Tucker.


Verse 14-15

THE CAPTIVE SEEKING DELIVERANCE

I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE WRETCHED CONDITION OF THE SINNER—AN EXILE.

1. His captivity.

(1.) Judicial;

(2.) practical;

(3.) circumstantial.

2. His impending destruction.

II. THE EAGER DESIRE OF THE EXILE FOR DELIVERANCE.

(1.) He uses every probable means for it.

(2.) There appears to him a good prospect of deliverance.

III. THE PROVISION MADE FOR THE CAPTIVE EXILE.

(1.) The Gospel is a revelation of mercy.

(2.) A dispensation of power.

(3.) The effectual means of a sinner's deliverance from sin.—T. Lessey.

The captive. I. His condition—captive—in the pit. II. His fears—destitution—destruction. III. His encouragement—deliverance is at hand. IV. His assurance—the Word—the power of God.—J. Lyth, D.D.: Homiletical Treasury, Isaiah, p. 70.

COMMISSIONED, ENDOWED, AND PRESERVED

Let us not forget that this promise belongs to all who love and serve the Lord. We have all a mission somewhere in helping forward the new creation. God hath put His words in your mouth—words of truth and power, of life and love. He has covered you in the shadow of His hand. You are secure in the discharge of your commission. What a wondrous purpose you are chosen to subserve! Who shall frustrate God's work? Shall we not gladly yield ourselves as instruments in making this earth once more a paradise of beauty and holiness?—William Guthrie, M.A.

Isa . And I have put My words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee, &c.

Great words these, to be spoken by God to men! We need have no hesitation in appropriating for ourselves the comfort and encouragement they convey, for, though addressed to Israel and referring to the work to be accomplished by their Messiah, we have each a Divine mission to fulfil as servants and followers of Christ, and ours are the promises by which He was sustained.

God here declares what is His great design—"to plant," &c. The language is clearly figurative, and denotes the new creation. At Isa reference is made to the first creation, and this is used in the text as an image of the second—spiritual creation. There are many points of similarity between the two. Both alike are works of Divine power, wrought by the word of God's mouth (Gen 1:3; Jas 1:18). In both there is the operation of the Holy Spirit (Gen 1:2; Joh 3:5). In the new creation the peace, holiness, and love, which were lost by the Fall, are restored, and the object of all God's dealings with our sinful race through long centuries is to create them anew, and restore them to His favour and image. Like the first creation, the new is a gradual process, advancing from age to age.

1. In this work God employs His servants. When it is said "that I may plant," &c., it is obvious that it is through Israel the work is to be done (1Co ). What an honour that He should call us to His service, and use us as instruments in realising. His great designs. Here is a thought to make us brave and diligent. Let us make our work God's and God's work ours, devoting our energies to the furtherance of His kingdom. Every other aim that engages our time and talents is trifling compared with this. If a man feels that his uppermost wish is to promote the Redeemer's reign, he is ennobled, sanctifying all his endeavours by throwing into them a lofty purpose, and making all his activities converge upon the advancement of the truth. No man will ever do anything great and enduring who does not thus ally himself with God. Let a man say,—"This work, at which I am toiling, is not after all my work but God's," and in that lies the secret of strenuous labour and patience amid discouragement. Oh the honour, the dignity, the peace of being consciously a worker together with God! That is to dwell in a region high above the fretting cares and sordid aims of the ordinary world. While others are wailing their hopeless dirges, you are singing your hymns of faith and hope.

2. For this work God arms His servants. "I have put My words in thy mouth." This is the weapon which we are to wield (1Th ). He is fully furnished into whose mouth God puts His word, who wields the sword of the Spirit. How feeble is man's word, the word of even the mightiest of men. It falls as powerless as King Canute's order to the flowing tide, bidding it retire from his royal feet as he sat upon the shore. But behind God's word there is the omnipotence of Him whose word it is. Let us have faith in God's words, in their power to subdue human hearts. It is because we often utter them as if they were our own words that they are robbed of their power. It is because we listen to them as man's words that we despise them. This is all we need for the spiritual conquest of the world—to have God's words put in our mouth. With this weapon wisely used we shall overcome the giants of ignorance, Superstition, and unbelief. The men of Reformation times were courageous, because they had a firm faith in God's word, and what the Church needs to-day is a revival of that unquestioning faith in God's message as a power to plant the spiritual heavens and lay anew the foundations of the earth, to carry peace to the troubled and comfort to the disconsolate, to disarm hostility, break down prejudices and bear down opposition, and guide the seeking soul to the Cross.

3. For this work and in it God preserves His servants. "I have covered thee in the shadow of Mine hand." He who undertakes God's work may expect to encounter opposition from the world, which is opposed to God's loving purpose. Israel had a Divine mission to fulfil, and the nation is represented in Isa as cowering before their oppressors. But what encouragement God gives them: "I, even I, am He that comforteth you," &c. God overrules the doings and designs of evil men for the overwhelming of their own cause. With His protection there is no occasion for fear. Our mistake is that we "forget the Lord our Maker," while we are surrounded by oppressors; like Peter sinking in fear, while he looks at the tossing waves and withdraws his eye from his Master's form. Could we keep our eye steadily fixed on Him, no oppressor should alarm us. With Him as our Comforter, who shall be our tormentor? Moses was reluctant to undertake the task with which God charged him at the bush. But his excuses are overruled. "Certainly I will be with thee." In carrying out his commission his life was frequently in danger, but "God covered him in the shadow of His hand" (Heb 11:27). "Man is immortal till his work is done." Paul, too, was "in deaths oft," but what says God to him in his extremity? (Act 18:9-10). So, too, with Martin Luther. What a marvellous history of preservation! But for the wars in which Charles V. was engaged the Reformer would have been crushed, and the Reformation, for a time at least, frustrated. Believer, you have a gracious and omnipotent Preserver. In contending for the truth, in encountering shame and reproach, in meeting hindrances in the way of your God-given task, remember that the shadow of God's own hand is over you, and you shall not quail before your adversaries.—William Guthrie, M.A.


Verse 17

JEHOVAH'S ANGER

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the higher the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course when once it is let loose. If God should only withdraw His hand from the floodgate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.—Jonathan Edwards.

I. It is real. There is such a thing as anger in God. Many are the expressions used concerning it—jealousy, vengeance, fury, wrath; all to indicate its existence, and to show us that the human theories of Divine universal benevolence are not true, being got up for a purpose, and that purpose to persuade the sinner's own conscience that he need not be alarmed because of his guilt; and that no one need dread the infliction of punishment, except perhaps a few of the most wicked of our race. But God's words are not exaggerations, nor words of course. There is a terrible truth contained in these oft-repeated words of Scripture, "His anger was kindled." Loving and gracious as Jehovah is, His anger is real. When Jesus comes the second time, He comes to "take vengeance."

II. It is righteous. It is not the rage of selfishness, or passion, or affront. It is judicial anger; the anger of the righteous judge. It is anger against sin, against the sinner, anger because of insulted law and dishonoured righteousness. Nothing in it is unjust, or cruel, or arbitrary. Then the condemned soul will be compelled hereafter to say, "It is all right and just," it shall be right and just to all eternity."

III. It is terrible. Though calm, it is unutterably awful; nay, overwhelming. No power and no numbers shall be able to stand before it. It shall sweep everything before it like a whirlwind. The expulsion from paradise, the Deluge, the ruin of Sodom, are specimens of its terribleness. The lost soul shall be utterly overwhelmed. ( β)

IV. It is inexorable. Nothing but genuine repentance shall turn it aside, or soften it when once it is kindled. "The vengeance of eternal fire," the "everlasting burning," the "worm that dieth not," these are awful words, and however figurative they may be, they represent terrible realities (H. E. I. 2804).—Horatius Bonar, D.D.: Light and Truth, Old Testament, p. 345.

THE MEMORIAL NAME

Isa . Thy LORD the LORD, and thy God.

The history, which includes the textual statement. Consider—

1. The character which God here claims for Himself.

1. Independent and self-existent in Being, and therefore—Infinite—fills all space; everlasting—fills all time; the source of all being.

2. Unlimited in perfection. All perfections. Infinite in each.

3. Unlimited in sovereignty. He does according to His will. His will the highest reason. None can counsel Him.

4. Unlimited in the extent of His government. None are exempted from it.

5. Himself the end of all things. Everything originates with Him. Everything terminates in Him.

II. The limitations which men put upon the claim which is thus made by God. They put limits upon,

1. His being. The having and worshipping false gods. That is not God which is not self-existent; and two self-existent Gods cannot be conceived.

2. His perfections. The conceptions which men form and express. The preference which man gives to the creature. The silence of man in His praise. The little imitation there is of Him. The manner in which men expect to recommend themselves to His favour. The manner in which His servants are treated.

3. On His absolute sovereignty. Confining our attention to systems of doctrine called Christian, men question God's absolute sovereignty, in the election, calling, justification, and perseverance of His people.

4. On the extent of His government. Some exclude Him from creation, providence, in prayer, conversation, conduct, civil authority, the government of the Church, and conscience.

5. As the end of all things. Men make themselves the end.

CONCLUSION.—He is not, and cannot be limited. In acting, He disregards the limits of men. He punishes the pride and insolence of man for limiting Him. He calls the notice of His people to the vindication of His glory.—James Stewart: Outlines of Discourses, pp. 2-4.

THE STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS OF THE CHURCH

(Preached before a Presbyterian General Assembly.)

Isa . Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion.

This language is a direct address from God to His ancient Church. The image which it presents is that of a sleeping giant. The Church of God had been a giant power in the world; but at the time in which God speaks it had relapsed into slumber—had put off its strength, and, being beset with enemies, this position of torpor and inaction was one of peril. Hence this arousing note of alarm, "Awake, awake!" The slumbering giant is not only summoned to arouse to consciousness, but to put on and put forth his strength for conflict and for victory.

The text is a forcible reminder of the mysterious and discouraging fact that the Church of God, in all ages, may have its times of weakness, as well as its times of power. When the Church first went forth from Jerusalem, a little flock, scattered hither and thither by the storm of persecution, it was a time of power. It was then but an infant of days, but it "lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the stream of centuries out of its channel."—(Richter.)

But a time of weakness followed this era of power—the dark night of the middle ages. Again there came a time of power when, on the morning of the Reformation, the Church heard the cry, "Awake, awake!" and, springing up with renewed youth, it put on its strength. The chill of formalism followed the track of the Reformation, and the Church sank into the coma of wide-spread paralysis; a disguised Romanism riveted her fetters; the Socinian apostasy spread its blight over Great Britain. But then came times of power, when the Church arose in quickened majesty; and still again, times of wondrous spiritual revival, when the call sounded by Wesley and Whitefield, like the voice of the prophet in the valley of vision, seemed to awake the dead.

I. Why these periods of weakness? If the Church is a giant begirt with power, and that power is divine; if it is commissioned to exercise the evil spirit from the world, and goes forth with the promise of help and victory, then why these times of weakness? Answer:—The power of the Church is divine, but it is also human. What man can do, he must do. To roll away the stone from the grave of Lazarus was something that man could do; hence our Lord commanded human hands to do it. This act of human strength must antecede the word of power which raises the dead. Divine power and human strength must work together, each in its appropriate sphere. Divine efficiency does not supersede human agency, but only supplements its weakness. If man's part in the work or warfare of the Church is properly executed, God's part will never fail. But, as the terror of the iron chariots of the enemy paralysed the strength of Judah—so that, the human part being wanting, the victory was lost (Jud )—so, in the Church, if any cause supervenes to weaken, or render ineffective, the strength which God expects us to put forth, He will not depart from His plan, or interpose to save us from the result of our own weakness, or to hide us from the scorn and derision of the world.

II. What is the strength of the Church, and when is it put off?

1. The first element of power is the Gospel. This is the one element for our work, the one weapon for our warfare—it is the power of God. The astronomer looks at the heavens. These stars are to be counted; these constellations are to be mapped; the orbits of these planets are to be observed. Here is a vast and complicated work; but how is it to be done? By the telescope. He has this, and nothing else. All the great results of astronomy must spring, first of all, from this single instrument. Just so the Church looks out upon its work. It is commissioned to bring this world in captivity to the obedience of Christ. A mighty and multiform work; how is it to be achieved? By the Gospel. God has given us this, and nothing else, to save the world. It is the "power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." "It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe." Moses was commanded to smite the rock at Horeb, and bring from its bosom streams of water. How? He was given but one instrument—the slender rod that he held in his hand. To human view the rock would be more likely to break the rod than the rod to rend the rock; but that fragile rod was God's ordained instrument of power; and, when it smote, the riven rock gushed with the living waters. Just so, the Word of God is the rod of power. We are commanded to smite with it alone, for by nothing else can the stony heart be broken. For every work which the Church is sent to do, this is the instrument of power.

This being so, we can readily see from this standpoint how this strength may be put off, and power give place to weakness. To neglect, to withhold, to minimise, to obscure in any manner the truth of God, is to put off this element of power, and to bring in a time of weakness.

This may occur

(1.) When the truth is depreciated, or its necessity not clearly recognised. Thus, for example, some say, "Preach morality; let us hear more about the duties of life, and less about the doctrines of the Cross." Morality, without principle, is a sham; it is tinselled fruit tied upon a Christmas-tree—the only connection is the tape that ties it. Morality is the fruit of principle, but principle is doctrine—and the only doctrine that bears this fruit is the doctrine of the Cross.

(2.) Whenever the Gospel is subordinated to human themes. If the Church dispenses essays upon history, antiquities, philosophy, politics, science, or reflects the light of the secular press, &c., it will be no marvel if it sinks into imbecility.

(3.) Our strength is crippled when the Gospel is caricatured by sensational themes, discussions, illustrations and expedients, which attract attention, indeed, but which belittle the sacred doctrine of the Cross.

But whilst causes like these paralyse our power, there are others which produce simply an abatement of strength. For example, the Church can only put forth half its strength when the Gospel is but half told. If it sets out in full light the Divine love, whilst it keeps back Divine justice under the shadow of a dark eclipse; if it tells of Christ's teachings, and is silent about Christ's sacrifice; if it points to Christ's life, and not to Christ's blood, as the centre of saving efficiency; if it sets out the freedom of man, and holds in abeyance Divine sovereignty and efficacious grace; or if it minimises the Gospel in the one sentence, "Come to Jesus;" or if it lays Christ as a humble suppliant at the feet of men until proud sinners imagine that it is a stoop of condescension to permit Jesus to save them—then, surely, it is no marvel that men turn away from a belittled Gospel and a belittled Saviour, and that the Church sits in weakness.

2. The second element is the ministry. Let us not lose sight of the figure of the text. The Church is a giant; the Gospel is the instrument of his work—the weapon of his warfare. But what wields the weapon? The giant's arm—this is the ministry. It is the arm or the agent of the Church's power. The symbol of the Gospel is a hammer, a word; but a hammer is powerless without a strong hand to use it; the sword is ineffective without a skilful arm to wield it. This arm, this sword, this agent of strength and skill, is the ministry.

This figure seems to describe accurately the kind of power with which the ministry is invested. It is not an original power inherent in itself, but a delegated power. It is the power of an agent, and it has an instrument of power put into its hands. It is not a power to infuse grace, or to forgive sins, or to bind the conscience, but simply an administrative power. It is a power of vocation to utter the Gospel call, to summon God's sons from afar, and His daughters from the ends of the earth. A teaching power—go teach all nations; preach the Gospel to every creature. A dispensing power to break the Bread of Life, and to distribute, with a liberal hand, to all God's children, giving to each a portion in due season. A power to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.

We may readily see when this strength is put on, and when it is put off. Whatever cripples or weakens or interferes with the right use and proper functions of a giant's arm, weakens and abates the effectiveness of the giant himself; so whatever weakens the ministry, or hinders its effectiveness, puts off to that extent the strength of the Church, and introduces a time of weakness and defeat.

(1.) The ministry, as an arm of power, may be withered by a perfunctory education. Ministers may be taught to know about God, but not to know God. They may learn to explain and defend the Gospel, without having ever felt that a single Gospel truth has been riveted as a living, burning power in their own souls. A minister who knows what it is to be a saved sinner, can tell of it with such power as to make others feel that there is nothing between them and eternal death but the blood of Jesus. But, without this experience, the minister will be a perfunctory drone, stepping in a treadmill, or doing out his lifeless essay whilst sinners are slipping through his fingers into perdition.

(2.) The ministry must be a source of weakness instead of power to the Church, if it is not in sympathy with the hearts of the people, and the souls of perishing men. He who was once lost but is found again, will know how to feel for the lost, and the lost will listen to him who once was lost himself. This is the natural power of the minister, the link of sympathy that binds him to the hearts of the people and the souls of men. If this be lost the ministry is powerless.

3. The third and principal element of the Church's power is the Holy Ghost. The implement of the Church's work is the Word; the arm of the Church's power is the ministry; but the power itself is the Holy Ghost. As He causeth the earth to bring forth and bud by showers from heaven, so He causes His Church to abound in the fruits of righteousness by times of refreshing from on high. A revival is a day of the Spirit's power, when the enemy is repulsed; when sinners are made willing; when doubt and unbelief are dissipated. If such a day of power were granted to us now, you would see rationalism, scepticism, and infidelity driven like smoke before the wind.

III. Such being the elements of the Church's power, and the causes which convert its strength into weakness, let us now listen to God's call to the Church to put on and put forth her strength. "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion!" An army puts on its strength when it goes forth to battle, but this is strength to destroy. A fireman puts on his strength when he enters a burning dwelling, and plucks its sleeping inmates from the flames. This is strength to save. Oh, it is a glorious thing to put on strength to save! How, then, shall we put on this strength?

Physical strength is put on in one way, and spiritual strength in another. Some seem to imagine that they have only to arouse and stir themselves into an agony of effort. Samson arose and shook himself, and thought he would go forth and smite the Philistines, as aforetime; but, alas! the strength was not there—it had departed from him. So the Church may shake herself and advance to the conflict, but the strength is not there; the Philistines are upon her, and she wists not that the Lord has departed. This is not the way! One who is physically strong is conscious of his strength, but one who is spiritually strong is conscious of nothing but weakness. Spiritual power, in its first element, is the sense of our own weakness.

No man ever puts on spiritual strength except on his knees. It was there that the apostles found it. When Peter stood forth and preached to the multitude, that day of Pentecost was a day of power; it was the Spirit's power; but how did the apostles put it on? Upon their knees; in those days of prayer, in the upper chamber in Jerusalem. It is upon our knees that the Church must put on its strength! Then shall our work be "mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds."—W. M. Paxton, D.D.


Verse 20

JEHOVAH'S ANGER

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the higher the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course when once it is let loose. If God should only withdraw His hand from the floodgate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.—Jonathan Edwards.

I. It is real. There is such a thing as anger in God. Many are the expressions used concerning it—jealousy, vengeance, fury, wrath; all to indicate its existence, and to show us that the human theories of Divine universal benevolence are not true, being got up for a purpose, and that purpose to persuade the sinner's own conscience that he need not be alarmed because of his guilt; and that no one need dread the infliction of punishment, except perhaps a few of the most wicked of our race. But God's words are not exaggerations, nor words of course. There is a terrible truth contained in these oft-repeated words of Scripture, "His anger was kindled." Loving and gracious as Jehovah is, His anger is real. When Jesus comes the second time, He comes to "take vengeance."

II. It is righteous. It is not the rage of selfishness, or passion, or affront. It is judicial anger; the anger of the righteous judge. It is anger against sin, against the sinner, anger because of insulted law and dishonoured righteousness. Nothing in it is unjust, or cruel, or arbitrary. Then the condemned soul will be compelled hereafter to say, "It is all right and just," it shall be right and just to all eternity."

III. It is terrible. Though calm, it is unutterably awful; nay, overwhelming. No power and no numbers shall be able to stand before it. It shall sweep everything before it like a whirlwind. The expulsion from paradise, the Deluge, the ruin of Sodom, are specimens of its terribleness. The lost soul shall be utterly overwhelmed. ( β)

IV. It is inexorable. Nothing but genuine repentance shall turn it aside, or soften it when once it is kindled. "The vengeance of eternal fire," the "everlasting burning," the "worm that dieth not," these are awful words, and however figurative they may be, they represent terrible realities (H. E. I. 2804).—Horatius Bonar, D.D.: Light and Truth, Old Testament, p. 345.

THE MEMORIAL NAME

Isa . Thy LORD the LORD, and thy God.

The history, which includes the textual statement. Consider—

1. The character which God here claims for Himself.

1. Independent and self-existent in Being, and therefore—Infinite—fills all space; everlasting—fills all time; the source of all being.

2. Unlimited in perfection. All perfections. Infinite in each.

3. Unlimited in sovereignty. He does according to His will. His will the highest reason. None can counsel Him.

4. Unlimited in the extent of His government. None are exempted from it.

5. Himself the end of all things. Everything originates with Him. Everything terminates in Him.

II. The limitations which men put upon the claim which is thus made by God. They put limits upon,

1. His being. The having and worshipping false gods. That is not God which is not self-existent; and two self-existent Gods cannot be conceived.

2. His perfections. The conceptions which men form and express. The preference which man gives to the creature. The silence of man in His praise. The little imitation there is of Him. The manner in which men expect to recommend themselves to His favour. The manner in which His servants are treated.

3. On His absolute sovereignty. Confining our attention to systems of doctrine called Christian, men question God's absolute sovereignty, in the election, calling, justification, and perseverance of His people.

4. On the extent of His government. Some exclude Him from creation, providence, in prayer, conversation, conduct, civil authority, the government of the Church, and conscience.

5. As the end of all things. Men make themselves the end.

CONCLUSION.—He is not, and cannot be limited. In acting, He disregards the limits of men. He punishes the pride and insolence of man for limiting Him. He calls the notice of His people to the vindication of His glory.—James Stewart: Outlines of Discourses, pp. 2-4.

THE STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS OF THE CHURCH

(Preached before a Presbyterian General Assembly.)

Isa . Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion.

This language is a direct address from God to His ancient Church. The image which it presents is that of a sleeping giant. The Church of God had been a giant power in the world; but at the time in which God speaks it had relapsed into slumber—had put off its strength, and, being beset with enemies, this position of torpor and inaction was one of peril. Hence this arousing note of alarm, "Awake, awake!" The slumbering giant is not only summoned to arouse to consciousness, but to put on and put forth his strength for conflict and for victory.

The text is a forcible reminder of the mysterious and discouraging fact that the Church of God, in all ages, may have its times of weakness, as well as its times of power. When the Church first went forth from Jerusalem, a little flock, scattered hither and thither by the storm of persecution, it was a time of power. It was then but an infant of days, but it "lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the stream of centuries out of its channel."—(Richter.)

But a time of weakness followed this era of power—the dark night of the middle ages. Again there came a time of power when, on the morning of the Reformation, the Church heard the cry, "Awake, awake!" and, springing up with renewed youth, it put on its strength. The chill of formalism followed the track of the Reformation, and the Church sank into the coma of wide-spread paralysis; a disguised Romanism riveted her fetters; the Socinian apostasy spread its blight over Great Britain. But then came times of power, when the Church arose in quickened majesty; and still again, times of wondrous spiritual revival, when the call sounded by Wesley and Whitefield, like the voice of the prophet in the valley of vision, seemed to awake the dead.

I. Why these periods of weakness? If the Church is a giant begirt with power, and that power is divine; if it is commissioned to exercise the evil spirit from the world, and goes forth with the promise of help and victory, then why these times of weakness? Answer:—The power of the Church is divine, but it is also human. What man can do, he must do. To roll away the stone from the grave of Lazarus was something that man could do; hence our Lord commanded human hands to do it. This act of human strength must antecede the word of power which raises the dead. Divine power and human strength must work together, each in its appropriate sphere. Divine efficiency does not supersede human agency, but only supplements its weakness. If man's part in the work or warfare of the Church is properly executed, God's part will never fail. But, as the terror of the iron chariots of the enemy paralysed the strength of Judah—so that, the human part being wanting, the victory was lost (Jud )—so, in the Church, if any cause supervenes to weaken, or render ineffective, the strength which God expects us to put forth, He will not depart from His plan, or interpose to save us from the result of our own weakness, or to hide us from the scorn and derision of the world.

II. What is the strength of the Church, and when is it put off?

1. The first element of power is the Gospel. This is the one element for our work, the one weapon for our warfare—it is the power of God. The astronomer looks at the heavens. These stars are to be counted; these constellations are to be mapped; the orbits of these planets are to be observed. Here is a vast and complicated work; but how is it to be done? By the telescope. He has this, and nothing else. All the great results of astronomy must spring, first of all, from this single instrument. Just so the Church looks out upon its work. It is commissioned to bring this world in captivity to the obedience of Christ. A mighty and multiform work; how is it to be achieved? By the Gospel. God has given us this, and nothing else, to save the world. It is the "power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." "It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe." Moses was commanded to smite the rock at Horeb, and bring from its bosom streams of water. How? He was given but one instrument—the slender rod that he held in his hand. To human view the rock would be more likely to break the rod than the rod to rend the rock; but that fragile rod was God's ordained instrument of power; and, when it smote, the riven rock gushed with the living waters. Just so, the Word of God is the rod of power. We are commanded to smite with it alone, for by nothing else can the stony heart be broken. For every work which the Church is sent to do, this is the instrument of power.

This being so, we can readily see from this standpoint how this strength may be put off, and power give place to weakness. To neglect, to withhold, to minimise, to obscure in any manner the truth of God, is to put off this element of power, and to bring in a time of weakness.

This may occur

(1.) When the truth is depreciated, or its necessity not clearly recognised. Thus, for example, some say, "Preach morality; let us hear more about the duties of life, and less about the doctrines of the Cross." Morality, without principle, is a sham; it is tinselled fruit tied upon a Christmas-tree—the only connection is the tape that ties it. Morality is the fruit of principle, but principle is doctrine—and the only doctrine that bears this fruit is the doctrine of the Cross.

(2.) Whenever the Gospel is subordinated to human themes. If the Church dispenses essays upon history, antiquities, philosophy, politics, science, or reflects the light of the secular press, &c., it will be no marvel if it sinks into imbecility.

(3.) Our strength is crippled when the Gospel is caricatured by sensational themes, discussions, illustrations and expedients, which attract attention, indeed, but which belittle the sacred doctrine of the Cross.

But whilst causes like these paralyse our power, there are others which produce simply an abatement of strength. For example, the Church can only put forth half its strength when the Gospel is but half told. If it sets out in full light the Divine love, whilst it keeps back Divine justice under the shadow of a dark eclipse; if it tells of Christ's teachings, and is silent about Christ's sacrifice; if it points to Christ's life, and not to Christ's blood, as the centre of saving efficiency; if it sets out the freedom of man, and holds in abeyance Divine sovereignty and efficacious grace; or if it minimises the Gospel in the one sentence, "Come to Jesus;" or if it lays Christ as a humble suppliant at the feet of men until proud sinners imagine that it is a stoop of condescension to permit Jesus to save them—then, surely, it is no marvel that men turn away from a belittled Gospel and a belittled Saviour, and that the Church sits in weakness.

2. The second element is the ministry. Let us not lose sight of the figure of the text. The Church is a giant; the Gospel is the instrument of his work—the weapon of his warfare. But what wields the weapon? The giant's arm—this is the ministry. It is the arm or the agent of the Church's power. The symbol of the Gospel is a hammer, a word; but a hammer is powerless without a strong hand to use it; the sword is ineffective without a skilful arm to wield it. This arm, this sword, this agent of strength and skill, is the ministry.

This figure seems to describe accurately the kind of power with which the ministry is invested. It is not an original power inherent in itself, but a delegated power. It is the power of an agent, and it has an instrument of power put into its hands. It is not a power to infuse grace, or to forgive sins, or to bind the conscience, but simply an administrative power. It is a power of vocation to utter the Gospel call, to summon God's sons from afar, and His daughters from the ends of the earth. A teaching power—go teach all nations; preach the Gospel to every creature. A dispensing power to break the Bread of Life, and to distribute, with a liberal hand, to all God's children, giving to each a portion in due season. A power to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.

We may readily see when this strength is put on, and when it is put off. Whatever cripples or weakens or interferes with the right use and proper functions of a giant's arm, weakens and abates the effectiveness of the giant himself; so whatever weakens the ministry, or hinders its effectiveness, puts off to that extent the strength of the Church, and introduces a time of weakness and defeat.

(1.) The ministry, as an arm of power, may be withered by a perfunctory education. Ministers may be taught to know about God, but not to know God. They may learn to explain and defend the Gospel, without having ever felt that a single Gospel truth has been riveted as a living, burning power in their own souls. A minister who knows what it is to be a saved sinner, can tell of it with such power as to make others feel that there is nothing between them and eternal death but the blood of Jesus. But, without this experience, the minister will be a perfunctory drone, stepping in a treadmill, or doing out his lifeless essay whilst sinners are slipping through his fingers into perdition.

(2.) The ministry must be a source of weakness instead of power to the Church, if it is not in sympathy with the hearts of the people, and the souls of perishing men. He who was once lost but is found again, will know how to feel for the lost, and the lost will listen to him who once was lost himself. This is the natural power of the minister, the link of sympathy that binds him to the hearts of the people and the souls of men. If this be lost the ministry is powerless.

3. The third and principal element of the Church's power is the Holy Ghost. The implement of the Church's work is the Word; the arm of the Church's power is the ministry; but the power itself is the Holy Ghost. As He causeth the earth to bring forth and bud by showers from heaven, so He causes His Church to abound in the fruits of righteousness by times of refreshing from on high. A revival is a day of the Spirit's power, when the enemy is repulsed; when sinners are made willing; when doubt and unbelief are dissipated. If such a day of power were granted to us now, you would see rationalism, scepticism, and infidelity driven like smoke before the wind.

III. Such being the elements of the Church's power, and the causes which convert its strength into weakness, let us now listen to God's call to the Church to put on and put forth her strength. "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion!" An army puts on its strength when it goes forth to battle, but this is strength to destroy. A fireman puts on his strength when he enters a burning dwelling, and plucks its sleeping inmates from the flames. This is strength to save. Oh, it is a glorious thing to put on strength to save! How, then, shall we put on this strength?

Physical strength is put on in one way, and spiritual strength in another. Some seem to imagine that they have only to arouse and stir themselves into an agony of effort. Samson arose and shook himself, and thought he would go forth and smite the Philistines, as aforetime; but, alas! the strength was not there—it had departed from him. So the Church may shake herself and advance to the conflict, but the strength is not there; the Philistines are upon her, and she wists not that the Lord has departed. This is not the way! One who is physically strong is conscious of his strength, but one who is spiritually strong is conscious of nothing but weakness. Spiritual power, in its first element, is the sense of our own weakness.

No man ever puts on spiritual strength except on his knees. It was there that the apostles found it. When Peter stood forth and preached to the multitude, that day of Pentecost was a day of power; it was the Spirit's power; but how did the apostles put it on? Upon their knees; in those days of prayer, in the upper chamber in Jerusalem. It is upon our knees that the Church must put on its strength! Then shall our work be "mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds."—W. M. Paxton, D.D.


Verse 22

JEHOVAH'S ANGER

The wrath of God is like great waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher, till an outlet is given; and the higher the stream is stopped, the more rapid and mighty is its course when once it is let loose. If God should only withdraw His hand from the floodgate, it would immediately fly open, and the fiery floods of the fierceness and wrath of God would rush forth with inconceivable fury, and would come upon you with omnipotent power; and if your strength were ten thousand times greater than it is, yea, ten thousand times greater than the strength of the stoutest, sturdiest devil in hell, it would be nothing to withstand or endure it.—Jonathan Edwards.

I. It is real. There is such a thing as anger in God. Many are the expressions used concerning it—jealousy, vengeance, fury, wrath; all to indicate its existence, and to show us that the human theories of Divine universal benevolence are not true, being got up for a purpose, and that purpose to persuade the sinner's own conscience that he need not be alarmed because of his guilt; and that no one need dread the infliction of punishment, except perhaps a few of the most wicked of our race. But God's words are not exaggerations, nor words of course. There is a terrible truth contained in these oft-repeated words of Scripture, "His anger was kindled." Loving and gracious as Jehovah is, His anger is real. When Jesus comes the second time, He comes to "take vengeance."

II. It is righteous. It is not the rage of selfishness, or passion, or affront. It is judicial anger; the anger of the righteous judge. It is anger against sin, against the sinner, anger because of insulted law and dishonoured righteousness. Nothing in it is unjust, or cruel, or arbitrary. Then the condemned soul will be compelled hereafter to say, "It is all right and just," it shall be right and just to all eternity."

III. It is terrible. Though calm, it is unutterably awful; nay, overwhelming. No power and no numbers shall be able to stand before it. It shall sweep everything before it like a whirlwind. The expulsion from paradise, the Deluge, the ruin of Sodom, are specimens of its terribleness. The lost soul shall be utterly overwhelmed. ( β)

IV. It is inexorable. Nothing but genuine repentance shall turn it aside, or soften it when once it is kindled. "The vengeance of eternal fire," the "everlasting burning," the "worm that dieth not," these are awful words, and however figurative they may be, they represent terrible realities (H. E. I. 2804).—Horatius Bonar, D.D.: Light and Truth, Old Testament, p. 345.

THE MEMORIAL NAME

Isa . Thy LORD the LORD, and thy God.

The history, which includes the textual statement. Consider—

1. The character which God here claims for Himself.

1. Independent and self-existent in Being, and therefore—Infinite—fills all space; everlasting—fills all time; the source of all being.

2. Unlimited in perfection. All perfections. Infinite in each.

3. Unlimited in sovereignty. He does according to His will. His will the highest reason. None can counsel Him.

4. Unlimited in the extent of His government. None are exempted from it.

5. Himself the end of all things. Everything originates with Him. Everything terminates in Him.

II. The limitations which men put upon the claim which is thus made by God. They put limits upon,

1. His being. The having and worshipping false gods. That is not God which is not self-existent; and two self-existent Gods cannot be conceived.

2. His perfections. The conceptions which men form and express. The preference which man gives to the creature. The silence of man in His praise. The little imitation there is of Him. The manner in which men expect to recommend themselves to His favour. The manner in which His servants are treated.

3. On His absolute sovereignty. Confining our attention to systems of doctrine called Christian, men question God's absolute sovereignty, in the election, calling, justification, and perseverance of His people.

4. On the extent of His government. Some exclude Him from creation, providence, in prayer, conversation, conduct, civil authority, the government of the Church, and conscience.

5. As the end of all things. Men make themselves the end.

CONCLUSION.—He is not, and cannot be limited. In acting, He disregards the limits of men. He punishes the pride and insolence of man for limiting Him. He calls the notice of His people to the vindication of His glory.—James Stewart: Outlines of Discourses, pp. 2-4.

THE STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS OF THE CHURCH

(Preached before a Presbyterian General Assembly.)

Isa . Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion.

This language is a direct address from God to His ancient Church. The image which it presents is that of a sleeping giant. The Church of God had been a giant power in the world; but at the time in which God speaks it had relapsed into slumber—had put off its strength, and, being beset with enemies, this position of torpor and inaction was one of peril. Hence this arousing note of alarm, "Awake, awake!" The slumbering giant is not only summoned to arouse to consciousness, but to put on and put forth his strength for conflict and for victory.

The text is a forcible reminder of the mysterious and discouraging fact that the Church of God, in all ages, may have its times of weakness, as well as its times of power. When the Church first went forth from Jerusalem, a little flock, scattered hither and thither by the storm of persecution, it was a time of power. It was then but an infant of days, but it "lifted empires off their hinges, and turned the stream of centuries out of its channel."—(Richter.)

But a time of weakness followed this era of power—the dark night of the middle ages. Again there came a time of power when, on the morning of the Reformation, the Church heard the cry, "Awake, awake!" and, springing up with renewed youth, it put on its strength. The chill of formalism followed the track of the Reformation, and the Church sank into the coma of wide-spread paralysis; a disguised Romanism riveted her fetters; the Socinian apostasy spread its blight over Great Britain. But then came times of power, when the Church arose in quickened majesty; and still again, times of wondrous spiritual revival, when the call sounded by Wesley and Whitefield, like the voice of the prophet in the valley of vision, seemed to awake the dead.

I. Why these periods of weakness? If the Church is a giant begirt with power, and that power is divine; if it is commissioned to exercise the evil spirit from the world, and goes forth with the promise of help and victory, then why these times of weakness? Answer:—The power of the Church is divine, but it is also human. What man can do, he must do. To roll away the stone from the grave of Lazarus was something that man could do; hence our Lord commanded human hands to do it. This act of human strength must antecede the word of power which raises the dead. Divine power and human strength must work together, each in its appropriate sphere. Divine efficiency does not supersede human agency, but only supplements its weakness. If man's part in the work or warfare of the Church is properly executed, God's part will never fail. But, as the terror of the iron chariots of the enemy paralysed the strength of Judah—so that, the human part being wanting, the victory was lost (Jud )—so, in the Church, if any cause supervenes to weaken, or render ineffective, the strength which God expects us to put forth, He will not depart from His plan, or interpose to save us from the result of our own weakness, or to hide us from the scorn and derision of the world.

II. What is the strength of the Church, and when is it put off?

1. The first element of power is the Gospel. This is the one element for our work, the one weapon for our warfare—it is the power of God. The astronomer looks at the heavens. These stars are to be counted; these constellations are to be mapped; the orbits of these planets are to be observed. Here is a vast and complicated work; but how is it to be done? By the telescope. He has this, and nothing else. All the great results of astronomy must spring, first of all, from this single instrument. Just so the Church looks out upon its work. It is commissioned to bring this world in captivity to the obedience of Christ. A mighty and multiform work; how is it to be achieved? By the Gospel. God has given us this, and nothing else, to save the world. It is the "power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." "It pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe." Moses was commanded to smite the rock at Horeb, and bring from its bosom streams of water. How? He was given but one instrument—the slender rod that he held in his hand. To human view the rock would be more likely to break the rod than the rod to rend the rock; but that fragile rod was God's ordained instrument of power; and, when it smote, the riven rock gushed with the living waters. Just so, the Word of God is the rod of power. We are commanded to smite with it alone, for by nothing else can the stony heart be broken. For every work which the Church is sent to do, this is the instrument of power.

This being so, we can readily see from this standpoint how this strength may be put off, and power give place to weakness. To neglect, to withhold, to minimise, to obscure in any manner the truth of God, is to put off this element of power, and to bring in a time of weakness.

This may occur

(1.) When the truth is depreciated, or its necessity not clearly recognised. Thus, for example, some say, "Preach morality; let us hear more about the duties of life, and less about the doctrines of the Cross." Morality, without principle, is a sham; it is tinselled fruit tied upon a Christmas-tree—the only connection is the tape that ties it. Morality is the fruit of principle, but principle is doctrine—and the only doctrine that bears this fruit is the doctrine of the Cross.

(2.) Whenever the Gospel is subordinated to human themes. If the Church dispenses essays upon history, antiquities, philosophy, politics, science, or reflects the light of the secular press, &c., it will be no marvel if it sinks into imbecility.

(3.) Our strength is crippled when the Gospel is caricatured by sensational themes, discussions, illustrations and expedients, which attract attention, indeed, but which belittle the sacred doctrine of the Cross.

But whilst causes like these paralyse our power, there are others which produce simply an abatement of strength. For example, the Church can only put forth half its strength when the Gospel is but half told. If it sets out in full light the Divine love, whilst it keeps back Divine justice under the shadow of a dark eclipse; if it tells of Christ's teachings, and is silent about Christ's sacrifice; if it points to Christ's life, and not to Christ's blood, as the centre of saving efficiency; if it sets out the freedom of man, and holds in abeyance Divine sovereignty and efficacious grace; or if it minimises the Gospel in the one sentence, "Come to Jesus;" or if it lays Christ as a humble suppliant at the feet of men until proud sinners imagine that it is a stoop of condescension to permit Jesus to save them—then, surely, it is no marvel that men turn away from a belittled Gospel and a belittled Saviour, and that the Church sits in weakness.

2. The second element is the ministry. Let us not lose sight of the figure of the text. The Church is a giant; the Gospel is the instrument of his work—the weapon of his warfare. But what wields the weapon? The giant's arm—this is the ministry. It is the arm or the agent of the Church's power. The symbol of the Gospel is a hammer, a word; but a hammer is powerless without a strong hand to use it; the sword is ineffective without a skilful arm to wield it. This arm, this sword, this agent of strength and skill, is the ministry.

This figure seems to describe accurately the kind of power with which the ministry is invested. It is not an original power inherent in itself, but a delegated power. It is the power of an agent, and it has an instrument of power put into its hands. It is not a power to infuse grace, or to forgive sins, or to bind the conscience, but simply an administrative power. It is a power of vocation to utter the Gospel call, to summon God's sons from afar, and His daughters from the ends of the earth. A teaching power—go teach all nations; preach the Gospel to every creature. A dispensing power to break the Bread of Life, and to distribute, with a liberal hand, to all God's children, giving to each a portion in due season. A power to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.

We may readily see when this strength is put on, and when it is put off. Whatever cripples or weakens or interferes with the right use and proper functions of a giant's arm, weakens and abates the effectiveness of the giant himself; so whatever weakens the ministry, or hinders its effectiveness, puts off to that extent the strength of the Church, and introduces a time of weakness and defeat.

(1.) The ministry, as an arm of power, may be withered by a perfunctory education. Ministers may be taught to know about God, but not to know God. They may learn to explain and defend the Gospel, without having ever felt that a single Gospel truth has been riveted as a living, burning power in their own souls. A minister who knows what it is to be a saved sinner, can tell of it with such power as to make others feel that there is nothing between them and eternal death but the blood of Jesus. But, without this experience, the minister will be a perfunctory drone, stepping in a treadmill, or doing out his lifeless essay whilst sinners are slipping through his fingers into perdition.

(2.) The ministry must be a source of weakness instead of power to the Church, if it is not in sympathy with the hearts of the people, and the souls of perishing men. He who was once lost but is found again, will know how to feel for the lost, and the lost will listen to him who once was lost himself. This is the natural power of the minister, the link of sympathy that binds him to the hearts of the people and the souls of men. If this be lost the ministry is powerless.

3. The third and principal element of the Church's power is the Holy Ghost. The implement of the Church's work is the Word; the arm of the Church's power is the ministry; but the power itself is the Holy Ghost. As He causeth the earth to bring forth and bud by showers from heaven, so He causes His Church to abound in the fruits of righteousness by times of refreshing from on high. A revival is a day of the Spirit's power, when the enemy is repulsed; when sinners are made willing; when doubt and unbelief are dissipated. If such a day of power were granted to us now, you would see rationalism, scepticism, and infidelity driven like smoke before the wind.

III. Such being the elements of the Church's power, and the causes which convert its strength into weakness, let us now listen to God's call to the Church to put on and put forth her strength. "Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion!" An army puts on its strength when it goes forth to battle, but this is strength to destroy. A fireman puts on his strength when he enters a burning dwelling, and plucks its sleeping inmates from the flames. This is strength to save. Oh, it is a glorious thing to put on strength to save! How, then, shall we put on this strength?

Physical strength is put on in one way, and spiritual strength in another. Some seem to imagine that they have only to arouse and stir themselves into an agony of effort. Samson arose and shook himself, and thought he would go forth and smite the Philistines, as aforetime; but, alas! the strength was not there—it had departed from him. So the Church may shake herself and advance to the conflict, but the strength is not there; the Philistines are upon her, and she wists not that the Lord has departed. This is not the way! One who is physically strong is conscious of his strength, but one who is spiritually strong is conscious of nothing but weakness. Spiritual power, in its first element, is the sense of our own weakness.

No man ever puts on spiritual strength except on his knees. It was there that the apostles found it. When Peter stood forth and preached to the multitude, that day of Pentecost was a day of power; it was the Spirit's power; but how did the apostles put it on? Upon their knees; in those days of prayer, in the upper chamber in Jerusalem. It is upon our knees that the Church must put on its strength! Then shall our work be "mighty, through God, to the pulling down of strongholds."—W. M. Paxton, D.D.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Isaiah 51:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/isaiah-51.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Thursday, May 28th, 2020
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