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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary
Isaiah 61



Verse 1

Isaiah 61:1

The person of our blessed Lord is a type of the mystic personality of His Church. The notes by which He was manifested to the world as the true Messiah are notes by which also His Church is manifested to the world as the true Church. He was to be the true Healer and Comforter of all, bringing good tidings of good, binding up broken hearts, loosing prisoners out of bondage, comforting mourners, sympathising with all, drawing all that are afflicted to Himself, by the consciousness of their own miseries and by the attractions of His compassion. And this He did by His own Divine love, by His perfect human sympathy, by His own mysterious experience as the Man of Sorrows.

I. Such was His character and ministry; such is the character and ministry of His mystical body, the Church. The anointing which was upon Him flowed down from the Head to the members. So we find after His ascension. The Holy Ghost came upon the Apostles on the Day of Pentecost, and thenceforward they opened their work of compassion and of spiritual mercy by works of healing and by words of consolation. It was indeed the dispensation of the Comforter; the Church was the almoner of the poor, the physician of souls, the solace of the afflicted. It spoke peace, forgiveness, ransom, purity, gladness of heart, to all. And after the descent of the Spirit, the Church passed into that truest discipline of sympathy, the experience of sorrow. Christians were sons of consolation, because they were men of sorrows. To the poor was given the first place in Christ's earthly kingdom; widows, orphans, mourners, were so many distinct orders whom the Church nourished and consoled; little children were among its chiefest cares. The whole visible system of hospitals, asylums, alms-houses, and the like, are the expression and means of fulfilling the ends of mercy for which the Messiah was anointed by the Spirit of the Lord.

II. What has been said will show us the benefit of affliction to the Church. It is most certain that it was never so like its Divine Head as when it suffered for His name's sake. Whatsoever adversity be upon us, it is manifestly a token not only of God's love, but of God's purpose, to make us fitter for His work of mercy to the world.

III. Another thing we learn from what has been said is the design of God in afflicting the several members of the Church. It is to make them partakers of this true note of Christ's mystical body. We are all by nature hard and unsympathising. By our regeneration we learn to see the great truth of Christian compassion; but it lies dormant in us, until by the visitations of God's hand it is unfolded into contrition and spiritual sorrow. It is God's deepest way of teaching, and what we learn by affliction is our truest learning.

H. E. Manning, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 200.

It is a blessed name of Jesus, and as true as it is blessed—the Liberator. We can scarcely conceive anything grander, or more delightful, than to be always going about making everything free. To this end, Christ first liberated Himself.

I. As in Him there was no sin, He never indeed could know the worst of all bondage—the bondage of the spirit to the flesh. But He did know the restraints of fear; He did feel the harassing of indecision; He did experience the irksomeness of the sense of a body too narrow for the largeness of His soul; and He did go through the contractions of all that is material, and the mortifying conventionalities of life,—for He was hungry, thirsty, weary, sad, and the sport of fools. From all this Christ freed Himself—distinctly, progressively, He freed Himself. Step by step, He led captivity captive. He made for Himself a spiritual body, which, in its own nature, and by the law of its being, soared at once beyond the trammels of its humanity. And therefore He is the Liberator, because He was once Himself the Prisoner.

II. And all Christ did, and all Christ was, upon this earth—His whole mission—was essentially either to teach or to give liberty. His preaching was, for the most part, to change the constraint of law into the largeness of love. Every word He said, in private or in public, proved expansion. He was always opening new fields of thought and being, bidding men go out into the breadth of the liberty of their sonship and their destiny and their immortality. His disciples were always looking down into the valleys and shut-up things: He led them to the high hills beyond. Men saw the shadows: He pointed to the sun travelling in its strength, without which those shadows could not be, and into which all those shadows were to be absorbed.

III. When Christ burst through all the tombs—the moral tombs and the physical tombs in which we all lay buried—and when He went out into life and glory, He was not Himself alone,—He was at that moment the covenanted Head of a mystical body, and all that body rose with Him. If so be you have union with Christ, you are risen; bondage is past; you are free.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 274.

I. There are two kinds of broken hearts: the natural and the spiritual. They may be united; and sometimes the heart is broken in nature, when it is very plain that it may be broken in grace. Often they are divided. Every broken heart becomes the subject of Jesus' care, and is dear to Him, if for no other reason in the world but for this—because it is unhappy.

II. Christ was Himself well trained in the school of suffering hearts, that He might learn to bind the mourners. All which goes to break men's hearts He felt. No wonder then that the bindings are what they are. (1) They are delicate. (2) They are very wise. (3) They are sure and thorough. There is no such thing as a half-cure in that treatment. No heart which has not known a breaking knows indeed what strength is.

J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, p. 269.

References: Isaiah 61:1.—J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 7th series, pp. 262, 282; A. F. Barfield, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 70; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii., No. 1604; Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 337; W. M. Punshon, Old Testament Outlines, p. 239.

Verses 1-3

Isaiah 61:1-3

Observe the breadth and comprehensiveness of this great announcement. It includes all forms and classes of sorrow: "the poor"—the world's sad and uniform majority; "the brokenhearted"—all the children of sorrow; "the captives"—all upon whose soul ignorance or sin had bound fetters; "the blind "—all who were insensible to the light and joy with which Christ's mercy had filled the world. He came to teach all who needed teaching, to heal all who needed healing, to liberate all who were deprived of freedom. The misery that selfish men traded on, that sentimental pity turned away from because it could not bear to look upon it, His strong, healthy compassion went amongst; His hand was firm as His heart was tender. He had no professional narrowness that excluded the pariahs of life. He assumed no Pharisaic superiority. He seemed as if unconscious of Himself—a pure, ministering angel of God, bent only upon pitying and saving others. Let us distinctly note His principles and motives.

I. Can we suppose that His natural tastes and sympathies were not hurt by such association? He had no preference for squalor and poverty and misery for their own sakes. We may be sure that all the human sensibilities and refinements of our Lord would be jarred and pained by His contact with the poor, and yet we never hear of Him borrowing an excuse from His sensibilities.

II. Nor can we think of Him as insensible to the vices, the moral loathsomeness, of those to whom He ministered. His sinless sensitive soul came into direct contact with the world's reprobates, whose every word was a blasphemy and every act a sin. He subjected Himself to the unspeakable moral anguish of this: "endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself."

III. Nor did He throw the glamour of romance about the vices of the poor. He spake to them, and of them, with a calm, clear, righteous judgment, without favour and without partiality. They were not interesting because they were wicked. His pity was perfectly holy. Their misery touched not His sentimentalism, but His deep, strong, holy compassion.

IV. In proclaiming His mission to the poor, our Lord began at the root of the world's misery and sin. All the mightiest social influences come from beneath, upwards. If we would make the tree good, we must mend its root, not its upper branches. The religious system which is strong enough and purifying enough to sanctify the poor will thereby most effectually influence the rich.

H. Allon, Sermons at the Dedication of Union Chapel, Islington, p. 175.

I. The text declares that the true ministry is always inspired and directed by the Holy Ghost. "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me." The minister does not speak in his own name, or work in his own strength. A ministry without the Holy Ghost is a cloud without water; a Church without the Holy Ghost is a tree twice dead, that cannot too soon be plucked up by the roots. That our service may be animated by the Holy Spirit, and should express Divine ideas and purposes, is clear from the consideration that ours is not an earthly ministry contemplating earthly matters. When we are working not for this world only, but for worlds we have never seen, and which have been revealed to us by a Spirit which is not of this world, we have to be careful that we work not in our own strength or after our own imagination, but clearly, steadily, and constantly along the line of Divine inspiration.

II. The text shows us that the true ministry is animated by the sublimest benevolence. If you read the statement given by the prophet, you will find throughout the statement a tone of kindliness, benevolence, sympathy, gentleness, pity, for all human sorrow. Therein may be known the true ministry of the Gospel. Suspect every ministry that is gloomy. The keynote of the Gospel is joy; the watchword of the Gospel is liberty. Any ministry, public or private, that increases our gloom is a ministry that never came out of yonder central Light that is the light of the universe.

III. The text shows that the true ministry, whether public or private, never shrinks from its more awful functions. Observe this sentence in the midst of the declarations of the text: "To proclaim the day of vengeance of our God." There must yet be a day of vengeance in human history. Without a day of vengeance human history would not be merely poetically incomplete, but morally imperfect.

Parker, City Temple, 1870, p. 397.

References: Isaiah 61:2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1369; Preacher's Monthly, vol. v., p. 44, and vol. ix., p. 50.

Verse 3

Isaiah 61:3

I. God's people are called "trees of righteousness" because they are "the planting of the Lord." Godliness is not a thing which any craft of man can fashion. A man can no more make Himself godly than he can make a tree, or so much as the seed of a tree. If he becomes so, it must be the work of God. When God gave His word to man, He gave it to be full of seeds. If this seed be duly sown in the heart (it matters not by what means—let it only be sown), and if it neither be choked by thorns, nor burnt up by the heat, nor killed by the frost, the plant thus sown, if God watches over it and prospers it, will grow up to be a tree of righteousness.

II. Growth is a second point of likeness between trees and godliness, which makes it proper to call the righteous "trees of righteousness." Without the sun and air and rain, where would be the growth of the tree? Without the light and the purifying breath and dew of God's Spirit, where would be the growth of the Christian? It is God, and God alone, who giveth the growth and increase. What then is left for man to do toward working out his salvation? It is left for man (1) to pray; (2) to seek manure for the spiritual orchard in the constant study of God's word, and in diligent attendance on the ordinances of his Church.

III. A third likeness between the spiritual and the natural tree is that their growth is by degrees. A forest tree does not spring up in a day or a month or a year. Nor do the trees of righteousness; they too want time to grow. Plant your tree in good time, that you may be trees and not gourds.

IV. The next and perhaps the most remarkable point of likeness between the spiritual and vegetable life is the sap which flows through a healthy tree and makes it thrive and grow. "The trees of the Lord are full of sap." In other words, they are full of Christian feeling, which is the food and nourishment of Christian practice. You can no more have the fruits of holiness, without the life-blood of Christian love, than you can have a tree thriving and growing without sap.

V. The finest trees are rooted deep in earth, and point in their uprightness to heaven. So too must we have our root of faith strong in Christ; so our hearts must look, our minds must turn, our souls must rise, toward heaven.

A. W. Hare, The Alton Sermons, p. 258.

References: Isaiah 61:3—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1016; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 463; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. x., p. 20, and vol. xiv., p. 15; W. H. Jackson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxi., p. 346; Forsyth and Hamilton, Pulpit Parables, p. 1.

Verse 10-11

Isaiah 61:10-11

"The robe of righteousness" is a familiar phrase with evangelical Christians. Adopted, undoubtedly, from the passage just read, it is used to denote that righteousness of the Lord Jesus which they who believe in Him are supposed to have attributed to them by God, so that their actual personal imperfections and defects disappear before Him, like some foul or ugly object beneath the overspreading of a fair white mantle; and He is enabled to accept them for what they are not—to regard and deal with them as sinless.

I. Now here is, first, an assumption—the false and cruel assumption—that the great Father, while waiting the gradual accomplishment of our complete purification from sin, requires to have our existing sinfulness hidden from Him, requires to have it veiled and concealed; that He must not be revolted nor disturbed by the spectacle; that we must be made somehow, nay anyhow, at least to look clean to Him, whatever our actual uncleanness may be; that He is not capable of enduring the sight of His children as they are, but needs that a mask shall be worn by them, to smile between Him and their unseemliness. Is it conceivable that God should ever be content to be blind to that which is, that He should ever endure to have any reality disguised to Him? Can aught be hidden from Him, the All-seeing One?

II. Turn now to the prophet, whose noble figure has been so miserably perverted, so falsely applied, and observe how different his idea of the robe of which he speaks. "The Lord hath covered me," he says, "as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels," which seems to imply certainly a putting on from without, and nothing more; yet, if we consider, the writer may well have discerned, in the lavish decoration of themselves on the part of the bridegroom and the bride, something more than that—not a mere imposition, but an expression, the natural expression, of what was within. But then, as if apprehensive of mistakes—as if anxious to guard against the conclusion that the robe of which he sang was only flung over him from without—the prophet hastens on to a further and more complete illustration (Isaiah 61:11), as though He had said: While in the self-adorning of the bridegroom and the bride on their wedding-day, I find an image of the grace with which my Lord clothes me, and of the joy that belongs to it, yet this fails to represent the whole of the matter—fails, indeed, to represent the profoundest and most important part of it, viz., the modus operandi—the way in which my clothing is effected. That is adumbrated, in the world of material nature, in the vernal decking of the bare brown fields, and the winter-stripped pleasure grounds. What is it, and whence comes it? Is it not just a growth from within—an efflux upon the surface of life that throbs below—a bursting through and running over of the earth's own germ-charged bosom? And God's robe of righteousness is the forth-flowing upon me of His hidden movement and working in my soul—not a robe laid on, but a robe coming out—not a robe assumed, but a robe issuing; it is the holy character and the holy living that are begotten of His Divine inbreathing.

S. A. Tipple, Echoes of Spoken Words, p. 107.

Reference: Isaiah 61:10.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xvi., p. 17.

Verse 11

Isaiah 61:11

Just as incredible as spring is to winter, as life is to death, is the summer splendour that shall one day mantle this sad world, this sad universe, to the darkness and drearihood of its present winter and night.

I. Consider the concords of the natural and the human worlds. The worlds are one; the Author is one; the life is one. Nature fits man as a dress the body. Man is the mould on which, as a garment, nature is fashioned. Isaiah had a keen eye for this unity. His prophecies are full of imaginative revelations of the likeness between the ways of God in nature and in man. The future of the world, of the universe, unfolded itself before him, as the outburst of a glorious spring—a spring which should know no autumn, a dawn that should never darken into night.

II. The winter of life and of the world. All that we look upon, all that strains our pity, oppresses our sympathy, saddens our heart and kills our hope, to the prophet's eye was but as the earth in winter—bare, bleak, stern, cold, dark, storm-beaten, frost-nipped, a wilderness of desolation, a waste of death. It is winter; and winter, let us understand, it will be yet. But in our dark despondent moods we entrench ourselves in the promise, "The Lord God shall cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."

III. The certainty of a future everlasting spring. The law reigns throughout all the spheres, that light shall burst out of darkness, spring out of winter, life out of death. To an intelligent eye winter is not all desolation. There is a prophecy in every shrinking bud and blade. There is a living thing shining faintly under the pall. Those see it most whose hearts are most attuned to sympathy with the patience and the hope of God. There is more good in the worst heart than any of us dare credit. There is more seed springing under the hard dead crust of winter than any of us dare dream.

J. Baldwin Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 111.

Reference: Isaiah 61:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix., No. 1104.


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Isaiah 61:4". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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