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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Isaiah 43

 

 

Verses 1-3

DISCOURSE: 930

GOD’S CARE FOR HIS PEOPLE

Isaiah 43:1-3. Now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for 1 have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name: thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.

IT is almost impossible for any one to read the Holy Scriptures with attention, and not to notice the very remarkable manner in which many of the richest promises are introduced. God seems, in them, determined to magnify his own grace; and to shew, that “where sin hath abounded, his grace shall much more abound [Note: Romans 5:20.].” Let any one read the two last verses of the preceding chapter, and then pass on to the promise which I have just read; and he will see this illustrated in a very striking point of view — — — The Jews, to this day, experience the mercy and the faithfulness of God in his wonderful preservation of them, in order to a richer display of his goodness towards them than they have ever yet known [Note: ver. 4–7.]. And all the servants of Jehovah, in every age, may be assured of similar protection, in order to their present and eternal welfare.

In opening the words before us, we will notice,

I. What is here supposed respecting the people of God—

[It is taken for granted that they shall be a suffering people, according to what is spoken by the Prophet Zephaniah: “I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people [Note: Zephaniah 3:12.].” In a greater or less degree this is the state of all; they have to pass through deep waters, and even, as it were, through the fire itself, in the service of their God. Sometimes they are afflicted by persecution, and sometimes by temptation; for both to men and devils are they objects of inveterate hostility. From the days of Cain to this very hour, have “those who were born after the flesh persecuted those who were born after the Spirit [Note: Galatians 4:29.]:” nor can any “who will live godly in Christ Jesus hope to escape” their virulent assaults [Note: 2 Timothy 3:12.]. And where is there a child of God whom that great “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, does not labour to devour [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.]?” There is not one who has not “some thorn in the flesh, some messenger of Satan to buffet him [Note: Psalms 91:15.].” Look at all the most favoured servants of the Lord—at Job, and Heman, and Asaph, and David, and Paul—and you will find them all “chosen in the furnace of affliction, even as our blessed Lord himself, who was pre-eminently a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief [Note: Isaiah 53:3.].” Indeed there is a necessity for this; because there is in all the servants of God much dross, which needs the fire of affliction to purge it away; and it is in the furnace that they learn the evil of their own hearts, and the power and efficacy of divine grace: it is under tribulation chiefly, that they acquire “patience and experience, and a hope that shall never make them ashamed [Note: Romans 5:5.].”]

But, however painful their state, they have abundant consolation in,

II. What is here promised to them—

[God will be with his people under all their trials: as he has said, “I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.” He will be with his people both by the manifestations of his presence and the communications of his grace; so that, under their severest afflictions, they shall have abundant support. Remarkable is that expression of the Psalmist, “Thou shall hide them in the secret of thy presence [Note: Psalms 31:20.].” The man that is in the presence of his God, and has the light of his countenance lifted up upon him, is inaccessible to his enemies, and may laugh at all their assaults. See Paul and Silas in prison, under circumstances as painful as could well be inflicted on them; yet, behold, they are singing praises to God at mid-night. And see the Hebrew Youths in the furnace into which an infuriated tyrant had cast them: “not so much as a hair of their head was singed, or even the smell of fire had passed on them.” Such are the interpositions of God in behalf of all his faithful servants, that “where their afflictions have abounded, their consolations have much more abounded [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.].” The very waves which desolated all the world besides, bore up the ark, and carried it to a place of safety. And so shall the sea itself afford a passage to all the “ransomed of the Lord to pass over,” in the way to the land of promise [Note: Isaiah 51:10.]. But let not this be taken upon my word. Let David speak, from actual experience: “Thou, O God, hast proved us; thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net: thou laidest affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads: we went through fire and through water; but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place [Note: Psalms 66:10-12.].”]

Of the fulfilment of this promise we can entertain no doubt, when we consider,

III. The ground upon which the promise is made—

[It is pleasing to observe with what satisfaction God contemplates the relation in which he stands to his people, and with what delight he expatiates upon it: “Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and He that formed thee, O Israel; Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour.” Here is abundant security to us for the accomplishment of every word that God has spoken. For he takes an interest in his people, such as a man feels in reference to his dearest possessions. He puts them, we will say, into the furnace. But will he leave them there without any concern about them? No: “he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver,” to watch the process, and to bring them forth the very instant that his gracious designs are wrought upon them; that so they may come forth “as vessels of honour, meet for their Master’s use [Note: Malachi 3:3.].” Are they “a vineyard which his right hand has planted?” “he will keep it, and water it every moment: lest any hurt it, he will keep it night and day [Note: Isaiah 27:3.].’ No parent can sympathize with his afflicted child more tenderly than he did with his people under their trials: “In all their affliction he was afflicted: and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old [Note: Isaiah 63:9.].” In a word, they are his children; and therefore he enters so affectionately into all their concerns: “Is not Ephraim my dear son? is he not a pleasant child? For since I spake against him, I do earnestly remember him still: therefore my bowels are troubled for him: I will surely have mercy upon him, saith the Lord [Note: Jeremiah 31:20.].”]

Infer—

1. What consolation does the Gospel of Christ afford!

[In the Old Testament we have those very promises of which we have spoken. But it is the Gospel which gives us the full insight into them. We behold in the Old Testament the redemption of Israel from Egypt, and their ultimate establishment in the land of Canaan. But these were a mere shadow of the redemption that has been wrought for us by Christ, and of those spiritual mercies which are vouchsafed to us in our way to the Canaan that is above. These are, above all, to be noticed. These give us the true insight into the mystery of the burning bush [Note: Exodus 3:2.]. Not the Church at large only, but every true believer is that burning bush, in whom God shall to all eternity be glorified. “Tribulation is appointed for us as our way [Note: Acts 14:22.]:” but most glorious shall be our end [Note: Revelation 7:14-15.].]

2. How needful for us is it that we obtain an interest in Christ!

[It is in Christ alone that these promises are made to us [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:20.]. If we are in him, the promises, and all that they contain, are ours [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.].” Let us be able to say with David, “The Lord is my shepherd:” and then we may safely add, “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy (pastoral) rod and staff, they comfort me [Note: Psalms 23:1-4.].”]


Verse 2

DISCOURSE: 932

THE SAINTS ARE WITNESSES FOR GOD

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.

GOD is a jealous God, and cannot endure that any other should be put in competition with him. Hence he takes frequent occasion to reprove the idolatry into which his people were ever prone to relapse. He shews them the folly of cutting down a tree, and kindling a fire with part of the wood, and roasting their food with it, and then fashioning another part of the same tree into the image of a man, and bowing down to it as a god. He challenges them and all the world to bring any single instance of such senseless idols having ever revealed things that were long past and forgotten, or of their having ever foretold future events, or effected for their votaries any signal deliverance. He appeals to them, that He had done these things for them; and that therefore they themselves were witnesses for him, that he was the only true God.

A similar appeal may properly be made to the people of God at this day. They have within themselves very convincing proofs of his exclusive right to universal adoration;

I. In what he has taught them—

He has given them such views of Divine truth as they could not possibly obtain from any other quarter. He has shewn them,

1. The depravity of their nature—

[Others may profess in words that they are fallen creatures; but who over learned, from more study, or the instructions of man, that his “heart was deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked?” Who ever so learned it, as really to “abhor himself in dust and ashes?” — — — But God does teach all his people this lesson — — — and all who have learned it, are therefore living witnesses of his almighty power and grace.]

2. The excellency of Christ—

[To compliment Christ with honourable titles is common enough. But who can open a man’s eyes, so that he shall “behold the glory of God in his face?” — — — Yet this is done for all the Lord’s people. To every one of them “Christ is truly precious” — — — In this respect therefore they are witnesses that their teacher is the omnipotent Jehovah.]

3. The beauty of holiness—

[However some particular virtues may be admired in the world, the holiness which the Gospel requires is odious in their eyes. Penitence is considered as melancholy; devotion, as hypocrisy: zeal for God, as enthusiasm; and an earnest expectation of glory, as consummate pride and presumption

DISCOURSE: 932

THE SAINTS ARE WITNESSES FOR GOD

Isaiah 43; Isaiah 12. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God.

GOD is a jealous God, and cannot endure that any other should be put in competition with him. Hence he takes frequent occasion to reprove the idolatry into which his people were ever prone to relapse. He shews them the folly of cutting down a tree, and kindling a fire with part of the wood, and roasting their food with it, and then fashioning another part of the same tree into the image of a man, and bowing down to it as a god. He challenges them and all the world to bring any single instance of such senseless idols having ever revealed things that were long past and forgotten, or of their having ever foretold future events, or effected for their votaries any signal deliverance. He appeals to them, that He had done these things for them; and that therefore they themselves were witnesses for him, that he was the only true God.

A similar appeal may properly be made to the people of God at this day. They have within themselves very convincing proofs of his exclusive right to universal adoration;

I. In what he has taught them—

He has given them such views of Divine truth as they could not possibly obtain from any other quarter. He has shewn them,

1. The depravity of their nature—

[Others may profess in words that they are fallen creatures; but who over learned, from more study, or the instructions of man, that his “heart was deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked?” Who ever so learned it, as really to “abhor himself in dust and ashes?” — — — But God does teach all his people this lesson — — — and all who have learned it, are therefore living witnesses of his almighty power and grace.]

2. The excellency of Christ—

[To compliment Christ with honourable titles is common enough. But who can open a man’s eyes, so that he shall “behold the glory of God in his face?” — — — Yet this is done for all the Lord’s people. To every one of them “Christ is truly precious” — — — In this respect therefore they are witnesses that their teacher is the omnipotent Jehovah.]

3. The beauty of holiness—

[However some particular virtues may be admired in the world, the holiness which the Gospel requires is odious in their eyes. Penitence is considered as melancholy; devotion, as hypocrisy: zeal for God, as enthusiasm; and an earnest expectation of glory, as consummate pride and presumption. And who can alter their views? Not an Apostle, nor even an angel from heaven. They might be silenced; but nothing less than Omnipotence can so change their sentiments, as to make them in love with a spiritual and heavenly life. But the Child of God sees that such a life is the perfection of bliss, a very heaven upon earth — — — and herein also is a witness, that the God whom he serves is the only true God.]

But the Children of God are also living witnesses of his power and Godhead,

II. In what he has done for them—

We acknowledge the creation to be an evidence that the Maker thereof is God: and so likewise is the work which God hath wrought in his saints.

1. He has created them anew—

[The change that takes place in conversion is not an outward and partial, but an inward and universal, change. It is “a new birth,” a “renovation of the inward man after the image of God” — — — But where is the power that can effect this? Let philosophy try her powers; let reason exert herself: “the old man,” the corrupt principles of nature, will laugh at them, and defy their utmost exertions — — — But is not this change actually wrought in thousands? We grant, that in many who have professed to have experienced it, it is but very imperfectly produced; yea, and that many who think it has been wrought m them only deceive their own souls: but all the Apostles were not like Judas; nor are all professors of religion hypocrites. Take then the upright and consistent Christian, and tell me whether any power on earth can produce such a character? — — — if not, he is a witness for God, that HE alone is worthy of our hope and dependence.]

2. He has elevated them above the world—

[There is among the professors of religion so great a diversity of attainment, and we are so little able to judge respecting the secret experience of their hearts, that we cannot with any certainty form our estimate of the Christian character from what we see around us: we must go to the inspired volume, and take that as the only standard of Christian experience. Now we know that Christians are there represented as “not being of the world, any more than Christ himself was of the world:” and we see there examples of persons altogether “crucified to the world,” to its cares, its pleasures, and to every thing that is in it. That there are but few Christians in the present day who have arrived at the Scripture standard, we confess with grief and shame; and it will be well if many of them do not find themselves awfully mistaken, when they shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ: but the truth is the same, whether few or many experience it; and it is a certain fact, that every Child of God is delivered from the love of this present evil world — — — and the fewness of those, whose lives correspond with their professions, tends to prove, rather than to disprove, the point we have affirmed. For, where shall we find one person truly elevated above the world, unless amongst those who have been born of God? Some may be found who are dissatisfied with the world, and who from age or other circumstances find no relish for it: but if they were put into a capacity to enjoy the world as they once did, their love of it would be found as strong as ever. We defy the whole world to produce one, who by the mere powers of reason has been raised above the world; and this is a decisive proof that the deadness to the world which true Christians experience, is the work of an Almighty arm.]

3. He has filled them with spiritual peace and joy—

[The peace and joy which the unconverted man possesses, will vanish at the prospect of death and judgment: or if under the influences of deluded hopes they retain a confidence, the peace flowing from that confidence is as different from that which is “the fruit of the Spirit,” as the ravings of a maniac are from the suggestions of sober reason — — — But the true Christian has “a peace that passeth all understanding,” and “a joy that is unspeakable and glorified” — — — Whence does ho obtain this? Who but God can give it him? or who can take it away, when God has given it him? Here then again is he a witness for God, that his power and grace are infinite.]

Address—

Those who idolatrously exalt the creature—

[See the challenge given by God himself [Note: ver. 8, 9.]: produce the people that have obtained from any but Jehovah, either this knowledge, or this experience. We defy the whole universe. “Bring forth your witnesses, that you may be justified: or else hear ye, and acknowledge, that what we have affirmed is truth.” the more you examine the pretensions of any who profess to have acquired these things by their own power, the more evidence you will have, that God alone can produce them in the souls of men — — —]

2. Those who profess to be Christians indeed—

[Remember that it is your duty and office to be “witnesses for God.” You are to be “as lights in a dark world, and as a city upon a hill.” Be then voluntary witnesses. Wicked men, and even the devils themselves, are in some sense witnesses for him: they attest, though against their will, that his representations of the human heart are true, and that he is a God of infinite patience, majesty, and power. But you are intentionally to make your light shine before men, and to convince them by the holiness of your lives that “God is with you of a truth.” Be also steadfast witnesses. You will find many temptations to “put your light under a bushel;” but you must be resolute in glorifying God, whether by life or by death. Further, be also consistent witnesses. The world will judge, not by your words, but by your actions: and if they see these to be at variance with each other, they will rather harden themselves in their infidelity, and adduce your testimony as adverse to God. Look to it then that ye walk in all things “holily, justly, and unblameably;” and “that they who are on the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.”

Lastly, for your encouragement, think what witnesses ye shall one day be for God in heaven! How will ye there proclaim and manifest his power and grace! — — — O blessed day! Look forward to it with joy; and prepare for it by increasing zeal in the service of your God.]


Verse 4

DISCOURSE: 931

THE BLESSEDNESS OF THE TRUE CHRISTIAN

Isaiah 43:4. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee.

FEW have any conception how close the analogy is between God’s dealings with his people of old, and his conduct towards his Church and people in the present day. In truth, we scarcely know how to admit that God will manifest such condescension to us as he did to them. But it can never be thought that the Christian Church is less privileged than the Jewish; or that God will manifest less grace towards those whom he has redeemed through the blood of his Son, than he did towards those whom he delivered from a mere temporal captivity. True, indeed, his interpositions may be, and in fact are, less visible; but they are not a whit less real than in the days of old. Connect this chapter with the last two verses of the preceding chapter; and you will see how God still magnifies his grace and mercy towards us, when we have reason to expect nothing but his wrathful indignation [Note: Examine the passage in this view; and compare it with ver. 1. which marks distinctly how they came to be “precious in God’s sight.]. So, in like manner, we may behold in the text itself to what an exalted state the true Christian is raised. We cannot but acknowledge the truth of God’s appeal to them in the words which I have just read; and the same expressions are equally applicable to his people in every age and place. If we understand the passage aright, we may clearly see in it the rise and progress of the Christian’s calling.

Let us notice,

I. The rise of the Christian’s calling—

Whence and how were the Jews exalted to their unrivalled eminence?

[Were they selected by God either for their number or their superior goodness? No: they were “the fewest of all people,” and equal to any in depravity. It was altogether an act of sovereign grace when “God chose them, and set his love on them, and made them his peculiar people:” “He loved them, because he would love them [Note: See Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 9:4-6.]” — — — Hence he reminds them of their origin, under the image of a child just born into the world of Heathen parents, without any one to administer to its necessities: “Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite. And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee: thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live [Note: Ezekiel 16:3-6.].” And by Isaiah he reminds them of this saying, “Look to the rock whence ye were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye were digged: remember Abraham your father, and Sarah that bare you; for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him [Note: Isaiah 51:2-3.].” Such was their state when God chose them to himself, “to be a peculiar people to him, above all upon the face of the earth;” and set them apart, as “his peculiar treasure [Note: Exodus 19:5-6.],” and “his jewels [Note: Malachi 3:17.],” and “his portion and inheritance [Note: Deuteronomy 32:9.].” Thus we see clearly whence their greatness arose; and how it came to pass that “they were exalted above all the nations of the earth, in name, and in honour, and in praise [Note: Deuteronomy 26:18-19.].”]

And whence is it that any of us are “precious in God’s sight?”

[Is it on account of any superior goodness in us that God has chosen us? Surely there is not a man on earth so presumptuous as to affirm, or so ignorant as to imagine, that God chose him, in preference to others, on account of his own superior worth and excellence. I have said that there is, especially in reference to this matter, a strict analogy between the Jews and us; and St. Peter marks it with peculiar force, quoting the very words which I have before cited, as applied by Moses to the Jewish people, and applying them to Believers under the Christian dispensation: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people [Note: 1 Peter 2:9.].” Beyond all doubt we are as much debtors to the sovereign grace of God as ever the Jews were; and it is wonderful that so many well-disposed people should be averse to acknowledge it. We see, readily enough, how predestination and election operated in relation to the Jews; and yet we find it difficult to acknowledge their operation in reference to ourselves. But “God has chosen us in Christ, before the foundation of the world;” and “has predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself [Note: Ephesians 1:4-5.];” precisely as he chose them, and predestinated them to the enjoyment of their privileges. To the grace of God alone we must trace it, if any of us be “precious in God’s sight [Note: Ephesians 2:8-9.]:” we must acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as “the Author of our faith, no less than the finisher [Note: Hebrews 12:2.]:” and “when the top-stone shall be brought forth, to complete God’s temple in our hearts,” we, like all the prophets and apostles that have been before us, must cry, “Grace, grace unto it [Note: Zechariah 4:6-7.]!”]

The rise of the Christian’s calling having been pointed out, let us proceed to trace,

II. The progress of it—

The advancement of God’s people now corresponds exactly with that of his ancient people;

1. In honour—

[Since the Jews had been precious in God’s sight, they were honourable, They were honourable in themselves, as being elevated to a higher character than any other people in the universe. What other people were ever distinguished with such a code of laws as they [Note: Deuteronomy 4:7-8.]? or in what other country under heaven did persons attain to an equality with the Patriarchs in righteousness and true holiness? They were honourable also in God’s sight: for they were watched over by him, as if there had not been any other people in the world; and were regarded by him altogether as the “sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty.” In the sight of surrounding nations, also, they were honourable; for they all confessed that “God was with them of a truth; and every Jew could exult over them, saving, Their rock is not as our rock, our enemies themselves being judges [Note: Deuteronomy 32:31.].”

The same elevation is vouchsafed to God’s people, also, at the present day. In themselves, they are “made partakers of a divine nature [Note: 2 Peter 1:4.],” and are “changed into the Divine image [Note: Ephesians 4:24.],” and “shine as lights in a dark world [Note: Philippians 2:15.].” In God’s estimation, they are “his dear children,” the very spouse of his only-begotten Son, “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ,” preserved by him here “as the apple of his eye,” and reserved for thrones and kingdoms in a better world. And in the eyes of an ungodly world, too, are they honourable. For though the world may treat them as “the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things,” fit only to be swept away in the most ignominious manner from the face of the earth, and even to be sacrificed to devils, yet do they reverence them in their hearts; even as “Herod feared John, because he was a holy and just man [Note: Mark 6:20.].” An ungodly man feels restraint in the presence of a true Christian, and cannot give loose to his wicked propenpensities as he would do in his absence. However an ungodly man may hate and revile a true Christian, he has a secret wish in his heart that be could exchange conditions with him, especially in the eternal world. However averse a man may be to live the life of the righteous, there is no one who would not be glad to “die his death, and to have his last end like his.” Say, then, whether this be not to be truly “honourable?” Verily, not a king upon his throne is so truly honourable as the man who is brought into vital union with the Lord Jesus Christ, and sanctified in his soul by the Spirit of the Living God.]

2. In happiness—

[“Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and the sword of thine excellency [Note: Deuteronomy 33:29.]!” If this was spoken of the Jews because of the love which God bare to them, what must be said of us, whom “he has loved, even as he loves his only-begotten Son [Note: John 17:23; John 17:26.]?” Who can tell what it is to be favoured with “the spirit of adoption?” or what to “have the witness of the Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God?” Who can tell what it is to “have the love of God shed abroad in the heart,” and to “be filled with the Spirit?” Verily, these things constitute “that white stone, on which is that new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that hath received it [Note: Revelation 2:17.].” It is, in fact, an earnest and foretaste of heaven itself [Note: Ephesians 1:13-14.]. See how the love of God to his ancient people was displayed: how “God gave Egypt for their ransom, yea, and Ethiopia and Seba too [Note: Ver. 3.]!” Whole nations were of no more account with God than the dust of the summer threshing-floor, if they stood in the way of their welfare [Note: Isaiah 41:11-16.]. And so shall it be again, when they shall be restored to their own land: “the nation and kingdom that will not serve them shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted [Note: Isaiah 60:12.].” And let it not be thought that God will do less for his Church and people at this day. No, truly: “the gates of hell shall never prevail against them:” “no weapon formed against them shall ever prosper:” but every enemy, and “Satan himself at the head of them, shall be put under their feet shortly:” and so attentive will God be to their welfare, that every dispensation, whether of his providence or grace, shall be ordered with a view to it, and “all things, however unfavourable their aspect, be overruled to promote it [Note: Romans 8:28.].]

Two things, then, I ask of you, my beloved Brethren:

1. Endeavour to form a just estimate of your high calling—

[St. Paul calls this “a holy calling [Note: 2 Timothy 1:9.],” a heavenly calling [Note: Hebrews 3:1.],” yea, “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 3:14.]:” and the least reflection on what has been already spoken must convince you, that “the riches of it” are inestimable, incomprehensible, “unsearchable [Note: Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:8.].” Christians live far below their privileges. They are too exclusively occupied (I do not say too intensely), in viewing their remaining imperfections, and the greatness of the work that still remains to be wrought in them. They do not soar in contemplating the wonders which God has already wrought for them, and those which he has pledged himself yet further to accomplish. Hence they are kept in a low state of bondage, instead of being “brought into the full liberty of the children of God.” But read the Epistles of St. Paul, my Brethren: read, especially, his prayers, and see how he soars in his contemplation of God’s unbounded mercies, and of the Christian’s exalted privileges [Note: Ephesians 1:3-14.]. It is by such meditations that we shall rise above all our spiritual enemies, and by such views we shall “be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].” O, Brethren, know your privileges as believers in Christ; and live in the sweet enjoyment of them: for there are no bounds to the honour and the happiness which God will confer on those who are “precious in his sight” as his redeemed people.]

2. Endeavour, also, to walk worthy of it—

[This was Paul’s earnest entreaty to the Ephesian and Philippian Churches, when he was a prisoner at Home. He did not desire their interposition to get him liberated: all he had to request of them was, that “their conversation should be such as became the Gospel of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4 :l, Philippians 1:27.].” And indeed this was the great object of his ministry at all times: “Ye know,” says he to the Thessalonian Church, “how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children, that ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12.].” In the same manner would I now entreat you; yea, as a father with his children, would I charge you, that ye “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work [Note: Colossians 1:10.],” and “adorning the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things [Note: Titus 2:10.].” Only reflect on your high privileges; and then say, “what manner of persons ye ought to be in all holy conversation and godliness [Note: 2 Peter 3:11.].” I conclude with that inspired admonition, “As he who hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy [Note: 1 Peter 1:15-16.].”]


Verse 20

DISCOURSE: 933

GOD’S KINDNESS TO HIS PEOPLE

Isaiah 43:20. I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen.

THE mercies of God which are daily, and, as it were, hourly renewed, demand at our hands a constantly increasing tribute of praise and thanksgiving. Former benefits are not to be forgotten: yet it is allowable, and even proper, that those which have been recently vouchsafed to us should so occupy the mind, as, for a time, almost to exclude from our minds the immediate recollection of those which have been formerly bestowed. The Prophet Jeremiah says, “Behold, the days come, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the Children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, but the Lord liveth which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all the countries whither I had driven them [Note: Jeremiah 23:7-8.].” Thus in the verses before our text, God says, “Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old: behold, I will do a new thing.” The particular thing here predicted, is, the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, together with their preservation in the dry and barren wilderness, through which they must pass in their way to Judea. But that deliverance would never have been represented as so superior to that which they had experienced from Egypt, had it not typified a far more glorious redemption, which they were taught to expect through the intervention of the Messiah. This it is (even the spiritual redemption by Christ, together with the aids and consolations of the Holy Spirit) to which the text principally refers; and for which, not “the owls and dragons” of the wilderness, but the more stupid and ferocious Gentiles “shall honour God” for ever.

In discoursing on these words, we shall consider,

I. The designation given to God’s people—

The minds of many almost revolt at the very mention of the word “elect,” or “chosen.” But though we by no means approve of bringing forward the subject of election on every occasion, yet, as it is frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, and strongly asserted in the Articles of our Church, we ought not to pass over it, when it comes plainly and unavoidably before us. The word “chosen” is used in the text,

1. As a term of distinction—

[No one can doubt but that God’s people are often spoken of by the term of “God’s elect:” the only doubt is, what that term imports. Now all will confess that it imports a choice of nations to the enjoyment of national privileges. In this sense God chose the Jewish nation, and took them out from the midst of a people greater and mightier than they, and gave them his statutes and judgments, when all other nations were left to follow their own ways. And this he did, not on account of any merit in them, but purely on account of his own good pleasure, irrespective of any goodness in them, either seen or foreseen [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8; Deuteronomy 9:4-6.]. It is no less clear, that the term is also applied to individual persons chosen to particular situations of trust and honour. Levi’s appointment to the priesthood [Note: 1 Samuel 2:27-28.], David’s to the government of Israel [Note: Psalms 78:70-71.], and Saul’s to the apostleship [Note: Acts 9:15. Galatians 1:15-16.], are unquestionable proofs of God’s having exercised his own sovereign will in the selection of individuals to posts of temporal dignity; I may add too, of unspeakable spiritual advantage. These things being admitted, it seems strange that any one can doubt, but that the term “elect” denotes yet further a choice of particular persons to eternal life. The people of God are not merely called “elect,” but are expressly said to have been “from the beginning chosen unto salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:13.].” And for them in particular is heaven reserved; insomuch that “Jesus Christ himself cannot grant heaven to any but those, for whom it was before prepared of the Father [Note: Matthew 20:23.].”]

2. A term of endearment—

[This seems the more particular view in which the name is given to God’s people in the text. Just as, in reference to his dear Son, God says, “Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth [Note: Isaiah 42:1.],” so he speaks of his people here, as feeling complacency and delight in them. In many other passages also the term “elect” seems to be used as expressive of the peculiar interest which God takes in all that relates to his believing people: “Who will lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect?” “Shall not God avenge his own elect?” “For the elect’s sake those days (of trouble to Jerusalem) shall be shortened.” And, “God will send his angels (at the last day) to gather together his elect.”]

But, notwithstanding their dearness to God, we have but too much reason to consider,

II. The straits to which they may be reduced—

It is evidently implied, that as the Israelites in their journey from Egypt must have perished for want of water, if God had not miraculously interposed for their relief; so all his people coming through the wilderness of this world, are at times reduced to difficulties, from whence none but God himself can deliver them. This happens to them by means of,

1. Afflictions—

[The people of God are, for the most part, “a poor and afflicted people.” That they have peculiar supports and consolations, we shall soon shew: but inasmuch as they have all the common feelings of humanity, they must find afflictions grievous to them, exactly as others do. Even the most eminent saints have at times been ready to sink under their burthens. Behold David on the death of his rebellious son, Absalom; how bitterly he bewailed his loss [Note: 2 Samuel 18:33.]! See Hezekiah under the pressure of what he supposed to be an incurable disease; how “he mourned like a dove, and his eyes failed with looking upward [Note: Isaiah 38:10-14.]!” Thus it is with many under the loss of dear relatives, or the pressure of embarrassed circumstances, or the agonies of an acute disorder: they are ready to faint under their trials, and to be “weary even of life itself [Note: See Psalms 107:5; Psalms 107:10; Psalms 107:18; Psalms 107:26-27; Psalms 38:1-8; Psalms 42:7 and Job 10:1.].”]

2. Persecutions—

[Fitly is persecution compared to the scorching heat of the meridian sun, We are told what fatal effects it produces on those who have no root of grace in themselves [Note: Matthew 13:6; Matthew 13:21.]; and the most steadfast Christians are exhorted to “consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest they should be weary and faint in their minds [Note: Hebrews 12:3.].” Even the Apostle Paul himself was sometimes “cast down [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:8-9.],” and needed peculiar supports from heaven [Note: Acts 18:9-10. See also Psalms 143:3-8.]. And though we are not now exposed to all those cruelties which the first Christians endured, yet there are many and heavy trials to be borne by “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus:” and he must be a faithful labourer, who supports without fainting “the burthen and heat of the day.”]

3. Temptations—

[It is not without reason that the weapons with which Satan assaults the believer are represented as “fiery darts;” for when injected into the soul, they set the whole man, as it were, on fire, and “the poison of them altogether drinks up our spirits [Note: Job 6:4.].” Who has ever known what it is to be haunted with atheistical and blasphemous thoughts; or what, to be harassed with doubts about the truth of Christianity, or what, to be tormented with apprehensions of having committed the sin against the Holy Ghost: who that has ever felt the almost irresistible impulses of corruption, aided by the dreadful workings of despair; who, in short, is in any respect acquainted with the wiles of Satan, and the depths of his own depravity; and has not been constrained to cry, “Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me!”?]

But these troubles shall only bring them to the enjoyment of,

III. The mercies reserved for them—

As once God made the rivers and the sea to become dry land, so will he open rivers in the dry and thirsty wilderness. He will supply the wants of his drooping and dejected people: he has treasured up for them an inexhaustible fund of consolation,

1. In the promises of his Gospel—

[What “wells of salvation” are opened in the holy Scriptures! and with what unspeakable joy do thirsting souls “draw water out of them!” A believing application of one single promise to the soul is more reviving, even in the most disconsolate state, than any cup of water can possibly be to one perishing with thirst. Let, for instance, that consoling declaration which was made to Paul, when he complained so bitterly of the thorn in his flesh, and of the buffetings of Satan; let that promise, I say, come home in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, and the very same effects will instantly follow; our tears will be wiped away, and all our complaints be changed into triumphant exultations [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. See this further promised, Hosea 2:14-15 and exemplified, Psalms 32:2-7.].]

2. In the communications of his grace—

[It is principally with a view to increase and strengthen their graces, that God permits his people to experience so many troubles. He “chooses them in the furnace of affliction,” and by means of the fire he “purges away their dross,” that they may come forth as gold. Blessed is the testimony which David bears to this truth [Note: Psalms 138:3.]: and every believer will esteem his trials most richly recompensed, when he finds that “they have wrought in him an increase of patience, experience, and hope [Note: Romans 5:3-4.].”]

3. In the manifestations of his love—

[Never does God vouchsafe such visits to his people, as when they are suffering for his sake, and in obedience to his will. “He will draw nigh unto them,” and “manifest himself unto them as he does not unto the world,” and will give them “the witness of the Spirit, as an earnest of their everlasting inheritance.” Thus, if their “afflictions abound for Christ, their consolations are made to abound by Christ [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5.].” Now “in the Lord’s favour is life; and his loving-kindness is better than life:” when therefore a sense of his “love is shed abroad in the heart,” it little concerns them by what means so great a blessing has been imparted: whatever they may have endured to prepare them for it, they will not hesitate to say, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.”]

Application—

[Is there any afflicted soul that cannot find consolation in God? He is only like Hagar, who had a fountain close to her, while she was expecting nothing but death [Note: Genesis 21:15-19.]: “let him therefore, though in darkness, stay himself upon his God [Note: Isaiah 50:10].” Sooner or later, shall all who wait on God be refreshed and comforted [Note: Isaiah 40:27-31; Isaiah 41:17-18; Isaiah 44:3; Isaiah 49:10.].].


Verses 22-26

DISCOURSE: 934

THE GREATNESS OF GOD’S MERCY

Isaiah 43:22-26. Thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel. Thou hast not brought me the small cattle of thy burnt-offering; neither hast thou honoured me with thy sacrifices. I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense. Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities. I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified.

THE sinfulness of man, and the goodness of God, are subjects which mutually illustrate each other: neither can be viewed in its true colours, unless it be considered in its relation to the other: but both appear in perfection, when they are brought into immediate contrast together. This is the view in which they are frequently presented to us in the holy Scriptures, and especially in the passage now before us; in which we have,

I. A contrasted view of God’s conduct towards us, and of ours towards him—

God has not required any oppressive services of us—

[God, as the author of our being, has a right to all our time, and all our faculties: but he requires of us only one day in seven, to be spent in his more immediate service. The law, which he imposed upon the Jews, appeared indeed burthensome, through the infirmity of their flesh; though, when considered in its true light, it ought not to have appeared so [Note: It was necessary, in order to keep them separate from the heathen: it was the means of directing their attention to the Messiah, and of preparing them for the fuller light and liberty of the Gospel: it was also the means of their maintaining communion with the Deity, and of obtaining his richest blessings.]. As for us, we are wholly freed from that yoke, and have only two easy and significant rites to observe. Nor is the moral law burthensome; for the whole substance of it is, Be holy, and be happy [Note: Romans 7:12.]: and if a permission were given us to violate any one of its commands, it would be, in fact, a dispensation to make ourselves miserable.]

But we have been backward to offer him any token of respect and love—

[The Jews grudged to purchase a little calamus for the holy perfume and incense [Note: Exodus 30:23; Exodus 30:25; Exodus 30:34-35.]. Nor, if they brought any sacrifices, would they present the fat and good of their flocks, but rather, such as were lean and refuse [Note: Malachi 1:8.]. Thus have we been averse to “call upon him,” being soon “weary” of that holy employment — — — or, if we have just waited upon God in his outward ordinances, we have withheld from him that which alone could render our services pleasing in his sight, the tribute of an humble, contrite, and grateful heart. To mortify our lusts, and exercise devout and heavenly affections, would have cost us more pain and labour than we have been willing to afford: we have therefore wholly declined such services, and contented ourselves with offering only the cheap sacrifices of external and occasional formalities.]

Yea, instead of serving him aright, we have even “wearied him with our iniquities”—

[How awful the charge, which God himself here brings against us! He, who might justly demand any thing of us, has not required of us any great services, or wearied us with an intolerable yoke: but we, who are bound by every tie to please and honour him to the uttermost, have quite oppressed and wearied him by our long continued iniquities, till he is even “pressed under us, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves [Note: Amos 2:13.].” There is scarcely an evil desire, which we have not harboured and indulged. Pride, envy, malice, revenge, covetousness, impurity, and whatever else is hateful unto God, have at all times found a ready admission into our hearts: and if an outward restraint has been imposed upon our actions, it has not proceeded from a fear of God [Note: Romans 3:18.], or a hatred of sin, but from a regard to our characters among men, and to the temporal consequences which we dreaded. When we have known that our dispositions were offensive to God, we have not regarded him, any more than if he had been our slave, that was constrained to bear whatever we might impose upon him: we have altogether contemned him [Note: Psalms 10:4; Psalms 10:13.] as unworthy of our notice, and lived as though there were no such Being in the universe.]

Marvellous as this contrast is, we shall be yet more astonished, while we consider,

II. God’s address to us, founded upon the foregoing representation—

The former part of God’s address is a free and gracious promise of forgiveness—

[What might such rebels have expected, but to hear God say, “Ah! I will ease me of mine enemies [Note: Isaiah 1:24.];” “I swear in my wrath, that they shall never enter into my rest [Note: Psalms 95:10-11.];” “my fury shall rest upon them, and I will be comforted [Note: Ezekiel 5:13.].” But, behold, how different is his voice! ‘I, even I, whom you have so insulted, degraded, wearied; I, who could in an instant cast you into hell, us I did the rebel angels; I, who might be glorified in your eternal condemnation; even I, am ready to blot out all your transgressions, as a morning cloud: yea, I will blot them out through the blood of my dear Son; and, though I might well “seal them up in a bag,” and bring them forth at a future day to your everlasting confusion, I will no more remember them; they shall be perfectly blotted out, even as if they had never been committed. I well know, that if I seek for any thing in you to justify such an act of mercy, I shall never find it: there is nothing in you but what calls for wrath and fiery indignation: yet I will not on this account forbear to exercise mercy; I will pardon thee for mine own sake, that I may be glorified in displaying the exceeding riches of my grace.’

How infinitely does this surpass our highest conceptions! and how obdurate must be the heart that can withstand these overtures of love and mercy!]

The latter part of the address is an urgent invitation to accept of mercy—

[It may possibly be understood as a rebuke to a proud self-justifying Pharisee. Many, instead of humbling themselves under the charge brought against them, will instantly reply, “Wherein have we wearied thee [Note: Malachi 2:17.]?” To such God may be considered as saying, ‘Since you plead your innocence [Note: Jeremiah 2:35.], and stand on your own defence, as though you did not need this offer of mercy, come, and “put me in remembrance” of your good deeds (for, if you have any to boast of, they have quite escaped my notice): Let us plead together, and see whether I am right in my charge, or you in your vindication of yourself: declare thou the grounds of thy dependence, that, if they will bear thee out in thy confidence, “thou mayest be justified” before me.’

Alas! alas! that the offers of a free salvation should ever be despised through a vain confidence in our own goodness! O that we might not so despise our own mercies! Whatever sentence God shall pass upon us, “he will surely be justified in his saying, and be clear when he is judged [Note: Psalms 51:4.].” Let us not then provoke God to such a contest; for our hope will be only as a spider’s web, that shall be swept away with the besom of destruction [Note: Isaiah 28:17.].

But I understand it rather as a direction and encouragement to the repenting sinner. While some put away from them the word of life, because they feel not their need of mercy, others do the same, from an apprehension of their unworthiness to obtain mercy. But God is ever solicitous to encourage the humble, and says, “Put me in remembrance of this promise; come and plead it with me! declare thou thine affiance in it; and, unworthy as thou art, thou shalt be justified.” As our Lord vouchsafed to Thomas the evidence of his senses, in order that his doubts might be effectually removed, so he here condescends to the infirmities of his people, in order to bring them to a full conviction of his love and faithfulness. Let this direction then be followed by every doubting, trembling soul. Let us take the Canaanitish woman for our pattern [Note: Matthew 15:26-27.]: and our confidence shall ere long be crowned with a rich reward [Note: Hebrews 10:35.].]

Reflections—

1. How averse is God to the perishing of an immortal soul!

[What stronger comment can we have on that oath of Jehovah, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel [Note: Ezekiel 33:11.]?” Contemplate the text in that view, and say whether God does not desire that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth [Note: 1 Timothy 2:4.]?” Verily “He delighteth in mercy;” and “judgment,” on whomsoever it is exercised, “is his strange work,” to which he is utterly averse.]

2. How bitter will be the reflections of all who perish in their sins!

[If there be one ingredient in the cup of a damned soul more bitter than another, it is this; “My God and Saviour would have saved me, but I would not accept of his salvation [Note: Matthew 23:37.]. I would not come to him that I might have life [Note: John 5:40.]. I pray you, beloved, treasure not up for yourselves such bitterness as this: but improve the present opportunity of obtaining mercy, for the day of grace once lost, is lost for ever. This, Brethren, is the accepted time: the Lord grant that it may prove unto every one of you the day of salvation [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:2.].”

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 43:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/isaiah-43.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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