The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary on the Books of the Bible, Volume 15 (of 32) The Preacher's Complete Homiletic Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Volume I by Bertram, Robert Aitkin


- Technical note: This book makes heavy use of SMALL CAPS formatting. You may need to experiment with fonts and browsers until you see the words "small caps" formatted in SMALL CAPS.

- This is a commentary on the first 39 chapters of the Biblical book of Isaiah. It was written to help ministers with their sermon preparation. Many of the thoughts presented are condensed from published sermons. The book is a collection of man's opinions on the inspired Word of God. The Transcriber does not necessarily agree with every opinion expressed. Among the disagreements are suggestions that the Church replaces Israel, or is "the true Israel," or that human effort has any effect on God's pacing of future events. Some of the opinions expressed are unapologetically anti-Roman Catholic or culturally insensitive. The book is a product of its time and place (late nineteenth century greater London). The U.S. conflict between North and South is still within memory and neither the great European wars to come, nor England's loss of her colonial possessions in India and Africa, nor the establishment of the State of Israel is even foreshadowed.

- The page numbers in the first part of the book ("front-matter") and the last part of the book ("back-matter") were modified from unadorned Arabic numbers to make them unique. In this e-book, front-matter pages are identified by lower-cased Roman numbers and back-matter pages include the letter "A" (for "Appendix") and either an "L" or an "R" to identify the left or right column. The Appendix presents two translations of the whole book of Isaiah and two additional translations of the fifty-second and fifth-third chapters.

- In the original, the outlines are generally in order by scripture reference and information in the page headers helps one find an outline related to any desired passage. Due to the length of the e-book, and the supplemental outlines added toward the end, the Transcriber has inserted a listing of outlines in sequential order by scripture reference after the Index of Subjects, Index of Authors, and table of Times, Seasons, and Occasions, and prior to the Introduction.

- The footnotes in the text are identified by sequential lower-case Greek letters: ɑ, Β, etc. The Transcriber has changed them to superscript bracketed numbers to comply with current use. In the main portion of the book, the "footnotes" were set in smaller type at the end of the respective outlines. In the Appendix, footnotes were set at the bottom of each page. The text and each footnote are hyperlinked both directions.

- Certain long outlines (The Virgin's Son, The Burden of Dumah) and the Appendix were set almost entirely in footnote type to save page count.

- The detailed list of Transcriber's changes is at the foot of the document.



THE OLD TESTAMENT _Volumes 1-21_

THE NEW TESTAMENT _Volumes 22-32_

Volume 15

The Preacher's Complete Homiletic COMMENTARY


_By the_ REV. R. A. BERTRAM _and_ _The_ REV. ALFRED TUCKER




1. In the preparation of this Commentary, my aim throughout has been evangelical and practical. A study of the Book of Isaiah suggests many historical, critical, and speculative questions, but these I have entirely disregarded. I have asked only, What messages from God has this inspired prophet for the men of this generation? What instruction has he to give us? What warnings? What encouragements? What consolations? To these questions I believe there are answers in the outlines I have myself prepared, and in those I have obtained from other sources.

2. As my work proceeded, my methods somewhat changed. I discovered that I had commenced the Commentary on too large a scale, and that it was in danger of becoming too large and costly. I therefore ceased to append illustrations to the outlines, and contented myself with giving references to illustrations in my _"Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations in Theology and Morals"_ and my _"Dictionary of Poetical Illustrations,"_ using for this purpose the letters H. E. I. and P. D.

3. I also ceased to prepare outlines on _all_ the texts, and limited myself to those most likely to be profitable to ordinary congregations.

4. As I proceeded, I also became more convinced that a book intended to be helpful to many minds should contain the best thoughts of many minds; and therefore, instead of preparing outlines which might be expanded into sermons, I condensed sermons preached by others into outlines. Remembering that I was working for ministers, I stripped the _thoughts_ contained in those sermons of most of their dress, and so the substance of a sermon of twenty pages was frequently placed on a page. The result is that in this volume a hundred and fifty students of Scripture--Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists--combine to offer to their brethren suggestions as to the best practical uses to which the writings of Isaiah may be put today.

5. On pp. 447-496 are some valuable outlines obtained too late for insertion in their proper places. Three of them are interesting specimens of Welsh preaching.



Advent Thoughts and Joys Adversity, The Bread of Afflicted, The Duty of the Afflictions of God's People, The Allotments of Land to the Poor Altar and a Saviour for Egypt, An Amusement, Earthly Apostates, The Doom of the Appeal and an Argument, An Appropriation, The Grand Ariel Art, The Noblest Assyrian, The Assyrian Invasion of Judah Atonement, The

Babylon, The Doom of Beautiful Visions Exchanged for Realities Belief, The Restoration of Believer's Dignity and Power, The Blessed Life, A Blessedness of the Servant of God, The Blind Leaders Book That Will Bear Testing, A

Call to the Careless, A Call to the Revolted, A Call to Study, A Canticle, A Sad Chambers of Safety Chastisement Cheering Words and Solemn Warnings Children of Babylon, Their Doom Children, Spare the Child-Training Christ a Tested Saviour Christ, Comfort in Christ, His Empire Christ, His Government Christ, His Name--"Wonderful" Christ, His Second Coming Christ, His Titles and Government Christ, His Triumphs Christ Our Counsellor Christ, The Ensign of the Nations Christ, The Everlasting Father Christ, The Healer and Joy-Giver Christ, The Mighty God Christ, The Prince of Peace Christ, The Reconciler of Men Christ a Righteous Judge Christ a Sure Foundation Christ, The Beauty of His Character Christ, Suretyship of Christian Liberality Christian's Refuge, The Church of Christ, Characteristics of the Church, Fiery Ordeal of Church, The Christian, A Continuation of the Jewish Cleaning for the Vilest Cleaning Spirit, The Comfort for the Desponding Comfort in Christ Command, A Plain Conqueror Conquered, The Consideration, Religious Controlling Fact, A Conversion, A Happy Cords and Cart-Ropes Cords of Vanity Counsel, A Threefold Counsellor, The Only Covetousness Cry for Help, A Curse Done Away, The

Day of the Lord, The Day of Visitation, The Days of Deliverance Death and the Grave Death, Distress in Prospect of Death, Preparation for Death, The Contrasts of Deliverance, A Great Depravity, Total Depravity, Transmitted Despisers, The Doom of the Disabled Ship, The Discipline of Sin, The Divine Anger Divine Disappointments Divine Ideal of Israel Realised, The Divine Judgments, The Twofold Effect of Divine Patience, Trials of the Divine Salvation Rejected Dreaming Drink and Its Woes Drunkard, The Miseries of the Dumah, The Burden of

Early Religious Training Earthly Song and the Heavenly Voice East Wind, The Day of the Encouragement for the Timid England's Crying Sin Evil-Doers, The Seed of Exiles' Return, The

Faith's Impregnable Citadel Faith, The Condition of Firmness False Refuges Female Pride and Luxury Fears and Comforts Feast for Faith, A Festivity and Forgetfulness Foolish King and a Wise One, A Forgetfulness of God Forsaken of God Forsaking the Lord

Gladness, The Duty of Glorifying God in the Fires God Avenging His Own Elect God Exalted in the Great Day God, His Goodness to the Church God's Gracious Invitation to Sinners God's Ideal of Goodness God's Invitation to Shelter God's Judgments God's Outstretched Hand God's Perpetual Presence with His People God's Promises God's Readiness to Listen to the Needy God's Reluctance to Punish God's Righteousness God Oppressed God Our Refuge or Our Ruin God, Two Constant Feelings in His Mind God's Outcasts God's People Forsaken Godly, Prospect of the Good and Evil, The Sin of Confounding Gospel, Future Triumphs of the Gospel, The Blessings of the Gospel Feast, The Gospel Trumpet, The Government, The Curse of a Weak Grave and its Mysteries, The Great Deliverance, A Great Dethronement, The Great Task, The Growing Light Guiding Voice, The

"Hallowed Be Thy Name" Harvest, The Joy of the Haughtiness Heaven, The Happiness of Heedfulness Hezekiah's Prayer Hezekiah's Prudent Silence Hezekiah's Resolution Hezekiah's Song Hezekiah's Strength and Weakness Hezekiah Tried Holiness Accomplished, Peace Ordained Holiness, Man's, God's Workmanship Home Life and Influence

Ignorance, The Evils of Illustrious Inhabitant, An Immanuel Impenitent, Certainty of the Destruction of the In Whom Art Thou Trusting? Inconsiderateness Incorrigible, Doom of the Iniquity a Burden Injustice, Legalised Instinct Followed, Reason Disregarded Intellectual Pride Isaiah, His Interview with Ahaz Isaiah, His Vision of the King and His Kingdom Isaiah, His Vision of God Isaiah, His Vision of the Last Days Isaiah, The Evangelical Prophet Israel, Future Prosperity of Israel, God's Indictment against Israel, The Doom of Impenitent

Joy of Salvation, The Joy of the Meek Joy Religious Just Man's Security, The

King in Trouble, A Knowledge of God Knowledge of God, Importance of Religious

Language, Its Influence on Character Latter-Day Glory, The Law and the Testimony, The Leadership Life, Its Diminutions and Changes Life, The Shortening of Light of the Lord, The Lip Service Instead of Heart Worship Littles, The Power of

Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz Man's Imagined Independence of God Man's Insignificance and God's Supremacy Man Proposes, God Disposes Material and the Mortal, The Memorable Answer, A Messengers Wanted Messiah, The Glory of the Ministerial Duty, Some Aspects of Ministerial Fidelity, Dislike to Missionary Success, The Essential Condition of Mockery, Irreligious Momentous Decisions Momentous Inquiry, A Money, The Love of Moral Ablution Moral Declension Moral History of a Rising Soul, The Moral Obduracy Moral Perversity Moral Wilderness Transformed

National Bereavement, Lessons from a National Greatness National Peace, The Gift of God National Revival National Ungodliness Necromancy Needless Stripes New Song for New Hearts, A Night and Morning Night Longings for God No Sickness There! Nobility and Security

Opportunities, The Use of Oppressed and Their Relief, The Oppression of the Poor Our Trust and Our Test

Parable of the Husbandman, The Parable of the Vineyard, The Peace, National Peace, Perfect Peace, The Work of Righteousness Peaceful Keeping Perversion of Right and Wrong Piety, Irreligious Pleader and the Judge, The Politicians, Biblical Praise for Preservation Prayer, A Christian Prayer, A King's Prayer in Trouble Prayer, Reasons for the Rejection of Privileges, Great Prophecy the Voice of God Prophet of the Lord, The Prophet's Call, The Prophet's Mission, Duration of the Protecting Hand, The Providence Public Worship, The Possibilities of Punishment of the Wicked, The Punishment, The Purpose of Purposes and Panics

Quietness, Christian Quietness, Strength in

Rabshakehs, Modern Recompense, The Great Law of Recovery from Sickness Redemption, The Divine Idea of Rejected Sacrifices Rejection of Divine Truth, The Religion, True and False Remnants of Society, The Retirement, Religious Revelation of God, The Rivers, Enriching Rivers of Waters Road to the City, The

Saint's Attitude in Time of Trouble Sanctuary in God Scepticism Self-Conceit Self-Scrutiny in God's Presence Sensuality Sentence of Doom, A Seraphim, The Shameless Sinners Short Bed and the Narrow Covering, The Sick and Dying, Duties of the Sickness, Recovery from Sight of God and a Sense of Sin, A Sin and Grace Sin, Its Destructiveness Sin, The Origin and End of Sinner's Danger and Refuge, The Sinners Self-Destroyed Social Regeneration Sodom and Gomorrah Solemn Disclaimer, A Song to the Vineyard, A Sorrow, The Banishment of Spirit of the Lord, The Spiritual Husbandry Spiritual Usurpers Renounced Spirituality of the Divine Nature, The Spreading the Letter before the Lord Stability through Faith Startling Charge, A Statesmen, The Death of Stone of Stumbling, The Storms of Life, The Strange and Sad Errand, A Stream Rejected for the River, The Suffering, Unsanctified Submission under God's Rebuke Summons to Jerusalem, The Supplications, Fruitless

Taking Hold of God's Strength Teachers of Truth, Their Duty in Times of National Perversion Terrible Picture, A Terrible Resolve, A Things To Be Considered Thoughtlessness Threatened, But Safe Tophet Ordained of Old Tow and the Spark, The Transformation Trinity in Unity, The Trumpet, The Great Trust and Trials

Unbelief, The Inexcusableness of

Vanity of Earthly Help in Time of Trial Virgin's Son, The Volunteer Service

Waiting, Divine and Human Waiting on God War Waters of Shiloah, The Wells of Salvation Wild Grapes Wise Lessons from Wicked Lips World, A Sorrowless World's Misery, The Remedy of the Worthless Husks Wrong Names, The Sin of Using

Zion, The Controversy of Zion, The Futility of Fighting Against


Abbott, J. S. C. Adams, W. Adeney, W. F. Alexander, Dr. Ambrose, William Anderson, James Anderson, Dr. W.

Barfield, A. F. Barry, Bishop Bateman, Josiah Bather, Archdeacon Baxendale, Walter Beecher, Henry Ward Bennett, Dr. Bertram, R. A. Bingham, R. Blomfield, Bishop Blunt, H. Boone, J. S. Bradley, Charles Brathwaite, M. Brierley, J. Brooke, Stopford A. Brooks, William Buckingham, S. G. Bunting, Dr. Burns, Dr. Jabez Burrows, W. Bushnell, Dr. Butler, William Archer

Cheever, Dr. Clark, George Clayton, G. Clemance, Dr. Close, Dean Cooper, Edward Corbin, John Cowles, Dr. Creswell, Henry Crow, E. Currie, D. D.

Davies, Samuel Dowling, J. G.

Edmond, Dr. Emmons, Dr. Erskine, Ralph Exell, J. S.

Forrest, R. W. Foster, John Fraser, Bishop Fuller, Andrew

Gerard, Dr. Gibson, A. Gilfillan, G. Goodwin, H. Goulburn, Dean Griffin, E. Guinness, H. G. Gurney, J. H. Guthrie, William

Hall, Robert Hancock, W. Hare, Julius Charles Harris, W. Hawes, Dr. Heber, Reginald Hobart, Dr. Holdeck, Dr. Hood, E. Paxton Hubbard, W.

Irons, Joseph

James, John Angell Jay, William Johnson, John Johnston, John Jonas, William Jupe, Charles

Kennedy, Dr. Kennicott, Dr. Kidd, Thornhill Kollock, Dr.

Lewis, Dr. Liddon, Canon Lilley, J. Osborne Logan, John Lyth, Dr.

Macculloch, R. Maclaren, A. Magie, Dr. Manning, W. Marriott, John Mathew, G. Maurice, F. D. McAuslane, Dr. Melvill, H. Miall, G. R. Milne, John Milner, Dr. Moore, Charles Monks, Richard Monod, Horace Morgan, James

Neave, Thomas Nesbit, R. Newman, John Henry Norton, John N.

Oliver, T.

Packer, John Parker, Dr. Parkes, William Parkman, R. C. Piele, Dr. Pott, J. H. Pratten, B. P. Punshon, Dr.

Rawlinson, John Reeve, William Roberts, Arthur Roberts, William Robins, S. Robjohns, H. T.

Salomon, G. Scott, Adam Shedd, Dr. Sherman, J. Sherwood, J. M. Shuttleworth, Dr. Simcock, J. Macrae Skelton Smith, George Spencer, Thomas Spurgeon, C. H. Statham, W. M. "Stems and Twigs" Stirling, J. Storrs, Dr. Superville, Daniel de

Talmage, Dr. Taylor. Dr. W. M. Thodey, Samuel Thomas, Dr. David Thompson, B. Tucker, Dr.

Villiers, H. M.

Walker, H. F. Watson, Richard Watt, John Wood, J. R. Woodford, J. R.


Advent Sermons Bible Society Sermon Christmas Sermons Death of a Statesman Easter Sunday First Sunday of the Year Freehold Land Society Sermon Funeral Sermon Harvest Thanksgiving Last Sermon of the Year Missionary Sermons Ordination or Visitation Sermons Parliamentary Election Sermon Peace Society Sermons Seamen, Sermon to Sunday-School Anniversary Temperance Sermons Thanksgiving Sermon Time of National Distress Trinity Sunday Whitsuntide


i. 1. The Prophet of the Lord

i. 2. Prophecy the Voice of God

i. 2, 3. An Appeal and an Argument

i. 2-6. God's Indictment against Israel

i. 3. Thoughtlessness Inconsiderateness Things to be Considered Religious Consideration Instinct Followed--Reason Disregarded

i. 4. Iniquity a Burden Transmitted Depravity Forsaking the Lord

i. 5. Moral Obduracy Needless Stripes

i. 5-8. Total Depravity

i. 9. God's Reluctance to Punish

i. 10. The Summons to Jerusalem

i. 11. Rejected Sacrifices

i. 11, 16, 17. True and False Religion

i. 13. The Possibilities of Public Worship

i. 14. God Oppressed

i. 15. Worthless Husks Reasons for the Rejection of Prayer A Startling Charge

i. 16. Moral Ablution A Plain Command

i. 17. The Great Task The Noblest Art The Oppressed and Their Relief God's Ideal of Goodness

i. 18. God's Gracious Invitation to Sinners Cleansing for the Vilest Comfort for the Desponding Sin and Grace Self-scrutiny in God's Presence

i. 19-20. Sinners Self-destroyed

i. 20. The Certainty of the Destruction of the Impenitent

i. 21-23. Moral Declension

i. 21. An Illustrious Inhabitant

i. 22. The Possible Degeneracy of Valuable Things

i. 24. A Terrible Resolve

i. 24-27. The Purpose of Punishment

i. 25, 26. The Divine Idea of Redemption

i. 26. Social Regeneration

i. 27, 28. The Twofold Effect of Divine Judgments

i. 28. Forsaking the Lord

i. 28-31. The Doom of the Apostates

i. 31. The Tow and the Spark

ii. 1-5. Isaiah's Vision of the Last Days

ii. 2-5. The Latter-Day Glory

ii. 2. The Future Triumphs of the Gospel

ii. 4. The Cessation of War

ii. 5. The Light of the Lord The Walk of the Soul in the Light of the Lord

ii. 6-22. A Terrible Picture

Heb. xiii. 5, ii. 6. God's People Forsaken

ii. 6. Forsaken of God

ii. 6-9. The Material and the Moral

ii. 10. The Sinner's Danger and Refuge

ii. 17. God Exalted in the Great Day

ii. 18. The Great Dethronement

ii. 22. Man's Insignificance and God's Supremacy Lessons from a National Bereavement

iii. 1-3. The Death of Statesmen

iii. 1-8. National Greatness

iii. 9. Shameless Sinners

iii. 10, 11. Cheering Words and Solemn Warnings The Great Law of Recompense

iii. 12. The Curse of a Weak Government Blind Leaders

iii. 15. Oppression of the Poor

iii. 13-15. The Pleader and the Judge

iii. 16, 17. Haughtiness

iii. 16--iv. 1. Female Pride and Luxury

iv. 1. The Desolating and Disorganising Power of War

iv. 2-6. The Divine Ideal of Israel Realised

iv. 2-5. God's Perpetual Presence with His People

iv. 4. The Cleansing Spirit

v. 1-7. The Parable of the Vineyard The Parable of the Vineyard Great Privileges

v. 2. Divine Disappointments

v. 4. The Inexcusability and Hopelessness of Unbelief

v. 4-6. A Sad Canticle

v. 7, 8. On the Advantage of Small Allotments of Land to the Poor

v. 8-21. Wild Grapes

v. 8-10. Covetousness

v. 8. God's Curse on the Covetous

v. 11. The Miseries of the Drunkard

v. 11-17. National Ungodliness

v. 11, 12. Sensuality

v. 12. Earthly Amusement Festivity and Forgetfulness

v. 13-15. The Evils of Ignorance

v. 14, 15. Death and the Grave

v. 18. Cords of Vanity Cords and Cart-Ropes

v. 19. Scepticism

v. 20. The Influence of Language on Character The Sin of Confounding Good and Evil On the Perversion of Right and Wrong The Sin of Using Wrong Names Moral Perversity

v. 21. Self-Conceit Intellectual Pride

v. 22. The Woe of the Drunkard The Woe of the Drunkard Drink and Its Woes

v. 24. The Doom of Despisers

v. 24-30. The Doom of Impenitent Israel

vi. 1-12. The Prophet's Call

vi. 1, 2, 5-7. The Service of the Seraphim

vi. 1-3. The Trinity in Unity

vi. 1-5. Revelations of God

vi. 1-7. Isaiah's Vision

vi. 1-2. The Seraphim

vi. 2. A Glorious Example

vi. 2-4. The Seraphim and Their Song

vi. 5-7. A Sight of God and a Sense of Sin

vi. 5-8. The Moral History of a Rising Soul

vi. 8. Volunteer Service Messengers Wanted

vi. 9, 10. A Strange and Sad Errand The Rejection of Divine Truth

vi. 11-13. The Duration of the Prophet's Mission

vii. 1-9. Fears and Comforts Faith's Impregnable Citadel

vii. 1, 2. Purpose and Panics

vii. 3-25. Isaiah's Interview with Ahaz

vii. 4. A Threefold Counsel Heedfulness

vii. 9. Faith, The Condition of Firmness Stability through Faith

vii. 12. Man's Imagined Independence of God Momentous Decisions Irreligious Piety

vii. 13. Trials of the Divine Patience

vii. 13-16. The Virgin's Son

vii. 14. Immanuel

vii. 15. The Great Object of Child-Training

vii. 17-25. A Sentence of Doom

viii. 1-4. Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz

viii. 5-8. The Stream Rejected for the River

viii. 6-8. The Waters of Shiloah

viii. 9, 10. Threatened, But Safe

viii. 11-15. Biblical Politicians

viii. 13. "Hallowed Be Thy Name"

viii. 14. God Our Refuge, or Our Ruin The Stone of Stumbling Sanctuary in God

viii. 16-18. The Duty of Teachers of Truth in Times of National Perversion

viii. 17. Waiting on the Lord in Desertion and Gloom Penitential Waiting on God

viii. 19-22. Necromancy

viii. 20. The Law and the Testimony

viii. 21, ix. 13. Unsanctified Suffering

ix. 2-7. The Remedy of the World's Misery

ix. 3. The Joy of Harvest

ix. 6. The Titles and Government of Christ The Government of Christ His Name . . . Wonderful Christ our Counsellor The Mighty God The Everlasting Father The Prince of Peace

ix. 7. The Empire of Christ The Security for the Fulfilment of God's Promises

ix. 8-x. 4. The Outstretched Hand of God

ix. 10. Wise Lessons from Wicked Lips

ix. 14. The Duty of the Afflicted

ix. 15, 16. Leadership

ix. 17. Two Constant Feelings in the Mind of God Divine Anger

ix. 19. The Destructiveness of Sin

x. 1-4. Legalised Injustice

x. 3. The Day of Visitation

x. 5-34. The Assyrian Invasion of Judah The Assyrian

x. 7-15. Man Proposes, God Disposes

x. 20. A Happy Conversion

x. 20-23. The Remnants of Society

xi. and xii. Isaiah's Vision of the King and His Kingdom

xi. 2. The Spirit of the Lord

xi. 3. The Righteous Judge

xi. 9. The Universal Diffusion and Redemptive Power of the Knowledge of God The Diffusion of the Knowledge of God

xi. 10. The Ensign of the Nations

xi. 10-16. The Reconciler of Men

xii. 1. A New Song for New Hearts

xii. 3. Wells of Salvation

xii. 6. The Duty of Gladness

xiii. 1. The Proud City Doomed

xiii. 6. The Day of the Lord

xiii. 16. The Doom of the Children of Babylon

xiii. 17. The Love of Money

xiii. 18. Spare the Children

xiii. 19. Sodom and Gomorrah

xiv. 3, 4. The Joy of Salvation

xiv. 9-12. The Grave and Its Mysteries

xiv. 11. The Contrasts of Death The Conqueror Conquered

xiv. 20. The Seed of Evildoers

xiv. 32. A Memorable Answer

xvi. 4. God's Outcasts

xvi. 12. Fruitless

xvii. 5-7. Diminutions and Changes of Life

xvii. 7, 8. Sanctified Affliction

xvii. 10, 11. Forgetfulness of God

xvii. 12. The Punishment of the Wicked

xix. 1-3, 14. True National Greatness

xix. 18-20. An Altar and a Saviour for Egypt

xix. 27 Chastisement

xxi. 11, 12. The Burden of Dumah Night and Morning A Momentous Inquiry

xxi. 15. The Grievousness of War

xxii. 18. The Irresistibleness of God's Judgments

xxii. 24. The Glory of the Messiah

xxiv. 15. Glorifying God in the Fires

xxv. 1. The Grand Appropriation

xxv. 6-8. The Gospel Feast The Blessings of the Gospel

xxv. 8. The Triumphs of Christ A Sorrowless World

xxv. 9. Advent Thoughts and Joys

xxv. 10. The Protecting Hand

xxvi. 1-2. Days of Deliverance

xxvi. 3-4. Perfect Peace Peaceful Keeping

xxvi. 7. The Righteousness of God and His People The Just Man's Security

xxvi. 8. The Way of God's Judgments

xxvi. 8, 9. Trust and Trials

xxvi. 9. Night Longings for God The Necessity and Profitableness of Chastisement

xxvi. 9, 10. The Use and Abuse of the Judgments of God

xxvi. 12. National Peace the Gift of God Holiness Accomplished, Peace Ordained Man's Holiness, God's Workmanship

xxvi. 13, 14. Spiritual Usurpers Renounced

xxvi. 16. Prayer in Trouble

xxvi. 19. National Revival

xxvi. 20. God's Invitation to Shelter Chambers of Safety Religious Retirement

xxvii. 2, 3. God's Goodness to the Church The Song to the Vineyard

xxvii. 4, 5. A Solemn Disclaimer

xxvii. 5. Taking Hold of God's Strength

xxvii. 6. The Future Prosperity of Israel

xxvii. 8. The Day of the East Wind The Storms of Life

xxvii. 7-9. The Afflictions of God's People

xxvii. 9. The Discipline of Sin

xxvii. 10, 11. The Doom of the Incorrigible

xxvii. 13. The Gospel Trumpet The Great Trumpet

xxviii. 1-4. England's Crying Sin

xxviii. 5, 6. The Believer's Dignity and Power

xxviii. 9, 10. Early Religious Training

xxviii. 10. The Power of Littles

xxviii. 12. Rejecters of the Gospel Admonished

xxviii. 16. The Sure Foundation Our Trust and Our Test A Tested Saviour

xxviii. 17. False Refuges

xxviii. 18. False Refuges

xxviii. 20. The Short Bed and the Narrow Covering

xxviii. 22. Irreligious Mockery

xxviii. 24, 25. The Parable of the Husbandman

xxviii. 29. A Feast for Faith

xxix. 1. Ariel

xxix. 7, 8. Dreaming

xxix. 8. Awakened from the Dream The Futility of Fighting against Mount Zion

xxix. 13, 14. Lip-Service Instead of Heart-Worship

xxix. 19. The Joy of the Meek Religious Joy

xxx. 1-3. The Origin and the End of Sin

xxx. 7. Strength in Quietness Some Aspects of Ministerial Duty

xxx. 9-11. Dislike to Ministerial Fidelity

xxx. 15. Christian Quietness

xxx. 15, 16. The Vanity of Earthly Help in Time of Trial, and the Profit of Patient Waiting

xxx. 15-17. Divine Salvation Rejected

xxx. 18. Waiting, Divine and Human Waiting for the Lord

xxx. 19. God's Readiness to Listen to the Needy

xxx. 20, 21. The Bread of Adversity

xxx. 21. The Guiding Voice

xxx. 25, 26. Rivers of Waters

xxx. 26. Growing Light

xxx. 29-33. The Earthly Song and the Heavenly Voice

xxx. 33. Tophet Ordained of Old

xxxi. 1-3. The Only Counsellor

xxxi. 3. The Spirituality of the Divine Nature

xxxi. 6. A Call to the Revolted

xxxi. 9. The Fiery Ordeal of the Church

xxxii. 2. The Preciousness of Christ The Christian's Refuge Rivers of Water in a Dry Place Comfort in Christ

xxxii. 8. Christian Liberality

xxxii. 11. A Call to the Careless

xxxii. 13-15. The Essential Condition of Missionary Success

xxxii. 15. The Moral Wilderness Transformed

xxxii. 17. Peace the Work of Righteousness

xxxii. 18. The Peaceful Habitation

xxxii. 20. Spiritual Husbandry The Use of Opportunities

xxxiii. 1. Providence

xxxiii. 2. The Saint's Attitude in the Time of Trouble

xxxiii. 6. The Importance of Religious Knowledge

xxxiii. 7-12. God Avenging His Own Elect

xxxiii. 15-17. A Blessed Life

xxxiii. 15, 16. Nobility and Security

xxxiii. 16. The Blessedness of the Servant of God

xxxiii. 17. The Prospect of the Godly The Beauty of Christ's Character

xxxiii. 20. Characteristics of the Church of Christ

xxxiii. 21. Enriching Rivers

xxxiii. 22. A Controlling Fact The Atonement; or, Salvation Consistent with the Regal and Judicial Character of God

xxxiii. 23. The Disabled Ship

xxxiii. 24. No Sickness There Recovery from Sickness

xxxiv. 8. The Controversy of Zion

xxxiv. 16. A Call to Study The Book That Will Endure Testing

xxxiv. 16, 17. The Certainty of God's Judgments

xxxv. 1, 2, 7. Transformation

xxxv. 3, 4. Encouragement for the Timid

xxxv. 5, 6. The Healer and Joy-Giver The Curse Done Away

xxxv. 7. Beautiful Visions Exchanged for Realities

xxxv. 8-10. The Exiles' Return The Road to the City

xxxv. 10. The Happiness of Heaven The Banishment of Sorrow

xxxvi. 4. Modern Rabshakehs, And Their Attempts to Terrify God's People into a Humble Surrender

xxxvi. 5. In Whom Art Thou Trusting?

xxxvi. 21. Hezekiah's Prudent Silence

xxxvii. 1. A Foolish King and a Wise One

xxxvii. 14. A King in Trouble Spreading the Letter before the Lord

xxxvii. 15-20. A King's Prayer

xxxvii. 20. A Christian Prayer

xxxvii. 31. The Christian Church a Continuation of the Jewish

xxxviii. 1-19. Hezekiah's Prayer

xxxviii. 1. Preparation for Death Duties of the Sick and Dying

xxxviii. 2, 3. Distress in Prospect of Death

xxxviii. 10. The Shortening of Human Life

xxxviii. 14. A Cry for Help The Suretyship of Christ

xxxviii. 15-20. Hezekiah's Resolution

xxxviii. 15. The Restoration of Belief

xxxviii. 17. A Great Deliverance Forgiveness of Sin

xxxviii. 18, 19. The Song of Hezekiah

xxxviii. 19. Praise for Preservation

xxxix. 1, 2. Hezekiah's Strength and Weakness

xxxix. 4. Home Life and Influence

xxxix. 8. Hezekiah Tried Submission Under God's Rebuke


- Introduction - Alexander's translation of Isaiah - Delitzsch's translation of Isaiah - Calkins' translation of Isaiah lii. 12-liii. - Urwick's translation of Isaiah lii. 12-liii.



Of Isaiah, "the evangelical prophet," nothing is _known_ beyond what we are told of him in the Scriptures. Various traditions concerning him are current among the Jews, such as that his father Amoz was brother of King Amaziah, and that he himself died a martyr's death, being sawn asunder by order of Manasseh; but all that is _certain_ is, that he was the son of Amoz; that his prophetic ministry commenced in the reign of Uzziah, and closed in that of Hezekiah (ch. i. 1); that his wife was a prophetess (ch. viii. 3), and bare him two sons (ch. vi. 3; viii. 3); and that he was the author of a portion of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (2 Chron. xxvi. 22).

His name signifies _The Salvation of the Lord,_ and this--_the salvation which God works for His people from their sins and consequent misery_--is the great, though not the exclusive, theme of his prophecy.

The length of his ministry is variously estimated. The lowest estimate would make it comprise forty-nine years, from the last year of Uzziah to the seventeenth of Hezekiah (B.C. 759-710); the highest, sixty-four years, from the fourth year before Uzziah's death to the last year of Hezekiah (B.C. 762-698).

In the following Commentary it is assumed that the whole of the sixty-six chapters of which the Book of Isaiah is composed, were written by one pen. For clear and conclusive refutations of the theory of a second Isaiah, see the introductions to the Commentaries of Alexander, Delitsch, and Kay, and the article ISAIAH in Smith's, Kitto's, and Fairbairn's _Dictionaries of the Bible._

Appended are Ewald's criticisms on Isaiah's style,[1] and some admirable observations by Dr. Kay on the _title_ of Isaiah's prophecy, which readers of it will do to bear in mind throughout.[2]


[1] In Isaiah we see prophetic authorship reaching its culminating point. Everything conspired to raise him to an elevation which no prophet before or after could as writer attain. Among the other prophets, each of the more important ones is distinguished by some one particular excellence, and some one particular talent. In Isaiah all kinds of talent, and all beauties of prophetic discourse, meet together, so as mutually to temper and qualify each other; it is not so much any single feature that distinguished him as the symmetry and perfection of the whole.

We cannot fail to assume, as the first condition of Isaiah's particular historical greatness, a native power, and a vivacity of spirit which, even among prophets, is seldom to be met with. It is but rarely that we see combined in one and the same spirit the three several characteristics of--first, the most profound prophetic excitement and the purest sentiment; next, the most indefatigable and successful practical activity amidst all perplexities and changes of outward life; and, thirdly, that facility and beauty in representing thought which is the characteristic of the genuine poet; but this threefold combination we find realised in Isaiah as in no other prophet; and form the traces which we can perceive of the unceasing joint-working of these three powers, we must draw our conclusions as to the original greatness of his genius. But as prophet and as author, Isaiah stands upon that calm, sunny height, which in each several branch of ancient literature one eminently favoured spirit at the right time takes possession of; which seems, as it were, to have been waiting for _him;_ and which, when he has come and mounted the ascent, seems to keep and guard him to the last as its own right man. In the sentiments which he expresses, in the topics of his discourses, and in the manner of expression, Isaiah uniformly reveals himself as the kingly prophet.

In reference to the last-named point, it cannot be said that his method of elaborating thought is elaborate and artificial: it rather shows a lofty simplicity and an unconcern about external attractiveness, abandoning itself freely to the leading and requirement of each several thought; but, nevertheless, it always rolls along in a full stream which overpowers all resistance, and never fails at the right place to accomplish at every turn its object without toil or effort.

The progress and development of the discourse is always majestic, achieving much with few words, which, though short, are yet clear and transparent; an overflowing fulness of thought, which might readily lose itself in the vast and indefinite, but which always at the right time with tight rein collects and tempers its exuberance; to the bottom exhausting the thought and completing the utterance, and yet never too diffuse. This severe self-control is the most admirably seen in those shorter utterances which by briefly-sketched images and thoughts give us the vague apprehension of something infinite, whilst, nevertheless, they stand before us complete in themselves and clearly delineated; _e.g._, viii. 6--ix. 6, xiv. 23-32, xviii. 1-7, xxi. 11, 12; while in the long piece, xxviii.-xxxii., if the composition here and there for a moment languishes, it is only to lift itself again afresh with all the greater might. In this rich and thickly-crowded fulness of thought and word it is but seldom that the simile which is employed appears apart, to set forth and complete itself (xxxi. 4, 5); in general, it crowds into the delineation of the object which it is meant to illustrate, and is swallowed up in it,--ay, and frequently simile after simile; and yet the many threads of the discourse, which for a moment appeared ravelled together, soon disentangle themselves into perfect clearness;--a characteristic which belongs to this prophet alone, a freedom of language which with no one else so easily succeeds.

The versification, in like manner, is always full, and yet strongly marked: while, however, this prophet is so little concerned about anxiously weighing out to each verse its proper number of words, not unfrequently he repeats the same word in two members (xxxi. 8, xxxii. 17, xi. 5, xix. 13), as if, with so much power and beauty in the matter within, he did not so much require a painstaking finish in the outside. The structure of the strophe is always easy and beautifully rounded.

Still the main point lies here,--that we cannot in the case of Isaiah, as in that of other prophets, specify any particular peculiarity, or any favourite colour as attaching to his general style. _He is not the especially lyrical prophet, or the especially elegiacal prophet, or the especially oratorical and hortatory prophet, as we should describe a Joel, a Hosea, a Micah, with whom there is a greater prevalence of some particular colour; but, just as the subject requires, he has readily at command every several kind of style and every several change of delineation; and it is precisely this that, in point of language, establishes his greatness, as well as in general, forms out of his most towering points of excellence._ His only fundamental peculiarity is the lofty, majestic, calmness of his style, proceeding out of the perfect command which he feels he possesses over his subject matter. This calmness, however, no way demands that the strain shall not, when occasion required, be more vehemently excited, and assail the hearer with mightier blows; but even the extremest excitement, which does here and there intervene, is in the main bridled still by the same spirit of calmness, and, not overstepping the limits which that spirit assigns, it soon with lofty self-control returns to its wonted tone of equability (ii. 10--iii. 1, xxviii. 11-23, xxix. 9-14). Neither does this calmness in discourse require that the subject shall always be treated only in a plain level way, without any variation of form; rather, Isaiah shows himself master in just that variety of manner which suits the relation in which his hearers stand to the matter now in hand. If he wishes to bring home to their minds a distant truth which they like not to hear, and to judge them by a sentence pronounced by their own mouth, he retreats into a popular statement of a case drawn from ordinary life (v. 1-6, xxviii. 23-20). If he will draw the attention of the over wise to some new truth, or to some future prospect, he surprises them by a brief oracle clothed in an enigmatical dress, leaving it to their penetration to discover its solution (vii. 14-16, xxix. 1-8). When the unhappy temper of the people's minds which nothing can amend leads to loud lamentation, his speech becomes for a while the strain of elegy and lament (i. 21-23, xxii. 4, 5). Do the frivolous leaders of the people mock? he outdoes them at their own weapons, and crushes them under the fearful earnest of divine mockery (xxviii. 10-13). Even a single ironical word in passing will drop from the lofty prophet (xxvii. 3, _glory_). Thus his discourse varies into every complexion: _it is tender and stern, didactic and threatening, mourning and again exulting in divine joy, mocking and earnest;_ but ever at the right time it returns to its original elevation and repose, and never loses the clear ground-colour of its divine seriousness.--_Ewald, quoted in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible,_ vol. i. pp. 888, 889, article ISAIAH.

[2] The title of the book is _"The_ VISION _of Isaiah,"_ which suggests these remarks--

(1.) Being a _vision,_ it will frequently speak of events that are yet future, as if they had already occurred. So in iii. 8: "Jerusalem _is ruined;_ Judah _is fallen."_ In v. 13: "Therefore my people _are gone into captivity._"

(2.) What is seen in vision must be subject to the laws of _perspective._ One who views the snowy Alps from a distance may see two mountain peaks, which really are many miles apart, as one object. The illustration is imperfect; yet it may serve to explain how, to the eye of a seer, a nearer event may be blended with one that is _in the same direction, but vastly more remote;_ the type, for instance, melting into the antitype, or the interval between the first and second advents of the Messiah being indiscernible.

(3.) It is, as a whole, _The Vision;_--_one_ vision. It consists, indeed, of various parts; yet from the very outset these represent the same _vision._ Judah _is rebellious; is sentenced to exile; is redeemed; is purified. These elements, on a large scale, compose the book as a whole;_ and, on a smaller scale, they compose the first chapter. The body is made up of portions similar in quality to itself, and to each other. The visions are greatly diversified in size, form, colouring, and other detail; but in essential characteristics it is one vision.--_Dr. Kay, in The Speaker's Commentary,_ vol. v. p. 19.


i. 1. _The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah._

+I. The nature of the prophet's endowment:+ a "vision" into the very heart of things, a power of distinguishing between the seeming and the real. +II. The sadness and the joy of the prophet's life:+ sadness arising from his "vision" of human sin (vers. 2-15); joy arising from his "vision" of the wondrousness of the Divine mercy (ver. 18).

_Application._--1. In these latter days the prophetic endowment, to a greater or lesser extent, is possessed by all God's people (1 John ii. 20). 2. The Church should pray that it may be possessed to the fullest extent by all who are called to minister in holy things. Prophets of clear and penetrating "vision" are among the greatest gifts which God can confer upon the Church.[1] 3. This great endowment must be used not merely for the detection and exposure of human sin, lest we become cynical and inhuman, but also for the discovery of the abounding evidence of the Divine compassion (as in v. 9), that we may be brought into more perfect sympathy with Him who hates sin but desires and seeks to save the sinner.


[1] A preacher who is not in some way a seer is not a preacher at all. You can never make people see religious realities by correct definitions. They will not believe in the reality of God on the word of a man who merely demonstrates it to them. You must see such things yourself if you are going to help others to see them. This is the secret of all the preaching that ever was good since preaching began.--_Beecher._


i. 2. _The Lord hath spoken._

Thus at the very outset of this book Divine authority is claimed for the utterances contained in it. Three views may be taken of the writings of the Hebrew prophets. 1. They are the writings of men who knew they were uttering that which is false when they claimed to be messengers of the Most High. 2. They are the writings of enthusiasts who mistook the ecstasies of their excited imaginations for Divine inspirations. 3. They are the writings of holy men who were inspired by the Holy Ghost.

Against the first of these views is to be set the fact that the whole influence of the prophets was exerted on behalf of national righteousness and individual virtue; that for these things they suffered; that for these things some of them died. Is it credible that men who _so_ sought to promote _such_ ends would begin and continue their mission with a blasphemous lie?

Against the second is to be set the fact that many of their predictions have been fulfilled--fulfilled after intervals, so long, and with such minute accuracy, that sceptics have sought to account for such fulfilments by asserting that the prophecies were written subsequently to the events to which they refer; an assertion which the most competent scholars repel even with contempt.

There remains then only the third view; and in support of it may be urged--in addition to the _conclusive_ fact just named--such considerations as these: 1. That their conceptions of God and of human duty are such as to satisfy the loftiest demands of the most enlightened reason and the best instructed conscience. Give examples (ch. xl. 12-26; lviii. 3-7, &c.) 2. That their conceptions of God and of human duty have not been surpassed by those of the sublimest poets or the ablest philosophers of any subsequent age. 3. That their sublime conceptions of God and of human duty, which still stand as the Alps or Himalaya of human thought, were given to the world in an age when, with the exception only of the prophets and those who accepted their teaching, the whole human race was given over to the most debasing idolatries and superstitions. 4. That the Hebrew prophets stood out in regard to these conceptions not only distinct from the men of their own age, but from the men of their own nation, from whom they had only words of rebuke, and against whose most cherished convictions and steadfast tendencies they set themselves in resolute opposition. Give examples (ch. i. 11-15; lxvi. 1, 2, &c.) If due weight be given to these considerations, we shall see that there is no escape from the conclusion that the Hebrew prophets owed their conceptions of God and duty to God Himself. They spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

If this be so, then--1. We should earnestly study the prophetic utterances. How mentally as well as morally debased is the man who is not alert and concerned to hear and understand what "the LORD hath spoken"! 2. Such of their utterances as are predictive should kindle within us confident and joyful hopes. They are the promises of Him who cannot lie, and who has ample power to perform. 3. To those which are preceptive we should give prompt, comprehensive, and careful obedience. To withhold such obedience, is to array against ourselves omnipotent power; to yield it, is to secure for ourselves eternal rewards (ch. iii. 10, 11).


i. 2, 3. _Hear, O heavens; and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider._

+I. The unnaturalness of sin.+ The heavens and the earth obey the laws to which they have been subjected; the very beasts are faithful to their instincts; it is only man who falls in duty and goes astray. +II. The baseness of ingratitude:+ as displayed--1. By man to man;[1] 2. By children to their parents;[2] 3. By men to their Heavenly Father.[3] +III. The reasonableness of God's claim to their obedience and love.+ 1. He is our Father.[4] 2. To all parental duties He has been faithful. 3. He has been more than faithful; He has caused our cup to run over with His lovingkindness.[5] +IV. Privilege is the measure of responsibility and the aggravation of guilt.+ The point of the condemnation in these verses does not lie in the contrast between the conduct of animals and men, but in the contrast between the conduct of animals and that of God's people. "_Israel_ doth not know, _my people_ doth not consider!" This is the wonder and the monstrosity. That privilege is the measure of responsibility and the aggravation of guilt, is a very familiar truth; a truth often forgotten; and yet absolutely certain and tremendously important (Luke xii. 48; Heb. vi. 7, 8). What need _we_ have to lay it to heart!


[1] All should unite to punish the ungrateful: Ingratitude is treason to mankind.--_Thomson._

He that's ungrateful has no guilt but one; All other crimes may pass for virtues in him.--_Young._

[2] Sharper than a serpent's tooth it is To have a thankless child.--_Shakespeare._

[3] An ungracious soul may be burdened with many sins; but she never makes up her full load till she hath added the sin of unthankfulness. He leaves out no evil in a man who calls him unthankful. Ingratitude dissolves the joints of the whole world. A barren ground is less blamed, because it hath not been dressed. But till it with the plough; trust it with seed; let the clouds bless it with their rain, the sun with his heat, the heavens with their influence, and then if it be unfertile, the condition is worse; before it was contemned, now it is cursed (Heb. vi. 8).--_Adams,_ 1654.

Some are such brutes, that, like swine, their nose is nailed to the trough in which they feed; they have not the use of their understanding so far as to lift their eye to heaven, and say, "There dwells that God that provides this for me, that God by whom I live."--_Gurnall._

You would count it a sad spectacle to behold a man in a lethargy, with his senses and reason so blasted by his disease that he knows not his nearest friends, and takes no notice of those that tend him, or bring his daily food to him. How many such senseless wretches are at this day lying upon God's hands! He ministers daily to their necessities, but they take no notice of His care and goodness.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

The frozen snake in the fable stingeth him that refreshed it. Thus is it with all unthankful men: God leadeth them daily with benefits and blessings, and they load Him with sins and trespasses.--_Stapleton,_ 1535-1598.

[4] It is an excellent representation of St. Austin: if a sculptor, after his fashioning a piece of marble in a human figure, could inspire it with life and sense, and give it motion and understanding and speech, can it be imagined not the first act of it would be to prostrate itself at the feet of the maker in subjection and thankfulness, and to offer whatever it is, and can do, as homage to him? The almighty hand of God formed our bodies. He breathed into us the spirit of life, and should not the power of love constrain us to live wholly to His will?--_Bates,_ 1625-1629.

[5] We find the fiercest things that live, The savage born, the wildly rue, When soothed by Mercy's hand will give Some faint response of gratitude.

But man!--oh! blush, ye lordly race!-- Shrink back, and question thy proud heart! Dost thou not lack that thankful grace Which ever forms the soul's best part?

Wilt thou not take the blessings given, The priceless boon of ruddy health, The sleep unbroken, peace unriven, The cup of joy, the mine of wealth?

Wilt thou not take them all, and yet Walk from the cradle to the grave Enjoying, boasting, and forget To think upon the God that gave?

Thou'lt even kneel to blood-stained kings, Nor fear to have thy serfdom known; Thy knee will bend for bauble things, Yet fail to seek its Maker's throne.--_Eliza Cook_


i. 2-6. _Hear, O heavens, &c._

God sometimes speaks to man abruptly; when this is done, the truth expressed demands the most profound attention. In our text the heavens and the earth are suddenly called to attend to what is about to be said; God is charging the human race with fearful wrongs; the matter at issue is between the creature and Creator, child and Parent. Our attention is called to--

+I. The Fatherhood of God.+ "I have nourished," &c. Divine paternity is a truth which runs through the whole Bible, here and there shining out with resplendent lustre, as in our text. The fatherhood of God was manifested towards Israel--1. In _supply._ As it affected the Jewish nation this declaration (I have nourished, &c.) pressed with tremendous force. Their supplies were marked by miracle, at least all the time they were in the wilderness; and the utterance has weight to-day. All nature is made to minister to man's necessities. 2. In _guardianship._ "Brought up children." This should have been sufficient to strike the ear as a thunderclap, seeing how far they had strayed from Him. Out of a mean, despised, and enslaved people He had developed a wealthy, mighty nation; and His guardianship reaches to all to-day. 3. In _defence._ The early history of these people was one unbroken chain of Divine interpositions. From the first day Moses stood before the king, until they were fully established in Palestine, God's arm was stretched out to defend them. The blood on the door-post, their sea-path, and the sea-grave of the Egyptians, together with the hovering cloud in the wilderness, all speak of strong defence; and still there are evidences of defence in the life of every man.

+II. The wickedness of man.+ Men are universally the same; as the father so is the son, as the Jew so is the Gentile; and hence in this chapter we have a true picture of the whole human family. Let us mark some of the many features of guilt: 1. _Degeneracy._ God bears with weaknesses and infirmities, but wilful backsliding He abhors. The Jews were evil-doers; they went astray from God and all that was good. It is the wilful sinning of men that now grieves Him. 2. _Insensibility._ Wrong-doing is sure to produce wrong feeling, or, what is worse, no feeling at all. A sinful life results in a dark heart. Here is a people more insensible of good bestowed than the stupid ox or more stupid ass; and there are still persons to be found less acquainted with the source of their supplies than the dumb, unconscious brute.[1] 3. _Defiance._ They rebelled against God. Fear ceased to check them, and hatred led them to bold, defiant deeds. The day was to them as the night, and oppression and murder were but small sins to be indulged in. So it is with many to-day; they have no shame, remorse, or compunction for sin, openly defying the living God.

+III. The purpose of Divine chastisement.+ No true parent finds any pleasure in chastising his children, and any pain inflicted without pure motives would be an evil. God corrects--1. _To restrain from Sin._ This explains much that happened to the Israelites, and also much that transpires in the history of all men. God sees the danger, the leaning to wrong, and with Him prevention is better than cure.[2] 2. _To show the consequences of sin._ Men profess to be practical, and wish to be practically dealt with; hence they say: "Words are not enough; there must be blows." The transgressor must feel as well as hear, or he will run mad. God has always taught men that His laws are more than mere word-rules; there is force in them, and he that breaks them must suffer. 3. _To bring to Himself._[3] Hence we often hear Him say, "Why will ye be stricken any more?" Remonstrance always precedes the lash to show His love and tenderness.--_Charles Jupe._


[1] The stall-fed ox, that is grown fat, will know His careful feeder, and acknowledge too; The generous spaniel loves his master's eye, And licks his fingers though no meat be by; But man, ungrateful man, that's born and bred By Heaven's immediate power; maintained and fed By His providing hand; observed, attended, By His indulgent grace; preserved, defended, By His prevailing arm; this man, I say, Is more ungrateful, more obdure than they. Man, O most ungrateful man, can ever Enjoy Thy gift, but never mind the Giver; And like the swine, though pampered with enough, His eyes are never higher than the trough.--_Frances Quarles._

[2] The consequences of sin are meant to warn from sin. The penalty annexed to it is, in the first instance, corrective, not penal. Fire burns the child, to teach it one of the truths of this universe--the property of fire to burn. The first time it cuts its hand with a sharp knife, it has gained a lesson which it will never forget. Now, in the case of pain, this experience is seldom, if ever, in vain. There is little chance of a child forgetting that fire will burn, and that sharp steel will cut; but the moral lessons contained in the penalties annexed to wrong-doing are just as truly intended to deter men from evil, though they are by no means so unerring in enforcing their application. The fever, in the veins and the headache which succeed intoxication are meant to warn against excess. On the first occasion they are simply corrective; in every succeeding one they assume more and more a penal character, in proportion as the conscience carries with them the sense of ill-desert.--_F. W. Robertson,_ 1816-1853.

[3] If a sheep stray from his fellows, the shepherd sets his dog after it, not to devour it, but to bring it again: even so our Heavenly Shepherd, if any of us, His sheep, disobey Him, sets His dog of affliction after us, not to hurt us, but to bring us home to consideration of our duty towards Him.--_Cowdray._

As the child, fearing nothing, is so fond of his play that he strays and wanders from his mother, not so much as thinking of her; but if he be scared or frighted with the sight or apprehension of some apparent or approaching danger, presently runs to her, casts himself into her arms, and cries out to be saved and shielded by her: so we, securely enjoying the childish sports of worldly prosperity, do so fondly dote on them that we scarce think of our Heavenly Father; but when perils and dangers approach, and are ready to seize upon us, then we flee to Him, and cast ourselves into the arms of His protection and providence, crying and calling to Him by earnest prayer for help and deliverance in this our extremity and distress.--_Downame,_ 1644.


i.3. _The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people do not consider._

It is clear from this chapter that the Lord views the sin of mankind with intense regret. Israel in this case is not so much a type of believers as a representative of sinners in general. The greatest difficulty in the world is to make men think. Consider--

+I. The common but serious fault here condemned.+ Men are most inconsiderate--1. Towards God;[1] 2. towards their own best interests;[2] 3. towards the claims of justice and gratitude.[3]

+II. Some things that make the commonness of this fault surprising.+ 1. Men live without consideration upon a matter in regard to which nothing but consideration will avail. Nothing can stand in lieu of thoughtfulness in religion. In regard to other matters we can employ others to think for us. But in this matter we must think for ourselves. Religion is a spiritual business, and if a man lives and dies refusing to consider, he has put away from him all hope of being saved; for grace comes not into us by mechanical process, but the Holy Spirit works upon the mind and soul. 2. This inconsideration is practised in regard to a subject the consideration of which would be abundantly remunerative, and would lead to the happiest results.[4]

+III. Some of the aggravations which attend it.+ 1. It is fallen into by those of whom better things might reasonably have been expected. "_Israel_ doth not know, _my people_ doth not consider." It is not the heathen who act more stupidly than the brutes, but those whom God has called to Himself, on whom He has conferred light and knowledge, &c. 2. They have had their attention earnestly directed to the topics which they still neglect. 3. They have also been chastised, in the gracious endeavour to arouse them from their thoughtlessness. 4. Many of them are very zealous in regard to outward religion, as were those whom the prophet rebuked. 5. They have been most earnestly and affectionately invited to turn to God by gracious promises (such as ver. 18). 6. They have ability enough to consider other things.

+IV. Some of the secret causes of this widespread fault.+ 1. In the case of many thoughtless persons we must lay the blame to the sheer _frivolity of their nature_. 2. In every case the bottom reason is _opposition to God Himself_. 3. Upon some minds the tendency to _delay_ operates fearfully. 4. Some make an excuse for themselves for not considering eternity, because _they are such eminently practical men_. They are living for realities of the nature of hard case, and will not be induced to indulge in fancies and notions.[5] 5. Many are _prejudiced,_ because some Christian professor has not lived up to his profession, or they have heard something which is said to be the doctrine of the gospel of which they cannot approve. 6. In most cases men _do not like to trouble themselves,_ and they have an uncomfortable suspicion that if they were to look too narrowly into their affairs, they would find things far from healthy.[6]--_C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,_ vol. xviii. pp. 373-384.


[1] One would pardon them if they forgot many minor things, and neglected many inferior persons; but to be inconsiderate to their Creator, to their Preserver, to Him in whose hand their everlasting destiny is placed, this is a strange folly as well as a great sin. Whoever a courtier may neglect, he is sure to consider his king. Men when they start their sons in business will bid them mind the main chance, and attend to the principal point, and especially take care to stand well with such a man who has the power to help or to ruin them. Men, as a general rule, are far too ready to seek the assistance of those who are in power, and this makes it all the more strange that the all-powerful God, who lifteth up and casteth down, should be altogether forgotten, or, when remembered, should still be dishonoured by mankind. If it were only because He is great, and we are so dependent upon Him, one would have thought that a rational man would have acquainted himself with God, and been at peace; but when we reflect that God is supremely good, kind, tender, and gracious, as well as great, the marvel of man's thoughtlessness is much increased. Every good man desires to be on good terms with the good; unusual goodness wins admiration, and an invitation to associate with the eminently excellent is usually accepted with pleasure; yet in the case of the thrice holy God, whose name is Love, it is not so. All attractions are in the character of God, and yet man shuns his Maker. If God were a demon, man could hardly be more cold towards Him.--_Spurgeon._

[2] When we ask men to attend to matters which do not concern them, we are not astonished if they plead that they have no time, and little thought to spare. If I were to address you upon a matter which affected the interests of the dwellers in the Dog-star, or had some relation to the inhabitants of the moon, I should not marvel if you were to say, "Go to those whom it may concern, and talk to them; but as for us, the matter is so remote, that we take no interest in it." But how shall we account for it that man will not know about himself, and wilt not consider about his own soul? Any trifle will attract him, but he will not consider his own immortality, or meditate upon the joy or the misery that must be his portion. It is in very truth a miracle of human depravity--what if I say insanity--that man should be unmindful of his best self.--_Spurgeon._

[3] I have known men who have said, "Let the heavens fall, but let justice be done:" and they have scorned in their dealings with their fellow-men to take any unrighteous advantage, even though it were as little as the turning of a hair. I have known some also who, if they were called ungrateful, would indignantly spurn the charge. They would count themselves utterly loathsome if they did not return good to those who have done them good; and yet it may be these very same persons have been throughout life unjust towards God, and ungrateful towards Him to whom they owe their being, and all that makes it endurable. The service, the thankfulness, the love which are due to Him, they have withheld.--_Spurgeon._

[4] We should not marvel at men if they would not think upon topics which made them unhappy; but albeit there are some who have suffered frightful depression of spirits in connection with true religion, yet its general and ultimate fruit has ever been peace and joy through believing in Christ Jesus, and even the exceptions could be easily accounted for. In some melancholy spirits their godliness is too shallow to make them happy; they breathe so little of the heavenly air that they are distressed for want of more. In others the sorrow occasioned by gracious reflection is but a preliminary and passing stage of grace; there must be a ploughing before there can be a harvest; there must be medicine for the disease before health returns, and the newly-awakened are just in the stage and the condition of drinking bitter medicine. This will soon be over, and the results will be most admirable. A great cloud of witnesses, among whom we joyfully take our place, bear witness to the fact that the ways of the Lord are ways of pleasantness. Our deepest joy lies now in knowing God, and considering Him.--_Spurgeon._

[5] I only wish that those who profess to be practical were more nearly so, for a practical man will always take more care of his body than of his coat, certainly; then should he not take more care of his soul than of the body, which is but the garment of it? If he were a truly practical man, he would do that. A practical man will always consider matters in due proportion; he will not give all his mind to a cricket-match and neglect his business. And yet how often your practical man still more greatly errs; he devotes all his time to money-making, and not a minute to the salvation of his soul, and its preparation for eternity! Is this practical? Why, sir, Bedlam itself is guilty of no worse madness than that! There is not in all your wards a single maniac who commits a more manifest act of insanity than a man who spends all his force upon this fleeting life, and lets the eternal future go by the board.--_Spurgeon._

[6] They are like the bankrupt before the court the other day who did not keep books. Not he. He did not know how his affairs stood, and, moreover, he did not want to know; he did not like his books, and his books did not like him. He was going to the bad, and he therefore tried to forget it. They say of the silly ostrich that when she hides her head in the sand, and does not see her pursuers, she thinks she is safe; that is the policy of many men. They spread their sails, and get up the steam, and go with double speed straight ahead. What, not look at the chart! No, they do not want to know whether there are rocks and breakers ahead. Arrest that captain, put him in irons, and find a sane man to take charge of the vessel. Oh for grace to arrest that folly which is the captain of your bark, and put sound sense in command, or else a spiritual shipwreck is certain.--_Spurgeon._


i. 3. _My people doth not consider._

+I. Inconsiderateness is one of the commonest of all human characteristics.+[1] +II. While apparently a comparatively harmless thing, it is the source of nearly all the evils by which man is afflicted, and of the sins by which God is grieved and made angry.+--1. "Presumptuous sins" are comparatively rare. 2. Look at some of the evils to which a want of consideration leads in the various spheres of life: educational, domestic, social, commercial, political, religious.[2]

APPLICATION.--1. _Cultivate the habit of considering the issues of various courses of conduct._ We should regard our thoughts, words, and actions as the farmer regards his seeds--as the germs of a future harvest; and we should remember that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." This will lead to a wise caution in regard to the seeds we sow. 2. _Consider the relations in which you now stand to Almighty God._ You _must_ be either a rebel, exposed to His vengeance, or a pardoned child, shielded by His love. Which is it?


[1] Silly man is like the foolish chickens, though the kite comes and takes away many of their fellows, yet the rest continue pecking the ground, never heeding their owner, never minding their shelter. Death comes and snatches away one man here, a second there; one before them, another behind them, and they are killed by death, undone for ever; yet they who survive take no warning, but persist in their wicked, ungodly ways (Job. iv. 20, 21).--_Swinnock,_ 1673.

A plough is coming from the far end of a long field, and a daisy stands nodding, and full of dew-dimples. That furrow is sure to strike the daisy. It casts its shadow as gaily, and exhales its gentle breath as freely, and stands as simple and radiant and expectant as ever; and yet that crushing furrow, which is turning and turning others in its course, is drawing near, and in a moment it whirls the heedless flower with sudden reversal under the sod! And as is the daisy, with no power of thought, so are ten thousand thinking sentient flowers of life, blossoming in places of peril, and yet thinking that no furrow of disaster is running in toward them--that no iron plough of trouble is about to overturn them. Sometimes it dimly dawns upon us, when we see other men's mischiefs and wrongs, that we are in the same category with them, and that perhaps the storms which have overtaken them will overtake us also. But it is only for a moment, for we are artful to cover the ear, and not listen to the voice that warns us of danger.--_Beecher._

[2] The wounds I might have healed! The human sorrow and smart! And yet it never was in my soul To play so ill a part: But _evil is wrought by want of thought, As well as want of heart!_--_Hood._


i. 3. _My people doth not consider._

The universe is regulated by fixed laws, by which God preserves and governs all things. Man is endowed with rational powers, intellectual faculties, capable of apprehending these laws, whether they become known to him by revelation or by his own discoveries, and of using them as his guides. His well-being depends upon his harmony with them, and his dignity and bliss on the right application of his mental powers. One of Satan's main stratagems is to endeavour to hinder him from using them aright; to induce him to act without forethought or reflection, and to incite him to act merely on impulse, feeling, or passion.[1] As a result of these artifices, the great mass of mankind live without thought, and are borne in stupid insensibility to the eternal world. Thus God complains of the infatuation of Israel, "My people doth not consider." To consider is to think deliberately, to reflect maturely. There are many subjects to which our consideration should be attentively and diligently given. We should consider--+I. The character and will of God.+ His _words_ should lead us to this. If you see a beautiful picture, or piece of sculpture or mechanism, you naturally direct your thoughts to the artist or mechanist who has produced it. The grandeur of the divine works surrounds you, and ought you not to consider the wondrous Architect of the whole? His _relationship to you_ should induce it. Your existence is derived from Him, and He fashioned you, and bestowed on you all your endowments. He is your Father, your bountiful Preserver. Besides, you are ever in His hand, ever before His eyes, He surrounds you. And He is great, wise, powerful, holy, and just. His love and favour are heaven; His anger and frowns are hell. +II. Ourselves.+ What are we? What our powers? our capabilities? our end and destination? the claims of God? our duties to others? the improvement we should make of the present? the preparation we should make for the future? Are we answering the end of our being? &c. +III. Our spiritual state before God.+ Is it one of ignorance, or of knowledge? folly, or wisdom? guilt, or pardon? condemnation or acceptance? alienation, or sonship and adoption? safety, or imminent peril? Are we heirs of wrath or perdition, or of God and salvation? +IV. The importance of life.+ Life is the seedtime for eternity, the period of probation, the only opportunity of securing eternal blessedness. How short it is, how fragile, how uncertain! How criminal to waste it, to pervert it! &c. +V. The solemnities of death+ (Deut. xxxii. 29). Consider its certainty, its probable nearness, its truly awful character. Try to realise it. Consider if you were now dying, &c.[2] +VI. The great concerns of eternity.+ The judgment-day. Heaven, with its eternal glories; hell, with its everlasting horrors. Eternity itself, how solemn, how overwhelming! How blissful to the saint! how terrific to the sinner! ETERNITY! +VII. That salvation which will fit us for living, dying, and for eternity.+ Provided by the mercy of God, obtained by the Lord Jesus Christ, revealed in the gospel, offered to every sinner, received by simple faith, and which delivers from guilt, pollution, fear, and everlasting wrath. +VIII. Our present duty and interest.+ Men are supposed to care naturally for these. But their care usually relates merely to the body, and the things of time. Consider whether it is not your _duty_ to obey and serve God; whether it is not your _interest_ (1 Tim. iv. 8). +IX. That there is no substitute for religion+ (Jer. ii. 13).

_Application._--Urge consideration upon all present. 1. _Some have never considered._ Now begin. Retire and reflect; weigh and consider these things. 2. _Some have considered occasionally_--in church, or when sick, in the house of bereavement, &c. Cultivate the _habit_ of consideration,[3] and carry into effect the conclusions to which you will inevitably come. 3. _There is hope for all who will consider._ 4. _They are hopeless who will not consider._[4]--_Jabez Burns, D.D., Pulpit Cyclopædia,_ vol. ii. pp. 34-37.


[1] Satan doth his utmost, that sinners may not have any serious thoughts of the miserable state they are in while they are under his rule, or hear of anything from others which might the least unsettle their minds from his service. Consideration, he knows, is the first step to repentance. He that doth not consider his ways what they are, and whither they lead him, is not likely to change them in haste. Israel stirred not until Moses came, and had some discourse with them about their woful slavery and the gracious thoughts of God towards them, and then they begin to desire to be gone. Pharaoh soon bethought him what consequence might follow upon him, and cunningly labours to prevent it by doubling their task. "Ye are idle, ye are idle, therefore ye say, Let us go, and do sacrifice unto the Lord. Go therefore and work." Thus Satan is very jealous of the sinner, afraid every Christian that speaks to him, or ordinance that he hears, will inveigle him. By his good-will he should come at neither; no, nor have a thought of heaven or hell from one end of the week to the other, and that he may have as few as may be, he keeps him full-handed with work. The sinner grinds, and he is filling the hopper that the mill may not stand still. Ah, poor wretch! was ever slave so looked to? As long as the devil can keep thee thus, thou art his own sure enough. The prodigal "came to himself" before he came to his father. He considered with himself what a starving condition he was in; his husks were poor meat, and yet he had not enough of them; and how easily he might mend his commons if he had but grace to go home and humble himself to his father! Now, and not till now, he goes.--_Gurnall,_ 1616-1679.

[2] The sand of life Ebbs fastly to its finish. Yet a little, And the last fleeting particle will fall Silent, unseen, unnoticed, unlamented. Come, then, sad thought, and let us meditate, While meditate we may. We have now But a small portion of what men call time To hold communion.--_H. K. White._

[3] He sat within a silent cave, apart From men, upon a chair of diamond stone; Words he had not, companions he had none, But steadfastly pursued his thoughtful art; And as he mused he pulled a slender string Which evermore within his hand he held; And the dim curtain rose which had concealed His thoughts, the city of the immortal king: There, pictured in its solemn pomp, it lay A glorious country stretching round about, And through its golden gates passed in and out Men of all nations, on their heavenly way. On this he mused, and mused the whole day long, Feeding his feeble faith till it grew strong. --_George Craly._

[4] No man is in so much danger as he who thinks there is no danger. Why, when the bell rings, when the watchman rends the air with cries of "Fire! _Fire!_ FIRE!" when in every direction there is the pattering of feet on the sidewalk, and when the engines come rattling up to the burning house, one after another the inmates are awakened, and they rush out; and they are safest that are most terrified, and that suffer most from a sense of danger. One only remains behind. He hears the tumult, but it weaves itself into the shape of dreams, and he seems to be listening to some parade, and soon the sounds begin to be indistinct in his ear, and at length they cease to make any impression upon him. During all this time he is inhaling the deadly gas with which his apartment has become filled, gradually his senses are benumbed, and finally he is rendered unconscious by suffocation. And, in the midst of peril, and the thunder of excitement, that man who is the least awake, and the least frightened, is the very man that is most likely to be burned up.--_Beecher._


i. 3. _My people doth not consider._

In a former discourse we noticed that one of Satan's chief devices was to keep men from consideration, and we referred to a variety of subjects upon which it is important that we should reflect. We now call your attention to _the true character of religious consideration._

+I. It should be serious and earnest.+ The subjects are too solemn and weighty to be hastily dismissed. It must not be a mere cursory survey, a rapid glance at these great concerns, but a careful, deliberate contemplation of them; just as a prisoner about to be tried for a capital offence would consider his defence, or a wrecked mariner how he shall escape a watery grave, or a traveller how to accomplish some momentous journey or voyage. If it be done lightly and hastily, it will not profit us or please God. +II. It should be prayerful.+ The exercise will be irksome to the natural heart. We shall be disposed to give it up, or do it slightingly. The grace of God alone can give the spirit necessary for the right discharge of it. Therefore begin, continue, and follow it out with prayer. +III. It should be pursued in connection with a diligent use of the public means of grace.+ Hearken to the Divine Word as it is read in the sanctuary, and to the preaching of the gospel, Christian conversation, &c. Consideration will not profit us if God's means and ordinances are neglected. All are needful to the soul, as wind, sun, rain, and dew are all needful to the ripening of fruit. +IV. It should be continued and persevering.+ Not too much to devote a portion of every day to it. The first and last moments would be thus profitably exercised,[1] _and it must be followed out._[2]

In conclusion, notice +some reasons why you should consider.+ 1. _Because you have powers to do so._ God made you for this end, that you should consider. In neglecting this, you despise your own souls, you sink to below the level of the brute creation. They do answer the end of their existence, and obey their several instincts. "The ox knoweth his owner." Nearly every creature disposes of its time and means wisely; but an inconsiderate man defaces the faculties within him. 2. _Because it is your duty._ God enjoins it--He urges, expostulates. To neglect it is, therefore, to despise God and rebel against Him. 3. _It is essential to the possession of true religion._ Various are the ways in which God brings man to Himself; by a variety of instruments and means, but none without consideration. Manasseh in prison--Jonah in the belly of the whale--the prodigal in his misery, &c. It is the first great step towards saving religion. 4. _By prudent men, it is never neglected in worldly things._ In entering upon any contract, in buying and selling, in all business engagements, in all secular pursuits. We consider, in reference to the body, our houses, food, and raiment, our families, &c. Are the soul's eternal concerns the only things not deserving of it? 5. _God may compel you to consider._ By bereaving you of the dearest objects of your hearts, by afflicting your bodies, by embittering all earthly good. Is it not better to avoid these corrections, sorrows, and griefs? 6. _You may consider when it is too late._ Perhaps on the verge of eternity, if not in eternity itself. The foolish virgins considered when the cry was heard: the rich man considered too late; the wicked will consider in the great day of Christ's wrath, when they cry to the rocks and hills, &c. The consideration of the lost in eternity will be in vain--will be bitter beyond description--will be everlasting, and as horrible as it is durable. Therefore, consider _now,_ while consideration may yet profit you.--_Jabez Burns, D.D., Pulpit Cyclopædia,_ vol. ii. pp. 37-39.


[1] Make up your spiritual accounts daily; see how matters stand between God and your souls (Ps. lxxvii. 6). Often reckonings keep God and conscience friends. Do with your heart as you do with your watch--wind it up every morning by prayer, and at night examine whether it has gone true all that day, whether the wheels of your affections have moved swiftly toward heaven. Oh call yourself often to account; keep your reckonings even, and that is the way to keep your peace.--_Waters,_ 1696.

[2] The end of all arts and sciences is the practice of them. And as this is to be confessed in all other arts, so it cannot be denied in divinity and religion, the practice whereof doth in excellency surmount the knowledge and theory, as being the main end whereunto it tends. For to what purpose do men spend their spirits and tire their wits in discerning the light of truth, if they do not use the benefit of it to direct them in all their ways? (Ps. cxix. 59.)--_Downame,_ 1642.


i. 4. _A people laden with iniquity._

_A very surprising description:_ "A people laden with _iniquity._" On account of their punctilious and costly observance of the Mosaic ritual (see vers. 11-15), the Jews imagined that they deserved the commendation of Heaven; but God pronounced them to be "a people laden with iniquity." _Men_ often form very different estimates of the same thing; _e.g.,_ buyer and seller (Prov. xx. 14). There is often as marked a difference between the divine and human estimates of character (Luke xviii. 11; Rev. iii. 17). This is so because God and men judge by different standards; men take into account only their occasional good actions; God judges by that feature of their character which is predominant.[1] So judging, He condemned these most "religious" Jews. What is His estimate of _us?_

_A very instructive description:_ "A people _laden_ with iniquity." The conception is that of a nation that has gone on adding sin to sin, as a man gathering sticks in the forest adds fagot to fagot, until he staggers beneath the load; that which was eagerly sought after becomes an oppressive burden. How true this is! There are many national burdens; despotism, an incapable government, excessive taxation, &c., but the worst and most oppressive of all is a nation's iniquities.

The iniquities of a nation constitute a burden that impede it--1. _In its pursuit of material prosperity._ With what desperate intensity this English nation toils! and for what end? Chiefly that it may accumulate wealth. How greatly it is impeded in this pursuit by its costly government! But how much more by its costly vices! On strong drink alone this nation expends a larger sum than the whole amount both of imperial and local taxation--more than one hundred millions annually! Other vices that are nameless, how much they cost, and what a hindrance they are to the nation in its pursuit of wealth! 2. _In its pursuit of social happiness._ What a crushing burden of sorrow the nation's iniquities impose upon it! 3. _In its pursuit of moral and intellectual improvement._ According to a monkish legend, the church of St. Brannock's, in Braunton, Devon, could not be erected on its original site, because as fast as the builders reared up the walls by day, by night the stones were carried away by invisible hands. A like contest goes on in our own land. The nation's virtues are toiling to elevate the national character morally and intellectually, using as their instruments the school, the church, the press; but as fast as the virtues build, the vices pull down. In all these respects the nation's iniquities constitute its heaviest burden.

_Consequently,_ 1. To give a legal sanction to vices, or to connive at what promotes them, for the sake of certain additions to the national revenues, is suicidal folly of the grossest kind. 2. Those are the truest national benefactors who do most to abate the national iniquities. The palm for truest patriotism must be awarded, not to "active politicians," but to faithful preachers, Sunday-school teachers, temperance reformers, &c. 3. Vices of all kinds should be branded, not only as sins against God, but as treasons against society; and all good men should, in self-defence, as well as in a spirit of enlightened patriotism, band themselves together for their overthrow. That is a mistaken spirituality which leads some good men to leave imperial and local affairs in the hands of the worldly and the vicious. We are bound to labour as well as to pray that God's will may be done "on earth as it is in heaven," and that "His kingdom" may come in our own land.[2]

That which is true of nations is true also of individuals; the heaviest burdens which men can take upon themselves are vices. Vices lay upon men a burden--1. _Of expense._ Even so-called "indulgences" are costly; many professing Christians spend more annually on tobacco than they give to the cause of missions. Vices keep millions poor all their lives.[3] 2. _Of discredit._ 3. _Of sorrow,_ clouding all the present. 4. _Of fear,_ darkening all the future.

There is this terrific feature about the burden of iniquity--there is none so hard to be got rid of. It is hard to inspire a nation or a man with the desire to get rid of it. How nations and men hug their vices, notwithstanding the miseries they entail! It is still harder to accomplish the desire! Society is full of men who stagger and groan under this burden, from which they strive in vain to free themselves. In them the fable of Sinbad, unable to rid himself of the old man who he has taken upon his shoulders, has a melancholy realisation. These men feel themselves to be helpless, and their case would indeed be hopeless were it not that God has laid help for us on One who is mighty to save. Cry to Him, ye burdened ones, and obtain release!


[1] Men are to be estimated, as Johnson says, by the mass of character. A block of tin may have a grain of silver, but still it is tin; and a block of silver may have an alloy of tin, but still it is silver. The mass of Elijah's character was excellence; yet he was not without the alloy. The mass of Jehu's character was base; yet he had a portion of zeal which was directed by God to great ends.--_Cecil._

[2] As Christians are to think of living for awhile in the world, it is not unreasonable for them to be affected with its occurrences and changes. Some plead for a kind of abstracted and sublimated devotion, which the circumstances they are placed in by their Creator render equally impractical and absurd. They are never to notice the affairs of government, or the measures of administration; war, or peace; liberty, or slavery; plenty, or scarcity,--all is to be equally indifferent to them; they are to leave these carnal and worldly things to others. But have they not bodies? Have they not families? Is religion founded on the ruins of humanity? When a man becomes a Christian, does he cease to be a member of civil society? Allowing that he be not the owner of the ship, but only a passenger in it, has he nothing to awaken his concern in the voyage? If he be only a traveller towards a better country, is he to be told that because he is at an inn which he is soon to leave, it should not excite any emotion in him whether it be invaded by robbers or consumed by flames before the morning? In the peace thereof ye shall have peace; and are not Christians to provide things honest in the sight of all men? Are they to detach themselves while here from the interests of their fellow-creatures; or to rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep? Is our religion various affected by public transactions? Can a Christian, for instance, be indifferent to the cause of freedom, even on a pious principle? Does not civil liberty necessarily include religion? and is it not necessary to the exertions of ministers, and the spreading of the gospel?--_Jay._

[3] "What are you going to take that for?" said an old labourer to a young one who was about to drink a glass of ale. "To make me work," was the reply. "Yes," answered the old man, "you are right; that is just what it will do for a certainty: I began to drink ale when I was about your age, and it has made me work until now!"


i.4. _A seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters._

Transmitted depravity is--+I. A doctrine of Scripture. II. A fact in human life.+[1] _Application_--1. God will not fail to make allowance for it in dealing with us. 2. We should make allowance for it in judging our fellow-men. Our censures should be mingled with compassion. 3. By self-restraint and a life of virtue we should endeavour as far as it is possible to cut off from our children this and entail. A bias towards good may be transmitted as a bias towards evil.[2] 4. In the _education_ of our children, we should be especially solicitous to check and prevent the development of the faults we have transmitted to them, that so, though they are "a seed of evil-doers," they may not themselves be "corrupters."


[1] As colour and favour, and proportion of hair and face and lineament, and as disease and infirmities of the body, so, commonly, the liabilities and dispositions and tempers of the mind and affections become hereditary, and run in the blood. An evil bird hatches an evil egg, and one viper will breed a generation of vipers. Most sins pass along from the father to the son, and so downward, by a kind of lineal descent, from predecessors to posterity, and that for the most part with advantage and increase, whole families being tainted with the special vices of their stock. John the Baptist speaks of "a generation of vipers;" and if we should but observe the condition of some families in a long line of succession, might we not espy here and there even whole generations of drunkards, and generations of swearers, and generations of idolaters, and generations of worldlings, and generations of seditious, and of envious, and of riotous, and of haughty, and of unclean persons, and of sinners in other kinds.--_Sanderson,_ 1587-1662.

Original or birth sin is not merely a doctrine in religion, it is a fact in man's world acknowledged by all, whether religious or not. Let a man be providing for an unborn child: in case of distribution of worldly property, he will take care to bind him by conditions and covenants which shall guard against his fraudulently helping himself to that which he is to hold for or to apportion to another. He never saw that child; he does not know but that child may be the most pure and perfect of men; but he knows it will not be safe to put temptation in his way, because he knows he will be born in sin, and liable to sin, and sure to commit sin.--_Alford,_ 1810-1871.

[2] While children are the children of Christian parents, as _they_ were children of Christian parents, the presumptions are that they will turn out right; not without parental training, but, that being implied, the presumptions are that they will, by the force of natural law, tend in that direction. All the presumptions are that the children of moral and sensible parents will become moral and sensible. Only the grossest neglect and the most culpable exposure to temptation will overrule the presumption and likelihood that the children of good parents will be good. There may be opposing influences; there may be temptations and perversions that shall interrupt the natural course of things; but this does not invalidate the truth that there is a great law by which like produces like. And I say that under this law the Christian parent has a right to this comforting presumption--"My children have all the chances in their favour by reason of the moral constitution which they have inherited."

I know multitudes of families in which the moral element is hereditary; and it is not surprising that the children of these families are moral. Moral qualities are as transmissible as mental traits or physical traits. The same principle applies to every part of the human constitution. And where families have been from generation to generation God-fearing, passion-restraining, truth-telling, and conscience-obeying, the chances are ninety-nine in every hundred in favour of the children.--_Beecher._


i. 4. _They have forsaken the Lord._

How many souls are guilty of forsaking the Lord? They forsake Him by yielding to what are called "little sins."[1] Then they are further removed from Him by habitual wickedness.

+I. This conduct is surprising.+ Is it not most surprising that men should forsake the great God, their Creator and Benefactor? He is all-powerful. He is all-wise. He is all-loving. The soul cannot have a better helper in difficulty, or a truer and wiser friend in sorrow. From the Godward aspect of the case nothing is more surprising than that men should forsake God; but from the manward aspect of things this is not surprising, for man is carnal, and the carnal mind is enmity against God. Satan draws the soul from God. It chases a phantom into the great darkness, and finds in the end that it has wandered from the Infinite Being.

+II. This conduct is criminal.+ We should esteem it criminal to forsake a parent, to forsake a benefactor, to forsake a master. But this offence is small compared to that of the soul when it wanders from the Lord. It exhibits _insubordination._ It rejects the Supreme Moral Ruler of the universe. It exhibits _ingratitude._ It forsakes its Redeemer. It exhibits _folly,_ for away from Christ the soul cannot obtain true rest.

+III. This conduct is inexcusable.+ The soul can give no true reason, or valid excuse, for such unholy conduct. The Lord has dealt bountifully with it, and therefore it has no ground of complaint. He is attractive in character. He is winning in disposition. He is kindly in the discipline of life. He gives holy influences to draw the soul to Himself. Hence man has no excuse for forsaking God.

+IV. This conduct is common.+ The world of humanity has forsaken God. One by one souls are returning, and are being welcomed to Christ and to heaven. Many agencies are at work for the return of souls to the heavenly kingdom. Let us seek to make them efficient. Let us pray that they may be successful. Have you forsaken God?--_J. S. Exell._


[1] There is many a man who evinces, for a time, a steadfast attention to religion, walking with all care in the path of God's commandments, &c., but who, after awhile, declines from spirituality, and is dead, though he may yet have a name to life. But how does it commonly happen that such a man falls away from the struggle for salvation? Is it ordinarily through some one powerful and undisguised assault that he is turned from the faith, or over one huge obstacle that he falls not to rise again? Not so. It is almost invariably through little things. He fails to take notice of little things, and they accumulate into great. He allows himself in little things, and thus forms a strong habit. He relaxes in little things, and thus in time loosens every bond. Because it is a little thing, he counts it of little moment, utterly forgetting that millions are made up of units, that immensity is constituted of atoms. Because it is only a stone, a pebble, against which his foot strikes, he makes light of the hindrance; not caring that he is contracting a habit of stumbling, or of observing that whenever he trips there must be some diminution in the speed with which he runs the way of God's commandments, and that, however slowly, these diminutions are certainly bringing him to a stand.

The astronomer tells us, that, because they move in a resisting medium, which perhaps in a million of years destroys the millionth part of their velocity, the heavenly bodies will at length cease from their mighty march. May not, then, the theologian assure us that little roughnesses in the way, each retarding us, though in an imperceptible degree, will eventually destroy the onward movement, however vigorous and direct it may at one time have seemed? Would to God that we could persuade you of the peril of little offences! We are not half as much afraid of your hurting the head against a rock, as of your hurting the foot against a stone. There is a sort of continued attrition, resulting from our necessary intercourse with the world, which of itself deadens the movements of the soul; there is, moreover, a continued temptation to yield in little points, under the notion of conciliating; to indulge in little things, to forego little strictnesses, to omit little duties; and all with the idea that what looks so light cannot be of real moment. And by these littles, thousands, tens of thousands, perish. If they do not come actually and openly to a stand, they stumble and stumble on, getting more and more careless, nearer and nearer to indifference, lowering the Christian standards, suffering religion to be peeled away by inches, persuading themselves that they can spare without injury such inconsiderable bits, and not perceiving that in stripping the bark they stop the sap.--_Melvill._


i. 5. _Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more._

+I. The danger of despising the Divine chastisements.+ Heedlessness destroys the very power of taking heed. +II. The terribleness of the peace which is often the portion of the wicked.+ Like the cessation of pain in a sick man, which indicates that mortification has set in, it may be only a sign that God has given them up as irreclaimable (Hos. iv. 17).[1] +III. The folly of expecting sanctification as the inevitable result of suffering.+ Contrary to the expectation of the Universalists, the sufferings of the lost may only confirm them in their impenitence (Rev. ii. 9, 11, 21).[2]


[1] While God visits us at all, it is a sign He thinks of us. The present life is not the time for punishment devoid of mercy. While the debtor is on his way to prison, he may agree with his adversary, and escape the messenger's hands. While the sick man feels pain, there is vitality and activity in his constitution, and he may recover. And therefore I think it must be a terrible thing to have one's perdition sealed; to have the process already closed; both depositions and sentence, and laid up in God's chancery, as an irreversible doom, and so him who is its object troubled no further, but allowed the full choice of his pleasures,--as one permits a man, between sentence and execution, his choice of viands, in full certainty that when his hour hath tolled the terrible law will take its course. How smoothly glides along the boat upon the wide, unruffled, though most rapid stream that hurries it onward to the precipice, over which its waters break in thunder! How calm, and undisturbed by the smallest ripple, slumbers its unreflecting steersman! Or for one rock in the midst of its too smooth channel, against which it may be dashed and whirled about, to shake him from this infatuated sleep! It is the only hope that remains for him. Woe to him if to the end his course be pleasant! That end will pay it all!--_Wiseman._

[2] Afflictions leave the wicked worse, more impenitent, hardened in sin, and outrageous in their wicked practices. Every plague on Egypt added to the plague of hardness on Pharaoh's heart; he that for some while could beg prayers of Moses for himself, at last comes to that pass that he threatens to kill him if he come to him any more. Or, what a prodigious height do we see some come to in sin after some great sickness or other judgment! Oh, how grossly and ravenous are they after their prey, when once they got off their clog and chain from their heels! When physic works not kindly, it doth not only leave the disease uncured, but the poison of the physic stays in the body also. Many appear thus poisoned by their afflictions.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

Trust not in any unsanctified afflictions, as if these could permanently and really change the condition of your heart. I have seen the characters of the writing which the flames had turned into a film of buoyant coal; I have seen the thread which has been passed through the fire retain, in its cold grey ashes, the twist it had got in spinning; I have found every shivered splinter of the flint as hard as the unbroken stone: and let trials come, in Providence, sharp as the fire and ponderous as the crushing hammer, unless a gracious God send along with these something else than these, bruised, broken, bleeding as thy heart may be, its nature remains the same.--_Guthrie._


i. 9. _Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more._

That sin should not go unpunished is a law of our own hearts, and it is a law of God. Punishment is intended to be remedial;[1] but remedies that are intended to cure sometimes irritate, and God's remedies may act in two ways--they may make a man better, or they may make him worse.[2] There are those who "kick against the pricks," and as the result of afflictions which their own sins have brought upon them, become desperate. Chastisement is then of no further use, and like a father weary of correcting the child who has proved irreformable, God may say, "Why should," &c. (Hos. iv. 17). Terrible meaning, then, may lurk in these words: they may speak of that state in the sinner's career when his moral malady has become incurable, when the Good Physician feels that His severest and most searching remedies are of no avail, when God withholds His hand, and says, "He that is filthy, let him be filthy still."[3] So some here understood these words.

But a more gracious meaning may be contained in them; they may be the first note of that tender Divine invitation which is fully expressed in ver. 18. For mark, God begins here to reason with men,--bids them look at themselves, their situation, the fatal folly of sinning when sin brings its own sure punishment. What need of these disasters? Note: the first aim of the Gospel is to make the sinner understand that sin and its torments are alike of his own seeking; repentance cannot come until he feels this.

These words may then be regarded as implying--+I. That there is no inherent necessity that sinners should continue to be stricken.+ 1. There is no reason _in the nature of God_ (Ezek. xviii. 23). God is love. Love may ordain laws for the general security and safety, the breaking of which may be attended with terrible consequences; but yet God has no delight when these consequences overwhelm the transgressor. He pities even while He punishes, and is on the outlook for the very first beginnings of penitence, that He may stay His hand.[4] 2. There is no reason _in the nature of man._ As man is not impelled by any inherent necessity to sin, but in every sin acts by deliberate choice, so neither is he compelled to repeat his transgressions. Even when he has done wrong, his consciousness testifies that he might have done right, and it is precisely on this account that his conscience condemns him! +II. That a way of avoiding the merited punishment is open.+ We know what that way is. The prophet saw it afar off, and rejoiced (ver. 18; ch. liii. 5, 6). "Why should ye be stricken any more," when Christ has been stricken for you? The way of reconciliation is open: avail yourselves of it with patience, with thankful joy!--But if men despise the offered grace, let them know that when the doom from which they _would not_ be delivered comes crashing down upon them, they will neither have nor merit any pity. Even the Angel of Mercy will answer them, "Ye have destroyed yourselves!"--_W. Baxendale._


[1] When Almighty God, for the merits of His Son, not of any ireful mind, but of a loving heart towards us, doth correct and punish us, He may be likened unto a father; as the natural father first teacheth his dear beloved child, and afterwards giveth him warning, and then correcteth him at last, even so the Eternal God assayeth all manner of ways with us. First He teacheth us His will through the preaching of His Word, and giveth us warning. Now if so be that we will not follow Him, then He beateth us a little with a rod, with poverty, sickness, or with other afflictions, which should be esteemed as nothing else but children's rods, or the wands of correction. If such a rod will not do any good, and his son waxeth stubborn, then taketh the father a whip or a stick, and beateth him till his bones crack; even so, when we wax obstinate, and care neither for words nor stripes, then sendeth God unto us more heavy and universal plagues. All this He doth to drive us unto repentance and amendment of our lives. Now truth it is, that it is against the father's will to strike his child; he would much rather do him all the good that ever he could. Even so certainly, when God sendeth affliction upon our necks, there lieth hidden under that rod a fatherly affection. For the peculiar and natural property of God is to be loving and friendly, to heal, to help, and to do good to His children, mankind.--_Wermullerus,_ 1551.

The surgeon must cut away the rotten and the dead flesh, that the whole body be not poisoned, and so perish; even so doth God sometimes plague our bodies grievously, that our souls may be preserved and healed. How deep soever God thrusteth His iron into our flesh, He doeth it only to heal us; and if it be so that He kill us, then will He bring us to the right life. The physician employeth one poison to drive out another; even so God in correcting us useth the devil and wicked people, but yet all to do us good.--_Wermullerus,_ 1551.

[2] Sorrow is in itself a thing neither good nor bad; its value depends on the spirit of the person on whom it falls. Fire will inflame straw, soften iron, or harden clay; its effects are determined by the object with which it comes in contact. Warmth develops the energies of life, or helps the progress of decay. It is a great power in the hothouse, a great power also in the coffin; it expands the leaf, matures the fruit, adds precocious vigour to vegetable life; and warmth, too, develops with tenfold rapidity the weltering process of dissolution. So, too, with sorrow. There are spirits in which it develops the seminal principle of life; there are others in which it prematurely hastens the consummation of irreparable decay.--_F. W. Robertson._

[3] As long as the physician hath any hope of the recovery of his patient, he assayeth all manner of means and medicine with him, as well sour and sharp as sweet and pleasant; but as soon as ever he beginneth to doubt of his recovery, he suffereth him to have whatever himself desireth. Even so the heavenly Physician, as long as He hath any hope to recover us, will not always suffer us to have what we most desire; but as soon as He hath no more hope of us, then He suffereth us for a time to enjoy all our own pleasure.--_Wermullerus,_ 1551.

[4] It is harder to get sin felt by the creature, than the burden, when felt, removed by the hand of a forgiving God. Never was tender-hearted surgeon more willing to take up the vein, and bind up the wound of his fainting patient, when he hath bled enough, than God is by His pardoning mercy to cast the troubled spirit of a mourning penitent.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.


i. 5-8. _The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment. Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire: your land, strangers devour in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city._

By these powerful figures the prophet sets forth the moral corruption and its impending calamities of the people to whom he ministered. [Note that in vers. 7, 8, the prophet speaks as if the future were already present; so clear and vivid is his view of it.] +I. A whole nation may become morally corrupt.+ Vice may defile and degrade all classes of society. +II. The natural tendency of national corruption is not to abate, but to spread and increase.+ Vices are "_putrefying_ sores." As in the body physical a disease or wound in one member may poison the whole body, so in the body politic the vice of any one class tends to spread through all society.--These two considerations should lead us--1. _To pray constantly and earnestly for our country._ "Christian England" left to itself, and unrestrained by Divine grace and mercy, would soon become as Sodom and Gomorrah. 2. _Not to be selfishly indifferent to the sins of the classes of society to which we do not happen to belong._ This were as foolish as it would be for a man to give no heed to the fact that his neighbour's house was on fire, in forgetfulness or the other fact that fire spreads; or as if in the body the head were indifferent to the fact that the foot had received a poisoned wound. 3. _To put forth earnest efforts for the repression of public vices._ Mere passive reprobation of them will be of no avail. Nor can we reasonably hope that time will abate and lessen them. No; these "sores" are _"putrefying;"_ and if the body politic is ever to be restored to moral health, they must be "closed, bound up, and mollified with ointment." In some cases this "ointment" must be moral suasion, in other cases legal coercion. This principle is already recognised in regard to cockfighting, the sale of indecent books and pictures, &c. +III. In a modified sense, the declarations of our text are true of every human being.+ The doctrine of "total depravity" has been preached in such a manner as to discredit it, and statements have been made in exposition of it which would imply that every child comes into the world as wicked as Nero left it (not only depraved in every faculty, but in every faculty totally depraved!) This representation of the doctrine is contrary both to Scripture (2 Tim. iii. 13; 1 Pet. iv. 4, &c.) and to fact. But our rejection of this exaggerated form of it must not lead us to reject the doctrine itself. Our whole personality has been "depraved"--debased and deteriorated--by sin; the whole man--his affections, passions, understanding, reason, imagination, and will--has been impaired by the "fall;" just as by certain diseases _all_ the functions of the body are disordered.[1] The natural tendency of this inborn corruption is not to lessen with increasing years, but to intensify; as a matter of fact, _aged_ sinners are always the vilest and most malignant. These facts--1. _Disclose man's need of a redemptive power external to himself._ Our moral corruption is not like one of those minor diseases which are best left to "nature;" it is like a cancer or a malignant fever--if it is left to run its course, it will kill us. There is in us no _vis medicatrix_ capable of overcoming and expelling it. If we are to be restored to moral soundness, it must be by a Power external to us. 2. _Should lead us to accept with gratitude the proffered help of the Great Healer._ We all need His help. Without it we shall grow worse day by day. His help will avail for us, however desperate may be our case; as it was in the days of His flesh physically, so it is now morally and spiritually (Matt. iv. 23, 24; xiv. 36). +IV. Moral depravity brings on physical misery.+ The desolation set forth in vers. 7, 8, was the natural consequence of the depravity denounced in vers. 5, 6. By an everlasting and most righteous decree a bad character and a bad condition are linked together, and can be only for a very little while disassociated. This is true both of nations and individuals. Sin inevitably leads to sorrow. Of this fact we have ten thousand evidences in this present world. Hence also the realm of unrelieved wickedness in the realm of unmitigated woe. Were man always reasonable beings, the fearfulness and the certainty of the consequences of sin would be sufficient and prevailing arguments for repentance and amendment of life. Let them prevail with us (Ezek. xviii. 30, 21).


[1] It is not only the inferior powers of the soul which this plague of sin has seized, but the contagion has ascended into the higher regions of the soul. The most supreme, most spiritual faculty in man's mind, the understanding power of man, is corrupted, and needs renewing. To a carnal understanding not enlightened by the Word, this always has been and is the greatest paradox. Indeed, when blind reason, which thinks it sees, is judge, it is not strange that this corruption of the understanding should be a wonder to it. The reason, being the supreme faculty of all the rest, which judges all else, and is judged by none but itself, because of its nearness to itself, it least discerns itself. As a man's eye, though it may see the deformity of another member, yet not the bloodshot that is in itself, but it must have a glass by which to discern it. And so, though even corrupt nature discerns the rebellions of the affections and sensual part of man by its own light, as the heathens did, and complained thereof, yet it cannot discern the infection and defilement that is in the spirit itself, but the glass of the Word is the first that discovers it; and when that glass is also brought, there had need by an inward light of grace, which is opposite to this corruption, to discover it.--_T. Goodwin,_ 1600-1679.


i. 9. _Except the Lord of hosts had left us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah._

God had humbled His people because of their transgressions, but He had not utterly destroyed them, as He might have done in strict justice. This reminds us--1. That the punishments that befall wicked men in this world frequently fall short of their deserts. 2. That this disproportion between guilt and chastisement occurs because God is not so much concerned to punish sin as to reclaim sinners. God chastises, in the first instance, that He may correct, and it is with reluctance that He increases the severity of His strokes.[1]

These facts should lead us--1. _To adore the divine benignity._ How worthy of our love and worship is this God who is no mere vindictive avenger of broken law, but a loving Father who chastens us, not for His pleasure, but for our profit! 2. _To gratefully acknowledge the mercy that has mingled with the judgments which our sins have drawn down upon us_ (Lam. iii. 10).[2] 3. _To shrink with abhorrence from any abuse of the divine long-suffering._ The fact that God is so reluctant to punish, instead of encouraging us in rebellion, should incite us to prompt and loving obedience. Nothing can be more _base_ than to "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness;" and nothing could be more dangerous[3] (Prov. xxix. 1).


[1] See note [1] from outline "Needless Stripes," page 18.

[2] If in an affliction we would pour forth to God such acceptable prayers as may obtain comfort in our crosses and deliverance from all our calamities, we must confess our sins, and humbly acknowledge that we deserve to be overwhelmed with much more heavy plagues and punishments. And so the Lord will excuse us when we accuse ourselves, remit our sins when we remember them, and absolve us from punishment when in all humility we acknowledge that we have justly deserved the fearfullest of His plagues. For if we, who have but a little of the milk of mercy, are moved with compassion when either our sons or our servants acknowledge their faults, and offer themselves of their own accord to suffer that punishment which they have deserved, how can we doubt that God, whose love and mercy towards us are infinite and incomprehensible, will be pitiful and ready to forgive us when He sees us thus humbled?--_Downame,_ 1644.

[3] Take heed of abusing this mercy of God. Suck not poison out of the sweet flower of God's mercy: do not think that because God is merciful you may go on in sin; this is to make mercy your enemy. None might touch the Ark but the priests, who by their office were more holy: none may touch the ark of God's mercy but such as are received to be holy. He that sins because of mercy shall have judgment without mercy. Mercy abused turns to fury (Deut. xxix. 19, 20). "The mercy of the Lord is upon them that fear Him." Mercy is not for them that sin and fear not, but for them that fear and sin not. God's mercy is a holy mercy; where it pardons, it heals.--_Watson,_ 1696.


i.10. _Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah._

The prophet being about to make a still more terrible announcement, puts forth a renewed call for attention. It is well worthy of our study. We find in it--

I. A STARTLING DESCRIPTION. "Rulers of Sodom, . . . people of Gomorrah." What an astonishing declaration is this, that Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jerusalem are synonymous terms! It reminds us--+1. That man may be morally alike to those from whom they think themselves the furthest removed.+ Many a Protestant who hates the very name of Rome is himself a little Pope: he never doubts his own infallibility, and is ready to anathematise all who dare to dissent from him. Many a man who has never stood in the felon's dock is a thief at heart.[1] The people of Jerusalem were ready to thank God that they were not as Sodom and Gomorrah, whereas they really resembled the people they despised. For, like the inhabitants of those guilty cities, they had been living--(1) _In habitual self-indulgence._ Self-indulgence may vary in its forms, but in its essential nature it is ever the same. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah had pandered to the lusts of the body, the inhabitants of Jerusalem to the lusts of the mind (see vers. 17, 23; iii. 16, &c.) (2) _In habitual defiance of God._ The sins of which they were guilty were as plainly condemned in God's Word as were those by which the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah polluted themselves. All sin is rebellion against God,[2] and the manner in which we sin is comparatively unimportant (James ii. 10). If we rebel against God, it does not matter much with what weapons we fight against Him. +2. That men may be utterly unconscious of their own real character.+ Self-delusion as to character is almost universal. Man can live in the practice of gross sin without any compunction of conscience. Laodicea and the foul criminal David are at peace until the rebukes of God begin to crash like thunders over their heads (Rev. iii. 17; 2 Sam. xii. 7). As such delusion is most common, so also it is most disastrous. It renders reform impossible. It sends men blindfolded into eternity to the most appalling surprises.[3] The remedy for it is earnest, searching, prayerful self-examination, conducted in the light of God's Word.[4] +3. That God describes men according to their essential character.+ He does not take men according to their own estimates of their character and conduct, and ticked them accordingly. His description of man is often precisely the opposite of that which they would give of themselves, and even of what men would give of them. His neighbours as well as himself would doubtless have described the prosperous farmer (Luke xii. 16) as a shrewd and wise man, but God pronounced him to be a fool. So here, these men who prided themselves that they were rulers of Jerusalem, the holy city, were declared to be "rulers of Sodom," the vilest of cities. Are we quite sure that God describes _us_ as we have been accustomed to describe ourselves?

II. A SOLEMN SUMMONS. "Hear the _word_ of the Lord; . . . give ear unto the _law_ of our God." What is the law to which attention is thus emphatically called? It is the great truth announced in the following verses (11-15), that +worship offered by ungodly men is not only without value, but is positively hateful in the sight of God.+ The most flaming zeal concerning the externals of religion is often found in men of unholy life.[5] Judas was evidently so zealous in such matters as completely to delude his fellow-disciples: even when Christ announced that there was a traitor in their midst, no suspicion turned towards him; the eleven were more ready to suspect themselves than him (Matt. xxvi. 21). Attention to the externals of religion is in itself a good thing; but unless it be conjoined with integrity and benevolence, it will secure for us at the last not the commendation but the condemnation of the Judge (Matt. xxiii. 23).


[1] To us there seems a wide difference between the judge, with the robes of office on his back, mind in his eye, and dignity in his mien, and that poor, pale, haggard wretch at the bar, who throws stealthy glances around, and hangs his head with shame. Yet the difference that looks so great to man may be very small in the eyes of God; and would look small in ours if we knew the different upbringing and history of both. The judge never knew what it was to want a meal; the felon often went cold and hungry to bed. The one, sprung of wise, kind, reputable, and perhaps pious parents, was early trained to good, and launched, with all the advantages of school and college, on an honourable and high career; while the other, bred up a stranger to the amenities of cultivated and Christian society, had no such advantages. Born to misery, his struggles with misfortune and evil began at the cradle. None ever took him by the hand to lead him to church or school. A child of poverty, and the offspring of abandoned parents, he was taught no lessons but how to swear, and lie, and drink, and cheat, and steal. The fact is, it is just as difficult for some to be honest as it is easy for others. What merit has that judge in his honesty? None. He has no temptation to be else than honest. And so, I suspect, much of the morality of that unblemished character and decent life in which many trust, saying to some poor guilty thing, "Stand aside, I am holier than thou," and pluming themselves on this, that they have not sinned as others have done--is due, less to their superior virtue, than to their more favourable circumstances. Have they not sinned as others have done? I reply, They have not been tempted as others have been. And so the difference between many honest men and decent women on the one hand, and those on the other hand on whom a brand of infamy has been burned, and the key of a prison turned, may be just the difference between the green branch on the tree and the white ashes on the hearth. This is bathed in the dews of night and fanned by the breath of heaven, while that, once as green, has been thrust into the burning fire--the one has been tried in a way that the other has not.--_Guthrie._

[2] As every sin is a violation of the law, so every violation of the law reflects upon the lawmaker. It is the same offence to coin a penny and a piece; the same to counterfeit the seal of a subpœna, as of a pardon. The second table was writ by the hand of God as well as the first, and the majesty of God, as He is the lawgiver, is wounded in an adultery and a theft as well as in an idolatry or a blasphemy.--_Donne,_ 1573-1631.

[3] Is there anything more terrible than a false confidence? It is an awful thing to wake up and find that what we have been trusting in is rotten. To embark gaily in a ship that on mid-ocean proves to be worm-eaten, and leaky; for a man who believed himself to be wealthy to receive tidings that the failure of a bank has made him a beggar; for a sick man rejoicing in the cessation of his pain to be told by his physician that that is due only to the setting in of mortification that precedes death;--what horrible disappointments are these! But what poor and faint image they furnish of the horror of that man who lives in a state of delusion as to his spiritual condition, who dies in peace, imagining falsely that he is Christ's, and who, when he has traversed the valley of the shadow of death--when he has reached that point from which there is no return, finds that the doors of heaven are shut against him, discovers that he is shrouded by thick darkness, and begins to feel the fires of hell kindling upon him! Can you picture to yourself his astonishment, his terror, his despair? Do not tell me that such a case is not conceivable--Christ declares that such cases are frequent (Matt. vii. 21-25).

[4] "Examine yourselves:" A metaphor from metal, that is pierced through to see if it be gold within. Self-examination is a spiritual inquisition set up in one's soul: a man must search his heart for sin as one would search a house for a traitor: or as Israel sought for leaven to burn it.--_Watson,_ 1696.

This duty of examining and proving supposes that there is some sure standard, which if we go by, we are sure not to be deceived. Not that rule is the Word of God. But as in matters of doctrine men have left the Scripture, the sure rule, and taken up antiquity, universality, tradition, and the like for their pride, and by this means have fallen into the ditch; so in matters of godliness, when we should try ourselves according to the characters and signs that the Scripture deciphers, we take up principles in the world, the applause of others, the conversation of most in the world. And thus it is with us as men in an hospital, because every one is either wounded or lame, or some way diseases, therefore none are offensive to each other.--_Burgess._

Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men's lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust.--_Leighton,_ 1611-1684.

[5] Fruit-trees that bring forth the fairest and most beautiful blossoms, leaves, and shoots, usually bring forth the fewest and least fruits; because where nature is intent and vigorously pressing to do one work, spending its strength there, it is not at the same time weak about other works; but distinct and several works of nature, in moderate and remote degree, are all promoted at the same time. Generally those persons who are excessive and most curious about the forms of duties, have least of the power of godliness. The Pharisees were extremely careful about the outside of God's worship. So it was among us of late years; bowing at the name of Jesus, the communion-table, surplice, common prayer, &c.,--those and suchlike were pressed with all eagerness and strictness. The body of religion was large and monstrous, but without a soul: or, if any, it was lean and feeble. These persons are like the Indian fig-tree that Pliny speaks of, which had leaves as broad as targets, but fruits no bigger than a bean. This is a foul fault among us at this day: men stand more about the forms of worship than about the power of it: they look so much after the way, manner, and circumstances that they almost lose the substance; things which are but as husks or shells to the kernels, or as leaves in respect of fruits.--_Austen,_ 1656.

Many are set upon excess of ceremonies, because they are defective in the vital parts, and should have no religion if they had not this. All sober Christians are friends to outward decency and order; but it is the empty self-deceiver that is most for the unwarrantable inventions of man, and useth the worship of God but as a masque or puppet-show, where there are great doings with little life, and to little purpose. The chastest woman will wash her face; but it is the harlot, or wanton, or deformed, that will paint it. The soberest and the comeliest will avoid a nasty or ridiculous habit, which may make them seem uncomely where they are not; but a curious dress and excessive care doth signify a crooked or deformed body, or a filthy skin, or, which is worst, an empty soul, that hath need of such a covering. Consciousness of such greater want doth cause them to seek these poor supplies. The gaudiness of men's religion is not the best sign that it is sincere. Simplicity is the ordinary attendant of sincerity. It hath long been a proverb, "The more ceremony, the less substance; and the more compliment, the more craft."--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.


i. 11. _To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord._

Try to conceive what emotions would spring up in the breasts of the men to whom these words were first addressed--men who with most scrupulous care had fulfilled the requirements of a costly ceremonial worship, the respectable, the orthodox of their day. With what indignation they would rebuke the prophet, and how triumphantly they would remind him that all the sacrifices which they offered, and all the ceremonies they observed, were of Divine appointment! And, doubtless, to their rebuke they would add a protestation that they had had a sincere delight in the services, which, they would not doubt, had come up as a sweet-smelling savour before the Lord. Both these allegations they might have made with truth, but the prophet would have dismissed them as irrelevant. What he denounced was not sacrifices, but certain sacrifices offered by particular individuals whose wickedness disqualified them for taking part in Divine worship. "To what purpose is the multitude of _your_ sacrifices," &c.

But why should the wickedness of the worshippers cause the rejection of the worship, seeing that _it_ is of Divine appointment? Because--1. _Sacrifices are in themselves worthless to God._ He does not need, nor is He enriched by our offerings (Ps. l. 7-13). 2. _Sacrifices were instituted merely to be expressions of and helps to human piety, and are worthless when there is no piety to be expressed or fostered by them._ Outward worship is to religion just what a bank-note is to commerce; it is valuable only in so far as it is really representative of something beyond itself. The worship which does not really represent penitence, faith, and love in the worshipper is a falsehood, and is necessarily repulsive to the God of truth, and to the offerer of it it is a deadly hurt. As the sunlight which develops life only hastens the putrefaction of the dead, so the very services which help to sanctify and ennoble the saintly may more completely disqualify the insincere for heaven. 3. _Piety towards God is proved, not by costly sacrifices and stately ceremonies, even though pungent emotions are experienced by those who offer and take part in them, but by its pervasive influence on the character and the life._ In family life love is proved by obedience; and to our Heavenly Father the protestations of reverence and love which are offered by men who live in disregard and defiance of His requirements are naturally and necessarily repulsive (1 Sam. xv. 22, 23). No elaborateness or costliness of ceremonial worship can atone for the absence of godliness in the lives of the worshippers; sacrifices are no equivalents for sanctification; and by the love of sin in the soul of the pretended worshipper even a divinely-appointed ritual is rendered abhorrent to God.

Judaism and its ritual are now things of the past, but men still need to be reminded of the facts now pointed out. The men of our day, after committing during the week all the sins denounced in the prophecies of Isaiah, assemble in the sanctuary on Sunday, and, because they enjoy its services, they imagine that they are well-pleasing to God, and will bring down His blessing on themselves. To-day, as of old, men need to be told plainly that public worship may be an abomination to God, and that, instead of making those who join in it more sure of heaven, it may, by confirming them in their self-delusion, make their eternal damnation more certain.

There is another side to all this. While "the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord," _"the prayer of the upright is His delight"_ (Psa. cxlvii. 11; l. 23). Concerning the "true worshippers," who "worship the Father in spirit and in truth," it is declared that "the Father _seeketh_ such to worship Him." How wonderful, how astonishing is that! That GOD, whom angels, archangels, and all the shining hosts of heaven adore, should not merely condescend to accept the worship of men upon earth, but that He should _seek_ such worship! Think much of that surprising and comforting assurance. It used to seem to me almost too wonderful to be true, but I believe and understand it now. I am helped to understand it almost every day; for almost every day my little girl steals away from her nursemaid. I hear her climbing laboriously up the stairs; it is an immense journey for her little legs; and then presently she knocks at my door, and calls me by my name. I am often busy when she comes; she interrupts me when it is not pleasant to be interrupted; but, notwithstanding, I rejoice that there is so much love for me in her heart that she thinks it worth while to climb up so far, just to see me for a moment and then be sent down again. So the marvellous _"seeketh"_ is explained by the word that comes before it! The "FATHER seeketh such to worship Him"! When His children come, and knock at His door, and call "Abba, Father!" He listens with a joy that only a father can understand.

"His saints are precious in His sight; He views His children with delight; He sees their hope, He knows their fear, And looks, and loves His image there."


i. 11, 16, 17. _To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord. I am full of the burnt-offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. . . . Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow._

What was the business of the ancient prophet? Not merely to predict events. His chief work was to make men realise vividly the presence of God. Religions, in order to their permanence, require system. But religious systems, with their creeds, forms, and ceremonies, have an inevitable tendency to coldness and deadness. The prophet was sent to counteract this tendency. It was his mission to restore to great words their great meanings, to cause moral principles to reassert themselves as the lords of conscience and of will--in a word, to prophesy on the dry bones of a decaying religion until there came upon them flesh and sinew, and there passed into them the breath of spiritual life. Such a mission was that of Isaiah. In his time religion was in a state of petrifaction, nay, rather of putrefaction. From this fact his prophetic message takes its keynote. It begins with an invective that reminds us of John the Baptist.

What was the condition of things that provoked his indignation? Not a lack of religious observances; there was a redundancy of them. That which caused a righteous anger to burn with him vehemently was their perversion of the sacrificial system to which they gloried, their dissociation of it from the moral law, to which God intended it to be only a supplement. It was given to teach men the hatefulness of sin, and the duty of consecration to God; but they separated it from the moral law, and allowed all its spiritual meaning to drop out of it. Instead of using it as a help to morality, they were making it the substitute for morality. Coming up red-handed from their murders, and reeking with their foul vices, they stood up before God, claiming His favour; for were they not sacrificing to Him, yea, in accordance with the regulations Himself had given? No wonder that a man with veracity in him and a love of righteousness should pour out upon such men and such offerings the whole wrath of his nature.

From this exposition take the following practical lessons--1. _All forms of religion have a tendency to lose their original purity and freshness._ As a stream, clear at its fountain-head, but turbid before it reaches the sea; as our planet, which physicists say was flung off at first from the sun a glowing mass of light and heat, has been cooling down ever since; so is it with religions and churches. As a rule, their history has been one of gathering accretions and of diminishing purity and power in proportion to their distance from their fountain-head. So was it with Judaism. So has it been with Christianity. Contrast Christianity as we have it in St. Paul's epistles, all aglow with fervour and love, and that of the time of Leo X., with its professed head and most of his court professed infidels, and the officials of the Church selling indulgences to sin for money! Luther lit the fire again; but Protestantism has had its illustrations of the same law. Witness the state of things in this country in the last century. In view of this fact let the Church pray for prophetic spirits who shall in each generation rekindle the dying fires; and, apart from the influence of specially-gifted men, let each Church betake itself continually to the Fountain-head of spiritual life. 2. _False religiousness is worse than none at all._ Isaiah says, not simply that such observances are of no avail with God, but that they are abominations to Him. We can see the reason. Such a religion as that which Isaiah denounced works harm to the individual and to the cause of godliness generally; to the individual, but inspiring him with a vain confidence; to the cause of godliness, by furnishing points for the shafts of ridicule, by which faith is killed in many hearts. It would be difficult to say who are the greatest promoters of infidelity--professed atheists or hypocritical religionists. 3. _It is a perilous thing to overlook the connection between impression and practice in religion._ In vers. 16 and 17, the prophet shows us what the true nexus between them is. "Your ceremonies and observances will do you no good unless you practise the morality, the judgment, mercy, and love to which they point." Our power of receiving impressions is under a directly opposite law from our power of practice. The former steadily decreases by exercise, the latter as steadily increases. This is so in religion, as well as in other things. The impression produced upon the Jews by the sacrifices would decrease as they were repeated, unless by them they were led to practical righteousness, and their whole system would in time become utterly powerless as a moral incentive; just as, if a man is for a few mornings wilfully deaf to an alarum in his bedroom, it presently loses its power even to waken him. The same law will operate with us. The preaching of the gospel is intended to produce impression, and that again to lead to practice. If the latter does not follow _at once,_ the chances are all against its ever following, because the impressions will become feebler with each repetition. A fact this for all hearers to ponder. 4. _Religious observances and machinery of all kinds have their end in the development of character._ This was so in Isaiah's time. It is so now. If their religious observances were not leading them to "cease to be evil," and to "learn to do well," but were hindering them from doing so, it were better for them to give them up. So our creeds, organisations, ministers, &c., are of use only as related to character. They are the scaffolding, character is the building; they are the tools, that the work. If no building is going on, this parade of scaffolding is an imposture, and had better be swept away.--_J. Brierley, B.A._


i. 13. _It is iniquity, even this solemn meeting._

+I. Public worship is a thing of Divine appointment.+ A considerable part of the earlier books of Scripture is occupied with injunctions to observe it, and with directions for its conduct. All the best men of ancient times made public worship part of the business of their lives. David, Josiah, Hezekiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah made great sacrifices that it might be duly honoured. Our Lord Himself, who set aside the traditions of men, was careful to observe this Divine ordinance; besides attending the great feasts, He attended the synagogue every Sabbath-day (Luke iv. 16). The apostles and early Christians were in this respect His true followers (Acts ii. 46; iii. 1). And we are expressly warned against neglect of it (Heb. x. 24, 25). +II. Public worship may be a means of communion with God.+ It was this possibility that induced men to build the Temple, that there might be a recognised place of meeting, not only with each other, but with God. There God did often meet with them (Ps. lxiii. 2, xxvii. 4, &c.) The temple now is wherever devout men are assembled for worship, and God, in the person of His Son, has expressly promised to be in their midst (Matt. xviii. 20). +III. Consequently public worship may be a thing of the highest profit to man.+ Upon those to whom communion with God is indeed vouchsafed, public worship exerts a transforming and ennobling influence.[1] They are uplifted for a season above the cares, the sorrows, and the joys of life; they receive new strength for the performance of life's duties and the bearing of life's burdens; from the mount of supplication they come down bearing a more real and abiding likeness to God than that which in the old time gave to the countenance of Moses an overwhelming splendour. +IV. It may also be a thing supremely acceptable to God.+ When His children assemble to unite in expressing their common thankfulness, trust, and love for Him, He listens with fatherly delight.[2] Compared with angelic worship, human worship is a very poor and imperfect thing; it is but an earthen vessel compared with a chalice of silver or of gold; but the emotions of gratitude, trust, and love with which it is filled, make it precious in His sight. There is a reversal of our Lord's saying (Matt. xxiii. 19): the rude altar is hallowed by the spiritual sacrifice.

These are some of the possibilities of public worship; but they are not the only ones. The reverse of all this may be true. The worship may be observed and offered without any real regard to the Divine will and pleasure; it may separate God and men still more widely; it may be a curse to those who partake in it, and it may be a grievous offence to the Holy One of Israel.

Let us recall some of the things in connection with public worship which are apt to satisfy men. They are such as these: a crowded assembly; sweet singing; a noble liturgy; an eloquent sermon; a large collection. When these things are combined in any service, we are apt to felicitate ourselves exceedingly. But upon that very service God may look with unqualified condemnation. The crowd may have assembled for reasons very far removed from a desire to worship God; the singing may have been merely an artistic performance; the liturgy may have been made up of prayers such as that which a newspaper described as "the most eloquent ever _addressed to a Boston audience;_" the sermon may have had for its supreme object the glorification of the preacher; the contributors to the collection may have been moved merely by a desire to place the name of their congregation at the head of the subscription-list published in the newspapers on the following day. The whole thing may have been of the earth, earthy, and this may have been God's verdict concerning it, "It is iniquity, even the solemn meeting."

What, then, are the elements in worship essential to its acceptance with God? 1. _That it be offered by His people._ Not from rebels against His authority will He accept expressions of homage;[3] in their lips such expressions are mockeries vile and horrible as those wherewith in Pilate's judgment-hall the Roman soldiers jeered at the Son of God (Matt. xxvii. 27-29). 2. _That it be offered with reverence,_ with that sweet and solemn awe which is born of a recognition of God's nearness and of His exceeding glory (Ps. lxxxix. 7).[4] 3. _That it be the expression of love_--love singing in the hymns, breathing in the prayers, awakening "godly sorrow" for the sins of the past, leading to sincere and resolute dedication of the whole being to God for the future. Where these principles animate the worshippers, they will be governed by them also in daily life; their whole life will be a service and sacrifice well-pleasing in the sight of God, and what are called their "acts of worship" will not be artificial flowers stuck on to dead and rotting branches for their adornment, but sweet, natural blossoms, upon which God will smile, and which He will pronounce "very good."


[1] The mind is essentially the same in the peasant and the prince; the forces of it naturally equal in the untaught man and in the philosopher; only the one of these is busied in meaner affairs and within narrower bounds, the other exercises himself in things of weight and moment; and this is that put the wide distance between them. Noble objects are to the mind what the sunbeams are to a bud or flower: they open and unfold, as it were, the leaves of it, put it upon exerting and spreading itself every way, and call forth all those powers that lie hid and locked up in it. The praise and admiration of God, therefore, brings this advantage along with it, that it sets our faculties upon their full stretch, and improves them to all the degrees of perfection of which they are capable.--_Atterbury,_ 1663-1732.

[2] No doubt the prayers which the faithful put up to heaven from under their private roofs, were very acceptable unto Him; but if a saint's single voice in prayer be so sweet to God's ear, much more the Church choir, His saints' prayers in consort together. A father is glad to see any one of his children, and makes him welcome when he visits him, but much more when they come together, the greatest feast is when they all meet as his house. The public praises of the Church are the emblem of heaven itself, when all the angels and saints make but one consort. There is a wonderful prevalency in the joint prayers of His people. When Peter was in prison, the Church meets and prays him out of his enemies' hands. A prince will grant a petition subscribed by the hands of a whole city, which maybe he would not at the request of a private subject, and yet love him well too. There is an especial promise to public prayer: _"Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them."_--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

[3] If a person was to attend the levee of an earthly prince every court-day, and pay his obeisance punctually and respectfully, but at other times speak and act in opposition to his sovereign, the king would justly deem such a one an hypocrite and an enemy. Nor will a solemn and stated attendance on the means of grace in the house of God prove us to be God's children and friends,--if we confine our religion to the church walls, and do not devote our lips and lives to the glory of that Saviour we profess to love.--_Salter._

[4] A remembrance of God's omnipresence will quell distractions in worship. The actual thoughts of this would establish our thoughts, pull them back when they begin to rove, and blow off all the froth that lies on the top of our spirits. An eye taken up with the presence of one object is not at leisure to be filled with another; he that looks intently upon the sun shall have nothing for a while but the sun in his eye. Oppose to every intruding thought the idea of the Divine omnipresence, and put it to silence by the awe of His majesty. When the master is present, scholars mind their books, keep their place, and run not over the forms to play with one another; and the master's eye keeps an idle servant to his work, that otherwise would be gazing at every straw, and prating to every passenger. How soon would the remembrance of this dash all extravagant fancies out of countenance, just as the news of the approach of a prince would huddle up their vain sports, and prepare themselves for a reverent behaviour in his sight. We should not dare to give God a piece of our heart, when we apprehend Him present with the whole; we should not dare to mock one that we knew were more inwards with us than we are with ourselves, and that beheld every motion of our mind as well as action of our body.--_Charnock,_ 1628-1680.

I have sometimes had the misfortune to sit in concerts where persons would chatter and giggle and laugh during the performances of the profoundest passages of the symphonies of the great artists; and I never fail to think, at such times, "I ask to know neither you, nor your father and mother, nor your name: I know what you _are,_ by the way you conduct yourself here--by the want of sympathy and appreciation which you evince respecting what is passing around you." We could hardly help striking a man who should stand looking upon Niagara Falls without exhibiting emotions of awe and admiration. If we were to see a man walk through galleries of genius, totally unimpressed by what he saw, we should say to ourselves, "Let us be rid of such an unsusceptible creature as that."

Now I ask you to pass upon yourselves the same judgment. What do you suppose angels that have trembled and quivered with ecstatic joy in the presence of God, think when they see how indifferent you are to the Divine love and goodness in which you are perpetually bathed, and by which you are blessed and sustained every moment of your lives? How can they do otherwise than accuse you of monstrous ingratitude and moral insensibility, which betoken guilt as well as danger?--_Beecher._


i.14. _Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them._

It is the Almighty who here speaks, and His speech is a protest to men who imagined that by their worship they would conciliate and please Him. Their worship He rejects: it was polluted by the pollution of those who offered it. Instead of cleansing them, as they vainly dreamed, they had defiled it. It is the Almighty who speaks, and in what terms of intensity of pain! He speaks as one who has long been burdened by a load that has at length become intolerable. Strictly speaking, it is of worship offered to Him by ungodly men that He here expressed His abhorrence; but it is not conceivable--it is contrary to repeated declarations of His Word to suppose--that this is the only form of human transgression that is grievous to Him; and therefore we may fairly widen our contemplation, and consider--

+I. God's sensibility to human sin.+ God is unchangeable; with Him there is no fickleness or caprice (James i. 17); this is one of the glories of His nature. But how strangely have philosophers and theologians interpreted this sublime declaration! They have presented us with a deity impassive as the stars, which shine with equal splendour upon the display of great virtues and the perpetration of hideous crimes, calm, serene, undisturbed by anything that takes place on earth. Not such is the God of the Bible. He thrills with intensest emotions of delight or of disapprobation, of joy or of sorrow (Jer. ix. 24; Nahum i. 6; Zeph. iii. 17; Gen. iii. 6). Let philosophers call these "anthropomorphic representations" if they will, but words have no meaning if such declarations do not teach that God is stirred by emotions which are determined by the character and conduct of men. He is no cast-iron deity: He is "the living God." Sin is hateful to Him, because 1. _It is an infraction of that order which He has established for the moral well-being of the universe._ As the Sovereign of the universe, He is bound to resent and to punish any injury done to the meanest of His subjects.[1] 2. _It is a defiance of His authority._ Every sinner is a rebel against the authority of the King of kings; and that king would be unworthy of his crown who could see his authority defied without feeling any emotion of displeasure, or without taking steps to vindicate his authority. It was precisely this selfish and pusillanimous weakness that made our Stephen despised and hated by his subjects. With God there is longsuffering and tender mercy, but there is no weakness. Sin is more than a defiance of God's authority; it is--3. _An offence against His feelings._ It is contrary to what we may call His instincts.[2] That which is contrary to our best instincts fills us with disgust and anger. What profound emotion is stirred in a man of generosity and benevolence by a story of oppression and wrong! _e.g.,_ the effect upon David of Nathan's parable (2 Sam. xii. 5). Whole communities have been roused to uncontrollable indignation by a crime of unusual atrocity, even though no member of the community has been directly affected thereby. "Lynch Law." So all sin, as sin, arouses the Divine disgust and indignation. "My _soul_ hateth." 4. _It is a degradation of those whom God loves._ We all condemn and loathe drunkenness; but who of us loathes it as does that mother who is being hurried by it to an untimely and dishonoured grave? God loves us more than any mother ever loved her son, and His hatred of sin is proportioned by His love for us whom it degrades and destroys.[3] 5. _It is often a wrong inflicted on those whom He loves._ Few men sin without wronging others as well as themselves. Now with what anger do we burn when we detect our children defrauding and oppressing each other! But between the sputtering of a lucifer-match and the glowing fires of a volcano, there is not so much disparity as between the anger which the spectacle of sins against brotherhood kindles in us and that which it rouses in God (Jer. ix. 9). To form any adequate conception of the offensiveness of sin to God, we must remember that these considerations do not operate singly, but operate in combination to make it hateful to Him. How marvellous, then, is His endurance of it! Consider, then--

+II. God's patience with human sin.+ He speaks here of being "troubled" by the worship of ungodly men; it is a burden of which He is "weary." Why, then, does He bear it for a moment? Why, then, does He not give quick vent to the indignation that burns within Him, and consume His troubles with swift destruction? He bears with us--1. _That by His patience He may appeal to our better feelings._ He does us good, and not evil (Matt. v. 45), that we may be made ashamed to sin against such generosity. When men are not altogether hardened in iniquity, there is nothing so likely to overcome them as a requital of wrongs by blessing,[4] especially where he who so requites it has full power to avenge himself. By His long-suffering, God has led countless thousands to repentance. 2. _That He may set us an example of self-restraint._ It is because He is Himself so slow to anger, that He is able to warn us against vindictiveness. God does not only lay upon us precepts of excellence: He Himself embodies them. 3. _That He may place the righteousness of his judgments beyond dispute._ A space of grace and forbearance seems necessary to enable onlookers to perceive that the awful doom which at length will come upon sinners is fully deserved, and is perfectly consistent with His own mercifulness. If "Wisdom" had not "called," reproved, counselled, "stretched out her hands" in entreaty, the stern words in which she announces the awful and irrevocable doom of her despisers would shock us (Prov. i. 20, 32). 4. _That a moral probation may be rendered possible._ If punishment always instantly and obviously followed transgression, the world would be ruled by terror so overwhelming that free agency would be destroyed, and virtue consequently rendered impossible. For such reasons as these, God bears with sinners, and "sentence against an evil work" is not executed speedily.

+III. God's protest against human sin.+ God suffers under human sin, but He does not suffer in silence: He vehemently protests against it. Two reasons should lead us to heed this protest:--1. _Gratitude._ He might have sent vengeance without warning. His protests and threatenings are proofs of His love. All that is noblest and best in us should lead us to give instant and thankful heed when God appeals to us, and says, "Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate!" (Jer. xliv. 4). But if sin has so debased your nature that higher considerations such as this cannot move you, then I appeal--2. to your _instinct of self-preservation._ God's protest against sin is no unmeaning form: His threatenings against sin are no empty words (Prov. xxix. 1). Rightly considered, the sinner's untroubled condition is the most awful of all warnings.[5]


[1] The tempter persuadeth the sinner that it cannot be that God should make so great a matter of sin, because the thoughts of a man's heart, or his words, or deeds, are matter of no great moment, when man himself is so poor a worm, and whatever he doth is no hurt to God. But if God so much regard us as to make us, and preserve us continually, and to become our Governor, and make a law for us and judge us, and reward His servants with no less than heaven; then you may easily see that He so much regardeth us, as to observe whether we obey or break His laws. He that so far careth for a clock or watch, as to make it and wind it up, doth care whether it go true or false. What do these men make of God, who think He cares now what men do! Then He cares not if man beat you, or rob you, or kill you, for none of this hurteth God. And the king may say, "If any murder your friends and children, why should I punish him? he hurt not me." But justice is to keep order in the world, and not only to preserve the governor from hurt: God may not be wronged, though He be not hurt. And He will make you pay for it, if you hurt others; and smart for it, if you hurt yourself.--_Baxter,_ 1618-1691.

[2] Our sin is not so much a violation of a law that lies outside of the bosom of God, as it is a disregard of the feelings and nature of God Himself. You will by a moment's reflection see that there is a marked distinction between personal feeling infringed upon and law transgressed. The magistrate sits upon the bench, and a culprit is brought before him. There are two ways in which that culprit may be considered as transgressing. He may have broken the law of the land, which the magistrate represents officially, but not personally. The magistrate regards him as a culprit, to be sure. But suppose that, in the exercise of truth and justice by a pure administration or decision, the magistrate arouses the anger of the culprit, and he insults him to his face, and in his own court; is there any difference between his former crime, which was the violation of the law of the land, and in his latter crime, which is a transgression of the feeling of the magistrate, sitting as a magistrate?

It is the same everywhere. When you employ men in your affairs, you know that there is a distinction between a disregard of the rules of business, and a personal disagreement with yourself. You know that when a man offends against you, his wrong is more heinous and provoking than when he offends against your rules or laws. We know that a child may violate the laws of morality as they are established by the Word of God and by the consent of the community; that he may violate the civil law of the land in which he dwells; that he may violate the rules and regulations of a well-ordered family; and yet, though all these courses of conduct are grievous wrongs which shock the parent, not be as culpable as when he treads on the feelings of the parent. There are exigencies in which the child flies, as it were, in the heart of the father and other, and does not so much violate their command as their living feeling; intolerable and more flagrant than simply setting aside and forgetting or transgressing a law. In other words, it is possible to break a statute; that is one kind of transgression. It is possible, also, to sin by directly infringing upon the heart and the feeling; that is another kind of transgression, and one that is considered more stinging, more intolerable, and more unforgivable than any other.

Now God and His law are one, in the sense in which we approach Him as moral beings--one in such a sense that when we offend against His moral law, we offend against His own personal feeling. He is not a magistrate for whom a system has been framed, and to the administration of which He comes under a sense of justice. He is a universal Father, administering according to His own instincts, His own tastes, His own affections, His own feelings, among His children. God's law is God's self, pervading the universe, and our transgression is a personal affront of God Himself. Just as when your taste, or your love, or your conscience, is violated by the direct act of another person against yourself, the offence is greater than if any exterior canon were broken; so it is when we violate the Divine commands.

This conception of God should quicken every moral sensibility, and make a life of sin painful and distasteful to us. It is one thing to sin against a government, and another thing to sin against a being. There are a great many children that will sin against the family arrangements, who would not sin against their mother. There is many a child to whom the mother says, "My dear child, you know your father has made a law in this family, that such and such things shall not be done, and you know you have broken that law three of four times; now, for my sake, avoid breaking it again." The child feels, when the mother interposes herself, that there is something that touches him which did not when it was only a law of the family that he was setting aside.

Now, God puts Himself in just that position, and the motive of obedience and righteousness is this: that God is the tenderest, the most patient, the gentlest, and the dearest friend that we have; that He knows everything within and without; and that though we are sinful and wicked, He, in His infinite compassion and mercy, forgives us, and says, "Do not sin against me, nor against mine."--_Beecher._

When a man defrauds you in weight, he sins against _you,_ not against the scales, which are only the instruments of determining true and false weight. When men sin, it is against God, and not against His law, which is but the indicator of right and wrong. You care little for sins against God's law. It has no blood in its veins, no sensibility. Now, every sin that you commit is personal to God, and not merely an infraction of His _laws._ It is casting javelins and arrows of base desire into His loving bosom. I think no truth can be discovered which would be so powerful upon the moral sense of men, as that which should disclose to them that sinning is always a personal offense against a personal God. Law without is only an echo of God's heart-beat within.--_Beecher._

[3] Is there any human being who so hates the sin of a child, or the companion of that friend? To whose eye so much as to the eye of the lover is a defect a thing to be abhorred? Is there anywhere in the world such compassion as is found in a father or in a mother over the sin or fault of the child? Yea, with evil associates, with growing bluntness of feeling, with accumulating evasions and deceits, with a development of serpent passions, with a life by day and by night that emasculates manliness, the mother sees her boy going steadily down, step by step; and in her nightly vigils, with strong crying and tears, she pours herself out before God, abhorring with unutterable detestation all these terrible evils that threaten the life and immortality of her son; and for years she carries in her soul the suffering that ought to be in his, and bears his sin, his sorrow, and his shame, and lies humiliated, and bowed down in the dust, the just for the unjust.--_Beecher._

God hates sin, because it destroys what He loves. He could live high and lifted up above all noise of man's groaning, all smoke of his torment; but His nature is to come down after man--to grope for him amid all the dark pollutions of sin, and, if possible, to rescue and cleanse him.

God hates sin very much, as mothers hate wild beasts. One day a woman stood washing beside a stream. She was in a wild frontier country, and the woods were all around. Her little, only child was playing about near her. By and by she missed the infant's prattle, and, looking about, she called its name. There was no answer. Alarmed, the mother ran to the house, but her babe was not there. In wild distress the poor woman now fled to search the woods, and there she found her child. But it was only its little _body_ that she clasped to her heart. A wolf had seized her treasure, and when, at last, she rescued it from those bloody fangs, its spirit had gone. Oh, how that mother hated wolves! And do you know that this is the very figure Christ uses to show what feeling He has towards the sin that is seeking to devour His children?--_Beecher._

It makes a difference to God how we act. His happiness is affected by the conduct of His children; for His heart is the heart of a father. If, when my child sins, a pang goes through my own soul, and I fly to rescue him from further iniquity, it is because God struck into my breast a little spark of what in Him is infinite.--_Beecher._

[4] A group of rough men were assembled at a tavern one night. One man boasted that it did not make any difference what time he went home, his wife cheerfully opened the door, and provided an entertainment if he was hungry when he got home. So they laid a wager. They said: "Now, we'll go along with you. So much shall be wagered. We'll bet so much that when you go home, and make such a demand, she will resist it." So they went along at two or three o'clock in the morning and knocked at the door. The door opened, and the man said to the wife: "Get us a supper." She said: "What shall I get?" He selected the articles of food. Very cheerfully were they provided, and about three or four o'clock in the morning they sat down at the table--the most cheerful one in all that company the Christian wife--when the man, the ruffian, the villain, who had demanded all this, broke down and said: "I can't stand this. O what a wretch I am!" He disbanded that group. He knelt down with his Christian wife and asked her to pray for the salvation of his immortal soul, and before the morning dawned they were united in the faith and hope of the Gospel. A patient, loving, Christian demeanour in the presence of transgression, in the presence of hardness, in the presence of obduracy and crime, is an argument from the throne of the Lord Almighty.--_Talmage._

[5] Since we know God to be grievously displeased with sin, here is something awful in His keeping silence while it is committed under His eye. If a child comes home conscious of having offended a parent, and the parent says nothing all that night, but merely looks very grave, the child is more frightened than he would be by a sharp rebuke or severe punishment, for if such rebuke or punishment were inflicted, he would at least know the worst; but when the parent is silent, he knows not what may be hanging over him. So when we remember how many things plainly offensive to God are going on all around us, it is a terrible thought that He is still silent. We fear that He is but getting ready to take vengeance on those who defy Him. And so that passage which we have quoted from the Psalms carries on the train of thought in what follows. "God is a righteous judge, strong and patient, and God is provoked every day. If a man will not turn, He will whet His sword, He hath bent His bow, and made it ready."

In countries where earthquakes happen, a dead silence always goes before the earthquake. Nature seems hushed into an awful stillness, as if she were holding her breath at the thought of the coming disaster. The air hangs heavily; not a breath fans the leaves; the birds make no music; there is no hum of insects; there is no ripple of streams; and this while whole houses, and even cities sometimes, are hanging on the brink of ruin. So it is with God's silence,--it will be followed, when it seems deepest, by the earthquake of His judgments. And so the holy Apostle writes to the Thessalonians: "When they shall say, Peace and safety" (from the fact of God's being so still and so dumb), "Then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape."--_Goulburn._


i. 15. _And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear._

The Jews had been likened unto the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (ver. 10). As such, they are summoned to listen to a series of declarations of which this is the sum, that worship without holiness is a solemn mockery. Confining ourselves to our text only, we may see that it teaches us--+I. The worthlessness of ritualism without spirituality.+ "When ye spread forth your hands," &c. 1. _Ritualism is an essential element of public worship._ There must be some form by which thought can be expressed, and the devotions of others guided. There may be too little, or too much, but _some_ is indispensable.[1] 2. _Ritualism may be the expression of earnest spiritual life, and a help thereto._ It may be the outcome of a sincere feeling and deep piety--such was the ritual which David and his devout companions devised and elaborated for the service of the Temple. It was costly and magnificent beyond even that which is observed in St. Peter's at Rome; but as practised by them it was as spiritual as the baldest service that has ever been conducted in the barest conventicle. A splendid ritual may be acceptable to the Most High, and the followers of George Fox must not imagine that they are the only persons who worship God "in spirit and in truth." 3. But _ritualism may be, and often is, only a form._ It may mean only an exhibition of millinery, a scrupulous observance of a prescribed series of postures and genuflexions. It may be, according to a too suggestive phrase, merely a service "performed." In this case God passes it by with contempt. To all engaged in such histrionic performances He says, "When ye spread forth your hands," &c. Supplication without desire will never draw down the Divine benediction. +II. The worthlessness of prayer without purity of heart.+ "When ye make many prayers, I will not hear." 1. _Prayer is a necessity of the Christian life._ A consciousness of weakness and want, and a profound conviction of God's power and willingness to succour him, prompts the Christian to make "many prayers." And each supplication so inspired finds its way to the throne and heart of God. To hear and answer the prayers of His children is one of our Heavenly Father's joys (ch. lxv. 24). 2. _But prayer, like ritualism, instead of being the expression of a realised need, may be only an empty form._ The supplications that are offered may be uttered merely by rote, with as little feeling as a child recites the multiplication-table; or they may be devices by which deluded men seek to propitiate that God whom they are offending by their conduct every day,--mere lip-homage, which they imagine He will accept in condonation of their habitual disregard of His will. In either case, their "many prayers" are worthless husks which He rejects with disdain.

If we would have our worship accepted of God, there must be--1. _Spiritual conceptions of His character._ These will prevent us from mocking Him by merely formal prayers or praises. 2. _A solemn realisation of His presence._ How often this is lacking in those who take part in the service of the sanctuary, and even in those who conduct them! But God is not throned in some distant heaven, to which our prayers struggle up we know not how: He is HERE! We shall never be nearer to Him than we are to-day! 3. _An earnest endeavour after holiness in daily life_ (Ps. lxvi. 18). See why God would not regard the uplifted hands of the Jewish supplicants--"Your hands are full of blood." See also ch. lix. 1-3. To no rebel is access to the presence-chamber of the King of kings granted: this is the high privilege of those only who can lift up "holy hands" (1 Tim. ii. 8).[2]--_A. F. Barfield._


[1] The external part of religion is, doubtless, of little value in comparison with the internal; and so is the cask in comparison with the wine contained in it: but if the cask be staved, the wine must perish. If there were no Sundays or holydays, no ministers, no churches or religious assemblies, no prayers or sacraments, no Scriptures read, or sermons preached, how long would there be any religion left in the world: and who would desire to live in a world where there was none?--_Horne,_ 1730-1792.

Forms are necessary to religion as the means of its manifestation. As the invisible God manifests His nature--His power, wisdom, and goodness, in visible material forms, in the bright orbs of heaven, in the everlasting hills, in the broad earth with its fruits and flowers, and in all the living things which He has made,--so the invisible soul of man reveals its convictions and feelings in the outward acts which it performs. As there could be no knowledge of God without the visible forms in which He reveals Himself, so there could be no knowledge of the religion which exists in the soul of man without the outward forms in which it expresses itself. A form is the flag, the banner, the symbol of an inward life, it is to a religious belief what the body is to the soul; as the soul would be utterly unknown without the body, so religion would be unknown without its forms, a light hidden under a bushel, and not set up in a candlestick that it may give light to all that are in the house.

Forms are necessary not only to the manifestation of religion, but to its nourishment and continued existence. A religion which expressed itself in no outward word or act would soon die out of the soul altogether. The attempt to embody truth and feeling, to express it in words and actions, is necessary to give it the character of living principle in the soul: in this respect forms are like the healthy exercise which at once expresses and increases the vigorous life of the body, or they may be compared to the leaves of a tree, which not only proceed from its inward life, but catch the vitalising influences of the light, the rain and the atmosphere, and convey them down to the root.

What, then, is that formalism which is everywhere in the Scripture, and especially in the discourses of our Lord, described as an offence and an abomination in the sight of God? I answer, formalism is the substitution of the outward rite in the place of the inner spirit and life of the soul; it is the green leaf which still hangs upon the dead branch which has been lopped off.--_David Loxton._

[2] God doth not institute worship-ordinances for bodily motion only; when He speaketh to men He speaketh as to a man, and requireth human actions from him, even the work of the soul, and not the words of a parrot or the motion of a puppet.--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.

You think you serve God by coming to church; but if you refuse to let the Word convert you, how should God be pleased with such a service as this? It is as if you should tell your servant what you have for him to do, and because he hath given you the hearing, he thinks he should have his wages, though he do nothing of that which you set him to do. Were not this an unreasonable servant? Or would you give him according to his expectation? It is a strange thing that man should think that God will save them for dissembling with Him; and save them for abusing His name and ordinances. Every time you hear, or pray, or praise God, or receive the sacrament, while you deny God your heart and remain unconverted, you do but despise Him and show more of your rebellion than your obedience. Would you take him for a good tenant that at every rent-day would duly wait on you, and put off his hat to you, but bring you never a penny of rent? Or would you take him for a good debtor that brings you nothing but an empty purse, and expects you should take that for payment? God biddeth you come to church and hear the Word; and so you do, and so far you do well; but withal, He chargeth you to suffer the Word to work upon your hearts, and to take it home and consider of it, and obey it, and cast away from former courses, and give your hearts and lives to Him; and this you will not do. And you think that He will accept of your service?--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.


i. 15. _When ye make many prayers, I will not hear._

God has characterised Himself as "the Hearer of prayer;" and it is the great consolation of His people that they cannot seek His face in vain. But here He declares that He will not hear the prayers of Israel, however many. This solemn and momentous declaration may well lead us to inquire why prayer is, in many instances, rejected. Prayer, to be heard, must be both _right_ and _real._ If it possess neither of these characteristics, or only one of them--if it is _neither right nor real,_ or is _right without being real,_ or _real without being right_--it cannot fail to be rejected.

I. A man may pray _rightly,_ either because he has been taught the principles of orthodoxy, or knows what language is conformable to those principles, or because he uses prayers composed by spiritual men, or, finally, because he used the very word prescribed or sanctioned by God Himself. But in all these cases, while his prayer may be right, it may be altogether unreal. He may neither know the meaning of the requests it contains, nor desire their fulfilment.[1] Thus do many men pray for a free pardon for Christ's sake, for entire sanctification, and repeat the Lord's Prayer. There is nothing in the heart corresponding to what is expressed by the lips; nay, the heart and the mouth are often completely at variance with each other.

II. Prayer may be _real without being right._ A man may really acknowledge mercies received, and petition for more; and yet neither the acknowledgement nor the petition may be regarded by God. The acknowledgement and the petition have reference to mere earthly desires already gratified or yet to be gratified. He thanks God that the "lusts have had the food which they craved;" he prays that they may never want it. Pride, vanity, the love of ease, pleasures, and worldly respectability are "lusts" on which he has hitherto "consumed," and on which he intends still to "consume," the good things which God has given, or may yet give him. The secret soul of all his supplications is not any zeal for the glory of God, but selfishness. His prayers are of the earth, earthy. The spiritual blessings which God holds out in His right hand he passes by in contemptuous neglect, and clamours for the natural blessings which are in God's left hand.

III. Both the faults of prayer above referred to are often found in one and the same individual, and the guilt of both accumulated on one and the same head.

Let it not be inferred from what has been said that we lay an interdict on natural blessings, and forbid the seeking of them in prayer. Our Saviour has given us authority to ask for daily bread, and this fully warrants the conclusion that natural blessings, as well as spiritual, may and ought to form a subject of prayer. We ought to "seek _first_ the kingdom of God and His righteousness," and _then_ ask Him to fulfil His promise of "adding unto us all other things."--_R. Nesbit, Discourses,_ pp. 308-319.


[1] Will men's prayers be answered? Not if they pray as boys whittle sticks--silently, hardly knowing or caring what they are about. I have known men begin to pray about Adam, and go on from him to the present time, whittling their stick clear to a point, with about as much feeling, and doing about as much good as the boy does.--_Beecher._

I often say my prayers, But do I ever pray, And do the wishes of my heart Go with the words I say: I may as well kneel down And worship gods of stone. As offer to the living God a prayer of words alone, For words without the heart The Lord will never hear; Nor will He to those lips attend Whose prayers are not sincere.--_John Burton._


i. 15. _Your hands are full of blood._

Such is the reason which God assigns for turning a deaf ear to the prayers of His ancient people: the hands they lifted up to Him in supplication were blood-stained. It was as if Cain, red with the murder of Abel, had lifted up his hands in prayer to God for blessing. By this startling charge we are reminded--+I. That between the estimates formed by God and man as to what takes place in the sanctuary there is often an infinite disparity.+ Behold the court of the temple filled, apparently, with devout worshippers, who lift up their hands to heaven in earnest supplication,--what a pleasing sight! But God looks down, and says, "Those hands are full of blood." The same contrast is repeated in another form (ch. xxix. 13). Other contrasts: Eli sees what he thinks to be a drunken woman; God sees a humble supplicant (1 Sam. i. 12, 13). Men see an eminently religious man praying in the sanctuary; God sees a man prostituting prayer into a means of self-glorification (Luke xviii. 11, 12). Men see a foul wretch whose presence in the sanctuary is a pollution; God sees a broken-hearted penitent, and hastens to bless him (Luke xviii. 13, 14). So it is in our sanctuaries to-day. +II. That God holds us responsible for the ultimate consequences of our actions.+ The men who thronged the temple in Isaiah's time, and whose prayers God rejected, were not bandits and murderers in the ordinary and coarse fashion by which men are brought to the scaffold. Yet the charge brought against them was true. For there are other ways of murdering men than by acts of violence of which human law takes note. By grievous oppression millions of men have been brought to an untimely grave. If a man destroys another by _slow_ poison, is he not as truly a murderer as another who kills his victim by means of prussic acid? In God's sight oppression is murder; and of oppression in its worst forms the Jews had been guilty (vers. 23; iii. 14, 15, &c.) It is in accordance with this declaration that opprobrium is heaped upon Jeroboam as the man "who made Israel to sin" (2 Kings x. 29); and that we are so sternly warned against leading others into transgression (Matt. xviii. 6, &c.) This fact--1. _Casts some light on the doctrine of future punishment._ The results of the evil actions of men go on eternally propagating themselves, and it is therefore not unjust that the punishment of those actions should be eternal also. 2. _Should cause us to halt when we are tempted to acts of unkindness and oppression._ Unwillingly we may thereby become murderers. 3. _Should lead us to be most watchful as to the example we set before others._ If we hold our false lights by which they are caused to make shipwreck "concerning faith" and character, God will hold us responsible for the disaster (Rom. xiv. 15, &c.) +III. That sin is naturally indelible.+ These Jews came into the sanctuary with hands carefully cleansed, but yet in God's sight they were "full of blood." 1. The stains of sin cannot be washed out by _time._ Time obliterates much, but it does not obliterate guilt. Men are apt to be troubled in conscience about recent sins, but to be at ease concerning those committed many years previously. But this is a mistake. Lapse of time makes no difference to God; the inscriptions in His books of record never fade. Hence the wisdom of David's prayer (Ps. xxv. 7). 2. The stain of sin cannot be washed out by _worship._ That it might be so was the vain dream of the Jews, as it is of millions to-day. But worship itself is an offence when it is offered by ungodly men; so far from diminishing their guilt, it increases it (Prov. xxviii. 9, &c.) 3. The stain of sin cannot be washed out by _sorrow._ Sorrow for the past alters nothing in the past; the crime remains, no matter how many tears the criminal may shed.[1] 4. The stain of sin cannot be washed out even by _reformation of conduct and character._ Men speak of "turning over a new leaf," and when they have done what this phrase implies, they are apt to be at peace. But this also is a mistake. They forget that the old, evil leaf remains, and that for what is inscribed thereon God will call them to account. As there is a "godly sorrow" and a "worldly sorrow," so there is a religious and an irreligious reformation of conduct. The former is the result of evangelical repentance, and is of exceeding worth (Ezek. xviii. 27, 28); the latter is a mere act of prudence, and is of no moral account. In one way, and in one way only, can the stain of guilt be effaced from the human soul (1 John i. 7-9).


[1] Repentance _qualifies_ a man for pardon but does not, cannot _entitle_ him to it. It is one of the most elementary and obvious truths of morality, that the performance of one duty cannot be any compensation for neglect to perform another duty. But when a sinner is penitent for his sins, he is merely doing what, _as a sinner,_ he ought to do; and his feelings of contrition do no more to absolve him from his guilt than the gratitude a man feels to a doctor who has cured him from a dangerous illness does to discharge the doctor's bill. As in this case there ought to be both gratitude and payment, so in the case of the sinner there must be both penitence and atonement. The sinner's sorrow for his sin, while in itself a proper thing, is no more an atonement for his sin than is the remorse that fills the breasts of most murderers any atonement for the murders they have committed. Judas was sorry, profoundly and intensely sorry, for having betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ, but did _that_ do away with the guilt of that betrayal? Was Peter not to be blamed for his denial of his Master, because afterwards "he went out and wept bitterly"? Did the tears he shed give him any right to say in after years--"Yes, I denied my Lord, but I was sorry for it, and so made it straight"? Do you think that just as with soap and water you can wash the dirt off your hands, you can with a few tears, or with many tears, wash the guilt of sin from off your soul? No delusion could be more groundless. Oh no! You have the real fact and the true philosophy of the matter in the well-known verse--

"Not the labours of my hands Can fulfil Thy law's demands. Could my zeal no respite know, _Could my tears for ever flow,_ All for sin could not atone: THOU must save, and THOU alone."


i. 16. _Wash you, make you clean._

This is one of a very numerous class of passages which summon sinners to the duty of moral purification, of thorough and complete reformation of character (Jer. iv. 14; James iv. 8; Jer. xviii. 11; Ezek. xviii. 30-32, &c.) These passages are very clear and emphatic, but they seem to be in opposition to others which assert man's natural inability to do anything that is good (Matt vii. 18; Rom. vii. 18-23; John xv. 5), with others which teach that repentance is a Divine gift (Acts v. 31; 2 Tim. ii. 25), and with those which teach that sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. vi. 11, &c.) The opposition is only apparent.[1] Every Divine command really involves a promise of the grace necessary for its accomplishment, and God is ever ready to work with and in us "to will and to do of His good pleasure."[2] Fallen as we are, we yet retain the power of responding to or of rejecting His admonitions; if we respond to them, there instantly begins to flow into our souls that which will enable us to accomplish everything that God has required (Phil. iv. 13). Three great questions--+I. Why must we cleanse ourselves from evil?+ 1. _Because sin renders us offensive to God._ It is in itself repulsive to Him, just as immodesty in all its forms and in every degree is repulsive to a virtuous woman (Hab. i. 13; Prov. xxxi. 10-31). 2. _Because it is destructive to ourselves._ In physical matters dirt and disease are inseparable, and so they are in spiritual. Moral pollution leads to moral decay. Sin is a leprosy that eats away all the finer faculties of the soul. 3. _Because it renders us dangerous to our fellow-men._ In the measure that we are corrupt, we shall corrupt others. There is a terrible contagiousness in iniquity (Prov. xxii. 24, 25; Rev. xviii. 4). A sinner is a walking pestilence. And 4. The special lesson of our text in its connection--_Because otherwise access to the throne of grace will be closed against us._ If it be not so with us now, yet there will come a season when it will be supremely important to us that God should hear our prayers (a time of great trouble, or the hour of death), and how awful will be our condition if God should then turn a deaf ear to us! But this is the doom of obdurate sinners (ver. 15; Jer. xi. 14, &c.) +II. How may we cleanse ourselves from evil?+ 1. _By resolutely putting off our old evil habits._ This is what Isaiah exhorted the Jews to do (vers. 16, 17). Similar exhortations occur in the New Testament (Eph. iv. 25-29; Heb. xii. 1). Begin with the faults of which you are most conscious.[3] Begin and continue the great task of moral reformation in humble dependence upon God. 2. _By prayer._ In earnest communion with God our views of duty and purity receive a marvellous elevation, and we catch the inspiration of the Divine character, so that iniquity, instead of being attractive, becomes hateful to us also.[4] 3. _By humble but resolute endeavours to copy the example of our Lord Jesus Christ._ 4. _By intercourse with the people of God._[5] 5. _By making the Word of God the only and absolute rule of our life_ (Ps. cxix. 1). These are the means by which we may attain to moral purity in the future. Cleansing from the guilt of sin in the past is bestowed freely on all who believe in Jesus (1 John i. 7-9). Yea, the guilt of a man whose hands are literally "full of blood" may thus be washed away; _e.g.,_ Saul, the persecutor and murderer of the saints (Acts. xxii. 4, 16; 1 Tim. i. 16). +III. When may we cleanse ourselves from evil? NOW!+ this very hour the task ought to be begun. 1. Difficult as the task is, delay will only increase its difficulty.[6] 2. Now, because God's commands brook no delay. (Ps. xcv. 7, 8). 3. Now! because now though God may be willing to-day to grant you "repentance unto life," by your delay you may so provoke Him to anger that _to-morrow_ repentance may be denied you.


[1] There is no contradiction between these statements and the command to repent. Whoever considers what repentance is,--that it is a change of mind toward sin, so that what once was loved is viewed with disgust, and what was pursued with eagerness is shunned with abhorrence,--will perceive at once that it can only be wrought in us by a Divine power. Man's natural tendencies are toward evil; and a river could as easily arrest itself on its way to the ocean, and climb to the sources whence it sprang, as can man without the help of the Holy Spirit learn to hate sin because of what it is. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil." The polluted fountain of our heart will never cleanse itself. Repentance, like every other gift, must come from the Father of lights.

But "God works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure." By His Holy Spirit He strives in every human soul, awakening desires after a better and purer life. By His longsuffering, by messages from His Word, by the monitions of His providence, He strives to lead us to repentance. But _we_ must repent. As while the earth cannot bear fruit unless the sun shine upon it, it is still the part of the earth to be fertile; so while we cannot repent unless God aid us, it is our part to turn from evil. Repentance cannot be exercised _for_ us; it must be exercised _by_ us.

God commands you to repent, just as to the apostles, when five thousand hungry men, besides women and children, surrounded them, and their whole store was five loaves and two fishes, Christ said, "Give ye them to eat." The task is as much beyond your unaided power as that was above theirs; but address yourself to it as they did, in obedience to the Divine behest, and you will receive power from on high to accomplish not only it, but other tasks higher yet.

[2] The Gospel supposeth a power going along with it, and that the Holy Spirit works upon the minds of men, to quicken, excite, and assist them in their duty. If it were not so, the exhortations of preachers would be nothing else but a cruel and bitter mocking of sinners, and an ironical insulting over the misery and weakness of poor creatures, and for ministers to preach, or people to hear sermons, upon any other terms, would be the vainest expense of time and the idlest thing we do all the week; and all our dissuasives from sin, and exhortations to holiness and a good life, and vehement persuasions of men to strive to get to heaven, and to escape hell, would be just as if one should urge a blind man, by many reasons and arguments, taken from the advantages and comfort of that sense, and the beauty of external objects, by all means to open his eyes, and to behold the delights of nature, to see his way, and to look to his steps, and should upbraid him, and be very angry with him, for not doing so.--_Tillotson,_ 1630-1694.

[3] Rooting up the large weeds of a garden loosens the earth, and renders the extraction of the lesser ones comparatively easy.--_Elisa Cook._

[4] There is an antipathy between sinning and praying. The child that hath misspent the whole day in playing abroad, steals to bed at night for fear of a chiding from his father. Sin and prayer are such contraries, that it is impossible at a stride to step from one to another. Prayer will either make you leave off sinning, or sinning will make you leave off prayer.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

The first true sign of spiritual life, prayer is also the means of maintaining it. Man can as well live physically without breathing, as spiritually without praying. There is a class of animals--the cetaceous, neither fish nor sea-fowl, that inhabit the deep. It is their home; they never leave it for the shore; yet, though swimming beneath its waves and sounding its darkest depths, they have ever and anon to rise to the surface that they may breathe the air. Without that these monarchs of the deep could not exist in the dense element in which they live, and move, and have their being. And something like what is imposed on them by a physical necessity, the Christian has to do by a spiritual one. It is by ever and anon ascending up to God, by rising through prayer into a loftier purer region for supplies of Divine grace, that he maintains his spiritual life. Prevent these animals from rising to the surface, and they die for want of breath; prevent him from rising to God, and he dies for want of prayer. "Give me children," cried Rachel, "or else I die." Let me breathe, says a man gasping, or else I die. Let me pray, says the Christian, or else I die.--_Guthrie._

[5] Get some Christian friend (whom thou mayest trust above others) to be thy faithful monitor. Or, that man hath a great help for the maintaining the power of godliness that has an open-hearted friend that dare speak his heart to him. A stander-by sees more sometimes by a man than the _actor_ can do by himself, and is more fit to judge of his actions than he of his own; sometimes self-love blinds us in our own cause, that we are over-suspicious of the worst by ourselves, which makes us appear to ourselves worse than we are. Now, that thou mayest not deprive thyself of so great help from thy friend, be more to keep thy heart ready with meekness to receive, yes, with thankfulness embrace a reproof from his mouth. Those that cannot bear plain-dealing hurt themselves most; for by this they seldom hear the truth.--_Gurnalt,_ 1617-1679.

[6] The more we defer, the more difficult and painful our work must needs prove; every day will both enlarge our task and diminish our ability to perform it. Sin is never at a stay; if we do not retreat from it, we shall advance in it, and the further on we go, the more we have to come back; every step we take forward (even before we can return hither, into the state wherein we are at present) must be repeated; all the web we spin must be unravelled.

Vice, as it groweth in age, so it improveth in stature and strength; from a puny child it soon waxeth a lusty striping, then riseth to be a sturdy man, and after awhile becometh a massy giant, whom we shall scarce dare to encounter, whom we shall be very hardly able to vanquish; especially seeing that as it groweth taller and stouter, so we shall dwindle and prove more impotent, for it feedeth upon our vitals, and thriveth by our decay; it waxeth mighty by stripping us of our best forces, by enfeebling our reason, by perverting our will, by corrupting our temper, by debasing our courage, by seducing all our appetites and passions to a treacherous compliance with itself: every day our mind groweth more blind, our will more resty, our spirit more faint, our passions more headstrong and untamable; the power and empire of sin do strangely by degrees encroach, and continually get ground upon us, till it hath quite subdued and enthralled us. First we learn to bear it; then we come to like it; by and by we contract a friendship with it; then we dote upon it; at last we become enslaved to it in a bondage, which we shall hardly be able, or willing, to shake off; when not only our necks are fitted to the yoke, our hands are manacled, and our feet shackled thereby, but our heads and hearts do conspire in a base submission thereto, when vice hath made such impression on us, when this pernicious weed hath take so deep root in our mind, will, and affection, it will demand an extremely toilsome labour to extirpate it.--_Barrow,_ 1630-1677.

Repentance is entirely in God's disposal. This grace is in the soul from God, as light is in the air from the sun, by continual emanation; so that God may shut or open His hands, contract or diffuse, set forth or suspend the influences of it as He pleases. And if God gives not repenting grace, there will be a hard heart and a dry eye, maugre all the poor frustraneous endeavours of nature. A piece of brass may as easily melt, or a flint bewater itself, as the heart of man, by any innate power of its own, resolve itself into a penitential humiliation. If God does not, by an immediate blow of His omnipotence, strike the rock, these waters will never gush out. The Spirit blows where it listeth, and if that blows not, these showers can never fall.

And now, if the matter stands so, how does the impenitent sinner know but that God, being provoked by his present impenitence, may irrevocably propose within Himself to seal up these fountains, and shut him up under hardness of heart and reprobation of sense? And then farewell all thoughts of repentance for ever.--_South,_ 1633-1716.


i. 16. _Cease to do evil._

One of the pretexts by which wicked men endeavour to excuse their neglect of religion is, that many of the doctrines of the Bible are mysterious. They are so necessarily, and that they are so is one proof that the Bible is from God. But however mysterious the doctrines of Scripture may be, its precepts are plain enough. How plain is the command of our text! No man can even pretend that he does not understand it. If he does not obey it, he will not be able to plead that it is beyond his comprehension. We have--+I. A universal requirement.+ Certain of the precepts of Scripture concern only certain classes of individuals (sovereigns, subjects, husbands, wives, &c.), but this command concerns us all. Your name is written above it, and it is a message for _you._ +II. A most reasonable requirement.+ It is wrong that needs justification, not right. The worst man in the community will admit that he _ought_ to "cease to do evil." And he _can,_ if he will, not in his own strength, but in that which God is ever ready to impart to every man who desires to turn from sin. And not only ought and can men "cease to do evil," it will be to their advantage to do so. Sin has its "pleasures," but they are but "for a season," and they are succeeded by pains and penalties so intense that the pleasures will be altogether forgotten. To exhort men to "cease to do evil," is to exhort them to cease laying the foundation for future misery.[1] On every ground, therefore, this is a most reasonable requirement. +III. A comprehensive requirement.+ It is not from certain forms of evil, merely, but from evil in all its forms, that we are required to abstain. "Cease to do _evil!_"[2] Sin must be utterly forsaken! not great and flagrant sins only, but also what are called "little sins."[3] These destroy more than great sins.[4] One sin is enough to keep us enslaved to Satan.[5] +IV. An imperative requirement.+ This is not a counsel, which we are at liberty to accept or reject; it is a command, which we disobey at our peril; a command of One who has full power to make His authority respected. +V. A very elementary requirement.+ Men who have laid aside certain evil habits, such as drunkenness, swearing, &c., are apt to plume themselves on what they have done, and to regard themselves as paragons of virtue. But this is a mistake. Ceasing to do evil is but the beginning of a better life; it is but the pulling up of the weeds in a garden, and much more than this is needed before "a garden" can be worthy of the name. Those who have ceased to do evil must "learn to do well."[6]


[1] As where punishment is there was sin; so where sin is there will be, there must be, punishment. "If thou dost ill," saith God to Cain, "sin lies at thy door" (Gen. iv. 7). _Sin,_ that is _punishment_ for sin; they are so inseparable, that one word implies both; for the doing ill is the sin, that is within doors; but the suffering ill is the punishment, and that lies like a fierce mastiff at the door, and is ready to fly in our throat when we look forth, and, if it do not then seize upon us, yet it dogs us at the heels; and will be sure to fasten upon us at our greatest disadvantage: _Tum gravior cùm tarda venit, &c._ Joseph's brethren had done heinously ill: what becomes of their sin? It makes no noise, but follows them slily and silently in the wilderness: It follows them home to their father's house; it follows them into Egypt. All this while there is no news of it; but when it found them cooped up three days in Pharaoh's ward, now it bays at them, and flies in their faces. "We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul," &c. (Gen. xlii. 21).

What should I instance in that, whereof not Scripture, not books, but the whole world, is full--the inevitable sequences of sin and punishment? Neither can it be otherwise "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" saith Abraham. _Right,_ is to give every one his due: wages is due to work; now "the wages of sin is death:" So then, it stands upon no less ground than very necessary and essential justice to God, that where wickedness hath led the way, there punishment must follow.--_Hall,_ 1574-1656.

[2] There may be a forsaking of a particular sin that has been delightful and predominant without sincerity towards God, for another lust may have got possession of the heart, and take the throne. There is an alternate succession of appetites in the corrupt nature, according to the change of men's temper or interests in the world. As seeds sown in that order in a garden, that 'tis always full of a succession of fruits and herbs in season; so original sin that is sown in our nature is productive of divers lusts, some in the spring, others in the summer of our age, some in the autumn, others in the winter. Sensual lusts flourish in youth, but when mature age has cooled these desires, worldly lusts succeed; in old age there is no relish for sensuality, but covetousness reigns imperiously. Now he that expels one sin and entertains another continues in a state of sin; 'tis but exchanging one familiar for another; or, to borrow the prophet's expression, "'Tis as one should fly from a lion, and meet with a bear that will as certainly devour him."--_Salter._

[3] Thou dost not hate sin if thou only hatest some one sin. All iniquity will be distasteful in thy sight if God the Holy Spirit has really made them to loathe iniquity. If it say to a person, "I will not receive you into my house when you come dressed in such a coat;" but if I open the door to him when he has on another suit which is more respectable, it is evident that my objection was not to the person, but to his clothes. If a man will not cheat when the transaction is open to the world, but will do so in a more secret way, or in a kind of adulteration which is winked at in the trade, the man does not hate cheating, he only hates that kind of it which is sure to be found out; he likes the thing itself very well. Some sinners, they say they hate sin. Not at all; sin in its essence is pleasing enough, it is only a glaring shape of it which they dislike.--_Spurgeon._

If we would realise the full force of the term "hatred of evil," as it ought to exist in all, as it would exist in a perfectly righteous man, we shall do well to consider how sensitive we are to natural evil in its every form to pain and suffering and misfortune. How delicately is the physical frame of man constructed, and how keenly is that slightest derangement in any part of it felt! A little mote in the eye, hardly discernible by the eye of another, the swelling of a small gland, the deposit of a small grain of sand, what agonies may these slight causes inflict! That fine filament of nerves of feeling spread like a wonderful network of gossamer over the whole surface of the body, how exquisitely susceptible is it! A trifling burn, or scald, or incision, how does it cause the member affected to be drawn back suddenly, and the patient to cry out! Now there can be no question that if man were in a perfectly moral state, moral evil would affect his mind as sensibly and in as lively a manner--would, in short, be as much of an affliction to him, as pain is to his physical frame. He would shrink and snatch himself away, as sin came near to his consciousness, the first entrance of it into his imagination would wound and arouse his moral sensibilities, and make him positively unhappy.--_Goulburn._

[4] The worst sin is not some outburst of gross transgression, forming an exception to the ordinary tenor of life, bad and dismal as such a sin is; but the worst and most fatal are the small continuous vices which root underground and honeycomb the soul. Many a man who thinks himself a Christian is in more danger from the daily commission, for example, of small pieces of sharp practice in his business, than ever was David at his worst. White ants pick a carcase clean sooner than a lion will.--_Maclaren._

[5] As an eagle, though she enjoy her wings and beak, is wholly prisoner if she be held but by one talon, so are we, though we could be delivered of all habit of sin, in bondage still, if vanity hold us but by a silken thread.--_Donne,_ 1573-1631.

Ships, when the tide rises and sets strongly in any direction, sometimes turn and seem as if they would go out upon it. But they only head that way, and move from side to side, swaying and swinging without moving on at all. There seems to be nothing to hinder them from sailing and floating out to sea; but there is something. Down under the water a great anchor lies buried in the mud. The ship cannot escape. The anchor holds her. And thus are men holden by the cords of their own sins. They go about trying to discover some way to be forgiven, but yet keep good friends with the devil that is in them.--_Beecher._

[6] Thou hast laid down the commission of an evil, but hast thou taken up thy known duty? He is a bad husbandman that drains his ground, and then neither sows nor plants it. It's all one if it had been under water as drained and not improved. What if thou cease to do evil (if it were possible) and thou learn'st not to do well? 'Tis not thy fields being clear of weeds, but fruitful in corn, pays the rent, and brings thee in thy profit; nor thy not being drunk, unclean, or any other sin, but thy being holy, gracious, thy having faith unfeigned, pure love, and the other graces which will prove thee sound, and bring in evidence for thy interest in Christ, and through Him of heaven.--_Gurnell,_ 1617-1679.


i. 17. _Learn to do well._

Negative goodness is not enough to meet the Divine requirements. Those who have "ceased to do evil" must "learn to do well." God demands positive excellence.[1] The cultivation of well-doing is the surest guarantee against evil-doing.[2]

+I. Well-doing is a thing to be learned.+ We have been too prone to look at it in its other aspect only, as a thing springing from faith and love, not as a thing to be cultivated. But see Phil. iv. 9; 1 Tim. v. 4; Titus iii. 14; Matt. xi. 29; Heb. v. 3 All _experience_ is in accordance with the teaching of these texts. Has any case occurred in which at the beginning of the Christian life a person was proficient in well-doing? Men are not born into the Christian life with a perfect capacity to _do_ well, any more than they are born into the natural life with a perfect capacity to _speak_ well. Conversion is a beginning, not an ending.[3] We then begin to learn the standards, methods, opportunities, and practice of excellence. In the hour of conversion we do but pass into Christ's school, and begin to be His _disciples._ Well-doing is not to be learned in one lesson, nor in six lessons. [_Illustration:_ frequent advertisement, "French in six lessons." Absurd!] It was only after a prolonged training and most varied discipline that St. Paul could say, "I have _learned_ in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Is _that_ a lesson to be acquired in a day? Let our own hearts supply further proof. Look within, and see the evils yet unsubdued, the excellences yet unattained, the difficulty with which many a duty is discharged, and you will see the necessity of _learning_ to do well. We have _learned_ to do well only when it has become a _habit_ to us, when we do it as easily and naturally as a well-trained merchant's clerk adds up a column of figures correctly. But can any _habit_ be acquired without prolonged practice?[4]

+II. Well-doing is learned much in the same way as other things are learned.+ Learning a language involves study, patience, perseverance, practice. Not otherwise can we learn to do well.[5]

+III. In learning to do well, we need both inspiration and help.+ We have both; the _inspiration_ in the example of our Lord (Acts x. 38; Heb. xii. 2); the _help_ in the gracious assistance of the Holy Ghost (Rom. viii. 26). Therefore, difficult as the task is, we may address ourselves to it with good hope of success.--_William Jones._


[1] All the religion of some men runs upon _nots._ "I am not as this publican." That ground is nought, though it brings not forth briars and thorns, if it yieldeth not good increase. Not only the unruly servant (Matt. xxiv. 48, 49) is cast into hell, but also the _idle_ servant (Matt. xxv. 30). Meroz is cursed not for opposing and fighting, but for not helping. Dives did not take away food from Lazarus, but he did not give him any of his crumbs. "I set up no other gods;" ay, but dost thou reverence and obey the true God? "I do not profane the Sabbath." Dost thou sanctify it? Thou dost not wrong thy parents; but dost thou reverence them? Thou dost not murder; but dost thou do good to thy neighbour? Usually men cut off half of their bill, as the unjust steward bade the man who owed a hundred set down fifty. We do not think of sins of omission. If we are no drunkards, adulterers, and profane persons, we do not think what it is to omit respects to God, not to reverence His holy majesty, not to delight in Him and His ways.--_Monton,_ 1620-1667.

[2] Fighting faults is the most discouraging thing in the world. When corn reaches a certain height, no more weeds can grow among it. The corn overshadows and grows them down. Let men fill themselves full of good things. Let them make their love and purity and kindness grow up like corn, that every evil and noxious thing within them may be overshadowed and die.--_Beecher._

[3] No man is born into the full Christian character, any more than he is born into the character of a man when he comes into the world. A man at conversion is in the state of one who has just come in to the possession of an old homestead. He had the title, and he can make for himself a beautiful home. But the dust, the dirt, and the cobwebs of years choke all the rooms, and must be cleared away. Many sills and beams are rotten, and must be replaced by new ones. Chambers must be refitted, walls newly plastered, the whole roof must be searched over, and every leak stopped. There must be a thorough cleansing and repair before the mansion is habitable; and when all this is done, it is only _an empty house_ that the man has. The same kind of thing that man has _who has trained himself into freedom from wrong, without having become faithful in right deeds._--_Beecher._

[4] Character is consolidated habit, and habit forms itself by repeated action. Habits are like paths beaten hard and clear by the multitude of light footsteps which go to and fro. The daily restraint or indulgence of the nature, in the business, in the hope, in the imagination, which is the inner laboratory of the life, creates the character which, whether it be here or there, settles the destiny.--_J. Baldwin Brown._

[5] It is not great, or special, or extraordinary experiences which constitute in the best sense the _religious_ character. It is the uniform daily walk with God, serving Him in little things as well as great--in the ordinary duties and everyday avocations, as well as in the midst of grave and eventful contingencies. As the sublimest symphony is made up of separate single notes;--as the wealth of the cornfield is made up of separate stalks, or rather of separate grains;--as the magnificent texture, with its gorgeous combinations of colour, is made up of individual threads;--as the mightiest avalanche that ever came thundering down from its Alpine throne, uprooting villages and forests, is made up of tiny snowflakes;--so it is with the spiritual life. That life is itself the grandest illustration of the power of littles. Character is the product of daily, hourly actions, words, thoughts; daily forgivenesses, unselfishnesses, kindnesses, sympathies, charities, sacrifices for the good of others, struggles against temptations, submissiveness under trial. Oh it is these, like the blending colours in a picture, or the blending notes of music, which constitute the man.--_Macduff._


i. 17. _Learn to do well._

+I. To do well is a thing that requires to be learned.+ 1. _It does not come to us naturally,_ as breathing and sleeping do. That which comes to us naturally is to do evil. This is manifest in every child: it needs no teaching to do evil, but it needs a great deal of teaching before it will habitually do well. Nor does proficiency in well-doing come to us even with our new birth. Then come new desires after righteousness, but the knowledge and practice of righteousness have to be learned.[1] At our new birth we are _born_ "babes in Christ:" manhood in Christ is reached only by _growth._[2] 2. _It is not a thing we acquire unconsciously,_ as infants learn to see and hear, or as older persons acquire the accent of the country in which they reside, or as invalids gain health at the seaside. Living in a religious atmosphere will not of itself make us religious, nor will mere companionship with good men. Association with artists will not of itself make a man an artist; and association with Christians will not of itself make any man a Christian. Judas was in constant association with Christ himself for more than three years, and at the end of that period, instead of doing well, he committed he foulest of all crimes. To do well is an _art,_ and, like every other art, it can be mastered only by deliberate efforts of the will.[3] This is the testimony both of _Scripture_ and _experience._ (See preceding outline.)

+II. To do well is a thing that may be learned.+ Not all persons, however earnest their desires or persevering their efforts, can become poets, painters, statesman, orators. But to do well is an art in which all regenerate persons may become proficient, some with greater ease than others, but to none is the task impossible. There is no vice which a regenerate man may not lay aside, no excellence to which he may not attain.

+III. To do well is a thing that must be learned.+ It is an imperative demand which God makes upon all His people. We cannot satisfy it by "ceasing to do evil." It is not enough for the "branches" of the True Vine not to bring forth "wild grapes;" they must bear _fruit_--_much_ fruit--to the glory of the Husbandman (John xv. 8). Not only must Christ's followers be "blameless," they must be _conspicuous_ for excellence. "Let your _light_ so SHINE before men that they may _see_ your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." These truths being settled in our minds, let us ask ourselves.

+IV. How this noblest of arts may be acquired.+ 1. _By setting before ourselves, and carefully studying, the noblest models._ Thus do those who would become proficient in other arts: music, painting, sculpture, architecture, &c. Now the great Master in the art of well-doing was our Lord Jesus Christ: we must therefore study Him and His works. But as it is often a help to the discovery of the secrets of a great master's excellences to study the works of his disciples, as thus our attention is sometimes directed to points we might otherwise overlook, and as by the contrast between him and them, even when they have done their best, we get a clearer view of his transcendent power--so it will be helpful to us to study the character of Christ's noblest disciples,[4]--always, however, coming back to the study of _His_ character, remembering that we shall succeed in doing well only in proportion as we become like _Him._ 2. _By becoming imbued with the principles by which the great masters in this art were animated._ Mere mechanical imitation is always a poor thing, and often a grotesque and pitiable thing; because circumstances are continually varying. What kind of an English home would the most exact reproduction of the most beautiful of all classic villas be? The architect who forgot that the climate of England is not like that of Rome or Athens would be accounted a fool. Yet many professed imitators of Christ have fallen into a similar mistake; they have imitated merely the outward circumstances of His life, and have forgotten that the essential thing it to have "the _mind_ that was in Christ." When we have _that,_ all else will follow as a matter of course. Now the great principle which governed Christ and His noblest disciples was love--love to God and man: a _docile_ love, which did not seek to please God in _its_ way, but in _His_ way, and evermore searched the Scriptures to discover upon what things God looks with delight. 3. _By patient and persevering endeavours to embody in our practice the truths we have thus discovered._ Only by such endeavours can the mastery in any art be won. 4. _By fidelity in little things._ The master's ease is reached only by the student's painstaking--by his careful endeavour to be _right_ in each individual note, line, shade, stroke, word. It is _thus,_ and thus only, that the _habit_ of doing well is gained.

+V. Let us remember certain things for our own encouragement.+ 1. _We are not left to learn this art alone:_ we have the constant help of the most reasonable, patient, and successful of all teachers. We are disciples of _Christ._ How much that means! He does not expect us to become proficients in a few lessons. He remembers that the most advanced of us are only little children in His great school. If He sees in us the earnest _desire_ and the resolute _endeavour_ to learn, He is well satisfied.[5] He will most carefully adapt His methods of instruction to our individual capacity. He will lead us on to the goal step by step. Already in countless thousands of instances He has dealt successfully with most intractable materials: scholars who seemed hopelessly dull and inapt He has so instructed that they have passed the great examination that awaits us all at death; and they are now carrying on their studies in the great university of heaven. 2. _In no other art does progress bring so much happiness:_ the testimony of a good conscience; consciousness of the approval of God; a pleasant retrospect, brightening hopes. 3. _In no other art does proficiency ensure such rich rewards._ Proficiency in any other art can but win for us the honours and joys of earth; proficiency in this will secure for us the honours and joys of heaven. It is one great doctrine of Scripture, that we are _saved_ through our faith: it is another, that we are _rewarded_ according to our works.


[1] The process of being born again is like that which a portrait goes through under the hand of the artist. When a man is converted, he is but the outline sketch of a character which he is to fill up. He first lays in the dead colouring. Then come the work of laying in the colours, and he goes on, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, blending them, and heightening the effect. It is a life's work; and when he dies he is still laying in and blending the colours, and heightening the effect. And if men suppose the work is done when they are converted, why should we expect anything but lopsided Christian character?--_Beecher._

Who starts up a finished Christian? The very best men come from their graves, like Lazarus, "bound with grave-clothes,"--not like Jesus, who left the death-dress behind Him; and, alas! in their remaining corruptions all carry some of these cerements about with them, nor drop them but at the gate of heaven.--_Guthrie._

[2] God deals in spiritual proceedings, as in natural, to extremes by the mean. We are not born old men; but first an infant, then a man, then old. We are conceived of immortal seed, born of the Spirit, so go on to perfection. There is first a seed, then a plant, then a tree. We go not at one jump into heaven, nor at one stroke kill the enemy.--_Adams,_ 1643.

[3] Cast a sponge into water, and, the fluid filling its empty cells, it swells out before our eyes, increases more and more. There is no effort here, and could be none; for though once a living animal, the sponge is now dead and dry. But it is not as sponges fill with water, nor to use a Scripture figure often employed, and sometimes misapplied, as Gideon's fleece was filled with dews, that God's people are replenished with His grace. More is needed than simply to bring ourselves in contact with ordinances, to read the Bible, to repair on Sabbath to Church, to sit down in communion seasons at the Lord's table.--_Guthrie._

[4] God hath provided and recommended to us one example as a perfect standard of good practice--the example of our Lord. That indeed is the most universal, absolute, and assured pattern; yet doth it not supersede the use of other examples. Not only the valour and conduct of the general, but those of inferior officers, yea the resolution of common soldiers, doth serve to animate their fellows. The stars have their season to guide us as well as the sun; especially when our eyes are so weak as hardly to bear the day. Even considering our infirmity, inferior examples by their imperfection sometimes have a peculiar advantage. Our Lord's most imitable practice did proceed from an immense virtue of Divine grace which we cannot arrive to; it is in itself so perfect and high, that we may not ever reach it: looking upon it may therefore sometimes dazzle and discourage our weakness. But other good men had assistance in measure such as we may hope to approach unto; they were subject to the difficulties which we feel; they were exposed to the perils of falling which we fear; we may therefore hope to march on in a reasonable distance after them; we may, by help of the same grace, come near in transcribing their less exact copy.--_Barrow,_ 1630-1677.

[5] Gotthold observed a boy in a writing-school eyeing attentively the line placed before him, and labouring to write with equal correctness and beauty. Mark, said he to the bystanders, how all perfection is the offspring of imperfection, and how by frequent mistakes we learn to do well. It is not required of this boy that his penmanship shall equal that of the line. He satisfies his master by the pains he takes; for these are a ground of hope that he will progressively improve, and at last learn to write with rapidity and elegance. We also have a pattern to copy. It has been left us by the Lord Jesus Christ, and is His most perfect and holy life. And think not that He extracts more from us than the teacher does from the pupil. No, indeed; if He find us carefully studying His example, and diligent in our endeavours to imitate it, He exercises forbearance towards our faults, and by His grace and Spirit daily strengthens us to amend.--_Scriver,_ 1629-1693.


i. 17. _Relieve the oppressed._

Religion means sympathy with man in his oppressed condition. The truth alone can give men freedom. +I. The oppressed.+ 1. _There are those oppressed by sinful habits._ Many men are their own tyrants. They build their own prison, make their own fetters, and whip themselves. Their oppression is the consequence of their sin. Such are to be relieved, however little they may appear to desire or deserve it, by the compassion of the good. 2. _There are those oppressed by commercial difficulty._ There are many men whose commercial life is one continual struggle to get on, and to provide those things honest in the sight of the world. They have small capital. Fortune seems against them. They are active, but they do not succeed. Such ought to be relieved by the generous consideration of the good. 3. _There are those oppressed by domestic misfortune._ The wife has lost her husband. The children have buried their parents. They are out alone in the wide world. They are liable to the thoughtless but stern oppression of men. Such must be relieved by the good. 4. _There are those oppressed by religious bigotry._ There are many great souls who are larger than a sect, oppressed by the conventionally orthodox. They are driven from their pulpits. They are excommunicated from their synagogue. They need the relief of true sympathy. +II. Their relief.+ 1. _By personal sympathy._[1] Genuine sympathy is always a relief to an oppressed[2] It heals the soul and lightens the burden.[3] A kind word, a cheering look, is welcome to the oppressed. 2. _By intelligent advocacy._ The cause of the oppressed should be advocated where it is likely to be redressed. Politics can be employed in no higher ministry than in seeking the relief of the oppressed. 3. _By practical help._ Sympathy must not be substituted for personal and self-denying help. Words are well; smiles are welcome; but personal help is the most effective to the removal of oppression.--_J. S. Exell._


[1] We are all sons of one Father, members of one body, and heirs of one kingdom, in respect of which near-linking together there should be compassion and sympathy betwixt us. If one member do but grieve, all suffer with it. When a thorn is got into the foot, how is it that the back bows, the eyes pry into the hurt, and the hands are busied to pluck out the cause of the anguish? And we, being members of one another, should bear with and forbear one the other, the not doing whereof will stick as a brand upon our souls that we are of the number of them that have forsaken the fear of the Almighty.--_Spencer,_ 1658.

[2] Certain it is, that nothing can better do it, so there is nothing greater, for which God made our tongues, next to reciting His praises, than to minister comfort to a weary soul. And what greater pleasure can we have than that we should bring joy to our brother, who, with his dreary eyes, looks to heaven and round about, and cannot find so much rest as to lay his eyelids close together, than that thy tongue should be tuned with heavenly accents, and make the weary soul to listen for light and ease; and when he perceives that there is such a thing in the world, and in the order of things as comfort and joy, to begin to break out from the prison of his sorrows, at the door of sighs and tears, and, by little and little, melts into showers and refreshment? This is glory to thy voice and employment fit for the brightest angel. But so have I seen the sun kiss the frozen earth, which was bound up with images of death, and the colder breath of the north; and then the waters break from their enclosures, and melt with joy, and run in useful channels; and the flies do rise again from their little graves in the walls, and dance awhile in the air, to tell that there is joy within, and that the great mother of creatures will open the stock of her new refreshment, become useful to mankind, and sing praises to her Redeemer: so is the heart of a sorrowful man under the discourses of a wise comforter; he breaks from the despairs of the grave, and the fetters and chains of sorrow; he blesses God, and he blesses thee, and he feels his life returning: for to be miserable is death, but nothing is life but to be comforted: and God is pleased with no music from below so much as in the thanksgiving songs of relieved widows, of supported orphans, of rejoicing and comforted and thankful persons.--_Jeremy Taylor,_ 1612-1667.

[3] Till we have reflected on it, we are scarcely aware how much the sum of human happiness in the world is indebted to this one feeling--sympathy. We get cheerfulness, and vigour, we scarcely know how or when, from mere association with our fellow-men; and from the looks reflected on us of gladness and enjoyment we catch inspiration and power to go on, from human presence and from cheerful looks. The workman works with added energy from having others by. The full family circle has a strength and a life peculiarly its own. The substantial good and the effectual relief which men extend to one another is trifling. It is not by these, but by something far less costly, that the work is done. God has ensured it by a much more simple machinery. He has given to the weakest and the poorest power to contribute largely to the common stock of gladness. The child's smile and laugh are mighty powers in this world. When bereavement has left you desolate, what substantial benefit is there which makes condolence acceptable? It cannot replace the loved ones you have lost. It can bestow upon you nothing permanent. But a warm hand has touched yours, and its thrill told you that there was a living response there to your emotion. One look, one human sigh, has done more for you than the costliest present could convey.--_Robertson,_ 1816-1853.


i. 17. _Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow._

This verse is more correctly translated thus--_"Learn to do well; seek judgment, restrain the oppressor, right the fatherless, maintain the cause of the widow."_--or, _"Learn to do good; seek out judgment, redress wrong, judge the fatherless, befriend the widow."_

The form of these admonitions was determined by the sins of which the rulers of Jerusalem had been guilty. By them the course of justice had been perverted (ver. 23; Micah iii. 11, &c.); wrongs had been left unredressed, and oppressors unrestrained; the orphans and the widows, having neither money to bribe nor power to overawe the corrupt judges, had sought in vain for justice,--such judges as our Lord has depicted in His parable (Luke xviii. 2) were common. The four specific admonitions of this verse are a divinely-inspired exposition of the general admonition with which it commences. So regarded, we find it in _God's ideal of goodness._ The command is given, "Learn to do well." Yes, but what is meant by learning to do well? "To do well," says the prophet, is "to seek out judgment, to restrain the oppressor, to judge the fatherless, to befriend the widow."

This Divine ideal of goodness is in startling opposition to certain standards of excellence widely accepted both in the Church and in the world. It is in opposition (1) to the idea that _a good man is one who does no harm._ How prevalent is the notion that a man who refrains from injuring his neighbours is a person worthy of high commendation! But to do no harm merely is to fall far short of the Scripture standard of excellence.[1] It is in opposition (2) to the idea that _a man who confines himself to the cultivation of personal virtues is a true follower of Christ._ In all our Churches there are multitudes of persons whose "religion" is a purely selfish consideration. They have been taught that certain excellences are necessary to qualify them for admission to heaven, and to the cultivation of these excellences they address themselves assiduously, merely that they may secure their own eternal well-being. But such persons fail to observe that the mind that was in Christ was not a spirit of self-seeking but of self-sacrifice. It is in opposition (3) to the idea that _the more spiritual a man is, the more indifferent he will be to what happens in the world._ It is precisely to concern as to what happens in the world that we are here called. We are to "seek out justice," to use all our influence that justice and righteousness shall prevail in the community in which we dwell. We are not simply to mourn over wrongs; we are to redress them, and we are to restrain the oppressors. Especially are we to see to it that justice is done to the orphans, and to all helpless ones such as they. The widow we are to befriend; she is to be our "client," and we are to see to it that she is not wronged because God has been pleased to remove her natural defender. To live thus for others, to be the friend of the friendless, the defender of the weak, the resolute opposer of all oppressors,--this and this only, is to realise the Divine ideal of goodness.[2]

APPLICATION.--1. _Men are good precisely in proportion as they are like God._[3] Between a merely "harmless" man and God there is no resemblance. Between a man who lives only to secure his own well-being and God there is a positive contrast. Between a man who is indifferent to the sorrows and the wrongs of his fellow-men there is still greater contrast. He is not indifferent to what takes place on earth. It is His supreme glory that He burns with indignation against oppression, and that He is the friend especially of the friendless and the weak (Ps. cxlvi. 7-9; cxlvii. 2-6). It is to resemblance to Him in these things, and not merely in abstinence from evil, that we are called (James i. 27). 2. _A selfish life is a godless life._ Men may be eminently respectable members of society, and highly esteemed members of churches, and yet be utterly unlike God. Men who live only for themselves, or to promote the happiness merely of their own households, and selfishly decline to take any part in philanthropic labours, or in social and political movements which have for their object the removal of public wrongs, are utterly out of sympathy with Him upon whose approval they reckon so confidently and so mistakenly. Had they any true love for God, they would have an unselfish love for men, and would be quick to feel and to resent the wrongs that are done them (1 John iii. 14, &c.) Dives was probably a highly respectable citizen of Jerusalem, and on good terms with the authorities of the temple, but the selfishness of his life sufficed at the last to exclude him from the Divine presence.[4] 3. _A godlike life can never be a life of ease._ How many members of our churches have incurred Christ's woe! (Luke vi. 26). Prudent men, they have been careful never to "meddle" in affairs of their neighbours; they have never identified themselves with any revolutionary movements; against wrongs which have not troubled themselves they have never uttered words of flaming indignation! And yet they imagine themselves to be followers of Him who spoke of "the cross" which each of His disciples would have to carry. What He meant by this saying is a mystery to them. But let them begin to endeavour to "learn to do well" and this saying of His will be a mystery to them no longer. The world will very soon hate them even as it hated Him. But this is one of the surest signs that we are His (John xv. 18, 19).


[1] He is not half a saint who is but a negative saint. The forbearance of gross corruptions is the easiest and least part of religion, and therefore will not speak any man in a state of salvation. The tree that is barren and without good fruit is for the fire, as well as the tree that brings forth evil fruit.

For men to think to excuse themselves that they do no hurt, wrong neither man, woman, or child, and are not, as the Pharisee said, as the publicans, who generally were oppressors, it but a vain, foolish thing. The idle servant might have said, "Lord, I did no harm with my talent; I did not lay it out in rioting and drunkenness, or any way to Thy dishonour; I only hid it, and did not improve it,"--yet this was enough to condemn him. Can we call ground good ground for bearing no weeds, if it never bring forth good corn? Or do we count that servant a good servant who doth not wrong his master in the estate by purloining or wasting it, if he live idle all day, and neglect the business his master appoints him?--_Swinnock,_ 1673.

[2] A religion that does not take hold of the life that now is, is like a cloud that does not rain. A cloud may roll in grandeur, and be an object of admiration, but if it does not rain, it is of little account so far as utility is concerned. And a religion that consists in the observance of magnificent ceremonies, but that does not touch the duties of daily life, is a religion of show and of sham.--_Beecher._

[3] To be godly is to be godlike. The full accord of all the soul with His character, in whom, as their native home, dwell "whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely," and the full conformity of the will to His sovereign will, who is the life of our lives--this, and nothing shallower, nothing narrower, is religion in its perfection, and the measure in which we have attained to this harmony with God is the measure in which we are Christians. As two stringed instruments may be so tuned to one keynote that if you strike the one, a faint ethereal echo is heard from the other, which blends undistinguishably with its parent sound; so drawing near to God, and brought into unison with His mind and will, our responsive spirits vibrate in accord with His, and give forth tones, low and thin indeed, but still repeating the mighty music of heaven.--_Maclaren._

[4] They are selfish--because they have no motive of action beyond themselves. They individualise existence. The spider weaves a web, and that is its world. It retires into its corner for observation, and has no concern for any surrounding objects, except as they may be caught upon its net, and appropriated to its use. So they who live without God reticulate life with selfishness. Nothing concerns them except as it may be drawn into the mesh of scheming for ministering to their own wants and wishes.--_Bellew._


i. 18. _Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool._

It is scarcely possible to conceive of a more interesting and delightful exhibition of the love and mercy of God than is presented to us in these words; unless they had been found in the volume of eternal truth, we might have justly doubted their veracity. For the speaker is Jehovah, a Being infinitely happy and glorious in Himself. He needs not, on His own account, the return of the sinner to Himself. Besides, He is the offended party. How marvellous, then, that He should stoop to ask reconciliation with poor wretched man, the rebel and traitor against heaven. Notice--+I. The characters addressed.+ Not such as excel in moral excellency, but in the vilest and most degraded of sinners. How apt we are to think that such are past reclamation. Yet it is to these that the invitation of our text is addressed--those whose sins are as scarlet and crimson. This description includes--1. _Those whose sins are glaring and manifest._ In the heart of men there is much evil that man or angel never sees. External circumstances act in the moral world as the shore to the ocean, limiting and bounding its waters. The control thus exerted upon men is well for them, for society, and for the Church. But numbers cast it off, sin in open day, and glory in their shame. Their sins are as scarlet or as crimson. 2. _Those whose iniquities are specially productive of much evil and misery_--ringleaders in sin; ridiculers of piety, who labour to throng the road to hell; ungodly masters; ungodly heads of households, &c. 3. _Those who have sinned against great privileges and mercies_ (Matt. xi. 20-24). As it is with nations and cities, so it is with individuals.[1] How many have had privileges of a high character--pious parents, religious society, a faithful ministry, special providences, &c. 4. _Backsliders,_ who by their fall have hardened others in iniquity, and caused them to scoff at religion. 5. _Aged transgressors._ +II. The invitation presented.+ "Come and let us reason," &c. He wishes to have your state and condition tested by reason. He gives you opportunities of self-defence; He is willing to hear all your motives, arguments, &c. Now, will you come to God, and reason with Him? What will you say? 1. _You cannot plead ignorance._ You have seen the evil of your way, and yet have chosen it. 2. _You cannot plead necessity._ The Jews of old declared that they were not free agents, and that they could not help committing the sins of which they were guilty (Jer. vii. 10). This is the grossest self-deception. It cannot be the will of God that you should do evil (1 Thess. iv. 3; James i. 13; 1 Pet. i. 16). To attribute our sins to Him is the most outrageous impiety. You have sinned freely; it has been your own act and choice. 3. _You must plead guilty._ Cast yourself on the mercy of God, pleading guilty, you shall not be condemned, if--4. _You plead the merits of Christ._ He is "the propitiation for our sin." Here is your hope, your plea. In availing yourself of this plea, all that God requires is repentance and faith. +III. The gracious promise.+--_Jabez Burns, D.D., Pulpit Cyclopædia,_ iii. 161-165.


[1] All our sins are of a "crimson" dye, for remember, it is not needful to have steeped our hands in a brother's blood to make our guilt "scarlet." God measures sins by privileges. One evil thought in one man is as much as a thousand crimes in another man.--_Vaughan._


i. 18. _Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool._

We are informed by the Rabbins that the high priest bound a scarlet fillet round the neck of the scapegoat, and that when the priest confessed his own sins and the sins of the people, the fillet became white if the atonement was accepted by God, but that if it was not accepted, the fillet remained scarlet still. The Rabbins further say that the goat was led about twelve furlongs out of Jerusalem where it was thrown down a precipice, and was mangled to atoms by the fall. In case of the sacrifice being received by Heaven, a scarlet ribbon which hung at the door of the temple changed from scarlet to pure white. They affirm that it is to this changing of the fillet and ribbon from scarlet to white that Isaiah refers in our text. While we regard these as fictions, and not as facts, they serve to illustrate the nature and greatness of the change spoken of in it. +I. Scarlet and crimson represent sins of excessive and glaring notoriety.+ 1. The soul has been steeped in the dyeing element. 2. It has carried away as much of the dyeing quality as it can hold. It is twice dipped in the dye-vat. 3. The sins glare and arrest the eye like scarlet in the sun. As the uniform of the British soldier is most conspicuous, so these sins glare in the eye (1) of society, (2) of conscience, (3) of Divine justice. +II. Scarlet and crimson symbolise the fast and permanent hold of these sins upon the soul.+ 1. The sins are not a _stain_ but a _dye._ 2. The sins are not superficial: they have penetrated into the fabric, every thread of which has been dyed. The faculties are the threads: the whole man the web. 3. The sins are not typified by _any_ dye, but by _scarlet_ and _crimson,_ which are as permanent as the fabric they colour. They resist sun, dew, rain, the wash. +III. Scarlet and crimson becoming white as snow represents the perfect removal of the greatest sins.+ The colouring element is removed. The soul is _restored._ The power that removes the sin yet saves the soul. _Application._--There is hope, then, even for the vilest. The most desperately sinful need not despair.[1]--_J. Stirling._


[1] In nature there is hardly a stone that is not capable of crystallising into something purer and brighter than its normal state. Coal, by a slightly different arrangement of its particles, is capable of becoming the radiant diamond. The slag cast out from the furnace as useless waste forms into globular masses of radiating crystals. From tar and pitch the loveliest colours are now manufactured. The very mud of the road, trampled under foot as the type of all impurity, can be changed by chemical art into metals and gems of surpassing beauty; and so the most unpromising materials, the most worthless moral rubbish that man cast out and despise, may be converted by the Divine alchemy into the gold of the sanctuary, and made jewels fit for the mediatorial crown of the Redeemer. Let the case of Mary Magdalene, of John Newton, of John Bunyan, of thousands more, encourage those who are still in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity. Seek to be subjected to the same purifying process; lay yourselves open to the same spiritual influences; yield yourselves up into the hands of the Spirit to become His finished and exquisite workmanship; seek diligently a saving and sanctifying union with Christ by faith, and He will perfect that which concerneth you, and lay your stones with fair colours (Ps. lxviii. 13).--_Macmillan._


i. 18. _Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool._

Some are kept in a desponding state--+I. By the views they entertain of the sovereignty of God and the doctrine of election.+ But--1. The election of God, whatever it is, is an election _unto life,_ and not unto destruction. It should therefore be a source of encouragement, not discouragement; it should awaken hope and joy, rather than despondency. 2. God's election is _His_ rule of action, not yours: yours is the Bible.[1] 3. The thing you are required to believe in order to salvation is not your election, but God's truth. 4. In your present state you have nothing to do with election;[2] but if you will entertain the question, the _evidence_ is much more in favour of your election than against it. +II. By the views they take of certain isolated passages of Scripture+ (Matt. xii. 31, 32; Heb. xii. 17; Prov. i. 24-31). Not one of these passages, rightly understood, need quench your hope. Where there is one obscure passage that seems to make against you, there is a hundred which plainly and positively tell you that if you turn you shall live, if you believe you shall be saved. +III. By an apprehension that their repentance has not been deep enough.+ But--1. The genuineness of your repentance is not to be estimated by the pungency of your feelings.[3] 2. It is not the depth of your feelings that is your warrant to come to Christ. 3. Your penitential feelings will not be likely to be increased by staying away from Christ. +IV. By the fear that they have gone too far and sinned too much to be forgiven.+ But, admitting the very worst you can say of yourself, there is everything in the character of God, in the work of Christ, in the power of the Spirit, in the experience of other sinners,[4] in the promises of the Bible, to inspire and sustain your hope.--_John Corbin._


[1] Whatever the decrees of God be concerning the eternal state of men, since they are secret to us, they can certainly be no rule either of our duty or comfort. And no man hath reason to think himself rejected of God who does not find the marks of reprobation in himself--I mean an evil heart and life. By this, indeed, a man may know that he is out of God's favour for the present; but he hath no reason at all from hence to conclude that God hath from all eternity and for ever cast him off. That God calls him to repentance, and affords him the space and means of it, is a much plainer sign that God is willing to have mercy upon him, than anything else can be that God hath utterly cast him off. For men to judge of their condition by the decrees of God, which are hid from us, and not by His Word, which is near us, is as if a man wandering in the wide sea in a dark night, when the heaven is all clouded, should resolve to steer his course by the stars which he cannot see, but only guess at, and neglect the compass which is at hand, and would afford him much better and more certain direction.--_Tillotson,_ 1630-1694.

[2] We have no ground at first to trouble ourselves about God's election. "Secret things belong to God." God's revealed will is, that all who believe in Christ should not perish. It is my duty, therefore, knowing this, to believe: by doing whereof I put that question, whether God be mine or no? out of all question, for all that believe in Christ are Christ's, and all that are Christ's are God's. It is not my duty to look to God's secret counsel, but to His open offer, invitation, and command, and thereupon adventure my soul. In war men will venture their lives, because they think some will escape, and why not they? In traffic beyond the seas many adventure a great estate, because some grow rich by a good return, though some miscarry. The husbandman adventures his seed, though sometimes the year proves so bad that he never sees it more. And shall not we make a spiritual adventure, in casting ourselves upon God, when we have so good a warrant as His command, and so good an encouragement as His promise, that He will not fail those that rely on Him?--_Sibbes,_ 1577-1635.

[3] I see no reason to call in question the truth and sincerity of that man's repentance who hates sin and forsakes, and returns to God and his duty, though he cannot shed tears, and express the bitterness of his soul by the same significations that a mother does in the loss of her only son. He that cannot weep like a child may resolve like a man, and that undoubtedly will find acceptance with God. Two persons walking together espy a serpent; the one shrieks and cries out at the sight of it, the other kills it. So it is with sorrow for sin; some express it by great lamentations and tears, and vehement transports of passion; others by greater and more real effects of detestation--by forsaking their sins, by mortifying and subduing their lusts; but he that kills it doth certainly best express his inward enmity against it.--_Tillotson,_ 1630-1694.

[4] Oh who can read of a _Manasseh,_ a _Magdalene,_ a _Saul,_ yes, an _Adam,_ who undid himself and a whole world with him, in the roll of pardoned sinners, and yet turn away from the promise, out of a fear that there is not mercy fit in it to serve his turn? These are landmarks that show what large boundaries mercy hath set for itself, and how far it hath gone, even to take into its arms the greatest sinners that make not themselves incapable thereof by final impenitency. It were a healthful walk, poor doubting Christian, for thy soul go to this circuit, and oft see where the utmost stone is laid and boundary set by God's pardoning mercy, beyond which He will not go.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.


i. 18. _Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool._

For an exposition of the symbolism of this verse, see note.[1]

I. THE WONDERS OF DIVINE CONDESCENSION. 1. How marvellous that God should condescend to "reason" with sinful men! Not thus do human governments deal with rebels against their authority. The stern proclamation goes forth, "Submit, or die." To admit helpless rebels to a conference on equal terms (such as "reasoning" implies) is an idea that never occurs to earthly sovereigns; but (ch. lv. 8, 9)--2. How marvellous that God should invite sinful men to reason with Him, with a view to reconciliation with them! The result of such an investigation of their conduct could only be their condemnation; but this is not God's ultimate design. He does not desire to humiliate sinners, but to bring them to repentance and confession, in order that it may be possible for Him to pardon them. According to human standards, it would have been a great thing had God been willing to be reconciled to those who have offended Him so grievously; but how astonishing is this, that He, the offended party, should seek to reconcile the offenders to Himself. (2 Cor. v. 18, 19; John iii. 19).

II. THE POSSIBILITIES OF HUMAN SIN. "Though your sins be as scarlet . . . though they be red like crimson." Sins that take complete possession of a man, and that are conspicuous to the public eye, may be described as crimson and scarlet sins. How common such sins are! What a spectacle the human race must present to angelic eyes! Scarlet and crimson sins are more common than we are apt to suppose, because responsibility is in proportion to privilege. In proportion to the sinner's light is the sinner's guilt. Consequently that which is a trivial fault in one man may be a crimson sin in another. When an offence is contrary to a man's whole training, though it may be a small matter in the sight of man, it may be as scarlet and crimson sin in the sight of God. In these possibilities of human sin we have--+1. A reason for universal watchfulness.+ Taken even in its most obvious sense, the possibility of which our text speaks is the possibility of every man. There is no human being who may not fall into crime. Many men, after living half a century blamelessly in the sight of men, suddenly yield to temptation, and are consigned to felons' cells. David was no stripling when he committed his great transgression. Said Hazael, "Is thy servant a dog, that he should do this thing?" Yet he did it! (2 Kings viii. 13, &c.) Peter rejected Christ's warning as incredible. Therefore (Rom. xi. 20; 1 Cor. x. 12).[2] +2. A reason for universal humiliation and prayer.+ Just because our privileges have been so great, God may put a very different estimate upon our transgressions than we are disposed to do. Therefore let us humbly seek pardon for the past, and preventing grace for the future (Ps. xix. 12, 13).

III. THE CERTAINTIES OF DIVINE GRACE. "They shall be as white as snow." Where sin abounds, grace shall more abound. In God there is mercy to pardon every sin,[3] and grace to cleanse from every form and degree of moral pollution. Here, then, we have--+1. A reason for repentance.+ There is no argument so powerful as this: God is ready to forgive. Many a prodigal has been deterred from saying, "I will arise and go to my father," by a remembrance of his father's sternness, and by a doubt as to whether his father would receive him. But no such doubt need deter _us._ We are not called to the exercises of a sorrow that will be unavailing. Our Father waits to be gracious.[4] Hear His solemn and touching message (ch. lv. 6, 7; TEXT). +2. An encouragement for those who are striving after moral purity.+ Many who try to live a Christian life grow discouraged. There are discouragements that come from _without:_ the unfavourable spiritual atmosphere in which they live, the glaring inconsistencies of some of the professing Christians by whom they are surrounded, the low tone of the spiritual life of those whose conduct is not so open to censure. Still sorer discouragements come from _within:_ the faults that will not be shaken off; the evil tendencies that will manifest themselves; the evil thoughts that will keep welling up from the fountain of the heart, revealing its intense depravity. These things are carefully hidden from men, but God knows them, and the believer knows them, and because of them is apt to grow discouraged. It seems to him that he can never be "made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." But God has declared that he shall be: God has undertaken to perfect him in purity. "Be of good courage, all ye that hope in the Lord." God is able to make all grace abound toward you, and He is faithful to all His promises. See what He has promised in our text. He has already fulfilled this promise in innumerable cases (Rev. vii. 9), and He will fulfil it in yours. Be not discouraged because your moral progress is so slow. How long does the sun shine on the fruit seemingly in vain! All the summer the peach remains hard as a stone. But the sun is _not_ shining in vain. Some week in the autumn this is seen. All at once it softens and becomes ripe; not as a result of that one week's sun, but of all the sunlight and warmth of the preceding weeks. The chestnut opens in a night; but for months the opening process is going on. In a moment many chemicals seem to crystallise, but the process of crystallisation goes on long before it becomes apparent. So there is a ripening, a crystallising, a cleansing process going on in the heart of the believer: though we see it not now, yet we shall have ample proof of it by and by. In this matter walk by faith, not by sight. Be of good courage! We shall yet be "white as snow."


[1] Jehovah here challenges Israel to a formal trial: _nocach_ is thus used in a reciprocal sense, and with the same meaning as _nishpat_ in ch. xliii. 26 (Ges. § 51, 2). In such a trial Israel must lose, for Israel's self-righteousness rests upon sham righteousness; and this sham righteousness, when rightly examined, is but unrighteousness dripping with blood. It is taken for granted that this must be the result of the investigation. Israel is therefore worthy of death. Yet Jehovah will not treat Israel according to His retributive justice, but according to His free compassion. He will remit the punishment, and not only regard the sin as not existing, but change it into its very opposite. The reddest possible sin shall become, through His mercy, the purest white. On the two _hiphils_ applied to colour, see Ges. § 53, 2; though he gives the meaning incorrectly, viz., "to take a colour," whereas the words signify rather to emit a colour, not _colorem accipere,_ but _colorem dare. Shâne, bright red (the plural _shânim,_ as in Prov. xxxi. 21, signified materials dyed with _shâni_) and _tolâ,_ warm colour, are simply different names for the same colour, viz., the crimson obtained from the cochineal insect, _color coccineus._

The representation of the work of grace promised by God as a change from red to white is founded upon the symbolism of colours, quite as much as when the saints in the Revelation (ch. xix. 8) are described as clothed in white raiment, whilst the clothing of Babylon is purple and scarlet (ch. xvii. 4). Red is the colour of fire, and therefore of life: the blood is red because life is a fiery process. For this reason the heifer, from which the ashes of purification were obtained for those who had been defiled through contact with the dead, was to be red; and the sprinkling-bush, with which the unclean were sprinkled, was to be tied around with a band of scarlet wool. But red, as contrasted with white, the colour of light (Matt. xvii. 2), is the colour of selfish, covetous, passionate life, is which is self-seeking in its nature, which goes out of itself only to destroy, and drives about with wild tempestuous violence: it is therefore the colour of wrath and sin. It is generally supposed that Isaiah speaks of red as the colour of sin, because sin ends in murder; and this is not really wrong, though it is too restricted. Sin is called red, inasmuch as it is a burning heat which consumes a man, and when it breaks forth consumes his fellow-man as well. According to the biblical view, throughout, sin stands in the same relation to what is well-pleasing to God, and wrath in the same relation to love or grace, as fire to light; and therefore as red to white, to black to white, for red and black are colours which border upon one another. In the Song of Solomon (ch. vii. 5), the black locks of Shulamith are described as being "like purple," and Homer applies the same epithet to the dark waves of the sea. But the ground of this relation lies deeper still. Red is the colour of fire, which flashes out of darkness and returns to it again; whereas white, without any admixture of darkness, represents the pure, absolute triumph of light. It is a deeply significant symbol of the act of justification. Jehovah offers to Israel an _actio forensis,_ out of which it shall come forth justified by grace, although it has merited death on account of its sins. The righteousness, white as snow and wool, with which Israel comes forth, is a gift conferred upon it out of pure compassion, without being conditional upon any legal performance whatsoever.--_Delitzch, Commentary on Isaiah,_ vol. i. pp. 98, 99.

A subordinate point in the imagery is, that scarlet and crimson were the _firmest_ of dyes, least capable of being washed out.--_Dr. Kay._

[2] The strong men are fallen; even Solomon himself, and David, and Noah, and Lot, and Samson, and Peter, the lights of the world, fell like stars from heaven. These tall cedars, strong oaks, fair pillars, lie in the dust, whose tops glittered in the air; that "they which think they stand may take heed lest they fall." Can I look upon these ruins without compassion? or remember them without fear, unless I be a reprobate, and my heart of flint? Who am I that I should stand like a shrub, when these cedars are blown down to the ground, and showed themselves but men? The best man is but a man: the worst are worse than beasts. No man is untainted but Christ. They who had greater gifts than we, they who had deeper roots than we, they who had stronger hearts than we, they who had more props than we, are fallen like a bird which is weary of her flight, and turned back like the wind, in the twinkling of an eye. What shall we do then, when we hear of other men's faults? Not talk of them as we do, but beware by them, and think--Am I better than he? Am I stronger than Samson? Am I wiser than Solomon? Am I chaster than David? Am I soberer than Noah? Am I firmer than Peter? There is no salt but may lose its saltiness, no wine but may lose its strength, no flower but may lose its scent, no light but may be eclipsed, no beauty but may be stained, no fruit but may be blasted, no soul but may be corrupted. We stand all in a slippery place, where it is easy to slide and hard to get up.--_Henry Smith,_ 1592.

[3] Man may be willing to forgive a mite, the Lord a million; three hundred pence and ten thousand talents are all one to His mercy.--_Adams_, 1653.

He is rich in mercy, abundant in goodness and truth. Thy sins are like a spark of fire that falls into the ocean, it is quenched presently; so are all thy sins in the ocean of God's mercy. There is not more water in the sea than there is mercy in God.--_Manton,_ 1620-1667.

Why dost thou not believe in God's mercy? Is it thy sins discourage? God's mercy can pardon great sins, nay, because they are great (Ps. xxv. 11). The sea covers great rocks as well as lesser sands.--_Watson,_ 1696.

[4] Joy is the highest testimony that can be given to our complacency in any thing or person. Love or joy is a fuel to the fire; if love lay little fuel of desires on the heart, then the flame of joy that comes thence will not be great. Now God's joy is great in pardoning poor sinners that come in; therefore His affection is great in the offer thereof. It is made the very motive that prevails with God to pardon sinners, "Because He delighteth in mercy," "Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever, for He delighteth in mercy." God doth all this, "because He delighteth in mercy."

Ask why the fisher stands all night with his angle in the river; he will tell you, because he delights in the sport. Well, you know now the reason why God stands so long waiting on sinners, months, years, preaching to them; it is that He may be gracious in pardoning them, and in that act delight Himself. Princes very often pardon traitors to please others more than themselves, or else it would never be done; but God doth it chiefly to delight and gladden His own merciful heart. Hence the business Christ came about (which was no other but to reconcile sinners to God) is called "the pleasure of the Lord" (Isa. liii. 10).--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

Many people get a wrong idea of God by thinking of Him as infinite only in justice and power; but infinite applies to the feelings of God as much as to the stretch of His right hand. There is nothing in His nature which is not measureless. Many think God sits brooding in heaven, as storms brood in summer skies, full of bolts and rain, and believe that they must come to Him under the covert of some apology, or beneath some umbrellaed excuse, lest the clouds should break, and the tempest overwhelm them. But when men repent towards God, they go not to storms, but to serene and tranquil skies, and to a Father who waits to receive them with all tenderness and delicacy and love. His eye is not dark with vengeance, nor His heart turbulent with wrath; and to repent towards His justice and vindictiveness must always be from a lower motive than to repent towards His generosity and love. When you wish to please God, treat Him as one who feels sorry for sinners; treat Him as one who longs to help those who need help; go to Him confidingly. No matter how bad you are--the worse the better. Old Martin Luther said, "I bless God for my sins." He would never have had such a sense of the pardoning mercy of God if he had not himself been sinful. But as much as you are wicked, God is glorious in restoring you to purity. Let Him do for you those things which are the most generous and magnanimous, and that will please Him best. He is a Being whose feelings and affections move on such vast lines of latitude and longitude, that the more you presume upon His goodness, and cast yourself before Him saying, "I need a miracle of grace and mercy," the better He is pleased.

Now I beseech you to kindle up a thought of what your mother would do if you were a sinful, heart-broken, discouraged man, but repentant, saying, "I have trod the thorny way of life, and learned its mischief, can you, mother, help me to begin anew?" What mother would cast away such a son? What father would not receive a son on such terms? And if earthly parents can lift themselves up into feelings of holy sympathy for a repentant child, what must be the feelings of God when His children come to him for help to break away from sin, and to lead lives of rectitude? Read the 15th chapter of Luke, and find out what God's feelings are; and then say, "I will arise, and go to my Father."--_Beecher._


i. 18. _Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool._

The outflow of holy displeasure contained in the earlier portions of this chapter would prepare us to expect an everlasting reprobacy of the rebellious and unfaithful Church, but it is strangely followed by the most yearning and melting entreaty ever addressed by the Most High to the creatures of His footstool.

I. The text represents God as saying to the transgressors of His law, "Come and let us reason together." The first lesson to be learned, consequently, is +the duty of examining our moral character and conduct along with God.+ When a responsible being has made a wrong use of his powers, nothing is more reasonable than that he should call himself to account for this abuse. Nothing, certainly, is more necessary. There can be no amendment for the future until the past has been cared for. But that this examination may be both thorough and profitable, it must be made in company with the Searcher of hearts. For there are always two beings who are concerned with sin: the being who commits it, and the Being against whom it is committed. Whenever, therefore, an examination is made into the nature of moral evil as it exists in the individual heart, both parties concerned should share in the examination. Such a joint examination as this produces a very keen and clear sense of the evil and guilt of sin. Conscience, indeed, makes cowards of us all, but when the eye of God is felt to be upon us, it smites us to the ground. 1. When the soul is shut up along with the Holy One of Israel, there are great searchings of heart. Man is honest and anxious at such a time. His usual thoughtlessness and torpidity upon the subject of religion leave him, and he becomes a serious and deeply-interested creature. 2. Another effect of this "reasoning together" with God respecting our character and conduct is to render our views discriminating. The action of the mind is not only intense, it is also intelligent. The sinner knows that he is wrong, and his Maker is right--that he is wicked, and that God is holy. He perceives these two fundamental facts with a simplicity and a certainty that admit of no debate. The confusion and obscurity of his mind, and particularly the queryings whether these things are so, begin to disappear like a fog when disparted and scattered by sunrise. Objects are seen in their true proportions and meanings; right and wrong, the carnal mind and the spiritual mind, heaven and hell--all the great contraries that pertain to the subject of religion--are distinctly understood, and thus the first step is taken towards a better state of things in the soul.[1]

II. The second lesson taught in the text is, that +there is forgiveness with God.+ If mercy were not a manifested attribute of God, all self-examination, and especially all this conjoint Divine scrutiny, would be a pure torment and a pure gratuity. We have the amplest assurance in the whole written revelation of God, but no where else, that "there is forgiveness with Him, that He may be feared." The text is an exceedingly explicit assertion of this great truth. The very same Being who invites us to reason with Him and canvass the subject of our criminality, in the very same breath, if we may so speak, assures us that He will forgive all that is found in this examination. And upon such terms cannot the criminal well afford to examine into his crime? The Divine pity outruns and exceeds the crime. Paradoxical as it may appear, self-examination, when joined with a distinct recognition of the Divine character, and a conscious sense of God's scrutiny, is the surest means of producing in a guilty mind a firm conviction that God is merciful, and is the swiftest way of finding Him to be so. Abhorrent as iniquity is to the pure mind of God, it is nevertheless a fact that that sinner who goes directly into this Dread Presence with all his sins upon his head, in order to know them, to be condemned and crushed by them, and to confess them, is the one who soonest returns with peace and hope in his soul. For he discovers that God is as cordial and sincere in His offer to forgive as He is in His threat to punish; and having, to his sorrow, felt the reality and power of the Divine anger, he now, to his joy, feels the equal reality and power of the Divine love. And this is the one great lesson which every man must learn, or perish for ever.

From these two lessons of our text we deduce the following practical directions--1. _In all states of religious anxiety we should betake ourselves instantly and directly to God;_ there is no other refuge for the human soul but God in Christ. Are we sinners, and fear for the final result of our life? Though it may seem like running into fire, we must, nevertheless, betake ourselves first and immediately to that Being who hates and punishes sin (1 Chron. xxi. 13). 2. _In all our religious anxiety we should make a full and plain statement of everything to God._ Even when the story is one of shame and remorse, we find it to be mental relief, patiently, and without any reservation or palliation, to expose the whole, not only to our own eye, but to that of our Judge. For to this very thing have we been invited. This is precisely the "reasoning together" which God proposes to us. God has not offered clemency to a sinful world with the expectation or desire that there be, on the part of those to whom it is offered, such a stinted and meagre confession, such a glossing over and diminution of sin, as to make that clemency appear a very small matter. He well knows the depth and the immensity of the sin which He proposes to pardon, and has made provision accordingly. In the phrase of Luther, it is no painted sinner who is to be forgiven, and it is no painted Saviour who is offered. The transgression is deep and real, and the atonement is deep and real. The crime cannot be exaggerated, neither can the expiation. He, therefore, who makes the plainest and most childlike statement of himself to God, acts most in accordance with the mind and will and gospel of God. If man can only be hearty, full, and unreserved in confession, he will find God to be hearty, full, and unreserved in absolution.--_W. G. T. Shedd, D.D., The American Pulpit of the Day,_ vol. i. pp. 829-842.


[1] Man is not straitened upon the side of the Divine mercy. The obstacle in the way of his salvation is in himself; and the particular, fatal obstacle consists in the fact that he does not feel that he needs mercy. God in Christ stands ready to pardon, but man, the sinner, stands up before Him, like the besotted criminal in our courts of law, with no feeling upon the subject. The Judge assures him that He has a boundless grace and clemency to bestow; but the sinful, hardened man is not even aware that he has committed a dreadful crime, and needs grace and clemency. There is food in infinite abundance, but no hunger upon the part of the man. The water of life is flowing by in torrents, but men have no thirst. In this state of things nothing can be done but to pass a sentence of condemnation. God cannot forgive a being who does not even know that he needs to be forgiven. Knowledge, then, self-knowledge, is the great requisite; and the want of it is the cause of perdition. This "reasoning together" with God, respecting our past and present character and conduct, is the first step to be taken by any one who would make preparation for eternity. As soon as we come to a right understanding of our lost and guilty condition, we shall cry, "Be merciful to me, a sinner; create within me a clean heart, O God." Without such an understanding--such an intelligent perception of our sin and guilt--we never shall, and we never can.--_Shedd._


i. 19-20. _If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be destroyed with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it._

Delitsch translates--_"If ye then shall willingly hear, ye shall eat the good of the land; if ye shall obstinately rebel, ye shall be eaten by the sword: For the mouth of Jehovah hath spoken it."_

Stranchey translates--_"If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall feed on the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, the sword shall feed on you,"_ which brings out one of the contrasts of the verse still more clearly. "The promise of eating, _i.e.,_ of the full enjoyment of domestic blessings, and therefore of settled, peaceful rest at home, is placed in contrast with the curse of being eaten with the sword."--_Delitsch._

Note the close connection between these verses and verse 18. God condescends to invite rebels to a conference with Himself, He is willing to grant them the fullest forgiveness; but it is on the condition of future obedience. On this condition He is prepared to do more than forgive them,--He will enrich them with all needful blessings, of which peaceful enjoyment of the fruits of the earth is here named as a symbol; but if they will not listen to His invitation, accept His gracious offer, and yield the obedience He righteously demands, then the vengeance they have deserved will come upon them. They have the matter entirely in their own hands; it rests with them to determine whether their future shall be one of happiness or misery. Thus we are led to the great doctrine of these verses, that _sinners are self-destroyed._

This is a doctrine frequently insisted on in Scripture (Ezek. xxxiii. 11; 2 Sam. xiv. 14; Hos. xiii. 9; 2 Pet. iii. 9). It is true in a twofold sense. +1. They sin voluntarily.+ God never foreordained any man to work iniquity.[1] Some are indeed surrounded from their birth by evil influences, and on this account, as well as on account of that corrupt nature which we all inherit, they do sinful acts from their infancy, but they do not _sin_ until the dawn of moral consciousness; and after that, every act of iniquity they perpetrate they perpetrate voluntarily. +2. They suffer voluntarily.+ They do not merely expose themselves to the penalty of sin, they take it upon them voluntarily. God offers to remit it, on condition of their repentance, but they reject the proffered boon; like a suicide who repels the surgeon who would close his bleeding wounds.

In this fact that sinners thus destroy themselves we have--+I. A terrible illustration of the depth of human depravity.+ Sinners not only hate God so much as to break His laws, but so much as to harden themselves against His love, and to reject His mercy. +II. A sufficient vindication of the severities of the Divine justice.+ 1. No sinner in hell will be able to reproach God for his misery. 2. We who contemplate the awful fact that human souls are suffering in hell have no right to reproach God for their sufferings. These sufferers deliberately turned their backs upon God and heaven, and went of their own accord to perdition.

_Application._--1. Before you to-day blessing and cursing, life and death are set; choose ye which ye will. 2. "If ye be _willing,_" God will open to you all the treasures of His grace. But not otherwise! He will compel no man to accept His mercy. 3. Whatever be your choice, God will ratify it. If you choose destruction, you shall have it, and then you will not be able to revoke your choice (Prov. i. 22-31).


[1] The argument which the fatalist bases upon organisation is self-annihilating when applied to the common relations of life. The fatalist himself does not believe in his own doctrine; in speculative reasoning he is eager to charge moral crime upon organic defect; yet, in practical magistracy, he arraigns and condemns the criminal to punishment. But how monstrous an outrage is this upon his own creed! The criminal was compelled through stress of organisation to commit the crime, yet the fatalist punishes him for doing what he could not help! Let the principle of the fatalist be admitted, and there is an end to all legislation--an end, indeed, to the social compact itself. All associated life is regulated by a system of restraints; but restraint implies self-control, and self-control is directly opposed to fatalism. Let a criminal plead that he could not help committing a certain crime; and if the judge allow the plea, he will at once treat the criminal as a lunatic, and instruct the officers of justice accordingly. Magistracy proceeds upon the principle that men can "help" committing crime. All human legislation assumes a man's power of self-regulation, and grounds itself on the grand doctrine of man's responsibility to man. At this point, upon the same principle in relation to God, Theology says, You hold yourselves responsible to one another on all social matters, you punish the criminal, you ignore the plea of fatalism on all questions of property, order, and security; now go further, heighten your own social base, carry out to their logical issues your own principles and methods, and you will reach all that God requires of man. If it be urged that God gave the criminal his organisation, the objection does not touch the argument. The argument is, that in human consciousness the plea of fatalism is ignored on all practical matters; away beyond all written statutes there is a conviction that man can regulate his actions, and ought to be held responsible for such regulation. Man himself thus, by his own conduct and his own law, acquits God of all charge upon this matter; the very recognition by the magistrate of man's responsibility is itself a direct acquittal of God from the accusations of fatalism. God need not be interrogated upon the subject, for the magistrate himself, faithful to the consciousness of universal humanity, treats the fatalistic theory as an absurdity.--_Joseph Parker._


i. 20. _If ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it._

Let a man look steadily at the sun for a few moments, and for a long time afterwards he will see nothing else; whithersoever he turns, he will behold the sun. Some men have looked at God's wondrous mercy so exclusively, that they can see in Him and His Word nothing but mercy, and they doubt, and teach others to doubt, whether God will fulfil His threatenings against sin. Let such persons consider these three facts--+I. That God's justice requires that He should execute His threatenings against iniquity.+ He Himself would commit a frightful injustice, and would be the worst active promoter and abettor of evil in the universe, if He were to treat all men alike. His mere delay to take vengeance upon transgressors gives rise to some of the most perplexing of moral problems (Eccles. ix. 2, 3; Ps. lxxiii. 1-9, &c.), and if He were never to do so, the whole universe would be driven into atheism. This is the tendency even of His merciful delays (Ps. x. 11; lxxiii. 11, &c.) +II. That God's truth requires that He should execute His threatenings against iniquity.+ "The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," and shall He not fulfil His Word? So settled is the conviction of the human mind that He must do so, that it has been found one of the greatest obstacles to the reception of the Gospel. How God can be truthful, and yet pardon the sinner, it has transcended the human mind to conceive. The atonement of Christ is the _practical_ solution of this mystery. +III. That the history of His ancient people shows that while in God there is a goodness most marvellous and tender, on account of which we should praise Him evermore, there is also a severity so terrible, that on account of it all the world should stand in awe of Him.+ Remember what frightful calamities (the sword, famine, pestilence, exile) God sent upon His ancient people in this world; and shall we imagine that He who displayed such a capacity for sternness in this world will be found incapable of it in the world which is to come? Let us dismiss this delusion which is at once utterly groundless and unspeakably dangerous.[1]

_Application._--1. True reverence for God will lead us to accept with equal implicitness all the disclosures which He has been pleased to give of His character He will be to us neither a God all mercy nor a God all justice. In Him both these high qualities are found in equal perfection: they are not opponents, but allies. Each is always in absolute harmony with the other. 2. True reverence for God will lead us to tremble in view of His threatenings, as well as to rejoice in view of His promises. 3. It is with the God of the Bible, and not with the God of our own sentimental fancies, that we shall have to deal with at the last. 4. If we take nature as our guide to the interpretation of revelation, we shall find it easier to believe in God's severity than in His benignity. In nature there are appalling indications of sternness. The world in which we now are is full of suffering.[2] 5. It is in mercy that the threatenings of God's justice are now set forth.[3]


[1] If Scripture be certainly true, then the most terrible passages in it are certainly true; nothing is more hardly believed by men than that which will be most tormenting to their minds, when it is believed that none shall be saved but the regenerate and holy; and those that live not after the flesh, but the Spirit, and love God in Christ above all the world, even their own lives; and that, besides these few, all the rest shall be tormented in hell for ever. This is the doctrine that flesh and blood will hardly down with. They say or think they will never believe that God will be so unmerciful; as if God must needs be less merciful than man, because He is more just and holy, and will not be so indulgent to their flesh and sin as they are themselves, and would have Him to be. And I have known even godly men, through the remnant of their corruption and darkness in the things of God, and the violence of temptation, much troubled with their unbelief in this particular. But God cannot lie the Scripture being true, and the Christian religion certainly true, every part of it must needs be true. But because sensual nature looks for sensible demonstration or proof, let me ask the unbelievers this one question--"Do you believe that which you see and feel, and all the world feels as well as you?" You know that all mankind liveth here a life of trouble and misery; we come into the world in a very poor condition, and we pass through it in daily labour and sorrow, and we pass out of it through the dreadful pangs of death. What incessant labour have the most of them, how much want and misery, how much care and grief! Do you not see and feel how sicknesses do torment us? When one pain is over, another is at hand. Have you not seen some under such terrible fits of the gout, or stone, or other diseases, that they thought no torment could be greater; some with their legs rotting and must be cut off; some with loathsome cancers and leprosies on them many years together; some that have lost their eyesight, have lost almost all the comfort of life; some that never could see; some that never could hear or speak? I have known some in such pain that they have cried out they did not believe there was greater in hell; some are mad, and some idiots: are not all these in a very miserable case? Now I would ask you further if God may, without any unmercifulness, do all this to men, and that as a chastisement in the way to bring them to repentance; if He may, without unmercifulness, make a David cry out in misery, and wash his couch with his tears; and make a Job to lie scraping his sores on a dunghill; why should you think he cannot, without unmercifulness, torment incurable sinners in hell? Further, I would ask you this question; suppose you had lived in Adam's paradise, or some condition of pleasure and rest, where you never had tasted of sickness, or labour, or want, or feared death, if God's Word had there told you, but that man shall endure so much misery as I have mentioned and men daily suffer, and should die at last for his sin, would you have said, "I will never believe God would be so unmerciful?" You that say so now, would likely have said so then in this case; for feeling the pleasure yourselves, you would on the same ground have said, "God is unmerciful if He should make man so miserable;" and yet you see and feel that God doth it, and we know that He is not unmerciful.--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.

[2] Suffering comes to us through and from our whole nature. It cannot be winked out of sight. It cannot be thrust into a subordinate place in the picture of human life. It is the chief burden of history. It is the solemn theme of one of the highest departments of literature, the tragic drama. It gives to fictions their deep interest: it wails through much of our poetry. A large part of human vocations are intended to shut up some of its avenues. It has left traces on every human countenance over which years have passed. It is not to a few the most vivid recollection of life.--_W. Ellery Channing._

[3] God indeed tells us of Hell, but it is to persuade us to flee to heaven; and as a skilful painter fills the background of his picture with his darker colours, God introduces the smoke of torment, and the black thunderclouds of Sinai, to give brighter prominence to Jesus, the Cross of Calvary, and His love to the chief of sinners.

His voice of terror is like the scream of the mother-bird when the hawk is in the sky. She alarms her brood, that they may run and hide beneath her feathers; and as I believe that God hath left that mother dumb unless He had given her wings to cover them, I am sure that He, who is very "pitiful," and has no pleasure in any creature's pain, had never turned our eyes to the horrible gulf unless for the voice that cries, "Deliver from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom."

We had never heard of sin had there been no Saviour. We had never heard of hell had there been no heaven. "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." And never had Bible light flashed before the eyes of the sleeping felon, to wake him from his happy dream, but that he might see the smiling form of Mercy, and hear her as she says, with finger pointing the way, "Behold I have set before thee an open door."--_Guthrie._


i. 21-23. _How is the faithful city become an harlot![1] It was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers.[2] Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water: thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves: every one loveth gifts, and followeth after rewards: they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them._

+I. Moral declensions may take place in the best of men.+ "The faithful city--silver--wine--princes," the very best things depraved. +II. There are no limits to the moral declensions that may take place in the best of men.+ "The faithful city is become an _harlot_," &c. We have here an argument--1. For universal _humility_ (1 Cor. x. 12; Gal. vi. 1). 2. For universal _watchfulness_ (Mark xiv. 38). 3. For universal _prayer_ (Ps. xix. 12, 13; cxxxix. 23, 24).


[1] "The faithful city is become an harlot:"--Jerusalem, the daughter of Zion, the wife of the Holy One of Israel, has broken the bond of her covenant with Him, has set at nought the Divine constitution and order in which He originally placed, and has continued to sustain her: and, as the outward consequence and sign of this spiritual defection, has actually fallen to the worship of other gods. Throughout this prophecy Isaiah dwells chiefly on the sins of the princes and rulers of the nation, and only incidentally on those of the people; and accordingly he now dilates on the characteristic vices of the former, which are the fruits of their national unfaithfulness. Social and political morality have vanished along with religious faith; thieves and murderers are found instead of virtuous citizens; the nobles and men in authority are the first to break the laws they should enforce; the administration of justice is so corrupt that the judges take bribes, connive at the robbers whose booty they share, and permit the rich man to pervert the law for the oppression of the fatherless and widow, who have no patrons to demand, and no money to buy, justice: and thus the aristocracy, setting aside all belief that they hold their wealth and power in trust from God for the benefit of the people under them, do but employ these as irresistible engines for breaking down all rights that can oppose them in their pursuit of luxury and vice.--_Strachey._

[2] Jerusalem was once full of such right; and Righteousness was not merely there in the form of a hastily-passing guest, but had come down from above to take up her permanent abode in Jerusalem: she tarried there day and night, as if it were her home. The prophet had in his mind the times of David and Solomon, and also more especially the time of Jehoshaphat (about one hundred and fifty years before Isaiah's appearance), who restored the administration of justice, which had fallen into neglect since the closing years of Solomon's reign and the time of Rehoboam and Abijah, to which Asa's reformation had not extended, and reorganized it entirely in the spirit of the law. It is possible also that Jehoiada, the high priest in the time of Joash, may have revived the institutions of Jehoshaphat so far as they had fallen into disuse under his three godless successors; but even in the second half of the reign of Joash the administration of justice fell into some disgraceful state, at least as compared with the times of David, Solomon, and Jehoshaphat, as that in which Isaiah found it. The glaring contrast between the present and the past is indicated by the expression _"and now."_--_Delitzch._


i. 21. _Righteousness lodged in it._

+I. A High Commendation.+ Righteousness lodged in the city--not merely visited it as a passing guest, but dwelt in it as a permanent abode [Alexander and Kay--"had its _home_ there"]. No greater praise could be spoken of any city, nor can be uttered of any man. +1.+ _Let us do what we can to make our city worthy of this high commendation._ Much can be done in this direction by the combined, resolute, and persevering efforts of godly men. +2.+ _Let us try to deserve it individually._ This may involve many sacrifices, but they will be more than compensated. Righteousness is a royal guest, ennobling and enriching those with whom she dwells, and peace, prosperity, and joy invariably follow in her train. +II. A mournful condemnation.+ Righteousness _lodged_ in the city; lodged, not lodges! That noble and Divine inhabitant is departed. The palace in which she dwelt is in ruins. 1. Of how many _cities_ may this mournful declaration be made! The cities in which Christianity achieved some if its first and noblest triumphs are now Mohammedan and semi-heathen. They did not hold fast the truth, and now they are given over to error. We boast that this is a Christian land, but its relapse into practical heathenism is not impossible. In every action there is a constant gravitation towards evil, which can only be resisted and overcome by constant effort and earnest prayer. Let the churches of this land lay this solemn fact to heart. 2. Of how many _men_ may this declaration be made! How many even of the openly vicious and criminal were once respectable members of society--yes, even honoured members of churches! They were men "subject to like passions as we are;" and in what they are we have solemn warnings as to what we may become. Let those who are most exalted, not in privileges only, but in moral excellence, also watch and pray, lest sin enter even their hearts, and expel that Divine guest whose presence secures so many blessings and warrants so many hopes.


i. 22. _Thy silver is become dross._

There are many valuable and good things in the world that through varied causes are rendered comparatively useless. They once were silver, but now they are dross. +I. The silver of thy character has become dross because of little failings.+ There have been men known to all of us, of good moral characters, of lofty and heroic soul, but they were betrayed into occasional faults,[1] which many condoned, which others magnified, but which they themselves did not correct, until at last their silver became dross. The character depreciated in moral worth. It was no longer current as a thing of beauty. It had lost its value. +II. The silver of thy service has become dross because of unholy motives.+ Christian service is a good and precious thing, but how frequently is it rendered useless and vain by pride, by thoughts of self, and by secular motive.[2] It is, indeed, as silver when rendered by a pure and loving heart, but alas! it too often becomes dross because of the unhallowed sentiment of the soul. The mite of the widow cast into the treasury was as silver, but the munificent gifts of the Pharisees were as dross. How much of the service rendered to the great God in the pulpit, pew, and school, is but dross! This is a solemn thought. +III. The silver of thy money has become dross because of selfishness.+ We cannot estimate the wealth of a man by the money he has in possession, but often far better by the money he gives away. When men keep their riches to themselves, solely for their own use, they cease to be rich--they are laden with coin that is not current; their silver has become dross. Liberality makes money worth its value.[3] Generosity preserves wealth from all degenerating influences. How many so-called rich men have more dross than silver in this world. +IV. The silver of thy talents has become dross because of indolence.+ Silver is bright when kept in use. Talents are valuable when active. The mind has talents of thought and sympathy and love. The hand has talents of help. The mouth has talents of blessing. Take care that thy silver does not become as dross.--_J. S. Exell._


[1] You need not break the glasses of a telescope, or coat them over with paint, in order to prevent you from seeing through them. Just breathe upon them, and the dew of your breath will shut out all the stars. So it does not require great crimes to hide the light of God's countenance. Little faults can do it just as well. Take a shield, and cast a spear upon it, and it will leave in it one great dent. Prick it all over with a million little needle shafts, and they will take the polish from it far more than the piercing of the spear. So it is not so much the great sins which take the freshness from our consciences, as the numberless petty faults which we are all the while committing.--_Beecher._

[2] Our end or motive in acting determines more than anything the quality of our actions. Not that a good end will sanctify a bad action, but a bad end will vitiate every action connected with it. If, for instance, in our religious services we seek the applause of men, we must expect no reward from God, the gratification of our pride and vanity is all the reward that such polluted services can obtain. In the account which is given of Jehu, we find that the very same action which was rewarded on account of its outward conformity with God's command, was punished on account of the base principle by which he was influenced in performing it. He did well in extirpating the seed of Ahab, and was rewarded for it to the fourth generation: the blood which was shed was imputed to him as murder. Nor is there anything more common than for even religious persons to mistake the path of duty through an inattention to their own spirit. The disciples doubtless thought themselves under the influence of a commendable zeal when they would have called fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village; as did Peter, also, when he cut off the ear of Malchus. We should therefore be peculiarly cautious with respect to this, lest by the mixture of any selfish motive or base affection we offend Him whom it is our desire and endeavour to please.--_Simeon._

[3] If we so love our riches that we would eternally possess them, let us not hoard them up in the earth, where we are sure to leave them, carrying nothing with us but the canker of our coin, which shall bear witness against us at the Day of Judgment; but let us send them before us into heaven, delivering them unto the poor, who are God's factors and receivers; and so having conveyed and made over our goods, as it were by bills of exchange, we shall find the Lord a sure and all-sufficient paymaster, who will give us more than double usance, and yet pay us at the first sight. If we would have our coin continue sweet and good for a good space, let us know that there are for this purpose no garners comparable to poor men's stomachs, which will preserve our grain for our use unto life eternal. If we would have our clothes preserved from moths, and to last long, the backs of the naked are our safest wardrobes.--_Downame,_ 1644.


i. 24. _Therefore thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies._

Concerning many men, we may offer Christ's prayer, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." They sin in ignorance, or rather without thought of their character and relation to God, and of the doom which they are bringing upon themselves. There may be such persons before me now. Acting, then the part of a true and faithful friend, I warn you--+I. That God counts you as His enemies.+ By cherishing your sins you defy His authority, and place yourself in a position of hostility to Him.[1] +II. That God feels Himself, injured, oppressed, and as it were hemmed in by your iniquities.+ Note this most suggestive phrase, "I will _ease me_ of mine adversaries," and see outline on verse 14. God's laws are His territories, and by your transgressions you invade them. Your sins are _trespasses._ God feels toward you as the French feel towards the Germans who have taken possession of and settled down in Alsace and Lorraine; you put upon God an indignity which He cannot and will not bear. +III.+ That while God endures your trespasses for a time, in the merciful hope that by His forbearance you may be led to repentance, +He will not restrain His anger for ever,+ but will presently give free vent to it,[2] and sweep you into that place where, though you may retain the disposition to sin against Him, you will not have the power.

_Application._--Now consider--1. That this is not the resolve of some feeble being destitute of resources for the accomplishment of his purposes. He who thus solemnly warns you is "the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel." 2. Whether you have resources that will enable you to cope with this adversary whose indignation you have aroused (Luke xiv. 31). If not, consider--3. What is the course that wisdom would suggest to you in your present circumstances (Luke xiv. 32).[3]


[1] If a king warns a city of traitors, and calls upon them to search them out and send them away, and they never regard the message, but willingly give them harbour and entertainment, it is a sign that they are disaffected to him: to cherish a sin after warning is open defiance of God.--_Manton,_ 1620-1667.

[2] At this first step we might reason on the testimony if we pleased, instead of accepting it, and raise the objection that to imagine passion in God, especially so turbid a passion as anger, conflicts with our notions of His character, and degrades Him in our apprehensions. Beware! remember that in forming an estimate of the character and proceedings of God, we are but little children forming an estimate of the character and proceedings of a man of matured experience. Were it not more reasonable, as well as more reverent, to accept what He says, and to leave Him afterwards to clear up any mystery which may envelope His nature? I can indeed conceive in Him nothing turbid, impetuous, or impulsive, such as sullies the clearness of the human will. But this I can conceive, that there is in Him some high perfection (more incomprehensible to my finite capacity than the speculations of an astronomer to a peasant child), of which anger is the most adequate exponent to my mind, and which I must be content to think of and speak of as anger, or else to remain in total ignorance of it. And this also I can--not only conceive, but most readily assent to, that in an absolutely perfect nature there should be an utter abhorrence of, and antipathy to, moral evil, most justly represented to simple minds by the terms "anger," "curse." We have never seen a perfect character; no perfect character, save one, ever moved upon the earth: but the righteous man, who is striving after and approximating to perfection, has often crossed our path; and surely we have marked in him, that the more righteous he is, the more doth he abhor (in the language of Holy Scriptures) everything that is evil. What is the effect upon one who breathes habitually the atmosphere of communion with God, of catching in the current tidings of the day the intelligence of some awful outburst of depravity? When such an one passes on an errand of mercy through the crowded alleys of a great city, and the shouts of malignant execration and profaneness ring in his ear, or with what feeling does he encounter these symptoms of human degradation? Are they not like a foul odour to his nostrils, or a jarring note to his ear, or an abortion to his sight? Does he not turn away with loathing, and recoil from such scenes and such sounds with an antipathy strong in proportion to his goodness? And is it, then, so hard to conceive that in perfect goodness there may be a recoil from moral evil, something similar in kind to this, though infinitely stronger in degree? And is not such a recoil righteous, and a token of righteousness?--_Goulburn._

[3] Let us take heed, for mercy is like a rainbow, which God set in the clouds to remember mankind: it shines here as long as it is not hindered; but we must never look for it after it is night, and it shines not in the other world. If we refuse mercy here, we shall have justice there.--_Jeremy Taylor,_ 1612-1667.


i. 24-27. _Therefore thus saith the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel, Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies: and I will turn mine hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away all thy tin: and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterwards thou shall be called, The city of righteousness, The faithful city. Zion shall be welcomed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness._

The denunciation of the iniquity of Jerusalem (vers. 21-23) is followed by a solemn announcement of God's determination to punish it. +I. God will certainly punish sin.+ "Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries, and avenge me of mine enemies." See preceding outline, and that on verse 20. +II. In punishing sin God is not moved by any vindictive purpose.+ True, He speaks here of taking vengeance upon His enemies, but these words coming from the lips of Jehovah must not be interpreted as we should have to interpret them if they came from the lips of a Genghis Khan or a Tippoo Saib. We must remember that this is the utterance of the Mighty One of Israel, who is infinitely uplifted above every unholy passion. Whatever misconstruction the phrase, taken alone, might be open to, is entirely obviated by the declarations which follow it, which teach us--+III. That God's aim even in the severest chastisements is the reformation of the offenders, and their restoration to true blessedness.+ For what purpose will He turn His hand upon Jerusalem? Not that He may destroy her, but that He may purify her, as silver is purified in the furnace; and through this painful process she is caused to pass, that she may be restored to her former dignity and blessedness. It is for these purposes that God chastises nations and individuals to-day.

_Application._--1. Those who are living sinful lives may certainly expect severe judgments. Sin and sorrow are inseparably linked, and God is solemnly pledged not to "clear" the guilty. 2. Those on whom judgments on account of sin have fallen should neither despise them nor be driven by them to despair (Heb. xii. 5). These are two great evils. Indifference to chastisement brings on still severer strokes.[1] God will break the stubborn sinners who refuse to bend (ver. 28).[2] Despair defeats the very object for which our chastisements are sent, and is itself a grievous offence against God. Instead of yielding to despair, we should be filled with hope, for God has loving purposes towards us, and our prayer should be, not that the afflictions should be removed, but that God's purposes in them should be fulfilled. It is worth while to go into the furnace, if thereby we may be cleansed from the dross by which we are defiled.


[1] The physician, when he findeth that the potion which he hath given his patient will not work, seconds it with one more violent; but if he perceive the disease to be settled, then he puts him in a course of physic, so that _medicè miserè_ (he shall have at present but small comfort of his life). And thus doth the surgeon too: if a gentle plaster will not serve, then he applies that which is more corroding, and, to prevent a gangrene, he makes use of the cauterising knife, and take off the joint or member that is so ill affected. Even so God, when men profit not by such crosses as He hath formerly exercised them with, when they are not bettered by lighter afflictions, then He sends heavier, and proceeds from milder to sharper courses. If the dross of their sin will not come off, He will throw them into the melting-pot again and again, crush them harder in the press, and lay on such irons as shall enter more deeply into their souls. If He strikes and they grieve not, if they be so foolish that they will not know the judgment of their God, He will bring seven times more plagues upon them--cross upon cross, loss upon loss, trouble upon trouble, one sorrow on the neck of another--till they are, in a manner, wasted and consumed.--_Firmicus._

[2] This we may rest satisfied of, that whensoever God's hand is upon us, we must either yield a voluntary, or be forced to a violent, submission. If our stubbornness is such that we will not bend, it is certain that our weakness is also such that we must needs break. If God's message will not win upon Pharaoh, His plagues shall compel him, and therefore, when He sent Moses to him, He put a rod into his hand, as well as a word into his mouth. When God fully purposes to afflict a man, he is like a bird in a net, the more he strives and flutters, the more he is entangled; for the Supreme Judge of all things is resolved to go through with His great work of judgment, and to make all obstinate, sturdy sinners know, that He has power to constrain where His goodness will not persuade.--_South,_ 1633-1716.


i. 25, 26. _And I will turn my hand upon thee, and purely purge away thy dross, and take away thy tin: and I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shalt be called, The city of righteousness, The faithful city._

We have here the promise of a redemption which God would accomplish for Jerusalem, and from the terms of the promise, especially taken in connection with the preceding statements (vers. 21-23), we may learn what God's idea of redemption is: it is to purge away all that debases and to restore all that is lost. In other words, _redemption consists in restoration to the Divine ideal._ Such was the redemption which God promises to accomplish for Jerusalem; such is the redemption which He offers to accomplish for us. Here we have--

+I. A correction of a common error.+ Most men, when they hear of redemption, think of it merely as salvation from suffering, rescue from the peril of hell. This is a _consequence_ of redemption, but redemption consists in the cleansing of our nature from all defilement, and in our restoration to the Divine ideal of humanity (Col. iii. 10; Eph. iv. 24, 13). God is going to do something grander for us than save us from hell. He is going to make us "meet" for heaven (1 John iii. 2). It would be truer to say that God's idea of redemption is "salvation _by_ suffering," than to say that it is "salvation _from_ suffering." The figure used in the text is expressive of the keenest suffering--"I will purge away thy dross." but dross is purged away by _fire!_ Suffering is one of the instruments which God most frequently uses to save men from sin.

+II. A model for preachers.+ Guided by a Divine interpreter, the prophet does not speak of happiness, but of purity and righteousness; he names these as the great favours which God was about to bestow upon His people. So should preachers to-day strive to make men understand that _these_ are the greatest blessings which God can confer upon man. All other blessings spring from them; as all social blessings are secured to a community when its "judges" are righteous and its "counsellors" fear God. Let preachers do their utmost to make it plain to the man of this generation, that just as if we have the sun we shall have light and heat, so if they have purity, they shall have peace; if they attain to holiness, they shall attain to a nobler and completer happiness than those who long for happiness merely ever dream.

+III. An ennobling ideal to be striven after by all men.+ Happy is the man who has a great purpose in life. And what is the purpose with which a study of our text should inspire us? Not merely to "flee from the wrath to come," but to become "partakers of the Divine nature," and so to attain to God's ideal of humanity. God is striving to restore us to His own likeness: let us do all that in us lies to help on this restoration (Phil. ii. 12, 13). The "salvation" we are to "work out" is not salvation from guilt (_that_ is Christ's work, accomplished by Him once for all on the cross), but from the indwelling corruption which is to us what dross is to the precious metals. Nor are we merely to seek to put away that which is evil;[1] we are to strive to set up in us all noblenesses which are to character what "judges" and "counsellors" are to a city (2 Pet. i. 5-7; Phil. iv. 8). Blessed is the man who has this ideal in life. 1. _He is saved from fear,_ the haunting dread of failure which oppresses those whose supreme desire is merely to be saved from hell. 2. _He has a sustaining hope,_ based upon the sure promises of God's Word (1 Pet. i. 10, 11). 3. He has a present and growing joy,_ such as can come only from self-conquest and moral progress. The joy of "the just," that is of the men whose steadfast aim is righteousness, is like "the path of the just" (Prov. iv. 18).


[1] Christianity ends not in negatives. No man clears his garden of weeds but in order to the planting of flowers or useful herbs in their room. God calls upon us to dispossess our corruptions, but it is for the reception of new inhabitants. A room may be clean, and yet empty; but it is not enough that our hearts be swept, unless they be also garnished, or that we lay aside our pride, our luxury, our covetousness, unless humility, temperance, and liberality rise up and thrive in their places. The design of religion would be very poor and short should it look no further than only to keep men from being swine, goats, and tigers, without improving the principles of humanity into positive and higher perfections. The soul may be cleansed from all blots, and yet still be left but a blank. But Christianity is of a thriving and aspiring nature, and requires us to proceed from grace to grace (2 Pet. i. 5-7), ascending by degrees, till at length the top of the ladder reaches heaven, and conveys the soul so qualified into the mansions of glory.--_South,_ 1633-1716.


i. 26. _And I will restore thy judges as at the first, and thy counsellors as at the beginning: afterward thou shall be called, The city of righteousness, The faithful city._

We have in the contest a picture of a dismantled city, a disorganized community; and here God tells us that He will undertake the work of its reconstruction. +I. All the arrangements of society are absolutely in God's hands.+ "_I_ will restore," &c. No man can overturn, or build up, but by His permission. On Him all projects of national, social, or ecclesiastical reconstruction depend for their success. That on which He smiles flourishes; that on which He frowns withers away. Let reformers and reconstructors of society remember and recognise this great fact, that God rules on earth as in heaven. +II. All interruptions of social order are under the control of God.+ Revolutions occur not by chance, nor by the will of man, but by the will of God. They occur only when, and continue only as long as He pleases. By Him judges and counsellors are swept away, and by Him they are restored. No nation is so broken that it cannot be uplifted by Him to power and glory, "as at the first." +III. No social state can be purified but by religious processes.+ There are many philanthropic and political projects which have for their aim national regeneration, but they are all foredoomed to come to nought, because they lack the religious element. Moral reformation must go before social advancement: a return to righteousness is the first step to national exaltation.[1] +IV. The great name will follow the true regeneration.+ "_Afterward_ thou shall be called, The city of righteousness, The faithful city." Not first the exalted title, but the illustrative character; not first the splendid renown, but the glorious achievement!--_Joseph Parker, D.D._


[1] Think not that any change in the form of government would cure that which is caused by the people's sin, or the common depravity of human nature. Some think they can contrive such forms of government as that the rulers shall be able to do no hurt; but either they will disable them to do good, or else their engine is but glass, and will fail or break when it comes to execution. Men that are themselves so bad and unhumbled as not to know how bad they are, and how bad mankind is, are still laying the blame upon the form of government when anything is amiss, and think by a change to find a cure. As if when an army is infected with the plague, or composed of cowards, the change of the general or form of government would prove a cure. But if a monarch be faulty, in an aristocracy you will have but many faulty governors for one, and in a democracy a multitude of tyrants.--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.


i. 27, 28. _Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness: and the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed._

These verses are closely and vitally connected: it is a mistake to separate them, as in the Authorised Version. Their meaning would be conveyed to the English reader, if they were translated--_"Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness; and thereby also the transgressors and sinners shall be destroyed, yea they that forsake the Lord shall be consumed."_[1] By judgment is meant the doom which in the preceding verses had been threatened against guilty Jerusalem (_e.g.,_ vers. 18): this "judgment" would be a manifestation of God's punitive righteousness, and the declaration is that the infliction of this "judgment" would have a twofold effect--it would redeem Zion and her converts, and it would destroy the transgressors and sinners.

_The diverse effects of Divine judgments_ is a matter well worthy of our study. +I. One effect of those judgments by which God manifests His righteous indignation against sin is to redeem His people from their transgressions.+ A prolonged period of peace and prosperity such as the Jews enjoyed under Uzziah is always perilous to the vital religion of a nation. Formalism is apt to prevail. The lines of demarcation between the Church and the world are apt to be effaced; "Zion" is apt to become merged in "Jerusalem." In love to His people, God is therefore compelled to send upon their nation great calamities. These lead to searchings of heart, and reformations of conduct and character. Men learn again to wait upon God, and reverently to regard His will (ch. xxvi. 9). The Church shines once more with the glory of spiritual conformity to God, and the result is that she is increased by converts from the world: to these also the season of judgment is also the season of redemption. But, +II. Another effect of God's judgments is to harden the obdurate.+ His chastisements lead some men to further acts of rebellion against Him (ver. 8). Like Pharaoh, they harden themselves more and more as God sends plague after plague upon them (Exod. viii. 19, 32, &c.) Hence seasons of public calamity (such as that of the plague in London, &c.) have always been seasons of public crime. Transgressors madly dare Omnipotence to a trial of strength, and the result is their utter destruction.

Our object as thus unfolded gives rise to the following practical reflections--1. In a season of national or individual prosperity we should be especially watchful and prayerful against conformity to the world.[2] 2. We should not regard judgments that come upon our nation or ourselves merely as calamities: they may be God's angels sent in truest mercy, and they bring with them to the people of God great moral and spiritual compensations. 3. Judgments, when they come upon us, afford us an admirable test of our real character: if we be indeed the people of God, they will lead us to submission and to more earnest strivings after holiness; but if they awaken within us a spirit of murmuring, of repining, of resentment against God, we have good cause to suspect that our religion has never been the work of God in our hearts.[3] 4. In the season of judgment we really have only one alternative before us--to turn or burn. No stoutness of heart will enable us to resist God's consuming wrath against iniquity (Mal. iv. 1).


[1] The world "together" does not mean that the transgressor shall be destroyed _together with_ the sinner; but that the destruction of this one class, called both transgressors and sinners, shall come in close connection, "together with," the salvation of the penitent who are brought back to God by correction, as is said in the previous verses. The same sort of infliction that reclaimed the "converts" (ver. 27), hardened and sealed over to ruin those who would still "forsake the Lord."--_Cowles._

[2] How often does worldly prosperity tend to this lapsing of the soul from God! How often do our very outward mercies and blessings superinduce this spiritual languor and decay! It is with believers individually as with the Church collectively--they are never in a condition less favourable to spiritual health and advancement than when they have no trial or cross to brace their energies and invigorate their graces. The soldier gets supine after battle. History tells us how the bravest veterans of the great Carthaginian general got demoralized and degenerate when, victory over, they sat down to rejoicing and revelry, before the gates of Capus; they never were the same heroes again.--_Macduff._

[3] As it is easy to know a piece of gold from a piece of brass when they come both to the anvil and be stricken with the hammer, for brass will not be handled, but when it cometh to the beating breaketh and maketh a sharp din and irksome, but gold soundeth sweetly, and is pliable; so when the hypocrite cometh between the anvil and the hammer of affliction, he breaketh with impatience, and lamenteth in blasphemies against God; whereas a faithful Christian praiseth God, and layeth out his heart, submitting himself willingly under the Lord's hand that striketh him.--_Cowdray,_ 1598-1684.


i. 28. _They that forsake the Lord shall be consumed._

+I. The guilt of forsaking the service of the Lord.+ 1. Man is bound by the law of his nature to obey that Almighty Being by whom he was made an intelligent and immortal creature. Every discovery which reason opens to him of the transcendent perfections of the Lord of the universe urges the duty of offering the homage of his heart and life. Every day's preservation increases his obligation to serve his gracious Preserver. 2. Many in forsaking the Lord violate their own express and solemn engagements (Heb. x. 29). +II. The folly of forsaking, &c.+ If we do so, we shall 1. incur the reproaches of our own mind; 2. forfeit the esteem and confidence of all good men; 3. forfeit the favour and incur the wrath of God. And for what are all those tremendous sacrifices made? For "the pleasures of sin," which are but "for a season"! +III. The danger of forsaking,+ &c.--"shall be consumed." The threatened doom is 1. awful, 2. certain.--_J. H. Hobart, D.D., Posthumous Works,_ ii. 220-229.


i. 28-31. _They that forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For they[1] shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye[1] have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens that ye have chosen. For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water. And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them._

In modern days, when men "forsake the Lord," they become simply irreligious--practical atheists; but in ancient times such men became idolaters, they became worshippers of idols set up under the "oaks" planted on the hilltops, or in gardens.[2] It is almost impossible for us to understand the fascination of idol-worship, but it was very powerful, and the idols were made objects of passionate trust. They were regarded as the strength of those who served them. Trusting in their protection their votaries went forth confidently to battle. Defeat did not dispel this delusion; it was interpreted to mean merely that the god of the victors was mightier than the god of the vanquished. To men glorying in their protection, the prophet predicts utter destruction. You shall be consumed, he says; the day is at hand when ye shall be caused to blush for your gods; you yourselves shall be withered oaks, and gardens without water; yea, your idols, and ye who have made them, for they are but things, the work of your hands, shall be burned together in unquenchable fire.[3] The theme of these verses is therefore _the doom of the apostates, and the objects of their trust._

+I. Idolatry is still the sin of our race.+ It is not confined to "heathen" lands. There is no need in this land for a proclamation of the first commandment. For what is idolatry in the essence? It is loving and trusting some being or thing more than God. Every man's god is what he lives for. Hence the declaration that "covetousness is idolatry;" it is _one_ form of the widespread sin. +II. The confidence of men in their idols is still limitless and exultant.+ Every idolater is persuaded that that which he lives for is worth living for; this is the conviction of the miser, the ambitious man, &c. +III. The time is at hand when the falsity of this confidence shall be exposed.+ There are coming upon those who cherish it calamities amid which they will seek in vain for comfort from their "idols." How often this is verified in daily life! In the withered, desolate condition of those who have forsaken the Lord how awfully is their folly demonstrated! +IV. Yea, there is a day appointed in which all idolaters and their idols shall be consumed together.+ In the day of judgment the worshippers of Dagon, of Astarte, of Baal, and of Brahm will not be the only persons on whom utter destruction shall come: those who have made gold their confidence, &c., shall be burned up, together with their "gods." The objects of their trust shall be as powerless as is "tow" to resist flame, and they themselves shall be but as "sparks," swept away by the blast of the Divine indignation.

_Application._--1. The day of judgment is a great reality; it is no mere dream of theologians, it is A TREMENDOUS FACT with which we shall soon be brought face to face. 2. This fact should govern us in selecting the object of our supreme love and trust. 3. It should prevent us from envying those who have forsaken the Lord, because of the temporary prosperity in which they are rejoicing.[4] 4. It should make us earnest in our endeavours to reclaim them from their apostacy while the day of Divine long-suffering and mercy still continues.


[1] In verse 29 is an instance of what seemed to Lowth's classical taste a corrupt reading--"They shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired." But this variation of the persons of the verb is not unusual in Hebrew, and certainly no corruption. Indeed, if we look at Psalm xci., which is very artistically constructed, we shall see reason to think that what jars so harshly on a classically trained ear was a beauty to the Hebrew poets.--_Strachey._

"Which ye have desired." He was speaking of "the sinners," he suddenly turns round to the men of his own generation, and says, "_You_ are the men who are thus storing up shame and confusion."--_Kay._

[2] In the judgments and the restoration which the prophet foretells, he declares that the people shall learn the worthlessness of the idols which they have been worshipping under the oak-trees, and in the sacred groves and gardens. The worship of the high places was partly a local worship of Jehovah, which only became irregular and blameable in later times; but there was also a widespread worship of Baal, Astarte, and Molech, the old gods of the Canaanites and other nations, in sacred groves and gardens, as well as on the hill-tops--a worship of impersonated and defiled sensuality and cruelty--which sometimes even established itself within the precincts of the temple itself, and was still more readily blended with, or substituted for, the worship of Jehovah in the high places. And this idolatrous worship was going on in Judæa during the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham, at the same time with the temple services, as appears from 2 Kings xv. 3, 4, compared with 2 Chron. xxvii. 2. In the day of judgment and restoration, says the prophet, these men who have been flourishing in their sin like the oaks, and living in pleasures like those of their well-watered gardens, shall find that the idols to which these oaks and gardens are dedicated have no power to save them from a destruction which shall make them "as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water," images which will be the more forcible if we remember that in a southern climate trees fade rather from excessive heat than from seasonable cold, and a garden without water is a mere desert of sand. Then shall the strong, the mighty, and the unjust ruler become tow, and his idols, the work of his hands, a spark; and shall both burn together, and no man shall quench them.--_Strachey._

[3] The interpretation of verse 31 on which the above outline is based is that of Calvin and the earlier Protestant commentators. That which in modern days has been almost universally adopted, is given in the preceding extract from Strachey, and the homiletic use to which it may be put is indicated in the next outline: "The Tow and the Spark." We are persuaded, however, that the earlier interpretation is that which is most in harmony with the scope of the whole passage. All the ancient versions treat חָסֹן as an abstract, meaning _strength,_ and Dr. Alexander admits that "this agrees well with its form, resembling that of an infinitive or verbal noun." Latterly it has become the fashion to translate it "strong man," but the harmony of the whole passage is best maintained by rendering it _"their strength,"_ that is, that which the idolaters have regarded as their "strength," the deity in whose protection they have trusted.

[4] O sirs! do wicked men purchase their present pleasures at so dear a rate as eternal torments, and do we envy their enjoyment of them so short a time? Would any envy a man going to execution because he saw him in a prison nobly feasted, and nobly attended, and bravely courted? or because he saw him go up the ladder with a gold chain about his neck, and a scarlet gown upon his back? or because he saw him walk to the execution through pleasant fields or delightsome gardens? or because there went before him drums beating, colours flying, and trumpets sounding? &c. Surely no! Oh, no more should we envy the grandeur of the men of the world, for every step they take is but a step to an eternal execution.--_Brooks,_ 1628-1680.

What reason have we to envy the wicked in their riches and prosperity? If a man be standing firmly on a river's bank, and sees another gliding gaily but inevitably down to a tremendous precipice below, shall he be envious of the pleasant sail that intervenes before the dread catastrophe? Shall he stand and envy him, and wish to exchange places with him? Oh no, but let him rather cry aloud, and warn him of his danger. Let him hasten to the rescue; throw out his arms with right good-will, and if it may be, save a soul from death.--_Nason._


i. 31. _And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them._

For the phrases "and the maker of it," the margin reads, "and his work." So Alexander and Henderson. This reading renders the passage intelligible in meaning and terrible in import. It then in simple, vivid manner sets forth the reciprocal influence of the sinner and his sin. The man in committing sin degrades and enfeebles himself, and then the sin he has committed reacts upon his degraded and enfeebled nature to kindle in it the fire of its corruption. It is worth observing that these terrible words of warning are not levelled 1. against _low and vile people._ The term "strong" precludes that opinion. They are spoken against those who have been, or are still, esteemed, exalted, and powerful,--presumably against the princes, the judges, the counsellors of the nation (vers. 23-26). Nor are they spoken 2. against _the avowedly irreligious._ The people addressed performed a multitude of sacrifices (ver. 11), were punctilious in their attendance on the house of God, &c. (vers. 12-14), were full of apparent devotion (ver. 15). Nor 3. do they refer to _the grosser forms of sin._ These would of course come under the same condemnation. But spiritual sins, though more refined to our perception, are more fatal even than sensual sins. It is pre-eminently a spiritual sin in root, however sensual in fruit, that is here arrived at. It is all summed up in the one evil, "forsaking the Lord" (ver. 28). It is important to bear these considerations in mind if we would obtain personal and profitable application of these words. Consider--

+I. The radical change sin works in the constitution of the sinner.+ Sin is lawlessness, an outbreak of self-will (1 John iii. 4). It is conscious wrongdoing (James iv. 17). And sin, the prophet says in effect, has a disintegrating, deteriorating, degrading influence upon the man's nature who yields to it. "The strong shall be as _tow." Tow_ is the coarse, broken part of flax or hemp--waste, refuse. Used here in contrast to that which is strong. Used also as pattern of that which is inflammable. 1. _Sin lowers the tone and tenor of our nature._ Man's nature is originally a very high nature. "A little lower than the angels" (Ps. viii. 5); a little lower than _Divinity_ (see Alexander and Thrupp _in loc._). Originally a king with all highest forms of existence grouped around his throne (Ps. viii. 6-8). He falls by sin. How low? To the level of beasts that perish? (Ps. xlix. 20). Lower than that (Isa. i. 3). To level of trees and shrubs? Lower than that. See, that heap of coarse and tangled refuse was a plant once, a living thing. Now it is cut down, dried, dead; choicest parts gone, wasted! _"Tow"_--that is the symbol of the sinful man. The height from which he has fallen measures the degradation incurred. To that which is by nature "tow," it is no degradation to be "tow." But for that which is "strong" to become "tow"--for the highest of God's creations to become as the lowest--this is disgraceful, dreadful. 2. _Sin, depraving and degrading the type and tenor of our nature, enfeebles our powers of resistance to the assaults of external evil._ Sin is weakness as well as wickedness; weakness as the result of wickedness. The "strong" becomes as "tow," becomes _weak._ Hard to tell which is the worse to bear, the paroxysms of remorse, or the paralysis of power which the habit of sin engenders.[1] To feel that when some "temptation comes and calmly states itself before us" we are helplessly a prey to it, is terrible indeed. The first sin of any kind greatly facilitates a second commission of the same;[2] and every repetition increases that facility till the ease of doing it almost amounts to a practical inability to abstain from doing it.[3] Sin gets _dominion_ over us. Men are "sold under sin." 3. _Sin imparts to us an increased susceptibility to evil_--makes us more inflammable. And Satan's "fiery darts" striking, inflame us.[4] Some counsellors advise young people to indulge in a certain measure of sin as a remedy for its enkindling impulses; they call it "sowing their wild oats." A figure is sometimes the best vail for a fact. One would think that "sowing" would of itself suggest reproduction and multiplied reproduction (Gal. vi. 7, 8) If you wish your nature to become hopelessly inflammable, utterly uncontrollable, give way to the indulgence of its hot impulses while you are young.

+II. The way in which the sinner and his sin co-operate for their common destruction.+ We all know the influence of coming into contact with the instruments, the companions, the locality even, of a former sin. They stir up in us the memories, the emotions, the impulse to the same transgression. So the sinner goes about the world setting new snares for his feet at every turn as he sins. The relation of sin to the sinner and to his sinful deed is like that of a lamp placed between two mirrors, which reflect and reflect the light, till both the mirrors seem full of lamps. Sin is ever more multiplying itself between the sinner and his sinful deed. And the issue is irremediable ruin. "They shall both burn together, and none shall quench them." And the moral is, that if we would keep out of hell, we must keep out of sin.--_W. Roberts, B.A._


[1] One of the affecting features in a life of vice is the longing, wistful outlooks given by the wretches who struggle with unbridled passions towards virtue which are no longer within their reach. Men in the tide of vice are sometimes like the poor creatures swept down the stream of mighty rivers, who see people safe on shore, and trees and flowers, as they go quickly past, and all things that are desirable gleam upon them a moment to heighten their trouble, and to aggravate their swift-coming destruction.--_Beecher._

[2] A brand that has been once in the fire easily catches the second time.--_Flavel,_ 1630-1696.

Every commission of sin imprints upon the soul further disposition and proneness to sin; as the second, third, and fourth degrees of heat are more easily introduced than the first. Every one is both a preparative and a step to the next. Drinking both quenches the present thirst and provokes it for the future. When the soul is beaten from its first station, and the mounds and earthworks of virtue are once broken down, it becomes quite another thing from what it was before. In one single eating of the forbidden fruit, when the act is gone, yet the relish remains; and the remembrance of the first is an easy allurement to the second. One visit is enough to begin an acquaintance; and this point is gained by it, that when the visitant comes again, he is no more a stranger.--_South,_ 1633-1716.

[3] Sin is like the descent of a hill, where every step we take increase the difficulty of our return. Sin, in its habits, becomes stronger every day--the heart grows harder, the conscience grows duller, the distance between God and the soul grows greater, and like a rock hurled from a mountain's top, the further we descend we go down, and down, and down, with greater and greater rapidity.--_Guthrie._

[4] It is in our own bosom that the power of temptation is found. Temptation is but a spark; and if a spark fall upon ice, if it fall upon snow, if it fall upon water, what is the harm of a spark? But if it fall upon powder--the powder is yours, the spark only is the devil's.--_Beecher._

The power of temptation is in proportion to the nature of the soul tempted. A thoughtless miner takes an uncovered light into the mine: where there is but little gas, there is but a wavering and flickering of a transient flame,--hardly flame, indeed; but where there is an accumulation of gas, the uncovered light occasions an explosion which shivers the rocks and brings swift destruction upon all who are in the mine. In both cases it was the same mine, the same miner, but the condition of the air was different. So is it with the fiery darts of the wicked one; they are shot into all human hearts, and just in proportion to the materials, so to speak, which are to be found there, will be the success or failure of the enemy.--_Dr. Parker._


ii. 1-5. _The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw, &c._

1. The marvellous power of the ancient prophets in giving embodiment and figure to the Word of God. It was a "word" that Isaiah saw; not that he heard, but that shaped itself before his vision, and made him glad, as if a new star had arisen to guide him. 2. Isaiah speaks with magnificent confidence as to the summing up of earthly dispensations. Casting his eye over all the uproar and tumults of intervening time, he sees a heavenly repose settling on the engagements and destinies of mankind. Herein is the peculiar power of the old prophets, viz., that they did not confine their attention within a brief and inadequate period, but projected their minds over historic spaces within which, so to speak, God had room to disclose somewhat of the proportions and significance of His plans. The whole year can never be judged from any one season. The prophets seemed to see things in their _wholeness,_ and this made them calm in the midst of transitory confusion and distress. 3. The house of the Lord is to be exalted above all rivalry. The strength of the hills is to be a pedestal for the sanctuary. At the last right shall be uppermost, and holiness supreme. In the "last days" the house of the Lord shall exert a universal fascination; nation shall challenge nation to go up in holy and triumphant procession to the heights of Zion; and the voice of other allurements shall be lost in the infinite charm of the invitation. 4. Nor is this to be the indulgence of a mere sentiment; it will be the expression of a desire to be spiritually right, and thus to be spiritually secure: "He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths." Lawless sentiment is to have no place in spiritual discipline. We are not called to a high revel, but to a pure and tender obedience to an unchangeable law. 5. The house of the Lord is to be a centre of judgment and rebuke towards people who are living in impiety and political corruption. The consequence of this judgment, if properly received, will be the establishment and perpetuation of righteous peace. When the nations are right with God, they will be right with each other. Merely negative peace may be disturbed, but the peace which comes by righteousness will be its own guarantee of completeness and continuity. 6. All these blissful anticipations should constrain towards present obedience, and be fruitful of present joy. So the prophet thought when he exclaimed, O house of Jacob, come ye, &c. Those who have great prospects should even now show themselves to be the heirs of glory. Christian joy is not all future. Even now, though we have to complain of so much of cloud and storm, there is a light that is distinctively divine, and under its benign rays we ought to walk until the fuller glory is revealed.--_Joseph Parker, D.D._


ii. 2-5. _And it shall come to pass in the last days, &c._

Theme: _The Glory of the Latter Days._ "The last days," when men shall no longer need to offer the prayer, "Thy kingdom _come._" The glory of the latter days will consist--+I. In the exaltation of the Lord's house above all other institutions+ (ver. 2). Now the Exchange, the Senate, the University, &c., are the great "mountains" of society; then the sanctuary will be supreme. In other words, religion will be the ruling force in society, dominating and directing all the others. This is the truth set forth by the figure of the upraising of Mount Zion above all the other mountains, "so as to be visible in all directions." +II. In universal submission to the authority of God+ (ver. 3). Not by the Jews only (as in Isaiah's time), but by "_all_ nations,"[1] and not (as now) by some individuals merely, but by "all _nations,_" will this authority be recognised and obeyed. Sin will be the exception, righteousness the rule. And so, as a consequence of this--+III. In universal peace among men+ (ver. 4).[2] All contentions necessarily cease when men know and do the will of God. James iii. 14--iv. 1. Love towards man always results from genuine love toward God.

A contemplation of their glorious future is calculated--1. _To sustain us amid the sins and sorrows of our time._ When we look at the condition of the world as it is, we are tempted to despair. But there is a better day to come. In the widening diffusion of Christian truth, and in the growing power of Christian principle, even now we may see at least streaks of light which tell that the dawn is near. 2. _To animate us in our efforts to regenerate society._ These efforts are not in vain, though they sometimes seem so. We are working in the line of victory (1 Cor. xv. 58). 3. _The blessing of the future we can make our own now._ "O house of Jacob, come _ye,_ and let _us_ walk in the light of the Lord," that is, "in His paths" (ver. 3). We can make religion the supreme force of our life, and can act with a constant recognition of God's authority; and doing this, _we_ shall have peace--with God, with ourselves, and in our homes (Isa. xxxii. 17, 18).


[1] What words are these! What ideas! What radiances of glory and hope for the long-afflicted Church! Nations abolishing war and crimes, to cultivate righteousness and peace! nations emerging from ignorance and idolatry, to join themselves to the Church, and to walk in the light of the Lord! _How marvellous that words like these should proceed from the Hebrew prophets!_ that men of the most confined education with regard to the Gentiles should thus lose the glory of Israel in the overflowing glory of the converted world! Can we ask for clearer proof that these holy men were purely the organs of the Holy Ghost, and transported in spirit to publish the righteousness of God to every nation and language of the earth?--_Sutcliffe._

I would urge the thoughtful consideration of these verses (2-9) on any one who is perplexed by the confident assertion of writers who prefer vague declamation to close investigation and reasoning, that the Hebrew prophets were actuated by a bitter hatred of foreigners. He will, I think, discover (from this and such like study) that they were possessed by views and hopes of a philanthropy which even our own times have not been able to extend: they longed for fellowship with all men, under the only conditions in which fellowship is possible; they desired an universal communion of virtue, humanity, and goodness, and could not be content to have a general license of vice, brutality, and wickedness instead; and they advocated what they saw, and what all history has proved, to be the only way of avoiding the one and securing the other.--_Strachey._

[2] This verse shows that there will come a time when men shall have found out that they are men and not brutes, and when they shall settle matters, not by the force of their animal powers, but by the force of superior intelligence.--_James Wells._


ii 2. _And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and all nations shall flow unto it._

The poetic imagery delineates the final and universal prevalence of religion. Christianity is a temple majestic and conspicuous, and all nations crowd its courts in united adoration. _There are many interesting indications that this prophecy is soon to be fulfilled,_ such as--+I. The political aspect of the globe.+ The vast political changes that have taken place during the last four centuries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America have all been favourable to the extension of Christianity. The area of Christian knowledge and influence has been steadily extending.[1] +II. The progress of civilisation and of the arts.+ A few years ago it required the painful labour of years to copy a Bible, and the wealth of a prince to purchase one: now the art of printing scatters the Word of God like autumn leaves, and it is found in the humblest dwelling. Then none could read but the learned few; now knowledge is becoming like sunlight, everywhere diffused. War has long been one of the greatest obstacles in the way of human improvement; now various causes are operating to render it less frequent, such as 1. the rapid extension of piety, carrying with it the principles of peace; 2. the extension of enlightened views of national policy; 3. the transference of power from kings and nobles to the people, the victims of war, who will become its powerful opponents; 4. the invention of terrible engines of destruction, which will tend to deter nations from plunging into war. Slavery, too, is rapidly disappearing from the earth. The wonderful facilities of intercommunication which now exist are weakening and effacing national prejudices. All these causes are hastening on the promised millennium. +III. The present state of the sciences.+ This statement seems to be contradicted by the attitude of many students of science towards Christianity. But we must remember that all the sciences in their infancy have been arrayed as hostile to scriptural truth--astronomy, geology, physiology, chronology; but one by one each of these sciences, as it developed and attained maturity, has passed over to the side of Christianity, and has powerfully helped to build up what it feebly and impotently laboured to destroy. That which hath been is that which shall be. In science the cause of revealed truth will continue to find one of her most ready and efficient helpers. +IV. The past achievements of Christianity foreshadow its eventual and perfect triumph.+ The hostility of earth has marshalled every possible power, in every possible combination, against Christianity--the persecution of political power, the arguments of philosophy, satire, learning, poetry, wealth--and all in vain. The past triumphs of the religion of Christ show that it possesses an inherent energy which must inevitably make it triumphant over the world. The mighty influence which swept away the gods of Greece and Rome will not be baffled by the mud-idols of India. +V. The triumphant advances Christianity is now making indicate its universal extension.+ _Application._--What are _you_ doing to hasten this certain and glorious triumph?--_J. S. C. Abbott, American National Preacher,_ xvii. 169-176.


[1] All the might of the world is now on the side of Christianity. Those barbarous, inchoate powers which still cling to heathenism are already trembling before the advancing strides of the Christian nations; Christian just enough to rouse all their energies and to make them intensely ambitious, and on the alert to increase their own dominion, without having learned Christianity's highest lesson, the lesson of love.

Even that heathenism which seems to have some power is only waiting for its time of decay. In vast, undisturbed forests, whose interlacing branches exclude the light, moisture is generated, and rills, fed by marshes and quiet pools, united to form running rivers. But let the trees be cut down, and the ground be laid open to the sun, and the swamps will dry up, and the rivers run no more. So is it with the Brahmins, and all the effete teachers of heathenism. As long as the dense shadows of ignorance brood over the people, they will possess some little trickling power; but let the light of knowledge shine in upon the masses, and the channels of their influence will dry up and be forgotten.--_Beecher._


ii. 5. _O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord._

"The light of the Lord" streams upon us from His Word (Ps. cxix. 105). The knowledge of God and of His holy will which the Bible imparts to us is the meridian sun which casts his rays on the cold scenes of our earthly career. +I. The religion of the Bible illumines.+ Into how many errors did unaided human reason fall, when the nature of God and of His operations was the subject of its inquiries![1] Did not the wisest grope in darkness? Did they not conceive absurdities, even when man and his fate were the subject of their inquiries?[2] How full, clear, and steady is the light which the Scriptures cast upon these and other great subjects of human thought! +II. The religion of the Bible warms.+ That God is great and all-powerful some philosophers imagined before the divine light of inspired truth shone forth; but the human heart remained cold, and felt in itself no point of contact and union with so exalted a Being. Until God said, "I am your Father," we were as orphans in a strange land; but then at once the world became to us as a parent's dwelling, and our heart began to warm with love towards God and man. +III. The religion of the Bible vivifies.+ It animates and restores the weary, the dying! +IV. The religion of the Bible blesses+--now,[3] and for ever (1 Tim. iv. 8).--_G. Salomon, Twelve Sermons,_ pp. 1-24.


[1] Men who seek God by reason and natural strength (though we do not deny common notions and general impressions of a sovereign power) are like mariners who voyaged before the invention of the compass, who were but coasters, and unwillingly left the sight of the land. Such are they who would arrive at God by this world, and contemplate Him only in His creatures and seeming demonstration. Certainly every creature shows God, as a glass; but glimmeringly and transitorily, by the frailty both of the receiver and beholder; ourselves have His image, as medals, permanently and preciously delivered. But by these meditations we get no further than to know what He doth, not what He is.--_Donne,_ 1573-1631.

None but the true God can discover [make known] what the true worship of God is. As that glorious eye of heaven is not to be seen but by its own proper light,--a million of torches cannot show us the sun: so it is not all the natural reason in the world that can either discover what God is, or what worship He expects, without Divine and supernatural revelation from Himself.--_Arrowsmith,_ 1602-1659.

[2] Reason sees that man is ignorant, guilty, mortal, miserable, transported with vain passions, tormented with accusations of conscience, but it could not redress those evils. Corrupt nature is like an imperfect building that lies in rubbish: the imperfection is visible but not the way to finish it; for through ignorance of the first design every one follows his own fancy, whereas, when the Architect comes to finish His own project, it appears regular and beautiful. Thus the various directions of philosophers to recover fallen man out of his ruins, and to raise him to his first state, were vain. Some glimmerings they had that the happiness of a reasonable nature consisted in its union with God, but in order to this they propounded such means as were not only ineffectual, but opposite. Such is the pride and folly of carnal wisdom, that to bring God and man together, it advances man, but depresses God.--_Bates,_ 1625-1699.

All the days of sinful nature are dark night, in which there is no right discerning of spiritual things: some light there is, of reason, to direct natural and civil actions, but no daylight. Till the sun rise it is night still, for all the stars, and the moon to help them.--_Leighton,_ 1611-1684.

[3] It is a peculiar advantage of piety, that it furnisheth employment fit for us, worthy of us, hugely grateful, and highly beneficial to us. Man is a very busy and active creature, which cannot live and do nothing, whose thoughts are in restless motion, whose desires are ever stretching at somewhat, who perpetually will be working either good or evil to himself: wherefore greatly profitable must that thing be which determineth him to act well, to spend his care and pain on that which is truly advantageous to him; and that is religion only. It alone fasteneth our thoughts, affections, and endeavours upon occupations worthy the dignity of our nature, suiting the excellence of our natural capacities and endowments, tending to the perfection and advancement of our reason, to the enriching and ennobling of our souls. Secluding that, we have nothing in the world to study, to affect, to pursue, not very mean and below us, not very base and unbecoming us, as men of reason and judgment. What have we to do but to eat and drink, like horses or like swine; but to sport and play, like children or apes; but to bicker and scuffle about trifles and impertinencies, like idiots? What but to scrape or scramble for useless pelf, to hunt after empty shows and shadows of honour, or the vain fancies or dreams of men? What but to wallow or bask in sordid pleasures, the which soon degenerate into remorse and bitterness? To which sort of employments were a man confined, what a pitiful thing he would be, and how inconsiderable would be his life! Were a man designed only, like a fly, to buzz about here for a time, sucking in the air and licking the dew, then soon to vanish back into nothing, or to be transformed into worms, how sorry and despicable a thing were he! And such without religion we should be. But it supplieth us with business of a most worthy nature and lofty importance; it setteth us upon doing things great and noble as can be; it engageth us to free our minds from all fond conceits, and cleans our hearts from all corrupt affections,--to conform the dispositions of our soul and the actions of our life to the eternal laws of righteousness and goodness: it putteth us upon the imitation of God, upon obtaining a friendship and maintaining a correspondence with the High and Holy One, upon filling our minds for conversation and society with the wisest and purest spirits above, upon providing for our immortal state, upon the acquist of joy and glory everlasting. It employeth us in the divinest actions--promoting virtue, performing beneficence, serving the public, and doing good to all: the being exercised in which things doth indeed render a man highly considerable and his life excellently valuable.--_Barrow,_ 1630-1677.


ii. 5. _O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord._

There are many lights shining upon the paths of men in this world. There are the lights of science and philosophy; they beam out from the human mind, and are kindled by eager research and investigation. These have been advancing in splendour and in value, age by age, and will, no doubt, continue to do so to the end of time. Men walk in these lights, and vainly imagine that they have found the sun of the soul. They seek no higher illumination. They are mistaken. The lights of science are but little service to the moral nature; they cannot chase away its darkness, or open up to it a vision of destiny. The True Light cometh down from above, and is Divine in its origin. It is bright. It is beauteous. It is sufficient for the guidance of the soul. Wise men will walk in it. "O house of Jacob," &c.

+I. The walk of the soul.+ "Let us walk." 1. _The moral walk of the soul is a necessity._ The soul of man is endowed with certain convictions and activities which render inaction an impossibility. It must walk either in one direction or another; either toward moral purity or moral evil; either to Christ or to Satan. The moral sensibilities with which it is gifted, the laws under which it is placed, the influences to which it is subject and the prospects that are stretched out before the soul, render moral progress a necessity of being. 2. _The moral walk of the soul is educational._ Men gain knowledge in this world by travel. In this way they augment their mental stores. And the soul gains knowledge, strengthens its capabilities, and deepens its experience, by walking forth into the great moral universe in which it lives. Only the souls that have walked in the paths of truth and life know what things are, and they only are able to guide others. 3. _The moral walk of the soul is healthful._ Those who are inactive are always physically weak. The soul that never takes moral exercise, that never gets out into the broad acres of truth, and that never climbs the great mountains of God, will ever be sickly. If the soul is to be strong, equal to the duties of life, and to the demands of being, it must not indolently repose in its own quiet hiding-place. It must go forth to meet the External. 4. _The moral walk of the soul is often perilous._ The traveller has often to walk through dark places, along difficult paths, and near the deep precipice. He is in a strange country. And so in the walk of the soul. It is in a land of which it knows but little. It has to pass through the dark mystery of truth, to traverse the windings of intricate problems, and to find its way, through perplexing circumstances, to the throne of God.

+II. The light of the Lord.+ "In the light of the Lord." The soul of man was not constituted to walk in darkness. It was created with keen moral vision; but, alas! its eye is dimmed by sin, and is but seldom open to the light of heaven. 1. _This light is Divine in its origin._ It does not come from the orb in the heavens. It comes from beyond the clouds--from the Sun of Righteousness, whose rays are never lost in night. It is not the light of the finite, but of the Infinite. It is perennial and pure. It is unparalleled in beauty. It is unique in lustre. It is life-giving in its influence. The soul can walk in no better radiance. 2. _This light is clear in its revelation._ But for the sun we should know nothing of this world. And but for the light of the Lord we should be entirely ignorant of the moral world, in which the soul lives and has its being. This light which shines for the Spirit of God from the Bible, and from the enlightened conscience, reveals the existence of God, the spirituality of His nature, the purity of His character, and the devotion of which He is worthy. It reveals the soul to itself, and bends it in humility, but in joy, as it unfolds the forgiving mercy of the Cross. But for this light of the Lord we should be ignorant of the things of the moral universe. It illuminates the soul in its walk to the great and unknown future. 3. _This light is cheering in its influence._ The light of the sun is cheering to man, and is ever welcome to him. So the light of the Lord is cheering to the pure soul; it enlivens its energies, and lends new beauty to its visions. 4. _This light is abiding in its duration._ The light of the Lord will never go down from the pure soul, but will only brighten through death into the perfect day.--By what light do we walk? "Come ye," now, gladly, devoutly, "and let us walk in the light of the Lord."--_J. S. Exell._


ii. 6-22.

_Here_ is a "word" (vision) which Isaiah "saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem" (ver. 1). The prophet has been enraptured by the wondrous prospect of the distant future, when religion shall be the supreme force of life (ver. 2), and all men (vers. 2, 3), walking in "the light of the Lord," shall be at peace with each other (ver. 4): now he looks down to the present, and how dark and terrible is the picture which he sees before him! He sees--+I. A nation forsaken of God+ (ver. 6). One of the most awful of all spectacles: an engine of tremendous power, without a driver, rushing down a steep incline! +II. A nation pursuing childish superstitions+ (ver. 6): "They be replenished from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines." When a nation forsakes God, this is a common result (Rom. i. 21, 22). Witness the rapid spread in our own day of "spiritualism" among the sceptical and irreligious classes of England and America. +III. A nation seeking strength and safety in alliances with the enemies of God,+ allying itself with the very powers which Omnipotent Righteousness was pledged to crush! Instead of dwelling apart, as God intended (Num. xxiii. 9; Deut. xxxiii. 28, &c.), and in dependence upon His protection, the Israelites sought to strengthen themselves by alliances with surrounding nations. "They please themselves with the children of strangers." The same sin is repeated in these days, when God's people mix with worldly society for the sake of its "advantages." +IV. A nation blinded by external prosperity to its real condition and peril+ (ver. 7). Abounding with every evidence of prosperity, how could they suspect that they were forsaken of God, and that a terrible doom was hanging over them? What is our condition, and what are our prospects as a nation? Let us not lay too much stress upon our great national wealth. +V. A nation given over to a debasing idolatry+ (ver. 8; Rom. i. 23). A moral degradation extending to all classes (ver. 9). Just what we behold in Roman Catholic and ritualistic churches, where rich and poor alike prostrate themselves before the wheaten wafer which their priest has transformed into a god! The prophet himself now becomes part of the picture, and we have--+VI.+ The awful spectacle of +a good man invoking the vengeance of Heaven upon the nation to which he belongs+ (ver. 10): "Therefore forgive them not." This was the natural cry of the prophet's soul, filled with horror and indignation at what he saw. The imprecations of Scripture are the natural (and fitting) utterance of righteousness in view of wickedness. It is only because of the tone of our own spiritual life is so low that we are offended at them. From whom, among ourselves, does the cry of human law against the perpetrators of crimes of violence come? Not from the classes most likely to suffer for them, but from the refined and gentle, who, just because of their refinement and gentleness, are inspired by them with disgust and anger. So it is those who are most in sympathy with God who are most likely to burn with holy indignation against such things as the prophet saw. The men who offer such prayers as this, "Forgive them not," would be the first to reverse it did the offenders give any sign of repentance. +VII. A crushing doom impending over an unsuspecting nation.+ No sooner had the prophet uttered his prayer, than he sees it was needless, and that the thunderclouds of the Divine anger were already thickly massed over the guilty nation; without any visible sign there was gathering over them a storm that would suddenly break forth with destructive force. Therefore he breaks out into a strain of impassioned warning and appeal to the very men for whose punishment he had prayed (ver. 10, &c.)

What lessons shall we learn from our survey of this dark picture? 1. _Not to judge of the relations of nations, individuals, or ourselves to God by the test of temporal circumstances._ It is an old but gross fallacy that temporal prosperity is a sure sign of the Divine favour (Eccles. ix. 1-3; Job xxi. 7-15, &c.)[1] Let us not ask what our circumstances are, but what our character is, and what our conduct has been. If we are unrighteous, temporal prosperity should alarm us, as a sign that God has forsaken us (Heb. xii. 8). 2. _Not to be hasty to impute the temporal prosperity of the wicked to a slumbering of the Divine justice._ We need scarcely trouble ourselves to pray for a doom upon the ungodly (Exod. xxxiv. 7; 2 Pet. ii. 3; Job xxi. 17, 18; Ps. lxxiii. 18, 19; Isa. iii. 11). 3. _Let us remember that we ourselves, as sinners, are exposed to the Divine judgments, and let us "enter into the Rock"_--"the Rock of Ages," that, sheltered in Him, we may be safe when the storms of the final judgment shall burst upon our guilty world.


[1] When the Lord hath set thee up as high as Haman in the court of Ahasuerus, or promoted thee to ride with Joseph in the second chariot of Egypt; were thy stock of cattle exceeding Job's, "seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen;" did thy wardrobe put down Solomon's, and thy cupboard of plate Belshazzar's when the vessels of God's temple were the ornature,--yet all these are but the gifts of Wisdom's left hand, and the possessors may be under the malediction of God, and go down to damnation.--_Adams,_ 1654.

The eagles and lions seek their meat of God. But though all the sons of Jacob have good cheer from Joseph, yet Benjamin's mess exceeds. Esau shall have the prosperity of the earth, but Jacob goes away with the blessing. Ishmael may have outward favours, but the inheritance belongs to Isaac.--_Adams,_ 1654.


Heb. xiii. 5. _I will never leave thee nor forsake thee._ Isa. ii. 6. _Thou hast forsaken Thy people the house of Jacob._

How comforting is the Apostle's assurance! But do not the hope and courage which it inspires die out of us, and testify, "Thou hast forsaken Thy people"? No! because before there is any light concerning this question in our understanding, our faith tells us there must be a way of harmonising these seemingly conflicting declarations. God must necessarily be faithful to His promise. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." Were God to forsake any of His believing, expecting people, He would do more than forsake them--He would forsake _Himself!_ He would put off His crown and lay aside His sceptre, and become one of ourselves. Then the whole universe would have cause to mourn in sackcloth and ashes; there would no longer be any GOD to whom we could make supplication in our sorrows.

+I. The first of these inspired declarations make it plain that God has a people who He will never forsake.+ In every distress and tribulation He will be with them. Though all other friends may fail them, God will continue faithful to them. When the most devoted of human friends _could_ not be of any avail, God will be their succour--when bereavement has broken their heart; when persecution or temptations are threatening to sweep them away; in the hour of death.

+II. The second of these inspired declarations makes it plain that those who have been accounted the people of God may be forsaken by Him.+ This is a declaration that would smite us with dismay, and plunge us into saddest confusion, were we to put a full stop where the prophet has put a comma. Why had God forsaken His people, the house of Jacob? Because they had first forsaken Him: they had first voluntarily ceased to be His people. The truth in this matter may perhaps be best apprehended by means of a Scriptural symbol. God compares the union that exists between Him and His people to that which exists between a man and his wife. Will a good husband ever forsake his faithful wife? The bloom and beauty of her youth may have gone; a wasting sickness may have rendered her positively unlovely, but will he forsake her? Never! Her misfortunes will only cause him to cherish her with a tenderer love. But if she be unfaithful to him, what then? Why, then, the whole case may be altered. If he be a merciful as well as a just man, he may seek to reclaim her; but if she be "joined to her lovers," and persistently heedless of all his claims and her duties, the time will come when he will leave her to her fate. To him she will be as if she were dead. So God is wondrous in His forbearance towards His backsliding people; but if they persist in their apostacy, He will leave them to the gods whom they have chosen (Judges x. 13, 14; Jer. ii. 28). We see now that between these apostolic and prophetic utterances there is the most perfect harmony. Our discussion of this subject should teach us--1. _Not to found conclusions upon fragments of God's sayings or doings._ His words and His works are mutually explanatory; but we must not cut the explanations short! If we put periods where God has only put commas, we shall be plunged into frightful perplexities; with the words of Scripture on our lips, we shall have most damnable heresies in our hearts. Our study of God's word must be comprehensive. So also must our study of God's providence. Let us not be in a hurry to come to conclusions. Wait, and we shall have more light, because we shall not be looking at parts, but at wholes. Our life is being written in clauses, and not till the last is completed shall we be able to interpret the first aright.[1] 2. _Not to build too much upon past submissions to the Divine will and past enjoyments of the Divine favour._ "Once in grace always in grace" is an _ignis fatuus_ which has lighted many a soul down to hell. If after being fenced around as a garden of the Lord, and tilled by the great Husbandman, and watered by dews and rains from heaven, we relapse into mere desert ground, we may be sure we are nigh unto cursing (Heb. vi. 4-8). 3. _That those who are humbly and loyally faithful to their Heavenly Friend cannot be too confident of His faithfulness to them._ Assuredly He will never forsake them (Isa. xliii. 2). And His presence is all they need. Having Him they have all things (Ps. lxxxiv. 11, 12).


[1] The Lord has reasons far beyond our ken for opening a wide door, while He stops the mouth of a useful preacher. John Bunyan would not have done half the good he did, if he had remained preaching in Bedford, instead of being shut up in Bedford prison.--_Newton,_ 1725-1807.

However contradictory the designs of Providence at first appear to be, if we set ourselves to watch God in His works and ways, with care, we shall soon discover that He acts according to some certain scheme or plan.

Were a person altogether unacquainted with architecture to visit some splendid temple in the process of erection, and observe the huge rough stones, and boards and timbers, iron castings, bricks, lime, mortar, lying scattered in confusion all around; were he to see one group of workmen cutting up material here, another digging trenches there; one party raising a staging on this side, another nailing on some boards on that: were he to observe the blocks, the fragments, all lying in disorder round about him, he might truly say that he could see no plan or system in the business; nor would he be likely to conceive or dream that out of such a chaotic mass of raw material, out of such contradictory labour, there could ever rise a magnificent temple, to reflect undying honour on the architect, and beautify the world!

But let the observer stop, and set himself to watch from day to day this busy work as it goes on; let him patiently examine, not only the minutest details, but also try to obtain a view of the general scope and bearing of the whole, and he will not be long in finding out that some superior mind controls and regulates the movements in accordance with some preconceived plan or system, which is constantly developing itself; and that every stroke of every workman is conducive to the same ultimate effort.

And when he comes to see the "beau ideal" of the builder realised in the fair proportions, in the classic beauty of the noble structure, he then perceives how inconsiderate, how unfair it was in him to decide upon a work in its incipient state, without some knowledge of the plan and the design of it.

God is building up the Christian in accordance with a perfect plan into a majestic temple for the decoration of the eternal city. And though His dealings sometimes seem to be mysterious; though He seems to cut down here and to raise up there, to let the light into this part and to leave it dark in that; though it is hard to tell at times what such material is designed for, what this or that work means, or to conceive how the structure when completed will appear; it is nevertheless quite certain that God acts according to a fixed and unalterable plan; that every stroke we bear, or loss we mourn, is made subservient to the end; and although it is given us here to see only in part, whoever will take the pains to watch with care the course of Providence, will be convinced that it does not move along by chance, but that everything is done by a prospective plan.--_E. Nason._


ii. 6. _Therefore Thou hast forsaken Thy people, &c._

The doctrine of this verse is, that when men forsake God, God forsakes them. There is nothing arbitrary in such Divine withdrawals;[1] they have always a moral cause; and no man has any right to complain of them (Hosea xiii. 7). Consider +I. When men forsake God.+ Men forsake God--1. when they set their affection on forbidden things; 2. when they cease to seek Him in prayer and the other means of grace; 3. when they give themselves up to the practice of sin. +II. When men are forsaken of God.+ This doom befalls them--1. when they are left without that aid of the Holy Spirit, without which they cannot vividly apprehend the truth; 2. when they are left without the comfort of God's mercy; 3. when they are left without earnest distress after God, and consequently a prey to all the evil within and around them. +III. Men may be forsaken of God in the midst of temporal prosperity.+ There may be a terrible contrast between their spiritual and material condition (ver. 6, 7). Temporal prosperity is from God; it is designed to lead men to repentance (Rom. ii. 4); failing to accomplish this, it drives them further from God (Deut. viii. 11-14; Prov. xxx. 9; Neh. ix. 25); and when it has this effect upon them, the doom of which our text speaks to us is not far off (Deut. xxviii. 48).[2] +IV. No man need remain thus forsaken of God.+ 1. God desires to bring all men into fellowship with Himself (ver. 3, 4). 2. All are invited to come to Him (ver. 5). 3. The light of God's countenance is offered them, especially in Christ, who is "the light of the world."--_John Johnston._


[1] In common conversation, we frequently speak of solar eclipses. But what is called an eclipse of the sun is, in fact, an eclipse of the earth, occasioned by the moon's transit between the sun and us. This circumstance makes no alteration in the sun itself, but only intercepts our view of it for a time. From whence does darkness of soul, even darkness that may be felt, usually originate? Never from any changeableness in our covenant God, the glory of whose unvarying faithfulness and love shines the same, and can suffer no eclipse. It is when the world gets between our Lord and us, that the light of His countenance is obstructed, and our rejoicing in Him suffers a temporary eclipse.--_Salter._

[2] When the king removes, the court and all the carriages follow after, and when they are gone, the hangings are taken down; nothing is left behind but bare walls, dust, and rubbish. So, if God removes from a man or a nation, where He kept His court, His graces will not stay behind; and if they be gone, farewell peace, farewell comfort: down goes the hangings of all prosperity; nothing is left behind but confusion and disorder.--_Staughton,_ 1628.


ii. 6-9. _They be replenished from the east, &c._

We have here the indictment which the prophet brings against Israel. It consists of three counts: 1. That the people had adopted the superstitions of the surrounding nations. 2. That the government had accumulated treasure and organized a cavalry force, in direct disobedience to well-known Divine injunctions (Deut. xvii. 16, 17). 3. That rich and poor alike had abandoned themselves to idolatry. But these verses may be taken also as Isaiah's _description_ of Judæa in his day; and so regarding them, we find in them an instructive combination of the material and the moral. According to modern ideas, so far as the description concerns the material, it is exceedingly bright. An observer who regarded only the material--such a man as we can conceive of as being sent out as a "Special Commissioner" by the _Daily Telegraph_ or the _New York Herald_--would have given a glowing account of Judæa at that period: an overflowing exchequer, a powerful army, evidences of wealth and prosperity on every hand, &c. But the prophet, looking only at what is moral, gives an account that is lurid and dark in the extreme: he sees only cause for lamentation and foreboding. So we reach the first of the lessons on which I intend to insist to-day, viz., +I. That the most diverse reports may be made truly concerning the same community.+ St. Paul visited Athens, and we have a touching account of the effect of that city upon him (Acts xvii. 16); to him it presented a pitiable spectacle; but what a different effect would have been produced upon a mere man of culture, and what a different account he would have given of that metropolis of art! What very different accounts might be given of our own country from these two standpoints, the material and the moral!

+II. When two reports of a community are given--one materially bright and the other morally dark--it is the latter only that a wise man will regard as important.+ For 1. _It is on the moral condition of a nation, and not on its material prosperity, that its happiness depends._ Increase of wealthy does not necessarily mean increase of happiness. Frequently it means destruction of happiness; it always does so, when wealth increases faster than intellectual culture and moral restraint. In the absence of this moral restraint, wealth is not a blessing, but a curse. 2. _The material disassociated from the moral is transient._ Vicious prosperity is short-lived. By the luxury born of prosperity and virtue of industry, foresight, and self-denial, on which prosperity depends, are sapped. The health of the nation is lowered. Commerce becomes a gigantic system of gambling. Ruin is soon reached. Hence,

+III. Our chief concern as patriots should be to promote the moral well-being of our nation.+ Those who uplift it in virtue are its true benefactors. All who minister to its material, intellectual, and artistic progress are worthy of gratitude; but most deserving of gratitude are those who inspire it with the fear of God, and with love for His laws. Hence,

+IV. Our chief concern as individuals should be for the moral and not for the material.+ It is a very small matter to add house to house, and field to field: it is a very great thing to add virtue to virtue until we have succeeded in building up a symmetrical and noble moral character. A man's life--his true well-being depends not upon what he _has,_ but upon what he _is_.[1] And upon this, too, depends his eternal destiny. How childish, therefore, is the almost universal concern for mere material improvement! And how little have those to complain of who find themselves unable to accumulate wealth! The millionaire has soon to leave all his stores, and he speedily reaches a point at which all his bonds and notes become wastepaper. What a contrast between his experience, and that of the man who, having employed his life in virtue, finds that all unconsciously he has been laying all up for himself treasures in heaven! These two courses are open to us--to live for the material, or to live for the moral: which will you choose?


[1] A wise man looks upon men as he does upon horses; and considers their comparisons of title, wealth, and place, but as harness.--_Newton,_ 1725-1807.

In the library of the world, men have hitherto been ranged according to the form, the size, and the binding. The time is coming when they will take rank and order according to their contents and intrinsic merits.--_E. Cook._

A man may be outwardly successful all his life long, and die hollow and worthless as a puff-ball; and a man may be externally defeated all his life long, and die in the royalty of a kingdom established within him. That man is a pauper who has only outward success; and that man may be a prince who dies in rags, untended, and unknown in his physical relations to this world. And we ought to take the ideal in the beginning that a man's true estate of power and riches is to be in himself: not in his dwelling; not in his position; not in his external relations, but in his own essential character. That is the realm in which a man must live, if he is to live as a Christian man.--_Beecher._


ii. 10. _Enter into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of His majesty._

This is the counsel which the prophet gives his fellow-countrymen, in view of the desolations which God was about to send upon their land on account of their sins. He sees God's judgments sweeping down upon them like an invading army, and therefore he cries to them, "Flee into the caverns in the mountains:" like the _Simoom,_ and therefore he cries to them, "Hide yourselves in the dust: bow down before the destroying blast from which it is impossible to escape. God has been silent, as if He were indifferent to your transgressions, but now He is coming forth, in all the terrors of His majesty to require the evil doers according to their works."[1] The counsel is, of course, metaphorical; the rocks and the dust could afford no refuge from an angry God. _The summons is to profound and penitential humility,_ the proper attitude of man to God. It is a summons, therefore, which may be fitly addressed to all men. +I. Profound humility in regard to God would be befitting in us as creatures, even were we absolutely without sin.+ Such humility is reasonable--1. In view of our relation to and dependence upon God. He is our Maker; we are daily pensioners on His bounty; we are the instruments with which He carries out His purposes (ch. x. 15). 2. In view of His position as the Ruler of the universe. 3. In view of the transcendent excellencies of His character. The pupils of a great artist, such as Raphael, the associates of a great patriot, such as Washington, are filled with involuntary admiration and veneration for him. They feel themselves to be as nothing in comparison with him. How much more should we feel so in comparison with God! Those sinless being who see Him as He is show us by their conduct what would be befitting in us even were we also without spot or stain (ch. vi. 2, 3). +II. But as sinners that which is befitting in us is, not only profound, but penitential humility.+ To live without any sense of guilt in our hearts--with indifference to the fact that we have broken God's laws and are exposed to His judgements--is itself a gross iniquity; it is an outrageous defiance of the majesty in whose presence we are. What would be said of a rebel who in the presence of his outraged sovereign should absolutely _ignore_ him? Would not this be regarded as a repetition of his offence in the most aggravated form? But is not this precisely the offence which every stout-hearted sinner daily commits? As sinners there are two things especially incumbent upon us. 1. _To humbly acknowledge that we are exposed to the Divine judgments, and need a refuge therefrom._ There are two ways of contemplating the Day of Judgment: (1) As a certain and solemn fact in the history of our race. Contemplating it thus, we may show argumentatively that such an event ought to occur; and we may anticipate to some extent the principles upon which the Judge, when He shall have summoned mankind before His bar, will proceed. We may do this, and be merely theological or rhetorical. Or (2) we may regard it as a certain and terrible fact in our _own_ history. And it is thus that we should regard it. It is _we_ who are to stand before the great White Throne. A realisation of this fact will powerfully affect our feelings and our conduct; we shall (1) acknowledge, at the least, that _we need a refuge._ And we shall be prepared (2) _thankfully to avail ourselves of the refuge which God in His mercy has provided for us._ With yet greater fulness and definiteness of meaning God's messengers can repeat the prophet's counsel, "Enter into the rock, &c." The sinner's refuge is the Son of God, "the Rock of our salvation." Our refuge from God as our Judge is God Himself as our Saviour. It is as such that He now reveals Himself to us. "Behold _now_ is the day of salvation;" but the day of judgment is at hand! Ere it burst upon us, let us flee unto "the Rock of Israel" (ch. xxx. 29) crying to Him, with penitent confession of our sins,

"Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee."


[1] "The iniquity of Ephraim is bound up, their sin is hid" (Hosea xiii. 12). Not that his sin was hid from God, but his sin is hid; that is, it is recorded, it is laid up against a day of reckoning. That this is the meaning, is clear by the foregoing words, his iniquity is bound up; as the clerk of the assizes binds up the indictments of malefactors in a bundle, and, at the assizes, brings out the indictments, and reads them in court, so God binds up men's sins in a bundle; and, at the day of judgment, this bundle shall be opened, and all their sins brought to light before men and angels.--_Watson,_ 1696.


ii. 18. _And the idols He shall utterly abolish._

There are a great number of things which would be incredible if they had not actually happened! Men who, like ourselves, boasted of "reason" and "common sense," sought to settle their disputes and to vindicate their honour by the duel; they have stoutly believed in witchcraft, in "touching for the king's evil," and in other absurdities. But surely the supreme folly of which men have been guilty is idolatry. That men should fashion an idol of wood or stone, and then bow down to worship _it,_ what absurdity is this! Yet +I. The idols have had a long reign in the earth.+ Trace human history back as far as all extant records will enable you to do so, and you will find idols enthroned in the affections of men. That they should ever have been set up there must be regarded as one of Satan's subtlest and greatest triumphs. The instincts that lead men to worship are so strong, that his only hope of preventing fallen men from returning to their allegiance to God lay in persuading them to worship some other thing or being. His difficulty and his device were those of Jeroboam (1 Kings xii. 26-28). He seems to have led men down step by step: stars, images as representatives, then the images themselves: first, natural principles, then living creatures in which these principles were supposed to be embodied, then the living creatures themselves. To have begun at the end would have been too great a shock; the absurdity as well as the wickedness of such worship would have been too obvious. Thus was the empire of the idols founded, and it continues to this day. +II. The empire of the idols has been world-wide.+ It might have been supposed to be a folly that could be imposed only on a few barbarous tribes, and that all civilised nations would have rejected it with distain; but as a matter of fact, it is precisely among these nations (Egypt, Greece, Rome, Judæa, India) that idolatry flourished most and in its basest forms. Hence the empire of idolatry was co-extensive with the globe. In Elijah's time even God thought it a great thing that He would assure His prophet that there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings xix. 18). +III. The idols have been served with passionate devotion.+ In almost all ages worshippers of idols have put to shame the worshippers of God, by their fidelity to their convictions, the scrupulousness of their observance of the rites which they have esteemed religious, and the greatness of the cost at which they have done honour to their gods. +IV. The idols have had for their allies the most influential of social and moral forces.+ Their priests and dependents (Acts. xix. 25) have jealously watched every encroachment on the empire of their gods. Rulers, for political reasons, have strenuously endeavoured to uphold the national faiths. Custom and fashion have wrought in the same direction. But, above all, the idols have had their most powerful allies in the human breast--in the instinct of worship, and the craving for sensual indulgences. _Idolatry has combined these most powerful of all cravings_--has provided deities in whose worship the worst passions of man's animal nature have been gratified. +V. Nevertheless the empire of idolatry shall be utterly destroyed.+ It shall vanish as utterly as the great empire of Assyria. "The idols He shall utterly abolish." Already that empire has been overthrown where it seemed most firmly established, and the complete fulfilment of the prediction of our text is obviously now only a question of time. Even in heathen countries, men are becoming ashamed of their idols, and are representing them as merely the _media_ of worship. The victory of Christianity over idolatry is already assured. The struggles that are yet to shake the world will be, not between Christianity and idolatry; not even between Christianity and atheism, for atheism is necessarily merely a brief episode in human experience; but between Christianity and other forms of monotheism.

APPLICATION. 1. _In the wide-spread and long-continued empire of the idols we have a conclusive proof of man's need of a Divine revelation._ The natural progress of fallen man is not to light, but to darkness (Rom. i. 21-23; 1 Cor. i. 21). 2. _In the prediction of our text, we have a conclusive proof of that in the Bible we have such a revelation._ Consider the circumstances of the prophet: idolatry on every hand, corrupting even His own people. It was contrary to all experience; it must have seemed to many who first heard it as the ravings of a lunatic. Such a prediction, already so marvellously fulfilled, came from God! 3. _In the approaching complete fulfilment of the prediction of our text, let us rejoice._ And let us labour as well as pray, that the time may be hastened when by idolatry God shall be no longer dishonoured and man degraded.


ii. 22. _Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?_

In this verse the whole Bible is summed up. The folly of trusting in man, and the necessity of trusting in God alone, is its greatest lesson, from its commencement to its close. This is what we are taught--+I. By its record of God's providential dealings with the Jews and other nations.+ Continually He has accomplished His ends by very different means than man would have selected. Egypt saved from perishing by famine through the instrumentality of a young slave; Naaman delivered from his leprosy through the ministrations of a little maid; Israel rescued by Gideon and his three hundred soldiers; the boastful Philistines defeated by a young shepherd, &c. +II. By the grand scheme of human redemption which it discloses.+ In it God is everything, and man nothing. The only means by which man can be restored to holiness, to the Divine favour and life everlasting, were provided by God; man contributed nothing either to its completeness or efficiency. The benefit is man's, the glory all belongs to God. Nor in appropriating it does he do anything that is meritorious. In repentance there is no merit: it is simply that state of mind which is required of us in view of the sins we have committed. Nor in faith; it is simply the recognition of the ability of another, and the consequent entrustment of ourselves to Him, to do that for us which we confess our inability to do for ourselves.--Blessed is the man, and he only, who has learned these two things. So long as a man depends on his own wisdom, power, and goodness, or on the wisdom, power and goodness of other men, he must be disquieted and unhappy. We can attain to substantial quiet and an abiding satisfying peace only when we feel that our dependence is on a Being omnipresent, independent, and supreme, as well as abundant in truth and love (Isa. xxvi. 3).--_Joseph Holdech, D.D., American National Preacher,_ xxxvi. 255-265.


(_Sermon preached on the Sunday after the death of President Harrison._)

ii. 22. _Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils: for wherein is he to be accounted of?_

The event which has just befallen us as a nation is fitted to teach--+I. The vanity of human dependence.+ The atheism of the human heart displays itself in a disposition to confide entirely in an arm of flesh. This is so in the family, the church, the nation. In various ways God endeavours to teach nations their real dependence upon Himself--by famine, by pestilence, by commercial disasters, by the death of their rulers. What "fools" we must be, and how "brutish" must be our understanding, if we do not lay to heart the lesson which He has now given us (Ps. cxlvi. 3). +II. The pettiness of party strife.+ How much of selfishness, unkindness, anger, and untruthfulness does the spirit of party give birth to! How seldom politicians of opposite parties do each other common justice! How fierce are their rivalries! But how mean, how worthless, how unworthy appear the objects of their strife when death enters the arenas and waves his skeleton arm! What a great calm falls upon the agitated spirits of men! How noise is hushed and excitement subdued! How like do the flushed and eager politicians seem then to silly children quarrelling for the possession of a bubble that has just been blown into the air, and that will disappear the moment it is grasped![1] +III. The vanity of the world, the certainty of death, and the nearness of eternity.+ These lessons are _taught_ when a beggar dies, but are more likely to be _laid to heart_ when a prince is laid low.[2] +IV. The supreme importance of a right moral character.+ Most instructive is the interest felt by survivors in the moral character of the departed, in the evidences of his preparation for death, in the manner in which the great summons affected him. This is the testimony of the human conscience, that in comparison with a fitness to appear before the tribunal of God, everything else loses its importance. When was the amount of a man's _possessions_ inscribed on his tombstone? The bare suggestion of such a thing would be construed as a mockery of death, under whose denuding hand the rich man leaves the world naked as he entered it. But if, in all his life, there was one virtue in his moral character, one trait which can afford satisfactory evidence of God's approval, this, be sure, you will find sculptured in conspicuous characters on his monumental marble. One thing alone can prepare any for their last account--the belief and practice of the Gospel of God. Have _you_ the great calm which is inspired by the confidence of being prepared for the great change?--_W. Adams, American National Preacher,_ xv. 97-105.


[1] Here, like a shepherd gazing from his hut, Touching his reed, or leaning on his staff, Eager Ambition's fiery chase I see; I see the circling hunt of noisy men Burst law's enclosure, leap the mounts of right, Pursuing and pursued, each other's prey; As wolves for rapine; as the fox for wiles; Till Death, that mighty hunter, earths them all. Why all this toil for triumphs of an hour? What though we wade in wealth, or soar in fame? Earth's highest station ends in "Here he lies"-- And "Dust to dust" concludes her noblest song.--_Young._

[2] The glories of our birth and state Are shadows, not substantial things; There is no armour against fate: Death lays his icy hand on kings; Sceptre and crown Must tumble down, And in the dust be equal made With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

Some men with swords may reap the field, And plant fresh laurels where they kill; But their strong nerves at last must yield: They tame but one another still; Early or late They stoop to fate, And must give up their murmuring breath, When they, pale captives, creep to death.

The garlands wither on your brow; Then boast no more your mighty deeds; Upon death's purple altar, now, See where the victor victim bleeds! All heads must come To the cold tomb! Only the actions of the just Smell sweet and blossom in the dust.--_Shirley._


(_Funeral Sermon for the Right Hon. George Canning._)

iii. 1-3. _For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem and from Judah . . . the counsellor, . . . and the eloquent orator._

By the death of a great statesman at the head of a government, we are reminded.--+I.+ Of +the weight of government in a fallen world.+ It is a burden that has crushed many, and has brought them to an untimely grave. +II.+ Of +the weakness of the shoulders of mortal men.+ The government of a single country, especially in troublous times, has proved a burden too great for the courage and the endurance of the strongest of men. +III.+ Of +the uncertainty of all human affairs.+ Often does the statesman think of the uncertainty of arriving at the object of his ambition, but seldom of the uncertainty of his remaining there, except when he recollects how many are struggling to replace him. Little does he think of another foe, who lurks behind, and who in some unexpected moment will hush his eloquent tongue, and turn his fertile brain to dust. +IV.+ Of +our absolute dependence on the Supreme Governor.+ We are apt to think that it is on the profound counsellor and mighty orator that the nation's welfare depends, and to think little of Him who made them what they are, to be employed as He pleases, laid aside when He pleases, and replaced if He pleases, by others as richly endowed. +V.+ Of +the necessity of personal preparation for death.+[1]--_J. Bennett, D.D., The British Pulpit,_ i. 297-304.


[1] So live, that, when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, that moves To that mysterious realm where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not like the quarry slave at night Scourged to his dungeon; but, sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.--_Bryant._


iii. 1-8. _For, behold, &c._

+I. The elements of national greatness are intellectual and moral, rather than material.+ A nation may have "the staff of bread" and "the stay of water," but lacking the persons enumerated in ver. 2, 3, it cannot be a great nation. While, therefore, it is reasonable to put forth efforts to increase the material resources of the nation, we should be more concerned to improve the producers than the produce. +II. For the supply and continuance of these supreme elements of national greatness, we are absolutely dependent upon God.+ Well to remember that for all material blessings we are _absolutely_ dependent upon Him. The moral value of a bad harvest is often great; it reminds us that, do what the most skilful agriculturists may, it is "God that giveth the increase." Nor less dependent are we upon Him for the _men_ without whom no nation can be great. Wise statesmen, skilful inventors, eloquent orators, &c., are very special gifts of God; such men cannot be manufactured. +III. These essential elements of national greatness God will take away for those nations that are regardless of His goodness and defiant of His authority+ (ver. 1, 8). National sins bring on national judgments. No national judgment is more severe or prolific of disasters than the removal or denial of great leaders. +IV. Not only can God abase the greatest nation, but He can reduce it to the depths of humiliation which beforehand it would have regarded as inconceivable.+ See through what states of national sorrow and shame the prophet declared that Israel should be led. 1. The diminution of its material resources and the removal of all its leaders of society (ver. 1-3). 2. The government entrusted to weak and childish rulers (ver. 4). 3. Social anarchy (ver. 5). 4. Social degradation so extreme, that men are solicited to rule merely because they have a little wealth (ver. 6). 5. The last state of national degradation--its supreme places of authority have become so contemptible and perilous that no one can be induced to fill them (ver. 7).

These considerations concern us individually. The nation is but an aggregate of individuals; and what they are, it is. Hence it behoves us--1. _To strive after personal holiness._ This seems a very small remedy for national evils. But it is only by each man adopting it that the nation can be made religious. If each _drop_ in the ocean could eliminate the salt with which it is charged, the _ocean_ would become fresh. Besides, by our example we may stimulate others to personal reforms, and they again others. 2. _To entreat God to deal with us as a nation in the way of mercy, and not of judgment_ (Ps. ciii. 10). There is a mighty power in intercessory prayer. 3. _Diligently to promote all moral and social reforms._ We must labour as well as pray. A Christian man will assist in all political reforms, because it is the will of God that righteousness should prevail in all things. But much more interested will he be in all movements and institutions having for their end and the intellectual and moral advancement of the people: the school, the temperance society, better dwellings for the working classes, the diffusion of a pure literature, &c. 4. _To put forth constant efforts to bring and keep our fellow-countrymen under the influence of the Gospel._ Of all regenerative and conservative influences the Gospel is the most active and powerful. A nation composed entirely of genuine Christians would be at once the most happy, prosperous, and powerful the world has ever seen. The direct and short way to exalt Great Britain is to strive to lead all our countrymen to the knowledge and service of Christ. This is a work, not for ministers only, but for the whole Church. There would be more happy Christians if there were more working Christians. It is not the running brooks, but the standing pools, that become stagnant.


iii. 9. _They declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not._

Extremes are generally detestable: equatorial heat, arctic cold; the speaker whom we must strain to hear, the orator who roars, &c. So in morals: foolhardy rashness, cowardice; prodigality, penuriousness; hypocrites, and such shameless sinners as are spoken of here. Such persons are even more detestable than hypocrites; these at least pay this homage to virtue, that they array themselves in her outer garments. Desperate and vain is the endeavour to cloak iniquity, yet even this is better than the effrontery which leads some to flaunt it in open day. How surprising is such effrontery! When we consider what sin is--a thing horribly degrading to man as well as insufferably offensive to God--we should have expected beforehand that men would have been as anxious to hide their vices, as they are to conceal any loathsome disease with which they may be afflicted. But it is not so. There are tens of thousands of sinners as devoid of shame as were those who dwelt in Sodom; nay, they glory in their shame. Consider--


+1. Ignorance.+ There are many so uninterested in moral and spiritual things; they have grown up surrounded by such evil examples, that they have no consciousness of the foulness of their vices, any more than a peasant has of the ungracefulness of his manners. This cause operates among the lower classes to an extent scarcely conceivable by the cultured and refined. +2. Habit.+ Many an open and shameless sinner, at the outset of his career, when he was first betrayed into transgression, was ashamed almost to walk through the street, and imagined that every one whom he met had heard of, and despised him for, his offence. But the offence was repeated; it became a habit; and in proportion as it has done so, has the offender's sense of shame died out of him. He thinks as little of it as a soldier does of his uniform, which when it was first put on caused him to think that all eyes were fixed upon him. +3. A desire to silence conscience.+ The effrontery is often assumed, just as the rustic traveller when near a churchyard whistles, not because he is courageous, but to keep his courage up. Conscience reproaches and warns, and the sinner seeks to silence it by greater desperation in wickedness. +4. A seared conscience.+ In the course just named the sinner too often succeeds. Conscience, defied and outraged, desists from her useless efforts, and gives herself over to an insensible lethargy; there will come an hour of terrible awakening; but meanwhile she is blind, deaf, dumb, and the sinner perpetrates the most abominable iniquities without a blush.[1] +5. Infidelity.+ The sinner has succeeded at last in persuading himself that what he wishes were true is true, and that there is no God, and, consequently, no day of judgment and no hell. As soon as men have cast off fear of God, it is easy for them to cast off fear of men. The ordinary fruit of infidelity is vice. What but prudence is left to restrain the infidel from partaking in the pleasures of sin? And how weak prudence is in any real contest with passion!


This is declared by the prophet to be woe--woe of peculiar intensity and awfulness. "Woe unto their soul!" &c. They stand in peril of the severest chastisements of the Divine justice--+1. Because shamelessness in sin is an aggravation of sin.+ It is felt to be so in the home, in the nation. Disloyalty is an evil thing, but to break forth into open rebellion, and to take the field against the monarch, is worse. +2. Because shamelessness in sin adds to the contagiousness of sin.+ One reason why sin is so hateful in the sight of God is because it renders every sinner a moral pestilence. Corrupt, he corrupts others (Eccles. ix. 18). But of shameless sinners this is especially true. (1) _They lead many to imitate them in their wickedness._ In every community these shameless sinners are ringleaders in vice and recruiting-sergeants for the devil. (2) _They confirm many in wickedness._ Many are "halting between two opinions," and these shameless offenders, by their example, and often by their persuasions, supply that which is needed to bring these irresolute ones to a decision for a life of iniquity. Thus they are soul-murderers as well as soul-suicides. Justice, therefore, demands that their punishment shall be especially severe. Their doom will probably be as manifest as their guilt.

APPLICATION. 1. _Let those who have been thus shameless in sin humble themselves before Almighty God._ Even for them to-day there is mercy (ch. lv. 7; i. 18). Let no sinner be deterred from seeking mercy by the greatness of his sins (Ezra ix. 6, with Ps. cviii. 4, and Rom. v. 20). Yet let no sinner presume further to transgress because God is so merciful. There is an awful warning in the gracious invitation (ch. lv. 6). 2. As ignorance is one main cause of shamelessness in sin, _let Sunday-school teachers recognise the importance of the task in which they are engaged._ Though they may not be able to point to individual conversions as the result of their efforts, they are not labouring in vain; by them the moral sense of the community is being raised. Evil as are our days, the testimony is conclusive that the former days were not better, but worse. 3. As habit is another main cause of shamelessness in sin, let _the young be anxiously on their guard against the formation of evil habits._ But habits grow from acts. A single action is consequently more important than it seems. There are certain actions which have in themselves a special decisiveness of influence. When a young man has once entered a bar parlour, he has entered upon the high way to drunkenness; he may not reach it, but he is on the high way to it. Another most decisive step towards shamelessness in sin is taken when a young person who has been trained under Christian influence joins a Sunday excursion. It is by this gate that millions have entered the path of open transgression, along which they have hastened to perdition. 4. _Let the people of God be very careful to leave shameless sinners without excuse._ It is by the inconsistencies of professing Christians that such persons endeavour to shield themselves from censure and to silence their consciences. Hence Eph. v. 15; Col. iv. 5; 1 Thess. v. 22.


[1] Blind and ignorant consciences speak peace, or hold their peace, because they have not skill enough to find fault; they swallow many a fly, and digest all well enough. While the scales were upon Paul's eyes, he was alive and quiet; he thought concupiscence, the sin and breeder of all sin, to be no sin. Such consciences discern sin as we do stars in a dark night,--see only the great ones of the first magnitude, whereas a bright even discovers millions; or as we see a few motes in the dark houses, which sunlight shows to be infinite. Such think good meaning will serve the turn, that all religions will save, or a "Lord, have mercy on us," at the last gasp. The law which nature has engraven, they tread out with sins, as men do the engravings of tombs they walk on with foul shoes: they dare not look in the glass of God's law, which makes sin abound, lest the foolishness of their souls should affright them. A number of such sottish souls there be, whose consciences, if God opens, as He did the eyes of the prophet's servant, they shall see armies and legions of sins and devils in them.--_Ward,_ 1577-1639.


iii. 10, 11. _Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat of the fruit of their own doings. Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with them; for the reward of his hands shall be given him._

Into these two orders, the righteous and the wicked, the Bible is accustomed to divide the whole population of the globe.--A crimson line runs between the righteous and the wicked, the line of atoning sacrifice: faith crosses that line, but nothing else can. There can be no righteousness where there is no faith.--This distinction is so sharp and definite, that no man can dwell in a borderland between the two conditions. A clear line of demarcation exists between life and death, and such a division is fixed by God between the righteous and the wicked. There are no monstrous nondescripts, who are neither sinners nor saints. This text ought, therefore, to lead to great searching of heart.

+I. The well-being of the righteous.+ 1. _It is a great fact that it is well with the righteous._ It is well with him _always:_ in prosperity, which is a time of peril; in persecution, which is hard to bear; in childhood, manhood, and old age; in time, and throughout eternity. 2. _We are assured of this fact on Divine authority._ Reason might assure us of it, but it is better to have it under the hand and seal of omniscience. If thou canst not see it, let God's word stand thee instead of sight. 3. _It is the will of God that His people should know this great fact._ He would have his saints happy, and therefore He says to His prophets, "Say ye," &c. 4. _With God's people it is emphatically "well."_ When GOD says it is "well" with a man, it must be well indeed. 5. _There are many obvious reasons why it is well with the righteous._ (1.) His greatest trouble is past. His greatest trouble was the guilt of sin. (2.) His next greatest trouble is doomed. The dominion of sin over him shall speedily come to an end. (3.) His best things are safe. His treasures are in heaven. (4.) His worst things work only for his good. (5.) He is well _fed,_ for he feeds upon Christ; well _clad,_ for he wears the imputed righteousness of Christ; well _housed,_ for he dwells in God who has been the dwelling-place of His people in all generations; well _married,_ for his soul is knit in bonds of marriage union to Christ; well _provided for,_ for the Lord is his Shepherd. (6.) God has put within him many graces, that help to make things well; _faith,_ which laughs at difficulties; _love,_ which accepts them; _patience,_ which endures them; _hope,_ which expects a rest to come. (7.) Day by day, God the Holy Ghost visits him with fresh life and power. (8.) He has a bank that never breaks--the glorious "throne of grace;" and he has only to apply on bended knee to get what he will. (9.) He has ever near him a most sweet Companion, whose loving converse is so delightful that the roughest roads grow smooth, and the darkest nights glow with brightness. (10.) He has an arm to lean upon that is never weary, never feeble, never withdrawn. (11.) He is favoured with a perpetual Comforter, who pours wine and oil into every wound, and brings to his remembrance the things which Christ has spoken. It is well with the righteous in life, well when he comes to die, and well after death. 6. _The blessedness of the righteous rest upon a solid ground._ The text says, "they shall eat the fruit of their doings." Those are the only terms upon which the old covenant can promise that it shall be well with us; but this is not the ground upon which you and I stand under the gospel dispensation. Absolutely to eat the fruit of our doings would be even to us, if judgment were brought to the line and righteousness to the plummet, a very dreadful thing. Yet there is a limited sense in which the righteous man will do this. "I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat," &c., is good gospel language; and when the Master shall say, "Inasmuch as ye did this unto one of the least of these my people, ye did it unto me," the reward will not be of debt, but still it will be a reward, and the righteous will eat the fruit of his doings. I prefer, however, to remark, that there is One whose doings for us is the grounds of our dependence, and we shall eat of the fruit of His doings.

+II. The misery of the wicked.+ To expound the woe pronounced against him, you have only to negative all that I have already said about the righteous. It is ill with the wicked; always ill with him; and it shall be ill with him for ever.[1] But _why_ is it ill with the wicked? 1. He is out of joint with all the world. Ordinary creatures are obedient to God, but he has set himself in opposition to the whole current of creation. 2. He has an enemy who is omnipotent. 3. His joys all hang on a thread. Let life's thread be cut, and where are his merriments? 4. After these joys are over, he has no more to come. 5. Of all the comforts and hopes of the righteous, he is utterly destitute.--_C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit,_ vol. xiii. 13-24.


[1] Many sinners who seem so jocund in our eyes have not such merry lives as you think. A book may be fairly bound and gilded, yet have but sad stories writ within it. Sinners will not tell us all the secret rebukes that conscience gives them. If you will judge of Herod by the jollity of his feast, you may think he wanted no joy; but at another time we see that John's ghost walked in his conscience. And so doth the Word haunt many, who appear to us to lay nothing to heart. In the midst of their laughter their heart is sad; you see the lightning in their face, but hear not the thunder that rumbles in their conscience.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

Suppose a man were in prison, committed for some great offence, and condemned to die under the displeasure of his prince or state, and his servant should come to him, saying, "Sir, be of good comfort; your wife is well at home; you have very sweet children, an excellent crop of corn; your neighbours love you dearly; your sheep and cattle thrive, and all your houses are in good repair." Would he not answer that servant, "What is all this, so long as I am condemned to die"? Thus is it with every wicked man. He is under the displeasure of the great God, a condemned man, and God is angry with him every day; and if his heart were open to be sensible of it, he would say, "You tell me of my friends, and goods, and name, and trade; but what is all this, so long as I am a condemned person, and God is angry with me every day I rise?"--_Bridge,_ 1600-1670.

Who would think, now, that sees how quietly the multitude of the ungodly live, that they must very shortly lie roaring in everlasting flames? They lie down, and rise, and sleep so quietly; they eat and drink as quietly; they go about their work as cheerfully; they talk as pleasantly, as if nothing ailed them, or as if they were as far out of danger as an obedient believer. Like a man that hath the falling sickness, you would little think, while he is labouring as strongly and talking as heartily as another man, how he will presently fall down, lie gasping and foaming, and beating his breast in torment! so it is with these men. They are as free from the fears of hell as others, as free from any vexing sorrows, not so much as troubled with any cares of the state of their souls, nor with any sad and serious thoughts of what shall become of them in another world; yes, and for the most part, they have less doubts and disquiet of mind, than those who shall be saved. Oh, happy men, if they could be always thus; and if this peace would prove a lasting peace! But, alas, there is the misery! it will not. They are now in their own element, as the fish in the water; but little knows that silly creature when he is most fearlessly and delightfully swallowing down the bait, how suddenly he shall be snatched out, and lie dead upon the bank; and as little think these careless sinners what a change is near. The sheep or ox is driven quietly to the slaughter, because he knows not whither he goes; if he knew it were to his death, you could not drive him so easily. How contented is the swine when the butcher's knife is shaving his throat, little thinking that it is to prepare for his death! Why, it is even so with these sensual, careless men; they fear the mischief least, when it is nearest to them, because they see it not!--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.


iii. 10, 11. _Say ye to the righteous,_ &c.

This is the testimony of _conscience;_ conscience testifies that that which is here predicted ought to take place--that the condition and circumstances of men ought to be conformed to their character. This is the testimony of _reason:_ in its clearest, calmest, strongest hours, it endorses this testimony of the conscience. This is the declaration of _Almighty God;_ He here promises that He will do that which conscience and reason agree that He ought to do. Thus we have here a conclusive concurrence of testimony, and the truths announced in our text should be recorded in our memory as absolutely certain.

These declarations remind us of two things. +I. That we are living now in a season of probation.+ These messages are much needed, because we are surrounded by much that is perplexing. Here and now fidelity to conscience often entails much loss, sorrow, and suffering. Many of the wicked are prosperous and triumphant. Iniquity _pays._ Moreover, the sufferings of the righteous and the successes of the wicked are often lifelong. This contrast between what ought to be and what is, has been a source of moral disquietude in all ages (Ps. lxxiii., &c). Yet it is absolutely necessary. Without this moral obscurity there could not have been any moral probation. There is no temptation in prussic acid, because its deadly qualities are indisputable, and because they operate instantaneously. If all sins had their penalties as clearly and closely tied to them, vice would be impossible. And so would virtue! Obedience to the Divine will would then be, not an act of choice, but the result of an irresistible moral compulsion, and it would have in it no morally educational influence, and nothing to render it acceptable to God. Not by chance, then, not by mistake, not as the result of a harsh and unloving decree, but as the result of ordinance of the highest wisdom and grace, we are now living in a season of moral probation. But, +II. We are hastening on to a season of rectifications and rewards.+ Conscience and reason attest that there _ought_ to be such a season, and the Scriptures assure us that there _shall_ be (Eccles. xii. 14; Rom. ii. 6-10, &c.)

The great facts of which our text reminds us, 1. _Should give calmness and steadiness to our faith._ We should not be greatly moved either by the distresses of the righteous or the triumphs of the wicked. These are most transient. The longest life is really a most inconsiderable episode in our being. This is but the beginning of our voyage; what matters it whether we clear out of port in a storm or amid bright sunshine? What will happen to us on mid-ocean is the only thing worthy of our concern. 2. _They should govern us in the decisions we have continually to make in life,_ between courses that are right, but involve present suffering, and those which are pleasant, but wrong. The sick man who refuses to undergo the present pain which will assure him of future health, and prefers the transient ease which will presently give place to intolerable agony, is insane. Let us not imitate him in his folly. But if the rewards of every man's hands shall be given him, how shall _any_ man be saved? This is precisely the difficulty which the Gospel was designed to meet. It is precisely because no man can be saved on his own merits that Christ came into the World, and died for every man, and now offers redemption to every man. This offer is made to YOU. For Christ's sake, the sins of the righteous shall be forgiven them; and for His sake likewise, they shall be rewarded according to their works (Matt. x. 42, xvi. 27; Heb. vi. 10, &c.) Between the doctrine of justification by faith and the doctrine of good works there is the most perfect harmony.


iii. 12. _As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them._

"Children," "women," are not to be taken literally. In interpreting the second of these figures, we must remember the status of women in ancient times in the East. +I. A weak government is a curse.+ 1. By such a government the affairs of a nation are mismanaged, its resources squandered, and its great possibilities unrealised. 2. A weak government always becomes in the end an oppressive government. By it the national burdens are caused to press most heavily on those least able to bear them. 3. Under such a government, privileged classes and monopolies multiply and grow strong, to the hurt of the nation at large. 4. Worst of all, and as the source of countless evils, government itself comes to be despised, and the national respect for law destroyed. In short, under a weak government a nation makes rapid progress towards anarchy. +II. The curse of a weak government is not long in overtaking a nation that gives itself up to luxury and loses its regard for moral considerations.+ 1. It is only by such a nation that such a government would be tolerated. 2. By such a nation such a government is likely to be for a time most popular (Jer. v. 31).

The cures for political evils are not political but moral. Political remedies will but modify the symptoms. Political evils are really due to moral causes, and can only be removed by moral reformations. Hence, while good men will never neglect their political duties (no good man will neglect any duty), they will be especially in earnest to uplift the nation morally, and therefore will do their utmost to strengthen those agencies which have this for their aim--the church, the school, and those societies which exist for the diffusion of the Scriptures and of religious liberty. Wherever the Bible becomes the book of the people, oppression by "children" becomes impossible, and the government of "women" is set aside.


iii. 12. _O my people, they which lead thee[1] cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths._

This is at once a lament and a condemnation--a lament over the misfortunes of those who are misguided, a condemnation of their folly and wickedness in permitting themselves to be led astray. +I. Men need to be led.+ 1. _This is our need as individuals._ Every day we need an answer to the questions, What ought I to do? Which way should I go? In the journey of life, we continually come to crossings at which we are conscious of our need of guidance. 2. _Guidance is still more necessary for men collectively._ What shall be the belief of a community? What its action? Like the apostolic band (John xxi. 2, 3) communities remain idle, undecided, until the born leader says, "I go a-fishing," and instantly they say to him, "We also go with thee." Men are naturally gregarious; like a flock of sheep they crowd and inconvenience each other, not knowing which way to turn, until one bolder than the rest breaks away from the flock, and then instantly the flock begins to follow him. +II. As a rule men are misled.+ Boldness and wisdom do not always go together. Not seldom the courage which prompts men to become the leaders of others, and which goes so far to command the assent of others, is a compound of self-conceit and ignorance. Men are always prone to trust in the self-confident: they will believe the boastful quack rather than the diffident philosopher. Hence in all ages men have been caused to err--the blind have been led by the blind. How true this is to-day in political matters, in social, in commercial, in religious! [Give instances.] On every hand, in all these realms of thought and action, there are those who can only rightly be described as leaders who cause the people to err. Yes, all men carry within them two leaders, in whom they are disposed implicitly to trust, but by whom in the majority of instances they are misled--reason and conscience. How absolute is the confidence placed in these guides, and how seldom it is justified! +III. To be misled is one of the most terrible of evils.+ 1. It involves the loss of all the good to which right leadership would have conducted men. 2. It involves disappointment, shame, sorrow, and often irretrievable ruin. 3. It plunges men into painful perplexities, so that even when they have begun to suspect that the path they are pursuing is erroneous, they know not how to discover the true one; it seems to them to be "destroyed;" they search for it in vain. They are like travellers who, in the darkness following _Will-of-the-Wisp,_ have strayed from the highway into a morass: to stand still is impossible, and yet to step in any direction, may plunge them into worse perils (Matt. xv. 14). How criminal is the conduct of those who betray their fellow-men into misery such as this!

In view of these facts, 1. _We should not entrust ourselves to the first guide who offers himself to us._ Let us examine the credentials of those who ask us to trust ourselves to their care (Matt. xxiv. 24; 1 John iv. 1-3; Isa. viii. 20). 2. _In weighing the claims of men to be our leaders, we should have regard supremely to their moral qualifications._ Their intellectual competency is, of course, not to be disregarded, but moral character is infinitely more important. Not all good men are fitted to be leaders; but no bad man can be safely followed by others. He is continually apt to be guided by policy, rather than principle, and policy leads to perdition.[2] Policy is at the best but guess-work--steering by the current; the man who is governed by principle steers by the stars, and neither can be long misled, nor will he wilfully mislead others. _Practical Application._--Never vote for any candidate for a public office, however clever he may be, if his integrity is doubtful. 3. _Every man needs guidance more close and intimate than any of his fellow-men can afford him:_ he needs to be led even in choosing his leaders. Whither shall he look for this guidance? To his reason, his conscience? These guides themselves need instruction:[3] in the absence of it, they have led millions to perdition. We need supernatural and sure guidance, and we have it (1) in God's Word, and (2) in God's Spirit (Prov. iii. 5, 6). The man who follows these guides will be led always in the paths of righteousness and peace.


[1] The marginal reading, "they which call thee happy" (Mal. iii. 12, 15), represents vividly the method adopted by the false prophets; who, instead of warning the people against the dangers of prosperity, were ever felicitating them upon it, saying, "Peace, peace, when there was no peace." But the textual rendering appears to be the preferable one.--_Kay._

[2] Men know where they are going when they follow a principle; because principles are rays of light. If you trace a ray of light in all its reflections, you will find that it runs back to the central sun; and every great line of honesty, every great line of honour, runs back towards the centre of God. And the man that follows these things knows that he is steering right Godward. But the man that follows policies, and worldly maxims, does not know where he is steering, except that in general he is steering toward the devil.--_Beecher._

[3] Reason is God's candle in men. But, as a candle must first be lighted, ere it will enlighten, so reason must be illuminated by Divine grace, ere it can savingly discern spiritual things.--_Toplady,_ 1740-1778.

Conscience, as an expression of the law or will and mind of God, is not now to be implicitly depended on. It is not infallible. What was true of its office in Eden, has been deranged and shattered by the fall; and now lies, as I have seen a sun-dial in the neglected garden of an old, desolate ruin, thrown down from its pedestal, prostrate on the ground, and covered by tall, rank weeds. So far from being since that fatal event an infallible directory of duty, conscience has often lent its sanction to the grossest errors, and prompted to the greatest crimes. Did not Saul of Tarsus, for instance, hale men and women to prison; compel them to blaspheme; and imbrue his hands in saintly blood, while conscience approved the deed--he judging the while that he did God service? What wild and profane imaginations has it accepted as the oracles of God? and as if fiends had taken possession of a God-deserted shrine, have not the foulest crimes, as well as the most shocking cruelties, been perpetrated in its name? Read the Book of Martyrs, read the sufferings of our forefathers; and, under the cowl of a shaven monk, or the trappings of a haughty Churchman, you shall see conscience persecuting the saints of God, and dragging even tender women and children to the bloody scaffold or the burning stake. With eyes swimming in tears, or flashing fire, we close the painful record, to apply to Conscience the words addressed to Liberty by the French heroine, when, passing its statue, she rose in the cart that bore her to the guillotine, and throwing up her arms, exclaimed, "O Liberty, what crimes have been done in thy name!" And what crimes in thine, O Conscience! deeds from which even humanity shrinks; against which religion lifts her loudest protest; and which furnish the best explanation of these awful words, "If the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. vi. 23).

So far as doctrines and duties are concerned, not conscience, but the revealed Word of God, is our one, only sure and safe directory.--_Guthrie._


iii. 15. _What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the Lord God of hosts._

That infidelity should progress among the labouring classes is one of the most surprising and unreasonable things imaginable. For there is no book so emphatically on the side of the poor as is the Bible. Were the Bible obeyed, the miseries of the poor would vanish. The truth, however, is, that the Bible has suffered from its professed friends. The upper classes who have patronised it have not put its precepts into practice, and the victims of their greed and oppression have foolishly accepted their conduct as an exposition of the teaching of the book which they have professed to venerate. Hence the wrongs which the poor have suffered have prepared them to listen to the blasphemies and to accept the sophisms of infidel lecturers. The employer of labour who oppresses his men during the six days of the week, and goes to church twice on the Sunday, is more dangerous to society than a score of Tom Paines or Bradlaughs. Hence also it is the duty of God's "prophets" in all ages to confront such men with the question of our text.

+I. Oppression of the poor is one of the most common of all sins.+ It has been practised in all ages, in all countries, by all classes, in most varied forms. "Poor" is a relative term. Masters have oppressed their servants, debtors their creditors, officers their soldiers, kings their subjects, people their pastors. The oppression has often been so terrible that the oppressed have sought refuge in suicide.

"Man's cruelty to man Makes countless thousands mourn."

+II. Oppression of the poor is one of the most hateful of all sins.+ 1. _It is a misuse of strength._ Strength is given to men that they may be helpful to each other; but the oppressor uses his strength as if he were a tiger or a wolf; as if he were a wrecker who drowns the shipwrecked mariner whom he ought to rescue. 2. _It is a cowardly and shameful advantage that is taken of human weakness._ To lead a blind man into a quagmire or over a precipice would be thought a shameful act, even by the most degraded villains. But in what respect would it differ in principle from oppression of the poor? The weak and needy, by reason of their feebleness and poverty, have a claim upon our pity and help; to oppress them is to outrage the primary laws of conscience. Yet how often it is done!

+III. Oppression of the poor is among those sins which are certain to be most terribly punished.+ The oppressor proceeds on the idea, that the man whom he oppresses has no friends to succour and avenge him. What a mistake! All the oppressed have a friend and avenger in GOD. Shall oppression go unrequited? Nay, verily! For, 1. It is an offence against God's _laws._ He has distinctly commanded us to _love_ our neighbour as ourselves, and how manifold are the applications of this great commandment! 2. It is an offence against God's _feelings._ In a peculiar manner His sensibilities are outraged when His children act cruelly towards each other. Oppression of the poor kindles within Him mingled disgust and indignation.[1]

APPLICATION. 1. _A new consideration of our text would deter men from the sin here denounced._ The question which God now addresses to oppressors He will, with a slight difference, put to them again--when they shall be gathered at His bar! "What _meant_ ye that ye did beat my people to pieces, and did grind the faces of the poor?" Bethink you, O ye oppressors, what will ye answer then? Will it be, "Lord, we thought Thou were too great to take any notice of what men did on earth"? or, "Lord, we oppressed them because they were weak, and we saw we could make a good profit out of their defencelessness"? Do these excuses seem to you too flimsy to be seriously suggested? Consider, the, what more valid vindication will be at your command in that day. In that day you will stand "speechless!" 2. _A remembrance of the prevalence of the crime denounced in our text will give soundness and vigour to our theology._ The demand of our day is for "a God all mercy." Men are endeavouring to cover up hell with the rose-leaves of a spurious benevolence. But a remembrance of the wrongs that are done upon earth, the frightful cruelties that are every day perpetrated, will convince us that hell is a moral necessity. "A God all mercy" would be not only "a God unkind," but a God unjust, a God worthy only of the pity and contempt of His creatures. 3. _A due consideration of the manner in which God intervenes on behalf of the wronged and defenceless, will inspire all noble minds with veneration and admiration for His character._ Jehovah is no Brahma, throned in eternal calm, and indifferent to the sins and sufferings of mankind; He is a Father, prompt to feel and to avenge the wrongs of His children. Let us resolve to be like Him. Let us not only avoid oppression in all its forms; let us be swift to sympathise with all and to succour the oppressed.


[1] These things are done before God, who looks upon every part of the human family as His own. How should you feel if you were to enter the room where your child is sleeping, and find upon it a stealthy cat, stationed at the portal of life, and stopping its very breath? How should you feel were you to find upon your child a vampire that had fastened into its flesh his blood-sucking bill, and was fast consuming its vitality? How do you feel when one of your children tramples upon another? or when your neighbour's children crush yours? or when ruffian violence strikes against those whose hearts for ever carry the core of your heart?

Judge from your own feelings how God, with His infinite sensibility, must feel when He sees men rising up against their fellow-men; performing gross deeds of cruelty upon every hand, waging wars that cause blood to flow throughout the globe; when, in short, He sees them devastating society by every infernal mischief that their ingenuity can invent.--_Beecher._

What shall become of the oppressor? No creature in heaven or earth shall testify his innocency. But the sighs, cries, and groans of undone parents, of beggared widows and orphans, shall witness the contrary. All his money, like hempseed, is sowed with curses; and every obligation is written on earth with ink and blood, and in hell with blood and fire.--_Adams,_ 1653.


iii. 13-15. _The Lord standeth up to plead, &c._

I. THE PLEADER WHO HERE PRESENTS HIMSELF. Note +1. His majesty.+ The ancient idea of an advocate was that of a venerable person who would be heard for his own sake, and who would therefore be able to secure for the cause of his clients an attention that would not otherwise be accorded to it. The ideal of a pleader was that of a person noble in birth and blameless in character. To a considerable extent this ideal has been preserved in our English courts of law. A barrister must be a gentleman (at least in this sense, that he has never earned his bread by manual labour), and of good repute as a man of honour. Certain barristers have established such a reputation, not only for ability and learning, but also for character, and are always listened to with respect; happy therefore is the suitor who is able to secure their advocacy. But this Pleader--how august and venerable is He! How infatuated are those who do not stand prepared to listen carefully and respectfully to whatever He may advance! +2. His benevolence.+ The ancient idea of a pleader was again that of a person who undertook to advocate the cause of another out of a sense of justice and compassion. Advocacy was esteemed too sacred a thing to be purchased with money. In the course of time the practice sprang up of rewarding the exertions of an advocate by an _honorarium;_ but the distinction that still exists between a barrister and an attorney, shows us what the ancient idea of the advocate was. In God this idea is perfectly fulfilled. Without fee or reward, out of pure compassion and justice, He has become "counsel" for the poor and oppressed. Of this fact there is abundant evidence in Scripture, and surely it should kindle within us admiration and love. We justly venerate Howard, Clarkson, Wilberforce--shall we not still more greatly honour God, who stoops to regard them that are of low degree, and becomes the advocate of those who have no other friend? +3. His earnestness.+ The advocate is supposed to make the cause of his client for the time being his own. Often the supposition is realised in a remarkable degree. But in God it is perfectly realised. The oppressed for whom He pleads He speaks of, not merely as "_these_ people," but as "_my_ people." In all their afflictions He is afflicted. However frequently men may forget it, He reminds that He is the Father of all mankind, and the wrongs of His children He feels to be His wrongs; the feebler they are, the less able they are to defend themselves, the more do their wrongs wound Him, and provoke Him to anger--_This_ is the Advocate who stands up to plead for the oppressed. Will the oppressors be so infatuated as to turn a deaf ear to His pleading? Let those who are tempted to do so pause, and consider

II. THAT HE WHO NOW PLEADS BEFORE THEM WILL BE THEIR JUDGE. An astonishing reversal of circumstances is about to take place: the Advocate is about to ascend the judicial bench, and those before whom He pleads are about to stand at His bar. He has announced beforehand the principles upon which then He will proceed. +1. He will have no regard to rank.+ He will "enter into judgment with the ancients and princes." In many countries, great criminals have been able to defy the judge; but none shall be able to defy this Judge.[1] +2. He will pronounce mere indifference to want and suffering a crime+ (Matt. xxv. 42-45). +3. Those who have inflicted suffering He will judge upon the strict rule of retribution, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth"+ (James ii. 13).

By these truths let us be guided in our use of whatever power over others that may have been entrusted to us. Let us hear God proclaiming that the poor are _His_ people, and let us so comport ourselves towards them, that in the end we may come to know the fulness of the meaning of the Master's declaration, that "_blessed_ are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."


[1] Justice, when equal scales she holds, is blind, Nor cruelty nor mercy change her mind. When some escape for that which others die, Mercy to those, to these is cruelty: A fine and slender net the spider weaves: Which little and slight animals receives; And if she catch a summer bee or fly, They with a piteous groan and murmur die; But if a wasp or hornet she entrap, They tear her cords, like a Sampson, and escape; So, like a fly, the poor offender dies; But like the wasp, the rich escapes and flies. --_Sir John Denham._

In the corrupted currents of this world, Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice, And oft 'tis seen, the wicked prize itself Buys out the law. But 'tis not so above: There is no shuffling, there the action lies In its nature: and we ourselves compell'd, Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults, To give in evidence.--_Shakespeare._


iii. 16, 17. _Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, . . . therefore the Lord will smite._

A terrible doom is here denounced against the Jewish women, not because they were vicious, but because they were haughty. Haughtiness is found also in men, though in them its manifestations are somewhat different. It is therefore a question of universal interest. In what respects is haughtiness sinful?

+I. The sinfulness of haughtiness is manifest in view of what it is.+ Webster defines it as "pride mingled with some degree of contempt for others; arrogance." It is a compound iniquity, and as such is doubly offensive. In the chemical world two deadly ingredients may neutralise each other's noxious qualities, and form a harmless and useful article: _e.g.,_ water, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen; common salt, a compound of chlorine and sodium. But it is never so in the moral world: combinations of iniquities are always especially offensive. How then must God look upon haughtiness, which is made up of two sins most emphatically denounced in His Word!

+II. The sinfulness of haughtiness is manifest in view of its sources.+ Clearly it springs--1. _From a forgetfulness of our dependence upon God._ Of what is it that we are so proud that we cannot conceal our pride? It is of gifts which we have received from God (1 Cor. iv. 7), and for the continued possession of which we are absolutely dependent on His will. Some are haughty because of what they _are_--beautiful, talented, &c.; others because of what they _have_--rank, money, &c.; others because of what they _have done_--on the field of battle, in art, literature, &c. But personal excellencies, amplitude of possessions, or gross success, should produce in us not self-exaltation, but gratitude to God. To be ungrateful is to be base; and as haughtiness is one of the flowers that spring from ingratitude, that evil root which has for its seed forgetfulness of our dependence upon God, it is base and hateful too. 2. _From a forgetfulness of the purposes for which God has so richly endowed us._ God endows and helps men, not for their own gratification, but that they may more effectually help others. This great law runs through the whole universe. The sun is filled with light, in order that it may be a light; the violet with perfume, in order that it may diffuse its perfume. So is it with ourselves. In proportion to our gifts we are stewards for God, and were intended to be channels of blessing: great gifts, therefore, should not cause us to swell with foolish arrogance, but should weigh us down with a solemn sense of our responsibility. 3. _From a forgetfulness of our relation to our fellow-men._ God is our Father, and all men are our brethren, but we forget this, and so we behave ourselves towards many as if they were made of an inferior clay. In a household, the children who have sight look not with scorn, but with compassion, on a sister who is blind; and if we remembered that all men are our brethren, our perception of their shortcomings as compared with ourselves would excite, not our pride, but our pity.

+III. The sinfulness of haughtiness is manifest in view of the emphatic discord with the example of Christ.+ Every sin may be condemned on this ground, yet haughtiness is in an especial manner in flagrant contradiction to that embodiment and manifestation of excellence which we have in the character of our Lord. In His dealings with men, even the lowest and most degraded, who can detect one trace of arrogance? Notice especially, that while He never called attention to His temperance, His truthfulness, His prayerfulness, &c., He did point out meekness as the feature by which He was especially distinguished, and by which His followers were to resemble Him, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me _for I am meek and lowly in heart._"

1. We may see now why haughtiness, which we are so accustomed to treat as a trivial thing, is so emphatically condemned in God's Word. 2. A very moderate acquaintance with human life is enough to teach us that haughtiness is a prolific source of sorrow, as well as a sin. It is so in those _towards_ whom it is manifested; slights are resented as insults, and brooded over as bitter wrongs. It is so in those _by_ whom it is manifested: the haughty meet with repeated mortifications, arising from the rejection of their claims to superiority,[1] and they are frequently brought into perilous collision with persons of like temper. An intelligent self-interest would lead us to shun that which God denounces as a sin. 3. While haughtiness may be natural in the children of this world, it is a grave and alarming inconsistency in the professed followers of Jesus.


[1] A proud man layeth himself open to blows by his presumption, and, like bubbles of soap-water, the bigger he grows the weaker he is, and swells till he bursts.--_Dumoulin._


iii. 16--iv. 1. _Moreover the Lord saith, Behold the daughters of Zion are haughty, &c._

We have here a terrible denunciation of female pride and luxury. Consider--

I. ITS COMMONNESS. In almost every age and country there have been women such as are here described.

II. ITS CAUSES. There must be powerful causes to produce such a wide-spread effect. Like all things that are wrong, these evil things--the pride and luxury of so many women--are due to perversions of things that are right,--mainly, to certain things which are among the _differentia_ of the female sex, such as--1. A keener love of beauty than is common among men. The love of many women for soft textures and bright colours is as innocent, and free from all trace of personal vanity, as is the love of children for flowers. 2. A stronger yearning for admiration than is common among men. There are vain men, always on the outlook for indications of admiration, and they are simply contemptible. But it is an instinct of the true woman-nature to desire to be loved, and to value highly all things that tend to win love. 3. A recognition of the gifts of personal beauty. As a rule, women have more to be proud of in this respect than have men. If a woman is fair, she is simply a hypocrite if she pretends not to know it. Then there come in, 4. Rivalry, which in itself is a right thing, but becomes a harmful thing when women set themselves to out-dress each other. 5. Timidity, one of the graces of the female character, but that often leads to great evils. Few men have the courage to be singular, and fewer women sufficient self-reliance not to follow the fashion. But the pride and luxury of women is largely due also to the folly of men:--(1) Most men esteem and reward clothes more than character. Men are taken by such things as are mentioned in our text, and the fisher is not much to be blamed for adapting the bait to the taste of the fish. (2.) Even of those men who condemn female luxury in the abstract, few have the courage to banish it from their own homes. (3.) The lips of many men are sealed on this question by their own vices. They have _their_ indulgences, and one of the prices which they pay for peace in their pursuit is silence as to this indulgence on the part of their wives and daughters. There is an unexpressed but wicked compromise on this matter.

III. ITS CONSEQUENCES. 1. The intellectual degradation of woman, the concentration of nearly all her thoughts on the question of dress. 2. The moral debasement of many women. For the means of gratifying their craving for luxury and display, how many have sold their virtue! 3. The destruction of that female influence which should always be exerted, and when exerted is so powerful in aid of moral nobility. Sensual grossness in men is at once a cause and consequence of licentious vanity in women. 4. Commercial frauds, to which men resort to provide the means for the maintenance of the luxury of their homes.

Men and women are thus partakers in this sin, and as such, in the days of visitation, they shall suffer together (ver. 17, 25; iv. 1).[1]


[1] vi. 1. The Jewess, like the ancient Roman, or modern Englishwoman, was called by her husband's name; and she prized the honour of wedlock, and dreaded the reproach of childlessness, at least as much as either of these; but we must contrast the dignified expression of these feelings by Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth, nay, even that of the jealous and petulant Rachel, with the exhibition which the prophet now contemplates in his mind's eye, in order to see the picture of social disorganisation which he sees. If a harem of wives and concubines was still a part of the king's state in Isaiah's time, though we have no proof of this, it is quite improbable that polygamy was the common custom of the nation, or that they had not long passed out of the half-civilised condition and habits for which Moses had provided in the laws for the protection of the female slaves whom a man might take at the same time for his wives; but now Isaiah says that these women, whose luxury and pride he has just described, will abandon even the natural reserve of their sex, and not only force themselves several upon one man, but declare that they will be content to share with each other a legalised concubinage in which they will not claim the concubine's ancient right of bread and apparel, which the old law (Exod. xxi. 10) had in express terms secured to her, if only they may bear his name. It need not be supposed that Isaiah anticipated the literal fulfilment of his words; we shall probably understand him better by taking this as an instance of that poetic or rhetorical hyperbole, which he so delights to use for the more forcible expression of his moral and political teaching. The mystery which some commentators have seen in the numbers "seven" and "one" in this passage, and which is even said to have occasioned the separation of this portion of the prophecy into a distinct chapter, perhaps makes worth while the obvious remark that it is nothing more than the wide-spread idiom of modern as well as ancient languages, by which a definite or round number is put for an indefinite. Seven is thus generally used by the Hebrews for any considerable number, as it was among the Egyptians and Persians, and is still said to be in the East. The Moguls are said to employ nine in like manner. So, in English, we put five or ten for any small, and a hundred for a large number, in conversation; though the genius of our language forbids such idioms in graver discourse.--_Strachey,_ pp. 55, 56.


iv. 1. _And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread and wear our own apparel, only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach._[1]

This verse gives us a vivid picture of the desolating and disorganising power of war. The 25th and 26th verses of the previous chapter say "Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn, and she being desolate shall sit on the ground." This righteous chastisement has come. So often have the men been called into the field, so exterminating has been the carnage, as that now few men remain. The natural proportion of the sexes is disturbed. This disorganisation invades woman's nature. Her natural modesty departs. With violent importunity seven women press marriage on one man. They will be no expense to him; they will earn their own food and raiment, if he will only give them his name in marriage. The writer of this outline has recently travelled in a land [Mexico] whose revolutions during the last fifty years have been so frequent as that he found parts of the country where the prophet's words are true to-day. The men have been killed in battle. In some districts there are seven women to one man.

+I. The tendency of sin is to produce war and to degrade women.+ The apostle James has described the generals of war (iv. 1). Nations are but the aggregate of individuals. If the lusts of selfishness, greed, malice, &c., nestle like vipers in the hearts of individual men, they will be manifest in the nation. 1. _Sin deteriorates man's intellectual faculties._ In its present unpurified condition, the human intellect is not inventive enough to discover those commercial relationships which will eventually bind in bonds of amity the nations of the world together. 2. _Sin intensifies human selfishness._ One of the most desolating wars of modern times originated in that gross selfishness which was too blind to see that it was a sin to hold property in man. 3. _Sin intensifies human greed._ "Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour's landmark," is a despised threat. Again and again his war originated in greed of territory and lust of plunder. 4. _Sin intensifies human ambition._ In the heart of all great conquerors, from Nimrod to Napoleon, has lain the lust of unholy ambition. Their motto has ever been "Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven." 5. Side by side with these lusts of selfishness, greed, ambition, &c., there has _been a lack of justice and mercy._ No mind having these latter sentiments healthily developed could "cry havock and let slip the dogs of war." When the leaders of nations learn "to do justly and love mercy," wars will be less common. 6. _With war have come numerous evils to woman._ The text describes some of them. Others come to the surface every day. Her husband has been forced from her side, or her sons have died on the battlefield; very bitter have been woman's sorrows,--"Yea, a sword hath pierced through her own soul also." And always where soldiers are multiplied in a land, and taken away from useful employment, women have been polluted and degraded. War and womanly degradation are inseparable evils.

+II. It is the tendency of Christianity to produce peace and elevate women.+ 1. _To produce peace in its loftiest and widest sense Christ came into the world._ The prophet Isaiah predicted Him as the Prince of Peace (ix. 6). At His birth angels sang, "Peace on earth, good-will to man" (Luke ii. 14). 2. _By His atoning work He has laid the foundation of peace between man and God,_ and consequently between man and man. 3. _The direct influence of Christ's religion is to restrain and destroy those evil propensities out of which wars originate--lust of greed, ambition, malice, &c._ What is in the individual comes out in the community. As individuals and nations become truly Christian and form the majority, wars will cease. 4. _Prophecy speaks of a time coming when the principles of Christianity shall be in the ascendant,_ and then men shall beat their swords into ploughshares, &c., &c. (chap. ii. 4). 5. _As the gospel of peace advances in a land woman's condition is always elevated._ The Christian man honours woman as no other man does. As he grows into the stature of Christ, woman's lot is always happier. Compare woman's status in pagan, Mohammedan, and barbarous lands, with her status in Christendom.

+III. Hence while the Gospel claims as its advocate every Christian man, it has special claims on the service of every pious woman.+--Every good man is called upon to spread the blessings of Christianity as widely as possible. But there are some evils whose removal appeals specially to pious women. Every good woman should throw her influence into the aggregate of the peace spirit, as against that war spirit which in certain stages of civilisation seems so natural to man. All women should join together to make up an army of peace promoters, outnumbering the men of the sword. To relieve their sisters from sorrow and save them from degradation, should be the aim of all good women.--_William Parkes._


[1] See note to preceding outline.


iv. 2-6. _In that day shall the Branch of the Lord, &c._

"That day" is the glorious period described in ch. ii. 1-4, and those verses and our text should be read together, as the beginning and conclusion of one prophecy. At the beginning, the prophet fixes his gaze upon the sun-illumined peaks of holiness and blessing in the far future, and his spirit rises within him in exultant gladness (ii. 5); and then he begins to survey the spaces of time that lie between. Immediately at his feet he sees almost the whole nation given over to utter ungodliness, the men and the women vying with each other in their pride and luxuriousness, and in their contempt and oppression of the poor; and then he beholds the clouds of Divine vengeance gathering and bursting over the stout-hearted sinners; he sees the nation spoiled of the men who had constituted its strength, and the enfeebled people utterly desolated by war. All is blackness and darkness. But he lifts his eyes again, and there still shines before him the true Zion, dwelling in inviolable peace beneath the manifestations of the presence of her God. This was the vision which was granted him, and which he recorded for the instruction of men in all aftertime.

Confining our attention to the closing section of it, we are instructed--+I. That underneath all God's purposes of judgment He has designs of mercy.+ In certain portions of this great prophecy God comes forth in terrible majesty, and were we to have regard to them only we should be moved to pray that He would not speak to us any more (Exod. xx. 19). But these judgments that cause us to tremble--what is their purpose? Not merely the infliction of righteous vengeance, but also and more that a way may be opened for manifestations of the Divine goodness. If into Zion He sends "the spirit of judgment and burning," it is that by the purging away of her filth and blood-guiltiness she may be made meet to be the dwelling-place of God. +II. That God resolved to carry out His purposes of mercy by a suitable agent.+ He is here designated by a twofold description, the parts of which appear to be contradictory. He is at once "the Branch of the Lord" and "the Fruit of the earth." The significance of the first of these titles becomes more plain as we trace it in prophecy (Jer. xxiii. 5, xxxiii. 15; Zech. iii. 8, vi. 12). So that "the Branch of the Lord" is a man, the son of David, that son concerning whom he sang in the seventy-second Psalm, the Messiah--our Lord Jesus Christ! As soon as we arrive at this great truth, we perceive what is the explanation of the mysterious contradiction in the two parts of the title of the great Deliverer whom God was about to raise up for Zion (1 Tim. iii. 16; Rom. i. 3, 4). +III. That in the day when God's designs of mercy are fulfilled, the suitability and glory of the Agent whom God resolved to employ will be universally recognised.+ We know how He was treated when He came forth on His great mission: He was despised and rejected of men. Yet not long after He had been put to the most ignominious of deaths, an apostle could write, "Unto you that believe He is precious." So even on earth there was a commencement of the fulfilment of the prediction that He should be "beautiful and glorious . . . excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel." We have been permitted also to see how He is regarded by the ransomed ones who have entered into the rest in which they await the manifestation of the sons of God (Rev. v. 6-14). By this disclosure we are enabled to form some conception of the manner in which this portion of the prophecy will be fulfilled "in that day" which upon the new earth "the holy city, New Jerusalem," has come down from God out of heaven. +IV. That God's great design both in the infliction of His judgments and the operation of His mercy is the creation of universal holiness.+ The work entrusted to the Messiah was to "wash away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and to purge the blood-guiltiness of Jerusalem from the midst thereof." There were some "written down for life in Jerusalem" (Acts xiii. 48),--doubtless those who God foresaw would tremble at His threatenings and accept His gracious offers of mercy; and these the Messiah was so to purify that they should be worthy to "be called holy." Thus one part of GOD'S IDEAL CONCERNING ISRAEL (Exod. xix. 6) was to be realised. It was for the accomplishment of this great purpose that Christ died (Eph. v. 25-27). It was for this end that He was exalted to God's right hand (Acts v. 31). It is for the accomplishment of this great purpose that He now sometimes subjects His people to painful discipline (Heb. xii. 10).[1] +V. That the day of universal holiness will be a day of universal blessing.+ This great truth is set forth by symbols which would appeal most powerfully to the imagination and the hopes of the godly among Isaiah's contemporaries (ver. 5, 6). That which had been the distinguishing glory of the Tabernacle was to become the common glory of every dwelling in the New Jerusalem. Moreover, the whole city was to be a covering--a canopy such as in a Jewish wedding was held over the bride and bridegroom; the symbol of God's protecting love. Beneath it, as in a tabernacle, they should dwell securely. Thus the second portion of God's ideal concerning Israel was to be realised (Deut. xxviii. 9, 10; xxxiii. 28). First purity, then peace; perfect purity, perfect peace. A little later Isaiah had another vision concerning this tabernacle (xxxii. 2). God's protecting love for His people is embodied in our Lord Jesus Christ; "in _Him_ all the promises of God are Yea and Amen" (2 Cor. i. 20).


[1] As God makes use of all the seasons of the year for the harvest, the frost of winter as well as the heat of summer, so doth He of fair and foul, pleasing and unpleasing providences for promoting holiness. Winter providences kill the weeds of lusts, and summer providences ripen and mellow the fruits of righteousness. When He afflicts it is for our profit, to make us partakers of His holiness (Heb. xii. 10). Bernard compares afflictions to the teasel, which though it be sharp and scratching, is to make the cloth more pure and fine. God would not rub so hard if it were not to fetch out the dirt that is ingrained in our natures. God loves purity so well that He would rather see a hole than a spot in His child's garments. When He deals more gently in His providences, and lets His people sit under the sunny bank of comforts and enjoyments, fencing them from the cold blasts of affliction, it is to draw forth the sap of grace, and hasten their growth in holiness.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.


iv. 2-5. _In that day shall the Branch of the Lord, &c._

Note the contrast between the preceding chapter, in which denunciations fall upon the ear like thunder, and the sunny promise of this. The references to Zion both in the Psalms and in the Prophecies are frequent and striking. Originally crowned by the Jebusite citadel, it was besieged and taken by David, who transferred his court from Hebron thither; he afterwards erected a tabernacle upon its height, and it there became the chosen resting-place of the ark of the Lord. Hence, in Scripture language, it came sometimes to denote the entire city of Jerusalem, and sometimes the Church or commonwealth of the faithful, which the Highest has promised to establish, and out of which God, the perfection of beauty, shines. You will have no difficulty in thus understanding the reference in the words before us. Applied to the ancient Zion, or even to the entire city of Jerusalem, the words are extravagant and unmeaning; applied to the Church of God--His living, spiritual temple--they are sober, comforting truths. Consider

I. THE PREPARATION FOR THE PROMISE--(2-4). Two things are presented as antecedent to the gifts of blessing--the coming of the Divine Saviour, and His discipline for holiness within His Church. +1. The coming of the Divine Saviour+ (ver. 2). The transition from the gloomy judgment to the grandeur of deliverance is abrupt and striking, as if from a savage wilderness one were to emerge suddenly into green pastures and among gay flowers. So great a change passes upon human destinies when Christ the Lord comes down. We are naturally heirs of judgment. But a Saviour has been provided--a Saviour who, in the mysterious union of natures, combines perfection of sympathy and almightiness of power. Without Christ, we are hopeless and lost. Give us Christ, and we are heirs to all the fulness of God. +2. The Saviour's discipline for holiness within His Church+ (ver. 3, 4). With God the great thing is holiness. To work this holiness in His people, God subjects them to discipline, and, if necessary, to the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning. There are some stains so deep that the fire must purge them. The constant superintendence over human affairs which these words imply is assured to us by the experience of our own witnessing hearts, which corroborate the declarations of the inspired Word. In this superintendence the Christian will rejoice. In his anxiety to be conformed to the whole image of God, he will not be careful or delicate about the means God may use. Here is a test by which to try yourselves. Are you willing to submit to this preparation for the promise? Do not shrink from the hissing brand; it will only burn away the core of the ulcer.

II. THE PROMISE ITSELF (ver. 5). As we read these words, we go back to former ages and a fierce wilderness, where a pilgrim host marches, and there, now in their van for guidance, now in their rear for protection, races a pillar of cloud by day, and by night a pillar of flame. This was the vision prominent in the prophet's mind, when he symbolised by it God's presence and protection to His chosen Church. We are the heirs of the glorious things thus spoken of the city of God. There is the presence of God with His Church--that is the central thought; then there are right-hand and left-hand thoughts or aspects in which that presence manifests itself, radiating itself on the one hand for counsel, and on the other hand for defence. 1. The central thought, +The presence of God.+ It was in cloud and in fire that God specially revealed Himself for His people in days of old (Gen. xv. 17; Exod. xix. 18; xxxiii. 9; 1 Kings viii. 10; Hab. iii. 3-5). So long as the cloud and fire were in the camp, so long the wilderness lost half its terror, because the Israelites knew that God was in the midst of them for good. That God is still present in His church is no impious fanatic's dream. To be sure He does not come as He did in former times, bewildering the sight and overawing the mind. The Divine manifestations of terror which made even Moses fear and quake, would not suit this later and better dispensation of love. Yet our tabernacles are not merely places of human assembly; they are tabernacles of God's presence, and our worship ascends not to a remote or absent God. 2. The right-hand thought, +The presence of God for counsel.+ You remember that this was the primary purpose for which the pillar of cloud and fire was given. Consider how much it was needed by the Israelites in the trackless wilderness. (1.) For guidance in their perplexities, God's presence is promised to the churches of to-day. Nobody can look upon the history of the Church with eyes that are not blinded by infidel films without discovering traces of a presence and counsel higher than that of the mightiest and wisest men. What chance had she at the beginning but in the support and upholding that was itself Divine! Through what perils she has been safely guided since! (2.) If I were to come nearer home, if I were to ask you to not look at the history of the Church, but at your own history, is there not something that would cause you to respond with a joy not less deep and solemn, as you think how the Lord through all your wanderings has been a guide and counsel for you? 3. The left-hand thought, +The presence of God for defence.+ You know what the pillar of fire was--to the Israelites a lamp, brilliant, exquisite, and heartening; to the Egyptians that followed, a consuming fire. There is defence as well as counsel for the Church to-day. Expositors have differed a little about the reading of the last clause in this verse. Some tell us it ought to read, "upon all the _glory_ shall be a defence;" that is, there shall be protection round about the glory which is created by this luminous cloud and by this kindled fire. Some tell us it should be read, "upon _all_ the glory shall be a defence;" that is, the luminous cloud and the brilliant fire shall be itself the defence of the Church. What does it matter which way we take it? The defence is sure, the salvation of the Lord is for bulwarks equally in the one case as in the other; and so the Church is safe, whatever betide. Powerful adversaries have banded themselves for her destruction, and yet she still lives, while their names are forgotten, or remembered with accusation and shame. Let us, then, not be afraid of future assaults (Num. xxiii. 23). The defence is not merely for Zion as a whole, but for every dwelling-place therein. Every believer has a pillar of cloud and fire over his own homestead, visible not to your eyes, but to those of the angels. There cannot be a cloud upon "the assembly" unless there are first clouds upon the dwelling-places. Consecrated homes furnish consecrated congregations; consecrated homes bring the baptism of fire. Dear brethren, this promise is yours, if you like to have it. It is the simple, quiet soul that sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to His voice, that has all this done for him (Heb. i. 14).

"Which of the petty kings of earth Can boast a guard like ours, Encircled from our second birth With all the heavenly powers?"

--_W. Morley Punshon, LL.D., Christian World Pulpit,_ ii. 372-377.


iv. 4. _By the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning._

In ch. ii. 1-5, the prophet gives us a vision of the glory which shall distinguish Messianic times. From ver. 6, however, and through that chapter and the next, he depicts scenes of darkness and distress, that were to come upon the Jewish nation in correction of its haughtiness, arrogance, and rebellion. In ch. iv. the light again breaks through these fearful clouds of judgment, and under the glory of the Messianic period we see the beauty and purity of the chastened people of the Lord. The filth of the daughters of Zion has been washed away, the blood of Jerusalem has been purged from the midst thereof. But how? "By the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning." Here we have the source and cause of the change.--This language is very striking and suggestive, _and reveals the Divine procedure in the cleansing of the heart._

I. THE SPIRIT OF JUDGMENT. God's Spirit effects this reformation by a process of discernment and conviction. We observe--1. That a real change of heart is usually preceded by a discovery of its sinful condition. The natural tendency of the depraved heart is to ignore and deny its corrupted state. The light must be let in to show that it _is_ depraved.[1] 2. That this reformation is preceded by a discovery of the _enormity_ as well as the fact of sin. Even a converted sinner tries to palliate or soften the sins that condemn him. Hence men contrive such flimsy distinctions as "white lies" and "black lies." But "the Spirit of judgment" goes to the root of the matter, and discovers sin _as_ sin (1 Kings viii. 28). So in the text, it is the _filth_ of the daughters of Zion that has to be washed away; it is the _blood_ of Jerusalem that has had to be purged from its midst.[2]

II. THE SPIRIT OF BURNING. From this description of the Holy Ghost, we learn--1. That _the detection of sin is, in the Divine purpose, to be followed by its destruction._ There can be no _home_ for sin in a pure heart, nor will God make any concession to it (Hab. i. 13; Ps. v. 5). 2. _This process is extremely searching and painful._ It is one of "burning" (Matt. iii. 11). How many have quailed under the testing ordeal!--_e.g.,_ loss of wealth! loss of friends! personal affliction, &c.

From the subject three general reflections arise:--1. God does not chastise arbitrarily or at random. He does it by "the Spirit of judgment." 2. Neither does He fail in the work by reason of a weak indulgence, which really would be unkindness. He does it by "the Spirit of burning." 3. The object He has in view is to promote and secure our personal holiness, to make us indeed _like Himself_ (Heb. xii. 10)--the most blessed result to which discipline can lead us.--_W. Manning._


[1] It is with the children of men as with the housewife, that having diligently swept the house, and cast the dust out of doors, can see nothing amiss, not so much as a speck of dust in it; whereas if the sun do but a little shine in, through some cranny in the wall or some broken quarry in the window, she may soon see the whole house swim and swarm with innumerable atoms of dust, floating to and fro in the air, which, for dimness of light or sight, she was not able to discern. Even so is it with many that were careful of their ways, so that little may be seen that is amiss; yet, when they shall come to look more attentively into God's law, a little beam of light, reflecting upon their souls for it, will discover unto them such an innumerable company, as well as corruptions in their heart as of error and oversight in their lives, that it shall make them, as men amazed, cry out, "Lord, what earthly man doth know the errors of his life?"--_Spencer,_ 1658.

[2] As the Lord led Ezekiel from one place to another, and the further he went the greater abominations he discerned (Ezek. viii.), from the door of the court to the door of the gate of the Lord's house, and from thence to the inner court; so the Spirit of the Lord leads the sinner from one part of his house to another, from one room--one faculty of his soul to another, and still discovers greater, more and more abominations,--leads from the profaneness of his ordinary conversation to the sins of his religious duties, from the sins of his life to the sins of his heart, from the streams of sin in his actions to the spring of sin which bubbles up continually in every part of his soul. He brings to mind the sins that he has forgotten, makes him "possess the sins of his youth;" and now the "bag" (Job. xiv. 17) is opened, and the sinner sees what he is to reckon for, he cries out as the prophet's servant, "How shall we do?" and as David (Ps. xxxviii. 4). He comes not to the assizes as formerly, to see others tried and condemned; he sees himself now at the bar, himself arraigned and indicted; he cannot but plead guilty. He is clearly cast in law, and bears the sentence of condemnation as though the Lord did by name pronounce sentence of condemnation against him.--_Clarkson,_ 1621-1686.


v. 1-7. _Now will I sing, &c._

+I. The privileges conferred on the Jewish nation+ (ver. 2, 3). It would be vain and useless to attempt, as some have done, to find in the privileges of the Jews an exact counterpart to the various items here specified concerning this "vineyard." For example, Jerome regards the fencing of the vineyard as symbolical of the protection of the Jews by the angels; the gathering out of the stones, the removal of the idols; the tower, the temple erected in Jerusalem; the wine-press, the altar.[1] To seek thus for minute analogies is at once to destroy the oratorical force and the simplicity of the parable. Rather let us lay hold of its leading truths. The prophet desired to remind the Jews that they had received extraordinary privileges from God; consequently he employed figures calculated to impress his hearers with that truth; and he does not fail to specify every particular which those acquainted with a vineyard would expect, if it were one from which a copious supply of choice fruit might be reasonably expected. 1. _The choice which God made of the Jews as a nation_ was the first and fundamental privilege which He conferred upon them. 2. Having chosen them, God revealed Himself to them as clearly as was then possible through the symbolism of _the Mosaic Law._ Through its statutes and ceremonies were shadowed forth the great truths of His holiness, His mercy, His sanctifying grace, and the Sacrifice which in the fulness of time was to be offered for the sin of the world (Rom. iii. 1, 2). 3. In addition to the Law, God gave to His people the inestimable help of _Prophetical Teaching,_ to assist them to understand its meaning, and to stimulate them to keep it with full purpose of heart.

+II. The consequent obligations under which the Jews were laid.+ From the vineyard, for which the great Husbandman has done so much, He naturally looked for fruit. The fruits which the prophet specifies as being required by God from the Jews correspond precisely with their privileges (ver. 7). He had given them a code of laws by which their actions were to be guided, and had impressed upon them the duty of doing to others as they would be done to. Now He looked for the fruits of justice and righteousness. It was a reasonable demand, the lowest that could have been made. Yet even this demand was not met.

+III. The judgment which God designed to bring upon them+ (ver. 6, 7). As we objected to the attempt to find exact counterparts between the various privileges of the Jews and the labours which had been bestowed upon the vineyard, so we set aside as needless all attempts to discover parallels between the various items of the threatening against the vineyard and the judgments by which the Jews were visited. All that the prophet means to say is this, that the privileges which the Jews enjoyed pre-eminently above all the other nations God would take from them, and they should be reduced to the level of their neighbours. The removal of these privileges was itself the heaviest judgment that could have befallen them.

PRACTICAL LESSON.--_Where there is privilege there is obligation._ 1. You who are Christians are responsible for your privileges. Consider how great they are: a knowledge of the will of God; the example of Christ; a throne of grace ever accessible; the counsel and help of the Holy Spirit. If God looked for the fruits of justice and righteousness from the Jews, what manner of fruit may He reasonably expect from you? 2. Even those of you who are not Christians, but are still living in sin, have privileges; a preached Gospel; the offer of a free, full, and present salvation; the strivings with you of the Holy Ghost. Despise them not, or you will perish.--_Thomas Neave._


[1] "The house of Israel" (beth Yisrâel) was the whole nation, which is also represented in other passages under the same figure of a vineyard (ch. xxvii. 2, _sqq._; Ps. lxxx., &c). But as Isaiah was prophet in Judah, he applies the figure more particularly to Judah, which was called Jehovah's favourite plantation, inasmuch as it was the seat of the Divine sanctuary and of the Davidic kingdom. This makes it easy enough to interpret the different parts of the simile employed. The fat mountain horn was Canaan, flowing with milk and honey (Exod. xv. 17); the digging of the vineyard, and clearing it of stones, was the clearing of Canaan from its former heathen inhabitants (Ps. xliv. 3); the sorek-vines were the holy priests and prophets and kings of Israel of the earlier and better times (Jer. ii. 21); the defensive and ornamental tower in the midst of the vineyard was Jerusalem as the royal city, with Zion the royal fortress (Micah iv. 8); the winepress-trough was the temple, where, according to Ps. xxxvi. 8, the wine of heavenly pleasures flowed in streams, and from which, according to Ps. xlii. and many other passages, the thirst of the soul might all be quenched. The grazing and treading down are explained in Jer. v. 10 and xii. 10.--_Delitsch._

I believe that in a poetical allegory there is always more or less an allusion to the details of that which is allegorised; but it is only allusion,--to be realised by the imagination, rather than by the understanding, of the reader, as well as the poet. The several images are parts of a picture, which must be contemplated as a picture, and its meaning is to enter into the mind through the imagination. Still, a matter-of-fact commentator, like Vitrings, deeply imbued with the spirit of his author, will sometimes greatly help his reader's imagination by his minute analysis; and I think this is the case in his explanation of the details of this description of the vineyard. _"A vineyard"_ consists of vines planted for the sake of their fruit: the Hebrew nation with its tribes, its families, and its persons, was such a vineyard, appointed to bring forth the fruits of personal and social religion and virtue,--holiness, righteousness, and love to God and man: this nation was established in a land flowing with milk and honey, endowed with all natural advantages, all circumstances which could favour inward life by outward prosperity; and the grace and favour of Jehovah, and the influence of His Spirit, always symbolised by oil, were continually causing it to be fruitful. _"And He fenced it,"_--the arm of the LORD of hosts, employing kings and heroes, was its defence against all enemies; its institutions were fitted to preserve internal order, and to prevent the admixture of evil from without, with the chosen and separated nation; and its territory was marked out and protected by natural boundaries in a noticeable manner. _"Gathered out the stones,"_--the heathen nations, and the stocks and stones they worshipped. _"And planted it with the choicest vine,"_--a nation of the noble stock of the patriarchs, and chosen and cultivated by the Lord of the vineyard, with especial care, for His own use. _"And built a tower in it,"_--namely, Jerusalem--for the protection and superintendence of the vineyard, as well as to be its farmhouse, so to speak. _"And also made a wine-press therein,"_--where the wine-press seems to point to the same idea as the sending the servants to receive the fruit, in our Lord's modification of this parable: lawgivers, kings, and judges, the temple with its priesthood and ordinances, and the schools of the prophets, were the appointed means for pressing out and receiving the wine--the spiritual virtues and graces of the vineyard. And the end is, that _"He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes."_--_Strachy,_ pp. 62, 63.


v. 1-7. _Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song, &c._

The points of moral instruction made prominent in this parable are--I. That God's gifts of truth, light as to duty, moral culture, and opportunities for doing good, create peculiar obligations to be morally fruitful, to do justice, and love mercy. II. That men so blessed with privileges will be held to a stern accountability. III. That failing to meet this, they must expect that God will take away their privileges and give them to others who will render the fruits in their season (Matt. xxi. 43). IV. That there is a line beyond which God does not deem it wise to waste His moral efforts upon self-hardened sinners. V. That in His view the exigencies of His moral kingdom demand of Him rather that He made sinners, beyond that line, an example of His righteous displeasure against their awful wickedness, and a warning to other sinners lest they venture too far in abusing His compassionate and long-suffering efforts to reclaim and save them. It is a terrible thing to withstand God in His labours to save the soul.--_Henry Cowles, D.D., Commentary on Isaiah,_ p. 30.


v. 1-7. _Now will I sing to my well-beloved, &c._

+I. Great privileges are bestowed by God according to the good pleasure of His will.+ 1. Obviously this is true of the great privileges accorded to the Jewish nation. They were not granted because of anything in them (Deut. vii. 7; ix. 4-6, &c.). There were other "hills" that would have been just as suitable for a vineyard, and just as fruitful, had the great Husbandman been pleased to deal with them in the same manner. 2. If we consider our own religious privileges, we must acknowledge the same great principle: other nations still heathen _deserve_ them just as much as we do; and our heathen forefathers to whom they were first granted were in no sense superior to the heathen of to-day. We owe our superiority to our privileges, not our privileges to our superiority. 3. The same principle is as true of temporal as of spiritual privileges. Why are some born clever, and others stupid? some strong and others weak? some rich, and others poor? We can return no other answer than that such is the will of God.--This principle seems to be surrounded by a cloud of mystery; but there are rays of light that relieve it,--to some of them we shall presently refer; and we must be careful not to darken it by our own folly. We must not imagine, because God acts according to the good pleasure of His will, that therefore He acts arbitrarily, capriciously, out of mere whim and fancy. Though He may not disclose to us the reasons for many of His procedures, we may be sure that He has good reasons. In withholding them from us--possibly because we are as yet incapable of understanding them,--and thus making demands upon our faith, He deals with us just as we frequently deal with our children.

+II. Great privileges involve great responsibilities.+ From the vineyard so carefully cultivated choice grapes are justly expected. This is a truth so familiar that it is apt to become to us a mere truism. But we shall do well to look at it steadily,--1. _As a guide to us in our duty._ It is well to pause and consider what privileges God has conferred upon is, that we may be aroused to a perception of the nature and extent of the demands which He is certain to make upon us. In view of our privileges, what ought our life to be? (Luke xii. 48). 2. _As a help to us in our perplexities._ In view of such providential arrangements as have been referred to, these are sometimes very painful. But we must remember that the great principle before us admits of being very variously stated. It is just as true that "small privileges involve small responsibilities." We shall adopt the slander of the wicked and slothful servant if we think of God as a hard master who seeks to reap where He has not sown. If God has entrusted to any man only one talent,--and He entrusts to every man at least as much as that,--He will not demand from him the usury upon ten talents, nor upon two.

+III. Great privileges do not necessarily result in great happiness.+ They ought to do so; they often do so; but as frequently they fail to do so. Even in temporal things, the happiest men are not always those whose possessions are most various and ample. The most learned men are not always those who own the largest libraries. And the holiest men are not always those whose religious opportunities are most numerous and great. Why is it, that great privileges and great happiness are not always associated? Because man is a voluntary agent, and God will not force happiness upon any man. He may offer us eternal life, but we must "lay hold" of it. He may shed upon our path great light, but we must walk in it (ch. ii. 5).

PRACTICAL LESSON.--Instead of repining because our privileges are not more numerous and great, let us diligently use those which have been granted to us, and so make them what they were intended to be--sources of blessing to us. Enclosed within God's vineyard, and carefully cultured by Him, let us see to it that the grapes we bring forth are not wild grapes.

+IV. Great privileges neglected or misused bring on great condemnations+ (ver. 5, 6). Compare also Luke xiii. 6-9. Had that fig-tree been growing on some open common, notwithstanding its barrenness, it might have stood till it decayed, but because it was barren in a "vineyard" the righteous order is given, "Cut it down!" This principle, also, we may turn to practical account. Like a former one, we may use it--1. _To help us in our perplexities._ Sometimes we are in trouble to know what will become of the heathen in the day of judgment. Well, even if they are condemned, they will be condemned less severely than those who have misused greater privileges (Matt. xi. 22; Luke xii. 48). 2. _To stimulate us to a faithful discharge of duty._ Fear is not the highest motive, but it is a very useful one, and not truly wise man will leave it out of account. We need every kind of help to fortify us against temptation, and it is good to remember what will be the result if we yield to it, and so remain barren and unfruitful, or even bring forth "wild grapes" (Heb. iv. 1; 1 Pet. i. 7; Phil. ii. 12).

Fear is useful as a motive, but hope is still more helpful; and in the matter of our salvation we may employ both fear and hope as allies. Reverse the last principle, and read it thus, +Great privileges well used secure corresponding rewards.+ Compare Luke xix. 17. If the choice vine planted in the fruitful vineyard brings forth "good grapes," the Husbandman will pronounce over it rejoicing benedictions (Heb. vi. 7).


v. 2. _He looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes._

"I believe in God." Which god? The god constructed for us by philosophers, who is impassive, throned in eternal calm, unmoved by the crimes or the virtues of men, all of which he has foreseen from eternal ages, and which cannot in any way affect him at the time of their occurrence; a god who towers above men, majestic and unchangeable, like an Alpine peak, which is the same whether sunlight cheers or clouds darken the valleys beneath? No, but the God of the Bible, who loves and hates, who rejoices with us in our gladness and sorrows with us in our griefs, who foresees and overrules all, and yet can hope and be disappointed.

I. That God can be disappointed is distinctly the implication of our text. "He _looked_ that it," &c. 1. Isaiah's parable recalls the privileges which God had conferred upon the Jews; and we know that He dealt with them as He did, in order that they might become a holy nation (Exod. xix. 6; Deut. vii. 6, xxvi. 18, 19). Was their persistent unholiness no disappointment to Him? 2. The same truth is implied in what we are told of God's feelings in view of the wickedness of the antediluvians (Gen. vi. 5, 6). He had made man in His own image, in order that He might continue therein, and shine with the lustre of His own moral perfections; each man was to be a _planet_ in the moral universe, reflecting the glory of the great central Sun; and when He saw man transformed into the image of Satan, and His purposes concerning him frustrated, He was filled with profound regret. 3. The same truth is implied in what we are told concerning Christ. "He came unto His own" (John i. 11). For what purpose? Certainly not that He might be rejected, but that He might be received by them. But He _was_ rejected! See how forcibly this is brought out in His parable (Luke xx. 9-15--especially verse 13). 4. It is implied in Christ's tears and lament over Jerusalem (Luke xix. 41; Matt xxiii. 37). 5. It is implied in the apostolic declarations, that God is desirous that all men should repent and be saved (1 Tim. ii. 4; 2 Pet. iii. 9). We must not minimise the force of θέλει--ὂς πάντας άνθρώποʊς θέλεɩ σωθῆναɩ. The strength of any one's desire is to be measured by what he will do or sacrifice to accomplish it; and God gave His only begotten Son in order that all men might have everlasting life. But all men are not saved. That the Scriptures teach that God can be--and often is--disappointed, is clear.

II. "But it is impossible that God can be disappointed, seeing that He is omniscient and foresees all things. Surprise, and consequently disappointment, is not possible to perfect knowledge." 1. This objection appears to be very reasonable, but against it there is this fatal objection, that we cannot measure God by our reason.[1] We cannot tell how He will act or feel under certain circumstances: all we know is, that under all circumstances God will act and feel in a manner worthy of Himself. But what is, or is not, consistent with His attributes, we are not in a position to determine. Take, for instance, His omnipresence. If we were present when dastardly wrongs and great crimes are committed, and were clothed with power to prevent them, how certain it is that we should prevent them![2] But every day He stands by and sees such wickednesses perpetrated, and is silent, and gives no sign. Let us, then, not be in a hurry to decide that disappointment is not consistent with omniscience. 2. There is an experience very frequent among men, which may perhaps help us a little to understand what disappointment is in God. Evils may be long distinctly foreseen--as, for example, the death of a dear friend suffering from an incurable disease--but yet not realised until they actually occur. The blow is foreseen long before it falls, but it is felt when it falls. Every man knows that he must die, and yet how nearly a surprise is death to every man! 3. Whether we can understand it or not, it is our duty to accept this declaration, that in view of the ingratitude and sinfulness of men whom God has blessed and has sought to win by virtue and holiness, He is profoundly grieved and disappointed. Such declarations are not to be dismissed as "anthropomorphological." However much that is in them may be figurative, there is a reality behind the figures.

III. Whatever mystery may attach to this declaration, consider how precious it is--1. A God who can be disappointed is precisely the God we need. How else could we be assured of His sympathy with us in the disappointments which so frequently come upon us, and which make up so considerable a part of the experiences of our life? Were God such a being as the philosophers have imagined, we might feel that He understood us, as an anatomist understands exactly how a frog on which he is operating will act when exposed to galvanic shocks, but we could not have had the inexpressible consolation of the assurance of His sympathy. It is only a mother who has been bereaved who can comfort a mother who is weeping over her dead child. 2. A God who is so much interested in us that our failures in virtue inspire Him with profound grief and disappointment, is against precisely the God we need. Of what value to us would be a God who looked upon us with as little emotion as a king may be supposed to do upon the ants who crawl across his path? It is because men do not think of God as He is revealed in our text, that they sin against Him; if they did but realise how He feels about them, it would be impossible for them to transgress as they do. I accept His declaration, that He is disappointed in view of human sin, and I try to measure His disappointment. I find help in this endeavour in this Old Testament parable: how profound would be the disappointment of a husbandman under such circumstances as are supposed! But I find yet more valuable help in the greatest of the New Testament parables. How bitter must have been the disappointment of the father of the Prodigal when he went away into a far country! Such disappointments break the hearts of tens of thousands of fathers and mothers, and brings down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave; and precisely such disappointment it is, only vaster, deeper, sadder, that fills the heart of our Heavenly Father when His children go astray. It is thus that some of you have grieved Him; it is thus that some of you are grieving Him to-day by your contemptuous disregard of His offers of mercy and forgiveness. Oh, think what it is that you do, and surely your carelessness must give place to profound contrition, and you will resemble the Prodigal in your penitence, as you have done in your ingratitude and your guilt.


[1] God is to us, and to every creature incomprehensible. If thou couldst fathom or measure Him, and know His greatness by a comprehensive knowledge, He were not God. A creature can comprehend nothing but a creature. You may know God, but not comprehend Him; as your foot treadeth on the earth, but doth not cover all the earth. The sea is not a sea if you can hold it in a spoon. Thou canst not comprehend the sun which thou seest, and by which thou seest all things else, nor the sea, or the earth, no, nor a worm, nor a blade of grass: thy understanding knoweth not all that God hath put into the least of these; thou art a stranger to thyself, both body and soul. And thinkest thou, that perfectly comprehendest nothing, to comprehend God? Stop then thy over-bold inquiries, and remember that thou art a shallow, finite worm, and God is infinite. First seek to comprehend the heaven and earth and whole creation, before thou think of comprehending Him to whom the whole world is nothing, or vanity.--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.

[2] During one part of the trip our party was augmented by a redif, or soldier of the reserves, who was going home on leave of absence. He wore the uniform of the Turkish soldier, but I observed that in the evening he threw over his shoulders a woman's robe, made of a soft thin kind of felt, worn by the women in this country, and beautifully embroidered in colours around the neck and bosom. I had the curiosity to inquire into the history of this gown, and could scarcely restrain my indignation at the story I heard. The soldier said he had got the gown at Saitschar. After the discovery of the evacuation of the place by the Servians, he and a party of four or five more entered the town. In one of the houses they found a Servian family that had decided to remain in their house, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Turks. This family consisted of an old man, a married daughter with two children, and a girl of fourteen, whose relationship to the rest of the family they did not take the trouble to inquire into. The husband of the woman, if she had one, was absent. They began by fastening all the doors, so that nobody could escape: then they thoroughly pillaged the house, and took and divided everything of value among themselves. They were in the house a day and a night, for it was a rich one apparently, and it took some time to get everything properly divided and packed; and besides, they were disposed to be merry and make a night of it.

I will not enter into the details of what they did during the night, because there are people who do not apparently object in the least to the commission of these deeds, who object to anybody lifting a finger to prevent them, or even to the expression of any indignation on the subject, but who are dreadfully shocked at the recital of them; and I wish to spare the feelings of these sensitive persons. Suffice it to say that the next morning the question arose as to what should be done with the two women, the two children, and the old man. Some of the party were in favour of letting them go; but the rest were of opinion that it would be amusing to kill them, and a discussion ensued, which lasted more than an hour, in the presence of the weeping, trembling victims, who were wildly begging for mercy, and among whom, it should be remembered, there was a mother begging for the lives of her two children. The narrator said that he, with another of the party, had leant to the side of mercy, but that the majority were against them, and that they finally ended the discussion and the prayers of the victims by falling upon them with their sabres. I asked him how he had come by the gown, and he replied that, seeing what the result was going to be, he had stripped it from the girl while the discussion was in progress, before she was killed, so that it might not be blood-stained. He had taken a fancy to it, because it would just be right for his daughter, who was about the same age; and his companions, perceiving this, made him pay rather high for it--fifty piastres. He was a heavy, dull-looking brute, and it seemed strange to think that he had a daughter, a pretty, tender, joyous little thing, perhaps, that would wear this gown with delight. He told the story in a quiet, phlegmatic manner, and spoke very freely, looking upon me as an Englishman, and therefore as a friend.--_Letter in the "Daily News,"_ Nov. 15, 1876.


v. 4-6. _What could have been done more to my vineyard? &c._

There are certain epochs in the history of the Church when on every hand may be seen the saddest indifference. This state of things is not owing to a suspension of Divine gifts, nor to the absence of earnest pastors, nor to the circumstances by which God's people are surrounded. Everything has been done for the vineyard which the wise and gracious husbandman could perform, yet no fruit is produced. The fault lies with the Church itself. Individual members have relapsed into a state of ease and supineness. Faithful warnings have been unheeded; earnest entreaties have been disregarded; mercies have been unnoticed; chastisements have been profitless. At such a time they who sigh and cry for this desolation, turn to the despised or forgotten Lord, and sing their mournful canticle, "My well-beloved," &c. (ver. 1, 2). Then the Lord replies, "Judge, I pray you," &c. (ver. 3-6). It is too true the sorrowful singer admits, and says 'He looked for judgment,' &c. (ver. 7).

Let us consider the _similitude_ under which the Church is represented, the just _complaint_ of the Lord, and the terrible _condemnation_ He pronounces.

+I. The Similitude.+ A vineyard.

This parable is peculiarly interesting on account of the fact that our Lord Jesus uttered one in many respects similar to it (Matt. xxi. 33). The figure of the vineyard is often used in the Old Testament, generally to represent the Church. The vineyard of the parable is represented as being--1. _In a very favourable locality._ 2. _Planted with the choicest vine._ 3. _Carefully fenced and diligently cultivated._ 4. _Having the husbandman living in the midst._ "Built a tower." God is His _own_ watchman on the walls of Zion.

+II. The Complaint.+ "It brought forth wild grapes." Observe the complaint is not based upon the poverty or paucity of the crop, or even upon the absence of a crop altogether, or because of the lateness of the crop. There is an abundant crop; but of what? "wild grapes," _i.e.,_ "poisonous berries," like those the servant of Elisha gathered (2 Kings iv. 39). A crop that could have grown without the husbandman at all. An unnatural production. One calculated to injure, if not to destroy life. The husbandman's design is thwarted; he expected that which would nourish and stimulate life; whereas the opposite is produced. The allegory explains itself. The inconsistencies and follies, the disobedience and idolatry of the Church, are like deadly upas trees in the world; they tend to produce infidelity, _i.e.,_ moral death, among men. The mission of the Church is to proclaim life, by God's Spirit to communicate it; instead of that, a worldly and apostate Church leads men to say and believe, "There is no God." This is unnatural; the proper fruit of the Church is holiness, obedience, and zeal.

+III. The Condemnation.+ (vers. 5, 6).

1. _Observe the mercy of the condemnation._ "It shall be eaten up." The obnoxious growth shall be destroyed. The pride, the ignorance, the idolatry of the Church shall be removed. God will not abandon her, as He does the world, to fill up her measure of iniquity. He must be glorified in His saints, although not now, yet afterward. The patient husbandman will wait for another year, when his choice vine shall yield choice fruit.

2. _Observe the severity of the condemnation._ Her privileges shall not be enjoyed. "The hedge taken away." Direful persecution shall be experienced. "It shall be trodden down." The Spirit's influence shall be withheld. "I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it." It is so with the Jews. That vineyard is desolate now;--the vines are trodden under foot; the rain rains not on them, BUT THEY ARE NOT ROOTED UP. God shall plant another hedge, dwell again in the forsaken tower; and His ancient people shall grow and flourish on the fruitful hill; bringing forth such fruit that the husbandman shall rejoice, and earth and heaven be glad.--_Stems and Twigs,_ vol. i. pp. 246-249.


v. 7, 8. _He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry. Woe unto them that join house to house, and lay field to field, till there be no place._

I. The Almighty expects from all His creatures, and especially from those to whom He has given wealth or power, the practice of justice and righteousness. II. The Almighty, instead of finding justice and righteousness among His creatures, discovers oppression on the part of the powerful, and a cry of lamentation and of indignation on the part of the poor: the proof of the oppression, and the cause of the cry is, that no place is left for the poor. There is a strong tendency to the accumulation of property, and especially of land, in the hands of a few; but such accumulations of land in a few hands tends to grave national evils--to luxury on the part of the rich, and to lawlessness on the part of the poor--and, therefore, instead of being promoted, should be discouraged by the legislature. But year by year we have been adding "field to field, and house to house," till we have left the poor no place. Rights of common and rights of pasture have been taken away, and the beer-shop established by law to occupy the time which otherwise would have been employed in healthy toil for a happy family. Little farms, held by working farmers, have been joined together, so that one may live in luxury, where ten families once dwelt in simplicity and plenty. The cottager, in his little field, that once looked so fruitful and trim, cheering the eye and charming the heart, not only of himself, but of beings dear to and dependent upon him, has been driven into some town to add to its misery, its debasement, and its discontent. Let us pray that there may come a time when the gentle in rank shall be gentle in very deed; when the rich shall recognise that they are trustees for God, and shall use their property for the purposes for which He has placed it in their hands; when allotment acts shall remedy the ruin which enclosure acts have wrought; when an enlightened self-love, arising out of the possession of something to love, shall render the demagogue and the inciter to outrage a foreigner to our land, and when our "common Father" shall find that "justice and righteousness" for which He looks.--_R. C. Parkman, B.A., Sermons_ (1843), No. X.


v. 8-23. _Woe unto them that join house to house, &c._

It is important to remember that this whole chapter constitutes one prophecy. Much of the power of its teaching will be lost, if this fact be overlooked. In verses 1-7, we have the astonishing declaration that in "the vineyard of the Lord of hosts" He has discovered, not the excellent fruit He had a right to expect, but "wild grapes." In verses 8-23, some of these "wild grapes" are specified and denounced. Surveying His vineyard the Husbandman beheld--

I. Not the gracious fruit of generosity, but the evil fruits of GREED and PRIDE. He saw men, not content with the possessions which Providence had conferred upon them, nor those which honest industry would enable them to secure, but coveting their neighbour's possessions, and hesitating at no means that would enable them to gratify their desires (Micah ii. 1, 2); beating down their equals, that they themselves might dwell in solitary grandeur (ver. 8). Note, 1. That the aggregation of landed property here denounced was directly contrary to the most explicit Divine ordinances (Num. xxxvi. 7; Lev. xxv. 23, 24).[1] 2. The conduct here denounced has its counterparts to-day--in the matter of land, great landowners buying up all the little farms adjoining their estates, and turning fruitful valleys into deer-runs; in trade, great capitalists subjecting their less wealthy rivals to ruinous competition, &c., &c.[2] 3. That it is not merely particular manifestations of the spirit of greed and pride, but the spirit itself, that provokes the indignation of the bountiful Giver of all good. Covetousness and arrogance are not confined to any particular class. The tenth commandment exists for the poor as well as for the rich.

II. Not the excellent fruit of temperance, but the evil fruit of SENSUAL INDULGENCE (ver. 11, 12). He saw men living for mere pleasure, without any recognition of the "work" which He had wrought for them as a nation, without any acknowledgement of His goodness to them as individuals, without any remembrance of the purpose of their being.[3]

III. Not the excellent fruit of reverence for God's Word, but the evil fruit of SCOFFING. The messengers whom He sent to recall them to duty, they scorned; the warnings which He mercifully sent to them of the judgments impending over them, they turned into merriment. Instead of forsaking their sins, they yoked themselves to them with renewed determination (verses 18, 19).

IV. Not the noble fruit of a recognition of the truth, but the evil fruit of INFIDELITY--that intellectual scepticism which seeks to destroy the very foundations of morality, and which prepares men for vice of all kinds, and hardens them therein, by confounding vice with virtue, and denying man's moral accountability.

V. Not the befitting fruit of humility and desire for Divine guidance, but the evil fruit of SELF-SUFFICIENCY (ver. 21). Clever and successful "men of the world," they resented the idea of their needing counsel and help as an insult. They were their own gods. Trusting in themselves with unfaltering confidence, they excluded from their minds all thought of Him in whom they lived and moved and had their being. Conceiving that they owed all their prosperity to their own wisdom and prudence, how could they give Him thanks? Confident that they would be equal to every emergency of life, how could they lift up to Him one real prayer?

VI. Not the indispensable fruit of righteousness in those who are called to rule, but that evil fruit which always excites His hottest indignation, DENIAL OF JUSTICE TO THE POOR. He saw the judges taking their seats on the judicial bench, not with clear intellects and the love of righteousness enthroned in their hearts, but besotted and brutalised by strong drink; not dispensing justice, but selling their verdict to those who could furnish them most amply with the means of gratifying their sensual lusts (vers. 22, 23). Than the denial of justice there is no more cruel wrong.

These were the "wild grapes" which God saw when He looked down upon His ancient vineyard. Was it any wonder that He brake down the wall thereof, and give it over to destruction? These are the "wild grapes" which He sees brought forth only too abundantly when He looks down upon this land. Is it not a wonder that He spares the nation to which we belong? 1. Let us beseech Him still to spare us, for the sake of the "ten righteous" who dwell among us. 2. Let us recognise that the most urgent duty to which we are called as patriots is the abatement of those iniquities which justly kindle God's indignation against us. 3. Let us as individuals search and see what fruits are being brought forth in the vineyard of our own souls, lest while we are deploring the iniquities of our land and time, and, it may be, are labouring to lessen them, there grow up within us, "wild grapes" which will bring down upon us the Divine condemnation.


[1] Political philosophy has much to say in favour of laws and institutions, at certain periods of a nation's growth, for encouraging, or at least permitting, the disposition of its members to found families, to be maintained by hereditary possessions in land. Yet, if this disposition be not kept within bounds, those who are influenced by it will "join house to house, and field to field, till there be no place;" till the race of small landholders, yeomen, and partly independent tenants, is swallowed up by a few rich despots. To prevent this evil among the Hebrews, Moses directed as equal a division of the land as possible in the first instance, among the 600,000 families who originally formed the nation; and provided against the permanent alienation of any estate, by giving a right of repurchase to the seller and his relations, and of repossession without purchase at the Jubilee. The story of Naboth illustrates the effect of these laws in forming an order of sturdy, independent yeomen; but it must also be taken as an instance of the habitual breach of the same laws by the rich and powerful (cf. Micah ii.; Neh. v. 1-13; 2 Chron. xxxvi. 21); as they in like manner disobeyed that respecting the liberation of slaves at the Jubilee (Jer. xxxvi. 8-16). In England, where the Norman conquest accumulated all the land in the hands of a few nobles, the like accumulation has been opposed--however imperfectly--by laws in their form exactly opposite to those of Moses; by the permission to cut off old entails, and the prohibition to make new ones except for one generation, and by allowing land to be bought and sold like other commodities.--_Strachey,_ pp. 65, 66.

[2] The covetous man is like a spider. As in this, that he does nothing but lay his nets to catch every fly, gaping only for a booty of gain. So yet more, in that while he makes nets for these flies, he consumes his own bowels; so that which is his life is his death. If there be any creature miserable, it be he; and yet he is least to be pitied, because he makes himself miserable. Such as he is I will account him; and will therefore sweep down his webs, and hate his poison.--_Hall,_ 1574-1656.

Covetous worldlings will hardly spare the poor some of their fire to warm them, some of their water to drink, some of their ground to lodge on, though it were no more hurt to them than the lighting of a candle at their torch.--_Adams,_ 1653.

[3] Let us remember that it will be to small purposes to enjoy these worldly pleasures of sin for a season, and in the end plunge ourselves into everlasting death;--that the world's music is but the syren's song, which allures us to make shipwreck of our souls on the rocks of sin, and while it tickles the ear it wounds us to the very heart;--that though the cup which it offers be of gold, and the drink sweet in taste, yet it is deadly poison in operation; for they that drink thereof are so lulled asleep in pleasures and security, that they never awaken out of their spiritual lethargy; or if they do, yet like Sampson, without strength to resist the spiritual Philistines, after the world (like Delilah) has lulled them awhile in her lap of carnal pleasures.--_Downame,_ 1642.


v. 8-10. _Woe unto them that join house to house, &c._

Covetousness is--I. Ruinous to the individual.[1] II. Mischievous to society. III. Offensive to God. IV. Certain to be punished. 1. Here, by disappointment and loss (Prov. iii. 33).[2] 2. Hereafter, by exclusion from heaven (1 Cor. vi. 10; Eph. v. 5).[3]--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] The love of money can never keep good quarter with honesty; there is a mint of fraud in the worldly breast, and it can coin lies as fast as utterance.--_Adams,_ 1653.

The avaricious man is like a pig, which seeks its food in the mud, without caring where it comes from.--_Vianney._

[2] As Moses only saw the land of Canaan, but for his sin was not permitted to have any share or portion in it, so misers have, for their miserable covetousness, this punishment by God inflicted on them, that they shall only see their goods with eyes, but never enjoy them for their comfort; and that they shall toil and moil for successor, oftentimes not knowing who he shall be, and receive no manner of benefit by their own labour. But as pipes keep none of the water to themselves that runs through them, but convey it all to their cisterns, so they are not able to retain any of the goods which they possess, for their own benefit and comfort, but only serve as overseers to convey them to their heirs.--_Downame,_ 1642.

[3] If a man, sick on his bed, burning of a fever, fetching his breath with straitness and shortness, looking like earth, says he is well in health, we do not believe him: so if we see men swelling with pride, flaming with lust, looking earthy with covetousness, and yet flattering themselves with hope of salvation, we cannot credit them, all the world cannot save them.--_Adams,_ 1654.

The covetous is like a camel, with a great hunch on his back; heaven-gate must be made higher and broader, or he will hardly get in.--_Adams,_ 1653.


v. 8. _Woe unto them that join house to house, &c._

God's curse is in the habitation of the wicked. 1. Sometimes the curse enters into their hearts, and prevents them from enjoying comfort in their estates, and perplexes them with fears and cares about their possessions.[1] 2. At other times it wastes and consumes them like a moth, or suddenly devours them by fire and sword. 3. In some existences they are suddenly and unexpectedly snatched away from their enjoyments by death.[2]--_Macculloch, Lectures on Isaiah,_ i. 275.


[1] The covetous man pines in plenty, like Tantalus, up to the chin.--_Adams,_ 1693.

I doubt not many covetous men take a great deal of pleasure in ruminating upon their wealth, and in recounting what they have; but they have a great deal of tormenting care and fear about it; and if they had not, it is very hard to understand where the reasonable pleasure and happiness lies of having things to no end. It is, at the best, like that of some foolish birds, which, they say, take pleasure in stealing money, that they may hide it; as if it were worth the while for men to take pains to dig silver out of the earth, for no other purpose but to melt it down and stamp it, and bury it there again.--_Tillotson,_ 1630-1694.

[2] What can be more miserable, than for a man to toil and labour his whole life, and to have no power to enjoy any fruit of his labours? to bear like an ass a golden burden all the day, and, without any further use of it, at night, to have it taken away, reserving nothing to himself but a galled conscience?--_Downame,_ 1644.


v. 11. _Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, &c._

The miseries of the drunkard. +I. Personal,+ ungodly companionship, eclipse of intellect, demoralisation of nature,[1] retribution, here and hereafter. +II. Domestic,+ poverty,[2] dissension, vice, misery.--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] Not in the day of thy drunkenness only dost thou undergo the harm of drunkenness, but also after that day. And as when a fever is passed by, the mischievous consequences of the fever remain, so also when drunkenness is passed, the disturbance of intoxication is whirling round both soul and body. And while the wretched body lies paralysed, like the hull of a vessel after a shipwreck, the soul yet more miserable than it, even when this is ended, stirs up the storm, and kindles desire; and when one seems to be sober, then most of all is he mad, imagining to himself wine and casks, cups and goblets.

And like as in a storm when the raging of the water has ceased, the loss by reason of the storm remains; so likewise here too. For as there of our freight, so here to is there a casting away of nearly all our good things. Whether it be temperance, or modesty, or understanding, or meekness, or humility, which the drunkenness finds there, it casts all away into the sea of iniquity.

But in what follows there is no more any likeness. Since there, indeed, upon the casting out the vessel is lightened, but here it is weighed down the more. For in its former place of wealth it takes on board sand, and salt water, and all the accumulated filth of drunkenness, enough to sink the vessel at once, with the mariners and the pilot.--_Chrysostom,_ 347-407.

[2] Thieves cannot steal land, unless they be Westminster Hall thieves, crafty contenders that eat out a true title with a false evidence; but the drunkard robs himself of his lands. Now he dissolves an acre, and then an acre, into the pot, till he hath ground all his ground at the malt-quern, and run all his patrimony through his throat. Thus he makes himself the living tomb of his forefathers, of posterity. He needs not trouble his sick mind with a will, nor distrust the fidelity of executors. He drowns all his substance at the ale-fat, and though he devours much, is the leaner every way. Drunkenness is a costly sin. It is like gunpowder, many a man is blown up by it. He throws his house so long out as windows, till at last his house throws him out of doors. This is a tippler's progress: from luxury to beggary; from beggary to thievery; from the tavern to Tyburn; from the alehouse to the gallows.--_Adams,_ 1653.


v. 11-17. _Woe unto him that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink, &c._

National ungodliness. +I. Its phases,+ dissipation, drunkenness, forgetfulness of God. +II. Its punishment,+ captivity, famine, pestilence, humiliation. +III. The certainty of its visitation,+ God must be vindicated, His people must be delivered.[1]--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] The individual culprit may sometimes Unpunished to his after-reckoning go: Not thus collective man; for public crimes Draw on their proper punishment below. When nations go astray, from age to age The effects remain, a fatal heritage.

Bear witness, Egypt, thy huge monuments, Of priestly fraud and tyranny austere! Bear witness thou, whose only name presents All holy feelings to religion dear-- In earth's dark circlet once the precious gem Of living light--O fallen Jerusalem! --_Southey._


v. 11, 12. _Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them! And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts; but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands._

Sensuality. I. Its features. II. Its follies. III. Its inconsideration.[1] IV. Its punishment.--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] Of men out of hell, none more to be pitied than he who hangs over its mouth, and yet is without fear. What good does physic poured down a dead man's throat? If he cannot be chafed to some sense of his condition, all applications are hopeless; and if sharp affliction, which is the strongest physic, leaves the sinner senseless, there is little prospect that anything else will do him good.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

Oh, what a sight it is to see a man go merry and laughing towards damnation, and make a jest of his own undoing! to see him at the brink of hell, and will not believe it; like a madman boasting of his wit, or a drunken man boasting of his sobriety; or as the swine is delighted when the butcher is shaving his throat to cut it; or as the fatted lambs are skipping in the pasture, that to-morrow must be killed and eaten; or as the bird sits singing when the gun is levelled to kill him; or as the greedy fish run, striving which shall catch the bait, that must presently be snatched out of their element, and lie dying on the bank.--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.


v. 12. _The harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands._

Earthly amusement. I. Its ordinary features. II. Its mischievous tendency.[1] III. Its consequent sinfulness.--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] If you have glutted yourself with worldly pleasures, it is no wonder that you should find an unsavoury taste in spiritual delights. Doves that are already filled find cherries bitter.--_Francis de Sales._


v. 12. _The harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands._

+I. Prosperity ought to lead to praise.+ We should have expected that when a man was able to spread a feast, and God had caused his "cup to run over" with bounties, his heart would have overflowed with gratitude to the Giver of all good. II. As a matter of fact, +prosperity is hostile to the spiritual life.+ Experience teaches that in proportion as men prosper, they seek luxury, invent pleasures, and give up allegiance to God;[1] and as soon as men yield to the passions of the flesh, and pursue the fashions of the world, all adequate sense or knowledge of the operations of a Supreme Being is gone; all serious views of life are set aside; and the end of such a career is banished from view.[2] +III. To permit the pleasures of life to absorb our attention is degrading to the nature entrusted to us by God. IV. It is destructive of the happiness which thus is mistakenly sought.+ In the hearts of the guests at a feast there is often anything but festivity. Many vacant minds and languid hearts are there; some who are in reality fleeing from themselves, and drowning rising reflections in fresh engagements of pleasure.[3] Could you see those hearts as God sees them, if you are a Christian, you would be thankful that you are excluded from the festivity.

APPLICATION.--1. _To the rich and prosperous._ Be on your guard. In your prosperity there is a deadly peril. Remember that while innocent enjoyment is lawful, there are other duties of more importance--duties of mind and soul, of influence and responsibility; duties toward the men of our generation, and towards God to whom we are accountable. 2. _To the poor._ Murmur not that prosperity has been denied you. Wealth might have been your eternal ruin. Envy not the momentary flash of worldly pomp: soon the deluded soul must be summoned into the solitude of the chamber of death; nothing to console the vacant mind; nothing to cheer the throbbing heart; the rolling eye looks in vain for rest, but the life of vanity closes, and conscience pierces the departing soul with this declaration, "Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting."--_B. Thompson, Church Sermons by Eminent Clergymen,_ i. 395-400.


[1] Nothing shall more effectually betray the heart into a love of sin and a loathing of holiness, than an ill-managed prosperity. It is like some meats, the more luscious, so much the more dangerous. Prosperity and ease upon an unsanctified, impure heart, is like the sunbeams upon a dunghill; it raises many filthy, noisome exhalations. The same soldiers who, in hard service, are in perfect subjection to their leaders, in peace and luxury are apt to rebel; (and the passions, which in adversity are easily controlled, in prosperity are apt to break loose). That corrupt affection which has lain, as it were, dead and frozen in the midst of distracting business, or under adversity, when the sun of prosperity has shined upon it, then, like a snake, it presently recovers its former strength and venom. Vice must be caressed and smiled upon that it may thrive and sting. It is starved by poverty, it droops under the frowns of fortune, and pines away upon bread and water; but when the channels of plenty run high, and every appetite is plied with abundance and variety, so that _satisfaction_ is but a mean word to express its enjoyment, then the inbred corruption of the heart shows itself pampered and insolent, too unruly for discipline, and too big for correction.--_South,_ 1633-1716.

[2] It is a hard thing for princes to remember death. They have no leisure to think of it, but chip into the earth before they beware, like a man who walks over a field covered with snow, and sees not his way, but when he thinks to run on, suddenly falls into a pit: even so they who have all things at will, and swim in pleasure, which as a snow covers their way and dazzles their sight, while they think to live on, and rejoice still, suddenly rush upon death, and make shipwreck in a calm sea.--_Henry Smith,_ 1593.

[3] Colonel Gardiner relates that when he was considered by his gay military companions to be one of the most handsome and highly favoured officers of his day, he has seen a dog enter the mess-room, prowling for food, and looked at the creature with envy, inwardly groaning and exclaiming, "Oh, that I were that dog!" Since his time thousands have felt the same iron enter their souls, although looked upon by their comrades as men enjoying life in rich abundance.--_Holderness._


(_Sunday School or Bible Society Sermon._)

v. 13-15. _Therefore my people are gone away into captivity, because they have no knowledge, &c._

Isaiah speaks of the future as if it were already present. He traces the terrible disasters about to befall his countrymen to their true cause--their ignorance of God,--in their case a wilful ignorance (Hosea iv. 6), which had betrayed them into courses of conduct ruinous in themselves, and certain to bring down the judgments of the Almighty. The history of mankind justifies us in laying down two propositions: +I. That ignorance is a terrible evil.+ To be in ignorance of the great facts of God's universe, of the great laws by which He governs it, is to be in a condition of constant peril. We are as men who wander in darkness over the great mountains; every step may be taking us further from the right path, the next step may hurl us over some unsuspected precipice. Remember what calamities--political, commercial, social--have been due solely to ignorance. [Illustrate by examples.][1] +II. That the most terrible of all kinds of ignorance is ignorance of God Himself.+ 1. _Much sin is due to ignorance._[2] Not _all_ sin, for there are many transgressions committed against full light--the worst form of iniquity. But concerning multitudes of sinners we may pray, as did Our Lord for His executioners, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." The most appalling of all sins was committed in ignorance (1 Cor. ii. 8). Did men truly _know_ God, they would fear, love, and gladly serve Him. For lack of a true knowledge of God, men who desired to serve Him have perpetrated the most frightful crimes (John xvi. 2; Acts xxvi. 9). 2. _Sins committed in ignorance entail terrible disasters._ That unavoidable ignorance is a palliation of the guilt of transgression is clearly the teaching of the New Testament (Luke xxiii. 34; 1 Tim. i. 13), as it had been previously of the Old (Num. xv. 28; Deut. xix. 4, &c.); and it will affect their condition in the eternal world (Luke xii. 47, 48). But here and now it does nothing to exempt men from the natural consequences of their transgressions. The man who swallows a poison by mistake is killed by it as surely as the deliberate suicide, &c.

In view of these solemn truths, of which all human history is one prolonged corroboration,--1. _We should constantly endeavour to grow in knowledge._ "More light!" should be our constant prayer. Every means of acquainting ourselves with God and His will we should diligently use. Let us beware of the temptation indolently to rest in a voluntary ignorance. Voluntary ignorance is no palliation, but a tremendous aggravation of iniquity.[3] 2. _Let us diligently impart to our fellow-men such knowledge as we have already acquired._ Benevolence should move us to do this. We can confer upon our fellow-men no greater or more needed blessing. Self-interest should impel us to the same course. In teaching we learn. In labouring to cause others to see, we ourselves for the first time attain to clear vision. Knowledge is like the bread with which the five thousand were fed; it multiplies as it is dispensed, and when the feast is over, those who carried it to others themselves possess more than they did when the feast began. 3. _Every organisation which exists for the diffusion of knowledge should have our sympathy and support both as patriots and Christians._ This is true even of secular knowledge, but especially of that knowledge which is able to make men "wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."[4]


[1] As blindness is the deformity of the face, so is ignorance the deformity of the soul. As the want of fleshly eyes spoils the beauty of the face, so the want of spiritual eyes spoils the beauty of the soul. A man without knowledge is as a workman without his hands, as a painter without his eyes, as a traveller without his legs, or as a ship without sails, or a bird without wings, or like a body without a soul.--_Brooks,_ 1680.

[2] Ignorance opens the door for Satan to enter in with his troops of lusts; where the watch is blind, the city is soon taken.--_Gurnall,_ 1617-1679.

[3] He that knew not his Lord's will, because he wilfully rejected the means of coming to the knowledge of it, deserves to be beaten with as many stripes as if he had known it and would not. He that will not take notice of the king's proclamation, or will stop his ears when it is read, and afterwards offends against it, does equally deserve punishment with those who have read it, and heard it, and disobey it; because he was as grossly faulty in not knowing it; and there is no reason that any man's gross fault should be his excuse.--_Tillotson,_ 1630-1694.

[4] Oh, for the coming of that glorious time When, prizing knowledge as her noblest wealth And best protection, this imperial realm, While she exacts allegiance, shall admit An obligation, on her part, to teach Them who are born to serve her and obey; Binding herself by stature to secure For all the children whom her soil maintains The rudiments of letters, and inform The mind with moral and religious truth, Both understood and practised,--so that none, However destitute, be left to droop By culture unsustained; or run Into a wild disorder; or be forced To drudge through a weary life without the help Of intellectual implements and tools; A savage horde among the civilised; A servile band among the lordly free. --_Wordsworth._


(_For Easter Sunday._)

v. 14, 15. _Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, &c._

In these terms of appalling sublimity Isaiah warns his countrymen of the calamities that were about to come upon them, on account of the innumerable transgressions into which they had been betrayed by their wilful ignorance of God. Therefore they should be carried away into captivity (ver. 13), and therefore also the sword, famine, and pestilence would conspire to fill the "under-world" with inhabitants. That "under-world" is represented as preparing itself for their reception, as a ravenous beast opens wide its jaws to devour its prey (+Text+). A prediction which, to the prosperous, wealthy, and powerful nation over which Uzziah ruled, doubtless seemed the most extravagant raving of fanaticism, but which was fulfilled nevertheless.

It is of the "under-world" that Isaiah speaks. "Therefore the under-world opens its jaws wide, and stretches open its mouth immeasurably wide; and the glory of Jerusalem descends, and its tumult, and noise, and those who rejoice within it. There are mean men bowed down, and lords humbled, and the eyes of lofty men are humbled."--_Delitsch._ Our translation "hell" must not lead us to think merely of the place where the wicked are tormented; it is of conquests about to be achieved by death and the grave that Isaiah warned the men of his time. His prediction suggests a topic of which men of all times will do well to think, and that again another topic peculiarly suited to this day. Let us bethink ourselves--

I. Of THE CONQUESTS OF DEATH AND THE GRAVE. +1. These conquests have been effected in all ages.+ Generation after generation of mankind has been swept away by these grim and ancient warriors. During successive centuries men have gained wonderful power over the forces of nature, but they have acquired no real increase of ability to withstand these dread destroyers. All that science can do is in a few cases for a very short time to defer their victory. The "Elixir of Life" has been sought for in vain.--If in feebleness of mankind we had not sufficient proof of our fallen condition, certainly we should find it in the fact, that so many men have allied themselves with these foes of our race. All nations have conferred their brightest honours on those who have been the most successful ministers of death. Warrior and hero have been regarded as synonymous terms. In no respect is modern science more industrious, earnest or successful, than in the search for the means by which human life may be destroyed most easily on the largest scale. +2. They have been characterised by a solemn impartiality.+ With them there has been no respect of persons. (1.) _Meanness is no security against them._ Poverty and lowliness are not without their compensations, as the poorer Jews discovered, when they saw the nobles and men of wealth, whom they had been accustomed to envy, carried away miserable captives, while they themselves were left behind (2 Kings xxiv. 14-16, &c). There are those whom human conquerors will not stoop to molest. But death and the grave have no such fastidiousness. They prey on the mean as well as the mighty. (2.) _Might is no defence against them._ Rank and wealth can accomplish much, but they cannot overawe or bribe death.[1] Death works like a reaper in the dark, cutting down the tall ears of corn as well as the grass that struggles for existence between them, the fair flowers as well as the noisome weeds. +3. They have been characterised by a terrible unexpectedness.+ They are certain, but they cannot be foreseen. While they proceed with all the steadiness of gravitation, it is as impossible to foretell _where_ they will be next accomplished, as it is to predict from which part of the heavens the next flash of lightning will burst forth, on which spot of earth the destructive fire will fall. Hence the wisdom of living in continual preparedness for the great change which will come to us all.[2]

II. This survey of the conquests of death and the grave should remind us that there is another side to this solemn theme, and therefore I proceed to remind you, secondly, of THE CONQUERORS OF DEATH AND THE GRAVE. Through how many centuries did men live without any conception that these conquerors of our race might themselves be subjugated! Two astonishing events, indeed, occurred--the translation of Enoch and the rapture of Elijah--but their significance could not be fully understood at the time of their occurrence. The data for their complete interpretation had not then been furnished. But when that supreme event which we commemorate to-day occurred, these and many other mysteries were solved. When the Son of man, who had been crucified, emerged from the tomb, proclamation was made to the universe that the ancient power of death and the grave was broken. It was seen that it is possible to pass through them unharmed, and to return to the activities of life, not with diminished, but with increased, vigour. And He who demonstrated this astonishing truth has pledged Himself to accomplish for all who trust in Him a victory similar to His own. By faith in this pledge, countless millions have been enabled to triumph in spirit over Death at the very moment when he seemed to be numbering them also among his victims (1 Cor. xv. 55-57).

+1. The victory of Christ's followers over death and the grave is real.+ There seems to be one event unto all (Eccles. ix. 2, 3). But it is not so. Death is not the conqueror of Christ's servant; he is God's servant, sent to conduct them to the rest prepared for them. The grave is not their prison, but a quiet resting-place from which presently the mortal body shall come forth immortal to greet the eternal morning.

+2. The victory of Christ's followers over death and the grave will ere long be manifest+ (1 Thess. iv. 14-16, &c.) In the doctrine of the resurrection, there is much that is mysterious and inexplicable, but _this_ is certain, that the seeming victory of death and the grave over Christ's followers shall be utterly reversed; as not a hoof belonging to God's ancient people was left behind in Egypt, so NOTHING that belongs to a single follower of Christ upon which death and the grave have seized shall remain in their power (Hos. xiii. 14). The resurrection will be more than a ransom. It will be a development (1 Cor. xv. 37, 38, 42, 44). In view of these truths, let us to-day keep Easter with thankful and joyful hearts.


[1] Look how easily Jehu stamped Jezebel in pieces, and Tamerlane's troops of horse the Turkish footmen; or as the sturdy steed dashes out the little whappet's brains, so easily does Death, with the least kick and spurn of his heel, the halest complexion, the stoutest constitution,--triumphing like an emperor over all sorts of people; treading on the necks of kings and princes, as Joshua over them in the cave; insulting in the terms of Rabshakeh: "Where is Hamath? the kings of Arphad, Ivah, and Sepharvaim? Elam, Meshech, and Tubal, whose fear was upon the living, are they not descended into the grave? made their beds in the slimy valley, and laid their swords under their heads? Hath wisdom delivered, strength rescued, or wealth rescued any out my fingers?"--_Ward,_ 1577-1639.

Oh, eloquent, just, and mighty Death! whom none could advise, thou hast persuaded; what none hath dared, thou hast done; and whom all the world hath flattered, thou alone hast cast out of the world and despised. Thou hast drawn together all the far-stretched greatness, all the pride, cruelty, and ambition of man, and covered it all with those two narrow words, _Hic jacet._--_Sir Walter Raleigh._

[2] We put far away the evil day, and therefore we are not duly impressed by the thought. But fourscore years and soon cut off, and we fly away; and how uncertain is our reaching that lonely verge of life, where the flowery meadows and the golden corn-fields slope gradually down into the bars and stony beach that fringes the eternal sea. The coast of death to most is an abrupt precipice; we are cut off in the midst of our days.--_Macmillan._

Why should a man defer that which ought to be the occupation of a life, which ought to command all his powers in all their vigour--why should a man defer that to the last few abrupt moments, to his departure from time to eternity? When a man is going to any distant part of the globe--say to America--what preparation there is! How much it is talked about! It is a long, a distant, an eventful journey. The man talks about it; his friends prepare in every conceivable way. Oh, what infatuation and stupidity, what folly it is for a man to make no preparation for this distant voyage--the voyage to eternity!--_Beaumont._


v. 18. _Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope._

"'Sin' in the last clause is parallel with iniquity in the first--a noun and not a verb. Both are said to be _'drawn.'_ The style of sinning here contemplated is fully given in the next verse."--_Cowles._

"They were proud in their unbelief; but this unbelief was like a halter with which, like beasts of burden they were harnessed to sin, which they went on drawing further and further, in utter ignorance of the waggon behind them."--_Delitsch._

"Cart ropes, you know, are composed of several small cords firmly twisted together, which serve to connect the beasts of burden with the draught they pull after them. These represent a complication of means closely united, whereby the people here described continue to join themselves to the most wearisome of all burdens. They consist of false reasonings, foolish pretexts, and corrupt maxims, by which obstinate transgressors become firmly united to their sins, and persist in dragging after them their iniquities. Of this sort the following are a few specimens: God is merciful, and His goodness will not suffer any of His creatures to be completely and everlastingly miserable. Others, as well as they, are transgressors. Repentance will be time enough upon a deathbed, or in old age. The greatest of sinners often pass unpunished. A future state of retribution is uncertain. Unite these, and such like cords, and, I suppose, you have the cart ropes, whereby the persons mentioned draw after them much sin and iniquity. All these pretexts, however, are light as vanity."--_Macculloch._


v. 19. _That say, Let Him make speed and hasten His work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it._

Scepticism, I. Denies the judgments of God. II. Draws an argument from their delay.[1] III. Impiously scoffs at the Divine counsels. IV. Defies God to do His worst.--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] The whole force of life and experience goes to prove that right or wrong-doing, whether in relation to the physical or the spiritual nature, is sure, in the end, to meet its appropriate reward or punishment. Penalties are often so long delayed, that men think they shall escape them; but some time they are certain to follow. When the whirlwind sweeps through the forest, at its first breath, or almost as if the fearful stillness that precedes had crushed it, the giant tree, with all its boughs, falls crashing to the ground. But it had been preparing to fall for twenty years. Twenty years before the water commenced to settle in at some crotch, and from thence decay began to reach in with its silent fingers towards the heart of the tree. Every year the work of death progressed, till at length it stood, all rottenness, only clasped about by the bark with a semblance of life and the first gale felled it to the ground. Now, there are men who, for twenty years, have shamed the day and wearied the night with their debaucheries, but who yet seem strong and vigorous, and exclaim, "You need not talk of penalties. Look at me! I have revelled in pleasure for twenty years, and I am as hale and hearty to-day as ever." But in reality they are full of weakness and decay. They have been preparing to fall for twenty years, and the first disease strikes them down in a moment.

Ascending from the physical nature of man to the mind and character, we find the same laws prevail. People sometimes say, "Dishonesty is as good as honesty, for aught I see. There are such and such men who have pursued for years the most corrupt courses in their business, and yet they prosper, and are getting rich every day." Wait till you see their end. Every year how many such men are overtaken with sudden destruction, and swept for ever out of sight and remembrance! Many a man has gone on in sin, practising secret fraud and villanies, yet trusted and honoured, till at length, in some unsuspected hour, he is detected, and, denounced by the world, he falls from his high estate as if a cannon-ball had struck him--for there is no cannon that can strike more fatally than outraged public sentiment--and flies over the mountains, or across the sea, to escape the odium of his life. He believed that his evil course was building him up in fame and fortune; but financiering is the devil's forge, and his every act was a blow upon the anvil, shaping the dagger that should one day strike home to his heart and make him a suicide. The pea contains the vine, and the flower, and the pod, in embryo, and, I am sure, when I plant it, that it will produce them and nothing else. Now, every action of our lives is embryonic, and, according as it is right or wrong, it will surely bring forth sweet flowers of joy, or the poison fruits of sorrow. Such is the construction of this world, and the Bible assures us that the next world only carries it forward. Here and hereafter, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."--_Beecher._


v. 20. _Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter._

Only those who have had extensive opportunities of observation, can have any idea of the evil influence of the abuse and misapplication of _words_ in questions of religion and morals, especially among the young.[1] To an almost incredible degree the distinctness of our associations and intellectual perceptions depends upon our correct use of the machinery of words. From long usage, words become at length identified in the mind with the things we have accustomed them to represent. What, then, must be the effect when language is deliberately misapplied for the express purpose of confounding the distinctions of right and wrong! For various reasons, it is more easy to misapply words in relation to morals, than in relation to other subjects. 1. Ethical propositions are to a great degree incapable of absolute proof. 2. In discussing the great topics of morals, very few persons bring a perfectly unbiassed mind to the task. 3. Vice and virtue, though essentially distinct as qualities, are still in many cases nothing more than different modifications of some common subject. The line which separates the use of a thing for its abuse is not always strongly marked; or rather is sufficiently indistinct for those who are determined not to see clearly to afford themselves a plausible justification for the aberration of their choice. But on all these accounts we should be the more careful to use accurate language on all questions of morals, especially in society, where the temptation to speak as others are speaking is so strong. Two things especially lead to that perversion of language which our text condemns. 1. Men "call evil good," _from an almost irresistible desire to cloak and veil their vices._ It is one of ten thousand daily recurring proofs of the strange inconsistencies of human nature, that the same persons whose conscience will not recoil for a moment at the actual commission of deeds of sin and atrocity, and who even appear to defy public opinion in the conduct they are pursuing, will still to the last shrink from the admission of those terms which really characterise their conduct. It is the appellation and not the actual guilt which to them constitutes the disgrace. 2. Men "call good evil," _from a desire to defend themselves from the condemnation passed upon them by the better example of others._ They attempt, in the first place, by palliations and misstatements, to render vice less odious than it really is; and secondly, by attributing to the pious unworthy and corrupt motives, to render unamiable that goodness in others which they want strength of mind and of principle to imitate. From this latter species of wickedness very few stand perfectly clear. Which of us has never felt as a reproach the example of principles better and holier than our own, nor attempted in consequence to restore the equilibrium of our self-respect, not by improving our own practice, but by depreciating and ridiculing that which as Christians it was our duty to admire? Let us be on our guard against disparaging that sincerity of disposition, which strives to regulate its conduct by the unbending Christian standard, by calling it "enthusiasm," "fanaticism," "austerity." Enough difficulty, we know from our own experience, lies in the way of every man's spiritual improvement, without throwing in his path the additional obstacles of ridicule, contempt, and odium, which few minds, even the most religious, have sufficient fortitude to despise. (Matt. xxiii. 13; Mark ix. 42.) Thus, to "call good evil" is to imitate the Pharisees (Mark iii. 22), and comes perilously near committing the sin against the Holy Ghost.--_P. R. Shuttleworth, D.D., Sermons,_ 117-143.


[1] The world is generally governed by words and shows: for men can swallow the same thing under one name, which they would abominate and detest under another. The name of king was to the old Romans odious and insufferable; but in Sulla and Julius Cæsar they could endure the power and absoluteness of a king, disguised under the name of dictator.--_South,_ 1633-1716.

I think that one of the master incantations, one of the most signal deceits, which we practise upon ourselves, comes from the use of language. There are words that we learn in childhood which we abandon when we come to manhood. Generally speaking, our fireside words are old Saxon words--short, knotty, tough, and imbued with moral and affectional meanings; but as we grow older these words are too rude and plain for our use, and so we get Latin terms and periphrases by which to express many of our thoughts. When we talk about ourselves we almost invariably use Latin words, and when we talk about our neighbours we use Saxon words. And one of the best things a man can do, I think, is to examine himself in the Saxon tongue. If a man tells that which is contrary to truth, let him not say, "I equivocate;" let him say "I lie." _Lie!_ why, it brings the judgment-day right home to a man's thought. Men do not like it, but it is exactly the thing that will most effectually touch the moral sense; and the more the moral sense is touched the better. If a man has departed from rectitude in his dealings with another, let him not say "I took advantage," which is a roundabout, long sentence: let him say, _"I cheated."_ That is a very direct word. It springs straight to the conscience, as the arrow flies from the bow to the centre of the mark. Does it grate harshly on your ear? Nevertheless, it is better that you should employ it; and you should come to this determination: "I will call things that I detect in my conduct by those clear-faced, rough-tongued words that my enemies use if they wanted to sting me to the quick."--_Beecher._


v. 20. _Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil._

The conscience of every man testifies that there is an unchangeable difference between good and evil; but each man is prone to think his own vice little or no sin at all. He substitutes other names for his crime, and calls his evil good. +I. Many are self-deceived+ (Prov. xiv. 12). How many think themselves religious, merely because they pay some or much respect to the outward ordinances of religion, while there is no change in their character. How many justify their irreligion, by depicting religion as morose and gloomy. How many commit crimes without one misgiving of conscience, merely because they are varnished over by specious names. How often under the pretence of promoting the honour of true religion, massacres and murders have been sanctified, the torch of persecution brandished round, and the flame of civil discord raised, to light the path to heaven! +II. Many endeavour to deceive others,+ by false representations of sin and duty (Luke xvii. 1, 2).--_George Mathew, M.A., Sermons,_ ii. 101-118.


v. 20. _Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil._

There is in many a wonderful propensity to perplex the distinctions between right and wrong, and to obscure the boundaries of virtue and vice. Their propensity is both absurd and wicked. It most frequently manifests itself in two ways:--1. _By bestowing soft and gentle names on crimes of real and destructive magnitude._ Thus, infidelity and scepticism have been called "free inquiry," indifference to all religion "a spirit of toleration," duelling "an honourable deed," adultery "gallantry," extravagance "a liberal expenditure," the selfish sensualist "a good-natured man." By the use of such false and misleading terms, we lower the standard of right and wrong, and expose ourselves to the temptation of practising what we have persuaded ourselves is not so very wrong. 2. _By applauding works of genius and imagination of which the real tendency is to inflame the passions, and to weaken moral and religious principle._ The tendency of such works should lead us unhesitatingly to condemn and reject them, whatever may be the literary fascinations of their style. Nothing is more dangerous than a book which imparts to vice the delusive appearance of a virtue. Thus, to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, is to renounce the superiority which man claims over the brute creation--that of being a rational creature, for the brutes are never guilty of anything so irrational as that of calling good evil, and evil good.--_Charles Moore, M.A., Sermons,_ ii. pp. 155-172.


v. 20. _Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil._

What difference can it make what anything is called!

"What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Yet the Bible pronounces its woe upon those who merely call things by wrong names. Why?

1. _Names are not mere words: they are the representatives of ideas; and hence, they have a force of meaning which makes them powerful instruments._ There are opprobrious epithets that wound more severely than a blow. Slander has slain more than the dagger. The name of a place or person suggests to us all that we know, or have conceived, about it or him. Paul, Jesus--what a power there is in these names! How suggestive are the phrases, "an upright man," "a transparent character!" Because words are representatives of ideas, to use the wrong names is to convey false ideas. 2. _The wrong use of names confounds moral distinctions, and perplexes and misleads men in regard to duty._ Right must not be called wrong, or wrong right. This is to sweep away all the landmarks of duty; or, rather, it is shifting all the buoys and beacons by which we navigate the sea of life, so that instead of warning us of danger, they shall rather draw us upon shoals and rocks. The skill of every successful errorist consists in a dexterous jugglery of names. 3. _By giving decent names to gross sins, the standard of public morals is lowered, and the community is corrupted._ One of the things that blinded America to the evil of slavery was, the term that used to be applied to it--"our domestic institution," &c. Be on your guard, then, against wrong names. Do not try to deceive yourself by means of them. Pure covetousness is sin, even though you do call it economy, &c. Do not try to deceive others (Matt. v. 19; Mark ix. 42).--_S. G. Buckingham, American National Preacher,_ xxv. 269-278.


v. 21. _Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight._

Self-conceit. +I. Its signs:+ dogmatism; contempt of others; scepticism. +II. Its causes:+ ignorance,[1] vanity. +III. Its folly:+ it makes a man ridiculous; leads him into error. +IV. Its offensiveness to God;+ in spirit--principle--action. +V.+ Its certain humiliation.--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] The truest characters of ignorance Are vanity, and pride, and arrogance; As blind men used to bear their noses higher Than those that have their eyes and sight entire. --_Butler._

By ignorance is pride increased; Those most assume who know the least; Their own self-balance gives them weight, But every other finds them light.--_Gay._


v. 21. _Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight._

Woe to the intellectually proud. I. To the self-conceited +sceptic,+ who sits in judgment upon the Word of God, and condemns it.[1] II. To the self-conceited +enthusiast,+ who substitutes his own fancies for Divine truth. III. To the self-conceited +Pharisee,+ who trusts in his own works. IV. To the self-conceited +sinner,+ who despises instruction. V. Woe! for they shall all perish.--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] The denial of anything does not falsify it. If a man has swallowed poison, his adopting an opinion that it cannot kill him, contributes nothing to his safety; and it is awful to stand and see his conviction and his death arriving together. Your denying a resurrection, will not hide you for ever in the grave. Your disbelieving a day of retribution, will not keep you from appearing before God. "Their judgment," says the apostle, "now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not:" while they reason, it rolls on; every argument brings it one distance nearer.--_Jay._


v. 22. _Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink._

There are certain vices which the customs of certain countries seem to place only in the number of human infirmities; and yet, if we look at their effects, we shall see that really they are as black as those sins which God and man visits with the severest punishments. +I. The drunkard's excuses,+ by which he endeavours to defend or palliate his crime. 1. _Good fellowship._ But can friendship be founded on vice? especially on a vice which notoriously impairs the memory and the sense of obligation, leads to the betrayal of secrets, and stirs up strife and contention? Instead of promoting conversation it destroys it by destroying the very capability of communicating rational and agreeable thoughts. The drunkard may make his company merry, but they laugh at, not with, him, and merely because they are delighted with the sight of one even sillier than themselves. 2. _"It drowns care."_ But the drunkard's care must arise either from his ill state of health, the unfortunate posture of his worldly affairs, or the stings of his guilty conscience; and, in either case, his temporary oblivion is purchased at the cost of an aggravation of the evils which cause him to desire it. To drink to drown remorse is especially absurd, for all that the drunkard can expect from this course is the benefit of travelling some part of the road to eternal misery with his eyes covered. 3. The drunkard has other excuses: he says that he is so exposed to company and business, that he cannot avoid drinking to excess, or that he is of so easy and flexible a temper, that he cannot resist the importunities of his friends, as he calls them. Thus he is for softening his vice into a sort of virtue, and calling that good nature, which his creditor calls villany, and his family cruelty. +II. The drunkard's woe.+ This is made up of the miserable effects, as well temporal as spiritual, of his favourite vice. 1. Poverty. 2. Contempt. 3. Ill-health. 4. An untimely death. Consider, too, the spiritual evils that spring from and punish the vice of drunkenness. 1. The understanding is depraved and darkened. 2. The will is enfeebled and dethroned. 3. The passions are inflamed and rendered ungovernable. 4. Regard for men and reverence for God are destroyed. Drunkenness travels with a whole train of other vices, and requires the whole width of the broad way to give it room. Where its journey is to end, we know; so that if the guilt and misery which attend it here, be not enough, there, at least, the drunkard, having opened his eyes and recovered the use of his reason, will perceive the truth of the text.--_Skelton, in Clapham's Selected Sermons,_ ii. 384-392.


v. 22. _Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink._

Woe to the drunkard. I. To his reputation.[1] II. To his interests. III. To his health. IV. To his family. V. To his soul.[2]--_J. Lyth, D.D._


[1] Some of you glory in your shame, that you have drunk down your companions, and carried it away,--the honour of a sponge or a tub, which can drink up or hold liquor as well as you.--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.

[2] We recommend wine for the excellency of it; but if it could speak, as it can take away speech, it would complain, that by our abuse both the excellencies are lost; for the excellent man doth so spoil the excellent wine, until the excellent wine hath spoiled the excellent man. Or, that a man should take pleasure in that which makes him no man; that he should let a thief in at his mouth to steal away his wit; that for a little throat-indulgence, he should kill in himself both the first Adam, his reason, and even the second Adam, his regeneration, and so commit two murders at once.--_Adams,_ 1653.

How base a price dost thou set upon thy Saviour and salvation, that will not forbear so much as a cup of drink for them? The smallness of the thing showeth the smallness of thy love to God, and the smallness of thy regard to His Word and to thy soul. Is that loving God as God, when thou lovest a cup of drink better? Art thou not ashamed of thy hypocrisy, when thou sayest thou lovest God above all, when thou lovest Him not so well as thy wine and ale? Surely he that loveth Him not above ale, loveth Him not above all! Thy choice showeth what thou loveth best, more certainly than thy tongue doth. It is the dish that a man greedily eateth of that he loveth, and not that which he commendeth but will not meddle with. God trieth men's love to Him, by their keeping His commandments. It was the aggravation of the first sin, that they would not deny so small a thing as the forbidden fruit, in obedience to God! And so it is of thine, that wilt not leave a forbidden cup for Him! O miserable wretch! dost thou not know thou canst not be Christ's disciple, if thou forsake not all for Him, and hate not even thy life in comparison of Him, and wouldst not rather die than forsake Him! And art thou like to lay down thy life for Him that wilt not leave a cup of drink for Him? Canst thou burn at a stake for Him, that canst not leave an alehouse, or vain company, or excess for Him? What a sentence of condemnation dost thou pass upon thyself!--_Baxter,_ 1615-1691.


v. 22. _Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink._

Human depravity and iniquity have existed in all ages and countries. The vices flowing therefrom have been much the same--selfishness, pride, sensualism, oppression, drunkenness. Alcohol acting directly on the brain, the seat of the mind, tends not only to derange, but to enfeeble and pervert, and produces moral obliquity, moral infatuation, and intensified delusion. All sorts of deceits are the consequence. Observe--I. THE CHARACTERS INTRODUCED (ver. 22). Observe also verses 11 and 12. In the last verses there is reference to confirmed drunkards, daily, early, and late; the sensual debauchees--their ignorance, want of thought and reflection. In the text, notorious drinkers, bold, impudent wager-layers, boasters, &c., and those who have got the victory over the usual drinks, and now make them stronger to meet the cravings of appetite and to keep up the excitement. Observe, this is the great peril of moderate drinking. It creates the appetite, it increases the appetite; last of all, it gives the appetite the control, and the man or woman becomes the slave and the victim.

II. THE INFATUATION PORTRAYED--by 1. _Giving false names to things_ (ver. 20). Call (1) evil good: drinks (poisons) are called beverages; evil things made by men are called God's good creatures. And so they call (2) good evil; despise the really good and safe; pour contempt on water and safe fluids, and treat them as evil or worthless. How drinks have secured the most alluring titles--strong cordials, dew, &c., generous. Not only false names, but 2. _False qualities_ (ver. 20), "Bitter for sweet." Now intoxicating drinks are not sweet or palatable to the natural taste; they blister the mouth of children; do burn the delicate nerves of the stomach; the tongue and lips have to be trained, drilled, hardened. Observe, they call sweet bitter; things really so are treated as insipid. Ask the spirit-drinker to taste milk or tea, or water, and see how his poisoned taste revolts, &c.

Then there is presented to us--3. _Infatuated results._ Put darkness for light; men plead and say these drinks--(1) Brighten the intellect. How false! See the bloated faces, the diseased eyes, the sensual expression, the stupid look, the stupor. The light is artificial, momentary, false--no better than the effects of certain gases or deadly stimulants, as opium, Indian hemp, &c. But they refer to men, to Burns, Pitt, Sheridan, and other drinking wits. But they were intellectually great in spite, &c. Look at Milton, Sir Isaac Newton; look at the inspired prophets--the seraphic Isaiah, the writer of the text. (2) They who drink say their drinks lighten the heart, give social joyousness. Right; but is it not sensual, spurious, evanescent, ends in darkness? So they put light for darkness. The calm, equable sobriety of soul they called dulness, darkness. But this is real, abiding, and rational. So, both in name and quality, and in effects, they call "evil good," &c.

III. THE WOES DENOUNCED. 1. _There is the woe of physical consequence._ The seed and the harvest, the poisons and their effects, fire, deranged stomach, plague, diseased liver, excited heart, fevered brain, all tending to a host of maladies, shortened life, and an early grave. There is--2. _Woe of a distracted mind._ Reason beclouded; reflection, perception, all marred. The guiding star eclipsed, the light obscured with darkness. There is the--3. _Woe of moral defects._ The man is vitiated, made worse and worse; his affections, his desires, his conscience, his heart, the whole soul. There is--4. _The woe of perverted powers._ Gifts, talents, &c., all poisoned; influence deadly; the man a curse--a curse to all. 5. _The woe of God's malediction._ God's woe, His displeasure, His threatening, His curse; this is written in both volumes of the Scriptures--in frightful representation, in declared eternal condemnation.

APPLICATION.--Learn--1. The horrors associated with strong drink; 2. The advantages of absolute temperance; 3. The value of these associations; 4. The encouragement for labours--staying curses, bringing down blessings; 5. The necessity of immediate decision; 6. The solemn importance of earnest prayer for the Divine benediction; 7. Let us avoid exaggerated conclusions. This is not the only evil; temperance not the only good. To all we say, "One thing is needful;" "Except ye be converted," &c.--_Jabez Burns, D.D., LL.D., Sketches of Temperance Sermons._


v. 24. _Therefore as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust: because they have cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel._

Shut God out of the heart, and _this_ is what it comes to at last. In Jewish history, we have a commentary on the judgments announced in the text, written in fire and blood. We have here--+I. God's merciful approaches to the soul.+ 1. God begins with _law._ In the present day there is a nervous dread of law, as if it were the offspring of severity rather than of grace.[1] But law checks, rectifies, and blesses in innumerable ways (Ps. xix. 7-11; cxix. 105, &c). 2. To His law, He adds His _word;_ His "word" of persuasion, exhortation, promise, and especially the great "word" of the Gospel. +II. God's merciful approaches rejected.+ "They have cast away the law," &c. Man meets God's law with resistance, His love with contempt. +III. God's merciful approaches giving place to indignation and wrath.+ "Therefore as the fire devoureth," &c. Law being resisted, and love despised, things cannot be as they were before; one of two things must happen--there must be either pardon or punishment. If pardon be rejected, only punishment remains. The images under which this is set forth in the text are most alarming. They show--1. _That at last God's anger strikes at the root of our being_--at the very substance of our life. The wrath of man at the worst rages only on the surface, but God strikes at the root (Luke xii. 4; Matt. x. 28). 2. _God's anger smites the blossom of our being._ All that constitutes the show, promise, and pride of our life, is scattered like dust. 3. _When God smites in anger, He smites suddenly and swiftly,_ "as the fire devoureth the stubble, and the flame consumeth the chaff." 4. _When God smites in anger, man can offer no resistance._ What power to resist a hurricane has a tree whose roots are not only rotten, but "rottenness"? How can the stubble withstand the fire, or the chaff defend itself against tongues of flame?--_J. R. Wood._


[1] The spring of the law is love. With its "Thou shalt not do this," and "Thou shalt not do that," the law presents rather an ungracious aspect. We like ill to be bidden, but worse to be forbidden. But does love never forbid? A mother, does she never forbid her child; but, on the contrary, indulge every caprice and grant all his wishes? How disastrous the fate, and brief the life, of a child denied nothing, indulged in everything, allowed to play with fire, or fire-arms; to devour the painted but poisonous fruit--to bathe where the tide runs like a racehorse or the river rushes roaring into the black, swirling pool. And he who frets against the restraints of God's holy law because it forbids this and the other thing, is no wiser than the infant who weeps, and screams, and struggles, and perhaps beats the kind bosom that nurses it, because its mother has snatched a knife from its foolish hands.--_Guthrie._


v. 24-30. _Therefore as the fire devoureth, &c._

In this threatening, fulfilled in the utter destruction of Israel by Assyria, we find illustrations of the following facts.--I. That _the Lord is a God of judgment as well as of mercy_.[1] The mercy of God has been exemplified in His long forbearance with sinful Israel: His justice was manifested in the utter destruction that came upon Israel when it was seen that that forbearance had been shown in vain. God is still as He revealed Himself in His Word and in His actual dealings with His people. It is utterly vain for us to frame for ourselves an ideal God in whose character the sternest justice has no place. II. That _we can sustain no relation to God which will render it safe for us to break His commandments, or exempt us from the consequences of wrong-doing_ (ver. 25. Compare ver. 5; Amos iii. 2). III. That _all the forces of the universe are at God's disposal for the execution of His purposes._ Appalling is the variety of the scourges and swords that lie ready to His hand for the chastisement of the rebellious,[2] and for the destruction of the incorrigible! IV. That _in addressing Himself to the work of judgment, God is moved by the highest moral considerations._ "Because they have cast away the _law_ of the Lord of hosts, and despised the _word_ of the Holy One of Israel; _therefore_ is the anger of the Lord kindled against His people." In His wrath, as well as in His love, He is holy: in neither is there any caprice. V. That _consequently God will not pause in His work of judgment out of any weak regard to the mere sufferings of wrong-doers._ It is against sin that His anger burns, and while sin endures the fires of His wrath will continue to flame. Eternal punishment! For impenitent transgressors there is woe upon woe, and no severity of suffering that they may endure abates the anger of the Lord against them. There is no such thing as salvation by personal suffering. See how all this is expressed in our text from beginning to end.

GENERAL CONCLUSION.--"It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." The history of the Jews since Israel's day is a terrible comment on this declaration.

PARTICULAR CONCLUSIONS.--1. As sinners, let us bestir ourselves to avert the consequences of our transgressions by a timely and genuine repentance (ch. lv. 6, 7; Hosea xiv. 1-4, &c.) 2. Having obtained mercy, let us be in the fear of the Lord all the day long (John v. 14). 3. For our guidance in life, let us keep constantly before us the Biblical presentation of God, as a God of justice and mercy;--of justice, that we may be restrained from transgression; of mercy, that there may grow up in our hearts that love for Him which will cause us to find our highest joy in doing His will.


[1] See my _Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations in Theology and Morals,_ Nos. 2288-2301.

[2] As for example, _conscience,_ the awakening of which Henry Smith has thus depicted:--"There is a warning conscience and a gnawing conscience. The warning comes before sin; the gnawing conscience follows after sin. The warning conscience is often lulled asleep, but the gnawing conscience wakes her again. If there be any hell in this world, they who feel the worm of conscience gnawing on their hearts may truly say that they have felt the torments of hell. Who can express that man's horror but himself? Nay, what horrors are those which he cannot express himself! Sorrows are met in his soul as at a feast; and fear, thought, and anguish divide the soul between them. All the furies of hell leap upon his heart like a stage. Thought calls to Fear; Fear whistles to Horror; Horror beckons to Despair, and says, Come, and help me to torment this sinner. One says that she comes from this sin, and another says that she comes from that sin. So he goes through a thousand deaths, and cannot die. Irons are laid upon his body like a prisoner. All his lights are put out at once. He has no soul fit to be comforted. Thus he lives as it were upon the rack, and says that he bears the world upon his shoulders, and that no man suffers that which he suffers. So let him lie, says God, without ease, until he confess and repent and call for mercy."


v. 18. _Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart-rope._[1]

There is a certain oddity and grotesqueness in these words as they stand. It disappears as soon as we perceive that we have here an instance of Hebrew parallelism. (Compare chap. i. 18.) _"Sin"_ is a noun, not a verb, and is a synonym for iniquity; to sin men yoke themselves as it were with "cords of vanity" or as with "a cart-rope." _"Cords of vanity"_ are such as have no substance in them, that will not stand any real strain; "a cart-rope" will stand an immense strain. Where, then, is the propriety of describing that by which the sinner binds himself to his sin by such opposite terms? In this, that in the first clause these bands are regarded from the point of view of a sound judgment, in the second from the point of view of the sinner's experience. Subjected to a real examination they are seen to be of no strength at all, and yet they suffice to bind the sinner to his sin as thoroughly as if they were strong as "a cart-rope."

What are these "cords of vanity"? They are false ideas--of God, of truth, of duty. This is plain from verse 19, which is an _explanation_ of this one. There we have an illustrative case. Certain men are represented as bound to their iniquity by the false idea that God will not fulfil His threatenings against iniquity.

Our text furnishes the solution of a mystery which often perplexes us in daily life. We see men cleaving to ruinous iniquities, and cleaving to them in spite of the remonstrances and entreaties of their friends and of God's servants. We who have felt "the powers of the world to come" wonder that men do not repent and believe, and so escape from "the wrath to come." Here is the explanation: they are bound to their ungodly practices as it were with a cart-rope; and yet they are just enslaved by what, when rightly tested, are only cords of vanity. They are like a horse tied to a post by a bridle-rein: it could snap the rein in an instant, but it does not attempt to do so because it has no suspicion of the weakness of the rein. Look at some of the "cords of vanity" by which men are bound to their iniquities; the exposure of their essential weakness may excite some who are not fettered and bound to make an effort to attain to moral freedom.

I. One prevalent "cord of vanity" is _unbelief in God's threatenings against iniquity._ That God has threatened to do certain terrible things to impenitent sinners is admitted, but there lurks in the sinner's heart the idea that God is like certain foolish parents who threaten their children with punishments which they are much too good-natured ever to inflict. But whence did you derive this idea of God? Certainly not from _His Word._ He there distinctly forewarns us, that, though He is merciful and gracious, He will "by no means clear the guilty" (Ex. xxxiv. 7). Not from any intelligent examination of _His dealings in providence._ There neglect or infraction of law is invariably followed by punishment. If a whole nation were to neglect to sow its fields, would God be too good-natured to permit it to starve? But if God invariably punishes men for their infractions of His material laws, what reason can we have for hoping that He will not fulfil His threatenings against those who despise His spiritual ordinances? And why should we hope this? What reverence could we have for, what trust could we repose in, a God who did not fulfil His threatenings? How could we then trust in His promises? Surely this is a "cord of vanity!" and yet how many are bound by it as if it were "a cart-rope"!

II. Another cord is the reflection, _"We are no worse than others."_ Men compare themselves with others, perhaps even more iniquitous than themselves, and so arrive at the conclusion that they are not in any great danger. They do this even in temporal things,--_e.g.,_ in the matter of drainage. The authorities of a country village or town will listen with the most complete indifference to the warnings of a Government inspector, that they are inviting an outbreak of fever or cholera; and the ground of their indifference is that they know of other villages or towns as badly drained as their own. But does _that_ afford them any protection against the dangers of which they are warned? Men act as foolishly in spiritual matters. Because there are so many sinners they close their eyes to their own dangers or sins. Will God be either unable or afraid to punish transgressors because they are so numerous? Surely this also is a "cord of vanity;" and yet thousands are bound by it to their eternal destruction!

III. _"We shall be able to shake ourselves loose from our evil habits by and by."_ They imagine that they can repent and reform at any time, and they are firmly resolved to do so before death. Perhaps there could not be found a single sinner who does not secretly cherish in his breast wicked Balaam's desire, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!" But this idea that men can repent and reform at any time is a delusion. As men continue in sin (1) _The power to reform decays._ (2) _The desire to reform dies out._ The love of sin takes entire possession of the man. It enwraps him as ivy unchecked will enwrap a tree; at first with no more strength than a child's finger, in the end with the strength of a thousand giants. It is the oldest sinners who cling to their vices most desperately, who are bound by them as by cart-ropes. (3) _The opportunities for reform rapidly diminish and often end unexpectedly_ (Prov. xxix. 1; 1 Thess. v. 3).

Inquire by what cords of vanity _you_ are bound. Break them! (Dan. iv. 27.) Look to Jesus, who came into the world for the very purpose of setting at liberty them that are bound.


[1] See Notes on CORDS OF VANITY, pp. 121, 122.


vi. 1-12. _In the year that King Uzziah died, &c._

We have here the history of Isaiah's call to his great life-work. Perhaps in a modern biography this chapter would have been placed first. But there was wisdom in placing it where it stands; it was well to give some insight into the real character of the men along who Isaiah was called to labour, for thus we are enabled more easily to understand the nature of the mission on which he was sent.[1] Studying this chapter as a history of the prophet's call, I learn--

+I. That a threefold spiritual preparation is needed for effective service of God.+[2] It is generally admitted that some kind of preparation is needed, _e.g.,_ for the ministry of the Gospel; but it is not generally recognised that a merely professional preparation is of no avail whatever. A man may pass through the whole routine of college life, both literary and theological, and yet not be a prophet of the Lord. Such preparation is not merely not enough, it is not even essential. "Schools of the prophets" may exist without sending forth a single prophet, and God calls many prophets who have never been inside a school door. This is true of every kind and form of God's service, _e.g.,_ the Sunday-school, the home, Christian literature. In every case a threefold spiritual preparation is necessary. Without it we may pretend to be God's servants; but the disguise will always be imperfect, and we shall always be betraying what we really are. Even the old blind Isaacs whom we deceive will not be sure about us: we may have on Esau's garments, but we shall never perfectly imitate Esau's voice. What, then, is this preparation? 1. _A vision of God._ Before we can serve God effectively, we must to some extent see Him as He is. In all departments of human activity, knowledge of the person served is essential to perfect service. Those who have never seen an earthly king cannot serve him as those who are in daily intercourse with him; their loyalty is at the most a sentiment, not a constraining power. The biographies of God's most eminent servants in all ages make it plain that the first and indispensable state in preparation for His service is a vision of God Himself--a revelation of His majesty and holiness (vers. 1-4). 2. What a man needs before he can effectively serve God is _a vision of himself._ The great hindrance of such service is self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. But when a man really sees God as He is, he straightway sees himself as he is (ver. 5). Job's experience (Job xlii. 5, 6) Peter's experience (Luke v. 8). He sees himself to be utterly unfit and unable to serve God, and so attains to the second indispensable qualification for such service (Eph. iii. 8; 1 Cor. xv. 9, &c.) 3. The third thing which a man needs before he can effectively serve God is _participation in God's salvation._ This is a rule that needs to be stated with wisdom. As a matter of fact, God has used the ministry of unconverted men. Such men may be guide-posts, though not guides. How much better to be a guide! How much more useful is a guide! But we cannot thus serve our generation unless we have been made a partaker of God's salvation. By a sanctifying process,--a process involving in some cases terrible pain (vers. 6, 7),--we must have been made "separate from sinners."

+II. Those who have undergone this preparation will devote themselves unreservedly to God's service.+ 1. _There will spring up spontaneously within them a desire to serve God._ They will not need to be pressed into this service; they will volunteer (ver. 8). 2. _They will not be deterred by the difficulty or painfulness of the service to which they are called._ It was a hard and distasteful service that was demanded of Isaiah--to prophesy to an unbelieving and scoffing generation (ch. v. 18, 19); to enter upon a ministry that would leave men worse than it found them (vers. 9, 10). Nor was this ministry to be brief; it was to be prolonged through many years (vers. 11, 12). Note: in sending Isaiah on such a ministry there was nothing inconsistent with the Divine righteousness or goodness. God's truth must be proclaimed, whether men will heed or reject it; and the inevitable effect of such proclamation of the truth is to render those who reject it more stupid and wicked than they were before (2 Cor. ii. 16; John ix. 39). But, painful as it was, Isaiah did not shrink from it. Nor do any who have passed through such a preparation as his. They do not ask concerning a work or duty, "Is it easy?" "Is it pleasant?" but, "Does God call me to it?" Paul: (Acts xxi. 13).

+III. There is great encouragement for those who have unreservedly devoted themselves to the service of God.+ 1. _What God demands from them is not success, but faithfulness._ He did not require Isaiah to convert his fellow-countrymen, but to prophesy to them faithfully. There his responsibility began and ended. So is it with preachers, teachers, and priests to-day. Men measure by success, but God by faithfulness. What a difference is the result, _e.g.,_ in such a case as that of Carey, who laboured for years without making one convert! or in such a case as Isaiah's! 2. _No faithful servant of God will ever labour without some success._ Isaiah was not to toil altogether in vain. There was to be a wide-spread apostacy of his countrymen, but not a universal apostacy; a small remnant would still cleave to the Lord (ver. 13); and doubtless Isaiah's ministry did much to keep them in the paths of righteousness. So is it with us; much of our seed may be wasted, but not all of it (Ps. cxxvi. 6; 1 Cor. xv. 58).


[1] This vision evidently contains the designation of Isaiah to his work as a prophet. It does not follow that he may not himself have put his book together in the form, or nearly in the form, in which we have received it. The early chapters as they describe the state of the people, not at one particular moment but through a course of years, announcing the punishments which must follow from that state with the blessings which could come out of them, are a living index to the subsequent prophecies and history. The place which they occupy, supposing it was assigned by Isaiah, cannot hinder us from accepting his own express words as a proof, that the year in which King Uzziah dies was the critical year of his life, that which explained to him why he was sent into the world and what task he had to perform in it.--_F. D. Maurice._

[2] Once for all must he who was to be a prophet have become absolutely certain of the true relation of the world and Jehovah,--must have beheld, as in a distinct form, the sublime and holy character of Jehovah, and felt that he was directed by Him alone; once for all must he have recognised the Divine power of truth against the whole world, and himself as living and moving in it alone; once for all must he have entered, with the effectual energy and act of his whole inner being, into the counsels of God, and found himself for ever bound by them, and endowed by these bonds with true power and freedom:--this was the first condition and the true beginning of all the work of the prophet, the holy consecration and the inner call, without which none can become a true prophet.--_Ewald._


(_For Trinity Sunday._)

vi. 1-3. _In the year that King Uzziah died, &c._

_Scene_ of this sublime vision, the Temple; _time,_ "the year that King Uzziah died." Why is this fact mentioned? Uzziah had profaned the Temple (2 Chron. xxvi. 16-21); his son and successor was Jotham, the only king of the house of Judah whose character has not one dishonouring blot; was it not appropriate that, when the disobedient king was removed, and a king had succeeded him, there should have been this glorious revelation of the King of kings--not merely as a preparation of the prophet for his mission, but as an encouragement to the monarch to persevere in his loyalty towards God and His truth?

That which was granted to the Prophet was _a vision of the Triune God._ Proofs: ver. 3, which shows the plurality of persons in the Divine unity; John xii. 41, where it is asserted that that which the prophet saw was the glory of Christ; Acts xxviii. 25, where it is asserted that the voice which the prophet heard was the voice of the Holy Ghost; ver. 3, the threefold repetition of "holy." I purpose, therefore, to make some observations on this important subject of the Trinity.

+I. The doctrine of the Trinity has been believed by the Church of Christ in all ages.+ This is at least a presumption that it is taught in Scripture, successive generations of devout men could scarcely have been mistaken on such a vital point.

+II. This doctrine of the Trinity underlies the whole Bible, and is inextricably interwoven with its fabric and structure.+ The Old Testament testifies to the Divine unity, as contrasted with the polytheism which prevailed among heathen nations; the Gospels record the manifestation of the Incarnate Son of God; the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles set forth the work of the Third Person in the Church. There is direct testimony to this doctrine, such as Matt. xxviii. 19, 2 Cor. xiii. 14. But just as circumstantial evidence when it is clear and complete is even more satisfactory and decisive than the very best direct testimony, still more valuable is the indirect testimony to this doctrine underlying the whole Bible; like a threefold cord, it runs through the whole book, and binds the whole of Divine revelation together.

+III. The doctrine of the Trinity, while it is clearly taught in Scripture, is mysterious and inexplicable.+ We can no more comprehend it with the unaided human understanding than by uplifting the fingers we can touch the starry firmament.[1] This is no reason for refusing to accept it,[2] we accept many other facts which we cannot explain (we cannot explain even the familiar fact of _sight_), but it is a reason for not insisting dogmatically that other men should accept our explanation of it.

As we cannot stay to consider the effect of the vision upon the mind of the prophet, I shall conclude with just three words of practical application of the doctrine itself. 1. _It is bound up with our duty to God._ We are bound to accept it, because He has revealed it; and accepting it, we are bound to yield to Father, Son and Holy Ghost the homage and love of our souls. 2. _It is bound up with our hope of salvation._ If it is not true that the Everlasting Son came forth from the bosom of the Father, and took upon Him to deliver man; and if it is not true that the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son raises men from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, and restamps upon their souls the lost lineaments of our Maker's image, what foundation is there left for our hope of everlasting life? 3. _It is bound up with the fulness of the Gospel blessings._ These are all summed upon the Apostolic benediction, 2 Cor. xiii. 14. If _these_ be ours, we "have all and abound."--_R. W. Forrest_ (_Christian World Pulpit,_ i. 492).


[1] See Article: THE TRINITY, in my _Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations,_ and section 1501 in my _Dictionary of Poetical Illustrations._

[2] See above.


vi. 1-5. _In the year that King Uzziah died I saw, &c._[1]

+I. Earthly powers fade and perish, but the Eternal Power that uses them all lives on+ (ver. 1). Comfort here, when a great king or statesman is taken away from the head of a nation; when a great leader of an arduous reformatory movement, such as Luther, is laid low; when an eloquent preacher or wise pastor is summoned to his rest; or even when the head of a household is cut off just when his family most need his care. He who has wrought by their instrumentality can work without it (Ps. lxviii. 5, &c.) +II. In God's temples there is room only for God.+ "His train filled the Temple." Ahaz could build in the courts of the Lord's house an altar to the god of Damascus (2 Kings xvi. 10-16), but he could not worship two gods there, for the only living and true God departed when His sanctuary was thus profaned. God will have all, or none (Isa. xlii. 8). All His earthly temples must be counterparts of the one heavenly temple, where He reigns alone. In no church will God divide His empire with the State or with popular opinion: we _must_ choose between Him and all other authorities. In no heart will He reign along with any other principle or passion (Matt. vi. 24). +III. Until we reach the land where there is no temple, we cannot see God as He is.+[2] To Isaiah a vision of God was granted, and yet it was but a symbolic vision. He saw a throne, and on it seated a Being of indescribable majesty; but who imagines that he saw God as He is? Does God sit on a throne, after the fashion of kings such as Uzziah, who fade and die? The vision was a condescension to the human faculties of the seer, and served its purpose, that of impressing upon him the majesty and holiness of the Most High. And he tells us more of the ministers who surround the throne than of its Occupant! Him no words can describe; of Him no absolute disclosure is now possible; He can but give us revelations--visions--administrations of Himself. And this He has done. 1. _In nature._ The purpose of the manifold and wondrous universe is not accomplished if we look only at the creation, and do not discern in it veils not thickly hiding, but helping to reveal the Creator (Rom. i. 19, 20).[3] 2. _In Providence._ The manner in which the world is governed is, to the man who studies it comprehensively, earnestly, and reverently, a revelation of the character of the Ruler. 3. _In His Word._ That man miserably mistakes, who studies the Bible as anything less than a many-sided disclosure of God. 4. _In Christ:_[4] a familiar thought this, yet how seldom do we enter into its depths! We do not worship an unknown God, yet we cannot see Him as He is until we have entered into that light which is inaccessible and which no mortal can approach unto, until we have been ourselves transformed into "children of light," and so rendered capable of looking on "the Father of lights." +IV. Those to whom He reveals Himself most fully are most humble, and those whom He most exalts are most ready to serve.+ We have both these truths illustrated in the seraphim and in Isaiah.


[1] The scene of the Vision is the Temple, and its features will have the same whether we suppose them to have risen before Isaiah's imagination while he was absent from the spot, in the solitude of his chamber or his house-top, or assume (as I myself prefer to do), that he was actually praying in the Temple at the time.

Though it is unlikely that any of the successors to what was but a small remnant of Solomon's kingdom perfectly restored the Temple after it was deprived of its original splendour by Shishak in the reign of Rehoboam, yet we see the worthier princes from time to time repairing the structure when it had been suffered to fall into decay, and replacing, as far as they could, the treasures and the costly decorations of which it was repeatedly despoiled to buy off foreign invaders; and probably there was no period in which the restoration would be more complete than in the reign of Uzziah, who in his power, wealth, and magnificence, came nearer than any other to Solomon. As there will be much more of fact than of fancy in the picture, if, for the clearer understanding of the scene of the vision, we figure to ourselves the youthful prophet in his rough hair or woollen garment (probably not unlike that of the Capuchin friar as we now see him in the streets or churches of Rome), going up to the Temple to worship;--and if we look with him at the Temple as, at the end of 300 years from its building, it must have presented itself to his eyes, with its ample courts, and colonnades, and porch, and its holy house, and holy of holies, well-proportioned, and of the most elaborate workmanship, though rather massive than large according to our notions. As he crossed the variegated pavement of "the great court of the congregation," and stopped--for we have no reason to suppose him a Levite--at the entrance to the inner, or "priests'" court, on each hand would rise one of the tall pillars which Solomon set up in token that the kingdom was constituted by Jehovah, and would be upheld by His might (1 Kings vii. 21; 2 Chron. iii. 17), and which, once of "bright brass," but now mellowed into bronze, had their square capitals richly wreathed with molten lilies, chain-work, and pomegranates; before him, resting on the back of the twelve oxen, and cast like them in brass, would appear the "molten sea," a basin of thirty cubits in circumference, and containing two or three thousand _baths_ of water, its brim wrought "like the brim of a cup with flowers of lilies," and under these a double row of ornamental knobs; while on each side stood five smaller lavers, the bases of which rested on wheels, and were most elaborately ornamented with oxen, lions, cherubims, and palm-trees engraved upon them; and beyond these again he would see the great brazen altar of burnt-offering, with its never-extinguished fire; and overhead the roof of thick cedar beams resting on rows of columns. These were the courts of the palace of the Divine King of Israel, for the reception of His subjects and His ministers. [Compare the description of Solomon's own house, which besides its inner porch had another where he sat to judge the people, 1 Kings vii. 7. The arrangement of the Temple is plainly that of a palace.] The house itself again consisted of two parts, the outer of which, the holy place, was accessible to those priests who were in immediate attendance on their unseen Sovereign, while the inner, or holiest place, was the very presence-chamber of the Monarch who dwelt "between the cherubims," which spread their golden wings over the ark containing the covenant He had vouchsafed to enter into with His people, and itself forming a "mercy-seat," where was "the place of His throne and the place of the sole of His feet." In the position which I have, following the requirements of the narrative in the chapter before us, supposed Isaiah to be placed, he would see through the open folding-doors of cypress, carved "with cherubims, and palm-trees, and open flowers," and "carved with gold and upon the carved work," into the holy place, which he could not enter; and the light of the golden lamps on either side would show him the cedar panelling of the walls, carved with knobs and open flowers, with cherubims and palm-trees, festooned with chain-work, and richly gilt; the mosaics of precious stone; the cypress floor; the altar of incense; the table with the shew-bread; the censers, tongs, and other furniture of "pure and perfect gold;" and before the doorway to the further end, and not concealed by the open leaves of the olive-wood doors (carved and gilded like the others), would be distinguishable the folds of the vail "of blue, and purple, and crimson, and fine linen," embroidered with cherubims. In the East the closed vail, or _purdah,_ declares the presence and secures the privacy of the monarch, into which no man may intrude and live; and in the Temple at Jerusalem it was the symbol of the awful presence and unapproachable majesty of the King Jehovah, Lord of hosts. . . . Perhaps on this occasion, or certainly on many others, Isaiah had been joining in the public daily sacrifice and worship, and had afterwards brought his own free-will offering--a bullock or a lamb without blemish. Such an offering, the symbol of his dedication of himself to Jehovah's service, would be the natural expression of his earnest desire for some token that at last it was permitted him to enter on the actual functions of the prophetic office for which he had been so long preparing; and that this vision was the answer to such beautiful prayerful desire--itself an inspiration from on high--we may well believe.--_Strachey._

Some of you may have been watching a near and beautiful landscape in the land of mountains and eternal snows, till you have been exhausted by its very richness, and till the distant hills which bounded it have seemed, you knew not why, to limit and contract the view,--and then a veil has been withdrawn, and new hills not looking as if they belonged to this earth, yet given another character to all that does belong to it, have unfolded themselves before you. This is an imperfect, very imperfect, likeness (yet it is one), of that revelation which must have been made to the inner eye of the prophet when he saw another throne than the throne of the house of David, another king than Uzziah or Jotham, another train than that of priests or minstrels in the Temple, other winged forms than those golden ones which overshadowed the mercy-seat. Each object was the counterpart of one that was then or had been at some time before his bodily eyes. . . . The symbols and service of the Temple were not, as priests and people often thought, an earthly machinery for scaling a distant heaven; they were witnesses of a Heaven nigh at hand, of a God dwelling in the midst of His people, of His being surrounded by spirits which do His pleasure, hearkening to the voice of His words.--_F. D. Maurice._

[2] See my _Dictionary of Poetical Illustrations,_ No. 1501; and my _Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations,_ Nos. 2229-2240.

[3] P. D., 1489, 1493, 1496, 1502, 1504-1506, 1508, 1509, 1511, 1514, 1519, 1526, 2545, 2552, 2563; H. E. I., 2242.

[4] H. E. I., 854-857, 2241, 2243.


vi. 1-7. _In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord, &c._[1]

Behold, in these temple scenes, both what the Lord your God is, and what He requires from you.

+I.+ The first of these temple scenes presents to our view +the majesty of God:+ "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high, and lifted up." One of the first and most important truths for us to learn is the absolute rule of God--over nature, man, the principalities of heaven. He sitteth upon His throne: this is the attitude, 1. Of _supremacy and dignity;_ He sitteth while all other beings stand before Him to receive His commands, bow in adoration, or are prostrate in abasement. 2. It is the attitude of _ease and perfect security._[2] But, above all, mark the place of His throne as displayed in this wonderful vision. It stands in the temple; it has been sprinkled with the blood of propitiation; it is _now_ the mercy-seat. To the truly penitent all its terror appears softened with grace.

+II.+ The second of these temple scenes displays to us +the ineffable and incomprehensible nature of God.+ Let not man suppose that he can by searching find out God, or know the Almighty unto perfection. This is scenically, but most impressively, represented to us in the vision before us: "His train"--the skirts of the shekinah--"filled the temple," its fainter rays beaming from the central blaze in the holiest of all, and irradiating the more distant objects. But even that was too much for man, and it is therefore added, "And the house was filled with smoke;" a veil was thus drawn over what was too bright and dazzling for mortal vision; and though God dwelt in the light, yet it was light involving itself in thick darkness (Ps. xcvii. 2; Ex. xvi. 10). Revelation has not superseded mystery (Job xxvi. 14). As to His dispensations, we are all still to walk by faith rather than by sight; and as to the depths of His nature, rather to adore than reason. An infinite being is necessarily incomprehensible by finite beings;[3] He must be mysterious. If we could fully know God, we must either be equal to Him, or He must lose the glory of His nature and come down to ourselves (1 Cor. xiii. 9; Rom. xi. 33).

+III.+ The third view presented by this vision is that of +the adorable and awful holiness of God+ (ver. 3). This is seen in His titles (Ps. lxxi. 22; Deut. xxxii. 4); in His acts; in His law; in His visible image on earth, His Son incarnate; in His Gospel; in His judgments; in the reward of the righteous.

+IV.+ In the next scene which the vision presents we behold +a sinful man convicted and laid prostrate before this holy God+ (ver. 5).

+V.+ In the final scene we behold +a convicted, self-abased, and penitent man pardoned and consecrated to the service of God+ (ver. 6, 7). What are we taught by this wondrous representation? That for guilty men there is pardon, that for unholy men there is purification, and that lips once unclean, but not sanctified, may join in the hymns of seraphim, and, without dread, approach to God, and celebrate the glories even of His holiness. This we are taught, but not this only; not merely is the fact, but the manner of it, brought before us. See, then, the means. The instrument of purification is fire; but not any kind of fire, fire from any place; it is fire from the altar, the altar where atonement is made for sin; fire, therefore, both of Divine origin, and coming to us through the great Propitiation. We can be at no loss for an interpretation of the symbols thus employed. Our altar is the cross; the propitiatory sacrifice, the spotless Lamb of God; by the merit of His death, and the baptizing fire of His Spirit, and the guilty and polluted pardoned and sanctified to God.--_Richard Watson: Works,_ vol. iv. pp. 143-153.


[1] God is invisible; yet in that heavenly world in which He has His special and eternal residence He manifests himself in ineffable glory, dwelling in what the Scriptures call "the light which no man can approach unto." Of that heavenly world, the tabernacle and temple were splendid emblems; they were "patterns of heavenly things." But why the astonishing fact, that when sinful creatures created a tent in the wilderness, and a temple subsequently at Jerusalem, the visible glory of God descended, taking possession of the place? God thus came down from heaven to earth, with all these impressive circumstances of visible majesty, to teach His creatures that He was awfully glorious, and fearful even in His praises; that even in His acts of grace His holiness is solemnly declared; and thus to show with what reverence and purity man ought to approach to Him. So when Isaiah was to be appointed to an office in which he was to fear God, and not the face of man, and which, to give it weight and authority, required an entire sanctity, a scene similar to that which had been displayed in the temple at its consecration, but greatly heightened and magnified, was disclosed to him in vision. The space of this visionary temple appears to have been far more ample than that of the one at Jerusalem; the throne was greatly elevated, it was "high, and lifted up;" the "train," the "skirts" (as in the margin) of the cloud of the Divine presence filled the whole place; instead of the carved representations of the cherubim of glory fixed on the mercy-seat, the prophet beholds the cherubim themselves, living, and all ardour, activity, and adoration; they are not represented in the vision as the cherubim in the holiest of all, silently gazing on the glory of God and the mysteries of His covenant, but as hymning His praises, proclaiming His spotless purity, and declaring "the whole earth to be full of His glory." The prophet, beholding the wondrous scene, sinks oppressed and self-abhorred, until a coal from the altar touches his lips, and he is thus sanctified to the service of God, and put among His ministers.--_Watson._

[2] No rebellions shake the throne of God; though "the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing," yet "he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision." The throne of God is a rock in the midst of the ever-rolling ocean of created existence, that heaves and swells with ceaseless change; but, in comparison of Him, its mightiest billows have but their moment of existence, and sink into the mass at the base of the immovable throne of the Everlasting One.--_Watson._

[3] An observer on a mountain-cliff may be able to survey the whole circumference of a lake that lies beneath him, but no man can see the whole of the ocean, simply because it _is_ the ocean, and not a lake.--_Watson._


vi. 2. _Above it stood the seraphim:_[1] _each had six wings, &c._

I. _"With twain he covered his face."_[2] They bow with prostrate awe, veiling themselves in the presence of the Divine glory, as though feeling the force of those strong words, "He chargeth His angels with folly, and the heavens are not clean in His sight." If the angels tremble when they gaze, what should man feel? II. _"With twain he covered his feet."_[3] Among Orientals this expresses reverence. Well may _you_ bow in reverence before Him! The sense of pardon will humble you, even while it fills you with holy exaltation. III. _"With twain he did fly"_--in readiness to execute His commands.--_Richard Watson: Works,_ vol. ix. pp. 150-153.


[1] As those that are nearest of a king's attendants stand behind his throne or chair of state, at his elbow.--_Day._

This is the only passage of Scripture in which the seraphim are mentioned. According to the orthodox view, which originated with Dionysius the Areopagite, they stand at the head of the nine choirs of angels, the first rank consisting of _seraphim, cherubim,_ and _throni._ And this is not without support, if we compare the cherubim mentioned in Ezekiel, which carried the chariot of the divine throne; whereas here the seraphim are said to surround the seat on which the Lord worshipped. In any case, the seraphim and cherubim were heavenly beings of different kinds; and there is no weight in the attempts of Hendewerk and Stickel to prove that they are one and the same. And certainly the name _seraphim_ does not signify merely spirits as such, but even, if not the highest of all, yet a distinct order from the rest; for the Scriptures really teach that there are gradations in rank in the hierarchy of heaven. Nor were they mere symbols or fanciful images, as Hävernick imagines, but real spiritual beings who visibly appeared to the prophet, and that in a form corresponding to their own supersensuous being, and to the design of the whole transaction. Whilst the seraphim hovered on both sides of Him that sat upon the throne, and therefore formed two opposite choirs, each ranged in a semicircle, they presented antiphonal worship to Him that sat upon the throne.--_Delitzsch._

The cherubim in the temple represented no doubt spiritual powers and presence in the most general sense, those who look upon God and reflect His light. If we distinguish between them and the cherubim, as we do in our "Te Deum," these last would seem more especially to represent those divine energies and affections of which the zeal, devotion, and sympathy of man are counterparts.--_F. D. Maurice._

The name cannot possibly be connected with _sârâph,_ a snake (Sanscrit, _sarpa,_ Latin, _Serpens_); and to trace the word to a verb _sâraph_ in the sense of the Arabic 'sarafa ('sarufa), to tower high, to be exalted, or highly honoured (as Gesenius, Hengetenberg, and others have done), yields a sense that does not very strongly commend itself. On the other hand, to follow Knobel, who reads shârâthim, worshippers of God), and thus presents the Lexicon with a new word, and to pronounce the word _seraphim_ a copyist's error, would be a rash concession to the heaven-storming omnipotence which is supposed to reside in the ink of a German scholar. It is hardly admissible, however, to interpret the name as signifying directly spirits of light or fire, since the true meaning of _sâraph_ is not _urere_ (to burn), but _comburere_ (to set on fire or burn up). Umbreig endeavours to do justice to this transitive meaning by adopting the explanation "fiery beings," by which all earthly corruption is opposed and destroyed. The vision itself, however, appears to point to a much more distinctive and special meaning in the name, which only occurs in this passage of Isaiah. . . . If the fact that a seraph absolved the seer by means of this fire of love (vers. 6, 7) is to be taken as an illustrative example of the historical calling of the seraphim, they were the vehicles and media of the fire of divine love, just as the cherubim in Ezekiel were the vehicles and media of the fire of divine wrath. For just as in the case before us, a seraph takes the fire of love from the altar; so there, in Ezek. x. 6, 7, a cherub takes the fire of wrath from the throne-chariot. Consequently the cherubim appear as the vehicles and media of the wrath which destroys sinners, or rather the divine _doxa,_ with its fiery side turned towards the world; and the seraphim as the vehicles and media of the love which destroys sin, or of the same divine _doxa_ with its light side towards the world. . . . "Seraphic love" is the expression used in the language of the Church to denote the _ne plus ultra_ of holy love in the creature.--_Delitzsch._

[2] Thus expressing his profound reverence and becoming modesty in the Divine presence. We can hardly approach those who are greatly our superiors but with downcast eyes, intimating the consciousness we feel of their pre-eminence, and our profound respect for the excellency and dignity. We cannot look at the sun shining with meridian splendour, but we are obliged to cover our eyes with our hands. Such is the infinite glory of the eternal Jehovah, that celestial spirits around His throne appeared to our prophet covering their faces with their wings. Light inaccessible and full of glory, in which God resides, was too strong for them directly to contemplate.--_Macculloch._

[3] In Scripture language the _feet_ sometimes denote all the lower parts of the body which decency requires to be concealed. In eastern countries these were generally covered by the long garments which they were accustomed to wear: hence it may have been thought want of respect to appear in public, on solemn occasions, with the feet uncovered.--_Macculloch._

In a similar description of the cherubim in Ezek. i. 11, it is said that they covered _their bodies._ In Isaiah the expression clearly denotes, not the feet only, but the lower extremities.--_Barnes._

How little do we know of beings whose forms from their faces to their feet are 'covered!'--_B. W. Newton._


vi. 2. _Above it stood the seraphim, &c._

The seraphim afford us a model for imitation. Our Lord has animated us in our Christian course by promising that, if we are faithful, we shall be made like the angels in heaven; but if we would hereafter resemble them in glory, we must first resemble them here in temper. Let us, therefore, prepare in time to join the concert of these holy intelligences. +I. They burn with love to God.+ The honourable name they bear is derived from a word signifying to burn, and denotes the fervour of that zeal for the interests of their Lord by which they are animated. +II.+ Notwithstanding their vast endowments, +they bend with reverence and humility before the throne of the Lord. III. They fly with rapidity to execute His commands.+--_Henry Kollock, D.D.: Sermons,_ pp. 585, 586.


vi. 2-4. _And above it stood the seraphim, &c._

I. THE SERAPHIM.--The Scriptures disclose to us the fact that there is a spiritual world, vast and variously populated, superior to this world, yet connected with it and exerting upon it powerful influences. Little beyond the _fact_ is made known to us; few details are granted us; yet glimpses into it have been vouchsafed, and among the most interesting and instructive of them is our text.

Only here do we read of _seraphim:_ elsewhere we read of _cherubim_ (Gen. iii. 24; Ezek. x. 1-22, &c.); and of _living ones_ (Rev. iv. 6-8). From the fact that these "living ones" in some respects resemble both the "seraphim" of Isaiah and the "cherubim" of Ezekiel, some eminent scholars believe these are three names for one order of beings. Others, with whom we are disposed to sympathise, believe that the two names "cherubim" and "seraphim" really indicate two orders of spiritual intelligences, resembling each other, yet distinct. Whether the "living ones" of the Apocalypse are cherubim, or seraphim, or a third order of exalted ministers of the Most High, is a question concerning which we cannot speak confidently.

Scholars are divided as to the significance of the name "seraphim:" some derive the word from a root signifying _to burn,_ others from a root signifying _to be exalted._

But there can be no question that the descriptions of the "seraphim," the "cherubim," and the "living ones" are symbolical; the terms employed are figures adapted to convey to our minds true descriptions of beings of whom a literal description would now be unintelligible by us.[1] _"Wings"_ are symbols of swiftness:[2] here the symbol is triplicated to indicate the exceeded swiftness--the immense energy--of these messengers of God (Ps. civ. 4). _"With twain he covered his face,"_ in token of humility. _"With twain he covered his feet,"_ in token of reverence. _"With twain he did fly,"_ in token of readiness to do God's will--three points in which we should strive evermore to resemble these exalted intelligences.

To them is granted an immediate vision of God, and the effect upon them is expressed by their song: _"Holy,"_ &c.

II. Consider next THIS SONG OF THE SERAPHIM. +1. They acknowledge God as "the Lord of hosts."+[3] This term in its first use in human language referred to the sun, moon, and stars (Gen. ii. 1; Neh. ix. 6, &c.). Thus considered, how wonderful are the conceptions which are opened out to us of the Divine power and glory! (Isa. xi. 2-6). But it includes also those thousands of thousands of exalted intelligences who hearken to His word and do His pleasure. "A great King" is the Lord our God! +2. They teach us that the glory of God is co-extensive with His works.+ All that Isaiah saw was that God's glory filled the temple: what they saw was that His glory filled the earth. _"The whole earth," &c._ 1. This declaration is true, if we think of Him _as the God of nature._ Everything that He has made is "good." Even a snowflake shows forth His glory. Science is a servant of God, and is teaching us to understand somewhat of the wondrousness and beneficence of His works. 2. It is true if we think of Him _as the God of providence._ Human history, comprehensively and thoughtfully considered, shows that, while men are free, they are yet under the control of One who rules over all in the interests of righteousness and truth (Ps. lxxvi. 10; Isa. x. 5-7, &c.). To angelic intelligences how profoundly interesting must be the problems which God is working out in the government of this world! (Rev. xv. 3). 3. It is true even if we think of Him _as the God of redemption._ Possibly (though perhaps not probably) this earth is the only sphere in which His glory in this respect is manifested. But here it is manifested in the mission and work of His Son (Eph. iii. 10). Even where the Gospel has not yet been proclaimed there are senses in which His glory as the God of redemption is manifested: even there, for Christ's sake, He is patient with sinners, He strives with them by His Spirit, He is preparing them for the future triumphs of the Cross. The history of our race, when it shall be seen as a whole, will all redound to His glory as the God of redemption.[4] +3. In the holiness of God the seraphim find the supreme subject for adoration and song:+ _Holy,_ &c. Other attributes of the Most High are the themes of their thought and worship, but it is His holiness that excites their most rapturous praise. Why? 1. _They have never needed His mercy;_ it is reserved for _us_ to sing the sweet song of redeeming grace. On account of our redemption they rejoice (Luke xv. 10), but doubtless they rejoice in it most because the mercy shown us is a holy mercy; it was so shown as to solve some of the profoundest moral problems, and so as to leave untouched the principle of righteousness on which God's throne eternally abides (Rom. iii. 26). Not having needed that mercy themselves, it is natural that they should rather magnify the holiness which had been shown in it and which is the need of all. 2. _It is the holiness of God that gives value to all His other attributes._ They are valuable only because they are directed by unswerving holiness. The holiness of God is the foundation of the peace, and joy, and the love of the moral universe. Were God not holy, even hell itself would be a more awful abode; for then to all its other woes would be added the possibility of suffering inflicted in mere vindictiveness. We also are called to join in the song of the seraphim (Ps. xxx. 4, xcvii. 12): let us beseech Him so to sanctify us by His Spirit, that in our lips the song may not be a sacrilege!

III. THE EFFECTS OF THE SONG. 1. _"The posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried."_[5] A symbol this of the constant effects of the proclamation of truth. At every new announcement of it earthly things that seem most solid shake, and many of them totter and fall and disappear (2 Cor. x. 4; Heb. xii. 26-28). 2. _And the house was filled with smoke._ In response to the worship of the seraphim the temple became so completely filled with the Divine glory that the radiance overpowered the prophet's vision. What he calls "smoke" was excess of light (1 Kings viii. 10-12; Rev. xv. 8).[6] So would it be with us were our craving for a fuller manifestation of God in His works and word granted. We have as much light now as we can bear. A fuller revelation would only dazzle, confuse, and blind us. The time is to come when we shall see God "as He is," but this will then be possible, because "we shall be like Him;" and that time is not yet!


[1] _"Above the throne stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly."_ The sense of awe increasing with the clearness and purity of a spirit and with the nearness of its approach to God; the face being veiled which receives the light for Him, and most covets to behold Him; the absence of all which to display their own perfection in spirits who are perfect; the freedom and willingness to go anywhere, to do any errands of mercy; these are some of the more obvious thoughts which the study of this vision suggests. There are others which lie hidden, which we may have a glimpse of from time to time, and which words might mar. For it is true of earthly symbols, still more of heavenly visions, that they are meant to carry us out of words and above words.--_F. D. Maurice._

[2] Among the ancients, _Mercury,_ the messenger of Jupiter, was always represented with wings.--_Barnes._

[3] This title of Jehovah, with some variations, is found upwards of 160 times in the Old Testament. The meaning of the word _hosts_ is doubtless the same as that of _army_ in Dan. iv. 35, and includes all the myriads of holy angels who people the celestial spheres, as in 1 Kings xxii. 19 the host of heaven were seen by Micaiah standing round the throne of God. So in Ps. ciii. 21, cxlviii. 2, the hosts of God are His angels. (Comp. Deut. xxxiii. 2.) By a light metonymy, or may be in a slightly different sense, _the host of heaven_ designates the heavenly spheres themselves (Gen. ii. 1; Deut. iv. 19, xvii. 3; Isa. xxxiv. 4, &c.). It is probably with reference to the idolatrous worship of the host of heaven that the title of _the Lord of hosts_ was given to the true God, as asserting His universal supremacy. (See Neh. ix. 6.) In the New Testament, the phrase occurs only once, James v. 4, _the Lord of Sabaoth._ In Rom. ix. 29, it is a quotation from Isaiah.--_Professor Rawlinson._

[4] Sin has already served, as all things must, to bring into view more clearly the glory of God, for had there been no sin there could have been no mercy; and in its punishment, its overthrow, and its extirpation, His glory will be yet more signally displayed. Hercules could never have been deified, if there had been no monsters to overcome. True is the seraph's song even now, but it shall be more manifestly and gloriously true in that day, so surely and swiftly drawing nigh, when Christ shall have subdued all enemies unto Him, and God shall be All in all.--_R. A. B._

The vision reaches its highest point in the cry, _Holy, holy, holy!_ It is the holiness of God which the seraphim proclaim, that which cannot be represented to the eye, that of which descriptions and symbols furnish no image. It is that holiness which fills not the heaven of heavens only but the whole earth, _seeing that was made very good, seeing that in its order and constitution it was still perfectly good,_ though man defiled it by their deeds, though the habitations of cruelty were set upon the midst of it.--_F. D. Maurice._

[5] The voice of the seraphim at this time was so loud and melodious, and the power of their heavenly music was so great, when extolling the holiness and glory of Jehovah that the posts, with the lintel of the door of the temple, seemed to tremble, to be shaken in the place where they stood, or loosed from their place. This was a very surprising effect (though seen only in vision); for these posts were so large and strong, that they supported gates of brass which are said to have required twenty men to shut them, on account of their ponderous weight.--_Macculloch._

[6] _Delitzsch_ thus gives the usual interpretation of this clause: _The house was filled with smoke._ Many compare this with the similar occurrence in connection with the dedication of Solomon's temple (1 Kings viii. 10); but Drechsler is correct in stating that the two cases are not parallel, for there God simply attested His own presence by the cloud of smoke behind which He concealed Himself, whereas here there was no need of any such self-attestation. Moreover, in this instance God does not dwell in the cloud and thick darkness, whilst the smoke is represented as the effect of the songs of praise in which the seraphim have joined, and not of the presence of God. The smoke arose from the altar of incense mentioned in verse 6. But when Drechsler says that it was the prayers of _saints_ (as in Rev. v. 8, viii. 3, 4), which ascended to the Lord, in the smoke, there is a thought which is quite out of place here. The smoke was the immediate consequence of the seraph's song of praise.


vi. 5-7. _Then said I, &c._

Visions of the throne of God were given to Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel among the prophets, and to John among the Apostles.[1] +I. The distinguished privilege.+ "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple." "Mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." The invisible and unapproachable God revealed Himself to the bewildered seer through the glory of the afterwards incarnate Christ (John xii. 41). May we behold God? Certainly we may. 1. _In His Son Jesus Christ_ (Heb. i. 3; 2 Cor. iv. 4; Col. i. 15; John xiv. 8, 9). 2. _In His works and Word._ The works are the embodied words of God. In the Scriptures we may see the mind, the heart, the purposes, the character of God. 3. _In His sanctuary._ In the act of worship, while in the temple, Isaiah beheld the glory of the Lord (Ps. lxiii. 1, 2, lxviii. 24). +II. The profound abasement.+ It is true that "before honour is humility." The converse is also true. Isaiah's humility was the effect of overwhelming honour. A sight of God brought self-revelation; depravity was revealed by the dazzling whiteness of Divine purity. 1. _There was consternation._ "Woe is me; for I am undone." 2. _There was self-loathing._ "I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." The vision of God results in a vivid and painful sense of sin (Job xlii. 5, 6; Luke v. 8). +III. The Divine cleansing.+ Absolution is connected with confession (1 John i. 9). 1. _The cleansing_ _was efficacious._ 2. _The purification was by means of sacrifice._ 3. _The removal of defilement was immediate._ A man so prepared is made ready for any ministry of testimony, toil, or tribulation.--_Matthew Braithwaite._


[1] We should naturally expect that a vision vouchsafed to an Apostle of Christ, at the end of the first century of the Christian era, would be larger in scope, brighter in glory, less enigmatical in structure, in significance, than those which were attached to the ministrations of prophets. This expectation is not disappointed. We find the visions of the throne of God which prophets saw revived and incorporated in the Apostle's vision, and we find the Christian seer enlightened with a more distinct understanding of the heavenly symbols. _Isaiah_ saw the throne of God in the temple, surrounded by seraphim, "crying one to another, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts." _Ezekiel,_ sitting by the river of Chebar, saw the throne of God, as a chariot of war coming out of a whirlwind and going forth over the earth, attended by mighty ministers of judgment, carrying the Son of Man to victory. _Daniel_ beheld the great session of justice; the gathered myriads before the awful purity of the Divine Judge; the consuming laws executed by the faithful servants. But the Christian _Apostle,_ looking through the door of heaven, beheld all these ancient visions, which had come down through eight centuries of time, blended into one. He saw Isaiah's seraphim, but they had the appearance of Ezekiel's living creatures, with fourfold countenances; their wings were still visible, and their voices still responded, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!" He saw the thrones round about _the Throne,_ as Daniel saw them, but he was able to count them; they were four and twenty; and upon the seats he "saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment, and they had on their heads crowns of gold." The stream of fire, which the prophet saw proceeding from under the throne was now "a sea of glass like unto crystal." He that sat on the throne, who appeared to Ezekiel as though He were clothed with fiery amber, was "to look upon like a jasper and sardine stone;" and the rainbow was still there, "round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald." "Lightnings, thunderings, and voices" proceeded out of the throne, as before fire flamed out and devoured. "The seven spirits of God," like "burning lamps of fire," stand in the presence of the Holy One. And the Apostle witnesses the sublime service of heaven, the living creatures "giving glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne;" and, in response to their worship, "the four and twenty elders falling down before Him and worshipping Him," and singing their united praises, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for Thou hast created all things, and for Thy pleasure they are and were created!"--_R. A. Redford._


vi. 8. _Then said I, Here am I, send me._

This is a chapter of autobiography. Here is disclosed the secret of the wonderful energy with which for more than half a century Isaiah prosecuted his ministry. He is the Paul of the Old Testament. Allowance being made for difference of phraseology, there is a striking resemblance between the call of Isaiah and of Paul (comp. chap. vi. with Acts ix.). Both sought to serve the heavenly King; and both received a commission to work, spiritual and catholic beyond all conceptions of their time,--the one penning the Gospel of the suffering Messiah, the other vindicating the truth that the Gospel is God's message to the _world._ The text reminds us--

+I. Of the Christian's offer of service.+ The offer of service which the prophet made was--1. _Free._ He spoke spontaneously, and not as the result of pressure from without.[1] 2. _Truthful._ Unlike one of the sons in the parable (Matt. xxi. 30), he meant what he said. 3. _Bold._ It was made concerning an unknown mission. The justification of the boldness of his offer is, that it was made to God, who always qualifies His servants for the tasks to which He calls them. 4. _Personal._ The prophet placed at God's disposal, not some of his property merely, but _himself._ 5. _It involved the most complete self-surrender._ All thought of self control the prophet resigned. He placed himself as an instrument in God's hands. He was ready go to where, when, and on what errand God might determine.[2] Such are the offers of service in which God delights.

+II. Of the steps that lead up to this offer.+ The offer may take men by surprise, but there has always been preparation for it, as there has been long preparation for the lightning that leaps suddenly from the sky. Such offers as the prophet made are preceded--1. By _a vision of God,_ of the thrice Holy One, filling the soul with awe, and causing it to tremble (vers. 1-4). 2. By _self-prostration of spirit,_ a conviction of utter sinfulness (ver. 5). This is the invariable result of a true vision of God (Exod. iii. 2; Josh. v. 14; Judg. vi. 22, xii. 22; Luke v. 8; Rev. i. 17). This is also a prime condition of fitness for service. 3. By _the touch of a mediator_ (vers. 6, 7). "They that be struck down by visions of God's glory shall soon be raised up again by visits of His grace." Blessed is the man who has _both_ visions. A sense of pardon is essential to large usefulness. Imperfect realisation of forgiveness is one of the most frequent causes of weakness in Christian service. 4. By _a moral transformation._ The offerer has become a new man from the centre outwards. Now he can hear God's voice: "I heard," &c. It is a voice to which now he feels he _must_ respond: "Here am I," &c. In some degree every Christian is thus prepared. These essentials of service are also essentials of Christian life. These experiences are at once your credentials and your powers.

+III.+ That +God always accepts offers of service for which there has been this preparation, and that bear these marks.+ He never rejects true volunteers. Offers hastily made and half-meant He passes by (Josh. xxiv. 18, 19; John ii. 23-25); but genuine, whole-hearted offers of service, He invariably accepts.

In conclusion, let us lay up in our memories three facts in connection with service. 1. _True service is not incompatible with failure._ We are too apt to connect failure with incompetency in the servant. Many do fail through incompetency, but not all. The prophet divinely called and most royally endowed may fail, because of the moral obduracy and perverseness of those to whom he is sent (vers. 9, 10). 2. _True service is not incompatible with sorrow_ (vers. 11, 12). That man is inhuman who without profound grief can behold the perversity of sinners, and the calamities with which in consequence they are visited. 3. _True service will never be left without reward._ Multitudes may reject the prophet's message, yet there will be "a tenth" who will accept it and be saved.--_J. R. Wood._


[1] H. E. I., 3633-3639.

[2] H. E. I., 3618-3626.


vi. 8. _Also, I heard the voice of the Lord, &c._

+I. God wants messengers unto sinful men.+ Tidings concerning sin and salvation, mercy and deliverance, God's grace and man's misery, must be published. Might send seraphim and the angel host. God elects to send men to their fellow-men. "Whom shall I send?" is not the inquiry of a Divine perplexity, but the stimulative question of one who calls for willing workers. +II. God especially qualifies His messengers.+ How does He in an especial manner fit men for His highest service? 1. _By an awe-inspiring sight of Himself._ 2. _By distressing convictions of personal sin._ 3. _By sanctifying all the faculties to His use._ +III. God's call should meet with a ready response.+ He desires volunteers, "Who will go for us?" The constraint of love is the omnipotent motive force. 1. _The call is heard individually._ "I heard the voice of the Lord." 2. _The call provokes self-surrender._ "Here am I." 3. _The call demands entire self-abandonment._ "Send me"--anywhere, on any errands, at any time, in any capacity. +IV. How may we ascertain that we are required to become messengers of the living God?+ 1. By the separating voice of God. 2. By the discipline of preparation. 3. By the openings of beckoning opportunities. The "joy of the Lord" will be our strength when most we feel the pressure of "the burden of the Lord."--_Matthew Braithwaithe._


vi. 9, 10. _And He said, Go, and tell this people, &c._

A sad and mysterious errand, the statement of which might well have quenched the enthusiasm inspired by his vision of the Divine glory. When he exclaimed, "Here am I, send me!" how little did he anticipate for what purpose he would be sent! It must have astounded and saddened him, and it is full of astonishment and mystery for us. How could God have sent His servant on an errand such as this?

Much of the mystery will be relieved, though not altogether removed, if we recognise--what I believe to be the fact--that here we have a statement, not of the messages Isaiah was to deliver (for they were many, and were revealed to him at various times), but of what would be the result of them all. Those to whom he was sent, and whom he desired to bless, would not be made better, but worse, by his ministry.

This is in accordance with a well-known and terrible fact, viz., that the proclamation of truth often leads men to cleave more desperately to error.[1] Why, then, does God send His servants to proclaim it?

_Not because He desires the depravity and destruction of men._ Such a desire would be utterly inconsistent with His _character_ and with His express _declarations_ (Ezek. xviii. 23, 32, &c.). We need not imagine, then, that we have here a confirmation of those schemes of arbitrary election and reprobation which some theologians have attributed to Him.

But 1. _Because it is necessary for the preservation of His character as a God of righteousness and mercy that He should do what_ OUGHT _to result in the salvation of men._ Had He not sent His prophets forth on their sad mission, we should have been confronted by a greater difficulty: God permitting His chosen people to go on to ruin without one word of warning spoken, without one effort put forth to arrest them. But one of the supreme moral necessities of the universe is this, that His character as a God desiring the redemption of sinners should be maintained unimpaired; and therefore He sends forth His messengers to proclaim the truth, although He foresees that to many they will be the "savour of death unto death,"--and not "the savour of life unto life,"--not as that same frosty air which "braces" and invigorates those who are already vigorous. As this quotation reminds you, this is the effect of the Gospel itself. Ought God, therefore, never to have sent its preachers forth? 2. _That stubborn sinners may be left without excuse in the day of their doom._ God will not merely take vengeance on the violators of His laws of righteousness; He will make it manifest that while in Him there is an awful severity, there is no vindictiveness; and He will so act that, even when that severity is most manifested, not only the onlookers, but even those who experience it shall be constrained to confess, "Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints!" He will not leave it possible for them to say, "Hadst Thou warned us, we should not have sinned." They shall be speechless (Matt. xxii. 12; Jer. xliv. 2-5). 3. _That the righteous may be saved._ Did He not send His prophets forth to instruct and warn, even the men in whose hearts are the germs of righteousness and holiness of life would follow the multitude to do evil: _they_ hear, and turn, and live: and this is ample justification of the prophet's mission. Those who perish would have perished without it; but without it those who are saved would have perished also. And in this respect Isaiah's ministry was not in vain: while to the vast majority of the nation it was "the savour of death unto death," it was to a few--"the holy seed" of whom also this chapter speaks to us--"the savour of live unto life." They learned to trust, not in Assyria nor in Egypt, but in the Holy One of Israel, and therefore were "kept in perfect peace" amid all the convulsions and catastrophes of their time.

The passage seemed at the outset full of mystery; our tendency was to shun it as one that would not bear investigation, as one about which the least that could be said the better, as one which we could have wished had never been written. What do we see now? That here we have an illustration of the Psalmist's saying, "Clouds and darkness are round about Him"--so to our purblind vision it seems, the brightness being _so_ bright that it dazzles and blinds us; "but righteousness and judgment are the habitation of His throne." What should we learn from this? 1. _Never to fear to investigate anything in God's Word._ There is nothing here which its friends need wish to hide out of sight; it is all worthy of Him from whom it came (Ps. xix. 9). 2. _Never to distrust God because of anything in either His Word or His Providence._ Things that might cause distrust we shall meet with; some of them we shall never explain here, when we can know only "in part;" yet let us keep fast hold of the glorious and gladdening truth, that "in Him is no darkness at all." God is light; God is love.


[1] To a man living in the belief of what is erroneous or the practice of what is wrong you proclaim the truth, and what happens? (1) Either he amends his creed or his conduct; or (2) he _disregards_ what you say, and goes on as before; or (3) he _rejects_ what you say, and cleaves to his error more passionately than he would have done otherwise. The latter is a very frequent result. For example, slavery once prevailed throughout our colonies and the United States of America. Holy men held slaves; they had no suspicion of the wrongfulness of slavery. When its wrongfulness was proclaimed, many abandoned it; but others held to it,--some not caring whether it was wrong or right, looking only to the fact that it was profitable; but others reasoned themselves into a persuasion that it was right, that it is Scriptural, and maintained the system with a tenacity and passion they never felt before its wickedness was declared. In thousands of cases that was the result of the anti-slavery movement. God foresaw it, yet He raised up faithful men to proclaim the doctrines of human brotherhood and freedom, and sent them forth on their perilous errand, saying to them in effect, _"Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed."_ He sent them forth, notwithstanding that He foresaw that one inevitable effect of their mission would be the confirmation of thousands in error, the hardening of thousands in iniquity. In like manner He raised up Isaiah and other prophets to denounce their political schemes--their alliances now with Egypt and now with Assyria--to be huge mistakes, and to exhort them to a life of holiness and of simple trust in God; He foresaw that the result of their efforts would _not_ be the reformation of the nation, and yet He sent them forth!


vi. 9, 10. _And He said, Go, and tell this people, &c._

The Divine message--a message of melting pathos and of startling warning, of beseeching entreaty and of terrible threatening--must be delivered to men. "Go and tell this people" is a command that shatters excuses and imposes an imperative obligation. God's speakers have no option--speak they must (Jonah iii. 2). The effects of God's communications correspond to the willingness or the wilfulness of men.

+I. Divine truth elicits human disposition.+ In the spring season, the sun sits in judgment upon the trees of gardens and forests. Then the trees that have life have it more abundantly. Their latent powers and possibilities are developed and exhibited. The same sun-force smites the decaying trees and shrivels those having only goodliness without life. Is not the Sun of Righteousness "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart"? When on earth, He who is "the Truth" evoked the hidden feelings, purposes, and qualities of men; and His manifold message repeats the process to the end of time (John ix. 39). The ministry of Isaiah was a revealing ministry: the character of men and the character of the nation by it were made manifest. +II. Divine truth repelled because of dislike.+ "Lest they see, hear, understand, be converted and healed." A diseased eye winces under the scorching sunlight, as a disordered soul will flinch under the fierce light that streams upon it from above. The disquieted conscience repels the entrance of the truth, because of the revolutions in thought, disposition, purpose, character, and activity which its admission would necessitate. None are so blind, deaf, insensible as those who do not want to see, hear, or feel (John iii. 19, 20). Men dislike the purpose of God's good but severe discipline: they want not to "be converted and healed," and they recoil from the painful process.[1] +III. Divine truth cannot be rejected without injury.+ Divine truth and grace will not be void of result, though the result may be most injurious (Rom ii. 4, 5). Consequences of lasting duration are involved in our action of opening or shutting the doors of the soul.[2] Not to receive the "grace upon grace" of God is to put the spirit into an attitude of opposition: this attitude can easily become a confirmed habit; and the habit, in righteous retribution, may be ratified (Rev. xxii. 11). Antagonism to God's revelation injures the soul's highest life; its power of vision is dimmed or veiled; the understanding loses its alertness and fails to comprehend; the affections become gross and carnal. Inexorable is the spiritual law and appalling the spiritual doom (Eph. iv. 18). Isaiah unfolded God's design of salvation; but the design was intercepted and frustrated by human perversity. Men "rejected the counsel of God against themselves," and persistent resistance rendered them "past feeling." "Take heed how ye hear." "Hear, and your soul shall live."[3]--_Matthew Braithwaite._


[1] "There is light enough for those whose sincere desire is to see; and darkness enough for those of a contrary disposition. There is brightness enough to illuminate the elect; and enough of obscurity to humble them. There is obscurity enough to blind the reprobate; and brightness enough to condemn them and to leave them without excuse."--_Blaise Pascal._

[2] "The smallest particle of light falling on the sensitive plate produces a chemical change that can never be undone again; and the light of Christ's love, once brought to the knowledge and presented for the acceptance of a soul, stamps on it an ineffaceable sign of its having been there. Once heard, it is henceforward a perpetual element in the whole condition, character, and destiny of the hearer. Every man that ever rejects Christ, does these things thereby--wounds his own conscience, hardens his own heart, and makes himself a worse man, just because he has had a glimpse of holiness, and has willingly, and almost consciously, "loved darkness rather than light." Unbelief is its own judgment, its own condemnation: unbelief, as sin, is punished like other sins, by the perpetuation of deeper and darker forms of itself. Every time that you stifle a conviction, fight down a conviction, or din away a conviction, you have harmed your soul, made yourself a worse man, lowered the tone of your conscience, enfeebled your will, made your heart harder against love; you have drawn another horny scale over the eye that will prevent you from seeing the light that is yonder. You have, as much as in you is, approximated to the other pole of the universe (if I may say that), to the dark and deadly antagonist of mercy, and goodness, and truth, and grace."--_Alexander Maclaren._

[3] "The great iniquity is, or then is the Gospel hid in a sinful sense, when men have it among them, or may have it, and will not hear it; or do hear it, and never understand it,--that is, never apply or set themselves to understand it; or receive no conviction from it; or receive no suitable impression on their hearts from it. Thus, all the while, is the Gospel hid to them by their own iniquity, that they do voluntarily make resisting efforts against it, as everything of sin must have somewhat of _voluntarium_ in it. It supposeth that otherwise a brute agent might be as capable of sin as a rational one, and that cannot be. But here lies the iniquity, that men might understand and they will not; and there is a natural faculty that should turn them, even in their very hearts; but there is a sinful disinclination, and they will not turn. For it is the will that is not turned: "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." And so, when the Gospel is hid, it is hid, not because men cannot see, but because they will not. They do (as it were) pretend the veil; stretch forth the veil before their eyes or bind it close over their own eyes, hoodwink themselves that they will not see. Being thus sinfully hidden, it comes also to be penally hidden by a _nemesis,_ hidden by a just _vindicta._ Ye will not understand, then ye shall not understand; ye will harden your hearts against light, against grace, against the design of the Gospel, and they shall be hardened. Since ye will have it so, so let it be."--_John Howe._

P. D., 2938, 3391.


vi. 11-13. _Then said I, Lord how long? &c._

For an exposition of this passage see note.[1]

Let us look steadily at the _facts_ before us, and then, perchance, we may discern the _lessons_ associated with them. Isaiah desires to know how long his strange and sad mission is to continue; and the answer is, until its utter failure to save his fellow-countrymen from their sins and their impending doom has been demonstrated, until nothing but the mere life-germ of the nation is left. Here really are three facts, full of instruction for us to-day. I. _Isaiah's mission and the calamities he desired to avert by it were to work together._ There was thus a twofold appeal to the men of that generation; and at its close God might have repeated the challenge, "What could I have done more?" (chap. v. 4). Both by offers of mercy and manifestations of righteous anger He sought to deliver them from the doom towards which they madly hastened. Thus God deals with the world to-day: His preachers of righteousness and His judgments because of unrighteousness work side by side; this fact is a conclusive proof that God is not willing that the sinner should die. This is true of nations, and it is true of individuals. II. _Isaiah was to prosecute his mission to the end, notwithstanding the proofs that his efforts to deliver his fellow-countrymen were vain._ This is always the duty of God's messengers: they are to deliver their message, and reiterate it. Whether it is popular or unpopular is a thing of which they are not even to think! the one thing they have to consider and remember is, that it is true. III. _In the midst of all the calamities of his time, Isaiah was sustained by the assurance that the nation he loves should not utterly perish._ Nothing could hurt "the holy seed" that constituted its true life. The Church of to-day is full of imperfections; the forces of unbelief are marshalling themselves against her; it may be that she will again be tried by fierce persecutions: but the Lord's true prophet can survey all these possible calamities with calmness; he knows that "the holy seed" which constitutes her true life cannot be injured by them.

Here, then, is instruction and encouragement for the Lord's prophet to-day. He is to preach the preaching which God has bidden him, regardless of everything but the fact that God had sent it forth. He is not to modify his message, to make it more palatable to his hearers. He must not cease to deliver it, although he sees that his hearers are hardening themselves against it, and so are bringing upon themselves a heavier doom. Comfort he will need, but he must find it in the fact that there is a "holy seed" to whom his ministry will be a blessing, and in whose salvation, if he be faithful to the end, he shall share.

In this passage there are also some supplementary lessons of general interest. 1. We have here an illustration of _the persistence and success of the Divine purposes._ God selected the descendants of Abraham as the instruments through whom He would bless the world (Exod. xix. 5, 6). Their history has been one long struggle against this purpose; but it has not been a frustration of it: their very waywardness and wickedness have afforded occasions for the manifestation of His character, and the consequent revelations both of His goodness and of His severity have been blessings in the world. In spite even of their rejection of His Son they are still His people, and He will at length make them a holy people (Rom. xi. 28-29). 2. _God does not hesitate to use any means that will help to conform His chosen ones to His own ideal._ It is a solemn thing to be chosen of God: that choice may involve possibilities from which flesh and blood shrinks.[2] The way to avoid those possibilities is to find out what God's purpose concerning us is, and endeavour to conform ourselves thereto: then we shall find His choice of us a well-spring of constant blessing. 3. _God does not despise the merest germs of goodness._ Insignificant, comparatively, as was "the holy seed" in Israel, He watched over it with ceaseless care. Comfort there is here for those who lament that there is in them so little of which God can approve. That little He will not despise (1 Kings xiv. 13; Isa. xlii. 3); He sees what possibilities of excellence there are in His chosen ones;[3] and those little germs of excellence He will nourish until they have developed into that which will satisfy even Himself.


[1] He inquired how long this service of hardening and this state of hardness were to continue,--a question forced from him by his sympathy with the nation to which he himself belonged (cf. Exod. xxxii. 9-14), and one which was warranted by the certainty that God, who is ever true to His promises, could not cast off Israel as a people for ever. The answer follows in ver. 11_b_-13: _"Until towns are wasted without inhabitant, and houses are without man, and the ground shall be laid waste, a wilderness, and Jehovah shall put men far away, and there shall be many forsaken places within the land. And is there still a tenth therein, this also again is given up to destruction, like the terebinth and the oak, of which, when they are felled, only a root-stump remains: such a root-stump is the holy seed."_ The hardening judgment would come to an end only when the land of Israel had been made utterly desolate. Up to the words "given up to destruction," the announcement is a threatening one; but from this point to "remains" a consolatory prospect begins to dawn; and in the last three words this brighter prospect, like a distant streak of light, bounds the horizon of the gloomy prophecy. It shall happen as with the terebinth and the oak. These trees were selected as illustrations, not only because they are so near akin to evergreens, and produced a similar impression, or because there were so many associations connected with them in the olden times of Israel's history; but also because they formed such fitting symbols of Israel, on account of their peculiar facility for springing up again from the root (like the beech and nut, for example), even when they had been completely felled. . . . The root-stump was the remnant that had survived the judgment, and the remnant would become a seed, out of which a new Israel would spring up after the old had been destroyed. Thus in a few words is the way sketched out which God would henceforth take with His people. The passage contains an outline of the history of Israel to the end of time. Israel as a nation was indestructible, by virtue of the promise of God; but the mass of the people were doomed to destruction through the judicial sentence of God, and only a remnant, which would be converted, would perpetuate the nationality of Israel, and inherit the glorious future. This law of a blessing sunk in the depths of the curse actually inflicted still prevails in the history of the Jews. The way of salvation is open to all. Individuals find it, and give us a presentiment of what might be and is to be; but the great mass are hopelessly lost, and only when they have been swept away will a holy seed, saved by a covenant-keeping God, grow up into a new and holy Israel, which, according to chap. xxvii. 6, will fill the earth with its fruits, or, as the Apostle expresses it in Romans xi. 12, become "the riches of the Gentiles."--_Delitzsch._

[2] _Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations,_ 86-90, 99-115.

[3] As the eye of the cunning lapidary detects in the rugged pebble, just digged from the mine, the polished diadem that shall sparkle in the diadem of a king; or as the sculptor in the rough block of marble, newly hewn from the quarry, beholds the statue of perfect grace and beauty which is latent there, and waiting but the touch of his hand,--so He who sees all, and the end from the beginning, sees oftentimes greater wonders than these. He sees the saint in the sinner, the saint that shall be in the sinner that is; the wheat in the tare; the shepherd feeding the sheep in the wolf tearing the sheep; Paul in the preacher of the faith in Saul the persecutor of the faith; Israel a prince with God in Jacob the trickster and the supplanter; Matthew the Apostle in Levi the publican; a woman that should love much in a woman sinning much; and in some vine of the earth bringing forth wild grapes and grapes of gall a tree which shall yet bring forth good fruit, and wine to make glad the heart; so that when some, like those over-zealous servants in the parable, would have Him pluck it up, and to cast it without more ado into the wine-press of the wrath of Almighty God, He exclaims rather, "Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it" (Isa. lxv. 8), and is well content to await the end.--_Trench._

See also _Homiletic Encyclopædia,_ &c., 2454 and 3056.


vii. 1-9. _And it came to pass, in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, &c._

The historical statements[1] in these verses afford illustrations of spiritual truths. +I. The powers of evil are confederate against the Lord's people+ (vers. 1, 2, 6). By the combined forces of evil, God's chosen ones have always been assailed. The conflict began in Eden, and has continued ever since. These combined forces attacked our Lord, and appeared for a time, outwardly at least, to conquer. We must expect similar assaults (John xvi. 33). The ultimate object of these foes is to destroy our spiritual life. +II. The Lord's people are often terrified by the action of their foes.+ Two things may contribute to this. 1. _A sense of personal guilt._ Conscience often slumbers in prosperity, but awakens and alarms us when danger threatens. No doubt Ahaz remembered his sin, when he saw his foes were coming. 2. _Distrust of the Lord._ It does not appear that Ahaz told the Lord about his trouble, or sought His help. His idolatry had led him into unbelief--a frequent cause of the Christian's terrors. He looks at his troubles, and sinks, because he does not lay hold on Christ (Matt. xiv. 30). +III. God seeks to allay the fears of His people in the hour of their trouble.+ This is done in three ways. 1. _By exhorting them to keep their minds calm._ "Take heed, and be quiet; fear not, neither be faint-hearted." Picture Ahaz restless, excited, his breast fainting, hope and courage failing. How timely was the prophet's exhortation! how helpful it might have been to Ahaz! Who of us does not know the blessedness of such an appeal? We have been excited, trembling, fainting, because of temporal dangers or spiritual foes, and in our agitation have been likely to do something foolish. But a voice has said, "Fear not; be calm!" Who says, "Fear not"? The loving, omnipotent Saviour, who is able to deliver us. 2. _By showing His people the weakness of their foes._ They are only the "two tails of smoking firebrands." You think them powerful, but they are really weak (1 John iv. 4). 3. _By predicting the failure of the plans of their foes_ (vers. 7-9)--a prediction which was fulfilled sixty-five years afterwards, when Esarhaddon desolated the country, and filled it with foreigners. So God shows to us the weakness of our foes, and predicts their failure. +IV. God shows His people that faith is necessary for the establishment of their peace+ (ver. 9. See also 2 Chron. xx. 20; Isa. xxvi. 3).--_H. F. Walker._


[1] For a statement of these circumstances see following paper: THE VIRGIN'S SON.


vii. 1-9. _And it came to pass, in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, &c._

+I. There are many things calculated to fill us with fear+--sufferings, losses, temptations, death, &c. Especially alarming are combinations of evil: when they threaten, we are apt to feel as did Ahaz and his people (ver. 2). Afflictions seldom come singly: sickness brings poverty in its train, &c.; and the heart is apt to fail before such accumulations of misfortune. +II. But God guarantees the safety of those who trust in Him.+ 1. _He controls all events_ (ver. 7). The Prince of Orange, when he took the field against France and the Emperor, said he had made an alliance with Heaven, and feared not for the result. Much more may the believer be confident in the warfare of life (H. E. I. 200-203, 2372, 2373, 4049, 4055-4058). 2. _It is only while we trust in Him that we are thus in alliance with Him._ Only by trusting in Him are we kept from trusting in that which cannot deliver us--ourselves or our fellow-men, to the exclusion of God and the rejection of His proffered help. Only by trusting in Him are our hearts kept in peace (chap. xxvi. 3, H. E. I. 1893, 1894, 1911-1919, 1923-1926). Only by trusting in Him do we give Him the glory which is His due, and which He will not give to another (H. E. I. 4054). +III. The guarantee of safety which God offers to all who trust Him extends to the soul as well as the body.+ Because of our sins, and the enemies they bring against us, we might well fear; but in the Gospel help is offered, and perfect safety is guaranteed to them that believe. +IV. The inevitable result of refusal to accept the help which God mercifully offers us is ruin.+ Ahaz, refusing the sign offered him, and trusting in Assyria, was overthrown by his ally. There is deadly peril in any other alliance than that which God offers to form with us. Said our Lord to all who are tempted to apostacy, "Remember Lot's wife," and in like manner we may say to all who are tempted to disregard and reject God's offers of help, _Remember Ahaz!_--_John Johnston._


vii. 1, 2. _And it came to pass, in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, &c._

In this brief record of events[1] that occurred so long ago, we may find suggestions of truths which it will be well for us to lay to heart to-day. +I. Men often confidently form purposes when they find it impossible to fulfil+ (ver. 1). Rezin and Pekah no doubt were sure their project would be successful; they left no means untried to make it a success; they had many things to encourage them (2 Chron. xxviii. 5-7); success seemed certain, yet they failed! In verse 6 we have another statement of their purpose, and in verse 7 we are told the real reason why it failed: GOD determined that it should not stand. This is an illustration of much that takes place in our own day, in our own life. Purposes daringly conceived, and wisely and energetically prosecuted, come to nothing; and in such cases GOD is often the real hindrance. He hinders, not because He has any capricious delight in frustrating our plans, but because in them we intend only our own self-aggrandisement. It is with our purposes as with our prayers (Jas. iv. 3). If He hinders, no alliance formed with men can profit us; even Rezin will help in vain. In forming our plans, let us remember and acknowledge our dependence on the permission and help of God (Jas. iv. 13-15; Ps. cxxvii. 1). If plans should be formed for our hurt or overthrow, let us comfort ourselves by remembering that all men are under God's control. The confederacy may be very powerful; most elaborate preparations may be made for the accomplishment of its purpose; but there can be no success unless the Lord will (Dan. iii. 16-18). +II. Men often give way to unreasonable panics+ (ver. 2). Panics are very common, very painful, very dangerous and hurtful. Their cause: lack of faith in God. Without faith in the controlling providence of God, men are naturally as liable to alarm as is a wealthy man who on a foggy night has to make his way through a dangerous quarter of a strange city; he knows not whether those footsteps he hears behind him are those of a policeman or of a garotter! Firmness is the reward of faith--of intelligent confidence exercised by righteous men in a righteous God (Ps. iii. 6; lvi. 11; xci. 5; cxii. 7, 8, &c.). Deliverance from fear is one of the respects in which "godliness has the promise of the life that now is." This blessing may be yours, if you will; yours in times of domestic, of commercial, of national alarm. You may be delivered, if you will, from the supreme fear--fear of death. Christ came into the world for the purpose of delivering you from it (Heb. ii. 14, 15). Yield yourself to be really His, and your end shall be peace (Ps. xxiii. 4; lxxiii. 26).


[1] For a statement of these events, see following paper: THE VIRGIN'S SON.


vii. 3-25. _Then said the Lord unto Isaiah, &c._

In this interview of Isaiah with Ahaz we have an instance--+I. Of God's efforts to turn men from ruinous courses.+ God is the great Lawgiver, and the Judge before whose bar all impenitent transgressors of His law will have to stand. Absolute inflexibility is necessarily His characteristic in both these capacities. But these are not the only capacities He seeks to sustain to us. It is His ambition to be the Saviour of men from sin and ruin. Consequently, He does not merely lay down His law and stand coldly by, to see whether men will keep it or not. He plies them with inducements to keep it. When He sees them bent on transgression, He endeavours to arrest them in their foolish and fatal purpose. Short of that destruction of the freedom of their will, which would be the destruction also of their responsibility and of their possibilities of virtue, He leaves nothing undone to turn them from the broad road that leads to death.[1] By adverse providences, by the strivings of His Holy Spirit, by awakening conscience to an active exercise of its functions, He works upon and in them to will and to do His good pleasure. No sinner has ever gone down to perdition unheeded, unpitied, without attempts to rescue him. Your own experience attests the truth of these statements: you know you had to fight your way through to those transgressions of which you are now ashamed. God's "preventing grace" is a great fact of which we should take reverent heed, and for which we should give fervent thanks.[2] +II. Of the manner in which sinners, by insincere pretences, resist God's saving purposes.+ The stubbornness and insincerity of Ahaz are obvious.[3] But in neither of these is he singular. Sinners who are bent on their sins not seldom go on to the under pretexts of righteousness, with which they endeavour to deceive themselves and others. The greatest crime ever committed was done under a pretext of righteousness (Matt. xxvi. 65). So has it been with countless crimes since. Let us be on our guard against our own hearts (Jer. xvi. 9; Prov. xiv. 12) Let us not act upon any reason which we do not really believe will bear the scrutiny of God. +III. Of the twofold result which always follows such resistance to the Divine purposes.+ 1. _The sinner is, ere long, compelled to confess that the counsels he set aside were counsels of truth and wisdom._ In less than three years, Ahaz had cause to acknowledge the soundness of the advice to which on this memorable day he refused to listen.[4] A typical case. 2. _The obstinate sinner is left to the ruin from which he would not permit God to deliver him._ There is no salvation by force. God acts upon our will, but He will not save us against our will. Neither shall those who refused to be saved from sin be saved from its consequences. If we choose evil, no act of omnipotence will render the choice harmless (chap. iii. 11). Ahaz chose the help of Assyria rather than the help of Jehovah, and with the help of that great and unscrupulous power he had to take its domination and destructiveness (2 Chron. xxviii. 16, 20). Again a typical case. The retributive justice of God is a fact of which it behoves us to be heedful.


[1] Augustine, in his _Confessions,_ makes thankful note of the manner in which in the years of his ungodliness, God had raised up obstacles in his path of sin. When sinful desires raged within him, he says, the means for gratifying them were absent; or when the desires and the means of gratifying them came together, some witness was present to deter him; and when the means were present, and no witnesses stood by to hinder him, the desire to transgress was wanting. He rightly judges that these were no mere accidents or coincidences.

[2] The preventing methods of grace may deservedly pass for some of the prime instances of the Divine mercy to men in this world. For though it ought to be owned for an eminent act of grace to restore one actually fallen, yet there are not wanting arguments to persuade, that it is a greater to keep one from falling. Not to break a limb is more desirable than to have it set and healed, though never so skilfully and well. Preservation in this, as in many other cases, being better a great deal than restoration; since after all is done, it is odds but the scar will remain when the wound is cured and the danger over.--_South._

[3] Ahaz listened in sullen and incredulous silence; and the prophet resumes--"Ask thee a sign of Jehovah thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above." But Ahaz, who looked on Jehovah not as his God, but only (like any of his heathen neighbours) as the god of Judæa, and as such inferior to the god of Assyria; and who had determined to apply to the king of Assyria, or perhaps had already applied to him, as a more trustworthy helper than Jehovah, in the present strait; declines to ask a sign, excusing himself by a contrary use of the words of Moses, "Thou shalt not tempt Jehovah." He refused the sign, because he knew it would confirm the still struggling voice of his conscience; and that voice he had resolved not to obey, since it bid him give up the Assyrian, and trust in Jehovah henceforth.--_Strachey._

[4] Within the space of time figuratively indicated by the time necessary for the child of the prophet to become capable of discerning between good and evil--_i.e.,_ in about three years,--Rezin and Pekah were slain, and the fact that they were but "two tails of smoking firebrands" demonstrated. (See 2 Kings xv. 27-30; xvi. 1-9.)


vii. 4. _Take heed, and be quiet; fear not._

+I. "Take heed."+ This is just what Ahaz fancied he was doing. He was taking heed to the alliance which had been formed for his overthrow, and he was at that very moment doing his best to frustrate it--by strengthening the fortifications of Jerusalem, and by summoning the king of Assyria to his help. This seemed to him and his court supremely wise: it was eminently foolish. He was taking heed exclusively to the danger, and had no attention left for the Divinely-provided defence against it. That defence lay in God's promise made to David (2 Sam. vii. 12-16). From one point of view, it may be said that in allying themselves for the destruction of the royal house of David, Rezin, Pekah, and the son of Tabeal embarked on an enterprise foredoomed to failure; they might as well have conspired to prevent the sun from rising any more in the east. That the descendants of David should reign in Jerusalem and that the sun should rise in the east, were both guaranteed by the same thing--the will and appointment of God. Resistance was as vain in the one case as in the other--that is, while the conditions attached to the promise made to David were observed. For there were conditions attached to it (1 Chron. xxviii. 9; 2 Chron. xv. 2). It was to this great promise and to its essential conditions that God would have Ahaz "take heed."

_"Take heed"_ is good counsel to give to every man standing in covenant relations with God. Many of us stand in such relations to Him, both as the result of the relations in which our parents stood to Him (Ex. xx. 6; Deut. vii. 9, &c.), and as the result of our personal acts; "the seed of the righteous," we have ourselves voluntarily taken the Lord to be our God, and have solemnly sworn to walk before Him in righteousness all the days of our life. Let us then evermore "take heed" to this covenant which God has condescended to make with us. It lays upon us great responsibilities, but it secures to us glorious privileges. Conspicuous among them is this that we need not fear the might of any of our adversaries, whether they be those of the body or of the soul (ch. liv. 17).

+II. "Be quiet."+ Or better, "_And_ be quiet." Quietness would follow naturally from right heed-taking. What was Ahaz doing? He was straining every nerve to do for himself what God had promised to do for him. God had promised to defend Zion and her king, and if Ahaz had had faith in God's promise, the appeal to Assyria for succour would never had been made. Alas! how often have better men than Ahaz failed in this very respect. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the founders of the Hebrew nation, all fell into grievous sin through the want of faith in God's promises which led them to try to do for themselves what God had promised to do for them (cf. Gen. xv. 1, and xx. 11-13; xxvi. 3 and 7; xxv. 23, and xxvii. 24). To what a shameful state of degradation was David brought by the same cause (cf. 1 Sam. xvi. 13 and xxi. 12, 13). How many imitators they have had! God has promised that His people shall be safe and prosperous; but not taking heed to His promises, to how many tricks and devices have they had recourse to secure for themselves the blessing God would surely have sent to them if they had been obedient and believing, and into what shame, misery, and ruin have they plunged themselves.[1] Let their sins be to us as beacons; let us "take heed" to God's covenant on both its sides, and be quiet (Ps. xxxvii. 3-9).

+III. "Fear not."+ Yet there seemed good reason for fear. It was really a powerful confederacy that threatened Ahaz with destruction. Looked at on its human side, it was no groundless panic that had smitten him and his people. Yet the pain of mind and heart which they endured (ver. 2), they endured needlessly. They were really in no danger for their enemies. Their danger lay only in the unbelief and stubbornness of their own hearts. They had but to return to the Lord and they would find Him a refuge and strong tower, as their fathers had done aforetime. _"Fear not"_ is the counsel which I give to God's people to-day. Some of you are fearing greatly; some concerning temporal things, some lest the spiritual conflict you are waging should issue in defeat and eternal ruin. "Take heed" to the promises God has made to you in both these respects; "be quiet," and fret not yourselves in any wise to do evil; with calm and courageous hope wait for the fulfilment of these promises; instead of yielding to distressing, utterly unnecessary, and God-dishonouring fears, say with David (Ps. xxvii. 1, xxxiv. 22).


[1] See _Homiletic Encyclopædia of Illustrations,_ NOS. 173-175, 2017.


vii 4. _Take heed._

The Hebrew word signifies, to prevent or keep off any evil with which we are threatened. The direction ought to extend to all that we do; for not one duty can be rightly performed without diligent attention, and it is no less incumbent upon us than upon the king and people of Judah (H. E. I. 4880-4890). It is a necessary and useful caution, which ought to be reduced to practice at all times, especially in seasons of perplexity and distress, such as that wherein Ahaz and his subjects received this admonition. 1. Take heed to your _senses,_ particularly what you see and hear; for these are the avenues by which sin and vanity, or wisdom and instruction, enter into the heart (H. E. I. 4895). 2. Take heed to your _actions,_ what you do, and how you act, and for what purpose you are employed, that you may happily avoid the many sins and dangers to which you are exposed, and attain the great ends which you ought uniformly to pursue. 3. Take heed to your _tongue,_ that you sin not with your mouth; consider wisely what you say, to whom you speak, and to what purpose, especially when your minds are fretted, and when you feel yourselves under the influence of timidity and disappointment (P. D. 3558, 3559). 4. Take heed to your _hearts,_ and keep them with all diligence, for out of them are the issues of life; attend to the secret operations of your minds, and the objects on which your affections terminate, that you may perceive whether they are properly moderated and directed (H. E. I. 2695-2705, 4887; P. D. 1735).--_Robert Macculloch: Lectures on Isaiah,_ vol. i. p. 395.


vii. 9. _If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established._

"Established" is what every man wishes to be--fixed in fact and in feeling; established like a great oak which, because its roots take fast hold of the soil, is able to grow broader and higher and more luxuriant year by year. Such growth is impossible to a tree that is frequently transplanted. Notwithstanding--nay, in perfect harmony with the desire for progress that is in us all, we all desire to be "established."

But no man can be "established" unless he believes. It is a universal law: No faith, no firmness. There are two things essential to "establishment," to blessedness and peace in life: First, that we should find a good foundation, and then that we should rest upon it calmly and immovably. These are the conditions of social, commercial, political, and scientific blessedness and prosperity. In every realm of human activity, if we would be strong in fact and in feeling, it is essential that we should find something trustworthy, and then that we should trust (H. E. I. 1882-1888).

We are only stating this general truth in its highest form, when we say that if men do not believe in God as He has revealed Himself in His Word, they cannot be "established." 1. God has revealed Himself in His Word _as the righteous Ruler of nations,_ who will exalt the nations that seek after righteousness, and bring swift vengeance upon those who follow courses of evil. What will happen if a statesman, like Ahaz, does not really believe this? He will become a mere politician; he will do what seems to him "expedient." This will often be iniquitous, and this at no distant period will inevitably lead to disaster and ruin (P. D. 2544). 2. God has revealed Himself _as the supporter and rewarder of individual men who are resolved always and simply to do what is right._ Confidence in God as thus revealed to them was the secret of the courage and endurance of the martyrs (Dan. iii. 16-18), and of countless sacrifices for truth and righteousness known only to God, but which He will never forget. But if a man does not really believe this truth, how easily is he swept away by temptation, whether it presents itself threateningly or seductively! 3. God has revealed Himself _as, for Christ's sake, pardoning absolutely all who repent and believe._ Into the hearts of those who accept this revelation there come peace and joy, but into their hearts only. Want of faith in this revelation is the secret of all painful efforts to merit the Divine mercy. 4. God reveals Himself _as the Saviour of His people from sin,_ as their Sanctifier from all the stains of iniquity. Want of faith in this revelation is the secret of the trouble that fills and oppresses many devout souls. They will never travel towards Zion with steadfast feet and rejoicing hearts until they do indeed believe it (Jude 24, 25). 5. God reveals Himself in Christ _as the Good Shepherd who is with His people always._ How troubled, because of the possibilities of life and the mystery of death, are those who do not with any vital faith accept this revelation which He has been pleased to give us! But the twenty-third Psalm is the song of those who do believe it (P. D. 1156-1160).

The practical application of all this is very simple, but supremely important. First, let us inquire whether God is worthy of our trust; and then, if the inquiry should lead us to an affirmative conclusion, let us trust Him. This trust will transform our whole life. No terrors shall have power to dismay us. The misery of Ahaz and his people (ver. 2) we shall never know (H. E. I. 1911-1919); but ours shall be the rejoicing confidence of the spiritual hero of whom Ahaz was such an unworthy descendant (Ps. xxvii. 1-6; P. D. 1177).


vii. 9. _If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established._

Thus closes the address of Isaiah to Ahaz and his people on a very memorable and trying occasion. . . . Its meaning is, Take God at His word; place entire reliance upon Him, and not upon an arm of flesh. If ye will not do this as a country, the state cannot be safe; and if you will not do this as individuals, your minds cannot be composed and established. Now, let us pass from the house of David naturally to the house of David spiritually, and pursue the train of thought set in motion. Let us consider the stability of faith, and the peace it induces. In the Christian's life there are three kinds of stability. +I. There is a stability of judgment.+ This regards the _truths_ of religion. It is of great importance to have a judgment clear and fixed, as it respects the great concerns of the soul and eternity, and the great doctrines of the Gospel of Christ; for as we think we feel, as we feel we desire, and as we desire we act, and as we act our characters are formed and our conditions determined. Instability concerning these great truths is both perilous and painful; but whence is stability to come? Not through human authority; for what one patronises, another denies. Not through human reason (H. E. I. 537, 1087, 2022-2024; P. D. 2926, 2929, 2931, 2934). There must be a revelation received by faith; Divine declarations, believed because God has made them. This leads to an experience which tends still further to establish the Christian in the faith (H. E. I. 1087, 1142-1148). +II. There is a stability of practice.+ This regards the _duties_ of religion (1 Pet. i. 5). In order to see the strength and beauty of the sentiment contained in the text, let us place the believer in three positions. 1. In a place of _secrecy._ To many this is a place of temptation. Not so to the believer. Faith brings God and places Him before us (Gen. xvi. 13; xxxix. 9). 2. _In prosperity and indulgence_ (Prov. i. 32). But faith brings to the Christian the earnests of a better country, the first-fruits and foretastes of it, and thus gives him a victory which others can never achieve (1 John v. 4). 3. In a condition of _suffering and danger_ (Heb. xi. 24-27; Dan. vi. 10; H. E. I. 1911-1919). +III. There is a stability of hope.+ This regards the _comforts_ of religion (Rom. xv. 13; 1 Pet. i. 8; Ps. xxiii. 1, 4, 6). 1. _Beware of unbelief._ It is a grievous offence against God; it is hurtful and perilous to man. Every sin renders our salvation impossible by the law, but only one sin renders it impossible by the Gospel, and that is unbelief; not by any desire or threatening of God, but by its natural tendency and result. For there is only one remedy that can restore a perishing sinner, and if this be rejected, destruction is inevitable (H. E. I. 443). 2. _Labour and pray for an increase of faith_ (Mark ix. 23; 2 Chron. xx. 20).--_William Jay: Sunday Morning Sermons,_ pp. 101-109.


vii. 12. _But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord._

We are commanded to ask for all we need and desire (Matt. vii. 7; Phil. iv. 6). But many say, "I will not ask." +I. Men are apt to act thus when possessed of earthly resources.+ How hard it is for a man of wealth to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread!" He has much goods laid up for many years. How natural for a man in health and prosperity thus to forget his dependence on God (H. E. I. 4000, 4001). Even in trouble a man is apt to look elsewhere for aid: _e.g.,_ in sickness to the physician; even when convinced of sin, to his own efforts, or to a human priest. +II. Men often act thus on the pretence of not tempting God.+ On the ground that their affairs are beneath His notice (H. E. I. 4015-4025, 2245-2248, 2325, 3226, 3403). On the ground that God has already established the laws by which all things are regulated (H. E. I. 3179-3182, 3751, 3752, 3757). +III. But the real reasons why men act thus are because they trust in themselves, and have no real faith in God.+ The real reason why Ahaz did not ask was because he was bent on forming an alliance with Assyria. Let it be ours gratefully to accept the privilege so graciously offered, seeing that God has given us far more than was given to Ahaz: we have all the great and precious promises contained in the Scriptures, the knowledge of the unspeakable gift of God's dear Son, the accumulated experience of all generations of His faithfulness as the hearer of prayer. We may have our own experience of it; if we will but ask, we shall receive. How much greater our sin than that of Ahaz, if in these circumstances we say, "I will not ask!"--_John Johnston._


vii. 12. _But Ahaz said, I will not ask, &c._

In studying what the commentators have to say about this chapter, I met with a sentence that set me thinking. It was this: "In that very hour, in which Isaiah was standing before Ahaz, the fate of Jerusalem was decided for more than two thousand years" (_Delitzsch_). +I. How true is this declaration!+ Ahaz was called upon to choose between the alliance with Assyria and alliance with God. His choice was announced in these four words, "I will not ask;" then he decided against God, and all the disasters which have come upon Jerusalem since that day have been in a very real sense the result of that fatal decision. +II. How typical is this incident!+ How often men, like Ahaz, arrive at decisions which are irrevocable, and unspeakably momentous! 1. To have to make decisions that may be solemn in both these senses is one of the things that make the position of a ruler or statesman so serious. Not to be coveted are the positions in which a man's resolves and utterances become fateful for whole peoples. But Pharaoh was in such a position, and like Ahaz he made a fatal mistake (Exod. x. 28). 2. Few are called to fill positions of such responsibility, but every man is at some juncture called to make a decision the results of which to him individually will be of unspeakable importance. The Young Ruler arrived at such a juncture, and made such a decision. Every one of you will at some moment be called upon to decide for or against Christ, and the decision will be final and irreversible. The fact that it is so will probably not be suspected by you; you will decide against Christ, in the expectation of reversing the decision on some other occasion, _which will never come to you._ This decision you _may_ make now; it is the undeniable possibility which makes the preaching and hearing of the Gospel so solemn a thing. This supreme decision may be made by you in another manner. The test may come to you in another form--in the shape of a temptation appealing to some passion of the mind or lust of the flesh, and your eternal destiny may be determined by the manner in which you deal with that _one_ temptation (H. E. I. 4737, 4738, 4636). 3. Like a railway train, we are continually arriving at "points," and the manner in which we "take" them affects our whole after career. This is true in regard to many things, unspeakably inferior in importance to the questions of surrender or non-surrender to Christ, or of loyalty or disloyalty to Him, but yet of marvellous influence in determining whether our after life is to be happy or miserable: business, social and domestic relations.

In view of these facts--that so much may depend upon any decision we make, and that it is absolutely concealed from us _which_ decisions are final and irrevocable--what is it that, as wise men, it becomes us to do? +1. Let us settle each question that is put before us in the spirit of righteousness.+ Always let us ask only, What is _right?_ (1.) This is the only path of _safety._ (2.) By this path _heroism_ is reached, and _world-wide influence_ may be reached. We think of Moses (Heb. xi. 24-27), of the Apostles (Acts iv. 19, 20), and of Luther before the Diet of Worms, as heroes; but _they_ had no such thought--their only thought was that of fidelity to duty; and it is thus only that true heroism can be reached (P. D. 1189). +2. Let us day by day commit ourselves to the guidance of God,+ praying Him to strengthen our conscience, to sanctify our desires, and so to "work in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure."


vii. 12. _But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord._

Ahaz here poses as a better man than the prophet. He refuses to follow the direction which Isaiah has given him, and refuses, because he alleges, to do so would be wrong. His disregard of what he knows to be a Divine direction, he covers by an appeal to a general principle which God has been pleased to give for our guidance (Deut. vi. 16). Thus he sought to silence the reproaches of conscience within, and of good men without. We may take him as the representative of that large class of persons who for their actions assign reasons that really are not their governing motives, and cover wrong actions by what appear to be cloaks of righteousness, but really are cloaks of hypocrisy.

How numerous these people are! We find them in all ranks of life; there is this skilful use of pretexts in all realms of human activity. +1. Social life,+--_e.g.,_ A man rejects a suitor for his daughter's hand, the suitor being forty-five years of age and the daughter twenty-two, professedly for the excellent reason that too great a disparity in age between man and wife is not desirable but really because the suitor is not sufficiently wealthy. +2. Business,+--_e.g.,_ A man refuses to become security for another, because, he says, he has entered into an undertaking with his partners not to incur any such responsibility, and because it is important that deeds of partnership should be honourably observed; really because he had no wish to oblige the man who asks his aid. +3. Politics.+--Why, this is a form of activity which has to a large extent ceased to be care for the welfare of the city or of the community, and has to the same extent become a game of pretexts, in which broad and great principles are used to cover petty and personal ends. +4. Religion.+--Alas! into this realm also men carry the same spirit and practices. Let us look at some of the prevalent forms of irreligious piety. (1.) There is the man who will not make any confession of Christ, because "religion is a thing between a man's own soul and God." (2.) There is the man who will not join the church, because the members of the church are so inconsistent, and inconsistent Christians are among the greatest of all hindrances to the progress of Christianity. (3.) There is the man who never attends a week-evening service, because "there is no real religion in neglecting one's daily duties, and we are expressly told that we are to be diligent in business." The same man, however, finds it neither impossible nor inconsistent with his duties to attend political meetings and popular concerts. (4.) There is the man who never subscribes to any foreign missionary society, because "religion, like charity, should begin at home, and even in this so-called Christian land there are millions of practical heathen who need to have the Gospel preached to them." How much does this man contribute towards home missions? (5.) There is the man who will not contribute towards any church-building fund, because he does not "believe in bricks and mortar," and because "true religion before God and the Father is--not to build costly sanctuaries--but to help the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world" (cf. John xii. 4-6). (6.) There is the man who has no hesitation in joining in a Sunday excursion, because "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath," and because--the two pleas almost always go together--"it is possible to worship God as truly in the great temple of nature as in any temple built by man." Picture the man as he actually "worships God in the great temple of nature;" and inquire how he feels on Monday after what he calls "a little relaxation on the Sunday." (7.) There is the man who indulges freely in what many people consider worldly amusements, because "it is not well to be too strait-laced; Solomon, indeed, warns us against being righteous over-much; and there is nothing so likely as Pharisaism to disgust young people with religion" (H. E. I. 5038-5043).

So we might go on with this miserable catalogue. Satan, we are told appears sometimes in the guise of an angel of light, and in this respect his children are wonderfully like him; they are marvellously ingenious in using holy principles to cover unholy purposes. But what does all this ingenuity amount to? Whom do they succeed in deceiving? Not men for any length of time. The wolf never succeeds in long completely covering itself with the sheep's clothing. The mask of the hypocrite will slip aside. And when it does so, men despise him for wearing it. Did he show himself as he is, men might, would, condemn him; but they would not despise him so much. And God--He is never deceived. He loathes the false pretenders to righteousness; and ere long He will strip them bare, and expose them to the execration of the universe (H. E. I., 3017-3032; P. D., 1923, 1924, 1930).

What is the practical lesson to be learned from the whole? To pray that God will help us in all things to be sincere; to live, "as seeing Him who is invisible," remembering that _He_ sees what is invisible--the motives underlying the actions that are seen of men. Nothing else can win for us from Christ the priceless commendation, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!"


vii. 13. _Will ye weary my God also?_

In this chapter we are told under what circumstances this question came to be asked. An astonishing assumption underlies it, viz., that anything can be a weariness to God, that anything can be a trial of the Divine patience. Let us think of this.

+I. It is a wonderful and glorious thing that there is a Divine patience to be tried.+ This is a distinctively Biblical idea. Uninstructed by the Scriptures, men naturally think of God as doing as He pleases and when He pleases,--His pleasure being always a selfish one; a Divinity of Power who permits nothing to arrest or delay His purposes, crushing every obstacle as an express train dashes through or over a flock of sheep that has strayed on to its track. Or if men seem with impunity from a time to disregard or defy Him, this is only because He is indifferent to them, caring nothing what they do, because He knows that whensoever He pleases He can destroy them. But in this Book we are taught to think of Him as profoundly interested in what men do, as grieved and provoked by what they do, and as not merely resisting the impulse to destroy them, but as feeling no such impulse; as longing over them with yearning desire that they would, by repentance and reformation render it possible for Him righteously to abstain from dealing with them according to their desserts. The _forbearance_ of God is a conception which we find only in this Book and that should excite our wonder, our thankfulness, our love. This forbearance of God--this marvellous Divine patience with sinful men--what is its secret and explanation? It is the _love_ which God has for us. Love is slow to strike.[1]

+II. It is a sad and terrible thing that the Divine patience should be tried.+ There are some offences that are horrible, because they outrage even our imperfect sense of what is fitting, _e.g.,_ to falsely direct a blind man, so that he shall fall over a precipice; to kill a hunted creature that has fled to us for protection. But of all these outrages, the vilest are sins against love. This is the supremely loathsome thing in seduction, that it is a sin against uninstructed but trustful love. Our whole soul rises in disgust against the brutal wretch who smites to the earth the mother who bore and nursed him. But when we think of what God is, as He is presented to us in scriptures, we see that most heedlessness to His appeals, and warnings, and entreaties, of which we are apt to think so little, is really a horrible offence, because it is a sin against a love the depth and tenderness of which is but faintly imaged forth to us by the purest and most fervent human affection. Persistence in wrong-doing--we see its hatefulness even when it is maintained in spite of human love: the prodigal hardening himself against his mother's entreaties to reform. But what must we say of it as maintained against the entreaties of a love that is more sensitive than any mother's, and that it is rendered so wonderful by the fact that it is associated with a power that could instantly destroy? It is so startling and so horrible that it ought to be impossible. But--

+III. The Divine patience is often tried.+ Sins against it are common. In this respect Ahaz does not stand alone. Men commit such sins without compunction. Have we not done so? With what contempt and indifference we have treated God's expostulations with us! We have deferred the duty of repentance. Why? Very much because we know that God is patient, and will not be swift to take vengeance upon us. We have practised on His forbearance, and thus have been guilty of the basest crime that is possible; we have deliberately sinned against love. Yet we are not troubled; so possible it is to drug conscience; so delusive is peace of conscience in the impenitent. But let us look at our conduct as God must regard it, as any reasonable and holy intelligence must regard it, and let us humble ourselves before Him against whom we have sinned so basely.[2]

+V. Those who tire out the Divine patience shall find themselves righteously confronted by the Divine justice.+[3] God will not be permanently mocked. He would be unworthy of His position if He permitted sin to go unpunished.[4] What the punishment of sin is we do not know, because we are now living in an economy in which justice is tempered by mercy. Yet in the calamities and unspeakable woes that here and now befall obdurate transgressors, we have some faint intimation of what will be their doom when, having rejected mercy, they find themselves given over to the unmitigated rigours of justice. Of these things God has spoken because He would save us from them. All the threatenings of Scripture are merciful warnings.[5] Let us give heed to them, and return to Him who has declared with equal clearness and emphasis that He will by no means clear the guilty, and that He has no delight in the death of the sinner.[6]


[1] H. E. I. 2295.

[2] H. E. I. 2250.

Where men are bent upon wrong there is always a strong tendency to elect a character of God that is not very just, but that is very kind--so kind that behind it they may gain some security in their wrong course. And when God's long-suffering and patience are opened up to men they often say, "Well, if God is a being that is tender and loving, I need not be in a hurry to leave off my evil ways. He will bear with me a little longer, and I do not believe that He will account with me for my petty transgressions." Men deliberately employ God's mercy and goodness to violate His feelings. . . . That is infernal; it is inhuman, because kindness seems to lay almost every man under a debt of gratitude. A dog, even, feels itself laid under a debt of gratitude by kindness. It is only men who are corrupted that would ever think of making goodness, and kindness, and generosity towards them the ground on which to base a violation of these qualities. And yet hundreds say, "God is good, and we will go on a little longer in sin." Yes, He is infinitely good. He has been patient with you; He has longed for you; He has sent ten thousand invisible mercies to you, besides those visible mercies he has showered upon you; He has been long-suffering and forgiving; He has sunk in the depths of the sea thrice ten thousands of transgressions; He did it yesterday, He is doing it to-day, and He will do it to-morrow; and shall you argue with yourself that because God is so good you will go on and insult Him, and wound Him, and injure Him? Or shall the goodness of God lead you to repentance and newness of life? I beseech of you, for the sake of honour and manhood, do not tread upon God's goodness, and generosity, and magnanimity to offend Him more.--_Beecher._

[3] H. E. I. 2296-2301, 2349.

[4] H. E. I. 2316, 2317.

[5] H. E. I. 604, 605.

[6] H. E. I. 2283, 2284.


vii. 13-16. _And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David, &c._

On this supremely difficult passage Dr. Kennicott preached a remarkable sermon before the University of Oxford, on the 19th of May 1765. As this sermon is not readily accessible, I here give some extracts from it.

Concerning these words there have been the four following opinions:--

I. That the whole passage relates only to a son of Isaiah.

II. That the whole passage relates only to CHRIST.

III. That the whole passage relates both to Isaiah's son and to CHRIST; to the former in a primary and literal sense, and in a secondary sense to the latter.

IV. That there are here _two_ prophecies, each literal, and each to be understood in one sense only: the first relating to CHRIST, the second to Isaiah's son.

The first of these opinions is strenuously contended for by Jews and Deists, who, by confining this passage wholly to Isaiah's son, have attempted to derogate from the authority of St. Matthew, who applies it as a prophecy to CHRIST. But the word here translated _virgin_ signifies, in every other part of the Old Testament, a _woman who hath not known man._ And the consequence from hence is, that the words "a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son," cannot be applied properly to Isaiah's wife. As it is here affirmed that the original word signifies a _virgin_ in every other text, it should be just observed that the text in the book of Proverbs (xxx. 18, 19), which has been often brought to prove the contrary, is not here forgotten; and that even _that_ text might (if the nature of this discourse would permit) be explained fairly and to satisfaction, in a manner perfectly consistent with the preceding assertion.

If it should be objected, that the original words are not future, and therefore not likely to point out an event so very distant as the birth of CHRIST, it may be answered that the words are, strongly translated, "Behold! a virgin is conceiving and bearing a son," &c. This mode of speech is the animated but customary style of prophetic Scripture, which, in order to express the greatest certainty, describes future events as _past,_ or paints future scenes as _present_ to the eye. Thus the same prophet, in his most magnificent predictions of the Messiah's birth, exultingly cries, "Unto us a child IS BORN, unto us a son IS GIVEN:" and afterwards, in his pathetic description of the Messiah's sufferings, "He is despised and rejected of men. . . . Surely He HATH BORNE our griefs," &c. But though no argument can be drawn against the Christian sense of these prophetic words from their expressing the then present time, yet an argument of great weight may, and must be, formed upon this very circumstance, in proof of what is here contended for. And certainly, if the words mean _"a virgin is conceiving,"_ a woman conceiving was yet a virgin! this wonderful circumstance was true as to the Virgin Mary, but it was true as to no other woman.

To these remarks upon the original language must be added one arising from the circumstances of the text, for we learn from thence likewise that Isaiah's wife and the birth of a child in the common way cannot have been here intended. And an appeal may safely be made to persons of sense, though wholly unacquainted with the Hebrew language, whether it is at all probable that the prophet should address himself to the house of David so solemnly, on so interesting an occasion; should awaken their attention; should raise their wonder; should promise them in the name of GOD _a sign_ or _miracle;_ should mention the future son, not of a _man_ (as usual) but of a _woman,_ and call that woman _a virgin;_ and should foretell the Birth of IMMANUEL, _i.e.,_ GOD WITH US--and yet that no more was meant by all this than that _a son should be born of a young married woman,_ which is evidently no wonder, no miracle, at all.

If then, from this constant signification of the noun for _virgin,_ from the expression of the words in the _present_ tense, and from the nature of the context, a son of Isaiah by his wife cannot have been here meant; and if the first opinion be consequently proved indefensible, we may now proceed to consider the _second,_ which is that the whole passage of the text relates only to CHRIST.

But these words cannot be wholly applied to an event distant by more than seven hundred years, because the concluding clause speaks of a child either then born, or to be born soon; and before the child so spoken of should be old enough to distinguish natural good from evil, the two kings then advancing against Jerusalem were to be themselves destroyed.

The _third_ is the option of those who contend for a _double_ completion of some prophecies, and insist that this whole passage relates both to Isaiah's son and to CHRIST; to the former in a primary and literal sense, and in a secondary sense to the latter. But--not to enter into that extensive question, whether though some prophecies relate solely to the Messiah, others may, or may not, be doubly fulfilled--I shall only observe, that no such double completion can possibly take place here.

Whether a secondary sense is insisted on, there we must have a primary sense also which is at least _true._ But the present case renders that impossible. Because, if the principle noun does everywhere else signify a _virgin;_ and if it be here meant of the Virgin Mary, and was afterwards properly applied to _her,_ it cannot with any truth be applied to the wife of Isaiah. And further, if it were possible for _every other_ prophecy to admit of a double completion, yet will not _this_--because a child's being conceived and born of a virgin happened in the world only _once;_ and therefore, as this prophecy derives its force from specifying a case _singular and without example,_ it can be fulfilled in _one_ sense only.

There remains then the _fourth_ opinion, which is, that the text contains _two_ distinct prophecies, each literal, and each to be understood in one sense only; the first relating to CHRIST, the second to Isaiah's son. This, which is the opinion of some eminent defenders of Christianity, will (I presume) appear true and satisfactory, when the end of the first prophecy, and the beginning of the second, shall have been properly considered; and when some proofs which seem absolutely necessary, but perhaps were never yet produced, shall have been added to former observations.

The genuine sense of this passage depending greatly on the circumstances of those to whom it was delivered, it is here necessary to state the history.

Ahaz became King of Judah when the people were greatly corrupted, and he himself was strongly inclined to idolatry. To correct, therefore, both king and people, God permitted a powerful confederacy to take place between Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel; who, growing jealous of their formidable neighbour, invaded Judæa in the first year of Ahaz; and so successfully, that above 100,000 of the men of Ahaz were slain in the battle, and above 200,000 of his people were carried captives into the land of Israel.

Flushed with these successes, the two kings thought that Jerusalem itself would soon become an easy prey to their power; and in the second year of Ahaz marched towards it, with a resolution totally to abolish the royal succession, which had been for twelve generations in the house of David, and to establish, in the holy city, a heathen king, a Syrian, "the son of Tabeal."

At the approach of these confederates, "the heart of Ahaz was moved, and the hearts of all his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind." The consternation was universal, and no wonder. For the young king and the corrupt part of his people would easily be led, from the sufferings they had felt, to fear greater. And the religious part of the nation would entertain fears still more alarming, fears of the extinction of the house of David; for were that house to fall, then farewell to all their glorious hope of a Messiah, a son of David, who was to reign for ever. These men, therefore, no doubt, "cried unto the Lord in their distresses," and expostulated with Him concerning "the sure mercies of David:" "Lord, where are Thy old loving-kindnesses, which Thou swearest unto David in Thy truth?"

Amidst these distresses, we find Ahaz "at the end of the conduit of the upper pool," probably surveying that chief source of their water, and contriving how to secure that water to the city, and defend it against the enemy. At this place, constantly frequented by the people, and then visited by the king, attended probably by the chiefs of his family, Isaiah is commanded to meet him, taking with him Shear-jashub, and to declare in the name of Jehovah, that the evil counsel against Jerusalem should not come to pass.

The counsel of these kings was evil, because, in opposition to God's appointment of the royal house of David, and His promises thereto (particularly of Messiah, the Prince, to spring from thence), their compact was, probably, like Eastern conquerors, to destroy the house of David; certainly, to remove the house of David from the throne, and to fix in the holy city a heathen king.

The prophet, having declared to Ahaz that the scheme of the confederates should be frustrated, bids him, at the command of God, ask some sign or miracle, either in heaven or on earth. "But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt Jehovah."

The king's disobedience, however coloured over with a specious piety in his allusion to a text of Scripture, appears from the next words of the prophet to have been highly censurable. And it probably proceeded from his distrust either of the power or the favour of Jehovah, after Judæa had suffered so much from these same enemies who worshipped other gods.

Thus repulsed by the king, the prophet addresses himself at large to "the house of David;" and probably there were then present other persons of the royal family. "Hear ye now, O house of David," &c.

The word _"Therefore"_ (ver. 14) may, upon good authority, be translated _"nevertheless,"_ a sense very applicable to this place. A sign or miracle hath been now offered at the command of God, but is refused; and can _you_ think it of little moment to treat with such contempt both the prophet and his God? "_Nevertheless,_ the Lord Himself will give to _you_ the sign following: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and call His name IMMANUEL. Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good."

Here, I presume, ends this first prophecy, and the meaning may be stated thus: "Fear not, O house of David, the fate threatened you. God is mindful of His promise to your father, and will fulfil it in a very wonderful manner. Behold, a virgin (rather, THE virgin, the only one thus circumstanced) shall conceive, and bear a son; which son shall therefore be what no other has been or shall be, the seed of the woman, here styled THE VIRGIN; and this son 'shall be called' (_i.e.,_ in Scripture language, _He shall be_) IMMANUEL, God with us. But this great Person, this GOD visible amongst men, introduced into the world thus, in a manner that is without example, shall yet be truly _Man:_ He shall be born an infant, and as an infant shall He be brought up; for 'butter and honey' (rather, milk and honey) shall He eat,--He shall be fed with the common food of infants, which in the East was milk mixed with honey, till He shall know (_not_ that He _may_ know, as if such food were to be the cause of such knowledge, but _till_ He shall grow up to know) how to refuse the evil and choose the good."

Here, then, we find a comprehensive description of the Messiah, of the "Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us." His Divinity is marked by His being GOD; His residence upon earth, by His being GOD WITH US; and His Humanity, by His being born of a woman, and fed with the usual food of infants during His infant state. How perfect is the harmony between the parts of this description and the marks of the true Messiah in other sacred passages; and also between the first prophecy in the very beginning of the Old Testament and the completion of it, first mentioned in the very beginning of the New!

For the first promise of a Messiah was, that He should be (not the seed of Adam, as He would have been called, if to descend from a human father, but) "the seed of the woman," because He was to be born of a virgin. Therefore, the Apostle says, "When the fulness of time came, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman." And that it was GOD, not man, who was to "prepare a body" for the Messiah, appears from the fortieth Psalm, according to the Apostle's very remarkable quotation of it, where the Messiah is prophetically represented as saying unto God: "A body didst Thou prepare for Me; then said I, Lo, I come; as in the volume of the Book it is written concerning Me."

Having thus endeavoured to illustrate the first prophecy contained in the text, and to defend the application of it to the Virgin Mary's conception and birth of Jesus Christ, I shall now briefly state the second prophecy, which is thus expressed in our present translation, "For before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings."

Now, that this verse contains a distinct prophecy may be proved thus--

1. The words preceding have been proved to be confined to the Messiah, whose birth was then distant above seven hundred years: whereas, the words _here_ are confined to some child who was not to arrive at years of discretion before the two kings, then advancing against Jerusalem, should be themselves cut off.

2. Some end was undoubtedly to be answered by the presence of Isaiah's son, whom God commanded to take with him on this visit to Ahaz; and yet no use at all appears to have been made of this son, unless he is referred to here.

3. These prophecies are manifestly distinguished by their being addressed to different persons: the first being _plural,_ and addressed to the house of David; but the second is _singular,_ and therefore is addressed to Ahaz.

We see, then, that the prophet addressed himself at large to the "house of David," when he foretold the birth of the Messiah; which, though the event might be very distant, would give present consolation, as it assured them of the preservation of the house of David; but that he addressed himself in particular to the king, when he foretold the speedy destruction of the two kings, his enemies. Note also, that King Ahaz is the person addressed in the very words which immediately follow, "The Lord shall bring upon thee and upon thy people, and upon thy father's house, days," &c.

This transition will be the more evident if we render the first word _But,_ as the same word is rendered just before in the same passage: "Is it a small thing for you to weary men, _but_ will ye weary my God also?" It is so rendered in this very place in our old English Bibles, printed in 1535, 1537, 1539, 1549, 1550.

The word now rendered _"the child,"_ should be here rendered "THIS _child;_" and the sense of the verse may be then clearly ascertained.

The necessity for this last rendering has been observed by more than one expositor, but perhaps no one has quoted any parallel instance, or produced proper authority for this necessary change of our translation. But, that we may not be charged with offering violence to an expression, in order to defend the Evangelists or to confute their adversaries, some authority should be produced in a point on which so much depends, and I shall mention several passages similar to the case now before us.

When Jacob blessed Joseph's two sons, he laid his hands upon their heads, and used the very same word in the plural number which Isaiah here uses in the singular; and as that word is rendered "_these_ children" by the authors of the Greek and other very ancient versions, we have their joint authorities for rendering the word here "_this_ child."

The authors of our own translation have not indeed rendered the word in the text "_this_ child," but they have shown that it _may_ be so rendered, because they have themselves, in several other places, expressed the emphatic article by _this_ and _that_ in the singular number, and by _these_ in the plural. Thus in Jeremiah xxiii. 21, "I have not sent _these_ prophets;" in Numbers xi. 6, "There is nothing before our eyes, but _this_ manna;" in 1 Samuel xxix. 4, "Make _this_ fellow to return;" and, to omit other instances, we read in Jeremiah xxviii. 16 (what it is impossible to translate otherwise), "_This_ year thou shalt die."

But besides these instances, in which similar words _may_ and _must_ be so rendered, agreeably to our present translation, in this same verse of Isaiah there is the authority of our old English translation for both the alterations here proposed; for the very first printed edition, and at least two others, render these words, "_But_ or ever _that_ child," &c. And, to obviate any prejudice against the other alteration before proposed, it should be observed that so far from their being now first thought of to favour any new opinions, almost all of them are the very readings in our former English Bibles, from which our present has varied in this and other instances very improperly.

The translation of the principal word here by _this child_ being thus vindicated, it may perhaps be asked who this child was, and the answer is, A son of Isaiah, called _Shear-jashub,_ whom God had commanded the prophet to take with him upon this occasion, but of whom no use was made, unless in the application of these words;--whom Isaiah might now hold in his arm, and to whom therefore he might point with his hand when he addressed himself to Ahaz, and said, "But before _this_ child shall grow up to discern good from evil, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings." There is an absolute necessity of attending to this action in several other sacred passages, as in John ii. 18, 19. "What sign showest Thou? . . . Destroy this temple;" our Lord there pointing to His own body.

The child's name is evidently prophetical, for it signifies, _a remnant,_ or the remainder, _shall return._ And probably he was so called because born the year before, when such multitudes were carried captives into the land of Israel; and this by way of prediction to the Jews that, though they had lost 100,000 men by the sword in one day, and double that number by captivity, yet those who remained alive--the _remnant_--certainly should return to their own country.

This prophecy was soon after fulfilled. And therefore, this son, whose name had been so consolatory the year before, was with the utmost propriety brought forth now, and made the subject of a second prophecy--namely, that before _that_ child, then in the second year of his age, should be able to distinguish natural good from evil--before he should be about four or five years old--the lands of Syria and Israel, spoken of here as one kingdom, on account of their present union and confederacy, should be "forsaken of both her kings:" which, though at the time highly improbably, came to pass about two years afterwards, when those two kings, who had in vain attempted to conquer Jerusalem, were themselves destroyed, each in his own country.

* * * * * * * *

"If the miraculous birth of Christ were true, yet how could an event so very distant be properly a _sign,_ at the time when the prophecy was delivered?"

To this natural and important question, Dr. Kennicott answers:--

The original word for a _sign_ means also a _miracle._ And as God had offered _Ahaz_ a miracle to be _then_ performed, which had been refused, God Himself promises to _the house of David_ a miracle which should be performed, not then, but _afterwards._ But the word signifies, not only something done at present, to induce a belief of something future, but also something to be done afterwards, declared beforehand in confirmation of something foretold.

Thus, when God commanded Moses to go from the wilderness into Egypt to demand the dismission of his brethren, God assures him of success, and tells him: "This shall be _a sign_ unto thee; when thou hast brought forth the people, ye shall serve God upon this mountain."

And thus, when the Assyrians were marching against Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah, Isaiah is again commanded to declare that the city shall not be taken; and after saying, "This shall be _a sign_ unto you," he specifies several particulars which were all future.[1]

If then a thing, at all future, may be declared as _a sign,_ it makes no difference whether the thing be future by three years or three hundred, provided that one circumstance be observed--which is, that the man, or body of men, to whom the fact is declared to be a sign shall exist to see the thing accomplished. This was manifestly the case here. For not only Ahaz, to whom the second prophecy was delivered, saw that fulfilled as to the two kings his enemies, but also the house of David, to whom the first prophecy as addressed, saw _that_ fulfilled in JESUS CHRIST.


[1] Compare also our Lord's treatment of the demand for a sign, Matt. xii. 38-40. In this case also, to unbelievers, was given a "sign" which they could not possibly have understood when it was given.


vii. 14. _And shall call His name Immanuel._

His being "called so," according to the usual dialect of the Hebrew, does not signify so much that this should be His usual name, as that this should be His real character.

+I. Explain the meaning of this great and extraordinary title,+ IMMANUEL (_cf._ viii. 8 and Matt. i. 23). This title may be considered under a double reference, either, 1. To the constitution of His person; or, 2. To His office and actings as mediator. 1. It is one of the great mysteries of the Christian revelation that "God was manifest in the flesh." The eternal Son of God became man, and was both God and man in His own person. In a matter of pure revelation, and of so sublime a nature, it is certainly the wisest and safest course to keep close to the revelation, and make it the standard and measure of all our conceptions about it. 2. As mediator, He is _Immanuel_ in this sense, that in Him the presence and favour of God with His people are most eminent and conspicuous. This has always been true. (1.) As a distant friend is said to be "with us" whose heart and thoughts are with us (1 Cor. v. 3), so Christ was _Immanuel_ from all eternity as to His purpose and design of mercy, and as His heart was towards us with thoughts of pleasure (Prov. xxix. 30). (2.) All the appearances of God to His people under the Old Dispensation were appearances of Christ (John i. 18, v. 37; 2 Cor. iv. 6). 3. As He took our nature and became man. This is the essential and highest meaning of our text. He took upon Him _our_ nature, with all its parts and powers, all its natural affections and infirmities, sin only excepted. 4. As He conversed with men, and revealed the will of God to them. 5. As He offered Himself a sacrifice for sin, and reconciled God and man together. This is mentioned by the Evangelist in the same context (Matt. i. 21). This was the great end of His taking our nature, and coming into the world (Heb. v. 9). 6. As He gives His Spirit to every true believer, and is powerfully present with them to the end of the world. He is present in them, on the principle of Divine life in their souls (John xiv. 16; Ephes. iii. 17). He is present with them whensoever they assemble to hear His Word or observe His ordinances (Matt. xviii. 20; John xx. 19). He is always present with His Church to preserve and succour it. 7. As He will be the visible Judge of the world at last; He will be the Judge in our nature who was Saviour of our nature (John v. 22; Acts xvii. 13). 8. He will be the glorious and triumphant Head of the redeemed world for ever. Their happiness will lie very much in being with Him and beholding His glory; and their employment in adoring love and triumphant grace.

+II. Consider why this declaration fills the hearts of God's people with joy.+ 1. God is here presented to us as we need Him. God absolutely considered is an awful name; the Divine majesty is bright and glorious, apt to strike an awe upon our minds, to awaken a sense of guilt, and keep us at a distance from Him (Gen. iii. 10; Deut. xxvii. 58; Job xiii. 21). But now He is _God with us,_ God in our nature, conversing with sinful men, and concerned for their good; this abates the natural dread of our minds, and is a ground of holy freedom towards Him (Eph. ii. 18; iii. 12). 2. The union in Christ of all Divine and human perfections--(1) Is the reason of our worship and adoration of Him; (2) Is the proper ground of confidence and trust in Him. We may safely depend upon Him for the accomplishment of His promises and the salvation of our souls, for He is an all-sufficient Saviour. 3. By this great doctrine the solemnity of our future life is relieved. The consideration of Immanuel, or God, in our nature, has been found by pious and devout persons a great relief to their thoughts of the final blessedness; we can conceive with greater ease, and with a more sensible pleasure, of being with Christ than of being with the absolute Deity.

+III. Consider some of the duties which arise out of this wonderful and glorious fact.+ 1. Let us adore the amazing condescension of our blessed Redeemer, who stooped from heaven to earth, consented to become a man, and submitted to die a sacrifice (Phil. ii. 7, 8). 2. Let us maintain constantly and boldly before all men the doctrine of His deity. If He were only a man, or only a creature, of how a rank soever and however dignified, He could not be _God with us;_ He could not restore the fallen world, or obtain by His sacrifice the pardon of sin, or give eternal life. 3. Be always ready to approach Him. Wait upon Him in all the ways of acceptable worship, for the manifestation of His favour and communication of His grace, for further discoveries of His will, and fresh supplies of His Spirit. Particularly attend upon Him at His _table;_ here He is with us in a more familiar and sensible manner in the brightest displays of His mercy and the largest communications of His grace. 4. Regard His presence with you in all your use of the means of grace. 'Tis reckoned a rude affront among men, and a token of great disrespect, to take no notice of a great personage or overlook a superior. Regard His presence with you as a mark of condescending favour, and as the life and soul of all the ordinances you attend upon. This will hallow your thoughts in the use of them, and make them to you "means of grace" indeed.--_W. Harris: Practical Discourses on the Principal Representations of the Messiah throughout the Old Testament,_ pp. 275-304.


(_A Sunday-School Anniversary Sermon._)

vii. 16. _The child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good._

These words, taken above, form a complete sentence; yet they occur in the clause of a sentence which is intended to denote a space of time. Before the child which Isaiah held in his arms[1] should know the difference between right and wrong certain events would take place: in other words, before a space of four or five years at the most would elapse, certain things would occur. But it is not our intention to discuss the prophecy itself; we shall find it more in harmony with the present occasion, and perhaps more profitable, to consider what may be suggested to us by these words thus taken apart from their context.

_"The child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good."_ There is nothing else so important for any child to know as this (H. E. I. 1751). Seldom made the object of education; consequently the majority of lives are failures. No child knows this without training: the child's natural tendencies are precisely the reverse of this. But, if this training is urgently needed, how immense and difficult is the task of those who undertake to give it! How difficult it often is to discern between what is good and what is evil--in all the realms of thought and activity; especially in the moral realm. The difficulty of the text is not to cause us to decline it. We have wonderful helps in it. 1. GOD'S WORD. What a wonderful help that is! What a proof that in the Bible we have God's Word is this, that for helpfulness in this task no other book can be compared with it (H. E. I., 506, 508, 509). Our text reminds us of what should be our object in the Scriptural teaching we give our children. What value is there in any so-called Scriptural instruction that does not tend to cultivate spiritual discernment--hate of what is evil, and love of what is good? 2. THE EXAMPLE OF CHRIST, "the law drawn out in living characters." Let us not overlook or neglect to use this marvellous instrumentality and help. 3. THE HOLY SPIRIT. Always ready to co-operate with us. Christian parents, let the remembrance of these helps encourage you to resume this supremely important task with fresh vigour. Keep it ever in view, aim at the whole of it. The training which consists merely in fighting against evil is foredoomed to fail. The child must be taught, not merely to refuse the evil, but to choose the good. Do not be content in the field of your child's heart merely to plough up the weeds; so there the corn which, when it is full grown, shall overshadow and kill the weeds which, in spite of all your efforts, will struggle for a place there. In those who undertake to give this training, there is imperative need of seriousness, humility, hopefulness, and a wise comprehensiveness. Consider what will be the result of success in child-training such as this. 1. Our children will be spared from indescribable misery. 2. They will grow continually in all that is noble and love-worthy. 3. Learning to choose what is good, they will necessarily choose God as He has been thus revealed to us in Jesus Christ. 4. Beholding them thus allied in heart and will to the supreme source of all goodness, and daily becoming more like Him, we shall feel that all our labours and sacrifices for them are overpaid.


[1] See the paper entitled THE VIRGIN'S SON.


vii. 17-25. _The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people, &c._

+I. God is sovereign in the whole earth.+ He is the great controller of all nations. All governments are but instruments which He uses when and as He pleases (vers. 17-21). A thought full of comfort for the righteous, of terror for the unrighteous.

+II. The consequent insecurity of all prosperity that is not based upon, and promotive of, righteousness+ (ver. 23). True of nations: Britain will be "_Great_ Britain" only so long as God pleases. True of individuals: (H. E. I. 3991, 4403-4406).

+III. Whatever chastisements God may have inflicted, He has always a more terrible one behind+ (ver. 17).

IV. Seeing that all these things were threatened against and inflicted upon God's chosen people, learn that +no mercy that God has shown us will furnish any immunity for us, if, notwithstanding that mercy, we sin against Him.+ There is a tendency in our evil hearts to think, that because God has been spiritually good to us, we may sin with less risk than others; but the teaching of the Bible is, that those who "turn the grace of God into lasciviousness" shall be visited with a sorer doom than others (H. E. I. 4564, 4568, 4570).


viii. 1-4. _Moreover, the Lord said unto me, Take thee a great roll,_ &c._[1]

This singular record reminds us, +I. How marvellously varied are the means which God employs to bring men to a knowledge and belief of saving truth.+ That which God's ancient people needed to save them from their mistakes and miseries was real faith in the elementary truth that God is the only safe counsellor, for this simple reason, that He alone sees the end from the beginning. All their circumstances, interpreted by merely human wisdom, seemed to point to the desirableness of an alliance with Assyria, the very thing which God by His prophets emphatically forbade. That it might be easier for them to believe what seemed so incredible, namely, that the Assyrian alliance would be a calamity and not a blessing to them, God gave, in addition to the testimonies of His prophets to this effect, a prophecy of an event seemingly as incredible, namely, that the great power of the two nations, Israel and Syria, from which they had suffered so much, and which seemed so likely to be permanent, and on account of which they sought Assyrian help, should be utterly broken, and that speedily. God predicted this in words (chap. vii. 4-9), and He condescended to a symbolic act that He might impress this truth more vividly on their minds. It is of that symbolic act that we have the record here. Now that God took so much trouble for such a purpose is a fact worth thinking about. As a matter of fact, it is but one instance of His constant method of dealing with men. He is so bent on bringing them to a knowledge and belief of truth that to them would be saving, that He shrinks from no trouble at all likely to secure this result (Jer. vii. 13, 25; Heb. i. 1; Luke xx. 10-13). Illustrate, _e.g.,_ how various are the methods by which He endeavours to awaken a careless soul to anxiety, and to effect its conversion! What is the explanation of this versatility and ingenuity of methods in dealing with us? It is the tenderness of His love for us; it is His yearning solicitude for our welfare.

+II. How mercifully clear are the warnings by which God seeks to turn men from ruinous courses.+ The tablet[2] on which Isaiah was to write was to be large, and he was to write upon it "with a man's pen," an obscure expression, but yet at least meaning this, that the writing upon it was to be easily legible (Hab. ii. 2). It is true that though the words on the tablet were easily legible, their meaning was obscure. But that very obscurity was of a kind to excite inquiry (Dan. v. 5-7), and that inquiry earnestly and honestly conducted would have led God's ancient people to a saving knowledge of truth. Thus it is with all the warnings contained in God's Word (H. E. I. 602-606).

+III. How important it is that God's servants should be prudent as well as zealous.+ After the prophecy was fulfilled, unbelief might have questioned whether it had ever been given, and therefore Isaiah, acting under Divine direction, selected two witnesses whose testimony could not be gainsaid.[3] Probably that which they were required to testify was, that the prophecy, _and its interpretation,_ was delivered to them on a certain day; the interpretation embracing both the facts, that to the prophet another son was to be born, and that while still in his infancy the two nations of which Judah stood in dread should themselves be conquered. Isaiah was thus acting on the general principle given by our Lord for the guidance of His people (Matt. x. 16). Now, as then, His prophets, while loyally obedient to His directions, should maintain a constant wariness and prudence, in order that the testimony they bear for Him should be placed beyond cavil and dispute.

+IV. How certain of accomplishment are the prophecies involved in God-given names.+ The prophecy contained in the name bestowed on this child of Isaiah's was fulfilled.[4] So already had that implied in the name bestowed on the child previously born to him, _Shear-jashub,_ "a remnant shall return."[5] As it was with the sons of Isaiah, so is it with the Son of God. The names bestowed on Him are not merely glorious but empty titles. He is the very truth JESUS and IMMANUEL (Matt. i. 21-23). He is JESUS because IMMANUEL. On the promises involved in these great names we may lay hold with joyful confidence, for they also shall be fulfilled.


[1] In the first chapter of Hosea occurs a like instance of symbolic names given by a prophet to his children, and in Habakkuk ii. 2, we have mention of the practice of writing a prophecy on a tablet in easily legible characters, and hanging it up in the Temple, market-place, or other public resort. And most modern commentators prefer to think that Isaiah now merely inscribed "HASTE PLUNDER, SPEED SPOIL," in large letters on a metal or waxed tablet, the לִ which the Authorised Version translates "concerning," being the _Lamed_ inscription is, in Jerem. xlix. 1, 7, 23, 28; Ezek. xxxvii. 16; though it may be observed that the direction to "tie up and seal the testimony," in ver. 16, is in favour of the older version, which understands him to have made a record of his expectation of the birth of the child, and of the significance of that birth, at some length. He wrote "with a man's pen," or "style,"--a phrase not unlike our "common hand" or "popular style;" and he took as credible witnesses that the record had preceded the event, Uriah the high priest at the time (2 Kings xvi. 10), and Zechariah, who was not improbably the father-in-law of Ahaz and a Levite (2 Kings xxviii. 2; 2 Chron. xxix. 1, 18). He calls his wife "the prophetess," as the wife of a king is called a queen (says Vitringa), though she does not reign, and in some old ecclesiastical canons the wife of a bishop "episcopa," and of a presbyter "presbytera;" and he thus claims for her a place with her husband and children (see ver. 18) in the holy and symbolic family, who are for "a sign in Israel." She gave birth to a child, and his name was called, in accordance with the writing, "Haste-plunder, Speed-spoil," that the people might understand that before he was old enough to utter the words "father" and "mother,"--that is, within a short but somewhat indefinite period such as we should express by "in a year or two from his birth,"--the spoils of the plundered cities of Samaria and Damascus, the capitals of the nations now invading Judah, shall have been carried before the Assyrian conqueror in triumph.

In order to realise the practical impressiveness of such symbolic acts and names upon Isaiah's contemporaries, we must remember that Jerusalem was a very small town for size and population compared with the notion we insensibly get of a capital from our own vast London; and also that there was as little in the ways of thinking and living of that age and country as in the extent of the city to effect such a separation between a public man's political and private life as exists in England. We respect the domestic reserve of our neighbours, and we fortify ourselves in the like reserve, by our habit of learning what they are doing that concerns us through the newspaper which we read by our own fireside. With no newspapers, and a climate which encouraged an out-of-door life, the people of Jerusalem would become as familiar with that personal demeanour of Isaiah in the market-place or elsewhere which he made a part of his public ministry, as we are with the mental habits and political conduct of Mr. Gladstone or Mr. Disraeli, though the greater part of us would recognise neither of them by sight, and still fewer know anything of their personal and private life.--_Strachey._

[2] _A great roll._ Rather, _a large tablet:_ of wood or metal, covered with a smooth surface of wax; which, when written upon, was hung up in public for all to read (cf. Jer. xxxii. 11, 14).--_Kay._

[3] _Faithful witnesses._ Or, _sure_ witnesses; whose testimony none would be able to gainsay: partly, because of their rank, but still more, it would seem, from their being adherents of Ahaz. For "Uriah the priest" can scarcely be any other than the one who made the Syrian altar after the description sent him from Damascus by Ahaz (2 Kings xvi. 10-16); thereby (as Mr. Birks notices) furnishing incontrovertible evidence of the fulfilment of Isaiah's prediction. Zechariah may have been Ahaz's own father-in-law (2 Chron. xxix. 1).--_Kay._

[4] Isaiah's interview with Ahaz (chap. vii.), the preparation of the tablet, the birth of Isaiah's child, and the conquest of Syria and Israel by the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser all took place within the year 743-739 B.C.

_Alexander_ remarks on ver. 4:--"Samaria is here put for the kingdom, and not for the capital city. But even if the name be strictly understood, there is no reason to doubt that Samaria was plundered by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings xv. 29), although not destroyed. . . . The carrying away of its wealth does not necessarily imply anything more than such a spoiling of the capital as might be expected in the course of a brief but successful invasion."

[5] See Dr. Kennicott's remarks on _Shear-jashub_ in preceding paper: THE VIRGIN'S SON.


viii. 5-8. _Forasmuch as this people refuseth, &c._

For "rejoice _in_ Rezin and Remaliah's son," read "rejoice _concerning_ Rezin and Remaliah's son," _i.e.,_ rejoice in the disaster which had befallen the allied powers who had inflicted such disasters upon Judah, and had threatened it with utter destruction.

We have here a prophecy given in symbols. One of them is explained by the prophet himself. He explains that by "the river" he means the King of Assyria. Commentators are generally of opinion that by "the waters of Shiloah" is meant the Davidic dynasty, which God, on certain conditions, had pledged Himself to maintain. But this put them to hard shifts to explain the rejoicing of the people. It is better to regard "the waters of Shiloah" as symbolical of the help which God offered His people. The contrast then becomes intelligible. Because that help was unseen--apprehensible only by faith--it seemed to the multitudes, when compared with that which the King of Assyria was visibly rendering them, in the overthrow of Syria and Israel, to be as little worthy of consideration as is the little stream of Shiloah[1] in comparison with that mighty river, the Euphrates.[2] We have, then, here _the case of men who are rejoicing in a success that is godless,_ that has been obtained by the rejection of God; and we are here told what the end of that success must be. Thus we find a theme that bears upon our life to-day.

1. Whatever be our life-work, there are two ways of seeking success in it--with God, or without God. 2. If we take God to be our ally, we must do our work on _His_ terms and plans. But these are frequently contrary to our natural expectations, and opposed to what the world calls "common sense." As helps to a speedy and great success, they seem to most men as despicable as the little stream of Shiloah in comparison with the broad river Euphrates. 3. Consequently the vast majority of men reject them, and seek for success without God, and contrary to His methods (H. E. I. 4198). 4. In this way, they frequently speedily attain to a success which appears to be a complete justification of the wisdom of their policy. When the prophecy contained in our text was uttered, the forces of Syria and Israel were being swept away by the triumphant Assyrian host, and no doubt Ahaz and His court felt they could afford to laugh at Isaiah, who had steadily opposed the alliance which appeared to have been so advantageous. 5. But the triumph of the wicked is short. The unholy success in which bad men rejoice contains within itself the seeds of peril and pain, of retribution, and ruin (H. E. I. 4609, 4612). The ally in whom Ahaz had trusted presently became his oppressor; it was a verification in actual life of the fable of the horse that took a man for its ally. So it is to-day with all who prosper without God and against God. Their prosperity is, strictly speaking, unnatural, and everything that is unnatural speedily brings on disorder. For example, a family has been enriched by godless plans; to those who have no fear of God in their hearts, there is nothing so perilous as wealth; it is used for the gratification of the baser passions; by this gratification health is broken down; when the physical frame is shattered, conscience, that has been suppressed, breaks forth into freedom and activity, and remorse turns the gilded palace into a hell. The illustrations of the working of this great law are endless.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS.--1. In the conduct of daily life, as well as in our spiritual concerns, let us walk by faith, not by sight. God's help, though it may seem inconsiderable as Shiloah's stream, is yet, like that stream, constant. Our reliance upon it will never issue in disappointment. By means of it we shall certainly attain to all the prosperity that would be for our real welfare (H. E. I. 3984-3986, 5059, 5060). 2. Let us not envy the prosperity of the wicked (H. E. I. 4943-4948, 4961-4966). It is short-lived, like the mighty flood of Euphrates itself. Out of that very prosperity heart-aches innumerable will spring. The rejoicing that is so exultant and scornful to-day, to-morrow will be turned into lamentation and woe. Then those who triumphed without God will find that in defeat they are without Him: this will be their description, "Without God, and without hope in the world." 3. When Jesus of Nazareth was called to choose between the stream and the river, His decision was prompt and unhesitating (Matt. iv. 8-10). Up to the very end of His life His choice seemed to have been a foolish one (Matt. viii. 20); on Calvary it seemed to have been madness: but all history since has been a vindication of its wisdom (Phil. ii. 9, 10).


[1] All accounts combined in asserting that the waters of the two pools of Siloam, as well as that of the many fountains of the "Mosque of Omar," proceed from a spring or reservoir of water beneath the Temple vaults. There was no period of its history when such a provision would not have been important to the Temple for the ablutions of the Jewish, no less than of the Mussulman, worship; or to the city, which else was dry even to a proverb. It was the treasure of Jerusalem, its support through all its numerous sieges, the _"fons perennis aquæ"_ of Tacitus, the source of Milton's

"Brook that flowed Hard by the oracle of God."

But, more than this, it was the image which entered into the very heart of the prophetical idea of Jerusalem (Ps. xlvi. 4, lxxxvii. 7; Isa. xii. 3). It is the source of all the freshness and verdure of the vale of Hinnom. In Ezekiel's vision the thought is expanded into a vast cataract flowing out through the Temple rock eastward and westward into the ravines of Hinnom and Kedron, till they swell into a mighty river, fertilising the desert of the Dead Sea. And with still greater distinctness the thought appears again, and for the last time, in the discourse, when in the courts of the Temple, "in the last day, that great day of the feast" [of Tabernacles], "Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me. . . . out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water."--_Stanley._

The expression in Isaiah, "waters of Shiloah that go softly," seems to point to the slender rivulet, flowing gently, though once very profusely, out of Siloam into the lower breadth of level, where the king's gardens, or "royal paradise," stood, and which is still the greenest spot about the Holy City, reclaimed from sterility into a fair oasis of olive groves, fig-trees, pomegranates, &c., by the tiny rill that flows out of Siloam. A winter-torrent, like the Kedron, or a swelling river like the Euphrates, carries havoc with it by sweeping off soil, trees, and terraces; but this Siloam-fed rill flows softly, fertilising and beautifying the region through which it passes.--_Bonar._

[2] The Euphrates, _i.e.,_ the good and abounding river. The Euphrates is the largest, the longest, and by far the most important of the rivers of Western Asia. It rises from two chief sources in the Armenian mountains . . . they meet at _Kebben-Maten,_ nearly in the long. 39° E. from Greenwich, having run respectively 400 and 270 miles. Here the stream formed by their combined waters is 120 yards wide, rapid and very deep. . . . The entire course is calculated at 1760 miles, nearly 650 more than that of the Tigris, and only 200 short of that of the Indus; and of this distance more than two-thirds (1200 miles) is navigable for boats, and even, as the expedition of Colonel Chesney proved, for small steamers. The width of the river is greatest at the distance of 700 or 800 miles from its mouth, that is to say, from its junction with the _Khabour_ to the village of Werai. It there averages 400 yards. . . . The annual inundation of the Euphrates is caused by the melting of the snows in the Armenian highlands. It occurs in the month of May. . . . The Tigris scarcely ever overflows, but the Euphrates inundates large tracts on both sides of its course from Hît downwards.--_Rawlinson._

Considered in a commercial respect, as well as with regard to its uses in agriculture, the Euphrates manifestly stood in the same relation to Babylon and the surrounding region that the Nile did to Egypt; it was the source, to a large extent, of its prosperity, and the most important element of its greatness. It is in this relation that the _symbolical_ use of the Euphrates in Scripture proceeds, and by keeping it in view the several passages will be found to admit to an easy explanation. Contributing so materially to the resources and wealth of Babylon, the river was naturally taken for an emblem or representative of the city itself, and of the empire of which it was the capital. In this respect a striking application is made of it by the prophet Isaiah (chap. viii. 5-8), where the little kingdom of Judah, with its circumscribed territory and its few earthly resources, on the one hand is seen imaged in the tiny brooklet of Shiloah; while, on the other, the rising power of Babylon is spoken of under the emblem of "the waters of the river, strong and many, even the King of Assyria and all his glory." And he goes on to expose the folly of Israel's [Judah's] trusting in this foreign power on account of its material greatness, by declaring that in consequence of this mistaken trust, and in chastisement of it, the mighty stream would, as it were, desert its proper channel, and turn its waters in a sweeping and desolating flood over the Holy Land.--_Fairbairn._


viii. 6-8. _Forasmuch as this people refuseth the waters of Shiloah that go softly, &c._

Reminded, I. That the peaceful blessing of the people of God appear in lovely contrast to the false and tumultuous pursuits and pleasures of the world (H. E. I. 1080-1084, 4163-4168). II. That those who despise and neglect God's promised blessings expose themselves to His severe displeasure.--_Samuel Thodey._

I. _The state of mind referred to:_ A disposition to reject God's promises of salvation, and rest on the hopes, promises, and resources of the world. We see it manifested, 1. In the systems of religion men prefer. 2. In the schemes of worldly aggrandisement they pursue. 3. In the sources of consolation to which they betake themselves (H. E. I. 174). II. _The consequence of continuance in this state of mind._ 1. Mental darkness and sorrow of heart. 2. Providential chastisements.--_Samuel Thodey._


viii. 9, 10. _Associate yourselves, O ye people, and ye shall be broken in pieces, &c._

This is a shout of triumphant defiance which Ahaz and his people might have raised, had they listened to Isaiah's counsels, and turned to the Lord with full purpose of heart. Then they might have been threatened by foes numerous, powerful, determined, and confederated, but they would have been safe. Its doctrine clearly is, that it matters not who may be against us, if God be with us. This has been the faith of God's people in all generations.

+I. On what ground does it rest?+ 1. On what may be regarded as a settled conviction of the human mind, that this world, disordered as it is, is really governed by a righteous Ruler, omnipotent and all-wise, and that it must be well with those who have Him on their side. 2. On the declarations of God's Word (Gen. xv. 1; Ps. xxxiv. 7; Isa. liv. 17, &c.) 3. On the experience of His people as recorded in His Word. The promise to Abraham was kept; David (1 Sam. xvii. 37); Hezekiah (2 Kings xix. 32-35); Daniel and his companions (Dan. vi. 22, iii. 28); Peter (Acts xii. 7). On these accounts His people have felt and expressed the utmost contempt for, and defiance of, their foes (Ps. xxvii. 1-6; Micah vii. 8-10). Old as these utterances are, they express the confidence of countless thousands to-day. But, +II.+ Let us look at +the grounds that might cause us to hesitate to receive it.+ 1. There is the undoubted fact that we are living in a world in which many things happen that are contrary to what we would have expected; and it would be only one more contradiction of our _à priori_ expectations if a good man, or a number of good men, were utterly destroyed by a number of bad men. 2. As a matter of fact, this has often happened. Who were "the noble army of martyrs," but good men who suffered intolerable wrongs, and were put to cruel deaths? If Peter was delivered, James, his fellow-apostle, was left to his fate (Acts xii. 2); yea, Peter himself at last died by the hands of the executioner, as did nearly all the Apostles. See, what a terrible record of the sufferings of righteous men we have in Heb. xi. 35-37. +III. How are these two sets of facts to be harmonised?+ How account for it that, notwithstanding the latter set, which are obvious and not denied, it is still the settled conviction of pious and otherwise sensible men, that it shall be well with the righteous? 1. This _is_ undoubtedly true, on the whole. We see what is the teaching of experience, taken on any considerable scale, in the familiar proverb, "Honesty is the best policy." Deadly as is the conflict between the powers of good and of evil, on the whole, the victory is on the side of goodness, of righteousness, of truth. The world grows better, not worse (H. E. I. 1161, 1162). And it is manifest that "godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well of that which is to come." 2. The exceptions to which our attention is directed are necessary. Without them the difficulties in the way of the existence and growth of virtue would be immensely increased. If those who served God ran no risk in doing so, it would be as difficult for them to show that they loved Him for His own sake, as it would be for soldiers to prove their bravery, if it were possible to send them forth to battle in absolutely impregnable armour. If the safety assured to God's people were absolute and without exceptions, there would be no room for the exercise of faith and loyalty. 3. This life is not all. It is but the prelude to our real existence; and for whatever we suffer in God's cause here, we shall be abundantly compensated hereafter. So that, with Sir Thomas More, we may say, "They may take off my head, but hurt me they cannot."

This is a plain and sober statement of the facts of this great problem. What are the practical inferences to be drawn from it? 1. _Let us dismiss from our minds all fears for the cause of truth and righteousness. That_ is safe (2 Cor. xiii. 8). God's Church and God's Word will survive all the assaults that are made upon them (H. E. I. 642-645, 1246-1251, 2449). 2. _Let us not be greatly concerned as to what may happen to ourselves._ If God pleases, He can deliver us from any danger that may threaten us. If He is not pleased to do so, He knows how to make our sufferings promote the cause we have at heart. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church" (P. D. 2421, 2422, 2426). 3. _If we are called to suffer, let us rejoice_ (Phil. i. 29; 2 Tim. ii. 9; P. D. 2419).


viii. 11-15. _For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, &c._[1]

God's people are to be "a peculiar people." Their whole life is to be governed by Divine principles. 1. By these principles they will be saved from the grievous practical heresy of abstention from public life.[2] Civilised life, especially in a free community, is a partnership, and no man has a right to take all the advantages of a partnership and evade all its labours and obligations. "Owe no man anything." We are bound to labour as well as pray, that God's will may be done on earth as it is done in heaven. The result of abstention on the part of Christian men from public life is the domination of bad men, and the employment of the resources of the community for evil purposes (Ps. xii. 8). If we need example in this matter, we have the example of the prophets, who were much more than preachers of a monastic piety: they were active politicians, and yet politicians of an utterly unworldly type. 2. By these principles they will be guided and kept aid all the duties and difficulties of public life. They will be uplifted above party spirit in all its narrow and debasing forms. Theirs will be that true patriotism which consists in a steady loyalty to truth, and righteousness, and mercy.

If we are to be Biblical politicians, and this is the duty of every man among us, +I. We shall not necessarily be found on the side of the majority+ (ver. 11). How often God's people have been called to stand in what is called "a miserable minority!" (Exod. xxiii. 2). +II. We shall not necessarily adopt as our own the popular cries+ (ver. 12).[3] _Vox populi_ is often far other than _Vox Dei._ +III. We shall not necessarily share in the prevalent feelings of our time,+ whether they be those of fear or of hope (ver. 13). We shall know that no permanent hurt can be done to our nation while it is in pursuit of righteousness, and that no real advantage can be gained by methods that will not bear the Divine scrutiny. +IV. Our supreme desire will be, not to conciliate men, but to please God+ (ver. 13). We shall consider all public questions, and vote for, and withhold our vote from, all public men, as in His sight (Heb. xi. 27). This may cause us often to cut ourselves off from our "party," but this will not trouble us. Hostility may thus be excited against us--will be excited against us, for such "impracticable men" are the abhorrence of mere politicians; but then God Himself will be to us "for a sanctuary."[4] +V. We shall never lose sight of the fact that the penalty of ungodliness in public life is ruin+ (vers. 14, 15). The real Ruler of the world is God, who governs it according to a plan of truth, righteousness, and mercy; and every human "policy" which is not consistent therewith, though it may win for its authors a short-lived triumph, will inevitably plunge those who accept it into disaster. From those who fight against God, utter defeat cannot be far off.

When these facts are inwrought in the understandings and consciences of God's people and have become influential in their public and political life, much will have been done to usher in the millennium for which we daily pray, and of which Isaiah himself has given us such glowing pictures (chaps. ii. 4, xxxii. 16, 17; lx. 17).


[1] There was a general panic among the people: "their heart was moved as the trees of the wood are moved by the wind," when they heard that Syria was confederate with Ephraim; their cry was everywhere, "A confederacy has been made against us, and we must meet it by a counter-alliance with Assyria;" and the prophet says that he too should have fallen under the influence of this panic, if Jehovah had not laid hold of him with a strong hand, to keep him in the way of dependence on Himself, and if He had not taught him to escape the fear which possessed his fellow-countrymen, by making the Lord of hosts his fear and his dread, by sanctifying Him himself, as he now in His name calls on them to do. To sanctify Jehovah is in mind and practice to recognise Him as the _holy_ God, the Lord who is _absolute_ (absolutus), free from the limitations which hinder all other beings from carrying their wills into full operation, and to believe with the whole heart that God does and can govern all things according to the counsel of His own will, and that what He determines does certainly come to pass, however probabilities and appearances may be against the belief (Num. xx. 12; Deut. xxxii. 51; Isa. xxix. 23). To the nation which thus sanctifies Jehovah, He (says Isaiah) will be their sanctuary--their protection against all their enemies. Such was His original covenant with both the houses of Israel, and it still holds good. If, therefore, they will break and renounce it, it becomes a stumbling-block to them. When their statesmen endeavour to remedy present mischief and secure future prosperity, by craftily playing off against one another the nations who they cannot hope to match by force, they are attempting to go counter to the whole plan of Jehovah's government, and they will do it only to their own confusion.--_Strachey._

[2] H. E. I. 4137-4139.

[3] The prophet, and such as were on his side, were not to call that _kesher_ which the great mass of the people called _kesher_ (cf. 2 Chron. xxiii. 13, "She said, Treason, treason! _Kesher, kesher!"); . . . the reference is to the conspiracy, as it was called, of the prophet and his disciples. The same thing happened to Isaiah as to Amos (Amos vii. 10) and to Jeremiah. Whenever the prophets were at all zealous in their opposition to the appeal for foreign aid, they were accused and branded as standing in the service of the enemy, and conspiring for the overthrow of the kingdom.--_Delitzsch._

[4] _Mikdash_ generally means the sanctified place or sanctuary, with which the idea of an asylum would easily associate itself, since even among the Israelites the Temple was regarded and respected as an asylum (1 Kings i. 50; ii. 28). . . . _Mikdash_ is really to be taken in this sense, although it cannot be exactly rendered "asylum," since this would improperly limit the meaning of the word. The Temple was not only a place of shelter, but also of grace, blessing, and peace. All who sanctified the Lord of lords He surrounded like temple walls; hid them in Himself, whilst death and tribulation reigned without, and comforted, fed, and blessed them in his own gracious fellowship (chap. iv. 5, 6; Ps. xxvii. 5; xxxi. 20).--_Delitzsch._


viii. 13. _Sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself; and let Him be your fear, &c._

+I. What is it to "sanctify the Lord of hosts Himself"?+ It is, 1. To fill our minds with the right thoughts concerning Him.[1] 2. To fill our hearts with right feelings towards Him (P. D. 1492-1526). +II. How is this to be done?+ By frequent, devout, prayerful, intense meditation on the revelations of Himself which He has been pleased to give (H. E. I. 3507-3514). +III. What will be the effect of doing it?+ 1. All other fear and dread will vanish from our minds (1 Sam. xiv. 6, xvii. 37; Jer. xxxii. 17; 1 Pet. iii. 14, 15). 2. Thus we shall unconsciously and inevitably attain to that heroism of which some of us dream (Ps. xvi. 8; Dan. iii. 16-18; Acts iv. 19, 20). 3. Thus we shall be qualified for the noblest service of God and man (Heb. xi. 24-27; 1 Cor. iv. 3, 4). 4. Thus a divine peace and joy will fill our whole being, as a mighty tide fills every nook and cranny of a wide-stretching bay (Ps. civ. 34). We shall rejoice in God as a soldier rejoices in a mighty fortress in which he feels secure from all assaults (2 Sam. xxii. 2, 3).


[1] See note [1] from preceding outline: BIBLICAL POLITICIANS.


viii. 14. _And He shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling, &c._

In God "we live, and move, and have our being." We cannot be independent of, or indifferent to, Him, as we can in regard to some of our fellow-men. There can be no neutrality between Him and us. We must be obedient or disobedient to Him, and therefore we must find in Him our refuge or our ruin--our helper or our destroyer. That this vast truth may be received in our minds, let us take it somewhat in detail.

+I. We have to do with God in Nature.+ It is His world we live in; and all its substances and forces are things which He hath made, and intends to be used according to His plans. Nay, He acts in them,[1] in them He is willing to be our ally, but not our slave. We cannot use Him to carry into effect our whims and fancies, as the old magicians were said to use the genii supposed to be under their control. God is of one mind, He changeth not; what is called "the uniformity of the laws of nature" is one manifestation of His unchangeableness; and that unchangeableness is most merciful (H. E. I. 3156, 3157, 3173-3177). If we fall in with His laws of nature, all nature is on our side; wind and tide then combine to bear us into our desired haven; but if we will not do so, the very stones of the field will be in league against us (Job v. 23; H. E. I. 3172, 4612).[2] _E.g.,_ gravitation. If a builder comply with the demands of this great law, it will give stability to his structure; but if not, from the very moment they are departed from, it will begin to pull down the hut or the palace he has builded. So with all the other substances and forces by which we are surrounded; they are for us or against us: there is no neutrality possible.

+II. We have to do with God in Providence.+ Not only are we in this world, but whether we like or not, we are under His government. He has laid down laws for our guidance, as communities and as individuals. These laws are vast and comprehensive; they cover every realm of activity and relationship of life; it is impossible for us to find ourselves in any place or circumstances in which some of them are not in force. If we obey them, they will be our helpers; if we disobey them, they will be our destroyers: obey one, and all others stand ready to befriend us; disobey one, and more manifestly all others become hostile to us. Illustrate--1. _Communities._ The law of frugality. The law of freedom of exchange. The supreme law for every nation is, that God shall be acknowledged as the supreme ruler, _His_ will done, His protection sought and trusted in. It was this law that Ahaz and his people were setting at defiance (chap. vii.), and God forewarned them that He would not stand idly by and see it broken (chap. vii. 17-20). If any nation commit itself to a godless policy, it may achieve a transient triumph thereby (ver. 6), but disaster is inevitable (ver. 7). It may be delayed, but it is only that it may come in more awful form. United States of America: their maintenance of slavery when England abolished it, and their civil war. 2. _Individuals._ The comprehensive law (Matt. vii. 12): if a man obey it, the very constitution of society fights for him; if he disobey it, that same constitution fights against him. From God, as the God of Providence, we cannot escape; we must have to do with Him as friend or foe. Those men who deliberately put Him out of their thoughts and plans find it so: just when they seem to themselves to be triumphing in their godless courses, they stumble against Him unawares. They are snared and taken in the great retributive laws of His universe.

+III. We have to do with God in Redemption.+ In Christ, God is revealed, and therefore we are not to be surprised when we see this great Old Testament truth conspicuously illustrated in Him. In the New Testament we are distinctly taught that neutrality in regard to Christ is impossible (Matt. xii. 30; 2 Cor. ii. 16; Matt. xxii. 37-44). Not to accept His salvation, is to reject it; not to submit to His authority, is to rebel against it. We cannot choose whether we will have to do with Christ or not! All that we can decide is the nature of the relationship that shall subsist between us. We can make Him our sanctuary, and then all blessing is ours; or we can refuse to do this, and then He becomes to us a stumbling-block and a snare. Not as the result of any vindictive action on His part, but as the inevitable result of the working of our own nature and of the constitution of the universe. 1. The phrase, "Gospel-hardened," represents a terrible reality (H. E. I. 2439-2442). 2. By our rejection of Christ, and consequent rebellion against His authority, we put ourselves on the side of those powers of evil which He is pledged to destroy, and then His very Almightiness, which would have insured our salvation, becomes our ruin, just as the very same force of wind and wave, which would carry a vessel rightly steered into the desired haven, hurls it when wrongly steered as a miserable wreck on the rocks outside.

Thus, in all the realms of life, we must have God with us or against us; and if God be against us, we have cause to lament that He is God--a being whom we cannot resist, from whom we cannot escape. Therefore, 1. _Let us recognise what the realities of our position are._ Let us not go on to eternal ruin through ignorance or heedlessness. 2. _Let us make God our "sanctuary."_ We may do this. He invites us to do it. Having done it, everything in Him that otherwise would terrify us will be to us a cause of joy (Rom. v. 11).


[1] "He this flowery carpet made Made this earth on which we tread, God refreshes in the air, Covers with the clothes we wear, Feeds us with the food we eat, Cheers us by His light and heat, Makes His sun on us to shine: All our blessings are divine!"--_C. Wesley._

[2] Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature, either with regard to things or the mind, permit him, and neither knows, nor is capable of more. . . . _Nature is only subdued by submission._--_Bacon._


viii. 14. _And He shall be for . . . a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel._

This prophecy refers to our Lord Jesus Christ, and it has had a threefold fulfilment. It was fulfilled--+1. In His own personal history.+ When He was made manifest to Israel He was so contrary to their conceptions of what the Messiah would be--in the lowliness of His condition, in the spirituality of the kingdom He set up, and, above all, in the ignominiousness of the death He accomplished at Jerusalem,--that they "stumbled at" and rejected Him. +2. In the experience of His disciples in all ages.+ In them He has been again despised and rejected. This He foresaw and predicted (John xv. 18-21, &c.). In the world there is an irreconcilable hatred of Christ as He reappears in His people (Gal. iii. 28, 29). +3. In the hostility which faithful preaching has always created.+ The preaching of the Gospel is the preaching of Christ (Acts v. 42; 1 Cor. i. 23; 2 Cor. iv. 5). The great evangelical doctrines all centre in and flow from "Christ and Him crucified," and can never be clearly and faithfully proclaimed without awakening the disgust and enmity of the carnal heart. They necessarily humble sinful men, and they hate to be humbled. The offence of the cross is not yet ceased; multitudes still stumble at the truth, being disobedient.

1. How sad that Christ should be an offence and a stumbling-stone to a single soul! That His Word, which is sufficient for all the purposes of salvation, should become to any "the savour of death unto death"! 2. How terrible, and earnestly to be shunned, is that unbelief which thus reverses the design of God's greatest mercies! 3. Whatever others may do, let us, with penitent and thankful hearts, make Christ our "sanctuary."--_Manuscript Sermon._


viii. 16-18.

In Heb. ii. 13 the commencement of verse 18 is quoted as an utterance of the Messiah. This opens up questions concerning the New Testament quotations from the Old which cannot be fully discussed in this commentary. It may suffice to remark that the Spirit inspiring Isaiah was the Spirit of Christ, and that therefore Isaiah's utterances generally may be regarded as the utterances of Christ; and further, this is especially true in those cases in which there is a close similarity in the position occupied by the great prophet of the Messiah and the Messiah Himself. At times Isaiah appears to be merely the spokesman of the Messiah; but in others, while his words had their ultimate and highest fulfilment in Christ, they were primarily true of himself, and this appears to be the case here.

There are times when a nation goes utterly wrong, politically, socially, and, as the root of all the evil, religiously. God is forgotten, and the people give themselves over to purposes of ambition or of sensual pleasure. It is a time of formalism and pharisaism, of infidelity and blasphemy, of luxury and vice. So strong is this current of evil that it seems a hopeless and foolish thing for any man or body of men to resist it. What, then, is the prophet or faithful preacher to do? Prudence counsels compliance with the prevailing temper (2 Chron. xviii. 12), or at least a temporary silence. Shall he listen to prudence, and bid principle wait for a more fitting season? Nay, but--+I. Let him betake himself in prayer to God+ (ver. 16). Let him pray especially that Divine truth may be kept in the hearts of the few who have been led to receive it.[1] +II. Let him wait upon God+ with immovable confidence that His truth shall yet prevail in the earth (ver. 17). Thus did the Primitive Christians, the Puritans, and the Covenanters in the evil days in which they lived. +III. Let him recognise and glory in the position he occupies+ (ver. 18). He and his spiritual children are God's witnesses (Isa. xliv. 8); what position could be more honourable? Let them not shrink from its conspicuousness (Phil. ii. 15); let them not be disheartened by the singularity it involves (H. E. I. 1032-1045, 3906, 3914; P. D. 1188). Amid all that is depressing and threatening in the position to which they have been Divinely called, let them remember their Lord's declarations (Matt. x. 32; Rev. iii. 5).


[1] I agree with Vitringa, Dreschler, and others in regarding verse 16 as the prophet's own prayer to Jehovah. We _"bind"--tie together_--what we wish to keep from getting separated and lost; we _"seal"_ what is to be kept secret, and only opened by a person duly qualified. And so the prophet here prayed that Jehovah would take his testimony with regard to the future, and his intimation, which was designed to prepare for the future that _testimony_ and _thorah_ which the greatest mass, in their hardness, did not understand, and in their self-hardening despised, and lay them up well secured and well preserved, as if by bond and seal, in the hearts of those who receive the prophet's words with loving obedience. For it would be all over with Israel unless a community of believers should be preserved, and all over with the community if the word of God, which was the ground of their life, should be allowed to slip out of their hearts.--_Delitzsch._


viii. 17. _And I will wait upon the Lord, &c._

+I. The characteristic appellation of Jehovah.+ "The God who hideth Himself."[1] +II. The implied mysteriousness of His dealings with His people.+ It is not merely from Babylon or Egypt, from Tyre or Nineveh, that He hides His face, but from "the house of Jacob." 1. The persons referred to may be regarded as typical of the Church. Though descended from Abraham, they were called "the house of _Jacob_," to denote that they were a _chosen_ people--a _praying_ people (this at least was true of the best men among them)--a people _in whom God delighted._ 2. With these persons He dealt in a manner contrary to what we should have expected. Looking only at the relation in which He stood to them, we should have expected that the light of His countenance would have gladdened them continually. Yet He hid Himself; and He frequently hides Himself not only from the world, but from the Church; not only from the wicked man, but from the believer. Yet here is a difference: in the one case it is total and constant, in the other it is but partial and temporary. In the one case it is in anger, in the other it is in love (Rev. iii. 19). 3. The modes in which He hides Himself. (1) In the cloud of providential darkness--affliction, bereavement, &c. (Isa. l. 10) (2) In the withholding of the conscious enjoyment of religion (Job xv. 11; xxii. 2).[2] +III. The resolve of the believer under this visitation.+ In nothing does the grace of God shine more unmistakably than in the way in which the Christian bears trouble. "Behold, this evil is of the Lord; why should I wait for the Lord any longer?" said a wicked man of old; but "I will look unto the Lord, and will wait for Him," is the prophet's resolve. 1. As to _looking_ for Him. (1.) _For whom_ do we look? For our God--our Father--our Friend--our Deliverer. (2.) _Where_ shall we look for Him? He is near, though concealed. Then look for Him in Christ, in whom He is reconciling the world unto Himself, in whom He is well pleased even with us. Look for Him in His promises--in His ordinances--in your closet. (3.) _How_ shall we look for him? With faith--zeal--energy--determination (Job xxxv. 10; Jer. xxix. 13). 2. As to _waiting_ for Him. This is a state of mind frequently enjoined and commended in the Bible. Waiting implies faith--desire--patience (P. D. 2643). When you have found Him, fall at His feet and confess your unworthiness. Resolve to follow Him fully. Cleave to Him with purpose of heart. Pray, "Abide with me!"--_George Smith, D.D._


[1] For details and suggestions under this division, see outline: THE CONCEALMENT OF GOD, chap. xlv. 15.

[2] For various suggestions and illustrations, see H. E. I. 200, 1644-1659, and P. D. 815.


viii. 17. _And I will wait upon the Lord, &c._

Believers are in the Scriptures abundantly encouraged to wait upon God (Ps. xxvii. 14; Isa. xxv. 9). In Ps. lxii. 5, it is suggested that this waiting upon God is connected with hopeful expectation of receiving a blessing. The same truth is taught us by our Lord in His parable on prayer (Luke xviii. 1-8). However long God delays, we must wait expectantly. In our text, however, we have the idea of waiting upon God while He is hiding His face from His people. The very possibility that He should assume this attitude towards us is depressing, and not unfrequently in our religious exercises we are haunted by the fear that this _is_ the attitude He has assumed towards us. Through fears and doubts that intercept our vision of Him, we look up to see the face of our Father, and behold only a cloud! In such a case our faith needs quickening, that our hopes may be raised and our courage renewed. The following thoughts may conduce to this end. I. _God does not hide His face from us because His blessings have diminished_ (Isa. xl. 26-31; Jer. ii. 13; xvii. 13). II. _God does not hide His face from us on account of any weariness in His love_ (John xiii. 1; Isa. xlix. 15). III. _God does not hide His face from us because of any caprice in His nature_ (Jas. i. 16-17). IV. _If God does hide His face from us, it is only on account of our sinfulness._ This is the dark atmosphere in which God becomes lost to us (chap. lix. 1, 2). V. Consequently, _if God's face is hidden from us, it is at once our only hope and our positive duty to wait upon Him_ (Jas. iv. 8). Let us wait for Him and look for Him. 1. Penitently. 2. Believingly. 3. Patiently. Then will the Lord turn us again; He will cause His face to shine upon us, and we shall be saved.--_William Manning._


viii. 19-22. _Seek unto them, &c._

As bearing upon the doctrine of necromancy, an exhaustive discussion of these verses would involve the following points: 1. Under the instigation of a prurient curiosity, or under the pressure of affliction, godless men are wont to seek knowledge and help from the spirits of the dead. 2. Hence, in every age of the world and in every nation of universal history, there have been necromancers, wizards, &c., known by various names, practising various arts of divination and legerdemain; playing with the credulity of men and women, and claiming access to supernatural knowledge and power. The spirits of modern times are the latest species of this genus of necromancers. 3. This passage implies irresistibly that God frowns upon and condemns necromancy in whatever form. 4. The expostulations, rebukes, and threatenings of the Lord, through His prophet in this passage, assumes it to be impossible for man to get knowledge or help for the living from the dead. The power of _God_ to send back to earth the spirits of the dead is quite another thing; yet as to this the practical question is--Does He see fit to use it? 5. Hence, to discard the light of God's revealed Word and to seek light and help from the dead, is to hurl oneself against the impermeable and impassable wall with which God has shut in the living of our world, and involves both positive conflict against God and contemptuous rejection of His Divine Word. 6. As Satan has a natural sympathy with everything abhorrent to God and ruinous to man, we ought to look for his hand in these agencies of necromancy, to whatever extent God may give him scope and range for action. What these limits may be, who can tell? It is man's wisdom to keep himself utterly aloof from the sphere of Satan's agencies and temptations. 7. Necromancers and spirits practically league themselves with Satan against God, and should be aware that his lot must be theirs, and their end be as their works, no dawn of day ever breaking forth on the midnight of their gloom.--_Henry Cowles, D.D., Commentary on Isaiah,_ pp. 68, 69.


viii. 20. _To the law and to the testimony, &.c,_

This was one of the watchwords of the Reformation, and since then it has been a favourite text with Protestants. The noble Sixth Article of the Church of England[1] is but an extension of it. It assumes that there is one standard of truth, one infallible oracle, to which in all their moral perplexities and spiritual difficulties, it is the wisdom, if not the duty, of all men to appeal. And _we_ are persuaded that we have this standard, this oracle, in the Bible (H. E. I. 543). If men neglect it,--if they strive to construct a creed or direct their conduct without it, two things are certain: 1. _They lack the knowledge and wisdom essential to success in life._ Their neglect of it shows that they have no light in them.[2] 2. _There await them disappointment, disaster, and despair._ This is the teaching of the other beautiful translation which many eminent scholars have adopted: "To the teaching of God, and to the testimony! If they do not according to this word, they are _a people for whom no morning dawns_" (H. E. I. 641).

"But all who consult the Bible do not obtain from it sure guidance: the proof of this is the difference among those who consult it, both as to belief and practice. In support of the most absurd doctrines and the most pernicious practices, the authority of Scripture is claimed." True, but the error lies not in "the law," but in the men who refer to it.[3] If the Bible is to be really helpful to us, we must consult it _honestly_ (H. E. I. 573, 574, 4854). _Humbly_ (H. E. I. 387-389, 562-567, 587, 599). _With a constant recognition of our help of the Holy Spirit_ (H. E. I. 622, 623, 2877-2882). _Prayerfully_ (H. E. I. 570, 571, 598, 4856). _Diligently_ (H. E. I. 576-580; P. D. 315). _Intelligently._ (1.) In regard to the subjects concerning which we seek instruction (H. E. I. 540-542, 558-560). (2.) In regard to our interpretation[4] and application of its utterances (H. E. I. 544-550, 568, 569). The man who thus uses the Bible[5] will be cheered as he advances in life by a dawn that will brighten and broaden into perfect day. He will be led by it to Christ, "The Light of the world," and following Him in loving obedience and unswerving loyalty, he will find the declaration for ever true, "He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."


[1] "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation."

Here also may be quoted the declaration of the Westminster Assembly of Divines:--

"VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are so ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.

"VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded or offered in some scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. . . .

"X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."--_The Confession of Faith._

[2] Just as it would be conclusive proof of ignorance of geology if a prospecting party of miners left unexplored the very spot concerning which the character of the rocks and soil cried loudly, _Gold!_ Or if some professional men, perplexed by a serious and embarrassing case, should leave unconsulted the standard works containing the solution of the problem.

[3] Lawyers and doctors, professedly consulting the standard works of their profession, have misled their clients and killed their patients; but the fault has not been in those standard works, but in the men who failed to use them aright. Bradshaw's Railway Guide is not a safe guide in the hands of every traveller.

[4] The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.--_The Confession of Faith._

[5] The Holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that He only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer.--_The Larger Catechism._


viii. 21, and ix. 13. _And they shall pass through it, &c._

+I. Sin leads to suffering.+ 1. This is true of _individuals_ (H. E. I. 4603-4612). But because there is another life and a future retribution, the full results of sin are frequently not seen in this life. Nay, the sinner often appears prosperous, even to the end (Ps. lxxiii. 3-5). 2. But in the case of _nations,_ which as such have no immortality, it is otherwise (P. D. 2544); it is more prompt; it is often exceedingly terrible. This fact should make those who have any love for their children hostile to any national policy that is unrighteous, however politically "expedient" it may seem. +II. There is in suffering no sanctifying power.+ God may use it as a means of arresting the careless, or of making good men better, but there is in it no certain reformative energy. On the contrary it may harden men in iniquity.[1] +III. Suffering does nothing in itself to abate God's anger against sinners.+ We, when we are wronged, often yield to a passion of vindictiveness, which is sated when we have succeeded in inflicting a certain amount of pain on the wrong-doer. But God's anger is not vindictive, but righteous (H. E. I. 2288-2294); hence its terribleness. As it does not thirst for suffering, it is not satisfied by suffering. As long as the sinner holds to his sin, God's anger will burn against him, irrespective altogether of the suffering he may have endured. Nothing will turn away that anger but a genuine repentance (ix. 13).

1. In the hour of temptation, let us think of sin not as it then presents itself to us, but as it will certainly appear to us when its results are manifested (H. E. I. 4673-4676). 2. When suffering has come upon us, let us regard it as God's summons to repentance (H. E. I. 56-59); and let us obey it with thankfulness that God is willing to deal with us in the way of mercy.


[1] See outline: MORAL OBDURACY, p. 16.


(_Missionary Sermon._)

ix. 2-7. _The people that waited in darkness, &c._

The prophecies contained in this text are of a mixed kind; they are partly fulfilled and partly unfulfilled. We have the authority of the Evangelists to apply the passage to Gospel times, and to prevent it from being restricted to the Jews (Matt. iv. 14-16; Luke i. 79; ii. 32). Let us consider--

+I. The view taken by the Prophet of the moral state of the world previous to the glorious change which makes the subject of his prophecy.+ 1. _The people are represented as walking in darkness._ Darkness is an emblem of ignorance and error; and an emblem the most striking.[1] 2. _But darkness alone appears to the mind of the Prophet only a faint emblem of the state of the heathen:_ he adds, therefore, "the shadow of death." In Scripture this expression is used for the darkness of that subterranean mansion into which the Jews supposed the souls of men went after death. Figuratively, the expression is used for great distress; a state of danger and fear at the same time. Such is the state of the heathen. The religion of the heathen has ever been gloomy and horrible. 3. _The Prophet adds another note of the state of the heathen:_ Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy.[2] He beholdeth them increasing in number only to multiply their misery.[3] Universal experience proves that misery is multiplied when God and truth are unknown. In this case there is no redeeming principle; the remedy is lost; despair completes the wretchedness of the people, and were it not for the prospects opened by the Gospel, that despair would be final and absolute. Here, however, the text breaks upon us with a glorious and cheering view. The Prophet beholds a light rising in obscurity; a great light dispels the heavy gloom; comfort, joy, and salvation dawn upon the earth (ver. 2).

+II. On the blessed visitation we would now fix your attention.+ 1. _As darkness is an emblem of the religious sorrow which had overcast the world, so light is an emblem of the truth of the Gospel._ The Gospel is "light." (1.) This marks its origin from heaven. (2.) This notes its truth. It is fitting that what is truth, without mixture of error, should be compared to what is the most simple substance in nature. (3.) It is called "light" because of its penetrating and subtle nature. (4.) Because of the discoveries which it makes. (5.) Because it is life and health to the world. 2. _As in the vision light succeeds to darkness, so also joy succeeds to fear and misery_ (ver. 3). The joy here described is no common feeling; it is the joy of harvest, the joy of victory. The effect of the diffusion of the Gospel in producing joy is a constant theme of prophecy (chap. xxiv. 16; Ps. xcviii. 8; Luke ii. 10). True joy, as yet, there is none upon a large scale; of sorrow and sighing the world has ever been full; and as long as it remains in this state, even sighs might fail rather than cause to sigh. Even that which is called joy is mockery and unreal, an effort to divert a pained and wounded mind; it gleams like a transient light, only to make men more sensible of the darkness. As long as the world is wicked it must be miserable. All attempts to increase happiness, except by diminishing wickedness and strengthening the moral principle, are vain. The Gospel is the grand cure of human woe. When it has spread to the extent seen by the Prophet, a sorrowing world shall dry up its tears, and complaint give place to praise (Isa. xiv. 8; xxxii. 17). They shall joy as in victory, for the rod of the grand oppressor shall be broken; Satan shall fall, his reign be terminated; and one universal, transporting "Hallelujah" ascend from every land, to the honour of Him by whom the victory is achieved.

+III.+ So vast a change must be produced by causes proportionably powerful; and to +the means by which this astonishing revolution is effected,+ the Prophet next directs our attention (vers. 4, 5). These words speak of resistance and a struggle. He that expects the conversion of the world without the most zealous application and perseverance among God's agents, and opposition from His enemies, has not counted the cost. In the conduct of this battle two things distinguish it from every other contest: The absolute weakness and insufficiency of the assailants,[4] and their miraculous success. A remembrance of these things encourages us in our missionary operations. If our plans had been applauded by the wisdom of this world, there would have been too much of man in them, and we might have doubted the result (Jud. vii. 2). The victory shall be eminently of God. For the battle shall be, not "with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood, but with burning and fuel of fire." The demonstration of the Spirit, the power of God, is here compared to fire. The Spirit, in His saving operations, is always in Scripture compared to the most powerful principles in nature--to the rain and dew, to wind, to thunder, to fire. All these images denote His efficiency and the suddenness of the success; and the extent of the benefit shall proclaim the victory to be the Lord's. We have seen the effect of this vital influence at home; and we may, in some degree, conjecture what will be done abroad. Yet perhaps something very remarkable may take place, as is intimated in the text; some peculiar exertion of the Divine power upon the mind of the world.

+IV.+ But it may be said, "is not all this a splendid vision? You speak of weak instruments effecting a miraculous success; of the display and operation of a supernatural power touching the hearts of men and changing the moral state of the world, but what is the ground of this expectation?" This natural and very proper question our text answers (vers. 6, 7). In these verses we have +the grounds of that expectation of success which we form as to missionary efforts.+ The plan of Christianising the world is not ours; it was laid in the mind of God before the world was. The principal arrangements of the scheme are not left to us, but are already fixed by the infinite wisdom of God. The part we fill is very subordinate; and we expect success, not for the wisdom or the fitness of the means themselves, but because they are connected with mightier motives, whose success is rapid, and whose direction is Divine; because God has formed a scheme of universal redemption, to be gradually but fully developed; because He has given gifts to the world, the value of which is in every age to be more fully demonstrated; and because He has established offices in the person of Christ, which He is qualified to fill to the full height of the Divine idea (text).

Our text has set before us the moral misery of the human race; the purpose of God to remove it by the diffusion of His truth and grace; the means chosen for this purpose; and the ground of that certain success which must attend the application of the prescribed means under the Divine blessing. It now only remains for me to invite you to such a co-operation in this great work as your own ability and the importance of the enterprise demand.--_Richard Watson,_ "Works," vol. iv. pp. 206-224.


[1] As the pall of darkness is drawn over the world, the fair face of nature fades from the sight; every object becomes indistinct, or is wholly obscured, and all that can cheer the sight or direct the steps of man vanishes. So the gradual accumulation of religious errors, thickening with every age, banished the knowledge of God and His truth from the understandings of men, till all that was sublime in speculation, cheering to the heart, supporting to the hopes, or directive to the actions of men, passed away from the soul, and left the intellectual world like that of nature when deprived of light. The heaven of the soul was hung with blackness, and "their foolish heart was darkened."--_Watson._

[2] Alexander and several other modern scholars read: _"Thou hast enlarged the nation, Thou hast increased its joy,"_ understanding the Prophet to mean that the true Israel had been increased by the calling of the Gentiles, and that this increase had been a cause of great gladness.

[3] If the Prophet speaks of the Jewish people, he declares a fact remarkably striking. One of the blessings promised to their founder, Abraham, was, that his seed should be multiplied as the stars of heaven and the sands of the sea-shore. But that which was designed as a blessing, and is described as such in the promise, was made a curse by the wickedness of the Jews. For what end, in the former periods of their history, did they multiply, but to furnish food for captives, slaughter, and oppression? In later times, they have multiplied, and spread themselves over the world; but their joy has not been increased. Degraded in character, and despised by the nations where they sojourn, without a country, a temple, or a sacrifice, they bear, like Cain, the marks of God's curse, are vagabonds in the earth, preserved to warn us of the just severity of God.

There is nothing, however, in the connection to induce us to suppose that the Prophet particularly contemplated the Jewish nation. The same thing must be affirmed of every nation that abandons itself to wickedness. When nations are multiplied, their political strength is increased; and happiness would be multiplied too, were it not for sin. But in wicked nations the "joy is not increased." This negative expression signifies the misery is increased. God has not added His blessing; and there is no joy.--_Watson._

[4] The weakness and insignificance of the instruments used in breaking the rod and yoke of the oppressor is sufficiently marked by the allusion to the destruction of the host of Midian by Gideon and his three hundred men. The family of Gideon was poor in Manasseh, and he was the least of his father's house; the number of men assigned him was contemptible; their weapons were no better than an earthen pitcher, a torch, and a trumpet; the men who dreamed of Gideon dreamed of him under the image of a barley-cake. All this meanness was adopted that the deliverance of Israel might appear to be the work of God; and this is the manner in which He has ever wrought in the revival and spread of godliness in the world. Who were the instruments of spreading true religion in the Apostolic age, we know; they were the despised fishermen of Galilee. Feeble and unpromising instruments have also been employed in subsequent revivals; and for the conformity of the present missionary system of this model we augur will be of future success.--_Watson._


(_Harvest Thanksgiving Sermon._)

ix. 3. _They joy before Thee according to the joy in harvest, &c._

+I. The joy of the natural harvest.+ Harvest was peculiarly interesting to the Jews.[1] Two things render "the joy of harvest" peculiar and impressive: 1. It is the completion and reward of the anxiety and labours of the year it closes. 2. It furnishes the supply of our needs in the year to come.--We call upon you to rejoice before the Lord to-day (P. D. 1710-1712), and to associate your thanksgiving with the name of Christ (Heb. xiii. 15). Let all outward gifts remind you of that unseen Mediator through whom they flow. Our gratitude should be deep and fervent; it should bear some proportion to the regret we should have felt if God had withheld the blessings in which we now rejoice, and had blighted the promise of the year. Yet now, when these temporal gifts abound, let us remember their inability to satisfy the needs of the soul. The satisfaction for these needs is to be found only in Christ. He who had more corn than his barns could hold, now wants a drop of water to cool his tongue. +II. The joy of the spiritual harvest.+ The vicissitudes of the religious life are often compared to those of the seasons (Ps. cxxvi. 5, 6). The Christian husbandman has his anxieties, arising from the badness of the soil, the unfavourableness of the seasons, the delay of harvest, the fear of final loss. Yet he has his reaping seasons of joy even in this world--1. When a consciousness of sin which has long oppressed the soul is exchanged for a sense of pardoning mercy, through the application of the blood of sprinkling. 2. When, after a long period of depression, hope revisits the mind (H. E. I. 313, 314, 1658, 1659, 3041). 3. When there come to us the answers to our prayers that were long delayed (H. E. I. 3895, 3896). "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; _but when desire cometh, it is a tree of life._" 4. When the spiritual triumphs of the gospel are made manifest; to parents in their families; to ministers in their congregations; to missionaries abroad. Just in proportion to the toil and prolonged anxiety is the rapture of success. The harvest sometimes come to us after long delay, after many anxieties, after many fears (Jas. v. 7, 8). God sees fit to exercise His people with the discipline of suspense, but this is for their good (Lam. iii. 26). +III. The joy of the eternal harvest.+ When all Christ's people are gathered into His immediate presence (Matt. xiii. 39); then will the declaration of our text be fulfilled in the highest sense of which it is capable. The ransomed will rejoice when they think, 1. _Of the grace that reigns in their salvation._ By that grace they were transformed from being tares, the end of which is burning, into wheat meet for the garner. 2. _Of the great cost and care bestowed upon their culture,_ that they might be ripened for the heavenly kingdom. 3. _How often they despaired of their own safety._ 4. _Of their deliverance from the fearful fate of the tares and chaff,_ whose end is to be burned.--_Samuel Thodey._


[1] They had scarcely any foreign trade--none till Solomon's time. Every family lived upon its own inheritance and upon the produce of its own land. Consequently if harvest failed, all failed. They expressed their great joy by solemn offerings to the Lord. Not a field was reaped before the wave-sheaf was placed upon the altar; and when it had been waved there, amidst the loud thanksgiving of the people, before the Lord of the whole land, the messengers from the Temple carried the proclamation to the husbandman, in the field, "Put ye in the sickle and reap!"--_Thodey._


ix. 6. _For unto us a Child is born, &c._

+I. The Incarnation and Government of Jesus Christ.+ Let us contemplate Him, 1. _As the Incarnate One._ "Unto us a child is born" (H. E. I. 846-853). 2. _As a gift of Heaven to a fallen world._ "Unto us a Son is given." 3. _As advanced to supreme rule and authority._ "The government shall be upon His shoulder." +II. The names and characters by which He is distinguished.+ "His name," &c. +III. The adaptation of these qualities to the purposes of His spiritual reign.+ 1. We need wisdom, and He is the "counsellor." 2. We need reconciliation to God, and He is our "Peace." 3. We need support under the calamities of life, and this He gives us, for He is the "Mighty God." 4. We need comfort under the fears of death, and this He gives as "The Father of the Everlasting Age."--_George Smith, D.D._


ix. 6. _The government shall be on His shoulder, &c._

Let me caution you against mistaking this government for that essential dominion which belongeth to our blessed Lord as God. To suppose that this had been _given_ to our Lord would be to deny His essential Godhead. The government here spoken of is one that He receives: a delegated government as the Mediator of the covenant: that which we are told (1 Cor. xv. 24-28) He will hereafter deliver up to the Father. Three particulars we may point out, in which He exercises this dominion. I. He rules _for_ His Church, as "The Lamb in the midst of the throne." II. He rules _in_ His Church, being its alone King and Lawgiver. The Church is never for one moment to assume the power of legislation; it belongs not to her, but to Him: _she_ has the executive--nothing more--to obey His laws, to carry them out according to the mind of Him who framed them. III. There is a third power--that which He exercises in the souls of His true subjects, ruling in and over them by the power of His own blessed Spirit.--_J. H. Evans, M.A.: Thursday Penny Pulpit,_ vol. vii. p 337.

In this verse we have a constellation of titles, all of which illustrate the essential dignity and mediatorial claims of Jesus, and tend to awaken the confidence of the Church. The very first declaration, His "name shall be called Wonderful," fitly prepares us for all that is to follow, teaching us to expect something beyond the ordinary works of God. He is "wonderful" in His incarnation, in His government, in the counsels He originates, in the divinity of His nature, in the eternity of His existence, in the results of His mediatorial rule, for He is "the Prince of Peace," swaying the sceptre of mercy over an apostate and disordered world. There is a beautiful consistency in all this; for if the government of earth and heaven, the sovereignty of the Church and of the world, is to be exercised by the Redeemer, it is necessary that He should be possessed of attributes equal to the immense responsibilities. But these attributes are His, and hence the command, "Rejoice, for the Lord reigneth!" +I. It is a cause of peculiar rejoicing to all good men that the government of the world is in the hands of Christ.+ Their interest and joy in this fact arise--1. From the near and sacred relation in which Jesus stands to them. 2. From the glorious perfectness of His character, which guarantees the wisdom and blessedness of His sway. 3. From the changelessness, perpetuity, and destined universality of His rule. +II. The sovereignty of Christ affords great relief in contemplating the abject condition of the heathen world.+ The heathen have been given to Him for His inheritance, and He will certainly deliver them from the superstitions and miseries by which they are oppressed. +III. This fact gives us a deep interest in beholding the vast extent of the universe of God.+ Every part of it is but a province in Christ's boundless empire.--_Samuel Thodey._


ix. 6. _His name shall be called Wonderful, &c._

+I. Christ is wonderful in His nature.+ He is wonderful, 1. In respect of _His essential Godhead._ 2. In respect of _His perfect manhood._ _All_ excellencies were combined in him as a man, unlike even His most eminent servants, who are distinguished for the possession of _special_ graces, which too often are clouded by some opposite defect. 3. In respect of the _union in Him of Deity and humanity_ (1 Tim. iii. 16).

+II. Christ is wonderful in His offices,+ at once Prophet, Priest, and King. 1. As a _Prophet,_ what wonderful disclosures He has made to us of the Divine nature and will, and of human duty and destiny; with what wonderful authority He spoke; with what wonderful completeness and beauty He fulfilled all His own commandments! 2. As a _Priest,_ how wonderfully He was at once sacrifice and offerer: how wonderfully He still carries on the work of reconciliation (Rom. viii. 34). 3. As a _King,_ how wonderfully He rules, with omnipotent power, yet with lamblike gentleness.

+III. Christ is wonderful in his relation to His people.+ 1. In the care He exercises over them (Ezek. xxxiv. 11-16). 2. In the abundance of the grace which He ministers to them (2 Cor. xii. 9; John i. 16; H. E. I. 936). 3. In His condescending thoughtfulness for each one of them (John x. 3, 14, 15).[1] 4. In the perfectness of His sympathy with them. He identifies Himself so entirely with His people, that they have not a single care, trial, or temptation of any sort, but it is as much _His_ as it is _theirs_ (H. E. I. 952-961).--_J. H. Evans, M.A.: Thursday Penny Pulpit,_ vol. vii. pp. 336-348.

We are continually struck with one marked contrast between the greatness that is human and the greatness that is Divine: human greatness the more it is examined the less wonderful it appears, but Divine productions, the more closely they are investigated the more brightly they shine. We shall see that Christ is wonderful, if we consider--I. _The excellences that compose His mediatorial character._ God and man! Nor is this a wonder to men only (1 Pet. i. 12). II. _The stupendous blessings He bestows on His friends._ III. _The reserves of glory which He waits to exhibit in now unseen and future worlds._

Behold Him, and 1. Never hesitate to acknowledge Him as your Saviour and Lord. 2. Yield a ready obedience to His authority. 3. Anticipate His coming in glory.--_Samuel Thodey._


[1] Oh, how "wonderful" must He be, that suits Himself to the cares of all, as if He had but one! cares for each as much as He cares for all, and cares for each as if he _were_ all! We are lost in this deep. I sometimes get some light from this thought:--Why, the sun can shine into the attic as well as into the Queen's palace; it occasions no difficulty to the sun. Blessed Jesus! there is no difficulty for Thee to supply all our minutest wants; in Thee there is the abundance of power, and quite as great an abundance of love.--_J. H. Evans, M.A._


ix. 6. _His name shall be called . . . Counsellor, &c._

+I. How Christ may be our Counsellor.+ Immediate, close and confidential intercourse is involved in our idea of taking counsel. When we are in perplexity, we lay the whole matter before a friend in whose wisdom we trust. So we may spread our difficulties before Christ in prayer. Thus far, all is clear. But how can we receive from Christ the answer and guidance we seek? How does an earthly friend help us in such a case? _By producing a certain impression on our mind._ He may do it by spoken words, by letter, or even by a gesture. The _manner_ is unimportant. So Christ guides us _by producing impression on our mind; how,_ we know not, nor does it matter greatly. The well-instructed Christian seeks counsel from Christ in all things. He prays for _daily_ guidance. Special difficulties he makes matter of special prayer. Then, upon the mind previously made calm and willing, there comes a sense of rectitude, and a feeling of resolution. One course, generally that which involves most self-denial and manifests least self-dependence, comes prominently forth in strong relief, as most to be preferred. Its advantages each moment look clearer and brighter; its consistency with his religious profession, conformity to the will of God, and true wisdom, are more and more strongly impressed upon his mind. He doubts no more. He has arrived at a decision. Christ's counsel has prevailed. It is our privilege thus to be directed at every stage and in every vicissitude of life.

+II. Why we should take Christ for our Counsellor.+ Because in Him are all the qualities that would cause us to value and seek the counsel of an earthly friend--tenderness, wisdom, and power. He can help us to carry out His counsels.

+III. What will the effects of making Christ the Man of our counsel?+ 1. _A special consistency of Christian conduct._ Inconsistency arises from listening to contradictory advisors; sometimes going to Christ, and sometimes taking counsel from flesh and blood. 2. _A conformity and likeness to Christ._ You will learn to love what He loves, and to desire what He promises. In the man who constantly makes Christ his counsellor, there is begotten a spirituality of mind, a deadness to the world, a fixedness of purpose, a cheerfulness of temper, a self-possession and patience, which are scarcely conceivable and quite invaluable. A man is powerfully influenced by the company he keeps--whether it be refined and moral, or coarse and profligate. What, then, must be the effect of habitual intercourse with the Lord of light and grace and glory? 3. _A preparedness for Christ's presence in heaven._ What is the bliss of heaven? It is the vision of the Almighty; unclouded and uninterrupted intercourse with the Saviour and Lord of all. The more we have cultivated this here, the more fitted we shall be for it hereafter.--_Josiah Bateman, M.A.: Sermons,_ pp. 1-18.


ix. 6. _His name shall be called . . . The Mighty God._

Various devices to escape from the force of this declaration have been tried.[1] But after a discussion prolonged through centuries, it is now conceded by the foremost Hebrew scholars of our time, that, whether we accept or reject it, Isaiah's declaration _is_ that the Person concerning whom he wrote should be called "The mighty God;" which is merely the Scriptural way of asserting that He should _be_ "The mighty God," for names Divinely given represent realities. That the Person concerning whom this declaration was made is our Lord Jesus Christ is the conviction of the whole Christian Church. _He_ is the "Child," the "Son," the "Mighty God," concerning whom Isaiah wrote. Let us do more than give our assent to this statement: let us think about it.

+I.+ It is essential to soundness of creed, and to any full realisation of the doctrine of +the perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ.+ He was a _man_ in the same sense that this is true of any man here; whatever was essential to perfectness of manhood existed in Him. Unless we grasp this great truth intelligently and firmly, 1. His _example_ can be of no considerable help to us (H. E. I. 898). The example of an angel, though it might excite our admiration, would also smite us with despair. 2. His _sympathy_ with men, because of His identity with them in their experience, can never be to us, what it has been to missions, one of the most comforting and strengthening of all thoughts (Heb. ii. 17, 18; iv. 15; H. E. I. 872, 954). +II.+ It is equally necessary that we should hold firmly +the doctrine of His Deity.+ That He is "the mighty God" is the testimony, 1. Of His _works_ (Matt. xiv. 32, 33, &c.). 2. Of His _words_ (John vi. 48; vii. 37; viii. 12; &c.; H. E. I. 836, 840-842). This doctrine pervades the New Testament (H. E. I. 835, 838). The sum of its teaching concerning Him is, that in Him God was manifest, that He is the true God (1 Tim. iii. 16; 1 John v. 20). It is not only one of the profoundest of all doctrines, it is the most practical. Let me doubt it, and how can Christ be to me a Saviour? How can He be more to me than any other eminently holy and wise man who died centuries ago, or yesterday? 1. What comfort can I derive from the declaration that He died for me? Could a _man_ atone for the sins of the whole world, for my sins? 2. What comfort can I derive from the declaration that He now lives and is in heaven? If so, as a _man,_ doubtless, He will sympathise with me, but how can I be assured in times of distress and danger I raise? or that, if He hears me, He is able to help?

1. This complex Christian life of ours can be sustained only by the complex and unfathomably mysterious doctrine of the Divine-human nature of Christ, just as our physical life can be sustained only by the compound yet simple atmosphere we breathe. To simplify the atmosphere by taking away, if it were possible, either of its main constituents would transform the earth into a sepulchre; and to "simplify" Christian doctrine by taking away the doctrine either of our Lord's humanity or of His Deity is the destruction of spiritual life. 2. Let us, then, accept in all their fulness the declarations of Scripture concerning the Person of Our Lord. Those declarations transcend our reason, but they do not contradict it (H. E. I. 851, 4809-4814), and they should be joyfully accepted by our faith. 3. Let us think much of Christ as the Son of man, that by His example we may be incited to strive after a noble manhood, and that by the assurance of His sympathy we may be sustained amid all the struggles and sorrows of life. 4. Let us think much of Him as "the mighty God," that our faith may rejoice in His ability to accomplish for us a complete redemption; that our reason and conscience may be let to bow to the authority which must therefore belong to all His utterances; that our love for Him, which is tender and ardent, may be also reverent; and that our soul may feel itself free to give expression to the feelings of adoration that rise up within us when we contemplate His perfections, His purposes, and the work which it is declared He has accomplished on our behalf.


[1] The following translations have been given by sceptical scholars, but have all been conclusively rejected by sound scholarship:--

"Mighty Hero."--_Gresenius._

"Counsellor of the Mighty God."--_Grotius._

"Counsellor of God, Mighty."--_Carpenter._

"And He who is Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, calls His name the Prince of peace."--_Jarchi_ and _Kimchi._


ix. 6. _The Everlasting Father._

We usually associate the name of father with the first "Person" of the adorable Godhead. But there is no manner of doubt that the title here belongs to our Lord Jesus Christ--to the very same Person who, in human nature was a Child born, and a Son given up for the salvation of men. But there is this difference: the title given to the Son born is not merely "the Father," but "the _everlasting_ Father." The title is not "Father," but the entire phrase. Read more exactly in accordance with the original words, the phrase is this: "the father of perpetuity, the father of eternity, the father of for ever." "Father" means here simply possessor or author. To be the "Father of eternity" is to _have_ eternity, and to _rule_ in eternity--to be the Lord of eternity. Christ Jesus, who hath the government upon His shoulders, hath it on His shoulders for ever; He is King of kings and Lord of lords throughout eternity. The eternity here spoken of is not the eternity that is bygone--if we may so speak of eternity; it is the ongoing and unending duration that lies before us, and Christ Jesus is Lord and Ruler of it all. No doubt He who can hold the future eternity in His hand, and who can rule all its affairs, must have been Himself the Unbeginning and Eternal One; and the Scriptures leave no doubts about that being the attribute of our Lord Jesus Christ (John viii. 58; Col. i. 17; John i. 3). But it is that for ever which lies before us which Christ is here said to be the Father of. He is so as its Possessor--He has it; as its Originator--He makes it what it is; as its Controller--He rules in it.

I. Jesus Christ is the father of the eternity that lies before us, the father of the for ever, because He Himself lives for ever. He has it. Observe, this is true of the Second Person of the Godhead in human nature. The connection of the text will not permit us to forget that. It is the Child born and the Son given who is said to live for ever. That is a great thought; the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ in humanity is to live for ever is a stupendous expectation and belief. Sometimes it has seemed to me as it were more wonderful even than the Incarnation. It seems as if it would have been less strange for the Son of God, for some great purpose, to have clothed Himself with a creature's nature, and then, having accomplished that purpose, to have laid down that nature as a thing too far down from the Infinite to be worn for ever. But now the wonder is, that having made Himself our kinsman, He is to be our Head for ever, and is never to cease to wear the human nature in which He died on Calvary. That this is an important thought appears from two considerations. 1. It is part of the Divine promise of the Father to our Lord, and it is a thing for which our Lord prayed as part of His Father's promise (compare Isa. liii. 10, Ps. lxxii. 15; xxi. 4). 2. It implies that His work was finished to His Father's satisfaction. It is clearly spoken of as a reward for work well done. Hence this title "Father of eternity"--hath in germ within it the great facts of Christ's death, resurrection, ascension, and session in glory (comp. Rev. i. 18). From this fact two inferences can be drawn, both of a most consolatory and joyful character. 1. To God's people. What a Saviour they have! They need never fear that they will find a world in all the universe where He is not with them, and they cannot live on to any age when He shall cease to be their light and King. 2. The same thing brings comfort to every sinner (Heb. vii. 25). Do not lose yourselves in a great general thought of Christ living for ever; rather narrow the broad and grand conception, and fasten it down upon the present fleeting moment. Christ lives _now,_ and lives _here_--lives _here_ and _now_ to save the sinner and bless the saint. Apply to Him, and rejoice in Him that liveth now and for ever and ever.

II. He originated this age that is spoken of. As by His death He secured His own immortality on the basis of the faithful covenant, and received life for ever because He had done the Father's will; so by the same completion of His mediatorial work on earth He purchased this immortality for His people. All that is valuable in the prospect of unending existence to any human being he owes to our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the father of the eternal age; it could not have been without Him.

III. As Jesus Christ, personally and in humanity, lives through this eternal age, and as He introduced it and gave it its great characteristics, so the administration of its whole affairs is in His hands. The Author of our Faith is the ruler of its progress, and that not on earth alone, but in heaven (Matt. xxviii. 18). What follows from that? 1. What a terrible and what a hopeless thing it must be to resist Christ! To resist Him effectually, we would require to be able to do one or other of two things: We should need either to go beyond infinite distance and get away from Him that way, or live longer than for ever, which is equally impossible. The only question is this, "Am I in Christ's hands to be slain by Him, or to be saved by Him?" and that turns on my submission to His will. "Am I to sit on the throne beside Him? or take the other alternative and be made His footstool?" 2. What a good thought it is for the Christian, that he can never go away from Christ's care, that He can never be for a moment without his Friend watching over him, and never in any place in which he does not hear the music of those precious words, "Lo, I am with you alway!" (Matt. xxviii. 20).--_J. Edmond, D.D.: Christian World Pulpit,_ vol. ix. pp. 145-148.


ix. 6. _The Prince of Peace._

How peaceful was the scene when the first Sabbath shone upon this world! How reversed was the scene when sin entered to revolutionise it! Think of the widespread and woful war which sin has entailed on this world, and see the need of such a Prince as our text reveals to restore the primitive peace. See, too, the magnitude of the work to which the Redeemer stands appointed when He is presented in the character of a pacificator who is to bring this strife to a happy conclusion for man.

I. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF CHRIST FOR ACTING AS "THE PRINCE OF PEACE." We find these, 1. In His original personal excellence as the only begotten of the Father. 2. In His Father's ordination of Him to the office. 3. In the meritoriousness of the work He accomplished as the substitute for sinners. 4. In the station to which He has been exalted, and the executive power which has been lodged in His hands. First of all, He has been appointed Intercessor, to plead the cause of His people on the foundation of the work He has done for them; and, secondly, He has been anointed a King with all the influence and energy of the Almighty Spirit placed at His disposal to carry into execution all the favourable purposes of the Divine government on behalf of those whose cause He has won by His intercession. 5. In the fervency with which His heart is dedicated to the attainment of His object.

II. THE PRINCIPAL ARTICLES OF THAT PEACE OF WHICH CHRIST IS, OR SHALL YET BE, THE MINISTERING PRINCE TO ALL WHO BELIEVE ON HIM. 1. He hath effected reconciliation between God and man. 2. In Christ we cease to war against ourselves. 3. Our Prince hath reconciled us to the angels. 4. Reconciliation is effected between Jew and Gentile (Eph. ii. 14-16). 5. The general reconciliation of man to man, the destruction of selfishness, and the diffusion of benevolence Christ came by His dying for all, to teach that all were as brethren, and ought to regard one another with fraternal affection. How much the world required this lesson! How imperfectly it has been learned (H. E. I., 884).--_William Anderson, L.L.D.; Christian World Pulpit,_ vol. x. pp. 392-394.

+I. The character of Christ:+ "the Prince of Peace." How wonderful and glorious is this character when viewed in connection with this title! Infinite wisdom and almighty power employed not for purposes of war, but of peace! (Isa. lv. 8, 9). 1. He procures peace. 2. He proclaims peace. 3. He imparts peace. 4. He maintains peace. 5. He perfects peace. +II. The character of His religion.+ It is a religion of peace. True, at its first introduction, it leads to conflicts (Matt. x. 34); but in the end it secures a permanent peace (Jas. iii. 17). It will give peace, but only on its terms. +III. Character of the followers of Christ.+ They are the sons of peace. 1. They seek peace with God through the mediation of Christ. 2. They exemplify a spirit like His own, and thus help to heal the wounds of a bleeding world. 3. They extend through the world the gospel of peace. 4. They anticipate in heaven the reign of unbroken peace.--_Samuel Thodey._


ix. 7. _Of the increase of His government, &c._

If any man asks, "Concerning whom does the Prophet write these things?" the answer is, "Concerning Christ." "Of the increase of _His_ government and peace there shall be no end."[1] The world has seen many great empires, that bade fair to be everlasting, crumble away; and in view of the history of the past, it is unreasonable to believe that any modern empire, except so far as it is obedient to Christ, will be more durable. This is a world of change, and it is vain to hope that political revolutions are altogether things of the past. Two thousand years hence, should the present era so long continue, the map of this will be very different from what it is to-day. But the empire of Christ is to continue for ever. Unlike all other empires, it is to be continually progressing in extent and cohesion.

_What are our grounds for believing this?_ +I. The distinct promises of Scripture+ (Ps. ii. 8, xxii. 27, lxxxii. 8-11; Dan. vii. 13, 14). For a Christian this is sufficient. But even to those whose reverence for God's Word is most profound and unquestioning, it is interesting to see--+II.+ That +the nature of things+[2] is all in favour of the fulfilment of this prediction. Under this division of our subject, look at some of the differences between all human empires and the empire of Christ. 1. As to their _origin._ They have usually been created by the genius and energy of some great man. But even such men as David, Alexander, and Cæsar are mortal, and because it is impossible to secure a constant succession of men of genius, the empires they found crumble away. To David and Solomon succeeds a Rehoboam, and Rehoboam means ruin. But Christ wields the enormous "power of an endless life."[3] 2. As to their _progress._ (1.) Vast empires fall to pieces by reason of their very vastness. Time brings many changes even to great empires, and among them at least a temporary weakening of the central power; the heart is enfeebled, and the whole body is enfeebled and begins to decay. (2.) Great empires afford multiplied opportunities for great corruption, and this ultimately kills a state. (3.) Great empires include many conflicting interests; there is a perpetual struggle to maintain the balance of power; mutinies and rebellions are inevitable, and in the end some of these are successful, and the empire is broken. But none of these things can happen in the empire of Christ; none of these causes will tend to check the increase of _His_ government. 3. As to their _aims._ This is a consideration even more important and vital than the others. All empires have really had for their aim the aggrandisement of some ambitious man or nation. The inspiring motive has been supremely selfish. Hence fraud and force have been unhesitatingly employed for their advancement, and, because God really rules on earth as well as in heaven, these things, though they secure a temporary triumph, ultimately lead to inevitable ruin (H. E. I. 4612, P. D. 2544, 2995). By similar means the great empire has to be maintained, and in every part of it there are millions watching for an opportunity to subvert it by the same means; because its aims are selfish, it is hated, not loved, by those over whom it triumphs. But the inspiring aims of Christ's empire are righteousness and peace; it is to extend these blessings that His limitless resources are employed; the manner in which these resources is employed is in accordance with the ends sought; and hence (1) all the laws of God's universe are on His side, and (2) He is loved most intensely precisely by those over whom His authority is most completely established.[4] +III.+ If any further confirmations of our faith in Christ's ultimate triumph is needed, we have it in +the history of the world since His crucifixion.+ When He was crucified they nailed over His head the inscription, "THE KING OF THE JEWS." It was intended to be an act of mockery; it was the declaration of a great truth. And since then He has become the King of the Gentiles also. The mighty empire that tried to stop the progress of His kingdom was ground to powder in the conflict. And now by all the most powerful kingdoms of the earth He is, nominally at least, acknowledged as the supreme Authority. That which is nominal shall become real (Rev. xi. 15).

Concerning the complete fulfilment of the prediction of our text, we need therefore have no fear. And hence,--

1. We can look without dismay at the mighty forces arrayed against Christ and His truth,--heathenism abroad and infidelity at home (H. E. I. 642). 2. We can look forward to the future of the world with hope. A golden age is yet to dawn (H. E. I. 3421-3423). 3. We can labour for the extension of Christ's kingdom with all the hopeful energy of those who know that the end of all their efforts is not failure, but a glorious success (H. E. I. 979, 1161, 1162, 1166-1168).


[1] _Upon the throne of David._ This was in accordance with the promise made to David (1 Kings viii. 25; 2 Sam. vii. 12, 13; Ps. cxxxii. 11). This promise was understood as referring to the Messiah. The primary idea is, that He should be descended in the line of David, and accordingly the New Testament writers are often at pains to show that the Lord Jesus was of that family (Luke ii. 4). When it is said that He would sit upon the throne of David, it is not to be taken literally. The peculiarity of the reign of David was, that _he reigned over the people of God._ . . . To sit upon the throne of David, therefore, means to reign over the people of God; and in this sense the Messiah sits on his throne.--_Barnes._

The angel who came to Mary affirmed these very things of the Son then to be born (Luke i. 32, 33).--_Cowles._

[2] According to my view of the Unity of the Divine nature, God is one, as we meet Him in the Old Testament and the Oldest; in the New and the Newest. There are four Testaments: an Oldest and an Old, a New and a Newest. _The Oldest Testament is the Nature of Things._ The Newest is Christ's continued life in the present influences of the Holy Spirit. The Oldest and the Newest are unwritten; the Old and New are written; but the voices of the four are one.--_Joseph Cook._

[3] See Bushnell's sermon on "The Power of an Endless Life," in "The New Life," pp. 287-307.

[4] The remarkably emphatic repetition of the idea of His ruling in righteousness, justice, and real benevolence, suggests how fearfully the world has been _misgoverned,_ and how little the great body of human government in even civilised nations have sought and practically secured the welfare of the millions.--_Cowles._


ix. 7. _The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this._

It may be affirmed with equal truth, that from what zeal is in man we may know what it is in God; and that from what zeal is in man we cannot tell what it is in God (H. E. I. 2229-2240). We can tell what its nature is, but we cannot tell its power. 1. Zeal is in man an intense passionateness of desire for the accomplishment of some purpose; this leads to an energy and continuity of action that in many cases triumphs over obstacles, and accomplishes what seemed impossible. True zeal in man is intelligent, calm, persistent, and unweariable; and all this we know it must be in God. 2. But what its power is in God we cannot tell. Water in the mass, and fire in the mass, is an utterly different thing from water or fire on a small scale.[1] "The zeal of the Lord of hosts" is a tremendous conception which the mind cannot grasp.

This declaration is the consummation and crown of a great promise concerning the Messiah. It is the guarantee that, great as that promise is, it shall not remain unfulfilled; the heart of God is set upon its accomplishment, and He is "the Lord of hosts." We have here a general and blessed principle, applicable to all God's promises. For two reasons many human purposes remain unfulfilled: those who entertain them are not in earnest about them, or they lack power to carry them into effect. But both these essential requisites meet in God--earnestness and power. He makes no promise lightly; He attaches importance to every pledge He has ever entered into; and He will fulfil His promises, according to the largest interpretation that can be put upon them (Eph. iii. 20).

Let us use this declaration for the comforting and strengthening of our hearts. There are many great and precious promises, +I. Concerning the extension of Christ's kingdom,+ _e.g.,_ in the words preceding our text. It is declared that the influence and authority of Christ shall be unceasingly exerted with constantly augmenting effect, until all the disorder and misery of the world shall be brought to an end. So glowing is the picture given by the prophets of the world's future that we are tempted to fear that it will never be realised. But "the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform _this_"; and those who by their prayers, efforts, and sacrifices are trying to contribute to the extension of Christ's kingdom, may rejoice in the assurance that they are not labouring in vain, nor spending their strength for nought (H. E. I. 979, 1161, 1162, 1166-1168; P. D. 475, 517, 2465, 2466). +II. Concerning the temporal well-being of Christ's people.+ 1. _Deliverance in time of danger_ (Isa. liv. 17). Illustrate by the account of the deliverance of Hezekiah (Isa. xxxvii.), noting especially that the promise then given was enforced by the very same declaration: "the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do _this_" (ver. 32; H. E. I. 4058). 2. _Supply for all temporal necessities_ (Matt. vi. 25-34; H. E. I. 4507). +III. Concerning the spiritual necessities and ultimate perfection of Christ's people.+ After each of them Faith sees written, though not with ink, "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform _this_" (H. E. I. 1063-1071, 1106, 1112-1119). By and by there is to be a great gathering of Christ's ransomed ones in the heavenly world, and this will then be their grateful acknowledgement (Josh. xxiii. 14). Meanwhile, whensoever in our search of the Scriptures we find a promise specially adapted to our needs, let us lay hold of it, saying with joyful confidence, "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform _this!_"


[1] The nature of water in a little pool left on the sea-shore by the receding tide is the same as in the great sea itself; but from the little pool we cannot form any conjecture as to the power of water when moving in mighty waves. So with fire,--its nature is the same in a lighted match and in a great conflagration such as reduced Chicago to ashes; but how different its power in the two cases! Scientific observers have left it on record, that while watching that conflagration it was revealed to them for the first time what power there is latent in fire, when massed in a great body; when at its height, solid granite buildings were consumed and passed away as if they had been made of thin pasteboard.


ix. 8-x. 4. _But His hand is stretched out still._

Much is said in the Bible concerning the hand of God.[1] Consider what the hand is to man: it is the chief instrument by which he executes his purposes,--farmer, builder, artist, author, &c.; and by the hand of God is meant His executive force in all its varied forms. God has the means of doing all His will, and He is not an unconcerned spectator of human affairs--these truths inspire God's people with hope, courage, and joy; and they ought to inspire with terror all who are in rebellion against Him. His hand is outstretched, not for, but against them; His irresistible executive forces are certain to be put forth for their overthrow. Alike for the warning of those whose lives are not governed according to the Divine will, and for the exciting of holy watchfulness in those who are trying to obey that will in all things, let us study this prophecy for the purpose of discovering, +I. The reasons why God's hand is outstretched in anger.+ Remind you that this is not an exhaustive statement of those reasons, and that no man is necessarily safe merely because his conduct is not here specifically described, I point out that among the things that put man in the most extreme peril of destruction by their Creator are--1. _Oppression_ (x. 1, 2.)[2] 2. _Hypocrisy_ (ix. 17).[3] 3. _Stubbornness under Divine chastisements_ (ix. 9, 10).[4] +II. The effects of the outstretching of God's hand in anger.+ These are _terrible, increasing, continuous._ +III. The mode of escape for those against whom God's hand is stretched out in anger.+ Not defiance, but submission and repentance (ix. 13). +IV.+ Let us note with reverent and thankful wonder, that +against the wicked God's hand is long stretched out;+ that it does not, as it so easily might, come down upon them instantly with destructive force. What a proof we have here that, while He is inflexibly righteous, He is tenderly pitiful! And what an encouragement we have here to return to Him with penitence of heart![5]


[1] It is so vast that the mighty ocean lies in the hollow of it (Isa. xl. 12). It is a hand of power and skill, for by it the foundations of the earth were laid; and all the wondrous hosts of heaven fashioned (Isa. xlviii. 13; lxvi. 2). In it our life is (Dan. v. 23). When He opens it, His creatures are filled with good, and all their desires are satisfied (Ps. civ. 28; cxlv. 16). By it the Good Shepherd feeds, guides, and protects His sheep (Ps. xcv. 7). It is a good hand, helping all who are trying to serve God (Ezra viii. 22; Neh. ii. 18). It is a mighty hand, delivering His people (Exod. xiii. 3). It is a hand that controls those who control others (Prov. xxi. 1). Even the shadow of it is sufficient protection (Isa. li. 16). It is a heavy hand when it rests upon His people in chastisement (Job xix. 21), and still more so when it rests upon the wicked in punishment (1 Sam. v. 11). It is outstretched to fight against His enemies (Jer. xxi. 5).

[2] See outlines on pages 94-96 (OPPRESSION OF THE POOR, THE PLEADER AND THE JUDGE).

[3] H. E. I. 3026, 3027; P. D. 1923.

[4] H. E. I. 143, 158.

[5] H. E. I. 2286.


ix. 9-14. _And all the people shall know, &c._

God here complains of what Israel did when grievous and prolonged afflictions, sent by God, fell upon them:[1] then they left undone what they ought to have done, and did what they ought not to have done; and this opens up the great subject of _the duty of the afflicted._

An entirely different interpretation has to be put upon affliction in the case of men whose sincere desire is to govern their lives according to the will of God, and in the case of men who are living wholly unto themselves. It is exclusively of afflictions that befall men of the latter order that we intend now to speak, though many things that will be said apply to _all_ the afflicted.

+I.+ In the case of the ungodly, the DESIGN of the affliction is in the first instance corrective, and then, in the event of its not accomplishing this end, punitive.

+II.+ Their DUTY is--1. +To recognise that their afflictions come from God.+ This is a fact that wicked men are very slow to recognise; they prefer to attribute their troubles to "bad luck," miscalculations on their part, superior ingenuity or force on the part of their human adversaries, &c. They prefer anything to a recognition of the awful fact that it is God who is dealing with them (H. E. I. 143). 2. +Submission to the will of God.+ This is frequently the result of recognition that the affliction comes from Him; men cease to use such language as is attributed to the Israelites (ver. 10). Were it not that sin dethrones the reason, this would always be the case; but it is not so,--men can be found so hardened in iniquity that they resolve to fight against God. Stoutheartedness in affliction is an admirable thing; there is a place for it; but it is utterly misplaced when it leads men to struggle against the Almighty. The only and inevitable result is heavier affliction and ultimate ruin (vers. 11-14. H. E. I. 146, 147).[2] 3. +Repentance toward God.+ (1.) Repentance is more than submission (H. E. I. 4206-4209). (2.) God will be satisfied with nothing less than change of heart towards Him. (3.) Here we reach one of the most terrible results of iniquity; by it men are incapacitated for naturally doing that which is indispensable to their salvation. Did not God pity sinful men, they could never attain to that state of heart and mind without which it would be impossible for God to forgive them. But Christ has been "exalted . . . for to _give_ repentance and forgiveness of sins." With the outward stroke of affliction there comes to the heart the inward grace of Christ: let transgressors be prompt to submit to the one, and to avail themselves of the other (H. E. I. 145, 4210).

These, then, are the duties of sinful men upon whom affliction has come. Let your compliance with them be--1. +Prompt.+ Not to comply with them is to perish. Not to comply with them promptly is an aggravation of all your former iniquity (H. E. I. 4247, 4248). By delay you may exhaust the Divine patience (Prov. xxix. 1). 2. +Thankful.+ Adore the benignity of God, in that He is willing to receive you on your mere repentance; a repentance which He Himself enables you to exercise. Remember that where God sees it, He does not merely turn away His chastisements from the penitent transgressor; He receives him into His favour, and blesses him as a son in whom He delights (Luke xv. 22, 23). Men do not act so. When their foes submit, they require from them an indemnity for the wrong that has been done; often an indemnity that is intended to be crushing, _e.g.,_ Germany and France. But God in all His dealings with penitent sinners shows Himself to be a God of grace (Micah vii. 18, 19). 3. +Intelligent.+ Do not imagine that there is anything meritorious in your repentance (H. E. I. 4225-4228). Remember that God thus deals with you solely for Christ's sake, through whose atonement it has become possible for Him to show mercy to penitent transgressors. Here is an additional argument for the exercise of repentance, that God Himself, at so great a cost, had laid the foundation on which He can deal with you otherwise than in the way of justice. If you persist in your iniquity, and by your stubbornness leave Him no alternative but to destroy you, He will be able with absolute truth to say to each of you, "Thou hast destroyed thyself!" Even in pronouncing judgment upon you, He will clear himself; as did our Lord when He left Jerusalem to its fate (Matt. xxiii. 37, 38).[3]


[1] The Ten Tribes had already suffered many an affliction; their political organisation had often been broken up by civil wars and foreign invasions, as the house of unburnt brick dissolves into mud before the rain, and the flower of the people had been cut down as lavishly as men cut down the cheap sycamores; but with that stoutness of heart, that obstinate toughness which in all ages to the present has marked this race, the men of Ephraim and Samaria seem to rise superior to every calamity; like Solomon, they will change the sycamores for cedars, and they will replace the brick with hewn stones. The conversion of Damascus from an ancient enemy into an ally encouraged them in their hopes; but Jehovah will confound their policy by bringing the conquerors of Damascus upon them.--_Strachey._

[2] A man under God's affliction is like a bird in a net; the more he strives, the more he is entangled.--_Bishop Hall._

[3] When the monster-taming Hercules overcame all in the Olympics, Jupiter at last, in an unknown shape, wrestled with him: the victory was uncertain, till at length Jupiter descried himself, and Hercules yielded. No striving with supreme powers: we must submit ourselves unto the mighty hand of God, acknowledge our offences, call to Him for mercy. If He strike, as it is with them that are wounded with the spear of Achilles, He alone must help.--_Burton._


(_An Ordination Sermon._)

ix. 15, 16. _The prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail, &c._

+I. The world is so constituted that leaders of the people are at present a necessity.+ It is no disparagement of oak trees to say that few of them are sixty feet high; and it is no disparagement of our fellow-men to say that few of them are qualified to lead others. In both cases we have to do with an ordinance of God. We are all included in it. We all need, in some respect or other, to be led. This arises from the disparity between human needs and human powers. Our faculties and time are too limited to allow any man to dispense with guidance. Even the accomplished statesman needs to be guided in the matter of health by the physician; the skilled physician needs to be guided in building by an architect, and so on through all the grades of human life. Men need guidance in commerce, politics, literature, art, philosophy, and in religion. There is to be a time when in this last respect guidance will not be needed (Jer. xxxi. 33, 34), but that time is not yet. The people still need guidance in religion, because, 1. While in some of its aspects it is so simple that a child is capable of it, in others it is so profound that they need the most thoughtful instruction concerning it. 2. There are many false forms of religion seeking to win acceptance (Matt. xxiv. 24; 2 Pet. ii. 1; 1 John iv. 1). 3. The natural tendency of the human heart inclines it to the acceptance of those forms of faith which are most unscriptural. This is the real secret to the power of Romanism. To-day, therefore, the people still need religious leaders, and leaders of the highest order. Even with the Bible in their hands, most men need guidance (Acts ix. 30, 31). Woe to them, if they take as their guides men who have not themselves been taught of the Holy Ghost!

+II. Leadership involves for the leaders the highest honour or the deepest shame.+ Many aspire to lead: few think of the difficulties and responsibilities of leadership. 1. _The man who leads his fellow-men well is entitled to the highest honour._ He cannot do it without noble qualities of mind and heart. Those who are well-led are, as a rule, not slow to acknowledge and reward the service that has been rendered them. 2. _But leadership does not necessarily involve any honour at all._ The post of prominence may only bring out into view the leader's incompetency, mental and moral. "The fierce light that beats upon a throne," and upon a pulpit, reveals every speck and flaw in its occupant. It is a perilous thing to exchange the pew for the pulpit. 3. _Through leadership a man may reach the most utter degradation and shame._ He may do this (1.) through his _incompetency._ Admiral Byng might have lived and died a respectable English gentleman, if he had not been made an admiral. Many envied him when he was so gazetted: none envied him when he was shot. Many a "stickit minister" would have made a highly respectable and useful church-member. (2.) Through his _dishonesty._ Many a leader, claiming to be the head of a community, has really been its "tail," carried by it, not carrying it on in paths of truth and honesty. His aim has been, not the welfare of his followers, but his own aggrandisement and popularity; his concern has been, not to speak the truth, but to say what would be pleasant. His was the sin of many who claimed to be prophets in Israel (Isaiah iii. 12, v. 20; Jer. v. 31). It is a common sin to-day, both in the political and religious world. Let those who claim to be ministers of God shun it. Self-seeking, everywhere despicable, is in the pulpit most hateful and criminal (P. D. 2482). Let every preacher regard as warnings those base prophets of Israel; let him endeavour to realise that wonderful picture of a true leader drawn by Christ's enemies (Matt. xxii. 16).

+III. Leadership involves for the led salvation or destruction.+ It is not a trivial matter to be well or ill led. How true this is politically, commercially, legally; it is not less true religiously. That community shows little wisdom that chooses its leaders carelessly. That community is insane which demands that its prophets shall prophesy unto it only smooth things (Isa. xxx. 10). The following of religious leaders who are themselves led by the Spirit of God will result in temporal and eternal well-being; but trust in "religious" demagogues, whose aim is not to speak the truth, but to flatter those who listen to them, results inevitably in social and spiritual ruin. In self-defence, then, demand of your minister that he speak to you, not what is pleasant, but what is true; and count him not your enemy, but your best friend when he utters what, just because it is the truth of God, shall smite and wound as if it were a sharp two-edged sword (Heb. iv. 12).


[1] See outline: "BLIND LEADERS," p. 92.


ix. 17. _Therefore the Lord shall have no joy in their young men, neither shall have mercy on their fatherless and widows._

From one point of view, this is a terrible text! it shows us that a people may arrive at such a condition of desperate and incorrigible wickedness, that God may feel constrained, as the upholder of truth and righteousness in the world, to destroy them. But, on the other hand, how worthy of thought and thanksgiving is this revelation of God's _constant_ feelings towards two very opposite classes of persons--those who are most joyful, and those who are most sorrowful.

+I. God's feelings toward young men.+ He has "joy" in them, a fact of which young men seldom think. Doubtless He has joy in them, 1. because of what they are; and 2. because of what they may become. He has this joy in them as their Creator. The great Artist has a delight in all His works (Gen. i. 31; Prov. viii. 31). Young men are a realisation, more or less perfect, of a thought, an ideal in the Divine mind. Strength and comeliness of body, courage and vivacity of mind, modesty and generosity of heart, are the ideal characteristics of a young man, and precisely as they are actually found in any young man, God has "joy" in him, just as He has joy in the strength of the horse, the beauty of the swan, or the melody that is poured forth by the lark or the nightingale. We frequently see a young man who is obviously a glorious work of God; and had not sin so terribly cursed and marred our race, all young men would have been such as the British youths whose beauty called forth the old pleasant jest, "Not Angles but angels."

All this is, of course, equally true of young women. For the Bible is in this respect to be interpreted like our English laws, concerning which it is decreed that the word "man" shall mean "woman" also in all cases in which nature herself does not forbid such an interpretation. A young woman is more than a pleasing mass of flesh and blood; she is a realisation of a thought of God, a work of the unseen Artist, to whom all that is beautiful in the universe owes its existence.[1] Many a young woman is so beautiful that the human artist counts himself happy indeed if he can make on the canvas any fair transcript of her loveliness; and, what is better still, the beautiful body is but a casket in which a more beautiful body is enshrined.

Young men and women, think of this--God delights in you! What effects will a realisation of this thought have upon you? 1. _It will check that vanity by which the strength of the young man and the beauty of the young woman are often so pitifully marred_ (1 Cor. iv. 7). 2. _It will cause you to reverence yourselves._ Those who think that no one cares for them, are apt not to care for themselves; but consciousness that we are observed leads us to circumspection and self-control. If the observation be friendly and approving, it is a stimulus to endeavour to merit it. Respect kindles self-respect. Remembering how God looks upon you, you will shrink from doing anything that will lessen His "joy" in you; you will not voluntarily permit faults or vices to mar the nobleness and beauty that call it forth, any more than the roses, if they had power of self-defence, would give a lodgment to those insects which blight the beauty that causes beholders to joy in them. 3. _Kindly, loving feelings toward God will spring up in you._ Friendliness and love tend to call forth friendship and love; just as the sunshine and rain that in early summer descend from the natural heavens cause flowers to spring forth from the earth.

Consider what joy God must have had in the young man Jesus of Nazareth, and why He had it, and resolve that the same causes for this Divine joy shall exist in you.

+II. God's feelings towards orphans and widows.+ "Mercy on their fatherless and widows." A more familiar thought, but let us not therefore overlook its preciousness. How frequent and how emphatic are the declarations of God's pity for the orphans and widows (Exod. xxii. 22; Deut. x. 18; Ps. x. 14, 18; lxviii. 5; lxxxii. 3; cxlvi. 9; Jer. xlix. 11, &c.) Yea, we are taught that at least one-half of religion consists in being like God in this respect (Jas. i. 27). God's pity is practical; let those to whom it is promised trust in it confidently.[2] And let God's people make it their business--put themselves to pain and trouble--to be like Him in this respect: _this_ is the way to secure His favour for themselves.


[1] The world is God's journal, wherein He writes His thoughts and traces His tastes. The world overflows with beauty. Beauty should no more be called trivial, since it is the thought of God.--_Beecher._

[2] There are no such promises to those who are free from sorrow and trial as are full and abundant to the afflicted. A good country physician in New England went to a neighbour's house to tell a wife and mother of the sudden death of her absent husband. She was more than ordinarily frail and dependent. She had a large family. Her husband had acquired no property. The fresh blow was indeed terrible to her. When the first wild burst of sorrow was over, she looked up through her tears to her sympathising friend, and said in agony, "But, Doctor, _what_ shall I do?" "My dear woman, I don't know," said the kind-hearted physician. "All I can say is, I only wish I had as many promises of God to take right home to myself as you have just now. The Bible is full of promises to those who are in your case." And the stricken woman lived to realise the truth and preciousness of the richest of those promises.--_Trumbull._


ix. 17. _For all this His anger is not turned away, but His hand is stretched out still._

I. Anger in God is a calm and just sense of displeasure against sin.[1] II. Has its expression in the judgments executed upon men in this life. III. These under an administration of mercy are designed to be corrective. IV. Cannot in the case of failure satisfy the purposes of the Divine anger. V. Hence in all cases of impenitence God's anger is not turned away, &c.--_J. Lyth, D.D.: Homiletical Treasury._ Part I. p. 15.


[1] The anger which God feels and displays is always against _sin._ It is never against sinners as offenders against Himself personally, but as violators of the eternal laws of righteousness and love. It is not possible for the most daring transgressor to injure God in the slightest degree, and therefore He can never feel anything approaching to that personal vindictiveness which we feel against those who have wronged us. There are some passages which at first sight convey a different impression, as when it is said, "Know therefore that the Lord thy God . . . repayeth them that hate Him to their face, to destroy them; He will not be slack to him that hateth Him; He will repay him to his face" (Deut. vii. 10); and again, "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance upon His adversaries" (Nahum i. 2). But terrible as such passages are, they admit of a ready explanation. In them God manifestly speaks as "the Judge of all the earth," as the Representative and Administrator of righteousness. Some years ago, proclamations denouncing the severest penalties against Fenianism were issued in the name of our beloved Queen; but no one imagined that she cherished any personal hostility against those offenders against her authority. Every month it is her melancholy duty to sign documents that consign convicted murderers to the scaffold, but no one regards these death-warrants as any proof that she delights in the sufferings of those whose sentence she confirms. Nor will any thoughtful person interpret such passages as setting forth anything else than God's resolve to be faithful to His duties as the supreme administrator of justice, notwithstanding that in being so He must perform many things that are revolting to His infinite tenderness and compassion. His expostulations with sinners to repent and turn from their transgressions are a sufficient confirmation of this interpretation (Ezek. xviii. 31, 32, &c.) His anger against sin and sinners is no passion of personal vindictiveness, but is the natural revulsion of purity from impurity, of honesty from fraud, of truthfulness for falsehood; this instinctive abhorrence of generosity for meanness, of benevolence for malice, of kindness for cruelty.

If God did not feel and manifest this anger against sin, it would be impossible to respect and love Him. If He could look down on the mean and dastardly things that are done every day, and yet remain cold and emotionless as an iceberg, as indifferent to the sufferings of His creatures as some Oriental despots have been to the miseries of their wretched subjects, our whole soul would rise up in righteous condemnation of Him.--_R. A. B._

See outlines: GOD OPPRESSED, pp. 28-32; A TERRIBLE RESOLVE, pp. 61, 62; THE PURPOSE OF PUNISHMENT, pp. 63, 64.


ix. 18-19. _For wickedness burneth as the fire, &c._

One of the grandest and most fearful scenes in nature is the forest on fire. This is the figure Isaiah employs to describe the destruction that was coming upon sinful and stubborn Israel.[1] That destruction would not be spared and the wealthiest could not escape. And all this woe, at which it behoved the people to tremble, is attributed to the wickedness in which they delighted. "Wickedness burneth as the fire"--a comprehensive statement eternally true.

+I. Consider how true it is in regard to individuals.+ The forest-fire--1. _what a trivial thing it may seem in its commencement!_ It was but a little heap of dried leaves and sticks which a thoughtless traveller kindles, that by means of the little fire thus produced he might cook his evening meal. He had no conception how that fire would spread. So the wickedness that ultimately consumes and utterly destroys, often commences in what seems a little transgression, _e.g.,_ the few glasses of wine taken at a wedding-breakfast by one who has been a total abstainer; the little act of dishonesty that is undetected, &c. (James iii. 5). Many of the passions by which millions are consumed--avarice, lust, intemperance, &c.--seem little things in their commencement (H. E. I. 4497, 4498, 4513-4518). 2. _It makes progress according to its own laws,_ utterly regardless of the desires of the onlookers. It will not stop at any line which they may prescribe. No man can accomplish a desire to burn down just one acre of a forest. If he kindles a fire in the forest at all, it will advance as far and as long as there is fuel for it. So no man can determine beforehand the measure of the power which permitted wickedness shall acquire over him; the fire which a man kindles in the forest of his own passions will go burning on long after he may wish it to stop. 3. _Its power grows continually._ It acquires a marvellous intensity and fervour as it proceeds (H. E. I. 409, 4500, 4501, 4534-4537). 4. Consequently _it proceeds with ever-accelerating rapidity._ Here again the moral analogy is frightfully accurate. 5. Consequently, too, _its range continually widens._ That which began as a little point becomes a vast circle constantly expanding. Things that seemed so far off as to be absolutely safe are speedily included in the ring of flame. So the fire of ungodliness which was kindled in one passion hastens through the whole nature, and destroys every vestige of virtue and nobility; it seizes every faculty of mind and heart.[2] 6. _It is remorselessly undistinguishing in its effects._ The fair flowers and the poisonous weeds, the stately cedars and the misshapen brambles, it consumes alike. So again with the sinner: the wickedness that consumes him spares nothing. In workhouses, lunatic asylums, prisons, how many most terrible proofs there are of the truth of this declaration! Once the owners of many choice possessions, and with prospects as fair as those of any of us, they are now like the forest region _after_ the fire--blackened and desolate.

+II. Consider how true this is of nations.+ Wickedness consumes the nation's prosperity, happiness, strength, and ultimately its existence.[3]

From all this there are many lessons to be learned. 1. _He is a fool who makes a sport of sin_ (Prov. x. 23). He is infinitely more foolish than the child who plays with fire. 2. _He is a fool who does not stamp out the fires of unholy passion the instant that he perceives them beginning to kindle upon him._ In dealing with sin, or in dealing with fire, our only safety lies in the promptest and most energetic action (H. E. I. 4733, 4734).[4] 3. _Those nations are guilty of suicidal folly who legalise vice in any form._ 4. _Those who pander to a nation's vices are traitors of the worst kind_.[5]--_R. A. B._

In this message the prophet affirms that there are resemblances between a fire and sin. It is not a common fire to which he refers, such as is employed for domestic or public purposes. It is a great conflagration which burns the humble shrubbery, the gigantic forest, extends over the land, and sends a mighty column of smoke and flame up to heaven. By attending to this comparison some of the characteristics of sin will vividly appear.

+I. The origin of a great fire.+ Recently we read an account of a great fire, and the paragraph closed with these words: "The origin of the fire is unknown." Suppositions were made, conjectures were offered, still a deep mystery which may never be unravelled. The same with the origin of sin. We know it had a beginning, for God only is from everlasting. We know it had a beginning before Eve and Adam felt its power, since they were tempted. We know it began with him who is called Satan and the father of lies. Still, there are three questions about it which we cannot answer. 1. _Where_ did it begin? 2. _When_ did it begin? 3. _How_ did it begin? These questions might have been answered; they have not, because such information is not required by us in this stage of our unending history.

+II. The progress of a great fire.+ Place one spark amid combustible material in London. Let it alone. What will be the result? It will leap from point to point, house to house, street to street, until the whole city is in flames. Sin has spread in an exactly similar way. One sin, to the individual; one wrong action, to the family; one immoral look, to thousands; one crime, to a kingdom. The sin of one woman away in the East, some sixty centuries ago, has spread itself amongst the whole race; and there is not one who has not felt, to some extent, its scorching power.

+III. The transforming power of a great fire.+ Wood, coal, &c., it transforms into its own essence, because it makes fire of these. It is even so with sin. It turns everything, over which it gains the slightest control, into its own nature--that is, into a curse. The desire to _possess,_ sin has turned it in a different direction, and made it an autocratic passion. Take the principle of _ambition_ the same way. Take _commerce_ in the same way. Thus the richest blessings, yea, all the blessings which God has given to us, sin can so transform that they shall become curses.

+IV. The destructive energy of a great fire.+ Who can calculate the amount of property in London alone which has been destroyed by fire? But the destruction which sin has caused in London is infinitely greater and more momentous. Some have bodies once beautiful, now bloated and withered by sin. Some have feelings, once tender, now petrified by sin. Some whole intellectual powers were once strong, now feeble by sin. Some, who were once full of hope, now hopeless by sin. The destruction which sin has caused is awful. And this it must ever do to all who touch it. Avoid it, therefore, more than anything else. Herein only is safety.

+V. The termination of a great fire.+ It terminates when all the material is consumed and reduced to ashes. Can the fire of sin ever be put out in this way? The body in the grave is scorched by it no more; but what of the soul? Look at the rich man. He is tormented, in pain, not by a literal flame, but by the fire of sin. He will be so for ever, because the soul is immortal.

A great fire has been terminated by a superior quenching power. There is also an element which can completely remove sin from the soul. What is it? Nothing can be more important than the true answer to this question. Health must depart, trade must be left, money not required. Our souls must live for ever. With sin, no heaven, but hell. How delivered? Ask those in heaven, and those on earth, who have been saved. They all say that the fires of unholy passion have been quenched in them, and their guilt removed, by the blood of the Lamb. Apply at once to the same source.--_A. McAuslane, D.D._


[1] Civil war and foreign invasion shall rage through this reprobate people like the fire with which the husbandman clears the ground of briers and thorns. The wickedness of the land becomes its own punishment, and burns with a fury which is indeed the wrath of God, while its fuel is the people themselves.--_Strachey._

Wickedness, _i.e.,_ the constant thirst of evil, is a fire which a man kindles in himself. And when the grace of God which daps and restrains this fire is all over, it is sure to burst forth. . . . The fire, into which this wickedness bursts forth, seizes individuals first of all; and then, like a forest fire, it seizes upon the nation at large in all its ranks and members, who roll up in the form of ascending smoke. . . . In its historical manifestation, this judgment consisted in the most inhuman self-destruction during an anarchial civil war.--_Delitzsch._

The picture of guilt grows darker still. It is like destroying fire in the jungle of a forest. The confusion and misery thus caused are like the volumes of smoke that mount up in whirling eddies from such a conflagration.--_Birks._

[2] Oftentimes a ruling sin will have power little by little to colour the whole life with its own tints; to assimilate everything there to itself, as in ever-widening circles to absorb all into its own vortex, being as it were a gulf, a maelstrom, into which all that was better and nobler in the man is irresistibly attracted and drawn, and is there swallowed up, and for ever disappears.--_Trench._

See also the Outline: THE TOW AND THE SPARK, pp. 69-71.

[3] See Outline: INIQUITY A BURDEN, p. 13.

[4] When the heart begins once to be kindled, it is easy to smother the smoke of passion, which else will fume up into the head and gather into so thick a cloud that we shall lose the very sight of ourselves, and what is best to be done--_Sibbes._

When a fire is first broken out in a chimney, it may with much less labour be quenched than when it has seized the timber of the house. What small beginnings had those fires which have conquered stately palaces, and turned famous cities into ruinous heaps!--_Swinnock._

[5] See Outline: INIQUITY A BURDEN, p. 13.


x. 1-4. _Woe unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, &c._

I. An indictment against wicked magistrates. II. A challenge. III. A sentence.

I. Magistrates and rulers are answerable to God. II. Their decisions will be revised. III. Will in many instances be reversed. IV. The consequences of their injustice will return back upon themselves.[1]--_J. Lyth, D.D.: Homiletic Treasury,_ Part I. p. 16.


[1] See Outlines: OPPRESSION OF THE POOR, pp. 94, 95; and THE PLEADER AND THE JUDGE, pp. 95-97.


x. 3. _And what will ye do in the day of visitation, &c._

These questions were addressed to men who were living lives of ungodliness, and who were rich and strong in the results of their iniquity. To such men I put the same questions. Do not resent them; answer them, at least to yourselves. All the warnings of the Bible are warnings of true and intelligent friendship, all its threatenings "are but the hoarse voice of God's love, crying, Do thyself no harm!" (H. E. I., 604, 605). Let self-love, which has been your governing motive all through your life, move you to consider, before it is too late, what you will do in "the day of visitation." It will not always be with you as it is to-day.

I. There will probably come to you a "day of visitation" in the shape of AFFLICTION. You have known little of it, but, if life be prolonged, it will certainly come to you (Job v. 7; H. E. I., 47). In how many forms it may come upon you! Broken health--blasted reputation--poverty--bereavement: these things may come upon you singly, or in various combinations, or all together. Men quite as strong as you have been overtaken and overthrown by them (H. E. I., 3991, 4403-4406, 4975-4989). What will you do in the day of visitation and desolation? To whom will you flee for help? To man? You will then find what worldly friendship is worth (H. E. I., 2016-2112, 2131-2137). To God? But will He then hear you? He does not necessarily listen to men merely because they are in trouble (Judg. x. 14; Jer. vii. 16; Prov. i. 26-31). It is the penitent's suppliant only that God will hear and answer, and your very pain and terror may incapacitate you for the exercise of genuine repentance; _that_ consists, not in dread of the consequences of sin, but in disgust of sin itself. As your friend I counsel you (Job xxii. 21-28). It is a mean and miserable thing to have recourse to God only when in trouble (H. E. I., 3877-3879).

II. But if your lot is different from that of all other men, and no day of sorrow ever dawns upon you, there will come to you a "day of visitation" in the shape of DEATH. _That_ is certain! What will you do then? To whom and to what will you flee for help? Friends, wealth--what will be their power or value then? And "to whom will you leave your glory?" For you will have to leave it (Ps. xlix. 16, 17; Eccles. v. 15; 1 Tim. vi. 7). And when you have left it, what will become of _you?_ Prepare for what which is at once so inevitable and so momentous (H. E. I., 1562-1566).

III. But that is not all. Beyond, there is a supreme "day of visitation," the DAY OF JUDGMENT (H. E. I. 3045, 3055, 3061; P. D. 2100, 2103, 2106, 2107). _You_ will be in that countless multitude which will stand before the "great white throne." And you will not be overlooked or forgotten then; _you_ will be judged according to the records in "the books" that will then be opened (Rom. xiv. 12). Help--who can then render it to you? Your "glory"--it will have disappeared, or it may reappear as your shame. None of the things which secure for your consideration now will have a shadow of importance then. Do I speak to you as a foe or as a friend when I urge you to prepare for this inevitable meeting with God? (H. E. I., 3062-3066). The time to prepare is _now._ The way to prepare, you know; put into practice that which you have been taught. Then all these days of visitation will be transformed and stripped of their terrors. In the day of sorrow you will have a Friend who will know how to comfort you; in the day of death that Friend will be with you, upholding you in all that may be involved in that profound mystery; in the day of judgment that Friend will be the occupant of the throne, and He will speak to you, not words that will blast you for ever, but words that will fill you with eternal joy.


x. 5-34. _O Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger, &c._

This prophecy may be used to illustrate the following truths of abiding interest. +I. The power of empires and the policy of statesmen are all under the control of God.+ Free-will is one great fact of the universe; an all-controlling providence is another; and God knows how to harmonise both. In investing man with free-will, God did not abdicate the throne of the universe; He still rules, and whether they do it voluntarily or involuntarily, all men further His purposes. 1. This is a truth to be ever remembered by those who rule. Their desire should be to work along with God, and not merely in subordination to Him. This is the one secret of true prosperity and abiding power. 2. It is full of consolation for good men when rulers are yielding to a mad and wicked ambition (Ps. lxxvi. 10). +II. God exercises His control of empires and statesmen for the promotion of the welfare of His people.+ Every great empire has some underlying policy that guides and controls all its actions; _e.g.,_ the underlying policy of Russia is said to be the ultimate acquisition of Constantinople. God's "great policy" is the promotion of the welfare of His people. In raising up or casting down kingdoms He has this object always in view. This again is a profoundly practical truth. 1. The ruler who remembers it will at least abstain from every form of assault on the Church of God. He who undertakes to persecute the Church, undertakes to make war upon Him from whom he received his power, and who can instantly resume it (Acts ix. 4 and Matt. xxviii. 18). 2. Remembering it, God's people will not be dismayed in times of calamity. They will look with assured confidence, not for the destruction of the Church, but of her persecutors; and they will not look in vain. When the "whole work" that God has in view shall be accomplished, the ungodly instrument by which it was effected shall be utterly broken (vers. 12-20). [All this belongs to a realm of truth, the importance and preciousness of which is not likely to be appreciated in these times of freedom from persecution, but by the martyrs in all ages it has been well understood.] +III. In the view of God the welfare of His people is prompted precisely in proportion as their holiness is promoted.+ We see from verses 20, 21, that while God intended by the Assyrian invasion to punish iniquity (ver. 6), His ultimate design was to bring His people back to Himself in penitence and faith. Here we have, 1. A correction of our views. We are apt to suppose that by the welfare of the Church is meant peace and outward prosperity. We are satisfied if her revenues and social influence are increasing. God often thinks it better to take these things away. The day of true welfare for Judah begins when the fierce armies of Assyria come up against her (H. E. I., 3666). 2. Light is cast upon God's estimate of holiness. So precious is it in His sight, that He overrules even the policies of great empires for the promotion of it among His people. It is distinctly revealed that this is His aim in all the discipline of our personal life (Heb. xii. 10; H. E. I., 85-90, 2842, 2843). This should be to us, then, 3. An instruction. We should estimate holiness as God does. We should constantly "follow" it (Heb. xii. 14; H. E. I., 2845-2848). And besides humbly submitting to His chastisements (Lam. iii. 22), we should thankfully acquiesce in whatever calamities He is pleased to send upon His church or on ourselves, even though they be relatively as terrible as an invasion by the Assyrians, remembering that His purpose therein is to bring us back to Himself, to make us like Himself, and so render us capable of a happiness that shall be perfect and eternal.


x. 5-34. _O Assyrian, the rod of Mine anger, &c._

The Assyrian. I. _His commission_--subordinate, a mere rod in God's hands--defined. II. _His pride_--he boasts of his schemes--his achievements--his strength and wisdom--of what he will do against God. III. _His rebuke_--just--keen--humiliating. IV. _His punishment_--irresistible--sudden--signal--effected by Divine power.

I. The mightiest nations are but instruments of the Divine will. II. Are employed to execute wrath upon the guilty. III. God appoints their special work. IV. Defines its limits. V. Controls their ambitious purposes. VI. Rewards them accordingly.--_J. Lyth, D.D.: Homiletical Treasury,_ p. 16.

We know what the Assyrians were in the history of the world. They do not stand alone; they belong to a class of men who have appeared again and again, and are numerously represented in the world to-day--men of enormous force, of abounding energy, of vast ambition, of unscrupulous determination. Such men as Ghengis-Khan, Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Cæsar, and Napoleon, are their conspicuous representatives, but their representatives only. They are to be found elsewhere than on thrones and at the head of armies. They have been represented in the Church by ambitious and unscrupulous popes, cardinals, and bishops not a few. They are represented among our nobles by domineering landlords; in commerce by great capitalists, who brook no competition, but will crush a rival at any cost. This chapter concerns men who live in England to-day, and it has for us more than an historic interest.

+I. The ambition of powerful men.+ Having power, they naturally and lawfully wish to use it. The astonishing and lamentable thing is the manner in which they delight to use it. God intends all the power that He gives to be used for the same purposes as He uses His own--for the upholding of weakness, the relief of the needy, the dispensing of blessing. But almost always those to whom God intrusts much power use it for self-aggrandisement. Their delight is to crush others (vers. 13, 14; H. E. I. 243; P. D. 244). Instead of doing their best to resemble God, they do their utmost to resemble the devil. What a pitiable mistake! How much the ambitious man thus loses! What a horrible perversion of the means of blessing!

+II. The godlessness of powerful men.+ 1. Mistaking the use to which their strength should be put, they also forget its source. They are so besotted as to think that it is _theirs,_ something which they have originated; as if the jets of a fountain should boast of the water that leaps up through them, forgetful of the reservoir whence it comes (1 Cor. iv. 7). We see how foolish this is; let us not forget how common it is; let us be on our guard against an error so common and so absurd (Deut. viii. 10-18; Dan. iv. 29-31. P. D. 2861). 2. Their godlessness appears, too, in their imagination that there is no limit to their power (vers. 8-11; chap xxxvii. 24). In their projects there is no dependence on Divine guidance and support, no submission to the Divine will (Jas. iv. 13-15).

+III. The real position of powerful men.+ They imagine that they are autocrats: they really are merely instruments in the hand of God. God will be served by us, voluntarily or involuntarily. He knows how, without impairing the freedom of the will, to use powerful men for the accomplishment of His purposes; in much the same way as the miller deals with the stream that rushes past his mill--he does not try to destroy it, or to stop it, he merely turns it in among his wheels, and then unconsciously it uses its mighty force in doing his work (vers. 5, 6; P. D., 2899). So it was with Pharaoh: though resolved not to serve Jehovah (Exod. v. 2), he did serve Him most effectively (Exod. ix. 16). So, though we may not be able in all cases to trace it, we may be sure it is with all wicked men (Ps. lxxvi. 10). God absolutely controls the vast universe over which He rules: if we will not serve Him as sons, we must do it as slaves or as tools.

+IV. The end of men who forget the source of their power, and use it in a godless spirit.+ They are but rods in God's hand, and when He has accomplished by them what He intended to do, He breaks them, and casts them aside. In their folly they imagine that they can never be broken (Ps. x. 6); yet how easy it is for Him utterly to destroy them! Far-stretching and mighty they seem as a forest, yet how easily is a forest destroyed by fire (vers. 16-19). God's judgments are as axes, by which even the monarchs of the forest are brought low (vers. 33, 34). By Isaiah we are reminded of three historic instances in which all this has been verified: the Egyptians (vers. 24, 26); the Midianites (ver. 26); the Assyrians (vers. 17, 18, 32-34; xxxvii. 36). If we needed any proof that God and His government of the world are still the same, surely we have it in the history of Napoleon I. Let the mighty nations of the earth lay these lessons to heart (P. D., 2787). Let all who are disposed to vaunt their wealth or power be mindful of them: the ruler or the merchant-prince of to-day may be a beggar tomorrow (1 Sam. ii. 3, 4, 7-10; H. E. I., 4404, 4976; P. D., 149, 1617).


x. 7-15. _Howbeit He meaneth not so, &c._

"Man appoints, but God disappoints," "Man proposes, but God disposes," are proverbs which sum up a good deal of human experience. We are often reminded of their truth even when we are striving to be on the side of God, and to be co-workers with Him. There will be great differences between what _we_ "mean" and "think," and what _He_ has determined in reference to the same actions.[1] But more frequently we see this in the case of men who, like the Assyrians, are constructing their plans in direct opposition to God, fully bent on carrying out ambitious and rapacious schemes. All the while they are only agents in effecting Divine purposes; they do what they never "meant" to do.

+I. Man's purposes are often godless.+ In the sense, 1. Of being formed _independently of God_ (vers. 11, 13, 14). Men forget that God is inseparably connected with us and all our movements (Ps. cxxxix. 1-12); they never ask whether God will approve of their plans, nor what will happen should He frown upon them; they assume that they have only to plan and execute, forgetting the lessons of experience. Their conduct is as foolish as it is irreligious; irrational because it is atheistic (Jas. iv. 13-15). 2. Of being formed _in defiance of God._ Men harden themselves against the appeals and warnings of conscience and Scripture, and deliberately engage in enterprises upon which they know they cannot ask God's blessing, upon which they know must rest God's curse. Amid all their dark designs there is the torturing thought, which they would fain banish, but which clings to them still, that there _is_ a Sovereign Lord whose counsel shall stand. +II. God knows how to use man's godless purposes for the furtherance of His glorious designs.+ This is done, 1. _Sometimes by making an evil purpose the very means of continuing and spreading His good work._ How often is this seen in the history of persecutions! (See Acts xviii. 1, 2. The Pilgrim Fathers. Tyndale's Bible. Martyrdoms, &c.). The means which men take for putting out the light are used by God for spreading it. 2. _Sometimes by allowing the evil purposes to work on up to the point when its success appears certain, and then bringing about a totally different result._ The device of Joseph's brethren only needed time to effect God's purpose. Haman; enemies of Daniel. There is no stage of a wicked design safe from the chance of utter confusion, and even the last act that was intended to be a triumph may turn out a tragedy. 3. _Sometimes the evil purpose is allowed to do all that was intended, and yet God effects through it His highest designs, even when human wisdom would declare that the case was hopeless._ The crowning example of this is to be found in the suffering and death of our Lord Himself. Every step of that malignant crime, which was thought to be a step towards the utter destruction of the Saviour's mission, was but helping on the triumph intended in the counsels of Eternal Love (John xii. 32).

Learn, 1. _The folly of leaving God out of our plans._ To plan without Him is presumptuous arrogance (vers. 15). It is to invite defeat, our knowledge being so limited and so certain to leave out some disturbing influence that will frustrate all our anticipations. A godless plan always means defeat in proportion to its apparent successes. The choice that really lies before us is to work _with_ God as His children, or _for_ Him as his slaves, His tools, His instruments. Our choice will be left perfectly free; but if we choose to reject His paternal guidance, we shall find that all we have secured for ourselves is merely the contemptible honour of figuring in our small way as reprobates (Exod. ix. 15). 2. _The dignity of human life generally,_ as being comprehended in the supreme plans of God (Gen. xlv. 8).[2] 3. _How to regard the disappointments of life._ When things turn out differently than we "meant" or "thought," it is useless to fret and fume against them. Instructed by God's Word, let us humbly and reverently acquiesce in our disappointments as forming part of a plan of God, conceived in paternal love, which is unfolding moment by moment: each event, whether bright or dark, having its mission from Him, and clothed with the grandeur of an unerring counsel. If our purpose has been a righteous or beneficent one, though it may seem for a time to have been utterly set aside, yet in the _end_ we shall find that God has used it to further results more important and glorious than it entered into our mind to ask or think.[3]--_William Manning._


[1] P. D., 2899, 2906.

See the whole article PROVIDENCE in the H. E. I., and the other references given under this heading in the "Index of Arrangement."

[2] See Outline: EVERY MAN'S LIFE A PLAN OF GOD, chap. xlv. 5.

[3] P. D., 863, 865, 867, 868, 2101, 3239.

"God's help is always sure, His mercies seldom guessed; Delay will make our pleasure pure, Surprise will give it zest; His wisdom is sublime, His heart profoundly kind; God never is before His time, And never is behind."--_Lynch._


x. 20. _And it shall come to pass, &c._

Consider, +I. What is said of their former error.+ When it is said that they "shall no more stay upon him that smote them," it surely implies that they had done this before: this was their error. They had stayed upon another--upon Assyria as a refuge and defence against the confederacy that threatened Ahaz (chap. vii. 1-12, viii. 4-9), just as at other times they relied upon Egypt as a defence against Assyria,--and they were to be delivered for this tendency to trust in human help, and were to be taught to "stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth." Three things are here implied and expressed. 1. _They had exercised an improper dependence._ To this we are all naturally prone. We need help, and are apt to seek it in some creature rather than in the Creator. The evil of this course is, that thus we are kept away from God (H. E. I., 169-177). 2. _Their dependence had been disappointed._ That on which they stayed, not only failed them, it injured them (2 Chron. xxviii. 20; Jer. xvii. 5, 6). Creature confidence brings a curse upon us in two ways. (1) By disappointments (Prov. xxiii. 5; Ps lxii. 9, cxlvi. 3, 4; Isa. ii. 22). (2) By Divine rebukes (Jer. ii. 17-19; Jonah iv. 6, 7). 3. _Their folly was to be corrected by their sovereign._ They were to be taught wisdom by the things they suffered. But, alas! men often harden themselves against even such instruction (Isa ix. 13; Jer. v. 3; Amos iv. 6-11). Here we see the depravity of human nature in rendering inefficacious all these Divine chastisements. When this is the case, there is a danger of one of two things: either that God in anger will throw down the rod (Hos. iv. 17), or that He will fulfil His own threatenings (Lev. xxvi. 21, 23, 24, 27, 28; H. E. I., 145-147). God has a merciful design in all your crosses, trials, and afflictions (H. E. I., 56-74). When this is accepted, and afflictions thus sanctified, the penitent sufferer will put his trust in God only. Thus the prodigal was starved back "He began to be in want"--and it was a blessed want that led him to think of his father's house, and resolved him to return. You have no reason to complain when your earthly props are taken away, if thus you are induced to take fresh hold of God.

+II. What is said of their renewed experience.+ "But shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel." Glance at three views of it. 1. _It is an enlightened confidence._ Confidence is the offspring both of ignorance and wisdom; ignorance leads some persons to entrust precious deposits to strangers or to villains, but the wise man seeks first to know those in whom he is asked to trust. It is foolish to trust without inquiry, and to refuse to trust the trustworthy. The Christian stays himself upon God, because he has ascertained what His character is (Ps. cxix. 107; 2 Tim. i. 12). 2. _Their confidence is very extensive._ It covers all times (Ps. lxii. 8; Isa. xxvi. 4); all events that can awaken our anxiety; every condition in which we can be found; all that appertains to life and godliness, not only grace, but glory; not only our journey's end, but also the way. Thus it should be with us, but it is not always so. Strange to say, while we readily trust God for eternal life, we often find it difficult to trust Him for what we need in this life. How foolish is this (Rom. viii. 32; Ps. lxxxiv. 11)! 3. _It is a blessed confidence_ (Prov. xxix. 25; Ps. cxxv. 1; Isa. xxvi. 3; Jer. xvii. 7, 8; H. E. I., 1191-1934; P. D., 1157, 1160).

+III. The reality of their change.+ "They shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, _in truth._" This confidence is distinguishable, 1. _from mere pretensions._ There are those who profess to know God, but in works deny Him. It seems strange that persons should act the hypocrite here, for what do they gain (Job xx. 5, xxvii. 8)? 2. _From imaginary confidence._ Persons may not endeavour to deceive others, yet they may deceive themselves (Prov. xxx. 12). How unreal may be the confidence that seems most assured. (Comp. Mark xiv. 27-31, with verse 50.) Therefore--

"Beware of Peter's word, Nor confidently say, I will never deny Thee, Lord, But grant, I never may."

_William Jay: Sunday Evening Sermons and Thursday Evening Lectures,_ pp. 290-296.


x. 20-23. _And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, &c._

We can hardly understand such language as this, because in our national life and personal history we have never been subject to these strange mutations which befell the kingdom of Israel. We can hardly understand what it means where a whole nation is torn up by the roots, and carried away into a foreign land; and where, by and by, in the capricious mood of some despot, a portion of them are allowed to go back again,--a mere fragment. For in the carrying away of a million people, how many perish! And when a few are gathered together, and they turn to go back, how much is this remnant to be pitied! Wandering from place to place in the promised land, crossing the Jordan, finding a heap where once there was a flourishing city, drawing near to the home of their ancestry and finding it in the hands of foreigners, themselves regarded as intruders and outcasts, what a harrowing experience theirs must be!

It was under such circumstances as these that the prophets did their chief work. It was one of their principal functions to encourage a nation plunged into profound despondency. In this chapter, the prophet, with words of cheer, and with an inexpressible richness of imagery, comforts the poor, despoiled band of people, and makes them feel that the hand of power shall not for ever be so strong against them.

Looked at in its interior spirit, as God meant that it should be viewed, is it not calculated to encourage and comfort people who are in desolateness and distress? Think what is meant by _"a remnant."_ It does not mean simply a few; neither does it mean merely the last things; though it includes both these ideas. There are "remnants" in the tailor's shop, in the carpenter's shop, in the household after a meal, in the harvest field--the waste and refuse that is left after the main and best parts have been taken away and used. So, in all the phases of society there is a remnant constantly coming up; it is the portion which is left after the better or more favoured have been culled out and used; the unsuccessful man, and the men who have broken down; and it is in respect to the remnants of society that I am going to speak this morning.

Consider God's great tenderness towards the remnant of His people. . . . Did you ever think of the remnants of society--how numerous they are, and how much they are to be pitied? We are observant of the prosperous and successful, but who cares for the remnants of society? God does!

Let us look at some of these remnants. I. _Those who are broken in health, and are utterly turned away by that reason from all that they sought._ How many they are! How full of sorrow is their lot! By accident or disease suddenly rendered useless! Like a ship cast upon the land, where the sun beats upon it, and the heat shrinks and cracks it, and opens the seams wider and wider, till by and by it drops to pieces. So it is their pitiful lot to be able to do nothing but wait for the end. II. _Those who have misapplied their powers, and consequently have failed._ How many give themselves to professions for which they are utterly unfit! Every day men are ruined because they do not know what they are, nor what they are set to do, and are not willing to do the things which they could do, but are aspiring to do the things they are not fitted for. III. _Men who were adapted to their work, but were overtaxed, and who had not the endurance which their circumstances required._ Hundreds of men, under the intense strain of modern society, break down; and then all is gone so far as they are concerned. IV. _A great many more break down from a secret mismanagement of themselves._ They live in neglect or violation of the simplest and most fundamental laws of health, or they indulge in vices that are destructive. V. _They who have violated the laws of society, and have been detected, convicted, and branded with shame._ It is scarcely possible for such men, however earnestly and honestly they may desire it, to be anything else than mere "remnants" in society.

1. In regard to all those who are in this great struggling mass--the remnants of society--I have to say: Take pity on them; have compassion on them; do something to rescue, to strengthen, to cheer some of them. 2. To all who are cast down and suffering, I say, There is a God who is sorry for you. If men disown you, God thinks of you, and will succour you. Beware, then, of desperation. Do not throw yourselves away. Though all else should be against you, God is for you. There is immortality--seek for that. There is bright and blessed manhood just beyond. If you have failed for this life, do not fail for the other too. There is very much that may yet be done, even in the afternoon and twilight of men's lives, if they are hopeful and active. Do not give yourselves over to complaining and mourning. Be patient. However low you may have got, you have not got so low as Christ was when He died a death of shame and contumely for us. Shall the servant be greater than his Lord? Be patient. It cannot be long before God's angel shall come, and then your troubles shall be over. Pluck up your courage. Wait. And if need be, suffer, and suffer patiently to the end. Let everything go but this: "God loves me; heaven waits for me;" and in that hope stand. Though the world perish around you, _stand,_ comforted and cheered by the confidence that God cares for you as the remnants of His Israel (H. E. I., 958-961, 2310, 2311, 4015-4018).--_Henry Ward Beecher: Christian World Pulpit_ (vol. iii. p. 43).



This is one of the visions that Isaiah _saw_ (chap. i. 1, ii. 1, &c.). He was a dreamer of dreams. With a keen perception, not surpassed, of the men and things actually surrounding him, much of his life was passed in an ideal and future world. There he found comfort and strength to endure the sorrows that otherwise would have crushed him. At the outset of his ministry, when the great king who had done so much to restore the prosperity of the nation was about to be removed, there was vouchsafed to him a vision of the King immortal, eternal, invisible, throned in the temple, and surrounded by the exalted intelligences who do His will (chap. vi. 1-4); and now, at the close of the wicked and disastrous reign of Ahaz, when his hopes concerning his race would naturally have failed, there was granted him a vision of a King of righteousness and peace, who on earth would rule over a kingdom such as the world had never seen. His soul had been stirred and appalled by a vision of disaster and woe. He was the king of Assyria, then the terror of the earth, utterly broken, his vast armies hewn down as forests fall before the axes of the woodmen (chap. x. 33, 34); a vision of blood and terror which may well have filled him with trembling. But just as sometimes the sweetest daylight follows a night of storm, this vision of terror fades away, and he sees--

I. A KING (chap. xi. 1-5). 1. _Royally descended,_ "a rod out of the stem of _Jesse._" A simple farmer on the hills of Bethlehem, and yet a father of kings. Not an accident. We are here confronted with the mystery of blood, of race. No common man was he from whom sprang David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, and a long line of kings. In his ordinary hours, Isaiah may well have derived assurance that the vision that gladdened him was given him from above, from the fact that it was in harmony with God's promise (2 Sam. vii. 12-16). Without dismay he could view the royal house lapsing into the obscurity from which it sprang--becoming merely a house of _Jesse_ once more--assured that in His own time God would again raise it up to glory.[1] It is always well when our hopes rest upon the Word of God. 2. _Royally endowed;_ a King by truest "right divine," because possessed of royal qualities of heart and mind (chap. xi. 2, 3). Of the thousands who have sat on thrones, how few have possessed them! How many have ruled over the miserable wretches subject to their sway merely by the craft of the serpent or the cruelty of the tiger! Of those who have been popular, how many have owed their popularity to mere physical prowess and politic good-nature (Richard I., Charles II.)! How few have endeavoured to approach the Biblical conception of what a ruler ought to be (Deut. xvii. 14-20; 2 Sam. xxiii. 3; Ps. lxxii. 4; Prov. xx. 28)! In the marvellous superiority of that conception to anything that has prevailed among men, have we not another proof that the sacred writers were indeed inspired by the Spirit of God? 3. _Ruling in righteousness;_ using His marvellous endowments for the welfare of those subjected to His authority (chap. xi. 3-5); not judging of things or men by their mere appearance, nor by common report; caring for the poor, befriending the shrinking and helpless, fearless in His dispensation of justice; His very words being swords that smote and overthrew the arrogant oppressor; made strong by the very righteousness which merely politic men would have feared to display in view of the might of iniquity in this disordered world; a Hero of the truest and divinest kind, in actual life setting forth the ideal to which the noblest knights in the purest days of chivalry strove to conform. Such was the King whom the prophet "saw" in an age when "ruler" was merely another word for tyrant and oppressor. Surely the vision so fair and wondrous was given him from above!

II. He also saw THE KINGDOM. 1. _A kingdom of righteousness_ (chap. xi. 9). The kingdom necessarily resembles the king. Appalling is the influence of a court upon a nation. Correspondingly great is the responsibility of those who sit in high places. 2. _A kingdom of peace._ Set forth by the most beautiful symbolism (chap. xi. 6-10, 13). 3. _A kingdom of prosperity._ Those included in it are no longer miserable exiles and bond slaves; rather they rule over those by whom they were spoiled and oppressed (chap. xi. 14). This is the true interpretation of a symbol that is in itself harsh and repulsive. The coarseness of the symbol is due to the coarseness of the minds it was first intended to touch. 4. _A kingdom of gladness and joy._ There pervades it the gladness of exiles who have been restored to their own land (chap. xi. 15, 16); the true and religious joy of men who recognise that the deliverances which inspire their songs have been wrought for them by God (chap. xii. 1-5); the joy of men who are absolutely assured of continual safety (chap. xii. 2, 6).

Was all this merely a bright vision? 1. It has been already fulfilled in part. 2. In our own day it is being fulfilled more completely than ever before. 3. It shall yet be fulfilled triumphantly.[2] Let us then, 1. Recognise and rejoice in the fact that we are living under the rule of this righteous King. This is at least the dawning of the "day" which Isaiah saw (Matt. xiii. 16). 2. Exult in view of the certain future of our race. The kingdom of God shall come generation after generation with mightier power (H. E. I., 3421-3423). 3. Labour as well as pray that future may be hastened.


[1] The image is now transferred to the state and king of Israel, which is also to be cut down to the stump, like the tree in Nebuchadnezzar's dream. But out of that stump, and from its living roots, shall grow up a scion--one of those slender shoots which we see springing up from, and immediately around, the stock of a truncated tree. A king of the race of Jesse shall sit on the throne of his fathers, in accordance with the covenant made with David (Ps. lxxxix. 3, 4).--_Strachey._

When the axe is laid to the imperial power of the world, it falls without hope (chap. x. 33, 34). But in Israel spring is returning (chap. xi. 1). The world-power resembles the cedar-forest of Lebanon; the house of David, on the other hand, because of its apostasy, is like the stump of a felled tree, like a root without stem, branches, or crown. The world-kingdom, at the height of its power, presents the most striking contrast to Israel and the house of David in the uttermost depth announced in chapter vi., _fin.,_ mutilated and reduced to the lowliness of its Bethlehemitish origin. But whereas the Lebanon of the imperial power is thrown down, to remain prostrate, the house of David renews its youth. . . . Out of the stump of Jesse--_i.e.,_ out of the remnant of the chosen royal family, which has sunk down to the insignificance of the house from which it sprang--there comes forth a twig (_choter_), which promises to supply the place of the trunk and crown; and down below, in the roots covered with earth, and only rising a little above it there shows itself a _nētzer, i.e.,_ a fresh, green shoot. In the historical account of the fulfilment, even the ring of the words of the prophecy is noticed: the _nētzer,_ at first so humble and insignificant, was a poor despised _Nazarene_ (Matt. ii. 23).--_Delitzsch._



xi. 2. _The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him._

This is declared concerning the Messiah. Short as this declaration is, some of the profoundest of all truths are involved in it. It is implied that God is a person, that from Him there goes forth an influence by which the character of other persons is affected, and that all that qualified Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah came from God. Let us think of these things. Do not be deterred from doing so by the idea that they are transcendental, far away from our daily life. They need not be so; we shall be very blameworthy if we make them so.

+I. God is a person.+ There are those who would have us put away this faith. In their view, God is merely the great controlling Force behind all other forces, the life of the universe, diffused throughout it, manifesting itself in innumerable forms. As it is the same life in the tree that manifests itself in root, trunk, branch, spray, twig, leaf, blossom, fruit, so all things that exist are not the creations of a personal will, but the manifestations of an impersonal and all-pervading life; all forces, convertible the one into the other, are but varying forms of the one underlying force. Every individual life is but a wave that seems for a moment to be separated from the one universal ocean of life; it leaps up from it, falls back into it, is absorbed by it. True, these waves are often strangely diverse--Nero and St. Paul, John Howard and Napoleon, the Virgin Mary and Lucrezia Borgia; but in that great Unity of which they are all manifestations, there is an all-comprehensive reconciliation, though it may elude our grasp. For Pantheism, many would have us put away the doctrine of a personal God. But this exchange, if it could be forced upon us by some logical necessity (which it is not), would not be a gain, but a tremendous loss. For, 1. _There would be a tremendous loss to the heart._ A force may be feared, but not loved. To gravitation we owe much, but no one ever professed to love it. A force cannot be loved, because it does not love. Strike out of our life all that comes to us from the confidence that God loves us, and from the responsive love that springs up in our hearts towards Him, and how much is lost! Then there is no longer any assurance amid the mysteries of life, nor consolation in its sorrows. In a word, we are orphaned: we can no longer say, "Our Father, who art in heaven." There is no longer a Father, knowing us, loving us, causing all good things to work together for our good; there is only a Force, to which it is useless to appeal, against which it is impossible to contend. 2. _We should also lose one of the greatest of all helps to a noble life._ Not to dwell on the fact that to speak of virtue or vice would then be absurd,--then we should no longer sin, we should merely make mistakes,--consider how much the world owes to the aspiration to be like God which has stirred so many noble souls. Through them the average morality of the world has been marvellously raised; but this would have been impossible but for the stimulus these inspiring souls found in the character of God. That is the first fact of which this text reminds us, that God is a person from whom a spirit--an influence--can go forth affecting the character of other persons.

+II. From God such an influence does go forth.+ The possibility is a glorious fact. That from God a "spirit" should go forth, and that it should do so invisibly, is in accordance with all that we know of the universe which God has made, and which is in some sort a revelation of Him. 1. Nothing in the universe is unrelated. From orb to orb influences go forth by which they are mutually affected. 2. The mightiest influences are invisible. In all this, the material is a counter-fact and revelation of the spiritual. It would be altogether abnormal, if from God there did not go forth an influence operating upon and affecting other persons. It is invisible, but its effects are recognisable. One of them is the activity of conscience, rightly understood. Another is the moral growth and refinement which those in whom it is most conspicuous, most invariably and distinctly attribute to influences exerted upon them by God. Even Socrates did so. This also is a doctrine full of hope and comfort. If we need moral transformation, there streams from God an influence capable of effecting it: to that influence let us submit ourselves, and the transformation shall come to pass; the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon us, and we shall become like Him.

+III. To the influence exerted upon Him by the Spirit of the Lord, Jesus of Nazareth owed all that qualified Him to be the Messiah+ (vers. 2-5). That which was born of the Virgin Mary was a true human child. A sinless child, yet sinless not as the result of the sinlessness of the mother (as Rome teaches), but of the influence of the Spirit of the Lord resting upon Him from the beginning of his earthly life. His was a real humanity--_our_ humanity sanctified. All that was pure, noble, Godlike in Him was "born not of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." How full of comfort and hope is this truth also! To us also is offered the same Spirit. Nothing can be more express than the declarations that we may have it if we will, and that, if we have it, the ultimate result will be that we shall be found partakers of the holiness of God. Let us not be unwisely cast down by the frailty and pollution of our nature; if the Spirit of the Lord rest upon us, the purity and the strength of God will become ours, and at length the Father will say to each of us, as He did of Jesus of Nazareth, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."


xi. 3. _And He shall not judge after the sight of His eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of His ears._

A glorious difference between our Lord and ourselves. "He knew what was in man," and needed not the evidence of external signs, which often mislead _us._ He should deal with the motives of the heart (H. E. I., 3332, 4147). Not by human sight, but by Divine _insight,_ He judged the conduct and character of men. 1. Our judgment is enfeebled by _ignorance._ We do not see and hear all, and from our imperfect knowledge of facts we draw wrong and often disastrous conclusions (H. E. I., 2997-3005). But Our Lord could go behind the visible works, and detect what often deceived men--_e.g.,_ His treatment of pharisaism. 2. Our judgment is enfeebled by _prejudice._ This is often the result of ignorance. Seeing only certain sides of men, we dislike them, and frame our judgments accordingly--_e.g.,_ Nathanael (John i. 46). With no better reason than Nathanael had, we regard many a man as an enemy, or otherwise place him in a false light. But our Lord dealt with none in this way. Seeing men as they really were, no preconceived opinions led Him to unworthy conclusions. 3. _Partiality_ enfeebles and perverts our judgment. Judging by sight and hearing, we approve of one man more than another, because he has certain artful or pleasing methods for winning our favour: flattery, offers of gain, &c. (P. D., 1275, 1281, 1283). But our Lord could not be won in this way (Mark xii. 14; John vi. 15). He was infinitely compassionate, tender, forgiving, but no feeble partiality interfered to prevent most righteous judgment. 4. Our judgment is often perverted by _passion._ In the pursuit of some unlawful and all-absorbing aim, we become too disturbed to weigh calmly even the evidences we can see and hear. We look at everything in the light of our false affection, and are thereby rendered absolutely incapable of beholding others in their true light, especially if they stand in our way and oppose our progress (P. D., 2060). But the one absorbing and unremittent purpose of Jesus of Nazareth was to do the will of His Heavenly Father, and to finish the work He had given Him to do. Hence He dwelt always on a pure altitude, in whose clear atmosphere He saw men and things as they are. 5. _Our natural depravity_ is also a serious hindrance to our right judging. Our very organs of knowledge, our affections, our conscience, have been perverted. Let a man be ever so disposed to take correct views of men and things, there will be some flaw in his vision, some defect in his hearing. Hence there are times when we cannot accept as final the judgment of the best and holiest of men. But Christ has no secret evil to lead Him wrong.

In view of all this, how fitting it is that Christ should be our judge! How well, too, He is qualified to be the merciful High Priest who we need (Heb. iv. 15, 16). He who tenderly sympathises with us is He who perfectly knows us (H. E. I., 956; P. D., 462).--_William Manning._


(_Missionary Sermon._)

xi. 9. _They shall not hurt nor destroy, &c._

We have here a picture of the golden age. I. The whole earth shall be as Mount Zion. II. Shall be freed from injustice and violence. III. Shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. 1. Wherein this knowledge consists. 2. To what extent it shall prevail--universal, deep. 3. By what means it is to be diffused.--_J. Lyth, D.D.: Homiletical Treasury_ (p. 18).

"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy _mountain,_ for the _earth_ shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord." It seems clear that in these words the prophet intended to be understood of speaking of the whole earth. He would scarcely, in the same sentence, have used the expressions in question--the _holy mountain_ in the first clause, and the _earth_ in the other--if by these expressions he had not meant the same thing, namely, the whole globe of the earth, when the dwellers thereon should come to be true worshippers, like those who first worshipped at Mount Zion, and who were a type of the greater assembly of worshippers, the holy and universal Church, which in the fulness of time would be established.

I. _The prophet grounds the hope of that reformed and purified state of the moral_ _world, described in the beautiful words of the text, upon the increase of religious knowledge_ which he saw to be coming. "They shall not hurt . . . for the earth shall be full of the _knowledge of the Lord._" II. These words may be taken as _descriptive of the legitimate effect of Christian knowledge._ The general scope, aim, and tendency of Gospel principles is such as would produce the change described, were it not counteracted by the tendency within us to what is wrong. III. They are more than this: they are _prophetic of the actual results of Christian knowledge._ The Gospel will render war impossible. True, so-called "Christian" nations have not yet ceased to wage war with one another, nor so-called "Christian" men to rob and circumvent and ruin each other. Nevertheless, this prophecy shall yet be fulfilled. We see it in the process of fulfilment. The condition of the moral world has been meliorated by Christianity. Wars have not ceased, but their conduct has been mitigated. In their private dealings with each other, men have become more just and trustworthy. Already there are millions of men who would shrink from doing harm of any kind to their fellow-men. Compare Christendom with heathendom, and you will see what mighty changes the Gospel has already wrought. The practice even of Christian men falls short of their knowledge. Nevertheless, the practice and the morals of men are, generally speaking, the best where their knowledge is the most. The prophet's words are justified by fact, and men forbear one another most, and hurt and destroy least, where knowledge is the greatest. It is a fact that life and property are more safe and secure in the Christian portion of the earth, than in any other portions. And the knowledge of the Lord grows year by year; partly through the labours of missionaries in many places; still more by the rapid growth of the nations that are Christian. The violent and lawless races of the earth are dwindling away. The only races that are increasing are those that fear God, and are willing to respect the rights, the properties, and the lives of their neighbours. Through the medium of this natural increase of peace-loving races, and through the conversion of many among the benighted nations, this prophecy is receiving a gradual, but very appreciable, fulfilment. The world is advancing, with ever-accelerating speed towards knowledge and peace, and this declaration shall yet be literally fulfilled (H. E. I., 979, 1161-1168; P. D., 2465, 2466).

_Application._--1. We are permitted to rejoice in the hope of a period when justice and benevolence shall prevail in the world. 2. We are required to contribute towards the realisation of this hope. This we are to do (1) by the purification of our own hearts; by the conquest of every passion and desire that would make us hurtful to our neighbours. (2) By prayer (Matt. vi. 9, 10). (3) By helping to diffuse that "knowledge of the Lord" which is the great peace-maker in the earth.--_A. Gibson, M.A.: Sermons on Various Subjects; Second Series_ (pp. 246-265).

In this and the preceding verses we have a beautiful picture of a state of human society entirely different from anything that has been witnessed since the Fall. The prophet beholds changes in human character so great that he feels he can only symbolise them by transformations in the members of the animal kingdom of the most astonishing kind. Verses 6-8 _are_ symbolical, and are intended to excite within us the liveliest anticipations of the glorious effects that would follow the universal proclamation and acceptation of the gospel. Thus we are led to speak of the nature, the diffusion, and the effect of the knowledge of the Lord.

I. ITS EXALTED NATURE. By "the knowledge of the Lord" may be meant that of which He is the revealer (2 Chron. xxx. 22), or that of which He is the theme (2 Pet. ii. 20). God can only be revealed by Himself; and He has given us a threefold revelation of Himself--in nature, in providence, and in Holy Scripture. In the latter we have the record of the fullest revelation which He has vouchsafed, that given us in His Son. God is never truly known by man until He is known in Christ. "The knowledge of the Lord" and "the Gospel" are terms of the same meaning.

II. ITS DESTINED DIFFUSION. The figure employed by the prophet brings before us impressively the universality of its diffusion. The imagination is called in to instruct our faith.[1] The world-wide diffusion of the gospel is a matter--1. Of _prophetic certainty._ Nothing could be more plain than the prophetic declarations concerning this matter. But if any man asks _when_ the promise will be fulfilled, only one answer can be given him (Acts i. 7). 2. Involving _Divine agency._ Utterly false is the notion that, after creating the universe, God withdrew from it, and left it to go on by its own momentum (John v. 17); and utterly false is the notion that, after giving the gospel to the world, God has left it to make its own way therein. By Divine agency men are raised up to proclaim it (Eph. iv. 11). While they are so engaged Christ Himself is with them (Matt. xxviii. 20); and while they preach, the Holy Spirit strives in the hearts of men to prepare and dispose them to receive the glad tidings (1 Thess. i. 5). When, therefore, we look at the glorious promise of our text, we must not forget that God Himself is working for its accomplishment. This will save us from unbelief and despair concerning it. 3. Involving _human instrumentality._ Not that this is absolutely necessary. Without human husbandry God could have caused the earth to bring forth food for man and beast, and without human instrumentality He could have saved the world. But it has pleased Him to commit to us the Word of reconciliation. The consequent duty of preaching it must be taken in connection with, and regarded as the condition of, the promise; just as the promise that there shall be a harvest till the end of the world is conditioned by man's sowing the seed in the appointed season. The promise must not be used as an excuse for indolence, but as a stimulus to industry.

III. ITS BLESSED EFFECT. The Gospel is a harmonising power. It has a transforming efficacy equal to any that would be needed to bring about a literal fulfilment of verses 6-8. Wherever it comes in its saving power it new creates human hearts, and thus dries up the causes of hatred and discord at their fountain. For it is a principle, 1. of _righteousness,_ and 2. of _love._ Hence it brings peace. For all discord is due to injustice that is prompted by selfishness (James iv. 1). Where righteousness and love combine and rule, there must be peace and security; for the very desire to injure is taken away. The universal prevalence of the gospel necessarily means universal peace (H. E. I., 1120, 1127, 1129).

1. This suggests the answer to the questions, Why Christian nations make war against each other, and why even in Christian churches there are fierce contentions? The answer is, either that those nations or churches are Christian only in name, or that they have only very partially attained to "the knowledge of the Lord." They are only in infant-class in Christ's great school; as they learn of Him, their rivalries and hatreds will pass away. 2. The Gospel being so blessed in its effects, it is plain that it is the duty of all good men to extend the knowledge of it.--_John Rawlinson._

A remarkable declaration this, especially if the Hebrew prophets were, as some learned sceptics tell us, men of narrow mind, worshipping a merely local god, and hating all men not descended from Jacob. By the noble simile employed by Isaiah two ideas are suggested--1. _Universality._ mankind is the area to be covered. 2. _Ease._ All the creeks, bays, channels, and broad highways of the vast ocean are filled in their appointed time. The mighty tide rises, sweeps onward, and the work is done. There was one great flood-tide of gospel-truth in the days of the apostles, and there is a greater still to come. Meanwhile, many difficulties attend the efforts of God's people to extend the knowledge of His truth; but, in the world's fulness, great ease will characterise the progress and triumphs of the gospel (Ps. cx. 3; Heb. viii. 11). This declaration suggests two great subjects:--

1. THE HOPE OF THE WORLD. Shut the Bible, and our outlook on the world and its future is dark and sad. Open it, and let its light shine into our minds, and with the light will come encouragement and hope. 1. If it is true that "the earth . . . the sea," then God takes an interest in the affairs of the world, and takes an interest in them _now._ This mighty world is not left to drift into an unknown and perilous future without a steersman to guide it. 2. If God makes such abundant provision for the instruction of men in the knowledge of Himself, then He will be accessible to them when, by that knowledge, they are led to approach Him; and He is accessible to us. 3. Himself opening for men a way of access to Him, we may be sure that when they avail themselves of it He will deal with them in the way of mercy and love; and so He will deal with us. Who can doubt this who looks on the fact of Christ, through whom God has given us the truest knowledge of Himself (2 Cor. iv. 6)? 4. He means to be known to the _world,_ and therefore His gracious offers extend to _all,_ to us.

II. THE DUTY OF THE CHURCH. In view of this declaration, 1. _Take enlarged views of your work._ Think how much remains to be done. Even if you could suppose that your family, your street, your town, your country were filled with the blessed tide of the knowledge of the Lord, yet think of the _earth,_ and all its myriad claims resting upon the servants of God. 2. _Spare no efforts in promoting the cause of Christian missions._ In advancing these, you are working in harmony with the great purposes of God, and for an object which is dear to Him--that object for which He has already given His Son! Will you withhold from it the money with which He has entrusted you, and for which you will have to give account at the last day? 3. There are many present difficulties in the prosecution of mission-work, but meanwhile _take comfort from the large purposes of God._ "Have faith in God." His plans are vast, but His glorious promises are great as His counsels, and His resources as glorious as His promises. The process of filling the earth with "the knowledge of the Lord" may seem to us to be tedious, the obstacles may be many, the time may be long; if the work were left to us, it would be hopeless; but GOD will hasten it all in His time.--_William Manning._

It is here declared that there is yet to dawn upon the world an era of perfect light, and that that shall be also and therefore an era of perfect love. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, FOR the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord."

It is a mystery, but it is a fact, that knowledge is not necessarily a blessing. The devils believe--and therefore know--yet remain devils still (Jas. ii. 19). Many men of unholy life have been men of eminent knowledge (Rom. i. 21). But this is a moral monstrosity, a result of the unnatural condition into which we have been brought by sin; just as in certain forms of disease food becomes poison. Knowledge is one of those forces which naturally tend to elevate and sanctify (H. E. I., 3106); to know God truly is eternal life (John xvii. 3); and the declaration is, that knowledge shall be world-wide, and that by it the world shall be morally revolutionised. Remembrance of two facts will give intelligence and strength to our faith in these glorious predictions. 1. _As man's knowledge of God has grown, the human race has risen._ Except in those abnormal cases already referred to, it may be declared that man cannot learn to know God and remain as they were--_e.g.,_ wherever the knowledge of the unity of God is restored to man, idolatry becomes impossible; as soon as the knowledge of the spirituality of God really enters the mind, formalism in worship becomes an impossibility. So every truth concerning God, as soon as it is really known, becomes a correcting and converting force. The tendency of this knowledge, as of light, is to quicken and beautify. The way to grow in grace is to grow in the knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. iii. 18). 2. _The knowledge of God is a thing that grows, and grows slowly, in the human soul._ This is true of all knowledge.[2] But in proportion as it grows, sanctification takes place in the individual life, reformation in the national life.[3] It is the most radical and successful of all revolutionists. It is impossible for us to dream of the changes it will accomplish upon the earth. But this we know, that by it war and every form of violence shall be abolished (text; Isa. ii. 4, &c.)

In this subject there is, 1. _A complete justification of all missionary enterprises._ They are not visionary schemes foredoomed to failure; they are intensely practical, and shall be triumphantly successful. The time may be far off, but it is advancing, when every man shall know God.[4] The effect of that knowledge will be the destruction of the desire to destroy or injure. 2. _An argument for patience._ In view of the wrongs that prevail upon the earth, many noble souls find it difficult to exercise it. Of finer taste, of clearer vision, of truer sympathy with God than is common amongst men, the wickedness that triumphs in the world fills them with continual agony. It drives them almost into atheism. They ask, "Can God see these things, and not use His power to bring them to an end? If there were a God, would He not instantly smite the oppressors with destruction?" Let them be patient. God does see; God does feel; God is hastening on the better day by the only means by which it can really be brought in. Another deluge would not cleanse the world from crime; if but eight souls were spared, sin would once more begin to prevail. The era of purity and peace can be ushered in only by the revelation of God to man, and thus it is advancing towards us; thus it is already begun; between Christian and heathen lands there is a real contrast; and ere long there shall be as great a contrast between Christian lands uplifted by a fuller knowledge of God and these lands as they now are. The millennium is not merely a prophetic dream, it shall be a glorious fact. Patience! (H. E. I., 1134, 1135, 1166-1168, 3421-3423; P. D., 2465, 2466). 3. _An argument for hopeful Christian effort._ We must not merely dream of the millennium, we must labour to hasten its dawn. Work is needful: Sunday-school work, &c. Every one who prays, "Thy kingdom come," thereby unless he means to mock God, pledges himself to work to hasten its coming, and thus to be a "fellow-labourer with God." There is need for individual effort, and for united effort. Such effort should always be hopeful. We are not attempting what is impossible; we are working in the line of God's promises, and with God! Remembering that the sense of our own weakness will not unduly depress us. It does not require a giant's strength to row with the tide; and a mightier force than that of ocean is bearing us on to a victory that shall fill earth with blessing and heaven with gladness.


[1] "The earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, _as the waters cover the sea._" The expression is remarkable for its force. In looking over the face of the ocean, no differences are to be perceived: one part is not fuller than the other; one part is not covered, and another left dry; but all is one unbroken stream, filling and covering the whole. So shall it be with the Word of God among men. It shall not be known to some, and hidden from others. It shall not be fully declared in one place, and only partially set forth in another. Whatever knowledge it pleased Him to give at all, shall be given to all men equally and without distinction. Such is clearly the purpose of God in His own appointed time.--_W. H. Sulivan._

_"As the waters cover the sea."_ The idea of universality could scarcely have been better expressed than by this magnificent simile. You have looked forth on the illimitable expanse of waters with wonder and awe. Your imagination has followed the depths far beyond the lowest tide-line to the unfathomed valleys and caverns that form the ocean bed; and you have endeavoured to take fully into your mind the thought that the lowest depths and the most distant shores were filled and covered by the all-diffusive and all-searching element.--_Rawlinson._

[2] The knowledge of God comes into the soul as a king is born into a country over which he is ultimately to rule; at the beginning it is but a babe; for a long time it is weak, and needs to be defended and nurtured; many years elapse before it rules; rarely in this life does it exercise full power and undisputed sway.

[3] Many evils continue to exist and flourish even in Christian lands, because their contrariety to the character of God has not yet been apprehended and felt. Many godly men were slave-holders and slave-dealers, because they did not fully know God. But now the knowledge of God has so grown among men, that it is no longer possible in a Christian land for a godly man to be a slave-holder. So with polygamy, which was once practised without scruple by some of the noblest and most devout men who ever lived. This practice has been killed, not by any express prohibition, but by growth among men of the knowledge of God. That knowledge is predestined still further to grow, and to kill many things more.

[4] The text for this footnote was omitted. Transcriber.


xi. 10. _And in that day there shall be, &c._

I. In the two parts of this verse we have a twofold metaphorical representation of the Redeemer: one expressed, one implied. 1. +An ensign of the people+ = banner or standard, such as is set up as a rallying-point around which, (1) the subjects of a king assemble to do him homage; and (2) the soldiers of an army gather to receive the commands and exhortations of their general. 2. This second use of a standard leads to the second metaphorical representation of the Redeemer, that of a +victorious general:+ "His rest shall be glorious." We are thus directed to the final result of the uplifting of Christ as an ensign: the great campaign brought to a successful conclusion, the Victor in it rests gloriously, surrounded by the soldiers whom He has led on to triumph, and the people to whom He has given liberty and peace.

II. Consider how these predictions have been fulfilled. 1. By the preaching of the gospel Christ has been lifted up, and as the result men of all nations have sought unto Him, and will seek Him more and more. 2. Having done and suffered all that was necessary ultimately to secure the final victory, He has taken His place at the right hand of the Majesty on high, and rests there gloriously; the glory of His rest arising from the number of the subjects who do Him homage, and of the soldiers who delight to fight His battles, from the triumphs which He has already enabled them to achieve, and from the prosperity and peace of all His people.

We shall make a great mistake if we end by thus admiringly noting how the ancient prophecy has been, and is being, fulfilled in the history of the world. _We_ are among the Gentiles of whom our text speaks: Have we sought unto the glorious Person of whom it speaks? You desire to do so. Do so, then, 1. _For right purposes;_ not merely that you may be delivered from suffering, but that you may be delivered from sin; not merely that you may ultimately gain admission to heaven, but that you may have and now render to Him the homage and the service to which He is entitled. 2. _In a right spirit;_ not vainly dreaming that you have, or can win, any claim upon His regard, but recognising that you can appeal only to His mercy, and that without it you are lost; and making this appeal penitently and believingly. So coming to Him, He will be found of you. He will cause you to share in His rest, by causing you to share in His triumphs; inspired and upheld by Him, you shall trample under foot the world, the flesh, the devil, and the fear of death. Your whole being will be at rest; your understanding no longer harassed by perplexing doubts; your conscience stilled and gladdened by a righteous peace; your affections centred at last around Him who alone is worthy of their supreme love; and this threefold rest, so sweet and blessed now, shall be perfected and perpetuated in heaven.--_George Smith, D.D._

The prophet here foresees that the Saviour's mission and work will so exalt Him in the eyes of the nations, that they will turn to Him as the one object and desire of their souls. (Compare John xii. 32.) This prediction declares that Christ would be a banner to attract men, that He would be the object of universal search, and that men in finding Him would attain to true rest and glory.

I. THE BANNER. 1. A banner is naturally "lifted up;" only thus can its purpose be accomplished (chap. xiii. 2; xviii. 3). Apt image this of Christ. Not merely in His death on Calvary. That exaltation was followed by His being lifted higher still by the preaching of the gospel, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John xvi. 14), by the devout lives of all His true followers. 2. A banner has usually some emblem or device representative of some great cause, or expressive of some great truth. (Give instances.) So when "Christ and Him crucified" are uplifted clearly in the view of men, they see God's hatred of sin, His love of man, and His provision for man's future happiness and glory.

II. THE OBJECT OF UNIVERSAL SEARCH. "To it shall the Gentiles seek." Search for Christ characterises all races of men (Hag. ii. 7) and all periods of time (Luke x. 24). The search is often prosecuted in ignorance. Men know not for what and for whom their souls yearn; but it _is_ Christ of whom unconsciously they are in quest; and it is towards Him, that by the else insatiable desires of their spiritual nature, they are being led.

III. THE FINDING OF TRUE REST. "His rest shall be glorious." 1. The rest we find in Christ is connected with a vital change effected in the heart and life. He does not simply do something _for_ us; He also does a work _within_ us. Every intelligent seeker knows that there can be no rest until the evil that is lodged within us is resisted and cast out (H. E. I., 1324). It is as we enter into the spirit of Christ and share His life, that we enter into rest (Matt. xi. 28-30). 2. Our new relations to God, entered into by faith in Christ Jesus, makes our rest very glorious. God is then known to us by the most precious and endearing names; He is our rock, our shield, &c. Each of these names represents to us some tender aspects of His love, some sweet ministry of His grace.

Are you in search of the highest peace, joy, holiness, rest? Here you may end your quest (1 Cor. i. 30; P. D., 481).--_William Manning._


xi. 10-16. _And in that day there shall be, &c._

Several eminent commentators are of opinion that this prophecy will not be fulfilled until the Jews are restored as a nation to their own land. Others believe that the prophet used (it may be unconsciously) transient geographical phrases as symbols of eternal truths. Without entering upon this controversy, which can be settled only by the actual unfolding and accomplishment of God's plans as to the history of this world, let us think of the fundamental fact of the vision, that in it "the Root of David" was revealed to the prophet as _the reconciler of men._ His appearing in the world would be the setting up of a standard unto which all men, Gentiles (ver. 10) and Jews (vers. 11, 12), would seek; and before the influence then exerted upon them by Him rivalries and enmities, even though they were as inveterate and malignant as those of Judah and Ephraim (ver. 13), would disappear. No obstacles, even though they should be as immense as the geographical ones which are specified, would hinder their coming together and forming one united and triumphant people under His benignant sway. This is only saying what the prophet has said already (chap. ii. 4; ix. 7), that the kingdom of Christ would be a kingdom of peace. Consider--

+I. How marvellously and gloriously this prediction has been fulfilled.+ To appreciate this, we must recall the condition of the world at the time when "the day" of which our text speaks dawned upon it. Nations were everywhere divided from each other by jealousies and hatreds as virulent as those that divided Ephraim from Judah; there was peace only because they were restrained from active hostility by the strong hand of Roman power. Hatred of other nations was regarded not as a crime, but as a duty.[1] But Christ inaugurated the empire of universal brotherhood and love. Wars have not yet ceased even among nations professing Christianity, but they are no longer openly gloried in by those who wage them; they are apologised for as sad necessities. The apology is often insincere, but the fact that it is made at all is a marvellous tribute to the influence and authority of Christ. Wherever His true followers meet, national distinctions are forgotten, and they feel drawn to each other by a mightier and sweeter bond. As the centuries pass away, the love of Christ becomes more and more the uniting power of the world.

+II. How sadly imperfect the fulfilment of this prediction still is!+ The era of universal peace has not yet dawned. The world is still cursed by wars and rumours of wars. Millions of men are maintained in constant readiness for war. There are bitter contentions among the sections of the Christian Church, these tribes of the modern Israel. Class is divided from class. So-called Christian families are saddened by bitter feuds.

+III. The blessedness of the era that shall yet dawn upon the world.+ The Christian often dreams of it; his dreams are sweet as those which hungry men have of banquets, and shipwrecked sailors drifting helplessly on rafts in the wide ocean have of their native village and of meeting with their loved ones there; and in their waking hours they, too, are apt to be saddened by the fear that their dreams too are as utterly incapable of realisation. But it is not so. They shall all be realised, for the authority of Christ shall yet be universal, real, absolute; and all the listening angels shall not be able to detect one sound of discord rising from the round world, for the whole world shall be full of the peace of Christ (P. D., 2465, 2466, 2676).

+IV. Our duty in regard to this prediction.+ We are not merely to dream dreams of the blessedness of the era that shall yet be ushered in. We are to _do_ something to hasten its dawning. 1. We are to pray for it with yearning hearts. 2. We are to do our utmost, in every possible way, to extend the knowledge of the Gospel throughout the world. The Gospel, not commerce, is the true civiliser and uniter of nations: commerce will prosper on the Gospel triumphs. True, many converts are only nominally Christians, but in many cases that _is_ the first step towards their becoming real Christians, _i.e.,_ men who will pray and labour for universal peace. 3. Minor and contributory duties. (1.) The diffusion of knowledge that will tend to bring home to the understandings and hearts of men the hurtfulness of war, and the preparation for war. (2.) The discouragement and overthrow of those statesmen, to whichever party they may belong, whose policy tends to foster national animosities. (3.) The discouragement of all pursuits and things that tend to familiarise men with war and keep alive in them a passion for it, _e.g.,_ the volunteer movement; pictures, poems, and newspapers that glorify successful soldiers, as if in them the noblest ideal of manhood were realised. (4.) Careful education of our children in Christian sentiments concerning foreign nations and war. By constant heedfulness of these duties, we shall do something to hasten the dawning of the era of universal peace and blessedness, and we shall not have lived in vain.


[1] "Ancient morality was essentially national and exclusive. Its creed was that a man is born not for himself, but for his parents, his family, and the state. The state was surrounded by others with which, unless some treaty had been concluded, it was at war. To do as much good as possible to one's own state, and as much harm as possible to all other states, was therefore the whole duty of a man."--_Ecce Homo,_ p. 125, small edition. (The student will do well to read the whole chapter in which these sentences occur.)


xii. 1. _And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, &c._

This prophecy is said by some to relate to the invasion by Sennacherib, and the marvellous deliverance therefrom. If so, it is an instance of sanctified affliction, and a lesson to us that whenever we smart under the rod we may look forward to the time when it shall be withdrawn; it is also an admonition to us, that when we escape from trial we should take care to celebrate the event with grateful praise. It is thought by others that the text mainly relates to the latter days, and I think it would be impossible to read the eleventh chapter without feeling such a reference is clear. Both these interpretations are true and instructive; but we shall find out the very soul of the passage, if we consider it as an illustration of what occurs to every one of God's people when he is brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light, when he is delivered from the spirit of bondage beneath Divine wrath, and led by the Spirit of adoption into the liberty wherewith Christ makes him free. In regarding the text from this point of view, we shall first observe the prelude of this delightful song, and then listen to the song itself.

I. THE PRELUDE OF THIS CHARMING SONG--"In that day thou shalt say." Here we have the tuning of the harps, the notes of the music follow after in the succeeding sentences. Note, 1. There is a _time_ for the joyous song here recorded, "In that day"--the day of the manifestation of the Divine power. 2. One word indicates the _singer._ "_Thou_ shalt say." One by one we receive eternal life and peace. Religion is an individual matter. The word "thou" is spoken to those brought down into the last degree of despair. Thou broken-hearted sinner, ready to destroy thyself because of the anguish of conscience, in the day of God's abounding mercy, _thou_ shalt rejoice! 3. The _Teacher_ of the song. "In that day thou _shalt_ say." Who but the Lord can thus command man's heart and speech? 4. The _tone_ of the song. "Thou shalt _say._" The song is to be an open one, vocally uttered, heard of men. It is not to be a silent feeling, a kind of soft music whose sweetness is spent within the spirit; but in that day thou shalt testify and bear witness what the Lord has done for thee (H. E. I., 3903-3921).

II. THE SONG ITSELF.--1. All of it is concerning the Lord; it is all addressed to Him. "O Lord, I will praise _Thee:_ though _Thou_ wast angry with me, _Thine_ anger is turned away." When a soul is escaped from the bondage of sin, it resembles the apostles on Mount Tabor--it sees no man but Jesus only. 2. It includes repentant memories. The Hebrew would run something like this, "O Lord, I will praise Thee; Thou wast angry with me." We do this day praise God because He made us feel His anger. "What, is a sense of anger a cause for praise?" No, not if it stood alone, but because it has driven us to Christ. The song in its deep bass includes plaintive recollections of sin pressing heavily on the spirit. 3. It contains blessed certainties. "Thine anger _is_ turned away." "Can a man know that? Can he be quite sure he is forgiven?" He can be as sure of pardon as he is of his existence, as infallibly certain as he is of a mathematical proposition. The Scriptures teach that to the sinner who trusts in Jesus there is no condemnation, and every one may know whether he is trusting in Jesus or not (H. E. I., 309, 310, 324-334, 986, 989). 4. It includes holy resolutions. "I will praise Thee"--in secret, in public. For this purpose I will unite with Thy people. I will not be content unless all that I am and all that I have shall praise Thee. 5. It is a song which is peculiar in its characteristics, and appropriate only to the people of God. It is a song of strong faith, and yet of humility. Its spirit is a precious incense made up of many costly ingredients. Humility confesses, "Thou wast angry with me;" gratitude sings, "Thine anger is turned away;" patience cries, "Thou comfortest me," and holy joy springs up, and saith, "I will praise Thee." Faith, hope, love--all have their notes here, from the bass of humility up to the highest alto of glorious communion.

By way of practical results from this subject, let me speak, 1. A word of _consolation_ to those who are under God's anger. God never shut up a soul in the prison of conviction, but sooner or later He released the captive. The worst thing in the world is to go unchastised; to be allowed to sin and eat honey with it, this is the precursor of damnation; but to sin, and to have the wormwood of repentance with it, this is the prelude of being saved. If the Lord has embittered thy sin, He has designs of love towards thee; His anger shall yet be turned away. 2. A word of _admonition._ Some of you have been forgiven, but are you praising God as you should? (H. E. I., 3903-3911).--_C. H. Spurgeon: Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit_ (vol. xvi. pp. 241-250).

The preceding chapter relates to the reign of the Messiah; the end of it especially to the ingathering of the Jews--a period which will be the spiritual jubilee to the tribes of Israel, and the beginning of the millennium to the world itself. _That_ is the day in which Israel shall say, "O Lord, I will praise thee," &c. This passage may be applied to every spiritual child of Abraham. Consider--

+I. The previous state referred to.+ "Thou wast angry with me." Anger in God is not, as it often is in us, a blind, furious passion; but a holy disapprobation of wrong, and a righteous determination to punish it (H. E. I., 2288-2294). 1. _Man's character and conduct, while in his natural state, are such as justly expose him to the Divine anger._ What does God survey in the sinner? Ignorance, unbelief, envy, malevolence, impurity, &c. In his conduct, likewise, how much there is that must necessarily be displeasing to God!--ingratitude, disobedience, selfishness, abuse of long-suffering, the rejection of Christ. 2. _No intelligent being need be in any doubt as to whether he is, or is not, an object of the Divine anger._ The teaching of Scripture is clear (Ps. vii. 11; xxxiv. 16, &c.) This is ratified by the workings of conscience. Let any one do good secretly, and contrast his state of mind with the feelings arising after the commission of secret evil. 3. _The Divine anger is of all things to be deprecated._ Remember what its effects have been upon impenitent sinners. Think of the old world; of Pharaoh and the Egyptians; of Sodom, &c. View the written in indelible and awful characters in the history of the Israelites. Nothing can resist it, alleviate it, or deliver from it.

+II. The delightful change experienced.+ 1. _The Divine displeasure is removed._ "Anger turned away." The cloud blotted out; no longer under condemnation, &c. This necessarily supposes a change in the creature. His enmity and opposition to God have ceased; he has seen the evil of sin; confessed and forsaken it; and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. A state of unbelief exposes us to the Divine wrath; a state of faith brings upon us His favour. God abhors the high and proud spirit; but He looks in pity on the lowly and contrite. 2. _The Divine favour is enjoyed._ "Thou comfortest me." We cannot stand in a neutral state with respect to God. The instant His anger is removed, His favour is enjoyed. Guilt, remorse, the burden of sin, are gone; and in their stead there is a sweet assurance of acceptance with God. This comfort is real, not visionary; suitable, abiding, and inexpressibly precious; it is associated with all good, both in this life and that which is to come; it is the precursor of everlasting felicity.

+III. The grateful return presented.+ "I will praise Thee." Acceptable praise, 1. _Includes the offering of a thankful heart._ It must arise from within; it must be the expression of the affections of the soul. Heart gratitude is alone real, and that which God will receive. 2. It must be _free and spontaneous._ "I will." Not I ought, or should, but "I will." 3. It must be _constant_ (Eph. v. 20; 1 Thess. v. 18; Ps. xxxiv. 1).

APPLICATION.--Let the text be 1. _The test of our state._ Can we use it? Is it so with us? Is God our reconciled friend? 2. _The test of our spirit and conduct._ Do we love and bless God? Is it our delight to do so? 3. _Let it be attractive to the convicted, mourning sinner._ There is a way to Divine peace, and to real and heavenly comfort. Christ is that way. Come now to God through Him.--_Jabez Burns, D.D.: Pulpit Cyclopædia_ (iii. 221-224).

In this verse we have a representation--+I. Of the natural condition of sinful men.+ An object of Divine anger. 1. The nature of the emotion described; 2. The cause of this anger; 3. How much it is to be feared. Unlike the anger of man it is changeless, and behind it is boundless wisdom and irresistible power. +II. Of the change effected in the state of believers by Divine grace.+ They are blessed, 1. By the removal of the Divine displeasure, effected by the work accomplished _for_ them by the Son of God, and _in_ them by the Holy Spirit. 2. In the enjoyment of Divine consolation. +III. Of the adoring thankfulness which the change demands and calls forth.+ 1. The individual character of the declaration: "_Thou_ shalt say." 2. The vocal proclamation: Thou "shalt _say._" True gratitude is never silent (Ps. lxvi. 16, &c.) 3. The delightful burden of the song.--_George Smith, D.D._

In this verse we have three pictures. I. God angry with the sinner. II. God reconciled to the sinner. III. God comforting the sinner.--_H. F. Walker._


xii. 3. _Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation._

Salvation is the great theme of the Bible, and thus it meets man's great need. Think, I. Of THE WELLS, the sources of salvation. Clearly these are not found in man himself. Salvation originated in the eternal love of God for man; it flows to sinners through the work of Jesus; it is by the influence of the Holy Spirit that the sinner is made willing to partake of it. These truly are _wells_ of salvation; not rills that may dry up; not even rivers, which may fail because the streams from the mountains have failed; but wells, fountains over-flowing, inexhaustible as the nature of God. II. Of THE WATER. A beautiful symbol of a great reality. Excepting the air we breathe, there is no element so widely diffused, nor so essential to life, as water. Imagine a great city, a whole district, a ship's crew without water.[1] 1. Water _revives._ How the traveller dying from thirst begins to revive the instant water touches his lips; so the salvation of the gospel imparts new life to the soul; an invigoration, moreover, that shall not pass away (John iv. 14). 2. Water _cleanses._ So does the salvation of the gospel (Rev. i. 5; Heb. ix. 14; Ezek. xxxvi. 25; Zech. xiii. 1). 3. Water _fertilises._ The water of salvation enriches and fertilises the spiritual soil, so that the blossoms of hope in the early spring-time of piety, and the matured fruits of holiness in the autumn of life, adorn the garden of the Lord (Isa. lviii. 11; Jer. xxxi. 12; Ps. i. 3; Num. xxiv. 6). III. Of THE JOY. 1. This can only be experienced by such as draw water out of the wells of salvation. Necessarily it _is_ a matter of experience. There are many things that must be felt to be known, and this is one of them. 2. This joy may be expected in the very act of drawing the water of salvation. If you were to overtake a traveller in a sandy desert dying from thirst, he would begin to enjoy the very moment he became conscious of the touch of the precious fluid. So with the Christian (Rom. xv. 13). And as he may and ought to be constantly drawing from the wells of salvation, his life should always be a happy life (H. E. I. 3037-3051; P. D. 2085).

Our text may be regarded--1. As giving full permission to do that of which it speaks. However unworthy we may be, we may come to the wells of salvation, and draw as much as we need (Rev. xxii. 17; H. E. I., 2331, 2361, 2362, 4086). 2. Nay, as a command. When a sovereign prepares a banquet, and issues his invitations, those invitations have the force of commands. God has graciously provided salvation for your souls in Christ: will you turn away and despise His love?--_John Rawlinson._

Salvation--let us not think of it meanly. It has past, present, future aspects. Too often we content ourselves with the _past_ view of it, and that in a selfish way. Twenty or thirty years ago, we "believed" and were "saved," _i.e.,_ got out of harm's way. What is God's grace _doing_ for us? Is it making us purer, nobler? And what are our _aspirations_ and _prospects?_ Are we imitators of the great Apostle? (Phil. iii. 13, 14).

This comprehensive and glorious salvation, what is its source? Whence is it to be drawn? From GOD. "Behold, _God_ is my salvation. . . . Therefore," &c. The third verse must never be separated in thought from the second, "With Thee is the fountain of life"--with God as revealed to us in Christ. This is the claim of Christ Himself (John vii. 37, 38).[2] He stands over against all the ignorance, the guilt, the pollution, and the deathfulness of man, as the infinite Fulness (1 Cor. i. 30; Col. i. 19; John i. 16; H. E. I., 934-941). As the wells of salvation are in Him; and from Him His people draw the priceless "water" with joy. This is a duty, but it is performed by them as freely and spontaneously as on a summer morning the birds fill the air with music. They do so--1. _Because the wells of salvation are free to all, and easily accessible by all._ Were it not so, we might fear that we or our friends were excluded therefrom. But God's salvation, like all His best gifts--air, light, water--is free to all alike (H. E. I., 942, 943, 2331, 2361, 2362). And it is easily accessible; not harder terms are imposed upon us than it is possible and right for us to comply with. (All this is summed up in chap. lv. 1.) 2. _Because "the wells of salvation" are inexhaustible._ Picture the fainting and despairing condition of a traveller who, in a time of scorching heat, comes to a well, and finds it empty. No such fate awaits the true seeker after God. Other sources of help will deceive and fail us (Jer. ii. 13). 3. _Because of the deep satisfaction which is derived therefrom_ (John iv. 14; H. E. I., 968-971, 1658, 1659, 2738-2837, 4627-4630, 4790). 4. _Because the fulness that thus becomes ours is a source of blessing to others_ (Gen. xii. 2; xxxix. 5; Prov. xviii. 4; Isa. lviii. 11; Ezek. xlvii. 12; Zech. xiv. 8; H. E. I., 1740-1743).[3]

Come to the Well-spring of life. It is open to you all. Whosoever will may come. Jesus stands ready to satisfy your deepest longings.--_William Manning._

This chapter should be read in connection with the preceding, which determines its application to the times of Messiah. The peaceful state of the Church in Hezekiah's time is made the emblem of the peaceful era of the Gospel; as the Israelites who had been carried away in various invasions thus returned to their own country, so the nations should be gathered to the standard of Christ (Isa. xi. 10-16).

+I. The sources of consolation which God has opened up to the Church in the revelation of His Son.+ In a dry and thirsty land like this--in a world where there are so many sorrows arising from sin, and so many difficulties in our way to heaven--we need sources of supply, fountains of consolation. And in the Word of God we have them; "_wells_ of salvation," not running streams, not brooks, full in spring and dry in summer, but wells! 1. Christ is the great fountain (John vii. 37, 38). When He was lifted up upon the cross, the fountain of grace that is in Him was opened, and healing streams shall never cease to flow from it, till the last weary pilgrim has reached the abodes of blessedness. Do we thirst for the pardon of sin? (Matt. xii. 31). For the favour and friendship of God? (Matt. v. 6). For solid and spiritual happiness? (Isa lv. 1; Rev. xxii. 17). 2. The religion of Christ is a system of consolation and joy; it is the only one that deserves the name; all others work as with unmeaning ceremonies or unfounded expectations. All the parts of Christ's religion, properly understood and personally enjoyed, promote solid comfort and true joy. Its doctrine (Rom. v. 11). Its promises (Ps. xcvii. 11). Its precepts (Ps. cxix. 54). Its prospects (Rom. v. 2; H. E. I., 4161-4163). 3. God is "the God of comfort." Christ is "the consolation of Israel." The Holy Spirit is "the Comforter." How ample are the sources of comfort and joy mentioned in this chapter! (1.) The removal of a sense of Divine displeasure (ver. 1). (2.) Hope of interest in God's special favour as our covenant God (ver. 2).

+II. What is necessary to our personal appropriation of these comforts and joys.+[4] Many persons, who appear to be disciples of Christ, are without the satisfaction which the text promises. They may be safe, but they are not happy (H. E. I., 306-314). The fault is not in the Gospel: the promise is express, the provision is free, the invitation is open. If the Christian would know the joy of which the text speaks, 1. _He must learn to set a higher value upon spiritual blessings._ It is the order of divine procedure to awaken a high sense of the value of His gifts before He communicates them. Many seem indifferent whether they enjoy the higher blessings of religion or no. The saints in former times were more earnest (Ps. xlii. 1). 2. _He must cultivate those graces of religion which are immediately connected with its enjoyments:_ humility of mind, a teachable spirit, a more spiritual order of affections (Ps. xxv. 9, 14; Col. iii. 2; Phil. iv. 5-7). 3. _Especially he must cultivate a prayerful spirit and expectant dependence upon divine illumination._ Prayer is the key that opens the treasury of heaven (Ps. xxxiv. 5; cxix. 18). Neglect of the Spirit's influences is a frequent cause of degeneracy and distress. 4. _He must avoid whatever would hinder the life and power of religion:_ the secret love of sin, undue attachment to the world, prevalence of unholy tempers. It is a matter of perfect impossibility that the comforts of religion can be enjoyed where sin and inconsistency prevail. Is there no sin indulged, no self-dependence, no conformity to the world, no neglect of private duties? (Jer. ii. 17, 18). Heaven is a realm of perfect happiness, because it is the realm of perfect holiness. 5. _He must diligently use all the appointed means of grace._

+III. Particular seasons when the prophetic promise is fulfilled.+ Private meditation, public ordinance, trouble, death, entrance into heaven.--_Samuel Thodey._

By "the wells of salvation" we may understand "the means of grace."[5]

I. _These wells of salvation have been opened for the supply of human needs;_ not for God's benefit, but for ours. What wells are to travellers through a desert, these are to us in our pilgrimage to Zion. II. _Men should come to these wells for the purpose of having their needs supplied;_ not from habit, not that we may set a good example, &c., but that we ourselves may be refreshed and strengthened. III. _No frequency in coming to these wells can be in any sense meritorious._ Expose the mistake of the Pharisee and the Ritualist. The oftener we avail ourselves of them, the more we increase, not our claims upon God, but our obligations to Him; and the more should increase, not our pride and self-righteousness, but our thankfulness to God for His goodness in providing them. IV. _The wells are nothing: the water in them is everything._ A dry well, however deep it may be, or whatever historic associations may cluster around it, is worthless; and so are all religious ordinances apart from the Spirit of God. We must ever remember that they are _means_ of grace--channels through which the God of all grace will satisfy the soul's thirst of those who seek Him in sincerity and truth. V. _Nevertheless we are not to stay away from the wells, nor despise them._ That is a false spirituality that disparages divine ordinances. We are not to trust in the wells, yet neither are we to refuse to draw water out of them:--1. Because GOD opened them, and to neglect them it to charge Him with foolishly providing what we do not need. 2. Because it pleases Him to give us water through them; and we are to accept the blessing in whatever way He chooses to impart it to us. Naaman (2 Kings v. 11-13); the blind man (John ix. 6, 7). 3. Because we need refreshment and reinvigoration day by day (Isa. xl. 31; Ps. lxxxiv. 7; H. E. I., 555, 556, 3866-3876). 4. Because our Master in the days of His flesh used the means of grace; no true Christian will seek in this respect to be above his Lord. VI. _God has opened_ WELLS _of salvation;_ not one, but many; none needlessly. We must use them all. Their benefit lies in their conjunction. For the production of a harvest, the sun and the rain are both needed; the sun alone would make a desert, the rain alone a swamp. No bird can fly with _one_ wing, &c. We must read as well as pray, &c.

CONCLUDING LESSONS.--1. _Why God sometimes leaves the wells dry._ His people sometimes come so to delight in the means of grace, that they forget they are only _means,_ and then He withholds His blessings, that they may be taught that He alone can satisfy their souls (Ps. lxxxiv. 2, lxii. 5). 2. _Why, when there is water in the wells, some are not quickened and refreshed._ (1.) Water revives the living, not the dead. (2.) Some forget to bring their buckets. They have no real desires after God, not true faith in His power and willingness to bless them, and to each of them we may say, "Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the wells are deep" (John iv. 11).


[1] Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down 'Twas sad as sad could be; And we did speak only to break The silence of the sea!

All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody sun at noon Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the moon.

Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath, nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.--_Coleridge: "Ancient Mariner."_

[2] The Talmudists refer the words, "With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation," to the custom of making an oblation of water on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, when a priest fetched water in a golden pitcher from the fountain of Siloah, and poured it mixed with wine on the morning sacrifice as it lay on the altar; while at the evening offering the same was done amidst shouts of joy from the assembled people. It was in obvious allusion to this rite that, "in the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink;" but as it is not prescribed in the law of Moses, it has been doubted whether it dates back earlier than the times of the Maccabees. It is, however, at least as probable that the Asmonean princes should have restored an ancient as ordained a new rite: such a rite, to acknowledge God's gift of water without which harvest and vintage must have failed, would always have been a likely accompaniment of the feast in which these were celebrated; and the like acts of Samuel and Elijah, though for different purposes, perhaps go in confirmation of the ancient existence of such a practice (1 Sam vii. 6; 1 Kings xviii. 33-35). Be this as it may, the idea conveyed by the image of the living water will be the same:--"Such as is the refreshment of water from the spring, and from the clouds of heaven, to the parched lips and the thirsty land, in this our sultry climate, such shall be the refreshment of your spirit in that day from the salvation of Jehovah He shall dwell among you, and His Spirit shall be a well of life to the whole nation."--_Strachey._

The last day of the feast, known as "the Hosanna Rabba" and the "Great Day," found Him, as each day before, doubtless, had done, in the Temple arcades. He had gone thither early, to meet the crowds assembled for morning prayer. It was a day of special rejoicing. A great procession of pilgrims marched seven times round the city, with their lulats [branches of palm woven round with willow and myrtle], music, and loud-voiced choirs preceding, and the air was rent with shouts of Hosanna, in commemoration of the taking of Jericho, the first city in the Holy Land that fell into the hands of their fathers. Other multitudes streamed to the brook of Shiloah, after the priests and Levites, bearing the golden vessels, with which to draw some of the water. As many as could get near the stream drank of it, amidst loud chanting of the words of Isaiah--"Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters," "With joy shall we draw water from the wells of salvation,"--rising in jubilant chants on every side. The water drawn by the priests was meanwhile borne up to the Temple, amid the boundless excitement of a vast throng. Such a crowd was, apparently, passing at this moment.

Rising, as the throng went by, His Spirit was moved at such honest enthusiasm, yet saddened at the moral decay which mistook a mere ceremony for religion. It was burning autumn weather, when the sun had for months shone in a cloudless sky, and the early rains were longed for as the monsoons in India after the summer heat. Water at all times is a magic word in a sultry climate like Palestine, but at this moment it had a double power. Standing, therefore, to give His words more solemnity, His voice now sounded far and near over the throng, with soft clearness, which arrested all--

"If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink, for I will give him the living waters of God's heavenly grace, of which the water you have now drawn from Shiloah is only, as your Rabbis tell you, a type. He that believes in Me drinks into his soul of My fulness, as from a fountain, the riches of Divine grace and truth. Nor do they bring life to him alone who thus drinks. They become in his own heart, as the whole burden of Scripture tells, a living spring, which shall flow from his lips and life in holy words and deeds, quickening the thirsty around him."--_Geikie._

[3] John vii. 38, "In the Book Sohar we find the same metaphor, fol. 40, col. 4, 'When a man turns to God, he becomes like a spring of fresh living water, and streams flow out from him to all men.'"--_Geikie._

[4] See H. E. I., 315-352, 1252-1285.

[5] See H. E. I., 3309-3311, 3424-3465, 5075-5081.


xii. 6. _Cry out and shout, &c._

Two things are here observable:--1. _The person addressed,_ "thou inhabitant of Zion,"[1] _i.e.,_ one who is no longer a stranger and foreigner, but a fellow-citizen with the saints (Eph. ii. 12, 19) 2. _The admonition given,_ "Cry out and shout." Consider--

I. THE TRUTH ON WHICH THE ADMONITION IS FOUNDED. "Great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee." This includes--1. _His character,_ "the Holy One of Israel." The holiness of God has shown forth in all that He has done in heaven and on earth (Ps. cxlv. 17); in heaven it is the theme of the songs of the most exalted intelligences (Isa. vi. 3); on earth it inspires bad men with dread and dislike (Isa. xxx. 11), and good men with thankfulness and hope (Ps. xxx. 4; Heb. xii. 10; H. E. I., 2275, 2843). 2. _His greatness._ "Great"--in duration, wisdom, power, dominion, and resources. All these render Him terrible as an enemy, desirable as a friend.[2] 3. _His residence._ "In the midst of thee." But is not God everywhere? Yes, but not everywhere in the same character; not in heaven as in earth, &c. Wherever His presence is spoken of in a way of promise or privilege, it is to be distinguished from His attribute of omnipresence, for it has then in it something peculiarly beneficial and saving (Deut. iv. 7; Ps. xxxiv. 18). God's presence in the midst of His people is the guarantee of their safety and the source of their joy. Let them adore the condescension He shows in dwelling in their midst.

II. THE STIRRING EXHORTATION. 1. _Religion is animated._ "Cry out and shout," &c. What is here required cannot be merely the exclamation, separate from suitable dispositions and sentiments, as is the case with some. Noise is in itself worth nothing. On the other hand, where there are these feelings, it is permissible, yea, praiseworthy, to give free and exultant expression to them (Rev. v. 12). Some disparage such expressions as enthusiasm, but there is nothing that should call forth enthusiasm like the Gospel. Religion calls for not only feeling and sentiment, but for the highest degree of feeling and sentiment.[3] 2. _Religion, rational as well as animated._ Why is the inhabitant of Zion to cry aloud and shout? _"For_ great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee." This more than justified him, for from hence the Church can infer _safety, assistance, consolation, honour._ Thus God is with His people, and this is _grace:_ soon they shall be with Him, and that is _glory._--_William Jay: Sunday Evening Sermons and Thursday Evening Lectures,_ pp. 297-305.


[1] Zion was the name of a high mound situated upon a bed of rock enclosed within the walls of Jerusalem, and making the finest and strongest part thereof. Here was first the Tabernacle, and then the Temple, and concerning it great things are declared (Ps. cxxxii. 13-18). If we look through the literal description to the spiritual glory discernible, we shall soon see that it was typical of a higher state, and a shadow of good things to come. I need hardly remind you that, by a figure of speech, Zion is used in the New Testament as significant of the Church of the Living God (Heb. xii. 22).--_Jay._

Such are the encouragements that consoled the ancient city of God in the day of her trouble. Harassed, her garrisons stormed, her armies scattered, her very sanctuary threatened with violation, she was bade remember her Eternal King, and take comfort in the thought of that watchful Guardian who sooner or later would assuredly avenge her wrongs. Often was she taught the same lesson; and often, in despite of her own froward and unbelieving heart, was the prediction realised. The Lord still "loved the gates of Zion;" the streams of His holy "river still made glad the city of God;" and He was "known in her palace for a refuge." But a gloomier hour at length arrived; even Divine patience has its limits; and the last dread crime of Zion could only be expiated in her ruin. Blood had flowed beneath her hands, every drop of which was worth a universe, and she had invoked its curse upon her own head and the head of her children. And now, behold, in the fearful words of her own prophets, "the lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way,"--Jerusalem is ruined and Judah is fallen, because their tongues and their doings are against the Lord to provoke the eyes of His glory. "But what?--is this the city of which such glorious things are spoken--that the Highest Himself should establish her, that she should not be moved?" Where are His mighty promises of perpetuity? Where is that foundation which no power should ever shake--that Zion, in which the poor of His people were to trust?

Brethren, look around you, and you behold the evidences of its existence, and of the eternal faithfulness of Him who is pledged to its immortality. A greater than Zion inherits her name; a greater than Zion bore it in the far-reaching scope of the prophetic vision. That "city of the great King" was but a perishable emblem of a "city whose builder and maker is God." It is true she was honoured by His symbolic presence and sanctified by His sacred worship; it is true that for ages she alone, in a world of darkness, held the precious lamp of His truth; but what are these characters of honour to hers, whose every living stone is quickened by His indwelling energy, whose worship is no more in type and shadow, but in spirit and in substance; whose preaching and teaching, no longer shrouded in obscurity and limited to a corner of the earth, spreads over all lands, embraces the whole family of mankind, and makes even the course of that sun whose "going forth is from the end of the heaven and his circuit unto the ends of it, and from whose light nothing is hid," a faint image of the power with which she diffuses through all nations "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"? (See also 2 Cor. iii. 10, 11.)--_Archer Butler._

[2] How well may the Church on Zion rejoice to have such a God dwelling in the midst of it! He is great as the Giver of promises, and great in fulfilling them; great in all His saving acts which spread from Israel to all mankind.--_Delitzsch._

[3] Take the Gospel. What is it? Not a decision of Parliament, or the termination of a debate which may have no effect on our welfare. It brings us glad tidings of great joy. It is infinitely important, it is eternally interesting to us. It is our life. It is all our salvation, and it should be all our desire. Therefore we should receive it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation. We should receive it as a dying man would a remedy, or as a condemned criminal would hail a reprieve. We should receive it with feelings superior to those with which we receive anything else. It is a subject which rises infinitely above all others in interest and importance, and demands all the energies of the soul, and renders Dr. Young's words the words of truth and soberness:--

"On such a theme 'twere impious to be calm: Passion is reason; transport, temper here."--_Jay._


xiii. 6. _Howl ye, for the day of the Lord is at hand._

Sad and unnatural is the condition of those to whom the coming of "the day of the Lord" is a cause for dismay. But this is the condition of the wicked. They can think of God prevailing and asserting Himself only with dread. Dread must take possession of them whenever they think of the future, for the profoundest and most ineradicable instincts of their nature assure them that the "day of the Lord"--a day of judgment and retribution--must come.

Thus far all is plain. But when we read and think about what is to take place on "the day of the Lord" (vers. 7, 8, 15, 16, 18), astonishment takes possession of us, and we feel disposed to call it "the day of the devil." How _can_ a day like this be called "the day of the Lord"? Note--1. That all the cruelties here described were inflicted by men. 2. That these men were moved to inflict these cruelties by their own passions; that they acted as free agents, and without any thought of fulfilling a Divine purpose. 3. That the supreme passion by which they were moved was the passion of revenge--of revenge for cruelties equally frightful inflicted by the sufferers of that day. Nothing can exceed in horror the picture which the Babylonians themselves drew of the enormities perpetrated by them on conquered nations. 4. That, consequently, the Babylonians were reaping as they had sown. The day that was coming upon them was a day of retribution, and in this sense emphatically "a day of the Lord." As a matter of fact, retribution is one of the laws under which we live (H. E. I., 4609, 4611, 4612), and it is a Divine law, a law worthy of God. It is an ordinance of mercy, for the tendency of it is to restrain men from sin. By their knowledge of its existence and the certainty of its operation (P. D., 2995), wicked men are undoubtedly greatly restrained from wickedness. Were it not for the days when it is manifestly seen in operation, when great transgressors are overwhelmed with great sufferings, atheism would prevail; a reign of terror and of restrained cruelty would begin, and every day would be a day of the devil. 5. This day, with all its horrors, was an essential preliminary to the accomplishment of God's purposes of mercy in regard to His people. For _them_ it was emphatically "a day of the Lord," for it was the day of their deliverance from bondage, a day of exultant thanksgiving that the power of their relentless oppressors was for ever broken (chap. xiv. 1-6). In the history of our race there have been many such days, _e.g.,_ the French Revolution of 1789, the American Civil War; days when the worst passions of humanity were manifested without restraint; but days when the wisdom of God was displayed in bringing good out of evil, in punishing the iniquities of the past, in ushering in a brighter and better era of freedom and justice.

The record of such "days of the Lord" should be eminently instructive to us. 1. They should teach us the true characters of those statesmen who use national power for purposes of unrighteous national aggrandisement. They are patriots but traitors, rendering inevitable a bitter harvest of national shame and sorrow. 2. They show the folly of supposing that the great power of any nation justifies it in the hope that it may safely deal unjustly with other and weaker nations. Guilty nations set in operation forces mightier and surer in their operation than any they can command--those forming the instrumentality by which God governs the earth, and