O you that are named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings?…
Here God is expostulating with His Church, when in a low and languishing state, as to the cause of this. He is vindicating Himself from all share of blame in the matter, — He is showing them where the blame lies, even with His professing people themselves, in their want of faith and prayer. It is their unbelief that mars all. This straitens, shuts up, in prisons their spirits, so that their desires do not flow forth with any enlargement after Divine communications. It is not the Spirit of the Lord that is straitened. There is a straitening, but it is all on their part.
I. THE QUESTION IN THE TEXT IMPLIES THAT THE SPIRIT IS NOT STRAITENED IN THE SENSE WHICH OUR UNBELIEF WOULD SUGGEST.
1. The Spirit is not straitened in respect of His own inherent sufficiency. All grace, wisdom, might, and faithfulness are in Him. The creature is limited in duration; He is eternal. The creature is limited in respect of knowledge. "The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." The creature is limited in respect of power; not so the Spirit. The creature is limited in respect of moral excellence; the Spirit is distinctively and supereminently the Spirit of holiness.
2. In respect of the Saviour's purchase of Him for the Church. As the Head of His Church, Christ is its source of spiritual influence. In Him, for the use of His Church, the Spirit dwells in immeasurable degree. Mark the encouragement afforded us by the death of Christ to expect free and full communications of the Holy Spirit.
3. In respect of the offer of Him in the Gospel.
(1) He is offered universally.
II. THE QUESTION IMPLIES THAT HE IS OFTEN STRAITENED OR DIMINISHED IN RESPECT OF HIS ACTUAL COMMUNICATIONS TO THE CHURCH. It is a fact that the presence and power of the Spirit are not enjoyed by the Church at some periods as much as at others. Point out some of the characteristics of a Church from which the Spirit has withdrawn much of His presence and power.
1. In such a Church the truth will not generally be preached with evangelical purity, faithfulness, and power.
2. There will be a general departure from the simple and scriptural principles of government and discipline on which the Church is founded.
3. There will be a sad lack of zeal in propagating religion and extending the means of grace. The missionary spirit will be all but extinct.
4. There will be few conversions.
5. Even the people of God themselves will not be possessed of so high a tone of spirituality as they ought to be. In short, there will be little personal piety and family prayer; but, on the contrary, much worldliness, much unGodliness, much hostility to anything like zealous Christianity. In the same proportion as the Spirit departs will spirituality decay and carnality increase. What should we learn from this but our entire dependence upon this blessed agent?
III. THE QUESTION IS INTENDED TO CONVEY A REBUKE TO THE CHURCH FOR ITS NOT HAVING SUFFICIENTLY VALUED, AND THEREFORE ASKED AND RECEIVED, THE HOLY SPIRIT. If the Spirit is restrained in His actual communications, this must be either because He is unwilling to bestow His influences upon us, or because we are unwilling to accept of them. It cannot be the first; it must be the last. Apply —
1. To the unconverted; there are some who are entirely destitute of any work of the Spirit of God upon their hearts. Dare they say that they have long been willing to receive Him, but have found it impossible? Their consciences would not suffer them to say so.
2. To those who have in some measure received the Spirit. They often complain of the low state of religion in their own hearts, and in the world around them. Hard thoughts of God suggest themselves to them, as if He had become careless of the interests of His Church. But they will find reason to exonerate God of all blame, and to place it to their own account. Have they cherished, as they ought to have done, the visits of this Divine Person to their own souls? Is it not true that they have, in a great measure, ceased to realise their dependence on Him? Thus religion decaying in their own hearts, they become less concerned about the progress of religion in the hearts of others.
IV. THE QUESTION IS INTENDED TO CONVEY AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO US TO ASK HIM — TO ASK HIM CONFIDENTLY AND LARGELY. The encouragement is twofold, drawn —
1. From the form of the question itself. It is evidently designed to teach us that the Spirit of the Lord is not straitened, not limited nor confined in the sense our unbelief suggests. It is as if it were said — Set no bounds to your desires; ask more and more; ask again and again.
2. Notice to whom the question is addressed. "O thou that art named the house of Israel." It is addressed to the professing Church and people of God, and it is designed to put them in mind of the relation God bears to them as their God, and the warrant thereby afforded them to ask and expect the Holy Spirit. There must be a want, and what can that want be but the want of sufficiently earnest and believing prayer? Immediately, then, let this want be supplied.
(A. L. R. Foote.)
Parallel VersesKJV: O thou that art named the house of Jacob, is the spirit of the LORD straitened? are these his doings? do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?