Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen:The Immanence of God
In the Christian view of God there are two attributes which it is not easy for the human reason to combine. One of them we call the transcendence of God; to the other we give the name of immanence.
I. What do we mean by the Divine transcendence? We mean that apart from and above the universe there lives and reigns a personal Creator.
And what do we mean by the immanence of God? We mean the presence of the Almighty in creation. A God transcendent, like some mighty sculptor, models with His deft hand the human form; but a God who is immanent looks through human eyes, and thinks in the thinking of the human brain.
At different times in the history of man these differing attributes have received special prominence. Today it is the immanence of God that is claiming the chief thought of Western Christendom. The chief causes of this change are two. The one is the devotion of our age to science, and the other is the modern delight in nature.
II. The immanence of God is a great truth to be grasped firmly by the believing soul; but to say that the immanence of God is everything is to be a traitor to tomorrow.
1. When we deny transcendence, we cease to have a God who is a person. The God of the pantheist may be a flowing stream; He certainly is not a living spirit.
2. The popular pantheism of Today is also fatal to human personality. Slip the anchor of the living God, and you slip the anchor of accountability.
3. The popular pantheism of Today is certain to put our moral life in jeopardy, for it destroys, and must inevitably destroy, the sharp distinction between good and evil. The moral power of the cross of Christ has operated in a twofold way. It has not only made goodness very beautiful. It has also made sin exceeding sinful.
4. It is a bad thing to vilify humanity; I believe it is even worse to deify it. If the life of God be the life of the human race, and the activity of God be man's activity, where is your standard to tell that this is right, and to say with authority that that is wrong?
But some one may perhaps say what about con-science—is there not always left the voice of conscience? To which we would answer, as Knox did to Mary, 'Conscience, madam, requires to be educated'. We may picture conscience as a simple thing, but conscience is very far from being simple. It is no more simple than the ear is simple—that outward organ for the voice of God. It has been educated through the stress of years; and it still responds for a period of time to the calling of a faith that is disowned. But the day must come when conscience will grow weak, and fail to pronounce its verdict with authority, unless it is fed again with that same nourishment that has kept it strong and tender to this hour. There is nothing in an exclusive immanence that has any power to reinforce the conscience. And not only so, but, as has often been noted, the logical outcome is this, that might is right. If God and the life of His universe be one, then the mightier the life, the more of God. There is no room for the baffled and the weak—no place for the useless, the beaten, and the fallen—in a world whose God is but a stream of being which neither can pity nor can love.
III. From all such thoughts, whatever be their charm, let us come back to the Fatherhood of God. There is transcendence in the thought of fatherhood—the sweet and perfect sovereignty of love. And in fatherhood no less is immanence, for the father's life is in the child, and in ways not less real because they are undefinable, father and child are one.
—G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 183.
References.—XLIV. 17.—Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 170. W. Boyd Carpenter, ibid. vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 113.
Dr. Eugene Stock, in his history of the Church Missionary Society, mentions that this was the text chosen by the Rev. Daniel Corrie when he preached one of the early sermons for the Society in 1816. The text was suggested by his personal experiences of Indian religion. He spoke at a time when suttee, child murder, and other crimes were rife.
References.—XLIV. 20.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2686. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah, p. 307. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, p. 299. XLIV. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xl. No. 2384. XLIV. 21-23.—W. A. Moberly, The Old Testament in Modern Light, p. 122. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1895.
The bestowing of spiritual blessings is a warrant for the expectation of all needful temporal blessings. This passage is the foundation on which God caused His ancient people to rest. He had blotted out their transgressions, and therefore they might look to Him, as the true object of worship, for consolation, and for deliverance.
I. Clouds the Result of Transgressions.—As the natural clouds are formed by the vapours drawn up from the sea, so, in a degree, those clouds which darken our skies are the effects of our transgressions. Our metaphorical clouds, which produce real misery, are the projected results of our disordered condition. Moral disorder is the consequence of sinful conditions. By our sins we make the clouds, which darken the skies, obscure the landscape, take the sunlight out of existence, and make our days wretched. Our miseries are often our own making. Ideal troubles are very numerous, and very real. Sin disorders the brain, and leads to dread forebodings.
II. Clouds the Ministers of God's Mercy.—The natural clouds are the ministers of God's mercy, the testimonies of His faithful care, of His loving thoughtfulness for the children of men. But how wonderful that the clouds of our sins should be the ministers of His mercy! The misery of sin may be followed by the great blessing of forgiveness. The clouds lead us to appreciate the glorious sunlight.
III. Clouds Dispersed.— There are laws in the natural world, and there must be laws in the moral world. Clouds move in obedience to nature's laws; and the clouds of our sins cannot be blotted out in an arbitrary method. God is a Father, but He is a King and moral Governor. Even He has only a right to blot out transgressions, because He has redeemed. This redemption may refer to temporal deliverance; but Isaiah breathes the very spirit of the Gospel. God blots out sin by devising the method of redemption, and by not sparing His Son. God is not vindictive. God did not force the Son to the work. And yet God did not spare. That last word tells the story of God's love for the Son, and tender pity for sinning men.
IV. After Cloud the Sunshine.—God's forgiving, redeeming love scatters the clouds. The sunlight rejoices our hearts. We are gladdened by the sweet light of trustfulness. The life of the Christian is the bright sunshine of an ever-increasing and ever-developing trustfulness. How pleasant thus to dwell! How glorious to feel its sweet and kindly rays playing about our natures, gently but surely nourishing us up to spiritual health and beauty. Hope cannot nourish under a cloud. When the Sun of Righteousness arises and scatters the clouds, then there will be in the soul answering fruitfulness. The very clouds of our sins should make us fruitful when we stand in the sunlight. What return shall we make for love so vast? The forgiven man should be the hopeful, trustful, and fruitful man. When sin is blotted out, then the soul is started on a career of never-ending fruitfulness.
V. Clouds as Pathetic Preachers.—'Return unto Me.' Every time we see the clouds sweeping across the heavens, let us listen to their still small voice; let us hear their persuasive, pathetic entreaty. The Almighty bases His appeal upon the blessed work He has accomplished. He beseeches by means of the departing clouds of our sins. Return! God woos us as if our happiness were necessary to His own happiness. Let all return unto God, the true soul-rest; for all live too much in the cloud, while we might rejoice in the sunlight.
References.—XLIV. 22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2563; vol. xlix. No. 2847. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Isaiah, p. 317; see also Greed and Conduct, p. 170. XLIV. 22, 23.—R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 7. XLIV. 23.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1240; vol. xlii. No. 2450. XLIV. 28.—A. H. Bradford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 156. XLV.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2815; vol. 1. No. 2867.
Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.
For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:
And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.
One shall say, I am the LORD'S; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people? and the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.
Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.
They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.
Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?
Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.
The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.
The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.
He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:
And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?
He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.
Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;
That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:
That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.