Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. INGRATITUDE THE BASEST OF SINS. He, the Father, has been faithlessly forsaken by ungrateful sons. This is the worst form of ingratitude.
The wretch whom gratitude once fails to bind, II. THE PEOPLE HAVE ADDED REBELLION TO INGRATITUDE. They have forsaken, reviled, "gone backward" from him. This is a climax of sin. Our passions are ever in movement; there is no stagnation. Insensibility to God's goodness soon leads to antipathy, antipathy to active hatred, and this to open revolt. "Be ye thankful." The neglect of the heart and its proper attitude to God is certain to lay us open to every sin. The greatest physical pests of the city, and not less its moral corruptions, may be traced to neglect. Some "covenant" of God made known to us in natural or in spiritual law has been broken; hence sin and sorrow, and hence alone, as the prophets ever teach. III. HEAVEN AND EARTH WITNESSES OF MAN'S GUILT. The whole language and style call up to mind the court of justice. All human events form part of a drama, of which God and the angels are spectators. We in all our thoughts and deeds are surrounded by a great cloud of spectators. The great solid mountains, for example, seem the very symbols of those fixed laws by which our actions must be judged. Napoleon in Egypt called his soldiers to reflect that "forty centuries were looking down upon them from the pyramids." By a similar figure, Micah summons the people to trial in the presence of the mountains (Micah 6:2); the Deuteronomist appeals to heaven and earth to listen to his words (Deuteronomy 32:1). So does a psalmist (Psalm 1.) represent Jehovah as demanding the attention of earth from east to west. All our acts run out into a universal significance. IV. THE EXTREMITY OF NATIONAL RUIN. The people have run the whole course of sin, have left no stone unturned in the attempt to defeat Jehovah; and lo! the result. The body corporate is one mass of disease and wounds, fresh and bleeding. The land is devastated and fire-scarred. Barbarians are devouring it; it reminds of awful Sodom's ruin. Jerusalem, indeed, is as yet unscathed; but she stands alone in the midst of the dread silence. Like "a booth in the vineyard, a hammock in a cucumber-field, "is she? Thus, when appeals to the car have been repeatedly neglected, God paints the truth upon the field of vision. If we heed not the voice, we must feel the weight of the hand, of the Lord. Yet there is still a spark of hope. Jerusalem is all but, yet not quite, a Sodom or Gomorrah. There is still a remnant of people left. Thank God, while there is life there is hope. At the very moment when we are tempted to say of the ruined nation, the broken life, "All is lost!" a voice is heard, "All may yet be restored!" - J.
II. THE PEOPLE HAVE ADDED REBELLION TO INGRATITUDE. They have forsaken, reviled, "gone backward" from him. This is a climax of sin. Our passions are ever in movement; there is no stagnation. Insensibility to God's goodness soon leads to antipathy, antipathy to active hatred, and this to open revolt. "Be ye thankful." The neglect of the heart and its proper attitude to God is certain to lay us open to every sin. The greatest physical pests of the city, and not less its moral corruptions, may be traced to neglect. Some "covenant" of God made known to us in natural or in spiritual law has been broken; hence sin and sorrow, and hence alone, as the prophets ever teach.
III. HEAVEN AND EARTH WITNESSES OF MAN'S GUILT. The whole language and style call up to mind the court of justice. All human events form part of a drama, of which God and the angels are spectators. We in all our thoughts and deeds are surrounded by a great cloud of spectators. The great solid mountains, for example, seem the very symbols of those fixed laws by which our actions must be judged. Napoleon in Egypt called his soldiers to reflect that "forty centuries were looking down upon them from the pyramids." By a similar figure, Micah summons the people to trial in the presence of the mountains (Micah 6:2); the Deuteronomist appeals to heaven and earth to listen to his words (Deuteronomy 32:1). So does a psalmist (Psalm 1.) represent Jehovah as demanding the attention of earth from east to west. All our acts run out into a universal significance.
IV. THE EXTREMITY OF NATIONAL RUIN. The people have run the whole course of sin, have left no stone unturned in the attempt to defeat Jehovah; and lo! the result. The body corporate is one mass of disease and wounds, fresh and bleeding. The land is devastated and fire-scarred. Barbarians are devouring it; it reminds of awful Sodom's ruin. Jerusalem, indeed, is as yet unscathed; but she stands alone in the midst of the dread silence. Like "a booth in the vineyard, a hammock in a cucumber-field, "is she? Thus, when appeals to the car have been repeatedly neglected, God paints the truth upon the field of vision. If we heed not the voice, we must feel the weight of the hand, of the Lord. Yet there is still a spark of hope. Jerusalem is all but, yet not quite, a Sodom or Gomorrah. There is still a remnant of people left. Thank God, while there is life there is hope. At the very moment when we are tempted to say of the ruined nation, the broken life, "All is lost!" a voice is heard, "All may yet be restored!" - J.
I. THE FACT THAT GOD HAS INTERVENED AND DOES INTERVENE IN HUMAN AFFAIRS.
1. Such Divine intervention ought not to have been necessary. For God has so ordered everything around us, and has so constituted us ourselves, that there were abundant sources of truth and heavenly wisdom without it. All visible nature (Romans 1:20); the bounties of Divine providence (Acts 14:17); the manifestations of Divine pleasure and displeasure in the events and issues of life (Psalm 34:15, 16); the conscience that speaks and strikes within the soul - the moral judgment of which our spiritual nature is capable (Proverbs 20:27; Acts 24:16; Romans 2:15); - these should have sufficed for man's instruction, integrity, perfection. But we find, from the religious history of our race, that these sources of enlightenment and influence have not been sufficient.
2. There has been needed, and there has been granted, special intervention from God. "The Lord hath spoken" to mankind:
(1) From the Fall to the Incarnation, God intervened, "at sundry times and in divers manners" - by such visions as those he gave to Isaiah, and which the prophet communicated to the people; by creating and ordaining men of illumination and leadership, such legislators as Moses and Nehemiah, such kings as David and Hezekiah, such prophets as Elijah and John Baptist; by the institutions and precepts of the Law; by parental chastisements.
(2) At and in the Incarnation itself: when the eternal Father said to the human race, "This is my beloved Son, hear him; "by the words, the works, the sorrow, the death, the resurrection, of that Son of man who was the Son of God.
(3) From the Ascension to this present time: by the Word of his truth; by the ministry of the gospel; by the corrections of his disciplinary hand; by the quickening influences of his Spirit. By these things "the Lord is speaking" to us still, is speaking to us all.
II. HUMAN INGRATITUDE THE OCCASION OF THE DIVINE INTERVENTION. What is it that calls forth the Divine utterance? It is the shameful ingratitude of his own sons. "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." There are great and terrible crimes which have to be recorded against the human race; there are evil and shameful wrong-doings which stain and darken many individual lives; but there is one common and inexcusable wrong, to which all people and all souls must plead guilty, one common sin, with which we have all to reproach ourselves, - it is that with which God himself reproaches Israel - heinous and aggravated ingratitude.
1. God has done everything to attach us to himself. He has closely related us to himself; he has made us his children; he has expended upon us the lavish love, the patient care, the multiplied bounties, of a Father's heart, of a Father's hand.
2. We have broken away from his benignant rule. We "have rebelled against him;" our rebellion includes forgetfulness, inattention, dislike, insubmissiveness, disobedience. To whom we owe everything we are and have, to him we have rendered nothing for which he has been looking, everything which has been grievous in his sight.
III. OUR FITTING ATTITUDE WHEN GOD IS SPEAKING. When God speaks, let every voice be hushed; let all things everywhere, even the greatest and most majestic of all, lend their reverent attention. "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth." There are
(1) those who mock;
(2) those who are deliberately deaf, who close their ears by filling them with noisy activities or absorbing pleasures;
(3) those who are persistently unconcerned;
(4) those who pay a passing and fruitless consideration;
(5) those who bring a reverent and obedient inquiry. - C.
I. THE PROPHET HIMSELF. "The vision of Isaiah, the son of Amotz." Little is known of his private life, and nothing of his personal appearance. He resided in Jerusalem; he was married, and his wife is spoken of as a prophetess. They had two sons; both were named with prophetic names, the two taken together embodying the substance of Isaiah's message. The one was called "Maher-shalal-hash-baz" - "He hasteth to the prey" - indicating the swift desolating forces that were coming on the people of Judaea; the other was called "Shear-Jashub" - a "remnant shall return" - indicating the mercy of God towards some, the mercy with which so much of the Book of Isaiah deals. It appears that the prophet wore a garment of haircloth or sackcloth, the ordinary symbol of repentance among Eastern nations; and so his very appearance reminded the people of his message. Isaiah prophesied for nearly fifty years. No record is left of his death, but Jewish traditions represent him as martyred in the reign of Manasseh - sawn asunder with a wooden saw. He was a prophet, not necessarily foretelling future events, but a directly inspired man; one who received communications from God which he was to address to the people. The prophet had three things to do:
(1) to awaken the nation to a sense of sin in disobeying and forsaking the Lord their God;
(2) to counteract the delusion that an external observance of rites and ceremonies is sufficient to satisfy God; and
(3) to oppose the delusions of those who imagined that their election as a nation, and their covenant with Jehovah, formed an absolute security against overwhelming national judgments.
II. THE TIMES IN WHICH THE PROPHET LIVED. They were times of national decline and decay. Isaiah saw four kings upon the throne of Judah. He saw the flickering of the candle ere it went out in the darkness. There was some appearance of prosperity; but Isaiah knew that it did but gloze over deep national corruption that called for national judgments. During the time of Isaiah the neighboring kingdom of the ten tribes did actually fall - the corruptions of idolatry and sensuality, in their case, running a swifter course; and the prophet holds up their case as a solemn warning to the people of Judah. The first six chapters of Isaiah have been referred to the reign of Uzziah, a king whose prosperity developed a strong self-will and masterfulness, which led him to attempt a sad act of sacrilege. Jotham was a pious king; but Ahaz plunged into all the idolatries of the surrounding nations, making molten images for Baal, and sacrificing his children by passing them through the burning hands of Moloch in the valley of Hinnom. The people were only too ready for this debasing change. But judgment quickly followed on the heels of iniquity. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus attacked and injured the country, though they failed to take Jerusalem. Soon other enemies came - Syrians in front, Philistines behind. Ahaz sought help from Tiglath-Pileser, King of Assyria, who soon turned upon him, and Assyria became the gravest enemy of Israel.
III. THE WORK WHICH THE PROPHET HAD TO DO.
1. His first work was to make men understand that their sufferings were actual Divine judgments on their sins, and therefore calls, like thunder-peals, to awaken them to repentance. God will not leave men in their troubles to imagine that some evil chance has befallen them, that they are the victims of accident. By the mouth of some prophet he will assuredly vindicate the connection between sin and suffering.
2. But Isaiah had also to bring comfort to the people of God in the time of national calamity. Godly people are often bowed down by the pressure of surrounding evil, and in their despairing they sometimes say, "God hath forgotten to be gracious." God will never leave his faithful few to sink under discouragements.
3. Isaiah's work may be more precisely stated as this: he was to prepare the way for the spiritual kingdom of God, in the person of Messiah the crucified yet glorified Redeemer. The old theocracy was breaking up, and God's rule in the world might be lost. Isaiah was to say that it was only passing into a spiritual theocracy, giving place to the spiritual and eternal reign of God in souls. In Isaiah messages of severity and of mercy are most graciously blended. The following passage precisely represents his mission: "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." - R.T.
I. THE SIN OF THE UNFILIAL SON. Dwell upon its characteristic features. We estimate the motive and spirit of the wrongs rather than the precise nature of the acts. Show the aggravations of such sin. Every persuasion of dependence, love, and duty must be pushed aside ere unfilial sin can become possible.
II. ITS POSSIBLE EXCUSE IN AN UNWORTHY FATHER. This is the only excuse that can be urged, and this does not count for much. The natural relation sustains the demand for obedience, and nothing can conflict with parental law save the supreme law of God. If even parents command what is contrary to God's revealed will, we must obey the Father in heaven rather than the father on earth. Illustrate how this conflict of the human and Divine law was the burden of the Greek dramas. Short of this, obedience must be fully rendered, even when fatherly requirements cannot be approved.
III. THE ABSENCE OF ALL SUCH EXCUSE WHEN THE FATHER IS GOD. His will is right, is love. Apprehend what he is. Apprehend what he has been to our forefathers and to us. Realize the "goodness" of him in whom our breath is, and whose are all our ways, and then the unspeakable iniquity must be to grieve him, disobey him, and revolt from him. - R.T.
I. THE WEIGHTIEST OBLIGATION. Isaiah speaks of ownership as a relation existing between a brute beast and a man; the "ox knoweth its owner." There is a legal and not unimportant sense in which a man may own art animal; the creature is his in so far as this, that no one else can lay an equal claim to its use, and no one can dispute his legal right to employ it in his service. In a far larger sense than this does man belong to God. God has that strong and indefeasible claim
(1) which the Creator has on the creature he has called into being;
(2) which the Divine Sustainer has on the one whom he has been momentarily preserving in being;
(3) which the generous Giver has on the one upon whom he is bestowing innumerable and invaluable benefactions;
(4) which the merciful Judge has on the one he has spared again and again when life has been forfeited by wrong-doing;
(5) which the Divine Friend has on the one whom he has delivered at the greatest possible cost to himself. Surely he is, in very deed, our Divine Owner: to him we belong; our lives, our powers, ourselves, are his. There is nothing which the brute of the field owes to his human master, there is nothing which man owes to man, that is comparable to that strong, supreme obligation under which we all rest to God.
II. THE HIGHEST INTEREST. The ass or any other domestic animal has the greatest interest in his "crib:" there he finds food, rest, renewal, - life. The highest interest which man has is not in the place where he secures food and rest. This is, indeed, necessary for his bodily well-being. But in gaining this he does not find his life. The life of man is in an instructed mind and, still more distinctively, in a well-ordered soul; in an intelligence that holds the highest truth it is capable of receiving; in a heart that fills and overflows with purest and holiest emotions; in a will that chooses the wisest courses; in a spiritual nature that realizes and rejoices in its highest relationships. A man who acts as if his chief interest were in a comfortable "crib," a well-stocked "stall," is a man who does not know himself and his opportunities.
III. THE DIVINE REPROACH. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib," etc. The brute beast has sense enough to recognize his master, discernment enough to perceive what is best for him to do, but instructed and enlightened Israel, recipients of so many mercies, and with all their golden chances of enlargement and elevation, did not recognize their God nor understand their true and real interests. When we live in ignorance of God and in pursuit of the lower instead of the higher blessedness, we may see ourselves condemned and feel ashamed in our soul as we look on the beasts of the field, and see them using their humble powers to discharge their duties and to enjoy their heritage. A life of spiritual ignorance is
(1) a shameful thing, rebuked by the "beasts that perish;"
(2) a guilty thing, exciting the high displeasure of Almighty God, drawing down his urgent and powerful remonstrance;
(3) a needless thing, - it is in our power to rise above it, if we will and when we will. The last word of the text, as rendered in our version, is suggestive of the true way of return. We have to "consider," to reflect upon our obligation and our interest; and honest and serious consideration must lead to self-condemnation, conviction will end in repentance, and repentance will issue in eternal life. - C.
emphasis of the prophet's adjuration! "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."
I. THE MEASURE OF LIFE IS THE MEASURE OF CORRUPTION. Even physically it is so. The horse does not breed such corruption as man. The body, God's most perfect work, must in its corpse state be buried quickly. Israel was a privileged people. They had the Law and the prophets and the glory; but their rottenness was complete: "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores" (ver. 6). Such, then, is the revealed philosophy concerning evil - the richer the life the more rotten the corruption.
II. THE MEASURE OF OPPORTUNITY IS THE MEASURE OF RESPONSIBILITY. "The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." But in head and heart they had been "nourished and brought up as children." And as children their character ought to have reflected the Father's image. "Ye are my witnesses, "saith the Lord. But Israel had become vain, proud, carnal, self-seeking, idolatrous. They imagined themselves elected to the enjoyment of privilege instead of to the use and responsibility of privilege. Hence they sought to become a "vortex" instead of a "fountain." And evil had spread through them. Their lofty position had made the leaven of their influence wider. Alas! the "children" were "corrupters!" - W.M.S.
I. IT BEGINS IN THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE SOUL FROM GOD. The first movement in the soul's downward course is to "forsake the Lord" - to withdraw itself from him. At first it has no intention to take up an attitude of positive rebellion; it does not say to itself, "I will not have this One to reign over me." But it withholds its thoughts, its affection, its consultation of his revealed will, its activity and contribution in the field of Christian work. It fails to "magnify" him in its own mind and sphere; it "follows afar off;" it loses its hold on him, and its joy in him. It allows an increasing distance to be placed between itself and him.
II. IT SHOWS ITSELF IN WRONG-DOING. They who withhold from God the reverence and the obedience which are his due soon become "a seed of evil-doers." Morality rests on religion as on its only solid basis. Without a sense of religious obligation - as individual and national histories abundantly testify - moral principles will soon decline and disappear. When God is forgotten and his will is disregarded, life becomes darkened with evil deeds, it is stained with vice and crime.
III. IT PASSES INTO DELIBERATE DISLOYALTY TO HIM. "They are gone away backward;" or, "they have turned their backs upon him." The outcome of irreligion and iniquity is presumptuous infidelity, unblushing atheism: man turns his back on God.
IV. IT BRINGS DOWN THE HIGH DISPLEASURE OF THE HOLY ONE. "They have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger." We read that God is "angry with the wicked every day" (Psalm 7:11); that sin "grieves him at his heart" (Genesis 6:6). The Divine emotion is doubtless different, in some respects, from that with which we are familiar, but there is enough resemblance between a holy man and the Holy One of Israel for us to say that such grief and anger as we feel when we look upon shameful sin and shocking crime God himself feels in an infinitely greater degree. It is a thought as true as it is terrible that, when we forsake, disobey, and disavow the Lord, his high and awful wrath is directed against our souls.
V. IT RESULTS IN THE HEAVIEST OF ALL PENALTIES THAT CAN BE BORNE. "A people laden with iniquity." Sin, "when it is finished," when it has run its course and done its work, triumphs over the sinner; it may seem at first to be a power under his feet, and then to be a pleasure to his heart; but it ends in being a crushing weight upon his head. It becomes an insupportable burden; he becomes a soul "laden with iniquity."
1. Iniquity itself, ever growing and spreading, covers the entire surface of his life.
2. The effect of sin is to dwarf and shrivel his whole nature. A man who has given away to sin (notably to such a hateful vice as intemperance, or licentiousness, or gambling) suffers like a man who., all his. life bears a burdensome weight upon his shoulders. He "bears his iniquity." His soul is dominated, damaged, tyrannized, by it. He is the miserable, pitiable slave of his own sin; it bears him down to the very ground in feebleness and humiliation. Yet there is one aspect of the course of sin which is even worse.
VI. IT CULMINATES IN THE PERPETRATION OF SPIRITUAL MISCHIEF. The people laden with iniquity are "children that are corrupters." The very darkest aspect of evil is that it communicates itself on every hand. It is a terribly infectious thing. Every corrupt man is a corrupter of souls. Who shall estimate the evil which one false life starts and spreads? Who shall calculate the distance, in space or time, which the consequences of one wrong action travel?
1. What need of mercy!
2. What need of Divine direction and guardianship! - C.
I. THAT SIN IS MORE OR LESS RECLAIMABLE. Whatever we might have antecedently expected, we find practically, that there are those on whom Divine truth is far more likely to tell than it is on others. Thus
(1) youth is more impressionable than age;
(2) poverty is more accessible than riches;
(3) the unprivileged are more open to influence than the "children of the kingdom."
Time, pleasure, the misuse of sacred opportunity, - these things indurate the soul and make it far less responsive than it once was; so that there are some that are more hopeless than others.
II. THAT THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN UNCHARGED BY THE DISCIPLINE OF GOD ARE THE MOST HOPELESS OF ALL. Many things are effective as spiritual weapons - the Word of God, the ministry of the gospel, the entreaties of friendship, the influence of a godly home, sacred literature, etc.; but not one of them is so penetrating, so affecting, so reformative, as the discipline of the Divine hand. When God comes to a man in his providence; when he sends loss, disappointment, bereavement; when he lays his correcting hand on the man himself, - then there is the deepest silence in the soul, then the voices which are from heaven reach the inmost chambers of the spirit. And if these be felt and heard in vain, if the lessons which come thus be unlearned by the rebellious heart, then the last state of that man is about the worst that is imaginable: "There is more hope of a fool than of him."
III. THAT THERE ARE THOSE UPON WHOM GOD SEEMS TO HAVE EXHAUSTED HIS DISCIPLINARY RESOURCES. The prophet says (ver. 5), "The whole head is sick," etc., already. As it is, the entire body is covered with open, unhealed wounds (ver. 6); the nation (the body politic) was witnessing the most harrowing evils and the most humiliating indignities to which it could be subjected (vers. 7, 8). What further chastisement could the arm of the Almighty inflict? By what severer blows could he recall his people to repentance and righteousness? So with individual men. God has sent them chastisement after chastisement, reminder on reminder; he has touched them in one part of their nature, he has laid his correcting hand on another part; he has visited them in many ways; he has multiplied his most solemn lessons unto them. What more can he do? Where "can they be stricken any more?" In what other way shall he strike their follies and seek to save their souls?
IV. THAT IN THEIR CASE FURTHER SUFFERING WOULD PROBABLY RESULT IN AGGRAVATED sin. Isaiah might well ask (if that be not the precise point), "Why should ye be smitten any more?" (ver. 5); he certainly does say, "Ye will revolt more and more." His thought apparently is that added blows will only mean increased rebelliousness. When a man (or a nation) has reached a certain depth in iniquity, the very thing (Divine chastisement) which ought to arrest and restore him will only goad him to proceed with quickened step on his evil way. Thus are the purposes of love defeated and the means of recovery perverted. And yet there remains one redeeming thought, viz. -
V. THAT, THOUGH COMPARATIVELY, SIN IS NOT UTTERLY HOPELESS HERE. The "daughter of Zion" was little better than a "cottage in a vineyard," a "lodge in a garden of cucumbers" (ver. 8); but it was left, to be at least as much as that. The Lord of hosts had left a "remnant," though that was "very small" (ver. 9). Jerusalem had not yet become as "the cities of the plain." The penalty of sin is great: it reduces the sinner very low indeed; it robs him of his heritage; it leaves him almost nothing of the spiritual faculties, of the filial portion (Luke 15:12), of the heavenly hopes with which he was endowed. But it leaves something - some sensibility to which we can appeal; some thread of willingness by which we can draw him; some plank by which, through a thousand perils, he may yet reach the shore.
"The blackest night that veils the sky
Ezekiel 18:31)? So serious, indeed, had been the penalties of transgression already that there seemed to be no part of the body politic upon which another stroke might fall; new inflictions must come upon old sores and wounds. "The two noblest parts of the human body are here selected to represent the body politic; and the extreme danger to which it was exposed is significantly set forth under the image of universal sickness and languor. There were no parts which did not suffer from the calamities which sin had entailed." Remember the expression of St. Paul (Romans 2:5), "After thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God."
I. ALL SINS ARE FOLLOWED BY JUDGMENTS. We say, by consequences; and we even admit that they are usually "unpleasant" consequences; but we must go further and admit that every sin - be it neglect, or be it willful disobedience, whether it concern the individual or the community - is attended by its appropriate and necessary result, and that this is always the Divine judgment. Sorrow waits on sin. Suffering follows sin. Moral deterioration is Divine judgment. Painful circumstance is Divine judgment. The old world sins, and comes under the judgment of the Flood. Sodom sins, and comes into the judgment of the Divine fires. David sins, and quarrel and curse break up his family and break his heart. Judgment always links on to sin, and no human power can snap the uniting tie. If we will enjoy sin we must bear suffering. Illustrate by the pagan conceptions of the Furies and the Fates. Something bad grows out of all sin; and "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
II. ALL JUDGMENTS ARE CHASTISEMENTS. It is impossible to associate punishment, as a mere exercise of tyrannical power, with God the great Father. In the long run, or in the short run, all Divine judgments must be proved to have been remedial in their design. It is quite beyond our province to decide to what extent the free-will, the self-will, of man may resist the remedial purpose of God's judgments. All we can say is, that a father's punishments must be, at the very heart of them, chastisements; and that the plea of the passage before us rests upon the fact that God had been smiting in order to correct, and was deeply grieved because his correcting purpose had hitherto been so successfully resisted. Illustrate how epidemics and plagues, following upon sanitary sins, are designed to correct sanitary evils. The same applies in moral spheres. From this point a review of God's dealings with us in our past lives may be taken, and we may be searchingly reminded how we have resisted the remedial influence of God's chastisements.
III. REFUSAL TO LEARN BY CHASTISEMENT IS FRESH SIN. This the prophet pleads. "You are further grieving God by this, that you will not be humbled; you will not learn; you will not let him lift his judgments off you." Illustrate by the hardened boy who will not respond to his father's punishment. That hardened resistance is a fresh sin.
IV. FRESH SIN INVOLVES FURTHER AND WORSE JUDGMENTS. Before, the judgment was but to reveal the evil character of the sin; now, the judgment has to bear upon the heart-hardness, and it must be more searching and severe. The secret of more than half our calamities and afflictions is, that they are second and sharper strokes because we would not heed the first. Israel was swept away into captivity at last, because she would resist the smaller national calamities that were gracious Divine persuasions to repentance. In a great measure it is true that our life-troubles are in our own hands. We suffer so much because we are such dull and unwilling scholars in the school of God.
V. THE WORST OF ALL WOES WOULD BE THE SUSPENSION OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS. There is no more terrible conception than that ordinarily awakened by the passage "Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone." The unspeakable calamity for a man or for a nation would be for God to lay down his chastening rod, and stop his judgments. There is hope for us so long as he will smite. - R.T.
A cottage in a vineyard" is a cottage that speaks of home (ver. 8), "a lodge in a garden of cucumbers" is a center of care and toil; and a very small remnant may be a branch of healing to save a nation.
I. THE SMALL REMNANT BELONGS TO THE LORD OF HOSTS. Therefore power is on their side. What a contrast! - "host" and "remnant." Even so. God can multiply the loaves and fishes. God can put such power into the remnant that they may be able to say, "Greater is he that is for us than all that can be against us." We must not judge by numbers or statistics, nor by quantity, but by quality. Whose are these? Decide that; and then "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith, "for that faith centers in God.
II. THE SMALL REMNANT IS ANTISEPTIC. It can arrest disease. It can heal. Take a few grains of some chemical substance, and they will color and cleanse an entire stream. "We should have been as Sodom is." Yes; God's judgments on a nation, as in our own at the time when profligate plays had undermined the moral life, have saved the nation. For when men laugh at sin, well-nigh the deepest depth has been reached; but godly souls are then used as leaven to purify the body politic. Judah and Jerusalem were almost gone, but the Lord had mercy on them.
III. THE SMALL REMNANT IS TO SPREAD THE WORD OF THE LORD. The next verse says, "Hear ye the Word of the Lord." It is a Divine revelation that is to save them. And the prophet who speaks is called Isaiah, or Iesahiaha, signifying "the salvation of the Lord; 'so that though the prophet speaks stern words of rebuke, his very name contains the glorious issue of his work. His work was laborious and long - he prophesied in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Terribly profane were those days, for in the days of Ahaz "the doors of the house of the Lord were shut up, and idolatrous altars were erected in every corner of Jerusalem." But God sent his Word and healed them; and that is the true regenerator in every age. - W.M.S.
I. THE DIVINE INDIGNATION AGAINST WICKEDNESS. No more scathing denunciation could there be than to term the rulers of the holy city "chiefs of Sodom," and the people in general "people of Gomorrah." Those were names of horror and shame. Christ used them in the same manner of extreme denunciation. Three forms of sin were prevalent - luxury, violence, and oppression. The widow and the orphan stand out especially as victims of greed and hard-hearted, grasping selfishness. As nothing could be more humane and gentle than the spirit of the Law, so nothing could be more wicked than the disregard of it. The Talmud, no less than the prophets, said the strongest things against injustice. The judge is particularly cautioned not to be biased in favor of the poor against the rich. What a light does this throw upon the fine education of the conscience! How much more flagrant the opposite fault! "He who unjustly hands over one man's goods to another, he shall pay God for it with his own soul. In the hour when the judge sits in judgment over his fellow-man, he shall feel as it were a sword pointed at his own heart." So says the Talmud. Jerusalem had evidently, in the earlier time of Isaiah, been obscuring its highest conscience.
II. DIVINE CONTEMPT FOE SACRIFICES AND RITUAL.
1. These things were never beautiful nor acceptable unless as expressions of piety. If the piety were not existent, the streams of blood, the reek of incense, became a spiritual disgust. The beasts chosen for sacrifice were from the meeker and pursued animals: how horrible a lie for the persecutor and the proud to bring such symbols to God! Says the Talmud, "Look at, Scripture: there is not a single bird more persecuted than the dove; yet God has chosen her to be offered up on his altar. The bull is hunted by the lion, the sheep by the wolf, the goat by the tiger. And God said, 'Bring me a sacrifice, not from them that persecute, but from them that are persecuted.'"
2. Mere attendance on public worship is not acceptable. Who has required them, Jehovah asks, to "wear out" his courts? Their thronging and their noise is offensive to him. Their meat offerings are vanity; meaning nothing spiritual, they have no value whatever. The incense itself, the finest flavor and aroma of the offering, stinks as it were in the nostrils of God. New moon and sabbath, and all the innumerable solemnities, - they are hateful and burdensome to Jehovah. He cannot endure the contradiction - wickedness and worship quantity goes for nothing, quality is everything in the service of God. There is only one act of true worship, but it fills a lifetime. Repetitions of unmeaning acts harden the heart, dull the perceptions, accumulate guilt. Homer spoke of the crimes of men "going up to the iron heaven." So here the heaven is like an iron bound, not suffering the prayers of the wicked to pass through.
III. THE TRUE DIVINE SERVICE.
1. It consists in moral, as distinguished from ritual acts. In making the "inside of the cup and platter clean. It is a "washing" of the soul from those thoughts and passions which lead to sin. It is a giving of one's self up to the godly sorrow that works repentance. "When the gates of prayer in heaven are shut, that of tears is open, "says the Talmud. What more blessed than the tears of the sinner over his sin? The rainbow of hope never fails to overarch them.
2. It has a negative side. Self must be denied in every evil meaning that self bears. The evil lusts and habits in the embrace of which we have been locked, must now be held at arm's length, and a divorce a mensa et tore be effected. Every true learning must be preceded by an unlearning; there must be a pause and a turning of the whole person, in short, a conversion, before we can start on a new course. God's voice says to us, "Hold! Leave off!" as often as it says, "Go forward!" Habits form unconsciously. It is, perhaps, a question more important to ask, because easier to be answered and dealt with - Are we doing anything to break off bad habits? It is God's part to weave and form the good in us. We should make space and room for him to operate in our souls.
3. It has a positive side. We are to learn - to inquire, to seek, in order to act rightly. Thought is the soul of act. We learn to do well by looking to good examples. The "consideration" of Christ is the life-business and art of the Christian. "Why do I tell you incessantly to study the old masters?" asked a great painter of his pupils. "Because the great masters are nearest to nature" (Ingres). So Christ is nearest to. God, to the nature and soul of all goodness. "Learn of me!" Nor can we approximate to right living without much seeking, much thought, comparison of experiences, much earnest prayer. "Show me thy ways, teach me thy paths!" Note the stress laid upon justice. This is the basis of character. Love is a vague sentiment without it, and may work as much harm as good. Love strengthened and purified by justice; this is the ideal of the good man's character. It is the imitation of God. And to seek to resemble the revealed Divine in temper and in life, - this is the essence of worship, the heart of piety. - J.
I. THE UTTER INSUFFICIENCY OF MERE RITUAL TO COMMAND THE DIVINE FAVOR. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" etc. (vers. 11-13). These various offerings were all according to the commandment, correct, scriptural; but they were unacceptable; they were "vain oblations, "all of them. They were ineffectual, because they came from hands that were unclean, from hearts that were unholy. It is a significant and solemn fact that men may be engaged in doing those very things, using those very words which God has plainly prescribed, and yet they may be utterly failing to win his Divine favor. The services of the sanctuary, the "eating of that bread and drinking of that cup, "the ministries of the pulpit and the study, - all these may be unimpeachably correct, but yet wholly unacceptable. If the heart be not right, if the life be not pure, they are unacceptable.
II. ITS POSSIBLE ODIOUSNESS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. Those who are rendering an abundance of formal devotion are actually denominated by a term which indicates the last extremity of wrong-doing: "Ye rulers of Sodom," "ye people of Gomorrah;" they are addressed as if they were responsible citizens of those infamous cities. Jehovah not only does "not delight in the blood of bullocks" (ver. 11), and not only does not rear, ire this kind of service (ver. 12); not only does he call the oblations "vain," but he declares incense to be an abomination to him (ver. 13). "Your new moons... my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them" (ver. 14). The thought is positively terrible that the very things we are doing with a view to gain God's pleasure may be bringing down upon us his awful anger; that the very means we are taking to avert his wrath may be only adding to its weight. It is certain that the offerings of the hypocrite are of this kind. This prophetic strain is not only applicable to the specialties of the Hebrew ritual; it includes all the ordinary approaches of the human soul to the Divine Father; it embraces that which we call "prayer" (see ver. 15). And we have to face the fact that the most devout utterances of our lips, in the most approved or even in biblical phraseology, may be worse than worthless in the sight of God.
III. THE PRIMARY DUTY OF REPENTANCE. "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings," etc. (vers. 16, 17). When men are loving and practicing unrighteousness, the first thing they have to do is to "put it away," both from their minds and from their lives. The drunkard must first dash down his cup, the untruthful man must at once give up his falsehoods, the licentious man his impurities, the dishonest man his rogueries; it is a vain and even guilty thing for a man to kneel in prayer or to sit down at the Lord's table when he is deliberately intending to go on in his sin: that is nothing less than mockery; it is defiance assuming the attitude of devotion. "Let the wicked forsake his way," etc. (Isaiah 55:7).
IV. THE READINESS OF GOD TO PARDON THE PENITENT. (Ver. 18.)
V. THE ALTERNATIVE WHICH GOD PLACES BEFORE ALL HIS CHILDREN - OBEY AND PROSPER, OR REFUSE AND SUFFER. (Vers. 19, 20.) They who now return unto the Lord from the state of sin in which they are found - from crime, from vice, from ungodliness, from indecision - and who attach themselves to the service of Jesus Christ, shall "eat the good of the land;" to them shall be granted the sunshine of God's favor, the blessedness of Christ's friendship and service, the hope of a heavenly heritage. But they who remain apart and afar from God, who will not have the Man Christ Jesus to reign over them - they must abide under the condemnation of the Holy and the Just. - C.
followed the devices and desires of their own hearts." Jehovah declares that the merely formal service of the impure is an abomination unto him. Those very sacrifices and offerings which were his delight, became hateful to him when offered with unclean hands, and when no loving, trusting, obedient hearts found expression through them. "I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting."
I. THE POSSIBILITY OF UNITING TOGETHER INIQUITY AND THE SOLEMN MEETING. At first it may seem as if that were not possible. Surely conscience will prevent men from joining in religious worship who are indulging in open sin. Perhaps this is the real reason why so many people around us stay away from worship. But it is a fact that many of the worst men have kept, all through their lives, in outward association with religious worship. In the times of the old monasteries you might have listened to the solemn services and heard the monks breathe out strains of holy music set to holy words. You might have seen priests in gorgeous garments waving incense and uplifting the symbol of the Redeemer. They were precise in all prayers, minute in all ceremonial. And many of them were faithful and true men. But History writes one of her saddest pages about many of them. They were given over to gluttony, drunkenness, and immorality, and were uniting "iniquity and the solemn meeting." This is even a possibility for our own times and for ourselves. Many of us, if we were conscious of heart-sins and life-sins cherished and loved, would only become more exact in religious formalities, trying to cover up the wrong and hide it, as far as possible from our own view. We do religiously somewhat as Cain did when he hid his murdered' brother in the ground, and then set vigorously to work in his fields, trying, by sheer earnestness in work, to persuade himself and to persuade others that he knew nothing whatever of his brother's blood. We are not, however, so likely to unite the open forms of iniquity with the solemn meeting as we are the more secret forms, the inner heart-sins, which may be cherished without disgracing us before God; such sins as:
1. The unforgiving spirit. To fail to forgive is to sin.
2. Backslidings and lustings of heart: proud, selfish, sensual, corrupting thoughts. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." And the God to whom we offer worship is the Heart-searcher, the Thought-searcher.
3. Openness to the vanities of the world.
4. Occasional yieldings to temptation and self-indulgence. Many indulge the idea that, if their indulgences do not become habitual, they need not interfere with their religious worship. Plead the Divine requirement as given in Psalm 24:3-5.
II. THE VIEW GOD TAKES OF UNITING INIQUITY AND THE SOLEMN MEETING. "I am weary to bear." "I cannot away with." "It is an abomination to me." We should clearly distinguish what it is which is thus hateful to God. It is not the sacrifice, or the offering, or the solemn meeting. God takes delight in those places and in those services in which his Name is recorded. They are the highest things that can engage human attention, the seasons in which man transcends the earthly and anticipates the hallowed occupations of heaven. They are the times in which man ought to be the truest, the most sincere, the most himself; all cloaks, all hoods, all masks, all pride, ought to be laid aside whenever we pass the threshold of God's sanctuary. Naked, guileless, open souls alone may stand before the all-holy Lord. The thing which is so hateful is the separation between a worshipping and an obedient heart. God has encouraged outward worship, that it might express, and strengthen while it expresses, the love and trust of an obedient heart. The husk becomes worthless when the worm of self and pride has eaten out the kernel. The dress is hideous which no longer clothes a warm living body, but covers, and scarcely hides, the skeleton of rebellion. The voice is hateful that is only a voice, and utters no joy, no trust, no love of the heart. Be true in thy worship, be spiritual, and God will look down on thee with delight and acceptance. Be formal, be insincere, and God will frown thee from his presence; from thine hands he will reject the costliest sacrifices and the grandest show of devotion. Our cherished sins will as surely be an offence to God as were those which are referred to in this chapter. Ours, indeed, are not sins of violence and blood, but rather sins of secret indulgence. We have seen the light of the sun as effectually hidden by thin light mists as by black thunder-clouds. And God's face has often been hidden by the mists of little transgressions. He notices sins of will. He observes sins of inadvertence. He sees sins of neglect. He reckons sins of nourished evil thoughts. More souls have died away from the love of God through the subtle plague-breath of little heart-sins than have fallen under the strokes of temptation in open conflict with evil. And what shall we do, if it is revealed to us that secret evils have come in upon our souls, and that the devil's work of woe has been progressing in us, and the work of God's grace in us is flagging and failing? What shall we do if we can detect stains of secret disobediences, unforgivings, and self-indulgences? Let us not stay away from worship; but let us at once obey in this: "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well." - R.T.
I. IT WOULD BE MISCHIEVOUS TO ACCEPT THE HARDENED. Mischievous for the hardened themselves, who would be made yet harder by a goodness they could not fail to misunderstand. Mischievous for all others, in whose minds moral distinctions would be confused, and the Divine righteousness sullied. Under no pretence, by no equivocations, through no disguises, can God possibly accept the guilty and impenitent. In this, as in all else, the Judge of all the earth will do right.
II. IT IS HOPELESS TO ACCEPT MERE PROFESSORS. For they are self-deluded, and would be kept from awakening to their true state, if God accepted them as they are. The man who is satisfied with profession, and fails to aim at godly living, can never appreciate Divine acceptance or rightly respond to it. Divine acceptance is one great help to righteousness, and this the professor neither admires nor seeks. What good is it to accept professors? God cannot get beyond their fine outer shell. They are apples of Sodom, acceptable neither to God nor man. "He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous."
III. GOD ACCEPTS ONLY THOSE WHOSE PENITENCE FINDS EXPRESSION IN EFFORTS TO DO RIGHT. They only show that they are sincerely desirous of help; and they only are in a moral condition to receive, and to use well, Divine forgiveness and favor. Show how intensely practical the plea is in the text: "Put away just those very sins that you have been so freely indulging in. But do not be satisfied with any mere negation of evil; seek opportunities of doing justice; take care to blend justice with charity; do the right, and do the kind to all those who cannot right themselves." Goodness as a sentiment is of little value. Goodness as a life Gad looks for, and man asks from his fellows. "I will show thee my faith by my works." - R.T.
I. THE TRIAL OF THE CASE.
1. God is reason, otherwise he could not be God of justice. And if the nature can defend itself, clear itself from guilt, its plea will be allowed. Just so in Isaiah 43:19, the imagery of a court of justice is presented: "Let them bring forth their witnesses that they may be justified, and let them hear, and say, It is true." The question is - Can the nation clear itself from the charges alleged against it? If so, the deep fixed stain that now seems to rest upon them shall be taken away, and they shall be white as driven snow or as undyed wool.
2. God appeals to fixed principles of right. These have long been known, are written in the conscience of the people. A willing spirit of obedience to Divine law is assured of blessing; rebellion brings about hostility, invasion, and all those calamities from which the people are now suffering. Have these curses come "causeless" upon the people? Or are they the just consequences of disobedience? Let them answer. A long pause and silence convey the admission of guilt. They have no argument to urge, no cause to show why judgment should be stayed.
II. THE PROPHET'S LAMENTATION. He, as daysman, or go-between, mourns over the city thus convicted, unable to stand in judgment against Jehovah. He is compelled in this cause to turn witness against his own people. Once loyal and pledged as in the covenant of marriage to Jehovah, the city has become like her who "forsakes the guide of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God." Where once the splendid seat of justice and purity stood, there is now lawless bloodshed. The pure metal of her virtue has been debased; and "as water unto wine" is her moral feebleness now as contrasted with her moral strength then. They who, as rulers, were set for an example of obedience to God, integrity among men, are rebels and thieves' comrades. Instead of withholding their hands from bribes, they greedily clutch after them. Pity and mercy are extinct; the orphan and the widow are thrust aside. The guilt of guilt lies in the use of power without love. Christ, as the impersonation of humanity and of love, points out that the condemnation of evil conduct lies in this, that love is wanting, The splendid temple ritual was naught, because there was no love in it, as their conduct out of the temple so clearly showed. We may never miss a Sunday service or a celebration of the communion, yet for all that be undone. And many who have never been "professed" Christians will be, on other grounds, professed by Christ. - J.
the ideal of Divine services; they had turned them into a correct ritual, to a multitude of sacrifices without purpose. And purpose or motive is the very heart of religion. They were devotional, but cruel. "When ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood." It was all empty ceremony. The solemn meeting even was iniquity. A change must come. And it must bean in character. "Cease to do evil." Yes; but that is not enough. Negation is not salvation. There must be life unto God as well as death unto sin. "Learn to do well." Then come the words of our text. They sound a strange note at first; they speak of what man cannot do and what God can.
I. HERE IS THE GOSPEL IN ISAIAH. Free, full, perfect redemption. We see in these words Gethsemane and Calvary. There God's purpose was fulfilled; but it is in his heart when these words are spoken, for "the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world." It is a glorious gospel - God giving himself for the world. And now, as we read Israel's sins in this record, we may see even then that, where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
II. HERE IS THE REASONABLENESS OF RELIGION. How condescending! Let us - the Infinite and the finite, the immaculate and the evil. Yet so it is. God says, "While you are stained with blood and cloaked with hypocrisy, I can have nothing to say to you or to do with you." It cannot be that light should have fellowship with darkness. That is reasonable surely. But how can the sins of Judah and Jerusalem be purged away? Amendment is not atonement. And God is their Ransom, the high God is their Redeemer!
III. HERE IS THE CHARTER OF THE CHURCH'S LIBERTY. These words will never be forgotten. They have comforted millions. It is not liberty to sin, but salvation from all sin, and from the punishment of sin. Not from punishment only, but from sin itself, in all its forms, all its depths, all its degrees! For the colors are chosen as the symbols of the most marked and malignant evil - scarlet and crimson. Yet God is able to save to the uttermost. The words are best understood beneath the cross and in the history of redeemed men in every age. - W.M.S.
I. THE FULNESS OF THE DIVINE MERCY. In estimating the fullness of God's grace to mankind, we must include:
1. His patience toward all men, both penitent and impenitent. From the beginning of sin until the present hour God has been forbearing to inflict penalty. He has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." The times of long-continued ignorance God overlooked, or did not interpose with special penalty or redemption (Acts 17:30).
2. His pardon offered to the penitent and believing. In the Law we read that he is "the Lord God, merciful and gracious," etc. (Exodus 34:6, 7); in the Psalms we read that he is "plenteous in mercy," etc. (Psalm 103:8, 11, 12); in the prophets we read that "he is merciful and will not keep anger forever" (Jeremiah 3:12; and see text and Isaiah 55:7-9; Daniel 9:9). In the gospel of Jesus Christ remission of sins is a cardinal doctrine (Matthew 26:28; Luke 24:47; Acts hi. 38; 5:31; 10:43; 26:18).
3. The thoroughness of his forgiveness.
(1) The breadth which it covers.
(a) The worst kinds of sin - blasphemy, idolatry, all forms of impurity, murder, etc.;
(b) the most criminal condition - long-continued forgetfulness, sin against multiplied privilege, persistent and obdurate rebelliousness of heart, etc.
(2) The depth to which it goes down.
(a) Penetrating to the most secret thoughts of the mind, to the most inward motives of the soul, to the slightest choices of the will;
(b) extending to the thoughts and things which have been overlooked and omitted, as well as to those which have been entertained and wrought.
(3) The height to which it rises.
(a) Leading to actual holiness - for pardon is the fruit of penitence and faith, and with them in the soul, the scarlet becomes as snow, the crimson as wool, the mind is radically changed, the life is thoroughly transformed
(b) including full restoration, not merely the not exacting penalty, but the actual bestowal of the Divine favor - admitting to the Father's home and table, lavishing upon the accepted child every sign and proof of parental love.
II. THE DIVINE ARGUMENT THEREFROM. God condescends to "reason" with us; he appeals to our sense of obligation, to our regard for our own interests, to our human affections, etc. The argument here is not stated, but it may be easily inferred. If such is the Divine mercy - so large and full and free, then how wise to seek it at once! because of:
1. The blessedness of being right with God henceforth.
2. The uncertainty of the future. Between our souls and its possession may be interposed
(1) sudden death;
(2) hardening of the heart;
(3) increased outward obstacles.
3. The immeasurable, issues which are at stake - "everlasting punishment or life eternal." - C.
I. FIRST PLEA. "Thou art revealed as the great God, inhabiting eternity, whose Name is Holy; who art of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity. I am afraid thou wouldst not concern thyself about the sin, much less about the forgiveness, of such creatures as we are." What is God's answer? "I have a great interest in that little world where you dwell. I have given you many proofs of it. I have hidden my great sun to shine on you, and quicken life and beauty everywhere around you. I am coming down continually in the rains and winds that provide food for you, coming down to attend your steps and ward off evils from you. It is quite true that by me even 'the very hairs of your head are all numbered.' If I take such interest in you, should I not concern myself about your sin, the worst of the evils that gather about you? Do you think I could temper the storms and the sunshine, keep away pestilence and blight, and not strive to take away sin? And there is something more: 'I am merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and of great kindness.' You know that I am Light, Power, Majesty, King, Judge. But you do not really know me till you know that I am Love, and love will spend itself until every stain is cleansed from those whom it loves. My love sends forth streams that wash away sins." When love opens the cleansing fountain, what can we do but
Plunge rote the purple flood, II. SECOND PLEA. "I read that thou hast given a great Law, by which thy creatures are to be judged. 'The Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.' Thou hast said, 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die.' I do not see how thou canst keep thy justice and thy truth, and yet blot out my scarlet, my crimson sins." What is the reply? "It is indeed the mystery of mysteries, but love has solved it. I can be just and justifying. I have set forth my dear Son as your Sin-bearer, your Substitute, the Propitiation for your sin. In his righteous life, by his vicarious death, my Law is magnified and shown to be honorable. Not a stain can even seem to be upon it after such an obedience as Christ rendered, if I did gather every sinful creature into my love and heaven. I have myself put such an eternal honor upon Law by permitting my Son to submit to it, that none can ever doubt the transcendent glory of my justice." III. THIRD PLEA. "But my sins are so great, so aggravated, it seems to me as though such sins as mine cannot even be atoned for; even if atoned for, I think I should never be able to hold up my head for very shame." Some of us know what scarlet sins mean, crimson sins, sins of deepest die. What is God's reply? "I have provided for the uttermost of sin in the infinite merit of my Son. His worth outweighs all sin; it can cover and blot out the deepest crimson stains. His sacrifice sends up such a fragrant incense to me that I can freely pardon all your iniquity. If his robe of righteousness cover you, I shall not see any of those stains; I shall accept you in him." IV. FOURTH PLEA. "But my sins are not just acts of willfulness and rebellion, they are the habits of my life, the neglectings and self-servings of my life. I hear of rolling sin as a sweet morsel under the tongue, and that is just the way with me. If I were forgiven, I fear I should just go on sinning still." But God answers, "I have provided also for this. I will pour out of my Spirit upon you; and to them that have no might he shall increase strength. He shall be Teacher, Guide, Comforter, Earnest, and Seal. He shall be with you always." V. FIFTH PLEA. "Even if my scarlet sins are made like wool, and my crimson sins like the snow, I fear I shall never be able to return anything for such grace abounding." What a wonderful reply God makes to you, closing up your mouth and humbling you in the very dust! "Not for your sakes do I this, O house of Israel, but for mine own Name's sake." Truly that is a wonderful answer. It is like God coming to us, opening the fountain of his being, and saying, "Look in, look long, and peer into the depths. I am love." There is all the secret. Love saves. Love saves even those who never can hope to make worthy returns for love. - R.T.
II. SECOND PLEA. "I read that thou hast given a great Law, by which thy creatures are to be judged. 'The Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.' Thou hast said, 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die.' I do not see how thou canst keep thy justice and thy truth, and yet blot out my scarlet, my crimson sins." What is the reply? "It is indeed the mystery of mysteries, but love has solved it. I can be just and justifying. I have set forth my dear Son as your Sin-bearer, your Substitute, the Propitiation for your sin. In his righteous life, by his vicarious death, my Law is magnified and shown to be honorable. Not a stain can even seem to be upon it after such an obedience as Christ rendered, if I did gather every sinful creature into my love and heaven. I have myself put such an eternal honor upon Law by permitting my Son to submit to it, that none can ever doubt the transcendent glory of my justice."
III. THIRD PLEA. "But my sins are so great, so aggravated, it seems to me as though such sins as mine cannot even be atoned for; even if atoned for, I think I should never be able to hold up my head for very shame." Some of us know what scarlet sins mean, crimson sins, sins of deepest die. What is God's reply? "I have provided for the uttermost of sin in the infinite merit of my Son. His worth outweighs all sin; it can cover and blot out the deepest crimson stains. His sacrifice sends up such a fragrant incense to me that I can freely pardon all your iniquity. If his robe of righteousness cover you, I shall not see any of those stains; I shall accept you in him."
IV. FOURTH PLEA. "But my sins are not just acts of willfulness and rebellion, they are the habits of my life, the neglectings and self-servings of my life. I hear of rolling sin as a sweet morsel under the tongue, and that is just the way with me. If I were forgiven, I fear I should just go on sinning still." But God answers, "I have provided also for this. I will pour out of my Spirit upon you; and to them that have no might he shall increase strength. He shall be Teacher, Guide, Comforter, Earnest, and Seal. He shall be with you always."
V. FIFTH PLEA. "Even if my scarlet sins are made like wool, and my crimson sins like the snow, I fear I shall never be able to return anything for such grace abounding." What a wonderful reply God makes to you, closing up your mouth and humbling you in the very dust! "Not for your sakes do I this, O house of Israel, but for mine own Name's sake." Truly that is a wonderful answer. It is like God coming to us, opening the fountain of his being, and saying, "Look in, look long, and peer into the depths. I am love." There is all the secret. Love saves. Love saves even those who never can hope to make worthy returns for love. - R.T.
Proverbs 14:34, "Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people." The prophet is picturing the corrupt state of the metropolis, and contrasting its present moral degradation with the high and honorable character which it had formerly sustained. The following points may be illustrated, and the lessons of them enforced.
I. UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE LEADERS IS THE CURSE OF A BAD EXAMPLE. Illustrate by the mischievous influence of a corrupt court and aristocracy, and by the discontent produced by corruptions of the fountains of justice.
II. UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IN THE PEOPLE ENFEEBLES THE NATIONAL LIFE. Illustrate by the effect of prevalent sensuality on the morale of soldiers. The moral degradation of France was the secret of her weakness when struggling against Germany. A nation's manhood sinks under the power of self-indulgence and sin. This was strikingly illustrated again and again in the history of God's people Israel. When they were idolatrous and immoral they were weak before their foes. Virtue is strength.
III. UNRIGHTEOUSNESS PREPARES THE WAY FOR NATIONAL EVILS. Both for such as are internal and for such as are external. Family life, society, religion, all are affected. Ordinary checks are removed. The sense of common weal no longer binds men together to seek national interests. And the "enemy coming in like a flood" finds no "standard of the Lord lifted up against them." Illustrate by the iniquities wrought by and encouraged by Hophni and Phinebas, and the consequent despising of Jehovah's worship, and inability to stand before the nation's foes. Nobody from outside can really hurt a nation. Nations hurt themselves by permitting vice and iniquity to run riot. Show what are the features of modern city sins, country sins, national iniquities. These are our peril, our woe, our curse. Against these every servant of the Lord must strive and plead and fight. Nations can build national life securely on no other foundation than this - morality, righteousness, the clean heart, and the clean hand. - R.T.
I. DEPLORABLE DEGENERACY.
1. Degeneracy of character. "How is the faithful city become an harlot!" etc. (vers. 21, 23). There is nothing more melancholy than the sight of a people or city or of a human being fallen from spiritual and moral integrity to a depth of sin and folly - devoutness exchanged for impiety, conscientiousness for unscrupulousness, self-restraint and self-respect for laxity or even for licentiousness, spiritual excellency for moral unloveliness. But many illustrations confront us, both in history and experience.
2. Degeneracy of power. The result of this spiritual decline is weakness: the silver becomes dross, the wine is mixed with water (ver. 22). The sinner is not long before he finds that there is "no might in his hand" (Deuteronomy 28:32). Sin saps the life-blood from the soul, and leaves it strengthless and useless. It makes him to be as an Oriental garden from which the life-giving waters have been withdrawn, as a tree whose leaves have faded and fallen (ver. 30) - everything is parched, barren, fruitless.
II. DIVINE VISITATION. This includes:
1. Punishment; the outpouring of wrath upon the wicked, involving
(1) personal ruin (vers. 24, 28); and this
(2) the result of the sinner's evil deeds: the man himself is as tow, and his work (not the maker of it) is as a spark which enkindles it (ver. 31). The "work" of the drunkard, i.e. his intemperance, consumes him - it wastes his estate, it enfeebles his strength, it reduces the number of his friends, it brings him to destruction; and so with other vices which are the "works" of the unholy; they burn and they consume, and nothing quenches them. One part of the Divine punishment is
(3) the shame with which the guilty are confounded: "They shall be ashamed... and confounded" (ver. 29). It is one of the constant penalties of sin that, when enjoyment is over, then comes shame and confusion of face. The soul is smitten with a sense of abasement; it suffers the smartings of conscience, the pangs of remorse.
2. Purification. (Vers. 25-27.) God would turn his hand - his hand that healed and saved; and, in his purity, would purge away the dross, and restore to the favored city its ancient righteousness. Penalty would become correction, and correction would end in transformation and redemption. Whether God visits
(1) nations, or
(2) churches, or
(3) individual souls,
it is that they may "come to themselves;" that they may return unto him; that they may be purified of their iniquity, their pride, their selfishness, their worldliness, their self-indulgence; and that they may rejoice in his holy service. - C.
I. THE JUDGE. He is "Jehovah of hosts, the Strong One of Israel." He saith, "By the strength of my hand I have done it" (Isaiah 10:13). He has power to carry out his sentences. The holy fire of his indignation breaks forth like a volcanic flood. From one point of view evil men must be conceived as the enemies of God, and their punishment as his vengeance. If alone dwelt upon, such a representation becomes false, because it ignores the aspect of Divine love, which converts this holy vengeance into a remedial process. Human vengeance would extinguish the sinner and the sin in one act; Divine vengeance would save the sinner by extinguishing the sin.
II. THE PURPOSE OF JUDGMENT.
1. It is separation. The dross and the lead are to be detached from the silver. Human nature is a mixture. There are two extremes to be avoided in thinking of it - one that it is all evil, the other that it is all pure. Pessimism enervates, and optimism hoodwinks us. The Bible always takes the middle view. Things are bad enough with us, but they might be worse. We are sunk low enough, but cannot sink out of sight of our spiritual end, nor beyond the redeeming power of God. The separation of the gross and base element from the spiritual in men involves a fiery process. This fire is always burning in the heart of mankind, sometimes breaking out into flame and fume of war or pestilence, to remind of its presence. God has in constant operation his purgatory for souls. It is this truth which only can reconcile us to the presence of suffering. As mere pain it seems intolerable; as the means to the removal of evil it is blessed.
2. It is restoration. The better on golden age is ever ready to begin; good judges and rulers will again be given to the city, and it will deserve the title of Righteous and Faithful once more. When we see clearly the abuses that exist, and the necessity of fiery suffering for the renewal of purity, we have grasped a hope that cannot fail. God is ever remaking and recasting life. Not a day passes but some rust gathers, some disintegration of solid structure takes place. It may appear in any and every day that society is becoming hopelessly choked in its vices; or that we ourselves are slipping down into moral ruin. Yet in a happier morning mood it seems that all is mending with ourselves and the world. God's holiness is the vital sap of human life, and when we die to hope of ourselves, we live anew in him. Conversion, if real, will take place, not once, but many times in a life. The heliotrope turns every morning by a fresh effort to the sun. The result of many such personal acts is seen now and again in times of religious revival, when the multitude turns as one man, saying, "Let us walk in the light of Jehovah!"
III. THE PERDITION OF THE OBSTINATE. One will may defeat the remedial purposes of God. If man says, "I will be joined to my idols and my sins, "no fire, no earthquake has power to dislodge him. If we will not relax our hold on the evil object, we must share its fate. To fix our affections on objects unworthy of our choice is to bring on ourselves shame and self-contempt. The terebinth trees and the pleasant gardens, the seats of ancient idolatry, are typical of all scenes of spurious enjoyment. The voluptuary, the mammon-worshipper, the votary of ambition, create around them a world of objects, fascinating, but unreal. The terebinth shall wither; the garden, parched for want of water, shall lose all its charm. The man who seemed but now the very type of force, shall feel himself slack as tow, and his life-work the spark that sets it on fire. So both shall irretrievably be consumed. What are the "terebinth trees and pleasant gardens" of our idolatry? Each man's soul must answer. Any and every pleasure is good under right conditions; pernicious else. Everything that is naturally precious to the human heart should be precious to each one of us. In the soul lies the only test. In the way that objects react upon our finest feeling we know whether they are objects for our personal pursuit or no: idols that must degrade us to their level, or symbols and sacraments of God. It is in the life of imagination and association that we differ. Any scene supposed to be holy may become an idolatrous pleasure-garden to the ill-ordered fancy; and the soul that lives in God, seeking ever the true amidst the false, will ever convert the terebinth tree of ill repute into an altar of pure religion. The world is to us what our will permits it to seem. Wedded to the sensual, we must perish from the spiritual; united to the spiritual, the sensual becomes transformed and acquires new associations. - J.
I. CALAMITIES OF LIFE TO MEN STANDING ALONE. Without any faith in God, or idea of the gracious meaning there is in earthly trouble. How such men fret and chafe, and question why they have to suffer, and give way to rebellious thoughts! Too often troubles only harden them, and drive them further still from God.
II. CALAMITIES OF LIFE TO MEN UNDER GOD'S WRATH. These must take intense and severe forms. They must first crush and humble, breaking down proud wills and rebellious spirits. They must first look like overwhelming judgments, and then, if men will respond to them, they shall seem to be gracious chastisements and refinings.
III. CALAMITIES OF LIFE TO MEN UNDER GOD'S MERCY. This opens the whole subject of God's refining and purifying of his people. We all have so much tin and dross mingled with our gold, and it is so good of God that he will not let the dross stay. With his "fires" and his "lye" he will graciously refine us, until all the dross is got away, and his image shines clear on our purified gold. And God's dealings with individuals may be illustrated by his dealings with nations, and especially with his own favored nation. - R.T.