Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. DENUNCIATION OF WOE. The condition of Samaria was like that of Jerusalem. And judgment must first fall upon Samaria, and then upon Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:6; cf. Micah 1:6). Drunkenness is named," not as the root of the national evil, but rather as its flower. The appalling thing is that when all is on the point of collapsing, those responsible for the state should be given up to careless self-indulgence" (Cheyne). Samaria is described as the city of the "proud crown." So in Greece Athens was called the city of the violet crown, and Thebes the "well-crowned." Some explain the crown of the towers; others think that the mere beauty of the hill on which the city stands, with its cultivated terraces, covered with corn and with fig and olive trees, has given rise to the figure. But a worm is at the root of all this beauty, and Samaria must die. Drunkenness may stand for sensuality in general, which saps the root of a nation's life. The crown, or chaplet, alludes also to the custom among Greeks, Romans, and Jews, of wearing a chaplet of flowers at feasts. In the Book of Wisdom we read -
"Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments:
II. THE IMPENDING DESTRUCTION. Jehovah has an unflinching instrument for destruction. And, like an overwhelming tempest and flood of waters, destruction will come down on the devoted city. The bright crown shall be trampled underfoot; and Ephraim's beauty shall be swallowed up with all the haste with which one devours the special delicacy of the "early fig" (cf. Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1; Habakkuk 3:12; Jeremiah 24:2). It ripens in June. The whole is a picture of sudden and utter destruction. (For the Assyrian king as agent in the hand of Jehovah, cf. 2 Kings 17:3-6. For the storm of hail as a symbol of desolation, cf. Job 27:21; Hosea 13:15. And for the flood as a representation of hostile devastation, cf. Psalm 95:5; Jeremiah 46:7, 8.) In the moral order, sudden destruction is always connected with great impiety. The triumphing of the wicked is short; and while they speak of peace, sudden destruction arriveth. "What Isaiah declared about the kingdom of Israel applies also to the whole world. By their ingratitude, men prevent all the goodness which the Lord has bestowed upon them from reaching maturity; for we abuse his blessings and corrupt them by our wickedness. The consequence is that hasty and short-lived fruits are produced, which cannot yield us continual nourishment" (Calvin). Luxury blinds, blindness leads to stumbling, and presently to a sudden fall.
III. FULFILMENTS OF MESSIANIC PROMISE. Here again the sky clears, and the star of hope glimmers. To the converted remnant Jehovah will be as a glittering Crown and a splendid Diadem. The royalty of the Divine King shall be more glorious than the famed beauty of Samaria, whose crown shall have been trampled in the dust, and his government a fairer chaplet to adorn the Divine seat. There will be a true beauty and glory in the Messianic times. Moreover, there will be a spirit of justice and sound intelligence diffused. The priests, the spiritual leaders, will be especially imbued with it (cf. Deuteronomy 17:8-12; Exodus 21:22; 2 Chronicles 19:5-8). But the magistracy in general will be enlightened and instructed by the Spirit of God. Further, there will be valor in the field, so that the generals and their soldiers will be able to turn back war to the gate - probably of the city whence their foes came (2 Samuel 11:23, "And we were upon them, even unto the entering of the gate"). There will, in short, in the ideal or Messianic government, be a government strong both internally and externally, wisdom and justice in home administration, strength and valor towards the foe without. These are needed for every empire and kingdom; and they come from God. "The Lord is our Defense." "Magistrates will not be able to rule and administer justice in a city, and military generals will not be able to repel enemies, unless the Lord shall direct them." To place our confidence in the world is to gather flowers, which forthwith fade and decay. We then seek to be happy without God, that is, without happiness itself. If we seek protection and good in God, then no calamities can prevent him from adorning the Church. When it shall appear that everything is on the eve of destruction, God will still be a Crown of glory to his people (Calvin). - J.
I. HONOR IS HUMILIATED BY IT. "The crown of pride is trodden under feet" (vers. 1, 3). The proud city, which was, alas! a city given up to drunkenness, should be brought down to the very dust. Intemperance causes the man who has held the highest position to become despised by every neighbor that has the common virtue of sobriety; it takes the crown of honor from the brow; it humbles even to the ground the pitiable victims of vice.
II. BEAUTY IS SPOILED BY IT. Its "glorious beauty becomes a faded flower" (vers. 1, 4). Excess is found, not only in the vulgar, in the illiterate, in the uncomely, but also in the refined, in the accomplished, in the beautiful, of the sons and daughters of men. When it is found there it soon does its fatal work. The beautiful is soon gone both from the form and from the spirit; the green leaf withers, the exquisite bloom fades. From that which once attracted every eye, all men turn away grieved, if not positively repelled.
III. STRENGTH IS SAPPED BY IT. "Overcome with wine" (ver. 1). The man whose strength is composed of so many elements - material, mental, spiritual - is positively beaten, overcome, made helpless, useless, ludicrous, despicable, by a few glasses of liquor! It is a painful, shameful instance of strength being mastered by that which it ought to be able to subdue.
IV. WISDOM IS MISLED BY IT. "They have erred through wine... are out of the way... they err in vision, they stumble in judgment" (ver. 7). They who, if their faculties were unclouded, would perceive truth, and have spiritual insight, and gain the guidance which Heaven grants to them that seek it, are so weakened in mental power, or so bereft of spiritual strength, that they grope in darkness when they might walk in the light of the Lord.
V. INFLUENCE IS FORFEITED BY IT. "The priest and the prophet have erred." Even those who, but for guilty excess, might have led the people in every good way, are caught in the toils, are numbered among the victims, and their power is gone, their influence is forfeited. A drunken prophet is one whom all unite to spurn, and his word is worth less than nothing to the cause he pleads.
VI. IT LEADS ON AND DOWN TO THAT WHICH IS LOATHSOME. (Ver. 8.)
VII. IT CONSUMES ITS CONSUMER. (Vers. 4, 7.) Man may say that they swallow their wine, but it is truer to say of many that their wine "swallows" them; for it devours their substance, their character, their reputation, their prospects. Everything is "eaten up" like the "hasty fruit before the summer," speedily and utterly.
VIII. GOD IS DECIDEDLY AND EMPHATICALLY AGAINST IT. (Ver. 2.) He has pronounced against it in strong terms, and he brings down a heavy hand upon it; the enemy which he calls against those guilty of excess is "a mighty and strong one:" poverty, shame, remorse, loneliness, early death, and final exclusion from his presence (1 Corinthians 6:10). - C.
I. WHEREIN LIES THE PERIL OF STRONG DRINK? Precisely in its strength, in its raging. "Strong drink is raging." There is produced by it an elevation and excitement that are beyond nature; according to the differences of men's dispositions, it is either an elevation, or a raging of folly or of violence. Our peril lies in yielding to the unnatural or the unnecessary.
1. The unnatural. Every man is in duty bound to develop all his faculties up to the limit of their capacity. But every man is in duty bound also not to develop some to the neglect of others; and not to excite any to a degree beyond his full and perfect self-control. So far as he does he ceases to be a true man; a foreign power has taken the place of his central will, and he is, in fact, a man possessed and ruled by an evil force, by a devil. This may be illustrated by showing
(1) the unnatural effect produced by strong drink on the physical frame;
(2) the effect on the moral nature, especially in exciting sensual passions;
(3) the influence on the children and descendants of the self-indulgent. This is so important a point, and brings to view such obscure, but painful facts, that a few may be set down from which selections may be made. Gall relates the ease of a Russian family, where the father and grandfather bad both died prematurely from the effects of intoxication, arid the grandson manifested from the age of five years the most decided taste for strong liquors. M. Morel says, "I have never seen the patient cured of his propensity whose tendencies to drinking were derived from the hereditary predisposition given to him by his parents." He gives also the history of four generations of a family. First generation: the father an habitual drunkard, killed in a public-house brawl. Second generation: son inherited the father's habits, which gave rise to attacks of mania, terminating in paralysis and death. Third generation: grandson strictly sober, but full of hypochondriacal and imaginary fears of persecution, and had homicidal tendencies. Fourth generation: great-grandson, very limited intelligence, an attack of madness when sixteen years old, terminating in stupidity nearly amounting to idiocy. With him the race became extinct. We can conceive no revelation of the unnaturalness of the condition and relations produced by strong drink more impressive than this.
2. It is unnecessary; for it satisfies no demand of the true manhood; only the demands of a depraved, disordered, and diseased taste. The best that can be said of it is that it may be a medicine. It is now well established that it is not a necessary food.
II. WHO AMONG US LIE EXPOSED TO THE TEMPTATIONS OF STRONG DRINK? This may be answered with great plainness, simplicity, and practical force.
1. Those who are born into a heritage of drinking tendencies.
2. Those who have some ability in song or entertaining, and so are enticed into company and treated for the sake of the pleasure they give (compare the case of the poet Burns).
3. Those who have idle time which can be spent in inns and hotels.
4. Those who have great business energy and enterprise without the restraining influence of high moral principle.
5. Those who, having little pleasure in intelligent occupations, seek excitement in the indulgence of bodily passion.
6. Those who have unhappy or uncomfortable homes.
7. Those whose daily work takes them to houses where they are treated to drink. All are in special peril at holiday or convivial seasons, and in times of convalescence from disease, or of family trouble. No one of us can venture to say, amidst the enticements of modern social life, "I shall never fall. I shall never be a drunkard." He neither knows himself, nor the subtlety of the evil, who speaks so confidently. Our power to stand lies in our laying hold of One who is stronger than ourselves, and keeping Up the prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Every day and everywhere, with our eyes on God, we should be saying, "Hold thou us up, and we shall be safe." - R.T.
i.e. in the day when God shall reign over his people, either the day of their return to him in loyal obedience, or the day of their return to their own land under his delivering power - in that day God would be everything to his chosen people; he would be the Object and the Source of their glory, their beauty, their righteousness, their strength. We may see how God in Christ is the same to us.
I. OUR GLORY. "The Lord of hosts shall be for a Crown of glory." We glory in our God as the Lord of all power and might, as the One whose right hand is full of righteousness, as the faithful Creator, etc.; but we glory most in him as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in him who so pitied a rebellious race "that be gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth," etc. In Christ Jesus the glories and grandeurs of the Divine character are most brilliantly illustrated.
II. OUR BEAUTY. "For a Diadem of beauty." In the gospel God has
(1) revealed the beauties of his own character to us; for in the life, in the spirit of Jesus Christ, we behold transcendent moral loveliness, all imaginable graces perfectly blended and intermingled. And in it he has
(2) called forth the utmost possible beauty in human character. There are produced in Christian lands and by Christian processes not one or two exquisite human characters here and there, but multitudes of them beneath every sky and in every age; such that it is not enough to say that they are good or that they are useful; it must be added that they are exceedingly beautiful - they are diadems, attracting the eye, delighting the soul.
III. OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS. "For a Spirit of judgment." The man who has "learned Christ" is a man of integrity; to him injustice, unrighteousness, dishonesty, the withholding of that which is due, of whatever kind, is not Duly distasteful, but impossible: "the spirit of judgment," the spirit of equity and truth is in him, gained from Christ, implanted by the Divine Spirit. If this spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ, be not in him, he is none of Christ's (Romans 8:12).
IV. OUR STRENGTH. "And for Strength to them that turn the battle to the gate." They who truly know God in Christ are "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." God communicates to them something of the "exceeding greatness of his power." In Divine strength they are strong
(1) to discharge duty;
(2) to bear burdens;
(3) to work in the field of holy service;
(4) to resist spiritual adversaries, to "turn the battle to the gate." - C.
I. CHARACTER FOR THE FELLOWSHIPS OF LIFE COMES OF GOD. Upon character the pleasantness and graciousness of life unions and associations almost entirely depend. Those who have the true helpful and sanctifying power among us are those who have the "beauty of the Lord their God upon them." There are spheres of life in which talent tells; but in homes and society it is character that tells. After illustrating and enforcing this, the importance of correcting the error of sentiment, which regards character as a purely human growth and attainment, should be shown. So easily do we say, "Character, we can win that ourselves." So needful is it to show that "character is of God." It comes out of the circumstances which God provides, and out of the relations in which God sets us, and through sorrows, bearings, and strugglings, which God sanctifies. St. Paul says, "I am what I am." "His grace on me was not in vain."
II. WISDOM FOR THE AFFAIRS OF LIFE COMES OF GOD. We have natural skill for some forms of business or of profession; but who endowed us with the natural ability? We gain practical skill amidst the experiences of life; but who renews the mental powers and bodily health, and presides over impressions made? A thousand complex conditions come in every life: who guides to right decisions, directing the judgment in ways of truth? "This wisdom cometh from above."
III. STRENGTH FOR THE DEMANDS OF LIFE COMES OF GOD. The psalmist lifts a thankful heart to God who "renews our youth like the eagle's." He "giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength." No experience of life is more assured, none brings a deeper rest to our hearts than this - "when we are weak, then we may be strong" in God. - R.T.
Amos 6:1-7 and Micah 2:11.
I. THE PRIESTS AND PROPHETS OF THE TIME. They are seen reeling and staggering in the midst of, or as they come from, their most sacred functions. It is a strong and indignant description of drunkenness in general (cf. Proverbs 20:1). What more humiliating than the spectacle! To have "put an enemy in one's mouth to steal away one's brains," to be the thrall of one's own brutal appetites, and a "scoured dish of liquor"!
"Ebrius urgeris multis miser undique curls II. THE SPIRIT OF MOCKERY. (Vers. 9, 10.) "The drunkards mock Isaiah over their cups. Does he not know what respectable persons he is dealing with - not like children, who need leading-strings, but educated priests and prophets?" (Cheyne). They scoff at him by taking up words often on his mouth. Whom would he teach knowledge? This designates prophetic preaching (see Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 33:6). And tidings? Another word for revelation, for something "heard from Jehovah" (ver. 22; cf. Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 53:1). Then they ridicule his manner. He is always "harping upon the same string," always dwelling upon the same commonplaces of morality and religion. "It is childish repetition," say they. But, in fact, the preacher must keep dwelling upon a few main points, so easily do they "slip by us!"(Hebrews 2:1). "Here a little, and there a little," it is a true description of popular preaching. It may seem "foolishness to a scientifically trained understanding; but it has pleased God to save many by means of it. The gospel requires us to receive it as little children, and little by little, a saying here, and there a verse, and again a proverb; this is how little children learn. III. REPLY OF THE PROPHET. He retorts their own language upon them. Yes; it shall be, in fact, as you say. This childish monotone shall indeed sound in your ears. The description which you give of the revelations of Jehovah shall be exactly applicable to the harsh laconic commands of a merciless invader. For Assyrian, though closely allied to Hebrew, was sufficiently different from it both in grammar and in vocabulary to seem a 'stammering' or 'barbarous' tongue to Isaiah's contemporaries. The common diplomatic and commercial language of Syria and Assyria was Aramaic (see Isaiah 36:11)" (Cheyne). (For the word rendered "stammer," i.e. speak unintelligibly, as in a foreign tongue, cf. Isaiah 33:19; Proverbs 1:26; Proverbs 17:5; Psalm 2:4; Psalm 59:9; Job 22:19.) The lessons which the people refuse to heed when taught them in their native tongue, shall be pressed home upon them in the harsh accents of the barbarian. "Since the Divine patience has been lost upon them, a stronger way shall be taken to force their attention. God will thunder in their ears what to them will appear jargon, the language of a foreign nation!" How prophetic the words in general! The ill taste on our part which makes truth unpalatable in its simplicity and gentle persuasiveness will be sorely criticized when we are forced to listen to hoarse and rude accents. The prophet's burden had been of rest - rest to the weary; of refreshment by hearty faith in Jehovah (Isaiah 30:15; cf. Micah 2:10; Jeremiah 6:16). And now the old words, "line upon line," etc., will come back upon memory and conscience, to be enforced by retreat, and flight, and fall, and captivity. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." If truth sound barbarous, it is because we have not the true listening faculty. If it be not sweet to the taste as honey, it is because the stomach is disordered. If the Word profit not, it is because men do not "mix it with faith," i.e. with obedient and loving dispositions. A willful ignorance and blindness alone deprives of spiritual benefits; a stubbornness in turning away from the offered light, and choosing to remain in darkness (cf. Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 6:9; Isaiah 29:11; Mark 4:12). - J.
II. THE SPIRIT OF MOCKERY. (Vers. 9, 10.) "The drunkards mock Isaiah over their cups. Does he not know what respectable persons he is dealing with - not like children, who need leading-strings, but educated priests and prophets?" (Cheyne). They scoff at him by taking up words often on his mouth. Whom would he teach knowledge? This designates prophetic preaching (see Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 33:6). And tidings? Another word for revelation, for something "heard from Jehovah" (ver. 22; cf. Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 53:1). Then they ridicule his manner. He is always "harping upon the same string," always dwelling upon the same commonplaces of morality and religion. "It is childish repetition," say they. But, in fact, the preacher must keep dwelling upon a few main points, so easily do they "slip by us!"(Hebrews 2:1). "Here a little, and there a little," it is a true description of popular preaching. It may seem "foolishness to a scientifically trained understanding; but it has pleased God to save many by means of it. The gospel requires us to receive it as little children, and little by little, a saying here, and there a verse, and again a proverb; this is how little children learn.
III. REPLY OF THE PROPHET. He retorts their own language upon them. Yes; it shall be, in fact, as you say. This childish monotone shall indeed sound in your ears. The description which you give of the revelations of Jehovah shall be exactly applicable to the harsh laconic commands of a merciless invader. For Assyrian, though closely allied to Hebrew, was sufficiently different from it both in grammar and in vocabulary to seem a 'stammering' or 'barbarous' tongue to Isaiah's contemporaries. The common diplomatic and commercial language of Syria and Assyria was Aramaic (see Isaiah 36:11)" (Cheyne). (For the word rendered "stammer," i.e. speak unintelligibly, as in a foreign tongue, cf. Isaiah 33:19; Proverbs 1:26; Proverbs 17:5; Psalm 2:4; Psalm 59:9; Job 22:19.) The lessons which the people refuse to heed when taught them in their native tongue, shall be pressed home upon them in the harsh accents of the barbarian. "Since the Divine patience has been lost upon them, a stronger way shall be taken to force their attention. God will thunder in their ears what to them will appear jargon, the language of a foreign nation!" How prophetic the words in general! The ill taste on our part which makes truth unpalatable in its simplicity and gentle persuasiveness will be sorely criticized when we are forced to listen to hoarse and rude accents. The prophet's burden had been of rest - rest to the weary; of refreshment by hearty faith in Jehovah (Isaiah 30:15; cf. Micah 2:10; Jeremiah 6:16). And now the old words, "line upon line," etc., will come back upon memory and conscience, to be enforced by retreat, and flight, and fall, and captivity. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." If truth sound barbarous, it is because we have not the true listening faculty. If it be not sweet to the taste as honey, it is because the stomach is disordered. If the Word profit not, it is because men do not "mix it with faith," i.e. with obedient and loving dispositions. A willful ignorance and blindness alone deprives of spiritual benefits; a stubbornness in turning away from the offered light, and choosing to remain in darkness (cf. Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 6:9; Isaiah 29:11; Mark 4:12). - J.
all cases, small as well as great; but we may more easily trace the working in the great. This may be shown by some careful accounts of the deterioration of mind and character following on drink-indulgence in men, and even more painfully in women. Terrible stories of the ruin of character wrought by opium-smoking in China can be given. And recently, very painful revelations have been made of the existence of a degrading morphio-mania, especially among the upper classes. Persons who have had morphia injected under the skin, to relieve pain, find a craving for it created; they indulge the passion, and the result is utter mental and moral helplessness, and a certain, dreadful death. In measure, the law of deterioration applies to indulgence in eating, in drinking tea, in matters of sensual passion, in craving for newspapers, in seeking pleasure, and even in matters of play or of hobby. As soon as the indulgence in anything gets established it begins to degrade. A man loses his manhood as soon as any thing is allowed to gain control over him; and with lost manhood comes dimmed vision and stumbling judgment. The moral consequences of self-indulgence may be fully treated under four divisions.
I. PHYSICAL EFFECTS ON BODIES. This must be considered, because we are every day coming better to understand the close connection between bodily conditions and moral states. The moral habit becomes tightly fixed by an actual bodily bias, an actual tendency of nerve and muscle to do again what has been done once.
II. MORAL EFFECT ON WILLS. There is an actual weakening of will-force. The power to say "No" fades and dies out, and the will is borne away wheresoever mere appetite leads.
III. PRACTICAL EFFECT ON CONDUCT. Wherever moral control is limited conduct becomes dangerous or disgraceful.
IV. FINAL EFFECT ON FATE. Whatever the view taken of the future state, they are at terrible disadvantage in it - even if it be a continuous reforming condition - who start on it degraded by self-indulgence. - R.T.
I. THE DESIGN OF GOD'S TEACHING. God had been saying, "This is the rest," etc. (ver. 12). The end of all God's instruction is to give rest to his human scholars. Peace was the promise of the old covenant (Numbers 6:26; Numbers 25:12). Rest was the offer of the great Teacher (Matthew 11:28, 29). Rest of heart in the favor and love of God was the high and elevated hope held out for all who would learn and be obedient; and this is still the desire and the design of God in all his teaching and in all his correction.
II. MAN'S OBJECTION TO GOD'S METHOD. "To whom," they complain, "shall he teach knowledge... to them that are weaned... must it be precept upon precept?" etc. (vers. 9, 10). Are we such little children that we are to be treated thus by Jehovah? Men have always been found who object to God's ways of guiding them. It is too plain and palpable, or it is too mysterious; it demands no effort of the intellect, or it taxes the thought too severely; it is too commonplace, or it is too startling, or it is too hard; were he to adopt some other method, to come to them in some other way, they would listen and obey; but as he speaks they will not hear. Especially are men slow to learn the simple and repeated lessons by which God teaches them in his providence - the lessons which come with every morning light and with every evening shade, with the continued loving-kindnesses of the passing hour, with the changes of the seasons, with the passage of neighbors and friends to another world; these reiterated teachings are disregarded, and the one great lesson of reverence and of devotedness is unlearned.
III. GOD'S INDIGNATION AT HUMAN CONTUMACY. The strain of the prophet is one outpouring of intense indignation and keen rebuke; the anger of Jehovah is kindled against them. We may understand that persistent indocility is a very serious sin in the estimate of God. Not to hearken when he speaks to us, whether he speaks in providence, in his Word, or in Christian ordinances, is to place ourselves beneath his very high displeasure.
IV. DIVINE RETRIBUTION. The penalty of their perverse indocility shall be that they will have to learn by far less agreeable methods than the one which they despised; the repeated elementary instruction of the Hebrew prophet should give place to the barbarous sounds of a foreign tongue. Guilty folly often finds that punishment awaits it which corresponds only too painfully with the sin. The Jews demand a king because they prefer the visible to the invisible, the physical to the spiritual; and they gain one who is chosen on this cherished principle of theirs, and his bodily stature and visible form prove to be a sorry substitute for the wisdom of the invisible Sovereign: the penalty is paid in the same coin as the transgression. David's unholy interference with domestic right is punished by saddest add most serious disappointments in his own family. Retribution, not general only, but that which is particularly appropriate to our sin, awaits us a little further on. Disobedience - and emphatically indocility - leads to misery and shame. Hearken intelligently, however and whenever God may speak, and hasten cheerfully to obey. - C.
1. Ver. 9 may refer to God's favor to the Jews; then ver. 10 describes the abundant revelation made to them, with rules and duties related to all the conditions and emergencies of life.
2. Ver. 9 may refer to the incapacity of the leaders and religious teachers of the Jews; then ver. 10 describes their puerile methods of instruction.
3. Ver. 9 may refer to the incapacity of the people for high attainment in spiritual knowledge; then ver. 10 describes the elementary methods of instruction which are found necessary for them. This may be regarded as the most probable explanation. The prophet is describing the effect of drunkenness, which was moral and intellectual weakening. Sin is represented as an enfeebling drunkenness. It is quite in Isaiah's method to complain of the incapacity of the people for the reception of truth: Isaiah 53:1, "Who hath believed our report," etc.? Isaiah 6:9, "Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not;" Isaiah 43:8, "Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears;" Isaiah 43:17, "O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?" Out of this relation of the text comes the thought for present consideration. It is this - Religious truths, claims, and duties need to be constantly reiterated. The work of the Christian teacher can be put into two words - "simplify" and "repeat." Both observation and experience prove the necessity for such constant repetition. We inquire -
I. THE REASONS FOR THIS ARRANGEMENT. As a fact, it has been found an essential of effective teaching in every age. One generation only passes in a very limited degree into possession of the thought and knowledge of the previous generation. No one individual can make advances from the platform of attainment reached by another. Each one must reach the knowledge of truth, and the sense of duty, for himself. This makes the Bible and Christian teaching such ever-new things. Solomon tells us that there is no new thing under the sun; but he might with equal truth have said that there is no old thing. We can see that there must be reiteration:
1. Because moral completeness is never reached on this side the grave, and so there is always a sphere for the teacher, and a demand for the old truths. We are constantly asking for the renewal of the same good influences, and as we grow in experience we even care more for the simpler first principles.
2. Because the power of spiritual motives is always liable to weaken and fade. Christian teaching proposes no mere fashioning of life; it would nourish, revive, requicken the very springs of motive and feeling, ever seeking to make and to keep the heart and the will right. The physician not only removes suffering, he purifies the blood, and seeks to quicken the vitality. Just as the fountains and the streams, so our spiritual natures, tend to lose their volume, and even run dry; there must be the constant reiteration of the showers for their replenishing.
3. Because truth and duty-claims can only enter in as they find souls prepared for them; and therefore truth and duty must be always standing before men's doors, waiting their opportunity. The human heart is closed to religion, and, when opened, its tendency is ever to close again. It is like a spring-door, and sin and self-love have put the spring on. When providences and sanctified influences open the door, the old, old truth, and the old, old gospel, must be waiting, ready to enter in.
II. SOME THINGS CONNECTED WITH US IN WHICH THIS REITERATION IS EVIDENTLY NECESSARY. What a joy it would be to Christian pastors and teachers if none of their people needed! -
1. To be urged to accept the offers of Divine mercy. But many a door is shut yet; so the message must be spoken again and again.
2. To be reminded of the duty of attending public worship, and the means of grace.
3. To be persuaded concerning the cultivation of Christian unity; the expression of a Christly forgiveness, forbearance, and charity in relations one with another.
4. To have enforced upon them the duty of watchfulness against the encroachments of the worldly spirit, and the loss of Christian zeal, fervour, and first love. What a joy it would be to Christian teachers if they could safely "leave these first principles, and go on unto perfection!" if they might lay down the minister's commission, as it is now understood, because they could say, "Lord, thy people no longer need precept upon precept, and line upon line!" Plead, in conclusion, thus: "You often say of the ministry, 'It is the same old story; there is nothing new.' But the question is - Have you accepted the message? Have you obeyed the command? It can never be old until you have, and then it will be so loved and so precious that you will never think it old; it will be ever fresh and ever new." - R.T.
them as if they were babes, and needed the mere milk of instruction, and not strong men capable of digesting meat. 'With him,' they said, 'it is always precept on precept, line on line, line on line, here a little, and there a little.' Or, as we may, perhaps, better translate their words, they said,' With him it is always "bid and bid, forbid and forbid, a little bit here, and a little bit there." What really angered these huffy scorners was that the prophet treated them as though they were children only just weaned, and not masters in Israel. They were weary of hearing him repeat the first rudiments of morality, and apply them to the sins and needs of the time." We may fix attention on this point - Mocking at religion and religious teachers represents the last stage of apostasy. There is little hope for the mockers; they must go into the fires of judgment. But what stages do men pass through before they reach this point of decline? In answering this question we may keep our eye on the illustrations afforded by the apostasy of Jewish priests and rulers, and at the same time make due applications to the perils of apostasy, as we may ourselves be exposed to them.
I. The religious man steps upon the sliding, downward road, when he begins to NEGLECT PERSONAL SOUL-CULTURE. As the Apostle John tells us, a man prospers-only as his soul prospers. The essential thing in the good man is not well-ordered conduct, but the regenerate life. The new life needs its care and its food continually. This neglect of soul-culture is the "grieving of the Holy Ghost," of which St. Paul warns us so earnestly. It is the "leaving of the first love" of which the risen and living Christ complains. A man goes wrong first in matters of private devotion and Christian habit.
II. The next step is the ENTHRONING OF SELF-WILL IN THE PLACE OF GOD'S WILL. Lose the sacred humility and fear that comes with close relations to God, and self will be sure to grow big, and the rule of life comes to be the "devices and desires of our own hearts." Then mistakes, stumblings, and wanderings are easy; and "broad" ways are preferred to narrow.
III. As soon as this condition is established, there arises the wish to SEE AND KNOW NOTHING THAT CAN POSSIBLY CONVICT AND HUMBLE; and the man lets the dust cover his Bible, the grass grow over his kneeling-place, and excuses keep him from the house of God. Like these priests and leaders, they are at heart afraid of what God's Isaiah might say to them. May we not fear that this is the secret reason for modern neglect of God's worship? Men do not wish to be warned. They fear lest they should be warned. They do not want to hear the truth about the degrading slavery in which idol self always holds its victims.
IV. Then comes the beginning of the almost hopeless stages. A BLINDING AND HARDENING PROCESS GOES ON; and presently those who would not see cannot see. Then a man can hear all the terrors, and heed none of them; can listen to all the persuasions of the everlasting love, and be moved by none of them.
V. And at last he CAN EVEN MOCK AT GOODNESS AND GOOD MEN; and in his foolish and wicked pride can scoff even at God's Word and God's prophet. Down low indeed that man must have fallen who once knew the "glory of the Lord," and waited for the Lord's will, and now, in his rioting, can jeer at sacred things. Impress that those who neglect the culture of piety put from them all gracious influences, and become so possessed with the evil spirit of self that, like the demoniac in the Gospels, they say, even to the healing, saving Christ, "What have we to do with thee?" - R.T.
I. AS WEARY, AND NEEDING REST. Weary! Can we not feel that? We wear away. The world is full of cares that fret and chafe us. We lose elasticity of step and cheeriness of heart. How many can say, "I am very weary?" The Bible understands man, and therefore its words are so true and its blessings so welcome. What do the weary need? Why, first of all, rest. We read of Jesus that, being weary, "he sat himself on the well:" so completely exhausted was he that all strength was gone. So not only in a physical sense do we need sweet sleep and rest; but in our human life and in our spiritual life we are weary. What we need is rest in a Person - rest in God himself; to rest in the Lord.
II. AS WEAK, AND NEEDING REFRESHMENT. We become exhausted in life's pilgrimage. Even in relation to spiritual supplies, our forces of faith and hope and courage fail. We need new supplies of grace and strength. This is well; for it would not be good for us to be able to live on yesterday's piety. Languor would come over our efforts after the Divine life if we had no need to seek daily bread. But refreshment comes. The faded flowers of our graces lift their drooping heads again. We have all seen and smelt the sweet fields after the rain-showers; we have all noticed these" seasons of refreshing." So in the highest things. These Hebrews would yet find God. He will be again dew unto Israel, and they will have times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
III. As HEEDLESS AND UNWILLING TO HEAR. "Yet they would not hear." Some siren voice is still charming them and deadening their hearts to the heavenly ministry. Let us remember that we hear what we will to hear. That is still the responsible function of humanity, viz. to close or to open the ears to the messages of the great King. It is not that God does not speak; for he speaks in many dialects: all the languages of human event and circumstance are at his command. With us let it be, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." - W.M.S.
men of scorn" (cf. ver. 22; Isaiah 29:20; Hosea 7:5). The scornful or scoffing habit implies excessive self-confidence on the one hand, on the other contempt of religion and of God. But "be not deceived; God is not mocked." "It has been commonly found," says Calvin, "in almost every age, that the common people, though they are distinguished by unrestrained fierceness and violence, do not proceed to such a pitch of wretchedness as nobles and courtiers, or other crafty men, who think that they excel others in ability and wisdom." It is a dreadful and monstrous thing when the governors of the Church, not only are themselves blinded, but even blind others, and excite them to despise God and ridicule godly doctrine.
I. FALSE SECURITY. It is some delusion as to their own security which leads men to mock at the judgments of God. The ruling classes thought they had secured themselves against an Assyrian invasion. "They had their fortresses, their soothsayers and prophets, their diplomatists - the latter almost occupied with the preliminaries for a treaty with Egypt" (Cheyne). This fancied security is expressed under a bold figure. To be in covenant with death is like being in covenant with the beasts or the stones of the field (Job 5:23; Hosea 2:18). They have made, as they think, a compact with Hades. Probably enough the allusion may be to the wizards whom they consult. If so, it is true enough to all experience that men, when they have cast off the restraints of true religion, seek to make up for it by dabbling in superstition. "The scorners or free-thinkers have retained a strong belief in the infernal powers, though little enough in those supernal" (Cheyne). Idly have they made lies their refuge, and so think to be exempt from the "flooding scourge" as it sweeps over the land (cf. Isaiah 8:7, 8). They act as if there was any security except in "walking uprightly, and in speaking truth with the heart." Their resources are spoken of by them under plausible names, and there are ways that "seem right to them." They do not think they are falsehoods; but the prophet tears away the disguise, and calls them by their proper names. "The essential substance of the thoughts and words of the rulers is manifest to the Searcher of hearts" (Delitzsch).
II. THE TRUE FOUNDATION. A Foundation-stone is, or shall be, laid in Zion, nay, costly and solid (cf. 1 Kings 5:17, "Great stones, costly stones, hewed stones, to lay the foundation of the house"). The foundation-stone of the temple typifies the unchangeable verity of God, as revealed from age to age in his holy seat and oracle. The believer shall rest securely upon God, and only here shall true security be found. (For the general idea, of. Matthew 7:24, 25. For the application to the Messiah, see 1 Peter 2:6; Romans 10:11; Matthew 21:42; Luke 20:17, 18; Luke 2:34; Ephesians 2:20.) The kingdom of God on earth rests on the Messiah. He was tried by temptation and other suffering, and so proved able and sufficient for the work of salvation. His Name, his work, is the most precious element in the Church's foundation. And amidst every tempest of judgment which shall sweep over the world, he who confides in Christ shall feel that he has built upon a Rock which cannot be shaken; and shall make no haste, shall be free from agitation and alarm. Till we possess faith, we must have continual perplexity and distress; for there is but one Object on which we can safely rely - the truth of the Lord, which alone wilt give us peace and serenity of mind. Peace is the direct result of faith (Romans 5:1), and faith is repose on that Foundation other than which none can be laid (1 Corinthians 3:11).
III. OVERTHROW OF FALSE REFUGES. There will be judgment exact and severe, figured by the carpenter's line and plummet. The hail-symbol of Divine wrath (Psalm 105:32; Ezekiel 13:13; Ezekiel 38:22; Revelation 8:7; Revelation 11:19) will sweep away the refuge of falsehood, and the hiding-place of deceit shall be carried along in the flood. That "covenant with death" shall be cancelled, and the "agreement with Sheol shall not stand. There shall be repeated Assyrian invasions; and the tidings" at which men laughed shall be a terror for them to hear (cf. ver. 9). Or, having neglected the soul-message, they shall be compelled to listen to the preaching of facts. The proverb (ver. 20) depicts the state of distress which will exist. History will repeat itself. As when David conquered the Philistines on Perazim and Gibeon (2 Samuel 5:20; 1 Chronicles 14:16), or as in the scene of Joshua 10:10, Jehovah will arise to do his work of judgment, a work more fitted for an alien people than that of his choice and love. God does not delight in judgment; it may even be called his "strange work," being foreign to the kindness of his heart. All that he drives at in his chastisements is to bring men to the knowledge of themselves. He is "slow to anger," and infinitely compassionate (Psalm 103:8; Exodus 34:6). Or the strangeness may be that he will now proceed to attack and exterminate his people, as formerly he had their foes. The hand felt by their fathers for salvation shall be felt by them for destruction.
IV. CLOSING APPEAL. These scornful politicians who desire to break the Assyrian bonds are exhorted to change their minds, and so avoid the destruction otherwise certain and infallibly decreed by Jehovah of hosts. They wished to escape from their fetters by a breach of faith, with the help of Egypt, without Jehovah, and so mocked at the prophet's warning. He therefore appeals to them to stop their scoffing, lest they should fall out of their present bondage into one more severe, and lest the judgment certainly at hand should fall more weightily upon them. Timely repentance might even now open a way of escape. We may apply the appeal as general. As God gives us' to foresee the issue of unwise ways in time, so by repentance may we avert the danger. To despise the Divine justice is not courage, but madness. Let us judge ourselves, that we may not be judged of the Lord; and because "that day" shall come as a thief in the night, ever let us have oil in our lamps, i.e. faith and repentance in our hearts, wisdom in the intelligence, justice and charity in our lives; and meditate daily on the vanity and shortness of our lives, the certainty and uncertainty of our deaths, the exactness and severity of the judgment to come, and the immutability of its results (South). - J.
I. THAT SINFUL MEN ACT AS IF THEY COULD AVERT IMPENDING DOOM. They act as if they said, "We have made a covenant with death," etc. Every day the gully and the foolish are living as if they were possessed with a power to wrestle with and overcome approaching doom. The drunkard seems to say, "I will drink, and not be ruined in health;" and the gambler to say, "will stake money, and not be disappointed;" and the rogue to say, "I will defraud, and not be detected;" and the men who "mind earthly things" to say, "We will invest all our hopes and find all our heritage in this world, and not be robbed of our portion," etc. Such men seem to buoy themselves up with that which, to all that look on, is a transparent infatuation.
II. THAT SINFUL MEN CONVINCE THEMSELVES OF THAT WHICH THEY MIGHT KNOW TO BE WHOLLY FALSE. They "make lies their refuge, and hide themselves udder falsehoods."
1. They choose the wrong course, and tell themselves they are acting under compulsion, and are guiltless.
2. They soften their sin by covering it with some pleasant euphemism.
3. They place between themselves and the condemnation of God the shield of human example, the frequency and popularity of their vice; they screen themselves behind their brethren, as if God did not see them, and did not hold them guilty.
4. They allow evil practice to beget such obliquity of moral vision that they call good "evil," and evil "good;" they even "glory in their shame," so have they lied unto themselves.
III. THAT SINFUL MEN ACT AS IF THEY COULD RELY ON SUCCOR WHICH IS WORTHLESS. They stretch themselves on a bed which is too short for their stature; they wrap themselves with clothing which will not cover them (ver. 20). In their weariness they resort to pleasures which do not give them rest, and from which they rise as tired as before. In their sorrow, or in their shame, or in their defeat, they have recourse to comforts which give no heart-ease, and leave them sad and troubled in soul. Many weary years, whole periods of life, even an entire earthly course, will men spend, trying and pitifully failing to console themselves with false comforts, to find rest in excitements, in vanities, and sometimes in vices, which have no power to soothe and satisfy the soul which only truth and love can fill.
IV. THAT GOD WILL ONE DAY AROUSE THEM FROM THEIR GUILTY ERROR. (Vers. 18, 19.) The overflowing scourge will come, and will not pass by them; they will be trodden down beneath it. The overwhelming storm will hold them in its embrace of death. The day of disillusion, of self-reproach, of shame, of Divine retribution, will arrive: "Be not deceived [do not deceive yourselves]; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." - C.
created; it is. God sends forth his Son to be the Savior of men. This foundation is laid deep in toil and tears, in humility and indignity. It is laid in the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and Passion. Yet there it is. None can move it. Nor can any soul of man find other foundation. This Foundation is designated in three ways.
I. IT IS A TRIED STONE. We are reminded of tried things. The Word of the Lord is a tried Word. Already prophets speak of the Christ as the tried Stone. The vision they have of him is not of a great Teacher simply, but of a Divine Redeemer, upon whose mighty work all generations of men may rest for redemption and life. The centuries have rolled away, and now history endorses prophecy. Generations of departed salute have testified that Christ is a Friend that loveth at all times - a Rock that no waters of sorrow, not even the waterfloods of death, can move.
II. IT IS A PRECIOUS CORNERSTONE. Yes; here the weight of the building has to come, the Cornerstone. Precious; for there is this description everywhere given of the Christ: "Beside me there is no Savior." He is the Pearl of great price. He is the Church's one Foundation. Precious in himself, as holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Precious, because of the living temple of redeemed souls which he supports. Precious in the Father's eyes, in the eyes of angels, and of all the great multitude of the redeemed.
III. A SURE FOUNDATION. That is what we all want in religion - certainty. We cannot do with a mere philosophic "quest." We want "rest." We do not want an ornate religion; we want rather to be able to say, "I know in whom I have believed." When the mind is palsied with doubt, when the heart is quaking with fear, then we experience the deepest misery possible to man; for the sky above us is soon lost to view if the rock beneath us is not firm and true. Heaven goes when faith goes. God himself declares, "Behold, I lay in Zion... a sure Foundation." - W.M.S.
I. THE SEVERITY OF GOD'S VISITATION.
1. It will correspond closely with man's guilt, as if measured with line and plummet (ver. 17); it will be broad as its breadth, deep as its depth, enlarged to its magnitude; more severe as men's guilt is more wanton, most severe as it is most aggravated and inexcusable.
2. It will be literally destructive, sweeping away the false refuge (ver. 18), tearing up the unholy contract (ver. 19), causing consternation as it proceeds on its desolating path (ver. 19), compelling those who try to make shift with earthly succor to know the utter insufficiency of their measures (ver. 20), constituting a very "consumption" of all that had been possessed and rejoiced in (ver. 22). When "the day of the Lord" comes it is often found to be a very terrible time indeed, stripping the rich and strong of his wealth and power, humbling the society or the nation to the very dust, causing lamentation, shame, death.
II. THE APPARENT SUDDENNESS OF IT. (Ver. 21.) As, in the person of David, the Lord" broke forth like a breach of waters" upon the enemy (2 Samuel 5:20), so suddenly will he appear in judgment against those who break his laws and reject his Son. The waters have been long collecting, the banks have been long loosening, but in a few minutes, at the last, the dam is broken, and the rushing streams are down the valley-side, carrying destruction in their path. So is it with the accumulating wrath of God: this is "treasured up by sin after sin, year after year (Ram. 2:5); but at some point in the career it breaks forth" like David's army, like the descending waters, and behold everything is gone - treasure, reputation, health, prospects, life itself.
III. GOD'S INDISPOSITION TO SMITE. It is a strange work, a strange act, to God (ver. 21). To confer and to sustain life, to impart blessing, to multiply riches, to enlarge the mind, to strengthen and sanctify the soul, to fill with hope and joy, - this is the work which is natural, congenial, pleasant to him whose Name is love. But to visit with penalty, to smite rather than to spare, to inflict sorrow and humiliation, - this is strange, ungenial, joyless to the heavenly Father. "As I live," saith God, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." He delighteth in mercy, but he is constrained to punish.
IV. THE PURPOSE OF MERCY THAT RUNS THROUGH THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. (Ver. 16.) In the midst of a passage where we should expect to find nothing but holy indignation, we meet with the intention to bless. Notwithstanding all that provokes to wrath and deserves destruction, there is to be laid the precious Cornerstone which nothing can remove, and which will uphold the most majestic fabric of prosperity and joy. God visits with correction - severe, continuous, complete; yet he has a redemptive purpose on his mind, and out of all the strife and discord a glorious temple of truth and piety will arise. We learn that the faithful have no need to fear. "He that believeth shall not make haste."
(1) No need to be alarmed for his own safety; for God, who is his Refuge, will hide him in the pavilion of his power.
(2) No need to take hurried or questionable, certainly not forbidden or unworthy, steps for the deliverance of others; for God's promised word is the assurance of ultimate redemption. - C.
their foundations would surely prove in the day of trial to be "refuges of lies." However it may be despised, the old Zion-Foundation would be found to abide firm - a tried Stone, a sure Foundation, in the days of flood and storm. The best of all commentaries on this text, and its associated verses, is found in the figure with which our Lord closed the Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord translated the Zion-Foundation for us, setting it out so plainly that none need misunderstand. God's safe foundation is just this - Hearing his words, and doing them. He that builds his life and his hope on that foundation "shall never be moved."
I. THE FOUNDATION-PRINCIPLE OF MORALS AND RELIGION. By "morals" we mean right relations with our fellow-men. By "religion" we mean right relations with God. Both these lie on one and the same foundation-principle. The prophet spoke to the men of Jerusalem and Judah, who were familiar with the temple of Solomon. He bids them look at its foundations, and especially observe how all the temple was reared upon the majestic stone laid at the corner that juts out into the valley, the massive stone that lies in its place today just as they set it in Solomon's time - a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation. But he reminds them that the temple, its courts, and its worship, represented and symbolized the Jewish people, as a nation consecrated to God, and so that foundation-stone represented the first, the essential principle of the national life, which was this - full consecration to God, in trust, obedience, and righteousness. They were a people pledged in a covenant with Jehovah. Their pledge was the foundation stone of their national life. That pledge they expressed thus: "The Lord our God will we serve, and him only will we obey." When they passed to a life of self-will they shifted from the true foundation. But so long as that old temple stood in the center of the land, it spoke out, day and night, its unceasing reproach. "Other Foundation can no man lay than that is laid." Translated into Christian form by St. Peter (1 Epist. 2:6, 8), the spiritual Foundation is Christ; and we are to be building day by day, stone by stone, on the foundation-principle which Christ laid for us in his own consecrated life - the principle of full obedience to God, rendered in a spirit of trustful, childlike humility and love. There is really but one antagonistic principle of life to this. It may gain various forms and expressions, but they are shapes assumed by one body. The principle is this - life for self, the making of self our foundation.
II. THE POSSIBILITY OF RAISING A NOBLE LIFE ON THIS FOUNDATION. Foundations usually do no more than give stability to a building, but a moral foundation does more than this - it gives character to all that is reared upon it. Let a man's foundation for life be a determination to win material success, and it will surely tone everything he does with energy and perseverance. Life touched and inspired with this principle of trustful obedience to God cannot fail to be noble, because it will:
1. Be pure; the charm of the "right" will lie on everything.
2. Be generous; because living out of self and for God involves living out of self and for others.
3. Be God-like; for the very things which God approves and seeks we also shall approve and seek.
III. THE SECURITY OF THE CHARACTER AND LIFE RAISED ON THIS FOUNDATION. This is expressed in the figure of the last clause. As repeated in Scripture it takes three forms.
1. Shall not make haste, or hurry out of his house when calamity seems to threaten.
2. Shall not be ashamed when the angels come to test the character of the life.
3. Shall not be confounded when the days of storm threaten to overwhelm. We are each one of us raising a temple - the temple of a character, of a life. Concerning our work we may well ask two searching questions. It is on the one sure Foundation? Are we raising it in a manner that is worthy of the Foundation? - R.T.
tried so as by fire." Let us see this human life tested. Time tests; success tests; trouble tests; the true Man, Christ Jesus, as our standard, tests; the future tests. How does the self-ordered life stand these testings? It is plain -
I. THAT THE SELF-ORDERED LIFE ONLY MEETS THE BODILY NEEDS, AND PROVES SHORT FOR THESE.
II. IT ONLY MEETS THE MENTAL NEEDS, AND IS SHORT FOR THESE.
III. IT ONLY MEETS THE SOCIAL NEEDS, AND IS SHORT FOR THESE.
IV. IT MAKES NO PROVISIONS FOR THE SPIRITUAL AND ETERNAL NEEDS, and every advancing year makes these more and more the supremely important ones. Verify "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Then what can he do? What should he do? (see Isaiah 27:5). - R.T.
I. THE PURPOSE OF AFFLICTION. It is from God, and the end ever kept in view is the good of the soul and its productiveness. The ploughman does not plough for ploughing's sake. He opens the soil, turns up the furrows, breaks the clods with the harrow, and all to prepare for the sowing of the seed. And so far the tiller is an image of God and of his operations on the spirit of man. There is seeming severity of method, but ever beneficence in the end. Again, there is variety of method in God's husbandry of the soul. As the farmer adapts his plans to the soil and to the kind of grain, selects the best modes of preparing the ground, of sowing the grain, of collecting the harvest, of separating the corn from the chaff. "He does not always plough, nor always sow, nor always thresh. He does not deal with all lands and all grains in the same way. Some he threshes in one mode, some in another, but he will be careful not to break the grain or destroy it in threshing it. However severe may appear to be his blows, his object is not to crush and destroy the grain, but to remove it from the chaff and save it. In all this he acts the part of wisdom, for God has taught him what to do. So with God."
II. THE WISDOM OF THE DIVINE HUSBANDMAN. The prophet seems struck with the power of the analogy he has drawn; and we "notice his large conception of revelation." It is a want of reason, as it seems to us, in what we suffer that gives rise to impatience. To detect wisdom in all we suffer is to know calm and peace in the soul's depths. Let us learn, then:
1. That there is a reason at the bottom of the mystery of all we suffer, though we may not be able to search it out and make it plain to ourselves. For our own good, or for the good of others in the scheme of providence, we must undergo and endure. Generally, perhaps, we may detect in the nature of the chastisement the nature of the sin.
2. We may expect variety of trial. This means variety of experience, of knowledge. And every such experience, manfully and dutifully outlived, brings fresh access of hope to the soul. "Tribulation" is an expressive word; it is the threshing and sifting process that must ever go on, to fit us for the garner of eternity.
3. It is not the design of God to crush us. He will not always chide, nor always bruise, will remit his strokes when they have had their due effect.
4. In patience, then, let us possess our souls. As the homely proverb says, "Patience is a plaster for all sores," and "All things come round to him that waits." We may be here more to be acted upon than to act; to submit to a probation, the fruit and result of which will be brought to light in some future sphere of service. - J.
I. THAT IN THE ACTS AND INDUSTRIES OF MAN WE MAY FIND APT ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE WISDOM OF GOD. "Give ear and hear" (ver. 23). There is something well worth observing in human husbandry; it will teach the student a useful lesson respecting the ways of God. Not only from the lilies of the field and from the birds of the air, but also from the arts and industries of man, come suggestions which will explain Divine providence and give rest to the troubled mind.
II. THAT AGRICULTURE AFFORDS ONE PROOF OF THE PRESENCE AND POWER OF A DIVINE INTELLIGENCE. How is it that, while the birds and the beasts continue through all succeeding ages to supply their wants by the same unchanging processes, man is ever moving forward? From hunting to grazing, from grazing to agriculture, he ascends; and in agriculture he shows a discretion and a versatility which are striking to all who have eyes to see and souls to learn. The fact is that man is taught of God. "His God doth instruct him," etc. (ver. 26); it comes from him who is "wonderful in counsel" (ver. 29). The intelligence, the shrewdness, the inventiveness, the patience, the foresight, which are manifested in husbandry, go far to assure us that God is near us, laying his hand upon us, touching the springs of our mind, calling forth from us intellectual and moral faculties which, though immeasurably inferior, are yet akin to his own.
III. THAT GOD IS SHOWING A CAREFUL DISCRIMINATION IN THE TREATMENT OF HIS ERRING CHILDREN. This is the lessen of the prophet's illustration: the husbandman only ploughs till he is ready to sow; he always threshes with the instrument which is suitable, adjusting his means to the character of the corn; he orders everything with careful, discriminating consideration of what is best at the particular time with the particular object. So carefully, so wisely, so tenderly, does God deal with us.
1. He mingles mercies with judgments, light with shade, hope with fear: "He does not always chide." He sows as well as ploughs.
2. He places us in spheres that suit us; some in the more prominent, others in the more humble, parts of the field (ver. 25).
3. He applies his chastisement according to our nature and our character (vers. 27, 28): to some - to the more hardened and abandoned - he administers his severer blows; to others - to his people who, though his people, have much yet to learn - he sends the milder and gentler measures of rebuke; on them he lays his hand more tenderly. Learn:
1. That God, in chastisement, is seeking fruit - the harvest of love, of trust, of obedience, of service.
2. That if he deals severely with us, it is because severity is needed for the high purpose he has before him.
3. That he will never deal too rigorously with any one of his children. - C.
I. MAN PLAINLY WANTS GOD FOR THE GETTING OF HIS DAILY BREAD.
II. HOW MUCH MORE, THEN, DOES HE WANT GOD FOR THAT BREAD WHICH SHALL FEED THE SOUL UNTO EVERLASTING LIFE! - R.T.
Bread-corn is bruised." "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
I. THE BEST LIFE MEANS PAIN. Bruised! Corn is not enough. It must be made into bread. It is thus that true affection comes out when we suffer for others. So also is it with true humility. It is the bruised heart that has medicaments in it for others out of its own castings down.
II. THE BEST LIFE MEANS USEFULNESS. We stand in constant relationship to others. Man may be to his brother bread of thought, through long hours of mental struggle and agony. He may be bread of compassion too. We are to be "meet for the Master's use." Thus we learn that to be mere quietists or pietists is not enough. We must not light the lonely lamp of incense before the altar, and remain in rapt meditation or even devotion, always. No. The disciples had to come down from the ecstatic moments of the transfiguration to the common earth and to homespun duty.
III. THE BEST LIFE MEANS OPPOSITION TO THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD. "Save us from being bruised," is the cry of men of this world. "Give us comfort, ease, health, outward prosperity." And so these are protected at every point. Sorrow is never welcomed as an angel. Discipline is never thought of as a molder of character.
IV. THE BEST LIFE MEANS GOD'S OWN CHASTISEMENT. This is divinely appointed and delicately ordered. It means wisdom and forethought and adaptation; ver. 27, "For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing-instrument, neither is a cart-wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod." Yes, that is it, there is a hand at work - a Father's hand.
V. THE BEST LIFE MEANS HEAVEN. "Because he wilt not ever be threshing it." No. Discipline, however painful, ends in the grave. The beauty of spiritual perfection begins when we are with the saints in light. "These are they which came out of great tribulation. They hunger no more. They thirst no more. There shall be no night there." - W.M.S.
parts of our being and our life from God, giving him access only to some of them. We may consider -
I. THE MAKER OF MAN'S MIND AND WILL SURELY KNOWS THEM. The thought of our bodies, set by their five senses in relation to the material world, was altogether the thought of God. But it is harder to realize that the endowment of a mental nature is also a thought, of God. It is harder because our mental nature is subject to growth; and we can separate the idea of growth from God. And it is yet harder for us to realize that the partial independence of the creature, in the trust of free-will, is also a thought of God, because that very independence leads us to shake off all sense of God. Yet the fact remains that he made us, and he knows us altogether.
II. THE MAKER OF MAN'S MIND AND WILL SURELY CONTROLS THEM. We must recognize that both mind and will are under strict limitations. Men think and think on, but at length the brain-agent breaks down, or they get beyond themselves, and talk vague folly. And to the most strong-willed, the authoritative voice presently comes, saying, "Thus far shalt thou go, but no further." Constantly man cries, "I would, but I cannot, for God holds me in."
III. THE MAKER OF MAN'S MIND AND WILL SURELY INSPIRES THEM. This is his gracious and helpful relation to them; and this depends on the attitude in which men place themselves towards him. In conclusion, show what the right attitude is; and what hinders us from taking it; and how the hindrance may be overcome. This will lead to a declaration of the gospel message. - R.T.