Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE REASON OF THE DIVINE FAVOR TO CYRUS. Cyrus is the only king out of Israel who bears the title of Jehovah's anointed. He is solemnly set apart as an instrument to perform an important public service in the cause of Jehovah. It does not necessarily imply the piety of Cyrus. For the purposes of Jehovah he is upheld, "grasped by the right hand," that he may subdue nations before him - from the Euxine to Egypt, from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean. The girdles of mighty kings will be unloosed before him. See this said of Belshazzar (Daniel 5:6); then were the "two-leaved gates" of Babylon left open, amidst the revelry, and the conqueror broke in unopposed (Herod., 1:191). The treasures of the city are laid open before him.
1. The object was that he might acknowledge Jehovah. "He hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth" (Ezra 1:2). "Son of Cambyses, Heaven favours you manifestly, or you could not thus have risen superior to fortune" (Herod., 1:124; cf. 205). None but the Omniscient could have known the person and the name of him who was to conquer Babylon and deliver his people
2. The next object was the deliverance of the chosen people. "The fates of the empires and kingdoms of the world are divinely disposed of with a view to the Church." But all the progress and prosperity of true religion are summed up in the knowledge of Jehovah: that he is the sole God; that he is the Creator and the providential Ruler of the world. The alternation of day and night is Jehovah's ordinance. So also is that of peace and war, success and misfortune, good and evil. This is pure monotheism, opposed alike to pantheism and to dualism. That the world may be converted to true religion is the final and all-comprehensive object.
II. SONG OF PRAISE. "The appearance of the shepherd of Jehovah, and the thought of the blessings of which he is to be the medium, inspires the prophet with a joyous strain of psalmody." The form of the expression is borrowed from the Eastern religions, the fertility of the earth being due to the impregnating influence of Heaven (Psalm 85:11; Hosea 2:21, 22). Righteousness, in the sense of salvation (Isaiah 51:5, 6, 8; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 61:10, 11; Isaiah 62:1), descends upon the souls of men. And they will break forth into "fruits of righteousness" to the glory of God. Prepared for repentance and the reception of the truth from the Holy Spirit, they will be, even as the earth is, made mellow and adapted for the reception of seed by rain and dew. "A Church smiles under the influence of a revival of religion, and society puts on the aspect of loveliness like the earth after abundant showers.' - J.
three particular things in which the prophetic word was fulfilled.
1. The opening of the gates of brass (ver. 1), fulfilled during the capture of Babylon.
2. The discovery of hidden treasure (ver. 3), fulfilled in the taking and sacking of two of the wealthiest cities of antiquity, besides other great acquisitions.
3. The strengthening of Cyrus for the sake of Israel (vers. 1-4), fulfilled in the brilliant successes of the great Persian conqueror, followed by the liberation of the Jews from captivity. But the interesting fact is the presence and action of the Divine hand in the course of this heathen king. Little as Cyrus imagined it, he was under the guardianship and guidance of the Lord of hosts from his earliest childhood to his last successes. The power that snatched him from earliest peril, that made him the wise and capable administrator he became, that planted in him the spirit of humanity and equity, that saved him in a thousand dangers, and gave so triumphant an issue to his various enterprises, - this was none other than the power which is Divine. God was girding him, though he knew not the name and the works of Jehovah. On this unenlightened sovereign, from infancy to age, through all the events of a crowded life, a Divine hand was laid; its touch was all unfelt, its secrets undiscovered; but it was there - a gentle, constraining force, shaping his career, tracing the lines along which he moved, making him the power among the nations that he was in those ancient times. This known fact does two very useful things for us.
I. IT GIVES A PROFOUND INTEREST TO ALL HUMAN HISTORY. There is too much in the affairs of men to justify the sarcasm about the "battle of kites and crows;" there is something pitifully small in the contests which proceed in "high places" for honours, titles, and emoluments. In one view the struggles of men are small enough to excite our pity, if not our disregard. But introduce the element of the Divine! Then all is changed. And should we not introduce that element? If God's unfelt hand was on one heathen king, why not on another? why not on all the others? If, all unknown, he was upsetting and upraising kingdoms in one clime and age, why not in other climes and in other ages? In this view "profane" history becomes "sacred;" for in it we have a record of God's doings in the world. When we read the account of the overthrow of Assyria, of Persia, of Greece, of Rome, of Spain; when we read the careers of Alexander, of Caesar, of Charlemagne, of Napoleon, of Cromwell, of Washington, - in the light of the truth which lies in the text, human history is very much more than the story of a "battle between kites and crows;" it is more than the account of human passions in stern conflict, of human ambition working itself up and burning itself out. It is Divine procedure; it is God's outworking and overruling; it is the hand of God laid on the arm of man, - unfelt, unrecognized, but directing and controlling, working to wise and righteous issues. In the great events which are the landmarks of history, and in the careers of illustrious men, God is "within the shadow," girding men though they know him not - the mightiest factor by far in all worlds, and even in this, where he is so little known, so much forgotten.
II. IT LENDS GREAT IMPORTANCE TO EVERY HUMAN LIFE. Men may imagine that there is nothing sacred about their individual life; that they have very little to do with God and he with them; that God stands in no closer relation to them than that of the Author of the laws by which they are governed, and the ultimate source of the blessings which they receive. But they are wrong. God is much more to them than this. He is the Father of their spirits; he is 'the Saviour of their souls; he is seeking their welfare; is following them out, in his thought and affection, to the "far country" of sin; is inviting and promoting their return; is touching them in many ways and at many points, "girding them, though they know him not." The meaning of all sacred privilege and of all parental discipline is that God is laying his hand upon us, and is saying to us, "Return unto me;" "Come unto me." - C.
I. OBSTACLES IN THE WAY SHOULD BE NO HINDRANCE TO US. There is hardly anything worth doing in life that is not difficult to do. The difference between men is seen in their attitude in face of difficulties. Illustrate by the position of Israel before the Red Sea. It was a brave thing for Moses to command Israel to "go forward;" but it was a type of the right attitude for us always to take when the way seems obstructed. "I cannot" must give place to "I will, God helping me."
II. THE ONE THING TO SEEK IS THE ASSURANCE THAT WE ARE DOING GOD'S WILL. This distinguishes the good man from the mere man of energy. The Cyrus here referred to was raised up by God, and entrusted with a particular work. But it is true that still God calls individuals to special service. He makes plain to them his will And our first anxiety should be to be sure that we are where he has set us, and are doing just what he would have us do. Once let these things be settled, and oppositions and hindrances count for nothing. We want more faith in Divine providence, in the inward inspirations and outward directings of God. Where he sets us we must bear, conquer, and do.
III. WAYS ALWAYS OPEN BEFORE THE OBEDIENT, RESOLUTE. TRUSTFUL MAN. Firmness, moral courage, persistency, and, above all, real faith in God, compel difficulties to yield. They are always according to the size of the man himself. If he is big with faith, they grow small; if he is little with fears, they grow big. Obstacles are searching tests of character. Men of faith are like the mountain streams that make their way down amid the rocks; if they cannot get over the rocks, they go round them, but they will not be stopped. - R.T.
I. THE DISTINCT ENDOWMENTS OF MEN INDICATE DIVINE CALL TO DIVINE WORK, In the Divine sovereignty and wisdom there is a proportionate distribution of gifts among men. In the figure of our Lord's parable, we may say, the master of the house calls together his servants, and delivers to each one some portion of his goods in trust. Very marked are the varieties of endowment and ability in a single family. We are often made to feel that God has given special gifts to some of our children; but we should see that these cases are only prominent illustrations of the truth that he has given some gifts to all. We all have some special work to do for God in the world, and so we all have some special endowments for the doing of it. Every man is called of God, girded by God, surnamed by God, and the moment when he clearly sees what his lifework is, is the moment when he becomes conscious of his call. Bushnell says, "What do the Scriptures show us but that God has a particular care for every man, a personal interest in him, and a sympathy with him and his trials, watching for the uses of his one talent as attentively and kindly, and approving him as heartily in the right employment of it, as if he had given him ten? and what is the giving out of the talents itself but an exhibition of the fact that God has a definite purpose, charge, and work, be it this or that, for every man?" "Every human soul has a complete and perfect plan cherished for it in the heart of God - a Divine biography marked out, which it enters into life to live." The point on which we dwell is that the sense of power, the consciousness of power, is the witness to God's call; and the responsibility of using the power to do God's work comes with the consciousness. To say "I can" is to affirm that there is something God wants me to do.
II. THE PRECISE TIME IN WHICH A MAN HAS TO LIVE INDICATES DIVINE CALL AND WORK. Each one comes into being at the "fulness of time" for him. It is sometimes said that great preachers and thought-leaders of the past would do little if they lived now. The saying is a foolish one. They belonged to their age, and were endowed for their age. The Divine lead was as marked in the time of their appearing as in the gifts with which they were endowed. In each age God wants men
(1) who can represent the age, and find expression for the average thought of the age;
(2) men who are before the age, and can lead the age up towards the thoughts and things that are to be; and
(3) men who are behind the age, and zealously preserve the good things of the past that may seem to be imperilled. A man may say, "God has called me to live just now; then I may be quite sure that there is something which he wants me to do for him, and which he has fitted me to do, just now." Thus viewed, life grows solemn and holy for us all. We have our own work to do.
III. THE PROVIDENTIAL CULTURE OF MEN FITS THEM FOE DOING GOD'S PRECISE WORK FOR THEM. This is often imperfectly apprehended. We are precisely endowed, and set forth in the world at just the right time; but it is important that we further trace how God cultures the gifts by the influences with which he surrounds us, and the providences he arranges for us. Often when men have found out what their life-work is to be, they gain the key to the meaning of the scenes and circumstances through which they have been led. - R.T.
I. UNCONSCIOUS HELP. "I girded thee." We have not seen a face nor even heard a voice, but an invisible arm has been around us. "It is of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed." Our folly was sufficient to ruin us. Our obstinacy was wild and wilful. We cannot take credit to ourselves for deliverances from moral danger. We can look back and see that often there was but a step betwixt us and moral death. "Great deliverances," as the prophet says, hath God wrought,
II. HUMAN IGNORANCE. "Though thou hast not known me." The life has been destitute of fellowship with God and likeness to God. We have not retained the knowledge of God. There has been all through our life:
1. God's care without our cognizance.
2. God's love without our gratitude.
3. God's wisdom without our skill.
Verily the apostle was right: "By the grace of God I am what I am." - W.M.S.
I. OPPOSITE ASPECTS OF HUMAN LIFE. Here are light and darkness, peace and evil (ver. 7). On the one hand are signs and indications of a marvellous and minute benevolence. In the sea, in the soil, in the forests, in the air, and on the earth; in fish, in insects, in beast, in bird, and, above all, in the life and in the mind of man, - are innumerable, inestimable evidences of Divine beneficence. But, on the other hand, there are drawbacks, there are shadows, there are evils, the number of which we cannot count, and the nature of which it is difficult to exaggerate. Pleasure is matched with pain; joy is followed by sorrow; hope is shadowed by fear; peace is waited upon by strife; life is swallowed up by death.
II. THE PERPLEXITY THUS OCCASIONED. What is the secret of this strange contradiction? What is the explanation of it? Shall we find intellectual rest in dualism? or shall we fall back upon fate - upon the blind action of unintelligent forces? or may we rise to the belief in one overruling God? Who shall read the riddle of the unintelligible world?
III. THE ARGUMENT FROM THE ISSUE. Go far enough on, and we shall find that which enlightens and relieves us; we must look to "the end of the Lord" (James 5:11). The end of the Lord is found:
1. In righteousness. (Ver. 8.) At last, in the history of men, families, and nations, the pure and just are exalted, while the wicked are consumed and perish.
2. In salvation. (Ver. 8.) To the suffering ones comes rescue from poverty or oppression; to the sinful ones comes redemption from penalty, reinstatement in the home and kingdom of God.
IV. THE SATISFYING TRUTH. After all, only one thing will decide the question - God's revealing Word. It was his declaration through the prophets, "I am the Lord;" "I the Lord have created it." It is the word, the life, the work of Jesus Christ, who reveals to us an ever-present, overruling Father of mankind. - C.
man, not as they are estimated by God. The "good" here is that which is pleasant; the "evil" is that which is painful; and the assertion is that both the pleasant and the painful are within the Divine controlling, and are forces used by God to secure certain high moral ends. "Darkness" represents the misery and woe of the exile; "light" represents the happy state to which Israel was to be restored through the agency of Cyrus.
I. THE TENDENCY TO THINK OF A SEPARATE SOURCE OF EVIL. So great are the disturbances of God's order through man's sin and wilfulness, that human life seems more full of calamities and anxieties than of blessings and good. This is man's impression, and he has ever been disposed to say, "The good God cannot send these calamities; they must have a source of their own." Men are always ready to make Ahrimans, Sivas, or Typhons, to explain the existence of physical evils.
IX. THE TENDENCY TO GIVE ALMOST EXCLUSIVE WORSHIP TO THE EVIL-GOD. To ward off evil seems to be a more pressing thing than to be good or to obtain good, and so the supreme effort is made to propitiate the evil-god. Illustrate by the heathen sailors in the boat with Jonah, exposed to storms. We even need to be most careful in our conceptions of Satan, lest a notion of his independence should divide our worship between him and Jehovah. He must be thought of as dependent on God, even as we.
III. THE INEVITABLE DEGRADATION OF HUMAN WORSHIP, UNDER. THIS CONDITION. The maintenance of high morality is found absolutely to depend on the jealous preservation of the truth of the Divine unity. - R.T.
I. THE MURMURER AGAINST PROVIDENCE. He is compared to a "potsherd among potsherds on the ground." "Woe unto him who, though made of earth, and with no intrinsic authority over others of his race, presumes to find fault with the Maker!" (cf. Isaiah 29:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 18:1-6; Jeremiah 19:1, 10, 11; Romans 9:20-24). In the account of the Creation, the Almighty is conceived as making man out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). Shall the clay, then, quarrel with the plastic hand of the Potter? How can the distance between man and God be better expressed than by the tautology, "God is God, and man is man"? or that he is Maker, man the made? "Since matters stand thus between God and us, let us consider what bands we are in, and what an irresistible grip has hold of us; and let that teach us, even for our sakes, to be quiet under it. There is, indeed, but one way of encountering an infinite power; and that is by an extraordinary (if it were possible), an infinite patience" (South). Is it natural, again, for the child to complain of its parents that it has been brought deformed or weakly into the world? Nor is it becoming of men to catechize and call to account Jehovah. "Are ye children of God? Then is it well with you; and to murmur against me is as if ye should renounce your sonship."
II. THE ABSURDITY OF MURMURING. To criticize the Creator is to assume a knowledge we have not got. We should be creators ourselves before we could say whether this or that part of the great world-work could have been otherwise executed. It is also to assume a knowledge of the clues of history, the springs of sudden events, which is not ours. And Jehovah reminds man again of his providential relation to Cyrus. His absolute unquestionable dominion and sovereignty over all things is the great argument for our submission to him. His dominion is founded on an inalienable title - Creation and Providence. It is reasonable that the first cause should be the Supreme Governor; and whatever has been made by God should also be commanded by him. He might have chosen whether he would have made the world or no; for he had no need of it to complete or add to his happiness, which was infinitely perfect within the compass of his own glorious being. Yet he was pleased, by the free motion of his will, to communicate and diffuse some little shadow of those perfections upon the creatures, and more especially upon his nearer resemblances, men and angels. A being essentially wise cannot do anything but wisely. Our ignorance of God's actions cannot make them or argue them to be unreasonable. He is more honored by our admiration than by our inquiries. Hence the necessity, the prudence, and the becomingness of submission, without murmuring to his allotments. - J.
I. A TEMPTATION TO REBEL.
1. Men are bitterly disappointed, or they are greatly distressed; their high hopes are dashed to the ground, or their chief treasures are taken from their grasp.
2. Then they think themselves aggrieved; they imagine that the Almighty is dealing with them as he does not with their fellows - that he is acting ungraciously and even unjustly toward them.
3. The issue is often a settled rebelliousness of spirit, an" inward thought" that God is partial and unfair; a tone of querulousness, if not actual terms of reproach, or even blasphemous arraignment.
II. THE ARGUMENT FOR ACQUIESCENCE. This is manifold.
1. The impotence and the peril of human resistance to the Divine Will. "Woe unto him that striveth," etc. (ver. 9). How vain is the contrast between finite, perishable man and the Infinite and Eternal; between one who is formed of clay and him who "made the earth and stretched out the heavens"!
2. The deference due from the creature to the Creator. "That striveth with his Maker" (vers. 9, 11). For us to enter into a controversy with the Being who called us into existence, who endowed us with all the faculties we possess, who gave us the very power which is being exercised in criticism and questioning, without whose creative and sustaining hand we could not think one thought or speak one word, is unseemly and unbecoming in the last degree.
3. The fact of God's fatherhood, and all the reasons that reside therein. If it be unfitting for a son to reproach his father (ver. 10), how much more for us to rebel against God, who stands to us in a relation far more intimate, far more sacred, far more worthy of reverent submission, than that in which the human parent stands to his child! And it is also short-sighted; for the Divine Father has thoughts in his mired, reasons for his action, which we, his children, are quite unable to comprehend or even to conceive. For us to complain of him is for ignorance to complain of wisdom.
4. Consideration of the future which is coming. We must not leave the "things to come" (ver. 11) out of our reckoning; they have much to do with the whole question of God's dealings with mankind. What God purposes to do for us, both as individual men and as a race, forms an essential element in the whole matter. The future will be found to adjust the past and the present. The grievous things which have been and the painful things which are now will be balanced by, will be completely lost in, the blessed and glorious things which "wait to be revealed." - C.
(1) those who only question and raise doubts;
(2) those who arrogantly condemn.
Some of the people of Israel were looking for a deliverer to arise from among themselves, and criticized God's delay, and then criticized his delivering by the agency of a heathen prince. The plea urged is this: "Will Israel be more wise than God?" We have here suggested three stages of unworthy treatment of God.
I. CRITICIZING. There are two ways of judging the actions of others, and they differ by the difference in their tone and spirit rather than in the acts themselves.
1. We may judge with the prevailing disposition to find out all that is good.
2. We may judge with the prevailing disposition to find fault. This is always unworthy, but never so unworthy as where applied to the ways and works of God.
II. CONDEMNING. Always a doubtful thing for man to do, seeing he is invested with neither authority nor ability for such work. Always wrong and unworthy, if man's condemnation of God, seeing that he cannot compass the whole of God's reasons, motives, and aims. Man never knows enough to allow him to venture on a condemnation.
III. WORKING AGAINST. Translating bad opinions into bad conduct. Allowing criticism to encourage enmity. Illustrate from Saul of Tarsus, who ventured to criticize and condemn God's Messiah, and then thought himself justified in working against him. - R.T.
I. HISTORY AS THE CONCEALMENT OF GOD. So it often appears. The weak are down-trodden; the proud and tyrannical are in the ascendant. Israel in her prostrate condition and insignificance seemed to imply a God impotent to save. And so it is in the personal life and history. There are sufferings which obscure the light of faith, and seem to give the lie to the most deep-seated religious hopes. But God is where he was, though our view pierces not to him. "He's in his heaven; all's right with the world!"
II. HISTORY THE UNVEILING OF GOD. "Now we are forced to own that Israel's God is the absolutely Strong One, able and willing to deliver all who trust in him." Then in a moment they who have trusted in idols are covered with confusion, together with the artificers of them. And Israel is saved with an everlasting salvation. "Time, like a dome of many-coloured glass, stains the white radiance of eternity." What is all life and time, nature and human fashion, but a veiling of God? How can we see him except "through a glass darkly"? What is thinking but dreaming, and dreams what but pictured screens, concealing and revealing the truth? We are in bondage to sense, to belief, to fancy. But our deliverance draws near; and no confusion will await them that have believed to the end. - J.
I. THE REVELATION OF HIMSELF. "O God of Israel." The God who was thus addressed was, emphatically, a Revealing One. He was known to Israel as the One who revealed himself to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to Moses and Aaron, to Samuel and David and Solomon, to all his holy prophets. We also know God as the Being who has revealed himself in nature, in the human reason and conscience, in providence, and more especially in Jesus Christ. We worship him as the God who "hath showed us light," who has made clear to us his nature, his character, his disposition toward us, his sinful children, the conditions under which he will receive and reinstate us.
II. HIS CONCEALMENT OF HIMSELF. "Thou art a God that hides[ thyself." We see this truth appearing in various directions.
1. In the processes of nature. The power of God is in all the beneficent forces of nature, working out for us the changes of the seasons, the bounties and the beauties of the earth, the wonders of human attainment; but his hand is unseen, his touch unfelt.
2. In his government of mankind. Israel did not understand what Jehovah was doing with her; as a nation she entirely misunderstood her mission. God concealed the purpose he had in his training and his providential treatment. The other nations of antiquity - Assyria, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome - were serving a Divine purpose; but they knew it not. It was "the mystery hid from the ages and generations."
3. In his redemption of our race. How little did the apostles, while they accompanied our Lord and ministered to his wants and witnessed his sufferings, imagine that he was laying the foundations of a spiritual and universal empire - a kingdom of truth and love! What a blessed purpose, what a grand design was concealed beneath the humble person and the peaceful ministry of the Son of man! And in all the subsequent outworkings of the Divine plan, how much has there been of Divine concealment! So that, as one has said, while these eighteen centuries have been anni Domini, we have had to lament -
"Years of the Lord are these, 4. In his conduct of each human, life. We believe that God is ordering our lives, shaping and moulding them, determining their course, and deciding what shall be the witness they shall bear and the work they shall do - what shall be their contribution to the great campaign he is conducting. But, here again, his hand is all unseen. Often, generally, we cannot detect the unity, the plan, the purpose of our lives; it is because we walk by faith and not by sight that we are convinced of the presence of his intervening and overruling power. Many are the dark passages in the good man's career, when he is prompted to exclaim, "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself." III. HIS MANIFESTATION IN REDEEMING LOVE. The last word we have to use is a word which explains everything - "the Saviour." Israel is brought very low; God's face is hidden from his people; he seems to have forgotten them; but he comes in redeeming grace, and "with the saving strength of his right hand" proves himself their Refuge and their Friend. The human race goes from bad to worse, and, when it seems delivered over to corruption and ruin, there is born in the city of David a Saviour, Jesus Christ. The hour in our experience is dark, misfortunes have multiplied, disaster is imminent; but our extremity is his opportunity, and God appears in delivering power. "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." From the very edge of the precipice we are snatched by the strong and saving hand of God. 1. Circumstances of distress are no proof of God's absence. He may only be hiding his face for a while. 2. Let all souls in their integrity appeal for and anticipate a merciful and full redemption (Psalm 50:15). - C.
4. In his conduct of each human, life. We believe that God is ordering our lives, shaping and moulding them, determining their course, and deciding what shall be the witness they shall bear and the work they shall do - what shall be their contribution to the great campaign he is conducting. But, here again, his hand is all unseen. Often, generally, we cannot detect the unity, the plan, the purpose of our lives; it is because we walk by faith and not by sight that we are convinced of the presence of his intervening and overruling power. Many are the dark passages in the good man's career, when he is prompted to exclaim, "Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself."
III. HIS MANIFESTATION IN REDEEMING LOVE. The last word we have to use is a word which explains everything - "the Saviour." Israel is brought very low; God's face is hidden from his people; he seems to have forgotten them; but he comes in redeeming grace, and "with the saving strength of his right hand" proves himself their Refuge and their Friend. The human race goes from bad to worse, and, when it seems delivered over to corruption and ruin, there is born in the city of David a Saviour, Jesus Christ. The hour in our experience is dark, misfortunes have multiplied, disaster is imminent; but our extremity is his opportunity, and God appears in delivering power. "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." From the very edge of the precipice we are snatched by the strong and saving hand of God.
1. Circumstances of distress are no proof of God's absence. He may only be hiding his face for a while.
2. Let all souls in their integrity appeal for and anticipate a merciful and full redemption (Psalm 50:15). - C.
(1) God's plans are hidden in the counsels of eternity;
(2) God's work is often hidden in the variety of the agencies he employs; and
(3) God's results cause surprise and joy when they can be revealed. Dealing with this subject in a larger way, we inquire .
I. WHAT IS GOD TO MAN'S SEEING? In our pride of heart we are very unwilling to admit the limitation or imperfection of our faculties. We can know so much; why cannot we know God? We can see so much; why cannot we see God? Men are restless, and bitterly fret, because the dark mists still fringe and hide the "mountain-peak of a God." They say, "If it be so to our vision down in the plains of common life, then we will climb the hills of science, get up above, and look down on the peak, and shatter for ever the mysteries that surround him." Some expect to return to us with a scornful smile, prepared to say, "There is no God, only a high peak, which the unclouded sun gilds with a perpetual radiance; and this, shining through the clouds, made you think there was a God."
"Then all goes wrong: the old foundations rock; "A little way, a very little way (Life is so short), they dig into the rind, "O marvellous credulity of man! II. WHAT IS GOD BEYOND MAN'S SEEING? Man's foolish ambition is to see everything with his bodily eyes. Man's true wisdom is in knowing God through the soul-visions that are granted to faith. And, beyond our seeing of the clouds and the mystery, what is God? 1. To our seeing, there is much difficulty and mystery about God's ruling of the earth; but our souls know that he reigns in righteousness. 2. To our seeing, there is much cloud and mystery about God's providential dealings with us; but our souls know that he makes "all things work together for good." 3. To our seeing, the redemption of the human race from sin is a profound and awful mystery; but our souls know that Christ "shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." 4. To our seeing, the future of the human race is all hung about with clouds and darkness. The very terms, "eternal life," "eternal death," are but folds of the wondrous veil that hides the unspeakable from our view; but our souls do enter into rest. Righteousness and love will preside over man's future, as truly as over the past and the present. We may rejoice in a God who hideth himself. We may be glad that the clouds hang low about him, that the mystery of him cannot be solved, and that he therefore calls for a great wondering, lowly adoration, and the perfect trust. Our God is within the grasp neither of our hand nor of our mind. Nothing in heaven above or earth beneath can be, in any full sense, a likeness of him. The grandest things do but hint his grandeur; the most lovely things do but suggest his loveliness; the truest things are but faint echoes of his truth. Away, beyond us, above us, he soars into the "light inaccessible " - our ever-blessed God, who, though he hideth himself, is our Saviour. - R.T.
"A little way, a very little way (Life is so short), they dig into the rind, "O marvellous credulity of man! II. WHAT IS GOD BEYOND MAN'S SEEING? Man's foolish ambition is to see everything with his bodily eyes. Man's true wisdom is in knowing God through the soul-visions that are granted to faith. And, beyond our seeing of the clouds and the mystery, what is God? 1. To our seeing, there is much difficulty and mystery about God's ruling of the earth; but our souls know that he reigns in righteousness. 2. To our seeing, there is much cloud and mystery about God's providential dealings with us; but our souls know that he makes "all things work together for good." 3. To our seeing, the redemption of the human race from sin is a profound and awful mystery; but our souls know that Christ "shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied." 4. To our seeing, the future of the human race is all hung about with clouds and darkness. The very terms, "eternal life," "eternal death," are but folds of the wondrous veil that hides the unspeakable from our view; but our souls do enter into rest. Righteousness and love will preside over man's future, as truly as over the past and the present. We may rejoice in a God who hideth himself. We may be glad that the clouds hang low about him, that the mystery of him cannot be solved, and that he therefore calls for a great wondering, lowly adoration, and the perfect trust. Our God is within the grasp neither of our hand nor of our mind. Nothing in heaven above or earth beneath can be, in any full sense, a likeness of him. The grandest things do but hint his grandeur; the most lovely things do but suggest his loveliness; the truest things are but faint echoes of his truth. Away, beyond us, above us, he soars into the "light inaccessible " - our ever-blessed God, who, though he hideth himself, is our Saviour. - R.T.
"O marvellous credulity of man!
II. WHAT IS GOD BEYOND MAN'S SEEING? Man's foolish ambition is to see everything with his bodily eyes. Man's true wisdom is in knowing God through the soul-visions that are granted to faith. And, beyond our seeing of the clouds and the mystery, what is God?
1. To our seeing, there is much difficulty and mystery about God's ruling of the earth; but our souls know that he reigns in righteousness.
2. To our seeing, there is much cloud and mystery about God's providential dealings with us; but our souls know that he makes "all things work together for good."
3. To our seeing, the redemption of the human race from sin is a profound and awful mystery; but our souls know that Christ "shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied."
4. To our seeing, the future of the human race is all hung about with clouds and darkness. The very terms, "eternal life," "eternal death," are but folds of the wondrous veil that hides the unspeakable from our view; but our souls do enter into rest. Righteousness and love will preside over man's future, as truly as over the past and the present. We may rejoice in a God who hideth himself. We may be glad that the clouds hang low about him, that the mystery of him cannot be solved, and that he therefore calls for a great wondering, lowly adoration, and the perfect trust. Our God is within the grasp neither of our hand nor of our mind. Nothing in heaven above or earth beneath can be, in any full sense, a likeness of him. The grandest things do but hint his grandeur; the most lovely things do but suggest his loveliness; the truest things are but faint echoes of his truth. Away, beyond us, above us, he soars into the "light inaccessible " - our ever-blessed God, who, though he hideth himself, is our Saviour. - R.T.
is well that ends well." The prophet says that idolatry will be condemned in the ultimate and utter overthrow and confusion of its victims (ver. 16), while true piety will be finally and fully established (ver. 17). Of this there was the most ample security (vers. 18, 19). We infer, generally -
I. THAT EVIL ENDS IN OVERTHROW AND DISHONOUR. It is not idolatry only which, when the last stage is reached, is covered with confusion. It is the doom of all departure from the righteous will of God. Self-indulgence has its pleasant hours; but it conducts by a sure road to disease and early death. Crime has its successes; but it spends its last days within prison-walls. Greed has its own wretched gratification; but it earns general and unspeakable contempt. Worldliness wins its honour and "has its reward;" but it ends in heart-ache and bitter disappointment, Rapacity and injustice do often wring treasures from the wronged and suffering; but they end in exposure, in condemnation, in ruin.
II. THAT OBEDIENCE ENDS IN BLESSEDNESS AND HONOUR. It is not confounded nor ashamed; it is saved - it "seeks not God's face in vain." It "inherits the land." Though much may be endured, yet a great deal more is gained, by a complete surrender of self to the service of Christ (see Mark 10:29, 30). It ensures that without which all earthly possessions and all human honours are worthless, with which they can be cheerfully foregone. It brings peace of mind, joy of soul, growth in goodness, victory over the world, Divine favour and guidance, eternal glory.
III. THAT OF THIS RESULT WE HAVE THE MOST AMPLE SECURITY. It rests on the foundations of:
1. Divine power. On the "thus saith the Lord," on the word of him who "created the heavens and formed the earth."
2. Divine wisdom. On the word of him whose presence is attested by his handiwork: "He created it not in vain."
3. Divine righteousness. "I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right." The power, the wisdom, and the righteousness of God are to us the all-sufficient pledge that we shall not seek his face in vain, but shall find that the earnest seeker after God will find all that will fill his heart, ennoble his life, and secure a glorious and immortal destiny. - C.
I. THE REALITY OF THE ETERNAL. The truth is open, and may be published to all; it is no thing of mystery, secrecy, like heathen esoteric rites or knowledge. "Jehovah's Law is not to be obtained by any occult arts from the under-world." He has not been a wilderness unto Israel or a land of darkness (Jeremiah 2:31; cf. 2:6). The seeking of his people after him is not to end in chaos. Here, again, may be an allusion to the dark sayings of the heathen oracles - ambiguous, oblique, or fallacious. His speech is direct, upright, and true. Let those who have escaped from the judgment upon the nations bear witness. How foolish they who carry the wooden image in processions, and pray to it (cf. Isaiah 46:1; Jeremiah 10:5; Amos 5:26)! What argument can be produced for the divinity of idols? Which of them can pretend to the prophetic and predictive power of Jehovah? God is the only Reality, the only Truth, the only faithful Principle in a world of idolatrous unrealities, pretences, and shams.
II. CALL TO SALVATION. In him who is real and true, alone can men find deliverance from temporal and spiritual ills. Not Israel alone, but mankind, is destined to look to him as the Universal Saviour. Jehovah swears by himself - the strongest form of assurance - "when the accompanying revelation is specially grand, or specially hard to believe." "The abolition of the last vestige of nationalism in the true religion is announced." The word is gone forth, and shall not miss its aim; the truth has sped like an arrow to the mark. Every knee shall bow in homage, every tongue shall swear allegiance. Submission shall be without reserve and absolute. "Only in Jehovah are righteousness and strength." While confusion shall be the portion of his enemies, his servants shall be accepted, and be placed by him on the footing of the justified and righteous. "He, then, that trembles at the name of an offended Creator, let him comfort himself in the title of a reconciled Father. Though we have cause to dread the tribunal of his justice, let us come confidently to the throne of his mercy. Let us come freely, and spread all our wants before him, lay open all our complaints, tell him all the distresses and secret anguishes of our burdened consciences. Believe it, we cannot be more ready to tell them than he is to hear them; nor he to hear them than to relieve them. Let us anchor our hopes, our trust, our confidence, on his goodness; for although as our Creator he will not save us, yet as our Redeemer he will." - J.
I. HIS SOLE DEITY. He is the Creator, and to say this is to say that his is "the Godhead." This truth is repeated "line upon line," and "precept upon precept." Simple truths have an emphasis peculiar to them. They need to be iterated, because the memories of men are unfaithful, their imaginations vagrant, their affections prone to wander from their true and central Object. It was so in ancient times; it is so still. Then men were tempted to think that other national gods had some power; now they are disposed to turn to some "ideal substitute" for God. We should learn, not to share out our reverence among God and various ideals of the true, wise, beautiful, and good, but to conceive of him as the sum total of them all. The enduringly good, and the permanently true and spiritually and essentially fair, all enter into the conception of "the Eternal, beside whom there is none."
II. HIS PURPOSE IN THE CREATION. It was to be, "not as a chaos," but a scene of order, a kosmos, as the Greek said. It was "formed, finished, and arranged, that it might be inhabited" - like "a lodging for a friend." God "rejoices in the habitable parts of the earth; and his delights are with the children of men." His thought was above all for the social kosmos - the spiritual system, the beauty of the regenerate state of souls; his mind to be reflected in the human creation; the human creation to illustrate the glory of his mind. If science brings to light the wonders of the natural order, true theology brings to light the greater wonders of the spiritual order. It is a discovery of the law to which the passions and forces of human nature must render obedience in order to happiness.
III. THE OPENNESS OF HIS REVELATIONS. Not in darkness and secrecy, like the heathen mysteries; nor in obscure and symbolic phrases, like theirs. Nor is it a matter of occult art and divination. It is the "light of Jehovah" (cf. Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Jeremiah 2:31). Luminous in themselves, his words lead us on to tracts of light and felicity. They are direct, and opposed to the crooked and enigmatic deliverances of the heathen oracles. Let human experience decide between Jehovah and the heathen gods. They only dare to make such an appeal who are conscious that it cannot be resisted. That religion cannot stand which will not endure satire; for ridicule is the test of truth. How can they endure it who "without knowledge carry the word of their image, and pray unto a god that cannot save"? What argument can they produce? What covenant can there be between the soul and an idol? what ability in wood or stone to save? The result remains as before. As there is but one Creator, so is there but one Moral Governor - one righteous, faithful, covenant-keeping God.
IV. CALL TO SALVATION AND TO ADORATION. "Be saved!" That is, ye shall be saved in turning unto me. If he is the only God, obedience to him must be the only salvation. And upon this end God has set his heart - this end, he swears, as God is God, shall be accomplished. The true Israel shall expand, the barriers of naturalism shall be broken down; there shall be universal, voluntary, unrestrained submission. Shame at error, and triumphant, boastful gladness in the new-found truth, shall go together. Such a communion of spirits in God and with one another is the object of faith, of aspiration now, and shall be a glorious realization hereafter. - J.
Proverbs 8:6). It may be urged
(1) that God's message to men is plain;
(2) is satisfactory;
(3) is just.
Or it may be shown that God's will is clearly and sufficiently revealed, in all its several forms:
(1) in creation;
(2) in history;
(3) in individual experiences;
(4) in Word-revelations spoken directly within man, as the law of conscience; and
(5) in Word-revelations spoken to man, as the law of conduct.
It is suggestive of illustration to recall the declaration of our Lord Jesus, "In secret have I said nothing" (John 18:20). Another line of treatment may be offered.
I. MEN'S SELF-PURSUITS END IN VANITY. We do "seek them in vain" Illustrations should be taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which is precisely this - a man's record of his seeking the "chief good" as he could conceive it. He sought this way and that, in every conceivably hopeful direction, and with every possible advantage in the search; and his conclusion of the matter is, "Nothing satisfies. All is vanity." Byron sought self-satisfaction in pursuing self-ends; and long ere old age could come with its burdens he wrote, "The worm, the canker, and the grief, are mine alone." Before the ruins of the self-seeking life, we stand and say, "So is he who heapeth up riches for himself, and is not rich toward God."
II. MAN-MADE RELIGIONS END IN VANITY. To trust them is "spending money for that which is not bread." Illustrate this by showing how, in St. Paul's day, the Athenians had multiplied gods because, one after another, they had been sought, and failed to satisfy; and at length they even, in their unrest, inscribed altars to the "Unknown God."
III. GOD'S WAY OF LIFE IS ABUNDANTLY SATISFYING. It is a living fountain of waters.
1. It meets the soul-cry for righteousness in God.
2. It meets the soul-cry for pardon of sin.
3. It meets the soul-cry for restored and happy relations with God.
4. It meets the soul-cry for power to perform that which is good.
5. It meets the yearning of the soul for assurance concerning the future.
So men never seek God in vain. - R.T.
I. OUR SUPREME HOPE FOR THE HUMAN WORLD. Isaiah has before his mind a time when "all the ends of the earth will be saved;" when "every knee will bow" to God, and every tongue solemnly invoke his holy Name; when men shall "come to him" in adoration and in thanksgiving. This is our heart's most profound desire, our soul's highest hope. We do not want our nation to subdue every other to servitude and subsidy. We do not want our form of faith or polity to swallow up every other form. We do want mankind to know God, to approach him in pure worship, to bless him for his fatherly love, to glory in his goodness, to submit to his righteous sway, to rejoice in him as the One that saves from sin and restores to righteousness. When, beneath every sky, speaking every language, with all possible varieties of custom and civilization, men everywhere shall honour the one holy Lord and rejoice in the same righteous Redeemer, the supreme hope for the world will be fulfilled. But we have to consider -
II. THE DELAY IN ITS FULFILMENT. The Israelites returned from captivity, and entered again on a course of national freedom and Divine worship in the holy place; the Lord "did great things for them, whereof they were glad." But nothing happened then or in subsequent days in Jerusalem or in Judaea which could be said to be a realization of this glorious vision. Jerusalem perished and Israel was scattered, while the prophecy remained unfulfilled. Jesus Christ came and formed his Church; that Church grew and throve, overturning the idolatries with which it contended. It has been making its way in the world, and, during the last century, has made substantial progress. But the world is very far indeed from having attained to the condition which is here foretold. The prophetic word waits to be fulfilled; there is a long delay in the realization of our supreme hope. But let us gladly turn to -
III. OUR CONFIDENCE IN A VICTORIOUS RESULT. It rests on three things.
1. The triumphs which have been already gained. These are very great, and they are exactly proportionate to the purity of the doctrine which has been taught and the zeal of the Churches which has been shown, With Christ's truth taught as it came from him and from his inspired apostles, and with the Churches of Christ as much in earnest as they have been during this century, the advance will be sure and swift..
2. The strong word of Divine promise. "I have sworn by myself... that unto me," etc.; "I, if I be lifted up from the earth," etc.; "All power is given unto me... go ye therefore," etc.
3. The fitness of the gospel of Christ for the necessities of men. It provides:
(1) A sense of forgiveness of sin. "Be justified."
(2) The possession of moral excellency "Righteousness."
(3) Spiritual power to resist temptation. "Strength."
(4) Joy of heart, showing itself in praise. "Shall glory."
IV. OUR PRIVILEGE AND DUTY IN RELATION TO IT. Since there is, indeed, such a hope for mankind, since that is to be the final issue of all strife and suffering and toil, let each nation, each Church, each family, each Christian man, see to it that its (his) contribution is forthcoming, so that, when the fields arc ripe, it (he) may have a share in the joy of harvest. - C.
man is thought of as likely to punish. The just God is sure to save.
I. MAN'S IDEA IS - JUST AND PUNISHING. Our minds are mostly occupied with the work of justice in finding and punishing evil-doers. Consequently, a very limited forensic idea of justice has come to possess men's minds; and this limited and unworthy notion of justice we too readily apply to God; and according to it settle God's relations with men. But justice is properly "doing right by men" and "setting men right," and mere punishment is only an accident of the true work of justice; or, we may say, one of its agencies in doing its higher work. Justice is as truly delivering men out of the hands of the wicked, as it is punishing the evil-doer. This position should be fully illustrated, and it will prepare the way for the consideration of the next division.
II. GOD'S IDEA IS - JUST AND SAVING. With God the "just" means the "right," and that always includes the "kind." This may be opened in several ways.
1. God is just in saving his people from disasters which others have brought on them.
2. God is just in saving them from the consequences of their own infirmities and follies.
3. God is just in saving men from their sins by punishing them for their sins.
4. God is just in saving them from punishment, when the ends of punishment have been secured.
5. God is just in finding a way by which, through the voluntary sacrifice of his Son, his honour can be maintained while his mercy is extended to guilty and helpless sinners. His saving, in Christ Jesus, is the expression of his justice. He is the "Justifier of him who believeth in Jesus." - R.T.
whom we look. "Sir, we would see Jesus." When our eyes are filled with worldly visions; when we are active in the warehouse, the office, the street, the home; - then we have experience of time-visions. When our souls are awake we gaze on the unseen Lord, who has been about our path all the day, and who is always waiting to be gracious. What is the exact word, do you say? I see! You are accustomed to a close exegesis of the Scripture. It is well! The Hebrew means, "flowed together." Is not that beautiful? "They looked unto him, and flowed together." We are lightened by oneness with our Lord.
I. LOOKING UNTO JESUS LIGHTENS US BY CONSCIOUS SYMPATHY. This always lightens. In a human sense it does. We can enter into each other's lives, and bear each other's burdens. We want not more strength, but more cheer. He does not give new faculty, but the Holy Spirit quickens faith; faculty we already have. Think of the one Divine life. Christ knew what it was to go to his Father in prayer, to be alone, to be misunderstood, to be solitary and forsaken. He was tempted, too, in all points as we are, yet without sin. He suffered, being tempted. We look to the Brother as well as the Saviour. Sympathy! Is it not precious? We get hardened by habits, where each has to struggle for himself or herself. Yes, herself! The womanly life is often a heroism of endeavour in the sense of seeking sometimes a livelihood; and the world to a widow does seem a very selfish place at times. Christ was poor. He was, in a human sense, needy. But, you say, even in these lives of struggle and difficulty, the spiritual anxieties are the deepest: to maintain a pure heart, a faithful love, a true conscience, a gracious progress in heavenward affection. Then remember he knows your inner history. Look to him. Seek oneness. Let your life and his "flow together."
II. LOOKING UNTO JESUS LIGHTENS US BY CONSCIOUS POWER. He is able to keep - able to save. Have you ever been in a gale at sea, and been nervous and timorous? But there, on the bridge, is the calm, keen-eyed, well-trained captain. You feel that there is confidence coming to your heart as you look at him. What waves cannot Christ calm? What coast of life does not he know the soundings of? What can surprise his vigilance, or blind his knowledge, or binder his commands? Even when the earthly physician came to your sick child, you watched his face and were lightened; he hoped, and you renewed your strength. A Christ less than Divine is no real refuge for such anxious souls as ours. We need not only beautiful ethics, exquisite parables; but we want Divine authority: "I will; be thou clean !" We are at rest when we can say with the centurion, "Truly this was the Son of God." We feel how guilty we are. We admit no man, no priest, into the picture-gallery of the soul. We decline to reveal our leprosy of heart to our fellow-men. But we are all polluted and evil; and we have deep repose of heart when we come to the one fountain open for sin and uncleanness, and know that Christ is "able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." No look lightens us which is merely imitative - which is a lesson-look of duty. We need a great Saviour as well as a great Teacher.
III. LOOKING UNTO JESUS LIGHTENS US BY CONSCIOUS OBEDIENCE. This comes next. We flow together, not merely in sympathy, but in life and service. We do his commandments; we know in following him we are in the right path; and how it lightens one to feel that the way is right, however hard and painful it may be! Rectitude is the music of the soul. Is not this sometimes forgotten? you say. Or, if not forgotten, is obedience relegated to a very inferior place by some Christians? Yes; they mean well, but they take a superficial view of the gospel. Removal of guilt is not all. Doing is not a deadly thing, it does not end in death - if it is life-doing and not law-doing. Christ says, " Keep my commandments." "This do, and thou shalt live." We are never lightened by self-indulgent piety, which leaves all to God. We are to exercise our graces; to use what Paul calls "the gymnastic of godliness" - a beautiful expression. Looking to Jesus, we shall gain strength for every earnest endeavour after the Divine life. But is there not a danger of spiritual pride? Is it not better to feel God does all? There is no one of us free from the danger of spiritual pride. We must all watch and pray against it. But you may detect spiritual pride often very manifestly in those who think that they, and they alone, know the entire secret of God's will; and their secret is, a leaving it all to him. Then pride says, "See; I am free from legalism, and I have no danger of self-righteousness." Pride may hide under this cloak of confessed humility. We are only safe in Christ's own way. He and no earthly teacher is to be really our spiritual Director, and he says, "If ye love me, keep my commandments;" "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them;" "He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto eternal life." Not by a cowardly shrinking from duty, but by looking up to the Captain of the great host and gathering nerve to throw one's self into the thick of the fight is our heart lightened.
IV. LOOKING UNTO JESUS LIGHTENS BY CONSCIOUS EXPERIENCE. We have tried it in the days of old! Christ has lightened many a burden we foolishly tried to carry alone. Men are ashamed of their failures. They boast of a certain specific, and it fails. They recommend certain methods of conduct which break down in operation. But our faces are not ashamed. They glow with the consciousness of what Christ has been in past times of test and trial. He has never failed - never forsaken. This is a beautiful idea about the countenance - a Christian should have no shame there. I do not mean a face defiant or boastful; that is not the meaning of these words, "And their faces were not ashamed." It means no confusion, no flush of anxiety, no prophecy of failure on it. We can all look to him. We are all invited! None of us can measure the weight on the heart. Christ can. And he knows that it is heavy, very heavy. We are often tired and weary. Come to him! You need him! You have slighted and neglected him long time now; but you have found no Friend, no Saviour away from him.
"'Lay down, thou weary one, lay down
I. HIM TO WHOM WE SHOULD LOOK. "I, if I be lifted up," said Christ, "will draw all men unto me." "That whosoever believeth on him might not perish, but have everlasting life."
II. THE LOOK THAT SAVES.
1. The look of conscious need.
2. The look of personal helplessness.
3. The look of humility.
4. The look of faith.
III. THE SALVATION THAT COMES BY LOOKING.
1. Salvation from the penalty due to sin.
2. From the wrong relations brought about by sin.
3. From the bad inward state induced by sin. For all within you, Guido, which sighs after a redemption, is Christ come as a Redeemer; he has redeemed your heart and your reason; he has redeemed your spirit and your body; he has redeemed yourself and nature which surrounds you (Tholuck). - R.T.
Philippians 2:10.) It should be noticed that "kneeling" and "swearing to" are acts of homage and fealty; and they are so used in this passage. Still we "swear" allegiance to a sovereign. "If the heart be brought into obedience to Christ, and made willing in the day of his power, the knee will bow to him in humble adoration and addresses, and in cheerful obedience to his commands, submission to his disposals, and compliance with his will in both; and the tongue will swear to him, will lay a bond upon the soul to engage it for ever to him." The point suggested for illustration is this - How can the faith of Israel claim to be the universal religion for mankind? The answer is that, beneath its forms and ceremonials, which were but illustrations of its truths, it holds all the absolute essentials of religion, and these can gain varied expression, to suit the genius of all races, in all climes and periods. These essentials are -
I. THE TRUTH THAT THERE IS ONE GOD, AND HE IS A SPIRITUAL BEING.
II. THE FACT THAT THIS ONE GOD HAS REVEALED HIS WILL.
III. THE DEMAND THAT THIS ONE GOD SHOULD BE HONOURED BY MAN'S FAITH AND SERVED BY MAN'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. - R.T.
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