Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
i.e. following a way of life in accordance with the Divine commands; and "seeking Jehovah," i.e. attending to all that his mind approves and his will commands.
I. THE LESSON OF THEIR ORIGIN. They had been, as it were, hewn from a rock and dug out of a pit. The allusion is to Abraham. They had sprung from one, and him as good as dead (Hebrews 11:12). They had been as rough as unhewn materials fresh from the quarry when Jehovah took them in band for his moulding. He had formed the nation out of its primary materials - had taken Abraham and Sarah from a distant land, and formed them into a nation for his own purpose. And then the argument is that he who had done this in the past was able to do as great things in the future - to restore the people from captivity to their own land. The words may be applied more generally (cf. Matthew 3:9, "God is able to raise up of these stones children unto Abraham"). From the rudest material God can fashion masterpieces of grace. The greatest sinner may furnish the elements of character for the greatest saint. In any true and humble view of his condition the Christian will feel that the language is apposite to himself. "He was found in his natural state as a block of marble; he was moulded and formed by the agency of the Holy Spirit; he was fitted into the spiritual temple. Christians owe all the beauty and grace of their Christian deportment to him. This is an argument to prove that they are dependent on him for all that they have, and that he will keep them and accomplish all his purposes by them. He who has transformed them from rough and unsightly blocks to polished stones fitted for his spiritual temple on earth, is able to keep them still, and to fit them wholly for his temple above."
II. COMFORT FOR THE FUTURE.
1. External blessings. The ruined places of Zion are to be restored, the present wilderness of Judaea to be transformed into a garden of Eden - a scene of joy, thanksgiving, and music. The idea of a terrestrial paradise enters into the lore of other nations. Arab legends tell of a garden in the East, on a mount of jacinth, inaccessible to man, of rich soil and equable temperature, well watered and abounding in trees and flowers of rare colours and fragrance. "In the background of man's visions lay a paradise of holy joy, secured from profanation and inaccessible to the guilty; full of objects fitted to delight the senses and elevate the mind; a paradise that granted to its tenant rich and rare immunities, and fed with its perennial streams, the tree of life, and immortality" (Hardwick). There is no reason why we should not think of heaven under such a figure; and every happy renewal of the soul by Divine grace may be termed a transformation of the waste and desert of the heart into the garden of God.
2. Spiritual blessings. "Enthroned anew in Israel, Jehovah shall send forth his light and his truth among the distant nations." His righteousness is new - which means "his consistent adherence to his revealed line of action which involves deliverance to faithful or at least repentant Israel, and destruction to those who thwart his all-wise purposes." "Mine arms shall judge the peoples" includes "the darker side of Jehovah's righteousness" (Cheyne). The countries "shall wait" for Jehovah, and trust upon his "arm," i.e. his mighty help. Distant lands shall become interested in the true religion, and acknowledge and worship the true God.
3. The eternity of God's salvations. The order of the world is elsewhere described in Scripture as everlasting (Genesis 8:21, 22; Genesis 9:9-11; Genesis 49:26; Psalm 148:6). The heavens and the earth appear to be firm and fixed. Yet - against all appearance and probability, against all that specious constancy - they are doomed to vanish away. The most mighty and fixed of created things must disappear; but the promise of God is unfailing, This is one of the finest passages in all poetry. The heavens are to "glide away," disappearing like wreaths of smoke in the air (cf. Isaiah 34:4; Hebrews 1:11, 12; Psalm 102:26; 2 Peter 3:10-12). The Hebrew was wont to look upon the sky as a "firmament," a solid overarching vault. Yet here it seems thin as a soap-bubble, which the breath of a child may blow into nothingness. There are times when the soul is sick (like Hamlet), and all the magnificence of the heavens seems to pall upon it - a hint that the soul feels it partakes of a life higher than that of the natural world. There are times when the soul triumphs in the transiency of the natural world, conscious that it enjoys an immortality in common with the Eternal. "The earth shall fall to pieces like a garment, and the dwellers therein shall die like gnats; but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be annulled." It is not the contempt of a self-poised soul for the material world and its dimensions and its splendours; but the joy of a trustful soul in affiance with the Saviour-God. That this world will pass away, and that God will remain, are certain. But of what comfort is this to me, unless I am united to the Eternal? He by whose will material things perish and pass away is he by whose will the soul is redeemed and saved for ever. To live in faith upon God is to live the life of intellect and the life of love, neither of which can pass away; for they belong to the eternal essences. In such assurance material things may be seen evaporating, heaven turning to smoke, earth becoming as a tattered robe, "ocean's self turning dry;" while we ourselves pass to him who has been and will be the Dwelling-place and the Saviour of all successive generations. - J.
(1) deepen our humility;
(2) inflame our love;
(3) stimulate our obedience and
(4) perfect our dependence and trust.
But it may, and often does, nourish that subtle form of spiritual pride which poisons the soul, and which is peculiarly difficult to cure. We only recall the past healthily when it is our set purpose to find the traces of God's gracious working in it all. Studied aright -
I. THE PAST TELLS OF OUR INSIGNIFICANCE. Compare the wonder over the insignificance of Israel in its beginnings. So of the Christian Church. It began with the one or two who responded to the call of Christ. Some of us began our Christian lives in childhood, some in ignorance, and some when self-indulgence had marred the powers we possessed. All of us can say, "Chosen not for good in me."
II. THE PAST TELLS OF GOD'S CARE AND MERCY. We have been led, guided, provided for, chastised, and taught, even as Israel was. God's first dealings seem to us a key to all his dealings.
III. THE PAST TELLS OF OUR WILFULNESSES. Israel could never look back without remembering his "way in the wilderness." Their past was full of murmurings and rebellions.
IV. THE PAST TELLS OF GOD'S REDEMPTIONS. Exactly the name for God is our Redeemer. And the long and varied past assures us that he will ever be to us, in all times of need, what he always has been. - R.T.
I. THE EYE IS ALWAYS ON SOME OBJECT. We are looking always to objects that elevate or that debase us. Israel at this time was looking to military leaders, longing for some Messiah who should gather together a power sufficient to break the iron yoke of oppression. They were looking, not to the faithful Abrahams, but to the warrior Sauls. The eye thus becomes a window to the heart.
II. THEY HAD FORGOTTEN THEIR ANCIENT POWER. Abraham was a man of faith. He believed in God, and he lived a life of faith in God. When the spirit of Abraham filled their hearts, then they acted as men who believed that "righteousness exalteth a nation." The true Hebrew power was righteousness. Their psalms glorified, not the sword, but the moral Law of God. The right hand of the Most High was with them when they were a nation that loved righteousness and hated iniquity. "Therefore God, thy God, hath exalted thee above thy fellows." The call to all godly men in every age is, "Look to Abraham." - W.M.S.
I. CULTURE, DIVINE AND HUMAN. The garden is marked out from other spaces by the superior culture which it receives; every square inch of it has attention flora the gardener's hand. The ideal garden is carefully and regularly weeded, digged, planted, pruned, etc. The Church of Christ should show the signs of heavenly, of spiritual culture. On it the Divine Husbandman has bestowed the greatest care. He has wrought upon it, suffered for it, watched over it, tended it with wondrous condescension and inexhaustible love. Human culture has also been expended upon it: the ministry of man, the watchful love, the earnest 'prayer, the faithful admonition, the solemn vows of its own members, have been given to improve and perfect it: it is, or it should be, well-cultivated ground.
II. SECURITY. The garden is fenced on all sides, that no wild animal, that no intruder of any kind, may enter, to steal or to ravage. The Church of Christ should be a sphere of the greatest possible security. In it there should be no occasion to be dreading the presence of the marauder, of "the thief who comes... to steal or to destroy," of the enemy that undermines faith, or that wins away holy love, or that deadens sacred zeal. There we should be free to walk without apprehension, without fear of harm.
III. BEAUTY. We aim to make our gardens as beautiful as the finest taste can make them; to exclude all that is unsightly, and so to introduce and arrange everything that, in part and in whole, it shall be attractive and inviting. From the Church of Christ should be excluded all that is distasteful to the Divine Lord - all that is irreverent, untruthful, discourteous, ungenerous, inconsiderate. Within the Church should grow and flourish all these graces of the Spirit of God which are fair and comely in the sight of God and man.
IV. FRUITFULNESS. What the fruitage of the productive garden is to the house-bolder, that the many-sided usefulness of the active and earnest Church is to the Lord of the vineyard.
V. VARIETY. That is a poor and imperfect garden in which are only two or three kinds of flowers, and where the beds and lawns are laid out so as to suggest monotony. That is a poor and imperfect Church where only one or two orders of intelligence or moral excellence or piety are found. Our Lord does not want to see all the flowers and shrubs and trees in his garden cut and trimmed so as to be of an unvarying pattern.
VI. PEACE AND HAPPINESS. We associate with the garden the thought of tranquility and peace. It is the abode of domestic felicity; there friendship spends its golden hours; it is the resort of happy love. The Church should be the home of peace and joy. To it we should be glad to retire from the bustle and strife of life; in its fold we should find the purest and the sweetest satisfaction which earth can yield. There have been Churches which might justly be called the arena of conflict or the wilderness of neglect. The ideal Church - that at which we should aim, and for which we should strive and sacrifice - is one that might be appropriately designated, "The garden of the Lord." - C.
light. It is a mistake to assume that there are things revealed which are not intended for our comprehension; they are revealed precisely with the purpose of unfolding so that we might understand them. There are hidden and secret things, but Moses carefully distinguishes them from the revealed things, saying thus: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but the things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this Law" (Deuteronomy 29:29). Only this much is true - revelation is not light to every age equally. Some things seem mysterious at one time that are clear enough at another. And in each fresh generation we may say -
"The Lord hath yet more light and truth I. GOD'S REVELATION IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS UP SIN. 1. It gives us proper apprehensions of God himself, and shows sin by our contrast with him. 2. It unfolds before us the graciousness of his relations with us, and convicts of sin as it makes us feel the weakness of our response to such relations (Daniel 5:23, last clause). 3. It declares to us the laws by which both our conduct and our spirit ought to be ruled; and by the Law is the knowledge of sin. 4. It presents to us the Lord Jesus Christ as the Gift of God; and "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil." II. GOD'S REVELATION IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS THE WAY OUT OF SIN. 1. By removal of the penalties it has involved. 2. By restoring the broken relations it has caused. 3. By changing the spirit of the sinner - melting him to penitence, quickening him to believe. Illustrate one feature from the parable of the "prodigal son," and other features by such passages as Romans 3:19-26; Romans 5:8-10. III. GOD'S REVELATION' IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS THE WAY FOR THOSE REDEEMED FROM SIN. There is the "way of holiness" in which they have to walk. There is a sanctifying, through cares and chastisements, which they have to experience. There is a personal and practical application of the Christian principles to the details of common life which has to be made. And, for all this, God's Word is a "lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path." - R.T.
I. GOD'S REVELATION IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS UP SIN.
1. It gives us proper apprehensions of God himself, and shows sin by our contrast with him.
2. It unfolds before us the graciousness of his relations with us, and convicts of sin as it makes us feel the weakness of our response to such relations (Daniel 5:23, last clause).
3. It declares to us the laws by which both our conduct and our spirit ought to be ruled; and by the Law is the knowledge of sin.
4. It presents to us the Lord Jesus Christ as the Gift of God; and "this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil."
II. GOD'S REVELATION IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS THE WAY OUT OF SIN.
1. By removal of the penalties it has involved.
2. By restoring the broken relations it has caused.
3. By changing the spirit of the sinner - melting him to penitence, quickening him to believe. Illustrate one feature from the parable of the "prodigal son," and other features by such passages as Romans 3:19-26; Romans 5:8-10.
III. GOD'S REVELATION' IS LIGHT THAT SHOWS THE WAY FOR THOSE REDEEMED FROM SIN. There is the "way of holiness" in which they have to walk. There is a sanctifying, through cares and chastisements, which they have to experience. There is a personal and practical application of the Christian principles to the details of common life which has to be made. And, for all this, God's Word is a "lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path." - R.T.
Psalm 102:26; Matthew 24:35; 2 Peter 3:10-13). We get one of our chief impressions of the value of a thing out of the length of time that it will last. Permanence is one of the principal notes of value. The insect that hums through the air of one summer's evening is. comparatively worthless; the elephant that lives through a hundred years is valuable The wayside weed that lives its brief months is worthless; the giant oak that outlives the storms of generations is valuable. And so our idea of extreme value, of absolutely priceless worth, is put into the figure of permanence - eternal, abiding, and continuing. The highest conceivable good is eternal life; the worst conceivable woe is eternal death. This note of value tests things earthly; they are short-lived, and comparatively worthless. It tests things spiritual; they are long-lived, good, cannot die, and they alone are truly worthy of the pursuit of those in whom God has breathed the breath of life.
1. The material heavens and material earth are the types of all material things. They are the "treasure on earth," which moth or rust are always corrupting, which thieves are constantly breaking through to steal. "Here we have no continuing city" (see the force of this in view of the ruins of great ancient cities which abound in the East). "The fashion of this world passeth away." The world is a moving panorama. The generations go by like the ships that sail to the West. "The place that knows us now must soon know us no more for ever." Everything on which the earthly stamp rests is in its very nature fading. There is no safe holding of what we only get, only become possessed of.
2. But "salvation" and "righteousness" are the types of spiritual things. They bear relation to the man himself, and not to his mere circumstances or surroundings. We can keep for ever only that which we are. Character is our "treasure in heaven, which neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and which no thieves can break through and steal." But the yet higher truth - the one concerning which we need to gain ever new impressions - is that we can only hope to hold on for ever that which we are through Divine grace; that which we are through the Divine redeemings and sanctifyings. God's "salvation shall be for ever; and his righteousness shall not be abolished," as the salvation is wrought in us, and the righteousness shines from us. - R.T.
I. A SURE CRITERION OF CHARACTER.
1. It is well to be hearers of God's Word. All the Jews were that; they were all the children of privilege. This, however, was by no means sufficient to prove that they were the children of God.
2. It is better to know his Word and to understand his will. It says something for us if we can be thus addressed, "Ye that know righteousness." But there are many who clearly apprehend their duty, and who, for one reason or another, refrain from doing it.
3. The certain test of spiritual worth is that God's Law is in the heart: "In whose heart is my Law." They who can say with the psalmist," Oh how love I thy Law! it is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97, 111); who esteem God's precepts as more desirable than gold and more sweet than honey (Psalm 19:10); who delight to do his will, for his Law is within their heart, the object of their affection, the source of their joy, the well-spring of their comfort, the treasury of their hope; - these are they whom God loves and honours; and theirs is the kingdom of heaven (see John 14:15, 16, 21, 23; Matthew 7:21).
II. A PROBABLE INCIDENT OF A FAITHFUL LIFE. "Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings." It is highly probable, indeed morally certain, that if we are thoroughly loyal to our Lord and true to our own convictions we shall incur the secret dislike and also the active opposition of men. Implicitly, if not explicitly, we shall condemn their theories and their doings, and they will turn upon us in anger or in self-detente. He who never comes into sharp collision with the sentiments and habits of wicked men must either live a life of very unusual seclusion or else have grave reason to suspect his fidelity to Christ.
III. TWO DECISIVE CONSIDERATIONS.
1. Fidelity to conviction means the preference of God to man. Men are saying, "Hearken unto us" - unto us, thy fellows, thy partners, thy confederates; unto us who will share thy responsibility and thy sin, and perish with thee when thou tallest. But God is saying, "Hearken unto me" - unto me, thy Creator, thy Benefactor, thy Divine Friend. A Divine Saviour is saying unto us, "Follow me," in the paths of purity, of integrity, of piety, of consecration (see vers. 12, 13).
2. Fidelity to conviction means ultimate triumph, but unfaithfulness means final ruin. The devices of iniquity will come to nought, and the guilty themselves will perish. "The moth shall eat them up like a garment." But "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." "God's righteousness shall be for ever," and they who are loving and living it shall never be confounded. Theirs is the present favour and everlasting friendship of the Eternal. - C.
love, says, "Perfect love casteth out fear." The immediate connection of the passage is Israel's fear of the Babylonians. But they need not have feared if they had looked to the "Lord as their Defence, and to the God of Jacob as their Refuge" - unto the Lord who "could perform all things for them." "Let not those who embrace the gospel righteousness be afraid of those who will call them Beelzebub, and will say all manner of evil against them falsely. Let them not be afraid of them; let them not be disturbed by these opprobrious speeches, nor made uneasy by them, as if they would be the ruin of their reputation and honour, and they must for ever lie under the load of them. Let them not be afraid of their executing their menaces, nor be deterred thereby from their duty, nor frightened into any sinful compliances, nor driven to take any indirect courses for their own safety. Those can bear but little for Christ that cannot bear a hard word for him" (Matthew Henry).
I. NATURAL FEAR OF MAN. Because the conquest of man by the spirit of self, self-will, self-pleasing, has set every man, in greater or less degree, upon getting advantage over his brother; and so we all go in suspicion and fear of one another. Illustrate from the jealousies and rivalries of society, the competitions of business, the ambitions and conflicts of nations. Governments are organizations to keel) within safe limits men's fears of one another. The only natural triumph over such fear is for men to become possessed with the idea of serving one another, instead of taking advantage of, and getting something out of, one another. George Macdonald has a dream in one of his works ('Wingfold, Curate'), in which heaven is pictured as busy earth, just as we know it, only everybody is set upon serving his neighbour, and nobody ever gets the idea of making his neighbour serve him. Nobody has anything to fear in such a heaven or in such an earth.
II. PROPER FEAR OF GOD. That must be supreme. It must be the fear that draws us near to him in trust; that gives us the joy of obeying and following him; and that really is filial love. That fear is a sanctifying force to us, just as reverent fear of his father mightily helps the boy to do right. That fear is a resting, quieting influence upon us; it makes us feel safe as the boy feels in the storm, if the father whom he fears is at the helm. - R.T.
I. THE ARM OF JEHOVAH AS SYMBOLIC OF HIS POWER. It is the symbol of spiritual power opposed to that of darkness, death, the under-world, He is said to have "smitten Rahab, and wounded the dragon." Commonly this has been understood of Egypt, but the reference seems to be more general. It was in ancient thought, generally, the property of a god to be the slayer of monsters, who all of them represent hellish influences. It is spiritual power opposed to worldly violence. He had dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, and made therein a way for the released to pass over. Egypt was the dark historic memory of the people. Its king might well be compared with the fiendish monster of darkness (Ezekiel 29:3; Ezekiel 32:2; Psalm 34:13, 14). And so the passage of the Red Sea was the standing symbol of deliverance, of redemption (see Psalm 105). And in our own hymns and sacred allusions Egypt stands for the bondage of sin, the captivity of the mind to sense, to the devil. And the passing over the Red Sea may be fitly symbolic of salvation by grace, of regeneration or conversion. The argument is from the past to the future. The God who had overcome all obstacles in the way of their deliverance from Egypt was able to overcome all obstacles in the way of their deliverance from Babylon. He might be expected again to manifest his mercy, and save the nation from oppression. And so, in general, the argument holds good for the Church and for the individual: "Because thou hast been my Refuge, under the shadow of thy wings I will put my trust." The principle is ever applicable. All God's past interpositions on behalf of his people constitute an argument that he will continue to regard them.
II. THE FUTURE SEEN BY THE LIGHT OF THE PAST.
1. The ransomed of Jehovah shall return. The power that lies in the word "redeemed," "ransomed! All the notions of love, sacrifice, purchase, that are connected with it! The assurance that flows from the realization of such a state! God will not desert; he cannot lose those whom he has made by so many ties his own.
2. The joy of the return. "The custom of singing on a journey is still common in the East. It relieves the tediousness of a journey over extended plains, and stirs the camels to greater speed. So the long tedium of the way from Babylon shall be cheered by songs expressive of gladness and praise." "We are travelling home to God. We are under the guidance of a good Pastor, who goes before, who knows his sheep; of a Leader of salvation who has released his people, and will crown his work el' redemption by glorification.
Then let our songs abound,
I. OUR URGENT NEED OF EFFECTUAL SUCCOUR. The battle seems to go against us. We note:
1. The prevalence of evil - of poverty, of misery, of vice, of crime, of unbelief, of superstition, of gross idolatry.
2. The comparative failure of the Church to subdue it. Looking at the entire field of activity, we are obliged to own that complete victory is a very long way off; that the millions of men and women whom the gospel has not reached, and those other millions whose spirit and whose life it has not succeeded in transforming, present a view which is very disappointing. Or looking at particular fields of Christian work, either at home or abroad, regarding the towns and villages of our own land, we do not find that the truth of God has the redeeming and elevating influence which answers to our hopes. We am not conquering the evil which surrounds and assails us; our heart sinks at the thought of the stupendous work before us, which seems to grow rather than to lessen, spite of all our struggle.
II. THE DIVINE FORCE IN RESERVE. Behind us is the arm of the Lord, and on this we lean.
1. It is a great thing that we are armed with a truth which is so fitted to do the renewing work on which we are engaged, a truth which so exquisitely meets the necessities of the human soul.
2. It is a great thing that this truth has triumphed gloriously in the case of individual men, families, tribes, and even nations.
3. But our last and best hope is in the presence and power of God. "The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our Refuge." There are two sustaining thoughts here. One is that Almighty God cannot be defeated. The "arm of the Lord" is the power of the Omnipotent; it is the overcoming energy of him who is the Source of all might and strength, and in whom reside all riches and all resources whatever. The other is that God has shown the exceeding greatness of his power many times before, and can work as glorious marvels in the future as in the past. He who smote Egypt could slay Assyria; he who made a passage across the sea could open a way from Babylon to Jerusalem. The God who has smitten the idolatries of Europe can slay the superstitions of Asia. He who has turned the sensuality and savagery of the islands of the sea into purity and peace can and will overcome the mightiest obstacles which remain. subdue the most hostile forces, and cause the "armies of Israel" to be crowned with victory.
(1) Strive with all strenuousness and self-sacrifice, as if everything depended on our fidelity.
(2) Look with confidence to the action of the arm of Omnipotence. - C.
Isaiah 35:10.) There may be an allusion to the custom, so common in the East, of singing upon a journey, particularly with a view to quicken the pace of the camels. Bush writes, "We should not have passed this plain so rapidly, but for the common custom of the Arabs of urging on their camels by singing. The effect is very extraordinary; this musical excitement increases their pace at least one-fourth. First one camel-driver sings a verse, then the others answer in chorus. It reminded me somewhat of the Venetian gondoliers. I often asked the camel-drivers to sing, not only to hasten our progress, but also for the pleasure of hearing their simple melodies! Some of their best songs possess a plaintive sweetness that is almost as touching as the most exquisite European airs." And Pitts, in describing the order of the caravans, tells us, "Some of the camels have bells about their necks, and some about their legs, like those which our carders put about their fore-horses' necks, which, together with the servants (who belong to the camels and travel on foot) singing all night, make a pleasant noise, and the journey passes away delightfully." The picture is of the return of Israel from captivity to Jerusalem. ]t is an ideal picture of what might have been, but the actual circumstances of the return came very far short of the pictured ideal. As an earlier homily has dealt with this verse, only a fresh line of thought need be suggested. It is that through all the Christian pilgrim-way there ought to be joy and song; the "joy of the Lord our Strength."
I. THE JOY OF BEGINNING A CHRISTIAN LIFE, This is usually an intense joy, born of the freshness of our experience, the brightness of our newly kindled hope, and our ignorance of the conflict which the Christian life must witness. It is the joy of the ransomed. Illustrate from the freed slave. It is the joy of the delivered. Illustrate by song of Israel on the Red Sea shore. People usually set out on an expedition with much song and hope.
II. JOY ON THE WAY IN CHRISTIAN LIVING. This is a calmer joy; found rather in what God's grace proves able to do for us, than in any circumstances through which we pass; for the way itself is often rough and hard - we can seldom sing about it.
III. JOY AT THE END WHEN HOME IS WON. Illustrate by Moore's 'Paradise and the Peri' -
"Joy, joy for ever! the work is done,
I. THE NATURAL TIMIDITY OF THE HEART. We are cravens, all of us. We stand in dread of our own image; we quail before "frail man that dieth, and the son of the earth-born who is given up as grass." A frown makes us tremble; a menace unmans us. We are the slaves of custom and opinion. Anxiety is ever conjuring up dangers which exist not, and forecasting calamities which do not occur. So were the Jews ever "on the tenter-hooks of expectation. When the 'aiming' of the enemy seems to fail, their spirits rise; when it promises to succeed, they fall." How much do we all suffer from "ills that never arrive"!
II. TIMIDITY CORRECTED BY RELIGION. Its cause is touched - forgetfulness of God. Is forgetfulness the result of want of faith, or the origin of faithlessness? Both may be true. Faith needs to be fed from memory, and memory exerts its proper activity under the instigation of faith. Old truths need constantly to be recalled, and to become new truths through the act of attention - the "giving heed to the things we have heard, lest at any time we let them slip." That God is Creator of heaven and earth is an elementary truth of religion. How much may be deduced from it! He who made the earth made the nations that dwell on the face of it; therefore made Israel, and every member of Israel. God creates to preserve. His character of Deliverer flows from that of Creator. There is, then, hope for the fettered captive. For he who is Almighty in nature is equally so in the sphere of human life. He who raises storms is able to still them, so that his friends have no cause to fear. The commitment of the truth to the Jewish people, their protection and restoration, seems to be compared to the vast work of creation. The lesson for the timid apprehensive heart is to learn that Omnipotence is engaged in its protection and defence.
"This awful God is ours.
I. GOD HIMSELF IS A COMFORTER. This is his nature. There is emphasis in it. "I even I - the Lord of hosts; the God of whom it is said, There is nothing too hard for the Lord." We gain comfort when we gain confidence. It is faithlessness that makes us feeble. Let us read the revelation of what God is, and study the history of what God has done for his saints in every age, and we shall find comfort.
II. MAN AT THE BEST IS BUT MAN. Why be afraid of him? Study yourself, your failings, timorousness, and frailty, and be sure that your brother man is just like this.
1. We are unreasonably afraid of men. Their power is limited. Their pretension is greater than their power. Do not be deceived by appearances.
2. We are the subjects of forgetfulness. "Man shall be made as grass!" We cannot have a better image of the feebleness of human strength. We think too much of man, and forget the Lord our Maker. Look at the heavens.. Look at the foundations of the earth. What can shake what God upholds? "Where is the fury of the oppressor?" Ask Pharaoh; and be at rest. - W.M.S.
nervous temperament, and to study especially the relation which the gospel occupies in relation to it. There may be other anodynes of consolation, physical and mental; but my argument will be this - that the religion of Christ stands in special relationship of solace and succour to those who feel with the psalmist, "I am feeble and sore broken, because of the disquietness of my heart." We cannot help being, in one sense, what we were born. The mimosa plant cannot avoid being a mimosa plant, and nothing else. The sensitiveness of a highly wrought nervous system is born with many, and, do what they will, they must carry it with them to the grave. Often misunderstood and misrepresented, often verging on despair, they are bowed down greatly, and go mourning all the day long. Much depends, of course, on the law of association, and on relationships of persons and things. Much, too, depends on religious ideas. There is, for instance, a form of piety sincere enough in itself which feeds perpetual introspection, and is ever tremulous concerning its own state. How different this from the rest which comes from entire trust in Christ! Then, again, there are human relationships which, instead of being ministrants of consolation, strain the heart and irritate the nerves. Oh, the depression that must come, the anxiety that will do its wear and tear, which is derived from alliance with unthankful and foreboding hearts, from fellowship with those who, if they do not consciously know the science of disheartenment, are at all events au fait at its practice! When Moses spake with Israel on this side Jordan in the wilderness, he had in his thought the carping spirit of those whose criticism suggests difficulty and danger too great to be overcome. Some men always see lions in the way, and do an anticipative roaring themselves. Thus he spoke of some who said," Whither shall we go up? our brethren have discouraged our heart, saying, The people are greater and taller than we; the cities are great and walled up to heaven." What an insight this gives on those whose imagination creates giants! Now though we may apply specially the words of our text to a nervous temperament - they simply represent a special occasion of depression in the prophet's life; they represent inward fears.
I. THE TRUE PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE IS LIFE IN CHRIST. Not in self. Not in society. But in Christ. We must go out of ourselves, out of our "moods" and "feelings," that we may look unto Christ and be saved! I am speaking of those who are ever nervously anxious and sensitive. First of all about their salvation, which, alas! is like a "variable quantity" with them. But I wish, also, to apply the idea to human life. Christ is a perfect Brother as well as a perfect Saviour. Redemption is his. Yes; and so is common home-life; so is the gift of daily bread. The great realm of providence is under his sceptre.
1. Meditate well on this dual aspect of the subject. First of all, when you are tempted to be morbid analysts of your own spiritual state, to use the scales of weight and measurement for the depth of your love and the height of your faith. There can be no escape from trepidatory alarms so long as we apply aquafortis to the gold of our affection, so long as we microscopically survey the minutiae of our neglected duties and our multitudinous sins. We must ponder the consolatory words, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." And this argument applies as much to the ordinary life of every day. Do things happen to us, or are our times in God's hands? Our dread of fatalism, with its results of inertia and indifference, has sometimes hindered that quiet trust in God which is the secret of all true strength. Events are in his hand. You cannot make one hair black or white, or add one cubit to your stature. You will become worn and weary by retrospective fears. And what power have you over the dark, deep waves of coming tribulation, or over the advent-hours of grief and death? Bewise. Resolve with promptitude. Persevere with energy. Rise early with alacrity for the service of the day, but cast all anxious thoughts of to-morrow on your Lord.
2. I do not say that so doing all your fears will cease. No act of faith is so complete as to shut out all weakness of the soul. But I do say this will be your most perfect anodyne. Other things will help. The bracing air, the oxygen and ozone of the sea-coast, may tone your nerves, but it cannot create new ones. The gospel ('an do the most, but even that cannot reorganize the physical frame, so fearfully and wonderfully made; but its atmosphere is the best one for bracing the heart and soothing the tretted, irritated nerve.
II. THERE IS CONTINUITY OF FEAR. We none of us know how frail we are till trial comes. The blooming maiden little thought that care would so soon write itself on her forehead, and that the silvery lines would so early be discovered in her hair. Yet so it is. A mother now, she has had to endure the anxieties of home and the agonies of bereavement. There are some constitutions that can brave much; they keep hale and well, with the pulse even and the eye bright, amid difficulties that would overwhelm. others. Let them thank God for the perfectness of the physical frame. But there are some that only look robust and bright, and when tribulation comes their strength gives way with marvellous rapidity. The physician says the vascular system is excellent, the muscles strong, the frame perfect, but the nervous system is fragility itself.
1. Advent-days of trouble do come. Even sin in its first consciousness overwhelms some with fear and trembling. A great horror overwhelms them. The invisible realm of the spirit is suddenly revealed to them, and where before they saw nothing hideous or evil, now reptiles crawl! Yes; there is a revelation of sin now as of old. We know what the first sight of accident or death is: how severely it shocks the senses of a child! So sin may, and does, come with an overwhelming consciousness of guilt on some minds. The old cry is heard, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" How terrible, then, it' such souls fall into the hands, not of wise physicians, but of unwise irritators of the evil! The nerves will break down, and have broken down in thousands of cases, and mania ensues. Study the history of monasteries and convents. Study the history of some revivals. The mediaevalists worked upon many delicate nervous systems by their hideous pictures of hell and by their fearful harangues concerning it. Nor has the modern Church escaped the danger. At once the anxious soul should be led to him who says," Daughter, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee."
2. There are seasons when unforeseen calamity comes. No fleecy cloud presages the coming storm, no floating seaweed tells how near the vessel is to the rocks; but swift as the "bore" that rushes up the Hooghly from the Ganges, the water sweeps in with a swell, and engulfs the precious freights of unanchored vessels in its broadening wave. There are seasons when the nerves are made intensely sensitive. The heart is pierced by the coldness and neglect of some familiar friend. The spirit droops. Ingratitude has wounded, neglect has chilled, cruelty has crushed, and enmity has tried to slay reputation and renown. "The spirit of a man can sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear?" Who? Certainly not the anxious temperament. Surely at such times it is heart-rest to know the Brother born for adversity, the Friend that sticketh closer than a brother; then is the hour to feel the warm radiance of the love of Christ. One smile from the Saviour then is worth all the honour and flattery of a fickle world. Doubt simply means misery and darkness to the anxious temperament. And in such a world as this, where we never know what a day or an hour may bring forth, surely it is wise to obey the counsel concerning God, "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace."
III. THERE MAY BE MINISTRATIONS THAT ARE HUMAN AS WELL AS DIVINE. We can perform miracles of healing, not in the old sense, but wonders of restorative powers are within our reach. Is it a child that is nervous and sensitive? See to it, O parent, that you early discern the difference between that little trembling spirit and the stronger brother. Is it a life-companion? See that you do not treat this sensitiveness as a mere weakness to be cured by physical agencies alone - the best curative will be a cheerful mind within, working outwards.
1. Settled melancholy is terrible, and it often prevails. Try and avert it by all ministries of hope and cheer and comfort that you can command. Try and do as Wilberforce is said to have done - bring a ray of sunshine across every threshold you cross. We talk about courage, but we do not yet fully understand its true philosophy. It is altogether a related thing. If constitutionally brave - that is not the highest courage. It is easy for some who are born strong to be physically brave; it is easy for some to be determined and defiant; it does not spoil their rest at night to fight battles for themselves or others. But with the nervous temperament to act out all the truth that is in them is a costly affair; it tears their strength to pieces. With them to bear the slight of neglect, or the wound of insult, is like a crown of thorns on the heart. With them happiness itself is as the life of a plant which has its nerve-centres in other hearts. The best medicine for many is to be understood and appreciated. You cannot talk down or laugh down nervousness. You cannot even argue down the sensitiveness that springs from it. You cannot do all you desire to do even; but you can do much; and the evening of life will bring you no sweeter reward than for your Lord's sake to have fulfilled the scriptural command, "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ."
2. Christ's spirit is little understood, and sometimes little honoured. You have but to study life to see how much hardness and cruelty there is in it. Begin at the beginning. Take school life - public school life! How are boys trained? Why, to admire the daring and defiant, to humiliate the weak, to laugh at sensibility as womanish, to deal with one another as brutes, where the strongest is lord. And it is said home-petting is cured by such means. Cured? I believe that Christ's book of record will contain martyr-lives of school-days more terrible than the martyrdoms once and for ever made at the stake. Grown-up men do not like to talk of such things; but many look back with a creeping sense of horror at their school-time. The nervous and the sensitive have had their natures repressed and their hearts crushed, who entered public schools with beautiful, child-like, Christ-like spirits. Take a nation. Even when it is called Christian, how often is it braggart, defiant, imperious, proud of military strength! how little conciliation to smaller nations! - that is thought to be unworthy of imperial greatness! We have to live and teach the cross, in its spirit as well as in its doctrine; in its beautiful revelation that he, the Highest and Strongest of all, suffered for us; that he was despised and rejected of men for us; that he gave himself for us. Remember, then, that you stand in Christian relationship to the timorous, the sensitive, and the anxious, and ever seek to manifest the spirit of him who would not break the bruised reed.
IV. THERE MUST BE A STUDY OF THE DISEASE TO UNDERSTAND THE REMEDIES. That is why I ask you to meditate on the nervous temperament. How unreal are its images! How it trembles at the idea of solitude! How it fears to-morrow! How it bows in gloom before the advent of disease or death! You cannot see the delicate network of nerves; you cannot understand the mysterious functions of the brain. We are fearfully as well as wonderfully made; then let us remember how easily nervousness is promoted by self-indulgence and sloth, by morbid books, by strange tales told in childhood, by companionship with those who take foreboding views of life, and by the domination of "fixed ideas" so difficult to shake off. And all cannot afford change of scene and change of clime.
1. It is not in medicine to cure all this. It may alleviate, but it cannot recreate. Earthly appliances are wise in their own way; but the gospel of Christ is the relieving power - that alone brings out fully the blessed revelation of the fatherhood of God. From the lips that cannot lie we hear the all-sustaining words, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." Christ is the great Physician. He can cure the very leprosy of sin, and make the Gehazis whole, so that the trembling child of guilt, whose sin has been of deepest dye, may hear the consoling words, "Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." Christ can say to the leper, "Be thou dean." He gave purity to the penitent's heart, and peace to the publican with conscience distracted about ill-gotten gains; for "he is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him."
2. Christ alone can interpret life in all its fulness and meaning. He knows how sad is hopelessness. He came not to save alone the hale, the righteous, the strong, He came also to take the lambs in his arms, and to carry them in his bosom. Blessed Christ! Would he ever make amusement out of the nervous weaknesses of some? Would he ever say, "It cannot be helped; physical law is imperious, and must hold. on its way,"? Would he not rather comfort and hell) the weak-hearted? Sometimes a sense of rectitude sustains us in trouble, for unquestionably the upright Corinthian column can bear a greater weight than the leaning one. That erect attitude of the soul which the Scriptures call" uprightness" will enable many a man to be strong. But this cannot do all. We have all sinned, and come short of the glory of God; and we have sinned against each other also. We want, above all else, a Saviour. Some suspect their own motives, and are questioners, not of their Lord's Divinity, but of their own sincerity. Yea! and some are sensitively anxious concerning the very foundations of their first repentance towards Go,t, and their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Study, then, Christ's infinite compassion, his perfect knowledge of every human heart - yes, of yours. "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee." Never rest in yourself alone. Wait and pray! Not for ever will you tremblingly bear the burden of nervous sensibility. Not for ever will the immortal spirit dwell in so frail a tabernacle. In God's own good time, you will be clothed upon with your house from heaven. The day will come when the poor harp will be restrung, sorrow and sighing will be done away; and there shall be no night there. - W.M.S.
I. MAN'S POWERS FITTED FOR GOD'S SERVICE. God made him, adapted him, and endowed him, precisely with a view to service. We recognize a design and an aim in everything God has made. We set before ourselves a distinct purpose in anything we make - it is to serve us. Because man has the trust of what he calls "independence" and "free-will," he does not cease to be God's servant, God's agent; though, turning his free-will into self-will, be too often spoils his powers, and renders them unfit for God's service. Each one of us ought to find out precisely the powers with which we are endowed; and in the line of them we must look for our spheres and our work. What we can do, that we must do for God.
II. MAN'S POWERS OUGHT TO BE AT GOD'S DISPOSAL. The call should be heard by us each new morning, "Who is willing to consecrate himself this day unto the Lord?" God should have first choice of our service. It should ever be enough to us that God calls. "As the eyes of a servant.., to the hand of the master, so our eyes should wait on God." The practical rule of life should be this - "I belong to God. My service is for him, my leisure may be for others and myself."
III. MAN'S POWERS ARE IN GOD'S USE. It is not a question that he may use us, he does use us, we are his voice, his sword, his staff. He is now working out his purposes on earth by human agencies. Nothing alters the fact; but the joy of being willing workers may be ours. And our doings are ennobled when we can see them to be God's doings by us. Man realizes his noblest individuality, the design of his being, only as thus he is willing to be mouthpiece for God, and to be covered in the shadow of God's hand, as he plants, or digs, or builds. - R.T.
I. PICTURES OF DISTRESS. The draught from the cup of Divine wrath. "The cup of his fury" - "the goblet-cup of reeling." These are figures for the horror and bewilder-meat caused by a (great catastrophe. It is "to drink the wine of astonishment" (Psalm 60:3; Ezekiel 23:2). Then there is utter helplessness. No guide for Jerusalem to be found in all her sons; no strong and helping hand to grasp hers in the hour of her dire need. Desolation, death, famine, and sword - the latter without, the former within (Ezekiel 7:15) - such is the state of the city. The afflicted mother and her sons. It is a picture resembling that of Niobe and her doomed offspring. The sons of this mother-city swoon, and lie at the corners of the streets. "Israel the mountain people is likened to a gazelle, which all its swiftness and grace have not saved from the hunter's snare." All these things are signs of "the fury of Jehovah, the rebuke of God."
II. UNEXPECTED ENCOURAGEMENT. "The transition from threatening to promise is marked by "therefore "(Isaiah 10:24; Isaiah 27:9; Isaiah 30:18). The Lord Jehovah, the God who is the Advocate of his people, speaks. This cup, which makes men reel with the madness of bewilderment, shall be taken from them, and put into the hands of their tormentors - the proud conquerors who had placed their feet upon their necks (c.f. Joshua 10:24; Psalm 129:3). Such sudden transitions remind us of the fact of providence, and of the coincidence of human extremity with Divine opportunity. God will not leave himself at any age without a witness in the world - which shall see that the hand of Divine power is not shortened, nor the bowels of Divine goodness straitened; but that God is as able and ready to save his Church as ever. "The difficulty of affairs has baffled and laughed at all resistances of created power, and so made the omnipotent Author of the deliverance visible and conspicuous." - J.
I. THAT THE HUMAN SPIRIT AS WELL AS THE HUMAN BODY IS SUBJECT TO STUPEFACTION. It is a striking and suggestive fact that the very thing which at first excites will ultimately stupefy. This is notoriously the case with intoxicants; these first stimulate, then dull and deaden the system. It is also true, though in a less degree, of those things which are called narcotics: both opium and tobacco at first awaken and enlarge faculty; but this condition soon passes away, and is succeeded by one of depression, inactivity, and (in the case of the more noxious drug) stupor and insensibility. So is it with things which act hurtfully upon the soul. At first they excite, then they blunt and deaden. This applies to:
1. Continuous enjoyment of any kind.
2. Excessive responsibilities, demanding exertion beyond the power to maintain them.
3. Heavy and repeated trials. It was from this last that Israel was suffering. The nation had been required to drink of the cup of Divine retribution, and, owing to her persistency in evil, had been compelled to drain that cup. Beside the two evils specified (ver. 19), desolation or famine and the violence of the enemy, was the sense of her utter friendlessness (ver. 18); and in addition to this was her abject humiliation (ver. 23). These calamities would account for her pitiable despondency, her attitude of despair. The sore and accumulated trials which sometimes befall individual men may not justify, but they explain, the complete brokenness and despondency of their spirit. They give themselves up as those abandoned to an evil course and a fatal doom; they are in a state of spiritual stupefaction.
II. THAT THE STRONGEST AND SHARPEST SUMMONS TO AROUSE IS THE FRIENDLIEST VOICE WE CAN THEN HEAR. "Awake, awake, stand up." These are the words of the God of Israel. And from whomsoever or from whatsoever shall come the summons to arouse ourselves from a guilty and perilous spiritual torpor, however harsh be the tone, however startling be the terms of the awakening, that voice is of the friendliest, and may be taken to be none other than the voice of God.
III. THAT FOR THE NATION OR THE SPIRIT THAT HEARKENS AND ARISES THERE MAY BE COMPLETE RECOVERY. (Vers. 22, 23.) Jehovah would turn humiliation into triumph for his people, arrogance into disaster for her enemies. As complete a reversal, though of an entirely different kind, will God grant to those who arouse themselves from spiritual torpor and walk in his ways: for them shall be peace instead of insensibility: holy usefulness instead of disgraceful helplessness; sacred joy instead of a miserable despair. - C.
Isaiah 63:5). In this we find a foreshadowing of the idea of Christ as our Advocate with God, which, most deeply, most spiritually apprehended, is God pleading with God - God an Advocate with himself. This may be worked out thus -
I. JESUS PLEADS FOR US WITH GOD. "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus;" "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous."
II. BUT JESUS IS GOD. "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily." "The Word was God." He was God "manifest in the flesh." "The Brightness of the Father's glory, and express Image of his Person."
III. THEN THIS IS GOD PLEADING WITH GOD. It is a way of figuring for our apprehension what seems to be the fact, that God holds argument with himself. - R.T.
Joshua 10:24). Matthew Arnold's note on this verse is as follows: "A trait of the humiliation of the conquered and the insolence of the conqueror in Eastern kingdoms. So it is related that when Sapor, King of Persia, got on horseback, the Roman Emperor Valerian had to kneel down, and make his back a step for him." Henderson, quoting from Ibn Batuta, says that "when men who appeared before the black sultan at Mall, in Nigritia, fell down, they laid bare their backs, and covered their heads with dust, as tokens of the most profound submission." Further illustration may be found in the Eastern custom called the doseh, which is still prevalent, or only very recently extinct. Dervishes lay themselves down side by side on the ground, backs upward, legs extended, and their arms placed together beneath their foreheads. Over these the sheikh on horseback rides. The assurance made is that the enemies and persecutors of Israel, and notably Babylon, should be made to drink of the same bitter cup that they had made Israel drink so deeply. And Babylon had to taste the bitterness of captivity. Very striking facts are narrated concerning the Divine retributions which persecutors have suffered, and though some may be but imaginative creations under impressions of what ought to be, there are sufficient cases that are strictly historical to convince us that, in this sphere, "though hand join in hand, the wicked do not go unpunished;" and not infrequently what is known as "poetical justice ' is meted out to them even in this life. If the persecutor should escape the retribution, the judgment comes upon his fame. After-generations say worse things of persecutors than of any of the ancestors. They live in the execration of the ages. Yet the persecutor can never permanently harm the Church. Its conquest is well assured, and that conquest involves the judgment, humiliation, and degradation of the persecutors, who shall have measured to them what they meted out to others; for "our God is known by the judgments which he executeth." - R.T.