Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SUMMONS. It comes from the Divine representatives. She had been called upon to arise and to stand up, and now she is to put on her strength and her robes. "Strength returns to Zion when the arm of Jehovah is mighty within her." It is useless to counterfeit the semblance of strength which does not exist. Nor is strength merely a matter of the will; but there ever is a secret fund of strength in the hearts of those who know that God has not forsaken them. In a sense, hope comes to those who rouse themselves from dejection, and "power to him that power exerts." The highest success promised is to human endeavour, and is not to be enjoyed without human endeavour. The beautiful garments are to be put on in preparation for the era of moral beauty and holiness. There is a true symbolism in dress. There is a garb appropriate to mourning and woe; another attire becomes the spirit of gladness and expectation. And there is, so to speak, a dress of the soul - a habit of the mind which expresses the hope of better things even amidst darkness and disappointment. As there were robes, figuratively speaking, which became a holy and priestly city; as there were seemly robes for Aaron the priest; - even so for him who looks upon himself as a "king and priest unto God," there is a suitable bearing and character, determined by the sense of the high destiny in store. "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." So high a destiny is in store for Jerusalem; no more are the unclean to enter her sacred precincts (cf. Joel 3:17), but only the worshippers of the true God. Typically, the promise points to future times, when the Church of God shall be pure as when, in the great world-harvest, the tares shall be gathered out, and the wheat be gathered into the eternal garner. Let, then, Jerusalem shake herself from the dust - from that posture which expresses mourning and humiliation (Job 2:13), and take a lofty and honourable place. "Ascend thy lofty seat!" (Louth). "Arise and sit erect" (Noyes). "Rise, sit upon the throne of thy glory" (Chaldee). She is to shake the chains from her limbs, for her captivity is drawing to an end. Has she been sold? Nay; Jehovah has received naught for her. "It is not a sale, but only a temporary transfer." He can receive them back and renew his covenant with them. "You shall be redeemed. There was to be a remarkable proof of the power and sovereignty of God. For usually slaves and captives are not given up without a ransom. That they may expect this to be done, Jehovah reminds them of what has been done. He who had delivered from Egypt could deliver also from Babylon. And the like applies to the sufferings under Sargon, and Sennacherib, and Tiglath-Pileser. And now what was fitting for him to do in the case of the third great captivity, that of Babylon? He has come down to see and consider. And the result is that he must return to Jerusalem, else his gracious purposes will be frustrated. But in its present state he cannot do so; therefore Jerusalem must arise from its humiliation." In their pride and contumely, the Babylonians both oppress the people and blaspheme the Name of their God. Another reason, then, for his interposition. Therefore - for all these reasons - the people shall know his Name, shall experience what it is to have a God whose Name is Jehovah; as in the days of deliverance from Egypt. He is One who, in answer to the people's cry, responds, "Here am I!" Thus the leading thought remains, that Israel is Jehovah's people, and he is their God. "Enclosed by God from amidst all other nations, to be the seat of his worship, and the great conservatory of all the sacred oracles and means of salvation. The Gentiles might be ca]led God's own, as a man calls his hall or his parlour his own, which yet others pass through and make use of; but the Jews were so as a man accounts his closet or his cabinet his own - that is, by a peculiar incommunicable destination of it to his own use." And again, "The whole work of man's redemption carries in it the marks, not only of mercy, but of mercy acting by an unaccountable sovereignty. He gives the world to know that his own will is the reason of his proceedings. If the sun is pleased to shine upon a turf, and to gild a dunghill, when perhaps he looks not into the chamber of a prince, we cannot accuse him of partiality. The short but significant saving, 'May I not do what I will with mine own?' being a full and solid answer to all such objections" (South).
II. VISIONS OF REDEMPTION. "The prophet passes into an ecstasy. What he sees with the inner eye he expresses pictorially. He has told us already of the ideal Zion ascending a high mountain, and acting as herald of the Divine Deliverer. Now he varies the picture. It is Zion to whom the herald is seen to come - bounding over the mountains" (Cheyne). The feet give a greeting before the mouth utters it (Stier). The soul of prophet and of poet delights in the mountains; they give forth in visible form the sublimity with which his soul is charged (cf. Ezekiel 6:1). The mountains speak of the eternity of God; upon them the epiphany of the Deliverer may in a sense be expected, as they silently speak of his righteousness, of a constancy which is not to be moved. How welcome the messenger who tells of the fall of a city of the oppressors (Nahum 1:15), such as Nineveh! How still more welcome he who comes to bear tidings from the spiritual world to the spirits of men (Romans 10:15; Ephesians 6:15)! The proclaimer of peace is at hand, and "peace" is another word for "salvation." But there can be neither peace nor salvation in this distracted world, except under a strong government - the government of the King of kings. Now the tidings are that "God has resumed the crown which he had laid aside." "Thy God has become King!" Celestial watchers are heard, lifting up their voices with a ringing cry, as they from their high seat behold the return of Jehovah to Zion. They "note every advance of the kingdom of God, seeing it eye to eye, as a man looks into the face of his friend; so near are the two worlds of sight and of faith" (Cheyne). The return of Jehovah to Zion means the return of spiritual power and joy and freedom. All earthly relations melt away into the spiritual realities. The real banishment is the separation of the soul from God; the true return from exile is when the soul can say, "God exists; God is near - is for me." Bondage is in ourselves; redemption and comfort are when we realize again that there is another - a "Not-ourselves that makes for righteousness," an Eternal Love, in short, in the sense of which all limitation must be forgotten. Jehovah has bared his holy arm for action in the face of all the nations; and the whole world has seen the salvation of God. Then, in prospect of such a redemption, what should be the conduct of the faithful? They must refuse to touch the unclean thing; they must be purified and become pure. They must regard themselves as armour-bearers of Jehovah, since he, as a man of war, is going forth to fight the battles of his people, and to establish his kingdom in the earth. The king, upon solemn occasions, had with him a troop of armour-bearers (1 Kings 14:28). And so must he, to whom the shields of the whole earth belong (Psalm 47:10), be followed by his band of faithful warriors. And not again in hurrying fearfulness, as in the days of the exode from Egypt, but rather with the calm and solemn march of troops who are marching to assured victory are they. to go forth from Babylon. The application was made by St. Paul, and ever may be made, to Christians (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18). Babylon is a type of the world; the necessity of "coming out" from that Babylon is the necessity of the disciples of Jesus separating themselves from the evil that is in the world. So in Revelation 18:4 Babylon stands for the evil course of the present world - the spirit of pride and impurity and persecution. If, instead of armour-bearers, the rendering "bearers of the vessels of Jehovah" be preferred, then the allusion will be to the priests and Levites (Numbers 1:50; Numbers 4:15). Upon such officials the obligation to be holy rests. Whether in war, or in the peaceful service of tabernacle or temple, the principle is the same. Men set apart to such service are bound to illustrate their office by an apartness of manners and of life. A select calling implies a select spirit. It has not been "finely touched" except to "fine issues." There may be an allusion in the "vessels" to Ezra 1:7, 8, or the facts there mentioned. How marked is that "boundless exhilaration" which belongs to these prophecies of restored Jerusalem! "Much good poetry is profoundly melancholy; now the life of the people is such that in literature they require joy. If ever that 'good time coming,' for which they long, was presented with energy and magnificence, it is in these chapters; it is impossible to read them without catching its glow. And they present it truly and with the true conditions. It is easy to misconceive it on a first view, easy to misconceive its apparent condition; but the more these chapters sink into the mind and are apprehended, the more manifest is the connection with universal history, the key they offer to it, the truth of the ideal they propose for it" (Matthew Arnold). - J.
thy strength, O Zion."
I. IS WHAT THE STRENGTH OF THE CHURCH CONSISTS. Not, as we are too apt to imagine, in wealth, in territory, in buildings, in material defences of any kind: all this is the strength of the world, but not of the Church. Its strength is in:
1. Steadfastness in truth and holiness. The reed by the river-side, shaken with every ripple of the water, bent with every breath of the breeze, is the type of weakness; the massive granite rock, against which the waves of centuries have dashed, but which remains unmoved from base to summit, is the type of strength. Jesus Christ wants his Church to be strong, in that it stands fast
(2) in spiritual freedom (Galatians 5:1);
(3) in holiness.
The very success of the Church has occasioned danger here. There is much less of gross iniquity in modern society than in past times. The distinction between the people of God and the enemies of his truth is not so apparent. The spirit of worldliness does not show itself in such malignant forms. Evil, by "losing all its grossness," has lost half its hideousness, and is therefore more seductive and successful than it was. The Church needs to be peculiarly strong in holiness to repel the insidious attacks of our day on its purity.
2. Fruitfulness. The strength of the fruit-bearing tree is in bearing much and good fruit. Herein is God glorified in us, as a Church, that we "bear much fruit." What fruits does a strong Church bear? Those of pure and gentle thoughts, of kind and generous feelings, of true and helpful words, of upright and honourable deeds, of acceptable and spiritual worship.
3. Usefulness. The strongest object we know of is the sun; and its strength is found in radiating life-giving light and heat, century after century: it is the strength of ceaseless, unmeasurable beneficence. To this strength Christ is calling his people. They are to be clothed with and to exercise this benign and blessed power; they are to be distributing on every hand, to instruct the ignorant, to comfort the sorrowful, to guide the perplexed, to reclaim the fallen, to bring into the kingdom of God them that are afar off.
II. THE WAY TO SECURE IT. Physical strength cannot, indeed, be assumed at will; but it can be attained by a sick man arousing himself from his lethargy, sloth, and folly, and adopting the measures which minister to bodily well-being. Let the spiritually feeble:
1. Take due spiritual nourishment. The Bread of life, the Water of life, invigorating privileges, are within our reach.
2. Take due spiritual exercise. To him that hath is given, and the man who labours imperfectly at first will gain strength and skill as he puts out his power; every effort to do good is so much strength gained for future usefulness as well as so much power put forth in present activity.
3. Seek the inspiring influences which come from God: "They that wait on him shall renew their strength." - C.
I. SPIRITUALITY IN ITS WORSHIP. It is better to worship God in a beautiful structure than in a barn; in skilful, artistic song than with unregulated voice; in becoming language than in distracted exclamations. It is better, because
(1) we ought to give to a Divine Saviour the very best we can bring, and therefore our taste and culture rather than our crudeness and our vulgarity; and because
(2) we should seek to attract by excellency to the house of the Lord, and not repel by unsightliness and discord. But this is not the beauty for which Christ looks: the beauty of the Church's worship is in its genuineness, its spirituality, its inward and intrinsic worth (see Psalm 50:14; John 4:23, 24; Hebrews 13:15). The reverent thought, the hallowed feeling, the solemn vow, the consecrated spirit, the song which comes from a grateful heart, the attitude of earnest docility that longs to learn that it may hasten to obey, - these are the beautiful garments of devotion.
II. EXCELLENCY OF LIFE. A good profession is a good thing, but integrity of character and blamelessness of life is a better thing. The uprightness which would rather suffer than sin; the faithfulness that keeps the unremunerative engagement; the purity that repels the ugly thought as well as the filthy word and the foul action; the truthfulness which prefers to offend man rather than to grieve the Spirit of God; the generosity which loses all sight of self in the needs and cries of weakness or sorrow; - these are the beautiful garments in which the Divine Lord would see his servants clothed.
III. DEVOTEDNESS OF LABOUR. Much more, in quantity, is now done in Christ's name than heretofore. But whether the life of the Church is so much the fairer in its Master's view depends chiefly on the spirit of its service. If our work in the sanctuary, or the Sunday school, or the committee-room, or the cottage, be perfunctory, constrained, tinged or it may be coloured with self-seeking, unspiritual, there is but little beauty in it in the sight of the Pure One. We should aim to make our whole life beautiful in the sight of our Saviour; let obedience be prompt and cheerful, the discharge of duty conscientious and thorough; let submission be ready and unrepining, liberality generous and hearty, courtesy cordial and graceful, etc. So shall we be arrayed in beautiful garments. - C.
I. GOD IS THE STERN EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. We lose much by not carefully discriminating the kinds of things that are gathered up into the word "affliction." Disasters and failures - the various forms of trouble that come in our outward sphere of relations - give us, and are intended to give us, quite other ideas of God than we get from bodily pains or bereavements. To see God in a captivity, a slavery, a business ruin, is an altogether harder thing than to see God in a disease or a family anxiety. The danger of Israel while in Babylon was that it might wrongly regard God's stern dealing, and, helplessly, hopelessly grovel in the dust of despair. And still there is the grave danger of our responding by hardness, stubbornness, self-willedness, when God's ways with us seem stern. But the stern may be the precise expression of perfect love finding adaptations and adjustments. A distinction may be helpfully made between God's work of softening and God's work of humbling. We may see the softening work illustrated in Job or in Hezekiah. We may see the humbling work illustrated in Manasseh, who must be dragged off into captivity, and feel the bitterness of the prison-house; or in Israel as a corrupt, self-willed nation, which must feel what it was for the Babylonian "iron to eat into its soul."
II. GOD LIMITING THE STERN EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. As a rule, such Divine dealings are not greatly prolonged. It is, indeed, in the very nature of them that they should not be long continued. They are like punishment by whipping, which is soon over and clone with. Relatively to the life of a nation, seventy years of captivity is only a "little while." And in a later verse of this prophecy we find God exactly expressing how limited his stern experiences had been: "In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment." And the expression of the apostle most strictly applies to this class of Divine dealings: "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment." If we come, then, into God's stern hands, they are our Father's hands, and love will strictly limit the stern dealings to the "needs be;" and this great confidence may quiet our souls and give peace, even while we suffer, or endure, or struggle.
III. GOD RESTORING FROM THE STERN EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. Zion is restored; Jerusalem is rebuilt; Manasseh comes back to his throne; Job's latter end is brighter than his beginning. Justice is God's strange work, mercy is his delight. Above everything else he is the Redeemer, the Restorer, finding ever more joy in restoring than we can find in being restored. It is as if he were glad with infinite gladness when he can take the cloud away, and let his smile break through again upon us. What seem to us extravagant, ecstatic pictures of the restored glory of the Jewish nation, are really intended to impress on us what a joy God finds in his redeemings. This is expressed for us in the assurance of the Lord Jesus, that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that rcpenteth." And so far as we are really good, and like God, we find singular pleasure in putting things straight again, in reconciliations, in helping others to recover themselves and start afresh.
IV. MAN RESPONDING GLADLY TO THE NEW JOY OF GOD'S RESTORATIONS. To this God calls in our text. It is as if he had said, "I am glad; now be you glad." There could be restorings, accept them at once, and lovingly and thankfully. Rise up out of all those depressions and despairings of captivity. Shake the very dust of the old troubles off. Dress in festal robes. Sing joy-songs. Realize your swiftly coming honours. "Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh." Sit down in stately, royal style, as if the promise were possession, and you entered on it when God gave his assurances. How sadly we fail in hesitating about the acceptance of what God gives! - R.T.
in what the dignity of the Church consists. It is clear that dignity has various applications, according to its subject. The dignity of a sovereign is in one thing; that of a scholar is in another thing; that, again, of a servant is something quite different. It is not found in any particular deportment or in any especial surroundings. The Church that seeks to secure its dignity by attaching to itself those external honours or trappings which worldly kingdoms demand for the maintenance of their honour completely mistakes its position. To be truly dignified is to act in a way that is worthy of our origin and in harmony with our position. The true dignity of the Church is realized by its acting in a way that becomes the offspring of Christ, and that is suited to an institution which exists to illustrate his truth and to extend his reign. It consults its dignity and commends itself to the honour of the wise when -
I. IT MAKES ITS APPEAL TO THE HUMAN JUDGMENT, and not to superstitious fears.
II. IT RELIES ON THE ATTACHMENT OF ITS FRIENDS for the necessities of its existence.
III. IT REFUSES TO COUNT IMPOSSIBLE THAT WHICH ITS MASTER CHARGES IT TO ACCOMPLISH, viz. the subjection of the whole world to his sway.
IV. IT LISTENS WITHOUT ALARM TO THE PREDICTIONS OF ITS FOES, and goes calmly and energetically on its way of holy service. - C.
I. THE RIGHT OF THE CHURCH TO LIBERTY. The sight of the daughter of Zion in chains was very pitiable in the prophet's eye. How much more grievous the spectacle of a Christian Church in bondage, enslaved and oppressed! The Christian Church, being composed of those who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, and being called into existence for the purpose of extending a spiritual kingdom amongst men, cannot possibly submit itself to the rule of the world without abdicating its functions and forfeiting its essential privileges. It has a native, Christ-given right to decide upon its own constitution, to choose its own officers, to worship God according to its own convictions, to act freely upon the world in disseminating its principles. It is oppressed and (more or less) enslaved when authority presumes to dictate, or when rank or wealth claims to direct, in these high, and spiritual matters.
II. THE LIMITATIONS OF ITS FREEDOM. The Church is not free to "do what it likes" in all these matters; that is licence, not liberty. Its freedom is limited by the will, and defined by the word, of its Divine Lord. Under all circumstances, it is bound to consider what Christ would have it do. Beyond his will it may not move.
III. ITS ATTITUDE UNDER OPPRESSION.
1. A patient submission to the absolutely inevitable. In early Christian times, and under the domination of tyrannical powers since then, the Church has had to accept such share of liberty as was allowed, patiently and devoutly waiting for an extension.
2. A calm, brave assertion of its duty to its Lord; often under censure, hardship, cruel suffering.
3. A seizure of the earliest opportunity to enter upon its right. "Loose thyself," God says to his people. When the bonds can be broken, break them; when the door can be opened, unbar it; when the way is clear to holy liberty, take it without hesitation or delay.
IV. ITS EXULTATION IN THE HOUR OF RELEASE. (Vers. 7-10). The prophet foresees the liberation of Israel, and breaks out into a strain of surpassing eloquence and joy. Probably the escape from bondage to freedom is calculated to excite the keenest transports of delight of which the human heart is capable. So has it been in many hundreds of instances of individual release, and so it has been in cases of national and of ecclesiastical deliverance. Speech and song have been far too feeble to utter the rapture of the hour. At such a time the best forms which abounding and overwhelming joy can take are:
1. Gratitude to God, showing itself in praise. It is the Lord whose providence opens the way, whose arm strikes off the shackles (see vers. 3, 6, 10).
2. Recognition of the fact that liberty is useless, and even dangerous, unless it is well employed, and a consequent determination to spend the acquired freedom in holy service. - C.
Isaiah 55:1. Here we only note two senses in which God's redemption of Israel from the captivity of Babylon, and of us from the captivity of sin, may be called a priceless redemption.
I. BECAUSE ITS VALUE IS BEYOND ANY PRICE MAN CAN FIND. A man may hear of a "pearl of great price," and be willing to sell all else that he may have in order to get possession of it. But redemption is a pearl of such price that no man's all could suffice for its purchase. Illustrate what returning to a regenerate Jerusalem was for the captives. And what had they by which they could buy such a national restoration? What relation would it bear to the matter if they put all their wealth together? And we are not redeemed from sin with "corruptible things, such as silver and gold," so that we could recompense him who gave the silver and gold for us, by giving him our silver and gold; "but with the precious blood of Christ," the value of which no human scales can measure, and which no human wealth could buy. The price of our redemption is "beyond all measure of so much." Compare the poetical estimate of the value of "wisdom," in Job 28:12-19.
II. BECAUSE IT IS GIVEN WITHOUT ASKING ANY PRICE AT ALL. We could not pay the price. We should not have it at a price, if we could pay. It cannot be bought. Illustrate how men put a fictitious price on things which they do not wish to sell; and how they refuse to name any price at all when they are determined that the thing shall be a free gift. So God's redemption is priceless, for he does not want to sell. Nay, it is priceless, for it can only be received as a gift. "God hath given unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son." How strange that this very "pricelessness" should be our greatest stumbling-block! We have a saying that "only nothing worth can be got for nothing;" and we find ourselves applying it to God's free gift of salvation. To illustrate this very human weakness, a man bought the entire stock of a herring-vendor, and sent him round a district of poor people, to cry, "Herrings for nothing!" and give them away. He was laughed to scorn, and not one person was found willing to receive. It is hard to believe that a priceless redemption is offered to us "without money and without price." - R.T.
1. An incommunicable name - a bare assertion of existence, "Jehovah, I am."
2. A relational name, that sets us upon observing what God has done and does. "The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob." Now we gain illustration from another incident in the Mosaic history. Moses, in one of the sternest experiences of his life, asked for the infinite comforting of being shown the Lord's glory; and this was the Divine response, "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the Name of the Lord before thee." Evidently the adequate impression of God's goodness is "knowing God's Name." And the special point of goodness dwelt on in our text is the goodness that restores us from the consequences of our own follies and sins.
I. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S NAME THAT COMES BY REVELATION. This is mainly a head knowledge, and does not, of necessity, influence the spirit or the conduct.
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S NAME THAT COMES THROUGH THE EXPERIENCES OF OTHERS.
1. As recorded in the Word.
2. As met with in life.
This is helpful, but it is secondary knowledge. And the response we make to it is goodness upon other people's persuasion, and is only likely to last so long as the persuasion lasts. Like the parasite, we are good just as long as we have somebody else's life to drink of.
III. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD'S NAME THAT COMES THROUGH OUR OWN EXPERIENCES. We never really know God until we know him for ourselves, by our own soul-sight and soul-touch. This is well expressed by the saint of old, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." In the text God assures his people that his restoring mercies shall be a personal revelation of himself to them; and, knowing him, they shall know the full joy of full trust. - R.T.
I. THE MESSENGERS. They are not self-inspired or self-commissioned. They are sent of God. From Jerusalem the apostles are to go forth; over her all-surrounding mountains they go to tell the story of the angels' song, the Messiah's ministry, and the redeeming cross. How beautiful! - to publish peace!
1. Peace between man and man.
2. Peace between God and man.
3. Peace between nation and nation.
4. Peace in a man's own soul.
II. THE MESSAGE. "Good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation." Blessed word! But how often narrowed and marred through human interpretation!
1. We are saved from ourselves. And this salvation is going on within us day by day, as we grow in grace.
2. We are saved from guilt. As we can only be by an atonement where the offering is without spot.
3. We are saved from all that is inimical in the evil that is without us. For the Saviour knows our enemies, is stronger than our enemies, and will subdue them under his feet. "Thy God reigneth," and, mystery of mysteries, the cross is his sceptre. "I, if I be lifted up., will draw all men unto me." - W.M.S.
Romans 10:15). In the poetical style of the East, the watchmen are represented as standing upon their watch-tower, or post of observation, and stretching their vision to the utmost point of the horizon, as if in eager expectation of a news-bearing messenger. On a sudden the wished-for object appears in sight, on the summit of the distant mountain, speeding his rapid way to the city, while the watchmen, anticipating the tenor of his tidings, burst forth in a shout of gratulation and triumph. The imagery strikingly represents the expectant attitude and heedful vigilance of the believing part of the teachers and pastors of the nation of Israel on the eve of the Messiah's manifestation. Illustrating the precise point indicated in the heading of this homily, we note -
I. THE SNARE OF A MINISTER IS SETTING HIMSELF BEFORE HIS MESSAGE. Even an apostle felt the power of this temptation, and, having overcome it, he says, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord." The snare is felt especially when there is pride of intellect; a notion of remarkable individuality; the conceit of genius; a rhetorical delivery; or a popular, attractive power. We are sometimes obliged, with grieved hearts, to acknowledge that, in those to whom we listen, there is "more of the man than the message." The messenger may stand in front of the King. All workers for Christ need to deal watchfully with themselves, lest they be overcome of this fault, and find the people forgetting themselves in the flattery of the herald. Popular preachers are in sore need of great grace. Self-conceit takes strangely subtle forms when it enters in and dwells with God's ministers.
II. THE JOY OF A MINISTER WHEN HE CAN LOSE HIMSELF IN THE GLORY OF HIS MESSAGE. Compare Samuel Rutherford's exclamation, "God is my witness, that your salvation would be two salvations for me, and your heaven two heavens for me." Our Lord Jesus Christ ever stood back, and let his Father speak to men through him; and we shall never know the joy of our work until we also can stand back - right back - and let Christ speak to men through us. - R.T.
The warrior, preparing for action, throws off his mantle, tucks up the sleeve of his tunic, and leaves his outstretched arm free." The prophet is thinking of the way in which news of the crossing of the Red Sea spread abroad among the nations then in Canaan, carrying great impressions of the august and awful power of Jehovah, the God of the Jews. In a similar but smaller way, the return from Babylon was noised abroad among the nations, carrying impressions of God's faithfulness to his promise. And so with the salvation in Christ Jesus, which was but suggested and foreshadowed by all the previous deliverances; it was for the whole world, though it found its first sphere in the Jewish nation. "Beginning at Jerusalem," of it this must be thought and said -
"Salvation! let the echo fly I. NEWS OF SALVATION IN CHRIST DESERVE TO BE KNOWN. It is the "great salvation," the "common salvation," the "only salvation;" for there is "none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we can be saved." It is a full salvation and a free salvation. II. NEWS OF SALVATION IN CHRIST WILL SURELY BE KNOWN. Whether we are pleased to aid the spreading or not. The word is running very swiftly. Like the sunshine, its light "is going out into all the world." Illustrate the spreading of the gospel, and its ameliorating and ennobling influences. III. WE MAY HAVE THE JOY OF MAKING THAT SALVATION KNOWN. Show in what practical ways, and plead for direct personal interest in all missionary work. - R.T.
I. NEWS OF SALVATION IN CHRIST DESERVE TO BE KNOWN. It is the "great salvation," the "common salvation," the "only salvation;" for there is "none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we can be saved." It is a full salvation and a free salvation.
II. NEWS OF SALVATION IN CHRIST WILL SURELY BE KNOWN. Whether we are pleased to aid the spreading or not. The word is running very swiftly. Like the sunshine, its light "is going out into all the world." Illustrate the spreading of the gospel, and its ameliorating and ennobling influences.
III. WE MAY HAVE THE JOY OF MAKING THAT SALVATION KNOWN. Show in what practical ways, and plead for direct personal interest in all missionary work. - R.T.
I. THAT ENTRANCE ON THE NEW PATH SHOULD BE AN ACT OF OBEDIENCE AS WELL AS WISDOM. It was an eminently wise thing on the part of the Israelites to return to Jerusalem. Whatever interests, pecuniary or social, they may have formed in exile, their true heritage was in the land of their fathers; the politic in their policy remained, but the wise in their wisdom left. This, however, was not the only or the main inducement. They were called to return as an act of obedience. The Lord their God summoned them. It was a Divine voice that arid, "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence." Our true interest demands that we should leave "the City of Destruction" and seek "another which is an heavenly." Only a false prudence detains; wisdom, deep and true, urges to depart. But this is not the only consideration. God our Divine Father, Jesus Christ our righteous Lord, commands us. He calls us to leave the kingdom of unrighteousness and to enter the path of holy service. To linger is to be guiltily disobedient; to set forth is to do the will of God.
II. THAT ENTRANCE ON CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE SHOULD BE AN ACT OF DELIBERATE CONVICTION. "Ye shall not go out with haste." There should, indeed, be no delay; but, on the other hand, there should be no hurry. More than once Jesus Christ checked the advances of disciples who were acting on impulse rather than conviction (Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 14:28-33). Do not take the greatest step which can possibly be taken without earnest thought, deep deliberation, repeated prayer.
III. THAT CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE, ESPECIALLY THE DIRECT SERVICE OF GOD, SHOULD BE CHARACTERIZED BY PURITY. "Touch no unclean thing;... be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord." The Israelites were not to soil their hands with any forbidden or ill-acquired treasures; and the Levites were to take peculiar care that their hands were clean, for they would bear the sacred vessels of the temple. All Christian men must see to it that their hearts are uncorrupted and their hands undefiled by the many evils which are in the world. Anything like covetousness, envy, unchastity, intemperance, vindictiveness, makes service unworthy, and Divine worship unacceptable. By watchfulness and prayer let the ministers of Christ, more especially, cleanse their hearts and their hands.
IV. THAT THE GUARDIANSHIP OF GOD MAY BE COUNTED UPON ALL THE WAY. "The Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward;" i.e. there shall be a complete defence from danger; though enemies should threaten you before and behind, you shall find an ample security in God. We find ourselves assailed by spiritual perils coming from opposite quarters: we are tempted by fanaticism on the one side and by indifference on the other; by pietism and secularism; by presumption and distrust; by undue asceticism and laxity; by superstition and scepticism; but if we are obedient and reverent in spirit, our God will be a shield against every foe. - C.
purity in all who attempt to do God's work in the world. Two things may be dwelt on.
I. CLEANNESS AS HARMONY WITH OUR WORK. We seek for harmony everywhere. In arranging colours of dress or fittings of house. In the relation of man's profession and his conduct; between a man's work and the spirit in which he does it. Broken harmony is unpleasing to us. Clean work calls for clean hands. Now, God's work, whatever form it takes, is holy work; and we never undertake it aright, save as due impressions of its holiness rest upon us. God himself is most holy. His gospel most holy. Immortal souls, as objects of his redeeming love, most holy. The Word that brings healing and life most holy. And, therefore, everybody who comes into relation with these Divine persons and things ought to be toned in harmony with them. Open how this presses on us the importance of spiritual culture.
II. CLEANNESS AS FITNESS FOR OUR WORK, AND POWER IN DOING IT. It is, in fact, our endowment. We often think of holiness as quality, but we need to discern that it is power, and our best power; the feather that wings our arrow; the nerve-force that gives energy to our blow; the mesmeric influence before which even stem, hard souls must yield. The pure do the best work in the world for God. Saintly souls are almost almighty. - R.T.
rejected, but he is on his way to exaltation and honour.
I. HIS FELICITOUS WISDOM. There enters into the idea of the word here used prosperity and good success, as in Joshua 1:8; Jeremiah 10:21. For wisdom, the devout wisdom, the wisdom of duty in obedience to the Divine commands, alone can bring that good success. Compare what is said of the Righteous Branch in Jeremiah 23:5; and see also for the word, 2 Kings 18:7; Proverbs 17:8. Some render the words "shall be intelligent; ' others, "shall be prosperous." The description applies to any who are endued with the Divine Spirit for practical ends.
II. HIS EXALTATION. There is a heaping up of verbs denoting exaltation - he shall be high, and lifted up, and lofty exceedingly. The highest pitch of honour, the loftiest possible rank, shall be his, and that in view of the universe. The right hand of God - the subjection of angels and authorities and powers, and every name that is named - are similar images (Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:9; 1 Peter 3:22). If the Servant be not the Messiah, at least very similar language is used of him (Psalm 89:27). The exaltation bears a direct relation to the previous humiliation. The last would become first; the most despised would yet become the most honoured. Having volunteered for the lowest place on behalf of man's good, he would be exalted by the Divine hand to the highest possible. Once men were stupefied as they looked on his disfigured form, hardly bearing the semblance of a man. So did Job's friends stand aghast as they beheld him from a distance in his misery. But there shall be a magnificent contrast. Kings shall yet be dumb for admiration in his presence - owning his superior dignity (Job 29:9; Job 40:4). They will be eye-witnesses of things which had been previously inconceivable (cf. also Micah 8:16; Psalm 147:42; Job 5:16).
III. REVELATION IN THIS CONTRAST. The popular heart has everywhere delighted in such contrasts, between princely greatness and lowly guise or disguise. So the Greek Odysseus, on his return, is seen sitting lowly amidst the ashes of his hearth. And the Indians (Lyall, 'Asiatic Studies') relish in the highest degree such representations. We not only love surprise, but we feel that it is a Divine method to work by surprise. "Power keeps quite another road than the turnpikes of choice and will, namely, the subterranean and invisible tunnels and channels of life. Life is a series of surprises. God delights to hide from us the past and the future. 'You will not remember,' he seems to say, 'and you will not expect.' Every man is an impossibility until he is born, everything impossible until we see a success. The ardours of piety agree at last with the coldest scepticism, that nothing is of ourselves or our works - that all is of God. There is nothing at last in success or failure, but more or less of vital force supplied from the Eternal. The results of life are uncalculated and incalculable" (Emerson).
IV. HUMAN INCREDULITY ABASHED. HOW few believed the prophecies concerning the Servant! How few had eyes to see "such supramundane sights, when nothing on earth seemed to suggest them"! to discern the arm of Jehovah, that mysterious Divine Power, in its secret working! They were blinded by the evidence of the senses. He was as a slight and insignificant plant - but a shoot or sucker from the root brought up out of Egypt. Without that winning grace or imposing majesty that might have been expected, he failed to captivate men's hearts. He seemed isolated, sad sick, and men fled from his presence as it he had been a leper. But the result shows how little Providence reeks of our poor logic of appearances, our connections of cause and effect. Life is not so plain a business as it appears. "Presently comes a day, with its angel-whisperings, which discomfits the conclusions of nations and of years!" We boast of our common sense and experience; yet there is a Divine element ever at work to defeat our calculations and to astound us with its operations. The lesson is to be ever waiting and expecting - ever looking up for manifestations of that Divine wisdom which hides to reveal itself, that Divine power which is energizing unspent when all our resources are at an end, that Divine beauty which lurks beneath the dimmest forms and the meanest disguises. - J.
I. OUR FIRST CARE SHOULD BE TO SERVE. He who is the Anointed of the Lord, the Highest among the highest, is spoken of as "my Servant." And from the beginning to the end of his course he thought and spoke of himself as of One that "was sent," that was charged to do an appointed work. The spiritual greatness he manifested was in giving himself up to the service of mankind. "I am among you as he that serveth." We should count it not our dishonour but our honour that we live to serve. We act worthily of him from whom we came, and of that One who was the very Son of man, when we spend our faculties in humble, holy service. We miss the end of our being and take the lowest rank that can be taken when we fail to serve God and our kind. We commit the greatest wrong and we make the supreme mistake.
II. AS SERVANTS WE MUST BE WILLING TO SUFFER. A good soldier endures hardship and runs great risks. A good servant of God will be prepared to do the same. Jesus Christ went on to the work before him by surrendering himself to the blows and buffetings that awaited him. He endured enough sorrow to change his countenance; he went through trials enough to leave a deep mark upon his outer manhood. He did not stop to inquire how many or how grievous were the afflictions in store for him. The only thing he asked about was the Father's will and the world's necessity. If we are true servants of our Saviour and of mankind, this will be our spirit too.
III. SUFFERING SERVICE WILL BE FOLLOWED BY BLESSED EXALTATION. According to the severity of the suffering was the greatness of the exaltation with the holy Servant of Jehovah (vers. 14, 15). To the depth of his humiliation answered the height of his uplifting, to the gloom of the darkened path on earth the glory of the heavenly home. So shall it be with us: if we suffer with our Lord we shall reign with him; and as we suffer so shall we reign. The deeper we go beneath the waves of sacrificial suffering the higher shall we rise in the celestial kingdom. Herein is heavenly wisdom. Had Jesus Christ elected to take the crown which was offered him at the outset (see Matthew 4:8), he might have gained some glories without the shame through which he passed. But he would have forfeited the "many crowns" he now wears and will for ever wear. But God's Servant "dealt prudently," i.e. chose wisely and not with superficial, short-sighted policy; and now he is "exalted and extolled and made very high." Let it be our wisdom, after him, to choose suffering service, looking for the large and the long, though it be the far, reward of reigning in glory by the side and in the service of our Saviour. - C.
I. WHAT MESSIAH WAS - IN FACT. In no way striking. Not aristocratic-looking, or handsome, or big. Just a man, simple, undistinguished-looking. Dekker, one of our early English poets, says -
"The best of men that e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer, II. WHAT MESSIAH WAS - CONTRARY TO EXPECTATION. Jewish hopes fashion a hero-king, a patriot like Judas Maccabaeus, a restorer of David's line of kings. Instead, he was a simple Man, who lived a life; a Sufferer who bore a burden of peculiar sorrows; a Man who seemed to end his life in failure and shame. III. WHY WAS MESSIAH THUS DIFFERENT TO ALL EXPECTATION OF HIM? Because men are so enslaved to the literal, the temporal, the earthly. There was nothing in the Man to attract, because God would have us feel the attractions of the Divine Saviour. - R.T.
II. WHAT MESSIAH WAS - CONTRARY TO EXPECTATION. Jewish hopes fashion a hero-king, a patriot like Judas Maccabaeus, a restorer of David's line of kings. Instead, he was a simple Man, who lived a life; a Sufferer who bore a burden of peculiar sorrows; a Man who seemed to end his life in failure and shame.
III. WHY WAS MESSIAH THUS DIFFERENT TO ALL EXPECTATION OF HIM? Because men are so enslaved to the literal, the temporal, the earthly. There was nothing in the Man to attract, because God would have us feel the attractions of the Divine Saviour. - R.T.