Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CHANNEL OF DIVINE COMMUNICATION CLOSED. Only to the upright does Jehovah show himself upright, only pure to the pure. There is a state of the soul in which men see God, because his face is therein reflected; but those addressed have long been "belying their professions by their acts, and thus precluding an answer to their prayers" (Isaiah 58:2-4). The face is "the self-manifesting side of the Divine nature" (cf. Isaiah 63:9; 1:12; Isaiah 40:10). Where that is not given, there must be darkness in the mind, and bitterness in the heart.
II. SINFUL OBSTACLES TO BE BEHOVED. The defilement of the hands. With the guilt of blood. But probably this stands, by a strong figure, for sin in general. The lips are lying, and the tongue depraved. Here the organs of the body, ministers of the mind, express and set forth the state of the latter. There is a certain correspondence between cleanliness of the person and truthfulness and honesty of the soul. And it is just this which is wanting. Society is resting on a foundation of chaos. Men weave their schemes, vain and brittle as spiders' webs, or hatch policies pernicious as the eggs of basilisks. They tread with swiftness the paths of mischief; their thoughts are full of hate and destruction. They ignore the way of peace and the track of justice, and follow crooked paths of their own (Proverbs 10:9; Proverbs 28:18; Proverbs 2:15). It is a picture of extreme social demoralization.
III. PENITENCE AND CONFESSION OF SINS. The prophet speaks in the name of the people. And here all the true elements of repentance and confession may be found.
1. The connection of sin with Divine disfavour. The first thing is to see that the curse does not "causeless come;" the next to fix upon the true cause. It is not because of want of will or want of power in God (ver. 12). They were entitled to expect his help, according to the covenant, but not apart from conditions on their side to be fulfilled. If, then, the judicial interference of Jehovah on their behalf was not witnessed, the cause must lie in the breach of those conditions - in "our sins."
2. Human darkness and bewilderment without God. "Jehovah shall be thy Light and thy Salvation." That light withdrawn, - what can there be groping and stumbling in the thick darkness? (Deuteronomy 28:29). How extreme the contrast of the "way which Jehovah knows," of the "path of the just, shining to the perfect day;" and the "knowing not whither he goeth," the "staggering as at noonday," the groping and stumbling of the man God-abandoned and left to himself.
3. Human sorrow and despair without God. Compared to the growling or moaning of beast or bird. Men long to have their own will and way, and find that to be "lords of themselves" is a "heritage of woe." Sooner or later they must find that their passionate autonomy means "rebellion" before God and in their own consciousness. And peace cannot be where they know that they are thus "kicking against the goads." The passage strongly shows how a violated conscience must be a tormenting conscience. God will not let us sin and forget. "As for our iniquities, we know them."
4. Human shame and self-contempt without God. It is contempt that "pierces through the shell of the tortoise;" above all, one's own contempt. The worst is when we look into the mirror held up, not by hand of enemy or critic, but by our own, and see the lineaments of the traitor, the expression of the infidel at heart, the base attitude of the deserter and backslider from the Holy One, the downcast mien of the convicted liar. There has been no truth, no rectitude, no justice. These, as fair spirits, have been banished from a polluted earth. And if one would live an innocent life, he is but game for any rude spoiler. In all this there is the deepest sense of the evil of sin, and of the need of humiliation. It is felt that humiliation cannot remove the evil, unless it first remove the sin. Misery is the natural effect of iniquity; and he that seeks to rid himself of the one before he is freed from the other would hinder the stream before he has stopped the fountain. "'Rend your hearts, and not your garments." If the heart be not torn off from sin, to rend only the garment further provokes God, and makes the breach wider. There is no religious duty attains its end, but when it weakens our sin." True fasting draws down, as here seen, the pity and invites the help of the Almighty. - J.
where her help lies. There has been wrong looking, viz. to self.
I. GOD STILL WORKS IN THE WORLD. It is "his hand." He "formed" us, and he "redeems" us.
II. WE MAY MAKE MISTAKES CONCERNING HUMAN HISTORY. His "hand is not shortened." It can always reach to every length, and raise from every depth. The future must be, therefore, in ourselves.
III. SALVATION IS ALWAYS POSSIBLE ON EARTH.
1. In all forms of sin.
2. In all degrees of sin.
3. In all depths of distress and despair, human as well as spiritual. - W.M.S.
I. THE APPARENTLY INEXHAUSTIBLE FORCES AT OUR COMMAND. For our resources we have:
1. The fulness of Divine pity. The ear of God is open to the cry of destitution, of pain, of sorrow, of spiritual yearning. His heart of tenderness is touched by the miseries and necessities of his children.
2. The almightiness of Divine power. The "right hand of the Lord" is on all the springs and forces of the universe; he can compel all things to serve him, to minister to his people and to establish his kingdom.
3. The perfectness of Divine wisdom. Who shall measure "the depth of the wisdom and knowledge of God"?
II. THE POVERTY OF SPIRITUAL RESULTS. In how many instances have we occasion to be profoundly discontented with the condition of things, spiritually considered! It is so in regard to:
1. Individual character. Considering the resources at command, men do not make the progress in spiritual growth, in moral attainment, or in excellency of behaviour, which might be expected of them; they remain where they were, or move backward and forward, making no substantial progress toward "the mark [goal] which is set before them."
2. Christian Churches. Taking into account the number of privileges which are theirs, and the variety of opportunities which are within reach, there is a very considerable proportion of Churches compelled to acknowledge retrogression rather than advancement, defeat rather than success.
3. Missionary operations. After all that has been done through the centuries, by all societies of Christian men, how much land "remains to be possessed"!
III. THE FALSE AND THE TRUE ACCOUNT OF THE MATTER. It is not Divine negligence that explains our position. It is not that God's hand is shortened or that his ear is heavy; it is not that his power is diminished or that his pity has failed in the very smallest degree. He abideth faithful and omnipotent. We are not straitened in him, but in ourselves. It is sin that has come between our praying lip and his hearing ear between our pressing need and his opened hand.
1. Refusal of his righteousness makes our prayer ineffectual, his interposition impossible. If we "regard iniquity in our heart, he will not hear us;" i.e. if we decline to enter his service, if we "will not have him to reign" over us, if we stubbornly and haughtily reject the salvation which he offers us in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3), we take an attitude in which we have no right to expect any answer to our petitions. The first thing, the only right and acceptable thing, for one that has not yet returned to God in self-surrender, is to "arise and go to the Father" in penitent submission; then he may call, and the Lord will answer.
2. Special sins may prove a stumbling-block; some are specified in the following verses - cruel violence, falsehood, litigiousness. We are expressly told in the later revelation that some particular sins are absolutely inconsistent with personal piety, and therefore with the efficacy of prayer - impurity (Ephesians 5:5); strife (Galatians 5:20); drunkenness; lying (Revelation 21:8).
3. The absence of essential Christian graces will account for the nonintervention of God on behalf of a Christian Church: of unity (Psalm 133:3); of faith (Hebrews 11:6; Matthew 13:58); of zeal (Revelation 2:4; Revelation 3:15, 16); of fidelity to the truth (Revelation 2:14). The true account of our failure is not in Divine indifference, but in human shortcoming. - C.
"Wake, arm Divine! awake, "Thus in her lonely hour I. IT INCREASES OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD. It teaches us that we have not just to "ask and have," but "ask and have" in accordance with God's will, in dependence on God's wisdom, and in agreement with God's time and way. We should never learn that, if we were not sometimes made to wait. We teach our children to trust us by making them wait until we think best. II. IT ENHANCES THE VALUE OF THE EXPECTED BLESSING. What we wait long for becomes increasingly valuable in our eyes. What is obtained easily and at once is sure to be under-estimated. The value of a gift very constantly depends on the moral preparation of those who receive it; and delay is a cultivator of moral preparation. III. IT PRODUCES A MORE EARNEST WATCHFULNESS AND MORE BELIEVING PRAYERFULNESS FOR THE DESIRED BLESSING. It does, if we regard the delay aright. It does not, if we persist in misconceiving the purpose of the delay. Then delay will weary us, and we shall leave off to watch and be sober. Delay may be borne wisely and cheerfully when we recognize it as only the hush, the stillness, the breathlessness that ushers in the glorious showers of Divine awakening and Divine comforting. - R.T.
"Thus in her lonely hour I. IT INCREASES OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD. It teaches us that we have not just to "ask and have," but "ask and have" in accordance with God's will, in dependence on God's wisdom, and in agreement with God's time and way. We should never learn that, if we were not sometimes made to wait. We teach our children to trust us by making them wait until we think best. II. IT ENHANCES THE VALUE OF THE EXPECTED BLESSING. What we wait long for becomes increasingly valuable in our eyes. What is obtained easily and at once is sure to be under-estimated. The value of a gift very constantly depends on the moral preparation of those who receive it; and delay is a cultivator of moral preparation. III. IT PRODUCES A MORE EARNEST WATCHFULNESS AND MORE BELIEVING PRAYERFULNESS FOR THE DESIRED BLESSING. It does, if we regard the delay aright. It does not, if we persist in misconceiving the purpose of the delay. Then delay will weary us, and we shall leave off to watch and be sober. Delay may be borne wisely and cheerfully when we recognize it as only the hush, the stillness, the breathlessness that ushers in the glorious showers of Divine awakening and Divine comforting. - R.T.
I. IT INCREASES OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD. It teaches us that we have not just to "ask and have," but "ask and have" in accordance with God's will, in dependence on God's wisdom, and in agreement with God's time and way. We should never learn that, if we were not sometimes made to wait. We teach our children to trust us by making them wait until we think best.
II. IT ENHANCES THE VALUE OF THE EXPECTED BLESSING. What we wait long for becomes increasingly valuable in our eyes. What is obtained easily and at once is sure to be under-estimated. The value of a gift very constantly depends on the moral preparation of those who receive it; and delay is a cultivator of moral preparation.
III. IT PRODUCES A MORE EARNEST WATCHFULNESS AND MORE BELIEVING PRAYERFULNESS FOR THE DESIRED BLESSING. It does, if we regard the delay aright. It does not, if we persist in misconceiving the purpose of the delay. Then delay will weary us, and we shall leave off to watch and be sober. Delay may be borne wisely and cheerfully when we recognize it as only the hush, the stillness, the breathlessness that ushers in the glorious showers of Divine awakening and Divine comforting. - R.T.
I. THE TERM GIVEN TO SIN. "Iniquities;" that is, "inequities." Read the fourth verse, "None calleth for justice;" and the sixth verse, "The act of violence is in their hands." Unless we are willing to forgive and love and do justice to our brother, it is idle to talk about turning to God. Such religion is a sentiment, not a salvation. Then there are "inequities" in relation to God. We have been:
1. Unjust to his government.
2. We have robbed him of ourselves.
3. We have aided the forces of rebellion.
4. We have, in one word, done iniquity.
II. THE DISTANCE CREATED BY SIN. The separation is moral. He is near to us - close, indeed, to us as the air we breathe. But we are at opposite poles of the moral universe.
1. Separated in nature. We are not renewed in his image.
2. Separated in purpose. Our will is set against his will. All separations are painful. We see them in the family and in the nation. Wars and feuds abound on every side. So' we are alienated from the life of God. Christ, and he alone, can break down the middle wall of partition, and through faith in him we may be reconciled by one Spirit unto the Father. - W.M.S.
I. MEN PUT THE SIN-CLOUDS BETWEEN THEM AND GOD.
1. They may be very small clouds, yet suffice to hide. Often a cloud no bigger than a hand will keep the light and warmth from us. Illustration: David Rittenhouse, of Pennsylvania, was a great astronomer. He was skilful in measuring the size of planets, and determining the position of the stars. But he found that, such was the distance of the stars, a silk thread stretched across the glass of his telescope would entirely cover a star; and, moreover, that a silk fibre, however small, placed upon the same glass, would cover so much of the heavens that the star, if a small one and near the pole, would remain obscured behind that silk fibre several seconds. So small faults, secret sins, little doubtings, can become effective fibres, dark clouds, obscuring veils, that hide the "face." "Little foxes spoil the grapes." The psalmist puts a passion of holy feeling into his prayer, "Cleanse thou me from secret faults."
2. They may be very big clouds, and mean long hiding and deep misery for us under the darkness, and in the chill. Illustrate from David's open and shameless iniquity. It was right that "his bones should wax old through his roaring all the day long," while the black storm-clouds of passion, and its consequences, hid away his God. We cannot negligently sin, and hope to keep the smile; if we openly and wilfully sin we shall not even care to keep the smile, but we shall gladly put our clouds across, and hide the "face."
II. MEN MUST PUT AWAY THE SIN-CLOUDS THAT ARE BETWEEN THEM AND GOD. And there is only one way of doing this. Men must put away the sins that make the clouds. God will not burst through such clouds. He will not dispel such clouds, until men turn from their iniquities, their big or little sins; but then he will breathe on the cloud, as the hot Eastern sun breathes on the clouds of morning, and they shall fade away from the sky, and we shall see the face, and live in that heaven which is the "shining of the face upon us." - R.T.
it covers. The ideas of covering and of atoning were very closely allied in Hebrew thought. The prophet intimates that there were webs of their own spinning which would never hide their sin from the sight of God. Such are there now. We look at -
I. THE SOUL'S SUPREME NECESSITY. The presence of sin is the sternest of all facts; the mark which it has made on our manhood is by far the deepest and darkest of any; all others are mere touches, mere scratches in comparison. This is true of the individual as well as of the community. The thing that we have done, more serious and of greater consequence than any other, is that we have sinned against the Lord and come beneath his condemnation. What we most urgently want is a covering for our soul. Our naked and guilty soul imperatively and sorely needs that under which it may appear before God without shame and shrinking, and take its place, in this world or in any other, among the pure, the holy, the righteous. The question is - What is that garment which will cover the sinful human soul?
II. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF THE PROVISION WHICH SOME MEN ARE MAKING. Many are providing for themselves that which is utterly inadequate; they are spinning webs - poor, thin, gossamer productions - which "will not become garments" available for this purpose. There is:
1. The web of Christian profession. Some find comfort and complacency of soul in the fact that they are acknowledged members of a Church, ancient, or catholic, or established, or scriptural. Desirable, in many ways, as is an avowal of attachment to Christ, it is not a thing in which to put any trust; a man may be a member of the most scriptural Church, and yet be destitute of that which is vital and essential. "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly," etc. Christian profession is a poor thing for a soul to hide in; it is no true refuge for the human heart; it is a "web that will not make a garment."
2. The web of ceremony and ordinance. Many have an undefined but strong confidence in having passed through Christian ceremonies (Baptism and the Lord's Supper), or in having been constant in attendance on Divine worship, or in having taken on their lips apostolic and evangelical language; but to trust in these things as garments of salvation is to put "confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:1): they may exist without any faith or love prompting and vitalizing them.
3. The web of correct behaviour - abstinence from impurity, inebriety, untruthfulness, trickery, profanity. This is altogether and in every way desirable, and it may be eminently praiseworthy from a human standpoint; but it will not atone for the supreme omission - the failure to respond to a heavenly Father's love, to subject the will to the will of the Creator, to dedicate the life to the service of God. It, too, is a web that will not make a garment with which to cover a sinful soul.
III. THE ONE GARMENT TEAT SUFFICES. What did Christ mean by that "wedding garment" without which the guest might not sit down to the marriage-feast (Matthew 22:11)? May it not have been the abounding mercy of God unto eternal life, received through faith in a Divine Saviour (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1; Philippians 3:7-9)? Men will be just with God, their sins wilt be covered and hidden for evermore, when, in the spirit of penitence and faith, they accept the Saviour of mankind as the Lord in whom they hide and to whom they yield themselves in glad surrender. - C.
I. THE IMPORTANCE OF A MAN'S THOUGHTS. A man is as his thoughts. This is the fact and truth on which we may dwell. Any one who would truly judge his fellow-mart must know his secrets and judge his thoughts. Therefore man's judgment of his fellowman is always imperfect and uncertain. God alone can judge perfectly, because he is the "Discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." There is an impression resting on the minds of many religious persons that they have no control over the suggestions that are made to their minds, and no responsibility for the contents of their thoughts, only for the cherishing of the thought and dwelling upon it, and letting it take shape in action; or, as the Apostle James puts it, only when "lust is allowed to conceive, and bring forth sin." This, however, is true only within very narrow limits, and it is altogether healthier for us to accept a large measure of responsibility, even for the contents of our minds; for only then shall we be likely to watch over what goes in as over what goes out. The importance that attaches to our thoughts may be seen:
1. In our observation of men. We misjudge because we cannot read thoughts.
2. In the experiences of friendship. We trust our friend more than outsiders can do, because, in some measure, we do know his thoughts.
3. In view of the heart-searching claims of God, who desires "truth in the inward parts." Sin does not consist in mere act; it really lies at the back of the action - in the thought, the intention, and the motive that inspire it.
4. In consideration of the work of Divine redemption; which is really a heart-regeneration, a purifying of the very springs of thought and feeling. It seeks out the fountains and cleanses them.
II. THE CONTROL A MAN MAY HAVE OVER HIS THOUGHTS.
1. He has control over the materials of thought. Thought is really the comparison, selection, and association of the actual contents of our minds, under the guidance of our wills. All that has impressed us during our lives, by the eye, the ear, or the feeling, has passed into our mental treasury. Then we may take some care as to what goes in. We need not go into scenes or read books which will leave behind bad impressions.
2. We have control over the processes of thought. We can deliberately choose to think about evil things; we can start such thoughts, we can dwell on them, we can follow them on their foul way, we can collect from our associations things that match them. And, in a similar way, we can dwell upon and encourage the good. If our will is a renewed and sanctified will, then we shall find it may gain presidency over our thoughts, so that we may choose and follow only that which is good. - R.T.
is well that ends well, and all is ill that ends ill. If we look far enough and deep enough in our estimate of consequences, we shall always find that the goal of guilt is wretchedness and ruin. It ends in -
I. A SENSE OF WRONG. The nation feels that "judgment and justice" are lacking and the enemy is triumphant; the individual feels that he is injured, that his rights are withheld from him, and he goes on his way dispirited and complaining.
II. DEEP DISAPPOINTMENT. "We wait for light, and behold obscurity," etc. Men who seek not their refuge and their portion in God and in his service are always subject to a profound dissatisfaction. Life does not yield the good they crave. They look for success, and behold failure; for joy, and behold weariness, heartache, ennui; for sweet communion, and behold isolation and loneliness; for laughter, and behold disgust.
III. AGGRAVATED BLINDNESS. "We grope... like the blind... we stumble at noonday," etc. It is one of the saddest consequences of sin that the power of spiritual perception continually lessens; the "eyesight" of the soul becomes weaker and weaker. Great truths are less clearly apprehended. Confusion takes the place of distinctness, until at length good is mistaken for evil, and evil for good: "the light that is in us becomes darkness;" the very organ of spiritual understanding misleads us. And the aggravating circumstance is that this failure of the soul's sight takes place "at noonday," when others are walking and rejoicing in the light of the Lord.
IV. DEATHFULNESS. "In desolate places [or perhaps rather, 'in luxuriant fields,'] we are as the dead." The thought of Christ and of his apostles is that to live in selfishness, in ungodly pleasure, is death in life. To exist apart from God; to be severed from him in thought and feeling, in speech and act; to be utterly regardless of his will and then defiantly antagonistic to his cause; - this is death indeed, and it is consummated in the death which is eternal. - C.
I. HE IS THE INTERESTED SPECTATOR OF HUMAN AFFAIRS. He "considers in his dwelling-place" (Isaiah 18:4). He "causes his ear to hear" - to judge the fatherless and oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress (Psalm 10:18). He is not like the gods of the Epicureans, "sitting apart, careless of mankind." He is a God who can feel pleasure in goodness and the good, displeasure in the prevalence of wrong and injustice. To doubt it is to doubt of the existence of God himself.
II. HE TAKES UPON HIMSELF THE CAUSE OF THE OPPRESSED. He saw that there was "no man," no champion, and was "stupefied," or in "consternation" (cf. Jeremiah 14:9), that none was at baud to interpose in battle on behalf of his own. He therefore armed himself with sword and bow, with coat of mail and helmet, and the garments of zeal and vengeance. A great world-struggle is coming on, in which he will inflict retribution upon his foes.
III. THE REVERENCE OF THE NATIONS FOR HIM. The Gentiles who are spared are imagined as hastening from their distant abodes in tremulous anxiety to meet Jehovah. His Name (cf. Deuteronomy 28:58; Micah 6:9; Nehemiah 1:11; Psalm 86:11; Psalm 102:15) shall be universally feared. His advance will be like that of a rushing stream, driven by the might of the wind, and so as a Goel he will come to Zion, and to all the obedient - those that have "turned from rebellion." The effect of his coming will be the turning of men from their sins, and only to such regenerate ones will he come.
IV. HIS COVENANT. He makes solemn promises to men conditional on their compliance with his terms. To the repentant his Spirit will be imparted, as a continuous gift. His words, or revelations, shall be in their mouth, therefore in their minds and hearts, for ever - flowing on, a holy stream of tradition, from generation to generation (cf. Deuteronomy 7:9; Deuteronomy 4:37; Deuteronomy 5:29; Psalm 89:24-36; Jeremiah 32:39, 40). The majority of religious people are descendants of those who were the friends of God. A large proportion of American piety has descended from the Pilgrim Fathers. Barnes says "I am acquainted with the descendants of John Rogers, the first martyr in Queen Mary's reign, of the tenth and eleventh generations. With a single exception, the eldest son in the family has been a clergyman - some of them eminently distinguished for learning and piety." - J.
I. THE HOPELESS CONDITION OF THE HUMAN RACE UNDER THE LONG TYRANNY OF SIN. Man had fallen so far that there was not the smallest prospect of redemption from anything he could originate. The all-seeing eye of God rested on "no man, no intercessor." Reformer there might be, but Redeemer there was none. No human arm could uplift a sin-slain and fallen race from its degradation and ruin. Hence came -
II. THE REDEEMING POWER OF ALMIGHTY GOD. "It displeased the Lord;" the iniquity of the world pained, grieved, distressed, his pure and pitiful heart. And his compassion found fitting utterance in redemption. "His arm brought salvation." The redemption of the world by Jesus Christ was indeed a work wrought; it was a putting forth of Divine power; it was the mighty act of God's righteous "arm." The work of the strong brute is to carry great weights, of the human giant to deal mighty blows, of the trained intellect to solve subtle problems or make intricate calculations; but the work of the holy and merciful Spirit of God is by self-sacrifice to redeem and to restore. Here is the exercise of the truest, noblest, most beneficent power. In comparison with this all other power is weakness itself.
III. THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THE DIVINE REDEEMER.
1. A sense of perfect rectitude. "His righteousness, it sustained him." It was much, it was everything to the aspersed and incriminated Saviour to know that he was absolutely right in the sight of the holy Father.
2. Compassion. "The helmet of salvation."
3. Holy indignation. "He put on the garments of vengeance." Hatred of sin is quite as indispensable to a Saviour as pity for its victim (vide Matthew 23.).
4. Consecration. "Clad with zeal as a cloak;" with that utter and entire devotedness which led him to drink quite up that bitter cup which the Father placed in his hands. - C.
I. MAN CANNOT SAVE MAN. In every age the experiment has been tried. In every form of the trial it has proved a failure. There have been a great variety of religions in the world; they were all just this - man trying to save man. Great teachers and reformers have appeared - they were men trying to save man. There have been philosophical, and moral, and educational, and scientific, and ceremonial, and artistic systems, but no one of them was ever anything more than this - man trying to save man. The issue of nineteenth-century humanity schemes will exactly repeat the old story; it has been proved, over and over again, until we wonder that any one should be foolish enough to try a fresh experiment, that man cannot save man.
II. GOD ALONE CAN SAVE MAN. This is stating the truth again, with an important addition. It is entirely a question between man saving himself, and God saving him. There is no third party to the question. And God can save man. He has always been ridding out man's extremity, and making it his gracious opportunity; ever saving tribes, saving cities, saving societies, saving families, saving individuals. God, the Redeemer, is the name for God that is blazoned on the history of every age and clime. "God can save man" is the great truth written in the large record of the whole human race. Spared for four thousand years that he might try to save himself, man ]earned at last to put away the schemes in which he had trusted, and then, when the fulness of the times had come, God sent forth his Son, and called his name Jesus Immanuel, because he was to be in the world, "God himself saving men from their sins."
III. GOD ONLY SAVES MAN BY MAN. One of the most difficult truths for which to get men's acceptance is the truth that man's salvation is a moral miracle, for the accomplishment of which man is made the agent. God's salvation for moral beings is not a display of august force, as is his correction of disorder in his world of created things; it is the exertion of moral power upon them through moral influences and moral agents. The great deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian bondage was manifestly God's redemption, altogether God's; and yet even in that case God only saved man by man. He found an instrument and agent by whom to carry out his purposes. The man Moses is prominent throughout the whole scene, and yet he never stands before God; he is only the agent. Illustrate further by the salvation from Babylon. In that case too a man was found. Cyrus was the Divine agent. The law is working in all the society around us. God is in the midst of men, saving still. But he is only saving men through human agencies. Social and moral evils cannot lie mastered by merely human forces, since man cannot, of himself, reach those deeper religious evils that lie at the root of the social ones. God is saving men. This is the glory of our present-day life, with all its seeming failures and oppressive burdens and amazing self-will. He is saving men, and we are to be his witnesses, co-workers together with him. As we preach Christ to men, we have no power to save men; but as we lift Christ up in sight of men, we become God's agents, and through our words of faith and persuasion God moves and sways careless hearts, and wins sinners unto himself. This is our honour, our trust, our sacred burden. God would save this country, but he will only save it by us - by the Christian people in it. We must prophesy and preach to these dry bones, and then only will the breath of Heaven give them life. We must spend the strength of our manhood in giving, preaching, visiting, pleading, and then only will the ends of the land see the salvation of the Lord. - R.T.
seemed a dark hour for the world. Evidently a dead nation cannot arise of itself, any more than a dead man. It is a time of wonderment. Great men often arise for great occasions; but there is no man, that is, no mere man, equal to this occasion. But -
I. "GOD IS HIS OWN INTERPRETER." He makes plain his own mysteries alike in providence and in redemption. There is silence everywhere, that he himself may be heard, There is no other hand, that his own may be made bare before the nations.
II. GOD IS THE WORLD'S ONLY SAVIOUR AND INTERCESSOR. in the Person of his Son, he fulfils all the evangelic strains of Isaiah. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself."
1. It is still wonderful. "Lo! I come to do thy will, O God!" "Behold the Lamb of God!" Angels cannot see into the depths of such a mystery as this.
2. It is true as wonderful. "His arm brought salvation." Look and see. Christianity can be tested as a history as well as a prophecy. When we see that dark degraded Roman world, with its lust and licence, its cruelties and pageantries, its very worship turned to aids to vice, and then read, "Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified," we exclaim, "What hath God wrought?" - W.M.S.
I. OF THE VICTORIES ENGRAVEN ON THE STANDARD OF THE LORD. Of truth over error; righteousness over injustice; purity over lust; God over mammon.
II. OF THE SPECIAL SEASONS IN WHICH INIQUITY COMES IN LIKE A FLOOD. Times such as those of the profligate Stuarts, when the sabbath was desecrated and debasing plays were acted. Times when the pride of priestcraft and power drove out the faithful from the land. Times when the Bible itself was put under a ban, and the flood-gates of evil were left open. Nothing then withstood, and nothing will ever withstand, the tides of sin, but the Word of God. Utility, expediency, propriety, - these are but thin "withes" that the giant snaps; these are but gossamer gates through which the torrent roars. Nothing is strong but the Spirit of the Lord working in us and with us. - W.M.S.
I. THE FIGURE OF JEHOVAH'S BREATH. The same Hebrew word means "breath," "wind," "spirit." Distinguish between the anthropomorphic figures of the Lord's hand or arm, and the anthropopathie figures of the Lord's "anger" or "repentance." Distinguish between the "arm" or "hand," which indicates God's active working in the sphere of things, and his "breath," as his secret working on the springs of life and motive. Sometime God works openly, and all can see his doings. But even more frequently he silently works at the heart of things, and only men of faith can trace his doings.
II. THE FIGURE OF THE BREATH AS A RESISTANCE. Take the allusion to Sennacherib as illustration. Show how in life we constantly meet with difficulties that seem insoluble, and enemies that cannot be overcome. And yet presently the difficulties go out of the way, and the enemies can proceed no further. There are no evident reasons for these things, in any circumstances that we can observe. All that we can say is, "The Spirit of the Lord has lifted up a standard against them." Further illustrate from the way in which the plans of the Apostle Paul and his companions were blocked. "They assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not. We seldom feel as we ought how graciously God helps us by shutting doors which we fain would enter.
III. THE FIGURE OF THE BREATH AS AN IMPULSE. Take the allusion to Cyrus; and further illustrate from the impulse given to Philip to go and join the eunuch of Queen Candace. Open souls are ready and willing to be moved by the indwelling breath or spirit. Such open souls surely prove what it is to be led into all truth, strengthened for all duty, and sanctified through all fellowships. - R.T.
I. THE FULFILMENT OF THE DIVINE PROMISE. God has "covenanted" or promised to do great things for us. Our hope is in him: it was in his Divine pity, unpledged, unexpressed. It is in his promise to befriend, to illumine, to renew. The world went utterly wrong, and in the greatness of his compassion he interposed with a marvellous redemption. The Church became utterly corrupt, and in the fulness o[ his faithfulness he did not desert it, but cleansed and raised it.
II. THE PLANTING OF DIVINE TRUTH. We may have a good hope for mankind if "God's words are in the mouth" of men. Not enactments on the statute-book, nor institutions in society, nor the sword in the magistrate's hand, but God's truth in the ,mind, is the source of strength, the criterion of advancement, and the condition of security. When God's thoughts are precious (Psalm 139:17), and God's words are loved, the people are in the way of wisdom and of life.
III. THE OUTPOURING OF HIS SPIRIT. "My Spirit is upon thee." The indwelling, illuminating, transforming Spirit will make all holy truth effectual and mighty.
IV. THE TRANSMISSION OF GODLINESS FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION. "Nor out of the mouth of thy seed," etc. The "promise is to us and to our children." Far more than to evangelistic efforts or missionary labours do we look to the upgrowing in godly homes of a devout and holy generation. The future of the world is in the hands of Christian fathers and mothers! Let them be what they should be, and their sons and daughters will strengthen the cause of God and fulfil the hope of mankind. - C.
I. THE NEW COVENANT ON GOD'S SIDE. Compare the pledge in the older Jewish covenant - preservation of bodily life, with all that this might demand of providing, guiding, and preserving - everything needed for the life that now is. In the new covenant the pledge is of preservation of that Divine life, spiritual life, which in us has been divinely quickened, with all that this higher life may demand of sustenance, guidance, protection, and inspiration. God will be sure to supply all the needs of our soul-life, and put his Spirit in us and keep his Spirit with us, to be the life of our life, our security, our guarantee, our sanctification. Cramer says, "Does the Spirit of God remain? then also does his Word; does the Word remain? then preachers also remain; do preachers remain? then also hearers do; do hearers remain? then also remain believers; and therefore the Christian Church remains also." Too seldom do we take the comforting and strengthening assurance that our God is actually under pledge to us to carry on to its completion the work of grace in us which he has begun. "Though we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself." Matthew Henry says, "In the Redeemer there was a new covenant made with us, a covenant of promises; and this is the great and comprehensive promise of that covenant, that God will give and continue his Word and Spirit to his Church and people throughout all generations." Dean Plumptre says, "The new covenant is to involve the gift of the Spirit, that writes the law of God inwardly in the heart, as distinct from the Law, which is thought of as outside the conscience, doing its work as an accuser and a judge."
II. THE NEW COVENANT ON MAN'S SIDE. Find what is the spiritual counterpart of the old Jewish covenant-conditions on man's side. Then he pledged loyalty to Jehovah, strict and prompt obedience to the will of Jehovah. The answering spiritual pledge may be found in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service." - R.T.