Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SAVIOUR COMES WITH A GREAT SACRIFICE. With "dyed garments;" for the cross lies at the foundation of the world's recovery. We are weary of all theories of atonement from Anselm's day downwards, but the atonement remains as the central truth of our religion. It rests on our Lord's own authority as well as upon St. Paul's; for he said himself, "This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the remission of sins."
II. THE SAVIOUR COMES IN THE IMAGE OF GOD. He is the express Image of the Father. "Glorious in his apparel," so that through all the ages men may see truth turned into life. Once in all history we see One who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners." Christ was "clothed with light as with a garment,"
III. THE SALVATION IS ATTESTED IN EVERY AGE.
1. Mighty - in his own revealed grace and power.
2. Mighty - in that every degree of guilt and sin is reached by his infinite arm.
3. Mighty - in that he saves right through, which is the meaning of the word "to the uttermost." - W.M.S.
I. THOSE FEATURES WHICH CHARACTERIZE THE EARLIER RATHER THAN THE LATER DELIVERANCE.
1. The employment of the outwardly impressive. "This that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength." Something, if not much, of the stately, the striking, the magnificent, of that which was fitted to awe and overwhelm belonged to the older dispensation - to the theocracy and the divinely permitted monarchy. Under Christ it is not so. He himself "came not with observation" (ostentation); he was a "King that came, meek," devoid of all the shows and trappings of royal state. And it is his will that his Church should shrink from rather than secure the dignities and majesties of the earthly kingdoms (Matthew 20:25-28).
2. The use of violence. "With dyed garments ... Their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments" (vers. 1, 3). Jesus said, and surely still says in respect of all efforts to advance his kingdom, "Put up thy sword into the sheath" (John 18:11).
3. The manifestation of Divine Haler. "The day of vengeance is in mine heart" (ver. 4). Contrast with this, "God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17; John 12:47; Luke 9:56).
II. THE FEATURES WHICH ARE COMMON TO BOTH, but are most strikingly characteristic of the later redemption.
1. The manifestation of Divine power. "Mighty to save." Great as were the deliverances accomplished in Egypt, in the wilderness, in Canaan, in Assyria, these were small and insignificant compared with "the redemption of the world by Christ Jesus," the rescue of a guilty and degenerate race and its reinstatement in the favour and the likeness of God. Hence is by far the noblest exhibition of Divine power.
2. The illustration of Divine faithfulness. "I that speak in righteousness." By his interposition God fulfilled his word of promise, and showed himself a covenant-keeping Lord. But in the granting of his "great salvation," and in all the outworkings of it, both collectively and individually, there are more abundant reasons for exclaiming, "God is faithful" (1 Corinthians 1:9).
3. The completeness of the Divine work. The picture here is, throughout, one of victorious strength. It is the return of a warrior who has thoroughly accomplished his work, by whom his enemies have been utterly subdued. He has "brought down their strength to the earth" (ver. 6). The work of Christ was perfected. He finished the work the Father gave him to do (John 17:4; John 19:30). He offered himself "without spot" to God (Hebrews 10:14). He has prepared for mankind a "common salvation;" as exquisitely adapted to the most cultured intelligence as it is fitted for the most barbarous and savage peoples. He is working out the redemption of the race, and will not rest until humanity has been redeemed and restored.
4. The single-handedness of the Divine Conqueror. "I have trodden the wine-press alone' (vers. 3 and 5). Though God did use the instrumentality of his people, it was the presence of his overcoming arm which made all the difference between victory and defeat. And there were occasions when he thought well to dispense with human agency altogether; e.g. the destruction of the Egyptians under Pharaoh, and of the host under Sennacherib. Although the Lord Jesus Christ did not disdain, and does not refuse to employ his disciples in his cause, yet was there a very deep and real sense in which he was alone in his redemptive work (see Robertson on 'The Loneliness of Christ').
(1) He was of such spiritual stature that none could walk with him.
(2) He was engaged in a mission of such deep and lofty character that none could then enter into his great design.
(3) He came to make a sacrifice of himself in the offering of which none could join. Here are reasons why we, as Christian men and as workers with Christ, should
(a) look back with deepest gratitude;
(b) submit under disappointment with ready acquiescence;
(c) anticipate with full assurance the triumph which is in the future. - C.
I. WHENCE HE COMES. "From Edom and Bozrah," the land and chief town of Israel's enemies, the Champion came. The great enemy of the human family is sin, and the sign of the worst that sin can do is the grave. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Christ came forth from the grave, bursting asunder its bars and gates, as the assurance that he was, once and for ever, Conqueror over sin, and Conqueror for us.
II. HOW HE APPEARS. "With dyed, stained garments." These indicate that he has waged a fierce, bloody contest. Even in our day, rent and blood-stained garments would tell of a great fight; but these were surer signs in Isaiah's days, when battles were direct band-to-hand encounters. In the Apocalypse, John saw our Redeemer - the Word of God - and he was "clothed with a vesture dipped in blood." The greatness, the severity, the seriousness, of our Redeemer's conflict may be seen by considering
(1) the power and bitterness of the foes he encountered;
(2) the wounds they gave; and
(3) the fact that they actually had him down.
Illustrate this third point by reference to Bunyan's figure of the fight between the pilgrim Christian and Apollyon, in the Valley of Humiliation.
III. WHAT HE CAN DO. He travels "in the greatness of his strength." He is "mighty to save." He is proved to be strong; shown to be "able to save." He is a proved Samson; a tested David. He is worthy to be trusted with the whole work of redeeming us from sin,
(1) its penalty;
(2) its power;
(3) its consequences.
In conclusion, it may be urged:
1. That Christ is willing to apply to us the full benefits of his redemptive victory.
2. That Christ has, since his resurrection, made some glorious displays of his power to save. Illustrations: St. Paul, the jailor at Philippi, John Newton, Africaner, etc.
3. That there is no limit to the power of his saving grace. Each one of us may say, "He is able to save even me. - R.T.
I. He replies to the question, "Who is this?" by saying, "I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." This reassures us. The Saviour comes in the strength of righteousness. Any reform or salvation of which the power is righteousness must go down to the very root of the trouble.
II. He replies to the question, "Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel?" by saying, "I have trodden the wine-press." It is no holiday monarch coming with a bloodless triumph. It has been no pageant of a day, this strife with sin. The power of God has struggled with the enemy and subdued him only in the agony of strife. What pain may mean to the Infinite and Divine, what difficulty may mean to Omnipotence, I cannot tell. Only I know that all they could mean they meant here. "This symbol of the blood - and by-and-by, when we turn from the Old Testament to the New, from the prophecy to the fulfilment, we find that it was not only the enemy's blood, but his own blood too, that stained the victorious Deliverer's robes - this symbol of the blood bears this great truth, which has been the power of salvation to millions of hearts, and which must make this Conqueror the Saviour of your heart too, the truth that only in self-sacrifice and suffering could even God conquer sin. Sin is never so dreadful as when we see the Saviour with that blood upon his garments. And the Saviour himself, surely he is never so dear, never wins so utter and so tender a love, as when we see what it has cost him to save us. Out of that love born of his suffering comes the new impulse after a holy life; and so when we stand at last purified by the power of a grateful obedience, it shall be said of us, binding our holiness and escape from sin close to our Lord's struggle with sin for us, that we ' have washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb' "(condensed from Phillips Brooks). - R.T.
I. HIS LOVING-KINDNESS. (Cf. Isaiah 55:3; and the Hebrew word in Isaiah 63:7; Psalm 89:28-49; Psalm 107:43; Lamentations 3:22.) The word (הֶסֶד) suggests a world of love. When used of men it implies pity, benignity, especially in circumstances of misfortune, as Genesis 21:23; 1 Samuel 10:2; Job 6:14. How fine is the saying in 2 Samuel 9:3, "I will act kindly toward him like unto God"! So that all human expressions of kindness may be and should be conceived as flowing from the one eternal Fountain. Sometimes, by a figure, God himself is called Favour, Mercy (Psalm 144:2; Jonah 2:9).
II. HIS GREAT DEEDS. "Renown," or "deeds of renown." The divorce of feeling from deed, of sentiment from action, that we so often see in feeble humanity, we do not find in God. With him, heart and head are one. His deeds are daily, world-extended, historical, eternal. Every commotion of the nations, every war, every revolution, must be traced to the influence of his Spirit in the last resort.
III. HIS GENEROUS BESTOWALS. There is an exuberant outflow of thought, feeling, and language here. Jehovah is to be celebrated "according to that which is due for all that he hath bestowed, according to his compassion and his abundant loving-kindnesses." Were it not that the impression of pain is keener and deeper with us than that of pleasure, it would be seen that at every moment life teems with mercies, gifts from the Giver of all good.
IV. His PROVIDENCE IN HISTORY. They were his people in virtue of the primeval covenant. They were his sons by adoption. The great salvation out of Israel was prototypical of all acts in which Jehovah "became unto them a Saviour. Distinct and strong is the representation of the sympathy of God with their suffering; distressed in all their distresses." His love and his clemency are again mentioned. He was ever, in that long and strange history of rebellion, "overcoming evil with good "- a pardoning God. His care was that of a mother's heart - carrying the people, as it were, from their birth, promising to carry them even to hoar hairs. "I bare made, and I will bear; I will carry, and I will deliver you" (Isaiah 46:3, 4). Yet it is part of such providential dealing to chastise. There were especially times when the people did evil in the sight of Jehovah (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7). Secretly a Holy Spirit, or Spirit of holiness, was striving with them, and they were constantly resisting it. The great covenant with God was founded on this principle of holiness; this was the distinctive characteristic of the people as of their God. By their untruth to the covenant, they changed him as it were from a friend to an enemy. Thwarted love turns to jealousy (Exodus 34:14), and the gracious face of the Father becomes that of the wrathful Judge. - J.
I. THE GREATNESS OF GOD'S GOODNESS TO US.
1. The bountifulness of his gifts to us. "All that the Lord hath bestowed on us." "The multitude of his loving-kindnesses." His gifts night and day, in every season, through every stage of life; all material for the body, all stores of knowledge for the mind, all wealth of affection for the heart.
2. The distinguishing favours he has shown us. His "great goodness toward the house of Israel." Every "house," every family, every man, has some special reason to speak of Divine goodness.
3. The love which prompts his bestowals. All his kindnesses are "loving-kindnesses," prompted by parental affection, granted in a loving spirit.
4. His kindness toward us in affliction (ver. 8). He grants us Divine sympathy - "In all their afflictions;" and tender succour - "He bare them," etc., as the mother carries her sick child, the shepherd the wounded lamb. His hand may be upon us, but "underneath are the everlasting arms."
5. His grace in redemption. "The angel of his presence," etc.
II. OUR WISDOM AND DUTY IN VIEW OF IT. "I will mention." Here are two parts:
1. Recalling to our own thought.
2. Reminding those around us. This is our duty; for it is the clear will of Christ that we should make known the fulness of his kindness and the riches of his grace. We exist, as his people, that we may be witnesses to the world of all that we have learned of him. This is also our wisdom; for therein is found the one antidote to dissatisfaction, the one unfailing source of gratitude and joy.
III. GOD'S EXPECTATION CONCERNING US. (Ver. 8.) As God gave to Israel all the peculiar proofs of his remembrance that they might prove a loyal and faithful people or family, so with us as a Christian Church. He has manifested marvellous love, patience, pity, succour, toward us. And in what expectation? That we should show ourselves loyal to himself and true to our trust; that we should prove ourselves the "people" and "children" of God, by reverence of bearing, by submissiveness of spirit, by integrity of character, by faithfulness in the field of sacred work. - C.
I. THE LORD'S LOVING-KINDNESSES READ IN THE LIGHT OF THE REDEMPTION FROM BABYLON. This deliverance altered all their feeling about the past. It gave them a key to the meaning of their very captivity. It set them upon searching for signs of God's goodness in the national story. And what a story of mercy that long record of the Jewish Church had been! What we can see in it everywhere, those returned exiles saw in the light of their exceeding joy - forbearances, long-sufferings, provisions, bestowments, loving-kindnesses, defendings, redeemings - the good hand of their God ever on them for good.
II. THE LORD'S LOVING-KINDNESSES READ IN THE LIGHT OF THE REDEMPTION FROM SIN. St. Paul expresses this idea in the words, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" The "all things" come to his mind when he thinks of the great things. He who gives eternal life will be sure to nourish and feed all the life he gives. He who holds before us the hope of an exceeding and eternal weight of glory will be sure to keep us unto it, and fit us for it. We may be quite confident that he who gives glory will give grace, withholding no good thing from them that walk uprightly. This is the usual form of Christian meditations. We unconsciously follow the returned exiles' way, and begin with the greatest loving-kindness. We tune our souls to their noblest song over redemption-love manifested in Christ Jesus. We dwell on his condescension and his suffering until our souls say, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable Gift!" But in the quietness after the song, there seems to be a light left on our whole life-story, which, as we watch it, grows brighter and brighter; falling here and there and yonder, showing up mercy after mercy, goodness upon goodness, we also begin to say, "We will remember the loving-kindnesses of the Lord." - R.T.
1 Timothy 4:10).
I. WHAT IS IT TO SAVE A MAN? What does the word "save" mean when we apply it to a man? A while ago five heavy boat-loads of saved ones from midnight wreck were landed at Dover. The poor, ragged city waif is taken from the streets into the kindly refuge, and saved from vice and degradation. The man who has embezzled money, and is in peril of the judgment, finds a friend who pays the claim, and he is saved from prison. But these are cases of saving men in only an imperfect and limited sense. What is it to save a moral being; one who has will and affections; the sense of right and wrong, and the possibility of gracious relations with God? That depends upon what disabilities and perils men may have fallen into. If we may read other men by ourselves, then they are wrong in life-principle - heart-wrong; wrong in conduct - bodily wrong; wrong in relations - socially wrong; and wrong in life-issues - under Divine penalties. To save a man must be to save him from all this. Too often salvation is represented as saving from hell. That is but a part of it. It is saving me, and saving me now. To change the ruling principle of the life is the hopeful beginning of salvation; but the work must be carried on. There must be the regeneration of the life and conduct, the purifying of all motive, and sanctifying of all thought, and touching of all the relationships with tender grace. So to save a man is a very large and comprehensive thing. A bit of it is saving man from overhanging penalty; most of it is saving him from sin and from self. Self-willed men arc only saved when they are brought to God in trust and love.
II. WHAT IS IT FOR GOD TO SAVE A MAN? Three points.
1. God's salvation must go to the central necessity of man, cleansing his heart-wrong.
2. God's salvation must be a gracious persuasion of man's mind and will and heart.
3. In this gracious persuasion the Trinity is now engaged. God's salvation for man is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, gaining entrance with regenerating power into a man's heart and life.
III. WHAT IS IT FOR GOD TO SAVE ALL MEN? The full and final salvation of all men seems to be declared in Scripture to be the Divine purpose. All men were placed under disability by Adam's sin; no man has any standing before God. Now, in the second Adam's righteousness and acceptance, that state of disability is removed for the whole race, and all men stand in restored relations. Humanity is relieved from its curse by Christ's perfect obedience, and all men are in that sense saved. But this is only such a salvation as there can be apart from man's will, and it is but the beginning of God's salvation. A nation may be pardoned for its rebellion as a nation, but the king may very properly require the oath of allegiance to be taken by each individual.
IV. WHAT IS IT FOR GOD SPECIALLY TO SAVE SOME? It is to have some coming voluntarily into gracious relations with him; and to make such his agents for the winning and persuasion of others. We may all of us be sons, but some of us may be sons at home, in the full joy of accepted and gracious relations. And sons at home are ever ready, waiting to do their Father's will. - R.T.
I. GOD CAN FEEL. It may be said that this needs no proof. But the God sometimes presented in theological systems, preached from our pulpits, and addressed in our prayers, does not really feel as we do. It is said that "he is complete in himself, infinitely full, infinitely happy, infinitely satisfied. Nothing can add one jot to his happiness, nothing can diminish his bliss. He, as a King, recognizes and punishes sin and rebellion, but he does not feel hurt by it himself. No waves heave and toss on the quiet ocean of God." But is the impression left on our minds by all this concerning God quite true? And is that the God we are asked to love - that immovable statue? We want a God whose bosom heaves with feeling, whose face beams with smiles, who can pity us as a father pities. Too often the impression left on us is, that it is only Christ who can suffer, since he was a man. God cannot feel; Christ feels. Christ is in self-sacrifice, not God. But we must be far from the truth when we divide our vision, and with one eye see Christ, and with the other see God. Look with both eyes, and we shall see Christ in God, and God in Christ. This is true - God cannot be physically affected. We must not think of him as a body, capable of feeling bodily pain. He cannot be struck. He cannot be subject to disease. God is a Spirit. But he is a real Being. He is what we understand by a moral being - a moral being who can sustain relations to other beings, and can be affected by the conditions and doings of other beings. Our deepest feelings - joys or sorrows - do not come from our bodies, but from our minds. And when we say that God can feel, we mean that his moral being can be affected, and that his precise glory lies in this - he does feel rightly, suitably, adequately, divinely, in every case.
1. God must feel if he can be said to have a perfect character. We should take no impressions from the wrongs or the goodnesses around us if we bad no power of feeling, and so there could be no culture of character. If God cannot feel it is no longer intelligible to us to say that he is "good." that he is "love."
2. That God can feel is taught by the imagery of Old Testament Scriptures. Constantly he is represented as though he were a man. We read of his feet, his breath, his hand, his arm, etc. "He is represented as blessed according to the merit and beauty of whatever is done that is right. He smelled a sweet savour in Noah's sacrifice. He has pleasure in them that hope in his mercy. He is affected with joy over his people, as a prophet represents, even to singing in the day of their restored peace. He is tender in his feeling to the obedient, pitying them that fear him as a father pitieth his children. His very love is partly passive; that is, it is a Being affected with compassion by the bitter and hard lot of those under sin. On the other hand, by how many unpleasant varieties or pains of feeling does he profess to suffer in his relation to scenes of human wrong and ingratitude! The sighing of the prisoner comes before him to command his sympathy. He calls after his people as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit. He testifies, 'I am pressed under you as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves.' His repentings are kindled together in view of the sins of his people. He is said to be exercised by all manner of disagreeable and unpleasant sentiments in relation to all manner of evil doings: displeased; sore displeased; wroth; angry; loathing; abhorring; despising; hating; weary; filled with abomination; wounded; hurt; grieved; and he even protests, like one sorrowing, that he could do nothing more to his vineyard than he had done for it" (Dr. H. Bushnell). There must be deep moral meanings in these anthropomorphic expressions.
3. Rightly regarding the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, it becomes a proof that God can feel. It is said that Christ felt because he was human; the feeling was part of the humanity. But if there had been no human nature, would not he have felt and borne our sorrows and our sins just the same? 'The great thing about Christ is that he manifests God to us in these our human spheres, and under these our human conditions. And in him we see not only the glory of God's holiness and claims, but the glory also of his pitying feeling. When God makes himself most evident to us - as he does in the person of his Son - then we behold a loving, pitying, suffering God.
II. GOD DOES FEEL IN THE PARTICULAR WAY OF SYMPATHY WITH THE SUFFERING. "In all their affliction he is afflicted." The prophet is reviewing the Divine dealings with his forefathers; recalling more especially that deliverance from Egypt, and guidance to the promised land, which was the dearest of memories to every Jew. God's interest, he declares, had been bound up with that of his people. He suffered in their suffering. Sorrows came upon that people from outward circumstances; and worse sorrows came through their wilfulness and sin. We are to understand that God sympathized with them under both kinds of sorrow. The text is as true for us as for Israel of old. Our human troubles are so overwhelming because we persist in. bearing them alone; we will not let God bear them with us, much less will we let him bear them for us. We even try to persuade ourselves that he does not feel for us under certain of our sorrows, because the sin whence they come is so abhorrent to him. Yes, the sin is, but the sinner is not - especially the stricken, suffering sinner is not.
III. WE ARE GOD-LIKE ONLY AS WE ARE AFFLICTED IN OTHERS' AFFLICTIONS. Pity for the suffering is a natural emotion. Some of us cannot bear to see even the meanest creature suffering pain. There is much of this "milk of human kindness" left in the sinful, sorrowful world, where man is "horn to trouble as the sparks fly upward." But we can only be rightly "afflicted with others' afflictions" when:
1. Like God, we can see sin at the root of the affliction, and yet feel drawn to the afflicted. Mere human feeling is not strong enough to draw us to the sinner.
2. When we can discern God working out through them his purposes of grace. As mere sufferings they must be borne alone. We cannot share the feeling of pain; but as chastisements, as discipline, we may bear troubles with others; and it is in these religious aspects of human suffering that a God-like sympathy becomes possible.
3. As we ourselves are led through experiences of trouble, as life passes on, it ought to make the brotherhood of souls perfect. Nothing brings hearts together like a common trouble. Send a woman who has a child in heaven to comfort the mother who looks into a newly emptied cradle. God touches us all - touches us to the quick sometimes - and helps us thus to feel for others' infirmities. God's power on us is his fellow-feeling of our infirmities. Our power on each other must be just this - in closeness of sympathy we bear one another's burdens. - R.T.
I. THE MEMORY OF GOD. If God is thought of, as he must be thought of, after the analogy of human experiences, he must be thought of as remembering, calling the past to mind, and as undergoing changes of mind in consequence. These are ways of representing first to thought, then in language, an infinite love, which must be capable of all the scale and gamut of feeling - anger, wrath, jealousy, and the revulsion almost to the tenderness of tears. So in the wilderness, he, being full of compassion, forgave the iniquity of the rebels in the wilderness, turning his anger away, because he remembered that they were flesh, or but as the passing wind; he called to mind his covenant; he repented according to the multitude of his mercies (Leviticus 26:45; Psalm 78:39; Psalm 106:45). In the history of Israel there was nothing more memorable than the coming up out of Egypt, and the leadership of Moses and Aaron.
II. THE HISTORY OF ISRAEL EXPLAINED FROM THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. The outward wonders, the deeds of might, were but the manifestation of an inward waking of his Spirit in the breast el the people. A Spirit of instruction, of "providential guidance and sagacious government" - "Thy good Spirit to instruct them" (Nehemiah 9:20). A holy light seemed in the retrospect to rest upon that period. It was said that the people "served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that over-lived Joshua," for "they had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel." The next generation knew not the works of the Lord, nor the works he bad done for Israel (Joshua 24:31; Judges 2:6-10). The Spirit of Jehovah appears to mean much the same as the face of Jehovah above (cf. Exodus 33:14; Haggai 2:4, 5; cf. Numbers 11:10-30). The term "holiness" reminds of the covenant, and the covenant of the obligations of fidelity on the part of the people, in response to the oath-keeping of God. Another image, almost carrying the same meaning, is that of the "arm of Jehovah's splendour" (Isaiah 40:10; Isaiah 45:1), ready to support Moses, to hold him up from falling (Isaiah 41:10-13). Then the sublime picture of the crossing of the Red Sea rises up in imagination (Exodus 14:21; cf. Psalm 106:9; Psalm 77:16), and the wide and dreary steppe. Finally, as a herd goes down from the mountain-side into the pasture-land of the plain, so, under the same guidance, the people came to their rest - a beloved word (Exodus 33:14; Deuteronomy 3:20; Deuteronomy 12:9; Joshua 1:13; Joshua 22:4; Psalm 95:11; Jeremiah 31:2; Hebrews 4:1, 9). The spiritual sum and substance of all is, "Thus thou didst guide thy people to make unto thyself a monument of glory." By his work he became for ever known among the heathen. It was a work not to be executed by any false god, nor by any human arm. "Egypt was at this time the centre of all science, art, and culture; arid what occurred there would be known in other lands. God designed to make a signal demonstration of his existence and power, that should be known in all lands and should never be forgotten." God's glory is the grand end of all he does, and consequently ought to be likewise of all that we either do or suffer. And whatever, therefore, befalls any man makes for God's glory and for his own good, if he be a child of God. We should learn, then, to estimate things by their use and tendency. Poison may enter into the composition of an antidote; and things essentially good may, under certain circumstances, become pernicious. Prosperity may harden and adversity may humble us; the one may prepare us for judgment, the other for mercy. - J.
Ephesians 4:30 -
I. THE GRIEF TO WHICH GOD IS SUBJECT. Men have argued thus. God is a blessed or happy Being; he is infinite in all his attributes; therefore he is infinitely, perfectly happy; therefore there is no possibility of sorrow in his Divine nature. But such reasoning is very precarious and unreliable. We can argue little from infinity of which we know nothing, and we must not think of weighing any inference thus obtained against plain statements of Scripture. We are there assured that God is capable of grief, and we must believe that he is, our logical conclusions notwithstanding. And, looking from another point of view, we might well conclude that he is and must be so. For is he not a Divine Father? And has he not undutiful, rebellious children? How, then, could he fail to be grieved at heart? The fact of God's fatherhood is the most certain of all truths established by Divine revelation; no ground is more solid than that. Our human fatherhood is indicative of the Divine; it is the reflection of it; it is immeasurably less than it; its best, its tenderest, its most holy and generous feelings, are hints and shadows of corresponding feelings in the heart of the heavenly Father. If, then, in our thought, we purify, magnify, multiply that parental grief which father feels when his children go astray, we understand something of the grief of God.
1. Our Divine Father has expended on us boundless thought, affection, treasure, training, patience - a "multitude of loving-kindnesses." He has "given himself for us" in one supreme act of self-sacrificing love.
2. He looks for filial response from us, for eager attention to his voice when he speaks; for the acceptance of his pardoning love, for daily remembrance of him and communion with him; for cheerful obedience to his holy will.
3. He too often finds stubborn and protracted inattention, persistent refusal of his overtures of mercy, forgetfulness and neglect, a painful disregard of his will in our relations with one another - disobedience.
4. Then his heart is grieved. He who should be satisfied with us (Isaiah 53:11) is disappointed in us; looking for fruit, he finds none; his Holy Spirit is vexed, is grieved, in a way and in a degree beyond our human understanding, with a grief which is Divine.
II. THE ACTION WHICH HE TAKES. "Therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them." God's attitude towards his people, consequent on their guilt, seemed that of an enemy. He was as one who strove with them; he sent them discomfiture, calamity, exile. God may seem to be our enemy, to contend with us. He may send us:
1. Unhappiness of heart, a sense of the insufficiency and uselessness of our life, dreariness and despondency of spirit.
2. Failure of our temporal plans and schemes, and sense of miserable defeat.
4. A wounded heart through the inconstancy or the unfaithfulness of a friend; or some other blow which bends and threatens to break our spirit. God is against us, we feel.
III. THE END HE HAS IN VIEW. However we read ver. 11, it is clear that the purpose of God in thus striving with his people was restorative. He meant to give them rest, thus filling their hearts with joy and "making to himself a glorious Name." This is the meaning of all his adverse action toward us. He seeks our restoration to himself and to his service. There are with us, as with Israel, two strong securities.
1. His past loving-kindnesses. He who had bound his people to his heart as the God of Israel had done (vers. 11-14) could not and would not desert them in their distress.
2. The honour of his holy Name. God is establishing a kingdom of peace and righteousness, and he wants us as his loyal citizens. This is the meaning of all we are enduring. It is a summons from God to return to ourselves, to enter on our true heritage, to have fellowship with him. - C.
I. THE SPIRIT IS HOLY; EVERYTHING IMPURE WILL GRIEVE HIM. The Bible refers to him as the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit, as though to suggest to us that it is this attribute of his character which bears special relation to us, and his work in us. His aim is our sanctification. All the overcomings of sin, all the removals of hindrances and evils, all the bestowments of peace, are intended to help us toward that great end. When we first go forth into life from a pure home, how grieved we feel at the association of the scoffer, the swearer, the vicious! To a chaste mind how grievous indelicacy is! So our impurities must grieve the pure Spirit. Our besetting sins must, be they pride, or selfishness, or conceit, or unchartiableness, or the cherishing of foul thoughts, be a grief and a vexation to him.
II. THE SPIRIT URGES TO ACTIVE WORK FOR GOD; WHERE THERE IS APATHY, INDOLENCE, OR REBELLIOUSNESS, HE IS GRIEVED. Among the weapons of the spiritual warfare we read of the "sword of the Spirit," as though the activity of the Christian depended on the Spirit. The highest attainments of Christian life have been made, not by quiet folk, who set themselves only on personal culture, but by active folk, who have gone forth to witness for God, taking their lives in their hands. Wherever there is shrinking back from active service - which is virtual rebellion - the Spirit is grieved. We are grieved when we see a man with great powers abusing or neglecting to use them. The Spirit would act through our energies, and is checked if we hold our powers hack from him. And we suffer ourselves. The spiritual sluggard's garden will surely be like the natural sluggard's. Thorns and thistles will spring up and riot there. If he would but toil, and sow, and weed, and train, the dews and rains and sunshine would help on his work. This is the reason of our barrenness, not that we have had no dews from heaven, no Spirit of God with us, but that we have neglected our part of the work, and, withholding our loving obedience and active service, have grieved his Holy Spirit. - R.T.
I. THE SPIRIT OF GOD FOR US; OUR GUARANTEE OF SAFETY.
II. THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITH US; OUR CONFIDENCE OF SUFFICIENCY,
III. THE SPIRIT OF GOD IN US; OUR INSPIRATION TO ALL GOODNESS. As materials of illustration the following emblems of the Spirit may be helpful Water: cleansing, fertilizing, refreshing, abundant, freely given. Fire: purifying, illuminating, searching. Wind: independent, powerful, sensible in its effects, reviving. Oil: healing, comforting, illuminating, consecrating. Rain and dew: fertilizing, refreshing, abundant, imperceptible, penetrating. A dove: gentle, meek, innocent, forgiving. A voice: speaking, guiding, warning, teaching. A seal: impressing, securing, authenticating. - R.T.
I. THE MAJESTY OF GOD. He is contemplated as in heaven, upon "a height of holiness and splendour:" and here, as in Psalm 80:14, is besought to "look down and . behold" as if "he had given up caring for his people, and withdrawn into his heavenly palace." It expresses the thought that he, to interpose for them, must ever condescend. The vastness of the distance between God and the creature is expressed - in other words, the sense of the creatures lowliness and unworthiness. Yet elsewhere, "He is nigh unto all that call upon him." The chasm then presented in the imagination may be, and is, bridged over. How? By prayer - by calling upon him. "A sigh may bring the blessing down."
II. THE SEEMING INDIFFERENCE OF GOD. Nevertheless, there are times when the "heavens are as brass," and when the God believed to be "living stirs not, speaks not, gives no sign that he hearkens. As if callous to his people's need, his jealousy" slumbers, and needs to be "stirred." Then comes the "pain of finite hearts that yearn," for the sympathy (the "sounding of the bowels," Isaiah 16:11; Jeremiah 31:20; Jeremiah 48:36) and the compassion which seem withheld and as if deliberately kept back. Such is the tragedy of religious experience - the old conflict between the intellect which absolutely affirms the goodness of God, the heart which is denied the present sense of it.
III. FAITH IN THE FATHERHOOD OF GOD. "Thou art our Father" is the cry, the confession, and the appeal of the Church. In Isaiah 64:8 the image is associated with that of the "Potter." In 1 Chronicles 29:10 it is "Lord God of Israel, our Father." And with this image again is associated the Maker and Purchaser, or Redeemer (Deuteronomy 32:6). The nation is to him as the primitive family is to the father, the head, who enjoys the peculiar patria potestas. The people is "his son, even his firstborn" (Exodus 4:22); "beloved, called out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1); "nourished and brought up" by Jehovah (Isaiah 1:2); as the Guide of its youth (Jeremiah 3:4); who will not disown the tie nor the title (Jeremiah 3:19); Father of Israel, to whom Ephraim is firstborn (Jeremiah 31:9); a Father whose heart is sore troubled for his children's sake, and who is full of mercy and compassion to them (Jeremiah 31:20); who demands the honour and reverence. due to a father (Malachi 1:6; Malachi 2:10). And here the name is associated with that of the goel, the avenger and deliverer; for the people's history was a series of deliverances. If God is a Father, a childlike way of speech is not misbecoming in prayers. And here they ask why Jehovah "makes them to stray," as if they would throw the blame of their aberrations upon him, and he was the Cause of the hardening of their hearts. "They speak as if it is not they who need to return to Jehovah, but Jehovah who is reluctant to return to them; as if, instead of feeding his flock like a Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11), he has driven it out of the safe fold into the howling wilderness" (Cheyne). Yet the confidence of the child beats passionately below such language. God looks not at the mere words, but at the heart in the words. And it is true, again, that from the difficult problems of thought, this way of thinking seems a better relict than the dualism of the Orientals. It is better to leave the problem with the confession, "God knows best" (cf. Romans 9:17-22). Jehovah is also King. The other peoples have kings as their gods; but he is the incomparable One. The calling on his Name signifies the union of him with his people - the eternal covenant (Isaiah 43:7; Isaiah 65:1; Deuteronomy 28:10; Jeremiah 14:9). The spiritual life moves between opposite poles. It has been said that in the highest mood of faith there lurks some doubt. So in extreme despondency there is still living the germ of faith and hope. And prayer brings that germ into life and power. - J.
Exodus 33:19). His fatherhood of man remains and may be counted upon most confidently, although there may appear great obstacles in the way of it.
I. OUR INSIGNIFICANCE AMONG MEN is no indication of the absence of God's interest in us. Abraham might be ignorant of any one of his children; our illustrious ancestors, our honoured contemporaries, may know nothing of us; we may be dwelling in the humblest obscurity; but that need not diminish in the very smallest degree our assurance that God is interesting himself in us. Doubtless he is our Father. "I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me."
II. OUR STANDING AMONG MEN is no measure of God's regard for us. Israel might not be prepared to acknowledge one of his descendants. Men in high authority may withhold from us the light of their countenance; but if there be integrity in our heart and soundness in our life, that need not greatly move us. It is better to have than to lack the confidence of such men, but we can do without it, if necessary. With God for our Father, with Christ for our Divine Friend, we can dispense with "the honour that cometh from man only."
III. GOD'S DISCIPLINE OF US is no disproof of his desire or determination to bless us. God may seem to have forsaken us. He once seemed to have forsaken his well-beloved Son. We may be inclined to use such language as he then used (Matthew 27:46), or as that of the text (ver. 15; and see Psalm 67:7-9). But we may be reassured. Everything he has done or is doing is consistent with his unchanging love. with a fatherhood that never fails. God is only searching, pruning, purifying us. He smites that he may heal us with a wholeness that wilt make us tru
1. Therefore let the voice of prayer be heard in dark and distressing hours. "Look down from heaven."
2. Therefore let the tried and stricken heart anticipate relief and recovery. God's Name is, from everlasting, that of "a Redeemer." - C.
our Father. Two consequences of this assurance about God may be illustrated.
I. HE WANTS US TO BE HIS RESTORED, OBEDIENT CHILDREN. True children, worthy children, of the heavenly Father. But this is a more difficult matter than we at first: suppose. For what sort of children are we now? And what changes must we go through before we can become the children we should be? But God's interest follows the prodigals. He can have no rest until they come home. Shepherds never willingly lose their sheep. Mothers cannot bear to lose a child. Our Father's seeking, saving mercy reaches even to the height of the sacrifice on the cross. It restores; it fills with the home-feeling; it prepares us for the eternal home-place. Now are we the sons of God," etc.
II. HE WANTS US TO LEARN OF HIM HOW TO BE GOOD FATHERS AND MOTHERS TO OUR CHILDREN. Good sons and daughters make the best fathers and mothers. We may learn of the great Father:
1. The power of a sustained example of purity.
2. The influence of the spirit of self-denial.
3. The value of strictness to that which is truthful and righteous.
4. The gracious triumph of long-suffering patience.
These are just the things we need for our human fatherhood and motherhood. - R.T.