Comfort ye, comfort ye My people.Isaiah 44:10), and have been so for long (Isaiah 58:12; Isaiah 61:4 — the "old waste places"): the proud and imposing Babylonian empire is to all appearance as secure as ever; the exiles are in despair or indifferent; they think that God has forgotten them, and have ceased to expect, or desire, their release (Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 49:14, 24). To arouse the indifferent, to reassure the wavering, to expostulate with the doubting, to announce with triumphant confidence the certainty of the approaching restoration, is the aim of the great prophecy which now occupies the last twenty-seven chapters of the Book of Isaiah.
(Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
Isaiah 40treat of the return from Babylon? — The specific application of this chapter to the return from Babylon is without the least foundation in the text itself. The promise is a general one of consolation, protection, and change for the better, to be wrought by the power and wisdom of Jehovah, which are contrasted, first, with those of men, of nations, and of rulers, then with the utter impotence of idols. That the ultimate fulfilment of the promise was still distant, is implied in the exhortation to faith and patience. The reference to idolatry proves nothing with respect to the date of the prediction, although more appropriate in the writings of Isaiah than of a prophet in the Babylonish Exile. It is evidently meant, however, to condemn idolatry in general, and more particularly all the idolatrous defections of the Israelites under the old economy.
(J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Isaiah 39:7. Having there predicted the captivity in Babylon, as one of the successive strokes by which the fate of Israel as a nation and the total loss of its peculiar privileges should be brought about, the prophet is now sent to assure the spiritual Israel, the true people of Jehovah, that although the Jewish nation should not cease to be externally identified with the Church, the Church itself should not only continue to exist, but in a far more glorious state than ever.
(J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
1. A glorious change awaits the Church, consisting in a new and gracious manifestation of Jehovah's presence, for which His people are exhorted to prepare (vers. 1-5).
2. Though one generation perish after another, this promise shall eventually be fulfilled, because it rests not upon human but Divine authority (vers. 6-8).
3. Zion may even now see Him approaching as the conqueror of His enemies, and at the same time as the Shepherd of His people (vers. 9-11).
4. The fulfilment of these pledges is insured by His infinite wisdom, His almighty power, and His independence both of individuals and nations (vers. 12-17).
5. How much more is He superior to material images, by which men represent Him or supply His place (vers. 18-25).
6. The same power which sustains the heavens is pledged for the support of Israel (vers. 26-31).
(J. A. Alexander.)
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
I. LOOK OUT FOR COMFORT.
1. It will come certainly. Wherever the nettle grows, beside it grows the dock-leaf; and wherever there is severe trial, there is, somewhere at hand, a sufficient store of comfort, though our eyes, like Hagar's, are often holden that we cannot see it. It is as sure as the faithfulness of God. "I never had," says Bunyan, writing of his twelve years' imprisonment, "in all my life, so great an insight into the Word of God as now; insomuch that I have often said, Were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble, for the greater comforts' sake." God cannot forget His child.
2. It will come proportionately. Thy Father holds a pair of scales. This on the right is called As, and is for thine afflictions; this on the left is called So, and is for thy comforts. And the beam is always kept level The more thy trial, the more thy comfort. As the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth through Christ.
3. It will come Divinely. God reserves to Himself the prerogative of comfort. It is a Divine art.
4. It will come mediately. What the prophet was as the spokesman of Jehovah, uttering to the people in human tones the inspirations that came to him from God, so to us is the great prophet, whose shoe-latchet the noblest of the prophetic band was not worthy to unloose; and our comfort is the sweeter because it reaches us through Him.
5. It will come variously. Sometimes by the coming of a beloved Titus; a bouquet; a bunch of grapes; a letter; a message; a card. There are many strings in the dulcimer of consolation. In sore sorrow it is not what a friend says, but what he is, that helps us. He comforts best who says least, but simply draws near, takes the sufferer's hand, and sits silent in his sympathy. This is God's method.
II. STORE UP COMFORT. This was the prophet's mission. He had to receive before he could impart. Thy own life becomes the hospital ward where thou art taught the Divine art of comfort. Thou art wounded, that in the binding up of thy wounds by the Great Physician thou mayest learn how to render first-aid to the wounded everywhere.
III. PASS ON COMFORT.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
1. There is the Divine ministry of instruction. In this ministry nature, history, and the Bible are constantly employed.
2. There is the Divine ministry of Justice. Nemesis is always and everywhere at work, treading on the heels of wrong, and inflicting penalties.
3. In the text we have the Divine ministry of comfort. The words suggest three thoughts concerning this ministry.
I. It implies the existence of DISTRESS. Bright and fair as the material world often appears, a sea of sorrow rolls through human souls The distress is of various kinds.
1. Physical suffering.
2. Social bereavement.
3. Secular anxieties.
4. Moral compunction.
II. It implies the existence of SPECIAL MEANS. All this distress is an abnormal state of things. Misery is not an institution of nature, and the creation of God, but the production of the creature. To meet this abnormal state something more than natural instrumentality is required.
1. There must be special provisions. Those provisions are to be found in the Gospel. To the physically afflicted there are presented considerations fitted to energise the soul, endow it with magnanimity, fill it with sentiments and hopes that will raise it, if not above the sense of physical suffering, above its depressing influence. To the socially, bereaved it brings the glorious doctrine of a future life. To the secularly distressed it unfolds the doctrine of eternal providence. In secular disappointments and anxieties it says, "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things."
2. There must be special agency. A physician may know the disease of his patient, but if he does not know the precise mode of application he will not succeed. So it is with the Gospel. A man to give comfort to another requires a special qualification. The comforting elements must be administered —
(1) (2) III. It implies a LIMITED SPHERE. "My people." The whole human family is in distress, but there is only a certain class qualified to receive comfort, those who are here called God's "people," and who are they? Those who have surrendered themselves to His will, yielded to His claims, and dedicated themselves to His service. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
(2) III. It implies a LIMITED SPHERE. "My people." The whole human family is in distress, but there is only a certain class qualified to receive comfort, those who are here called God's "people," and who are they? Those who have surrendered themselves to His will, yielded to His claims, and dedicated themselves to His service. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
III. It implies a LIMITED SPHERE. "My people." The whole human family is in distress, but there is only a certain class qualified to receive comfort, those who are here called God's "people," and who are they? Those who have surrendered themselves to His will, yielded to His claims, and dedicated themselves to His service.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. THE SPEAKER. It is the God of comfort, the God of all comfort that here speaks comfortably to His people. There is a danger of our thinking too much of comfort, and one may only value the word preached as it administers comfort; this is a great error, because all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, and reproof, as well as for comfort. One great end which even the Scriptures have in view, is not only to lead us to patience in suffering, but to comfort us under suffering. It is one thing for man to speak comfort, it is another thing for God to speak comfort.
II. THE PERSONS THAT ARE HERE SPOKEN TO. "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people."
1. The Lord has a people upon earth — He has never been without a people.
2. The Lord has a people; and if He has a people He will try them, and they shall not be found summer flies just resting on the surface of things, but they shall be found to be those that know the truth in the power of it, and they shall be made to feel and experience the worth of it. It shall not be enough for them to say, I am a sinner, but they shall feel the wretchedness of being a sinner, they shall not only confess that Christ is precious, but they shall be placed where they shall know Him to be precious.
3. The Lord has a people; and it is a most blessed consideration to reflect that while He has a people, He is their God. Talk not of your wretchedness and your poverty and your disease, of your weakness; if God be your God, not only heaven is your home, but you have that without which heaven would not be worth the having.
4. God has a people; no wonder then He comforts them — His eye is upon them from the beginning to the end of the year. They are the salt of the earth to Him, and he that touches them touches the apple of His eye.
III. THE LORD'S MESSAGE UNTO HIS MINISTERS. "Comfort ye," etc. The-great cause of comfort to a child of God may be summed up in a little sentence — through eternity he never shall come to the close of it. Let me point out some few of those great mercies that flow to a child of God in consequence of his having Christ as his portion.
1. He has that which made David glad (Psalm 32:1, 2). The great contest Satan has with our consciences is about the pardon of our sins. Well might the people of God then be comforted by this truth, that their sins have all been blotted out as a cloud.
2. Do you ask for another ground of comfort? See it in a covenant, ordered in all things (2 Samuel 23:5).
3. But the Psalmist found another source of comfort. "It is good for me to draw near to God" (Psalm 73.). There is no mercy on earth greater than to have a God in heaven, to have an Intercessor at the right hand; to have the heart of God; to have the promise of God: to have Jehovah Himself as my portion.
4. One comfort more is the bright prospect that is before the child of God.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
I. Notice what a discovery is made in the text of GOD'S NATURE. He has not hidden away from men; He is not asleep or tied down by law, but His tender mercies are over all His works. He is near to every one of us, seeking our love and confidence.
II. HUMAN SOULS NEED COMFORT. Constitutional characteristics render us susceptible to consolatory truths. Even those hardened in sin have been melted by a woman's tears, or have yielded to the persuasiveness of a child.
III. Look at the GROUNDS ON WHICH THIS COMFORT IS ADMINISTERED. Not those of philosophy. When the Greeks, under Xenophon, caught sight of the Euxine, they jubilantly cried, "The sea, the sea!" The discoveries of Divine grace — a sea without a bottom or a shore — elicit profounder joy.
(G. Norcross, D. D.)
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
1. Living in the midst of sorrow, and himself personally its victim, the Christian has need of comfort. Whatever form the affliction may take, it is hard for flesh and blood to bear; it runs contrary to all the tastes and desires of the natural man. Often under its pressure, especially when long continued and severe, is he tempted to faint and despond; it may be, even to repine and murmur; to doubt the faith. fulness of God; to ask, in bitterness of heart, why such woe is appointed to man?
2. With what power, then, do words like these reach him in the midst of his sorrow, coming from God Himself, "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people!" No sooner are they heard than hope revives, and the assurance of Divine sympathy at once soothes his trouble, and allays his fears.(1) Here is the first light from heaven which breaks upon human sorrow, and which removes from it, for the Christian, its keenest sting. God knows your suffering and thinks of it, and seeks to comfort you under it. You are not the sport of inexorable fate, or blind and reckless chance; still less are your afflictions proof that God has abandoned you in wrath.(2) How sweet is the solace of human sympathy! But here we have Divine sympathy; sympathy from One both able and willing to deliver, — from the God of all comfort.(3) Not afar off, does the voice of God reach us, from an inaccessible heaven, telling us we are His people and that He cares for us. He has come and made us His people, by taking our nature, and being born and living as a man.
(J. N. Bennie, LL. B.)
I. GOD HAS A PEOPLE IN THE WORLD.
II. I proceed TO COMPLY WITH THE INJUNCTION IN THE TEXT. To this end, I will endeavour to obviate some few of the most common causes of that want of comfort to which the people of God are liable.
1. One cause is their misunderstanding the nature and extent of that pardon of sin, which the Gospel provides.
2. Another cause arises from their seeking comfort where it is not to be found. You can never find it from poring into your own hearts. Look in faith to Jesus Christ — His glorious person and gracious offices, etc.
3. Another cause arises from their mistaking the proofs and marks of a really religious state. They suppose that it consists in warm and rapturous feelings. Your salvation is grounded on the faithfulness of Him who cannot lie.
I. A great many of our business men feel ruinous trials and temptations coming to them FROM SMALL AND LIMITED CAPITAL IN BUSINESS. This temptation of limited capital has ruined men in two ways. Despondency has blasted them. Others have said, "Here I have been trudging along. I have been trying, to be honest all these years. I find it is of no use. Now it is make or break.
II. A great many of our business men are tempted to OVER-ANXIETY AND CARE. God manages all the affairs of your life, and He manages them for the best.
III. Many of our business men are tempted TO NEGLECT THEIR HOME DUTIES. How often it is that the store and the home seem to clash, but there ought not to be any collision. If you want to keep your children away from places of sin, you can only do it by making your home attractive. We need more happy, consecrated, cheerful Christian homes.
IV. A great many of our business men are tempted to PUT THE ATTAINMENT OF MONEY ABOVE THE VALUE OF THE SOUL. The more money you get, the better if it come honestly and go usefully. But money cannot satisfy a man's soul; it cannot glitter in the dark valley; it cannot pay our fare across the Jordan of death; it cannot unlock the gate of heaven. Treasures in heaven are the only uncorruptible treasures. Have you ever ciphered out in the rule of Loss and Gain the sum, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?" Seek after God; find His righteousness, and all shall be well here and hereafter.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
I. SHOW WHAT THE COMFORT IS which the Gospel of our Lord conveys to mankind. Whenever we speak of comforting another, the very expression implies that he is in tribulation and distress. Without the Gospel of Christ the condition of men must be wretched.
II. DESCRIBE THE PERSONS WHO ARE AUTHORISED TO TAKE THAT COMFORT TO THEMSELVES. Evangelical obedience is to be the foundation of evangelical comfort.
1. By reminding them that I am their God.
2. By reminding them that their captivity in this world is nearly over, and that they will soon be home.
3. The Saviour is coming to this world, and is on His way to show His glory here. He will come and fill the world with His victories.
(C. Stanford, D. D.)
I. TO WHOM IS THIS COMMAND ADDRESSED? The Holy Spirit is the great Comforter, and He it is who alone can solace the saints; but He uses instruments to relieve His children in their distress and to lift up their hearts from desperation. To whom, then, is this command addressed?
1. To angels, first of all. You often talk about the insinuations of the devil. Allow me to remind you that there is another side of that question, for if evil spirits assault us, doubtless good spirits guard us. It is my firm belief that angels are often employed by God to throw into the hearts of His people comforting thoughts.
2. But on earth this is more especially addressed to the Lord's ministers. The minister should ask of God the Spirit, that he may be filled with His influence as a comforter.
3. But do not support your ministers as an excuse for the discharge of your own duties; many do so. When God said, "Comfort ye, comfort ye My people," He spake to all His people to comfort one another.
II. WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THIS COMMAND?
1. Because God loves to see His people look happy. The Roman Catholic supposes that God is pleased with a man if he whips himself, walks barefooted for many miles, and torments his body. When I am by the seaside, and the tide is coming in, I see what appears to be a little fringe, looking almost like a mist; and I ask a fisherman what it is. He tells me there is no mist there; and that what I see are all little shrimps dancing in ecstasy, throwing themselves in convulsions and contortions of delight. I think within myself, "Does God make those creatures happy, and did He make me to be miserable? Can it ever be a religious thing to be unhappy?" No; true religion is in harmony with the whole world; it is in harmony with the whole sun and moon and stars, and the sun shines and the stars twinkle; the world has flowers in it and leaping hills and carolling birds; it has joys in it; and I hold it to be an irreligious thing to go moping miserably through God's creation.
2. Because uncomfortable Christians dishonour religion.
3. Because a Christian in an uncomfortable state cannot work for God much. It is when the mind is happy that it can be laborious.
4. Again, "Comfort ye" God's people, because ye profess to love them.
III. God never gives His children a duty without giving them THE MEANS TO DO IT. Let me just hint at those things in the everlasting Gospel which have a tendency to comfort the saints. Whisper in the mourner's ear electing grace, and redeeming mercy, and dying love. Tell him that God watcheth the furnace as the goldsmith the refining pot. If that does not suffice, tell him of his present mercies; tell him that he has much left, though much is gone. Tell him that Jesus is above, wearing the breast-plate, or pleading his cause. Tell him that though earth's pillars shake, God is a refuge for us; tell the mourner that the everlasting God faileth not, neither is weary. Let present facts suffice thee to cheer him. But if this is not enough, tell him of the future; whisper to him that there is a heaven with pearly gates and golden streets.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Why should not our faith go farther afield and have a more generous range? We also carry in our hearts, not only as citizens, but also as Christians, this England which God gave to our fathers, and has continued in its glory unto their children. Why should we not take our courage in both our hands and, looking at the history of the past and comparing it with the history of the present, recognise in our own people another Israel called of God in a special manner, set apart by God for a special mission, and gather into our soul all the promises of God, and also make our boast in Him as the prophets did? What did they depend on, the Hebrew prophets, for this great conception that God had called the nation, and had a great work for that nation to do? They depended on the facts of history behind them creating in their soul an irresistible conviction. And I ask you whether the right arm of the Most High has not been as conspicuous in English history? From what perils in past centuries has He not delivered this country when the whole world was against us and was put to confusion! Have not we been surrounded by the sea, our national character formed, for purposes that we can recognise? What nation has ever planted so many colonies, explored so many unknown lands, made such practical contributions to civilisation, set such an illustrious example of liberty? Within our blood is the genius for government, the passion for justice, the love of adventure, and the intelligence of pure faith. Our Lord came of the Jewish stock, and therefore that people must have a lonely place, but when it comes to the carrying out of those great blessings, physical, political, social, and religious, which have been conferred upon the world by the Cross and the pierced hand of the Lord, I challenge anyone to say whether any nation has so extended them within her own borders, or been so willing to give them to the ends of the earth as God's England.
2. I do not forget England's sins, for we have sinned in our own generation by inordinate love of material possessions, by discord between the classes of the commonwealth, by a certain insolence which has offended foreign peoples, and also by hideous sins of the flesh. Our sins have been great, and it becomes us to acknowledge them. Does our sin destroy our calling? Does our sin break the Covenant which the Eternal made with our fathers? No people ever sinned against God like Israel. And between the sin of Israel and the sin of England, God's chosen people of ancient and modern times, there has been the similarity which arises from the sin of people in the same position. Both boasted themselves over-much against other peoples. Both were intoxicated with prosperity. Both depended upon it instead of utilising and conserving the favour of the Most High. When we desire to confess our sins where do we go? We go to the confessions of the Hebrew prophets. And when we ask mercy for our sins, what are the promises we plead? The great promise of mercy declared by the evangelical prophet and now sealed by the life and death and resurrection of our Lord! Because the Hebrew prophet believed that his people were God's people, he had the courage to speak plainly to them. He is not a traitor to his country who on occasions points out his country's sins. When Israel sinned there was no voice so loud as that of Isaiah or Amos, but they delighted not in the work, any more than their God delighted in judgment. If God sent them with a rod they took the rod and gave the stroke, but the stroke fell also on the prophet's own heart, and he suffered most of all the people. When the people repented and turned again to God, when they brought forth works meet for repentance and showed humility, there was no man so glad as the prophet.
3. When the prophet takes up the work of consolation he has no bounds, he makes the comfort of God to run down the streets like a river. It is not enough to say it once, but twice must he sound it, till the comfort of God shall run like lightning through Jerusalem. And when he takes to comforting he is not to be bound by theories of theology or arguments of the schools. He is not going to ask questions — whether a man can expiate his sins, or whether a nation can win repentance. He flings all this kind of argument to the wind, for he has come out from the presence of the Eternal, who does not keep accounts like that, and he cries, "Speak ye home to Jerusalem; her warfare is accomplished." Accomplished! More than that! God hath now repented! It was His people repented first, now He is repenting. They repented of their sins; behold, God has begun to repent of His judgment! "I have," he makes the Eternal say — "I have been over-hard with these people, and I have punished them more than they have deserved. Go and comfort them. Comfort them royally. Give it out with a lavish hand — they have received double for all their sins." When the prophet speaks in this fashion he is not referring to material prosperity, for the words were spoken to the exiles in Babylon. He comforted the exiles because they had repented and been reconciled unto God. The comfort I preach is not based on arms. It is based on the nobler spirit which God has given England during the progress of the war in South Africa. We sinned, and according to our sin was our punishment. We have repented. Through our churches and through our homes, and individually, we have laid the lessons of the Eternal to heart; and according to our repentance shall be the blessing of God.
(J. Watson, M. A.)
I. There is a message in this text for ALL WHO ARE UNDER DISCIPLINE ON ACCOUNT OF SIN. The connection between sin and punishment is never really broken. Men were never so clever as they are to-day in the efforts they have put forth to evade the penalties of wrong-doing, and they very often succeed so far as outward effects are concerned, But the inward penalty is always sure. Loss of self-respect, loss of faculty, and deterioration of nature itself. "Thy warfare is accomplished," thy discipline may come to an end. It is the spirit of rebellion which lengthens the period of discipline. Lay down your weapons, give up fighting against God, and He will forgive you now, and the consequences of your wrongdoing shall inwardly be done away. Further, your pardon will tell at once on the outward consequences of your wrong-doing. You forfeited the confidence of your friends by your sin; that will come back to you. You damaged your health; that will improve. You injured your social position; that will be retrieved. Just as there is no decree in God's mind as to the length of time during which a man's discipline shall be continued, so there is no decree as to the amount of suffering man can endure. The suffering, like the time, may be relieved by speedy submission and penitence.
II. There is a message in this text for ALL WHO IN RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE HAVE NEVER GOT BEYOND CONVICTION. Beyond conviction there is the forgiveness of God. Beyond the sin there is purity. Beyond doubt there is faith; and beyond all this miserable weariness of spirit there is rest.
III. There is a message here, also, for ALL TIMID CHRISTIANS. They feel it would be presumption to expect conscious pardon and Christian perfection. Cultivate your capacity to take in the comfort of God.
IV. There is a message here for ALL DISCONSOLATE CHRISTIANS. You want new ideas, the old ones are about worn out. Thy warfare with weariness is accomplished.
V. There is a message here for DISCONSOLATE CHURCHES. The Jewish Church was disconsolate at the time of the captivity, and there are Churches to-day which are in a sort of captivity. They have made exceptional provision for the needs of the people, yet they are declining. The declension of Churches in great populations is due to many causes, but due to one cause that is a great deal overlooked, and that is the very peculiar temperament of the generation in which your lot has been east. Competition, in particular, has led to a vast amount of advertising. But disconsolate Churches may be comforted. We are coming out of the captivity of those habits and conditions which have come down from the restrictive ages of society. Modern evangelism has grown steadily in the elements of truth and spiritual intelligence. It is resulting to-day in the deepening of spiritual life, and in the expansion of the kingdom of God.
VI. There is a message here for THE NATION AND THE EMPIRE. The return from captivity was the beginning of a new spiritual movement, which was destined to extend over many countries. The classical period of human history was about to begin. My text is the new strain with which the prophet greets the expanding prospect. As one has said, It is the keynote of the revived and purified Israel, and the reason of the hold of Christendom on Europe and on modern times. There is a wonderful correspondence between that period and ours. England is the centre to-day. Judaism at the time referred to was rational-ised by being brought into contact with forms of Roman and Greek thought. Christianity is being rationalised by contact with natural religion. But who is the leader of the improvement of the modern world? "Who is this that cometh from Edom?" etc. (chap. 63:1). Was it some king ruling the nations with a rod of iron? No. Some soldier with a two-edged sword? No. Some philosopher ruling the intellect of the race? No. Jehovah s righteous servant and witness it was: "that speak in righteousness, mighty to save." And the Lord Christ, the Son of God, never spoke to the race as He is speaking to-day, and He needs His messengers to prepare His way.
(T. Allen, D. D.)
(H. G. Guinness, D. D.)
Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem.
I. THE VOICE OF FORGIVENESS. The first need of the soul is forgiveness. It can endure suffering; and if that suffering, like the Jewish exile, has been caused by its own follies and sins, it will meekly bow beneath it, saying with Eli, under similar circumstances, "It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth good to Him." But the sense of being unforgiven! This bitterness of heart for sin is the first symptom of returning life! And before God can enter upon His great work of salvation, before He can clear away the debris and restore the ruined temple, before He can reproduce His image, it is needful to assure the penitent and believing soul that its time of service is accomplished, that its iniquity is pardoned. In dealing with the question of sin and its results, let us always distinguish between its penal and natural consequences. The distinction comes out clearly in the ease of drunkenness or criminal violence. Society steps in and inflicts the penalties of the fine, the prison, or the lash; but in addition to these, there is the aching head, the trembling hand, the shattered nervous system. So in respect to all sin. The natural consequences remain. David was forgiven, but the sword never left his house. The drunkard, the dissolute, the passionate, may be pardoned, and yet have to reap as they sowed. The consequences of forgiven sin may be greatly sanctified; the Marah waters cured by the tree of the Cross — yet they must be patiently and inevitably endured. It was thus that Jerusalem was suffering, when these dulcet notes reached her. The backsliding and rebellious people were doomed to serve their appointed time and captivity, and suffer the natural and inevitable results of apostasy. Hence the double comfort of this first announcement.
II. THE VOICE OF DELIVERANCE. Between Babylon and Palestine lay a great desert of more than thirty days' journey. But the natural difficulties that seemed to make the idea of return chimerical, were small compared with those that arose from other circumstances. The captives were held by as proud a monarchy as that which refused to let their fathers go from the brick-kilns of Egypt. Mountains arose in ranges between them and freedom, and valleys interposed their yawning gulfs. But when God arises to deliver His people who cry day and night unto Him, mountains swing back, as did the iron gate before Peter; valleys lift their hollows into level plains; crooked things become straight, and rough places smooth.
III. THE VOICES OF DECAY AND IMMORTAL STRENGTH. As man's soul is still, and becomes able to distinguish the voices that speak around him in that eternal world to which he, not less than the unseen speakers, belongs, it hears first and oftenest the lament of the angels over the transcience of human life and glory. In a stillness, in which the taking of the breath is hushed, the soul listens to their conversation as they speak together. "Cry," says one watcher to another. "What shall I cry?" is the instant inquiry. There is, continues the first, "but one sentiment suggested by the aspect of the world of men. All flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the wild flowers of the meadow-lands, blasted by the breath of the east wind, or lying in swathes beneath the reaper's scythe." The words meet with a deep response in the heart of each thoughtful man. But listen further to the voices of the heavenly watchers. The failure of man shall not frustrate the Divine purpose. "The Word of the Lord shall stand for ever."
IV. VOICES TO HERALD THE SHEPHERD-KING. The Old Version and the margin of the R.V. are, perhaps, preferable to the R.V. Zion, the grey fortress of Jerusalem, is bidden to climb the highest mountain within reach, and to lift up her voice in fearless strength, announcing to the cities of Judah lying around in ruins that God was on His way to restore them. "Say unto the cities, Behold your God! Behold the Lord God will come." All eyes are turned to behold the entrance on the scene of the Lord God, especially as it has been announced that He will come as a mighty one. But, lo! a Shepherd conducts His flock with leisurely steps across the desert sands, gathering the lambs with His arm, and carrying them in His bosom, and gently leading those that give suck. It is as when, in after centuries, the beloved apostle was taught to expect the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and, lo! in the midst of the throne stood a Lamb as it had been slain. Do not be afraid of God. He has a shepherd's heart and skill.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
I. In our text, there is a specification of one large class of medicine; and therefore, by inference, ONE LARGE CLASS OF SICKNESS. "Comfort" is the staple of the prescription. And what was the condition of these patients? We may ascertain this from the subsequent words, "Cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hands double for all her sins." Here evidently the condition of Jerusalem is one of distress and anxiety and distraction; and this accords most exactly with a passage in the Psalms, and with which we shall connect our text — "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, Thy comforts delight my soul." Here there is the same medicine — "comfort"; but you have the disease more clearly defined — a "multitude of thoughts." Bishop Austin's version is, "The multitude of my anxieties within me"; whilst the representation in the original Hebrew would seem that of a man involved in a labyrinth, from whose intricacies there was no way of escape. All this agrees precisely with the case of Jerusalem in the text. And what cause of distressing anxiety would there be whilst there was warfare unfinished, and sin unforgiven! A multitude of thoughts is a very common symptom; but in different patients it requires very different medicines. A man might be "a man after God's own heart," and yet subject to the invasion of a crowd of anxieties. It is not uncommon for religious persons to erect standards of excellence, failing to reach which they become uneasy and doubtful as to their spiritual state. Reading the promises of the Bible, which speak of the righteous as "kept in perfect peace," which breathe tranquillity, abstraction from earthly cares and foretastes of the blessedness of heaven, they conclude that what they ought to experience is perfect serenity of mind; and when they often experience distracting anxieties which the spirit is unable to throw off altogether, and when in times of approaching in prayer the Lord God of heaven and earth, they find their attention broken, then they will add to every other grief a worse grief than all — they will suspect their own sincerity in religion. And never can it be a part of our business to lessen the extent of what is blameworthy, or to endeavour to persuade the righteous that freedom from anxiety is not a privilege to be sought for, or that the concentration of the whole soul is not to be attempted, and failure therein not bitterly lamented. But we know that amid the turmoil of this busy world there will often be such an invasion of the altar of the Lord as when the birds came down on Abraham's sacrifice. "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." And whilst we could not wish men to regard their infirmities as sufficient excuses, or to be content with imperfection, as though unavoidable; still, where there is the honest endeavour to stay the mind on God, and abstract it from earth, we may tell them that piety may consist with anxiety, and sincerity of prayer with a multitude of thoughts. God is speaking to those who were sorely distracted, and yet He still calls them "My people." It is not every failure which should fill you with apprehension as to your state before God. So wonderfully are we made, so many are the inlets into the mind, so great are the facilities with which evil angels can ply their suggestions, so difficult, moreover, is it to keep that attention to worldly business which is required from us as members of society, from being deformed by that carefulness which is forbidden us as members of Christ's Church; that, indeed, it were vain to hope, however it be right to desire, that anxiety shall never harass us in a world that teems with trouble. So far from being necessarily a cause of despair or despondency, the Christian may rise superior to all these intruders, and prove that they do but heighten the blessedness of the blessing, though invaded by the influence of earth. God speaks to those as still "His people" who are wearied and worn down with warfare and toil; and in place of speaking to them reproachfully He has only soothing things to utter — "Comfort ye," etc.
II. Our latter observations have somewhat trenched on THE CHARACTER OF THE MEDICINE which should be tried when the disease is a multitude of thoughts; but we must now examine with attention, and endeavour to determine its faithfulness and its efficiency. The case is that of a righteous man on whom cares and sorrows press with great weight; and whose mind is torn with anxieties and thronged by a crowd of restless intruders distracting him even in his communings with God. Now, the very disease under which this man labours incapacitates him in a great measure for any process of argument. His distracted mind is quite unfitted for that calm and searching inquiry which is required into the matter of the evidences of Christianity for strictly convincing him of the inspiration of Scripture. His mind is evidently unfitted for duly considering, and examining with that singleness of purpose which is demanded by their solemnity, mysteriousness, and importance such truths as those of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement. Ask ye what these comforts are? There are the rich assurances of God's forgiving love; there are the gracious declarations of His everlasting purpose of preserving to the end those whom He has chosen in Christ; there are the multiplied promises which make to the eye of faith the page of Scripture one sheet of burning brightness, always presenting most radiantly what is most suited to the necessity. There are the foretastes of immortality. You may without sinfulness and merely through infirmity be invaded and harassed by a multitude of thoughts. But the evil is that when thus invaded and harassed the Christian is apt to attempt a critical examination of his spiritual state, to encourage doubts as to his acceptance with God, and to try and satisfy himself by some process of reasoning as to whether he has indeed believed unto the saving of his soul, whereas his very state is one which unfits him for reasoning, for sitting in judgment on himself, and delivering an accurate verdict. He is sick, and requires God's comfort.
III. The comforting message is to be delivered to Jerusalem, and annexed is a statement of her warfare being accomplished; and if you connect with this the exclamation of St. Paul — "I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course," you will see that we make no far-fetched application of the text, if we affirm it as SPECIALLY APPROPRIATE ON THE APPROACH OF THE LAST ENEMY, DEATH. Never is it likely that there will be a more tumultuous gathering of conflicting emotions than when the mind fixes itself on approaching death. It is here that the power of all mere human resources must eventually fail. Christianity furnishes an abundance of what is needed for allaying the fear of death, and soothing man's passage to the tomb.
(H. Mevill, B. D.)
Her warfare is accomplished
I. THE LIFE OF THE TRUE BELIEVER IS A WARFARE. Frequently is it represented to us in the Holy Scripture by this form of military phraseology. Hence, says the apostle, "Fight the good fight of faith"; and, writing to Timothy, "That by these thou mightest war a good warfare"; "I have fought a good fight," etc.
1. The great principle of the conflict is faith, founded and implanted in the mind by a super-natural agency. No man will ever in a Christian sense contend, until he is united by a living faith to Jesus, the Son of God: for faith acquaints him with his spiritual enemies; faith is the principle of the new life which puts itself into an attitude of resistance against all that is hostile to itself. "This is the victory that over-cometh the world, even our faith." When a man is slumbering in his sin, nothing is further from his thoughts than to maintain a spiritual conflict with invisible, spiritual existences; but, under the influence of faith, he will find he is surrounded by a legion of foes. He looks within, and there he finds the corruption of fallen nature. Besides the corruption of an evil nature, there are the powers of darkness. The world, even in its lawful form, is a very serious enemy to our spiritual progress and our spiritual peace.
2. This contention will continue as long as life shall last.
II. THE HOUR OF DEATH WITNESSES THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THIS WARFARE.
1. Death is the instrumental means of separating us from our connection with the present evil world; it strikes at once a line of demarcation, which throws us beyond the reach of all the elements of this present sensible life. He upon whom death has performed his solemn office, has no further interest in the possessions, the endearments, the gains, the business, the pleasures, and the satisfactions of this vain world.
2. Then, death terminates the strife of sin.
3. Death confesses that the believer is a conqueror over himself, and fields the palm of victory at the moment when he inflicts the blow (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
III. THE CONSOLING AND EXHILARATING QUALITIES OF THIS BLESSED CONSUMMATION.
1. When the warfare ends, the rest begins.
2. This state of rest is also a state of peculiar and inexpressible delight. It is something more than rest, as implying a cessation from toil and from contention; it is a joyful rest. Think of the place of rest into which the departed spirits of the just are received. They are where Christ is; they behold His glory. And then, consider the society to which the ransomed spirits of the just are admitted. Think of the employments to which they are advanced. They serve God day and night in His temple, and His name is in their foreheads.
3. This felicity is evermore increasing.
4. This felicity will be for ever and ever. "So shall we ever be with the Lord."
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
Double for all her sins.
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness.I. DEPRECIATION OF SELF. Isaiah had predicted simply a "voice"; and John Baptist, accordingly, with a humility which ministers of the New Testament should follow, laid no stress on anything personal to himself — the announcement of his birth by an angel, his priestly descent, his years of preparation — though all these supplied advantages to his ministry. He concentrated attention on what he had to tell In me there is nothing to attract or benefit. I am only what centuries ago was predicted — a voice.
II. EXALTATION OF HIS MESSAGE AS DIVINE.
III. A PROCLAIMING AS THE CENTRAL TOPIC IN THE EVERLASTING MESSAGE A DIVINE, AND THEREFORE EFFECTUAL, HELPER FOR THE RUINED. "He shall gather"; "He shall carry"; "He shall gently lead"; "All flesh shall see the salvation of the Lord" (vers. 10, 11, with 5). And John Baptist accordingly announced, as ministers of the New Testament should now announce, the presence in Christ Jesus of a perfect Saviour (John 1:26, 27, 29; Matthew 3:11; John 3:29, 30). Who among the audience of the "faithful ambassador" have rightly caught the message? (1 Peter 2:3.)
1. Those who surrender all habits inconsistent with his call
2. Those who rejoice greatly in the guardianship and guidance of the great Deliverer proclaimed (1 Peter 1:5, 6).
(D. D. Stewart, M. A.)
Prepare ye the way of the Lord.I. THE JEWISH THEOCRACY. It is a favourite statement with those who seek to account for Christianity on entirely mundane principles, that Christ grew, as it were, out of His age. The age was waiting for some such Teacher, some such Gospel — and Teacher and Gospel came. Just as the wreck of the Roman Republic demanded a hand and brain like Caesar's, and they appeared at the critical moment and reorganised the State, so the Great Preacher of the universal Gospel was called for by His times, and He came. There is something in the spirit of an age, we are told, which creates the heroes and teachers of the age. This is very interesting, and has a large measure of truth in it. Men of high genius are singularly sensitive to the influences around them, and are created while they create; but it is blankly impossible to account for Christ and Christianity by natural evolution, with the Jewish theocracy, a grand prophetic system which for nearly two thousand years looked unto and prophesied of the Messiah, standing in the way. There was existing for ages in the world, kept alive by marvellous interventions of a higher hand, a national community, whose function was distinctly, from first to last, to prepare the way for the Advent, for the Divine kingdom which was to rule over and to bless mankind. These Jews were set to bear witness of the reality of the Divine rule, and its necessity, if states were to be saved from chaos, and the whole world from wreck. There was a period, when Moses led them in the wilderness, when the theocracy came out with wonderful clearness. Then there was a period, under their kings, when, through their worldly conformity to the life of surrounding nations, the theocracy was obscured. But the captivity ended that conformity in sorrow and in shame. From the time of the captivity the idea of the theocracy was restored. The prophets are throughout its great witnesses. The expectation, as matter of history, grew intense as the Advent approached. The expectation of the Advent of a Being, a Person, who should fulfil the promise and the prophecy with which their national life and literature were charged; who should bring, what Christ has brought — a Gospel of salvation to the world. It is a wonderful feature of the preparation, that just as the nation which exhibited the theocracy was dying away as a nation its belief in the theocracy grew more intense, and its witness grew more clear and impressive to the approaching Advent of the great world theocrat — the Christ.
II. THE JEWISH DISPERSION. It was a very wonderful chain of providential agencies which, before the Advent, scattered that people, these witnesses so charged with the promise and the prophecy, through the civilised world. Up to the time of the captivity the Jews kept themselves in a kind of stem, or, as the heathen around them called it, a sullen isolation. They cherished the sense of a lofty superiority. But, after the captivity, they displayed a singular facility of dispersion, a happy art of settling and flourishing among the Gentile peoples, which makes them to this day, pace the Anglo-Saxon, the first settlers of the world. In every chief city of the empire which Alexander founded a colony of Jews was sure to be settled; and the same state of things afterwards obtained in the far wider empire of Rome. In order to appreciate the significance of this, you must estimate the utter confusion of human beliefs and ideas about Divine things and beings which had been the fruit of the Greek and Roman conquests. Neither Greek nor Roman had belief enough in his gods to impose them on the conquered nations; nor did they find anything Divine among the conquered nations which seemed better worth worshipping than their own. This confusion of religious ideas and systems and deities, none of which had power to emerge with absolute or even strong claims to belief, was profoundly detrimental to moral earnestness, and indeed to any high-toned belief about Divine things. There was an utter confusion and decay of faith. But here were communities settled among them who had an absolute and indestructible belief in their Revelation. They had a God to worship of whom they could give intelligible account. The Jews lived among the heathen in isolation still; but the isolation was visibly based on a religious faith, and on religious records. These Jews, scattered abroad, were witnesses everywhere of the reality and necessity of Divine revelation to, and Divine legislation for, man. They familiarised men with the ideas which Christianity proclaimed, and on which it rested its authoritative claim to the homage and the obedience of mankind.
III. THERE WAS A VERY REMARKABLE CHANGE WITHIN THE BOSOM OF HEATHEN SOCIETY ITSELF, IN ITS INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL IDEAS, WHICH NOT ONLY OPENED THE WAY FOR THE TRUTH OF CHRISTIANITY, BUT SEEMED TO DEMAND SOME SUCH REVELATION OF TRUTH TO MANKIND. Students of philosophy note a very decided progress between the age of Socrates and the age of Seneca in the consideration of questions bearing on man's individual life and destiny. The supreme interest of a man's life in the golden age of Greek philosophy lay in his relations, as a member of a society, as a citizen of a State. Within the little circle of Athenian society men realised a closeness of relation to each other, which made the State something of a household. The conquests of Alexander created an entirely new order of things. The Greek became, not the citizen of a State almost domestic in its magnitude and character, but the subject of a great Empire, lost in an undistinguished mass of fellow-subjects, and quite cut adrift from the landmarks and the moorings by which he had been wont to steer and stay his life. The Greek must think about himself and his world, and Alexander led him out into a world too big for him, which oppressed and distracted him, and overthrew all the traditions of his schools. It was a world, too, of ceaseless conflict and change. The state of the Greek world between Alexander's conquests and the establishment of Roman supremacy, say, roughly, two hundred years, was such as to throw the thinker back upon himself, to lead him to realise his individual responsibility, to force on him the question, "What, after all, am I? Whence did I come? For what am I here? Whither do I tend? I am in a world full of confusion and misery — how am I to regulate my life, so that my happiness may not become a wreck?" So the great thinkers increasingly concerned themselves with questions which had to do with the individual man, his duty, his responsiblilty, his destiny, his means of arming himself for the battle of life, his means of saving himself from utter and hopeless loss. Thus there was a growing tendency in men to consider very much the question which Christianity came to treat of as salvation. The thoughts of man, the longings and aspirations of man, seem to be led up step by step to the point in which the cry, "Lord, save, or I perish!" was ready, did he but know all the meaning of his dumb pain, to fashion itself on his lips. All was waiting for the proclamation, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor," etc. When men went abroad and proclaimed the Advent of a Saviour, they found a ready entrance to the world's sad, wistful heart.
IV. THE ROMAN EMPIRE. Incomparably the most important secular herald of the Advent was the Empire — an Empire under whose sceptre such a decree could go forth (Luke 2:1). There are many points of view from which the Empire may be regarded as the herald of the kingdom which was destined to master it, and found on it the edifice of Christian society. We are working and building on the foundations of the Empire still. The whole of modern European society is but the fully developed Empire of Rome. It is the centre of the secular, as the Advent of Christ is the centre of the spiritual, history of mankind. I might say much about the universal peace, which made the preaching of a universal Gospel possible. About the universal law and language, which made the career of the preachers, at any rate, far easier and more rapid than it could have been in any previous state of society. The fundamental question opened by the Empire is also a fundamental question of Christianity, the relation of men to each other. Is it enmity? is it brotherhood? Is the struggle for existence the ruling principle of progress, or brotherly sympathy, care, and love? The state of natural enmity and constant war gave way to a state in which peace, good-fellowship, and mutual ministries were regarded as the natural condition of society. Briton and Egyptian, Syrian and Spaniard, formed together a great political unity; and were drawn into bonds of relation to each other, the nature and bearings of which men were eager to explore. There rose on the minds of men the idea of human brotherhood. Men began to speculate about a common good in which civilised humanity was to share, and a duty of the whole human community to its weaker members, its sick, its poor, its wretched. Men wanted to know why and how they were brethren, why and how they were to love. And so arose perhaps the greatest herald of the Advent in secular society, the longing for a kingdom which should fulfil the promise which Rome in the nature of things was constantly breaking; and give peace, concord, love to a distracted world. Thus the way was prepared, the highway through the desert was made.
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
I. ITS LITERAL ACCOMPLISHMENT.
1. In the appearance of John the Baptist. Ages rolled away, and no such preparing voice was heard in the desert of Judea. But it was at length heard.
2. Following the footsteps of the servant, comes the Master. And as John had said, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord," then was the glory of God manifested; and all flesh, living at that time in Judea, saw it together: the glory of God in human nature. Jesus Christ was the visible image of the glory of God all the time He was on earth. The visible image —(1) Of the power of God. His works were Divine; His word was power. See His power over the elements.(2) Of the truth of God. The doctrine of Christ has brought us nearer to the unclouded truth of the Divine mind than men were ever brought before.(3) Of the holiness of God; and that even while He was man upon earth.(4) Of the justice of God. Though this is not so frequently adverted to as other attributes, yet it is important. Why did Christ die so willingly? If, then, the glory of God was revealed even in the lowliness and sufferings of the Saviour, I ask if the coming of Christ had not in it more real pomp than if He had come with all the grandeur of an Eastern monarch, to a people who waited for Him?
II. ITS SPIRITUAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. This is seen in the manifestation of Christ to the hearts of men. In this there is both preparation and manifestation; for Christ, in mercy, no more bursts upon the soul at once than He did upon the world; He sends His messenger to prepare the way before Him; this is the first part of the process. That preparing herald, figured by John the Baptist, is repentance. Consider what repentance is, and you will see how it prepares the soul for Christ, for pardon, happiness, and purity.
1. The first element is a deep and serious conviction of the fact of our sin. For if we justify ourselves, there will be no preparation.
2. The second element is a conviction of the extreme danger of sin and its infinite desert.
3. The third element is a burdened and disquieted spirit. This supposes a feeling that we are not able to deliver ourselves. The way of the Lord is then plain; all obstructions are removed when we come to this; for all true repentance, like the preaching of John the Baptist, concludes by saying, "Behold the Lamb of God!" It is here alone that we see the glory of God. For what is the happiness of a pardoned soul, but one of the brightest manifestations of the glory of God upon earth? Here is a visible manifestation of the glory of the Divine patience; that man, amidst all his repeated provocations, should at last be saved and made happy. The glory of the grace of God! What a comment on the words of the apostle, "By grace are ye saved!" And then, see the glory of that working of the Divine power by which the soul is finally brought into the enjoyment of all the mind that was in Christ; the soul changing from glory to glory, and the work completed by an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom. This is the manifestation of Christ to the soul.
III. ITS ALLEGORICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT. It is seen in the establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth. He sends forth His heralds. It is by the ministry of His Gospel that His dominion is established. The doctrine to be preached is that of repentance. So St. Paul preached at Athens. The manifestation of the master follows. Here is a manifestation of the glory of the heavenly wisdom, raising, exalting, and purifying the human intellect; of the Divine righteousness, putting a stop to all cruelty and injury. The glory of peace and harmony; the union of man's heart to man, the extinction of external wars, and the diffusion of internal harmony. The glory of that order among families, and societies, and nations, preserved, and sanctified, and so regulated that no part infringes on the other, but the whole proceeds harmoniously, like a piece of sound mechanism. The glory of mercy and charity: teaching men to remember those that are in afflictions, as being themselves in like manner afflicted. This is a glory peculiar to the Christian revelation.
I. Hence, a remedial dispensation would naturally be delayed, until the moral character of man, both individual and social, had been fully displayed; and MANKIND HAD BECOME IN SOME DEGREE CAPABLE OF APPRECIATING THE FACTS THUS PRESENTED TO THEIR NOTICE. But, besides this, the Gospel is a revelation communicated to man by language, and its authenticity, as is meet, is attested by miracles. Now, considerable progress must have been made in civilisation before such testimony could be given as we would be willing to receive on a question of so vital importance. Until the laws of nature are to some extent known, we cannot determine whether the Creator has or has not in a particular case departed from them. And this leads us to observe, again, that a revelation from God to man, informing him of this wonderful change in the conditions of his probation, — a revelation designed for all ages to the end of time, and destined to work a perfect transformation in the moral character of our race, — could not have been completed until language had arrived at a considerable degree of perfection. It was necessary that the doctrines and motives peculiar to the new dispensation should be promulgated with all possible explicitness, and yet guarded from all tendency either to incompleteness or excess. Amidst all the agitations of society, throughout all the overturnings of empire, the human mind, during this long period, had been gradually attaining maturity. Each nation, during its brief existence, had either added something to the stock of human knowledge, or made some contribution to the materials for human thought. Every revolution had illustrated in some new phase the principles of conduct, and had bequeathed the lesson to succeeding generations.
II. We see, then, that God not only prepared a language in which this revelation for all coming ages could, be written, but HE DIFFUSED THAT LANGUAGE OVER THE CIVILISED WORLD. He created a suitable vehicle for the truth, and He made that vehicle, as far as was necessary, universal. And this work was accomplished by means of the ambition of Alexander, and the all-grasping love of dominion of the citizens of Rome. Men ignorant of the existence and character of the true God, bowing down to the senseless images which their own hands had fashioned, indulging without restraint their own corrupt passions, were thus advancing His purposes, and opening the way for the advent of His Son.
III. One other condition remains yet to be observed. The nations inhabiting the shores of the Mediterranean were originally distinct in government, dissimilar in origin, diverse in laws, habits, and usages, and almost perpetually at war. To pass from one to the other without incurring the risk of injury, nay, even of being sold into slavery, was almost impossible. A stranger and an enemy were designated by the same word. It was necessary that these various peoples should all be moulded into one common form; that one system of laws should bind them all in harmony. This seems to have been needful, in order that the new religion might be rapidly and extensively promulgated. In order to accomplish this purpose WAS THE ROMAN EMPIRE RAISED UP, AND ENTRUSTED WITH THE SCEPTRE OF UNIVERSAL DOMINION. In many respects it resembled the dominion of Great Britain at the present day in Asia. We perceive that the overturnings of forty centuries were required in order to prepare the world for the advent of the Messiah. The same omniscient wisdom has ever since been engaged in carrying forward the work which was then commenced.
(D. Wayland, LL. D.)
1. The metaphor, so wild and striking, of a voice crying in the wilderness, is as appropriate as metaphor could be for representing the man of God who, in a degenerate age, lifts up his voice to declare the truth, to reprove sin, to call men to a new life. Rocks are not harder than hearts sometimes; the wandering blustering winds are not more inattentive to the speaker's message than are some souls. To a divinely taught spirit nothing is so truly a desert as the crowded city. To him it is lonely, forbidding, sad, yet mightily attractive, awakening his tenderest compassions, calling forth his mightiest and most patient exertions.
2. Now that it has been done, we probably fall into the way of thinking that nothing was easier than for John the Baptist to preach to the Jews of the time of Herod, or for our Lord to open His mission to the same people, or for Paul to preach Christ at Corinth and Athens and Rome. How different the reality! Could any one of the inhabitants of these places have been consulted by God's messenger beforehand he would probably have said: "Do you think that these cavilling, disputing doctors and philosophers will ever give credence to such stories as you bring? Do you think that these pleasure-loving people will ever wear the yoke of such an austere religion of self-sacrifice as you proclaim? Go home to your ordinary work again, and don't trouble yourself to speak a message which nobody will hear; or if you cannot be at peace unless you say something about it, then go into the desert and speak it to yourself and to nature; for your chances of succeeding will be as great there as anywhere." Strange all this, yet more strange the fact that it is the wilderness and the solitary place which shall rejoice and be glad for the messenger of God who comes to prepare Messiah's way. The unlikely ground yields the harvest; they that are afar off come nigh. The voice in the wilderness is that of a herald announcing that a Greater One is on His way; be ye ready to receive Him. Widespread, radical, and lasting reformation was not achieved through the word of the Baptist; but such souls as could be prepared for the coming of the Lamb of God were aroused, called, separated from the hardened and worldly and unbelieving, and placed under discipline and teaching. From among their number our Lord chose His first disciples and chief apostles. Beyond the fringe of that little company which kept close to the Baptist something of good also was done. A wave of spiritual feeling passed over a great part of the nation; Jerusalem was greatly excited, if not savingly renewed. A general condition of desire was produced.
3. There are many advents of the Son of God, and for every one of them there is some forerunner, some voice crying in the wilderness: "Prepare ye His way; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." The voice of some John the Baptist has gone ringing through the wilderness of a dead faith, of a formal worship, of a worldly life, and men have been startled into attention, have been made conscious of shortcomings and sins. And although God never ceases to work among men, yet we come on barren dreary years of history, a very desert, when the signs of the Divine working are not apparent. Then arises some John the Baptist, or a general sense of dissatisfaction pervades the Churches, a sense of shortcoming and of shame, and the obstructions to a Divine manifestation are swept out of the way. Hardly a decade passes now without a cry arising from the Churches themselves: "Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight." Their conscience becomes increasingly quick and true; their ideal grows nobler; their conception of the Christian life assimilates to the standard given in the Word of God. And with attainment comes a longing for more, a sense of need, a craving for God. Then let us prepare His way, as we would that of a dear Friend whom we long to see, and whom we would not keep from us by any neglect or disrespect of ours.
(J. P. Gledstone.)
I. GOD HAS MANY MESSENGERS, AND THEY HAVE OFTEN LIFTED UP THEIR VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS. Some speak with a voice of thunder to arouse a sleeping world. The doctrine of others distils as the dew. Some open new paths to the seekers after wisdom: to others it is given to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Ever since man was driven from Eden he has been a wanderer in the desert. The thorn and the thistle around him are the emblems of the sin and the sorrow which spiritually mark his nomad state of existence. No wonder, then, that the wilderness is so often used as an emblem of this present life, in which you and I must listen to the voice of Heaven's messengers. We want more law work. Our consciences are too easily satisfied. Modern religion is far too superficial. The law prepares for the Gospel. The Comforter must first convince of sin.
II. ISAIAH USES IT AS AN ILLUSTRATION OF HIS OWN MINISTRY. He, too, living now probably in the idolatrous reign of Manasseh, felt himself in a spiritual desert. Yet by faith he sees afar off, and the seer is himself transported into that bright future. Already foreseeing the seventy years' captivity of Judah, and then the joyful return of the exiles under the decree of Cyrus, Isaiah writes of these events as if himself living and acting among them. Yea more, he pictures the dawn of the day as ushered in by that return from Babylon.
III. THE TRANSITION IS EASY TO THE PERSONAL TIMES OF THE MESSIAH, AND OF HIS HERALD, JOHN THE BAPTIST. The homely and heart-searching appeals of the Baptist proved him to be the pioneer of the righteous King. Before this wilderness preacher the mountains of Pharisaic pride were levelled, the valleys of Sadducean unbelief were filled up, the tortuous vices of the courtly Judaean were corrected, and the rude ignorance of the Galilean smoothed and reformed.
IV. But even in this day THE WORDS HAD A WIDER SIGNIFICATION. Not only the land of Israel, but the Gentile world, even "all flesh," was then being prepared "to see the salvation of God." The former was accomplished by John's own preaching; of the latter he was only the herald. Providential agencies were even then at work preparing Christ's way among the Gentiles.
1. At the time when our Saviour was born the knowledge of the Greek language had spread more widely throughout Asia and Europe than has since been the case with any other tongue. What a preparation was this for the spread of the Christian religion. We know that there is no greater harrier separating nations than a difference of language. But at the very period when Christianity began to be published it found one language generally read and understood from the Alps to the Caucasus; and so the Septuagint Version of the Old Testament could now travel, with the gospels and epistles, to the many provinces of the Roman Empire; for the valleys had been exalted, and the mountains and hills made low.
2. A second preparation designed by God's providence was — the extent of Roman dominion. The chief means employed by that great Empire for consolidating her possessions were her roads and her laws.(1) It was literally true that, owing to Roman dominion, both in Europe and Asia, the crooked had been made straight and the rough places plain. That sagacious people recognised the civilising power of good roads through their Empire. just as we do now of railways in our Indian and other colonies.(2) It is the province of law to rectify abuses and remove difficulties: and to effect this among the nations Rome ever felt to be her mission. Wherever she planted her colonies she invited all people to share her privileges, and to dwell in safety under the aegis of her laws. Was not this, then, a moral via strata made for the spread of Christianity?
V. HOW THIS PROPHECY SHEDS A LUSTRE ON THE WORLD'S FUTURE. Once more in this wide desert "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed," and not "one," but "all lands shall see it together." Yes, He who ascended into heaven shall so come again. Are we ready for that day? Are we making others ready? I believe that every Christian should be as the
"voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God." The true Church, in short, must remain in the desert until the mystic "times" are fulfilled. She is to be "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." Meanwhile the voice of prophecy is given to cheer her amidst trial and disappointment. We labour for years to tunnel through the Alps: shall we not labour patiently to prepare the way of the Lord?
(S. P. Jose, M. A.)
I. THERE ARE CERTAIN THINGS WHICH HINDER THE SPREAD OF THE REDEEMER'S KINGDOM, spoken of here as valleys, hills, etc. Heathenism abroad: ignorance and vice at home. Intemperance hinders the progress of God's kingdom on every hand.
1. Intemperance hinders the progress of God's kingdom at home. Our country is occupied by three armies — an army of paupers, an army of criminals, and an army of police, to stand between the vicious and the virtuous, and protect the latter from the assaults of the former. How is this? There is this huge evil established amongst us, which casts its dread shadow over everything that is lovely and of good report. Where, e.g., are the working men of England to be found to-day? Not in the house of prayer. In the case of many of them, they have no suitable clothes; but why is this? Because wages are low? Because trade is bad? I answer, because the money is carried to the public-house, and is thus worse than wasted. There are some who go many times, perhaps regularly, to the house of God, and yet are not saved. Why? The grand neutraliser of the Gospel is the habit of drinking intoxicating liquors.
2. It is also a hindrance to the spread of the Gospel abroad.(1) They tell us that we cannot, as Christians, take possession of the world, because we have not the means. Is it a truth that England, the richest land upon earth, made rich too by her Christianity, has done what she could for Him who redeemed her when she gives eightpence per head for the conversion of the world? Is it so? Alas! no; for while we have done this, we have spent £4 per head on strong drink.(2) They say the world is not converted because we have not the men — especially suitable men. How is this? There are men to be found for everything else. One reason is, that the drinking customs have done much to enervate the Church. Strong drink aims high. It aims at the men of active brain and warm heart.(3) Then there is the third reason — want of success. There are European barriers that are much stronger than heathenism and idolatry. The missionary tells us, over and over again, that he is far more afraid of English drinking than of native idolatry.
II. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH TO SWEEP THIS ENEMY AWAY. God has decreed that these mountains shall perish.
1. The Church can remove this mountain. Look at her power as a teacher. Are not the children of our country in her hands? Look at the political power which she possesses. Is there an election in which the Christian Church cannot turn the balance? She has not only the ordinary power which men have, but she has omnipotence at her command.
2. The Church must, if she would hold her own. If we are not assailing strong drink, it is assailing us.
3. The Church must, if she would please her Master. How are we to proceed? Abstinence first; then entire prohibition of the traffic.
III. THE GLORIOUS RESULT.
I. THE ADVENT IMPLIED. "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."
1. The Lord here spoken of is doubtless the supreme Jehovah; and from the appropriation of the passage by inspired authority to Christ, I apprehend nothing less can be intended than to intimate that He who was coming was the true God and eternal Life. This was that Immanuel who was to bring in an everlasting righteousness, to redeem and restore the Israel of God, and accomplish salvation for all the ends of the earth. Let us, then, inquire, Is this interpretation of the passage justified by other scriptures, and especially by the event itself? Assuredly He came with all the signs and demonstrations of incarnate Deity. He Himself laid express claim to this high character, and most manifestly displayed the perfections which it involves. With these sublime views of His character agrees the testimony of all His inspired apostles.
2. The disciples of John were required to contemplate here the true Messiah coming to effect salvation, to fulfil all the promises made of old to their fathers. It is, therefore, of great interest and importance to ascertain what was involved in that character, and what was the work assigned Him to do. It is expressly declared that He came to do the will of God, — to magnify the law and make it honourable, — to render to it a perfect obedience, and make reconciliation for iniquity.
3. The way of the Lord to us must be understood of His approach to our consciences and hearts by His word and spirit.
II. The charge to "prepare the way of the Lord" implies that there ARE DIFFICULTIES OR OBSTACLES IN HIS WAY.
1. There is the pride and self-righteousness of the human heart,
2. The heart is by nature hard and impenitent, blinded to its own defects, and, even after the confession of them, unwilling to have them condemned or to give them up.
3. The state of human desires and affections presents other and formidable obstacles to the claims of the Lord. Their desires are low — their affections carnal. The poor grovelling heart must be raised to noble and exalted ends and aims.
4. In some there exists a mass of prejudice, and the truth of Christ is viewed under a false light, or through a perverting medium. They will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, and they cannot enter therein. Some are prejudiced against the authority of revelation — some against the mysteries of godliness — some against the doctrines of grace or salvation by the merit of another; and many dislike the holiness, the self-denial, the separation from the world which Christianity inculcates.
5. Repentance is necessary to prepare the way; humility, to receive and learn the doctrine; prayer, to give it success in the heart; and watchfulness, to carry it out into practice. Every one who is himself a disciple of the Lord, has something to do in preparing the way of Christ in the earth.
(G. Redford, LL. D.)
Matthew 3:3): — To the writers of the Gospel story this vivid expression seems to have commended itself as peculiarly applicable to the Baptist. He came heralding the speedy advent of the Messiah, and his life and ministry were a preparation for the greater life and more potent ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. In all essentials that task still remains to be performed. The modern road maker — the herald and hastener of a better and holier day — must be distinguished —
I. BY A PROFOUND SENSE OF THE EVIL OF THE PRESENT. The prophet was no blind optimist cherishing a foolish hope of a happier future because he did not see the abounding evils around him. He saw with clear, penetrating eyes the moral and spiritual degradation of his nation and day. He speaks of it, ay, and of the national evils which must issue from it — exile, defeat, the overthrow of their beautiful city. That is true of the prophetic band from first to last — from Elijah to John. The man who deliberately closes his eyes to the evils of his day, or seeing them minimises their importance, or in thought disguises them by some euphonious phrase, will never — let his life be prolonged to beyond the age of the patriarchs — prepare the way of the Lord. Too many of us live in an imaginary world as different as possible from the world of stern fact. The men who do most in their own generation to make a way for a better day in the future are usually the men who see clearly one wrong which needs righting, one obstacle which needs removing, one lie which needs refuting, and give themselves to the doing of that one thing — e.g., Wilberforce and slavery, Wesley and Evangelism, Cobden and Free Trade, Booth and the submerged tenth. One word of warning. To look fearlessly at the evils of your own day is not without danger. Not until that Voice which speaks of comfort through forgiveness has been heard and welcomed does the call come which bids hands and feet and active will prepare the way of the Lord.
II. BY AN UNQUENCHABLE FAITH IN THE FUTURE. The road maker is an optimist because he is a man of faith. There is an optimism which is both foolish and unfounded. But if the optimist has first looked facts in the face, and then rises by sheer force of faith in God above all that contradicts his hope, his optimism is not a vice, but a shining and beneficent virtue. Such was this prophet's. So with John. He is certain, despite the manifold evils — moral and social — that afflict his people, that the day of the Lord s anointed will be a glorious day — a day of great things; and he speaks of it and of Him whose shoe-latchet he is not worthy to unloose with an unbounded faith. "He must increase; I must decrease." Note on what the road maker rests — not on man. "All flesh is grass; the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God endureth for ever." The people have God's Word; when all their human leaders have fallen, and every visible authority for God is taken away, this shall be their rally and their confidence.
III. BY HIS READINESS TO SERVE OR SUFFER. So Isaiah: so John. No good cause but has exacted its toll of both from heroic hearts that have espoused it.
(W. H. Williams.)
I. THE DESIGN OF THIS PROPHECY is to speak peace and comfort to an afflicted Church. Not only to the Jewish Church under a temporal captivity, but to every Christian Church, and every faithful soul.
1. "Every valley shall be exalted." As the way St. John was sent to prepare by repentance was in the hearts of men, this must express some change to be wrought in those hearts. And what does it proclaim, but that humility is the way to glory?
2. "Every mountain and hill shall be made low." As the lowly and fruitful valleys represent the meek and pious servants of Christ, so do the lofty and barren mountains point out to us the haughty and unprofitable children of this world that oppose Him.
3. "The crooked shall be made straight." This is a most essential part in a highway, the end and intent of which is, to lead those who travel in it directly to the place and city where they would be. Man, at his creation, was placed in the straight way to heaven and happiness. Had he kept the eyes of his faith steadily fixed upon it, and walked directly on in the path of God's commandments, he had soon arrived at it. But he listened to the suggestions of the devil, who drew him out of it, pretending to show him a pleasanter and shorter road than that appointed. But no sooner was man a sinner than God was a Saviour. When the valley of humility is exalted by faith and the mountain of pride and self-sufficiency brought low in your hearts, the crooked shall instantly be made straight before you.
4. "The rough places plain." When the low ground is raised, the high levelled, and the whole marked out with a line and made straight, nothing remains but to clear away all obstructions.
II. The words thus explained, what remains but that we APPLY THEM TO OURSELVES, FOR THE DIRECTION OF OUR PRACTICE?
I. THE DUTY OF PREPARING THE WAY OF THE LORD.
1. The herald. Allusion is here made to an ancient custom, according to which heralds were sent before to prepare the way for the monarch when he was about to march from one place to another. Christian ministers are the "voice" of God "crying in the wilderness." The very circumstance of this voice being needed shows the disordered state of man by nature. It is not enough for ministers gently to remind men of their state and duty — they must "cry." Very many are the souls that need to be thus roused.
2. The scene of his labours — "the wilderness." This is highly descriptive of the state of men in every age. A wilderness, a desert, indeed, is this world, while void of God's grace; destitute of beauty, and unfruitful as to every good work.
3. What is the work to which the herald calls? As far as we have it in our power, we are to aid in removing whatever hinders the reception of Christ in the world. What is it hinders the reception of Christ in our own hearts? The success of the messenger will ever depend upon his looking up to the Lord.
II. OUR ENCOURAGEMENTS.
1. Every difficulty, however formidable, shall be surmounted. For "every valley shall be exalted," etc. What are the difficulties which present themselves? In the work of salvation there are two leading classes of impediments.(1) Internal. These are in every heart. There is much anxiety and depression: we are ready to imagine there is no hope; here are the valleys to be exalted. Some are puffed up with conceit of their own merit, and will not come to Christ; here are mountains to be made low. There are some untractable, obstinate passions; here are the roughnesses which are to be made plain. Who is sufficient for all this? None but the Lord alone.(2) External. In introducing the Gospel among the heathen there are many difficulties.
2. There shall be an universal manifestation of the Divine glory. "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." There was a great manifestation of the Divine glory when Cyrus and the foes of the Church were made the instruments of delivering God's people from their captivity. Christians! this is not our work, or we should soon be dismayed. It is the way of the Lord. He is to work; He is to display His own glory. What tenderness and-condescension has God shown!
3. The certainty of all this. "For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." When one promises who can fulfil our wishes, we have all the encouragement we can possibly need. In no blindness of mistaken zeal, in no rashness of enthusiasm, yet with all holy boldness, let us labour to prepare the way of the Lord.
I. VALLEYS MUST BE LEVELED UP.
1. Inattention.(1) If we attend not to the Gospel message we can neither realise its importance nor secure its benefits.(2) Those who absent themselves from the house of God are indifferently prepared for the coming of the Lord.(3) So those who while there allow their minds to wander upon their merchandise, pleasures, etc., are ill prepared for the coming of the King.
2. Apathy.(1) Thousands of professors of religion put forth little effort in the cause of God.(2) Begin with yourself. Make a stir among your neighbours. Begin now.
3. Despondency.(1) There are those who are so affected with a sense of their sinfulness that they fear to trust in Christ for salvation.(2) Some professors take a morbid, gloomy view of the work of God.
II. EMINENCES MUST BE LEVELLED DOWN.
1. The mountain of pride must be reduced.(1) The pride that will not make full confession of sin.(2) The pride that will not receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child.(3) The pride of reason that will not accept salvation until its mysteries are comprehended.(4) The progress of Christ is also hindered by the worldly pride of professors.
2. The mountain of presumption must be depressed.(1) Sinners are presumptuous when, without forsaking their sins, they attempt to believe for salvation.(2) Professors are presumptuous when they expect the work of God to revive in the Church without exerting themselves to promote a revival.(3) While we work as though everything depended upon working, we must trust as though everything depended upon trusting.
3. The hills of ingratitude must be brought low.(1) Some are ostensibly so zealous for the conversion of sinners that they forget to thank God for the good He is bestowing.(2) There are others who will not rejoice when they hear good tidings of the work of God, because they are not themselves the subjects of that work.
III. THE CROOKED PLACES MUST BE STRAIGHTENED.
1. Prejudice.(1) Some object to the movements of the blessed Jesus because He comes too loudly.(2) Others complain because He comes too silently.(3) Some dislike them because "publicans and harlots" are getting converted.(4) Others find fault because the work of grace takes hold upon the better classes.(5) And there are those who disparage the work of God among the children because they are too young. Nothing pleases crooked prejudice.
2. Jealousy.(1) It hears that sinners are converted, but is not pleased because the converts have joined other churches.(2) We may be anxious for the prosperity of God's work for party purposes.(3) How admirable was the spirit of Paul, who rejoiced that Christ was preached, no matter by whom!
3. Censoriousness.(1) None of us are so perfect that we can afford to be severely scrutinised. We should therefore endeavour to put the best construction upon each other's conduct.(2) We should be especially careful not to impeach good men with want of zeal for God because they differ from us in judgment as to the best way to promote His work.
4. Covetousness.(1) The acquisition of property is the one end for which some persons appear to exist. It is to no purpose to remind such persons that the world is perishing, and that the Church missions are languishing for want of funds(2) Can the God of benevolence bless a covetous Church?(3) The cure for covetousness is giving.
IV. THE ROUGH PLACES MUST BE SMOOTHED.
1. That ugly rock of Sabbath desecration must be removed.(1) God did not institute His day for our amusement.(2) It was not instituted to encourage idleness. It is separated from the toil of secular business.
2. That rut of drunkenness must be filled up.
3. Those sinks of immorality must be filled. Lying, cheating, oppression, uncleanness.
4. The rough places of instability must be smoothed.(1) Like the chameleon, which takes the colour of every object on which it rests, there are those who never remain the same person for four-and-twenty hours. Treating Church membership as a coat that might be put on or off at pleasure.(2) At one moment they are all in a flame, the next moment they are cold as ice. Sometimes they appear like the oak, at other times like the reed that is shaken with the wind.(3) In the Church they are one thing, in the world another. Yet are they the noisiest fault-finders against the quiet, steady, unostentatious workers.
(F. W. Macdonald, M. A.)
Luke 3:10-14): —
I. EXTERNAL PREPARATION (Isaiah 40:3-5). Our King has notified us that He wants to encircle this world with His glory, and we are the pioneers to make way for His chariot. Let me indicate a few things about this work if you are going to make it a grand success.
1. There must be a willingness to undertake it. Indifference will kill the enterprise. Difficulties will appear; there must be courage and a cool head to guide a brave heart. Three things must be prominent —(1) Regularity of effort.(2) A desire to find one's own particular work.(3) Surrender to the guidance of the Spirit.
2. There must be an appreciation of the importance of the work. If the King has given an order, there must be some reason for it; and when the carrying out of that order involves careful planning and difficult execution we must infer the importance of the result, and hence of the preparation.(1) Cutting down forests. What are the dead trees in the way? Apostate Christians. They lie right across the King's track, and He has to rein up until somebody removes them. What are the strong, sturdy, even luxuriant trees on the way? Worldly Christians.(2) Levelling the hills. Pride is a high hill. Unbelief is a considerable mountain. Criticism is a rocky mound.(3) Filling up the hollows. Oh, the deficiencies in the Church to make up!
II. INTERNAL PREPARATION (Luke 3:10-14). Every pioneer of the coming King must observe these demands.
1. Generosity. A niggardly nature is too narrow quarters for the Lord to dwell in.
3. Peaceableness. It was the soldier's duty to fight, but only when necessary, and only to secure peace. The ultimate aim of justifiable war is always peace. When you have got the way all prepared, you will find that it is —(1) A highway for the King.(2) A way of blessing for His subjects.(3) A way beginning with a cross and ending with a crown.
(W. H. G. Temple.)
(F. Watson, M. A.)
(F. Watson, M. A.)
(F. Watson, M. A.)
(F. Watson, M. A.)
(F. Watson, M. A.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
(F. Watson, M. A.)
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God
1. Does it matter at all to us who can have no hope of seeing it in our time, who have certainly, as it would seem, to live out our lives in a condition of things in which not so much the presence of improvement as the need of it is conspicuous? To this question, I think, there are two answers, both of which, for religious minds at any rate, have some weight.(1) Our idea of God, of a Divine order in the world, is very much our whole stock-in-trade in the matter of religion. The question with us, as regards religion, is, how much we can see of God in what is not God, and in what seems opposed to God? Is that which we see of Him, though it must be little, yet enough to give us feeling, emotion, to fill our minds, not with a thousand anxieties and alarms about things clean and unclean, but to fill them to overflowing with reverence, all that constitutes the mysterious life of a spirit conversing with that unutterable Spirit behind the veil? Second to this even, though of infinite importance, is the question whether we shall devour widows' houses and for a pretence make long prayers, or meditate upon the Good Samaritan, and go and do likewise. It obviously, then, concerns very much our idea of God, our experience of Him, what we see or feel of Him, our stock-in-trade in the matter of religion, what notion we form and entertain of the future destiny of mankind We know that the past has not been all that could be wished. Plenty of desert in that backward view. Will the future be better? Evidently that is a matter which must go to shape our idea of God, of a Divine order of the world. This is to look at the whole instead of a small part, and form some conclusion or other about the whole. It does matter a good deal to us, therefore, though we are not to live to see it, that, if it is possible or right to entertain it, we should entertain the belief that the endless ages that are yet to come will exhibit the Divine order as beneficent and beautiful in a way in which past ages and our own age have had scanty experience of it.(2) Another answer to the question, What does it matter to us what the future of mankind may be? is obviously this: It is not so much a duty as an instinct for man to live for posterity. We are all of one stock. With reference to this instinct and this satisfaction, the case is plain as regards the future being other and better than the past or the present. We have all something to do, and can do something for posterity. We have the conviction or the hope in doing this, that it is not going to be in vain.
2. "Prepare ye in the wilderness a highway for our God." In this, possibly, rather than in any other form, there comes the Divine call to those in every age, and especially in this age, to whom the Divine order is most of a reality and a power. Personal piety — you must have that, say the professors of ecclesiastical pedagogy — before entering upon this or that work, It is quite true: personal piety you must have to be fit to live, not to say to teach others or help others to live well. But if you have piety enough to have any satisfaction in helping to leave the world a little better than you have found it, then that is enough of a qualification and commission for taking part in work which will occupy your whole life. This general view of the Divine order and of the demands which it makes upon those who are most conscious of the reality of it suggests one or two reflections.(1) In regard to the fulfilment of the Divine order, it often happens that, while weaker agencies at work in forwarding it are recognised, greater ones, even the greatest of all, escape notice. Since the Divine order is not always clear, it must often happen, in the case of lives of good men and even great men devoted to the advancement of it, that efforts to advance it have other results than those who made them contemplated — great results which they did not expect, no results where they expected great results.(2) As it is often not the mightier but the weaker agencies at work in furthering the Divine order that are recognised and appreciated, so in the case of men who are more or less consciously devoted to the advancement of it, there is often a failure of insight; and they are found working for issues which they did not anticipate, both in the way of failure and in the way of success. In regard to the Divine order embracing the life of all that is, has been, shall be, the clearest sighted of mankind see through a glass darkly. Constantine was agreed that the triumph of the Christian faith was assured by his making it the religion of the State, though John Wesley had afterwards some reason, in his time, for thinking perhaps that more harm was done to it by that event than by all the Christian persecutions. The Christian world, all but a small part of it, was certain that the devil had broken loose in the Reformation in Germany, and few people who heard it did not devoutly believe that Luther's mother was a witch. John Baptist himself is not so remarkable for what he knew as for what he did not know of his own life-work and its effects. I mean, as regards the eternal order, in which he was no doubt a devout and a brave believer. As a forerunner he was nothing of a foreseer. Not only are the greater agencies at work in furthering the Divine order least recognised among the mass of men, but even among choice spirits devoted to the furthering of that order, misunderstanding as to the results of their own activity and the activity of others is more common than insight. Thus stands the case as regards one class of agencies at work in furthering the Divine order. That which is valued in regard to it is the old ecclesiastical machinery, creak and groan and rattle as it may. In the meantime, discredited to some extent by its association with enlightenment not always orthodox, the spirit of humanity enters from the outside into the religious world, to the creation of new social conditions for whole communities.(3) What promise there is in this of a better era both for the Church and for the world is better seen as yet by the world, perhaps, than by the Church. The importance of the fact cannot at any rate be overrated. Nothing is so common in religious circles, among good people, as lamentation. The good old times of religion are no more. That is their complaint.(4) In the meantime, religious people who are so much disposed to complain of the good old times passing away are helping to prepare for times infinitely better than the good old times, in ways of which they are as far as possible from conceiving. They are deepening dissatisfaction with the life, even the religious life of the day, by their lamentations. That is one thing — a negative sort of thing. More positive is the effect of their keeping in their own view and that of others a certain high ideal of life, though it be not the highest of all.
(J. Service, D. D.)
(A. T. Pierson, D. D.)
Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.I. THE WORLD IS STILL FULL OF THINGS NEEDING TO BE SET STRAIGHT. So far as the economy of our earth is concerned a period of confusion has immediately preceded the establishment of Divine order. Chaos preceded Paradise. Egyptian bondage was the precursor of the exodus, which was the beginning of a national life Divinely ruled. Judaism was at its worst and Paganism in its most corrupt condition when the voice of the preacher of righteousness was heard, preparing the way of the Lord. Isaiah here compares the social and religious condition of a people awaiting a revelation of Divine glory to the condition of a country, barren as a desert, and impassable by reason of mountains and valleys; and the preparation of a highway amongst these physical obstacles represents the exaltation of what is base and the abasement of some things that are high in human life before the coming revelation of God. Around us here in England, as well as in those foreign countries to which missionary enterprise addresses itself, is a wilderness, in which what is good cannot and does not grow. The bodily and moral degradation of some of our own people, if it were revealed in all its nakedness, would startle the Church from its stately propriety. A "wilderness" is a fit emblem of a large section of our own population. Yet in this land we have had the Gospel for centuries. How much more, then, do the heathen want and deserve your sympathy! Another phrase in our text, which speaks of "valleys," may remind us further of depths in our social life in which corruption hides. Meanwhile pride covers us, as with a garment. We talk of "the progress of the age," we boast ourselves of our achievements and discoveries. There are "mountains" of pride to be brought down, as well as valleys of degradation to be exalted. And how many "crooked" things are yet to be made straight! What distortions of truth are yet to be found in England, as well as elsewhere! The orderliness of Divine progress in the natural world is a truth so contorted that some argue from it that all things seen were originally made of things that do appear, and chat there was no Divine Creator in whom they found their origin. The mercifulness of God is used as an argument against the possibility of punishment for sin.
II. THE WORLD IS NOT ESSENTIALLY THE BETTER FOR THE HUMAN INVENTIONS OF WHICH THE NINETEENTH CENTURY IS SO BOASTFUL. Much of the misery of modern life is due to the fact that moral and religious advance has not kept pace with mechanical advance, and our danger is lest developed mechanism should be to our age what a complicated and resistless machine would be in the hands of a child who knows not the ends for which it is designed. Trains and steamers carry us over land and sea with a swiftness which, to our grandfathers, would have seemed incredible. Our daily bread is often the product of labour done in the far-off fertile fields of California. There has been a literal fulfilment of these words, which speak of conquering mountains and valleys, and overleaping all obstacles, such as Isaiah never dreamed of. But the question is fairly asked, Are we the better for all this? Are we wiser, are we happier, are we nobler, are we more Christ-like, than our fathers were? We have greater appliances than our fathers, but it may be fairly doubted whether we surpass them either in capacity or in enjoyment. When you go for a holiday you can rush up the Rhine, through Switzerland, and back across France in a fortnight, but probably, in a dozen journeys of that sort you see far less than poor Oliver Goldsmith did when, with a fife as his companion, he trudged along the highways of Europe. Scientific instruments are marvellous in power and in accuracy, but scientific men have not advanced in genius beyond Newton or Herschel. Music is heard on every hand; but it is not better than the music of Handel, or of Bach, or of Haydn. In short, we have not a higher life because we have higher material appliances, and you and I are not one whit the nobler men because we can read all the news of the world in a penny paper, and transact our business with the other ends of the earth in a few hours. What do we all gain if, in covering our land with factories and steam engines, we are covering it also with want and wretchedness? In spite of all scientific discoveries and mechanical appliances, it is evident that the world wants something more than these can give. It wants freedom from its sins, and a Redeemer who can set it free. It wants love amidst its cruelties, and rest amid its weariness.
III. THE WORLD REQUIRES MOST OF ALL A REVELATION OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Many say, "Let our trade and our railways and all our conveniences first find entrance to a heathen land, and then the people there will be prepared for the Gospel." A grosser delusion could hardly be promulgated. Our own social condition might show its fallacy, and experiment in heathen lands has confirmed it. When this so-called "civilisation" has preceded Christianity, idolaters have become atheists, and their last state worse than their first. The great object we Christians are to keep in view, in all our achievements, is that "the glory of God" may be revealed — not the glory of man, nor of a society, nor of a sect, but the glory of God. As a king, a man finds his glory in the contentment of his people; as a father, a man finds his glory in the well-being of his children; and so the great King and Father of us all finds His "glory" in our contentment and well-being. And how can that be brought about? It is by the work and words of those who speak "comfortably" to the sinners, who proclaim a reconciled God revealed in Jesus Christ.
IV. GOD IS LOOKING TO THE CHURCH TO BRING ABOUT THIS CHANGE. He is addressing His people here, and, instead of saying "I will comfort," He says "Comfort ye." No angel messengers now wing their flight from heaven to announce the glad tidings of great joy. The message has been entrusted to us. Let us have patience, though the results of our work at home and abroad seem sparse and small. The upraising of valleys and the levelling of mountains is no child's play, even in the physical world, and it is harder still in the spiritual realm. When we remember the cost at which some modern discoveries were won, and see the patience and skill and risk which accompany the driving of tunnels through mountains, or under the sea, we are ashamed of the ease with which Christians give way to disheartenment. In preparing the highway here spoken of we must work on the plan the Norwegians adopt for keeping up their roads. Each occupier of land, in proportion to his acreage, has his own allotted portion of road to maintain, and for that he is responsible. So, in proportion to your capacities and opportunities, you have your work to do — in your home, in your class, in your sphere of thought or activity, and from that responsibility none can release you.
(A. Rowland, B. A.)
I. SOME OF THE MOST FORMIDABLE OBSTRUCTIONS TO THE DIFFUSION AND PROGRESS OF TRUE RELIGION AND THE CERTAINTY OF THEIR REMOVAL.
1. The defective character of personal religion. There are many features of the Christian character scarcely ever brought out to public view; and others whose nature is so misapprehended as to lead to a misshapen exhibition of the spirit and precepts of the Gospel of Christ. Have you never been pained when at the close of the day you have endeavoured to ascertain the character of your thoughts, feelings, and actions? Have you never been surprised at the moral personage who has presented himself to your view at such seasons? There is much of secularity mingled with the religion that prevails. What has religion done for us if it has not so elevated the tone and order of our feelings as to render us indifferent to the pleasures of sin? As a natural consequence of this defective piety much is withheld from the service of God. There is so much of self mingled[with our religious engagements. The purposes of God embrace the agency and co-operation of man. If, then, the piety of the Church be defective, if the body that acts for God be enfeebled by disease, or misguided in its operations, how fatally must its efficiency be counteracted! But assuredly an end will be put to this state of things, for "every valley shall be exalted," etc.
2. The division and animosities amongst Christians. A sectarian character has thus been given to the Church, a fictitious and morbid zeal has been engendered, and those resources which ought to have been expended in the evangelisation of the world have, on many occasions, been laid out for party and sinister purposes.
3. The connection that subsists between religion and State politics. The Christianity that has been patronised by the State — that has been adopted as the stepping-stone to emolument and power, this has been mistaken for the religion of the Bible.
II. THE RESULTS WHICH THE PROPHET REPRESENTS AS CONSEQUENT UPON THE REMOVAL OF THESE OBSTRUCTIONS. "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." Nothing can be more inspiring than this prospect. If it is gratifying to see the boundaries of science enlarged, or the elements of human happiness increased; if the political resurrection of a nation inspires us with joy; if it invigorates our hearts to see the spirit of an age awakening from its slumber and preparing itself for wise and virtuous action, what should be the emotion of our hearts in contemplating such a consummation as is represented in my text? It is not the mere promise of an approaching good by which the prophet here seeks to inspire our mind. It contains the elements of all conceivable happiness. It will embody and secure to the inhabitants of our world the highest enjoyment of which their nature is susceptible. The glory of God has hitherto been but partially unveiled. The sun is still behind the cloud, and a shadow is in consequence thrown on our path. But when the piety of the Church shall be freed from its present stains, when her divisions are healed, then shall she arise and shine, for her light will have come, and the glory of the Lord will be risen upon her. But we are informed that" all flesh shall see it "together." The Evangelist slightly,, varies the latter part of the prophecy — "All flesh shall see the salvation of God." As yet the salvation of God is known to but a limited portion of the world. But the salvation of God all are yet destined to see.
I. BY THE LEVELLING TRUTHS WHICH IT REVEALS.
1. A common God.
2. A common nature.
3. A common obligation.
4. A common depravity.
5. A common salvation.
II. BY THE LEVELLING SPIRIT WHICH IT GENERATES. The spirit which Christianity generates in the human soul is such that raises a man above all those prejudices of the heart and conventionalities of life that divide men. What is the spirit? It is a spirit that has supreme regard to three things —
1. The spiritual in man.
2. The right in conduct.
3. The eternal in destiny. The socially levelling force of Christianity, however, does not involve spoliation.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
The crooked shall be made straight
(Canon H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)
(Canon H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)
(Canon H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)
(Canon H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)
(Canon H. Scott-Holland, M. A.)
And the rough places plainI. We may take this to be, in outline, THE DESCRIPTION OF GOD'S WORK WITH OUR WORLD AND WITH MANKIND, REGARDED AS A PREPARATION FOR THE FUTURE. It is the voice of history, of nature, of science, of revelation. The present is a preparation for the future, as the past was a preparation for the present, and as the future will be a preparation for a still coming and greater future. We know the history of religion; how slow its progress — how for centuries it was only successful in casting down obstacles, and preparing the hearts of men for the entrance of a faith which was worthy of its Author. It required not the labours of one prophet like John only, but the labours of many generations of prophets, to prepare for the advent of Jesus Christ. Religion passed through numerous forms before it arrived at that form which Christ gave it. And as this was the work of God in the religious thought and life of man, so was it the work of God in the world. The kingdom of heaven did not come until the world was in a measure ready for it.
II. So we may say that this is AN INDEX TO THE COURSE OF HIS PROVIDENCE IN EVERY AGE AND COUNTRY. This lesson may be learned — that in all cases the spiritual is above the material; and that all progress and improvement in the material world are but means to an end, and are intended to serve far higher interests. All these benefits of rapid intelligence, of conveniences, of comforts, are but the removal of hindrances out of the way of the progress of what is spiritual and Divine. If they leave men devoid of better aims — if they leave us selfish, earthly, false — they are no blessings after all! If we use the gifts of nature and invention and discovery merely to attain our own ends, and if there is no growth of the spirit of truth and charity, we have gained nothing: we have merely added to our former powers the power to increase our selfishness. But such is not the use for which these new acquisitions are designed. If there are more facilities for reaching the human mind by thought and speech or writing, all the more carefully ought everyone who has influence over his fellows to see that that influence is wholesome, and not hurtful. The material is the servant of the spiritual. What John the Baptist was to Christ, such is all the world to the Christ. All nature was a preparation for Him, all knowledge, all discovery. The world did not see this at the time; but the fact is true for all that. People say that the growth of human wisdom and the increase of human blessings are adverse to the Gospel; but on looking back on history we see that all these things were in the hands of God, and were all made to prepare the way for the kingdom of God. So it is, and so ought it ever to be.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY IN MAKING THE PATH TO GOODNESS EASIER.
IV. THIS IS OUR WORK AS CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD AND FOR THE WORLD. This is part of our task for those who are finding the road to goodness and right living hard and rough. Each of us has something in his power to prepare the way for the kingdom of God in the lives and hearts of others. To many, the difficulties of a right life are very great, and it is no easy task for them to carry it out. Everything is against them: training, circumstances, companions, habits. From their youngest years they have been familiar with evil. It comes to them naturally to deceive, to lie, to do all manner of misdeeds. How can such a youth ever open into a manhood of worth or goodness? He must be helped by education, by guidance, by living examples of affection and well-doing. Christian society, the Church, must come to his aid. And what is all this but doing the work of Christ, the work of prophets and evangelists, the work of the Gospel, preparing a highway, helping those who cannot walk, making the rough places plain, making it easier for a man to stand in goodness and truth? After all is done, however, both for nations and individuals, there will be difficulties to overcome. You can never for yourselves, or for those whom you most love, so arrange things that all personal need for care and effort shall cease. There will be for every man the cross to carry, and for many men the thorn to trouble them.
(A. Watson, D. D.)
I. ROUGH PLACES.
1. In general human history.
2. In individual human life.
II. ROUGH PLACES MADE PLAIN.
1. The supreme power of Jesus Christ.
2. The supreme power of Jesus Christ used for the advantage of mankind.
3. The advantage of mankind identified with the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ.
III. THE TRANQUIL AND BLESSED FUTURE OF THE WORLD. Christianity is good news. Inequalities are to be rectified. Relations are to be adjusted.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
I. THE GLORY OF THE LORD. When Isaiah was favoured with the Divine vision the angels sang, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory." Another inspired writer observes, "The heavens declare the glory of God." In the display of this glory God "hath clothed Himself with light as with a garment"; and hath peculiarly manifested it in those two grand events, the creation and redemption of the world. Hence the glad tidings are emphatically called "the glorious Gospel"; and the spiritual instruction of the Gospel is called "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." This plan of redemption is the arena of heaven, into which the angels "desire to look." It is the rich assemblage of love and mercy, justice and faithfulness, truth and goodness.
II. THE REVELATION OF THE GLORY OF THE LORD. The dispensation under which God revealed Himself to our first parents is commonly called the Covenant of Works. The condition required was perfect obedience. By the sin of Adam and Eve this covenant was broken, and "judgment passed on all to condemnation." The glory of the Lord shone round about our offending parents when the very sentence of condemnation was associated with an intimation of mercy. The glory of the Lord was first revealed in the promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent. As generations succeeded, it pleased the most High God gradually to reveal larger discoveries of this sovereign remedy of human woe. In the days of Abraham the promise of mercy was repeated (Galatians 3:8, 17). The inspired compositions of King David more explicitly unfolded the Divine glory in the redemption of sinners. The grand accomplishment of the words of our text was reserved for the personal appearance of the Son of God.
III. THE GLORIOUS EXTENT OF THIS REVELATION. "All flesh shall see it together." At the period of this prophecy the earth was full of darkness and habitations of cruelty. The light of Israel was, comparatively, but as the light of a taper. The space which it illuminated was contracted. The glory of the Lord to be revealed under the Christian dispensation was to resemble the sun in the firmament: it was to shine for all kingdoms, nations, and languages under heaven. It was to be "a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of God's people, Israel." The aspect of the present times encourages us to hope that the day is rapidly advancing when "all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
IV. THE GLORY OF THIS ANIMATING PROSPECT IS CONFIRMED BY ITS CERTAINTY.
V. THE DUTY OF MISSIONARY EXERTIONS IN ORDER TO PROMOTE THE REVELATION OF THIS GLORY.
1. Doth any one ask, "Where is the authority for missionary exertions?" It stands upon the authority of the Most High God.
2. The duty is great, as you regard the exceeding great love of the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. The duty is great, as you consider the personal obligation which you yourselves are under to missionary societies.
4. The duty is great, as God, in His bounty, hath entrusted you with talents to promote this charitable work.
(Basil Wood, M. A.)
I. AS TO ITS NATURE.
1. It is the King Messiah in person.(1) The historical allusion is to the Shechinah.(2) But prophetically it is applied to Christ. Jewish expositors apply it to Messiah. It follows, then, that —
2. The Shechinah was a type of Christ.(1) It was an undoubted symbol of Divinity. It was the medium in which it pleased God to reveal Himself in ancient times. The complement of such a symbol must needs be a Divine person. The type cannot be grander than the antitype.(2) It was a standing miracle. In it vapour and fire were miraculously supported in union. It is therefore called the "support of cloud and fire." "Pillar" is an unfortunate translation of the Hebrew. A luminous canopy extending over London in its whole extent could scarcely be called a pillar. But the nation of Israel, whether in encampment or on march, could scarcely occupy less space. This miracle would set forth the wonderful union of the Godhead and manhood in the person of Christ.(3) But further, on more nearly considering the Shechinah, it was found to enshrine a beatified human form. This is distinguished as the "similitude of Jehovah" (Exodus 24:10, 11; Numbers 12:8
; Isaiah 6:1-5; Ezekiel 1:26). This very thing is seen in the holy mount, only that the true humanity of Jesus transfigured is itself the similitude. Behold, then, the "Image of the Invisible God"; the "brightness of His glory and the express image of His person."(4) In this character Messiah will come when in full form He appears as the King (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 26:64; Acts 1:11; Revelation 1:7).
3. Meanwhile Christ reveals Himself in His Spirit. He displays —(1) The glory of His wisdom.(2) The glory of His power.(3) The glory of mercy, justice, and holiness in His method of pardoning and saving sinners.
II. AS TO ITS EXTENT. "All flesh shall see it together."
1. This term includes the Jew. The day is coming when "all Israel shall be saved" — when the nation shall become Christian.
2. It also comprehends the Gentile.(1) Presage of the calling of the Gentiles was given when the Magi Worshipped at Bethlehem.(2) Further presage was given when Jesus, though "sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," nevertheless opened His ministry in "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Matthew 4:12-16).(3) It was also presaged in incidents of His ministry. The healing of the centurion's servant. The preaching to the Samaritans (John 4:39, 42). The healing of the Canaanite's daughter (Matthew 15:11-28).
3. The grand fulfilment is future.(1) As yet "all flesh" have not seen the glory of the Lord. Certainly all flesh have not seen it "together."(2) But this shall be.(3) Distinctions of Jew and Gentile will merge in the universal blaze of the glory of Christ.
III. AS TO ITS CERTAINTY. "The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
1. The Lord can do it.
2. He will do it.(1) His honour is pledged.(3) His existence is pledged.(3) "He cannot deny Himself." "The Scripture cannot be broken."
3. Are we prepared to meet Christ?
(J. A. Macdonald, M. A.)
The voice said Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass.
I. THE VANITY OF THE THINGS OF THIS LIFE. Empty as is every thing in the world, and limited in its duration, it is one of the truths the most common and the least received.
1. The voice of reason teaches men that they have only a little while to live. If they will but reflect upon their constitution, they cannot but discover, both within and without, innumerable principles of their speedy dissolution.
2. This the Scripture teaches without ceasing: adapting its lessons to the importance of the awakening truth, no strong expressions are overlooked, no striking images escape the sacred writers.
3. Besides, our own experience proclaims to us the fact by the most indubitable proofs.
II. THE SOUNDNESS OF A CHRISTIAN'S HOPE IN FUTURITY. The future is as enlivening to the Christian as the past is humiliating to the man. Death, properly speaking, is only the lot of the wicked. The Christian, in the estimation of the Gospel, never dies; he falls asleep, he "rests from his labours."
I. "ALL FLESH IS GRASS." The prophet describes man by this name of "flesh," as that which strikingly sets forth his general state and ordinary habits. What is man? Is not the care of the flesh his grand concern? — the pampering the body, the gratifying its senses, or fulfilling the lusts thereof? Here and there, indeed, we meet with one who has broken its trammels;, whose soul, rising up on the wings of faith and love, seeks for happiness in God; but when we look at the world at large, we are compelled to say that it is a world whose aims, pleasures, pursuits, are earthly. Yet how vain are these pursuits! "All flesh is grass"; that is, like the grass it is liable to various casualties. If it abides to its utmost duration it soon withers and is gone. The blade when it has only just sprung above the ground may be trodden under foot, may be parched by the heat, cut off by the cold, or withered by the blight; may be plucked by the hand, or mowed down by the scythe; thus is it with man. No sooner does he appear in the world than some little casualty may at once deprive him of life. This is the state of all — "for all flesh is as grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field": "the wind passeth over it and it is gone, and the place thereof shall know it no more!" But is there no difference? Surely there are some distinctions. Yes, there are, and as Archbishop Leighton observes, this difference is beautifully expressed by the inspired writer — "the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field." When we enter a field, it is not so much the common blade which attracts the eye. It is the flower — those various beautiful ornaments with which the creative power of God has adorned the face of the earth. So there are various external embellishments which distinguish some from the ordinary race of men. Every soul, indeed, is of inestimable value. Still, it must be confessed that there are properties which some possess which are more attractive — youth, beauty, honours, talent. But what are they all? But the flower of the grass. They partake of the fading nature of the plants from which they spring.
II. THE WORD OF GOD IS AS ABIDING AS HIMSELF; and this notwithstanding all the attempts that have been made, by wicked men instigated by evil spirits, to destroy it. This has been their constant aim, for the Word of God has been their constant dread.
1. It abides in its doctrines. These are not evanescent theories, like some of the dicta of the philosophers; they are eternal truths.
2. Its promises endure. Its sanctions also stand for ever; namely, the rewards and punishments which are there made known. Let those who are now surrounded with many temporal blessings regard them as flowers, which the goodness of God provides to sweeten their present path; still set not your hearts upon them; they are but short-lived gifts, fading flowers. There is but one flower that will never fade, "The Rose of Sharon."
(J. H. Stewart, M. A.)
1 Peter 1:23-25): — Something more than the decay of our material flesh is intended here; the carnal mind, the flesh in another sense, was intended by the Holy Ghost when He bade His messenger proclaim those words. It does not seem to me that a mere expression of the mortality of our race was needed in this place by the context; it would hardly keep pace with the sublime revelations which surround it, and would in some measure be a digression from the subject in hand. The notion that we are here simply and alone reminded of our mortality does not square with the New Testament exposition of it in Peter. Look at the chapter in Isaiah with care. What is the subject of it? It is the Divine consolation of Zion. The Lord, to remove her sorrow, bids His prophets announce the coming of the long-expected Deliverer, the end and accomplishment of all her warfare, and the pardon of all her iniquity. Further, there is no sort of question that the prophet goes on to foretell the coming of John the Baptist as the harbinger of the Messiah. The object of the coming of the Baptist, and the mission of the Messiah whom he heralded, was the manifestation of Divine glory (ver. 5). Well, what next? Was it needful to mention man's mortality in this connection? We think not. But there is much more appropriateness in the succeeding verses, if we see their deeper meaning. Do they not mean this? In order to make room for the display of the Divine glory in Christ Jesus and His children there would come a withering of all the glory wherein man boasts himself; the flesh should be seen in its true nature as corrupt and dying, and the grace of God alone should be exalted. This would be seen under the ministry of John the Baptist first, and should be the preparatory work of the Holy Ghost in men's hearts, in all time, in order that the glory of the Lord should be revealed and human pride be for ever confounded. The Spirit blows upon the flesh, and that which seemed vigorous becomes weak, that which was fair to look upon is smitten with decay. The withering before the sowing was very marvellously fulfilled in the preaching of John the Baptist. When our Lord Himself actually appeared, He came into a withered land whose glories had all departed. But I am coming to your own ]personal histories. In every one of us it must be fulfilled that all that is of the flesh m us, seeing it is but as grass, must be withered, and the comeliness thereof must be destroyed.
I. Turning, then, to THE WORK OF THE SPIRIT IN CAUSING THE GOODLINESS OF THE FLESH TO FADE, let us —
1. Observe that the work of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of man in withering up that which is of the flesh is very unexpected. In our text even the speaker himself, though doubtless one taught of God, when he was bidden to cry, said, "What shall I cry?" Even he did not know that in order to the comforting of God's people there must first be experienced a preliminary visitation. Many preachers of God's Gospel have forgotten that the law is the schoolmaster to bring men to Christ. They have sown on the unbroken fallow ground, and forgotten that the plough must break the clods. Preachers have laboured to make Christ precious to those who think themselves rich and increased in goods; and it has been labour in vain. It is our duty to preach Jesus Christ even to self-righteous sinners, but it is certain that Jesus Christ will never be accepted by them while they hold themselves in high esteem. Wherever there is a real work of grace in any soul, it begins with a pulling down: the Holy Ghost does not build on the old foundation. The convincing work of the Spirit, wherever it comes, is unexpected, and even to the child of God, in whom this process has still to go on, it is often startling. We begin again to build that which the Spirit of God has destroyed. Having begun in the Spirit, we act as if we would be made perfect in the flesh; and then, when our mistaken upbuilding has to be levelled with the earth, we are almost as astonished as we were when first the scales fell from our eyes.
2. Furthermore, this withering is after the usual order of the Divine operation. Observe, the method of creation. There seems to be every probability that this world has been fitted up and destroyed, refitted and then destroyed again, many times before the last arranging of it for the habitation of men. What was there in the beginning? Originally, nothing. There was no trace of another's plan to interfere with the great Architect. The earth was, as the Hebrew puts it, Tohu and Bohu, disorder and confusion — in a word, chaos. So it is in the new creation. When the Lord new creates us, He borrows nothing from the old man, but makes all things new. Take another instance from the ways of God. When man has fallen, when did the Lord bring him the Gospel? The first whisper of the Gospel was, "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed. He shall bruise thy head." That whisper came to man shivering in the presence of his Maker, having nothing more to say by way of excuse; but standing guilty before the Lord. If you will pursue the meditation upon the acts of God with men, you will constantly see the same thing. God has given us a wonderful type of salvation in Noah's ark; but Noah was saved in that ark in connection with death; he himself, as it were, immured alive in a tomb, and all the world besides left to destruction. All other hope for Noah was gone, and then the ark rose upon the waters. Remember the redemption of the children of Israel out of Egypt: it occurred when they were in the saddest plight, and their cry went up to heaven by reason of their bondage. As in the backwoods of America before there can be tillage, the planting of cities, the arts of civilisation, and the transactions of commerce, the woodman's axe must hack and hew: the stately trees of centuries must fall: the roots must be burned, the old reign of nature disturbed, — even thus the Lord takes away the first, that He may establish the second. As it has been outwardly, we ought to expect that it would be within us.
3. We are taught in our text how universal this process is in its range over the hearts of all those upon whom the Spirit works. The withering is a withering of what? Of part of the flesh and some portion of its tendencies? Nay, "All flesh is grass; and all the goodliness thereof" — the very choice and pick of it — "is as the flower of the field," and what happens to the grass? Does any of it live? "The grass withereth," all of it. The flower, will not that abide? So fair a thing, has not that an immortality? No, it utterly falls away. So, wherever the Spirit of God breathes on the soul of man, there is a withering of everything that is of the flesh, and it is seen that to be carnally minded is death. Wherever the Spirit of God comes, our righteousness withers as our sinfulness. There is much more to be destroyed, and, among the rest, away must go our boasted power of resolution. Still the man will say, "I believe I have, after all, within myself an enlightened conscience and an intelligence that will guide me aright. The light of nature I will use, and I do not doubt that if I wander somewhat I shall find my way back again." Ah, man! thy wisdom, which is the very flower of thy nature, what is it but folly, though thou knowest it not? When the withering wind of the Spirit moves over the carnal mind, it reveals the death of the flesh in all respects, especially in the matter of power towards that which is good. We then learn that word of our Lord, "Without Me ye can do nothing."
4. Notice the completeness of this withering work within us. The grass, what does it do? Droop? nay, wither. The flower of the field: does it hang its head a little? No, according to Isaiah, it fades; and according to Peter, it falleth away. There is no reviving it with showers, it has come to its end. Even thus are the awakened led to see that in their flesh there dwelleth no good thing. What dying and withering work some of God's servants have had in their souls! Look at John Bunyan, as he describes himself in his Grace Abounding! For how many months and even years was the Spirit engaged in writing death upon all that was the old Bunyan, in order that he might become by grace a new man fitted to track the pilgrims along their heavenly way. The old nature never does improve.
5. All this withering work in the soul is painful. As you read these verses, do they not strike you as having a very funereal tone? "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth." This is mournful work, but it must be done. Those who experience much of it when they first come to Christ have great reason to be thankful. Persons who come to Christ with but comparatively little knowledge of their own depravity, have to learn it afterwards, and they remain for a long time babes in Christ, and are perplexed with matters that would not have troubled them if they had experienced a deeper work at first.
6. Although this is painful, it is inevitable. Why does the grass wither? Because it is a withering thing. "Its root is ever in its grave, and it must die." How could it spring out of the earth, and be immortal? Every supposed good thing that grows out of your own self, is like yourself, mortal, and it must die. The seeds of corruption are in all the fruits of manhood's tree; let them be as fair to look upon as Eden's clusters, they must decay.
7. This last word by way of comfort to any. that are passing through the process we are describing. It gives me great joy when I hear that you unconverted ones are very miserable, for the miseries which the Holy Spirit works are always the prelude to happiness. It is the Spirit's work to wither. "Because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it." What doth the Lord say? "I kill." But what next? "I make alive." He never makes any alive but those He kills.
II. THE IMPLANTATION. According to Peter, although the flesh withers, and the flower thereof falls away, yet in the children of God there is an unwithering something of another kind. "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever." "The Word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you." The Gospel is of use to us because it is not of human origin. If it were of the flesh, all it could do for us would not land us beyond the flesh; but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is superhuman, Divine, and spiritual. If you believe a Gospel which you have thought out for yourself, or a philosophical Gospel which comes from the brain of man, it is of the flesh, and will wither, and you will die, and be lost through trusting in it. The only word that can bless you and be a seed in your soul must be the living and incorruptible Word of the eternal Spirit. Do you receive it? Then the Holy Spirit implants it in your soul. And what is the result of it? There comes a new life as the result of the indwelling of the living Word, and our being born again by it. A new life it is; not the old nature putting out its better parts; not the old Adam refining and purifying itself, and rising to something better. Wherever this new life comes through the Word, it is incorruptible, it lives for ever.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE TRANSITORY NATURE OF ALL EARTHLY THINGS. Consider some of those things which constitute the goodliness and the glory of man, and see how they justify the assertion in the text.
1. Personal endowments of beauty and of form. We make our boast of beauty: of the sparkling eye, of comely features. Small is our cause for boast! That body which seemed to concentrate in it all that was beautiful, see it when wasted by accidents and by time, when blasted by the touch of death!
2. The text may be illustrated by adverting to the wisdom, as well as to the beauty and strength of man. Since the attention of man was first directed to the objects of nature, what an innumerable succession has there been of notions, of systems, of theories. And yet we look on these ill-digested systems as belonging only to days which are gone by, and as now utterly exploded. For the fact is, that all knowledge, except that which is derived from the Bible, is destined to pass away.
3. Advert to the transitory nature of those things which are the produce of the imagination and taste. Whatever the pencil of the painter has portrayed; whatever the chisel of the sculptor has wrought; whatever the skill of the architect has reared, — all these are destined shortly to be destroyed. This should convey a very forcible reproof to those who expend so large a portion of their time in the embellishments of life, in dress, and in furniture, and in equipages.
4. In reference to the possessions of men, — wealth and fortune, and their concomitants — grandeur, eminence, pomp, and luxury.
5. As strikingly is this illustrated by the emptiness of that shapeless thing, — that shadow of a shade called fame.
6. See it illustrated, also, as to dominion and power. Kingdoms and empires rise and fall — flourish and decay.
7. The world itself is an illustration of the sentiment.
II. THE DURABILITY OF THAT DISPENSATION WITH WHICH GOD HAS BEEN PLEASED TO BLESS THE WORLD. The "Word of our God shall stand for ever." This sentiment is greatly illustrated, and abundantly confirmed, by —
1. The utter impotence of persecution.
2. The utter failure of the opposition of infidelity.
3. The blessed and delightful spread given to it in our day.
4. The dispensation of truth with which God has blessed the world is the dispensation of the Spirit. The Word of our God is a living word; it is not only a dispensation of words, addressed to the understanding and will, but a dispensation of the Spirit coming to the heart of man.
(Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
I. THE WEAK AND PERISHABLE NATURE OF THINGS OF EARTH. The word translated "goodliness" signifies excellency. Every sort of excellency. Is it external? Beauty of person, strength of frame, the influence which rank, title, wealth, power, family bestow? It is but as grass, the withering flower. Is it internal? The highest order of intellect, the finest imagination, the soundest judgment, most retentive memory? But the word is wider still. It takes in all moral excellency, truth, justice, benevolence, morality, and all the external decencies of that sort of religion which often is taken for the true religion of the heart, yet is not such. It embraces that in which we are so prone to confide, human power, our own wisdom; all are as grass, as separated from the Word of God, and the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. The wind of deep inward temptation, of sore trial, does but pass over it, and it is gone. If man deal with us, we find it sometimes a very solemn thing, how much more when God deals with us. When He comes in the convincing power of His Spirit, in the solemn hour of death, and in the thoughts of immediate appearance before Him, ah! how wither then the flowers that have seemed the fairest. But in the midst of all that fades and perishes and is not, there is, blessed be God, that which standeth for ever.
II. THE ABIDING CHARACTER OF "THE WORD OF OUR GOD." This is true in whatever sense we take it. Is it the decree of God? (Isaiah 46:10.) Is it His written and revealing Word? (Isaiah 55:9, 10.) Is it His law? (Matthew 5:18.) But by "the Word" here, is especially and pre-eminently meant the Gospel (1 Peter 1:23-25). The Gospel stands upon the immutable perfections of God. There is not an attribute that does not uphold it. "The Word of our God shall stand for ever." It shall stand amidst all the instability of the creature, amidst all the faithlessness of man, amidst all the unfaithfulness and unbelief of our own hearts. Is the grass to be despised, the flower to be scorned? Be thankful for them while you have them, admire that God who is in them, their chief Beauty, their only real Beauty. Be thankful, seek the right use of them by seeking to glorify God in them. Is it strength of body? strength of intellect? Use them for Him, and in His service. But remember, they fade as you behold, and wither as you use them. Hold them as perishable memorials of the imperishable God. How real are the blessings of the Gospel when realised in the soul! The righteousness of Christ. It stands, it is everlasting (Daniel 9:24). Consolation is everlasting (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Light, everlasting (Isaiah 60:19). Love, everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3). Life, eternal (Romans 6:23). The blessings in the Gospel are durable riches, because the Gospel endureth. Why is it that there is so much instability among many that yet are true believers? They are not rooted and grounded in Christ.
(J. H. Brans, M. A.)
The grass withereth.
I. THE NECESSARY DECADENCE OF ALL THAT IS SIMPLY MATERIAL AND EARTHLY.
1. The world had never looked upon a more splendid civilisation than that which greeted the eye of the prophet as he looked down in vision upon the great empire of Nebuchadnezzar. For a thousand years Babylon had been the seat of empire, but under her present sovereign she had risen to a glory of which her founders had never dreamed. Nebuchadnezzar, following in the footsteps of Nabopolassar, his illustrious father, had extended his empire by conquest until he was in fact as well as in name, "King of men." Northward, he held all Assyria in subjection, and reigned to the limits of the frozen zone. Southward, he had subjugated Egypt with its vast empire, and reigned to the limits of the equatorial belt. Tyre, with all her world-wide commerce, was his vassal, and so his fame had been carried to the remotest borders of the great west. This vast empire it was now the ambition of Nebuchadnezzar to consolidate and unify. For this purpose he had opened long lines of communication between its remotest parts. Canals, one of which was five hundred miles in length; highways across the great deserts connecting with the hills of Arabia and the Mediterranean Sea, with caravansaries, fortified garrisons, wells of water, etc., at all needed points; walled cities along the great thoroughfares as storehouses and resting-places for man and beast — these were amongst the wise provisions for bringing the people of various nationalities and races into the cordial relations of mutual interchange and commerce. But the purposes of the great conqueror went further than this. To give stability to his empire he sought to bring about an amalgamation of all the races and a unification of all the religions within his realm. This was the significance of the image of gold which was set up in the plain of Dura, and which all were required to worship on penalty of being thrown into the furnace of fire. And when, in obedience to the Divine voice, the prophet declared all this might and glory to be but as the evanescent and fading flower, you and I, if we had been present, would have looked upon him as some misanthropic churl. And yet, what were the real facts in the case? Within less than forty years from the time to which the prophet alludes, the city was captured and pillaged, the seat of government removed, and the empire distributed among the conquering allies.
2. We find ourselves to-day in the midst of a civilisation as much more splendid than that of Rome as the latter was superior to that of Chaldea. In all that constitutes true greatness; in all that is at once beneficent and beautiful; in liberty, in philanthropy, in literary and aesthetic culture, in adventure of science and perfection of art, there seems scarcely anything more to be desired. Humanity seems at last to have attained its goal. Culture is in its richest and most perfect flower. We are ready to say, "Surely this consummate civilisation of our race shall not wither like that of Babylon or Rome!" Has it any elements of durability that its forerunners had not? The answer to these questions will be found in the answer to another, namely, whether this civilisation shall root itself simply in that which is material, or shall be permeated by that which is spiritual and Divine? For amidst all the decadence of the past, there has been ever that which could not perish, which was not subject to change, and which had the power of communicating its own stability to all that came under its influence.
II. THE STABILITY OF THAT WHICH IS SPIRITUAL AND DIVINE. "The Word of the Lord." Other things undergo mutations, but it abides ever the same. It has also this marvellous property, that it communicates the elements of its own permanence to all that comes under its influence. It is thus like a seed cast into the soil, which takes up inert matter, incorporating it with itself, and thus imparting to it the life which is immanent in itself. Of this life-containing, life-imparting power of the Word of God we may find beautiful illustration in the history of the decline and fall of the empires to which we have referred. Look first at Babylon. Is there anything that shall survive the wreck of the imperial city? Yes, there is a captive people, despised, toiling as slaves in the erection of the splendid architectural monuments of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Few and feeble apparently they are, overshadowed by the countless hosts of Chaldea. But they are believers in the Word of the Lord. That Word has, as an incorruptible seed, found a lodgment in their hearts. It has imparted to them its own immortality. Babylon, that rejects this Word, shall perish; but Israel that believes it and lives upon it shall survive. That which we have seen to be true in this respect of Babylon was equally true of Rome. The eternal city was "laid on heaps," but from the ruins came Christianity in all the beauty of undying youth. The Vandals that destroyed everything else had no power over it. Nay, in the breasts of the very slaves whom they bore to their northern homes, they carried this incorruptible seed. The religion of the slave conquered the master; and hence came that hardy type of Celtic and Saxon Christianity which made the north of Europe the seed-bed of the Reformation. There are preserving salts which, taken up into the pores of the frailest grass and the most delicate flower, do, as it were, transfigure them in their beauty and so preserve them for ever from decay. And thus the religion of Christ has power to give immortality to that which is most fleeting and evanescent. It lays its wand upon that frail flower of physical beauty which lasts but for a day, and it transforms it into the undecaying beauty of the resurrection. It enters into the pulses of youthful ardour and enthusiasm, and makes them beat high and warm in pursuits that can never be interrupted and from motives that never pall. It lifts ambition to a higher plane. It gives to all the activities of the soul their normal and healthful development. It brings the favour of God which is life, and His loving-kindness which is better than life. And what it does for individuals it does in a certain sense for nations also. Let the atheistic materialism, which is seeking to supplant Christianity, become the dominant influence in this country, and Ichabod is written upon all our institutions. The fate of Babylon and of Rome will be ours. The nation and kingdom that will not serve God shall perish.
(T. D. Witherspoon, D. D.)
The flower fadeth
I. LET US CONTEMPLATE IT FIRST BY THE EYE OF SENSE. Let us sit solemnly together in the shadow of the Shechinah. How depressing seems the thought! What a tender and fragile growth is "the grass"! How short-lived all the goodliness of "the flower of the field"! Yet such is human life! "The flower fadeth!" How impressive the truth when we think of others — the beloved of home and life! Where are the happy children who sat with you in the school, and went forth in your holiday?rathe men and women who shared with you life's heavier tasks and strangely saddened joys? How many of them do you meet to-day?
2. "The flower fadeth!" How impressive the truth when you think of yourselves! Where now is me bounding heart of your childhood? Where the unclouded hopefulness of youth? As the tide of time rolls on, first, youthful beauty fades like a flower. Then activity declines: the airy step of childhood flags into the slow measures of weary feet! Then strength decays: the right arm loses its cunning, the form bends under its load! Meanwhile, even the moral man seems to share the infirmities of the physical; the tender affections are chilled, the glorious intellect unhinged or exhausted. And it is all saddening — this withering of the human blossom, and the heart recoils from its emblem — a fading flower! Let us so live that it may be said of us truly, "His glorious beauty was a fading flower." For the fading flower hath fulfilled well its ministry! Was its life long or short; was its beauty great or little; was its sphere wide or narrow; the flower had done well the special work God gave it to do. Richly varied and full of splendour was the flora of the now barren Palestine in the days when Isaiah swept from his harp this requiem to the withering flower! In nothing, perhaps, are there more notable differences than in the spheres and services of flowers. In the wild howling desert the stately palm waves its radiant flower-tuft, and many a lowly plant and shrub open fragrant blossoms. And amid Polar ice-fields and in the fissured lava of volcanoes come forth these sweet children of the summer in their ministry of beauty and of love. Meanwhile, earth's fairer fields are beautified, like old Eden, with their blessed omnipresence. They are all of different classes and uses; but each, in its own season and sphere, makes its little life a blessing — and the air of heaven is sweeter, and insect-life is fed, and the heart of childhood is thrilled with joy, and the soul of wearied manhood is made happier and holier, because of the silent yet earnest ministries of the fading flower!
II. TO THE EYE OF FAITH THE SHECHINAH IS GLORIOUS. Indeed, did these tides of time roll over a sinless world, every premonition even of our mortal decay would awaken only joyful anticipations and emotions. For what, after all, is a flower? Is it in itself a perfection — a consummation? No! far from it! It is, at most, a phenomenon of progress! And its decay is only the passing away of a good thing, giving place to a better! The great end and purpose of all vegetable life is the perfected seed! And analogous to this is the progress and development of man's mortal life. Its earthly offices and uses are only for the strengthening within of the spiritual and immortal; our present life, with all its activities and enjoyments, is but the flower-form of a being whose fruit-form or seed-form is in an after and higher life! And death itself is no more than the falling of the petals from the well-set fruit. Therefore, as the wise husbandman grieves not when his orchards shower their gay blossoms, but rejoices, rather, because this is but a prophecy and promise of the golden wealth of autumn, so we should not grieve when, in the development of man, the mortal flower-leaves fall away from the swelling fruit of immortality!
1. It applies to individuals. Fruit is always of greater value than flowers. Therefore, the trained intellect, the calm judgment, the sanctified affections, the subdued passions, the strong, retruant conscience of the mature man, are worth incalculably more than the fiery impulses, the hot and headlong passions, and all the prodigal bloom and aroma of his younger and fairer life. It applies as well to communities or nations — to that organic life of the race which constitutes its oneness. Here, too, the fruit is worth more than the flowers.
2. The world has had its radiant spring-time and its gorgeous flora. In Rome, Greece, Persia, Egypt, Assyria, Judaea, human nature put forth splendid blossoms until the whole air was fragrant with intoxicating aroma. The old philosophy, the old mythology, the old arts and eloquence and poetry — the whole power and passion of the young imperial genius of old time gave to earth the seeming of a fairy palace filled with shapes and sounds of surpassing splendour. And verily that weird glory hath passed away t. But have we lost by the decay? Are earth and life sadder than .in those heroic times? Would you exchange your printing-press for all the pencils of old artists, and the tongues of old orators, and the harps of old minstrels? Would you barter railroad and telegraph and steamship for all the radiant dreams of the old idealists? Would you give up your simple Christian faith for the old gorgeous mythology?
3. We are considering the whole of earthly life as the flower-form, rudimental to the heavenly fruit-form; and the analogy between flower-life and man-life is manifold.(1) Flowers differ widely in their beauty and glory. Among species ranking as equals, how the lily differs from the rose; and both from the violet! And so is it of humanity. It has its roses, and lilies, and violets; and now and then a magnificent or monstrous aloe, and always its countless myriads of flowers of the grass. And although to the eye of sense the value of flowers is according to their outward manifestations; yet, true wisdom regards colour and aroma as only phenomenal of progress. Presently the petals, alike of the grand flower and the tiny blossom, will wither, and of both the value seems only in the accomplishment of their Maker's purpose with the fruit or the seed. So God accounts of His children. The king, the conqueror, the man of imperial gifts and genius will die as fades the great aloe, and the humble pass away as the flower of grass. And then the search, as material for the Judgment, will be the fruit or seed of the developed character.(2) Flowers differ widely in their seasons and spheres of influence. Fair children die like snowdrops in the early spring. Then come the summer flora. Men in the meridian splendour of their powers passing away, as vineyards and orchards and meadows shower their prodigal blossoms. Nor is the human winter without its flowers of exquisite fragrance and beauty. We have them in our midst, men whose grey heads are our crowns of glory. And as in their seasons, so in their spheres, men, like flowers, differ. At the foot of the awful arctic glacier did our heroic Kane find blossoms of delicate beauty; and in the dreariest waste of Sahara the eye of the fainting explorer grew bright as it fell on a bursting flower. So is it of human influence. In the loneliness of obscurity, in the humiliation of poverty, in the dark chamber of patient, unpretending suffering, have saintly spirits wrought a gracious work.(3) Meantime, human life and flower-life are alike, mainly because both are phenomenal of progress. Earthly life is short, and we would not have it longer. The season of flowers is full of peril to the tender germ of fruit. Having perfected the seed, nature's next care is to disperse or distribute them. Some are borne away on their own airy wings, and as they float up in the sunshine, freed of their heavy earthy beauty, the perfected seed, as a spiritualised blossom, seems fairer than all flowers! Some are borne across oceans, and take root in other continents. Such is the progress and development of that whose young life was born of a fading flower! Oh, to a prescient eye what possibilities, what colours of beauty, what forms of majesty, what felicities, what glorious hopes, what ineffable fruitions, are embosomed in a seed! And analogous to this — but immeasurably more wonderful — are the embryonic powers, and shall be the development of the human soul in the after-state!
1. Looking exclusively at the fact itself, there is nothing but sadness in the fading of the flower. It seems a wanton destruction of so much life and beauty; and we are apt to ask, "To what purpose is this waste?"
2. But much as we mourn all these fading flowers, the human as well as the natural, we cannot wish them to abide for ever. It is the fading flower that is so wonderfully beautiful. Fix its beauty unchanged, and you make it an artificial flower, a dry mummy. It is the fleeting human blossom that is so tenderly dear. We love each other more devotedly owing to the shadow feared of man that falls upon and consecrates our love; because we must soon, we know not how soon, be parted. We should feel everlasting flowers to be utterly incongruous in a world of change and decay; their steadfast continuance, when there was no reason for their continuance, would weary and offend our. minds.
3. But the truth of the fading flower has another and a brighter side. It is not all death and desolation. We shall pass at once out of the shadow into the sunshine when we consider the reason why the flower fades. The flower fades that the fruit may take its place. The fading of the flower, rightly viewed, is therefore a natural and necessary phenomenon of life. In itself it is joyous, and not grievous. In the unfallen Eden the fading flowers suggested no thought of gloom to Adam, but only of bright progress from life to fuller life, from a lower to a higher stage of development and perfection. Viewed, then, in the light of Him who hath brought life and immortality to light in His Gospel, and free from the cloud of sin, the fading of human-life and of flower-life is not in reality sad, but joyful. Man dies, but his life on earth is only for the formation of the eternal life. Every gift we receive is but a promise; every beauty we behold but a prophecy; every pleasure we enjoy but a foretaste. The Christian's whole life is but the earnest of the inheritance that awaits him. We see by faith, although we are slow of heart to believe it, that our very losses and privations are ministering to a noble and goodly development pregnant with an everlasting promise. Death itself is the act of blossoming. It is a scientific fact that it is the dying plant alone that flowers. Blossoming is the highest point in plant life. When it has produced its blossom it perishes. In human life it is so likewise. Our existence here is but a daily dying, the continual production of a blossom, within whose petals as they wither is expanding the immortal fruit; and death is but the final falling of the sere petals from the fruit when it has set. It is not destruction, but development; the mortal not destroyed, but putting on immortality.
4. Then, consider that the blossom belongs to the plant itself, the fruit to the race. The blossom is the end of the selfish life; the fruit is the beginning of the unselfish.
5. Further still, the plant that flowers is confined to one spot; but when it fruits and seeds it gets wings, as it were, and can fly away from its natal place to long distances, as you have often seen the thistle-down or the fleecy parasol of the dandelion do, to make the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. Is it not so in human life? That death which seems to bound our life, in reality gives us wings, and takes us out of this cramped and narrow sphere of change, and sorrow, and sin, into the freer air and larger sunshine of God's everlasting kingdom. The fruition of life is not the limitation, but the freedom and enlargement of life. And who knows what life and beauty and blessedness to others may spring from seed dropped by our losses and death? Looking thus at this life as only the flower-form of our being, we see the reason of its brevity. The life of the blossom is short because it has to prepare the way for the fruit; and the season in which it is put forth is dangerous to the formation of the tender germ. We should welcome the growing infirmities and decays of life as signs that summer, the season of fleeting glories, is passing away, and that autumn, the season of enduring fruition, is drawing nigh. They proclaim to us that now our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
6. But I reserve the grandest thought connected with my theme to the last. The flower fades and falls off the plant, but it does not altogether vanish; it does not perish utterly. Some part of it, larger or smaller, according to the species, remains behind to form the nucleus of the fruit. In every case the lower part of the central and most important part of the blossom is left, and it is out of it that the fruit is formed. A good deal of the fleeting flower, indeed all that is essential in it, is thus made permanent in the enduring fruit; and the fruit itself may be looked upon as a more perfect and lasting blossom, retaining the colour, and fragrance, and grace of form that distinguished the blossom, but superadding qualities, such as nutritiousness and flavour, which the blossom lacked. Is not the analogy here very instructive and consoling? Not only do all our sanctified losses turn to gains, but the gains are largely composed of what we lost. We take up with us into every stage of our advancing progress what was best and most serviceable in the previous stage; and in the fruit of our achievements we can trace much of the fair blossoms of hope and aspiration which led to its formation. Nothing that is really good in human life ought to be thrown away as useless when we have outgrown it. The good of childhood ought to remain in manhood. The enthusiasm, the freshness of interest, the innocent simplicity, the spirit of hope, inquiry, and wonder which characterise our early years, ought to endure late in life, under the calmer and quieter outside of maturity. Let us not mourn, then, that so many fair and precious things pass away from us as we go on to our immortality; for nothing that is really essential to our well-being shall perish utterly, but shall be absorbed into our souls and become their eternal wealth.
(H. Macmillan, LL. D.)
(W. R. Nicoll, LL. D.)
The Word of our God shall stand for everI. WHAT IS MEANT BY "THE WORD OF OUR GOD"? You answer, "The Bible." I think not. At least, and certainly, to Isaiah it could not mean more of the Old Testament than he possessed — a mere fragment of the Book in our hands. Even to Peter it could not have meant all the records we have, seeing that some had not been written when he repeated the prophet's statement. What, then, are we to understand by this phrase, "the Word of our God"? Simply, truth. Truth in its very widest sense, whether in the Bible or out of it, is "the Word of God."
II. Higher criticism proposes to solve for you and me, what we have neither the time nor ability to do for ourselves, TO WHAT EXTENT INTERPOLATION HAS GONE ON. It is a strictly honest, unbiassed, sincere scrutiny into the claims, history, authorship, date, and language of the books of the Bible.
III. WHAT WILL BE THE RESULT? Only good. If we are honest we shall want only the truth; and after the examination is completed truth will stand more grandly than ever before us.
IV. OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD HIGHER CRITICISM may well be for these reasons —
1. One of welcome. We rejoice in every honest and reverential inquiry for truth.
2. One of hope. The future of our faith looks all the brighter from the discussions and questionings of to-day. Men are beginning to think. An interest is awakening in the vast questions that relate to our higher life.
3. One of confidence. Are we wise in our fear for the safety of "the Word of our God"? Does "the Word of our God" need our defence? Is not He pledged to its security? That which cannot stand the test of criticism had better go; but truth, "the Word of our God, shall stand for ever."
(J. E. W. Cook.)
1. That God, the perfect moral being, exists.
2. That He has spoken to mare The Word of God, speaking in conscience, in revelation, is like God Himself — above the waterfloods of change; it lasts.
(H. P. Liddon, D. D.)
I. Since the Word of our God shall stand for ever, the BIBLE WILL REMAIN.
1. Think of the Bible as history. "The Old Testament is supported by the exhumed records of the kings of Egypt and Babylon and Nineveh and Moab. We are now shown in the Boulag Museum at Cairo the very body of the Egyptian king who oppressed Israel. At a hundred points confirmatory evidence has been dug out of the Assyrian ruins. In the day when the Bible was attacked by unbelief, there appeared out of the very ground hosts of defenders. God's Providence supports His Book."
2. Think of the Bible as to philosophy. John Stuart Mill will tell us, "It is impossible to find in the ideas of any philosophy, even the latest, a single point which is not anticipated and ennobled in Christianity."
3. Think of the Bible as to science. It is true, as one has said wisely and wittily, that "the intention of Holy Scripture is to teach us to go to heaven, and not how the heavens go." And yet the great astronomer Sir John Herschel will tell us: "All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truth contained in the Sacred Scriptures."
4. Think of the Bible as to morals. Those words of James Russell Lowell, spoken so bravely at a dinner in London, before a company of sceptics, are well worth treasuring: "The worst kind of religion is no religion at all. And those men, living in ease and luxury, indulging themselves in the amusement of going without religion, may be thankful that they live in lands where the Gospel they neglect has tamed the beastliness and ferocity of the men who, but for Christianity, might long ago have eaten their carcasses like the South Sea Islanders, or cut off their heads and tanned their hides like the monsters of the French Revolution." This Bible, the Word of God, which history substantiates, which philosophy cannot anticipate, which science reinforces, which is the source of all true morals and secure civilisation, is to abide.
II. Since the Word of our God shall stand for ever, THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST IS TO ENDURE AND CONQUER. For the very heart and kernel of God's Word is the revelation of the certainly vanquishing kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
III. Since the Word of our God standeth for ever, HEAVEN WILL SHINE ON US AT THE LAST.
(W. Hoyt, D. D.)
Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4). There is a tacit antithesis between the Word of God and man; what man says is uncertain and precarious, what God says cannot fail. Thus understood, it includes prediction, precept, promise, and the offer of salvation; and although the latter is not meant exclusively, the apostle makes a perfectly correct and most important application of the verse when, after quoting it, he adds, "and this is the Word which is preached (εὐαγγελισθέν) unto you"; that is to say, this prophetic declaration is emphatically true of the Gospel of Christ.
(J. A. Alexander.)
(J. E. W. Cook.)
O Zion, that bringest good tidings.
I. THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH HAS GREAT TIDINGS TO TELL TO THE WORLD AT LARGE. The Jewish prophets were the heralds of a Saviour to come, and beautiful upon the mountains were the feet of those who published peace; but the Christian Church has to proclaim the actual accomplishment of the great salvation. We have to tell of a Saviour incarnate, crucified, enthroned. We have to tell of a justifying righteousness, a sanctifying spirit, a pardoning God: of Satan vanquished. The Christian Church has to reveal —
1. A system of truth as opposed to the errors of heathenism. These truths are universally applicable. All have minds to which truth is precious as life to the eye, and the truth as it is in Jesus is more needful than life itself.
2. A system of devotion, as opposed to the absurdities of their superstition. Would you choose to have them still ignorant of the attributes of acceptable devotion?
3. A system of purity, as opposed to the shameless vices of their idolatry. Morality is interested in the triumph of missions.
4. The Christian Church can tell them of the life and immortality brought to light by the Gospel, as opposed to their obscure and degrading notions of futurity.
II. THESE TIDINGS OUGHT NOT TO BE KEPT SECRET, BUT ARE TO BE URGENTLY AND UNIVERSALLY PROCLAIMED. "Lift up thy voice with strength: say, Behold your God." This light ought to be held forth as a burning torch, like the beacon. light of ancient Pharos, that it may scatter the darkness of the night, and guide the tempest-tossed vessel of distant nations to the safe anchorage and peaceful haven of the welcome shore. We are bound by every tie, by all that can constitute the most solemn and religious obligation, to diffuse far and wide the grand principles of salvation. Dwell upon the moral destitution and wretchedness of the nations sitting in darkness, and simply ask whether this be a desirable state of things.
III. THE CERTAINTY THAT THESE TIDINGS SHALL NOT BE PROCLAIMED IN VAIN. God has said, "My Word shall not return void." The Spirit is promised.
I. THE THOUGHTS THAT CLUSTER AROUND THE NAME. "O Zion, that bringest glad tidings." That is almost a definition of the Church; at any rate, it is a description of her by her most characteristic office and function — that which marks and separates her from all associations and societies of men. Her true dignity is that she bears a Gospel in her hand, and grace is poured into her lips. We are to suppose the manifestation and approach of the Divine Deliverer; hence what constitutes Zion the messenger of good tidings is the presence in her of the living God. Translate that into New Testament language, and it just comes to this: that what constitutes the Church the evangelist for the world is the simple possession of Christ, or of the Gospel, and that breaks out into two or three points.
1. Whoever has Christ has the power to impart Him.
2. The possession of Christ for yourselves imposes upon you the obligation to impart Him.(1) All property in this world is trust property, and everything that a man knows that can help or bless the moral or spiritual age or intellectual condition of his fellows, he is thereby under solemn obligation to impart. There is an obligation arising from the bands that knit us to one another, so that no man can possess his good alone without being untrue to the solidarity of humanity. You have got, you say, the remedy, healing for all the diseases of humanity. What would you think of a man who in a pestilence was contented with swallowing his own specific, and leaving others to die? You have got the Christ, and you have got Him that you may impart Him.(2) It is an obligation that arises, too, from the very purposes of your calling. What are you saved for? For your own blessedness? Yes, and No. No creature in God's great universe but is great enough to be a worthy end of the Divine action. But no creature in God's universe so great as that he is a worthy end of the Divine action, if he is going to keep all the Divine gifts in himself. We are all brought into the light that we may impart light.
3. The very fact of the possession of this Gospel, or of this Christ, for ourselves ought to — and in all healthy conditions will — inspire the impulse to impart. All deep conviction longs to be vocal.
II. We have here, in a very picturesque and vivid form, the setting forth of THE MANNER IN WHICH THE EVANGELIST ZION IS TO PROCLAIM HER MESSAGE. The fair-featured herald is bidden to get up into the high mountain, perhaps a mere picturesque detail, perhaps some reference to the local position of the city set upon a hill, like the priests of Ebal or Gerizim, or Alpine shepherds, calling to each other across the valleys, to secure some vantage ground; and, next, to let her voice roll out across the glen. No faltering whisper will do, but a voice that compels audience. "Lift up thy voice with strength." But a timid heart will make a tremulous voice, and fear and doubt will whisper when courage will ring it out. So "be not afraid"; there is the foundation of the clearness and the loudness with which the word is to be uttered. Our message is to be given with a courage and a force that are worthy of it. "Be not afraid." That is a lesson for this day. There are plenty of causes of fear round about us, if, like Peter on the water, we .look at the waves instead of at the Master.
1. Let us cherish a firm, soul-absorbing confidence in the power and truth of the message we have to tell.
2. Do not let us make too much of the enemy.
3. Let us remember the victories of the past.
4. Above all, let us remember who fights with us.
III. THE SUBSTANCE AND CONTENTS OF THE EVANGELIST ZION'S MESSAGE, "Say unto the cities of Judah, Behold you God!" They were to be pointed to a great historical act, in which God had manifested Himself to men; and the words are not only an exclamation, but an entreaty, and the message was to be given to these little daughter cities of Judah as representing all of those for whom the deliverance had been wrought; — all which things are paralleled in the message that is committed to our hand. We all have given to us the charge of pointing men to the great historical fact wherein God is visible to men. You cannot reveal God by word, you cannot reveal God by thought. There is no way open to Him to make Himself known to His creatures except the way by which men make themselves known to one another, that is, by their deeds; and so high above all speculation, high above all abstraction, nearer to us than all thought, stands the historical fact in which God shows Himself to the world, and that is in the person of Jesus Christ. How beautiful in that connection the verses following my text are: "Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand"; yet "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd." And so in that Christ is the power of God, for He is the arm of the Lord; and in that Christ is the gentleness of God; and whilst men grope in the darkness, our business is to point to the living, dying Son, and to say, "There you have the ultimate, the perfect representation of the unseen God."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Judges 9:7; Deuteronomy 27:12; Matthew 5:1). J.D. Michaelis compares the ancient practice of transmitting news by shouting from one hill-top to another, as described by Caesar (Bell. Gall. 7:3). The essential idea is that of local elevation as extending the diffusion of the sound.
(J. A. Alexander.)
Behold your God
I. THEIR EXTERNAL ACCOMPLISHMENT in the incarnation, nativity, personal appearance, and ministration of the Son of God in Jerusalem and in the cities of Judah.
II. THEIR INTERNAL ACCOMPLISHMENT in the hearts of all those who have spiritually received the tidings of His Gospel. It is the process of Christ, from His incarnation to His ascension, spiritually repeated within us; "God and Saviour" and our salvation entirely depends upon our "beholding this", manifesting Himself in all His amiable attributes within us, and by our will cheerfully co-operating with Him in His great work of love.
(J. Duche, M. A.)
1. Carry your thoughts back into eternity, and behold Him, who in time was made of a woman, sitting upon the circle of the heavens, in the essential glory of the Godhead; His habitation immensity, His duration eternity, His perfections uncreated and infinite.
2. As a confirmation of the original glory and Godhead of Jesus Christ, "behold your God" at the morning of creation, the dawn of time. Was it not His effective hand that planted the pillars of the universe and raised the magnificent fabric of earth and heaven? What He formed as the God of creation, He preserves as the God of power.
3. From the fall of our first parents to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer is only to be seen in promises and prophecies, in sacrifices and ceremonies. Passing over, therefore, this long lapse of time, suffer me to conduct your thoughts to Bethlehem. There, "behold your God."
4. Omitting the occurrences of His childhood and youth, let me invite you to look at Jesus entering into the wilderness under the influence and direction of the Holy Ghost. Behold Him tempted of the devil forty days and forty nights. It is a Divine maxim that "God cannot be tempted, neither tempteth He any man." But God in human flesh sustained the hour of trial.
5. After this strange event, permitted to the powers of darkness, Jesus appears in a new scene of life. Behold, then, your God going forth as a teacher, accompanying His ministrations and instructions with signs and wonders, and all the marks of Deity. And He is the "same yesterday, to-day, and for ever." In every age, as well as in the days of His flesh, there is treasured up in Him, for the flee use of all that come unto Him, pardon, and peace, and grace, and strength, and life, and salvation.
6. Just before the close of His ministrations, a profitable view of the Lord Jesus opens to us in the garden of Gethsemane: there "behold your God!" He appears emphatically a "man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." But let us follow Him from the garden, through all the intermediate scenes of insult, reproach, and ignominy, to the bar of Pontius Pilate: there at the tribunal of man "behold your God!" He, who shall one day appear to judge every man according to his deeds, now stands arraigned as a criminal before the judgment-seat of man. Judgment is perverted: Pilate declares Him innocent, yet suffers Him to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified. Mingling in the crowd, follow Him from the common hall, and "behold your God" as He passes through, the streets of Jerusalem,. bearing. His cross amidst the revilings and tauntmgs of the people, who, m all the virulence of persecution, exclaim, "Away with Him, away with Him! crucify Him!" "Behold your God" ascending the summit of Calvary. Oh, what a scene was here! a scene which all nature seems backward to behold. Standing at the foot of the Cross, learn that "ye were not redeemed with corruptible things," etc. (1 Peter 1:18, 19).
7. The last view which we have to take of Jesus Christ closes His sufferings, and accomplishes our redemption. "Behold your God" bursting the barriers of the tomb, vanquishing the king of terrors, despoiling the sepulchre, breaking the bands of corruption, and rising to life, never to die again. Then was fulfilled that prophecy, "O death, I will be thy plagues." To enter into the spirit of the passage, you must keep your mind's eye upon the Saviour, and behold your God as He is ascending to the realms of bliss. Conclusion — "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." Now it is your privilege by faith to "behold your God" as a Saviour, delighting in mercy.
Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand.
I. "Behold your God," FULL OF MIGHT AND MAJESTY (ver. 10). To Christ all power has been committed. He is "the arm of God" (Isaiah 51:9), "the Man of Jehovah's right hand," etc. (Psalm 80:17). His name is "Immanuel."
II. HE COMBINES WITH THE POWER OF THE VICTORIOUS KING, THE GENTLENESS OF THE TENDER AND LOVING SHEPHERD. "He shall feed His flock." That word is a comprehensive one. It means that He shall act all the part of a shepherd towards them; leading them, protecting them, providing alike the green pastures and the still waters, Nay, as if this were not enough, He is beautifully represented as "gathering the lambs in His arms"; — making a pillow for them in the folds of the loose "abbeh," or shepherd's mantle, as they nestle close in His bosom. And while thus He deals with the tender lambs, He is equally merciful and considerate not to overdrive their nursing mothers. Exult in this twofold word of comfort, "Behold thy King cometh, meek and lowly." Behold your God! Behold your Shepherd!, strong to smite, strong to save.
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
1. "Behold! the LORD GOD shall come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him." The mistaken Israelites vainly ascribed to these words a temporal interpretation, and looked for a deliverer whose conquering arm should effectually rescue them from the earthly powers to which they were tributary. But the true children of faithful Abraham wait for the spiritual accomplishment of this prophecy in their hearts; and see and feel "the strong hand" of their Redeemer in that inward opposition which He raises in their breasts to all the evil desires and corrupt passions of human nature.
2. "Behold! His reward is with Him, and His work before Him." This work is no other than the complete deliverance of man from the captivity of sin and Satan. This reward is no other than the glorious acquisition of those lost or wandering souls, who were originally His by creation, and are now doubly so by redemption. The prophet seems to dwell upon the power and majesty of this Deliverer. He represents Him as coming with a strong hand: and. indeed, such is usually His first appearance in the sinner's heart. David speaks of this first appearance in the most alarming terms: "The arrows of the Almighty stick fast in me, and His hand presseth me sore." The first feelings of an awakened and convicted conscience are agonising indeed; for they are the breaking forth of heaven's majestic light upon the benighted soul, which shakes nature to her very centre, and discloses every hidden recess to which conscious guilt flies from its approach. But when viewed with composure, and received with cheerfulness, it soon becomes as mild and sweet as the radiance of the risen day after a dark and tempestuous night. Hence it is that in the next verse we find the dignity and majesty of this august Personage sweetly tempered with condescension and love, and melting into heavenly meekness, gentleness, and compassion.
3. "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd," etc.(1) "The flock" here mentioned can be no other than our whole fallen race, who by virtue of that "incorruptible seed" that was inspoken into the first Adam, are put into a capacity of regaining eternal life through the redeeming power of Christ, their second Adam.(2) But though the Shepherd's love is thus universal, and all men are the objects of His pastoral care; though they are all His children by redemption, yet all do not alike follow the "Shepherd s voice"; all are not equally willing to be fed with His "bread of life."(3) Let the humble-minded Christian "lift up his head and look up." He need not, as the Psalmist expresses it, "run here and there for food; and grudge, because he is not satisfied": the wants he feels, reason, he well knows, cannot supply; the comforts he aspires after, are such as the world cannot give. Wherever his Shepherd leads, he is content to follow: he is sensible of His presence, in darkness as well as in light. The evils by which he is oppressed he is satisfied to bear. because his Deliverer is ever at his side.
(J. Duche, M. A.)
I. THE MAGNITUDE OF GOD'S POWER AND RULE. "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span?" etc. The reference to the Divine hand is essentially human, man being the only creature on God's earth who has a hand. How wonderful is its construction! It is marvellously adapted for skill, power, and authority. It is that which in happy combination with other endowments gives man dominion over creation. It is his hand which, in more senses than one, sways the sceptre. It is his hand that asserts his royal nature, his power and authority to rule. Again, the arm is that which gives leverage to the hand, and without which the hand would be useless. The hand and arm of God are spoken of here. We read elsewhere that the heavens are the work of His fingers, that in His hands are the deep places of the earth, and that His hands formed the dry land. Here we read, "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meted out heaven with the span? "The great Architect and Framer of the universe is represented as forming and adjusting earth, sea, and sky with His hand. This is the graphic representation of the Divine Worker at work. The one implement used is the hand of the Great Worker — its hollow for the seas, its span for the heavens! What sublime poetry descriptive of creative skill! The illustrations are taken from primitive life. The truest poetry comes from primitive simplicity.
1. "Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?" What is the sublime truth which this richly figurative speech conveys? One truth at least is the self-sufficiency of God in His creative work. He needed not to go beyond Himself. All creation is the outcome of His own power and skill, independent of the shifts of machinery and tools. When this has been stated, the prophet proceeds to draw other figures from, primitive life in the simplicity of its operations to describe God's creative work. "Comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure" that is a tierce, or the third of an ephah. It is the same word as that used in Psalm 80:5, "Thou givest them tears to drink in great measure." As Delitzsch beautifully expresses it, it is a small measure for the dust of the earth, but a "great measure" for tears. "Weighed the mountains in scales," that is, a steel-yard, that by which the greater loads are weighed; "and the hills in a balance" — the tradesman's balances which weigh smaller things, but with greater accuracy than the "steel-yard." Nothing has been done by haphazard. Every world has been balanced, and the equilibrium of the universe adjusted with infinite wisdom and skill. Astronomical observation leads to this conclusion; Isaiah asserted it with regard to this earth before astronomy was born.
2. So far we have dwelt upon Isaiah's statement of what God had done. Now we notice the prophetic announcement of what God would do. The former refers to His creative power, the latter to His providential rule. "The Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him." There is here a prediction of a special Divine advent in power, but I take this as typical of all Divine advents and interventions throughout the ages. We have read of the Divine hand in the record of God forming and adjusting the earth, but now we read of the Divine arm in His personal advent and providential rule. There is a Providence as well as a creation. God has not completed His work by His creative skill and power. "He worketh hitherto." The hand that formed and adjusted is moved by the arm that rules and governs. It is the arm that wields the hand. The Scriptures abound with emphatic references to the Divine arm. "Hast thou an arm like God?" (Job 40:9) asked God out of the whirlwind of Job. "Thou hast a mighty arm" (Psalm 89:13), exclaimed the Psalmist; and again, "His holy arm hath gotten Him the victory" (Psalm 98:1). Isaiah wrote, "The Lord hath sworn by the arm of His strength" (Isaiah 62:8), and again, "Therefore His arm brought salvation" (Isaiah 59:16). In these and similar passages the arm of God is the symbol of His power in providential and redemptive works. "His arm shall rule for Him," — that is, shall bring all foes submissive, and make all subjects obedient to His sovereignty and command. It is instructive to notice the different names applied to God in the Scriptures to show various aspects of His character and work. Observe the names by which God is called here. "The Lord God" (Adonai-Jehovah) — a combination of the two greatest names by which God was known under the Old Dispensation. The consequent announcement is that of the advent of the "Mighty One" (R.V.). Yet these words, expressive of power and dominion, are followed by others which have all the tenderness and grace of a pastoral symphony.
II. THE TENDERNESS OF HIS SHEPHERDLY CARE. "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd," etc. The hand that meted out the heavens and measured the waters of the deep is that which feeds the flock, and the arm that rules for Him is the arm that gathers the lambs. "And carry them in His bosom." Ah! I have not read of "His bosom" in this context before now. I heard no mention of His bosom when He was spoken of as measuring the waters in the hollow of His hand, and meting out heaven with the span; it is only when the prophet speaks of the lambs that he mentions not only God's arm but also His bosom. The hollow of His hand is good enough for the waters, His span for the heavens, His arm for His subjects, but only His bosom for the lambs. This is a tenderness specially adapted to the peculiar need. "And shall gently lead those that are with young," or. "those that give suck" (R.V.). The great Shepherd will not forget motherhood with its cares and burdens. God s omnipotence can only be equalled by His compassion. He is not only Almighty, but also "Almighty to save." Our God who created the heavens has also lifted up the Cross.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd.1. The prophet first declares the general office of the Saviour. "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd."
2. Here His people are described under the endearing name of a "flock." It is thus descriptive of the happy privileges which they enjoy. They are not left to roam at large like the beasts of prey; but they are brought by Divine grace into a settled state. They are as a flock of sheep under the shepherd's eye. They are distributed, it is true, in various parts; but yet under the Lord's particular care.
3. "His flock." This is to make known more especially their privileges — they are emphatically His. They are "His" as given to Him by His eternal Father. They are "His" by His own immediate purchase; for He has redeemed them. They are "His" also, as by the action of the Holy Ghost upon their hearts they are led into His fold.
4. The word translated "feed" properly signifies the whole care and government that a shepherd exercises towards his flock. Christ takes a general oversight of them; but He has them particularly in His eye. So, too, a shepherd distinguishes the different states of his flock, and suits himself to their particular wants.
5. By the "lambs," those are meant who are young in years, and young converts. They are described by this emblem to set forth their weakness and tenderness and inability properly to take care of themselves. He "gathers them with His arm, and carries them in His bosom." Here you notice a most pleasing union of power and love employed in their service. It is thus that the Lord Christ exercises the tenderness of a shepherd towards His flock. Remember how many sweet promises are addressed to the weak and to the young in the flock (Isaiah 35:3, 4; Isaiah 42:3). We particularly notice this, to encourage those who may be setting out in the Lord's way. Sometimes a thought comes into the mind, "Ah! if I were but like such a Christian! if I had as much zeal and devotedness to my Master's service as he has, if I had his joy and peace in believing, — then I should be able to go on my way rejoicing in the Lord. This is a mistaken view. The love of the Shepherd to His flock does not originate in their love to Him. He did not expect to find them angels; He knew that they were sinners. He treats them as a shepherd does his tender lambs. "He shall gently lead those that are with young"; or, "those that give suck." You see this beautifully illustrated in the history of Jacob, after his meeting with his brother Esau. Esau said to him, "Let us take our journey, and I will go before thee;" but Jacob, like a good shepherd, knowing the roughness of his brother, said to him, "My lord knoweth that the children are tender, and the flocks and herds with young are with me: and if men should overdrive them one day" — only one day — "all the flock Will die." How many resting-places does the Good Shepherd provide! Conclusion —(1) Such is the description given by the prophet of our blessed Saviour. Surely it is plainly that on which our faith may rest in seasons of trial, and which may as surely attract our love in seasons of outward peace and prosperity. Look at His dealings with His disciples in the hour of their sorrow: how many comforts does He afford!(2) What is there that can so attract you as this "Shepherd of the sheep"? Everything that regards the fulfilment of His office may draw forth our attachment.
(J. H. Stewart, M. A.)
I. A DESCRIPTION OF THE CHURCH AND PEOPLE OF GOD, under the notion of a flock.
1. With respect to God they are called a flock because they are separated from the rest of mankind, and given to the Lord Christ. A flock is a company of sheep which is the property of some owner.
2. With respect to the Lord Jesus, the Church is called a flock because He brings them into His fold, calls them out of a natural state into a state of grace, and fellowship with Himself.
3. With respect to other men, among whom believers converse, they are called a "flock" upon a threefold account.
(1) (2) (3) II. THE RELATION CHRIST STANDS IN TO THEM as a Shepherd. Two things are implied in this relation — care and tenderness. III. WHAT CHRIST DOES FOR HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE as their Shepherd. IV. THE WAY IN WHICH THIS IS DONE. Suitably to everyone's circumstances and condition. 1. Christ's carriage towards His flock is according to their ages. 2. It is according to their strength or weakness. Such as cannot walk shall be carried; and they that are heavy laden shall be gently led. Comfort yourselves with this; none of the flock shall be left behind. 3. It is according to the difficulties or dangers His sheep are in.Uses — 1. This doctrine affords a just word of reproof to those who are shepherds under Christ, but act not according to His example towards the flock. Knowledge of the state of the flock is one great, though much-neglected branch of a pastor's office. 2. How should souls long to be under the care of this Good Shepherd! You are exposed to wolves and devils, to all errors and sin, whilst you keep off from Christ; there is no safety for you, but only in His arms; no provision, but in His covenant. 3. How safe are all the saints! 4. What a blessed plea is here for the Church in dangerous times! Christ will spare His flock, and the land for their sake. 5. With what boldness may the people of Christ attend upon all holy ordinances. They are designed for your support, till you get above them. (J. Hill.)
(2) (3) II. THE RELATION CHRIST STANDS IN TO THEM as a Shepherd. Two things are implied in this relation — care and tenderness. III. WHAT CHRIST DOES FOR HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE as their Shepherd. IV. THE WAY IN WHICH THIS IS DONE. Suitably to everyone's circumstances and condition. 1. Christ's carriage towards His flock is according to their ages. 2. It is according to their strength or weakness. Such as cannot walk shall be carried; and they that are heavy laden shall be gently led. Comfort yourselves with this; none of the flock shall be left behind. 3. It is according to the difficulties or dangers His sheep are in.Uses — 1. This doctrine affords a just word of reproof to those who are shepherds under Christ, but act not according to His example towards the flock. Knowledge of the state of the flock is one great, though much-neglected branch of a pastor's office. 2. How should souls long to be under the care of this Good Shepherd! You are exposed to wolves and devils, to all errors and sin, whilst you keep off from Christ; there is no safety for you, but only in His arms; no provision, but in His covenant. 3. How safe are all the saints! 4. What a blessed plea is here for the Church in dangerous times! Christ will spare His flock, and the land for their sake. 5. With what boldness may the people of Christ attend upon all holy ordinances. They are designed for your support, till you get above them. (J. Hill.)
(3) II. THE RELATION CHRIST STANDS IN TO THEM as a Shepherd. Two things are implied in this relation — care and tenderness. III. WHAT CHRIST DOES FOR HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE as their Shepherd. IV. THE WAY IN WHICH THIS IS DONE. Suitably to everyone's circumstances and condition. 1. Christ's carriage towards His flock is according to their ages. 2. It is according to their strength or weakness. Such as cannot walk shall be carried; and they that are heavy laden shall be gently led. Comfort yourselves with this; none of the flock shall be left behind. 3. It is according to the difficulties or dangers His sheep are in.Uses — 1. This doctrine affords a just word of reproof to those who are shepherds under Christ, but act not according to His example towards the flock. Knowledge of the state of the flock is one great, though much-neglected branch of a pastor's office. 2. How should souls long to be under the care of this Good Shepherd! You are exposed to wolves and devils, to all errors and sin, whilst you keep off from Christ; there is no safety for you, but only in His arms; no provision, but in His covenant. 3. How safe are all the saints! 4. What a blessed plea is here for the Church in dangerous times! Christ will spare His flock, and the land for their sake. 5. With what boldness may the people of Christ attend upon all holy ordinances. They are designed for your support, till you get above them. (J. Hill.)
III. WHAT CHRIST DOES FOR HIS CHURCH AND PEOPLE as their Shepherd.
IV. THE WAY IN WHICH THIS IS DONE. Suitably to everyone's circumstances and condition.
1. Christ's carriage towards His flock is according to their ages.
3. It is according to the difficulties or dangers His sheep are in.Uses —
3. How safe are all the saints!
I. THE SHEPHERD. He, the Lord God, whose hand is strong, and whose arm shall rule for Him, "who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, who hath meted out heaven with a span, who hath comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, who hath weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance" — He for whom there is nothing too hard to be accomplished, and nothing too minute to be observed, offereth to be the Shepherd of your soul, to feed it and to watch over it. Will not His love, His power, His wisdom, be sufficient for all its need?
II. THE FLOCK. As the Shepherd is powerful and wise, and full of love, so are the flock weak and foolish, and ready to go astray. The sheep is a weak, defenceless creature, having neither strength to resist the wolf, nor speed to escape from him. It is not like the ant, provident, and able to care for its own sustenance. If once astray, it is rarely known to return of its own accord.
III. THE SHEPHERD'S CARE OF HIS FLOCK. He shall feed His flock like a shepherd. The word translated feed refers to all a shepherd's care for his flock, including all necessary and beneficial attention to them (Ezekiel 34:15, 16).
IV. THE TENDERNESS OF HIS CARE.
I. THE REDEEMER UNDER THE ENDEARING CHARACTER OF A SHEPHERD.
1. It is the office of a good shepherd to know his flock. "I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine." He has a tender feeling, a compassionate concern for the meanest and most sickly of His flock.
2. The Good Shepherd defends His flock from every threatening danger. David exposed his own life to defend his flock. Those holy and humble shepherds to whom our blessed Saviour's birth was first notified, kept watch over their flocks by night. Will the Redeemer fall short in His office? No! "Behold, He who keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep."
3. The Good Shepherd. gathers His flock, whether they have wandered from the fold, or have been driven away by an enemy, or scattered by storms (Ezekiel 34:12). The Shepherd of Israel will magnify His office in this respect. Christ shall gather the Jews, the people of His ancient Church, into His sacred fold.
4. The Good Shepherd heals His flock, whether languishing under deep disease or smarting wounds. It was charged upon the shepherds of Israel as a high crime that they had not healed the sick, nor bound up that which was broken, nor brought again that which was driven away, nor sought that which was lost. But this could not be objected against our compassionate Redeemer.
5. The Good Shepherd provides green pastures and pure water for His flock.
II. WHAT KIND OF A SHEPHERD IS CHRIST?
I. He is a great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:10).
2. He is the chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Other shepherds are mere men, of like passions with ourselves.
3. He is the good Shepherd (John 10:14).
4. He is a Shepherd who has no equal This is obvious in numberless instances. Other shepherds lay down their commission at death. But the Shepherd of Israel by dying conquered death; and carries on His work by His Holy Spirit, with all that power and success which attended His personal ministry on earth.
III. THE FLOCK WHICH CHRIST DOTH TEND.
1. It is a little flock (Luke 12:32). Though small and despised in the eyes of a vain world; though poor in spirit, humble and meek in their deportment among men, they are greatly beloved by their God. They are not only little in their own eyes, and in the eyes of a vain world, but little in point of number, compared to a thoughtless multitude.
2. They are in some degree acquainted with their own hearts.
3. They are a peculiar flock, as they are all purchased with blood.
4. They are a chosen flock.
5. They know their Redeemer's voice, and are charmed with it.
6. They follow the blessed Shepherd (John 10:27).
I. HOW THIS TITLE OF SHEPHERD AGREES TO JESUS CHRIST. Our blessed Lord is spoken of in Scripture under several characters — as a Physician, a Ruler, the Captain of our Salvation, etc., and in this and many other places, as a Shepherd: a metaphor full of comfort. A shepherd is called to the office and trust; and this may eminently be said of Christ. God the Father appointed Him to this office, and fitted Him for it (Ezekiel 34:23). And upon this account God calls Him "My Shepherd" (Zechariah 13:7). A good shepherd gives an account of his sheep; and so will Christ (Hebrews 2:13).
II. SOME OF THE CHARACTERS THAT BELONG TO HIM AS A SHEPHERD.
1. He is the Shepherd of souls (1 Peter 2:25).
2. He is that great Shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20). Great in respect of the dignity of His person, and great in His accomplishments for His office.
3. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). He is the very best Shepherd —
(1) (2) (3) III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN HIS FEEDING HIS FLOCK. 1. As being the Shepherd of His people's souls, the food wherewith He feeds is spiritual. Even our common supplies for the body are from Him. 2. Of this spiritual food He makes use of great variety. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) 3. The food wherewith Christ feeds His flock is precious, even the privileges and promises of the Gospel. How costly, how precious, are such things as these! 4. Christ feeds His people with pleasant food. 5. The provision Christ affords His flock is plentiful (Song of Solomon 5:1). 6. The food with which Christ feeds His flock nourishes the soul to eternal life (John 6:50). IV. IN WHAT RESPECT MAY CHRIST BE SAID TO FEED HIS FLOCK LIKE A SHEPHERD? 1. As He feeds them with judgment and discretion, with due regard to their age and growth. 2. Aa He doth this with the greatest care and compassion, as those weak creatures He hath paid the greatest price for, and stands in the nearest relation to. 3. As He feeds them effectually, so as to make them to thrive. 4. As He will go on to feed them, till they are nourished up to a fitness for the glory He designs to bring them to. (D. Wilcox.)
(2) (3) III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN HIS FEEDING HIS FLOCK. 1. As being the Shepherd of His people's souls, the food wherewith He feeds is spiritual. Even our common supplies for the body are from Him. 2. Of this spiritual food He makes use of great variety. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) 3. The food wherewith Christ feeds His flock is precious, even the privileges and promises of the Gospel. How costly, how precious, are such things as these! 4. Christ feeds His people with pleasant food. 5. The provision Christ affords His flock is plentiful (Song of Solomon 5:1). 6. The food with which Christ feeds His flock nourishes the soul to eternal life (John 6:50). IV. IN WHAT RESPECT MAY CHRIST BE SAID TO FEED HIS FLOCK LIKE A SHEPHERD? 1. As He feeds them with judgment and discretion, with due regard to their age and growth. 2. Aa He doth this with the greatest care and compassion, as those weak creatures He hath paid the greatest price for, and stands in the nearest relation to. 3. As He feeds them effectually, so as to make them to thrive. 4. As He will go on to feed them, till they are nourished up to a fitness for the glory He designs to bring them to. (D. Wilcox.)
(3) III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN HIS FEEDING HIS FLOCK. 1. As being the Shepherd of His people's souls, the food wherewith He feeds is spiritual. Even our common supplies for the body are from Him. 2. Of this spiritual food He makes use of great variety. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) 3. The food wherewith Christ feeds His flock is precious, even the privileges and promises of the Gospel. How costly, how precious, are such things as these! 4. Christ feeds His people with pleasant food. 5. The provision Christ affords His flock is plentiful (Song of Solomon 5:1). 6. The food with which Christ feeds His flock nourishes the soul to eternal life (John 6:50). IV. IN WHAT RESPECT MAY CHRIST BE SAID TO FEED HIS FLOCK LIKE A SHEPHERD? 1. As He feeds them with judgment and discretion, with due regard to their age and growth. 2. Aa He doth this with the greatest care and compassion, as those weak creatures He hath paid the greatest price for, and stands in the nearest relation to. 3. As He feeds them effectually, so as to make them to thrive. 4. As He will go on to feed them, till they are nourished up to a fitness for the glory He designs to bring them to. (D. Wilcox.)
III. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN HIS FEEDING HIS FLOCK.
2. Of this spiritual food He makes use of great variety.
4. Christ feeds His people with pleasant food. 5. The provision Christ affords His flock is plentiful (Song of Solomon 5:1). 6. The food with which Christ feeds His flock nourishes the soul to eternal life (John 6:50). IV. IN WHAT RESPECT MAY CHRIST BE SAID TO FEED HIS FLOCK LIKE A SHEPHERD? 1. As He feeds them with judgment and discretion, with due regard to their age and growth. 3. As He feeds them effectually, so as to make them to thrive. (D. Wilcox.)
4. Christ feeds His people with pleasant food.
5. The provision Christ affords His flock is plentiful (Song of Solomon 5:1).
6. The food with which Christ feeds His flock nourishes the soul to eternal life (John 6:50).
IV. IN WHAT RESPECT MAY CHRIST BE SAID TO FEED HIS FLOCK LIKE A SHEPHERD?
1. As He feeds them with judgment and discretion, with due regard to their age and growth.
3. As He feeds them effectually, so as to make them to thrive.
II. TENDERNESS AND AFFECTION.
(C. Evanson, M. A.)
I. OLD TESTAMENT ILLUSTRATIONS of the manner in which the Lord Jesus Christ discharges the office of feeding His flock like a shepherd.
1. Out of five great types we begin with Abel, the shepherd slain. Abel was a type of the Saviour, in that, being a shepherd, he sanctified his work to the glory of God, and offered sacrifice of blood upon the altar of the Lord, and the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering. Farther down the page of sacred history we find another shepherd. He is a more instructive type of the Saviour, perhaps, than the first, but in Abel we discover a truth which is absent in all others. Abel is the only one of the typical shepherds who dies at the foot of the altar, he is the only sacrificing shepherd; and herein you see Jesus Christ in the very earliest ages set forth to mankind as the slaughtered Victim.
2. Now we turn to Jacob, the toiling shepherd. Here is a type of the Good Shepherd, not as dying, but as keeping sheep with a view to get unto Himself a flock. Jacob's labour was of the most arduous character. It is sweet to dwell upon the spiritual parallel of Laban having required all the sheep at Jacob's hand. If they were torn of beasts he must make it good; if any of them died, he must stand as surety for the whole. And did not the Saviour stand just so while He was here below? Was not His toil for His Church just the toil of one who felt that He was under suretyship obligations to bring every one of them safe to the hand of Him who had committed them to His charge? When Jacob had received a reward for all his toil out of the flock which he himself tended, he then conducted both his family and his flock away from Laban. Jacob coming back from Laban to the Promised Land is a true picture of Jesus Christ coming up from the world, followed by His Church, to enter into that better Canaan which has been given to us by a covenant of salt for ever.
3. Joseph is a type of Jesus reigning in the Egypt of this world for the good of His own people, while they are here below. Jesus Christ is King over Egypt's realm. Observe the likeness between Joseph and Jesus in this respect. Joseph was of very singular advantage to the Egyptians. They must have starved in the years of famine, if his prescient eye had not foreseen the famine, and stored up the plenty of the seven previous years. And Jesus Christ is of great service even to this wicked world. It is by Him that it is preserved.
4. Moses, when he kept sheep, kept them in the wilderness, far away from all other flocks; and when he became a shepherd over God's people Israel, his business was not to preserve them in Egypt, but to conduct them out of it. Here, then, is a representation of Jesus Christ as the Shepherd of a separated people. Jesus, like Moses, might have been a king. As Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, so Jesus Christ said, "Get thee behind Me, Satan," to all the pomp and glory of this present world, and preferred to take part with His despised people, who were crushed down by the reigning powers in the Egypt of His days. Now, Moses began his mission by going to Pharaoh, and saying, "Thus saith the Lord, Let My people go, that they may serve Me." Jesus Christ begins as the Shepherd of the separate ones by demanding that they should be let go from the bondage of their natural estate. Our main point is the great exodus of Moses. Every heir of heaven is brought right out of Egypt, led through the Red Sea of Jesus Christ's blood, baptized into Jesus, and brought out into the separated position in the wilderness. It is easy to see how Moses was a shepherd to the people while in the wilderness.
5. David. This shepherd represents Jesus Christ, not at all as the others, but as King in the midst of His Church. David, like Jesus Christ, begins his life with trials.
II. NEW TESTAMENT DESCRIPTIONS.
III. IMPRESSIVE APPLICATIONS.
1. One of comfort and satisfaction to you who are poor, needy, weary, troubled lambs or sheep of the flock. "He shall gather the lambs with His arms, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young." The lambs have not the value of mature sheep, yet they are the most thought of under the great Shepherd. They might fetch the least price in the market, but they have the greatest portion of His heart. The weaklings and the sickly of the flock are the special objects of the Saviour's care.
2. A second application containing comfort and warning too. Sinner! our Lord Jesus Christ now represents Himself as being a Shepherd who is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Such is Jesus now, looking after stray sheep. Where are you?
3. So we shall conclude with these words, which may be for both saint and sinner. Let it never be forgotten that Jesus Christ is pre-eminently to be preached as the suffering One. (Zechariah 13:7). You shall know about the toiling Shepherd by-and-by; the Shepherd reigning in Egypt, the Joseph you shall know soon; the Shepherd of the separated flock, you shall follow ere long; the Shepherd reigning in Jerusalem, the David you shall rejoice to serve; but now you have to do with the Shepherd bleeding and dying.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. THE GRACIOUSNESS AND BENIGNITY OF HIS NATURE. It was goodness, alike unmerited and unsolicited, that originally moved Him to interpose in our behalf. On what penitent did He ever look with coldness and aversion?
II. The idea of PROVISION. As the shepherd leads about his flock from one spot of pasturage to another, so does the Redeemer of His people conduct them to places where nourishment and sustenance may be obtained.
III. The ideas of WATCHFULNESS AND PROTECTION. They are exposed to a variety of perils; but He is vigilant to observe, and omnipotent to defend.
IV. KIND ATTENTION TO THE FEEBLE, AND TENDER SOLICITUDE FOR THE YOUNG. "He shalt gather the lambs with His arm," etc.
V. An idea of THE FINAL BLESSEDNESS RESERVED FOR THE FLOCK. From the tender care exercised over them here, we may infer somewhat of the dignity to which they shall be advanced hereafter. There are many of the ordinary phenomena of nature that fail to engage our wonder, merely because they are not uncommon. What, for example, if it did not come under our daily observation, could more surprise and astonish us than the progressive development of our own faculties? Who could believe that, under the feeble exterior of infancy, there slumbered intellectual energies, which, when a series of years had gone by, would expand to constitute the profound scholar, the enlightened statesman, and the accomplished orator? But multiplied experience has taught us what education and circumstances can do, and we cease to wonder that from the infant mind such fruits are capable of being reared. But surely, when we thus behold the admirable progress of which our nature is susceptible within the narrow compass of threescore years and ten — when we remember that the vast intellect of Newton was ledged in an infant's body — it may serve to remove our doubts as to the higher perfection of which our nature is capable in a future state of being. The goodness of the Great Shepherd in conducting His people to their final state, is most beautifully represented in the concluding verses of the 7th chapter of Revelation — a passage at once so tender and sublime, that it is said our great Scottish poet, from his very boyhood, could never read it without tears.
(J. L. Adamson.)
He shall gather the lambs with His armI. CHRIST'S FLOCK IS MADE UP OF BELIEVERS OF SEVERAL GROWTHS; OF LAMBS AS WELL AS MORE GROWN SHEEP.
I. As to the ages and years of Christians, we read of Paul the aged, and of Mnason, an old disciple (Acts 21:16); and of others the kindness of whose youth God particularly remembers. Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:3); Obadiah (1 Kings 18:12); Samuel (1 Samuel 2:18); Timothy (2 Timothy 3:15).
2. In respect of stature, strength, and growth in grace, Christ's flock is made up of lambs as well as sheep. Grace is not perfected as soon as implanted, nor does it thrive in all alike. In some, the good seed brought forth an hundredfold, in others sixty, in others but thirty (Matthew 13.). God has ordered it thus for wise purposes; that the weak may be assisted by the strong, and the strong have opportunity of showing their compassion and tenderness to the weak; that the strong may by this means be kept humble, as seeing in the case of others what they themselves once were; and that the weak may not be discouraged, but reach after the attainments of the strong.
II. THE INSTANCES HERE MENTIONED OF CHRIST'S COMPASSIONATE REGARD TO THE WEAK.
1. The lambs, when wandering. He will gather with His arm. "Gathering" supposes our proneness to wander.(1) This proceeds from the remains of corruption in us, and in His whole flock, which are not yet perfectly renewed.(2) The suddenness and surprise of a temptation may some. times occasion their going astray.(3) As making way for both these, Christians too often let down their watch; upon which they are betrayed by corruption, and Satan gets an advantage over them. Christ will gather such with His arm. Which implies —(a) That He looks after them, even when they are going astray from Him, and He is concerned for them still.(b) That He will not let them wander too far, not beyond the reach of His arm, with which they are both encircled and restrained.(c) That He will employ His power, when the case necessarily requires it, in order to their recovery.(d) That He will gather them with gentleness and care.(e) That He will gather them with His arm, with it stretched out kindly to receive them, and to give them a gracious welcome to Him again.
2. He will carry them in His bosom. This implies great weakness in some that belong to Christ's flock, and great compassion and grace on the part of Him, their Shepherd. "The lambs," or young converts of Christ's flock, may be in many respects weak: weak as to knowledge, faith, and love. Such weaklings as these Christ "has in His flock;" and yet He does not cast them off, but "carries them m His bosom," which notes —(1) That He observes with compassion the very weakest in His flock, and has His heart, as well as His arms open, to cherish them.(2) That He will take them into a place of safety.(3) In a word, Christ's carrying the weak of His flock "in His bosom," notes His acceptance of them as sincere, notwithstanding the weaknesses they lament over. These shall not keep them from His heart.
3. Our Lord and Shepherd Jesus Christ "will gently lead those that are with young." These words may set forth the condition and state of such sheep and followers of Him as are sorely burdened. And there are many things to burden Christ's sheep, as their difficult services, the load of their unmortified sins, and the bitter fruits of them, in their various sufferings of body and mind. As pressed with these, some of Christ's flock may be said to be as feeble as sheep that are with young, or give suck: but such "He will gently lead." Which implies —(1) That He will go before them in the way they are to take.(2) He will lead them gently on, and not hurry and try them by any means beyond their strength.(3) He will bear with all their weakness and imperfections, groans and complaints, and never take occasion from thence to be severe with them, or forsake and leave them.
III. CHRIST WILL MAKE GOOD HIS CHARACTER OF A SHEPHERD TO HIS SHEEP THAT ARE WEAK, EITHER THROUGH THEIR SMALL ATTAINMENTS IN GRACE, OR THE GREATNESS OF THEIR BURDENS.
1. This is here expressly asserted, "He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."
2. To this His compassionate nature inclines Him (Hebrews 4:15). Such a nature cannot but be peculiarly concerned for the weaklings of His flock, whose groans are continually going to heaven.
3. This He has in His commission. (Isaiah 61:1.)
4. This has all along been His dealing with His flock; and He is "the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever." Application — Will Christ gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom? What an inducement is this to come into His flock! Be humbled, that you should be such weaklings as you are, so apt to wander, and so unable to return; but yet remember the excellent properties of Christ as the Shepherd of His flock.
I. THE STRENGTH OF THE DIVINE LOVE. "He shall gather with His arm." The power to overtake and elevate such an one as Saul of Tarsus is no power less than "the arm of the Lord revealed." "He shall carry in His bosom." Even greater power is involved in this than in first gathering in the arm. The power of endurance. Such power was that of the Divine love in Christ towards Peter.
II. THE GENTLENESS OF THE DIVINE LOVE. So with the Divine love that said to Mary, "Why weepest thou?" or to Thomas, "Reach hither thy hand."
III. THE PROTECTIVENESS OF THE DIVINE LOVE. That may be the chief thought in these words. He promises more than the intervention of His arm between soul and dangers: He promises the intervention of His entire Being.
IV. THE ADAPTATIONS OF THE DIVINE LOVE.
(U. R. Thomas, B. A.)
I. We have to examine A PORTRAIT OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
1. Men carry in their bosoms their gems, their jewels, and so doth Christ carry the lambs of the flock, regarding them as His peculiar treasure. He puts an estimate upon them according to His own relationship to them. He knows, too, what the child cost Him, for to redeem a little child from going down into the pit He must needs bear the penalty due to justice, and suffer even unto death. Re recollects, moreover, what that child will come to if He do not save it by carrying it in His bosom. A soul is a precious thing to Christ, for He believes in its immortality. And He knows, too, what may come of that little child if He sayeth it, for the possibilities of blessing within one little saved child who shall estimate but the Lord who knoweth all things? Jesus knows that a boy may be the spiritual father of hundreds ere he dies. There may be in the congregation a Chrysostom or an Augustine. Right among us may sit a little Whitefield, or a young Luther.
II. We have AN EXAMPLE FOR THE CHURCH. There are two great things which a Church ought always to have, namely, an arm to gather with and a bosom to carry in.
III. A practical word or two upon THE MODEL TEACHER. He who gathers the lambs with His arm and carries them in His bosom is the model of a Sunday-school teacher. In what points?
1. There should be about the teacher attractiveness, in order that he may gather.
2. After you have attracted, uplift. He carries the lambs in His bosom, and therefore He must lift them up. Everything about a teacher should tend to raise the children.
3. When He lifted up the lamb, He laid it on His heart. If you are to bless the little ones, they must lie on your heart. You must make them feel the life of your religion.
4. Next, bear them forward. The lamb is put into the shepherd's bosom, not that he may stand still with it all the day long, but because the sheep are going this way and the lambs must go that way too, and therefore he carries it. You must be always going forward yourself if the child is to go forward with you.
5. Guard the children. Christ placed the lambs in His bosom to protect them.
6. The next word is, cheer.
7. Delight in them. That tenth verse has a great charm for me. "The Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him." Well, what did He have before Him but the sheep that He went forth to find, and the lambs which He gathered and carried in His bosom? They were His work, but they were also His reward.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. DESCRIBE THE LAMBS.
1. They are truly sheep. They are not sheep in maturity, but they are sheep to a certainty. The sheep of God are harmless. They can bear, but they cannot revenge. The sheep goes further than the non-inflicting of evil, it bears evil without complaint. The extraordinary patience of the sheep is seen in God's people, when they joyously endure a weight of affliction, and pass through the valley of death with composure. Sheep, again, are cleanly creatures; cleanly in their feeding — carrion never tempts them; cleanly in their habits. Furthermore, the sheep is guileless. You see the lion creeping through the thicket full of cunning; but sheep have none. Again, sheep are tractable. When a man tames a lion so that he may sport with it, he gets the name of lion-tamer; nobody is renowned for taming a sheep, for it has a tractable disposition, and so all the elect of God have an obedient and yielding spirit. Do not forget that the lambs are truly Christ's sheep. They are as dearly bought with His blood; they are as surely objects of His care; they are as manifestly illustrations of His power; they shall as certainly be proofs of His faithfulness as the strongest of the flock.
2. Why are they lambs, and in what are they distinguished?(1) Some of them are lambs for age, though not all; for there are some young Christians who are full grown, and there are others very aged, who remain to be lambs still.(2) The distinguishing mark lies rather in spiritual deficiencies — they are but children in knowledge. They are immature also in experience.(3) So are they lambs in tenderness of feeling. They are too susceptible, and therefore feel the unkindness of the world acutely.(4) They are timid and trembling, and dare not courageously proclaim themselves at all times on the Lord's side.(5) Perhaps, too, they are subject to melancholy, to doubts and fears, and distresses of mind.
II. Let us come to EXPRESS OUR FEARS CONCERNING THESE LAMBS OF THE FLOCK. We are afraid for them, because of the howling wolves there are about. We are equally alarmed because of their association with the goats. Then we are jealous over the lambs because of the old lion. We are even more concerned when we think of the bear. A flattering world hugs tightly. When we put all these dangers together, we add to them the fact that lambs are subject to the same diseases which are incident to all sheep. They, too, get the foot-rot of weariness in the ways of God. They begin to be slothful in the cause of God. They suffer from coldness of heart, have a tendency to wander, and catch the stiff neck of pride.
III. Let us REJOICE IN THE GOOD SHEPHERD. "He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom."
1. Who is He of whom such gracious words are spoken? "Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand," etc. But let us read on (vers. 12-18).
2. Why doth He carry lambs in His bosom? Because He hath a tender heart, and any weakness at once melts Him. But more, it is His office to consider the weak. For this it is that He was made a faithful high priest — that He might have compassion on the ignorant. He was a lamb Himself once. He purchased them with blood. Moreover, He is responsible for that lamb. They are all a part of His glory.
3. What does He say He will do? "Carry them." Sometimes He carries them by not permitting them to endure much trouble. At other times, by having some tender, loving person to take care of them. He carries them instrumentally. At other times, such lambs are carried by having an unusual degree of love given them, and consequently a large amount of joy, so that they bear up and stand fast. Though their knowledge may not be deep, they have great sweetness in what they do know.
4. How does He carry them? He carries them in His bosom — not on His back — that is bow He carries stray sheep.(1) Here is put forth boundless affection. Could He put them in His bosom if He did not love them much? Where does the Father place the Son? He is in the bosom of the Father. Where did Abraham carry Lazarus? In his bosom. Where did Naomi bear her young grandson Obed? He was in her bosom. Where did the man in the parable put his little ewe lamb? In his bosom.(2) Then there is tender nearness. How near to a man is that which is in his bosom.(3) Then it is a hallowed familiarity. Lambs when put into the bosom, having no intellect, cannot therefore learn anything; but the lambs of Christ's flock, whenever they ride in Christ's bosom, talk with Him; they tell Him all their secrets, and He tells them His.(4) Then there is perfect safety. The dear ones in His bosom — what can hurt them? They must hurt the Shepherd first. How can they get the lamb out of the Shepherd's arm? Must they not cut off the Shepherd's arm before they can hurt the lamb?
IV. LET US HEAR THE SHEPHERD'S VOICE. If you be the lambs, hear the Shepherd's voice, which says, "Follow Me." You that are not lambs, hear His words, "Come unto Me." Those of us who are His sheep, let us hear the Shepherd's voice, saying, "Feed My lambs."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. WHO ARE THE LAMBS WHICH OUR BLESSED LORD IS SAID TO GATHER AND TO CARRY IN HIS BOSOM?
1. In a certain sense we may affirm that all His people are lambs. In so far as they exhibit the Christian spirit, they are lamb-like.
2. Still, this is not the precise meaning of the text. The word "lamb" frequently signifies the young; and our Lord Jesus Christ graciously receives many young persons into His bosom. The ancient teachers of the Jewish law invited no children to gather around them. I suppose there was not a Rabbi in all Jerusalem who would have desired a child to listen to him, and if it had been said of any one of the Sanhedrin, "that man teaches so as to be understood by a child," he would have thought himself insulted. But not so our Master; He always had children among His auditory. Some in our day mistrust youthful piety, but our Saviour lends no countenance to such suspicions. Some cautiously whisper, "Let the pious youth be tried awhile before we believe in his religion; let him be tempted; let him bear the frosts of the world; perhaps the blossoms will drop away and disappoint us." Such was not my Master's way.
3. But, again, by lambs we may quite as properly understand young converts.
4. We shall not strain the text if we say that the lambs in the flock are those who are naturally of a weak, timid, trembling disposition.
5. The lambs are those who know but little of the things of God.
II. HOW DOES JESUS SHOW THIS SPECIAL CARE FOR THE WEAK ONES? He does this, according to the text, in two ways —
1. By gathering them. The shepherd's kitchen fire is, for the time, the lambs' own nursery. When the flock is on the march, it will happen, unless the shepherd is very watchful, that the lambs will lag behind. So it is in the progress of the great Christian Church; persecuted often, always more or less molested by the outside world, there are some who flag, they cannot keep up the pace; the spiritual warfare is too severe for them. At other times the lambs do worse than this. They are of a skittish nature, and, feeling the natural vigour of new-born life, they are not content to keep within bounds, as the older sheep do, but they betake themselves to wandering, so that at the close of the day the lambs cost the shepherd much trouble. So are there many immature Christians whose minds are hung loosely, and are unstable as water.
2. After He gathers them, He carries them in His bosom. That is —(1) The safest place, for the wolf cannot get them there.(2) The tenderest place, where we should put only a poor creature that had a broken bone, and could not bear to be roughly touched.(3) The easiest place.(4) The most honourable place. We would not put into our bosom that which we despised.
3. Our Lord shows His care for His lambs in His teachings, which are very simple, mostly in parables, full of winning illustrations, but always plain. He is pleased to reveal His teachings gradually. His experimental teachings are all by degrees, too.
4. In the solemn curses with which He guarded the little ones (Matthew 18:6, 10).
5. How many of the promises are made on purpose for the weak.
6. The Lord Jesus Christ's tenderness to His people is further shown in this, that what He requires of them is easy.
7. He shows His gentleness, moreover, in that He accepts the least service that these little ones may offer.
III. WHEREFORE THIS CARE OF CHRIST TOWARDS THE LAMBS OF THE FLOCK? Because they need it, and He loves them, and therefore shall they receive according to their necessities. But why is He so particularly anxious to succour them? Surely, if He lost a lamb or two, it would be no loss among so many, and if one of the feeble minds should perish, it would be no great consequence when a multitude that no man can number shall be saved. The answer is plain.
1. The weak are as much redeemed by the blood of Christ as the strong.
2. In the new-born child of God there are peculiar beauties which are not so apparent in others.
3. Jesus has such care for the weak ones, because they will become strong one day.
4. Our Lord Jesus Christ's suretyship engagements require that He should preserve the weakest as well as the strongest.
5. Besides His suretyship engagements, there are His promises.
6. Compassion argues that if any should be watched it should be these.
IV. A PRACTICAL CONCLUSION.
1. Let us gather the lambs, for Christ..
2. Learn to carry in our bosoms those who are gathered.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
(J. Stalker, D. D.)
And carry them in His bosomI. BY THE "LAMBS" WE ARE CLEARLY TO UNDERSTAND WEAK BELIEVERS. It has nothing to do with their age, either natural or spiritual. Sometimes they are called "babes." Sometimes we are told of "the day of small things"; sometimes of "smoking flax." They are weak believers. We see it in their degree of spiritual knowledge. They little know themselves. They little know the hard warfare they have to maintain. They are surprised because they find the strong workings of nature and of the flesh within them. These are they who live much upon their enjoyments when they have them, and are exceedingly east down when they have them not. They are, for the most part, persons Who are more affected by providences than by God's promises. They have indistinct views of Christ, of His great atonement. They live upon their happy frames. They draw but very feeble distinction between a life of faith and a life of sense. They love to discourage themselves. They think much more of their bitters than of that Branch that can make the bitter waters sweet. And too oft they think more of their own sacrifices than they think of the great Sacrifice. They are weak in knowledge; weak in experience; weak in courage. They fail too oft in the day of adversity. And yet they form a part of the true flock of Christ. There are but few folds in which lambs do not appear a large proportion to the whole.
II. THE GENTLE CONDUCT THAT THEY MEET WITH. "He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom."
1. Think who this is (ver. 12). Observe how He is set before us in the tenth verse: Jehovah, Elohim, "will come with strong hand: He shall feed His flock like a shepherd," etc. What! the great Eternal — "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity" — is this the Being that "gathers the lambs with His arm and carries them in His bosom"?
2. The posture contains in it much for our prayerful meditation; carrying these lambs, these feeble ones, these ignorant ones, these weak ones, "in His bosom"! What doth it imply?(1) His boundless affection for them. He has given costly proof of that affection.(2) See how He takes notice of their least graces. I love that instance in 1 Kings 14., in the case of Abijah: it unfolds the tenderness of Him that carries His lambs in His bosom: "And all Israel shall mourn for him, and bury him; for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good tiring toward the Lord God of Israel." There is His cherishing His "lamb."(3) It implies their tender nearness to Him. The lamb seems to be so near its shepherd, as if nothing could be nearer. And what stands so near to the Lord Jesus Christ as His own people? "In all their affliction He is afflicted."(4) It would seem almost to imply more than this; for as the Lord Jesus is spoken of as lying in the bosom of His Father, as if there He learned anew as man all the heart of the Father, so who can say what there is in that posture of the weak lambs lying in the bosom of the Shepherd? He tells us the secrets of His heart. In this opening of the heart to the Lord Jesus in trouble, and His opening His heart to us in giving us answers of peace, doth consist some of the highest blessed-nesses to be known on this side heaven.(5) But the posture does evidently bring with it deep conviction of safety. If the lamb is in the bosom of the Shepherd, he that destroyeth the lamb must destroy the Shepherd. There is all encouragement in this verse, to one that feels himself the weakest of all God's children. But there is not in this truth that which encourages a weak believer to remain in his weakness. For what purpose does the good Shepherd cherish? It is to sanctify.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
And shall gently lead those that are with youngI. With regard to THE PERSONS, they are clearly those who are weary and heavy-laden. They are feeble as well as burdened. Various are the burdens that might be placed before you.
1. I need not say how heavy is the burden of sin, when the Spirit of God first unfolds it to us.
2. And even when there is so much perception of Christ as to leave the spirit without any acknowledged hope but in Christ, and yet with so much of self-righteousness still cleaving as to think there must be something of a preparation necessary in order to recommend the soul to God and His Christ — what a burden! The toil of ploughing the rock — of counting the sands — of measuring the mighty waters — of working in the fire, the fire burning our work as soon and as long as we do!
3. But it applies, too, to the established believer, who frequently in his pilgrimage acknowledges himself and feels himself a burdened man.
4. The constant conflict — "putting off the old man," "putting on the new man"; self-crucifixion, mortification of self, self-denial.
5. There is the burden of a burdened conscience; when a man sees so much in his sin as not to see enough in Christ to raise him above it.
6. The heavy weight of afflictions, accompanied as they often are with great and sore temptations.
7. Their very bodies are a burden to them.
8. The constant service of the Lord has a burden in it. "The burden and heat of the day."
9. There is a burden that we are but little prone to look into as we ought to do, and that is — the burdens of others. For we are to bear their burdens.
II. THE LORD'S CONDUCT TOWARD THEM. Infinite power is required to control the movements of these burdened ones; so many thousands as He has. But the great truth that it unfolds is His infinite tenderness. He does not drive — He leads. He does not merely lead, but "gently leads." Who can unfold thee wondrous tenderness, patience, forbearance, compassion, and love with which He has led each one of us! How doth He wait on His burdened ones! How doth He wait for them! How doth He encourage them! Sometimes He encourages His burdened ones directly. By His Word. How oftentimes do they find their hearts cheered, led onward by a word of promise! He waiteth on them. He waiteth for them. And He suffereth no one to harm them.
III. WHITHER DOES HE LEAD THEM?
1. The first object that our Lord has in His leading of His burdened ones, is to lead them out of their own pasture. His great object is to lead them out of the creature and out of themselves. "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
2. Whither, then, does He lead them? Into deeper discoveries of Divine truth. How little know we of a truth till we have had experience of that truth!
3. Then cometh more close communion with God.
4. And now, it may be, He leads them into deeper afflictions than they have ever known. Oh! what a blessedness to have such a Shepherd for such poor burdened souls! Remember, His great end in leading is holiness.
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?
1. Religious idolatry, which consists in rendering that religious worship to a creature which is due to none but God.
2. Moral idolatry, which consists in distrusting the promises of God in dangerous crises, and in expecting that assistance from men which cannot but be expected from God. The portrait drawn by the prophet is infinitely inferior to his original. Ye will be fully convinced of this if ye attend to the following considerations of the grandeur of God.
I. THE SUBLIMITY OF HIS ESSENCE. The prophet's mind was filled with this object. It is owing to this that he repeats the grand title of Jehovah, "the Lord," which signifies "I am" by excellence, and which distinguisheth by four grand characters the essence of God from the essence of creatures.
1. The essence of God is independent in its cause. God is a self-existent being. We exist, but ours is only a borrowed existence, for existence is foreign from us.
2. The essence of God is universal in its extent. God possesseth the reality of every thing that exists. He is, as an ancient writer expresseth it, a boundless ocean of existence. From this ocean of existence all created beings, like so many rivulets, flow.
3. The essence of God is unchangeable in its exercise. Creatures only pass from nothing to existence, and from existence to nothing. We love to-day what we hated yesterday, and to-morrow we shall hate What to-day we love.
4. The Divine essence is eternal in its duration. "Hast thou not known," saith our prophet, "that He is the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth?"
II. THE IMMENSITY OF HIS WORKS (vers. 22, 26). A novice is frightened at hearing what astronomers assert. Over all this universe God reigns.
III. THE EFFICIENCY OF HIS WILL. The idea of the real world conducts us to that of the possible world. The idea of a creative Being includes the idea of a Being whose will is efficient. But a Being whose will is self-efficient, is a Being who, by a single act of His will, can create all possible beings: that is, all, the existence of which implies no contradiction; there being no reason for limiting the power of a will that hath been once efficient of itself.
IV. THE MAGNIFICENCE OF SOME OF HIS MIGHTY ACTS, AT CERTAIN PERIODS, IN FAVOUR OF HIS CHURCH. The prophet had two of these periods in view. The first was the return of the Jews from that captivity in Babylon which he had denounced; and the second, the coming of the Messiah, of which their return from captivity was only a shadow. Such, then, are the grandeurs of God! Application — We observed that the prophet's design was to render two sorts of idolatry odious: idolatry in religion, and idolatry in morals. Idolatry in religion consists in rendering those religious homages to creatures which are due to the Creator only. To discredit this kind of idolatry, the prophet contents himself with describing it. He shames the idolater by reminding him of the origin of idols, and of the pains taken to preserve them. A man is guilty of moral idolatry when, in dangerous crises, he says, 'My way is hid from the Lord; my judgment is passed over from my God.' God is the sole arbiter of events. Whenever ye think that any more powerful being directs them to comfort you, ye put the creature in the Creator s place; whether ye do it in a manner more or less absurd; whether formidable armies, impregnable fortresses, and well-stored magazines; or whether a small circle of friends, an easy income, or a country house. The Jews were often guilty of the first sort of idolatry. The captivity in Babylon was the last curb to that fatal propensity. Thanks be to God that the light of the Gospel hath opened the eyes of a great number of Christians in regard to idolatry in religion. Ye who, in order to avert public calamities, satisfy yourselves with a few precautions of worldly prudence, and take no pains to extirpate those horrible crimes which provoke the vengeance of heaven to inflict punishments on public bodies; ye are guilty of this second kind of idolatry. Were your confidence placed in God, ye would endeavour to avert national judgments by purging the state of those wicked practices which are the surest forerunners and the principal causes of famine, and pestilence, and war. And thou, feeble mortal, lying on a sick-bed, already struggling with the king of terrors; thou, who tremblingly complainest, I am undone! — thou art guilty of this second kind of idolatry, that thou hast trusted in man and made flesh thine arm. Were God the object of thy trust, thou wouldest believe that though death is about to separate thee from man, it is about to unite thee to God.
Homilist."To whom then will ye liken God?"
I. THAT THE GREATEST THINGS IN THE MATERIAL WORLD ARE NOTHING TO HIM. The ocean is great, great in its depths, breadths, contents, occupying by far the largest portion of this globe of ours. But He "hath measured the waters in the hollow of His hand." The heaven is great; its expanse is immeasurable, its worlds and systems baffle all arithmetic, but He "meted out heaven with the span." The earth is great, great to us, though mere speck in the universe, and, it may be, an atom to other intelligences; but "He comprehendeth the dust in a measure," etc. What is the universe to God? You may compare an atom to the Andes, a raindrop to the Atlantic, a spark to the central fires of the creation; but you cannot compare the universe, great as it is, to the Creator.
II. THAT THE GREATEST MINDS IN THE SPIRITUAL UNIVERSE ARE NOTHING TO HIM. "Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being His counsellor hath taught Him?" etc. (vers. 13, 14). The Bible gives us to understand that there is a spiritual universe far greater than the material, of which the material is but the dim mirror and feeble instrument — a universe containing intelligences innumerable in multitude and incalculable in their gradations of strength and intelligence. But what spirit or spirits at the head or hierarchy of these intelligences has ever given Him counsel, instructed or influenced Him in any matter? He is uninstructible: the only Being in the universe who is so. He knows all. Sooner speak of a spark enlightening the sun, than speak of a universe of intelligences adding aught to the knowledge of .God. He is absolutely original: the only Being in the universe who is so. We talk of original thinkers. Such creatures are mere fictions. He being so independent of all minds —
1. His universe must be regarded as the expression of Himself. No other being had a hand in it.
2. His laws are the revelation of Himself. No one counselled Him in His legislation.
3. His conduct is absolutely irresponsible, and He alone can be trusted with irresponsibility.
III. THAT THE GREATEST INSTITUTIONS IN HUMAN SOCIETY ARE NOTHING TO HIM. Nations are the greatest things "in" human institutions. "But nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance." What were the greatest nations of the old world, or the most powerful of modern times? What are the greatest nations that have ever been, or are, compared to Him? Nothing, emptiness. Oh, ye magnates of the world, ye kings of the earth, what are ye in the presence of God? Less than animalcula dancing in the sun.
IV. THAT THE GREATEST PRODUCTIONS OF HUMAN LABOUR ARE NOTHING TO HIM. "There is," said an eloquent French preacher, "nothing great but God."
Homilist.The grand object of this sublime chapter seems to be to inspirit and to comfort the Jews in their Babylonian captivity. Their God in His transcendent greatness is brought under their notice for this purpose —
I. IN THE EXACTITUDE OF HIS OPERATIONS. He is here represented as "measuring" the waters, as "spanning" the heavens, as "comprehending" the very dust of the earth in a measure, as "weighing" the mountains in scales. As the physician adjusts in nicest proportions the elements in the medical dose, with which he hopes to cure his patient; the engineer every crank and wheel and pin in the machine which he has constructed for a certain purpose, so God — only in an Infinite degree — arranges all the parts of the complicated universe. It is seen in the atmosphere that surrounds this globe; were one of its constituent elements more or less than it is the whole would be disturbed. This is seen in the punctuality with which all the heavenly orbs perform their movements; they are never out of time. It is seen, in fact, in the unbroken uniformity with which all nature proceeds on its march.
1. This Divine exactitude should inspire us with unbounded confidence in His procedure. Because God works with such infinite precision, His works admit of no improvement.
2. This Divine exactitude should inspire us to imitate Him in this respect. When we act from blind impulse, or from imperfect reflection, we risk our wellbeing.
II. IN THE ALMIGHTINESS OF HIS POWER. He is here represented as holding the waters in the "hollow of His hand." In thinking of this power we should remember —
1. That all this power is under the direction of intelligence. It is not a blind force, like the force of the storm or the tornado, but it is a force directed by the highest wisdom. Wisdom uses the whole as the smith uses his hammer on the anvil, as the mariner the rudder in the tempest.
2. That all this power is inspired by benevolence. The infinite is here portrayed.
III. IN THE INDEPENDENCY OF HIS MIND. "With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him?" From this absolute mental independency of God the following things may be deduced —
1. That all His operations must originate in pure sovereignty. All that exists must be traced to the counsels of His own will, for He had no counsellor.
2. That all His laws must be a transcript of His mind. What they are He is; they are the history of Himself. Conclusion — What an argument is" here for an entire surrender to, and a thorough acquiescence in, the Divine will.
libra) consisting of two scales (lances). But what Jehovah measures with His palm and regulates with His span is nothing less than the waters below and the heavens above. He uses a shalish, in which the dust composing the earth finds place, and a balance in which He weighs the colossus of the mountains.
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
I. THE TESTIMONY OF THE EARTH. It seems as though we are conducted to the shores of the Mediterranean, and stationed somewhere near the site of ancient Tyre. Before us spreads the Great Sea, as the Hebrews were wont to call it. Far across the waters, calm and tranquil, or heaving in memory of recent storms, sea and sky blend in the circle of the horizon. Now remember, says the prophet, God's hands are so strong and great that all that ocean and all other oceans lie in them as a drop on a man's palm And this God is our God for ever and ever. All men may be in arms against thee: encircling thee with threats, and plotting to swallow thee up. But the nations are to Him as the drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance. Thou hast no reason, therefore, to be afraid.
II. THE TESTIMONY OF THY HEAVENS. The scene shifts to the heavens, and all that is therein. This is the antidote of fear. Sit in the heavenlies. Do not look from earth towards heaven, but from heaven towards earth. Let God, not man, be the standpoint of vision. But this is not all. To this inspired thinker, it seemed as though the blue skies were curtains that God had stretched out as a housewife gauze (see Revised Version, marg.), or the fabric of a tent within which the pilgrim rests. If creation be His tent, which He fills in all its parts, how puny are the greatest potentates of earth! The child of God need not be abashed before the greatest of earthly rulers. And even this is not all — day changes to night, and as the twilight deepens, the stars come out in their hosts; and suddenly, to the imagination of this lofty soul, the vault of heaven seems a pasture-land over which a vast flock is following its Shepherd, who calls each by name. What a sublime conception! Jehovah, the Shepherd of the stars, leading them through space; conducting them with such care and might that none falls out of rank, or is lacking. And will Jehovah do so much for stars, and nought for sons?
III. THE TESTIMONY OF THE SAINTS. "Hast thou not heard?" It has been a commonplace with every generation of God's people, that "the Lord fainteth not, neither is weary." He never takes up a case to drop it. He never begins to build a character to leave it when it is half complete. He may seem to forsake and to plunge the soul into needless trial; this, however, is no indication that He has tired of His charge, but only that He could not fulfil the highest blessedness of some soul He loved save by the sternest discipline. "There is no searching of His understanding." There is another point on which all the saints are agreed, that neither weariness nor fainting are barriers to the forth-putting of God's might. On the contrary, they possess an infinite attractiveness to His nature.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket.I. THE GREATNESS OF GOD AND HIS WORKS.
II. GOD CONSTANTLY GOVERNETH THE WORLD WHICH HE HATH MADE. And as all creatures from the highest to the lowest have their subsistence in the power of God, so they are each of them noticed by His eye and governed by His providence; that is, by the immediate energy of His own power, or by agents which are under His direction, and who cannot act but by His power. That care of the Supreme Being, by which this general order or stated course of things is preserved, may not unfitly be called a general providence. Consider the great extent of it. It taketh place not only in the frame of the universe, the regular motion of the vast bodies which compose it, by which we have spring and harvest, summer and winter, day and night; not only in the fruitfulness of the earth, and the state of the several kinds of animals which inhabit it, and the manner in which the kinds and the individuals are preserved; but in human affairs likewise. But it is particularly pleasing to observe how minutely this providence of the Supreme Being descendeth, even to the notice and direction of the smallest and most inconsiderable things. Our Saviour, and this according to the justest philosophy that ever appeared in the world, representeth His Heavenly Father as clothing the lilies of the field, and as feeding the ravens; and argues from this, that if He attends to these things, which are comparatively of the smallest account, surely His providence will not neglect His creatures of a nobler order (Luke 12.). Thus, though God is so great, "He humbleth Himself to behold things which are done in heaven and upon earth," and takes notice even of the lowest orders of creatures, and of every individual. For, besides that general order of causes and effects which He hath established, and maintaineth from age to age, there are plain footsteps of a particular providence regarding individual persons. By the interpositions of providence things are so governed and conducted that His purposes are pursued and carried into execution; and manifold are the means by which this may be effected. How important the events which arise out of things which appear to us purely accidental!
III. These reflections naturally lead our thoughts to THE HAPPINESS OF THE SUPREME BEING IN HIS PERFECTIONS AND WORKS, a subject, indeed, as little to be comprehended by us, as we can find out the Almighty unto perfection. Yet we cannot avoid the thought how high, and in all respects perfect, the felicity of the first cause of all things must be; and love to God will make a right heart rejoice and exult in it. Nor let it be objected, that in the universe there is much irregularity, and many evils and sufferings. For what to us hath the appearance of irregularity may be, nay, assuredly is, necessary to the harmony of the whole; and part of a design which was the best and worthiest which could be framed. As for those sufferings which the subjects of a moral government bring upon themselves, they are as necessary as that government itself; which is indeed the glory of God's creation, and without which, and those orders of creatures which are made to be the subjects of such a government, the universe must have been nothing to what it is now. An universe without angels, without men, without any such orders of intellectual and moral beings, what would it have been? But the glorious Head and Regent of that vast body, which is all harmony, all order and beauty, and in which no part of the grand design hath failed, or ever can fail, what happiness must He taste! Concluding reflections —
1. If our minds are rightly impressed with a sense of the Divine greatness and majesty, how little must what we are apt to call great upon earth appear in our eye!
2. Let us in all things meekly and affectionately submit to the supreme Ruler; in humble obedience to His laws, and in unreserved resignation to His providence.
3. Let us put our trust in God.
(J. Duchals, D. D.)
And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn.
(J. A. Alexander.)
To whom then will ye liken God?I. THE CARNAL NOTIONS MEN ARE APT TO ENTERTAIN OF GOD.
1. We find that the knowledge of the true God soon faded from the minds of Noah's descendants. That patriarch had been favoured with a clear revelation; and he had offered a pure worship. But even among his sons depravity began to manifest itself. And in a generation or two very gross ideas prevailed. Men were not satisfied with the fact of a Being, pure and spiritual, dwelling in the highest heaven, apart from the mortal eye. And they chose to represent Him by sensible figures. Some practices of this kind are described in verses 19
2. We find the same temper at work in the Jews. They, too, imitated the heathen in desiring idols, gods whom they might see. They were continually prone to let their carnal reasonings interfere with their reception of the Divine Word.
3. We may trace similar consequences even down to our times. There have been men, of great natural parts too, who, because they never witnessed a miracle, have boldly denied that miracles were ever performed. He who will credit nothing that is not apparent to his senses, cripples himself with the most enervating chains. He who does not allow that the Deity is incomprehensible, is in truth the most irrational of reasoners: for he would make out that this vast universe was created and is upheld and governed by one whose mind he, a puny worm of the dust, is able to comprehend. And he that would reject the truth of the Trinity because it is higher than his thoughts, would compare the likeness of God to a finite creature. It is not intended to say that Scripture asserts or that the Church maintains anything that is contrary to reason. We are every day obliged to admit as truths things, the reasons of which we are unable to explain or account for; and no one imagines that this is irrational. Why should it appear so in spiritual things?
II. THERE IS THUS A WHOLESOME TRIAL OF OUR FAITH. God might, had He so pleased, have revealed His will so plainly that men could no more be ignorant of it than they can of the fact that the sun is shining in the heavens. To take the case of our blessed Saviour, He might have been shown openly to the world, and have been pointed out so evidently as the One of whom Moses and the prophets wrote, that none even of the Pharisees or the Sadducees could have denied it. Or, take the fact of His resurrection. It might have been performed before multitudinous witnesses, and Christ might again have lived openly as He did before His death, teaching and preaching. But where, in such a case, would have been the trial of faith? The whole system of God's dealings would have been changed; and we should have walked by sight and not by faith. In regard to providential circumstances it might have been the same. God might have disclosed to Abraham His purpose of providing a ram for a sacrifice instead of Isaac. Had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego learned at once that the fire would not kindle upon them, different indeed would their emotions have been; but what trial would there then have been of faith! God's dealings are secret, because He would prove men, and make evident what is in their hearts. In no other way, it is clear, could the graces of humility and trust, of patience and faith and hope and long-suffering, of self-denial and spiritual-mindedness, be wrought out. And so with regard to the revelation of doctrines. The Scripture gives us this most remarkable announcement (1 Peter 2:6-8). It is thus that God severs the precious from the vile: it is for this reason that He has allowed difficulties in His sacred Word, at which the worldly and the self-sufficient are offended; while they who with a humble spirit wait patiently upon Him, and meekly seek His guidance, are admitted into the secret place of the Most High. It is not that God throws difficulties into men's ways or delights to perplex them, but that in pursuing His great plan of moral government He does find it needful to train and lead onward by degrees, thus letting it be seen who will be teachable scholars in His school, and who rebelliously refuse His gracious lessons. There is a point, too, which must not be lost sight of. The revelation of the Gospel, such as we find it, is of expanding character. As ages roll on, more and more light beams upon it; and thus the Bible is seen to be the book not of untutored nations only, but of those farthest advanced in civilisation; not merely of the world in its infancy, but of the world come to. matured age. Other books are soon exhausted. But in all those things to which I have adverted, there is spiritual food for the humble mind. The full development of God's mysteries must patiently be waited for. Herein are some of the good things which He has prepared for those that love Him. Concluding reflections —
1. There is an unfair use made of human language by those who reject the doctrine of the Trinity. Language is always imperfect; more especially so when, by terms taken from human things, it is used to describe those that are Divine.
2. But, after all, the best knowledge is a practical knowledge. And this we should strive to attain, especially in respect to such deep things of God. No one will stumble at the doctrine of the Trinity, who, enlightened and quickened by the Spirit, comes to the Father by the Son. Vain speculations will be cast aside as we become acquainted with what each blessed person in the Godhead has done, and is doing, for us. In this way seek to know the Triune God. The Father's love, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, experimentally known, will be sure to be the Christian's stable foundation and his richest joy.
(J. Ayre, M. A.)
A graven image.cf. the case of Dagon.
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
(Knox, History of the Reformation.)
Have ye not known?
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)
It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth.— While yet people thought that the world was fiat, and thousands of years before they found out that it was round, Isaiah intimated the shape of it. The most beautiful figure in all geometry is the circle. God made the universe on the plan of a circle. There are in the natural world straight lines, angles, parallelograms, diagonals, quadrangles; but these evidently are not God's favourites. Out of a great many figures God seems to have selected the circle as the best. "It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth." The stars in a circle, the moon in a circle, the sun in a circle, the universe in a circle, and the throne of God the centre of that circle.
1. The history of the world goes in a circle. If the world stands long enough we may have a city as large as they had in old times — Babylon, five times the size of London. You go into the potteries at Burslem, England, and you will find them making cups and vases after the style of the cups and vases exhumed from Pompeii. The world is not going back. But it is swinging in a circle, and will come back to the styles of pottery known so long ago as the days of Pompeii. The world must keep on progressing until it makes the complete circuit.
2. What is true in the material universe is true in God's moral government and spiritual arrangement. That is the meaning of Ezekiel's wheel; the wheel means God's providence. But a wheel is of no use unless it turns around, and if it turns around it moves in a circle. These bad or good actions may make the circuit of many years, but come back to us they will, as certainly as that God sits on the circle of the earth. Jezebel, the worst woman of the Bible, slew Naboth because she wanted his vineyard. While the dogs were eating the body of Naboth, Elijah the prophet put down his compass, and marked a circle from those dogs clear around to the dogs that should eat the body of Jezebel the murderess. But it is sometimes the case that this circle sweeps through a century, or through many centuries. People got tired of a theocracy. They said — "We don't want God directly interfering with the affairs of the world; give us a monarchy." The world had a monarchy. From a monarchy it is going to have a limited monarchy. .After a while the limited monarchy will be given up, and the republican form of government will be everywhere recognised. Then the world will get tired of the republican form of government, and it will have an anarchy, which is no government at all. And then, all nations, finding out that man is not capable of righteously governing man, will cry out again for a theocracy, and say, "Let God come back and conduct the affairs of the world." But do not become impatient because you cannot see the course of events, and therefore conclude that God's government is going to break down. History tells us that in the making of the pyramids it took two thousand men two years to drag one great stone from the quarry and put it into the pyramids. If men short-lived can afford to work so slowly as that, cannot God, in the building of the eternities, afford to wait? What though God should take ten thousand years to draw a circle! But it is often the case that the rebound is much quicker than that. The circle is sooner completed. You resolve that you will do what good you can. In one week you put a word of counsel in the heart of a Sabbath-school child. During that same week you give a letter of introduction to a young man struggling in business. During the same week you make an exhortation in a prayer-meeting. It is all gone; you will never hear of it, perhaps, you think. A few years after a man comes up to you and says, "You don't know me, do you?" You say, "No, I don't remember ever to have seen you." "Why," he says, "I was in the Sabbath-school class over which you were the teacher; one Sunday you invited me to Christ." What is true of the good is just as true of the bad. You utter a slander against your neighbour. It has gone forth from your teeth; it will never come back, you think. You think it will never do you any harm. But I am watching that word, and I see it beginning to curve, and it curves around, and it is aiming at your heart. You maltreat an aged parent. You begrudge him the room in your house. But God has an account to settle with you on that subject. What are those rough words with which your children are accosting you? They are the echo of the very words you used in the ear of your old father forty years ago. Retribution in a circle! I would like to see Paul, the invalid missionary, at the moment when his influence comes to full orb — his influence rolling out through Antioch, Cyprus, Syria, Corinth, Athens, through Asia, through Europe, through five centuries, through twenty centuries, through all the succeeding centuries, through earth, through heaven, and at last, the wave of influence, having made full circuit, strikes his great soul. I should not want to see Voltaire when his influence comes to full orb. No one can tell how that bad man's influence girded the earth, save the One who is seated on the circle of the earth.
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
1. So little and inconsiderable.
2. Of such small value.
3. Of such little use.
4. So easily crushed. Proud men's lifting up themselves is but like the grasshopper's leap; in an instant they must down to the earth again.
( M. Henry.)
That bringeth the princes to nothing.
Homilist.Earth has its great men. Social distinctions grow out of the constitution of things, and are, therefore, Divine in their foundation.
I. EARTH'S GREAT MEN GOD REDUCES TO NOTHING.
1. Death is the destruction of all mere worldly distinctions.
2. Death is effected by the agency of God. "He bringeth," etc. Not chance, fate, accident, etc.
II. Earth's great men He reduces to nothing NOTWITHSTANDING THEIR DETERMINED EFFORTS TO BE SOMETHING. "Their stock shall not take root in the earth;"
1. The implied tendency of earth's great men in relation to life. They seek to "root" themselves here.
2. The manifest folly of earth's great men. They are trying to do what they cannot accomplish. Heaven's decree is against it, and there is no overcoming that decree. The roots of our earthly life, such as they are, are only like those of certain marine plants, that spring up one floating wavelet to be destroyed by the next; or rather like the roots of those atmospheric plants that strike only into a wave of air; that roll swiftly on, Heaven only knows where.
III. HE DOES THIS WITH THE GREATEST EASE. "He blows upon them and they wither," etc.
lift up your eyes on high.
I. THIS THOUGHT GUIDES US TO THE PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF PROVIDENCE. God works on a large scale. His purposes, like Himself, inhabit eternity. In His government there is nothing small, arbitrary, merely local. Every passing movement is part of a big design. And the man who would read even the plainer words of that purpose must get his light from a wide study of God's ways. Providence cannot be interpreted by details. We get a glimpse of this truth when we engage in retrospect. Looking back over a long stretch of years, we are enabled to perceive merciful meanings in crises which at the time perplexed and burdened us. The same truth impresses us when we take a panoramic view of nations and movements in history. To the man of downward look and narrow view, few things are more perplexing than the oftentimes apparent breach between moral worth and material progress. He sometimes becomes cynical over it. He has been heard to say that righteousness has nothing to do with prosperity. He looks down at the few facts lying near his feet, and this is what he makes of them. Think you that the resources of civilisation have banished for ever the dispensations of righteous, all-controlling providence? Read history. You will find that virtue, truth, honour, are more than mere sentiments — are vital elements of victorious power. God works on a grand scale. We must look far if we would adequately see. To this grandeur of purpose, which is the glory of providence, must be traced our many perplexities. Higher intelligence and larger aims must ever work in a manner ill understood and misunderstood by lower capacity. There will ever be need for trust and patience, but there may be moments of insight and realisation. But these can only come to the man who attains the broad outlook. In this matter we multiply our inevitable perplexities by the persistence of our downward look. Our thoughts and interests are so centred in the passing day and the current event as to narrow both our views and our sympathies. The things of to-day are what we are eager for; and on God's relation to us through them do we often misjudge His character and purpose. Give scope to your eyes. The tree will then sink to small proportions. It will become a pleasing detail on the broad expanse which stretches away to the horizon. The men to whom the text was first spoken needed this exhortation. They had been trying to see the landscape while placing their eyes upon the tree.
II. THIS THOUGHT GUIDES US TO THE PROPER STANDPOINT FROM WHICH TO LOOK AT MAN. The downward look tends to the denial of God. It tends equally, and as a consequence, to the degradation of our thought of man. It is by enlarging our vision, by taking in a wider view of facts, that we shall rightly see God, and through Him, ourselves. In a word, as we must look at life's facts in the light of God's great purposes, so must we look at man, not as he merely is, but as he is ideally in the redeeming thought and design of the Father. Man, looked at only from below, does not inspire great expectations or reverential regard. Before us looms a being of measurable height, of weight and bulk definable, acting under the impulse of appetites and desires which he holds in common with the brutes, showing now and again the possession of genius and virtues clearly not brutish, but for the most part failing to rise above sheer commonplace alike of power or sympathy. The natural man of ordinary proportions is not impressive. And the observer who looks downwards at him will soon lose all heroic conceptions of life, all sense of man's high origin and destiny. We become the victims of a delusion. The eye tricks us into the belief that we see, and under that belief we begin to cherish low views of man's worth. Man, like providence, to be seen aright must be looked at on high. Here we come under the tyranny of his too obtrusive parts. It is "in Christ" that we must look at our life, judge its possibilities and its worth, its character and destiny. Looking at man in Him, we behold a being God-like in the proportions of power and quality. If God, looking upon the very imperfect disciples of His Son, calls them "saints," while yet they are a long way from sanctity, I will be guided by the example.
III. THIS THOUGHT GUIDES US TO THE PROPER INSPIRATION OF WORK. Never yet was great work done by the man of mere downward look. The eye, to be sure, must look steadily at the object and instrument of its toil, must look down and around at the place and conditions of the work to be done; but nothing much will come of it till the eye kindles the soul, and the soul rekindles the eye to wider vision. The artist who painted for eternity had mastered the secret of most patient and potent work for time and man. In the same spirit of lofty consecration did the men work who planned and reared our great cathedrals. Not for pay, not for fame, not by regulating rule of trade society did the chisels chip, and the hammers ring, and the trowelsiply their busy task. The workmen consciously worked for God. And nothing less than a renewal of this vision can redeem the work of to-day from insignificance or degradation, or lift men into the confidence and joy of patient well-doing. The busy housewife, engaged in an endless round of detailed tasks, would surely fail through very weariness, did not the large vision and love of home and family give great value to small activities and lifelong significance to patient fidelity. It is when the preacher or the Sunday-school teacher looks at his work from on high, and sees before him not so many recognisable people about whom he knows everything, but a company of immortal spirits whose life passes measurement or comprehension, that he is strengthened for the drudgery attaching to his vocation, and rises to the height of passionate enthusiasm. The commerce and industry of the day are to some extent smitten with debility through the narrowing of their outlook, consequent upon hot competition and vigorous clashing of rights and claims. The downward look has resulted in the blight of worldliness. Only the broader vision can raise the tone and quality of life. It is the business of the poet, the preacher, the leader, to bring and keep these loftier inspirations within the practical spheres of life. The tendency of work is always towards absorption in its own immediate occupation.
IV. THE PROPER EFFECT OF THIS UPWARD LOOK IS THE RENEWAL OF OUR FAITH AND RESOLVE. It is to grace we must look for the secret of all that is beneficent in providence and bright in the prospects of man. And as we recall these blessings, we do but emphasise the work of Jesus, through whom man is crowned with favour and immortality. We lift up our eyes on high, and there we behold Jesus crowned with glory and honour, all dominion granted to Him, holding the reins of power while bearing the marks of conflict. In Him we see the Father.
(C. A. Berry, D. D.)
savants who had convinced themselves, and thought they could convince others, that there is no God. The great commander found them discoursing boastfully on their favourite theme, and, calling them upon deck, while the heavens above were bright with innumerable stars, he said to them, "Tell me who made these." Napoleon was no philosopher, no metaphysician, no theologian. But he was a man of great common sense. We are not content to be told conjecturally of any processes through which things have passed into their present forms of existence. Nebular hypotheses and atomic theories explain nothing. If assumed as true, we demand to know whence the nebulae and whence the atoms came. Nor are we content to be cheated out of an answer to the question, "Who made these?" by a metaphysics which ends by leaving us in doubt as to whether these stars have any existence except in our own thoughts and thought-processes. There was a time when the children of men, lifting up their eyes on high, saw in the hosts of heaven not creatures of God, but gods. And we scarcely wonder. The living God once forsaken and forgotten, who or what so worthy of adoration as sun, moon, and stars?
I. IT IS THIS OLDER FAITH WE FIND IN OUR TEXT — not obscurely, but with the positiveness of knowledge. And it is not in this text alone, but horn the beginning to the end of our Bible. Its writers, in succession to one another, explicitly maintain the faith of a living God, Maker and Ruler of all And in doing so, they stood alone in the world. The wisdom of Egypt and the wisdom of Assyria gave them no countenance. The teaching of these Hebrew writers, through all the ages, from Moses to Christ, is like a pure crystal stream flowing through a vast desert, unabsorbed by sand or sun, and undefiled by the ten thousand impurities on its banks. The old Hebrew faith stands as firmly in the light of modern science as it did when science in its modern sense was a thing almost unknown. Sir Isaac Newton, in closing his exposition of the system of the universe, worshipped and declared that its cause could not be mechanical; it must be intelligent, it must be found in a voluntary agent infinitely wise and mighty. But while these men of the old Hebrew race knew less of the vastness of the universe than we do now, they did not feel it less. The man of science, with his telescope and mathematical reckonings, must feel himself utterly bewildered when he attempts to imagine the distances which his demonstrations reveal But it does not follow that his impression of that vastness, or his awe in the contemplation of it, is in proportion to his knowledge. A child, with a true child's heart, may be more deeply impressed with the glory of the over-hanging heavens, than a full-grown man who exercises all his intellectual power in endeavouring to understand them. The Hebrews knew enough and saw enough to produce the profoundest feeling. Perhaps the chief explanation of the feeling with which the Hebrews contemplated nature is that they saw God in everything.
II. THIS IS THE SECOND POINT TO WHICH OUR TEXT INTRODUCES US. "He calleth them all by names by the greatness of His might; for that He is strong in power not one faileth." But what of the laws of nature? The Hebrew Scriptures, instead of denying the constancy of nature, seem to affirm it more consistently than some modern scientists. Take, e.g., these primitive statements: "God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth; and it was so. And God saw that it was good. But the Bible, While explicit in regard to the constancy of nature, asserts with equal explicitness a continued Divine agency in nature (Psalm 104:14; John 5:17).
III. ALL THIS IS MADE THE FOUNDATION OF AN ARGUMENT OF COMFORT PRIMARILY TO THE ANCIENT ISRAEL OF GOD, AND EQUALLY TO ALL THE SPIRITUAL ISRAEL. "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel?" etc. Galileo approached this idea, whether he got it from Isaiah or not, in a very significant form. "I would not that we should so shorten the arm of God in the government of human affairs, but that we should rest in this, that we are certain that God and nature are so occupied in the government of human affairs, they could not more attend to us if they were charged with the care of the human race alone." The prophet goes a step beyond this, and draws an argument from God's care over the universe to assure us of His care over us. Christ said, "Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" But the prophet seems to argue from God's care over the greater to His care over the less. As if he said, He watches over suns and stars, therefore He will watch over you. More than this, the Bible story of creation gives us the keynote of the Bible idea of man. Man is not merely one of innumerable living creatures made to people the earth; the earth was made for him. He was the end for which and towards which progressive changes, spread over vast ages, were effected. Glorious as that star may be, and wonderingly as I contemplate its brightness, I am more to God than it is; I am nearer of kin to God than it is; and if God cares for it, much more will He care for me, His own child.
(J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Seneca says, "They all continue, not because they are eternal, but because the watchfulness of their Governor protects them: imperishable things need no guardian; but these are preserved by their Maker, who, by His power, controls their natural tendency, to decay." And Hume, though his. philosophy was irreligious in comparison with that of either Roman, could raise his hands to the starry sky and show that he too had a human heart, by exclaiming to Fergusson, "Oh, Adam, how can a man look at that and not believe in a God!"
(Sir E. Strachey, Bart.)
Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord?I. THE UNIVERSAL DISPOSITION TO UNBELIEF. "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel?" etc.
II. THE ACCOUNT WHICH GOD HIMSELF GIVES OF THE GREATNESS OF HIS ATTRIBUTES. Well to Israel might the Almighty put the inquiry, "Hast thou not known?" He spake to His peculiar people. In Jewry is God known; His praise is great in Israel. How could they but know His attributes, to whom He had Himself manifested His glory? And to us the same upbraiding queries might well be put.
III. HOW THE LORD EMPLOYS ALL HIS MIGHTY ATTRIBUTES FOR THE CONSOLATION AND REFRESHMENT OF HIS PEOPLE WHO CALL UPON HIM. "He giveth power to the faint," etc.
1. Consider the case of those who are convinced of their own natural sin and helplessness, but who have not as yet sought their Saviour.
2. The consolations of the text belong also to those who, after they have found their Saviour, are mourning under peculiar sin, or walking in peculiar darkness.
3. By temporal sorrows, too, He may sorely grieve thee, but much more mayest thou trust Him in them.
(T. Scott, B. A.)
Homiletic Review.I. THE WAY WHICH SEEMS HIDDEN. "My way is hid from the Lord" — what a common cry! Samuel Taylor Coleridge said he was sure the Bible was the Word of God because it found him at deeper depths than any other book. How surely and how deeply does this cry, "My way is hid from the Lord," "find" each of us in many a mood!
1. It is into the future that the prophet is looking. Plainly, by the vision-giving Spirit, he discerns the great catastrophe which is to afflict the Jewish nation. The Babylonian captivity is to drag them into exile. By the severe chastisement of the captivity the Jews are to be cured of an almost uncheckable tendency towards idolatry. A human waywardness needs sometimes a bitter medicine to compel it back to paths of loyalty to God. But the prophet not only foresees the captivity, but also the way in which the exiled Hebrews are enduring it. It is as though he heard them talking together there in distant Babylon.
2. But that the way seems hidden from the Lord is not anything peculiar to those ancient captives. How surely and how deeply does that ancient cry" find" every one of us.
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) II. A GREAT AND ENDURING TRUTH ABOUT OUR WAY WHICH SOMETIMES SEEMS TO US HIDDEN FROM THE LORD. This is that our way is not and cannot be hidden from Him. And there are reasons firm and towering as the mountain peaks for this. 1. Our way cannot be hidden from the Lord because He is everlasting — His purpose cannot fail. 2. Because He is powerful — "the Creator of the ends of the earth." 3. Because He is actively Lord "He fainteth not, neither is weary." 4. Because He is actively wise — "there is no searching of His understanding." 5. Because He is beneficent — "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." III. SEIZE THE PRECIOUS PROMISE FOR YOUR HELP, even though your way may seem hidden from the Lord. "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew," etc. God is coming to your help. Even while the captive Jews were crying, "My way is hidden," etc., God was preparing Cyrus to be their deliverer. (Homiletic Review.)
(2) (3) (4) (5) II. A GREAT AND ENDURING TRUTH ABOUT OUR WAY WHICH SOMETIMES SEEMS TO US HIDDEN FROM THE LORD. This is that our way is not and cannot be hidden from Him. And there are reasons firm and towering as the mountain peaks for this. 1. Our way cannot be hidden from the Lord because He is everlasting — His purpose cannot fail. 2. Because He is powerful — "the Creator of the ends of the earth." 3. Because He is actively Lord "He fainteth not, neither is weary." 4. Because He is actively wise — "there is no searching of His understanding." 5. Because He is beneficent — "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." III. SEIZE THE PRECIOUS PROMISE FOR YOUR HELP, even though your way may seem hidden from the Lord. "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew," etc. God is coming to your help. Even while the captive Jews were crying, "My way is hidden," etc., God was preparing Cyrus to be their deliverer. (Homiletic Review.)
(3) (4) (5) II. A GREAT AND ENDURING TRUTH ABOUT OUR WAY WHICH SOMETIMES SEEMS TO US HIDDEN FROM THE LORD. This is that our way is not and cannot be hidden from Him. And there are reasons firm and towering as the mountain peaks for this. 1. Our way cannot be hidden from the Lord because He is everlasting — His purpose cannot fail. 2. Because He is powerful — "the Creator of the ends of the earth." 3. Because He is actively Lord "He fainteth not, neither is weary." 4. Because He is actively wise — "there is no searching of His understanding." 5. Because He is beneficent — "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." III. SEIZE THE PRECIOUS PROMISE FOR YOUR HELP, even though your way may seem hidden from the Lord. "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew," etc. God is coming to your help. Even while the captive Jews were crying, "My way is hidden," etc., God was preparing Cyrus to be their deliverer. (Homiletic Review.)
1. Our way cannot be hidden from the Lord because He is everlasting — His purpose cannot fail. 2. Because He is powerful — "the Creator of the ends of the earth." 3. Because He is actively Lord "He fainteth not, neither is weary." 4. Because He is actively wise — "there is no searching of His understanding." (Homiletic Review.)
1. Our way cannot be hidden from the Lord because He is everlasting — His purpose cannot fail.
2. Because He is powerful — "the Creator of the ends of the earth."
3. Because He is actively Lord "He fainteth not, neither is weary."
4. Because He is actively wise — "there is no searching of His understanding."
I. ISAIAH'S DESPONDENCY. It arose from a two-fold source.
1. The sense of a Divine desertion. "My way is hidden from the Lord." It was the necessary result of the prophet's office that all the nation's sorrows must press home on his spirit, and must wound with their keenest anguish his sensitive soul. Now, remembering this union of deep sympathy with the people, observe the tremendous power with which, for fifty years, the wickedness of the land, and God's great judgment upon it, must have pressed on his large and tender heart. It made his very office often seem a vanity. Many men have had the same experience; perhaps all earnest men must undergo it.
2. The absence of Divine recompense. "My judgment is passed over from my God." The prophet unquestionably spoke these words as a cry uttered only by himself. The people were buried in God-forgetting repose. The priests were dead in formalism. The spiritual life of the land was decaying; and thunders of woe were muttering in the nation's future. What had his life been worth? Apparently nothing! All great men think that they die in failure. Is it not hard for a man who has given to God his all, and worn out his life in His service, to go out into the eternal silence and see no reward?
II. THE TRUTH THAT REMOVED ISAIAH'S DESPONDENCY. In the verses following our text we perceive that the double manifestation of God's greatness in Nature, and the tenderness of His revealed will, dispelled the gloom.
1. The greatness of God in Nature. He speaks not only of the unsearchable Creator, but of the everlasting God. Thy recompense is sure — thy work, and conflict, and toil are for eternity; then "why sayest thou, O Jacob, that thy way is hidden from the Lord?"
2. The tenderness of the revealed will. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, He increaseth strength." The revelation of God's tenderness is far more full for the Christian man, and has, therefore, far greater power to remove our despondency. We know how the Great Shepherd gave His life for the sheep.
III. THE RESULTS OF ITS REMOVAL.
1. Strength in weakness. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." Feebleness is transformed into power when God has taught His great lesson of "glorying in infirmity."
2. Immortal youth. "They shall mount up on wings as eagles." You have heard the old Jewish fable, that the eagle in dying recovered its youthful power.
(E. L. Hull, B. A.)
I. Isaiah here reaches and rests upon THE VERY FOUNDATIONS OF THE FAITH, TRUST, AND HOPE OF MANKIND — the living God. Creation rests on His hand; man, the child of the higher creation, rests on His heart. What His power is to the material universe His moral nature and character are to the spiritual universe. "Have faith in God." Creation lives by faith unconsciously, and all her voices to our intelligent ear iterate and reiterate "Have faith in God."
II. WHAT DO WE KNOW OF GOD THAT WE SHOULD TRUST HIM? What aspects does He present to us? We have two sources of knowledge — what He has said to, and what He has done for, man.
1. There is something unspeakably sublime in the appeal in ver. 26. It is heaven's protest against man's despair. Nor is Isaiah the only sacred writer who utters it. There is something very strikingly parallel in Job (Job 38.). In both cases God's appeal is to the grand and steadfast order of the vast universe, which He sustains and assures. God tells us that all the hosts of heaven are attendant on the fortunes of mankind. They all live that God's deep purpose concerning man may be accomplished.
2. God declares here that we are not only involved inextricably in the fulfilment of His deepest and most cherished counsels, but that we are needed to satisfy the yearnings of His Father's heart.
III. WE MAY APPLY THESE PRINCIPLES to the seasons of our experience when faith in the living God is the one thing which stands between us and the most blank despair.
1. The deep waters of personal affliction.
2. The weary search of the intellect for truth, the struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible, to know the inscrutable, to see the invisible, which is part, and not the least heavy part, of the discipline of a man and of mankind.
3. Dark crises of human history, when truth, virtue, and manhood seem perishing from the world.
(J. Baldwin Brown, B. A.)
I. THE TITLES GOD HERE GIVES THEM WERE ENOUGH TO SHAME THEM OUT OF THEIR DISTRUSTS. "O Jacob; O Israel!" Let them remember —
1. Whence they took those names — from one who had found God faithful to him, and kind in all his straits.
2. Why they bore those names — as God's professing people, a people in covenant with Him.
II. THE WAY OF REPROVING THEM IS BY REASONING WITH THEM. "Why?" Consider whether thou hast any ground to say so. Many of our foolish frets and fears would vanish before a strict inquiry into the cause of them.
III. THAT WHICH THEY ARE REPROVED FOR IS AN ILL-NATURED, ILL-FAVOURED WORD THEY SPOKE OF GOD, as if He had cast them off. There seems to he an emphasis laid upon their saying it. It is bad to have evil thoughts rise in our mind, but it is worse to put an imprimatur to them, and turn them into evil words. David reflects with regret upon what he had said in his haste when he was in distress.
IV. THE ILL WORD THEY SAID WAS A WORD OF DESPAIR CONCERNING THEIR PRESENT CALAMITOUS CONDITION. They were ready to conclude —
1. That God would not heed them. "My way is hid from the Lord."
2. That God could not help them. "My judgment is passed over from my God, i.e., my case is so far past relief that God Himself cannot redress the grievances of it.
( M. Henry.)
I. When they do not perceive THE PROCURING CAUSES from whence their troubles proceed. This perplexing circumstance greatly increases their uneasiness, and induces them to request with Job that God would show them wherefore He contendeth with them.
II. When they do not discover THE IMPORTANT PURPOSES to which they are especially directed. Uncertainty as to the particular ends which afflictions are sent to accomplish augments not a little the pressure of distress, and disposes good people to bemoan themselves in the language of the dejected Church, "He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out." I can neither see the reason nor the end of my affliction; my way seems to be hid from the Lord.
III. When they do not discern WHAT IS PRESENT DUTY. Notwithstanding the blessed God hath clearly taught in His word what He requires, yet there are particular situations wherein the best of men have been perplexed as to what course they ought to follow. In such cases they have said with the good King of Judah, we know not what to do; and have lamented that their way was hid from the Lord.
i.e. their cause) had passed beyond His notice: the prophet replies, Jehovah is no local, limited God, as you imagine; His power embraces Babylon not less than Palestine; His strength is not exhausted; "there is no searching of His understanding" — some inscrutable purpose must guide Him in delaying, if He do delay, the redemption of His people; only continue to trust!
(Prof. S. R. Driver, D. D.)
I. GOD'S POWER THE COMFORT OF HIS PEOPLE. Certain it is that our only true comfort is found in God. Life, when we can turn to God, is never cruel and hard; however full of trial it may be it never seems unkind; for we know that a hand of love appoints what a heart of love designs, and that all things must work together for good. And God has surrounded us on every side with reminders of what He is. When the heart is sad and low go out and be a witness of God's power; go out in the quiet evening when the gold and fire and purple of the sunset have paled away, and see God bringing out His stars. And as you remember that the infinite mind, your Father, knows their number, calls them all by names, as the Eastern shepherd used to call his sheep, and so follows each with His love, surrounds each by His care, so bathes each in His smile that "not one faileth" — do they not with a loud shout of song pour down upon your soul the same consolation? Not only God's power as manifested in the sky, but His power as seen on earth may be our hope. God is about you on every side. No star, no bird, no flower is hid from Him. Never, then, can we say, "My way is hid from the Lord," etc.
II. But a further source of consolation is GOD'S TENDERNESS. "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." God's tenderness is only rightly seen when viewed in conjunction with His greatness. We see the tender in contrast with the mighty. And this is real tenderness. Tenderness is strength in gentle action. When the power that might crush heals, uplifts, and strengthens, then we see tenderness. Gentleness is not weakness, but it is calm, quiet, loving strength. When the wind — which might wrench the oak from its moorings, snap the cables it has thrown around the rocks, and carry it away on its wings — lifts the hair and fans the cheek of the dying child, it is gentle. When the sun — mighty in his strength, pouring his scorching light on far-off worlds — shoots down a golden ray to cheer the drooping plant, or to "increase strength" in the little seedling which a raindrop would almost crush, it is gentle. And such is the God of whom we speak. The great Father has also a mother's tenderness. "He giveth power to the faint." He who Himself is never weary stoops to those who have no might, that He may increase strength. The faint and weak, they are the children of the strong and mighty! And to the faint He giveth "power" — power to suffer, to endure. To the weak He giveth "strength" — strength to labour, to accomplish. There is nothing in this world so mighty as the weakness which takes hold of the Divine strength. Yonder the ocean is white with foam. Wave chases wave across the dark surface of the deep as cloud chases cloud across the blackened sky. No ship could live in such a storm. The mightiest anchor ever forged could give no safety in such an hour. But out, where the storm is fiercest, on those dreadful rocks against which the waves dash themselves into clouds of spray, is a tiny, helpless shell-fish. Its very strength is weakness. It clings simply by its emptiness; but, clinging to that rock, not all the thunders of the ocean dislodge it thence. It is weakness taking hold of strength. Tender and yet mighty is our God, and His tenderness is His people's comfort. Whilst we bow in reverence before that power which holds untold worlds in their shining courses, we bow in profounder reverence and love before that power when we behold it in gentle exercise, giving power to the faint.
III. There is a further source of consolation open to us — GOD'S WISDOM. "There is no searching of His understanding." To say merely that man cannot understand God is to say very little; but the language is the statement of an eternal fact. There is no searching of His understanding; not by the brightest intellects of earth nor by the grandest intelligences of heaven. And God's infinite wisdom is to us the needful complement of His infinite power. Power, uncontrolled by wisdom, is rather to be feared than worshipped and loved. And shall He who has conceived that mighty plan — that plan which embraces all worlds in its grand conception — not understand the plan of our short life? Never let us think "our way is hid from the Lord"; to Him every circumstance of our life is known.
I. THE DOCTRINE OF A GENERAL PROVIDENCE. The doctrine of Providence in general is alike supported by reason and revelation.
1. It is necessary to creation. If the world were from eternity, then might it go on self-sustained, as it had ever been: if it were of chance, it might be supported by the same contingency which produced it. If a first cause was necessary to the production of these things, He is also essential to their preservation; and the same voice of nature which proclaims the being of a God, declares His Providence.
2. We must take the testimony of Scripture on this subject.
3. From prophecy.
II. THE DOCTRINE OF A PARTICULAR PROVIDENCE.
1. As consistent with the Divine character. The grand objection against a particular Providence has been, that it reduces the Deity to the necessity of superintending such minute concerns as are beneath His dignity — reduces the Deity to a necessity! What necessity can subsist but in His will? The objection proceeds upon principles entirely erroneous. It is an erroneous calculation to call anything great or little in such connection. All affairs are not to us of equal importance — the bursting of a bubble and the ruin of an empire. But, in reasoning thus, we are reducing the Deity to a finite standard, and making Him altogether "such an one as ourselves." With Him the affairs of an empire and of individuals are equally manageable. The reasoning is false, also, upon the principle of dignity. It deteriorates nothing from the dignity of God to form a mite, with all the vessels and organs adapted to its existence: mere minuteness of operation surely cannot be deteriorating. What it was no degradation to God to create, it can be no degradation to God to preserve and manage.
2. As necessary to the general arrangements of Providence. Here we notice the operations of God, as demonstrating His government. The constitution of nature is of parts: systems compose the universe — worlds compose systems — a conglomeration of particles compose a world. Take the world of waters: seas form oceans — rivers, seas — streamlets, rivers — drops, streamlets — and the atom is infinitely divisible. Take the human frame; made up "of that which every joint supplieth." Apply this scale of operations to Providence, and then we affirm that no concern can be so little as to be below the superintendence of God; for none can be so small as not to form a part of the grand scheme of Providence. Our ignorance on this subject can be no objection against its reality. I cannot, indeed, trace the link which knits my little concerns with the "ways of eternal Providence"; but neither can I trace the invisible chain which holds all created things together in its remotest parts: some of the larger links I discern, but more are invisible to me. He who admits the doctrine of a general providence and denies that of a particular one, is a being whose obliquity of intellect allows him to conceive of a whole, while he denies the existence of the parts of which that whole is composed.
3. As demonstrated in the course of providential dispensations. Review the circumstances of your separate lives. That life will furnish each of you with the desired evidences on this part of the subject. How frequently have the best concerted plans proved unavailing!
4. As harmonising with our prescribed duties, it is supposed, in the prescription of prayer. Where would be the utility of prayer, or the propriety of prescribing it, if the world was governed by a fate superior to the will of the Supreme Being? The prescription of prayer supposes, on the part of the Deity, a will as well as a power to govern. And this doctrine is reconcilable with the use of means; nay, it requires them.
5. As revealed in the Scriptures.
6. As most consolatory.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not.
I. ISAIAH'S APPEAL TO THE FAMILIAR THOUGHT OF AN UNCHANGEABLE GOD, AS THE ANTIDOTE TO ALL DESPONDENCY, AND THE FOUNDATION OF ALL HOPE. "Hast thou not known; hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? "To whom is he speaking? The words of the previous verse tell us, in which he addresses himself to Jacob, or Israel, who is represented as complaining: "My way is hid from the Lord." That is to say, he speaks to the believing, but despondent dent part of the exiles in Babylon. There is wonder in the question, there is a tinge of rebuke in it. The prophet takes his stand upon the most elementary truth of religion. His appeal to them is: "What do you call God? You call Him the Lord, do you not? What do you mean by calling Him that?" The life of men and of creatures is like a river, with its source and its course and its end. The life of God is like the ocean, with joyous movement of tides and currents of life and energy and purpose, but ever the same, and ever returning upon itself. "The everlasting God's the Lord; and Jehovah, the unchanged, unchangeable, inexhaustible Being, spends, and is unspent; gives, and is none the poorer; works, and is never wearied; lives, and with no tendency to death in His life; flames with no tendency to extinction in the blaze." "He fainteth not, neither is weary." Here is a lesson for us to learn, of meditative reflection upon the veriest commonplaces of our religion. There is a tendency among us to forget the indubitable, and to let our religious thought be occupied with the disputable and secondary parts of revelation. The commonplaces of religion are the most important. Everybody needs air, light, bread, and water. Meditate, then, upon the things most surely believed, and ever meditate until the dry stick of the commonplace truth puts forth buds and blossoms like Aaron's rod. We all have times, depending on mood or circumstances, when things seem black and we are weary. This great truth will shine into our gloom like a star into a dungeon. Are our he.arts to tremble for God's truth to-day? Are we to share in the pessimist views of some faint-hearted Christians? Surely as long as we can remember the name of the Lord, and His unwearied arm, we have nothing to do with fear or sadness for ourselves or for His Church or for His world.
II. THE UNWEARIED GOD GIVING STRENGTH TO WEARIED MAN. "Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall." Earth knows no independent strength. All earthly power is limited in range and duration, and, by the very law of its being, is steadily tending to weakness. But though that has a sad side, it has also a grand and blessed one. Man's needs are the open mouth into which God puts His gifts. The low earth stretches, grey and sorrowful, fiat and dreary, beneath the blue arched heaven, but the heaven stoops to encompass — ay! to touch it. "He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." Notice the preceding, words, "Lift up your eyes on high," and behold who hath created these things, etc. In the simple astronomy of those early times, there was no failure, nor decay, nor change, in the calm heavens. The planets, year by year, returned punctually to their place; and, unhasting and unresting, rolled upon their way. Weakness and weariness had no place there, but, says Isaiah, God's power does not show itself so nobly up there as it does down here. It is not so much to keep the strong in their strength as to give strength to the weak. It is much to "preserve the stars from wrong," it is more to restore and to break the power into feeble men.
III. THE WEARIED MAN LIFTED TO THE LEVEL OF THE UNWEARIED GOD, AND TO HIS LIKENESS. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength." That phrase means, of course, the continuous bestowment in unintermitting sequence of fresh gifts of power, as each former gift becomes exhausted, and more is required. That continuous communication leads to the "perpetual youth" of the Christian soul. According to the law of physical life, decaying strength and advancing years tame and sober and disenchant and often make weary because we become familiar with all things and the edge is taken off everything. My text goes on to portray the blessed consequences of this continuous communication of Divine strength: "They shall run and not be weary." That is to say: this strength of God's poured into our hearts, if we wait upon Him, shall fit us for the moments of special hard effort, for the crises which require more than an ordinary amount of energy to be put forth. It will fit us, too, for the long, dreary hours which require nothing but keeping doggedly at monotonous duties — "They shall walk and not faint."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. THE DIVINE BEING AS POSSESSED OF INFINITE ENERGY. "He fainteth not, neither is weary." His most stupendous works are rather the "hidings of His power," than the manifestations of His might. The fact of God's possessing infinite energy supplies us with four guarantees —
1. A guarantee of the regularity of the physical universe.
2. A guarantee of ability to fulfil His promises. Of what avail are promises if there be no executive energy?
3. A guarantee of His power to realise His threatenings.
4. A guarantee of Christ's final enthronement. Feeble instrumentality is no argument against this view. Nor is the guilty indifference of the Church.
II. THE DIVINE BEING AS POSSESSED OF INFINITE MENTAL CAPACITY. "There is no searching of His understanding." In God, therefore, there is a combination of infinite strength and infinite mind: power is under the government of intelligence! The universe is an embodied idea. Its minutest members are parts of one glorious thought. The infinite understanding of the Divine Being furnishes —
1. An assurance that the darkest providences are under the direction of infinite wisdom.
2. That no plot against His government can succeed.
3. That His plan of salvation is alone sufficient. Possessed of an understanding that is infinite, God knew the exact necessities of the human race, and provided that economy which alone could satisfy the cravings of human nature.
4. That He understands the peculiarities of every case. "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?" These words rebuke the idea that anything can escape the Divine notice. Christ knew all the springs of life, He saw the maladies which tainted the blood and crippled the faculties of man, and at the issue of His fiat the most malignant affection retreated as if in haste and shame!
5. An assurance of eternal variety in the study of His nature. "There is no searching of His understanding." The eldest born in eternity may at this moment employ this same language; for those who have seen most of the Divine glory, confess most loudly the infinitude of His resources. Application —
(1) (2) (J. Parker, D. D.)
(2) (J. Parker, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Homilist.Power is a faculty for producing changes and performing works. There are three kinds or manifestations of power — physical, intellectual, and moral. I go into St. Paul's Cathedral when some grand religious service is performed, the choral part is of the highest order, the sermon is delivered by the grandest preacher of the day. Here I receive an impression of three manifestations of power. The bringing together and adjusting the stone, marble, iron, timber that compose the enormous structure, impress me with physical power-power to act on material bodies. In the architectural symmetry of the whole I am impressed with the intellectual power — power of planning and contriving so as to give utility, stability, and beauty to the whole. In the sacred music that floats around me and the eloquent sermon that is addressed to me, my nature is brought under the influence of moral power — power that rouses the conscience, that stirs the deepest sentiments of the soul. Out in open Nature these three kinds of manifestations of power appeal to man. God's power is inexhaustible in all these phases.
I. HIS PHYSICAL POWER IS INEXHAUSTIBLE. This will appear if we consider —
1. The nature of His work in the material department. He is the Originator of all.
2. The effect of His work in the material department.
3. The constancy of His work in the material department.
II. HIS INTELLECTUAL POWER IS INEXHAUSTIBLE. Intellectual force is as visible in nature to a thought. ful eye as physical. Science shows that everything — the minute and the vast, the proximate and the remote, is formed, sustained, and directed according to plan. "In Thy book all my members were written." Think of the boundless variety amongst all the flowers and trees that have ever grown. Amongst all the men of all the generations that are gone, have there been two in face and figure exactly alike? Here is intellectual fertility! The little intellectual force of contrivance possessed by the bee or the bird is very soon exhausted, Man, too, soon reaches a culminating point in inventive skill. But not so with God. But in the creations of the spiritual world the same inexhaustibleness of intellectual energy is displayed. Each spirit involves something of a new plan. On this little planet fresh souls appear every hour.
III. HIS MORAL POWER IS INEXHAUSTIBLE.
1. Look at His moral power in nature. Nature is brimful of the moral power of God; power appealing to the souls of men.
2. Look at His moral power in the Gospel. What is moral power? "Truth and grace."
Homilist.I. HIS ENERGY IN THE SPHERE OF CONTRIVANCE IS INEXHAUSTIBLE.
1. Look at His contrivance in relation to matter. The rushing currents, the surging sea, the furious tempest, the revolution of planets, and the recurrence of the seasons — all give us the impression of power. But to the thoughtful, the intellectual force is as clearly developed in nature as the material, nay, is implied in the material.
2. Look at His contrivance in relation to spirit. Observe —
(1) (2) (3) II. HIS ENERGY IN THE SPHERE OF EXECUTION IS INEXHAUSTIBLE. His power of working out His plans is equal to His power of invention. 1. It is so in the material. In the material realm God seems to develop His plans in two ways — directly and indirectly; without means and by means. 2. It is so in the spiritual. Let us look at His power to save. What is moral power? It is the power of truth. But the Gospel is the most powerful of any truth — (1) (2) (3) (Homilist.)
(2) (3) II. HIS ENERGY IN THE SPHERE OF EXECUTION IS INEXHAUSTIBLE. His power of working out His plans is equal to His power of invention. 1. It is so in the material. In the material realm God seems to develop His plans in two ways — directly and indirectly; without means and by means. 2. It is so in the spiritual. Let us look at His power to save. What is moral power? It is the power of truth. But the Gospel is the most powerful of any truth — (1) (2) (3) (Homilist.)
(3) II. HIS ENERGY IN THE SPHERE OF EXECUTION IS INEXHAUSTIBLE. His power of working out His plans is equal to His power of invention. 1. It is so in the material. In the material realm God seems to develop His plans in two ways — directly and indirectly; without means and by means. 2. It is so in the spiritual. Let us look at His power to save. What is moral power? It is the power of truth. But the Gospel is the most powerful of any truth — (1) (2) (3) (Homilist.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
s: — It is said to be the property of a crystal to assume precisely the same form into however many fragments it may be broken up. The infinitesimal particle, for the study of which a magnifying glass must be used, is a precise facsimile of the parent crystal from which it came. If we could take God's eternity and break it up into aeons, if we could take the aeons and break them up into ages, and the ages into centuries, and the centuries into years, and the years into days, and the days into hours, and the hours into moments, we should find each separate moment of God's life to be just as resplendent with benignity, compassion, redeeming grace, and helpfulness, as His sublime eternity itself.
(T. G. Selby.)
There is no searching of His understandingincunabula of human thought. Take them in order.
1. In that beginning of which the first verse of the Bible speaks, the Creator, Almighty and All good, called matter into being: the material world, in that conformation which science reveals to us, may be the result, not only of immensely long periods of energy, but of immensely varied methods of agency; when it comes within our ken it is seen to be the result of operations into which pain and death largely enter, and in which, so far as we can see, they are still, with no traceable connection with mankind, actively at work. In our contemplation of pain and death in human morals, we trace back both to the effect of sin, and sin to the depravation of the free will at the fall of man. What hinders us from conceiving that the existence and continuance of such measures of pain and death as are found anterior to the existence of man, and external to the operation of his moral agency, are the results of a freedom granted to pre-existent, or continued, perverted, and fallen agencies, about which we have no other knowledge? It may surely be as likely that the creation or developing of man on earth, for the vanquishing of evil and the working out of blessing in redemptive and restorative work, may, mixed as are its effects now, be a step in a very gradual victory, by which pre-existent and continuing evil, arising from a pre-existent and continuing perversion, is being brought under the feet of the Only Begotten of the Father? Interminable cycles of the years measured by the revolutions of the earth, by the working of our system, and by the cosmic movements of the universe, might be required, but what obstacle does such a calculation place in the way of such a possibility with an Agent Infinite and Eternal? There is the evil, there is the slowness of the working of law, but there is eternity before and behind. Who shall say to Him, What doest Thou? There shall be no more pain: but it shall be when the former things are passed away.
2. Then, the slowness of revelation and its gradual character? We can either account for that by the reason of law that works so, or by the absolute necessity, the terms and conditions of the situation being such that it should be so; that is, we may either assume the law or justify the law. We have no more right to lay it down, as an axiom, that the perfect God could or would reveal Himself entirely by one act of revelation, than that He would give men free will and always keep it in conformity with His own will. The revelation, to be a part of the victory, must be a revelation that would expand with the expansion of the receiving minds, giving them the choice between light and darkness, and suffering and enabling them to rejoice in the light rather than the darkness. It must have a beginning: the words of revelation must be spoken in the language that the receiver can comprehend; must be weighted with elements that will hold them fast in his mind; must be seasoned with a stimulus that shall provoke his appetite for knowledge. And now that, in the fulness of time, grace and truth are come by Jesus Christ, and in Him, the brightness of His Father's glory and the express image of His Person, we recognise the perfection of the revelation by which He guides many sons unto glory, we yet are warned that the guide of our life is faith; and heaven itself, in which we trust to know more, and love more, and be conformed to the likeness more, in wonderful growths of the finite into the knowledge, love, and likeness of the Infinite, shall be a perfection of revelation, but even so a revelation of new vistas of perfection, of knowledge, love, and likeness. But glorious as this prospect is, and humble, prostrate, as we lie now on the threshold of the vision, we know that we have not come so far as we have come, but by a long series of dispensations and disciplines; a method, a law of enlightenment, that ages and generations, rising and falling nations, tested and discarded philosophies, have exemplified. God could have revealed the plan of Redemption, could have redeemed the world as soon as Adam fell, as He might have kept him from falling, or stayed the propagation of evil in the first generation: but He would overcome evil with good, and bring out the victory in His own way, preparing the world by the experience of vanity, disciplining the world by the struggle against the causes of misery, and at the last sending His Son.
3. How about the twilight, and those who wandered in it to their fall, before the Daystar arose? How about those who are sitting still in darkness? Does not He care? Are they not safer in His contemplation than in our perplexed hearts? But now that grace and truth are come; — eighteen hundred years ago He founded His Church, and for all that time she has been working; with some drawbacks that she might have overcome, but still working; and three-quarters of the globe are full of heathendom still, and seventy generations of souls have passed away under the cloud of darkness. Is not this strange? Is it all the effect of a neglect that, if it be unmodified by other causes, must be accounted nothing less than a failure of a purpose that assumes to be Divine? Here again we come upon a trace of law that is not to be broken. For fifteen hundred out of the eighteen hundred years of Christianity, one-half of the inhabited world was unknown to the other half; no revelation of God opened up the new world; it was left for discovery to human enterprise, under a guidance, active, certain, but by no means exceptional to the recognised movements of society; and when discovered it was full of strange languages, and of people so framed and disciplined as to have none of the special training by which the old world has been broken up for the reception of the seed of the Word; and when it had been claimed and appropriated and made intelligible and opened up, no part of the process seemed to be overruled for the rapid progress of Gospel light; no new miracles, no new manifestations; all had to be done line upon line, precept upon precept, with lisping voice and stammering tongue. If that ancient strange darkness is indeed evil — and who shall say it is not in the face of the true light? — surely there is some secret in the hand of the Lord that shall justify the delay, and shall vindicate the means in the day of victory.
4. But once more. We are told, and we know it in its measure to be true, that in the course of this world causes and consequences, multiplying and intensifying from generation to generation, do so mould the minds and thoughts of men as seriously to endanger the sense of personal responsibility, and practically to limit anything like free moral agency. We are told, in fact, that we are what our forefathers, our circumstances, our manners and customs, our teaching and religion make us, and scarcely anything more; and so, if we are vicious it is something over which we have no control that makes us so; or, if we are virtuous it is something for which we have no credit; and if we are betwixt and between, we are as God, if there be a God, let circumstances, heredity, the accidents of life, and the stream of family history make us. There is much truth in the statement of facts. There are at least two considerations to modify it: first, the influence of circumstance and cause is not unmixed; there is good as well as evil in the force that impels us; secondly, there is in every one of us, weak, wavering, as we may be, enough of freedom to determine our choice between the good and evil of the circumstance. Each man who has ever lived, and each action of his life, has contributed something; something that of course only the Divine knowledge can discriminate or appreciate, but which is a contribution to the course of this world for good or for evil, and so we have to do the same. God has great purposes to serve, and blesses what little we can consciously do towards the victory of His Son. When we look at the chart of human history, even for the six thousand years that the old chronology delimits for us, and see how great the expanse of ages, in which we know that there were human lives, making experience and influence, and yet whose experience and influence had, so far as we know, nothing to do with the existing conditions of modern society, and see how all that consciously constitutes what we know as modern society falls into a comparatively insignificant section of the chart; and if we take the map of the earth and stretch our compasses across the breadth and length of Christendom, and then look at the heavens, the work of His fingers, and the stars that measure His times and seasons for us, and beyond all that into eternity and infinity of energy; surely we must feel that we cannot limit possibilities or impossibilities, the measure of Goodness and Almightiness, by the line and plummet of our own intelligence. What is man that Thou visitest him? Yet Thou hast visited him, and made him lower than the angels to crown him with glory and power.
(Bishop of Chester.)
He giveth power to the faint.I. OUR SPIRITUAL CONDITION IS INTIMATELY KNOWN TO THE DIVINE FATHER. He knows the strong and the faint alike. As a wise Shepherd, He is acquainted with the state of His entire flock.
1. There is our inherent antagonism to evangelical truth. Man is prone to self-leaning. When we leave the Cross we faint; while we glory in its Sufferer we are armed with irresistible might!
2. There is the seductive influence of worldly association.
3. There is the fierce battle for daily bread.
4. There is our ever-recurring unbelief.
II. MORAL FAINTNESS DOES NOT INVALIDATE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. Were all the "faint" to be excluded, how many of you would remain as children of God? Does the parent cast off the crippled child? It will be necessary, however, to guard this assurance with two explanations —
1. It contains no encouragement to moral indolence. You are not to exonerate yourselves from the stern duties oF life on the plea that you are "faint." The toiler grows strong; exercise develops muscle.
2. It affords no palliation for inconsistency. We are never allowed to plead weakness as a reason for sin.
III. INFINITE POWER IS ACCESSIBLE TO THE MORALLY FEEBLE.
1. God never communicates surplus power. "As thy days so shall thy strength be."
2. God's method of communicating power teaches the dependence of humanity. God's alone is original; but it is enough for man if he can shine with radiance borrowed from the Fount of uncreated light.
3. God's willingness to communicate power fearfully increases the responsibility of the Church. What power we might have! I regard the declaration in the following aspects(1) As the sublimest encouragement to the Church. "He giveth power to the faint." Who is this Being represented, in the pronoun?(2) As the tenderest assurance to the penitent. "The bruised reed He will not break, the smoking flax He will not quench."(3) As the highest tribute to the work of Christ.(4) As a glorious pledge of God's interest in humanity.(5) As a presumptive proof of man's immortality. But how so? Can they who faint be immortal? Why all this feeding like a shepherd? Why this gentle tending — this inspiration of life — this sustaining of vigour — this communication of power? Is the mysterious process undertaken when God has determined that all shall end in dust? Does the Divine Being sustain merely that earthly life shall be prolonged? Why should Jehovah stoop to impart power to the faint, when He knows that in a few brief years the faint one will have crumbled to dust?
(J. Parker, D. D.)
I. JEHOVAH, THE TRUE GOD, IS A BEING OF UNLIMITED POWER (ver. 26).
II. THE POWER OF JEHOVAH, THE TRUE GOD, IS LIKE HIMSELF, UNDIMINISHABLE AND ETERNAL. "He fainteth not, neither is weary." That the power of Jehovah, the true God, is undiminishable and eternal, is proved by the conservation of nature, as the existence of that power is proved by nature's production. Were the hand which framed the universe utterly withdrawn, the universe would return to its original nothing. The motion, order, and safety of all things depend upon God. What a contrast does this perfection of undiminishable and eternal power form to the weakness of the creature — of fallen and helpless man especially! Weakness is the attribute of the human body. Man is no less weak as it relates to his mind. Sublime therefore in the highest degree is this account of Jehovah. He never lets fall the reins of dominion; He never retires, overcharged, by attention to His friends, resistance to His enemies, or the superintendence of all!
III. THE POWER OF JEHOVAH THE TRUE GOD IS CONDESCENDINGLY EMPLOYED IN BEHALF OF FALLEN, HELPLESS MAN. "He giveth power to the faint," etc. Let us attend to some instances in which this truth is illustrated.
1. In His providential interpositions in favour of the more helpless of men. Some persons constitutionally feeble in body, or perhaps made so by disease, are often mysteriously succoured. The victim of oppression also ever finds a Friend in heaven.
2. In the work of our redemption by Christ Jesus. "When we were yet without strength Christ died for the ungodly." (Romans 5:6). One of the most afflictive circumstances attending man's fallen state is that of utter helplessness. When sin entered into the world it not only erased from the soul of man the image of his Creator; it also annihilated, as far as man was concerned, all the means of his recovery. The nerves of obedience were cut, and the spirit of reverence and love utterly blasted.
3. In that invigorating peace communicated to the heart of man, when he believes to the salvation of his soul. Perhaps we are never fully prepared for the mercy of God, through the sacrificial merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, until we see that there is mercy in no other way.
4. In that successful resistance which is made by the faithful Christian, to the assaults of our great spiritual adversary, the devil.
5. In the season of personal affliction.
6. In the case of every one who dies in the Lord.
(J. Marriot, M. A.)
I. THE SPIRITUAL HEALTH OF THE HEBREW CHURCH HAD FALLEN BELOW PAR.
1. They felt they had lost the favour of God. Their way was hidden from Him, and they walked in darkness, as if they were the sport of chance or the victims of fate.
2. They felt they were left to the mercy of man. It appeared as if judgment upon them and their way was transferred to caprice of men.
II. THE IMPAIRED SPIRITUAL STRENGTH OF THE HEBREW CHURCH MIGHT BE RESTORED. The people needed —
1. Faith in the power of God.
2. Hope in the pity of God. He does not crush the feeble and the faint, but increases their power.
3. Love for the service of God. As the hearts of the people became enthusiastic for the worship of Jehovah, and longed to get back to Zion to restore the temple and rebuild the city, their energies would revive as an incoming tide; revived spirit would bring revived strength.
III. WITH RESTORED SPIRITUAL HEALTH THE HEBREW CHURCH WOULD RESUME ITS WONTED ACTIVITIES. The people are promised —
1. Renewed vigour. Strength would come from waiting upon God.
2. Renewed vivacity. The people are told they shall "mount," "walk," "run," without weariness or sense of exhaustion.
3. Renewed vitality. Though the body may grow old, and physical life decline, the soul shall remain young.
(F. W. Brown.)
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. A SAD CONTRAST. The prophet in the former of these verses seems to be expanding the thoughts that lie in the name, "the Lord of hosts," in so far as that name expresses the Divine relation to the starry universe. The image that underlies both it and the words of my text is that of a commander who summons his soldiers, and they come. Discipline and plan array them in their ranks. The plain prose of which is that night by night, above the horizon, rise the bright orbs, and roll on their path obedient to the Sovereign will; "because He is strong in might, not one" is lacking. Scripture bids us think of God, not as a creative energy that set the universe in motion, and leaves it to roll or spin, but as of a Divine Presence. But in our second text we drop from the illumination of the heavens to the shadowed plain of this low earth. It is as if a man looking up into the violet sky, with all its shining orbs, should then turn to some reeking alley, with its tumult and its squalor. Just because man is greater than the stars, man "fails," whilst they shine on unwearied. For what the prophet has in view as the clinging curse that cleaves to our greatness is not merely the bodily fatigue which is necessarily involved in the very fact of bodily existence, since energy cannot be put forth without waste and weariness, but it is far more the weary heart, the heart that is weary of itself, weary of toil, weary of the momentary crises that demand effort, and wearier still of the effortless monotony of our daily lives. It is ever to be remembered that the faintness and the ebbing away of might, which is the truly tragic thing in humanity, does not depend upon physical constitution, but upon separation from the Source of all strength.
II. ANOTHER SAD CONTRAST, MELTING INTO A BLESSED LIKENESS. "He fainteth not, neither is weary." "He giveth power to the faint." Is that not a higher exercise of power than to "preserve the stars from wrong"? What are the consequences that the prophet traces to this restoring power? "They shall mount up with wings as eagles," etc.
III. THE WAY BY WHICH THESE CONTRASTS CAN BE RECONCILED, AND THIS LIKENESS SECURED. "They that wait upon the Lord" — that is the whole secret. What does waiting on the Lord include? Keep near Him; keep still: expect.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1. The strength that restores is greater than the power that preserves.
2. The power that is given to the faint is greater than the strength that keeps the stars from falling, because there is in it an actual communication of actual Divine strength. God keeps the planet in its course by an act (for we must not speak about "effort" in regard to Him) of power brought to bear upon it. But He brings strength to us, not by ministration from without, but by impartation within.
3. Once more, this mirror gives us back the reflection of a power which is not only restoration and communication, but multiplication. "To those that have no might He increaseth strength."
4. The power that redeems, ministers not only restoration and communication and multiplication, but assimilation. There is in the context a very remarkable play upon words. "Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard, that the ever. lasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary?" He stoops to the faint, and gives them strength, and what is the result in them? "They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." What God is, God's child in his measure becomes, unfainting and unwearied like his Father in the heavens. God gives, not omnipotence, but something that is a kind of shadowy likeness of it. "All things are possible to him that believeth."
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. THE LORD SPEAKS OF HIS PEOPLE AS BEING SOMETIMES "FAINT." The expression is very significant; it implies that there is life, yet life for a time dormant, inactive, powerless either for defence, service, or enjoyment. There is one, for instance, who has watched long by the bedside of a beloved sick one. Others, again, are sorely tried by anxieties connected with their business; by the difficulty of providing daily bread. There, again, is another deeply vexed and grieved with the plague of his own heart. Of such as these the Lord seems to be speaking. "He giveth power to the faint." His people are further described as having "no might." Self-sufficiency is one of the plainest marks of the ungodly. And thus are they led truly into the third mark of His people, which the Lord here mentions, "They that wait upon the Lord."
II. HOW HE DEALS WITH THEM. Three expressions are employed to describe this.
1. To the faint "giving" strength, because, under their sore trials and afflictions, they have utterly fainted; their strength has for a time entirely departed — to them the Lord "gives" strength.
2. Then observe the other word describing His dealings — "He increaseth strength." That is a very suitable word. It is the experience of every gracious soul, that his own strength decreaseth. He learns more fully that he hath in himself no strength. Wherever the Lord removes any of the props of the believer's earthly pride and self-sufficiency, there He reveals Himself as the believer's strength. So that growth in humility is necessarily connected with growth in spiritual strength.
3. They that wait on the Lord shall "renew" their strength. They renew their strength because the Lord renews it. He manifests Himself to them just at those times and in that manner in which they are led to see their need of Him.
III. THE BLESSED RESULTS OF THE LORD'S DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. These also are described as three-fold —
1. "They shall mount up," borne aloft heavenward, with a power in comparison with which the eagle's mighty wings are powerless. And why? Because they are borne aloft by omnipotent grace. This is one blessed result to those who wait upon the Lord — heavenward tendency.
2. There is also promised zeal and rapid progress in their heavenly course. "They shall run and not be weary." Waiting upon the Lord, they shall be so renewed in strength, that not only their affections, desires, and hopes shall be lifted up to heaven, but they shall also be carried forward swiftly and mightily in their gracious course. They shall run in the way of God's commandments, and not be weary. Look at all mere human strength; how soon it fails, how quickly it is exhausted.
3. This is the third blessed result — a steady perseverance in the way to Zion. Whilst their progress is "running" for zeal and success, it is "walking" for steady persistency unto the end. It is harder sometimes to walk than to run. There are many who would gain heaven if it were to be won by a hasty run; but when the heavenly course requires not merely a short, quick, impulsive run, but the slow, weary, painful walk, they soon grow tired, and ready to give all up.
(G. W. Hills.)
I. GOD'S GRACIOUS COMMUNICATION OF NEEDFUL HELP TO HIS POOR, TRIED, WEAK, AND HELPLESS PEOPLE.
1. Every creature is of necessity weak; it is not his fault — it is his nature. When Adam left his hold on God he necessarily fell; as necessarily as any branch would fall if cut off from the parent stem. The creature has no power to sustain himself, nor to help himself; and it was never intended that he should have.
2. If man as an unfallen creature is weak; well may we say, that as a fallen creature, he is altogether weakness.
3. But even as a renewed creature he is weak, and if left to himself, unable to cope with one enemy, or to maintain his own standing for one single moment. "Without Me ye can do nothing."
4. Besides this, there are certain periods in which the believer is more than ordinarily faint and weak. There are many things that try him.
5. Oftentimes too, through want of watchful, prayerful, holy seeking and turning over the page of conscience, he weakens his little strength. But it is to these very souls that the Lord communicates strength. "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength." The necessities of God's people seem to touch the very heart of God. But there is something in the very glory of God that constrains Him to grant them His help in their hours of need. This was David's plea: "pardon mine iniquity, for it is great," but "for Thy name's sake," he says.
II. OBSERVE THROUGH WHAT CHANNEL IT COMES. It is not a natural channel; it is not the strength of nature, but it is in the way of waiting dependence on Himself. There is a wondrous analogy between the operations of God in grace and in nature. God has given to us the promise that "seed-time and harvest shall never fail" while the world remains; but does this hinder the necessity of casting in the seed? Does it hinder the necessity of ploughing the land before it, and of harrowing it in, and protecting it? The more I look at this appointment of God, the more I see of infinite wisdom in it. I am in great distress, in great need, no one knows of my pressure. Perhaps I tell my friend, but I find no relief at all. And now I cast myself on the Lord — God reveals Himself to me as my Father-it quiets me, it comforts me. See how the Lord makes one step preparatory to another, and makes one thing the means of obtaining another. Prayerfulness leads to strength; that leads to courage; that leads to submission; that leads to patience, and that leads to praise. Observe the same, too, of all other means of grace. Talk we of the Bible, or hearing the Word unfolded? In prayer we speak to God; in His Word He speaks to us by His Spirit. Look at the very means of grace themselves: there is the unfolding of the same wisdom in the means appointed. What a suitable and reasonable ordainment it is!
III. THE ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF THIS CHANNEL OF COMMUNICATION. "They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength." When God puts forth His promise He pledges all that is in Himself to fulfil that promise. This is God's appointed way. Perhaps we can say there are no instances upon record in which it was otherwise, but I dare not say that God may not in one moment so break in upon a man's soul, by the holy anointing of the Spirit, as to give him the most perfect conviction that he is a child of God. See the greatness of the communication. They shall "run"; they shall "walk"; and they shall "mount up." Concluding remarks —
1. Would that the saints of God did more deeply feel that they are fainting and full of weakness!
2. Though it is no small mercy to be deeply conscious of our utter weakness before God, take heed how you abuse this glorious doctrine of the blessed Spirit by living a life of ceaseless and useless complaint. There is an observation, I think in Owen, that the religion of some consists in little more than in going from house to house, from friend to friend, from saint to saint, telling one's nothingness, sinfulness, and wretchedness. They make a sort of secret balm of it.
3. What vast encouragement is here!
(J. H. Evans, M. A.)
I. WHAT MAKES US FAINT?
1. We will consider the case of the awakened sinner.(1) They may very well faint, for they have made a most alarming discovery.(2) They have tried to escape from their dangerous position, but they have not succeeded.(3) We have known some grow so faint through a sense of sin and a dread of its punishment and a consciousness of their own inability to save themselves, that they have even wished to die; yet, when they have looked at their condition aright, they have asked themselves what use death would be to them?(4) Perhaps also, at such a time, a sore trouble may happen to the man; for, in the parable of the prodigal son, it appears that he was quite as much influenced by the peculiar circumstances without as by his sense of sin within.
2. I pass on to another character, namely, the child of God in his fainting fits. There is a degree of sinfulness about some of those faintings which is not found in others.(1) Sometimes the children of God faint through want of faith (Psalm 27:13). So the cure of fainting is faith, and the best way to prevent fainting is to believe.(2) Some are brought into a state of faintness through a selfish want of resignation. e.g., Jonah and the gourd. It was not alone the heat of the sun that caused him to faint; it was also the heat of his temper. Some of those who have lost dear children seem as if they will not forgive God for taking them.(3) There are children of God also who fall into faintness through trusting in themselves. "Even the youths shall faint," etc. Why is that? Because the youths felt themselves able to do anything.(4) Faintness may also arise from another cause which is sinful, namely, neglect of prayer.(5) Children of God fall into faintness because of the length of the way.(6) The heaviness of their burden.(7) A sense of weakness.(8) Another frequent cause is the spirit itself sinking (Psalm 42.).(9) Some get faint through lack of spiritual food. (10) Sometimes God's children faint when they are in adversity. (11) There are some who faint through increasing infirmity.
II. HOW THE LORD DEALS WITH HIS FAINTING PEOPLE. "He giveth power," etc.
1. See how tenderly the Lord deals with His fainting people. He does not desert them, saying, They are no longer any use to Me; they can do nothing for Me; I will leave them where they are. He gives them power.
2. What sort of power?(1) You may be sure that He does not give them any of their own. That has all gone from them.(2) It will be sufficient for the emergency, for He has all-sufficient power. "As thy days," etc.(3) It is a power that the devil can neither defeat nor take away.
3. Why is it that He gives power to the faint?(1) Because, in His great goodness, He looks out for those who need it most.(2) Because they will praise Him most for it.(3) Because they will be sure to use it. When a person who has been faint receives power from God he will be likely to be sympathetic, tender, and gentle towards others; at least, that is how he should be.Conclusion —
1. If God gives power to the faint, let us be thankful if we have fainted and have been revived by Him.
2. Let us have done with fainting in the future, because we ought to have no more fainting now that we have received God's power.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(C. Silvester Home, M. A.)
Even the youths shall faint.
I. THE PROPHET EXPECTS THE NATURAL FAINTING AND FALLING OF THE SELECT MEN. "Young men" reads literally "the select men," — those picked out for an enterprise on account of their youthful vigour.
II. A SPIRITUAL EMPOWERING OF ALL MEN IS PROVIDED THROUGH WAITING ON GOD. Panic seized our Lord's disciples on the arrest of their Master, and their flight revealed their lack of power. They were converted men, but they fainted and failed. They were young and select, but they fled. When about to part from them, Jesus bade them remain where they were, and not attempt the discipling of the world until they should receive power. The word "renew" in this place signifies "change." The strength sufficient for one day, and its duty, may need to be exchanged for something larger, deeper, swifter for the next day and its severer trials. The same Spirit works, changing the force and form of His working. How is the Spirit of God working in the renewal of strength to-day? What are the best people feeling the need of, but a closer union among themselves through an intenser, completer fellowship with God?
III. ISAIAH DESCRIBES THE MANIFESTATIONS OF A NEW AND STRONG LIFE IN GOD. A cheering succession of Saxon sentences, precious powers, most desirable energies.
1. There is heavenly elevation. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles." Theodore Monod says: "If you want to do something, do not try to be somebody." Certainly, self-exaltation is not heavenly. It ensures your poor wings being clipped or broken very soon. We speak exclusively of the spiritual realm. Live looking unto Jesus, and He "will ere long set you with Him" upon His throne.
2. There is quickened activity. "They shall run and not be weary."
3. There is the unfainting every-day walk. "They shall walk and not faint." The unfainting walk, the steady march from hour to hour, is the sharpest, truest, final test of a strong life. It is in trifles that character is revealed. It is in small, monotonous duties that we oftenest break down.
(G. H. Dick.)
I. THE DREARY CERTAINTY OF WEARINESS AND DECAY.
1. The words point to the plain fact that all created and physical life, by the very law of its being, in the act of living tends to death; and by the very operation of its strength tends to exhaustion. There are three stages in every creature's life — that of growth, that of equilibrium, that of decay. You are in the first. If you live you will come to the second and the third.
2. The text points also to another fact, that, long before your natural life shall have begun to tend towards decay, hard work and occasional sorrows and responsibilities and burdens of all sorts will very often make you wearied and ready to faint. In your early days you dream of life as a kind of enchanted garden. Ah! long before you have traversed the length of one of its walks you will often have been tired of the whole thing, and weary of what is laid upon you.
3. My text points to another fact, as certain as gravitation, that the faintness and weariness and decay of the bodily strength will be accompanied with a parallel change in your feelings. We are drawn onward by hopes, and when we get them fulfilled we find that they are disappointing. Do you not think that, if that is so, it would be as well to face it? Do you not think that a wise man would take account of all the elements in forecasting his life, and would shape his conduct accordingly?
II. THE BLESSED OPPOSITE POSSIBILITY OF INEXHAUSTIBLE AND IMMORTAL STRENGTH. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," etc. The life of nature tends inevitably downward, but there may be another life within the life of nature which shall have the opposite motion, and tend as certainly upwards. Look on this possibility a little more closely.
1. Note, how to get at it. "They that wait upon the Lord" is Old Testament dialect for what in New Testament phraseology is meant by "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ." For the motion expressed here by "waiting" is that of expectant dependence, and the New Testament "faith" is the very same in its attitude of expectant dependence. The condition of the inflow of this unwearied life into our poor, fainting humanity is simply the trust in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of our souls. True, the revelation has advanced, the contents of that which we grasp are more developed. No matter where we stand on the course of life, there may come into our hearts a Divine Indweller, who laughs at weariness and knows nothing of decay.
2. What is this strength that we thus get, if we will, by faith? It is the true entrance into our souls of a Divine life. We who have Christ in our hearts by faith shall share, in some fashion and degree, in His wondrous prerogative of unwearied strength. So here is the promise. God will give Himself to you, and in the very heart of your decaying nature will plant the seed of an immortal being which shall, like His own, shake off fatigue from the limbs, and never tend to dissolution. The life of nature dies by living; the life of grace, which may belong to us all, lives by living, and lives evermore thereby. The oldest angels are the youngest. The longer men live in fellowship with Christ the stronger do they grow. And though our lives, whether we be Christians or no, are necessarily subject to the common laws of mortality, we may carry all that is worth preserving of the earliest stages into the latest; and when grey hairs are upon us, and we are living next door to our graves, we may still have the enthusiasm, the energy, and above all, the boundless hopefulness that made the gladness and the spring of our long-buried youth. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age."
3. The manner in which this immortal strength is exercised. There is strength to soar. Old men generally shed their wings, and can only manage to crawl. They have done with romance. Enthusiasms are dead. For the most part they are content, unless they have got Christ in their hearts, to keep along the low levels, and their soaring days are done. But if you and I have Jesus Christ for the life of our spirits, as certainly as fire sends its shooting tongues upwards, so certainly shall we rise above the sorrows and sins and cares of this "dim spot which men call earth," and find ampler field for buoyant motion high up in communion with God. Strength to soar means the gracious power of bringing all heaven into our grasp, and setting our affections on things above. Life on earth were too wretched unless it were possible to "mount up with wings as eagles." Again, you may have strength to run — that is to say, there is power waiting for you for all the great crises of your lives which call for special, though it may be brief, exertion. Such crises will come to each of you, in sorrow, work, difficulty, hard conflicts. And there is only one way to be ready for such times as these, and that is to live waiting on the Lord, near Christ, with Him in your hearts, and then nothing will come that will be too big for you. Strength to walk may be yours, i.e., patient power for persistent pursuit of weary, monotonous duty.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. We have here UNAIDED NATURE AT ITS BEST PROVING A DISMAL FAILURE. Youths and young men are the personification of activity, agility, vigour, and "go." Their eye is not dim, nor their natural force abated. Moreover, the word here employed signifies the pick of the people, the flower of the youth, the very first and foremost. These are the strongest of the strong, the bravest of the brave. But what happens to them? Even these shall faint and be weary; even these shall fail and fall. It is in spiritual things that this disappointment is most to be deplored.
1. This is a picture of those who, starting in their own strength, are presently disillusioned. Here, then, is a picture of ourselves in our unregenerate condition.
2. This is a picture, too, of how we were when, having been convicted of sin, we began to try to cleave our own way to heaven, and to pave it too; when from self-complacency we turned to self-righteousness.
3. I see here, also, an all too accurate picture of some true Christians. The boastful Christian is represented here, the man who fancies that his native courage will carry him through, who imagines that his wide experience will suffice in his extremity, who supposes his rigid orthodoxy is enough.
4. There are some well-nigh prayerless Christians, too, who seem to imagine that since they are already converted to God, and have had great experience of His dealings, they need no longer be as fervent and as frequent at the mercy-seat as in early days.
II. PRAYERFUL DEPENDENCE UPON GOD MEANS UNQUALIFIED SUCCESS. "They that wait," etc.
1. What is this waiting upon God?(1) It involves humiliation and lamentation, a consciousness of need, a confession of weakness, an acknowledgment of sin. Do not think to get to the other stages except by this route. It is most unwise to seek to build a castle in the air, of even on the sands. Deep digging must precede lofty building.(2) Then comes supplication, an earnest pouring out of the inmost heart to God.(3) Mingled with the supplication is expectation.(4) Yet with supplication and expectation there is resignation.(5) There is not necessarily inaction; indeed those that wait upon the Lord are the very ones who are most in earnest, and most active.
2. What is the result of waiting upon God?(1) "They shall renew their strength." This means that they shall change their strength. They shall put off their own threadbare, worn-out, poverty stricken strength, and they shall be clad with strength as with a garment, a garment that has been woven in celestial looms. It means among other things, that the strength they have, God-given, shall be adapted to special circumstances, and applied to peculiar conditions. I know how possible it is to have a goodly measure of strength, and yet not know how to use it. Those who wait on the Lord are taught spiritual economy. They make the most of the little they have, and by using it, it is increased. They are as those who, having a long journey to undertake, have made arrangements previously that at each stage there shall be a flesh horse awaiting them.(2) "They shall mount up with wings as eagles," that is, they shall fly. I have often wondered what the sensation of flying may be like. I have nothing to guide me except sundry dreams. It is a most delightful sensation, except when it ends, and then you wish you had not gone in for it at all. Alas! that so many of our fellow-men have set their minds on flying. They have invented flying-machines, so-called, with which they have almost invariably till now courted disaster. I know a flying machine worth all of these. I will not soar to heaven on wings of wax, which melt as they get near the sun, but on wings which God supplies, wings of hope, and faith, and prayer, and praise.(3) "They shall run," and however much they run, and however fast they run, they shall not be weary. What wonderful progress those make who trust God.(4) "They shall walk and not faint." Divine strength enables us for patient continuance in well-doing. What is the secret of all this? God is at the bottom of it. Compare verse 6 with verses 10, 12, etc. There is nothing impossible to those who love God.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength
I. This is THE GOSPEL OF THE EXILE; the "Gospel before the Gospel" (Cheyne); the good news of the swift accession of power and deliverance to the Jewish people, humiliated, dispirited, and tired out by monotonously waiting in their Babylonian captivity for a long-delayed good.
II. Like all Gospels, THIS GOSPEL OF THE EXILE IS GOD'S. Every true prophet's great appeal is, "Hast thou not known, hast thou not heard" of God! The whole air rings with His name. The universe is lit up with His glory. The stars speak His power. In His ceaseless activity, fatherly solicitude, and unsleeping watchfulness for His people, He fainteth not, nor is weary. The Exile is not a mistake. You are not in the wrong school. He knows what He is doing. There is no searching of His understanding. Believe in Him, wait on Him, wait for Him, and you will become younger and stronger than ever. So God in His loving care for, and constant education of souls, is the Alpha and Omega of this whole Gospel for captive Israel. We cannot have any good news for any age, or for any people, or for any soul, without Him. All flesh is aa grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the revelation of the inexhaustible God liveth and abideth for ever. The strength of God is the salvation of men.
III. Like all Divine evangels, THIS GOOD NEWS FOR THE CAPTIVES OF BABYLON IS ADDRESSED IMMEDIATELY TO A SPECIAL NEED, AND ADAPTED BY ITS FORM TO EFFECT A PARTICULAR RESULT, namely, that of patient endurance of acute affliction. The Gospel is for men and women who have lost their strength in living, and are losing it more and more, day by day, till they fear its utter extinction by the presence of thickening despairs, and the ceaseless gnawing of spiritual fibre by silent misery and unutterable grief. Nothing tires like hopelessness. Nothing makes the heart sick like long delays. Unto them, therefore, is the word of this salvation sent. "Wait for God." "Wait upon the Lord." "Trust in Him at all times." He will come. He cannot help coming, His nature urges Him towards you with all the tenderness of His love, and all the helpfulness of His omnipotence. Faith in God takes multitudinous forms in the long story of the soul's life with God. It is a Divine law on which this direction rests. God must be waited for. We cannot anticipate Him. While the soil is frozen and hard we cannot compel the crop; we wait for the spring. The farmer of the Nile waits till the waters rise and then casts his bread upon them, hoping to see his harvest after many days. There is a time for growth, and we must take facts according to God's plan. Even young men faint in the conflict because they will not wait for God. Defeated and overwhelmed with despair you say, "It avails nothing, I am no forwarder to-day than I was last week, I am as far from the kingdom of God as ever; my passions are as wild, my mind as untameable as it was when I started for a better and manlier life." Recall Moses. Did he not in his impatience lift up the standard of freedom forty years too soon? But is not waiting for God cowardly indolence and fatalistic apathy? Cowardly indolence, indeed! Nothing will more test any fibre you've got!
IV. Like all Gospels from the heavens, THIS ONE FOR THE HEBREW EXILES OBTAINED ITS FULL AND COMPLETE VERIFICATION FROM THE UNCONTRADICTED FACTS OF HUMAN EXPERIENCE. The captive people waited for God and on God, and they did not wait in vain. The ransomed of the Lord returned: but the return was the least good they received, and deliverance their smallest boon. Grace and strength came by the prophets and by prayer in unbroken continuity, and fresh gifts of power and light and zeal and joy enlarged and enriched their lives. They were born again. They renewed their youth, and became a regenerated, pure, missionary people; found Babylon a better school than Jerusalem, and the severities and perils of captivity a healthier discipline than the luxuries and security of freedom. The sevenfold blessing of the Exile stands written in the unimpeachable Chronicles of Israel, and the world.
1. First and most distinctive of the gains of the Jews from their captivity, stands their advanced and perfected knowledge of God. The Divine idea was lifted above all the restrictions of race and locality to the throne of the universe; the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob was recognised as the Saviour of the ends of the earth. We fret and chafe in our sufferings and under our chastisements, when to patience and meekness the God of all comfort comes with His sweetest and most refreshing revelations.
2. Next comes up out of the Exile the more definitely shaped and clearly conceived image of the Anointed of the Lord, the Daysman or Mediator, the Lord our Righteousness, the Herald of a New Covenant, the suffering and conquering Servant of God, who is to realise the ideal Jerusalem, and bring a new heaven and a new earth.
3. Fired by this hope of a personal Redeemer, and controlled by a spiritual conception of Jehovah, the worship of God entered on that final spiritual phase which has never been wholly eclipsed, though it has suffered, and still suffers, many painful obscurations.(1) There is such a signal and hearty recognition of the power of prayer in the individual and in the community, as to warrant the idea that the Exile was the origin of the prayer-meeting.(2) There is a total detachment from all ritual, and the cheerful acceptance of "little sanctuaries," synagogues, or "meeting-houses," and even of quiet spots by the river-side, in place of the gorgeous temple and its arresting and impressive symbolism.(3) The spell of idolatry is broken for ever.
4. Bound up with this we see the generation of a higher ethic; the birth of a nobler conception of life, as the sphere for rightness of aim and righteousness of character. Through this gate of tribulation Israel enters into the kingdom of holiness.
5. The temporary limitations and restrictions of Israel being annulled, it is forthwith lifted into the stream of universal history, never to be taken out again. It is proved that Hebraism can exist without a temple and without a priest, without an altar and without a land, without anything or anybody save the soul and God.
6. With glowing ardour and intense enthusiasm these elect souls go forth on this service, seeking to establish a knowledge of the true God, urging the heathen to accept the light they enjoy, and sharing with them as proselytes the peace and prosperity, brought by truth and righteousness. The missionary spirit, as well as the missionary idea, glows and throbs in the oracles and songs which represent the highest thought and the purest emotion of this time.
7. This was completed by the enlargement and recension of that unique and marvellous missionary agent, the Old Testament literature, so splendidly enriched with some of its most pathetic and consolatory contributions, so carefully transcribed and sacredly guarded by the "Scribes," who started into existence in these days; and so diligently pondered by those choice spirits who had learnt to sigh for God as their exceeding joy, and to serve Him as their chief delight. It was the Great Missionary Book. "Salvation is of the Jews." Believe it, then; exhausted men get fresh strength by trustful longing for God; renew their spiritual energy, their faith in goodness, their power for selfsacrificing work, for fleet-footed missions of mercy, by waiting on God and for God. It is history, and actual experience.
V. This GOSPEL, LIKE ALL ITS FELLOWS, NEVER DIES. It endures for ever and ever as a living message, not effete though old, not wasted though abundantly used, but partaking of the unwearied energy and eternal reproductiveness of its infinite source. Man's wants are too diverse to be met by any one messenger. God speaks at sundry times, and by different voices; but no voice ever dies out, no message is ever wholly lost, and if not for one soul, yet for another and another, it is quick and powerful, renewing faith, and hope, and zeal.
(J. Clifford, D. D.)
I. A DUTY SUGGESTED.
1. We are reminded of the solemn and formal acts of devotion, as implied in the words — "wait upon the Lord."(1) This language is borrowed from the custom of subjects entering into the presence of their monarch with petitions, acknowledgments, or gratulations. They presented themselves and their offering.(2) God invites and encourages the attendance of His subjects. Opportunities of waiting upon an earthly sovereign are rare: but God has rendered the way to the throne plain, and the access easy. "Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly."(3) But as in approaching an earthly sovereign there is required an attention to the prescribed usages and decorum of a court, so, in order to our acceptable waiting upon God, we must observe the defined forms, and cultivate the sacred proprieties of His worship; those which belong to "the place where His honour dwelleth." Much of the benefit of worship is lost by many, simply from the absence of a due preparation of the heart, or from a thoughtless neglect of the decencies of God's house. These are auxiliaries to religion, if not a part of it. Too many professors overlook the obligation to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness."
2. The words of the text are descriptive of the state and exercises of the mind; of the feelings and aspirations of the heart in Divine worship. They imply —(1) The spiritual recognition of God. The object of all profitable worship is God, and the end is intercourse with Him. The phrase, "wait upon God," represents a devotional heart. If vanity share the sacrifice, or irreverence desecrate it, God will turn away our prayers and His mercy from us: our service will be an abomination unto Him. Spiritual worship requires a strict and holy discipline over the mind, constant vigilance and heartfelt dependence upon Divine grace.(2) Earnest desire for God; a keen sense of want.(3) Confident expectation of the Divine mercy and grace; reliance upon the Divine word and faithfulness; assurance of the acceptance and answer of prayer through Christ.(4) Patient and submissive perseverance.(5) There is an intimate and important connection between the outward acts and the inward feelings in devotion.
II. WE ARE ASSURED OF THE BENEFIT RESULTING FROM THE DISCHARGE OF THIS DUTY. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," or change their strength; its measure shall be adapted to their different claims.
1. The Christian's strength may fail amid the many trials and temptations of life, and its revival become necessary. The soul may lose its energy, its decision of purpose, its promptitude of action, its confidence in God, and become weak, irresolute, and fearful.
2. Our situation may demand additional strength. We may be summoned to a post of great responsibility, to the performance of arduous duty.
3. Where are we to obtain this power, — this reviving of strength?
4. With pleasure contemplate the animating result of this renewal of strength. In conclusion, our text suggests(1) Instruction. We are taught where we must go in times of trouble.(2) Consolation. Circumstances may change; man may change; but God never changes.(3) Reproof. To the presumptuous — those who seek strength and comfort and satisfaction in the creature, who forsake the living God.
(H. H. Chortle.)
I. WHAT IT IS TO WAIT UPON THE LORD. Three things make it: service, expectation, patience. We must be as those Eastern maidens, who as they ply their needle or their distaff, look to the eye and wait upon the hand of their mistress, as their guide which is to teach them, or their model which they are to copy. Our best lessons are always found in a Father's eye. "Therefore if you would wait upon the Lord, you must be always looking out for voices — those still small voices of the soul, — and you must expect them, and you must command them." But service, however devoted, or expectation, however intense, will not be waiting without patience. Here is where so many fail.
II. THE ACTION. Elevation, rapid progress, a steady course — soar, run, walk. Is it not just what we want — to get higher, to go faster, and to be more calmly consistent?
1. Elevation. What are the wings? Beyond a doubt, faith, prayer; or, if you will, humility and confidence in a beautiful equipoise, balancing one another on either side, so that the soul sustains itself in mid-air and flies upward.
2. The servants of God in the Bible — from Abraham and David to Philip in the Acts — whenever they were told to do anything, always ran. It is the only way to do anything well. A thousand irksome duties become easy and pleasant if we do them with a ready mind, an affectionate zeal, and a happy alacrity.
3. To maintain a quiet sustained walk, day by day, in the common things of life, in the house and out of the house, not impulsive, not capricious, not changeable, — that is the hardest thing to do. Let me give four rules for this walk:
(1) (2) (3) (4) (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
(2) (3) (4) (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
(3) (4) (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
(4) (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
(J. Vaughan, M. A.)
I. THE SECRET OF LIFE'S POWER.
II. THE SUPPORT OF LIFE'S JOURNEY. "They shall run," etc.
III. THE BASIS OF LIFE'S EXALTATION. They shall "mount up," etc.
(J. T. Harwood.)
I. THE DUTY HERE RECOMMENDED. "Waiting upon the Lord." This expression may include many acts of the mind, but the connection of the words shows that here it principally refers to prayer. Waiting on the Lord implies —
1. A sense of our own weakness, and our need of Divine help.
2. A persuasion of the power and goodness of God; His readiness to stretch out His almighty hand to help us, amidst the difficulties, infirmities, and temptations to which we are exposed.
3. That Divine help is to be sought by prayer.
4. If we hope for His interposition, we are to be diligent in the use of those means which He hath appointed, and to which He hath promised His blessing.
II. THE ENCOURAGEMENT GIVEN. Such devout, humble souls shall "renew their strength." They shall grow more steady and established in religion. They shall find a supply of Divine help proportioned to their trials. As their work and their difficulty are renewed, so shall the vigour of their souls be renewed. How far this strength shall operate, and what noble effects it shall produce, may be seen by the following words.
III. WAITING UPON GOD HATH IN ITSELF A NATURAL TENDENCY TO ESTABLISH AND STRENGTHEN THE SOUL. It promoteth that humility which is our greatest security, and restrains that pride which goeth before a fall. It will also lead us to exert our best endeavours, and put forth all our own strength, as we would not be chargeable with the guilt of affronting God by asking His help without them. The nature of the blessed God strengthens this encouragement. Therefore the prophet had suggested to Israel this thought, that "the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary." His power is vast and unbounded, and nothing is too hard for Him. His understanding is infinite; there is no searching it. Therefore He can never be puzzled with any difficulties, but must know how in every possible case to deliver the godly out of their temptations. Consider also His promises and His covenant.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY WAITING UPON THE LORD? Waiting upon God is a duty very frequently enforced in Scripture, and to which the highest blessings are annexed. "Because of His strength," says the Psalmist, "I will wait upon Him, for God is my defence." "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart." "Our soul waiteth for the Lord; He is our help and shield." "Wait on the Lord," says Solomon, "and He shall save thee." "Keep mercy and judgment," says the prophet Hosea, "and wait on thy God continually." It is an expression peculiar to the Old Testament; but in the New Testament the same duty is repeatedly inculcated, though in different language. The precept is the same in substance with the exhortation of St. Paul, "Be ye followers of God, as dear children"; or with that of St. James, "Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you." The expression denotes a feeling of need, and a sense of dependence upon the Almighty, without whom nothing is strong or holy. For one to wait upon another implies inferiority, and a desire of protection and assistance. In many circumstances we require the protection and assistance of our fellow-creatures, but in all circumstances we require the protection and assistance of our Creator. He is ever ready to extend to us that protection and help without which we are powerless and defenceless. But He requires, as the condition of our receiving His grace, that we sincerely feel and humbly acknowledge our need of it; and that, ceasing from our own wisdom, and confessing from the heart our own weakness, we throw ourselves unreservedly upon His wisdom and strength. This sense of entire dependence upon the grace of God will naturally express itself in prayer, and in a devout and regular use of the appointed means of grace. Not only in the immediate exercises of religion, but at all times the Christian will be animated by a spirit of devotion. He will keep himself constantly near to God. But waiting upon God not only implies worship, it also implies obedience. In short, to wait upon God is to be a religious man.
II. THE NATURE OF THIS GREAT BLESSING WHICH GOD HAS ASSURED TO ALL THAT WAIT UPON HIM. In the weary pilgrimage which they have to finish, in the sore warfare in which they are engaged, He will strengthen and uphold them. Not merely is help found for the weakness of believers, but a provision is also made for relieving and substituting for it a buoyancy and joyful exaltation of spirit, so that he is enabled to hold on his way with gladness as well as with constancy. The pious man is compared in Scripture to the sun — "his soul is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day." The Gospel is a message of joy.
1. We must not be biassed by any theory of Church or ordinances, nor by any preaching, to suppose that we are shut up to the dealings of God with us through these channels. The Church is a very powerful instrument, and will be indispensable through ages. Does not the village common school work upon the human soul? Do not books? Do not newspapers? Do not men in all the ten thousand struggles of business? Do not all the influences which go to make up the ever-teeming society? Is there anything which God does not use in operating upon the reason, the affections, and the moral sentiments of men?
2. It pleases God to make the spiritual development of men depend on time-growth. We know how it is with children. We know that they develop first by the body. Then come the social affections, with the elementary forms of the intellect. Nor can you force things in a normal and healthy child. You must take it in the hour of God's appointment. Third in the order of time, and last, is the spiritual nature. We rejoice in the earliest flower because it is the earliest, and we rejoice in the latest flower because it is the latest; but do what you will, you cannot make the aster blossom in spring. You must wait until the time for it to blossom arrives. Now, among men the same thing happens. There are those who have a premature development of spiritual impulses.. But because the higher nature of some people is unfolded early, are we to make them the criterion for other people? It is better not to seek to produce ecstatic experiences in anticipation of the normal methods.
3. Then there are many persons who renew their strength, who develop into a higher spiritual life, into more fevour, more joy, and more stability by reason of the removal of false or imperfect views of truth.
4. There are many persons who fail to come to the light of truth, and to the inspiration of the higher views of religion, by reason of worldly prosperity, which tends to satisfy their lower nature. Under such circumstances it is that, in the Divine ordering of things, what are called distresses, infirmities, and even great sorrows, are blessed of God to the opening of their nature and to the renewing of their spiritual strength. Men never could see the corona of the sun — the red flame that surrounds that orb — until the sun was eclipsed; and the corona, the light, the glory of God is seen when men are under eclipse and in darkness. There are revelations made to men then, which prosperity never brings to them. We are rich and strong, not by the things which we possess, but by the amount of true manhood which is developed in us.
5. It pleases God, also, to employ the companionship of friends and neighbours in developing men in the direction of their higher manhood. There is nothing that is so helpful to a soul as the contact of another soul.
6. When, by the use of these various instrumentalities our souls have grown, and have come into the possibility of a higher spiritual disclosure, then there is a further soul-growth in us. We come to a state in which there is a direct influence of the soul of God exerted upon us — as direct as sight and voice are to the bodily senses. The Divine Spirit comes into the hearts of men in ways that are inexplicable to the lower understanding, and that, therefore, men who are on the lower plane of life do not comprehend. When men come to a higher Christian life they have days of spiritual insight; and those days grow longer and longer, like the days of the coming summer, when the sun goes down later and later, and rises earlier and earlier. As the result of a whole life of education and practice in Divine duties men may come, at last, into that state in which the Spirit of God shines with a steadfast lustre upon them. Then there is the triumph of grace in the soul. Then intuitions become truths — not fitful, nor irregular, not based upon inchoate and undigested knowledge, but constant, regular, and founded on sound judgment.
(H. Ward Beecher.)
I. GOOD MEN ARE POSSESSED OF SPIRITUAL STRENGTH.
1. It is that spiritual vigour of mind by which sin is overcome.
2. And by which the world is overcome.
3. By this strength, spiritual duties are acceptably performed.
4. This strength is that qualification of mind by which the followers of Christ are enabled to endure trials and bear the cross.
5. "A deathbed is a detector of the heart." But death does not "make cowards of us all." He who said this, knew but little of the courage which the grace of God communicates to the minds of the most timid of the disciples of Jesus.
II. THIS STRENGTH REQUIRES TO BE RENEWED.
1. It is possible for the best of men to lose much of the influence of religion from the heart, and for a time to be very unconscious of it.
2. The corroding cares of the world should excite them to obtain the renewal of their strength.
3. Their strength requires to be renewed, because it is not innate, but communicated.
4. And because the servants of God have gone awfully wrong when it has not been renewed.
5. Good men have done wonders when their strength has been renewed.
III. THE RENEWAL OF STRENGTH IS TO BE OBTAINED BY WAITING UPON THE LORD.
1. Prayer is the waiting posture of the soul.
2. Waiting upon the Lord includes expectation. "My eyes are unto Thee; my expectation is from Thee."
3. Watchfulness is implied in waiting upon the Lord.
IV. THE BLESSEDNESS OF WAITING UPON THE LORD. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles," etc. This is expressive of —
1. Steady attachment to the ways of God. "Walk without fainting."
2. Rapid progress. "Run without weariness."
3. Elevated devotion. "Mount up with wings as eagles." "They shall put forth fresh feathers as the moulting eagle." No doubt the allusion is to the velocity with which the eagle soars towards the sun, after the renewal of his feathers.
I. THE DUTY ENJOINED. To wait upon God. This implies the recognition of God as the supreme Arbiter and Disposer of all human events. It is the posture of expectancy for every blessing of which we stand in need, temporal and spiritual.
II. THE MANNER IN WHICH WE ARE TO WAIT UPON GOD.
1. The way of public ordinances.
2. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
3. The exercise of domestic worship and private prayer.
4. Seeking to become wise unto salvation out of His written Word, and in meditation on its soul-inspiring contents.
III. THE TEMPER AND FRAME OF MIND INVOLVED IN THE EXPRESSION, WAITING UPON GOD.
1. It implies the existence of an invincible faith, which nothing can destroy, although for a moment it may be disturbed.
2. This calls into action another principle closely connected with faith, and emanating from it, — the principle of patience and Christian resignation to the will of God.
IV. THE ENCOURAGEMENT HERE BESTOWED ON THE FULFILMENT OF THE DUTY REQUIRED, — renewed strength shall be imparted. This implies a declension of strength, fainting, and fatigue; to all of which the Christian pilgrim is more or less exposed.
1. In consequence of the exhausted spirits of the weary traveller never being renewed, some who did run well are hindered, and halt in their career; while others adopt altogether a retrograde movement, return to the path of their former delights, apostatise from the faith, and become worse than infidels.
2. But here we have a direct promise from a covenant-keeping God, that our strength shall be renewed adequate to all the demands which a perilous enterprise can render necessary.
3. We must speak in the language of reproof to all those who are strangers to this operation in the soul; who never do humbly wait upon God, but when chastised and rebuked of the Lord are disposed to resist His authority, to impugn His character as merciful and gracious; who give utterance to all the outbreaks of a rebellious, unsanctified heart. They are both to be censured and pitied.
4. But we speak encouragement to those who have already assumed the waiting position, and are thus tarrying the Lord's leisure. Endeavour in every possible way to cultivate this holy, humble, dependent spirit.
(H. S. Plumptre, M. A.)
(D. Dickson, D. D.)
I. THE CHARACTER OF THOSE CONCERNING WHOM THE DECLARATION OR PROMISE IN THE TEXT IS MADE, considered as "waiting on the Lord."
1. They earnestly desire the enjoyment of His favour.
2. They diligently attend to, and take peculiar delight in, all His service and will.
II. THE IMPORT OF THE DECLARATION, that they who thus wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; or, as the words might be translated, shall be renewed in strength.
1. That the principles of the spiritual life within them shall be gradually strengthened and increased.
2. That increased communications of Divine grace shall be made to them.
III. THE INTERESTING EFFECTS OF ITS BRING SO RENOVATED OR INCREASED. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles," etc. This may intimate —
1. That their devotions shall become more elevated and intense.
2. By that renovation and increase of spiritual strength which is the effect of waiting on the Lord, His people acquire greater alacrity and perseverance in doing His will. They shall run, or march on, and not be weary. Here the metaphor is varied, and changed into one that is more common in the sacred writings, as expressive of Christian duty, which is frequently compared to running or marching. "I will run in the way of Thy commandments, when Thou shalt enlarge my heart."
3. Fortitude and patience under affliction is also the effect of that renewing and increase of spiritual strength, which is received from waiting on the Lord. They shall walk, and not faint." Even when incapable of being active in the service of God, grace is promised for enabling them to move forward without fainting in the path of submission and suffering.
(D. Dickson, D. D.)
1. What, then, is meant by this "waiting upon the Lord"? We use the word "wait" with reference to service: a servant "waits" upon his master or his master's guests. We use it, too, with reference to the holding of an interview with a superior: a deputation "waits" upon the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister "waits" upon His Majesty. We use the word also with reference to a state of expectation, more or less prolonged: as when we say that we are "waiting" for some friend. It is in this last sense — the sense of continuous expectancy — that the word is used in the Bible. To "wait" is more than to pray. It is to keep looking for the answer to our prayers. It is the opposite, therefore, both of despair and of impatience. Hence the Psalmist says, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him." And again, "I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in His word do I hope," etc. So here the prophet does not mean to say that if we would "renew our strength," we have simply to seek an interview with God and lay our request before Him; but that if we keep looking to God with a believing and patient expectation, new vigour will come to us, our very patience will be a source of strength, and the God in whom we hope will not disappoint us.
2. "Waiting is often the only means of receiving fresh energy." Man goeth forth to his work and to his labour until the evening. But when the evening comes, he is exhausted. All the organs are there, but they want new strength. The man lies down on his bed, and "waits." Sleep comes upon him; and through its influence the waiting body recovers all its vigour, so that the man rises again in the morning ready for his toil. Often, too, the very best prescription which a physician can give is, "Rest and cheerful society." A godly patience, then, is the grand secret of spiritual might. For such patience not only carries within itself the germs of strength, but also places the soul in that condition in which it is most susceptible of quickening influences and can most readily take advantage of fresh opportunities. Power is hidden in patience, as the subtle force of the lightning slumbers in the brooding cloud. Despair paralyses. Impatience, too, weakens. Magnetise a needle, and it becomes much more sensitive to the force of the magnet. And so a human heart which is constantly looking to God will be much more susceptible of all influences that come from God. The soil is ready for the vitalising shower. The sails are unfurled to catch the heavenly breeze. The ear is listening for the whispers of the Divine voice. Whereas the man who has worn himself out by impatience, or yielded himself up to despair, is too inert or too distracted to take adequate advantage of the fresh opportunities which may come at last. On the other hand, the blended eagerness and calm of the soul that is "waiting upon the Lord" make it the more receptive of all Divine influences, and keep it at least strong enough to take advantage of fresh sources of strength.(1) The calm of a believing soul may be heightened into a kind of ecstasy. Patience has sometimes a dull, torpid, chrysalis aspect; but, when the time is ripe, patience passes into a winged rapture which rises gladly into the sunshine of heaven. In all godly "waiting" there lies the capability of Godward soaring. A patient spirit has the wings of faith and hope. "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life," etc. There is the eagle again — keen-eyed and strong as before, but soaring now into the blue, bearing itself up on exultant wing, and gazing into the heavenly radiance! Exuberance of holy feeling is not a thing to be manufactured. These loftier moods have sometimes come even when you least expected them! Although we cannot always account for these moods of the soul, we might all experience them more frequently if our habitual attitude were more of a "waiting upon God." We cannot, indeed, manufacture inspiration; but what if the "breath of God" comes upon us and finds our souls too dull or too distracted to respond to its subtle influences? At the best, however, these lofty flights can only be occasional.(2) There are races to be run down here upon the earth, special duties to be performed, for which a man must gird himself by special effort. Fatigue will oppress us long before the goal is reached, — our running in the path of duty will be a thing of fits and starts, — if we do not keep expecting that God will bless our endeavours. New strength will come to us for all holy enterprise in proportion as we trust in God for results. Be sure that, in "waiting on" Him to do what we cannot, we receive all the more energy to do what we can.(3) There is also "walking" to be done here on earth, the ordinary routine of life to be trudged through every day. And perhaps it is in this region that a godly patience is needed most for the constant renewal of our spiritual strength. There is little or no effort in holy ecstasy, and its very joy is an inspiration. Any special duty, also, tends, by its very specialty, to brace us for the doing of it; there is, moreover, the goal in view, and the prize to be won. But the ordinary homely duty of the work-day world — the monotonous path which must be daily trod, this indeed requires the most abiding patience. Men who live far from God are apt to grow sick and weary of the humdrum monotony of their daily life, especially if they have to bear some continuous burden from which they see little hope of escape. Even the drudgery of life can be transfigured in the light of the Father's love. And those who believe that their ordinary life has a Divine significance — that it is as the rough scaffolding within which a very temple may be built — and who are striving to live daily as under the eye of the heavenly Friend, have within their souls a peace which keeps them from "fainting."
(T. C. Finlayson.)
I. THE MEANS OF RENEWING OUR STRENGTH, as expressed in the phrase, "they that wait on the Lord."
1. There must be approach to God.
3. A patient continuance in an expecting attitude, until we actually receive the fulfilment of the Divine promise. This phrase is descriptive, not merely of an occasional exercise, but of what is, or ought at least to be, the constant temper and frame of the believer's mind.
II. To those who live in this spirit is given AN EXCEEDING GREAT AND PRECIOUS PROMISE. They "shall renew their strength." Our spiritual strength seems to include chiefly three things —
1. Clear and comprehensive views of the truth of God. We often say that "knowledge is power": certainly, ignorance of.the truth of God is weakness.
2. A correspondence between our will and affections and the truth existing in our minds.
3. Divine consolation. "The joy of the Lord is your strength."
III. THE HAPPY RESULT OF THIS RENEWAL OF STRENGTH.
I. RENEWED VIGOUR. "They shall renew their strength." This is not arbitrary, but necessary.
1. The intellect is strengthened by holy exercises upon Divine themes.
2. The affections are strengthened by holy exercises on right objects.
3. The will is strengthened by holy exercises in godly purposes. The whole soul gets strength by such exercise.
II. SOUL ELEVATION. "Mount up with wings as eagles."
1. Holy gratitude is a wing that will bear the soul aloft to its Benefactor.
2. Holy love is a wing that will bear the soul upward to its object.
3. Holy hope is a wing that will bear the soul above to its anticipated possessions.
III. INTERESTING PROGRESS. "Run, and be weary," etc.
1. Godliness is progress. It is not a stationary state. It is a running and a walking. Forgetting the things that are behind, etc.
2. Godliness is progress without fatigue. There is no weariness in love.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
I. THE HIGHEST STRENGTH IS DERIVED FROM THE HIGHEST SERVICE.
1. The highest strength is not physical nor intellectual, but moral. Strength to resist the wrong, to pursue the right, to honour God and bless humanity.
2. What is the highest service? Waiting upon the Lord. To wait upon Him implies a practical recognition of His existence, personal superintendence, and absolute authority. This service must be —
(1) (2) II. THE HIGHEST STRENGTH IS DEVELOPED IN THE HIGHEST ACTIVITY. What is this activity? 1. Soul devotion. 2. Soul progress. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
(2) II. THE HIGHEST STRENGTH IS DEVELOPED IN THE HIGHEST ACTIVITY. What is this activity? 1. Soul devotion. 2. Soul progress. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
II. THE HIGHEST STRENGTH IS DEVELOPED IN THE HIGHEST ACTIVITY. What is this activity?
1. Soul devotion.
2. Soul progress.
(D. Thomas, D. D.)
1. In simplicity of intention. On Him only (Psalm 62:5).
2. In faith. They "wait for the Lord, and in His word do they hope" (Psalm 130:5). Even when He hides His face (Isaiah 8:17). Their faith at one time is supported only by the promises,,-at other times by their own experience (Psalm 27:14; Lamentations 3:25, 26; Isaiah 30:18; Isaiah 49:23).
3. They wait with patient perseverance. It is not only an act, but a gracious habit of mind (Psalm 25:5).
4. They wait with humility and self-denial. They wait on God, asking counsel, seeking strength, and imploring pardon and peace. This posture of mind becomes the ignorance and guilt and unworthiness of the creature; the perfection, the wisdom and love of such a Being.
5. They wait with submission and resignation. They wait His time, acquiesce in His methods.
I. Let us notice: THIS WAITING UPON THE LORD. And the first thing that strikes us is the language used by the prophet — language so far removed from mere formal expression. There is no mention here of the use of many words, or of certain external marks of devotion; it is simply, "Waiting upon the Lord!" Evidently the prophet uses it as representing an act of devotion, looking to God for help in the time of need. True waiting upon the Lord seems to have three features, which we suppose to be contained in the words here used.
2. A collected frame of mind.
3. Trust in the Lord.
II. "They that wait upon the Lord SHALL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH." We are altogether dependent upon God for our natural, as well as for our spiritual strength. God seems to observe in spiritual things a similar order to that which exists in natural things. Our natural strength requires constant renovation by the food that is convenient for us. So it is in the spiritual life: we can make no provision of grace for the future; we are called to depend upon God day by day. There are various reasons why we should constantly apply to God for a renewal of our spiritual strength. There are conflicts to be endured with our spiritual foes, within our own hearts; we live in a world that is lying in wickedness; we have to do with matters concerning the present life that are often very trying and perplexing in their nature, and often is our courage likely to fail. In an indirect manner, then, this encouraging passage of Scripture reminds us of the cause of our spiritual declensions. It is because we do not constantly wait upon the Lord.
1. THE GENERAL PROPOSITION. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength."
II. THE DEMONSTRATION OR CONFIRMATION OF THIS. "They shall mount up," etc.
(T. Horton, D. D.)
2 Kings 6:33). The more willing we are ¢o wait upon God the better it is for us; for He pays for time and gives us the more because we have waited.
(T. Horton, D. D.)
1. In quality. They shall have a new kind of strength bestowed upon them, over what they had before conversion, as Caleb had another spirit, and Saul another heart. For even before conversion there is a kind of strength which does appear, and that also in reference to religion, and the duties of it, but it is not such a strength as any are to rest themselves contented with. There is the strength of temper, and natural constitution, and a man may be able both to do and suffer very much by it. This is that which does for the most part extend itself to the outside and form of religion. The strength of wit, and reason, and understanding, and memory, and the like, while their heart and will and affections have no saving work at all upon them. There is the strength of custom, and religious education. There is the strength of civility and moral principles. This was the strength which was in Paul before his conversion. They that wait upon the Lord shall "change," that is, they shall have another strength bestowed upon them, and such as will be more useful to them. Instead of this natural, and moral, and customary strength, they shall have a supernatural and spiritual given unto them. This is different, and surpassing the other.(1) In regard of its Original, as coming from the Holy Ghost (Ephesians 3:16).(2) In the subject, for the former strength is only in the outward, this in the inward man.(3) In the effects, for this supernatural strength is able to do greater matters than the other can do, helping a man to deny himself, to overcome the world, to mortify lusts and corruptions, etc.
2. In quantity and degree. Good Christians shall through God's grace grow stronger and stronger.(1) There are some cases and conditions, especially wherein a Christian has most need of having his strength renewed unto him; as, against a new service; against some new temptation and conflict with Satan; against some new trial and affliction.(2) For the means, we may take them thus: In the renewing of their repentance; in the renewing of their covenant; in the renewing of their obedience; in the renewing of their faith.
(T. Horton, D. D.)
1. Flying.(1) The eagle is an emblem of strength renewed (Psalm 103:5).(2) The eagle soars aloft.(3) Here is the swiftness and agility of the motion. A good Christian performs good duties with some life and fervour in them.
2. Running.(1) The motion itself. This is a pace which is very requisite for the Christian.
(a) (b) (c) 3. Walking. Walking is less than running, and fainting is more than weariness. If then those who run are not weary, the same when they walk shall not faint. There are divers things which we are liable to faint at, which yet the Scripture takes us off from fainting at.(1) The delay of answering our prayers (Luke 18:1).(2) Our manifold afflictions (Hebrews 12:5).(3) The afflictions of others, and the scandal of the Cross (Ephesians 3:13).(4) The many businesses in religion — so much work to be performed. How shall we avoid it? Get a renewing of this spiritual strength day by day. (T. Horton, D. D.)
(b) (c) 3. Walking. Walking is less than running, and fainting is more than weariness. If then those who run are not weary, the same when they walk shall not faint. There are divers things which we are liable to faint at, which yet the Scripture takes us off from fainting at.(1) The delay of answering our prayers (Luke 18:1).(2) Our manifold afflictions (Hebrews 12:5).(3) The afflictions of others, and the scandal of the Cross (Ephesians 3:13).(4) The many businesses in religion — so much work to be performed. How shall we avoid it? Get a renewing of this spiritual strength day by day. (T. Horton, D. D.)
(c) 3. Walking. Walking is less than running, and fainting is more than weariness. If then those who run are not weary, the same when they walk shall not faint. There are divers things which we are liable to faint at, which yet the Scripture takes us off from fainting at.(1) The delay of answering our prayers (Luke 18:1).(2) Our manifold afflictions (Hebrews 12:5).(3) The afflictions of others, and the scandal of the Cross (Ephesians 3:13).(4) The many businesses in religion — so much work to be performed. How shall we avoid it? Get a renewing of this spiritual strength day by day. (T. Horton, D. D.)
(T. Horton, D. D.)
1. In point of honour, and that especially with God Himself. Spiritual weakness is a disparagement, especially as a relapse, and after some former degrees of strength. The excellency of dignity and the excellency of strength go both together, and he that falls from the one does, with Reuben, fall also from the other. Becoming weak as water, he shall not excel (Genesis 49:4).
2. In point of ease. A weak Christian is a burden to himself as meeting with many difficulties which he cannot grapple with, but which prove too hard to him. There are many temptations to resist, and many afflictions to endure, and many duties to perform.
3. In point of comfort. A weak Christian will be an uncomfortable Christian.
(T. Horton, D. D.)
I. "THEY THAT WAIT UPON THE LORD SHALL RENEW THEIR STRENGTH."
1. This sounds as if they were in danger of becoming weary and faint in their minds. Is this really so? What do you say, Christian tradesman — you upon whom God hath laid the responsibilities of home and family — you Christian citizen-you whom the arrows of affliction have wounded — you proclaimer of the Lord's message?
2. The least that.it can mean is they shall stand their ground.
3. But the margin speaks of this renewal as a change of strength, as if it would remind us of the mansidedness of the grace of God, and its perfect adaptability to our everchanging needs.
II. "THEY SHALL MOUNT UP WITH WINGS AS EAGLES." This seems to say that the life of communion with God is not a long series of vapid and unemotional hours, a dead level of mechanical and spiritless employments, but a life that has rare and glorious experiences, holy aspirations, ennobling thoughts, ecstatic emotions, spirit-stirring hopes.
1. Purer air.
2. Clearer vision.
3. Untroubled quiet.
4. Rare landscape.
5. Unclouded sunshine.
III. "THEY SHALL RUN AND NOT BE WEARY." Capacity for the most strenuous exertion.
IV. "THEY SHALL WALK AND NOT FAINT." Is this the same as saying that we shall have the power of steady perseverance, of patient endurance under protracted trial? Did the prophet put this last in his brief summary because patience is one of those Christian graces that has its perfect work the latest?
(J. H. Anderson.)
(T. V. Tymms.)
I. WHAT IS THIS WAITING?
1. It means prayer — much more than an occasional supplication, however real; it means persistent, persevering, continual prayer; it means an abiding attitude of trustful dependence upon God; it means all that is wrapped up in those beautiful words, "Oh, rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him"; it means trust in the Lord and do good; it means trust in the Lord at all times, for with Him is everlasting strength, and have no confidence in self.
2. But the prophet has a deeper thought than this. There are many things for which we can only ask and then wait in quiet stillness, things which we cannot help God to give us, things which God Himself bestows without our aid, if we are ever to possess them. Renewal often comes to men in their extremity like this.
3. But while we cannot pass over such times and such experiences, it would be unhealthy to be dwelling upon them as if they were the whole of life. They are not. We are not always faint. Usually we have, at any rate, just a little strength, and then waiting upon Him means not only prayer and uplooking, but doing His commandments like the angels, who because they do them excel in strength.
II. WHAT IS THE ISSUE OF SUCH WAITING UPON GOD? The prophet's imagery is startling, and some critics would presume to call his figures somewhat mixed; but the thought conveyed is clear. The older Jewish commentators imagined they discovered here a reference to an ancient belief that at a certain time the eagle plunged into the sea and bathed off his worn-out plumage, and that afterwards new feathers grew. The Septuagint translators of the Old Testament were so sure of this bit of false science that in order to square their Hebrew Scriptures with the fashion of thought in Alexandria, they ventured to alter the words of our text, and to read, "They shall put forth new feathers like eagles," and so the old Greek version reads to-day. But we have good reason to believe that the prophet drew his imagery from familiar objects in the land of exile. There could be little doubt but that from childhood he had often looked upon some of those carved tablets on which men with wings of eagles fastened to their shoulders were common, that he had often looked on those colossal images of winged bulls and lions and men such as may be seen in our British Museum to-day. Now those composite figures had subtle meanings. They could not suggest to the prophet his religious thought, but his inspired genius laid them under tribute to assist the utterance of a thought of higher inspiration. At any rate he found in the matchless wing-power of the eagle a sublime image of an inspiring and God-seeking man. The figure of one flying through the heavens, coupled strangely with the promise of running without being wearied, represents the godly man as ever having courage to entertain great hopes. Never failing to seek and obtain fellowship with God in the highest, always daring to attempt great actions, this heavenly minded man has thoughts and yearnings which raise his mode of life above the level of common things. This man, however, has this double life. There is the soaring Godward, and there is the common drudgery of daily walk and conversation, the practical common life.
(T. V. Tymms.)
(T. V. Tymms.)
Sunday School Chronicle.1. If anything were needed to teach men the necessity for connecting their own spirits with the Divine, it is the quick exhaustion of individual resources. Even "as the stream of brooks they pass away." Faith and hope and love itself, so dewy fresh in the morning, spend themselves in noonday's scorching heat, and run low at eventide. Sometimes, indeed, long before the shadows are stretched out, in manhood's very prime the wasting is manifest. I can strive no more, says the tired heart. Who does not know the temptations of reaction, and the days when the lights burn low?
2. In such moods we need to look away from the crowds, and from the glaring lights of the city, to the calm glories of the moon, and the stars above our heads. All these evils, so full of fierce and destructive energies, will soon be as the dust beneath our feet. Truth and holiness and right abide for ever. To "look off" unto the eternal, to get behind the veil into the realm of true being is the need of the fevered and exhausted soul. Hidden in that secret pavilion we see things as they really are. Wrong may prosper for a time. Greed, unrighteousness, sensuality, may appear to be more stable than granite. But they are only painted cloud. We see the years move on, and the everlasting truth subdue all to itself. Maybe in revolutions and bloodshed, for the wheels of God grind inexorably and small. But at the last, evil is found to be in its nature only decay. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Such a vision restores the heart of faith. To think that we are labouring in vain is the thought that paralyses. But whatever is done for right is done for God and endures eternally.
3. But there are other thoughts that come to us in the quietude of the Divine fellowship. We are shown the infinite powers that He concealed in the heart of a solitary man of faith. Faith is like a spark. Though it seems tiny, it is real fire, and it can set the world ablaze. Faith can work miracles. Our Lord trusted to faith to subdue humanity. It has already conquered half the world, and controls the whole. Luther changed the course of the centuries by faith. Wesley fashioned modern England by faith. Booth by faith has changed the drunkard and the sensualist into saints. All things are possible to him that believeth. If, then, truth is eternal, and faith is omnipotent, why should any difficulties, however stupendous, or failures, however extensive, lead us to despair?
(Sunday School Chronicle.)
I. SPIRITUAL STRENGTH, HOW IS IT TO BE OBTAINED? There was a time when our human nature seemed to possess much spiritual strength, but there came a time when it was all lost; and from that time, in the experience of every human being, it has had to be renewed. This renewing influence must come from God; surely that is a statement in harmony both with reason and with Scripture. To speak of a man as able to strengthen himself, so as to dispense with Divine aid, is as unreasonable as it is unscriptural As well might you talk of a leafless tree clothing itself with verdure without the vernal sun — as well of an enfeebled body recovering tone and energy without the reviving air of heaven. Who can bring strength out of weakness? who can bring life out of decay? How is this renewing influence, then, to be obtained? By waiting upon the Lord. You see the progression of ideas; it is strength that has to be renewed, and it has to be renewed by God, and God gives it when we wait upon Him. Some who like to trace the analogy between the works of nature and the works of grace, may perhaps have seen a flower which the storms of night have severely shaken, towards the morning turn wistfully to the dawn, and seem to be waiting for the coming day. Nor does it wait in vain. Beneath that bright beam the moisture that encumbered it is exhaled; its bent stalk raises itself again, its shrivelled petals expand into beauty, and it diffuses around a cheering fragrance in gratitude to the power that has renewed its strength. Your stalk may be a broken one, and your petals may be shrivelled, but by waiting upon the Lord you shall renew your strength.
II. HOW SHOULD SPIRITUAL STRENGTH BE EXHIBITED?
1. In rapturous contemplation of the things of God. The eagle is a bird that soars upwards towards heaven: so is the Christian to mount upwards in holy contemplation. He has powers adapted to this exercise — powers with which he can glorify his Maker; and he must not point those eagle faculties to the dust, but let them take wing and rise. The most vigorous pinion will never reach the sun, but yet it may reach so high that earth-bound creatures shall fail to track its flight, and lose it in the glare of the excellent glory.
2. In untiring activity in the direct service of God. In common daily duty we are to run in the ways of God's commandments; but the word is more frequently employed to denote some direct obedience to some special command. We are not to spend all our time in rapturous contemplation. We are not to devote all our lives to lonely musing. It is well to rise up on wings of eagles, but now and then we must come to the level of our fellow-creatures, and in their service we are to run and not be weary. I may be very busy in connection with the Church of Christ and the advancement of the knowledge of Christ. But who is not weary, sometimes, in well-doing! It is one thing to begin, and another thing to go on.
3. They shall walk and not faint — words which seem to denote consistency in common daily life. In vain all my lonely musing, in vain all my bustle in the kingdom of Christ, if consistency of daily life does not accompany the whole. The world expects it of me; Christ demands it of me. This is the religion of the Bible: is it not a noble thing? There is many a young man who thinks, "I find plenty of occupation for my energy in the service of the world, but if I become a religious man, then I am sure to become a poor, lifeless, morose character." Not so; for the religion of the Bible is this: mounting up with wings of eagles, running and not wearying, walking and not fainting. All your youthful energy will be useful in the service of religion, and you will find it much more happily employed than in the service of the world and of Satan.
(F. Tucker, B. A.)
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN WAITING UPON GOD?
1. Waiting, in Scripture language, is a term used to denote dependence. "These wait all upon Thee; that Thou mayest give them their meat in due season." The meaning is obviously, They, all depend upon Thee; men and beasts alike.
2. Another sense in which the word "waiting" occurs in Scripture is, a willingness to be directed by the person waited upon. Thus Job says, unto me men gave ear, they waited, and kept silence at my counsel": which is as if he had said, "I had only to speak, and they were ready to obey my directions." And when a contrary disposition is charged upon Israel, the Psalmist expresses it by saying, "They waited not for His counsel": that is, they wanted it not, nor meant to follow it, and therefore would not wait to receive it. This sense of the word gives us another part of the character of those that wait upon the Lord. They are willing to receive direction and instruction from Him.
3. Waiting, in the Scriptures, sometimes includes the idea which we affix to it in common life; namely, that of attendance or service.
II. THE SEVERAL BRANCHES OF THE PROMISE.
(S. Knight, M. A.)
I. The despondent are unhappy and weak, and they shrink from effort; but the hopeful are joyous and strong, and they delight to put forth their strength in action. The inertness of the despondent continually deepens their despondency, increases their weakness, and aggravates their misery. But hope feeds upon every act to which it prompts, and it grows thereby.
2. There are various kinds of hopefulness, which differ greatly in their nature and their effects. The nature of each man's hopes will be in accordance with his ruling desires, and the amount of his hopefulness will depend on that to which he trusts for the fulfilment of his desires. One man's desires, and therefore his hopes, will go forth in the direction of the pleasures of sense. What has he to trust in for the continuance of the hope that these desires shall be gratified? But, for the most part, these exhaustive pleasures rapidly fret away that on which they depend. Health, hope, and desire pass quickly away together, and a loaded table becomes an object of revulsion. If, however, his desires are set on the more refined pleasures of sense, such as the enjoyment of works of art, his hopes depend on the retention of the delicate sensibility of the organs by which he receives his impressions. But in time the eye becomes dim, and the subtle beauties of a fine painting cannot be seen; the ear becomes dull, and the sweetest music charms no more. When, again, we think of those whose pleasures are more purely intellectual, we know that an enfeebled memory puts an effectual check on the acquisition of knowledge.
3. The slight and shifting nature of the foundations on which worldly hopes are built makes it evident that they can do but little towards giving abiding and progressive strength to character, while frequent failures and disappointments depress and enfeeble. Let us, therefore, see what there is in reserve for us in the large world into which Isaiah is prepared to conduct us We are at once made aware of its vastness, to the expanding and refreshing of our spirits, for we are brought face to face with God in all the majesty of His perfections: the infinite Greatness, to which the nations are as the small dust of the balance. This large world, the spiritual, into which Isaiah has ushered us, includes all worlds, for it is as limitless as its Ruler. We all, therefore, belong to it in one sense or another, and cannot pass out of it.
I. THE HOPES THAT ARE BASED ON FAITH IN GOD GIVE STRENGTH ENOUGH TO APPROACH HIM. This is the highest of all exercises of spiritual strength, and effectually prepares for all the rest. This is a mounting up on wings, as compared with which the rest are but running and walking. Who, then, shall give wings to a heavy laden sinner, strong enough to sustain him in his upward flight? We have not far to search for the answer.
1. He receives strength to confess his sins to the God of truth from the hope of pardon founded on God's merciful promise.
2. Hope and strength rapidly grow when faith clearly sees and steadfastly rests on the firm ground of forgiveness in the death of Christ.
3. The justified believer derives strength to advance to closest fellowship with God from the hope that he may meet Him in likeness of character.
4. Who can measure the unfailing strength which inspires the Christian when he feels that he is safe in the threefold grasp of the Triune God?
II. THE HOPES THAT ARE BASED ON FAITH GIVE STRENGTH TO LIVE FOR GOD. If we take the running of the text to mean the rendering of active public service to God, and the walking to mean steadfast advance in character, the Christian requires the strength needed for both in the approach to God. He comes down from the mount made ready, like Moses, for work in the camp at large, or in the retirement of his tent. In so far as the spiritual life is one, it is a life in God. The energy of this life manifests itself in various ways. It puts forth its utmost strength in rising towards its Source when the Christian enters into fellowship with the Father and the Son.
1. The Christian makes a hopeful start in his course of service when he clearly realises the spiritual security of his own position.
2. All the motives which the Gospel presents before him feed his hopefulness and increase his working power. "I can do all things," said Paul, "through Christ which strengtheneth me." Our deepest affections are stirred when we are told that redemption was made in love. Once more, the Christian is prompted to strenuous and persevering action by the appeal made to his desires. The highest point in his destiny is to be conformed to the image of the Son of God. "Every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure."(1) Thus moved, the believer strives above all things, and in all things, after perfect likeness to his Saviour in personal character.(2) Keeping this high mark ever in view, he becomes strong enough to regulate by it all his social action. If called upon to act a public part, he will seek to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, that thus, while serving the Master, his own character may continually grow.(3) He also regards all the incidents of his outward history in their relation to his eternal future, and glorifies God by steadfastly acting accordingly. His largeness and clearness of view give corresponding elevation and decision to his character. Have we made the hope that is laid up in God our own? If not, some other hope will be cherished, for not to hope is not to live. But without God, without true hope.
(F. L. Wiseman, B. A.)
(F. L. Wiseman, B. A.)
(F. L. Wiseman, B. A.)
— At a certain junction the train by which I was travelling was divided into two parts. One part was taken on by the engine to the higher end of the platform, the other and hinder remained where it was. Some carriages standing on the middle line of rails were to be attached to our train. An engine came down and gave them a push, sending them towards the stationary carriages at such a rate that it seemed as though they would crash into the train with violence. But as they came round the curve from one line to the other friction and gravitation asserted their power. Every moment the speed was reduced, and finally the carriages came to a standstill a foot away from those to which they were to be attached. Then the engine and carriages of the detached front part of the train came back and all were coupled up. And away went those weary, dilatory carriages as fast as the rest. They were now coupled up to the source of the power, and the effect of every pulse of the engine was communicated to them, and had it run one hundred miles an hour so would they have done. That is the teaching of the prophet. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength," they are coupled up to the source of power without, and being coupled to the power without, the effect of every throb of the engine is communicated to the carriages, and the love of every beat of the heart of God comes down to the Church of the living God.
(F. L. Wiseman, B. A.)
(F. L. Wiseman, B. A.)
(F. L. Wiseman, B. A.)
I. WHEREIN CONSISTS THE STRENGTH SPOKEN OF BY THE PROPHET?
1. The Philistines were utterly unable to find out in what the amazing strength of Samson consisted, until he revealed it to his espoused wife. It was his religious observance of the laws of the Nazarite which occasioned his extraordinary power. His uncommon bodily strength, therefore, was from the Lord; and when He departed from him, he became weak as another man.
2. But the strength spoken of in our text is evidently not corporeal strength; it is a power seated in the mind; but neither is it intellectual vigour. It is often found in persons of weak understanding, and in minds not highly cultivated by refined education.
3. The strength spoken of is a moral, or more properly a spiritual quality. As bodily health is only found in a well-balanced and healthy state of the corporeal functions, so spiritual strength can only be found in souls into which new life has been infused, and is in vigorous exercise. The elements of this strength are —(1) Faith, founded on Divine illumination. This is the mainspring of all spiritual exercises. All men are influenced and governed by some kind of faith; but worldly men have no true faith in things spiritual and invisible. Spiritual strength especially consists in that exercise of faith called trust or confidence.(2) The affections. When love to God is ardent and constant in its exercise, then there is real strength.(3) But the essence of spiritual strength resides in the will A fixed purpose is that which more clearly characterise the genuine Christian than anything else. When the determination of the will is not only fixed but strong, then the soul is in a vigorous state. Energy properly appertains to the will; indeed, it is nothing else but strong will; and where this exists there will be active exertion. Where there is strength there will be diligence in well-doing.(4) Humility, meekness, peace, and joy may not seem, at first view, to contribute anything to strength, but in truth they are among the necessary elements of this vigour of mind. There may he a vigour which is the effect of a disordered state of the corporeal system — a feverish or spasmodic action which is much more violent than the strength of a healthy man. So in religion there often is observed an unnatural energy and enthusiastic vehemence. This is not genuine strength, but real disease. True piety has no greater enemy than fanaticism, which some are so undiscriminating as to confound with the fervours of true religion. There are also occasions when the best thing the believer can do is to sit still and cease from his own exertions; when everything must be looked for from God. "In quietness and confidence shall be your strength." Holy joy is an element of strength. "The joy of the Lord is your strength."(5) The only other ingredient of spiritual strength is zeal, zeal according to knowledge. Zeal to the soul is what animal heat is to the body. Without warmth in our desires and feelings we shall be found sickly. Zeal fills the soul with courage to encounter enemies and surmount obstacles.
II. HOW SPIRITUAL STRENGTH MAY BE ACQUIRED; AND HOW RENEWED, WHEN IT HAS BEEN IMPAIRED. We are not exhorted to be strong in ourselves, but "in the Lord, and in the power of His might." But, in order to obtain aid from on high, we must make use of the appointed and appropriate means. These are all comprehended in one expression, "waiting on the Lord."
III. WHAT BENEFITS AND AIDS THEY RECEIVE WHO WAIT UPON THE LORD. They are said, in our text, "to mount up on wings as eagles." The soul of fallen man naturally grovels on the earth; his face instead of being raised to heaven, is prone toward the ground. But when the Holy Spirit enters into any man, his thoughts and affections are raised to those things which are above. By the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, faith, love, and hope are brought into lively exercise; and these are as pinions to the soul. When by faith the regenerated soul draws near to God, the earth appears to recede; all its objects are seen to be diminutive; and the realities of the heavenly state are perceived, and operate with power on the susceptible mind. But such seasons of elevated devotion and delightful contemplation are not constant. Our text speaks not only of flying, but of running and walking. Reflections —
1. "The men of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light." When the body is debilitated and needs to be strengthened, they spare no pains or expense to recover impaired health. If they hear of a medicinal spring far off in the mountains they hesitate not to undertake the journey, and undergo the hardships of the rugged way, that they may test the efficacy of the mineral waters. And this is done commonly, in the greatest uncertainty whether the means will prove effectual.
2. As our natural life requires to be nourished by suitable food from day to day, without which it would decline and death would ensue, so the spiritual life of the Christian needs to be recruited continually, with the nutriment which is suited to its growth and strength.
3. Although every degree of spiritual strength is a precious possession, and we are not permitted "to despise the day of small things," yet it is the duty and privilege of every believer to aim at high attainments in the Divine life, and to encourage and aid others in doing the same.
(A. Alexander, D. D.)
I. THE PROMISE. "They that wait," etc. "Renew" means to "change your strength."
1. A change from one kind of strength to another. Here is a Christian, bewildered, not quite knowing why he has so perpetually failed. Now when he ceases from self and takes God as his strength, he changes his strength.
2. A change from one measure of strength to another. It is like a river or a stream — always passing away, and yet the power is always present; the power moving the mill-wheel, not by jerks, but by a continuous stream, always passing away, and yet ever flowing in; one measure of strength succeeding that which has been expended. Our whole future is mapped out with tests and trials, but we need not be afraid of these things if we are in the stream of the Divine supply. You see the eagle mounting up by a power that God has given it. But it is possible to rise by another kind of power. By a sudden impetus or effort. You throw a stone into the air. Watch it a bit and down it comes again; the power has spent itself. So it is possible for the Christian to be moving on by a power that very soon expends itself, and by a process of exhaustion he falls back again under the gravitating influence of his evil tendencies. This is not the strength spoken of here. Our Lord refers to a similar thought in John 4:14, "The water that I shall give him shall become in him." That word "become," in the new version, is full of deep meaning in this connection. It puts before us the thought, not of a new gift, but of a new experience of an old gift. As long as you rest, in the place of power and blessing the stream will flow through you unceasingly.
II. THE CONDITION of all this. "Waiting upon the Lord." What is it to wait? There must be stillness of soul, dependence, expectation.
III. THE RESULT. Heavenly-mindedness. "He shall mount up." There are two wings in our spiritual ascent — faith and obedience. If we try to rise by means of faith alone we shall be like a bird with one wing. If we trust and obey, obey and trust, we rise into a purer atmosphere, and have a clearer vision — we live in the very presence of God. This threefold description of mounting up, running and walking, presents three aspects of the same character. If I am to run and walk I must be in close communion with God; I must. know what it is to mount up. Then there is the "running," that is ready obedience — a mark of the true servant. The "walking" is the most important part after all. It is far easier for some of us to run than to walk. We like a little bit of excitement or emotion. To walk we want something like continuous, sustained evenness of conduct, progressing quietly and steadily day by day in the common round of life; not impulsive, not capricious, not changeable; without show, humble, and always the same. For this we need power. And that power God has provided.
(Evan H. Hopkins, B. A.)
1. If you are to wait aright upon the Lord, you must learn to know Him, you must turn away your thoughts and eyes and heart and trust from everything, and set them upon God alone, My conduct in waiting for a man, or waiting on him, will depend entirely upon what I think of him. One who waits upon the king behaves in a different way from one who waits upon an ordinary person. And all our waiting upon God will depend upon one thing — the knowledge that we have of Him. But how does God reveal Himself when He calls upon us to wait upon Him? (vers. 25-29). He never is weary. He has kept the world going all these ages; and my short life of sixty, seventy, or eighty years — will my God not care for and maintain that? When I look at what He does for the stars, I realise that His work is done every moment. And God, in His omnipotence and faithfulness, is willing to work in my heart every moment of the day.
2. The second great thing is to know ourselves, to be willing and determined to accept what God reveals about us. And what does God reveal in contrast with His great omnipotence? Our utter impotence. If a number of ships of war were sent out to sea, and were ready to start at any moment, and if the question were asked, what are they waiting for?, the answer would likely be one of two things: either that they were waiting for supplies, or waiting for orders. Child of God, that is to be your position. You are to wait for supplies. Wait for the power of the Holy Spirit every day. Cultivate also the habit of waiting for orders. Study and love your Bible, but remember it is God who must give the orders, and you will fail if you take them from a book. Love your Bible and fill your heart with it, but let God apply it in your daily life.
3. Once more, if I am to wait upon the Lord aright I must study well what this word "wait" in itself implies. It implies patience. The Bible speaks about waiting patiently, and also about waiting quietly. You must cultivate that habit. How can you do it? When you go into your closet for your morning devotions, do not, as is very often done, read the Bible and think about it and pray about it, and then get up and go. But do something else in between. Before you read, set yourself still that your soul may realise, I am waiting for God to come in and take possession of me for to-day. That is your great need. And then, before you pray, sit still, and shut your eyes and say, Will God now listen to me for certain? Learn to come into blessed fellowship with God. Then wait continually — not one or two days, not one moment, but all the day (Psalm 25:5).
1. First comes the "flying" stage. The period of fresh, wild enthusiasms; the season of zeal without discretion, when all sorts of impossibilities are dreamed, all sorts of vain things attempted. This mood comes at the beginning, and not at the end of our career. It is in the period of youth that we have our ambitious dreams, and take our higher flights. Thank God for the flying stage while it lasts, for we do get visions in those flights that abide with us long after our wings have dropped off, and we have learned that the ether is not our element; visions whose memory helps to cheer us as hereafter we trudge along the monotonous and dusty ways of life's hard routine. Youth is full of impulses, full of excesses, full of exaggerations. Let us not be impatient of them. It is a grand thing that there is one time in our lives when we have wings. Too soon the wings, like those of Icarus, melt, and we drop to mother earth again. Too soon a hard and cynical world converts our ingenuous confidence into self-mistrust. In religious experience youth is the time of wings. Its faith is romantic, the thrill of its devotion is exquisite. The spiritual is so real. God is so near. Doubt seems so impossible, and elements of character are forming then that we should be poor indeed without in future time. But the period comes when these youthful impulsions give place to the more restrained and disciplined energies of life, like those of the runner who has trained himself to maintain his pace, and to maintain it by not exceeding it. But running is harder than flying. Watch the bird in the air. Nothing looks less like effort.
2. When we have done flying, we go on running. We have found that after all we have to live on terra firma. But there is immense energy in us still. Thank God, too, for the running stage. That is the time when we are spiritually aggressive, when we count as an active force in the world.
3. But that stage, too, passes. And then we come to the quiet, steady, persistent "walk." And it is this that tries our mettle most of all. For we have lost the exhilaration of youth and the stimulus of strong emotions. We traverse the solid unromantic ground of principle, while the ghost of many a shattered illusion haunts our path. It is the period of disenchantment; when we discover the bounds of the practical, and when we have a stronger sense of life's limitations than of its possibilities. To do this makes greater demands upon our moral steadfastness than to do either of the before-mentioned stages in our life experience. Patiently to endure, persistently to press on — whatever the burdens we must carry, whatever the inequalities and roughnesses of the way, whatever the obstacles that lie and the enemies that lurk in our path, whatever the tempests that beat overhead — requires a strength of character and a heroism of soul that are the last achievement and the highest triumph of the spiritual life.
I. WE SEE HOW A TRUE CHURCH MAY BE DESCRIBED. "They that wait upon the Lord."
II. WE SEE WHAT THE LORD'S WAITING PEOPLE NEED. To "renew their strength."
1. Because they are human.
2. Because they are imperfect.
3. We must renew our strength, for it is for our honour, comfort, and safety.
4. It is for God's glory and our own usefulness.
III. HOW ARE WE TO RENEW OUR STRENGTH? By continually waiting upon God.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. SPIRITUAL LIFE DEMANDS RENEWAL. Strength for to-day does not insure strength for to-morrow. Full provision has been made to supply this need of the soul. The bread of life for the hungry, the water of life for the thirsty.
II. ALL RENEWAL OF STRENGTH SHOULD BE REGULAR. Spasmodic efforts are dangerous. There must be a regular feeding on God's Word and promises.
III. RENEWAL OF STRENGTH MEANS A RENEWAL OF ACTIVITY. Use all strength as a gift of God. When exhausted renew your power.
(R. M. Donaldson, D. D.)
1. That God will "renew our strength." For every new occasion, every new trial, every new labour, we shall get new power. If we have failed, or have been foiled, God will put us on our feet again. I have often gone to Saratoga, in the heat of the early summer, quite run down, and my vitality burned out as coal gets exhausted in the bunkers of a steamer. Then I repaired to one of the tonic springs and "waited" on its bubbling waters, trusting them and taking them into my system. Presently a new appetite for food was awakened, and a new life crept into my ten fingers; walking became a delight, and preaching as easy as for a lark to sing. All this renewal of vitality was the result of waiting on one of those wonderful healthfountains. I brought but little there. I took a great deal away. Just such a well of spiritual force is the Lord Jesus Christ. All the men and women of power are men and women of prayer. "Waiting on the Lord" by prayer has the same effect on them that it has on an empty bucket to set it under a rain-spout. They get filled. When I have heard C. H. Spurgeon pray I have not been so astonished at some of his discourses.
2. Waiting on God not only gives strength, it gives inspiration. "They shall mount up with wings as eagles." God means that every soul which waits on Him shall not creep in the muck and the mire, nor crouch in abject slavery to men or devils. When a soul has its inner life hid with Christ and lives a life of true consecration it is enabled to take wing, and its "citizenship is in heaven." He gains wide outlooks; he breathes a clear and crystalline atmosphere. He outflies many of the petty vexations and grovelling desires that drag a worldling down into the mire. What cares the eagle, as he bathes his wings in the translucent gold of the upper sky, for all the turmoil, the dust, or even the murky clouds that drift far beneath him? He flies in company with the sun. So a heaven-bound soul flies in company with God.
(T. L. Cuyler, D. D.)
I. One of the oldest and best tried rules of religion is THE SACRED DUTY OF COMMUNION WITH GOD. The expression "wait upon" is a most felicitous one, because while it includes prayer it means and covers so much more.
1. To wait on the Lord is the drawing nigh unto Him, to pour out our wants before Him, though He knows them so well, to plead the necessities arising out of our own ignorance, waywardness, and poverty of soul, to ask for His light to shine in our darkness, to clear our minds of the mists and fogs of native prejudice and of traditional error, to make plain before us our path of duty, and to keep our feet steadfast therein, to take into His loving hands the discipline and correction of our hearts, and to make us willing to undergo it, to keep us from all vanity and lies, and from every form of subtle self-deception, so that we may ever be true to Him and to ourselves. But waiting on the Lord implies much more than this. Although we have a perfect right to go to God and pour out every wish and longing of our hearts, worthy and unworthy alike, yet this is not by any means the whole or the highest part of communion with Him. Poor and barren and diseased must that heart be which has no song of praise to sing, no gratitude to pour forth for past deliverances and for present mercies, which has no emotion of adoring love for a goodness so infinite and untiring. To make our religion a delight and a glory we must surely wait on the Lord with songs of gladness and joy, praising Him more for what He is, and for what He has taught us to know and believe Him to be, than for the good gifts which His bounty hath bestowed.
2. Yet, further, there is a waiting on the Lord which is neither prayer nor praise, but silent and serene contemplation, when the mind muses upon His wondrous works and ponders over the stupendous fact that the infinite and eternal God can and will and does come near to the soul of His finite and imperfect creature man, and permits the ineffable solace and privilege of communion with Himself.
3. But all forms of waiting on the Lord involve the personal, conscious, voluntary act of the mind or soul within us, for which no mere ceremony or ritual can be a substitute. All outward observances, whether private or public, have no meaning, and can have no avail without that conscious voluntary movement of the soul towards God. If public worship helps you to this direct personal communion with God, I need not say you are bound to attend it; you are sure to do so of your own free will without any pressure. Experience has proved that, to a great many souls, public worship is the greatest help they ever get, that it gives wings to their holiest prayers and brightness to their gladdest songs of praise, and that it does bring them nearer to God than any other external agency that they know of. But this is not true of all. And I am bound to say that those who find the least pleasure and the least benefit from public worship are those who do not wait on the Lord in private. They do not know by experience the blessings of communion, and therefore these outward aids in public worship are of little use to them. It is like a banquet spread before one who has no appetite or whose habitual food is altogether different, or like a rich and perfect performance of music to one who is altogether destitute of any musical sense.
II. I turn now to dwell on THE NATURAL EFFECTS OF WAITING ON THE LORD, as stated by the prophet, and vouched for by myriads of the faithful and devout in all ages.
1. "They shall renew their strength." This is what we all need in this weary world, whose toils and cares and temptations perpetually remind us of our weakness and the need of invigorating grace. We renew our strength in the battle with our besetting sin, in the conquest of fierce passions and unruly tempers, and in the maintenance and steadfastness of high resolve. We renew our strength to meet misfortunes and to carry our load of grief or bereavement, to keep a cheerful heart under the depression of disease, and when chilled by the cold shadow of death. And we renew our strength for all enterprise which makes demand on our courage and truthfulness.
2. This leads us to notice the three degrees of moral and spiritual activity presented to us in the figurative language of the prophet:. "They shall mount up. on wings as eagles: they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.(1) The first typifies lofty aspiration and heroic action. There is a type of soul which soars like the eagle, its daring eye not flinching from the dazzling sun itself but drawn by it higher and higher with steadfast gaze till it is lost to sight of those on earth below. These are the great seers of the human race whose absorbing love and adoration of God has filled them with light and knowledge of Him little dreamed of by the many who have feebler and lower aspiration. The brighter the light before them, the more eagerly and steadfastly they rise upwards to greet it and to bathe in its splendour. Yet the power of thus rising on eagle's wings is not the only quality to be noticed in this symbolism. There is also the heroic courage in speeding one's way as on eagle's wings in defiance of earth-born cries and warnings, and in lofty scorn of earthly interests and pursuits. To one who thus heroically soars towards God and His light, the things of time and earth seem trivial and contemptible. Such strength of rising as this can only come by closest communion with God.(2) While only the few can thus fly, many can only run. Those who have not eagle's wings still have some power of motion, they can run on the earth and in the path of God's commandments. Whatever it be in their power to do, that power will be increased and their strength renewed by waiting upon God. Running is undignified, say some, it is more stately to walk, more dignified even to sit still. They will run nimbly enough after pleasure, wealth and fame, but not after the things which God bids them run after.(3) But as only few can fly and only some can run, there are still some who can only walk. And for them, too, the promise holds good, "They shall renew their strength, they shall walk and not faint." God never expects more from us than He has already given. If we are not of the eagle type and have but feeble aspirations; if we are not of the active, zealous type and cannot run, we may yet be able to walk, to move as fast as our poor, weak, or crippled limbs carry us, and if we do not wish to faint by the way we shall surely wait on the Lord. For the less strength we feel we have, the more we shall need and ask from Him. Indeed I think we poor walkers sometimes make the most progress, for we lean more entirely on God and draw more constant supplies of His grace.
(C. Voysey, B. A.)
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
They shall mount up with wings as eaglesI. The eagle is built for FLIGHT.
1. His structure marvellously combines strength, lightness, and muscular power. The anatomy of the bird shows feathers, bones, muscles, and sinews to be designed by the Creator for the purpose of flying; and a master specimen of perfect adaptation. e.g., the cylindrical structure of bones and feathers makes each virtually a balloon, so that when the wings are spread for flight, the tendency is upward instead of downward, and no effort is needed to support the body upon the air, which rather buoys it up.
2. Built for high flights, capable of mounting above all other birds, no other being capable of rising to such elevations, or being so at home in the upper atmosphere. In fact, as the air becomes more ratified, the bird seems to soar with greater ease and rapidity, and finds it the more natural to ascend.
3. Built for sustained and tireless flights, maintaining himself without exhaustion for any length of time, and resting on the wing. Those who have watched the eagle's flight have observed that there is no apparent effort; he rather finds in it rest and recreation than a struggle to maintain himself.
4. Built for fearless flight. The eagle soars above the abyss without even a trace of timidity, a stranger to all fear. What to us is danger, is to him delight, challenging and provoking his flight.
II. The eagle is built for REPOSE. No bird can be so still and motionless when he rests. When the eagle perches on the crag, and grasps it with his talons, the more he settles down, the firmer and more immovable his clutch. The anatomy of his legs exhibits the adaptation of his whole structure to the purposes of perching. The weight of the body, resting upon the lower portion of the legs, increases the tenacity of the hold upon whatever is chosen as a resting-place. His sleep, therefore, is secure, for h,.'s grasp can only relax as he rises upon his feet and so releases all the sinews by which his talons grip the rock. He goes to sleep, therefore, without a doubt that he will find himself there in the morning.
III. The eagle is built for the STORM. He perceives it afar off and is not afraid. This king of birds detects the approach of the storm-cloud, not only with eyes and ears, but with mysterious senses to which we are strangers; and, when as yet there is no appearance of the coming tempest above the horizon, he scents its approach, lifts up his majestic head, looks toward the coming storm, and prepares himself for a gigantic grapple with the forces of nature. He welcomes tempests before which wild beasts flee to their dens in terror. He preens his feathers, shakes himself as tornado and tempest approach, actually takes the very front and leads the storm, outflying it at its most rapid pace, rejoicing in its violence, and, when he will, rising far above it into the clear heights of cloudless day, whence he looks down upon it.
IV. The eagle LIVES A SOLITARY LIFE. There is no bird so alone. Other birds go in flocks; the eagle, never; if two are seen together, they are mates. Its majesty consists partly in its solitariness. It lives apart because other birds cannot live where and as it lives, and follow where it leads.
V. The eagle is TRAINED BY DISCIPLINE. The parent bird trains the young to fly; and, if need be, the mother pushes the young bird off the edge of the cliff, and lets it fall over into the abyss, and tumble screaming and screeching, apparently doomed to be dashed in pieces; but the mother bird watching, drops like a plummet, with incredible rapidity, beneath the young bird, and receives it on her broad maternal wings and bears it up to the heights only to let it drop again; until, by and by, the fledgling is prepared, as the mother bird swoops down to arrest its fall, to take the wing and follow the parent on her majestic flight.
VI. The healthy eagle IMPARTS STRENGTH. A sick eagle, whose vitality had been reduced by long confinement, was set loose and placed on the heather, but only drooped and seemed ready to die. Then another eagle, that from the heights saw the feeble bird, swept down and touched and fanned it with his great wings. This was repeated until the sick bird, gradually feeling the inspiration of the other's vitality, preened itself, expanded its wings, and ultimately followed in the upward flight. We seldom get an upward look, aspiration, or ascent, unless someone from the heights sweeps down add touches us.
VII. The eagle, thus built for the heights, is NOT CONTENT TO DWELL ON EARTH.
(W. P. Ray.)
1. It is life characterised by buoyancy. We become endowed with power to rise above things! How often we give the counsel one to another, "You should rise above it!" If, when we give the counsel, we could give the wings, the things that bind to the low plains of life might be left behind. How frequently we are held in bondage by grovelling to the mean and trifling. Some small grievance enters into our life and keeps us from the heights. Some disappointment holds us in depressing servitude. Some ingratitude paralyses our service and chills our delight in unselfish toil. Or some discourtesy is done to us, we cannot get away from it. Or, perhaps, it is "the murmur of self-will," or "the storm of passion" which prevents our emancipation. When we get the wings we have the power to rise above these trifles, and even above the things that may be larger than trifles and may appear like gigantic hills. The life with wing-power is not the victim of "the spirit of heaviness."
2. Life with wing-power is characterised by loftiness. "Mount up!" We speak of a "lofty character" as opposed to one who is low or mean. There is no feature that the Bible loves more to proclaim than this "aboveness." "Seek the things that are above"; "Set your mind on things above." It speaks also of dwelling" with Christ in the heavenly places."
3. The wing-life is characterised by comprehensiveness. High soaring gives wide seeing. Loftiness gives comprehension. One man offers his opinion on some weighty matter and he is answered by the charge, "That is very low ground to take." "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." It is well when we get so high that our vision comprehends our town, better still when it includes the country, better still when it encircles other countries, best of all when it engirdles the world. It is well when we are interested in home missions; better still when home and foreign work are comprehended in our view. "Lord, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us." How narrow the outlook! One day the vision of the disciples will be immeasurably enlarged.
4. The wing-life is characterised by proportion. To see things aright we must get away from them. We never see a thing truly until we see it in its relationships. We must see a moment in relation to a week, a week in relation to a year, a year in relation to eternity. Wing-power gives us the gift of soaring, and we see how things are related one to another. An affliction looked at from the lowlands may be stupendous; looked at from the heights it may appear little or nothing. "This light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." What a breadth of view!
(J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
I. WITH THE VIGOUR OF EAGLES. In all true Christians there must be a considerable attention to heavenly things. They are all exhorted to "set their affections on things which are above, and not on things, which are on the earth." Therefore, they cannot be true believers whose minds are not under the influence of spiritual and heavenly objects. But, among true Christians there is a great difference. Some have their minds much more in heaven than others. This difference arises from their difference in waiting upon God. Waiting upon God their faith becomes strong and lively; their love pure and fervent; their hope joyful and blessed. These graces, like the wings of an eagle, lift their souls above worldly things. Their flight is sustained so long as these wings of the renewed soul continue unwearied; and when, like all things belonging to the human soul, they wax feeble, their strength is renewed by waiting upon God. They who do not wait upon God are weighed down to the earth, and find the concerns of this world, like the fogs and mists of a darkened atmosphere, clouding their prospects and obstructing their progress.
II. WITH THE EASE OF THE EAGLE. There is not only a strength of character, but a simplicity, an ease belonging to them who wait upon God with diligence and constancy to which others who are deficient in this duty can never attain. Now religion is eminent and exalted in proportion as it is easy and unconstrained.
III. WITH THE ELEVATION OF EAGLES. With what majesty does the eagle soar through the heavens and pursue his lofty course, unmoved by those little persecutions of the feathered race which equally bespeak their fear, and their conscious inferiority! Here you behold a fit emblem of the man who, by waiting upon God, mounts up with wings; and, nobly disregarding the censures of the world, which originate in a consciousness of its own inferior excellence, and in a hatred of those qualities it can never reach, pursues his heavenly flight without one retaliating stroke, without one malignant feeling. And see how, even in his sublimest course, his eagle eye surveys with interest the concerns of this lower world. By waiting upon God he is enabled to unite the benevolence, the magnanimity, and the heavenliness of the saint, with the sobriety, the wisdom, and the activity of the citizen of the world.
1. Out of respect to Christ who is their Head, and is in heaven already (Colossians 3:1).
2. The new nature which is in Christians inclines them hereunto likewise. What makes fire to go upward? It has a principle in it which does so dispose it. Everything acts suitably to its principles, and so it is here. Believers are born from above, and therefore it is that they are carried up thither.
3. The end they are ordained to. They are "begotten to a lively hope," and to a "heavenly inheritance." Now where should the minds of great heirs be but where their estates lie? (1 Peter 1:3, 4.)
(T. Horton, D. D.)
1. The real marrow of life is in its higher experiences. We manage to endure a great deal that is disagreeable and depressing, if now and then come seasons of spiritual uplifting, moments of soul glow and sunrise. "They shall mount up on wings as eagles." This is our privilege. The soul is free. It has wings in the joy of pure emotion, in the upspringing might of faith, in the ardour of heavenly aspiration, in the swift flight of love, in the liberty of exultant hope.
2. With some these wings are often folded. They droop often through sheer weariness. They trail frequently in the dust. Making ample allowance for differences in temperament and scope of thought in individuals, the devout nature is not ignorant of blessed experiences that impel the soul onward — sympathies, insights, ardours — refreshing and enriching to the hidden life.
3. A few hints will awaken precious memories. You remember how the spring odours of the tender-leaved woods seized your finer sense as you came forth from the place of prayer, and wafted your thought to the trees of Paradise. More than once, in the solitude and by the sea, amid the noon's delicious peacefulness, and when the fresh winds blew health and music out of the west, over leagues of prairie, starred with unnumbered flowers, your heart overran with sacred emotion, and expanded to embrace the beautiful repose! Wings were yours. Then, too, after a season of spiritual depression, where you had gone mournfully with a sense of barrenness and burden, the painful spell was finally broken, and you seemed set in "a large place." Your soul bounded outward into blessed light. Great freedom was yours, and you wondered why such doubt could have fettered the faith that now exults in the joyful confidence of a son beloved. You remember how, before now, you have come into the church heavy, gloomy, discouraged, an evil world shadowing your hope, and life looking sepulchral and poor amid earth's losses and changes and delusions, and how hymn and psalm and confession and prayer have little by little stolen away your unrest, and then how the Word of grace uttered from the depths of a prophetic soul flowed with healing, and light, and comfort, to your heart, and how, on the wings of its benediction, you rose up stronger and clearer visioned, and went forth as on the landscape of a better world. But it is in the closet, if you live nobly, that your strength is most graciously renewed.
4. We give grudgingly, we labour in heaviness, we minister painfully, we worship coldly, we live meanly, until the higher life is begotten within us — until the soul gets a glow, and an earnestness, and a breadth of sympathy, and an impulse of high and pure aspirations that make it a joy to do good. Love is always winged. If you would conquer your besetments, rise to a more gracious benevolence, enjoy a livelier consciousness of eternal things, and have your Christian duties delightful; get the ardent, unselfish, consecrated heart of love, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Inspirer and Comforter.
(H. N. Powers.)
I. THE ILLUSTRATION.
1. Eagles' wings are connected with strength. God spoke by Moses to the children of Israel on this wise — "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself." Here God's almighty power, displayed in the deliverance from Egypt, and with all the varied privileges of Israel, is compared to the strength of eagles' wings. In Deuteronomy 32:11, it is said, "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him." Here the eagle's wings are brought before us in connection with the support of the young, but at the same time with the purpose which the parent bird has in disturbing her nest and her young, namely, to teach them to provide and to fly. All this is more than verified in the experience of those who wait upon the Lord. They are strong, and their strength is continually being renewed — which no circumstances can exhaust, and which in no emergency will be allowed to fail them. Wherein does the strength of the believer rest, then? The apostle John describes this strength when he says, "I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the Word of God abideth in you; and ye have overcome the wicked one." In other words, the strength of the believer is manifested in opposition to moral and spiritual evil — in opposition to all that is erroneous and contrary to the will and mind of God. Error is very attractive to some minds, but he who waits upon the Lord obtains that spiritual vigour of mind which enables him to throw off the poisonous influence of error, and to abide in the truth. True manliness consists in refusing to do what is wrong, whoever be the tempter, or whatever inducements there be to give way to the temptation. True Christian manliness fears God, and fears no one besides. The promise of the text, then, is that such true energy of mind shall belong to those who wait upon the Lord. It is strength which St. Paul describes as connected with the power of God's might. It is strength which is manifested oftentimes in connection with human weakness, and with the changes that are incident to our human and worldly condition. Observe the expression, "shall renew their strength"; for the eagle, although noted for its strength, is not always strong. There is a season when it loses the feathers of its wings, and sits solitary, drooping, and sad, unable to seize upon its prey, and no longer the terror of the smaller birds; but it is noted that during that season, though the eagle cannot rise to the sun as she was wont to do, she shows herself to the sun, and basking in the sunshine, her feathers grow again, her strength comes back, and she mounts up and meets the sun as of old. And what a striking indication this is of the experiences of those who are "strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might"! It is not strength which is liable to no variableness. There are seasons of depression for those who are strong in the Lord.
2. But the Bible speaks of the eagle, and of eagle's wings, in connection with swiftness. If you refer to Deuteronomy 28:49, you will find it said, in reference to the judgment which the Lord would bring upon Israel if they persevered in sin, "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand." We may see the fulfilment of this by referring to the Lamentations of Jeremiah (Lamentations 4:19). The eagle's wings are used for the swiftness with which they propel the eagle in his Right. The believer, waiting upon God, is one whose experience is described in the sacred song in this remarkable language — "Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Ammi-nadib" — chariots noted for swiftness.
3. The eagle is noted for its peculiarity of flight. It is said that it is furnished with two pairs of eyelids, and that the inner one is transparent, and is drawn over the eye because its flight is always directly towards the sun. Whereas other birds see other objects in the light of the sun, it is the eagle's peculiarity of flight that its eye seems to be fixed upon the sun, and the eyelid of which I speak seems to be for the purpose of pro. tecting the eye from the scorching brilliancy of the sunlight. Now, in this respect there is a similarity to the experience of those who wait upon the Lord. The believer in Jesus Christ is one whose tendency is directly to the Sun of Righteousness. And what a consolation it is, that in the humanity of Jesus the believer finds protection from all that is awful in contemplation of Deity!
4. The flight of the eagle is the flight of life. Think of the contrast between the flight of an arrow and the flight of an eagle. The flight of the arrow is only as high as it is propelled by the impulse that is given to it from the bow; when that impulse ceases, down comes the arrow again. It is not the flight of life, but of impulse. The flight of the arrow may be likened to those impulses for good which some who profess and call themselves Christians have.
II. WHO ARE THEY THAT WAIT UPON THE LORD? And when is it that they are experiencing this blessed promise? The eagle is flying highest when she sees the world the least. The eagle rejoices in light. When she mounts up with her strongest wings it is in the sunlight, contrasting this respect with the flight of the bird of night. It is always a good sign, when we want the light thrown upon everything that we have to do with — when we want to bring all our motives, and all our actions, and all our plans into the light of God's truth. On the other hand, "He that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds be reproved."
(W. Cadman, M. A.)
(Mrs. Pearsall Smith.)
(Mrs. Pearsall Smith.)
(Mrs. Pearsall Smith.)
(Mrs. Pearsall Smith.)
(Mrs. Pearsall Smith.)
(Mrs. Pearsall Smith.)
1. You ask me, How can I get these eagle wings? I answer, How did the eagle get its wings? By its birth. It was born a royal eagle; it had a royal descent. And every child of God is born with eagle wings. God means you to live a heavenly life.
2. How does God teach His eaglet children to use their wings? He comes and stirs up their nest. Sometimes with a trying providence, with a death, with sickness, with loss, with some tribulation, with temptation. Why? Just as those eaglets, ready to sink, find the mother coming under them and carrying them, so the everlasting arms are stretched out underneath the soul that feels itself ready to perish, and God calls upon the soul to trust Him. As the eaglet trusts the mother to carry it, God asks me to trust Him, that He will bear me. And God longs to teach His children to mount on eagle wings. But how can they do it? "They that wait upon the Lord shall mount up with wings as eagles." God often comes to the Christian worker and stirs up the nest, because He sees the eagle wings are not being used.
3. What is the characteristic of the eagle wings? To be able to mount up to heaven, the wings of the eagle must have greater strength than the wings of any other bird. And God wants His children to be so strong that they can live above the world. The great mark of the disciple of Christ that Christ spoke of in His prayer to the Father was, "They are not of the world, as I am not of the world." They belong to heaven, their life and heart are there. This idea of strength is the great idea of our text, and you have it in the words that precede (vers. 28-31). You find that word "faint" four times in the passage. First, it is God "fainteth not"; and then it is, He giveth power to the "faint"; and then it is, the young men shall "faint." All human strength shall faint — the very strongest shall faint and be of no avail. Then, "They shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not 'faint.'"
1. Religion is not some highly wrought emotional experience — rare, ecstatic, lifting us into the seventh heaven; but an accession of permanent spiritual power to enable us to do the work of our everyday life and grow in the grace of a normal Christian character. In the common experience of man all true religion begins on the soaring wing of some strong emotion, some wave of feeling that comes over the heart for mercies received. It was as Moses when God met him in the desert of Horeb and showed him the burning bush, a rare sight, a moment of vision of heavenly things from which all future experiences were to be dated. The common lot of man falls upon the believer; the moment of thrill and ecstasy passes away. Moses has to go down to Egypt among the politicians and do the hard work and drudgery of life. Is, then, the ecstasy a waste of force? Moses, as he turned to the worrying work of rounding up the Israelites for the long journey over seas and across the desert, may frequently have thought that God s service had not procured for him either the ease or the honour that the ecstatic experiences of the burning bush had promised. But when we look back on the life and work of the great statesman we can see that the burning bush was but an ancillary incident in a great moral career; and that the patient, daily labour, the unflinching loyalty to duty, which for forty years had to be pursued in all weathers and in all moods, are the facts that loom large like mountain peaks in this great life. It was to warm his heart and inspire his spirit for those days of toil and nights devoid of ease that the vision was given. It was precisely the same truth that we find illustrated in the religious experience of the apostle Paul. His spiritual life began with a celestial vision; and in its upward development he came, not to more and clearer visions, but to the perception of a sanctity and nobility which lay in the common work of life. The Christian man as father and priest in his own household hallows his home by the benediction of his morning prayers. You do not regard your morning prayer as false and futile because during the day you cannot live up to all your own high ideals. The aspiration to be better is itself the accession of power to do better. This truth, so full of the poetry of passion and the deepest philosophy of life, is brought to us with wonderful force and tenderness in Hogg's "Skylark." The wild abandon of feeling that carried the songster so far into the sky was not frenzy nor foolishness because he had to come back and gather worms for the nestlings. On the contrary, there had been no nestlings but for the emotion that produced that song. And the song of rapture found its crowning glory in the lowly service of the obscure nest.
2. The intellectual man is in danger of disparaging the emotions and of setting aside the mysticism and ecstasy of the soul as mere fancies and dreams. But the emotional man is in still greater danger of regarding them as the only kind of religious experiences worth seeking after, the only evidence of true religion in the heart, and certainly the glory of the Christian life. In a word, the emotional man regards the glory and crown of life to be the rapture and ecstasy of the love and faith, and not the works and character which these feelings should produce. He mistakes the means for the end. In the effort to correct this mistake we must go the length of saying that love to and trust in Christ are not religion at all; just as seeds are not trees. They become religion only as they are transmuted into Christian character in the daily work and warfare of the common life. It is of vital importance that people should understand the laws of life in regard to the relation of emotions to acts. Pleasure is not an end, but the servant of higher and nobler ways of living. Nature provides that eating and drinking shall be a pleasure to man; but what is the man called who cares merely for the pleasure of eating; who lives to gratify his appetites and never does an honest day's work for the food he consumes? No deeper stain, no more deadly practice can come into our life than the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. The moment you love the excitement more than the work, so that you come soon to steal the excitement and shirk the work, nature revenges herself on you by making all such work as you are forced to do a drudgery instead of a pleasure. I have heard hard-working wives and mothers say, "I have lost my religion! I have so many little children to care for, so many duties in the home that I cannot get to church." Is not this mother's care and self-sacrifice for her children her religion? What did she love and trust Christ for? That she might gad about at religious meetings, or that she might bring up her little ones m the fear of God? She and her child, with the sense of the presence of the Father-God, make that nursery the holiest of shrines. If a youth should learn mathematics and mensuration in school for the purpose of making him a surveyor, and then be sent out into the prairies or the Rocky Mountains for six months to apply his theoretical knowledge to the practical work of his profession, you would pronounce him crazy if, when he came back with a successful survey of the region, he should say, "Yes, that is good work, but I have lost my mathematics; I was not in a school all those six months." The mathematics were a means to an end. If faith and love to God are spiritual things, then their glory lies just in this — that they are not dependent outlines and places, on churches, on moods or sentiments. It is not the state of "feeling good" that makes a man a humble, true Christian, but the act of doing good. Faith and prayer and the emotional exaltation of the church service are only the raw material out of which religion is made. Religion is life, and the deepest and grandest of all the realities of life. Life is known and expressed only as we test and try the religious emotions in all those various phases of business and social activity. The eagle's wing can carry me far, but it is in danger of leaving me remote, and so out of touch with common men and common interests. I want to be able to walk without weariness, to sympathise with plain people, to enter into the lowly door of pity, to keep company with the plodding man on the highway, and the toilers in the field.
(D. Beaton, D. D.)
(D. Beaton, D. D.)
I. NOTE CERTAIN FACTS OF AERIAL FLIGHT to illustrate some experience of a soul elevated to fellowship with God.
1. As with the aeronaut so with the Christian, the higher he rises from earth the smaller the world appears. Afflictions seem "light" and "but for a moment." Honour, wealth, and all material things seem mere earth toys.
2. As with the air navigator, so with the Christian rising from the earth, impurities and discord are left below. The soul that waits upon God and rises to the high privileges tendered by the grace of God, rises above the nauseating vices and conquering swarms of poisonous temptations, and the annoying, stinging adversities incident to sinful human life.
3. As with the sailor of the air in his realm, so with the Christian in his, each gets a better, broader view and a truer perspective as he rises. To the aeronaut the horizon is widened. True experimental religion is exceedingly broad, sane, and tolerant. It holds truest ideas as well as loftiest ideals. Not he who comes close and stays close to some little wall of prejudice, some river of personal preference, some mountain of hereditary impulse, or some self-constructed village of creeds, but he who on wings of faith rises to higher altitudes for observation and sees all and each in its relation to all others — such hold opinions most in accord with truth.
4. As with the navigator of the air in his realm, so with the Christian in the spiritual realm, each is inspired with healthful vigour as he rises, the one on the wings of the wind and the other on the wings of an intelligent, rational faith and the exercise of his soul in prayer. Dr. Naiger, at a meeting of the Academy of Medicine in France, tells us that ascension into the air acts as a powerful tonic; that the red corpuscles of blood are multiplied in a remarkable degree and with astonishing rapidity; further, that the recuperated condition remains for some time after the navigator returns to the ground. He gives it as his professional opinion that five brief air-ship trips are of more value to a consumptive than would be a summer in the mountains. As Christians, we cannot get permanently away from the world of sin any more than the air navigator can get permanently away from terra firma. We go like the disciples of old with Jesus to the Mount of Transfiguration, to our public and private devotions, to gather strength for the duties that will appear in the valley.
II. NOTE SOME OF THE PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH SUCCESSFUL AERIAL NAVIGATION DEPENDS, as typical of the principles of true spiritual life.
1. One principle which has been quite lately discovered, and which is held by at least one school of aerial scientists, is that the elevating power and the propelling power must be from the same source, and all are agreed that they must be in harmony, and so arranged that they will in no way conflict. The balloon idea as an elevating power is constantly lifting straight upward, while a propelling power of some kind of enginery drawing horizontally is constantly in conflict with the elevating power. Prof. Thomas May, in The Aeronautical Journal, declares that before there can be successful navigation of the air, the propelling power and the elevating power must be in exact harmony, if not produced by the same appliance Some very successful experiments have been made with "gliding-machines," the balloon idea having been abandoned in these appliances. And with this principle the Wright brothers have been enabled to move their machines near the earth or far away as they choose, sometimes gliding only a few inches from the surface. For the Christian to make progress in his spiritual flight, whether near to or far from the earth, this principle must be rigidly enforced and carefully observed. God's Spirit is the elevating power. Our own wills and purposes constitute the propelling power of the soul. These must be in harmony with the will of God, be submerged into His will, so that the elevating power and the propelling power are one in every essential, though some way God needs the modifying elements of our own consecrated purposes. For while "we can do nothing without Him," it is equally true that in practical, spiritual grace He has so arranged His plans that He does nothing without us.
2. Note one more principle of aerodynamics, which is called the Langley law because it was discovered and applied by Prof. S.P. Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and the inventor of an air-ship device known as Langley's aeridrome. The law is that as the speed of a flying-machine increases, the power necessary to propel it decreases in definite proportions. Theoretically, this is true indefinitely; but, practically, only to a certain limit. Just why, when the working hypothesis is tried, the experiment fits the theory only to a certain limit, has not yet been fully explained; but the theory has been demonstrated so that it is worthy of a place among scientific principles. The law certainly prevails within the limit of natural and acquired ability, and modified by opportunity, in the human soul in its operations in the spiritual realm. The more decidedly and persistently, determinedly and vigorously, the Christian prosecutes his spiritual movements, the easier it becomes for him to do so, and he finds by practical experiment that as he advances he is able to accomplish more and more with less and less of propelling power. More and more he speeds along with less of emotional feeling and persistent determination.
(F. W. Luce, D. D.)
(R. Newton, D. D.)
(W. L. Watkinson.)
They shall run, and not be wearyI. THE RUNNING. There are different paces among the Lord's servants: Ahimaaz is swifter than Cushi, and John outruns Peter, but he who by faith has truly entered upon the road to heaven, though his march be slow and limping, shall nevertheless ultimately reach his journey's end. Scores of timid believers creep towards heaven as the snail crept into the ark. However, there is no reason why you should imitate these slowly moving pilgrims; if Mephibosheth be lame in both his feet, it is not desirable that you should imitate his limp.
1. Running is the pace of energy. Be it yours and mine to outstrip the energy of this world, and so to run in our Master's ways as to prove that the servants of Christ can render Him more loyal and devoted service than princes win from their favourites and flatterers.
2. Running is a pace which indicates fulness of alacrity. Mark often uses about our Lord the words "straightway" and "immediately." Mark's is the Gospel descriptive of Christ as a servant, and it is one of the attributes of a good servant that he is prompt at once to do his lord's bidding.
3. To run is to be diligent.
4. Running indicates thorough-going hearty zeal.
II. I shall COMMEND THE RUNNING.
1. Running is most commendable, because it is a warming pace.
2. Running is a pace that clears the ground.
3. It is a cheering pace.
4. It is the winning pace.
5. It is a fitting pace for a believer.
III. THE RUNNER'S GIRDLE. "They that wait upon the Lord shall run, and not be weary." What is it to "wait upon the Lord"? Singleness of eye in serving God, simplicity of dependence upon the Divine power, and constant expectation that the power will be given.
IV. THE RUNNER'S STAFF. The runner's consolation lies in this promise, that "he shall not be weary." How is it that running Christians do not become weary?
1. Because they have daily strength given them for all their daily needs.
2. As the Christian advances he finds fresh matter to interest him.
3. Above all, there is one fact that keeps the Christian from weariness, namely, that he looks to the end, to the recompense of the reward.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
They shall walk, and not faint
(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.).