The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:The Burden of Assyria
Anew section begins at Isaiah 10:5, and goes to Isaiah 12:6. The section deals with Assyria, and might be called in some sense "The Burden of Assyria." It is most difficult to understand. All annotators have been more or less perplexed by it. The translators have put in words with which to help themselves over literal difficulties. Sometimes Assyria seems to be speaking as the prophet himself, and sometimes the prophet seems to be speaking as if Assyria were uttering judgments upon wrong. All we can do is to endeavour to find some central line upon which can be strung all the wise and abiding words which history has proved to be just and useful.
In studying the history of Assyria as given in this section we shall see at least some principles of the divine government. Assyria itself is dead and gone; for us the vision in its literal detail is useless; it has taken its place in antique, grey history; but it is of infinite importance that we should trace the common line of providence, the abiding quantity of history, the thing that never changes, and thus feel that we are still under a government strong in righteousness and gracious in discipline. The thing always to be sought after is the abiding unit; the unit without which calculation is impossible: that we may discover with gracious certainty in a narrative so graphic and vivid as that which is given in the text. Let us say that God speaks by the mouth of the prophet, saying:—
"O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation" (Isaiah 10:5).
The meaning might be this: "I will choose a staff with which I will chastise my people: I have fixed my choice upon Assyria; I will so use that proud nation that my people shall begin to fear that for their sin they shall be heavily dealt with: I will choose Assyria as an instrument of vengeance." We must not omit the reflection that this was a terrible thing for Assyria. What man likes to be an instrument through which righteousness will punish some other man? Who would willingly accept a calling and election so severe? The man himself may have nothing to avenge upon the one to whom he is sent as a judgment, and yet he is doing things without being able to explain them; as we have already seen, he is setting up hostilities which he can only partially defend and hardly at all explain:—
"I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets" (Isaiah 10:6).
Thus nations are sent to do work they do not like. What are the nations but instruments in the hands of him who made them? So we are puzzled and perplexed by many an imperial policy; we do not like it, and yet still it proceeds to work out all its mysterious issues—now severe, now beneficent. We are in tumult and darkness and perplexity, thick and that cannot be disentangled; and how seldom we realise the fact that all this may be a divine movement, a clouding of the divine presence, and an outworking of divine and eternal purposes.
"Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so" (Isaiah 10:7).
Assyria does not know what he is going to do; he is quick at giving an explanation of his own action, but it does not occur to him that he is instrument, servant, mere errand-bearer to the King of glory. "He meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so,"—that is to say, it never occurs to him that he is an instrument of providence, that he has been selected in order that he might manifest divine judgments. We cannot tell what we are doing. Assyria said that it was in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few; he was simply a warrior; it did not enter into his conception that he was anything more than a conqueror, a proud destroyer, one before whose advent all nations quailed. Thus the Lord useth the pride of man. For a moment he gratifies human vanity; for a little while he allows man to proceed upon certain conceptions, that in the long run he may work out his own judgment, and illustrate and vindicate his own providence. If the action were within a definite time, then moral criticism might fall upon its enouncement; but the Lord speaks in circular periods, in complete lapses of time; all the ages lie in their nakedness before him when he declares judgment or blessing: his action, therefore, is not to be interrupted at some inferior point of punctuation, but is to be allowed to roll itself out in all its fulness, and when the unfoldment is complete the judgment may be pronounced. How many men there are just in the position of Assyria at this particular time! They lift up their hand, and nations tremble; they inflict a studied discourtesy, and all the land wonders why it should have been, and begins to predict unrest, unsettlement, war, and great ruin. The particular man, seeing all this as the issue of his policy or his neglect, inflames himself with pride, burns with vanity, lifts himself up as if he would touch the stars, feels in all his blood the tingle of sovereignty. Poor fool! he does not know that he is like a saw which God has taken up to sever a piece of wood. The Lord knows what a man is; he knows all that is in man, and he uses him for the education of man, he employs one nation for the deliverance of another. The scheme of providence is a tessellated scheme, full of little pieces, marvellously related to one another, and no one can lay his hand upon a single point and say, This is all. There is no single point in divine providence; all history is consolidated; all the action of time means the grand significance that it issues in. We are to beware of temporary definitions and temporary conclusions. Any conclusion to which we can now come is open to the modification of to-morrow. Only God can conclude; only Christ can say, "It is finished!"
Assyria, then, begins to exult; he says:—
"For he saith, Are not my princes altogether kings? is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus?" (Isaiah 9:8-9).
I have done all these things, and all that is yet to be done is part and parcel of the same triumph:—
"As my hand hath found the kingdoms of the idols, and whose graven images did excel them of Jerusalem and of Samaria; shall I not, as I have done unto Samaria and her idols, so do to Jerusalem and her idols?" (Isaiah 9:10-11).
This is intoxication; this is the wilderness of military vanity. The king of Assyria sees all things falling into his hands: he says, Calno shall be no more than Carchemish was; and Hamath shall be as Arpad, and Samaria as Damascus: as I have killed many, I will kill more; as I have subdued hitherto all along the line, so I will continue my work of subjugation until the whole series fall at my feet. Thus providence is unknown and misinterpreted; thus do men get hold of the wrong end of things, and talk idiotically. Assyria does not pause, and say, Why is this? is there more blood to be shed? are there more people to be trampled upon? This is hard work: I would the gods would save me from this execution. Then Assyria would have been a child of heaven. But who ever takes the events of life as chastening, instructing, and disciplining the mind? Who receives his wages in order that he may do good with the money? who accepts his rewards in order that he may encourage and deepen his gratitude? Let us pray for a right conception of providence. If we are sent on cruel errands, let us go about them diligently, but with a subtle reluctance that will import into our hardest judicial tones some gospel of God Assyria misunderstood providence, which we are doing every day; we are taking our influence, and magnifying it so as to feed our vanity, instead of accepting it as a trust, and asking God to be merciful to us even in the bestowment of power.
Now another section opens, a wholly distinct view looms upon the vision:—
"Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. For he saith, By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent: and I have removed the bounds of the people, and have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man" (Isaiah 10:12-13).
I will choke him in his boasts. While his throat is inflamed with his own vanity I will lay my hand upon his, and murder him in the sight of heaven. Providence is a large term. It is not a government of fits and starts and spasms that are unrelated to one another; it is righteous, solemn, tranquil,—yea, tranquil though the detail, the immediate phenomena may be associated with tumult and riot and wantonness; within the whole action there is a zone of calm. We are not to misunderstand the clouds, though they be laden with snow. Where are they but in God's hand? Beyond them the moon shines nightly without a flutter, and the sun holds his court all day without dread of the interruption of his sovereignty. All that may be within the eye-line is full of darkness, and tumult, and trouble; we are filled with distress because of what we see, but then we only see that which is as a handful of a very small space. All the tranquillities of the universe are undisturbed by the little thunder that roars and vibrates in the lower atmospheres. So is it with the purpose of God. Assyria shall be used to an end; he shall accomplish that end; but for his pride he shall be punished. All self-idolatry is punishment; all presumption comes to a bad end. Assyria said, "By the strength of my hand I have done it," and God shall prove that it was otherwise, that his poor little fist did nothing in the matter but as it was directed by the palm of omnipotence. Assyria said, "I am prudent," and God will turn his prudence to shame and confusion, for the whole scheme was not planned by his military wit; it was all laid out by him whose artillery is the starry heavens, and whose resources are his own infinity.
Then Assyria makes a figure. The metaphor is to be found in the following verse (Isaiah 10:14)—
"And my hand hath found as a nest the riches of the people: and as one gathereth eggs that are left, have I gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped."
So Assyria represents himself as a gigantic fowler who had gone out and captured all the feathered tribes, and not one of them rebelled against his well-laid schemes. The image is graphic; the vanity of Assyria has made him for a moment poetical. How otherwise could the pagan mind think? When a man has both hands full, what else can he say but that he is rich? If all his schemes prosper, how other can he lay down on his own couch at night than as a prudent man? When not a line of his policy has failed, is he not at liberty to say, None moved the wing, or opened the mouth, or peeped; I seemed to fasten all the birds like the eye of a basilisk; they all gave themselves up to me: behold, how great I am, and how my wonder eclipses the sun? The pagan mind must talk so, because it has no worthy centre; it does not calculate by the right standard or regulate by the one meridian; it can see no farther than itself: itself is its universe. Only when right conceptions of a religious kind enter the mind does the mind look round for deepest causes, and wonder, and pray, and say, Would God I could find out the reality of this case! things come too easily to me: surely God must be using me for some purpose I cannot understand; why do these eagles fall into my hand? how large they are and strong, with wings that were made to darken the sun; why do I capture them so easily? why does my business prosper more than my neighbour's? he complains, and I proceed, adding store to store; other men devise plans, and they come to nothing; my policy always blossoms and fructifies, and comes back upon me a hundredfold: how is this? surely God is using me to an end, and I cannot tell what it is. O God, make me humble, calm, watchful; I do not wholly like this; I would there were more resistance to me; the very facility of my progress through a land of rock and mountain and darkness makes me feel that I am being impelled or lured, rather than walking by my voluntary motion and determination. This would be sacred talk, speech of salt; a sacrifice of the tongue acceptable unto God.
Then the Lord reasons thus:—
"Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? or shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake itself against them that lift it up, or as if the staff should lift up itself, as if it were no wood" (Isaiah 10:15).
How satiric is God! Can sarcasm whet a keener edge than this? O Assyria, thou art but an iron axe with a wooden handle, and God has been using thee for smiting trees:—thou art but a sharp-toothed saw, which God himself has sharpened in order that he might cut with it a piece of timber: do not shake thyself against them that lift thee up; and, staff, forget not that thou art only wooden after all. So we are abased; yea, those who stand near the altar and speak the eloquence of God are told by a thousand angels that like themselves they are "but ministers": they have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of men.
And still further, God reduces the pride of those that lift themselves up against him—"The rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them" (Isaiah 10:19). Even what is left is just sufficient to provoke contempt. A completer desolation would have been more a blessing, but to have two or three trees left out of a whole forest seems to add to the bitterness of the loss. The trees are a little number, and children please themselves by counting the number on their fingers; and the man whose trees they count was once the possessor of unmeasured forests: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Riches take to themselves wings, and flee away. The wicked have been in great power, and they have departed without telling whither they have gone; they have not left even the rustle of a wing behind them to indicate the direction of their flight. We have much now; upstairs and downstairs, all full; to-morrow every chamber will be emptied, and yet not a door will have been opened by human hand. Seal up your treasures; take wax, and plenty of it; melt it down, stamp it with your crest—frailest sign of vanity—and to-morrow will find you empty-handed, and you will open your mouth in wonder, and ask who did it; and the secret-keeping air, the confidant of God, will not allow even a little bird to tell you whither the property has gone. Use it well! Blessed is the true and faithful servant who toils and prays!
Then a word of hope. When could the Lord conclude a speech without some tone, gospel-like in its cheerfulness and tenderness and gentleness?
"And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God" (Isaiah 10:20-21).
Where have we found that expression before—"the mighty God"? We found it only a chapter back, and in the sixth verse of the ninth chapter—"His name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God"—the same word in the Hebrew: what if it be the same God in reality, and that God be Christ? There shall be a remnant, and God can use that remnant as he can use seed for planting, for sowing, for purposes of raising a new generation, planting a new forest, holy unto himself.
This is the providence, then, under which we live. Facts prove it. We are under law and criticism of a moral kind: our conduct is examined, our motives are inquired into and pronounced upon by the just One; every morning is as a white throne set in the heavens; every noonday is as an eye of fire watching the ways of men; every night is a pavilion of rest, or an image of despair. The axe of heaven is lifted up against all the thick trees that suppose themselves to be independent of God. All moral loveliness is cherished as the pearl greater in value than all others. This is the economy under which we live! We are not left without law, judgment, supervision, criticism; every one of us must give an account of himself to God. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing." If for a few years we grow towards strength, we soon turn the growing point, and go down into old age and weakness, that we may know ourselves to be but men. Life is a great triumph up to middle age, because the man may be always well; he may grow in strength and in prosperity, and he may represent himself as a successful fowler; but after that grey hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not, and presently men may say as he passes by, He stoops a little more; his memory will begin to be a little blurred and clouded, and though he can keep good reckoning, yet he must trust to paper more than he ever trusted before. If we plant vineyards and forests, and subdue wildernesses by generous culture, we die whilst we gaze on our success, and are buried under the very flowers which have rewarded our toil. This is the economy under which the nations have ever lived, and under which every little life works out its little day. If we do wrong a spectre touches us in the darkness, and makes us cold with fear. What is it? It is the right hand of God; it is the feeling of righteousness; it is the sign of justice. If we do right, all heaven broadens its glory over our heads, and fills the path we walk with flowers of light. This is the economy under which we live: let us not be fools, but wise, understanding all these claims and demands, owning their righteousness, and responding to their appeals. And the end? so near, always so near. We shall see all the meaning of sword and pestilence and grim famine, of cloud and storm and angry thunder, of love, and mercy, and hope, and gospel sacred with the blood of sacrifice. By-and-by, yet a little while, no cloud is eternal; it is but vapour after all, and the wind will cleanse it away. When the vision is declared we shall know that Righteousness is the security of the universe, hell the necessity of unrepented sin, and heaven is the God-built, eternal home of men who touched the atoning Saviour with the reverent, grateful hand of faith. History is in a great tumult: nation clashes against nation in the shock of war; man eats the flesh of the arm of man, and grows the hungrier for his feast of blood; the poor are little counted of, the weak go to the wall; banners red as blood are being figured all over with lines of fire, with the motto, "Might is right." O Lord, how long? In reply to this question we are entitled to go back upon all the record of history, and trace the line of providence through the whole—a line now terrible as righteousness, now gracious as the love of Christ. The Lord reigneth!
Almighty God, we thank thee for the promise of all bright days; we rejoice that there is coming a time when cloud and storm will be done away, and peace and loveliness and glory shall crown all things: this is the end of thy government, this is the meaning of thy love. We accept it as such, and cheer ourselves meanwhile with this bright and glowing hope. Thou wilt come and rectify all things; thou wilt set up the standard of the sanctuary everywhere; righteousness shall be the base and rock on which things are built, and at the top of the pillar there shall be lily work, so that strength and beauty shall be in the house of the Lord. All things hurtful thou wilt subdue; all violent forces thou wilt control; all iniquity and unrighteousness thou wilt put down, and the Sabbath of the Lord shall dawn upon a reconciled and purified earth. This is our hope; this is the poetry that sings to us; this is the prophecy that makes us glad. Lord, how long? say thy saints in their groaning. Lord, how long? do they say again when the burden presses upon their failing strength. Yet thou knowest all things; the ages are in thy keeping and under thy direction; all time is God's instrument, and he will use it for the advancement of all causes true and pure and righteous. Enable us to control our impatience, to subdue all impious eagerness, and to wait in sweet contentment and solid assurance, knowing that the Lord will come at his own time, and set up his kingdom, and rule over all, and we shall know his coming as the earth knows the summer. The years are all thine, and thou dost mete them out one by one; to no man dost thou give five years, to another two; thou givest to each man one year, one day, one breath; and herein dost thou teach us the uncertainty of life and its necessary brevity, and suggest to us the coming and final judgment of all things. May we redeem the time; may we make the most of it; may we turn every day into a Sabbath, and every Sabbath may we sanctify with redoubled sacrifice: thus our life shall grow into a song, thus even the night-time shall be vocal with praise, and thus shall we magnify thy name, and return unto thee manifold, because of the seed thou hast sown in good ground. Thou knowest the want of every heart, the pain of every life, the shadow which darkens every path, and the cold wind which chills all the pulses that beat within us; we will, therefore, leave ourselves in thine hand. We can tell thee nothing; thou dost search us and try us, and see if there be any wicked way in us, that thou mayest not destroy us, but lead us in the way everlasting. Thy will be done. Receive us into thine own hands; direct us by thine own Spirit; fill us with wisdom and understanding, and endow us with a sagacious mind. May ours be the highest Christian courage, fearing nothing, hoping all things, seeing no danger, dreading no foe, but constantly moving onward, with the dignity of conviction, and with the patience of those to whom is entrusted an immortal hope. Lord, bless the land. God save the Queen: establish her throne in righteousness, and may its canopy be as a banner of love. The Lord bless all the nations of the earth, for all the nations should be one empire, ruled by the Son of God. Blessed Jesus, thou art the propitiation for our sins, and not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world; for that world, therefore, do we pray, that every acre of it may be sown with gospel seed, that every handful of its soil may be consecrated by the touch of honest men, and that the whole world may be like a returned prodigal, received with joy and thankfulness into the family of the stars. Pity us in all our littleness; pardon us wherein our sin grows upon us like a rising mountain, and send comfort by thy Cross, Messiah, Emmanuel, Son of God! Amen.
Prophecy and History
We should connect the opening of the eleventh chapter with the close of the tenth in order to feel the full force of the contrast. There we read: "And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one." Then comes the prophecy that "there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots" (Isaiah 11:1). The cedar of Lebanon was the symbol of Assyrian power. It was a poor symbol. Looked at botanically, it very vividly represented the passing pomp of a Pagan empire. It is of the pine genus, and sends out no suckers, and when it is cut down it is gone. The oak is the symbol of Israel's power, and though it be cut down it grows again—"there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots"—out of the very lowest stump that is left in the ground. In order to terminate the growth of right things and right lives you must really uproot them; and that is impossible. There are trees that can be cut down, and they have no to-morrow; and there are others which, though cut down to the very surface of the earth, have sap within themselves, and have laid such hold upon the earth, and upon the whole solar system through the earth, that they will renew their youth, and be green next year. What is the symbol of our power? Is ours an influence that can be cut down and never revive? or are we so rooted in the Eternal that though persecution may impoverish us, and we may suffer great deprivation and depletion of every kind, yet we shall come up again in eternal youthfulness, and great shall be our strength and just pride? Let every man answer this question for himself.
"There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse." We thought the rod was coming "out of the house of David." There may be an instructive point here. David was a king, royal, marked in his highest time by features that impressed the vision and the imagination; it was better, therefore, to take the case of Jesse in his loneliness and comparative obscurity, and to start the Christian story from that lowly home. Nothing is of full compass in benevolence and philosophy and true wisdom that does not begin at the lowest point, and work through all the strata to the very surface and uppermost line of things. Better, therefore, know that though David was very great and glorious, yet even he was the son of Jesse. Let us go back to the humblest point, the very starting line, and learn that this Son of God was not the son of a king only, but the son of a king's lowly father. Christianity is the religion of the common people. The gospel appeals to all men, rich and poor, in every zone and clime, and is most to those who need it most.
"... and a Branch shall grow out of his roots"—a branch, a Netzer; he shall be called a Netzer, a Nazarene: Jesus shall be associated with Nazareth, the word which traces itself back to another word which signifies branch; his name shall for ever be associated with growth, and beauty, and loveliness, and fruitfulness. All this is in the future, but the future may be the most present reality to our consciousness. Did we know it, we should feel that heaven is nearer than earth; that eternity is closer to us than time can ever be; that by a sweet grace, a most tender necessity, the future is the real present, by way of inspiration, encouragement, and vivification; it is thus that posterity has done much for us, though we sneeringly inquire, What has posterity done? Posterity represents the future, the coming dawn, the very period for which all good men are working; the Sabbath of the world, the parliament of man; and, therefore, by its lure, by its holy seduction and gracious welcome, it lifts us out of the deep pit, and calls us away from the shadowed valley, and gives courage in the day of strife, and hope in the night of despondency.
Let us further read about this man the Branch:—
"And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding ["the faculty of clear perception leading him aright in matters whether of intellectual or moral interest (1Kings 10:8; Job 28:28)"], the spirit of counsel and might ["sagacity in conceiving a course of action, and firmness and courage in carrying it out (cf. Isaiah 36:5)"], the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord ["a full apprehension of what Jehovah demands, and the inclination to act accordingly"] (Isaiah 11:2).
We seem to have read these words before; surely the prophet is now quoting some other man; what man is he quoting? They are solemn strong words, clear-cut, of diamond value; and we have a half-conscious familiarity with them ourselves. Isaiah is quoting from the Book of Proverbs. This description of the coming One is taken from a book in which there would seem to be but little poetry. Isaiah was a great statesman, a strong, shrewd, sagacious man, fed at the banqueting-table of the Book of Proverbs—that pithiest of all books, every sentence a light, every verse the wisdom of many and the wit of one. Isaiah was a student of the old scrolls; having much to do, either personally or relatively, with the sanctuary and its services, he was a student as well as a statesman; and when he comes to describe the mind that would bless the world with infinite beneficence he finds all the lineaments in the Book of Proverbs. When we come to right definitions, large and wise, we shall find that poetry may be in an apothegm. Some poets are praised because their poetry is in their thought rather than in their versification; in some instances we are puzzled by the mere rhyming of the poet, it does not fall harmoniously and easily into its lines; therein we are told that the poetry is in the philosophy, in the inner and inspiring thought, rather than in the verbal form. So it is in the Book of Proverbs. Truth is poetry; poetry is truth; and Christ when he comes shall represent in himself, not some glowing ode, but that Book of Proverbs, every sentence of which is like a jewel fit to be set in a king's crown.
"The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him." That also is a familiar phrase we meet with in Judges (Judges 11:29): "Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah;" also in Judges 13:25 : "And the Spirit of the Lord began to move him" [Samson]. Again in John 1:33 : "Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending" That Spirit of the Lord has always been in human history. It accounts for all heroisms, noble darings, self-sacrifices, for all labours meant, not for the blessedness of the labourer himself, but for the gratification and progress of other ages. Do not limit yourselves by a theological and technical definition. "The Spirit of the Lord" is a large expression: it has to do with the mystery of mind; with the secrecy of motive; with the inner springs of life, and thought, and purpose; with dreams and visions, and even with superstitions and fanaticisms; it has worked in India and in China; it has written books in characters that are strange to us; it dwelt with Plato, and it may be with some to-day who are unaware of the name of their Guest, who rules and blesses them with light. Wherever you find a wise word you find the Spirit of God; wherever you find genuine morality you find a revelation of heaven; be it in what books it may, it is God's thought, and we must resolutely and gratefully claim it as such; otherwise, we shall have rival moralities, rival temples of wisdom; whereas there is but one goodness and one sanctuary.
Mark his intellectual qualification; he is to be "of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:3)—a word which relates to the power of smell or scent; he is to have that keen sense which the hound has when the game is not far away, and yet is deeply hidden; he is to know wisdom and right and truth as the thirsty hart smells the waterbrooks; or, by another etymology, he is to draw his breath in the fear of the Lord; that is to say, the fear of the Lord is to be his native breath. Religion is to be no burden to him, no superimposition which he must carry, whether he will or no; his religion is his breath, he will pray because he breathes, he will speak because he breathes; it is part of himself, of his very nature; it belongs to a great system of voluntariness, which constantly and continually gives itself out for the benefit of those who are within the range of its influence. He is to be a discerning Christian; his eyes are like unto fire; he sees all things, yea, the deep things of God; there is no possibility of passing off a counterfeit upon him; he knows the hypocrite afar off, though he be on bent knees, and his eyes are lifted up to heaven in simulated piety. This gift of discernment is a gift which may be enjoyed by the whole Church. Have we lost the spirit of discernment? How comes it that men who are religious are thought to be mentally inferior? They ought to be the highest minds in the world; they ought to have the candle of the Lord at their disposal—a candle which lets its revealing light fall upon all secret corners and cunning devices. There should be no possibility of deceiving the spirit of righteousness which is in the renewed man; he will know the hypocrite by his very attitude. Yet it may be possible to deceive even the very elect. But we cannot deceive the Lord. The Lord looketh upon the heart; even though we have many qualities that are unworthy, yet he can see beneath them all, and detect the genuine seed, the real desire after his kingdom, and the real sympathy with his purpose. That is the difference between the bad man and the good man: the bad man endeavours to keep an outwardly reputable surface, and all his iniquity is within, at the very centre and core of things; the good man's imperfections are many, and are broadly seen, but the more deeply you go into his character the more rich he is; he is honest at the core. By this God will judge us. If we say, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee, though yesterday I denied thee, the appeal will stand if it be the appeal of an honest man; the wound, the slight, will be forgiven, forgotten, on the sight of the first penitential tear, and the ardent desire to be better will be accepted, and answered like a prayer.
Look at his moral qualifications. His official attitude is that of a smiter—"he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth." The word "earth" is not to be taken here in its geographical sense; "the earth" represents temporary powers, the rulers of the passing day, the triflers who are playing with the peoples, and who are using the nations for selfish and unpatriotic purposes: this ruler shall smite the earth, break the tyrant's power, put down the oppressor, and achieve victory over the victor. That is one of his moral qualifications. Look at his dress—"righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins." He is clothed with righteousness and faithfulness. The girdle keeps all the other garments in their place. There is an upper girdle and a lower girdle, and the idea of completeness is thus suggested and confirmed.
Look at his influence upon Nature:—
"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice' den" (Isaiah 11:6-8).
All nature will be under his control. When the eye sees him it will recognise him. There is a majesty before which we all retire; an impressiveness of power, a consciousness of real dignity, in the presence of which we hold our tongues, and wait for him who is clad with righteousness and faithfulness, and crowned with wisdom, to speak the first word and lead the conversation. Beautiful, indeed, is this conquest over nature, and beautiful the test by which it is confirmed—"A little child shall lead them." The suckling shall play with the cobra, and the weanling shall put his hand on the basilisk, and a great reconciliation shall take place; there shall be no longer any to hurt or destroy in all God's holy mountain. A little child shall stretch out his hand to the eyeball of the basilisk as a man will put out his hand to a gleaming diamond. That is the literal meaning of the prophecy. When the mother sees her little child approaching the great cobra she screams, but in this Sabbatic day cobra and child shall be friends. These are the miracles of grace; these are the triumphs of Jesus Christ. When he sent forth his apostles he said: "Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you." Here is the very realisation of the words of the prophet. Man shall one day take his right place in nature: he shall lay his hand upon the lion, and play with the lion's neck of thunder; and the little weanling shall run after the most noxious thing, and find it harmless as its own young pure heart. Christ will do his work thoroughly; he will not have a half-heaven; he will not bring in a partial reconciliation. He was before all things, by him all things consist, and without him was not any thing made that was made; when, therefore, he declares that the end of his journey has come, we shall find even the animals within the circle of his influence, and the most violent things shall sit down in meekness, and look up as if in prayer. What are these animals? Who made them? Who can explain them? Who knows their future? This is a gracious mystery at all events, and may be accepted as a fact—that when man is right with God the animals will be right with man; when man is right with God, the earth will be right with man, and will feel as if she could not do enough for him in growing him all the bread he wants, and then giving him more than he needs. "Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us."
"They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain." Hurting and destroying were no part of the divine plan from the first. Hurting and destroying, acts of violence and cruelty, these have no place in the divine policy as such; they are brought in as dire necessities; they follow the way of sin, that they may judge it and condemn it, and inflict penalty upon it; but hurting and destroying are but temporary ministries; God's whole thought is of love, and healing, and well-being.
How is all this to be done? Under what great signal is it to take place? The answer is sublime: "For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea' (Isaiah 11:9). This is to be a religious miracle. It there were fuller knowledge of God in the world there would be more peace amongst men; if the Lord's kingdom were understood, the Sabbath of the millennium would dawn. But men do not understand the kingdom of God; they make it narrow, they imprison it within unworthy limitations, they mistake the infinity of truth, and they think they can build a house fit for God. There is the perpetual difficulty. We ought to feel that the largest house we build for him is too small for any attribute of his character; that the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him. So we should believe about truth. No one man can hold all God's truth, or comprehend it, or reveal it; he can but take his own share of the sunlight, and throw it back in generous reflection upon those who need its help. When men understand God's kingdom, they will understand that love is the true wisdom; that charity is the true justice; that self-control is the true sovereignty; and that to wait patiently for God is the grand philosophy.
Almighty God, we would evermore dwell in the valley of vision; we would belong to the family of the seers, to the city of men who are gifted with foresight, who see the morning while it is yet night, and who see the noonday in the dim dawn. We bless thee for all the men in the world who have had great eyesight, power of far-away vision, who could see things in their right meaning and their true proportion, and so seeing them had the eloquent tongue to tell others what had been revealed. Thou always art revealing something to the human mind; some new phase of truth thou dost cause us to look upon, and it fills us with religious surprise, for having gazed upon it with religious wonder we exclaim, There is no searching of his understanding. Do thou every day surprise us with thy love; though we expect it, may it come with such newness as to awaken our wonder. Thou art always before us, thou dost in very deed prevent us; we thought we were first, and lo, we were last, and are always last, for who can be before God? For all thy daily mercies we bless thee; they are but a greater mercy broken up into morsels: surely we will set ourselves to find the meaning of them; they are not complete, they are parts of a stupendous whole. Help us to use every mercy as a cue, that we may follow it, and connect it with other mercies, until at last we say, Behold, this is the King of the Jews, the crucified Son of man! We bless thee with daily blessings; our doxology is a daily song, for behold thy compassions come with every morning, and thy faithfulness is sealed anew at eventide. Bless us in the Lord, the Christ, the Well of Salvation, the Spring and Origin of truth, the Sovereign of all hearts, the Man who died for us, and thus proved his deity. Amen.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."Handfuls of Purpose"
For All Gleaners
"The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the falling together; and a little child shall lead them."—Isaiah 11:6
Some have seen in these words a promise that the animal world should in some way share in the blessings of redemption. It has been supposed by them that rapine and cruelty were signs of an imperfect order, and that when man is put right as to his spirit and action the influence of the restoration will be felt as widely as was the influence of his fall. We need not attempt to give the words a literal fulfilment. They admit of an accommodation which is most legitimate, indeed, so legitimate as to hardly be an accommodation. It is almost a literal interpretation of them to point out that the great object of the kingdom of heaven amongst men is to drive away all disorder, all cruelty, all wrong-doing, and to bring universal Sabbath to shine upon the darkness and the tumult of time. These words may be taken as allegorical or as literal, according to the conviction of the reader. It is certain, however, that when the work of Christ is perfected upon the earth there shall be a great reconciliation of classes, of interests, and of policies; man shall no longer vex man, or oppress him, or reap his fortunes in the fields of human misery. We have today, even amongst men, the wealthy and the lowly, the strong and the weak, the rapacious and the unselfish. We need not go to zoology to find instances of opposed temper and blood. We find such instances in abundance amongst ourselves. There are men of uncontrollable temper, men of insatiable cupidity, men of consuming ambition, men gentle, patient, and helpful. Indeed, the words "the wolf" and "the lamb" almost literally represent the varieties of temper which we find in human society. If we regard the words as conveying a Gospel promise, then they may be so read as to give us the assurance that when the work of Christ is complete in the earth all men will feel the passion and enter into the joy of true brotherhood. All rapacity, cruelty, selfishness, will be done away. Any religion that contemplates such a consummation is by so much a religion that ought to challenge our reason and our confidence. Note how grand, how glorious the object of Christ's kingdom is continually represented to be. It is never associated with anything that is petty or dishonourable. It is never brought in to the loss of any honest soul. Wherever the kingdom of Christ comes, summer comes, Sabbath comes, a great harvest of joy comes. Judge the kingdom by its results. Judge the Cross of Christ not by some metaphysical standard but by the great object which it has in view, and it will be then seen that behind all the mystery is a purpose of love—vast as infinity, tender as the very spirit of pity.